His Day In Court
by Charles Egbert Craddock
It had been a hard winter along the slopes of the Great Smoky
Mountains, and still the towering treeless domes were covered with
snow, and the vagrant winds were abroad, rioting among the clifty
heights where they held their tryst, or raiding down into the sheltered
depths of the Cove, where they seldom intruded. Nevertheless, on this
turbulent rush was borne in the fair spring of the year. The fragrance
of the budding wild-cherry was to be discerned amidst the keen slanting
javelins of the rain. A cognition of the renewal and the expanding of
the forces of nature pervaded the senses as distinctly as if one might
hear the grass growing, or feel along the chill currents of the air the
vernal pulses thrill. Night after night in the rifts of the breaking
clouds close to the horizon was glimpsed the stately sidereal Virgo,
prefiguring and promising the harvest, holding in her hand a gleaming
ear of corn. But it was not the constellation which the tumultuous
torrent at the mountain's base reflected in a starry glitter. From the
hill-side above a light cast its broken image among the ripples, as it
shone for an instant through the bosky laurel, white, stellular,
splendidonly a tallow dip suddenly placed in the window of a
log-cabin, and as suddenly withdrawn.
For a gruff voice within growled out a remonstrance: What ye doin'
that fur, Steve? Hev that thar candle got enny call ter bide in that
The interior, contrary to the customary aspect of the humble homes
of the region, was in great disarray. Cooking utensils stood uncleaned
about the hearth; dishes and bowls of earthen-ware were assembled upon
the table in such numbers as to suggest that several meals had been
eaten without the ceremony of laying the cloth anew, and that in
default of washing the crockery it had been re-enforced from the shelf
so far as the limited store might admit. Saddles and spinning-wheels,
an ox-yoke and trace-chains, reels and wash-tubs, were incongruously
pushed together in the corners. Only one of the three men in the room
made any effort to reduce the confusion to order. This was the
square-faced, black-bearded, thick-set young fellow who took the candle
from the window, and now advanced with it toward the hearth, holding it
at an angle that caused the flame to swiftly melt the tallow, which
dripped generously upon the floor.
I hev seen Eveliny do it, he said, excitedly justifying himself.
I noticed her sot the candle in the winder jes' las' night arter
supper. He glanced about uncertainly, and his patience seemed to give
way suddenly. Dad-burn the old candle! I dunno whar ter set
it, he cried, desperately, as he flung it from him, and it fell upon
the floor close to the wall.
The dogs lifted their heads to look, and one soft-stepping old hound
got up with the nimbleness of expectation, and, with a prescient
gratitude astir in his tail, went and sniffed at it. His aspect drooped
suddenly, and he looked around in reproach at Stephen Quimbey, as if
suspecting a practical joke. But there was no merriment in the young
mountaineer's face. He threw himself into his chair with a heavy sigh,
and desisted for a time from the unaccustomed duty of clearing away the
dishes after supper.
An' 'ain't ye got the gumption ter sense what Eveliny sot the
candle in the winder fur? his brother Timothy demanded, abruptlyez
a sign ter that thar durned Abs'lom Kittredge.
The other two men turned their heads and looked at the speaker with
a poignant intensity of interest. I 'lowed ez much when I seen that
light ez I war a-kemin' home las' night, he continued; it shined
spang down the slope acrost the ruver an' through all the laurel; it
looked plumb like a star that hed fell ter yearth in that pitch-black
night. I dun-no how I s'picioned it, but ez I stood thar an' gazed I
knowed somebody war a-standin' an' gazin' too on the foot-bredge a mite
ahead o' me. I couldn't see him, an' he couldn't turn back an' pass me,
the bredge bein' too narrer. He war jes obligated ter go on. I hearn
him breathe quick; thenpit-pat, pit-pat, ez he walked straight toward
that light. An' he be 'bleeged ter hev hearn me, fur arter I crost I
stopped. Nuthin'. Jes' a whisper o' wind, an' jes' a swishin' from the
ruver. I knowed then he hed turned off inter the laurel. An' I went on,
a-whistlin' ter make him 'low ez I never s'picioned nuthin'. An' I kem
inter the house an' tole dad ez he'd better be a-lookin' arter Eveliny,
fur I b'lieved she war a-settin' her head ter run away an' marry
Waal, I ain't right up an' down sati'fied we oughter done what we
done, exclaimed Stephen, fretfully. It don't 'pear edzacly right fur
three men ter fire on one.
[Illustration: Old Joel Quimbey 081]
Old Joel Quimbey, in his arm-chair in the chimney-corner, suddenly
lifted his heada thin head with fine white hair, short and sparse,
upon it. His thin, lined face was clear-cut, with a pointed chin and an
aquiline nose. He maintained an air of indignant and rebellious grief,
and had hitherto sat silent, a gnarled and knotted hand on either arm
of his chair. His eyes gleamed keenly from under his heavy brows as he
turned his face upon his sons. How could we know thar warn't but one,
He had not been a candidate for justice of the peace for nothing; he
had absorbed something of the methods and spirit of the law through
sheer propinquity to the office. We-uns wouldn't be persumed ter
know. And he ungrudgingly gave himself all the benefit of the
doubt that the law accords.
That's a true word! exclaimed Stephen, quick to console his
conscience. Jes' look at the fac's, now. We-uns in a plumb black
midnight hear a man a-gittin' over our fence; we git our rifles;
a-peekin' through the chinkin' we ketch a glimge o' him
Ha! cried out Timothy, with savage satisfaction, we seen him by
the light she set her head him on!
He was tall and lank, with a delicately hooked nose, high
cheek-bones, fierce dark eyes, and dark eyebrows, which were
continually elevated, corrugating his forehead. His hair was black,
short and straight, and he was clad in brown jeans, as were the others,
with great cowhide boots reaching to the knee. He fixed his fiery
intent gaze on his brother as the slower Stephen continued, An' so we
An' one durned fool's so onlucky ez ter hit him an' not kill him,
growled Timothy, again interrupting. An' so whilst Eveliny runs out
a-screamin', 'He's dead! he's dead!ye hev shot him dead!' we-uns make
no doubt but he is dead, an' load up agin, lest his frien's
mought rush in on we-uns whilst we hedn't no use o' our shootin'-irons.
An' suddintye can't hear nuthin' but jes' a owel hoot-in' in the
woods, or old Pa'son Bates's dogs a-howlin' acrost the Cove. An' we go
out with a lantern, an' thar's jes' a pool o' blood in the dooryard,
an' bloody tracks down ter the laurel.
Eveliny gone! cried the old man, smiting his hands together; my
leetle darter! The only one ez never gin me enny trouble. I couldn't
hev made out ter put up with this hyar worl' no longer when my wife
died ef it hedn't been fur Eveliny. Boys war wild an' mischeevious, an'
folks outside don't keer nuthin' 'bout yeef they war ter 'lect
ye ter office 'twould be ter keep some other feller from hevin' it,
'kase they 'spise him more'n ye. An' hyar she's runned off an' married
old Tom Kittredge's gran'son, Josiah Kittredge's sonwhen our folks
'ain't spoke ter none o' 'em fur fifty yearJosiah Kittredge's
sonha! ha! ha! He laughed aloud in tuneless scorn of himself and of
this freak of froward destiny and then fell to wringing his hands and
calling upon Evelina.
The flare from the great chimney-place genially played over the
huddled confusion of the room and the brown logs of the wall, where the
gigantic shadows of the three men mimicked their every gesture with
grotesque exaggeration. The rainbow yarn on the warping bars, the
strings of red-pepper hanging from the ceiling, the burnished metallic
flash from the guns on their racks of deer antlers, served as incidents
in the monotony of the alternate yellow flicker and brown shadow. Deep
under the blaze the red coals pulsated, and in the farthest vistas of
the fire quivered a white heat.
Old Tom Kittredge, the father resumed, after a time, he jes'
branded yer gran'dad's cattle with his mark; he jes' cheated yer
gran'dad, my dad, out'n six head o' cattle.
But then, said the warlike Timothy, not willing to lose sight of
reprisal even in vague reminiscence, he hed only one hand ter rob with
arter that, fur I hev hearn ez how when gran'dad got through with him
the doctor hed ter take his arm off.
Sartainly, sartainly, admitted the old man, in quiet assent. An'
Josiah Kittredge he put out the eyes of a horse critter o' mine right
thar at the court-house door
Waal, arterward, we-uns fired his house over his head, put in Tim.
An' Josiah Kittredge an' me, the old man went on, we-uns clinched
every time we met in this mortal life. Every time I go past the
graveyard whar he be buried I kin feel his fingers on my throat. He had
a nervy grip, but no variation; he always tuk holt the same way.
Tears like ter me ez 'twar a fust-rate time ter fetch out the
rifles again, remarked Tim, this mornin', when old Pa'son Bates kem
up hyar an' 'lowed ez he hed married Eveliny ter Abs'lom Kittredge on
his death-bed; 'So be, pa'son,' I say. An' he tuk off his hat an' say,
'Thank the Lord, this will heal the breach an' make ye frien's!' An' I
say, 'Edzacly, pa'son, ef it air Abs'lom's deathbed; but them
Kittredges air so smilin' an' deceiv-in' I be powerful feared he'll
cheat the King o' Terrors himself. I'll forgive 'em ennythingover
Pa'son war tuk toler'ble suddint in his temper, said the literal
Steve. I hearn him call yer talk onchristian, cussed sentiments, ez he
Ye mus' keep up a Christian sperit, boys; that's the main thing,
said the old man, who was esteemed very religious, and a pious Mentor
in his own family. He gazed meditatively into the fire. What ailed
Eveliny ter git so tuk up with this hyar Abs'-lom? What made her like
him? he propounded.
His big eyes, edzacly like a buck's, an' his long yaller hair,
sneered the discerning Timothy, with the valid scorn of a big ugly man
for a slim pretty one. 'Twar jes 'count o' his long yaller hair his
mother called him Abs'lom. He war named Pete or Bob, I disremember
whatsuthin' commontill his hair got so long an' curly, an' he sot
out ter be so plumb all-fired beautiful, an' his mother named him agin;
this time Abs'lom, arter the king's son, 'count o' his yaller hair.
Git hung by his hair some o' these days in the woods, like him the
Bible tells about; that happened ter the sure-enough Abs'lom,
suggested Stephen, hopefully.
Naw, sir, said Tim; when Abs'lom Kittredge gits hung it 'll be
with suthin' stronger'n hair; he'll stretch hemp. He exchanged a
glance of triumphant prediction with his brother, and anon gazed
ruefully into the fire.
Ye talk like ez ef he war goin' ter live, boys, said old Joel
Quimbey, irritably. Pa'son 'lowed he war powerful low.
Pa'son said he'd never hev got home alive 'thout she'd holped him,
said Stephen. She jes' tuk him an' drug him plumb ter the bars, though
I don't see how she done it, slim leetle critter ez she be; an' thar
she holped him git on his beastis; an' thenI declar' I feel ez ef I
could kill her fur a-demeanin' of herself soshe led that thar horse,
him a-ridin' an' a-leanin' on the neck o' the beastis, two mile up the
mountain, through the night.
Waal, let her bide thar. I'll look on her face no mo', declared
the old man, his toothless jaw shaking. Kittredge she be now, an' none
o' the name kin come a-nigh me. How be I ever a-goin' 'bout 'mongst the
folks at the settlement agin with my darter married ter a Kittredge?
How Josiah an' his dad mus' be a-grinnin' in thar graves at me this
night! An' I 'low they hev got suthin' ter grin about.
And suddenly his grim face relaxed, and once more he began to smite
his hands together and to call aloud for Evelina.
Timothy could offer no consolation, but stared dismally into the
fire, and Stephen rose with a sigh and addressed himself to pushing the
spinning-wheels and tubs and tables into the opposite corner of the
room, in the hope of solving the enigma of its wonted order.
It seemed to Evelina afterward that when she climbed the rugged ways
of the mountain slope in that momentous night she left forever in the
depths of the Cove that free and careless young identity which she had
been. She did not accurately discriminate the moment in which she began
to realize that she was among her hereditary enemies, encompassed by a
hatred nourished to full proportions and to a savage strength long
before she drew her first breath. The fact only gradually claimed its
share in her consciousness as the tension of anxiety for Absalom's sake
relaxed, for the young mountaineer's strength and vitality were
promptly reasserted, and he rallied from the wound and his pallid and
forlorn estate with the recuperative power of the primitive man. By
degrees she came to expect the covert unfriendly glances his brother
cast upon her, the lowering averted mien of her sister-in-law, and now
and again she surprised a long, lingering, curious gaze in his mother's
eyes. They were all Kittredges! And she wondered how she could ever
have dreamed that she might live happily among themone of them, for
her name was theirs. And then perhaps the young husband would stroll
languidly in, with his long hair curling on his blue jeans coat-collar,
and an assured smile in his dark brown eyes, and some lazy jest on his
lips, certain of a welcoming laugh, for he had been so near to death
that they all had a sense of acquisition in that he had been led back.
For his sake they had said little; his mother would busy herself in
brewing his yerb tea, and his brother would offer to saddle the mare
if he felt that he could ride, and they would all be very friendly
together; and his alien wife would presently slip out unnoticed into
the gyarden spot, where the rows of vegetables grew as they did in
the Cove, turning upon her the same neighborly looks they wore of yore,
and showing not a strange leaf among them. The sunshine wrapped itself
in its old fine gilded gossamer haze and drowsed upon the verdant
slopes; the green jewelled Juny-bugs whirred in the soft air; the
mould was as richly brown as in Joel Quimbey's own enclosure; the
flag-lilies bloomed beside the onion bed; and the woolly green leaves
of the sage wore their old delicate tint and gave out a familiar odor.
Among this quaint company of the garden borders she spent much of
her time, now hoeing in a desultory fashion, now leaning on the long
handle of the implement and looking away upon the far reaches of the
purple mountains. As they stretched to vague distances they became
blue, and farther on the great azure domes merged into a still more
tender hue, and this in turn melted into a soft indeterminate tint that
embellished the faint horizon. Her dreaming eyes would grow bright and
wistful; her rich brown curling hair, set free by the yellow sun-bonnet
that slipped off her head and upon her shoulders, would airily float
backward in the wind; there was a lithe grace in the slender figure,
albeit clad in a yellow homespun of a deep dye, and the faded purplish
neckerchief was caught about a throat fairer even than the fair face,
which was delicately flushed. Absalom's mother, standing beside Peter,
the eldest son, in the doorway, watched her long one day.
It all kem about from that thar bran dance, said Peter, a homely
man, with a sterling, narrow-minded wife and an ascetic sense of
religion. Thar Satan waits, an' he gits nimbler every time ye shake
yer foot. The fiddler gin out the figger ter change partners, an' this
hyar gal war dancin' opposite Abs'lom, ez hed never looked nigh her
till that day. The gal didn't know what ter do; she jes' stood
still; but Abs'lom he jes' danced up ter her ez keerless an' gay ez he
always war, jes' like she war ennybody else, an' when he held out his
han' she gin him hern, all a-trembly, an' lookin' up at him, plumb
skeered ter death, her eyes all wide an' sorter wishful, like some wild
thing trapped in the woods. An' then the durned fiddler, moved by the
devil, I'll be be bound, plumb furgot ter change 'em back. So they
danced haf'n the day tergether. An' arter that they war forever
a-stealin' off an' accidentally meetin' at the spring, an' whenst he
war a-huntin' or she drivin' up the cow, an' a-courtin' ginerally, till
they war promised ter marry.
'Twarn't the bran dance; 'twar suthin' ez fleet-in' an' ez
useless, said his mother, standing in the door and gazing at the
unconscious girl, who was leaning upon the hoe, half in the shadow of
the blooming laurel that crowded about the enclosure and bent over the
rail fence, and half in the burnished sunshine; she's plumb
beautifulthar's the snare ez tangled Abs'lom's steps. I never 'lowed
ter see the day ez could show enny comfort fur his dad bein' dead, but
we hev been spared some o' the tallest cavortin' that ever war seen
sence the Big Smoky war built. Sometimes it plumb skeers me ter think
ez we-uns hev got a Quimbey abidin' up hyar along o' we-uns in his
house an' a-callin' o' herse'f Kittredge. I looks ter see him
a-stalkin' roun' hyar some night, too outdone an' aggervated ter rest
in his grave.
But the nights continued spectreless and peaceful on the Great
Smoky, and the same serene stars shone above the mountain as over the
Cove. Evelina could watch here, as often before, the rising moon
ascending through a rugged gap in the range, suffusing the dusky purple
slopes and the black crags on either hand with a pensive glamour, and
revealing the river below by the amber reflection its light evoked. She
often sat on the step of the porch, her elbow on her knees, her chin in
her hand, following with her shining eyes the pearly white mists
loitering among the ranges. Hear! a dog barks in the Cove, a cock
crows, a horn is wound, far, far away; it echoes faintly. And once more
only the sounds of the nightthat vague stir in the windless woods, as
if the forest breathes, the far-away tinkle of water hidden in the
darknessand the moon is among the summits.
The men remained within, for Absalom avoided the chill night air,
and crouched over the smouldering fire. Peter's wife sedulously held
aloof from the ostracized Quimbey woman. But her mother-in-law had
fallen into the habit of sitting upon the porch these moonlit nights.
The sparse, newly-leafed hop and gourd vines clambering to its roof
were all delicately imaged on the floor, and the old woman's clumsy
figure, her grotesque sun-bonnet, her awkward arm-chair, were
faithfully reproduced in her shadow on the log wall of the cabineven
to the up-curling smoke from her pipe. Once she suddenly took the stem
from her mouth. Eveliny, she said, 'pears like ter me ye talk mighty
little. Thar ain't no use in gittin' tongue-tied up hyar on the
Evelina started and raised her eyes, dilated with a stare of
amazement at this unexpected overture.
I ain't keerin', said the old woman, recklessly, to herself,
although consciously recreant to the traditions of the family, and
sacrificing with a pang her distorted sense of loyalty and duty to her
kindlier impulse. I warn't born a Kittredge nohow.
Yes, 'm, said Evelina, meekly; but I don't feel much like talkin'
noways; I never talked much, bein' nobody but men-folks ter our house.
I'd ruther hear ye talk 'n talk myself.
Listen at ye now! The headin' young folks o' this kentry 'll never
rest till they make thar elders shoulder all the burdens. An'
what air ye wantin' a pore ole 'oman like me ter talk about?
Evelina hesitated a moment, then looked up, with a face radiant in
the moonbeams. Tell all 'bout Abs'lomafore I ever seen him.
His mother laughed. Ye air a powerful fool, Eveliny.
The girl laughed a little, too. I dunno ez I want ter be no wiser,
But one was his wife, and the other was his mother, and as they
talked of him daily and long, the bond between them was complete.
I hev got 'em both plumb fooled, the handsome Absalom boasted at
the settlement, when the gossips wondered once more, as they had often
done, that there should be such unity of interest between old Joel
Quimbey's daughter and old Josiah Kittredge's widow. As time went on
many rumors of great peace on the mountain-side came to the father's
ears, and he grew more testy daily as he grew visibly older. These
rumors multiplied with the discovery that they were as wormwood and
gall to him. Not that he wished his daughter to be unhappy, but the joy
which was his grief and humiliation was needlessly flaunted into his
face; the idlers about the county town had invariably a new budget of
details, being supplied, somewhat maliciously, it must be confessed, by
the Kittredges themselves. The ceremony of planting one foot on the
neck of the vanquished was in their minds one of the essential
concomitants of victory. The bold Absalom, not thoroughly known to
either of the women who adored him, was ingenious in expedients, and
had applied the knowledge gleaned from his wife's reminiscences of her
home, her father, and her brothers to more accurately aim his darts.
Sometimes old Quimbey would fairly flee the town, and betake himself in
a towering rage to his deserted hearth, to brood futilely over the
ashes, and devise impotent schemes of vengeance.
He often wondered afterward in dreary retrospection how he had
survived that first troublous year after his daughter's elopement, when
he was so lonely, so heavy-hearted at home, so harried and angered
abroad. His comforts, it is true, were amply insured: a widowed sister
had come to preside over his householda deaf old woman, who had much
to be thankful for in her infirmity, for Joel Quimbey in his youth,
before he acquired religion, had been known as a singularly profane
mana mos' survigrus cusserand something of his old proficiency
had returned to him. Perhaps public sympathy for his troubles
strengthened his hold upon the regard of the community. For it was in
the second year of Evelina's marriage, in the splendid midsummer, when
all the gifts of nature climax to a gorgeous perfection, and candidates
become incumbents, that he unexpectedly attained the great ambition of
his life. He was said to have made the race for justice of the peace
from sheer force of habit, but by some unexplained freak of popularity
the oft-defeated candidate was successful by a large majority at the
Laws-a-massy, boys, he said, tremulously, to his triumphant sons,
when the result was announced, the excited flush on his thin old face
suffusing his hollow veinous temples, and rising into his fine white
hair, how glad Eveliny would hev been efef He was about to say if
she had lived, for he often spoke of her as if she were dead. He turned
suddenly back, and began to eagerly absorb the details of the race, as
if he had often before been elected, with calm superiority canvassing
the relative strength, or rather the relative weakness, of the defeated
He could scarcely have measured the joy which the news gave to
Evelina. She was eminently susceptible of the elation of pride, the
fervid glow of success; but her tender heart melted in sympathetic
divination of all that this was to him who had sought it so long, and
so unabashed by defeat. She pined to see his triumph in his eyes, to
hear it in his voice. She wonderednay, she knew that he longed to
tell it to her. As the year rolled around again to summer, and she
heard from time to time of his quarterly visits to the town as a member
of the worshipful Quarterly County Court, she began to hope that,
softened by his prosperity, lifted so high by his honors above all the
cavillings of the Kittredges, he might be more leniently disposed
toward her, might pity her, might even go so far as to forgive.
But none of her filial messages reached her father's fiery old
Ye'll be sure, Abs'lom, ef ye see Joe Boyd in town, ye'll tell him
ter gin dad my respec's, an' the word ez how the baby air a-thrivin',
an' I wants ter fotch him ter see the fambly at home, ef they'll
Then she would watch Absalom with all the confidence of happy
anticipation, as he rode off down the mountain with his hair flaunting,
and his spurs jingling, and his shy young horse curveting.
But no word ever came in response; and sometimes she would take the
child in her arms and carry him down a path, worn smooth by her own
feet, to a jagged shoulder thrust out by the mountain where all the
slopes fell away, and a crag beetled over the depths of the Cove.
Thence she could discern certain vague lines marking the enclosure, and
a tiny cluster of foliage hardly recognizable as the orchard, in the
midst of which the cabin nestled. She could not distinguish them, but
she knew that the cows were coming to be milked, lowing and clanking
their bells tunefully, fording the river that had the sunset emblazoned
upon it, or standing flank deep amidst its ripples; the chickens might
be going to roost among the althea bushes; the lazy old dogs were astir
on the porch. She could picture her brothers at work about the barn;
most often a white-haired man who walked with a stickalack! she did
not fancy how feebly, nor that his white hair had grown long and
venerable, and tossed in the breeze. Ef he would jes lemme kem fur one
haff'n hour! she would cry.
But all her griefs were bewept on the crag, that there might be no
tears to distress the tenderhearted Absalom when she should return to
The election of Squire Quimbey was a sad blow to the arrogant spirit
of the Kittredges. They had easily accustomed themselves to ascendency,
and they hotly resented the fact that fate had forborne the opportunity
to hit Joel Quimbey when he was down. They had used their utmost
influence to defeat him in the race, and had openly avowed their desire
to see him bite the dust. The inimical feeling between the families
culminated one rainy autumnal day in the town where the quarterly
county court was in session.
A fire had been kindled in the great rusty stove, and crackled away
with grudging merriment inside, imparting no sentiment of cheer to the
gaunt bare room, with its dusty window-panes streaked with rain, its
shutters drearily flapping in the wind, and the floor bearing the
imprint of many boots burdened with the red clay of the region. The
sound of slow strolling feet in the brick-paved hall was monotonous and
Squire Quimbey sat in his place among the justices. Despite his
pride of office, he had not the heart for business that might formerly
have been his. More than once his attention wandered. He looked
absently out of the nearest window at the neighboring dwellinga
little frame-house with a green yard; a well-sweep was defined against
the gray sky, and about the curb a file of geese followed with swaying
gait the wise old gander. What a hand for fow-els Eveliny war!
he muttered to himself; an' she hed luck with sech critters. He used
the obituary tense, for Evelina had in some sort passed away.
He rubbed his hand across his corrugated brow, and suddenly he
became aware that her husband was in the room, speaking to the chairman
of the county court, and claiming a certificate in the sum of two
dollars each for the scalps of one wolf, an' one painter, he
continued, laying the small furry repulsive objects upon the desk, an'
one dollar fur the skelp of one wild-cat. He was ready to take his
oath that these animals were killed by him running at large in this
He had stooped a little in making the transfer. He came suddenly to
his full height, and stood with one hand in his leather belt, the other
shouldering his rifle. The old man scanned him curiously. The crude
light from the long windows was full upon his tall slim figure; his
yellow hair curled down upon the collar of his blue jeans coat; his
great miry boots were drawn high over the trousers to the knee; his
pensive deer-like eyes brightened with a touch of arrogance and enmity
as, turning slowly to see who was present, his glance encountered his
father-in-law's fiery gaze.
Mr. Cheerman! Mr. Cheerman! exclaimed the old man, tremulously,
lemme examinate that thar wild-cat skelp. Thanky, sir; thanky, sir; I
wanter see ef hain't off'n the head o' some old tame tomcat. An' this
air a painter's affecting to scan it by the windowtwo ears
'cordin' to law; yes, sir, two; and thishis keen old face had all
the white light of the sad gray day on its bleaching hair and its many
lines, and his eager old hands trembled with the excitement of the
significant satire he enactedan' this air a wolf's, ye say? Yes;
it's a Kittredge's; same thing, Mr. Cheerman, by a diff'ent name;
nuthin' in the code 'bout'n a premium fur a Kittredge's skelp; but same
natur'; coward, bully, thiefthief!
The words in the high cracked voice rang from the bare walls and
bare floors as he tossed the scalps from him, and sat down, laughing
silently in painful, mirthless fashion, his toothless jaw quivering,
and his shaking hands groping for the arms of his chair.
Who says a Kittredge air a thief says a lie! cried out the young
man, recovering from his tense surprise. I don't keer how old he be,
he stipulatedfor he had not thought to see her father so agedhe
The old man fixed him with a steady gaze and a sudden alternation of
calmness. Ye air a Kittredge; ye stole my daughter from me.
I never. She kem of her own accord.
Damn ye! the old man retorted to the unwelcome truth. There was
nothing else for him to say. Damn the whole tribe of ye; everything
that goes by the accursed name of Kittredge, that's got a drop o' yer
blood, or a bone o' yer bones, or a puif o' yer breath
Squair! squair! interposed an officious old colleague, taking him
by the elbow, jes' quiet down now; ye air a-cussin' yer own gran'son.
So be! so be! cried the old man, in a frenzy of rage. Damn 'em
allall the Kittredge tribe! He gasped for breath; his lips still
moved speechlessly as he fell back in his chair.
Kittredge let his gun slip from his shoulder, the butt ringing
heavily as it struck upon the floor. I ain't a-goin' ter take sech ez
that off'n ye, old man, he cried, pallid with fury, for be it
remembered this grandson was that august institution, a first baby. He
sha'n't sit up thar an' cuss the baby, Mr. Cheerman. He appealed to
the presiding justice, holding up his right arm as tremulous as old
Quimbey's own. I want the law! I ain't a-goin' ter tech a old man like
him, an' my wife's father, so I ax in the name o' peace fur the law.
Don't deny itwith a warning glance'kase I ain't school-larned,
an' dunno how ter get it. Don't ye deny me the law! I know the
law don't 'low a magistrate an' a jestice ter cuss in his high office,
in the presence of the county court. I want the law! I want the law!
The chairman of the court, who had risen in his excitement, turning
eagerly first to one and then to the other of the speakers, striving to
silence the colloquy, and in the sudden surprise of it at a momentary
loss how to take action, sat down abruptly, and with a face of
consternation. Profanity seemed to him so usual and necessary an
incident of conversation that it had never occurred to him until this
moment that by some strange aberration from the rational estimate of
essentials it was entered in the code as a violation of law. He would
fain have overlooked it, but the room was crowded with spectators. The
chairman would be a candidate for re-election as justice of the peace
at the expiration of his term. And after all what was old Quimbey to
him, or he to old Quimbey, that, with practically the whole town
looking on, he should destroy his political prospects and disregard the
dignity of his office. He had a certain twinge of conscience, and a
recollection of the choice and fluent oaths of his own repertory, but
as he turned over the pages of the code in search of the section he
deftly argued that they were uttered in his own presence as a person,
not as a justice.
And so for the first time old Joel Quimbey appeared as a
law-breaker, and was duly fined by the worshipful county court fifty
cents for each oath, that being the price at which the State rates the
expensive and impious luxury of swearing in the hearing of a justice of
the peace, and which in its discretion the court saw fit to adopt in
The old man offered no remonstrance; he said not a word in his own
defence. He silently drew out his worn wallet, with much contortion of
his thin old anatomy in getting to his pocket, and paid his fines on
the spot. Absalom had already left the room, the clerk having made out
the certificates, the chairman of the court casting the scalps into the
open door of the stove, that they might be consumed by fire according
The young mountaineer wore a heavy frown, and his heart was ill at
ease. He sought some satisfaction in the evident opinion of the crowd
which now streamed out, for the excitements within were over, that he
had done a fine thing; a very clever thought, they considered it, to
demand the law of Mr. Chairman, that one of their worships should be
dragged from the bench and arraigned before the quarterly county court
of which he was a member. The result gave general satisfaction,
although there were those who found fault with the court's moderation,
and complained that the least possible cognizance had been taken of the
Ho! ho! ho! laughed an old codger in the street. I jes knowed
that hurt old Joel Quimbey wuss 'n ef a body hed druv a knife through
him; he's been so proud o' bein' jestice 'mongst his betters, an' bein'
'lected at las', many times ez he hev run. Waal, Abs'lom, ye hev proved
thar's law fur jestices too. I tell ye ye hev got sense in yer
But Absalom hung his head before these congratulations; he found no
relish in the old man's humbled pride. Yet had he not cursed the baby,
lumping him among the Kittredges? Absalom went about for a time, with a
hopeful anxiety in his eyes, searching for one of the younger
Quim-beys, in order to involve him in a fight that might have a
provocation and a result more to his mind. Somehow the recollection of
the quivering and aged figure of his wife's father, of the smitten look
on his old face, of his abashed and humbled demeanor before the court,
was a reproach to him, vivid and continuously present with his
repetitious thoughts forever re-enacting the scene. His hands trembled;
he wanted to lay hold on a younger man, to replace this aesthetic
revenge with a quarrel more wholesome in the estimation of his own
conscience. But the Quimbey sons were not in town to-day. He could only
stroll about and hear himself praised for this thing that he had done,
and wonder how he should meet Evelina with his conscience thus arrayed
against himself for her father's sake. Plumb turned Quimbey, I swear,
he said, in helpless reproach to this independent and coercive moral
force within. His dejection, he supposed, had reached its lowest
limits, when a rumor pervaded the town, so wild that he thought it
could be only fantasy.
It proved to be fact. Joel Quimbey, aggrieved, humbled, and
indignant, had resigned his office, and as Absalom rode out of town
toward the mountains, he saw the old man in his crumpled brown jeans
suit, mounted on his white mare, jogging down the red clay road, his
head bowed before the slanting lines of rain, on his way to his
cheerless fireside. He turned off presently, for the road to the levels
of the Cove was not the shorter cut that Absalom travelled to the
mountains. But all the way the young man fancied that he saw from time
to time, as the bridle-path curved in the intricacies of the laurel,
the bowed old figure among the mists, jogging along, his proud head and
his stiff neck bent to the slanting rain and the buffets of his unkind
fate. And yet, pressing the young horse to overtake him, Absalom could
find naught but the fleecy mists drifting down the bridle-path as the
wind might will, or lurking in the darkling nooks of the laurel when
the wind would.
The sun was shining on the mountains, and Absalom went up from the
sad gray rain and through the gloomy clouds of autumn hanging over the
Cove into a soft brilliant upper atmospherea generous after-thought
of summerand the warm brightness of Evelina's smile. She stood in the
doorway as she saw him dismounting, with her finger on her lips, for
the baby was sleeping: he put much of his time into that occupation.
The tiny gourds hung yellow among the vines that clambered over the
roof of the porch, and a brave jack-beana friend of the sheltering
eavesmade shift to bloom purple and white, though others of the kind
hung, crisp and sere, and rattled their dry bones in every gust. The
gyarden spot at the side of the house was full of brown and withered
skeletons of the summer growths; among the crisp blades of the
Indian-corn a sibilant voice was forever whispering; down the
tawny-colored vistas the pumpkins glowed. The sky was blue; the yellow
hickory flaming against it and hanging over the roof of the cabin was a
fine color to see. The red sour-wood tree in the fence corner shook out
a myriad of white tassels; the rolling tumult of the gray clouds below
thickened, and he could hear the rain a-fallingfalling into the
dreary depths of the Cove.
All this for him: why should he disquiet himself for the storm that
burst upon others?
Evelina seemed a part of the brightness; her dark eyes so softly
alight, her curving red lips, the faint flush in her cheeks, her rich
brown hair, and the purplish kerchief about the neck of her yellow
dress. Once more she looked smilingly at him, and shook her head and
laid her finger on her lip.
I oughter been sati'fied with all I got, stiddier hectorin' other
folks till they 'ain't got no heart ter hold on ter what they been at
sech trouble ter git, he said, as he turned out the horse and strode
gloomily toward the house with the saddle over his arm.
Hev ennybody been spiteful ter you-uns ter-day? she asked, in an
almost maternal solicitude, and with a flash of partisan anger in her
Git out'n my road, Eveliny, he said, fretfully, pushing by, and
throwing the saddle on the floor. There was no one in the room but the
occupant of the rude box on rockers which served as cradle.
Absalom had a swift, prescient fear. She'll git it all out'n me ef
I don't look sharp, he said to himself. Then aloud, Whar's mam? he
demanded, flinging himself into a chair and looking loweringly about.
Topknot hev jes kem off'n her nest with fourteen deedies, an' she
an' 'Melia hev gone ter the barn ter see 'bout'n 'em.
A pause. The fire smouldered audibly; a hickory-nut fell with a
sharp thwack on the clapboards of the roof, and rolled down and bounded
to the ground.
Suddenly: I seen yer dad ter-day, he began, without coercion. He
gin me a cussin', in the courtroom, 'fore all the folks. He cussed all
the Kit-tredges, all o' 'em; him toohe glanced in the
direction of the cradlecussed 'em black an' blue, an' called me a
thief fur marryin' ye an kerry-in' ye off.
Her face turned scarlet, then pale. She sat down, her trembling
hands reaching out to rock the cradle, as if the youthful Kittredge
might be disturbed by the malediction hurled upon his tribe. But he
slept sturdily on.
Waal, now, she said, making a great effort at self-control, ye
oughtn't ter mind it. Ye know he war powerful tried. I never purtended
ter be ez sweet an' pritty ez the baby air, but how would you-uns feel
ef somebody ye despised war ter kem hyar an' tote him off from we-uns
I'd cut thar hearts out, he said, with prompt barbarity.
Thar, now! exclaimed his wife, in triumphant logic.
He gloomily eyed the smouldering coals. He was beginning to
understand the paternal sentiment. By his own heart he was learning the
heart of his wife's father.
I'd chop 'em inter minch-meat, he continued, carrying his just
reprisals a step further.
Waal, don't do it right now, said his wife, trying to laugh, yet
vaguely frightened by his vehemence.
Eveliny, he cried, springing to his feet, I be a-goin' ter tell
ye all 'bout'n it. I jes called on the cheerman fur the law agin him.
Agin dad!the law!' Her voice dropped as she contemplated
aghast this terrible unapprehended force brought to oppress old Joel
Quim-bey; she felt a sudden poignant pang for his forlorn and lonely
Never mind, never mind, Eveliny, Absalom said, hastily, repenting
of his frantic candor and seeking to soothe her.
I will mind, she said, sternly. What hev ye done ter dad?
Nuthin', he replied, sulkilynuthin'.
Ye needn't try ter fool me, Abs'lom Kittredge. Ef ye ain't minded
ter tell me, I'll foot it down ter town an' find out. What did the law
do ter him?
Jes fined him, he said, striving to make light of it.
An' ye done that furspite! she cried. A-set-tin' the law
ter chouse a old man out'n money, fur gittin' mad an' sayin' ye stole
his only darter. Oh, I'll answer fur himshe too had risen; her hand
trembled on the back of the chair, but her face was scornfully
smilinghe don't mind the money; he'll never git you-uns
fined ter pay back the gredge. He don't take his wrath out on
folkses' wallets; he grips thar throats, or teches the trigger
o' his rifle. Laws-a-massy! takin' out yer gredge that-a-way! It's ye
poorer fur them dollars, Abs'lom'tain't him. She laughed
satirically, and turned to rock the cradle.
What d'ye want me ter do? Fight a old man? he exclaimed, angrily.
She kept silence, only looking at him with a flushed cheek and a
scornful laughing eye.
He went on, resentfully: I ain't 'shamed, he stoutly asserted.
Nobody 'lowed I oughter be, It's him, plumb bowed down with shame.
The shoe's on the t'other foot, she cried. It's ye that oughter
be 'shamed, an' ef ye ain't, it's more shame ter ye. What hev he got
ter be 'shamed of?
'Kase, he retorted, he war fetched up afore a court on a crim'nal
offencea-cussin' afore the court! Ye may think it's no shame, but he
do; he war so 'shamed he gin up his office ez jestice o' the peace,
what he hev run fur four or five times, an' always got beat 'ceptin'
Dad! but for the whisper she seemed turning to stone; her dilated
eyes were fixed as she stared into his face.
An' I seen him a-ridin' off from town in the rain arterward, his
head hangin' plumb down ter the saddle-bow.
Her amazed eyes were still fastened upon his face, but her hand no
longer trembled on the back of the chair.
He suddenly held out his own hand to her, his sympathy and regret
returning as he recalled the picture of the lonely wayfarer in the rain
that had touched him so. Oh, Eveliny! he cried, I never war so beset
an' sorry an'
She struck his hand down; her eyes blazed. Her aspect was all
instinct with anger.
I do declar' I'll never furgive yeter spite him soan' kem an'
tell me! An' shame him so ez he can't hold his placean' kem
an' tell me! An' bow him down so ez he can't show his face whar
he hev been so respected by allan' kem an' tell me! An' all
fur spite, fur he hev got nuthin' ye want now. An' I gin him up an' lef
him lonely, an' all fur you-uns. Ye air mean, Abs'lom Kit-tredge, an'
I'm the mos' fursaken fool on the face o' the yearth!
He tried to speak, but she held up her hand in expostulation.
Nare wordfur I won't answer. I do declar' I'll never speak ter ye
agin ez long ez I live.
He flung away with a laugh and a jeer. That's right, he said,
encouragingly; plenty o' men would be powerful glad ef thar wives
would take pattern by that.
He caught up his hat and strode out of the room. He busied himself
in stabling his horse, and in looking after the stock. He could hear
the women's voices from the loft of the barn as they disputed about the
best methods of tending the newly hatched chickens, that had chipped
the shell so late in the fall as to be embarrassed by the frosts and
the coming cold weather. The last bee had ceased to drone about the
great crimson prince's-feather by the door-step, worn purplish through
long flaunting, and gone to seed. The clouds were creeping up and up
the slope, and others were journeying hither from over the mountains. A
sense of moisture was in the air, although a great column of dust
sprang up from the dry corn-field, with panic-stricken suggestions, and
went whirling away, carrying off withered blades in the rush. The first
drops of rain were pattering, with a resonant timbre in the midst, when
Pete came home with a newly killed deer on his horse, and the women,
with fluttering skirts and sun-bonnets, ran swiftly across from the
barn to the back door of the shed-room. Then the heavy downpour made
the cabin rock.
Why, Eveliny an' the baby oughtn't ter be out in this hyar
rainthey'll be drenched, said the old woman, when they were all
safely housed except the two. Whar be she?
A-foolin' in the gyarden spot a-getherin' seed an' sech, like she
always be, said the sister-in-law, tartly.
Absalom ran out into the rain without his hat, his heart in the
clutch of a prescient terror. No; the summer was over for the garden as
well as for him; all forlorn and rifled, its few swaying shrubs tossed
wildly about, a mockery of the grace and bloom that had once
embellished it. His wet hair Streaming backward in the wind caught on
the laurel boughs as he went down and down the tangled path that her
homesick feet had worn to the crag which overlooked the Cove. Not
there! He stood, himself enveloped in the mist, and gazed blankly into
the folds of the dun-colored clouds that with tumultuous involutions
surged above the valley and baffled his vision. He realized it with a
sinking heart. She was gone.
That afternoonit was close upon nightfallStephen Quimbey,
letting down the bars for the cows, noticed through the slanting lines
of rain, serried against the masses of sober-hued vapors which hid the
great mountain towering above the Cove, a woman crossing the
foot-bridge. He turned and lifted down another bar, and then looked
again. Something was familiar in her aspect, certainly. He stood
gravely staring. Her sun-bonnet had fallen back upon her shoulders, and
was hanging loosely there by the strings tied beneath her chin; her
brown hair, dishevelled' by the storm, tossed back and forth in heavy
wave-less locks, wet through and through. When the wind freshened they
lashed, thong-like, her pallid oval face; more than once she put up her
hand and tried to gather them together, or to press them backonly one
hand, for she clasped a heavy bundle in her arms, and as she toiled
along slowly up the rocky slope, Stephen suddenly held his palm above
his eyes. The recognition was becoming definite, and yet he could
scarcely believe his senses: was it indeed Evelina, wind-tossed,
tempest-beaten, and with as many tears as rain-drops on her pale cheek?
Evelina, forlorn and sorry, and with swollen sad dark eyes, and
listless exhausted stephere again at the bars, where she had not
stood since she dragged her wounded lover thence on-that eventful night
two years and more ago.
Resentment for the domestic treachery was uppermost in his mind, and
he demanded surlily, when she had advanced within the sound of his
words, What hev ye kem hyar fur?
Ter stay, she responded, briefly.
His hand in an uncertain gesture laid hold upon his tuft of beard.
Fur good? he faltered, amazed.
She nodded silently.
He stooped to lift down the lowest bar that she might pass. Suddenly
the bundle she clasped gave a dexterous twist; a small head, with
yellow downy hair, was thrust forth; a pair of fawn-like eyes fixed an
inquiring stare upon him; the pink face distended with a grin, to which
the two small teeth in the red mouth, otherwise empty, lent a
singularly merry expression; and with a manner that was a challenge to
pursuit, the head disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared, tucked
with affected shyness under Evelina's arm.
She left Stephen standing with the bar in his hand, staring blankly
after her, and ran into the cabin.
Her father had no questions to asknor she.
As he caught her in his arms he gave a great cry of joy that rang
through the house, and brought Timothy from the barn, in astonishment,
to the scene.
Eveliny's home! he cried out to Tim, who, with the ox-yoke
in his hand, paused in the doorway. Kem ter stay! Eveliny's home!
I knowed she'd kem back to her old daddy. Eveliny's kem ter stay fur
They tole me they'd hectored ye plumb out'n the town an' out'n yer
office. They hed the insurance ter tell me that word! she
cried, sobbing on his breast.
What d'ye reckon I keer fur enny jestice's cheer when I hev got ye
agin ter set alongside o' me by the fire? he exclaimed, his cracked
old voice shrill with triumphant gladness.
He pushed her into her rocking-chair in the chimney-corner, and
laughed again with the supreme pleasure of the moment, although she had
leaned her head against the logs of the wall, and was sobbing aloud
with the contending emotions that tore her heart.
Didn't ye ever want ter kem afore, Eveliny? he demanded. I hev
been a-pinin' fur a glimge o' ye. He was in his own place now, his
hands trembling as they lay on the arms of his chair; a pathetic
reproach was in his voice. Though old folks oughtn't ter expec' too
much o' young ones, ez be all tuk up naterally with tharse'fs, he
added, bravely. He would not let his past lonely griefs mar the bright
present. Old folks air mos'ly cumber-ersmos'ly cumberers o' the
Her weeping had ceased; she was looking at him with dismayed
surprise in her eyes, still lustrous with unshed tears. Why, dad I
sent ye a hundred messages ef I mought kem. I tole Abs'lom ter tell Joe
Boydbein' as ye liked JoeI wanted ter see ye. She leaned forward
and looked up at him with frowning intensity. They never gin ye that
He laughed aloud in sorry scorn. We can't teach our chil'n
nuthin', he philosophized. They hev got ter hurt tharse'fs with all
the thorns an' the stings o' the yearth. Our sperience with the sharp
things an' bitter ones don't do them no sarvice. Naw, leetle
darternaw! Ye mought ez well gin a message o' kindness ter a wolf,
an' expec' him ter kerry it ter some lonesome, helpless thing a-wounded
by the way-side, ez gin it ter a Kittredge.
I never will speak ter one o' 'em agin ez long ez I live, she
cried, with a fresh gust of tears.
Waal, exclaimed the old man, reassuringly, and chirping high,
hyar we all be agin, jes' the same ez we war afore. Don't cry,
Eveliny; it's jes' the same.
A sudden babbling intruded upon the conversation. The youthful
Kittredge, as he sat upon the wide flat stones of the hearth, was as
unwelcome here in the Cove as a Quimbey had been in the cabin on the
mountain. The great hickory fire called for his unmixed approval,
coming in, as he had done, from the gray wet day. He shuffled his bare
pink feetexceedingly elastic and agile members they seemed to be, and
he had a remarkable purchase upon their useand brought them smartly
down upon their heels as if this were one of the accepted gestures of
applause. Then he looked up at the dark frowning faces of his mother's
brothers, and gurgled with laughter, showing the fascinating spectacle
of his two front teeth. Perhaps it was the only Kittredge eye that they
were not willing to meet. They solemnly gazed beyond him and into the
fire, ignoring his very existence. He sustained the slight with an
admirable cheerfulness, and babbled and sputtered and flounced about
with his hands. He grew pinker in the generous firelight, and he looked
very fat as he sat in a heap on the floor. He seemed to have threads
tightly tied about his bolster-shaped limbs in places where elder
people prefer jointsin his ankles and wrists and elbowsfor his arms
were bare, and although his frock of pink calico hung decorously high
on one shoulder, it drooped quite off from the other, showing a sturdy
His mother took slight notice of him; she was beginning to look
about the room with a certain critical disfavor at the different
arrangement of the household furniture adopted by her father's deaf and
widowed old sister who presided here now, and who, it chanced, had been
called away by the illness of a relative. Evelina got up presently, and
shifted the position of the spinning-wheels, placing the flax-wheel
where the large wheel had been. She then pushed out the table from the
corner. What ailed her ter sot it hyar? she grumbled, in a
disaffected undertone, and shoved it to the centre of the floor, where
it had always stood during her own sway. She cast a discerning glance
up among the strings of herbs and peppers hanging from above, and
examined the shelves where the simple stores for table use were
arranged in earthen-ware bowls or gourdsall with an air of vague
dissatisfaction. She presently stepped into the shed-room, and there
looked over the piles of quilts. They were in order, certainly, but
placed in a different method from her own; another woman's hand had
been at work, and she was jealous of its very touch among these
familiar old things to which she seemed positively akin. I wonder how
I made out ter bide so long on the mounting, she said; and with the
recollection of the long-haired Absalom there was another gush of tears
and sobs, which she stifled as she could in one of the old quilts that
held many of her own stitches and was soothing to touch.
The infantile Kittredge, who was evidently not born to blush unseen,
seemed to realize that he had failed to attract the attention of the
three absorbed Quimbeys who sat about the fire. He blithely addressed
himself to another effort. He suddenly whisked himself over on
all-fours, and with a certain ursine aspect went nimbly across the
hearth, still holding up his downy yellow head, his pink face agrin,
and alluringly displaying his two facetious teeth. He caught the rung
of Tim's chair, and lifted himself tremulously to an upright posture.
And then it became evident that he was about to give an exhibition of
the thrilling feat of walking around a chair. With a truly Kittredge
perversity he had selected the one that had the savage Timothy seated
in it. For an instant the dark-browed face scowled down into his
unaffrighted eyes: it seemed as if Tim might kick him into the fire.
The next moment he had set out to circumnavigate, as it were. What a
prodigious force he expended upon it! How he gurgled and grinned and
twisted his head to observe the effect upon the men, all sedulously
gazing into the fire! how he bounced, and anon how he sank with sudden
genuflections! how limber his feet seemed, and what free agents! Surely
he never intended to put them down at that extravagant angle. More than
once one foot was placed on top of the otheran attitude that impeded
locomotion and resulted in his sitting down in an involuntary manner
and with some emphasis. With an appalling temerity he clutched Tim's
great miry boots to help him up and on his way round. Occasionally he
swayed to and fro, with his teeth on exhibition, laughing and babbling
and shrilly exclaiming, inarticulately bragging of his agile prowess,
as if he were able to defy all the Quimbeys, who would not notice him.
And when it was all over he went in his wriggling ursine gait back to
the hearth-stone, and there he was sitting, demurely enough, and as if
he had never moved, when his mother returned and found him.
There was no indication that he had attracted a moment's attention.
She looked gravely down at him; then took her chair. A pair of blue
yarn socks was in her hand. I never see sech darnin' ez Aunt Sairy Ann
do fur ye, dad; I hev jes tuk my shears an' cut this heel smang out,
an' I be goin' ter do it over.
She slipped a tiny gourd into the heel, and began to draw the slow
threads to and fro across it.
The blaze, red and yellow, and with elusive purple gleams, leaped up
the chimney. The sap was still in the wood; it sang a summer-tide song.
But an autumn wind was blowing shrilly down the chimney; one could hear
the sibilant rush of the dead leaves on the blast. The window and the
door shook, and were still, and once more rattled as if a hand were on
SuddenlyEver weigh him? her father asked.
She sat upright with a nervous start. It was a moment before she
understood that it was of the Kittredge scion he spoke.
With his high cracked laugh the old man leaned over, his outspread
hand hovering about the plump baby, uncertain where, in so much soft
fatness, it might be practicable to clutch him. There were some large
horn buttons on the back of his frock, a half-dozen of which, gathered
together, afforded a grasp. He lifted the child by them, laughing in
undisguised pleasure to feel the substantial strain upon the garment.
Toler'ble survigrus, he declared, with his high chirp.
His daughter suddenly sprang up with a pallid face and a pointing
The winder! she huskily criedsuthin's at the winder!
But when they looked they saw only the dark square of tiny panes,
with the fireside scene genially reflected on it. And then she fell to
declaring that she had been dreaming, and besought them not to take
down their guns nor to search, and would not be still until they had
all seemed to concede the point; it was she who fastened the doors and
shutters, and she did not lie down to rest till they were all asleep
and hours had passed. None of them doubted that it was Absalom's face
that she had seen at the window, where the light had once lured him
before, and she knew that she had dreamed no dream like this.
It soon became evident that whenever Joe Boyd was intrusted with a
message he would find means to deliver it. For upon him presently
devolved the difficult duties of ambassador. The first time that his
honest square face appeared at the rail fence, and the sound of his
voice roused Evelina as she stood feeding the poultry close by, she
returned his question with a counter-question hard to answer.
I hev been up the mounting, he said, smiling, as he hooked his
arms over the rail fence. Abs'-lom he say he wanter know when ye'll
git yer visit out an' kem home.
She leaned her elbow against the ash-hopper, balancing the wooden
bowl of corn-meal batter on its edge and trembling a little; the geese
and chickens and turkeys crowded, a noisy rout, about her feet.
Joe, she said, irrelevantly, ye air one o' the few men on this
yearth ez ain't a liar.
He stared at her gravely for a moment, then burst into a forced
laugh. Ho! ho! I tell a bushel o' 'em a day, Eveliny! He wagged his
head in an anxious affectation of mirth.
[Illustration: Why'n't ye gin dad them messages 119]
Why'n't ye gin dad them messages ez Abs'lom gin ye from me?
Joe received this in blank amaze; then, with sudden comprehension,
his lower jaw dropped. He looked at her with a plea for pity in his
eyes. And yet his ready tact strove to reassert itself.
I mus' hev furgot 'em, he faltered.
Did Abs'lom ever gin 'em ter ye? she persisted.
Ef he did, I mus' hev furgot 'em, he repeated, crestfallen
She laughed and turned jauntily away, once more throwing the
corn-meal batter to the greedily jostling poultry. Tell Abs'lom I hev
fund him out, she said. He can't sot me agin dad no sech way. This be
my home, an' hyar I be goin' ter 'bide.
And so she left the good Joe Boyd hooked on by the elbows to the
The Quimbeys, who had heard this conversation from within, derived
from it no small elation. She hev gin 'em the go-by fur good, Timothy
said, confidently, to his father, who laughed in triumph, and pulled
calmly at his pipe, and looked ten years younger.
But Steve was surlily anxious. I'd place heap mo' dependence in
Eveliny ef she didn't hev this hyar way o' cryin' all the time. She
'lows she's glad she kemso glad she hev lef Abs'lom fur good
an' allan' then she busts out a-cryin' agin. I ain't able ter argufy
Shucks! wimmen air always a-cryin', an' they don't mean nuthin'
by it, exclaimed the old man, in the plenitude of his wisdom. It air
jes' one o' thar most contrarious ways. I hev seen 'em set down an' cry
fur joy an' pleasure.
But Steve was doubtful. It be a powerful low-sperited gift fur them
ez hev ter 'bide along of 'em. Eveliny never useter be tearful in
nowise. Now she cries a heap mo' 'n that thar shoathis lips curled
in contempt as he glanced toward the door, through which was visible a
small rotund figure in pink calico, seated upon the lowest log of the
wood-pileez she fotched down hyar with her. He never hev hed
a reg'lar blate but two or three times sence he hev been hyar, an' them
war when that thar old tur-rkey gobbler teetered up ter him an' tuk his
corn-dodger that he war a-eatin' on plumb out'n his hand. He hed
suthin' to holler furhed los' his breakfus.
Don't he 'pear ter you-uns to be powerful peeg-eon-toed? asked
Tim, anxiously, turning to his father.
The gawbbler? faltered the amazed old man.
Naw; him, himKittredge, said Tim, jerking his big thumb
in the direction of the small boy.
Law-dy Gawd A'mighty! naw! naw! The grandfather indignantly
repudiated the imputation of the infirmity. One would have imagined
that he would deem it meet that a Kittredge should be pigeon-toed.
It's jes the way all babies hev got a-walkin'; he ain't right
handy yit with his feetjes a-beginnin' ter walk, an' sech.
Peegeon-toed! I say it, ye fool! He cast a glance of contempt on his
eldest-born, and arrogantly puffed his pipe.
Again Joe Boyd came, and yet again. He brought messages contrite and
promissory from Absalom; he brought commands stern and insistent. He
came into the house at last, and sat and talked at the fireside in the
presence of the men of the family, who bore themselves in a manner
calculated to impress the Kittredge emissary with their triumph and
contempt for his mission, although they studiously kept silence,
leaving it to Evelina to answer.
At last the old man, leaning forward, tapped Joe on the knee. See
hyar, Joe. Ye hev always been a good frien' o' mine. This hyar man he
stole my darter from me, an' whenst she wanted ter be frien's, an' not
let her old dad die unforgiving he wouldn't let her send the word ter
me. An' then he sot himself ter spite an' hector me, an' fairly run me
out'n the town, an' harried me out'n my office; an' when she fund
outshe wouldn't take my word fur itthe deceivin' natur' o' the
Kittredge tribe, she hed hed enough o' 'em. I hev let ye argufy 'bout'n
it; ye hev hed yer fill of words. An' now I be tired out. Ye ain't
'lowin' she'll ever go back ter her husband, air ye?
Joe dolorously shook his head.
Waal, ef ever ye kem hyar talkin' 'bout'n it agin, I'll be 'bleeged
ter take down my rifle ter ye.
Joe gazed, unmoved, into the fire.
An' that would be mighty hard on me, Joe, 'kase ye be so pop'lar
'mongst all, I dunno what the kentry-side would do ter me ef I
war ter put a bullet inter ye. Ye air a young man, Joe. Ye oughter
spare a old man sech a danger ez that.
And so it happened that Joe Boyd's offices as mediator ceased.
A week went by in silence and without result.
Evelina's tears seemed to keep count of the minutes. The brothers
indignantly noted it, and even the old man was roused from the placid
securities of his theories concerning lachrymose womankind, and
remonstrated sometimes, and sometimes grew angry and exhorted her to go
back. What did it matter to her how her father was treated? He was a
cumberer of the ground, and many people besides her husband had thought
he had no right to sit in a justice's chair. And then she would burst
into tears once more, and declare again that she would never go back.
The only thoroughly cheerful soul about the place was the intruding
Kittredge. He sat continuouslyfor the weather was fineon the lowest
log of the wood-pile, and swung his bare pink feet among the chips and
bark, and seemed to have given up all ambition to walk. Occasionally
red and yellow leaves whisked past his astonished eyes, although these
were few now, for November was on the wane. He babbled to the chickens,
who pecked about him with as much indifference as if he were made of
wood. His two teeth came glittering out whenever the rooster crowed,
and his gleeful laughhe rejoiced so in this handsomely endowed
birdcould be heard to the barn. The dogs seemed never to have known
that he was a Kittredge, and wagged their tails at the very sound of
his voice, and seized surreptitious opportunities to lick his face. Of
all his underfoot world only the gobbler awed him into gravity and
silence; he would gaze in dismay as the marauding fowl irresolutely
approached from around the wood pile, with long neck out-stretched and
undulating gait, applying first one eye and then the other to the pink
hands, for the gobbler seemed to consider them a perpetual repository
of corn-dodgers, which indeed they were. Then the head and the wabbling
red wattles would dart forth with a sudden peck, and the shriek that
ensued proved that nothing could be much amiss with the Kittredge
One fine day he sat thus in the red November sunset. The sky, seen
through the interlacing black boughs above his head, was all amber and
crimson, save for a wide space of pure and pallid green, against which
the purplish-garnet wintry mountains darkly gloomed. Beyond the rail
fence the avenues of the bare woods were carpeted with the sere
yellowish leaves that gave back the sunlight with a responsive
illuminating effect, and thus the sylvan visitas glowed. The long
slanting beams elongated his squatty little shadow till it was hardly a
caricature. He heard the cow lowing as she came to be milked, fording
the river where the clouds were so splendidly reflected. The chickens
were going to roost. The odor of the wood, the newly-hewn chips,
imparted a fresh and fragrant aroma to the air. He had found among them
a sweet-gum ball and a pine cone, and was applying them to the
invariable test of taste. Suddenly he dropped them with a nervous
start, his lips trembled, his lower jaw fell, he was aware of a
stealthy approach. Something was creeping behind the wood-pile. He
hardly had time to bethink himself of his enemy the gobbler when he was
clutched under the arm, swung through the air with a swiftness that
caused the scream to evaporate in his throat, and the next moment he
looked quakingly up into his father's face with unrecognizing eyes; for
he had forgotten Absalom in these few weeks. He squirmed and wriggled
as he was held on the pommel of the saddle, winking and catching his
breath and spluttering, as preliminary proceedings to an outcry. There
was a sudden sound of heavily shod feet running across the puncheon
floor within, a wild, incoherent exclamation smote the air, an interval
of significant silence ensued.
Get up! cried Absalom, not waiting for Tim's rifle, but spurring
the young horse, and putting him at the fence. The animal rose with the
elasticity and lightness of an uprearing ocean wave. The baby once more
twisted his soft neck, and looked anxiously into the rider's face. This
was not the gobbler. The gobbler did not ride horseback. Then the
affinity of the male infant for the noble equine animal suddenly
overbore all else. In elation he smote with his soft pink hand the
glossy arched neck before him. Dul-lup! he arrogantly echoed
Absalom's words. And thus father and son at a single bound disappeared
into woods, and so out of sight.
The savage Tim was leaning upon his rifle in the doorway, his eyes
dilated, his breath short, his whole frame trembling with excitement,
as the other men, alarmed by Evelina's screams, rushed down from the
What ails ye, Tim? Why'n't ye fire? demanded his father.
Tim turned an agitated, baffled look upon him. II mought hev hit
the baby, he faltered.
Hain't ye got no aim, ye durned sinner? asked Stephen, furiously.
Bullet mought hev gone through him and struck inter the baby,
An' then agin it moughtn't! cried Stephen. Lawd, ef I hed
hed the chance!
Ye wouldn't hev done no differ, declared Tim.
Hyar! Steve caught his brother's gun and presented it to Tim's
lips. Suck the bar'l. It's 'bout all ye air good fur.
The horses had been turned out. By the time they were caught and
saddled pursuit was evidently hopeless. The men strode in one by one,
dashing the saddles and bridles on the floor, and finding in angry
expletives a vent for their grief. And indeed it might have seemed that
the Quimbeys must have long sought a choice Kittredge infant for
adoption, so far did their bewailings discount Rachel's mourning.
Don't cry, Eveliny, they said, ever and anon. We-uns 'll git him
back fur ye.
But she had not shed a tear. She sat speechless, motionless, as if
turned to stone.
Laws-a-massy, child, ef ye would jes hev b'lieved me 'bout'n
them KittredgesAbs'lom in partic'larye'd be happy an' free now,
said the old man, his imagination somewhat extending his experience,
for he had had no knowledge of his son-in-law until their relationship
The evening wore drearily on. Now and then the men roused
themselves, and with lowering faces discussed the opportunities of
reprisal, and the best means of rescuing the child. And whether they
schemed to burn the Kittredge cabin, or to arm themselves, burst in
upon their enemies, shooting and killing all who resisted, Evelina said
nothing, but stared into the fire with unnaturally dilated eyes, her
white lined face all drawn and somehow unrecognizable.
Never mind, her father said at intervals, taking her cold hand,
we-uns 'll git him back, Eveliny. The Lord hed a mother wunst, an'
I'll be bound He keeps a special pity for a woman an' her child.
Oh, great gosh! who'd hev dreamt we'd hev missed him so! cried
Tim, shifting his position, and slipping his left arm over the back of
his chair. Jes ter think o' the leetle size o' him, an' the great big
gap he hev lef roun' this hyar ha'th-stone!
An' yit he jes sot underfoot, 'mongst the cat an' the dogs, jes ez
humble! said Stephen.
I'd git him back even ef he warn't no kin ter me, Eveliny,
declared Tim, and he spoke advisedly, remembering that the youth was a
Still Evelina said not a word. All that night she silently walked
the puncheon floor, while the rest of the household slept. The dogs, in
vague disturbance, because of the unprecedented vigil and stir in the
midnight, wheezed uneasily from time to time, and crept restlessly
about under the cabin, now and again thumping their backs or heads
against the floor; but at last they betook themselves to slumber. The
hickory logs broke in twain as they burned, and fell on either side,
and presently there was only the dull red glow of the embers on her
pale face, and the room was full of brown shadows, motionless, now that
the flames flared no more. Once when the red glow, growing ever dimmer,
seemed almost submerged beneath the gray ashes, she paused and stirred
the coals. The renewed glimmer showed a fixed expression in her eyes,
becoming momently more resolute. At intervals she knelt at the window
and placed her hands about her face to shut out the light from the
hearth, and looked out upon the night. How the chill stars loitered!
How the dawn delayed! The great mountain gloomed darkling above the
Cove. The waning moon, all melancholy and mystic, swung in the purple
sky. The bare, stark boughs of the trees gave out here and there a
glimmer of hoar-frost. There was no wind; when she heard the dry leaves
whisk she caught a sudden glimpse of a fox that, with his crafty shadow
pursuing him, leaped upon the wood-pile, nimbly ran along its length,
and so, noiselessly, awaywhile the dogs snored beneath the house. A
cock crew from the chicken-roost; the mountain echoed the resonant
strain. She saw a mist come stealing softly along a precipitous gorge;
the gauzy web hung shimmering in the moon; presently the trees were
invisible; anon they showed rigid among the soft enmeshment of the
vapor, and again were lost to view..
She rose; there was a new energy in her step; she walked quickly
across the floor and unbarred the door.
The little cabin on the mountain was lost among the clouds. It was
not yet day, but the old woman, with that proclivity to early rising
characteristic of advancing years, was already astir. It was in the
principal room of the cabin that she slept, and it contained another
bed, in which, placed crosswise, were five billet-shaped objects under
the quilts, which when awake identified themselves as Peter Kittredge's
children. She had dressed and uncovered the embers, and put on a few of
the chips which had been spread out on the hearth to dry, and had sat
down in the chimney corner. A timid blaze began to steal up, and again
was quenched, and only the smoke ascended in its form; then the light
flickered out once more, casting a gigantic shadow of her
sun-bonnetfor she had donned it thus earlyhalf upon the brown and
yellow daubed wall, and half upon the dark ceiling, making a specious
stir amidst the peltry and strings of pop-corn hanging motionless
She sighed heavily once or twice, and with an aged manner, and
leaned her elbows on her knees and gazed contemplatively at the fire.
All at once the ashes were whisked about the hearth as in a sudden
draught, and then were still. In momentary surprise she pushed her
chair back, hesitated, then replaced it, and calmly settled again her
elbows on her knees. Suddenly once more a whisking of the ashes; a cold
shiver ran through her, and she turned to see a hand fumbling at the
batten shutter close by. She stared for a moment as if paralyzed; her
spectacles fell to the floor from her nerveless hand, shattering the
lenses on the hearth. She rose trembling to her feet, and her lips
parted as if to cry out. They emitted no sound, and she turned with a
terrified fascination and looked back. The shutter had opened; there
was no glass; the small square of the window showed the nebulous gray
mist without, and defined upon it was Evelina's head, her dark hair
streaming over the red shawl held about it, her fair oval face pallid
and pensive, and with a great wistfulness upon it; her lustrous dark
Mother, her red lips quivered out.
The old crone recognized no treachery in her heart. She laid a
warning finger upon her lips. All the men were asleep.
Evelina stretched out her yearning arms. Gin him ter me!
Naw, naw, Eveliny, huskily whispered Absalom's mother. Ye oughter
kem hyar an' 'bide with yer husbandye know ye ought.
Evelina still held out her insistent arms. Gin him ter me! she
The old woman shook her head sternly. Ye kem in, an' 'bide whar ye
Evelina took a step nearer the window. She laid her hand on the
sill. Spos'n 'twar Abs'lom whenst he war a baby, she said, her eyes
softly brightening, an' another woman hed him an' kep' him, 'kase ye
an' his dad fell outwould ye hev 'lowed she war right ter treat ye
like ye treat mewhenst Abs'lom war a baby?
Once more she held out her arms.
There was a step in the inner shed-room; then silence.
Ye hain't got no excuse, the soft voice urged; ye know jes how I
feel, how ye'd hev felt, whenst Abs'lom war a baby.
The shawl had fallen back from her tender face; her eyes glowed, her
cheek was softly flushed. A sudden terror thrilled through her as she
again heard the heavy step approaching in the shed-room. Whenst
Abs'lom war a baby, she reiterated, her whole pleading heart in the
A sudden radiance seemed to illumine the sad, dun-colored folds of
the encompassing cloud; her face shone with a transfiguring happiness,
for the hustling old crone had handed out to her a warm, somnolent
bundle, and the shutter closed upon the mists with a bang.
The wind's riz powerful suddint, Peter said, noticing the noise as
he came stumbling in, rubbing his eyes. He went and fastened the
shutter, while his mother tremulously mended the fire.
The absence of the baby was not noticed for some time, and when the
father's hasty and angry questions elicited the reluctant facts, the
outcry for his loss was hardly less bitter among the Kittredges than
among the Quimbeys. The fugitives were shielded from capture by the
enveloping mist, and when Absalom returned from the search he could do
naught but indignantly upbraid his mother.
[Illustration: Flung her apron over her head 133]
She was terrified by her own deed, and cowered under Absalom's
wrath. It was in a moral collapse, she felt, that she could have done
this thing. She flung her apron over her head, and sat still and
silenta monumental figureamong them. Once, roused by Absalom's
reproaches, she made some effort to defend and exculpate herself,
speaking from behind the enveloping apron.
I ain't born no Kittredge nohow, she irrelevantly asseverated,
an' I never war. An' when Eveliny axed me how I'd hev liked ter hev
another 'oman take Abs'lom whenst he war a baby, I couldn't hold out no
Shucks! cried Absalom, unfilially; ye'd aheap better be
a-studyin' 'bout'n my good now 'n whenst I war a babya-givin' away
my child ter them Quimbeys; a-h'istin' him out'n the winder!
She was glad to retort that he was impident, and to take refuge in
an aggrieved silence, as many another mother has done when outmatched
After this there was more cheerfulness in her hidden face than might
have been argued from her port of important sorrow. Bes' ter hev no
jawin', though, she said to herself, as she sat thus inscrutably
veiled. And deep in her repentant heart she was contradictorily glad
that Evelina and the baby were safe together down in the Cove.
Old Joel Quimbey, putting on his spectacles, with a look of keenest
curiosity, to read a paper which the deputy-sheriff of the county
presented when he drew rein by the wood-pile one afternoon some three
weeks later, had some difficulty in identifying a certain Elnathan
Daniel Kittredge specified therein. He took off his spectacles, rubbed
them smartly, and put them on again. The writing was unchanged. Surely
it must mean the baby. That was the only Kittredge whose body they
could be summoned to produce on the 24th of December before the judge
of the circuit court, now in session. He turned the paper about and
looked at it, his natural interest as a man augmented by his
recognition as an ex-magistrate of its high important legal character.
Eveliny, he quavered, at once flattered and furious, dad-burned
ef Abs'lom hain't gone an' got out a habeas corpus fur the
The phrase had a sound so deadly that there was much ado to
satisfactorily explain the writ and its functions to Evelina, who had
felt at ease again since the baby was at home, and so effectually
guarded that to kidnap him was necessarily to murder two or three of
the vigilant and stalwart Quimbey men. So much joy did it afford the
old man to air his learning and consult his codea relic of his
justiceshipthat he belittled the danger of losing the said Elnathan
Daniel Kittredge in the interest with which he looked forward to the
day for him to be produced before the court.
There was a gathering of the clans on that day. Quimbeys and
Kittredges who had not visited the town for twenty years were jogging
thither betimes that morning on the red clay roads, all unimpeded by
the deep mud which, frozen into stiff ruts and ridges here and there,
made the way hazardous to the running-gear. The lagging winter had
come, and the ground was half covered with a light fall of snow.
The windows of the court-house were white with frost; the weighted
doors clanged continuously. An old codger, slowly ascending the steps,
and pushing into the semi-obscurity of the hall, paused as the door
slammed behind him, stared at the sheriff in surprise, then fixed him
with a bantering leer. The light that slanted through the open
court-room door fell upon the official's burly figure, his long red
beard, his big broad-brimmed hat pushed back from his laughing red
face, consciously ludicrous and abashed just now.
Hev ye made a find? demanded the newcomer.
For in the strong arms of the law sat, bolt-upright, Elnathan Daniel
Kittredge, his yellow head actively turning about, his face decorated
with a grin, and on most congenial terms with the sheriff.
They're lawin' 'bout'n him in thar the sheriff jerked his thumb
toward the door. Habeas corpus perceedin's. Dun no ez I ever
see a friskier leetle cuss. Durned ef I 'ain't got a good mind ter run
off with him myself.
The said Elnathan Daniel Kittredge once more squirmed round and
settled himself comfortably in the hollow of the sheriff's elbow, who
marvelled to find himself so deft in holding him, for it was twenty
years since his sona gawky youth who now affected the company at the
saloon, and was none too filialwas the age and about the build of
this infant Kittredge.
They hed a reg'lar scrimmage hyar in the hallthem fool
menQuimbey an' Kittredge. Old man Quimbey said suthin' ter Abs'lom
KittredgeI dunno what all. Abs'lom never jawed back none. He jes made
a dart an' snatched this hyar leetle critter out'n his mother's arms,
stiddier waitin' fur the law, what he summonsed himself. Blest ef I
didn't hev ter hold my revolver ter his head, an' then crack him over
the knuckles, ter make him let go the child. I didn't want ter arrest
himmighty clever boy, Abs'lom Kittredge! I promised that young woman
I'd keep holt o' the child till the law gins its say-so. I feel sorry
fur her; she's been through a heap.
Waal, ye look mighty pritty, totin' him around hyar, his friend
encouraged him with a grin. I'll say that fur yeye look mighty
And in fact the merriment in the hall at the sheriff's expense began
to grow so exhilarating as to make him feel that the proceedings within
were too interesting to lose. His broad red face with its big red beard
reappeared in the doorwayslightly embarrassed because of the
sprightly manners of his charge, who challenged to mirth every eye that
glanced at him by his toothful grin and his gurgles and bounces; he was
evidently enjoying the excitement and his conspicuous position. He
manfully gnawed at his corn-dodger from time to time, and from the
manner in which he fraternized with his new acquaintance, the sheriff,
he seemed old enough to dispense with maternal care, and, but for his
incomplete methods of locomotion, able to knock about town with the
boys. The Quimbeys took note of his mature demeanor with sinking
hearts; they looked anxiously at the judge, wondering if he had ever
before seen such precocityanything so young to be so old: He 'ain't
never afore 'peared so survigrusso durned survigrus ez he do
ter-day, they whispered to each other.
Yes, sir, his father was saying, on examination, year old. Eats
anything he kin gitcabbage an' fat meat an' anything. Could
walk if he wanted ter. But he 'ain't been raised righthe glanced at
his wife to observe the effect of this statement. He felt a pang as he
noted her pensive, downcast face, all tremulous and agitated,
overwhelmed as she was by the crowd and the infinite moment of the
decision. But Absalom, too, had his griefs, and they expressed
He hev been pompered an' fattened by bein' let ter eat an' sleep so
much, till he be so heavy ter his self he don't wanter take the trouble
ter get about. He could walk ennywhar. He's plumb survigrus.
And as if in confirmation, the youthful Kittredge lifted his voice
to display his lung power. He hilariously babbled, and suddenly roared
out a stentorian whoop, elicited by nothing in particular, then caught
the sheriff's beard, and buried in it his conscious pink face.
The judge looked gravely up over his spectacles. He had a bronzed
complexion, a serious, pondering expression, a bald head, and a gray
beard. He wore a black broadcloth suit, somewhat old-fashioned in cut,
and his black velvet waist-coat had suffered an eruption of tiny red
satin spots. He had great respect for judicial decorums, and no
Kittredge, however youthful, or survigrus, or exalted in importance by
habeas corpus proceedings, could holler unmolested where he
Mr. Sheriff, he said, solemnly, remove that child from the
presence of the court.
And the said Elnathan Daniel Kittredge went out gleefully kicking in
the arms of the law.
The hundred or so grinning faces in the courtroom relapsed quickly
into gravity and excited interest. The rows of jeans-clad countrymen
seated upon the long benches on either side of the bar leaned forward
with intent attitudes. For this was a rich feast of local gossip, such
as had not been so bountifully spread within their recollection. All
the ancient Quimbey and Kittredge feuds contrived to be detailed anew
in offering to the judge reasons why father or mother was the more fit
custodian of the child in litigation.
As Absalom sat listening to all this, his eyes were suddenly
arrested by his wife's facehalf draped it was, half shadowed by her
sun-bonnet, its fine and delicate profile distinctly outlined against
the crystalline and frosted pane of the window near which she sat. The
snow without threw a white reflection upon it; its rich coloring in
contrast was the more intense; it was very pensive, with the heavy lids
drooping over the lustrous eyes, and with a pathetic appeal in its
And suddenly his thoughts wandered far afield. He wondered that it
had come to this; that she could have misunderstood him so; that he had
thought her hard and perverse and unforgiving. His heart was all at
once melting within him; somehow he was reminded how slight a thing she
was, and how strong was the power that nerved her slender hand to drag
his heavy weight, in his dead and helpless unconsciousness, down to the
bars and into the safety of the sheltering laurel that night, when he
lay wounded and bleeding under the lighted window of the cabin in the
Cove. A deep tenderness, an irresistible yearning had come upon him; he
was about to rise, he was about to speak he knew not what, when
suddenly her face was irradiated as one who sees a blessed vision; a
happy light sprang into her eyes; her lips curved with a smile; the
quick tears dropped one by one on her hands, nervously clasping and
unclasping each other. He was bewildered for a moment. Then he heard
Peter gruffly growling a half-whispered curse, and the voice of the
judge, in the exercise of his discretion, methodically droning out his
reasons for leaving so young a child in the custody of its mother,
disregarding the paramount rights of the father. The judge concluded by
dispassionately recommending the young couple to betake themselves
home, and to try to live in peace together, or, at any rate, like sane
people. Then he thrust his spectacles up on his forehead, drew a long
sigh of dismissal, and said, with a freshened look of interest, Mr.
Clerk, call the next case.
The Quimbey and Kittredge factions poured into the hall; what cared
they for the disputed claims of Jenkins versus Jones? The lovers
of sensation cherished a hope that there might be a lawless effort to
rescue the infant Kittredge from the custody to which he had been
committed by the court. The Quimbeys watchfully kept about him in a
close squad, his pink sun-bonnet, in which his head was eclipsed,
visible among their brawny jeans shoulders, as his mother carried him
in her arms. The sheriff looked smilingly after him from the
court-house steps, then inhaled a long breath, and began to roar out to
the icy air the name of a witness wanted within. Instead of a gate
there was a flight of steps on each side of the fence, surmounted by a
small platform. Evelina suddenly shrank back as she stood on the
platform, for beside the fence Absalom was waiting. Timothy hastily
vaulted over the fence, drew his shooting-iron from his boot-leg, and
cocked it with a metallic click, sharp and peremptory in the keen
wintry air. For a moment Absalom said not a word. He looked up at
Evelina with as much reproach as bitterness in his dark eyes. They were
bright with the anger that fired his blood; it was hot in his bronzed
cheek; it quivered in his hands. The dry and cold atmosphere amplified
the graces of his long curling yellow hair that she and his mother
loved. His hat was pushed back from his face. He had not spoken to her
since the day of his ill-starred confidence, but he would not be denied
Ye'll repent it, he said, threateningly. I'll take special pains
She bestowed on him one defiant glance, and laugheda bitter little
laugh. Ye air ekal ter it; ye have a special gift fur makin' folks
repent they ever seen ye.
The jedge jes gin him ter ye 'kase ye made him out sech a fibble
little pusson, he sneered. But it's jes fur a time.
She held the baby closer. He busied himself in taking off his
sun-bonnet and putting it on hind part before, gurgling with smothered
laughter to find himself thus queerly masked, and he made futile
efforts to play peep-eye with anybody jovially disposed in the crowd.
But they were all gravely absorbed in the conjugal quarrel at which
they were privileged to assist.
It's jes fur a time, he reiterated.
Wait an' see! she retorted, triumphantly.
I won't wait, he declared, goaded; I'll take him yit; an' when I
do I'll clar out'n the State o' Tennesseesee ef I don't!
She turned white and trembled. Ye dassent, she cried out shrilly.
Ye'll be 'feared o' the law.
Wait an' see! He mockingly echoed her words, and turned in his old
confident manner, and strode out of the crowd.
Faint and trembling, she crept into the old canvas-covered wagon,
and as it jogged along down the road stiff with its frozen ruts and
ever nearing the mountains, she clasped the cheerful Kittredge with a
yearning sense of loss, and declared that the judge had made him no
safer than before. It was in vain that her father, speaking from the
legal lore of the code, detailed the contempt of court that the
Kittredges would commit should they undertake to interfere with the
judicial decisionit might be even considered kidnapping.
But what good would that do mean' the baby whisked plumb out'n
the State? Ef Abs'lom ain't 'feared o' Tim's rifle, what's he goin' ter
keer fur the pore jedge with nare weepon but his leetle contempt o'
courtter jail Abs'lom, ef he kin make out ter ketch him!
She leaned against the swaying hoop of the cover of the wagon and
burst into tears. Oh, none o' ye 'll do nuthin' fur me! she
exclaimed, in frantic reproach. Nuthin'!
Ye talk like 'twar we-uns ez made up sech foolishness ez habeas
corpus out'n our own heads, said Timothy. I 'ain't never looked
ter the law fur pertection. Hyar's the pertecter. He touched the
trigger of his rifle and glanced reassuringly at his sister as he sat
beside her on the plank laid as a seat from side to side of the wagon.
She calmed herself for a moment; then suddenly looked aghast at the
rifle, and with some occult and hideous thought, burst anew into tears.
Waal, sir, exclaimed Stephen, outdone, what with all this hyar
daily weepin' an' nightly mournin', I 'ain't got spunk enough lef ter
stan' up agin the leetlest Kittredge a-goin'. I ain't man enough ter
sight a rifle. Kittredges kin kem enny time an' take my hide, horns,
an' tallow ef they air minded so ter do.
I 'lowed I hearn suthin' a-gallopin' down the road, said Tim,
Her tears suddenly ceased. She clutched the baby closer, and turned
and lifted the flap of the white curtain at the back of the wagon, and
looked out with a wild and terror-stricken eye. The red clay road
stretched curveless, a long way visible and vacant. The black bare
trees stood shivering in the chilly blast on either side; among them
was an occasional clump of funereal cedars. Away off the brown wooded
hills rose; snow lay in thin crust-like patches here and there, and
again the earth wore the pallid gray of the crab-grass or the ochreous
red of the gully-washed clay.
I don't see nuthin', she said, in the bated voice of affrighted
While she still looked out flakes suddenly began to fly, hardly
falling at first, but poised tentatively, fluctuating athwart the
scene, presently thickening, quickening, obscuring it all, isolating
the woods with an added sense of solitude since the sight of the world
and the sound of it were so speedily annulled. Even the creak of the
wagon-wheels was muffled. Through the semicircular aperture in the
front of the wagon-cover the horns of the oxen were dimly seen amidst
the serried flakes; the snow whitened the backs of the beasts and added
its burden to their yoke. Once as they jogged on she fancied again that
she heard hoof-beatsthis time a long way ahead, thundering over a
little bridge high above a swirling torrent, that reverberated with a
hollow tone to the faintest footfall. Jes somebody ez hev passed
we-uns, takin' the short-cut by the bridle-path, she ruminated. No
Everything was deeply submerged in the snow before they reached the
dark little cabin nestling in the Cove. Motionless and dreary it was;
not even a blue and gauzy wreath curled out of the chimney, for the
fire had died on the hearth in their absence. No living creature was to
be seen. The fowls were huddled together in the hen-house, and the dogs
had accompanied the family to town, trotting beneath the wagon with
lolling tongues and smoking breath; when they nimbly climbed the fence
their circular footprints were the first traces to mar the level
expanse of the door-yard. The bare limbs of the trees were laden; the
cedars bore great flower-like tufts amidst the interlacing fibrous
foliage. The eaves were heavily thatched; the drifts lay in the fence
Everything was covered except, indeed, one side of the fodder-stack
that stood close to the barn. Evelina, going out to milk the cow, gazed
at it for a moment in surprise. The snow had slipped down from it, and
lay in rolls and piles about the base, intermixed with the sere husks
and blades that seemed torn out of the great cone. Waal, sir, Spot
mus' hev been hongry fur true, ter kem a-foragin' this wise. Looks ez
ef she hev been fairly a-burrowin.
She turned and glanced over her shoulder at tracks in the
snowshapeless holes, and filling fastwhich she did not doubt were
the footprints of the big red cow, standing half in and half out of the
wide door, slowly chewing her cud, her breath visibly curling out on
the chill air, her great lips opening to emit a muttered low. She moved
forward suddenly into the shelter as Evelina started anew toward it,
holding the piggin in one hand and clasping the baby in the other arm.
[Illustration: Stole noiselessly in the soft snow 145]
Evelina noted the sound of her brothers' two axes, busy at the
wood-pile, their regular cleavage splitting the air with a sharp stroke
and bringing a crystalline shivering echo from the icy mountain. She
did not see the crouching figure that came cautiously burrowing out
from the stack. Absalom rose to his full height, looking keenly about
him the while, and stole noiselessly in the soft snow to the stable,
and peered in through a crevice in the wall.
Evelina had placed the piggin upon the straw-covered ground, and
stood among the horned cattle and the huddling sheep, her soft
melancholy face half shaded by the red shawl thrown over her head and
shoulders. A tress of her brown hair escaped and curled about her white
neck, and hung down over the bosom of her dark-blue homespun dress.
Against her shoulder the dun-colored cow rubbed her horned head. The
baby was in a pensive mood, and scarcely babbled. The reflection of the
snow was on his face, heightening the exquisite purity of the tints of
his infantile complexion. His gentle, fawn-like eyes were full of soft
and lustrous languors. His long lashes drooped over them now, and again
were lifted. His short down of yellow hair glimmered golden against the
red shawl over his mother's shoulders.
One of the beasts sank slowly upon the grounda tired creature
doubtless, and night was at hand; then another, and still another.
Their posture reminded Absalom, as he looked, that this was Christmas
Eve, and of the old superstition that the cattle of the barns spend the
night upon their knees, in memory of the wondrous Presence that once
graced their lowly place. The boughs rattled suddenly in the chill
blast above his head; the drifts fell about him. He glanced up
mechanically to see in the zenith a star of gracious glister, tremulous
and tender, in the rifts of the breaking clouds.
I wonder ef it air the same star o' Bethlehem? he said, thinking
of the great sidereal torch heralding the Light of the World. He had a
vague sense that this star has never set, however the wandering planets
may come and go in their wide journeys as the seasons roll. He looked
again into the glooming place, at the mother and her child, remembering
that the Lord of heaven and earth had once lain in a manger, and clung
to a humble earthly mother.
The man shook with a sudden affright. He had intended to wrest the
child from her grasp, and mount and ride away; he was roused from his
reverie by the thrusting upon him of his opportunity, facilitated a
hundredfold. Evelina had evidently forgotten something. She hesitated
for a moment; then put the baby down upon a great pile of straw among
the horned creatures, and, catching her shawl about her head, ran
swiftly to the house.
Absalom moved mechanically into the doorway. The child, still
pensive and silent, and looking tenderly infantile, lay upon the straw.
A sudden pang of pity for her pierced his heart: how her own would be
desolated! His horse, hitched in a clump of cedars, awaited him ten
steps away. It was his only chancehis last chance. And he had been
hardly entreated. The child's eyes rested, startled and dilated, upon
him; he must be quick.
The next instant he turned suddenly, ran hastily through the snow,
crashed among the cedars, mounted his horse, and galloped away.
It was only a moment that Evelina expected to be at the house, but
the gourd of salt which she sought was not in its place. She hurried
out with it at last, unprescient of any danger until all at once she
saw the footprints of a man in the snow, otherwise untrodden, about the
fodder-stack. She still heard the two axes at the wood-pile. Her
father, she knew, was at the house.
A smothered scream escaped her lips. The steps had evidently gone
into the stable, and had come out thence. Her faltering strength could
scarcely support her to the door. And then she saw lying in the straw
Elnathan Daniel, beginning to babble and gurgle again, and to grow very
pink with joy over a new toya man's glove, a red woollen glove,
accidentally dropped in the straw. She caught it from his hands, and
turned it about curiously. She had knit it herselffor Absalom!
When she came into the house, beaming with joy, the baby holding the
glove in his hands, the men listened to her in dumfounded amaze, and
with significant side glances at each other.
He wouldn't take the baby whenst he hed the chance, 'kase he knowed
'twould hurt me so. An' he never wanted ter torment meI reckon he
never did mean ter torment me. An' he did 'low wunst he war
sorry he spited dad. Oh! I hev been a heap too quick an' spiteful
myself. I hev been so terrible wrong! Look a-hyar; he lef' this glove
ter show me he hed been hyar, an' could hev tuk the baby ef he hed hed
the heart ter do it. Oh! I'm goin' right up the mounting an' tell him
how sorry I be.
Toler'ble cheap! grumbled Stephenone old glove. An' he'll git
Elnathan Daniel an' ye too. A smart fox he be.
They could not dissuade her. And after a time it came to pass that
the Quimbey and Kittredge feuds were healed; for how could the heart of
a grandfather withstand a toddling spectacle in pink calico that ran
away one day some two years later, in company with an adventurous dog,
and came down the mountain to the cabin in the Cove, squeezing through
the fence rails after the manner of his underfoot world, proceeding
thence to the house, where he made himself very merry and very welcome?
[Illustration: Old Quimbey and his grandson 151]
And when Tim mounted his horse and rode up the mountain with the
youngster on the pommel of the saddle, lest Evelina should be out of
her mind with fright because of his absence, how should he and old Mrs.
Kittredge differ in their respective opinions of his vigorous growth,
and grace of countenance, and peartness of manner? On the strength of
this concurrence Tim was induced to 'light an' hitch, and he even sat
on the cabin porch and talked over the crops with Absalom, who, the
next time he went to town, stopped at the cabin in the Cove to bring
word how El-nathan Daniel was thrivin'. The path that Evelina had
worn to the crag in those first homesick days on the mountain rapidly
extended itself into the Cove, and widened and grew smooth, as the
grandfather went up and the grandson came down.