A KNIGHT OF THE CUMBERLAND

BY
JOHN FOX, JR.

CONTENTS

I. The Blight in the Hills
II. On the Wild Dog's Trail
III. The Auricular Talent of the Hon.Samuel Budd
IV. Close Quarters
V. Back to the Hills
VI. The Great Day
VII. At Last--The Tournament
VIII.The Knight Passes

A KNIGHT OF THE CUMBERLAND

I

THE BLIGHT IN THE HILLS

High noon of a crisp October day,
sunshine flooding the earth with
the warmth and light of old wine and,
going single-file up through the jagged
gap that the dripping of water has worn
down through the Cumberland Mountains
from crest to valley-level, a gray horse
and two big mules, a man and two young
girls. On the gray horse, I led the
tortuous way. After me came my small
sister--and after her and like her, mule-
back, rode the Blight--dressed as she
would be for a gallop in Central Park or
to ride a hunter in a horse show.

I was taking them, according to
promise, where the feet of other women than
mountaineers had never trod--beyond the
crest of the Big Black--to the waters of
the Cumberland--the lair of moonshiner
and feudsman, where is yet pocketed a
civilization that, elsewhere, is long ago
gone. This had been a pet dream of the
Blight's for a long time, and now the
dream was coming true. The Blight was
in the hills.

Nobody ever went to her mother's
house without asking to see her even when
she was a little thing with black hair,
merry face and black eyes. Both men and
women, with children of their own, have
told me that she was, perhaps, the most
fascinating child that ever lived. There
be some who claim that she has never
changed--and I am among them. She
began early, regardless of age, sex or
previous condition of servitude--she
continues recklessly as she began--and none
makes complaint. Thus was it in her own
world--thus it was when she came to
mine. On the way down from the North,
the conductor's voice changed from a
command to a request when he asked
for her ticket. The jacketed lord of the
dining-car saw her from afar and advanced
to show her to a seat--that she
might ride forward, sit next to a shaded
window and be free from the glare of the
sun on the other side. Two porters made
a rush for her bag when she got off the
car, and the proprietor of the little hotel
in the little town where we had to wait
several hours for the train into the mountains
gave her the bridal chamber for an
afternoon nap. From this little town to
``The Gap'' is the worst sixty-mile ride,
perhaps, in the world. She sat in a dirty
day-coach; the smoke rolled in at the
windows and doors; the cars shook and
swayed and lumbered around curves and
down and up gorges; there were about
her rough men, crying children, slatternly
women, tobacco juice, peanuts, popcorn
and apple cores, but dainty, serene and as
merry as ever, she sat through that ride
with a radiant smile, her keen black eyes
noting everything unlovely within and the
glory of hill, tree and chasm without.
Next morning at home, where we rise
early, no one was allowed to waken her
and she had breakfast in bed--for the
Blight's gentle tyranny was established on
sight and varied not at the Gap.

When she went down the street that
day everybody stared surreptitiously and
with perfect respect, as her dainty black
plumed figure passed; the post-office clerk
could barely bring himself to say that there
was no letter for her. The soda-fountain
boy nearly filled her glass with syrup before
he saw that he was not strictly minding
his own business; the clerk, when I
bought chocolate for her, unblushingly
added extra weight and, as we went back,
she met them both--Marston, the young
engineer from the North, crossing the
street and, at the same moment, a drunken
young tough with an infuriated face reeling
in a run around the corner ahead of
us as though he were being pursued.
Now we have a volunteer police guard
some forty strong at the Gap--and from
habit, I started for him, but the Blight
caught my arm tight. The young
engineer in three strides had reached the
curb-stone and all he sternly said was:

``Here! Here!''

The drunken youth wheeled and his
right hand shot toward his hip pocket.
The engineer was belted with a pistol, but
with one lightning movement and an
incredibly long reach, his right fist caught
the fellow's jaw so that he pitched
backward and collapsed like an empty bag.
Then the engineer caught sight of the
Blight's bewildered face, flushed, gripped
his hands in front of him and simply
stared. At last he saw me:

``Oh,'' he said, ``how do you do?''
and he turned to his prisoner, but the
panting sergeant and another policeman--
also a volunteer--were already lifting him
to his feet. I introduced the boy and the
Blight then, and for the first time in my
life I saw the Blight--shaken. Round-
eyed, she merely gazed at him.

``That was pretty well done,'' I said.

``Oh, he was drunk and I knew he
would be slow.'' Now something curious
happened. The dazed prisoner was on
his feet, and his captors were starting with
him to the calaboose when he seemed suddenly
to come to his senses.

``Jes wait a minute, will ye?'' he said
quietly, and his captors, thinking perhaps
that he wanted to say something to me,
stopped. The mountain youth turned a
strangely sobered face and fixed his blue
eyes on the engineer as though he were
searing every feature of that imperturbable
young man in his brain forever. It
was not a bad face, but the avenging
hatred in it was fearful. Then he, too,
saw the Blight, his face calmed magically
and he, too, stared at her, and turned away
with an oath checked at his lips. We went
on--the Blight thrilled, for she had heard
much of our volunteer force at the Gap
and had seen something already. Presently
I looked back. Prisoner and captors
were climbing the little hill toward the
calaboose and the mountain boy just then
turned his head and I could swear that his
eyes sought not the engineer, whom we
left at the corner, but, like the engineer,
he was looking at the Blight. Whereat I
did not wonder--particularly as to the
engineer. He had been in the mountains for
a long time and I knew what this vision
from home meant to him. He turned up
at the house quite early that night.

``I'm not on duty until eleven,'' he
said hesitantly, `` and I thought I'd----''

``Come right in.''

I asked him a few questions about
business and then I left him and the Blight
alone. When I came back she had a Gatling
gun of eager questions ranged on him
and--happy withal--he was squirming no
little. I followed him to the gate.

``Are you really going over into those
God-forsaken mountains?'' he asked.

``I thought I would.''

``And you are going to take HER?''

``And my sister.''

``Oh, I beg your pardon.'' He strode
away.

``Coming up by the mines?'' he called
back.

``Perhaps will you show us around?''

``I guess I will,'' he said emphatically,
and he went on to risk his neck on a ten-
mile ride along a mountain road in the
dark.

``I LIKE a man,'' said the Blight. ``I
like a MAN.''

Of course the Blight must see everything,
so she insisted on going to the police
court next morning for the trial of the
mountain boy. The boy was in the witness
chair when we got there, and the
Hon. Samuel Budd was his counsel. He
had volunteered to defend the prisoner, I
was soon told, and then I understood.
The November election was not far off and
the Hon. Samuel Budd was candidate for
legislature. More even, the boy's father
was a warm supporter of Mr. Budd and
the boy himself might perhaps render good
service in the cause when the time came--
as indeed he did. On one of the front
chairs sat the young engineer and it was
a question whether he or the prisoner saw
the Blight's black plumes first. The eyes
of both flashed toward her simultaneously,
the engineer colored perceptibly and
the mountain boy stopped short in speech
and his pallid face flushed with unmistakable
shame. Then he went on: ``He had
liquered up,'' he said, ``and had got tight
afore he knowed it and he didn't mean
no harm and had never been arrested
afore in his whole life.''

``Have you ever been drunk before?''
asked the prosecuting attorney severely.
The lad looked surprised.

``Co'se I have, but I ain't goin' to agin
--leastwise not in this here town.'' There
was a general laugh at this and the aged
mayor rapped loudly.

``That will do,'' said the attorney.

The lad stepped down, hitched his chair
slightly so that his back was to the Blight,
sank down in it until his head rested on
the back of the chair and crossed his legs.
The Hon. Samuel Budd arose and the
Blight looked at him with wonder. His
long yellow hair was parted in the middle
and brushed with plaster-like precision
behind two enormous ears, he wore spectacles,
gold-rimmed and with great staring
lenses, and his face was smooth and
ageless. He caressed his chin ruminatingly
and rolled his lips until they settled into a
fine resultant of wisdom, patience, toleration
and firmness. His manner was profound
and his voice oily and soothing.

``May it please your Honor--my young
friend frankly pleads guilty.'' He paused
as though the majesty of the law could ask
no more. ``He is a young man of naturally
high and somewhat--naturally, too,
no doubt--bibulous spirits. Homoepathically--
if inversely--the result was logical.
In the untrammelled life of the liberty-
breathing mountains, where the stern spirit
of law and order, of which your Honor is
the august symbol, does not prevail as it
does here--thanks to your Honor's wise
and just dispensations--the lad has, I
may say, naturally acquired a certain
recklessness of mood--indulgence which,
however easily condoned there, must here be
sternly rebuked. At the same time, he
knew not the conditions here, he became
exhilarated without malice, prepensey or
even, I may say, consciousness. He would
not have done as he has, if he had known
what he knows now, and, knowing, he will
not repeat the offence. I need say no
more. I plead simply that your Honor
will temper the justice that is only yours
with the mercy that is yours--only.''

His Honor was visibly affected and to
cover it--his methods being informal--he
said with sharp irrelevancy:

``Who bailed this young feller out last
night?'' The sergeant spoke:

``Why, Mr. Marston thar''--with
outstretched finger toward the young
engineer. The Blight's black eyes leaped
with exultant appreciation and the engineer
turned crimson. His Honor rolled his
quid around in his mouth once, and peered
over his glasses:

``I fine this young feller two dollars and
costs.'' The young fellow had turned
slowly in his chair and his blue eyes blazed
at the engineer with unappeasable hatred.
I doubt if he had heard his Honor's
voice.

``I want ye to know that I'm obleeged
to ye an' I ain't a-goin' to fergit it; but
if I'd a known hit was you I'd a stayed
in jail an' seen you in hell afore I'd a been
bounden to ye.''

``Ten dollars fer contempt of couht.''
The boy was hot now.

``Oh, fine and be--'' The Hon. Samuel
Budd had him by the shoulder, the boy
swallowed his voice and his starting tears
of rage, and after a whisper to his Honor,
the Hon. Samuel led him out. Outside,
the engineer laughed to the Blight:

``Pretty peppery, isn't he?'' but the
Blight said nothing, and later we saw the
youth on a gray horse crossing the bridge
and conducted by the Hon. Samuel Budd,
who stopped and waved him toward the
mountains. The boy went on and across
the plateau, the gray Gap swallowed him.
That night, at the post-office, the Hon.
Sam plucked me aside by the sleeve.

``I know Marston is agin me in this
race--but I'll do him a good turn just the
same. You tell him to watch out for that
young fellow. He's all right when he's
sober, but when he's drunk--well, over in
Kentucky, they call him the Wild Dog.''

Several days later we started out through
that same Gap. The glum stableman
looked at the Blight's girths three times,
and with my own eyes starting and my
heart in my mouth, I saw her pass behind
her sixteen-hand-high mule and give him a
friendly tap on the rump as she went by.
The beast gave an appreciative flop of one
ear and that was all. Had I done that,
any further benefit to me or mine would
be incorporated in the terms of an insurance
policy. So, stating this, I believe I
state the limit and can now go on to say
at last that it was because she seemed to
be loved by man and brute alike that a
big man of her own town, whose body,
big as it was, was yet too small for his
heart and from whose brain things went
off at queer angles, always christened her
perversely as--``The Blight.''

II

ON THE WILD DOG'S TRAIL

So up we went past Bee Rock, Preacher's
Creek and Little Looney, past
the mines where high on a ``tipple'' stood
the young engineer looking down at us,
and looking after the Blight as we passed
on into a dim rocky avenue walled on each
side with rhododendrons. I waved at him
and shook my head--we would see him
coming back. Beyond a deserted log-
cabin we turned up a spur of the mountain.
Around a clump of bushes we came on
a gray-bearded mountaineer holding his
horse by the bridle and from a covert high
above two more men appeared with
Winchesters. The Blight breathed forth an
awed whisper:

``Are they moonshiners?''

I nodded sagely, ``Most likely,'' and
the Blight was thrilled. They might have
been squirrel-hunters most innocent, but
the Blight had heard much talk of moonshine
stills and mountain feuds and the
men who run them and I took the risk of
denying her nothing. Up and up we went,
those two mules swaying from side to side
with a motion little short of elephantine
and, by and by, the Blight called out:

``You ride ahead and don't you DARE
look back.''

Accustomed to obeying the Blight's
orders, I rode ahead with eyes to the front.
Presently, a shriek made me turn suddenly.
It was nothing--my little sister's mule had
gone near a steep cliff--perilously near, as
its rider thought, but I saw why I must not
look back; those two little girls were riding
astride on side-saddles, the booted little
right foot of each dangling stirrupless--a
posture quite decorous but ludicrous.

``Let us know if anybody comes,'' they
cried. A mountaineer descended into sight
around a loop of the path above.

``Change cars,'' I shouted.

They changed and, passing, were grave,
demure--then they changed again, and
thus we climbed.

Such a glory as was below, around and
above us; the air like champagne; the sunlight
rich and pouring like a flood on the
gold that the beeches had strewn in the
path, on the gold that the poplars still
shook high above and shimmering on the
royal scarlet of the maple and the sombre
russet of the oak. From far below us to far
above us a deep curving ravine was slashed
into the mountain side as by one stroke of
a gigantic scimitar. The darkness deep
down was lighted up with cool green,
interfused with liquid gold. Russet and
yellow splashed the mountain sides beyond
and high up the maples were in a shaking
blaze. The Blight's swift eyes took all in
and with indrawn breath she drank it all
deep down.

An hour by sun we were near the top,
which was bared of trees and turned into
rich farm-land covered with blue-grass.
Along these upland pastures, dotted with
grazing cattle, and across them we rode
toward the mountain wildernesses on the
other side, down into which a zigzag path
wriggles along the steep front of Benham's
spur. At the edge of the steep was a
cabin and a bushy-bearded mountaineer,
who looked like a brigand, answered my
hail. He ``mought'' keep us all night,
but he'd ``ruther not, as we could git a
place to stay down the spur.'' Could we
get down before dark? The mountaineer
lifted his eyes to where the sun was breaking
the horizon of the west into streaks
and splashes of yellow and crimson.

``Oh, yes, you can git thar afore
dark.''

Now I knew that the mountaineer's idea
of distance is vague--but he knows how
long it takes to get from one place to
another. So we started down--dropping at
once into thick dark woods, and as we
went looping down, the deeper was the
gloom. That sun had suddenly severed all
connection with the laws of gravity and
sunk, and it was all the darker because
the stars were not out. The path was
steep and coiled downward like a wounded
snake. In one place a tree had fallen
across it, and to reach the next coil of the
path below was dangerous. So I had the
girls dismount and I led the gray horse
down on his haunches. The mules refused
to follow, which was rather unusual. I
went back and from a safe distance in the
rear I belabored them down. They cared
neither for gray horse nor crooked path,
but turned of their own devilish wills
along the bushy mountain side. As I ran
after them the gray horse started calmly
on down and those two girls shrieked with
laughter--they knew no better. First one
way and then the other down the mountain
went those mules, with me after them,
through thick bushes, over logs, stumps
and bowlders and holes--crossing the path
a dozen times. What that path was there
for never occurred to those long-eared
half asses, whole fools, and by and by,
when the girls tried to shoo them down
they clambered around and above them
and struck the path back up the mountain.
The horse had gone down one way, the
mules up the other, and there was no
health in anything. The girls could not
go up--so there was nothing to do but go
down, which, hard as it was, was easier
than going up. The path was not visible
now. Once in a while I would stumble
from it and crash through the bushes to
the next coil below. Finally I went down,
sliding one foot ahead all the time--knowing
that when leaves rustled under that
foot I was on the point of going astray.
Sometimes I had to light a match to
make sure of the way, and thus the ridiculous
descent was made with those girls in
high spirits behind. Indeed, the darker,
rockier, steeper it got, the more they
shrieked from pure joy--but I was anything
than happy. It was dangerous. I
didn't know the cliffs and high rocks
we might skirt and an unlucky guidance
might land us in the creek-bed far down.
But the blessed stars came out, the moon
peered over a farther mountain and on
the last spur there was the gray horse
browsing in the path--and the sound of
running water not far below. Fortunately
on the gray horse were the saddle-bags of
the chattering infants who thought the
whole thing a mighty lark. We reached
the running water, struck a flock of geese
and knew, in consequence, that humanity
was somewhere near. A few turns of the
creek and a beacon light shone below.
The pales of a picket fence, the cheering
outlines of a log-cabin came in view and
at a peaked gate I shouted:

``Hello!''

You enter no mountaineer's yard without
that announcing cry. It was mediaeval,
the Blight said, positively--two lorn
damsels, a benighted knight partially stripped
of his armor by bush and sharp-edged
rock, a gray palfrey (she didn't mention
the impatient asses that had turned homeward)
and she wished I had a horn to
wind. I wanted a ``horn'' badly enough
--but it was not the kind men wind. By
and by we got a response:

``Hello!'' was the answer, as an opened
door let out into the yard a broad band of
light. Could we stay all night? The
voice replied that the owner would see
``Pap.'' ``Pap'' seemed willing, and the
boy opened the gate and into the house
went the Blight and the little sister.
Shortly, I followed.

There, all in one room, lighted by a
huge wood-fire, rafters above, puncheon
floor beneath--cane-bottomed chairs and
two beds the only furniture-``pap,''
barefooted, the old mother in the chimney-
corner with a pipe, strings of red pepper-
pods, beans and herbs hanging around and
above, a married daughter with a child at
her breast, two or three children with yellow
hair and bare feet all looking with
all their eyes at the two visitors who had
dropped upon them from another world.
The Blight's eyes were brighter than
usual--that was the only sign she gave
that she was not in her own drawing-
room. Apparently she saw nothing
strange or unusual even, but there was
really nothing that she did not see or hear
and absorb, as few others than the Blight
can.

Straightway, the old woman knocked
the ashes out of her pipe.

``I reckon you hain't had nothin' to
eat,'' she said and disappeared. The old
man asked questions, the young mother
rocked her baby on her knees, the children
got less shy and drew near the fireplace,
the Blight and the little sister exchanged
a furtive smile and the contrast of the
extremes in American civilization, as shown
in that little cabin, interested me mightily.

``Yer snack's ready,'' said the old
woman. The old man carried the chairs
into the kitchen, and when I followed the
girls were seated. The chairs were so low
that their chins came barely over their
plates, and demure and serious as they were
they surely looked most comical. There
was the usual bacon and corn-bread and
potatoes and sour milk, and the two girls
struggled with the rude fare nobly.

After supper I joined the old man and
the old woman with a pipe--exchanging
my tobacco for their long green with more
satisfaction probably to me than to them,
for the long green was good, and strong
and fragrant.

The old woman asked the Blight and
the little sister many questions and they, in
turn, showed great interest in the baby in
arms, whereat the eighteen-year-old mother
blushed and looked greatly pleased.

``You got mighty purty black eyes,''
said the old woman to the Blight, and not
to slight the little sister she added, `` An'
you got mighty purty teeth.''

The Blight showed hers in a radiant
smile and the old woman turned back to her.

``Oh, you've got both,'' she said and
she shook her head, as though she were
thinking of the damage they had done.
It was my time now--to ask questions.

They didn't have many amusements on
that creek, I discovered--and no dances.
Sometimes the boys went coon-hunting and
there were corn-shuckings, house-raisings
and quilting-parties.

``Does anybody round here play the
banjo?''

``None o' my boys,'' said the old woman,
``but Tom Green's son down the creek
--he follers pickin' the banjo a leetle.''
``Follows pickin' ''--the Blight did not
miss that phrase.

``What do you foller fer a livin'?'' the
old man asked me suddenly.

``I write for a living.'' He thought a
while.

``Well, it must be purty fine to have a
good handwrite.'' This nearly dissolved
the Blight and the little sister, but they
held on heroically.

``Is there much fighting around here?''
I asked presently.

``Not much 'cept when one young feller
up the river gets to tearin' up things. I
heerd as how he was over to the Gap last
week--raisin' hell. He comes by here on
his way home.'' The Blight's eyes opened
wide--apparently we were on his trail.
It is not wise for a member of the police
guard at the Gap to show too much
curiosity about the lawless ones of the
hills, and I asked no questions.

``They calls him the Wild Dog over
here,'' he added, and then he yawned
cavernously.

I looked around with divining eye for
the sleeping arrangements soon to come,
which sometimes are embarrassing to
``furriners'' who are unable to grasp at
once the primitive unconsciousness of the
mountaineers and, in consequence, accept a
point of view natural to them because
enforced by architectural limitations and a
hospitality that turns no one seeking
shelter from any door. They were, however,
better prepared than I had hoped for.
They had a spare room on the porch and
just outside the door, and when the old
woman led the two girls to it, I followed
with their saddle-bags. The room was
about seven feet by six and was windowless.

``You'd better leave your door open a
little,'' I said, ``or you'll smother in
there.''

``Well,'' said the old woman, `` hit's all
right to leave the door open. Nothin's
goin' ter bother ye, but one o' my sons is
out a coon-huntin' and he mought come in,
not knowin' you're thar. But you jes'
holler an' he'll move on.'' She meant
precisely what she said and saw no humor
at all in such a possibility--but when the
door closed, I could hear those girls
stifling shrieks of laughter.

Literally, that night, I was a member
of the family. I had a bed to myself
(the following night I was not so fortunate)--
in one corner; behind the head of
mine the old woman, the daughter-in-law
and the baby had another in the other
corner, and the old man with the two boys
spread a pallet on the floor. That is the
invariable rule of courtesy with the
mountaineer, to give his bed to the stranger and
take to the floor himself, and, in passing,
let me say that never, in a long experience,
have I seen the slightest consciousness--
much less immodesty--in a mountain cabin
in my life. The same attitude on the part
of the visitors is taken for granted--any
other indeed holds mortal possibilities of
offence--so that if the visitor has common
sense, all embarrassment passes at once.
The door was closed, the fire blazed on
uncovered, the smothered talk and laughter
of the two girls ceased, the coon-hunter
came not and the night passed in peace.

It must have been near daybreak that I
was aroused by the old man leaving the
cabin and I heard voices and the sound of
horses' feet outside. When he came back
he was grinning.

``Hit's your mules.''

``Who found them?''

``The Wild Dog had 'em,'' he said.

III

THE AURICULAR TALENT OF THE
HON. SAMUEL BUDD

Behind us came the Hon. Samuel
Budd. Just when the sun was slitting
the east with a long streak of fire, the
Hon. Samuel was, with the jocund day,
standing tiptoe in his stirrups on the misty
mountain top and peering into the ravine
down which we had slid the night before,
and he grumbled no little when he saw
that he, too, must get off his horse and
slide down. The Hon. Samuel was ambitious,
Southern, and a lawyer. Without
saying, it goes that he was also a
politician. He was not a native of the
mountains, but he had cast his fortunes in the
highlands, and he was taking the first step
that he hoped would, before many years,
land him in the National Capitol. He
really knew little about the mountaineers,
even now, and he had never been among
his constituents on Devil's Fork, where he
was bound now. The campaign had so far
been full of humor and full of trials--not
the least of which sprang from the fact
that it was sorghum time. Everybody
through the mountains was making sorghum,
and every mountain child was eating molasses.

Now, as the world knows, the straightest
way to the heart of the honest voter is
through the women of the land, and the
straightest way to the heart of the women
is through the children of the land; and
one method of winning both, with rural
politicians, is to kiss the babies wide and
far. So as each infant, at sorghum time,
has a circle of green-brown stickiness about
his chubby lips, and as the Hon. Sam was
averse to ``long sweetenin' '' even in his
coffee, this particular political device just
now was no small trial to the Hon. Samuel
Budd. But in the language of one of his
firmest supporters Uncle Tommie Hendricks:

``The Hon. Sam done his duty, and he
done it damn well.''

The issue at stake was the site of the
new Court-House--two localities claiming
the right undisputed, because they were
the only two places in the county where
there was enough level land for the Court-
House to stand on. Let no man think this
a trivial issue. There had been a similar
one over on the Virginia side once, and
the opposing factions agreed to decide the
question by the ancient wager of battle,
fist and skull--two hundred men on each
side--and the women of the county with
difficulty prevented the fight. Just now,
Mr. Budd was on his way to ``The
Pocket''--the voting place of one faction
--where he had never been, where the
hostility against him was most bitter, and,
that day, he knew he was ``up against''
Waterloo, the crossing of the Rubicon,
holding the pass at Thermopylae, or any
other historical crisis in the history of
man. I was saddling the mules when the
cackling of geese in the creek announced
the coming of the Hon. Samuel Budd,
coming with his chin on his breast-deep
in thought. Still his eyes beamed cheerily,
he lifted his slouched hat gallantly to the
Blight and the little sister, and he would
wait for us to jog along with him. I told
him of our troubles, meanwhile. The
Wild Dog had restored our mules and
the Hon. Sam beamed:

``He's a wonder--where is he?''

``He never waited--even for thanks.''

Again the Hon. Sam beamed:

``Ah! just like him. He's gone ahead
to help me.''

``Well, how did he happen to be here?''
I asked.

``He's everywhere,'' said the Hon. Sam.

``How did he know the mules were
ours?''

``Easy. That boy knows everything.''

``Well, why did he bring them back
and then leave so mysteriously?''

The Hon. Sam silently pointed a finger
at the laughing Blight ahead, and I looked
incredulous.

``Just the same, that's another reason I
told you to warn Marston. He's already
got it in his head that Marston is his
rival.''

``Pshaw!'' I said--for it was too
ridiculous.

``All right,'' said the Hon. Sam placidly.

``Then why doesn't he want to see
her?''
``How do you know he ain't watchin'
her now, for all we know? Mark me,''
he added, ``you won't see him at the
speakin', but I'll bet fruit cake agin
gingerbread he'll be somewhere around.''

So we went on, the two girls leading
the way and the Hon. Sam now telling
his political troubles to me. Half a
mile down the road, a solitary horseman
stood waiting, and Mr. Budd gave a low
whistle.

``One o' my rivals,'' he said, from the
corner of his mouth.

``Mornin','' said the horseman; ``lemme
see you a minute.''

He made a movement to draw aside,
but the Hon. Samuel made a counter-
gesture of dissent.

``This gentleman is a friend of mine,''
he said firmly, but with great courtesy,
``and he can hear what you have to say
to me.''

The mountaineer rubbed one huge hand
over his stubbly chin, threw one of his
long legs over the pommel of his saddle,
and dangled a heavy cowhide shoe to and
fro.

``Would you mind tellin' me whut pay
a member of the House of Legislatur' gits
a day?''

The Hon. Sam looked surprised.

``I think about two dollars and a half.''

``An' his meals?''

``No!'' laughed Mr. Budd.

``Well, look-ee here, stranger. I'm a
pore man an' I've got a mortgage on my
farm. That money don't mean nothin' to
you--but if you'll draw out now an' I
win, I'll tell ye whut I'll do.'' He paused
as though to make sure that the sacrifice
was possible. ``I'll just give ye half of
that two dollars and a half a day, as shore
as you're a-settin' on that hoss, and you
won't hav' to hit a durn lick to earn it.''

I had not the heart to smile--nor did
the Hon. Samuel--so artless and simple
was the man and so pathetic his appeal.

``You see--you'll divide my vote, an'
ef we both run, ole Josh Barton'll git it
shore. Ef you git out o' the way, I can
lick him easy.''

Mr. Budd's answer was kind,
instructive, and uplifted.

``My friend,'' said he, ``I'm sorry, but
I cannot possibly accede to your request
for the following reasons: First, it would
not be fair to my constituents; secondly, it
would hardly be seeming to barter the
noble gift of the people to which we both
aspire; thirdly, you might lose with me
out of the way; and fourthly, I'm going
to win whether you are in the way or
not.''

The horseman slowly collapsed while
the Hon. Samuel was talking, and now he
threw the leg back, kicked for his stirrup
twice, spat once, and turned his horse's
head.

``I reckon you will, stranger,'' he said
sadly, ``with that gift o' gab o' yourn.''
He turned without another word or nod of
good-by and started back up the creek
whence he had come.

``One gone,'' said the Hon. Samuel
Budd grimly, ``and I swear I'm right
sorry for him.'' And so was I.

An hour later we struck the river, and
another hour upstream brought us to where
the contest of tongues was to come about.
No sylvan dell in Arcady could have
been lovelier than the spot. Above the
road, a big spring poured a clear little
stream over shining pebbles into the river;
above it the bushes hung thick with autumn
leaves, and above them stood yellow
beeches like pillars of pale fire. On both
sides of the road sat and squatted the
honest voters, sour-looking, disgruntled--a
distinctly hostile crowd. The Blight and
my little sister drew great and curious
attention as they sat on a bowlder above the
spring while I went with the Hon. Samuel
Budd under the guidance of Uncle Tommie
Hendricks, who introduced him right
and left. The Hon. Samuel was cheery,
but he was plainly nervous. There were
two lanky youths whose names, oddly
enough, were Budd. As they gave him
their huge paws in lifeless fashion, the
Hon. Samuel slapped one on the shoulder,
with the true democracy of the politician,
and said jocosely:

``Well, we Budds may not be what you
call great people, but, thank God, none
of us have ever been in the penitentiary,''
and he laughed loudly, thinking that he
had scored a great and jolly point. The
two young men looked exceedingly grave
and Uncle Tommie panic-stricken. He
plucked the Hon. Sam by the sleeve and
led him aside:

``I reckon you made a leetle mistake
thar. Them two fellers' daddy died in the
penitentiary last spring.'' The Hon. Sam
whistled mournfully, but he looked game
enough when his opponent rose to speak
--Uncle Josh Barton, who had short,
thick, upright hair, little sharp eyes, and a
rasping voice. Uncle Josh wasted no time:

``Feller-citizens,'' he shouted, ``this
man is a lawyer--he's a corporation
lawyer''; the fearful name--pronounced
``lie-yer''--rang through the crowd like a
trumpet, and like lightning the Hon. Sam
was on his feet.

``The man who says that is a liar,'' he
said calmly, `` and I demand your authority
for the statement. If you won't give
it--I shall hold you personally responsible,
sir.''

It was a strike home, and under the
flashing eyes that stared unwaveringly,
through the big goggles, Uncle Josh halted
and stammered and admitted that he
might have been misinformed.

``Then I advise you to be more careful,''
cautioned the Hon. Samuel sharply.

``Feller-citizens,'' said Uncle Josh, ``if
he ain't a corporation lawyer--who is this
man? Where did he come from? I have
been born and raised among you. You all
know me--do you know him? Whut's he
a-doin' now? He's a fine-haired furriner,
an' he's come down hyeh from the settlemints
to tell ye that you hain't got no man
in yo' own deestrict that's fittin' to
represent ye in the legislatur'. Look at him--
look at him! He's got FOUR eyes! Look
at his hair--hit's PARTED IN THE MIDDLE!''
There was a storm of laughter--Uncle
Josh had made good--and if the Hon.
Samuel could straightway have turned
bald-headed and sightless, he would have
been a happy man. He looked sick with
hopelessness, but Uncle Tommie
Hendricks, his mentor, was vigorously
whispering something in his ear, and gradually
his face cleared. Indeed, the Hon. Samuel
was smilingly confident when he rose.

Like his rival, he stood in the open road,
and the sun beat down on his parted yellow
hair, so that the eyes of all could
see, and the laughter was still running
round.

``Who is your Uncle Josh?'' he asked
with threatening mildness. ``I know I was
not born here, but, my friends, I couldn't
help that. And just as soon as I could
get away from where I was born, I came
here and,'' he paused with lips parted and
long finger outstretched, `` and--I--came
--because--I WANTED--to come--and NOT
because I HAD TO.''

Now it seems that Uncle Josh, too, was
not a native and that he had left home
early in life for his State's good and for his
own. Uncle Tommie had whispered this,
and the Hon. Samuel raised himself high
on both toes while the expectant crowd, on
the verge of a roar, waited--as did Uncle
Joshua, with a sickly smile.

``Why did your Uncle Josh come
among you? Because he was hoop-poled
away from home.'' Then came the roar--
and the Hon. Samuel had to quell it with
uplifted hand.

``And did your Uncle Joshua marry a
mountain wife? No I He didn't think
any of your mountain women were good
enough for him, so he slips down into the
settlemints and STEALS one. And now,
fellow-citizens, that is just what I'm here for
--I'm looking for a nice mountain girl,
and I'm going to have her.'' Again the
Hon. Samuel had to still the roar, and then
he went on quietly to show how they must
lose the Court-House site if they did not
send him to the legislature, and how, while
they might not get it if they did send him,
it was their only hope to send only him.
The crowd had grown somewhat hostile
again, and it was after one telling period,
when the Hon. Samuel stopped to mop his
brow, that a gigantic mountaineer rose in
the rear of the crowd:

``Talk on, stranger; you're talking
sense. I'll trust ye. You've got big
ears!''

Now the Hon. Samuel possessed a
primordial talent that is rather rare in these
physically degenerate days. He said nothing,
but stood quietly in the middle of the
road. The eyes of the crowd on either
side of the road began to bulge, the lips
of all opened with wonder, and a simultaneous
burst of laughter rose around the
Hon. Samuel Budd. A dozen men sprang
to their feet and rushed up to him--looking
at those remarkable ears, as they
gravely wagged to and fro. That settled
things, and as we left, the Hon. Sam was
having things his own way, and on the
edge of the crowd Uncle Tommie Hendricks
was shaking his head:

``I tell ye, boys, he ain't no jackass
even if he can flop his ears.''

At the river we started upstream, and
some impulse made me turn in my saddle
and look back. All the time I had had an
eye open for the young mountaineer whose
interest in us seemed to be so keen. And
now I saw, standing at the head of a gray
horse, on the edge of the crowd, a tall
figure with his hands on his hips and looking
after us. I couldn't be sure, but it
looked like the Wild Dog.

IV

CLOSE QUARTERS

Two hours up the river we struck
Buck. Buck was sitting on the
fence by the roadside, barefooted and hatless.

``How-dye-do?'' I said.

``Purty well,'' said Buck.

``Any fish in this river?''

``Several,'' said Buck. Now in mountain
speech, ``several'' means simply ``a
good many.''

``Any minnows in these branches?''

``I seed several in the branch back o'
our house.''

``How far away do you live?''

``Oh, 'bout one whoop an' a holler.'' If
he had spoken Greek the Blight could not
have been more puzzled. He meant he
lived as far as a man's voice would carry
with one yell and a holla.

``Will you help me catch some?''
Buck nodded.

``All right,'' I said, turning my horse up
to the fence. ``Get on behind.'' The
horse shied his hind quarters away, and I
pulled him back.

``Now, you can get on, if you'll be
quick.'' Buck sat still.

``Yes,'' he said imperturbably; ``but I
ain't quick.'' The two girls laughed
aloud, and Buck looked surprised.

Around a curving cornfield we went,
and through a meadow which Buck said
was a ``nigh cut.'' From the limb of a
tree that we passed hung a piece of wire
with an iron ring swinging at its upturned
end. A little farther was another tree and
another ring, and farther on another and
another.

``For heaven's sake, Buck, what are
these things?''

``Mart's a-gittin' ready fer a tourneyment.''

``A what?''

``That's whut Mart calls hit. He was
over to the Gap last Fourth o' July, an' he
says fellers over thar fix up like Kuklux and
go a-chargin' on hosses and takin' off them
rings with a ash-stick--`spear,' Mart
calls hit. He come back an' he says he's
a-goin' to win that ar tourneyment next
Fourth o' July. He's got the best hoss up
this river, and on Sundays him an' Dave
Branham goes a-chargin' along here a-picking
off these rings jus' a-flyin'; an' Mart
can do hit, I'm tellin' ye. Dave's mighty
good hisself, but he ain't nowhar 'longside
o' Mart.''

This was strange. I had told the Blight
about our Fourth of July, and how on the
Virginia side the ancient custom of the
tournament still survived. It was on the
last Fourth of July that she had meant to
come to the Gap. Truly civilization was
spreading throughout the hills.

``Who's Mart?''

``Mart's my brother,'' said little Buck.

``He was over to the Gap not long ago,
an' he come back mad as hops--'' He
stopped suddenly, and in such a way that
I turned my head, knowing that caution
had caught Buck.

``What about?''

``Oh, nothin','' said Buck carelessly;
``only he's been quar ever since. My sisters
says he's got a gal over thar, an'
he's a-pickin' off these rings more'n ever
now. He's going to win or bust a belly-
band.''

``Well, who's Dave Branham?''

Buck grinned. ``You jes axe my sister
Mollie. Thar she is.''

Before us was a white-framed house of
logs in the porch of which stood two stalwart,
good-looking girls. Could we stay
all night? We could--there was no
hesitation--and straight in we rode.

``Where's your father?'' Both girls
giggled, and one said, with frank unembarrassment:

``Pap's tight!'' That did not look
promising, but we had to stay just the
same. Buck helped me to unhitch the
mules, helped me also to catch minnows,
and in half an hour we started down the
river to try fishing before dark came.
Buck trotted along.

``Have you got a wagon, Buck?''

``What fer?''

``To bring the fish back.'' Buck was
not to be caught napping.

``We got that sled thar, but hit won't
be big enough,'' he said gravely. ``An'
our two-hoss wagon's out in the cornfield.
We'll have to string the fish, leave 'em in
the river and go fer 'em in the mornin'.''

``All right, Buck.'' The Blight was
greatly amused at Buck.

Two hundred yards down the road
stood his sisters over the figure of a man
outstretched in the road. Unashamed,
they smiled at us. The man in the road
was ``pap''--tight--and they were trying
to get him home.

We cast into a dark pool farther down
and fished most patiently; not a bite--not
a nibble.

``Are there any fish in here, Buck?''

``Dunno--used ter be.'' The shadows
deepened; we must go back to the house.

``Is there a dam below here, Buck?''

``Yes, thar's a dam about a half-mile
down the river.''

I was disgusted. No wonder there were
no bass in that pool.

``Why didn't you tell me that before?''

``You never axed me,'' said Buck placidly.

I began winding in my line.

``Ain't no bottom to that pool,'' said
Buck.

Now I never saw any rural community
where there was not a bottomless pool, and
I suddenly determined to shake one tradition
in at least one community. So I took
an extra fish-line, tied a stone to it, and
climbed into a canoe, Buck watching me,
but not asking a word.

``Get in, Buck.''

Silently he got in and I pushed off--to
the centre.

``This the deepest part, Buck?''

``I reckon so.''

I dropped in the stone and the line
reeled out some fifty feet and began to coil
on the surface of the water.

``I guess that's on the bottom, isn't it,
Buck?''

Buck looked genuinely distressed; but
presently he brightened.

``Yes,'' he said, `` ef hit ain't on a turtle's back.''

Literally I threw up both hands and
back we trailed--fishless.

``Reckon you won't need that two-hoss
wagon,'' said Buck.
``No, Buck, I think not.'' Buck looked
at the Blight and gave himself the pleasure
of his first chuckle. A big crackling, cheerful
fire awaited us. Through the door I
could see, outstretched on a bed in the next
room, the limp figure of ``pap'' in alcoholic
sleep. The old mother, big, kind-
faced, explained--and there was a heaven
of kindness and charity in her drawling
voice.

``Dad didn' often git that a-way,'' she
said; ``but he'd been out a-huntin' hawgs
that mornin' and had met up with some
teamsters and gone to a political speakin'
and had tuk a dram or two of their mean
whiskey, and not havin' nothin' on his
stummick, hit had all gone to his head.
No, `pap' didn't git that a-way often, and
he'd be all right jes' as soon as he slept it
off a while.'' The old woman moved
about with a cane and the sympathetic
Blight merely looked a question at her.

``Yes, she'd fell down a year ago--and
had sort o' hurt herself--didn't do nothin',
though, 'cept break one hip,'' she added, in
her kind, patient old voice. Did many
people stop there? Oh, yes, sometimes fifteen
at a time--they ``never turned nobody
away.'' And she had a big family,
little Cindy and the two big girls and Buck
and Mart--who was out somewhere--and
the hired man, and yes--``Thar was another
boy, but he was fitified,'' said one
of the big sisters.

``I beg your pardon,'' said the
wondering Blight, but she knew that phrase
wouldn't do, so she added politely:

``What did you say?''

``Fitified--Tom has fits. He's in a
asylum in the settlements.''

``Tom come back once an' he was all
right,'' said the old mother; ``but he
worried so much over them gals workin' so
hard that it plum' throwed him off ag'in,
and we had to send him back.''

``Do you work pretty hard?'' I asked
presently. Then a story came that was full
of unconscious pathos, because there was
no hint of complaint--simply a plain
statement of daily life. They got up before
the men, in order to get breakfast ready;
then they went with the men into the fields
--those two girls--and worked like men.
At dark they got supper ready, and after
the men went to bed they worked on--
washing dishes and clearing up the kitchen.
They took it turn about getting supper,
and sometimes, one said, she was ``so
plumb tuckered out that she'd drap on the
bed and go to sleep ruther than eat her
own supper.'' No wonder poor Tom had
to go back to the asylum. All the
while the two girls stood by the fire
looking, politely but minutely, at the two
strange girls and their curious clothes and
their boots, and the way they dressed their
hair. Their hard life seemed to have hurt
them none--for both were the pictures of
health--whatever that phrase means.

After supper ``pap'' came in, perfectly
sober, with a big ruddy face, giant frame,
and twinkling gray eyes. He was the man
who had risen to speak his faith in the
Hon. Samuel Budd that day on the size of
the Hon. Samuel's ears. He, too, was
unashamed and, as he explained his plight
again, he did it with little apology.

``I seed ye at the speakin' to-day. That
man Budd is a good man. He done somethin'
fer a boy o' mine over at the Gap.''
Like little Buck, he, too, stopped short.
``He's a good man an' I'm a-goin' to help
him.''

Yes, he repeated, quite irrelevantly, it
was hunting hogs all day with nothing to
eat and only mean whiskey to drink.
Mart had not come in yet--he was
``workin' out'' now.

``He's the best worker in these
mountains,'' said the old woman; ``Mart works
too hard.''

The hired man appeared and joined us
at the fire. Bedtime came, and I whispered
jokingly to the Blight:

``I believe I'll ask that good-looking
one to `set up' with me.'' ``Settin' up''
is what courting is called in the hills. The
couple sit up in front of the fire after
everybody else has gone to bed. The man
puts his arm around the girl's neck and
whispers; then she puts her arm around his
neck and whispers--so that the rest may
not hear. This I had related to the Blight,
and now she withered me.

``You just do, now!''

I turned to the girl in question, whose
name was Mollie. ``Buck told me to ask
you who Dave Branham was.'' Mollie
wheeled, blushing and angry, but Buck had
darted cackling out the door. ``Oh,'' I
said, and I changed the subject. ``What
time do you get up?''

``Oh, 'bout crack o' day.'' I was tired,
and that was discouraging.

``Do you get up that early every morning?''

``No,'' was the quick answer; ``a
mornin' later.''

A morning later, Mollie got up, each
morning. The Blight laughed.

Pretty soon the two girls were taken into
the next room, which was a long one, with
one bed in one dark corner, one in the
other, and a third bed in the middle. The
feminine members of the family all followed
them out on the porch and watched
them brush their teeth, for they had never
seen tooth-brushes before. They watched
them prepare for bed--and I could hear
much giggling and comment and many
questions, all of which culminated, by and
by, in a chorus of shrieking laughter.
That climax, as I learned next morning,
was over the Blight's hot-water bag.
Never had their eyes rested on an article
of more wonder and humor than that
water bag.

By and by, the feminine members came
back and we sat around the fire. Still
Mart did not appear, though somebody
stepped into the kitchen, and from the
warning glance that Mollie gave Buck
when she left the room I guessed that the
newcomer was her lover Dave. Pretty
soon the old man yawned.

``Well, mammy, I reckon this stranger's
about ready to lay down, if you've got a
place fer him.''

``Git a light, Buck,'' said the old
woman. Buck got a light--a chimneyless,
smoking oil-lamp--and led me into the
same room where the Blight and my little
sister were. Their heads were covered
up, but the bed in the gloom of one corner
was shaking with their smothered laughter.
Buck pointed to the middle bed.

``I can get along without that light,
Buck,'' I said, and I must have been
rather haughty and abrupt, for a stifled
shriek came from under the bedclothes in
the corner and Buck disappeared swiftly.
Preparations for bed are simple in the
mountains--they were primitively simple
for me that night. Being in knickerbockers,
I merely took off my coat and
shoes. Presently somebody else stepped
into the room and the bed in the other
corner creaked. Silence for a while.
Then the door opened, and the head of the
old woman was thrust in.

``Mart!'' she said coaxingly; ``git up
thar now an' climb over inter bed with
that ar stranger.''

That was Mart at last, over in the
corner. Mart turned, grumbled, and, to my
great pleasure, swore that he wouldn't.
The old woman waited a moment.

``Mart,'' she said again with gentle
imperiousness, `` git up thar now, I tell ye
--you've got to sleep with that thar
stranger.''

She closed the door and with a snort
Mart piled into bed with me. I gave him
plenty of room and did not introduce
myself. A little more dark silence--the
shaking of the bed under the hilarity
of those astonished, bethrilled, but
thoroughly unfrightened young women in the
dark corner on my left ceased, and again
the door opened. This time it was the
hired man, and I saw that the trouble was
either that neither Mart nor Buck wanted
to sleep with the hired man or that neither
wanted to sleep with me. A long silence
and then the boy Buck slipped in. The
hired man delivered himself with the
intonation somewhat of a circuit rider.

``I've been a-watchin' that star thar,
through the winder. Sometimes hit moves,
then hit stands plum' still, an' ag'in hit gits
to pitchin'.'' The hired man must have
been touching up mean whiskey himself.
Meanwhile, Mart seemed to be having
spells of troubled slumber. He would
snore gently, accentuate said snore with a
sudden quiver of his body and then wake
up with a climacteric snort and start that
would shake the bed. This was repeated
several times, and I began to think of the
unfortunate Tom who was ``fitified.''
Mart seemed on the verge of a fit himself,
and I waited apprehensively for each
snorting climax to see if fits were a family
failing. They were not. Peace overcame
Mart and he slept deeply, but not I. The
hired man began to show symptoms. He
would roll and groan, dreaming of feuds,
_quorum pars magna fuit_, it seemed, and
of religious conversion, in which he feared
he was not so great. Twice he said aloud:

``An' I tell you thar wouldn't a one of
'em have said a word if I'd been killed
stone-dead.'' Twice he said it almost
weepingly, and now and then he would
groan appealingly:

``O Lawd, have mercy on my pore
soul!''

Fortunately those two tired girls slept--
I could hear their breathing--but sleep
there was little for me. Once the troubled
soul with the hoe got up and stumbled out
to the water-bucket on the porch to soothe
the fever or whatever it was that was
burning him, and after that he was quiet.
I awoke before day. The dim light at the
window showed an empty bed--Buck and
the hired man were gone. Mart was slipping
out of the side of my bed, but the
girls still slept on. I watched Mart, for
I guessed I might now see what, perhaps,
is the distinguishing trait of American
civilization down to its bed-rock, as you
find it through the West and in the Southern
hills--a chivalrous respect for women.
Mart thought I was asleep. Over in the
corner were two creatures the like of which
I supposed he had never seen and would
not see, since he came in too late the night
before, and was going away too early now
--and two angels straight from heaven
could not have stirred my curiosity any
more than they already must have stirred
his. But not once did Mart turn his eyes,
much less his face, toward the corner where
they were--not once, for I watched him
closely. And when he went out he sent
his little sister back for his shoes, which
the night-walking hired man had
accidentally kicked toward the foot of the
strangers' bed. In a minute I was out
after him, but he was gone. Behind me
the two girls opened their eyes on a room
that was empty save for them. Then the
Blight spoke (this I was told later).

``Dear,'' she said, ``have our room-
mates gone?''

Breakfast at dawn. The mountain girls
were ready to go to work. All looked
sorry to have us leave. They asked us to
come back again, and they meant it. We
said we would like to come back--and we
meant it--to see them--the kind old
mother, the pioneer-like old man, sturdy
little Buck, shy little Cindy, the elusive,
hard-working, unconsciously shivery Mart,
and the two big sisters. As we started
back up the river the sisters started for the
fields, and I thought of their stricken
brother in the settlements, who must have
been much like Mart.

Back up the Big Black Mountain we
toiled, and late in the afternoon we were
on the State line that runs the crest of the
Big Black. Right on top and bisected by
that State line sat a dingy little shack, and
there, with one leg thrown over the pommel
of his saddle, sat Marston, drinking
water from a gourd.

``I was coming over to meet you,'' he
said, smiling at the Blight, who, greatly
pleased, smiled back at him. The shack
was a ``blind Tiger'' where whiskey could
be sold to Kentuckians on the Virginia side
and to Virginians on the Kentucky side.
Hanging around were the slouching figures
of several moonshiners and the villainous
fellow who ran it.

``They are real ones all right,'' said
Marston. ``One of them killed a revenue
officer at that front door last week, and
was killed by the posse as he was trying
to escape out of the back window. That
house will be in ashes soon,'' he added.
And it was.

As we rode down the mountain we told
him about our trip and the people with
whom we had spent the night--and all the
time he was smiling curiously.

``Buck,'' he said. ``Oh, yes, I know
that little chap. Mart had him posted
down there on the river to toll you to his
house--to toll YOU,'' he added to the
Blight. He pulled in his horse suddenly,
turned and looked up toward the top of
the mountain.

``Ah, I thought so.'' We all looked
back. On the edge of the cliff, far upward,
on which the ``blind Tiger'' sat was
a gray horse, and on it was a man who,
motionless, was looking down at us.

``He's been following you all the way,''
said the engineer.

``Who's been following us?'' I asked.

``That's Mart up there--my friend and
yours,'' said Marston to the Blight. ``I'm
rather glad I didn't meet you on the other
side of the mountain--that's `the Wild
Dog.' '' The Blight looked incredulous, but
Marston knew the man and knew the horse.

So Mart--hard-working Mart--was
the Wild Dog, and he was content to do
the Blight all service without thanks,
merely for the privilege of secretly seeing
her face now and then; and yet he would
not look upon that face when she was a
guest under his roof and asleep.

Still, when we dropped behind the two
girls I gave Marston the Hon. Sam's
warning, and for a moment he looked
rather grave.

``Well,'' he said, smiling, ``if I'm
found in the road some day, you'll know
who did it.''

I shook my head. ``Oh, no; he isn't
that bad.''

``I don't know,'' said Marston.

The smoke of the young engineer's coke
ovens lay far below us and the Blight had
never seen a coke-plant before. It looked
like Hades even in the early dusk--the
snake-like coil of fiery ovens stretching up
the long, deep ravine, and the smoke-
streaked clouds of fire, trailing like a
yellow mist over them, with a fierce white
blast shooting up here and there when the
lid of an oven was raised, as though to add
fresh temperature to some particular male-
factor in some particular chamber of torment.
Humanity about was joyous, however.
Laughter and banter and song came
from the cabins that lined the big ravine
and the little ravines opening into it. A
banjo tinkled at the entrance of ``Possum
Trot,'' sacred to the darkies. We moved
toward it. On the stoop sat an ecstatic
picker and in the dust shuffled three
pickaninnies--one boy and two girls--the
youngest not five years old. The crowd
that was gathered about them gave way
respectfully as we drew near; the little
darkies showed their white teeth in jolly
grins, and their feet shook the dust in
happy competition. I showered a few
coins for the Blight and on we went--into
the mouth of the many-peaked Gap. The
night train was coming in and everybody
had a smile of welcome for the Blight--
post-office assistant, drug clerk, soda-water
boy, telegraph operator, hostler, who came
for the mules--and when tired, but happy,
she slipped from her saddle to the ground,
she then and there gave me what she
usually reserves for Christmas morning,
and that, too, while Marston was looking
on. Over her shoulder I smiled at him.

That night Marston and the Blight sat
under the vines on the porch until the late
moon rose over Wallens Ridge, and, when
bedtime came, the Blight said impatiently
that she did not want to go home. She
had to go, however, next day, but on the
next Fourth of July she would surely come
again; and, as the young engineer mounted
his horse and set his face toward Black
Mountain, I knew that until that day, for
him, a blight would still be in the hills.

V

BACK TO THE HILLS

Winter drew a gray veil over the
mountains, wove into it tiny
jewels of frost and turned it many times
into a mask of snow, before spring broke
again among them and in Marston's
impatient heart. No spring had ever been
like that to him. The coming of young
leaves and flowers and bird-song meant but
one joy for the hills to him--the Blight
was coming back to them. All those weary
waiting months he had clung grimly to his
work. He must have heard from her
sometimes, else I think he would have gone
to her; but I knew the Blight's pen was
reluctant and casual for anybody, and,
moreover, she was having a strenuous winter at
home. That he knew as well, for he took
one paper, at least, that he might simply
read her name. He saw accounts of her
many social doings as well, and ate his
heart out as lovers have done for all time
gone and will do for all time to come.

I, too, was away all winter, but I got
back a month before the Blight, to learn
much of interest that had come about.
The Hon. Samuel Budd had ear-wagged
himself into the legislature, had moved
that Court-House, and was going to be
State Senator. The Wild Dog had confined
his reckless career to his own hills
through the winter, but when spring came,
migratory-like, he began to take frequent
wing to the Gap. So far, he and Marston
had never come into personal conflict,
though Marston kept ever ready for him,
and several times they had met in the road,
eyed each other in passing and made no
hipward gesture at all. But then Marston
had never met him when the Wild Dog was
drunk--and when sober, I took it that the
one act of kindness from the engineer
always stayed his hand. But the Police
Guard at the Gap saw him quite often--
and to it he was a fearful and elusive
nuisance. He seemed to be staying
somewhere within a radius of ten miles, for
every night or two he would circle about
the town, yelling and firing his pistol, and
when we chased him, escaping through the
Gap or up the valley or down in Lee.
Many plans were laid to catch him, but all
failed, and finally he came in one day and
gave himself up and paid his fines. Afterward
I recalled that the time of this
gracious surrender to law and order was
but little subsequent to one morning when
a woman who brought butter and eggs to
my little sister casually asked when that
``purty slim little gal with the snappin'
black eyes was a-comin' back.'' And the
little sister, pleased with the remembrance,
had said cordially that she was coming
soon.

Thereafter the Wild Dog was in town
every day, and he behaved well until one
Saturday he got drunk again, and this
time, by a peculiar chance, it was Marston
again who leaped on him, wrenched his
pistol away, and put him in the calaboose.
Again he paid his fine, promptly visited a
``blind Tiger,'' came back to town, emptied
another pistol at Marston on sight and fled
for the hills.

The enraged guard chased him for two
days and from that day the Wild Dog was
a marked man. The Guard wanted many
men, but if they could have had their
choice they would have picked out of the
world of malefactors that same Wild Dog.

Why all this should have thrown the
Hon. Samuel Budd into such gloom I could
not understand--except that the Wild Dog
had been so loyal a henchman to him in
politics, but later I learned a better reason,
that threatened to cost the Hon. Sam much
more than the fines that, as I later learned,
he had been paying for his mountain
friend.

Meanwhile, the Blight was coming from
her Northern home through the green lowlands
of Jersey, the fat pastures of Maryland,
and, as the white dresses of schoolgirls
and the shining faces of darkies thickened
at the stations, she knew that she was
getting southward. All the way she was
known and welcomed, and next morning
she awoke with the keen air of the distant
mountains in her nostrils and an expectant
light in her happy eyes. At least the light
was there when she stepped daintily from
the dusty train and it leaped a little, I
fancied, when Marston, bronzed and flushed,
held out his sunburnt hand. Like a convent
girl she babbled questions to the little
sister as the dummy puffed along and she
bubbled like wine over the midsummer
glory of the hills. And well she might, for
the glory of the mountains, full-leafed,
shrouded in evening shadows, blue-veiled
in the distance, was unspeakable, and
through the Gap the sun was sending his
last rays as though he, too, meant to take a
peep at her before he started around the
world to welcome her next day. And she
must know everything at once. The
anniversary of the Great Day on which all men
were pronounced free and equal was only
ten days distant and preparations were
going on. There would be a big crowd of
mountaineers and there would be sports
of all kinds, and games, but the tournament
was to be the feature of the day.

``A tournament?'' ``Yes, a tournament,''
repeated the little sister, and Marston was
going to ride and the mean thing would
not tell what mediaeval name he meant to
take. And the Hon. Sam Budd--did the
Blight remember him? (Indeed, she did)
--had a ``dark horse,'' and he had bet
heavily that his dark horse would win
the tournament--whereat the little sister
looked at Marston and at the Blight and
smiled disdainfully. And the Wild Dog--
DID she remember him? I checked the
sister here with a glance, for Marston
looked uncomfortable and the Blight saw
me do it, and on the point of saying
something she checked herself, and her face, I
thought, paled a little.

That night I learned why--when she
came in from the porch after Marston was
gone. I saw she had wormed enough of
the story out of him to worry her, for her
face this time was distinctly pale. I would

Book of the day: A Knight of the Cumberland by John Fox Jr. - Full Text Free Book (Part 1/2)