The muleys dropped from the sod bank, went under to their black noses, came up, shook the water from their ears, and struck out, following the tail of the horse. They all swam deep, the water running across the middle of their backs, their long tails, the tips of their shoulders, and their quaint inky faces visible above the yellow water.
One after another they took the river until there were fifty behind me. Then Jud rode in, and the advance of the line was under way. Ump shouted to swing with the current as far as I could without getting into the eddy, and I forced El Mahdi gradually down-stream, holding his bit with both hands to make him swim as slow as he could.
We seemed to creep to the middle of the river. A Polled-Angus bullock with an irregular white streak running across his nose led the drove, following close at the horse's tail. That steer was Destiny. No criminal ever watched the face of his judge with more desperate interest than I watched the dish-face of that muley. I was now at the very middle of the river, and the turn must be made against the current. Would the steer follow me, or would he take the natural line of least resistance into the swinging water of the eddy? It was not a dozen yards below, whirling around to its boiling centre. The steer swam almost up to the horse's tail. I turned El Mahdi slowly against the current, and watched the black bullock over my shoulder. He turned after the horse. The current struck him in the deep forequarters; he swung out below the horse, threw his big chest to the current, and followed El Mahdi's tail like a fish following a bait. I arose in the stirrups and wiped the sweat off my face with my sleeve.
I could have shouted as I looked back. Jud and the fifty were turning the loop as though they were swinging at the end of a pendulum, every steer following his fellow like a sheep. Jud's red horse was the only bit of colour against that long line of black bobbing heads.
Behind him a string of swimming cattle reached in a long curve to the south bank of the Valley River. We moved slowly up the north curve of the long loop to the ferry landing. It was vastly harder swimming against the current, but the three-year-old steer is an animal of great strength. To know this, one has but to look at his deep shoulders and his massive brisket. The yellow water bubbled up over the backs of the cattle. The strong current swung their bodies around until their tails were down-stream, and the little waves danced in fantastic eddies around their puffing muzzles. But they clung to the crupper of El Mahdi with dogged tenacity, and when he climbed the north bank of the Valley River, the blazed face of the Polled-Angus leader came up out of the water at his heels.
I rode out on the good hard ground, and turned the horse's head toward the river. My heart sang and shouted under my shirt. The very joy of what I saw seemed to fill my throat choking full. The black heads dotted across the river might have been strung on a string. There were three hundred cattle in that water.
Jud and the first fifty were creeping up the last arm of the mighty curve, swimming together like brothers, the Cardinal sunk to his red head, and the naked body of his rider glistening in the sun.
When they reached the bank below me, I could restrain my joy no longer. I rose in the stirrups and whooped like the wildest savage that ever scalped a settler. I think the devil's imps sleeping somewhere must have heard that whooping.
THROUGH THE BIG WATER
Crowds of cattle, like mobs, are strangely subject to some sudden impulse. Any seamy-faced old drover will illustrate this fact with stories till midnight, telling how Alkire's cattle resting one morning on Bald Knob suddenly threw up their heads and went crashing for a mile through the underbrush; and how a line of Queen's steers charged on a summer evening and swept out every fence in the Tygart's valley, without a cause so far as the human eye could see and without a warning.
Three hundred cattle had crossed, swimming the track of the loop as though they were fenced into it, and I judge there were a hundred in the water, when the remainder of the drove on the south shore made a sudden bolt for the river. The move was so swift and uniform, and the distance to the water so short, that Ump and the ferrymen had barely time to escape being swept in with the steers. The whole drove piled up in the river and began to swim in a black mass toward the north shore. I saw the Bay Eagle sweep down the bank and plunge into the river below the cattle. I could hear Ump shouting, and could see the bay mare crowding the lower line of the swimming cattle.
The very light went out of the sky. We forced our horses into the river up to their shoulders, and waited. The cattle half-way across came out all right, but when the mass of more than two hundred reached the loop of the curve, they seemed to waver and crowd up in a bunch. I lost my head and plunged El Mahdi into the river. "Come on," I shouted, and Jud followed me.
If Satan had sent some guardian devil to choose for us an act of folly, he could not have chosen better than I. It is possible that the cattle would have taken the line of the leaders against the current if we had kept out of the river, but when they saw our horses they became bewildered, lost their sense of direction and drifted down into the eddy,—a great tangle of fighting cattle.
We swung down-stream, and taking a long circle came in below the drove as it drifted around in the outer orbit of the eddy. The crowd of cattle swam past, butting each other, and churning the water under their bellies, led by a half-blood Aberdeen-Angus steer with a ring in his nose. Half-way around we met Ump. He was a terrible creature. His shirt was in ribbons, and his hair was matted to his head. He was trying to force the Bay Eagle into the mass of cattle, and he was cursing like a fiend.
I have already said that his mare knew more than any other animal in the Hills. She dodged here and there like a water rat, slipped in among the cattle and shot out when they swung together. On any other horse the hunchback would have been crushed to pulp.
We joined him and tried to drive a wedge through the great tangle to split it in half, Jud and the huge Cardinal for a centre. We got half-way in and were flung off like a plank.
We floated down into the rim of the eddy below the cattle, spread out, and endeavoured to force the drove up stream. We might as well have ridden against a floating log-jam. The mad, bellowing steers swam after their leader, moving in toward the vortex of the eddy. The half-blood Aberdeen-Angus, whom the cattle seemed to follow, was now on the inner border of the drove, the tangle of steers stretched in a circle around him. It was clear that in a very few minutes he would reach the centre, the mass of cattle would crowd down on him, and the whole bunch would go to the bottom. We determined to make another effort to break through this circle, and if possible capture the half-blood and force him out toward the shore. A more dangerous undertaking could not be easily imagined.
The chances of driving this steer out were slight if we should ever reach him. The possibility of forcing a way in was remote, and if we succeeded in penetrating to the centre of the jam and failed to break it, we should certainly be wedged in and crushed. If Ump's head had been cool, I do not think he would ever have permitted me to join in such madness. We were to select a loose place in the circle, the Cardinal and El Mahdi to force an opening, and the Bay Eagle to go through if she could.
We waited while the cattle passed, bellowing and thrashing the water,—an awful mob of steers in panic. Presently in this circle there was a rift where a bull, infuriated by the crowding, swam by, fighting to clear a place around him. He was a tremendous creature, glistening black, active and dangerous as a wild beast. He charged the cattle around him, driving them back like a battering ram. He dived and butted and roared like some sea monster gone mad. Ump shouted, and we swam into the open rift against this bull, Jud leading, and El Mahdi at his shoulder.
The bull fighting the cattle behind him did not see us until the big sorrel was against him. Then he swung half around and tried to butt. This was the danger which we feared most. The ram of a muley steer is one of the most powerful blows delivered by any animal. For this reason, no bull with horns is a match for a muley. The driving power of sixteen hundred pounds of bone and muscle is like the ram of a ship. Striking a horse fair, it would stave him in as one breaks an egg shell. Jud leaned down from his horse and struck the bull on the nose with his fist, beating him in the nostrils. The bull turned and charged the cattle behind him. We crowded against him, using the mad bull for a great driving wedge.
I have never seen anything in the world to approach the strength or the fury of this muley. With him we broke through the circle of steers forcing into the centre of the eddy. We had barely room for the horses by crowding shoulder to shoulder to the bull. The cattle closed in behind us like bees swarming in a hive.
I was accustomed to cattle all my life. I had been among them when they fought each other, bellowing and tearing up the sod; among them when they charged; among them when they stampeded; and I was not afraid. But this caldron of boiling yellow water filled with cattle was a hell-pot. In it every steer, gone mad, seemed to be fighting for dear life.
I caught something of the terror of the cattle, and on the instant the delusion of the cone rising on all sides returned. The cattle seemed to be swarming down upon us from the sides of this yellow pit. I looked around. The Bay Eagle was squeezing against El Mahdi. Jud was pressing close to the nose of the bull, keeping him turned against the cattle by great blows rained on his muzzle, and we were driving slowly in like a glut.
My mouth became suddenly dry to the root of my tongue. I dropped the reins and whirled around in the saddle. Ump, whose knee was against El Mahdi's flank, reached over and caught me by the shoulder. The grip of his hand was firm and steady, and it brought me back to my senses, but his face will not be whiter when they lay him finally in the little chapel at Mount Horeb.
As I turned and gathered up the reins, the water was boiling over the horses. Sometimes we went down to the chin, the horses entirely under; at other times we were flung up almost out of the water by the surging of the cattle. The Cardinal was beginning to grow tired. He had just swam across the river and half-way back, and been then forced into this tremendous struggle without time to gather his breath. He was a horse of gigantic stature and great endurance, but his rider was heavy. He had been long in the water, and the jamming of the cattle was enough to wear out a horse built of ship timber.
His whole body was sunk to the nose and he went entirely under with every surge of the bull. The naked back of Jud reeked with sweat, washed off every minute with a flood of muddy water, and the muscles on his huge shoulders looked like folds of brass.
He held the bridle-rein in his teeth and bent down over the saddle so as to strike the bull when it tried to turn back. At times the man, horse, and bull were carried down out of sight.
Suddenly I realised that we were on the inside. The river was a bedlam of roars and bellows. We had broken through the circle of cattle, and it drifted now in two segments, crowding in to follow the half-blood Aberdeen-Angus. This steer passed a few yards below us, making for the centre of the eddy. As he went by, Ump shot out on the Bay Eagle, dodged through the cattle, and, coming up with the steer, reached down and hooked his finger in the ring which the half-blood wore in his nose. Then, holding the steer's muzzle against the shoulder of the mare, he struck out straight through the vortex of the eddy, making for the widest opening in the broken circle.
I watched the hunchback breathless. It was not difficult to lead the steer. An urchin could have done it with a rope in the nosering, but the two segments of the circle might swing together at any moment, and if they did Ump would be penned in and lost and we would be lost also, locked up in this jam of steers.
For a moment the hunchback and the steer passed out of sight in the boiling eddy, then they reached the open, went through it, and struck up-stream for the ferry landing.
The cattle on the inner side of the circle followed the Aberdeen-Angus, streaming through the opening in a great wedge that split the jam into the two wings of an enormous V. The whole drove swung out and followed in two lines, as one has seen the wild geese following their pilot to the south.
Jud and I, wedged in, were tossed about by the surging of the cattle, as the jam broke. We were protected a little by the bull, whose strength seemed inexhaustible. Every moment I looked to see some black head rise under the fore quarters of El Mahdi, throw him over, and force him down beneath the bellies of the cattle, or some muley charge the fighting bull and crush Jud and his horse. But the very closeness of the jamming saved us from these dangers.
It was almost impossible for a bullock to turn. We were carried forward by the press as a child is carried with a crowd. When the cattle split into the wings of the V, we were flung off and found ourselves swimming in open water between the two great lines.
I felt like a man lifted suddenly from a dungeon into the sunlit world. I was weak. I caught hold of the horn, settled down nerveless in the saddle, and looked around me. The cattle were streaming past in two long lines for the shore, led by Ump and the Aberdeen-Angus, now half-way up the north arm of the loop.
The river was still roaring with the bellowings of the cattle, as though all the devils of the water howled with fury at this losing of their prey.
The steers had now room to swim in, and they would reach the shore. I looked down at El Mahdi. He floated easily, pumping the air far back into his big lungs. He had been roundly jammed, but he was not exhausted, and I knew he would be all right when he got his breath.
Then I looked for Jud. He was a few yards below me, staring at the swimming cattle. The water was rising to his armpits. It poured over the Cardinal, and over the saddle horn. It was plain that the horse was going down. Only his muzzle hung above the water, with the nostrils distended.
I shouted to Jud. He kicked his feet out of the stirrups, dropped into the water and caught his horse by the shank of the bit. He went down until the water bubbled against his chin. But he held the horse's head above the river, treading water and striking out with his free arm.
I turned El Mahdi and swam to the Cardinal. When I reached him I caught the bit on my side, and together Jud and El Mahdi held the exhausted horse until he gathered his breath and began to swim. Presently, when he had gotten the air back in his chest, I took the bridle-rein, and Jud, loosing his hold on the bit, floated down behind the cattle, and struck out for the shore. I saw him climb the bank among the water beeches when El Mahdi and the Cardinal came up out of the river at the ferry landing behind the last bullock.
ALONG THE HICKORY RIDGES
The human analyst, jotting down in his note-book the motives of men, is often strangely misled. The master of a great financial house, working day and night in an office, is not trading away his life for a system of railroads. Bless you! sir, he would not give a day of those precious hours for all the steel rails in the world. Nor is my lady spending her life like water to reach the vantage-point where she may entertain Sir Henry. That tall, keen-eyed woman with the brains crowded in her head does not care a snap of her finger if the thing called Sir Henry be flying to the devil.
Look you a little further in, good analyst. It is the passion of the chess-player. Each of these is up to the shoulders in the grandest game you ever dreamed of. Other skilful men and other quick-witted women are there across the table with Chance a-meddling. The big plan must be carried out. The iron trumpery and the social folderol are bits of stuff that have to be juggled about in this business. They have no more intrinsic value than a bank of fog. Providence made a trifling miscalculation when it put together the human mind. As the thing works, there is nothing worth while but the thrills of the game. And these thrills! How they do play the devil with the candle! Thus it comes about that when one pulls his life or his string of playthings out of a hole he does not seem to have made a gain by it. I learned this on the north bank of the Valley River, listening to Ump's growls as he ran his hands over the Bay Eagle, and the replies of Jud lying by the Cardinal in the sun.
Gratitude toward the man helper is about as rare as the splinters of the true cross. When one owes the debt to Providence, one depends always upon the statute of limitations to bar it. Here sat these grateful gentlemen, lately returned by a sort of miracle to the carpet of the green sod, swapping gibes like a couple of pirates.
"Old Nick was grabbin' for us this time," said Jud, "an' he mighty nigh got us."
"I reckon," answered Ump, "a feller ought to git down on his marrow-bones."
"I wouldn't try it," said Jud. "You might cork yourself."
"It was like the Red Sea," said I; "all the cattle piled up in there, and going round and round."
"Just like the good book tells about it," added Ump; "only we was them Egyptians, a-flounderin' an' a-spittin' water."
"Boys," said Jud, "that Pharaoh-king ought to a been bored for the holler horn. I've thought of it often."
"Why?" I asked.
"You see," he answered, "after all them miracles, locusts, an' frogs an' sich, he might a knowed the Lord was a-layin' for him. An' when he saw that water piled up, he ought a lit out for home. 'Stead of that, he went asailin' in like the unthinkin' horse."
The hunchback cocked his eye and began to whistle. Then he broke into a ditty:
"When Pharaoh rode down to the ragin' Red Sea, Rode down to the ragin' Red Sea, He hollered to Moses, 'Just git on to me, A-ridin' along through the sea.'
"An' Moses he answered to hollerin' Pharaoh, The same as you'd answer to me, 'You'll have to have bladders tied on to your back, If you ever git out of the sea.'"
Thus I learned that the man animal long ago knocked Young Gratitude on the head, heaved him overboard into a leaky gig, and left him behind to ogle the seagulls. He is a healthy pirate, this man animal, accustomed with great complacency to maroon the trustful stowaway when he comes to nose about the cargo of his brig, or thrusts his pleading in between the cutthroat and his pleasant sins.
As for me, I was desperately glad to be safe out of that pot of muddy water. I was ready like the apostle of old time to build here a tabernacle, or to go down on what Ump called my "marrow-bones." As it was, I dismounted and hugged El Mahdi, covering up in his wet mane a bit of trickling moisture strangely like those tears that kept getting in the way of my being a man.
I had tried to laugh, and it went string-halt. I had tried to take a hand in the passing gibes, and the part limped. I had to do something, and this was my most dignified emotional play. The blue laws of the Hills gave this licence. A fellow might palaver over his horse when he took a jolt in the bulwarks of his emotion. You, my younger brethren of the great towns, when you knock your heads against some corner of the world and go a-bawling to your mother's petticoat, will never know what deeps of consolation are to be gotten out of hugging a horse when one's heart is aching.
I wondered if it were all entirely true, or whether I should knock my elbow against something and wake up. We were on the north bank of the Valley River, with every head of those six hundred steers. Out there they were, strung along the road, shaking their wet coats like a lot of woolly dogs, and the afternoon sun wavering about on their shiny backs. And there was Ump with his thumbs against the fetlocks of the Bay Eagle, and Jud trying to get his copper skin into the half-dried shirt, and the hugged El Mahdi staring away at the brown hills as though he were everlastingly bored.
I climbed up into the saddle to keep from executing a fiddler's jig, and thereby proving that I suffered deeply from the curable disease of youth.
We started the drove across the hills toward Roy's tavern, Jud at his place in front of the steers, walking in the road with the Cardinal's bridle under his arm, and Ump behind, while El Mahdi strayed through the line of cattle to keep them moving. The steers trailed along the road between the rows of rail fence running in zigzag over the country to the north. I sat sidewise in my big saddle dangling my heels.
There were long shadows creeping eastward in the cool hollows when we came to the shop of old Christian the blacksmith. I was moving along in front of the drove, fingering El Mahdi's mane and whistling lustily, and I squared him in the crossroads to turn the plodding cattle down toward Roy's tavern. I noticed that the door of the smith's shop was closed and the smoke creeping in a thin line out of the mud top of the chimney, but I did not stop to inquire if the smith were about his work. I held no resentment against the man. He had doubtless cut the cable, as Ump had said, but his provocation had been great.
The settlement was now made fair, skin for skin, as the devil put it once upon a time. I whistled away and counted the bullocks as they went strolling by me, indicating each fellow with my finger. Presently Ump came at the tail of the drove and pulled up the Bay Eagle under the tall hickories.
"Well," he said, "the old shikepoke must be snoozin'."
"It's pretty late in the day," said I.
"He lost a lot of sleep last night," responded Ump. "When a feller travels with the devil in the night, he can't work with the Lord in the day."
"He hasn't been at it long," said I, pointing to the faint smoke hovering above the chimney; "or the fire would be out."
"Right," said Ump. "An, that's a horse of another colour. I think I shall take a look."
With that he swung down from his saddle, crossed to the shop, and flung open the door. Then he began to whistle softly.
"Hot nest," he said, "but no sign of the shikepoke."
"He may be hiding out until we pass," said I.
"Not he," responded the hunchback.
Then I took an inspiration. "Ump," I cried, "I'll bet the bit out of the bridle that he saw us coming and lit out to carry the word!"
The hunchback struck his fist against the door of the shop. "Quiller," he said, "you ought to have sideboards on your noggin. That's what he's done, sure as the Lord made little apples!"
Then he got on his horse and rode her through the hickories out to the brow of the hill. Presently I heard him call, and went to him with El Mahdi on a trot. He pointed his finger north across the country and, following the pointed finger, I saw the brown coat of a man disappearing behind a distant ridge. It was too far away to see who it was that travelled in that coat, but we knew as well as though the man's face had passed by our stirrups.
"Hoity-toity!" said Ump, "what doin's there'll be when he gits in with the news!"
"The air will be blue," said I.
"Streaked and striped," said he.
"I should like to see Woodford champing the bit," said I.
"I'd give a leg for the sight of it," replied the hunchback, "an' they could pick the leg."
I laughed at the hunchback's offer to the Eternal Powers. Of all the generation of rogues, he was least fitted to barter away his underpinning.
We rode back to the shop and down the hill after the cattle, Ump drumming on the pommel with his fingers and firing a cackle of fantastic monologue. "Quiller," he said, "do you think Miss Cynthia will be glad to see the drove comin' down the road?"
"Happy as a June bug," said I.
"Old Granny Lanham," continued the hunchback, "used to have a song that went like this:
"'God made man, an' man made money; God made bees, an' bees made honey; God made woman, an' went away to rest Him, An' along come the devil, an' showed her how to best Him.'"
"Meaning what?" said I.
"Meanin'," responded Ump, "that if you think you know what a woman's goin' to do, you're as badly fooled as if you burned your shirt."
"Ump," I said sharply, "what do you know about women?"
"Nothin' at all," said he, "nothin' at all. But I know about mares. An' when they lay back their ears, it don't always mean that they're goin' to kick you."
BY THE LIGHT OF A LANTERN
It was a hungry, bareheaded youngster that rode up at sundown to Roy's tavern. The yellow mud clinging to my clothes had dried in cakes, and as my hat was on the other side of the Valley River, my head, as described by Ump, was a "middlin' fair brush heap."
Adam Roy gaped in astonishment when I called him to the door to ask about a field for the cattle.
"Law! Quiller," he cried, "where in the name o' fathers have you been a-wallerin'?"
"We went swimming in the Valley," I answered.
"Mercy sakes!" said the tavern-keeper, "you must a mired down. You've got mud enough on you to daub a chimney, an' your head looks like a chaff-pen on a windy mornin'. What did you go swimmin' for?"
"Hobson's choice," said I.
"Was the ferry washed out?" he asked.
"It was out," I said. "How it got out is a heifer of another drove."
"An' did you swim the cattle?" The man leaned out of the door.
I pointed my finger to the drove coming down the road. "There they are," said I. "Do you see any wings on them?"
"Lord love me!" cried the tavern-keeper, "I'd never put cattle in the Valley when it was up, unless I wanted to see their tails a stickin' out o' the drift-wood. Why didn't you wait until they fixed the ferry? What was your hurry?"
"No matter about that hurry," said I. "Just now we have another hurry that is a trifle more urgent. We want a field for the cattle, and corn and clover hay and plenty of bedding for the horses, and something hot for supper. We are all as hungry as Job's turkey."
"One thing at a time, Quiller," said the man, spreading his hands. "Turn the cattle into the north boundary an' come along to the house."
I went back up the road, threw down the bars to the pasture, and counted the cattle as they went strolling in. The Polled-Angus muleys seemed none the worse for their long swim, and they began to crop the brown grass the moment they were out in the field.
Jud and the Cardinal came up after the first hundred, and took a place by El Mahdi.
I think I know now the joy of the miser counting his gold pieces at midnight in his cellar, looking at each yellow eagle lovingly, and passing his finger over the milled rim of each new-minted coin, while the tallow candle melts down on the bench beside him.
I could close my eyes and see a black mass going down in the yellow water, with here and there a bullock drifting exhausted in the eddy, or heaps of bloated bodies piled up on a sandbar of the Valley River. And there, with my eyes wide open, was the drove spreading out along the hillside as it passed in between the two chestnut bar-posts.
I was as happy as a man can be when his Armada sails in with its sunlit canvas; and yet, had that Armada gone to pieces on a coast, I think my tears over its wreckage had been the deeper emotion. Our conception of disaster outrides by far our conception of felicity.
It is a thing of striking significance that old, wise poets have on occasion written of hell so vividly that we hear the fire crackle and see the bodies of the lost sizzling; but not one of them, burning the candle of genius at both ends, has ever been able to line out a heaven that a man would live in if he were given the key to it.
Ump came along after the last of the cattle and burst into a great laugh. "Damme," he said, "you're as purty a pair of muskrats as ever chawed a root. Why don't you put up the bars instead of settin' gawkin' at the cattle! They're all there."
"Suppose they were not all there?" said I.
"Quiller," said he, "I'm not goin' back over any burnt bridges. When the devil throws a man in a sink hole an' the Lord comes along an' pulls him out, that man ought to go on about his business an' not hang around the place until the devil gits back."
Jud got down from his horse and began to lay up the bars. "But," said he, "suppose we hadn't split the bunch?"
"Jud," answered the hunchback, "hell's full of people who spent their lives a-'sposin'."
Jud jammed the top bar into the chestnut post. "Still," he persisted, "where would we a been now?"
"If you must know," said Ump, "we'd a been heels up in the slime of the Valley with the catfish playin' pussy-in-the-corner around the butt of our ears."
We trotted over to the tavern, flung the bridle-reins across the hitching post, and went bursting into the house. Roy was wiping his oak table. "Mother Hubbard," cried the hunchback, "set out your bones. We're as empty as bee gums."
The man stopped with his hands resting on the cloth. "God save us!" he said, "if you eat like you look, it'll take a barbecue bull to fill you. Draw up a chair an' we'll give you what we've got."
"Horses first," said Ump, taking up a split basket.
"Suit yourself," said Roy; "there's nobody holdin' you, an' there's corn in the crib, hay in the mow, an' oats in the entry."
Jud and I followed Ump out of the house, put the horses in the log stable, pulled off the bridles and saddles, and crammed the racks with the sweet-smelling clover hay. Then we brushed out the mangers and threw in the white corn. When we were done we went swaggering back to the house.
From threatened disaster we had come desperately ashore. Whence arises the strange pride of him who by sheer accident slips through the fingers of Destiny?
We ate our supper under the onslaughts of the tavern-keeper. Roy had a mind to know why we hurried. He scented some reason skulking in the background, and he beat across the field like a setter.
"You'll want to get out early," he said. "Men who swim cattle won't be lettin' grass grow under their feet."
"Bright an' early," replied Ump.
"It appears like," continued Roy, "you mightn't have time enough to get where you're goin'."
"Few of us have," replied Ump. "About the time a feller gits a good start, somethin' breaks in him an' they nail him up in quarter oak."
"Life is short," murmured the tavern-keeper, retiring behind a platitude as a skirmisher retires behind a stone.
Ump bent the prongs of the fork against his plate. "An' yit," he soliloquised, "there is time enough for most of us to do things that we ought to be hung for."
Roy withdrew to the fastnesses of the kitchen, re-formed his lines and approached from another quarter. "If I was Mr. Ward," he opened, jerking his thumb toward Ump, "I'd give it to you when you got in."
The hunchback poured out his coffee, held up the saucer with both hands and blew away the heat. "What for?" he grunted, between the puffings.
"What for?" said Roy. "Lordy! man, you're about the most reckless creature that ever set on hog leather."
"The devil you say!" said Ump.
"That's what I say," continued the tavern-keeper, waving his arm to add fury to his bad declamation. "That's what I say. Suppose you'd got little Quiller drownded?"
The hunchback seemed to consider this possibility with the gravity of one pointed suddenly to some defect in his life. He replaced the saucer on the table, locked his fingers and thrust his thumbs together.
"If had got little Quiller drownded," he began, "then the old women couldn't a said when he growed up, 'Eh, little Quiller didn't amount to much after all. I said he wouldn't come to no good when I used to see him goin' by runnin' his horse.' An' when he got whiskers to growin' on his jaw, flat-nose niggers fishin' along the creek couldn't a' cussed an' said, 'There goes old skinflint Quiller. I wish he couldn't swallow till he give me half his land.' An' when he got old an' wobbly on his legs, tow-headed brats a-waitin' for his money couldn't a-p'inted their fingers at him an' said, 'Ma, how old's grandpap?' An' when he died, nobody could a wrote on his tombstone, 'He robbed the poor an' he cheated the rich, an' he's gone to hell with the balance a' sich.'"
Routed in his second man[oe]uvre, Roy flung a final sally with a sort of servile abandon. "You're a queer lot," he said. "Marks an' that club-footed Malan comes along away before day an' wants their breakfast, an' gits it, an' lights out like the devil was a-follerin' 'em. An' when I asked 'em what they'd been doin', they up an' says they'd been fixin' lay-overs to ketch meddlers an' make fiddlers' wives ask questions. An' then along come you all a-lookin' like hell an' shyin' at questions."
We took the information with no sign, although it confirmed our theory about the ferry. Ump turned gravely to the tavern-keeper.
"I'll clear it all up for you slick as a whistle." Then he arose and pressed his fingers against the tavern-keeper's chest. "Roy," he said, "this is the marrow out of that bone. We're the meddlers that they didn't ketch, an' you're the fiddler's wife."
The laughter sent the tavern-keeper flying from the field. We borrowed some odd pieces of clothing, got the lantern, and went down to the stable to groom our horses.
A man might travel about quite as untidy as Nebuchadnezzar when events were jamming him, but his horse was rubbed and cleaned if the heavens tumbled. I held the lantern, an old iron frame with glass sides, while Jud and Ump curried the horses, rubbing the dust out of their hair, and washing their eyes and nostrils.
We were speculating on the mission of the blacksmith, and the destination of Parson Peppers, of whose singing I had told, when the talk came finally to Twiggs.
"I'd give a purty," said Ump, "to know what word that devil was carryin'."
"Quiller had a chance to find out," answered Jud, "an' he shied away from it."
"What's that?" cried the hunchback, coming out from under the Bay Eagle. He wore a long blue coat that dragged the ground, the sleeves rolled up above his wrists, a coat that Roy had fished out of a box in the loft of his tavern and hesitated over, because on an evening in his youthful heyday, he had gone in that coat to make a bride of a certain Mathilda, and the said Mathilda at the final moment did most stubbornly refuse. The coat had brass buttons, a plenteous pitting of moth-holes, and a braided collar.
Jud went on without noticing the interruption. "The letter that Twiggs brought was a-layin' on the mantelpiece, tore open. Quiller could a looked just as easy as not, an' a found out just what it said, but he edged off."
The hunchback turned around in his blue coat without disturbing the swallowtails lying against his legs. "Is Jud right?" he said.
I nodded my head.
"An' you didn't look?"
Again I nodded.
"Quiller," cried Ump, "do you know how that way of talkin' started? The devil was the daddy of it. He had his mouth crammed full of souls, an' when they asked him if he wanted any more, he begun a-bobbin' his head like that."
"It's every word the truth," said I. "There was the letter lying open, with Cynthia's monogram on the envelope, and I could have looked."
"Why didn't you?" said Ump.
"High frollickin' notions," responded Jud. "I told him a hog couldn't root with a silk nose."
The hunchback closed his hand and pressed his thumb up under his chin. "High frollickin' notions," he said, "are all mighty purty to make meetin'-house talk, but they're short horses when you try to ride 'em. It all depends on where you're at. If you're settin' up to the Lord's table, you must dip with your spoon, but if you're suppin' with the devil, you can eat with your fingers."
I cast about for an excuse, like a lad under the smarting charge of having said his prayers. "It wasn't any notion," said I; "Mr. Marsh came back too quick."
"Why didn't you yank the paper, an' we'd a had it," said he.
"We have got it," said I, putting my hand in my breeches pocket and drawing forth the letter. I stood deep in the oak leaves of the horses' bedding. The light of the candle squeezing through the dirty glass sides brought every log of the old stable into shadow.
Jud came out of El Mahdi's stall like something out of a hole. He wore a rubber coat that had gone many years about the world, up and down, and finally passed in its decay to Roy.
"You've got that letter?" he said.
I told him that I had the very letter, that it had got wet in the river; I had dried it in the sun, and here it was.
"How did you get it?" he asked.
I told him all the conversation with Marsh, and how I was to give it to Cynthia and the message that went along with it.
The two men came over to me and took the lantern and the letter from my hands, Jud holding the light and Ump turning the envelope around in his fingers, peering curiously. They might have been some guardians of a twilight country examining a mysterious passport signed right but writ in cipher, and one that from some hidden angle might be clear enough.
Presently they handed the letter gravely back to me and set the lantern down in the leaves. Jud was silent, like a man embarrassed, and Ump stood for a moment fingering the buttons on his blue coat.
Finally he spoke. "What's in it?" he said.
"I don't know," I answered. I was sure that the man's face brightened, but it might have been a fancy. Loud in the hooting of a principle, we sometimes change mightily when it comes to breaking that principle bare-handed.
"Are you goin' to look?" he said.
The letter was lying in my hand. I had but to plunge my fingers into the open envelope, but something took me by the shoulder. "No," I answered, and thrust the envelope in my pocket.
I take no airs for that decision. There was something here that these men did not like to handle, and, in plain terms, I was afraid.
THE ORBIT OF THE DWARFS
We slept that night in the front room of Roy's tavern, and it seemed to me that I had just closed my eyes when I opened them again. Ump was standing by the side of the bed with a candle. The door was ajar and the night air blowing the flame, which he was screening with his hand. For a moment, with sleep thick in my eyes, I did not know who it was in the blue coat. "Wake up, Quiller," he said, "an' git into your duds."
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"There's devilment hatchin', I'm afraid," he answered. "Wait till I wake Jud."
He aroused the man from his snoring in the chimney corner, and I got into my clothes. It was about three o'clock and grey dark. I looked over the room as I pulled on the roundabout borrowed of Roy. Ump's bed had not been slept in, and there was about him the warm smell of a horse.
Jud noticed the empty bed. "Ump," he said, "you ain't been asleep at all."
"I got uneasy about the cattle," answered the hunchback, "an I've been up there with 'em, an' it was dam' lucky. I was settin' on the Bay Eagle in a little holler, when somebody come along an' begun to take down the bars. I lit out for him, an' he run like a whitehead, jumped the fence on the lower side of the road an' went splashin' through the creek, but he left some feathers in the bushes when he jumped, an' I got 'em."
He put his hand into the bosom of his coat and drew out a leather cap. "Christian," I cried, pointing to the seared spots on the leather.
Jud crushed the cap in his fingers. "He's got back," he said. "Was he ridin' a horse?"
"Footin' it," answered Ump, "an' by himself. That's what makes me leary. Them others are up to somethin' or they'd a come with him. He's had just about time to make the trip on Shank's mare by takin' short cuts. They've put him up to turn out the cattle an' drive 'em back while we snoozed."
"Maybe they did come with him," said Jud, "an' they're waitin' somewhere. It would be like 'em to come sneakin' back an' try to drive the cattle over, an' put 'em in the river in the night, so it would look like they had got out an' gone away themselves."
Ump's forehead wrinkled like an accordion. "That's fittin' to the size of 'em," he said, "an' about what they're up to. But old Christian was surely by himself, an' I don't understand that. If they'd a come with him, I'd a seen 'em, or a heard the horses."
"I don't believe they came with him," said I.
"Why not?" said Jud.
"Because," I answered, "if they came with him they would have put Christian on a horse, and they would have stopped here to locate us. They could tell by looking in the stable. They'd never wait until they got to the field. They're a foxy set, and there's something back that we don't know."
"What could they do?" put in Jud. "There's no more ferries."
"But there's a bridge," said I.
Ump, standing stock still in the floor, stumbled like a horse struck over the knees. Jud bolted out of the house on a dead run. We followed him to the stable, Ump galloping like a great rabbit.
We flung open the stable door, thrust the bits into the horses' mouths, and slapped on our saddles. It was murky, but we needed no light for business like this. We knew every part of the horse as a man knows his face, and we knew every strap and buckle.
Ump sat on his mare, waiting until we should be ready, kicking his stirrups with impatience, but his tongue, strangely enough, quiet. He turned his mare across the road before us when we were in our saddles.
"Jud," he said, "don't go off half-cocked. An' if there's hell raised, look out for Quiller. I'll stay here an' bring up the cattle as soon as it's light." Then he pulled his mare out of the way. El Mahdi was on his hind legs while Ump was speaking. When the Bay Eagle turned out, he came down with a great jump and began to run.
I bent over and clamped my knees to the horse and let him go. He was like some engine whose throttle is thrown open. In the first few plunges he seemed to rock with energy, as though he might be thrown off his legs by the pent-up driving-power. He and one other horse, the Black Abbot, started like this when they were mad. And, clinging in the saddle, one felt for a moment that the horse under him would rise out of the road or go crashing into the fence.
You will not understand this, my masters, if you have ridden only trained running horses or light hunters. They go about the business of a race with eagerness enough, but still as a servant goes about his task. Imagine, if you please, how a horse would run with you in the night if he was seventeen hands high and a barbarian!
We passed the tavern in a dozen plunges. I saw the candle which Ump had flung down, flickering by the horse-block, a little patch of light. Then the Cardinal's shoe crushed it out.
My coat sleeves cracked like sails. The wind seemed to whistle along my ribs. The horse's shoulders felt like pistons working under a cloth. I was a part of that horse. I fitted my body to him. I adjusted myself to the drive of his legs, to the rise and fall of his shoulders, to the play of every muscle. I rode when his back rocked, like a sort of loose hump fastened on it. His mane blew over my face and went streaming back. My nostrils were filled with the steam from his sweating skin.
Jud rode after the same manner, reducing the area of wind resistance to the smallest space. One watching the horses pass would have seen no rider at all. He might have marked a heavy outline as though something were bound across the saddle or clung flat to it.
You, my masters, who are accustomed to the horse as a slave, cannot know him as a freeman. That docked thing standing by the curb is a long bred-out degenerate. In the Hills a horse was born and bred up to be a freeman. When the time came, he yielded to a sort of human suzerainty, but he yielded as a cadet of a noble house yields to the discipline of a commandant, with the spirit in him and as one who condescended.
There were certain traditions which these horses seemed to hold. The Bay Eagle would never wear harness, nor would any of her blood, to the last one. The Black Abbot would never carry a woman's saddle, nor would his father nor his father's father. I have seen them fight like barbarian kings, great, tawny, desperate savages, bursting the straps and buckles as Samson burst the withes of the Philistines, fighting to kill, fighting to tear in pieces and destroy, fighting as a man fights when his standards are all down and he has lost a kingdom.
The earth was grey, with a few stars above it. The moon had gone over the mountains to make it day in the mystic city of Zeus, and the sun was still lagging along the other side of the world.
We thundered by the old weaver's little house squatting by the roadside, shut up tight like a sleeping eye. Then we swung down into the sandy strip of bottom leading to the bridge. The river was not a quarter of a mile away.
I began to pull on the bridle-reins. El Mahdi held the bit clamped in his teeth. I shifted a rein into each hand and tried to saw the bit loose, but I could not do it. Then, lying down on the saddle, I wound the slack of the reins around my wrists, caught out as far as I could, braced myself against the horn, and jerked with all the strength of my arms.
I jammed the tree of the saddle up on the horse's withers, but the bit held in his jaws. I knew then that the horse was running away. The devil seemed to be in him. He started in a fury, and he had run with a sort of rocking that ought to have warned me. I twisted my head around to look for Jud.
He had begun to pull up the Cardinal and had fallen a little behind, but he understood at once, shook out his reins, and leaned over in his saddle. The nose of the Cardinal came almost to my knee and hung there. Jud caught at my bridle, but he could not reach it. I wedged my knees against the leather pads of the saddle skirts, caught one side of the bridle-rein with both hands, and tried to throw the horse into the fence. I felt the leather of the rein stretch.
Then I knew that it was no use to try any further. Even if Jud could reach my bridle, he would merely tear it off at the bit-rings, and not stop the horse.
In a dozen seconds we would reach the stone abutment and go over into the river. I had no doubt that the bridge was down, or, if not, that its flooring was torn up.
I realised suddenly that it was my turn to go out of the world. I had seen people going out as though their turn came in a curious order, not unlike games which children play. But somehow I never thought that my turn would come. I was not really in that game. I was looking on when my name was called out.
El Mahdi struck the stone abutment and the bridge loomed. I dropped the reins and clung to the saddle, expecting the horse to fall with his legs broken, drive me against the sleepers and crash through.
We went on to the bridge like a rattle of musketry and thundered across. Horses, resembling women, as I have heard it said, are sometimes diverted from their purpose by the removal of every jot of opposition. With the reins on his neck, El Mahdi stopped at the top of the hill and I climbed down to the ground. My legs felt weak and I held on to the stirrup leather.
Jud dismounted, seized my bit, and ran his hand over El Mahdi's face. "I can't make head nor tail of that runnin'," he said. "He ain't scared nor he ain't mad."
"You couldn't tell with him," I answered.
"There never was a scared horse," responded Jud, "that wasn't nervous, an' there never was a mad one that wasn't hot. But this feller feels like a suckin' calf. It must have been devilment, an' he ought to be whaled."
"It wouldn't do any good," said I; "he'd only fight you and try to kill you."
"He's a dam' curious whelp," said Jud. "He must a knowed that the bridge was all right."
"How could he have known?" said I.
"They say," replied Jud, "that horses an' cattle sees things that folks don't see, an' that they know about what's goin' to happen. It's powerful curious about the things they do know."
We slipped the reins over the horses' heads and walked back to the bridge. Jud went on with his talking.
"Now, you can't get a horse on to a dangerous bridge, to save your life, an' you can't get him on ice that ain't strong enough to hold him, an' you can't get him to eat anything that'll hurt him, an' you can't get him lost. An' old Clabe says there's Bible for it that a horse can see spooks. I tell you, Quiller, El Mahdi knowed about that bridge."
Deep in my youthful bosom I was convinced that El Mahdi knew. But I put it wholly on the ground that he was a genius.
We crossed the river, led the horses down to the end of the abutment, and tied them to a fence. Then we went back and examined the bridge as well as we could in the dark. It stood over the river as the early men and Dwarfs had built it,—solid as a wall.
Woodford had given the thing up, and the road was open to the north country.
We sat down on the corner of the abutment near the horses, to wait for the daylight, Jud wearing old Christian's cap, and I bareheaded. We sat for a long time, listening to the choke and snarl of the water as it crowded along under the bridge.
Then we fell to a sort of whispering talk.
"Quiller," he began, "do you believe that story about the Dwarfs buildin' the bridge?"
"Ump don't," I answered. "Ump says it's a cock-and-bull story, and there never were any Dwarfs except once in a while a bad job like him."
"You can't take Ump for it," said he. "Ump won't believe anything he can't put his finger on, if it's swore to on a stack of Bibles. Quiller, I've seen them holes in the mountains where the Dwarfs lived, with the marks on the rocks like's on them logs, an' I've seen the rigamajigs that they cut in the sandstone. They could a built the bridge, if they took a notion, just by sayin' words."
He was quiet a while, and then he added, "An' I've seen the path where they used to come down to the river, an' it has places wore in the solid rock like you'd make with your big toe."
Jud stopped, and I moved up a little closer to him. I could see the ugly, crooked men crawl out of their caves and come sneaking down from the mountains to strangle the sleeping and burn the roof. I could see their twisted bare feet, their huge, slack mouths, and their long hands that hung below their knees when they walked. And then, on the hill beyond the Valley River, I heard a sound.
I seized my companion by the arm. "Jud," I said under my breath, "did you hear that?"
He leaned over me and listened. The sound was a sort of echo.
"They're comin'," he whispered.
"The Dwarfs?" said I.
"Lem Marks," said he.
ON THE ART OF GOING TO RUIN
The sound reached the summit of the hill, and then we heard it clearly,—the ringing of horseshoes on the hard road. They came in a long trot, clattering into the little hollow at the foot of the abutment to the bridge. We heard men dismounting, horses being tied to the fence, and a humming of low talk. We listened, lying flat beside El Mahdi and the Cardinal.
It was difficult to determine how many were in the hollow, but all were now afoot but one. We could hear his horse tramping, and hear him speaking to the others from the saddle above them.
A man with his back toward us lighted a lantern. When he turned to lead the way up the abutment into the bridge, we caught a flickering picture of the group. I could make out Lem Marks as the man with the lantern, and Malan behind him, and I could see the brown shoulder of the horse and the legs of the rider, but the man's face was above the reach of the light. It was perhaps Parson Peppers.
They stopped at the sill of the bridge, and the man with the lantern began to examine the flooring and the ends of the logs set into the stone of the abutment.
He moved about slowly, holding the lantern close to the ground. Malan stopped by the horse. I could see the dingy light now moving in the bridge, now held over the edge of the abutment, now creeping along the borders of the sill.
Once it passed close to the horse, and I saw his hoofs clearly and his brown legs, and the club feet of Malan, and the gleam of an axe. They were on the far side of the river, and the howling of the water tumbled their voices into a sort of jumble. The man on the horse seemed to give some directions which were carried out by the one with the lantern. Then they gathered in a little group and put the thing under discussion.
Lem Marks talked for some minutes, and once Malan pointed with the axe. I could see the light slip along its edge. Then they all went into the bridge together.
The tallow candle struggling through the dingy windows of the lantern lighted the bridge as a dying fire lights a forest, in a little space, half-heartedly, with all the world blacker beyond that space. They stopped at the bridge-mouth on our side of the river, and Marks carried the lantern over the lower end of the abutment. Then he called Malan. The clubfoot got down on his knees and held the light over by the log sleeper of the bridge.
I could see where the bark had been burned along the log. I heard Marks say that this was the place to cut. Then the man on the horse rode out close to Malan and bent over to look. The clubfoot raised his lantern, and the rider's face came into the play of the light. My heart lifted trembling into my throat. It was Woodford!
I grabbed for Jud, and my fingers caught the knee of his breeches. He was squatted down in the road with a stone in his hand.
Woodford nodded his head, gave some order which I could not hear, and moved his horse back from the edge of the abutment. Malan arose and picked up his axe. Marks took the lantern, trying to find some place where the light could be thrown on the face of the log. He shifted to several positions and finally took a place at the corner of the bridge, holding the light over the side.
Malan stood with his club feet planted wide on the log, leaned over, and began to hack the bark off where he wished to take out his great chip.
I could hear the little pieces of charred bark go rattling down into the river. Malan notched the borders of his chip, then shifted his weight a little to his right leg and swung the axe back over his shoulder. It came down gleaming true, it seemed to me, but the blade, turning as it descended, dealt the log a glancing blow and wrenched the handle out of the man's hand. I saw the axe glitter as it passed the smoked glass of the lantern. Then it struck the side of the bridge with a great ripping bang, and dropped into the river.
I jumped up with a cry of "the Dwarfs!"
The swing of the axe carried Malan forward. He lost his balance, threw up his hands and began to topple. I saw the shadow of the horse fall swiftly across the light. Malan was seized by the collar and flung violently backward. Then Woodford caught the lantern from Marks and came on down the abutment toward us.
He rode slowly with the lantern against his knee. The horse, blinded by the light, did not see us until he was almost upon us. Then he jumped back with a snort. Woodford raised the lantern above his head and looked down.
Bareheaded, in Roy's roundabout, I was a queer looking youngster. Jud, with old Christian's leather cap pulled on his head and a stone in his fist, might have been brother to any cutthroat. Stumbled upon in the dark we must have looked pretty wild.
Woodford regarded us with very apparent unconcern. "Quiller," he said, as one might have announced a guest of indifferent welcome. Then he set the lantern down on his saddle horn. "Well," he said, "this is a piece of luck."
I was struck dumb by the man's friendly voice and my resolution went to pieces. I began to stammer like a novice taken in a wrong. Then Woodford did a cunning thing.
He assumed that I was not embarrassed, but that I was amused at his queer words.
"Upon my life, Quiller," he said, "I don't wonder that you laugh. It was a queer thing to go blurting out, you moving the very devil to get your cattle over the Valley, and I using every influence I may have with that gentleman to prevent it. Now, that was a funny speech."
I got my voice then. "I don't see the luck of it," I said.
"And that," said he, "is just what I am about to explain. In the meantime Jud might toss that rock into the river." There was a smile playing on the man's face.
"If it's the same to you," said Jud, "I'll just hold on to the rock."
"As you please," replied Woodford, still smiling down at me. "I'd like a word with you, Quiller. Shall we go out on the road a little?"
"Not a foot," said I.
On my life, the man sighed deeply and passed his hand over his face. "If I had such men," he said, "I wouldn't be here pulling down a bridge. Your brother, Quiller, is in great luck. With such men, I could twist the cattle business around my finger. But when one has to depend upon a lot of numbskulls, he can expect to come out at the little end of the horn."
I began to see that this Woodford, under some lights, might be a very sensible and a very pleasant man. He got down from his saddle, held up the lantern and looked me over. Then he set the light on the ground and put his hands behind his back. "Quiller," he began, as one speaks into a sympathetic ear, "there is no cement that will hold a man to you unless it is blood wetted. You can buy men by the acre, but they are eye servants to the last one. A brother sticks, right or wrong, and perhaps a son sticks, but the devil take the others. I never had a brother, and, therefore, Providence put me into the fight one arm short."
He began to walk up and down behind the lantern, taking a few long strides and then turning sharply. "Doing things for one's self," he went on, "comes to be tiresome business. A man must have someone to work for, or he gets to the place where he doesn't care." He stopped before me with his face full in the light. "Quiller," he said, and the voice seemed to ring true, "I meant to prevent your getting north with these cattle. I hoped to stop you without being compelled to destroy this bridge, but you force me to make this move, and I shall make it. Still, on my life, I care so little that I would let the whole thing go on the spin of a coin."
His face brightened as though the idea offered some easy escape from an unpleasant duty. "Upon my word," he laughed, "I was not intending to be so fair. But the offer is out, and I will stand by it."
He put his hand in his pocket and took out a silver dollar. "You may toss, Quiller, heads or tails as you choose."
I refused, and the man pitched the coin into the air, caught it in his hand and returned it to his pocket.
"Perhaps you think you will be able to stop me," he said in a voice that came ringing over something in his throat. "We're three, and Malan is a better man than Jud."
"He is not a better man," said I.
"There is a way to tell," said he.
"And it can't begin too quick," said I.
"Done," said he. "At it they go, right here in the road, and the devil take me if Malan does not dust your man's back for you."
He spun around, caught up the lantern, and we all went up to the level floor of the abutment at the bridge sill. Lem Marks and the clubfoot were waiting. Woodford turned to them.
"Malan," he said, "I've heard a great deal of talk out of you about a wrestle with Jud at Roy's tavern. Now I'm going to see if there's any stomach behind that talk."
I thrust in. "It must be fair," I said.
"Fair it shall be," said he; "catch-as-catch-can or back-holds?" And he turned to Malan.
"Back-holds," said the clubfoot, "if that suits Jud."
"Anything suits me," answered Jud.
The two men stripped. Jud asked for the lantern and examined the ground. It was the width of the abutment, perhaps thirty feet, practically level, and covered with a loose sand dust. There was no railing to this abutment, not even a coping along its borders.
I followed Jud as he went over every foot of the place. I wanted to ask him what he thought, but I was afraid. Presently he came back to the bridge, set down the lantern, and announced that he was ready.
There was not a breath of air moving. The door of the lantern stood open, and the smoke from the half-burned tallow candle streamed straight up and squeezed out at the peaked top.
The two men took their places, leaned over, and each put his big arms around the other. Malan had torn the sleeves out of his shirt, and Jud had rolled his above the elbow.
Woodford picked up the lantern, nodded to me to follow him, and we went around the men to see if the positions they had taken were fair. Each was entitled to one underhold, that is, the right arm around the body and under the left arm of his opponent, the left arm over the opponent's right, and the hands gripped. It is the position of the grizzly, hopeless for the weaker man.
The two had taken practically the same hold, except that Malan locked his fingers, while Jud gripped his left wrist with his right hand. Jud was perhaps four inches taller, but Malan was heavier by at least twenty pounds.
We came back and stood by the floor of the bridge, Woodford holding the lantern with Lem Marks and I beside him. Malan said that the light was in his eyes, and Woodford shifted the lantern until the men's faces were in the dark. Then he gave the word.
For fully a minute, it seemed to me, the two men stood, like a big bronze. Then I could see the muscles of their shoulders contracting under a powerful tension as though each were striving to lift some heavy thing up out of the earth. It seemed, too, that Malan squeezed as he lifted, and that Jud's shoulder turned a little, as though he wished to brace it against the clubfoot's breast, or was troubled by the squeezing.
Malan bent slowly backward, and Jud's heels began to rise out of the dust. Then, as though a crushing weight descended suddenly through his shoulder, Jud threw himself heavily against Malan, and the two fell. I ran forward, the men were down sidewise in the road.
"Dog fall," said Woodford; "get up."
But the blood of the two was now heated. They hugged, panted, and rolled over. Woodford thrust the lantern into their faces and began to kick Malan. "Get up, you dog," he said.
They finally unlocked their arms and got slowly on their legs. Both were breathing deeply and the sweat was trickling over their faces.
Woodford looked at the infuriated men and seemed to reflect. Presently he turned to me, as the host turns to the honourable guest. "Quiller," he said, "these savages want to kill each other. We shall have to close the Olympic games. Let us say that you have won, and no tales told. Is it fair?"
I stammered that it was fair. Then he came over and linked his arm through mine. He asked me if I would walk to the horses with him. I could not get away, and so I walked with him.
He pointed to the daylight breaking along the edges of the hills, and to the frost glistening on the bridge roof. He said it reminded him how, when he was little, he would stand before the frosted window panes trying to understand what the etched pictures meant, and how sure he was that he had once known about this business, but had somehow forgotten. And how he tried and tried to recall the lost secret. How sometimes he seemed about to get it, and then it slipped away, and how one day he realised that he should never remember, and what a blow it was.
Then he said a lot of things that I did not understand. He said that when one grew out of childhood, he lost his sympathy with events, and when that sympathy was lost, it was possible to live in the world only as an adventurer with everything in one's hand.
He said a sentinel watched to see if a man set his heart on a thing, and if he did the sentinel gave some sign, whereupon the devil's imps swarmed up to break that thing in pieces. He said that sometimes a man beat off the devils and saved the thing, but it was rare, and meant a life of tireless watching. From every point of view, indifference was better.
Still, he said, it was a mistake for a man to allow events to browbeat him. He ought to fight back, hitting where he could. An event, once in a while, was strangely a coward. Besides that, if Destiny found a man always ready to strip, she came after a while to accord to him the courtesies of a duellist, and if he were a stout fellow, she sometimes hesitated before she provoked a fight. Of course the man could not finally beat her off, but she would set him to one side, as a person with whom she was going to have trouble, and give him all the time she could.
He said a man ought to have the courage to strike out for what he wanted; that the ship-wrecked who got desperately ashore was a better man than the hanger-back; that a great misfortune was a great compliment. It measured the resistance of the man. Destiny would not send artillery against a weakling. It was sometimes finer to fight when the lights were all out; I would not understand that, men never did until they were about through with life. But, above everything else, he said, a man ought to go to his ruin with a sort of princely indifference. God Almighty could not hurt the man who did not care.
Then he gave me a friendly direction about the cattle, to put them in his boundary on our road home, bade me remember our contract of no tales told, and got into his saddle.
I watched him cross the bridge, and ride away through the Hills with his men, humming some song about the devil and a dainty maid, and I wished that I might grow up to have such splendid courage. His big galleon had gone down on the high seas with a treasure in her hold that I could not reckon, and he went singing like one who finds a kingdom.
Then Jud called to me to get out of the road, and a muley steer went by at my elbow.
THE EXIT OF THE PRETENDER
I sat in the saddle of El Mahdi on the hill-top beyond the bridge, and watched the day coming through the gateway of the world. It was a work of huge enchantment, as when, for the pleasure of some ancient caliph, or at the taunting of some wanton queen, a withered magus turned the ugly world into a kingdom of the fairy, and the lolling hangers-on started up on their elbows to see a green field spreading through the dirty city and great trees rising above the vanished temples, and wild roses and the sweet dew-drenched brier trailing where the camel's track had just faded out, and autumn leaves strewn along pathways of a wood, and hills behind it all where the sunlight flooded.
It was like the mornings that came up from the sea by the Wood Wonderful, or those that broke smiling when the world was newly minted,—mornings that trouble the blood of the old shipwreck sunning by the door, and move the stay-at-home to sail out for the Cloud Islands. Full of the joy of life was this October land.
I could almost hear the sunlight running with a shout as it plunged in among the hickory trees and went tumbling to the thickets of the hollow. The mist hanging over the low meadows was a golden web, stretched by enchanted fingers across some exquisite country into which a man might come only through his dreams.
I waited while the drove went by, counting the cattle to see that none had been overlooked in the night. The Aberdeen-Angus still held his place in the front, and the big muley bull marched by like a king's governor, keeping his space of clear road at the peril of a Homeric struggle.
I knew every one of the six hundred, and I could have hugged each great black fellow as he trudged past.
Jud and the Cardinal went by in the middle of the long line and passed out of sight behind a turn of the hill below. The giant rode slowly, lolling in his saddle and swinging his big legs free of the stirrups.
Then the lagging rear of the drove trailed up, and the hunchback followed on the Bay Eagle. He was buttoned to the chin in Roy's blue coat and looked for all the world like some shrivelled old marshal of the empire, a hundred days out of Paris, covering the retreat of the imperial army.
El Mahdi stood on the high bank by the roadside, in among the dead blackberry briers, and I sat with the rein under my legs and my hands in my pockets.
The hunchback stopped his horse in the road below me, squared himself in his saddle, and looked up with a great supercilious grin.
"Well," he said, "I'll be damn!"
"What's the trouble?" said I.
"Humph!" he snorted, "are them britches I see on your legs?"
"That's what they call them," said I.
"Well," said he, "when you git home, take 'em off, an' hand 'em over to old Liza, an' ask her to bring your kilts down out of the garret. For you're as innocent a little codger as ever sucked his hide full of milk."
"What are you driving at?" I asked.
Ump shook out his long arms and folded them around the bosom of his blue coat. "Jud told me," he said; "an' the pair of you ought to be put in a cradle with a rock-a-by-baby. Woodford was done when that axe fell in the river, an' he knowed it. He was ridin' out when he saw you an' Jud, an' he said to himself, 'God's good to you, Rufus, my boy; here's a pair of little babies a long way from their ma, an' it ought to count you one.' Then he lit off an' offered to wrastle you, heads I win an' tails you lose, for the cake in your pocket, an' then he chucked you under the chin, an' you promised not to tell."
The hunchback set his two fingers against his teeth and whistled like a hawk, a long, shrill, hissing whistle that startled the little partridges on the sloping hillside and sent them scurrying under the dead grass, and brought the drumming pheasant to his feathered legs.
Then he threw his chin into the air and squinted. "Quiller," he piped, with the long echo still whining in his throat, "that whistle fooled you an' it fooled Jud, but it wouldn't fool a Bob White with the shell on its back. When the old bird hears it, she don't wait to see the long shadow travellin' on the grass, but she hollers, 'Into the weeds, boys, if you want to save your bacon.' An' you ought to see the little codgers scatter. Let it be a lesson to you, Quiller, my laddiebuck; when you hear that whistle, light out for the tall timber. When you're a fightin' the devil, half the winnin' 's in the runnin'."
Then he opened his great cavernous mouth and began to bellow,
"Ho! ho! for the carrion crow, But hark to the sqawk of the carrion hawk,"
gathered up his reins and set out after the drove in a hand gallop, all doubled over in his blue coat.
I got El Mahdi into the road and we went swinging down the hill. I had a light flashed into the deeps of Woodford, and I saw dimly how able and how dangerous a man he was. I began to comprehend something of the long complex formula that goes to make up a human identity, and it was a discovery as startling as when a fellow perched on his grandfather's shoulder sees through the key-hole a tangle of wheels all going behind the white face of the clock.
I had been deftly handled by this Woodford, and yet I had not seemed to be. He had striven to move me to his will with a sort of masked edging, and, failing in that, left me with the bitterness drawn out. More than that,—shrewd and far-sighted man,—taken hot against him, I was almost won over to his star.
Under the hammering of the hard-headed Ump, I saw Woodford in another light. But I carried no ill will. He had jousted hard and lost, and youth holds no post-mortems. But the flock of night birds had not flown out into the sun. Dislodged from one quarter, they flapped across my heart to another ridgepole.
Woodford had been holding the blue hills with his men, and we knew what it meant to go up against him. But down yonder in among the Lares of our house, one worked against us with her nimble fingers. My heart went hard against the woman.
If she drew back from our floorboard, there was the tongue in her head to say it. No obligation bound her. True, we had given her of our love freely. But it was a thing no man could set a price on, and no man could pay, save as he told back the coin which he had borrowed. And failing in that coin, it was a debt beyond him.
The door to our house stood pulled back on its hinges. Nothing barred it but the sun. If the god Whim was piping, she could follow to the world's end. One might as well bow out the woman when her blood is cooling. Against the human heart the king's writs have never run.
I slapped my pocket above the letter. The current had turned and was running landward. The evil thing cast out upon its flood was riding back. I hoped it might sting cruelly the hand that flung it.
I rose in my stirrups and shook my youthful fists at the hills beyond the Gauley. I could see the smile dying on her red mouth when one came to say that her plans were ship-wrecked.
Then I thought of Ward, and something fluttered in my throat. He was under the spell of this slim, brown-haired witch. She was in his blood, running to his finger-tips. She was on him like the sun. Why could not the woman see what the good God was handing down to her? It was the treasure worth a kingdom. Did she think to find this thing at any crossroads? Oh, she would see. She would see. This thing was found rarely by the luckiest, so rarely that many an old wise man held that there was no such treasure under the sun, and the quest of it was but a fool's errand.
I was a mile behind the drove, and when I came up it had reached the borders of Woodford's land. Jud had thrown down the high fence, staked-and-ridered with long chestnut rails, and the stream of cattle was pouring through and spreading out over the great pasture. I watched the little groups of muleys strike out through the deep broom-sedge hollows and the narrow bulrush marshes and the low gaps of the good sodded hills, spying this new country, finding where the grass was sweetest and where the water bubbled in the old poplar trough, and what wind-sheltered cove would be warmest to a fellow's belly when he lay sleeping in the sun.
Then we rode north through the Hills, over the Gauley where the oak leaves carpeted the ford, and the little trout darted like a beam of light, and the old fish-hawk sat on the hanging limb of the dead beech-tree with his shoulders to his ears and his beak drooping, like some worn-out voluptuary brooding on his sins.
On we went through the deep wooded lanes where the redbird stepped about in his long crimson coat, jerring at the wren, who worked in the deep thicket as though the Master Builder had gone away to kingdom come and left her behind to finish the world.
We came to many a familiar landmark of my golden babyhood, the enchanted grove on the Seely Hill where I had hunted fabled monsters and gone whooping down among the cattle, the Greathouse meadow where Red Mike pitched me out of the saddle when he grew tired of having his bit jerked, and I sat up in my little petticoats and solemnly demanded that Jourdan should cut his head off, a thing the old man promised on his sacred honour when he could borrow the ax of the man in the moon; the high gate-post by the cattle-scales where I perched bareheaded in a calico dress and watched old Bedford make his last fight against human government, Bedford, a bull of mysterious notions, that would kill you if he found you walking in his field, and lick your stirrup if you came riding on a horse.
It was now a country of rich meadow-land, and blue-grass hills rising to long, flat ridges that the hickories skirted; but in that other time it was a land of wonders, where in any summer morning, if a fellow set out on his chubby legs, he might come to enchanted forests, lost rivers, halcyon kingdoms guarded by some spell where the roving fairies hunted the great bumblebee to the doorway of his house, and slew him on its sill and carried off his treasure.
Through the fringe of locust bushes along the roadside we caught the first glimpse of home, and the three horses pricked up their ears and swung out in a longer trot. We clattered down the wide lane and tumbled out of the saddles at the gate, leaving the Bay Eagle standing proudly like some victorious general, and the Cardinal like a tired giant who has done his work, and El Mahdi with his grey head high above the gate looking away as of old to the far-off mountains as though he wondered vaguely if the friend or the message or the enemy would never come.
We marched over the flagstone walk and into the house and up the stairway. Old Liza flung us some warning through a window to the garden, which we failed to catch and bellowed back a welcome. Then we gained the door to the library, threw it open and went crowding in.
A step beyond that door we halted with a jerk. Ward was lounging in a big chair with a pillow behind his shoulder, and over by the open window where the sun danced along the casement was Cynthia Carper setting a sheaf of roses in a jar.
Ward looked us down to the floor, and then he laughed until the great chair tottered on its legs. "Cynthia," he cried, "will you drop a courtesy to the gallant troopers?" She spun around with a fear kindling in her eyes.
"The cattle!" she said. "Did you get them over?"
I had the situation in my fingers, and I felt myself grow taller with it. "Yes," I said harshly. Then I put my hand into my pocket, drew out the letter and handed it to her with a mocking bow. "I was asked to carry this letter back to you, and say that my brother's word is good enough for Nicholas Marsh."
She took the envelope and stood twisting it in her slim fingers, while a light came up slowly in the land beyond her eyelids.
Ward held out his hand for the letter. And then I looked to see her flutter like a pinned fly. She grew neither red nor white, but crossed to his chair and put the letter in his hand.
He tore off the envelope and ran his eyes down the written page. "Your order for the money!" he cried; "this was not mentioned in our plan. What is this?"
"That," said the straight young woman, "is a field order of the commanding general issued without the knowledge of the war department."
Then I saw the whole underpinning of the scheme, and my heart stumbled and went groping about the four walls of its house. I tramped out of the room and down the stairway to the big window at the first landing. I stopped and leaned out over the walnut casement. El Mahdi stood as I had left him, staring at the far-off wall of the Hills; and below me in the garden old Liza stooped over her vines, not a day older, it seemed to me, than when I galloped at her long apron-strings on Alhambra the Son of the Wind.
* * * * *
THE FOREST SCHOOLMASTER
By Peter Rosegger. Authorized translation by Frances E. Skinner.
This is the first English version of the popular Austrian novelist's work, and no better choice from his writings could have been made through which to introduce him to the American public. It is a strange, sweet tale, this story of an isolated forest community civilized and regenerated by the life of one man. The translator has caught the spirit of the work, and Rosegger's virile style loses nothing in the translation.
LOVE AND HONOUR
By M. E. Carr.
A thrilling story that carries the reader from the closing incidents of the French Revolution, through various campaigns of the Napoleonic wars, to the final scene on a family estate in Germany. The action of the plot is well sustained, and the style might be described as vivid, while the old battle between love and honor is fought out with such freshness of treatment as to seem new.
DWELLERS IN THE HILLS
By Melville D. Post.
Mr. Post is to be congratulated upon having found a new field for fiction. The scene of his latest story is laid amidst the hills of West Virginia. Many of the exciting incidents are based upon actual experience on the cattle ranges of the South. The story is original, full of action, and strong, with a local color almost entirely new to the reading public.
By Ethel Watts Mumford.
A novel more thoroughly original than "Dupes," both in character and in plot, has not appeared for some time. The "dupes" are society people, who, like the Athenians, "spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing." Apart from its charm as a love story, the book makes some clever hits at certain "new things." While this is Mrs. Mumford's first book, she is well known as a writer of short stories.
Love Letters of a Musician
By Myrtle Reed.
"Miss Reed's book is an exquisite prose poem—words strung on thought-threads of gold—in which a musician tells his love for one whom he has found to be his ideal. The idea is not new, but the opinion is ventured that nowhere has it been one-half so well carried out as in the 'Love Letters of a Musician.' The ecstacy of hope, the apathy of despair, alternate in these enchanting letters, without one line of cynicism to mar the beauty of their effect."—Rochester Herald.
Later Love Letters of a Musician
By Myrtle Reed.
"It was with considerable hesitation that Myrtle Reed's second volume of a musician's love letters was taken up, a natural inference being that Miss Reed could scarcely hope to repeat her first success. Yet that she has equalled, if not surpassed, the interest of her earlier letters is soon apparent. Here will be found the same delicate fancy, the same beautiful imagery, and the same musical phrases from well-known composers, introducing the several chapters, and giving the key to their various moods. Miss Reed has accomplished her purpose successfully in both series of the letters."—N. Y. Times Saturday Review.
The Diary of a Dreamer
By Alice Dew-Smith, author of "Soul Shapes," "A White Umbrella"
"A book to be read as a sedative by the busy and overworked. The scene is laid in England, and is bathed in a peculiarly English atmosphere of peace and leisure. Contains much domestic philosophy of a pleasing if not very original sort, and, incidentally, no little good-natured social satire."—N. Y. Evening Post.
"This is a book of the meditative order. The writer expresses her thoughts in a manner that is a delightful reminder of 'Reveries of a Bachelor' of Ike Marvel.... In parts it is amusing, in the manner of Mark Twain's 'Sketches.' The combination of humor and sensible reflection results to the reader's delight."—Albany Times Union.
"'The Diary of a Dreamer' is a charming treatment of the every-day topics of life. As in 'Reveries of a Bachelor' and 'Elizabeth and her German Garden,' we find an engaging presentation, from the feminine point of view, of the scenes and events that make up the daily living. The 'Diary' is one of those revelations of thought and feeling that fit so well into the reader's individual experience."—Detroit Free Press.
* * * * *
By Melville D. Post
THE STRANGE SCHEMES OF RANDOLPH MASON
"This book is very entertaining and original ... ingeniously constructed ... well worth reading."—New York Herald.
"One of the best three volumes of stories produced within a year, as will be recalled by those who are attentive to such matters, is 'The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason.' They are stories of adventure in the every-day field of judicial procedure. The talent required to make adventures of this order interesting is a rare one, how rare may be inferred from the fact that almost the only famous example of the kind in English letters is the trial in that obsolete novel, 'Ten Thousand a Year.'"—New York Sun.
THE MAN OF LAST RESORT
"The author makes a strong plea for moral responsibility in his work, and his vivid style and undeniable earnestness must carry great weight with all thinking readers. It is a notable book."—Boston Times.