The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains
by Charles Egbert Craddock
ALWAYS enwrapped in the illusory mists, always touching the evasive
clouds, the peaks of the Great Smoky Mountains are like some barren
ideal, that has bartered for the vague isolations of a higher
atmosphere the material values of the warm world below. Upon those
mighty and majestic domes no tree strikes root, no hearth is alight;
humanity is an alien thing, and utility set at naught. Below, dense
forests cover the massive, precipitous slopes of the range, and in the
midst of the wilderness a clearing shows, here and there, and the roof
of a humble log cabin; in the valley, far, far lower still, a red spark
at dusk may suggest a home, nestling in the cove. Grain grows apace in
these scanty clearings, for the soil in certain favored spots is
mellow; and the weeds grow, too, and in a wet season the ploughs are
fain to be active. They are of the bull-tongue variety, and are
sometimes drawn by oxen. As often as otherwise they are followed by
In the gracious June mornings, when winds are astir and wings are
awhirl in the wide spaces of the sunlit air, the work seemed no
hardship to Dorinda Cayce,—least of all one day when another plough
ran parallel to the furrows of her own, and a loud, drawling,
intermittent conversation became practicable. She paused often, and
looked idly about her: sometimes at the distant mountains, blue and
misty, against the indefinite horizon; sometimes down at the cool,
dense shadows of the wooded valley, so far below the precipice, to
which the steep clearing shelved; sometimes at the little log cabin on
the slope above, sheltered by a beetling crag and shadowed by the
pines; sometimes still higher at the great “bald” of the mountain, and
its mingled phantasmagoria of shifting clouds and flickering sheen and
“He 'lowed ter me,” she said, suddenly, “ez he hev been gin ter view
strange sights a many a time in them fogs, an' sech.”
The eyes lifted to the shivering vapors might never have reflected
aught but a tropical sunshine, so warm, so bright, so languorously calm
were they. She turned them presently upon a young man, who was
ploughing with a horse close by, and who also came to a meditative halt
in the turn-row. He too was of intermittent conversational tendencies,
and between them it might be marveled that so many furrows were already
run. He wore a wide-brimmed brown wool hat, set far back upon his head;
a mass of straight yellow hair hung down to the collar of his brown
jeans coat. His brown eyes were slow and contemplative. The corn was
knee-high, and hid the great boots drawn over his trousers. As he moved
there sounded the unexpected jingle of spurs. He looked, with the
stolid, lack-lustre expression of the mountaineer, at the girl, who
continued, as she leaned lightly on the plough- handles:—
“I 'lowed ter him ez mebbe he hed drempt them visions. I knows I hev
thunk some toler'ble cur'ous thoughts myself, ef I war tired an'
sleepin' hard. But he said he reckoned I hed drempt no sech dreams ez
his'n. I can't holp sorrowin' fur him some. He 'lowed ez Satan hev
hunted him like a pa'tridge on the mounting.”
The young man's eyes dropped with sudden significance upon his
plough-handles. A pair of pistols in their leather cases swung
incongruously there. They gave a caustic suggestion of human
adversaries as fierce as the moral pursuit of the Principle of Evil,
and the girl's face fell. In absence of mind she recommended her work.
“Waal,” she gently drawled, as the old ox languidly started down the
row, “'pears like ter me ez it ain't goin' ter be no differ, nohow; it
won't hender ye none.”
Her face was grave, but there was a smile in her eyes, which had the
lustre and depth of a sapphire, and a lambent glow like the heart of a
blue flame. They were fringed by long, black lashes, and her hair was
black, also. Her pink calico sun-bonnet, flaring toward the front,
showed it lying in moist tendrils on her brow, and cast an unwonted
roseate tint upon the clear, healthful pallor of her complexion. She
wore a dark blue homespun dress, and, despite her coarse garb and
uncouth occupation and the gaunt old ox, there was something impressive
in her simple beauty, her youth, and her elastic vigor. As she drove
the ploughshare into the mould she might have seemed the type of a
young civilization,—so fine a thing in itself, so roughly accoutred.
When she came down the slope again, facing him, the pink curtain of
her bonnet waving about her shoulders, her blue skirts fluttering among
the blades of corn, a winged shadow sweeping along as if attendant upon
her, while a dove flew high above to its nest in the pines, he raised
his hand with an imperative gesture, and she paused obediently. He had
flushed deeply; the smouldering fire in his eyes was kindling. He
leaned across the few rows of corn that stood between them.
“I hev a word ter ax right now. Who air under conviction hyar?” he
She seemed a trifle startled. Her grasp shifted uncertainly on the
plough-handles, and the old ox, accustomed to rest only at the turnrow,
mistook her intention, and started off. She stopped him with some
difficulty, and then, “Convicted of sin?” she asked, in a voice that
showed her appreciation of the solemnity of the subject.
“I hev said it,” the young man declared, with a half-suppressed
irritation which confused her.
She remained silent.
“Mebbe it air yer granny,” he suggested, with a sneer.
She recoiled, with palpable surprise. “Granny made her peace fifty
year ago,” she declared, with pride in this anciently acquired grace,—
“fifty year an' better.”
“The boys air convicted, then?” he asked, still leaning over the
corn and still sneering.
“The boys hev got thar religion, too,” she faltered, looking at him
with wide eyes, brilliant with astonishment, and yet a trifle dismayed.
Suddenly, she threw herself into her wonted confiding attitude, leaning
upon her plough-handles, and with an appealing glance began an
extenuation of her spiritual poverty: “'Pears like ez I hev never hed a
call ter tell you-uns afore ez I hev hed no time yit ter git my
religion. Granny bein' old, an' the boys at the still, I hev hed ter
spin, an' weave, an' cook, an' sew, an' plough some,—the boys bein'
mos'ly at the still. An' then, thar be Mirandy Jane, my brother Ab's
darter, ez I hev hed ter l'arn how ter cook vittles. When I went down
yander ter my aunt Jerushy's house in Tuckaleechee Cove, ter holp her
some with weavin', I war plumb cur'ous ter know how Mirandy Jane would
make out whilst I war gone. They 'lowed ez she hed cooked the vittles
toler'ble, but ef she had washed a skillet or a platter in them three
days I couldn't find it.”
Her tone was stern; all the outraged housekeeper was astir within
He said nothing, and she presently continued discursively, still
leaning on the plough-handles: “I never stayed away but them three
days. I war n't sati'fied in my mind, nohow, whilst I bided down thar
in Tuckaleechee Cove. I hankered cornsider'ble arter the baby. He air
three year old now, an' I hev keered fur him ever sence his mother
died,—my brother Ab's wife, ye know,—two year ago an' better. They
hed fedded him toler'ble whilst I war away, an' I fund him fat ez
common. But they hed crost him somehows, an' he war ailin' in his
temper when I got home, an' hed ter hev cornsider'ble coddlin'.”
She paused before the rising anger in his eyes.
“Why air Mirandy Jane called ter l'arn how ter cook vittles?” he
demanded, irrelevantly, it might have seemed.
She looked at him in deprecating surprise. Yet she turned at bay.
“I hev never hearn ez ye war convicted yerself, Rick Tyler!” she
said, tartly. “Ye war never so much ez seen a-scoutin' round the
mourner's bench. Ef I hev got no religion, ye hev got none, nuther.”
“Ye air minded ter git married, D'rindy Cayce,” he said, severely,
solving his own problem, “an' that's why Mirandy Jane hev got ter be
l'arned ter take yer place at home.”
He produced this as if it were an accusation.
She drew back, indignant and affronted, and with a rigid air of
offended propriety. “I hev no call ter spen' words 'bout sech ez that,
with a free-spoken man like you-uns,” she staidly asseverated; and then
she was about to move on. Accepting her view of the gross unseemliness
of his mention of the subject, the young fellow's anger gave way to
contrition. “Waal, D'rindy,” he said, in an eager, apologetic tone, “I
hev seen that critter, that thar preacher, a-hangin' round you-uns's
house a powerful deal lately, whilst I hev been obleeged ter hide out
in the woods. An' bein' ez nobody thar owns up ter needin' religion but
ye, I reckoned he war a-tryin' ter git ye ter take him an' grace
tergether. That man hev got his mouth stuffed chock full o' words,—
more 'n enny other man I ever see,” he added, with an expression of
Dorinda might be thought to abuse her opportunities. “He ain't
studyin' 'bout'n me, no more 'n I be 'bout'n him,” she said, with scant
relish for the spectacle of Rick Tyler's jealousy. “Pa'son Kelsey jes'
stops thar ter the house ter rest his bones awhile, arter he comes down
off'n the bald, whar he goes ter pray.”
“In the name o' reason,” exclaimed the young fellow petulantly, “why
can't he pray somewhar else? A man ez hev got ter h'ist hisself on the
bald of a mounting ten mile high—except what's lackin'—ter git a
purchase on prayer hain't got no religion wuth talkin' 'bout. Sinner ez
I am, I kin pray in the valley—way down yander in Tuckaleechee Cove—
ez peart ez on enny bald in the Big Smoky. That critter air a powerful
Her eyes still shone upon him. “'Pears like ter me ez it air no
differ, nohow,” she said, with her consolatory cadence. As she again
started down the row, she added, glancing over her shoulder and
relenting even to explanation, “ 'T war granny's word ez Mirandy Jane
hed ter be l'arned ter cook an' sech. She air risin' thirteen now, an'
air toler'ble bouncin' an' spry, an' oughter be some use, ef ever. An'
she mought marry when she gits fairly grown, an',” pausing in the
turn-row for argument, and looking with earnest eyes at him, as he
still stood in the midst of the waving corn, idly holding his
plough-handles, where the pistols swung, “ef she did marry, 'pears like
ter me ez she would be mightily faulted ef she could n't cook tasty.”
There was no reasonable doubt of this proposition, but it failed to
convince, and in miserable cogitation he completed another furrow, and
met her at the turn-row.
“I s'pose ez Pa'son Kelsey an' yer granny air powerful sociable an'
frien'ly,” he hazarded, as they stood together.
“I dunno ez them two air partic'lar frien'ly. Pa'son Kelsey air in
no wise a sociable critter,” said Dorinda, with a discriminating air.
“He ain't like Brother Jake Tobin,—though it 'pears like ter me ez
his gift in prayer air manifested more survigrus ef ennything.” She
submitted this diffidently. Having no religion, she felt incompetent to
judge of such matters. “'Pears like ter me ez Pa'son Kelsey air more
like 'Lijah an' 'Lisha, an' them men, what he talks about
cornsider'ble, an' goes out ter meet on the bald.”
“He don't meet them men on the bald; they air dead,” said Rick
She looked at him in shocked surprise.
“That's jes' his addling way o' talkin',” continued the young
fellow. “He don't mean fur true more 'n haffen what he say. He 'lows ez
he meets the sperits o' them men on the bald.”
Once more she lifted her bright eyes to the shivering vapors,—
vague, mysterious, veiling, in solemn silence the barren, awful
An extreme gravity had fallen upon her face. “Did they live in thar
life-time up hyar in the Big Smoky, or in the valley kentry?” she
asked, in a lowered voice.
“I ain't sure 'bout'n that,” he replied, indifferently.
“'Crost the line in the old North State?” she hazarded, exhausting
her knowledge of the habitable globe.
“I hearn him read 'bout'n it wunst, but I furgits now.”
Still her reverent, beautiful eyes, full of the dreamy sunshine,
were lifted to the peak. “It must hev been in the Big Smoky Mountings
they lived,” she said, with eager credulity, “fur he told me ez the
word an' the prophets holped him when Satan kem a-huntin' of him like a
pa'tridge on the mounting.”
The young fellow turned away, with a gesture of angry impatience.
“Ef he hed ever hed the State o' Tennessee a-huntin' of him he would
n't be so feared o' Satan. Ef thar war a warrant fur him in the
sher'ff's pocket, an' the gran' jury's true bill fur murder lyin' agin
him yander at Shaftesville, an' the gov'nor's reward, two hunderd
dollars blood money, on him, he would n't be a-humpin' his bones
round hyar so peart, a-shakin' in his shoes fur the fear o' Satan.” He
laughed,—a caustic, jeering laugh. “Satan's mighty active,
cornsiderin' his age, but I 'd be willin' ter pit the State o'
Tennessee agin him when it kem ter huntin' of folks like a pa'tridge.”
The sunshine in the girl's eyes was clouded. They had filled with
tears. Still leaning on the plough-handles, she looked at him, with
suddenly crimson cheeks and quivering lips. “I dunno how the State o'
Tennessee kin git its own cornsent ter be so mean an' wicked ez it
air,” she said, his helpless little partisan.
Despite their futility, her words comforted him. “An' I hev done
nuthin', nohow!” he cried out, in shrill self-justification. “I could
no more hender 'Bednego Tynes from shootin' Joel Byers down in his own
door'n nuthin' in this worl'. I never even knowed they hed a grudge.
“Bednego Tynes, he tole me ez he owed Joel a debt, an' war goin' ter
see him 'bout'n it, an' wanted somebody along ter hear his word an' see
jestice done 'twixt 'em. Thar air fower Byers boys, an' I reckon he war
feared they would all jump on him at wunst, an' he wanted me ter holp
him ef they did. An' I went along like a fool sheep, thinkin' 'bout
nuthin'. An' when we got way down yander in Eskaqua Cove, whar Joel
Byers's house air, he gin a hello at the fence, an' Joel kem ter the
door. An' 'Bednego whipped up his riffle suddint an' shot him through
the head, ez nip an' percise! An' thar stood Joel's wife, seein' it
all. An' 'Bednego run off, nimble, I tell ye, an' I war so frustrated I
run, too. Somebody cotched 'Bednego in the old North State the nex'
week, an' the gov'nor hed ter send a requisition arter him. But sence I
fund out ez they 'lowed I war aidin' an' abettin' 'Bednego, an' war
goin' ter arrest me 'kase I war thar at the killin', they hev hed
powerful little chance o' tryin' me in the court. An' whilst the
gov'nor hed his hand in, he offered a reward fur sech a lawless man ez
He broke off, visibly struggling for composure; then he recommenced
in increasing indignation: “An' these hyar frien's o' mine in the Big
Smoky, I 'll be bound they hanker powerful arter them two hunderd
dollars blood money. I know ez I 'd hev been tuk afore this, ef it war
n't fur them consarns thar.” He nodded frowningly at the pistols.
“Them's the only frien's I hev got.”
The girl's voice trembled. “'Pears like ye mought count me in,” she
“Naw,” he retorted, sternly, “ye go round hyar sorrowin' fur a man
ez hev got nuthin' ter be afeard of but the devil.”
She made no reply, and her meekness mollified him.
“D'rindy,” he said, in an altered tone, and with the pathos of a
keen despair, “I hed fixed it in my mind a good while ago, when I could
hev hed a house, an' lived like folks, stiddier like a wolf in the
woods, ter ax ye ter marry me; but I war hendered by gittin' skeered
'bout'n yer bein' all in favor o' Amos Jeemes, ez kem up ter see ye
from Eskaqua Cove, an' I did n't want ter git turned off. Mebbe ef I
hed axed ye then I would n't hev tuk ter goin' along o' Abednego Tynes
an' sech, an' the killin' o' Joel would n't hev happened like it done.
Would ye—would ye hev married me then?”
Her eyes flashed. “Ye air fairly sodden with foolishness, Rick!” she
exclaimed, angrily. “Air you-uns thinkin' ez I 'll 'low ez I would hev
married a man four month ago ez never axed me ter marry, nohow?” Then,
with an appreciation of the delicacy of the position and a conservation
of mutual pride, she added, “An' I won't say nuther ez I would n't
marry a man ez hev never axed me ter marry, nohow.”
Somehow, the contrariety of the proprieties, as she translated them,
bewildered and baffled him. Even had he been looking at her he might
hardly have interpreted, with his blunt perceptions, the dewy
wistfulness of the eyes which she bent upon him. The word might promise
nothing now. Still she would have valued it. He did not speak it. His
eyes were fixed on Chilhowee Mountain, rising up, massive and splendid,
against the west. The shadows of the clouds flecked the pure and
perfect blue of the sunny slopes with a dusky mottling of purple. The
denser shade in the valley had shifted, and one might know by this how
the day wore on. The dew had dried from the long, keen blades of the
Indian corn; the grasshoppers droned among them. A lizard basked on a
flat, white stone hard by. The old ox dozed in the turn-row.
Suddenly Rick Tyler lifted his hand, with an intent gesture and a
dilated eye. There came from far below, on the mountain road, the sound
of a horse's hoof striking on a stone, again, and yet again. A faint
metallic jingle—the air was so still now—suggested spurs. The
girl's hand trembled violently as she stepped swiftly to his horse and
took off the plough-gear. He had caught up a saddle that was lying in
the turn-row, and as hastily buckled the girth about the animal.
“Ef that air ennybody a-hankerin' ter see me, don't you-uns be
a-denyin' ez I hev been hyar, D'rindy,” he said, as he put his foot in
the stirrup. “I reckon they hev fund out by now ez I be in the kentry
round about. But keep 'em hyar ez long ez ye kin, ter gin me a start.”
He mounted his horse, and rode noiselessly away along the newly
turned mould of the furrow.
She stood leaning upon her plough-handles, and silently watching
him. His equestrian figure, darkly outlined against the far blue
mountains and the intermediate valley, seemed of heroic size against
the landscape, which was reduced by the distance to the minimum of
proportion. The deep shadows of the woods, encompassing the clearing,
fell upon him presently, and he, too, was but a shadow in the dusky
monochrome of the limited vista. The dense laurel closed about him, and
his mountain fastnesses, that had befriended him of yore, received him
Then up and down the furrows Dorinda mechanically followed the
plough, her pulses throbbing, every nerve tense, every faculty alert.
She winced when she heard the frequent striking of hoofs upon the rocky
slopes of the road below. She was instantly aware when they were silent
and the party had stopped to breathe the horses. She began accurately
to gauge their slow progress.
“'T ain't airish in no wise ter-day,” she said, glancing about at
the still, noontide landscape; “an' ef them air valley cattle they mus'
git blowed mightily travelin' up sech steep mountings ez the Big
Smoky.” She checked her self-gratulation. “Though I ain't wantin' ter
gloat on the beastis' misery, nuther,” she stipulated.
She paused presently at the lower end of the clearing, and looked
down over the precipice, that presented a sheer sandstone cliff on one
side, and on the other a wild confusion of splintered and creviced
rocks, where the wild rose bloomed in the niches and the grape-vine
swung. The beech-trees on the slope below conserved beneath their
dense, umbrageous branches a tender, green twilight. Loitering along in
a gleaming silver thread by the roadside was a mountain rill, hardly
gurgling even when with slight and primitive shift it was led into a
hollow and mossy log, that it might aggregate sufficient volume in the
dry season to water the horse of the chance wayfarer.
The first stranger that rode into this shadowy nook took off a large
straw hat and bared his brow to the refreshing coolness. His grizzled
hair stood up in front after the manner denominated “a roach.” His
temples were deeply sunken, and his strongly marked face was long and
singularly lean. He held it forward, as if he were snuffing the air. He
had a massive and powerful frame, with not an ounce of superfluous
flesh, and he looked like a hound in the midst of the hunting season.
It served to quiet Dorinda's quivering nerves when he leisurely rode
his big gray horse up to the trough, and dropped the rein that the
animal might drink. If he were in pursuit he evidently had no idea how
close he had pressed the fugitive. He was joined there by the other
members of the party, six or eight in number, and presently a
stentorian voice broke upon the air. “Hello! Hello!” he shouted,
hailing the log cabin.
Mirandy Jane, a slim, long-legged, filly-like girl of thirteen, with
a tangled black mane, the forelock hanging over her wild, prominent
eyes, had at that moment appeared on the porch. She paused, and stared
at the strangers with vivacious surprise. Then, taking sudden fright,
she fled precipitately, with as much attendant confusion of pattering
footfalls, flying mane, and excited snorts and gasps as if she were a
troop of wild horses.
“Granny! Granny!” she exclaimed to the old crone in the chimney
corner, “thar's a man on a big gray critter down at the trough, an' I
ain't s'prised none ef he air a raider!”
The hail of the intruders was regarded as a challenge by some
fifteen or twenty hounds that suddenly materialized among the beehives
and the althea bushes, and from behind the ash-hopper and the hen-house
and the rain-barrel. From under the cabin two huge curs came, their
activity impeded by the blocks and chains they drew. These were silent,
while the others yelped vociferously, and climbed over the fence, and
dashed down the road.
The horses pricked up their ears, and the leader of the party
awaited the onslaught with a pistol in his hand.
The old woman, glancing out of the window, observed this
“He'll kill one o' our dogs with that thar shootin'-iron o' his'n!”
she exclaimed in trepidation. “Run, Mirandy Jane, an' tell him our
dogs don't bite.”
The filly-like Mirandy Jane made great speed among the hounds, as
she called them off, and remembered only after she had returned to the
house to be afraid of the “shootin'-iron” herself.
The old woman, who had come out on the porch, stood gazing at the
party, shading her eyes with her hand, and a long-range colloquy
“Good-mornin', madam,” said the man at the trough.
“Good-mornin', sir,” quavered the old crone on the mountain slope.
“I'm the sher'ff o' the county, madam, an' I 'd like ter know ef”—
“Mirandy Jane,” the old woman interrupted, in a wrathful undertone,
“'pears like I hev hed the trouble o' raisin' a idjit in you-uns! Them
ain't raiders, 'n nuthin' like it. Run an' tell the sher'ff we air
dishin' up dinner right now, an' ax him an' his gang ter' light an'
hitch, an' eat it along o' we-uns.”
The prospect was tempting. It was high noon, and the posse had been
in the saddle since dawn. Dorinda, with a beating heart, marked how
short a consultation resulted in dismounting and hitching the horses;
and then, with their spurs jingling and their pistols belted about
them, the men trooped up to the house.
As they seated themselves around the table, more than one looked
back over his shoulder at the open window, in which was framed, as
motionless as a painted picture, the vast perspective of the endless
blue ranges and the great vaulted sky, not more blue, all with the
broad, still, brilliant noontide upon it.
“Ye ain't scrimped fur a view, Mis' Cayce, an' that's the Lord's
truth!” exclaimed the officer.
“Waal,” said the old woman, as if her attention were called to the
fact for the first time, “we kin see a power o' kentry from this spot
o' ourn, sure enough; but I dunno ez it gins us enny more chance o'
ever viewin' Canaan.”
“It's a sight o' ground ter hev ter hunt a man over, ez ef he war a
needle in a haystack,” and once more the officer turned and surveyed
The room was overheated by the fire which had cooked the dinner, and
the old woman actively plied her fan of turkey feathers, pausing
occasionally to readjust her cap, which had a flapping frill and was
surmounted by a pair of gleaming spectacles. A bandana kerchief was
crossed over her breast, and she wore a blue-and- white-checked
homespun dress of the same pattern and style that she had worn here
fifty years ago. Her hands were tremulous and gnarled and her face was
deeply wrinkled, but her interest in life was as fresh as Mirandy
The great frame of the warping-bars on one side of the room was
swathed with a rainbow of variegated yarn, and a spinning-wheel stood
near the door. A few shelves, scrupulously neat, held piggins, a
cracked blue bowl, brown earthenware, and the cooking utensils. There
were rude gun-racks on the walls. These indicated the fact of several
men in the family. It was the universal dinner-hour, yet none of them
appeared. The sheriff reflected that perhaps they had their own
sufficient reason to be shy of strangers, and the horses hitched
outside advertised the presence and number of unaccustomed visitors
within. When the usual appetizer was offered, it took the form of
whiskey in such quantity that the conviction was forced upon him that
it was come by very handily. However, he applied himself with great
relish to the bacon and snap-beans, corn dodgers and fried chicken, not
knowing that Mirandy Jane, who was esteemed altogether second rate, had
cooked them, and he spread honey upon the apple-pie, ate it with his
knife, and washed it down with buttermilk, kept cold as ice in the
spring,—the mixture being calculated to surprise a more civilized
Not even his conscience was roused,—the first intimation of a
disordered digestion. He listened to old Mrs. Cayce with no betrayal of
divination when she vaguely but anxiously explained the absence of her
son and his boys in the equivocal phrase, “Not round about ter-day,
bein' gone off,” and he asked how many miles distant was the
Settlement, as if he understood they had gone thither. He was saying to
himself, the brush whiskey warming his heart, that the revenue
department paid him nothing to raid moonshiners, and there was no
obligation of his office to sift any such suspicion which might occur
to him while accepting an unguarded hospitality.
He looked with somewhat appreciative eyes at Dorinda, as she went
back and forth from the table to the pot which hung in the deep
chimney-place above the smouldering coals. She had laid aside her
bonnet. Her face was grave; her eyes were bright and excited; her hair
was drawn back, except for the tendrils about her brow, and coiled,
with the aid of a much-prized “tuckin' comb,” at the back of her head
in a knot discriminated as Grecian in civilization. He remarked to her
grandmother that he was a family man himself, and had a daughter as
old, he should say, as Dorinda.
“D'rindy air turned seventeen now,” said Mrs. Cayce, disparagingly.
“It 'pears like ter me ez the young folks nowadays air awk'ard an'
back'ard. I war married when I war sixteen,—sixteen scant.”
The girl felt that she was indeed of advanced years, and the sheriff
said that his daughter was not yet sixteen, and he thought it probable
she weighed more than Dorinda.
He lighted his pipe presently, and tilted his chair back against the
“Yes'm,” he said, meditatively, gazing out of the window at the
great panorama, “it's a pretty big spot o' kentry ter hev ter hunt a
man over. Now ef 't war one o' the town folks we could make out ter
overhaul him somehows; but a mounting boy,—why, he's ez free ter the
hills ez a fox. I s'pose ye hain't seen him hyar-abouts?”
“I hain't hearn who it air yit,” the old woman replied, putting her
hand behind her ear.
“It's Rick Tyler; he hails from this deestric. I won't be 'stonished
ef we ketch him this time. The gov'nor has offered two hunderd dollars
reward fur him; an' I reckon somebody will find it wuth while ter head
him fur us.”
He was talking idly. He had no expectation of developments here. He
had only stopped at the house in the first instance for the question
which he had asked at every habitation along the road. It suddenly
occurred to him as polite to include Dorinda in the conversation.
“Ye hain't seen nor hearn of him, I s'pose, hev ye?” inquired the
sheriff, directly addressing her.
As he turned toward her he marked her expression. His own face
changed suddenly. He rose at once.
“Don't trifle with the law, I warn ye,” he said, sternly. “Ye hev
seen that man.”
Dorinda was standing beside her spinning-wheel, one hand holding the
thread, the other raised to guide the motion. She looked at him, pale
“I hev seen him. I ain't onwillin' ter own it. Ye never axed me
The other members of the party had crowded in from the porch, where
they had been sitting since dinner, smoking their pipes. The officer,
realizing his lapse of vigilance and the loss of his opportunity, was
sharply conscious, too, of their appreciation of his fatuity.
“Whar did ye see him?” he asked.
“I seen him hyar—this mornin'.” There was a stir of excitement in
the group. “He kem by on his beastis whilst I war a-ploughin', an' we
talked a passel. An' then he tuk Pete's plough, ez war idle in the
turnrow, an' holped along some; he run a few furrows.”
“Which way did he go?” asked the sheriff, breathlessly.
“I dunno,” faltered the girl.
“Look-a-hyar!” he thundered, in rising wrath. “Ye'll find yerself
under lock an' key in the jail at Shaftesville, ef ye undertake ter
fool with me. Which way did he go?”
A flush sprang into the girl's excited face. Her eyes flashed.
“Ef ye kin jail me fur tellin' all I know, I can't holp it,” she
said, with spirit. “I kin tell no more.”
He saw the justice of her position. It did not make the situation
easier for him. Here he had sat eating and drinking and idly talking
while the fugitive, who had escaped by a hair's breadth, was counting
miles and miles between himself and his lax pursuer. This would be
heard of in Shaftesville,—and be a candidate for reëlection! He
beheld already an exchange of significant glances among his posse. Had
he asked that simple question earlier he might now be on his way back
to Shaftesville, his prisoner braceleted with the idle handcuffs that
jingled in his pocket as he moved.
He caught at every illusive vagary that might promise to retrieve
his error. He declared that she could not say which way Rick Tyler had
taken because he was not gone.
“He's in this house right now!” he exclaimed. He ordered a search,
and the guests, a little while ago so friendly, began exploring every
nook and cranny.
“No, no!” cried the old woman, shrilly, as they tried the door of
the shed-room, which was bolted and barred. “Ye can't tech that thar
door. It can't be opened,—not ef the Gov'nor o' Tennessee war hyar
himself, a-moan-in' an' a-honin' ter git in.”
The sheriff's eyes dilated. “Open the door,—I summon ye!” he
proclaimed, with his imperative official manner.
“No!—I done tole ye,” she said indignantly. “The word o' the men
folks hev been gin ter keep that thar door shet, an' shet it's goin'
ter be kep'.”
The officer laid his hand upon it.
“Ye must n't bust it open!” shrilled the old woman. “Laws-a-massy!
ef thar be many sech ez you-uns in Shaftesville, I ain't s'prised none
that the Bible gits ter mournin' over the low kentry, an' calls it a
vale o' tears an' the valley o' the shadder o' death!”
The sheriff had placed his powerful shoulder against the frail
“Hyar goes!” he said.
There was a crash; the door lay in splinters on the floor; the men
rushed precipitately over it.
They came back laughing sheepishly. The officer's face was angry and
“Don't take the bar'l,—don't take the bar'l!” the old woman
besought of him, as she fairly hung upon his arm. “I dunno how
the boys would cavort ef they kem back an' fund the bar'l gone.”
He gave her no heed. “Why n't ye tell me that man war n't thar?” he
asked of the girl.
“Ye did n't ax me that word,” said Dorinda.
“No, 'Cajah Green, ye did n't,” said one of the men, who, since the
abortive result of their leader's suspicion, were ashamed of their
mission, and prone to self-exoneration. “I 'll stand up ter it ez she
answered full an' true every word ez ye axed her.”
“Lor'-a'mighty! Ef I jes' knowed aforehand how it will tech the boys
when they view the door down onto the floor!” exclaimed the old woman.
“They mought jounce round hyar ez ef they war bereft o' reason, an' all
thar hope o' salvation hed hung on the hinges. An' then agin they
mought 'low ez they hed ruther hev no door than be at the trouble o'
shettin' it an' barrin' it up ez they come an' go. They air mighty
onsartin in thar temper, an' I hev never hankered ter see 'em crost.
But fur the glory's sake, don't tech the bar'l. It 's been sot thar ter
age some, ef the Lord will spare it.”
In the girl's lucent eyes the officer detected a gleam of triumph.
How far away in the tangled labyrinths of the mountain wilderness,
among the deer-paths and the cataracts and the cliffs, had these long
hours led Rick Tyler!
He spoke on his angry impulse: “An' I ain't goin' ter furgit in a
hurry how I hev fund out ez ye air a-consortin' with criminals, an'
aidin' an' abettin' men ez air fleein' from jestice an' wanted fur
murder. Ye look out; ye 'll find yerself in Shaftesville jail 'fore
long, I'm a-thinkin'.”
“He stopped an' talked ez other folks stop an' talk,” Dorinda
retorted. “I could n't hender, an' I hed no mind ter hender. He took no
bite nor sup ez others hev done. 'Pears like ter me ez we hev gin aid
an' comfort ter the off'cer o' the law, ez well ez we could.”
And this was the story that went down to Shaftesville.
The man, his wrath rebounding upon himself, hung his head, and went
down to the trough, and mounted his horse without another word.
The others hardly knew what to say to Dorinda. But they were more
deliberate in their departure, and hung around apologizing in their
rude way to the old woman, who convulsively besought each to spare the
barrel, which had been set in the shed-room to “age some, ef it could
be lef' alone.”
Dorinda stood under the jack-bean vines, blossoming purple and
white, and watched the men as they silently rode away. All the pride
within her was stirred. Every sensitive fibre flinched from the
officer's coarse threat. She followed him out of sight with vengeful
“I wish I war a man!” she cried, passionately.
“A-law, D'rindy!” exclaimed her grandmother, aghast at the idea.
“That ain't manners!”
The shadows were beginning to creep slowly up the slopes of the
Great Smoky Mountains, as if they came from the depths of the earth. A
roseate suffusion idealized range and peak to the east. The delicate
skyey background of opaline tints and lustre made distinct and definite
their majestic symmetry of outline. Ah! and the air was so clear! What
infinite lengths of elastic distances stretched between that quivering
trumpet-flower by the fence and the azure heights which its scarlet
horn might almost seem to cover! The sun, its yellow blaze burned out,
and now a sphere of smouldering fire, was dropping down behind
Chilhowee, royally purple, richly dark. Wings were in the air and every
instinct was homeward. An eagle, with a shadow skurrying through the
valley like some forlorn Icarus that might not soar, swept high over
the landscape. Above all rose the great “bald,” still splendidly
illumined with the red glamour of the sunset, and holding its uncovered
head so loftily against the sky that it might seem it had bared its
brow before the majesty of heaven.
When the “men folks,” great, gaunt, bearded, jeans-clad fellows,
stood in the shed-room and gazed at the splintered door upon the floor,
it was difficult to judge what was the prevailing sentiment, so
dawdling, so uncommunicative, so inexpressive of gesture, were they.
“We knowed ez thar war strangers prowlin' roun',” said the master of
the house, when he had heard his mother's excited account of the events
of the day. “We war a-startin' home ter dinner, an' seen thar beastises
hitched thar a-nigh the trough. An' I 'lowed ez mebbe they mought be
the revenue devils, so I jes' made the boys lay low. An' Sol war set
ter watch, an' he gin tile word when they hed rid away.”
He was a man of fifty-five, perhaps, tough and stalwart. His face
was as lined and seamed as that of his mother, who had counted nearly
fourscore years, but his frame was almost as supple as at thirty. This
trait of physical vigor was manifested in each of his muscular sons,
and despite their slow and lank uncouthness, their movements suggested
latent elasticity. In Dorinda, his only daughter, it graced her youth
and perfected her beauty. He was known far and wide as “Ground-hog
Cayce,” but he would tell you, with a flash of the eye, that before the
war he bore the Christian name of John.
Nothing more was said on the subject until after supper, when they
were all sitting, dusky shadows, on the little porch, where the
fireflies sparkled and the vines fluttered, and one might look out and
see the new moon, in the similitude of a silver boat, sailing down the
western skies, off the headlands of Chilhowee. A cricket was shrilling
in the weeds. The vague, sighing voice of the woods rose and fell with
a melancholy monody. A creamy elder blossom glimmered in a corner of
the rail fence, hard by, its delicate, delicious odor pervading the
“I never knowed,” said one of the young men, “ez this hyar sher'ff—
this 'Cajah Green—war sech a headin' critter.”
“He never teched the bar'l,” said the old woman, not wishing that he
should appear blacker than he had painted himself.
“I s'pose you-uns gin him an' his gang a bite an' sup,” remarked
“They eat a sizable dinner hyar,” put in Mirandy Jane, who, having
cooked it, had no mind that it should be belittled.
“An' they stayed a right smart while, an' talked powerful frien'ly
an' sociable-like,” said old Mrs. Cayce, “till the sher'ff got addled
with the notion that we hed Rick Tyler hid hyar. An' unless we-uns hed
tied him in the cheer or shot him, nuthin' in natur' could hev held
him. I 'lowed 't war the dram he tuk, though D'rindy, thinks differ.
They never teched the bar'l, though.”
“An' then,” said Dorinda, with a sudden gush of tears, all the
afflicted delicacy of a young and tender woman, all the overweening
pride of the mountaineer, throbbing wildly in her veins, her heart
afire, her helpless hands trembling, “he said the word ez he would lock
me up in the jail at Shaftesville, sence I hed owned ter seein' a man
ez he war n't peart enough ter ketch. He spoke that word ter me,—
She hung sobbing in the doorway.
There was a murmur of indignation among the group, and John Cayce
rose to his feet with furious oath.
“He shell rue it” he cried,—“he shell rue it! Me an' mine take no
word off'n nobody. My gran'dad an' his three brothers, one hunderd an'
fourteen year ago, kem hyar from the old North State an' settled in the
Big Smoky. They an' thar sons rooted up the wilderness. They crapped.
They fit the beastis; they fit the Injun; they fit the British; an'
this last little war o' ourn they fit each other. Thar hev never been a
coward 'mongst 'em. Thar hev never been a key turned on one of 'em, or
a door shet. They hev respected the law fur what it war wuth, an' they
hev stood up fur thar rights agin it. They answer fur thar word, an'
others hev ter answer.” He paused for a moment.
The moon, still in the similitude of a silver boat, swung at anchor
in a deep indentation in the summit of Chilhowee that looked like some
lonely pine-girt bay; what strange, mysterious fancies did it land from
its cargo of sentiments and superstitions and uncanny influences!
“Drindy,” her father commanded, “make a mark on this hyar
rifie-bar'l fur 'Cajah Green's word ter be remembered by.”
There was a flash in the faint moonbeams, as he held out to her a
long, sharp knife. The rifle was in his hand. Other marks were on it
commemorating past events. This was to be a foregone conclusion.
“No, no!” cried the girl, shrinking back aghast. “I don't want him
shot. I would n't hev him hurted fur me, fur nuthin'! I ain't keerin'
now fur what he said. Let him be,—let him be.”
She had smarted under the sense of indignity. She had wanted their
sympathy, and perhaps their idle anger. She was dismayed by the
revengeful passion she had roused.
“No, no!” she reiterated, as one of the younger men, her brother
Peter, stepped swiftly out from the shadow, seized her hand with the
knife trembling in it, and, catching the moonlight on the barrel of the
rifle, guided upon it, close to the muzzle, the mark of a cross.
The moon had weighed anchor at last, and dropped down behind the
mountain summit, leaving the bay with a melancholy waning suffusion of
light, and the night very dark.
THE summer days climbed slowly over the Great Smoky Mountains. Long the
morning lingered among the crags, and chasms, and the dwindling
shadows. The vertical noontide poised motionless on the great balds.
The evening dawdled along the sunset slopes, and the waning crimson
waited in the dusk for the golden moonrise.
So little speed they made that it seemed to Rick Tyler that weeks
multiplied while they loitered.
It might have been deemed the ideal of a sylvan life,—those days
while he lay hid out on the Big Smoky. His rifle brought him food with
but the glance of the eye and a touch on the trigger. “Ekal ter the
prophet's raven, ef the truth war knowed,” he said sometimes, while he
cooked the game over a fire of deadwood gathered by the wayside. A
handful of blackberries gave it a relish, and there were the ice-cold,
never-failing springs of the range wherever he might turn.
But for the unquiet thoughts that followed him from the world, the
characteristic sloth of the mountaineer might have spared him all sense
of tedium, as he lay on the bank of a mountain stream, while the slow
days waxed and waned. Often he would see a musk-rat—picturesque
little body—swimming in a muddy dip. And again his listless gaze was
riveted upon the quivering diaphanous wings of a snake-doctor, hovering
close at hand, until the grotesque, airy thing would flit away. The
arrowy sunbeams shot into the dense umbrageous tangles, and fell spent
to earth as the shadows swayed. Farther down the stream two huge cliffs
rose on either side of the channel, giving a narrow view of far-away
blue mountains as through a gate. In and out stole the mist, uncertain
whither. The wind came and went, paying no toll. Sometimes, when the
sun was low, a shadow—an antlered shadow—slipped through like a
But when the skies would begin to darken and the night come tardily
on, the scanty incidents of the day lost their ephemeral interest. His
human heart would assert itself, and he would yearn for the life from
which he was banished, and writhe with an intolerable anguish under his
sense of injury.
“An' the law holds me the same ez' Bednego Tynes, who killed Joel
Byers, jes' ter keep his hand in,—hevin' killed another man afore,—
an' I never so much ez lifted a finger agin him!”
He pondered much on his past, and the future that he had lost.
Sometimes he gave himself to adjusting, from the meagre circumstances
of their common lot on Big Smoky, the future of those with whose lives
his own had heretofore seemed an integrant part, and from which it
should forevermore be dissevered. All the pangs of penance were in that
sense of irrevocability. It was done, and here was his choice: to live
the life of a skulking wolf, to prowl, to flee, to fight at bay, or to
return and confront an outraged law. He experienced a frenzy of rage to
realize how hardily his world would roll on without him. Big Smoky
would not suffer! The sun would shine, and the crops ripen, and the
harvest come, and the snows sift down, and the seasons revolve. The
boys would shoot for beef, and there was to be a gander-pulling at the
Settlement when the candidates should come, “stumpin' the Big Smoky"
for the midsummer elections. And when, periodically, “the mountings"
would awake to a sense of sin, and a revival would be instituted, all
the people would meet, and clap their hands, and sing, and pray, and
that busy sinner, D'rindy, might find time to think upon grace, and
perhaps upon the man whom she likened to the prophets of old.
Then Rick Tyler would start up from his bed of boughs, and stride
wildly about among the bowlders, hardly pausing to listen if he heard a
wolf howling on the lonely heights. An owl would hoot derisively from
the tangled laurel. And oh, the melancholy moonlight in the melancholy
pines, where the whip-poor-will moaned and moaned!
“I 'd shoot that critter ef I could make out ter see him!” cried the
harassed fugitive, his every nerve quivering.
It all began with Dorinda; it all came back to her. He drearily
foresaw that she would forget him; and yet he could not know how the
alienation was to commence, how it should progress, and the process of
its completion. “All whilst I'm a-roamin' off with the painters an'
sech!” he exclaimed, bitterly.
And she,—her future was plain enough. There was a little log-cabin
by the grist-mill: the mountains sheltered it; the valley held it as in
the palm of a hand. Hardly a moment since, his jealous heart had been
racked by the thought of the man she likened to the prophets of old,
and now he saw her spinning in the door of Amos James's house, in the
quiet depths of Eskaqua Cove.
This vision stilled his heart. He was numbed by his despair.
Somehow, the burly young miller seemed a fitter choice than the
religious enthusiast, whose leisure was spent in praying in the desert
places. He wondered that he should ever have felt other jealousy, and
was subacutely amazed to find this passion so elastic.
With wild and haggard eyes he saw the day break upon this vision. It
came in at the great gate,—a pale flush, a fainting star, a burst of
song, and the red and royal sun.
The morning gradually exerted its revivifying influence and brought
a new impulse. He easily deceived himself, and disguised it as a
“This hyar powder is a-gittin' mighty low,” he said to himself,
examining the contents of his powder-horn. “An' that thar rifle eats it
up toler'ble fast sence I hev hed ter hunt varmints fur my vittles. Ef
that war the sher'ff a-ridin' arter me the day I war at Cayce's, he's
done gone whar he b'longs by this time,—'t war two weeks ago; an' ef
he ain't gone back he would n't be layin' fur me roun' the Settle
mint, nohow. An' I kin git some powder thar, an' hear 'em tell what
the mounting air a-doin' of. An' mebbe I won't be so durned lonesome
when I gits back hyar.”
He mounted his horse, later in the day, and picked his way slowly
down the banks of the stream and through the great gate.
The Settlement on a spur of the Big Smoky illustrated the sacrilege
of civilization. A number of trees, girdled years ago, stretched above
the fields their gigantic skeletons, suggesting their former majesty of
mien and splendid proportions. Their forlorn leafless branches rattled
together with a dreary sound, as the breeze stirred among the gaunt and
pallid assemblage. The little log-cabins, five or six in number, were
so situated among the stumps which disfigured the clearing that if a
sudden wind should bring down one of the monarchical spectres of the
forest it would make havoc only in the crops. The wheat was thin and
backward. A little patch of cotton in a mellow dip served to show the
plant at its minimum. There was tobacco, too, placed like the cotton
where it was hoped it would take a notion to grow. Sorghum flourished,
and the tasseled Indian corn, waving down a slope, had aboriginal
suggestions of plumed heads and glancing quivers. A clamor of Guinea
fowls arose, and geese and turkeys roved about in the publicity of the
clearing with the confident air of esteemed citizens. Sheep were
feeding among the ledges.
It was hard to say what might be bought at the store except powder
and coffee, and sugar perhaps, if “long-sweetenin'“might not suffice;
for each of the half dozen small farms was a type of the region,
producing within its own confines all its necessities. Hand-looms could
be glimpsed through open doors, and as yet the dry-goods trade is
unknown to the homespunclad denizens of the Settlement. Beeswax,
feathers, honey, dried fruit, are bartered here, and a night's rest has
never been lost for the perplexities of the currency question on the
Big Smoky Mountains.
The proprietor of the store, his operations thus limited, was
content to grow rich slowly, if needs were to grow rich at all. In
winter he sat before the great wood fire in the store and smoked his
pipe, and his crony, the blacksmith, often came, hammer in hand and
girded with his leather apron, and smoked with him. In the summer he
sat all day, as now, in front of the door, looking meditatively at the
scene before him. The sunlight slanted upon the great dead trees; their
forms were imposed with a wonderful distinctness upon the landscape
that stretched so far below the precipice on which the little town was
perched. They even touched, with those bereaved and denuded limbs, the
far blue mountains encircling the horizon, and with their interlacing
lines and curves they seemed some mysterious scripture engraven upon
It was just six o'clock, and the shadow of a bough that still held a
mass of woven sticks, once the nest of an eagle, had reached the verge
of the cliff, when the sound of hoofs fell on the still air, and a man
rode into the clearing from the encompassing woods.
The storekeeper glanced up to greet the newcomer, but did not risk
the fatigue of rising. Women looked out of the windows, and a girl on a
porch, reeling yarn, found a reason to stop her work. A man came out of
a house close by, and sat on the fence, within range of any colloquy in
which he might wish to participate. The whole town could join at will
in a municipal conversation. The forge fire showed a dull red against
the dusky brown shadows in the recesses of the shop. The blacksmith
stood in front of the door, his eyes shielded with his broad blackened
right hand, and looked critically at the steed. Horses were more in his
line than men. He was a tall, powerfully built fellow of thirty,
perhaps, with the sooty aspect peculiar to his calling, a swarthy
complexion, and a remarkably well-knit, compact, and muscular frame. He
often said in pride, “Ef I hed hed the forgin' o' myself, I would n't
hev welded on a pound more, or hammered out a leader differ.”
Suddenly detaching his attention from the horse, he called out,
“Waal, sir! Ef thar ain't Rick Tyler!” This was addressed to the town
at large. Then, “What ails ye, Rick? I hearn tell ez you-uns war on yer
way ter Shaftesville along o' the sher'ff.” He had a keen and twinkling
eye. He cast it significantly at the man on the fence. “Ye kem back, I
reckon, ter git yer hand-cuffs mended at my shop. Gimme the bracelets.”
He held out his hand in affected anxiety.
“I ain't a-wearin' no bracelets now.” Rick Tyler's hasty impulse had
its impressiveness. He leveled his pistol. “Ef ye hanker ter do enny
mendin', I 'll gin ye repairs ter make in them cast-iron chit'lings o'
yourn,” he said, coolly.
He was received at the store with a distinct accession of respect.
The blacksmith stood watching him, with angry eyes, and a furtive
recollection of the reward offered by the governor for his
The young fellow, with a sudden return of caution, did not at once
venture to dismount; and Nathan Hoodendin, the storekeeper, rose for no
customer. Respectively seated, for these diverse reasons, they
transacted the negotiation.
“Hy're, Rick,” drawled the storekeeper, languidly. “I hopes ye keeps
yer health,” he added, politely.
The young man melted at the friendly tone. This was the welcome he
had looked for at the Settlement. Loneliness had made his sensibilities
tender, and “hiding out ” affected his spirits more than dodging the
officers in the haunts of men, or daring the cupidity roused, he knew,
by the reward for his capture. The blacksmith's jeer touched him as
cruelly as an attempt upon his liberty. “Jes' toler'ble,” he admitted,
with the usual rural reluctance to acknowledge full health. “I hopes ye
an' yer fambly air thrivin',” he drawled, after a moment.
A whiff came from the storekeeper's pipe; the smoke wreathed before
his face, and floated away.
“Waal, we air makin' out,—we air makin' out.”
“I kem over hyar,” said Rick Tyler, proceeding to business, “ter git
some powder out'n yer store. I wants one pound.”
Nathan Hoodendin smoked silently for a moment. Then, with a facial
convulsion and a physical wrench, he lifted his voice.
“Jer'miah!” he shouted in a wild wheeze. And again, “Jer'miah!”
The invoked Jer'miah did not materialize at once. When a small
tow-headed boy of ten came from a house among the stumps, with that
peculiar deftness of tread characteristic of the habitually barefoot,
he had an alert, startled expression, as if he had just jumped out of a
bush. His hair stood up in front; he had wide pop-eyes, and long ears,
and a rabbit-like aspect that was not diminished as he scudded round
the heels of Rick Tyler's horse, at which he looked apprehensively.
“Jer'miah,” said his father, with a pathetic cadence, “go into the
store, bub, an' git Rick Tyler a pound o' powder.”
As Jeremiah started in, the paternal sentiment stirred in Nathan
“Jer'miah,” he wheezed, bringing the forelegs of the chair to the
ground, and craning forward with unwonted alacrity to look into the
dusky interior of the store, “don't ye be foolin' round that thar
powder with no lighted tallow dip nor nuthin'. I 'll whale the life
out'n ye ef ye do. Jes' weigh it by the winder.”
Whether from fear of a whaling by his active parent, or of the
conjunction of a lighted tallow dip and powder, Jeremiah dispensed with
the candle. He brought the commodity out presently, and Rick stowed it
away in his saddlebags.
“Can't ye 'light an' sot a while 'an talk, Rick?” said the
storekeeper. “We-uns hev done hed our supper, but I reckon they could
fix ye a snack yander ter the house.”
Rick said he wanted nothing to eat, but, although he hesitated, he
could not finally resist the splint-bottomed chair tilted against the
wall of the store, and a sociable pipe, and the countryside gossip.
“What's goin' on 'round the mounting?” he asked.
Gid Fletcher, the blacksmith, came and sat in another chair, and the
man on the fence got off and took up his position on a stump hard by.
The great red sun dropped slowly behind the purple mountains; and the
full golden moon rose above the corn-field that lay on the eastern
slope, and hung there between the dark woods on either hand; and the
blades caught the light, and tossed with burnished flashes into the
night; and the great ghastly trees assumed a ghostly whiteness; and the
mystic writing laid on the landscape below had the aspect of an
uninterpreted portent. The houses were mostly silent; now and then a
guard-dog growled at some occult alarm; a woman somewhere was softly
and fitfully singing a child to sleep, and the baby crooned too, and
joined in the vague, drowsy ditty. And for aught else that could be
seen, and for aught else that could be heard, this was the world.
“Waal, the Tempter air fairly stalkin' abroad on the Big Smoky,—
leastwise sence the summer season hev opened,” said Nathan Hoodendin.
His habitual expression of heavy, joyless pondering had been so graven
into his face that his raised grizzled eyebrows, surmounted by a
multitude of perplexed wrinkles, his long, dismayed jaw, his thin,
slightly parted lips, and the deep grooves on either side of his nose
were not susceptible of many gradations of meaning. His shifting eyes,
cast now at the stark trees, now at the splendid disk of the rising
moon, betokened but little anxiety for the Principle of Evil aloose in
the Big Smoky. “Fust,—lemme see,—thar war Eph Lowry, ez got inter a
quar'l with his wife's half-brother's cousin, an' a-tusslin' 'roun'
they cut one another right smart, an' some say ez Eph 'll never hev his
eyesight right good no more. Then thar war Baker Teal, what the folks
in Eskaqua Cove 'low let down the bars o' the milk-sick pen, one day
las' fall, an' druv Jacob White's red cow in; an' his folks never
knowed she hed grazed thar till they hed milked an' churned fur butter,
when she lay down an' died o' the milksick. Ef they hed drunk her milk
same ez common, 't would hev sickened 'em, sure, 'an mebbe killed 'em.
An' they've been quar'lin' 'bout'n it ever sence. Satan's a-stirrin',—
Satan's a-stirrin' 'roun' the Big Smoky.”
“Waal, I hearn ez some o' them folks in Eskaqua Cove 'low ez the red
cow jes' hooked down the bars, bein' a turrible hooker,” spoke up the
man on the stump, unexpectedly.
“Waal, White an' his folks won't hear ter no sech word ez that,”
said the blacksmith; “an' arter jowin' an' jowin' back an' fo'th they
went t'other day an' informed on Teal 'fore the jestice, an' the Squair
fined him twenty-five dollars, 'cordin' ter the law o' Tennessee fur
them ez m'liciously lets down the bars o' the milk-sick pen. An' Baker
Teal hed ter pay, an' the county treasury an' the informers divided the
money 'twixt 'em.”
“What did I tell you-uns? Satan's a-stirrin',—Satan's a-stirrin'
'roun' the Big Smoky,” said the storekeeper, with a certain morbid
pride in the Enemy's activity.
“The constable o' this hyar deestric',” recommenced Gid Fletcher,
who seemed as well informed as Nathan Hoodendin, “he advised 'em ter
lay it afore the jestice; he war mighty peart 'bout'n that thar job.
They 'low ter me ez he hev tuk up a crazy fit ez he kin beat Micajah
Green fur sher'ff, an' he's a-skeetin' arter law-breakers same ez a
rooster arter a Juny-bug. He 'lows it'll show the kentry what a peart
sher'ff he'd make.”
“Shucks!” said the man on the stump. “I'll vote fur 'Cajah Green fur
sher'ff agin the old boy; he hev got a nose fur game.”
“He hain't nosed you-uns out yit, hev be, Rick?” said the
blacksmith, with feigned heartiness and a covert sneer.
“Ho! ho! ho!” laughed Nathan Hoodendin. “What war I a-tellin'
you-uns? Satan's a-stirrin',—Satan's surely a stirrin' on the Big
Rick sat silent in the moonlight, smoking his pipe, his brown wool
hat far back, the light full on his yellow head. His face had grown a
trifle less square, and his features were more distinctly defined than
of yore; he did not look ill, but care had drawn a sharp line here and
“One sher'ff's same ter you-uns ez another, ain't he, Rick?” said
the man on the stump. “Any of 'em 'll do ter run from.”
“They tell it ter me,” said the storekeeper, with so sudden a
vivacity that it seemed it must crack his graven wrinkles, “ez the
whole Cayce gang air a-goin' ter vote agin 'Cajah Green, 'count o' the
way he jawed at old Mis' Cayce an' D'rindy, the day he run you-uns off
from thar, Rick.”
“I ain't hearn tell o' that yit,” drawled Rick, desolately, “bein'
“Waal, he jawed at D'rindy, an' from what I hev hearn D'rindy jawed
back; an' I dunno ez that's s'prisin',—the gal-folks ginerally do.
Leastwise, I know ez he sent word arterward ter D'rindy, by his dep'ty,
—ez war a-scoutin' 'roun' hyar, arter you-uns, I reckon, Rick,—ez he
would be up some day soon ter 'lectioneer, an' he war a-goin' ter stop
ter thar house an' ax her pardin'. An' she sent him word, fur God's
sake ter bide away from thar.”
A long pause ensued; the stars were faint and few; the iterative
note of the katydid vibrated monotonously in the dark woods; dew was
falling; the wind stirred.
“What ailed D'rindy ter say that word?” asked Rick, mystified.
“Waal, I dunno,” said Hoodendin, indifferently. “I hev never addled
my brains tryin' ter make out what a woman means. Though,” he
qualified, “I did ax the dep'ty an' Amos Jeemes from down yander
in Eskaqua Cove,—the dep'ty hed purtended ter hev summonsed him ez a
posse, an' they war jes' rollickin' 'roan' the kentry like two chickens
with thar heads off,—I axed 'em what D'rindy meant, an' they 'lowed
they did n't know, nor war they takin' it ter heart. They 'lowed ez she
never axed them ter bide away from thar fur God's sake. An' then
they snickered an' laffed, like single men do. An' I up an' tole 'em ez
the Book sot it down ez the laffter o' fools is like the cracklin' o'
bresh under a pot.”
Rick Tyler was eager, his eyes kindling, his breath quick. He looked
with uncharacteristic alertness at the inexpressive face of the
“They capered like a dunno-what-all on the Big Smoky, them two,—
the off'cer o' the law an' his posse! Thar goin's on war jes'
scandalous: they played kyerds, an' they consorted with the moonshiners
over yander,” nodding his head at the wilderness, “an' got ez drunk ez
two fraish biled owels; an' they sung an' they hollered. An'
they went ter the meetin'-house over yander whilst they war in liquor,
an' the preacher riz up an' put 'em out. He's toler'ble tough, that
thar Pa'son Kelsey, an' kin hold right smart show in a fight. An' the
deputy, he straightened hisself, an' 'lowed he war a off'cer o' the
law. An' Pa'son Kelsey, he 'lowed he war a off'cer o' the law,
an' he 'lowed ez his law war higher 'n the law o' Tennessee. An' with
that he barred up the door. They hed a cornsider'ble disturbamint
at the meetin'-house yander at the Notch, an' the saints war tried in
“The dep'ty 'lows ez Pa'son Kelsey air crazy in his mind,” said the
man on the stump. “The dep'ty said the pa'son talked ter him like ez ef
he war a onregenerate critter. An' he 'lowed he war baptized in
Scolacutta River two year ago an' better. The dep'ty say these hyar
mounting preachers hain't got no doctrine like the valley folks. He
called Pa'son Kelsey a ignorant cuss!”
“Laws-a-massy!” exclaimed Nathan Hoodendin, scandalized.
“He say it fairly makes him laff ter hear Pa'son Kelsey performin'
like he hed a cutthroat mortgage on a seat 'mongst the angels. He say
ez he thinks Pa'son Kelsey speaks with more insurance 'n enny man he
“I reckon, ef the truth war knowed, the dep'ty ain't got no
religion, an' never war in Scolacutta River, 'thout it war a-fishin',”
said the blacksmith, meditatively.
The fugitive from justice, pining for the simple society of his
world, listened like a starveling thing to these meagre details, so
replete with interest to him, so full of life and spirit. The next
moment he was sorry he had come.
“That thar Amos Jeemes air a comical critter,” said the man on the
stump, after an interval of cogitation, and with a gurgling reminiscent
laugh “He war a-cuttin' up his shines over thar ter Cayce's the t'other
day; he war n't drunk then, ye onderstan'”—
“I onderstan'. He war jes' fool, like he always air,” said the
“Edzactly,” assented the man on the stump. “An' he fairly made
D'rindy laff ter see what the critter would say nex'. An' D'rindy
always seemed ter me a powerful solemn sorter gal. Waal, she laffed at
Amos. An' whilst him an' the deputy war a-goin' down the mounting—I
went down ter Jeemes's mill ter leave some grist over night ter be
ground—the dep'ty, he run Amos 'bout'n it. The dep'ty he 'lowed ez no
gal hed ever made so much fun o' him, an' Amos 'lowed ez D'rindy did
n't make game o' him. She thunk too much o' him fur that. An' that
bold-faced dep'ty, he 'lowed he thought 't war him ez hed fund
favior. An' Amos,—we war mighty nigh down in Eskaqua Cove then,—he
turned suddint an' p'inted up the mounting. 'What kin you-uns view on
the mounting?' he axed. The dep'ty, he stopped an' stared; an' thar,
mighty nigh ez high ez the lower e-end o' the bald, war a light. 'That
shines fur me ter see whilst I'm 'bleeged ter be in Eskaqua Cove,' sez
Amos. An' the dep'ty said, 'I think it air a star!' An' Amos sez, sez
he, 'Bless yer bones, I think so, too,—sometimes!' But 't war n't no
star. 'T war jes' a light in the roof-room window o' Cayce's house; an'
ye could see it, sure enough, plumb to the mill in Eskaqua Cove!”
Rick rose to go. Why should he linger, and wring his heart, and
garner bitterness to feed upon in his lonely days? Why should he look
upon the outer darkness of his life, and dream of the star that shone
so far for another man's sake into the sheltered depths of Eskaqua
Cove? He had an impulse which he scorned, for his sight was blurred as
he laid his hand on the pommel of his saddle. He did not see that one
of the other men rose, too.
An approach, stealthy, swift, and the sinewy blacksmith flung
himself upon his prisoner with the supple ferocity of a panther.
“Naw—naw!” he said, showing his strong teeth, closely set. “We
can't part with ye yit, Rick Tyler! I'll arrest you-uns, ef the sher'ff
can't. The peace o' Big Smoky an' the law o' the land air ez dear ter
me ez ter enny other man.”
The young fellow made a frantic effort to mount; then, as his horse
sprang snorting away, he strove to draw one of his pistols. There was a
turbulent struggle under the great silver moon and the dead trees.
Again and again the swaying figures and their interlocked shadows
reeled to the verge of the cliff; one striving to fall and carry the
other with him, the other straining every nerve to hold back his
Even the storekeeper stood up and wheezed out a remonstrance.
“Look-a-hyar, boys”—he began; then, “Jer'miah,” he broke off
abruptly, as the hopeful scion peered shyly out of the store door,
“clar out'n the way, sonny; they hev got shootin'-irons, an' some o' em
mought go off.”
He himself stepped prudently back. The man on the stump, however,
forgot danger in his excitement. He sat and watched the scene with an
eager relish which might suggest that a love of bull-fights is not a
“Be them men a-wrastlin'?” called out a woman, appearing in the
doorway of a neighboring house.
“'Pears like it ter me,” he said, dryly.
The strength of despair had served to make the younger man the
blacksmith's equal, and the contest might have terminated differently
had Rick Tyler not stumbled on a ledge. He was forced to his knees,
then full upon the ground, his antagonist's grasp upon his throat. The
blacksmith roared out for help; the man on the stump slowly responded,
and the storekeeper languidly came and overlooked the operation, as the
young fellow was disarmed and securely bound, hand and foot.
“Waal, now, Gid Fletcher, ye hev got him,” said Nathan Hoodendin.
“What d' ye want with him?”
The blacksmith had risen, panting, with wild eyes, his veins
standing out in thick cords, perspiring from every pore, and in a
“What do I want with him? I want ter put his head on my anvil thar,
an' beat the foolishness out'n it with my hammer. I want ter kick him
off'n this hyar bluff down ter the forge fires o' hell. That air what
I want. An' the State o' Tennessee ain't wantin' much differ.”
“Gid Fletcher,” said the man who had been sitting on the stump,—he
spoke in an accusing voice,—“ye ain't keerin' nuthin' fur the law o'
the land, nor the peace o' Big Smoky, nuther. It air jes' that two
hunderd dollars blood money ye air cottonin' ter, an' ye knows it.”
The love of money, the root of evil, is so rare in the mountains
that the blacksmith stood as before a deep reproof. Then, with a moral
hardihood that matched his physical prowess, he asked, “An' what ef I
“What war I a-tellin' you-uns? Satan's a-stirrin',—Satan's
a-stirrin' on the Big Smoky!” interpolated old Hoodendin.
“Waal, I 'd never hev been hankerin' fur sech,” drawled the
A number of other men had come out from the houses, and a discussion
ensued as to the best plan to keep the prisoner until morning. It was
suggested that the time-honored expedient in localities without the
civilization of a jail—a wagon-body inverted, with a rock upon it—
would be as secure as the state prison.
“But who wants ter go ter heftin' rocks?” asked Nathan Hoodendin,
For the sake of convenience, therefore, they left the prisoner bound
with a rope made fast around a stump, that he might not, in his
desperation, roll himself from the crag, and deputing a number of the
men to watch him by turns, the Settlement retired to its slumbers.
The night wore on; the moon journeyed toward the mountains in the
west; the mists rose to meet it, and glistened like a silver sea. Some
lonely, undiscovered ocean, this; never a sail set, never a pennant
flying; all the valley was submerged; the black summits in the distance
were isolated and insular; the moonlight glanced on the sparkling
ripples, on the long reaches of illusive vapor.
At intervals cocks crew; a faint response, like farthest echoes,
came from some neighboring cove; and then silence, save for the drone
of the nocturnal insects and the far blast of a hunter's horn.
“Jer'miah,” said Rick Tyler, suddenly, as the boy crouched by one of
the stumps and watched him with dilated, moonlit eyes,—when Nathan
Hoodendin's vigil came the little factotum served in his stead,—
“Jer'miah, git my knife out 'n the store an' cut these hyar ropes. I'll
gin ye my rifle ef ye will.”
The boy sprang up, scudded off swiftly, then came back, and crouched
by the stump again.
The moon slipped lower and lower; the silver sea had turned to
molten gold; the stars that had journeyed westward with the moon were
dying out of a dim blue sky. Over the corn-field in the east was one
larger than the rest, burning in an amber haze, charged with an
unspoken poetical emotion that set its heart of white fire aquiver.
“I 'll gin ye my horse ef ye will.”
“I dassent,” said Jer'miah.
The morning star was burned out at last, and the prosaic day came
over the corn-field.
TWILIGHTwas slipping down on the Big Smoky. Definiteness was
annihilated, and distance a suggestion. Mountain forms lay darkening
along the horizon, still flushed with the sunset. Eskaqua Cove had
abysmal suggestions, and the ravines were vague glooms. Fireflies were
aflicker in the woods. There might be a star, outpost of the night.
Dorinda, hunting for the vagrant “crumply cow,” paused sometimes
when the wandering path led to the mountain's brink, and looked down
those gigantic slopes and unmeasured depths. She carried her
milk-piggin, and her head was uncovered. Now and then she called with
long, vague vowels, “Soo—cow! Soo!” There was no response save the
echoes and the vibrant iteration of the katydid. Once she heard an
alien sound, and she paused to listen. From the projecting spur where
she stood, looking across the Cove, she could see, above the forests on
the slopes, the bare, uprising dome, towering in stupendous proportions
against the sky. The sound came again and yet again, and she recognized
the voice of the man who was wont to go and pray in the desert places
on the “bald” of the mountain, and whom she had likened to the prophets
of old. There was something indescribably wild and weird in those
appealing, tempestuous tones, now rising as in frenzy, and now falling
as with exhaustion,—beseeching, adjuring, reproaching.
“He hev fairly beset the throne o' grace!” she said, with a sort of
pity for this insistent piety. A shivering, filmy mist was slipping
down over the great dome. It glittered in the last rays of the
sunlight, already vanished from the world below, like an illuminated
silver gauze. She was reminded of the veil of the temple, and she had a
sense of intrusion.
“Prayer, though, air free for all,” she remarked, as
self-justification, since she had paused to hear.
She did not linger. His voice died in the distance, and the
solemnity of the impression was gradually obliterated. As she went she
presently began to sing, sometimes interpolating, without a sense of
interruption, her mellow call of “Soo—cow! Soo!” until it took the
semblance of a refrain, with an abrupt crescendo. The wild roses were
flowering along the paths, and the pink and white azaleas,—what
perfumed ways, what lavish grace and beauty! The blooms of the laurel
in the darkling places were like a spangling of stars. Dew was falling,
—it dashed into her face from the boughs that interlaced across the
unfrequented path,—and still the light lingered, loath to leave. She
heard the stir of some wild things in the hollow of a great tree, and
then a faint, low growl. She fancied she saw a pair of bright eyes
looking apprehensively at her.
“We-uns hev got a baby at our house, too, an' we don't want yourn,
ma'am; much obleeged, all the same,” she said, with a laugh. But she
looked back with a sort of pity for that alert maternal fear, and she
never mentioned to the youngest brother, a persistent trapper, the
little family of raccoons in the woods.
She had forgotten the voice raised in importunate supplication on
the “bald,” until, pursuing the path, she was led into the road, hard
by a little bridge, or more properly culvert, which had rotted long
ago; the vines came up through the cavities in the timbers, and a
blackberry bush, with a wren's nest, flourished in their midst. The
road was fain to wade through the stream; but the channel was dry now,
—a narrow belt of yellow sand lying in a long curving vista in the
midst of the dense woods. A yoke of oxen, drawing a rude slide, paused
to rest in the middle of the channel, and beside them was a man, of
medium height, slender but sinewy, dressed in brown jeans, his trousers
thrust into the legs of his boots, a rifle on his shoulder, and a
broad-brimmed old wool hat surmounting his dark hair, that hung down to
the collar of his coat. Her singing had prepared him for her advent,
but he barely raised his eyes. That quick glance was incongruous with
his dullard aspect; it held a spark of fire, inspiration, frenzy,—who
He spoke suddenly, in a meek, drawling way, and with the air of
submitting the proposition:—
“I hev gin the beastises a toler'ble hard day's work, an' I 'm a
favorin' 'em goin' home.”
A long pause ensued. The oxen hung down their weary heads, with the
symbol of slavery upon them. The smell of ferns and damp mould was on
the air. Rotting logs lay here and there, where the failing water had
stranded them. The grape-vine, draping the giant oaks, swayed gently,
and suggested an observation to break the silence.
“How air the moral vineyard a-thrivin'?” she asked, solemnly.
He looked downcast. “Toler'ble, I reckon.”
“I hearn tell ez thar war a right smart passel o' folks baptized
over yander in Scolacutta River,” she remarked, encouragingly.
“I baptized fourteen.”
She turned the warm brightness of her eyes upon him. “They hed all
fund grace!” she exclaimed.
“They 'lowed so. I hopes they'll prove it by thar works,” he said,
“Ye war a-prayin' fur 'em on the bald?” she asked, apprehending that
he accounted these converts peculiarly precarious.
“Naw,” he replied, with moody sincerity; “I war a-prayin' for
There was another pause, longer and more awkward than before.
“What work be you-uns a-doin' of?” asked Dorinda, timidly. She
quailed a trifle before the uncomprehended light in his eyes. It was
not of her world, she felt instinctively.
“I hev ploughed some, holpin' Jonas Trice, an' hev been a-haulin'
wood. I tuk my rifle along,” he added, “thinkin' I mought see suthin'
ez would be tasty fur the old men's supper ez I kem home, but I forgot
ter look around keen.”
There was a sudden sound along the road,—a sound of quick
hoof-beats. Because of the deep sand the rider was close at hand before
his approach was discovered. He drew rein abruptly, and they saw that
it was Gid Fletcher, the blacksmith of the Settlement.
“Hev you-uns hearn the news?” he cried, excitedly, as he threw
himself from the saddle.
The man, leaning on the rifle, looked up, with no question in his
eyes. There was an almost monastic indifference to the world suggested
in his manner.
“Thar 's a mighty disturbamint at the Settlemint.
Las' night this hyar Rick Tyler,—what air under indictment fur
a-killin' o' Joel Byers,—he kem a-nosin' 'roun' the Settlemint
a-tryin' ter buy powder”—
Dorinda stretched out her hand; the trees were unsteady before her;
the few faint stars, no longer pulsating points of light, described a
circle of dazzling gleams. She caught at the yoke on the neck of the
oxen; she leaned upon the impassive beast, and then it seemed that
every faculty was merged in the sense of hearing. The horse had moved
away from the blacksmith, holding his head down among the bowlders, and
snuffing about for the water he remembered here with a disappointment
“War he tuk?” demanded the preacher.
“Percisely so,” drawled the blacksmith, with a sub-current of
elation in his tone.
There was a sudden change in Kelsey's manner. He turned fiery eyes
upon the blacksmith. Light and life were in every line of his face. He
drew himself up tense and erect; he stretched forth his hand with an
“T war you-uns, Gid Fletcher, ez tuk the boy!”
“Lord, pa'son, how 'd you-uns know that?” exclaimed the blacksmith.
His manner combined a deference, which in civilization we reccognize as
respect for the cloth, with the easy familiarity, induced by the
association since boyhood, of equals in age and station. “I hed n't let
on a word, hed I, D'rindy?”
The idea of an abnormal foreknowledge, mysteriously possessed, had
its uncanny influences. The lonely woods were darkening about them. The
stars seemed very far off. A rotting log in the midst of the debris of
the stream, in a wild tangle of underbrush and shelving rocks, showed
fox-fire and glowed in the glooms.
“I knowed,” said Kelsey, contemptuously waiving the suggestion of
miraculous forecast, “bekase the sher'ff hain't been in the Big Smoky
for two weeks, an' that thar danglin' shadder o' his'n rid off las'
Monday from Jeemes's Mill in Eskaqua Cove. An' the constable o' the
deestric air sick abed. So I 'lowed 't war you-uns.”
“An' why air it me more 'n enny other man at the Settlemint?“
The blacksmith's blood was rising; his sensibilities descried a covert
taunt which as yet his slower intelligence failed to comprehend.
“An' ye hev rid with speed fur the sher'ff—or mebbe ter overhaul
the dep'ty—ter come an' jail the prisoner afore he gits away.”
“An' why me, more 'n the t'others?” demanded the blacksmith.
“Yer heart air ez hard ez yer anvil, Gid Fletcher,” said the
mind-reader. “Thar ain't another man on the Big Smoky ez would stir
himself ter gin over ter the gallus or the pen'tiary the frien' ez
trested him, who hev done no harm, but hev got tangled in a twist of a
unjest law. Ef the law tuk him, that's a differ.”
“'T ain't fur we-uns ter jedge o' the law!” exclaimed Gid Fletcher,
his logic sharpened by the anxiety of his greed and his prideful
self-esteem. “Let the law jedge o' his crime.”
“Jes' so; let the law take him, an' let the law try him. The law is
ekal ter it. Ef the sher'ff summons me with his posse, I'll hunt Rick
Tyler through all the Big Smoky”—
“Look-a-hyar, Hi Kelsey, the Gov'nor o' Tennessee hev offered a
reward o' two hunderd dollars”—
“Blood money,” interpolated the parson.
“Ye kin call it so, ef so minded; but ef it war right fur the
Gov'nor ter offer it, it air right fur me ter yearn it.”
He had come very close. It was his nature and his habit to brook no
resistance. He subdued the hard metals upon his anvil. His hammer
disciplined the iron. The fire wrought his will. His instinct was to
forge this man's opinion into the likeness of his own. His conviction
was the moral swage that must shape the belief of others.
“It air lawful fur me ter yearn it,” he repeated.
“Lawful!” exclaimed the parson, with a tense, jeering laugh. “Judas
war a law-abidin' citizen. He mos' lawfully betrayed his Frien'
ter the law. Them thirty pieces o' silver! Sech currency ain't out o'
Quick as a flash the blacksmith's heavy hand struck the prophet in
the face. The next moment his sudden anger was merged in fear. He
stood, unarmed, at the mercy of an assaulted and outraged man, with a
loaded rifle in his hands, and all the lightnings of heaven quivering
in his angry eyes.
Gid Fletcher had hardly time to draw the breath he thought his last,
when the prophet slowly turned the other cheek.
“In the name of the Master,” he said, with all the dignity of his
As the blacksmith mounted his horse and rode away, he felt that the
parson's rifle-ball would be preferable to the gross slur that he had
incurred. His reputation, moral and spiritual, was annihilated; and he
held this dear, for piety, or its simulacrum, on the primitive Big
Smoky, is the point of honor. What a text! What an illustration of
iniquity he would furnish for the sermons, foretelling wrath and
vengeance, that sometimes shook the Big Smoky to its foundations! He
was cast down, and indignant too.
“Fur Hi Kelsey ter be a-puttin' up sech a pious mouth, an' a-turnin'
the t'other cheek, an' sech, ter me, ez hev seen him hold his own ez
stiff in a many a free-handed fight, an' hev drawed his shootin'-irons
on folks agin an' agin! An' he fairly tuk the dep'ty, at that thar
disturbamint at the meet'n'-house, by the scruff o' the neck, an' shuck
him ez ef he hed been a rat or suthin', an' drapped him out'n the door.
An' now ter be a-turnin' the t'other cheer! An' thar 's that thar
D'rindy, a-seein' it all, an' a-lookin' at it ez wide-eyed ez a cat in
Dorinda went home planning a rescue. Against the law this probably
was, she thought. “Ef it air—it ought n't ter be,” she concluded,
arbitrarily. “It don't hurt nobody.” How serious it was—a felony—
she did not know, nor did she care. She went on sturdily, debating
within herself how best to tell the news. With an intuitive knowledge
of human nature, she reckoned on the prejudice aroused by the recital
of the blacksmith's assault upon the preacher and the forbearance of
the man of God. She began to count those who would be likely to attempt
the enterprise when it should be suggested. There were the five men at
home, all bold, reckless, antagonistic to the law, and at odds with the
sheriff. She paused, with a frightened face and a wild gesture as if to
ward off an unforeseen danger. Send them to meet him! Never, never
would she lift her hand or raise her voice to aid in fulfilling that
grimly prophesied death on the muzzle of the old rifle-barrel. She
trembled at the thought of her precipitancy. His life was in her hand.
With a constraining moral sense she felt that it was she who had placed
it in jeopardy, and that she held it in trust.
She was cold, shivering. There was a change in the temperature;
perhaps hail had fallen somewhere near, for the rare air had icy
suggestions. She was seldom out so late, and was glad to see, high on
the slope, the light that was wont to shine like a star into the dark
depths of Eskaqua Cove. The white mists gathered around it; a circle of
pearly light encompassed it, like Saturn's ring. As she came nearer,
the roof of the house defined itself, with its oblique ridge-pole
against the sky, and its clay and stick chimney, also built in defiance
of rectangles, and its little porch, the curtaining hop-vines,
dripping, dripping, with dew. In the corner of the rail fence was the
“crumply cow,” chewing her cud.
The radiance of firelight streamed out through the open door, around
which was grouped a number of shadows, of intent and wistful aspect.
These were the hounds, and they crowded about her ecstatically as she
came up on the porch.
She paused at the door, and looked in with melancholy eyes. The
light fell on her face, still damp with the dew, giving its gentle
curves a subdued glister, like marble; the dark blue of her dress
heightened its fairness. A sudden smile broke upon it as she leaned
forward. There were three men, Ab, Pete, and Ben, seated around the
fire; but she was looking at none of them, and they silently followed
her gaze. Only one pair of eyes met hers,—the eyes of a fat young
person, wonderfully muscular for the tender age of three, who sat in
the chimney-corner in a little wooden chair, and preserved the
important and impassive air of a domestic magnate. This was hardly
impaired by his ill-defined, infantile features, his large tow-head,
his stolid blue eyes, his feminine garb of blue-checked cotton, short
enough to disclose sturdy white calves and two feet with the usual
complement of toes. He looked at her in grave recognition, but made no
“Jacob,” she softly drawled, “why n't ye go ter bed?”
But Jacob was indisposed for conversation on this theme; he said
“Why n't you-uns git him ter bed?” she asked of the assemblage at
large. “He 'll git stunted, a-settin' up so late in the night.”
“Waal,” said one of the huge jeans-clad mountaineers, taking his
pipe from his mouth, and scrutinizing the subject of conversation, “I
'low it takes more 'n three full grown men ter git that thar survigrus
buzzard ter bed when he don't want ter go thar, an' we war n't a-goin'
ter resk it.”
“I did ax him ter go ter bed, D'rindy,” said another of the bearded
giants, “but he 'lowed he would n't. I never see a critter so
pompered ez Jacob; he ain't got no medjure o' respec' fur nobody.”
The subject of these strictures gazed unconcernedly first at one
speaker, then at the other. Dorinda still looked at him, her face
transfigured by its tender smile. But she was fain to exert her
authority. “Waal, Jacob,” she said, decisively, “ye mus' gin yer
cornsent ter go ter bed, arter a while.”
Jacob calmly nodded. He expected to go to bed some time that night.
The hounds had taken advantage of Dorinda's entrance to creep into
the room and adjust themselves among the family group about the fire.
One of them, near Jacob, lured by the tempting plumpness, put out a
long red tongue, and gave a furtive lick to his fat white leg. The
little mountaineer promptly doubled his plucky fist, and administered a
sharp blow on the black nose of the offender, whose yelp of repentant
pain attracted attention to the canine intruders. Ab Cayce rose to his
feet with an oath. There was a shrill chorus of anguish as he actively
kicked them out with his great cowhide boots.
“Git out'n hyar, ye dad-burned beastises! I hev druv ye out fifty
times sence sundown; now stay druv!”
He emphasized the lesson with several gratuitous kicks after the
room and the porch were fairly cleared. But before he was again seated
the dogs were once more clustered about the door, with intent bobbing
heads and glistening eyes that peered in wistfully, with a longing for
the society of their human friends, and a pathetic anxiety to be
accounted of the family circle.
There was more stir than usual in the interval between supper and
bedtime. During the three memorable days that Dorinda had sojourned in
Tuckaleechee Cove Miranda Jane's ineffective administration had
resulted in domestic chaos in several departments. The lantern by which
the cow was to be milked was nowhere to be found. The filly-like
Miranda Jane, with her tousled mane and black forelock hanging over her
eyes, was greatly distraught in the effort to remember where it had
been put and for what it had been last used, and was “plumb beat out
and beset,” she declared, as she cantered in and cantered out, and took
much exercise in the search, to little purpose. One of the men rose
presently, and addressed himself to the effort. He found it at last,
and handed it to Dorinda without a word. He did not offer to milk the
cow, as essentially a feminine task, in the mountains, as to sew or
knit. When she came back she sat down among them in the chair usually
occupied by her grandmother,—who had in her turn gone on a visit to
“Aunt Jerushy” in Tuckaleechee Cove,—and as she busied herself in
putting on her needles a sizable stocking for Jacob she did not join in
the fragmentary conversation.
Ab Cayce, the eldest, talked fitfully as he smoked his pipe,—a
lank, lantern-jawed man, with a small, gleaming eye and a ragged beard.
The youngest of the brothers, Solomon, was like him, except that his
long chin, of the style familiarly denominated jimber-jawed, was still
smooth and boyish, and, big-boned as he was, he lacked in weight and
somewhat in height the proportions of the senior. Peter was the
contentious member of the family. He was wont to bicker in solitary
disaffection, until he seemed to disprove the adage that it takes two
to make a quarrel. He was afflicted with a stammer, and at every
obstruction his voice broke out with startling shrillness, several keys
higher than the tone with which the sentence commenced. He was
loose-jointed and had a shambling gait; his hair seemed never to have
outgrown the bleached, colorless tone so common among the children of
the mountains, and it hung in long locks of a dreary drab about his
sun-embrowned face. His teeth were irregular, and protruded slightly.
“Ez hard-favored ez Pete Cayce,” was a proverb on the Big Smoky. His
wrangles about the amount of seed necessary to sow to the acre, and his
objurgation concerning the horse he had been ploughing with that day,
filled the evening.
“Thar ain't a durned fool on the Big Smoky ez dunno that thar sayin'
'bout 'n the beastises:—
'One white huff—buy him;
Two white huffs—try him;
Three white huffs—deny him;
Four white huffs an' a white nose—
Take off his hide an' feed him ter the crows.' “
Outside, the rising wind wandered fitfully through the Great Smoky,
like a spirit of unrest. The surging trees in the wooded vastness on
every side filled the air with the turbulent sound of their commotion.
The fire smouldered on the hearth. The room was visible in the warm
glow: the walls, rich and mellow with the alternate dark shade of the
hewn logs and the dull yellow of the “daubin';” the great frame of the
warping-bars, hung about with scarlet and blue and saffron yarn; the
brilliant strings of red pepper, swinging from the rafters. The
spinning-wheel, near the open door, revolved slightly, with a stealthy
motion, when the wind touched it, as though some invisible woodland
thing had half a mind for uncanny industrial experiments.
Dorinda told her news at last, in few words and with what composure
she could command. As the listeners broke into surprised ejaculations
and comments, she sat gazing silently at the fire. Should she speak the
thought nearest her heart? Should she suggest a rescue? She was torn by
contending terrors,—fears for them, for the man in his primitive
shackles at the Settlement, for the enemy whose life she felt she had
jeopardized. She had a wild vision—half in hope, half in anguish—of
her brothers, in the saddle, armed to the teeth and riding like the
wind. They had not moved of their own accord. Should she urge them to
Oh, never had the long days on the Big Smoky, never had all the
years that had visibly rolled from east to west with the changing
seasons, brought her so much of life as the last few hours,—such
intensity of emotion, such swiftness of thought, such baffling
perplexity, such woe!
KELSEY trudged on with his slide and his oxen, elated by his moral
triumph. He glorified himself for his meekness. He joyed, with all the
turbulent impulses of victory, in the blacksmith's discomfiture.
Yet he was cognizant of his own deeper, subtler springs of action.
There was that within him which forbade him to take the life of an
unarmed man, but he piqued himself that he forbore. He had withheld
even the return of the blow. But he knew that in refraining he had
struck deeper still. He dwelt upon the scene with the satisfaction of
an inventor. He, too, could foresee the consequences: the bloodcurdling
eloquence; the port and pose of a martyr; the far-spread distrust of
the blacksmith's professions of piety, under which that doughty
religionist already quaked.
And as he reflected he replied, tartly, to the monitor within, “Be
angry and sin not.”
And the monitor had no text.
Because of the night drifting down, perhaps, drifting down with a
chilling change; because of the darkened solemnity of the dreary woods;
because of the stars shining with a splendid aloofness from all that is
human; because of the melancholy suggestions of a will-o'-the-wisp
glowing in a marshy tangle, his exultant mood began to wane.
“Thar it is!” he cried, suddenly, pointing at the mocking illusion,
—“that's my religion: looks like fire, an' it 's fog!”
His mind had reverted to his wild supplications in the solitudes of
the “bald,”—his unanswered prayers. The oxen had paused of their own
accord to rest, and he stood looking at the spectral gleam.
“I 'd never hev thunk o' takin' up with religion,” he said, in a
shrill, upbraiding tone, “ef I hed been let ter live along like other
men be, or ef me an' mine could die like other folks be let ter die!
But it 'peared ter me ez religion war 'bout all ez war lef', arter I
hed gin the baby the stuff the valley doctor hed lef' fur Em'ly,—
bein' ez I could n't read right the old critter's cur'ous scrapin's
with his pencil,—an' gin Em'ly the stuff fur the baby. An' it died.
An' then Em'ly got onsettled an' crazy, an' tuk ter vagrantin' 'roun',
an' fell off'n the bluff. An' some say she flunged herself off'n it.
And I knows she flunged herself off'n it through bein' out'n her mind
He paused, leaning on the yoke, his dreary eyes still on the
ignis fatuus of the woods. “An' then Brother Jake Tobin 'lowed
ez religion war fur sech ez me. I hed no mind ter religion. But the
worl' hed in an' about petered out for me. An' I tuk up with religion.
I hev served it five year faithful. An' now”—he cast his angry eyes
upward—“ye let me believe that thar is no God!”
So it was that Satan hunted him like a partridge on the mountains.
So it was that he went out into the desert places to upbraid the God in
whom he believed because he believed that there was no God. There was a
tragedy in his faith and his unfaith. That this untrained, untutored
mind should grope among the irreconcilable things,—the problems of a
merciful God and his afflicted people, foreordained from the beginning
of the world and free agents! That to the ignorant mountaineer should
come those distraught questions that vex polemics, and try the strength
of theologies, and give the wise men an illimitable field for the
display of their agile and ingenious solutions and substitutions! He
knew naught of this; the wild Alleghanies intervened between his
yearning, empty despair and their plenished fame, the splendid
superstructure on the ruins of their faith. He thought himself the only
unbeliever in a Christian world, the only inherent infidel; a
mysteriously accursed creature, charged with the discovery of the
monstrous fallacy of that beneficent comfort, assuaging the grief of a
stricken world, and called an overruling Providence. Again his
flickering faith would flare up, and he would reproach God who had
suffered its lapse. This was his secret and his shame, and he guarded
it. And so when he preached his wild sermons with a certain natural
eloquence; and prayed his frantic prayers, instinct with all the
sincerities of despair; and sang with the people the mournful old hymns
in the little meeting-house on the notch, or on the banks of the
Scolacutta River, where they went down to be baptized, his keen
introspection, his more dissent, which he might not forbear, yet would
not avow, were an intolerable burden, and his spiritual life was the
throe of a spiritual anguish.
Often there was no intimation in those sermons of his of the quaint
doctrines which delight the simple men of his calling in that region,
who are fain to feel learned. His Christ, to judge from this mood, was
a Paramount Emotion: not the Christ who confuted the wise men in the
temple, and read in the synagogues, and said dark allegories; but he
who stilled the storm, and healed the sick, and raised the dead, and
wept, most humanly, for the friend whom he loved. Kelsey's trusting
heart contended with his doubting mind, and the simple humanities of
these sermons comforted him. Sometimes he sought consolation otherwise;
he would remember that he had never been like his fellows. This was
only another manifestation of the dissimilarity that dated from his
earliest recollections. He had from his infancy peculiar gifts. He was
learned in the signs of the weather, and predicted the mountain storms;
he knew the haunts and habits of every beast and bird in the Great
Smoky, every leaf that burgeons, every flower that blows. So deep and
incisive a knowledge of human nature had he that this faculty was
deemed supernatural, and akin to the gift of prophecy. He himself
understood, although perhaps he could not have accurately limited and
defined it, that he exercised unconsciously a vigilant attention and an
acute discrimination; his forecast was based upon observation so close
and unsparing, and a power of deduction so just, that in a wider sphere
it might have been called judgment, and, reinforced by education, have
attained all the functions of a ripened sagacity.
Crude as it was, it did not fail of recognition. In many ways his
“word” was sought and heeded. His influence yielded its richest effect
when his confrére of the pulpit would call on him to
foretell the fate of the sinner and the wrath of God to the Big Smoky.
And then Brother Jake Tobin would accompany the glowing picture by a
slow rhythmic clapping of hands and a fragmentary chant, “That dreadful
Day air a-comin' along!”—bearing all the time a smiling and beatific
countenance, as if he were fireproof himself, and brimstone and flame
were only for his friends.
Rousing himself from his reverie with a sigh, Hiram Kelsey urged the
oxen along the sandy road, which had here and there a stony interval
threatening the slide with dissolution at every jolt. They began
presently to quicken their pace of their own accord. The encompassing
woods and the laurel were so dense that no gleam of light was visible
till they brought up suddenly beside a rail fence, and the fitful
glimmer of firelight from an open door close at hand revealed the
presence of a double log cabin. There was an uninclosed passage between
the two rooms, and in this a tall, gaunt woman was standing.
“Thar be Hi now, with the steers,” she said, detecting the dim
bovine shadows in the flickering gleams.
“Tell Hiram ter come in right now,” cried a chirping voice, like a
superannuated cricket. “I hev a word ter ax him.”
“Tell Hiram ter feed them thar steers fust,” cried out another
ancient voice, keyed several tones lower, and also with the ring of
“Tell Hiram,” shrilly piped the other, “ter hustle his bones, ef he
knows what air good fur 'em.”
“Tell Hiram,” said the deeper voice, sustaining the antiphonal
effect, “I want them thar steers feded foreshortly.”
Then ensued a muttered wrangle within, and finally the shriller
voice was again uplifted: “Tell Hiram what my word air.”
“An' ye tell Hiram what my word air.”
The woman, who was tall as a grenadier, and had a voice like velvet,
looked meekly back into the room, upon each mandate, with a nod of mild
“Ye hearn 'em,” she said softly to Kelsey. Evidently she could not
undertake the hazard of discriminating between these coequal
“I hearn 'em,” he replied.
She sat down near the door, and resumed her occupation of
monotonously peeling June apples for “sass.” Her brown calico
sunbonnet, which she habitually wore, in doors and out, obscured her
visage, except her chin and absorbed mouth, that now and then moved in
unconscious sympathy with her work. There was a piggin on one side of
her to receive the quartered fruit, and on the other a white oak splint
basket, already half full of the spiral parings. On the doorstep her
husband sat, a shaggy-headed, full-bearded, unkempt fellow, in brown
jeans trousers reaching almost to his collar-bone in front, and
supported by the single capable suspender so much affected in the
mountains. His unbleached cotton shirt was open at the throat, for
there was fire enough in the huge chimney-place to make the room
unpleasantly warm, despite the change of temperature without. Now and
then he stretched out his hand for an apple already pared, which his
wife gave him with an adroit back-handed movement, and which he ate in
a mouthful or two. He made way for Kelsey to enter, and asked him a
question, almost inarticulate because of the apples, but apparently of
hospitable intent, for Kelsey said he had had a bite and a sup at Jonas
Trice's, and did not want the supper which had been providently saved
Kelsey did not betray which command he had thought best to obey.
“I hed ter put my rifle on the rack in the t'other room, gran'dad,”
he observed meekly, addressing one of two very old men who sat on
either side of the huge fireplace. There were cushions in their rude
arm-chairs, and awkward little three-legged footstools were placed in
front of them. Their shoes and clothing, although coarse to the last
degree, were clean and carefully tended. They had each long ago lived
out the allotted threescore years and ten, but they had evidently not
worn out their welcome. One had suffered a paralytic attack, and every
word and motion was accompanied with a convulsive gasp and jerk. The
other old man was saturnine and lymphatic, and seemed a trifle younger
than his venerable associate.
“What war ye a-doin' of with yer rifle?” mumbled “gran'dad,” in
wild, toothless haste.
“I tuk it along ter see, when I war a-comin' home, ef I mought shoot
suthin' tasty for supper.”
“What did ye git?” demanded gran'dad, with retrospective greed; for
supper was over, and he had done full justice to his share.
“I never got nuthin',” said Kelsey, a trifle shamefacedly.
“Waal, waal, waal! These hyar latter times gits cur'ouser ez they
goes along. The stren'th an' the seasonin' hev all gone out'n the lan'.
Whenst I war young, folks ez kerried rifles ter git suthin' fur supper
never kem home a-suck-in' the bar'l. Folks ez kerried rifles in them
days didn't tote 'em fur—fur—a ornamint. Folks in them days lef'
preachin' an' prophecy an' sech ter thar elders, an' hunted the beastis
an' the Injun',—though sinners is plentier than the t'other kind o'
game on the Big Smoky these times. No man, in them days, jes' turned
thirty sot hisself down ter idlin', an' preachin', an' convictin' his
elders o' sin.”
Kelsey bore himself with the deferential humility characteristic of
the mountaineers toward the aged among them.
“What war the word ez ye war a-layin' off ter say ter me, gran'dad?”
he asked, striving to effect a diversion.
“Waal, waal, look-a-hyar, Hiram!” exclaimed the old man, remembering
his question in eager precipitancy. “This hyar 'Cajah Green, ye know,
ez air a-runnin' fur sher'ff—air—air he Republikin or Dimmycrat?”
“Thar's no man in these hyar parts smart enough ter find that out,”
interpolated Obediah Scruggs in the door, circumspectly taking the
apple seeds out of his mouth. He was the son of one of the magnates,
and the son-in-law of the other; his matrimonial venture had resulted
in doubling his filial obligations. His wife had brought, instead of a
dowry, her aged father to the fireside.
“ 'Cajah Green,” continued the speaker, “run ez a independent las'
time, an' thar war so many bolters an' sech they split the vote, an' he
war 'lected. An' now he air a-runnin' agin.”
The old man listened to this statement, his eye blazing, his chin in
a quiver, his lean figure erect, and the pipe in his palsied hand
shaking till the coal of fire on top showed brightening tendencies.
“Waal, sir! waal!” exclaimed the aged politician, with intense
bitterness. “The stren'th an' the seasonin' hev all gone out'n
the lan'! Whenst I war young,” he declared dramatically, drawing the
pitiable contrast, “folks knowed what they war, an' they let other
folks know, too, ef they hed ter club it inter 'em. But them was Old
Hickory's times. Waal, waal, we ain't a-goin' ter see Old Hickory no
“I hopes not,” said the other old man, with sudden asperity. “I
hopes we 'll never see no sech tormentin' old Dimmycrat agin. But law!
I need n't fret my soul. Henry Clay shook all the life out'n him five
year afore he died. Henry Clay made a speech agin Andrew Jackson in
1840 what forty thousan' people kem ter hear. Thar war a man fur
ye! He hed a tongue like a bell; 'pears like ter me I kin hear it yit,
when I listens right hard. By Gum!” triumphantly, “that day he tuk the
stiffenin' out'n Old Hickory! Surely, surely, he did! Ef I thought I
war never a-goin' ter hear Old Hickory's name agin I'd tune up my ears
fur the angel's quirin'. I war born a Republikin, I grow'd ter be a
good Whig, an' I 'll die a Republikin. Ef that ain't religion I dunno
what air! That's the way I hev lived an' walked afore the Lord. An'
hyar in the evenin' o' my days I hev got ter set alongside o' this hyar
old consarn, an' hear him jow 'bout'n Old Hickory from mornin' till
night. Ef I hed knowed how he war goin' ter turn out 'bout'n Old
Hickory in his las' days, I would n't hev let my darter marry his son,
thirty five year ago. I knowed he war a Dimmycrat, but I never knowed
the stren'th o' the failin' till I war called on ter 'speriunce it.”
“Ye 'lowed t'other day, gran'dad,” said Kelsey, addressing the aged
paralytic in a propitiatory manner, “ez ye war n't a-goin' ter talk
'bout'n Old Hickory no more. It 'pears like ter me ez ye oughter gin
yer 'tention ter the candidates ez ye hev got ter vote fur in August,—
Cajah Green, an' sech.”
But it must be admitted that Micajah Green was not half the man that
Old Hickory was, and the filial remonstrance had no effect. The
acrimonies of fifty years ago were renewed across the hearth with a
rancor that suggests that an old grudge, like old wine, improves with
time. No one ventured to interrupt, but Obediah Scruggs, still lounging
in the door, commented in a low tone:—
“The law stirs itself ter sot a time when a man air old enough ter
vote an' meddle with politics ginerally. 'Pears like ter me it ought
ter sot a time when he hev got ter quit.”
“Waal, Obediah!” exclaimed the soft-voiced woman, the red parings
hanging in concentric circles from her motionless knife. “That ain't
religion. Ye talk like a man would hev ter be ez sensible an' solid fur
politics ez fur workin' on the road. They don't summons the old men fur
sech jobs ez that. They mought ez well enjye the evenin' o' thar days
with this foolishness o' politics ez enny other.”
“Shucks!” said Obediah, who had the courage of his convictions.
“These hyar old folks hev hed ter live in the same house an' ride in
the same wagin thirty-five year, jes' 'kase, when we war married, they
agreed ter put what they hed tergether; an' they hev been a-fightin'
over thar dead an' gone politics ev'y minit o' the time sence. Thar may
be some good Dimmycrats, an' thar may be some good Republikins; but
they make a powerful oneasy team, yoked tergether. An' when it grows on
'em so, the law oughter step in, an' count 'em over age, an' shet 'em
up. 'Specially ez dad hev voted fur Andy Jackson fur Presidint,
outer respec' fur his memory, ev'y 'lection sence the tormentin' old
But he said all this below his breath, and presently fell silent,
for his wife's face had clouded, and her soft drawling voice had an
intimation of a depression of spirit.
“The kentry hev kem ter its ruin,” exclaimed the paralytic, “when
men—brazen-faced buzzards—kin go an' git 'lected ter office 'thout
no party ter boost 'em! Look-a-hyar,”—he turned to his grandson,—
“ye air always a-prophesyin'. Prophesy some now. Air 'Cajah Green
a-goin' ter be 'lected?”
He thumped the floor with his stick, and fixed his imperative eye
upon Hiram Kelsey's face.
“Naw, gran'dad. He won't be 'lected,” said the prophet.
The old man's face was scarlet because of this contradiction of his
own dismal vaticinations.
“'Cajah Green will be 'lected,” he cried. “The kentry's
ruined. Folks dunno whether they air Republikins or Dimrnycrats! Lor'
A'mighty, ter think o' that! The kentry's ruined! An' yer prophesyin'
don't tech it. They hed false prophets in the old days, an' the tribe
holds out yit.”
He struck the floor venomously with his stick. Its defective aim
once or twice brought it upon A rough black bundle that lay rolled up
in front of the fire like a great dog. A slow head was lifted
inquiringly, with an offended mien, from the rolls of fat and fur.
Twinkling small eyes glared out. When another blow descended, with a
wild disregard of results, there was a whimper, a long low growl, a
flash of white teeth, and with claw and fang the pet cub caught at the
stick. The old man dropped it in a panic.
“Look a-yander at the bar!” he shrieked.
But the cub had crouched on the floor since the stick had fallen,
and was whimpering again, and looking about in cowardly appeal.
The old man rallied, “What d'ye bring the savage beastis home fur,
Hiram, out'n the woods whar they b'long?” he vociferated.
“Kase he 'lowed he hed killed the dam, an' the young 'un war bound
ter starve,” put in the other old man actuated, perhaps, by some
sympathy for the grandson, whose strength and youth counted for naught
against this adversary.
“What air ye a-aimin' ter do with it? Ter kill sech chillen ez
happen ter make game o' ye? That's what the prophets of old cited thar
bars ter do,—ter kill the little laffin' chillen.”
Kelsey winced. The cruelties of the old chronicles bore hard upon
his wavering faith.
The old man saw his advantage, and with the wantonness of tyranny
followed it up: “That's it,—that's it! That would suit Hiram, like
the prophets,—ter kill the innercent chillen!”
The young man recoiled suddenly. The patriarch, a wild terror on his
pallid, aged face, recognized the significance of his words. He held up
his shaking hands as if to recall them, to clutch them. He had
remembered the domestic tragedy: the humble figure of the little
mountain child, all gayety and dimples and gurgling laughter, who had
known no grief and had wrought such woe, who had left a rude, empty
cradle in the corner, a mound—such a tiny mound!—in the graveyard,
and an imperishable anguish of self-reproach, unquenchable as the fires
“I furgot,—I furgot!” shrieked the old man. “I furgot the baby!
When war she buried?—las' week or year afore las'? The only one,—
the only great-gran'child I ever hed. The frien'liest baby! Knowed me
jes' ez well!” He burst into senile tears. “Don't ye go, Hiram. What
did the doctor say ye gin her? Laws-a-massy! 'Pears like 't war jes'
yestiddy she war a-crawlin' 'roan' the floor, stiddier that heejus
beastis ez I wisht war in the woods—laffin'—Lord A'mighty! laffin'
an takin' notice ez peart. Hiram, don't ye go,—don't ye go! Peartes',
pretties' chile I ever see—an' I had six o' my own—an' the
frien'lies'! An' I hed planned fur sech a many pleasures when she hed
got some growth an' hed l'arned ter talk. I wanted ter hear what she
hed ter say,—the only great-grandchild I ever hed,—an' now the
words will never be spoke. 'Pears like ter me ez the Lord shows mighty
little jedgmint ter take her, an' leave me a-cumberin' the groun'.”
Then he began once more to wring his hands and sob aloud,—that
piteous weeping of the aged!—and to mumble brokenly, “The frien'lies'
The woman left her work and took off her bonnet, showing her gray
hair drawn into a skimpy knot at the back of her head, and leaving in
high relief her strong, honest, candid features, on which the
refinements of all benign impulses effaced the effects of poverty and
ignorance. She crossed the room to the old man's chair; her velvety
voice soothed him. He suffered himself to be lifted by his son and
grandson, and carried away bodily to bed in the room across the
passage. In the mean time the woman filled a tin cup with lard, placing
in its midst a button tied in a bit of cloth to serve as a wick, and
lighted it at the fire, while the cub presided with sniffing curiosity
at the unusual proceeding, pressing up close against her as she knelt
on the hearth, well knowing that she was not to be held in fear nor in
any special respect by young bears.
“I 'm goin' ter gin him a button-lamp ter sleep by, bein' ez he hev
tuk the baby in his head agin,” she said to her father in explanation;
“he won't feel so lonesome ef he wakes up.”
He had looked keenly after his venerable compeer as the paralytic
was borne across the uninclosed passage between the two rooms.
“He's breaking some. He's aging,” he said critically; not without
sympathy, but with a stalwart conviction that his own feebleness was as
strength to the other's weakness. “He's breaking some,” he repeated,
with a physical vanity that might have graced a prize-fighter.
The next moment there came sharp and shrill through the open door
the old man's voice, high and glib in cheerful forgetfulness,
conversing with his attendants as they got him to bed.
“Whenst I war young,” he cried, “I went down to Sevierville wunst.
'T war when they war a-runnin' of Old Hickory.”
“Thar it is again!” exclaimed the ancient Republican. “Old Hickory
war bad enough when he war alive; but I b'lieves he's wusser now that
he is dead, with this hyar old critter a-moanin' 'bout him night and
day. I 'd feel myself called ter fling him off'n the bluff, ef it war
n't that he hev got the palsy, an' I gits sorry fur him wunst in a
while. An' then, I b'lieves that ennybody what is a Dimmycrat air
teched in the head, an' ain't 'sponsible fur thar foolishness, 'kase
sensible folks ain't Dimmycrats. That's been my 'speriunce fur eighty
year, en' I hev hed no call ter change my mind. So I hev to try my
patience an' stan' this hyar old critter's foolishness, but it air a
mighty tough strain.
THE shadows of the great dead trees in the midst of the Settlement were
at their minimum in the vertical vividness of the noontide. They bore
scant resemblance to those memorials of gigantic growths which towered,
stark and white, so high to the intensely blue sky; instead, they were
like some dark and leafless underbrush clustering about the sapless
trunks. The sandy stretch of the clearing reflected the sunlight with a
deeply yellow glare, its poverty of soil illustrated by frequent clumps
of the woolly mullein-weeds. The Indian corn and the sparse grass were
crudely green in the inclosures about the gray, weather-beaten
loghouses, which stood distinct against the dark, restful tones of the
forest filling the background. The mountains with each remove wore
every changing disguise of distance: shading from sombre green to a
dull purple; then overlaid with a dubious blue; next showing a true and
turquoise richness; still farther, a delicate transient hue that has no
name; and so away to the vantage-ground of illusions, where the ideal
poises upon the horizon, and the fact and the fantasy are
undistinguishably blended. The intermediate valleys appeared in
fragmentary glimpses here and there: sometimes there was only the
verdure of the tree tops; one was cleft by a canary-colored streak
which betokened a harvested wheatfield; in another blazed a sapphire
circle, where the vertical sun burned in the waters of a blue salt
The landscape was still,—very still; not the idle floating of a
cloud, not the vague shifting of a shadow, not the flutter of a wing.
But the Settlement on the crags above had known within its experience
no similar commotion. There were many horses hitched to the fences,
some girded with blankets in lieu of saddles. Clumsy wagons stood among
the stumps in the clearing, with the oxen unyoked and their provender
spread before them on the ground Although the log-cabins gave evidence
of hospitable proceedings within, family parties were seated in some of
the vehicles, munching the dinner providently brought with them. All
the dogs in the Great Smoky, except perhaps a very few incapacitated by
extreme age or extreme youth, were humble participants in the outing,
having trotted under the wagons many miles from their mountain homes,
and now lay with lolling tongues among the wheels. About the store
lounged a number of men, mostly the stolid, impassive mountaineers. A
few, however, although in the customary jeans, bore the evidence of
more worldly prosperity and a higher culture; and there were two or
three resplendent in the “b'iled shirt and store clothes” of
civilization, albeit the first was without collar or cravat, and the
latter showed antique cut and reverend age. These were candidates,—
talkative, full of anecdote, quick to respond, easily flattered, and
flattering to the last degree. They were especially jocose and friendly
with each other, but amid the fraternal guffaws and exchanges of “chaws
o' terbacco” many quips were bandied, barbed with ridicule; many good
stories recounted, charged with uncomplimentary deductions; many jokes
cracked, discovering the kernel of slander or detraction in the merry
shell. The mountaineers looked on, devoid of envy, and despite their
stolidity with an understanding of the conversational masquerade.
Beneath this motley verbal garb was a grave and eager aspiration for
public favor, and it was a matter of no small import when a voter would
languidly glance at another with a silent laugh, slowly shake his head
with a not-to-be-convinced gesture, and spit profusely on the ground.
In and out of the store dawdled a ceaseless procession of free and
enlightened citizens; always emerging with an aspect of increased
satisfaction, wiping their mouths with big bandanna handkerchiefs, and
sometimes with the more primitive expedient of a horny hand. Nathan
Hoodendin sat in front of the door, keeping store after his usual
fashion, except that the melancholy wheeze “Jer'miah” rose more
frequently upon the air. Jer'miah's duties consisted chiefly in serving
out whiskey and applejack, and the little drudge stuck to his work with
an earnest pertinacity, for which the privilege of draining the very
few drops left in the bottom of the glass after each dram seemed hardly
an adequate reward.
The speeches, which were made in the open air, the candidate mounted
on a stump in front of the store, were all much alike,—the same
self-laudatory meekness, the same inflamed party spirit, the same
jocose allusions to opponents,—each ending, “Gentlemen, if I am
elected to office I will serve you to the best of my skill and ability.
Gentlemen, I thank you for your attention.” The crowd, close about,
stood listening with great intentness, each wearing the impartial
pondering aspect of an umpire.
On the extreme outskirts of the audience, however, there was an
unprecedented lapse of attention; a few of the men, seated on stumps or
on the wagon-tongues, now and then whispering together, and casting
excited glances toward the blacksmith's shop. Sometimes one would rise,
approach it stealthily, stoop down, and peer in at the low window. The
glare outside made the interior seem doubly dark, and a moment or two
was needed to distinguish the anvil, the fireless hearth, the sooty
hood. A vague glimmer fell through a crevice in the clapboard roof upon
a shock of yellow hair and gleaming eyes, two sullen points of light in
the midst of the deep shadows. None of the mountaineers had ever seen a
wild beast caged, but Rick Tyler's look of fierce and surly despair, of
defiance, of all vain and vengeful impulses, as he sat bound hand and
foot in the forge, was hardly more human. The faces multiplied at the
window,—stolid, or morbidly curious, awe-struck, or with a grinning
display of long tobacco-stained teeth. Many of them were well known to
Rick Tyler, and if ever he had liked them he hated them now.
There was a stir outside, a clamor of many voices. The “speaking"
was over. Footsteps sounded close to the door of the blacksmith's shop.
The sheriff was about to enter, and the crowd pressed eagerly forward
to catch a glimpse of the prisoner. Arriving this morning, the sheriff
had been glad to combine his electioneering interests with his official
duty. The opportunity of canvassing among the assemblage gave him, he
thought, an ample excuse for remaining a few hours longer at the
Settlement than was necessary; and when he heard of the impending
diversion of the gander-pulling he was convinced that his horse
required still more rest before starting with his prisoner for
He went briskly into the forge, carrying a pair of clanking
handcuffs. He busied himself in exchanging these for the cord with
which the young fellow's wrists were bound. It had been drawn brutally
tight, and the flesh was swollen and raw. “It seems ter me, ez 't was
the blacksmith that nabbed ye, he might hev done better for ye than
this, by a darned sight,” he said in an undertone.
He had not been reluctant at first that the crowd should come in,
but he appreciated unnecessary harshness as an appeal for sympathy, and
he called out to his deputy, who had accompanied him on his mission, to
clear the room.
“We 're goin' ter keep him shet up fur a hour or so, an' start down
the mounting in the cool of the evenin',” he explained; “so ef ye want
ter view him the winder is yer chance.”
The forge was cleared at last, the broad light vanishing with the
closing of the great barn-like doors. Rick heard the lowered voices of
the sheriff and deputy gravely consulting without, as they secured the
fastenings with a padlock which they had brought with them in view of
emergencies. They had taken the precaution, too, to nail strips of
board at close intervals across the shutterless window; more, perhaps,
to prevent the intrusion of the curious without than the escape of the
manacled prisoner. The section of the landscape glimpsed through the
bars,—the far blue mountains and a cluster of garnet pokeberries,
with a leaf or two of the bush growing close by the wall—sprang into
abnormal brilliancy at the end of the dark vista of the interior. It
was a duskier brown within for that fragment of vivid color and
dazzling clearness in the window. Naught else could be seen, except a
diagonal view of the porch of one of the log-cabins and the corn-field
Curiosity was not yet sated; now and then a face peered in, as Rick
sat bound, securely, the cords still about his limbs and feet and the
clanking handcuffs on his wrists. These inquisitive apparitions at the
window grew fewer as the time went by, and presently ceased altogether.
The bustle outside increased: it drowned the drowsy drone of the
cicada; it filled the mountain solitudes with a trivial incongruity.
Often sounded there the sudden tramp of a horse and a loud guffaw. Rick
knew that they were making ready for the gander-pulling, which unique
sport had been selected by the long headed mountain politicians as
likely to insure the largest assemblage possible from the surrounding
region to hear the candidates prefer their claims.
Electioneering topics were not suspended even while the younger men
were saddling and bridling their horses for the proposed festivity. As
Micajah Green strolled across the clearing, and joined a group of
elderly spectators who in their chairs sat tilted against the walls of
the store, which began to afford some shade, he found that his own
prospects were under discussion.
“They tell me, 'Cajah,” said Nathan Hoodendin, who had hardly budged
that day, his conversational activity, however, atoning for his
physical inertia, “ez ye air bound ter eend this 'lection with yer
finger in yer mouth.”
“Don't know why,” said Micajah Green, with a sharp, sudden effect as
of an angry bark, and lapsing from the smiling mien which he was wont
to conserve as a candidate.
“Waal, word hev been brung hyar ter the Settlemint ez this
prophet o' ourn in the Big Smoky, he say ye ain't goin' ter be
The sheriff laughed scornfully, snapping his fingers as he stood
before the group, and whirled airily on his boot-heel.
Nevertheless, he was visibly annoyed. He knew the strength of a
fantastic superstition among ignorant people, and their disposition to
verify rather than disprove. There were voters in the Big Smoky liable
to be controlled by a morbid impulse to make the prophet's word true.
It was an unexpected arid unmeasured adverse influence, and he chafed
under the realization.
“An' what sets Pa'son Kelsey agin me?” he demanded.
“He ain't in no ways sot agin you-uns ez I knows on,”
discriminated Nathan Hoodendin, studious impartiality expressed among
the graven wrinkles of his face. “Not ez it war sot agin ye; but
he jes' 'lows ez that air the fac'. Ye ain't goin' ter be 'lected
“The pa'son hev got a gredge agin the old man, hyar,” said the
deputy. He was a stalwart fellow of about twenty-five years of age. He
had sandy hair and mustache, a broad freckled face, light gray eyes,
and a thin-lipped, defiant mouth. He bore himself with an air of
bravado, which conveyed as many degrees of insult as one felt disposed
to take up. “He lit out on me fust,—I war with Amos Jeemes thar,—
an' the pa'son put us out'n the meet-n'-house He did! He don't want no
sorter sher'ffs in the Big Smoky. An' he called Gid Fletcher, the
blacksmith, 'Judas' fur arrestin' that lot o' bacon yander in the shop,
when he kem hyar ter the Settlemint fur powder, ter keep him
able ter resis' the law! Who sold Rick Tyler that powder, Mister
Hoodendin?” he added, turning his eyes on the proprietor of the store.
Old Hoodendin hesitated. “Jer'miah,” he wheezed feebly.
His anxious eyes gleamed from out their perplexed wrinkles like a
ray of sunlight twinkling through a spiderweb.
There was an interchange of glances between the sheriff and his
deputy, and the admonished subordinate continued:
“'T war jes' the boy, eh; an' I reckon he war afeard o' Rick's
shootin'-irons an' sech.”
“'Twar Jer'miah,” repeated the storekeeper, his discreet eyes upon
the bosom of his blue-checked homespun shirt.
“Waal, the pa'son, ez I war sayin', he called the blacksmith 'Judas'
fur capturin' the malefactor, an' the gov'nor's reward 'blood money,' “
continued the deputy, expertly electioneering, since his own tenure was
on the uncertain continuance of the sheriff in office. “An' now he's
goin' 'round the kentry prophesyin' ez 'Cajah Green ain't goin' ter be
'lected. Waal, thar war false prophets 'fore his time, an' will be
agin, I'm thinkin'.”
There was a sudden clamor upon the air; a vibrant, childish voice,
and then a great horselaugh. An old crone had come out of one of the
cabins and was standing by the fence, holding out to Gid Fletcher, who
seemed master of ceremonies, a large white gander. The fowl's
physiognomy was thrown into bold prominence by a thorough greasing of
the head and neck. His wings flapped, he hissed fiercely, he dolorously
squawked. A little girl was running frantically by the side of the old
woman, clutching at her skirt, and vociferously claiming the “gaynder.”
Hers it was, since “Mam gin me the las' aig when the gray goose laid
her ladder out, an' it war sot under the old Dominicky hen ez kem off'n
her nest through settin' three weeks, like a hen will do. An' then 't
war put under old Top-knot, an' 't war the fust aig hatched out'n old
This unique pedigree, shrieked out with a shrill distinctness, mixed
with the lament of the prescient bird, had a ludicrous effect. Fletcher
took the gander with a guffaw, the old crone chuckled, and the young
men laughed as they mounted their horses.
The blacksmith hardly knew which part he preferred to play. The
element of domination in his character gave a peculiar relish to the
rôle of umpire; yet with his pride in his deftness and strength it cost
him a pang to forego the competition in which he felt himself an
assured victor. He armed himself with a whip of many thongs, and took
his stand beneath a branch of one of the trees, from which the gander
was suspended by his big feet, head downward. Aghast at his
disagreeable situation, his wild eyes stared about; his great wings
flapped drearily; his long neck protruded with its peculiar motion,
unaware of the clutch it invited. What a pity so funny a thing can
The gaping crowd at the store, on the cabin porches, on the fences,
watched the competitors with wide-eyed, wide-mouthed delight. There
were gallant figures among them, shown to advantage on young horses
whose spirit was not yet quelled by the plough. They filed slowly
around the prescribed space once, twice; then each made the circuit
alone at a break-neck gallop. As the first horseman rode swiftly along
the crest of the precipice, his head high against the blue sky, the
stride of the steed covering mountain and valley, he had the miraculous
effect of Prince Firouz Shah and the enchanted horse in their
mysterious aerial journeys. When he passed beneath the branch whence
hung the frantic, fluttering bird, the blacksmith, standing sentinel
with his whip of many thongs, laid it upon the flank of the horse, and
despite the wild and sudden plunge the rider rose in his stirrups and
clutched the greased neck of the swaying gander. Tough old fowl! The
strong ligaments resisted. The first hardly hoped to pluck the head,
and after his hasty convulsive grasp his frightened horse carried him
on almost over the bluff. The slippery neck refused to yield at the
second pull, and the screams of the delighted spectators mingled with
the shrieks of the gander. The mountain colt, a clay-bank, with a long
black tail full of cockle-burrs, bearing the third man, reared
violently under the surprise of the lash. As the rider changed the
balance of his weight, rising in his stirrups to tug at the gander's
neck, the colt pawed the air wildly with his fore feet, fell backward,
and rolled upon the ground, almost over the hapless wight. The
blacksmith was fain to support himself against the tree for laughter,
and the hurrahing Settlement could not remember when it had enjoyed
anything so much. The man gathered himself up sheepishly, and limped
off; the colt being probably a mile away, running through the woods at
the height of his speed.
The gander was in a panic by this time. If ever a fowl of that
gender has hysterics, that gander exhibited the disease. He hissed; he
flapped his wings; he squawked; he stared; he used every limited power
of expression with which nature has gifted him. He was so funny one
could hardly look at him.
As Amos James was about to take his turn, amid flattering cries of
“Amos 'll pull his head!” “Amos 'll git his head!” a man who had
suddenly appeared on horseback at the verge of the clearing, and had
paused, contemplating the scene, rode swiftly forward to the tree.
“Ye can't pull out'n turn,—ye can't pull out'n turn, pa'son!”
cried half a dozen voices from the younger men. The elders stared in
amaze that the preacher should demean his calling by engaging in this
Kelsey checked his pace before he reached the blacksmith, who,
seeing that he was not going to pull, forbore to lay on the lash. The
next moment he thought that Kelsey was going to pull; he had risen in
his stirrups, with uplifted arm.
“What be you-uns a-goin' ter do?” demanded Gid Fletcher, amazed.
“I 'm a-goin' ter take this hyar critter down.”
His words thrilled through the Settlement like a current of
electricity. The next phrase was lost in a wild chorus of exclamations.
“Take the gaynder down?”
“Hi Kelsey hev los' his mind; surely he hev.”
Then above the angry, undistinguishable tumult of remonstrance the
preacher's voice rose clear and impressive: “The pains o' the beastis
he hev made teches the Lord in heaven; fur he marks the sparrow's fall,
an' minds himself o' the pitiful o' yearth!” He spoke with the
authority appertaining to his calling. “The spark o' life in this fow-
el air kindled ez fraish ez yourn,—fur hevin' a soul, ye don't
generally prove it; an' hevin' no soul ter save, this gaynder hain't
yearned the torments o' hell, an' I 'm a-goin' ter take the critter
“ 'T ain't yer gaynder!” conclusively argued the blacksmith,
applying the swage of his own conviction.
“He air my gaynder!” shrieked out a childish voice. “Take him
down,—take him down!”
This objection to the time—honored sport seemed hardly less
eccentric than an exhibition of insanity. To apply a dignified axiom of
humanity to that fluttering, long suffering tumult of anguish
familiarly known as the “gaynder” was regarded as ludicrously
inappropriate. To refer to the Lord and the typical sparrow in this
connection seemed almost blasphemy. Nevertheless, with the rural
reverence for spiritual authority and the superior moral perception of
the clergy, the crowd wore a submissively balked aspect, and even the
young men who had not yet had their tug at the fowl's neck succumbed,
under the impression that the preacher's fiat had put a stop to the
gander-pulling for this occasion.
As Kelsey once more lifted his hand to liberate the creator of the
day's merriment, the blacksmith, his old grudge reinforced by a new
one, gave the horse a cut with his whip. The animal plunged under the
unexpected blow, and carried the rider beyond the tree. Reverence for
the cloth had no longer a restraining influence on the young
mountaineers. They burst into yells of laughter.
“Cl'ar out, pa'son!” they exclaimed, delightedly. “Ye hev hed yer
pull. Cl'ar out!”
There was a guffaw among the elders about the store. A clamor of
commenting voices rose from the cabin porches, where the feminine
spectators stood. The gander squawked dolorously. The hubbub was
increased by the sudden sharp yelping of hounds that had started game
somewhere near at hand. Afterward, from time to time, canine snarls and
yaps rose vociferously upon the air,—unheeded, since the inherent
interests of a gander-pulling were so enhanced by the addition of a
moral discussion and the jeopardy of its conclusion.
The next man in turn, Amos James, put his horse to a canter, and
came in a cloud of yellow dust toward the objective point under the
tree. In another moment there was almost a collision, for Kelsey had
wheeled and ridden back so swiftly that he reined up under the bough
where the fowl hung as Amos James, rising in his stirrups, dashed
toward it. His horse shied, and carried him past, out of reach, while
the blacksmith stepped precipitately toward the bole, exclaiming
angrily, “Don't ride me down, Hi Kelsey!”
He recovered his presence of mind and the use of his whip
immediately, and laid a stinging lash upon the parson's horse, as once
more the champion of the bird reached up to release it. The next
instant Gid Fletcher recoiled suddenly; there was a significant
gesture, a steely glimmer, and the blacksmith was gazing with petrified
reluctance down the muzzle of a six-shooter. He dared not move a muscle
as he stood, with that limited field of vision, and with more
respectful acquiescence in the opinion of another man than he had ever
before been brought to entertain. The horseman looked at his enemy in
silence for a moment, the broad-brimmed hat shading his face, with its
melancholy expression, its immobile features, and its flashing eyes.
“Drap that lash,” Kelsey said.
Gid Fletcher's grasp relaxed; then the parson with his left hand
reached up and contrived to unloose the fluttering gander. He handed
the bird down to the little girl, who had been fairly under the horse's
heels at the tree since the first suggestions of its deliverance. She
clutched it in great haste, wrapped her apron about it, and carrying
it, baby-wise, ran fleetly off, casting apprehensive glances over her
So the gander was saved, but in its fright, its woe, and the frantic
presage in whatever organ may serve it for mind, the fowl had a pretty
fair case against the Settlement for exemplary damages.
The sport ended in great disaffection and a surly spirit. Several
small grievances among the younger men promised to result in a
disturbance of the peace. The blacksmith, held at bay only by the
pistol, flared out furiously when relieved of that strong coercion. His
pride was roused in that he should be publicly balked and terrorized.
“I'll remember this,” he said, shaking his fist in the prophet's
face.”I'll save the gredge agin ye.”
But he was pulled off by his brethren in the church, who thought it
unwise to have a member in good standing again assault the apostle of
Amos James—a tall, black-eyed fellow of twenty three or four, with
black hair, slightly powdered with flour, and a brown leans suit, thus
reminiscent also of the mill—sighed for the sport in which he had
hoped to be victorious.
“Pa'son talked like the gaynder war his blood relation,—own
brothers, I 'm a-thinkin',” he drawled, disconsolately.
The sheriff was disposed to investigate prophecy. “I've heard,
pa'son,” he said, with a smile ill-concealing his vexation, “ye have
foreseen I ain't goin' ter be lucky with this here 'lection; goin' ter
come out o' the leetle eend o' the horn.”
The prophet, too, was perturbed and out of sorts. The sustaining
grace of feeling a martyr was lacking in the event of to-day, in which
he himself had wielded the coercive hand. He marked the covert
aggressiveness of the sheriff's manner, and revolted at being held to
account and forced to contest. He fixed his gleaming eyes upon the
officer's face, but said nothing.
“I 'm a-hustlin' off now,” said Micajah Green, “an' ez I won't be up
in the Big Smoky agin afore the 'lection, I 'lowed ez I 'd find out
what ails ye ter set sech a durned thing down as a fac'. Why ain't I
goin' ter be 'lected?” he reiterated, his temper flaring in his face,
his eyes fierce. But for the dragging block and chain of his
jeopardized prospects he could not have restrained himself from active
insult. With his peculiar qualifications for making enemies, and the
opportunities afforded by the difficult office he had filled for the
past two years, he illustrated at this moment the justice of the
prophecy. But his evident anxiety, his eagerness, even his fierce
intolerance, had a touch of the pathetic to the man for whom earth held
so little and heaven nothing. It seemed useless to suggest, to
admonish, to argue.
“I say the word,” declared the prophet. “I can't undertake ter gin
“Ye won't gin the reason?” said the sheriff' between his teeth.
“Naw,” said the prophet.
“An' I won't be 'lected, hey?”
“Ye won't be 'lected.”
The deputy touched the sheriff on the shoulder “I want ter see ye.”
“In a minute,” said the elder man, impatiently. “I want ter see ye.”
Something in the tone constrained attention. The sheriff turned, and
looked into a changed face. He suffered himself to be led aside.
“Ye ain't goin' ter be 'lected,” said the deputy, grimly,
“an' for a damned good reason. Look-a-thar!”
They had walked to the blacksmith's shop. The deputy motioned to him
to look into the window.
“Damn ye, what is it?” demanded Micajah Green, mystified.
The other made no reply, and the officer stooped, and looked into
the dusky interior.
THREE sides of the blacksmith shop, the door, and the window were in
full view from the little hamlet; the blank wall of the rear was close
to a sheer precipice. The door was locked, and the key was in the
sheriff's pocket. The prisoner, bound with cords around his ankles and
limbs, and with his wrists manacled, was gone!
Every detail was as it had been left, except that at the rear, the
only point secure from observation, there were traces of burrowing in
the earth. In the cavity thus made between the lowest log and the “dirt
floor” a man's body might with difficulty have been compressed,—but a
man so shackled! Undoubtedly he had had assistance. This was a rescue.
Only a moment elapsed before the great barn-like doors were widely
flaring and the anxious care of the officers and the eager curiosity of
the crowd had explored every nook and cranny within. The ground was
dry, and there was not even a footprint to betoken the movements of the
fugitive and his rescuers; only in the freshly upturned earth where he
effected escape were the distinct marks of the palms of his hands,
significantly close together. Evidently he was still handcuffed when he
had crawled through.
“He's a-wearin' my bracelets yit!” exclaimed the sheriff, excitedly.
“Him an' his friends warn't able ter cut them off, like they done the
A search was organized in hot haste. Every cabin, the corn-fields,
the woods near at hand, were ransacked. Parties went beating about
through the dense undergrowth. They climbed the ledges of great crags.
They hovered with keen eyes above dark abysses. They pursued for hours
a tortuous course down a deep gorge, strewn with gigantic bowlders,
washed by the wintry torrents into divers channelings, overhung by
cliffs hundreds of feet high, honeycombed with fantastic niches and
rifts. What futile quest! What vastness of mountain wilderness!
The great sun went down in a splendid suffusion of crimson color and
a translucent golden haze, with a purple garb for the mountains and a
glamourous dream for the sky, and bestowing far and near the gilded
license of imagination.
The searchers were hard at it until late into the night; never a
clew to encourage them, never a hope to lure them on. More than once
they flagged, these sluggish mountaineers, who had passed the day in
unwonted excitement, and had earned their night's rest. But the
penalties of refusing to aid the officer of the law spurred them on.
Even old Hoodendin—not so old as to be exempt from this duty, for the
sheriff had summoned every available man at the Settlement to his
assistance—hobbled from stone to stone, from one rotting log to
another, where he sat down to recuperate from his exertions. The search
degenerated into a mere form, an aimless beating about in the brush,
before Micajah Green could be induced to relinquish the hope of
capture, and blow the horn as a signal for reassembling. The bands of
fagged-out men, straggling back to the Settlement toward dawn, found
reciprocal satisfaction in expressing the opinion that 'Cajah Green had
“keerlessly let Rick git away, an' warn't a-goin' ter mend the matter
by incitin' the mounting ter bust 'round the woods like a lot o' crazy
deer all night, ter find a man ez warn't nowhar.”
They wore surly enough faces as they gathered about the door of the
store, or lounged on the stumps and the few chairs, waiting for a
mounted party that had been ordered to extend the search down in the
adjacent coves and along the spurs. The agile Jer'miah scudded about,
furnishing such consolation as can be contained in a jug. Had the quest
resulted differently, they would have laughed and joked and caroused
till daybreak. As it was, their talk was fragmentary; slight and
innuendo were in every word. The sheriff had supplemented his own
negligence by a grievous disregard of their comfort, and the sense of
defeat, so bitter to an American citizen, completed the æsthetic misery
of the situation.
The wagons still stood about in the clearing; here and there the
burly dark steers lay ruminant and half asleep among the stumps. Among
them, too, were the cattle of the place; the cows, milked late the
evening before, had not yet roamed away. Against a dark background of
blackberry bushes a white bull stood in the moonlight, motionless, the
lustre gilding his horns and touching his great sullen eyes with a
spark of amber light. In his imperious stillness he looked like a
statue of a masquerading Jupiter.
A sound. “Hist!” said the sheriff.
The moon, low in the west, was drawing a seine of fine-spun gold
across the dark depths of the valley. In that enchanted enmeshment were
tangled all the fancies of the night; the vague magic of dreams;
vagrant romances, dumb but for the pulses; the gleams of a poetry, too
delicately pellucid to be focused by a pen. The mountains maintained a
majesty of silence. All the world beneath was still. The wind was laid.
Far, far away, once again, a sound.
So indistinct, so undistinguishable,—they hardly knew if they had
heard aright. There was a sudden scuffle near at hand. Over one of the
rail fences, gleaming wet with dew, and rich with the loan of a silver
beam, there climbed a long, lean old hound; with an anxious aspect he
ran to the verge of the crag. Once more that sound, alien alike to the
mountain solitudes and the lonely sky, then the deep-mouthed baying
broke forth, waking all the echoes, and rousing all the dogs in the
cove as well as the canine visitors and residents at the Settlement.
“Dod-rot that critter!” exclaimed the sheriff, angrily. “We can't
hear nuthin' now but his long jaw.”
“Jes' say 'Silence in court!' ” suggested Amos James from where he
lay at length in the grass.
The sheriff nimbly kicked the dog instead, and the night was filled
with wild shrieks of pain and anger. When his barking was renewed it
was punctuated with sharp, reminiscent yelps, as the injustice of his
treatment ever end anon recurred to his mind. The sound of human voices
grew very distinct when it could be heard at all, and the tramp of
approaching horses shook the ground.
Every eye was turned toward the point at which the road came into
the Settlement, between the densities of the forest and the gleaming
array of shining, curved blades and tossing plumes, where the
corn-field spread its martial suggestions. When an equestrian shadow
suddenly appeared, the sheriff saluted it in a tremor of excitement.
“Hello!” he shouted. “Did ye ketch him?”
The foremost of the party rode slowly forward: the horse was jaded;
the rider slouched in the saddle with an aspect of surly exhaustion.
“Ketch him!” thundered out Gid Fletcher's gruff voice. “Ketch the
The bold-faced deputy was brazening it out. He rode up with as
dapper a style as a man may well maintain who has been in the saddle
ten hours without food, sustained only by the strength of a “tickler"
in his pocket, whose prospects are jeopardized and whose official
prestige is ruined. The demeanor of the other riders expressed varying
degrees of injured disaffection as they threw themselves from their
The blacksmith dismounted in front of the cumbersome doors of his
shop, on which still hung the sheriff's padlock, and with the stiff
gait of one who has ridden long and hard he strode across the clearing,
and stopped before the group in front of the store.
He looked infuriated. It might have been a matter of wonder that so
tired a man could nourish so strong and active a passion.
“Look-a-hyar, 'Cajah Green!” he exclaimed, with an oath, “folks 'low
ter me ez I ain't got no right ter my reward fur ketchin' that thar
greased peeg,—ez ye hed ter leave go of,—kase he warn't landed in
jail or bailed. That air the law, they tells me.”
“That 's the law,” replied the sheriff. His chair was tilted back
against the wall of the store, his hat drawn over his brow. He spoke
with the calmness of desperation.
“Then 'pears-like ter me ez I hev hed all my trouble fur nuthin',
an' all the resk I hev tuk,” said the blacksmith, coming close, and
mechanically rolling up the sleeve of his hammer-arm.
The blacksmith turned on him a look like that, of a wounded bear.
“An' ye sit thar ez peaceful ez skim-milk, an' 'low ez ye hev let my
two hunderd dollars slip away?” he demanded. “Dadburn yer greasy soul!”
“I hopes it air all I hev let slip,” said the sheriff, quietly.
There was so much besides which he had cause to fear that it did not
occur to him to be afraid of the blacksmith.
Perhaps it was the subacute perception that he shared the officer's
attention with more engrossing subjects which had the effect of
tempering Gid Fletcher's anger.
The rim of the moon was slipping behind the purple heights of
Chilhowee. Day was suddenly upon them, though the sun had not yet
risen,—when did the darkness flee?—the day, cool, with a freshness
as of a new creation, and with an atmosphere so clear that one might
know the ash from the oak in the deep green depths of the wooded
valley. The hour had not yet done with witchery: the rose-red cloud was
in the east, and the wild red rose had burst its bud; a mocking-bird
sprang from its nest in a dogwood tree, with a scintillating wing and a
soaring song, and a ray of sunlight like a magic wand fell athwart the
Gid Fletcher sat vaguely staring. Presently he lifted his hand with
a sudden gesture demanding attention.
“Ye ain't goin' ter be 'lected, air ye, 'Cajah Green?”
The sheriff stirred uneasily. His ambition, a little and a selfish
thing, was the index to his soul. Without it he himself would not be
able to find the page whereon was writ all that there was of the
spiritual within him. He writhed to forego it.
“Naw,” he said, desperately, “I s'pose I ain't.” He pushed his hat
He heard, without marking, the sudden rattling of one of the wagons
that had left some time ago: it was crossing a rickety bridge near the
foot of the mountain; the hollow reverberations rose and fell, echoed
and died away. One of the cabin doors opened, and a man came out upon
the porch. He washed his face in a tin pan which stood on a bench for
the public toilet, treated his head to a refreshing souse, and then,
with the water dripping from his long locks upon the shoulders of his
shirt, the bold-faced deputy, much refreshed by a snack and his
ablutions, came lounging across the clearing to join them.
Suddenly Micajah Green noted that the blacksmith was looking at him,
with a significant gleam in his black eyes and a flush on his swarthy
“Who said ye warn't goin' ter be 'lected?”
“Why, this hyar prophet o' yourn on the Big Smoky.”
“Why did he 'low ez that warn't comin' ter pass?”
“He would n't gin no reason.”
“He lef' ye ter find that out. An' ye fund it out?”
The sheriff said nothing. He was breathlessly intent.
“An' he met me in the woods, an' 'lowed ez Rick Tyler ought n't ter
be tuk, an' hed done no wrong; an' he called the gov'nor's reward blood
money, an' worked hisself nigh up ter the shoutin' p'int; an' called me
'Judas' fur takin' the boy, sence me an' him hed been frien'ly, an'
'lowed ez them thar thirty pieces o' silver warn't out o' circulation
“An' then,” the bold-faced deputy struck in, “he rode up yestiddy,
a-raisin' a great wondermint over a gaynder-pullin', ez if thar'd never
been one before; purtendin' 't war wicked, like he'd never killed an'
eat a fowel, an' drawin' pistols, an' raisin' a great commotion an'
excitin' an' destractin' the Settlemint, so a man handcuffed,
an' with a rope twisted round his arms an' legs, gits out of a house
right under thar nose, an' runs away. Rick Tyler could n't hev done it
'thout them ropes war cut, an' he war gin a chance ter sneak out. Now,
I ain't a prophet by natur, but I kin say who cut them ropes, an' who
raised a disturbament outside ter gin him a chance ter mosey.”
“Whar's he now?” demanded the sheriff, rising from his chair and
“He was a-huntin' with the posse, las' night,” said the deputy. “He
never lef' till 'bout an hour ago. He never wanted nobody ter 'spicion
nuthin', I reckon. Mebbe that 's him now.”
He pointed to a road in the valley, a tawny streak elusively
appearing upon a hilltop or skirting a rocky spur, soon lost in a sea
of foliage. Beside a harvested wheat-field it was again visible, and a
tiny moving object might be discerned by eyes trained to the long
stretches of mountain landscape. The sun was higher, the dew exhaled in
warm and languishing perfume, the mocking-bird filled the air with
ecstasy. The men stood among their elongated shadows on the crag
staring at the moving object until it reached the dense woods, and so
passed out of sight.
DOWN a precipitous path, hardly more civilized of aspect than if it
were trodden by the deer, filled with interlacing roots, barricaded by
long briery tangles, overhung by brush and overshadowed by trees,—
down this sylvan way Dorinda, followed by Jacob and one or two of the
companionable old hounds, was wont to go to the spring under the crag.
The spot had its fascinations. The great beetling cliff towered far
above, the jagged line of its summit serrating the zenith. Its rugged
face was seamed with many a fissure, and here and there were clumps of
ferns, a swaying vine, a huckleberry bush that fed the birds of the
air. Below surged the tops of the trees. There was a shelving descent
from the base of the crag, and Jacob must needs have heed of the rocky
depths beneath in treading the narrow ledge that led to a great
cavernous niche in the face of the rock. Here in a deep cleft welled
the never-failing spring. It always reminded Dorinda of that rock which
Moses smote; although, of course, when she thought of it, she said, she
knew that Mount Horeb was in Jefferson County, because a man who had
married her brother's wife's cousin had an aunt who lived there. And
when she had abandoned that unconscious effort to bring the great
things near, she would sit upon the rock and look with a sigh of
pleasure at that pure, outgushing limpidity, unfailing and unchanging,
and say it reminded her of the well-springs of pity.
One day, as she sat there, her dreaming head thrown back upon her
hands clasped behind it, there sounded a sudden step close by. The old
hounds, lying without the cavernous recess, could see along the upward
vista of the path, and their low growl was rather in surly recognition
than in active defiance. Dorinda and Jacob, within the great niche,
beheld naught but the distant mountain landscape framed in the rugged
arch above their heads. The step did not at once advance; it hesitated,
and then Amos James came slowly into view. Dorinda looked up dubiously
at him, and it occurred to him that this was the accepted moment to
examine the lock of his gun.
“Howdy,” he ventured, as he turned the rifle about.
She had assumed a more constrained attitude, and had unclasped her
hands from behind her head. The seat was a low one, and the dark blue
folds of her homespun dress fell about her with simple amplitude. Her
pink calico sunbonnet lay on the rock under her elbow. The figure of
the pudgy Jacob in the foreground had a callow grotesqueness. He, too,
undertook the demeanor he had learned to discriminate as “manners.”
Outside, the old dog snapped at the flies.
Amos James seemed to thinly an account of himself appropriate.
“I hev been a-huntin',” he said, his grave black eyes on the ride
and his face in the shadow of his big white hat. “I happened ter pass
by the house, an' yer granny said ez ye hed started down hyar arter a
pail o' water, an' I 'lowed ez I 'd kem an' fetch it fur ye.”
Dorinda murmured that she was “much obleeged,” and relapsed into
Extraordinary gun! It really seemed as if Amos James would be
compelled to take it to pieces then and there, so persistently did it
require his attention.
Jacob, whose hearing was unimpaired, but whose education in the
specious ways of those of a larger growth was as yet incomplete, got up
briskly. Since Amos had cone to fetch the pail he saw no reason in
nature why the pail should not be fetched, and he imagined that the
return was in order. He paused for a moment in surprise; then seeing
that no one else moved, he sat down abruptly. But for her manners
Dorinda could have laughed. Amos James's cheek flushed darkly as he
still worked at the gun.
“I s'pose ez you-uns hev hearn the news?” he remarked, presently. As
he asked the question he quickly lifted his eyes.
Ah, what laughing lights in hers,—what radiant joys! She did not
look at him. Her gaze was turned far away to the soft horizon. Her
delicate lips had such dainty curves. Her pale cheek flushed
tumultuously. She leaned her head back against the rock, the tendrils
of her dark hair spreading over the unyielding gray stone, which,
weather-shielded, was almost white. In its dead, dumb finality—the
memorial of seas ebbed long ago, of forms of life extinct—she bore it
a buoyant contrast. She looked immortal!
“I hev hearn the news,” she said, her long lashes falling, and with
quiet circumspection, at variance with the triumph in her face.
He looked at her gravely, breathlessly. A new idea had taken
possession of him. The rescue,—it was a strange thing! Who in the
Great Smoky Mountains had an adequate temptation to risk the penalty of
ten years in the state-prison for rescuing Rick Tyler from the officers
of the law? His brothers?—they were step-brothers. His father was
dead. Affection could not be accounted a factor. Venom might do more.
Some reckless enemy of the sheriff's might thus have craftily compassed
his ruin. Then there suddenly came upon Amos James a recollection of
the Cayces' grudge against Micajah Green, and of the fact that they had
already actively bestirred themselves to electioneer against him. Once,
before it all happened, Rick Tyler had hung persistently about Dorinda,
and perhaps the “men-folks” approved him. Amos remembered too that a
story was current at the gander-pulling that the reason the Cayces had
absented themselves and were lying low was because a party of revenue
raiders had been heard of on the Big Smoky. Who had heard of them, and
when did they come, and where did they go? It seemed a fabrication, a
cloak. And Dorinda,—she was the impersonation of delighted triumph.
“Agged the men-folks on, I reckon,” he thought,—“agged 'em on, fur
the sake o' Rick Tyler!”
A sense of despair, quiet, numbing, was creeping over him.
“'T ain't no reg'lar ail, I know,” he said to himself, “but I
b'lieve it'll kill me.”
Conversation in the mountains is a leisurely procedure, time being
of little value. The ensuing pause, however, was of abnormal duration,
and at last Amos was fain to break it, albeit irrelevantly.
“This hyar weather is gittin' mighty hot,” he observed, taking off
his hat and fanning himself with it. “I feel like I hed been dragged
bodaciously through the hopper.”
From the shaded coolness of the grotto the girl admitted that it was
Despite the slumberous sunshine here, all the world was not so
quiet. Over the valley a cloud was hovering, densely black, but with a
gray nebulous margin; now and then it was rent by a flash of lightning
in swift zigzag lines, yet the mountains beyond were a tender blue in
the golden glow of a sunshine yet more tender.
“ 'Pears like they air gittin' a shower over yander, at the furder
eend o' the cove,” Dorinda remarked, encouragingly. “Ef it war ter
storm right smart, mebbe the thunder would cool the air some.”
“Mebbe so,” he assented.
Then he marked again the new beauty abloom in her face, and his
heart sank within him. His pride was touched, too. He was a man well to
do for the “mountings,” with his own grist-mill, and a widowed mother
whose plaint it was, night and day, that Amos was “sech a slowly boy
ter git married, an' the Lord knows thar oughter be somebody roun' the
house spry'r 'n a pore old woman mighty nigh fifty year old,—yes,
sir! a-goin' on fifty. An' I want ter live down ter Emmert's Cove along
o' Malviny, my married darter,” she would insist, “whar thar air
chillen, an' babies ter look arter, an' not sech a everlastin' gang o'
men, a-lopin' 'round the mill. But I dunno what Amos would do ef
I lef' him.”
Evidently it was a field for a daughter-in-law. Amos felt in his
secret soul that this was not the only attraction. He was well favored
and tall and straight, and had a good name in the county, despite his
pranks, which were leniently regarded. He honestly thought that Dorinda
might do worse. Whether it was tact or whether it was delicacy, he did
not allude to the worldly contrast with the fugitive from justice.
“I s'pose they won't ketch Rick agin,” he hazarded.
“I reckon not,” she said, demurely, her long black lashes again
He leaned uneasily on his gun, looked down at his great boots drawn
over his brown jeans trousers to his knees, adjusted his leathern belt,
and pulled his hat a trifle farther over his eyes.
“D'rindy,” he said, suddenly, “ye set a heap o' store on Rick
Then he was doubtful, and feared he had offended her.
Her sapphire eyes, with their leaping blue lights and dark clear
depths, all blended and commingled in the softest brilliancy, shone
upon him. The bliss of the event was supreme.
“Mebbe I do,” she said.
He turned and looked away at the storm, seeming ineffective as it
surged in the distance. The trees in the cove were tossed by a wind
that raged on a lower level, as if it issued from Æolian caverns in the
depths of the range. It was a wild, aerial panorama,—the black
clouds, and the rain, and the mist rolling through the deep gorge,
veined with lightnings and vocal with thunder, and the thunderous
echoes among the rocks.
Not a leaf stirred on the mountain's brow, and the great “bald"
lifted its majestic crest in a sunshine all unpaled, and against the
upper regions of the air, splendidly blue. There was an analogy in the
scene with his mood and hers.
A moment ago he had been saying to himself that he did not want to
be “turned off” in favor of a man who was hunted like a wild animal
through the woods; who, if his luck and his friends should hold out,
and he could evade capture, might look forward to naught but
uncertainty and a fearful life, like others in the Big Smoky, who dared
not open their own doors to a summons from without, skulking in their
homes like beasts in their den.
The dangers, misfortunes, and indignities suffered by his preferred
rival were an added slur upon him, who had all the backing of
propitious circumstance. Since there was nothing to gain, why humble
himself in vain?
This was his logic,—sound, just, approved by his judgment; and as
it arranged itself in his mind with all the lucidity of pure reason, he
spoke from the complex foolish dictates of his unreasoning heart.
“I hev hoped ter marry ye, D'rindy, like I hev hoped fur salvation,”
he said, abruptly.
He looked at her now, straight and earnestly, with his shaded,
serious black eyes. Her rebuking glance slanted beyond him from under
her half-lifted lashes.
“I thought ye war a good church member,” she said, unexpectedly.
“I am. But that don't make me a liar ez I knows on. I 'd ruther hear
ye a-singin' 'roun' the house in Eskaqua Cove, an' a-callin' the
chickens, an' sech, 'n ter hear all the angels in heaven a-quirin'
“That ain't religion, Amos Jeemes,” she said, with cool disapproval.
“Waal,” he rejoined, with low-spirited obstinacy, “mebbe 't ain't.”
There was a delicate odor of ferns on the air; the cool, outgushing
water tinkled on the stones like a chime of silver bells; his shadow
fell athwart the portal as he leaned on his rifle, and his wandering
glance mechanically swept the landscape. The sudden storm had passed,
the verge of the cloud hovering so near that they could hear the last
heavy raindrops pattering on the tops of the trees in Eskaqua Cove.
Vapors were rising from the ravine; the sun shone upon them, throwing a
golden aureole about the opposite mountains, and all the wreathing
mists that the wind whirled down the valley had elusive, opalescent
effects. The thunder muttered in the distance; the sharp-bladed
lightnings were sheathed; a rainbow girdled the world, that had sprung
into a magic beauty as if cinctured by the zone of Venus. The arch
spanned the blue sky, and on the dark mountains extended the
polychromatic reflection. The freshened wind came rushing up the gorge,
and the tree-tops bent.
“Look-a-hyar, D'rindy,” said Amos James, sturdily, “I want ye ter
promise me one thing.”
Dorinda had risen in embarrassment. She looked down at Jacob.
“It air about time fur we-uns ter be a-goin' ter the house, I
reckon,” she said.
But Jacob sat still. He was apt in “takin' l'arnin',” and he had
begun to perceive that his elders did not always mean what they said.
He was cool and comfortable, and content to remain.
“I want ye ter promise me that ef ever ye find ez ye hev thunk: too
well o' Rick Tyler, an' hev sot him up too high in yer mind over other
folks, ye 'll let me know.”
Her cheek dimpled; her rare laughter fell on the air, a fervid faith
glowered in her deep, bright eyes.
“I promise ye!”
“Ye think Rick Tyler air mighty safe in that promise,” he rejoined,
But Dorinda would say no more.
THE disappointment which Amos James experienced found expression in
much the same manner as that of many men of higher culture. He went
down to his home in Eskaqua Cove, moody and morose. He replied to his
chirping mother in discouraging monosyllables. In taciturn disaffection
he sat on the step of the little porch, and watched absently a spider
weaving her glittering gossamer maze about an overhanging mass of
purple grapes, with great green leaves that were already edged with a
rusty red and mottled with brown. A mockingbird boldly perched among
them, ever and anon, the airy grace of his pose hardly giving, in its
exquisite lightness, the effect of a pause. The bird swallowed the
grapes whole with a mighty gulp, and presently flew away with one in
his bill for the refreshment of his family, whose vibratory clamor in
an althea bush hard by mingled with the drone of the grasshoppers in
the wet grass, louder than ever since the rain, and the persistent
strophe and antistrophe of the frogs down on the bank of the mill-pond.
“Did they git enny shower up in the mounting, Amos?” demanded his
mother, as she sat knitting on the porch,—a thin little woman, with a
nervous, uncertain eye and a drawling, high-pitched voice.
“Naw 'm,” said Amos, “not ez I knows on.”
“I reckon ye 'd hev knowed ef ye hed got wet,” she said, with
asperity. “ Ye hain't got much feelin', no ways,—yer manners shows
it,—but I 'low ye would feel the rain ef it kem down right
smart, or ef ye war streck by lightnin'.”
There was no retort, and from the subtle disappointment in the
little woman's eye it might have seemed that to inaugurate a
controversy would have been more filial, so bereft of conversational
opportunity was her lonely life, where only a “gang o' men loped 'round
She knitted on with a sharp clicking of the needles for a time,
carrying the thread on a gnarled fourth finger, which seemed
unnaturally active for that member, and somehow officious.
“I 'll be bound ye went ter Cayce's house,” she said, aggressively.
There was another long pause. The empty dwelling behind them was so
still that one could hear the footsteps of an intruding rooster, as he
furtively entered at the back door.
“Shoo!” she said, shaking her needles at him, as she bent forward
and saw him standing in the slant of the sunshine, all his red and
yellow feathers burnished. He had one foot poised motionless, and
looked at her with a reproving side-glance, as if he could not believe
he had caught the drift of her remarks. Another gesture, more
pronounced than the first, and he went scuttling out, his wings half
spread and his toe-nails clattering on the puncheon floor. “Ye went ter
Cayce's, I'll be bound, and hyar ye be, with nuthin' ter tell. Ef I war
free ter jounce 'round the mounting same ez the idle, shif'less
men-folks, who hev got nuthin' ter do but eye a mill ez the water
works, I'd hev so much ter tell whenst I got home that ye 'd hev ter
tie me in a cheer ter keep me from talkin' myself away, like somebody
happy with religion. An' hyar ye be, actin' like ye hed no mo' gift o'
speech 'n the rooster. Shoo! Shoo! Whar did ye go, ennyhow, when ye war
on the mounting?”
“A-huntin',” said Amos.
“Huntin' D'rindy Cayce, I reckon. An' ye never got her, ter jedge
from yer looks. An' I ain't got the heart ter blame the gal. Sech a
lonesome, say-nuthin' husband ye 'd make!”
The sharp click of her knitting-needles filled the pause. But her
countenance had relaxed. She was in a measure enjoying the
conversation, since the spice of her own share atoned for the lack of
news or satisfactory response.
“Air old Mis' Cayce's gyarden-truck suff'rin' fur rain?”
There was a gleam of hopeful expectation behind her spectacles. With
her reeling “gyarden-spot” dripping with raindrops, and the smell of
thyme and sage and the damp mould on the air, she could afford some
pity as an added flavor for her pride.
“Never looked ter see,” murmured her son, between two long whiffs
from his pipe.
His mother laid her knitting on her lap. “I'll be bound, Amos
Jeemes, ez ye never tole her how 'special our'n war a-thrivin' this
“Naw 'm,” said Amos, a trifle more promptly than usual, “I never.
'Fore I'd go a crowin' over old Mis' Cayce 'bout'n our gyarden-truck
I'd see it withered in a night, like Jonah's gourd.”
“It's the Lord's han',” said his mother quickly, in
self-justification. “I ain't been prayin' fur no drought in Mis'
Another long pause ensued. The sun shining through a bunch of grapes
made them seem pellucid globes of gold and amber and crimson among
others darkly purple in the shadow. The mocking-bird came once more
a-foraging. A yellow and red butterfly flickered around in the air, as
if one of the tiger-lilies there by the porch had taken wings and was
wantoning about in the wind. On the towering bald of the mountain a
cloud rested, obscuring the dome,—a cloud of dazzling whiteness,—
and it seemed as if the mountain had been admitted to some close
communion with the heavens. Below, the color was intense, so deeply
green were the trees, so clear and sharp a gray were the crags, so blue
were the shadows in the ravines. Amos was looking upward. He looked
upward much of the time.
“See old Groundhog?” inquired his mother, suddenly.
“Whar?” he demanded with a start, breaking from his reverie.
“Laws-a-massy, boy!” she exclaimed, in exasperation. “Whenst ye war
up ter the Cayces', this mornin'.”
“Naw 'm,” said Amos. He had never admitted, save by indirection,
that he had been to the Cayces'.
“War he gone ter the still?”
“I never axed.”
“I s'pose not, bein' ez ye never drinks nuthin' but buttermilk, do
ye?”—this with a scathing inflection.
She presently sighed deeply. “Waal, waal. The millinium an' the
revenue will git thar rights one of these days, I hopes an' prays. I 'm
a favorin' of ennythink ez 'll storp sin an' a-swillin' o' liquor. Tax
'em all, I say! Tax the sinners!”
She had assumed a pious aspect, and spoke in a tone of drawling
solemnity, with a vague idea that the whiskey tax was in the interest
of temperance, and the revenue department was a religious institution.
The delusions of ignorance!
“Thar ain't ez much drunk nohow now ez thar useter war. I 'members
when I war a gal whiskey war so cheap that up to the store at the
Settlemint they 'd hev a bucket set full o' whiskey an' a gourd, free
fur all comers, an' another bucket alongside with water ter season it.
An' the way that thar water lasted war surprisin',—that it war!
Nowadays ye ain't goin' ter find liquor so plenty nowhar, 'cept mebbe
at old Groundhog's still.”
Amos made no reply. His eyes were fixed on the road. A man on an old
white horse had emerged from the woods, and was slowly ambling toward
the mill. The crazy old structure was like a caricature; it seemed that
only by a lapse of all the rules of interdependent timbers did it hang
together, with such oblique disregard of rectangles. Its doors and
windows were rhomboidal; its supports tottered in the water. The gate
was shut. The whir was hushed. A sleep lay upon the pond, save where
the water fell like a silver veil over the dam. Even this motion was
dreamy and somnambulistic. On the other side off the stream the great
sandstone walls of the channel showed the water-marks of flood and fall
of past years, cut in sharp levels and registered in the rock. They
beetled here and there, and the verdure on the summits looked over and
gave the deep waters below the grace of a dense and shady reflection.
Above the dark old roof on every hand the majestic encompassing
mountains rose against the sky, and the cove nestled sequestered from
the world in this environment.
The man on the gaunt white horse suddenly paused, seeing the mill
silent and lonely; his eyes turned to the little house farther down the
“Hello!” he yelled. “I kem hyar ter git some gris' groun'.”
“Grin' yer gris' yerse'f,” vociferated the miller, cavalierly
renouncing his vocation. “I hev no mind ter go a-medjurin o' toll.”
Thus privileged, the stranger dismounted, went into the old mill,
himself lifted the gate, and presently the musical whir broke forth. It
summoned an echo from the mountain that was hardly like a reflection of
its simple, industrial sound, so elfin, so romantically faint, so
fitful and far, it seemed! The pond awoke, the water gurgled about the
wheel, the tail-race was billowy with foam.
Presently there was silence. The gate had fallen; the farmer had
measured the toll, and was riding away. As he vanished Amos James rose
slowly, and began to stretch his stalwart limbs.
“I 'm glad ye ain't palsied with settin' so long, Amos,” said his
mother. “Ye seem ter hev los' interes' in everything 'ceptin' the
doorstep. Lord A'mighty! I never thunk ez ye 'd grow up ter be sech
pore comp'ny. No wonder ez D'rindy hardens her heart! An' when ye war a
baby,—my sakes! I could set an' list'n ter yer jowin' all day. An
sech comp'ny ye war, when ye could n't say a word an' hed n't a tooth
in yer head!”
He lived in continual rivalry with this younger self in his mother's
affections. She was one of those women whose maternal love is expressed
in an idolatry of infancy. She could not forgive him for outgrowing his
babyhood, and regarded every added year upon his head as a sort of
affront and a sorrow.
He strode away, still gloomily downcast, and when the woman next
looked up she saw him mounted on his bay horse, and riding toward the
base of the mountain.
“Waal, sir!” she exclaimed, taking off her spectacles and rubbing
the glasses, on her blue-checked apron, “D'rindy Cayce 'll hev ter
marry that thar boy ter git shet o' him. I hev never hearn o' nobody
ridin' up that thar mounting twict in one day 'thout they hed suthin'
'special ter boost 'em,—a-runnin' from the sher'ff, or sech.”
But Amos James soon turned from the road, that wound in long,
serpentine undulations to the mountain's brow, and pursued a narrow
bridle-path, leading deep into the dense forests. It might have seemed
that he was losing his way altogether when the path disappeared among
the bowlders of a stream, half dry. He followed the channel up the
rugged, rock-girt gorge for perhaps a mile, emerging at length upon a
slope of outcropping ledges, where his horse left no hoof-print. Soon
he struck into the laurel, and pressed on, guided by signs
distinguishable only to the initiated: some grotesque gnarling of
limbs, perhaps, of the great trees that stretched above the almost
impenetrable undergrowth; some projecting crag, visible at long
intervals, high tip and cut sharply against the sky. All at once, in
the midst of the dense laurel, he came upon a cavity in the side of the
mountain. The irregularly shaped fissure was more than tall enough to
admit a man. He stood still for a moment, and called his own name.
There was no response save the echoes, and, dismounting, he took the
bridle and began to lead the horse into the cave. The animal shied
dubiously, protesting against this unique translation to vague
subterranean spheres. The shadow of the fissured portal fell upon them;
the light began to grow dim; the dust thickened. As Amos glanced over
his shoulder he could see the woods without suffused, with a golden
radiance, and there was a freshness on the intensely green foliage as
if it were newly washed with rain. The world seemed suddenly clarified,
and tiny objects stood out with strange distinctness; he saw the twigs
on the great trees and the white tips of the tail-feathers of a
fluttering bluejay. Far down the aisles of the forest the enchantment
held its wonderful sway, and he felt in his own ignorant fashion how
beautiful is the accustomed light. When the horse's stumbling feet had
ceased to sound among the stones, the wilderness without was as lonely
and as unsuggestive of human occupation or human existence as when the
Great Smoky Mountains first rose from the sea.
AMOS and his steed made their way along a narrow passage, growing
wider, however, and taller, but darker and with many short turns,—an
embarrassment to the resisting brute's physical conformation.
Suddenly there was a vague red haze in the dark, the sound of
voices, and an abrupt turn brought man and horse into a great
subterranean vault, where dusky distorted figures, wreathing smoke, and
a flare of red fire suggested Tartarus.
“Hy're, Amos!” cried a hospitable voice.
A weird tone repeated the words with precipitate promptness. Again
and again the abrupt echoes spoke; far down the unseen blackness of the
cave a hollow whisper announced his entrance, and he seemed
mysteriously welcomed by the unseen powers of the earth. He was not an
imaginative man nor observant, but the upper regions were his sphere,
and he had all the acute sensitiveness incident to being out of one's
element. Even after he had seated himself he noted a far, faint voice
crying, “Hy're, Amos!” in abysmal depths explored only by the sound of
And here it was that old Groundhog Cayce evaded the law, and ran his
still, and defied the revenue department, and maintained his right to
do as he would with his own.
“Lord A'mighty, air the corn mine, or no?” he would argue. “Air the
orchard mine or the raiders'? An' what ails me ez I can't make whiskey
an' apple-jack same ez in my dad's time, when him an' me run a sour
mash still on the top o' the mounting in the light o' day, up'ards o'
twenty year, an' never hearn o' no raider? Tell me that 's agin the
law, nowadays! Waal, now, who made that law? I never; an' I ain't
a-goin' ter abide by it, nuther. Ez sure ez ye air born, it air jes' a
Yankee trick fotched down hyar by the Fed'ral army. An' ef I hed knowed
they war goin' ter gin tharse'fs ter sech persecutions arter the war, I
dunno how I'd hev got my consent ter fit alongside of 'em like I done
fower year fur the Union.”
A rude furnace made of fire-rock was the prominent feature of the
place, and on it glimmered the pleasing rotundities of a small copper
still. The neck curved away into the obscurity. There was the sound of
gurgling water, with vague babbling echoes; for the never-failing rill
of an underground spring, which rose among the rocks, was diverted to
the unexpected purpose of flowing through the tub where the worm was
coiled, and of condensing the precious vapors, which dripped
monotonously into their rude receiver at the extremity of the primitive
fixtures. The iron door of the furnace was open now as Ab Cayce
replenished the fire. It sent out a red glare, revealing the dark
walls; the black distances; the wreaths of smoke, that were given a
start by a short chimney, and left to wander away and dissipate
themselves in the wide subterranean spaces; and the uncouth, slouching
figures and illuminated faces of the distillers. They lounged upon the
rocks or sat on inverted baskets and tubs, and one stalwart fellow lay
at length upon the ground. The shadows were all grotesquely elongated,
almost divested of the semblance of humanity, as they stretched in
unnatural proportions upon the rocks. Amos James's horse cast on the
wall an image so gigantic that it seemed as if the past and the present
were mysteriously united, and he stood stabled beside the grim mastodon
whom the cave had sheltered from the rigors of his day long before
Groundhog Cayce was moved to seek a refuge. The furnace door clashed;
the scene faded; only a glittering line of vivid white light, emitted
between the ill-fitting door and the unhewn rock, enlivened the gloom.
Now and then, as one of the distillers moved, it fell upon him, and
gave his face an abnormal distinctness in the surrounding blackness,
like some curiously cut onyx.
“Waal, Amos,” said a voice from out the darkness, “I 'm middlin'
glad ter see you-uns. Hev a drink.”
A hand came out into the gleaming line of light, extending with a
flourish of invitation a jug of jovial aspect.
“Don't keer ef I do,” said Amos, politely. He lifted the jug, and
drank without stint. The hand received it back again, shook it as if to
judge of the quantity of its contents, and then, with a gesture of
relish, raised it to an unseen mouth.
“Enny news 'round the mill, Amos?” demanded his invisible pot
“None ez I knows on,” drawled Amos.
“Grind some fur we-uns ter-morrer?” asked Ab.
“I 'll grind yer bones, ef ye 'll send 'em down,” said Amos,
accommodatingly. “All's' grist ez goes ter the hopper. How kem you-uns
ter git the nightmare 'bout'n the raiders? I waited fur Sol an' the
corn right sharp time Wednesday mornin'; jes' hed nuthin' ter do but
ter sot an' suck my paws, like a b'ar in winter, till 't war time ter
put out an' go ter the gaynder-pullin'.”
“Waal”—there was embarrassment in the tones of the burly shadow,
and all the echoes were hesitant as Groundhog Cayce replied in Ab's
stead: “Mirandy Jane 'lowed ez she hed seen a strange man 'bout'n the
spring, an' thought it war a raider,—though he'd hev been in a mighty
ticklish place fur a raider, all by himself. Mirandy Jane hev fairly
got the jim-jams, seein' raiders stiddier snakes, we-uns can't put no
dependence in the gal. An' mam, she drempt the raiders hed camped on
Chilhowee Mounting. An' D'rindy, she turned fool: fust she 'lowed ez
we-uns would all be ruined ef we went ter the gaynder-pullin', an' then
she war powerful interrupted when we 'lowed we would n't go, like ez ef
she wanted us ter go most awful. I axed this hyar Pa'son Kelsey, ez rid
by that mornin', ef he treed enny raiders in his mind. An' he 'lowed,
none, 'ceptin' the devil a-raidin' 'roun' his own soul. But 'mongst 'em
we-uns jest bided away that day. I would n't hev done it, 'ceptin'
D'rindy tuk ter talkin' six ways fur Sunday, an' she got me, plumb
catawampus, so ez I did n't rightly know what I wanted ter do myself.”
It was a lame story for old Groundhog Cayce to tell. Even the
hesitating echoes seemed ashamed of it. Mirandy Jane's mythical raider,
and mam's dream, and D'rindy's folly,—were these to baffle that
stout-hearted old soldier? Amos James said no more. If old Cayce
employed an awkward subterfuge to conceal the enterprise of the rescue,
he had no occasion to intermeddle. Somehow, the strengthening of his
suspicions brought Amos to a new realization of his despair. He sought
to modify it by frequent reference to the jug, which came his way at
hospitably short intervals. But he had a strong head, and had seen the
jug often before; and although he thought his grief would be alleviated
by getting as drunk as a “fraish b'iled owel,” that consummation
of consolation was coy and tardy. He was only mournfully frisky after a
while, feeling that he should presently be obliged to cut his throat,
yet laughing at his own jokes when the moonshiners laughed, then
pausing in sudden seriousness to listen to the elfin merriment evoked
among the lurking echoes. And he sang, too, after a time, a merry
catch, in a rich and resonant voice, with long, dawdling, untutored
cadences and distortions of effect,—sudden changes of register, many
an abrupt crescendo and diminuendo, and “spoken” interpolations and
improvisations, all of humorous intent.
The others listened with the universal greedy appetite for
entertainment which might have been supposed to have dwindled and died
of inanition in their serious and deprived lives. Pete Cayce first
revolted from the strain on his attention, subordination, and
acquiescence. It was not his habit to allow any man to so completely
absorb public attention.
“Look-a-hyar, Amos, fur Gawd's sake, shet up that thar foolishness!”
he stuttered at last. “Thar's n-no tellin' how f-f-fur yer survigrus
bellerin' kin be hearn. An' besides, ye 'll b-b-bring the rocks down on
to we-uns d-d'rectly. They tell me that it air dangerous ter f-f-f-fire
pistols an' jounce 'round in a cave. Bring the roof down.”
“That air jes' what I 'm a-aimin' ter do, Pete,” said Amos, with his
comical gravity. “I went ter meetin' week 'fore las', an' the pa'son
read 'bout Samson; an' it streck my ambition, an' I'm jes' a-honin' ter
pull the roof down on the Philistine.”
“Look-a-hyar, Amos Jeemes, ye air the b-b-banged-est critter on this
hyar m-mounting! Jes' kem hyar ter our e-still an' c-c-call me a
The jug had not been stationary, and as Pete thrust his aggressive
face forward the vivid quivering line of light from the furnace showed
that it was flushed with liquor and that his eyes were bloodshot. His
gaunt head, with long colorless hair, protruding teeth, and homely,
prominent features, as it hung there in the isolating effect of that
sharp and slender gleam,—the rest of his body canceled by the
darkness,—had a singularly unnatural and sinister aspect. The light
glanced back with a steely glimmer. The drunken man had a knife in his
“Storp it, now,” his younger brother drawlingly admonished him. “Who
be ye a-goin' ter cut?”
“Call m-m-me a Philistine! I'll bust his brains out!” asseverated
“Ye're drunk, Pete,” said old Grounhog Cayce, in an explanatory
manner. There was no move to defend the threatened guest. Perhaps Amos
James was supposed to be able to take care of himself.
“Call me a Ph-Philistine—a Philistine!” exclaimed Pete, steadying
himself on the keg on which he sat, and peering with wide, light eves
into the darkness, as if to mark the whereabouts of the enemy before
dealing the blow. “Jes' got insurance—c-c-c-call me a Philistine!”
“Shet up, Pete. I'll take it back,” said Amos, gravely. “I 'm
the Philistine myself; fur pa'son read ez Samson killed a passel o'
Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, an' ez long ez ye be talkin' I
feel in an' about dead.”
Amos James had bent close attention to the sermon, and had brought
as much accurate information from meeting as was consistent with
hearing so sensational a story as Samson's for the first time. In the
mountains men do not regard church privileges as the opportunity of a
quiet hour to meditate on secular affairs, while a gentle voice drones
on antiquated themes. To Amos, Samson was the latest thing out.
Pete did not quite catch the full meaning of this sarcasm. He was
content that Amos should seem to recant. He replaced his knife, but sat
surly and muttering, and now and then glancing toward the guest.
Meantime that vivid white gleam quivered across the dusky shadows;
now and then the horse pawed, raising martial echoes, as of squadrons
of cavalry, among the multitudinous reverberations of the place, while
his stall-companion, that the light could conjure up, was always
noiseless; the continuous fresh sound of water gurgling over the rocks
mingled with the monotonous drip from the worm; occasionally a gopher
would scud among the heavily booted feet, and the jug's activity was
marked by the shifting for an interval of the red sparks which
indicated the glowing pipes of the burly shadows around the still.
The stories went on, growing weird as the evening outside waned, in
some unconscious sympathy with the melancholy hour,—for in these
sunless depths one knew nor day nor night,—stories of bloody
vendettas, and headless ghosts, and strange previsions, and unnamed
terrors. And Amos James recounted the fable of a mountain witch,
interspersed with a wild vocal refrain:—
Cu-vo! Cu-vo! Kil-dar! Kil-dar! Kil-dar!
Thus she called her hungry dogs, that fed on human flesh, while the
winds were awhirl, and the waning moon was red, and the Big Smoky lay
in densest gloom.
The white line of light had yellowed, deepened, grown dull. The
furnace needed fuel. Ab suddenly leaned down and threw open the door.
The flare of the pulsing coals resuscitated the dim scene and the long,
dun-colored shadows. Here in the broad red light were the stolid,
meditative faces of the distillers, each with his pipe in his mouth and
his hat on his head; it revealed the dilated eye and unconsciously
dramatic gesture of the story-teller, sitting upon a barrel in their
midst; the horse was distinct in the background, now dreaming and now
lifting an impatient fore-foot, and his gigantic stall-mate, the
simulacrum of the mastodon, moved as he moved, but softly, that the
echoes might not know,—the immortal echoes, who were here before him,
and here still.
And behind all were the great walls of the vault, with its vague
apertures leading to unexplored recesses; with many jagged ledges,
devoted to shelf-like usage, and showing here a jug, and here a
shot-pouch, and here a rat—fat and sleek, thanks to the plenteous
waste of mash and grain—looking down with a glittering eye, and here
a bag of meal, and here a rifle.
Suddenly Amos James broke off. “Who 's that?” he exclaimed, and all
the echoes were sharply interrogative.
There was a galvanic start among the moonshiners. They looked
hastily about,—perhaps for the witch, perhaps for the frightful dogs,
perhaps expecting the materialization of Mirandy Jane's raider.
Amos had turned half round, and was staring intently beyond the
still. The man lying on the ground had shifted his position; his soft
brown hat was doubled under his head. The red flare showed its long,
tawny, tangled hair, of a hue unusual enough to be an identification.
His stalwart limbs were stretched out at length; the hands he thrust
above his head were unmanacled; as he moved there was the jingle of
“Why, thar be Rick Tyler!” exclaimed Amos James.
“Hev ye jes' fund that out?” drawled the man on the ground, with a
“W-w-w-why n't ye lie low, Rick?” demanded Pete, aggressively. “Ef
ever thar war a empty cymblin', it' s yer head. Amos an' that thar
thin-lipped sneak ez called hisself a dep'ty air thick 'n thieves.”
There was no hesitation in Amos James's character. He leaned forward
suddenly, and clutched Pete by the throat, and the old man and Solomon
were fain to interfere actively to prevent that doughty member of the
family from being throttled on the spot. Pending the interchange of
these amenities, Rick Tyler lay motionless on the ground; Ab calmly
continued his task of replenishing the fire; and Ben asked, in a slow
monotone, the favor of leaving the furnace door open for a “spell,
whilst I unkiver the kag in the corner, an' fill the jug, an' kiver the
kag agin, keerful, 'kase I don't want no rat in mine.”
When Pete, with a scarlet face and starting eyes and a throat full
of complicated coughs and gurgles, was torn out of the young miller's
strong hands, old Groundhog Cayce remonstrated:—
“Lord A'mighty, boys! Can't ye set an' drink yer liquor sociable,
'thout clinchin' that a-way? What did Pete do ter ye, Amos?”
“Nuthin'; he dassent,” said the panting Amos.
“Did he hurt yer feelin's?” asked the old man, with respectful
“Yes, he did,” said Amos, admitting vulnerability in that tender
“Never none—now—koo—koo!” coughed Pete. “He hev got no
f-f-f-feelin's, koo—koo! I hev hearn his own m-mam say so a-many a
“He 'lowed,” said Amos, his black eyes flashing indignantly, his
face scarlet, the perspiration thick in his black hair, “ez I 'd tell
the dep'ty—kase he war toler'ble lively hyar, an' I got sorter
friendly with him when I hed ter sarve on the posse—ez I seen Rick
Tyler hyar. Mebbe ye think I want two hunderd dollars—hey!” He made a
gesture as if to seize again his late antagonist.
“A-koo, koo, koo!” coughed Pete, moving cautiously out of reach.
All the echoes clamored mockingly with the convulsive sound, and
thus multiplied they gave a ludicrous suggestion of the whooping cough.
“I dunno, Mr. Cayce,” said Amos, with some dignity, addressing the
old man, “what call ye hev got ter consort with them under indictment
for murder, an' offenders agin the law. But hevin' seen Rick Tyler hyar
in a friendly way along o' you-uns, he air ez safe from me ez ef he war
under my own roof.”
Rick Tyler drew himself up on his elbow, and turned upon the speaker
a face inflamed by sudden passion.
“Go tell the dep'ty!” he screamed. “I 'll take no faviors from ye,
Amos Jeemes. Kem on! Arrest me yerse'f!” He rose to his feet, and held
out his bruised and scarred hands, smiting them together as if he were
again handcuffed. The light fell full on his clothes, tattered by his
briery flight, the long dishevelment of his yellow hair, his burning
face, and the blazing fury in his brown eyes. “Kem on! Arrest me
yerse'f,—ye air ekal ter it. I kin better bide the law than ter take
faviors from you-uns. Kem on! Arrest me!”
Once more he held his free hands as if for the manacles.
Their angry eyes met. Then, as Amos James still sat silent and
motionless on the barrel, Rick Tyler turned, and with a gesture of
desperation again flung himself on the ground.
There was a pause. Two of the moonshiners were arranging to decant
some liquor into a keg, and were lighting a tallow dip for the purpose.
In the dense darkness of the recess where they stood it took on a large
and lunar aspect. A rayonnant circle hovered attendant upon it; the
shadows about it were densely black, and in the sharp and colorless
contrasts the two bending figures of the men handling the keg stood out
in peculiar distinctness of pose and gesture. The glare of the fire in
the foreground deepened to a dull orange, to a tawny red, even to a
dusky brown, in comparison with the pearly, luminous effect of the
candle. The tallow dip was extinguished when the task was complete.
Presently the furnace door clashed, the group of distillers disappeared
as with a bound, and that long, livid line of pulsating light emitted
by the ill-fitting door cleft the gloom like a glittering blade.
“I s'pose ye don't mean ter be sassy in 'special, Amos, faultin' yer
elders, talkin' 'bout consortin' with them under indictment,” said old
Groundhog Cayce's voice. “But I dunno ez ye hev enny call ter sot
yerse'f up in jedgmint on my actions.”
“Waal,” said Amos, apologetic, “I never went ter say nuthin' like
faultin' nohow. Sech ez yer actions I leaves ter you-uns.”
“Ye mought ez well,” said the elder, unconsciously satiric. “The
Bible 'lows ez every man air a law unto hisself. An' I hev fund I gits
peace mos'ly in abidin' by the law ez kems from within. An' I kin see
no jestice in my denyin' a ride an' a lot o' lead an' powder ter a
half-starvin critter ter save his life. Rick war bound ter starve, hid
out, ef he hed nuthin' ter shoot deer an' wild varmints with, bein' ez
his rifle war tuk by the sher'ff. I knows no law ez lays on me the
starvin' o' a human. An' when that boy kem a-cropin' hyar ter the still
this evenin', he got ez fair-spoke a welcome, an' ez much liquor ez he'
d swaller, same ez enny comer on the mounting. I dunno ez he air a
offender agin the law, an' 't ain't my say-so. I ain't a jedge, an'
thar ain't enough o' me fur a jury.”
This lucid discourse, its emphasis doubled by the iterative echoes,
had much slow, impersonal effect as it issued from the darkness. It was
to Amos James, accustomed to rural logic, as if reason, pure and
simple, had spoken. His heart had its own passionate protest. Not that
he disapproved the loan of the rifle, but he distrusted the impulse
which prompted it. To find the hunted fugitive here among the
distillers added the force of conviction to his suspicions of a rescue
and its instigation.
The personal interest which he had in all this annulled for a moment
his sense of the becoming, and defied the constraints of etiquette.
“How 'd Rick Tyler say he got away from the sher'ff, ennyhow?” he
“He war n't axed,” said old Groundhog Cayce, quietly.
A silence ensued, charged with all the rigors of reproof.
“An' I dunno ez ye hev enny call ter know, Amos Jeemes,” cried out
Rick, still prone upon the ground. “That won't holp the sher'ff none
now. Ye 'd better be studyin' 'bout settin' him on the trail ter ketch
The line of light from the rift in the furnace door showed a yellow
gleam in the blackness where his head lay. Amos James fixed a burning
eye upon it.
“I 'll kem thar d'rec'ly an' tromp the life out'n ye, Rick Tyler.
I'll grind yer skull ter pieces with my boot-heel, like ez ef ye war a
“Laws-a-massy, boys, sech a quar'lin', fightin' batch ez ye be! I
fairly gits gagged with my liquor a-listenin' ter ye,—furgits how ter
swaller,” said Groundhog Cayce, suddenly fretful.
“Leave Rick be, Amos Jeemes,” he added, in an authoritative tone.
And then, with a slant of his head toward Rick Tyler, lying on the
ground, “Hold yer jaw down thar!”
And the two young men lapsed into silence. The spring, rising among
the barren rocks, chanted aloud its prescient sylvan song of the
woodland ways, and the glancing beam, and the springing trout, and the
dream of the drifting leaf, as true of tone and as delicately keyed to
the dryadic chorus in the forest without as if the waters that knew but
darkness and the cavernous sterilities were already in the liberated
joys of the gorge yonder, reflecting the sky, wantoning with the wind,
and swirling down the mountain side. The spirits dripped from the worm,
the furnace roared, the men's feet grated upon the rocks as they now
and then shifted their position.
“Waal,” said Amos at last, rising, “I'd better be a-goin'. 'Pears
like ez I hev wore out my welcome hyar.”
He stood looking at the line of light, remembering desolately
Dorinda's buoyant, triumphant mood. Its embellishment of her beauty had
smitten him with an afflicted sense of her withdrawal from all the
prospects of his future. He had thought that he had given up hope, but
he began to appreciate, when he found Rick Tyler in intimate refuge
with her kindred, how sturdy an organism was that heart of his, and to
realize that to reduce it to despair must needs cost many a throe.
“I hev wore out my welcome, I reckon,” he repeated, dismally.
“I dunno what ails ye ter say that. Ye hev jes' got tired o'comin'
hyar, I reckon,” said old man Cayce. “Wore out yer welcome,—shucks!”
“Mighty nigh wore me out,” said Pete, remembering to cough.
“Waal,” said Amos, slightly salved by the protestations of his host,
“I reckon it air time I war a-puttin' out, ennyhow. Jes' set that than
furnace door on the jar, Pete, so I kin see ter lay a-holt o' the
The door opened, the red glow flared out, the figures of the
moonshiners all reappeared in a semicircle about the still, and as Amos
James took the horse's bridle and led him away from the wall the
mastodon vanished, with noiseless tread, into the dim distance of the
The horse's hoofs reverberated down the cavernous depths, echoed,
reëchoed, multiplied indefinitely. Even after the animal had been led
through the tortuous windings of the passage his tramp resounded
through the gloom.
THE displeasure of his fellows is a slight and ephemeral matter to a
man whose mind is fixed on a great essential question, charged with
moral gravity and imperishable consequence; whose physical courage is
the instinct of his nature, conserved by its active exercise in a life
of physical hardship.
Kelsey had forgotten the gander-pulling, the impending election, the
excitement of the escape, before he had ridden five miles from the
Settlement. He jogged along the valley road, the reins on the horse's
neck, his eyes lifted to the heights. The fullness of day was on their
unpeopled summits. Infinity was expressed before the eye. On and on the
chain of mountains stretched, with every illusion of mist and color,
with every differing grace of distance, with inconceivable measures of
vastness. The grave delight in which their presence steeped the senses
stirred his heart. They breathed solemnities. They lent wings to the
thoughts. They lifted the soul. Could he look at them and doubt that
one day he should see God? He had been near,—oh, surely, He had been
Kelsey was comforted as he rode on. Somehow, the mountains had for
his ignorant mind some coercive internal evidence of the great truths.
In their exalted suggestiveness were congruities: so far from the world
were they,—so high above it; so interlinked with the history of all
that makes the races of men more than the beasts that perish, that
conserves the values of that noble idea,—an immortal soul. On a
mountain the ark rested; on a mountain the cross was planted; the
steeps beheld the glories of the transfiguration; the lofty solitudes
heard the prayers of the Christ; and from the heights issued the great
sermon instinct with all the moralities of every creed. How often He
went up into the mountain!
The thought uplifted Kelsey. The flush of strong feeling touched his
cheek. His eyes were fired with that sudden gleam of enthusiasm as
remote from earthly impulses as the lightnings of Sinai.
“An' I will preach his name!” the parson exclaimed, in a tense and
thrilling voice. He checked his horse, drew out of his pocket a thumbed
old Bible, clumsily turner the leaves and sought for his text.
No other book had he ever read: only that sublime epic, with its
deep tendernesses and its mighty portents; with its subtleties of
prophecy in wide and splendid phrase, and their fulfillment in the
barren record of the simplest life; with all the throbbing presentment
of martyrdom and doom and death, dominated by the miracle of
resurrection and the potency of divinity. Every detail was as clearly
pictured to his mind as if, instead of the vast, unstoried stretches of
the Great Smoky Mountains, he looked upon the sanctities of the hills
He read as he rode along,—slowly, slowly. A bird's shadow would
flit across the holy page, and then away to the mountain; the winds of
heaven caressed it. Sometimes the pollen of flowering weeds fell upon
it; for in the midst of the unfrequented road they often stood in tall
rank rows, with a narrow path on either side, trodden by the oxen of
the occasional team, while the growth bent elastically under the
passing bed of the wagon.
He was almost happy. The clamors of his insistent heart were still.
His conscience, his memory, his self-reproach, had loosed their hold.
His keen and subtile native intellect stretched its unconscious powers,
and discriminated the workings of character, and reviewed the deploying
of events, and measured results. He was far away, walking with the
Suddenly, like an aerolite, he was whirled from high ethereal spaces
by the attraction of the earth. A man was peering from between the
rails of a fence by the wayside.
“Kin ye read yer book, pa'son, an' ride yer beastis all ter wunst?”
he cried out, with the fervor of admiration.
That tree of knowledge,—ah, the wily serpent! Galilee,—it was
thousands of miles away across the deep salt seas.
The parson closed his book with a smile of exultation.
“The beast don't hender me none. I kin read ennywhar,” he said,
proud of the attainment.
“Waal, sir!” exclaimed the other, one of that class, too numerous in
Tennessee, who can neither read nor write. “Air it the Good Book?” he
demanded, with a sudden thought.
“It air the Holy Bible,” said the parson, handing him the book.
The man eyed it with reverence. Then, with a gingerly gesture, he
gave it back. The parson was looking down at him, all softened and
humanized by this unconscious flattery.
“Waal, pa'son,” said the illiterate admirer of knowledge, with a
respectful and subordinate air, “I hearn ez ye war a-goin' ter hold
fo'th up yander at the meet'n-house at the Notch nex' Sunday. Air that
a true word?”
“I 'lows ter preach thar on the nex' Lord's day,” replied the
“Then,” with the promptness of a sudden resolution, “I 'm a-goin'
ter take the old woman an' the chiller an' wagon up the Big Smoky ter
hear the sermon. I 'low ez a man what kin ride a beastis an' read a
book all ter wunst mus' be a powerful exhorter, an' mebbe ye 'll lead
us all ter grace.”
The parson said he would be glad to see the family at the
meeting-house, and presently jogged off down the road.
One might regard the satisfaction of this simple scene as the due
meed of his labors; one might account his pride in his attainments as a
harmless human weakness. There have been those of his calling, proud,
too, of a finite knowledge, and fain to conserve fame, whose conscience
makes no moan,—who care naught for humility, and hardly hope to be
The flush of pleasure passed in a moment. His face hardened. That
fire of a sublimated anger or frenzy touched his eyes. He remembered
Peter, the impetuous, and Thomas, the doubter, and the warm
generosities of the heart of him whom Jesus loved, and he “reckoned"
that they would not have left Him standing in the road for the joy of
hearing their learning praised. He rebuked himself as caring less for
the Holy Book than that his craft could read it. His terrible insight
into motives was not dulled by a personal application. Introverted upon
his own heart, it was keen, unsparing, insidiously subtle. He saw his
pride as if it had been another man's, except that it had no lenient
mediator; for he was just to other men, even gentle. He took pitiless
heed of the pettiness of his vanity; he detected pleasure that the man
by the wayside should come, not for salvation, but to hear the powerful
exhorter speak. He saw the instability of his high mood, of the
gracious reawaking of faith; he realized the lapse from the heights of
an ecstasy at the lightest touch of temptation.
“The Lord lifts me up,” he said, “ter dash me on the groun'!”
No more in Judæa, in the holy mountains; no more among the
disciples. Drearily along the valley road, glaring and yellow in the
sun, the book closed, the inspiration fled, journeyed the ignorant man,
who would fain lay hold on a true and perfected sanctity.
He dispatched his errand in the valley,—a secular matter, relating
to the exchange of a cow and a calf. The afternoon was waning when he
was again upon the slopes of the Big Smoky; for the roads were rough,
and he had traveled slowly, always prone to “favor the beastis.” He
stopped in front of Cayce's house, where he saw Dorinda spinning on the
porch, and preferred a request for a gourd of water. The old woman
heard his voice, and came hastily out with hospitable insistence that
he should dismount and “rest his bones, sence he hed rid fur, an' tell
the news from the Settlemint.” There was a cordial contrast between
this warm esteem and his own unkind thoughts, and he suffered himself
to be persuaded. He sat under the hop-vines, and replied in
monosyllables to the old woman's animated questions, and gave little
news of the excitements at the Settlement which they had not already
heard. Dorinda, her wheel awhirl, one hand lifted holding the thread,
the other poised in the air to control the motion, her figure thrown
back in a fine, alert pose, looked at him with a freshened pity for his
downcast spirit, and with intuitive sympathy. He sorrowed not because
of the things of this world, she felt. It was some high and spiritual
grief, such as might pierce a prophet's heart. Her eyes, full of the
ideality of the sentiment, dwelt upon him reverently.
He marked the look. With his overwhelming sense of his sins, he was
abased under it, and he scourged himself as a hypocrite.
“Thar air goin' ter be preachin' at the meetin'-house Sunday, I
hearn,” she observed presently, thinking this topic more meet for his
discussion than the “gaynder-pullin'“ and the escape, and such mundane
matters. The tempered green light fell upon her fair face, adding a
delicacy to its creamy tint, her black hairy caught a shifting golden
flake of sunshine as she moved back and forth; her red lips were
slightly parted. The grasshoppers droned in the leaves an accompaniment
to the whir of her wheel. The “prince's feathers” bloomed in great
clumsy crimson tufts close by the step. Mirandy Jane, seated on an
inverted noggin, listened tamely to the conversation, her wild,
uncertain eyes fixed upon the parson's face; she dropped them, and
turned her head with a shying gesture, if by chance his glance fell
From this shadowed, leafy recess the world seen through the green
hop-vines was all in a great yellow glare.
“Be you-uns a-goin' ter hold fo'th,” demanded the old woman, “or
Brother Jake Tobin?”
“It air me ez air a-goin' ter preach,” he said.
“Then I 'm a-comin',” she declared, promptly. “It do me good ter
hear you-uns fairly make the sinners spin. Sech a gift o' speech ye hev
got! I fairly see hell when ye talk o' thar doom. I see wrath an' I
smell brimstone. Lord be thanked, I hev fund peace! An' I 'm jes'
a-waitin' fur the good day ter come when the Lord 'll rescue me from
yearth!” She threw herself back in her chair, closing her eyes in a
sort of ecstasy, and beating her hands on her knees, her feet tapping
“Though ef ye 'll b'lieve me,” she added, sitting up straight with
an appalling suddenness, and opening her eyes, “D'rindy thar ain't
convicted yit. Oh, child,” in an enthused tone of reproof, “time is
short,—time is short!”
“Waal,” said Dorinda, speaking more quickly than usual, and holding
up her hand to stop the wheel, “I hev hed no chance sca'cely ter think
on salvation, bein' ez the weavin' war hendered some—an'”—She
paused in embarrassment.
“That air a awful word ter say,—puttin' the Lord ter wait! Why n't
ye speak the truth ter her, pa'son? Fix her sins on her.”
“Sometimes,” said the parson, abruptly, looking at her as if he saw
more or less than was before him, “I dunno ef I hev enny call ter say a
word. I hev preached ter others, an' I 'm like ter be a castaway
The old woman stared at him in dumb astonishment. But he was rising
to take leave,—a simple ceremony. He unhitched the horse at the gate,
mounted, and, with a silent nod to the group on the porch, rode slowly
Old Mrs. Cayce followed him with curious eyes, peering out in the
gaps of the hop-vines.
“D'rindy,” she said, “that thar Pa'son Kelsey,—we-uns useter call
him nuthin' but Hi,—he's got suthin' heavy on his mind. It always
'peared ter me ez he war a mighty cur'ous man ter take up with religion
an' sech. A mighty suddint boy he war,—ez good a fighter ez a
catamount, an' always 'mongst the evil, bold men. Them he consorted
with till he gin his child morphine by mistake, an' its mammy
quine-iron; an' she los' her senses arterward, an' flunged herse'f
off'n the bluff. 'Pears like ter me ez them war jedgments on him,—
though Em'ly war n't much loss; ez triflin' a ch'ice fur a wife ez a
man could make. An' now he hev got suthin' on his mind.”
The girl said nothing. She stayed her wheel with one hand, holding
the thread with the other, and looked over her shoulder at the receding
figure riding slowly along the vista of the forest-shadowed road. Then
she turned, and fixed her lucent, speculative eyes on her grandmother,
who continued: “Calls hisself a castaway! Waal, he knows bes', bein' a
prophet an' sech. But it air toler'ble comical talk fur a preacher.
Brother Jake Tobin kin hardly hold hisself together, a-waitin' fur his
sheer o' the joys o' the golden shore.”
“Waal, 'pears like ter me,” said Mirandy Jane, whose mind seemed
never far from the culinary achievements to which she had been
dedicated, “ez Brother Jake Tobin sets mo' store on chicken fixin's
than on grace, an' he fattens ev'y year.”
“I hopes,” proceeded the grandmother, disregarding the interruption,
and peering out again at the road where the horseman had disappeared,
“ez Hi Kelsey won't sot hisself ter prophesyin' evil at the meetin';
'pears ter me he ought ter be hendered, ef mought be, 'kase the wrath
he foresees mos'ly kems ter pass, an' I 'm always lookin' ter see him
prophesy the raiders,—though he hev hed the grace ter hold his hand
'bout'n the still. An' I hopes he won't hev nuthin' ter say 'bout it at
the meetin' Sunday.”
The little log meeting-house at the Notch stood high on a rugged
spur of the Great Smoky. Dense forests encompassed it on every hand,
obscuring that familiar picture of mountain and cloud and cove. From
its rude, glassless windows one could look out on no distant vista,
save perhaps in the visionary glories of heaven or the climatic
discomforts of hell, according to the state of the conscience, or
perchance the liver. The sky was aloof and limited. The laurel tangled
the aisles of the woods. Sometimes from the hard benches a weary
tow-headed brat might rejoice to mark in the monotony the frisking of a
squirrel on a bough hard by, or a woodpecker solemnly tapping. The
acorns would rattle on the roof, if the wind stirred, as if in
punctuation of the discourse. The pines, mustering strong among the
oaks, joined their mystic threnody to the sad-voiced quiring within.
The firs stretched down long, pendulous, darkling boughs, and filled
the air with their balsamic fragrance. Within the house the dull light
fell over a few rude benches and a platform with a chair and table,
which was used as pulpit. Shadows of many deep, rich tones of brown
lurked among the rafters. Here and there a cobweb, woven to the
consistence of a fabric, swung in the air. The drone of a blue-bottle,
fluttering in and out of the window in a slant of sunshine, might
invade the reverent silence, as Brother Jake Tobin turned the leaves to
read the chapter. Sometimes there would sound, too, a commotion among
the horses without, unharnessed from the wagons and hitched to the
trees; then in more than one of the solemn faces might be descried an
anxious perturbation,—not fear because of equine perversities, but
because of the idiosyncrasies of callow human nature in the urchins
left in charge of the teams. No one ventured to investigate, however,
and, with that worldly discomfort contending with the spiritual
exaltations they sought to foster, the rows of religionists swayed
backward and forward in rhythm to the reader's voice, rising and
falling in long, billowy sweeps of sound, like the ground swell of
It was strange, looking upon their faces, and with a knowledge of
the limited phases of their existence, their similarity of experience
here, where a century might come and go, working no change save that,
like the leaves, they fluttered awhile in the outer air with the
spurious animation called life, and fell in death, and made way for new
bourgeonings like unto themselves,—strange to mark how they differed.
Here was a man of a stern, darkly religious conviction, who might
either have writhed at the stake or stooped to kindle the flames; and
here was an accountant soul that knew only those keen mercantile
motives,—the hope of reward and the fear of hell; and here was an
enthusiast's eye, touched by the love of God; and here was an
unfinished, hardly humanized face, that it seemed as presumptuous to
claim as the exponent of a soul as the faces of the stupid oxen
out-of-doors. All were earnest; many wore an expression of excited
interest, as the details of the chapter waxed to a climax, like the
tense stillness of a metropolitan audience before an unimagined
coup de théâtre. The men all sat on one side, chewing their
quids; the women on the other, almost masked by their limp sun-bonnets.
The ubiquitous baby—several of him—was there, and more than once
babbled aloud and cried out peevishly. Only one, becoming uproarious,
was made a public example; being quietly borne out and deposited in the
ox-wagon, at the mercy of the urchins who presided over the teams,
while his mother creaked in again on the tips of deprecating, anxious
toes, to hear the Word.
Brother Jake Tobin might be accounted in some sort a dramatic
reader. He was a tall, burly man, inclining to fatness, with grizzled
hair roached back from his face. He cast his light gray eyes upward at
the end of every phrase, with a long, resonant “Ah!” He smote the table
with his hands at emphatic passages; he rolled out denunciatory clauses
with a freshened relish which intimated that he considered one of the
choicest pleasures of the saved might be to gloat over the unhappy
predicament of the damned. He chose for his reading paragraphs that,
applied to aught but spiritual enemies and personified sins, might make
a civilized man quake for his dearest foe. He paused often and
interpolated his own observations, standing a little to the side of the
table, and speaking in a conversational tone. “Ain't that so, my
brethren an' sisters! But we air saved in the covenant—ah!”
Then, clapping his hands with an ecstatic upward look,—“I 'm so
happy, I 'm so happy!”—he would go on to read with the unction of
immediate intention, “Let death seize them! Let them go down quick into
He wore a brown jeans suit, the vest much creased in the regions of
his enhanced portliness, its maker's philosophy not having taken into
due account his susceptibility to “chicken fixin's.” After concluding
the reading he wiped the perspiration from his brow with his red
bandana handkerchief, and placed it around the collar of his unbleached
cotton shirt, as he proceeded to the further exertion of “lining out"
The voices broke forth in those long, lingering cadences that have a
melancholy, spiritual, yearning effect, in which the more tutored
church music utterly fails. The hymn rose with a solemn jubilance,
filling the little house, and surging out into the woods, sounding far
across unseen chasms and gorges, and rousing in the unsentient crags an
echo with a testimony so sweet, charged with so devout a sentiment,
that it seemed as if with this voice the very stones would have cried
out, had there been dearth of human homage when Christ rode into
Then the sudden pause, the failing echo, the sylvan stillness, and
the chanting voice lined out another couplet. It was well, perhaps,
that this part of the service was so long; the soul might rest on its
solemnity, might rise on its aspiration.
It came to an end at last. Another long pause ensued. Kelsey,
sitting on the opposite side of the table, his elbow on the back of his
chair, his hand shading his eyes, made no movement. Brother Jake Tobin
looked hard at him, with an expression which in a worldly man we should
pronounce exasperation. He hesitated for a moment in perplexity. There
was a faint commotion, implying suppressed excitement in the
congregation. Parson Kelsey's idiosyncrasies were known by more than
one to be a thorn in the side of the frankly confiding Brother Jake
“Whenst I hev got him in the pulpit alongside o' me,” he
would say to his cronies, “I feel ez onlucky an' weighted ez ef I war
a-lookin' over my lef' shoulder at the new moon on a November Friday. I
feel ez oncommon ez ef he war a deer, or suthin', ez hev got no
salvation in him. An' ef he don't feel the sperit ter pray, he won't
pray, an' I hev got ter surroun' the throne o' grace by myself. He
kin, pray ef he hev a mind ter, an' he do seem ter hev hed a
outpourin' o' the sperit o' prophecy; but he hev made me 'pear mighty
comical 'fore the Lord a-many a time, when I hev axed him ter open his
mouth an' he hev kep' it shut.”
Brother Jake did not venture to address him now. An alternative was
open to him. “Brother Reuben Bates, will ye lead us in prayer?” he said
to one of the congregation.
They all knelt down, huddled like sheep in the narrow spaces between
the benches, and from among them went up the voice of supplication,
that anywhere and anyhow has the commanding dignity of spiritual
communion, the fervor of exaltation, and all the moving humility of the
finite leaning upon the infinite. Ignorance was annihilated, so far as
Brother Reuben Bates's prayer was concerned. It grasped the fact of
immortality,—all worth knowing!—and humble humanity was presented
as possessing the intimate inherent principle of the splendid fruitions
He had few words, Brother Reuben, and the aspirated “Ah!” was long
drawn often, while he swiftly thought of something else to say. Brother
Jake Tobin, after the manner in vogue among them, broke out from time
to time with a fervor of assent. “Yes, my Master!” he would exclaim in
a wild, ecstatic tone. “Bless the Lord!” “That 's a true word!” “I'm so
Always these interpolations came opportunely when Brother Reuben
seemed entangled in his primitive rhetoric, and gave him a moment for
improvisation. It was doubtless Hi Kelsey's miserable misfortune that
his acute intuition should detect in the reverend tones a vainglorious
self-satisfaction, known to no one else, not even to the speaker; that
he should accurately gauge how Brother Jake Tobin secretly piqued
himself upon his own gift in prayer, never having experienced these
stuttering halts, never having needed these pious boosts; that he
should be aware, ignorant as he was, of that duality of cerebration by
which Brother Jake's mind was divided between the effect on God,
bending down a gracious ear, and the impression of these ecstatic
outbursts on the congregation; that the petty contemptibleness of it
should depress him; that its dissimulations angered him. With the rigor
of an upright man, he upbraided himself. He was on his knees: was he
praying? Were these the sincerities of faith. Was this lukewarm
inattention the guerdon of the sacrifice of the cross? His ideal and
himself, himself and what he sought to be,—oh, the gulf! the deep
He gave his intentions no grace. He conceded naught to human nature.
His conscience revolted at a sham. And he was a living, breathing sham
—upon his knees.
Ah, let us have a little mercy on ourselves! Most of us do. For
there was Brother Jake Tobin, with a conscience free of offense,
happily unobservant of his own complicated mental processes and of the
motives of his own human heart, becoming more and more actively
assistant as Brother Reuben Bates grew panicky, hesitant, and involved,
and kept convulsively on through sheer inability to stop, suggesting
epilepsy rather than piety.
It was over at last; exhausted nature prevailed, and Brother Bates
resumed his seat, wiping the perspiration from his brow and raucously
clearing his rasped throat.
There was a great scraping of the rough shoes and boots on the floor
as the congregation rose, and one or two of the benches were moved
backward with a harsh, grating sound. A small boy had gone to sleep
during the petition, and remained in his prayerful attitude. Brother
Jake Tobin settled himself in his chair as comfortably as might be,
tilted it back on its hind-legs against the wall, and wore the air of
having fairly exploited his share of the services and cast off
responsibility. The congregation composed itself to listen to the
There was an expectant pause. Kelsey remembered ever after the
tumult of emotion with which he stepped forward to the table and opened
the book. He turned to the New Testament for his text,—turned the
leaves with a familiar hand. Some ennobling phase of that wonderful
story which would touch the tender, true affinity of human nature for
the higher things,—from this he would preach to-day. And yet, at the
same moment, with a contrariety of feeling from which he shrank aghast,
there was skulking into his mind all that grew some company of doubts.
In double file they came: fate and free agency, free will and
foreordination, infinite mercy and infinite justice, God's loving
kindness and man's intolerable misery, redemption and damnation. He had
evolved them all from his own unconscious logical faculty, and they
pursued him as if he had, in some spiritual necromancy, conjured up a
devil,—nay, legions of devils. Perhaps if he had known how they have
assaulted the hearts of men in times gone past; how they have been
combated and baffled, and yet have risen and pursued again; how, in the
scrutiny of science and research, men have paused before their awful
presence, analyzed them, philosophized about them, and found them
interesting; how others, in the levity of the world, having heard of
them, grudge the time to think upon them,—if he had known all this,
he might have felt some courage in numbers.
As it was, there was no fight left in him. He closed the book with a
sudden impulse. “My frien's,” he said, “I stan' not hyar ter preach
ter-day, but fur confession.”
There was a galvanic start among the congregation, then intense
“I hev los' my faith!” he cried out, with a poignant despair. “God
ez gin it—ef thar is a God—hev tuk it away. You-uns kin go on.
You-uns kin b'lieve. Yer paster believes, an' he 'll lead ye ter grace,
—leastwise ter a better life. But fur me thar 's the nethermost depths
of hell, ef”—how his faith and his unfaith tried him!—“ef thar be
enny hell. Leastwise—Stop, brother,”—he held up his hand in
deprecation, for Parson Tobin had risen at last, with a white, scared
face; nothing like this had ever been heard in all the length and
breadth of the Great Smoky Mountains,—“bear with me a little; ye 'll
see me hyar no more. Fur me that is shame, ah! an' trial, ah! an'
doubt, ah! an' despair, ah! The good things o' life hev not fallen ter
me. The good things o' heaven air denied. My name is ter be a by-word
an' a reproach 'mongst ye. Ye 'll grieve ez ye hev ever hearn the Word
from me, ah! Ye'll be held in derision! An' I hev hed trials,—none
like them ez air comin', comin', down the wind. I hev been a man marked
fur sorrow, an' now fur shame.”
He stood erect; he looked bold, youthful. The weight of his secret,
lifted now, had been heavier than he knew. In his eyes shone that
strange light which was frenzy, or prophecy, or inspiration; in his
voice rang a vibration they had never before heard.
“I will go forth from 'mongst ye,—I that am not of ye. Another
shall gird me an' carry me where I would not. Hell an' the devil hev
prevailed agin me. Pray fur me, brethren, ez I cannot pray fur myself.
Pray that God may yet speak ter me,—speak from out o' the whurlwind.”
There was a sound upon the air. Was it the rising of the wind? A
thrill ran through the congregation. The wild emotion, evoked and
suspended in this abrupt pause, showed in pallid excitement on every
face. Several of the men rose aimlessly, then turned and sat down
again. Brought from the calm monotony of their inner life into this
supreme crisis of his, they were struck aghast by the hardly
comprehended situations of his spiritual drama enacted before them. And
what was that sound on the air? In the plenitude of their ignorant
faith, were they listening for the invoked voice of God?
Kelsey, too, was listening, in anguished suspense.
It was not the voice of God, that man was wont to hear when the
earth was young; not the rising of the wind. The peace of the golden
sunshine was supreme. Even a tiny cloudlet, anchored in the limited
sky, would not sail to-day.
On and on it came. It was the galloping of horse,—the beat of
hoofs, individualized presently to the ear,—with that thunderous,
swift, impetuous advance that so domineers over the imagination,
quickens the pulse, shakes the courage.
It might seem that all the ingenuity of malignity could not have
compassed so complete a revenge. The fulfillment of his prophecy
entered at the door. All its spiritual significance was annihilated; it
was merged into a prosaic material degradation when the sheriff of the
county strode, with jingling spurs, up the aisle, and laid his hand
upon the preacher's shoulder. He wore his impassive official aspect.
But his deputy, following hard at his heels, had a grin of facetious
triumph upon his thin lips. He had been caught by the nape of the neck,
and in a helpless, rodent-like attitude had been slung out of the door
by the stalwart man of God, when he and Amos James had ventured to the
meeting-house in liquor; and neither he nor the congregation had
forgotten the sensation. It was improbable that such high-handed
proceedings could be instituted to-day, but the sheriff had taken the
precaution to summon the aid of five or six burly fellows, all armed to
the teeth. They too came tramping heavily up the aisle. Several wore
the reflection of the deputy's grin; they were the “bold, bad men,” the
prophet's early associates before “he got religion, an' sot hisself ter
consortin' with the saints.” The others were sheepish and doubtful,
serving on the posse with a protest under the constraining penalties of
The congregation was still with a stunned astonishment. The preacher
stood as one petrified, his eyes fixed upon the sheriff's face. The
officer, with a slow, magisterial gesture, took a paper from his
breast-pocket, and laid it upon the Bible.
“Ye kin read, pa'son,” he said. “Ye kin read the warrant fur yer
The deputy laughed, a trifle insolently. He turned, swinging his
hat,—he had done the sacred edifice the reverence of removing it,—
and surveyed the wide-eyed, wide-mouthed people, leaning forward,
standing up, huddled together, as if he had some speculation as to the
effect upon them of these unprecedented proceedings.
Kelsey could read nothing. His strong head was in a whirl; he caught
at the table, or he might have fallen. The amazement of it,—the shame
“Who does this? ” he exclaimed, in sudden realization of the
situation. Already self-convicted of the blasphemy of infidelity, he
stood in his pulpit in the infinitely ignoble guise of a culprit before
Those fine immaterial issues of faith and unfaith,—where were
they? The torturing fear of futurity, and of a personal devil and a
material hell,—how impotent! His honest name,—never a man had borne
it that had suffered this shame; the precious dignity of freedom was
riven from him; the calm securities of his self-respect were shaken
forever. He could never forget the degradation of the sheriff's touch,
from which he shrank with so abrupt a gesture that the officer grasped
his pistol and every nerve was on the alert. Kelsey was animated at
this moment by a pulse as essentially mundane as if he had seen no
visions and dreamed no dreams. He had not known how he held himself,—
how he cherished those values, so familiar that he had forgotten to be
thankful till their possession was a retrospection.
He sought to regain his self-control. He caught up the paper; it
quivered in his trembling hands; he strove to read it. “Rescue!” he
cried out in a tense voice. “Rick Tyler! I never rescued Rick Tyler!”
The words broke the long constraint. They were an elucidation, a
flash of light. The congregation looked at him with changed eyes, and
then looked at each other. Why did he deny? Were not the words of his
prophecy still on the air? Had he not confessed himself an evildoer,
forsaken of God and bereft of grace? His prophecy was matched by the
details of his experience. Had he done no wrong he could have foreseen
“Rick Tyler ain't wuth it,” said one old man to another, as he spat
on the floor.
The widow of Joel Byers, the murdered man, fell into hysterical
screaming at Rick Tyler's name, and was presently borne out by her
friends and lifted into one of the wagons.
“It air jes' ez well that the sher'ff takes Pa'son Kelsey, arter
that thar confession o' his'n,” said one of the dark-browed men,
helping to yoke the oxen. “We could n't hev kep' him in the church
arter sech words ez his'n, an' church discipline ain't a-goin' ter cast
out no sech devil ez he air possessed by.”
Brother Jake Tobin, too, appreciated that the arrest of the preacher
in his pulpit was a solution of a difficult question. It was manifestly
easier for the majesty of the State of Tennessee to deal with him than
for the little church on the Big Smoky.
“Yer sins hev surely fund ye out, Brother Kelsey,” he began, with
the air of having washed his hands of all responsibility. “God would
never hev fursook ye, ef ye hed n't fursook the good cause fust. Ye air
ter be cast down,—ye who hev stood high.”
There was a momentary silence.
“Will ye come?” said the sheriff, smiling fixedly, “or had ye ruther
The deputy had a pair of handcuffs dangling officiously. They
rattled in rude contrast with the accustomed sounds of the place.
Kelsey hesitated. Then, after a fierce internal struggle, he
submitted meekly, and was led out from among them.
IT is seldom, in this world at least, that a man who absents himself
from church repents it with the fervor of regret which Amos James
experienced when he heard of the unexpected proceedings at the Notch.
“Sech a rumpus—dad-burn my luck—I mought never git the chance
ter see agin!” he declared, with a pious sense of deprivation. And he
thought it had been a poor substitute to sit on the doorstep all the
forenoon Sunday, “ez lonesome ez a b'ar in a hollow tree,” because his
heart was yet so sore and sensitive that he could not see Dorinda's
pink sun-bonnet without a rush of painful emotion, or her face without
remembering how she looked when he talked of the rescue of Rick Tyler.
The “gang o' men”—actively described by his mother as “lopin'
roun' the mill”—lingered long in conclave this morning. Perhaps their
views had a more confident and sturdy effect from being propounded at
the top of the voice, since the insistent whir of the busy old mill
drowned all efforts in a lower tone; but it was very generally the
opinion that Micajah Green had transcended all the license of his
official character in making the arrest at the place and time he had
“I knows,” commented one of the disaffected, “ez it air the law o'
Tennessee ez a arrest kin be made of a Sunday, ef so be it must. But
'pears like ter me 't war nuthin' in this worl' but malice an' meanness
ez tuk ch'ice o' the minute the man hed stood up ter preach the Word
ter arrest him. 'Cajah Green mus' hev tuk keerful heed o' time,—jes'
got thar spang on the minute.”
“He w-war n't p-p-preachin' the Word,” stuttered Pete Cayce,
antagonistically. “He hed jes' 'lowed he w-w-war n't fit ter preach it.
No more war he.”
He had come down from the still to treat for meal for the mash. He
was willing to wait,—nay, anxious, that he might bear his share in
He tilted his chair back against the wall, and nodded his long,
drab-tinted locks convincingly.
The water whirled around the wheel; the race foamed with prismatic
bubbles, flashing opal-like in the sun; the vague lapsing of the calm
depths in the pond was like some deep sigh, as of the fullness of
happiness or reflective content,—not pain. The water falling over the
dam babbled in a meditative undertone. All sounds were dominated by the
whir of the mill in its busy, industrial monody, and within naught else
could be heard, save the strident voices pitched on the miller's key
and roaring the gossip. Through the window could be seen the rocky
banks opposite, their summits tufted with huckleberry and sassafras
bushes and many a tangle of weeds; the dark shadow in the water below;
the slope of the mountain rising above. A branch, too, of the
low-spreading chestnut-oak, that hung above the roof of the mill, was
visible, swaying close without; it cast a tempered shade over the long
cobwebs depending from the rafters, whitened by the dust of the flour.
The rough, undressed timbers within were of that mellow, rich tint,
intermediate between yellow and brown, so restful to the eye. The floor
was littered with bags of corn, on which some of the men lounged;
others sat in the few chairs, and Amos James leaned against the hopper.
“Waal,” retorted the first speaker, “'ez fur ez 'Cajah Green could
know, he'd hev been a-preachin' then, an' argyfyin' his own
righteousness; an' 'Cajah laid off ter kem a-steppin' in with his
warrant ter prove him a liar an' convict him o' sinnin' agin the law
'fore his congregation.”
“'Pears like ter me ez pa'son war sorter forehanded,” said Pete,
captiously. “He hed proved hisself a liar 'fore the sheriff got thar;
saved 'Cajah the trouble.”
“I hearn,” said another man, “ez pa'son up-ed an' 'lowed ez he did
n't b'lieve in the Lord, an' prophesied his own downfall an' his trial
'fore the sher'ff got thar.”
“He d-d-did!” shouted Pete. “We never knowed much more arter 'Cajah
an' the dep'ty kem 'n we did afore. Pa'son said they 'd gird him an'
t-t-take him whar he did n't want ter g-go,—an' so they d-d-d-did.”
“D-d-did what?” mockingly demanded Amos James, with unnecessary
rancor, it might have seemed.
Pete's infirmity became more pronounced under this cavalier
treatment. “T-t-take him w-w-w-whar he didn't w-w-w-want”—explosively
—“ter go, ye fool!”
“D' ye reckon he wanted ter go ter jail in Shaftesville?” demanded
Pete, with scathing scorn. His sneering lip exposed his long,
protruding teeth, and his hard-featured face was unusually repellent.
“Hev they tuk him ter jail,—the pa'son?—Pa'son Kelsey?”
exclaimed Amos James, in a deeply serious tone. He looked fixedly at
Pete, as if he might thus express more than he said in words. There was
indignation in his black eyes, even reproach. He still leaned on the
hopper, but there was nothing between the stones, for he had forgotten
to pour in more corn, and the industrious flurry of the unsentient old
mill was like the bustle of many clever people,—a great stir about
nothing. He wore his broad-brimmed white hat far back on his head. His
black hair was sprinkled with flour and meal, and along the curves of
his features the snowy flakes had congregated in thin lines, bringing
out the olive tint of his complexion, and intensifying the sombre
depths of his eyes.
Pete returned the allusion to his defective speech by a comment on
the intentness of the miller's gaze.
“Ye look percisely like a ow-el, Amos,—percisely like a old
horned ho-ho-hooter,” he declared, with a laugh. “Ya-as,” he continued,
“they did take pa'son ter jail, bein' ez the jestice that the sher'ff
tuk him afore—old Squair Prine, ye know—h-he could n't decide ez
ter his g-guilt. The Squair air so onsartain in his mind, an' wavers so
ez ter his knowledge, that I hev hearn ez ev'y day he counts his toes
ter make sure he's got ten. So the old Squair h-hummed and h-h-hawed
over the evidence, an' he 'l-lowed ter Pa'son K-Kelsey ez he could n't
b'lieve nuthin' agin him right handy ez he hed sot under his p
preachin' many a time an' profited by it; but thar war his curious
performin' 'bout'n the gaynder whilst Rick got off, an' he hed hearn ez
pa'son turned his back on the Lord in a s'prisin' way. Then the Squair
axed how he kem ter prophesy his own arrest ef he hed done nuthin' ter
bring it on. The Squair 'lowed 't war a serious matter, a pen'tiary
offense; an' he war n't cl'ar in his own mind; an' he up-ed an'
down-ed, an' twisted an' turned, an' he didn't know what ter do:
so the e-end war he jes' committed Pa'son Kelsey ter jail, ter await
the action o' the g-g-g-gran' jury.”
Pete gave this detail with some humor, wagging his head back and
forth to imitate the magisterial treatment of the quandary, and putting
up first one hand, then the other, stretching out first one rough boot,
then the other, to signify the various points of the dilemma.
Amos James did not laugh. He still gravely gazed at the narrator.
“Why n't he git bail?” he demanded, gruffly.
“Waal, he did n't—'kase he could n't. The old man, he fixed the
bail without so much dilly-dallyin' an' jouncin' 'roun' in his mind ez
ye rnought expec'. He jes' put on his specs, an' polished his old bald
noodle with his red h-h-handkercher, an' tuk a fraish chew o' terbacco,
an' put his nose in his book, an' tuk it out ter brag ez them crazy
bugs in N-N-Nashvul sent him a book ev'y time they made a batch o' new
laws,—pore, prideful old critter mus' hev been lyin'!—an' then he
put his nose in his book agin' like he smelt the law an' trailed it by
scent. 'T war n't more 'n haffen hour 'fore he tuk it out, an' say the
least bail he could take war a thousand d-d-dollars fur the defendant,
an' five hunderd fur each of his sureties,—like it hev been in ev'y
sech case 'fore a jestice s-sence the Big Smoky Mountings war made.”
Pete laughed, his great fore-teeth, his flexible lip, his long, bony
face and tangled mane, giving him something of an equine aspect. His
mood was unusually jocular; and indeed a man might experience some
elation of spirit to be the only one of the “lopers round” at the mill
who had been present at a trial of such significance. The close
attention accorded his every word demonstrated the interest in the
subject, and the guffaws which greeted his sketch of the familiar
character of the old “Squair” was a flattering tribute to his skill as
a raconteur. The peculiar antagonism of his disposition
was manifested only in the delay and digressions by which he thwarted
Amos James's eagerness to know why Parson Kelsey had not been admitted
to bail. He could not accurately interpret the indignation in the
miller's look, and he cared less for the threat it expressed. Cowardice
was not predicable of one of the Cayce tribe. Perhaps it might have
been agreeable for the community if the discordant Pete could have been
more readily intimidated.
“Why n't pa'son gin the bail, then?” demanded Amos, again.
“He did gin it,” returned Pete, perversely.
“Waal, then, how 'd the sher'ff take him ter jail?”
“Right down the county road, ez ye an' me an' the rest of us hyar in
the Big Smoky hev worked on till sech c-c-cattle ez 'Cajah Green an'
his buzzardy dep'ty hain't got no sort'n c-chance o' breakin' thar
necks over the rocks an' sech.”
“Look-a-hyar, Pete Cayce, I'll fling ye bodaciously over that thar
bluff!” exclaimed Amos James, darkly frowning.
A rat that had boldly run across the floor a number of times, its
whiskers powdered white, its tail white also, and gayly frisking behind
it, had ventured so close to the miller's motionless foot that when he
stepped hastily forward it sprang into the air with a wonderfully human
expression of fright; then, in a sprawling fashion it swiftly sped away
to some dark corner, where it might meditate on the escaped danger and
take heed of foolhardiness.
“W-w-what would I be a-doin' of, Amos Jeemes, whilst ye war
a-flingin' m-me over the b-b-bluff?” demanded Pete, pertinently.
“What ails ye, ter git tuk so suddint in yer temper, Amos?” asked
another of the baffled listeners, who desired to promote peace and
further the account of Parson Kelsey's examination before the
magistrate. “Amos jes' axed ye, Pete, why pa'son war n't admitted ter
“H-h-he never none, now,” said Pete. “He axed w-w-why Pa'son Kelsey
did n't g-gin bail. He did gin it, but 't-t warn't accepted.”
“What fur?” demanded Amos, relapsing into interest in the subject,
and leaning back against the hopper.
“Waal,” said Pete, preferring, on the whole, the distinction of
relating the proceedings before the magistrate to the more familiar
diversion of bickering, “pa'son he 'lowed he 'd gin his gran'dad an'
his uncle ter go on his bond; an' the Squair, arter he hed stuck his
nose into his book a couple o' times, an' did n't see nuthin'
abolishin' gran'dads an' uncles, he tuk it out an refraished it with a
pinch o' snuff, an' 'lowed he 'd take gran'dad an' uncle on the bond.
An then up jumped Gid Fletcher, the blacksmith over yander ter the
Settlemint,—him it war ez swore out the warrant,—an' demanded the
Squair would hear his testimony agin it. That thar 'Cajah Green, he
sick-ed him on, all the time. I seen Gid Fletcher storp suddint wunst,
an' wall his eye 'round onsartin' at 'Cajah Green, ez ef ter make sure
he war a-sayin' all right. An' 'Cajah Green, he batted his eye ez much
ez ter say, 'Go it, old hoss!' Sure ez ye air born them two fixed it up
“I do de-spise that thar critter, 'Cajah Green!” exclaimed
one of the men, who was sitting on a sack of corn in the middle of the
floor “He fairly makes the trigger o' my rifle itch! I hope he won't
kem out ahead at the August election. The Big Smoky 'll hev ter git him
beat somehows; we can't hev him aggervatin' 'roun' hyar another two
The fore-legs of Pete Cayce's tilted chair came down with a thump.
He leaned forward, and with a marked gesture offered his big horny paw
to the man who sat on the bag of corn; they solemnly shook hands as on
Amos James still leaned against the empty hopper, listening with a
face of angry gloom as Pete recommenced:—
“Waal, the Squair, he put his nose inter his book agin, an' then he
'lowed he 'd hear Gid Fletcher's say-so. An' Gid,—waal, he 'll be
mighty good metal fur the devil's anvil; I feel it in my bones how
Satan will rej'ice ter draw Gid Fletcher down small,—he got up an'
'lowed ez pa'son an' his uncle an' his gran'dad did n't wuth two
thousand dollars. They hed what they hed all tergether, an' 't war n't
enough,—'t war n't wuth more 'n a thousan', ef that. An' so the
Squair,—waal, he looked toler'ble comical, a-nosin' in his book an'
a-polishin' off the torp o' his head with his red handkercher, an' he
war ez oneasy an' onsartain in his actions ez a man consortin'
accidentally with a bumbly bee. He tried 'em all powerful in thar
temper, bein' so gin over ter backin' an' fo'thin'; but ez he war the
jestice they hed ter sot 'round an' look solemn an' respectful. An' at
las' he said he could n't accept the bail, ez 't war insufficient. The
dep'ty looked like he 'd jump up an' down, an' crack his heels
together; 'peared like he war glad fur true. An' the Squair, he 'lowed
ez the rescue war a crime ez mought make a jestice keerful how he tuk
insufficient bail. Ennybody ez would holp a man ter escape from cust'dy
would jump his bond hisself, though he war tol'erble keerful ter
explain ter pa'son ez he never undertook ter charge nuthin' on him,
nuther. An' he hed ter bear in mind ez he oc'pied a m-m-mighty
important place in the l-law,—though I can't see ez it air so mighty
important ter h-h-hev ter say, 'I dunno; let the court decide.' “
Amos James remembered the hopper at last. He turned, and, as he
lifted a bag and poured in the corn, he asked, his eyes on the golden
stream of grain,—
“An' what did pa'son say when he fund it out?”
Pete Cayce laughed, his big teeth making the facetious demonstration
peculiarly pronounced. He was looking out of the window, through the
leafy bough of the overspreading chestnut-oak, at the deep, transparent
water in the pond. The dark, lustrous reflection of the sassafras and
huckleberry bushes on the summit of the vertical rocky bank was like
some mezzotinted landscape under glass. A frog on one of the ledges at
the waterside was a picture of amphibious content; sometimes his mouth
opened and shut quickly, with an expression, if not beautiful, implying
satisfaction. Pete lazily caught up a stick which he had been
whittling. The slight missile flew through the air, catching the light
as it went. Its aim was accurate, and the next moment the monotony of
the placid surface was broken by the elastically widening circles above
the spot where the frog jumped in.
“The pa'son,” he said languidly, having satisfactorily concluded
this exploit,—“at fust it looked like the c-critter could n't make it
out,—he 'peared toler'ble peaked an' white-faced, but the way he
behaved ter the sher'ff 'minds me o' the tales the old men tell 'bout'n
Hangin' Maw an' Bloody Feller, an' them t'other wild Injuns that useter
aggervate the white folks in the Big Smoky,—proud an' straight, an'
lookin' at 'Cajah Green ez ef he war jes' the dirt under his feet.
Waal, pa'son 'lowed, calm an' quiet, ez I 'd be skinnin' a deer or
suthin,' ez he'd ruther be obligated ter his own f-folks fur that holp,
but ez that could n't be he'd git bail from others. 'T war n't m-much
matter jes' till he could 'pear 'fore the court, fur nuthin' could be
easier'n ter prove ez he hed n't rescued Rick Tyler, nor never gin
offense agin the law. An' he turned round ez s-s-sure an' quiet ter
Pa'son Tobin, who hed kem along ter see what mought be a-doin', an' sez
he, 'B-Brother Jake Tobin, you-uns an' some o' the c-church folks, I
know, will be 'sponsible fur the bail.' An' ef ye 'll b'lieve me,
Brother Jake Tobin, he got up slanch-wise, an' in sech a hurry the
cheer fell over ahint him; an' sez he, 'Naw, brother,—I will call ye
brother,'—like that war powerful 'commodatin',—'I kin not sot my
p-people ter do sech, arter yer words yestiddy. We kin lose no money by
ye,—the church air pore an' the cause air n-needy. I kin only pray
fur the devil ter l-loose his holt on ye, f-fur I perceive the devil in
ye.' Waal, sir,” continued Pete, drawing a plug of tobacco from his
pocket, and gnawing on it with tugging persistence, “Christian
perfesser ez I be, I felt sorter 'shamed o' Brother J-Jake Tobin,—he
looked s-s-sech a skerry h-half-liver, 'feard o' losin' money! Shucks!
I could sca'cely keep my hands off'n him. He looked so—so cur'ous, I
wanted ter—ter”—he remembered the reverence due to the cloth—“ter
trip him up,” he concluded, temperately. “An' then, ez he war
a-whurlin' his fat sides around ter pick up the cheer, Pa'son K-Kelsey,
—he hed t-turned plumb bleached, like a corpse,—he stood up an' sez,
'The Lord hev forsaken me!' An' Brother Jake Tobin humps around, with
the cheer in his hand, an' sez, 'Naw, brother, naw, ye hev fursook the
“Waal,” said the man on the bag of corn, gazing meditatively at the
dusty floor and at a great yellow cur who had ventured within, as a
shelter from the midday heat, and lay at ungainly length asleep near
the door, “I dunno ez I kin blame Brother Jake Tobin. 'T would hev made
a mighty scandal ter keep Pa'son Kelsey in the church, arter what he
said agin the faith. We 'll hev ter turn him out; an' ez he air ter be
turned out, I dunno ez the church members hev enny call ter go on his
bond. He air none o' we-uns, nowadays.”
“Leastwise none o' 'em war a-goin' t-ter do it,” said Pete, quietly.
“They air all mindful o' Brother Jake Tobin's longest ear, ez kin hear
a call from the church yander in Cade's Cove ev'y time he g-gits mad at
'em. But I tell ye,” added Pete, restoring his plug of tobacco to his
pocket, and chewing hard on the bit which his strong teeth had wrenched
off, “it did 'pear ter me ez they mought hev stretched a p'int when I
see the pa'son ridin' off with them two sneakin' off'cers. He hed so
nigh los' his senses with the notion he war a-goin' ter be jailed ez
they hed ter hold him up in the saddle, else he'd hev been under the
beastis's huffs in a minute.”
“Why n't you-uns go on his bond?” asked Amos James, suddenly.
“Who?” shouted Pete, in stentorian amaze above the clamor of the old
“You-uns,—the whole Cayce lay-out,” reiterated Amos James.
His blood had risen to his face. All the instincts of justice within
him revolted at the picture Pete had drawn, coarsely and crudely
outlined, but touched with the vivid realities of nature. It was as a
scene present before him: the falsely accused man borne away, crushed
with shame, while the true criminal looked on with a lax conscience and
an impersonal interest, and thriftily saved his observations to recount
to his cronies at the mill. Amos James cared naught for the outraged
majesty of the law. The rescue of the prisoner from its fierce talons
seemed to him, instead, humane and beneficent. His sense of justice was
touched only by the manifest cruelty when one man was forced to bear
the consequences of another's act.
“You-uns mought hev done ez much,” he said, significantly.
“I reckon they would hev 'lowed ez we war n't wuth it,” said Pete,
quietly ruminant; “the still can't show up.”
“Ye never tried it,” said Amos.
“Waal, d-dad, he war n't thar, an' I could n't ondertake ter speak
fur the rest. An' I ain't beholden no ways ter Pa'son Kelsey. I hev no
call ter b-b-bail him ez I knows on. I hev no hand in his bein'
arrested an' sech.”
“Hev no hand in his bein' arrested!” retorted Amos, scornfully.
Pete was staring stolidly at him, and the other men assumed an
intent, inquiring attitude. Amos James felt suddenly that he had gone
too far. He had no wish to fasten this stigma upon the Cayces; he had
every reason to avoid it. He did not know how far he had been accounted
a confidant in the intimacies of the cave when Rick Tyler had found a
refuge there. He could not disregard the trust reposed in him. And yet
he could not recall his words.
Pete's blank gaze changed to an amazed comprehension. He spoke out
bluntly the thought in the other's mind.
“Ye air a-thinkin', Amos Jeemes, ez 't war we-uns ez cut Rick Tyler
a-loose o' the sher'ff!” he exclaimed.
Amos, confronted with his own suspicion, listened with a guilty air.
“Ye air surely the b-b-b-biggest f-f-f-fool”—the words seemed very
large with these additional consonants—“in the shadder o' the
B-b-b-Big S-s-s-sm-Smoky M-m-Mountings!” Pete spread them out with all
the magnifying facilities of his infirmity.
“Waal, then,” said Amos, crestfallen, “who done it?”
“Why, P-Pa'son Kelsey, I reckon.”
THAT memorable arrest in the Big Smoky was the last official act of the
sheriff, except the surrender of his books and papers and taking his
successor's receipt for the prisoners in the county jail. The defeat
had its odious aspects. The race had been amazingly unequal. Had the
ground tottered beneath him, as he stood in the grass-fringed streets
of Shaftesville, and heard the rumors of the returns from the civil
districts, he could hardly have experienced a sensation of insecurity
commensurate with this, for all his moral supports were threatened. His
self-confidence, his arrogant affinity for authority, his pride, and
his ambition keenly barbed the prescience of this abnormal flatness of
failure. He was pierced by every careless glance; every casual word
wounded him. He had a strange disturbing sense of a loss of identity.
This anxious, brow-beaten, humiliated creature,—was this Micajah
Green? He did not recognize himself, every throb within him had an
alien impulse; he repudiated every cringing mental process. It was his
first experience of the rigors of adversity; it did not quell him; he
He feebly sought to goad himself to answer the rough chaff of
spurious sympathizers with his old bluff spirit; his retort was like
the lisp of a child in defiance of the challenge of a bugle. He saw
with faltering bewilderment how the interesting spectacle increased his
audience; it resembled in some sort an experiment in vivisection, and
where the writhings most suggested an appreciated anguish, each curious
scientist most longed to thrust the scalpel.
The coroner held the election, as the sheriff himself was a
candidate, and when the result became known the details excited
increased comment. In the district of the county town he had a
majority, but the unanimity against him in the outlying districts,
especially in the Big Smoky and its widespread spurs and coves, was
unprecedented in the annals of the county. He had hoped that the
election of judge and attorney-general, taking place at the same time,
might divert attention from the disastrous completeness of his failure.
But their race involved no peculiar phase of popular interest, and the
more important results were subordinated, so far as the county was
concerned, to the spec- tacle of 'Cajah Green, “flabbergasted an'
flustrated like never war seen.” New elements of gossip were added now
and then, vivaciously canvassed among the knots of men perched on
barrels in the stores, or congregated in the post office, or sitting on
the steps of the court-house, and were ruthlessly detailed to the
ex-sheriff, whose starts of rage, unthinking relapses into official
speech, jerks of convulsive surprise, prolonged the amusement beyond
its natural span.
It ceased suddenly. The adjustment to a new line of thought and to a
future under altered conditions was facilitated by the inception of an
immediate definite intention and a sentiment coequal with the passion
of despair. The idlers of the town might not have been able to
accurately define the moment when the drama of defeat, with which he
had prodigally entertained them, lost its interest. But there was a
moment that differed from all the others of the lazy August hours; the
minimum of time charged with disproportionate importance. It might be
likened to a symbol of chemistry, which, though the simplest
alphabetical character, is significant of an essential element
involving life,—perhaps death.
That moment the wind came freshly down frown the mountains; the
glare of the morning sun rested on the empty, sandy street of the
village; the weeds and grass that obscured the curbing of the pavement
were still overhung by a glittering gossamer net of dew. A yellow
butterfly flitted over it, followed by another so like that it could
not be distinguished from its aerial counterpart. The fragrance of
new-mown hay somewhere in the rural metropolis was sweet on the air. A
blue-bottle, inside the window of the store hard by, droned against the
glass, and seemed in some sort an echo to the monotonous drawl of a man
who had lately been up in the Big Smoky, and who had gleaned fresh
points concerning the recent election.
“What did ye ever do ter the Cayces, 'Cajah, or what did Bluff Peake
ever do fur 'em?” he asked, as preliminary to detailing that the Cayces
had turned out and pervaded the Great Smoky Mountains, electioneering
against the incumbent. “They rid hyar an' they rid thar,—up in the
mountings an' down in the coves; an' some do say thar war one o' 'em in
ev'y votin'-place in all the mounting deestric's the day the 'lection
kem off, jes' a-stiffenin' up the Peake men, an' a-beggin', an'
a-prayin', an' a-wraslin' in argymint with them ez hed gin out they war
a-goin' ter vote fur you-uns. Bluff Peake say they fairly 'lected him,
though he 'lowed 't war n't fur love o' him. I wonder ye done ez well
ez ye did, 'Cajah, though ye could n't hev done much wuss, sure enough.
All o' 'em war out, from old Groundhog down ter Sol, when they war
'lectioneerin', an' the whiskey ez war drunk round the Settlemint an'
sech war 'sprisin'. Some say old Groundhog furnished it free.”
The ex-sheriff made no reply. There was a look in his eye that gave
his long, lean head, deeply sunken at the temples, less the aspect of
that of a whipped hound than it had worn of late. One might have
augured that he was a dangerous brute. And after that, the conversation
with the recent election as a theme flagged, and died out gradually.
It was only a few days before he had occasion to go up into the
Great Smoky Mountains, on matters, he averred, connected with closing
unsettled business of the office which he had held. As he jogged along,
he moodily watched the distant mountains, growing ever nearer, and
engirdled here and there with belts of white mists, above whose shining
silver densities sometimes would tower a gigantic “bald,” with a
suspended, isolated effect, like some wonderful aerial regions unknown
to geography, foreign to humanity. The supreme dignity of their
presence was familiar to him. Their awful silence, like the unspeakable
impressiveness of some overpowering thought, affected him not. The
vastness of the earth which they suggested, beneath the immensities of
the sky, which leaned upon them, found no responsive largeness in his
emotions. Those barren domes of an intense blue, tinged with purple
where the bold rocks jutted out, flushed where the yellow sunshine
languished to a blush; those heavily wooded slopes below the bards,
sombre and rich in green and bronze and all darkling shades,—touched,
too, here and there with a vivid crimson where the first fickle sumach
flared; those coves in which shadows lurked and vague sentiments of
color were abroad in visionary guise, in unexplained softness of grays
and hardly realized blues, in dun browns and sedate yellows, vanishing
before the plain prose of an approach,—he had reduced all this to a
scale of miles, and the splendors of the landscape were not more seemly
or suggestive than the colors of a map on the wall. It was a mental
scale of miles, for the law decreeing a sufficiency of mile-posts
seemed to weaken in the ruggedness of the advance, and when he was
fairly among the coves and ravines they disappeared. He pushed his
horse rather hard, as the time wore on, but sunset was on the mountains
before he came upon the great silent company of dead trees towering
above the Settlement in the reddening light, and tracing their
undeciphered hieroglyphics across the valley beneath and upon the
heights beyond. The ringing vibrations of the anvil were on the air;
the measured alternations of the hand-hammer and the sledge resounded
in a clear, metallic fugue; the flare from the forge fire streamed
through the great door of the blacksmith's shop, giving fluctuating
glimpses of the interior, but fainting and fading into impotent
artificiality before the gold and scarlet fires ablaze in the western
A wagon, broken down and upheld by a pole in lieu of one of the
wheels, stood in front of the blacksmith's shop, and was evidently the
reason of Gid Fletcher's industry at this late hour. Its owner loitered
aimlessly about; now looking, with the gloat of acquisition, at his
purchases stowed away in the wagon, and now nervously at a little
barefoot girl whom he had brought with him to behold the metropolitan
glories of the Settlement. He occasionally asked her anxious questions.
“Ain't you-uns 'most tired out, Euraliny?” he would say; or, “Don't ye
feel wore in yer backbone, hevin' ter wait so long?” or, “Hed n't ye
better lay down on the blanket in the wagin an' rest yer bones, bein'
ez we-uns started 'fore daybreak?” But the sturdy Euralina shook her
sun-bonnet, with her head in it, in emphatic negation at every
suggestion, and sat upright on the board laid across the rough,
springless wagon, looking about her gravely, with a stalwart
determination to see all there was in the famed Settlemint; thinking,
perhaps, that her backbone would have leisure to humor its ails in the
retirement of home. What an ideal traveler Euralina would be under a
wider propitiousness of circumstance! And so the anxious parent could
only stroll about as before, and contemplate his purchases, and pause
at the door of the blacksmith's shop to say, “Ain't you-uns 'most done,
Gid?” in a tone of harrowing insistence, for the fortieth time since
the blacksmith's services were invoked.
Gid Fletcher looked up with a lowering brow as Micajah Green
entered. The shadows of evening were dense in the ill-lighted place;
the fluctuations of the forge fire, now flaring, now fading,
intensified the idea of gloom. The red-hot iron that the blacksmith
held on the anvil threw its lurid reflection into his swarthy face and
his eyes; his throat was bare; his athletic figure, girded with his
leather apron, demonstrated in its poses the picturesqueness of the
simple craft; his sleeve was rolled tightly from his huge, corded
hammer-arm. His hand-hammer seemed endowed with some nice
discriminating sense as it tapped here and there with an inoperative
clink, and the great sledge in the striker's hands came crashing down
to execute its sharp behests. while the flakes flew from the metal in
jets of golden sparks.
A man is never so plastic to virtuous impulses as when he is doing
well his chosen work. Labor was ordained to humanity as a curse; surely
God repented him of the evil. What blessing has proved so beneficent!
The suggestions entering with the new-comer were at variance with
this wholesome industrial mood. They recalled to the blacksmith his
baffled avarice, his revenge, and the malice that had influenced his
testimony at the committing trial. More than once, of late, while the
anvil sang responsive to the hammer's sonorous clangor, and the sparks
flew, emblazoning the twilight of the shop with arabesques of golden
flakes, and the iron fielded like wax to fire and force, he had a
sudden fear that he had not done well. True, he had sworn to nothing
which he did not believe, either in the affidavit for the warrant or at
the committing trial; but the widely chartered credulity of an angry
man! He said to himself in extenuation that he would not have gone so
far but for the sheriff.
He was not glad, with these recollections paramount, to see Micajah
Green again. Some concession he made, however, to the dictates of
“Hy're, 'Cajah,” he said, albeit gruffly, and the monotonous
clinking of the hand-hammer and the clanking of the sledge went on as
Micajah Green's knowledge of life had not been wide, but there was
space to evolve a cynical reflection that, being down in the world now,
he must bite the dust, and he attributed this cavalier treatment to the
perverse result of the election.
He had acquired something of the manner of bravado, from his recent
experience as a defeated candidate, and he swaggered a little as he
strolled about the dirt floor of the shop; glancing at the forge fire,
slumberously glowing, at the smoky hood above it, at the window opening
upon the purpling mountains and the fading west. He even paused, and
turned with his foot the clods of the cavity still yawning below the
lowest log, where the escaped man had crawled through.
There was an altercation at this moment between the smith and his
assistant; for the work was not so satisfactory as when Gid Fletcher's
mind was exclusively bent upon it, and his striker officiated also as
scapegoat, although that function was not specified as his duty in
their agreement. Gid Fletcher had marked with furtive surprise and
doubt every movement of the intruder, and this show of interest in the
only trace of the escape by which was lost his rich reward roused his
“Even the dogs hev quit that, 'Cajah,” he said, enigmatically, as he
caught up the iron for the new skene and thrust it into the fire, while
the striker fell to at the bellows. The long sighing burst forth; the
fire flared to redness, to a white heat, every vivid coal edged by a
fan of yellow shimmer. The blacksmith's fine stalwart figure was thrown
backward; his face was lined with sharp white lights; he was looking
over his shoulder, and laughing silently, but with a sneer.
“The dogs?” said Micajah Green, amazed. He did not sneer.
“The dogs tuk ter cropin' in an' out'n that thar hole fur five or
six days arter Rick Tyler got away,” Gid Fletcher explained. “'Peared
ter be nosin' round fur him, too. I dunno what notion tuk 'em, but I
never would abide 'em in the shop, an' so I jes' kep' that fur 'em,”—
he nodded at a leather strap hanging on the rod,—“an' larnt 'em ter
stay out o' hyar. But even they hev gin it up now.”
“I hain't gin it up, though,” said Micajah Green, still turning the
clods with his foot. “I 'll be held responsible by the court fur the
escape, I reckon, ef the gran' jury remembers ter indict me fur it, ez
negligence. An' ef I kin lay my hands on Rick Tyler yit I'll be mighty
glad ter feel of him.”
The blacksmith, without changing his attitude, looked hard at his
visitor for a moment. Something rang false in the speech. He could not
have said what it was, but his moral sense detected it, as his
practiced ear might have discovered by the sound a flaw in the metal
under his hammer.
“Ye ain't kem up the Big Smoky a-huntin' fur Rick Tyler,” he said at
“Naw,” admitted Micajah Green; “it 's jes' 'bout some onsettled
business o' the county. But ef I war ter meet up with Rick in the road
I would n't pass him by.”
He said this with a satirical half laugh, still turning the clods
with his foot, the vivid white light illuminating his figure and his
face beneath his straw hat. The next moment the sighing bellows was
silent, and Gid Fletcher and his striker had the red-hot metal between
them on the anvil, and were once more forging that intricate metallic
melody, with its singing echoes, that seemed to endow the little log
cabin with a pulsing heart, that flowed from its surcharged chamber out
into the gray night, to the deeply purple mountains, to the crescent
golden moon, to the first few stars pulsating as if in rhythm to the
clinking of the hand-hammer and the clanking of the sledge,—forging
this, and as its incident the durable skene which should enable
Euralina and her parent to leave the Settlement shortly.
“I hopes ter git home 'fore daybreak, Gid,” he said, desperately,
standing in the door, and looking wistfully at the iron in process of
transformation upon the anvil. He turned out again presently, and
Micajah Green paused, leaning against the window, and looking
doubtfully from time to time at the striker. This was an ungainly,
heavy young mountaineer, with a shock of red hair, a thick neck, and
unfinished features which seemed not to have been accounted worthy of
more careful moulding. There was a look of humble pain in his face when
the blacksmith angrily upbraided him. His perceptions were inefficient
to accurately distribute blame; he was only receptive, poor fellow! and
we all know that in every sense those who can only take, and cannot
return, have little to hope from the world. He was evidently not worth
fearing; and Micajah Green disregarded him as completely as the
presence of the anvil.
“Talkin' 'bout Rick Tyler, did you-uns go sarchin' that night—the
dep'ty's party—ter the still they say old man Cayce runs?”
“Naw,”—Gid Fletcher paused, his hammer uplifted, the red glow of
the iron on his meditative face and eyes; the striker, both hands
upholding the poised sledge, waited in the dusky background,—“naw. We
met up with Pete Cayce, an' he 'lowed ez he hed n't seen nor hearn o'
“Ef I hed been along I 'd hev sarched the still, too.”
The blacksmith stared in astonishment.
“Pete Cayce's say-so war all I wanted,” he declared; “an' I hed the
two hunderd dollars ez I hed yearned, an' ye hed flunged away,
a-hangin' on ter it,” he added.
“I hev a mind ter go thar now, whilst I be on the Big Smoky, an'
talk ter the old man 'bout'n it,” Green said, reflectively. He had
drawn out his clasp knife, and was whittling a piece of white oak which
he had picked up from the ground. With the energy of his intention the
The blacksmith glanced in furtive surprise at his downcast face, but
for a moment said nothing.
Then, “Hain't you-uns hearn how the Cayces turned out agin ye at the
'lection? Ef they did n't defeat ye, they made it an all-fired sight
wuss. Ez fur ez I could hear, me and Tobe Grimes war the only men in
the Big Smoky ez voted fur ye. I war plumb 'shamed o' it arterward. I
hates ter be beat. I'm thinkin' they ain't a-hankerin ter see ye down
yander at the still.”
The defeated candidate's face turned deeply scarlet pending this
recital. But he said with an off-hand air, “I ain't a-keerin' fur that
now; that's 'count o' an old grudge the Cayces hold agin me. All I want
now is ter kem up with Rick Tyler, ef so be I kin, afore the gran' jury
sits again; an' I hev talked with ev'ybody on the mountings, mighty
nigh, 'ceptin' it be the Cayces. Which fork o' the road is it ye take
fur the still,—I furgit,—the lef' or the right?”
Gid Fletcher burst into a sudden laugh, almost as metallic, as
inexpressive of any human emotion, as if it had issued from the anvil.
His face flushed, not the reflection from the iron, which had cooled,
but with his own angry red blood; his figure, visible in the sullen
illumination of the dull forge fire, was tense and motionless.
“Ye never knew, 'Cajah Green!” he cried. “Ye don't take nare one o'
the forks o' the road. Ye ain't a-goin' ter know, nuther, from me. I
ain't a-hankerin' ter be fund dead in the road some mornin', with a big
bullet in my skullbone, an' nobody ter know how sech happened. Ef ye
hev a mind ter spy out the Cayces fur the raiders, ye air on a powerful
cold scent; thar ain't nobody on this mounting ez loves lead well
enough ter tell whar old Groundhog holds forth. Them ez he wants ter
know—knows 'thout bein' told. Ye ain't smart enough, 'Cajah Green,
ter match yer meanness!”
It is difficult for a man, without the hope of deceiving, to
maintain a deception, and it was with scant verisimilitude that Micajah
Green denied the detection of his clumsy ruse, and swore that he only
wanted to come up with Rick Tyler. He went through the motions,
however, while the blacksmith looked at him with uncovered teeth, and a
demonstration that in a man might be described as a smile, but in a
wildcat would be called a snarl. The fierce, surprised glare of the
eyes added the complement of expression. Now and then he growled
indignant interpolations: “Naw; ye 'lowed ez I 'd tell ye, an' ye 'd
tell the raiders, an' then somehow ye 'd hev shifted the blame on me,
an' them Cayces—five of 'em an' all thar kin—would hev riddled me
with thar bullets till folks would n't hev knowed which war metal an
which war man.”
Still Micajah Green maintained his feint of denial, and the
blacksmith presently ceased to contradict.
It was Fletcher's privilege to entertain this visitor at the
Settlement, and the behests of hospitality could hardly be served
without ignoring the disagreement that had arisen between them. Little,
however, was said while the wagon axle and skene were in process of
completion, and then adjusted to the vehicle by the light of a lantern.
Jer'miah came over from the store, and presided after the manner of
small boys, regarding each phase of the operation with an interest for
which a questioner would have found no corresponding fullness of
information,—a sort of spurious curiosity, satisfying the eye, but
having no connection with the brain. Euralina, who was small for her
sun-bonnet, a grotesque and top-heavy little figure stood in the door
of the forge,—also a wide-eyed and impressed spectator. The
blacksmith was a very good illustration of a rural Hercules, as he
riveted his bolts, and lifted the body of the ponderous vehicle, and
went lightly in and out of the forge. He did his work well and quickly
too, for a mountaineer, and he had the artisan's satisfaction in his
handicraft, as with his hammer still in his hand, he watched the slow
vehicle creak along the road between the cornfield and the woods, and
disappear gradually from view. The wheels still sounded assertively on
the air; the katydids' iteration rose in vibrant insistence; the long,
vague, pervasive sighing of the woods added to the night its deep
melancholy. The golden burnished blade of the new moon was half
sheathed in invisibility behind a dark mountain's summit. The
blacksmith's house was on the elevated slope beyond the forge, and as
he turned on his porch and looked back he noted the one salient change
in the landscape as seen from the higher level,—above the distant
mountain summit the moon showed its glittering length, as if withdrawn
from the scabbard. He glanced at it and shut the door.
Micajah Green had the best that the humble log cabin could afford,
and no dearth of fair words as a relish to the primitive feast. It was
only the next morning, when his foot was in the stirrup, that his host
recurred to the theme of the evening before.
“Look-a-hyar, 'Cajah Green, you-uns jes' let old Groundhog Cayce be.
Ye ain't a-goin' ter find out whar his still air a-workin', an' ef he
war ter hear ez ye hed been 'quirin' 'round 'bout'n it't would be ez
much ez yer life air wuth.”
Micajah Green renewed his hollow protestations, discredited as
before, and the blacksmith, shading his eyes from the sun with his
broad blackened right hand, watched him ride away. Even when he was out
of sight Gid Fletcher stood for a time silently looking at the spot
where horse and man had disappeared. Then he shook his head, and went
into the forge.
“Zeke,” he said to his humble striker, “ye air a fool, an' ye know
it. But ye air a smart man ter that loon, fur the hell of it air he
dunno he air a loon.”
His warnings, nevertheless, had more effect than he realized. They
served as a check on Micajah Green's speech with the few men that he
met,—all surly enough, however, to repel confidence, were there no
other motive to withhold it. He saw in this another confirmation of the
Cayces' enmity, and their activity in weakening his hold on the people.
He began to think it hard that he should be thus at their mercy; that
his office should be wrested from him; that they should impose
unexampled indignities of defeat; that he should not dare to raise his
hand against them,—nay, his voice, for even the reckless Gid Fletcher
had cautions for so much as a word.
Some trifling errand which he had used as a pretext for his journey
brought him several miles along the range, and when he was actually
starting down the mountain, his vengeance still muzzled, his ingenuity
at fault, his courage faltering, all the intention of his journey
merged in its subterfuge, he found himself upon the road which led past
the Cayces' house, and in many serpentine windings down the long,
jagged slopes to the base. Noontide was near. The shadows were short.
He heard the bees droning. The far-away mountains were of an exquisite
ethereal azure, discrediting the opaque turquoise blue of the sky. The
dark wooded coves had a clear distinctness of tone and definiteness of
detail, despite the distance. The harmonies of color that filled the
landscape culminated in a crimson sumach growing hard by in a corner of
a rail fence. The little house was still. The muffled tread of his
horse's hoofs in the deep, dry sand did not rouse the sleeping hounds
under the porch. The vines clambering to its roof were full of tiny
yellow gourds; he could see through the gaps Dorinda's spinning-wheel
against the wall. A hazy curl of smoke wreathed upward from the chimney
with a deliberate grace in the sunshine. He smelled the warm fragrance
of the apples in the orchard at the rear, stretching along the mountain
side. The corn that Dorinda had ploughed on the steep slope was high,
and waved above the staked and ridered fence. There were wild blue
morning-glories among it, the blossoms still open here and there under
a sheltering canopy of blades; and there were trumpet flowers too,
boldly facing the blazing sun with a beauty as ardent. He looked up at
this still picture more than once, as he paused for his horse to drink
at the wayside trough, and then he rode on down the mountain,
speculating on his baffled mission.
He hardly knew how far he had gone when he heard voices in loud
altercation. He could not give immediate attention, for he was in a
rocky section of the road, so full of bowlders and outcropping ledges
that it was easy to divine that the overseer had a lenient
interpretation of the idea of repair. Once his horse fell, and after
pulling the animal up, with an oath of irritation, he came, suddenly,
turning sharply around a jutting crag, upon another rider and a
recalcitrant steed. This rider was a child, carried on the shoulders of
a girl of twelve or so, who had a peculiarly wiry and alert appearance,
with long legs, a precipitate and bounding action, a tousled mane, the
forelock flanging in her wild, excited eyes. He recognized at once the
filly-like Miranda Jane, before either caught a glimpse of him, and he
heard enough of her remonstrance to acquaint him with Jacob's tyranny
in insisting that his unshod steed should keep straight up the rocky
“big road,” as he ambitiously called it, in lieu of turning aside in
the sandy by-ways of a cow-path.
The expedient flashed through Micajah Green's mind in an instant. He
drew up his horse. “I 'll give ye a lift, bubby,” he said; then, with a
mighty effort at recollection, “Howdy, Mirandy Jane!” he cried,
jubilantly. His success in recalling the name affected him like an
The girl had shied off, according to her custom, with a visible
tremor, looking at him with big eyes and a quivering nostril, instantly
accounting him a raider. As he called her name she stopped, and stared
dubiously at him.
“How 's granny,” he asked familiarly, “an' D'rindy?”
“She 's well,” Miranda Jane returned, lumping them in the singular
Had he inquired for the men folks, she would have been alarmed. As
it was, she began to be at ease. She could not at once remember him, it
was true, but he was evidently a familiar of the family.
“Come, bubby,” he said to Jacob, who had been peering over Miranda
Jane's head, sharing her doubts, but sturdily repudiating her fears,
“I'll gin ye a ride ter the trough.”
Jacob held up his arms, he was swung to the pommel, and the
cortége started, Miranda Jane nimbly following in the rear.
Such simple things Jacob said, elicited by questions the craft of
which he could not divine. Where had he been? He and Mirandy Jane had
gone with the apples in the wagon, but the wagon had afterward been
driven to the mill, and Mirandy Jane had been charged by D'rindy to
“tote” him on the way home if he got tired, and Mirandy Jane wanted to
tote him in the cow-path, 'mongst the briers. And where did he say he
went with the apples? To the cave.
“To the cave!” exclaimed the querist, astonished.
“Over yander on the backbone,” returned the guileless Jacob,
reinforcing the information with a stubby forefinger, pointing toward
the base of the mountain.
And here was the trough. And Miranda Jane and Jacob stood by the
roadside to regretfully watch the big gray horse trot slowly away.
THERE came a change in the weather. A vagueness fell upon the
landscape. The farthest mountains receded into invisibility, and the
horizon was marked by an outline of summits hitherto familiar in the
middle distance. The sunshine was languid, slumberous. A haze clothed
the air in a splendid garb of translucent, gold-tinted folds, and
trailing across the dim blue of the ranges invested them with many a
dreamy illusion. Athwart the sky were long sweeps of fibrous white
clouds presaging rain. Since dawn they were thickening; silent in the
intense stillness of the noontide, they gathered and overspread the
heavens and quenched the sun, and bereaved the vapors hanging in the
ravines of all the poetic glamours of reflection. A rain-crow was
huskily cawing on the trough by the roadside where he had perched.
Dorinda heard the guttural note, and went out to gather up the fruit
spread to dry on boards that were stretched from stone to stone. Dark
clouds were rolling up from the west. She paused to see them submerge
Chilhowee, its outline stark and hard beneath their turbulent whirl;
toward the south their heavy folds broke into sudden commotion, and
they were torn into fringes as the rain began to fall. The mist
followed and isolated the Great Smoky from all the rest of the world.
And now the little house was as lonely as the ark on Ararat. The
mists possessed the universe. They filled the forests and lay upon the
corn and hid the “gyarden-spot,” and came skulking about the porch,
peering through the vines in a ghostly fashion. Presently they sifted
through, and whenever the door was opened it showed them lurking there
as if wistfully waiting or with some half humanized curiosity. Night
stole on, and the ruddy flare of the fire had heightened suggestions of
good cheer and comfort, because of these waifs of the rain and the air
shivering in chilly guise about the door. The men came to supper and
all went again, except Pete. He was ailing, he declared, and betook
himself to bed betimes. The house grew quiet. The grandmother nodded
over her knitting, with a limp falling of the lower jaw, occasional
spasmodic gestures, and an absorbed, unfamiliar expression of
countenance. Dorinda in her low chair sat in the glow of the fire. As
it rose and fell it cast a warm light or a dreamy shadow on her
delicately rounded cheek and her shining eyes. One disheveled tress of
her dense black hair fell over the red kerchief twisted around her
neck. Her blue homespun dress lay in lustreless folds about her. The
shadowy and rude interior of the room—the dark brown of the logs of
the wall and the intervening yellow clay daubing; the great clumsy
warping-bars; the pendent peltry and pop-corn and strings of red pepper
swaying from the rafters; the puncheon floor gilded by the firelight;
the deep yawning chimney with its heaps of ashes and its pulsating
coals—all formed in the rich colors and soft blending of detail an
harmonious setting for her vivid, definite face, as she settled herself
to work at her evening “stent.” Her reel was before her; the spokes,
worn smooth and dark and glossy by age and use, reflected with polished
lustre the glimmer of the fire. She had a broche in her hand, just
taken from the spindle. For the lack of the more modern broche-holder
she thrust a stick through the tunnel of the shuck on which the yarn
was wound, placing the end of it, to hold it steady, in her low shoe;
catching the thread between her deft fingers she threw it with a fine
free gesture over the periphery of the reel. And then the whirling
spokes were only a rayonnant suggestion, so swiftly they sped round and
round in the light of the fire, and a musical low whir broke forth. Now
and then the reel ticked and told off another cut, and she would bend
forward to tie the thread with a practiced, dextrous hand.
The downpour of the rain had a dreary, melancholy persistence,
beating upon the roof and splashing from the eaves into the puddles
beneath. At intervals a drop fell down the wide chimney and hissed upon
Suddenly there was another splash, differing in its abrupt energy; a
foot had slipped outside and groping hands were laid upon the wall.
Dorinda sprang up with a white face and tense muscles. The old woman
was suddenly bolt upright in her corner, although not recognizing the
“Hurry 'long, D'rindy,” she said, peremptorily, “you-uns ain't goin'
ter reel a hank ef ye don't mosey. What ails the gal?” she broke off,
her attention attracted to her granddaughter's changed expression.
“Thar's suthin' out o' doors,” said Dorinda, in a tremulous whisper.
“I hearn 'em step whenst ye war asleep.”
“I ain't batted my eye this night,” said her grandmother, with the
force of conviction. “I ain t slep' a wink. An' ye never hearn
There was a bolder demonstration outside; a foot-fall sounded on the
porch and a hand tried the latch.
“Massy on us! Raiders!” shrieked the old woman, rising
precipitately, her knitting falling from her lap, the ball of yarn
rolling away and the kitten springing after it.
Dorinda ran to the door—perhaps to put up the bar. But with sudden
courage she lifted the latch. Outside were the ghostly vapors, white
and visible in the light from within. She peered out doubtfully for a
moment. A sudden rush of color surged into her face; she made a feint
of closing the door and ran back to her work, looking over her shoulder
with radiant eyes; she caught up the broche, sticking it deftly in her
shoe, seated herself in her low chair, and with her light free gesture
led the thread over the reel.
“Massy on us!” shrilled the old woman aghast. “D'rindy, shet the
door! Be ye a-lettin' the lawless ones in on us! raiders an' sech,
scoutin' 'roun' in the fog—an' nobody hyar but Pete, ez could n't be
waked up right handy with nuthin' more wholesome 'n a bullet—a”—
There was a man's figure in the doorway—a slow, hesitating figure,
and Rick Tyler, his face grave arid dubious, embarrassed by the
complicated effort to look at Dorinda and yet seem to ignore her, trod
heavily in, and with a soft and circumspect manner closed the door.
“I kem over hyar, Mis' Cayce,” he remarked, “ez I 'lowed mebbe the
boys war at the still an 'ye felt lonesome, bein' ez it air rainin'
right smart, an'”—he hesitated.
“Howdy, Rick—howdy!” she exclaimed, cordially. He had the benefit
of her relief in finding the visitor not a raider. “Jes' sot yer bones
down hyar by the fire. Airish out o' doors, ain't it? I 'm powerful
glad ter see ye. D'rindy ain't much company when she air busy, an' the
weavin' ain't done yit.”
“I 'lowed ez I mought resk comin' up hyar wunst in a while now,” he
said, with a covert glance at Dorinda. “I ain't keerin' much fur the
new sher'ff, 'kase he air a town man, an' don't know me; an' the new
constable, he 'lowed over yander ter the store ez he war a off'cer o'
the law, an' not a shootin' mark fur folks ez war minded ter hide out;
an' Gid Fletcher hev been told ez he 'd hev others ter deal with ef he
ondertook ter fool along arrestin' me agin. So I hev got no call ter
stay ez close in the bresh ez I hev been, though I ain't a-goin' ter
furgit these hyar consarns, nuther.”
He glanced down at the glimmer of steel in his belt, where Dorinda
recognized her father's pistols.
“Bes' be on the safe side,” said the old woman approvingly, her
nimble needles quivering in the light. “But law! I useter know a man
over yander on Chilhowee Mounting, whar I lived afore I war married,
an' he hed killed fower men,—though I b'lieve one o' 'em war a Injun,
—an' he hed no call ter aggervate hisself with sher'ffs' nor
shootin'-irons, nuther. He walked 'round ez favored an' free ez my old
tur-r-key gobbler. Though some said he hed bad dreams. But ez he war a
hearty feeder they mought hev kem from the stummick stiddier the
The young man listened with a doubtful mien. He was thrown back at
his ease in the splint-bottomed chair. One stalwart leg, the boot
reaching over his trousers to the knee, was stretched out to the fire;
from the damp sole the steam was starting in the warm air. On his other
knee one of the shooting irons in question rested; he held it lightly
with one hand. The other hand was thrust into the belt that girded his
brown jeans coat. His tawny yellow hair, the ends of a deeper tint,
being wet, hung to his coat collar. His hat, from the broad brim of
which rain-drops were still trickling, was deposited beneath the chair,
and the kitten was investigating it with a dainty, scornful white
mitten. He bore the marks of his trials in his sharpened features; his
face took on readily a lowering expression, and a touch of anger
kindled the smouldering fire in his brown eyes.
“But I hev killed no man,” he said, with emphasis. “I hev hurt
nobody. Ef I hed, 't would n't be no more 'n I oughter do ter g'long
with the sher'ff an' leave it ter men. But I ain't done no harm. An' I
don't want ter stay in jail, an' be tried, an' kem ter jedgmint, an'
sech, an' mebbe hev them buzzardy lawyers fix suthin' on me ennyways.”
All through this speech the old woman tried to interrupt.
“Laws-a-massy, Rick,” she said at length, “ye hev got mighty tetchy
sence ye hev been hid out. I ain't sayin' nuthin' agin you-uns, ez I
knows on—nor agin that man that lived on Chilhowee Mounting, nuther.
I can't sot myself ter jedge o' him. He war a perfessin' member, an' he
hed a powerful gift in 'quirin'; useter raise the chune reg'lar at all
the meetin's ez fur back ez I kin remember.”
Her interest in the visit was impaired to some degree by this
collision; she would have rejoiced to express her mental estimate of
Rick as the “headin'-est critter in the kentry,” but her hospitable
instincts constrained her, and she nobly swallowed her vexation. His
presence, however, “hectored” her, and she seized an excuse to absent
herself presently, saying that she had to get her clean plaid coat to
mend, “bein' ez when it last hung on the clothes-line that thar fresky
young hound named Bose stood on his hind legs ter gnaw it, an' actially
chewed a piece out'n it, an' I hev ter put a wedge in it afore I kin
She creaked away into the next room, and as the door shut he turned
his eyes for the first time on Dorinda. The fire-light played on the
reel, whirling in a lustrous circle before her, on the broche stuck in
the rough little shoe, on her arm, uplifted in a graceful curve as she
held the thread. Her brilliant eyes were grave and intent; her dense
black hair and her dark blue dress heightened the fairness of her face,
and the crimson kerchief about her throat was hardly more vivid than
the flush on her cheeks.
The knowledge that her embarrassment was greater than his own made
him bolder. They sat, however, some time in silence. Then, his heart
waxing soft in the coveted domestic atmosphere and the contemplation of
the picture before him, he said, gently,—
“They air all agin me, D'rindy.”
She forgot herself instantly. She looked full at him with soft
“They don't hender ye none,” she said.
“Ye don't sot no store by me nuther, these days, D'rindy,” he went
on, with a thrill of elation in his heart belying the doubt and despair
in his speech.
The reel ticked and told off another cut. She leaned forward to tie
the thread. She could not lift her eyelids now; still he saw the vivid
sapphire iris, half eclipsed by the long black lash.
He patted the pistol on his knee.
“Would ye be afeard, D'rindy, ter marry a man ez would hev ter keep
his life, and yourn, mebbe, with this pistol? Would ye be afeard ter
live in his house along o' him, a hunted critter,—an' set an' sing in
his door, when the muzzle of a rifle or the sher'ff's revolver mought
peek through the rails of the fence? Would ye be afeard?”
He put the weapon slowly into his belt. “Would ye be afeard?” he
The reel stopped. She turned her eyes, dilated with a splendid
boldness, full upon him. How they flouted fear!
Such audacity of courage seemed to him gallant in a man; in a woman,
expressing faith in his valiance, it was enchanting. He lost his slow
decorum. He caught the hand that held the thread. She could not
withdraw it from that strong ecstatic clutch, and as she started,
protesting, to her feet, he rose too, overturning the reel; and the
kitten made merry confusion in the methodical cuts.
“D'rindy,” he exclaimed, catching her in his arms, “thar ain't no
need ter be afeard! Word kem up the mounting—I got it from Steve
Byers—ez when Abednego Tynes war tried he plead guilty, an' axed ter
go on the stand an' make a statement. An' he told the truth at last—
at last! An' he war sentenced, an' the case war nolle prosequied agin
me! An' ye war n't afeard! Ye would hev married me an' resked it. Ye
war n't afeard!”
She was tall, and her agitated upturned face was close to his
shoulder. He knew it was simply unpardonable, according to the rigid
decorums of their code of manners, but the impetuosity of his joy
overbore him, and he bent down and kissed her lips.
Dorinda's courage!—it was gone. She looked so frightened and
amazed that he relaxed his clasp. “Ye know, D'rindy,” he said,
apologetically, “I'm fairly out'n my head with joy.”
She stood trembling, her hand pressed to her beating heart, her head
whirling. And then, he never forgot it, of her own accord she laid her
other hand on his breast. “I always believed ye war good, good,
And the wild winds whirled around the Great Smoky, and the world was
given over to the clouds and the night, and the rain fell, and the
drops splashed with a dreary sound down from the eaves of the house.
They did not hear. How little they heeded. Within, all the
atmosphere was suffused by that wonderful irradiation of love, and
happiness, and hope that was confidence. The fire might flare if it
listed. The shadows might flicker if they would. It seemed to them at
the moment each would never see aught, care for aught, save what was
expressed in the other's eyes.
The kitten had waxed riotous in the unprecedented opportunities of
the reel, still lying with all its tangled yellow yarn upon the floor.
As it sprang tigerishly in the air and fell, fixing its predatory claws
in another cut, Dorinda looked down with a startled air.
“Granny 'll be axin' mighty p'inted how that thar spun-truck kem ter
be twisted so,” she said, crestfallen and prescient. “It looks like a
“Tell her ez how 't war the cat,” said Rick.
Dorinda shook her head dubiously.
“The cat could n't hev got it ef the reel hed n't been flunged on
“Let 's wind it inter balls, then,” suggested Rick, quick at
expedients. “She'll never know it war tangled. I 'll hold it fur ye.”
It was no great hardship for Rick. She lightly slipped the skeins
over the wrists that had known sterner shackles. The task required her
to sit near him; her face and head were bent toward him as she absorbed
herself in the effort to find the end of the thread; sometimes she
lifted her eyes and looked radiantly at him. He had not known how
beautiful she was,—because he saw her face more closely, he thought,
not averted, nor coy, as always before,—or was it embellished by that
ineffable joy that filled her heart? Well for them both, perhaps, that
those few moments were so happy,—or is it well to remember a supreme
felicity, for this is fleeting. Yellow yarn! she was winding threads of
gold. How his pulses thrilled at the lightest flying touch of her fleet
hands! He looked at her,—into her eyes if he might,—at her round
crimson cheek, at her clearly cut chin, at the long lashes, at the
black hair drawn back from her brow, where a curling tendril drooped
over the temple. And he held the yarn all awry.
It was no first-class job, for this reason and her haste.
“What ails ye ter hustle 'long so, D'rindy?” he asked at last. “Ye
ain't so mighty afeard o' yer granny.”
“Naw,” Dorinda admitted,”but brother Pete, he be at home ter-night,
an' he air toler'ble fractious ef he sees his chance, an' I don't want
him a-laffin' at we-uns; kase I hev hearn him say ez when young folks
gits ter windin' yarn tergether 't ain't fur love o' the spun-truck,
but jes' fur one another.”
Rick laughed a little, slowly. Then growing grave, “Ef ye 'll
b'lieve me, Pete told the word yander ter the still ez Amos Jeemes—a
mis'able addled aig he be!—'lowed ter the men at the mill ez he
b'lieved ez't war the Cayces ez rescued me, the day o' the
gaynder-pullin', from the sher'ff.”
She paused, the bright thread in her motionless hand, her fire-lit
face bent upon him.
“Amos Jeemes hed better be keerful how he tries ter fix it on
we-uns!” she cried, with the tense vibration of anger, “tellin' the
mill an' sech! I hev hearn the boys 'low ez 't war ten year in the
pen'tiary fur rescuing a man from the sher'ff, ef it got fund out.”
“Pete say ez how he jes' laffed at him an' named him a fool.”
“Pete air ekal ter that,” she returned, with some sarcasm.
She was deftly winding the yarn once more the fire showing a deeper
thoughtfulness upon her face. Its flicker gave the room a sense of
motion; the festoons of scarlet pepper-pods, the long yellow and red
strings of pop-corn, the peltry hanging from the rafters, apparently
swayed as the light rose and fell; and the warping-bars, with their
rainbow of spun-truck stretched from peg to peg, seemed to be dancing a
clumsy measure in the corner. The rocking-chair where granny was wont
to sit was occupied now by a shadow, and now was visibly vacant.
She looked up into his face with an absorbed unnoting eye. He was
pierced by the knowledge that though she saw him, she was thinking of
“Won't the Court let the pa'son go free now, sence they know ye done
no crime?” she asked.
“Naw. The pa'son air accused of a rescue, an' whether the man he
rescued air convicted or no it air jes' the same ter the law ez agin
him. The rescue air the thing he hev got ter answer fur.”
She dropped her hands in her lap and threw herself back in her
“Ten year in prison!” she exclaimed. Her face was all the tenderest
pity; her voice was full of yearning sympathy; she cast her eyes upward
with a look that was reverence itself.
“How good he war! I s'pose he knowed ye never done no harm, an' he
war willin' ter suffer stiddier you-uns. I never hearn o' sech a man!
'Pears ter me them old prophets don't tech him! I never hearn o'
them showin' sech love o' God an' thar feller-man. He rescued ye
jes' fur that!”
Rick Tyler looked at her for a moment with a kindling eye. He sprang
to his feet, throwing the golden skein—it was only yarn after all, a
coarse yellow yarn—upon the floor. He strode across the rude hearth
and leaned against the mantel-piece, which was as high as his head. The
light fell upon his changed face, the weapons in his belt, his long
tawny hair, the flashing fire in his eye. He raised his right hand with
an importunate gesture.
“D'rindy Cayce, ye air in love with that man!” he said, in a low
passionate voice and between his set teeth. “I hev seen it afore—long
ago; but sence ye hev promised ter marry me, ef ye say his name agin,
I'll kill him—I 'll shoot him through the heart—dead—dead—do ye
hear me— dead!“
She was shaken by the spectacle of his sudden anger, and she was
angered in turn by his jealous rage. There was a dull aching in her
heart in the voids left by the ebbing of her ecstatic happiness. This
was too precious to lightly let go. She walked over to him and took
hold of his right arm, although his hand was toying nervously with his
“Ye don't b'lieve no sech word, Rick,” she said, “deep down in yer
heart, ye don't b'lieve it. An' how kin ye grudge me from thinkin' well
o' the man, an' feelin' frien'ly,—oh, mighty frien'ly,—when he will
hev ter take ten year in the pen'tiary fur givin' ye yer freedom? He
rescued ye! An' I'll thank him an' praise him fur it ev'y day I live.
My love, ef ye call it love, will foller him fur that all through the
prison, an' the bolts an' bars, an' gyards. An' yer pistols can't holp
He put her from him with a mechanical gesture and a perplexed brow.
He sat down in the chair he had occupied at first; his hat was still
under it, one leg was stretched out to the fire, on the other knee his
hand rested; he looked exactly as when he first came into the room, but
she had a vague idea, as she stood opposite on the hearth, that it was
long ago, so much had happened since.
“D'rindy,” he said, “he never done it. The pa'son never rescued me.”
She stood staring at him in wide-eyed amaze.
He was silent for a moment, and then he broke into a bitter laugh.
“I do declar,” he said, “it fairly tickles me ter hear o' one man bein'
arrested fur rescuin' me, an' another set bein' s'pected o' the same
thing, when not one of 'em in all the Big Smoky, not one, lifted a hand
ter holp me. Whether the gallus or a life sentence, 't war all the same
ter them. Accusin' yer dad an' the boys at the still—shucks! Old
Groundhog loant me a rifle, an' ter hear him talk saaft sawder 'bout'n
it ter Amos Jeemes ye'd hev thunk he war the author o' my salvation!
An' arrest the pa'son! he war a likely one ter rescue a-body!—too
'feard o' Satan! An' ef all they say air true 'bout'n the word he spoke
yander at the meetin' 'fore they tuk him off, he hev got cornsider'ble
call ter be afeard o' Satan. Naw, sir! he never rescued nuthin' but the
gaynder! Nobody helped me! Nobody on the Big Smoky held out a hand! I
ain't goin' ter furgit it, nuther!”
She stood looking intently at his face, with its caustic laugh upon
it and his eyes full of bitterness. She knew that he secretly upbraided
her as well as her people that they had made no move to save him from
the clutches of the sheriff. She involuntarily turned her eyes to the
gun-rack where the barrel of “Old Betsy” gleamed, and she remembered
the mark it bore to commemorate the foregone conclusion of Micajah
Green's death. For this she had held her hand. She felt humble and
guilty, since she had acted in the interests of peace. And yet that
shrewd sense, that true conscience, which coexisted with the idealistic
tendencies of her nature, demanded how could she justify herself in
asking the sacrifice of ten years of other men's liberty that her lover
might escape the consequences of his own act; how could she dare to
precipitate a collision with the sheriff, while their grievance was
still fresh in their minds? Fortunately she did not lay this train of
thought bare before Rick Tyler. Natures like his foster craft in the
most pellucid candor.
“How'd ye git away, Rick?” she said instead.
“I won't tell ye,” he replied, rudely; “it don't consarn ye ter
know.” Then suddenly softening, “I take that back, D'rindy. I ain't
goin' ter furgit ez ye owned up ye war willin' ter marry me an' live
all yer life along with a hunted man in a house that mought be fired
over yer head enny time, or a rifle ball whiz in at the winder. I ain't
goin' ter furgit that.”
Alas! he could not divine how he should remember it!
He fixed his eyes on the fire, as if moodily recalling the scene.
She noted that desperate hunted look in his face which it had not worn
“I war a-settin' thar,” he began abruptly, “my feet tied with ropes,
and with handcuffs on,”—he held his hands together as if manacled;
she shuddered a little,—“an' I hearn the hurrahin' an' fuss outside
whilst they was all a-rowin' over the gaynder. An' then I hearn a
powerful commotion 'mongst the dogs, ez ef they hed started some sorter
game or suthin'. An' the fust I knowed thar war a powerful scuttlin'
'round the back o' the blacksmith's shop, an' a rabbit squez in a hole
'twixt the lowes' log an' the groun',—'t warn't bigger 'n a gopher's
hole. An' I never thunk nuthin' 'ceptin' them boys outside would be
mighty mad ef they knowed thar hounds hed run a rabbit same ez a deer.”
Dorinda had sunk into her chair; her hands trembled, her face was
“An' the cur'ous part of it,” he continued, now in the full swing of
narrative, “war that the hounds would n't gin it up. They jes' kep'
a-nosin' an' yappin' roun' that thar little hole. Thar sot the rabbit—
she 'minded me o' myself, got in an' could n't git out. Thar war nowhar
else fur her ter sneak through. She sot thar ez upright an' trembly ez
me; jes' ez skeered, an' jes' about ez little chance. The only
diff'ence 'twixt us war I hed a soul, an' that did n't do me enny good,
an' the lack o' it did n't do her enny harm; both o' we-uns war more
pertic'lar 'bout keepin' a skin full o' whole bones 'n ennything else.
An' then them nosin' hounds began ter scratch an' claw up dirt. Bless
yer soul, D'rindy, they hed a hole ez big ez that thar piggin, afore I
thunk ennything 'bout'n it. It makes me feel the cold shakes when I
'members ez I mought not hev thunk 'bout'n it till 't war too late.
Lord! how slow them hounds seemed! though the rabbit she fund 'em fast
enough, I reckon. Ev'y now an' then she'd hop along this way an' that,
an' the hounds would git her scent agin—an' the way they'd yap! The
critter would hop along an' look up at me,—I never will furgit the
look in the critter's eyes ez she sot thar an' waited fur the dogs.
They war in a hurry an' toler'ble lively, I reckon, but they 'peared
ter me ez slow ez ef ev'y one war weighted with a block an' chain.
Waal, the hole got bigger an' they yapped louder, an' I got so weak
waitin', an' fearin' somebody would hear 'em, an' kem ter see 'bout
what they hed got up fur game, an' find that hole, I did n't know how I
could bide it. The hole got big enough fur the hounds ter squeeze
through, an' hyar they kem bouncin' in. They lept round the shop, an'
flopped up agin the door, so that ef thar hed n't been all that fuss
outside 'bout takin' the gaynder down, somebody would hev been boun'
ter notice it. I hed ter wait fur the dogs ter ketch the rabbit an'
shake the life out'n her 'fore I darst move a paig, they kep' up sech a
commotion. An' when they hed dragged the critter's little carcass
outside an' begun fightin' over it, I got up. I jes' could sheffle
along a leetle bit; that eternally cussed scoundrel, Gid Fletcher”—he
paused. It was beyond the power of language to express the deep
damnation he desired for the blacksmith. His face grew scarlet, the
tears started to his angry eyes. How he pitied himself, remembering his
hard straits and his cruel indignities! And how she pitied him!
He caught his breath, and went on.
“That black-hearted devil hed tied my feet so close I could sca'cely
hobble, an' my hands an' wrists hed all puffed an' swelled up, whar the
cords hed been—'t war the sher'ff ez gin me the handcuffs. Waal, I
tuk steps 'bout two inches long till I got 'crost the shop ter the
hole. Then I jes' flopped down an' croped through. I did n't stan' up
outside, though 't war at the back o' the shop an' nobody could see me.
Ye know the aidge o' the bluff ain't five feet from the shop; the
cliff's ez sheer ez a wall, but thar's a ledge 'bout twenty feet down.
It looked mighty narrer, an' thar war n't no vines ter swing by; but I
jes' hed ter think o' them devils on t'other side the shop ter make me
willin' ter resk it. Waal, thar war a clump o' sass'fras,—ye know the
bark's tough,—near the aidge. I jes' bruk one o' the shoots ter the
root an' turned it down over the aidge o' the bluff an' swung on ter
the e-end o' it. Waal, it tore off in my hands, but I did n't fall more
'n a few feet, an' lighted on the ledge. An' I tossed the saplin' away,
an' then I walked,—steps 'bout'n two inches long, ef that—ez fur ez
the ledge went, cornsider'ble way from the Settlemint, an' 't war two
or three hunderd feet ter the bottom, whar I stopped. An' thar war a
niche thar whar I could sit an' lay down, sorter. Thar I bided all
night. I hearn 'em huntin', an' it made me laff. I knowed they war n't
a-goin' ter find me, but I did n't know how I war a-goin' ter git away
from thar with them handcuffs on, an' ropes 'roun' my legs; they war
knotted so ez I could n't reach 'em fur the irons. I waited all nex'
day, though I never hed nuthin' ter eat but some jaw-berries ez growed
'mongst the rocks thar. An' the nex' morn'n',”—his eye dilated with
triumph, “the swellin' o' my wrists hed gone down, an' I could draw my
hands out'n the handcuffs ez easy ez lyin'.”
He held up his hands; they were small for his size, and bore little
token of hard work; the wrists were supple.
“An' then,” he said, with brisk conclusiveness, “I jes' ontied the
ropes 'roun' my feet an' clumb up ter the top o' the mounting by vines
an' sech, an' struck inter the laurel, an' never stopped a-travelin'
till I got ter Cayce's still.”
He drew a long sigh, not unmixed with pleasure. He had a sense of
achievement. It gave, perhaps, a certain value to his harsh experience
to recount his triumphs to so fair an audience. He was looking at her
with a dawning smile in his eyes, and she was silently looking at him.
Suddenly she burst into sobs.
“Shucks, D'rindy, it 's all over an' done now,” he said,
appropriating the soft sympathy of her tears.
“An' I 'm so glad, Rick; so glad fur that. I 'd hev bartered my hope
o' heaven fur it,” she sobbed. “But I war thinkin' that minit o' the
pa'son. They 'rested him in his pulpit, an' they would n't gin him
bail, an' they kerried him 'way from the mountings, an' jailed him, an'
he'll go ter the pen'tiary, ten year mebbe, fur a crime ez he never
done. Ye would n't let him do that ef ye could holp it, would ye,
She looked up tearfully at him. His eyes gleamed; his nostrils were
quivering; every fibre in him responded to his anger.
“Ef I could, D'rindy Cayce, I 'd hev that man chained in the lowest
pits o' hell fur all time, so ye mought never see his face agin. An' ef
I could, I 'd wipe his memory off'n the face o' the yearth, so ye
mought never speak his name.”
“Law, Rick, don't!” protested the girl, aghast. “I 've seen ye ez
jealous o' Amos Jeemes”—
“I don't keer that fur Amos Jeemes,” he exclaimed, snapping
his fingers. “I hev n't seen ye sit an' cry over Amos Jeemes, an' sech
cattle, an' say he war like a prophet. I thought ye war thinkin' 'bout
me, an'—an' ”—he paused in mortification.
“D'rindy,” he said, suddenly calm, though his eye was excited and
quickly glancing, “did ye ax him ef he would do ennything fur me when I
war in cust'dy?” “Naw,” said Dorinda, “nobody could do nuthin' fur
you-uns, 'kase they'd hev ter resk tharselfs an' run agin the law. But
what I want ye ter do fur pa'son air fur jestice. He never done what he
war accused of. An' ye war along o' Abednego Tynes, though
innercent. Law, Rick, ef the murderer would say the word ter set ye
free, can't ye do ez much fur the pa'son, ez hev seen so much trouble
“In the name o' Gawd, D'rindy, what air you-uns a-wantin' me ter
do?” he asked, in sheer amazement.
She mistook the question for relenting. She caressed his coat sleeve
as she stood beside him. All her beauty was overcast; her face was
stained with weeping; tears dimmed her eyes, and her pathetic gesture
of insistence seemed forlorn. He looked down dubiously at her.
“What I want ye ter do, Rick, fur him, air right, an' law, an'
jestice. Nobody could hev done that fur ye, 'cept Abednego Tynes. I
want ye ter go ter pa'son's trial fur the rescue, an' gin yer
testimony, an' tell the jedge an' jury the tale ye hev tole me—the
truth—an' they 'll be obleeged ter acquit.”
He flung away in a tumult of rage. It was exhausting to witness how
his frequent gusts of passion shook him.
“D'rindy,” he thundered, “ye want me ter gin myself up fur the
pa'son; ye don't keer nuthin' fur me, so he gits back ter the Big Smoky
an' you-uns. I mought be arrested yit on the same indictment; the nolle
prosequi don't hender,—it jes' don't set no day fur me ter be tried.
An' mebbe Steve Byers hev been foolin' me some. Ye jes' want ter trade
me off ter the State fur the pa'son.”
“Ye shan't go!” cried the girl. “I did n't know that about the nolle
prosequi. Ye shan't go!”
He was mollified for a moment. He noticed again how pale she was.
“Law, D'rindy,” he said, “ye fairly wear yerself out with yer tantrums.
Why n't ye do like other folks; the pa'son never holped me none, an' I
ain't got no call ter holp him.”
“Ef ye war ter go afore the squair an swear 'bout'n the rescue an'
sech, an git him ter write it ter the Court fur the pa'son”—
“The constable o' the deestric' ez hangs 'roun' thar at the
jestice's house mought be thar an' arrest me,” he said, speciously.
“The gov'nor hain't withdrawn that reward yit, ez I knows on.”
“Naw,” she said, quickly, “I'll make the boys toll the constable
down ter the still till ye git through. The jestice air lame, an' ain't
able ter arrest ye, an' I 'd be thar an' gin ye the wink, ef thar war
ennything oncommon ennywhar, or enny men aroun'.”
He could hardly refuse. He could not affect fear. He hesitated.
“Ez long ez I thunk he hed rescued ye, I did n't hev no call ter
move. But now I know how 't war, I 'd fairly die ef he war lef' ter
suffer in jail, knowin' he hev done nuthin' agin the law.”
Her lip quivered. The tears started to her eyes. The sight of them,
shed for another man's sake, excited again the vigilant jealousy in his
“I 'll do nuthin' fur Hi Kelsey,” he declared, “Ef ye ain't in love
with him, ye would be ef he war ter git back ter the Big Smoky. He done
nuthin' fur me, an' I hev no call ter do nuthin' fur him.”
He looked furiously at her, holding her at arm's length. “Ye hev
tole me ye love me, an' I expec' ye ter live up ter it. Ye hev
promised ter marry me, an' I claim ye fur my wife. Say that man's name
another time, an' I 'll kill him ef ever he gits in rifle range agin.
I'll kill him! I 'll kill him!” his right hand was once more
mechanically toying with the pistol, while he held her arm with the
other, “an' I 'll kill ye, too!”
He had gone too far; he had touched the dominant impulse of her
nature. Her cheeks were flaring. Her courage blazed in her eyes.
“An' I tell ye, Rick Tyler, that I am not afeard o' ye! An' ef ye
let a man suffer fur a word ez ye kin say in safety, an' an act ez ye
kin do in ease, ye ain't the Rick Tyler I knowed,—ye air suthin'
else. I 'lowed ye war good, but mebbe I hev been cheated in ye, an' ef
I hev, I 'll gin ye up. I ain't a-goin' ter marry no man ez I can't
look up ter, an' say 'he air good!' An' ef ye 'll meet me a hour
'fore sundown, at the squair's house, ter-morrow evenin', I 'll b'lieve
in ye, an' I 'll marry ye. An' ef ye don't, I won't.”
She caught up his hat and gave it to him. Then she opened the door.
The white mists stood shivering in the little porch. He turned and
looked in angry dismay at her resolute face. But he did not say a word,
though he knew her heart yearned for it beneath her inflexible mask. He
walked slowly out, and the door closed upon him, and upon the shivering
white mists. He paused for a moment, hesitating. He heard nothing
within—not even her retreating step. He knew as well as if he had
seen her that she was leaning against the door, silently sobbing her
“D'rindy needs a lesson,” he said, sternly. And so he went out into
THE rain ceased the next day, but the clouds did not vanish. Their
folds, dense, opaque, impalpable, filled the vastness. The landscape
was lost in their midst. The horizon had vanished. Distance was
annihilated. Only a yard or so of the path was seen by Dorinda, as she
plodded along through the white vagueness that had absorbed the
familiar world. And yet for all essentials she saw quite enough; in her
ignorant fashion she deduced the moral, that if the few immediate steps
before the eye are taken aright, the long lengths of the future will
bring you at last where you would wish to be. The reflection sustained
her in some sort as she went. She was reluctant to acknowledge it even
to herself; but she had a terrible fear that she had imposed a test
that Rick would not endure. “Ef he air so powerful jealous ez that, ter
not holp another man a leetle bit, when he knows it can't hurt him
none, he air jes' selfish, an' nuthin' shorter.”
She paused, looking about her mechanically. The few blackberry
bushes, almost leafless, stretching out on either hand, were indistinct
in the mist, and against the dense vapor they had the meagre effect of
a hasty sketch on a white paper. The trees overhung her, she knew, in
the invisible heights above; she heard the moisture dripping
monotonously from their leaves. It was a dreary sound as it invaded the
solemn stillness of the air.
“An' I'm boun' ter try ter holp him, ef I kin. I know too
much, sence Rick spoke las' night, ter let me set an' fold my hands in
peace. 'Pears like ter me ez that thar air all the diff'ence 'twixt
humans an' the beastis, ter holp one another some. An' ef a human
won't, 'pears like ter me ez the Lord hev wasted a soul on that
Despite her logic she stood still; her blue eyes were surcharged
with shadows as they wistfully turned upward to the sad and sheeted
day; her lips were grave and pathetic; her blue dress had gleams of
moisture here and there, and a plaid woolen shawl, faded to the
faintest hues, was drawn over her dense black hair. She stood and
hesitated. She thought of the man she loved, and she thought of the
word he denied the man in prison. Poor Dorinda! to hold the scales of
“I dunno what ails me ter be 'feard he won't kem!” she said,
striving to reassure herself; “an' ennyhow”—she remembered the few
immediate steps before her taken aright, and went along down the
clouded curtained path that was itself an allegory of the future.
The justice's gate loomed up like fate,—the poor little palings to
be the journey's end of hope or despair! A pig, without any
appreciation of its subtler significance, had in his frequent
wallowings at its base impaired in a measure its stability. He grunted
at the sound of a footfall, as if to warn the new-comer that she might
step on him. Dorinda took heed of the imperative caution, opened the
gate gingerly, and it only grazed his back. He grunted again, whether
in meagre surly approval, or reproof that she had come at all, was
hardly to be discriminated in his gruff, disaffected tone.
She noticed that the locust leaves, first of all to show the
changing season, were yellow on the ground; a half denuded limb was
visible in the haze. There were late red roses, widely a-bloom, by the
doorstep of the justice's house,—a large double cabin of hewn logs,
with a frame-inclosed passage between the two rooms. There was glass in
the windows, for the justice was a man of some means for these parts;
and she saw behind one of the tiny panes his bald polished head and his
silver rimmed spectacles gleaming in animated curiosity. He came
limping, with the assistance of a heavy cane, to the door.
“Howdy, D'rindy,” he exclaimed, cheerfully, “come in, child. What
sort o' weather is this!” In abrupt digression, he looked over her head
into the blank vagueness of the world. But for the dim light, it might
have suggested the empty inexpressiveness of the periods before the
creation, when “the earth was without form and void.”
“It air tol'erble airish in the fog,” said Dorinda, finding her
voice with difficulty.
The room into which she was ushered seemed to her limited experience
a handsome apartment. But somehow the passion of covetousness is an
untouched spring in the nature of these mountaineers. The idea of
ownership did not enter into Dorinda's mind as she gazed at the green
plaster parrot that perched in state on the high mantel-piece. She was
sensible of its merits as a feature of the domestic landscape at the
“jestice's house,” precisely as the sight of the distant Chilhowee was
company in her lonely errands about the mountain. To be deprived of
either would be dike a revulsion of nature. She did not grudge the
justice his possession, nor did she desire it for herself. She
entertained a simple admiration for the image, and always looked to see
it on its lofty perch when she first entered the room. There were
several books piled beside it, which the justice valued more. There
was, too, a little square looking-glass, in which one might behold a
distortion of physiognomy. Above all hung a framed picture of General
Washington crossing the Delaware. The mantel-piece was to the girl a
museum of curiosities. A rag carpet covered the floor; there was a
spinning-wheel in the corner; a bed, too, draped with a gay quilt,—a
mad disportment of red and yellow patchwork, which was supposed to
represent the rising sun, and was considered a triumph of handicraft.
The justice's seat was a splint-bottomed chair, which stood near a pine
table where ink was always displayed—of a pale green variety—
writing-paper, and a pile of books. The table had a drawer which it was
difficult to open or shut, and now and then “the squair” engaged in
muscular wrestling with it.
He sat down, with a sigh, and drew forth his red bandana
handkerchief from the pocket of his brown jeans coat, and polished the
top of his head, and stared at Dorinda, much marveling as to her
mission. She had not, in her primitive experience, attained to the
duplicity of a subterfuge; she declined the invitation to go into the
opposite room, where his wife was busy cooking supper, by saying she
was waiting for a man whom she expected to meet here to explain
something to the justice.
“Is it a weddin', D'rindy?” exclaimed the old fellow, waggishly.
“'T ain't a weddin',” said Dorinda, curtly.
“Ye air foolin' me!” he declared, with a jocose affectation of
inspecting his attire. “I hev got another coat I always wears ter marry
a couple, an' ye don't want ter gimme a chance ter spruce up, fur fear
I 'll take the shine off'n the groom. It's a weddin'! Who is the happy
This jesting, as appropriate, according to rural etiquette, to a
young and pretty woman as the compliments of the season, seemed a
dreary sort of fun to Dorinda, so heavy had her presaging heart become.
There was a trifle of sensibility in the old squire, perhaps induced by
much meditation in his inactive indoor life, and he recognized
something appealing in the girl's face and attitude, as she sat in a
low chair before the dull fire that served rather to annul the
chilliness of the day than to diffuse a perceptible warmth. The shawl
had dropped from her head and loosely encircled her throat; her hand
twisted its coarse fringes; she was always turning her face toward the
window where only the pallid mists might be seen—the pallid mists and
a great glowing crimson rose, that, motionless, touched the pane with
its velvet petals. The old justice forbore his jokes, his dignities
might serve him better. He entertained Dorinda by telling her how many
times he had been elected to office. And he said he would n't count how
many times he expected to be, for it was his firm persuasion that “when
Gabriel blew that thar old horn o' his'n, he'd find the squair still
a-settin' in jedgment on the Big Smoky.” He showed her his books, and
told her how the folks at Nashville were constrained by the law of the
State to send him one every time they made new laws. And she understood
this as a special and personal compliment, and was duly impressed.
Out-doors the still day was dying silently, like the gradual sinking
from a comatose state, that is hardly life, to the death it simulates.
How did the gathering darkness express itself in that void whiteness of
the mists, still visibly white as ever! Night was sifting through them;
the room was shadowy; yet still in the glow of the fire she beheld
their pallid presence close against the window. And the red rose was
shedding its petals!—down dropping, with the richness of summer spent
in their fleeting beauty, their fragrance a memory, the place they had
embellished, bereft. She did not reflect; she only felt. She saw the
rose fade, the sad night steal on apace; the hour had passed, and she
knew he would not come. She burst into sudden tears.
The old man, whether it was in curiosity or sympathy, had his
questions justified by her self-betrayal, and his craft easily drew the
story from her simplicity. He got up suddenly, with an expression of
keen interest. She followed his motions dubiously, as he took from the
mantel-piece a tallow dip in an old pewter candlestick, and with slow
circumspection lighted the sputtering wick. “I want ter look up a p'int
o' law, D'rindy,” he said, impressively. “Ye jes' set thar an' I 'll
let ye know d'rec'ly how the law stands.”
It seemed to Dorinda a long time that he sat with his book before
him on the table, his spectacles gleaming in the light of the tallow
dip, close at hand, his lips moving as he slowly read beneath his
breath, now and then clutching his big red handkerchief, and polishing
off the top of his round head and his wrinkled brow. Twice he was about
to close the book. Twice he renewed his search.
And now at last it was small comfort to Dorinda to know that the
affidavit would not, in the justice's opinion, have been competent
testimony. He called it an ex parte statement, and said
that unless Rick Tyler's deposition were taken in the regular way,
giving due notice to the attorney-general, it could not be admitted,
and that in almost all criminal cases witnesses were compelled to
testify viva voce. Small comfort to Dorinda to know that
the effort was worthless from the beginning, and that on it she had
staked and lost the dearest values of her life. As he read aloud the
prosy, prolix sentences, they were annotated by her sobs.
“Dell-law! D'rindy, 't warn't no good, no-how!” he exclaimed,
presently, breaking off with an effort frown his reading, for he
relished the rotund verbiage,—the large freedom of legal diction
impressed him as a privilege, accustomed as he was only to the simple
phrasings of his simple neighbors. He could not understand her
disappointment. Surely Rick Tyler's defection could not matter, he
argued, since the affidavit would have been worthless.
She did not tell him more. All the world was changed to her. Nothing
—not her lover himself—could ever make her see it as once it was.
She declined the invitation to stay and eat supper, and soon was once
more out in the pallid mist and the contending dusk. The scene that she
had left was still vivid in her mind, and she looked back once at the
lucent yellow square of the lighted window gleaming through the white
vapors. The rose-bush showed across the lower panes, and she remembered
the melancholy fall of the flower.
Alas, the roses all were dead!
IT was not so dreary in the dark depths of the cavern as in the still
white world without; and the constable of the district, one Ephraim
Todd, found the flare of the open furnace and the far-reaching lights,
red among the glooms, and a perch on an empty barrel, and the warm
generosities of the jug, a genial transition. Nevertheless he
“You-uns oughter be plumb 'shamed, Pete,” he said, “ter toll me
hyar, an' me a off'cer o' the law.”
“Ye hev been hyar often afore, the Lord above knows,” asseverated
Pete, “an' ye needed mighty little tollin'.”
“But I warn 't a off'cer o' the law, then,” said the constable,
wrestling with his official conscience. “An' I hev tuk a oath an' am
under bonds. An' hyar I be a-consortin' with law-breakers, an' 't ain't
becomin' in a off'cer o' the law.”
“Ye ain't tuk no oath, nor entered into no bonds ter keep yer throat
ez dry ez a lime-kiln,” retorted Pete. “Jes' take a swig at that thar
jug an' hand it over hyar, will ye, an' hold yer jaw.”
Thus readily the official conscience, never rampant, was pacified.
The constable had formerly been, as Pete said, an habitué
of the place, but since his elevation to office he had made himself
scarce, in deference to the promptings of that newly acquired sense of
dignity and propriety. Should some chemical process obliterate for a
time a leopard's spots, consider the satisfaction of the creature to
find himself once more restored to his natural polka-dots; and such was
the complacence of the constable, with his artificial conscience
evaporated and his heart mottled with its native instincts of good and
evil. He was glad to be back in the enjoyment of the affluent
hospitalities of the moonshiner's jug.
He was a big, portly fellow, hardly more symmetrical than the barrel
upon which he was seated. He had an inexhaustible fund of good humor,
and was not even angry when Pete, in sheer contrariety, told him the
reason for his enticement to the still. He said he would be glad enough
if Rick Tyler could swear out anything that would benefit the parson,
and declared that he believed only Micajah Green's malice could have
compassed his incarceration.
“'Cajah inquired o' me whar this place war, Pete,” he said,
“a-purtendin' like he hed been hyar wunst. But I jes' tole him 't war
ez safe ez a unhatched deedie in a aig—an' I batted my eye, jes' so,
an' he shot up purty quick.”
The gleam from the furnace door showed Pete's own light gray eyes
intently starting at the visitor, but he said nothing and the matter
When the constable's heart was warmed by the brush whiskey he
understood the sensation as happiness, and he translated happiness as a
religious excitement. He seemed maudlin as he talked about the parson,
who, he declared, had led him to grace, and he recited some wonderful
stories of religious experience, tending to illustrate his present
righteousness and the depths of iniquity from which he had been
redeemed. Pete's perversity operated to curtail these. “That's a fac'!”
he would heartily assent; “ye useter be one o' the meanes' men on these
hyar mountings!” Or “Grace hed a mighty wrastle with Satan in yer soul.
I dunno whether he air cast out yit!“
The constable—his big owlish head askew—was embarrassed by these
manoeuvres, and presently the talk drifted to the subject of the
parson's spiritual defection. This he considered a mental aberration.
“Hi Kelsey,” he said, “war always more or less teched in the head. I
hev noticed—an' ye may sot it down ez a true word—ez ev'y man ez
air much smarter 'n other men in some ways, in other ways air
foolisher. He mought prophesy one day, an' the nex' ye would n't trest
him ter lead a blind goose ter water. He air smarter 'n enny man I ever
see—Pa'son Kelsey air. Thar's Brother Jake Tobin ain't got haffen his
sense; an' yit nobody can't say ez Brother Jake ain't sensible.”
The philosopher upon the barrel, as he made this nice distinction,
gazed meditatively into the bed of live coals that flung its red glare
on his broad flushed countenance and wide blinking eyes. It revealed
the others, too: the old man's hard, lined, wrinkled visage and his
stalwart supple frame; Pete, with his long tangled hair, his pipe
between his great exposed teeth; Ab, filling the furnace with wood, his
ragged beard moved by the hot breath of the fire; the big-boned, callow
Sol, with his petulant important face; and Ben, in the dim background
tossing the sticks over to Ab from the gigantic wood-pile. They fell
with a sharp sound, and the cave was full of their multiplied echoes.
The men as they talked elevated their voices so as to be heard.
Ab was rising from his kneeling posture. He closed the furnace door,
and as it clashed he thought for an instant he was dreaming. In that
instant he saw Pete start up suddenly with wild, distended eyes, and
with a leveled pistol in his hand. The next moment Ab knew what it
meant. A sharp report—and a jet of red light, projected from the
muzzle of the weapon, revealed a group of skulking, unfamiliar figures
stealthily advancing upon them. The return fire was almost
instantaneous, and was followed by multitudinous echoes and a
thunderous crash that thrilled every nerve. The darkness was filled
with the clamors of pandemonium, for the concussion had dislodged from
the roof a huge fragment of rock, weighing doubtless many tons. The
revenue raiders lagged for a moment, confused by the overwhelming
sound, the clouds of stifling dust, and the eerie aspect of the place.
They distinguished a sharp voice presently, crying out some imperative
command, and after that there was no more resistance from the
moonshiners. They had disappeared as if the earth had swallowed them.
The intruders were at a loss. They could not pursue and capture the
men in the dark. If the furnace door were opened they would be targets
in the glare for the lurking moonshiners in the glooms beyond. It did
not occur to them that the cave had another outlet, until, as the
echoes of the fallen fragment grew faint, they heard far away a voice
crying out, “Don't leave me!” and the mocking rocks repeating it with
their tireless mimicry.
It was the constable. He never forgot that agonized retreat down
those unknown black depths. He was hardly able to keep pace with his
swifter fellows, falling sometimes, and being clutched to his feet
rudely enough, as they pressed on in a close squad; feeling now and
then the sudden wing of a bat against his face and interpreting it as
the touch of a human pursuer; sometimes despairing, as they scrambled
through a long, low, narrow passage, scarcely wide enough for the
constable's comfortable fatness. Then it was that fear descended upon
him with redoubled force, and he would exclaim in pity of his plight,
“An' me a off'cer o' the law!” He impeded their flight incalculably,
but to their credit be it said the lighter weights had never a thought
of deserting their unfortunate guest despite the danger of capture and
the distress of mind induced by the loss of their little “all.” The
poor constable fitted some of the tube-like passages like the pith in
the bark, and as he was at last drawn, pallid, struggling, his garments
in shreds, from an aperture of the cave in a dense untrodden jungle of
the laurel, he again piteously exclaimed, “An' me a off'cer o' the
There was little leisure, however, to meditate upon his degraded
dignity. He followed the example of the moonshiners, and ran off
through the laurel as fleetly as a fat man well could.
The raiders showed excellent judgment. They offered no pursuit down
those dark and devious underground corridors. Acquiring a sense of
security from the echoes growing ever fainter and indicative of
lengthening distances, they presently opened the furnace door, and by
the aid of the flare cut the tubs and still to pieces, destroyed the
worm, demolished the furnace, and captured in triumph sundry kegs and
jugs of the illicit whiskey. There was a perfunctory search for the
distillers at the log-cabin on the mountain slope. But the officers
made haste to be off, for the possibility of rally and recapture is not
without parallel facts in the annals of moonshining.
Perhaps the mountain wilds had never sheltered a fiercer spirit than
old Groundhog Cayce when he ventured back into his den and stood over
the ruins of his scanty fortunes,—the remnants of the still; the
furnace, a pile of smoking stones and ashes and embers; the worm in
spiral sections; the tubs half burnt, riven in pieces, lying about the
ground. The smoke was still dense overhead and the hot stones were
sending up clouds of steam. It was as well, perhaps, since the place
would never again be free from inspection, that it could not be used as
it once was. The great fragment of rock, fallen from the roof, lay in
the course of the subterranean stream, and the water, thus dammed, was
overflowing its channel and widely spreading a shallow flood all along
the familiar ground. It was rising. He made haste to secure the few
articles overlooked by the raiders: a rifle, a powder-horn on one of
the ledges that served as shelf, a bag of corn, the jovial jug. And for
the last time he crept through the narrow portal and left the cavern to
the dense darkness, to the floating smoke, to the hissing embers, and
the slow rising of the subterranean springs.
For days he nursed his wrath as he sat upon the cabin porch beneath
the yellow gourds and the purple blooms of the Jack-bean, and gazed
with unseeing eyes at the wide landscape before him. The sky was blue
in unparalleled intensity. The great “balds” towered against it in
sharp outlines, in definite symmetry, in awful height. The forests were
aflame with scarlet boughs. The balsams shed upon the air their
perfumes, so pervasive, so tonic, that the lungs breathed health and
all the benignities of nature. The horizon seemed to expand, and the
exquisite lucidity of the atmosphere revealed vague lines of far away
mountains unknown to the limitations of less favored days. In the woods
the acorns were dropping, dropping, all the long hours. The yellow
sunshine was like a genial enthusiasm, quickening the pulses and firing
the blood. The hickory trees seemed dyed in its golden suffusions, and
were a lustrous contrast to the sombre pine, or the dappled maple, or
the vivid crimson of the black-gum. But the future of the year was a
narrowing space; the prospects it had brought were dwarfed in the
fulfillment, or were like an empty clutch at the empty air. And winter
was afoot; ah, yes, the tenderest things were already dead,—the
flowers and the hopes,—and the splendid season cherished in its
crimson heart a woeful premonition. And thus the winds, blowing where
they listed, sounded with a melancholy cadence; and the burnished
yellow sheen was an evanescent light; and the purple haze, vaguely
dropping down, had its conclusive intimations in despite that it
Dorinda, with her hands folded too, sat much of the time in dreary
abstraction on the step of the porch, looking down at the yellowed
cornfield which she and Rick ploughed on that ecstatic June morning.
How long ago it seemed! Sometimes above it, among the brown tassels,
there hovered in the air a cluster of quivering points of light against
the blue mountain opposite, as some colony of gossamer-winged insects
disported themselves in the sunshine. And the crickets were shrilling
yet in the grass. She saw nothing, and it would be hard to say what she
thought. In the brilliancy of her youthful beauty—a matter of linear
accuracy and delicate chiseling and harmonious coloring, for nature had
been generous to her—it might seem difficult to descry a likeness to
the wrinkled and weather-beaten features of her father's lowering face,
as he sat in his chair helplessly brooding upon his destroyed
opportunities. But there was a suggestion of inflexibility in both: she
had firm lines about her mouth that were hard in his; the unflinching
clearness of her eyes was a reflection of the unflinching boldness of
his. Her expression in these days was so set, so stern, so hopeless
that one might have said she looked like him. He beheld his ruined
fortunes; she, her bereft heart.
Amos James, one day, as he stood on the porch, saw this look on her
face. She was leaning on her folded arms in the window hard by. She had
spoken to him as absently and with as mechanical courtesy as the old
moonshiner at the other end of the porch. He came up close to her. It
was a wonderful contrast to the face she had worn when they talked,
that day at the spring, of Rick Tyler's escape. With the quickened
intuition of a lover's heart he divined the connection.
“Ye hain't kep' yer promise, D'rindy,” he said, in a low tone.
“What promise?” she demanded, rousing herself and knitting her brows
as she looked at him.
“Ye 'lowed ye 'd let me know ef ever ye kem ter think less o' Rick
Her eyes, definitely angry, flashed upon him.
“Ye shan't profit by it,” she declared.
And so he left her, still leaning in the vine-framed window, the
lilac blossoms of the Jack-bean drooping until they touched her black
Rick Tyler was dismayed by the result of his jealousy and the
strange “lesson” that Dorinda had learned. He found her inflexible. She
reminded him sternly of the conditions of her promise and that he had
failed. And when he protested that he was jealous because he loved her
so, she said she valued no love that for her sake grudged a word, not
in generosity, but in simple justice, to liberate an innocent man in
the rigors of a terrible doom. And when at this man's very name he was
seized with his accustomed impetuous anger, she looked at him with a
cool aloof scrutiny that might have expressed a sheer curiosity. It
bewildered and tamed him. He had never heard of a Spartan. He only
thought of her as immovable, and as infinitely remote from his plane,
as the great dome of the mountain. He remembered that she had always
softened to his misfortunes, and he talked of how he had suffered. But
she said that was all over now, and he had been “mighty lucky.” He
sought to appeal to her in her own behalf, and reminded her how she had
loved him through it all, how she would have married him, despite the
fierce pursuit of the law. She had loved him; he would not forget that.
“No,” she said, drearily. “I never loved ye. I loved what I thunk ye
war. But ye war n't That—nuthin' like it! Ye war suthin' else. I war
jes' in love with my own foolishness.”
Poor Dorinda! Alas, for the fair ideals! these things are transient.
He went away at last, indignant and amazed. Once he thought of
offering to make the affidavit, not cognizant of its fatal defect, and
then the conviction took hold upon him that this melancholy was her
deep disappointment because she loved the man she sought to aid. And
sometimes he could not believe he had lost her heart. And yet when he
would go back, her dull indifference to his presence would convince him
alike that he was naught to her now and that he had been supplanted.
His contradictions of feeling began to crystallize into a persistent
perversity. He took pleasure in denying the story she had told of his
escape, and many people hardly knew which version to believe. He
congratulated Brother Jake Tobin one evening at the cabin on having
turned Hi Kelsey out of the church, and called him a wolf in sheep's
clothing. And then for his pains he was obliged to listen to her
defense of the absent man; she declared the parson was like one of the
prophets, like some man in the Bible. As to that confession he had made
in the church, “'t war plain he war out'n his head.” Meantime Brother
Jake Tobin discreetly bent his attention upon the honey and fried
chicken on the supper table, and Rick Tyler fumed in silence.
After the news of the nolle prosequi Rick went about
the mountain with his former large liberty. His step-brothers were
desirous of obliterating his recollection of their avoidance, and made
him a present of several head of cattle and some hogs. He lived at home
among them, and began to have prospects for the future. He was planning
with the younger Cayces to start a new still, for a region is
particularly safe for that enterprise immediately after a visit from
the revenue officers, their early return being improbable. And he
talked about a house-raising while the weather held fine and before
snow. “I 'm a-thinkin' 'bout gittin' married, Pete, ter a gal over
yander ter the Settlemint,” he said, looking for the effect on Dorinda.
She was as silent, as stern, as listless as ever. And but for the sheer
futility of it he might have fallen to upbraiding her and protesting
and complaining as of yore, and repudiated the mythical “gal at the
All the leaves were falling. Crisp and sere, they carpeted the earth
and fled before the wind. They seemed in some wise to illumine the
slopes as they lay in long yellow vistas under the overhanging black
boughs. Many a nest was revealed,—empty, swinging on the bare limb.
The mountains near at hand were sad and sombre, the stark denuded
forests showing the brown ground among the trees, and great jutting
crags, and sterile stretches of outcropping rocks, and fearful abysmal
depths of chasms—and streams, too, madly plunging. All the scene was
stripped of the garb of foliage, and the illusion of color, and the
poetry of the song birds and the flowers. More distant ranges were of a
neutral vagueness, and farther still they seemed a nebulous gray under
a gray sky. When the sun shone they were blue—a faint, unreal blue, a
summer souvenir clinging to the wintry landscape like some youthful
trait continued in a joyless age.
For it was November, and the days were drear.
About this time an excited rumor suddenly prevailed that Parson
Kelsey had returned to the Great Smoky Mountains. It was widely
discredited at first, but proved to be authorized by Gid Fletcher, who
was himself just back from Shaftesville, where he had been to testify
in the trial for the rescue of Rick Tyler. A story of discomfiture he
retailed, and he seemed ill at ease and prone to lay much blame on
Rick, whose perverse circulation of diverse accounts of the escape had
greatly unnerved him before his journey, and prevented the prosecution
from summoning Rick as a witness, if indeed he would have permitted
himself to be served with the subpoena. The judge was testy during the
trial and charged the jury in favor of the prisoner; after the verdict
of acquittal he stated indignantly that there had been practically no
evidence against the defendant, and that it was a marked instance of
the indifference or ignorance of the committing magistrate and the
grand jury that such a case of flagrant malice could get beyond them
and into the jurisdiction of the court. Gid Fletcher solaced himself by
telling how Green played the fool on the stand when the judge snarled
at him, and contradicted himself and cut a “mighty pore figger.”
“Though ez ter that, the pa'son riz up an' reviled both me an' 'Cajah
in open court,” said Fletcher. “'Pears like he hed read the Bible so
constant jes' ter l'arn ev'y creepy soundin' curse ez could be called
down on the heads o' men. An' somebody said ter the jedge arterward ez
he oughter fine pa'son fur contempt o' court. An' the jedge 'lowed he
warn 't a statute; he hed some human natur in him, an' he wanted me an'
'Cajah ter hear the truth spoke one time.”
The blacksmith declared, too, that he was “fairly afeard o' pa'son"
and his fierce threats of revenge, and was glad enough that they were
not obliged to make the journey together, for he, having a horse, had
ridden, while the parson had been constrained to walk. “I reckon he 's
hyar by this time,” Fletcher said to Nathan Hoodendin, “but I ain't
a-hankerin' ter meet up with him agin. He 's more like a wild beastis
'n a man; ter see him cut his blazin' eye aroun' at ye, ye 'd 'low ez
he 'd never beam o' grace!”
The snow came with Kelsey. One day, when the dull dawn broke, the
white flakes were softly falling—silent, mysterious, ghostly invasion
of the wild wintry air and the woods. All adown chasms and ravines,
unexplored and unknown, the weird palpitating motion animated the wide
and desert spaces. The ground was deeply covered; the drifts filled the
hollows; they burdened the crests of the jutting crags and found a
lodgment in all the fissures of their dark and rugged faces. The white
lines on the bare black boughs served to discriminate their sylvan
symmetry. Vague solemnities pervaded the silent marshaling of these
forces of Nature. The wind held its breath. An austere hush lay upon
the chilled world. The perspective had its close limitations and the
liberties of vision were annulled. Only the wild things were abroad;
but the foot-prints of the rabbit or the deer were freshly filled, and
the falling snow seemed to possess the world. When it ceased at last it
lay long on the ground, for the cold continued. And the wilderness was
sheeted and still.
There were presently visible occasional ruts winding in and out
among the trees, marking the course of the road and the progress of
some adventurous wagon and ox-team,—sometimes, too, the hoof-prints
of a saddle-horse. One might easily judge how few of the mountaineers
had ventured out since the beginning of the “cold snap.” There marks
were most numerous in front of the log-house where Hiram Kelsey and his
uncle and the two old men sat around the fire. There was a prevalent
curiosity as to how the parson had endured the double humiliation of
imprisonment and being cast out of the church. They were hardly
prepared for the tempestuous fury which animated him upon the mention
of the prosecution and the witnesses' names. But when hesitating
inquiries were propounded by those of his visitors disposed to
controversy,—seeking to handle his heresies and gauge his infidelity,
—he would fall from the ecstasies of rage to a dull despondency.
“I dunno,” he would say, looking into the heart of the red fire. “I
can't sati'fy my mind. Some things in the Bible air surely set
contrariwise. I can't argyfy on 'em. But thar 's one thing I kin
feel—Christ the Lord liveth. An' sometimes that seems doctrine
enough. An' mebbe some day I 'll find Him.”
A thaw came on, checked by a sudden freeze. He thought it as cold as
ever one afternoon about sunset as he trudged along the road. He saw a
tiny owl, perched in a cedar tree hard by the rail fence. The
creature's feathers were ruffled and it looked chill. The atmosphere
was of a crystalline clearness. The mountains in the east had dropped
the snow from the darkling pines, but above, the towering balds rose in
unbroken whiteness, imposed in onyx-like distinctness upon the azure
sky. There were vague suggestions of blue and violet and rose on the
undulations of the steep snow-covered slopes close at hand. The crags
were begirt with icicles, reaching down many feet and brilliant with
elusive prismatic glimmers. He heard a sudden crash; a huge
scintillating pendant had fallen by its own weight. Chilhowee stood
massive and richly purple beyond the snowy valley; above was a long
stretch of saffron sky, and in its midst the red sun was going down. He
stood to watch its fiery disc slip behind the mountains, and then he
turned and pursued his way through the neutral-tinted twilight of the
Old Cayce's log-cabin rose up presently, dark and drear against the
high and snowy slopes behind it. The drifts still lay thatch-like on
the roof; the eaves were fringed with icicles. The overhanging trees
were cased in glittering icy mail. The blackened cornstalks, left
standing in the field as is the habit until next spring's ploughing
should begin, were writhen and bent, and bore gaunt witness to the
devastation of the winter wind. The smoke was curling briskly from the
chimney, and as the door opened to his knock, the great fire of hickory
and ash, sending up yellow and blue flames all tipped with vivid
scarlet, cast a genial flare upon the snowy landscape, slowly darkening
without. He experienced a sudden surprise as his eye fell upon old man
Cayce, the central figure of the group, having heard stories of the
moonshiner's deep depression, consequent upon the disastrous raid, and
of the apathy into which he had fallen. They hardly seemed true. He sat
erect in his chair, his supple frame alert, his eye intent, every fibre
charged with energy, his face deeply flushed. He looked expectant,
eager. His stalwart sons sat with him in a semi-circle about the wide
warm hearth. All their pipes were freshly alight, for the evening meal
was just concluded. They too wore an aspect of repressed excitement.
Kelsey detected it in their abstraction during the formal greetings,
and when he was seated among them, ever and anon they shifted uneasily
in their chairs, which grated harshly on the puncheon floor. Sometimes
there sounded a faint jingling of spurs when they moved their feet on
the ill-adjusted stones of the hearth. They had their pistols in their
belts and perchance their lives in their hands. His admission was in
some sort a confidence, but although he marveled, he said nothing.
The bare and humble furnishing of the room was very distinct in the
rich glow,—the few chairs, the shelves with the cooking utensils, the
churn, a chest, the warping-bars, the spinning-wheel; and their simple
domestic significance seemed at variance with the stern and silent
armed men grouped about the fire.
A vibrant sound—one of the timbers had sprung in the cold. Solomon
“Nuthin', Sol, nuthin',” said the old man, testily. “'T ain't nigh
Nevertheless Sol opened the door. The chill air rushed in. The
yellow flames bowed and bent fantastically before it. Outside the
gibbous moon hung in the sky, and the light, solemn, ghostly, pervaded
with pallid mysteries the snowy vistas of the dense, still woods. The
shadow of the black boughs lay in distinct tracery upon the white
surface; there was a vague multiplication of effect, and the casual
glance could ill distinguish the tree from its semblance. Vacant of
illusions was the winding road—silent, and empty, and white, its
curve visible from the fire-place through the black rails of the zigzag
fence. Hiram Kelsey caught a glimpse, too, of the frosty dilations of a
splendid star; then the door closed and Sol came back with jingling
spurs to his seat by the fireside.
“Be you-uns satisfied?” demanded Pete, with a sneer.
Sol, abashed, said nothing, and once more the ominous silence
descended, all moodily watching the broad and leaping flames and the
pulsating coals beneath.
Somehow the geniality of the fire suggested another bright and
dominant presence that was wont in some sort to illumine the room.
“Whar be D'rindy?” asked Kelsey, suddenly.
“Waal—D'rindy,” said Ab, the eldest of the sons, evidently
withdrawing his mind with an effort, “she hev gone ter Tuckaleechee
Cove, ter holp nuss Aunt Jerushy's baby. It's ailin', an' bein' ez it
air named arter D'rindy, she sets store by it, an' war powerful
tormented ter hear how the critter war tuk in its stummick. She kerried
Jacob along, too, 'kase she 'lows she hankers arter him when she's
away, an' she makes out ez we-uns cross him in his temper, 'thout she
air by ter pertect him. I war willin' 'kase it air peacefuller hyar
without Jacob 'n with him—though he air my own son, sech ez he be.
An' D'rindy hev pompered him till he air ez prideful ez a tur-r-key
gobbler, an' jes' about ez cornsiderate.”
“She lef' Mirandy Jane an' me,” said Pete, facetiously showing his
“Waal,” said the old man, speaking with his grave excited eyes still
on the fire. “I be toler'ble glad ez D'rindy tuk this time ter leave
home fur a few days 'kase she hev been toler'ble ailin' an' droopy. An'
t' other day some o' the boys got ter talkin' 'bout'n how sure they be
ez 't war 'Cajah Green—dad-burn the critter!—ez gin the revenue
hounds the word whar our still war hid. An' D'rindy, she jes' tuk a
screamin' fit, an' performed an' kerried on like she war bereft o'
reason. An' she got down old Betsy thar”—pointing to a rifle on the
rack—“ez Pete hed made her draw a mark on it ter remember 'Cajah
Green by, an' his word ez he 'd jail her some day, an' she wanted me
an' the boys ter swear on it ez we-uns would never shoot him.”
“An' did you-uns swear sech?” asked Hiram Kelsey, in fierce
reprobation. Beneath the broad brim of his hat his eyes were blazing;
their large dilated pupils canceled the iris and the idea of color;
they were coals of fire. His shadowed face was set and hard; it bore a
presage of disappointment—and yet he was doubtful.
Pete turned and looked keenly at him.
“Waal,” said the old man, embarrassed, and in some sort mortified,
“D'rindy, ye see, war ailin', an', an'—I never hed but that one
darter an' sech a pack o' sons, an it 'pears like oughter be
“Ye w-wants him shot, hey, pa'son?” Pete interrupted his critical
study of the unconscious subject.
Kelsey's eyes flashed.
“I pray that the Lord may cut him off,” he said.
“Waal, the Lord ain't obleeged ter use a rifle,” said Pete,
pertinently. “Even we-uns kin find more ways than that.”
“The pa'son mought ez well go along an' holp,” said Groundhog Cayce.
Kelsey turned his eyes in blank inquiry from the old man to Pete by
“We air a-layin' fur him now,” Pete explained.
“He hain't been so delivered over by the Lord ez ter kem agin, arter
informin' the raiders, inter the Big Smoky?” Kelsey asked, forgetting
himself for the moment, and aghast at the doomed man's peril.
Pete tapped his head triumphantly.
“'T ain't stuffed with cotton wool,” he declared. “We let on ter the
mounting ez we never knowed who done it. An' we jes' laid low, an' held
our tongues betwixt our teeth, when we hearn 'bout'n his 'quirin' round
'bout'n the still, from this'n an' that'n, d'rectly arter the 'lection.
We got him beat fur that, jes' 'count o' what he said ter D'rindy,
'kase she would n't g-g-gin her cornsent ter shootin' him, an' got dad
set so catawampus, he obeyed her like Jacob would n't fur nuthin'. An'“
—with rising emphasis, “th-th-the blamed critter 'lows he let' no
tracks an' ain't been fund out yit! An' hyar he be on the Big Smoky
agin, a-finishin' up some onsettled business with his old office. I
seen him yander ter the Settlemint, an' talked with him frien'ly an'
familiar, along o' Gid Fletcher, an' fund out when he war ter start
down ter Eskaqua Cove, ter bide all night at Tobe Grimes's house.”
“But—but—ef they never tole him,—surely none o' 'em told him"
—argued Kelsey, breathlessly.
Pete showed his long teeth. “Somebody tole him,” he said, with a
fierce smile. “H-h-he could n't git the mounting ter t-t-turn agin
we-uns; they war afeard!” cynically discriminating the motive.
“So he kem nosin' roun' 'mongst our c-c-chillen—the little chillen,
ez did n't know what they war a-tellin', an' Jacob tole him whar the
cave war, an' 'bout haulin' the apples fur pomace. Jacob war the man,
fur Mirandy Jane hearn him say it. She hed seen 'Cajah Green afore,
when he war sher'ff.”
It was a palpable instance of bad faith and imposition, and it
tallied well with Hiram Kelsey's own wrongs. He sat brooding upon them,
and looking at the fire with dulled meditative eyes. One of the logs,
burnt in twain, broke with a crash under the burden of the others, and
the fire, quickening about them, sent up myriads of sparks attendant
upon the freshening flames; among the pulsating red coals there were
dazzling straw-tinted gleams, and a vista of white heat that repelled
the eye. Outside the wind was rising—its voice hollow, keen, and
shrill as it swept over the icy chasms; the trees were crashing their
bare boughs together. It was a dreary sound. From far away came the
piercing howl of some prowling hungry wolf, familiar enough to the ears
that heard it, but its ravening intimations curdled the blood. A cock's
crow presently smote the air, clear and resonant as a bugle, and with a
curse on tardiness the impatient Sol once more rose and opened the door
to look out.
A change was impending. Clouds had come with the wind, from the west
to meet the moon. Though tipped with the glint of silver, the black
portent was not disguised. Rain or snow, it mattered not which. The
young mountaineer held the door open to show the darkening sky find the
glittering earth, and looked over his shoulder with a triumphant
“That will settle the footprints,” he said.
There was something so cruel in his face, so deadly in his eye, a
ferocious satisfaction in the promised security so like the savage joy
of a skulking beast, that it roused a normal impulse in the breast of
the man who read the thoughts of his fellow-men like an open book.
Kelsey was himself again.
He raised his hand suddenly, with an imperative gesture.
“Listen ter me!” he said, with that enthusiasm kindling in his eyes
which they honored sometimes as the light of religion, and sometimes
reviled as frenzy. “Ye 'll repent o' yer deeds this night! An' the
jedgmint o' the Lord will foller ye! Yer father's gray hairs will go
down in sorrow ter the grave, but his mind will die before his body.
An' some o' you-uns will languish in jail, an' know the despair o' the
bars. An' he that is bravest 'mongst ye will mark how his shadder dogs
him. An' ye will strike yer hands tergether, an' say, 'That the day hed
never dawned, that the night hed never kem fur we-uns!' An' ye 'll
wisht ye hed died afore! An' but for the coward in the blood, ye would
take yer own life then! An' ye'll look at the grave before ye, an' hope
ez it all ends thar!”
His eye blazed. He had risen to his feet in the intensity of his
fervor. And whether it was religion or whether it was lunacy, it
They had all quailed before him, half overborne by the strength of
his emotion, and half in deprecation, because of their faith in his
mysterious foreknowledge. But as he turned, pushed back his chair, and
hastily started toward the door, they lost the impression. Pete first
“Wh-wh-whar be you-uns a-goin'?” he demanded, roughly.
The parson turned fiercely. He thrust out his hand with a gesture of
repudiation, and once more he lifted the latch.
“Naw, ye ain't g-g-goin',” said Pete, with cool decision, throwing
himself against the door. “Ye hev sot 'mongst we-uns an' h-hearn our
plans. Ye 'peared ter gin yer cornsent w-when dad said ye could go
'long. Dad thought ye 'd like ter hev a s-sheer in payin' yer own
grudge. We hev tole ye what we hev tole no other livin' man. An' now ye
hev got ter hev our reason ter h-h-hold yer jaw. I don't like ter
s-shoot a man down under our own roof ez kem hyar frien'ly, but ef ye
fools with that thar latch agile, I reckon I'll be obleeged ter do it.”
If Pete Cayce had possessed an acute discrimination in the reading
of faces, he might have interpreted Kelsey's look as a pondering
dismay; the choice offered him was to do murder or to die! As it was,
Pete only noted the relinquishment of the parson's design when he sat
down silent and abstracted before the fire.
But for his deep grudge, it might have seemed that Kelsey had
intended to forewarn Micajah Green of the danger in the path, and to
turn him back. Pete did not feel entirely reassured until after he had
“I 'lowed ez ye s-s-swore ye fairly de-spise 'Cajah
G-G-Green, an' r-raged ter git even with him.”
“I furgits it sometimes,” rejoined Kelsey.
And Pete did not apprehend the full meaning of the words.
“An' don't do no more o' yer prophesyin' ternight, Hiram,” said the
old man, irritably. “It fairly gins me the ager ter hear sech talk.”
The night wore on. The fire roared; the men, intently listening sat
around the hearth. Now and then a furtive glance was cast at Hiram
Kelsey. He seemed lost in thought, but his eye glittered with that
uninterpreted, inscrutable light, and they were vaguely sorry that he
had come among them. They took scant heed of his reproach. It has been
so long the unwritten law of moonshiners that the informer shall perish
as the consequence of his malice and his rashness, that whatever normal
moral sense they possess is in subjection to their arbitrary code of
justice and the savage custom of the region. The mysterious
disappearance of a horse-thief or a revenue spy, dramatically
chronicled, with a wink and a significant grin, as “never hearn on no
more,” or, “fund dead in the road one mornin',” affects the
mountaineers much as the hangman's summary in the Friday evening papers
impresses more law-abiding communities—shocking, but necessary.
The great fire was burnt to a mass of coals. The wind filled the
ravines with a tumult of sound. The bare woods were in wild commotion.
The gusts dashed upon the roof snow perhaps, or sleet, or vague
drizzling rain; now discontinued, now coming again with redoubled
force. Suddenly, a growl from the dogs under the house; then the sound
of a crunching hoof in the snow.
The men sallied forth, swift and silent as shadows. There was a
frantic struggle in the road; a wild cry for help; a pistol fired wide
of the mark, the report echoing in the silence from crag to crag, from
chasm to chasm with clamorous iteration, as if it would alarm the
world. The horses were ready. The men hastily threw themselves into the
It had been arranged that Kelsey, who had no horse, should ride
before the prisoner. He mounted, drew about his own waist the girth
which bound the doomed man, buckling it securely, and the great gray
horse was in the centre of the squad.
Micajah Green begged as they went—begged as only a man can for his
life. He denied, he explained, he promised.
“Ye cotton ter puttin' folks in jail, 'Cajah! Yer turn now! We 'll
put ye whar the dogs won't bite ye,” said the old man, savagely. And
the rest said never a word.
The skies were dark, the mountain wilds awful in their immensity, in
their deep obscurities, in the multitudinous sounds of creaking boughs
and shrilling winds.
They were in the dense laurel at last. The branches, barbed with
ice, and the evergreen leaves, burdened with snow, struck sharply in
their faces as they forced their way through. The swift motion had
chilled them; icicles clung to their hair and beard; each could hardly
see the dark figures of the others in the dense unbrageous undergrowth
as they recognized the spot they sought and called a halt. It was the
mouth of the cave; they could hear the sound of the dark cold water as
it rippled in the vaulted place where the dammed current rose now
half-way to the roof. Their wretched prisoner, understanding this fact
and the savage substitute for the rifle, made a despairing struggle.
“Lemme git a holt of him, Hi,” said Pete, his teeth chattering, his
numbed arms stretched up in the darkness to lay hold on his victim.
“Hyar he be,” gasped the parson.
There was another frantic struggle as they tore the doomed man from
the horse; a splash, a muffled cry—he was cast headlong into the
black water. A push upon a great bowlder hard by—it fell upon the
cavity with a crash, and all hope of egress was barred. Then,
terrorized themselves, the men mounted their horses; each, fleeing as
if from pursuit, found his way as best he might out of the dark
One might not know what they felt that night when the rain came down
on the roof. One might not dare to think what they dreamed.
The morning broke, drear, and clouded, and full of rain, and hardly
less gloomy than the night. The snow, tarnished, and honeycombed with
dark cellular perforations, was melting and slipping down and down the
ravines. The gigantic icicles encircling the crags fell now and then
with a resounding crash. The drops from the eaves dripped monotonously
into the puddles below. The roof leaked. Sol's bridle-hand had been
frozen the night before in the long swift ride.
But the sun came out again; the far mountains smiled in a blue
vagueness that was almost a summer garb. The relics of the snow exhaled
a silvery haze that hung airily about the landscape. Only the
immaculate whiteness of those lofty regions of the balds withstood the
thaw, and coldly glittered in wintry guise.
A strange sensation thrilled through the fireside group one of these
mornings when Amos James came up from the mill, and as he smoked with
them asked suddenly, all unaware of the tragedy, “What ailed 'Cajah
Green ter leave the Big Smoky in sech a hurry?”
“Wh-wh-at d 'ye mean?” growled Pete, in startled amaze.
And then Amos James, still unconscious of the significance of the
recital, proceeded to tell that shortly after daybreak on last
Wednesday morning he heard a “powerful jouncin' of huffs,” and looking
out of the window he saw Micajah Green on his big gray horse, flying
along the valley road at a tremendous rate of speed. Before he could
open the window to hail him, man and horse were out of sight.
It was a silent group that Amos left, all meditating upon that swift
equestrian figure, pictured against the dreariness of the rainy dawn,
and the gray mist, and the shadowing mountains.
“Amos seen a ghost,” said Pete, presently. He looked dubiously over
his shoulder, though the morning sunshine came flickering through the
door, widely ajar.
“That ain't nuthin' oncommon,” said the old man, sturdily. Then he
told a ghastly story of a legal execution,—that the criminal was seen
afterward sitting in the moonlight under the gallows on his coffin-lid;
and other fearful fantasies of the rural mind, which, morbidly excited,
will not accept the end of the rope as a finality.
It was only when Obediah Scruggs came to their house searching for
his nephew, saying that Hiram had not been seen nor heard of since he
had set out one evening to visit them, that a terrible premonition fell
upon Groundhog Cayce. His iron will guarded it for a time, till some
one journeying from Shaftesville reported having seen there Micajah
Green, who was full of a terrible story of a midnight attack upon him
by the Cayce tribe, from whom he had miraculously escaped in the midst
of the struggle and darkness, he declared, and more dead than alive.
Then mysteriously and with heavy presage Pete and his father made a
pilgrimage to the cave. They pried up the bowlder over the cavity. They
heard the deep water held in the subterranean reservoir still sighing
and echoing with the bubbling of the mountain spring. On the surface
there floated a hat—Hi Kelsey's limp and worn old hat.
They never told their secret. They replaced the bowlder, and sealed
their lips. The old man began to age rapidly. His conscience was
heavier than his years. But it was a backwoods conscience, and had the
distortions of his primitive philosophy. One day he said piteously, “It
air a dreadful thing, Pete, ter kill a man by accident.”
And Pete replied meditatively, “I dunno but what it air.”
By degrees, as they reflected upon the incredible idea that a
mistake could have been made between the two men, the truth percolated
through their minds. It was a voluntary sacrifice. “He war always
preachin' agin killin',” said the old man, “an' callin' folks,” his
voice fell to a whisper—“Cain!”
It was well for him, perhaps, when he presently fell into mental
decrepitude, and in vacancy was spared the anguish of remorse.
And Pete fearfully noted the fulfillment of the prophecy.
No one could account for the change in Pete Cayce. He patched up old
feuds, and forgave old debts, and forgot his contentious moods, and was
meek and very melancholy. And although the parson preached no more, who
shall say his sermons were ended? As to him, surely his doubts were
solved in knowing all, and perhaps in the exaltations of that
sacrificial moment he found Christ.
The mystery of his fate remained unexplained. The search for him
flagged after a time, and failed. There were many conjectures, all wide
of the truth. Dorinda believed that, like the prophet of old, he had
not been suffered to taste death, but was caught up into the clouds.
And with a chastened solemnity she cherishes the last of her illusions.