Hell Fer Sartain & Other Stories
John Fox, Jr.
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JOHN FOX, JR.
`Hell fer Sartain'
ON HELL-FER-SARTAIN CREEK
THROUGH THE GAP
A TRICK O' TRADE
COURTIN' ON CUTSHIN
THE MESSAGE IN THE SAND
THE SENATOR'S LAST TRADE
PREACHIN' ON KINGDOM-COME
THE PASSING OF ABRAHAM SHIVERS
A PURPLE RHODODENDRON
ON HELL-FER-SARTAIN CREEK
Thar was a dancin'-party Christmas
night on ``Hell fer Sartain.'' Jes tu'n
up the fust crick beyond the bend thar,
an' climb onto a stump, an' holler about
ONCE, an' you'll see how the name come.
Stranger, hit's HELL fer sartain! Well,
Rich Harp was thar from the head-
waters, an' Harve Hall toted Nance
Osborn clean across the Cumberlan'.
Fust one ud swing Nance, an' then
t'other. Then they'd take a pull out'n
the same bottle o' moonshine, an'--fust
one an' then t'other--they'd swing her
agin. An' Abe Shivers a-settin' thar
by the fire a-bitin' his thumbs!
Well, things was sorter whoopin',
when somebody ups an' tells Harve
that Rich had said somep'n' agin
Nance an' him, an' somebody ups an'
tells Rich that Harve had said somep'n'
agin Nance an' HIM. In a minute, stranger,
hit was like two wild-cats in thar.
Folks got 'em parted, though, but thar
was no more a-swingin' of Nance that
night. Harve toted her back over the
Cumberlan', an' Rich's kinsfolks tuk him
up ``Hell fer Sartain''; but Rich got
loose, an' lit out lickety-split fer Nance
Osborn's. He knowed Harve lived too
fer over Black Mountain to go home
that night, an' he rid right across the
river an' up to Nance's house, an'
hollered fer Harve. Harve poked his head
out'n the loft--he knowed whut was
wanted--an' Harve says, ``Uh, come in
hyeh an' go to bed. Hit's too late!''
An' Rich seed him a-gapin' like a chicken,
an' in he walked, stumblin' might'
nigh agin the bed whar Nance was
a-layin', listenin' an' not sayin' a word.
Stranger, them two fellers slept
together plum frien'ly, an' they et together
plum frien'ly next mornin', an' they sa'ntered
down to the grocery plum frien'ly.
An' Rich says, ``Harve,'' says he,
``let's have a drink.'' ``All right, Rich,''
says Harve. An' Rich says, ``Harve,''
says he, ``you go out'n that door an'
I'll go out'n this door.'' ``All right,
Rich,'' says Harve, an' out they
walked, steady, an' thar was two shoots
shot, an' Rich an' Harve both drapped,
an' in ten minutes they was stretched
out on Nance's bed an' Nance was
a-lopin' away fer the yarb doctor.
The gal nussed 'em both plum faithful.
Rich didn't hev much to say, an'
Harve didn't hev much to say. Nance
was sorter quiet, an' Nance's mammy,
ole Nance, jes grinned. Folks come in
to ax atter 'em right peart. Abe Shivers
come cl'ar 'cross the river--powerful
frien'ly--an' ever' time Nance ud walk
out to the fence with him. One time
she didn't come back, an' ole Nance
fotched the boys thar dinner, an' ole
Nance fotched thar supper, an' then
Rich he axed whut was the matter
with young Nance. An' ole Nance jes
snorted. Atter a while Rich says:
``Harve,'' says he, ``who tol' you that
I said that word agin you an' Nance?''
``Abe Shivers,'' says Harve. ``An' who
tol' you,'' says Harve, ``that I said that
word agin Nance an' YOU?'' ``Abe Shivers,''
says Rich. An' both says, ``Well,
damn me!'' An' Rich tu'ned right
over an' begun pullin' straws out'n the
bed. He got two out, an' he bit one
off, an' he says: ``Harve,'' says he, ``I
reckon we better draw fer him. The
shortes' gits him.'' An' they drawed.
Well, nobody ever knowed which got
the shortes' straw, stranger, but--
Thar'll be a dancin'-party comin'
Christmas night on ``Hell fer Sartain.''
Rich Harp 'll be thar from the head-
waters. Harve Hall's a-goin' to tote
the Widder Shivers clean across the
Cumberlan'. Fust one 'll swing Nance,
an' then t'other. Then they'll take a
pull out'n the same bottle o' moonshine,
an'--fust one an' then t'other--
they'll swing her agin, jes the same.
ABE won't be thar. He's a-settin' by
a bigger fire, I reckon (ef he ain't in
it), a-bitin' his thumbs!
THROUGH THE GAP
When thistles go adrift, the sun sets
down the valley between the hills;
when snow comes, it goes down behind
the Cumberland and streams through a
great fissure that people call the Gap.
Then the last light drenches the parson's
cottage under Imboden Hill, and
leaves an after-glow of glory on a
majestic heap that lies against the east.
Sometimes it spans the Gap with a
Strange people and strange tales
come through this Gap from the Kentucky
hills. Through it came these
two, late one day--a man and a woman--
afoot. I met them at the foot-
bridge over Roaring Fork.
``Is thar a preacher anywhar aroun'
hyeh?'' he asked. I pointed to the
cottage under Imboden Hill. The girl
flushed slightly and turned her head
away with a rather unhappy smile.
Without a word, the mountaineer led
the way towards town. A moment
more and a half-breed Malungian passed
me on the bridge and followed
At dusk the next day I saw the
mountaineer chopping wood at a shanty
under a clump of rhododendron on
the river-bank. The girl was cooking
supper inside. The day following he
was at work on the railroad, and on
Sunday, after church, I saw the parson.
The two had not been to him. Only
that afternoon the mountaineer was
on the bridge with another woman,
hideously rouged and with scarlet ribbons
fluttering from her bonnet. Passing
on by the shanty, I saw the Malungian
talking to the girl. She apparently
paid no heed to him until, just as he
was moving away, he said something
mockingly, and with a nod of his
head back towards the bridge. She
did not look up even then, but her
face got hard and white, and, looking
back from the road, I saw her slipping
through the bushes into the dry bed of
the creek, to make sure that what the
half-breed told her was true.
The two men were working side by
side on the railroad when I saw them
again, but on the first pay-day the doctor
was called to attend the Malungian,
whose head was split open with
a shovel. I was one of two who went
out to arrest his assailant, and I had
no need to ask who he was. The
mountaineer was a devil, the foreman
said, and I had to club him with a
pistol-butt before he would give in.
He said he would get even with me;
but they all say that, and I paid no
attention to the threat. For a week he
was kept in the calaboose, and when I
passed the shanty just after he was
sent to the county-seat for trial, I
found it empty. The Malungian, too,
was gone. Within a fortnight the
mountaineer was in the door of the
shanty again. Having no accuser, he
had been discharged. He went back
to his work, and if he opened his lips
I never knew. Every day I saw him
at work, and he never failed to give
me a surly look. Every dusk I saw
him in his door-way, waiting, and I
could guess for what. It was easy to
believe that the stern purpose in his
face would make its way through
space and draw her to him again.
And she did come back one day. I
had just limped down the mountain
with a sprained ankle. A crowd of
women was gathered at the edge of
the woods, looking with all their eyes
to the shanty on the river-bank. The
girl stood in the door-way. The
mountaineer was coming back from work
with his face down.
``He hain't seed her yit,'' said one.
``He's goin' to kill her shore. I tol'
her he would. She said she reckoned
he would, but she didn't keer.''
For a moment I was paralyzed by
the tragedy at hand. She was in the
door looking at him when he raised
his head. For one moment he stood
still, staring, and then he started
towards her with a quickened step. I
started too, then, every step a torture,
and as I limped ahead she made a
gesture of terror and backed into the
room before him. The door closed,
and I listened for a pistol-shot and a
scream. It must have been done with
a knife, I thought, and quietly, for
when I was within ten paces of the
cabin he opened the door again. His
face was very white; he held one hand
behind him, and he was nervously
fumbling at his chill with the other.
As he stepped towards me I caught the
handle of a pistol in my side pocket
and waited. He looked at me sharply.
``Did you say the preacher lived up
thar?'' he asked.
``Yes,'' I said, breathlessly.
In the door-way just then stood the
girl with a bonnet in her hand, and at
a nod from him they started up the
hill towards the cottage. They came
down again after a while, he stalking
ahead, and she, after the mountain
fashion, behind. And after this fashion
I saw them at sunset next day pass
over the bridge and into the mouth of
the Gap whence they came. Through
this Gap come strange people and
strange tales from the Kentucky hills.
Over it, sometimes, is the span of a
A TRICK O' TRADE
Stranger, I'm a separATE man, an' I
don't inQUIZite into no man's business;
but you ax me straight, an' I tell ye
straight: You watch ole Tom!
Now, I'll take ole Tom Perkins' word
agin anybody's 'ceptin' when hit comes
to a hoss trade ur a piece o' land. Fer
in the tricks o' sech, ole Tom 'lows--
well, hit's diff'ent; an' I reckon, stranger,
as how hit sorter is. He was a-stayin'
at Tom's house, the furriner was, a-dickerin'
fer a piece o' lan'--the same
piece, mebbe, that you're atter now--
an' Tom keeps him thar fer a week to
beat him out'n a dollar, an' then won't
let him pay nary a cent fer his boa'd.
Now, stranger, that's Tom.
Well, Abe Shivers was a-workin' fer
Tom--you've heerd tell o' Abe--an'
the furriner wasn't more'n half gone
afore Tom seed that Abe was up to
some of his devilMINT. Abe kin hatch
up more devilMINT in a minit than Satan
hisself kin in a week; so Tom jes got
Abe out'n the stable under a hoe-handle,
an' tol' him to tell the whole thing
straight ur he'd have to go to glory
right thar. An' Abe tol'!
'Pears like Abe had foun' a streak o'
iron ore on the lan', an' had racked his
jinny right down to Hazlan an' tol' the
furriner, who was thar a-buyin' wild
lands right an' left. Co'se, Abe was
goin' to make the furriner whack up
fer gittin' the lan' so cheap. Well,
brother, the furriner come up to Tom's
an' got Tom into one o' them new-
fangled trades whut the furriners calls a
option--t'other feller kin git out'n hit,
but you can't. The furriner 'lowed he'd
send his podner up thar next day to
put the thing in writin' an' close up the
trade. Hit looked like ole Tom was
ketched fer shore, an' ef Tom didn't
ra'r, I'd tell a man. He jes let that hoe-
handle drap on Abe fer 'bout haffen
hour, jes to give him time to study, an'
next day thar was ole Tom a-settin'
on his orchard fence a-lookin' mighty
unknowin', when the furriner's podner
come a-prancin' up an' axed ef old Tom
Perkins lived thar.
Ole Tom jes whispers.
Now, I clean fergot to tell ye, stranger,
that Abe Shivers nuver could talk out
loud. He tol' so many lies that the
Lawd--jes to make things even--sorter
fixed Abe, I reckon, so he couldn't lie
on more'n one side o' the river at a
time. Ole Tom jes knowed t'other
furriner had tol' this un 'bout Abe, an,'
shore 'nough, the feller says, sorter soft,
``Aw, you air the feller whut foun'
Ole Tom--makin' like he was Abe,
mind ye--jes whispers: ``Thar hain't
Stranger, the feller mos' fell off'n his
hoss. ``Whut?'' says he. Ole Tom kep'
a-whisperin': ``Thar hain't no coal--
no nothing; ole Tom Perkins made me
tell t'other furriner them lies.''
Well, sir, the feller WAS mad. ``Jes
whut I tol' that fool podner of mine,''
he says, an' he pull out a dollar an' gives
hit to Tom. Tom jes sticks out his
han' with his thum' turned in jes so,
an' the furriner says, ``Well, ef you can't
talk, you kin make purty damn good
signs''; but he forks over four mo' dollars
(he 'lowed ole Tom had saved him a
pile o' money), an' turns his hoss an'
pulls up agin. He was a-gittin' the land
so durned cheap that I reckon he jes
hated to let hit go, an' he says, says he:
``Well, hain't the groun' rich? Won't hit
raise no tabaccy nur corn nur nothin'?''
Ole Tom jes whispers:
``To tell you the p'int-blank truth,
stranger, that land's so durned pore that
I hain't nuver been able to raise my
Now, brother, I'm a separATE man,
an' I don't inQUIZite into no man's business--
but you ax me straight an' I tell
ye straight. Ole Tom Perkins kin trade
with furriners, fer he have l'arned their
ways. You watch ole Tom!
The first snow sifted in through the
Gap that night, and in a ``shack'' of
one room and a low loft a man was
dead, a woman was sick to death, and
four children were barely alive; and
nobody even knew. For they were hill
people, who sicken, suffer, and sometimes
die, like animals, and make no
Grayson, the Virginian, coming down
from the woods that morning, saw the
big-hearted little doctor outside the door
of the shack, walking up and down,
with his hands in his pockets. He was
whistling softly when Grayson got near,
and, without stopping, pointed with his
thumb within. The oldest boy sat
stolidly on the one chair in the room,
his little brother was on the floor hard
by, and both were hugging a greasy
stove. The little girl was with her
mother in the bed, both almost out of
sight under a heap of quilts. The baby
was in a cradle, with its face uncovered,
whether dead or asleep Grayson could
not tell. A pine coffin was behind the
door. It would not have been possible
to add to the disorder of the room, and
the atmosphere made Grayson gasp. He
came out looking white. The first man
to arrive thereafter took away the eldest
boy, a woman picked the baby girl from
the bed, and a childless young couple
took up the pallid little fellow on the
floor. These were step-children. The
baby boy that was left was the woman's
own. Nobody came for that, and Grayson
went in again and looked at it a
long while. So little, so old a human
face he had never seen. The brow
was wrinkled as with centuries of pain,
and the little drawn mouth looked as
though the spirit within had fought
its inheritance without a murmur, and
would fight on that way to the end. It
was the pluck of the face that drew
Grayson. ``I'll take it,'' he said. The
doctor was not without his sense of humor
even then, but he nodded. ``Cradle and
all,'' he said, gravely. And Grayson put
both on one shoulder and walked away.
He had lost the power of giving further
surprise in that town, and had he met
every man he knew, not one of them
would have felt at liberty to ask him
what he was doing. An hour later the
doctor found the child in Grayson's
room, and Grayson still looking at it.
``Is it going to live, doctor?''
The doctor shook his head. ``Doubtful.
Look at the color. It's starved.
There's nothing to do but to watch it
and feed it. You can do that.''
So Grayson watched it, with a
fascination of which he was hardly
conscious. Never for one instant did its
look change--the quiet, unyielding
endurance that no faith and no philosophy
could ever bring to him. It was ideal
courage, that look, to accept the inevitable
but to fight it just that way. Half
the little mountain town was talking
next day--that such a tragedy was possible
by the public road-side, with relief
within sound of the baby's cry. The
oldest boy was least starved. Might
made right in an extremity like his, and
the boy had taken care of himself. The
young couple who had the second lad
in charge said they had been wakened
at daylight the next morning by some
noise in the room. Looking up, they
saw the little fellow at the fireplace
breaking an egg. He had built a fire,
had got eggs from the kitchen, and was
cooking his breakfast. The little girl
was mischievous and cheery in spite of
her bad plight, and nobody knew of the
baby except Grayson and the doctor.
Grayson would let nobody else in. As
soon as it was well enough to be peevish
and to cry, he took it back to its mother,
who was still abed. A long, dark
mountaineer was there, of whom the woman
seemed half afraid. He followed Grayson
``Say, podner,'' he said, with an
unpleasant smile, ``ye don't go up to
Cracker's Neck fer nothin', do ye?''
The woman had lived at Cracker's
Neck before she appeared at the Gap,
and it did not come to Grayson what
the man meant until he was half-way to
his room. Then he flushed hot and
wheeled back to the cabin, but the
mountaineer was gone.
``Tell that fellow he had better keep
out of my way,'' he said to the woman,
who understood, and wanted to say
something, but not knowing how, nodded
simply. In a few days the other children
went back to the cabin, and day
and night Grayson went to see the child,
until it was out of danger, and afterwards.
It was not long before the women
in town complained that the mother was
ungrateful. When they sent things to
eat to her the servant brought back
word that she had called out, `` `Set
them over thar,' without so much as a
thanky.'' One message was that ``she
didn' want no second-hand victuals from
nobody's table.'' Somebody suggested
sending the family to the poor-house.
The mother said ``she'd go out on her
crutches and hoe corn fust, and that the
people who talked 'bout sendin' her to
the po'-house had better save their breath
to make prayers with.'' One day she
was hired to do some washing. The
mistress of the house happened not to
rise until ten o'clock. Next morning
the mountain woman did not appear
until that hour. ``She wasn't goin' to
work a lick while that woman was
a-layin' in bed,'' she said, frankly. And
when the lady went down town, she too
disappeared. Nor would she, she
explained to Grayson, ``while that woman
was a-struttin' the streets.''
After that, one by one, they let her
alone, and the woman made not a word
of complaint. Within a week she was
working in the fields, when she should
have been back in bed. The result
was that the child sickened again.
The old look came back to its face,
and Grayson was there night and day.
He was having trouble out in Kentucky
about this time, and he went
to the Blue Grass pretty often. Always,
however, he left money with
me to see that the child was properly
buried if it should die while he was
gone; and once he telegraphed to ask
how it was. He said he was sometimes
afraid to open my letters for
fear that he should read that the baby
was dead. The child knew Grayson's
voice, his step. It would go to him
from its own mother. When it was
sickest and lying torpid it would move
the instant he stepped into the room,
and, when he spoke, would hold out
its thin arms, without opening its eyes,
and for hours Grayson would walk the
floor with the troubled little baby over
his shoulder. I thought several times
it would die when, on one trip, Grayson
was away for two weeks. One
midnight, indeed, I found the mother
moaning, and three female harpies
about the cradle. The baby was dying
this time, and I ran back for a
flask of whiskey. Ten minutes late
with the whiskey that night would
have been too late. The baby got to
know me and my voice during that
fortnight, but it was still in danger
when Grayson got back, and we went
to see it together. It was very weak,
and we both leaned over the cradle,
from either side, and I saw the pity
and affection--yes, hungry, half-shamed
affection--in Grayson's face. The
child opened its eyes, looked from
one to the other, and held out its
arms to ME. Grayson should have
known that the child forgot--that it
would forget its own mother. He
turned sharply, and his face was a
little pale. He gave something to the
woman, and not till then did I notice
that her soft black eyes never left
him while he was in the cabin. The
child got well; but Grayson never
went to the shack again, and he said
nothing when I came in one night
and told him that some mountaineer
--a long, dark fellow-had taken the
woman, the children, and the household
gods of the shack back into the
``They don't grieve long,'' I said,
But long afterwards I saw the woman
again along the dusty road that
leads into the Gap. She had heard
over in the mountains that Grayson
was dead, and had walked for two
days to learn if it was true. I pointed
back towards Bee Rock, and told her
that he had fallen from a cliff back
there. She did not move, nor did her
look change. Moreover, she said nothing,
and, being in a hurry, I had to ride
At the foot-bridge over Roaring
Fork I looked back. The woman was
still there, under the hot mid-day sun
and in the dust of the road, motionless.
COURTIN' ON CUTSHIN
Hit was this way, stranger. When
hit comes to handlin' a right peert gal,
Jeb Somers air about the porest man
on Fryin' Pan, I reckon; an' Polly Ann
Sturgill have got the vineg'rest tongue
on Cutshin or any other crick.
So the boys over on Fryin' Pan
made it up to git 'em together. Abe
Shivers--you've heerd tell o' Abe--
tol' Jeb that Polly Ann had seed him
in Hazlan (which she hadn't, of co'se),
an' had said p'int-blank that he was
the likeliest feller she'd seed in them
mountains. An' he tol' Polly Ann
that Jeb was ravin' crazy 'bout her.
The pure misery of it jes made him
plumb delirious, Abe said; an' 'f Polly
Ann wanted to find her match fer languige
an' talkin' out peert--well, she
jes ought to strike Jeb Somers. Fact
is, stranger, Jeb Somers air might' nigh
a idgit; but Jeb 'lowed he'd rack right
over on Cutshin an' set up with Polly
Ann Sturgill; an' Abe tells Polly Ann
the king bee air comin'. An' Polly
Ann's cousin, Nance Osborn, comes
over from Hell fer Sartain (whut runs
into Kingdom-Come) to stay all night
an' see the fun.
Now, I hain't been a-raftin' logs
down to the settlemints o' Kaintuck
fer nigh on to twenty year fer nothin',
An' I know gallivantin' is diff'ent
with us mountain fellers an' you furriners,
in the premises, anyways, as
them lawyers up to court says; though
I reckon hit's purty much the same
atter the premises is over. Whar you
says ``courtin','' now, we says ``talkin'
to.'' Sallie Spurlock over on Fryin'
Pan is a-talkin' to Jim Howard now.
Sallie's sister hain't nuver talked to no
man. An' whar you says ``makin' a
call on a young lady,'' we says ``settin'
up with a gal''! An', stranger, we does
it. We hain't got more'n one room
hardly ever in these mountains, an'
we're jes obleeged to set up to do any
courtin' at all.
Well, you go over to Sallie's to stay
all night some time, an' purty soon
atter supper Jim Howard comes in.
The ole man an' the ole woman goes
to bed, an' the chil'un an' you go to
bed, an' ef you keeps one eye open
you'll see Jim's cheer an' Sallie's cheer
a-movin' purty soon, till they gets
plumb together. Then, stranger, hit
begins. Now I want ye to understand
that settin' up means business. We
don't 'low no foolishness in these
mountains; an' 'f two fellers happens
to meet at the same house, they jes
makes the gal say which one she likes
best, an' t'other one gits! Well, you'll
see Jim put his arm 'round Sallie's neck
an' whisper a long while--jes so. Mebbe
you've noticed whut fellers us mountain
folks air fer whisperin'. You've
seed fellers a-whisperin' all over Hazlan
on court day, hain't ye? Ole
Tom Perkins 'll put his arm aroun' yo'
neck an' whisper in yo' year ef he's
ten mile out'n the woods. I reckon
thar's jes so much devilmint a-goin' on
in these mountains, folks is naturely
afeerd to talk out loud.
Well, Jim let's go an' Sallie puts her
arm aroun' Jim's neck an' whispers a
long while--jes so; an' 'f you happen
to wake up anywhar to two o'clock in
the mornin' you'll see jes that a-goin'
on. Brother, that's settin' up.
Well, Jeb Somers, as I was a-sayin'
in the premises, 'lowed he'd rack right
over on Cutshin an' set up with Polly
Ann comin' Christmas night. An' Abe
tells Polly Ann Jeb says he aims to
have her fer a Christmas gift afore
mornin'. Polly Ann jes sniffed sorter,
but you know women folks air always
mighty ambitious jes to SEE a feller
anyways, 'f he's a-pinin' fer 'em. So
Jeb come, an' Jeb was fixed up now
fittin' to kill. Jeb had his hair oiled
down nice an' slick, and his mustache
was jes black as powder could make
hit. Naturely hit was red; but a feller
can't do nothin' in these mountains
with a red mustache; an' Jeb had a
big black ribbon tied in the butt o'
the bigges' pistol Abe Shivers could
borrer fer him--hit was a badge o'
death an' deestruction to his enemies,
Abe said, an' I tell ye Jeb did look
like a man. He never opened his
mouth atter he says ``howdy''--Jeb
never does say nothin'; Jeb's one o'
them fellers whut hides thar lack o'
brains by a-lookin' solemn an' a-keepin'
still, but thar don't nobody say much
tell the ole folks air gone to bed, an'
Polly Ann jes 'lowed Jeb was a-waitin'.
Fact is, stranger, Abe Shivers had got
Jeb a leetle disguised by liquer, an' he
did look fat an' sassy, ef he couldn't
talk, a-settin' over in the corner a-
plunkin' the banjer an' a-knockin' off
``Sour-wood Mountain'' an' ``Jinny git
aroun' '' an' ``Soapsuds over the Fence.''
``Chickens a-crowin' on Sour-wood Mountain,
Git yo' dawgs an' we'll go huntin',
An' when Jeb comes to
``I've got a gal at the head o' the holler,
he jes turns one eye 'round on Polly
Ann, an' then swings his chin aroun' as
though he didn't give a cuss fer nothin'.
``She won't come, an' I won't foller,
Well, sir, Nance seed that Polly Ann
was a-eyin' Jeb sort o' flustered like,
an' she come might' nigh splittin' right
thar an' a-sp'ilin' the fun, fer she
knowed what a skeery fool Jeb was.
An' when the ole folks goes to bed,
Nance lays thar under a quilt a-watchin'
an' a-listenin'. Well, Jeb knowed
the premises, ef he couldn't talk, an'
purty soon Nance heerd Jeb's cheer
creak a leetle, an' she says, Jeb's a-
comin', and Jeb was; an' Polly Ann
'lowed Jeb was jes a leetle TOO resolute
an' quick-like, an' she got her hand
ready to give him one lick anyways
fer bein' so brigaty. I don't know as
she'd 'a' hit him more'n ONCE. Jeb had
a farm, an' Polly Ann--well, Polly Ann
was a-gittin' along. But Polly Ann
sot thar jes as though she didn't know
Jeb was a-comin', an' Jeb stopped once
``You hain't got nothin' agin me, has
An' Polly Ann says, sorter quick,
``Naw; ef I had, I'd push it.''
Well, Jeb mos' fell off his cheer, when,
ef he hadn't been sech a skeery idgit,
he'd 'a' knowed that Polly Ann was
plain open an' shet a-biddin' fer him.
But he sot thar like a knot on a log fer
haffen hour, an' then he rickollected, I
reckon, that Abe had tol' him Polly Ann
was peppery an' he mustn't mind, fer
Jeb begun a-movin' ag'in till he was
slam-bang agin Polly Ann's cheer. An'
thar he sot like a punkin, not sayin' a
word nur doin' nothin'. An' while Polly
Ann was a-wonderin' ef he was gone
plumb crazy, blame me ef that durned
fool didn't turn roun' to that peppery
gal an' say,
``Booh, Polly Ann!''
Well, Nance had to stuff the bedquilt
in her mouth right thar to keep from
hollerin' out loud, fer Polly Ann's hand
was a-hangin' down by the cheer, jes
a-waitin' fer a job, and Nance seed the
fingers a-twitchin'. An' Jeb waits
another haffen hour an' Jeb says,
``Ortern't I be killed?''
``Whut fer?'' says Polly Ann, sorter
An' Jeb says, ``Fer bein' so devilish.''
Well, brother, Nance snorted right
out thar, an' Polly Ann Sturgill's hand
riz up jes once; an' I've heerd Jeb
Somers say the next time he jumps out
o' the Fryin' Pan he's a-goin' to take hell-
fire 'stid o' Cutshin fer a place to light.
THE MESSAGE IN THE SAND
Stranger, you furriners don't nuver
seem to consider that a woman has
always got the devil to fight in two
people at once! Hit's two agin one, I
tell ye, an' hit hain't fa'r.
That's what I said more'n two year
ago, when Rosie Branham was a-layin'
up thar at Dave Hall's, white an' mos'
dead. An', GOD, boys, I says, that leetle
thing in thar by her shorely can't be to
Thar hain't been a word agin Rosie
sence; an', stranger, I reckon thar nuver
will be. Fer, while the gal hain't got
hide o' kith or kin, thar air two fellers
up hyeh sorter lookin' atter Rosie; an'
one of 'em is the shootin'es' man on
this crick, I reckon, 'cept one; an',
stranger, that's t'other.
Rosie kep' her mouth shet fer a long
while; an' I reckon as how the feller
'lowed she wasn't goin' to tell. Co'se
the woman folks got hit out'n her--they
al'ays gits whut they want, as you know
--an' thar the sorry cuss was--a-livin'
up thar in the Bend, jes aroun' that
bluff o' lorrel yander, a-lookin' pious, an'
a-singin', an' a-sayin' Amen louder 'n
anybody when thar was meetin'.
Well, my boy Jim an' a lot o' fellers
jes went up fer him right away. I don't
know as the boys would 'a' killed him
EXACTLY ef they had kotched him, though
they mought; but they got Abe Shivers,
as tol' the feller they was a-comin'--
you've heard tell o' Abe-an' they mos'
beat Abraham Shivers to death. Stranger,
the sorry cuss was Dave. Rosie
hadn't no daddy an' no mammy; an'
she was jes a-workin' at Dave's fer her
victuals an' clo'es. 'Pears like the pore
gal was jes tricked into evil. Looked
like she was sorter 'witched--an' anyways,
stranger, she was a fightin' Satan
in HERSELF, as well as in Dave. Hit was
two agin one, I tell ye, an' hit wasn't
Co'se they turned Rosie right out in
the road I hain't got a word to say
agin Dave's wife fer that; an' atter a
while the boys lets Dave come back, to
take keer o' his ole mammy, of co'se,
but I tell ye Dave's a-playin' a purty
lonesome tune. He keeps purty shy YIT.
He don't nuver sa'nter down this way.
'Pears like he don't seem to think hit's
healthy fer him down hyeh, an' I reckon
Rosie? Oh, well, I sorter tuk Rosie
in myself. Yes, she's been livin' thar
in the shack with me an' my boy Jim,
an' the-- Why, thar he is now, stranger.
That's him a-wallerin' out thar in the
road. Do you reckon thar'd be a single
thing agin that leetle cuss ef he had to
stan' up on Jedgment Day jes as he is
Look hyeh, stranger, whut you reckon
the Lawd kep' a-writin' thar on the
groun' that day when them fellers was
a-pesterin' him 'bout that pore woman?
Don't you jes know he was a writin'
'bout sech as HIM--an' Rosie? I tell
ye, brother, he writ thar jes what I'm
Hit hain't the woman's fault. I said
it more'n two year ago, when Rosie was
up thar at ole Dave's, an' I said it
yestiddy, when my boy Jim come to
me an' 'lowed as how he aimed to
take Rosie down to town to-day an'
``You ricollect, dad,'' says Jim, ``her
``Yes, Jim,'' I says; ``all the better
reason not to be too hard on Rosie.''
I'm a-lookin' fer 'em both back right
now, stranger; an' ef you will, I'll be
mighty glad to have ye stay right hyeh
to the infair this very night. Thar nuver
was a word agin Rosie afore, thar hain't
been sence, an' you kin ride up an' down
this river till the crack o' doom an' you'll
nuver hear a word agin her ag'in. Fer,
as I tol' you, my boy, Jim is the shoot-
in'es' feller on this crick, I reckon, 'cept
ONE, an', stranger, that's ME!
THE SENATOR'S LAST TRADE
A drove of lean cattle were swinging
easily over Black Mountain, and
behind them came a big man with
wild black hair and a bushy beard.
Now and then he would gnaw at his
mustache with his long, yellow teeth,
or would sit down to let his lean horse
rest, and would flip meaninglessly at
the bushes with a switch. Sometimes
his bushy head would droop over on
his breast, and he would snap it up
sharply and start painfully on. Robber,
cattle-thief, outlaw he might have
been in another century; for he filled
the figure of any robber hero in life
or romance, and yet he was only the
Senator from Bell, as he was known
in the little Kentucky capital; or, as
he was known in his mountain home,
just the Senator, who had toiled and
schemed and grown rich and grown poor;
who had suffered long and was kind.
Only that Christmas he had gutted
every store in town. ``Give me everything
you have, brother,'' he said, across
each counter; and next day every man,
woman, and child in the mountain
town had a present from the Senator's
hands. He looked like a brigand that
day, as he looked now, but he called
every man his brother, and his eye,
while black and lustreless as night, was
as brooding and just as kind.
When the boom went down, with it
and with everybody else went the Senator.
Slowly he got dusty, ragged,
long of hair. He looked tortured and
ever-restless. You never saw him still;
always he swept by you, flapping his
legs on his lean horse or his arms in
his rickety buggy here, there, everywhere--
turning, twisting, fighting his
way back to freedom--and not a murmur.
Still was every man his brother,
and if some forgot his once open hand,
he forgot it no more completely than
did the Senator. He went very far to
pay his debts. He felt honor bound,
indeed, to ask his sister to give back
the farm that he had given her, which,
very properly people said, she declined
to do. Nothing could kill hope in the
Senator's breast; he would hand back
the farm in another year, he said; but
the sister was firm, and without a word
still, the Senator went other ways and
schemed through the nights, and worked
and rode and walked and traded
through the days, until now, when the
light was beginning to glimmer, his
end was come.
This was the Senator's last trade, and
in sight, down in a Kentucky valley,
was home. Strangely enough, the Senator
did not care at all, and he had
just enough sanity left to wonder why,
and to be worried. It was the ``walking
typhoid'' that had caught up with
him, and he was listless, and he made
strange gestures and did foolish things
as he stumbled down the mountain.
He was going over a little knoll now,
and he could see the creek that ran
around his house, but he was not
touched. He would just as soon have
lain down right where he was, or have
turned around and gone back, except
that it was hot and he wanted to get
to the water. He remembered that it
was nigh Christmas; he saw the snow
about him and the cakes of ice in the
creek. He knew that he ought not to
be hot, and yet he was--so hot that
he refused to reason with himself even
a minute, and hurried on. It was odd
that it should be so, but just about
that time, over in Virginia, a cattle
dealer, nearing home, stopped to tell
a neighbor how he had tricked some
black-whiskered fool up in the mountains.
It may have been just when he
was laughing aloud over there, that the
Senator, over here, tore his woollen
shirt from his great hairy chest and
rushed into the icy stream, clapping
his arms to his burning sides and
shouting in his frenzy.
``If he had lived a little longer,'' said
a constituent, ``he would have lost the
next election. He hadn't the money,
``If he had lived a little longer,'' said
the mountain preacher high up on Yellow
Creek, ``I'd have got that trade I
had on hand with him through. Not
that I wanted him to die, but if he
``If he had lived a little longer,''
said the Senator's lawyer, ``he would
have cleaned off the score against
``If he had lived a little longer,'' said
the Senator's sister, not meaning to
be unkind, ``he would have got all I
That was what life held for the
Senator. Death was more kind.
PREACHIN' ON KINGDOM-COME
I've told ye, stranger, that Hell fer
Sartain empties, as it oughter, of co'se,
into Kingdom-Come. You can ketch
the devil 'most any day in the week on
Hell fer Sartain, an' sometimes you can
git Glory everlastin' on Kingdom-Come.
Hit's the only meetin'-house thar in
twenty miles aroun'.
Well, the reg'lar rider, ole Jim Skaggs,
was dead, an' the bretherin was a-lookin'
aroun' fer somebody to step into ole
Jim's shoes. Thar'd been one young
feller up thar from the settlemints, a-
cavortin' aroun', an' they was studyin'
'bout gittin' him.
``Bretherin' an' sisteren,'' I says, atter
the leetle chap was gone, ``he's got the
fortitood to speak an' he shorely is well
favored. He's got a mighty good hawk
eye fer spyin' out evil--an' the gals; he
can outholler ole Jim; an' IF,'' I says,
``any IDEES ever comes to him, he'll be
a hell-rouser shore--but they ain't comin'!''
An', so sayin', I takes my foot in
my hand an' steps fer home.
Stranger, them fellers over thar hain't
seed much o' this world. Lots of 'em
nuver seed the cyars; some of 'em nuver
seed a wagon. An' atter jowerin' an'
noratin' fer 'bout two hours, what you
reckon they said they aimed to do?
They believed they'd take that ar man
Beecher, ef they could git him to come.
They'd heerd o' Henry endurin' the war,
an' they knowed he was agin the rebs,
an' they wanted Henry if they could
jes git him to come.
Well, I snorted, an' the feud broke
out on Hell fer Sartain betwixt the Days
an' the Dillons. Mace Day shot Daws
Dillon's brother, as I rickollect--somep'n's
al'ays a-startin' up that plaguey
war an' a-makin' things frolicsome over
thar--an' ef it hadn't a-been fer a tall
young feller with black hair an' a scar
across his forehead, who was a-goin'
through the mountains a-settlin' these
wars, blame me ef I believe thar ever
would 'a' been any mo' preachin' on
Kingdom-Come. This feller comes over
from Hazlan an' says he aims to hold a
meetin' on Kingdom-Come. ``Brother,''
I says, ``that's what no preacher have
ever did whilst this war is a-goin' on.''
An' he says, sort o' quiet, ``Well, then, I
reckon I'll have to do what no preacher
have ever did.'' An' I ups an' says:
``Brother, an ole jedge come up here
once from the settlemints to hold couht.
`Jedge,' I says, `that's what no jedge
have ever did without soldiers since this
war's been a-goin' on.' An', brother, the
jedge's words was yours, p'int-blank.
`All right,' he says, `then I'll have to do
what no other jedge have ever did.'
An', brother,'' says I to the preacher,
``the jedge done it shore. He jes laid
under the couht-house fer two days whilst
the boys fit over him. An' when I sees
the jedge a-makin' tracks fer the settlemints,
I says, `Jedge,' I says, `you spoke
a parable shore.' ''
Well, sir, the long preacher looked
jes as though he was a-sayin' to hisself,
``Yes, I hear ye, but I don't heed ye,''
an' when he says, ``Jes the same, I'm
a-goin' to hold a meetin' on Kingdom-
Come,'' why, I jes takes my foot in my
hand an' ag'in I steps fer home.
That night, stranger, I seed another
feller from Hazlan, who was a-tellin' how
this here preacher had stopped the war
over thar, an' had got the Marcums an'
Braytons to shakin' hands; an' next day
ole Tom Perkins stops in an' says that
WHARAS there mought 'a' been preachin'
somewhar an' sometime, thar nuver had
been PREACHIN' afore on Kingdom-Come.
So I goes over to the meetin' house, an'
they was all thar--Daws Dillon an'
Mace Day, the leaders in the war, an'
Abe Shivers (you've heerd tell o' Abe)
who was a-carryin' tales from one side to
t'other an' a-stirrin' up hell ginerally, as
Abe most al'ays is; an' thar was Daws
on one side o' the meetin'-house an'
Mace on t'other, an' both jes a-watchin'
fer t'other to make a move, an' thar'd
'a' been billy-hell to pay right thar!
Stranger, that long preacher talked jes
as easy as I'm a-talkin' now, an' hit was
p'int-blank as the feller from Hazlan
said. You jes ought 'a' heerd him tellin'
about the Lawd a-bein' as pore as any
feller thar, an' a-makin' barns an' fences
an' ox-yokes an' sech like; an' not
a-bein' able to write his own name--
havin' to make his mark mebbe--when
he started out to save the world. An'
how they tuk him an' nailed him onto
a cross when he'd come down fer nothin'
but to save 'em; an' stuck a spear big as
a corn-knife into his side, an' give him
vinegar; an' his own mammy a-standin'
down thar on the ground a-cryin' an'
a-watchin' him an' he a-fergivin' all of
'em then an' thar!
Thar nuver had been nothin' like that
afore on Kingdom-Come, an' all along I
heerd fellers a-layin' thar guns down;
an when the preacher called out fer
sinners, blame me ef the fust feller that
riz wasn't Mace Day. An' Mace says,
``Stranger, 'f what you say is true, I
reckon the Lawd 'll fergive me too, but
I don't believe Daws Dillon ever will,''
an' Mace stood thar lookin' around fer
Daws. An' all of a sudden the preacher
got up straight an' called out, ``Is thar
a human in this house mean an' sorry
enough to stand betwixt a man an' his
Maker''? An' right thar, stranger, Daws
riz. ``Naw, by God, thar hain' t!'' Daws
says, an' he walks up to Mace a-holdin'
out his hand, an' they all busts out
cryin' an' shakin' hands--Days an' Dillons--
jes as the preacher had made 'em
do over in Hazlan. An' atter the thing
was over, I steps up to the preacher an'
``Brother,'' I says, ``YOU spoke a
THE PASSING OF ABRAHAM SHIVERS
``I tell ye, boys, hit hain t often a
feller has the chance o' doin' so much
good jes by DYIN'. Fer 'f Abe Shivers
air gone, shorely gone, the rest of us--
every durn one of us--air a-goin' to be
saved. Fer Abe Shivers--you hain't
heerd tell o' ABE? Well, you must be a
stranger in these mountains o' Kaintuck,
``I don't know, stranger, as Abe ever
was borned; nobody in these mountains
knows it 'f he was. The fust time I ever
heerd tell o' Abe he was a-hollerin' fer his
rights one mawnin' at daylight, endurin'
the war, jes outside o' ole Tom Perkins'
door on Fryin' Pan. Abe was left thar
by some home-gyard, I reckon. Well,
nobody air ever turned out'n doors in
these mountains, as you know, an' Abe
got his rights that mawin', an' he's been
a-gittin' 'em ever sence. Tom already
had a houseful, but 'f any feller got the
bigges' hunk o' corn-bread, that feller was
Abe; an' ef any feller got a-whalin',
hit wasn't Abe.
``Abe tuk to lyin' right naturely--
looked like--afore he could talk. Fact
is, Abe nuver could do nothin' but jes
whisper. Still, Abe could manage to
send a lie furder with that rattlin'
whisper than ole Tom could with
that big horn o' hisn what tells the
boys the revenoos air comin' up Fryin'
``Didn't take Abe long to git to braggin'
an' drinkin' an' naggin' an' hectorin'
--everything, 'mos', 'cept fightin'. Nobody
ever drawed Abe Shivers into a
fight. I don't know as he was afeerd;
looked like Abe was a-havin' sech a
tarnation good time with his devilmint he
jes didn't want to run no risk o' havin'
hit stopped. An' sech devilmint! Hit
ud take a coon's age, I reckon, to tell
``The boys was a-goin' up the river
one night to git ole Dave Hall fer trickin'
Rosie Branham into evil. Some feller
goes ahead an' tells ole Dave they's
a-comin.' Hit was Abe. Some feller
finds a streak o' ore on ole Tom Perkins'
land, an' racks his jinny down to town,
an' tells a furriner thar, an' Tom comes
might' nigh sellin' the land fer nothin'.
Now Tom raised Abe, but, jes the same,
the feller was Abe.
``One night somebody guides the
revenoos in on Hell fer Sartain, an' they
cuts up four stills. Hit was Abe. The
same night, mind ye, a feller slips in
among the revenoos while they's asleep,
and cuts off their hosses' manes an'
tails--muled every durned critter uv
'em. Stranger, hit was Abe. An' as
fer women-folks--well, Abe was the
ill favoredest feller I ever see, an' he
couldn't talk; still, Abe was sassy, an'
you know how sass counts with the gals;
an' Abe's whisperin' come in jes as
handy as any feller's settin' up; so 'f
ever you seed a man with a Winchester
a-lookin' fer the feller who had cut
him out, stranger, he was a-lookin' fer
``Somebody tells Harve Hall, up thar
at a dance on Hell-fer-Sartain one Christmas
night, that Rich Harp had said
somep'n' agin him an' Nance Osborn.
An' somebody tells Rich that Harve had
said sompe'n' agin Nance an' HIM. Hit
was one an' the same feller, stranger, an'
the feller was Abe. Well, while Rich
an' Harve was a-gittin' well, somebody
runs off with Nance. Hit was Abe.
Then Rich an' Harve jes draws straws
fer a feller. Stranger, they drawed fer
Abe. Hit's purty hard to believe that
Abe air gone, 'cept that Rich Harp an'
Harve Hall don't never draw no straws
fer nothin'; but 'f by the grace o' Goddle-
mighty Abe air gone, why, as I was
a-sayin', the rest of us--every durned one
of us air a-goin' to be saved, shore.
Fer Abe's gone fust, an' ef thar's only
one Jedgment Day, the Lawd 'll nuver
git to us.''
A PURPLE RHODODENDRON
The purple rhododendron is rare.
Up in the Gap here, Bee Rock, hung
out over Roaring Rock, blossoms with
it--as a gray cloud purples with the
sunrise. This rock was tossed lightly
on edge when the earth was young, and
stands vertical. To get the flowers you
climb the mountain to one side, and,
balancing on the rock's thin edge, slip
down by roots and past rattlesnake dens
till you hang out over the water and
reach for them. To avoid snakes it is
best to go when it is cool, at daybreak.
I know but one other place in this
southwest corner of Virginia where
there is another bush of purple
rhododendron, and one bush only is there.
This hangs at the throat of a peak not
far away, whose ageless gray head is
bent over a ravine that sinks like a
spear thrust into the side of the
mountain. Swept only by high wind and
eagle wings as this is, I yet knew one
man foolhardy enough to climb to it
for a flower. He brought one blossom
down: and to this day I do not know
that it was not the act of a coward;
yes, though Grayson did it, actually
smiling all the way from peak to ravine,
and though he was my best friend
--best loved then and since. I believe
he was the strangest man I have ever
known, and I say this with thought;
for his eccentricities were sincere. In
all he did I cannot remember having
even suspected anything theatrical but
We were all Virginians or Kentuckians
at the Gap, and Grayson was a
Virginian. You might have guessed
that he was a Southerner from his voice
and from the way he spoke of women
--but no more. Otherwise, he might
have been a Moor, except for his color,
which was about the only racial
characteristic he had. He had been educated
abroad and, after the English habit, had
travelled everywhere. And yet I can
imagine no more lonely way between
the eternities than the path Grayson
He came to the Gap in the early
days, and just why he came I never
knew. He had studied the iron question
a long time, he told me, and what
I thought reckless speculation was, it
seems, deliberate judgment to him. His
money ``in the dirt,'' as the phrase was,
Grayson got him a horse and rode the
hills and waited. He was intimate with
nobody. Occasionally he would play
poker with us and sometimes he drank
a good deal, but liquor never loosed his
tongue. At poker his face told as little
as the back of his cards, and he won more
than admiration--even from the Kentuckians,
who are artists at the game;
but the money went from a free hand,
and, after a diversion like this, he was
apt to be moody and to keep more to
himself than ever. Every fortnight or
two he would disappear, always over
Sunday. In three or four days he
would turn up again, black with brooding,
and then he was the last man to
leave the card-table or he kept away
from it altogether. Where he went nobody
knew; and he was not the man
anybody would question.
One night two of us Kentuckians
were sitting in the club, and from a
home paper I read aloud the rumored
engagement of a girl we both knew--
who was famous for beauty in the Bluegrass,
as was her mother before her and
the mother before her--to an unnamed
Virginian. Grayson sat near, smoking a
pipe; and when I read the girl's name
I saw him take the meerschaum from
his lips, and I felt his eyes on me. It
was a mystery how, but I knew at once
that Grayson was the man. He sought
me out after that and seemed to want
to make friends. I was willing, or, rather
he made me more than willing; for
he was irresistible to me, as I imagine
he would have been to anybody. We
got to walking together and riding
together at night, and we were soon rather
intimate; but for a long time he never
so much as spoke the girl's name. Indeed,
he kept away from the Bluegrass
for nearly two months; but when he
did go he stayed a fortnight.
This time he came for me as soon as
he got back to the Gap. It was just
before midnight, and we went as usual
back of Imboden Hill, through moon-
dappled beeches, and Grayson turned
off into the woods where there was
no path, both of us silent. We rode
through tremulous, shining leaves--
Grayson's horse choosing a way for
himself--and, threshing through a patch
of high, strong weeds, we circled past an
amphitheatre of deadened trees whose
crooked arms were tossed out into the
moonlight, and halted on the spur. The
moon was poised over Morris's farm;
South Fork was shining under us like a
loop of gold, the mountains lay about in
tranquil heaps, and the moon-mist rose
luminous between them. There Grayson
turned to me with an eager light in
his eyes that I had never seen before.
``This has a new beauty to-night!''
he said; and then ``I told her about
you, and she said that she used to know
you--well.'' I was glad my face was in
shadow--I could hardly keep back a
brutal laugh--and Grayson, unseeing,
went on to speak of her as I had never
heard any man speak of any woman. In
the end, he said that she had just promised
to be his wife. I answered nothing.
Other men, I knew, had said that
with the same right, perhaps, and had
gone from her to go back no more.
And I was one of them. Grayson had
met her at White Sulphur five years
before, and had loved her ever since.
She had known it from the first, he
said, and I guessed then what was going
to happen to him. I marvelled, listening
to the man, for it was the star of
constancy in her white soul that was
most lustrous to him--and while I
wondered the marvel became a commonplace.
Did not every lover think his
loved one exempt from the frailty that
names other women? There is no ideal
of faith or of purity that does not live
in countless women to-day. I believe
that; but could I not recall one friend
who walked with Divinity through pine
woods for one immortal spring, and who,
being sick to death, was quite finished
--learning her at last? Did I not know
lovers who believed sacred to themselves,
in the name of love, lips that
had been given to many another without
it? And now did I not know--but
I knew too much, and to Grayson I said
That spring the ``boom'' came. Grayson's
property quadrupled in value and
quadrupled again. I was his lawyer, and
I plead with him to sell; but Grayson
laughed. He was not speculating; he
had invested on judgment; he would
sell only at a certain figure. The figure
was actually reached, and Grayson let
half go. The boom fell, and Grayson
took the tumble with a jest. It would
come again in the autumn, he said, and
he went off to meet the girl at White
I worked right hard that summer, but
I missed him, and I surely was glad
when he came back. Something was
wrong; I saw it at once. He did not
mention her name, and for a while he
avoided even me. I sought him then,
and gradually I got him into our old
habit of walking up into the Gap and of
sitting out after supper on a big rock in
the valley, listening to the run of the
river and watching the afterglow over
the Cumberland, the moon rise over
Wallen's Ridge and the stars come out.
Waiting for him to speak, I learned for
the first time then another secret of his
wretched melancholy. It was the hopelessness
of that time, perhaps, that disclosed
it. Grayson had lost the faith
of his childhood. Most men do that at
some time or other, but Grayson had
no business, no profession, no art in
which to find relief. Indeed, there was
but one substitute possible, and that
came like a gift straight from the God
whom he denied. Love came, and Grayson's
ideals of love, as of everything
else, were morbid and quixotic. He
believed that he owed it to the woman
he should marry never to have loved
another. He had loved but one woman,
he said, and he should love but one.
I believed him then literally when he
said that his love for the Kentucky
girl was his religion now--the only
anchor left him in his sea of troubles,
the only star that gave him guiding
light. Without this love, what
I had a strong impulse to ask him,
but Grayson shivered, as though he
divined my thought, and, in some
relentless way, our talk drifted to the
question of suicide. I was not surprised
that he rather defended it. Neither of
us said anything new, only I did not
like the way he talked. He was too
deliberate, too serious, as though he
were really facing a possible fact. He
had no religious scruples, he said, no
family ties; he had nothing to do with
bringing himself into life; why--if it
was not worth living, not bearable--
why should he not end it? He gave
the usual authority, and I gave the
usual answer. Religion aside, if we did
not know that we were here for some
purpose, we did not know that we were
not; and here we were anyway, and
our duty was plain. Desertion was the
act of a coward, and that Grayson could
That autumn the crash of '91 came
across the water from England, and
Grayson gave up. He went to
Richmond, and came back with money
enough to pay off his notes, and I
think it took nearly all he had. Still,
he played poker steadily now--for poker
had been resumed when it was no longer
possible to gamble in lots--he drank
a good deal, and he began just at this
time to take a singular interest in our
volunteer police guard. He had always
been on hand when there was trouble,
and I sha'n't soon forget him the day
Senator Mahone spoke, when we were
punching a crowd of mountaineers back
with cocked Winchesters. He had lost
his hat in a struggle with one giant; he
looked half crazy with anger, and yet
he was white and perfectly cool, and I
noticed that he never had to tell a man
but once to stand back. Now he was
the first man to answer a police whistle.
When we were guarding Talt Hall, he
always volunteered when there was any
unusual risk to run. When we raided
the Pound to capture a gang of
desperadoes, he insisted on going ahead as
spy; and when we got restless lying
out in the woods waiting for daybreak,
and the captain suggested a charge on
the cabin, Grayson was by his side when
it was made. Grayson sprang through
the door first, and he was the man who
thrust his reckless head up into the loft
and lighted a match to see if the murderers
were there. Most of us did foolish
things in those days under stress
of excitement, but Grayson, I saw, was
weak enough to be reckless. His trouble
with the girl, whatever it was, was
serious enough to make him apparently
care little whether he were alive or dead.
And still I saw that not yet even had
he lost hope. He was having a sore
fight with his pride, and he got body-
worn and heart-sick over it. Of course
he was worsted, and in the end, from
sheer weakness, he went back to her
I shall never see another face like his
when Grayson came back that last time.
I never noticed before that there were
silver hairs about his temples. He stayed
in his room, and had his meals sent to
him. He came out only to ride, and then
at night. Waking the third morning at
daybreak, I saw him through the window
galloping past, and I knew he had spent
the night on Black Mountain. I went
to his room as soon as I got up, and
Grayson was lying across his bed with
his face down, his clothes on, and in his
right hand was a revolver. I reeled
into a chair before I had strength enough
to bend over him, and when I did I
found him asleep. I left him as he was,
and I never let him know that I had
been to his room; but I got him out on
the rock again that night, and I turned
our talk again to suicide. I said it was
small, mean, cowardly, criminal,
contemptible! I was savagely in earnest,
and Grayson shivered and said not a
word. I thought he was in better mind
after that. We got to taking night
rides again, and I stayed as closely to
him as I could, for times got worse and
trouble was upon everybody. Notes fell
thicker than snowflakes, and, through
the foolish policy of the company,
foreclosures had to be made. Grayson went
to the wall like the rest of us. I asked
him what he had done with the money
he had made. He had given away a
great deal to poorer kindred; he had
paid his dead father's debts; he had
played away a good deal, and he had
lost the rest. His faith was still
imperturbable. He had a dozen rectangles of
``dirt,'' and from these, he said, it would
all come back some day. Still, he felt
the sudden poverty keenly, but he faced
it as he did any other physical fact in
life--dauntless. He used to be fond of
saying that no one thing could make
him miserable. But he would talk with
mocking earnestness about some much-
dreaded combination; and a favorite
phrase of his--which got to have peculiar
significance--was ``the cohorts of hell,''
who closed in on him when he was sick
and weak, and who fell back when he
got well. He had one strange habit,
too, from which I got comfort. He
would deliberately walk into and defy
any temptation that beset him. That
was the way he strengthened himself,
he said. I knew what his temptation
was now, and I thought of this habit
when I found him asleep with his
revolver, and I got hope from it now,
when the dreaded combination (whatever
that was) seemed actually to have come.
I could see now that he got worse
daily. He stopped his mockeries, his
occasional fits of reckless gayety. He
stopped poker--resolutely--he couldn't
afford to lose now; and, what puzzled me,
he stopped drinking. The man simply
looked tired, always hopelessly tired;
and I could believe him sincere in all
his foolish talk about his blessed Nirvana:
which was the peace he craved,
which was end enough for him.
Winter broke. May drew near; and
one afternoon, when Grayson and I took
our walk up through the Gap, he carried
along a huge spy-glass of mine, which
had belonged to a famous old desperado,
who watched his enemies with it from the
mountain-tops. We both helped capture
him, and I defended him. He was
sentenced to hang--the glass was my fee.
We sat down opposite Bee Rock, and
for the first time Grayson told me of
that last scene with her. He spoke
without bitterness, and he told me what
she said, word for word, without a breath
of blame for her. I do not believe that
he judged her at all; she did not know--
he always said; she did not KNOW; and
then, when I opened my lips, Grayson
reached silently for my wrist, and I can
feel again the warning crush of his fingers,
and I say nothing against her now.
I asked Grayson what his answer was.
``I asked her,'' he said, solemnly, ``if
she had ever seen a purple rhododendron.''
I almost laughed, picturing the scene
--the girl bewildered by his absurd question--
Grayson calm, superbly courteous.
It was a mental peculiarity of his--this
irrelevancy--and it was like him to end
a matter of life and death in just that
``I told her I should send her one.
I am waiting for them to come out,'' he
added; and he lay back with his head
against a stone and sighted the telescope
on a dizzy point, about which buzzards
``There is just one bush of rhododendron
up there,'' he went on. ``I saw it
looking down from the Point last spring.
I imagine it must blossom earlier than
that across there on Bee Rock, being
always in the sun. No, it's not budding
yet,'' he added, with his eye to the glass.
``You see that ledge just to the left? I
dropped a big rock from the Point square
on a rattler who was sunning himself
there last spring. I can see a foothold
all the way up the cliff. It can be done,''
he concluded, in a tone that made me
turn sharply upon him.
``Do you really mean to climb up
there?'' I asked, harshly.
``If it blossoms first up there--I'll get
it where it blooms first.'' In a moment
I was angry and half sick with suspicion,
for I knew his obstinacy; and
then began what I am half ashamed to
Every day thereafter Grayson took
that glass with him, and I went along
to humor him. I watched Bee Rock,
and he that one bush at the throat of
the peak--neither of us talking over the
matter again. It was uncanny, that
rivalry--sun and wind in one spot, sun
and wind in another--Nature herself
casting the fate of a half-crazed fool
with a flower. It was utterly absurd,
but I got nervous over it--apprehensive,
A week later it rained for two days,
and the water was high. The next
day the sun shone, and that afternoon
Grayson smiled, looking through the
glass, and handed it to me. I knew
what I should see. One purple cluster,
full blown, was shaking in the wind.
Grayson was leaning back in a dream
when I let the glass down. A cool
breath from the woods behind us
brought the odor of roots and of black
earth; up in the leaves and sunlight
somewhere a wood-thrush was singing,
and I saw in Grayson's face what
I had not seen for a long time, and
that was peace--the peace of stubborn
purpose. He did not come
for me the next day, nor the next;
but the next he did, earlier than
``I am going to get that rhododendron,''
he said. ``I have been half-way
up--it can be reached.'' So had I been
half-way up. With nerve and agility
the flower could be got, and both these
Grayson had. If he had wanted to
climb up there and drop, he could have
done it alone, and he would have known
that I should have found him. Grayson
was testing himself again, and, angry
with him for the absurdity of the thing
and with myself for humoring it, but
still not sure of him, I picked up my hat
and went. I swore to myself silently
that it was the last time I should pay
any heed to his whims. I believed this
would be the last. The affair with the
girl was over. The flower sent, I knew
Grayson would never mention her name
Nature was radiant that afternoon.
The mountains had the leafy luxuriance
of June, and a rich, sunlit haze
drowsed on them between the shadows
starting out over the valley and the
clouds so white that the blue of the sky
looked dark. Two eagles shot across
the mouth of the Gap as we neared it,
and high beyond buzzards were sailing
over Grayson's rhododendron.
I went up the ravine with him and
I climbed up behind him--Grayson
going very deliberately and whistling
softly. He called down to me when he
reached the shelf that looked half-way.
``You mustn't come any farther than
this,'' he said. ``Get out on that rock
and I'll drop them down to you.''
Then he jumped from the ledge and
caught the body of a small tree close
to the roots, and my heart sank at such
recklessness and all my fears rose again.
I scrambled hastily to the ledge, but I
could get no farther. I might possibly
make the jump he had made--but how
should I ever get back? How would
he? I called angrily after him now,
and he wouldn't answer me. I called
him a fool, a coward; I stamped the
ledge like a child--but Grayson kept
on, foot after hand, with stealthy
caution, and the purple cluster nodding
down at him made my head whirl. I
had to lie down to keep from tumbling
from the ledge; and there on my side,
gripping a pine bush, I lay looking up
at him. He was close to the flowers
now, and just before he took the last
upward step he turned and looked
down that awful height with as calm a
face as though he could have dropped
and floated unhurt to the ravine beneath.
Then with his left hand he caught
the ledge to the left, strained up, and,
holding thus, reached out with his right.
The hand closed about the cluster, and
the twig was broken. Grayson gave a
great shout then. He turned his head
as though to drop them, and, that far
away, I heard the sibilant whir of
rattles. I saw a snake's crest within a
yard of his face, and, my God! I saw
Grayson loose his left hand to guard it!
The snake struck at his arm, and Grayson
reeled and caught back once at the
ledge with his left hand. He caught
once, I say, to do him full justice; then,
without a word, he dropped--and I
swear there was a smile on his face
when he shot down past me into the
I found him down there in the ravine
with nearly every bone in his body
crushed. His left arm was under him,
and outstretched in his right hand was
the shattered cluster, with every
blossom gone but one. One white half of
his face was unmarked, and on it was
still the shadow of a smile. I think it
meant more than that Grayson believed
that he was near peace at last. It
meant that Fate had done the deed for
him and that he was glad. Whether he
would have done it himself, I do not
know; and that is why I say that
though Grayson brought the flower
down--smiling from peak to ravine--
I do not know that he was not, after
all, a coward.
That night I wrote to the woman in
Kentucky. I told her that Grayson
had fallen from a cliff while climbing
for flowers; and that he was dead.
Along with these words, I sent a purple
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