ON a certain steep and savage slope of the Great Smoky Mountains, the primeval wilderness for many miles is unbroken save by one meagre clearing. The presence of humanity upon the earth is further attested only by an humble log cabin, high on the rugged slant. At night the stars seem hardly more aloof than the valley below. By day the mountains assert their solemn vicinage, an austere company. The clouds that silently commune with the great peaks, the sinister and scathing deeds of the lightnings, the passionate rhetoric of the thunders, the triumphal pageantry of the sunset-tides, and the wistful yearnings of the dawn aspiring to the day, — these might seem the only incidents of this lonely and exalted life. So august is this mountain scheme that it fills all the visible world with its massive multitudinous presence ; still stretching out into the dim blue distances an infinite perspective of peak and range and lateral spur, till one may hardly believe that the fancy does not juggle with the fact.
One day a sound impinged suddenly upon its impressive silence, — faint and far, but even in its echo charged with alien suggestions; not akin to the woods or the waters, to the cry of beast or of bird; subtly at variance with the mountain solitude, imposed upon it, neither of its essence nor its outgrowth. A soul informed the sound, for it was the voice of a man singing aloud in the wilderness, — singing with so ecstatic a fervor, with tones so robust and full, that distant peaks were voiced with fugue-like feignings, rising to sudden outbursts and sinking to silence, as the melody waxed or waned. It swung and swayed in rhythmic cadences across the valley. It might have seemed a spirit in the air, for with the hymning echoes it was hard to say whence it came. But two mountaineers, standing beside the fence of the little cornfield in the clearing, gazed expectantly up the road, that, precarious and rocky, ran along the verge of the slope. For the song grew louder and more distinct, and presently in its midst was heard the beat of rapid hoofs. A moment more, and the young psalmist came around a curve, galloping recklessly down beneath the fringed boughs of the firs and the pines, still singing aloud; the reins upon his horse’s neck, his rifle held across the pommel of the saddle, his broad hat thrust upon the back of his head, his eyes scarcely turning towards the men that stood by the wayside.
He had evidently not intended to stop, but one of them threw up his arm and hailed him.
“Hy’re, Teck ! hold up ! ”
The rider drew rein. The rapt expression of his countenance abruptly changed. He fixed imperative, worldly eyes upon the speaker. They were deeply set, of a dark blue color, full of a play of expression, and despite the mundane intimations of the moment they held the only suggestions in his face of a spiritual possibility. He had a heavy lower jaw, stern and insistent. A firm, immobile mouth disclosed strong, even teeth. His nose was slightly aquiline, and he had definitely marked black eyebrows. His short dark beard, worn after the manner common in the region, and the usual brown jeans garb, lent his face no similarity to the faces of the others. There was a strong individuality, magnetism, about him, and before his glance the peremptory spirit of his interlocutor was slightly abated. It was only after he had demanded, “ What ye want ? ” that he was asked in turn, —
“ Whar ye been ? ”
“ Been a-huntin’,” said Teck Jepson. He laid one hand upon the barrel of his long gun on the pommel of his saddle, as if to call attention to it.
“ Did n’t ye git nuthin’ ? ”
“ Naw. I tuk ter studyin’ ’bout’n the Bible, an’ a-singin’, an’ I warn’t a-goin’ ter thwart the sperit. I ain’t tuk aim this day.”
There was so obvious a pride in this statement that it imposed upon the others as a valid source of satisfaction.
They all looked meditatively at the spaces of the sunlit valley for a moment. The shadow of a great wing flickered by. A cow-bell jangled from the slope below.
“ Waal, I expec’ Ben hyar mought hev his say-so ’bout’n studyin’ on the Bible, jes’ in the time fur pullin’ fodder,” suggested Eli Strobe.
He was the constable of the district, a heavy, thick-set fellow, forty years of age, perhaps, and of medium height. He had a large head and a certain lowering side-glance, barely lifting the lids of his slow dark eyes with a sullen, bovine expression. He carried himself in a deliberate, pondering manner, and with bated aggressiveness. He wore his broad black wool hat pulled far over his brow. His boots were drawn to the knee over his blue jeans trousers, and were graced with large spurs. His features were straight and regular, handsome in their way, and his face was characterized by a sort of surly dignity. He stood sturdily in the road, with his hands in his pockets, and looked up with his slow glance from under the brim of his hat at the horseman.
Jepson lifted his head loftily. “ I’d ruther be in the wilderness with the sperit than with the gleaners in the richest fields o’ the yearth ! ”
Despite a sanctimonious twang imitated from the circuit rider, his voice in speaking betokened his gift in song. It was rich and low, and as smooth as velvet.
The constable, at a spiritual disadvantage, recanted with acerbity. “ I reckon so ! Ennybody else would, too. Ye talk ez ef nobody hed n’t no religion but yerse’f.”
“ Laws-a-massy ! ” exclaimed Jepson’s half-brother, Ben Bowles. “ Laws-amassy ! whenst Teck gits ter studyin’ ’bout the Bible-folks, I’d jes’ ezlief he’d wander ez work. He talks ter me till them tales hender me mighty nigh ez much ez him. No fodder sca’cely would hev been pulled hyar ter-day ef he hed stayed.”
The mention of his work reminded him of it anew. As he stood in the turn-row, he began to strip from the stalwart stalks of the Indian corn, tasseled far higher than his head, the long bluegreen and glossy blades, rustling at a touch and shining in the sun. He was in his shirt-sleeves, a gaunt, shambling fellow, with yellow beard and hair, and long, tobacco-stained teeth; he had a docile, acquiescent face and a temporizing blue eye. Few men could contrive to agree with both Jepson and Strobe, but to Ben Bowles no miracle of trimming was impossible. The corn was fine ; the heavy ears, swathed in their crisp husks and crested with sun-embrowned silk, hung far from the stalks, about which trumpet vines twined, the blossoms flaunting scarlet. There even peered out now and then the tender blue eyes of morning-glories, still open, abloom in the dank shadow. The more prosaic growth of pumpkins was about the roots, and sometimes Bowles caught his awkward feet in the vines, and added a stumble to his shamble.
“The sperit hev been with me strong, — mighty strong, ter-day,” said Teck Jepson suddenly. “ I hev been studyin’ on Moses, from the time he lef’ the saidges by the ruver bank,” he added, bridling with a sentiment that was strikingly like the pride of earth. Then, as he gazed down at the landscape, his face softened and grew pensive.
The great ranges were slowly empurpled against the pale eastern horizon. delicately blue, for the sun was in the western skies. How splendidly saffron those vast spaces glowed ! What purity and richness of tint! Here and there were pearly wing-like sweeps of an incomparable glister ; and the clouds, ambitious, must needs climb the zenith, with piled and stately mountainous effects, gleaming white, opaque and dazzling. The focal fires of the great orb were unquenched, and still the yellow divergent rays streamed forth; yet in its heart was suggested that vermilion smouldering of the sunset, and the western hills were waiting.
“ ’T war tur’ble hard on Moses,” said Teck Jepson dreamily, “ when the Lord shut him out’n Canaan, arter travelin’ through the wilderness. Tur’ble, tur’ble hard ! ”
There was naught in the scene to suggest to a mind familiar with the facts an Oriental landscape, — naught akin to the hills of Judæa. It was essentially of the New World. Its structure was peculiar to the Great Smoky Mountains, and its type could not be found beyond their limits. Yet ignorance has its license. It never occurred to Teck Jepson that his Biblical heroes bad lived elsewhere. Their history had to him an intimate personal relation, as of the story of an ancestor in the homestead ways and closely familiar. He brooded upon these narrations, instinct with dramatic movement, enriched with poetic color, and localized in his robust imagination, till he could trace Hagar’s wild wanderings in the fastnesses; could show where Jacob slept and piled his altar of stones; could distinguish the bush, of all others on the “ bald,” that blazed with fire from heaven, when the angel of the Lord stood within it. Somehow, even in their grotesque variation, they lost no dignity in their transmission to the modern conditions of his fancy. Did the facts lack significance because it was along the gullied red clay roads of Piomingo Cove that he saw David, the smiling stripling, running and holding high in his hand the bit of cloth cut from Saul’s garments, while he had slept in a cave at the base of Chilhowee Mountain ? And how was the splendid miracle of translation discredited because he believed that the chariot of the Lord had rested in scarlet and purple clouds upon the towering summit of Thunderhead, that Elijah, the man who should not taste of death, might thence ascend into heaven ?
He mistook the dramatic instinct, that entranced him with these splendid epics, for religion. He sang loud and long in the meetings, with a rich voice and a fervid indorsement of the sentiment of the rude hymns, but he told few experiences ; his soul seemed untroubled, unstirred ; he neither shouted nor exhorted others, and in the midst of exhortation he often dropped asleep. But if the text were from the Old Testament, rich in narrative, his fine head was alert, his eyes grew eager and intent; he would lean forward, to lose no word, his hand on the back of the bench in front of him, and often his strong hand trembled. He was an earnest advocate of education. " Let the Bible be read ! ” he would exclaim in a thunderous, coercive voice, strong with the sincerity of his own wish to read. For he was sometimes aware that he carried with him broken impressions of the stories that emblazoned his mind. Then his quick supplementing fancy would unconsciously assert itself anew, the rift would close, and the continuity would stretch forth perfected.
His was the mind receptive, romantic. The endowment to believe the essential verity, undemonstrable though it be, to see that which is not before the material eye, to feel the abstract sentiment, he shared with those for whom tradition has woven its fine, embellished webs, and history has penned its heroic page, and poets have sung and have soared. The gift was in the nature of a sarcasm, bestowed here. He had not even the cradle lore of other men. Niggard circumstance had environed him with all the limitations of ignorance. In these close bounds, the readings of the circuit rider gave him the only collations of connected fact, the only narrative, the only glimpse of a status of men more amply endowed than those about him ; and the dramatic instinct native in his blood vivified the meagre details, caused them to glow before him, and they served for him as the libraries of the world serve for other men.
Encompassed by the democratic sovereignty that hedges about an American voter ; knowing no rank, no gradations of caste, other than that of the sheriff , the constable, the justice of the peace — and latterly the high estate of a circuit judge had been brought to his knowledge, — it was curious how he caught from the spirit of the text the sentiment of awe and reverence for the exalted in the earth, prophets and high-priests, kings and great captains. He exulted in the scriptural pageantry. His fancy would marshal again and again the fine show of the serried ranks of opposing armies along the mountain side, when David went out in the valley to fight Goliath. The triumph would hardly have been what it was to him without those multiplied martial spectators, — nor, it is safe to say, to David either.
“ Yes, sir,” he reiterated. “ ’T war tur’ble hard on Moses. I jes’ know how he felt. Thar ain’t nuthin’ in this worl’ so tormentin’ ter the sperit ez ter be in a place ye de-spise, an’ hanker an’ hone ter git ter another. Whenst I war a witness in the court agin Jake Baintree ez killed Sam’l Keale, I fairly pined so fur the mountings my chist felt tight, like I could n’t breathe, an’ my eyeballs plumb started out’n my head. An’ when they ’lowed thar’d hev ter be anew trial, an’ I’d hev ter kem back las’ March agin, I war so outdone an’ aggervated by the foolin’ ’round o’ them lawyers, ez tuk an’ spilt the ease they hed been at sech trouble ter fix jes’ so, that I jes’ up-ed an’ ‘lowed afore the jedge ez I hoped I’d be dead afore that time.”
“ The folks laffed at ye, too,” said the constable.
“ Let ’em laff, — laffin’ ’s cheap,” retorted Jepson. He was one of those happily constituted mortals who respect their own mental attitude far more than its effect on others.
“ Waal, they ’low ez Baintree air a-layin’ fur ye ’bout’n that thar testimony ye gin agin him,” observed Strobe.
Jepson received this suggestion in the silence of contempt.
“ I never looked ter see Baintree let off from that court,” said Bowles.
“ Yes,” assented Jepson cheerfully. " The law ’peared ter hev a weak streak in it somehows, an’ the lawyers said they could n’t prove it on him. An’ I ’lowed ter the State’s lawyer ez they hed better prove it then with a sentence from Jedge Lynch.”
The constable, mindful of his position as an officer of the law, cast a sudden glance upon him of threatening surprise.
“ What did the ’torney gineral say ter that? ” he demanded pertinently.
“ He say ef he hed sech a tongue ez mine he ’d tie it ter his palate, ter keep it still,” responded Jepson easily. “But I told him thar warn’t no danger, fur ef ennybody fell out with the sayin’s o’ my tongue, the doin’s o’ my fist war mighty apt ter make ’em fall in agin. Yes, sir,” he proceeded after a pause, “ I appealed ter Jedge Lynch.” His form of expression was reminiscent of his recent experiences in the courts. “ I never got nothin’ by it, though. Folks is gittin’ so white-livered they be afeard o’ thar shadders.”
“Waal, now,” spoke up the constable, moving back a pace, and feeling at a disadvantage in being constrained to look upward at the horseman. “ When the courts — two o’ em — hev let a man go, an’ can’t prove nuthin’ on him, I say ’t won’t do fur folks ter set out an’ mebbe hang a man by mistake.”
“Whar’s Sam’l Keale ?” Jepson asked the question, and then looked casually across the road and the stream at the great vermilion sun going down behind the long summit line, far, far away, of Walden’s Ridge, — how finely outlined, how delicate in hue, against the flushed horizon. The mountains close around loomed sombre, purple, silent, and mysterious, sharers in none of these ethereal graces of color. On the rocky banks of the stream, here and there, felled trees were lying ; one protruded far into the water, and was green with moss and dank with ooze. It stirred suddenly, for some water animal had sprung upon it, then splashed again into the current, as Bowles’s old dog rushed out of the cornfield with a shrill, sharp bark of discovery. His master’s eyes followed him absently, while with a quivering tail and alert ears he patrolled the banks hither and thither, now and again uttering his sharp cry, varied with wheezes of disappointment.
“ Whar’s — Sam’l — Keale?” Jepson demanded again, significantly, and once more waited for an answer. Neither of the other men spoke. The wind stirred; an acorn dropped with a sharp thud from a chestnut oak ; a locust was shrilling from a pawpaw tree. “ Ef ye ’ll tell me ennywhar Sam’l Keale kin be, I ’ll gin it up. Now jes’ look-a-hyar,” he argued. “ Them two fellers — nobody knowed then what they war arter, but it kem out on the trial — got it inter thar heads ez thar war some silver mines in the mountings. An’ they sets out ter find one.” His lip curled. “ So day arter day they leaves thar ploughs in the furrow, an’ goes a-sarchin’ fur the silver mine. An’ one day nare one o’ ’em kems back. A plumb week goes by. An’ then hyar kems Baintree nigh starved with a-wanderin’ in the woods, an’ with a big tale bout Sam’l hevin’ fell down a hole ez ’peared ter be the mouth o’ a cave, an" he could n’t hear nuthin’ from him, though Baintree hollered an’ hollered. An’ he war afeared the law’d take arter him, kase they war a-scufflin’ whenst Sam’l slipped an’ fell. Waal, the folks tuk arter him fur not hevin’ kem straight ter tell, — lef’ the critter thar in the cave ter starve or drown. None o’ that fooled me! ”
He broke off abruptly.
Ben Bowles pulled his hay-colored beard with meditative fingers. “Ye b’lieve Sam’l war dead fust, an’ then war flung down inter the cave.”
Jepson knit his brows fiercely. “ Percisely.”
“ Ye ’low, ef he warn’t, Baintree would hev been powerful quick ter skeet out’n them woods an’ git somebody ter holp him git Sam’l out, ’thout waitin’ a week ! ”
“ Jes’ so ! ”
The constable put in suddenly ; his loyalty to the law was enlisted, and he felt it his bounden duty to support its decisions, with the weight of his personal opinion.
“ Baintree ’lowed Sam war dead, or hed sunk spang through the yearth, kase he would n’t answer. The boy war 'feared ter tell. He would n’t even tell a-fust ez they war a-scufflin’ an’ a-playin’. An’ ez the jury ’lowed he warn’t guilty, I feel ez ef he ought ter be let ter go.”
“ Whar ’s — Sam’l — Keale ? ” demanded Jepson once more.
Neither answered. The shrilling of the cicada persisted sharply. Only the rim of the sun showed above the distant blue mountain; the soft suffusions of light upon the great valley were reddening, and a sense of impending shadows, not yet falling, was upon the air. Night was pluming her wings, to spread them erelong. A point of light suddenly scintillated in the dark flow of the mountain stream, for the poetic evening star — how serene ! — was in the sky. What sense of melancholy had pierced the group of pines hard by ? Their fringes were astir against the sky, and a monody, all tenderly subdued and subtly mournful, was on the air.
“ He kem over yander ter the blacksmith shop las’ Wednesday,” Jepson resumed abruptly. “ I war thar ter hev this hyar horse-critter’s nigh fore-foot shod; ” he leaned over, glancing down at it, then came suddenly to the perpendicular. “ He kem thar ez ef he expected folks ter ‘bide by the verdic’ an’ be sati’fied. He kem in the door an’ walked roun’, an’ then he sot down in the winder. An’ then I jes’ riz up. I said ter him, I said aloud, ‘ Cain, I see Abel with ye. I view him thar. Ye need n’t winge away. He hev kem ter abide alongside o’ ye forever. Ye kin hide him in no caves. Ye kin kiver him in no secrets. He air yer portion. He air yer share forever! ’ An’ then I turned back ter the anvil, whar Pete Blenkins war a-forgin’ of the horse-shoe. An’ time he hed bent the bar I looked over my lef’ shoulder, an’ the winder war empty.”
A long pause ensued. “ Waal, sir,” Strobe presently remarked, “ folks ’low he hev got religion now, an’ air goin’ ter be baptized.”
Teck turned a face of amazed anger upon him.
“ He sha’n’t! ” he cried, as arrogantly as if he guarded the gates of heaven. “He shell not save his soul! He shell not reach the golden shore, whilst the man he buried in the depths o’ the yearth, ’thout nare minit’s grace ter think on salvation, air a-welterin’ in brimstun, an’ a-burnin’ in hell. He shell not save his soul! ”
His breath was short, his cheek flushed, his eye intent and fiery. All at once his whole aspect changed.
“ Hy’re, A’minty ! ” he cried out, his flexible voice rising to a cheery key. “ I see ye; no use a-hidin’. Supper ready ? ”
For there, sidling along among the weeds in the fence corners, was a small girl, much distraught by the presence of a stranger, and holding her head so bent down that little could be seen of her face for the curling tangled red hair that fell over it. She wore a blue checked homespun frock, and she carried in her arms, feet upward, a large, ungainly yellow cat, with unattractive green eyes, which rolled about while her head hung down.
“ They blows the horn at the house fur we-uns,” Jepson continued, “ but A’minty keeps one eye on the pot, an’ kems arter me jes’ a leetle aforehand every day. She knows I he afeard ter go ter the house by myself. Suthin’ mought ketch me on the road, — varmints, or dogs, or sech.”
He winked jovially to the other two men, but A’minty stood unsmiling by the fence.
Suddenly the resonance of a horn was on the air, with a trailing refrain of echoes. So far they rang, so faint, so fine, they hardly seemed akin to the homely blast wound close at hand. The moon, rising now, — a lucent yellow sphere in the pink haze of the skies, far above the purple earth, — might naturalize such sounds. Thus rings the horn of Diana, perhaps, amidst the lunar mountains. And when the vibrations died away the ear strained to hear them again; so elfin was the final tone that the succeeding interval was less like silence than a sound which the sense was not fine enough to discern.
“ Wanter ride, A’minty?” Teck demanded of his small niece.
Her shyness vanished instantly. She showed a rounded freckled face and shining eyes, and an assemblage of jagged gleeful teeth, as she ran, with the deft noiselessness of the barefooted gentry, almost under his horse’s heels and caught the stirrup. He reached down gravely for the cat, holding it by the middle, with its four stiff paws outstretched, and A’minty clutched his great spurred boot, and climbed up his long leg like a squirrel. He rode off, the rifle stayed upon the pommel of the saddle by the hand that held too the reins, while the little girl, nestling in his arms, looked back at the two men by the side of the fence, and the cat, which she clasped, turned its supple neck and gazed back, too, from her perch above the horseman’s shoulder.
The two men followed them with a languid gaze for a moment; then Strobe was moved to seat himself slowly and circumspectly on a boulder near the roadside. As he leaned his shoulder against the pawpaw tree close by, the locust shrilling high up among its branches suddenly ceased its iteration.
“ Teck air too durned smart,” he said, his own individuality reasserting itself since freed from the dominant presence of the other, — “too durned smart. Set an’ talk afore a off cer o’ the law ’bout lynchin’ a man, an’ gin his opinion agin a jury’s verdic’ an’ a jedge’s sayso. He hev got the big-head powerful bad. Axin’, ‘ Whar ’s Sam’l Keale ? Whar’s — Sam’l — Keale ? ’ ez ef enny cit’zen hev got enny right ter know or say, when the law’s done its sheer.”
“ I reckon Jake Baintree mus’ be innercent,” observed Jepson’s brother, with the mild eye and voice of the temporizer. “ Them folks hev been powerful tried. He war twenty when it happened, an’ he be twenty-five now — a year older ’n Teck. It tuk all that time ter jail an’ try him.”
“ Waal, the law is slow, — the law is slow.” The important constable deported himself with a sort of clumsy pride in the lingering exploits of the law.
“ Yes, sir; ’minds me of a slow mulerace all the time, the law does,” said Bowles.
Strobe looked at him, surlily suspicious of a satiric intent, but the mild Bowles had evidently spoken in all good faith.
“ I reckon his folks hev been powerful put ter it ter live along all this time,” continued Bowles.
“ I know they never planted none the fust year,” rejoined Strobe.
“Waal, at fust they ‘lowed it would be soon over, an’ they jes’ stirred thar stumps ter do everything fur the trial, an’ they thunk o’ nuthin’ else. Then nex’ year they hed ter pay suthin’ ter them lawyers, whether they sp’ilt thar case or no.”
“ Jake war a-tellin’ me the tother day,” said the constable ; “he war sayin’ how thankful he war ter some o’ thar neighbors, ez hed helped ’em along in thar troubles. Ye know he air so meekspoken, an’ perlite, an’ sech now ; an’ he jes’ makes hisse’f ez small ez he sets by the fire, an’ he grins afore ye kin speak ter him, an’ — I dunno.” He relinquished suddenly the descriptive effort. “ An’ I jes’ spoke up, an’ I say, ‘ I ’d be obleeged ter ye, Jake, now that the law hev let ye off, ef ye would n’t look so durned guilty.’ ”
“ What ’d he say ? ” demanded Bowles.
“ Waal, the critter changed suddint. An’ he say, ‘ I know folks ’low I be guilty, an’ it makes me look guilty till I plumb feel guilty.’ ”
The constable’s portly form had a burly shadow behind it, as he rose from his seat on the rock, for the moon was well up now, glistening through the needles of the pines, and casting a broad refulgent sheen upon the empty road ; the blades of Indian corn gleamed, as they stirred in the breeze. Bowles had unhooked his arms from the fence rail, and the two men took their way together to the little cabin in the notch. The conformation of the great slopes above them showed a neighboring peak standing definite and dark against the evening sky. Adown the wooded steeps the shadows gloomed. The ground fell away from the door in an abrupt descent, and through the uninclosed passage between the two rooms, which constituted the house, could be seen a farreaching defile of crags and sombre purple ranges in the elusive blue distances. The little cabin, its ridge-pole in a slant against the sky, with its forlorn shanty of a barn, its few bee-gums awry along the rickety rail fence, its scanty scaffolds of tobacco and drying fruit, seemed all the more meagre for the splendid affluence of the scene spread out before it on every side. “ I kin see fifty mile an’ furder in three States,” Bowles, its owner, sometimes boasted.
“ I ’d ruther see fewer bushes an’ mo’ cornfield,” his wife as often retorted.
It was with none of the complacence of ownership that she received her share in his possessions. She often satirically commented upon them, with a singular absence of any sense of responsibility for them. Although she maintained absolute sway in the household, she deported herself like an alien. The interior was alight with a dull red glow, for the cooking of supper was in progress ; and while she waited for the baking of the johnny-cake, she sat upon the step of the rickety little porch and looked about her with an idle, casual glance, devoid of any consanguinity with the objects upon which it rested. She was some twenty years of age, perhaps. She had a clear olive complexion, and dark brown hair smoothly drawn away from a broad low forehead. Her eyes were small, dark and head-like, and held a laughing twinkle in them. She had a blunt nose, and flexible lips that showed two rows of teeth, large, strong, and white. She was accounted good-looking, and had the neat and orderly appearance common to people of that repute. Her compact and well-rounded figure was tidily bestowed in a blue and white checked cotton dress, and from the “ tuckin’-comb ” at the back of her head no loose ends of hair escaped. Her husband had esteemed himself singularly fortunate to win such a prize, handicapped as he was in the matrimonial race. He felt himself elderly at thirtyfive ; he was a widower, poorer than his fellows, and burdened with three children. It was rumored in the Cove that she had married Benjamin Bowles to spite another lover, with whom she had quarreled. It is to be hoped that this unique revenge smote with due force its intended victim, but Mrs. Bowles had times of great depression of spirit, and it may be feared that her chosen retribution had given her a backhanded blow in its recoil.
It was with much urbanity that she received the constable, who was her cousin, and who had chanced to be called up into the mountain on official business, and had stopped to spend the night at his relative’s house. She evidently entertained some anxiety that a flattering report of the match she had made, and her content therewith, should go down to the Cove, and for this she exerted her tact. She was smiling and brisk as she served the supper, which was savory enough, for she was a good housewife, bland and kind to the children, decorous and deferential to her new husband ; but her manner to his brother was singularly null, which indication Eli Strobe did not fail to notice. Already there was antagonism here, and each was strong in a way. “ Fight dog, fight bar,” said Eli Strobe, chuckling to himself.
It titillated his sense of humor to remember how anxious she had been that Jepson should join his cattle and sheep and household gear to her husband’s stock, when his mother had died, and his home in the valley was thus broken up. It had been a provident and profitable arrangement on her part.
“ Ef she jes’ could hev got the vally o’ the stock ’thout the bother an’ contrariousness o’ hevin’ Teck in the house, would n’t she hev been happy ! ” Strobe silently jeered.
They sat around the open door, after the meal was concluded. The high air was chill; the influence of the stern wilds, with the lonely moon upon them, with the silent mists vagrant in the valleys, was vaguely drear, but the red flare of the smouldering fire within was genial to see, and harmonized with the sense of home. A’minty sat upon the doorstep, with the yellow cat in her arms; it was wakeful, eying the moonlight, and now and then the flickering gossamer wing of a cicada’s short flight in a few hop-vines at one side of the porch. The old dog lay at length and drowsed ; but a puppy found an absorbing interest in a toad hopping along the road, and now sat and gazed at him with knitted brows and an intent attitude, and now smote him with a festive paw and treated him to a high callow yap. How the leaves of the chestnut oak accorded with the moonlight; how they lent their glossy surface to the sheen ! The shadows flecked the road with dusky intervals and interfulgent glitter, and the great crag that jutted out a little way down the slope was half in the gloom and half in the light. Mrs. Bowles’s needles clicked, as she knitted, and gleamed in the red glow of the fire.
“ Miss me enny in the Cove, cousin Eli ? ” she demanded, flashing her beadlike eyes upon him.
Strobe thrust his hands deep in his pockets, swayed himself far back in his chair, and surveyed her with a sort of burly jocosity.
“Waal, I ain’t missed ye none,” he averred. He looked steadily at her, as if to watch the effect of this statement, and she, apprehending a jest, returned his gaze expectantly. “ I ’lowed ez Peter Bryce war competent ter miss ye about all the missin’ ez ye war entitled ter. Ho! ho! I reckon he ’lows ez Bowles air ez lucky ez a wish-bone.”
And Benjamin Bowles, limply ineffective, and feeling somehow thrust out of the conversation at his own fireside, so that he could think of nothing to say, made haste to glibly laugh too, to show his triumph in his prize; for Peter Bryce was the rejected suitor.
Mrs. Bowles looked quickly at her husband, as if to supervise the due exhibition of gratulation; then laughed coquettishly, with a great show of teeth. “ Oh, nobody expec’s ye ter take ter jokin’! Ye air so sober-sided, cousin Eli.”
She dropped a stitch, and bent forward to catch the light of the flames upon it. She drew back with a sharp cry.
“ Who put that thar stick o’ ellum wood on the fire ter burn ? Who’s burnin’ ellum ? ” she exclaimed, pointing at it.
“ ’T ain’t ellum, air it ? ” Her husband bent over in quick anxiety to see.
“ Ellum ! ” said cousin Eli laconically. “ I seen it ez soon ez I kem in.”
“ It air a sign o’ bad luck ! ” she protested, at once flustered and angry.
“ Ellum,” said cousin Eli Strobe rurninatively. He leaned forward, with his elbows on his knees, and gazed into the fire with, His heavy-lidded eyes. “ Ellum,” he repeated, his pipe between his set teeth. “ They makes coffins out’n ellum, an’ that’s why they ’low it air a sign o’ death.”
She looked at her husband for a moment, aghast.
“ Sim mus’ hev put it on,” said Bowles, weakly seeking to shield himself.
Sim was a small carrot-headed boy, whose sullen, watchful eyes and maimer, at once cowed and resentful, intimated some harsh dealings of Fate.
“ ’T warn’t Sim,” said Teck Jepson, palpably lying. “ I put it on myself.”
He had not been near the fire since be had rattled his gun into its place in the rack of deer-horns above the chimney. She looked at him angrily, apprehending the falsehood, but silently ; he returned the gaze with steadfast intentness, and she flung petulantly away.
“ Sim air a bad aig,” she remarked. “ I dunno what ailed that ’oman ” — thus she always referred to her predecessor — “ ter raise her chil’n ter be so mean an’ spiteful. She war a fool, sure ! ”
“ Waal, waal,” said the husband and father uneasily, “ I reckon she done the bes’ she could.”
It was all he dared say in defense of the dead, but urgent conscience constrained this. He often thought of her, — far more often, doubtless, than if his second marriage had been a smoother fate, — and of the terrible winter that she died, when the mountain was sheathed in ice and impassable; no man could come up or go down, and he was isolated in his sorrow. A ghastly gray day it was when he hollowed out with his own hands a shallow grave in the frozen ground, and laid her in it, with only the three babbling children to stand by. It was in some sort as an offering to her memory that he occasionally admitted to himself that his second marriage was a mistake. Sometimes he tried to look upon it as a sacrifice: the children would have frozen stiff, would have starved, would have run wild, with no woman to look after them, he said to himself. And in this half-hearted matrimonial bargain there was an offset for Mrs. Bowles’s spited lover.
The influence of the burning elm was very perceptible in Mrs. Bowles’s manner after that; for a time she was silent and preoccupied, and roused herself only to rebuke the children, unmindful of the story that would go down to the Cove. Sim and A’minty were quick to note the change of mood, and deported themselves with a dodging expectation ; but the fat Bob, a boy of four, sat before the fire, now broadly smiling, and now nodding and dozing in his chair. He was dark and ruddy, his big eyes were hazel and bright, and his hair, cropped in a unique manner by perverse shears, heightened the grotesque callowness of his aspect. The dogs walked casually over him; the cats climbed upon him, and made him convenient to reach the bowl of milk on the table ; the chickens did not scruple to perch upon the arms of his chair, or even on his knee, or his hand, or his heach The world was not easy to small Bob Bowles, but his was the temperament to make it easier. A goodtempered, docile creature he was, for he had no sensitive sentiments to assuage when the smart to his flesh had ceased.
The talk fell among the men, and presently Teck was recounting his garbled version of the preaching he had heard at the camp-meeting in the Cove. The speed that Jehu made, as he so gallantly drove into Jezreel, had impressed him deeply. “ I wisht I knowed edzac’ly how fas’ he traveled, an’ sech time ez he made,” he said wistfully. “ Pa’son never read that.”
The seeming barbarity of the old chronicles, the poetic justice meted out with so unfaltering a hand, had no puling and morbid effect upon his sensibilities. It was but the fit rounding of the heroic tale. The ghastly details, however, were an aggravation to Mrs. Bowles’s darkened mood. “ Air that in the Bible ? ” she would cry in dismay. “ Waal, sir ! I’m glad them folks air gone ! I ‘ll be bound they made a heap o’ trouble. They hed ter bar up the door, in them days, I know. Wuss ’n the boys in the Cove.”
She tried to change the theme. She rallied her amiability. She flashed her bead-like eyes at cousin Eli with her oldtime coquetry, and her desire that only triumphant accounts might go down to the Cove was manifest in her eager anxiety to put the small household belongings before him in their best light. She seemed nearer akin to her household effects as she sought to gloss over any imperfection. Her recognition of their deficiencies had hitherto been couched in the form of sneers, to acquaint her husband with the damage “ that ’oman ” had done to them.
“ I dunno what ails that cheer ez ye air settin’ in ter creak so, cousin Eli,” she observed. “ It’s plumb strong. ’T ain’t goin’ ter let ye down.” Her reassuring smile showed her strong white teeth. Its suavity was gone before its distention relaxed, as she turned suddenly to her husband. “Did ennybody ever put one e-end o’ a coffin inter it ? ” she asked breathlessly.
Bowles started, with a wild glance about the room, as if to identify the chair that had borne so ghastly a burden. “ Laws-a-massy, naw, M’ria ! That cheer air in the roof-room. What ails ye ter ax secli ? ”
“Waal,” she said hastily, in much perturbation, “ the old folks ’low ez sech a cheer will groan an’ creak ever arter.”
“ ’T ain’t disturbin’ me noways, cousin M’ria,” said cousin Eli. “ I ’ll die when my time comes.” He seemed to make an admission in saying this in a deep bass voice.
“ I dunno what ailed me ter take up sech a notion,” she observed, with a forced laugh, as she resumed her knitting. After this she succeeded in so steering the conversation as to exclude Jepson and further reminiscences of Jezreel; and she was not sorry when, after sitting for a time in brooding silence, he rose, put his pipe into his pocket, and strolled out upon the porch, then down the path in the light of the midsummer moon.
Somehow it seemed to share the lush splendors of the August, the climax of ripening growths, of fair fruitions, of rank and riotous blossoming. Never before, he thought, had it worn so rich and radiant a guise as it hung above the purple mountains; a gilded bloom rested upon its disk; this fine and delicate efflorescence softened yet did not dim its lustre. Far, far, he followed it amidst the great trees, draped from their stupendous heights to the ground with the luxuriant cables of the grapevines, the fragrance of the fruit perfuming the air. The laurel was done with blooming, but the dew lurked in its bosky tangles, and sent out a scintillating glimmer. How few the stars were ! — few and faint, for the night was the moon’s. He paused in a rocky rift in a great gorge, that he might look up to see one afar off, with a dim glitter ; and the tracings of a coil that he knew, but not as Scorpio ; and in a gap in a Carolina Mountain a planet that was rising. How long ago they were kindled, — these stars ! How many eyes had turned to them ! The prophets saw them. And as he tended sheep and lay on the hillsides with his flocks, David himself had known these lucent splendors. And Moses, familiar of the high mountains, in whose fastnesses he spoke with the Lord as man with man, — they surely shone upon that hidden place where the great law-giver lay.
“ A powerful strange buryin’,” he meditated, “ the Lord himself chief mourner.”
He paused, pondering with a sort of solemn pride that poor humanity should ever have been thus cherished.
The thought of death in the gaunt gorge, with the looming cliffs on either side and many a black rift below; with only the starveling shrubs to grow, and the moon to light the stark spaces as of a desert world ; with the white mists to hide the familiar valley, and a dark mountain to gloom afar, while the lonely sky bent above, induced a strangely isolated feeling, and the recollection of a certain forlorn fate came ghastly and drear into his mind. It was a long time ago, he said to himself, and men die daily; why should he think, with a numb chill upon him, of Samuel Keale ? He glanced upward among the black shadows, geometric with the varying angles of the jagged rock, and sharply outlined in the moon’s light upon the gray sandstone. Suddenly a moving shadow was among them : a wolf, black and grisly, with a lowered tail and a keen muzzle, stood upon the summit, and looked curiously, with doubtful glittering eyes and a quivering snuffing nostril, at the motionless figure below. The cowardly animal sprang back affrighted, as Jepson moved. He had drawn a broadbladed knife, and passed his hand quickly along its keen edge. But until his stentorian halloo roused the sleeping echoes with a thousand weird shouts, the animal showed no sign of flight. It crouched like a frightened dog; then turned, and ran cowering and silent along the summit, pausing only once to cast a swift glance backward, and so out of sight.
“ Ef ye bed been hongry, Mister Wolf, ye ’d hev kem down hyar ter see what I be made out’n. Too many good sheep an’ yearlin’ cattle pastured round them thar mountings fur ye ter git fightin’ hongry till winter-time.”
He put up his knife, but his mind was tenacious of its impressions. The wolf had added another grim idea to death alone among the mountains, in the depths of the unexplored, inaccessible cave.
“ ‘T ain’t fur from hyar-abouts,” he said. Then he took himself to task. “ I hev got ter quit this hyar way o’ lopin’ in the woods like I war bereft. I ‘ll git teched in the head, ef I don’t mind. Folks air beginnin’ ter laff at me, ennyhows, ’bout talkin’ so much ’bout them in the Bible. Las’ time I war at the Settlemint, them boys thar at the store axed me, ‘ How’s Solomon, an’ Mrs. Solomon ? ’ Durn ’em ! I’d hate, though, fur Moses an’ David an’ them ter kem back, ef they could, an’ find me so beset an’ tuk up ’bout them an’ thar doin’s. I ‘ll be bound they would n’t take ez much notice o’ me.”
As he sought to assume his place on this basis of mutual indifference, he noted a rock lying before a niche in the cliffs. It had been cleft by the freeze ; the fragment had fallen down the chasm at some distance, and he could dimly see the black interior of the fissure. Once again, the idea of death recurred to his persistent mind. This was like the burial caves of the Bible, with a stone rolled to the door of the crypt. He sat down near at hand; he was trembling with the intensity of his interest. He gazed at the place with an excited fascination. He wondered if any one could have been buried here. But no, — he would have heard of it. Besides, he was surprised now that he could have thought it, — the place was too contracted ; a full-grown man could not have been entombed in this niche.
His interest flagged upon the prosaic summons of fact. He rose to turn homeward. In shifting his position, he stopped suddenly and looked back. The moon was full on the place now, on the broken stone that had been rolled to the niche ; shining through the rift, blanching the sandstone, and showing distinctly, too, some dark object within.
He did not understand his motive afterward. He fell upon the stone in a sudden fury ; it yielded to his strength, and rolled crashing down the gorge, rousing a wild clamor in the silent mountains. He did not hear. He did not heed.
The niche was smaller even than he had thought. There were no ghastly relics, no bones, no hair ; only a man’s hat and coat, quite fresh and well preserved, — the usual jeans coat, the white wool hat common in the mountains ; but as he unrolled them, there was some vague air about them that was familiar, and he knew them for the missing man’s. When were they hidden here ? His quick imagination could answer, could paint the scene in every minute detail. He saw the skulking, guilty creature coming down the gorge laden with these garments, warm then from the form chilling fast, perhaps, in some icy subterranean current. The niche was a ready hiding-place, the great rock close at hand. And here they had lain concealed till the essential moment when the freeze cleft the rock and rendered up the evidence, — the new evidence, so long buried where the criminal had hidden it. And as Jepson held the garments aloft a recollection of his experience in the courts came to him. “ A man shall not be placed twice in jeopardy of his life for the same offense,” said the lawyer.
The undying grandeur of the mountains, their solemn fixity, the mystery that hangs about them, and their sombre silences impose upon the mind a sense of immutability, and in their midst human life seems a wavering, fluctuating, trivial thing, and men come and go with the transitory ineffectiveness of a shifting vapor.
Something of this was in Teck Jepson’s thoughts, as he stood on the river bank at the baptizing in the Cove, and looked about him at the dose-circling purple heights. He remembered many who had known them, and whom they would know no more ; and he fancied that others—half fact, half figment of his ignorant imagination—had made their homes here, who had never trod these rugged ways. And he took note, too, of the vanishing presence of the Indian and those dim traditional pygmy dwellers in Tennessee, far back in the fabulous perspectives of time, still vaguely known in rural regions as the “ little people.”
A dusky bloom was upon the vast slopes, for a black cloud overspread their summits and portended rain. All the landscape was in the sullen shadow, and wore this dull purple, or a deep, indefinite gray and brown, save that upon one of the minor ridges about the base of the Great Smoky the rays fell diverging from a rift in the clouds, — a yellow fibrous slant on the illuminated emerald tint of the foliage below, indescribably brilliant in the sudden contrast. The stream, closely begirt on one side by frowning crags, and lower rock-bound banks on the other, was black and swift and sinister, with here and there a flash of foam. It might have suggested Styx rather than Jordan, but for the congregation, standing on a pebbly beach where the county road came down in a cleft in the rocks to a doubtful ford, — the landing being effected on the opposite side, so far up stream that it was barely visible,— and but for the weird baptismal hymns and the echoing psalmody of the heathen rocks.
The assemblage had a melancholy guise : the elder men grizzled and grim, and the women with pallid, ascetic faces, barely glimpsed under their long tunnellike sunbonnets, and wearing straightskirted homespun dresses. Only in the rear of the assemblage some of the languid young mountaineers showed signs of latent but fitful levity. There were always voices enough to carry on the sonorous hymn, though under its cover remarks in an undertone were often exchanged. Above on the slope were hitched the ox-wagons and saddle-horses that had conveyed the company hither, but in the defile between the crags were two horsemen, still mounted, gravely watching the rite administered.
It was an impressive moment when the old preacher, his white hair and his lined face ghastly in the unnatural light of the day, forged out into the current, leading a young girl by the hand, and crying out in the silence, — for the song had ceased, — “ This is the river o’ death ! Come down, my sister, and be buried with Christ in baptism.”
A flickering glow of lightning, broad and faint, ran over the clouds, and illumined her pale face and her coils of fair hair, as she was slowly laid backward into the depths of the black water. The next moment she rose, dimly descried in the dun light of the gray day, exclaiming that she had risen from the dead, and crying, “ Glory ! Glory ! ” in an ecstatic frenzy, as she struggled, with dripping hair and garments, to the shore.
All the rocks echoed the shrill, rapturous cry, and “ Glory ! Glory ! ” sounded far and faint up and down the river.
“ On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand! ” The chorus was renewed, its wistful, subdued spirit contrasting with the joyful exclamation, “ Glory ! ” that still pierced its tumult.
Suddenly a sturdy, stout young man, with short cropped black hair, a bullet head, and an intent manner, and clad in copper-colored jeans, plunged into the cold water and waded out alone, not waiting to be met by the parson ; for when the old man turned about, the candidate was standing in the middle of the river.
“Ye notice how tumble brash Josiah Preen be, — can’t wait fur pa’on ter summons him,” one of the horsemen in the gorge observed to the other, “ but needs ter dash out in the ruver that-away, ez ef thar warn’t water enough ter go ’roun’, an’ he’d miss his chance o’ gittin’ glory.”
“ He be goin’ ter save his soul hisself; he ain’t goin’ ter wait on the slow arm o’ the Lord,” commented the other.
“ He’s ez awk’ard ez a peeg caught in a gate,” returned his companion. “ I ain’t s’prised none ef he gits flustrated, an’ drowns in that shallow water.”
And indeed there was a vigorous scuffle, as the candidate misunderstood the direction and manner in which the stalwart old clergyman proposed to lower his robust bulk. He was under water longer than the usual interval. It splashed and surged above him, and finally he came up, seemingly in an athletic struggle with the parson, choking and sputtering and meekly submitting to be led to the bank, shuffling and hindered by his heavy water-logged garments.
The congregation solemnly resumed their chanting, as if the rite had been administered in its most decorous method; but its mishaps occasioned great though suppressed joy to the young sinners in the rear and to the two men on horseback in the defile.
Most of the candidates were young people, some mere children, for the elders had got their religion long years ago. The excitements of religious opportunities are a choice epoch in these dull lives, and are eagerly embraced and made personal; “ perfessin’ members ” looked on at the ceremony with retrospective eyes, wise in experience.
“ Ye ’low ye air comin’ up inter a new land ! ” cried out one of the brethren suddenly, expressing, perhaps, the thought of many of the congregation. The exhorting voice had a strange staccato effect in the midst of the chanting, which diminished gradually and quavered into silence, — “ inter a new lan’, whar godliness finds a smooth path an’ needs no staff fur its steppin’ out strong, an’ the way is plain, an’ the end in view ! Oh, my frien’s, it’s the same old bank of the Scolycutty Ruver. This ain’t Canaan, an’ nuthin’ like it; jes’ old Kildeer County, whar the devil loves ter ramp an’ rage. An’ now’s yer chance ter show yer heart air changed ! Ye ’ll find yer besettin’ sins like tares in the groun’, an’ Satan a-waitin’ in the briers ter tempt yer steps. The day is dark, an’ the way — ah ! — is long — ah ! — an’ no man kin see whar it leads — ah ! Oh, be not a castaway ! ” His voice rose into song and the docile chorus followed :
Ye whom Jesus loves.”
A heavily built man of forty was one of the exceptions to the prevalent youthfulness of the candidates. He went down in a hesitant and circumspect manner, and he entered the cold water so slowly as to suggest reluctance.
“ He ain’t used ter that thar kind o’ liquor,” one of the unregenerate horsemen declared. He had crossed his right leg over on the pommel of his saddle, and he leaned his elbow on his knee, and rested his chin in his hand as he talked, looking between his horse’s intent ears. “ An’ he ain’t got no real interus’ in the lan’ a-flowin’ with milk an’ honey. He’d git mighty happy now, though, ef somebody ez knowed could make him b’lieve they hed a quiet leetle still hid up in one e-end o’ Canaan.”
“ What ailed him ter git religion, ennyhow ? ” demanded the other, whose horse was restive, bowing down his head and tossing his mane, and from time to time lifting his fore-foot and pawing impatiently.
“ His wife died, an’ that reminded him he war mortial hisse’f. His religion ’ll las’ him jes’ ’bout ez long ez he ’members his wife.”
“ An’ that ’ll be till he kin git him another one — ez ain’t dead,” rejoined his co-cynic.
The candidate assumed a port of religious joy, as he rose with a commotion of the water that reached in concentric circles from bank to bank. A yellow flicker glanced along the dark ripples, for the sharp blades of the lightnings cleft the clouds. The wooded slopes, the crags, the level reaches of the Cove, were lifted, with all their tints distinct in this unnatural, dream-like light for a moment, then sank into the dull purple monotony of the overhanging cloud. His bearded face and wild eyes were illumined for the instant, as he came struggling to the shore, hoarsely shouting that he had viewed heaven and was risen from the dead, while the faint, sullen thunder muttered among the mountain-tops.
The next moment a thrill ran through the assemblage other than the fervors of religion, or the natural curiosity elicited by the developments hitherto. A man, for whom the pastor was waiting in the stream, was coming with a peculiarly light, elastic tread down the bank, — a man with that singular pallor acquired by years of indoor life, and known as “ jail bleach; ” a tall, thin, supple figure, clad in brown jeans that hung loosely upon him. He had bright, quick brown eyes, black hair that lay straight and close about a narrow, thin head, and clear-cut, regular features ; the profile showed with onyx-like distinctness against the clouds and the dark river, in the lurid light of the day. It was Jake Baintree, the man who had last seen the missing mountaineer, and who had been tried for his murder and acquitted.
The congregation had forgotten to sing. It was in dead silence that he went down to the typical flood to wash his sins away.
Hoof-beats smote suddenly the tense and stormy stillness. The horsemen were riding down the rocky defile to hear what might be said, reining in at the rear of the crowd ; one standing erect in his stirrups, to look over their shoulders and down into the dark current, the other kneeling on his saddle.
It was not the parson who met Jake Baintree. A figure like Saul’s, taller by a head than all his fellows, with a long loping step, an imperative erectness, and a manner that would not be denied, interposed on the bank of the river, laid a hand on the candidate’s breast, and held him back.
“ Wait, Jacob Baintree ! ” exclaimed Teck Jepson. “ Wait till ye hear how the rocks hev cried out agin ye. They would not hold thar peace, though the jedge an’ the juries let thar hands fall, an’ jestice dwindled away. An’ what did the rocks say ? ”
He stood with dilated eyes, alert, tingling in every fibre, his hand still on the man’s breast, who had put up both his own to pull it down. But there they still rested upon it, as if palsied, while he fixed his startled, fascinated gaze upon the fiery eyes of the other.
“ The rocks say, ‘ Sam’l Keale’s coat!’” Jepson held up a dark garment, shaking it in the air. A tremor ran through the crowd ; a low, inarticulate exclamation burst from it. The candidate’s hands fell from the arm he had sought to clutch. He winced perceptibly, and Teck Jepson’s grasp closed on his collar. He should hear; they all should heed. “ An’ then the rocks say, ‘ Sam’l Keale’s hat! ’ ” He held it aloft. “ I fund ’em in a hollow, ahint a rock, folks, — a rock ez would n’t hide ’em, fur the freeze split it, an’ revealed the gyarments ter my eye. Now,” — he flung the man from him, — “ go ter yer baptism in brimstuu’ an’ wrath, whar the worm dietli not, an’ the fire is not squenched ! ”
He turned, and was lost in the crowd, many shrinking away in horror from the garments he held in either hand, and from his furious port and manner. For there was some sympathy for the man whom he left trembling on the bank, and attentive ears and minds, open to conviction, were lent to Baintree’s words as he exclaimed, —
“ I can’t holp it, brethren. I dunno what Sam’l done with his old clothes, nor why he hid ’em in a rock. I dunno ef they air Sam’l’s, an’ Teck Jepson don’t nuther. But ” — he subtly felt the strength of his argument — “ he sha’n’t hender me ! The devil sha’n’t hender me ! ‘ I hev got my religion. Oh, grace
is mine ! I hev got my sheer! ’ ” he sung tremulously.
Somehow the thunderstruck people did not join, and he went down into the black water to the music of his own quavering voice.
The parson stood as if petrified in the midst of the stream. The lightning illumined his white hair, and the thunder rolled once more. The clouds were in motion ; there was a dank smell of foliage in the air ; rain had begun to fall somewhere in the mountains, — a matter ordinarily of interest to an unhoused crowd so far from any shelter or habitation. But they all remained motionless, watching the young man as he waded out to meet the venerable pastor.
Suddenly the parson’s figure stirred. He lifted his arms ; he was sternly waving the candidate away. “ Until ye confess, — until ye confess ! ” he cried, striding toward the bank, lifting his voice into song, mechanically joining the rejected aspirant’s refrain, “ Oh, grace is mine ! I hev got my sheer! ” unconscious of any satiric meaning the words conveyed.
The crowd took up the chant fragmentarily, amidst the pealing of the thunder and the sharp dartings of the lightning; it was broken, too, by their movement, for as they sang they were turning toward their wagons and horses. The first heavy drops of rain were falling as Jacob Baintree reached the rocky bank, scrambling up its rugged slopes into the very drear scenes of this world as he knew it.
Charles Egbert Craddock.