Part 5 out of 6
letter here--it'll take two days to get to Samson. It'll take him two
or three days more to get here. You've got to wait a week."
"Sally," the temporary chieftain spoke still in a patient, humoring
sort of voice, as to a tempestuous child, "thar hain't no place ter
mail a letter nigher then Hixon. No South can't ride inter Hixon, an'
ride out again. The mail-carrier won't be down this way fer two days
"I'm not askin' any South to ride into Hixon. I recollect another time
when Samson was the only one that would do that," she answered, still
scornfully. "I didn't come here to ask favors. I came to give orders--
for him. A train leaves soon in the morning. My letter's goin' on that
"Who's goin' ter take hit ter town fer ye?"
"I'm goin' to take it for myself." Her reply was given as a matter of
"That wouldn't hardly be safe, Sally," the miller demurred; "this
hain't no time fer a gal ter be galavantin' around by herself in the
night time. Hit's a-comin' up ter storm, an' ye've got thirty miles ter
ride, an' thirty-five back ter yore house."
"I'm not scared," she replied. "I'm goin' an' I'm warnin' you now, if
you do anything that Samson don't like, you'll have to answer to him,
when he comes." She turned, walking very erect and dauntless to her
sorrel mare, and disappeared at a gallop.
"I reckon," said Wile McCager, breaking the silence at last, "hit
don't make no great dif'rence. He won't hardly come, nohow." Then, he
added: "But thet boy is smart."
* * * * *
Samson's return from Europe, after a year's study, was in the nature
of a moderate triumph. With the art sponsorship of George Lescott, and
the social sponsorship of Adrienne, he found that orders for portraits,
from those who could pay munificently, seemed to seek him. He was
tasting the novelty of being lionized.
That summer, Mrs. Lescott opened her house on Long Island early, and
the life there was full of the sort of gaiety that comes to pleasant
places when young men in flannels and girls in soft summery gowns and
tanned cheeks are playing wholesomely, and singing tunefully, and
making love--not too seriously.
Samson, tremendously busy these days in a new studio of his own, had
run over for a week. Horton was, of course, of the party, and George
Lescott was doing the honors as host. Besides these, all of whom
regarded themselves as members of the family, there was a group of even
younger folk, and the broad halls and terraces and tennis courts rang
all day long with their laughter, and the floors trembled at night
under the rhythmical tread of their dancing.
Off across the lawns and woodlands stretched the blue, sail-flecked
waters of the Sound, and on the next hill rose the tile roofs and cream
-white walls of the country club.
One evening, Adrienne left the dancers for the pergola, where she took
refuge under a mass of honeysuckle.
Samson South followed her. She saw him coming, and smiled. She was
contrasting this Samson, loosely clad in flannels, with the Samson she
had first seen rising awkwardly to greet her in the studio.
"You should have stayed inside and made yourself agreeable to the
girls," Adrienne reproved him, as he came up. "What's the use of making
a lion of you, if you won't roar for the visitors?"
"I've been roaring," laughed the man. "I've just been explaining to
Miss Willoughby that we only eat the people we kill in Kentucky on
certain days of solemn observance and sacrifice. I wanted to be
agreeable to you, Drennie, for a while."
The girl shook her head sternly, but she smiled and made a place for
him at her side. She wondered what form his being agreeable to her
"I wonder if the man or woman lives," mused Samson, "to whom the
fragrance of honeysuckle doesn't bring back some old memory that is as
strong--and sweet--as itself."
The girl did not at once answer him. The breeze was stirring the hair
on her temples and neck. The moon was weaving a lace pattern on the
ground, and filtering its silver light through the vines. At last, she
"Do you ever find yourself homesick, Samson, these days?"
The man answered with a short laugh. Then, his words came softly, and
not his own words, but those of one more eloquent:
"'Who hath desired the Sea? Her excellent loneliness rather
"'Than the forecourts of kings, and her uttermost pits
than the streets where men gather....
"'His Sea that his being fulfills?
"'So and no otherwise--"so and no otherwise hillmen
desire their hills.'"
"And yet," she said, and a trace of the argumentative stole into her
voice, "you haven't gone back."
"No." There was a note of self-reproach in his voice. "But soon I
shall go. At least, for a time. I've been thinking a great deal lately
about 'my fluttered folk and wild.' I'm just beginning to understand my
relation to them, and my duty."
"Your duty is no more to go back there and throw away your life," she
found herself instantly contending, "than it is the duty of the young
eagle, who has learned to fly, to go back to the nest where he was
"But, Drennie," he said, gently, "suppose the young eagle is the only
one that knows how to fly--and suppose he could teach the others? Don't
you see? I've only seen it myself for a little while."
"What is it that--that you see now?"
"I must go back, not to relapse, but to come to be a constructive
force. I must carry some of the outside world to Misery. I must take to
them, because I am one of them, gifts that they would reject from other
"Will they accept them even from you?"
"Drennie, you once said that, if I grew ashamed of my people, ashamed
even of their boorish manners, their ignorance, their crudity, you
would have no use for me."
"I still say that," she answered.
"Well, I'm not ashamed of them. I went through that, but it's over."
She sat silent for a while, then cried suddenly:
"I don't want you to go!" The moment she had said it, she caught
herself with a nervous little laugh, and added a postscript of
whimsical nonsense to disarm her utterance of its telltale feeling.
"Why, I'm just getting you civilized, yourself. It took years to get
your hair cut."
He ran his palm over his smoothly trimmed head, and laughed.
"Delilah, Oh, Delilah!" he said. "I was resolute, but you have shorn
"Don't!" she exclaimed. "Don't call me that!"
"Then, Drennie, dear," he answered, lightly, "don't dissuade me from
the most decent resolve I have lately made."
From the house came the strains of an alluring waltz. For a little
time, they listened without speech, then the girl said very gravely:
"You won't--you won't still feel bound to kill your enemies, will you,
The man's face hardened.
"I believe I'd rather not talk about that. I shall have to win back
the confidence I have lost. I shall have to take a place at the head of
my clan by proving myself a man--and a man by their own standards. It
is only at their head that I can lead them. If the lives of a few
assassins have to be forfeited, I sha'n't hesitate at that. I shall
stake my own against them fairly. The end is worth it."
The girl breathed deeply, then she heard Samson's voice again:
"Drennie, I want you to understand, that if I succeed it is your
success. You took me raw and unfashioned, and you have made me. There
is no way of thanking you."
"There is a way," she contradicted. "You can thank me by feeling just
that way about it."
"Then, I do thank you."
She sat looking up at him, her eyes wide and questioning.
"Exactly what do you feel, Samson," she asked. "I mean about me?"
He leaned a little toward her, and the fragrance and subtle beauty of
her stole into his veins and brain, in a sudden intoxication. His hand
went out to seize hers. This beauty which would last and not wither
into a hag's ugliness with the first breath of age--as mountain beauty
does--was hypnotizing him. Then, he straightened and stood looking down.
"Don't ask me that, please," he said, in a carefully controlled voice.
"I don't even want to ask myself. My God, Drennie, don't you see that
I'm afraid to answer that?"
She rose from her seat, and stood for just an instant rather
unsteadily before him, then she laughed.
"Samson, Samson!" she challenged. "The moon is making us as foolish as
children. Old friend, we are growing silly. Let's go in, and be
perfectly good hostesses and social lions."
Slowly, Samson South came to his feet. His voice was in the dead-level
pitch which Wilfred had once before heard. His eyes were as clear and
hard as transparent flint.
"I'm sorry to be of trouble, George," he said, quietly. "But you must
get me to New York at once--by motor. I must take a train South to-
"No bad news, I hope," suggested Lescott.
For an instant, Samson forgot his four years of veneer. The century of
prenatal barbarism broke out fiercely. He was seeing things far away--
and forgetting things near by. His eyes blazed and his fingers twitched.
"Hell, no!" he exclaimed. "The war's on, and my hands are freed!"
For an instant, as no one spoke, he stood breathing heavily, then,
wheeling, rushed toward the house as though just across its threshold
lay the fight into which lie was aching to hurl himself.
The next afternoon, Adrienne and Samson were sitting with a gaily
chattering group at the side lines of the tennis courts.
"When you go back to the mountains, Samson," Wilfred was suggesting,
"we might form a partnership. 'South, Horton and Co., development of
coal and timber.' There are millions in it."
"Five years ago, I should have met you with a Winchester rifle,"
laughed the Kentuckian. "Now I shall not."
"I'll go with you, Horton, and make a sketch or two," volunteered
George Lescott, who just then arrived from town. "And, by the way,
Samson, here's a letter that came for you just as I left the studio."
The mountaineer took the envelope with a Hixon postmark, and for an
instant gazed at it with a puzzled expression. It was addressed in a
feminine hand, which he did not recognize. It was careful, but perfect,
writing, such as one sees in a school copybook. With an apology he tore
the covering, and read the letter. Adrienne, glancing at his face, saw
it suddenly pale and grow as set and hard as marble.
Samson's eyes were dwelling with only partial comprehension on the
script. This is what he read:
"DEAR SAMSON: The war is on again. Tamarack Spicer has killed Jim Asberry,
and the Hollmans have killed Tamarack. Uncle Spicer is shot, but he may
get well. There is nobody to lead the Souths. I am trying to hold them
down until I hear from you. Don't come if you don't want to--but the gun
is ready. With love,
Samson, throwing things hurriedly into his bag, heard a knock on his
door. He opened it, and outside in the hall stood Adrienne. Her face
was pale, and she leaned a little on the hand which rested against the
"What does it mean?" she asked.
He came over.
"It means, Drennie," he said, "that you may make a pet of a leopard cub,
but there will come a day when something of the jungle comes out in him
--and he must go. My uncle has been shot, and the feud is on--I've been
He paused, and she half-whispered in an appealing voice:
"You don't mean that," he said, quietly. "If it were you, you would
go. Whether I get back here or not"--he hesitated--"my gratitude will
be with you--always." He broke off, and said suddenly: "Drennie, I
don't want to say good-by to you. I can't."
"It's not necessary yet," she answered. "I'm going to drive you to New
"No!" he exclaimed. "It's too far, and I've got to go fast----"
"That's why I'm going," she promptly assured him. "I'm the only fool
on these premises that can get all the speed out of a car that's in her
engine--and the constables are good to me. I just came up here to--" she
hesitated, then added--"to see you alone for a moment, and to say that
teacher has never had such a bright little pupil, in her life--and--"
the flippancy with which she was masking her feeling broke and she
added, in a shaken voice as she thrust out her hand, man-fashion--"and
to say, God keep you, boy."
He seized the hand in both his own, and gripped it hard. He tried to
speak, but only shook his head with a rueful smile.
"I'll be waiting at the door with the car," she told him, as she left.
Horton, too, came in to volunteer assistance.
"Wilfred," said Samson, feelingly, 'there isn't any man I'd rather
have at my back, in a stand-up fight. But this isn't exactly that sort.
Where I'm going, a fellow has got to be invisible. No, you can't help,
now. Come down later. We'll organize Horton, South and Co."
"South, Horton and Co.," corrected Wilfred; "native sons first."
At that moment, Adrienne believed she had decided the long-mooted
question. Of course, she had not. It was merely the stress of the
moment; exaggerating the importance of one she was losing at the
expense of the one who was left. Still, as she sat in the car waiting,
her world seemed slipping into chaos under her feet, and, when Samson
had taken his place at her side, the machine leaped forward into a
reckless plunge of speed.
Samson stopped at his studio, and threw open an old closet where, from
a littered pile of discarded background draperies, canvases and
stretchers, he fished out a buried and dust-covered pair of saddlebags.
They had long lain there forgotten, but they held the rusty clothes in
which he had left Misery. He threw them over his arm and dropped them
at Adrienne's feet, as he handed her the studio keys.
"Will you please have George look after things, and make the necessary
excuses to my sitters? He'll find a list of posing appointments in the
The girl nodded.
"What are those?" she asked, gazing at the great leather pockets as at
some relic unearthed from Pompeian excavations.
"Saddlebags, Drennie," he said, "and in them are homespun and jeans.
One can't lead his 'fluttered folk and wild' in a cutaway coat."
Shortly they were at the station, and the man, standing at the side of
the machine, took her hand.
"It's not good-by, you know," he said, smiling. "Just _auf
She nodded and smiled, too, but, as she smiled, she shivered, and
turned the car slowly. There was no need to hurry, now.
Samson had caught the fastest west-bound express on the schedule. In
thirty-six hours, he would be at Hixon. There were many things which
his brain must attack and digest in these hours. He must arrange his
plan of action to its minutest detail, because he would have as little
time for reflection, once he had reached his own country, as a wildcat
flung into a pack of hounds.
From the railroad station to his home, he must make his way--most
probably fight his way--through thirty miles of hostile territory where
all the trails were watched. And yet, for the time, all that seemed too
remotely unreal to hold his thoughts. He was seeing the coolly waving
curtains of flowered chintz that stirred in the windows of his room at
the Lescott house and the crimson ramblers that nodded against the sky.
He was hearing a knock on the door, and seeing, as it opened, the
figure of Adrienne Lescott and the look that had been in her eyes.
He took out Sally's letter, and read it once more. He read it
mechanically and as a piece of news that had brought evil tidings.
Then, suddenly, another aspect of it struck him--an aspect to which the
shock of its reception had until this tardy moment blinded him. The
letter was perfectly grammatical and penned in a hand of copy-book
roundness and evenness. The address, the body of the missive, and the
signature, were all in one chirography. She would not have intrusted
the writing of this letter to any one else.
Sally had learned to write!
Moreover, at the end were the words "with love." It was all plain now.
Sally had never repudiated him. She was declaring herself true to her
mission and her love. All that heartbreak through which he had gone had
been due to his own misconception, and in that misconception he had
drawn into himself and had stopped writing to her. Even his occasional
letters had for two years ceased to brighten her heart-strangling
isolation--and she was still waiting.... She had sent no word of appeal
until the moment had come of which she had promised to inform him.
Sally, abandoned and alone, had been fighting her way up--that she
might stand on his level.
"Good God!" groaned the man, in abjectly bitter self-contempt. His
hand went involuntarily to his cropped head, and dropped with a gesture
of self-doubting. He looked down at his tan shoes and silk socks. He
rolled back his shirtsleeve and contemplated the forearm that had once
been as brown and tough as leather. It was now the arm of a city man,
except for the burning of one outdoor week. He was returning at the
eleventh hour--stripped of the faith of his kinsmen, half-stripped of
his faith in himself. If he were to realize the constructive dreams of
which he had last night so confidently prattled to Adrienne, he must
lead his people from under the blighting shadow of the feud.
Yet, if he was to lead them at all, he must first regain their shaken
confidence, and to do that he must go, at their head, through this mire
of war to vindication. Only a fighting South could hope to be heard in
behalf of peace. His eventual regeneration belonged to some to-morrow.
To-day held the need of such work as that of the first Samson--to slay.
He must reappear before his kinsmen as much as possible the boy who
had left them--not the fop with newfangled affectations. His eyes fell
upon the saddlebags on the floor of the Pullman, and he smiled
satirically. He would like to step from the train at Hixon and walk
brazenly through the town in those old clothes, challenging every
hostile glance. If they shot him down on the streets, as they certainly
would do, it would end his questioning and his anguish of dilemma. He
would welcome that, but it would, after all, be shirking the issue.
He must get out of Hixon and into his own country unrecognized. The
lean boy of four years ago was the somewhat filled out man now. The one
concession that he had made to Paris life was the wearing of a closely
cropped mustache. That he still wore--had worn it chiefly because he
liked to hear Adrienne's humorous denunciation of it. He knew that, in
his present guise and dress, he had an excellent chance of walking
through the streets of Hixon as a stranger. And, after leaving Hixon,
there was a mission to be performed at Jesse Purvy's store. As he
thought of that mission a grim glint came to his pupils.
All journeys end, and as Samson passed through the tawdry cars of the
local train near Hixon he saw several faces which he recognized, but
they either eyed him in inexpressive silence, or gave him the greeting
of the "furriner."
Then the whistle shrieked for the trestle over the Middle Fork, and at
only a short distance rose the cupola of the brick court-house and the
scattered roofs of the town. Scattered over the green slopes by the
river bank lay the white spread of a tented company street, and, as he
looked out, he saw uniformed figures moving to and fro, and caught the
ring of a bugle call. So the militia was on deck; things must be bad,
he reflected. He stood on the platform and looked down as the engine
roared along the trestle. There were two gatling guns. One pointed its
muzzle toward the town, and the other scowled up at the face of the
mountain. Sentries paced their beats. Men in undershirts lay dozing
outside tent flaps. It was all a picture of disciplined readiness, and
yet Samson knew that soldiers made of painted tin would be equally
effective. These military forces must remain subservient to local civil
authorities, and the local civil authorities obeyed the nod of Judge
Hollman and Jesse Purvy.
As Samson crossed the toll-bridge to the town proper he passed two
brown-shirted militiamen, lounging on the rail of the middle span. They
grinned at him, and, recognizing the outsider from his clothes, one of
"Ain't this the hell of a town?"
"It's going to be," replied Samson, enigmatically, as he went on.
Still unrecognized, he hired a horse at the livery stable, and for two
hours rode in silence, save for the easy creaking of his stirrup
leathers and the soft thud of hoofs.
The silence soothed him. The brooding hills lulled his spirit as a
crooning song lulls a fretful child. Mile after mile unrolled forgotten
vistas. Something deep in himself murmured:
It was late afternoon when he saw ahead of him the orchard of Purvy's
place, and read on the store wall, a little more weather-stained, but
"Jesse Purvy, General Merchandise."
The porch of the store was empty, and as Samson flung himself from his
saddle there was no one to greet him. This was surprising, since,
ordinarily, two or three of Purvy's personal guardsmen loafed at the
front to watch the road. Just now the guard should logically be
doubled. Samson still wore his Eastern clothes--for he wanted to go
through that door unknown. As Samson South he could not cross its
threshold either way. But when he stepped up on to the rough porch
flooring no one challenged his advance. The yard and orchard were quiet
from their front fence to the grisly stockade at the rear, and,
wondering at these things, the young man stood for a moment looking
about at the afternoon peace before he announced himself.
Yet Samson had not come to the stronghold of his enemy for the purpose
of assassination. There had been another object in his mind--an utterly
mad idea, it is true, yet so bold of conception that it held a ghost of
promise. He had meant to go into Jesse Purvy's store and chat
artlessly, like some inquisitive "furriner." He would ask questions
which by their very impertinence might be forgiven on the score of a
stranger's folly. But, most of all, he wanted to drop the casual
information, which he should assume to have heard on the train, that
Samson South was returning, and to mark, on the assassin leader, the
effect of the news. In his new code it was necessary to give at least
the rattler's warning before he struck, and he meant to strike. If he
were recognized, well--he shrugged his shoulders.
But as he stood on the outside, wiping the perspiration from his
forehead, for the ride had been warm, he heard voices within. They were
loud and angry voices. It occurred to him that by remaining where he
was he might gain more information than by hurrying in.
"I've done been your executioner fer twenty years," complained a
voice, which Samson at once recognized as that of Aaron Hollis, the
most trusted of Purvy's personal guards. "I hain't never laid down on
ye yet. Me an' Jim Asberry killed old Henry South. We laid fer his boy,
an' would 'a' got him ef ye'd only said ther word. I went inter Hixon,
an' killed Tam'rack Spicer, with soldiers all round me. There hain't no
other damn fool in these mountings would 'a' took such a long chance es
thet. I'm tired of hit. They're a-goin' ter git me, an' I wants ter
leave, an' you won't come clean with the price of a railroad ticket to
Oklahoma. Now, damn yore stingy soul, I gits that ticket or I gits you!"
"Aaron, ye can't scare me into doin' nothin' I ain't aimin' to do."
The old baron of the vendetta spoke in a cold, stoical voice. "I tell
ye I ain't quite through with ye yet. In due an' proper time I'll see
that ye get yer ticket." Then he added, with conciliating softness:
"We've been friends a long while. Let's talk this thing over before we
"Thar hain't nothin' ter talk over," stormed Aaron. "Ye're jest tryin'
ter kill time till the boys gits hyar, and then I reckon ye 'lows ter
have me kilt like yer've had me kill them others. Hit hain't no use.
I've done sent 'em away. When they gits back hyar, either you'll be in
hell, or I'll be on my way outen the mountings."
Samson stood rigid. Here was the confession of one murderer, with no
denial from the other. The truce was of. Why should he wait? Cataracts
seemed to thunder in his brain, and yet he stood there, his hand in his
coat-pocket, clutching the grip of a magazine pistol. Samson South the
old, and Samson South the new, were writhing in the life-and-death
grapple of two codes. Then, before decision came, he heard a sharp
report inside, and the heavy fall of a body to the floor.
A wildly excited figure came plunging through the door, and Samson's
left hand swept out, and seized its shoulder in a sudden vise grip.
"Do you know me?" he inquired, as the mountaineer pulled away and
crouched back with startled surprise and vicious frenzy.
"No, damn ye! Git outen my road!" Aaron thrust his cocked rifle close
against the stranger's face. From its muzzle came the acrid stench of
freshly burned powder. "Git outen my road afore I kills ye!"
"My name is Samson South."
Before the astounded finger on the rifle trigger could be crooked,
Samson's pistol spoke from the pocket, and, as though in echo, the
rifle blazed, a little too late and a shade too high, over his head, as
the dead man's arms went up.
Except for those two reports there was no sound. Samson stood still,
anticipating an uproar of alarm. Now, he should doubtless have to pay
with his life for both the deaths which would inevitably and logically
be attributed to his agency. But, strangely enough, no clamor arose.
The shot inside had been muffled, and those outside, broken by the
intervening store, did not arouse the house. Purvy's bodyguard had been
sent away by Hollis on a false alarm. Only the "womenfolks" and
children remained indoors, and they were drowning with a piano any
sounds that might have come from without. That piano was the chief
emblem of Purvy's wealth. It represented the acme of "having things
hung up"; that ancient and expressive phrase, which had come down from
days when the pioneers' worldly condition was gauged by the hams
hanging in the smokehouse and the peppers, tobacco and herbs strung
high against the rafters.
Now, Samson South stood looking down, uninterrupted, on what had been
Aaron Hollis as it lay motionless at his feet. There was a powder-
burned hole in the butternut shirt, and only a slender thread of blood
trickled into the dirt-grimed cracks between the planks. The body was
twisted sidewise, in one of those grotesque attitudes with which a
sudden summons so frequently robs the greatest phenomenon of all its
rightful dignity. The sun was gilding the roadside clods, and
burnishing the greens of the treetops. The breeze was harping sleepily
among the branches, and several geese stalked pompously along the
creek's edge. On the top of the stockade a gray squirrel, sole witness
to the tragedy, rose on his haunches, flirted his brush, and then, in a
sudden leap of alarm, disappeared.
Samson turned to the darkened doorway. Inside was emptiness, except
for the other body, which had crumpled forward and face down across the
counter. A glance showed that Jesse Purvy would no more fight back the
coming of death. He was quite unarmed. Behind his spent body ranged
shelves of general merchandise. Boxes of sardines, and cans of peaches
were lined in homely array above him. His lifeless hand rested as
though flung out in an oratorical gesture on a bolt of blue calico.
Samson paused only for a momentary survey. His score was clean. He
would not again have to agonize over the dilemma of old ethics and new.
To-morrow, the word would spread like wildfire along Misery and
Crippleshin, that Samson South was back, and that his coming had been
signalized by these two deaths. The fact that he was responsible for
only one--and that in self-defense--would not matter. They would prefer
to believe that he had invaded the store and killed Purvy, and that
Hollis had fallen in his master's defense at the threshold. Samson went
out, still meeting no one, and continued his journey.
Dusk was falling, when he hitched his horse in a clump of timber, and,
lifting his saddlebags, began climbing to a cabin that sat far back in
a thicketed cove. He was now well within South territory, and the need
of masquerade had ended.
The cabin had not, for years, been occupied. Its rooftree was leaning
askew under rotting shingles. The doorstep was ivy-covered, and the
stones of the hearth were broken. But it lay well hidden, and would
serve his purposes.
Shortly, a candle flickered inside, before a small hand mirror.
Scissors and safety razor were for a while busy. The man who entered in
impeccable clothes emerged fifteen minutes later--transformed. There
appeared under the rising June crescent, a smooth-faced native, clad in
stained store-clothes, with rough woolen socks showing at his brogan
tops, and a battered felt hat drawn over his face. No one who had known
the Samson South of four years ago would fail to recognize him now. And
the strangest part, he told himself, was that he felt the old Samson.
He no longer doubted his courage. He had come home, and his conscience
was once more clear.
The mountain roads and the mountain sides themselves were sweetly
silent. Moon mist engulfed the flats in a lake of dreams, and, as the
livery-stable horse halted to pant at the top of the final ridge, he
could see below him his destination.
The smaller knobs rose like little islands out of the vapor, and
yonder, catching the moonlight like scraps of gray paper, were two
roofs: that of his uncle's house--and that of the Widow Miller.
At a point where a hand-bridge crossed the skirting creek, the boy
dismounted. Ahead of him lay the stile where he had said good-by to
Sally. The place was dark, and the chimney smokeless, but, as he came
nearer, holding the shadows of the trees, he saw one sliver of light at
the bottom of a solid shutter; the shutter of Sally's room. Yet, for a
while, Samson stopped there, looking and making no sound. He stood at
his Rubicon--and behind him lay all the glitter and culture of that
other world, a world that had been good to him.
That was to Samson South one of those pregnant and portentous moments
with which life sometimes punctuates its turning points. At such times,
all the set and solidified strata that go into the building of a man's
nature may be uptossed and rearranged. So, the layers of a mountain
chain and a continent that have for centuries remained steadfast may
break and alter under the stirring of earthquake or volcano, dropping
heights under water and throwing new ranges above the sea.
There was passing before his eyes as he stood there, pausing, a
panorama much vaster than any he had been able to conceive when last he
stood there. He was seeing in review the old life and the new, lurid
with contrasts, and, as the pictures of things thousands of miles away
rose before his eyes as clearly as the serried backbone of the ridges,
he was comparing and settling for all time the actual values and
proportions of the things in his life.
He saw the streets of Paris and New York, brilliant under their
strings of opalescent lights; the _Champs Elysees_ ran in its
smooth, tree-trimmed parquetry from the _Place de Concorde_ to the
_Arc de Triomphe_, and the chatter and music of its cafes rang in
his ears. The ivory spaces of Rome, from the Pincian Hill where his
fancy saw almond trees in bloom to the _Piazza Venezia_, spread
their eternal story before his imagination. He saw 'buses and hansoms
slirring through the mud and fog of London and the endless _pot-
pourri_ of Manhattan. All the things that the outside world had to
offer; all that had ever stirred his pulses to a worship of the
beautiful, the harmonious, the excellent, rose in exact value. Then, he
saw again the sunrise as it would be to-morrow morning over these
ragged hills. He saw the mists rise and grow wisp-like, and the disc of
the sun gain color, and all the miracles of cannoning tempest and
caressing calm--and, though he had come back to fight, a wonderful
peace settled over him, for he knew that, if he must choose these, his
native hills, or all the rest, he would forego all the rest.
And Sally--would she be changed? His heart was hammering wildly now.
Sally had remained loyal. It was a miracle, but it was the one thing
that counted. He was going to her, and nothing else mattered. All the
questions of dilemma were answered. He was Samson South come back to
his own--to Sally, and the rifle. Nothing had changed! The same trees
raised the same crests against the same sky. For every one of them, he
felt a throb of deep emotion. Best of all, he himself had not changed
in any cardinal respect, though he had come through changes and
He lifted his head, and sent out a long, clear whippoorwill call,
which quavered on the night much like the other calls in the black
hills around him. After a moment, he went nearer, in the shadow of a
poplar, and repeated the call.
Then, the cabin-door opened. Its jamb framed a patch of yellow
candlelight, and, at the center, a slender silhouetted figure, in a
fluttering, eager attitude of uncertainty. The figure turned slightly
to one side, and, as it did so, the man saw clasped in her right hand
the rifle, which had been his mission, bequeathed to her in trust. He
saw, too, the delicate outline of her profile, with anxiously parted
lips and a red halo about her soft hair. He watched the eager heave of
her breast, and the spasmodic clutching of the gun to her heart. For
four years, he had not given that familiar signal. Possibly, it had
lost some of its characteristic quality, for she still seemed in doubt.
She hesitated, and the man, invisible in the shadow, once more imitated
the bird-note, but this time it was so low and soft that it seemed the
voice of a whispering whippoorwill.
Then, with a sudden glad little cry, she came running with her old
fleet grace down to the road.
Samson had vaulted the stile, and stood in the full moonlight. As he
saw her coming he stretched out his arms and his voice broke from his
throat in a half-hoarse, passionate cry:
It was the only word he could have spoken just then, but it was all
that was necessary. It told her everything. It was an outburst from a
heart too full of emotion to grope after speech, the cry of a man for
the One Woman who alone can call forth an inflection more eloquent than
phrases and poetry. And, as she came into his outstretched arms as
straight and direct as a homing pigeon, they closed about her in a
convulsive grip that held her straining to him, almost crushing her in
the tempest of his emotion.
For a time, there was no speech, but to each of them it seemed that
their tumultuous heart-beating must sound above the night music, and
the telegraphy of heart-beats tells enough. Later, they would talk, but
now, with a gloriously wild sense of being together, with a mutual
intoxication of joy because all that they had dreamed was true, and all
that they had feared was untrue, they stood there under the skies
clasping each other--with the rifle between their breasts. Then as he
held her close, he wondered that a shadow of doubt could ever have
existed. He wondered if, except in some nightmare of hallucination, it
had ever existed.
The flutter of her heart was like that of a rapturous bird, and the
play of her breath on his face like the fragrance of the elder blossoms.
These were their stars twinkling overhead. These were their hills, and
their moon was smiling on their tryst.
He had gone and seen the world that lured him: he had met its
difficulties, and faced its puzzles. He had even felt his feet
wandering at the last from the path that led back to her, and now, with
her lithe figure close held in his embrace, and her red-brown hair
brushing his temples, he marveled how such an instant of doubt could
have existed. He knew only that the silver of the moon and the kiss of
the breeze and the clasp of her soft arms about his neck were all parts
of one great miracle. And she, who had waited and almost despaired, not
taking count of what she had suffered, felt her knees grow weak, and
her head grow dizzy with sheer happiness, and wondered if it were not
too marvelous to be true. And, looking very steadfastly into his eyes,
she saw there the gleam that once had frightened her; the gleam that
spoke of something stronger and more compelling than his love. It no
longer frightened her, but made her soul sing, though it was more
intense than it had ever been before, for now she knew that it was She
herself who brought it to his pupils--and that nothing would ever be
But they had much to say to each other, and, finally, Samson broke the
"Did ye think I wasn't a-comin' back, Sally?" he questioned, softly.
At that moment, he had no realization that his tongue had ever
fashioned smoother phrases. And she, too, who had been making war on
crude idioms, forgot, as she answered:
"Ye done said ye was comin'." Then, she added a happy lie: "I knowed
plumb shore ye'd do hit."
After a while, she drew away, and said, slowly:
"Samson, I've done kept the old rifle-gun ready fer ye. Ye said ye'd
need it bad when ye come back, an' I've took care of it."
She stood there holding it, and her voice dropped almost to a whisper
as she added:
"It's been a lot of comfort to me sometimes, because it was your'n. I
knew if ye stopped keerin' fer me, ye wouldn't let me keep it--an' as
long as I had it, I--" She broke off, and the fingers of one hand
touched the weapon caressingly.
The man knew many things now that he had not known when he said good-
by. He recognized in the very gesture with which she stroked the old
walnut stock the pathetic heart-hunger of a nature which had been
denied the fulfillment of its strength, and which had been bestowing on
an inanimate object something that might almost have been the stirring
of the mother instinct for a child. Now, thank God, her life should
never lack anything that a flood-tide of love could bring to it. He
bent his head in a mute sort of reverence.
After a long while, they found time for the less-wonderful things.
"I got your letter," he said, seriously, "and I came at once." As he
began to speak of concrete facts, he dropped again into ordinary
English, and did not know that he had changed his manner of speech.
For an instant, Sally looked up into his face, then with a sudden
laugh, she informed him:
"I can say, 'isn't,' instead of, 'hain't,' too. How did you like my
He held her off at arms' length, and looked at her pridefully, but
under his gaze her eyes fell, and her face flushed with a sudden
diffidence and a new shyness of realization. She wore a calico dress,
but at her throat was a soft little bow of ribbon. She was no longer
the totally unself-conscious wood-nymph, though as natural and
instinctive as in the other days. Suddenly, she drew away from him a
little, and her hands went slowly to her breast, and rested there. She
was fronting a great crisis, but, in the first flush of joy, she had
forgotten it. She had spent lonely nights struggling for rudiments; she
had sought and fought to refashion herself, so that, if he came, he
need not be ashamed of her. And now he had come, and, with a terrible
clarity and distinctness, she realized how pitifully little she had
been able to accomplish. Would she pass muster? She stood there before
him, frightened, self-conscious and palpitating, then her voice came in
"Samson, dear, I'm not holdin' you to any promise. Those things we
said were a long time back. Maybe we'd better forget 'em now, and begin
all over again."
But, again, he crushed her in his arms, and his voice rose triumphantly:
"Sally, I have no promises to take back, and you have made none that
I'm ever going to let you take back--not while life lasts!"
Her laugh was the delicious music of happiness. "I don't want to take
them back," she said. Then, suddenly, she added, importantly: "I wear
shoes and stockings now, and I've been to school a little. I'm awfully--
awfully ignorant, Samson, but I've started, and I reckon you can teach
His voice choked. Then, her hands strayed up, and clasped themselves
about his head.
"Oh, Samson," she cried, as though someone had struck her, "you've cut
"It will grow again," he laughed. But he wished that he had not had to
make that excuse. Then, being honest, he told her all about Adrienne
Lescott--even about how, after he believed that he had been outcast by
his uncle and herself, he had had his moments of doubt. Now that it was
all so clear, now that there could never be doubt, he wanted the woman
who had been so true a friend to know the girl whom he loved. He loved
them both, but was in love with only one. He wanted to present to Sally
the friend who had made him, and to the friend who had made him the
Sally of whom he was proud. He wanted to tell Adrienne that now he
could answer her question--that each of them meant to the other exactly
the same thing: they were friends of the rarer sort, who had for a
little time been in danger of mistaking their comradeship for passion.
As they talked, sitting on the stile, Sally held the rifle across her
knees. Except for their own voices and the soft chorus of night sounds,
the hills were wrapped in silence--a silence as soft as velvet.
Suddenly, in a pause, there came to the girl's ears the cracking of a
twig in the woods. With the old instinctive training of the mountains,
she leaped noiselessly down, and for an instant stood listening with
intent ears. Then, in a low, tense whisper, as she thrust the gun into
the man's hands, she cautioned:
"Git out of sight. Maybe they've done found out ye've come back--maybe
they're trailin' ye!"
With an instant shock, she remembered what mission had brought him
back, and what was his peril; and he, too, for whom the happiness of
the moment had swallowed up other things, came back to a recognition of
facts. Dropping into the old woodcraft, he melted out of sight into the
shadow, thrusting the girl behind him, and crouched against the fence,
throwing the rifle forward, and peering into the shadows. As he stood
there, balancing the gun once more in his hands, old instincts began to
stir, old battle hunger to rise, and old realizations of primitive
things to assault him. Then, when they had waited with bated breath
until they were both reassured, he rose and swung the stock to his
shoulder several times. With something like a sigh of contentment, he
said, half to himself:
"Hit feels mighty natural ter throw this old rifle-gun up. I reckon
maybe I kin still shoot hit."
"I learned some things down there at school, Samson," said the girl,
slowly, "and I wish--I wish you didn't have to use it."
"Jim Asberry is dead," said the man, gravely.
"Yes," she echoed, "Jim Asberry's dead." She stopped there. Yet, her
sigh completed the sentence as though she had added, "but he was only
one of several. Your vow went farther."
After a moment's pause, Samson added:
"Jesse Purvy's dead."
The girl drew back, with a frightened gasp. She knew what this meant,
or thought she did.
"Jesse Purvy!" she repeated. "Oh, Samson, did ye--?" She broke off,
and covered her face with her hands.
"No, Sally," he told her. "I didn't have to." He recited the day's
occurrences, and they sat together on the stile, until the moon had
sunk to the ridge top.
* * * * *
Captain Sidney Callomb, who had been despatched in command of a
militia company to quell the trouble in the mountains, should have been
a soldier by profession. All his enthusiasms were martial. His
precision was military. His cool eye held a note of command which made
itself obeyed. He had a rare gift of handling men, which made them
ready to execute the impossible. But the elder Callomb had trained his
son to succeed him at the head of a railroad system, and the young man
had philosophically undertaken to satisfy his military ambitions with
State Guard shoulder-straps.
The deepest sorrow and mortification he had ever known was that which
came to him when Tamarack Spicer, his prisoner of war and a man who had
been surrendered on the strength of his personal guarantee, had been
assassinated before his eyes. That the manner of this killing had been
so outrageously treacherous that it could hardly have been guarded
against, failed to bring him solace. It had shown the inefficiency of
his efforts, and had brought on a carnival of blood-letting, when he
had come here to safeguard against that danger. In some fashion, he
must make amends. He realized, too, and it rankled deeply, that his men
were not being genuinely used to serve the State, but as instruments of
the Hollmans, and he had seen enough to distrust the Hollmans. Here, in
Hixon, he was seeing things from only one angle. He meant to learn
something more impartial.
Besides being on duty as an officer of militia, Callomb was a
Kentuckian, interested in the problems of his Commonwealth, and, when
he went back, he knew that his cousin, who occupied the executive
mansion at Frankfort, would be interested in his suggestions. The
Governor had asked him to report his impressions, and he meant to form
them after analysis.
So, smarting under his impotency, Captain Callomb came out of his tent
one morning, and strolled across the curved bridge to the town proper.
He knew that the Grand Jury was convening, and he meant to sit as a
spectator in the court-house and study proceedings when they were
But before he reached the court-house, where for a half-hour yet the
cupola bell would not clang out its summons to veniremen and witnesses,
he found fresh fuel for his wrath.
He was not a popular man with these clansmen, though involuntarily he
had been useful in leading their victims to the slaughter. There was a
scowl in his eyes that they did not like, and an arrogant hint of iron
laws in the livery he wore, which their instincts distrusted.
Callomb saw without being told that over the town lay a sense of
portentous tidings. Faces were more sullen than usual. Men fell into
scowling knots and groups. A clerk at a store where he stopped for
tobacco inquired as he made change:
"Heered the news, stranger?"
"This here 'Wildcat' Samson South come back yis-tiddy, an' last
evenin' towards sundown, Jesse Purvy an' Aaron Hollis was shot dead."
For an instant, the soldier stood looking at the young clerk, his eyes
kindling into a wrathful blaze. Then, he cursed under his breath. At
the door, he turned on his heel:
"Where can Judge Smithers be found at this time of day?" he demanded.
The Honorable Asa Smithers was not the regular Judge of the Circuit
which numbered Hixon among its county-seats. The elected incumbent was
ill, and Smithers had been named as his pro-tem. successor. Callomb
climbed to the second story of the frame bank building, and pounded
loudly on a door, which bore the boldly typed shingle:
"ASA SMITHERS, ATTORNEY-AT-LAW."
The temporary Judge admitted a visitor in uniform, whose countenance
was stormy with indignant protest. The Judge himself was placid and
smiling. The lawyer, who was for the time being exalted to the bench,
hoped to ascend it more permanently by the votes of the Hollman
faction, since only Hollman votes were counted. He was a young man of
powerful physique with a face ruggedly strong and honest.
It was such an honest and fearless face that it was extremely valuable
to its owner in concealing a crookedness as resourceful as that of a
fox, and a moral cowardice which made him a spineless tool in evil
hands. A shock of tumbled red hair over a fighting face added to the
appearance of combative strength. The Honorable Asa was conventionally
dressed, and his linen was white, but his collar was innocent of a
necktie. Callomb stood for a moment inside the door, and, when he
spoke, it was to demand crisply:
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"About what, Captain?" inquired the other, mildly.
"Is it possible you haven't heard? Since yesterday noon, two more
murders have been added to the holocaust. You represent the courts of
law. I represent the military arm of the State. Are we going to stand
by and see this go on?"
The Judge shook his head, and his visage was sternly thoughtful and
hypocritical. He did not mention that he had just come from conference
with the Hollman leaders. He did not explain that the venire he had
drawn from the jury drum had borne a singularly solid Hollman compaction.
"Until the Grand Jury acts, I don't see that we can take any steps."
"And," stormed Captain Callomb, "the Grand Jury will, like former
Grand Juries, lie down in terror and inactivity. Either there are no
courageous men in your county, or these panels are selected to avoid
Judge Smithers' face darkened. If he was a moral coward, he was at
least a coward crouching behind a seeming of fearlessness.
"Captain," he said, coolly, but with a dangerous hint of warning, "I
don't see that your duties include contempt of court."
"No!" Callomb was now thoroughly angered, and his voice rose. "I am
sent down here subject to your orders, and it seems you are also
subject to orders. Here are two murders in a day, capping a climax of
twenty years of bloodshed. You have information as to the arrival of a
man known as a desperado with a grudge against the two dead men, yet
you know of no steps to take. Give me the word, and I'll go out and
bring that man, and any others you name, to your bar of justice--if it
is a bar of justice! For God's sake, give me something else to do than
to bring in prisoners to be shot down in cold blood."
The Judge sat balancing a pencil on his extended forefinger as though
it were a scale of justice.
"You have been heated in your language, sir," he said, sternly, "but
it is a heat arising from an indignation which I share. Consequently, I
pass it over. I cannot instruct you to arrest Samson South before the
Grand Jury has accused him. The law does not contemplate hasty or
unadvised action. All men are innocent until proven guilty. If the
Grand Jury wants South, I'll instruct you to go and get him. Until
then, you may leave my part of the work to me."
His Honor rose from his chair.
"You can at least give this Grand Jury such instructions on murder as
will point out their duty. You can assure them that the militia will
protect them. Through your prosecutor, you can bring evidence to their
"If you will excuse me," interrupted His Honor, drily, "I'll judge of
how I am to charge my Grand Jury. I have been in communication with the
family of Mr. Purvy, and it is not their wish at the present time to
bring this case before the panel."
Callomb laughed ironically.
"No, I could have told you that before you conferred with them. I
could have told you that they prefer to be their own courts and
executioners, except where they need you. They also preferred to have
me get a man they couldn't take themselves, and then to assassinate him
in my hands. Who in the hell do you work for, Judge-for-the-moment
Smithers? Are you holding a job under the State of Kentucky, or under
the Hollman faction of this feud? I am instructed to take my orders
from you. Will you kindly tell me my master's real name?"
Smithers turned pale with anger, his fighting face grew as truculent
as a bulldog's, while Callomb stood glaring back at him like a second
bulldog, but the Judge knew that he was being honestly and fearlessly
accused. He merely pointed to the door. The Captain turned on his heel,
and stalked out of the place, and the Judge came down the steps, and
crossed the street to the court-house. Five minutes later, he turned to
the shirt-sleeved man who was leaning on the bench, and said in his
most judicial voice:
"Mr. Sheriff, open court."
The next day the mail-carrier brought in a note for the temporary
Judge. His Honor read it at recess, and hastened across to Hollman's
Mammoth Department Store. There, in council with his masters, he asked
instructions. This was the note:
"THE HON. ASA SMITHERS.
"SIR: I arrived in this county yesterday, and am prepared, if called
as a witness, to give to the Grand Jury full and true particulars of
the murder of Jesse Purvy and the killing of Aaron Hollis. I am willing
to come under escort of my own kinsmen, or of the militiamen, as the
Court may advise.
"The requirement of any bodyguard, I deplore, but in meeting my legal
obligations, I do not regard it as necessary or proper to walk into a
"Respectfully, SAMSON SOUTH."
Smithers looked perplexedly at Judge Hollman.
"Shall I have him come?" he inquired.
Hollman threw the letter down on his desk with a burst of blasphemy:
"Have him come?" he echoed. "Hell and damnation, no! What do we want
him to come here and spill the milk for? When we get ready, we'll
indict him. Then, let your damned soldiers go after him--as a criminal,
not a witness. After that, we'll continue this case until these
outsiders go away, and we can operate to suit ourselves. We don't fall
for Samson South's tricks. No, sir; you never got that letter! It
miscarried. Do you hear? You never got it."
Smithers nodded grudging acquiescence. Most men would rather be
independent officials than collar-wearers.
Out on Misery Samson South had gladdened the soul of his uncle with
his return. The old man was mending, and, for a long time, the two had
talked. The failing head of the clan looked vainly for signs of
degeneration in his nephew, and, failing to find them, was happy.
"Hev ye decided, Samson," he inquired, "thet ye was right in yer
notion 'bout goin' away?"
Samson sat reflectively for a while, then replied:
"We were both right, Uncle Spicer--and both wrong. This is my place,
but if I'm to take up the leadership it must be in a different fashion.
Changes are coming. We can't any longer stand still."
Spicer South lighted his pipe. He, too, in these last years, had seen
in the distance the crest of the oncoming wave. He, too, recognized
that, from within or without, there must be a regeneration. He did not
welcome it, but, if it must come, he preferred that it come not at the
hands of conquerors, but under the leadership of his own blood.
"I reckon there's right smart truth to that," he acknowledged. "I've
been studyin' 'bout hit consid'able myself of late. Thar's been sev'ral
fellers through the country talkin' coal an' timber an' railroads--an'
Sally went to mill that Saturday, and with her rode Samson. There,
besides Wile McCager, he met Caleb Wiley and several others. At first,
they received him sceptically, but they knew of the visit to Purvy's
store, and they were willing to admit that in part at least he had
erased the blot from his escutcheon. Then, too, except for cropped hair
and a white skin, he had come back as he had gone, in homespun and
hickory. There was nothing highfalutin in his manners. In short, the
impression was good.
"I reckon now that ye're back, Samson," suggested McCager, "an' seein'
how yore Uncle Spicer is gettin' along all right, I'll jest let the two
of ye run things. I've done had enough." It was a simple fashion of
resigning a regency, but effectual.
Old Caleb, however, still insurgent and unconvinced, brought in a
"We wants fightin' men," he grumbled, with the senile reiteration of
his age, as he spat tobacco and beat a rat-tat on the mill floor with
his long hickory staff. "We don't want no deserters."
"Samson ain't a deserter," defended Sally. "There isn't one of you fit
to tie his shoes." Sally and old Spicer South alone knew of her lover's
letter to the Circuit Judge, and they were pledged to secrecy.
"Never mind, Sally!" It was Samson himself who answered her. "I didn't
come back because I care what men like old Caleb think. I came back
because they needed me. The proof of a fighting man is his fighting, I
reckon. I'm willing to let 'em judge me by what I'm going to do."
So, Samson slipped back, tentatively, at least, into his place as clan
head, though for a time he found it a post without action. After the
fierce outburst of bloodshed, quiet had settled, and it was tacitly
understood that, unless the Hollman forces had some coup in mind which
they were secreting, this peace would last until the soldiers were
"When the world's a-lookin'," commented Judge Hollman, "hit's a right
good idea to crawl under a log--an' lay still."
Purvy had been too famous a feudist to pass unsung. Reporters came as
far as Hixon, gathered there such news as the Hollmans chose to give
them, and went back to write lurid stories and description, from
hearsay, of the stockaded seat of tragedy. Nor did they overlook the
dramatic coincidence of the return of "Wildcat" Samson South from
civilization to savagery. They made no accusation, but they pointed an
inference and a moral--as they thought. It was a sermon on the triumph
of heredity over the advantages of environment. Adrienne read some of
these saffron misrepresentations, and they distressed her.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, it came insistently to the ears of Captain Callomb that
some plan was on foot, the intricacies of which he could not fathom, to
manufacture a case against a number of the Souths, quite apart from
their actual guilt, or likelihood of guilt. Once more, he would be
called upon to go out and drag in men too well fortified to be taken by
the posses and deputies of the Hollman civil machinery. At this news,
he chafed bitterly, and, still rankling with a sense of shame at the
loss of his first prisoner, he formed a plan of his own, which he
revealed over his pipe to his First Lieutenant.
"There's a nigger in the woodpile, Merriwether," he said. "We are
simply being used to do the dirty work up here, and I'm going to do a
little probing of my own. I guess I'll turn the company over to you for
a day or two."
"What idiocy are you contemplating now?" inquired the second in command.
"I'm going to ride over on Misery, and hear what the other side has to
say. I've usually noticed that one side of any story is pretty good
until the other's told."
"You mean you are going to go over there where the Souths are
intrenched, where every road is guarded?" The Lieutenant spoke
wrathfully and with violence. "Don't be an ass, Callomb. You went over
there once before, and took a man away--and he's dead. You owe them a
life, and they collect their dues. You will be supported by no warrant
of arrest, and can't take a sufficient detail to protect you."
"No," said Callomb, quietly; "I go on my own responsibility and I go
"And," stormed Merriwether, "you'll never come back."
"I think," smiled Callomb, "I'll get back. I owe an old man over there
an apology, and I want to see this desperado at first hand."
"It's sheer madness. I ought to take you down to this infernal crook
of a Judge, and have you committed to a strait-jacket."
"If," said Callomb, "you are content to play the cats-paw to a bunch
of assassins, I'm not. The mail-rider went out this morning, and he
carried a letter to old Spicer South. I told him that I was coming
unescorted and unarmed, and that my object was to talk with him. I
asked him to give me a safe-conduct, at least until I reached his
house, and stated my case. I treated him like an officer and a
gentleman, and, unless I'm a poor judge of men, he's going to treat me
The Lieutenant sought vainly to dissuade Callomb, but the next day the
Captain rode forth, unaccompanied. Curious stares followed him, and
Judge Smithers turned narrowing and unpleasant eyes after him, but at
the point where the ridge separated the territory of the Hollmans from
that of the Souths, he saw waiting in the road a mounted figure,
sitting his horse straight, and clad in the rough habiliments of the
As Callomb rode up he saluted, and the mounted figure with perfect
gravity and correctness returned that salute as one officer to another.
The Captain was surprised. Where had this mountaineer with the steady
eyes and the clean-cut jaw learned the niceties of military etiquette?
"I am Captain Callomb of F Company," said the officer. "I'm riding
over to Spicer South's house. Did you come to meet me?"
"To meet and guide you," replied a pleasant voice. "My name is Samson
The militiaman stared. This man whose countenance was calmly
thoughtful scarcely comported with the descriptions he had heard of the
"Wildcat of the Mountains"; the man who had come home straight as a
storm-petrel at the first note of tempest, and marked his coming with
double murder. Callomb had been too busy to read newspapers of late. He
had heard only that Samson had "been away."
While he wondered, Samson went on:
"I'm glad you came. If it had been possible I would have come to you."
As he told of the letter he had written the Judge, volunteering to
present himself as a witness, the officer's wonder grew.
"They said that you had been away," suggested Callomb. "If it's not an
impertinent question, what part of the mountains have you been visiting?"
"Not any part of the mountains," he said. "I've been living chiefly in
New York--and for a time in Paris."
Callomb drew his horse to a dead halt.
"In the name of God," he incredulously asked, "what manner of man are
"I hope," came the instant reply, "it may be summed up by saying that
I'm exactly the opposite of the man you've had described for you back
there at Hixon."
"I knew it," exclaimed the soldier, "I knew that I was being fed on
lies! That's why I came. I wanted to get the straight of it, and I felt
that the solution lay over here."
They rode the rest of the way in deep conversation. Samson outlined
his ambitions for his people. He told, too, of the scene that had been
enacted at Purvy's store. Callomb listened with absorption, feeling
that the narrative bore axiomatic truth on its face.
At last he inquired:
"Did you succeed up there--as a painter?"
"That's a long road," Samson told him, "but I think I had a fair
start. I was getting commissions when I left."
"Then, I am to understand"--the officer met the steady gray eyes and
put the question like a cross-examiner bullying a witness--"I am to
understand that you deliberately put behind you a career to come down
here and herd these fence-jumping sheep?"
"Hardly that," deprecated the head of the Souths. "They sent for me--
that's all. Of course, I had to come."
"Because they had sent. They are my people."
The officer leaned in his saddle.
"South," he said, "would you mind shaking hands with me? Some day, I
want to brag about it to my grandchildren."
Callomb spent the night at the house of Spicer South. He met and
talked with a number of the kinsmen, and, if he read in the eyes of
some of them a smoldering and unforgiving remembrance of his unkept
pledge, at least they repressed all expression of censure.
With Spicer South and Samson, the Captain talked long into the night.
He made many jottings in a notebook. He, with Samson abetting him,
pointed out to the older and more stubborn man the necessity of a new
regime in the mountains, under which the individual could walk in
greater personal safety. As for the younger South, the officer felt,
when he rode away the next morning, that he had discovered the one man
who combined with the courage and honesty that many of his clansmen
shared the mental equipment and local influence to prove a constructive
When he returned to the Bluegrass, he meant to have a long and
unofficial talk with his relative, the Governor.
He rode back to the ridge with a strong bodyguard. Upon this Samson
had insisted. He had learned of Callomb's hasty and unwise denunciation
of Smithers, and he knew that Smithers had lost no time in relating it
to his masters. Callomb would be safe enough in Hollman country,
because the faction which had called for troops could not afford to let
him be killed within their own precincts. But, if Callomb could be shot
down in his uniform, under circumstances which seemed to bear the
earmarks of South authorship, it would arouse in the State at large a
tidal wave of resentment against the Souths, which they could never
hope to stem. And so, lest one of Hollman's hired assassins should
succeed in slipping across the ridge and waylaying him, Samson
conducted him to the frontier of the ridge.
On reaching Hixon, Callomb apologized to Judge Smithers for his recent
outburst of temper. Now that he understood the hand that gentleman was
playing, he wished to be strategic and in a position of seeming accord.
He must match craft against craft. He did not intimate that he knew of
Samson's letter, and rather encouraged the idea that he had been
received on Misery with surly and grudging hospitality.
Smithers, presuming that the Souths still burned with anger over the
shooting of Tamarack, swallowed that bait, and was beguiled.
The Grand Jury trooped each day to the court-house and transacted its
business. The petty juries went and came, occupied with several minor
homicide cases. The Captain, from a chair, which Judge Smithers had
ordered placed beside him on the bench, was looking on and intently
studying. One morning, Smithers confided to him that in a day or two
more the Grand Jury would bring in a true bill against Samson South,
charging him with murder. The officer did not show surprise. He merely
"I suppose I'll be called on to go and get him?" "I'm afraid we'll
have to ask you to do that." "What caused the change of heart? I
thought Purvy's people didn't want it done." It was Callomb's first
allusion, except for his apology, to their former altercation.
For an instant only, Smithers was a little confused.
"To be quite frank with you, Callomb," he said, "I got to thinking
over the matter in the light of your own viewpoint, and, after due
deliberation, I came to see that to the State at large it might bear
the same appearance. So, I had the Grand Jury take the matter up. We
must stamp out such lawlessness as Samson South stands for. He is the
more dangerous because he has brains."
Callomb nodded, but, at noon, he slipped out on a pretense of sight-
seeing, and rode by a somewhat circuitous route to the ridge. At
nightfall, he came to the house of the clan head.
"South," he said to Samson, when he had led him aside, "they didn't
want to hear what you had to tell the Grand Jury, but they are going
ahead to indict you on manufactured evidence."
Samson was for a moment thoughtful, then he nodded.
"That's about what I was expecting."
"Now," went on Callomb, "we understand each other. We are working for
the same end, and, by God! I've had one experience in making arrests at
the order of that Court. I don't want it to happen again."
"I suppose," said Samson, "you know that while I am entirely willing
to face any fair court of justice, I don't propose to walk into a
packed jury, whose only object is to get me where I can be made way
with. Callomb, I hope we won't have to fight each other. What do you
"If the Court orders the militia to make an arrest, the militia has no
option. In the long run, resistance would only alienate the sympathy of
the world at large. There is just one thing to be done, South. It's a
thing I don't like to suggest, and a thing which, if we were not
fighting the devil with fire, it would be traitorous for me to
suggest." He paused, then added emphatically: "When my detail arrives
here, which will probably be in three or four days, you must not be
here. You must not be in any place where we can find you."
For a little while, Samson looked at the other man with a slow smile
of amusement, but soon it died, and his face grew hard and determined.
"I'm obliged to you, Callomb," he said, seriously. "It was more than I
had the right to expect--this warning. I understand the cost of giving
it. But it's no use. I can't cut and run. No, by God, you wouldn't do
it! You can't ask me to do it."
"By God, you can and will!" Callomb spoke with determination. "This
isn't a time for quibbling. You've got work to do. We both have work to
do. We can't stand on a matter of vainglorious pride, and let big
issues of humanity go to pot. We haven't the right to spend men's lives
in fighting each other, when we are the only two men in this
entanglement who are in perfect accord--and honest."
The mountaineer spent some minutes in silent self-debate. The working
of his face under the play of alternating doubt, resolution, hatred and
insurgency, told the militiaman what a struggle was progressing. At
last, Samson's eyes cleared with an expression of discovered solution.
"All right, Callomb," he said, briefly, "you won't find me!" He
smiled, as he added: "Make as thorough a search as your duty demands.
It needn't be perfunctory or superficial. Every South cabin will stand
open to you. I shall be extremely busy, to ends which you will approve.
I can't tell you what I shall be doing, because to do that, I should
have to tell where I mean to be."
In two days, the Grand Jury, with much secrecy, returned a true bill,
and a day later a considerable detachment of infantry started on a
dusty hike up Misery. Furtive and inscrutable Hollman eyes along the
way watched them from cabin-doors, and counted them. They meant also to
count them coming back, and they did not expect the totals to tally.
* * * * *
Back of an iron spiked fence, and a dusty sunburned lawn, the barrack
-like facades of the old Administration Building and Kentucky State
Capitol frowned on the street and railroad track. About it, on two
sides of the Kentucky River, sprawled the town of Frankfort; sleepy,
more or less disheveled at the center, and stretching to shaded
environs of Colonial houses set in lawns of rich bluegrass, amid the
shade of forest trees. Circling the town in an embrace of quiet beauty
rose the Kentucky River hills.
Turning in to the gate of the State House enclosure, a man, who seemed
to be an Easterner by the cut of his clothes, walked slowly up the
brick walk, and passed around the fountain at the front of the Capitol.
He smiled to himself as his wandering eyes caught the distant walls and
roofs of the State Prison on the hillside. His steps carried him direct
to the main entrance of the Administration Building, and, having paused
a moment in the rotunda, he entered the Secretary's office of the
Executive suite, and asked for an interview with the Governor. The
Secretary, whose duties were in part playing Cerberus at that
threshold, made his customary swift, though unobtrusive, survey of the
applicant for audience, and saw nothing to excite suspicion.
"Have you an appointment?" he asked.
The visitor shook his head. Scribbling a brief note on a slip of
paper, he enclosed it in an envelope and handed it to his questioner.
"You must pardon my seeming mysteriousness," he said, "but, if you
will let me send in that note, I think the Governor will see me."
Once more the Secretary studied his man with a slightly puzzled air,
then nodded and went through the door that gave admission to the
His Excellency opened the envelope, and his face showed an expression
of surprise. He raised his brows questioningly.
"Rough-looking sort?" he inquired. "Mountaineer?"
"No, sir. New Yorker would be my guess. Is there anything suspicious?"
"I guess not." The Governor laughed. "Rather extraordinary note, but
send him in."
Through his eastern window, the Governor gazed off across the hills of
South Frankfort, to the ribbon of river that came down from the
troublesome hills. Then, hearing a movement at his back, he turned, and
his eyes took in a well-dressed figure with confidence-inspiring
He picked up the slip from his desk, and, for a moment, stood
comparing the name and the message with the man who had sent them in.
There seemed to be in his mind some irreconcilable contradiction
between the two. With a slightly frowning seriousness, the Executive
"This note says that you are Samson South, and that you want to see me
with reference to a pardon. Whose pardon is it, Mr. South?"
"My own, sir."
The Governor raised his brows, slightly.
"Your pardon for what? The newspapers do not even report that you have
yet been indicted." He shaded the word "yet" with a slight emphasis.
"I think I have been indicted within the past day or two. I'm not sure
The Governor continued to stare. The impression he had formed of the
"Wildcat" from press dispatches was warring with the pleasing personal
presence of this visitor. Then, his forehead wrinkled under his black
hair, and his lips drew themselves sternly.
"You have come to me too soon, sir," he said curtly. "The pardoning
power is a thing to be most cautiously used at all times, and certainly
never until the courts have acted. A case not yet adjudicated cannot
address itself to executive clemency."
"Quite true," he admitted. "If I announced that I had come on the
matter of a pardon, it was largely that I had to state some business
and that seemed the briefest way of putting it."
"Then, there is something else?"
"Yes. If it were only a plea for clemency, I should expect the matter
to be chiefly important to myself. In point of fact, I hope to make it
equally interesting to you. Whether you give me a pardon in a fashion
which violates all precedent, or whether I surrender myself, and go
back to a trial which will be merely a form of assassination, rests
entirely with you, sir. You will not find me insistent."
"If," said the Governor, with a trace of warning in his voice, "your
preamble is simply a device to pique my interest with its unheard-of
novelty, I may as well confess that so far it has succeeded."
"In that case, sir," responded Samson, gravely, "I have scored a
point. If, when I am through, you find that I have been employing a
subterfuge, I, fancy a touch of that bell under your finger will give
you the means of summoning an officer. I am ready to turn myself over."
Then, Samson launched into the story of his desires and the details of
conditions which outside influences had been powerless to remedy--
because they were outside influences. Some man of sufficient vigor and
comprehension, acting from the center of disturbance, must be armed
with the power to undertake the housecleaning, and for a while must do
work that would not be pretty. As far as he was personally concerned, a
pardon after trial would be a matter of purely academic interest. He
could not expect to survive a trial. He was at present able to hold the
Souths in leash. If the Governor was not of that mind, he was now ready
to surrender himself, and permit matters to take their course.
"And now, Mr. South?" suggested the Governor, after a half-hour of
absorbed listening. "There is one point you have overlooked. Since in
the end the whole thing comes back to the exercise of the pardoning
power, it is after all the crux of the situation. You may be able to
render such services as those for which you volunteer. Let us for the
moment assume that to be true. You have not yet told me a very
important thing. Did you or did you not kill Purvy and Hollis?"
"I killed Hollis," said Samson, as though he were answering a question
as to the time of day, "and I did not kill Purvy."
"Kindly," suggested the Governor, "give me the full particulars of
The two were still closeted, when a second visitor called, and was
told that his Excellency could not be disturbed. The second visitor,
however, was so insistent that the secretary finally consented to take
in the card. After a glance at it, his chief ordered admission.
The door opened, and Captain Callomb entered.
He was now in civilian clothes, with portentous news written on his
face. He paused in annoyance at the sight of a second figure standing
with back turned at the window. Then Samson wheeled, and the two men
recognized each other. They had met before only when one was in olive
drab; the other in jeans and butternut. At recognition, Callomb's face
fell, and grew troubled.
"You here, South!" he exclaimed. "I thought you promised me that I
shouldn't find you. God knows I didn't want to meet you."
"Nor I you," Samson spoke slowly. "I supposed you'd be raking the
Neither of them was for the moment paying the least attention to the
Governor, who stood quietly looking on.
"I sent Merriwether out there," explained Callomb, impatiently. "I
wanted to come here before it was too late. God knows, South, I
wouldn't have had this meeting occur for anything under heaven. It
leaves me no choice. You are indicted on two counts, each charging you
with murder." The officer took a step toward the center of the room.
His face was weary, and his eyes wore the deep disgust and fatigue that
come from the necessity of performing a hard duty.
"You are under arrest," he added quietly, but his composure broke as
he stormed. "Now, by God, I've got to take you back and let them murder
you, and you're the one man who might have been useful to the State."
The Governor had been more influenced by watching the two as they
talked than by what he had heard.
"It seems to me, gentlemen," he suggested quietly, "that you are both
overlooking my presence." He turned to Callomb.
"Your coming, Sid, unless it was prearranged between the two of you
(which, since I know you, I know was not the case) has shed more light
on this matter than the testimony of a dozen witnesses. After all, I'm
still the Governor."
The militiaman seemed to have forgotten the existence of his
distinguished kinsman, and, at the voice, his eyes came away from the
face of the man he had not wanted to capture, and he shook his head.
"You are merely the head of the executive branch," he said. "You are
as helpless here as I am. Neither of us can interfere with the judicial
gentry, though we may know that they stink to high heaven with the
stench of blood. After a conviction, you can pardon, but a pardon won't
help the dead. I don't see that you can do much of anything, Crit."
"I don't know yet what I can do, but I can tell you I'm going to do
something," said the Governor. "You can just begin watching me. In the
meantime, I believe I am Commander-in-Chief of the State troops."
"And I am Captain of F Company, but all I can do is to obey the orders
of a bunch of Borgias."
"As your superior officer," smiled the Governor, "I can give you
orders. I'm going to give you one now. Mr. South has applied to me for
a pardon in advance of trial. Technically, I have the power to grant
that request. Morally, I doubt my right. Certainly, I shall not do it
without a very thorough sifting of evidence and grave consideration of
the necessities of the case--as well as the danger of the precedent.
However, I am considering it, and for the present you will parole your
prisoner in my custody. Mr. South, you will not leave Frankfort without
my permission. You will take every precaution to conceal your actual
identity. You will treat as utterly confidential all that has
transpired here--and, above all, you will not let newspaper men
discover you. Those are my orders. Report here tomorrow afternoon, and
remember that you are my prisoner."
Samson bowed, and left the two cousins together, where shortly they
were joined by the Attorney General. That evening, the three dined at
the executive mansion, and sat until midnight in the Governor's private
office, still deep in discussion. During the long session, Callomb
opened the bulky volume of the Kentucky Statutes, and laid his finger
on Section 2673.
"There's the rub," he protested, reading aloud: "'The military shall
be at all times, and in all cases, in strict subordination to the civil
The Governor glanced down to the next paragraph, and read in part:
"'The Governor may direct the commanding officer of the military force
to report to any one of the following-named officers of the district in
which the said force is employed: Mayor of a city, sheriff, jailer or
"Which list," stormed Callomb, "is the honor roll of the assassins."
"At all events"--the Governor had derived from Callomb much
information as to Samson South which the mountaineer himself had
modestly withheld--"South gets his pardon. That is only a step. I wish
I could make him satrap over his province, and provide him with troops
to rule it. Unfortunately, our form of government has its drawbacks."
"It might be possible," ventured the Attorney General, "to impeach the
Sheriff, and appoint this or some other suitable man to fill the
vacancy until the next election."
"The Legislature doesn't meet until next winter," objected Callomb.
"There is one chance. The Sheriff down there is a sick man. Let us hope
he may die."
One day, the Hixon conclave met in the room over Hollman's Mammoth
Department Store, and with much profanity read a communication from
Frankfort, announcing the pardon of Samson South. In that episode, they
foresaw the beginning of the end for their dynasty. The outside world
was looking on, and their regime could not survive the spotlight of law
"The fust thing," declared Judge Hollman, curtly, "is to get rid of
these damned soldiers. We'll attend to our own business later, and we
don't want them watchin' us. Just now, we want to lie mighty quiet for
a spell--teetotally quiet until I pass the word."
Samson had won back the confidence of his tribe, and enlisted the
faith of the State administration. He had been authorized to organize a
local militia company, and to drill them, provided he could stand
answerable for their conduct. The younger Souths took gleefully to that
idea. The mountain boy makes a good soldier, once he has grasped the
idea of discipline. For ten weeks, they drilled daily in squads and
weekly in platoons. Then, the fortuitous came to pass. Sheriff Forbin
died, leaving behind him an unexpired term of two years, and Samson was
summoned hastily to Frankfort. He returned, bearing his commission as
High Sheriff, though, when that news reached Hixon, there were few men
who envied him his post, and none who cared to bet that he would live
to take his oath of office.
That August court day was a memorable one in Hixon. Samson South was
coming to town to take up his duties. Every one recognized it as the
day of final issue, and one that could hardly pass without bloodshed.
The Hollmans, standing in their last trench, saw only the blunt
question of Hollman-South supremacy. For years, the feud had flared and
slept and broken again into eruption, but never before had a South
sought to throw his outposts of power across the waters of Crippleshin,
and into the county seat. That the present South came bearing
commission as an officer of the law only made his effrontery the more
Samson had not called for outside troops. The drilling and
disciplining of his own company had progressed in silence along the
waters of Misery. They were a slouching, unmilitary band of uniformed
vagabonds, but they were longing to fight, and Callomb had been with
them, tirelessly whipping them into rudimentary shape. After all, they
were as much partisans as they had been before they were issued State
rifles. The battle, if it came, would be as factional as the fight of
twenty-five years ago, when the Hollmans held the store and the Souths
the court-house. But back of all that lay one essential difference, and
it was this difference that had urged the Governor to stretch the forms
of law and put such dangerous power into the hands of one man. That
difference was the man himself. He was to take drastic steps, but he
was to take them under the forms of law, and the State Executive
believed that, having gone through worse to better, he would maintain
the improved condition.
Early that morning, men began to assemble along the streets of Hixon;
and to congregate into sullen clumps with set faces that denoted a
grim, unsmiling determination. Not only the Hollmans from the town and
immediate neighborhood were there, but their shaggier, fiercer brethren
from remote creeks and coves, who came only at urgent call, and did not
come without intent of vindicating their presence. Old Jake Hollman,
from "over yon" on the headwaters of Dryhole Creek, brought his son and
fourteen-year-old grandson, and all of them carried Winchesters. Long
before the hour for the court-house bell to sound the call which would
bring matters to a crisis, women disappeared from the streets, and
front shutters and doors closed themselves. At last, the Souths began
to ride in by half-dozens, and to hitch their horses at the racks.
They, also, fell into groups well apart. The two factions eyed each
other somberly, sometimes nodding or exchanging greetings, for the time
had not yet come to fight. Slowly, however, the Hollmans began
centering about the court-house. They swarmed in the yard, and entered
the empty jail, and overran the halls and offices of the building
itself. They took their places massed at the windows. The Souths, now
coming in a solid stream, flowed with equal unanimity to McEwer's
Hotel, near the square, and disappeared inside. Besides their rifles,
they carried saddlebags, but not one of the uniforms which some of
these bags contained, nor one of the cartridge belts, had yet been
exposed to view.
Stores opened, but only for a desultory pretense of business. Horsemen
led their mounts away from the more public racks, and tethered them to
back fences and willow branches in the shelter of the river banks,
where stray bullets would not find them.
The dawn that morning had still been gray when Samson South and
Captain Callomb had passed the Miller cabin. Callomb had ridden slowly
on around the turn of the road, and waited a quarter of a mile away. He
was to command the militia that day, if the High Sheriff should call
upon him. Samson went in and knocked, and instantly to the cabin door
came Sally's slender, fluttering figure. She put both arms about him,
and her eyes, as she looked into his face, were terrified, but tearless.
"I'm frightened, Samson," she whispered. "God knows I'm going to be
praying all this day."
"Sally," he said, softly, "I'm coming back to you--but, if I don't"--
he held her very close--"Uncle Spicer has my will. The farm is full of
coal, and days are coming when roads will take it out, and every ridge
will glow with coke furnaces. That farm will make you rich, if we win
"Don't!" she cried, with a sudden gasp. "Don't talk like that."
"I must," he said, gently. "I want you to make me a promise, Sally."
"It's made," she declared.
"If, by any chance I should not come back, I want you to hold Uncle
Spicer and old Wile McCager to their pledge. They must not privately
avenge me. They must still stand for the law. I want you, and this is
most important of all, to leave these mountains----"
Her hands tightened on his shoulders.
"Not that, Samson," she pleaded; "not these mountains where we've been
"You promised. I want you to go to the Lescotts in New York. In a
year, you can come back--if you want to; but you must promise that."
"I promise," she reluctantly yielded.
It was half-past nine o'clock when Samson South and Sidney Callomb
rode side by side into Hixon from the east. A dozen of the older
Souths, who had not become soldiers, met them there, and, with no word,
separated to close about them in a circle of protection. As Callomb's
eyes swept the almost deserted streets, so silent that the strident
switching of a freight train could be heard down at the edge of town,
he shook his head. As he met the sullen glances of the gathering in the
court-house yard, he turned to Samson.
"They'll fight," he said, briefly.
"I don't understand the method," demurred the officer, with
perplexity. "Why don't they shoot you at once. What are they waiting
"They want to see," Samson assured him, "what tack I mean to take.
They want to let the thing play itself out, They're inquisitive--and
they're cautious, because now they are bucking the State and the world."
Samson with his escort rode up to the court-house door, and
dismounted. He was for the moment unarmed, and his men walked on each
side of him, while the onlooking Hollmans stood back in surly silence
to let him pass. In the office of the County Judge, Samson said briefly:
"I want to get my deputies sworn in."
"We've got plenty deputy sheriffs," was the quietly insolent rejoinder.
"Not now--we haven't any." Samson's voice was sharply incisive. "I'll
name my own assistants."
"What's the matter with these boys?" The County Judge waved his hand
toward two hold-over deputies.
The County Judge laughed.
"Well, I reckon I can't attend to that right now."
"Then, you refuse?"
"Mebby you might call it that."
Samson leaned on the Judge's table, and rapped sharply with his
knuckles. His handful of men stood close, and Callomb caught his
breath, in the heavy air of storm-freighted suspense. The Hollman
partisans filled the room, and others were crowding to the doors.
"I'm High Sheriff of this County now," said Samson, sharply. "You are
County Judge. Do we cooperate--or fight?"
"I reckon," drawled the other, "that's a matter we'll work out as we
goes along. Depends on how obedient ye air."
"I'm responsible for the peace and quiet of this County," continued
Samson. "We're going to have peace and quiet."
The Judge looked about him. The indications did not appear to him
indicative of peace and quiet.
"Air we?" he inquired.
"I'm coming back here in a half-hour," said the new Sheriff. "This is
an unlawful and armed assembly. When I get back, I want to find the
court-house occupied only by unarmed citizens who have business here."
"When ye comes back," suggested the County Judge, "I'd advise that ye
resigns yore job. A half-hour is about es long as ye ought ter try ter
Samson turned and walked through the scowling crowd to the court-house
"Gentlemen," he said, in a clear, far-carrying voice, "there is no
need of an armed congregation at this court-house. I call on you in the
name of the law to lay aside your arms or scatter."
There was murmur which for an instant threatened to become a roar, but
trailed into a chorus of derisive laughter.
Samson went to the hotel, accompanied by Callomb. A half-hour later,
the two were back at the court-house, with a half-dozen companions. The
yard was empty. Samson carried his father's rifle. In that half-hour a
telegram, prepared in advance, had flashed to Frankfort.
"Mob holds court-house--need troops."
And a reply had flashed back:
"Use local company--Callomb commanding." So that form of law was met.
The court-house doors were closed, and its windows barricaded. The
place was no longer a judicial building. It was a fortress. As Samson's
party paused at the gate, a warning voice called:
"Don't come no nigher!"
The body-guard began dropping back to shelter.
"I demand admission to the court-house to make arrests," shouted the
new Sheriff. In answer, a spattering of rifle reports came from the
jail windows. Two of the Souths fell. At a nod from Samson, Callomb
left on a run for the hotel. The Sheriff himself took his position in a
small store across the street, which he reached unhurt under a
Then, again, silence settled on the town, to remain for five minutes
unbroken. The sun glared mercilessly on clay streets, now as empty as a
cemetery. A single horse incautiously hitched at the side of the
courthouse switched its tail against the assaults of the flies.
Otherwise, there was no outward sign of life. Then, Callomb's newly
organized force of ragamuffin soldiers clattered down the street at
double time. For a moment or two after they came into sight, only the
massed uniforms caught the eyes of the intrenched Hollmans, and an
alarmed murmur broke from the court-house. They had seen no troops
detrain, or pitch camp. These men had sprung from the earth as
startlingly as Jason's crop of dragon's teeth. But, when the command
rounded the shoulder of a protecting wall to await further orders, the
ragged stride of their marching, and the all-too-obvious bearing of the
mountaineer proclaimed them native amateurs. The murmur turned to a
howl of derision and challenge. They were nothing more nor less than
South, masquerading in the uniforms of soldiers.
"What orders?" inquired Callomb briefly, joining Samson in the store.
"Demand surrender once more--then take the courthouse and jail," was
the short reply.
There was little conversation in the ranks of the new company, but
their faces grew black as they listened to the jeers and insults across
the way, and they greedily fingered their freshly issued rifles. They
would be ready when the command of execution came. Callomb himself went
forward with the flag of truce. He shouted his message, and a bearded
man came to the court-house door.
"Tell 'em," he said without redundancy, "thet we're all here. Come an'
The officer went back, and distributed his forces under such cover as
offered itself, about the four walls. Then, a volley was fired over the
roof, and instantly the two buildings in the public square awoke to a
volcanic response of rifle fire.
All day, the duel between the streets and county buildings went on
with desultory intervals of quiet and wild outbursts of musketry. The
troops were firing as sharpshooters, and the court-house, too, had its
sharpshooters. When a head showed itself at a barricaded window, a
report from the outside greeted it. Samson was everywhere, his rifle
smoking and hot-barreled. His life seemed protected by a talisman. Yet,
most of the firing, after the first hour, was from within. The troops
were, except for occasional pot shots, holding their fire. There was
neither food nor water inside the building, and at last night closed
and the cordon drew tighter to prevent escape. The Hollmans, like rats
in a trap, grimly held on, realizing that it was to be a siege. On the
following morning, a detachment of F Company arrived, dragging two
gatling guns. The Hollmans saw them detraining, from their lookout in
the courthouse cupola, and, realizing that the end had come, resolved
upon a desperate sortie. Simultaneously, every door and lower window of
the court-house burst open to discharge a frenzied rush of men, firing
as they came. They meant to eat their way out and leave as many hostile
dead as possible in their wake. Their one chance now was to scatter
before the machine-guns came into action. They came like a flood of
human lava, and their guns were never silent, as they bore down on the
barricades, where the single outnumbered company seemed insufficient to
hold them. But the new militiamen, looking for reassurance not so much
to Callomb as to the granite-like face of Samson South, rallied, and
rose with a yell to meet them on bayonet and smoking muzzle. The rush
wavered, fell back, desperately rallied, then broke in scattered
remnants for the shelter of the building.
Old Jake Hollman fell near the door, and his grandson, rushing out,
picked up his fallen rifle, and sent farewell defiance from it, as he,
too, threw up both arms and dropped.
Then, a white flag wavered at a window, and, as the newly arrived
troops halted in the street, the noise died suddenly to quiet. Samson
went out to meet a man who opened the door, and said shortly:
"We lays down."
Judge Hollman, who had not participated, turned from the slit in his