home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | форум | collections | читалки | авторам | add



IV

BACK at the mill old Gabe was troubled. Usually he sat in a cane-bottomed chair near the hopper, whittling, while the lad tended the mill, and took pay in an oaken toll-dish smooth with the use of half a century. But the incident across the river that morning had made the old man uneasy, and he moved restlessly from his chair to the door, and back again, while the boy watched him, wondering what the matter was, but asking no questions. At noon an old mountaineer rode by, and the miller hailed him.

"Any news in town?" he asked.

"Hain't been to town. Reckon fightin' 's goin' on thar from whut I heerd." The careless, high-pitched answer brought the boy with wide eyes to the door.

Whut d'ye hear? " asked Gabe. Jes heerd fightin' 's goin' on!

Then every man who came for his meal brought a wild rumor from town, and the old miller moved his chair to the door, and sat there whittling fast, and looking anxiously toward Hazlan. The boy was in a fever of unrest, and old Gabe could hardly keep him in the mill. In the middle of the afternoon the report of a rifle came down the river, breaking into echoes against the cliffs below, and Isom ran out the door, and stood listening for another, with an odd contradiction of fear and delight on his eager face. In a few moments Rome Stetson galloped into sight, and, with a shrill cry of relief, the boy ran down the road to meet him, and ran back, holding by a stirrup. Young Stetson's face was black with passion, and his eyes were heavy with drink. At the door of the mill he swung from his horse, and for a moment was hardly able to speak from rage. There had been no fight. The Stetsons were few and unprepared. They had neither the guns nor, without Rufe, the means to open the war, and they believed Rufe had gone for arms.

So they had chafed in the store all day, and all day Lewallens on horseback and on foot were in sight; and each was a taunt to every Stetson, and, few as they were, the young and hot-headed wanted to go out and fight. In the afternoon a tale-bearer had brought some of Jasper's boasts to Rome, and, made reckless by moonshine and much brooding, he sprang up to lead them. Steve Marcum, too, caught up his gun, but old Sam's counsel checked him, and the two by force held Rome back. A little later the Lewallens left town.

The Stetsons, too, disbanded, and on the way home a last drop of gall ran Rome's cup of bitterness over. Opposite Steve Brayton's cabin a jet of smoke puffed from the bushes across the river, and a bullet furrowed the road in front of him. That was the shot they had heard at the mill. Somebody was drawing a dead-line," and Rome wheeled his horse at the brink of it. A mocking yell came over the river, and a gray horse flashed past an open space in the bushes. Rome knew the horse and knew the yell; young Jasper was «bantering» him. Nothing maddens the mountaineer like this childish method of insult; and telling of it, Rome sat in a corner, and loosed a torrent of curses against young Lewallen and his clan.

Old Gabe had listened without a word, and the strain in his face was eased. Always the old man had stood for peace. He believed it had come after the court-house fight, and he had hoped against hope, even when Rufe came back to trade against old Jasper; for Rufe was big and good-natured, and unsuspected of resolute purpose, and the Lewallens' power had weakened. So, now that Rufe was gone again, the old miller half believed he was gone for good. Nobody was hurt; there was a chance yet for peace, and with a rebuke on his tongue and relief in his face, the old man sat back in his chair and went on whittling. The boy turned eagerly to a crevice in the logs and, trembling with excitement, searched the other bank for Jasper's gray horse, going home.

He called me a idgit," he said to himself, with a threatening shake of his head. "Jes wouldn't I like to hev a chance at him! Rome ull git him! Rome ull git him!"

There was no moving point of white on the broad face of the mountains nor along the river road. Jasper was yet to come and, with ears alert to every word behind him, the lad fixed his eyes where he should see him first.

"Oh, he didn't mean to hit me. Not that he ain't mean enough to shoot from the bresh," Rome broke out savagely. "That's jes whut I'm afeard he will do. Thar was too much daylight fer him. Ef he jes don't come a-sneakin' over hyeh, 'n' waitin' in the lorrel atter dark fer me, it's all I axe."

Waitin' in the lorrel! " Old Gabe could hold back no longer. "Hit's a shame, a burn-in' shame! I don' know whut things air comm' to!

'Pears like all you young folks think about is killin' somebody.

Folks usen to talk about how fer they could kill a deer; now it's how fer they kin kill a man. I hev knowed the time when a man would 'a' been druv out o' the county fer drawin' a knife ur a pistol; 'n' ef a feller was ever killed, it was kinder accidental, by a Barlow.

I reckon folks got use' to weepons 'n' killin' 'n' bushwhackin' in the war. Looks like it's been gittin' wuss ever sence, 'n' now hit's dirk 'n' Winchester, 'n' shootin' from the bushes all the time. Hit's wuss 'n stealin' money to take a feller-creetur' s life that way!

The old miller's indignation sprang from memories of a better youth. For the courtesies of the code went on to the Blue Grass, and before the war the mountaineer fought with English fairness and his fists. It was a disgrace to use a deadly weapon in those days; it was a disgrace now not to use it.

Oh, I know all the excuses folks make," he went on: " hit's fa'r fer one as 'tis fer t'other; y'u can't fight a man fa'r 'n' squar' who'll shoot you in the back; a pore man can't fight money in the couhts; 'n' thar hain't no witnesses in the lorrel but leaves; 'n' dead men don't hev much to say. I know it all. Hit's cur'us, but it act'-ally looks like lots o' decent young folks hev got usen to the idee-thar's so much of it goin' on, 'n' thar's so much talk 'bout killin' 'n' layin' out in the lorrel. Reckon folks 'll git to pesterm' women n' strangers bimeby, 'n' robbin' 'n' thievin'. Hit's bad enough thar's so leetle law thet folks hev to take it in their own hands oncet in a while, but this shootin' from the bresh-hit's p'int'ly a sin 'n' shame! Why," he concluded, pointing his remonstrance as he always did, "I seed your grandad and young Jas's fight up thar in Hazlan full two hours 'fore the war-fist and skull-'n' your grandad was whooped. They got up and shuk hands. I don't see why folks can't fight that way now. I wish Rufe 'n' old Jas 'n' you 'n' young Jas could have it out fist and skull, 'n' stop this killin' o' people like hogs. Thar's nobody left but you four. But thar's no chance o' that, I reckon."

"I'll fight him anyway, 'n' I reckon ef he don't die till I lay out in the lorrel fer him, he'll live a long time. Ef a Stetson ever done sech meanness as that I never heerd it."

Nother hev I," said the old man, with quick justice. " You air a over-bearin' race, all o' ye, but I never knowed ye to be that mean. Hit's all the wus fer ye thet ye air in sech doin's. I tell ye, Rome-

A faint cry rose above the drone of the millstones, and old Gabe stopped with open lips to listen. The boy's face was pressed close to the logs. A wet paddle had flashed into the sunlight from out the bushes across the river. He could just see a canoe in the shadows under them, and with quick suspicion his brain pictured Jasper's horse hitched in the bushes, and Jasper stealing across the river to waylay Rome. But the canoe moved slowly out of sight downstream and toward the deep water, the paddler unseen, and the boy looked around with a weak smile. Neither seemed to have heard him. Rome was brooding, with his sullen face in his hands; the old miller was busy with his own thoughts; and the boy turned again to his watch.

Jasper did not come. Isom's eyes began to ache from the steady gaze, and now and then he would drop them to the water swirling beneath. A slow wind swayed the overhanging branches at the mouth of the stream, and under them was an eddy. Escaping this, the froth and bubbles raced out to the gleams beating the air from the sunlit river. He saw one tiny fleet caught; a mass of yellow scum bore down and, sweeping through bubbles and eddy, was itself struck into fragments by something afloat. A tremulous shadow shot through a space of sunlight into the gloom cast by a thicket of rhododendrons, and the boy caught his breath sharply. A moment more, and the shape of a boat and a human figure quivered on the water running under him. The stern of a Lewallen canoe swung into the basin, and he sprang to his feet.

"Rome!" The cry cut sharply through the drowsy air. " Thar he is!

Hit's Jas"

The old miller rose to his feet. The boy threw himself behind the sacks of grain. Rome wheeled for his rifle, and stood rigid before the door. There was a light step without, the click of a gun-lock within; a shadow fell across the doorway, and a girl stood at the threshold with an empty bag in her hand.

V

WITH a little cry she shrank back a step. Her face paled and her lips trembled, and for a moment she could not speak. But her eyes swept the group, and were fixed in two points of fire on Rome.

"Why don't ye shoot! "she asked, scornfully.

"I hev heerd that the Stetsons have got to makin war on women-folks, but I never believed it afore." Then she turned to the miller.

Kin I git some more meal hyeh? " she asked. " Or have ye stopped sellin' to folks on t'other side? " she added, in a tone that sought no favor.

"You kin have all ye want," said old Gabe, quietly.

"The mill on Dead Crick is broke ag'in," she continued, " 'n' co'n is skeerce on our side. We'll have to begin buyin' purty soon, so I thought I'd save totin' the co'n down hyeh." She handed old Gabe the empty bag.

Well,'' said he, '' as it air gittin' late, 'n' ye have to climb the mountain ag'in, I'll let ye have that comm' out o' the hopper now.

Take a cheer."

The girl sat down in the low chair, and, loos ening the strings of her bonnet, pushed it back from her head. An old-fashioned horn comb dropped to the floor, and when she stooped to pick it up she let her hair fall in a head about her shoulders. Thrusting one hand under it, she calmly tossed the whole mass of chestnut and gold over the back of the chair, where it fell rippling like water through a bar of sunlight. With head thrown back and throat bared, she shook it from side to side, and, slowly coiling it, pierced it with the coarse comb. Then passing her hands across her forehead and temples, as women do, she folded them in her lap, and sat motionless. The boy, crouched near, held upon her the mesmeric look of a serpent. Old Gabe was peering covertly from under the brim of his hat, with a chuckle at his lips. Rome had fallen back to a corner of the mill, sobered, speechless, his rifle in a nerveless hand. The passion that fired him at the boy's warning had as swiftly gone down at sight of the girl, and her cutting rebuke made him hot again with shame. He was angry, too-more than angry-because he felt so helpless, a sensation that was new and stifling. The scorn of her face, as he remembered it that morning, hurt him again while he looked at her. A spirit of contempt was still in her eyes, and quivering about her thin lips and nostrils. She had put him beneath further notice, and yet every toss of her head, every movement of her hands, seemed meant for him, to irritate him. And once, while she combed her hair, his brain whirled with an impulse to catch the shining stuff in one hand and to pinion both her wrists with the other, Just to show her that he was master, and still would harm her not at all. But he shut his teeth, and watched her. Among mountain women the girl was more than pretty; elsewhere only her hair, perhaps, would have caught the casual eye. She wore red homespun and coarse shoes; her hands were brown and hardened. Her arms and shoulders looked muscular, her waist was rather large-being as nature meant it-and her face in repose had a heavy look. But the poise of her head suggested native pride and dignity; her eyes were deep, and full of changing lights; the scarlet dress, loose as it was, showed rich curves in her figure, and her movements had a certain childlike grace. Her brow was low, and her mouth had character; the chin was firm, the upper lip short, and the teeth were even and white.

"I reckon thar's enough to fill the sack, Isom," said the old miller, breaking the strained silence of the group. The girl rose and handed him a few pieces of silver.

I reckon I'd better pay fer it all," she said. I s'pose I won't be over hyeh ag'in."

Old Gabe gave some of the coins back.

"Y'u know whut my price al'ays is," he said.

I'm obleeged," answered the girl, flushing.

"Co'n hev riz on our side. I thought mebbe you charged folks over thar more, anyways."

"I sells fer the same, ef co'n is high ur low," was the answer. "This side or t'other makes no diff'unce to me. I hev frien's on both sides, 'n' I take no part in sech doin's as air a shame to the mountains."

There was a quick light of protest in the girl's dark eyes; but the old miller was honored by both factions, and without a word she turned to the boy, who was tying the sack.

The boat's loose! " he called out, with. the string between his teeth; and she turned again and ran out. Rome stood still.

Kerry the sack out, boy, 'n' holp the gal." Old Gabe's voice was stern, and the young mountaineer doggedly swung the bag to his shoulders. The girl had caught the rope, and drawn the rude dugout along the shore.

"Who axed ye to do that?" she asked, angrily.

Rome dropped the bag into the boat, and merely looked her in the face.

"Look hyeh, Rome Stetson"-the sound of his name from her lips almost startled him-"I'll hev ye understan' that I don't want to be bounden to you, nor none o' yer kin."

Turning, she gave an impatient sweep with her paddle. The prow of the canoe dipped and was motionless. Rome had caught the stern, and the girl wheeled in hot anger. Her impulse to strike may have been for the moment and no longer, or she may have read swiftly no unkindness in the mountaineer's steady look; for the uplifted oar was stayed in the air, as though at least she would hear him.

"I've got nothin' ag'in' you," he said, slowly, Jas Lewallen hev been threatenin' me, 'n' I thought it was him, 'n' I was ready fer him, when you come into the mill. I wouldn't hurt you nur no other woman. Y'u ought to know it, 'n' ye do know it."

The words were masterful, but said in a way that vaguely soothed the girl's pride, and the oar was let slowly into the water.

"I reckon y'u air a friend o' his," he added, still quietly. "I've seed ye goin' up thar, but I've got nothin' ag'in' ye, whoever ye be."

She turned on him a sharp look of suspicion. "I reckon I do be a friend o' hisn," she said, deliberately; and then she saw that he was in earnest. A queer little smile went like a ray of light from her eyes to her lips, and she gave a quick stroke with her paddle. The boat shot into the current, and was carried swiftly toward the Cumberland. The girl stood erect, swaying through light and shadow like a great scarlet flower blowing in the wind; and Rome watched her till she touched the other bank. Swinging the sack out, she stepped lightly after it, and, without looking behind her, disappeared in the bushes.

The boy Isom was riding away when Rome, turned, and old Gabe was watching from the door of the mill.

Who is that gal? " he asked, slowly. It seemed somehow that he had known her a long while ago. A puzzled frown overlay his face, and the old miller laughed.

"You a-axin' who she be, 'n' she a-axin who you be, 'n' both o' ye a-knowin' one 'nother sence ye was knee-high. Why, boy, hit's old Jasper's gal-Marthy!


предыдущая глава | A Cumberland Vendetta | cледующая глава