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The Call of the Cumberlands by Charles Neville Buck

Part 6 out of 6

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shuttered window, through which he had since the beginning been
watching the conflict.

"That ends it!" he said, with a despairing shrug of his shoulders. He
picked up a magazine pistol which lay on his table, and, carefully
counting down his chest to the fifth rib, placed the muzzle against his


Before the mountain roads were mired with the coming of the rains, and
while the air held its sparkle of autumnal zestfulness, Samson South
wrote to Wilfred Horton that, if he still meant to come to the hills
for his inspection of coal and timber, the time was ripe. Soon, men
would appear bearing transit and chain, drawing a line which a railroad
was to follow to Misery and across it to the heart of untouched forests
and coal-fields. With that wave of innovation would come the
speculators. Besides, Samson's fingers were itching to be out in the
hills with a palette and a sheaf of brushes in the society of George

For a while after the battle at Hixon, the county had lain in a torpid
paralysis of dread. Many illiterate feudists on each side remembered
the directing and exposed figure of Samson South seen through eddies of
gun smoke, and believed him immune from death. With Purvy dead and
Hollman the victim of his own hand, the backbone of the murder
syndicate was broken. Its heart had ceased to beat. Those Hollman
survivors who bore the potentialities for leadership had not only
signed pledges of peace, but were afraid to break them; and the
triumphant Souths, instead of vaunting their victory, had subscribed to
the doctrine of order, and declared the war over. Souths who broke the
law were as speedily arrested as Hollmans. Their boys were drilling as
militiamen, and--wonder of wonders!--inviting the sons of the enemy to
join them. Of course, these things changed gradually, but the
beginnings of them were most noticeable in the first few months, just
as a newly painted and renovated house is more conspicuous than one
that has been long respectable.

Hollman's Mammoth Department Store passed into new hands, and
trafficked only in merchandise, and the town was open to the men and
women of Misery as well as those of Crippleshin.

These things Samson had explained in his letters to the Lescotts and
Horton. Men from down below could still find trouble in the wink of an
eye, by seeking it, for under all transformation the nature of the
individual remained much the same; but, without seeking to give
offense, they could ride as securely through the hills as through the
streets of a policed city--and meet a readier hospitality.

And, when these things were discussed and the two men prepared to
cross the Mason-and-Dixon line and visit the Cumberlands, Adrienne
promptly and definitely announced that she would accompany her brother.
No argument was effective to dissuade her, and after all Lescott, who
had been there, saw no good reason why she should not go with him. He
had brought Samson North. He had made a hazardous experiment which
subsequent events had more than vindicated, and yet, in one respect, he
feared that there had been failure. He had promised Sally that her
lover would return to her with undeflected loyalty. Had he done so?
Lescott had been glad that his sister should have undertaken the part
of Samson's molding, which only a woman's hand could accomplish, and he
had been glad of the strong friendship that had grown between them.
But, if that friendship had come to mean something more sentimental,
his experiment had been successful at the cost of unsuccess. He had
said little, but watched much, and he had known that, after receiving a
certain letter from Samson South, his sister had seemed strangely quiet
and distressed. These four young persons had snarled their lives in
perplexity. They could definitely find themselves and permanently
adjust themselves, only by meeting on common ground. Perhaps, Samson
had shone in an exaggerated high-light of fascination by the strong
contrast into which New York had thrown him. Wilfred Horton had the
right to be seen also in contrast with mountain life, and then only
could the girl decide for all time and irrevocably. The painter learns
something of confused values.

Horton himself had seen small reason for a growth of hope in these
months, but he, like Lescott, felt that the matter must come to issue,
and he was not of that type which shrinks from putting to the touch a
question of vital consequence. He knew that her happiness as well as
his own was in the balance. He was not embittered or deluded, as a
narrower man might have been, into the fallacy that her treatment of
him denoted fickleness. Adrienne was merely running the boundary line
that separates deep friendship from love, a boundary which is often
confusing. When she had finally staked out the disputed frontier, it
would never again be questioned. But on which side he would find
himself, he did not know.

At Hixon, they found that deceptive air of serenity which made the
history of less than three months ago seem paradoxical and
fantastically unreal. Only about the court-house square where numerous
small holes in frame walls told of fusillades, and in the interior of
the building itself where the woodwork was scarred and torn, and the
plaster freshly patched, did they find grimly reminiscent evidence.

Samson had not met them at the town, because he wished their first
impressions of his people to reach them uninfluenced by his escort. It
was a form of the mountain pride--an honest resolve to soften nothing,
and make no apologies. But they found arrangements made for horses and
saddlebags, and the girl discovered that for her had been provided a
mount as evenly gaited as any in her own stables.

When she and her two companions came out to the hotel porch to start,
they found a guide waiting, who said he was instructed to take them as
far as the ridge, where the Sheriff himself would be waiting, and the
cavalcade struck into the hills. Men at whose houses they paused to ask
a dipper of water, or to make an inquiry, gravely advised that they
"had better light, and stay all night." In the coloring forests,
squirrels scampered and scurried out of sight, and here and there on
the tall slopes they saw shy-looking children regarding them with
inquisitive eyes.

The guide led them silently, gazing in frank amazement, though
deferential politeness, at this girl in corduroys, who rode cross-
saddle, and rode so well. Yet, it was evident that he would have
preferred talking had not diffidence restrained him. He was a young man
and rather handsome in a shaggy, unkempt way. Across one cheek ran a
long scar still red, and the girl, looking into his clear, intelligent
eyes, wondered what that scar stood for. Adrienne had the power of
melting masculine diffidence, and her smile as she rode at his side,
and asked, "What is your name?" brought an answering smile to his grim

"Joe Hollman, ma'am," he answered; and the girl gave an involuntary
start. The two men who caught the name closed up the gap between the
horses, with suddenly piqued interest.

"Hollman!" exclaimed the girl. "Then, you--" She stopped and flushed.
"I beg your pardon," she said, quickly.

"That's all right," reassured the man. "I know what ye're a-thinkin',
but I hain't takin' no offense. The High Sheriff sent me over. I'm one
of his deputies."

"Were you"--she paused, and added rather timidly--"were you in the

He nodded, and with a brown forefinger traced the scar on his cheek.

"Samson South done that thar with his rifle-gun," he enlightened.
"He's a funny sort of feller, is Samson South."

"How?" she asked.

"Wall, he licked us, an' he licked us so plumb damn hard we was
skeered ter fight ag'in, an' then, 'stid of tramplin' on us, he turned
right 'round, an' made me a deputy. My brother's a corporal in this
hyar newfangled milishy. I reckon this time the peace is goin' ter
last. Hit's a mighty funny way ter act, but 'pears like it works all

Then, at the ridge, the girl's heart gave a sudden bound, for there at
the highest point, where the road went up and dipped again, waited the
mounted figure of Samson South, and, as they came into sight, he waved
his felt hat, and rode down to meet them.

"Greetings!" he shouted. Then, as he leaned over and took Adrienne's
hand, he added: "The Goops send you their welcome." His smile was
unchanged, but the girl noted that his hair had again grown long.

Finally, as the sun was setting, they reached a roadside cabin, and
the mountaineer said briefly to the other men:

"You fellows ride on. I want Drennie to stop with me a moment. We'll
join you later."

Lescott nodded. He remembered the cabin of the Widow Miller, and
Horton rode with him, albeit grudgingly.

Adrienne sprang lightly to the ground, laughingly rejecting Samson's
assistance, and came with him to the top of a stile, from which he
pointed to the log cabin, set back in its small yard, wherein geese and
chickens picked industriously about in the sandy earth.

A huge poplar and a great oak nodded to each other at either side of
the door, and over the walls a clambering profusion of honeysuckle vine
contended with a mass of wild grape, in joint effort to hide the white
chinking between the dark logs. From the crude milk-benches to the
sweep of the well, every note was one of neatness and rustic charm.
Slowly, he said, looking straight into her eyes:

"This is Sally's cabin, Drennie."

He watched her expression, and her lips curved up in the same
sweetness of smile that had first captivated and helped to mold him.

"It's lovely!" she cried, with frank delight. "It's a picture."

"Wait!" he commanded. Then, turning toward the house, he sent out the
long, peculiarly mournful call of the whippoorwill, and, at the signal,
the door opened, and on the threshold Adrienne saw a slender figure.
She had called the cabin with its shaded dooryard a picture, but now
she knew she had been wrong. It was only a background. It was the girl
herself who made and completed the picture. She stood there in the wild
simplicity that artists seek vainly to reproduce in posed figures. Her
red calico dress was patched, but fell in graceful lines to her slim
bare ankles, though the first faint frosts had already fallen.

Her red-brown hair hung loose and in masses about the oval of a face
in which the half-parted lips were dashes of scarlet, and the eyes
large violet pools. She stood with her little chin tilted in a half-
wild attitude of reconnoiter, as a fawn might have stood. One brown arm
and hand rested on the door frame, and, as she saw the other woman, she
colored adorably.

Adrienne thought she had never seen so instinctively and unaffectedly
lovely a face or figure. Then the girl came down the steps and ran
toward them.

"Drennie," said the man, "this is Sally. I want you two to love each
other." For an instant, Adrienne Lescott stood looking at the mountain
girl, and then she opened both her arms.

"Sally," she cried, "you adorable child, I do love you!"

The girl in the calico dress raised her face, and her eyes were

"I'm obleeged ter ye," she faltered. Then, with open and wondering
admiration she stood gazing at the first "fine lady" upon whom her
glance had ever fallen.

Samson went over and took Sally's hand.

"Drennie," he said, softly, "is there anything the matter with her?"

Adrienne Lescott shook her head.

"I understand," she said.

"I sent the others on," he went on quietly, "because I wanted that
first we three should meet alone. George and Wilfred are going to stop
at my uncle's house, but, unless you'd rather have it otherwise, Sally
wants you here."

"Do I stop now?" the girl asked.

But the man shook his head.

"I want you to meet my other people first."

As they rode at a walk along the little shred of road left to them,
the man turned gravely.

"Drennie," he began, "she waited for me, all those years. What I was
helped to do by such splendid friends as you and your brother and
Wilfred, she was back here trying to do for herself. I told you back
there the night before I left that I was afraid to let myself question
my feelings toward you. Do you remember?"

She met his eyes, and her own eyes were frankly smiling.

"You were very complimentary, Samson," she told him. "I warned you
then that it was the moon talking."

"No," he said firmly, "it was not the moon. I have since then met that
fear, and analyzed it. My feeling for you is the best that a man can
have, the honest worship of friendship. And," he added, "I have
analyzed your feeling for me, too, and, thank God! I have that same
friendship from you. Haven't I?"

For a moment, she only nodded; but her eyes were bent on the road
ahead of her. The man waited in tense silence. Then, she raised her
face, and it was a face that smiled with the serenity of one who has
wakened out of a troubled dream.

"You will always have that, Samson, dear," she assured him.

"Have I enough of it, to ask you to do for her what you did for me? To
take her and teach her the things she has the right to know?"

"I'd love it," she cried. And then she smiled, as she added: "She will
be much easier to teach. She won't be so stupid, and one of the things
I shall teach her"--she paused, and added whimsically--"will be to make
you cut your hair again."

But, just before they drew up at the house of old Spicer South, she

"I might as well make a clean breast of it, Samson, and give my vanity
the punishment it deserves. You had me in deep doubt."

"About what?"

"About--well, about us. I wasn't quite sure that I wanted Sally to
have you--that I didn't need you myself. I've been a shameful little
cat to Wilfred."

"But now--?" The Kentuckian broke off.

"Now, I know that my friendship for you and my love for him have both
had their acid test--and I am happier than I've ever been before. I'm
glad we've been through it. There are no doubts ahead. I've got you

"About him," said Samson, thoughtfully. "May I tell you something
which, although it's a thing in your own heart, you have never quite

She nodded, and he went on.

"The thing which you call fascination in me was really just a proxy,
Drennie. You were liking qualities in me that were really his
qualities. Just because you had known him only in gentle guise, his
finish blinded you to his courage. Because he could turn 'to woman the
heart of a woman,' you failed to see that under it was the 'iron and
fire.' You thought you saw those qualities in me, because I wore my
bark as shaggy as that scaling hickory over there. When he was getting
anonymous threats of death every morning, he didn't mention them to
you. He talked of teas and dances. I know his danger was real, because
they tried to have me kill him--and if I'd been the man they took me
for, I reckon I'd have done it. I was mad to my marrow that night--for
a minute. I don't hold a brief for Wilfred, but I know that you liked
me first for qualities which he has as strongly as I--and more
strongly. He's a braver man than I, because, though raised to gentle
things, when you ordered him into the fight, he was there. He never
turned back, or flickered. I was raised on raw meat and gunpowder, but
he went in without training."

The girl's eyes grew grave and thoughtful, and for the rest of the way
she rode in silence.

There were transformations, too, in the house of Spicer South. Windows
had been cut, and lamps adopted. It was no longer so crudely a pioneer
abode. While they waited for dinner, a girl lightly crossed the stile,
and came up to the house. Adrienne met her at the door, while Samson
and Horton stood back, waiting. Suddenly, Miss Lescott halted and
regarded the newcomer in surprise. It was the same girl she had seen,
yet a different girl. Her hair no longer fell in tangled masses. Her
feet were no longer bare. Her dress, though simple, was charming, and,
when she spoke, her English had dropped its half-illiterate
peculiarities, though the voice still held its bird-like melody.

"Oh, Samson," cried Adrienne, "you two have been deceiving me! Sally,
you were making up, dressing the part back there, and letting me
patronize you."

Sally's laughter broke from her throat in a musical peal, but it still
held the note of shyness, and it was Samson who spoke.

"I made the others ride on, and I got Sally to meet you just as she
was when I left her to go East." He spoke with a touch of the
mountaineer's over-sensitive pride. "I wanted you first to see my
people, not as they are going to be, but as they were. I wanted you to
know how proud I am of them--just that way."

That evening, the four of them walked together over to the cabin of
the Widow Miller. At the stile, Adrienne Lescott turned to the girl,
and said:

"I suppose this place is preempted. I'm going to take Wilfred down
there by the creek, and leave you two alone."

Sally protested with mountain hospitality, but even under the moon she
once more colored adorably.

Adrienne turned up the collar of her sweater around her throat, and,
when she and the man who had waited, stood leaning on the rail of the
footbridge, she laid a hand on his arm.

"Has the water flowed by my mill, Wilfred?" she asked.

"What do you mean?" His voice trembled.

"Will you have anything to ask me when Christmas comes?"

"If I can wait that long, Drennie," he told her.

"Don't wait, dear," she suddenly exclaimed, turning toward him, and
raising eyes that held his answer. "Ask me now!"

But the question which he asked was one that his lips smothered as he
pressed them against her own.

Back where the poplar threw its sooty shadow on the road, two figures
sat close together on the top of a stile, talking happily in whispers.
A girl raised her face, and the moon shone on the deepness of her eyes,
as her lips curved in a trembling smile.

"You've come back, Samson," she said in a low voice, "but, if I'd
known how lovely she was, I'd have given up hoping. I don't see what
made you come."

Her voice dropped again into the tender cadence of dialect.

"I couldn't live withouten ye, Samson. I jest couldn't do hit." Would
he remember when she had said that before?

"I reckon, Sally," he promptly told her, "I couldn't live withouten
_you,_ neither." Then, he added, fervently, "I'm plumb dead shore
I couldn't."


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