by Joseph Hergesheimer
He was the younger of two brothers, in his sixteenth year; and he
had his father's eyes—a tender and idyllic blue. There, however, the
obvious resemblance ended. The elder's azure gaze was set in a face
scarred and riven by hardship, debauch and disease; he had been—before
he had inevitably returned to the mountains where he was born—a
brakeman in the lowest stratum of the corruption of small cities on big
railroads; and his thin stooped body, his gaunt head and uncertain
hands, all bore the stamp of ruinous years. But in the midst of this
his eyes, like David's, retained their singularly tranquil color of
sweetness and innocence.
David was the youngest, the freshest thing imaginable; he was
overtall and gawky, his cheeks were as delicately rosy as apple
blossoms, and his smile was an epitome of ingenuous interest and frank
wonder. It was as if some quality of especial fineness, lingering
unspotted in Hunter Kinemon, had found complete expression in his son
David. A great deal of this certainly was due to his mother, a thick
solid woman, who retained more than a trace of girlish beauty when she
stood back, flushed from the heat of cooking, or, her bright eyes
snapping, tramped with heavy pails from the milking shed on a winter
Both the Kinemon boys were engaging. Allen, almost twenty-one, was,
of course, the more conspicuous; he was called the strongest youth in
Greenstream County. He had his mother's brown eyes; a deep bony box of
a chest; rippling shoulders; and a broad peaceful countenance. He drove
the Crabapple stage, between Crabapple, the village just over the back
mountain, and Beaulings, in West Virginia. It was twenty-six miles from
point to point, a way that crossed a towering range, hung above a far
veil of unbroken spruce, forded swift glittering streams, and followed
a road that passed rare isolated dwellings, dominating rocky and
precarious patches and hills of cultivation. One night Allen slept in
Beaulings; the next he was home, rising at four o'clock in order to
take his stage out of Crabapple at seven sharp.
It was a splendid job, and brought them thirty-five dollars a month;
not in mere trade at the store, but actual money. This, together with
Hunter Kinemon's position, tending the rich bottom farm of State
Senator Gait, gave them a position of ease and comfort in Greenstream.
They were a very highly esteemed family.
Gait's farm was in grazing; it extended in deep green pastures and
sparkling water between two high mountainous walls drawn across east
and west. In the morning the rising sun cast long delicate shadows on
one side; at evening the shadow troops lengthened across the emerald
valley from the other. The farmhouse occupied a fenced clearing on the
eastern rise, with a gray huddle of barn and sheds below, a garden
patch of innumerable bean poles, and an incessant stir of snowy
chickens. Beyond, the cattle moved in sleek chestnut-brown and orange
herds; and farther out flocks of sheep shifted like gray-white clouds
on a green-blue sky.
It was, Mrs. Kinemon occasionally complained, powerful lonely, with
the store two miles up the road, Crabapple over a heft of a rise, and
no personable neighbors; and she kept a loaded rifle in an angle of the
kitchen when the men were all out in a distant pasturage. But David
liked it extremely well; he liked riding an old horse after the steers,
the all-night sap boilings in spring groves, the rough path across a
rib of the mountain to school.
Nevertheless, he was glad when studying was over for the year. It
finished early in May, on account of upland planting, and left David
with a great many weeks filled only with work that seem to him
unadulterated play. Even that didn't last all the time; there were
hours when he could fish for trout, plentiful in cool rocky pools; or
shoot gray squirrels in the towering maples. Then, of evenings, he
could listen to Allen's thrilling tales of the road, of the gambling
and fighting among the lumbermen in Beaulings, or of strange people
that had taken passage in the Crabapple stage—drummers, for the most
part, with impressive diamond rings and the doggonedest lies
imaginable. But they couldn't fool Allen, however believing he might
seem.... The Kinemons were listening to such a recital by their eldest
They were gathered in a room of very general purpose. It had a rough
board floor and crumbling plaster walls, and held a large scarred
cherry bed with high posts and a gayly quilted cover; a long couch,
covered with yellow untanned sheepskins; a primitive telephone; some
painted wooden chairs; a wardrobe, lurching insecurely forward; and an
empty iron stove with a pipe let into an original open hearth with a
wide rugged stone. Beyond, a door opened into the kitchen, and back of
the bed a raw unguarded flight of steps led up to the peaked space
where Allen and David slept.
Hunter Kinemon was extended on the couch, his home-knitted socks
comfortably free of shoes, smoking a sandstone pipe with a reed stem.
Mrs. Kinemon was seated in a rocking-chair with a stained and torn red
plush cushion, that moved with a thin complaint on a fixed base. Allen
was over against the stove, his corduroy trousers thrust into greased
laced boots, and a black cotton shirt open on a chest and throat like
pink marble. And David supported his lanky length, in a careless and
dust-colored garb, with a capacious hand on the oak beam of the mantel.
It was May, school had stopped, and a door was open on a warm still
dusk. Allen's tale had come to an end; he was pinching the ear of a
diminutive dog—like a fat white sausage with wire-thin legs and a rat
tail—that never left him. The smoke from the elder Kinemon's pipe rose
in a tranquil cloud. Mrs. Kinemon rocked vigorously, with a prolonged
wail of the chair springs. “I got to put some tallow to that chair,”
“The house on Elbow Barren's took,” Allen told him suddenly—“the
one just off the road. I saw smoke in the chimney this evening.”
A revival of interest, a speculation, followed this announcement.
“Any women'll get to the church,” Mr. Kinemon asserted. “I wonder?
Did a person say who were they?”
“I asked; but they're strange to Crabapple. I heard this though:
there weren't any women to them—just men—father and sons like. I drew
up right slow going by; but nobody passed out a word. It's a middling
bad farm place—rocks and berry bushes. I wouldn't reckon much would be
David walked out through the open doorway and stood on the small
covered portico, that with a bench on each side, hung to the face of
the dwelling. The stars were brightening in the sky above the confining
mountain walls; there was a tremendous shrilling of frogs; the faint
clamor of a sheep bell. He was absolutely, irresponsibly happy. He
wished the time would hurry when he'd be big and strong like Allen, and
get out into the absorbing stir of the world.
He was dimly roused by Allen's departure in the beginning brightness
of the following morning. The road over which the stage ran drew by the
rim of the farm; and later David saw the rigid three-seated surrey, the
leather mail bags strapped in the rear, trotted by under the swinging
whip of his brother. He heard the faint sharp bark of Rocket, Allen's
dog, braced at his side.
David spent the day with his father, repairing the fencing of the
middle field, swinging a mall and digging post holes; and at evening
his arms ached. But he assured himself he was not tired; any brother of
Allen's couldn't give in before such insignificant effort. When Hunter
Kinemon turned back toward house and supper David made a wide circle,
ostensibly to see whether there was rock salt enough out for the
cattle, but in reality to express his superabundant youth, staying
qualities and unquenchable vivid interest in every foot of the valley.
He saw the meanest kind of old fox, and marked what he thought might
be its hole; his flashing gaze caught the obscure distant retreat of
ground hogs; he threw a contemptuous clod at the woolly-brained sheep;
and with a bent willow shoot neatly looped a trout out upon the grassy
bank. As a consequence of all this he was late for supper, and sat at
the table with his mother, who never took her place until the men—yes,
and boys of her family—had satisfied their appetites. The dark came on
and she lighted a lamp swinging under a tin reflector from the ceiling.
The kitchen was an addition, and had a sloping shed roof, board sides,
a polished stove, and a long table with a red cloth.
His father, David learned, attacking a plateful of brown chicken
swimming with greens and gravy, was having another bad spell. He had
the familiar sharp pain through his back and his arms hurt him.
“He can't be drove to a doctor,” the woman told David, speaking, in
her concern, as if to an equal in age and comprehension.
David had grown accustomed to the elder's periods of suffering; they
came, twisted his father's face into deep lines, departed, and things
were exactly as before—or very nearly the same. The boy saw that
Hunter Kinemon couldn't support labor that only two or three years
before he would have finished without conscious effort. David
resolutely ignored this; he felt that it must be a cause of shame,
unhappiness, to his father; and he never mentioned it to Allen. Kinemon
lay very still on the couch; his pipe, beside him on the floor, had
spilled its live core, burning into a length of rag carpet. His face,
hung with shadows like the marks of a sooty finger, was glistening with
fine sweat. Not a whisper of complaint passed his dry lips. When his
wife approached he attempted to smooth out his corrugated countenance.
His eyes, as tenderly blue as flowers, gazed at her with a faint
masking of humor.
“This is worse'n usual,” she said sharply. “And I ain't going to
have you fill yourself with any more of that patent trash. You don't
spare me by not letting on. I can tell as soon as you're miserable.
David can fetch the doctor from Crabapple to-night if you don't look
“But I am,” he assured her. “It's just a comeback of an old ache.
There was a power of heavy work to that fence.”
“You'll have to get more to help you,” she continued. “That Galt'll
let you kill yourself and not turn a hand. He can afford a dozen. I
don't mind housing and cooking for them. David's only tol'able for
lifting, too, while he's growing.”
“Why,” David protested, “it ain't just nothing what I do. I could do
twice as much. I don't believe Allen could helt more'n me when he was
sixteen. It ain't just nothing at all.”
He was disturbed by this assault upon his manhood; if his muscles
were still a little stringy it was surprising what he could accomplish
with them. He would show her to-morrow.
“And,” he added impetuously, “I can shoot better than Allen right
now. You ask him if I can't. You ask him what I did with that cranky
twenty- two last Sunday up on the mountain.”
His clear gaze sought her, his lean face quivered with anxiety to
impress, convince her of his virility, skill. His jaw was as sharp as
the blade of a hatchet. She studied him with a new surprised concern.
“David!” she exclaimed. “For a minute you had the look of a man. A
real steady look, like your father. Don't you grow up too fast, David,”
she directed him, in an irrepressible maternal solicitude. “I want a
boy— something young—round a while yet.”
Hunter Kinemon sat erect and reached for his pipe. The visible
strain of his countenance had been largely relaxed. When his wife had
left the room for a moment he admitted to David:
“That was a hard one. I thought she had me that time.”
The elder's voice was light, steady. The boy gazed at him with
intense admiration. He felt instinctively that nothing mortal could
shake the other's courage. And, on top of his mother's complimentary
surprise, his father had confided in him, made an admission that, David
realized, must be kept from fretting women. He couldn't have revealed
more to Allen himself.
He pictured the latter swinging magnificently into Beaulings,
cracking the whip over the horses' ears, putting on the grinding brake
before the post-office. No one, even in that town of reckless drinking,
ever tried to down Allen; he was as ready as he was strong. He had
charge of Government mail and of passengers; he carried a burnished
revolver in a holster under the seat at his hand. Allen would kill
anybody who interfered with him. So would he—David—if a man edged up
on him or on his family; if any one hurt even a dog of his, his own
dog, he'd shoot him.
An inextinguishable hot pride, a deep sullen intolerance, rose in
him at the thought of an assault on his personal liberty, his rights,
or on his connections and belongings. A deeper red burned in his fresh
young cheeks; his smiling lips were steady; his candid blue eyes,
ineffably gentle, gazed widely against the candlelit gloom where he was
making his simple preparations for bed. The last feeling of which he
was conscious was a wave of sharp admiration, of love, for everything
and everybody that constituted his home.
Allen, on his return the following evening, immediately opened an
excited account of the new family, with no women, on the place by Elbow
“I heard they were from down hellwards on the Clinch,” he repeated;
“and then that they'd come from Kentucky. Anyway, they're bad. Ed
Arbogast just stepped on their place for a pleasant howdy, and some one
on the stoop hollered for him to move. Ed, he saw the shine on a rifle
barrel, and went right along up to the store. Then they hired Simmons—
the one that ain't good in his head—to cut out bush; and Simmons
trailed home after a while with the side of his face all tore, where
he'd been hit with a piece of board. Simmons' brother went and asked
them what was it about; and one of the Hatburns—that's their name—
said he'd busted the loony just because!”
“What did Simmons answer back?” Hunter Kinemon demanded, his coffee
“Nothing much; he'd law them, or something like that. The Simmonses
are right spindling; they don't belong in Greenstream either.” David
commented: “I wouldn't have et a thing till I'd got them!” In the ruddy
reflection of the lamp his pink-and-blue charm, his shy lips, resembled
a pastoral divinity of boyhood. Allen laughed.
“That family, the Hatburns——” He paused. “Why, they'd just mow you
down with the field daisies.”
David flushed with annoyance. He saw his mother studying him with
the attentive concern she had first shown the day before yesterday.
“You have no call to mix in with them,” Kinemon told his elder son.
“Drive stage and mind your business. I'd even step aside a little from
folks like that.”
A sense of surprised disappointment invaded David at his father's
statement. It seemed to him out of keeping with the elder's courage and
determination. It, too, appeared almost spindling. Perhaps he had said
it because his wife, a mere woman, was there. He was certain that Allen
would not agree with such mildness. The latter, lounging back from the
table, narrowed his eyes; his fingers played with the ears of his dog,
Rocket. Allen gave his father a cigar and lit one himself, a present
from a passenger on the stage. David could see a third in Allen's shirt
pocket, and he longed passionately for the day when he would be old
enough to have a cigar offered him. He longed for the time when he,
like Allen, would be swinging a whip over the horses of a stage,
rambling down a steep mountain, or walking up at the team's head to
take off some weight.
Where the stage line stopped in Beaulings the railroad began. Allen,
he knew, intended in the fall to give up the stage for the infinitely
wider world of freight cars; and David wondered whether Priest, the
storekeeper in Crabapple who had charge of the awarding of the
position, could be brought to see that he was as able a driver, almost,
It was probable Priest would call him too young for the charge of
the Government mail. But he wasn't; Allen had to admit that he, David,
was the straighter shot. He wouldn't step aside for any Hatburn alive.
And, he decided, he would smoke nothing but cigars. He considered
whether he might light his small clay pipe, concealed under the stoop,
before the family; but reluctantly concluded that that day had not yet
Allen passed driving the next morning as usual, leaving a gray
wreath of dust to settle back into the tranquil yellow sunshine; the
sun moved from the east barrier to the west; a cool purple dusk filled
the valley, and the shrilling of the frogs rose to meet the night. The
following day was almost identical—the shadows swept out, shortened
under the groves of trees and drew out again over the sheep on the
western slope. Before Allen reached home he had to feed and bed his
horses, and walk back the two miles over the mountain from Crabapple;
and a full hour before the time for his brother's arrival, David was
surprised to see the stage itself making its way over the precarious
turf road that led up to the Kinemons' dwelling. He was standing by the
portico, and immediately his mother moved out to his side, as if
subconsciously disturbed by the unusual occurrence. David saw, while
the stage was still diminutive against the rolling pasture, that Allen
was not driving; and there was an odd confusion of figures in a rear
seat. Mrs. Kinemon said at once, in a shrill strange voice:
“Something has happened to Allen!” She pressed her hands against her
laboring breast; David ran forward and met the surrey as it came
through the fence opening by the stable shed. Ed Arbogast was driving;
and a stranger—a drummer evidently—in a white-and-black check suit,
was holding Allen, crumpled in a dreadful bloody faint.
“Where's Hunter?” Arbogast asked the boy.
“There he comes now,” David replied, his heart pounding wildly and
dread constricting his throat.
Hunter Kinemon and his wife reached the stage at the same moment.
Both were plaster-white; but the woman was shaking with frightened
concern, while her husband was deliberate and still.
“Help me carry him in to our bed,” he addressed Ed Arbogast.
They lifted Allen out and bore him toward the house, his limp
fingers, David saw, trailing through the grass. At first the latter
involuntarily turned away; but, objurgating such cowardice, he forced
himself to gaze at Allen. He recognized at once that his brother had
not been shot; his hip was too smeared and muddy for that. It was, he
decided, an accident, as Arbogast and the drummer lead Hunter Kinemon
aside. David Kinemon walked resolutely up to the little group. His
father gestured for him to go away, but he ignored the elder's command.
He must know what had happened to Allen. The stranger in the checked
suit was speaking excitedly, waving trembling hands—a sharp contrast
to the grim immobility of the Greenstream men:
“He'd been talking about that family, driving out of Beaulings and
saying how they had done this and that; and when we came to where they
lived he pointed out the house. A couple of dark-favored men were
working in a patch by the road, and he waved his whip at them, in a way
of speaking; but they never made a sign. The horses were going slow
then; and, for some reason or other, his little dog jumped to the road
and ran in on the patch. Sirs, one of those men spit, stepped up to the
dog, and kicked it into Kingdom Come.”
David's hands clenched; and he drew in a sharp sobbing breath.
“This Allen,” the other continued, “pulled in the team and drawed a
gun from under the seat before I could move a hand. You can hear me—I
wouldn't have kicked any dog of his for all the gold there is! He got
down from the stage and started forward, and his face was black; then
he stopped, undecided. He stood studying, with the two men watching
him, one leaning careless on a grub hoe. Then, by heaven, he turned and
rested the gun on the seat, and walked up to where laid the last of his
dog. He picked it up, and says he:
“'Hatburn, I got Government mail on that stage to get in under
contract, and there's a passenger too—paid to Crabapple; but when I
get them two things done I'm coming back to kill you two dead to hear
the last trumpet.'
“The one on the hoe laughed; but the other picked up a stone like my
two fists and let Allen have it in the back. It surprised him like; he
stumbled forward, and the other stepped out and laid the hoe over his
head. It missed him mostly, but enough landed to knock Allen over. He
rolled into the ditch, like, by the road; and then Hatburn jumped down
on him, deliberate, with lumbermen's irons in his shoes.”
David was conscious of an icy flood pouring through him; a revulsion
of grief and fury that blinded him. Tears welled over his fresh cheeks
in an audible crying. But he was silenced by the aspect of his father.
Hunter Kinemon's tender blue eyes had changed apparently into bits of
polished steel; his mouth was pinched until it was only a line among
the other lines and seaming of his worn face.
“I'd thank you to drive the stage into Crabapple, Ed,” he said; “and
if you see the doctor coming over the mountain—he's been rung up
for—ask him, please sir, will he hurry.” He turned and walked abruptly
away, followed by David.
Allen lay under the gay quilt in the Kinemons' big bed. His stained
clothes drooped from a chair where Mrs. Kinemon had flung them. Allen's
face was like white paper; suddenly it had grown as thin and sharp as
an old man's. Only a slight quiver of his eyelids showed that he was
Hunter Kinemon sat on the couch, obviously waiting for the doctor.
He, too, looked queer, David thought. He wished his father would break
the dreadful silence gathering over them; but the only sound was the
stirring of the woman in the kitchen, boiling a pot of water. Allen
moved and cried out in a knifelike agony, and a flicker of suffering
passed over his father's face.
An intolerable hour dragged out before the doctor arrived; and then
David was driven from the room. He sat outside on the portico,
listening to the passage of feet about Allen in a high shuddering
protest. David's hands and feet were still cold, but he was conscious
of an increasing stillness within, an attitude not unlike his father's.
He held out an arm and saw that it was as steady as a beam of the stoop
roof. He was without definite plan or knowledge of what must occur; but
he told himself that any decision of Hunter Kinemon's must not exclude
There were four Hatburns; but two Kinemons were better; and he meant
his father and himself, for he knew instinctively that Allen was badly
hurt. Soon there would be no Hatburns at all. And then the law could do
as it pleased. It seemed to David a long way from the valley, from
Allen broken in bed, to the next term of court—September—in
Crabapple. The Kinemons could protect, revenge, their own.
The doctor passed out, and David entered where his mother was bent
above her elder son. Hunter Kinemon, with a blackened rag, was wiping
the lock of an old but efficient repeating rifle. His motions were
unhurried, careful. Mrs. Kinemon gazed at him with blanching lips, but
she interposed no word. There was another rifle, David knew, in the
long cupboard by the hearth; and he was moving to secure it when his
father's voice halted him in the middle of the floor. “You David,” he
said, “I want you to stop along here with your mother. It ain't fit for
her to be left alone with Allen, and there's a mess of little things
for doing. I want those cows milked dry, and catch in those little
Dominicker chickens before that old gander eats them up.”
David was about to protest, to sob out a passionate refusal, when a
glimpse of his father's expression silenced him. He realized that the
slightest argument would be worse than futile. There wasn't a particle
of familiar feeling in the elder's voice; suddenly David was afraid of
him. Hunter Kinemon slipped a number of heavily greased cartridges into
the rifle's magazine. Then he rose and said:
His wife laid her hand on his shoulder.
“Hunter,” she told him, “you've been a mighty sweet and good
husband.” He drew his hand slowly and lovingly across her cheek.
“I'm sorry about this, Mattie,” he replied; “I've been powerful
happy along with you and all of us. David, be a likely boy.” He walked
out of the room, across the grass to the stable shed.
“He's going to drive to Elbow Barren,” David muttered; “and he
hadn't ought to have left me to tend the cows and chickens. That's for
a woman to do. I ought to be right along with him facing down those
Hatburns. I can shoot, and my hand is steady as his.”
He stood in the doorway, waiting for the reappearance of his father
with the roan horse to hitch to their old buggy. It didn't occur to
David to wonder at the fact that the other was going alone to confront
four men. The Kinemons had a mort of friends who would have gladly
accompanied, assisted Hunter; but this, the boy told himself, was their
own affair—their own pride.
From within came the sound of his mother, crying softly, and of
Allen murmuring in his pain. David was appalled by the swift change
that had fallen over them—the breaking up of his entire world, the
shifting of every hope and plan. He was appalled and confused; the
thoughtless unquestioning security of his boyhood had been utterly
destroyed. He looked about dazed at the surrounding scene, callous in
its total carelessness of Allen's injury, his haggard father with the
rifle. The valley was serenely beautiful; doves were calling from the
eaves of the barn; a hen clucked excitedly. The western sky was a
single expanse of primrose on which the mountains were jagged and blue.
He had never known the elder to be so long getting the bridle on the
roan; the buggy was drawn up outside. An uneasy tension increased
within him—a pressing necessity to see his father leading out their
horse. He didn't come, and finally David was forced to walk over to the
The roan had been untied, and turned as the boy entered; but David,
at first, failed to find Hunter Kinemon; then he almost stepped on his
hand. His father lay across a corner of the earthen floor, with the
bridle tangled in stiff fingers, and his blue eyes staring blankly up.
David stifled an exclamation of dread, and forced himself to bend
forward and touch the gray face. Only then he realized that he was
looking at death. The pain in his father's back had got him at last!
The rifle had been carefully placed against the wall; and, without
realizing the significance of his act, David picked it up and laid the
cold barrel against his rigid young body.
On the evening after Hunter Kinemon's burial in the rocky steep
graveyard above Crabapple, David and his mother sat, one on the couch,
the other in her creaking rocking-chair, lost in heavy silence. Allen
moved in a perpetual uneasy pain on the bed, his face drawn and
fretful, and shadowed by a soft young beard. The wardrobe doors stood
open, revealing a stripped interior; wooden chairs were tied back to
back; and two trunks—one of mottled paper, the other of ancient
leather—stood by the side of a willow basket filled with a miscellany
of housekeeping objects.
What were left of the Kinemons were moving into a small house on the
edge of Crabapple; Senator Galt had already secured another tenant for
the care of his bottom acres and fat herds. The night swept into the
room, fragrant and blue, powdered with stars; the sheep bells sounded
in a faintly distant clashing; a whippoorwill beat its throat out
against the piny dark.
An overpowering melancholy surged through David; though his youth
responded to the dramatic, the tragic change that had enveloped them,
at the same time he was reluctant to leave the farm, the valley with
its trout and ground hogs, its fox holes and sap boilings. These
feelings mingled in the back of his consciousness; his active thoughts
were all directed toward the time when, with the rifle, the obligation
that he had picked up practically from his dead father's hand, he would
walk up to the Hatburn place and take full payment for Allen's injury
and their paternal loss.
He felt uneasily that he should have gone before this—at once; but
there had been a multitude of small duties connected with the funeral,
intimate things that could not be turned over to the kindest neighbors;
and the ceremony itself, it seemed to him, should be attended by
dignity and repose.
Now, however, it was over; and only his great duty remained, filling
the entire threshold of his existence. He had no plan; only a necessity
to perform. It was possible that he would fail—there were four
Hatburns; and that chance depressed him. If he were killed there was no
one else, for Allen could never take another step. That had been
disclosed by the most casual examination of his injury. Only himself,
David, remained to uphold the pride of the Kinemons.
He gazed covertly at his mother; she must not, certainly, be warned
of his course; she was a woman, to be spared the responsibility borne
by men. A feeling of her being under his protection, even advice, had
grown within him since he had discovered the death in the stable shed.
This had not changed his aspect of blossoming youth, the intense blue
candor of his gaze; he sat with his knees bent boyishly, his immature
hands locked behind his head.
An open wagon, piled with blankets, carried Allen to Crabapple, and
Mrs. Kinemon and David followed in the buggy, a great bundle, folded in
the bright quilt, roped behind. They soon crossed the range and dropped
into a broader valley. Crabapple lay on a road leading from mountain
wall to wall, the houses quickly thinning out into meadow at each end.
A cross-roads was occupied by three stores and the courthouse, a
square red-brick edifice with a classic white portico and high lantern;
and it was out from that, where the highway had degenerated into a
sod-cut trail, that the future home of the Kinemons lay. It was a small
somber frame dwelling, immediately on the road, with a rain-washed
patch rising abruptly at the back. A dilapidated shed on the left
provided a meager shelter for the roan; and there was an aged and
twisted apple tree over the broken pump.
“You'll have to get at that shed, David,” his mother told him; “the
first rain would drown anything inside.”
She was settling Allen on the couch with the ragged sheepskin. So he
would; but there was something else to attend to first. He would walk
over to Elbow Barren, to-morrow. He involuntarily laid his hand on the
barrel of the rifle, temporarily leaned against a table, when his
mother spoke sharply from an inner doorway.
“You David,” she said; “come right out into the kitchen.”
There he stood before her, with his gaze stubbornly fixed on the
bare floor, his mouth tight shut.
“David,” she continued, her voice now lowered, fluctuating with
anxiety, “you weren't reckoning on paying off them Hatburns? You
never?” She halted, gazing at him intently. “Why, they'd shoot you up
in no time! You are nothing but a—”
“You can call me a boy if you've a mind to,” he interrupted; “and
maybe the Hatburns'll kill me—and maybe they won't. But there's no one
can hurt Allen like that and go plumb, sniggering free; not while I can
move and hold a gun.”
“I saw a look to you that was right manlike a week or two back,” she
replied; “and I said to myself: 'There's David growing up overnight.' I
favored it, too, though I didn't want to lose you that way so soon. And
only last night I said again: 'Thank God, David's a man in his heart,
for all his pretty cheeks!' I thought I could build on you, with me
getting old and Allen never taking a mortal step. Priest would give you
a place, and glad, in the store—the Kinemons are mighty good people. I
had it all fixed up like that, how we'd live here and pay regular.
“Oh, I didn't say nothing to your father when he started out—he was
too old to change; but I hoped you would be different. I hoped you
would forget your own feeling, and see Allen there on his back, and me
... getting along. You're all we got, David. It's no use, I reckon;
you'll go like Allen and Hunter, full up with your own pride and never
——” She broke off, gazing bitterly at her hands folded in her calico
A new trouble filled David's heart. Through the open doorway he
could see Allen, twisting on the couch; his mother was older, more
worn, than he had realized. She had failed a great deal in the past few
days. She was suddenly stripped of her aspect of authority, force;
suddenly she appeared negative, dependent. A sharp pity for her arose
through his other contending emotions.
“I don't know how you figure you will be helping Allen by stepping
off to be shot instead of putting food in his mouth,” she spoke again.
“He's got nobody at all but you, David.”
That was so; and yet—
“How can I let those skunks set their hell on us?” he demanded
passionately. “Why, all Greenstream will think I'm afraid, that I let
the Hatburns bust Allen and kill my father. I couldn't stand up in
Priest's store; I couldn't bear to look at anybody. Don't you
understand how men are about those things?”
“I can see, right enough—with Hunter in the graveyard and Allen
with both hips broke. What I can't see is what we'll do next winter;
how we'll keep Allen warm and fed. I suppose we can go to the County
But that, David knew, was as disgraceful as the other—his own
mother, Allen, objects of public charity! His face was clouded, his
hands clenched. It was only a chance that he would be killed; there
were four Hatburns though. His heart, he thought, would burst with
misery; every instinct fought for the expression, the upholding of the
family prestige, honor. A hatred for the Hatburns was like a strangling
hand at his throat.
“I got to!” he said; but his voice was wavering; the dull conviction
seized him that his mother was right.
All the mountains would think of him as a coward—that Kinemon who
wouldn't stand up to the men who had destroyed Allen and his father!
A sob heaved in his chest; rebellious tears streamed over his thin
cheeks. He was crying like a baby. He threw an arm up across his eyes
and stumbled from the room.
However, he had no intention of clerking back of a counter, of
getting down rolls of muslin, papers of buttons, for women, if it could
be avoided. Priest's store was a long wooden structure with a painted
facade and a high platform before it where the mountain wagons unloaded
their various merchandise teamed from the railroad, fifty miles
distant. The owner had a small glass-enclosed office on the left as you
entered the store; and there David found him. He turned, gazing over
his glasses, as the other entered.
“How's Allen?” he asked pleasantly. “I heard he was bad; but we
certainly look to have him back driving stage.”
“I came to see you about that,” David replied. “Allen can't never
drive again; but, Mr. Priest, sir, I can. Will you give me a try?”
The elder ignored the question in the concern he exhibited for
“It is a cursed outrage!” he declared. “Those Hatburns will be got
up, or my name's not Priest! We'd have them now, but the jail wouldn't
keep them overnight, and court three months off.”
David preserved a stony silence—the only attitude possible, he had
decided, in the face of his patent dereliction.
“Will you try me on the Beaulings stage?” he repeated. “I've been
round horses all my life; and I can hold a gun straighter than Allen.”
Priest shook his head negatively.
“You are too light—too young,” he explained; “you have to be above
a certain age for the responsibility of the mail. There are some rough
customers to handle. If you only had five years more now—We are having
a hard time finding a suitable man. A damned shame about Allen!
“Can't you give it to me for a week,” David persisted, “and see how
They would have awarded him the position immediately, he felt, if he
had properly attended to the Hatburns. He wanted desperately to explain
his failure to Priest, but a dogged pride prevented. The storekeeper
was tapping on an open ledger with a pen, gazing doubtfully at David.
“You couldn't be worse than the drunken object we have now,” he
admitted. “You couldn't hold the job permanent yet, but I might let you
drive extra—a day or so—till we find a man. I'd like to do what I
could for Mrs. Kinemon. Your father was a good man, a good customer....
Come and see me again—say, day after to-morrow.”
This half promise partly rehabilitated his fallen pride. There was
no sign in the men he passed that they held him in contempt for
neglecting to kill the Hatburns; and his mother wisely avoided the
subject. She wondered a little at Priest's considering him, even
temporarily, for the stage; but confined her wonder to a species of
compliment. David sat beside Allen, while the latter, between silent
spaces of suffering, advised him of the individual characters and
attributes of the horses that might come under his guiding reins.
It seemed incredible that he should actually be seated in the
driver's place on the stage, swinging the heavy whip out over a team
trotting briskly into the early morning; but there he was. There were
no passengers, and the stage rode roughly over a small bridge of loose
boards beyond the village. He pulled the horses into a walk on the
mountain beyond, and was soon skirting the Gait farm, with its broad
fields, where he had lived as a mere boy.
David slipped his hand under the leather seat and felt the smooth
handle of the revolver. Then, on an even reach, he wrapped the reins
about the whipstock and publicly filled and lighted his clay pipe. The
smoke drifted back in a fragrant cloud; the stage moved forward
steadily and easily; folded in momentary forgetfulness, lifted by a
feeling of mature responsibility, he was almost happy. But he swung
down the mountain beyond his familiar valley, crossed a smaller ridge,
and turned into a stony sweep rising on the left.
It was Elbow Barren. In an instant a tide of bitterness, of
passionate regret, swept over him. He saw the Hatburns' house, a
rectangular bleak structure crowning a gray prominence, with the tender
green of young pole beans on one hand and a disorderly barn on the
other, and a blue plume of smoke rising from an unsteady stone chimney
against an end of the dwelling. No one was visible.
Hot tears filled his eyes as the stage rolled along past the moldy
ditch into which Allen had fallen. The mangy curs! His grip tightened
on the reins and the team broke into a clattering trot, speedily
leaving the Barren behind. But the day had been robbed of its sparkle,
his position of its pleasurable pride. He saw again his father's body
on the earthen floor of the stable, the bridle in his stiff fingers;
Allen carried into the house. And he, David Kinemon, had had to step
back, like a coward or a woman, and let the Hatburns triumph.
The stage drew up before the Beaulings post-office in the middle of
the afternoon. David delivered the mail bags, and then led the team
back to a stable on the grassy verge of the houses clustered at the end
of tracks laid precariously over a green plain to a boxlike station.
Beaulings had a short row of unpainted two-story structures, the single
street cut into deep muddy scars; stores with small dusty windows;
eating houses elevated on piles; an insignificant mission chapel with a
tar-papered roof; and a number of obviously masked depots for the
illicit sale of liquor.
A hotel, neatly painted white and green, stood detached from the
main activity. There, washing his face in a tin basin on a back porch,
David had his fried supper, sat for a while outside in the gathering
dusk, gazing at the crude-oil flares, the passing dark figures beyond,
the still obscured immensity of mountain and forest. And then he went
up to a pine sealed room, like the heated interior of a packing box,
where he partly undressed for bed.
The next mid-morning, descending the sharp grade toward Elbow
Barren, there was no lessening of David's bitterness against the
Hatburns. The flavor of tobacco died in his mouth, he grew unconscious
of the lurching heavy stage, the responsibility of the mail, all
committed to his care. A man was standing by the ditch on the reach of
scrubby grass that fell to the road; and David pulled his team into the
slowest walk possible. It was his first actual sight of a Hatburn. He
saw a man middling tall, with narrow high shoulders, and a clay-yellow
countenance, extraordinarily pinched through the temples, with minute
restless black eyes. The latter were the only mobile feature of his
slouching indolent pose, his sullen regard. He might have been a
scarecrow, David thought, but for that glittering gaze.
The latter leaned forward, the stage barely moving, and looked
unwaveringly at the Hatburn beyond. He wondered whether the man knew
him—David Kinemon? But of course he did; all the small details of
mountain living circulated with the utmost rapidity from clearing to
clearing. He was now directly opposite the other; he could take out the
revolver and kill that Hatburn, where he stood, with one precise shot.
His hand instinctively reached under the seat. Then he remembered
Allen, forever dependent on the couch; his mother, who had lately
seemed so old. The stage was passing the motionless figure. David drew
a deep painful breath, and swung out his whip with a vicious sweep.
His pride, however, returned when he drove into Crabapple, down the
familiar street, past the familiar men and women turning to watch him,
with a new automatic measure of attention, in his elevated position. He
walked back to his dwelling with a slight swagger of hips and
shoulders, and, with something of a flourish, laid down the two dollars
he had been paid for the trip to Beaulings.
“I'm to drive again to-morrow,” he stated to his mother and Allen;
“after that Priest has a regular man. I suppose, then, I'll have to go
into the store.”
The last seemed doubly difficult now, since he had driven stage. As
he disposed of supper, eating half a pie with his cracklings and
greens, his mother moved from the stove to the table, refilled his
plate, waved the paper streamers of the fly brush above his head,
exactly as she had for his father. Already, he assured himself, he had
become a man.
The journey to Beaulings the following day was an unremarkable
replica of the one before. He saw no Hatburns; the sun wheeled from
east to west at apparently the same speed as the stage; and Beaulings
held its inevitable surge of turbulent lumbermen, the oil flares made
their lurid note on the vast unbroken starry canopy of night.
The morning of his return was heavy with a wet low vapor. The mail
bags, as he strapped them to the rear rack, were slippery; the dawn was
a slow monotonous widening of dull light. There were no passengers for
Crabapple, and David, with his coat collar turned up about his throat,
urged the horses to a faster gait through the watery cold.
The brake set up a shrill grinding, and then the stage passed Elbow
Barren in a smart rattle and bumping.
After that David slowed down to light his pipe. The horses willingly
lingered, almost stopping; and, the memory of the slippery bags at the
back of his head, David dismounted, walked to the rear of the stage.
A chilling dread swept through him as he saw, realized, that one of
the Government sacks was missing. The straps were loose about the
remaining two; in a minute or more they would have gone. Panic seized
him, utter misery, at the thought of what Priest, Crabapple, would say.
He would be disgraced, contemptuously dismissed—a failure in the trust
laid on him.
He collected his faculties by a violent effort; the bags, he was
sure, had been safe coming down the last mountain; he had walked part
of the way, and he was certain that he would have noticed anything
wrong. The road was powerful bad through the Barren....
He got up into the stage, backed the team abruptly on its haunches,
and slowly retraced his way to the foot of the descent. There was no
mail lying on the empty road. David turned again, his heart pounding
against his ribs, tears of mortification, of apprehension, blurring his
vision. The bag must have fallen here in Elbow Barren. Subconsciously
he stopped the stage. On the right the dwelling of the Hatburns showed
vaguely through the mist. No one else could have been on the road. A
troubled expression settled on his glowing countenance, a pondering
doubt; then his mouth drew into a determined line.
“I'll have to go right up and ask,” he said aloud.
He jumped down to the road, led the horses to a convenient sapling,
where he hitched them. Then he drew his belt tighter about his slender
waist and took a step forward. A swift frown scarred his brow, and he
turned and transferred the revolver to a pocket in his trousers.
The approach to the house was rough with stones and muddy clumps of
grass. A track, he saw, circled the dwelling to the back; but he walked
steadily and directly up to the shallow portico between windows with
hanging, partly slatted shutters. The house had been painted dark brown
a long while before; the paint had weathered and blistered into a
depressing harmony with the broken and mossy shingles of the roof, the
rust-eaten and sagging gutters festooning the ragged eaves.
David proceeded up the steps, hesitated, and then, his mouth firm
and hand steady, knocked. He waited for an apparently interminable
space, and then knocked again, more sharply. Now he heard voices
within. He waited rigidly for steps to approach, the door to open; but
in vain. They had heard, but chose to ignore his summons; and a swift
cold anger mounted in him. He could follow the path round to the back;
but, he told himself, he—David Kinemon—wouldn't walk to the Hatburns'
kitchen door. They should meet him at the front. He beat again on the
scarred wood, waited; and then, in an irrepressible flare of temper,
kicked the door open.
He was conscious of a slight gasping surprise at the dark moldy-smelling hall open before him. A narrow bare stairway mounted above,
with a passage at one side, and on each hand entrances were shut on
farther interiors. The scraping of a chair, talking came from the left;
the door, he saw, was not latched. He pushed it open and entered. There
was a movement in the room still beyond, and he walked evenly into what
evidently was a kitchen.
The first thing he saw was the mail bag, lying intact on a table.
Then he was meeting the concerted stare of four men. One of two, so
similar that he could not have distinguished between them, he had seen
before, at the edge of the road. Another was very much older, taller,
more sallow. The fourth was strangely fat, with a great red hanging
mouth. The latter laughed uproariously, a jangling mirthless sound
followed by a mumble of words without connective sense. David moved
toward the mail bag:
“I'm driving stage and lost those letters. I'll take them right
The oldest Hatburn, with a pail in his hand, was standing by an
opening, obviously at the point of departure on a small errand. He
looked toward the two similar men, nearer David.
“Boy,” he demanded, “did you kick in my front door?”
“I'm the Government's agent,” David replied. “I've got to have the
mail. I'm David Kinemon too; and I wouldn't step round to your back
door, Hatburn—not if there was a boiling of you!”
“You'll learn you this,” one of the others broke in: “it will be the
sweetest breath you ever draw'd when you get out that back door!”
The elder moved on to the pounded earth beyond. Here, in their
presence, David felt the loathing for the Hatburns a snake inspires—
dusty brown rattlers and silent cottonmouths. His hatred obliterated
every other feeling but a dim consciousness of the necessity to recover
the mail bag. He was filled with an overpowering longing to revenge
Allen; to mark them with the payment of his father, dead in the stable
His objective senses were abnormally clear, cold: he saw every
detail of the Hatburns' garb—the soiled shirts with buttoned pockets
on their left breasts; the stained baggy breeches in heavy boots—such
boots as had stamped Allen into nothingness; dull yellow faces and
beady eyes; the long black hair about their dark ears.
The idiot thrust his fingers into his loose mouth, his shirt open on
a hairy pendulous chest. The Hatburn who had not yet spoken showed a
row of tobacco-brown broken teeth.
“He mightn't get a heave on that breath,” he asserted.
The latter lounged over against a set of open shelves where, David
saw, lay a heavy rusted revolver. Hatburn picked up the weapon and
turned it slowly in his thin grasp.
“I'm carrying the mail,” David repeated, his hand on the bag.
“You've got no call on this or on me.”
He added the last with tremendous effort. It seemed unspeakable that
he should be there, the Hatburns before him, and merely depart.
“What do you think of putting the stage under a soft little
strawberry like that?” the other inquired.
For answer there was a stunning report, a stinging odor of
saltpeter; and David felt a sharp burning on his shoulder, followed by
a slow warmish wet, spreading.
“I didn't go to do just that there!” the Hatburn who had fired
explained. “I wanted to clip his ear, but he twitched like.”
David picked up the mail bag and took a step backward in the
direction he had come. The other moved between him and the door.
“If you get out,” he said, “it'll be through the hog-wash.”
David placed the bag on the floor, stirred by a sudden
realization—he had charge of the stage, official responsibility for
the mail. He was no longer a private individual; what his mother had
commanded, entreated, had no force here and now. The Hatburns were
unlawfully detaining him.
As this swept over him, a smile lighted his fresh young cheeks, his
frank mouth, his eyes like innocent flowers. Hatburn shot again; this
time the bullet flicked at David's old felt hat. With his smile
lingering he smoothly leveled the revolver from his pocket and shot the
mocking figure in the exact center of the pocket patched on his left
David wheeled instantly, before the other Hatburn running for him,
and stopped him with a bullet as remorselessly placed as the first. The
two men on the floor stiffened grotesquely and the idiot crouched in a
David passed his hand across his brow; then he bent and grasped the
mail bag. He was still pausing when the remaining Hatburn strode into
the kitchen. The latter whispered a sharp oath. David shifted the bag;
but the elder had him before he could bring the revolver up. A
battering blow fell, knocked the pistol clattering over the floor, and
David instinctively clutched the other's wrist.
The blows multiplied, beating David into a daze, through which a
single realization persisted—he must not lose his grip upon the arm
that was swinging him about the room, knocking over chairs, crashing
against the table, even drawing him across the hot iron of the stove.
He must hold on!
He saw the face above him dimly through the deepening mist; it
seemed demoniacal, inhuman, reaching up to the ceiling—a yellow giant
bent on his destruction....
His mother, years ago, lives away, had read to them—to his father
and Allen and himself—about a giant, a giant and David; and in the
He lost all sense of the entity of the man striving to break him
against the wooden angles of the room; he had been caught, was
twisting, in a great storm; a storm with thunder and cruel flashes of
lightning; a storm hammering and hammering at him.... Must not lose his
hold on—on life! He must stay fast against everything! It wasn't his
hand gripping the destructive force towering above him, but a strange
quality within him, at once within him and aside, burning in his heart
and directing him from without.
The storm subsided; out of it emerged the livid face of Hatburn; and
then, quite easily, he pitched David back across the floor. He lay
there a moment and then stirred, partly rose, beside the mail bag. His
pistol was lying before him; he picked it up.
The other was deliberately moving the dull barrel of a revolver up
over his body. A sharp sense of victory possessed David, and he
whispered his brother's name. Hatburn fired—uselessly. The other's
battered lips smiled.
Goliath, that was the giant's name. He shot easily, securely—once.
Outside, the mail bag seemed weighted with lead. He swayed and
staggered over the rough declivity to the road. It required a
superhuman effort to heave the pack into the stage. The strap with
which he had hitched the horses had turned into iron. At last it was
untied. He clambered up to the enormous height of the driver's seat,
unwrapped the reins from the whipstock, and the team started forward.
He swung to the lurching of the stage like an inverted pendulum;
darkness continually thickened before his vision; waves of sickness
swept up to his head. He must keep the horses on the road, forward the
A grim struggle began between his beaten flesh, a terrible
weariness, and that spirit which seemed to be at once a part of him and
a voice. He wiped the blood from his young brow; from his eyes
miraculously blue like an ineffable May sky.
“Just a tol'able David,” he muttered weakly—“only just tol'able!”