Part 2 out of 6
fence came no note of derision; no hint of triumph. They stood looking
out with expressionless, mask-like faces until their enemies had passed
out of sight around the shoulder of the mountain. The Souths had met
and fronted an accusation made after the enemy's own choice and method.
A jury of two hounds had acquitted them. It was not only because the
dogs had refused to recognize in Samson a suspicious character that the
enemy rode on grudgingly convinced, but, also, because the family,
which had invariably met hostility with hostility, had so willingly
courted the acid test of guilt or innocence.
Samson, passing around the corner of the house, caught a flash of red
up among the green clumps of the mountainside, and, pausing to gaze at
it, saw it disappear into the thicket of brush. He knew then that Sally
had followed him, and why she had done it, and, framing a stern rebuke
for the foolhardiness of the venture, he plunged up the acclivity in
pursuit. But, as he made his way cautiously, he heard around the
shoulder of a mass of piled-up sandstone a shaken sobbing, and,
slipping toward it, found the girl bent over with her face in her
hands, her slander body convulsively heaving with the weeping of
reaction, and murmuring half-incoherent prayers of thanksgiving for his
"Sally!" he exclaimed, hurrying over and dropping to his knees beside
her. "Sally, thar hain't nothin' ter fret about, little gal. Hit's all
She started up at the sound of his voice, and then, pillowing her head
on his shoulder, wept tears of happiness. He sought for words, but no
words came, and his lips and eyes, unused to soft expressions, drew
themselves once more into the hard mask with which he screened his
Days passed uneventfully after that. The kinsmen dispersed to their
scattered coves and cabins. Now and again came a rumor that Jesse Purvy
was dying, but always hard on its heels came another to the effect that
the obdurate fighter had rallied, though the doctors held out small
encouragement of recovery.
One day Lescott, whose bandaged arm gave him much pain, but who was
able to get about, was strolling not far from the house with Samson.
They were following a narrow trail along the mountainside, and, at a
sound no louder than the falling of a walnut, the boy halted and laid a
silencing hand on the painter's shoulder. Then followed an unspoken
command in his companion's eyes. Lescott sank down behind a rock,
cloaked with glistening rhododendron leafage, where Samson had already
crouched, and become immovable and noiseless. They had been there only
a short time when they saw another figure slipping quietly from tree to
tree below them.
For a time, the mountain boy watched the figure, and the painter saw
his lips draw into a straight line, and his eyes narrow with a glint of
tense hate. Yet, a moment later, with a nod to follow, the boy
unexpectedly rose into view, and his features were absolutely
"Mornin', Jim," he called.
The slinking stranger whirled with a start, and an instinctive motion
as though to bring his rifle to his shoulder. But, seeing Samson's
peaceable manner, he smiled, and his own demeanor became friendly.
"Kinder stranger in this country, hain't ye, Jim?" drawled the boy who
lived there, and the question brought a sullen flush to the other's
"Jest a-passin' through," he vouchsafed.
"I reckon ye'd find the wagon road more handy," suggested Samson.
"Some folks might 'spicion ye fer stealin' long through the timber."
The skulking traveler decided to lie plausibly. He laughed
mendaciously. "That's the reason, Samson. I was kinder skeered ter go
through this country in the open."
Samson met his eye steadily, and said slowly:
"I reckon, Jim, hit moughtn't be half es risky fer ye ter walk
upstandin' along Misery, es ter go a-crouchin'. Ye thinks ye've been a
shadderin' me. I knows jest whar ye've been all the time. Ye lies when
ye talks 'bout passin' through. Ye've done been spyin' hyar, ever since
Jesse Purvy got shot, an' all thet time ye've done been watched yeself.
I reckon hit'll be healthier fer ye ter do yore spyin' from t'other
side of the ridge. I reckon yer allowin' ter git me ef Purvy dies, but
we're watchin' ye."
Jim Asberry's face darkened, but he said nothing. There was nothing to
say. He was discovered in the enemy's country, and must accept the
"This hyar time, I lets ye go back," said Samson, "fer the reason thet
I'm tryin' like all hell ter keep this truce. But ye must stay on yore
side, or else ride the roads open. How is Purvy terday?"
"He's mighty porely," replied the other, in a sullen voice.
"All right. Thet's another reason why hit hain't healthy fer ye over
The spy turned, and made his way over the mountain.
"Damn him!" muttered Samson, his face twitching, as the other was lost
in the undergrowth. "Some day I'm a-goin' ter git him."
Tamarack Spicer did not at once reappear, and, when one of the Souths
met another in the road, the customary dialogue would be: "Heered
anything of Tamarack?" ... "No, hev you?" ... "No, nary a word."
As Lescott wandered through the hills, his unhurt right hand began
crying out for action and a brush to nurse. As he watched, day after
day, the unveiling of the monumental hills, and the transitions from
hazy wraith-like whispers of hues, to strong, flaring riot of color,
this fret of restlessness became actual pain. He was wasting wonderful
opportunity and the creative instinct in him was clamoring.
One morning, when he came out just after sunrise to the tin wash basin
at the well, the desire to paint was on him with compelling force. The
hills ended near their bases like things bitten off. Beyond lay
limitless streamers of mist, but, while he stood at gaze, the filmy
veil began to lift and float higher. Trees and mountains grew taller.
The sun, which showed first as a ghost-like disc of polished aluminum,
struggled through orange and vermilion into a sphere of living flame.
It was as though the Creator were breathing on a formless void to
kindle it into a vital and splendid cosmos, and between the dawn's fog
and the radiance of full day lay a dozen miracles. Through rifts in the
streamers, patches of hillside and sky showed for an ethereal moment or
two in tender and transparent coloration, like spirit-reflections of
emerald and sapphire.... Lescott heard a voice at his side.
"When does ye 'low ter commence paintin'?"
It was Samson. For answer, the artist, with his unhurt hand,
impatiently tapped his bandaged wrist.
"Ye still got yore right hand, hain't ye?" demanded the boy. The other
laughed. It was a typical question. So long as one had the trigger
finger left, one should not admit disqualification.
"You see, Samson," he explained, "this isn't precisely like handling a
gun. One must hold the palette; mix the colors; wipe the brushes and do
half a dozen equally necessary things. It requires at least two
perfectly good hands. Many people don't find two enough."
"But hit only takes one ter do the paintin', don't hit?"
"Well"--the boy spoke diffidently but with enthusiasm--"between the
two of us, we've got three hands. I reckon ye kin larn me how ter do
them other things fer ye."
Lescott's surprise showed in his face, and the lad swept eagerly on.
"Mebby hit hain't none of my business, but, all day yestiddy an' the
day befo', I was a-studyin' 'bout this here thing, an' I hustled up an'
got thet corn weeded, an' now I'm through. Ef I kin help ye out, I
thought mebby--" He paused, and looked appealingly at the artist.
Lescott whistled, and then his face lighted into contentment.
"To-day, Samson," he announced, "Lescott, South and Company get busy."
It was the first time he had seen Samson smile, and, although the
expression was one of sheer delight, inherent somberness loaned it a
touch of the wistful.
When, an hour later, the two set out, the mountain boy carried the
paraphernalia, and the old man standing at the door watched them off
with a half-quizzical, half-disapproving glance. To interfere with any
act of courtesy to a guest was not to be thought of, but already the
influence on Samson of this man from the other world was disquieting
his uncle's thoughts. With his mother's milk, the boy had fed on hatred
of his enemies. With his training, he had been reared to feudal
animosities. Disaffection might ruin his usefulness. Besides the
sketching outfit, Samson carried his rifle. He led the painter by slow
stages, since the climb proved hard for a man still somewhat enfeebled,
to the high rock which Sally visited each morning.
As the boy, with remarkable aptitude, learned how to adjust the easel
and arrange the paraphernalia, Lescott sat drinking in through thirsty
eyes the stretch of landscape he had determined to paint.
It was his custom to look long and studiously through closed lashes
before he took up his brush. After that he began laying in his key
tones and his fundamental sketching with an incredible swiftness,
having already solved his problems of composition and analysis.
Then, while he painted, the boy held the palette, his eyes riveted on
the canvas, which was growing from a blank to a mirror of vistas--and
the boy's pupils became deeply hungry. He was not only looking. He was
seeing. His gaze took in the way the fingers held the brushes; the
manner of mixing the pigments, the detail of method. Sometimes, when he
saw a brush dab into a color whose use he did not at once understand,
he would catch his breath anxiously, then nod silently to himself as
the blending vindicated the choice. He did not know it, but his eye for
color was as instinctively true as that of the master.
As the day wore on, they fell to talking, and the boy again found
himself speaking of his fettered restiveness in the confinement of his
life; of the wanderlust which stirred him, and of which he had been
taught to feel ashamed.
During one of their periods of rest, there was a rustle in the
branches of a hickory, and a gray shape flirted a bushy tail. Samson's
hand slipped silently out, and the rifle came to his shoulder. In a
moment it snapped, and a squirrel dropped through the leaves.
"Jove!" exclaimed Lescott, admiringly. "That was neat work. He was
partly behind the limb--at a hundred yards."
"Hit warn't nothin'," said Samson, modestly. "Hit's a good gun." He
brought back his quarry, and affectionately picked up the rifle. It was
a repeating Winchester, carrying a long steel-jacketed bullet of
special caliber, but it was of a pattern fifteen years old, and fitted
with target sights.
"That gun," Samson explained, in a lowered and reverent voice, "was my
pap's. I reckon there hain't enough money in the world ter buy hit off
Slowly, in a matter-of-fact tone, he began a story without decoration
of verbiage--straightforward and tense in its simplicity. As the
painter listened, he began to understand; the gall that had crept into
this lad's blood before his weaning became comprehensible.... Killing
Hollmans was not murder.... It was duty. He seemed to see the smoke-
blackened cabin and the mother of the boy sitting, with drawn face, in
dread of the hours. He felt the racking nerve-tension of a life in
which the father went forth each day leaving his family in fear that he
would not return. Then, under the spell of the unvarnished recital, he
seemed to witness the crisis when the man, who had dared repudiate the
lawless law of individual reprisal, paid the price of his insurgency.
A solitary friend had come in advance to break the news. His face,
when he awkwardly commenced to speak, made it unnecessary to put the
story into words. Samson told how his mother had turned pallid, and
stretched out her arm gropingly for support against the door-jamb. Then
the man had found his voice with clumsy directness.
"They've got him."
The small boy had reached her in time to break her fall as she
fainted, but, later, when they brought in the limp, unconscious man,
she was awaiting them with regained composure. An expression came to
her face at that moment, said the lad, which had never left it during
the remaining two years of her life. For some hours, "old" Henry South,
who in a less-wasting life would hardly have been middle-aged, had
lingered. They were hours of conscious suffering, with no power to
speak, but before he died he had beckoned his ten-year-old son to his
bedside, and laid a hand on the dark, rumpled hair. The boy bent
forward, his eyes tortured and tearless, and his little lips tight
pressed. The old man patted the head, and made a feeble gesture toward
the mother who was to be widowed. Samson had nodded.
"I'll take keer of her, pap," he had fervently sworn.
Then, Henry South had lifted a tremulous finger, and pointed to the
wall above the hearth. There, upon a set of buck-antlers, hung the
Winchester rifle. And, again, Samson had nodded, but this time he did
not speak. That moment was to his mind the most sacred of his life; it
had been a dedication to a purpose. The arms of the father had then and
there been bequeathed to the son, and with the arms a mission for their
use. After a brief pause, Samson told of the funeral. He had a
remarkable way of visualizing in rough speech the desolate picture; the
wailing mourners on the bleak hillside, with the November clouds
hanging low and trailing their wet streamers. A "jolt-wagon" had
carried the coffin in lieu of a hearse. Saddled mules stood tethered
against the picket fence. The dogs that had followed their masters
started a rabbit close by the open grave, and split the silence with
their yelps as the first clod fell. He recalled, too, the bitter voice
with which his mother had spoken to a kinsman as she turned from the
ragged burying ground, where only the forlorn cedars were green. She
was leaning on the boy's thin shoulders at the moment. He had felt her
arm stiffen with her words, and, as her arm stiffened, his own positive
nature stiffened with it.
"Henry believed in law and order. I did, too. But they wouldn't let us
have it that way. From this day on, I'm a-goin' to raise my boy to kill
With his father's death Samson's schooling had ended. His
responsibility now was farm work and the roughly tender solicitude of a
young stoic for his mother. His evenings before the broad fireplace he
gave up to a devouring sort of study, but his books were few.
When, two years later, he laid the body of the Widow South beside that
of his father in the ragged hillside burying-ground, he turned his
nag's head away from the cabin where he had been born, and rode over to
make his home at his Uncle Spicer's place. He had, in mountain
parlance, "heired" a farm of four hundred acres, but a boy of twelve
can hardly operate a farm, even if he be so stalwart a boy as Samson.
His Uncle Spicer wanted him, and he went, and the head of the family
took charge of his property as guardian; placed a kinsman there to till
it, on shares, and faithfully set aside for the boy what revenue came
from the stony acres. He knew that they would be rich acres when men
began to dig deeper than the hoe could scratch, and opened the veins
where the coal slept its unstirring sleep. The old man had not set such
store by learning as had Samson's father, and the little shaver's
education ended, except for what he could wrest from stinted sources
and without aid. His mission of "killing Hollmans" was not forgotten.
There had years ago been one general battle at a primary, when the two
factions fought for the control that would insure the victors safety
against "law trouble," and put into their hands the weapons of the
Samson was far too young to vote, but he was old enough to fight, and
the account he had given of himself, with the inherited rifle smoking,
gave augury of fighting effectiveness. So sanguinary had been this
fight, and so dangerously had it focused upon the warring clans the
attention of the outside world, that after its indecisive termination,
they made the compact of the present truce. By its terms, the Hollmans
held their civil authority, and the Souths were to be undisturbed
dictators beyond Misery. For some years now, the peace had been
unbroken save by sporadic assassinations, none of which could be
specifically enough charged to the feud account to warrant either side
in regarding the contract as broken. Samson, being a child, had been
forced to accept the terms of this peace bondage. The day would come
when the Souths could agree to no truce without his consent. Such was,
in brief, the story that the artist heard while he painted and rested
that day on the rock. Had he heard it in New York, he would have
discounted it as improbable and melodramatic. Now, he knew that it was
only one of many such chapters in the history of the Cumberlands. The
native point of view even became in a degree acceptable. In a system of
trial by juries from the vicinage, fair and bold prosecutions for crime
were impossible, and such as pretended to be so were bitterly tragic
farces. He understood why the families of murdered fathers and brothers
preferred to leave the punishment to their kinsmen in the laurel,
rather than to their enemies in the jury-box.
The day of painting was followed by others like it. The disabling of
Lescott's left hand made the constant companionship of the boy a matter
that needed no explanation or apology, though not a matter of approval
to his uncle.
Another week had passed without the reappearance of Tamarack Spicer.
One afternoon, Lescott and Samson were alone on a cliff-protected
shelf, and the painter had just blocked in with umber and neutral tint
the crude sketch of his next picture. In the foreground was a steep
wall, rising palisade-like from the water below. A kingly spruce-pine
gave the near note for a perspective which went away across a valley of
cornfields to heaping and distant mountains. Beyond that range, in a
slender ribbon of pale purple, one saw the ridge of a more remote and
The two men had lost an hour huddled under a canopy beneath the
cannonading of a sudden storm. They had silently watched titanic
battallions of thunder-clouds riding the skies in gusty puffs of gale,
and raking the earth with lightning and hail and water. The crags had
roared back echoing defiance, and the great trees had lashed and bent
and tossed like weeds in the buffeting. Every gully had become a
stream, and every gulch-rock a waterfall. Here and there had been a
crashing of spent timber, and now the sun had burst through a rift in
the west, and flooded a segment of the horizon with a strange, luminous
field of lesson. About this zone of clarity were heaped masses of gold-
rimmed and rose-edged clouds, still inky at their centers.
"My God!" exclaimed the mountain boy abruptly. "I'd give 'most
anything ef I could paint that."
Lescott rose smilingly from his seat before the easel, and surrendered
his palette and sheaf of brushes.
"Try it," he invited.
For a moment, Samson stood hesitant and overcome with diffidence;
then, with set lips, he took his place, and experimentally fitted his
fingers about a brush, as he had seen Lescott do. He asked no advice.
He merely gazed for awhile, and then, dipping a brush and experimenting
for his color, went to sweeping in his primary tones.
The painter stood at his back, still smiling. Of course, the brush-
stroke was that of the novice. Of course, the work was clumsy and
heavy. But what Lescott noticed was not so much the things that went on
canvas as the mixing of colors on the palette, for he knew that the
palette is the painter's heart, and its colors are the elements of his
soul. What a man paints on canvas is the sum of his acquirement; but
the colors he mixes are the declarations of what his soul can see, and
no man can paint whose eyes are not touched with the sublime. At that
moment, Lescott knew that Samson had such eyes.
The splashes of lemon yellow that the boy daubed above the hills might
have been painted with a brush dipped in the sunset. The heavy clouds
with their gossamer edgings had truth of tone and color. Then the
experimenter came to the purple rim of mountain tops.
There was no color for that on the palette, and he turned to the paint-
"Here," suggested Lescott, handing him a tube of Payne's Gray: "is
that what you're looking for?"
Samson read the label, and decisively shook his head.
"I'm a-goin' atter them hills," he declared. "There hain't no gray in
them thar mountings."
"Squeeze some out, anyway." The artist suited the action to the word,
and soon Samson was experimenting with a mixture.
"Why, that hain't no gray," he announced, with enthusiasm; "that
thar's sort of ashy purple." Still, he was not satisfied. His first
brush-stroke showed a trifle dead and heavy. It lacked the soft lucid
quality that the hills held, though it was close enough to truth to
have satisfied any eye save one of uncompromising sincerity. Samson,
even though he was hopelessly daubing, and knew it, was sincere, and
the painter at his elbow caught his breath, and looked on with the
absorption of a prophet, who, listening to childish prattle, yet
recognizes the gift of prophecy. The boy dabbled for a perplexed moment
among the pigments, then lightened up his color with a trace of
ultramarine. Unconsciously, the master heaved a sigh of satisfaction.
The boy "laid in" his far hills, and turned.
"Thet's the way hit looks ter me," he said, simply.
"That's the way it is," commended his critic.
For a while more, Samson worked at the nearer hills, then he rose.
"I'm done," he said. "I hain't a-goin' ter fool with them thar trees
an' things. I don't know nothing erbout thet. I can't paint leaves an'
twigs an' birdsnests. What I likes is mountings, an' skies, an' sech-
Lescott looked at the daub before him. A less-trained eye would have
seen only the daub, just as a poor judge of horse-flesh might see only
awkward joints and long legs in a weanling colt, though it be bred in
"Samson," he said, earnestly, "that's all there is to art. It's the
power to feel the poetry of color. The rest can be taught. The genius
must work, of course--work, work, work, and still work, but the Gift is
the power of seeing true--and, by God, boy, you have it."
His words rang exultantly.
"Anybody with eyes kin see," deprecated Samson, wiping his fingers on
his jeans trousers.
"You think so? To the seer who reads the passing shapes in a globe of
crystal, it's plain enough. To any other eye, there is nothing there
but transparency." Lescott halted, conscious that he was falling into
metaphor which his companion could not understand, then more quietly he
went on: "I don't know how you would progress, Samson, in detail and
technique, but I know you've got what many men have struggled a
lifetime for, and failed. I'd like to have you study with me. I'd like
to be your discoverer. Look here."
The painter sat down, and speedily went to work. He painted out
nothing. He simply toned, and, with precisely the right touch here and
there, softened the crudeness, laid stress on the contrast, melted the
harshness, and, when he rose, he had built, upon the rough cornerstone
of Samson's laying, a picture.
"That proves it," he said. "I had only to finish. I didn't have to
undo. Boy, you're wasting yourself. Come with me, and let me make you.
We all pretend there is no such thing, in these days, as sheer genius;
but, deep down, we know that, unless there is, there can be no such
thing as true art. There is genius and you have it." Enthusiasm was
again sweeping him into an unintended outburst.
The boy stood silent. Across his countenance swept a conflict of
emotions. He looked away, as if taking counsel with the hills.
"It's what I'm a-honin' fer," he admitted at last. "Hit's what I'd
give half my life fer.... I mout sell my land, an' raise the money....
I reckon hit would take passels of money, wouldn't hit?" He paused, and
his eyes fell on the rifle leaning against the tree. His lips tightened
in sudden remembrance. He went over and picked up the gun, and, as he
did so, he shook his head.
"No," he stolidly declared; "every man to his own tools. This here's
Yet, when they were again out sketching, the temptation to play with
brushes once more seized him, and he took his place before the easel.
Neither he nor Lescott noticed a man who crept down through the timber,
and for a time watched them. The man's face wore a surly, contemptuous
grin, and shortly it withdrew.
But, an hour later, while the boy was still working industriously and
the artist was lying on his back, with a pipe between his teeth, and his
half-closed eyes gazing up contentedly through the green of overhead
branches, their peace was broken by a guffaw of derisive laughter. They
looked up, to find at their backs a semi-circle of scoffing humanity.
Lescott's impulse was to laugh, for only the comedy of the situation at
the moment struck him. A stage director, setting a comedy scene with
that most ancient of jests, the gawking of boobs at some new sight,
could hardly have improved on this tableau. At the front stood Tamarack
Spicer, the returned wanderer. His lean wrist was stretched out of a
ragged sleeve all too short, and his tattered "jimmy" was shoved back
over a face all a-grin. His eyes were blood-shot with recent drinking,
but his manner was in exaggerated and cumbersome imitation of a rural
master of ceremonies. At his back were the raw-boned men and women and
children of the hills, to the number of a dozen. To the front shuffled
an old, half-witted hag, with thin gray hair and pendulous lower lip.
Her dress was patched and colorless. Her back was bent with age and
rheumatism. Her feet were incased in a pair of man's brogans. She stared
and snickered, and several children, taking the cue, giggled, but the
men, save Tamarack himself, wore troubled faces, as though recognizing
that their future chieftain had been discovered in some secret shame.
They were looking on their idol's feet of clay.
"Ladies and gentle-_men_," announced Tamarack Spicer, in a
hiccoughy voice, "swing yo' partners an' sashay forward. See the only
son of the late Henry South engaged in his mar-ve-lous an' heretofore
undiscovered occupation of doin' fancy work. Ladies and gentle-_men_,
after this here show is conclooded, keep your seats for the concert
in the main tent. This here famous performer will favor ye with a little
exhibition of plain an' fancy sock-darnin'."
The children snickered again. The old woman shuffled forward.
"Samson," she quavered, "I didn't never low ter see ye doin' no sich
woman's work as thet."
After the first surprise, Samson had turned his back on the group. He
was mixing paint at the time and he proceeded to experiment with a
fleeting cloud effect, which would not outlast the moment. He finished
that, and, reaching for the palette-knife, scraped his fingers and
wiped them on his trousers' legs. Then, he deliberately rose.
Without a word he turned. Tamarack had begun his harangue afresh. The
boy tossed back the long lock from his forehead, and then, with an
unexpectedly swift movement, crouched and leaped. His right fist shot
forward to Tamarack Spicer's chattering lips, and they abruptly ceased
to chatter as the teeth were driven into their flesh. Spicer's head
snapped back, and he staggered against the onlookers, where he stood
rocking on his unsteady legs. His hand swept instinctively to the shirt
-concealed holster, but, before it had connected, both of Samson's fists
were playing a terrific tattoo on his face. The inglorious master of
the show dropped, and lay groggily trying to rise.
The laughter died as suddenly as Tamarack's speech. Samson stepped
back again, and searched the faces of the group for any lingering sign
of mirth or criticism. There was none. Every countenance was sober and
expressionless, but the boy felt a weight of unuttered disapproval, and
he glared defiance. One of the older onlookers spoke up reproachfully.
"Samson, ye hadn't hardly ought ter a-done that. He was jest a funnin'
"Git him up on his feet. I've got somethin' ter say ter him." The
boy's voice was dangerously quiet. It was his first word. They lifted
the fallen cousin, whose entertainment had gone astray, and led him
forward grumbling, threatening and sputtering, but evincing no
immediate desire to renew hostilities.
"Whar hev ye been?" demanded Samson.
"Thet's my business," came the familiar mountain phrase.
"Why wasn't yer hyar when them dawgs come by? Why was ye the only
South thet runned away, when they was smellin' round fer Jesse Purvy's
"I didn't run away." Tamarack's blood-shot eyes flared wickedly. "I
knowed thet ef I stayed 'round hyar with them damned Hollmans stickin'
their noses inter our business, I'd hurt somebody. So, I went over
inter the next county fer a spell. You fellers mout be able to take
things offen the Hollmans, but I hain't."
"Thet's a damned lie," said Samson, quietly. "Ye runned away, an' ye
runned in the water so them dawgs couldn't trail ye--ye done hit
because ye shot them shoots at Jesse Purvy from the laurel--because
ye're a truce-bustin', murderin' bully thet shoots off his face, an' is
skeered to fight." Samson paused for breath, and went on with regained
calmness. "I've knowed all along ye was the man, an' I've kept quiet
because ye're 'my kin. If ye've got anything else ter say, say hit.
But, ef I ever ketches yer talkin' about me, or talkin' ter Sally, I'm
a-goin' ter take ye by the scruff of the neck, an' drag ye plumb inter
Hixon, an' stick ye in the jail-house. An' I'm a-goin' ter tell the
High Sheriff that the Souths spits ye outen their mouths. Take him
away." The crowd turned and left the place. When they were gone, Samson
seated himself at his easel again, and picked up his palette.
Lescott had come to the mountains anticipating a visit of two weeks.
His accident had resolved him to shorten it to the nearest day upon
which he felt capable of making the trip out to the railroad. Yet, June
had ended; July had burned the slopes from emerald to russet-green;
August had brought purple tops to the ironweed, and still he found
himself lingering. And this was true although he recognized a growing
sentiment of disapproval for himself. He knew indubitably that he stood
charged with the offense for which Socrates was invited to drink the
hemlock: "corrupting the morals of the youth, and teaching strange
gods." Feeling the virtue of his teaching, he was unwilling as Socrates
to abandon the field. In Samson he thought he recognized twin gifts: a
spark of a genius too rare to be allowed to flicker out, and a
potentiality for constructive work among his own people, which needed
for its perfecting only education and experience. Having aroused a
soul's restiveness in the boy, he felt a direct responsibility for it
and him, to which he added a deep personal regard. Though the kinsmen
looked upon him as an undesirable citizen, bringing teachings which
they despised, the hospitality of old Spicer South continued unbroken
and a guarantee of security on Misery.
"Samson," he suggested one day when they were alone, "I want you to
come East. You say that gun is your tool, and that each man must stick
to his own. You are in part right, in part wrong. A mail uses any tool
better for understanding other tools. You have the right to use your
brains and talents to the full."
The boy's face was somber in the intensity of his mental struggle, and
his answer had that sullen ring which was not really sullenness at all,
"I reckon a feller's biggest right is to stand by his kinfolks. Unc'
Spicer's gittin' old. He's done been good ter me. He needs me here."
"I appreciate that. He will be older later. You can go now, and come
back to him when he needs you more. If what I urged meant disloyalty to
your people, I would cut out my tongue before I argued for it. You must
believe me in that. I want you to be in the fullest sense your people's
leader. I want you to be not only their Samson--but their Moses."
The boy looked up and nodded. The mountaineer is not given to
demonstration. He rarely shakes hands, and he does not indulge in
superlatives of affection. He loved and admired this man from the
outside world, who seemed to him to epitomize wisdom, but his code did
not permit him to say so.
"I reckon ye aims ter be friendly, all right," was his conservative
The painter went on earnestly:
"I realize that I am urging things of which your people disapprove,
but it is only because they misunderstand that they do disapprove. They
are too close, Samson, to see the purple that mountains have when they
are far away. I want you to go where you can see the purple. If you are
the sort of man I think, you won't be beguiled. You won't lose your
loyalty. You won't be ashamed of your people."
"I reckon I wouldn't be ashamed," said the youth. "I reckon there
hain't no better folks nowhar."
"I'm sure of it. There are going to be sweeping changes in these
mountains. Conditions here have stood as immutably changeless as the
hills themselves for a hundred years. That day is at its twilight. I
tell you, I know what I'm talking about. The State of Kentucky is
looking this way. The State must develop, and it is here alone that it
can develop. In the Bluegrass, the possibilities for change are
exhausted. Their fields lie fallow, their woodlands are being stripped.
Tobacco has tainted the land. It has shouldered out the timber, and is
turning forest to prairie. A land of fertile loam is vying with cheap
soil that can send almost equal crops to market. There is no more
timber to be cut, and when the timber goes the climate changes. In
these hills lie the sleeping sources of wealth. Here are virgin forests
and almost inexhaustible coal veins. Capital is turning from an orange
squeezed dry, and casting about for fresher food. Capital has seen your
hills. Capital is inevitable, relentless, omnipotent. Where it comes,
it makes its laws. Conditions that have existed undisturbed will
vanish. The law of the feud, which militia and courts have not been
able to abate, will vanish before Capital's breath like the mists when
the sun strikes them. Unless you learn to ride the waves which will
presently sweep over your country, you and your people will go under.
You may not realize it, but that is true. It is written."
The boy had listened intently, but at the end he smiled, and in his
expression was something of the soldier who scents battle, not without
"I reckon if these here fellers air a-comin' up here ter run things,
an' drownd out my folks, hit's a right good reason fer me ter stay here
--an' holp my folks."
"By staying here, you can't help them. It won't be work for guns, but
for brains. By going away and coming back armed with knowledge, you can
save them. You will know how to play the game."
"I reckon they won't git our land, ner our timber, ner our coal,
without we wants ter sell hit. I reckon ef they tries thet, guns will
come in handy. Things has stood here like they is now, fer a hundred
years. I reckon we kin keep 'em that-away fer a spell longer." But it
was evident that Samson was arguing against his own belief; that he was
trying to bolster up his resolution and impeached loyalty, and that at
heart he was sick to be up and going to a world which did not despise
"eddication." After a little, he waved his hand vaguely toward "down
"Ef I went down thar," he questioned suddenly and irrelevantly, "would
I hev' ter cut my ha'r?"
"My dear boy," laughed Lescott, "I can introduce you in New York
studios to many distinguished gentlemen who would feel that their heads
had been shorn if they let their locks get as short as yours. In New
York, you might stroll along Broadway garbed in turban and a
_burnouse_ without greatly exciting anybody. I think my own hair
is as long as yours."
"Because," doggedly declared the mountaineer, "I wouldn't allow nobody
ter make me cut my ha'r."
"Why?" questioned Lescott, amused at the stubborn inflection.
"I don't hardly know why--" He paused, then admitted with a glare as
though defying criticism: "Sally likes hit that-away--an' I won't let
nobody dictate ter me, that's all."
The leaven was working, and one night Samson announced to his Uncle
from the doorstep that he was "studyin' erbout goin' away fer a spell,
an' seein' the world."
The old man laid down his pipe. He cast a reproachful glance at the
painter, which said clearly, though without words:
"I have opened my home to you and offered you what I had, yet in my
old age you take away my mainstay." For a time, he sat silent, but his
shoulders hunched forward with a sag which they had not held a moment
before. His seamed face appeared to age visibly and in the moment. He
ran one bony hand through his gray mane of hair.
"I 'lowed you was a-studyin' erbout thet, Samson," he said, at last.
"I've done ther best fer ye I knowed. I kinder 'lowed thet from now on
ye'd do the same fer me. I'm gittin' along in years right smart...."
"Uncle Spicer," interrupted the boy, "I reckon ye knows thet any time
ye needed me I'd come back."
The old man's face hardened.
"Ef ye goes," he said, almost sharply, "I won't never send fer ye. Any
time ye ever wants ter come back, ye knows ther way. Thar'll be room
an' victuals fer ye hyar."
"I reckon I mout be a heap more useful ef I knowed more."
"I've heered fellers say that afore. Hit hain't never turned out thet
way with them what has left the mountings. Mebby they gets more useful,
but they don't git useful ter us. Either they don't come back at all,
or mebby they comes back full of newfangled notions--an' ashamed of
their kinfoiks. Thet's the way, I've noticed, hit gen'ally turns out."
Samson scorned to deny that such might be the case with him, and was
silent. After a time, the old man went on again in a weary voice, as he
bent down to loosen his brogans and kick them noisily off on to the
"The Souths hev done looked to ye a good deal, Samson. They 'lowed
they could depend on ye. Ye hain't quite twenty-one yet, an' I reckon I
could refuse ter let ye sell yer prop'ty. But thar hain't no use tryin'
ter hold a feller when he wants ter quit. Ye don't 'low ter go right
away, do ye?"
"I hain't plumb made up my mind ter go at all," said the boy,
shamefacedly. "But, ef I does go, I hain't a-goin' yit. I hain't spoke
ter nobody but you about hit yit."
Lescott felt reluctant to meet his host's eyes at breakfast the next
morning, dreading their reproach, but, if Spicer South harbored
resentment, he meant to conceal it, after the stoic's code. There was
no hinted constraint of cordiality. Lescott felt, however, that in
Samson's mind was working the leaven of that unspoken accusation of
disloyalty. He resolved to make a final play, and seek to enlist Sally
in his cause. If Sally's hero-worship could be made to take the form of
ambition for Samson, she might be brought to relinquish him for a time,
and urge his going that he might return strengthened. Yet, Sally's
devotion was so instinctive and so artless that it would take
compelling argument to convince her of any need of change. It was
Samson as he was whom she adored. Any alteration was to be distrusted.
Still, Lescott set out one afternoon on his doubtful mission. He was
more versed in mountain ways than he had been. His own ears could now
distinguish between the bell that hung at the neck of Sally's brindle
heifer and those of old Spicer's cows. He went down to the creek at the
hour when he knew Sally, also, would be making her way thither with her
milk-pail, and intercepted her coming. As she approached, she was
singing, and the man watched her from the distance. He was a landscape
painter and not a master of _genre_ or portrait. Yet, he wished
that he might, before going, paint Sally. She was really, after all, a
part of the landscape, as much a thing of nature and the hills as the
hollyhocks that had come along the picket-fences. She swayed as
gracefully and thoughtlessly to her movements as do strong and pliant
stems under the breeze's kiss. Artfulness she had not; nor has the
flower: only the joy and fragrance of a brief bloom. It was that
thought which just now struck the painter most forcibly. It was
shameful that this girl and boy should go on to the hard and unlighted
life that inevitably awaited them, if neither had the opportunity of
development. She would be at forty a later edition of the Widow Miller.
He had seen the widow. Sally's charm must be as ephemeral under the
life of illiterate drudgery and perennial child-bearing as her mother's
had been. Her shoulders, now so gloriously straight and strong, would
sag, and her bosom shrink, and her face harden and take on that drawn
misery of constant anxiety. But, if Samson went and came back with some
conception of cherishing his wife--yes, the effort was worth making.
Yet, as the girl came down the slope, gaily singing a very melancholy
song, the painter broke off in his reflections, and his thoughts
veered. If Samson left, would he ever return? Might not the old man
after all be right? When he had seen other women and tasted other
allurements would he, like Ulysses, still hold his barren Ithaca above
the gilded invitation of Calypso? History has only one Ulysses. Sally's
voice was lilting like a bird's as she walked happily. The song was one
of those old ballads that have been held intact since the stock learned
to sing them in the heather of the Scotch highlands before there was an
"'She's pizened me, mother, make my bed soon,
Fer I'm sick at my heart and I fain would lay doon.'"
The man rose and went to meet her.
"Miss Sally," he began, uncertainly, "I want to talk to you."
She was always very grave and diffident with Lescott. He was a strange
new type to her, and, though she had begun with a predilection in his
favor, she had since then come to hold him in adverse prejudice. Before
his arrival, Samson had been all hers. She had not missed in her lover
the gallantries that she and her women had never known. At evening,
when the supper dishes were washed and she sat in the honeysuckle
fragrance of the young night with the whippoorwills calling, she had
been accustomed to hear a particular whippoorwill-note call, much like
the real ones, yet distinct to her waiting ears. She was wont to rise
and go to the stile to meet him. She had known that every day she
would, seemingly by chance, meet Samson somewhere along the creek, or
on the big bowlder at the rift, or hoeing on the sloping cornfield.
These things had been enough. But, of late, his interests had been
divided. This painter had claimed many of his hours and many of his
thoughts. There was in her heart an unconfessed jealousy of the
foreigner. Now, she scrutinized him solemnly, and nodded.
"Won't you sit down?" he invited, and the girl dropped cross-legged on
a mossy rock, and waited. To-day, she wore a blue print dress, instead
of the red one. It was always a matter of amazement to the man that in
such an environment she was not only wildly beautiful, but invariably
the pink of neatness. She could climb a tree or a mountain, or emerge
from a sweltering blackberry patch, seemingly as fresh and unruffled as
she had been at the start. The man stood uncomfortably looking at her,
and was momentarily at a loss for words with which to commence.
"What was ye a-goin' ter tell me?" she asked.
"Miss Sally," he began, "I've discovered something about Samson."
Her blue eyes flashed ominously.
"Ye can't tell me nothin' 'bout Samson," she declared, "withouten
hit's somethin' nice."
"It's something very nice," the man reassured her.
"Then, ye needn't tell me, because I already knows hit," came her
prompt and confident announcement.
Lescott shook his head, dubiously.
"Samson is a genius," he said.
"He has great gifts--great abilities to become a figure in the world."
She nodded her head, in prompt and full corroboration.
"I reckon Samson'll be the biggest man in the mountings some day."
"He ought to be more than that."
Suspicion at once cast a cloud across the violet serenity of her eyes.
"What does ye mean?" she demanded.
"I mean"--the painter paused a moment, and then said bluntly--"I mean
that I want to take him back with me to New York."
The girl sprang to her feet with her chin defiantly high and her brown
hands clenched into tight little fists. Her bosom heaved convulsively,
and her eyes blazed through tears of anger. Her face was pale.
"Ye hain't!" she cried, in a paroxysm of fear and wrath. "Ye hain't a-
goin' ter do no sich--no sich of a damn thing!" She stamped her foot,
and her whole girlish body, drawn into rigid uprightness, was a-quiver
with the incarnate spirit of the woman defending her home and
institutions. For a moment after that, she could not speak, but her
determined eyes blazed a declaration of war. It was as though he had
posed her as the Spirit of the Cumberlands.
He waited until she should be calmer. It was useless to attempt
stemming her momentary torrent of rage. It was like one of the sudden
and magnificent tempests that often swept these hills, a brief visit of
the furies. One must seek shelter and wait. It would end as suddenly as
it had come. At last, he spoke, very softly.
"You don't understand me, Miss Sally. I'm not trying to take Samson
away from you. If a man should lose a girl like you, he couldn't gain
enough in the world to make up for it. All I want is that he shall have
the chance to make the best of his life."
"I reckon Samson don't need no fotched-on help ter make folks
"Every man needs his chance. He can be a great painter--but that's the
least part of it. He can come back equipped for anything that life
offers. Here, he is wasted."
"Ye mean"--she put the question with a hurt quaver in her voice--"ye
mean we all hain't good enough fer Samson?"
"No. I only mean that Samson wants to grow--and he needs space and new
scenes in which to grow. I want to take him where he can see more of
the world--not only a little section of the world. Surely, you are not
distrustful of Samson's loyalty? I want him to go with me for a while,
and see life."
"Don't ye say hit!" The defiance in her voice was being pathetically
tangled up with the tears. She was speaking in a transport of grief.
"Don't ye say hit. Take anybody else--take 'em all down thar, but leave
us Samson. We needs him hyar. We've jest got ter have Samson hyar."
She faced him still with quivering lips, but in another moment, with a
sudden sob, she dropped to the rock, and buried her face in her crossed
arms. Her slender body shook under a harrowing convulsion of
unhappiness. Lescott felt as though he had struck her; as though he had
ruthlessly blighted the irresponsible joyousness which had a few
minutes before sung from her lips with the blitheness of a mocking-
bird. He went over and softly laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Miss Sally--" he began.
She suddenly turned on him a tear-stained, infuriated face, stormy
with blazing eyes and wet cheeks and trembling lips.
"Don't touch me," she cried; "don't ye dare ter touch me! I hain't
nothin' but a gal--but I reckon I could 'most tear ye ter pieces. Ye're
jest a pizen snake, anyhow!" Then, she pointed a tremulous finger off
up the road. "Git away from hyar," she commanded. "I don't never want
ter see ye again. Ye're tryin' ter steal everything I loves. Git away,
I tells ye!--git away--begone!"
"Think it over," urged Lescott, quietly. "See if your heart doesn't
say I am Samson's friend--and yours." He turned, and began making his
way over the rocks; but, before he had gone far, he sat down to reflect
upon the situation. Certainly, he was not augmenting his popularity. A
half-hour later, he heard a rustle, and, turning, saw Sally standing
not far off. She was hesitating at the edge of the underbrush, and
Lescott read in her eyes the effort it was costing her to come forward
and apologize. Her cheeks were still pale and her eyes wet, but the
tempest of her anger had spent itself, and in the girl who stood
penitently, one hand nervously clutching a branch of rhododendron, one
foot twisting in the moss, Lescott was seeing an altogether new Sally.
There was a renunciation in her eyes that in contrast with the child-
like curve of her lips, and slim girlishness of her figure, seemed
As she stood there, trying to come forward with a pitiful effort at
composure and a twisted smile, Lescott wanted to go and meet her. But
he knew her shyness, and realized that the kindest thing would be to
pretend that he had not seen her at all. So, he covertly watched her,
while he assumed to sit in moody unconsciousness of her nearness.
Little by little, and step by step, she edged over to him, halting
often and looking about with the impulse to slip out of sight, but
always bracing herself and drawing a little nearer. Finally, he knew
that she was standing almost directly over him, and yet it was a moment
or two more before her voice, sweetly penitent, announced her arrival.
"I reckon--I reckon I've got ter ask yore pardon," she said, slowly
and with labored utterance. He looked up to see her standing with her
head drooping and her fingers nervously pulling a flower to pieces.
"I reckon I hain't a plumb fool. I knows thet Samson's got a right ter
eddication. Anyhow, I knows he wants hit."
"Education," said the man, "isn't going to change Samson, except to
make him finer than he is--and more capable."
She shook her head. "I hain't got no eddication," she answered. "Hit's
a-goin' ter make him too good fer me. I reckon hit's a-goin' ter jest
about kill me.... Ye hain't never seed these here mountings in the
winter time, when thar hain't nothin' green, an' thar hain't no birds
a-singin', an' thar hain't nothin' but rain an' snow an' fog an' misery.
They're a-goin' ter be like thet all the time fer me, atter Samson's
gone away." She choked back something like a sob before she went on.
"Yes, stranger, hit's a-goin' ter pretty nigh kill me, but--" Her lips
twisted themselves into the pathetic smile again, and her chin came
stiffly up. "But," she added, determinedly, "thet don't make no
Yet, when Samson that evening gave his whippoorwill call at the Widow
Miller's cabin, he found a dejected and miserable girl sitting on the
stile, with her chin propped in her two hands and her eyes full of
somberness and foreboding.
"What's the matter, Sally?" questioned he, anxiously. "Hes that low-down
Tamarack Spicer been round here tellin' ye some more stories ter pester
She shook her head in silence. Usually, she bore the brunt of their
conversations, Samson merely agreeing with, or overruling, her in
lordly brevities. The boy climbed up and sat beside her.
"Thar's a-goin' ter be a dancin' party over ter Wile McCager's mill
come Saturday," he insinuatingly suggested. "I reckon ye'll go over
thar with me, won't ye, Sally?"
He waited for her usual delighted assent, but Sally only told him
absently and without enthusiasm that she would "study about it." At
last, however, her restraint broke, and, looking up, she abruptly
"Air ye a-goin' away, Samson?"
"Who's been a-talkin' ter ye?" demanded the boy, angrily.
For a moment, the girl sat silent. Silver mists were softening under a
rising moon. The katydids were prophesying with strident music the six
weeks' warning of frost. Myriads of stars were soft and low-hanging.
Finally, she spoke in a grave voice:
"Hit hain't nothin' ter git mad about, Samson. The artist man 'lowed
as how ye had a right ter go down thar, an' git an eddication." She
made a weary gesture toward the great beyond.
"He hadn't ought to of told ye, Sally. If I'd been plumb sartin in my
mind, I'd a-told ye myself--not but what I knows," he hastily amended,
"thet he meant hit friendly."
"Air ye a-goin'?"
"I'm studyin' about hit."
He awaited objection, but none came. Then, with a piquing of his
masculine vanity, he demanded:
"Hain't ye a-keerin', Sally, whether I goes, or not?"
The girl grew rigid. Her fingers on the crumbling plank of the stile's
top tightened and gripped hard. The moonlit landscape seemed to whirl
in a dizzy circle. Her face did not betray her, nor her voice, though
she had to gulp down a rising lump in her throat before she could
"I thinks ye had ought ter go, Samson."
The boy was astonished. He had avoided the subject for fear of her
Then, slowly, she went on as though repeating a lesson painstakingly
"There hain't nothin' in these here hills fer ye, Samson. Down thar,
ye'll see lots of things thet's new--an' civilized an' beautiful! Ye'll
see lots of gals thet kin read an' write, gals dressed up in all kinds
of fancy fixin's." Her glib words ran out and ended in a sort of inward
Compliment came hardly and awkwardly to Samson's lips. He reached for
the girl's hand, and whispered:
"I reckon I won't see no gals thet's as purty as you be, Sally. I
reckon ye knows, whether I goes or stays, we're a-goin' ter git married."
She drew her hand away, and laughed, a little bitterly. In the last day,
she had ceased to be a child, and become a woman with all the soul-aching
possibilities of a woman's intuitions.
"Samson," she said, "I hain't askin' ye ter make me no promises. When
ye sees them other gals--gals thet kin read an' write--I reckon mebby
ye'll think diff'rent. I can't hardly spell out printin' in the fust
Her lover's voice was scornful of the imagined dangers, as a recruit
may be of the battle terrors--before he has been under fire. He slipped
his arm about her and drew her over to him.
"Honey," he said, "ye needn't fret about thet. Readin' an' writin'
can't make no difference fer a woman. Hit's mighty important fer a man,
but you're a gal."
"You're a-goin' ter think diff'rent atter awhile," she insisted. "When
ye goes, I hain't a-goin' ter be expectin' ye ter come back ... But"
--the resolution in her voice for a moment quavered as she added--"but
God knows I'm a-goin' ter be hopin'!"
"Sally!" The boy rose, and paced up and down in the road. "Air ye
goin' ter be ag'inst me, too? Don't ye see that I wants ter have a
chanst? Can't ye trust me? I'm jest a-tryin' to amount to something.
I'm plumb tired of bein' ornery an' no 'count."
"I've done told ye," she said, wearily, "thet I thinks ye ought ter do
He stood there in the road looking down at her and the twisted smile
that lifted only one corner of her lips, while the other drooped. The
moonlight caught her eyes; eyes that were trying, like the lips, to
smile, but that were really looking away into the future, which she saw
stripped of companionship and love, and gray with the ashiness of
wretched desolation. And, while he was seeing the light of the
simulated cheeriness die out in her face, she was seeing the strange,
exalted glow, of which she was more than half-afraid, kindle in his
pupils. It was as though she were giving up the living fire out of her
own heart to set ablaze the ambition and anticipation in his own.
That glow in Samson's eyes she feared and shrank from, as she might
have flinched before the blaze of insanity. It was a thing which her
mountain superstition could not understand, a thing not wholly normal;
a manifestation that came to the stoic face and transformed it, when
the eyes of the brain and heart were seeing things which she herself
could not see. It was the proclamation of the part of Samson which she
could not comprehend, as though he were looking into a spirit world of
weird and abnormal things. It was the light of an enthusiasm such as
his love for her could not bring to his eyes--and it told her that the
strongest and deepest part of Samson did not belong to her. Now, as the
young man stood there before her, and her little world of hope and
happiness seemed crumbling into ruins, and she was steeling her soul to
sacrifice herself and let him go, he was thinking, not of what it was
costing her in heart-break, but seeing visions of all the great world
held for him beyond the barriers of the mountains. The light in his
eyes seemed to flaunt the victory of the enthusiasms that had nothing
to do with her.
Samson came forward, and held out his arms. But Sally drew away with a
little shudder, and crouched at the end of the stile.
"What's ther matter, Sally?" he demanded in surprise, and, as he bent
toward her, his eyes lost the strange light she feared, and she laughed
a little nervous laugh, and rose from her seat.
"Nothin' hain't ther matter--now," she said, stanchly.
Lescott and Samson discussed the matter frequently. At times, the boy
was obstinate in his determination to remain; at other times, he gave
way to the yearnings for change and opportunity. But the lure of the
palette and brush possessed him beyond resistance and his taciturnity
melted, when in the painter's company, to a roughly poetic form of
"Thet sunrise," he announced one morning, setting down his milk-pail
to gaze at the east, "is jest like the sparkle in a gal's eyes when
she's tickled at somethin' ye've said about her. An,' when the sun
sets, hit's like the whole world was a woman blushin'."
The dance on Saturday was to be something more portentous than a mere
frolic. It would be a clan gathering to which the South adherents would
come riding up and down Misery and its tributaries from "nigh abouts"
and "over yon." From forenoon until after midnight, shuffle, jig and
fiddling would hold high, if rough, carnival. But, while the younger
folk abandoned themselves to these diversions, the grayer heads would
gather in more serious conclave. Jesse Purvy had once more beaten back
death, and his mind had probably been devising, during those bed-ridden
days and nights, plans of reprisal. According to current report, Purvy
had announced that his would-be assassin dwelt on Misery, and was
"marked down." So, there were obvious exigencies which the Souths must
prepare to meet. In particular, the clan must thrash out to definite
understanding the demoralizing report that Samson South, their logical
leader, meant to abandon them, at a crisis when war-clouds were
The painter had finally resolved to cut the Gordian knot, and leave
the mountains. He had trained on Samson to the last piece all his
artillery of argument. The case was now submitted with the suggestion
that the boy take three months to consider, and that, if he decided
affirmatively, he should notify Lescott in advance of his coming. He
proposed sending Samson a small library of carefully picked books,
which the mountaineer eagerly agreed to devour in the interval.
Lescott consented, however, to remain over Saturday, and go to the
dance, since he was curious to observe what pressure was brought to
bear on the boy, and to have himself a final word of argument after the
kinsmen had spoken.
Saturday morning came after a night of torrential rain, which had left
the mountains steaming under a reek of fog and pitching clouds.
Hillside streams ran freshets, and creek-bed roads were foaming and
boiling into waterfalls. Sheep and cattle huddled forlornly under their
shelters of shelving rock, and only the geese seemed happy.
Far down the dripping shoulders of the mountains trailed ragged
streamers of vapor. Here and there along the lower slopes hung puffs of
smoky mist as though silent shells were bursting from unseen artillery
over a vast theater of combat.
But, as the morning wore on, the sun fought its way to view in a scrap
of overhead blue. A freshening breeze plunged into the reek, and sent
it scurrying in broken cloud ranks and shredded tatters. The steamy
heat gave way under a dissipating sweep of coolness, until the skies
smiled down on the hills and the hills smiled back. From log cabins and
plank houses up and down Misery and its tributaries, men and women
began their hegira toward the mill. Some came on foot, carrying their
shoes in their hands, but those were only near-by dwellers. Others made
saddle journeys of ten or fifteen, or even twenty, miles, and the
beasts that carried a single burden were few. Lescott rode in the wake
of Samson, who had Sally on a pillow at his back, and along the seven
miles of journey he studied the strange procession. It was, for the
most part, a solemn cavalcade, for these are folk who "take their
pleasures sadly." Possibly, some of the sun-bonneted, strangely-garbed
women were reflecting on the possibilities which mountain-dances often
develop into tragic actualities. Possibly, others were having their
enjoyment discounted by the necessity of "dressing up" and wearing shoes.
Sometimes, a slowly ambling mule bore an entire family; the father
managing the reins with one hand and holding a baby with the other,
while his rifle lay balanced across his pommel and his wife sat
solemnly behind him on a sheepskin or pillion. Many of the men rode
side-saddles, and sacks bulky at each end hinted of such baggage as is
carried in jugs. Lescott realized from the frank curiosity with which
he was regarded that he had been a topic of discussion, and that he was
now being "sized up." He was the false prophet who was weaving a spell
over Samson! Once, he heard a sneering voice from the wayside comment
as he rode by.
"He looks like a damned parson."
Glancing back, he saw a tow-headed youth glowering at him out of
pinkish albino eyes. The way lay in part along the creek-bed, where
wagons had ground the disintegrating rock into deep ruts as smooth as
walls of concrete. Then, it traversed a country of palisading cliffs
and immensity of forest, park-like and splendid. Strangely picturesque
suspension bridges with rough stairways at their ends spanned waters
too deep for fording. Frame houses showed along the banks of the creek
--grown here to a river--unplaned and unpainted of wall, but brightly
touched with window-and door-frames of bright yellow or green or blue.
This was the territory where the Souths held dominance, and it was
pouring out its people.
They came before noon to the mouth of Dryhole Creek, and the house of
Wile McCager. Already, the picket fence was lined with tethered horses
and mules, and a canvas-covered wagon came creeping in behind its yoke
of oxen. Men stood clustered in the road, and at the entrance a woman,
nursing her baby at her breast, welcomed and gossiped with the arrivals.
The house of Wile McCager loaned itself to entertainment. It was not
of logs, but of undressed lumber, and boasted a front porch and two
front rooms entered by twin doors facing on a triangular alcove. In the
recess between these portals stood a washstand, surmounted by a china
basin and pitcher--a declaration of affluence. From the interior of the
house came the sounds of fiddling, though these strains of "Turkey in
the Straw" were only by way of prelude. Lescott felt, though he could
not say just what concrete thing told him, that under the shallow note
of merry-making brooded the major theme of a troublesome problem. The
seriousness was below the surface, but insistently depressing. He saw,
too, that he himself was mixed up with it in a fashion, which might
become dangerous, when a few jugs of white liquor had been emptied.
It would be some time yet before the crowd warmed up. Now, they only
stood about and talked, and to Lescott they gave a gravely polite
greeting, beneath which was discernible an undercurrent of hostility.
As the day advanced, the painter began picking out the more
influential clansmen, by the fashion in which they fell together into
groups, and took themselves off to the mill by the racing creek for
discussion. While the young persons danced and "sparked" within, and
the more truculent lads escaped to the road to pass the jug, and
forecast with youthful war-fever "cleanin' out the Hollmans," the
elders were deep in ways and means. If the truce could be preserved for
its unexpired period of three years, it was, of course, best. In that
event, crops could be cultivated, and lives saved. But, if Jesse Purvy
chose to regard his shooting as a breach of terms, and struck, he would
strike hard, and, in that event, best defense lay in striking first.
Samson would soon be twenty-one. That he would take his place as head
of the clan had until now never been questioned--and he was talking of
desertion. For that, a pink-skinned foreigner, who wore a woman's bow
of ribbon at his collar, was to blame. The question of loyalty must be
squarely put up to Samson, and it must be done to-day. His answer must
be definite and unequivocal. As a guest of Spicer South, Lescott was
entitled to that consideration which is accorded ambassadors.
None the less, the vital affairs of the clan could not be balked by
consideration for a stranger, who, in the opinion of the majority,
should be driven from the country as an insidious mischief-maker.
Ostensibly, the truce still held, but at no time since its signing had
matters been so freighted with the menace of a gathering storm. The
attitude of each faction was that of several men standing quiet with
guns trained on one another's breasts. Each hesitated to fire, knowing
that to pull the trigger meant to die himself, yet fearing that another
trigger might at any moment be drawn. Purvy dared not have Samson shot
out of hand, because he feared that the Souths would claim his life in
return, yet he feared to let Samson live. On the other hand, if Purvy
fell, no South could balance his death, except Spicer or Samson. Any
situation that might put conditions to a moment of issue would either
prove that the truce was being observed, or open the war--and yet each
faction was guarding against such an event as too fraught with danger.
One thing was certain. By persuasion or force, Lescott must leave, and
Samson must show himself to be the youth he had been thought, or the
confessed and repudiated renegade. Those questions, to-day must answer.
It was a difficult situation, and promised an eventful entertainment.
Whatever conclusion was reached as to the artist's future, he was,
until the verdict came in, a visitor, and, unless liquor inflamed some
reckless trouble-hunter, that fact would not be forgotten. Possibly, it
was as well that Tamarack Spicer had not arrived.
Lescott himself realized the situation in part, as he stood at the
door of the house watching the scene inside.
There was, of course, no round dancing--only the shuffle and jig--with
champions contending for the honor of their sections. A young woman
from Deer Lick and a girl from the head of Dryhill had been matched for
the "hoe-down," and had the floor to themselves. The walls were crowded
with partisan onlookers, who applauded and cheered their favorite.
The bows scraped faster and louder; the clapping hands beat more
tumultuously, until their mad _tempo_ was like the clatter of
musketry; the dancers threw themselves deliriously into the madly
quickening step. It was a riotous saturnalia of flying feet and
twinkling ankles. Onlookers shouted and screamed encouragement. It
seemed that the girls must fall in exhaustion, yet each kept on,
resolved to be still on the floor when the other had abandoned it in
defeat--that being the test of victory. At last, the girl from Dryhill
reeled, and was caught by half-a-dozen arms. Her adversary, holding the
floor undisputed, slowed down, and someone stopped the fiddler. Sally
turned from the crowded wall, and began looking about for Samson. He
was not there. Lescott had seen him leave the house a few moments
before, and started over to intercept the girl, as she came out to the
In the group about the door, he passed a youth with tow-white hair and
very pink cheeks. The boy was the earliest to succumb to the temptation
of the moonshine jug, a temptation which would later claim others. He
was reeling crazily, and his albino eyes were now red and inflamed.
Lescott remembered him.
"Thet's ther damned furriner thet's done turned Samson inter a gal,"
proclaimed the youth, in a thick voice.
The painter paused, and looked back. The boy was reaching under his
coat with hands that had become clumsy and unresponsive.
"Let me git at him," he shouted, with a wild whoop and a dash toward
Lescott said nothing, but Sally had heard, and stepped swiftly between.
"You've got ter git past me fust, Buddy," she said, quietly. "I reckon
ye'd better run on home, an' git yore mammy ter put ye ter bed."
Several soberer men closed around the boy, and, after disarming him,
led him away grumbling and muttering, while Wile McCager made apologies
to the guest.
"Jimmy's jest a peevish child," he explained. "A drop or two of licker
makes him skittish. I hopes ye'll look over hit."
Jimmy's outbreak was interesting to Lescott chiefly as an indication
of what might follow. He noted how the voices were growing louder and
shriller, and how the jug was circulating faster. A boisterous note was
making itself heard through the good humor and laughter, and the
"furriner" remembered that these minds, when inflamed, are more prone
to take the tangent of violence than that of mirth. Unwilling to
introduce discord by his presence, and involve Samson in quarrels on
his account, he suggested riding back to Misery, but the boy's face
clouded at the suggestion.
"Ef they kain't be civil ter my friends," he said, shortly, "they've
got ter account ter me. You stay right hyar, and I'll stay clost to
you. I done come hyar to-day ter tell 'em that they mustn't meddle in
A short while later, Wile McCager invited Samson to come out to the
mill, and the boy nodded to Lescott an invitation to accompany him. The
host shook his head.
"We kinder 'lowed ter talk over some fam'ly matters with ye, Samson,"
he demurred. "I reckon Mr. Lescott'll excuse ye fer a spell."
"Anything ye've got ter talk ter me about, George Lescott kin hear,"
said the youth, defiantly. "I hain't got no secrets." He was heir to
his father's leadership, and his father had been unquestioned. He meant
to stand uncompromisingly on his prerogatives.
For an instant, the old miller's keen eyes hardened obstinately. After
Spicer and Samson South, he was the most influential and trusted of the
South leaders--and Samson was still a boy. His ruggedly chiseled
features were kindly, but robustly resolute, and, when he was angered,
few men cared to face him. For an instant, a stinging rebuke seemed to
hover on his lips, then he turned with a curt jerk of his large head.
"All right. Suit yourselves. I've done warned ye both. We 'lows ter
The mill, dating back to pioneer days, sat by its race with its shaft
now idle. About it, the white-boled sycamores crowded among the huge
rocks, and the water poured tumultuously over the dam. The walls of
mortised logs were chinked with rock and clay. At its porch, two
discarded millstones served in lieu of steps. Over the door were
fastened a spreading pair of stag-antlers. It looked to Lescott, as he
approached, like a scrap of landscape torn from some medieval picture,
and the men about its door seemed medieval, too; bearded and gaunt,
hard-thewed and sullen.
All of them who stood waiting were men of middle age, or beyond. A
number were gray-haired, but they were all of cadet branches. Many of
them, like Wile McCager himself, did not bear the name of South, and
Samson was the eldest son of the eldest son. They sat on meal-whitened
bins and dusty timbers and piled-up sacks. Several crouched on the
ground, squatting on their heels, and, as the conference proceeded,
they drank moonshine whiskey, and spat solemnly at the floor cracks.
"Hevn't ye noticed a right-smart change in Samson?" inquired old Caleb
Wiley of a neighbor, in his octogenarian quaver. "The boy hes done got
es quiet an' pious es a missionary."
The other nodded under his battered black felt hat, and beat a tattoo
with the end of his long hickory staff.
"He hain't drunk a half-pint of licker to-day," he querulously replied.
"Why in heck don't we run this here pink-faced conjure-doctor outen
the mountings?" demanded Caleb, who had drunk more than a half-pint.
"He's a-castin' spells over the boy. He's a-practisin' of deviltries."
"We're a-goin' ter see about thet right now," was the response. "We
don't 'low to let hit run on no further."
"Samson," began old Wile McCager, clearing his throat and taking up
his duty as spokesman, "we're all your kinfolks here, an' we aimed ter
ask ye about this here report thet yer 'lowin' ter leave the mountings?"
"What of hit?" countered the boy.
"Hit looks mighty like the war's a-goin' ter be on ag'in pretty soon.
Air ye a-goin' ter quit, or air ye a-goin' ter stick? Thet's what we
wants ter know."
"I didn't make this here truce, an' I hain't a-goin' ter bust hit,"
said the boy, quietly. "When the war commences, I'll be hyar. Ef I
hain't hyar in the meantime, hit hain't nobody's business. I hain't
accountable ter no man but my pap, an' I reckon, whar he is, he knows
whether I'm a-goin' ter keep my word."
There was a moment's silence, then Wile McCager put another question:
"Ef ye're plumb sot on gittin' larnin' why don't ye git hit right hyar
in these mountings?"
Samson laughed derisively.
"Who'll I git hit from?" he caustically inquired. "Ef the mountain
won't come ter Mohamet, Mohamet's got ter go ter the mountain, I
reckon." The figure was one they did not understand. It was one Samson
himself had only acquired of late. He was quoting George Lescott. But
one thing there was which did not escape his hearers: the tone of
contempt. Eyes of smoldering hate turned on the visitor at whose door
they laid the blame.
Caleb Wiley rose unsteadily to his feet, his shaggy beard trembling
with wrath and his voice quavering with senile indignation.
"Hev ye done got too damned good fer yore kin-folks, Samson South?" he
shrilly demanded. "Hev ye done been follerin' atter this here puny
witch-doctor twell ye can't keep a civil tongue in yer head fer yore
elders? I'm in favor of runnin' this here furriner outen the country
with tar an' feathers on him. Furthermore, I'm in favor of cleanin' out
the Hollmans. I was jest a-sayin' ter Bill----"
"Never mind what ye war jest a-sayin'," interrupted the boy, flushing
redly to his cheekbones, but controlling his voice. "Ye've done said
enough a'ready. Ye're a right old man, Caleb, an' I reckon thet gives
ye some license ter shoot off yore face, but ef any of them no-'count,
shif'less boys of yores wants ter back up what ye says, I'm ready ter
go out thar an' make 'em eat hit. I hain't a-goin' ter answer no more
There was a commotion of argument, until "Black Dave" Jasper, a
saturnine giant, whose hair was no blacker than his expression, rose,
and a semblance of quiet greeted him as he spoke.
"Mebby, Samson, ye've got a right ter take the studs this a-way, an'
ter refuse ter answer our questions, but we've got a right ter say who
kin stay in this hyar country. Ef ye 'lows ter quit us, I reckon we kin
quit you--and, if we quits ye, ye hain't nothin' more ter us then no
other boy thet's gettin' too big fer his breeches. This furriner is a
visitor here to-day, an' we don't 'low ter hurt him--but he's got ter
go. We don't want him round hyar no longer." He turned to Lescott.
"We're a-givin' ye fair warnin', stranger. Ye hain't our breed. Atter
this, ye stays on Misery at yore own risk--an' hit's a-goin' ter be
plumb risky. That thar's final."
"This man," blazed the boy, before Lescott could speak, "is a-visitin'
me an' Unc' Spicer. When ye wants him ye kin come up thar an' git him.
Every damned man of ye kin come. I hain't a-sayin' how many of ye'll go
back. He was 'lowin' that he'd leave hyar ter-morrer mornin', but atter
this I'm a-tellin' ye he hain't a-goin' ter do hit. He's a-goin' ter
stay es long es he likes, an' nobody hain't a-goin' ter run him off."
Samson took his stand before the painter, and swept the group with his
eyes. "An' what's more," he added, "I'll tell ye another thing. I
hadn't plumb made up my mind ter leave the mountings, but ye've done
settled hit fer me. I'm a-goin'."
There was a low murmur of anger, and a voice cried out from the rear:
"Let him go. We hain't got no use fer damn cowards."
"Whoever said thet's a liar!" shouted the boy. Lescott, standing at
his side, felt that the situation was more than parlous. But, before
the storm could break, some one rushed in, and whispered to Wile
McCager a message that caused him to raise both hands above his head,
and thunder for attention.
"Men," he roared, "listen ter me! This here hain't no time fer squabblin'
amongst ourselves. We're all Souths. Tamarack Spicer has done gone ter
Hixon, an' got inter trouble. He's locked up in the jail-house."
"We're all hyar," screamed old Caleb's high, broken voice. "Let's go
an' take him out."
Samson's anger had died. He turned, and held a whispered conversation
with McCager, and, at its end, the host of the day announced briefly:
"Samson's got somethin' ter say ter ye. So long as he's willin' ter
stand by us, I reckon we're willin' ter listen ter Henry South's boy."
"I hain't got no use for Tam'rack Spicer," said the boy, succinctly,
"but I don't 'low ter let him lay in no jail-house, unlessen he's got a
right ter be thar. What's he charged with?"
But no one knew that. A man supposedly close to the Hollmans, but in
reality an informer for the Souths, had seen him led into the jail-yard
by a posse of a half-dozen men, and had seen the iron-barred doors
close on him. That was all, except that the Hollman forces were
gathering in Hixon, and, if the Souths went there _en masse_, a
pitched battle must be the inevitable result. The first step was to
gain accurate information and an answer to one vital question. Was
Tamarack held as a feud victim, or was his arrest legitimate? How to
learn that was the problem. To send a body of men was to invite
bloodshed. To send a single inquirer was to deliver him over to the
"Air you men willin' ter take my word about Tamarack?" inquired
Samson. But for the scene of a few minutes ago, it would have been an
unnecessary question. There was a clamorous assent, and the boy turned
"I wants ye ter take Sally home with ye. Ye'd better start right away,
afore she heers any of this talk. Hit would fret her. Tell her I've had
ter go 'cross ther country a piece, ter see a sick man. Don't tell her
whar I'm a-goin'." He turned to the others. "I reckon I've got yore
promise thet Mr. Lescott hain't a-goin' ter be bothered afore I gits
Wile McCager promptly gave the assurance.
"I gives ye my hand on hit."
"I seed Jim Asberry loafin' round jest beyond ther ridge, es I rid
over hyar," volunteered the man who had brought the message.
"Go slow now, Samson. Don't be no blame fool," dissuaded Wile McCager.
"Hixon's plumb full of them Hollmans, an' they're likely ter be full of
licker--hit's Saturday. Hit's apt ter be shore death fer ye ter try ter
ride through Main Street--ef ye gits thet fur. Ye dassent do hit."
"I dast do anything!" asserted the boy, with a flash of sudden anger.
"Some liar 'lowed awhile ago thet I was a coward. All right, mebby I
be. Unc' Wile, keep the boys hyar tell ye hears from me--an' keep 'em
sober." He turned and made his way to the fence where his mule stood
When Samson crossed the ridge, and entered the Hollman country, Jim
Asberry, watching from a hilltop point of vantage, rose and mounted the
horse that stood hitched behind a near-by screen of rhododendron bushes
and young cedars. Sometimes, he rode just one bend of the road in
Samson's rear. Sometimes, he took short cuts, and watched his enemy
pass. But always he held him under a vigilant eye. Finally, he reached
a wayside store where a local telephone gave communication with
Hollman's Mammoth Department Store.
"Jedge," he informed, "Samson South's done left the party et ther
mill, an' he's a-ridin' towards town. Shall I git him?"
"Is he comin' by hisself?" inquired the storekeeper.
"Well, jest let him come on. We can tend ter him hyar, ef necessary."
So, Jim withheld his hand, and merely shadowed, sending bulletins, from
time to time.
It was three o'clock when Samson started. It was near six when he
reached the ribbon of road that loops down into town over the mountain.
His mule was in a lather of sweat. He knew that he was being spied
upon, and that word of his coming was traveling ahead of him. What he
did not know was whether or not it suited Jesse Purvy's purpose that he
should slide from his mule, dead, before he turned homeward. If
Tamarack had been seized as a declaration of war, the chief South would
certainly not be allowed to return. If the arrest had not been for feud
reasons, he might escape. That was the question which would be answered
with his life or death.
The boy kept his eyes straight to the front, fixed on the
philosophical wagging of his mule's brown ears. Finally, he crossed the
bridge that gave entrance to the town, as yet unharmed, and clattered
at a trot between the shacks of the environs. He was entering the
fortified stronghold of the enemy, and he was expected. As he rode
along, doors closed to slits, and once or twice he caught the flash of
sunlight on a steel barrel, but his eyes held to the front. Several
traveling men, sitting on the porch of the hotel opposite the court-
house, rose when they saw his mule, and went inside, closing the door
The "jail-house" was a small building of home-made brick, squatting at
the rear of the court-house yard. Its barred windows were narrow with
The court-house itself was shaded by large oaks and sycamores, and, as
Samson drew near, he saw that some ten or twelve men, armed with
rifles, separated from groups and disposed themselves behind the tree
trunks and the stone coping of the well. None of them spoke, and Samson
pretended that he had not seen them. He rode his mule at a walk,
knowing that he was rifle-covered from a half-dozen windows. At the
hitching rack directly beneath the county building, he flung his reins
over a post, and, swinging his rifle at his side, passed casually along
the brick walk to the jail. The men behind the trees edged around their
covers as he went, keeping themselves protected, as squirrels creep
around a trunk when a hunter is lurking below. Samson halted at the
jail wall, and called the prisoner's name. A towsled head and surly
face appeared at the barred window, and the boy went over and held
converse from the outside.
"How in hell did ye git into town?" demanded the prisoner.
"I rid in," was the short reply. "How'd ye git in the jail-house?"
The captive was shamefaced.
"I got a leetle too much licker, an' I was shootin' out the lights
last night," he confessed.
"What business did ye have hyar in Hixon?"
"I jest slipped in ter see a gal."
Samson leaned closer, and lowered his voice.
"Does they know thet ye shot them shoots at Jesse Purvy?"
Tamarack turned pale.
"No," he stammered, "they believe you done hit."
Samson laughed. He was thinking of the rifles trained on him from a
dozen invisible rests.
"How long air they a-goin' ter keep ye hyar?" he demanded.
"I kin git out to-morrer ef I pays the fine. Hit's ten dollars."
"An' ef ye don't pay the fine?"
"Hit's a dollar a day."
"I reckon ye don't 'low ter pay hit, do ye?"
"I 'lowed mebby ye mout pay hit fer me, Samson."
"Ye done 'lowed plumb wrong. I come hyar ter see ef ye needed help,
but hit 'pears ter me they're lettin' ye off easy."
He turned on his heel, and went back to his mule. The men behind the
trees began circling again. Samson mounted, and, with his chin well up,
trotted back along the main street. It was over. The question was
answered. The Hollmans regarded the truce as still effective. The fact
that they were permitting him to ride out alive was a wordless
assurance of that. Incidentally, he stood vindicated in the eyes of his
When Samson reached the mill it was ten o'clock. The men were soberer
than they had been in the afternoon. McCager had seen to that. The boy
replaced his exhausted mule with a borrowed mount. At midnight, as he
drew near the cabin of the Widow Miller, he gave a long, low
whippoorwill call, and promptly, from the shadow of the stile, a small
tired figure rose up to greet him. For hours that little figure had
been sitting there, silent, wide-eyed and terrified, nursing her knees
in locked fingers that pressed tightly into the flesh. She had not
spoken. She had hardly moved. She had only gazed out, keeping the vigil
with a white face that was beginning to wear the drawn, heart-eating
anxiety of the mountain woman; the woman whose code demands that she
stand loyally to her clan's hatreds; the woman who has none of the
man's excitement in stalking human game, which is also stalking him;
the woman who must only stay at home and imagine a thousand terrors
A rooster was crowing, and the moon had set. Only the stars were left.
"Sally," the boy reproved, "hit's most mornin', an' ye must be plumb
fagged out. Why hain't you in bed?"
"I 'lowed ye'd come by hyar," she told him simply, "and I waited fer
ye. I knowed whar ye had went," she added, "an' I was skeered."
"How did ye know?"
"I heered thet Tam'rack was in the jail-house, an' somebody hed ter go
ter Hixon. So, of course, I knowed hit would be you."
Lescott stayed on a week after that simply in deference to Samson's
insistence. To leave at once might savor of flight under fire, but when
the week was out the painter turned his horse's head toward town, and
his train swept him back to the Bluegrass and the East. As he gazed out
of his car windows at great shoulders of rock and giant trees, things
he was leaving behind, he felt a sudden twinge of something akin to
homesickness. He knew that he should miss these great humps of
mountains and the ragged grandeur of the scenery. With the rich
smoothness of the Bluegrass, a sense of flatness and heaviness came to
his lungs. Level metal roads and loamy fields invited his eye. The
tobacco stalks rose in profuse heaviness of sticky green; the hemp
waved its feathery tops; and woodlands were clear of underbrush--the
pauper counties were behind him.
A quiet of unbroken and deadly routine settled down on Misery. The
conduct of the Souths in keeping hands off, and acknowledging the
justice of Tamarack Spicer's jail sentence, had been their answer to
the declaration of the Hollmans in letting Samson ride into and out of
Hixon. The truce was established. When, a short time later, Tamarack
left the country to become a railroad brakeman, Jesse Purvy passed the
word that his men must, until further orders, desist from violence. The
word had crept about that Samson, too, was going away, and, if this
were true, Jesse felt that his future would be more secure than his
past. Purvy believed Samson guilty, despite the exoneration of the
hounds. Their use had been the idea of over-fervent relatives. He
himself scoffed at their reliability.
"I wouldn't believe no dog on oath," he declared. Besides, he
preferred to blame Samson, since he was the head of the tribe and
because he himself knew what cause Samson had to hate him. Perhaps,
even now, Samson meant to have vengeance before leaving. Possibly,
even, this ostentatious care to regard the truce was simply a shrewdly
planned sham meant to disarm his suspicion.
Until Samson went, if he did go, Jesse Purvy would redouble his
caution. It would be a simple matter to have the boy shot to death, and
end all question. Samson took no precautions to safeguard his life, but
he had a safeguard none the less. Purvy felt sure that within a week
after Samson fell, despite every care he might take, he, too, would
fall. He was tired of being shot down. Purvy was growing old, and the
fires of war were burning to embers in his veins. He was becoming more
and more interested in other things. It dawned upon him that to be
known as a friend of the poor held more allurement for gray-haired age
than to be known as a master of assassins. It would be pleasant to sit
undisturbed, and see his grandchildren grow up, and he recognized, with
a sudden ferocity of repugnance, that he did not wish them to grow up
as feud fighters. Purvy had not reformed, but, other things being
equal, he would prefer to live and let live. He had reached that stage
to which all successful villains come at some time, when he envied the
placid contentment of respected virtues. Ordering Samson shot down was
a last resort--one to be held in reserve until the end.
So, along Misery and Crippleshin, the men of the factions held their
fire while the summer spent itself, and over the mountain slopes the
leaves began to turn, and the mast to ripen.
Lescott had sent a box of books, and Samson had taken a team over to
Hixon, and brought them back. It was a hard journey, attended with much
plunging against the yokes and much straining of trace chains. Sally
had gone with him. Samson was spending as much time as possible in her
society now. The girl was saying little about his departure, but her
eyes were reading, and without asking she knew that his going was
inevitable. Many nights she cried herself to sleep, but, when he saw
her, she was always the same blithe, bird-like creature that she had
been before. She was philosophically sipping her honey while the sun
Samson read some of the books aloud to Sally, who had a child's
passion for stories, and who could not have spelled them out for
herself. He read badly, but to her it was the flower of scholastic
accomplishment, and her untrained brain, sponge-like in its
acquisitiveness, soaked up many new words and phrases which fell again
quaintly from her lips in talk. Lescott had spent a week picking out
those books. He had wanted them to argue for him; to feed the boy's
hunger for education, and give him some forecast of the life that
awaited him. His choice had been an effort to achieve _multum in
parvo_, but Samson devoured them all from title page to _finis_
line, and many of them he went back to, and digested again.
He wrestled long and gently with his uncle, struggling to win the old
man's consent to his departure. But Spicer South's brain was no longer
plastic. What had been good enough for the past was good enough for the
future. He sought to take the most tolerant view, and to believe that
Samson was acting on conviction and not on an ingrate's impulse, but
that was the best he could do, and he added to himself that Samson's
was an abnormal and perverted conviction. Nevertheless, he arranged
affairs so that his nephew should be able to meet financial needs, and
to go where he chose in a fashion befitting a South. The old man was
intensely proud, and, if the boy were bent on wasting himself, he
should waste like a family head, and not appear a pauper among strangers.
The autumn came, and the hills blazed out in their fanfare of splendid
color. The broken skyline took on a wistful sweetness under the haze of
"the Great Spirit's peace-pipe."
The sugar trees flamed their fullest crimson that fall. The poplars
were clear amber and the hickories russet and the oaks a deep burgundy.
Lean hogs began to fill and fatten with their banqueting on beechnuts
and acorns. Scattered quail came together in the conclave of the covey,
and changed their summer call for the "hover" whistle. Shortly, the
rains would strip the trees, and leave them naked. Then, Misery would
vindicate its christener. But, now, as if to compensate in a few
carnival days of champagne sparkle and color, the mountain world was
burning out its summer life on a pyre of transient splendor.
November came in bleakly, with a raw and devastating breath of
fatality. The smile died from horizon to horizon, and for days cold
rains beat and lashed the forests. And, toward the end of that month,
came the day which Samson had set for his departure. He had harvested
the corn, and put the farm in order. He had packed into his battered
saddlebags what things were to go with him into his new life. The sun
had set in a sickly bank of murky, red-lined clouds. His mule, which
knew the road, and could make a night trip, stood saddled by the stile.
A kinsman was to lead it back from Hixon when Samson had gone. The boy
slowly put on his patched and mud-stained overcoat. His face was sullen
and glowering. There was a lump in his throat, like the lump that had
been there when he stood with his mother's arm about his shoulders, and
watched the dogs chase a rabbit by his father's grave. Supper had been
eaten in silence. Now that the hour of departure had come, he felt the
guilt of the deserter. He realized how aged his uncle seemed, and how
the old man hunched forward over the plate as they ate the last meal
they should, for a long while, have together. It was only by sullen
taciturnity that he could retain his composure.
At the threshold, with the saddlebags over his left forearm and the
rifle in his hand, he paused. His uncle stood at his elbow and the boy
put out his hand.
"Good-by, Unc' Spicer," was all he said. The old man, who had been his
second father, shook hands. His face, too, was expressionless, but he
felt that he was saying farewell to a soldier of genius who was
abandoning the field. And he loved the boy with all the centered power
of an isolated heart.
"Hadn't ye better take a lantern?" he questioned.
"No, I reckon I won't need none." And Samson went out, and mounted his
A half-mile along the road, he halted and dismounted. There, in a
small cove, surrounded by a tangle of briars and blackberry bushes,
stood a small and dilapidated "meeting house" and churchyard, which he
must visit. He made his way through the rough undergrowth to the
unkempt half-acre, and halted before the leaning headstones which
marked two graves. With a sudden emotion, he swept the back of his hand
across his eyes. He did not remove his hat, but he stood in the drizzle
of cold rain for a moment of silence, and then he said:
"Pap, I hain't fergot. I don't want ye ter think thet I've fergot."
Before he arrived at the Widow Miller's, the rain had stopped and the
clouds had broken. Back of them was a discouraged moon, which sometimes
showed its face for a fitful moment, only to disappear. The wind was
noisily floundering through the treetops. Near the stile, Samson gave
his whippoorwill call. It was, perhaps, not quite so clear or true as
usual, but that did not matter. There were no other whippoorwills
calling at this season to confuse signals. He crossed the stile, and
with a word quieted Sally's dog as it rose to challenge him, and then
went with him, licking his hand.
Sally opened the door, and smiled. She had spent the day nerving
herself for this farewell, and at least until the moment of leave-
taking she would be safe from tears. The Widow Miller and her son soon
left them alone, and the boy and girl sat before the blazing logs.
For a time, an awkward silence fell between them. Sally had donned her
best dress, and braided her red-brown hair. She sat with her chin in
her palms, and the fire kissed her cheeks and temples into color. That
picture and the look in her eyes remained with Samson for a long while,
and there were times of doubt and perplexity when he closed his eyes
and steadied himself by visualizing it all again in his heart. At last,
the boy rose, and went over to the corner where he had placed his gun.
He took it up, and laid it on the hearth between them.
"Sally," he said, "I wants ter tell ye some things thet I hain't never
said ter nobody else. In the fust place, I wants ye ter keep this hyar
gun fer me."
The girl's eyes widened with surprise.
"Hain't ye a-goin' ter take hit with ye, Samson?"
He shook his head.
"I hain't a-goin' ter need hit down below. Nobody don't use 'em down
thar. I've got my pistol, an' I reckon thet will be enough."
"I'll take good keer of hit," she promised.
The boy took out of his pockets a box of cartridges and a small
package tied in a greasy rag.
"Hit's loaded, Sally, an' hit's cleaned an' hit's greased. Hit's ready
Again, she nodded in silent assent, and the boy began speaking in a
slow, careful voice, which gradually mounted into tense emotion.
"Sally, thet thar gun was my pap's. When he lay a-dyin', he gave hit
ter me, an' he gave me a job ter do with hit. When I was a little
feller, I used ter set up 'most all day, polishin' thet gun an' gittin'
hit ready. I used ter go out in the woods, an' practise shootin' hit at
things, tell I larned how ter handle hit. I reckon thar hain't many
fellers round here thet kin beat me now." He paused, and the girl
hastened to corroborate.
"Thar hain't none, Samson."
"There hain't nothin' in the world, Sally, thet I prizes like I does
thet gun. Hit's got a job ter do ... Thar hain't but one person in the
world I'd trust hit with. Thet's you.... I wants ye ter keep hit fer
me, an' ter keep hit ready.... They thinks round hyar I'm quittin', but
I hain't. I'm a-comin' back, an', when I comes, I'll need this hyar
thing--an' I'll need hit bad." He took up the rifle, and ran his hand
caressingly along its lock and barrel.
"I don't know when I'm a-comin'," he said, slowly, "but, when I calls
fer this, I'm shore a-goin' ter need hit quick. I wants hit ter be
ready fer me, day er night. Maybe, nobody won't know I'm hyar....
Maybe, I won't want nobody ter know.... But, when I whistles out thar
like a whippoorwill, I wants ye ter slip out--an' fotch me thet gun!"
He stopped, and bent forward. His face was tense, and his eyes were
glinting with purpose. His lips were tight set and fanatical.
"Samson," said the girl, reaching out and taking the weapon from his
hands, "ef I'm alive when ye comes, I'll do hit. I promises ye. An',"
she added, "ef I hain't alive, hit'll be standin' thar in thet corner.
I'll grease hit, an' keep hit loaded, an' when ye calls, I'll fotch hit
out thar to ye."
The youth nodded. "I mout come anytime, but likely as not I'll hev ter
come a-fightin' when I comes."
Next, he produced an envelope.
"This here is a letter I've done writ ter myself," he explained. He
drew out the sheet, and read:
"Samson, come back." Then he handed the missive to the girl. "Thet
there is addressed ter me, in care of Mr. Lescott.... Ef anything
happens--ef Unc' Spicer needs me--I wants yer ter mail thet ter me
quick. He says as how he won't never call me back, but, Sally, I wants
thet you shall send fer me, ef they needs me. I hain't a-goin' ter
write no letters home. Unc' Spicer can't read, an' you can't read much
either. But I'll plumb shore be thinkin' about ye day an' night."
She gulped and nodded.
"Yes, Samson," was all she said.
The boy rose.
"I reckon I'd better be gettin' along," he announced.
The girl suddenly reached out both hands, and seized his coat. She
held him tight, and rose, facing him. Her upturned face grew very
pallid, and her eyes widened. They were dry, and her lips were tightly
closed, but, through the tearless pupils, in the firelight, the boy
could read her soul, and her soul was sobbing.
He drew her toward him, and held her very tight.
"Sally," he said, in a voice which threatened to choke, "I wants ye
ter take keer of yeself. Ye hain't like these other gals round here. Ye
hain't got big hands an' feet. Ye kain't stand es much es they kin.
Don't stay out in the night air too much--an', Sally--fer God's sake
take keer of yeself!" He broke off, and picked up his hat.
"An' that gun, Sally," he repeated at the door, "that there's the most
precious thing I've got. I loves hit better then anything--take keer of
Again, she caught at his shoulders.
"Does ye love hit better'n ye do me, Samson?" she demanded.
"I reckon ye knows how much I loves ye, Sally," he said, slowly, "but
I've done made a promise, an' thet gun's a-goin' ter keep hit fer me."
They went together out to the stile, he still carrying his rifle, as
though loath to let it go, and she crossed with him to the road.
As he untied his reins, she threw her arms about his neck, and for a