The Prophet of the Great Smoky Mountains

XV.

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 farreaching 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 war n’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 abluent 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 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 aig — an’ I batted my eye, jes’ so, an’ he shet up purty quick.”

The gleam from the furnace door showed Pete’s own light gray eyes intently staring 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 had a maudlin tendency 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 I dunno whether he air cast out yit !

The constable — his big owlish head askew — was embarrassed by these manœuvres, 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 noticed — an’ ye may sot it down ez a true word — ez 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 see — Pa’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, and as he bent down to look in, 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 report — and 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 at once 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 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 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 logcabin 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 “ bald ” 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 wag 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 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 beauty— a matter of linear accuracy and delicate chiseling and harmonious coloring, for nature had been generous to her—it 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 a 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 that — nuthin’ 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 couvince him alike that he was nought to her now and that he had been supplanted.

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 giftin’ 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 chasms — and 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 further still they seemed a nebulous gray under a gray sky. When the sun shone they were blue — a 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 subpœna. The judge was testy in trying the case 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 war n’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’ eye aroun’ at ye, ye ’d ’low ez he’d never hearn o’ grace ! ”

The snow came with Kelsey. One day, when the dull dawn broke, the white flakes were softly falling — silent, 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 footprints 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.” These 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 feel—Christ 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 disk slip behind the mountains, and then he turned and pursued his way through the neutraltinted 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 semicircle 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.

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 sound — one 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 road — silent, and empty, and white, its curve visible from the fireplace through the black rails of the zigzag fence. Hiram Kelsey caught, too, 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 sati’fied ? ” 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.

“ Waal — D’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 was willin’, ’kase it air peacefuller hyar without Jacob ’n with him — though 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 Green — dad-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 thar ” — pointing to a rifle on the rack — “ ez 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.”

“ 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 dull presage of disappointment — and 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 she oughter be humored — an’ ” —

“ 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 wouldn’t fur nuthin’. An’”— with rising emphasis, “ th-th-the blamed critter ’lows he lef’ 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.”

“ But — but — ef they never told him, — surely none o’ ’em told him” — argued Kelsey, breathlessly.

Pete showed his long teeth. “ Somebody told 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-chillen — the 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 rising — its voice hollow, keen, and shrill as it 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 and 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. He was himself again.

He raised his hand suddenly, with an imperative gesture.

“ Listen to 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 to 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 weuns ! ’ 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-holdyer jaw. I don’t like ter s-shoot a man down under our own roof ez comes hyar frien’ly, but ef ye fools with that thar latch agin, 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.”

“ 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 lawabiding communities — shocking, but necessary.

The great fire was burnt to a mass of coals. The wind filled the ravines with surging waves 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 the girth which bound the doomed man about his own waist, buckling it securely, and the great gray horse was in the centre of the squad.

Micajah Green begged as they went — begged 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 umbrageous 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 hold 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.

There was another frantic struggle as they tore the doomed man from the horse ; a splash, a muffled cry — he was cast headlong into the black water. A push upon a great bowlder hard by — it 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 hoofs,” 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.

“ He 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 the house searching for his nephew, saying that Hiram had not been seen nor heard of since he had set out one evening for their house, 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 from 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 hat — Hi 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.”

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 whisper — “ Cain ! ”

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 metre, 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.

Charles Egbert Craddock.