Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Avinash Kothare, Tiffany Vergon, Charles Aldarondo,
Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE CALL OF THE CUMBERLANDS
CHARLES NEVILLE BUCK
Close to the serried backbone of the Cumberland ridge through a sky of
mountain clarity, the sun seemed hesitating before its descent to the
horizon. The sugar-loaf cone that towered above a creek called Misery
was pointed and edged with emerald tracery where the loftiest timber
thrust up its crest plumes into the sun. On the hillsides it would be
light for more than an hour yet, but below, where the waters tossed
themselves along in a chorus of tiny cascades, the light was already
thickening into a cathedral gloom. Down there the "furriner" would have
seen only the rough course of the creek between moss-velveted and
shaded bowlders of titanic proportions. The native would have
recognized the country road in these tortuous twistings. Now there were
no travelers, foreign or native, and no sounds from living throats
except at intervals the clear "Bob White" of a nesting partridge, and
the silver confidence of the red cardinal flitting among the pines.
Occasionally, too, a stray whisper of breeze stole along the creek-bed
and rustled the beeches, or stirred in the broad, fanlike leaves of the
"cucumber trees." A great block of sandstone, to whose summit a man
standing in his saddle could scarcely reach his fingertips, towered
above the stream, with a gnarled scrub oak clinging tenaciously to its
apex. Loftily on both sides climbed the mountains cloaked in laurel and
Suddenly the leafage was thrust aside from above by a cautious hand,
and a shy, half-wild girl appeared in the opening. For an instant she
halted, with her brown fingers holding back the brushwood, and raised
her face as though listening. Across the slope drifted the call of the
partridge, and with perfect imitation she whistled back an answer. It
would have seemed appropriate to anyone who had seen her that she
should talk bird language to the birds. She was herself as much a wood
creature as they, and very young. That she was beautiful was not
strange. The women of the mountains have a morning-glory bloom--until
hardship and drudgery have taken toll of their youth--and she could not
have been more than sixteen.
It was June, and the hills, which would be bleakly forbidding barriers
in winter, were now as blithely young as though they had never known
the scourging of sleet or the blight of wind. The world was abloom, and
the girl, too, was in her early June, and sentiently alive with the
strength of its full pulse-tide. She was slim and lithely resilient of
step. Her listening attitude was as eloquent of pausing elasticity as
that of the gray squirrel. Her breathing was soft, though she had come
down a steep mountainside, and as fragrant as the breath of the elder
bushes that dashed the banks with white sprays of blossom. She brought
with her to the greens and grays and browns of the woodland's heart a
new note of color, for her calico dress was like the red cornucopias of
the trumpet-flower, and her eyes were blue like little scraps of sky.
Her heavy, brown-red hair fell down over her shoulders in loose
profusion. The coarse dress was freshly briar-torn, and in many places
patched; and it hung to the lithe curves of her body in a fashion which
told that she wore little else. She had no hat, but the same spirit of
childlike whimsey that caused her eyes to dance as she answered the
partridge's call had led her to fashion for her own crowning a headgear
of laurel leaves and wild roses. As she stood with the toes of one bare
foot twisting in the gratefully cool moss, she laughed with the sheer
exhilaration of life and youth, and started out on the table top of the
huge rock. But there she halted suddenly with a startled exclamation,
and drew instinctively back. What she saw might well have astonished
her, for it was a thing she had never seen before and of which she had
never heard. Now she paused in indecision between going forward toward
exploration and retreating from new and unexplained phenomena. In her
quick instinctive movements was something like the irresolution of the
fawn whose nostrils have dilated to a sense of possible danger.
Finally, reassured by the silence, she slipped across the broad face of
the flat rock for a distance of twenty-five feet, and paused again to
At the far edge lay a pair of saddlebags, such as form the only
practical equipment for mountain travelers. They were ordinary
saddlebags, made from the undressed hide of a brindle cow, and they
were fat with tight packing. A pair of saddlebags lying unclaimed at
the roadside would in themselves challenge curiosity. But in this
instance they gave only the prefatory note to a stranger story. Near
them lay a tin box, littered with small and unfamiliar-looking tubes of
soft metal, all grotesquely twisted and stained, and beside the box was
a strangely shaped plaque of wood, smeared with a dozen hues. That this
plaque was a painter's sketching palette was a thing which she could
not know, since the ways of artists had to do with a world as remote
from her own as the life of the moon or stars. It was one of those
vague mysteries that made up the wonderful life of "down below." Even
the names of such towns as Louisville and Lexington meant nothing
definite to this girl who could barely spell out, "The cat caught the
rat," in the primer. Yet here beside the box and palette stood a
strange jointed tripod, and upon it was some sort of sheet. What it all
meant, and what was on the other side of the sheet became a matter of
keenly alluring interest. Why had these things been left here in such
confusion? If there was a man about who owned them he would doubtless
return to claim them. Possibly he was wandering about the broken bed of
the creek, searching for a spring, and that would not take long. No one
drank creek water. At any moment he might return and discover her. Such
a contingency held untold terrors for her shyness, and yet to turn her
back on so interesting a mystery would be insupportable. Accordingly,
she crept over, eyes and ears alert, and slipped around to the front of
the queer tripod, with all her muscles poised in readiness for flight.
A half-rapturous and utterly astonished cry broke from her lips. She
stared a moment, then dropped to the moss-covered rock, leaning back on
her brown hands and gazing intently. She sat there forgetful of
everything except the sketch which stood on the collapsible easel.
"Hit's purty!" she approved, in a low, musical murmur. "Hit's plumb
dead _beautiful_!" Her eyes were glowing with delighted approval.
She had never before seen a picture more worthy than the chromos of
advertising calendars and the few crude prints that find their way into
the roughest places, and she was a passionate, though totally
unconscious, devotee of beauty. Now she was sitting before a sketch,
its paint still moist, which more severe critics would have pronounced
worthy of accolade. Of course, it was not a finished picture--merely a
study of what lay before her--but the hand that had placed these
brushstrokes on the academy board was the sure, deft hand of a master
of landscape, who had caught the splendid spirit of the thing, and
fixed it immutably in true and glowing appreciation. Who he was; where
he had gone; why his work stood there unfinished and abandoned, were
details which for the moment this half-savage child-woman forgot to
question. She was conscious only of a sense of revelation and awe. Then
she saw other boards, like the one upon the easel, piled near the paint
-box. These were dry, and represented the work of other days; but they
were all pictures of her own mountains, and in each of them, as in this
one, was something that made her heart leap.
To her own people, these steep hillsides and "coves" and valleys were
a matter of course. In their stony soil, they labored by day: and in
their shadows slept when work was done. Yet, someone had discovered
that they held a picturesque and rugged beauty; that they were not
merely steep fields where the plough was useless and the hoe must be
used. She must tell Samson: Samson, whom she held in an artless
exaltation of hero-worship; Samson, who was so "smart" that he thought
about things beyond her understanding; Samson, who could not only read
and write, but speculate on problematical matters.
Suddenly she came to her feet with a swift-darting impulse of alarm.
Her ear had caught a sound. She cast searching glances about her, but
the tangle was empty of humanity. The water still murmured over the
rocks undisturbed. There was no sign of human presence, other than
herself, that her eyes could discover--and yet to her ears came the
sound again, and this time more distinctly. It was the sound of a man's
voice, and it was moaning as if in pain. She rose and searched vainly
through the bushes of the hillside where the rock ran out from the
woods. She lifted her skirts and splashed her bare feet in the shallow
creek water, wading persistently up and down. Her shyness was
forgotten. The groan was a groan of a human creature in distress, and
she must find and succor the person from whom it came.
Certain sounds are baffling as to direction. A voice from overhead or
broken by echoing obstacles does not readily betray its source. Finally
she stood up and listened once more intently--her attitude full of
"I'm shore a fool," she announced, half-aloud. "I'm shore a plumb
fool." Then she turned and disappeared in the deep cleft between the
gigantic bowlder upon which she had been sitting and another--small
only by comparison. There, ten feet down, in a narrow alley littered
with ragged stones, lay the crumpled body of a man. It lay with the
left arm doubled under it, and from a gash in the forehead trickled a
thin stream of blood. Also, it was the body of such a man as she had
not seen before.
Although from the man in the gulch came a low groan mingled with his
breathing, it was not such a sound as comes from fully conscious lips,
but rather that of a brain dulled into coma. His lids drooped over his
eyes, hiding the pupils; and his cheeks were pallid, with outstanding
veins above the temples.
Freed from her fettering excess of shyness by his condition, the girl
stepped surely from foothold to foothold until she reached his side.
She stood for a moment with one hand on the dripping walls of rock,
looking down while her hair fell about her face. Then, dropping to her
knees, she shifted the doubled body into a leaning posture,
straightened the limbs, and began exploring with efficient fingers for
She was a slight girl, and not tall; but the curves of her young
figure were slimly rounded, and her firm muscles were capably strong.
This man was, in comparison with those rugged types she knew,
effeminately delicate. His slim, long-fingered hands reminded her of a
bird's claws. The up-rolled sleeves of a blue flannel shirt disclosed
forearms well-enough sinewed, but instead of being browned to the hue
of a saddle-skirt, they were white underneath and pinkly red above.
Moreover, they were scaling in the fashion of a skin not inured to
weather beating. Though the man had thought on setting out from
civilization that he was suiting his appearance to the environment, the
impression he made on this native girl was distinctly foreign. The
flannel shirt might have passed, though hardly without question, as
native wear, but the khaki riding-breeches and tan puttees were utterly
out of the picture, and at the neck of his shirt was a soft-blue tie!
--had he not been hurt, the girl must have laughed at that.
A felt hat lay in a puddle of water, and, except for a blond mustache,
the face was clean shaven and smooth of skin. Long locks of brown hair
fell away from the forehead. The helplessness and pallor gave an
exaggerated seeming of frailty.
Despite an ingrained contempt for weaklings, the girl felt, as she
raised the head and propped the shoulders, an intuitive friendliness
for the mysterious stranger.
She had found the left arm limp above the wrist, and her fingers had
diagnosed a broken bone. But unconsciousness must have come from the
blow on the head, where a bruise was already blackening, and a gash
still trickled blood.
She lifted her skirt, and tore a long strip of cotton from her single
petticoat. Then she picked her barefooted way swiftly to the creek-bed,
where she drenched the cloth for bathing and bandaging the wound. It
required several trips through the littered cleft, for the puddles
between the rocks were stale and brackish; but these journeys she made
with easy and untrammeled swiftness. When she had done what she could
by way of first aid, she stood looking down at the man, and shook her
"Now ef I jest had a little licker," she mused. "Thet air what he
needs--a little licker!"
A sudden inspiration turned her eyes to the crest of the rock. She did
not go round by the path, but pulled herself up the sheer face by
hanging roots and slippery projections, as easily as a young squirrel.
On the flat surface, she began unstrapping the saddlebags, and, after a
few moments of rummaging among their contents, she smiled with
satisfaction. Her hand brought out a leather-covered flask with a
silver bottom. She held the thing up curiously, and looked at it. For a
little time, the screw top puzzled her. So, she sat down cross-legged,
and experimented until she had solved its method of opening.
Then, she slid over the side again, and at the bottom held the flask
up to the light. Through the side slits in the alligator-skin covering,
she saw the deep color of the contents; and, as she lifted the nozzle,
she sniffed contemptuously. Then, she took a sample draught herself--to
make certain that it was whiskey.
She brushed her lips scornfully with the back of her hand.
"Huh!" she exclaimed. "Hit hain't nothin' but red licker, but maybe
hit mout be better'n nuthin'." She was accustomed to seeing whiskey
freely drunk, but the whiskey she knew was colorless as water, and
sweetish to the palate.
She knew the "mountain dew" which paid no revenue tax, and which, as
her people were fond of saying, "mout make a man drunk, but couldn't
git him wrong." After tasting the "fotched-on" substitute, she gravely,
in accordance with the fixed etiquette of the hills, wiped the mouth of
the bottle on the palm of her hand, then, kneeling once more on the
stones, she lifted the stranger's head in her supporting arm, and
pressed the flask to his lips. After that, she chafed the wrist which
was not hurt, and once more administered the tonic. Finally, the man's
lids fluttered, and his lips moved. Then, he opened his eyes. He opened
them waveringly, and seemed on the point of closing them again, when he
became conscious of a curved cheek, suddenly coloring to a deep flush,
a few inches from his own. He saw in the same glance a pair of wide
blue eyes, a cloud of brown-red hair that fell down and brushed his
face, and he felt a slender young arm about his neck and shoulders.
"Hello!" said the stranger, vaguely. "I seem to have----" He broke
off, and his lips smiled. It was a friendly, understanding smile, and
the girl, fighting hard the shy impulse to drop his shoulders, and flee
into the kind masking of the bushes, was in a measure reassured.
"You must hev fell offen the rock," she enlightened.
"I think I might have fallen into worse circumstances," replied the
"I reckon you kin set up after a little."
"Yes, of course." The man suddenly realized that although he was quite
comfortable as he was, he could scarcely expect to remain permanently
in the support of her bent arm. He attempted to prop himself on his
hurt hand, and relaxed with a twinge of extreme pain. The color, which
had begun to creep back into his cheeks, left them again, and his lips
compressed themselves tightly to bite off an exclamation of suffering.
"Thet thar left arm air busted," announced the young woman, quietly.
"Ye've got ter be heedful."
Had one of her own men hurt himself, and behaved stoically, it would
have been mere matter of course; but her eyes mirrored a pleased
surprise at the stranger's good-natured nod and his quiet refusal to
give expression to pain. It relieved her of the necessity for contempt.
"I'm afraid," apologized the painter, "that I've been a great deal of
trouble to you."
Her lips and eyes were sober as she replied.
"I reckon thet's all right."
"And what's worse, I've got to be more trouble. Did you see anything
of a brown mule?"
She shook her head.
"He must have wandered off. May I ask to whom I'm indebted for this
first aid to the injured?"
"I don't know what ye means."
She had propped him against the rocks, and sat near-by, looking into
his face with almost disconcerting steadiness; her solemn-pupiled eyes
were unblinking, unsmiling. Unaccustomed to the gravity of the
mountaineer in the presence of strangers, he feared that he had
offended her. Perhaps his form of speech struck her as affected.
"Why, I mean who are you?" he laughed.
"I hain't nobody much. I jest lives over yon."
"But," insisted the man, "surely you have a name."
"Then, Miss Sally, I want to thank you."
Once more she nodded, and, for the first time, let her eyes drop,
while she sat nursing her knees. Finally, she glanced up, and asked
with plucked-up courage:
"Stranger, what mout yore name be?"
"How'd ye git hurt?"
He shook his head.
"I was painting--up there," he said; "and I guess I got too absorbed
in the work. I stepped backward to look at the canvas, and forgot where
the edge was. I stepped too far."
"Hit don't hardly pay a man ter walk backward in these hyar
mountings," she told him. The painter looked covertly up to see if at
last he had discovered a flash of humor. He had the idea that her lips
would shape themselves rather fascinatingly in a smile, but her pupils
mirrored no mirth. She had spoken in perfect seriousness.
The man rose to his feet, but he tottered and reeled against the wall
of ragged stone. The blow on his head had left him faint and dizzy. He
sat down again.
"I'm afraid," he ruefully admitted, "that I'm not quite ready for
discharge from your hospital."
"You jest set where yer at." The girl rose, and pointed up the
mountainside. "I'll light out across the hill, and fotch Samson an' his
"Who and where is Samson?" he inquired. He realized that the bottom of
the valley would shortly thicken into darkness, and that the way out,
unguided, would become impossible. "It sounds like the name of a strong
"I means Samson South," she enlightened, as though further description
of one so celebrated would be redundant. "He's over thar 'bout three
"Three quarters of a mile?"
She nodded. What else could three quarters mean?
"How long will it take you?" he asked.
She deliberated. "Samson's hoein' corn in the fur-hill field. He'll
hev ter cotch his mule. Hit mout tek a half-hour."
Lescott had been riding the tortuous labyrinths that twisted through
creek bottoms and over ridges for several days. In places two miles an
hour had been his rate of speed, though mounted and following so-called
roads. She must climb a mountain through the woods. He thought it
"mout" take longer, and his scepticism found utterance.
"You can't do it in a half-hour, can you?"
"I'll jest take my foot in my hand, an' light out." She turned, and
with a nod was gone. The man rose, and made his way carefully over to a
mossy bank, where he sat down with his back against a century-old tree
The beauty of this forest interior had first lured him to pause, and
then to begin painting. The place had not treated him kindly, as the
pain in his wrist reminded.
No, but the beauty was undeniable. A clump of rhododendron, a little
higher up, dashed its pale clusters against a background of evergreen
thicket, and a catalpa tree loaned the perfume of its white blossoms
with their wild little splashes of crimson and purple and orange to the
incense which the elder bushes were contributing.
Climbing fleetly up through steep and tangled slopes, and running as
fleetly down; crossing a brawling little stream on a slender trunk of
fallen poplar; the girl hastened on her mission. Her lungs drank the
clear air in regular tireless draughts. Once only, she stopped and drew
back. There was a sinister rustle in the grass, and something glided
into her path and lay coiled there, challenging her with an ominous
rattle, and with wicked, beady eyes glittering out of a swaying, arrow
-shaped head. Her own eyes instinctively hardened, and she glanced
quickly about for a heavy piece of loose timber. But that was only for
an instant, then she took a circuitous course, and left her enemy in
undisputed possession of the path.
"I hain't got no time ter fool with ye now, old rattlesnake," she
called back, as she went. "Ef I wasn't in sech a hurry, I'd shore bust
At last, she came to a point where a clearing rose on the mountainside
above her. The forest blanket was stripped off to make way for a fenced-
in and crazily tilting field of young corn. High up and beyond, close
to the bald shoulders of sandstone which threw themselves against the
sky, was the figure of a man. As the girl halted at the foot of the
field, at last panting from her exertions, he was sitting on the rail
fence, looking absently down on the outstretched panorama below him. It
is doubtful whether his dreaming eyes were as conscious of what he saw
as of other things which his imagination saw beyond the haze of the
last far rim. Against the fence rested his abandoned hoe, and about him
a number of lean hounds scratched and dozed in the sun. Samson South
had little need of hounds; but, in another century, his people, turning
their backs on Virginia affluence to invite the hardships of pioneer
life, had brought with them certain of the cavaliers' instincts. A
hundred years in the stagnant back-waters of the world had brought to
their descendants a lapse into illiteracy and semi-squalor, but through
it all had fought that thin, insistent flame of instinct. Such a
survival was the boy's clinging to his hounds. Once, they had
symbolized the spirit of the nobility; the gentleman's fondness for his
sport with horse and dog and gun. Samson South did not know the origin
of his fondness for this remnant of a pack. He did not know that in the
long ago his forefathers had fought on red fields with Bruce and the
Stuarts. He only knew that through his crudities something indefinable,
yet compelling, was at war with his life, filling him with great and
shapeless longings. He at once loved and resented these ramparts of
stone that hemmed in his hermit race and world.
He was not, strictly speaking, a man. His age was perhaps twenty. He
sat loose-jointed and indolent on the top rail of the fence, his hands
hanging over his knees: his hoe forgotten. His feet were bare, and his
jeans breeches were supported by a single suspender strap. Pushed well
to the back of his head was a battered straw hat, of the sort rurally
known as the "ten-cent jimmy." Under its broken brim, a long lock of
black hair fell across his forehead. So much of his appearance was
typical of the Kentucky mountaineer. His face was strongly individual,
and belonged to no type. Black brows and lashes gave a distinctiveness
to gray eyes so clear as to be luminous. A high and splendidly molded
forehead and a squarely blocked chin were free of that degeneracy which
marks the wasting of an in-bred people. The nose was straight, and the
mouth firm yet mobile. It was the face of the instinctive philosopher,
tanned to a hickory brown. In a stature of medium size, there was still
a hint of power and catamount alertness. If his attitude was at the
moment indolent, it was such indolence as drowses between bursts of
white-hot activity; a fighting man's aversion to manual labor which,
like the hounds, harked back to other generations. Near-by, propped
against the rails, rested a repeating rifle, though the people would
have told you that the truce in the "South-Hollman war" had been
unbroken for two years, and that no clansman need in these halcyon days
go armed afield.
Sally clambered lightly over the fence, and started on the last stage
of her journey, the climb across the young corn rows. It was a field
stood on end, and the hoed ground was uneven; but with no seeming of
weariness her red dress flashed steadfastly across the green spears,
and her voice was raised to shout: "Hello, Samson!"
The young man looked up and waved a languid greeting. He did not
remove his hat or descend from his place of rest, and Sally, who
expected no such attention, came smilingly on. Samson was her hero. It
seemed quite appropriate that one should have to climb steep
acclivities to reach him. Her enamored eyes saw in the top rail of the
fence a throne, which she was content to address from the ground level.
That he was fond of her and meant some day to marry her she knew, and
counted herself the most favored of women. The young men of the
neighboring coves, too, knew it, and respected his proprietary rights.
If he treated her with indulgent tolerance instead of chivalry, he was
merely adopting the accepted attitude of the mountain man for the
mountain woman, not unlike that of the red warrior for his squaw.
Besides, Sally was still almost a child, and Samson, with his twenty
years, looked down from a rank of seniority. He was the legitimate head
of the Souths, and some day, when the present truce ended, would be
their war-leader with certain blood debts to pay. Since his father had
been killed by a rifle shot from ambush, he had never been permitted to
forget that, and, had he been left alone, he would still have needed no
other mentor than the rankle in his heart.
But, if Samson sternly smothered the glint of tenderness which, at
sight of her, rose to his eyes, and recognized her greeting only in
casual fashion, it was because such was the requirement of his stoic
code. And to the girl who had been so slow of utterance and diffident
with the stranger, words now came fast and fluently as she told her
story of the man who lay hurt at the foot of the rock.
"Hit hain't long now tell sundown," she urged. "Hurry, Samson, an' git
yore mule. I've done give him my promise ter fotch ye right straight
Samson took off his hat, and tossed the heavy lock upward from his
forehead. His brow wrinkled with doubts.
"What sort of lookin' feller air he?"
While Sally sketched a description, the young man's doubt grew graver.
"This hain't no fit time ter be takin' in folks what we hain't
acquainted with," he objected. In the mountains, any time is the time
to take in strangers unless there are secrets to be guarded from
"Why hain't it?" demanded the girl. "He's hurt. We kain't leave him
layin' thar, kin we?"
Suddenly, her eyes caught sight of the rifle leaning near-by, and
straightway they filled with apprehension. Her militant love would have
turned to hate for Samson, should he have proved recreant to the
mission of reprisal in which he was biding his time, yet the coming of
the day when the truce must end haunted her thoughts. Heretofore, that
day had always been to her remotely vague--a thing belonging to the
future. Now, with a sudden and appalling menace, it seemed to loom
across the present. She came close, and her voice sank with her sinking
"What air hit?" she tensely demanded. "What air hit, Samson? What fer
hev ye fetched yer gun ter the field?"
The boy laughed. "Oh, hit ain't nothin' pertic'ler," he reassured.
"Hit hain't nothin' fer a gal ter fret herself erbout, only I kinder
suspicions strangers jest now."
"Air the truce busted?" She put the question in a tense, deep-breathed
whisper, and the boy replied casually, almost indifferently.
"No, Sally, hit hain't jest ter say busted, but 'pears like hit's
right smart cracked. I reckon, though," he added in half-disgust,
"nothin' won't come of hit."
Somewhat reassured, she bethought herself again of her mission.
"This here furriner hain't got no harm in him, Samson," she pleaded.
"He 'pears ter be more like a gal than a man. He's real puny. He's got
white skin and a bow of ribbon on his neck--an' he paints pictchers."
The boy's face had been hardening with contempt as the description
advanced, but at the last words a glow came to his eyes, and he
demanded almost breathlessly:
"Paints pictchers? How do ye know that?"
"I seen 'em. He was paintin' one when he fell offen the rock and
busted his arm. It's shore es beautiful es--" she broke off, then added
with a sudden peal of laughter--"es er pictcher."
The young man slipped down from the fence, and reached for the rifle.
The hoe he left where it stood.
"I'll git the nag," he announced briefly, and swung off without
further parley toward the curling spiral of smoke that marked a cabin a
quarter of a mile below. Ten minutes later, his bare feet swung against
the ribs of a gray mule, and his rifle lay balanced across the
unsaddled withers. Sally sat mountain fashion behind him, facing
straight to the side.
So they came along the creek bed and into the sight of the man who
still sat propped against the mossy rock. As Lescott looked up, he
closed the case of his watch, and put it back into his pocket with a
"Snappy work, that!" he called out. "Just thirty-three minutes. I
didn't believe it could be done."
Samson's face was mask-like, but, as he surveyed the foreigner, only
the ingrained dictates of the country's hospitable code kept out of his
eyes a gleam of scorn for this frail member of a sex which should be
"Howdy?" he said. Then he added suspiciously: "What mout yer business
be in these parts, stranger?"
Lescott gave the odyssey of his wanderings, since he had rented a mule
at Hixon and ridden through the country, sketching where the mood
prompted and sleeping wherever he found a hospitable roof at the coming
of the evening.
"Ye come from over on Crippleshin?" The boy flashed the question with
a sudden hardening of the voice, and, when he was affirmatively
answered, his eyes contracted and bored searchingly into the stranger's
"Where'd ye put up last night?"
"Red Bill Hollman's house, at the mouth of Meeting House Fork; do you
know the place?"
Samson's reply was curt.
"I knows hit all right."
There was a moment's pause--rather an awkward pause. Lescott's mind
began piecing together fragments of conversation he had heard, until he
had assembled a sort of mental jig-saw puzzle.
The South-Hollman feud had been mentioned by the more talkative of his
informers, and carefully tabooed by others--notable among them his host
of last night. It now dawned on him that he was crossing the boundary
and coming as the late guest of a Hollman to ask the hospitality of a
"I didn't know whose house it was," he hastened to explain, "until I
was benighted, and asked for lodging. They were very kind to me. I'd
never seen them before. I'm a stranger hereabouts."
Samson only nodded. If the explanation failed to satisfy him, it at
least seemed to do so.
"I reckon ye'd better let me holp ye up on thet old mule," he said;
"hit's a-comin' on ter be night."
With the mountaineer's aid, Lescott clambered astride the mount, then
he turned dubiously.
"I'm sorry to trouble you," he ventured, "but I have a paint box and
some materials up there. If you'll bring them down here, I'll show you
how to pack the easel, and, by the way," he anxiously added, "please
handle that fresh canvas carefully--by the edge--it's not dry yet."
He had anticipated impatient contempt for his artist's impedimenta,
but to his surprise the mountain boy climbed the rock, and halted
before the sketch with a face that slowly softened to an expression of
amazed admiration. Finally, he took up the square of academy board with
a tender care of which his rough hands would have seemed incapable, and
stood stock still, presenting an anomalous figure in his rough clothes
as his eyes grew almost idolatrous. Then, he brought the landscape over
to its creator, and, though no word was spoken, there flashed between
the eyes of the artist, whose signature gave to a canvas the value of a
precious stone and the jeans-clad boy whose destiny was that of the
vendetta, a subtle, wordless message. It was the countersign of
brothers-in-blood who recognize in each other the bond of a mutual
The boy and the girl, under Lescott's direction, packed the outfit,
and stored the canvas in the protecting top of the box. Then, while
Sally turned and strode down creek in search of Lescott's lost mount,
the two men rode up stream in silence. Finally. Samson spoke slowly and
"Stranger," he ventured, "ef hit hain't askin' too much, will ye let
me see ye paint one of them things?"
"Gladly," was the prompt reply.
Then, the boy added covertly:
"Don't say nothin' erbout hit ter none of these folks. They'd devil me."
The dusk was falling now, and the hollows choking with murk. Over the
ridge, the evening star showed in a lonely point of pallor. The peaks,
which in a broader light had held their majestic distances, seemed with
the falling of night to draw in and huddle close in crowding herds of
black masses. The distant tinkling of a cow-bell came drifting down the
breeze with a weird and fanciful softness.
"We're nigh home now," said Samson at the end of some minutes' silent
plodding. "Hit's right beyond thet thar bend."
Then, they rounded a point of timber, and came upon a small party of
men whose attitudes even in the dimming light conveyed a subtle
suggestion of portent. Some sat their horses, with one leg thrown
across the pommel. Others stood in the road, and a bottle of white
liquor was passing in and out among them. At the distance they
recognized the gray mule, though even the fact that it carried a double
burden was not yet manifest.
"Thet you, Samson?" called an old man's voice, which was still very
deep and powerful.
"Hello, Unc' Spicer!" replied the boy.
Then, followed a silence unbroken until the mule reached the group,
revealing that besides the boy another man--and a strange man--had
joined their number.
"Evenin', stranger," they greeted him, gravely; then again they fell
silent, and in their silence was evident constraint.
"This hyar man's a furriner," announced Samson, briefly. "He fell
offen a rock, an' got hurt. I 'lowed I'd fotch him home ter stay all
The elderly man who had hailed the boy nodded, but with an evident
annoyance. It seemed that to him the others deferred as to a commanding
officer. The cortege remounted and rode slowly toward the house. At
last, the elderly man came alongside the mule, and inquired:
"Samson, where was ye last night?"
"Thet's my business."
"Mebbe hit hain't." The old mountaineer spoke with no resentment, but
deep gravity. "We've been powerful oneasy erbout ye. Hev ye heered the
"What news?" The boy put the question non-committally.
"Jesse Purvy was shot soon this morning."
The boy vouchsafed no reply.
"The mail-rider done told hit.... Somebody shot five shoots from the
laurel.... Purvy hain't died yit.... Some says as how his folks has
sent ter Lexington fer bloodhounds."
The boy's eyes began to smolder hatefully.
"I reckon," he spoke slowly, "he didn't git shot none too soon."
"Samson!" The old man's voice had the ring of determined authority.
"When I dies, ye'll be the head of the Souths, but so long es I'm
a-runnin' this hyar fam'ly, I keeps my word ter friend an' foe alike.
I reckon Jesse Purvy knows who got yore pap, but up till now no South
hain't never busted no truce."
The boy's voice dropped its softness, and took on a shrill crescendo
of excitement as he flashed out his retort.
"Who said a South has done busted the truce this time?"
Old Spencer South gazed searchingly at his nephew.
"I hain't a-wantin' ter suspicion ye, Samson, but I know how ye feels
about yore pap. I heered thet Bud Spicer come by hyar yistiddy plumb
full of liquor, an' 'lowed he'd seed Jesse an' Jim Asberry a-talkin'
tergether jest afore yore pap was kilt." He broke off abruptly, then
added: "Ye went away from hyar last night, an' didn't git in twell
atter sun-up--I just heered the news, an' come ter look fer ye."
"Air you-all 'lowin' thet I shot them shoots from the laurel?"
inquired Samson, quietly.
"Ef we-all hain't 'lowin' hit, Samson, we're plumb shore thet Jesse
Purvy's folks will 'low hit. They're jest a-holdin' yore life like a
hostage fer Purvy's, anyhow. Ef he dies, they'll try ter git ye."
The boy flashed a challenge about the group, which was now drawing
rein at Spicer South's yard fence. His eyes were sullen, but he made no
One of the men who had listened in silence now spoke:
"In the fust place, Samson, we hain't a-sayin' ye done hit. In the
nex' place, ef ye did do hit, we hain't a-blamin' ye--much. But I
reckon them dawgs don't lie, an', ef they trails in hyar, ye'll need
us. Thet's why we've done come."
The boy slipped down from his mule, and helped Lescott to dismount. He
deliberately unloaded the saddlebags and kit, and laid them on the top
step of the stile, and, while he held his peace, neither denying nor
affirming, his kinsmen sat their horses and waited.
Even to Lescott, it was palpable that some of them believed the young
heir to clan leadership responsible for the shooting of Jesse Purvy,
and that others believed him innocent, yet none the less in danger of
the enemy's vengeance. But, regardless of divided opinion, all were
alike ready to stand at his back, and all alike awaited his final
Then, in the thickening gloom, Samson turned at the foot of the stile,
and faced the gathering. He stood rigid, and his eyes flashed with deep
passion. His hands, hanging at the seams of his jeans breeches,
clenched, and his voice came in a slow utterance through which throbbed
the tensity of a soul-absorbing bitterness.
"I knowed all 'bout Jesse Purvy's bein' shot.... When my pap lay a-dyin'
over thar at his house, I was a little shaver ten years old ... Jesse
Purvy hired somebody ter kill him ... an' I promised my pap that I'd
find out who thet man was, an' thet I'd git 'em both--some day. So help
me, God Almighty, I'm a-goin' ter git 'em both--some day!" The boy
paused and lifted one hand as though taking an oath.
"I'm a-tellin' you-all the truth.... But I didn't shoot them shoots
this mornin'. I hain't no truce-buster. I gives ye my hand on hit....
Ef them dawgs comes hyar, they'll find me hyar, an' ef they hain't
liars, they'll go right on by hyar. I don't 'low ter run away, an' I
don't 'low ter hide out. I'm agoin' ter stay right hyar. Thet's all
I've got ter say ter ye."
For a moment, there was no reply. Then, the older man nodded with a
gesture of relieved anxiety.
"Thet's all we wants ter know, Samson," he said, slowly. "Light, men,
an' come in."
In days when the Indian held the Dark and Bloody Grounds a pioneer,
felling oak and poplar logs for the home he meant to establish on the
banks of a purling water-course, let his axe slip, and the cutting edge
gashed his ankle. Since to the discoverer belongs the christening, that
water-course became Cripple-shin, and so it is to-day set down on atlas
pages. A few miles away, as the crow flies, but many weary leagues as a
man must travel, a brother settler, racked with rheumatism, gave to his
creek the name of Misery. The two pioneers had come together from
Virginia, as their ancestors had come before them from Scotland.
Together, they had found one of the two gaps through the mountain wall,
which for more than a hundred miles has no other passable rift.
Together, and as comrades, they had made their homes, and founded their
race. What original grievance had sprung up between their descendants
none of the present generation knew--perhaps it was a farm line or
disputed title to a pig. The primary incident was lost in the limbo of
the past; but for fifty years, with occasional intervals of truce,
lives had been snuffed out in the fiercely burning hate of these men
whose ancestors had been comrades.
Old Spicer South and his nephew Samson were the direct lineal
descendants of the namer of Misery. Their kinsmen dwelt about them: the
Souths, the Jaspers, the Spicers, the Wileys, the Millers and McCagers.
Other families, related only by marriage and close association, were,
in feud alignment, none the less "Souths." And over beyond the ridge,
where the springs and brooks flowed the other way to feed Crippleshin,
dwelt the Hollmans, the Purvies, the Asberries, the Hollises and the
Daltons--men equally strong in their vindictive fealty to the code of
By mountain standards, old Spicer South was rich. His lands had been
claimed when tracts could be had for the taking, and, though he had to
make his cross mark when there was a contract to be signed, his
instinctive mind was shrewd and far seeing. The tinkle of his cow-bells
was heard for a long distance along the creek bottoms. His hillside
fields were the richest and his coves the most fertile in that country.
His house had several rooms, and, except for those who hated him and
whom he hated, he commanded the respect of his fellows. Some day, when
a railroad should burrow through his section, bringing the development
of coal and timber at the head of the rails, a sleeping fortune would
yawn and awake to enrich him. There were black outcrop-pings along the
cliffs, which he knew ran deep in veins of bituminous wealth. But to
that time he looked with foreboding, for he had been raised to the
standards of his forefathers, and saw in the coming of a new regime a
curtailment of personal liberty. For new-fangled ideas he held only the
aversion of deep-rooted prejudice. He hoped that he might live out his
days, and pass before the foreigner held his land, and the Law became a
power stronger than the individual or the clan. The Law was his enemy,
because it said to him, "Thou shalt not," when he sought to take the
yellow corn which bruising labor had coaxed from scattered rock-strewn
fields to his own mash-vat and still. It meant, also, a tyrannous power
usually seized and administered by enemies, which undertook to forbid
the personal settlement of personal quarrels. But his eyes, which could
not read print, could read the signs of the times He foresaw the
inevitable coming of that day. Already, he had given up the worm and
mash-vat, and no longer sought to make or sell illicit liquor. That was
a concession to the Federal power, which could no longer be
successfully fought. State power was still largely a weapon in
factional hands, and in his country the Hollmans were the
officeholders. To the Hollmans, he could make no concessions. In
Samson, born to be the fighting man, reared to be the fighting man,
equipped by nature with deep hatreds and tigerish courage, there had
cropped out from time to time the restless spirit of the philosopher
and a hunger for knowledge. That was a matter in which the old man
found his bitterest and most secret apprehension.
It was at this house that George Lescott, distinguished landscape
painter of New York and the world-at-large, arrived in the twilight.
His first impression was received in shadowy evening mists that gave a
touch of the weird. The sweep of the stone-guarded well rose in a yard
tramped bare of grass. The house itself, a rambling structure of logs,
with additions of undressed lumber, was without lights. The cabin,
which had been the pioneer nucleus, still stood windowless and with mud
-daubed chimney at the center. About it rose a number of tall poles
surmounted by bird-boxes, and at its back loomed the great hump of the
Whatever enemy might have to be met to-morrow, old Spicer South
recognized as a more immediate call upon his attention the wounded
guest of to-day. One of the kinsmen proved to have a rude working
knowledge of bone-setting, and before the half-hour had passed,
Lescott's wrist was in a splint, and his injuries as well tended as
possible, which proved to be quite well enough.
By that time, Sally's voice was heard shouting from the stile, and
Sally herself appeared with the announcement that she had found and
brought in the lost mule.
As Lescott looked at her, standing slight and willowy in the
thickening darkness, among the big-boned and slouching figures of the
clansmen, she seemed to shrink from the stature of a woman into that of
a child, and, as she felt his eyes on her, she timidly slipped farther
back into the shadowy door of the cabin, and dropped down on the sill,
where, with her hands clasped about her knees, she gazed curiously at
himself. She did not speak, but sat immovable with her thick hair
falling over her shoulders. The painter recognized that even the
interest in him as a new type could not for long keep her eyes from
being drawn to the face of Samson, where they lingered, and in that
magnetism he read, not the child, but the woman.
Samson was plainly restive from the moment of her arrival, and, when a
monosyllabic comment from the taciturn group threatened to reveal to
the girl the threatened outbreak of the feud, he went over to her, and
"Sally, air ye skeered ter go home by yeself?"
As she met the boy's eyes, it was clear that her own held neither
nervousness nor fear, and yet there was something else in them--the
glint of invitation. She rose from her seat.
"I hain't ter say skeered," she told him, "but, ef ye wants ter walk
as fur as the stile, I hain't a-keerin'."
The youth rose, and, taking his hat and rifle, followed her.
Lescott was happily gifted with the power of facile adaptation, and he
unobtrusively bent his efforts toward convincing his new acquaintances
that, although he was alien to their ways, he was sympathetic and to be
trusted. Once that assurance was given, the family talk went on much as
though he had been absent, and, as he sat with open ears, he learned
the rudiments of the conditions that had brought the kinsmen together
in Samson's defense.
At last, Spicer South's sister, a woman who looked older than himself,
though she was really younger, appeared, smoking a clay pipe, which she
waved toward the kitchen.
"You men kin come in an' eat," she announced; and the mountaineers,
knocking the ashes from their pipes, trailed into the kitchen.
The place was lit by the fire in a cavernous hearth where the cooking
was still going forward with skillet and crane. The food, coarse and
greasy, but not unwholesome, was set on a long table covered with
oilcloth. The roughly clad men sat down with a scraping of chair legs,
and attacked their provender in businesslike silence.
The corners of the room fell into obscurity. Shadows wavered against
the sooty rafters, and, before the meal ended, Samson returned and
dropped without comment into his chair. Afterward, the men trooped
taciturnly out again, and resumed their pipes.
A whippoorwill sent his mournful cry across the tree-tops, and was
answered. Frogs added the booming of their tireless throats. A young
moon slipped across an eastern mountain, and livened the creek into a
soft shimmer wherein long shadows quavered. The more distant line of
mountains showed in a mist of silver, and the nearer heights in blue
-gray silhouette. A wizardry of night and softness settled like a
benediction, and from the dark door of the house stole the quaint
folklore cadence of a rudely thrummed banjo. Lescott strolled over to
the stile with every artist instinct stirred. This nocturne of silver
and gray and blue at once soothed and intoxicated his imagination. His
fingers were itching for a brush.
Then, he heard a movement at his shoulder, and, turning, saw the boy
Samson with the moonlight in his eyes, and, besides the moonlight, that
sparkle which is the essence of the dreamer's vision. Once more, their
glances met and flashed a countersign.
"Hit hain't got many colors in hit," said the boy, slowly, indicating
with a sweep of his hand the symphony about them, "but somehow what
there is is jest about the right ones. Hit whispers ter a feller, the
same as a mammy whispers ter her baby." He paused, then eagerly asked:
"Stranger, kin you look at the sky an' the mountings an' hear 'em
singin'--with yore eyes?"
The painter felt a thrill of astonishment. It seemed incredible that
the boy, whose rude descriptives reflected such poetry of feeling,
could be one with the savage young animal who had, two hours before,
raised his hand heavenward, and reiterated his oath to do murder in
payment of murder.
"Yes," was his slow reply, "every painter must do that. Music and
color are two expressions of the same thing--and the thing is Beauty."
The mountain boy made no reply, but his eyes dwelt on the quivering
shadows in the water; and Lescott asked cautiously, fearing to wake him
from the dreamer to the savage:
"So you are interested in skies and hills and their beauties, too, are
Samson's laugh was half-ashamed, half-defiant.
"Sometimes, stranger," he said, "I 'lows that I hain't much interested
in nothin' else."
That there dwelt in the lad something which leaped in response to the
clarion call of beauty, Lescott had read in that momentary give and
take of their eyes down there in the hollow earlier in the afternoon.
But, since then, the painter had seen the other and sterner side, and
once more he was puzzled and astonished. Now, he stood anxiously hoping
that the boy would permit himself further expression, yet afraid to
prompt, lest direct questions bring a withdrawal again into the shell
of taciturnity. After a few moments of silence, he slowly turned his
head, and glanced at his companion, to find him standing rigidly with
his elbows resting on the top palings of the fence. He had thrown his
rough hat to the ground, and his face in the pale moonlight was raised.
His eyes under the black mane of hair were glowing deeply with a fire
of something like exaltation, as he gazed away. It was the expression
of one who sees things hidden to the generality; such a light as burns
in the eyes of artists and prophets and fanatics, which, to the
uncomprehending, seems almost a fire of madness. Samson must have felt
Lescott's scrutiny, for he turned with a half-passionate gesture and
clenched fists. His face, as he met the glance of the foreigner was
sullen, and then, as though in recognition of a brother-spirit, his
expression softened, and slowly he began to speak.
"These folks 'round hyar sometimes 'lows I hain't much better'n an
idjit because--because I feels that-away. Even Sally"--he caught
himself, then went on doggedly--"even Sally kain't see how a man kin
keer about things like skies and the color of the hills, ner the way
ther sunset splashes the sky clean acrost its aidge, ner how the
sunrise comes outen the dark like a gal a-blushin'. They 'lows thet a
man had ought ter be studyin' 'bout other things."
He paused, and folded his arms, and his strong fingers grasped his
tensed biceps until the knuckles stood out, as he went on:
"I reckon they hain't none of them thet kin hate harder'n me. I reckon
they hain't none of 'em thet is more plumb willin' ter fight them
thet's rightful enemies, an' yit hit 'pears ter me as thet hain't no
reason why a man kain't feel somethin' singin' inside him when Almighty
God builds hills like them"--he swept both hands out in a wide circle--
"an' makes 'em green in summer, an' lets 'em blaze in red an' yaller in
ther fall, an' hangs blue skies over 'em an' makes ther sun shine, an'
at night sprinkles 'em with stars an' a moon like thet!" Again, he
paused, and his eyes seemed to ask the corroboration which they read in
the expression and nod of the stranger from the mysterious outside
world. Then, Samson South spread his hands in a swift gesture of
protest, and his voice hardened in timbre as he went on:
"But these folks hyarabouts kain't understand thet. All they sees in
the laurel on the hillside, an' the big gray rocks an' the green trees,
is breshwood an' timber thet may be hidin' their enemies, or places ter
hide out an' lay-way some other feller. I hain't never seen no other
country. I don't know whether all places is like these hyar mountings
er not, but I knows thet the Lord didn't 'low fer men ter live blind,
not seein' no beauty in nothin'; ner not feelin' nothin' but hate an'
meanness--ner studyin' 'bout nothin' but deviltry. There hain't no
better folks nowhar then my folks, an' thar hain't no meaner folks
nowhar then them damned Hollmans, but thar's times when hit 'pears ter
me thet the Lord Almighty hain't plumb tickled ter death with ther way
things goes hyar along these creeks and coves."
Samson paused, and suddenly the glow died out of his eyes. His
features instantly reshaped themselves into their customary mold of
stoical hardness. It occurred to him that his outburst had been a long
one and strangely out of keeping with his usual taciturnity, and he
wondered what this stranger would think of him.
The stranger was marveling. He was seeing in the crude lad at his side
warring elements that might build into a unique and strangely
interesting edifice of character, and his own speech as he talked there
by the palings of the fence in the moonlight was swiftly establishing
the foundations of a comradeship between the two.
"Thar's something mighty quare about ye, stranger," said the boy at
last, half-shyly. "I been wonderin' why I've talked ter ye like this. I
hain't never talked that-away with no other man. Ye jest seemed ter
kind of compel me ter do hit. When I says things like thet ter Sally,
she gits skeered of me like ef I was plumb crazy, an', ef I talked that-
away to the menfolks 'round hyar they'd be sartain I was an idjit."
"That," said Lescott, gravely, "is because they don't understand. I do."
"I kin lay awake nights," said Samson, "an' see them hills and mists
an' colors the same es ef they was thar in front of my eyes--an' I kin
seem ter hear 'em as well as see 'em."
The painter nodded, and his voice fell into low quotation:
"'The scarlet of the maple can shake me like the cry
"Of bugles going by.'"
The boy's eyes deepened. To Lescott, the thought of bugles conjured up
a dozen pictures of marching soldiery under a dozen flags. To Samson
South, it suggested only one: militia guarding a battered courthouse,
but to both the simile brought a stirring of pulses.
Even in June, the night mists bring a touch of chill to the mountains,
and the clansmen shortly carried their chairs indoors. The old woman
fetched a pan of red coals from the kitchen, and kindled the logs on
the deep hearth. There was no other light, and, until the flames
climbed to roaring volume, spreading their zone of yellow brightness,
only the circle about the fireplace emerged from the sooty shadows. In
the four dark corners of the room were four large beds, vaguely seen,
and from one of them still came the haunting monotony of the banjo.
Suddenly, out of the silence, rose Samson's voice, keyed to a stubborn
note, as though anticipating and challenging contradiction.
"Times is changin' mighty fast. A feller thet grows up plumb ign'rant
ain't a-goin' ter have much show."
Old Spicer South drew a contemplative puff at his pipe.
"Ye went ter school twell ye was ten year old, Samson. Thet's a heap
more schoolin' then I ever had, an' I've done got along all right."
"Ef my pap had lived"--the boy's voice was almost accusing--"I'd hev
lamed more then jest ter read an' write en figger a little."
"I hain't got no use fer these newfangled notions." Spicer spoke with
careful curbing of his impatience. "Yore pap stood out fer eddycation.
He had ideas about law an' all that, an' he talked 'em. He got shot ter
death. Yore Uncle John South went down below, an' got ter be a lawyer.
He come home hyar, an' ondertook ter penitentiary Jesse Purvy, when
Jesse was High Sheriff. I reckon ye knows what happened ter him."
Samson said nothing and the older man went on:
"They aimed ter run him outen the mountings."
"They didn't run him none," blazed the boy. "He didn't never leave the
"No." The family head spoke with the force of a logical climax. "He'd
done rented a house down below though, an' was a-fixin' ter move. He
staid one day too late. Jesse Purvy hired him shot."
"What of hit?" demanded Samson.
"Yore cousin, Bud Spicer, was eddicated. He 'lowed in public thet
Micah Hollman an' Jesse Purvy was runnin' a murder partnership.
Somebody called him ter the door of his house in the night-time ter
borry a lantern--an' shot him ter death."
"What of hit?"
"Thar's jist this much of hit. Hit don't seem ter pay the South family
ter go a-runnin' attar newfangled idees. They gets too much notion of
goin' ter law--an' thet's plumb fatal. Ye'd better stay where ye
b'longs, Samson, an' let good enough be."
"Why hain't ye done told about all the rest of the Souths thet didn't
hev no eddication," suggested the youngest South, "thet got killed off
jest as quick as them as had hit?"
While Spicer South and his cousins had been sustaining themselves or
building up competences by tilling their soil, the leaders of the other
faction were basing larger fortunes on the profits of merchandise and
trade. So, although Spicer South could neither read nor write, his
chief enemy, Micah Hollman, was to outward seeming an urbane and fairly
equipped man of affairs. Judged by their heads, the clansmen were
rougher and more illiterate on Misery, and in closer touch with
civilization on Crippleshin. A deeper scrutiny showed this seeming to
be one of the strange anomalies of the mountains.
Micah Hollman had established himself at Hixon, that shack town which
had passed of late years from feudal county seat to the section's one
point of contact with the outside world; a town where the ancient and
modern orders brushed shoulders; where the new was tolerated, but dared
not become aggressive. Directly across the street from the court-house
stood an ample frame building, on whose side wall was emblazoned the
legend: "Hollman's Mammoth Department Store." That was the secret
stronghold of Hollman power. He had always spoken deploringly of that
spirit of lawlessness which had given the mountains a bad name. He
himself, he declared, believed that the best assets of any community
were tenets of peace and brotherhood. Any mountain man or foreigner who
came to town was sure of a welcome from Judge Micah Hollman, who added
to his title of storekeeper that of magistrate.
As the years went on, the proprietor of the "Mammoth Department Store"
found that he had money to lend and, as a natural sequence, mortgages
stored away in his strong box. To the cry of distress, he turned a
sympathetic ear. His infectious smile and suave manner won him fame as
"the best-hearted man in the mountains." Steadily and unostentatiously,
his fortune fattened.
When the railroad came to Hixon, it found in Judge Hollman a "public-
spirited citizen." Incidentally, the timber that it hauled and the coal
that its flat cars carried down to the Bluegrass went largely to his
consignees. He had so astutely anticipated coming events that, when the
first scouts of capital sought options, they found themselves
constantly referred to Judge Hollman. No wheel, it seemed, could turn
without his nod. It was natural that the genial storekeeper should
become the big man of the community and inevitable that the one big man
should become the dictator. His inherited place as leader of the
Hollmans in the feud he had seemingly passed on as an obsolete
Yet, in business matters, he was found to drive a hard bargain, and
men came to regard it the part of good policy to meet rather than
combat his requirements. It was essential to his purposes that the
officers of the law in his county should be in sympathy with him.
Sympathy soon became abject subservience. When a South had opposed
Jesse Purvy in the primary as candidate for High Sheriff, he was found
one day lying on his face with a bullet-riddled body. It may have been
a coincidence which pointed to Jim Asberry, the judge's nephew, as the
assassin. At all events, the judge's nephew was a poor boy, and a
charitable Grand Jury declined to indict him.
In the course of five years, several South adherents, who had crossed
Hollman's path, became victims of the laurel ambuscade. The theory of
coincidence was strained. Slowly, the rumor grew and persistently
spread, though no man would admit having fathered it, that before each
of these executions star-chamber conferences had been held in the rooms
above Micah Hollman's "Mammoth Department Store." It was said that
these exclusive sessions were attended by Judge Hollman, Sheriff Purvy
and certain other gentlemen selected by reason of their marksmanship.
When one of these victims fell, John South had just returned from a law
school "down below," wearing "fotched-on" clothing and thinking
"fotched-on" thoughts. He had amazed the community by demanding the
right to assist in probing and prosecuting the affair. He had then
shocked the community into complete paralysis by requesting the Grand
Jury to indict not alone the alleged assassin, but also his employers,
whom he named as Judge Hollman and Sheriff Purvy. Then, he, too, fell
under a bolt from the laurel.
That was the first public accusation against the bland capitalist, and
it carried its own prompt warning against repetition. The Judge's High
Sheriff and chief ally retired from office, and went abroad only with a
bodyguard. Jesse Purvy had built his store at a cross roads twenty-five
miles from the railroad. Like Hollman, he had won a reputation for open
-handed charity, and was liked--and hated. His friends were legion. His
enemies were so numerous that he apprehended violence not only from the
Souths, but also from others who nursed grudges in no way related to
the line of feud cleavage. The Hollman-Purvy combination had retained
enough of its old power to escape the law's retribution and to hold its
dictatorship, but the efforts of John South had not been altogether
bootless. He had ripped away two masks, and their erstwhile wearers
could no longer hold their old semblance of law-abiding
philanthropists. Jesse Purvy's home was the show place of the country
side. To the traveler's eye, which had grown accustomed to hovel life
and squalor, it offered a reminder of the richer Bluegrass. Its walls
were weather-boarded and painted, and its roof two stories high.
Commodious verandahs looked out over pleasant orchards, and in the same
enclosure stood the two frame buildings of his store--for he, too,
combined merchandise with baronial powers. But back of the place rose
the mountainside, on which Purvy never looked without dread. Twice, its
impenetrable thickets had spat at him. Twice, he had recovered from
wounds that would have taken a less-charmed life. And in grisly
reminder of the terror which clouded the peace of his days stood the
eight-foot log stockade at the rear of the place which the proprietor
had built to shield his daily journeys between house and store. But
Jesse Purvy was not deluded by his escapes. He knew that he was "marked
down." For years, he had seen men die by his own plotting, and he
himself must in the end follow by a similar road. Rumor had it that he
wore a shirt of mail, certain it is that he walked in the expectancy of
"Why don't you leave the mountains?" strangers had asked; and to each
of them Purvy had replied with a shrug of his shoulders and a short
laugh: "This is where I belong."
But the years of strain were telling on Jesse Purvy. The robust, full-
blooded face was showing deep lines; his flesh was growing flaccid; his
glance tinged with quick apprehension. He told his intimates that he
realized "they'd get him," yet he sought to prolong his term of escape.
The creek purled peacefully by the stile; the apple and peach trees
blossomed and bore fruit at their appointed time, but the householder,
when he walked between his back door and the back door of the store,
hugged his stockade, and hurried his steps.
Yesterday morning, Jesse Purvy had risen early as usual, and, after a
satisfying breakfast, had gone to his store to arrange for the day's
business. One or two of his henchmen, seeming loafers, but in reality a
bodyguard, were lounging within call. A married daughter was chatting
with her father while her young baby played among the barrels and
The daughter went to a rear window, and gazed up at the mountain. The
cloudless skies were still in hiding behind a curtain of mist. The
woman was idly watching the vanishing fog wraiths, and her father came
over to her side. Then, the baby cried, and she stepped back. Purvy
himself remained at the window. It was a thing he did not often do. It
left him exposed, but the most cautiously guarded life has its moments
of relaxed vigilance. He stood there possibly thirty seconds, then a
sharp fusillade of clear reports barked out and was shattered by the
hills into a long reverberation. With a hand clasped to his chest,
Purvy turned, walked to the middle of the floor, and fell.
The henchmen rushed to the open sash. They leaped out, and plunged up
the mountain, tempting the assassin's fire, but the assassin was
satisfied. The mountain was again as quiet as it had been at dawn. Its
impenetrable mask of green was blank and unresponsive. Somewhere in the
cool of the dewy treetops a squirrel barked. Here and there, the birds
saluted the sparkle and freshness of June. Inside, at the middle of the
store, Jesse Purvy shifted his head against his daughter's knee, and
said, as one stating an expected event:
"Well, they've got me."
An ordinary mountaineer would have been carried home to die in the
darkness of a dirty and windowless shack. The long-suffering star of
Jesse Purvy ordained otherwise. He might go under or he might once more
beat his way back and out of the quicksands of death. At all events, he
would fight for life to the last gasp.
Twenty miles away in the core of the wilderness, removed from a
railroad by a score of semi-perpendicular miles, a fanatic had once
decided to found a school. The fact that the establishment in this
place of such a school as his mind pictured was sheer madness and
impossibility did not in the least deter him. It was a thing that could
not be done, and it was a thing that he had done none the less.
Now a faculty of ten men, like himself holding degrees of Masters of
Dreams, taught such as cared to come such things as they cared to
learn. Substantial two-and three-storied buildings of square-hewn logs
lay grouped in a sort of Arts and Crafts village around a clean-clipped
campus. The Stagbone College property stretched twenty acres square at
the foot of a hill. The drone of its own saw-mill came across the
valley. In a book-lined library, wainscoted in natural woods of three
colors, the original fanatic often sat reflecting pleasurably on his
folly. Higher up the hillside stood a small, but model, hospital, with
a modern operating table and a case of surgical instruments, which, it
was said, the State could not surpass. These things had been the gifts
of friends who liked such a type of God-inspired madness. A "fotched-on"
trained nurse was in attendance. From time to time, eminent Bluegrass
surgeons came to Hixon by rail, rode twenty miles on mules, and held
clinics on the mountainside.
To this haven, Jesse Purvy, the murder lord, was borne in a litter
carried on the shoulders of his dependents. Here, as his steadfast
guardian star decreed, he found two prominent medical visitors, who
hurried him to the operating table. Later, he was removed to a white
bed, with the June sparkle in his eyes, pleasantly modulated through
drawn blinds, and the June rustle and bird chorus in his ears--and his
own thoughts in his brain.
Conscious, but in great pain, Purvy beckoned Jim Asberry and Aaron
Hollis, his chiefs of bodyguard, to his bedside, and waved the nurse
back out of hearing.
"If I don't get well," he said, feebly, "there's a job for you two
boys. I reckon you know what it is?"
They nodded, and Asberry whispered a name:
"Yes," Purvy spoke in a weak whisper; but the old vindictiveness was
not smothered. "You got the old man, I reckon you can manage the cub.
If you don't, he'll get you both one day."
The two henchmen scowled.
"I'll git him to-morrer," growled Asberry. "Thar hain't no sort of use
"No!" For an instant Purvy's voice rose out of its weakness to its old
staccato tone of command, a tone which brought obedience. "If I get
well, I have other plans. Never mind what they are. That's my business.
If I don't die, leave him alone, until I give other orders." He lay
back and fought for breath. The nurse came over with gentle insistence,
ordering quiet, but the man, whose violent life might be closing, had
business yet to discuss with his confidential vassals. Again, he waved
"If I get well," he went on, "and Samson South is killed meanwhile, I
won't live long either. It would be my life for his. Keep close to him.
The minute you hear of my death--get him." He paused again, then
supplemented, "You two will find something mighty interestin' in my
It was afternoon when Purvy reached the hospital, and, at nightfall of
the same day, there arrived at his store's entrance, on stumbling, hard
-ridden mules, several men, followed by two tawny hounds whose long ears
flapped over their lean jaws, and whose eyes were listless and tired,
but whose black muzzles wrinkled and sniffed with that sensitive
instinct which follows the man-scent. The ex-sheriff's family were
instituting proceedings independent of the Chief's orders. The next
morning, this party plunged into the mountain tangle, and beat the
cover with the bloodhounds in leash.
The two gentle-faced dogs picked their way between the flowering
rhododendrons, the glistening laurels, the feathery pine sprouts and
the moss-covered rocks. They went gingerly and alertly on ungainly,
cushioned feet. Just as their masters were despairing, they came to a
place directly over the store, where a branch had been bent back and
hitched to clear the outlook, and where a boot heel had crushed the
moss. There one of them raised his nose high into the air, opened his
mouth, and let out a long, deep-chested bay of discovery.
George Lescott had known hospitality of many brands and degrees. He
had been the lionized celebrity in places of fashion. He had been the
guest of equally famous brother artists in the cities of two
hemispheres, and, since sincere painting had been his pole-star, he had
gone where his art's wanderlust beckoned. His most famous canvas,
perhaps, was his "Prayer Toward Mecca," which hangs in the
Metropolitan. It shows, with a power that holds the observer in a
compelling grip, the wonderful colors of a sunset across the desert.
One seems to feel the renewed life that comes to the caravan with the
welcome of the oasis. One seems to hear the grunting of the kneeling
camels and the stirring of the date palms. The Bedouins have spread
their prayer-rugs, and behind them burns the west. Lescott caught in
that, as he had caught in his mountain sketches, the broad spirit of
the thing. To paint that canvas, he had endured days of racking camel
-travel and burning heat and thirst. He had followed the lure of
transitory beauty to remote sections of the world. The present trip was
only one of many like it, which had brought him into touch with varying
peoples and distinctive types of life. He told himself that never had
he found men at once so crude and so courteous as these hosts, who,
facing personal perils, had still time and willingness to regard his
They could not speak grammatically; they could hardly offer him the
necessities of life, yet they gave all they had, with a touch of
In a fabric soiled and threadbare, one may sometimes trace the
tarnished design that erstwhile ran in gold through a rich pattern.
Lescott could not but think of some fine old growth gone to seed and
decay, but still bearing at its crest a single beautiful blossom while
it held in its veins a poison.
Such a blossom was Sally. Her scarlet lips and sweet, grave eyes might
have been the inheritance gift of some remote ancestress whose feet,
instead of being bare and brown, had trod in high-heeled, satin
slippers. When Lord Fairfax governed the Province of Virginia, that
first Sally, in the stateliness of panniered brocades and powdered
hair, may have tripped a measure to the harpsichord or spinet. Certain
it is she trod with no more untrammeled grace than her wild descendant.
For the nation's most untamed and untaught fragment is, after all, an
unamalgamated stock of British and Scottish bronze, which now and then
strikes back to its beginning and sends forth a pure peal from its
corroded bell-metal. In all America is no other element whose blood is
so purely what the Nation's was at birth.
The coming of the kinsmen, who would stay until the present danger
passed, had filled the house. The four beds in the cabin proper were
full, and some slept on floor mattresses. Lescott, because a guest and
wounded, was given a small room aside. Samson, however, shared his
quarters in order to perform any service that an injured man might
require. It had been a full and unusual day for the painter, and its
incidents crowded in on him in retrospect and drove off the possibility
of sleep. Samson, too, seemed wakeful, and in the isolation of the dark
room the two men fell into conversation, which almost lasted out the
night. Samson went into the confessional. This was the first human
being he had ever met to whom he could unburden his soul.
The thirst to taste what knowledge lay beyond the hills; the unnamed
wanderlust that had at times brought him a restiveness so poignant as
to be agonizing; the undefined attuning of his heart to the beauty of
sky and hill; these matters he had hitherto kept locked in guilty
silence. To the men of his clan these were eccentricities bordering on
the abnormal; frailties to be passed over with charity, as one would
pass over the infirmities of an afflicted child. To Samson they looked
as to a sort of feud Messiah. His destiny was stern, and held no place
for dreams. For him, they could see only danger in an insatiable hunger
for learning. In a weak man, a school-teacher or parson sort of a man,
that might be natural, but this young cock of their walk was being
reared for the pit--for conflict. What was important in him was
stamina, and sharp strength of spur. These qualities he had proven from
infancy. Weakening proclivities must be eliminated.
So, the boy had been forced to keep throttled impulses that, for being
throttled, had smoldered and set on fire the inner depths of his soul.
During long nights, he had secretly digested every available book. Yet,
in order to vindicate himself from the unspoken accusation of growing
weak, of forgetting his destiny, he had courted trouble, and sought
combat. He was too close to his people's point of view for perspective.
He shared their idea that the thinking man weakens himself as a
fighting man. He had never heard of a Cyrano de Bergerac, or an Aramis.
Now had come some one with whom he could talk: a man who had traveled
and followed, without shame, the beckoning of Learning and Beauty. At
once, the silent boy found himself talking intimately, and the artist
found himself studying one of the strangest human paradoxes he had yet
In a cove, or lowland pocket, stretching into the mountainside, lay
the small and meager farm of the Widow Miller. The Widow Miller was a
"South"; that is to say she fell, by tie of marriage, under the
protection of the clan-head. She lived alone with her fourteen-year-old
son and her sixteen-year-old daughter. The daughter was Sally. At
sixteen, the woman's figure had been as pliantly slim, her step as
light as was her daughter's now. At forty, she was withered. Her face
was hard, and her lips had forgotten how to smile. Her shoulders
sagged, and she was an old woman, who smoked her pipe, and taught her
children that rudimentary code of virtue to which the mountains
subscribe. She believed in a brimstone hell and a personal devil. She
believed that the whale had swallowed Jonah, but she thought that "Thou
shalt not kill" was an edict enunciated by the Almighty with mental
The sun rose on the morning after Lescott arrived, the mists lifted,
and the cabin of the Widow Miller stood revealed. Against its corners
several hogs scraped their bristled backs with satisfied grunts. A
noisy rooster cocked his head inquiringly sidewise before the open
door, and, hopping up to the sill, invaded the main room. A towsled
-headed boy made his way to the barn to feed the cattle, and a red patch
of color, as bright and tuneful as a Kentucky cardinal, appeared at the
door between the morning-glory vines. The red patch of color was Sally.
She made her way, carrying a bucket, to the spring, where she knelt
down and gazed at her own image in the water. Her grave lips broke into
a smile, as the reflected face, framed in its mass of reflected red
hair, gazed back at her. Then, the smile broke into a laugh.
"Hello, Sally Miller!" she gaily accosted her picture-self. "How air
ye this mornin', Sally Miller?"
She plunged her face deep in the cool spring, and raised it to shake
back her hair, until the water flew from its masses. She laughed again,
because it was another day, and because she was alive. She waded about
for a while where the spring joined the creek, and delightedly watched
the schools of tiny, almost transparent, minnows that darted away at
her coming. Then, standing on a rock, she paused with her head bent,
and listened until her ears caught the faint tinkle of a cowbell, which
she recognized. Nodding her head joyously, she went off into the woods,
to emerge at the end of a half-hour later, carrying a pail of milk, and
smiling joyously again--because it was almost breakfast time.
But, before going home, she set down her bucket by the stream, and,
with a quick glance toward the house to make sure that she was not
observed, climbed through the brush, and was lost to view. She followed
a path that her own feet had made, and after a steep course upward,
came upon a bald face of rock, which stood out storm-battered where a
rift went through the backbone of the ridge. This point of vantage
commanded the other valley. From its edge, a white oak, dwarfed, but
patriarchal, leaned out over an abrupt drop. No more sweeping or
splendid view could be had within miles, but it was not for any reason
so general that Sally had made her pilgrimage. Down below, across the
treetops, were a roof and a chimney from which a thread of smoke rose
in an attenuated shaft. That was Spicer South's house, and Samson's
home. The girl leaned against the gnarled bowl of the white oak, and
waved toward the roof and chimney. She cupped her hands, and raised
them to her lips like one who means to shout across a great distance,
then she whispered so low that only she herself could hear:
"Hello, Samson South!"
She stood for a space looking down, and forgot to laugh, while her
eyes grew religiously and softly deep, then, turning, she ran down the
slope. She had performed her morning devotions.
That day at the house of Spicer South was an off day. The kinsmen who
had stopped for the night stayed on through the morning. Nothing was
said of the possibility of trouble. The men talked crops, and tossed
horseshoes in the yard; but no one went to work in the fields, and all
remained within easy call. Only young Tamarack Spicer, a raw-boned
nephew, wore a sullen face, and made a great show of cleaning his rifle
and pistol. He even went out in the morning, and practised at target
-shooting, and Lescott, who was still very pale and weak, but able to
wander about at will, gained the impression that in young Tamarack he
was seeing the true type of the mountain "bad-man." Tamarack seemed
willing to feed that idea, and admitted apart to Lescott that, while he
obeyed the dictates of the truce, he found them galling, and was
straining at his leash.
"I don't take nothin' offen nobody," he sullenly confided. "The
Hollmans gives me my half the road."
Shortly after dinner, he disappeared, and, when the afternoon was well
advanced, Samson, too, with his rifle on his arm, strolled toward the
stile. Old Spicer South glanced up, and removed his pipe from his mouth
"Whar be ye a-goin'?"
"I hain't a-goin' fur," was the non-committal response.
"Meybe hit mout be a good idea ter stay round clost fer a spell." The
old man made the suggestion casually, and the boy replied in the same
"I hain't a-goin' ter be outen sight."
He sauntered down the road, but, when he had passed out of vision, he
turned sharply into the woods, and began climbing. His steps carried
him to the rift in the ridge where the white oak stood sentinel over
the watch-tower of rock. As he came over the edge from one side, his
bare feet making no sound, he saw Sally sitting there, with her hands
resting on the moss and her eyes deeply troubled. She was gazing
fixedly ahead, and her lips were trembling. At once Samson's face grew
black. Some one had been making Sally unhappy. Then, he saw beyond her
a standing figure, which the tree trunk had hitherto concealed. It was
the loose-knitted figure of young Tamarack Spicer.
"In course," Spicer was saying, "we don't 'low Samson shot Jesse
Purvy, but them Hollmans'll 'spicion him, an' I heered just now, thet
them dawgs was trackin' straight up hyar from the mouth of Misery.
They'll git hyar against sundown."
Samson leaped violently forward. With one hand, he roughly seized his
cousin's shoulder, and wheeled him about.
"Shet up!" he commanded. "What damn fool stuff hev ye been tellin'
For an instant, the two clansmen stood fronting each other. Samson's
face was set and wrathful. Tamarack's was surly and snarling. "Hain't I
got a license ter tell Sally the news?" he demanded.
"Nobody hain't got no license," retorted the younger man in the quiet
of cold anger, "ter tell Sally nothin' thet'll fret her."
"She air bound ter know, hit all pretty soon. Them dawgs----"
"Didn't I tell ye ter shet up?" Samson clenched his fists, and took a
step forward. "Ef ye opens yore mouth again, I'm a-goin' ter smash hit.
Tamarack Spicer's face blackened, and his teeth showed. His right hand
swept to his left arm-pit. Outwardly he seemed weaponless, but Samson
knew that concealed beneath the hickory shirt was a holster, worn
"What air ye a-reachin' atter, Tam'rack?" he inquired, his lips
twisting in amusement.
"Thet's my business."
"Well, get hit out--or git out yeself, afore I throws ye offen the
Sally showed no symptoms of alarm. Her confidence in her hero was
absolute. The boy lifted his hand, and pointed off down the path.
Slowly and with incoherent muttering, Spicer took himself away. Then
only did Sally rise. She came over, and laid a hand on Samson's
shoulder. In her blue eyes, the tears were welling.
"Samson," she whispered, "ef they're atter ye, come ter my house. I
kin hide ye out. Why didn't ye tell me Jesse Purvy'd done been shot?"
"Hit tain't nothin' ter fret about, Sally," he assured her. He spoke
awkwardly, for he had been trained to regard emotion as unmanly. "Thar
hain't no danger."
She gazed searchingly into his eyes, and then, with a short sob, threw
her arms around him, and buried her face on his shoulder.
"Ef anything happens ter ye, Samson," she said, brokenly, "hit'll jest
kill me. I couldn't live withouten ye, Samson. I jest couldn't do hit!"
The boy took her in his arms, and pressed her close. His eyes were
gazing off over her bent head, and his lips twitched. He drew his
features into a scowl, because that was the only expression with which
he could safeguard his feelings. His voice was husky.
"I reckon, Sally," he said, "I couldn't live withouten you, neither."
The party of men who had started at morning from Jesse Purvy's store
had spent a hard day. The roads followed creek-beds, crossing and
recrossing waterways in a fashion that gave the bloodhounds a hundred
baffling difficulties. Often, their noses lost the trail, which had at
first been so surely taken. Often, they circled and whined, and halted
in perplexity, but each time they came to a point where, at the end,
one of them again raised his muzzle skyward, and gave voice.
Toward evening, they were working up Misery along a course less
broken. The party halted for a moment's rest, and, as the bottle was
passed, the man from Lexington, who had brought the dogs and stayed to
conduct the chase, put a question:
"What do you call this creek?"
"Does anybody live on Misery that--er--that you might suspect?"
The Hollmans laughed.
"This creek is settled with Souths thicker'n hops."
The Lexington man looked up. He knew what the name of South meant to a
"Is there any special South, who might have a particular grudge?"
"The Souths don't need no partic'lar grudge, but thar's young Samson
South. He's a wildcat."
"He lives this way?"
"These dogs air a-makin' a bee-line fer his house." Jim Hollman was
speaking. Then he added: "I've done been told that Samson denies doin'
the shootin', an' claims he kin prove an alibi."
The Lexington man lighted his pipe, and poured a drink of red whiskey
into a flask cup.
"He'd be apt to say that," he commented, coolly. "These dogs haven't
any prejudice in the matter. I'll stake my life on their telling the
An hour later, the group halted again. The master of hounds mopped his
"Are we still going toward Samson South's house?" he inquired.
"We're about a quarter from hit now, an' we hain't never varied from
the straight road."
"Will they be apt to give us trouble?"
Jim Hollman smiled.
"I hain't never heered of no South submittin' ter arrest by a Hollman."
The trailers examined their firearms, and loosened their holster-
flaps. The dogs went forward at a trot.
From time to time that day, neighbors had ridden up to Spicer South's
stile, and drawn rein for gossip. These men brought bulletins as to the
progress of the hounds, and near sundown, as a postscript to their
information, a volley of gunshot signals sounded from a mountain top.
No word was spoken, but in common accord the kinsmen rose from their
chairs, and drifted toward their leaning rifles.
"They're a-comin' hyar," said the head of the house, curtly. "Samson
ought ter be home. Whar's Tam'-rack?"
No one had noticed his absence until that moment, nor was he to be
found. A few minutes later, Samson's figure swung into sight, and his
uncle met him at the fence.
"Samson, I've done asked ye all the questions I'm a-goin' ter ask ye,"
he said, "but them dawgs is makin' fer this house. They've jest been
sighted a mile below."
"Now"--Spicer South's face hardened--"I owns down thar ter the road.
No man kin cross that fence withouten I choose ter give him leave. Ef
ye wants ter go indoors an' stay thar, ye kin do hit--an' no dawg ner
no man hain't a-goin' ter ask ye no questions. But, ef ye sees fit ter
face hit out, I'd love ter prove ter these hyar men thet us Souths
don't break our word. We done agreed ter this truce. I'd like ter
invite 'em in, an' let them damn dawgs sniff round the feet of every
man in my house--an' then, when they're plumb teetotally damn
satisfied, I'd like ter tell 'em all ter go ter hell. Thet's the way I
feels, but I'm a-goin' ter do jest what ye says."
Lescott did not overhear the conversation in full, but he saw the old
man's face work with suppressed passion, and he caught Samson's louder
"When them folks gets hyar, Uncle Spicer, I'm a-goin' ter be a-settin'
right out thar in front. I'm plumb willin' ter invite 'em in." Then,
the two men turned toward the house.
Already the other clansmen had disappeared noiselessly through the
door or around the angles of the walls. The painter found himself alone
in a scene of utter quiet, unmarred by any note that was not peaceful.
He had seen many situations charged with suspense and danger, and he
now realized how thoroughly freighted was the atmosphere about Spicer
South's cabin with the possibilities of bloodshed. The moments seemed
to drag interminably. In the expressionless faces that so quietly
vanished; in the absolutely calm and businesslike fashion in which,
with no spoken order, every man fell immediately into his place of
readiness and concealment, he read an ominous portent that sent a
current of apprehension through his arteries. Into his mind flashed all
the historical stories he had heard of the vendetta life of these
wooded slopes, and he wondered if he was to see another chapter enacted
in the next few minutes, while the June sun and soft shadows drowsed so
quietly across the valley.
While he waited, Spicer South's sister, the prematurely aged crone,
appeared in the kitchen door with the clay pipe between her teeth, and
raised a shading hand to gaze off up the road. She, too, understood the
tenseness of the situation as her grim, but unflinching, features
showed; yet even in her feminine eyes was no shrinking and on her face,
inured to fear, was no tell-tale signal beyond a heightened pallor.
Spicer South looked up at her, and jerked his head toward the house.
"Git inside, M'lindy," he ordered, curtly, and without a word she,
too, turned and disappeared.
But there was another figure, unseen, its very presence unsuspected,
watching from near by with a pounding heart and small fingers clutching
in wild terror at a palpitant breast. In this country, where human
creatures seemed to share with the "varmints" the faculty of moving
unseen and unheard, the figure had come stealthily to watch--and pray.
When Samson had heard that signal of the gunshots from a distant peak,
he had risen from the rock where he sat with Sally. He had said nothing
of the issue he must go to meet; nothing of the enemies who had brought
dogs, confident that they would make their run straight to his lair.
That subject had not been mentioned between them since he had driven
Tamarack away that afternoon, and reassured her. He had only risen
casually, as though his action had no connection with the signal of the
rifles, and said:
"Reckon I'll be a-goin'."
And Sally had said nothing either, except good-by, and had turned her
face toward her own side of the ridge, but, as soon as he had passed
out of sight, she had wheeled and followed noiselessly, slipping from
rhododendron clump to laurel thicket as stealthily as though she were
herself the object of an enemy's attack. She knew that Samson would
have sent her back, and she knew that a crisis was at hand, and that
she could not support the suspense of awaiting the news. She must see
And now, while the stage was setting itself, the girl crouched
trembling a little way up the hillside, at the foot of a titanic
poplar. About her rose gray, moss-covered rocks and the fronds of
clinging ferns. At her feet bloomed wild flowers for which she knew no
names except those with which she had herself christened them,
"sunsetty flowers" whose yellow petals suggested to her imagination the
western skies, and "fairy cups and saucers."
She was not trembling for herself, though, if a fusillade broke out
below, the masking screen of leafage would not protect her from the
pelting of stray bullets. Her small face was pallid, and her blue eyes
wide-stretched and terrified. With a catch in her throat, she shifted
from her crouching attitude to a kneeling posture, and clasped her
hands desperately, and raised her face, while her lips moved in prayer.
She did not pray aloud, for even in her torment of fear for the boy she
loved, her mountain caution made her noiseless--and the God to whom she
prayed could hear her equally well in silence.
"Oh, God," pleaded the girl, brokenly, "I reckon ye knows thet them
Hollmans is atter Samson, an' I reckons ye knows he hain't committed no
sin. I reckon ye knows, since ye knows all things, thet hit'll kill me
ef I loses him, an' though I hain't nobody but jest Sally Miller, an'
ye air Almighty God, I wants ye ter hear my prayin', an' pertect him."
Fifteen minutes later, Lescott, standing at the fence, saw a strange
cavalcade round the bend of the road. Several travel-stained men were
leading mules, and holding two tawny and impatient dogs in leash. In
their number, the artist recognized his host of two nights ago.
They halted at a distance, and in their faces the artist read dismay,
for, while the dogs were yelping confidently and tugging at their
cords, young Samson South--who should, by their prejudiced convictions,
be hiding out in some secret stronghold--sat at the top step of the
stile, smoking his pipe, and regarded them with a lack-luster absence
of interest. Such a calm reception was uncanny. The trailers felt sure
that in a moment more the dogs would fall into accusing excitement.
Logically, these men should be waiting to receive them behind
barricaded doors. There must be some hidden significance. Possibly, it
was an invitation to walk into ambuscade. No doubt, unseen rifles
covered their approach, and the shooting of Purvy was only the
inaugural step to a bloody and open outbreak of the war. After a
whispered conference, the Lexington man came forward alone. Old Spicer
South had been looking on from the door, and was now strolling out to
meet the envoy, unarmed.
And the envoy, as he came, held his hands unnecessarily far away from
his sides, and walked with an ostentatious show of peace.
"Evenin', stranger," hailed the old man. "Come right in."
"Mr. South," began the dog-owner, with some embarrassment, "I have
been employed to furnish a pair of bloodhounds to the family of Jesse
Purvy, who has been shot."
"I heerd tell thet Purvy was shot," said the head of the Souths in an
affable tone, which betrayed no deeper note of interest than
neighborhood gossip might have elicited.
"I have no personal interest in the matter," went on the stranger,
hastily, as one bent on making his attitude clear, "except to supply
the dogs and manage them. I do not in any way direct their course; I
"Ye can't hardly fo'ce a dawg." Old Spicer sagely nodded his head as
he made the remark. "A dawg jest natcher'ly follers his own nose."
"Exactly--and they have followed their noses here." The Lexington man
found the embarrassment of his position growing as the colloquy
proceeded. "I want to ask you whether, if these dogs want to cross your
fence, I have your permission to let them?"
The cabin in the yard was utterly quiet. There was no hint of the
seven or eight men who rested on their arms behind its half-open door.
The master of the house crossed the stile, the low sun shining on his
shock of gray hair, and stood before the man-hunter. He spoke so that
his voice carried to the waiting group in the road.
"Ye're plumb welcome ter turn them dawgs loose, an' let 'em ramble,
stranger. Nobody hain't a-goin' ter hurt 'em. I sees some fellers out
thar with ye thet mustn't cross my fence. Ef they does"--the voice rang
menacingly--"hit'll mean that they're a-bustin' the truce--an' they
won't never go out ag'in. But you air safe in hyar. I gives yer my hand
on thet. Ye're welcome, an' yore dawgs is welcome. I hain't got nothin'
'gainst dawgs thet comes on four legs, but I shore bars the two-legged
There was a murmur of astonishment from the road. Disregarding it,
Spicer South turned his face toward the house.
"You boys kin come out," he shouted, "an' leave yore guns inside."
The leashes were slipped from the dogs. They leaped forward, and made
directly for Samson, who sat as unmoving as a lifeless image on the top
step of the stile. Up on the hillside the fingernails of Sally Miller's
clenched hands cut into the flesh, and the breath stopped between her
parted and bloodless lips. There was a half-moment of terrific
suspense, then the beasts clambered by the seated figure, passing on
each side and circled aimlessly about the yard--their quest unended.
They sniffed indifferently about the trouser legs of the men who
sauntered indolently out of the door. They trotted into the house and
out again, and mingled with the mongrel home pack that snarled and
growled hostility for this invasion. Then, they came once more to the
stile. As they climbed out, Samson South reached up and stroked a tawny
head, and the bloodhound paused a moment to wag its tail in friendship,
before it jumped down to the road, and trotted gingerly onward.
"I'm obliged to you, sir," said the man from the Bluegrass, with a
voice of immense relief.
The moment of suspense seemed past, and, in the relief of the averted
clash, the master of hounds forgot that his dogs stood branded as false
trailers. But, when he rejoined the group in the road, he found himself
looking into surly visages, and the features of Jim Hollman in
particular were black in their scowl of smoldering wrath.
"Why didn't ye axe him," growled the kinsman of the man who had been
shot, "whar the other feller's at?"
"What other fellow?" echoed the Lexington man.
Jim Hollman's voice rose truculently, and his words drifted, as he
meant them to, across to the ears of the clansmen who stood in the yard
of Spicer South.
"Them dawgs of your'n come up Misery a-hellin'. They hain't never
turned aside, an', onless they're plumb ornery no-'count curs thet
don't know their business, they come for some reason. They seemed
mighty interested in gittin' hyar. Axe them fellers in thar who's been
hyar thet hain't hyar now? Who is ther feller thet got out afore we
At this veiled charge of deceit, the faces of the Souths again
blackened, and the men near the door of the house drifted in to drift
presently out again, swinging discarded Winchesters at their sides. It
seemed that, after all, the incident was not closed. The man from
Lexington, finding himself face to face with a new difficulty, turned
and argued in a low voice with the Hollman leader. But Jim Hollman,
whose eyes were fixed on Samson, refused to talk in a modulated tone,
and he shouted his reply:
"I hain't got nothin' ter whisper about," he proclaimed. "Go axe 'em
who hit war thet got away from hyar."
Old Spicer South stood leaning on his fence, and his rugged
countenance stiffened. He started to speak, but Samson rose from the
stile, and said, in a composed voice:
"Let me talk ter this feller, Unc' Spicer." The old man nodded, and
Samson beckoned to the owner of the dogs.
"We hain't got nothin' ter say ter them fellers with ye," he
announced, briefly. "We hain't axin' 'em no questions, an' we hain't
answerin' none. Ye done come hyar with dawgs, an' we hain't stopped ye.
We've done answered all the questions them dawgs hes axed. We done
treated you an' yore houn's plumb friendly. Es fer them other men, we
hain't got nothin' ter say ter 'em. They done come hyar because they
hoped they could git me in trouble. They done failed. Thet road belongs
ter the county. They got a license ter travel hit, but this strip right
hyar hain't ther healthiest section they kin find. I reckon ye'd better
advise 'em ter move on."
The Lexington man went back. For a minute or two, Jim Hollman sat
scowling down in indecision from his saddle. Then, he admitted to
himself that he had done all he could do without becoming the
aggressor. For the moment, he was beaten. He looked up, and from the
road one of the hounds raised its voice and gave cry. That baying
afforded an excuse for leaving, and Jim Hollman seized upon it.
"Go on," he growled. "Let's see what them damned curs hes ter say now."
Mounting, they kicked their mules into a jog. From the men inside the