FoxJohn . Knight of the Cumberland
THE BLIGHT IN THE HILLS
HIGH noon of a crispOctober daysunshine flooding the earth with the warmth and light of old wineandgoing single-file up through the jagged gap that the dripping of water hasworn down through the Cumberland Mountains from crest to valley-levela grayhorse and two big mulesa man and two young girls. On the gray horseI led thetortuous way. After me came my small sister -- and after her and like hermule-backrode the Blight -- dressed as she would be for a gallop in CentralPark or to ride a hunter in a horse show.
I was taking themaccording to promisewherethe feet of other women than mountaineers had never trod -- beyond the crest ofthe Big Black -- to the waters of the Cumberland -- the lair of moonshiner andfeudsmanwhere is yet pocketed a civilization thatelsewhereis long ago gone.This had been a pet dream of the Blight's for a long timeand now the dream wascoming true. The Blight was in the hills.
Nobody ever went to her mother's house withoutasking to see her even when she was a little thing with black hairmerry faceand black eyes. Both men and womenwith children of their ownhave told methat she wasperhapsthe most fascinating child that ever lived. There be somewho claim that she has never
changed -- and I am among them. She began earlyregardless of agesex orprevious condition of servitude -- she continues recklessly as she began -- andnone makes complaint. Thus was it in her own world -- thus it was when she cameto mine. On the way down from the Norththe conductor's voice changed from acommand to a request when he asked for her ticket. The jacketed lord of thedining-car saw her from afar and advanced to show her to a seat -- that shemight ride forwardsit next to a shaded window and be free from the glare ofthe sun on the other side. Two porters made a rush for her bag when she got offthe carand the proprietor of the little hotel in the little town where we hadto wait several hours for the train into the mountains gave her the bridalchamber for an
afternoon nap. From this little town to "The Gap" is the worstsixty-mile rideperhapsin the world. She sat in a dirty day-coach; the smokerolled in at the windows and doors; the cars shook and swayed and lumberedaround curves and down and up gorges; there were about her rough mencryingchildrenslatternly womentobacco juicepeanutspopcorn and apple coresbutdaintyserene and as merry as evershe sat through that ride with a radiantsmileher keen black eyes noting everything unlovely within and the glory ofhilltree and chasm without. Next morning at homewhere we rise earlyno onewas allowed to waken her and she had breakfast in bed -- for the Blight's gentletyranny was established on sight and varied not at the Gap.
When she went down the street that
day everybody stared surreptitiously and with perfect respectas her daintyblack plumed figure passed; the post-office clerk could barely bring himself tosay that there was no letter for her. The soda-fountain boy nearly filled herglass with syrup before he saw that he was not strictly minding his ownbusiness; the clerkwhen I bought chocolate for herunblushingly added extraweight andas we went backshe met them both -- Marstonthe young engineerfrom the Northcrossing the street andat the same momenta drunken youngtough with an infuriated face reeling in a run around the corner ahead of us asthough he were being pursued. Now we have a volunteer police guard some fortystrong at the Gap -- and from habitI started for himbut the Blight caught myarm tight. The young
engineer in three strides had reached the curb-stone and all he sternly said was:
The drunken youth wheeled and his right handshot toward his hip pocket. The engineer was belted with a pistolbut with onelightning movement and an incredibly long reachhis right fist caught thefellow's jaw so that he pitched backward and collapsed like an empty bag. Thenthe engineer caught sight of the Blight's bewildered faceflushedgripped hishands in front of him and simply stared. At last he saw me:
"Oh" he said"how do youdo?" and he turned to his prisonerbut the panting sergeant and anotherpoliceman -- also a volunteer -- were already lifting him to his feet. Iintroduced the boy and the Blight thenand for the first time in my
life I saw the Blight -- shaken. Round-eyedshe merely gazed at him.
"That was pretty well done" I said.
"Ohhe was drunk and I knew he would beslow." Now something curious happened. The dazed prisoner was on his feetand his captors were starting with him to the calaboose when he seemed suddenlyto come to his senses.
"Jes wait a minutewill ye?" hesaid quietlyand his captorsthinking perhaps that he wanted to say somethingto mestopped. The mountain youth turned a strangely sobered face and fixed hisblue eyes on the engineer as though he were searing every feature of thatimperturbable young man in his brain forever. It was not a bad facebut theavenging hatred in it was fearful. Then hetoosaw the Blighthis face calmedmagically
and hetoostared at herand turned away with an oath checked at his lips. Wewent on -- the Blight thrilledfor she had heard much of our volunteer force atthe Gap and had seen something already. Presently I looked back. Prisoner andcaptors were climbing the little hill toward the calaboose and the mountain boyjust then turned his head and I could swear that his eyes sought not theengineerwhom we left at the cornerbutlike the engineerhe was looking atthe Blight. Whereat I did not wonder -- particularly as to the engineer. He hadbeen in the mountains for a long time and I knew what this vision from homemeant to him. He turned up at the house quite early that night.
"I'm not on duty until eleven" hesaid hesitantly" and I thought I'd -- -- "
"Come right in."
I asked him a few questions about business andthen I left him and the Blight alone. When I came back she had a Gatling gun ofeager questions ranged on him and -- happy withal -- he was squirming no little.I followed him to the gate.
"Are you really going over into thoseGod-forsaken mountains?" he asked.
"I thought I would."
"And you are going to take her?"
"And my sister."
"OhI beg your pardon." He strodeaway.
"Coming up by the mines?" he calledback.
"Perhaps will you show us around?"
"I guess I will" he saidemphaticallyand he went on to risk his neck on a ten-mile ride along amountain road in the dark.
"I lie a man" said theBlight. "I like a man."
Of course the Blight must see everythingsoshe insisted on going to the police court next morning for the trial of themountain boy. The boy was in the witness chair when we got thereand the Hon.Samuel Budd was his counsel. He had volunteered to defend the prisonerI wassoon toldand then I understood. The November election was not far off and theHon. Samuel Budd was candidate for legislature. More eventhe boy's father wasa warm supporter of Mr. Budd and the boy himself might perhaps render goodservice in the cause when the time came -- as indeed he did. On one of the frontchairs sat the young engineer and it was a question whether he or the prisonersaw the Blight's black plumes first. The eyes
of both flashed toward her simultaneouslythe engineer colored perceptibly andthe mountain boy stopped short in speech and his pallid face flushed withunmistakable shame. Then he went on: "He had liquered up" he said"and had got tight afore he knowed it and he didn't mean no harm and hadnever been arrested afore in his whole life."
"Have you ever been drunk before?"asked the prosecuting attorney severely. The lad looked surprised.
"Co'se I havebut I ain't goin' to agin-- leastwise not in this here town." There was a general laugh at this andthe aged mayor rapped loudly.
"That will do" said the attorney.
The lad stepped downhitched his chairslightly so that his back was to the Blightsank down in it until his headrested on
the back of the chair and crossed his legs. The Hon. Samuel Budd arose and theBlight looked at him with wonder. His long yellow hair was parted in the middleand brushed with plaster-like precision behind two enormous earshe worespectaclesgold-rimmed and with great staring lensesand his face was smoothand ageless. He caressed his chin ruminatingly and rolled his lips until theysettled into a fine resultant of wisdompatiencetoleration and firmness. Hismanner was profound and his voice oily and soothing.
"May it please your Honor -- my youngfriend frankly pleads guilty." He paused as though the majesty of the lawcould ask no more. "He is a young man of naturally high and somewhat --naturallytoono doubt -- bibulous spirits. Homoepathically -- if inversely --the result was logical.
In the untrammelled life of the liberty-breathing mountainswhere the sternspirit of law and orderof which your Honor is the august symboldoes notprevail as it does here -- thanks to your Honor's wise and just dispensations --the lad hasI may saynaturally acquired a certain recklessness of mood --indulgence whichhowever easily condoned theremust here be sternly rebuked.At the same timehe knew not the conditions herehe became exhilarated withoutmaliceprepensey or evenI may sayconsciousness. He would not have done ashe hasif he had known what he knows nowandknowinghe will not repeat theoffence. I need say no more. I plead simply that your Honor will temper thejustice that is only yours with the mercy that is yours -- only."
His Honor was visibly affected and to
cover it -- his methods being informal -- he said with sharp irrelevancy:
"Who bailed this young feller out lastnight?" The sergeant spoke:
"WhyMr. Marston thar" -- withoutstretched finger toward the young engineer. The Blight's black eyes leapedwith exultant appreciation and the engineer turned crimson. His Honor rolled hisquid around in his mouth onceand peered over his glasses:
"I fine this young feller two dollars andcosts." The young fellow had turned slowly in his chair and his blue eyesblazed at the engineer with unappeasable hatred. I doubt if he had heard hisHonor's voice.
"I want ye to know that I'm obleeged toye an' I ain't a-goin' to fergit it; but if I'd a known hit was you I'd a stayed
"If I'd a known hit wasyou I'd a stayed in jail."
in jail an' seen you in hell afore I'd a been bounden to ye."
"Ten dollars fer contempt of couht."The boy was hot now.
"Ohfine and be -- " The Hon.Samuel Budd had him by the shoulderthe boy swallowed his voice and hisstarting tears of rageand after a whisper to his Honorthe Hon. Samuel ledhim out. Outsidethe engineer laughed to the Blight:
"Pretty pepperyisn't he?" but theBlight said nothingand later we saw the youth on a gray horse crossing thebridge and conducted by the Hon. Samuel Buddwho stopped and waved him towardthe mountains. The boy went on and across the plateauthe gray Gap swallowedhim.
That nightat the post-officethe Hon. Samplucked me aside by the sleeve.
"I know Marston is agin me in this
race -- but I'll do him a good turn just the same. You tell him to watch out forthat young fellow. He's all right when he's soberbut when he's drunk -- wellover in Kentuckythey call him the Wild Dog."
Several days later we started out through thatsame Gap. The glum stableman looked at the Blight's girths three timesand withmy own eyes starting and my heart in my mouthI saw her pass behind hersixteen-hand-high mule and give him a friendly tap on the rump as she went by.The beast gave an appreciative flop of one ear and that was all. Had I done thatany further benefit to me or mine would be incorporated in the terms of aninsurance policy. Sostating thisI believe I state the limit and can now goon to say at last that it was because she seemed to
be loved by man and brute alike that a big man of her own townwhose bodybigas it waswas yet too small for his heart and from whose brain things went offat queer anglesalways christened her perversely as -- "The Blight."
ON THE WILD DOG'S TRAIL
SO up we went past Bee RockPreacher's Creek and Little Looneypast the mines where high on a "tipple"stood the young engineer looking down at usand looking after the Blight as wepassed on into a dim rocky avenue walled on each side with rhododendrons. Iwaved at him and shook my head -- we would see him coming back. Beyond adeserted log-cabin we turned up a spur of the mountain. Around a clump of busheswe came on a gray-bearded mountaineer holding his horse by the bridle and from acovert high above two more men appeared with
Winchesters. The Blight breathed forth an awed whisper:
"Are they moonshiners?"
I nodded sagely"Most likely" andthe Blight was thrilled. They might have been squirrel-hunters most innocentbut the Blight had heard much talk of moonshine stills and mountain feuds andthe men who run them and I took the risk of denying her nothing. Up and up wewentthose two mules swaying from side to side with a motion little short ofelephantine andby and bythe Blight called out:
"You ride ahead and don't you darelook back."
Accustomed to obeying the Blight's ordersIrode ahead with eyes to the front. Presentlya shriek made me turn suddenly. Itwas nothing -- my little sister's mule had gone near a steep cliff -- perilouslynearas
its rider thoughtbut I saw why I must not look back; those two little girlswere riding astride on side-saddlesthe booted little right foot of eachdangling stirrupless -- a posture quite decorous but ludicrous.
"Let us know if anybody comes" theycried. A mountaineer descended into sight around a loop of the path above.
"Change cars" I shouted.
They changed andpassingwere gravedemure-- then they changed againand thus we climbed.
Such a glory as was belowaround and above us;the air like champagne; the sunlight rich and pouring like a flood on the goldthat the beeches had strewn in the pathon the gold that the poplars stillshook high above and shimmering on the royal scarlet of the maple and the sombrerusset of the oak. From far below us to far
above us a deep curving ravine was slashed into the mountain side as by onestroke of a gigantic scimitar. The darkness deep down was lighted up with coolgreeninterfused with liquid gold. Russet and yellow splashed the mountainsides beyond and high up the maples were in a shaking blaze. The Blight's swifteyes took all in and with indrawn breath she drank it all deep down.
An hour by sun we were near the topwhich wasbared of trees and turned into rich farm-land covered with blue-grass. Alongthese upland pasturesdotted with grazing cattleand across them we rodetoward the mountain wildernesses on the other sidedown into which a zigzagpath wriggles along the steep front of Benham's spur. At the edge of the steepwas a cabin and a bushy-bearded mountaineer
who looked like a brigandanswered my hail. He "mought" keep us allnightbut he'd "ruther notas we could git a place to stay down the spur."Could we get down before dark? The mountaineer lifted his eyes to where the sunwas breaking the horizon of the west into streaks and splashes of yellow andcrimson.
"Ohyesyou can git thar aforedark."
Now I knew that the mountaineer's idea ofdistance is vague -- but he knows how long it takes to get from one place toanother. So we started down -- dropping at once into thick dark woodsand as wewent looping downthe deeper was the gloom. That sun had suddenly severed allconnection with the laws of gravity and sunkand it was all the darker becausethe stars were not out. The path was
steep and coiled downward like a wounded snake. In one place a tree had fallenacross itand to reach the next coil of the path below was dangerous. So I hadthe girls dismount and I led the gray horse down on his haunches. The mulesrefused to followwhich was rather unusual. I went back and from a safedistance in the rear I belabored them down. They cared neither for gray horsenor crooked pathbut turned of their own devilish wills along the bushymountain side. As I ran after them the gray horse started calmly on down andthose two girls shrieked with laughter -- they knew no better. First one way andthen the other down the mountain went those muleswith me after themthroughthick bushesover logsstumps and bowlders and holes -- crossing the path adozen times. What that path was there
for never occurred to those long-eared half asseswhole foolsand by and bywhen the girls tried to shoo them down they clambered around and above them andstruck the path back up the mountain. The horse had gone down one waythe mulesup the otherand there was no health in anything. The girls could not go up --so there was nothing to do but go downwhichhard as it waswas easier thangoing up. The path was not visible now. Once in a while I would stumble from itand crash through the bushes to the next coil below. Finally I went downsliding one foot ahead all the time -- knowing that when leaves rustled underthat foot I was on the point of going astray. Sometimes I had to light a matchto make sure of the wayand thus the ridiculous descent was made with thosegirls in
high spirits behind. Indeedthe darkerrockiersteeper it gotthe more theyshrieked from pure joy -- but I was anything than happy. It was dangerous. Ididn't know the cliffs and high rocks we might skirt and an unlucky guidancemight land us in the creek-bed far down. But the blessed stars came outthemoon peered over a farther mountain and on the last spur there was the grayhorse browsing in the path -- and the sound of running water not far below.Fortunately on the gray horse were the saddle-bags of the chattering infants whothought the whole thing a mighty lark. We reached the running waterstruck aflock of geese and knewin consequencethat humanity was somewhere near. A fewturns of the creek and a beacon light shone below. The pales of a picket fencethe cheering
outlines of a log-cabin came in view and at a peaked gate I shouted:
You enter no mountaineer's yard without thatannouncing cry. It was mediŠvalthe Blight saidpositively -- two lorndamselsa benighted knight partially stripped of his armor by bush andsharp-edged rocka gray palfrey (she didn't mention the impatient asses thathad turned homeward) and she wished I had a horn to wind. I wanted a "horn"badly enough -- but it was not the kind men wind. By and by we got a response:
"Hello!" was the answeras anopened door let out into the yard a broad band of light. Could we stay allnight? The voice replied that the owner would see "Pap." "Pap"seemed willingand the boy opened the gate and into the house
went the Blight and the little sister. ShortlyI followed.
Thereall in one roomlighted by a hugewood-firerafters abovepuncheon floor beneath -- cane-bottomed chairs and twobeds the only furniture-"pap" barefootedthe old mother in thechimney-corner with a pipestrings of red pepper-podsbeans and herbs hangingaround and abovea married daughter with a child at her breasttwo or threechildren with yellow hair and bare feet all looking with all their eyes at thetwo visitors who had dropped upon them from another world. The Blight's eyeswere brighter than usual -- that was the only sign she gave that she was not inher own drawing-room. Apparently she saw nothing strange or unusual evenbutthere was really nothing that she did not see or hear
and absorbas few others than the Blight can.
Straightwaythe old woman knocked the ashesout of her pipe.
"I reckon you hain't had nothin' to eat"she said and disappeared. The old man asked questionsthe young mother rockedher baby on her kneesthe children got less shy and drew near the fireplacethe Blight and the little sister exchanged a furtive smile and the contrast ofthe extremes in American civilizationas shown in that little cabininterestedme mightily.
"Yer snack's ready" said the oldwoman. The old man carried the chairs into the kitchenand when I followed thegirls were seated. The chairs were so low that their chins came barely overtheir platesand demure and serious as they were they surely looked mostcomical. There
was the usual bacon and corn-bread and potatoes and sour milkand the two girlsstruggled with the rude fare nobly.
After supper I joined the old man and the oldwoman with a pipe -- exchanging my tobacco for their long green with moresatisfaction probably to me than to themfor the long green was goodandstrong and fragrant.
The old woman asked the Blight and the littlesister many questions and theyin turnshowed great interest in the baby inarmswhereat the eighteen-year-old mother blushed and looked greatly pleased.
"You got mighty purty black eyes"said the old woman to the Blightand not to slight the little sister she added" An' you got mighty purty teeth."
The Blight showed hers in a radiant smile andthe old woman turned back to her.
"Ohyou've got both" she said andshe shook her headas though she were thinking of the damage they had done. Itwas my time now -- to ask questions.
They didn't have many amusements on that creekI discovered -- and no dances. Sometimes the boys went coon-hunting and therewere corn-shuckingshouse-raisings and quilting-parties.
"Does anybody round here play thebanjo?"
"None o' my boys" said the oldwoman"but Tom Green's son down the creek -- he follers pickin' the banjoa leetle." "Follows pickin' " -- the Blight did not miss thatphrase.
"What do you foller fer a livin'?"the old man asked me suddenly.
"I write for a living." He thought awhile.
"Wellit must be purty fine to have agood handwrite." This nearly dissolved the Blight and the little sisterbut they held on heroically.
"Is there much fighting around here?"I asked presently.
"Not much 'cept when one young feller upthe river gets to tearin' up things. I heerd as how he was over to the Gap lastweek -- raisin' hell. He comes by here on his way home." The Blight's eyesopened wide -- apparently we were on his trail. It is not wise for a member ofthe police guard at the Gap to show too much curiosity about the lawless ones ofthe hillsand I asked no questions.
"They calls him the Wild Dog over here"he addedand then he yawned cavernously.
I looked around with divining eye for
the sleeping arrangements soon to comewhich sometimes are embarrassing to
"furriners" who are unable to graspat once the primitive unconsciousness of the mountaineers andin consequenceaccept a point of view natural to them because enforced by architecturallimitations and a hospitality that turns no one seeking shelter from any door.They werehoweverbetter prepared than I had hoped for. They had a spare roomon the porch and just outside the doorand when the old woman led the two girlsto itI followed with their saddle-bags. The room was about seven feet by sixand was windowless.
"You'd better leave your door open alittle" I said"or you'll smother in there."
"Well" said the old woman"hit's all
right to leave the door open. Nothin's goin' ter bother yebut one o' my sonsis out a coon-huntin' and he mought come innot knowin' you're thar. But youjes' holler an' he'll move on." She meant precisely what she said and sawno humor at all in such a possibility -- but when the door closedI could hearthose girls stifling shrieks of laughter.
Literallythat nightI was a member of thefamily. I had a bed to myself (the following night I was not so fortunate) -- inone corner; behind the head of mine the old womanthe daughter-in-law and thebaby had another in the other cornerand the old man with the two boys spread apallet on the floor. That is the invariable rule of courtesy with themountaineerto give his bed to the stranger and take to the floor himselfandin passing
let me say that neverin a long experiencehave I seen the slightestconsciousness -- much less immodesty -- in a mountain cabin in my life. The sameattitude on the part of the visitors is taken for granted -- any other indeedholds mortal possibilities of offence -- so that if the visitor has common senseall embarrassment passes at once. The door was closedthe fire blazed onuncoveredthe smothered talk and laughter of the two girls ceasedthecoon-hunter came not and the night passed in peace.
It must have been near daybreak that I wasaroused by the old man leaving the cabin and I heard voices and the sound ofhorses' feet outside. When he came back he was grinning.
"Hit's your mules."
"Who found them?"
"The Wild Dog had 'em" he said.
THE AURICULAR TALENT OF THE HON. SAMUEL BUDD
BEHIND us came the Hon. SamuelBudd. Just when the sun was slitting the east with a long streak of firetheHon. Samuel waswith the jocund daystanding tiptoe in his stirrups on themisty mountain top and peering into the ravine down which we had slid the nightbeforeand he grumbled no little when he saw that hetoomust get off hishorse and slide down. The Hon. Samuel was ambitiousSouthernand a lawyer.Without sayingit goes that he was also a politician. He was not a native ofthe
mountainsbut he had cast his fortunes in the highlandsand he was taking thefirst step that he hoped wouldbefore many yearsland him in the NationalCapitol. He really knew little about the mountaineerseven nowand he hadnever been among his constituents on Devil's Forkwhere he was bound now. Thecampaign had so far been full of humor and full of trials -- not the least ofwhich sprang from the fact that it was sorghum time. Everybody through themountains was making sorghumand every mountain child was eating molasses.
Nowas the world knowsthe straightest wayto the heart of the honest voter is through the women of the landand thestraightest way to the heart of the women is through the children of the land;and one method of winning bothwith rural
politiciansis to kiss the babies wide and far. So as each infantat sorghumtimehas a circle of green-brown stickiness about his chubby lipsand as theHon. Sam was averse to "long sweetenin' " even in his coffeethisparticular political device just now was no small trial to the Hon. Samuel Budd.But in the language of one of his firmest supporters Uncle Tommie Hendricks:
"The Hon. Sam done his dutyand he doneit damn well."
The issue at stake was the site of the newCourt-House -- two localities claiming the right undisputedbecause they werethe only two places in the county where there was enough level land for theCourt-House to stand on. Let no man think this a trivial issue. There had been asimilar one over on the Virginia side onceand
the opposing factions agreed to decide the question by the ancient wager ofbattlefist and skull -- two hundred men on each side -- and the women of thecounty with difficulty prevented the fight. Just nowMr. Budd was on his way to"The Pocket" -- the voting place of one faction -- where he had neverbeenwhere the hostility against him was most bitterandthat dayhe knew hewas "up against" Waterloothe crossing of the Rubiconholding thepass at ThermopylŠor any other historical crisis in the history of man. I wassaddling the mules when the cackling of geese in the creek announced the comingof the Hon. Samuel Buddcoming with his chin on his breast-deep in thought.Still his eyes beamed cheerilyhe lifted his slouched hat gallantly to theBlight and the little sisterand he would
wait for us to jog along with him. I told him of our troublesmeanwhile. TheWild Dog had restored our mules and the Hon. Sam beamed:
"He's a wonder -- where is he?"
"He never waited -- even for thanks."
Again the Hon. Sam beamed:
"Ah! just like him. He's gone ahead tohelp me."
"Wellhow did he happen to be here?"I asked.
"He's everywhere" said the Hon. Sam.
"How did he know the mules were ours?"
"Easy. That boy knows everything."
"Wellwhy did he bring them back andthen leave so mysteriously?"
The Hon. Sam silently pointed a finger at thelaughing Blight aheadand I looked incredulous.
"Just the samethat's another reason Itold you to warn Marston. He's already got it in his head that Marston is hisrival."
"Pshaw!" I said -- for it was tooridiculous.
"All right" said the Hon. Samplacidly.
"Then why doesn't he want to see her?"
"How do you know he ain't watchin' hernowfor all we know? Mark me" he added"you won't see him at thespeakin'but I'll bet fruit cake agin gingerbread he'll be somewhere around."
So we went onthe two girls leading the wayand the Hon. Sam now telling his political troubles to me. Half a mile down theroada solitary horseman stood waitingand Mr. Budd gave a low whistle.
"One o' my rivals" he saidfromthe corner of his mouth.
"Mornin'" said the horseman;"lemme see you a minute."
He made a movement to draw asidebut the Hon.Samuel made a counter-gesture of dissent.
"This gentleman is a friend ofmine" he said firmlybut with great courtesy"and he can hear whatyou have to say to me."
The mountaineer rubbed one huge hand over hisstubbly chinthrew one of his long legs over the pommel of his saddleanddangled a heavy cowhide shoe to and fro.
"Would you mind tellin' me whut pay amember of the House of Legislatur' gits a day?"
The Hon. Sam looked surprised.
"I think about two dollars and a half."
"An' his meals?"
"No!" laughed Mr. Budd.
"Welllook-ee herestranger. I'm a poreman an' I've got a mortgage on my farm. That money don't mean nothin' to you --but if you'll draw out now an' I winI'll tell ye whut I'll do." He pausedas though to make sure that the sacrifice was possible. "I'll just give yehalf of that two dollars and a half a dayas shore as you're a-settin' on thathossand you won't hav' to hit a durn lick to earn it."
I had not the heart to smile -- nor did theHon. Samuel -- so artless and simple was the man and so pathetic his appeal.
"You see -- you'll divide my votean' efwe both runole Josh Barton'll git it shore. Ef you git out o' the wayI canlick him easy."
Mr. Budd's answer was kindinstructiveanduplifted.
"My friend" said he"I'msorrybut I cannot possibly accede to your request for the following reasons:Firstit would not be fair to my constituents; secondlyit would hardly beseeming to barter the noble gift of the people to which we both aspire; thirdlyyou might lose with me out of the way; and fourthlyI'm going to win whetheryou are in the way or not."
The horseman slowly collapsed while the Hon.Samuel was talkingand now he threw the leg backkicked for his stirrup twicespat onceand turned his horse's head.
"I reckon you willstranger" hesaid sadly"with that gift o' gab o' yourn." He turned withoutanother word or nod of
good-by and started back up the creek whence he had come.
"One gone" said the Hon. SamuelBudd grimly"and I swear I'm right sorry for him." And so was I.
An hour later we struck the riverand anotherhour upstream brought us to where the contest of tongues was to come about. Nosylvan dell in Arcady could have been lovelier than the spot. Above the roadabig spring poured a clear little stream over shining pebbles into the river;above it the bushes hung thick with autumn leavesand above them stood yellowbeeches like pillars of pale fire. On both sides of the road sat and squattedthe honest voterssour-lookingdisgruntled -- a distinctly hostile crowd. TheBlight and my little sister drew great and curious attention as they sat on abowlder above the
spring while I went with the Hon. Samuel Budd under the guidance of Uncle TommieHendrickswho introduced him right and left. The Hon. Samuel was cheerybut hewas plainly nervous. There were two lanky youths whose namesoddly enoughwereBudd. As they gave him their huge paws in lifeless fashionthe Hon. Samuelslapped one on the shoulderwith the true democracy of the politicianand saidjocosely:
"Wellwe Budds may not be what you callgreat peoplebutthank Godnone of us have ever been in the penitentiary"and he laughed loudlythinking that he had scored a great and jolly point. Thetwo young men looked exceedingly grave and Uncle Tommie panic-stricken. Heplucked the Hon. Sam by the sleeve and led him aside:
"I reckon you made a leetle mistake thar.Them two fellers' daddy died in the penitentiary last spring." The Hon. Samwhistled mournfullybut he looked game enough when his opponent rose to speak-- Uncle Josh Bartonwho had shortthickupright hairlittle sharp eyesanda rasping voice. Uncle Josh wasted no time:
"Feller-citizens" he shouted"this man is a lawyer -- he's a corporation lawyer"; the fearful name-- pronounced "lie-yer" -- rang through the crowd like a trumpetandlike lightning the Hon. Sam was on his feet.
"The man who says that is a liar"he said calmly" and I demand your authority for the statement. If youwon't give it -- I shall hold you personally responsiblesir."
It was a strike homeand under the
flashing eyes that stared unwaveringlythrough the big gogglesUncle Joshhalted and stammered and admitted that he might have been misinformed.
"Then I advise you to be more careful"cautioned the Hon. Samuel sharply.
"Feller-citizens" said Uncle Josh"if he ain't a corporation lawyer -- who is this man? Where did he comefrom? I have been born and raised among you. You all know me -- do you know him?Whut's he a-doin' now? He's a fine-haired furrineran' he's come down hyeh fromthe settlemints to tell ye that you hain't got no man in yo' own deestrictthat's fittin' to represent ye in the legislatur'. Look at him -- look at him!He's got four eyes! Look at his hair -- hit's parted in themiddle!" There was a storm of laughter -- Uncle Josh had made good --and if the Hon.
Samuel could straightway have turned bald-headed and sightlesshe would havebeen a happy man. He looked sick with hopelessnessbut Uncle Tommie Hendrickshis mentorwas vigorously whispering something in his earand gradually hisface cleared. Indeedthe Hon. Samuel was smilingly confident when he rose.
Like his rivalhe stood in the open roadandthe sun beat down on his parted yellow hairso that the eyes of all could seeand the laughter was still running round.
"Who is your Uncle Josh?" he askedwith threatening mildness. "I know I was not born herebutmy friendsIcouldn't help that. And just as soon as I could get away from where I was bornI came here and" he paused with lips parted and long finger outstretched" and -- I -- came
-- because -- I wanted -- to come -- and not because I had to."
Now it seems that Uncle Joshtoowas not anative and that he had left home early in life for his State's good and for hisown. Uncle Tommie had whispered thisand the Hon. Samuel raised himself high onboth toes while the expectant crowdon the verge of a roarwaited -- as didUncle Joshuawith a sickly smile.
"Why did your Uncle Josh come among you?Because he was hoop-poled away from home." Then came the roar -- and theHon. Samuel had to quell it with uplifted hand.
"And did your Uncle Joshua marry amountain wife? No I He didn't think any of your mountain women were good enoughfor himso he slips down into the settlemints and steals one. And now
fellow-citizensthat is just what I'm here for -- I'm looking for a nicemountain girland I'm going to have her." Again the Hon. Samuel had tostill the roarand then he went on quietly to show how they must lose theCourt-House site if they did not send him to the legislatureand howwhilethey might not get it if they did send himit was their only hope to send onlyhim. The crowd had grown somewhat hostile againand it was after one tellingperiodwhen the Hon. Samuel stopped to mop his browthat a giganticmountaineer rose in the rear of the crowd:
"Talk onstranger; you're talking sense.I'll trust ye. You've got big ears!"
Now the Hon. Samuel possessed a primordialtalent that is rather rare in these physically degenerate days. He said nothing
but stood quietly in the middle of the road. The eyes of the crowd on eitherside of the road began to bulgethe lips of all opened with wonderand asimultaneous burst of laughter rose around the Hon. Samuel Budd. A dozen mensprang to their feet and rushed up to him -- looking at those remarkable earsas they gravely wagged to and fro. That settled thingsand as we leftthe Hon.Sam was having things his own wayand on the edge of the crowd Uncle TommieHendricks was shaking his head:
"I tell yeboyshe ain't no jackasseven if he can flop his ears."
At the river we started upstreamand someimpulse made me turn in my saddle and look back. All the time I had had an eyeopen for the young mountaineer whose interest in us seemed to be so keen. And
now I sawstanding at the head of a gray horseon the edge of the crowdatall figure with his hands on his hips and looking after us. I couldn't be surebut it looked like the Wild Dog.
TWO hours up the river westruck Buck. Buck was sitting on the fence by the roadsidebarefooted andhatless.
"How-dye-do?" I said.
"Purty well" said Buck.
"Any fish in this river?"
"Several" said Buck. Now inmountain speech"several" means simply "a good many."
"Any minnows in these branches?"
"I seed several in the branch back o' ourhouse."
"How far away do you live?"
"Oh'bout one whoop an' a holler."If he had spoken Greek the Blight could not have been more puzzled. He meant helived as far as a man's voice would carry with one yell and a holla.
"Will you help me catch some?" Bucknodded.
"All right" I saidturning myhorse up to the fence. "Get on behind." The horse shied his hindquarters awayand I pulled him back.
"Nowyou can get onif you'll be quick."Buck sat still.
"Yes" he said imperturbably; "butI ain't quick." The two girls laughed aloudand Buck looked surprised.
Around a curving cornfield we wentandthrough a meadow which Buck said was a "nigh cut." From the limb of a
tree that we passed hung a piece of wire with an iron ring swinging at itsupturned end. A little farther was another tree and another ringand farther onanother and another.
"For heaven's sakeBuckwhat are thesethings?"
"Mart's a-gittin' ready fer a tourneyment."
"That's whut Mart calls hit. He was overto the Gap last Fourth o' Julyan' he says fellers over thar fix up like Kukluxand go a-chargin' on hosses and takin' off them rings with a ash-stick -- `spear'Mart calls hit. He come back an' he says he's a-goin' to win that ar tourneymentnext Fourth o' July. He's got the best hoss up this riverand on Sundays himan' Dave Branham goes a-chargin' along here a-picking
off these rings jus' a-flyin'; an' Mart can do hitI'm tellin' ye. Dave'smighty good hisselfbut he ain't nowhar 'longside o' Mart."
This was strange. I had told the Blight aboutour Fourth of Julyand how on the Virginia side the ancient custom of thetournament still survived. It was on the last Fourth of July that she had meantto come to the Gap. Truly civilization was spreading throughout the hills.
"Mart's my brother" said littleBuck.
"He was over to the Gap not long agoan'he come back mad as hops -- " He stopped suddenlyand in such a way that Iturned my headknowing that caution had caught Buck.
"Ohnothin'" said Buck carelessly;
"Mart's a-gittin' readyfer a tourneyment."
"only he's been quar ever since. My sisters says he's got a gal over tharan' he's a-pickin' off these rings more'n ever now. He's going to win or bust abelly-band."
"Wellwho's Dave Branham?"
Buck grinned. "You jes axe my sisterMollie. Thar she is."
Before us was a white-framed house of logs inthe porch of which stood two stalwartgood-looking girls. Could we stay allnight? We could -- there was no hesitation -- and straight in we rode.
"Where's your father?" Both girlsgiggledand one saidwith frank unembarrassment:
"Pap's tight!" That did not lookpromisingbut we had to stay just the same. Buck helped me to unhitch the muleshelped me also to catch minnows
and in half an hour we started down the river to try fishing before dark came.Buck trotted along.
"Have you got a wagonBuck?"
"To bring the fish back." Buck wasnot to be caught napping.
"We got that sled tharbut hit won't bebig enough" he said gravely. "An' our two-hoss wagon's out in thecornfield. We'll have to string the fishleave 'em in the river and go fer 'emin the mornin'."
"All rightBuck." The Blight wasgreatly amused at Buck.
Two hundred yards down the road stood hissisters over the figure of a man outstretched in the road. Unashamedtheysmiled at us. The man in the road was "pap" -- tight -- and they weretrying to get him home.
We cast into a dark pool farther down andfished most patiently; not a bite -- not a nibble.
"Are there any fish in hereBuck?"
"Dunno -- used ter be." The shadowsdeepened; we must go back to the house.
"Is there a dam below hereBuck?"
"Yesthar's a dam about a half-mile downthe river."
I was disgusted. No wonder there were no bassin that pool.
"Why didn't you tell me that before?"
"You never axed me" said Buckplacidly.
I began winding in my line.
"Ain't no bottom to that pool" saidBuck.
Now I never saw any rural community wherethere was not a bottomless pooland I suddenly determined to shake onetradition
in at least one community. So I took an extra fish-linetied a stone to itandclimbed into a canoeBuck watching mebut not asking a word.
Silently he got in and I pushed off -- to thecentre.
"This the deepest partBuck?"
"I reckon so."
I dropped in the stone and the line reeled outsome fifty feet and began to coil on the surface of the water.
"I guess that's on the bottomisn't itBuck?"
Buck looked genuinely distressed; butpresently he brightened.
"Yes" he said" ef hit ain'ton a turtle's back."
Literally I threw up both hands and back wetrailed -- fishless.
"Reckon you won't need that two-hosswagon" said Buck.
"NoBuckI think not." Buck lookedat the Blight and gave himself the pleasure of his first chuckle. A bigcracklingcheerful fire awaited us. Through the door I could seeoutstretchedon a bed in the next roomthe limp figure of "pap" in alcoholic sleep.The old motherbigkind-facedexplained -- and there was a heaven of kindnessand charity in her drawling voice.
"Dad didn' often git that a-way"she said; "but he'd been out a-huntin' hawgs that mornin' and had met upwith some teamsters and gone to a political speakin' and had tuk a dram or twoof their mean whiskeyand not havin' nothin' on his stummickhit had all goneto his head. No`pap' didn't git that a-way oftenand
he'd be all right jes' as soon as he slept it off a while." The old womanmoved about with a cane and the sympathetic Blight merely looked a question ather.
"Yesshe'd fell down a year ago -- andhad sort o' hurt herself -- didn't do nothin'though'cept break one hip"she addedin her kindpatient old voice. Did many people stop there? Ohyessometimes fifteen at a time -- they "never turned nobody away." Andshe had a big familylittle Cindy and the two big girls and Buck and Mart --who was out somewhere -- and the hired manand yes -- "Thar was anotherboybut he was fitified" said one of the big sisters.
"I beg your pardon" said thewondering Blightbut she knew that phrase wouldn't doso she added politely:
"What did you say?"
"Fitified -- Tom has fits. He's in aasylum in the settlements."
"Tom come back once an' he was all right"said the old mother; "but he worried so much over them gals workin' so hardthat it plum' throwed him off ag'inand we had to send him back."
"Do you work pretty hard?" I askedpresently. Then a story came that was full of unconscious pathosbecause therewas no hint of complaint -- simply a plain statement of daily life. They got upbefore the menin order to get breakfast ready; then they went with the meninto the fields -- those two girls -- and worked like men. At dark they gotsupper readyand after the men went to bed they worked on -- washing dishes andclearing up the kitchen. They took it turn about getting supperand sometimesone saidshe was "so
plumb tuckered out that she'd drap on the bed and go to sleep ruther than eather own supper." No wonder poor Tom had to go back to the asylum. All thewhile the two girls stood by the fire lookingpolitely but minutelyat the twostrange girls and their curious clothes and their bootsand the way theydressed their hair. Their hard life seemed to have hurt them none -- for bothwere the pictures of health -- whatever that phrase means.
After supper "pap" came inperfectly soberwith a big ruddy facegiant frameand twinkling gray eyes. Hewas the man who had risen to speak his faith in the Hon. Samuel Budd that day onthe size of the Hon. Samuel's ears. Hetoowas unashamed andas he explainedhis plight againhe did it with little apology.
"I seed ye at the speakin' to-day. That
man Budd is a good man. He done somethin' fer a boy o' mine over at theGap." Like little Buckhetoostopped short. "He's a good man an'I'm a-goin' to help him."
Yeshe repeatedquite irrelevantlyit washunting hogs all day with nothing to eat and only mean whiskey to drink. Marthad not come in yet -- he was "workin' out" now.
"He's the best worker in these mountains"said the old woman; "Mart works too hard."
The hired man appeared and joined us at thefire. Bedtime cameand I whispered jokingly to the Blight:
"I believe I'll ask that good-looking oneto `set up' with me." "Settin' up" is what courting is called inthe hills. The couple sit up in front of the fire after
everybody else has gone to bed. The man puts his arm around the girl's neck andwhispers; then she puts her arm around his neck and whispers -- so that the restmay not hear. This I had related to the Blightand now she withered me.
"You just donow!"
I turned to the girl in questionwhose namewas Mollie. "Buck told me to ask you who Dave Branham was." Molliewheeledblushing and angrybut Buck had darted cackling out the door."Oh" I saidand I changed the subject. "What time do you getup?"
"Oh'bout crack o' day." I wastiredand that was discouraging.
"Do you get up that early every morning?"
"No" was the quick answer; "amornin' later."
A morning laterMollie got upeach morning.The Blight laughed.
Pretty soon the two girls were taken into thenext roomwhich was a long onewith one bed in one dark cornerone in theotherand a third bed in the middle. The feminine members of the family allfollowed them out on the porch and watched them brush their teethfor they hadnever seen tooth-brushes before. They watched them prepare for bed -- and Icould hear much giggling and comment and many questionsall of which culminatedby and byin a chorus of shrieking laughter. That climaxas I learned nextmorningwas over the Blight's hot-water bag. Never had their eyes rested on anarticle of more wonder and humor than that water bag.
By and bythe feminine members came
back and we sat around the fire. Still Mart did not appearthough somebodystepped into the kitchenand from the warning glance that Mollie gave Buck whenshe left the room I guessed that the newcomer was her lover Dave. Pretty soonthe old man yawned.
"WellmammyI reckon this stranger'sabout ready to lay downif you've got a place fer him."
"Git a lightBuck" said the oldwoman. Buck got a light -- a chimneylesssmoking oil-lamp -- and led me intothe same room where the Blight and my little sister were. Their heads werecovered upbut the bed in the gloom of one corner was shaking with theirsmothered laughter. Buck pointed to the middle bed.
"I can get along without that lightBuck"I saidand I must have been
rather haughty and abruptfor a stifled shriek came from under the bedclothesin the corner and Buck disappeared swiftly. Preparations for bed are simple inthe mountains -- they were primitively simple for me that night. Being inknickerbockersI merely took off my coat and shoes. Presently somebody elsestepped into the room and the bed in the other corner creaked. Silence for awhile. Then the door openedand the head of the old woman was thrust in.
"Mart!" she said coaxingly; "gitup thar now an' climb over inter bed with that ar stranger."
That was Mart at lastover in the corner.Mart turnedgrumbledandto my great pleasureswore that he wouldn't. Theold woman waited a moment.
"Mart" she said again with gentleimperiousness
" git up thar nowI tell ye -- you'vegot to sleep with that thar stranger."
She closed the door and with a snort Martpiled into bed with me. I gave him plenty of room and did not introduce myself.A little more dark silence -- the shaking of the bed under the hilarity of thoseastonishedbethrilledbut thoroughly unfrightened young women in the darkcorner on my left ceasedand again the door opened. This time it was the hiredmanand I saw that the trouble was either that neither Mart nor Buck wanted tosleep with the hired man or that neither wanted to sleep with me. A long silenceand then the boy Buck slipped in. The hired man delivered himself with theintonation somewhat of a circuit rider.
"I've been a-watchin' that star thar
through the winder. Sometimes hit movesthen hit stands plum' stillan' ag'inhit gits to pitchin'." The hired man must have been touching up meanwhiskey himself. MeanwhileMart seemed to be having spells of troubled slumber.He would snore gentlyaccentuate said snore with a sudden quiver of his bodyand then wake up with a climacteric snort and start that would shake the bed.This was repeated several timesand I began to think of the unfortunate Tom whowas "fitified." Mart seemed on the verge of a fit himselfand Iwaited apprehensively for each snorting climax to see if fits were a familyfailing. They were not. Peace overcame Mart and he slept deeplybut not I. Thehired man began to show symptoms. He would roll and groandreaming of feudsquorum pars magna nuit it seemedand
of religious conversionin which he feared he was not so great. Twice he saidaloud:
"An' I tell you thar wouldn't a one of 'emhave said a word if I'd been killed stone-dead." Twice he said it almostweepinglyand now and then he would groan appealingly:
"O Lawdhave mercy on my pore soul!"
Fortunately those two tired girls slept -- Icould hear their breathing -- but sleep there was little for me. Once thetroubled soul with the hoe got up and stumbled out to the water-bucket on theporch to soothe the fever or whatever it was that was burning himand afterthat he was quiet. I awoke before day. The dim light at the window showed anempty bed -- Buck and the hired man were gone. Mart was slipping out of the sideof my bedbut the
girls still slept on. I watched Martfor I guessed I might now see whatperhapsis the distinguishing trait of American civilization down to itsbed-rockas you find it through the West and in the Southern hills -- achivalrous respect for women. Mart thought I was asleep. Over in the corner weretwo creatures the like of which I supposed he had never seen and would not seesince he came in too late the night beforeand was going away too early now --and two angels straight from heaven could not have stirred my curiosity any morethan they already must have stirred his. But not once did Mart turn his eyesmuch less his facetoward the corner where they were -- not oncefor I watchedhim closely. And when he went out he sent his little sister back for his shoeswhich the night-walking hired man had accidentally
kicked toward the foot of the strangers' bed. In a minute I was out after himbut he was gone. Behind me the two girls opened their eyes on a room that wasempty save for them. Then the Blight spoke (this I was told later).
"Dear" she said"have ourroom-mates gone?"
Breakfast at dawn. The mountain girls wereready to go to work. All looked sorry to have us leave. They asked us to comeback againand they meant it. We said we would like to come back -- and wemeant it -- to see them -- the kind old motherthe pioneer-like old mansturdylittle Buckshy little Cindythe elusivehard-workingunconsciously shiveryMartand the two big sisters. As we started back up the river the sistersstarted for the fieldsand I thought of their stricken
brother in the settlementswho must have been much like Mart.
Back up the Big Black Mountain we toiledandlate in the afternoon we were on the State line that runs the crest of the BigBlack. Right on top and bisected by that State line sat a dingy little shackand therewith one leg thrown over the pommel of his saddlesat Marstondrinking water from a gourd.
"I was coming over to meet you" hesaidsmiling at the Blightwhogreatly pleasedsmiled back at him. The shackwas a "blind Tiger" where whiskey could be sold to Kentuckians on theVirginia side and to Virginians on the Kentucky side. Hanging around were theslouching figures of several moonshiners and the villainous fellow who ran it.
"They are real ones all right" said
Marston. "One of them killed a revenue officer at that front door last weekand was killed by the posse as he was trying to escape out of the back window.That house will be in ashes soon" he added. And it was.
As we rode down the mountain we told him aboutour trip and the people with whom we had spent the night -- and all the time hewas smiling curiously.
"Buck" he said. "OhyesIknow that little chap. Mart had him posted down there on the river to toll youto his house -- to toll you" he added to the Blight. He pulled inhis horse suddenlyturned and looked up toward the top of the mountain.
"AhI thought so." We all lookedback. On the edge of the clifffar upwardon which the "blind Tiger"sat was
a gray horseand on it was a man whomotionlesswas looking down at us.
"He's been following you all theway" said the engineer.
"Who's been following us?" I asked.
"That's Mart up there -- my friend andyours" said Marston to the Blight. "I'm rather glad I didn't meet youon the other side of the mountain -- that's `the Wild Dog.' " The Blightlooked incredulousbut Marston knew the man and knew the horse.
So Mart -- hard-working Mart -- was the WildDogand he was content to do the Blight all service without thanksmerely forthe privilege of secretly seeing her face now and then; and yet he would notlook upon that face when she was a guest under his roof and asleep.
Stillwhen we dropped behind the two girls Igave Marston the Hon. Sam's
warningand for a moment he looked rather grave.
"Well" he saidsmiling"ifI'm found in the road some dayyou'll know who did it."
I shook my head. "Ohno; he isn't thatbad."
"I don't know" said Marston.
The smoke of the young engineer's coke ovenslay far below us and the Blight had never seen a coke-plant before. It lookedlike Hades even in the early dusk -- the snake-like coil of fiery ovensstretching up the longdeep ravineand the smoke-streaked clouds of firetrailing like a yellow mist over themwith a fierce white blast shooting uphere and there when the lid of an oven was raisedas though to add freshtemperature to some particular male-
factor in some particular chamber of torment. Humanity about was joyoushowever.Laughter and banter and song came from the cabins that lined the big ravine andthe little ravines opening into it. A banjo tinkled at the entrance of "PossumTrot" sacred to the darkies. We moved toward it. On the stoop sat anecstatic picker and in the dust shuffled three pickaninnies -- one boy and twogirls -- the youngest not five years old. The crowd that was gathered about themgave way respectfully as we drew near; the little darkies showed their whiteteeth in jolly grinsand their feet shook the dust in happy competition. Ishowered a few coins for the Blight and on we went -- into the mouth of themany-peaked Gap. The night train was coming in and everybody had a smile ofwelcome for the Blight --
post-office assistantdrug clerksoda-water boytelegraph operatorhostlerwho came for the mules -- and when tiredbut happyshe slipped from her saddleto the groundshe then and there gave me what she usually reserves forChristmas morningand thattoowhile Marston was looking on. Over hershoulder I smiled at him.
That night Marston and the Blight sat underthe vines on the porch until the late moon rose over Wallens Ridgeandwhenbedtime camethe Blight said impatiently that she did not want to go home. Shehad to gohowevernext daybut on the next Fourth of July she would surelycome again; andas the young engineer mounted his horse and set his face towardBlack MountainI knew that until that dayfor hima blight would still be inthe hills.
BACK TO THE HILLS
WINTER drew a gray veil overthe mountainswove into it tiny jewels of frost and turned it many times into amask of snowbefore spring broke again among them and in Marston's impatientheart. No spring had ever been like that to him. The coming of young leaves andflowers and bird-song meant but one joy for the hills to him -- the Blight wascoming back to them. All those weary waiting months he had clung grimly to hiswork. He must have heard from her sometimeselse I think he would have gone toher; but I knew the Blight's pen was reluctant
and casual for anybodyandmoreovershe was having a strenuous winter athome. That he knew as wellfor he took one paperat leastthat he mightsimply read her name. He saw accounts of her many social doings as welland atehis heart out as lovers have done for all time gone and will do for all time tocome.
Itoowas away all winterbut I got back amonth before the Blightto learn much of interest that had come about. The Hon.Samuel Budd had ear-wagged himself into the legislaturehad moved thatCourt-Houseand was going to be State Senator. The Wild Dog had confined hisreckless career to his own hills through the winterbut when spring camemigratory-likehe began to take frequent wing to the Gap. So farhe andMarston had never come into personal conflict
though Marston kept ever ready for himand several times they had met in theroadeyed each other in passing and made no hipward gesture at all. But thenMarston had never met him when the Wild Dog was drunk -- and when soberI tookit that the one act of kindness from the engineer always stayed his hand. Butthe Police Guard at the Gap saw him quite often -- and to it he was a fearfuland elusive nuisance. He seemed to be staying somewhere within a radius of tenmilesfor every night or two he would circle about the townyelling and firinghis pistoland when we chased himescaping through the Gap or up the valley ordown in Lee. Many plans were laid to catch himbut all failedand finally hecame in one day and gave himself up and paid his fines. Afterward I recalledthat the time of this
gracious surrender to law and order was but little subsequent to one morningwhen a woman who brought butter and eggs to my little sister casually asked whenthat "purty slim little gal with the snappin' black eyes was a-comin'back." And the little sisterpleased with the remembrancehad saidcordially that she was coming soon.
Thereafter the Wild Dog was in town every dayand he behaved well until one Saturday he got drunk againand this timeby apeculiar chanceit was Marston again who leaped on himwrenched his pistolawayand put him in the calaboose. Again he paid his finepromptly visited a"blind Tiger" came back to townemptied another pistol at Marston onsight and fled for the hills.
The enraged guard chased him for two
days and from that day the Wild Dog was a marked man. The Guard wanted many menbut if they could have had their choice they would have picked out of the worldof malefactors that same Wild Dog.
Why all this should have thrown the Hon.Samuel Budd into such gloom I could not understand -- except that the Wild Doghad been so loyal a henchman to him in politicsbut later I learned a betterreasonthat threatened to cost the Hon. Sam much more than the fines thatas Ilater learnedhe had been paying for his mountain friend.
Meanwhilethe Blight was coming from herNorthern home through the green lowlands of Jerseythe fat pastures ofMarylandandas the white dresses of schoolgirls and the shining faces ofdarkies thickened at the stationsshe knew that she was
getting southward. All the way she was known and welcomedand next morning sheawoke with the keen air of the distant mountains in her nostrils and anexpectant light in her happy eyes. At least the light was there when she steppeddaintily from the dusty train and it leaped a littleI fanciedwhen Marstonbronzed and flushedheld out his sunburnt hand. Like a convent girl she babbledquestions to the little sister as the dummy puffed along and she bubbled likewine over the midsummer glory of the hills. And well she mightfor the glory ofthe mountainsfull-leafedshrouded in evening shadowsblue-veiled in thedistancewas unspeakableand through the Gap the sun was sending his last raysas though hetoomeant to take a peep at her before he started around theworld to welcome her next day. And she
must know everything at once. The anniversary of the Great Day on which all menwere pronounced free and equal was only ten days distant and preparations weregoing on. There would be a big crowd of mountaineers and there would be sportsof all kindsand gamesbut the tournament was to be the feature of the day.
"A tournament?" "Yesatournament" repeated the little sisterand Marston was going to ride andthe mean thing would not tell what mediŠval name he meant to take. And the Hon.Sam Budd -- did the Blight remember him? (Indeedshe did) -- had a "darkhorse" and he had bet heavily that his dark horse would win the tournament-- whereat the little sister looked at Marston and at the Blight and smileddisdainfully. And the Wild Dog -- did she remember him? I checked the
sister here with a glancefor Marston looked uncomfortable and the Blight sawme do itand on the point of saying something she checked herselfand herfaceI thoughtpaled a little.
That night I learned why -- when she came infrom the porch after Marston was gone. I saw she had wormed enough of the storyout of him to worry herfor her face this time was distinctly pale. I wouldtell her no more than she knewhoweverand then she said she was sure she hadseen the Wild Dog herself that afternoonsitting on his horse in the bushesnear a station in Wildcat Valley. She was sure that he saw herand his face hadfrightened her. I knew her fright was for Marston and not for herselfso Ilaughed at her fears. She was mistaken -- Wild Dog was an outlaw now and hewould not
dare appear at the Gapand there was no chance that he could harm her orMarston. And yet I was uneasy.
It must have been a happy ten days for thosetwo young people. Every afternoon Marston would come in from the mines and theywould go off horseback togetherover ground that I well knew -- for I had beenall over it myself -- up through the gray-peaked rhododendron-bordered Gap withthe swirling water below them and the gray rock high above where another suchfoolish lover lost his lifeclimbing to get a flower for his sweetheartordown the winding dirt road into Leeor up through the beech woods behindImboden Hillor climbing the spur of Morris's Farm to watch the sunset over themajestic Big Black Mountainswhere the Wild Dog livedand back through thefragrantcool
moonlit woods. He was doing his bestMarston wasand he was having trouble --as every man should. And that trouble I knew even better than hefor I had onceknown a Southern girl who was so tender of heart that she could refuse no manwho really loved her she accepted him and sent him to her fatherwho did all ofher refusing for her. And I knew no man would know that he had won the Blightuntil he had her at the altar and the priestly hand of benediction was above herhead.
Of such kind was the Blight. Every night whenthey came in I could read the story of the dayalways in his face and sometimesin hers; and it was a series of ups and downs that must have wrung the boy'sheart bloodless. Still I was in good hope for himuntil the crisis came on thenight before the Fourth. The quarrel was
as plain as though typewritten on the face of each. Marston would not come inthat night and the Blight went dinnerless to bed and cried herself to sleep. Shetold the little sister that she had seen the Wild Dog again peering through thebushesand that she was frightened. That was her explanation -- but I guessed abetter one.
THE GREAT DAY
IT was a day to make glad theheart of slave or freeman. The earth was cool from a night-long rainand agentle breeze fanned coolness from the north all day long. The clouds weresnow-whitetumblingever-movingand between them the sky showed blue and deep.Grassleafweed and flower were in the richness that comes to the green thingsof the earth just before that full tide of summer whose foam is drifting thistledown. The air was clear and the mountains seemed to have brushed the haze fromtheir faces and
drawn nearer that theytoomight better see the doings of that day.
From the four winds of heaventhat morningcame the brave and the free. Up from Leedown from Little Stone Gapand fromover in Scottcame the valley-farmers -- horsebackin buggieshackstwo-horse wagonswith wivesmotherssisterssweetheartsin white dressesflowered hatsand many ribbonsand with dinner-baskets stuffed with goodthings to eat -- old hamyoung chickenangel-cake and blackberry wine -- to bespread in the sunless shade of great poplar and oak. From Bum Hollow and WildcatValley and from up the slopes that lead to Cracker's Neck came smaller tillersof the soil -- as yet but faintly marked by the gewgaw trappings of the outerworld; while from beyond
High Knobwhose crown is in cloud-landand through the Gapcame themountaineer in the primitive simplicity of home spun and cowhidewide-brimmedhat and poke-bonnetquaint speechand slouching gait. Through the Gap he camein two streams -- the Virginians from Crab Orchard and Wise and DickinsontheKentuckians from Letcher and feudal Harlanbeyond the Big Black -- and not aman carried a weapon in sightfor the stern spirit of that Police Guard at theGap was respected wide and far. Into the townwhich sits on a plateau sometwenty feet above the level of the two rivers that all but encircle ittheypouredhitching their horses in the strip of woods that runs through the heartof the placeand broadens into a primeval park thatfan-likeopens on theoval level field where all
things happen on the Fourth of July. About the street they loitered -- lovershand in hand -- eating fruit and candy and drinking soda-wateror sat on thecurb-stonemothers with babies at their breasts and toddling children clingingclose -- all waiting for the celebration to begin.
It was a great day for the Hon. Samuel Budd.With a cheery smile and beaming goggleshe moved among his constituentsjokingwith yokelssaying nice things to motherspaying gallantries to girlsandchucking babies under the chin. He felt popular and he was -- so popular that hehad begun to see himself with prophetic eye in a congressional seat at nodistant day; and yetwithalhe was not wholly happy.
"Do you know" he said"themfellers I made bets with in the tournament got together this morning and decidedall of 'em
that they wouldn't let me off? Jerusalemit's most five hundred dollars!"Andlooking the picture of dismayhe told me his dilemma.
It seems that his "dark horse" wasnone other than the Wild Dogwho had been practising at home for thistournament for nearly a year; and now that the Wild Dog was an outlawheofcoursewouldn't and couldn't come to the Gap. And said the Hon. Sam Budd:
"Them fellers says I bet I'd bring ina dark horse who would win this tournamentand if I don't bring him inI lose just the same as though I had brought him in and he hadn't won. An' Ireckon they've got me."
"I guess they have."
"It would have been like pickin' moneyoff a blackberry-bushfor I was goin' to let
the Wild Dog have that black horse o' mine -- the steadiest and fastest runnerin this country -- and myhow that fellow can pick off the rings! He's beena-practising for a yearand I believe he could run the point o' that spear ofhis through a lady's finger-ring."
"You'd better get somebody else."
"Ah -- that's it. The Wild Dog sent wordhe'd send over another fellernamed Dave Branhamwho has been practising withhimwho's just as goodhe saysas he is. I'm looking for him at twelveo'clockan' I'm goin' to take him down an' see what he can do on that blackhorse o' mine. But if he's no goodI lose five hundredall right" and hesloped away to his duties. For it was the Hon. Sam who was master of ceremoniesthat day. He was due now to read the Declaration of Independence in
a poplar grove to all who would listen; he was to act as umpire at thechampionship base-ball game in the afternoonand he was to give the "Charge"to the assembled knights before the tournament.
At ten o'clock the games began -- and I tookthe Blight and the little sister down to the "grandstand" -- severaltiers of backless benches with leaves for a canopy and the river singing throughrhododendrons behind. There was jumping broad and highand a 100-yard dash andhurdling and throwing the hammerwhich the Blight said were not interesting --they were too much like college sports -- and she wanted to see the base-ballgame and the tournament. And yet Marston was in them all -- dogged andresistless -- his teeth set and his eyes anywhere but lifted toward the Blightwho secretly proudas I believed
but openly defiantmentioned not his name even when he lostwhich was twiceonly.
"Pretty goodisn't he?" I said.
"Who?" she said indifferently.
"Ohnobody" I saidturning tosmilebut not turning quickly enough.
"What's the matter with you?" askedthe Blight sharply.
"Nothingnothing at all" I saidand straightway the Blight thought she wanted to go home. The thunder of theDeclaration was still rumbling in the poplar grove.
"That's the Hon. Sam Budd" I said.
"Don't you want to hear him?"
"I don't care who it is and I don't wantto hear him and I think you are hateful."
Ahdear meit was more serious than Ithought. There were tears in her eyesand
I led the Blight and the little sister home -- conscience-stricken and humbled.Still I would find that young jackanapes of an engineer and let him know thatanybody who made the Blight unhappy must deal with me. I would take him by theneck and pound some sense into him. I found him loftyuncommunicativeperfectly alien to any consciousness that I could have any knowledge of what wasgoing or any right to poke my nose into anybody's business -- and I did nothingexcept go back to lunch -- to find the Blight upstairs and the little sisterindignant with me.
"You just let them alone" she saidseverely.
"Let who alone?" I saidlapsinginto the speech of childhood.
"You -- just -- let -- them --alone" she repeated.
"I've already made up my mind to that."
"Wellthen!" she saidwith an airof satisfactionbut why I don't know.
I went back to the poplar grove. TheDeclaration was over and the crowd was gonebut there was the Hon. Samuel Buddmopping his brow with one handslapping his thigh with the otherand all butexecuting a pigeon-wing on the turf. He turned goggles on me that literallyshone triumph.
"He's come -- Dave Branham's come!"he said. "He's better than the Wild Dog. I've been trying him on the blackhorse andLordhow he can take them rings off! Hawon't I get into themfellows who wouldn't let me off this morning! OhyesI agreed to bring in adark horseand I'll bring him in all right. That five hundred
is in my clothes now. You see that point yonder? Wellthere's a hollow thereand bushes all around. That's where I'm going to dress him. I've got his clothesall right and a name for him. This thing is a-goin' to come off accordin' toHoyleIvanhoeFour-Quarters-of-Beefand all them mediŠval fellows. Justwatch me!"
I began to get newly interestedfor thatknight's name I suddenly recalled. Little Buckthe Wild Dog's brotherhadmentioned himwhen we were over in the Kentucky hillsas practising with theWild Dog -- as being "mighty goodbut nowhar 'longside o' Mart." Sothe Hon. Sam might have a good substituteafter alland being a devoteddisciple of Sir WalterI knew his knight would rivalin splendorat leastany that rode with King Arthur in days of old.
The Blight was very quiet at lunchas was thelittle sisterand my effort to be jocose was a lamentable failure. So I gavenews.
"The Hon. Sam has a substitute." Nocuriosity and no question.
"Who -- did you say? WhyDave Branhamafriend of the Wild Dog. Don't you remember Buck telling us about him?" Noanswer. "WellI do -- andby the wayI saw Buck and one of the bigsisters just a while ago. Her name is Mollie. Dave Branhamyou will recallisher sweetheart. The other big sister had to stay at home with her mother andlittle Cindywho's sick. Of courseI didn't ask them about Mart -- the WildDog. They knew I knew and they wouldn't have liked it. The Wild Dog's aroundIunderstandbut he won't dare show his face. Every
policeman in town is on the lookout for him." I thought the Blight's faceshowed a signal of relief.
"I'm going to play short-stop" Iadded.
"Oh!" said the Blightwith a smilebut the little sister said with some scorn:
"I'll show you" I saidand I toldthe Blight about base-ball at the Gap. We had introduced base-ball into theregion and the valley boys and mountain boysbeing swift runnersthrowing likea rifle shot from constant practice with stonesand being hard as nailscaughtthe game quickly and with great ease. We beat them all the time at firstbutnow they were beginning to beat us. We had a league nowand this was thechampionship game for the pennant.
"It was right funny the first time we
beat a native team. Of coursewe got together and cheered 'em. They thought wewere cheering ourselvesso they got red in the facerushed together andwhooped it up for themselves for about half an hour."
The Blight almost laughed.
"We used to have to carry our guns aroundwith us at first when we went to other placesand we came near having severalfights."
"Oh!" said the Blight excitedly."Do you think there might be a fight this afternoon?"
"Don't know" I saidshaking myhead. "It's pretty hard for eighteen people to fight when nine of them arepolicemen and there are forty more around. Still the crowd might take a hand."
ThisI sawquite thrilled the Blight and shewas in good spirits when we started out.
"Marston doesn't pitch this afternoon"I said to the little sister. "He plays first base. He's saving himself forthe tournament. He's done too much already." The Blight merely turned herhead while I was speaking. "And the Hon. Sam will not act as umpire. Hewants to save his voice -- and his head."
The seats in the "grandstand" werein the sun nowso I left the girls in a deserted band-stand that stood onstilts under trees on the southern side of the fieldand on a line midwaybetween third base and the position of short-stop. Now there is no enthusiasm inany sport that equals the excitement aroused by a rural base-ball game and Inever saw the enthusiasm of that game outdone except by the excitement of thetournament that followed that afternoon. The game was close and Marston
and I assuredly were stars -- Marston one of the first magnitude. "Goose-egg"on one side matched "goose-egg" on the other until the end of thefifth inningwhen the engineer knocked a home-run. Spectators threw their hatsinto the treesyelled themselves hoarseand I saw several old mountaineers whounderstood no more of base-ball than of the lost digamma in Greek goingwild with the general contagion. During these innings I had "assisted"in two doubles and had fired in three "daisy cutters" to first myselfin spite of the guying I got from the opposing rooters.
"Four-eyes" they called me onaccount of my spectacles until a new nickname came at the last half of the ninthinningwhen we were in the field with the score four to three in our favor. Itwas then that a smallfat boy with a paper megaphone
longer than he was waddled out almost to first base and levelling his trumpet atmethundered out in a sudden silence:
"HelloFoxy Grandpa!" That was toomuch. I got rattledand when there were three men on bases and two outa swiftgrounder came to meI fell -- catching it -- and threw wildly to first from myknees. I heard shouts of horrorangerand distress from everywhere and my ownheart stopped beating -- I had lost the game -- and then Marston leaped in theair -- surely it must have been four feet -- caught the ball with his left handand dropped back on the bag. The sound of his foot on it and the runner's wasalmost simultaneousbut the umpire said Marston's was there first. Then bedlam!One of my brothers was umpire and the captain
of the other team walked threateningly out toward himfollowed by two of hismen with base-ball bats. As I started off myself towards them I sawwith thecorner of my eyeanother brother of mine start in a run from the left fieldand I wondered why a thirdwho was scoringsat perfectly still in his chairparticularly as a well-knownred-headed tough from one of the mines who hadbeen officiously antagonistic ran toward the pitcher's box directly in front ofhim. Instantly a dozen of the guard sprang toward itsome man pulled his pistola billy cracked straightway on his headand in a few minutes order was restored.And still the brother scoring hadn't moved from his chairand I spoke to himhotly.
"Keep your shirt on" he said easilylifting his score-card with his left hand and
showing his right clinched about his pistol under it.
"I was just waiting for that red-head tomake a move. I guess I'd have got him first."
I walked back to the Blight and the littlesister and both of them looked very serious and frightened.
"I don't think I want to see a real fightafter all" said the Blight. "Not this afternoon."
It was a little singular and propheticbutjust as the words left her lips one of the Police Guard handed me a piece ofpaper.
"Somebody in the crowd must have droppedit in my pocket" he said. On the paper were scrawled these words:
"Look out for the Wild dog!"
I sent the paper to Marston.
AT LAST -- THE TOURNAMENT
AT last -- the tournament! Everafterward the Hon. Samuel Budd called it "The Gentle and Joyous Passage ofArms -- not of Ashby -- but of the Gapby-suh!" The Hon. Samuel hadarranged it as nearly after Sir Walter as possible. And a sudden leap it wasfrom the most modern of games to a game most ancient.
No knights of old ever jousted on a lovelierfield than the green little valley toward which the Hon. Sam waved one big hand.It was levelshorn of weedselliptical in shapeand bound in by trees thatran
in a semicircle around the bank of the rivershut in the southern borderandran back to the northern extremity in a primeval little forest thatwood-thrusheseven thenwere making musical -- all of it shut in by a wall ofliving greensave for one narrow space through which the knights were to enter.In front waved Wallens' leafy ridge and behind rose the Cumberland Rangeshouldering itself spur by spurinto the coming sunset and crashing eastwardinto the mighty bulk of Powell's Mountainwhich loomed southward from the headof the valley -- all nodding sunny plumes of chestnut.
The Hon. Sam had seen us coming from afarapparentlyhad come forward to meet usand he was in high spirits.
"I am Prince John and Waldemar and allthe rest of 'em this day" he said"and
`it is thus' " quoting Sir Walter"that we set the dutiful exampleof loyalty to the Queen of Love and Beautyand are ourselves her guide to thethrone which she must this day occupy." And so sayingthe Hon. Sammarshalled the Blight to a seat of honor next his own.
"And how do you know she is going to bethe Queen of Love and Beauty?" asked the little sister. The Hon. Sam winkedat me.
"Wellthis tournament lies between twogallant knights. One will make her the Queen of his own accordif he winsandif the other winshe's got toor I'll break his head. I've given orders."And the Hon. Sam looked about right and left on the people who were his thatday.
"Observe the nobles and ladies" hesaidstill following Sir Walterand waving
at the towns-people and visitors in the rude grandstand. "Observe theyeomanry and spectators of a better degree than the mere vulgar" -- wavingat the crowd on either side of the stand -- "and the promiscuous multitudedown the river banks and over the woods and clinging to the tree-tops and to yontelegraph-pole. And there is my herald" -- pointing to the cornetist of thelocal band -- "and wait -- by my halidom -- please just wait until you seemy knight on that black charger o' mine."
The Blight and the little sister wereconvulsed and the Hon. Sam went on:
"Look at my men-at-arms" -- thevolunteer policemen with bulging hip-pocketsdangling billies and gleamingshields of office -- "and at my refreshment tents behind" -- wherepeanuts and pink lemonade
were keeping the multitude busy -- "and my attendants" -- coloredgentlemen with sponges and water-buckets -- "the armorers and farriershaven't come yet. But my knight -- I got his clothes in New York -- just wait --Love of Ladies and Glory to the Brave!" Just then there was a commotion onthe free seats on one side of the grandstand. A darky startingin all ignoranceto mount them was stopped and jostled none too good-naturedly back to the ground.
"And see" mused the Hon. Sam"in lieu of the dog of an unbeliever we have a dark analogy in that son ofHam."
The little sister plucked me by the sleeve andpointed toward the entrance. Outside and leaning on the fence were Molliethebig sisterand little Buck. Straightway I got up and started for them. Theyhung
backbut I persuaded them to comeand I led them to seats two tiers below theBlight -- whowith my little sisterrose smiling to greet them and shake hands-- much to the wonder of the nobles and ladies close aboutfor Mollie was inbrave and dazzling arrayblushing fiercelyand little Buck looked as though hewould die of such conspicuousness. No embarrassing questions were asked aboutMart or Dave Branhambut I noticed that Mollie had purple and crimson ribbonsclinched in one brown hand. The purpose of them was plainand I whispered tothe Blight:
"She's going to pin them on Dave'slance." The Hon. Sam heard me.
"Not on your life" he saidemphatically. "I ain't takin' chances" and he nodded toward theBlight. "She's got to
winno matter who loses." He rose to his feet suddenly.
"Glory to the Brave -- they're comin'!Toot that hornson" he said; "they're comin'" and the bandburst into discordant sounds that would have made the "wild barbaricmusic" on the field of Ashby sound like a lullaby. The Blight stifled herlaughter over that amazing music with her handkerchiefand even the Hon. Samscowled.
"Gee!" he said; "it is prettybadisn't it?"
"Here they come!"
The nobles and ladies on the grandstandtheyeomanry and spectators of better degreeand the promiscuous multitude began tosway expectantly and over the hill came the knightssingle filegorgeous invelvets and in capswith waving plumes
and with polished spearsverticalresting on the right stirrup foot andgleaming in the sun.
"A goodly array!" murmured the Hon.Sam.
A crowd of small boys gathered at the fencebelowand I observed the Hon. Sam's pockets bulging with peanuts.
"Largesse!" I suggested.
"Good!" he saidand rising heshouted:
"Largessy! largessy!" scatteringpeanuts by the handful among the scrambling urchins.
Down wound the knights behind the back standof the base-ball fieldand thensingle filein front of the nobles and ladiesbefore whom they drew up and facedsaluting with inverted spears.
The Hon. Sam arose -- his truncheon a
hickory stick -- and in a stentorian voice asked the names of the doughtyknights who were there to win glory for themselves and the favor of fair women.
Not all will be mentionedbut among them wasthe Knight of the Holston -- Athelstanic in build -- in black stockingswhitenegligee shirtwith Byronic collarand a broad crimson sash tied with a bow athis right side. There was the Knight of the Green Valleyin green and goldagreen hat with a long white plumelace ruffles at his sleevesand buckles ondancing-pumps; a bonny fat knight of Maxwelton Braesin Highland kilts and aplaid; and the Knight at Large.
"He ought to be caged" murmured theHon. Sam; for the Knight at Large wore plum-colored velvetred base-ballstockings
held in place with safety-pinswhite tennis shoesand a very small hat with avery long plumeand the dye was already streaking his face. Marston was thelast -- sitting easily on his iron gray.
"And your nameSir Knight?"
"The Discarded" said Marstonwithsteady eyes. I felt the Blight start at my side and sidewise I saw that her facewas crimson.
The Hon. Sam sat downmutteringfor he didnot like Marston:
Just then my attention was riveted on Mollieand little Buck. Both had been staring silently at the knights as though theywere apparitionsbut when Marston faced them I saw Buck clutch his sister's armsuddenly and say something excitedly in her ear. Then the mouths of bothtightened
fiercely and their eyes seemed to be darting lightning at the unconscious knightwho suddenly saw themrecognized themand smiled past them at me. Again Buckwhisperedand from his lips I could make out what he said:
"I wonder whar's Dave?" but Molliedid not answer.
"Which is yoursMr. Budd?" askedthe little sister. The Hon. Sam had leaned back with his thumbs in the arm-holesof his white waistcoat.
"He ain't come yet. I told him to comelast."
The crowd waited and the knights waited -- solong that the Mayor rose in his seat some twenty feet away and called out:
"You jus' wait a minute -- my man ain'tcome yet" he said easilybut from
various places in the crowd came jeering shouts from the men with whom he hadwagered and the Hon. Sam began to look anxious.
"I wonder what is the matter?" headded in a lower tone. "I dressed him myself more than an hour ago and Itold him to come lastbut I didn't mean for him to wait till Christmas --ah!"
The Hon. Sam sank back in his seat again. Fromsomewhere had come suddenly the blare of a solitary trumpet that rang in echoesaround the amphitheatre of the hills anda moment latera dazzling somethingshot into sight above the mound that looked like a ball of firecoming inmid-air. The new knight wore a shining helmet and the Hon. Sam chuckled at themurmur that rose and then he sat up suddenly. There was no face under
that helmet -- the Hon. Sam's knight was masked and the Hon. Sam slappedhis thigh with delight.
"Bully -- bully! I never thought of it --I never thought of it -- bully!"
This was thrillingindeed -- but there wasmore; the strange knight's body was cased in a flexible suit of glistening mailhis spear pointwhen he raised it on highshone like silverand he came onlike a radiant star -- on the Hon. Sam's chargerwhite-bridledwith long maneand tail and black from tip of nose to tip of that tail as midnight. The Hon.Sam was certainly doing it well. At a slow walk the stranger drew alongside ofMarston and turned his spear point downward.
"Gawd!" said an old darky. klux donecome again." Andindeedit looked like a Kuklux maskwhitedropping
below the chinand with eye-holes through which gleamed two bright fires.
The eyes of Buck and Mollie were turned fromMarston at lastand open-mouthed they stared.
"Hit's the same hoss -- hit's Dave!"said Buck aloud.
"Wellmy Lord!" said Mollie simply.
The Hon. Sam rose again.
"And who is Sir Tardy Knight that hithercomes with masked face?" he asked courteously. He got no answer.
"What's your nameson?"
The white mask puffed at the wearer's lips.
"The Knight of the Cumberland" wasthe lowmuffled reply.
"Make him take that thing off!"shouted some one.
"What's he got it on fer?" shoutedanother.
"I don't knowfriend" said the Hon.Sam; "but it is not my business nor prithee thine; since by the laws of thetournament a knight may ride masked for a specified time or until a particularpurpose is achievedthat purpose beingI wotvictory for himself and for me ahandful of byzants from thee."
"Nowgo aheadBudd" called theMayor again. "Are you going crazy?"
The Hon. Sam stretched out his arms once toloosen them for gesturethrust his chest outand uplifted his chin: "Fairladiesnobles of the realmand good knights" he said sonorouslyand heraised one hand to his mouth and behind it spoke aside to me:
"How's my voice -- how's my voice?"
His question was genuinefor the mask ofhumor had dropped and the man was transformed. I knew his inner seriousnesshisoratorical command of good Englishand I knew the habitnot uncommon amongstump-speakers in the Southof fallingthrough humorcarelessnessor for theeffect of flattering comradeshipinto all the lingual sins of rural speech; butI was hardly prepared for the soaring flight the Hon. Sam took now. He startedwith one finger pointed heavenward:
"The knights are dust
And their good swords are rast;
Their souls are with the saintswe trust.
"Scepticism is but a harmless phantom inthese mighty hills. We believe that with the saints is the goodknight's souland if
in the radiant unknownthe eyes of those who have gone before can pierce thelittle shadow that lies betweenwe know that the good knights of old lookgladly down on these good knights of to-day. For it is good to be remembered.The tireless struggle for name and fame since the sunrise of history attests it;and the ancestry worship in the East and the world-wide hope of immortality showthe fierce hunger in the human soul that the memory of it not only shall notperish from this earthbut thatacross the Great Divideit shall live on --neither forgetting nor forgotten. You are here in memory of those good knightsto prove that the age of chivalry is not gone; that though their good swords arerustthe stainless soul of them still illumines every harmless spear pointbefore me and makes it a torch that shall reveal
in your own hearts still aflametheir couragetheir chivalrytheir sense ofprotection for the weakand the honor in which they held pure womenbrave menand almighty God.
"The tournamentsome saygoes back tothe walls of Troy. The form of it passed with the windmills that Don Quixotecharged. It is with you to keep the high spirit of it an ever-burning vestalfire. It was a deadly play of old -- it is a harmless play to you this day. Butthe prowess of the game is unchanged; for the skill to strike those pendentrings is no less than was the skill to strike armor-jointvisoror plumedcrest. It was of old an exercise for deadly combat on the field of battle; it isno less an exercise now to you for the field of life -- for the quick eyethesteady nerveand the deft hand which shall
help you strike the mark at whichoutside these listsyou aim. And thecrowning triumph is still just what it was of old -- that to the victor the Roseof his world -- made by him the Queen of Love and Beauty for us all -- shallgive her smile and with her own hands place on his brow a thornless crown."
Perfect silence honored the Hon. Samuel Budd.The Mayor was nodding vigorous approvalthe jeering ones kept stilland whenafter the last deep-toned word passed like music from his lips the silence heldsway for a little while before the burst of applause came. Every knight hadstraightened in his saddle and was looking very grave. Marston's eyes never leftthe speaker's faceexcept oncewhen they turned with an unconscious appealIthoughtto the downcast face of Blight --
whereat the sympathetic little sister seemed close to tears. The Knight of theCumberland shifted in his saddle as though he did not quite understand what wasgoing onand once Mollieseeing the eyes through the mask-holes fixed on herblushed furiouslyand little Buck grinned back a delighted recognition. The Hon.Sam sat downvisibly affected by his own eloquence; slowly he wiped his faceand then he rose again.
"Your colorsSir Knights" he saidwith a commanding wave of his truncheonand one by one the knights spurredforward and each held his lance into the grandstand that some fair one might tiethereon the colors he was to wear. Marstonwithout looking at the Blightheldhis up to the little sister and the Blight carelessly turned her face while thedemure sister
was busy with her ribbonsbut I noticed that the little ear next to me wastingling red for all her brave look of unconcern. Only the Knight of theCumberland sat still.
"What!" said the Hon. Samrising tohis feethis eyes twinkling and his mask of humor on again; "sees thismasked springal" -- the Hon. Sam seemed much enamored of that ancient word-- "no maid so fair that he will not beg from her the boon of colors gaythat he may carry them to victory and receive from her hands a wreath therefor?"Again the Knight of the Cumberland seemed not to know that the Hon. Sam's wingedwords were meant for himso the statesman translated them into a mutualvernacular.
"Remember what I told youson" hesaid. "Hold up yo' spear here to someone
of these gals jes' like the other fellows are doin'" and as he sat down hetried surreptitiously to indicate the Blight with his index fingerbut theknight failed to see and the Blight's face was so indignant and she rebuked himwith such a knife-like whisper thathumbledthe Hon. Sam collapsed in his seatmuttering:
"The fool don't know you -- he don't knowyou."
For the Knight of the Cumberland had turnedthe black horse's head and was ridinglike Ivanhoein front of the nobles andladieshis eyes burning up at them through the holes in his white mask. Againhe turnedhis mask still upliftedand the behavior of the beauties thereason the field of Ashbywas no whit changed: "Some blushedsome assumed anair of pride and dignitysome looked straight
forward and essayed to seem utterly unconscious of what was going onsome drewback in alarm which was perhaps affectedsome endeavored to forbear smiling andthere were two or three who laughed outright." Only none "dropped aveil over her charms" and thus none incurred the suspicionas on thatfield of Ashbythat she was "a beauty of ten years' standing" whosemotivegallant Sir Walter supposes in defencehoweverwas doubtless "asurfeit of such vanities and a willingness to give a fair chance to the risingbeauties of the age." But the most conscious of the fair was Mollie belowwhose face was flushed and whose brown fingers were nervously twisting theribbons in her lapand I saw Buck nudge her and heard him whisper:
"Dave ain't going to pick you outI
tell ye. I heered Mr. Budd thar myself tell him he had to pick out someother gal."
"You hush!" said Mollie indignantly.
It looked as though the Knight of theCumberland had grown rebellious and meant to choose whom he pleasedbut on hisway back the Hon. Sam must have given more surreptitious signsfor the Knightof the Cumberland reined in before the Blight and held up his lance to her.Straightway the colors that were meant for Marston fluttered from the Knight ofthe Cumberland's spear. I saw Marston bite his lips and I saw Mollie's faceaflame with fury and her eyes darting lightning -- no longer at Marston nowbutat the Blight. The mountain girl held nothing against the city girl because ofthe Wild Dog's infatuationbut that her own loverno matter
The Knight of the Cumberlandreined in before the Blight.
what the Hon. Sam saidshould give his homage also to the Blightin her ownpresencewas too much. Mollie looked around no more. Again the Hon. Sam rose.
"Love of ladies" he shouted"splinteringof lances! Stand forthgallant knights. Fair eyes look upon your deeds! Tootagainson!"
Now just opposite the grandstand was a postsome ten feet highwith a small beam projecting from the top toward thespectators. From the end of this hung a wirethe end of which was slightlyupturned in line with the courseand on the tip of this wire a steel ring aboutan inch in diameter hung lightly. Nearly forty yards below this was a similarring similarly arranged; and at a similar distance below that was still anotherand at the blast from the
Hon. Sam's heraldthe gallant knights rode slowlytwo by twodown the liststo the western extremity -- the Discarded Knight and the Knight of theCumberlandstirrup to stirrupriding last -- where they all drew up in linesome fifty yards beyond the westernmost post. This distance they took that fullspeed might be attained before jousting at the first ringsince the course --much over one hundred yards long -- must be covered in seven seconds or lesswhich was no slow rate of speed. The Hon. Sam arose again:
"The Knight of the Holston!"
Farther down the lists a herald took up thesame cry and the good knight of Athelstanic build backed his steed from the lineand took his place at the head of the course.
With his hickory truncheon the Hon.
Sam signed to his trumpeter to sound the onset.
"Nowson!" he said.
With the blare of the trumpet Athelstanesprang from his place and came up the coursehis lance at rest; a tinklingsound and the first ring slipped down the knight's spear and when he swept pastthe last post there was a clapping of handsfor he held three ringstriumphantly aloft. And thus they cameone by oneuntil each had run thecourse three timesthe Discarded jousting next to the last and the Knight ofthe Cumberlandriding with a reckless CaveAdsum airthe very last. At thesecond joust it was quite evident that the victory lay between these twoasthey only had not lost a single ringand when the black horse thundered bytheHon. Sam shouted "Brave lance!" and jollied his
betting enemieswhile Buck hugged himself triumphantly and Mollie seemedtemporarily to lose her chagrin and anger in pride of her loverDave. On thethird running the Knight of the Cumberland excited a sensation by sittinguprightwaving his lance up and down between the posts and lowering it onlywhen the ring was within a few feet of its point. His recklessness cost him oneringbut as the Discarded had lost onethey were still tiedwith eight ringsto the credit of eachfor the first prize. Only four others were left -- theKnight of the Holston and the Knight of the Green Valley tying with seven ringsfor second prizeand the fat Maxwelton Braes and the Knight at Large tying withsix rings for the third. The crowd was eager now and the Hon. Sam confident. Oncame the Knight at Large
his face a rainbowhis plume wilted and one red base-ball stocking slipped fromits moorings -- two rings! On followed the fat Maxweltonhis plaid streamingand his kilts flapping about his fat legs -- also two rings!
"Egad!" quoth the Hon. Sam. "Didyon lusty trencherman of Annie Laurie's but put a few more layers of goodlyflesh about his ribsthereby projecting more his frontal Falstaffianproportionsby my halidomhe would have to joust tandem!"
On came Athelstane and the Knight of the GreenValleyboth with but two rings to their creditand on followed the Discardedriding easilyand the Knight of the Cumberland again waving his lance betweenthe postseach with three rings on his spear. At the end the Knight at Largestood thirdAthelstane secondand the Discarded and the Knight of the Cumber
land stood side by side at the head of the coursestill evenand now ready toend the joustfor neither on the second trial had missed a ring.
The excitement was intense now. Many peopleseemed to know who the Knight of the Cumberland wasfor there were shouts of"Go itDave!" from everywhere; the rivalry of class had entered thecontest and now it was a conflict between native and "furriner." TheHon. Sam was almost beside himself with excitement; now and then some man withwhom he had made a bet would shout jeeringly at him and the Hon. Sam would shoutback defiance. But when the trumpet sounded he sat leaning forward with his browwrinkled and his big hands clinched tight. Marston sped up the course first --three rings -- and there was a chorus of applauding yells.
"His horse is gittin' tired" saidthe Hon. Sam jubilantlyand the Blight's faceI noticedshowed for the firsttime faint traces of indignation. The Knight of the Cumberland was taking notheatrical chances now and he came through the course with level spear andwiththree rings on ithe shot by like a thunderbolt.
"Hooray!" shouted the Hon. Sam."Lordwhat a horse!" For the first time the BlightI observedfailed to applaudwhile Mollie was clapping her hands and Buck was giving outshrill yells of encouragement. At the next tilt the Hon. Sam had his watch inhis hand and when he saw the Discarded digging in his spurs he began to smileand he was looking at his watch when the little tinkle in front told him thatthe course was run.
"Did he get 'em all?"
"Yeshe got 'em all" mimicked theBlight.
"Yesan' he just did make it"chuckled the Hon. Sam. The Discarded had wheeled his horse aside from the courseto watch his antagonist. He looked pale and tired -- almost as tired as hisfoam-covered steed -- but his teeth were set and his face was unmoved as theKnight of the Cumberland came on like a demonsweeping off the last ring with alowrasping oath of satisfaction.
"I never seed Dave ride that-a-way afore"said Mollie.
"Meneither" chimed in Buck.
The nobles and ladies were wavinghandkerchiefsclapping handsand shouting. The spectators of better degreewere throwing up their hats and from every part
of the multitude the same hoarse shout of encouragement rose:
"Go itDave! Hooray for Dave!"while the boy on the telegraph-pole was seen to clutch wildly at the crossbar onwhich he sat -- he had come near tumbling from his perch.
The two knights rode slowly back to the headof the listswhere the Discarded was seen to dismount and tighten his girth.
"He's tryin' to git time to rest"said the Hon. Sam. "Tootson!"
"Shame!" said the little sister andthe Blight both at once so severely that the Hon. Sam quickly raised his hand.
"Hold on" he saidand with handstill uplifted he waited till Marston was mounted again. "Now!"
The Discarded came onusing his spurs
with every jumpthe red of his horse's nostrils showing that far awayand heswept onspearing off the rings with deadly accuracy and holding the threealoftbut having no need to pull in his panting steedwho stopped of his ownaccord. Up went a roarbut the Hon. Samcovertly glancing at his watchstillsmiled. That watch he pulled out when the Knight of the Cumberland started andhe smiled still when he heard the black horse's swiftrhythmic beat and helooked up only when that knightshouting to his horsemoved his lance up anddown before coming to the last ring andwith a dare-devil yellswept it fromthe wire.
"Tied -- tied!" was the shout;"they've got to try it again! they've got to try it again!"
The Hon. Sam rosewith his watch in
one hand and stilling the tumult with the other. Dead silence came at once.
"I fear me" he said"that thegood knightthe Discardedhas failed to make the course in the time requiredby the laws of the tournament." Bedlam broke loose again and the Hon. Samwaitedstill gesturing for silence.
"Summon the time-keeper!" he said.
The time-keeper appeared from the middle ofthe field and nodded.
"The Knight of the Cumberland wins"said the Hon. Sam.
The little sisterunconscious of her own sadfacenudged me to look at the Blight -- there were tears in her eyes.
Before the grandstand the knights slowly drewup again. Marston's horse
was so lame and tired that he dismounted and let a darky boy lead him under theshade of the trees. But he stood on foot among the other knightshis armsfoldedworn out and vanquishedbut taking his bitter medicine like a man. Ithought the Blight's eyes looked pityingly upon him.
The Hon. Sam arose with a crown of laurelleaves in his hand:
"You have fairly and gallantly wonSirKnight of the Cumberlandand it is now your right to claim and receive from thehands of the Queen of Love and Beauty the chaplet of honor which your skill hasjustly deserved. AdvanceSir Knight of the Cumberlandand dismount!"
The Knight of the Cumberland made no move norsound.
"Get off yo' hossson" said theHon. Sam kindly"and get down on yo' knees at the feet of them steps. Thisfair young Queen is a-goin' to put this chaplet on your shinin' brow. Thathorse'll stand."
The Knight of the Cumberlandafter a moment'shesitationthrew his leg over the saddle and came to the steps with a slouchinggait and looking about him right and left. The Blightblushing prettilytookthe chaplet and went down the steps to meet him.
"Unmask!" I shouted.
"Yesson" said the Hon. Sam"take that rag off."
Then Mollie's voiceclear and loudstartledthe crowd. "You better notDave Branhamfer if you do and this other galputs that thing on youyou'll never -- " What penalty she was going to
inflictI don't knowfor the Knight of the Cumberlandhalf kneelingsprangsuddenly to his feet and interrupted her. "Wait a minutewill ye?" hesaid almost fiercelyand at the sound of his voice Mollie rose to her feet andher face blanched.
"Lord God!" she said almost inanguishand then she dropped quickly to her seat again.
The Knight of the Cumberland had gone back tohis horse as though to get something from his saddle. Like lightning he vaultedinto the saddleand as the black horse sprang toward the opening tore his maskfrom his faceturned in his stirrupsand brandished his spear with a yell ofdefiancewhile a dozen voices shouted:
"The Wild Dog!" Then was there anuproar.
"Goddle mighty!" shouted the Hon.Sam. "I didn't do itI swear I didn't know it. He's tricked me -- he'stricked me! Don't shoot -- you might hit that hoss!"
There was no doubt about the Hon. Sam'sinnocence. Instead of turning over an outlaw to the policehe had brought himinto the inner shrine of law and order and he knew what a political asset forhis enemies that insult would be. And there was no doubt of the innocence ofMollie and Buck as they stoodMollie wringing her hands and Buck with openmouth and startled face. There was no doubt about the innocence of anybody otherthan Dave Branham and the dare-devil Knight of the Cumberland.
Marston had clutched at the Wild Dog's bridleand missed and the outlaw struck
savagely at him with his spear. Nobody dared to shoot because of the scatteringcrowdbut every knight and every mounted policeman took out after the outlawand the beating of hoofs pounded over the little mound and toward Poplar Hill.Marston ran to his horse at the upper endthrew his saddle onand hesitated --there were enough after the Wild Dog and his horse was blown. He listened to theyells and sounds of the chase encircling Poplar Hill. The outlaw was making forLee. All at once the yells and hoof-beats seemed to sound nearer and Marstonlistenedastonished. The Wild Dog had wheeled and was coming back; he was goingto make for the Gapwhere sure safety lay. Marston buckled his girth and as hesprang on his horseunconsciously taking his spear with himthe Wild Dogdashed from the
trees at the far end of the field. As Marston started the Wild Dog saw himpulled something that flashed from under his coat of mailthrust it back againand brandishing his spearhe camefull speed and yellingup the middle of thefield. It was a strange thing to happen in these modern daysbut Marston was anofficer of the law and was between the Wild Dog and the Ford and liberty throughthe Gapinto the hills. The Wild Dog was an outlaw. It was Marston's duty totake him.
The law does not prescribe with what weaponthe lawless shall be subduedand Marston's spear was the only weapon he had.Moreoverthe Wild Dog's yell was a challenge that set his blood afire and thegirl both loved was looking on. The crowd gathered the meaning of the joust --the knights were crashing toward each
other with spears at rest. There were a few surprised oaths from mena few lowcries from womenand then dead silence in which the sound of hoofs on the hardturf was like thunder. The Blight's face was white and the little sister wasgripping my arm with both hands. A third horseman shot into view out of thewoods at tight anglesto stop themand it seemed that the three horses mustcrash together in a heap. With a moan the Blight buried her face on my shoulder.She shivered when the muffled thud of body against body and the splintering ofwood rent the air; a chorus of shrieks arose about herand when she lifted herfrightened face Marstonthe Discardedwas limp on the groundhis horse wasstaggering to his feetand the Wild Dog was galloping past herhis helmetgleaminghis eyes ablaze
his teeth setthe handle of his broken spear clinched in his right handandblood streaming down the shoulder of the black horse. She heard the shots thatwere sent after himshe heard him plunge into the riverand then she saw andheard no more.
THE KNIGHT PASSES
A TELEGRAM summoned the Blighta home next day. Marston was in bed with a ragged wound in the shoulderand Itook her to tell him good-by. I left the room for a few minutesand when I cameback their hands were unclaspingand for a Discarded Knight the engineer surelywore a happy though pallid face.
That afternoon the train on which we left theGap was brought to a sudden halt in Wildcat Valley by a piece of red flanneltied to the end of a stick that was planted midway the track. Across the
trackfarther onlay a heavy piece of timberand it was plain that somebodymeant thatjust at that placethe train must stop. The Blight and I wereseated on the rear platform and the Blight was taking a last look at her belovedhills. When the train started againthere was a cracking of twigs overhead anda shower of rhododendron leaves and flowers dropped from the air at the feet ofthe Blight. And when we pulled away from the high-walled cut we sawmotionlesson a little mounda black horseand on himmotionlessthe Knight of theCumberlandthe helmet on his head (that the Blight might know who he wasnodoubt)and both hands clasping the broken handle of his spearwhich restedacross the pommel of his saddle. Impulsively the Blight waved her hand to him
and I could not help waving my hat; but he sat like a statue andlike a statuesat onsimply looking after us as we were hurried alonguntil horsebrokenshaftand shoulders sank out of sight. And thus passed the Knight of theCumberland with the last gleam that struck his helmetspear-likefrom theslanting sun.