The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains The eyes lifted to the shivering vapors might never have reflected aught but a tropical sunshine, so warm, so bright, so languorously calm were they.
She turned them presently upon a young man, who was ploughing with a horse close by, and who also came to a meditative halt in the turn−row.
He too was of intermittent conversational tendencies, and between them it might be marveled that so many furrows were already run.
He wore a wide−brimmed brown wool hat, set far back upon his head; a mass of straight yellow hair hung down to the collar of his brown jeans coat.
His brown eyes were slow and contemplative.
The corn was knee−high, and hid the great boots drawn over his trousers.
As he moved there sounded the unexpected jingle of spurs.
He looked, with the stolid, lack−lustre expression of the mountaineer, at the girl, who continued, as she leaned lightly on the plough− handles: I ‘lowed ter him ez mebbe he hed drempt them visions.
I knows I hev thunk some toler’ble cur’ous thoughts myself, ef I war tired an’ sleepin’ hard.
But he said he reckoned I hed drempt no sech dreams ez his’n.
I can’t holp sorrowin’ fur him some.
He ‘lowed ez Satan hev hunted him like a pa’tridge on the mounting.
The young man’s eyes dropped with sudden significance upon his plough−handles.
A pair of pistols in their leather cases swung incongruously there.
They gave a caustic suggestion of human adversaries as fierce as the moral pursuit of the Principle of Evil, and the girl’s face fell.
In absence of mind she recommended her work.
Waal, she gently drawled, as the old ox languidly started down the row, ‘pears like ter me ez it ain’t goin’ ter be no differ, nohow; it won’t hender ye none.
Her face was grave, but there was a smile in her eyes, which had the lustre and depth of a sapphire, and a lambent glow like the heart of a blue flame.
They were fringed by long, black lashes, and her hair was black, also.
Her pink calico sun−bonnet, flaring toward the front, showed it lying in moist tendrils on her brow, and cast an unwonted roseate tint upon the clear, healthful pallor of her complexion.
She wore a dark blue homespun dress, and, despite her coarse garb and uncouth occupation and the gaunt old ox, there was something impressive in her simple beauty, her youth, and her elastic vigor.
As she drove the ploughshare into the mould she might have seemed the type of a young civilization,so fine a thing in itself, so roughly accoutred.
When she came down the slope again, facing him, the pink curtain of her bonnet waving about her shoulders, her blue skirts fluttering among the blades of corn, a winged shadow sweeping along as if attendant upon her, while a dove flew high above to its nest in the pines, he raised his hand with an imperative gesture, and she paused obediently.
He had flushed deeply; the smouldering fire in his eyes was kindling.
He leaned across the few rows of corn that stood between them.
I hev a word ter ax right now.
Who air under conviction hyar? he demanded.
She seemed a trifle startled.
Her grasp shifted uncertainly on the plough−handles, and the old ox, accustomed to rest only at the turnrow, mistook her intention, and started off.
She stopped him with some difficulty, and then, Convicted of sin? she asked, in a voice that showed her appreciation of the solemnity of the subject.
I hev said it, the young man declared, with a half−suppressed irritation which confused her.
She remained silent.
Mebbe it air yer granny, he suggested, with a sneer.
She recoiled, with palpable surprise.
Granny made her peace fifty year ago, she declared, with pride in this anciently acquired grace, fifty year an’ better.
The boys air convicted, then? he asked, still leaning over the corn and still sneering.
The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 2 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains The boys hev got thar religion, too, she faltered, looking at him with wide eyes, brilliant with astonishment, and yet a trifle dismayed.
Suddenly, she threw herself into her wonted confiding attitude, leaning upon her plough−handles, and with an appealing glance began an extenuation of her spiritual poverty: ‘Pears like ez I hev never hed a call ter tell you−uns afore ez I hev hed no time yit ter git my religion.
Granny bein’ old, an’ the boys at the still, I hev hed ter spin, an’ weave, an’ cook, an’ sew, an’ plough some,the boys bein’ mos’ly at the still.
An’ then, thar be Mirandy Jane, my brother Ab’s darter, ez I hev hed ter l’arn how ter cook vittles.
When I went down yander ter my aunt Jerushy’s house in Tuckaleechee Cove, ter holp her some with weavin’, I war plumb cur’ous ter know how Mirandy Jane would make out whilst I war gone.
They ‘lowed ez she hed cooked the vittles toler’ble, but ef she had washed a skillet or a platter in them three days I couldn’t find it.
Her tone was stern; all the outraged housekeeper was astir within her.
He said nothing, and she presently continued discursively, still leaning on the plough−handles: I never stayed away but them three days.
I war n’t sati’fied in my mind, nohow, whilst I bided down thar in Tuckaleechee Cove.
I hankered cornsider’ble arter the baby.
He air three year old now, an’ I hev keered fur him ever sence his mother died,my brother Ab’s wife, ye know,two year ago an’ better.
They hed fedded him toler’ble whilst I war away, an’ I fund him fat ez common.
But they hed crost him somehows, an’ he war ailin’ in his temper when I got home, an’ hed ter hev cornsider’ble coddlin’.
She paused before the rising anger in his eyes.
Why air Mirandy Jane called ter l’arn how ter cook vittles? he demanded, irrelevantly, it might have seemed.
She looked at him in deprecating surprise.
Yet she turned at bay.
I hev never hearn ez ye war convicted yerself, Rick Tyler! she said, tartly.
Ye war never so much ez seen a−scoutin’ round the mourner’s bench.
Ef I hev got no religion, ye hev got none, nuther.
Ye air minded ter git married, D’rindy Cayce, he said, severely, solving his own problem, an’ that’s why Mirandy Jane hev got ter be l’arned ter take yer place at home.
He produced this as if it were an accusation.
She drew back, indignant and affronted, and with a rigid air of offended propriety.
I hev no call ter spen’ words ’bout sech ez that, with a free−spoken man like you−uns, she staidly asseverated; and then she was about to move on.
Accepting her view of the gross unseemliness of his mention of the subject, the young fellow’s anger gave way to contrition.
Waal, D’rindy, he said, in an eager, apologetic tone, I hev seen that critter, that thar preacher, a−hangin’ round you−uns’s house a powerful deal lately, whilst I hev been obleeged ter hide out in the woods.
An’ bein’ ez nobody thar owns up ter needin’ religion but ye, I reckoned he war a−tryin’ ter git ye ter take him an’ grace tergether.
That man hev got his mouth stuffed chock full o’ words, more ‘n enny other man I ever see, he added, with an expression of deep disgust.
Dorinda might be thought to abuse her opportunities.
He ain’t studyin’ ’bout’n me, no more ‘n I be ’bout’n him, she said, with scant relish for the spectacle of Rick Tyler’s jealousy.
Pa’son Kelsey jes’ stops thar ter the house ter rest his bones awhile, arter he comes down off’n the bald, whar he goes ter pray.
In the name o’ reason, exclaimed the young fellow petulantly, why can’t he pray somewhar else? A man ez hev got ter h’ist hisself on the bald of a mounting ten mile highexcept what’s lackin’ter git a purchase on prayer hain’t got no religion wuth talkin’ ’bout.
Sinner ez I am, I kin pray in the valleyway down yander in Tuckaleechee Cove ez peart ez on enny bald in the Big Smoky.
That critter air a powerful aggervatin’ contrivance.
The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 3 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Her eyes still shone upon him. ‘Pears like ter me ez it air no differ, nohow, she said, with her consolatory cadence.
As she again started down the row, she added, glancing over her shoulder and relenting even to explanation, ‘T war granny’s word ez Mirandy Jane hed ter be l’arned ter cook an’ sech.
She air risin’ thirteen now, an’ air toler’ble bouncin’ an’ spry, an’ oughter be some use, ef ever.
An’ she mought marry when she gits fairly grown, an’, pausing in the turn−row for argument, and looking with earnest eyes at him, as he still stood in the midst of the waving corn, idly holding his plough−handles, where the pistols swung, ef she did marry, ‘pears like ter me ez she would be mightily faulted ef she could n’t cook tasty.
There was no reasonable doubt of this proposition, but it failed to convince, and in miserable cogitation he completed another furrow, and met her at the turn−row.
I s’pose ez Pa’son Kelsey an’ yer granny air powerful sociable an’ frien’ly, he hazarded, as they stood together.
I dunno ez them two air partic’lar frien’ly.
Pa’son Kelsey air in no wise a sociable critter, said Dorinda, with a discriminating air.
He ain’t like Brother Jake Tobin,though it ‘pears like ter me ez his gift in prayer air manifested more survigrus ef ennything.
She submitted this diffidently.
Having no religion, she felt incompetent to judge of such matters. ‘Pears like ter me ez Pa’son Kelsey air more like ‘Lijah an’ ‘Lisha, an’ them men, what he talks about cornsider’ble, an’ goes out ter meet on the bald.
He don’t meet them men on the bald; they air dead, said Rick Tyler, abruptly.
She looked at him in shocked surprise.
That’s jes’ his addling way o’ talkin’, continued the young fellow.
He don’t mean fur true more ‘n haffen what he say.
He ‘lows ez he meets the sperits o’ them men on the bald.
Once more she lifted her bright eyes to the shivering vapors, vague, mysterious, veiling, in solemn silence the barren, awful heights.
An extreme gravity had fallen upon her face.
Did they live in thar life−time up hyar in the Big Smoky, or in the valley kentry? she asked, in a lowered voice.
I ain’t sure ’bout’n that, he replied, indifferently. ‘Crost the line in the old North State? she hazarded, exhausting her knowledge of the habitable globe.
I hearn him read ’bout’n it wunst, but I furgits now.
Still her reverent, beautiful eyes, full of the dreamy sunshine, were lifted to the peak.
It must hev been in the Big Smoky Mountings they lived, she said, with eager credulity, fur he told me ez the word an’ the prophets holped him when Satan kem a−huntin’ of him like a pa’tridge on the mounting.
The young fellow turned away, with a gesture of angry impatience.
Ef he hed ever hed the State o’ Tennessee a−huntin’ of him he would n’t be so feared o’ Satan.
Ef thar war a warrant fur him in the sher’ff’s pocket, an’ the gran’ jury’s true bill fur murder lyin’ agin him yander at Shaftesville, an’ the gov’nor’s reward, two hunderd dollars blood money, on him, he would n’t be a−humpin’ his bones round hyar so peart, a−shakin’ in his shoes fur the fear o’ Satan.
He laughed,a caustic, jeering laugh.
Satan’s mighty active, cornsiderin’ his age, but I ‘d be willin’ ter pit the State o’ Tennessee agin him when it kem ter huntin’ of folks like a pa’tridge. The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 4 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains The sunshine in the girl’s eyes was clouded.
They had filled with tears.
Still leaning on the plough−handles, she looked at him, with suddenly crimson cheeks and quivering lips.
I dunno how the State o’ Tennessee kin git its own cornsent ter be so mean an’ wicked ez it air, she said, his helpless little partisan.
Despite their futility, her words comforted him.
An’ I hev done nuthin’, nohow! he cried out, in shrill self−justification.
I could no more hender ‘Bednego Tynes from shootin’ Joel Byers down in his own door’n nuthin’ in this worl’.
I never even knowed they hed a grudge.
Bednego Tynes, he tole me ez he owed Joel a debt, an’ war goin’ ter see him ’bout’n it, an’ wanted somebody along ter hear his word an’ see jestice done ‘twixt ’em.
Thar air fower Byers boys, an’ I reckon he war feared they would all jump on him at wunst, an’ he wanted me ter holp him ef they did.
An’ I went along like a fool sheep, thinkin’ ’bout nuthin’.
An’ when we got way down yander in Eskaqua Cove, whar Joel Byers’s house air, he gin a hello at the fence, an’ Joel kem ter the door.
An’ ‘Bednego whipped up his riffle suddint an’ shot him through the head, ez nip an’ percise! An’ thar stood Joel’s wife, seein’ it all.
An’ ‘Bednego run off, nimble, I tell ye, an’ I war so frustrated I run, too.
Somebody cotched ‘Bednego in the old North State the nex’ week, an’ the gov’nor hed ter send a requisition arter him.
But sence I fund out ez they ‘lowed I war aidin’ an’ abettin’ ‘Bednego, an’ war goin’ ter arrest me ‘kase I war thar at the killin’, they hev hed powerful little chance o’ tryin’ me in the court.
An’ whilst the gov’nor hed his hand in, he offered a reward fur sech a lawless man ez I be.
He broke off, visibly struggling for composure; then he recommenced in increasing indignation: An’ these hyar frien’s o’ mine in the Big Smoky, I ‘ll be bound they hanker powerful arter them two hunderd dollars blood money.
I know ez I ‘d hev been tuk afore this, ef it war n’t fur them consarns thar.
He nodded frowningly at the pistols.
Them’s the only frien’s I hev got.
The girl’s voice trembled. ‘Pears like ye mought count me in, she said, reproachfully.
Naw, he retorted, sternly, ye go round hyar sorrowin’ fur a man ez hev got nuthin’ ter be afeard of but the devil.
She made no reply, and her meekness mollified him.
D’rindy, he said, in an altered tone, and with the pathos of a keen despair, I hed fixed it in my mind a good while ago, when I could hev hed a house, an’ lived like folks, stiddier like a wolf in the woods, ter ax ye ter marry me; but I war hendered by gittin’ skeered ’bout’n yer bein’ all in favor o’ Amos Jeemes, ez kem up ter see ye from Eskaqua Cove, an’ I did n’t want ter git turned off.
Mebbe ef I hed axed ye then I would n’t hev tuk ter goin’ along o’ Abednego Tynes an’ sech, an’ the killin’ o’ Joel would n’t hev happened like it done.
Would yewould ye hev married me then? Her eyes flashed.
Ye air fairly sodden with foolishness, Rick! she exclaimed, angrily.
Air you−uns thinkin’ ez I ‘ll ‘low ez I would hev married a man four month ago ez never axed me ter marry, nohow? Then, with an appreciation of the delicacy of the position and a conservation of mutual pride, she added, An’ I won’t say nuther ez I would n’t marry a man ez hev never axed me ter marry, nohow.
Somehow, the contrariety of the proprieties, as she translated them, bewildered and baffled him.
Even had he been looking at her he might hardly have interpreted, with his blunt perceptions, the dewy wistfulness of the eyes which she bent upon him.
The word might promise nothing now.
Still she would have valued it.
He did not speak it.
His eyes were fixed on Chilhowee Mountain, rising up, massive and splendid, against the west.
The shadows of the clouds flecked the pure and perfect blue of the sunny slopes with a dusky mottling of purple.
The denser shade in the valley had shifted, and one might know by this how the day wore on.
The dew had dried from the long, keen blades of the Indian corn; the grasshoppers droned among them.
A lizard basked on a flat, white stone hard by.
The old ox dozed in the turn−row. The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 5 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Suddenly Rick Tyler lifted his hand, with an intent gesture and a dilated eye.
There came from far below, on the mountain road, the sound of a horse’s hoof striking on a stone, again, and yet again.
A faint metallic jinglethe air was so still nowsuggested spurs.
The girl’s hand trembled violently as she stepped swiftly to his horse and took off the plough−gear.
He had caught up a saddle that was lying in the turn−row, and as hastily buckled the girth about the animal.
Ef that air ennybody a−hankerin’ ter see me, don’t you−uns be a−denyin’ ez I hev been hyar, D’rindy, he said, as he put his foot in the stirrup.
I reckon they hev fund out by now ez I be in the kentry round about.
But keep ’em hyar ez long ez ye kin, ter gin me a start.
He mounted his horse, and rode noiselessly away along the newly turned mould of the furrow.
She stood leaning upon her plough−handles, and silently watching him.
His equestrian figure, darkly outlined against the far blue mountains and the intermediate valley, seemed of heroic size against the landscape, which was reduced by the distance to the minimum of proportion.
The deep shadows of the woods, encompassing the clearing, fell upon him presently, and he, too, was but a shadow in the dusky monochrome of the limited vista.
The dense laurel closed about him, and his mountain fastnesses, that had befriended him of yore, received him once again.
Then up and down the furrows Dorinda mechanically followed the plough, her pulses throbbing, every nerve tense, every faculty alert.
She winced when she heard the frequent striking of hoofs upon the rocky slopes of the road below.
She was instantly aware when they were silent and the party had stopped to breathe the horses.
She began accurately to gauge their slow progress. ‘T ain’t airish in no wise ter−day, she said, glancing about at the still, noontide landscape; an’ ef them air valley cattle they mus’ git blowed mightily travelin’ up sech steep mountings ez the Big Smoky.
She checked her self−gratulation.
Though I ain’t wantin’ ter gloat on the beastis’ misery, nuther, she stipulated.
She paused presently at the lower end of the clearing, and looked down over the precipice, that presented a sheer sandstone cliff on one side, and on the other a wild confusion of splintered and creviced rocks, where the wild rose bloomed in the niches and the grape−vine swung.
The beech−trees on the slope below conserved beneath their dense, umbrageous branches a tender, green twilight.
Loitering along in a gleaming silver thread by the roadside was a mountain rill, hardly gurgling even when with slight and primitive shift it was led into a hollow and mossy log, that it might aggregate sufficient volume in the dry season to water the horse of the chance wayfarer.
The first stranger that rode into this shadowy nook took off a large straw hat and bared his brow to the refreshing coolness.
His grizzled hair stood up in front after the manner denominated a roach.
His temples were deeply sunken, and his strongly marked face was long and singularly lean.
He held it forward, as if he were snuffing the air.
He had a massive and powerful frame, with not an ounce of superfluous flesh, and he looked like a hound in the midst of the hunting season.
It served to quiet Dorinda’s quivering nerves when he leisurely rode his big gray horse up to the trough, and dropped the rein that the animal might drink.
If he were in pursuit he evidently had no idea how close he had pressed the fugitive.
He was joined there by the other members of the party, six or eight in number, and presently a stentorian voice broke upon the air.
Hello! Hello! he shouted, hailing the log cabin.
Mirandy Jane, a slim, long−legged, filly−like girl of thirteen, with a tangled black mane, the forelock hanging over her wild, prominent eyes, had at that moment appeared on the porch.
She paused, and stared at the strangers with vivacious surprise.
Then, taking sudden fright, she fled precipitately, with as much attendant confusion of pattering footfalls, flying mane, and excited snorts and gasps as if she were a troop of wild horses.
The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 6 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Granny! Granny! she exclaimed to the old crone in the chimney corner, thar’s a man on a big gray critter down at the trough, an’ I ain’t s’prised none ef he air a raider! The hail of the intruders was regarded as a challenge by some fifteen or twenty hounds that suddenly materialized among the beehives and the althea bushes, and from behind the ash−hopper and the hen−house and the rain−barrel.
From under the cabin two huge curs came, their activity impeded by the blocks and chains they drew.
These were silent, while the others yelped vociferously, and climbed over the fence, and dashed down the road.
The horses pricked up their ears, and the leader of the party awaited the onslaught with a pistol in his hand.
The old woman, glancing out of the window, observed this demonstration.
He’ll kill one o’ our dogs with that thar shootin’−iron o’ his’n! she exclaimed in trepidation.
Run, Mirandy Jane, an’ tell him our dogs don’t bite.
The filly−like Mirandy Jane made great speed among the hounds, as she called them off, and remembered only after she had returned to the house to be afraid of the shootin’−iron herself.
The old woman, who had come out on the porch, stood gazing at the party, shading her eyes with her hand, and a long−range colloquy ensued.
Good−mornin’, madam, said the man at the trough.
Good−mornin’, sir, quavered the old crone on the mountain slope.
I’m the sher’ff o’ the county, madam, an’ I ‘d like ter know ef Mirandy Jane, the old woman interrupted, in a wrathful undertone, ‘pears like I hev hed the trouble o’ raisin’ a idjit in you−uns! Them ain’t raiders, ‘n nuthin’ like it.
Run an’ tell the sher’ff we air dishin’ up dinner right now, an’ ax him an’ his gang ter’ light an’ hitch, an’ eat it along o’ we−uns.
The prospect was tempting.
It was high noon, and the posse had been in the saddle since dawn.
Dorinda, with a beating heart, marked how short a consultation resulted in dismounting and hitching the horses; and then, with their spurs jingling and their pistols belted about them, the men trooped up to the house.
As they seated themselves around the table, more than one looked back over his shoulder at the open window, in which was framed, as motionless as a painted picture, the vast perspective of the endless blue ranges and the great vaulted sky, not more blue, all with the broad, still, brilliant noontide upon it.
Ye ain’t scrimped fur a view, Mis’ Cayce, an’ that’s the Lord’s truth! exclaimed the officer.
Waal, said the old woman, as if her attention were called to the fact for the first time, we kin see a power o’ kentry from this spot o’ ourn, sure enough; but I dunno ez it gins us enny more chance o’ ever viewin’ Canaan.
It’s a sight o’ ground ter hev ter hunt a man over, ez ef he war a needle in a haystack, and once more the officer turned and surveyed the prospect.
The room was overheated by the fire which had cooked the dinner, and the old woman actively plied her fan of turkey feathers, pausing occasionally to readjust her cap, which had a flapping frill and was surmounted by a pair of gleaming spectacles.
A bandana kerchief was crossed over her breast, and she wore a blue−and− white−checked homespun dress of the same pattern and style that she had worn here fifty years ago.
Her hands The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 7 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains were tremulous and gnarled and her face was deeply wrinkled, but her interest in life was as fresh as Mirandy Jane’s.
The great frame of the warping−bars on one side of the room was swathed with a rainbow of variegated yarn, and a spinning−wheel stood near the door.
A few shelves, scrupulously neat, held piggins, a cracked blue bowl, brown earthenware, and the cooking utensils.
There were rude gun−racks on the walls.
These indicated the fact of several men in the family.
It was the universal dinner−hour, yet none of them appeared.
The sheriff reflected that perhaps they had their own sufficient reason to be shy of strangers, and the horses hitched outside advertised the presence and number of unaccustomed visitors within.
When the usual appetizer was offered, it took the form of whiskey in such quantity that the conviction was forced upon him that it was come by very handily.
However, he applied himself with great relish to the bacon and snap−beans, corn dodgers and fried chicken, not knowing that Mirandy Jane, who was esteemed altogether second rate, had cooked them, and he spread honey upon the apple−pie, ate it with his knife, and washed it down with buttermilk, kept cold as ice in the spring,the mixture being calculated to surprise a more civilized stomach.
Not even his conscience was roused,the first intimation of a disordered digestion.
He listened to old Mrs.
Cayce with no betrayal of divination when she vaguely but anxiously explained the absence of her son and his boys in the equivocal phrase, Not round about ter−day, bein’ gone off, and he asked how many miles distant was the Settlement, as if he understood they had gone thither.
He was saying to himself, the brush whiskey warming his heart, that the revenue department paid him nothing to raid moonshiners, and there was no obligation of his office to sift any such suspicion which might occur to him while accepting an unguarded hospitality.
He looked with somewhat appreciative eyes at Dorinda, as she went back and forth from the table to the pot which hung in the deep chimney−place above the smouldering coals.
She had laid aside her bonnet.
Her face was grave; her eyes were bright and excited; her hair was drawn back, except for the tendrils about her brow, and coiled, with the aid of a much−prized tuckin’ comb, at the back of her head in a knot discriminated as Grecian in civilization.
He remarked to her grandmother that he was a family man himself, and had a daughter as old, he should say, as Dorinda.
D’rindy air turned seventeen now, said Mrs.
It ‘pears like ter me ez the young folks nowadays air awk’ard an’ back’ard.
I war married when I war sixteen,sixteen scant.
The girl felt that she was indeed of advanced years, and the sheriff said that his daughter was not yet sixteen, and he thought it probable she weighed more than Dorinda.
He lighted his pipe presently, and tilted his chair back against the wall.
Yes’m, he said, meditatively, gazing out of the window at the great panorama, it’s a pretty big spot o’ kentry ter hev ter hunt a man over.
Now ef ‘t war one o’ the town folks we could make out ter overhaul him somehows; but a mounting boy,why, he’s ez free ter the hills ez a fox.
I s’pose ye hain’t seen him hyar−abouts? I hain’t hearn who it air yit, the old woman replied, putting her hand behind her ear.
It’s Rick Tyler; he hails from this deestric.
I won’t be ‘stonished ef we ketch him this time.
The gov’nor has offered two hunderd dollars reward fur him; an’ I reckon somebody will find it wuth while ter head him fur us.
He was talking idly.
He had no expectation of developments here.
He had only stopped at the house in the first instance for the question which he had asked at every habitation along the road.
It suddenly occurred to him as polite to include Dorinda in the conversation.
Ye hain’t seen nor hearn of him, I s’pose, hev ye? inquired the sheriff, directly addressing her.
The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 8 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains As he turned toward her he marked her expression.
His own face changed suddenly.
He rose at once.
Don’t trifle with the law, I warn ye, he said, sternly.
Ye hev seen that man.
Dorinda was standing beside her spinning−wheel, one hand holding the thread, the other raised to guide the motion.
She looked at him, pale and breathless.
I hev seen him.
I ain’t onwillin’ ter own it.
Ye never axed me afore.
The other members of the party had crowded in from the porch, where they had been sitting since dinner, smoking their pipes.
The officer, realizing his lapse of vigilance and the loss of his opportunity, was sharply conscious, too, of their appreciation of his fatuity.
Whar did ye see him? he asked.
I seen him hyarthis mornin’.
There was a stir of excitement in the group.
He kem by on his beastis whilst I war a−ploughin’, an’ we talked a passel.
An’ then he tuk Pete’s plough, ez war idle in the turnrow, an’ holped along some; he run a few furrows.
Which way did he go? asked the sheriff, breathlessly.
I dunno, faltered the girl.
Look−a−hyar! he thundered, in rising wrath.
Ye’ll find yerself under lock an’ key in the jail at Shaftesville, ef ye undertake ter fool with me.
Which way did he go? A flush sprang into the girl’s excited face.
Her eyes flashed.
Ef ye kin jail me fur tellin’ all I know, I can’t holp it, she said, with spirit.
I kin tell no more.
He saw the justice of her position.
It did not make the situation easier for him.
Here he had sat eating and drinking and idly talking while the fugitive, who had escaped by a hair’s breadth, was counting miles and miles between himself and his lax pursuer.
This would be heard of in Shaftesville,and be a candidate for reëlection! He beheld already an exchange of significant glances among his posse.
Had he asked that simple question earlier he might now be on his way back to Shaftesville, his prisoner braceleted with the idle handcuffs that jingled in his pocket as he moved.
He caught at every illusive vagary that might promise to retrieve his error.
He declared that she could not say which way Rick Tyler had taken because he was not gone.
He’s in this house right now! he exclaimed.
He ordered a search, and the guests, a little while ago so friendly, began exploring every nook and cranny.
No, no! cried the old woman, shrilly, as they tried the door of the shed−room, which was bolted and barred.
Ye can’t tech that thar door.
It can’t be opened,not ef the Gov’nor o’ Tennessee war hyar himself, a−moan−in’ an’ a−honin’ ter git in.
The sheriff’s eyes dilated.
Open the door,I summon ye! he proclaimed, with his imperative official manner.
No!I done tole ye, she said indignantly.
The word o’ the men folks hev been gin ter keep that thar door shet, an’ shet it’s goin’ ter be kep’.
The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 9 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains The officer laid his hand upon it.
Ye must n’t bust it open! shrilled the old woman.
Laws−a−massy! ef thar be many sech ez you−uns in Shaftesville, I ain’t s’prised none that the Bible gits ter mournin’ over the low kentry, an’ calls it a vale o’ tears an’ the valley o’ the shadder o’ death! The sheriff had placed his powerful shoulder against the frail batten floor.
Hyar goes! he said.
There was a crash; the door lay in splinters on the floor; the men rushed precipitately over it.
They came back laughing sheepishly.
The officer’s face was angry and scarlet.
Don’t take the bar’l,don’t take the bar’l! the old woman besought of him, as she fairly hung upon his arm.
I dunno how the boys would cavort ef they kem back an’ fund the bar’l gone.
He gave her no heed.
Why n’t ye tell me that man war n’t thar? he asked of the girl.
Ye did n’t ax me that word, said Dorinda.
No, ‘Cajah Green, ye did n’t, said one of the men, who, since the abortive result of their leader’s suspicion, were ashamed of their mission, and prone to self−exoneration.
I ‘ll stand up ter it ez she answered full an’ true every word ez ye axed her.
Lor’−a’mighty! Ef I jes’ knowed aforehand how it will tech the boys when they view the door down onto the floor! exclaimed the old woman.
They mought jounce round hyar ez ef they war bereft o’ reason, an’ all thar hope o’ salvation hed hung on the hinges.
An’ then agin they mought ‘low ez they hed ruther hev no door than be at the trouble o’ shettin’ it an’ barrin’ it up ez they come an’ go.
They air mighty onsartin in thar temper, an’ I hev never hankered ter see ’em crost.
But fur the glory’s sake, don’t tech the bar’l.
It ‘s been sot thar ter age some, ef the Lord will spare it.
In the girl’s lucent eyes the officer detected a gleam of triumph.
How far away in the tangled labyrinths of the mountain wilderness, among the deer−paths and the cataracts and the cliffs, had these long hours led Rick Tyler! He spoke on his angry impulse: An’ I ain’t goin’ ter furgit in a hurry how I hev fund out ez ye air a−consortin’ with criminals, an’ aidin’ an’ abettin’ men ez air fleein’ from jestice an’ wanted fur murder.
Ye look out; ye ‘ll find yerself in Shaftesville jail ‘fore long, I’m a−thinkin’.
He stopped an’ talked ez other folks stop an’ talk, Dorinda retorted.
I could n’t hender, an’ I hed no mind ter hender.
He took no bite nor sup ez others hev done. ‘Pears like ter me ez we hev gin aid an’ comfort ter the off’cer o’ the law, ez well ez we could.
And this was the story that went down to Shaftesville.
The man, his wrath rebounding upon himself, hung his head, and went down to the trough, and mounted his horse without another word.
The others hardly knew what to say to Dorinda.
But they were more deliberate in their departure, and hung around apologizing in their rude way to the old woman, who convulsively besought each to spare the barrel, which had been set in the shed−room to age some, ef it could be lef’ alone.
The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 10 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Dorinda stood under the jack−bean vines, blossoming purple and white, and watched the men as they silently rode away.
All the pride within her was stirred.
Every sensitive fibre flinched from the officer’s coarse threat.
She followed him out of sight with vengeful eyes.
I wish I war a man! she cried, passionately.
A−law, D’rindy! exclaimed her grandmother, aghast at the idea.
That ain’t manners! The shadows were beginning to creep slowly up the slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains, as if they came from the depths of the earth.
A roseate suffusion idealized range and peak to the east.
The delicate skyey background of opaline tints and lustre made distinct and definite their majestic symmetry of outline.
Ah! and the air was so clear! What infinite lengths of elastic distances stretched between that quivering trumpet−flower by the fence and the azure heights which its scarlet horn might almost seem to cover! The sun, its yellow blaze burned out, and now a sphere of smouldering fire, was dropping down behind Chilhowee, royally purple, richly dark.
Wings were in the air and every instinct was homeward.
An eagle, with a shadow skurrying through the valley like some forlorn Icarus that might not soar, swept high over the landscape.
Above all rose the great bald, still splendidly illumined with the red glamour of the sunset, and holding its uncovered head so loftily against the sky that it might seem it had bared its brow before the majesty of heaven.
When the men folks, great, gaunt, bearded, jeans−clad fellows, stood in the shed−room and gazed at the splintered door upon the floor, it was difficult to judge what was the prevailing sentiment, so dawdling, so uncommunicative, so inexpressive of gesture, were they.
We knowed ez thar war strangers prowlin’ roun’, said the master of the house, when he had heard his mother’s excited account of the events of the day.
We war a−startin’ home ter dinner, an’ seen thar beastises hitched thar a−nigh the trough.
An’ I ‘lowed ez mebbe they mought be the revenue devils, so I jes’ made the boys lay low.
An’ Sol war set ter watch, an’ he gin tile word when they hed rid away.
He was a man of fifty−five, perhaps, tough and stalwart.
His face was as lined and seamed as that of his mother, who had counted nearly fourscore years, but his frame was almost as supple as at thirty.
This trait of physical vigor was manifested in each of his muscular sons, and despite their slow and lank uncouthness, their movements suggested latent elasticity.
In Dorinda, his only daughter, it graced her youth and perfected her beauty.
He was known far and wide as Ground−hog Cayce, but he would tell you, with a flash of the eye, that before the war he bore the Christian name of John.
Nothing more was said on the subject until after supper, when they were all sitting, dusky shadows, on the little porch, where the fireflies sparkled and the vines fluttered, and one might look out and see the new moon, in the similitude of a silver boat, sailing down the western skies, off the headlands of Chilhowee.
A cricket was shrilling in the weeds.
The vague, sighing voice of the woods rose and fell with a melancholy monody.
A creamy elder blossom glimmered in a corner of the rail fence, hard by, its delicate, delicious odor pervading the air.
I never knowed, said one of the young men, ez this hyar sher’ff this ‘Cajah Greenwar sech a headin’ critter.
He never teched the bar’l, said the old woman, not wishing that he should appear blacker than he had painted himself.
I s’pose you−uns gin him an’ his gang a bite an’ sup, remarked Ground−hog Cayce.
They eat a sizable dinner hyar, put in Mirandy Jane, who, having cooked it, had no mind that it should be belittled.
The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains 11 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains An’ they stayed a right smart while, an’ talked powerful frien’ly an’ sociable−like, said old Mrs.
Cayce, till the sher’ff got addled with the notion that we hed Rick Tyler hid hyar.
An’ unless we−uns hed tied him in the cheer or shot him, nuthin’ in natur’ could hev held him.
I ‘lowed ‘t war the dram he tuk, though D’rindy, thinks differ.
They never teched the bar’l, though.
An’ then, said Dorinda, with a sudden gush of tears, all the afflicted delicacy of a young and tender woman, all the overweening pride of the mountaineer, throbbing wildly in her veins, her heart afire, her helpless hands trembling, he said the word ez he would lock me up in the jail at Shaftesville, sence I hed owned ter seein’ a man ez he war n’t peart enough ter ketch.
He spoke that word ter me, the jail! She hung sobbing in the doorway.
There was a murmur of indignation among the group, and John Cayce rose to his feet with furious oath.
He shell rue it he cried,he shell rue it! Me an’ mine take no word off’n nobody.
My gran’dad an’ his three brothers, one hunderd an’ fourteen year ago, kem hyar from the old North State an’ settled in the Big Smoky.
They an’ thar sons rooted up the wilderness.
They fit the beastis; they fit the Injun; they fit the British; an’ this last little war o’ ourn they fit each other.
Thar hev never been a coward ‘mongst ’em.
Thar hev never been a key turned on one of ’em, or a door shet.
They hev respected the law fur what it war wuth, an’ they hev stood up fur thar rights agin it.
They answer fur thar word, an’ others hev ter answer.
He paused for a moment.
The moon, still in the similitude of a silver boat, swung at anchor in a deep indentation in the summit of Chilhowee that looked like some lonely pine−girt bay; what strange, mysterious fancies did it land from its cargo of sentiments and superstitions and uncanny influences! Drindy, her father commanded, make a mark on this hyar rifie−bar’l fur ‘Cajah Green’s word ter be remembered by.
There was a flash in the faint moonbeams, as he held out to her a long, sharp knife.
The rifle was in his hand.
Other marks were on it commemorating past events.
This was to be a foregone conclusion.
No, no! cried the girl, shrinking back aghast.
I don’t want him shot.
I would n’t hev him hurted fur me, fur nuthin’! I ain’t keerin’ now fur what he said.
Let him be,let him be.
She had smarted under the sense of indignity.
She had wanted their sympathy, and perhaps their idle anger.
She was dismayed by the revengeful passion she had roused.
No, no! she reiterated, as one of the younger men, her brother Peter, stepped swiftly out from the shadow, seized her hand with the knife trembling in it, and, catching the moonlight on the barrel of the rifle, guided upon it, close to the muzzle, the mark of a cross.
The moon had weighed anchor at last, and dropped down behind the mountain summit, leaving the bay with a melancholy waning suffusion of light, and the night very dark. II. THE summer days climbed slowly over the Great Smoky Mountains.
Long the morning lingered among the crags, and chasms, and the dwindling shadows.
The vertical noontide poised motionless on the great balds.
The evening dawdled along the sunset slopes, and the waning crimson waited in the dusk for the golden moonrise. — 16 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Waal, I hearn ez some o’ them folks in Eskaqua Cove ‘low ez the red cow jes’ hooked down the bars, bein’ a turrible hooker, spoke up the man on the stump, unexpectedly.
Waal, White an’ his folks won’t hear ter no sech word ez that, said the blacksmith; an’ arter jowin’ an’ jowin’ back an’ fo’th they went t’other day an’ informed on Teal ‘fore the jestice, an’ the Squair fined him twenty−five dollars, ‘cordin’ ter the law o’ Tennessee fur them ez m’liciously lets down the bars o’ the milk−sick pen.
An’ Baker Teal hed ter pay, an’ the county treasury an’ the informers divided the money ‘twixt ’em.
What did I tell you−uns? Satan’s a−stirrin’,Satan’s a−stirrin’ ‘roun’ the Big Smoky, said the storekeeper, with a certain morbid pride in the Enemy’s activity.
The constable o’ this hyar deestric’, recommenced Gid Fletcher, who seemed as well informed as Nathan Hoodendin, he advised ’em ter lay it afore the jestice; he war mighty peart ’bout’n that thar job.
They ‘low ter me ez he hev tuk up a crazy fit ez he kin beat Micajah Green fur sher’ff, an’ he’s a−skeetin’ arter law−breakers same ez a rooster arter a Juny−bug.
He ‘lows it’ll show the kentry what a peart sher’ff he’d make.
Shucks! said the man on the stump.
I’ll vote fur ‘Cajah Green fur sher’ff agin the old boy; he hev got a nose fur game.
He hain’t nosed you−uns out yit, hev be, Rick? said the blacksmith, with feigned heartiness and a covert sneer.
Ho! ho! ho! laughed Nathan Hoodendin.
What war I a−tellin’ you−uns? Satan’s a−stirrin’,Satan’s surely a stirrin’ on the Big Smoky.
Rick sat silent in the moonlight, smoking his pipe, his brown wool hat far back, the light full on his yellow head.
His face had grown a trifle less square, and his features were more distinctly defined than of yore; he did not look ill, but care had drawn a sharp line here and there.
One sher’ff’s same ter you−uns ez another, ain’t he, Rick? said the man on the stump.
Any of ’em ‘ll do ter run from.
They tell it ter me, said the storekeeper, with so sudden a vivacity that it seemed it must crack his graven wrinkles, ez the whole Cayce gang air a−goin’ ter vote agin ‘Cajah Green, ‘count o’ the way he jawed at old Mis’ Cayce an’ D’rindy, the day he run you−uns off from thar, Rick.
I ain’t hearn tell o’ that yit, drawled Rick, desolately, bein’ hid out.
Waal, he jawed at D’rindy, an’ from what I hev hearn D’rindy jawed back; an’ I dunno ez that’s s’prisin’,the gal−folks ginerally do.
Leastwise, I know ez he sent word arterward ter D’rindy, by his dep’ty, ez war a−scoutin’ ‘roun’ hyar, arter you−uns, I reckon, Rick,ez he would be up some day soon ter ‘lectioneer, an’ he war a−goin’ ter stop ter thar house an’ ax her pardin’.
An’ she sent him word, fur God’s sake ter bide away from thar.
A long pause ensued; the stars were faint and few; the iterative note of the katydid vibrated monotonously in the dark woods; dew was falling; the wind stirred.
What ailed D’rindy ter say that word? asked Rick, mystified.
Waal, I dunno, said Hoodendin, indifferently.
I hev never addled my brains tryin’ ter make out what a woman means.
Though, he qualified, I did ax the dep’ty an’ Amos Jeemes from down yander in Eskaqua Cove,the dep’ty hed purtended ter hev summonsed him ez a posse, an’ they war jes’ rollickin’ ‘roan’ the kentry like two chickens with thar heads off,I axed ’em what D’rindy meant, an’ they ‘lowed they did n’t know, nor war they II. 17 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains takin’ it ter heart.
They ‘lowed ez she never axed them ter bide away from thar fur God’s sake.
An’ then they snickered an’ laffed, like single men do.
An’ I up an’ tole ’em ez the Book sot it down ez the laffter o’ fools is like the cracklin’ o’ bresh under a pot.
Rick Tyler was eager, his eyes kindling, his breath quick.
He looked with uncharacteristic alertness at the inexpressive face of the leisurely narrator.
They capered like a dunno−what−all on the Big Smoky, them two, the off’cer o’ the law an’ his posse! Thar goin’s on war jes’ scandalous: they played kyerds, an’ they consorted with the moonshiners over yander, nodding his head at the wilderness, an’ got ez drunk ez two fraish biled owels; an’ they sung an’ they hollered.
An’ they went ter the meetin’−house over yander whilst they war in liquor, an’ the preacher riz up an’ put ’em out.
He’s toler’ble tough, that thar Pa’son Kelsey, an’ kin hold right smart show in a fight.
An’ the deputy, he straightened hisself, an’ ‘lowed he war a off’cer o’ the law.
An’ Pa’son Kelsey, he ‘lowed he war a off’cer o’ the law, an’ he ‘lowed ez his law war higher ‘n the law o’ Tennessee.
An’ with that he barred up the door.
They hed a cornsider’ble disturbamint at the meetin’−house yander at the Notch, an’ the saints war tried in thar temper.
The dep’ty ‘lows ez Pa’son Kelsey air crazy in his mind, said the man on the stump.
The dep’ty said the pa’son talked ter him like ez ef he war a onregenerate critter.
An’ he ‘lowed he war baptized in Scolacutta River two year ago an’ better.
The dep’ty say these hyar mounting preachers hain’t got no doctrine like the valley folks.
He called Pa’son Kelsey a ignorant cuss! Laws−a−massy! exclaimed Nathan Hoodendin, scandalized.
He say it fairly makes him laff ter hear Pa’son Kelsey performin’ like he hed a cutthroat mortgage on a seat ‘mongst the angels.
He say ez he thinks Pa’son Kelsey speaks with more insurance ‘n enny man he ever see.
I reckon, ef the truth war knowed, the dep’ty ain’t got no religion, an’ never war in Scolacutta River, ‘thout it war a−fishin’, said the blacksmith, meditatively.
The fugitive from justice, pining for the simple society of his world, listened like a starveling thing to these meagre details, so replete with interest to him, so full of life and spirit.
The next moment he was sorry he had come.
That thar Amos Jeemes air a comical critter, said the man on the stump, after an interval of cogitation, and with a gurgling reminiscent laugh He war a−cuttin’ up his shines over thar ter Cayce’s the t’other day; he war n’t drunk then, ye onderstan’ I onderstan’.
He war jes’ fool, like he always air, said the blacksmith.
Edzactly, assented the man on the stump.
An’ he fairly made D’rindy laff ter see what the critter would say nex’.
An’ D’rindy always seemed ter me a powerful solemn sorter gal.
Waal, she laffed at Amos.
An’ whilst him an’ the deputy war a−goin’ down the mountingI went down ter Jeemes’s mill ter leave some grist over night ter be groundthe dep’ty, he run Amos ’bout’n it.
The dep’ty he ‘lowed ez no gal hed ever made so much fun o’ him, an’ Amos ‘lowed ez D’rindy did n’t make game o’ him.
She thunk too much o’ him fur that.
An’ that bold−faced dep’ty, he ‘lowed he thought ‘t war him ez hed fund favior.
An’ Amos,we war mighty nigh down in Eskaqua Cove then,he turned suddint an’ p’inted up the mounting. ‘What kin you−uns view on the mounting?’ he axed.
The dep’ty, he stopped an’ stared; an’ thar, mighty nigh ez high ez the lower e−end o’ the bald, war a light. ‘That shines fur me ter see whilst I’m ‘bleeged ter be in Eskaqua Cove,’ sez Amos.
An’ the dep’ty said, ‘I think it air a star!’ An’ Amos sez, sez he, ‘Bless yer bones, I think so, too,sometimes!’ But ‘t war n’t no star. ‘T war jes’ a light in the roof−room window o’ Cayce’s house; an’ ye could see it, sure enough, plumb to the mill in Eskaqua Cove! II. 18 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Rick rose to go.
Why should he linger, and wring his heart, and garner bitterness to feed upon in his lonely days? Why should he look upon the outer darkness of his life, and dream of the star that shone so far for another man’s sake into the sheltered depths of Eskaqua Cove? He had an impulse which he scorned, for his sight was blurred as he laid his hand on the pommel of his saddle.
He did not see that one of the other men rose, too.
An approach, stealthy, swift, and the sinewy blacksmith flung himself upon his prisoner with the supple ferocity of a panther.
Nawnaw! he said, showing his strong teeth, closely set.
We can’t part with ye yit, Rick Tyler! I’ll arrest you−uns, ef the sher’ff can’t.
The peace o’ Big Smoky an’ the law o’ the land air ez dear ter me ez ter enny other man.
The young fellow made a frantic effort to mount; then, as his horse sprang snorting away, he strove to draw one of his pistols.
There was a turbulent struggle under the great silver moon and the dead trees.
Again and again the swaying figures and their interlocked shadows reeled to the verge of the cliff; one striving to fall and carry the other with him, the other straining every nerve to hold back his captive.
Even the storekeeper stood up and wheezed out a remonstrance.
Look−a−hyar, boyshe began; then, Jer’miah, he broke off abruptly, as the hopeful scion peered shyly out of the store door, clar out’n the way, sonny; they hev got shootin’−irons, an’ some o’ em mought go off.
He himself stepped prudently back.
The man on the stump, however, forgot danger in his excitement.
He sat and watched the scene with an eager relish which might suggest that a love of bull−fights is not a cultivated taste.
Be them men a−wrastlin’? called out a woman, appearing in the doorway of a neighboring house. ‘Pears like it ter me, he said, dryly.
The strength of despair had served to make the younger man the blacksmith’s equal, and the contest might have terminated differently had Rick Tyler not stumbled on a ledge.
He was forced to his knees, then full upon the ground, his antagonist’s grasp upon his throat.
The blacksmith roared out for help; the man on the stump slowly responded, and the storekeeper languidly came and overlooked the operation, as the young fellow was disarmed and securely bound, hand and foot.
Waal, now, Gid Fletcher, ye hev got him, said Nathan Hoodendin.
What d’ ye want with him? The blacksmith had risen, panting, with wild eyes, his veins standing out in thick cords, perspiring from every pore, and in a bounding fury.
What do I want with him? I want ter put his head on my anvil thar, an’ beat the foolishness out’n it with my hammer.
I want ter kick him off’n this hyar bluff down ter the forge fires o’ hell.
That air what I want.
An’ the State o’ Tennessee ain’t wantin’ much differ.
Gid Fletcher, said the man who had been sitting on the stump,he spoke in an accusing voice,ye ain’t keerin’ nuthin’ fur the law o’ the land, nor the peace o’ Big Smoky, nuther.
It air jes’ that two hunderd dollars blood money ye air cottonin’ ter, an’ ye knows it.
The love of money, the root of evil, is so rare in the mountains that the blacksmith stood as before a deep reproof.
Then, with a moral hardihood that matched his physical prowess, he asked, An’ what ef I be? II. 19 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains What war I a−tellin’ you−uns? Satan’s a−stirrin’,Satan’s a−stirrin’ on the Big Smoky! interpolated old Hoodendin.
Waal, I ‘d never hev been hankerin’ fur sech, drawled the moralist.
A number of other men had come out from the houses, and a discussion ensued as to the best plan to keep the prisoner until morning.
It was suggested that the time−honored expedient in localities without the civilization of a jaila wagon−body inverted, with a rock upon it would be as secure as the state prison.
But who wants ter go ter heftin’ rocks? asked Nathan Hoodendin, pertinently.
For the sake of convenience, therefore, they left the prisoner bound with a rope made fast around a stump, that he might not, in his desperation, roll himself from the crag, and deputing a number of the men to watch him by turns, the Settlement retired to its slumbers.
The night wore on; the moon journeyed toward the mountains in the west; the mists rose to meet it, and glistened like a silver sea.
Some lonely, undiscovered ocean, this; never a sail set, never a pennant flying; all the valley was submerged; the black summits in the distance were isolated and insular; the moonlight glanced on the sparkling ripples, on the long reaches of illusive vapor.
At intervals cocks crew; a faint response, like farthest echoes, came from some neighboring cove; and then silence, save for the drone of the nocturnal insects and the far blast of a hunter’s horn.
Jer’miah, said Rick Tyler, suddenly, as the boy crouched by one of the stumps and watched him with dilated, moonlit eyes,when Nathan Hoodendin’s vigil came the little factotum served in his stead, Jer’miah, git my knife out ‘n the store an’ cut these hyar ropes.
I’ll gin ye my rifle ef ye will.
The boy sprang up, scudded off swiftly, then came back, and crouched by the stump again.
The moon slipped lower and lower; the silver sea had turned to molten gold; the stars that had journeyed westward with the moon were dying out of a dim blue sky.
Over the corn−field in the east was one larger than the rest, burning in an amber haze, charged with an unspoken poetical emotion that set its heart of white fire aquiver.
I ‘ll gin ye my horse ef ye will.
I dassent, said Jer’miah.
The morning star was burned out at last, and the prosaic day came over the corn−field. III. TWILIGHTwas slipping down on the Big Smoky.
Definiteness was annihilated, and distance a suggestion.
Mountain forms lay darkening along the horizon, still flushed with the sunset.
Eskaqua Cove had abysmal suggestions, and the ravines were vague glooms.
Fireflies were aflicker in the woods.
There might be a star, outpost of the night.
Dorinda, hunting for the vagrant crumply cow, paused sometimes when the wandering path led to the mountain’s brink, and looked down those gigantic slopes and unmeasured depths.
She carried her milk−piggin, and her head was uncovered.
Now and then she called with long, vague vowels, Soocow! Soo! There was no response save the echoes and the vibrant iteration of the katydid.
Once she heard an alien sound, and she paused III. 20 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains to listen.
From the projecting spur where she stood, looking across the Cove, she could see, above the forests on the slopes, the bare, uprising dome, towering in stupendous proportions against the sky.
The sound came again and yet again, and she recognized the voice of the man who was wont to go and pray in the desert places on the bald of the mountain, and whom she had likened to the prophets of old.
There was something indescribably wild and weird in those appealing, tempestuous tones, now rising as in frenzy, and now falling as with exhaustion,beseeching, adjuring, reproaching.
He hev fairly beset the throne o’ grace! she said, with a sort of pity for this insistent piety.
A shivering, filmy mist was slipping down over the great dome.
It glittered in the last rays of the sunlight, already vanished from the world below, like an illuminated silver gauze.
She was reminded of the veil of the temple, and she had a sense of intrusion.
Prayer, though, air free for all, she remarked, as self−justification, since she had paused to hear.
She did not linger.
His voice died in the distance, and the solemnity of the impression was gradually obliterated.
As she went she presently began to sing, sometimes interpolating, without a sense of interruption, her mellow call of Soocow! Soo! until it took the semblance of a refrain, with an abrupt crescendo.
The wild roses were flowering along the paths, and the pink and white azaleas,what perfumed ways, what lavish grace and beauty! The blooms of the laurel in the darkling places were like a spangling of stars.
Dew was falling, it dashed into her face from the boughs that interlaced across the unfrequented path,and still the light lingered, loath to leave.
She heard the stir of some wild things in the hollow of a great tree, and then a faint, low growl.
She fancied she saw a pair of bright eyes looking apprehensively at her.
We−uns hev got a baby at our house, too, an’ we don’t want yourn, ma’am; much obleeged, all the same, she said, with a laugh.
But she looked back with a sort of pity for that alert maternal fear, and she never mentioned to the youngest brother, a persistent trapper, the little family of raccoons in the woods.
She had forgotten the voice raised in importunate supplication on the bald, until, pursuing the path, she was led into the road, hard by a little bridge, or more properly culvert, which had rotted long ago; the vines came up through the cavities in the timbers, and a blackberry bush, with a wren’s nest, flourished in their midst.
The road was fain to wade through the stream; but the channel was dry now, a narrow belt of yellow sand lying in a long curving vista in the midst of the dense woods.
A yoke of oxen, drawing a rude slide, paused to rest in the middle of the channel, and beside them was a man, of medium height, slender but sinewy, dressed in brown jeans, his trousers thrust into the legs of his boots, a rifle on his shoulder, and a broad−brimmed old wool hat surmounting his dark hair, that hung down to the collar of his coat.
Her singing had prepared him for her advent, but he barely raised his eyes.
That quick glance was incongruous with his dullard aspect; it held a spark of fire, inspiration, frenzy,who can say? He spoke suddenly, in a meek, drawling way, and with the air of submitting the proposition: I hev gin the beastises a toler’ble hard day’s work, an’ I ‘m a favorin’ ’em goin’ home.
A long pause ensued.
The oxen hung down their weary heads, with the symbol of slavery upon them.
The smell of ferns and damp mould was on the air.
Rotting logs lay here and there, where the failing water had stranded them.
The grape−vine, draping the giant oaks, swayed gently, and suggested an observation to break the silence.
How air the moral vineyard a−thrivin’? she asked, solemnly.
He looked downcast.
Toler’ble, I reckon. III. 21 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains I hearn tell ez thar war a right smart passel o’ folks baptized over yander in Scolacutta River, she remarked, encouragingly.
I baptized fourteen.
She turned the warm brightness of her eyes upon him.
They hed all fund grace! she exclaimed.
They ‘lowed so.
I hopes they’ll prove it by thar works, he said, without enthusiasm.
Ye war a−prayin’ fur ’em on the bald? she asked, apprehending that he accounted these converts peculiarly precarious.
Naw, he replied, with moody sincerity; I war a−prayin’ for myself.
There was another pause, longer and more awkward than before.
What work be you−uns a−doin’ of? asked Dorinda, timidly.
She quailed a trifle before the uncomprehended light in his eyes.
It was not of her world, she felt instinctively.
I hev ploughed some, holpin’ Jonas Trice, an’ hev been a−haulin’ wood.
I tuk my rifle along, he added, thinkin’ I mought see suthin’ ez would be tasty fur the old men’s supper ez I kem home, but I forgot ter look around keen.
There was a sudden sound along the road,a sound of quick hoof−beats.
Because of the deep sand the rider was close at hand before his approach was discovered.
He drew rein abruptly, and they saw that it was Gid Fletcher, the blacksmith of the Settlement.
Hev you−uns hearn the news? he cried, excitedly, as he threw himself from the saddle.
The man, leaning on the rifle, looked up, with no question in his eyes.
There was an almost monastic indifference to the world suggested in his manner.
Thar ‘s a mighty disturbamint at the Settlemint.
Las’ night this hyar Rick Tyler,what air under indictment fur a−killin’ o’ Joel Byers,he kem a−nosin’ ‘roun’ the Settlemint a−tryin’ ter buy powder Dorinda stretched out her hand; the trees were unsteady before her; the few faint stars, no longer pulsating points of light, described a circle of dazzling gleams.
She caught at the yoke on the neck of the oxen; she leaned upon the impassive beast, and then it seemed that every faculty was merged in the sense of hearing.
The horse had moved away from the blacksmith, holding his head down among the bowlders, and snuffing about for the water he remembered here with a disappointment almost pathetic.
War he tuk? demanded the preacher.
Percisely so, drawled the blacksmith, with a sub−current of elation in his tone.
There was a sudden change in Kelsey’s manner.
He turned fiery eyes upon the blacksmith.
Light and life were in every line of his face.
He drew himself up tense and erect; he stretched forth his hand with an accusing gesture.
T war you−uns, Gid Fletcher, ez tuk the boy! III. 22 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Lord, pa’son, how ‘d you−uns know that? exclaimed the blacksmith.
His manner combined a deference, which in civilization we reccognize as respect for the cloth, with the easy familiarity, induced by the association since boyhood, of equals in age and station.
I hed n’t let on a word, hed I, D’rindy? The idea of an abnormal foreknowledge, mysteriously possessed, had its uncanny influences.
The lonely woods were darkening about them.
The stars seemed very far off.
A rotting log in the midst of the debris of the stream, in a wild tangle of underbrush and shelving rocks, showed fox−fire and glowed in the glooms.
I knowed, said Kelsey, contemptuously waiving the suggestion of miraculous forecast, bekase the sher’ff hain’t been in the Big Smoky for two weeks, an’ that thar danglin’ shadder o’ his’n rid off las’ Monday from Jeemes’s Mill in Eskaqua Cove.
An’ the constable o’ the deestric air sick abed.
So I ‘lowed ‘t war you−uns.
An’ why air it me more ‘n enny other man at the Settlemint? The blacksmith’s blood was rising; his sensibilities descried a covert taunt which as yet his slower intelligence failed to comprehend.
An’ ye hev rid with speed fur the sher’ffor mebbe ter overhaul the dep’tyter come an’ jail the prisoner afore he gits away.
An’ why me, more ‘n the t’others? demanded the blacksmith.
Yer heart air ez hard ez yer anvil, Gid Fletcher, said the mind−reader.
Thar ain’t another man on the Big Smoky ez would stir himself ter gin over ter the gallus or the pen’tiary the frien’ ez trested him, who hev done no harm, but hev got tangled in a twist of a unjest law.
Ef the law tuk him, that’s a differ. ‘T ain’t fur we−uns ter jedge o’ the law! exclaimed Gid Fletcher, his logic sharpened by the anxiety of his greed and his prideful self−esteem.
Let the law jedge o’ his crime.
Jes’ so; let the law take him, an’ let the law try him.
The law is ekal ter it.
Ef the sher’ff summons me with his posse, I’ll hunt Rick Tyler through all the Big Smoky Look−a−hyar, Hi Kelsey, the Gov’nor o’ Tennessee hev offered a reward o’ two hunderd dollars Blood money, interpolated the parson.
Ye kin call it so, ef so minded; but ef it war right fur the Gov’nor ter offer it, it air right fur me ter yearn it.
He had come very close.
It was his nature and his habit to brook no resistance.
He subdued the hard metals upon his anvil.
His hammer disciplined the iron.
The fire wrought his will.
His instinct was to forge this man’s opinion into the likeness of his own.
His conviction was the moral swage that must shape the belief of others.
It air lawful fur me ter yearn it, he repeated.
Lawful! exclaimed the parson, with a tense, jeering laugh.
Judas war a law−abidin’ citizen.
He mos’ lawfully betrayed his Frien’ ter the law.
Them thirty pieces o’ silver! Sech currency ain’t out o’ circulation yit! Quick as a flash the blacksmith’s heavy hand struck the prophet in the face.
The next moment his sudden anger was merged in fear.
He stood, unarmed, at the mercy of an assaulted and outraged man, with a loaded rifle in his hands, and all the lightnings of heaven quivering in his angry eyes.
Gid Fletcher had hardly time to draw the breath he thought his last, when the prophet slowly turned the other cheek.
III. 23 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains In the name of the Master, he said, with all the dignity of his calling.
As the blacksmith mounted his horse and rode away, he felt that the parson’s rifle−ball would be preferable to the gross slur that he had incurred.
His reputation, moral and spiritual, was annihilated; and he held this dear, for piety, or its simulacrum, on the primitive Big Smoky, is the point of honor.
What a text! What an illustration of iniquity he would furnish for the sermons, foretelling wrath and vengeance, that sometimes shook the Big Smoky to its foundations! He was cast down, and indignant too.
Fur Hi Kelsey ter be a−puttin’ up sech a pious mouth, an’ a−turnin’ the t’other cheek, an’ sech, ter me, ez hev seen him hold his own ez stiff in a many a free−handed fight, an’ hev drawed his shootin’−irons on folks agin an’ agin! An’ he fairly tuk the dep’ty, at that thar disturbamint at the meet’n’−house, by the scruff o’ the neck, an’ shuck him ez ef he hed been a rat or suthin’, an’ drapped him out’n the door.
An’ now ter be a−turnin’ the t’other cheer! An’ thar ‘s that thar D’rindy, a−seein’ it all, an’ a−lookin’ at it ez wide−eyed ez a cat in the dark.
Dorinda went home planning a rescue.
Against the law this probably was, she thought.
Ef it airit ought n’t ter be, she concluded, arbitrarily.
It don’t hurt nobody.
How serious it wasa felony she did not know, nor did she care.
She went on sturdily, debating within herself how best to tell the news.
With an intuitive knowledge of human nature, she reckoned on the prejudice aroused by the recital of the blacksmith’s assault upon the preacher and the forbearance of the man of God.
She began to count those who would be likely to attempt the enterprise when it should be suggested.
There were the five men at home, all bold, reckless, antagonistic to the law, and at odds with the sheriff.
She paused, with a frightened face and a wild gesture as if to ward off an unforeseen danger.
Send them to meet him! Never, never would she lift her hand or raise her voice to aid in fulfilling that grimly prophesied death on the muzzle of the old rifle−barrel.
She trembled at the thought of her precipitancy.
His life was in her hand.
With a constraining moral sense she felt that it was she who had placed it in jeopardy, and that she held it in trust.
She was cold, shivering.
There was a change in the temperature; perhaps hail had fallen somewhere near, for the rare air had icy suggestions.
She was seldom out so late, and was glad to see, high on the slope, the light that was wont to shine like a star into the dark depths of Eskaqua Cove.
The white mists gathered around it; a circle of pearly light encompassed it, like Saturn’s ring.
As she came nearer, the roof of the house defined itself, with its oblique ridge−pole against the sky, and its clay and stick chimney, also built in defiance of rectangles, and its little porch, the curtaining hop−vines, dripping, dripping, with dew.
In the corner of the rail fence was the crumply cow, chewing her cud.
The radiance of firelight streamed out through the open door, around which was grouped a number of shadows, of intent and wistful aspect.
These were the hounds, and they crowded about her ecstatically as she came up on the porch.
She paused at the door, and looked in with melancholy eyes.
The light fell on her face, still damp with the dew, giving its gentle curves a subdued glister, like marble; the dark blue of her dress heightened its fairness.
A sudden smile broke upon it as she leaned forward.
There were three men, Ab, Pete, and Ben, seated around the fire; but she was looking at none of them, and they silently followed her gaze.
Only one pair of eyes met hers,the eyes of a fat young person, wonderfully muscular for the tender age of three, who sat in the chimney−corner in a little wooden chair, and preserved the important and impassive air of a domestic magnate.
This was hardly impaired by his ill−defined, infantile features, his large tow−head, his stolid blue eyes, his feminine garb of blue−checked cotton, short enough to disclose sturdy white calves and two feet with the usual complement of toes.
He looked at her in grave recognition, but made no sign.
Jacob, she softly drawled, why n’t ye go ter bed? But Jacob was indisposed for conversation on this theme; he said nothing.
III. 24 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Why n’t you−uns git him ter bed? she asked of the assemblage at large.
He ‘ll git stunted, a−settin’ up so late in the night.
Waal, said one of the huge jeans−clad mountaineers, taking his pipe from his mouth, and scrutinizing the subject of conversation, I ‘low it takes more ‘n three full grown men ter git that thar survigrus buzzard ter bed when he don’t want ter go thar, an’ we war n’t a−goin’ ter resk it.
I did ax him ter go ter bed, D’rindy, said another of the bearded giants, but he ‘lowed he would n’t.
I never see a critter so pompered ez Jacob; he ain’t got no medjure o’ respec’ fur nobody.
The subject of these strictures gazed unconcernedly first at one speaker, then at the other.
Dorinda still looked at him, her face transfigured by its tender smile.
But she was fain to exert her authority.
Waal, Jacob, she said, decisively, ye mus’ gin yer cornsent ter go ter bed, arter a while.
Jacob calmly nodded.
He expected to go to bed some time that night.
The hounds had taken advantage of Dorinda’s entrance to creep into the room and adjust themselves among the family group about the fire.
One of them, near Jacob, lured by the tempting plumpness, put out a long red tongue, and gave a furtive lick to his fat white leg.
The little mountaineer promptly doubled his plucky fist, and administered a sharp blow on the black nose of the offender, whose yelp of repentant pain attracted attention to the canine intruders.
Ab Cayce rose to his feet with an oath.
There was a shrill chorus of anguish as he actively kicked them out with his great cowhide boots.
Git out’n hyar, ye dad−burned beastises! I hev druv ye out fifty times sence sundown; now stay druv! He emphasized the lesson with several gratuitous kicks after the room and the porch were fairly cleared.
But before he was again seated the dogs were once more clustered about the door, with intent bobbing heads and glistening eyes that peered in wistfully, with a longing for the society of their human friends, and a pathetic anxiety to be accounted of the family circle.
There was more stir than usual in the interval between supper and bedtime.
During the three memorable days that Dorinda had sojourned in Tuckaleechee Cove Miranda Jane’s ineffective administration had resulted in domestic chaos in several departments.
The lantern by which the cow was to be milked was nowhere to be found.
The filly−like Miranda Jane, with her tousled mane and black forelock hanging over her eyes, was greatly distraught in the effort to remember where it had been put and for what it had been last used, and was plumb beat out and beset, she declared, as she cantered in and cantered out, and took much exercise in the search, to little purpose.
One of the men rose presently, and addressed himself to the effort.
He found it at last, and handed it to Dorinda without a word.
He did not offer to milk the cow, as essentially a feminine task, in the mountains, as to sew or knit.
When she came back she sat down among them in the chair usually occupied by her grandmother,who had in her turn gone on a visit to Aunt Jerushy in Tuckaleechee Cove,and as she busied herself in putting on her needles a sizable stocking for Jacob she did not join in the fragmentary conversation.
Ab Cayce, the eldest, talked fitfully as he smoked his pipe,a lank, lantern−jawed man, with a small, gleaming eye and a ragged beard.
The youngest of the brothers, Solomon, was like him, except that his long chin, of the style familiarly denominated jimber−jawed, was still smooth and boyish, and, big−boned as he was, he lacked in weight and somewhat in height the proportions of the senior.
Peter was the contentious member of the family.
He was wont to bicker in solitary disaffection, until he seemed to disprove the adage that it takes two to make a quarrel.
He was afflicted with a stammer, and at every obstruction his voice broke out with startling shrillness, several keys higher than the tone with which the sentence commenced.
He was loose−jointed and had a shambling gait; his hair seemed never to have outgrown the bleached, colorless tone so common among the children of the mountains, and it hung in long locks of a dreary drab about his sun−embrowned face.
His teeth were irregular, III. 25 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains and protruded slightly.
Ez hard−favored ez Pete Cayce, was a proverb on the Big Smoky.
His wrangles about the amount of seed necessary to sow to the acre, and his objurgation concerning the horse he had been ploughing with that day, filled the evening.
Thar ain’t a durned fool on the Big Smoky ez dunno that thar sayin’ ’bout ‘n the beastises: ‘One white huffbuy him; Two white huffstry him; Three white huffsdeny him; Four white huffs an’ a white nose Take off his hide an’ feed him ter the crows.’ Outside, the rising wind wandered fitfully through the Great Smoky, like a spirit of unrest.
The surging trees in the wooded vastness on every side filled the air with the turbulent sound of their commotion.
The fire smouldered on the hearth.
The room was visible in the warm glow: the walls, rich and mellow with the alternate dark shade of the hewn logs and the dull yellow of the daubin’; the great frame of the warping−bars, hung about with scarlet and blue and saffron yarn; the brilliant strings of red pepper, swinging from the rafters.
The spinning−wheel, near the open door, revolved slightly, with a stealthy motion, when the wind touched it, as though some invisible woodland thing had half a mind for uncanny industrial experiments.
Dorinda told her news at last, in few words and with what composure she could command.
As the listeners broke into surprised ejaculations and comments, she sat gazing silently at the fire.
Should she speak the thought nearest her heart? Should she suggest a rescue? She was torn by contending terrors,fears for them, for the man in his primitive shackles at the Settlement, for the enemy whose life she felt she had jeopardized.
She had a wild visionhalf in hope, half in anguishof her brothers, in the saddle, armed to the teeth and riding like the wind.
They had not moved of their own accord.
Should she urge them to go? Oh, never had the long days on the Big Smoky, never had all the years that had visibly rolled from east to west with the changing seasons, brought her so much of life as the last few hours,such intensity of emotion, such swiftness of thought, such baffling perplexity, such woe! IV. KELSEY trudged on with his slide and his oxen, elated by his moral triumph.
He glorified himself for his meekness.
He joyed, with all the turbulent impulses of victory, in the blacksmith’s discomfiture.
Yet he was cognizant of his own deeper, subtler springs of action.
There was that within him which forbade him to take the life of an unarmed man, but he piqued himself that he forbore.
He had withheld even the return of the blow.
But he knew that in refraining he had struck deeper still.
He dwelt upon the scene with the satisfaction of an inventor.
He, too, could foresee the consequences: the bloodcurdling eloquence; the port and pose of a martyr; the far−spread distrust of the blacksmith’s professions of piety, under which that doughty religionist already quaked.
And as he reflected he replied, tartly, to the monitor within, Be angry and sin not.
And the monitor had no text.
Because of the night drifting down, perhaps, drifting down with a chilling change; because of the darkened solemnity of the dreary woods; because of the stars shining with a splendid aloofness from all that is human; because of the melancholy suggestions of a will−o’−the−wisp glowing in a marshy tangle, his exultant mood began to wane.
IV. 26 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Thar it is! he cried, suddenly, pointing at the mocking illusion, that’s my religion: looks like fire, an’ it ‘s fog! His mind had reverted to his wild supplications in the solitudes of the bald,his unanswered prayers.
The oxen had paused of their own accord to rest, and he stood looking at the spectral gleam.
I ‘d never hev thunk o’ takin’ up with religion, he said, in a shrill, upbraiding tone, ef I hed been let ter live along like other men be, or ef me an’ mine could die like other folks be let ter die! But it ‘peared ter me ez religion war ’bout all ez war lef’, arter I hed gin the baby the stuff the valley doctor hed lef’ fur Em’ly, bein’ ez I could n’t read right the old critter’s cur’ous scrapin’s with his pencil,an’ gin Em’ly the stuff fur the baby.
An’ it died.
An’ then Em’ly got onsettled an’ crazy, an’ tuk ter vagrantin’ ‘roun’, an’ fell off’n the bluff.
An’ some say she flunged herself off’n it.
And I knows she flunged herself off’n it through bein’ out’n her mind with grief.
He paused, leaning on the yoke, his dreary eyes still on the ignis fatuus of the woods.
An’ then Brother Jake Tobin ‘lowed ez religion war fur sech ez me.
I hed no mind ter religion.
But the worl’ hed in an’ about petered out for me.
An’ I tuk up with religion.
I hev served it five year faithful.
An’ nowhe cast his angry eyes upwardye let me believe that thar is no God! So it was that Satan hunted him like a partridge on the mountains.
So it was that he went out into the desert places to upbraid the God in whom he believed because he believed that there was no God.
There was a tragedy in his faith and his unfaith.
That this untrained, untutored mind should grope among the irreconcilable things,the problems of a merciful God and his afflicted people, foreordained from the beginning of the world and free agents! That to the ignorant mountaineer should come those distraught questions that vex polemics, and try the strength of theologies, and give the wise men an illimitable field for the display of their agile and ingenious solutions and substitutions! He knew naught of this; the wild Alleghanies intervened between his yearning, empty despair and their plenished fame, the splendid superstructure on the ruins of their faith.
He thought himself the only unbeliever in a Christian world, the only inherent infidel; a mysteriously accursed creature, charged with the discovery of the monstrous fallacy of that beneficent comfort, assuaging the grief of a stricken world, and called an overruling Providence.
Again his flickering faith would flare up, and he would reproach God who had suffered its lapse.
This was his secret and his shame, and he guarded it.
And so when he preached his wild sermons with a certain natural eloquence; and prayed his frantic prayers, instinct with all the sincerities of despair; and sang with the people the mournful old hymns in the little meeting−house on the notch, or on the banks of the Scolacutta River, where they went down to be baptized, his keen introspection, his more dissent, which he might not forbear, yet would not avow, were an intolerable burden, and his spiritual life was the throe of a spiritual anguish.
Often there was no intimation in those sermons of his of the quaint doctrines which delight the simple men of his calling in that region, who are fain to feel learned.
His Christ, to judge from this mood, was a Paramount Emotion: not the Christ who confuted the wise men in the temple, and read in the synagogues, and said dark allegories; but he who stilled the storm, and healed the sick, and raised the dead, and wept, most humanly, for the friend whom he loved.
Kelsey’s trusting heart contended with his doubting mind, and the simple humanities of these sermons comforted him.
Sometimes he sought consolation otherwise; he would remember that he had never been like his fellows.
This was only another manifestation of the dissimilarity that dated from his earliest recollections.
He had from his infancy peculiar gifts.
He was learned in the signs of the weather, and predicted the mountain storms; he knew the haunts and habits of every beast and bird in the Great Smoky, every leaf that burgeons, every flower that blows.
So deep and incisive a knowledge of human nature had he that this faculty was deemed supernatural, and akin to the gift of prophecy.
He himself understood, although perhaps he could not have accurately limited and defined it, that he exercised unconsciously a vigilant attention and an acute discrimination; his forecast was based upon observation so close and unsparing, and a power of deduction so just, that in a wider sphere it might have been called judgment, and, reinforced by education, have attained all the functions of a ripened sagacity. IV. 27 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Crude as it was, it did not fail of recognition.
In many ways his word was sought and heeded.
His influence yielded its richest effect when his confrére of the pulpit would call on him to foretell the fate of the sinner and the wrath of God to the Big Smoky.
And then Brother Jake Tobin would accompany the glowing picture by a slow rhythmic clapping of hands and a fragmentary chant, That dreadful Day air a−comin’ along!bearing all the time a smiling and beatific countenance, as if he were fireproof himself, and brimstone and flame were only for his friends.
Rousing himself from his reverie with a sigh, Hiram Kelsey urged the oxen along the sandy road, which had here and there a stony interval threatening the slide with dissolution at every jolt.
They began presently to quicken their pace of their own accord.
The encompassing woods and the laurel were so dense that no gleam of light was visible till they brought up suddenly beside a rail fence, and the fitful glimmer of firelight from an open door close at hand revealed the presence of a double log cabin.
There was an uninclosed passage between the two rooms, and in this a tall, gaunt woman was standing.
Thar be Hi now, with the steers, she said, detecting the dim bovine shadows in the flickering gleams.
Tell Hiram ter come in right now, cried a chirping voice, like a superannuated cricket.
I hev a word ter ax him.
Tell Hiram ter feed them thar steers fust, cried out another ancient voice, keyed several tones lower, and also with the ring of authority.
Tell Hiram, shrilly piped the other, ter hustle his bones, ef he knows what air good fur ’em.
Tell Hiram, said the deeper voice, sustaining the antiphonal effect, I want them thar steers feded foreshortly.
Then ensued a muttered wrangle within, and finally the shriller voice was again uplifted: Tell Hiram what my word air.
An’ ye tell Hiram what my word air.
The woman, who was tall as a grenadier, and had a voice like velvet, looked meekly back into the room, upon each mandate, with a nod of mild obedience.
Ye hearn ’em, she said softly to Kelsey.
Evidently she could not undertake the hazard of discriminating between these coequal authorities.
I hearn ’em, he replied.
She sat down near the door, and resumed her occupation of monotonously peeling June apples for sass.
Her brown calico sunbonnet, which she habitually wore, in doors and out, obscured her visage, except her chin and absorbed mouth, that now and then moved in unconscious sympathy with her work.
There was a piggin on one side of her to receive the quartered fruit, and on the other a white oak splint basket, already half full of the spiral parings.
On the doorstep her husband sat, a shaggy−headed, full−bearded, unkempt fellow, in brown jeans trousers reaching almost to his collar−bone in front, and supported by the single capable suspender so much affected in the mountains.
His unbleached cotton shirt was open at the throat, for there was fire enough in the huge chimney−place to make the room unpleasantly warm, despite the change of temperature without.
Now and then he stretched out his hand for an apple already pared, which his wife gave him with an adroit back−handed movement, and which he ate in a mouthful or two.
He made way for Kelsey to enter, and asked him a question, almost inarticulate because of the apples, but apparently of hospitable intent, for Kelsey said he had had a bite and a sup at Jonas Trice’s, and did not want the supper which had been providently saved for him.
IV. 28 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Kelsey did not betray which command he had thought best to obey.
I hed ter put my rifle on the rack in the t’other room, gran’dad, he observed meekly, addressing one of two very old men who sat on either side of the huge fireplace.
There were cushions in their rude arm−chairs, and awkward little three−legged footstools were placed in front of them.
Their shoes and clothing, although coarse to the last degree, were clean and carefully tended.
They had each long ago lived out the allotted threescore years and ten, but they had evidently not worn out their welcome.
One had suffered a paralytic attack, and every word and motion was accompanied with a convulsive gasp and jerk.
The other old man was saturnine and lymphatic, and seemed a trifle younger than his venerable associate.
What war ye a−doin’ of with yer rifle? mumbled gran’dad, in wild, toothless haste.
I tuk it along ter see, when I war a−comin’ home, ef I mought shoot suthin’ tasty for supper.
What did ye git? demanded gran’dad, with retrospective greed; for supper was over, and he had done full justice to his share.
I never got nuthin’, said Kelsey, a trifle shamefacedly.
Waal, waal, waal! These hyar latter times gits cur’ouser ez they goes along.
The stren’th an’ the seasonin’ hev all gone out’n the lan’.
Whenst I war young, folks ez kerried rifles ter git suthin’ fur supper never kem home a−suck−in’ the bar’l.
Folks ez kerried rifles in them days didn’t tote ’em furfura ornamint.
Folks in them days lef’ preachin’ an’ prophecy an’ sech ter thar elders, an’ hunted the beastis an’ the Injun’,though sinners is plentier than the t’other kind o’ game on the Big Smoky these times.
No man, in them days, jes’ turned thirty sot hisself down ter idlin’, an’ preachin’, an’ convictin’ his elders o’ sin.
Kelsey bore himself with the deferential humility characteristic of the mountaineers toward the aged among them.
What war the word ez ye war a−layin’ off ter say ter me, gran’dad? he asked, striving to effect a diversion.
Waal, waal, look−a−hyar, Hiram! exclaimed the old man, remembering his question in eager precipitancy.
This hyar ‘Cajah Green, ye know, ez air a−runnin’ fur sher’ffairair he Republikin or Dimmycrat? Thar’s no man in these hyar parts smart enough ter find that out, interpolated Obediah Scruggs in the door, circumspectly taking the apple seeds out of his mouth.
He was the son of one of the magnates, and the son−in−law of the other; his matrimonial venture had resulted in doubling his filial obligations.
His wife had brought, instead of a dowry, her aged father to the fireside. ‘Cajah Green, continued the speaker, run ez a independent las’ time, an’ thar war so many bolters an’ sech they split the vote, an’ he war ‘lected.
An’ now he air a−runnin’ agin.
The old man listened to this statement, his eye blazing, his chin in a quiver, his lean figure erect, and the pipe in his palsied hand shaking till the coal of fire on top showed brightening tendencies.
Waal, sir! waal! exclaimed the aged politician, with intense bitterness.
The stren’th an’ the seasonin’ hev all gone out’n the lan’! Whenst I war young, he declared dramatically, drawing the pitiable contrast, folks knowed what they war, an’ they let other folks know, too, ef they hed ter club it inter ’em.
But them was Old Hickory’s times.
Waal, waal, we ain’t a−goin’ ter see Old Hickory no morenomore! I hopes not, said the other old man, with sudden asperity.
I hopes we ‘ll never see no sech tormentin’ old Dimmycrat agin.
But law! I need n’t fret my soul.
Henry Clay shook all the life out’n him five year afore he died.
IV. 29 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Henry Clay made a speech agin Andrew Jackson in 1840 what forty thousan’ people kem ter hear.
Thar war a man fur ye! He hed a tongue like a bell; ‘pears like ter me I kin hear it yit, when I listens right hard.
By Gum! triumphantly, that day he tuk the stiffenin’ out’n Old Hickory! Surely, surely, he did! Ef I thought I war never a−goin’ ter hear Old Hickory’s name agin I’d tune up my ears fur the angel’s quirin’.
I war born a Republikin, I grow’d ter be a good Whig, an’ I ‘ll die a Republikin.
Ef that ain’t religion I dunno what air! That’s the way I hev lived an’ walked afore the Lord.
An’ hyar in the evenin’ o’ my days I hev got ter set alongside o’ this hyar old consarn, an’ hear him jow ’bout’n Old Hickory from mornin’ till night.
Ef I hed knowed how he war goin’ ter turn out ’bout’n Old Hickory in his las’ days, I would n’t hev let my darter marry his son, thirty five year ago.
I knowed he war a Dimmycrat, but I never knowed the stren’th o’ the failin’ till I war called on ter ‘speriunce it.
Ye ‘lowed t’other day, gran’dad, said Kelsey, addressing the aged paralytic in a propitiatory manner, ez ye war n’t a−goin’ ter talk ’bout’n Old Hickory no more.
It ‘pears like ter me ez ye oughter gin yer ‘tention ter the candidates ez ye hev got ter vote fur in August, Cajah Green, an’ sech.
But it must be admitted that Micajah Green was not half the man that Old Hickory was, and the filial remonstrance had no effect.
The acrimonies of fifty years ago were renewed across the hearth with a rancor that suggests that an old grudge, like old wine, improves with time.
No one ventured to interrupt, but Obediah Scruggs, still lounging in the door, commented in a low tone: The law stirs itself ter sot a time when a man air old enough ter vote an’ meddle with politics ginerally. ‘Pears like ter me it ought ter sot a time when he hev got ter quit.
Waal, Obediah! exclaimed the soft−voiced woman, the red parings hanging in concentric circles from her motionless knife.
That ain’t religion.
Ye talk like a man would hev ter be ez sensible an’ solid fur politics ez fur workin’ on the road.
They don’t summons the old men fur sech jobs ez that.
They mought ez well enjye the evenin’ o’ thar days with this foolishness o’ politics ez enny other.
Shucks! said Obediah, who had the courage of his convictions.
These hyar old folks hev hed ter live in the same house an’ ride in the same wagin thirty−five year, jes’ ‘kase, when we war married, they agreed ter put what they hed tergether; an’ they hev been a−fightin’ over thar dead an’ gone politics ev’y minit o’ the time sence.
Thar may be some good Dimmycrats, an’ thar may be some good Republikins; but they make a powerful oneasy team, yoked tergether.
An’ when it grows on ’em so, the law oughter step in, an’ count ’em over age, an’ shet ’em up. ‘Specially ez dad hev voted fur Andy Jackson fur Presidint, outer respec’ fur his memory, ev’y ‘lection sence the tormentin’ old critter died.
But he said all this below his breath, and presently fell silent, for his wife’s face had clouded, and her soft drawling voice had an intimation of a depression of spirit.
The kentry hev kem ter its ruin, exclaimed the paralytic, when menbrazen−faced buzzardskin go an’ git ‘lected ter office ‘thout no party ter boost ’em! Look−a−hyar,he turned to his grandson, ye air always a−prophesyin’.
Prophesy some now.
Air ‘Cajah Green a−goin’ ter be ‘lected? He thumped the floor with his stick, and fixed his imperative eye upon Hiram Kelsey’s face.
He won’t be ‘lected, said the prophet.
The old man’s face was scarlet because of this contradiction of his own dismal vaticinations. ‘Cajah Green will be ‘lected, he cried.
The kentry’s ruined.
Folks dunno whether they air Republikins or Dimrnycrats! Lor’ A’mighty, ter think o’ that! The kentry’s ruined! An’ yer prophesyin’ don’t tech it.
They hed false prophets in the old days, an’ the tribe holds out yit.
IV. 30 — The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Ye ain’t goin’ ter be ‘lected, said the deputy, grimly, an’ for a damned good reason.
Look−a−thar! They had walked to the blacksmith’s shop.
The deputy motioned to him to look into the window.
Damn ye, what is it? demanded Micajah Green, mystified.
The other made no reply, and the officer stooped, and looked into the dusky interior. VI. THREE sides of the blacksmith shop, the door, and the window were in full view from the little hamlet; the blank wall of the rear was close to a sheer precipice.
The door was locked, and the key was in the sheriff’s pocket.
The prisoner, bound with cords around his ankles and limbs, and with his wrists manacled, was gone! Every detail was as it had been left, except that at the rear, the only point secure from observation, there were traces of burrowing in the earth.
In the cavity thus made between the lowest log and the dirt floor a man’s body might with difficulty have been compressed,but a man so shackled! Undoubtedly he had had assistance.
This was a rescue.
Only a moment elapsed before the great barn−like doors were widely flaring and the anxious care of the officers and the eager curiosity of the crowd had explored every nook and cranny within.
The ground was dry, and there was not even a footprint to betoken the movements of the fugitive and his rescuers; only in the freshly upturned earth where he effected escape were the distinct marks of the palms of his hands, significantly close together.
Evidently he was still handcuffed when he had crawled through.
He’s a−wearin’ my bracelets yit! exclaimed the sheriff, excitedly.
Him an’ his friends warn’t able ter cut them off, like they done the ropes.
A search was organized in hot haste.
Every cabin, the corn−fields, the woods near at hand, were ransacked.
Parties went beating about through the dense undergrowth.
They climbed the ledges of great crags.
They hovered with keen eyes above dark abysses.
They pursued for hours a tortuous course down a deep gorge, strewn with gigantic bowlders, washed by the wintry torrents into divers channelings, overhung by cliffs hundreds of feet high, honeycombed with fantastic niches and rifts.
What futile quest! What vastness of mountain wilderness! The great sun went down in a splendid suffusion of crimson color and a translucent golden haze, with a purple garb for the mountains and a glamourous dream for the sky, and bestowing far and near the gilded license of imagination.
The searchers were hard at it until late into the night; never a clew to encourage them, never a hope to lure them on.
More than once they flagged, these sluggish mountaineers, who had passed the day in unwonted excitement, and had earned their night’s rest.
But the penalties of refusing to aid the officer of the law spurred them on.
Even old Hoodendinnot so old as to be exempt from this duty, for the sheriff had summoned every available man at the Settlement to his assistancehobbled from stone to stone, from one rotting log to another, where he sat down to recuperate from his exertions.
The search degenerated into a mere form, an aimless beating about in the brush, before Micajah Green could be induced to relinquish the hope of capture, and blow the horn as a signal for reassembling.
The bands of fagged−out men, straggling back to the Settlement toward dawn, found reciprocal satisfaction in expressing the opinion that ‘Cajah Green had keerlessly let Rick git away, an’ warn’t a−goin’ ter mend the matter by incitin’ the mounting ter bust ’round the woods like a lot o’ crazy deer all night, ter find a man ez warn’t nowhar. VI. 39 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains They wore surly enough faces as they gathered about the door of the store, or lounged on the stumps and the few chairs, waiting for a mounted party that had been ordered to extend the search down in the adjacent coves and along the spurs.
The agile Jer’miah scudded about, furnishing such consolation as can be contained in a jug.
Had the quest resulted differently, they would have laughed and joked and caroused till daybreak.
As it was, their talk was fragmentary; slight and innuendo were in every word.
The sheriff had supplemented his own negligence by a grievous disregard of their comfort, and the sense of defeat, so bitter to an American citizen, completed the æsthetic misery of the situation.
The wagons still stood about in the clearing; here and there the burly dark steers lay ruminant and half asleep among the stumps.
Among them, too, were the cattle of the place; the cows, milked late the evening before, had not yet roamed away.
Against a dark background of blackberry bushes a white bull stood in the moonlight, motionless, the lustre gilding his horns and touching his great sullen eyes with a spark of amber light.
In his imperious stillness he looked like a statue of a masquerading Jupiter.
Hist! said the sheriff.
The moon, low in the west, was drawing a seine of fine−spun gold across the dark depths of the valley.
In that enchanted enmeshment were tangled all the fancies of the night; the vague magic of dreams; vagrant romances, dumb but for the pulses; the gleams of a poetry, too delicately pellucid to be focused by a pen.
The mountains maintained a majesty of silence.
All the world beneath was still.
The wind was laid.
Far, far away, once again, a sound.
So indistinct, so undistinguishable,they hardly knew if they had heard aright.
There was a sudden scuffle near at hand.
Over one of the rail fences, gleaming wet with dew, and rich with the loan of a silver beam, there climbed a long, lean old hound; with an anxious aspect he ran to the verge of the crag.
Once more that sound, alien alike to the mountain solitudes and the lonely sky, then the deep−mouthed baying broke forth, waking all the echoes, and rousing all the dogs in the cove as well as the canine visitors and residents at the Settlement.
Dod−rot that critter! exclaimed the sheriff, angrily.
We can’t hear nuthin’ now but his long jaw.
Jes’ say ‘Silence in court!’ suggested Amos James from where he lay at length in the grass.
The sheriff nimbly kicked the dog instead, and the night was filled with wild shrieks of pain and anger.
When his barking was renewed it was punctuated with sharp, reminiscent yelps, as the injustice of his treatment ever end anon recurred to his mind.
The sound of human voices grew very distinct when it could be heard at all, and the tramp of approaching horses shook the ground.
Every eye was turned toward the point at which the road came into the Settlement, between the densities of the forest and the gleaming array of shining, curved blades and tossing plumes, where the corn−field spread its martial suggestions.
When an equestrian shadow suddenly appeared, the sheriff saluted it in a tremor of excitement.
Hello! he shouted.
Did ye ketch him? The foremost of the party rode slowly forward: the horse was jaded; the rider slouched in the saddle with an aspect of surly exhaustion.
Ketch him! thundered out Gid Fletcher’s gruff voice.
Ketch the devil! The bold−faced deputy was brazening it out.
He rode up with as dapper a style as a man may well maintain who has been in the saddle ten hours without food, sustained only by the strength of a tickler” in his pocket, whose VI. 40 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains prospects are jeopardized and whose official prestige is ruined.
The demeanor of the other riders expressed varying degrees of injured disaffection as they threw themselves from their horses.
The blacksmith dismounted in front of the cumbersome doors of his shop, on which still hung the sheriff’s padlock, and with the stiff gait of one who has ridden long and hard he strode across the clearing, and stopped before the group in front of the store.
He looked infuriated.
It might have been a matter of wonder that so tired a man could nourish so strong and active a passion.
Look−a−hyar, ‘Cajah Green! he exclaimed, with an oath, folks ‘low ter me ez I ain’t got no right ter my reward fur ketchin’ that thar greased peeg,ez ye hed ter leave go of,kase he warn’t landed in jail or bailed.
That air the law, they tells me.
That ‘s the law, replied the sheriff.
His chair was tilted back against the wall of the store, his hat drawn over his brow.
He spoke with the calmness of desperation.
Then ‘pears−like ter me ez I hev hed all my trouble fur nuthin’, an’ all the resk I hev tuk, said the blacksmith, coming close, and mechanically rolling up the sleeve of his hammer−arm.
The blacksmith turned on him a look like that, of a wounded bear.
An’ ye sit thar ez peaceful ez skim−milk, an’ ‘low ez ye hev let my two hunderd dollars slip away? he demanded.
Dadburn yer greasy soul! I hopes it air all I hev let slip, said the sheriff, quietly.
There was so much besides which he had cause to fear that it did not occur to him to be afraid of the blacksmith.
Perhaps it was the subacute perception that he shared the officer’s attention with more engrossing subjects which had the effect of tempering Gid Fletcher’s anger.
The rim of the moon was slipping behind the purple heights of Chilhowee.
Day was suddenly upon them, though the sun had not yet risen,when did the darkness flee?the day, cool, with a freshness as of a new creation, and with an atmosphere so clear that one might know the ash from the oak in the deep green depths of the wooded valley.
The hour had not yet done with witchery: the rose−red cloud was in the east, and the wild red rose had burst its bud; a mocking−bird sprang from its nest in a dogwood tree, with a scintillating wing and a soaring song, and a ray of sunlight like a magic wand fell athwart the landscape.
Gid Fletcher sat vaguely staring.
Presently he lifted his hand with a sudden gesture demanding attention.
Ye ain’t goin’ ter be ‘lected, air ye, ‘Cajah Green? The sheriff stirred uneasily.
His ambition, a little and a selfish thing, was the index to his soul.
Without it he himself would not be able to find the page whereon was writ all that there was of the spiritual within him.
He writhed to forego it.
Naw, he said, desperately, I s’pose I ain’t.
He pushed his hat back nervously.
He heard, without marking, the sudden rattling of one of the wagons that had left some time ago: it was crossing a rickety bridge near the foot of the mountain; the hollow reverberations rose and fell, echoed and died away.
One of the cabin doors opened, and a man came out upon the porch.
He washed his face in a tin pan which stood on a VI. 41 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains bench for the public toilet, treated his head to a refreshing souse, and then, with the water dripping from his long locks upon the shoulders of his shirt, the bold−faced deputy, much refreshed by a snack and his ablutions, came lounging across the clearing to join them.
Suddenly Micajah Green noted that the blacksmith was looking at him, with a significant gleam in his black eyes and a flush on his swarthy face.
Who said ye warn’t goin’ ter be ‘lected? Why, this hyar prophet o’ yourn on the Big Smoky.
Why did he ‘low ez that warn’t comin’ ter pass? He would n’t gin no reason.
He lef’ ye ter find that out.
An’ ye fund it out? The sheriff said nothing.
He was breathlessly intent.
An’ he met me in the woods, an’ ‘lowed ez Rick Tyler ought n’t ter be tuk, an’ hed done no wrong; an’ he called the gov’nor’s reward blood money, an’ worked hisself nigh up ter the shoutin’ p’int; an’ called me ‘Judas’ fur takin’ the boy, sence me an’ him hed been frien’ly, an’ ‘lowed ez them thar thirty pieces o’ silver warn’t out o’ circulation yit.
An’ then, the bold−faced deputy struck in, he rode up yestiddy, a−raisin’ a great wondermint over a gaynder−pullin’, ez if thar’d never been one before; purtendin’ ‘t war wicked, like he’d never killed an’ eat a fowel, an’ drawin’ pistols, an’ raisin’ a great commotion an’ excitin’ an’ destractin’ the Settlemint, so a man handcuffed, an’ with a rope twisted round his arms an’ legs, gits out of a house right under thar nose, an’ runs away.
Rick Tyler could n’t hev done it ‘thout them ropes war cut, an’ he war gin a chance ter sneak out.
Now, I ain’t a prophet by natur, but I kin say who cut them ropes, an’ who raised a disturbament outside ter gin him a chance ter mosey.
Whar’s he now? demanded the sheriff, rising from his chair and glancing about.
He was a−huntin’ with the posse, las’ night, said the deputy.
He never lef’ till ’bout an hour ago.
He never wanted nobody ter ‘spicion nuthin’, I reckon.
Mebbe that ‘s him now.
He pointed to a road in the valley, a tawny streak elusively appearing upon a hilltop or skirting a rocky spur, soon lost in a sea of foliage.
Beside a harvested wheat−field it was again visible, and a tiny moving object might be discerned by eyes trained to the long stretches of mountain landscape.
The sun was higher, the dew exhaled in warm and languishing perfume, the mocking−bird filled the air with ecstasy.
The men stood among their elongated shadows on the crag staring at the moving object until it reached the dense woods, and so passed out of sight. VII. DOWN a precipitous path, hardly more civilized of aspect than if it were trodden by the deer, filled with interlacing roots, barricaded by long briery tangles, overhung by brush and overshadowed by trees, down this sylvan way Dorinda, followed by Jacob and one or two of the companionable old hounds, was wont to go to the spring under the crag. VII. 42 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains The spot had its fascinations.
The great beetling cliff towered far above, the jagged line of its summit serrating the zenith.
Its rugged face was seamed with many a fissure, and here and there were clumps of ferns, a swaying vine, a huckleberry bush that fed the birds of the air.
Below surged the tops of the trees.
There was a shelving descent from the base of the crag, and Jacob must needs have heed of the rocky depths beneath in treading the narrow ledge that led to a great cavernous niche in the face of the rock.
Here in a deep cleft welled the never−failing spring.
It always reminded Dorinda of that rock which Moses smote; although, of course, when she thought of it, she said, she knew that Mount Horeb was in Jefferson County, because a man who had married her brother’s wife’s cousin had an aunt who lived there.
And when she had abandoned that unconscious effort to bring the great things near, she would sit upon the rock and look with a sigh of pleasure at that pure, outgushing limpidity, unfailing and unchanging, and say it reminded her of the well−springs of pity.
One day, as she sat there, her dreaming head thrown back upon her hands clasped behind it, there sounded a sudden step close by.
The old hounds, lying without the cavernous recess, could see along the upward vista of the path, and their low growl was rather in surly recognition than in active defiance.
Dorinda and Jacob, within the great niche, beheld naught but the distant mountain landscape framed in the rugged arch above their heads.
The step did not at once advance; it hesitated, and then Amos James came slowly into view.
Dorinda looked up dubiously at him, and it occurred to him that this was the accepted moment to examine the lock of his gun.
Howdy, he ventured, as he turned the rifle about.
She had assumed a more constrained attitude, and had unclasped her hands from behind her head.
The seat was a low one, and the dark blue folds of her homespun dress fell about her with simple amplitude.
Her pink calico sunbonnet lay on the rock under her elbow.
The figure of the pudgy Jacob in the foreground had a callow grotesqueness.
He, too, undertook the demeanor he had learned to discriminate as manners.
Outside, the old dog snapped at the flies.
Amos James seemed to thinly an account of himself appropriate.
I hev been a−huntin’, he said, his grave black eyes on the ride and his face in the shadow of his big white hat.
I happened ter pass by the house, an’ yer granny said ez ye hed started down hyar arter a pail o’ water, an’ I ‘lowed ez I ‘d kem an’ fetch it fur ye.
Dorinda murmured that she was much obleeged, and relapsed into silent propriety.
Extraordinary gun! It really seemed as if Amos James would be compelled to take it to pieces then and there, so persistently did it require his attention.
Jacob, whose hearing was unimpaired, but whose education in the specious ways of those of a larger growth was as yet incomplete, got up briskly.
Since Amos had cone to fetch the pail he saw no reason in nature why the pail should not be fetched, and he imagined that the return was in order.
He paused for a moment in surprise; then seeing that no one else moved, he sat down abruptly.
But for her manners Dorinda could have laughed.
Amos James’s cheek flushed darkly as he still worked at the gun.
I s’pose ez you−uns hev hearn the news? he remarked, presently.
As he asked the question he quickly lifted his eyes.
Ah, what laughing lights in hers,what radiant joys! She did not look at him.
Her gaze was turned far away to the soft horizon.
Her delicate lips had such dainty curves.
Her pale cheek flushed tumultuously.
She leaned her head back against the rock, the tendrils of her dark hair spreading over the unyielding gray stone, which, weather−shielded, was almost white.
In its dead, dumb finalitythe memorial of seas ebbed long ago, of forms of life extinctshe bore it a buoyant contrast.
She looked immortal! VII. 43 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains I hev hearn the news, she said, her long lashes falling, and with quiet circumspection, at variance with the triumph in her face.
He looked at her gravely, breathlessly.
A new idea had taken possession of him.
The rescue,it was a strange thing! Who in the Great Smoky Mountains had an adequate temptation to risk the penalty of ten years in the state−prison for rescuing Rick Tyler from the officers of the law? His brothers?they were step−brothers.
His father was dead.
Affection could not be accounted a factor.
Venom might do more.
Some reckless enemy of the sheriff’s might thus have craftily compassed his ruin.
Then there suddenly came upon Amos James a recollection of the Cayces’ grudge against Micajah Green, and of the fact that they had already actively bestirred themselves to electioneer against him.
Once, before it all happened, Rick Tyler had hung persistently about Dorinda, and perhaps the men−folks approved him.
Amos remembered too that a story was current at the gander−pulling that the reason the Cayces had absented themselves and were lying low was because a party of revenue raiders had been heard of on the Big Smoky.
Who had heard of them, and when did they come, and where did they go? It seemed a fabrication, a cloak.
And Dorinda,she was the impersonation of delighted triumph.
Agged the men−folks on, I reckon, he thought,agged ’em on, fur the sake o’ Rick Tyler! A sense of despair, quiet, numbing, was creeping over him. ‘T ain’t no reg’lar ail, I know, he said to himself, but I b’lieve it’ll kill me.
Conversation in the mountains is a leisurely procedure, time being of little value.
The ensuing pause, however, was of abnormal duration, and at last Amos was fain to break it, albeit irrelevantly.
This hyar weather is gittin’ mighty hot, he observed, taking off his hat and fanning himself with it.
I feel like I hed been dragged bodaciously through the hopper.
From the shaded coolness of the grotto the girl admitted that it was middlin’ warm.
Despite the slumberous sunshine here, all the world was not so quiet.
Over the valley a cloud was hovering, densely black, but with a gray nebulous margin; now and then it was rent by a flash of lightning in swift zigzag lines, yet the mountains beyond were a tender blue in the golden glow of a sunshine yet more tender. ‘Pears like they air gittin’ a shower over yander, at the furder eend o’ the cove, Dorinda remarked, encouragingly.
Ef it war ter storm right smart, mebbe the thunder would cool the air some.
Mebbe so, he assented.
Then he marked again the new beauty abloom in her face, and his heart sank within him.
His pride was touched, too.
He was a man well to do for the mountings, with his own grist−mill, and a widowed mother whose plaint it was, night and day, that Amos was sech a slowly boy ter git married, an’ the Lord knows thar oughter be somebody roun’ the house spry’r ‘n a pore old woman mighty nigh fifty year old,yes, sir! a−goin’ on fifty.
An’ I want ter live down ter Emmert’s Cove along o’ Malviny, my married darter, she would insist, whar thar air chillen, an’ babies ter look arter, an’ not sech a everlastin’ gang o’ men, a−lopin’ ’round the mill.
But I dunno what Amos would do ef I lef’ him.
Evidently it was a field for a daughter−in−law.
Amos felt in his secret soul that this was not the only attraction.
He was well favored and tall and straight, and had a good name in the county, despite his pranks, which were leniently regarded.
He honestly thought that Dorinda might do worse.
Whether it was tact or whether it was delicacy, he did not allude to the worldly contrast with the fugitive from justice. — THE disappointment which Amos James experienced found expression in much the same manner as that of many men of higher culture.
He went down to his home in Eskaqua Cove, moody and morose.
He replied to his chirping mother in discouraging monosyllables.
In taciturn disaffection he sat on the step of the little porch, and watched absently a spider weaving her glittering gossamer maze about an overhanging mass of purple grapes, with great green leaves that were already edged with a rusty red and mottled with brown.
A mockingbird boldly perched among them, ever and anon, the airy grace of his pose hardly giving, in its exquisite lightness, the effect of a pause.
The bird swallowed the grapes whole with a mighty gulp, and presently flew away with one in his bill for the refreshment of his family, whose vibratory clamor in an althea bush hard by mingled with the drone of the grasshoppers in the wet grass, louder than ever since the rain, and the persistent strophe and antistrophe of the frogs down on the bank of the mill−pond.
Did they git enny shower up in the mounting, Amos? demanded his mother, as she sat knitting on the porch,a thin little woman, with a nervous, uncertain eye and a drawling, high−pitched voice.
Naw ‘m, said Amos, not ez I knows on.
I reckon ye ‘d hev knowed ef ye hed got wet, she said, with asperity.
Ye hain’t got much feelin’, no ways,yer manners shows it,but I ‘low ye would feel the rain ef it kem down right smart, or ef ye war streck by VIII. 46 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains lightnin’.
There was no retort, and from the subtle disappointment in the little woman’s eye it might have seemed that to inaugurate a controversy would have been more filial, so bereft of conversational opportunity was her lonely life, where only a gang o’ men loped ’round the mill.
She knitted on with a sharp clicking of the needles for a time, carrying the thread on a gnarled fourth finger, which seemed unnaturally active for that member, and somehow officious.
I ‘ll be bound ye went ter Cayce’s house, she said, aggressively.
There was another long pause.
The empty dwelling behind them was so still that one could hear the footsteps of an intruding rooster, as he furtively entered at the back door.
Shoo! she said, shaking her needles at him, as she bent forward and saw him standing in the slant of the sunshine, all his red and yellow feathers burnished.
He had one foot poised motionless, and looked at her with a reproving side−glance, as if he could not believe he had caught the drift of her remarks.
Another gesture, more pronounced than the first, and he went scuttling out, his wings half spread and his toe−nails clattering on the puncheon floor.
Ye went ter Cayce’s, I’ll be bound, and hyar ye be, with nuthin’ ter tell.
Ef I war free ter jounce ’round the mounting same ez the idle, shif’less men−folks, who hev got nuthin’ ter do but eye a mill ez the water works, I’d hev so much ter tell whenst I got home that ye ‘d hev ter tie me in a cheer ter keep me from talkin’ myself away, like somebody happy with religion.
An’ hyar ye be, actin’ like ye hed no mo’ gift o’ speech ‘n the rooster.
Shoo! Shoo! Whar did ye go, ennyhow, when ye war on the mounting? A−huntin’, said Amos.
Huntin’ D’rindy Cayce, I reckon.
An’ ye never got her, ter jedge from yer looks.
An’ I ain’t got the heart ter blame the gal.
Sech a lonesome, say−nuthin’ husband ye ‘d make! The sharp click of her knitting−needles filled the pause.
But her countenance had relaxed.
She was in a measure enjoying the conversation, since the spice of her own share atoned for the lack of news or satisfactory response.
Air old Mis’ Cayce’s gyarden−truck suff’rin’ fur rain? There was a gleam of hopeful expectation behind her spectacles.
With her reeling gyarden−spot dripping with raindrops, and the smell of thyme and sage and the damp mould on the air, she could afford some pity as an added flavor for her pride.
Never looked ter see, murmured her son, between two long whiffs from his pipe.
His mother laid her knitting on her lap.
I’ll be bound, Amos Jeemes, ez ye never tole her how ‘special our’n war a−thrivin’ this season.
Naw ‘m, said Amos, a trifle more promptly than usual, I never. ‘Fore I’d go a crowin’ over old Mis’ Cayce ’bout’n our gyarden−truck I’d see it withered in a night, like Jonah’s gourd.
It’s the Lord’s han’, said his mother quickly, in self−justification.
I ain’t been prayin’ fur no drought in Mis’ Cayce’s gyarden−spot.
Another long pause ensued.
The sun shining through a bunch of grapes made them seem pellucid globes of gold and amber and crimson among others darkly purple in the shadow.
The mocking−bird came once more VIII. 47 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains a−foraging.
A yellow and red butterfly flickered around in the air, as if one of the tiger−lilies there by the porch had taken wings and was wantoning about in the wind.
On the towering bald of the mountain a cloud rested, obscuring the dome,a cloud of dazzling whiteness, and it seemed as if the mountain had been admitted to some close communion with the heavens.
Below, the color was intense, so deeply green were the trees, so clear and sharp a gray were the crags, so blue were the shadows in the ravines.
Amos was looking upward.
He looked upward much of the time.
See old Groundhog? inquired his mother, suddenly.
Whar? he demanded with a start, breaking from his reverie.
Laws−a−massy, boy! she exclaimed, in exasperation.
Whenst ye war up ter the Cayces’, this mornin’.
Naw ‘m, said Amos.
He had never admitted, save by indirection, that he had been to the Cayces’.
War he gone ter the still? I never axed.
I s’pose not, bein’ ez ye never drinks nuthin’ but buttermilk, do ye?this with a scathing inflection.
She presently sighed deeply.
The millinium an’ the revenue will git thar rights one of these days, I hopes an’ prays.
I ‘m a favorin’ of ennythink ez ‘ll storp sin an’ a−swillin’ o’ liquor.
Tax ’em all, I say! Tax the sinners! She had assumed a pious aspect, and spoke in a tone of drawling solemnity, with a vague idea that the whiskey tax was in the interest of temperance, and the revenue department was a religious institution.
The delusions of ignorance! Thar ain’t ez much drunk nohow now ez thar useter war.
I ‘members when I war a gal whiskey war so cheap that up to the store at the Settlemint they ‘d hev a bucket set full o’ whiskey an’ a gourd, free fur all comers, an’ another bucket alongside with water ter season it.
An’ the way that thar water lasted war surprisin’,that it war! Nowadays ye ain’t goin’ ter find liquor so plenty nowhar, ‘cept mebbe at old Groundhog’s still.
Amos made no reply.
His eyes were fixed on the road.
A man on an old white horse had emerged from the woods, and was slowly ambling toward the mill.
The crazy old structure was like a caricature; it seemed that only by a lapse of all the rules of interdependent timbers did it hang together, with such oblique disregard of rectangles.
Its doors and windows were rhomboidal; its supports tottered in the water.
The gate was shut.
The whir was hushed.
A sleep lay upon the pond, save where the water fell like a silver veil over the dam.
Even this motion was dreamy and somnambulistic.
On the other side off the stream the great sandstone walls of the channel showed the water−marks of flood and fall of past years, cut in sharp levels and registered in the rock.
They beetled here and there, and the verdure on the summits looked over and gave the deep waters below the grace of a dense and shady reflection.
Above the dark old roof on every hand the majestic encompassing mountains rose against the sky, and the cove nestled sequestered from the world in this environment.
The man on the gaunt white horse suddenly paused, seeing the mill silent and lonely; his eyes turned to the little house farther down the stream.
Hello! he yelled.
I kem hyar ter git some gris’ groun’. VIII. 48 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Grin’ yer gris’ yerse’f, vociferated the miller, cavalierly renouncing his vocation.
I hev no mind ter go a−medjurin o’ toll.
Thus privileged, the stranger dismounted, went into the old mill, himself lifted the gate, and presently the musical whir broke forth.
It summoned an echo from the mountain that was hardly like a reflection of its simple, industrial sound, so elfin, so romantically faint, so fitful and far, it seemed! The pond awoke, the water gurgled about the wheel, the tail−race was billowy with foam.
Presently there was silence.
The gate had fallen; the farmer had measured the toll, and was riding away.
As he vanished Amos James rose slowly, and began to stretch his stalwart limbs.
I ‘m glad ye ain’t palsied with settin’ so long, Amos, said his mother.
Ye seem ter hev los’ interes’ in everything ‘ceptin’ the doorstep.
Lord A’mighty! I never thunk ez ye ‘d grow up ter be sech pore comp’ny.
No wonder ez D’rindy hardens her heart! An’ when ye war a baby,my sakes! I could set an’ list’n ter yer jowin’ all day.
An sech comp’ny ye war, when ye could n’t say a word an’ hed n’t a tooth in yer head! He lived in continual rivalry with this younger self in his mother’s affections.
She was one of those women whose maternal love is expressed in an idolatry of infancy.
She could not forgive him for outgrowing his babyhood, and regarded every added year upon his head as a sort of affront and a sorrow.
He strode away, still gloomily downcast, and when the woman next looked up she saw him mounted on his bay horse, and riding toward the base of the mountain.
Waal, sir! she exclaimed, taking off her spectacles and rubbing the glasses, on her blue−checked apron, D’rindy Cayce ‘ll hev ter marry that thar boy ter git shet o’ him.
I hev never hearn o’ nobody ridin’ up that thar mounting twict in one day ‘thout they hed suthin’ ‘special ter boost ’em,a−runnin’ from the sher’ff, or sech.
But Amos James soon turned from the road, that wound in long, serpentine undulations to the mountain’s brow, and pursued a narrow bridle−path, leading deep into the dense forests.
It might have seemed that he was losing his way altogether when the path disappeared among the bowlders of a stream, half dry.
He followed the channel up the rugged, rock−girt gorge for perhaps a mile, emerging at length upon a slope of outcropping ledges, where his horse left no hoof−print.
Soon he struck into the laurel, and pressed on, guided by signs distinguishable only to the initiated: some grotesque gnarling of limbs, perhaps, of the great trees that stretched above the almost impenetrable undergrowth; some projecting crag, visible at long intervals, high tip and cut sharply against the sky.
All at once, in the midst of the dense laurel, he came upon a cavity in the side of the mountain.
The irregularly shaped fissure was more than tall enough to admit a man.
He stood still for a moment, and called his own name.
There was no response save the echoes, and, dismounting, he took the bridle and began to lead the horse into the cave.
The animal shied dubiously, protesting against this unique translation to vague subterranean spheres.
The shadow of the fissured portal fell upon them; the light began to grow dim; the dust thickened.
As Amos glanced over his shoulder he could see the woods without suffused, with a golden radiance, and there was a freshness on the intensely green foliage as if it were newly washed with rain.
The world seemed suddenly clarified, and tiny objects stood out with strange distinctness; he saw the twigs on the great trees and the white tips of the tail−feathers of a fluttering bluejay.
Far down the aisles of the forest the enchantment held its wonderful sway, and he felt in his own ignorant fashion how beautiful is the accustomed light.
When the horse’s stumbling feet had ceased to sound among the stones, the wilderness without was as lonely and as unsuggestive of human occupation or human existence as when the Great Smoky Mountains first rose from the sea. IX. AMOS and his steed made their way along a narrow passage, growing wider, however, and taller, but darker and IX. 49 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains with many short turns,an embarrassment to the resisting brute’s physical conformation.
Suddenly there was a vague red haze in the dark, the sound of voices, and an abrupt turn brought man and horse into a great subterranean vault, where dusky distorted figures, wreathing smoke, and a flare of red fire suggested Tartarus.
Hy’re, Amos! cried a hospitable voice.
A weird tone repeated the words with precipitate promptness.
Again and again the abrupt echoes spoke; far down the unseen blackness of the cave a hollow whisper announced his entrance, and he seemed mysteriously welcomed by the unseen powers of the earth.
He was not an imaginative man nor observant, but the upper regions were his sphere, and he had all the acute sensitiveness incident to being out of one’s element.
Even after he had seated himself he noted a far, faint voice crying, Hy’re, Amos! in abysmal depths explored only by the sound of his name.
And here it was that old Groundhog Cayce evaded the law, and ran his still, and defied the revenue department, and maintained his right to do as he would with his own.
Lord A’mighty, air the corn mine, or no? he would argue.
Air the orchard mine or the raiders’? An’ what ails me ez I can’t make whiskey an’ apple−jack same ez in my dad’s time, when him an’ me run a sour mash still on the top o’ the mounting in the light o’ day, up’ards o’ twenty year, an’ never hearn o’ no raider? Tell me that ‘s agin the law, nowadays! Waal, now, who made that law? I never; an’ I ain’t a−goin’ ter abide by it, nuther.
Ez sure ez ye air born, it air jes’ a Yankee trick fotched down hyar by the Fed’ral army.
An’ ef I hed knowed they war goin’ ter gin tharse’fs ter sech persecutions arter the war, I dunno how I’d hev got my consent ter fit alongside of ’em like I done fower year fur the Union.
A rude furnace made of fire−rock was the prominent feature of the place, and on it glimmered the pleasing rotundities of a small copper still.
The neck curved away into the obscurity.
There was the sound of gurgling water, with vague babbling echoes; for the never−failing rill of an underground spring, which rose among the rocks, was diverted to the unexpected purpose of flowing through the tub where the worm was coiled, and of condensing the precious vapors, which dripped monotonously into their rude receiver at the extremity of the primitive fixtures.
The iron door of the furnace was open now as Ab Cayce replenished the fire.
It sent out a red glare, revealing the dark walls; the black distances; the wreaths of smoke, that were given a start by a short chimney, and left to wander away and dissipate themselves in the wide subterranean spaces; and the uncouth, slouching figures and illuminated faces of the distillers.
They lounged upon the rocks or sat on inverted baskets and tubs, and one stalwart fellow lay at length upon the ground.
The shadows were all grotesquely elongated, almost divested of the semblance of humanity, as they stretched in unnatural proportions upon the rocks.
Amos James’s horse cast on the wall an image so gigantic that it seemed as if the past and the present were mysteriously united, and he stood stabled beside the grim mastodon whom the cave had sheltered from the rigors of his day long before Groundhog Cayce was moved to seek a refuge.
The furnace door clashed; the scene faded; only a glittering line of vivid white light, emitted between the ill−fitting door and the unhewn rock, enlivened the gloom.
Now and then, as one of the distillers moved, it fell upon him, and gave his face an abnormal distinctness in the surrounding blackness, like some curiously cut onyx.
Waal, Amos, said a voice from out the darkness, I ‘m middlin’ glad ter see you−uns.
Hev a drink.
A hand came out into the gleaming line of light, extending with a flourish of invitation a jug of jovial aspect.
Don’t keer ef I do, said Amos, politely.
He lifted the jug, and drank without stint.
The hand received it back again, shook it as if to judge of the quantity of its contents, and then, with a gesture of relish, raised it to an unseen mouth.
IX. 50 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Enny news ’round the mill, Amos? demanded his invisible pot companion.
None ez I knows on, drawled Amos.
Grind some fur we−uns ter−morrer? asked Ab.
I ‘ll grind yer bones, ef ye ‘ll send ’em down, said Amos, accommodatingly.
All’s’ grist ez goes ter the hopper.
How kem you−uns ter git the nightmare ’bout’n the raiders? I waited fur Sol an’ the corn right sharp time Wednesday mornin’; jes’ hed nuthin’ ter do but ter sot an’ suck my paws, like a b’ar in winter, till ‘t war time ter put out an’ go ter the gaynder−pullin’.
Waalthere was embarrassment in the tones of the burly shadow, and all the echoes were hesitant as Groundhog Cayce replied in Ab’s stead: Mirandy Jane ‘lowed ez she hed seen a strange man ’bout’n the spring, an’ thought it war a raider,though he’d hev been in a mighty ticklish place fur a raider, all by himself.
Mirandy Jane hev fairly got the jim−jams, seein’ raiders stiddier snakes, we−uns can’t put no dependence in the gal.
An’ mam, she drempt the raiders hed camped on Chilhowee Mounting.
An’ D’rindy, she turned fool: fust she ‘lowed ez we−uns would all be ruined ef we went ter the gaynder−pullin’, an’ then she war powerful interrupted when we ‘lowed we would n’t go, like ez ef she wanted us ter go most awful.
I axed this hyar Pa’son Kelsey, ez rid by that mornin’, ef he treed enny raiders in his mind.
An’ he ‘lowed, none, ‘ceptin’ the devil a−raidin’ ‘roun’ his own soul.
But ‘mongst ’em we−uns jest bided away that day.
I would n’t hev done it, ‘ceptin’ D’rindy tuk ter talkin’ six ways fur Sunday, an’ she got me, plumb catawampus, so ez I did n’t rightly know what I wanted ter do myself.
It was a lame story for old Groundhog Cayce to tell.
Even the hesitating echoes seemed ashamed of it.
Mirandy Jane’s mythical raider, and mam’s dream, and D’rindy’s folly,were these to baffle that stout−hearted old soldier? Amos James said no more.
If old Cayce employed an awkward subterfuge to conceal the enterprise of the rescue, he had no occasion to intermeddle.
Somehow, the strengthening of his suspicions brought Amos to a new realization of his despair.
He sought to modify it by frequent reference to the jug, which came his way at hospitably short intervals.
But he had a strong head, and had seen the jug often before; and although he thought his grief would be alleviated by getting as drunk as a fraish b’iled owel, that consummation of consolation was coy and tardy.
He was only mournfully frisky after a while, feeling that he should presently be obliged to cut his throat, yet laughing at his own jokes when the moonshiners laughed, then pausing in sudden seriousness to listen to the elfin merriment evoked among the lurking echoes.
And he sang, too, after a time, a merry catch, in a rich and resonant voice, with long, dawdling, untutored cadences and distortions of effect,sudden changes of register, many an abrupt crescendo and diminuendo, and spoken interpolations and improvisations, all of humorous intent.
The others listened with the universal greedy appetite for entertainment which might have been supposed to have dwindled and died of inanition in their serious and deprived lives.
Pete Cayce first revolted from the strain on his attention, subordination, and acquiescence.
It was not his habit to allow any man to so completely absorb public attention.
Look−a−hyar, Amos, fur Gawd’s sake, shet up that thar foolishness! he stuttered at last.
Thar’s n−no tellin’ how f−f−fur yer survigrus bellerin’ kin be hearn.
An’ besides, ye ‘ll b−b−bring the rocks down on to we−uns d−d’rectly.
They tell me that it air dangerous ter f−f−f−fire pistols an’ jounce ’round in a cave.
Bring the roof down.
That air jes’ what I ‘m a−aimin’ ter do, Pete, said Amos, with his comical gravity.
I went ter meetin’ week ‘fore las’, an’ the pa’son read ’bout Samson; an’ it streck my ambition, an’ I’m jes’ a−honin’ ter pull the roof down on the Philistine. IX. 51 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Look−a−hyar, Amos Jeemes, ye air the b−b−banged−est critter on this hyar m−mounting! Jes’ kem hyar ter our e−still an’ c−c−call me a Ph−Ph−Philistine! The jug had not been stationary, and as Pete thrust his aggressive face forward the vivid quivering line of light from the furnace showed that it was flushed with liquor and that his eyes were bloodshot.
His gaunt head, with long colorless hair, protruding teeth, and homely, prominent features, as it hung there in the isolating effect of that sharp and slender gleam,the rest of his body canceled by the darkness,had a singularly unnatural and sinister aspect.
The light glanced back with a steely glimmer.
The drunken man had a knife in his hand.
Storp it, now, his younger brother drawlingly admonished him.
Who be ye a−goin’ ter cut? Call m−m−me a Philistine! I’ll bust his brains out! asseverated Pete.
Ye’re drunk, Pete, said old Grounhog Cayce, in an explanatory manner.
There was no move to defend the threatened guest.
Perhaps Amos James was supposed to be able to take care of himself.
Call me a Ph−Philistinea Philistine! exclaimed Pete, steadying himself on the keg on which he sat, and peering with wide, light eves into the darkness, as if to mark the whereabouts of the enemy before dealing the blow.
Jes’ got insurancec−c−c−call me a Philistine! Shet up, Pete.
I’ll take it back, said Amos, gravely.
I ‘m the Philistine myself; fur pa’son read ez Samson killed a passel o’ Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, an’ ez long ez ye be talkin’ I feel in an’ about dead.
Amos James had bent close attention to the sermon, and had brought as much accurate information from meeting as was consistent with hearing so sensational a story as Samson’s for the first time.
In the mountains men do not regard church privileges as the opportunity of a quiet hour to meditate on secular affairs, while a gentle voice drones on antiquated themes.
To Amos, Samson was the latest thing out.
Pete did not quite catch the full meaning of this sarcasm.
He was content that Amos should seem to recant.
He replaced his knife, but sat surly and muttering, and now and then glancing toward the guest.
Meantime that vivid white gleam quivered across the dusky shadows; now and then the horse pawed, raising martial echoes, as of squadrons of cavalry, among the multitudinous reverberations of the place, while his stall−companion, that the light could conjure up, was always noiseless; the continuous fresh sound of water gurgling over the rocks mingled with the monotonous drip from the worm; occasionally a gopher would scud among the heavily booted feet, and the jug’s activity was marked by the shifting for an interval of the red sparks which indicated the glowing pipes of the burly shadows around the still.
The stories went on, growing weird as the evening outside waned, in some unconscious sympathy with the melancholy hour,for in these sunless depths one knew nor day nor night,stories of bloody vendettas, and headless ghosts, and strange previsions, and unnamed terrors.
And Amos James recounted the fable of a mountain witch, interspersed with a wild vocal refrain: Cu−vo! Cu−vo! Kil−dar! Kil−dar! Kil−dar! Thus she called her hungry dogs, that fed on human flesh, while the winds were awhirl, and the waning moon was red, and the Big Smoky lay in densest gloom.
The white line of light had yellowed, deepened, grown dull.
The furnace needed fuel.
Ab suddenly leaned down and threw open the door.
The flare of the pulsing coals resuscitated the dim scene and the long, dun−colored IX. 52 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains shadows.
Here in the broad red light were the stolid, meditative faces of the distillers, each with his pipe in his mouth and his hat on his head; it revealed the dilated eye and unconsciously dramatic gesture of the story−teller, sitting upon a barrel in their midst; the horse was distinct in the background, now dreaming and now lifting an impatient fore−foot, and his gigantic stall−mate, the simulacrum of the mastodon, moved as he moved, but softly, that the echoes might not know,the immortal echoes, who were here before him, and here still.
And behind all were the great walls of the vault, with its vague apertures leading to unexplored recesses; with many jagged ledges, devoted to shelf−like usage, and showing here a jug, and here a shot−pouch, and here a ratfat and sleek, thanks to the plenteous waste of mash and grainlooking down with a glittering eye, and here a bag of meal, and here a rifle.
Suddenly Amos James broke off.
Who ‘s that? he exclaimed, and all the echoes were sharply interrogative.
There was a galvanic start among the moonshiners.
They looked hastily about,perhaps for the witch, perhaps for the frightful dogs, perhaps expecting the materialization of Mirandy Jane’s raider.
Amos had turned half round, and was staring intently beyond the still.
The man lying on the ground had shifted his position; his soft brown hat was doubled under his head.
The red flare showed its long, tawny, tangled hair, of a hue unusual enough to be an identification.
His stalwart limbs were stretched out at length; the hands he thrust above his head were unmanacled; as he moved there was the jingle of spurs.
Why, thar be Rick Tyler! exclaimed Amos James.
Hev ye jes’ fund that out? drawled the man on the ground, with a jeering inflection.
W−w−w−why n’t ye lie low, Rick? demanded Pete, aggressively.
Ef ever thar war a empty cymblin’, it’ s yer head.
Amos an’ that thar thin−lipped sneak ez called hisself a dep’ty air thick ‘n thieves.
There was no hesitation in Amos James’s character.
He leaned forward suddenly, and clutched Pete by the throat, and the old man and Solomon were fain to interfere actively to prevent that doughty member of the family from being throttled on the spot.
Pending the interchange of these amenities, Rick Tyler lay motionless on the ground; Ab calmly continued his task of replenishing the fire; and Ben asked, in a slow monotone, the favor of leaving the furnace door open for a spell, whilst I unkiver the kag in the corner, an’ fill the jug, an’ kiver the kag agin, keerful, ‘kase I don’t want no rat in mine.
When Pete, with a scarlet face and starting eyes and a throat full of complicated coughs and gurgles, was torn out of the young miller’s strong hands, old Groundhog Cayce remonstrated: Lord A’mighty, boys! Can’t ye set an’ drink yer liquor sociable, ‘thout clinchin’ that a−way? What did Pete do ter ye, Amos? Nuthin’; he dassent, said the panting Amos.
Did he hurt yer feelin’s? asked the old man, with respectful sympathy.
Yes, he did, said Amos, admitting vulnerability in that tender æsthetic organ.
Never nonenowkookoo! coughed Pete.
He hev got no f−f−f−feelin’s, kookoo! I hev hearn his own m−mam say so a−many a time. IX. 53 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains He ‘lowed, said Amos, his black eyes flashing indignantly, his face scarlet, the perspiration thick in his black hair, ez I ‘d tell the dep’tykase he war toler’ble lively hyar, an’ I got sorter friendly with him when I hed ter sarve on the posseez I seen Rick Tyler hyar.
Mebbe ye think I want two hunderd dollarshey! He made a gesture as if to seize again his late antagonist.
A−koo, koo, koo! coughed Pete, moving cautiously out of reach.
All the echoes clamored mockingly with the convulsive sound, and thus multiplied they gave a ludicrous suggestion of the whooping cough.
I dunno, Mr.
Cayce, said Amos, with some dignity, addressing the old man, what call ye hev got ter consort with them under indictment for murder, an’ offenders agin the law.
But hevin’ seen Rick Tyler hyar in a friendly way along o’ you−uns, he air ez safe from me ez ef he war under my own roof.
Rick Tyler drew himself up on his elbow, and turned upon the speaker a face inflamed by sudden passion.
Go tell the dep’ty! he screamed.
I ‘ll take no faviors from ye, Amos Jeemes.
Kem on! Arrest me yerse’f! He rose to his feet, and held out his bruised and scarred hands, smiting them together as if he were again handcuffed.
The light fell full on his clothes, tattered by his briery flight, the long dishevelment of his yellow hair, his burning face, and the blazing fury in his brown eyes.
Kem on! Arrest me yerse’f,ye air ekal ter it.
I kin better bide the law than ter take faviors from you−uns.
Kem on! Arrest me! Once more he held his free hands as if for the manacles.
Their angry eyes met.
Then, as Amos James still sat silent and motionless on the barrel, Rick Tyler turned, and with a gesture of desperation again flung himself on the ground.
There was a pause.
Two of the moonshiners were arranging to decant some liquor into a keg, and were lighting a tallow dip for the purpose.
In the dense darkness of the recess where they stood it took on a large and lunar aspect.
A rayonnant circle hovered attendant upon it; the shadows about it were densely black, and in the sharp and colorless contrasts the two bending figures of the men handling the keg stood out in peculiar distinctness of pose and gesture.
The glare of the fire in the foreground deepened to a dull orange, to a tawny red, even to a dusky brown, in comparison with the pearly, luminous effect of the candle.
The tallow dip was extinguished when the task was complete.
Presently the furnace door clashed, the group of distillers disappeared as with a bound, and that long, livid line of pulsating light emitted by the ill−fitting door cleft the gloom like a glittering blade.
I s’pose ye don’t mean ter be sassy in ‘special, Amos, faultin’ yer elders, talkin’ ’bout consortin’ with them under indictment, said old Groundhog Cayce’s voice.
But I dunno ez ye hev enny call ter sot yerse’f up in jedgmint on my actions.
Waal, said Amos, apologetic, I never went ter say nuthin’ like faultin’ nohow.
Sech ez yer actions I leaves ter you−uns.
Ye mought ez well, said the elder, unconsciously satiric.
The Bible ‘lows ez every man air a law unto hisself.
An’ I hev fund I gits peace mos’ly in abidin’ by the law ez kems from within.
An’ I kin see no jestice in my denyin’ a ride an’ a lot o’ lead an’ powder ter a half−starvin critter ter save his life.
Rick war bound ter starve, hid out, ef he hed nuthin’ ter shoot deer an’ wild varmints with, bein’ ez his rifle war tuk by the sher’ff.
I knows no law ez lays on me the starvin’ o’ a human.
An’ when that boy kem a−cropin’ hyar ter the still this evenin’, he got ez fair−spoke a welcome, an’ ez much liquor ez he’ d swaller, same ez enny comer on the mounting.
I dunno ez he air a offender agin the law, an’ ‘t ain’t my say−so.
I ain’t a jedge, an’ thar ain’t enough o’ me fur a jury. IX. 54 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains This lucid discourse, its emphasis doubled by the iterative echoes, had much slow, impersonal effect as it issued from the darkness.
It was to Amos James, accustomed to rural logic, as if reason, pure and simple, had spoken.
His heart had its own passionate protest.
Not that he disapproved the loan of the rifle, but he distrusted the impulse which prompted it.
To find the hunted fugitive here among the distillers added the force of conviction to his suspicions of a rescue and its instigation.
The personal interest which he had in all this annulled for a moment his sense of the becoming, and defied the constraints of etiquette.
How ‘d Rick Tyler say he got away from the sher’ff, ennyhow? he demanded, bluntly.
He war n’t axed, said old Groundhog Cayce, quietly.
A silence ensued, charged with all the rigors of reproof.
An’ I dunno ez ye hev enny call ter know, Amos Jeemes, cried out Rick, still prone upon the ground.
That won’t holp the sher’ff none now.
Ye ‘d better be studyin’ ’bout settin’ him on the trail ter ketch me agin.
The line of light from the rift in the furnace door showed a yellow gleam in the blackness where his head lay.
Amos James fixed a burning eye upon it.
I ‘ll kem thar d’rec’ly an’ tromp the life out’n ye, Rick Tyler.
I’ll grind yer skull ter pieces with my boot−heel, like ez ef ye war a copperhead.
Laws−a−massy, boys, sech a quar’lin’, fightin’ batch ez ye be! I fairly gits gagged with my liquor a−listenin’ ter ye,furgits how ter swaller, said Groundhog Cayce, suddenly fretful.
Leave Rick be, Amos Jeemes, he added, in an authoritative tone.
And then, with a slant of his head toward Rick Tyler, lying on the ground, Hold yer jaw down thar! And the two young men lapsed into silence.
The spring, rising among the barren rocks, chanted aloud its prescient sylvan song of the woodland ways, and the glancing beam, and the springing trout, and the dream of the drifting leaf, as true of tone and as delicately keyed to the dryadic chorus in the forest without as if the waters that knew but darkness and the cavernous sterilities were already in the liberated joys of the gorge yonder, reflecting the sky, wantoning with the wind, and swirling down the mountain side.
The spirits dripped from the worm, the furnace roared, the men’s feet grated upon the rocks as they now and then shifted their position.
Waal, said Amos at last, rising, I’d better be a−goin’. ‘Pears like ez I hev wore out my welcome hyar.
He stood looking at the line of light, remembering desolately Dorinda’s buoyant, triumphant mood.
Its embellishment of her beauty had smitten him with an afflicted sense of her withdrawal from all the prospects of his future.
He had thought that he had given up hope, but he began to appreciate, when he found Rick Tyler in intimate refuge with her kindred, how sturdy an organism was that heart of his, and to realize that to reduce it to despair must needs cost many a throe.
I hev wore out my welcome, I reckon, he repeated, dismally.
I dunno what ails ye ter say that.
Ye hev jes’ got tired o’comin’ hyar, I reckon, said old man Cayce.
Wore out yer welcome,shucks! Mighty nigh wore me out, said Pete, remembering to cough.
IX. 55 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Waal, said Amos, slightly salved by the protestations of his host, I reckon it air time I war a−puttin’ out, ennyhow.
Jes’ set that than furnace door on the jar, Pete, so I kin see ter lay a−holt o’ the beastis.
The door opened, the red glow flared out, the figures of the moonshiners all reappeared in a semicircle about the still, and as Amos James took the horse’s bridle and led him away from the wall the mastodon vanished, with noiseless tread, into the dim distance of the unmeasured past.
The horse’s hoofs reverberated down the cavernous depths, echoed, reëchoed, multiplied indefinitely.
Even after the animal had been led through the tortuous windings of the passage his tramp resounded through the gloom. — The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains had loosed their hold.
His keen and subtile native intellect stretched its unconscious powers, and discriminated the workings of character, and reviewed the deploying of events, and measured results.
He was far away, walking with the disciples.
Suddenly, like an aerolite, he was whirled from high ethereal spaces by the attraction of the earth.
A man was peering from between the rails of a fence by the wayside.
Kin ye read yer book, pa’son, an’ ride yer beastis all ter wunst? he cried out, with the fervor of admiration.
That tree of knowledge,ah, the wily serpent! Galilee,it was thousands of miles away across the deep salt seas.
The parson closed his book with a smile of exultation.
The beast don’t hender me none.
I kin read ennywhar, he said, proud of the attainment.
Waal, sir! exclaimed the other, one of that class, too numerous in Tennessee, who can neither read nor write.
Air it the Good Book? he demanded, with a sudden thought.
It air the Holy Bible, said the parson, handing him the book.
The man eyed it with reverence.
Then, with a gingerly gesture, he gave it back.
The parson was looking down at him, all softened and humanized by this unconscious flattery.
Waal, pa’son, said the illiterate admirer of knowledge, with a respectful and subordinate air, I hearn ez ye war a−goin’ ter hold fo’th up yander at the meet’n−house at the Notch nex’ Sunday.
Air that a true word? I ‘lows ter preach thar on the nex’ Lord’s day, replied the parson.
Then, with the promptness of a sudden resolution, I ‘m a−goin’ ter take the old woman an’ the chiller an’ wagon up the Big Smoky ter hear the sermon.
I ‘low ez a man what kin ride a beastis an’ read a book all ter wunst mus’ be a powerful exhorter, an’ mebbe ye ‘ll lead us all ter grace.
The parson said he would be glad to see the family at the meeting−house, and presently jogged off down the road.
One might regard the satisfaction of this simple scene as the due meed of his labors; one might account his pride in his attainments as a harmless human weakness.
There have been those of his calling, proud, too, of a finite knowledge, and fain to conserve fame, whose conscience makes no moan,who care naught for humility, and hardly hope to be genuine.
The flush of pleasure passed in a moment.
His face hardened.
That fire of a sublimated anger or frenzy touched his eyes.
He remembered Peter, the impetuous, and Thomas, the doubter, and the warm generosities of the heart of him whom Jesus loved, and he reckoned” that they would not have left Him standing in the road for the joy of hearing their learning praised.
He rebuked himself as caring less for the Holy Book than that his craft could read it.
His terrible insight into motives was not dulled by a personal application.
Introverted upon his own heart, it was keen, unsparing, insidiously subtle.
He saw his pride as if it had been another man’s, except that it had no lenient mediator; for he was just to other men, even gentle.
He took pitiless heed of the pettiness of his vanity; he detected pleasure that the man by the wayside should come, not for salvation, but to hear the powerful exhorter speak.
He saw the instability of his high mood, of the gracious reawaking of faith; he realized the lapse from the heights of an ecstasy at the lightest touch of temptation.
The Lord lifts me up, he said, ter dash me on the groun’! X. 57 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains No more in Judæa, in the holy mountains; no more among the disciples.
Drearily along the valley road, glaring and yellow in the sun, the book closed, the inspiration fled, journeyed the ignorant man, who would fain lay hold on a true and perfected sanctity.
He dispatched his errand in the valley,a secular matter, relating to the exchange of a cow and a calf.
The afternoon was waning when he was again upon the slopes of the Big Smoky; for the roads were rough, and he had traveled slowly, always prone to favor the beastis.
He stopped in front of Cayce’s house, where he saw Dorinda spinning on the porch, and preferred a request for a gourd of water.
The old woman heard his voice, and came hastily out with hospitable insistence that he should dismount and rest his bones, sence he hed rid fur, an’ tell the news from the Settlemint.
There was a cordial contrast between this warm esteem and his own unkind thoughts, and he suffered himself to be persuaded.
He sat under the hop−vines, and replied in monosyllables to the old woman’s animated questions, and gave little news of the excitements at the Settlement which they had not already heard.
Dorinda, her wheel awhirl, one hand lifted holding the thread, the other poised in the air to control the motion, her figure thrown back in a fine, alert pose, looked at him with a freshened pity for his downcast spirit, and with intuitive sympathy.
He sorrowed not because of the things of this world, she felt.
It was some high and spiritual grief, such as might pierce a prophet’s heart.
Her eyes, full of the ideality of the sentiment, dwelt upon him reverently.
He marked the look.
With his overwhelming sense of his sins, he was abased under it, and he scourged himself as a hypocrite.
Thar air goin’ ter be preachin’ at the meetin’−house Sunday, I hearn, she observed presently, thinking this topic more meet for his discussion than the gaynder−pullin’ and the escape, and such mundane matters.
The tempered green light fell upon her fair face, adding a delicacy to its creamy tint, her black hairy caught a shifting golden flake of sunshine as she moved back and forth; her red lips were slightly parted.
The grasshoppers droned in the leaves an accompaniment to the whir of her wheel.
The prince’s feathers bloomed in great clumsy crimson tufts close by the step.
Mirandy Jane, seated on an inverted noggin, listened tamely to the conversation, her wild, uncertain eyes fixed upon the parson’s face; she dropped them, and turned her head with a shying gesture, if by chance his glance fell upon her.
From this shadowed, leafy recess the world seen through the green hop−vines was all in a great yellow glare.
Be you−uns a−goin’ ter hold fo’th, demanded the old woman, or Brother Jake Tobin? It air me ez air a−goin’ ter preach, he said.
Then I ‘m a−comin’, she declared, promptly.
It do me good ter hear you−uns fairly make the sinners spin.
Sech a gift o’ speech ye hev got! I fairly see hell when ye talk o’ thar doom.
I see wrath an’ I smell brimstone.
Lord be thanked, I hev fund peace! An’ I ‘m jes’ a−waitin’ fur the good day ter come when the Lord ‘ll rescue me from yearth! She threw herself back in her chair, closing her eyes in a sort of ecstasy, and beating her hands on her knees, her feet tapping in rhythm.
Though ef ye ‘ll b’lieve me, she added, sitting up straight with an appalling suddenness, and opening her eyes, D’rindy thar ain’t convicted yit.
Oh, child, in an enthused tone of reproof, time is short,time is short! Waal, said Dorinda, speaking more quickly than usual, and holding up her hand to stop the wheel, I hev hed no chance sca’cely ter think on salvation, bein’ ez the weavin’ war hendered somean’She paused in embarrassment.
That air a awful word ter say,puttin’ the Lord ter wait! Why n’t ye speak the truth ter her, pa’son? Fix her sins on her.
X. 58 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Sometimes, said the parson, abruptly, looking at her as if he saw more or less than was before him, I dunno ef I hev enny call ter say a word.
I hev preached ter others, an’ I ‘m like ter be a castaway myself.
The old woman stared at him in dumb astonishment.
But he was rising to take leave,a simple ceremony.
He unhitched the horse at the gate, mounted, and, with a silent nod to the group on the porch, rode slowly away.
Cayce followed him with curious eyes, peering out in the gaps of the hop−vines.
D’rindy, she said, that thar Pa’son Kelsey,we−uns useter call him nuthin’ but Hi,he’s got suthin’ heavy on his mind.
It always ‘peared ter me ez he war a mighty cur’ous man ter take up with religion an’ sech.
A mighty suddint boy he war,ez good a fighter ez a catamount, an’ always ‘mongst the evil, bold men.
Them he consorted with till he gin his child morphine by mistake, an’ its mammy quine−iron; an’ she los’ her senses arterward, an’ flunged herse’f off’n the bluff. ‘Pears like ter me ez them war jedgments on him, though Em’ly war n’t much loss; ez triflin’ a ch’ice fur a wife ez a man could make.
An’ now he hev got suthin’ on his mind.
The girl said nothing.
She stayed her wheel with one hand, holding the thread with the other, and looked over her shoulder at the receding figure riding slowly along the vista of the forest−shadowed road.
Then she turned, and fixed her lucent, speculative eyes on her grandmother, who continued: Calls hisself a castaway! Waal, he knows bes’, bein’ a prophet an’ sech.
But it air toler’ble comical talk fur a preacher.
Brother Jake Tobin kin hardly hold hisself together, a−waitin’ fur his sheer o’ the joys o’ the golden shore.
Waal, ‘pears like ter me, said Mirandy Jane, whose mind seemed never far from the culinary achievements to which she had been dedicated, ez Brother Jake Tobin sets mo’ store on chicken fixin’s than on grace, an’ he fattens ev’y year.
I hopes, proceeded the grandmother, disregarding the interruption, and peering out again at the road where the horseman had disappeared, ez Hi Kelsey won’t sot hisself ter prophesyin’ evil at the meetin’; ‘pears ter me he ought ter be hendered, ef mought be, ‘kase the wrath he foresees mos’ly kems ter pass, an’ I ‘m always lookin’ ter see him prophesy the raiders,though he hev hed the grace ter hold his hand ’bout’n the still.
An’ I hopes he won’t hev nuthin’ ter say ’bout it at the meetin’ Sunday.
The little log meeting−house at the Notch stood high on a rugged spur of the Great Smoky.
Dense forests encompassed it on every hand, obscuring that familiar picture of mountain and cloud and cove.
From its rude, glassless windows one could look out on no distant vista, save perhaps in the visionary glories of heaven or the climatic discomforts of hell, according to the state of the conscience, or perchance the liver.
The sky was aloof and limited.
The laurel tangled the aisles of the woods.
Sometimes from the hard benches a weary tow−headed brat might rejoice to mark in the monotony the frisking of a squirrel on a bough hard by, or a woodpecker solemnly tapping.
The acorns would rattle on the roof, if the wind stirred, as if in punctuation of the discourse.
The pines, mustering strong among the oaks, joined their mystic threnody to the sad−voiced quiring within.
The firs stretched down long, pendulous, darkling boughs, and filled the air with their balsamic fragrance.
Within the house the dull light fell over a few rude benches and a platform with a chair and table, which was used as pulpit.
Shadows of many deep, rich tones of brown lurked among the rafters.
Here and there a cobweb, woven to the consistence of a fabric, swung in the air.
The drone of a blue−bottle, fluttering in and out of the window in a slant of sunshine, might invade the reverent silence, as Brother Jake Tobin turned the leaves to read the chapter.
Sometimes there would sound, too, a commotion among the horses without, unharnessed from the wagons and hitched to the trees; then in more than one of the solemn faces might be descried an anxious perturbation,not fear because of equine perversities, but because of the idiosyncrasies of callow human nature in the urchins left in charge of the teams.
No one ventured to investigate, however, and, with that worldly discomfort contending with the spiritual exaltations they sought to foster, the rows of religionists swayed backward and forward in rhythm to the reader’s voice, rising and falling in long, billowy sweeps of sound, like the ground swell of ocean waves. X. 59 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains It was strange, looking upon their faces, and with a knowledge of the limited phases of their existence, their similarity of experience here, where a century might come and go, working no change save that, like the leaves, they fluttered awhile in the outer air with the spurious animation called life, and fell in death, and made way for new bourgeonings like unto themselves,strange to mark how they differed.
Here was a man of a stern, darkly religious conviction, who might either have writhed at the stake or stooped to kindle the flames; and here was an accountant soul that knew only those keen mercantile motives,the hope of reward and the fear of hell; and here was an enthusiast’s eye, touched by the love of God; and here was an unfinished, hardly humanized face, that it seemed as presumptuous to claim as the exponent of a soul as the faces of the stupid oxen out−of−doors.
All were earnest; many wore an expression of excited interest, as the details of the chapter waxed to a climax, like the tense stillness of a metropolitan audience before an unimagined coup de théâtre.
The men all sat on one side, chewing their quids; the women on the other, almost masked by their limp sun−bonnets.
The ubiquitous babyseveral of himwas there, and more than once babbled aloud and cried out peevishly.
Only one, becoming uproarious, was made a public example; being quietly borne out and deposited in the ox−wagon, at the mercy of the urchins who presided over the teams, while his mother creaked in again on the tips of deprecating, anxious toes, to hear the Word.
Brother Jake Tobin might be accounted in some sort a dramatic reader.
He was a tall, burly man, inclining to fatness, with grizzled hair roached back from his face.
He cast his light gray eyes upward at the end of every phrase, with a long, resonant Ah! He smote the table with his hands at emphatic passages; he rolled out denunciatory clauses with a freshened relish which intimated that he considered one of the choicest pleasures of the saved might be to gloat over the unhappy predicament of the damned.
He chose for his reading paragraphs that, applied to aught but spiritual enemies and personified sins, might make a civilized man quake for his dearest foe.
He paused often and interpolated his own observations, standing a little to the side of the table, and speaking in a conversational tone.
Ain’t that so, my brethren an’ sisters! But we air saved in the covenantah! Then, clapping his hands with an ecstatic upward look,I ‘m so happy, I ‘m so happy!he would go on to read with the unction of immediate intention, Let death seize them! Let them go down quick into hell! He wore a brown jeans suit, the vest much creased in the regions of his enhanced portliness, its maker’s philosophy not having taken into due account his susceptibility to chicken fixin’s.
After concluding the reading he wiped the perspiration from his brow with his red bandana handkerchief, and placed it around the collar of his unbleached cotton shirt, as he proceeded to the further exertion of lining out” the hymn.
The voices broke forth in those long, lingering cadences that have a melancholy, spiritual, yearning effect, in which the more tutored church music utterly fails.
The hymn rose with a solemn jubilance, filling the little house, and surging out into the woods, sounding far across unseen chasms and gorges, and rousing in the unsentient crags an echo with a testimony so sweet, charged with so devout a sentiment, that it seemed as if with this voice the very stones would have cried out, had there been dearth of human homage when Christ rode into Jerusalem.
Then the sudden pause, the failing echo, the sylvan stillness, and the chanting voice lined out another couplet.
It was well, perhaps, that this part of the service was so long; the soul might rest on its solemnity, might rise on its aspiration.
It came to an end at last.
Another long pause ensued.
Kelsey, sitting on the opposite side of the table, his elbow on the back of his chair, his hand shading his eyes, made no movement.
Brother Jake Tobin looked hard at him, with an expression which in a worldly man we should pronounce exasperation.
He hesitated for a moment in perplexity.
There was a faint commotion, implying suppressed excitement in the congregation.
Parson Kelsey’s idiosyncrasies were known by more than one to be a thorn in the side of the frankly confiding Brother Jake Tobin.
Whenst I hev got him in the pulpit alongside o’ me, he would say to his cronies, I feel ez onlucky an’ weighted ez ef I war a−lookin’ over my lef’ shoulder at the new moon on a November Friday.
I feel ez oncommon ez ef he war a deer, or suthin’, ez hev got no salvation in him.
An’ ef he don’t feel the sperit ter pray, he won’t pray, X. 60 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains an’ I hev got ter surroun’ the throne o’ grace by myself.
He kin, pray ef he hev a mind ter, an’ he do seem ter hev hed a outpourin’ o’ the sperit o’ prophecy; but he hev made me ‘pear mighty comical ‘fore the Lord a−many a time, when I hev axed him ter open his mouth an’ he hev kep’ it shut.
Brother Jake did not venture to address him now.
An alternative was open to him.
Brother Reuben Bates, will ye lead us in prayer? he said to one of the congregation.
They all knelt down, huddled like sheep in the narrow spaces between the benches, and from among them went up the voice of supplication, that anywhere and anyhow has the commanding dignity of spiritual communion, the fervor of exaltation, and all the moving humility of the finite leaning upon the infinite.
Ignorance was annihilated, so far as Brother Reuben Bates’s prayer was concerned.
It grasped the fact of immortality,all worth knowing!and humble humanity was presented as possessing the intimate inherent principle of the splendid fruitions of eternity He had few words, Brother Reuben, and the aspirated Ah! was long drawn often, while he swiftly thought of something else to say.
Brother Jake Tobin, after the manner in vogue among them, broke out from time to time with a fervor of assent.
Yes, my Master! he would exclaim in a wild, ecstatic tone.
Bless the Lord! That ‘s a true word! I’m so happy! Always these interpolations came opportunely when Brother Reuben seemed entangled in his primitive rhetoric, and gave him a moment for improvisation.
It was doubtless Hi Kelsey’s miserable misfortune that his acute intuition should detect in the reverend tones a vainglorious self−satisfaction, known to no one else, not even to the speaker; that he should accurately gauge how Brother Jake Tobin secretly piqued himself upon his own gift in prayer, never having experienced these stuttering halts, never having needed these pious boosts; that he should be aware, ignorant as he was, of that duality of cerebration by which Brother Jake’s mind was divided between the effect on God, bending down a gracious ear, and the impression of these ecstatic outbursts on the congregation; that the petty contemptibleness of it should depress him; that its dissimulations angered him.
With the rigor of an upright man, he upbraided himself.
He was on his knees: was he praying? Were these the sincerities of faith.
Was this lukewarm inattention the guerdon of the sacrifice of the cross? His ideal and himself, himself and what he sought to be,oh, the gulf! the deep divisions! He gave his intentions no grace.
He conceded naught to human nature.
His conscience revolted at a sham.
And he was a living, breathing sham upon his knees.
Ah, let us have a little mercy on ourselves! Most of us do.
For there was Brother Jake Tobin, with a conscience free of offense, happily unobservant of his own complicated mental processes and of the motives of his own human heart, becoming more and more actively assistant as Brother Reuben Bates grew panicky, hesitant, and involved, and kept convulsively on through sheer inability to stop, suggesting epilepsy rather than piety.
It was over at last; exhausted nature prevailed, and Brother Bates resumed his seat, wiping the perspiration from his brow and raucously clearing his rasped throat.
There was a great scraping of the rough shoes and boots on the floor as the congregation rose, and one or two of the benches were moved backward with a harsh, grating sound.
A small boy had gone to sleep during the petition, and remained in his prayerful attitude.
Brother Jake Tobin settled himself in his chair as comfortably as might be, tilted it back on its hind−legs against the wall, and wore the air of having fairly exploited his share of the services and cast off responsibility.
The congregation composed itself to listen to the sermon.
There was an expectant pause.
Kelsey remembered ever after the tumult of emotion with which he stepped forward to the table and opened the book.
He turned to the New Testament for his text,turned the leaves with a familiar hand.
Some ennobling phase of that wonderful story which would touch the tender, true affinity of human X. 61 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains nature for the higher things,from this he would preach to−day.
And yet, at the same moment, with a contrariety of feeling from which he shrank aghast, there was skulking into his mind all that grew some company of doubts.
In double file they came: fate and free agency, free will and foreordination, infinite mercy and infinite justice, God’s loving kindness and man’s intolerable misery, redemption and damnation.
He had evolved them all from his own unconscious logical faculty, and they pursued him as if he had, in some spiritual necromancy, conjured up a devil,nay, legions of devils.
Perhaps if he had known how they have assaulted the hearts of men in times gone past; how they have been combated and baffled, and yet have risen and pursued again; how, in the scrutiny of science and research, men have paused before their awful presence, analyzed them, philosophized about them, and found them interesting; how others, in the levity of the world, having heard of them, grudge the time to think upon them,if he had known all this, he might have felt some courage in numbers.
As it was, there was no fight left in him.
He closed the book with a sudden impulse.
My frien’s, he said, I stan’ not hyar ter preach ter−day, but fur confession.
There was a galvanic start among the congregation, then intense silence.
I hev los’ my faith! he cried out, with a poignant despair.
God ez gin itef thar is a Godhev tuk it away.
You−uns kin go on.
You−uns kin b’lieve.
Yer paster believes, an’ he ‘ll lead ye ter grace, leastwise ter a better life.
But fur me thar ‘s the nethermost depths of hell, efhow his faith and his unfaith tried him!ef thar be enny hell.
LeastwiseStop, brother,he held up his hand in deprecation, for Parson Tobin had risen at last, with a white, scared face; nothing like this had ever been heard in all the length and breadth of the Great Smoky Mountains,bear with me a little; ye ‘ll see me hyar no more.
Fur me that is shame, ah! an’ trial, ah! an’ doubt, ah! an’ despair, ah! The good things o’ life hev not fallen ter me.
The good things o’ heaven air denied.
My name is ter be a by−word an’ a reproach ‘mongst ye.
Ye ‘ll grieve ez ye hev ever hearn the Word from me, ah! Ye’ll be held in derision! An’ I hev hed trials,none like them ez air comin’, comin’, down the wind.
I hev been a man marked fur sorrow, an’ now fur shame.
He stood erect; he looked bold, youthful.
The weight of his secret, lifted now, had been heavier than he knew.
In his eyes shone that strange light which was frenzy, or prophecy, or inspiration; in his voice rang a vibration they had never before heard.
I will go forth from ‘mongst ye,I that am not of ye.
Another shall gird me an’ carry me where I would not.
Hell an’ the devil hev prevailed agin me.
Pray fur me, brethren, ez I cannot pray fur myself.
Pray that God may yet speak ter me,speak from out o’ the whurlwind.
There was a sound upon the air.
Was it the rising of the wind? A thrill ran through the congregation.
The wild emotion, evoked and suspended in this abrupt pause, showed in pallid excitement on every face.
Several of the men rose aimlessly, then turned and sat down again.
Brought from the calm monotony of their inner life into this supreme crisis of his, they were struck aghast by the hardly comprehended situations of his spiritual drama enacted before them.
And what was that sound on the air? In the plenitude of their ignorant faith, were they listening for the invoked voice of God? Kelsey, too, was listening, in anguished suspense.
It was not the voice of God, that man was wont to hear when the earth was young; not the rising of the wind.
The peace of the golden sunshine was supreme.
Even a tiny cloudlet, anchored in the limited sky, would not sail to−day.
On and on it came.
It was the galloping of horse,the beat of hoofs, individualized presently to the ear,with that thunderous, swift, impetuous advance that so domineers over the imagination, quickens the pulse, shakes the courage.
X. 62 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains It might seem that all the ingenuity of malignity could not have compassed so complete a revenge.
The fulfillment of his prophecy entered at the door.
All its spiritual significance was annihilated; it was merged into a prosaic material degradation when the sheriff of the county strode, with jingling spurs, up the aisle, and laid his hand upon the preacher’s shoulder.
He wore his impassive official aspect.
But his deputy, following hard at his heels, had a grin of facetious triumph upon his thin lips.
He had been caught by the nape of the neck, and in a helpless, rodent−like attitude had been slung out of the door by the stalwart man of God, when he and Amos James had ventured to the meeting−house in liquor; and neither he nor the congregation had forgotten the sensation.
It was improbable that such high−handed proceedings could be instituted to−day, but the sheriff had taken the precaution to summon the aid of five or six burly fellows, all armed to the teeth.
They too came tramping heavily up the aisle.
Several wore the reflection of the deputy’s grin; they were the bold, bad men, the prophet’s early associates before he got religion, an’ sot hisself ter consortin’ with the saints.
The others were sheepish and doubtful, serving on the posse with a protest under the constraining penalties of the law.
The congregation was still with a stunned astonishment.
The preacher stood as one petrified, his eyes fixed upon the sheriff’s face.
The officer, with a slow, magisterial gesture, took a paper from his breast−pocket, and laid it upon the Bible.
Ye kin read, pa’son, he said.
Ye kin read the warrant fur yer arrest.
The deputy laughed, a trifle insolently.
He turned, swinging his hat,he had done the sacred edifice the reverence of removing it, and surveyed the wide−eyed, wide−mouthed people, leaning forward, standing up, huddled together, as if he had some speculation as to the effect upon them of these unprecedented proceedings.
Kelsey could read nothing.
His strong head was in a whirl; he caught at the table, or he might have fallen.
The amazement of it,the shame of it! Who does this? he exclaimed, in sudden realization of the situation.
Already self−convicted of the blasphemy of infidelity, he stood in his pulpit in the infinitely ignoble guise of a culprit before the law.
Those fine immaterial issues of faith and unfaith,where were they? The torturing fear of futurity, and of a personal devil and a material hell,how impotent! His honest name,never a man had borne it that had suffered this shame; the precious dignity of freedom was riven from him; the calm securities of his self−respect were shaken forever.
He could never forget the degradation of the sheriff’s touch, from which he shrank with so abrupt a gesture that the officer grasped his pistol and every nerve was on the alert.
Kelsey was animated at this moment by a pulse as essentially mundane as if he had seen no visions and dreamed no dreams.
He had not known how he held himself, how he cherished those values, so familiar that he had forgotten to be thankful till their possession was a retrospection.
He sought to regain his self−control.
He caught up the paper; it quivered in his trembling hands; he strove to read it.
Rescue! he cried out in a tense voice.
Rick Tyler! I never rescued Rick Tyler! The words broke the long constraint.
They were an elucidation, a flash of light.
The congregation looked at him with changed eyes, and then looked at each other.
Why did he deny? Were not the words of his prophecy still on the air? Had he not confessed himself an evildoer, forsaken of God and bereft of grace? His prophecy was matched by the details of his experience.
Had he done no wrong he could have foreseen no vengeance.
Rick Tyler ain’t wuth it, said one old man to another, as he spat on the floor.
The widow of Joel Byers, the murdered man, fell into hysterical screaming at Rick Tyler’s name, and was presently borne out by her friends and lifted into one of the wagons. X. 63 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains It air jes’ ez well that the sher’ff takes Pa’son Kelsey, arter that thar confession o’ his’n, said one of the dark−browed men, helping to yoke the oxen.
We could n’t hev kep’ him in the church arter sech words ez his’n, an’ church discipline ain’t a−goin’ ter cast out no sech devil ez he air possessed by.
Brother Jake Tobin, too, appreciated that the arrest of the preacher in his pulpit was a solution of a difficult question.
It was manifestly easier for the majesty of the State of Tennessee to deal with him than for the little church on the Big Smoky.
Yer sins hev surely fund ye out, Brother Kelsey, he began, with the air of having washed his hands of all responsibility.
God would never hev fursook ye, ef ye hed n’t fursook the good cause fust.
Ye air ter be cast down,ye who hev stood high.
There was a momentary silence.
Will ye come? said the sheriff, smiling fixedly, or had ye ruther be fetched? The deputy had a pair of handcuffs dangling officiously.
They rattled in rude contrast with the accustomed sounds of the place.
Then, after a fierce internal struggle, he submitted meekly, and was led out from among them. XI. IT is seldom, in this world at least, that a man who absents himself from church repents it with the fervor of regret which Amos James experienced when he heard of the unexpected proceedings at the Notch.
Sech a rumpusdad−burn my luckI mought never git the chance ter see agin! he declared, with a pious sense of deprivation.
And he thought it had been a poor substitute to sit on the doorstep all the forenoon Sunday, ez lonesome ez a b’ar in a hollow tree, because his heart was yet so sore and sensitive that he could not see Dorinda’s pink sun−bonnet without a rush of painful emotion, or her face without remembering how she looked when he talked of the rescue of Rick Tyler.
The gang o’ menactively described by his mother as lopin’ roun’ the milllingered long in conclave this morning.
Perhaps their views had a more confident and sturdy effect from being propounded at the top of the voice, since the insistent whir of the busy old mill drowned all efforts in a lower tone; but it was very generally the opinion that Micajah Green had transcended all the license of his official character in making the arrest at the place and time he had selected.
I knows, commented one of the disaffected, ez it air the law o’ Tennessee ez a arrest kin be made of a Sunday, ef so be it must.
But ‘pears like ter me ‘t war nuthin’ in this worl’ but malice an’ meanness ez tuk ch’ice o’ the minute the man hed stood up ter preach the Word ter arrest him. ‘Cajah Green mus’ hev tuk keerful heed o’ time,jes’ got thar spang on the minute.
He w−war n’t p−p−preachin’ the Word, stuttered Pete Cayce, antagonistically.
He hed jes’ ‘lowed he w−w−war n’t fit ter preach it.
No more war he.
He had come down from the still to treat for meal for the mash.
He was willing to wait,nay, anxious, that he might bear his share in the conversation.
He tilted his chair back against the wall, and nodded his long, drab−tinted locks convincingly.
XI. 64 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains The water whirled around the wheel; the race foamed with prismatic bubbles, flashing opal−like in the sun; the vague lapsing of the calm depths in the pond was like some deep sigh, as of the fullness of happiness or reflective content,not pain.
The water falling over the dam babbled in a meditative undertone.
All sounds were dominated by the whir of the mill in its busy, industrial monody, and within naught else could be heard, save the strident voices pitched on the miller’s key and roaring the gossip.
Through the window could be seen the rocky banks opposite, their summits tufted with huckleberry and sassafras bushes and many a tangle of weeds; the dark shadow in the water below; the slope of the mountain rising above.
A branch, too, of the low−spreading chestnut−oak, that hung above the roof of the mill, was visible, swaying close without; it cast a tempered shade over the long cobwebs depending from the rafters, whitened by the dust of the flour.
The rough, undressed timbers within were of that mellow, rich tint, intermediate between yellow and brown, so restful to the eye.
The floor was littered with bags of corn, on which some of the men lounged; others sat in the few chairs, and Amos James leaned against the hopper.
Waal, retorted the first speaker, ‘ez fur ez ‘Cajah Green could know, he’d hev been a−preachin’ then, an’ argyfyin’ his own righteousness; an’ ‘Cajah laid off ter kem a−steppin’ in with his warrant ter prove him a liar an’ convict him o’ sinnin’ agin the law ‘fore his congregation. ‘Pears like ter me ez pa’son war sorter forehanded, said Pete, captiously.
He hed proved hisself a liar ‘fore the sheriff got thar; saved ‘Cajah the trouble.
I hearn, said another man, ez pa’son up−ed an’ ‘lowed ez he did n’t b’lieve in the Lord, an’ prophesied his own downfall an’ his trial ‘fore the sher’ff got thar.
He d−d−did! shouted Pete.
We never knowed much more arter ‘Cajah an’ the dep’ty kem ‘n we did afore.
Pa’son said they ‘d gird him an’ t−t−take him whar he did n’t want ter g−go,an’ so they d−d−d−did.
D−d−did what? mockingly demanded Amos James, with unnecessary rancor, it might have seemed.
Pete’s infirmity became more pronounced under this cavalier treatment.
T−t−take him w−w−w−whar he didn’t w−w−w−wantexplosively ter go, ye fool! Whar? D’ ye reckon he wanted ter go ter jail in Shaftesville? demanded Pete, with scathing scorn.
His sneering lip exposed his long, protruding teeth, and his hard−featured face was unusually repellent.
Hev they tuk him ter jail,the pa’son?Pa’son Kelsey? exclaimed Amos James, in a deeply serious tone.
He looked fixedly at Pete, as if he might thus express more than he said in words.
There was indignation in his black eyes, even reproach.
He still leaned on the hopper, but there was nothing between the stones, for he had forgotten to pour in more corn, and the industrious flurry of the unsentient old mill was like the bustle of many clever people,a great stir about nothing.
He wore his broad−brimmed white hat far back on his head.
His black hair was sprinkled with flour and meal, and along the curves of his features the snowy flakes had congregated in thin lines, bringing out the olive tint of his complexion, and intensifying the sombre depths of his eyes.
Pete returned the allusion to his defective speech by a comment on the intentness of the miller’s gaze.
Ye look percisely like a ow−el, Amos,percisely like a old horned ho−ho−hooter, he declared, with a laugh.
Ya−as, he continued, they did take pa’son ter jail, bein’ ez the jestice that the sher’ff tuk him aforeold Squair Prine, ye knowh−he could n’t decide ez ter his g−guilt.
The Squair air so onsartain in his mind, an’ wavers so ez ter his knowledge, that I hev hearn ez ev’y day he counts his toes ter make sure he’s got ten.
So the old Squair h−hummed and h−h−hawed over the evidence, an’ he ‘l−lowed ter Pa’son K−Kelsey ez he could n’t b’lieve nuthin’ XI. 65 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains agin him right handy ez he hed sot under his p preachin’ many a time an’ profited by it; but thar war his curious performin’ ’bout’n the gaynder whilst Rick got off, an’ he hed hearn ez pa’son turned his back on the Lord in a s’prisin’ way.
Then the Squair axed how he kem ter prophesy his own arrest ef he hed done nuthin’ ter bring it on.
The Squair ‘lowed ‘t war a serious matter, a pen’tiary offense; an’ he war n’t cl’ar in his own mind; an’ he up−ed an’ down−ed, an’ twisted an’ turned, an’ he didn’t know what ter do: so the e−end war he jes’ committed Pa’son Kelsey ter jail, ter await the action o’ the g−g−g−gran’ jury.
Pete gave this detail with some humor, wagging his head back and forth to imitate the magisterial treatment of the quandary, and putting up first one hand, then the other, stretching out first one rough boot, then the other, to signify the various points of the dilemma.
Amos James did not laugh.
He still gravely gazed at the narrator.
Why n’t he git bail? he demanded, gruffly.
Waal, he did n’t’kase he could n’t.
The old man, he fixed the bail without so much dilly−dallyin’ an’ jouncin’ ‘roun’ in his mind ez ye rnought expec’.
He jes’ put on his specs, an’ polished his old bald noodle with his red h−h−handkercher, an’ tuk a fraish chew o’ terbacco, an’ put his nose in his book, an’ tuk it out ter brag ez them crazy bugs in N−N−Nashvul sent him a book ev’y time they made a batch o’ new laws,pore, prideful old critter mus’ hev been lyin’!an’ then he put his nose in his book agin’ like he smelt the law an’ trailed it by scent. ‘T war n’t more ‘n haffen hour ‘fore he tuk it out, an’ say the least bail he could take war a thousand d−d−dollars fur the defendant, an’ five hunderd fur each of his sureties,like it hev been in ev’y sech case ‘fore a jestice s−sence the Big Smoky Mountings war made.
Pete laughed, his great fore−teeth, his flexible lip, his long, bony face and tangled mane, giving him something of an equine aspect.
His mood was unusually jocular; and indeed a man might experience some elation of spirit to be the only one of the lopers round at the mill who had been present at a trial of such significance.
The close attention accorded his every word demonstrated the interest in the subject, and the guffaws which greeted his sketch of the familiar character of the old Squair was a flattering tribute to his skill as a raconteur.
The peculiar antagonism of his disposition was manifested only in the delay and digressions by which he thwarted Amos James’s eagerness to know why Parson Kelsey had not been admitted to bail.
He could not accurately interpret the indignation in the miller’s look, and he cared less for the threat it expressed.
Cowardice was not predicable of one of the Cayce tribe.
Perhaps it might have been agreeable for the community if the discordant Pete could have been more readily intimidated.
Why n’t pa’son gin the bail, then? demanded Amos, again.
He did gin it, returned Pete, perversely.
Waal, then, how ‘d the sher’ff take him ter jail? Right down the county road, ez ye an’ me an’ the rest of us hyar in the Big Smoky hev worked on till sech c−c−cattle ez ‘Cajah Green an’ his buzzardy dep’ty hain’t got no sort’n c−chance o’ breakin’ thar necks over the rocks an’ sech.
Look−a−hyar, Pete Cayce, I’ll fling ye bodaciously over that thar bluff! exclaimed Amos James, darkly frowning.
A rat that had boldly run across the floor a number of times, its whiskers powdered white, its tail white also, and gayly frisking behind it, had ventured so close to the miller’s motionless foot that when he stepped hastily forward it sprang into the air with a wonderfully human expression of fright; then, in a sprawling fashion it swiftly sped XI. 66 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains away to some dark corner, where it might meditate on the escaped danger and take heed of foolhardiness.
W−w−what would I be a−doin’ of, Amos Jeemes, whilst ye war a−flingin’ m−me over the b−b−bluff? demanded Pete, pertinently.
What ails ye, ter git tuk so suddint in yer temper, Amos? asked another of the baffled listeners, who desired to promote peace and further the account of Parson Kelsey’s examination before the magistrate.
Amos jes’ axed ye, Pete, why pa’son war n’t admitted ter bail.
H−h−he never none, now, said Pete.
He axed w−w−why Pa’son Kelsey did n’t g−gin bail.
He did gin it, but ‘t−t warn’t accepted.
What fur? demanded Amos, relapsing into interest in the subject, and leaning back against the hopper.
Waal, said Pete, preferring, on the whole, the distinction of relating the proceedings before the magistrate to the more familiar diversion of bickering, pa’son he ‘lowed he ‘d gin his gran’dad an’ his uncle ter go on his bond; an’ the Squair, arter he hed stuck his nose into his book a couple o’ times, an’ did n’t see nuthin’ abolishin’ gran’dads an’ uncles, he tuk it out an refraished it with a pinch o’ snuff, an’ ‘lowed he ‘d take gran’dad an’ uncle on the bond.
An then up jumped Gid Fletcher, the blacksmith over yander ter the Settlemint,him it war ez swore out the warrant,an’ demanded the Squair would hear his testimony agin it.
That thar ‘Cajah Green, he sick−ed him on, all the time.
I seen Gid Fletcher storp suddint wunst, an’ wall his eye ’round onsartin’ at ‘Cajah Green, ez ef ter make sure he war a−sayin’ all right.
An’ ‘Cajah Green, he batted his eye ez much ez ter say, ‘Go it, old hoss!’ Sure ez ye air born them two fixed it up aforehand.
I do de−spise that thar critter, ‘Cajah Green! exclaimed one of the men, who was sitting on a sack of corn in the middle of the floor He fairly makes the trigger o’ my rifle itch! I hope he won’t kem out ahead at the August election.
The Big Smoky ‘ll hev ter git him beat somehows; we can’t hev him aggervatin’ ‘roun’ hyar another two year.
The fore−legs of Pete Cayce’s tilted chair came down with a thump.
He leaned forward, and with a marked gesture offered his big horny paw to the man who sat on the bag of corn; they solemnly shook hands as on a compact.
Amos James still leaned against the empty hopper, listening with a face of angry gloom as Pete recommenced: Waal, the Squair, he put his nose inter his book agin, an’ then he ‘lowed he ‘d hear Gid Fletcher’s say−so.
An’ Gid,waal, he ‘ll be mighty good metal fur the devil’s anvil; I feel it in my bones how Satan will rej’ice ter draw Gid Fletcher down small,he got up an’ ‘lowed ez pa’son an’ his uncle an’ his gran’dad did n’t wuth two thousand dollars.
They hed what they hed all tergether, an’ ‘t war n’t enough,’t war n’t wuth more ‘n a thousan’, ef that.
An’ so the Squair,waal, he looked toler’ble comical, a−nosin’ in his book an’ a−polishin’ off the torp o’ his head with his red handkercher, an’ he war ez oneasy an’ onsartain in his actions ez a man consortin’ accidentally with a bumbly bee.
He tried ’em all powerful in thar temper, bein’ so gin over ter backin’ an’ fo’thin’; but ez he war the jestice they hed ter sot ’round an’ look solemn an’ respectful.
An’ at las’ he said he could n’t accept the bail, ez ‘t war insufficient.
The dep’ty looked like he ‘d jump up an’ down, an’ crack his heels together; ‘peared like he war glad fur true.
An’ the Squair, he ‘lowed ez the rescue war a crime ez mought make a jestice keerful how he tuk insufficient bail.
Ennybody ez would holp a man ter escape from cust’dy would jump his bond hisself, though he war tol’erble keerful ter explain ter pa’son ez he never undertook ter charge nuthin’ on him, nuther.
An’ he hed ter bear in mind ez he oc’pied a m−m−mighty important place in the l−law,though I can’t see ez it air so mighty important ter h−h−hev ter say, ‘I dunno; let the court decide.’ — XII. 74 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Look−a−hyar, ‘Cajah Green, you−uns jes’ let old Groundhog Cayce be.
Ye ain’t a−goin’ ter find out whar his still air a−workin’, an’ ef he war ter hear ez ye hed been ‘quirin’ ’round ’bout’n it’t would be ez much ez yer life air wuth.
Micajah Green renewed his hollow protestations, discredited as before, and the blacksmith, shading his eyes from the sun with his broad blackened right hand, watched him ride away.
Even when he was out of sight Gid Fletcher stood for a time silently looking at the spot where horse and man had disappeared.
Then he shook his head, and went into the forge.
Zeke, he said to his humble striker, ye air a fool, an’ ye know it.
But ye air a smart man ter that loon, fur the hell of it air he dunno he air a loon.
His warnings, nevertheless, had more effect than he realized.
They served as a check on Micajah Green’s speech with the few men that he met,all surly enough, however, to repel confidence, were there no other motive to withhold it.
He saw in this another confirmation of the Cayces’ enmity, and their activity in weakening his hold on the people.
He began to think it hard that he should be thus at their mercy; that his office should be wrested from him; that they should impose unexampled indignities of defeat; that he should not dare to raise his hand against them,nay, his voice, for even the reckless Gid Fletcher had cautions for so much as a word.
Some trifling errand which he had used as a pretext for his journey brought him several miles along the range, and when he was actually starting down the mountain, his vengeance still muzzled, his ingenuity at fault, his courage faltering, all the intention of his journey merged in its subterfuge, he found himself upon the road which led past the Cayces’ house, and in many serpentine windings down the long, jagged slopes to the base.
Noontide was near.
The shadows were short.
He heard the bees droning.
The far−away mountains were of an exquisite ethereal azure, discrediting the opaque turquoise blue of the sky.
The dark wooded coves had a clear distinctness of tone and definiteness of detail, despite the distance.
The harmonies of color that filled the landscape culminated in a crimson sumach growing hard by in a corner of a rail fence.
The little house was still.
The muffled tread of his horse’s hoofs in the deep, dry sand did not rouse the sleeping hounds under the porch.
The vines clambering to its roof were full of tiny yellow gourds; he could see through the gaps Dorinda’s spinning−wheel against the wall.
A hazy curl of smoke wreathed upward from the chimney with a deliberate grace in the sunshine.
He smelled the warm fragrance of the apples in the orchard at the rear, stretching along the mountain side.
The corn that Dorinda had ploughed on the steep slope was high, and waved above the staked and ridered fence.
There were wild blue morning−glories among it, the blossoms still open here and there under a sheltering canopy of blades; and there were trumpet flowers too, boldly facing the blazing sun with a beauty as ardent.
He looked up at this still picture more than once, as he paused for his horse to drink at the wayside trough, and then he rode on down the mountain, speculating on his baffled mission.
He hardly knew how far he had gone when he heard voices in loud altercation.
He could not give immediate attention, for he was in a rocky section of the road, so full of bowlders and outcropping ledges that it was easy to divine that the overseer had a lenient interpretation of the idea of repair.
Once his horse fell, and after pulling the animal up, with an oath of irritation, he came, suddenly, turning sharply around a jutting crag, upon another rider and a recalcitrant steed.
This rider was a child, carried on the shoulders of a girl of twelve or so, who had a peculiarly wiry and alert appearance, with long legs, a precipitate and bounding action, a tousled mane, the forelock flanging in her wild, excited eyes.
He recognized at once the filly−like Miranda Jane, before either caught a glimpse of him, and he heard enough of her remonstrance to acquaint him with Jacob’s tyranny in insisting that his unshod steed should keep straight up the rocky big road, as he ambitiously called it, in lieu of turning aside in the sandy by−ways of a cow−path.
The expedient flashed through Micajah Green’s mind in an instant.
He drew up his horse.
I ‘ll give ye a lift, bubby, he said; then, with a mighty effort at recollection, Howdy, Mirandy Jane! he cried, jubilantly.
His success in recalling the name affected him like an inspiration.
XII. 75 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains The girl had shied off, according to her custom, with a visible tremor, looking at him with big eyes and a quivering nostril, instantly accounting him a raider.
As he called her name she stopped, and stared dubiously at him.
How ‘s granny, he asked familiarly, an’ D’rindy? She ‘s well, Miranda Jane returned, lumping them in the singular number.
Had he inquired for the men folks, she would have been alarmed.
As it was, she began to be at ease.
She could not at once remember him, it was true, but he was evidently a familiar of the family.come, bubby, he said to Jacob, who had been peering over Miranda Jane’s head, sharing her doubts, but sturdily repudiating her fears, I’ll gin ye a ride ter the trough.
Jacob held up his arms, he was swung to the pommel, and the cortége started, Miranda Jane nimbly following in the rear.
Such simple things Jacob said, elicited by questions the craft of which he could not divine.
Where had he been? He and Mirandy Jane had gone with the apples in the wagon, but the wagon had afterward been driven to the mill, and Mirandy Jane had been charged by D’rindy to tote him on the way home if he got tired, and Mirandy Jane wanted to tote him in the cow−path, ‘mongst the briers.
And where did he say he went with the apples? To the cave.
To the cave! exclaimed the querist, astonished.
Over yander on the backbone, returned the guileless Jacob, reinforcing the information with a stubby forefinger, pointing toward the base of the mountain.
And here was the trough.
And Miranda Jane and Jacob stood by the roadside to regretfully watch the big gray horse trot slowly away. XIII. THERE came a change in the weather.
A vagueness fell upon the landscape.
The farthest mountains receded into invisibility, and the horizon was marked by an outline of summits hitherto familiar in the middle distance.
The sunshine was languid, slumberous.
A haze clothed the air in a splendid garb of translucent, gold−tinted folds, and trailing across the dim blue of the ranges invested them with many a dreamy illusion.
Athwart the sky were long sweeps of fibrous white clouds presaging rain.
Since dawn they were thickening; silent in the intense stillness of the noontide, they gathered and overspread the heavens and quenched the sun, and bereaved the vapors hanging in the ravines of all the poetic glamours of reflection.
A rain−crow was huskily cawing on the trough by the roadside where he had perched.
Dorinda heard the guttural note, and went out to gather up the fruit spread to dry on boards that were stretched from stone to stone.
Dark clouds were rolling up from the west.
She paused to see them submerge Chilhowee, its outline stark and hard beneath their turbulent whirl; toward the south their heavy folds broke into sudden commotion, and they were torn into fringes as the rain began to fall.
The mist followed and isolated the Great Smoky from all the rest of the world.
And now the little house was as lonely as the ark on Ararat.
The mists possessed the universe.
They filled the forests and lay upon the corn and hid the gyarden−spot, and came skulking about the porch, peering through the vines in a ghostly fashion.
Presently they sifted through, and whenever the door was opened it showed them lurking there as if wistfully waiting or with some half humanized curiosity.
Night stole on, and the ruddy flare of XIII. 76 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains the fire had heightened suggestions of good cheer and comfort, because of these waifs of the rain and the air shivering in chilly guise about the door.
The men came to supper and all went again, except Pete.
He was ailing, he declared, and betook himself to bed betimes.
The house grew quiet.
The grandmother nodded over her knitting, with a limp falling of the lower jaw, occasional spasmodic gestures, and an absorbed, unfamiliar expression of countenance.
Dorinda in her low chair sat in the glow of the fire.
As it rose and fell it cast a warm light or a dreamy shadow on her delicately rounded cheek and her shining eyes.
One disheveled tress of her dense black hair fell over the red kerchief twisted around her neck.
Her blue homespun dress lay in lustreless folds about her.
The shadowy and rude interior of the roomthe dark brown of the logs of the wall and the intervening yellow clay daubing; the great clumsy warping−bars; the pendent peltry and pop−corn and strings of red pepper swaying from the rafters; the puncheon floor gilded by the firelight; the deep yawning chimney with its heaps of ashes and its pulsating coalsall formed in the rich colors and soft blending of detail an harmonious setting for her vivid, definite face, as she settled herself to work at her evening stent.
Her reel was before her; the spokes, worn smooth and dark and glossy by age and use, reflected with polished lustre the glimmer of the fire.
She had a broche in her hand, just taken from the spindle.
For the lack of the more modern broche−holder she thrust a stick through the tunnel of the shuck on which the yarn was wound, placing the end of it, to hold it steady, in her low shoe; catching the thread between her deft fingers she threw it with a fine free gesture over the periphery of the reel.
And then the whirling spokes were only a rayonnant suggestion, so swiftly they sped round and round in the light of the fire, and a musical low whir broke forth.
Now and then the reel ticked and told off another cut, and she would bend forward to tie the thread with a practiced, dextrous hand.
The downpour of the rain had a dreary, melancholy persistence, beating upon the roof and splashing from the eaves into the puddles beneath.
At intervals a drop fell down the wide chimney and hissed upon the coals.
Suddenly there was another splash, differing in its abrupt energy; a foot had slipped outside and groping hands were laid upon the wall.
Dorinda sprang up with a white face and tense muscles.
The old woman was suddenly bolt upright in her corner, although not recognizing the sound.
Hurry ‘long, D’rindy, she said, peremptorily, you−uns ain’t goin’ ter reel a hank ef ye don’t mosey.
What ails the gal? she broke off, her attention attracted to her granddaughter’s changed expression.
Thar’s suthin’ out o’ doors, said Dorinda, in a tremulous whisper.
I hearn ’em step whenst ye war asleep.
I ain’t batted my eye this night, said her grandmother, with the force of conviction.
I ain t slep’ a wink.
An’ ye never hearn nuthin’.
There was a bolder demonstration outside; a foot−fall sounded on the porch and a hand tried the latch.
Massy on us! Raiders! shrieked the old woman, rising precipitately, her knitting falling from her lap, the ball of yarn rolling away and the kitten springing after it.
Dorinda ran to the doorperhaps to put up the bar.
But with sudden courage she lifted the latch.
Outside were the ghostly vapors, white and visible in the light from within.
She peered out doubtfully for a moment.
A sudden rush of color surged into her face; she made a feint of closing the door and ran back to her work, looking over her shoulder with radiant eyes; she caught up the broche, sticking it deftly in her shoe, seated herself in her low chair, and with her light free gesture led the thread over the reel.
Massy on us! shrilled the old woman aghast.
D’rindy, shet the door! Be ye a−lettin’ the lawless ones in on us! raiders an’ sech, scoutin’ ‘roun’ in the fogan’ nobody hyar but Pete, ez could n’t be waked up right handy with nuthin’ more wholesome ‘n a bulleta There was a man’s figure in the doorwaya slow, hesitating figure, and Rick Tyler, his face grave arid dubious, embarrassed by the complicated effort to look at Dorinda and yet seem to ignore her, trod heavily in, and with a soft and circumspect manner closed the door.
XIII. 77 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains I kem over hyar, Mis’ Cayce, he remarked, ez I ‘lowed mebbe the boys war at the still an ‘ye felt lonesome, bein’ ez it air rainin’ right smart, an’he hesitated.
Howdy, Rickhowdy! she exclaimed, cordially.
He had the benefit of her relief in finding the visitor not a raider.
Jes’ sot yer bones down hyar by the fire.
Airish out o’ doors, ain’t it? I ‘m powerful glad ter see ye.
D’rindy ain’t much company when she air busy, an’ the weavin’ ain’t done yit.
I ‘lowed ez I mought resk comin’ up hyar wunst in a while now, he said, with a covert glance at Dorinda.
I ain’t keerin’ much fur the new sher’ff, ‘kase he air a town man, an’ don’t know me; an’ the new constable, he ‘lowed over yander ter the store ez he war a off’cer o’ the law, an’ not a shootin’ mark fur folks ez war minded ter hide out; an’ Gid Fletcher hev been told ez he ‘d hev others ter deal with ef he ondertook ter fool along arrestin’ me agin.
So I hev got no call ter stay ez close in the bresh ez I hev been, though I ain’t a−goin’ ter furgit these hyar consarns, nuther.
He glanced down at the glimmer of steel in his belt, where Dorinda recognized her father’s pistols.
Bes’ be on the safe side, said the old woman approvingly, her nimble needles quivering in the light.
But law! I useter know a man over yander on Chilhowee Mounting, whar I lived afore I war married, an’ he hed killed fower men,though I b’lieve one o’ ’em war a Injun, an’ he hed no call ter aggervate hisself with sher’ffs’ nor shootin’−irons, nuther.
He walked ’round ez favored an’ free ez my old tur−r−key gobbler.
Though some said he hed bad dreams.
But ez he war a hearty feeder they mought hev kem from the stummick stiddier the heart.
The young man listened with a doubtful mien.
He was thrown back at his ease in the splint−bottomed chair.
One stalwart leg, the boot reaching over his trousers to the knee, was stretched out to the fire; from the damp sole the steam was starting in the warm air.
On his other knee one of the shooting irons in question rested; he held it lightly with one hand.
The other hand was thrust into the belt that girded his brown jeans coat.
His tawny yellow hair, the ends of a deeper tint, being wet, hung to his coat collar.
His hat, from the broad brim of which rain−drops were still trickling, was deposited beneath the chair, and the kitten was investigating it with a dainty, scornful white mitten.
He bore the marks of his trials in his sharpened features; his face took on readily a lowering expression, and a touch of anger kindled the smouldering fire in his brown eyes.
But I hev killed no man, he said, with emphasis.
I hev hurt nobody.
Ef I hed, ‘t would n’t be no more ‘n I oughter do ter g’long with the sher’ff an’ leave it ter men.
But I ain’t done no harm.
An’ I don’t want ter stay in jail, an’ be tried, an’ kem ter jedgmint, an’ sech, an’ mebbe hev them buzzardy lawyers fix suthin’ on me ennyways.
All through this speech the old woman tried to interrupt.
Laws−a−massy, Rick, she said at length, ye hev got mighty tetchy sence ye hev been hid out.
I ain’t sayin’ nuthin’ agin you−uns, ez I knows onnor agin that man that lived on Chilhowee Mounting, nuther.
I can’t sot myself ter jedge o’ him.
He war a perfessin’ member, an’ he hed a powerful gift in ‘quirin’; useter raise the chune reg’lar at all the meetin’s ez fur back ez I kin remember.
Her interest in the visit was impaired to some degree by this collision; she would have rejoiced to express her mental estimate of Rick as the headin’−est critter in the kentry, but her hospitable instincts constrained her, and she nobly swallowed her vexation.
His presence, however, hectored her, and she seized an excuse to absent herself presently, saying that she had to get her clean plaid coat to mend, bein’ ez when it last hung on the clothes−line that thar fresky young hound named Bose stood on his hind legs ter gnaw it, an’ actially chewed a piece out’n it, an’ I hev ter put a wedge in it afore I kin wear it.
She creaked away into the next room, and as the door shut he turned his eyes for the first time on Dorinda.
The fire−light played on the reel, whirling in a lustrous circle before her, on the broche stuck in the rough little shoe, XIII. 78 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains on her arm, uplifted in a graceful curve as she held the thread.
Her brilliant eyes were grave and intent; her dense black hair and her dark blue dress heightened the fairness of her face, and the crimson kerchief about her throat was hardly more vivid than the flush on her cheeks.
The knowledge that her embarrassment was greater than his own made him bolder.
They sat, however, some time in silence.
Then, his heart waxing soft in the coveted domestic atmosphere and the contemplation of the picture before him, he said, gently, They air all agin me, D’rindy.
She forgot herself instantly.
She looked full at him with soft melancholy deprecation.
They don’t hender ye none, she said.
Ye don’t sot no store by me nuther, these days, D’rindy, he went on, with a thrill of elation in his heart belying the doubt and despair in his speech.
The reel ticked and told off another cut.
She leaned forward to tie the thread.
She could not lift her eyelids now; still he saw the vivid sapphire iris, half eclipsed by the long black lash.
He patted the pistol on his knee.
Would ye be afeard, D’rindy, ter marry a man ez would hev ter keep his life, and yourn, mebbe, with this pistol? Would ye be afeard ter live in his house along o’ him, a hunted critter,an’ set an’ sing in his door, when the muzzle of a rifle or the sher’ff’s revolver mought peek through the rails of the fence? Would ye be afeard? He put the weapon slowly into his belt.
Would ye be afeard? he reiterated.
The reel stopped.
She turned her eyes, dilated with a splendid boldness, full upon him.
How they flouted fear! Such audacity of courage seemed to him gallant in a man; in a woman, expressing faith in his valiance, it was enchanting.
He lost his slow decorum.
He caught the hand that held the thread.
She could not withdraw it from that strong ecstatic clutch, and as she started, protesting, to her feet, he rose too, overturning the reel; and the kitten made merry confusion in the methodical cuts.
D’rindy, he exclaimed, catching her in his arms, thar ain’t no need ter be afeard! Word kem up the mountingI got it from Steve Byersez when Abednego Tynes war tried he plead guilty, an’ axed ter go on the stand an’ make a statement.
An’ he told the truth at last at last! An’ he war sentenced, an’ the case war nolle prosequied agin me! An’ ye war n’t afeard! Ye would hev married me an’ resked it.
Ye war n’t afeard! She was tall, and her agitated upturned face was close to his shoulder.
He knew it was simply unpardonable, according to the rigid decorums of their code of manners, but the impetuosity of his joy overbore him, and he bent down and kissed her lips.
Dorinda’s courage!it was gone.
She looked so frightened and amazed that he relaxed his clasp.
Ye know, D’rindy, he said, apologetically, I’m fairly out’n my head with joy.
She stood trembling, her hand pressed to her beating heart, her head whirling.
And then, he never forgot it, of her own accord she laid her other hand on his breast.
I always believed ye war good, good, good! XIII. 79 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains And the wild winds whirled around the Great Smoky, and the world was given over to the clouds and the night, and the rain fell, and the drops splashed with a dreary sound down from the eaves of the house.
They did not hear.
How little they heeded.
Within, all the atmosphere was suffused by that wonderful irradiation of love, and happiness, and hope that was confidence.
The fire might flare if it listed.
The shadows might flicker if they would.
It seemed to them at the moment each would never see aught, care for aught, save what was expressed in the other’s eyes.
The kitten had waxed riotous in the unprecedented opportunities of the reel, still lying with all its tangled yellow yarn upon the floor.
As it sprang tigerishly in the air and fell, fixing its predatory claws in another cut, Dorinda looked down with a startled air.
Granny ‘ll be axin’ mighty p’inted how that thar spun−truck kem ter be twisted so, she said, crestfallen and prescient.
It looks like a hurrah’s nest.
Tell her ez how ‘t war the cat, said Rick.
Dorinda shook her head dubiously.
The cat could n’t hev got it ef the reel hed n’t been flunged on the floor.
Let ‘s wind it inter balls, then, suggested Rick, quick at expedients.
She’ll never know it war tangled.
I ‘ll hold it fur ye.
It was no great hardship for Rick.
She lightly slipped the skeins over the wrists that had known sterner shackles.
The task required her to sit near him; her face and head were bent toward him as she absorbed herself in the effort to find the end of the thread; sometimes she lifted her eyes and looked radiantly at him.
He had not known how beautiful she was,because he saw her face more closely, he thought, not averted, nor coy, as always before,or was it embellished by that ineffable joy that filled her heart? Well for them both, perhaps, that those few moments were so happy,or is it well to remember a supreme felicity, for this is fleeting.
Yellow yarn! she was winding threads of gold.
How his pulses thrilled at the lightest flying touch of her fleet hands! He looked at her,into her eyes if he might,at her round crimson cheek, at her clearly cut chin, at the long lashes, at the black hair drawn back from her brow, where a curling tendril drooped over the temple.
And he held the yarn all awry.
It was no first−class job, for this reason and her haste.
What ails ye ter hustle ‘long so, D’rindy? he asked at last.
Ye ain’t so mighty afeard o’ yer granny.
Naw, Dorinda admitted,but brother Pete, he be at home ter−night, an’ he air toler’ble fractious ef he sees his chance, an’ I don’t want him a−laffin’ at we−uns; kase I hev hearn him say ez when young folks gits ter windin’ yarn tergether ‘t ain’t fur love o’ the spun−truck, but jes’ fur one another.
Rick laughed a little, slowly.
Then growing grave, Ef ye ‘ll b’lieve me, Pete told the word yander ter the still ez Amos Jeemesa mis’able addled aig he be!’lowed ter the men at the mill ez he b’lieved ez’t war the Cayces ez rescued me, the day o’ the gaynder−pullin’, from the sher’ff.
She paused, the bright thread in her motionless hand, her fire−lit face bent upon him.
Amos Jeemes hed better be keerful how he tries ter fix it on we−uns! she cried, with the tense vibration of anger, tellin’ the mill an’ sech! I hev hearn the boys ‘low ez ‘t war ten year in the pen’tiary fur rescuing a man from the sher’ff, ef it got fund out.
XIII. 80 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Pete say ez how he jes’ laffed at him an’ named him a fool.
Pete air ekal ter that, she returned, with some sarcasm.
She was deftly winding the yarn once more the fire showing a deeper thoughtfulness upon her face.
Its flicker gave the room a sense of motion; the festoons of scarlet pepper−pods, the long yellow and red strings of pop−corn, the peltry hanging from the rafters, apparently swayed as the light rose and fell; and the warping−bars, with their rainbow of spun−truck stretched from peg to peg, seemed to be dancing a clumsy measure in the corner.
The rocking−chair where granny was wont to sit was occupied now by a shadow, and now was visibly vacant.
She looked up into his face with an absorbed unnoting eye.
He was pierced by the knowledge that though she saw him, she was thinking of something else.
Won’t the Court let the pa’son go free now, sence they know ye done no crime? she asked.
The pa’son air accused of a rescue, an’ whether the man he rescued air convicted or no it air jes’ the same ter the law ez agin him.
The rescue air the thing he hev got ter answer fur.
She dropped her hands in her lap and threw herself back in her chair.
Ten year in prison! she exclaimed.
Her face was all the tenderest pity; her voice was full of yearning sympathy; she cast her eyes upward with a look that was reverence itself.
How good he war! I s’pose he knowed ye never done no harm, an’ he war willin’ ter suffer stiddier you−uns.
I never hearn o’ sech a man! ‘Pears ter me them old prophets don’t tech him! I never hearn o’ them showin’ sech love o’ God an’ thar feller−man.
He rescued ye jes’ fur that! Rick Tyler looked at her for a moment with a kindling eye.
He sprang to his feet, throwing the golden skeinit was only yarn after all, a coarse yellow yarnupon the floor.
He strode across the rude hearth and leaned against the mantel−piece, which was as high as his head.
The light fell upon his changed face, the weapons in his belt, his long tawny hair, the flashing fire in his eye.
He raised his right hand with an importunate gesture.
D’rindy Cayce, ye air in love with that man! he said, in a low passionate voice and between his set teeth.
I hev seen it aforelong ago; but sence ye hev promised ter marry me, ef ye say his name agin, I’ll kill himI ‘ll shoot him through the heartdeaddeaddo ye hear me dead! She was shaken by the spectacle of his sudden anger, and she was angered in turn by his jealous rage.
There was a dull aching in her heart in the voids left by the ebbing of her ecstatic happiness.
This was too precious to lightly let go.
She walked over to him and took hold of his right arm, although his hand was toying nervously with his pistol.
Ye don’t b’lieve no sech word, Rick, she said, deep down in yer heart, ye don’t b’lieve it.
An’ how kin ye grudge me from thinkin’ well o’ the man, an’ feelin’ frien’ly,oh, mighty frien’ly,when he will hev ter take ten year in the pen’tiary fur givin’ ye yer freedom? He rescued ye! An’ I’ll thank him an’ praise him fur it ev’y day I live.
My love, ef ye call it love, will foller him fur that all through the prison, an’ the bolts an’ bars, an’ gyards.
An’ yer pistols can’t holp it.
He put her from him with a mechanical gesture and a perplexed brow.
He sat down in the chair he had occupied at first; his hat was still under it, one leg was stretched out to the fire, on the other knee his hand rested; he looked exactly as when he first came into the room, but she had a vague idea, as she stood opposite on the hearth, that it was long ago, so much had happened since.
XIII. 81 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains D’rindy, he said, he never done it.
The pa’son never rescued me.
She stood staring at him in wide−eyed amaze.
He was silent for a moment, and then he broke into a bitter laugh.
I do declar, he said, it fairly tickles me ter hear o’ one man bein’ arrested fur rescuin’ me, an’ another set bein’ s’pected o’ the same thing, when not one of ’em in all the Big Smoky, not one, lifted a hand ter holp me.
Whether the gallus or a life sentence, ‘t war all the same ter them.
Accusin’ yer dad an’ the boys at the stillshucks! Old Groundhog loant me a rifle, an’ ter hear him talk saaft sawder ’bout’n it ter Amos Jeemes ye’d hev thunk he war the author o’ my salvation! An’ arrest the pa’son! he war a likely one ter rescue a−body!too ‘feard o’ Satan! An’ ef all they say air true ’bout’n the word he spoke yander at the meetin’ ‘fore they tuk him off, he hev got cornsider’ble call ter be afeard o’ Satan.
Naw, sir! he never rescued nuthin’ but the gaynder! Nobody helped me! Nobody on the Big Smoky held out a hand! I ain’t goin’ ter furgit it, nuther! She stood looking intently at his face, with its caustic laugh upon it and his eyes full of bitterness.
She knew that he secretly upbraided her as well as her people that they had made no move to save him from the clutches of the sheriff.
She involuntarily turned her eyes to the gun−rack where the barrel of Old Betsy gleamed, and she remembered the mark it bore to commemorate the foregone conclusion of Micajah Green’s death.
For this she had held her hand.
She felt humble and guilty, since she had acted in the interests of peace.
And yet that shrewd sense, that true conscience, which coexisted with the idealistic tendencies of her nature, demanded how could she justify herself in asking the sacrifice of ten years of other men’s liberty that her lover might escape the consequences of his own act; how could she dare to precipitate a collision with the sheriff, while their grievance was still fresh in their minds? Fortunately she did not lay this train of thought bare before Rick Tyler.
Natures like his foster craft in the most pellucid candor.
How’d ye git away, Rick? she said instead.
I won’t tell ye, he replied, rudely; it don’t consarn ye ter know.
Then suddenly softening, I take that back, D’rindy.
I ain’t goin’ ter furgit ez ye owned up ye war willin’ ter marry me an’ live all yer life along with a hunted man in a house that mought be fired over yer head enny time, or a rifle ball whiz in at the winder.
I ain’t goin’ ter furgit that.
Alas! he could not divine how he should remember it! He fixed his eyes on the fire, as if moodily recalling the scene.
She noted that desperate hunted look in his face which it had not worn to−night.
I war a−settin’ thar, he began abruptly, my feet tied with ropes, and with handcuffs on,he held his hands together as if manacled; she shuddered a little,an’ I hearn the hurrahin’ an’ fuss outside whilst they was all a−rowin’ over the gaynder.
An’ then I hearn a powerful commotion ‘mongst the dogs, ez ef they hed started some sorter game or suthin’.
An’ the fust I knowed thar war a powerful scuttlin’ ’round the back o’ the blacksmith’s shop, an’ a rabbit squez in a hole ‘twixt the lowes’ log an’ the groun’,’t warn’t bigger ‘n a gopher’s hole.
An’ I never thunk nuthin’ ‘ceptin’ them boys outside would be mighty mad ef they knowed thar hounds hed run a rabbit same ez a deer.
Dorinda had sunk into her chair; her hands trembled, her face was pale.
An’ the cur’ous part of it, he continued, now in the full swing of narrative, war that the hounds would n’t gin it up.
They jes’ kep’ a−nosin’ an’ yappin’ roun’ that thar little hole.
Thar sot the rabbit she ‘minded me o’ myself, got in an’ could n’t git out.
Thar war nowhar else fur her ter sneak through.
She sot thar ez upright an’ trembly ez me; jes’ ez skeered, an’ jes’ about ez little chance.
The only diff’ence ‘twixt us war I hed a soul, an’ that did n’t do me XIII. 82 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains enny good, an’ the lack o’ it did n’t do her enny harm; both o’ we−uns war more pertic’lar ’bout keepin’ a skin full o’ whole bones ‘n ennything else.
An’ then them nosin’ hounds began ter scratch an’ claw up dirt.
Bless yer soul, D’rindy, they hed a hole ez big ez that thar piggin, afore I thunk ennything ’bout’n it.
It makes me feel the cold shakes when I ‘members ez I mought not hev thunk ’bout’n it till ‘t war too late.
Lord! how slow them hounds seemed! though the rabbit she fund ’em fast enough, I reckon.
Ev’y now an’ then she’d hop along this way an’ that, an’ the hounds would git her scent aginan’ the way they’d yap! The critter would hop along an’ look up at me,I never will furgit the look in the critter’s eyes ez she sot thar an’ waited fur the dogs.
They war in a hurry an’ toler’ble lively, I reckon, but they ‘peared ter me ez slow ez ef ev’y one war weighted with a block an’ chain.
Waal, the hole got bigger an’ they yapped louder, an’ I got so weak waitin’, an’ fearin’ somebody would hear ’em, an’ kem ter see ’bout what they hed got up fur game, an’ find that hole, I did n’t know how I could bide it.
The hole got big enough fur the hounds ter squeeze through, an’ hyar they kem bouncin’ in.
They lept round the shop, an’ flopped up agin the door, so that ef thar hed n’t been all that fuss outside ’bout takin’ the gaynder down, somebody would hev been boun’ ter notice it.
I hed ter wait fur the dogs ter ketch the rabbit an’ shake the life out’n her ‘fore I darst move a paig, they kep’ up sech a commotion.
An’ when they hed dragged the critter’s little carcass outside an’ begun fightin’ over it, I got up.
I jes’ could sheffle along a leetle bit; that eternally cussed scoundrel, Gid Fletcherhe paused.
It was beyond the power of language to express the deep damnation he desired for the blacksmith.
His face grew scarlet, the tears started to his angry eyes.
How he pitied himself, remembering his hard straits and his cruel indignities! And how she pitied him! He caught his breath, and went on.
That black−hearted devil hed tied my feet so close I could sca’cely hobble, an’ my hands an’ wrists hed all puffed an’ swelled up, whar the cords hed been’t war the sher’ff ez gin me the handcuffs.
Waal, I tuk steps ’bout two inches long till I got ‘crost the shop ter the hole.
Then I jes’ flopped down an’ croped through.
I did n’t stan’ up outside, though ‘t war at the back o’ the shop an’ nobody could see me.
Ye know the aidge o’ the bluff ain’t five feet from the shop; the cliff’s ez sheer ez a wall, but thar’s a ledge ’bout twenty feet down.
It looked mighty narrer, an’ thar war n’t no vines ter swing by; but I jes’ hed ter think o’ them devils on t’other side the shop ter make me willin’ ter resk it.
Waal, thar war a clump o’ sass’fras,ye know the bark’s tough,near the aidge.
I jes’ bruk one o’ the shoots ter the root an’ turned it down over the aidge o’ the bluff an’ swung on ter the e−end o’ it.
Waal, it tore off in my hands, but I did n’t fall more ‘n a few feet, an’ lighted on the ledge.
An’ I tossed the saplin’ away, an’ then I walked,steps ’bout’n two inches long, ef thatez fur ez the ledge went, cornsider’ble way from the Settlemint, an’ ‘t war two or three hunderd feet ter the bottom, whar I stopped.
An’ thar war a niche thar whar I could sit an’ lay down, sorter.
Thar I bided all night.
I hearn ’em huntin’, an’ it made me laff.
I knowed they war n’t a−goin’ ter find me, but I did n’t know how I war a−goin’ ter git away from thar with them handcuffs on, an’ ropes ‘roun’ my legs; they war knotted so ez I could n’t reach ’em fur the irons.
I waited all nex’ day, though I never hed nuthin’ ter eat but some jaw−berries ez growed ‘mongst the rocks thar.
An’ the nex’ morn’n’,his eye dilated with triumph, the swellin’ o’ my wrists hed gone down, an’ I could draw my hands out’n the handcuffs ez easy ez lyin’.
He held up his hands; they were small for his size, and bore little token of hard work; the wrists were supple.
An’ then, he said, with brisk conclusiveness, I jes’ ontied the ropes ‘roun’ my feet an’ clumb up ter the top o’ the mounting by vines an’ sech, an’ struck inter the laurel, an’ never stopped a−travelin’ till I got ter Cayce’s still.
He drew a long sigh, not unmixed with pleasure.
He had a sense of achievement.
It gave, perhaps, a certain value to his harsh experience to recount his triumphs to so fair an audience.
He was looking at her with a dawning smile in his eyes, and she was silently looking at him.
Suddenly she burst into sobs.
Shucks, D’rindy, it ‘s all over an’ done now, he said, appropriating the soft sympathy of her tears.
An’ I ‘m so glad, Rick; so glad fur that.
I ‘d hev bartered my hope o’ heaven fur it, she sobbed.
But I war thinkin’ that minit o’ the pa’son.
They ‘rested him in his pulpit, an’ they would n’t gin him bail, an’ they kerried him XIII. 83 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains ‘way from the mountings, an’ jailed him, an’ he’ll go ter the pen’tiary, ten year mebbe, fur a crime ez he never done.
Ye would n’t let him do that ef ye could holp it, would ye, Rick? She looked up tearfully at him.
His eyes gleamed; his nostrils were quivering; every fibre in him responded to his anger.
Ef I could, D’rindy Cayce, I ‘d hev that man chained in the lowest pits o’ hell fur all time, so ye mought never see his face agin.
An’ ef I could, I ‘d wipe his memory off’n the face o’ the yearth, so ye mought never speak his name.
Law, Rick, don’t! protested the girl, aghast.
I ‘ve seen ye ez jealous o’ Amos Jeemes I don’t keer that fur Amos Jeemes, he exclaimed, snapping his fingers.
I hev n’t seen ye sit an’ cry over Amos Jeemes, an’ sech cattle, an’ say he war like a prophet.
I thought ye war thinkin’ ’bout me, an’an’ he paused in mortification.
D’rindy, he said, suddenly calm, though his eye was excited and quickly glancing, did ye ax him ef he would do ennything fur me when I war in cust’dy? Naw, said Dorinda, nobody could do nuthin’ fur you−uns, ‘kase they’d hev ter resk tharselfs an’ run agin the law.
But what I want ye ter do fur pa’son air fur jestice.
He never done what he war accused of.
An’ ye war along o’ Abednego Tynes, though innercent.
Law, Rick, ef the murderer would say the word ter set ye free, can’t ye do ez much fur the pa’son, ez hev seen so much trouble a’ready? In the name o’ Gawd, D’rindy, what air you−uns a−wantin’ me ter do? he asked, in sheer amazement.
She mistook the question for relenting.
She caressed his coat sleeve as she stood beside him.
All her beauty was overcast; her face was stained with weeping; tears dimmed her eyes, and her pathetic gesture of insistence seemed forlorn.
He looked down dubiously at her.
What I want ye ter do, Rick, fur him, air right, an’ law, an’ jestice.
Nobody could hev done that fur ye, ‘cept Abednego Tynes.
I want ye ter go ter pa’son’s trial fur the rescue, an’ gin yer testimony, an’ tell the jedge an’ jury the tale ye hev tole methe truthan’ they ‘ll be obleeged ter acquit.
He flung away in a tumult of rage.
It was exhausting to witness how his frequent gusts of passion shook him.
D’rindy, he thundered, ye want me ter gin myself up fur the pa’son; ye don’t keer nuthin’ fur me, so he gits back ter the Big Smoky an’ you−uns.
I mought be arrested yit on the same indictment; the nolle prosequi don’t hender,it jes’ don’t set no day fur me ter be tried.
An’ mebbe Steve Byers hev been foolin’ me some.
Ye jes’ want ter trade me off ter the State fur the pa’son.
Ye shan’t go! cried the girl.
I did n’t know that about the nolle prosequi.
Ye shan’t go! He was mollified for a moment.
He noticed again how pale she was.
Law, D’rindy, he said, ye fairly wear yerself out with yer tantrums.
Why n’t ye do like other folks; the pa’son never holped me none, an’ I ain’t got no call ter holp him.
Ef ye war ter go afore the squair an swear ’bout’n the rescue an’ sech, an git him ter write it ter the Court fur the pa’son The constable o’ the deestric’ ez hangs ‘roun’ thar at the jestice’s house mought be thar an’ arrest me, he said, speciously.
The gov’nor hain’t withdrawn that reward yit, ez I knows on. XIII. 84 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Naw, she said, quickly, I’ll make the boys toll the constable down ter the still till ye git through.
The jestice air lame, an’ ain’t able ter arrest ye, an’ I ‘d be thar an’ gin ye the wink, ef thar war ennything oncommon ennywhar, or enny men aroun’.
He could hardly refuse.
He could not affect fear.
Ez long ez I thunk he hed rescued ye, I did n’t hev no call ter move.
But now I know how ‘t war, I ‘d fairly die ef he war lef’ ter suffer in jail, knowin’ he hev done nuthin’ agin the law.
Her lip quivered.
The tears started to her eyes.
The sight of them, shed for another man’s sake, excited again the vigilant jealousy in his breast.
I ‘ll do nuthin’ fur Hi Kelsey, he declared, Ef ye ain’t in love with him, ye would be ef he war ter git back ter the Big Smoky.
He done nuthin’ fur me, an’ I hev no call ter do nuthin’ fur him.
He looked furiously at her, holding her at arm’s length.
Ye hev tole me ye love me, an’ I expec’ ye ter live up ter it.
Ye hev promised ter marry me, an’ I claim ye fur my wife.
Say that man’s name another time, an’ I ‘ll kill him ef ever he gits in rifle range agin.
I’ll kill him! I ‘ll kill him! his right hand was once more mechanically toying with the pistol, while he held her arm with the other, an’ I ‘ll kill ye, too! He had gone too far; he had touched the dominant impulse of her nature.
Her cheeks were flaring.
Her courage blazed in her eyes.
An’ I tell ye, Rick Tyler, that I am not afeard o’ ye! An’ ef ye let a man suffer fur a word ez ye kin say in safety, an’ an act ez ye kin do in ease, ye ain’t the Rick Tyler I knowed,ye air suthin’ else.
I ‘lowed ye war good, but mebbe I hev been cheated in ye, an’ ef I hev, I ‘ll gin ye up.
I ain’t a−goin’ ter marry no man ez I can’t look up ter, an’ say ‘he air good!’ An’ ef ye ‘ll meet me a hour ‘fore sundown, at the squair’s house, ter−morrow evenin’, I ‘ll b’lieve in ye, an’ I ‘ll marry ye.
An’ ef ye don’t, I won’t.
She caught up his hat and gave it to him.
Then she opened the door.
The white mists stood shivering in the little porch.
He turned and looked in angry dismay at her resolute face.
But he did not say a word, though he knew her heart yearned for it beneath her inflexible mask.
He walked slowly out, and the door closed upon him, and upon the shivering white mists.
He paused for a moment, hesitating.
He heard nothing withinnot even her retreating step.
He knew as well as if he had seen her that she was leaning against the door, silently sobbing her heart out.
D’rindy needs a lesson, he said, sternly.
And so he went out into the night. XIV. THE rain ceased the next day, but the clouds did not vanish.
Their folds, dense, opaque, impalpable, filled the vastness.
The landscape was lost in their midst.
The horizon had vanished.
Distance was annihilated.
Only a yard or so of the path was seen by Dorinda, as she plodded along through the white vagueness that had absorbed the familiar world.
And yet for all essentials she saw quite enough; in her ignorant fashion she deduced the moral, that if the few immediate steps before the eye are taken aright, the long lengths of the future will bring you at last where you would wish to be.
The reflection sustained her in some sort as she went.
She was reluctant to acknowledge it even to herself; but she had a terrible fear that she had imposed a test that Rick would not endure.
Ef he air so powerful jealous ez that, ter not holp another man a leetle bit, when he knows it can’t hurt him none, he air jes’ selfish, an’ nuthin’ shorter.
She paused, looking about her mechanically.
The few blackberry bushes, almost leafless, stretching out on either XIV. 85 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains hand, were indistinct in the mist, and against the dense vapor they had the meagre effect of a hasty sketch on a white paper.
The trees overhung her, she knew, in the invisible heights above; she heard the moisture dripping monotonously from their leaves.
It was a dreary sound as it invaded the solemn stillness of the air.
An’ I’m boun’ ter try ter holp him, ef I kin.
I know too much, sence Rick spoke las’ night, ter let me set an’ fold my hands in peace. ‘Pears like ter me ez that thar air all the diff’ence ‘twixt humans an’ the beastis, ter holp one another some.
An’ ef a human won’t, ‘pears like ter me ez the Lord hev wasted a soul on that critter.
Despite her logic she stood still; her blue eyes were surcharged with shadows as they wistfully turned upward to the sad and sheeted day; her lips were grave and pathetic; her blue dress had gleams of moisture here and there, and a plaid woolen shawl, faded to the faintest hues, was drawn over her dense black hair.
She stood and hesitated.
She thought of the man she loved, and she thought of the word he denied the man in prison.
Poor Dorinda! to hold the scales of Justice unblinded.
I dunno what ails me ter be ‘feard he won’t kem! she said, striving to reassure herself; an’ ennyhowshe remembered the few immediate steps before her taken aright, and went along down the clouded curtained path that was itself an allegory of the future.
The justice’s gate loomed up like fate,the poor little palings to be the journey’s end of hope or despair! A pig, without any appreciation of its subtler significance, had in his frequent wallowings at its base impaired in a measure its stability.
He grunted at the sound of a footfall, as if to warn the new−comer that she might step on him.
Dorinda took heed of the imperative caution, opened the gate gingerly, and it only grazed his back.
He grunted again, whether in meagre surly approval, or reproof that she had come at all, was hardly to be discriminated in his gruff, disaffected tone.
She noticed that the locust leaves, first of all to show the changing season, were yellow on the ground; a half denuded limb was visible in the haze.
There were late red roses, widely a−bloom, by the doorstep of the justice’s house,a large double cabin of hewn logs, with a frame−inclosed passage between the two rooms.
There was glass in the windows, for the justice was a man of some means for these parts; and she saw behind one of the tiny panes his bald polished head and his silver rimmed spectacles gleaming in animated curiosity.
He came limping, with the assistance of a heavy cane, to the door.
Howdy, D’rindy, he exclaimed, cheerfully, come in, child.
What sort o’ weather is this! In abrupt digression, he looked over her head into the blank vagueness of the world.
But for the dim light, it might have suggested the empty inexpressiveness of the periods before the creation, when the earth was without form and void.
It air tol’erble airish in the fog, said Dorinda, finding her voice with difficulty.
The room into which she was ushered seemed to her limited experience a handsome apartment.
But somehow the passion of covetousness is an untouched spring in the nature of these mountaineers.
The idea of ownership did not enter into Dorinda’s mind as she gazed at the green plaster parrot that perched in state on the high mantel−piece.
She was sensible of its merits as a feature of the domestic landscape at the jestice’s house, precisely as the sight of the distant Chilhowee was company in her lonely errands about the mountain.
To be deprived of either would be dike a revulsion of nature.
She did not grudge the justice his possession, nor did she desire it for herself.
She entertained a simple admiration for the image, and always looked to see it on its lofty perch when she first entered the room.
There were several books piled beside it, which the justice valued more.
There was, too, a little square looking−glass, in which one might behold a distortion of physiognomy.
Above all hung a framed picture of General Washington crossing the Delaware.
The mantel−piece was to the girl a museum of curiosities.
A rag carpet covered the floor; there was a spinning−wheel in the corner; a bed, too, draped with a gay quilt,a mad disportment of red and yellow patchwork, which was supposed to represent the rising sun, and was considered a triumph of handicraft.
The justice’s seat was a splint−bottomed chair, which stood near a pine table where ink was XIV. 86 — IT was not so dreary in the dark depths of the cavern as in the still white world without; and the constable of the district, one Ephraim Todd, found the flare of the open furnace and the far−reaching lights, red among the glooms, and a perch on an empty barrel, and the warm generosities of the jug, a genial transition.
Nevertheless he protested.
You−uns oughter be plumb ‘shamed, Pete, he said, ter toll me hyar, an’ me a off’cer o’ the law.
Ye hev been hyar often afore, the Lord above knows, asseverated Pete, an’ ye needed mighty little tollin’.
But I warn ‘t a off’cer o’ the law, then, said the constable, wrestling with his official conscience.
An’ I hev tuk a oath an’ am under bonds.
An’ hyar I be a−consortin’ with law−breakers, an’ ‘t ain’t becomin’ in a off’cer o’ the law.
Ye ain’t tuk no oath, nor entered into no bonds ter keep yer throat ez dry ez a lime−kiln, retorted Pete.
Jes’ take a swig at that thar jug an’ hand it over hyar, will ye, an’ hold yer jaw.
Thus readily the official conscience, never rampant, was pacified.
The constable had formerly been, as Pete said, an habitué of the place, but since his elevation to office he had made himself scarce, in deference to the promptings of that newly acquired sense of dignity and propriety.
Should some chemical process obliterate for a time a leopard’s spots, consider the satisfaction of the creature to find himself once more restored to his natural polka−dots; and such was the complacence of the constable, with his artificial conscience evaporated and his heart mottled with its native instincts of good and evil.
He was glad to be back in the enjoyment of the affluent hospitalities of the moonshiner’s jug.
He was a big, portly fellow, hardly more symmetrical than the barrel upon which he was seated.
He had an inexhaustible fund of good humor, and was not even angry when Pete, in sheer contrariety, told him the reason for his enticement to the still.
He said he would be glad enough if Rick Tyler could swear out anything that would XV. 88 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains benefit the parson, and declared that he believed only Micajah Green’s malice could have compassed his incarceration. ‘Cajah inquired o’ me whar this place war, Pete, he said, a−purtendin’ like he hed been hyar wunst.
But I jes’ tole him ‘t war ez safe ez a unhatched deedie in a aigan’ I batted my eye, jes’ so, an’ he shot up purty quick.
The gleam from the furnace door showed Pete’s own light gray eyes intently starting at the visitor, but he said nothing and the matter passed.
When the constable’s heart was warmed by the brush whiskey he understood the sensation as happiness, and he translated happiness as a religious excitement.
He seemed maudlin as he talked about the parson, who, he declared, had led him to grace, and he recited some wonderful stories of religious experience, tending to illustrate his present righteousness and the depths of iniquity from which he had been redeemed.
Pete’s perversity operated to curtail these.
That’s a fac’! he would heartily assent; ye useter be one o’ the meanes’ men on these hyar mountings! Or Grace hed a mighty wrastle with Satan in yer soul.
I dunno whether he air cast out yit! The constablehis big owlish head askewwas embarrassed by these manoeuvres, and presently the talk drifted to the subject of the parson’s spiritual defection.
This he considered a mental aberration.
Hi Kelsey, he said, war always more or less teched in the head.
I hev noticedan’ ye may sot it down ez a true wordez ev’y man ez air much smarter ‘n other men in some ways, in other ways air foolisher.
He mought prophesy one day, an’ the nex’ ye would n’t trest him ter lead a blind goose ter water.
He air smarter ‘n enny man I ever seePa’son Kelsey air.
Thar’s Brother Jake Tobin ain’t got haffen his sense; an’ yit nobody can’t say ez Brother Jake ain’t sensible.
The philosopher upon the barrel, as he made this nice distinction, gazed meditatively into the bed of live coals that flung its red glare on his broad flushed countenance and wide blinking eyes.
It revealed the others, too: the old man’s hard, lined, wrinkled visage and his stalwart supple frame; Pete, with his long tangled hair, his pipe between his great exposed teeth; Ab, filling the furnace with wood, his ragged beard moved by the hot breath of the fire; the big−boned, callow Sol, with his petulant important face; and Ben, in the dim background tossing the sticks over to Ab from the gigantic wood−pile.
They fell with a sharp sound, and the cave was full of their multiplied echoes.
The men as they talked elevated their voices so as to be heard.
Ab was rising from his kneeling posture.
He closed the furnace door, and as it clashed he thought for an instant he was dreaming.
In that instant he saw Pete start up suddenly with wild, distended eyes, and with a leveled pistol in his hand.
The next moment Ab knew what it meant.
A sharp reportand a jet of red light, projected from the muzzle of the weapon, revealed a group of skulking, unfamiliar figures stealthily advancing upon them.
The return fire was almost instantaneous, and was followed by multitudinous echoes and a thunderous crash that thrilled every nerve.
The darkness was filled with the clamors of pandemonium, for the concussion had dislodged from the roof a huge fragment of rock, weighing doubtless many tons.
The revenue raiders lagged for a moment, confused by the overwhelming sound, the clouds of stifling dust, and the eerie aspect of the place.
They distinguished a sharp voice presently, crying out some imperative command, and after that there was no more resistance from the moonshiners.
They had disappeared as if the earth had swallowed them.
The intruders were at a loss.
They could not pursue and capture the men in the dark.
If the furnace door were opened they would be targets in the glare for the lurking moonshiners in the glooms beyond.
It did not occur to them that the cave had another outlet, until, as the echoes of the fallen fragment grew faint, they heard far away a voice crying out, Don’t leave me! and the mocking rocks repeating it with their tireless mimicry.
It was the constable.
He never forgot that agonized retreat down those unknown black depths.
He was hardly able to keep pace with his swifter fellows, falling sometimes, and being clutched to his feet rudely enough, as they XV. 89 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains pressed on in a close squad; feeling now and then the sudden wing of a bat against his face and interpreting it as the touch of a human pursuer; sometimes despairing, as they scrambled through a long, low, narrow passage, scarcely wide enough for the constable’s comfortable fatness.
Then it was that fear descended upon him with redoubled force, and he would exclaim in pity of his plight, An’ me a off’cer o’ the law! He impeded their flight incalculably, but to their credit be it said the lighter weights had never a thought of deserting their unfortunate guest despite the danger of capture and the distress of mind induced by the loss of their little all.
The poor constable fitted some of the tube−like passages like the pith in the bark, and as he was at last drawn, pallid, struggling, his garments in shreds, from an aperture of the cave in a dense untrodden jungle of the laurel, he again piteously exclaimed, An’ me a off’cer o’ the law! There was little leisure, however, to meditate upon his degraded dignity.
He followed the example of the moonshiners, and ran off through the laurel as fleetly as a fat man well could.
The raiders showed excellent judgment.
They offered no pursuit down those dark and devious underground corridors.
Acquiring a sense of security from the echoes growing ever fainter and indicative of lengthening distances, they presently opened the furnace door, and by the aid of the flare cut the tubs and still to pieces, destroyed the worm, demolished the furnace, and captured in triumph sundry kegs and jugs of the illicit whiskey.
There was a perfunctory search for the distillers at the log−cabin on the mountain slope.
But the officers made haste to be off, for the possibility of rally and recapture is not without parallel facts in the annals of moonshining.
Perhaps the mountain wilds had never sheltered a fiercer spirit than old Groundhog Cayce when he ventured back into his den and stood over the ruins of his scanty fortunes,the remnants of the still; the furnace, a pile of smoking stones and ashes and embers; the worm in spiral sections; the tubs half burnt, riven in pieces, lying about the ground.
The smoke was still dense overhead and the hot stones were sending up clouds of steam.
It was as well, perhaps, since the place would never again be free from inspection, that it could not be used as it once was.
The great fragment of rock, fallen from the roof, lay in the course of the subterranean stream, and the water, thus dammed, was overflowing its channel and widely spreading a shallow flood all along the familiar ground.
It was rising.
He made haste to secure the few articles overlooked by the raiders: a rifle, a powder−horn on one of the ledges that served as shelf, a bag of corn, the jovial jug.
And for the last time he crept through the narrow portal and left the cavern to the dense darkness, to the floating smoke, to the hissing embers, and the slow rising of the subterranean springs.
For days he nursed his wrath as he sat upon the cabin porch beneath the yellow gourds and the purple blooms of the Jack−bean, and gazed with unseeing eyes at the wide landscape before him.
The sky was blue in unparalleled intensity.
The great balds towered against it in sharp outlines, in definite symmetry, in awful height.
The forests were aflame with scarlet boughs.
The balsams shed upon the air their perfumes, so pervasive, so tonic, that the lungs breathed health and all the benignities of nature.
The horizon seemed to expand, and the exquisite lucidity of the atmosphere revealed vague lines of far away mountains unknown to the limitations of less favored days.
In the woods the acorns were dropping, dropping, all the long hours.
The yellow sunshine was like a genial enthusiasm, quickening the pulses and firing the blood.
The hickory trees seemed dyed in its golden suffusions, and were a lustrous contrast to the sombre pine, or the dappled maple, or the vivid crimson of the black−gum.
But the future of the year was a narrowing space; the prospects it had brought were dwarfed in the fulfillment, or were like an empty clutch at the empty air.
And winter was afoot; ah, yes, the tenderest things were already dead,the flowers and the hopes,and the splendid season cherished in its crimson heart a woeful premonition.
And thus the winds, blowing where they listed, sounded with a melancholy cadence; and the burnished yellow sheen was an evanescent light; and the purple haze, vaguely dropping down, had its conclusive intimations in despite that it loitered.
Dorinda, with her hands folded too, sat much of the time in dreary abstraction on the step of the porch, looking down at the yellowed cornfield which she and Rick ploughed on that ecstatic June morning.
How long ago it seemed! Sometimes above it, among the brown tassels, there hovered in the air a cluster of quivering points of XV. 90 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains light against the blue mountain opposite, as some colony of gossamer−winged insects disported themselves in the sunshine.
And the crickets were shrilling yet in the grass.
She saw nothing, and it would be hard to say what she thought.
In the brilliancy of her youthful beautya matter of linear accuracy and delicate chiseling and harmonious coloring, for nature had been generous to herit might seem difficult to descry a likeness to the wrinkled and weather−beaten features of her father’s lowering face, as he sat in his chair helplessly brooding upon his destroyed opportunities.
But there was a suggestion of inflexibility in both: she had firm lines about her mouth that were hard in his; the unflinching clearness of her eyes was a reflection of the unflinching boldness of his.
Her expression in these days was so set, so stern, so hopeless that one might have said she looked like him.
He beheld his ruined fortunes; she, her bereft heart.
Amos James, one day, as he stood on the porch, saw this look on her face.
She was leaning on her folded arms in the window hard by.
She had spoken to him as absently and with as mechanical courtesy as the old moonshiner at the other end of the porch.
He came up close to her.
It was a wonderful contrast to the face she had worn when they talked, that day at the spring, of Rick Tyler’s escape.
With the quickened intuition of a lover’s heart he divined the connection.
Ye hain’t kep’ yer promise, D’rindy, he said, in a low tone.
What promise? she demanded, rousing herself and knitting her brows as she looked at him.
Ye ‘lowed ye ‘d let me know ef ever ye kem ter think less o’ Rick Tyler.
Her eyes, definitely angry, flashed upon him.
Ye shan’t profit by it, she declared.
And so he left her, still leaning in the vine−framed window, the lilac blossoms of the Jack−bean drooping until they touched her black hair.
Rick Tyler was dismayed by the result of his jealousy and the strange lesson that Dorinda had learned.
He found her inflexible.
She reminded him sternly of the conditions of her promise and that he had failed.
And when he protested that he was jealous because he loved her so, she said she valued no love that for her sake grudged a word, not in generosity, but in simple justice, to liberate an innocent man in the rigors of a terrible doom.
And when at this man’s very name he was seized with his accustomed impetuous anger, she looked at him with a cool aloof scrutiny that might have expressed a sheer curiosity.
It bewildered and tamed him.
He had never heard of a Spartan.
He only thought of her as immovable, and as infinitely remote from his plane, as the great dome of the mountain.
He remembered that she had always softened to his misfortunes, and he talked of how he had suffered.
But she said that was all over now, and he had been mighty lucky.
He sought to appeal to her in her own behalf, and reminded her how she had loved him through it all, how she would have married him, despite the fierce pursuit of the law.
She had loved him; he would not forget that.
No, she said, drearily.
I never loved ye.
I loved what I thunk ye war.
But ye war n’t Thatnuthin’ like it! Ye war suthin’ else.
I war jes’ in love with my own foolishness.
Poor Dorinda! Alas, for the fair ideals! these things are transient.
He went away at last, indignant and amazed.
Once he thought of offering to make the affidavit, not cognizant of its fatal defect, and then the conviction took hold upon him that this melancholy was her deep disappointment because she loved the man she sought to aid.
And sometimes he could not believe he had lost her heart.
And yet when he would go back, her dull indifference to his presence would convince him alike that he was naught to her now and that he had been supplanted.
XV. 91 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains His contradictions of feeling began to crystallize into a persistent perversity.
He took pleasure in denying the story she had told of his escape, and many people hardly knew which version to believe.
He congratulated Brother Jake Tobin one evening at the cabin on having turned Hi Kelsey out of the church, and called him a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
And then for his pains he was obliged to listen to her defense of the absent man; she declared the parson was like one of the prophets, like some man in the Bible.
As to that confession he had made in the church, ‘t war plain he war out’n his head.
Meantime Brother Jake Tobin discreetly bent his attention upon the honey and fried chicken on the supper table, and Rick Tyler fumed in silence.
After the news of the nolle prosequi Rick went about the mountain with his former large liberty.
His step−brothers were desirous of obliterating his recollection of their avoidance, and made him a present of several head of cattle and some hogs.
He lived at home among them, and began to have prospects for the future.
He was planning with the younger Cayces to start a new still, for a region is particularly safe for that enterprise immediately after a visit from the revenue officers, their early return being improbable.
And he talked about a house−raising while the weather held fine and before snow.
I ‘m a−thinkin’ ’bout gittin’ married, Pete, ter a gal over yander ter the Settlemint, he said, looking for the effect on Dorinda.
She was as silent, as stern, as listless as ever.
And but for the sheer futility of it he might have fallen to upbraiding her and protesting and complaining as of yore, and repudiated the mythical gal at the Settlemint.
All the leaves were falling.
Crisp and sere, they carpeted the earth and fled before the wind.
They seemed in some wise to illumine the slopes as they lay in long yellow vistas under the overhanging black boughs.
Many a nest was revealed,empty, swinging on the bare limb.
The mountains near at hand were sad and sombre, the stark denuded forests showing the brown ground among the trees, and great jutting crags, and sterile stretches of outcropping rocks, and fearful abysmal depths of chasmsand streams, too, madly plunging.
All the scene was stripped of the garb of foliage, and the illusion of color, and the poetry of the song birds and the flowers.
More distant ranges were of a neutral vagueness, and farther still they seemed a nebulous gray under a gray sky.
When the sun shone they were bluea faint, unreal blue, a summer souvenir clinging to the wintry landscape like some youthful trait continued in a joyless age.
For it was November, and the days were drear.
About this time an excited rumor suddenly prevailed that Parson Kelsey had returned to the Great Smoky Mountains.
It was widely discredited at first, but proved to be authorized by Gid Fletcher, who was himself just back from Shaftesville, where he had been to testify in the trial for the rescue of Rick Tyler.
A story of discomfiture he retailed, and he seemed ill at ease and prone to lay much blame on Rick, whose perverse circulation of diverse accounts of the escape had greatly unnerved him before his journey, and prevented the prosecution from summoning Rick as a witness, if indeed he would have permitted himself to be served with the subpoena.
The judge was testy during the trial and charged the jury in favor of the prisoner; after the verdict of acquittal he stated indignantly that there had been practically no evidence against the defendant, and that it was a marked instance of the indifference or ignorance of the committing magistrate and the grand jury that such a case of flagrant malice could get beyond them and into the jurisdiction of the court.
Gid Fletcher solaced himself by telling how Green played the fool on the stand when the judge snarled at him, and contradicted himself and cut a mighty pore figger.
Though ez ter that, the pa’son riz up an’ reviled both me an’ ‘Cajah in open court, said Fletcher. ‘Pears like he hed read the Bible so constant jes’ ter l’arn ev’y creepy soundin’ curse ez could be called down on the heads o’ men.
An’ somebody said ter the jedge arterward ez he oughter fine pa’son fur contempt o’ court.
An’ the jedge ‘lowed he warn ‘t a statute; he hed some human natur in him, an’ he wanted me an’ ‘Cajah ter hear the truth spoke one time.
The blacksmith declared, too, that he was fairly afeard o’ pa’son” and his fierce threats of revenge, and was glad enough that they were not obliged to make the journey together, for he, having a horse, had ridden, while the parson had been constrained to walk.
I reckon he ‘s hyar by this time, Fletcher said to Nathan Hoodendin, but I ain’t a−hankerin’ ter meet up with him agin.
He ‘s more like a wild beastis ‘n a man; ter see him cut his blazin’ XV. 92 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains eye aroun’ at ye, ye ‘d ‘low ez he ‘d never beam o’ grace! The snow came with Kelsey.
One day, when the dull dawn broke, the white flakes were softly fallingsilent, mysterious, ghostly invasion of the wild wintry air and the woods.
All adown chasms and ravines, unexplored and unknown, the weird palpitating motion animated the wide and desert spaces.
The ground was deeply covered; the drifts filled the hollows; they burdened the crests of the jutting crags and found a lodgment in all the fissures of their dark and rugged faces.
The white lines on the bare black boughs served to discriminate their sylvan symmetry.
Vague solemnities pervaded the silent marshaling of these forces of Nature.
The wind held its breath.
An austere hush lay upon the chilled world.
The perspective had its close limitations and the liberties of vision were annulled.
Only the wild things were abroad; but the foot−prints of the rabbit or the deer were freshly filled, and the falling snow seemed to possess the world.
When it ceased at last it lay long on the ground, for the cold continued.
And the wilderness was sheeted and still.
There were presently visible occasional ruts winding in and out among the trees, marking the course of the road and the progress of some adventurous wagon and ox−team,sometimes, too, the hoof−prints of a saddle−horse.
One might easily judge how few of the mountaineers had ventured out since the beginning of the cold snap.
There marks were most numerous in front of the log−house where Hiram Kelsey and his uncle and the two old men sat around the fire.
There was a prevalent curiosity as to how the parson had endured the double humiliation of imprisonment and being cast out of the church.
They were hardly prepared for the tempestuous fury which animated him upon the mention of the prosecution and the witnesses’ names.
But when hesitating inquiries were propounded by those of his visitors disposed to controversy,seeking to handle his heresies and gauge his infidelity, he would fall from the ecstasies of rage to a dull despondency.
I dunno, he would say, looking into the heart of the red fire.
I can’t sati’fy my mind.
Some things in the Bible air surely set contrariwise.
I can’t argyfy on ’em.
But thar ‘s one thing I kin feelChrist the Lord liveth.
An’ sometimes that seems doctrine enough.
An’ mebbe some day I ‘ll find Him.
A thaw came on, checked by a sudden freeze.
He thought it as cold as ever one afternoon about sunset as he trudged along the road.
He saw a tiny owl, perched in a cedar tree hard by the rail fence.
The creature’s feathers were ruffled and it looked chill.
The atmosphere was of a crystalline clearness.
The mountains in the east had dropped the snow from the darkling pines, but above, the towering balds rose in unbroken whiteness, imposed in onyx−like distinctness upon the azure sky.
There were vague suggestions of blue and violet and rose on the undulations of the steep snow−covered slopes close at hand.
The crags were begirt with icicles, reaching down many feet and brilliant with elusive prismatic glimmers.
He heard a sudden crash; a huge scintillating pendant had fallen by its own weight.
Chilhowee stood massive and richly purple beyond the snowy valley; above was a long stretch of saffron sky, and in its midst the red sun was going down.
He stood to watch its fiery disc slip behind the mountains, and then he turned and pursued his way through the neutral−tinted twilight of the wintry evening.
Old Cayce’s log−cabin rose up presently, dark and drear against the high and snowy slopes behind it.
The drifts still lay thatch−like on the roof; the eaves were fringed with icicles.
The overhanging trees were cased in glittering icy mail.
The blackened cornstalks, left standing in the field as is the habit until next spring’s ploughing should begin, were writhen and bent, and bore gaunt witness to the devastation of the winter wind.
The smoke was curling briskly from the chimney, and as the door opened to his knock, the great fire of hickory and ash, sending up yellow and blue flames all tipped with vivid scarlet, cast a genial flare upon the snowy landscape, slowly darkening without.
He experienced a sudden surprise as his eye fell upon old man Cayce, the central figure of the group, having heard stories of the moonshiner’s deep depression, consequent upon the disastrous raid, and of the apathy into which he had fallen.
They hardly seemed true.
He sat erect in his chair, his supple frame alert, his eye intent, every fibre charged with energy, his face deeply flushed.
He looked expectant, eager.
His stalwart sons sat with him in a semi−circle about the wide warm hearth.
All their pipes were freshly alight, for the evening meal was just concluded.
They too wore an aspect of repressed excitement. XV. 93 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains Kelsey detected it in their abstraction during the formal greetings, and when he was seated among them, ever and anon they shifted uneasily in their chairs, which grated harshly on the puncheon floor.
Sometimes there sounded a faint jingling of spurs when they moved their feet on the ill−adjusted stones of the hearth.
They had their pistols in their belts and perchance their lives in their hands.
His admission was in some sort a confidence, but although he marveled, he said nothing.
The bare and humble furnishing of the room was very distinct in the rich glow,the few chairs, the shelves with the cooking utensils, the churn, a chest, the warping−bars, the spinning−wheel; and their simple domestic significance seemed at variance with the stern and silent armed men grouped about the fire.
A vibrant soundone of the timbers had sprung in the cold.
Solomon rose precipitately.
Nuthin’, Sol, nuthin’, said the old man, testily. ‘T ain’t nigh time yit.
Nevertheless Sol opened the door.
The chill air rushed in.
The yellow flames bowed and bent fantastically before it.
Outside the gibbous moon hung in the sky, and the light, solemn, ghostly, pervaded with pallid mysteries the snowy vistas of the dense, still woods.
The shadow of the black boughs lay in distinct tracery upon the white surface; there was a vague multiplication of effect, and the casual glance could ill distinguish the tree from its semblance.
Vacant of illusions was the winding roadsilent, and empty, and white, its curve visible from the fire−place through the black rails of the zigzag fence.
Hiram Kelsey caught a glimpse, too, of the frosty dilations of a splendid star; then the door closed and Sol came back with jingling spurs to his seat by the fireside.
Be you−uns satisfied? demanded Pete, with a sneer.
Sol, abashed, said nothing, and once more the ominous silence descended, all moodily watching the broad and leaping flames and the pulsating coals beneath.
Somehow the geniality of the fire suggested another bright and dominant presence that was wont in some sort to illumine the room.
Whar be D’rindy? asked Kelsey, suddenly.
WaalD’rindy, said Ab, the eldest of the sons, evidently withdrawing his mind with an effort, she hev gone ter Tuckaleechee Cove, ter holp nuss Aunt Jerushy’s baby.
It’s ailin’, an’ bein’ ez it air named arter D’rindy, she sets store by it, an’ war powerful tormented ter hear how the critter war tuk in its stummick.
She kerried Jacob along, too, ‘kase she ‘lows she hankers arter him when she’s away, an’ she makes out ez we−uns cross him in his temper, ‘thout she air by ter pertect him.
I war willin’ ‘kase it air peacefuller hyar without Jacob ‘n with himthough he air my own son, sech ez he be.
An’ D’rindy hev pompered him till he air ez prideful ez a tur−r−key gobbler, an’ jes’ about ez cornsiderate.
She lef’ Mirandy Jane an’ me, said Pete, facetiously showing his great teeth.
Waal, said the old man, speaking with his grave excited eyes still on the fire.
I be toler’ble glad ez D’rindy tuk this time ter leave home fur a few days ‘kase she hev been toler’ble ailin’ an’ droopy.
An’ t’ other day some o’ the boys got ter talkin’ ’bout’n how sure they be ez ‘t war ‘Cajah Greendad−burn the critter!ez gin the revenue hounds the word whar our still war hid.
An’ D’rindy, she jes’ tuk a screamin’ fit, an’ performed an’ kerried on like she war bereft o’ reason.
An’ she got down old Betsy tharpointing to a rifle on the rackez Pete hed made her draw a mark on it ter remember ‘Cajah Green by, an’ his word ez he ‘d jail her some day, an’ she wanted me an’ the boys ter swear on it ez we−uns would never shoot him. XV. 94 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains An’ did you−uns swear sech? asked Hiram Kelsey, in fierce reprobation.
Beneath the broad brim of his hat his eyes were blazing; their large dilated pupils canceled the iris and the idea of color; they were coals of fire.
His shadowed face was set and hard; it bore a presage of disappointmentand yet he was doubtful.
Pete turned and looked keenly at him.
Waal, said the old man, embarrassed, and in some sort mortified, D’rindy, ye see, war ailin’, an’, an’I never hed but that one darter an’ sech a pack o’ sons, an it ‘pears like oughter be humoredan’ Ye w−wants him shot, hey, pa’son? Pete interrupted his critical study of the unconscious subject.
Kelsey’s eyes flashed.
I pray that the Lord may cut him off, he said.
Waal, the Lord ain’t obleeged ter use a rifle, said Pete, pertinently.
Even we−uns kin find more ways than that.
The pa’son mought ez well go along an’ holp, said Groundhog Cayce.
Kelsey turned his eyes in blank inquiry from the old man to Pete by his side.
We air a−layin’ fur him now, Pete explained.
He hain’t been so delivered over by the Lord ez ter kem agin, arter informin’ the raiders, inter the Big Smoky? Kelsey asked, forgetting himself for the moment, and aghast at the doomed man’s peril.
Pete tapped his head triumphantly. ‘T ain’t stuffed with cotton wool, he declared.
We let on ter the mounting ez we never knowed who done it.
An’ we jes’ laid low, an’ held our tongues betwixt our teeth, when we hearn ’bout’n his ‘quirin’ round ’bout’n the still, from this’n an’ that’n, d’rectly arter the ‘lection.
We got him beat fur that, jes’ ‘count o’ what he said ter D’rindy, ‘kase she would n’t g−g−gin her cornsent ter shootin’ him, an’ got dad set so catawampus, he obeyed her like Jacob would n’t fur nuthin’.
An’ with rising emphasis, th−th−the blamed critter ‘lows he let’ no tracks an’ ain’t been fund out yit! An’ hyar he be on the Big Smoky agin, a−finishin’ up some onsettled business with his old office.
I seen him yander ter the Settlemint, an’ talked with him frien’ly an’ familiar, along o’ Gid Fletcher, an’ fund out when he war ter start down ter Eskaqua Cove, ter bide all night at Tobe Grimes’s house.
Butbutef they never tole him,surely none o’ ’em told him” argued Kelsey, breathlessly.
Pete showed his long teeth.
Somebody tole him, he said, with a fierce smile.
H−h−he could n’t git the mounting ter t−t−turn agin we−uns; they war afeard! cynically discriminating the motive.
So he kem nosin’ roun’ ‘mongst our c−c−chillenthe little chillen, ez did n’t know what they war a−tellin’, an’ Jacob tole him whar the cave war, an’ ’bout haulin’ the apples fur pomace.
Jacob war the man, fur Mirandy Jane hearn him say it.
She hed seen ‘Cajah Green afore, when he war sher’ff.
It was a palpable instance of bad faith and imposition, and it tallied well with Hiram Kelsey’s own wrongs.
He sat brooding upon them, and looking at the fire with dulled meditative eyes.
One of the logs, burnt in twain, broke with a crash under the burden of the others, and the fire, quickening about them, sent up myriads of sparks attendant upon the freshening flames; among the pulsating red coals there were dazzling straw−tinted gleams, and a vista of white heat that repelled the eye.
Outside the wind was risingits voice hollow, keen, and shrill as it XV. 95 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains swept over the icy chasms; the trees were crashing their bare boughs together.
It was a dreary sound.
From far away came the piercing howl of some prowling hungry wolf, familiar enough to the ears that heard it, but its ravening intimations curdled the blood.
A cock’s crow presently smote the air, clear and resonant as a bugle, and with a curse on tardiness the impatient Sol once more rose and opened the door to look out.
A change was impending.
Clouds had come with the wind, from the west to meet the moon.
Though tipped with the glint of silver, the black portent was not disguised.
Rain or snow, it mattered not which.
The young mountaineer held the door open to show the darkening sky find the glittering earth, and looked over his shoulder with a triumphant glance.
That will settle the footprints, he said.
There was something so cruel in his face, so deadly in his eye, a ferocious satisfaction in the promised security so like the savage joy of a skulking beast, that it roused a normal impulse in the breast of the man who read the thoughts of his fellow−men like an open book.
Kelsey was himself again.
He raised his hand suddenly, with an imperative gesture.
Listen ter me! he said, with that enthusiasm kindling in his eyes which they honored sometimes as the light of religion, and sometimes reviled as frenzy.
Ye ‘ll repent o’ yer deeds this night! An’ the jedgmint o’ the Lord will foller ye! Yer father’s gray hairs will go down in sorrow ter the grave, but his mind will die before his body.
An’ some o’ you−uns will languish in jail, an’ know the despair o’ the bars.
An’ he that is bravest ‘mongst ye will mark how his shadder dogs him.
An’ ye will strike yer hands tergether, an’ say, ‘That the day hed never dawned, that the night hed never kem fur we−uns!’ An’ ye ‘ll wisht ye hed died afore! An’ but for the coward in the blood, ye would take yer own life then! An’ ye’ll look at the grave before ye, an’ hope ez it all ends thar! His eye blazed.
He had risen to his feet in the intensity of his fervor.
And whether it was religion or whether it was lunacy, it transfigured him.
They had all quailed before him, half overborne by the strength of his emotion, and half in deprecation, because of their faith in his mysterious foreknowledge.
But as he turned, pushed back his chair, and hastily started toward the door, they lost the impression.
Pete first recovered himself.
Wh−wh−whar be you−uns a−goin’? he demanded, roughly.
The parson turned fiercely.
He thrust out his hand with a gesture of repudiation, and once more he lifted the latch.
Naw, ye ain’t g−g−goin’, said Pete, with cool decision, throwing himself against the door.
Ye hev sot ‘mongst we−uns an’ h−hearn our plans.
Ye ‘peared ter gin yer cornsent w−when dad said ye could go ‘long.
Dad thought ye ‘d like ter hev a s−sheer in payin’ yer own grudge.
We hev tole ye what we hev tole no other livin’ man.
An’ now ye hev got ter hev our reason ter h−h−hold yer jaw.
I don’t like ter s−shoot a man down under our own roof ez kem hyar frien’ly, but ef ye fools with that thar latch agile, I reckon I’ll be obleeged ter do it.
If Pete Cayce had possessed an acute discrimination in the reading of faces, he might have interpreted Kelsey’s look as a pondering dismay; the choice offered him was to do murder or to die! As it was, Pete only noted the relinquishment of the parson’s design when he sat down silent and abstracted before the fire.
But for his deep grudge, it might have seemed that Kelsey had intended to forewarn Micajah Green of the danger in the path, and to turn him back.
Pete did not feel entirely reassured until after he had said, I ‘lowed ez ye s−s−swore ye fairly de−spise ‘Cajah G−G−Green, an’ r−raged ter git even with him.
XV. 96 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains I furgits it sometimes, rejoined Kelsey.
And Pete did not apprehend the full meaning of the words.
An’ don’t do no more o’ yer prophesyin’ ternight, Hiram, said the old man, irritably.
It fairly gins me the ager ter hear sech talk.
The night wore on.
The fire roared; the men, intently listening sat around the hearth.
Now and then a furtive glance was cast at Hiram Kelsey.
He seemed lost in thought, but his eye glittered with that uninterpreted, inscrutable light, and they were vaguely sorry that he had come among them.
They took scant heed of his reproach.
It has been so long the unwritten law of moonshiners that the informer shall perish as the consequence of his malice and his rashness, that whatever normal moral sense they possess is in subjection to their arbitrary code of justice and the savage custom of the region.
The mysterious disappearance of a horse−thief or a revenue spy, dramatically chronicled, with a wink and a significant grin, as never hearn on no more, or, fund dead in the road one mornin’, affects the mountaineers much as the hangman’s summary in the Friday evening papers impresses more law−abiding communitiesshocking, but necessary.
The great fire was burnt to a mass of coals.
The wind filled the ravines with a tumult of sound.
The bare woods were in wild commotion.
The gusts dashed upon the roof snow perhaps, or sleet, or vague drizzling rain; now discontinued, now coming again with redoubled force.
Suddenly, a growl from the dogs under the house; then the sound of a crunching hoof in the snow.
The men sallied forth, swift and silent as shadows.
There was a frantic struggle in the road; a wild cry for help; a pistol fired wide of the mark, the report echoing in the silence from crag to crag, from chasm to chasm with clamorous iteration, as if it would alarm the world.
The horses were ready.
The men hastily threw themselves into the saddle.
It had been arranged that Kelsey, who had no horse, should ride before the prisoner.
He mounted, drew about his own waist the girth which bound the doomed man, buckling it securely, and the great gray horse was in the centre of the squad.
Micajah Green begged as they wentbegged as only a man can for his life.
He denied, he explained, he promised.
Ye cotton ter puttin’ folks in jail, ‘Cajah! Yer turn now! We ‘ll put ye whar the dogs won’t bite ye, said the old man, savagely.
And the rest said never a word.
The skies were dark, the mountain wilds awful in their immensity, in their deep obscurities, in the multitudinous sounds of creaking boughs and shrilling winds.
They were in the dense laurel at last.
The branches, barbed with ice, and the evergreen leaves, burdened with snow, struck sharply in their faces as they forced their way through.
The swift motion had chilled them; icicles clung to their hair and beard; each could hardly see the dark figures of the others in the dense unbrageous undergrowth as they recognized the spot they sought and called a halt.
It was the mouth of the cave; they could hear the sound of the dark cold water as it rippled in the vaulted place where the dammed current rose now half−way to the roof.
Their wretched prisoner, understanding this fact and the savage substitute for the rifle, made a despairing struggle.
Lemme git a holt of him, Hi, said Pete, his teeth chattering, his numbed arms stretched up in the darkness to lay hold on his victim.
Hyar he be, gasped the parson.
XV. 97 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains There was another frantic struggle as they tore the doomed man from the horse; a splash, a muffled cryhe was cast headlong into the black water.
A push upon a great bowlder hard byit fell upon the cavity with a crash, and all hope of egress was barred.
Then, terrorized themselves, the men mounted their horses; each, fleeing as if from pursuit, found his way as best he might out of the dark wilderness.
One might not know what they felt that night when the rain came down on the roof.
One might not dare to think what they dreamed.
The morning broke, drear, and clouded, and full of rain, and hardly less gloomy than the night.
The snow, tarnished, and honeycombed with dark cellular perforations, was melting and slipping down and down the ravines.
The gigantic icicles encircling the crags fell now and then with a resounding crash.
The drops from the eaves dripped monotonously into the puddles below.
The roof leaked.
Sol’s bridle−hand had been frozen the night before in the long swift ride.
But the sun came out again; the far mountains smiled in a blue vagueness that was almost a summer garb.
The relics of the snow exhaled a silvery haze that hung airily about the landscape.
Only the immaculate whiteness of those lofty regions of the balds withstood the thaw, and coldly glittered in wintry guise.
A strange sensation thrilled through the fireside group one of these mornings when Amos James came up from the mill, and as he smoked with them asked suddenly, all unaware of the tragedy, What ailed ‘Cajah Green ter leave the Big Smoky in sech a hurry? Wh−wh−at d ‘ye mean? growled Pete, in startled amaze.
And then Amos James, still unconscious of the significance of the recital, proceeded to tell that shortly after daybreak on last Wednesday morning he heard a powerful jouncin’ of huffs, and looking out of the window he saw Micajah Green on his big gray horse, flying along the valley road at a tremendous rate of speed.
Before he could open the window to hail him, man and horse were out of sight.
It was a silent group that Amos left, all meditating upon that swift equestrian figure, pictured against the dreariness of the rainy dawn, and the gray mist, and the shadowing mountains.
Amos seen a ghost, said Pete, presently.
He looked dubiously over his shoulder, though the morning sunshine came flickering through the door, widely ajar.
That ain’t nuthin’ oncommon, said the old man, sturdily.
Then he told a ghastly story of a legal execution,that the criminal was seen afterward sitting in the moonlight under the gallows on his coffin−lid; and other fearful fantasies of the rural mind, which, morbidly excited, will not accept the end of the rope as a finality.
It was only when Obediah Scruggs came to their house searching for his nephew, saying that Hiram had not been seen nor heard of since he had set out one evening to visit them, that a terrible premonition fell upon Groundhog Cayce.
His iron will guarded it for a time, till some one journeying from Shaftesville reported having seen there Micajah Green, who was full of a terrible story of a midnight attack upon him by the Cayce tribe, from whom he had miraculously escaped in the midst of the struggle and darkness, he declared, and more dead than alive.
Then mysteriously and with heavy presage Pete and his father made a pilgrimage to the cave.
They pried up the bowlder over the cavity.
They heard the deep water held in the subterranean reservoir still sighing and echoing with the bubbling of the mountain spring.
On the surface there floated a hatHi Kelsey’s limp and worn old hat.
They never told their secret.
They replaced the bowlder, and sealed their lips.
The old man began to age rapidly.
His conscience was heavier than his years.
But it was a backwoods conscience, and had the distortions of his primitive philosophy.
One day he said piteously, It air a dreadful thing, Pete, ter kill a man by accident.
XV. 98 The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains And Pete replied meditatively, I dunno but what it air.
By degrees, as they reflected upon the incredible idea that a mistake could have been made between the two men, the truth percolated through their minds.
It was a voluntary sacrifice.
He war always preachin’ agin killin’, said the old man, an’ callin’ folks, his voice fell to a whisperCain! It was well for him, perhaps, when he presently fell into mental decrepitude, and in vacancy was spared the anguish of remorse.
And Pete fearfully noted the fulfillment of the prophecy.
No one could account for the change in Pete Cayce.
He patched up old feuds, and forgave old debts, and forgot his contentious moods, and was meek and very melancholy.
And although the parson preached no more, who shall say his sermons were ended? As to him, surely his doubts were solved in knowing all, and perhaps in the exaltations of that sacrificial moment he found Christ.
The mystery of his fate remained unexplained.
The search for him flagged after a time, and failed.
There were many conjectures, all wide of the truth.
Dorinda believed that, like the prophet of old, he had not been suffered to taste death, but was caught up into the clouds.
And with a chastened solemnity she cherishes the last of her illusions. XV. 99
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