The Quare Women: Iii. The Fourth of July
ON Tuesday noon, Uncle Lot announced to Aunt Ailsie that he would go to the strange women’s Fourthof-July picnic the following day, and would take her along.
‘Hit appears to be my duty, as a lawloving man, like they said, to be thar on the hill in case of trouble, which is nigh-about sartain to come, there not being hardly a gethering in two year, be hit election or court or funeral-meeting or what not, that hain’t been shot up, and sometimes broke up, ginerally by Fult and his crowd.’
‘Oh, paw, you allus a-faulting Fulty, and him your own grandchild, and the picter of you when you was young!’
‘Picter or no picter, I hain’t proud of daddying no sech, and don’t uphold none of his doings. And if Darcy’s crowd is there, too, which hit will be, with all the county a-mustering, then hit’s unknowing what the day may bring forth.’
About eight o’clock Wednesday morning, the two started down the branch — Uncle Lot, a tall, grizzled figure in dark homespun and black slouch hat, leading, on Tom-mule; Aunt Ailsie following on old fat fleabitten Darb. Profiting by the quare women’s example, she had discarded the hot brownlinsey dress in favor of an everyday one of blue cotton; but she still clung to the black sunbonnet and light-print apron — inevitable badges of the respectable married woman.
When they arrived at The Forks, the one street was lined with nags, — they could scarcely find two palings to tie Tom and Darb to, — and a stream of people was zigzagging up the steep hill behind the court house. Uncle Lot went on up, while Aunt Ailsie stopped at the hotel for her daughter, Cynthy Fallon, whom she found in the kitchen frying chicken, while three or four of the girls packed baskets. Cynthy was complaining: —
‘Fulty, he allus has so many to feed, jest pine-blank like his paw — all them boys that runs with him, and then a big gang more he’s sartain to ax to eat. I allow to feed anyhow fifty.’
‘You go wash and dress and I’ll fry what ’s left,’ insisted Aunt Ailsie.
Half an hour later, the two started up with their heavy baskets. Cynthy, too, wore a black sunbonnet and print apron; and from their appearance it would have been impossible to say which was mother, which daughter. If anything, Aunt Ailsie looked the younger, Cynthy’s face being so lined and drawn from the troubles she had had as Fighting Fult’s wife and widow.
The first thing they saw as they toiled up past the deserted tents was a tall pole, with the great flag which usually hung in the large tent flying before the breeze. It was set beside the flat rock, just at the top of the ascent, which the women had named Pulpit Rock. Beyond, on the level top of the spur, were numbers of seats made by laying saplings across logs; and here elderly folk and mothers with babies were tightly packed, while hundreds wandered about or sat under the trees or against the small, latticed gravehouses; for the spur-top was also a burying-ground.
The two women, Virginia and Amy, who sat on a puncheon-bench beside the rock with Uncle Ephraim Kent between them, beckoned for Aunt Ailsie and Cynthy to join them. A solid phalanx of young people, whom Aunt Ailsie recognized as the singing class, stood beneath the flag, all wearing sashes of red, white, and blue across shoulders and breasts. Fult was in the front line, beside his delicate-featured sweetheart, Aletha.
Aunt Ailsie leaned forward and said anxiously, ‘Lot, he’s sartain thar ’ll be trouble; he says some of the boys will get liquor, shore, and then—’
‘I’ m not very much afraid,’ replied Amy. She turned to little John Wes, Cynthy’s five-year-old, who was perched on the rock behind her. ‘Tell Fult to step here,’ she said.
He came forward, looking very handsome, his dark beauty set off by the bright colors of his sash.
‘Your grandparents fear drinking and trouble here to-day,’ Amy said.
Fult drew himself up. ‘I have give my word,’ he said, ‘not only that thar won’t be no drinking and trouble on the hill to-day by me and my friends, but that nary drap of liquor shall be fotched up here by nobody. Me and t’ other boys have been scouting around all morning, meeting folks as they rid in, and going into saddlebags and coatpockets, and warning all hands that we aim to have peace on the hill to-day if hit takes cold steel to get hit. And Charlie Lee and two more boys air still spying around for hit, whilst I sing.’
This astonishing transformation of peace-breakers into peace-compellers laid Aunt Ailsie’s fears. A little later, however, when she saw Darcy Kent, Fult’s archenemy, come up with the pretty young woman who presided over the cooking-tent, and sit down not twenty feet from Fult, anxiety again awoke.
‘Hit gives me a spell to see them two so nigh together,’ she whispered to Cynthy.
The latter cast a glance of cold, withering hatred at Darcy. ‘ ’Pears like he ’s trying to get him a fotched-on gal,’ she sneered.
But the programme was already beginning, with the singing of the‘StarSpangled Banner’ by the class, Fult’s rich voice leading. Then followed a prayer by Uncle Lemmy Logan, an Old Primitive Preacher. Then the reading of the Declaration of Independence by Lawyer Nath Gentry, and a song and march by fifty little kindergartners who aroused more enthusiasm than any of the performers; then Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, read, somewhat haltingly but most impressively, by Uncle Lot. Then more patriotic songs by the class, and an oration, ‘The Founding of Our Nation,’ by Robert Galbreth, a young lawyer just returned from Law School.
All had gone finely so far. Everybody was reassured by seeing Fult and Darcy in such conspicuous and peaceable proximity, and attention was rapt, even the scores of babies being quiet. Then, when everybody hung breathless upon the orator’s words, and he was just launching into his peroration, three loud pistol-shots were fired in the immediate rear of the crowd. Instant panic fell. Women, without a word, seized their smaller children and scuttled down the hill like rabbits; men sought the shelter of trees, all save a compact group, headed by Darcy and Uncle Lot , which made for the scene of the trouble. Aunt Ailsie wrung her hands.
‘ I seed Fulty leave the singers a little grain ago,’she said; ‘I’ll warrant hit ’s him!’
It was. They found Fult bending, pistol in hand, over a prostrate young man. ‘Hit’s Charlie Lee, my best friend,’ he said. ‘He holped me sarch all comers for liquor this morning, and then I left him and two more to patrol the hill whilst I sang. First thing I knowed, I seed him behind a tree tipping a bottle, and gathered that he was drinking some he had tuck off of somebody and, knowing his weakness, I felt sartain he ’d never stop till he was crazy drunk. I had give my hand to the women thar would be no drinking on the hill, and there was n’t but one thing to do — take hit away from him. When I come back to do so, he already had enough in him to be mean, and refused to give hit up; and when I tried to take it anyhow, he drawed on me. I seed then the onliest thing to do was to shoot the pistol out of his hand, which I done, scaring him pretty bad, and maybe grazing two-three of his fingers, but not hurting him none to speak of. Hit was the only way.’
Sure enough, while Charlie’s hand was bleeding profusely, it was found that there was not even a bone broken.
‘Where ’s the fotched-on nursewoman?’ was the cry.
But she was already at hand, with a small first-aid outfit; the fingers were quickly bandaged, and Charlie, sobered by the shock and extremely shamefaced, was soundly berated by Fult for his faithlessness.
And now arose a dilemma. By rights Darcy, being sheriff, should have placed both disturbers of the peace under arrest. He made no move, however. A hand was placed upon his arm, and Uncle Ephraim whispered, —
‘Don’t do nothing at all; hit would start a battle that would never end.’
Then the old man stepped forward, and spoke authoritatively.
‘Fult here desarves a vote of thanks from the citizens of this county for keeping the peace here on this hill today, and not having hit broke up by even his best friend. In the name of the people, and the women, I thank him.’ He solemnly offered a hand to the boy, who took it, flushing.
Uncle Lot also stepped forward. ‘I hain’t never in life seed you do nothing I tuck pride in before,’ he said to his grandson; ‘but you done hit to-day when you went pine-blank again’ your feelings and your friendship to maintain the peace.’ He also put forth his hand, which Fult accepted as one in a daze.
In fifteen minutes the women and children were all back, relieved and smiling, and the young lawyer was completing his peroration. There was then a slight pause in the proceedings, while everybody talked of the panic and its happy ending.
Then, very slowly, Uncle Ephraim Kent, a notable figure, with his mane of white hair, his crimson huntingjacket, his linen trousers and moccasins, his tall, lean body very little bent by the passing of eighty-two years, mounted the pulpit-rock and faced the audience.
‘Citizens and offsprings,’ he began, ‘hit were not in my thoughts to speak here in this gethering to-day, even though the women axed and even begged me so to do. I never follered speaking, nor enjoyed listening at the sound of my own voice, the weight of no-larning allus laying too heavy upon me. But carcumstances has riz and sot up lines of thought that calls for the opening of my mind to you, and I will therefore do the best I am able.
‘And firstways I will say how I rej’ice t hat them shots that brung fear to our hearts to-day was good shots, and not bad ones, fired to keep the peace by one that has too often follered breaking hit. And I ’ll say furder that, in my opinions, he never would have broke hit that first time but for old, ancient wrongs, done afore he seed the light; sins of the fathers, visited down on the children, and ketching ’em in a quite they can’t hardly onravel.’
The audience, well-knowing that the old man referred to the killing of his son, Rafe, by Fult and to the previous warfare between Kents and Fallons, listened breathless.
‘But,’ continued Uncle Ephraim, ‘let me leave that sorrowful tale for a spell, and go back to the good old days when there wa’n’t no sech things as wars betwixt friends and neighbors — the days when our forbears first rid acrost the high ridges from Old Virginny or North Cyar’liny and along these rocky creeks and tuck up land in these norrow valleys. A rude race they was, but a strong, with the blood of old England and bonny Scotland in their veins, and in their hearts the fear of naught; a rude race, but a free, chasing the deer and the b’ar and the wild turkey and the Indian, tending their craps with a hoe in one hand and a gun in t’other; a rude race, but a friendly, banding together again’ all foes, helping one another in all undertakings. Some of ’em, like my grandsir, the old cap’n, come in to live on land that was granted ’em because they had fit under Washington; t’ others jest wandered in and tuck up what pleased ’em.
‘Well, atter they settled theirselves in this rugged, penned-in land, then what happened to ’em? Well, right thar was the trouble, nothing never happened. Here they was, shut in for uppards of a hunderd year, multiplying fast, spreading up from the main creeks to the branches and hollows, but never bettering their condition — you might say, worsening hit. For before long the game was all kilt off, and life become the turrible struggle hit still is, jest to keep food in our mouths, raising craps on land that’s nigh st raight-up-anddown, like we have to. And while a many of the first settlers, like my grandsir, had been knowledgeable men, with laming, their offsprings growed up in the wilderness without none, because there wa’n’t no money to send the young-uns out to school, or to fotch larning in to ’em. And the second crap, of which I was one, was wusser and ignoranter still, being raised up maybe like me, eighty mile from a schoolhouse or church house; and the third was wusser and meaner yet, and so on down to now, when they hain’t no better, though there is a few pindling deestrict schools here and yan.
‘And about the onliest times in all them years our folks found out thar was a world outside these mountains was when the country sont in a call to fight hit’s battles. Then we allus poured forth, rej’icing—like when thar was trouble agin with the British, and we mustered under Old Hickory behind them cotton-bales and palmetty-logs at New Orleens; and then later, when Mexico got sassy; and then when the States tuck sides and lined up, you know how we fit through them four year — mostly for the Union; this here stiff right arm I fetched back remembers me of hit; then thar ’s this here leetle war in Cuby, too, not long finished.
‘All of which proves we air a brave and fighting race. And if the fighting had stopped with wars for our country, all would have been well. But, citizens and offsprings, hit never stopped thar. You all know how, when thar wa’n’t no outside wars to keep us peaceified, there was allus them amongst us, for thirty year and more, that could n’t take no satisfaction in life onless they was starting wars amongst theirselves.
‘And right here you will say to me, “Uncle Ephraim, begin at home.” Which is but true and just. For well I know the part my offsprings has bore in the troubles of this country, and that the Kents, which used to be a peaceable gineration, has come down to be a mean one. But, friends, hit never was with my counsel or consent. I have loved peace and pursued hit. But all in vain. War hit raged hither and yan; battles was fit all over the county; and here at The Forks, many was kilt — three of my sons amongst ’em — and many a more wounded, and sorrow was brung to many hearts. Hit was not until Fighting Fult and my son Rafe was both kilt, that we had a taste of peace. Then, for a spell, whilst young Fult. was down at Frankfort , and fighting in Cuby, we rested; and oh, what a joyful rest hit was!
‘Then young Fult come back, and sad times begun again — not that I am faulting him for hit, for Darcy, being older, ought to have knowed better than to sarve them warrants on him in the first place. Hit was like throwing fire in gunpowder. In my opinion, if the boy had been let alone a spell, to kindly work off his youth and sperrits, he ’d’a’ soon settled down. But he wa’n’t, and the war hit flamed up again, and for nigh two year we have seed trials on top of tribulations. As I said afore, I hain’t blaming neither boy — both was bitter-hearted from the family hate which they had drawed in, you might say, with their mothers’ milk; both had loved their paws; both had lost them; revenge was naetural. But if ever a people was wore out with wars and troubles, we air them people; if ever folks yearned and pined and prayed for peace, we air them folks.
‘Yes, many ’s the time, walking the ridge-tops, standing up yander on the high rocks, I have looked down on the valley of Troublesome 1 and agonized in sperrit over hit, calling upon the God of Israel to send us help and peace. Many ’s the time, too, up there, I have dreamed dreams and seed visions.
‘People under the shadow of my voice, — all you that the mountains has give birth and suck to, — you know what I mean. Though we air ignorant folk, not able to get much acquainted with God through his written Word, yet He hain’t never left us without a witness; He hain’t never failed to speak to our minds and our hearts. In the high, lifted-up places, gazing out over the green mountaintops, with maybe the sun-ball drapping low in the west, and the clouds and the elements all a-praising Him in their beauty; or maybe of a cold winter’s day, with the whole world white and the snow a-sparkling and the shadows deep-blue in the hollows, He talks to us; He shows us things that no levellander don’t know nothing about, or get no inkling of — visions, and dreams, and things to come. You have all, even the meanest, kotched a glimp of ’em. For we air a seeing people.
‘And several times in sech visions, friends, I have beheld down there below, in the valley of Troublesome, all manner of peaceful and happy homes, where every man had his mind made up to let liquor and guns alone, and the women folks tended their offsprings in the fear of the Lord, and even the young was too busy getting larning to be briggaty and feisty.
‘ I allow, moreover, that there is but few here that, in their better hours, hain’t beheld and wished for the same. But how hit was to come about, did n’t appear. We wa’n’t able to help ourselves, or bring about a change; hit was like a landslip; things had got too much headway to be turnt back. We needed outside help, but where hit was to come from, nobody knowed. But from the time I were a leetle shirt-tail boy, hoeing com on yon hillsides, I have had faith to believe the Lord would send hit in some time, from somewheres, and have never ceased a-praying for hit.
‘And in the week past, friends, sence these here women tuck up their abode with us, hit has appeared like my prayers was answered, my visions a-coming true. I hain’t heared a gun fired off sence that first night they come in; I have seed the boys that ginerally drinks and fights and shoots (because they hain’t got nothing better to do) all a-gethered in, happy and peaceable, singing and playing and even sewing; and the gals, that is apt to idle and squander their time, taking joy in larning how to cook right vittles and dig out dirt; and the older folks likewise waking up to things they never heared of before; and me myself, — which hit don’t seem noways possible, but yet hit is true, — me, that nigh a lifetime ago had give up all hope of ever being knowledgeable; me, with you might say both feet in the grave, becoming a man of larning. For the women here has already teached me my letters, and I’m a-studying on Page 3 of my Primer; and before the summer passes I ’ll be a-reading in my grandsir’s old yaller Bible I have churrished so long, praise the Lord!
‘ In all which, friends, I see the hand of the Almighty. Hit is Him that has sont these women in to us; hit is Him that has led ’em along the rough way to our help; hit is Him that has answered my long-raised prayers.
‘Now, the Lord having done his part so complete, and these here women a-doing theirn, what about ourn ? Deep down in our hearts, don’t we feel to do something, too, to help along the good work and bring the visions to pass?
‘There is several things, citizens and offsprings, we can do if we so feel to. One is to treat these women kind and friendly, and incourage ’em to keep on; another is to send our young-uns in to take the benefits of what they can get. But the most demandingest thing of all for us to do, ’pears like, is to patch up our differences and troubles for the time the women air amongst us, and publicly agree on hit. I hain’t got no differences or troubles with nobody nowhere, thank God! but some of my offsprings has, and this is what I am getting down to, right now. I ax my grandson, Darcy Kent, and likewise my young friend, Fult Fallon, that has already showed sech a fine sperrit here to-day, to step forrard here, whilst I lay the matter before ’em.’
The two young men, startled, flushed, reluctant, came slowly forward, avoiding one another’s eyes, and stood, some distance apart, in front of Uncle Ephraim, at the foot of the rock. The audience held its breath.
‘ I praise and thank you, boys,’ began the old man, ‘that in these past few days, for the sake of these women and the work they are doing for us, you have turnt aside from follering your feelings and have sunk your troubles out of sight. I was glad a-Saturday, when I seed you playing in the same set.
I was glad when I seed you, and all the boys that follers you both, a-keeping peace on the hill here to-day. Hit is fine and honorable in both of you; and the only trouble is, we hain’t got no assurance hit will last, and that your innard feelings won’t bust out in death and destruction maybe the next minute. Hit is, therefore, my desire to counsel you two boys — being the leaders in the war — to declare here and now a truce, a solemn truce, in the presence of this county, for the full time the women stays with us.
‘Hatred is long and lasty, boys — you have got a lifetime before you to work hit out in. The folks of this county is plumb wore to a frazzle with fighting and fear. What they need is a spell of rest. I allow you would have kept the peace anyhow for these few weeks, out of respect to the women; but everybody ’ll feel better if hit’s agreed on in public. Now I don’t ax you to take one another’s hands — hit would be hy-pocrisy, your feelings being what they air; but I do ax you both to jine hands with me, and give your solemn word not to take up the war again in no way, or let it be tuck up by your friends, while these women stays with us. Ponder hit, boys, — study on hit, — take all the time you need; be plumb satisfied in your minds.’
Silence fell, while Uncle Ephraim and all the audience gazed upon the two tall young men, one so fair, one so dark, both so handsome, and both standing as if turned to stone.
Uncle Ephraim’s voice again broke the intense stillness.
‘As I look upon you two boys,’ he said, ‘both so pretty, both so upstanding and brave, both orphants through this war that, has been handed down to you, both honest as the day, both feeling hit your bounden duty to kill each other off if you can, both knowing that, if either one had his way, t’ other’s fair body would be laying under the sod, hit does seem like sorrow plumb swallows me up, and my heart swells too big for hit’s socket, like I would gladly pour out my life here before you if hit could only bring you together in right feeling.
‘ Boys, when Amy here was a-reading Scripter to me a-Sunday, she read where hit said, “Give place to wrath — vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”; and another, and better, read: “Love your enemies, pray for them that despitefully use you.” I ax you to meditate on them words in days to come, to open up your hearts and your minds to ’em. Not now, — the day is still far off when you can accept sech idees, love being a puny-growing and easykilled plant. I don’t ax for nothing of that kind now. All I request is your word calling a truce while the women stays. All I ax is for you to think about the county and forget yourselves. Do you, Darcy, my offspring, and the oldest, of the two, feel to give me your hand on hit?’
Darcy, flushed and then pale, reached up and slowly laid a hand in his grandfather’s. ‘I do,’he said, firmly.
Fult did not wait to be asked. ‘Me, too,’ he said, taking Uncle Ephraim’s other hand. Then, impulsively, ‘And I’ll say furder, Uncle Ephraim, that if all the Kents was like you there never would have been no war.’
‘There would not,’ repeated Uncle Ephraim, emphatically, clasping the hands of the two.
He looked out over the assembly. ‘Citizens of this county,’ he said, ‘you have witnessed this solemn covenant this day made and sealed in your presence. And I call upon all here that, has ever tuck sides or had hard feelings to see to hit that they keep the truce their leaders has agreed on, and make hit stand. And I hereby declare peace in this county for the time these women stays with us. And now, may the Lord dig round our hearts with the mattock of his love, till the roots goes to spreading, and the sop goes to rising, and the leaves buds out, and the blossoms of love and righteousness shoots forth and abounds in all our lives!’
- It seems well to call the creek by its right name. In an earlier paper it has appeared as Perilous.—THE EDITOR.↩