A Cumberland Vendetta
John Fox, Jr.
Prepared by David Reed email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
A Cumberland Vendetta
by John Fox Jr.
TO MINERVA AND ELIZABETH
A Cumberland Vendetta
THE cave had been their hiding-place as children; it was a secret
refuge now against hunger or darkness when they were hunting in
the woods. The primitive meal was finished; ashes were raked
over the red coals; the slice of bacon and the little bag of meal
were hung high against the rock wall; and the two stepped from
the cavern into a thicket of rhododendrons.
Parting the bushes toward the dim light, they stood on a massive
shoulder of the mountain, the river girding it far below, and the
afternoon shadows at their feet. Both carried guns-the tall
mountaineer, a Winchester; the boy, a squirrel rifle longer than
himself. Climbing about the rocky spur, they kept the same level
over log and bowlder and through bushy ravine to the north. In half
an hour, they ran into a path that led up home from the river, and
they stopped to rest on a cliff that sank in a solid black wall
straight under them. The sharp edge of a steep corn-field ran near,
and, stripped of blade and tassel, the stalks and hooded ears looked
in the coming dusk a little like monks at prayer. In the sunlight
across the river the corn stood thin and frail. Over there a drought
was on it; and when drifting thistle-plumes marked the noontide of
the year, each yellow stalk had withered blades and an empty
sheath. Every-where a look of vague trouble lay upon the face of
the mountains, and when the wind blew, the silver of the leaves
showed ashen. Autumn was at hand.
There was no physical sign of kinship between the two,
half-brothers though they were. The tall one was dark; the boy, a
foundling, had flaxen hair, and was stunted and ~lender. He was a
dreamy~looking little fellow, and one may easily find his like
throughout the Cumberland -paler than his fellows, from staying
much indoors, with half-haunted face, and eyes that are deeply
pathetic when not cunning; ignorantly credited with idiocy and
uncanny powers; treated with much forbearance, some awe, and a
little contempt; and suffered to do his pleasure-nothing, or much
that is strange-without comment.
"I tell ye, Rome," he said, taking up the thread of talk that was
broken at the cave, "when Uncle Gabe says he's afeard thar's
trouble comm', hit's a-comm'; 'n' I want you to git me a Winchester.
I'm a-gittin' big enough now. I kin shoot might' nigh as good as
you, 'n' whut am I fit fer with this hyeh old pawpaw pop-gun?"
"I don't want you fightin', boy, I've told ye. Y'u air too little 'n'
puny, 'n' I want ye to stay home 'n' take keer o' mam 'n' the cattle-ef
fightin' does come, I reckon thar won't be triuch."
Don't ye? " cried the boy, with sharp contempt-" with ole Jas
Lewallen a-devilin' Uncle Rufe, 'n' that blackheaded young Jas
a-climbin' on stumps over thar 'cross the river, n' crowin' n' sayin'
out open in Hazlan that ye air afeard o him? Yes; 'n' he called me a
idgit." The boy's voice broke into a whimper of rage.
"Shet up, Isom! Don't you go gittin' mad now. You'll be sick ag'in.
I'll tend to him when the time comes." Rome spoke with rough
kindness, but ugly lines had gathered at his mouth and forehead.
The boy's tears came and went easily. He drew his sleeve across
his eyes, and looked up the river. Beyond the bend, three huge
birds rose into the sunlight and floated toward them. Close at
hand, they swerved side-wise.
"They hain't buzzards," he said, standing up, his anger gone; "look
at them straight wings!
Again the eagles swerved, and two shot across the river. The third
dropped with shut wings to the bare crest of a gaunt old poplar
"Hit's a young un, Rome Y" said the boy, excitedly. "He's goin' to
wait thar tell the old uns come back. Gimme that gun!
Catching up the Winchester, he slipped over the ledge; and Rome
leaned suddenly forward, looking down at the river.
A group of horsemen had ridden around the bend, and were
coming at a walk down the other shore. Every man carried
something across his saddle-bow. There was a gray horse among
them - young Jasper's - and an evil shadow came into Rome's face,
and quickly passed. Near a strip of woods the gray turned up the
mountain from the party, and on its back he saw the red glint of a
woman's dress. With a half-smile he watched the scarlet figure ride
from the woods, and climb slowly up through the sunny corn. On
the spur above and full in the rich yellow light, she halted, half
turning in her saddle. He rose to his feet, to his full height, his
head bare, and thrown far back between his big shoulders, and,
still as statues, the man and the woman looked at each other across
the gulf of darkening air. A full minute the woman sat motionless,
then rode on. At the edge of the woods she stopped and turned
The eagle under Rome leaped one stroke in the air, and dropped
like a clod into the sea of leaves. The report of the gun and a faint
cry of triumph rose from below. It was good marksmanship, but
on the cliff Rome did not heed it. Something had fluttered in the
air above the girl's head, and he laughed aloud. She was waving
her bonnet at him.
JUST where young Stetson stood, the mountains racing along each
bank of the Cumberland had sent out against each other, by mutual
impulse, two great spurs. At the river's brink they stopped sheer,
with crests uplifted, as though some hand at the last moment had
hurled them apart, and had led the water through the breach to
keep them at peace. To-day the crags looked seamed by thwarted
passion; and, sullen with firs, they made fit symbols of the human
hate about the base of each.
When the feud began, no one knew. Even the original cause was
forgotten. Both families had come as friends from Virginia long
ago, and had lived as enemies nearly half a century. There was
hostility before the war, but, until then, little bloodshed. Through
the hatred of change, characteristic of the mountaineer the world
over, the Lewallens were for the Union. The Stetsons owned a few
slaves, and they fought for them. Peace found both still neighbors
and worse foes. The war armed them, and brought back an
ancestral contempt for human life; it left them a heritage of
lawlessness that for mutual protection made necessary the very
means used by their feudal forefathers; personal hatred supplanted
its dead issues, and with them the war went on. The Stetsons had a
good strain of Anglo-Saxon blood, and owned valley-lands; the
Lewallens kept store and made "moonshine"; so kindred and
debtors and kindred and tenants were arrayed with one or the other
leader, and gradually the retainers of both settled on one or the
other side of the river. In time of hostility the Cumberland came
to be the boundary between life and death for the dwellers on each
shore. It was feudalism born again.
Above one of the spurs each family had its home; the Stetsons,
under the seared face of Thunderstruck Knob; the Lewallens, just
beneath the wooded rim of Wolf's Head. The eaves and chimney
of each cabin were faintly visible from the porch of the other. The
first light touched the house of the Stetsons; the last, the Lewallen
cabin. So there were times when the one could not turn to the
sunrise nor the other to the sunset but with a curse in his heart, for
his eye must fall on the home of his enemy.
For years there had been peace. The death of Rome Stetson's
father from ambush, and the fight in the court-house square, had
forced it. After that fight only four were left-old Jasper Lewallen
and young Jasper, the boy Rome and his uncle, Rufe Stetson.
Then Rufe fled to the West, and the Stetsons were helpless. For
three years no word was heard of him, but the hatred burned in the
heart of Rome's mother, and was traced deep in her grim old face
while she patiently waited the day of retribution. It smouldered,
too, in the hearts of the women of both clans who had lost
husbands or sons or lovers; and the friends and kin of each had
little to do with one another, and met and passed with watchful
eyes. Indeed, it would take so little to turn peace to war that the
wonder was that peace had lived so long. Now trouble was at hand.
Rufe Stetson had come back at last, a few months since, and had
quietly opened store at the county-seat, Hazlan-a little town five
miles up the river, where Troubled Fork runs seething into the
Cumberland-a point of neutrality for the factions, and
consequently a battIe-ground. Old Jasper's store was at the other
end of the town, and the old man had never been known to brook
competition. He had driven three men from Hazlan during the last
term of peace for this offence, and everybody knew that the fourth
must leave or fight. Already Rufe Stetson had been warned not to
appear outside his door after dusk. Once or twice his wife had seen
skulking shadows under the trees across the road, and a tremor of
anticipation ran along both banks of the Cumberland.
A FORTNIGHT later, court came. Rome was going to Hazlan, and
the feeble old Stetson mother limped across the porch from the
kitchen, trailing a Winchester behind her. Usually he went
unarmed, but he took the gun now, as she gave it, in silence.
The boy Isom was not well, and Rome had told him to ride the
horse. But the lad had gone on afoot to his duties at old Gabe
Bunch's mill, and Rome himself rode down Thunderstruck Knob
through the mist and dew of the early morning. The sun was
coming up over Virginia, and through a dip in Black Mountain the
foot-hills beyond washed in blue waves against its white disk. A
little way down the mountain, the rays shot through the gap upon
him, and, lancing the mist into tatters, and lighting the dew-drops,
set the birds singing. Rome rode, heedless of it all, under primeval
oak and poplar, and along rain-clear brooks and happy waterfalls,
shut in by laurel and rhododendron, and singing past mossy stones
and lacelike ferns that brushed his stirrup. On the brow of every
cliff he would stop to look over the trees and the river to the other
shore, where the gray line of a path ran aslant Wolf's Head, and
was lost in woods above and below.
At the river he rode up-stream, looking still across it. Old Gabe
Bunch halloed to him from the doorway of the mill, as he splashed
through the creek, and Isom's thin face peered through a breach in
the logs. At the ford beyond, he checked his horse with a short
oath of pleased surprise. Across the water, a scarlet dress was
moving slowly past a brown field of corn. The figure was
bonneted, but he knew the girl's walk and the poise of her head
that far away. Just who she was, however, he did not know, and he
sat irresolute. He had seen her first a month since, paddling along
the other shore, erect, and with bonnet off and hair down; she had
taken the Lewallen path up the mountain. Afterward, he saw her
going at a gallop on young Jasper's gray horse, bareheaded again,
and with her hair loose to the wind, and he knew she was one of
his enemies. He thought her the girl people said young Jasper was
going to marry, and he had watched her the more closely. From
the canoe she seemed never to notice him; but he guessed, from
the quickened sweep of her paddle, that she knew he was looking
at her, and once, when he halted on his way home up the
mountain, she half turned in her saddle and looked across at him.
This happened again, and then she waved her bonnet at him. It was
bad enough, any Stetson seeking any Lewallen for a wife, and for
him to court young Jasper's sweetheart-it was a thought to laugh at.
But the mischief was done. The gesture thrilled him, whether it
meant defiance or good-will, and the mere deviltry of such a
courtship made him long for it at every sight of her with the river
between them. At once he began to plan how he should get near
her, but, through some freak, she had paid no further heed to him.
He saw her less often-for a week, in-deed, he had not seen her at
all till this day-and the forces that hindrance generates in an
imperious nature had been at work within him. The chance now
was one of gold, and with his life in his hand he turned into the
stream. Across, he could see something white on her shoulder-an
empty bag. It was grinding~day, and she was going to the mill-the
Lewallen mill. She stopped as he galloped up, and turned, pushing
back her bonnet with one hand; and he drew rein. But the friendly,
expectant light in her face kindled to such a blaze of anger in her
eyes that he struck his horse violently, as though the beast had
stopped of its own accord, and, cursing himself, kept on. A little
farther, he halted again. Three horsemen, armed with
Winchesters, were jogging along toward town ahead of him, and
he wheeled about sharply. The girl, climbing rapidly toward Steve
Bray-ton's cabin, was out of the way, but he was too late to reach
the ford again. Down the road two more Lewallens with guns
were in sight, and he lashed his horse into the stream where the
water was deep. Old Gabe, looking from the door of his mill, quit
laughing to himself; and under cover of the woods, the girl
watched man and horse fighting the tide. Twice young Stetson
turned his head. But his enemies apparently had not seen him, and
horse and rider scrambled up the steep bank and under shelter of
the trees. The girl had evidently learned who he was. Her sudden
anger was significant, as was the sight of the Lewallens going
armed to court, and Rome rode on, uneasy.
When he reached Troubled Fork, in sight of Hazlan, he threw a
cartridge into place and shifted the slide to see that it was ready for
use. Passing old Jasper's store on the edge of the town, he saw the
old man's bushy head through the open door, and Lewallens and
Braytons crowded out on the steps and looked after him. All were
armed. Twenty paces farther he met young Jasper on his gray, and
the look on his enemy's face made him grip his rifle. With a
flashing cross-fire from eye to eye, the two passed, each with his
thumb on the hammer of his Winchester. The groups on the
court-house steps stopped talking as he rode by, and turned to look
at him. He saw none of his own friends, and he went on at a gallop
to Rufe Stetson's store. His uncle was not in sight. Steve Marcum
and old Sam Day stood in the porch, and inside a woman was
crying. Several Stetsons were near, and all with grave faces
gathered about him.
He knew what the matter was before Steve spoke. His uncle had
been driven from town. A last warning had come to him on the day
before. The hand of a friend was in the caution, and Rufe rode
away at dusk. That night his house was searched by men masked
and armed. The Lewallens were in town, and were ready to fight.
The crisis had come.
BACK at the mill old Gabe was troubled. Usually he sat in a
cane-bottomed chair near the hopper, whittling, while the lad
tended the mill, and took pay in an oaken toll-dish smooth with the
use of half a century. But the incident across the river that morning
had made the old man uneasy, and he moved restlessly from his
chair to the door, and back again, while the boy watched him,
wondering what the matter was, but asking no questions. At noon
an old mountaineer rode by, and the miller hailed him.
"Any news in town?" he asked.
"Hain't been to town. Reckon fightin' 's goin' on thar from whut I
heerd." The careless, high-pitched answer brought the boy with
wide eyes to the door.
Whut d'ye hear? " asked Gabe. Jes heerd fightin' 's goin' on!
Then every man who came for his meal brought a wild rumor from
town, and the old miller moved his chair to the door, and sat there
whittling fast, and looking anxiously toward Hazlan. The boy was
in a fever of unrest, and old Gabe could hardly keep him in the
mill. In the middle of the afternoon the report of a rifle came
down the river, breaking into echoes against the cliffs below, and
Isom ran out the door, and stood listening for another, with an odd
contradiction of fear and delight on his eager face. In a few
moments Rome Stetson galloped into sight, and, with a shrill cry
of relief, the boy ran down the road to meet him, and ran back,
holding by a stirrup. Young Stetson's face was black with passion,
and his eyes were heavy with drink. At the door of the mill he
swung from his horse, and for a moment was hardly able to speak
from rage. There had been no fight. The Stetsons were few and
unprepared. They had neither the guns nor, without Rufe, the
means to open the war, and they believed Rufe had gone for arms.
So they had chafed in the store all day, and all day Lewallens on
horseback and on foot were in sight; and each was a taunt to every
Stetson, and, few as they were, the young and hot-headed wanted
to go out and fight. In the afternoon a tale-bearer had brought some
of Jasper's boasts to Rome, and, made reckless by moonshine and
much brooding, he sprang up to lead them. Steve Marcum, too,
caught up his gun, but old Sam's counsel checked him, and the two
by force held Rome back. A little later the Lewallens left town.
The Stetsons, too, disbanded, and on the way home a last drop of
gall ran Rome's cup of bitterness over. Opposite Steve Brayton's
cabin a jet of smoke puffed from the bushes across the river, and a
bullet furrowed the road in front of him. That was the shot they
had heard at the mill. Somebody was drawing a dead-line," and
Rome wheeled his horse at the brink of it. A mocking yell came
over the river, and a gray horse flashed past an open space in the
bushes. Rome knew the horse and knew the yell; young Jasper
was "bantering" him. Nothing maddens the mountaineer like this
childish method of insult; and telling of it, Rome sat in a corner,
and loosed a torrent of curses against young Lewallen and his clan.
Old Gabe had listened without a word, and the strain in his face
was eased. Always the old man had stood for peace. He believed
it had come after the court-house fight, and he had hoped against
hope, even when Rufe came back to trade against old Jasper; for
Rufe was big and good-natured, and unsuspected of resolute
purpose, and the Lewallens' power had weakened. So, now that
Rufe was gone again, the old miller half believed he was gone for
good. Nobody was hurt; there was a chance yet for peace, and with
a rebuke on his tongue and relief in his face, the old man sat back
in his chair and went on whittling. The boy turned eagerly to a
crevice in the logs and, trembling with excitement, searched the
other bank for Jasper's gray horse, going home.
He called me a idgit," he said to himself, with a threatening shake
of his head. "Jes wouldn't I like to hev a chance at him! Rome ull
git him! Rome ull git him!"
There was no moving point of white on the broad face of the
mountains nor along the river road. Jasper was yet to come and,
with ears alert to every word behind him, the lad fixed his eyes
where he should see him first.
"Oh, he didn't mean to hit me. Not that he ain't mean enough to
shoot from the bresh," Rome broke out savagely. "That's jes whut
I'm afeard he will do. Thar was too much daylight fer him. Ef he
jes don't come a-sneakin' over hyeh, 'n' waitin' in the lorrel atter
dark fer me, it's all I axe."
Waitin' in the lorrel! " Old Gabe could hold back no longer. "Hit's
a shame, a burn-in' shame! I don' know whut things air comm' to!
'Pears like all you young folks think about is killin' somebody.
Folks usen to talk about how fer they could kill a deer; now it's
how fer they kin kill a man. I hev knowed the time when a man
would 'a' been druv out o' the county fer drawin' a knife ur a pistol;
'n' ef a feller was ever killed, it was kinder accidental, by a Barlow.
I reckon folks got use' to weepons 'n' killin' 'n' bushwhackin' in the
war. Looks like it's been gittin' wuss ever sence, 'n' now hit's dirk 'n'
Winchester, 'n' shootin' from the bushes all the time. Hit's wuss 'n
stealin' money to take a feller-creetur' s life that way!
The old miller's indignation sprang from memories of a better
youth. For the courtesies of the code went on to the Blue Grass,
and before the war the mountaineer fought with English fairness
and his fists. It was a disgrace to use a deadly weapon in those
days; it was a disgrace now not to use it.
Oh, I know all the excuses folks make," he went on: " hit's fa'r fer
one as 'tis fer t'other; y'u can't fight a man fa'r 'n' squar' who'll shoot
you in the back; a pore man can't fight money in the couhts; 'n' thar
hain't no witnesses in the lorrel but leaves; 'n' dead men don't hev
much to say. I know it all. Hit's cur'us, but it act'-ally looks like
lots o' decent young folks hev got usen to the idee-thar's so much
of it goin' on, 'n' thar's so much talk 'bout killin' 'n' layin' out in the
lorrel. Reckon folks 'll git to pesterm' women n' strangers bimeby,
'n' robbin' 'n' thievin'. Hit's bad enough thar's so leetle law thet
folks hev to take it in their own hands oncet in a while, but this
shootin' from the bresh-hit's p'int'ly a sin 'n' shame! Why," he
concluded, pointing his remonstrance as he always did, "I seed
your grandad and young Jas's fight up thar in Hazlan full two hours
'fore the war-fist and skull-'n' your grandad was whooped. They
got up and shuk hands. I don't see why folks can't fight that way
now. I wish Rufe 'n' old Jas 'n' you 'n' young Jas could have it out
fist and skull, 'n' stop this killin' o' people like hogs. Thar's nobody
left but you four. But thar's no chance o' that, I reckon."
"I'll fight him anyway, 'n' I reckon ef he don't die till I lay out in the
lorrel fer him, he'll live a long time. Ef a Stetson ever done sech
meanness as that I never heerd it."
Nother hev I," said the old man, with quick justice. " You air a
over-bearin' race, all o' ye, but I never knowed ye to be that mean.
Hit's all the wus fer ye thet ye air in sech doin's. I tell ye, Rome--
A faint cry rose above the drone of the millstones, and old Gabe
stopped with open lips to listen. The boy's face was pressed close
to the logs. A wet paddle had flashed into the sunlight from out
the bushes across the river. He could just see a canoe in the
shadows under them, and with quick suspicion his brain pictured
Jasper's horse hitched in the bushes, and Jasper stealing across the
river to waylay Rome. But the canoe moved slowly out of sight
downstream and toward the deep water, the paddler unseen, and
the boy looked around with a weak smile. Neither seemed to have
heard him. Rome was brooding, with his sullen face in his hands;
the old miller was busy with his own thoughts; and the boy turned
again to his watch.
Jasper did not come. Isom's eyes began to ache from the steady
gaze, and now and then he would drop them to the water swirling
beneath. A slow wind swayed the overhanging branches at the
mouth of the stream, and under them was an eddy. Escaping this,
the froth and bubbles raced out to the gleams beating the air from
the sunlit river. He saw one tiny fleet caught; a mass of yellow
scum bore down and, sweeping through bubbles and eddy, was
itself struck into fragments by something afloat. A tremulous
shadow shot through a space of sunlight into the gloom cast by a
thicket of rhododendrons, and the boy caught his breath sharply. A
moment more, and the shape of a boat and a human figure
quivered on the water running under him. The stern of a Lewallen
canoe swung into the basin, and he sprang to his feet.
"Rome!" The cry cut sharply through the drowsy air. " Thar he is!
The old miller rose to his feet. The boy threw himself behind the
sacks of grain. Rome wheeled for his rifle, and stood rigid before
the door. There was a light step without, the click of a gun-lock
within; a shadow fell across the doorway, and a girl stood at the
threshold with an empty bag in her hand.
WITH a little cry she shrank back a step. Her face paled and her
lips trembled, and for a moment she could not speak. But her eyes
swept the group, and were fixed in two points of fire on Rome.
"Why don't ye shoot! "she asked, scornfully.
"I hev heerd that the Stetsons have got to makin war on
women-folks, but I never believed it afore." Then she turned to
Kin I git some more meal hyeh? " she asked. " Or have ye stopped
sellin' to folks on t'other side? " she added, in a tone that sought no
"You kin have all ye want," said old Gabe, quietly.
"The mill on Dead Crick is broke ag'in," she continued, " 'n' co'n is
skeerce on our side. We'll have to begin buyin' purty soon, so I
thought I'd save totin' the co'n down hyeh." She handed old Gabe
the empty bag.
Well,'' said he, '' as it air gittin' late, 'n' ye have to climb the
mountain ag'in, I'll let ye have that comm' out o' the hopper now.
Take a cheer."
The girl sat down in the low chair, and, loos ening the strings of
her bonnet, pushed it back from her head. An old-fashioned horn
comb dropped to the floor, and when she stooped to pick it up she
let her hair fall in a head about her shoulders. Thrusting one hand
under it, she calmly tossed the whole mass of chestnut and gold
over the back of the chair, where it fell rippling like water through
a bar of sunlight. With head thrown back and throat bared, she
shook it from side to side, and, slowly coiling it, pierced it with the
coarse comb. Then passing her hands across her forehead and
temples, as women do, she folded them in her lap, and sat
motionless. The boy, crouched near, held upon her the mesmeric
look of a serpent. Old Gabe was peering covertly from under the
brim of his hat, with a chuckle at his lips. Rome had fallen back to
a corner of the mill, sobered, speechless, his rifle in a nerveless
hand. The passion that fired him at the boy's warning had as
swiftly gone down at sight of the girl, and her cutting rebuke made
him hot again with shame. He was angry, too-more than
angry-because he felt so helpless, a sensation that was new and
stifling. The scorn of her face, as he remembered it that morning,
hurt him again while he looked at her. A spirit of contempt was
still in her eyes, and quivering about her thin lips and nostrils. She
had put him beneath further notice, and yet every toss of her head,
every movement of her hands, seemed meant for him, to irritate
him. And once, while she combed her hair, his brain whirled with
an impulse to catch the shining stuff in one hand and to pinion
both her wrists with the other, Just to show her that he was master,
and still would harm her not at all. But he shut his teeth, and
watched her. Among mountain women the girl was more than
pretty; elsewhere only her hair, perhaps, would have caught the
casual eye. She wore red homespun and coarse shoes; her hands
were brown and hardened. Her arms and shoulders looked
muscular, her waist was rather large-being as nature meant it-and
her face in repose had a heavy look. But the poise of her head
suggested native pride and dignity; her eyes were deep, and full of
changing lights; the scarlet dress, loose as it was, showed rich
curves in her figure, and her movements had a certain childlike
grace. Her brow was low, and her mouth had character; the chin
was firm, the upper lip short, and the teeth were even and white.
"I reckon thar's enough to fill the sack, Isom," said the old miller,
breaking the strained silence of the group. The girl rose and
handed him a few pieces of silver.
I reckon I'd better pay fer it all," she said. I s'pose I won't be over
Old Gabe gave some of the coins back.
"Y'u know whut my price al'ays is," he said.
I'm obleeged," answered the girl, flushing.
"Co'n hev riz on our side. I thought mebbe you charged folks over
thar more, anyways."
"I sells fer the same, ef co'n is high ur low," was the answer. "This
side or t'other makes no diff'unce to me. I hev frien's on both
sides, 'n' I take no part in sech doin's as air a shame to the
There was a quick light of protest in the girl's dark eyes; but the
old miller was honored by both factions, and without a word she
turned to the boy, who was tying the sack.
The boat's loose! " he called out, with. the string between his teeth;
and she turned again and ran out. Rome stood still.
Kerry the sack out, boy, 'n' holp the gal." Old Gabe's voice was
stern, and the young mountaineer doggedly swung the bag to his
shoulders. The girl had caught the rope, and drawn the rude
dugout along the shore.
"Who axed ye to do that?" she asked, angrily.
Rome dropped the bag into the boat, and merely looked her in the
"Look hyeh, Rome Stetson"-the sound of his name from her lips
almost startled him-"I'll hev ye understan' that I don't want to be
bounden to you, nor none o' yer kin."
Turning, she gave an impatient sweep with her paddle. The prow
of the canoe dipped and was motionless. Rome had caught the
stern, and the girl wheeled in hot anger. Her impulse to strike may
have been for the moment and no longer, or she may have read
swiftly no unkindness in the mountaineer's steady look; for the
uplifted oar was stayed in the air, as though at least she would hear
"I've got nothin' ag'in' you," he said, slowly, Jas Lewallen hev been
threatenin' me, 'n' I thought it was him, 'n' I was ready fer him,
when you come into the mill. I wouldn't hurt you nur no other
woman. Y'u ought to know it, 'n' ye do know it."
The words were masterful, but said in a way that vaguely soothed
the girl's pride, and the oar was let slowly into the water.
"I reckon y'u air a friend o' his," he added, still quietly. "I've seed
ye goin' up thar, but I've got nothin' ag'in' ye, whoever ye be."
She turned on him a sharp look of suspicion. "I reckon I do be a
friend o' hisn," she said, deliberately; and then she saw that he was
in earnest. A queer little smile went like a ray of light from her
eyes to her lips, and she gave a quick stroke with her paddle. The
boat shot into the current, and was carried swiftly toward the
Cumberland. The girl stood erect, swaying through light and
shadow like a great scarlet flower blowing in the wind; and Rome
watched her till she touched the other bank. Swinging the sack out,
she stepped lightly after it, and, without looking behind her,
disappeared in the bushes.
The boy Isom was riding away when Rome, turned, and old Gabe
was watching from the door of the mill.
Who is that gal? " he asked, slowly. It seemed somehow that he
had known her a long while ago. A puzzled frown overlay his
face, and the old miller laughed.
"You a-axin' who she be, 'n' she a-axin who you be, 'n' both o' ye
a-knowin' one 'nother sence ye was knee-high. Why, boy, hit's old
IN a flash of memory Rome saw the girl as vividly as when he last
saw her years ago.
They had met at the mill, he with his father, she with hers. There
was a quarrel, and the two men were held apart. But the old sore
as usual was opened, and a week later Rome's father was killed
from the brush. He remembered his mother's rage and grief, her
calls for vcngeance, the uprising, the fights, plots, and ambushes.
He remembered the look the girl had given him that long ago, and
her look that day was little changed.
When fighting began, she had been sent for safety to the sister of
her dead mother in another county. When peace came, old Jasper
married again and the girl refused to come home. Lately the
step-mother, too, had passed away, and then she came back to live.
All this the old miller told in answer to Rome's questions as the
two walked away in the twilight. This was why he had not
recognized her, and why her face yet seemed familiar even when
he crossed the river that morning.
"Uncle Gabe, how do you reckon the gal knowed who I was?"
"She axed me."
"She axed you! Whar?"
Over thar in the mill." The miller was watching the young
mountaineer closely. The manner of the girl was significant when
she asked who Rome was, and the miller knew but one reason
possible for his foolhardiness that morning.
"Do you mean to say she have been over hyeh afore?"
"Why, yes, come to think about it, three or four times while Isom
was sick, and whut she come fer I can't make out. The mill over
thar wasn't broke long, 'n' why she didn't go thar or bring more co'n
at a time, to save her the trouble o' so many trips, I can't see to save
Young Stetson was listening eagerly. Again the miller cast his
Mebbe she's spyin'."
Rome faced him, alert with suspicion; but old Gabe was laughing
"Don't you be a fool, Rome. The gal comes and goes in that boat,
'n' she couldn't see a soul without my knowin' it. She seed ye ridin'
by one day, 'n' she looked mighty cur'us when I tole her who ye
Old Gabe stopped his teasing, Rome's face was so troubled, and
himself grew serious.
"Rome," he said, earnestly, "I wish to the good Lord ye wasn't in
sech doin's. Ef that had been young Jas 'stid o' Marthy, I reckon ye
would 'a' killed him right thar."
"I wasn't going to let him kill me," was the sullen answer.
The two had stopped at a rickety gate swinging open on the road.
The young mountaineer was pushing a stone about with the toe of
his boot. He had never before listened to remonstrance with such
patience, and old Gabe grew bold.
"You've been drinkin' ag'in, Rome," he said, sharply, " 'n' I know it.
Hit's been moonshine that's whooped you Stetsons, not the
Lewallens, long as I kin rickollect, 'n' it ull be moonshine ag'in ef
ye don't let it alone."
Rome made no denial, no defence. "Uncle Gabe," he said slowly,
still busied with the stone, " hev that gal been over hyeh sence y'u
tol' her who I was?"
The old man was waiting for the pledge that seemed on his lips,
but he did not lose his temper.
Not till to-day," he said, quietly.
Rome turned abruptly, and the two separated with no word of
parting. For a moment the miller watched the young fellow
striding away under his rifle.
"I have been atter peace a good while," he said to himself, " but I
reckon thar's a bigger hand a-workin' now than mine." Then he
lifted his voice. "Ef Isom's too sick to come down to the mill
to-morrer, I wish you'd come 'n' holp me."
Rome nodded back over his shoulder, and went on, with head bent,
along the river road. Passing a clump of pines at the next curve, he
pulled a bottle from his pocket.
"Uncle Gabe's about right, I reckon," he said, half aloud; and he
raised it above his head to hurl it away, but checked it in mid-air.
For a moment he looked at the colorless liquid, then, with quick
nervousness, pulled the cork of sassafras leaves, gulped down the
pale moonshine, and dashed the bottle against the trunk of a beech.
The fiery stuff does its work in a hurry. He was thirsty when he
reached the mouth of a brook that tumbled down the mountain
along the pathway that would lead him home, and he stooped to
drink where the water sparkled in a rift of dim light from
overhead. Then he sat upright on a stone, with his wide hat-brim
curved in a crescent over his forehead, his hands caught about his
knees, and his eyes on the empty air.
He was scarcely over his surprise that the girl was young
Lewallen's sister, and the discovery had wrought a curious change.
The piquant impulse of rivalry was gone, and something deeper
was taking its place. He was confused and a good deal troubled,
thinking it all over. He tried to make out what the girl meant by
looking at him from the mountain-side, by waving her bonnet at
him, and by coming to old Gabe's mill when she could have gone
to her own. To be sure, she did not know then who he was, and
she had stopped coming when she learned; but why had she
crossed again that day? Perhaps she too was bantering him, and he
was at once angry and drawn to her; for her mettlesome spirit
touched his own love of daring, even when his humiliation was
most bitter-when she told him he warred on women; when he held
out to her the branch of peace and she swept it aside with a stroke
of her oar. But Rome was little conscious of the weight of subtle
facts like these. His unseeing eyes went back to her as she combed
her hair. He saw the color in her cheeks, the quick light in her
eyes, the naked, full throat once more, and the wavering forces of
his unsteady brain centred in a stubborn resolution-to see it all
again. He would make Isom stay at home, if need be, and he
would take the boy's place at the mill. If she came there no more,
he would cross the river again. Come peace or war, be she friend
or enemy, he would see her. His thirst was fierce again, and, with
this half-drunken determination in his heart, he stooped once more
to drink from the cheerful little stream. As he rose, a loud curse
smote the air. The river, pressed between two projecting cliffs,
was narrow at that point, and the oath came across the water. An
instant later a man led a lamed horse from behind a bowlder, and
stooped to examine its leg. The dusk was thickening, but Rome
knew the huge frame and gray beard of old Jasper Lewallen. The
blood beat in a sudden tide at his temples, and, half by instinct, he
knelt behind a rock, and, thrusting his rifle through a crevice,
cocked it softly.
Again the curse of impatience came over the still water, and old
Jasper rose and turned toward him. The glistening sight caught in
the centre of his beard. That would take him in the throat; it might
miss, and he let the sight fall till the bullet would cut the fringe of
gray hair into the heart. Old Jasper, so people said, had killed his
father in just this way; he had driven his uncle from the mountains;
he was trying now to revive the feud. He was the father of young
Jasper, who had threatened his life, and the father of the girl whose
contempt had cut him to the quick twice that day. Again her taunt
leaped through his heated brain, and his boast to the old miller
followed it. His finger trembled at the trigger.
"No; by--, no! "he breathed between his teeth; and old Jasper
passed on, unharmed.
NEXT day the news of Rufe Stetson's flight went down the river
on the wind, and before nightfall the spirit of murder was loosed
on both shores of the Cumberland. The more cautious warned old
Jasper. The Stetsons were gaining strength again, they said; so
were their feudsmen, the Marcums, enemies of the Braytons, old
Jasper's kinspeople. Keeping store, Rufe had made money in the
West, and money and friends right and left through the mountains.
With all his good-nature, he was a persistent hater, and he was
shrewd. He had waited the chance to put himself on the side of the
law, and now the law was with him. But old Jasper laughed
contemptuously. Rufe Stetson was gone again, he said, as he had
gone before, and this time for good. Rufe had tried to do what
nobody had done, or could do, while he was alive. Anyway, he
was reckless, and he cared little if war did come again. Still, the
old man prepared for a fight, and Steve Marcum on the other shore
made ready for Rufe's return.
It was like the breaking of peace in feudal days. The close kin of
each leader were already about him, and now the close friends of
each took sides. Each leader trading in Hazlan had debtors
scattered through the mountains, and these rallied to aid the man
who had befriended them. There was no grudge but served a
pretext for partisanship in the coming war. Political rivalry had
wedged apart two strong families, the Marcums and Braytons; a
boundary line in dispute was a chain of bitterness; a suit in a
country court had sown seeds of hatred.
Sometimes it was a horse-trade, a fence left down, or a gate left
open, and the trespassing of cattle; in one instance, through spite, a
neighbor had docked the tail of a neighbor's horse-had " muled his
critter," as the owner phrased the outrage. There was no old sore
that was not opened by the crafty leaders, no slumbering bitterness
that they did not wake to life. " Help us to revenge, and we will
he!p you," was the whispered promise. So, had one man a grudge
against another, he could set his foot on one or the other shore,
sure that his enemy would be fighting for the other.
Others there were, friends of neither leader, who, under stress of
poverty or hatred of work, would fight with either for food and
clothes; and others still, the ne'er-do-wells and outlaws, who
fought by the day or month for hire. Even these were secured by
one or the other faction, for Steve and old Jasper left no resource
untried, knowing well that the fight, if there was one, would be
fought to a quick and decisive end. The day for the leisurely feud,
for patient planning, and the slow picking off of men from one
side or the other, was gone. The people in the Blue Grass, who
had no feuds in their own country, were trying to stop them in the
mountain. Over in Breathitt, as everybody knew, soldiers had
come from the " settlemints," had arrested the leaders, and had
taken them to the Blue Grass for the feared and hated ordeal of
trial by a jury of "bigoted furriners." On the heels of the soldiers
came a young preacher up from the Jellico hills, half " citizen,"
half furriner," with long black hair and a scar across his forehead,
who was stirring up the people, it was said, " as though Satan was
atter them." Over there the spirit of the feud was broken, and a
good effect was already perceptible around Hazlan. In past days
every pair of lips was sealed with fear, and the non-combatants left
crops and homes, and moved down the river, when trouble began.
Now only the timid considered this way of escape. Steve and old
Jasper found a few men who refused to enter the fight. Several,
indeed, talked openly against the renewal of the feud, and
somebody, it was said, had dared to hint that he would send to the
Governor for aid if it should break out again. But these were
rumors touching few people.
For once again, as time and time again before, one bank of the
Cumberland was arrayed with mortal enmity against the other, and
old Gabe sat, with shaken faith, in the door of his mill. For years
he had worked and prayed for peace, and for a little while the
Almighty seemed lending aid. Now the friendly grasp was
loosening, and yet the miller did all he could. He begged Steve
Marcum to urge Rufe to seek aid from the law when the latter
came back; and Steve laughed, and asked what justice was
possible for a Stetson, with a Lewallen for a judge and Braytons
for a jury. The miller pleaded with old Jasper, and old Jasper
pointed to the successes of his own life.
"I hev triumphed ag'in' my enemies time 'n' ag'in," he said. "The
Lord air on my side, 'n' I gits a better Christian ever' year." The old
man spoke with the sincerity of a barbarism that has survived the
dark ages, and, holding the same faith, the miller had no answer.
It was old Gabe indeed who had threatened to send to the
Governor for soldiers, and this he would have done, perhaps, had
there not been one hope left, and only one. A week had gone, and
there was no word from Rufe Stetson. Up on Thunderstruck Knob
the old Stetson mother was growing pitiably eager and restless.
Every day she slipped like a ghost through the leafless woods and
in and out the cabin, kindling hatred. At every dawn or dusk she
was on her porch peering through the dim light for Rufe Stetson.
Steve Marcum was ill at ease. Rome Stetson alone seemed
unconcerned, and his name was on every gossiping tongue.
He took little interest and no hand in getting ready for the war. He
forbade the firing of a gun till Rufe came back, else Steve should
fight his fight alone. He grew sullen and morose. His old mother's
look was a thorn in his soul, and he stayed little at home. He hung
about the mill, and when Isom became bedfast, the big
mountaineer, who had never handled anything but a horse, a
plough, or a rifle, settled him-self, to the bewilderment of the
Stetsons, into the boy's duties, and nobody dared question him.
Even old Gabe jested no longer. The matter was too serious.
Meanwhile the winter threw off the last slumbrous mood of
autumn, as a sleeper starts from a dream. A fortnight was gone,
and still no message came from the absent leader. One shore was
restive, uneasy; the other confident, mocking. Between the two,
Rome Stetson waited his chance at the mill.
DAY was whitening on the Stetson shore. Across the river the air
was still sharp with the chill of dawn, and the mists lay like flocks
of sheep under shelter of rock and crag. A peculiar cry radiated
from the Lewallen cabin with singular resonance on the crisp
air-the mountain cry for straying cattle. A soft low came from a
distant patch of laurel, and old Jasper's girl, Martha, folded. her
hands like a conch at her mouth, and the shrill cry again startled
Ye better come, ye pieded cow-brute." Picking up a cedar piggin,
she stepped from the porch toward the meek voice that had
answered her. Temper and exertion had brought the quick blood
to her face. Her head was bare, her thick hair was loosely coiled,
and her brown arms were naked almost to the shoulder. At the
stable a young mountaineer was overhauling his riding-gear.
Air you goin' to ride the hoss to-day, Jas?" she asked, querulously.
"That's jes whut I was aimin' to do. I'm a-goin' to town."
Well, I 'lowed I was goin' to mill to-day. The co'n is 'mos' gone."
"Well, y'u 'lowed wrong," he answered, imperturbably.
Y'u're mean, Jas Lewallen," she cried, hotly; " that's whut ye air,
The young mountaineer looked up, whistled softly, and laughed.
But when he brought his horse to the door an hour later there was a
bag of corn across the saddle.
"As ye air so powerful sot on goin' to mill, whether or no, I'll leave
this hyeh sack at the bend O' the road, 'n' ye kin git it thar. I'll
bring the meal back ef ye puts it in the same place. I hates to see
women-folks a-ridin' this horse. Hit spiles him."
The horse was a dapple-gray of unusual beauty, and as the girl
reached out her hand to stroke his throat, he turned to nibble at her
"I reckon he'd jes as lieve have me ride him as you, Jas," she said.
" Me 'n' him have got to be great friends. Ye orter n't to be so
Well, he ain't no hoss to be left out'n the bresh now, 'n' I hain't goin'
to 'low it."
Old Jasper had lounged out of the kitchen door, and stood with his
huge bulk against a shrinking pillar of the porch. The two men
were much alike. Both had the same black, threatening brows
meeting over the bridge of the nose. A kind of grim humor lurked
about the old man's mouth, which time might trace about young
Jasper's. The girl's face had no humor; the same square brows,
apart and clearly marked, gave it a strong, serious cast, and while
she had the Lewallen fire, she favored her mother enough, so the
neighbors said, "to have a mighty mild, takin' way about her ef she
You're right, Jas," the old mountaineer said; "the hoss air a sin 'n'
temptation. Hit do me good ever' time I look at him. Thar air no
sech hoss, I tell ye, this side o' the settlements."
The boy started away, and the old man followed, and halted him
out of the girl's hearing.
"Tell Eli Crump 'n' Jim Stover to watch the Breathitt road close
now," he said, in a low voice. " See all them citizens I tol' ye, 'n'
tell 'em to be ready when I says the word. Thar's no tellin' whut's
goin' to happen."
Young Jasper nodded his head, and struck his horse into a gallop.
The old man lighted his pipe, and turned back to the house. The
girl, bonnet in hand, was starting for the valley.
"Thar ain't no use goin' to Gabe Bunch's fer yer grist," he said. "
The mill on Dead Crick's a-runnin' ag'in, 'n' I don't want ye over
thar axin favors, specially jes now."
"I lef' somethin' fer ye to eat, dad," she replied, " ef ye gits hungry
before I git back."
You heerd me? " he called after her, knitting his brows.
Yes, dad; I heerd ye," she answered, adding to herself, " But I don't
heed ye." In truth, the girl heeded nobody. It was not her way to
ask consent, even her own, nor to follow advice. At the bend of the
road she found the bag, and for an instant she stood wavering. An
impulse turned her to the river, and she loosed the boat, and
headed it across the swift, shallow water from the ford and straight
toward the mill. At every stroke of her paddle the water rose above
the prow of the boat, and, blown into spray, flew back and
drenched her; the wind loosed her hair, and, tugging at her skirts,
draped her like a statue; and she fought them, wind and water,
with mouth set and a smile in her eyes. One sharp struggle still,
where the creek leaped into freedom; the mouth grew a little
firmer, the eyes laughed more, the keel grated on pebbles, and the
boat ran its nose into the withered sedge on the Stetson shore.
A tall gray figure was pouring grain into the hopper when she
reached the door of the mill. She stopped abruptly, Rome Stetson
turned, and again the two were face to face. No greeting passed.
The girl lifted her head with a little toss that deepened the set look
about the mountaineer's mouth; her lax figure grew tense as
though strung suddenly against some coming harm, and her eyes
searched the shadows without once resting on him.
Whar's Uncle Gabe? " She spoke shortly, and as to a stranger.
Gone to town," said Rome, composedly. He had schooled himself
for this meeting.
When's he comm' back?
Not 'fore night, I reckon."
Well, who's tendin' this mill?
For answer he tossed the empty bag into the corner and, without
looking at her, picked up another bag.
"I reckon ye see me, don't ye? " he asked, coolly. " Hev a cheer,
and rest a spell. Hit's a purty long climb whar you come from."
The girl was confused. She stayed in the doorway, a little helpless
and suspicious. What was Rome Stetson doing here? His mastery
of the situation, his easy confidence, puzzled and irritated her.
Should she leave? The mountaineer was a Stetson, a worm to
tread on if it crawled across the path. It would be like backing
down before an enemy. He might laugh at her after she was gone,
and, at that thought, she sat down in the chair with composed face,
looking through the door at the tumbling water, which broke with
a thousand tints under the sun, but able still to see Rome,
sidewise, as he moved about the hopper, whistling softly.
Once she looked around, fancying she saw a smile on his sober
face. Their eyes came near meeting, and she turned quite away.
Ever seed a body out'n his head?
The girl's eyes rounded with a start of surprise.
Well, it's plumb cur'us. Isom's been that way lately. Isom's sick,
ye know. Uncle Gabe's got the rheumatiz, 'n' Isom's mighty fond o'
Uncle Gabe, 'n' the boy pestered me till I come down to he'p him.
Hit p'int'ly air strange to hear him talkin'. He's jes a-ravin' 'bout
hell 'n' heaven, 'n' the sin o' killin' folks. You'd ha' thought he hed
been convicted, though none o' our fambly hev been much atter
religion. He says as how the wrath uv a livin' God is a-goin' to
sweep these mount ins, ef some mighty tall repentin' hain't done.
Of co'se he got all them notions from Gabe. But Isom al'ays was
quar, 'n' seed things hisself. He ain't no fool!"
The girl was listening. Morbidly sensitive to the supernatural, she
had turned toward him, and her face was relaxed with fear and
"He's havin' dreams 'n' sech-like now, 'n' I reckon thar's nothing
he's seed or heerd that he don' talk about. He's been a-goin' on
about you," he added, abruptly. The girl's hands gave a nervous
twitch. "Oh, he don't say nothin' ag'in' ye. I reckon he tuk a fancy
to ye. Mam was plumb distracted, not knowin' whar he had seed
ye. She thought it was like his other talk, 'n' I never let
on-a-knowin' how mam was." A flush rose like a flame from the
girl's throat to her hair. " But hit's this," Rome went on in an
unsteady tone, "that he talks most about, 'n' I'm sorry myself that
trouble's a-comm'." He dropped all pretence now. "I've been
a-watchin' fer ye over thar on t' other shore a good deal lately. I
didn't know ye at fust, Marthy "-he spoke her name for the first
time-' 'n' Gabe says y'u didn't know me. I remembered ye, though,
'n' I want to tell ye now what I tol' ye then: I've got nothin' ag'in
you. I was hopin' ye mought come over ag'in-hit was sorter cur'us
that y'u was the same gal-the same gal-"
His self-control left him; he was halting in speech, and blundering
he did not know where. Fumbling an empty bag at the hopper, he
had not dared to look at the girl till he heard her move. She had
risen, and was picking up her bag. The hard antagonism of her
face calmed him instantly.
Hain't ye goin' to have yer grist ground?
Not hyeh," she answered, quickly.
"Why, gal " He got no further. Martha was gone, and he followed
her to the bank, bewildered.
The girl's suspicion, lulled by his plausible explanation, had grown
sharp again. The mountaineer knew that she had been coming
there. He was at the mill for another reason than to take the boy's
place; and with swift in-tuition she saw the truth.
He got angry as she rode away-angry with himself that he had let
her go; and the same half-tender, half-brutal impulse seized him as
when he saw her first. This time he yielded. His horse was at
hand, and the river not far below was narrow. The bridle-path that
led to the Lewallen cabin swerved at one place to a cliff
overlooking the river, and by hard riding and a climb of a few
hundred feet on foot he could overtake her half-way up the
The plan was no more than shaped before he was in the saddle and
galloping down the river. The set of his face changed hardly a line
while he swam the stream, and, drenched to the waist, scaled the
cliff. When he reached the spot, he found the prints of a woman's
shoe in the dust of the path, going down. There were none
returning, and he had not long to wait. A scarlet bit of color soon
flashed through the gray bushes below him. The girl was without
her bag of corn. She was climbing slowly, and was looking at the
ground as though in deep thought. Reckless as she was, she had
come to realize at last just what she had done. She had been
pleased at first, as would have been any woman, when she saw the
big mountaineer watching her, for her life was lonely. She had
waved her bonnet at him from mere mischief. She hardly knew it
herself, but she had gone across the river to find out who he was.
She had shrunk from him as from a snake thereafter, and had gone
no more until old Jasper had sent her because the Lewallen mill
was broken, and because she was a woman, and would be safe
from harm. She had met him then when she could not help
herself. But now she had gone of her own accord. She had given
this Stetson, a bitter enemy, a chance to see her, to talk with her.
She had listened to him; she had been on the point of letting him
grind her corn. And he knew how often she had gone to the mill,
and he could not know that she had ever been sent. Perhaps he
thought that she had come to make overtures of peace, friendship,
even more. The suspicion reddened her face with shame, and her
anger at him was turned upon herself. Why she had gone again that
day she hardly knew. But if there was another reason than simple
perversity, it was the memory of Rome Stetson's face when he
caught her boat and spoke to her in a way she could not answer.
The anger of the moment came with every thought of the incident
afterward, and with it came too this memory of his look, which
made her at once defiant and uneasy. She saw him now only when
she was quite close, and, startled, she stood still; his stern look
brought her the same disquiet, but she gave no sign of fear.
Whut's the matter with ye?
The question was too abrupt, too savage, and the girl looked
straight at him, and her lips tightened with a resolution not to
speak. The movement put him beyond control.
"Y'u puts hell into me, Marthy Lewallen; y'u puts downright hell
into me." The words came between gritted teeth. "I want to take
ye up 'n' throw ye off this cliff clean into the river, 'n' I reckon the
next minute I'd jump off atter ye. Y'u've 'witched me, gal! I forgits
who ye air 'n' who I be, 'n' sometimes I want to come over hyeh 'n'
kerry ye out'n these mount ins, n' nuver come back. You know
whut I've been watchin' the river fer sence the fust time I seed ye.
You know whut I've been a-stayin' at the mill fer, 'n' Steve mad 'n'
mam a-jowerin'-'n' a-lookin' over hyeh fer ye night 'n' day! Y'u
know whut I've jes swum over hyeh fer! Whut's the matter with
Martha was not looking for a confession like this. It took away her
shame at once, and the passion of it thrilled her, and left her
trembling. While he spoke her lashes drooped quickly, her face
softened, and the color came back to it. She began intertwining her
fingers, and would not look up at him.
Ef y'u hates me like the rest uv ye, why don't ye say it right out?
'N' ef ye do hate me, whut hev you been lookin' 'cross the river fer,
'n' a-shakin' yer bonnet at me, 'n' paddlin' to Gabe's fer yer grist,
when the mill on Dead Crick's been a-runnin', 'n' I know it? You've
been banterin' me, hev ye? "-the blood rose to his eyes again. " Ye
mustn't fool with me, gal, by , ye mustn't. Whut hev you been
goin' over thar fer? " He even took a threatening step toward her,
and, with a helpless gesture, stopped. The girl was a little
frightened. Indeed, she smiled, seeing her power over him; she
seemed even about to laugh outright; but the smile turned to a
quick look of alarm, and she bent her head suddenly to listen to
something below. At last she did speak. "Somebody's comm'! "
she said. " You'd better git out O' the way," she went on,
hurriedly. "Somebody's comm', I tell ye! Don't ye hear?
It was no ruse to get rid of him. The girl's eyes were dilating.
Something was coming far below. Rome could catch the faint
beats of a horse's hoofs. He was unarmed, and he knew it was
death for him to be seen on that forbidden mountain; but he was
beyond caution, and ready to welcome any vent to his passion, and
he merely shook his head.
Ef it's Satan hisself, I hain't goin' to run." The hoof-beats came
nearer. The rider must soon see them from the coil below.
Rome, hit's Jas! He's got his rifle, and he'll kill ye, 'n' me too! "
The girl was white with distress. She had called him by his name,
and the tone was of appeal, not anger. The black look passed from
his face, and he caught her by the shoulders with rough tenderness;
but she pushed him away, and without a word he sprang from the
road and let himself noiselessly down the cliff. The hoof-beats
thundered above his head, and Young Jasper's voice hailed Martha.
This hyeh's the bigges' meal I ever straddled. Why d'n't ye git the
For a moment the girl did not answer, and Rome waited,
breathless. " Wasn't the mill runnin'? Whyn't ye go on 'cross the
That's whut I did," said the girl, quietly. Uncle Gabe wasn't thar, 'n'
Rome Stetson was. I wouldn't 'low him to grin' the co 'n, 'n' so I
toted hit back."
Rome Stetson! " The voice was lost in a volley of oaths.
The two passed out of hearing, and Rome went plunging down the
mountain, swinging recklessly from one little tree to another, and
wrenching limbs from their sockets out of pure physical ecstasy.
When he reached his horse he sat down, breathing heavily, on a
bed of moss, with a strange new yearning in his heart. If peace
should come! Why not peace, if Rufe should not come back? He
would be the leader then, and without him there could be no war.
Old Jasper had killed his father. He was too young at the time to
feel poignant sorrow now, and somehow he could look even at that
death in a fairer way. His father had killed old Jasper's brother.
So it went back: a Lewallen killed a Stetson; that Stetson had
killed a Lewallen, until one end of the chain of deaths was lost,
and the first fault could not be placed, though each clan put it on
the other. In every generation there had been compromises-
periods of peace; why not now? Old Gabe would gladly help him.
He might make friends with young Jasper; he might even end the
feud. And then-he and Martha-why not? He closed his eyes, and
for one radiant moment t all seemed possible. And then a gaunt
image rose in the dream, and only the image was left. It was the
figure of his mother, stern and silent through the years, opening
her grim lips rarely without some curse against the Lewallen race.
He remembered she had smiled for the first time when she heard
of the new trouble-the flight of his uncle and the hope of conflict.
She had turned to him with her eyes on fire and her old hands
clinched. She had said nothing, but he understood her look. And
now-Good God! what would she think and say if she could know
what he had done? His whole frame twitched at the thought, and,
with a nervous spring to escape it, he was on his feet, and starting
down the mountain.
Close to the river he heard voices below him, and he turned his
horse quickly aside into the bushes. Two women who had been
washing clothes passed, carrying white bundles home. They were
talking of the coming feud.
"That ar young Stetson ain't much like his dad," said one. "Young
Jas has been a-darin' 'n' a-banterin' him, 'n' he won't take it up. They
say he air turnin' out a plumb coward."
When he reached the Stetson cabin three horses with drooping
heads were hitched to the fence. All had travelled a long way.
One wore a man's saddle; on the others were thick blankets tied
together with leathern thongs.
In the dark porch sat several men. Through the kitchen door he
could see his mother getting supper. Inside a dozen rifles leaned
against the wall in the firelight, and about their butts was a pile of
ammunition. In the doorway stood Rufe Stetson.
ALL were smoking and silent. Several spoke from the shadows as
Rome stepped on the porch, and Rufe Stetson faced him a moment
in the doorway, and laughed.
Seem kinder s'prised? " he said, with a searching look. " Wasn't
lookin' for me? I reckon I'll s'prise sev'ral ef I hev good-luck."
The subtlety of this sent a chuckle of appreciation through the
porch, but Rome passed in without answer.
Isom lay on his bed within the circle of light, and his face in the
brilliant glow was white, and his eyes shone feverishly. " Rome,"
he said, excitedly, " Uncle Rufe's hyeh, 'n' they laywayed him,
'n'____" He paused abruptly. His mother came in, and at her call
the mountaineers trooped through the covered porch, and sat down
to supper in the kitchen. They ate hastily and in silence, the
mother attending their wants, and Rome helping her. The meal
finished, they drew their chairs about the fire. Pipes were lighted,
and Rufe Stetson rose and closed the door.
Thar's no use harryin' the boy," he said; "I reckon he'll be too puny
to take a hand."
The mother stopped clearing the table, and sat on the rock hearth
close to the fire, her withered lips shut tight about a lighted pipe,
and her sunken eyes glowing like the coal of fire in its black bowl.
Now and then she would stretch her knotted hands nervously into
the flames, or knit them about her knees, looking closely at the
heavy faces about her, which had lightened a little with
expectancy. Rufe Stetson stood before the blaze, his hands
clasped behind him, and his huge figure bent in reflection. At
intervals he would look with half-shut eyes at Rome, who Sat with
troubled face outside the firelight. Across the knees of Steve
Marcum, the best marksman in the mountains, lay the barrel of a
new Winchester. Old Sam Day, Rufe's father-in-law and
counsellor to the Stetsons for a score of years, sat as if asleep on
the opposite side of the fireplace from the old mother, with his big
square head pressed down between his misshapen shoulders.
"The time hev come, Rome." Rufe spoke between the puffs of his
pipe, and Rome's heart quickened, for every eye was upon him.
Thar's goin' to be trouble now. I hear as how young Jasper hev
been talkin' purty tall about ye-'lowin' as how ye air afeard O' him."
Rome felt his mother's burning look. He did not turn toward her
nor Rufe, but his face grew sullen, and his voice was low and
harsh. "I reckon he'll find out about that when the time comes," he
said, quietly-too quietly, for the old mother stirred uneasily, and
significant glances went from eye to eye. Rufe did not look up
from the floor. He had been told about Rome's peculiar conduct,
and, while the reason for it was beyond guessing, he knew the
temper of the boy and how to kindle it. He had thrust a thorn in a
tender spot, and he let it rankle. How sorely it did rankle he little
knew. The voice of the woman across the river was still in Rome 5
ears. Nothing cuts the mountaineer to the quick like the name of
coward. It stung him like the lash of an ox-whip then; it smarted
all the way across the river and up the mountain. Young Jasper
had been charging him broadcast with cowardice, and Jasper's
people no doubt believed it. Perhaps his own did
-his uncle, his mother. The bare chance of such a humiliation set
up an inward rage. He wondered how he could ever have been
such a fool as to think of peace. The woman's gossip had swept
kindly impulses from his heart with a fresh tide of bitterness, and,
helpless now against its current, he sullenly gave way, and let his
passions loose to drift with it.
"Whar d' ye git the guns, Rufe? " Steve was testing the action of
the Winchester with a kindling look, as the click of the locks
struck softly through the silence.
"Jackson; 'way up in Breathitt, at the eend of the new road."
"No wonder y'u've been gone so long."
"I had to wait thar fer the guns, 'n' I had to travel atter dark comm'
back, 'n' lay out'n the bresh by day. Hit's full eighty mile up thar."
"Air ye shore nobody seed ye?"
The question was from a Marcum, who had come in late, and
several laughed. Rufe threw back his dusty coat, which was ripped
through the lapel by a bullet.
They seed me well 'nough fer that," he said, grimly, and then he
looked toward Rome, who thought of old Jasper, and gave back a
gleam of fierce sympathy. There were several nods of approval
along with the laugh that followed. It was a surprise-so little
consideration of an escape so narrow-from Rufe; for, as old Gabe
said, Rufe was big and good-natured, and was not thought fit for
leadership. But there was a change in him when he came back
from the West. He was quieter; he laughed less No one spoke of
the difference; it was too vague; but every one felt it, and it had an
effect. His flight had made many uneasy, but his return, for that
reason, brought a stancher fealty from these; and this was evident
now. All eyes were upon him, and all tongues, even old Sam's,
waited now for his to speak.
"Whut we've got to do, we've got to do mighty quick," he began, at
last. " Things air changin'. I seed it over thar in Breathitt. The
soldiers 'n' that scar-faced Jellico preacher hev broke up the fightin'
over thar, 'n' ef we don't watch out, they'll be a-doin' it hyeh, when
we start our leetle frolic. We hain't got no time to fool. Old Jas
knows this as well as me, 'n' thar's goin' to be mighty leetle chance
fer 'em to layway 'n' pick us off from the bresh. Thar's goin' to be
fa'r fightin' fer once, thank the Lord. They bushwhacked us dunn'
the war, 'n' they've laywayed us 'n' shot us to pieces ever sence; but
now, ef God A'mighty's willin', the thing's a-goin' to be settled one
way or t'other at last, I reckon."
He stopped a moment to think. The men's breathing could be
heard, so quiet was the room, and Rufe went on telling in detail,
slowly, as if to himself, the wrongs the Lewallens had done his
people. When he came to old Jasper his voice was low, and his
manner was quieter than ever.
"Now old Jas have got to the p'int whar he says as how nobody in
this county kin undersell him 'n' stay hyeh. Old Jas druv Bond
Vickers out'n the mount 'ins fer tryin' hit. He druv Jess Hale away;
'n' them two air our kin."
The big mountaineer turned then, and knocked the ashes from his
pipe. His eyes grew a little brighter, and his nostrils spread, but
with a sweep of his arm he added, still quietly:
"Y' all know whut he's done."
The gesture lighted memories of personal wrongs in every breast;
he had tossed a fire-brand among fagots, and an angry light began
to burn from the eyes that watched him.
"Ye know, too, that he thinks he has played the same game with
me; but ye don't know, I reckon, that he had ole Jim Stover 'n' that
mis'-able Eli Crump a-hidin' in the bushes to shoot me "-again he
grasped the torn lapel; "that a body warned me to git away from
Hazlan; n' the night I left home they come thar to kill me, 'n'
s'arched the house, 'n' skeered Mollie n' the leetle gal 'most to
The mountaineer's self-control was lost suddenly in a furious oath.
The men did know, but in fresh anger they leaned forward in their
chairs, and twisted about with smothered curses. The old woman
had stopped smoking, and was rocking her body to and fro. Her
lips were drawn in upon her toothless gums, and her pipe was
clinched against her sunken breast. The head of the old
mountaineer was lifted, and his eyes were open and shining
"I hear as how he says I'm gone fer good. Well, I have been kinder
easy-goin', hatin' to fight, but sence the day I seed Rome's dad thar
dead in his blood, I hev had jes one thing I wanted to do. Thar
wasn't no use stayin' hyeh; I seed that. Rome thar was too leetle,
and they was too many fer me. I knowed it was easier to git a new
start out West, 'n' when I come back to the mount'in, hit was to do
jes-whut I'm - going - to - do - now." He wheeled suddenly upon
Rome, with one huge hand lifted. Under it the old woman's voice
rose in a sudden wail:
Yes; 'n' I want to see it done befoh I die. I hain't hyeh fer long, but I
hain't goin' to leave as long as ole Jas is hyeh, 'n' I want ye all to
know it. Ole Jas hev got to go fust. You hear me, Rome? I'm
a-talkin' to you; I'm a-talkin' to you. Hit's yo' time now!
The frenzied chant raised Rome from his chair. Rufe himself took
up the spirit of it, and his voice was above all caution.
"Yes, Rome! They killed him, boy. They sneaked on him, 'n' shot
him to pieces from the bushes. Yes; hit's yo' time now! Look
hyeh, boys! " He reached above the fireplace and took down an
old rifle-his brother's-which the old mother had suffered no one to
touch. He held it before the fire, pointing to two crosses made near
the flash-pan. " Thar's one fer ole Jim Lewallen! Thar's one fer
ole Jas! He got Jim, but ole Jas has got him, 'n' thar's his cross thar
yit! Whar's yo' gun, Rome? Shame on ye, boy!"
The wild-eyed old woman was before him. She had divined Rufe's
purpose, and was already at his side, with Rome's Winchester in
one hand and a clasp-knife in the other. Every man was on his
feet; the door was open, and the boy Isom was at the threshold, his
eyes blazing from his whitc face. Rome had strode forward.
Yes, boy; now's the time, right hyeh before us all!
The mother had the knife outstretched. Rome took it, and the
scratch of the point on the hard steel went twice through the
stillness-one more fer the young un"; the voice was the old
mother's-then twice again.
The moon was sinking when Rome stood in the door alone. The
tramp of horses was growing fainter down the mountain. The trees
were swaying in the wind below him, and he could just see the
gray cliffs on the other shore. The morning seemed far away; it
made him dizzy looking back to it through the tumult of the day.
Somewhere in the haze was the vision of a girl's white face-white
with distress for him. Her father and her brother he had sworn to
kill. He had made a cross for each, and each cross was an oath.
He closed the door; and then he gave way, and sat down with his
head in both hands. The noises in the kitchen ceased. The fire
died away, and the chill air gathered about him. When he rose, the
restless eyes of the boy were upon him from the shadows.
IT was court-day in Hazlan, but so early in the morning nothing
was astir in the town that hinted of its life on such a day. But for
the ring of a blacksmith's anvil on the quiet air, and the fact that
nowhere was a church-spire visible, a stranger would have thought
that the peace of Sabbath overlay a village of God-fearing people.
A burly figure lounged in the porch of a rickety house, and yawned
under a swinging sign, the rude letters of which promised" private
entertainment " for the traveller unlucky enough to pass that way.
In the one long, narrow main street, closely flanked by log and
framed houses, nothing else human was in sight. Out from this
street, and in an empty square, stood the one brick building in the
place, the court-house, brick without, brick within; unfinished,
unpencilled, unpainted; panes out of the windows, a shutter off
here and there, or swinging drunkenly on one hinge; the door wide
op en, as though there was no privacy within-a poor structure, with
the look of a good man gone shiftless and fast going wrong.
Soon two or three lank brown figures appeared from each direction
on foot; then a horseman or two, and by and by mountaineers came
in groups, on horse and on foot. In time the side alleys and the
court-house square were filled with horses and mules, and even
steers. The mountaineers crowded the narrow street: idling from
side to side; squatting for a bargain on the wooden sidewalks;
grouping on the porch of the rickety hotel, and on the court-house
steps loitering in and out of the one store in sight. Out in the street
several stood about a horse, looking at his teeth, holding his eyes
to the sun, punching his ribs, twisting his tail; while the phlegmatic
owner sat astride the submissive beast, and spoke short answers to
rare questions. Everybody talked politics, the crop failure, or the
last fight at the seat of some private war; but nobody spoke of a
Lewallen or a Stetson unless he knew his listener's heart, and said
it in a whisper. For nobody knew when the powder would flash, or
who had taken sides, or that a careless word might not array him
with one or the other faction.
A motley throng it was-in brown or gray homespun, with trousers
in cowhide boots, and slouched hats with brims curved according
to temperament, but with striking figures in it; the patriarch with
long, white hair, shorn even with the base of the neck, and bearded
only at the throat-a justice of the peace, and the sage of his district;
a little mountaineer with curling black hair and beard, and dark,
fine features; a grizzled giant with a head rugged enough to have
been carelessly chipped from stone; a bragging candidate claiming
everybody's notice; a square- shouldered fellow surging through
the crowd like a stranger; an open-faced, devil-may- care young
gallant on fire with moonshine; a skulking figure with brutish
mouth and shifting eyes. Indeed, every figure seemed distinct; for,
living apart from his neighbor, and troubling the law but little in
small matters of dispute, the mountaineer preserves independence,
and keeps the edges of his individuality unworn. Apparently there
was not a woman in town. Those that lived there kept housed, and
the fact was significant. Still, it was close to noon, and yet not a
Stetson or a Lewallen had been seen. The stores of Rufe and old
Jasper were at the extremities of the town, and the crowd did not
move those ways. It waited in the centre, and whetted impatience
by sly trips in twos and three to stables or side alleys for "mountain
dew." Now and then the sheriff, a little man with a mighty voice,
would appear on the courthouse steps, and summon a witness to
court, where a frightened judge gave instructions to a frightened
jury. But few went, unless called; for the interest was outside;
every man in the streets knew that a storm was nigh, and was
waiting to see it burst.
Noon passed. A hoarse bell and a whining hound had announced
dinner in the hotel. The guests were coming again into the streets.
Eyes were brighter, faces a little more flushed, and the
"moonshine" was passed more openly. Both ways the crowd
watched closely. The quiet at each end of the street was ominous,
and the delay could last but little longer. The lookers-on
themselves were getting quarrelsome. The vent must come soon,
or among them there would be trouble.
Thar comes Jas Lewallen! " At last. A dozen voices spoke at
once. A horseman had appeared far down the street from the
Lewallen end. The clouds broke from about the sun, and a dozen
men knew the horse that bore him; for the gray was prancing the
street sidewise, and throwing the sunlight from his flanks. Nobody
followed, and the crowd was puzzled. Young Jasper carried a
Winchester across his saddle-bow, and, swaying with the action of
his horse, came on.
"What air he about?"
"He's a plumb idgit."
He mus' be crazy."
The wonder ceased. Young Jasper was reeling. Two or three
Stetsons slipped from the crowd, and there was a galloping of
hoofs the other way. Another horseman appeared from the
Lewallen end, riding hastily. The new-comer's errand was to call
Jasper back. But the young dare-devil was close to the crowd, and
was swinging a bottle over his head.
Come back hyeh, Jas! Come hyeh!" The new-comer was shouting
afar off while he galloped. Horses were being untethered from the
side alleys. Several more Lewallen riders came in sight. They
could see the gray shining in the sunlight amid the crowd, and the
man sent after him halted at a safe distance, gesticulating; and
they, too, spurred forward.
Hello, boys! " young Jasper was calling out, as he swayed from
side to side, the people everywhere giving him way.
"Fun to-day, by- ! fun to-day! Who'll hev a drink? Hyeh's hell to
the Stetsons, whar some of 'em '11 be afore night!
With a swagger he lifted the bottle to his lips, and, stopping short,
let it fall untouched to the ground. He had straightened in his
saddle, and was looking up the street. With a deep curse he threw
the Winchester to his shoulder, fired, and before his yell had died
on his lips horse and rider were away like a shaft of light. The
crowd melted like magic from the street. The Stetsons, chiefly on
foot, did not return the fire, but halted up the street, as if parleying.
Young Jasper joined his party, and they, too, stood still a moment,
puzzled by the irresolution of the other side.
"Watch out! they're gittin' round ye! Run for the court-house, ye
fools !-ye, run! " The voice came in a loud yell from somewhere
down the street, and its warning was just in time.
A wreath of smoke came about a corner of the house far down the
street, and young Jasper yelled, and dashed up a side alley with his
followers. A moment later judge, jury, witnesses, and sheriff were
flying down the court-house steps at the point of Lewallen guns;
the Lewallen horses, led by the gray, were snorting through the
streets; their riders, barricaded in the forsaken court-house, were
puffing a stream of fire and smoke from every window of
court-room below and jury-room above.
The streets were a bedlam. The Stetsons were yelling with
triumph. The Lewallens were divided, and Rufe placed three
Stetsons with Winchesters on each side of the courthouse, and kept
them firing. Rome, pale and stern, hid his force between the
square and the Lewallen store. He was none too quick. The rest
were coming on, led by old Jasper. It was reckless, riding that
way right into death; but the old man believed young Jasper's life
at stake, and the men behind asked no questions when old Jasper
led them. The horses' hoofs beat the dirt street like the crescendo
of thunder. The fierce old man's hat was gone, and his mane-like
hair was shaking in the wind. Louder-and still the Stetsons were
quiet-quiet too long. The wily old man saw the trap, and, with a
yell, whirled the column up an alley, each man flattening over his
saddle. From every window, from behind every corner and tree,
smoke belched from the mouth of a Winchester. Two horses went
down; one screamed; the other struggled to his feet, and limped
away with an empty saddle. One pf the fallen men sprang into
safety behind a house, and one lay still, with his arms stretched out
and his face in the dust.
From behind barn, house, and fence the Lewallens gave back a
scattering fire; but the Stetsons crept closer, and were plainly in
greater numbers. Old Jasper was being surrounded, and he
mounted again, and all, followed by a chorus of bullets and
triumphant yells, fled for a wooded slope in the rear of the
court-house. A dozen Lewallens were prisoners, and must give up
or starve. There was savage joy in the Stetson crowd, and
many-footed rumor went all ways that night.
Despite sickness and Rome's strict order, Isom had ridden down to
the mill. Standing in the doorway, he and old Gabe saw up the
river, where the water broke into foam over the ford, a riderless
gray horse plunging across. Later it neighed at a gate under Wolf's
Head, and Martha Lewallen ran out to meet it. Across under
Thunderstruck Knob that night the old Stetson mother listened to
Isom's story of the fight with ghastly joy in her death-marked face.
ALL night the court-house was guarded and on guard. At one
corner of the square Rufe Stetson, with a few men, sat on watch in
old Sam Day's cabin-the fortress of the town, built for such a
purpose, and used for it many times before. The prisoners, too,
were alert, and no Stetson ventured into the open square, for the
moon was high; an exposure anywhere was noted instantly by the
whistle of a rifle-ball, and the mountaineer takes few risks except
under stress of drink or passion. Rome Stetson had placed pickets
about the town wherever surprise was possible. All night he
patrolled the streets to keep his men in such readiness as he could
for the attack that the Lewallens would surely make to rescue their
living friends and to avenge the dead ones.
But the triumph was too great and unexpected. Two Braytons
were dead; several more were prisoners with young Jasper in the
courthouse; and drinking began.
As the night deepened without attack the Stetsons drank more, and
grew reckless. A dance was started. Music and "moonshine" were
given to every man who bore a Winchester. The night was broken
with drunken yells, the random discharge of fire-arms, and the
mono-tone of heavy feet. The two leaders were helpless, and the
inaction of the Lewallens puzzled them. Chafed with anxiety, they
kept their eyes on the court-house or on the thicket of gloom where
their enemies lay. But the woods were as quiet as the pall of
shadows over them. Once Rome, making his rounds, saw a figure
crawling through a field of corn. It looked like Crump's, but
before he could fire the man rolled like a ball down the bushy bank
to the river. An instant later some object went swiftly past a side
street-somebody on horseback-and a picket fired an alarm. The
horse kept on, and Rome threw his rifle on a patch of moonlight,
but when the object flashed through, his finger was numbed at the
trigger. In the moonlight the horse looked gray, and the rider was
seated sidewise. A bullet from the court-house clipped his hat-brim
as he ran recklessly across the street to where Steve Marcum stood
in the dark behind old Sam's cabin.
"Jim Hale 'll git him as he goes up the road," said Steve,
calmly-and then with hot impatience, "Why the hell don't he
Rome started forward in the moonlight, and Steve caught his arm.
Two bullets hissed from the court-house, and he fell back.
A shot sounded from the bushes far away from the road. The horse
kept on, and splashed into Troubled Fork, and Steve swore bitterly.
"Hit hain't Jim. Hit's that mis'able Bud Vickers; he's been a-stan
din' guard out'n the bushes 'stid o' the road. That was a spy, I tell
ye, 'n' the coward let him in and let him out. They'll know now
we're all drunk! Whut's the matter?
Rome's mouth was half open. He looked white and sick, and Steve
thought he had been hit, but he took off his hat. " Purty close! " he
said, with a laugh, pointing at the bullet-hole through the brim.
Steve, unsuspicious, went on: "Hit was a spy, I tell ye. Bud was
afeard to stan' in the road, 'n' I'm goin' out thar 'n' twist his damned
neck. We've got 'em, Rome! I tell ye, we've got 'em! Ef we kin git
through this night, and git the boys sober in the morning, we've got
The night did pass in safety, darkness wore away without attack,
and morning broke on the town in its drunken stupor. Then the
curious silence of the Lewallens was explained. The rumor came
that old Jasper was dead, and it went broadcast. Later, friends
coming to the edge of the town for the bodies of the dead
Lewallens confirmed it. A random ball had passed through old
Lewallen's body in the wild flight for the woods, and during the
night he had spent his last breath in a curse against the man who
Then each Stetson, waked from his drunken sleep, drank again
when he heard of the death. The day bade fair to be like the night,
and again the anxiety of the leaders was edged with fear. Old
Jasper dead and young Jasper a prisoner, the chance was near to
end the feud, or there would be no Lewallen left to lead their
enemies. But, again, they were wellnigh helpless. Already they
had barely enough men to guard their prisoners. Of the Marcums,
Steve alone was able to handle a Winchester, and outside the
sounds of the carousal were in the air and growing louder. In a
little while, if the Lewallens but knew it, escape would be easy and
the Stetsons could be driven from the town.
Oh, they know it," said Steve. "They'll be a-whoopin' down out O'
them woods purty soon, 'n' we re goin to ketch hell. I'd like to
know mighty well who that spy was last night. That cussed Bud
Vickers says it was a ha'nt, on a white hoss, with long hair flyin' in
the wind, 'n' that he shot plumb through it. I jus' wish I'd a had a
chance at it."
Still, noon came again without trouble, and the imprisoned
Lewallens had been twenty-four hours without food. Their
ammunition was getting scarce. The firing was less frequent,
though the watch was as close as ever, and twice a Winchester had
sounded a signal of distress. All knew that a response must come
soon; and come it did. A picket, watching the river road, saw
young Jasper's horse coming along the dark bushes far up the river,
and brought the news to the group standing behind old Sam's
cabin. The gray galloped into sight, and, skirting the woods, came
straight for the town-with a woman on his back. The stirrup of a
man's saddle dangled on one side, and the woman's bonnet had
fallen from her head. Some one challenged her.
Stop, I tell ye! Don't ye go near that courthouse! Stop, I tell ye! I'll
Rome ran from the cabin with a revolver in each hand. A drunken
mountaineer was raising a Winchester to his shoulder, and,
springing from the back of the gray at the court-house steps, was
"I'll kill the fust man that lifts his finger to hurt the gal," Rome
said, knocking the drunken man's gun in the air. "We hain't fightin'
It was too late to oppose her, and the crowd stood helplessly
watching. No one dared approach, so, shielding with her body the
space of the opening door, she threw the sack of food within. Then
she stood a moment talking and, turning, climbed to her saddle.
The gray was spotted with foam, and showed the red of his nostrils
with every breath as, with face flushed and eyes straight before
her, she rode slowly toward the crowd. What was she about?
Rome stood rigid, his forgotten pistols hanging at each side; the
mouth of the drunken mountaineer was open with stupid wonder;
the rest fell apart as she came around the corner of the cabin and,
through the space given, rode slowly, her skirt almost brushing
Rome, looking neither to the right nor to the left; and when she
had gone quite through them all, she wheeled and rode, still
slowly, through the open fields toward the woods which sheltered
the Lewallens, while the crowd stood in bewildered silence
looking after her. Yells of laughter came from the old court-house.
Some of the Stetsons laughed, too; some swore, a few grumbled;
but there was not one who was not stirred by the superb daring of
the girl, though she had used it only to show her contempt.
" Rome, you're a fool; though, fer a fac', we can't shoot a woman;
'n' anyways I ruther shoot her than the hoss. But lemme tell ye, thar
was more'n sump'n to eat in that bag! They air up to some dodge."
Rufe Stetson had watched the incident through a port-hole of the
cabin, and his tone was at once jesting and anxious.
"That grub won't last more'n one day, I reckon," said the drunken
mountaineer. We'll watch out fer the gal nex' time. We're boun' to
git 'em one time or t'other."
"She rid through us to find out how many of us wasn't dead drunk,"
said Steve Marcum, still watching the girl as she rode on, toward
the woods; "'n' I'm a-thinkin' they'll be down on us purty soon now,
'n' I reckon we'll have to run fer it. Look thar boys!"
The girl had stopped at the edge of the woods; facing the town, she
waved her bonnet high above her head.
"Well, whut in the--! "he said, with slow emphasis, and then he
leaped from the door with a yell. The bonnet was a signal to the
beleaguered Lewallens. The rear door of the courthouse had been
quietly opened, and the prisoners were out in a body and
scrambling over the fence before the pickets could give an alarm.
The sudden yells, the crack of Winchesters, startled even the
revellers and all who could, headed by Rome and Steve Marcum,
sprang into the square, and started in pursuit. But the Lewallens
had got far ahead, and were running in zigzag lines to dodge the
balls flying after them. Half-way to the woods was a gully of red
clay, and into this the fleetest leaped, and turned instantly to cover
their comrades. The Winchesters began to rattle from the woods,
and the bullets came like rain from everywhere.
"T-h-up! T-h-up! T-h-up! " there were three of them-the peculiar
soft, dull messages of hot lead to living flesh. A Stetson went
down; another stumbled; Rufe Stetson, climbing the fence, caught
at his breast with an oath, and fell back. Rome and Steve dropped
for safety to the ground. Every other Stetson turned in a panic, and
every Lewallen in the gully leaped from it, and ran under the
Lewallen fire for shelter in the woods. The escape was over.
"That was a purty neat trick," said Steve, wiping a red streak from
his cheek. " Nex' time she tries that, she'll git herself into trouble."
At nightfall the wounded leader and the dead one were carried up
the mountain, each to his home; and there was mourning far into
the night on one bank of the Cumberland, and, serious though Rufe
Stetson's wound was, exultation on the other. But in it Rome could
take but little part. There had been no fault to find with him in the
fight. But a reaction had set in when he saw the girl flash in the
moonlight past the sights of his Winchester, and her face that day
had again loosed within him a flood of feeling that drove the lust
for revenge from his veins. Even now, while he sat in his own
cabin, his thoughts were across the river where Martha, broken at
last, sat at her death vigils. He knew what her daring ride that day
had cost her, with old Jasper dead out there in the woods; and as
she passed him he had grown suddenly humbled, shamed. He grew
heart-sick now as he thought of it all; and the sight of his mother
on her bed in the corner, close to death as she was, filled him with
bitterness. There was no help for him. He was alone now, pitted
against young Jasper alone. On one bed lay his uncle-nigh to death.
There was the grim figure in the corner, the implacable spirit of
hate and revenge. His rifle was against the wall. If there was any
joy for him in old Jasper's death, it was that his hand had not
caused it, and yet-God help him!-there was the other cross, the
THE star and the crescent were swinging above Wolf's Head, and
in the dark hour that breaks into dawn a cavalcade of Lewallens
forded the Cumberland, and galloped along the Stetson shore. At
the head rode young Jasper, and Crump the spy.
Swift changes had followed the court-house fight. In spite of the
death of Rufe Stetson from his wound, and several other Stetsons
from ambush, the Lewallens had lost ground. Old Jasper's store
had fallen into the hands of creditors -" furriners "-for debts, and it
was said his homestead must follow. In a private war a leader
must be more than leader. He must feed and often clothe his
followers, and young Jasper had not the means to carry on the
feud. The famine had made corn dear. He could feed neither man
nor horse, and the hired feudsmen fell away, leaving the Lewallens
and the Braytons and their close kin to battle alone. So Jasper
avoided open combat and resorted to ambush and surprise; and,
knowing in some way every move made by the Stetsons, with great
daring and success. It was whispered, too, that he no longer cared
who owned what he might want for himself. Several dark deeds
were traced to him. In a little while he was a terror to good
citizens, and finally old Gabe asked aid of the Governor. Soldiers
from the settlements were looked for any day, and both factions
knew it. At the least this would delay the war, and young Jasper
had got ready for a last fight, which was close at hand.
Half a mile on the riders swerved into a wooded slope. There they
hid their horses in the brush, and climbed the spur stealthily. The
naked woods showed the cup-like shape of the mountains there-a
basin from which radiated upward wooded ravines, edged with
ribs of rock. In this basin the Stetsons were encamped. The smoke
of a fire was visible in the dim morning light, and the Lewallens
scattered to surround the camp, but the effort was vain. A picket
saw the creeping figures; his gun echoed a warning from rock to
rock, and with yells the Lewallens ran forward. Rome sprang from
his sleep near the fire, bareheaded, rifle in hand, his body plain
against a huge rock, and the bullets hissed and spat about him as
he leaped this way and that, firing as he sprang, and shouting for
his men. Steve Marcum alone answered. Some, startled from
sleep, had fled in a panic; some had run deeper into the woods for
shelter. And bidding Steve save himself, Rome turned up the
mountain, running from tree to tree, and dropped unhurt behind a
fallen chestnut. Other Stetsons, too, had turned, and answering
bullets began to whistle to the enemy, but they were widely
separated and ignorant of one another's position, and the Lewallens
drove them one by one to new hiding-places, scattering them more.
To his right Rome saw Steve Marcum speed like a shadow up
through a little open space, but he feared to move, for several
Lewallens had recognized him, and were watching him alone. He
could not even fire; at the least exposure there was a chorus of
bullets about his ears. In a moment they began to come obliquely
from each side-the Lewallens were getting around him. In a
moment more death was sure there, and once again he darted up
the mountain. The bullets sang after him like maddened bees. He
felt one cut his hat and another sting his left arm, but he raced up,
up, till the firing grew fainter as he climbed, and ceased an instant
altogether. Then, still farther below, came a sudden crash of
reports. Stetsons were pursuing the men who were after him, but
he could not join them. The Lewallens were scattered everywhere
between him and his own man, and a desccnt might lead him to
the muzzle of an enemy's Winchester. So he climbed over a ledge
of rock and lay there, peeping through a crevice between two
bowlders, gaining his breath. The firing was far below him now,
and was sharp. Evidently his pursuers were too busy defending
themselves to think further of him, and he began to plan how he
should get back to his friends. But he kept hidden, and, searching
the cliffs below him for a sheltered descent, he saw something like
a slouched hat just over a log, scarcely fifty feet below him.
Presently the hat was lifted a few inches; a figure rose cautiously
and climbed toward the ledge, shielding itself behind rock and
tree. Very quietly Rome crawled back to the face of the cliff
behind him, and crouched behind a rock with his cocked rifle
across his knees. The man must climb over the ledge; there would
be a bare, level floor of rock between them-the Lewallen would be
at his mercy-and Rome, with straining eyes, waited. There was a
footfall on the other side of the ledge; a soft clink of metal against
stone. The Lewallen was climbing slowly-slowly. Rome could hear
his heavy breathing. A grimy hand slipped over the sharp comb of
the ledge; another appeared, clinched about a Winchester-then the
slouched hat, and under it the dark, crafty face of young Jasper.
Rome sat like the stone before him, with a half-smile on his lips.
Jasper peered about with the sly caution of a fox, and his face grew
puzzled and chagrined as he looked at the cliffs above him.
He was drawing himself over the ledge, and the low, stern voice
startled him, as a knife might have done, thrust suddenly from the
empty air at his breast. Rome rose upright against the cliff, with
his resolute face against the stock of a Winchester.
"Drap that gun!"
The order was given along Stetson's barrel, and the weapon was
dropped, the steel ringing on the stone floor. Rome lowered his
gun to the hollow of his arm, and the two young leaders faced each
other for the first time in the life of either.
Seem kinder s'prised to see me," said the Stetson, grimly. " Hev ye
got a pistol?
Young Jasper glared at him in helpless ferocity.
He drew a long-bladed penknife from his pocket, and tossed it at
"Jes' move over thar, will ye?"
The Lewallen took his stand against the cliff. Rome picked up the
fallen rifle and leaned it against the ledge.
"Now, Jas Lewallen, thar's nobody left in this leetle trouble 'cept
you 'n' me, 'n' ef one of us was dead, I reckon t'other could live
hyeh, 'n' thar'd be peace in these mount'ins. I thought o' that when I
had ye at the eend o' this Winchester. I reckon you would 'a' shot
me dead ef I had poked my head over a rock as keerless as you."
That is just what he would have done, and Jasper did not answer.
"I've swore to kill ye, too," added Rome, tapping his gun; "I've got
a cross fer ye hyeh."
The Lewallen was no coward. Outcry or resistance was useless.
The Stetson meant to taunt him, to make death more bitter; for
Jasper expected death, and he sullenly waited for it against the
"You've been banterin me a long time now, 'lowin' as how ye air
the better man o' the two; n' I've got a notion o' givin' ye a chance
to prove yer tall talk. Hit's not our way to kill a man in cold blood,
'n' I don't want to kill ye anyways ef I kin he'p it. Seem s'prised
ag'in. Reckon ye don't believe me? I don't wonder when I think o'
my own dad, 'n' all the meanness yo folks have done mine; but I've
got a good reason fer not killin' ye-ef I kin he'p it. Y'u don't know
what it is, 'n' y'u'll never know; but I'll give yer a chance now fer
yer life ef y'u'll sw'ar on a stack o' Bibles as high as that tree thar
that y'u'll leave these mount'ins ef I whoops ye, 'n' nuver come back
ag'in as long as you live. I'll leave, ef ye whoops me. Now whut do
ye say? Will ye sw'ar?
"I reckon I will, seem' as I've got to," was the surly answer. But
Jasper's face was dark with suspicion, and Rome studied it keenly.
The Lewallens once had been men whose word was good, but he
did not like Jasper's look.
"I reckon I'll trust ye," he said, at last, more through confidence in
his own strength than faith in his enemy; foi Jasper whipped would
be as much at his mercy as he was now. So Rome threw off his
coat, and began winding his homespun suspenders about his waist.
Watching him closely, Jasper did the same.
The firing below had ceased. A flock of mountain vultures were
sailing in great circles over the thick woods. Two eagles swept
straight from the rim of the sun above Wolf's Head, beating over a
turbulent sea of mist for the cliffs, scarcely fifty yards above the
ledge, where a pine-tree grew between two rocks. At the instant of
lighting, they wheeled away, each with a warning scream to the
other. A figure lying flat behind the pine had frightened them, and
now a face peeped to one side, flushed with eagerness over the
coming fight. Both were ready now, and the Lewallen grew
suddenly white as Rome turned again and reached down for the
"I reckon I'll put 'em a leetle furder out o' the way," he said,
kicking the knife over the cliff; and, standing on a stone, he thrust
them into a crevice high above his head.
"Now, Jas, we'll fight this gredge out, as our grandads have done
Lewallen and Stetson were man to man at last. Suspicion was gone
now, and a short, brutal laugh came from the cliff.
"I'll fight ye! Oh, by God, I'll fight ye!"
The ring of the voice struck an answering gleam from Rome's gray
eyes, and the two sprang for each other. It was like the struggle of
primeval men who had not yet learned even the use of clubs. For
an instant both stood close, like two wild beasts crouched for a
spring, and circling about to get at each other's throats, with
mouths set, eyes watching eyes, and hands twitching nervously.
Young Jasper leaped first, and the Stetson, wary of closing with
him, shrank back. There were a few quick, heavy blows, and the
Lewallen was beaten away with blood at his lips. Then each knew
the advantage of the other. The Stetson's reach was longer; the
Lewallen was shorter and heavier, and again he closed in. Again
Rome sent out his long arm. A turn of Jasper's head let the heavy
fist pass over his shoulder. The force of the blow drove Rome
forward; the two clinched, and Jasper's arms tightened about the
Stetson's waist. With a quick gasp for breath Rome loosed his
hold, and, bending his enemy's head back with one hand, rained
blow after blow in his face with the other. One terrible stroke on
the jaw, and Jasper's arms were loosed; the two fell apart, the one
stunned, the other breathless. One dazed moment only, and for a
third time the Lewallen came on. Rome had been fighting a man;
now he faced a demon. Jasper's brows stood out like bristles, and
the eyes under them were red and fierce like a mad bull's. Again
Rome's blows fell, but again the Lewallen reached him, and this
time he got his face under the Stetson's chin, -'id the heavy fist fell
upon the back of his head, and upon his neck, as upon wood and
leather. Again Rome had to gasp for breath, and again the two
were fiercely locked-their corded arms as tense as serpents.
Around and around they whirled, straining, tripping, breaking the
silence only with deep, quick breaths and the stamping of feet,
Jasper firm on the rock, and Rome's agility saving him from being
lifted in the air and tossed from the cliff. There was no pause for
rest. It was a struggle to the end, and a quick one; and under stress
of excitement the figure at the pine-tree had risen to his knees-
jumping even to his feet in plain view, when the short, strong arms
of the Lewallen began at last to draw Rome closer still, and to
bend him backward. The Stetson was giving way at last. The
Lewallen's vindictive face grew blacker, and his white teeth
showed between his snarling lips as he fastened one leg behind his
enemy's, and, with chin against his shoulder, bent him slowly,
slowly back. The two breathed in short, painful gasps; their
swollen muscles trembled under the strain as with ague. Back -
back - the Stetson was falling; he seemed almost down, when-the
trick is an old one-whirling with the quickness of light, he fell
heavily on his opponent, and caught him by the throat with both
"'Nough? " he asked, hoarsely. It was the first word uttered.
The only answer was a fierce struggle. Rome felt the Lewallen's
teeth sinking in his arm, and his fingers tightened like twisting
steel, till Jasper caught his breath as though strangling to death.
"'Nough?" asked the hoarse voice again.
No answer; tighter clinched the fingers. The Lewallen shook his
head feebly; his purple face paled suddenly as Rome loosed his
hold, and his lips moved in a whisper.
Rome rose dizzily to one knee. Jasper turned, gasping, and lay
with his face to the rock. For a while both were quiet, Rome,
panting with open mouth and white with exhaustion, looking down
now and then at the Lewallen, whose face was turned away with
The sun was blazing above Wolf's Head now, and the stillness
about them lay unbroken on the woods below.
"I've whooped ye, Jas," Rome said, at last; "I've whooped ye in a
fa'r fight, 'n' I've got nothin' now to say 'bout yer tall talk, 'n' I
reckon you hevn't nuther. Now, hit's understood, hain't it, that y'u'll
leave these mount'ins?
Y'u kin go West," he continued, as the Lewallen did not answer. "
Uncle Rufe used to say thar's a good deal to do out thar, 'n' nobody
axes questions. Thar's nobody left hyeh but you 'n' me, but these
mount'ins was never big 'nough fer one Lewallen 'n' one Stetson, 'n'
you've got to go. I reckon ye won't believe me, but I'm glad I didn't
hev to kill ye. But you've promised to go, now, 'n' I'll take yer word
fer it." He turned his face, and the Lewallen, knowing it from the
sound of his voice, sprang to his feet.
A wild curse burst from Rome's lips, and both leaped for the guns.
The Lewallen had the start of a few feet, and Rome, lamed in the
fight, stumbled and fell. Before he could rise Jasper had whirled,
with one of the Winchesters above his head and his face aflame
with fury. Asking no mercy, Rome hid his face with one arm and
waited, stricken faint all at once, and numb. One report struck his
ears, muffled, whip-like. A dull wonder came to him that the
Lewallen could have missed at such close range, and he waited for
another. Some one shouted-a shrill hallo. A loud laugh followed; a
light seemed breaking before Rome's eyes, and he lifted his head.
Jasper was on his face again, motionless; and Steve Marcum's tall
figure was climbing over a bowlder toward him.
"That was the best fight I've seed in my time, by God," he said,
coolly, " 'n', Rome, y'u air the biggest fool this side o' the
settlements, I reckon. I had dead aim on him, 'n' I was jest
a-thinkin' hit was a purty good thing fer you that old long-nosed
Jim Stover chased me up hyeh, when, damn me, ef that boy up thar
didn't let his ole gun loose. I'd a-got Jas myself ef he hadn't been
so all-fired quick o' trigger."
Up at the root of the pine-tree Isom stood motionless, with his long
rifle in one hand and a little cloud of smoke breaking above his
white face. When Rome looked up he started down without a
word. Steve swung himself over the ledge.
"I heerd the shootin'," said the boy, " up thar at the cave, 'n' I
couldn't stay thar. I knowed ye could whoop him, Rome, 'n' I seed
Steve, too, but I was afeard-" Then he saw the body. His tongue
stopped, his face shrivelled, and Steve, hanging with one hand to
the ledge, watched him curiously.
" Rome," said the boy, in a quick whisper, "is he daid?
" Come on! " said Steve, roughly. "They'll be up hyeh atter us in a
minute. Leave Jas's gun thar, 'n' send that boy back home."
That day the troops came-young Blue Grass Kentuckians. That
night, within the circle of their camp-fires, a last defiance was cast
in the teeth of law and order. Flames rose within the old court-
house, and before midnight the moonlight fell on four black walls.
That night, too, the news of young Jasper's fate was carried to the
death-bed of Rome's mother, and before day the old woman passed
in peace. That day Stetsons and Lewallens disbanded. The
Lewallens had no leader; the Stetsons, no enemies to fight. Some
hid, some left the mountains, some gave themselves up for trial.
Upon Rome Stetson the burden fell. Against him the law was set.
A price was put on his head, his house was burned-a last act of
Lewallen hate-and Rome was homeless, the last of his race, and an
WITH the start of a few hours and the sympathy of his people one
mountaineer can defy the army of the United States; and the
mountaineers usually laugh when they hear troops are coming. For
the time they stop fighting and hide in the woods; and when the
soldiers are gone, they come out again, and begin anew their little
pleasantries. But the soldiers can protect the judge on his bench
and the county-seat in time of court, and for these purposes they
The search for Rome Stetson, then, was useless. His friends would
aid him; his enemies feared to betray him. So the soldiers
marched away one morning, and took their prisoners for safe-
keeping in the Blue Grass, until court should open at Hazlan.
Meantime, spring came and deepened-the mountain spring. The
berries of the wintergreen grew scarce, and Rome Stetson, " hiding
out," as the phrase is, had to seek them on thc northem face of the
mountains. The moss on the naked winter trees brightened in
color, and along the river, where willows drooped, ran faint lines
of green. The trailing arbutus gave out delicate pink blossoms, and
the south wind blew apart the petals of the anemone. Soon violets
unfolded above the dead leaves; azaleas swung their yellow
trumpets through the undergrowth; over-head, the dogwood tossed
its snow-flakes in gusts through the green and gold of new leaves
and sunlight; and higher still waved the poplar blooms, with honey
ready on every crimson heart for the bees. Down in the valley
Rome Stetson could see about every little cabin pink clouds and
white clouds of peach and of apple blossoms. Amid the ferns about
him shade-loving trilliums showed their many-hued faces, and
every opening was thickly peopled with larkspur seeking the sun.
The giant magnolia and the umbrella-tree spread their great
creamy flowers; the laurel shook out myriads of pink and white
bells, and the queen of mountain flowers was stirring from sleep in
the buds of the rhododendron.
With the spring new forces pulsed the mountain air. The spirit of
the times reached even Hazlan. A railroad was coming up the
river, so the rumor was. When winter broke, surveyors had
appeared; after them, mining experts and purchasers of land. New
ways of bread-making were open to all, and the feudsman began to
see that he could make food and clothes more easily and with less
danger than by sleeping with his rifle in the woods, and by fighting
men who had done him no harm. Many were tired of fighting;
many, forced into the feud, had fought unwillingly. Others had
sold their farms and wild lands, and were moving toward the Blue
Grass or westward. The desperadoes of each faction had fled the
law or were in its clutches. The last Lewallen was dead; the last
Stetson was hidden away in the mountains. There were left
Mareums and Braytons, but only those who felt safest from
indictment; in these a spirit of hostility would live for years, and,
roused by passion or by drink, would do murder now on one side
of the Cumberland and now on the other; but the Stetson-Lewallen
feud, old Gabe believed, was at an end at last.
All these things the miller told Rome Stetson, who well knew what
they meant. He was safe enough from the law while the people
took no part in his capture, but he grew apprehensive when he
learned of the changes going on in the valley. None but old Gabe
knew where he was, to be sure, but with his own enemies to guide
the soldiers he could not hope to remain hidden long. Still, with
that love of the mountains characteristic of all races born among
them, he clung to his own land. He would rather stay where he
was the space of a year and die, he told old Gabe passionately,
than live to old age in another State.
But there was another motive, and he did not hide it. On the other
side he had one enemy left-the last, too, of her race-who was more
to him than his own dead kindred, who hated him, who placed at
his door all her sorrows. For her he was living like a wolf in a
cave, and old Gabe knew it. Her-he would not leave.
"I tell ye, Rome, you've got to go. Thar's no use talkin'. Court
comes the fust Monday in June. The soldiers ull be hyeh. Hit won't
be safe. Thar's some that s'picions I know whar ye air now, 'n'
they'll be spyin', 'n' mebbe hit'll git me into trouble, too, aidin' 'n'
abettin' a man to git away who air boun' to the law."
The two were sitting on the earthen floor of the cave before a little
fire, and Rome, with his hands about his knees and his brows
knitted, was staring into the yellow blaze. His unshorn hair fell to
his shoulders; his face was pale from insufficient food and
exercise, and tense with a look that was at once caged and defiant.
"Uncle Gabe," he asked, quietly, for the old man's tone was a little
querulous, " air ye sorry ye holped me? Do ye blame me fer whut
"No," said the old miller, answering both questions; "I don't. I
believe whut ye tol' me. Though, even ef ye had 'a' done it, I don't
know as I'd blame ye, seem' that it was a fa'r fight. I don't doubt he
was doin' his best to kill you."
Rome turned quickly, his face puzzled and darkening.
Uncle Gabe, whut air you drivin' at? " The old man spat into the
fire, and shifted his position uneasily, as Rome's hand caught his
Well, ef I have to tell ye, I s'pose I must. Thar's been nothin'
pertickler ag'in ye so fer, 'cept fer breakin' that confederatin' statute
'bout bandin' fightin' men together; 'n' nobody was very anxious to
git hol' o' ye jes fer that, but now "-the old man stopped a moment,
for Rome's eyes were kindling-" they say that ye killed Jas Lew
allen, 'n' that ye air a murderer; 'n' hit air powerful strange how all
of a suddint folks seem to be gittin' down on a man as kills his
fellow-creetur; 'n' now they means to hunt ye til they ketch ye."
It was all out now, and the old man was relieved. Rome rose to his
feet, and in sheer agony of spirit paced the floor.
"I tol' ye, Uncle Gabe, that I didn't kill him."
So ye did, 'n' I believe ye. But a feller seed you 'n' Steve comm'
from the place whar Jas was found dead, 'n' whar the dirt 'n' rock
was throwed about as by two bucks in spring-time. Steve says he
didn't do it, 'n' he wouldn't say you didn't. Looks to me like Steve
did the kuhn', 'n' was lyin' a leetle. He hain't goin' to confess hit to
save your neck; 'n' he can't no way, fer he hev lit out o' these
If Steve was out of danger, suspicion could not harm him, and
Rome said nothing.
"Isom's got the lingerin' fever ag'in, 'n' he's out"i his head. He's
ravin' 'bout that fight. Looks like ye tol' him 'bout it. He says,' Don't
tell Uncle Gabe'; 'n' he keeps sayin' it. Hit'll 'most kill him ef you
go 'way; but he wants ye to git out o' the mount'ins; 'n', Rome,
you've got to go."
"Who was it, Uncle Gabe, that seed me 'n' Steve comm' 'way from
He air the same feller who hev been spyin' ye all the time this war's
been goin' on; hit's that dried-faced, snaky Eli Crump, who ye
knocked down 'n' choked up in Hazlan one day fer sayin'
something ag'in Isom."
"I knowed it-I knowed it-oh, ef I could git my fingers roun' his
throat once more-jes once more-I'd be 'mos' ready to die."
He stretched out his hands as he strode back and forth, with his
fingers crooked like talons; his shadow leaped from wall to wall,
and his voice, filling the cave, was, for the moment, scarcely
human. The old man waited till the paroxysm was over and Rome
had again sunk before the fire.
"Hit 'u'd do no good, Rome," he said, rising to go. "You've got
enough on ye now, without the sin o' takin' his life. You better
make up yer mind to leave the mount ins now right 'way. You're
a-gittin' no more'n half-human, livin' up hyeh like a catamount. I
don't see how ye kin stand it. Thar's no hope o' things blowin' over,
boy, 'n' givin' ye a chance o' comm' out ag'in, as yer dad and yer
grandad usen to do afore ye. The citizens air gittin' tired o' these
wars. They keeps out the furriners who makes roads 'n' buys lands;
they air ag'in' the law, ag'in' religion, ag'in' yo' pocket, 'n' ag'in'
mine. Lots o' folks hev been ag'in' all this fightin' fer a long time,
but they was too skeery to say so. They air talkin' mighty big now,
seem' they kin git soldiers hyeh to pertect 'em. So ye mought as
well give up the idea o' staying hyeh, 'less'n ye want to give
yourself up to the law."
The two stepped from the cave, and passed through the
rhododendrons till they stood on the cliff overlooking the valley.
The rich light lay like a golden mist between the mountains, and
through it, far down, the river moaned like the wind of a coming
Did ye tell the gal whut I tol' ye?"
"Yes, Rome; hit wasn't no use. She says Steve's word's as good as
yourn; 'n' she knowed about the crosses. Folks say she swore awful
ag'in' ye at young Jas's burial, 'lowin' that she'd hunt ye down
herse'f, ef the soldiers didn't ketch ye. I hain't seed her sence she
got sick; 'pears like ever'body's sick. Mebbe she's a leetle settled
down now-no tellin'. No use foolin' with her, Rome. You git away
from hyeh. Don't you worry 'bout Isom-I'll take keer o' him, 'n'
when he gits well, he'll want to come atter ye, 'n' I'll let him go. He
couldn't live hyeh without you. But y'u must git away, Rome, 'n'
git away mighty quick."
With hands clasped behind him, Rome stood and watched the bent
figure slowly pick its way around the stony cliff.
"I reckon I've got to go. She's ag'in' me; they're all ag'in' me. I
reckon I've jes got to go. Somehow, I've been kinder hopin'-" He
closed his lips to check the groan that rose to them, and turned
again into the gloom behind him.
JUNE came. The wild rose swayed above its image along every
little shadowed stream, and the scent of wild grapes was sweet in
the air and as vagrant as a bluebird's note in autumn. The
rhododendrons burst into beauty, making gray ridge and gray cliff
blossom with purple, hedging streams with snowy clusters and
shining leaves, and lighting up dark coverts in the woods as with
white stars. The leaves were full, woodthrushes sang, and bees
droned like unseen running water in the woods.
With June came circuit court once more-and the soldiers. Faint
music pierced the dreamy chant of the river one morning as Rome
lay on a bowlder in the summer sun; and he watched the guns
flashing like another stream along the water, and then looked again
to the Lewallen cabin. Never, morning, noon, or night, when he
came from the rhododendrons, or when they closed about him, did
he fail to turn his eyes that way. Often he would see a bright speck
moving about the dim lines of the cabin, and he would scarcely
breathe while he watched it, so easily would it disappear. Always
he had thought it was Martha, and now he knew it was, for the old
miller had told him more of the girl, and had wrung his heart with
pity. She had been ill a long while. The "furriners " had seized old
Jasper's cahin and land. The girl was homeless, and she did not
know it, for no one had the heart to tell her. She was living with
the Braytons; and every day she went to the cabin, "moonin'' n'
sorrowin' aroun'," as old Gabe said; and she was much changed.
Once more the miller came-for the last time, he said, firmly.
Crump had trailed him, and had learned where Rome was. The
search would begin next day-perhaps that very night-and Crump
would guide the soldiers. Now he must go, and go quickly. The
boy, too, sent word that unless Rome went, he would have
something to tell. Old Gabe saw no significance in the message;
but he had promised to deliver it, and he did. Rome wavered then;
Steve and himself gone, no suspicion would fall on the lad. If he
were caught, the boy might confess. With silence Rome gave
assent, and the two parted in an apathy that was like heartlessness.
Only old Gabe's shrunken breast heaved with something more than
weariness of descent, and Rome stood watching him a long time
before he turned back to the cave that had sheltered him from his
enemies among beasts and men. In a moment he came out for the
last time, and turned the opposite way. Climbing about the spur, he
made for the path that led down to the river. When he reached it he
glanced at the sun, and stopped in indecision. Straight above him
was a knoll, massed with rhododendrons, the flashing leaves of
which made it like a great sea-wave in the slanting sun, while the
blooms broke slowly down over it like foam. Above this was a
gray sepulchre of dead, standing trees, more gaunt and spectre-like
than ever, with the rich life of summer about it. Higher still were a
dark belt of stunted firs and the sandstone ledge, and above
these-home. He was risking his liberty, his life. Any clump of
bushes might bristle suddenly with Winchesters. If the soldiers
sought for him at the cave they would at the same time guard the
mountain paths; they would guard, too, the Stetson cabin. But no
matter-the sun was still high, and he turned up the steep. The ledge
passed, he stopped with a curse at his lips and the pain of a
knife-thrust at his heart. A heap of blackened stones and ashes
was before him. The wild mountain-grass was growing up about it.
The bee-gums were overturned and rifled. The garden was a
tangled mass of weeds. The graves in the little family
burying-ground were unprotected, the fence was gone, and no
boards marked the last two ragged mounds. Old Gabe had never
told him. He, too, like Martha, was homeless, and the old miller
had been kind to him, as the girl's kinspeople had been to her.
For a long while he sat on the remnant of the burned and broken
fence, and once more the old tide of bitterness rose within him and
ebbed away. There were none left to hate, to wreak vengeance on.
It was hard to leave the ruins as they were; and yet he would rather
leave weeds and ashes than, like Martha, have some day to know
that his home was in the hands of a stranger. When he thought of
the girl he grew calmer; his own sorrows gave way to the thought
of hers; and half from habit he raised his face to look across the
river. Two eagles swept from a dark ravine under the shelf of rock
where he had fought young Jasper, and made for a sun-lighted
peak on the other shore. From them his gaze fell to Wolf's Head
and to the cabin beneath, and a name passed his lips in a whisper.
Then he took the path to the river, and he found the canoe where
old Gabe had hidden it. Before the young moon rose he pushed
into the stream and drifted with the current. At the mouth of the
creek that ran over old Gabe's water-wheel he turned the prow to
the Lewallen shore.
Not yit! Not yit! " he said.
THAT night Rome passed in the woods, with his rifle, in a bed of
daybreak he had built a fire in a deep ravine to cook his breakfast,
and had scattered the embers that the smoke should give no sign.
The sun was high when he crept cautiously in sight of the
Lewallen cabin. It was much like his own home on the other shore,
except that the house, closed and desolate, was standing, and the
bees were busy. At the corner of the kitchen a rusty axe was
sticking in a half-cut piece of timber, and on the porch was a heap
of kindling and fire wood-the last work old Jasper and his son had
ever done. In the Lewallens' garden, also, two graves were fresh;
and the spirit of neglect and ruin overhung the place.
All the morning he waited in the edge of the laurel, peering down
the path, watching the clouds race with their shadows over the
mountains, or pacing to and fro in his covert of leaves and flowers.
He began to fear at last that she was not coming, that she was ill,
and once he started down the mountain toward Steve Brayton's
cabin. The swift descent brought him to his senses, and he
stopped half-way, and climbed back again to his hiding-place.
What he was doing, what he meant to do, he hardly knew. Mid-day
passed; the sun fell toward the mountains, and once more came the
fierce impulse to see her, even though he must stalk into the
Brayton cabin. Again, half-crazed, he started impetuously
through the brush, and shrank back, and stood quiet. A little noise
down the path had reached his ear. In a moment he could hear
slow foot-falls, and the figure of the girl parted the pink-and-white
laurel blossoms, which fell in a shower about her when she
brushed through them. She passed quite near him, walking slowly,
and stopped for a moment to rest against a pillar of the porch. She
was very pale; her face was traced deep with suffering, and she
was, as old Gabe said, much changed. Then she went on toward
the garden, stepping with an effort over the low fence, and leaned
as if weak and tired against the apple-tree, the boughs of which
shaded the two graves at her feet. For a few moments she stood
there, listless, and Rome watched her with hungry eyes, at a loss
what to do. She moved presently, and walked quite around the
graves without looking at them; then came back past him, and,
seating herself in the porch, turned her face to the river. The sun
lighted her hair, and in the sunken, upturned eyes Rome saw the
shimmer of tears.
"Marthy! " He couldn't help it-the thick, low cry broke like a groan
from his lips, and the girl was on her feet, facing him. She did not
know the voice, nor the shaggy, half-wild figure in the shade of the
laurel; and she started back as if to run; but seeing that the man did
not mean to harm her, she stopped, looking for a moment with
wonder and even with quick pity at the hunted face with its white
appeal. Then a sudden spasm caught her throat, and left her body
rigid, her hands shut, and her eyes dry and hard-she knew him. A
slow pallor drove the flush of surprise from her face, and her lips
moved once, but there was not even a whisper from them. Rome
raised one hand before his face, as though to ward off something. "
Don't look at mc that way, Marthy-my God, don't! I didn't kill him.
I sw'ar it! I give him a chance fer his life. I know, I know-Steve
says he didn't. Thar was only us two. Hit looks ag'in' me; but I
hain't killed one nur t'other. I let 'em both go. Y'u don't believe me?
" He went swiftly toward her, his gun outstretched. Hyeh, gal! I
heerd ye swore ag' in' me out thar in the gyarden-'lowin' that you
was goin' to hunt me down yerself if the soldiers didn't. Hyeh's yer
The girl shrank away from him, too startled to take the weapon;
and he leaned it against her, and stood away, with his hands behind
Kill me ef ye think I'm a-lyin' to ye," he said. "Y'u kin git even with
me now. But I want to tell ye fust "-the girl had caught the muzzle
of the gun convulsively, and was bending over it, her eyes burning,
her face inscrutable-hit was a fa'r fight betwixt us, 'n' I whooped
him. He got his gun then, 'n' would 'a' killed me ag'in' his oath ef he
hadn't been shot fust Hit's so, too, 'bout the crosses. I made 'em;
they're right thar on that gun; but whut could I do with mam
a-standin' right thar with the gun 'n' Uncle Rufe a-tellin' 'bout my
own dad layin' in his blood, 'n' Isom 'n' the boys lookin' on! But I
went ag'in' my oath; I gave him his life when I had the right to take
it. I could 'a' killed yer dad once, 'n' I had the right to kill him, too,
fer killin' mine; but I let him go, 'n' I reckon I done that fer ye, too.
'Pears like I hain't done nothin' sence I seed ye over thar in the mill
that day that wasn't done fer ye. Somehow ye put me dead ag'in'
my own kin, 'n' tuk away all my hate ag'in' yourn. I couldn't fight
fer thinkin' I was fightin' you, 'n' when I seed ye comm' through the
bushes jes now, so white 'n' sickly-like, I couldn't hardly git breath,
a-thinkin' I was the cause of all yer misery. That's all!" He
stretched out his arms. Shoot, gal, ef ye don't believe me. I'd jes as
lieve die, ef ye thinks I'm lyin' to ye, 'n' ef ye hates me fer whut I
The gun had fallen to the earth. The girl, trembling at the knees,
sank to her seat on the porch, and, folding her arms against the
pillar, pressed her forehead against them, her face unseen. Rome
stooped to pick up the weapon.
"I'm goin' 'way now," he went on, slowly, after a little pause, "but I
couldn't leave hyeh without seem' you. I wanted ye to know the
truth, 'n' I 'lowed y'u'd believe me ef I tol' ye myself. I've been
a-waitin' thar in the lorrel fer ye sence mornin'. Uncle Gabe tol' me
ye come hyeh ever' day. He says I've got to go. I've been hopin' I
mought come out o' the bushes some day. But Uncle Gabe says
ever'body's ag'in' me more' n ever, 'n' that the soldiers mean to
ketch me. The gov'ner out thar in the settlements says as how he'll
give five hundred dollars fer me, livin' or dead. He'll nuver git me
livin'-I've swore that-'n' as I hev done nothin' sech as folks on both
sides hev done who air walkin' roun' free, I hain't goin' to give up.
Hit's purty hard to leave these mount'ins. Reckon I'll nuver see 'em
ag'in. Been livin' like a catamount over thar on the knob. I could
jes see you over hyeh, 'n' I reckon I hain't done much 'cept lay over
thar on a rock 'n' watch ye movin' round. Hit's mighty good to feel
that ye believe me, 'n' I want ye to know that I been stayin' over
thar fer nothin' on earth but jes to see you ag'in; 'n' I want ye to
know that I was a-sorrowin' fer ye when y'u was sick, 'n' a-pinin' to
see ye, 'n' a-hopin' some day y'u mought kinder git over yer hate fer
me." He had been talking with low tenderness, half to himself, and
with his face to the river, and he did not see the girl's tears falling
to the porch. Her sorrow gave way in a great sob now, and he
turned with sharp remorse, and stood quite near her.
"Don't cry, Marthy," he said. "God knows hit's hard to think I've
brought all this on ye when I'd give all these mount 'ins to save ye
from it. Whut d' ye say? Don't cry."
The girl was trying to speak at last, and Rome bent over to catch
"I hain't cryin' fer myself," she said, faintly, and then she said no
more; but the first smile that had passed over Rome's face for
many a day passed then, and he put out one big hand, and let it rest
on the heap of lustrous hair.
"Marthy, I hate to go 'way, leavin' ye hyeh with nobody to take
keer o' ye. You're all alone hyeh in the mount'ins; I'm all alone; 'n' I
reckon I'll be all alone wharever I go, ef you stay hyeh. I got a boat
down thar on the river, 'n' I'm goin' out West whar Uncle Rufe use
to live. I know I hain't good fer nothin' much "-he spoke almost
huskily; he could scarcely get the words to his lips-" but I want ye
to go with me. Won't ye?"
The girl did not answer, but her sobbing ceased slowly, while
Rome stroked her hair; and at last she lifted her face, and for a
moment looked to the other shore. Then she rose. There is a
strange pride in the Kentucky mountaineer.
"As you say, Rome, thar's nobody left but you, 'n' nobody but me;
but they burned you out, we hain't even-yit." Her eyes were on
Thunderstruck Knob, where the last sunlight used to touch the
"Hyeh, Rome!" He knew what she meant, and he kneeled at the
pile of kindling-wood near the kitchen door. Then they stood back
and waited. The sun dipped below a gap in the mountains, the sky
darkened, and the flames rose to the shingled porch, and leaped
into the gathering dusk. On the outer edge of the quivering light,
where it touched the blossomed laurel, the two stood till the blaze
caught the eaves of the cabin; and then they turned their faces
where, burning to ashes in the west, was another fire, whose light
blended in the eyes of each with a light older and more lasting than
its own-the light eternal.
Back to Full Books