RIVER fog clung to the low places east of Eden; and the red sumach showed, through the mists, like the colors of fire-opals. Winds that blew from the mountain were odorous of ripe fruit. Had any person dared to investigate its tangles of wild grapevines, he would have returned dyed red as blood from treading the wine-press of the woods.
No Eden County person walked there, unless the girlish ghost of Hannah Webb returned sometimes to the site of her long-deserted cabin on Old Pokeberry Creek. The mountain passes were refuge and rendezvous for an unascertained number of criminals from all the Mississippi Valley. There were men up there who had long ago forfeited their necks and would never be taken alive; so an innocent visit to the mountain-top might result in misunderstandings, awkward for the visitor. The spoils of the hills were safe. The raccoon feasted all day on ripe persimmons, laughed as loud as he chose, and thrust his fat black face through loopholes of thinning foliage, to peer at the town in the valley.
Eden was an old-fashioned place, of board-walks and buggies, of fenced-in yards where blue-grass grew seedy and tall, of box-like dwellings, and many small white churches with steeples and bells. Situated at the end of a branch railroad where grass grew between the ties, it was out of the lines of traffic and off the circuits of the road-shows.
Lucifer was not without qualification for a hero of the stage. He was a tall and muscular boy of twenty, with bold, brown eyes, dimples in his cheeks, and a handsome nose. There was about him a kind of glamour without which no actor is a great success: he had had his share of the love of women. The wild look in his eyes recorded certain weeks spent alone in a fastness on the mountain before Pelleu, and the sheriff had caught him in a trap and brought him in.
‘Now, Webb,’ the prosecuting attorney was saying, ‘your counsel has asserted that McChesney had repeatedly threatened your life. We are to understand that you were in great fear of McChesney?’
‘Me? Afraid?’ The dimples came out in Lucifer’s cheeks, and he deliberately shook his head.
On the back seat, a girl leaned forward. Her eyes, which were blue and wet as the wild spiderwort in the early morning, were fixed imploringly on the prisoner. She was his bride.
He did not see her. ‘ I never studied about McChesney!’ he proudly declared.
The prosecuting attorney was a little black-eyed man with a bald head. He smirked, eagerly. ‘Still, you knew McChesney was going to attack you — why did n’t you avoid his place?’
‘Because I ain’t never run from mortal man.’
Now, this was good logic in the hills. If a man has never done a thing, a precedent has been established, sacred as an oath. The jury was evidently satisfied.
One witness had testified that McChesney had said Lucifer Webb should never have Dorcas, if he had to kill him at the wedding. It was two hours after the ceremony that the tragedy had taken place — as Lucifer was going for his cow at sunset, with Dorcas in the new cabin waiting his return.
‘He was hid out in the hazel-bresh,’ continued Webb. ‘When I come by there, he stepped out and says to me, “Lucie Webb, I’ve swore you won’t git back home to-night, and I ain’t never failed to keep my word.'”
The prosecutor sneered. ‘Was that all he said?’
‘Yes; because then I shot him.’
With grave eyes, and an ominous immobility about his fine and cold profile, the judge regarded the boy on the witness stand. The judge was a man of forty. He had a certain dispassionate beauty, like logic. His eyes were blue-gray, his mouth was handsome, although somewhat too delicate for a man’s. Physically, as in reputation, he presented a powerful contrast to the district attorney. The little man with the oily skin and bald head was known as the cleverest liar in the county.
Lucifer turned from the prosecutor to look at the judge.
‘Attention here,’ ordered the lawyer.
‘Is n’t it a fact that you’ve lied in all you’ve told this court?’
The young men present sat up at that. In the past, to call Lucifer Webb a liar would have been an adventure, with a thrill.
The boy made a slight movement, which was cut short by the irons on his wrists. At last he answered meekly, ‘If that ain’t the truth, I can’t tell it.’
His tormentor twisted his lithe body, like a black snake, to glance at the jury-
’Well, ain’t it a fact that when a man lies steady for two days, he gets so he can’t tell the truth?’
‘I would n’t deny it to you,’ Lucifer replied.
‘Well, if you would n’t deny it, you must think it’s true.’
‘I would n’t deny it, because I ain’t never tried it, and I sholy think a man lak you are would know.’
The prosecutor flushed a dingy red. The jurymen grinned. But the judge remained immobile, classic of feature, grave of eyes.
The judge was in an odd place here. He had been called on to exclude from the evidence presented many a wild tale of the hills. One old woman had tried to testify that after the murder she had seen the ghost of Red McChesney, pale-eyed, red-haired, as in life; and that Red had beckoned her in a way to indicate that she must help to avenge him.
Especially was the judge far above his community in his control of emotion. The tie between teacher and pupil may be a very tender one: in the mountain school the judge had taught fifteen years before, Lucifer Webb had been a favorite of the teacher’s. If he remembered how he had loved that naughty black-eyed child of the hills, the judge had given no sign during the trial. He tested everything that passed by the rules of evidence.
The prosecutor turned to the judge. A sixth sense told the wary Lucifer that an unfair weapon was being prepared for him; and a red gleam came into his eyes.
‘Your Honor,’ — the prosecutor’s manner was bland and defensive, — ‘we will now show that this defendant had on a previous occasion threatened the life of McChesney.’
He turned to Lucifer.
‘On the night of the twentieth of August, Webb, did you or did you not accompany Allen Spencer and the Meighton boys to Cherry Grove schoolhouse?’
Lucifer was diverted; he smiled, and the childish dimples showed in his cheeks. He must have looked like the black-eyed boy of seven, who was always in mischief, in the mountain school, and was too proud to lie. He replied, —
‘ We all rid up to the schoolhouse, and Ally, he says to me, “Thar’s goin’ to be a weddin’ after meetin’; must be about time for it now. I reckon, Lucifer, Red McChesney, he’d lak powerful well to have you for his bridesmaid.” So we all rid our hawses in there, and the bride, it scart her so she run clear home.’
‘You were n’t looking for McChesney then?’
Lucifer’s eyes narrowed with anger. He did not believe that the prosecutor thought he had attempted any violence that night: this was a way of bringing in the story of his lawless behavior at Cherry Grove. He saw the faces of the jurymen grow grim.
’I did n’t have nothing again’ Red McChesney,’ he protested.
The prosecutor smirked. ‘Was n’t it McChesney that told, around Cherry Grove, that your father had been in prison in Arkansas?’
Lucifer felt himself trapped and baited. The prosecutor — it seemed to him — had made a chance to tell the jury that he was the son of a man who had been convicted of making illicit whiskey in Arkansas. The family had kept that fact a secret. Now the lawless blood of the Webb tribe burned over his body. He cursed the prosecuting attorney; then he cursed the law of the land, and fully showed what sort of young man he was. He was sternly silenced by the judge.
As Lucifer tried to face the judge, his passion cooled. He saw that the judge did not think he had been wronged. He saw that the prosecutor had a right to inquire into the old Webb-McChesney feud — all the rules of evidence had been kept. Over Lucifer’s heart came a wave of despair. For this case of his was not a thing to be proved in black and white: it had to do with emotion, motive, and intent.
His eyes went appealingly to the jury — he looked as if he were guilty. Now he remembered that that night he had broken up the wedding-party at the schoolhouse, the bride had not gone home alone; and before that night’s wild performance had been much that was not told in court.
Lucifer recalled how her father’s cabin had looked that night when he took her home: its whitewashed front exposed to the moon; over its porch a moonflower, with white blossoms wondering, innocent-eyed, at the lovers. Dorcas had stood in the porch. Her wide-open eyes looked black by moonlight; her hat was off and her hair whitened like silver; her mouth was still tremulous with his kisses. ‘Lucifer,’ she had protested, ‘I don’t want to marry Red McChesney, I sure don’t. But he ’lowed if I broke my word to him —’
Red’s threat had seemed so dreadful to her then, that she stopped and clung to Lucifer, crying. But before he went, she had promised to marry him.
She was crying more bitterly to-day. Her wedding hat lay in her lap, and she kept twisting its gauze ribbons and blue flowers.
The prosecutor darted another question at him.
‘If you were innocent of murder, why did you break away from the sheriff as soon as he arrested you?’
‘I knowed McChesneys too well; I knowed they’d pack a jury against me.’
As Lucifer said this, his black eyes flashed an angry challenge to the twelve men who held his fate in their hands. The prosecutor smirked.
‘ You say you were afraid of the McChesneys? Then, when you had killed a McChesney, why not escape at once? Why did you delay long enough to burn that shed-barn over the body?’
‘God knows I never done that!’ Lucifer protested. ‘I shot him after he threatened my life, and he fell in the bresh; and I said to him, “Red, are you hurt?” and he did n’t give no answer, and I thought I’d go for a doctor. So I started out of the pasture, and before I got to town, the sheriff nabbed me. And I don’t know who fired that shed ! ’
Some member of the Webb clan, he thought, had made himself accessory after the fact. He looked from face to face of his friends in the courtroom. He felt bewildered; he realized that his story was unconvincing. Finally his look fell on Dorcas. She sat with her face upturned, her round blue-spiderwort eyes running over.
A little while after that, his lawyer said the jury was going out, and they must go to the jail and wait.
Lucifer obeyed, still dazed. He was piloted toward a dirty hall, the door of which was open. Men roamed idly about there, squirting tobacco and peering into the courtroom.
Suddenly, in the path of the prisoner, darted a black kitten.
The color went from Lucifer’s face.
‘You can go back if you want to,’ said the sheriff.
Lucifer was too proud to admit that he feared an omen, but his lawyer dreaded the effect of the sign on the jury. ‘I reckon we’ll wait in the courtroom,’ he said.
The jury went out, and the spectators dispersed. The girl of eighteen on the back seat ran to the prisoner, put her arms around him, and pressed her young body against her man.
‘Don’t you be scart, Honey,’ comforted Lucifer.
‘But I’ve saw sech bad luck come where a cat crossed a person’s path!’
‘Yes, I know, Honey; you’re thinking of how your oldest sister died after that sign. But you ought to be reasonable. Cats have got fire in their fur, — I’ve saw it many a time, — and they do give fevers. But they can’t do no other harm; and there ain’t no truth, to a reasoning mind, in sech a sign!’
Dorcas was comforted, and wept softly. While they waited in the courtroom, they could not talk. Lucifer’s brain, tired out with emotion, strayed back to his childhood on the mountain farm.
The McChesney boys used to twit him by calling him ‘Lucy.’ One day he had asked Brother Tobe Jenkins about his name. ‘Wa’ n’t it a man, Brother Tobe, that was named Lucifer in the Bible? Them McChesney boys, they ’low it’s a woman’s name.’
‘He was n’t neither, Lucie,’ Brother Tobe had replied. ‘He was an angel; that’s why he had a sissy name. Angels has long hair and wears robes like a lady’s dress.’
Little Lucifer had insisted. ‘Whatall did my angel do?’
‘He was proud,’ Brother Tobe had replied.
’What was he proud of?’ begged the child.
‘ Of his long, golden hair — he got cotched in a tree by his hair. You can’t learn no more because the Bible don’t say no more, and I darse n’t add to the Bible. So you run along away, boy.’
Lucifer had gone to defend his name with hard little fists, although he knew that the stern young man at the head of the mountain school had no mercy on fighters. Then, as now, the judge had believed in adjusting all quarrels by law.
It was very still in the courtroom. Dorcas breathed audibly, close to her man’s ear. ‘I’m a-prayin’, Lucifer. I sholy am thankful this day you’re named for an angel. Looks like he sholy would be yo’ guardian angel.’
By and by her father came and took her away. Fireflies twinkled across the vacant lot next the courthouse. A deputy came in to guard the prisoner while the sheriff went to supper.
The judge returned and sat down in his place. His profile, against the sunset, looked just as when he taught school on the mountain.
Lucifer’s mother, Hannah Webb, had borne him and died of him when she was fifteen years old. He had been reared by his father and uncles. In the code of these men the greatest sin of all was failure to avenge an injury. When the schoolteacher came to the district, little Lucifer had felt in him a kind of moral beauty which had fascinated him; the child had almost worshiped the young man. One day, a rattlesnake bit him, and the schoolteacher cut and burned the wound and he did not whimper — he never whimpered.
He remembered still how the judge took him home with him and nursed him all night, like a woman.
But to-day, as ever since his trial began, the judge had not spoken to the accused man and had seemed to avoid his eyes.
This made Lucifer angry. He could hear his lawyer muttering, behind him: ‘It was a crime the way the court charged the jury. He might as well have told ’em to hang the boy.’
And now Lucifer’s tired-out mind became blank. He leaned backward in his place.
Suddenly, at the far end of the room, a door opened.
He saw the jury return, one by one; but he was numb, and could not feel what it might mean. His lawyer leaned forward, bright-eyed.
A chill came over Lucifer’s body. His muscles twitched here and there, then began to stiffen. His heart was still at its task, pumping the blood with a violence which caused great pain in his chest.
He heard the verdict.
Then he and the sheriff got up and walked out of the courtroom — it did not matter, now, that he went by the path the kitten had crossed.
Lucifer reëntered his cell and sat down on his cot. The deputy did not say anything. His lawyer talked about getting a new trial. The judge, he said, was not going to allow it; but it was a disgrace that the prosecutor had been allowed to drag in irrelevancies.
The condemned boy was glad when he was alone. Through the window to which he lifted his eyes, he could see a dark purple sky, and stars. He felt as if the stars could not go on, or the moon make its circuit, without his eyes to see.
Yet he knew that the world would be as before when he was gone — even Dorcas —
She would marry someone else. He did not think long about this. As he sat staring at the wall, he kept seeing one face. Its fine, cold profile haunted him — he knew the judge would refuse a new trial.
He was right. Two days later, he stood before his old schoolteacher and was sentenced to die. When the judge asked if he had anything to say, he shook his head.
But he did not die at the time the judge first set; his lawyer secured time to wrangle for his life in the Supreme Court.
A month after his condemnation, the snow came. It filled a certain natural fortress, up among the rocks, where Lucifer had spent some weeks in hiding from the sheriff; and a wildcat came and took the darkest place in his cave for a lair — as if she knew the owner would not return.
Still justice delayed. Pussy-willows appeared along the mountain creeks. In the leafy hollows, the ferns pushed up tiny, clenched fists. Later, the scruboaks leafed out, in dark and shining foliage. The branches visible through these leaves could scarcely be distinguished from polished rifle-barrels such as an outlaw might at any moment thrust from the dark of the covert.
Next, the woods showed white clouds of plum-bloom, with red-bud, a pink streak to mark the dawn of a summer Lucifer was not to see.
Near the window of the basement cell where he lived, in Eden, a robin began to sit on eggs. When the sheriff noticed this nest, he flinched; for he could see, also, the boy standing at the basement window, and thought how far away he would be when the young birds came.
The day the robin began to sit, he asked if his prisoner wanted to see a preacher.
Lucifer’s eyes became wistful, with a struggle of shadows in them like the beating of wings. But he was a wild man; he could not talk with these churchmen of the town, who spoke another language than his. He shook his head.
‘ Brother Tobe Jinkins,’ resumed the sheriff, ‘sent you word he’d like to come.’
The boy nodded, eagerly. Brother Tobe’s ministerial standing was injured by the fact that he was sometimes arrested for intoxication; this did not matter to the hill boy.
From the first visit of the man from Pokeberry Creek, a change was discernible in the prisoner: his spirits rose, at times he seemed almost elated. Every day, from the basement cell, Brother Tobe’s voice in prayer and exhortation rolled down the corridor.
When he came to see Lucifer, he brought a gift of chewing-gum. When he went away, he invariably carried, in his shirt, his pockets, and his boots, a quantity of earth.
Still the days rolled up, a rapidly shortening scroll. The robin began to feel life in her eggs, the reward of her faith in the destiny of life to break from its tomb. This was on Monday morning of the week which had been set as Lucifer’s last. In the high mountains, pawpaw trees had blossoms like brown velvet. The wildcat in Lucifer’s lair had young, and her kittens romped over his rifles and ammunition.
That afternoon the sheriff came in. ‘Brother Jinkins, he ain’t able to come to-day. He got drunk and some disorderly yestiddy, and I reckon he won’t git out this week. Shall I ask Brother Wade Hubbell in?’
Lucifer raised his eyes; they looked like a cat’s in the dark. He shook his head, and then forgot the presence of the sheriff.
‘The best man in this town is a-going to talk to you, Lucifer,’ resumed the officer of the law. ‘I reckon you know who I mean — the judge.’
Lucifer did not look at him.
And he did not say anything when the judge entered his cell, with the sheriff.
‘You act,’ said the sheriff, ‘like you did n’t know who it was.’
‘I know who it is, all right,’ Lucifer replied: ‘the man that put me where I am.’
‘You’re wrong, Lucifer,’ said the judge. ‘It was n’t I, it was the law.’
‘To hell with the law!’ Lucifer was trembling, and his black eyes glistened like a wet black snake.
‘I came in here, Lucifer, to ask if there’s anything you’d like me to do for Dorcas.’
The judge looked down into the boy’s face.
‘For Dorcas?’ Lucifer laughed. ‘She ’d starve and die, Dorcas would, before she’d take nothing from the man that murdered me.’ His body became tense as a wildcat’s. ‘I don’t know what McChesneys’ll do to pay you, come election; but I do know this—you charged that jury so they could n’t help but hang me. And you refused me a new trial, when you know what I told in court was the God’s truth.’ Lucifer did not believe the judge had condemned him to please the McChesney clan; he knew the righteousness of the man. But he rushed on, striking at him like a blinded animal. ‘You’ve murdered me and you’ve damned my soul. You’ve damned my soul because I can’t forgive you. All I got to hope is that you go to the same hell I do.’
He stopped because his old schoolteacher had gone gray and white, with a queer look around the mouth.
Presently the judge got to his feet, and started away from the cell; he said he had been walking in the sun and it had made him ill.
As it was growing dark that afternoon, the deputy came with a message from Brother Tobe Jenkins. ‘You tell Lucifer, fer me,’ the preacher had said, ‘the stone over the grave ain’t hard to lift. It’s ben loosened!’
A light came into the prisoner’s eyes, and a flush covered his cheek-bones. ‘Was that all Brother Tobe said?’ he asked, eagerly.
‘That was all,’ said the deputy.
Left alone, Lucifer put his head in his hands to think. His heart, which had been slow, began to beat savagely. But he was not quite sure that Brother Tobe had meant, by ‘the stone,’ the grating which covered the drain-pipe. It was to get this done that he had felt he must see Brother Tobe that day.
Darkness came rapidly. The sky was overcast, and a spatter of rain drenched the wings which sheltered four blue eggs in a bush.
Lucifer stowed away in his shirt some food which he expected to need on his way up the mountain. Once in his home fortress, he would require nothing. Supplies for months had been stored, by Dorcas’s family, in the cave. The place was approached by a narrow pass in the rocks, which none would find.
When the sheriff came for his last night call, Lucifer was again seated with his head on his hands. This was to hide his face, flushed with hope; but his heart beat so that he thought it must be overheard.
The sheriff withdrew, and Lucifer put out his light.
Eight years before, his uncle had been county sheriff. One Friday morning, little Lucifer, who was visiting in town, had hidden behind a barrel in the basement corridor, to watch the last scene of a dark drama. He had seen his uncle throw open the door to this cell. He had seen a man’s face, dead-white in the gray of the morning, and the decent clothes, which had been his best suit out in the world. The child had gone into the empty cell and had looked at little possessions left behind, but had been afraid to touch anything. All the while, he had asked himself, again and again, one question: ‘Why did n’t he dig his way out, in the night ? ’
So Lucifer was now carrying out an idea that had been in his mind since he was a child. Such plans succeed.
With a nail drawn from his cot, he scratched and bent the lock on the door. When his absence was discovered by and by, they would think he had gone out by the door.
Now he moved his cot from the wall. Around three or four stones, behind it, the mortar looked dark, as if from dampness. Lucifer carefully broke away this cement of chewing-gum, and replaced it with fresh gum, which would adhere when pressed in place from the other side. It was raining hard outside. At each fresh torrent, or roll of thunder, Lucifer paused, lifted his head, and listened. His eyes shone in the dark.
Beyond the loosened stones appeared an opening large enough to admit his body. Velvet-pawed, he crawled into this tunnel, drew his cot close to the disturbed wall, and carefully replaced the stones.
In total darkness he worked his way forward. The digging had been hard and long. At times he had despaired of ever coming to the light : all he had done would then seem meaningless and without an end. But it was easy going now.
He pushed on till a movement near him caused his body to shrink together and become motionless. Some little beast of the dark had entered his tunnel and was now flying before him — gopher, rat, or snake.
He slipped on, undisturbed, till his tunnel broke into a dry cistern from which a large drain-pipe went to the pond in the vacant lot.
At the edge of the cistern, he paused — frozen again. Sounds carried through his tunnel. Inside the jail, a few feet away, doors were slamming, and hoarse voices shouted.
Lucifer let himself into the cistern. The rain beat hard on its board cover. Already there began to be water in the bottom of the pit, which drained a block or so of land; but the large pipe in its side was dry. Lucifer squeezed his body into this.
It was as dark in here as if there had been no light in the universe. The rain overhead had a muffled sound, drearily echoed by the clay which encased his quiet body.
Once more he moved forward. His breathing almost ceased. He laid his hand — at last! — on the grating. Rain was against his face, and he could hear the frogs in the pond.
The grating gave to his touch. He had rightly understood Brother Tobe Jenkins, and was free.
The pond into which he now slipped was a bed of soft mud, with a foot or so of water, choked by spirogyra. Crouched in the water, he breathed hard, and waited for his heart to run down. The rain had put out the street-lights; Eden was a black swamp in which a man might dodge about for hours undetected.
At last Lucifer slipped out of the pond opposite the handsomest old place in Eden. The judge lived there, and only a swampy stretch, with last year’s cat-tails growing in it, divided Lucifer from the fence and the road by which his old schoolteacher usually went into town.
There was a barn on the judge’s lot, six feet from the swamp. From behind this, with no warning, appeared a man carrying a lantern.
The judge’s face appeared in chiaroscuro, somewhat distorted. Around him was a gray film of lantern light, and beyond that, darkness, as impenetrable as the mystery which hides every man’s soul from his brother.
The judge went into the barn — he had not seen Lucifer.
But Lucifer was afraid to move. He stood close under a tree in the pitch blackness of the rainy night.
Now there was in Eden a small spotted dog popularly supposed to be a bloodhound. Tradition had it that he had once, in a fury, broken to bits a box where a negro tramp had chanced to sit on the station platform; some days later it was accidentally learned that this negro had killed three men in Troy, New York.
Some distance up the road, Lucifer heard the confident yelping with which this animal always began a quest, and to which, like some other leaders of men, he owed his success. Presently, around a bend, lantern light appeared, and dim shapes of men.
A voice was shouting, high-pitched with excitement: ‘He’s taken his trail at the jail, and he’s follered it ever since, lak —’
The voice ceased abruptly. The sheriff’s lantern light had fallen on those deep prints where a man had floundered out of the swamp. After a pause, he remarked, ‘Webb ain’t far from here, now.’
Lucifer slipped under the fence and stood in the dark, by the barn. All the lanterns were lifted. Light flooded the north end of the barn and the black walnut trees by the judge’s fence. A white cow rose from her knees in the shed and lumbered off in the rain. Lucifer crouched motionless by the door on the south side.
The judge, with his lantern, emerged from the barn. Lucifer heard his horse whinny after him, heard his footsteps, muffled by hay. Then his light fell on the south end of the barn; and Lucifer knew that he was lost.
His eyes met those of the judge. Neither moved. Ten seconds passed. Lucifer fancied that the face of the judge was illumined with something more than lantern light. Now he did not feel surprised that the judge had not given the alarm.
Perhaps the spotted dog smelled a rabbit; perhaps he desired to impress his audience. He made a sudden dash forward and proceeded at great speed down the muddy road. The men followed him.
Lucifer walked away from the barn, unchallenged. He did not feel afraid. By and by he came to the creek and went across it to the wild side. Under a cloud of wet plum-bloom and red-bud, he stopped and calmly rested a while.
As he climbed the mountain, after midnight, the rain ceased and the moon came out; all the stars disappeared except one, in the east, over a pink ridge of hill.
Wild as a rabbit or deer, Lucifer loved the gay life of beast and bird among the rocks. The hills would shelter him because he loved them. He threw himself face down on the fern, and pressed his face against its wet fronds.
The sun shot over an edge of the opposite hill, and the wet oak-leaves burned red.
Now, a long way off, in the strange, early light, the figure of a man rose into view. Lucifer had said he did not believe in ghosts; but he trembled now, and without making a sound lifted himself on his hands to look. The stranger was a fair-faced man, with a red forelock over his forehead. Lucifer had known, all his life, those pale eyes, wild as his own, and always inscrutable, like a puma’s. He wore, as always before, a blue jumper and overalls.
‘Red McChesney!’ breathed Lucifer.
The apparition vanished. Lucifer saw only a tree with dark, bluish leaves and a wash of morning sun on its crown.
It was rising-time in Eden. The judge had slept little, from thinking of his crime.
Why had he, for the first time in his life, broken a law? He was greatly troubled.
When he looked into Lucifer’s face, the night before, he had suddenly felt that the boy was innocent. No process of reasoning had brought him to the point; his mind had been carried by a gust of emotion. He had even forgotten, for a moment, that it was not for him to correct the law of the state.
He thought suddenly of the story an old woman had tried to tell, about the ghost of Red McChesney. Suddenly a strange and wild suspicion seized his mind.
He could not, of course, believe that McChesney was alive. He reviewed the evidence in his mind. To believe that McChesney was alive, he must credit an amazing chain of intrigue. There had been a trail of blood, made by dragging a body into the shed. In the ashes of the shed, things had been found that proved McChesney’s body had been burned there: part of the revolver he carried, a metal tag from his belt. Imagination constructed a theory: McChesney had dragged himself, badly wounded, into that shed. He had fired it and crawled away to the hills. All this, and his hiding for the winter, had had no purpose but to get his rival hanged.
The judge looked into his own heart, whereby he understood human nature. He would not have dreamed of acting in such a way; the thing was absurd. Lucifer was guilty.
Yet he was not sorry the boy had escaped.
He looked up, and the sheriff stood at his door.
‘An old nigger woman ’ — the sheriff jerked this thumb toward the hills — ‘seen the ghostess of Red McChesney up yonder. I’ve made up a posse.’
‘To look for Lucifer Webb?’ asked the Judge.
‘Nope!' the sheriff replied with emphasis.
The judge smiled to himself. He looked kindly at the low-browed, honest man before him. But he sadly shook his head; for the rules of evidence cannot be assailed.
‘I’m a-goin’, anyhow,’ said the sheriff.