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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Call Of The Cumberlands - Chapter VI
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The Call Of The Cumberlands - Chapter VI Post by :exit9to5 Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Neville Buck Date :March 2011 Read :3217

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The Call Of The Cumberlands - Chapter VI

George Lescott had known hospitality of many brands and degrees. He
had been the lionized celebrity in places of fashion. He had been the
guest of equally famous brother artists in the cities of two
hemispheres, and, since sincere painting had been his pole-star, he had
gone where his art's wanderlust beckoned. His most famous canvas,
perhaps, was his "Prayer Toward Mecca," which hangs in the
Metropolitan. It shows, with a power that holds the observer in a
compelling grip, the wonderful colors of a sunset across the desert.
One seems to feel the renewed life that comes to the caravan with the
welcome of the oasis. One seems to hear the grunting of the kneeling
camels and the stirring of the date palms. The Bedouins have spread
their prayer-rugs, and behind them burns the west. Lescott caught in
that, as he had caught in his mountain sketches, the broad spirit of
the thing. To paint that canvas, he had endured days of racking camel
-travel and burning heat and thirst. He had followed the lure of
transitory beauty to remote sections of the world. The present trip was
only one of many like it, which had brought him into touch with varying
peoples and distinctive types of life. He told himself that never had
he found men at once so crude and so courteous as these hosts, who,
facing personal perils, had still time and willingness to regard his
comfort.

They could not speak grammatically; they could hardly offer him the
necessities of life, yet they gave all they had, with a touch of
courtliness.

In a fabric soiled and threadbare, one may sometimes trace the
tarnished design that erstwhile ran in gold through a rich pattern.
Lescott could not but think of some fine old growth gone to seed and
decay, but still bearing at its crest a single beautiful blossom while
it held in its veins a poison.

Such a blossom was Sally. Her scarlet lips and sweet, grave eyes might
have been the inheritance gift of some remote ancestress whose feet,
instead of being bare and brown, had trod in high-heeled, satin
slippers. When Lord Fairfax governed the Province of Virginia, that
first Sally, in the stateliness of panniered brocades and powdered
hair, may have tripped a measure to the harpsichord or spinet. Certain
it is she trod with no more untrammeled grace than her wild descendant.
For the nation's most untamed and untaught fragment is, after all, an
unamalgamated stock of British and Scottish bronze, which now and then
strikes back to its beginning and sends forth a pure peal from its
corroded bell-metal. In all America is no other element whose blood is
so purely what the Nation's was at birth.

The coming of the kinsmen, who would stay until the present danger
passed, had filled the house. The four beds in the cabin proper were
full, and some slept on floor mattresses. Lescott, because a guest and
wounded, was given a small room aside. Samson, however, shared his
quarters in order to perform any service that an injured man might
require. It had been a full and unusual day for the painter, and its
incidents crowded in on him in retrospect and drove off the possibility
of sleep. Samson, too, seemed wakeful, and in the isolation of the dark
room the two men fell into conversation, which almost lasted out the
night. Samson went into the confessional. This was the first human
being he had ever met to whom he could unburden his soul.

The thirst to taste what knowledge lay beyond the hills; the unnamed
wanderlust that had at times brought him a restiveness so poignant as
to be agonizing; the undefined attuning of his heart to the beauty of
sky and hill; these matters he had hitherto kept locked in guilty
silence. To the men of his clan these were eccentricities bordering on
the abnormal; frailties to be passed over with charity, as one would
pass over the infirmities of an afflicted child. To Samson they looked
as to a sort of feud Messiah. His destiny was stern, and held no place
for dreams. For him, they could see only danger in an insatiable hunger
for learning. In a weak man, a school-teacher or parson sort of a man,
that might be natural, but this young cock of their walk was being
reared for the pit--for conflict. What was important in him was
stamina, and sharp strength of spur. These qualities he had proven from
infancy. Weakening proclivities must be eliminated.

So, the boy had been forced to keep throttled impulses that, for being
throttled, had smoldered and set on fire the inner depths of his soul.
During long nights, he had secretly digested every available book. Yet,
in order to vindicate himself from the unspoken accusation of growing
weak, of forgetting his destiny, he had courted trouble, and sought
combat. He was too close to his people's point of view for perspective.
He shared their idea that the thinking man weakens himself as a
fighting man. He had never heard of a Cyrano de Bergerac, or an Aramis.
Now had come some one with whom he could talk: a man who had traveled
and followed, without shame, the beckoning of Learning and Beauty. At
once, the silent boy found himself talking intimately, and the artist
found himself studying one of the strangest human paradoxes he had yet
seen.

In a cove, or lowland pocket, stretching into the mountainside, lay
the small and meager farm of the Widow Miller. The Widow Miller was a
"South"; that is to say she fell, by tie of marriage, under the
protection of the clan-head. She lived alone with her fourteen-year-old
son and her sixteen-year-old daughter. The daughter was Sally. At
sixteen, the woman's figure had been as pliantly slim, her step as
light as was her daughter's now. At forty, she was withered. Her face
was hard, and her lips had forgotten how to smile. Her shoulders
sagged, and she was an old woman, who smoked her pipe, and taught her
children that rudimentary code of virtue to which the mountains
subscribe. She believed in a brimstone hell and a personal devil. She
believed that the whale had swallowed Jonah, but she thought that "Thou
shalt not kill" was an edict enunciated by the Almighty with mental
reservations.

The sun rose on the morning after Lescott arrived, the mists lifted,
and the cabin of the Widow Miller stood revealed. Against its corners
several hogs scraped their bristled backs with satisfied grunts. A
noisy rooster cocked his head inquiringly sidewise before the open
door, and, hopping up to the sill, invaded the main room. A towsled
-headed boy made his way to the barn to feed the cattle, and a red patch
of color, as bright and tuneful as a Kentucky cardinal, appeared at the
door between the morning-glory vines. The red patch of color was Sally.

She made her way, carrying a bucket, to the spring, where she knelt
down and gazed at her own image in the water. Her grave lips broke into
a smile, as the reflected face, framed in its mass of reflected red
hair, gazed back at her. Then, the smile broke into a laugh.

"Hello, Sally Miller!" she gaily accosted her picture-self. "How air
ye this mornin', Sally Miller?"

She plunged her face deep in the cool spring, and raised it to shake
back her hair, until the water flew from its masses. She laughed again,
because it was another day, and because she was alive. She waded about
for a while where the spring joined the creek, and delightedly watched
the schools of tiny, almost transparent, minnows that darted away at
her coming. Then, standing on a rock, she paused with her head bent,
and listened until her ears caught the faint tinkle of a cowbell, which
she recognized. Nodding her head joyously, she went off into the woods,
to emerge at the end of a half-hour later, carrying a pail of milk, and
smiling joyously again--because it was almost breakfast time.

But, before going home, she set down her bucket by the stream, and,
with a quick glance toward the house to make sure that she was not
observed, climbed through the brush, and was lost to view. She followed
a path that her own feet had made, and after a steep course upward,
came upon a bald face of rock, which stood out storm-battered where a
rift went through the backbone of the ridge. This point of vantage
commanded the other valley. From its edge, a white oak, dwarfed, but
patriarchal, leaned out over an abrupt drop. No more sweeping or
splendid view could be had within miles, but it was not for any reason
so general that Sally had made her pilgrimage. Down below, across the
treetops, were a roof and a chimney from which a thread of smoke rose
in an attenuated shaft. That was Spicer South's house, and Samson's
home. The girl leaned against the gnarled bowl of the white oak, and
waved toward the roof and chimney. She cupped her hands, and raised
them to her lips like one who means to shout across a great distance,
then she whispered so low that only she herself could hear:

"Hello, Samson South!"

She stood for a space looking down, and forgot to laugh, while her
eyes grew religiously and softly deep, then, turning, she ran down the
slope. She had performed her morning devotions.

That day at the house of Spicer South was an off day. The kinsmen who
had stopped for the night stayed on through the morning. Nothing was
said of the possibility of trouble. The men talked crops, and tossed
horseshoes in the yard; but no one went to work in the fields, and all
remained within easy call. Only young Tamarack Spicer, a raw-boned
nephew, wore a sullen face, and made a great show of cleaning his rifle
and pistol. He even went out in the morning, and practised at target
-shooting, and Lescott, who was still very pale and weak, but able to
wander about at will, gained the impression that in young Tamarack he
was seeing the true type of the mountain "bad-man." Tamarack seemed
willing to feed that idea, and admitted apart to Lescott that, while he
obeyed the dictates of the truce, he found them galling, and was
straining at his leash.

"I don't take nothin' offen nobody," he sullenly confided. "The
Hollmans gives me my half the road."

Shortly after dinner, he disappeared, and, when the afternoon was well
advanced, Samson, too, with his rifle on his arm, strolled toward the
stile. Old Spicer South glanced up, and removed his pipe from his mouth
to inquire:

"Whar be ye a-goin'?"

"I hain't a-goin' fur," was the non-committal response.

"Meybe hit mout be a good idea ter stay round clost fer a spell." The
old man made the suggestion casually, and the boy replied in the same
fashion.

"I hain't a-goin' ter be outen sight."

He sauntered down the road, but, when he had passed out of vision, he
turned sharply into the woods, and began climbing. His steps carried
him to the rift in the ridge where the white oak stood sentinel over
the watch-tower of rock. As he came over the edge from one side, his
bare feet making no sound, he saw Sally sitting there, with her hands
resting on the moss and her eyes deeply troubled. She was gazing
fixedly ahead, and her lips were trembling. At once Samson's face grew
black. Some one had been making Sally unhappy. Then, he saw beyond her
a standing figure, which the tree trunk had hitherto concealed. It was
the loose-knitted figure of young Tamarack Spicer.

"In course," Spicer was saying, "we don't 'low Samson shot Jesse
Purvy, but them Hollmans'll 'spicion him, an' I heered just now, thet
them dawgs was trackin' straight up hyar from the mouth of Misery.
They'll git hyar against sundown."

Samson leaped violently forward. With one hand, he roughly seized his
cousin's shoulder, and wheeled him about.

"Shet up!" he commanded. "What damn fool stuff hev ye been tellin'
Sally?"

For an instant, the two clansmen stood fronting each other. Samson's
face was set and wrathful. Tamarack's was surly and snarling. "Hain't I
got a license ter tell Sally the news?" he demanded.

"Nobody hain't got no license," retorted the younger man in the quiet
of cold anger, "ter tell Sally nothin' thet'll fret her."

"She air bound ter know, hit all pretty soon. Them dawgs----"

"Didn't I tell ye ter shet up?" Samson clenched his fists, and took a
step forward. "Ef ye opens yore mouth again, I'm a-goin' ter smash hit.
Now, git!"

Tamarack Spicer's face blackened, and his teeth showed. His right hand
swept to his left arm-pit. Outwardly he seemed weaponless, but Samson
knew that concealed beneath the hickory shirt was a holster, worn
mountain fashion.

"What air ye a-reachin' atter, Tam'rack?" he inquired, his lips
twisting in amusement.

"Thet's my business."

"Well, get hit out--or git out yeself, afore I throws ye offen the
clift."

Sally showed no symptoms of alarm. Her confidence in her hero was
absolute. The boy lifted his hand, and pointed off down the path.
Slowly and with incoherent muttering, Spicer took himself away. Then
only did Sally rise. She came over, and laid a hand on Samson's
shoulder. In her blue eyes, the tears were welling.

"Samson," she whispered, "ef they're atter ye, come ter my house. I
kin hide ye out. Why didn't ye tell me Jesse Purvy'd done been shot?"

"Hit tain't nothin' ter fret about, Sally," he assured her. He spoke
awkwardly, for he had been trained to regard emotion as unmanly. "Thar
hain't no danger."

She gazed searchingly into his eyes, and then, with a short sob, threw
her arms around him, and buried her face on his shoulder.

"Ef anything happens ter ye, Samson," she said, brokenly, "hit'll jest
kill me. I couldn't live withouten ye, Samson. I jest couldn't do hit!"

The boy took her in his arms, and pressed her close. His eyes were
gazing off over her bent head, and his lips twitched. He drew his
features into a scowl, because that was the only expression with which
he could safeguard his feelings. His voice was husky.

"I reckon, Sally," he said, "I couldn't live withouten you, neither."

The party of men who had started at morning from Jesse Purvy's store
had spent a hard day. The roads followed creek-beds, crossing and
recrossing waterways in a fashion that gave the bloodhounds a hundred
baffling difficulties. Often, their noses lost the trail, which had at
first been so surely taken. Often, they circled and whined, and halted
in perplexity, but each time they came to a point where, at the end,
one of them again raised his muzzle skyward, and gave voice.

Toward evening, they were working up Misery along a course less
broken. The party halted for a moment's rest, and, as the bottle was
passed, the man from Lexington, who had brought the dogs and stayed to
conduct the chase, put a question:

"What do you call this creek?"

"Hit's Misery."

"Does anybody live on Misery that--er--that you might suspect?"

The Hollmans laughed.

"This creek is settled with Souths thicker'n hops."

The Lexington man looked up. He knew what the name of South meant to a
Hollman.

"Is there any special South, who might have a particular grudge?"

"The Souths don't need no partic'lar grudge, but thar's young Samson
South. He's a wildcat."

"He lives this way?"

"These dogs air a-makin' a bee-line fer his house." Jim Hollman was
speaking. Then he added: "I've done been told that Samson denies doin'
the shootin', an' claims he kin prove an alibi."

The Lexington man lighted his pipe, and poured a drink of red whiskey
into a flask cup.

"He'd be apt to say that," he commented, coolly. "These dogs haven't
any prejudice in the matter. I'll stake my life on their telling the
truth."

An hour later, the group halted again. The master of hounds mopped his
forehead.

"Are we still going toward Samson South's house?" he inquired.

"We're about a quarter from hit now, an' we hain't never varied from
the straight road."

"Will they be apt to give us trouble?"

Jim Hollman smiled.

"I hain't never heered of no South submittin' ter arrest by a Hollman."

The trailers examined their firearms, and loosened their holster-
flaps. The dogs went forward at a trot.

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From time to time that day, neighbors had ridden up to Spicer South'sstile, and drawn rein for gossip. These men brought bulletins as to theprogress of the hounds, and near sundown, as a postscript to theirinformation, a volley of gunshot signals sounded from a mountain top.No word was spoken, but in common accord the kinsmen rose from theirchairs, and drifted toward their leaning rifles."They're a-comin' hyar," said the head of the house, curtly. "Samsonought ter be home. Whar's Tam'-rack?"No one had noticed his absence until that moment, nor was he to befound. A few minutes later, Samson's figure swung into sight,
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While Spicer South and his cousins had been sustaining themselves orbuilding up competences by tilling their soil, the leaders of the otherfaction were basing larger fortunes on the profits of merchandise andtrade. So, although Spicer South could neither read nor write, hischief enemy, Micah Hollman, was to outward seeming an urbane and fairlyequipped man of affairs. Judged by their heads, the clansmen wererougher and more illiterate on Misery, and in closer touch withcivilization on Crippleshin. A deeper scrutiny showed this seeming tobe one of the strange anomalies of the mountains.Micah Hollman had established himself at Hixon, that shack town whichhad passed
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