Taking the Blue
Ribbon at the
County Fair by Charles Egbert Craddock
Jenks Hollis sat on the fence. He slowly turned the quid of tobacco
in his cheek, and lifting up his voice spoke with an oracular drawl:
Ef he kin take the certif'cate it's the mos' ez he kin do. He ain't
never a-goin' ter git no premi-um in this life, sure 's ye air a
And he relapsed into silence. His long legs dangled dejectedly among
the roadside weeds; his brown jeans trousers, that had despaired of
ever reaching his ankles, were ornamented here and there with
ill-adjusted patches, and his loose-fitting coat was out at the elbows.
An old white wool hat drooped over his eyes, which were fixed absently
on certain distant blue mountain ranges, that melted tenderly into the
blue of the noonday sky, and framed an exquisite mosaic of poly-tinted
fields in the valley, far, far below the grim gray crag on which his
little home was perched.
Despite his long legs he was a light weight, or he would not have
chosen as his favorite seat so rickety a fence. His interlocutor, a
heavier man, apparently had some doubts, for he leaned only slightly
against one of the projecting rails as he whittled a pine stick, and
with his every movement the frail structure trembled. The log cabin
seemed as rickety as the fence. The little front porch had lost a
puncheon here and there in the flooringperhaps on some cold winter
night when Hollis's energy was not sufficiently exuberant to convey him
to the wood-pile; the slender posts that upheld its roof seemed hardly
strong enough to withstand the weight of the luxuriant vines with their
wealth of golden gourds which had clambered far over the moss-grown
clapboards; the windows had fewer panes of glass than rags; and the
chimney, built of clay and sticks, leaned portentously away from the
house. The open door displayed a rough, uncovered floor; a few old
rush-bottomed chairs; a bedstead with a patch-work calico quilt, the
mattress swagging in the centre and showing the badly arranged cords
below; strings of bright red pepper hanging from the dark rafters; a
group of tow-headed, grave-faced, barefooted children; and, occupying
almost one side of the room, a broad, deep, old-fashioned fireplace,
where winter and summer a lazy fire burned under a lazy pot.
Notwithstanding the poverty of the aspect of the place and the
evident sloth of its master, it was characterized by a scrupulous
cleanliness strangely at variance with its forlorn deficiencies. The
rough floor was not only swept but scoured; the dark rafters, whence
depended the flaming banners of the red pepper, harbored no cobwebs;
the grave faces of the white-haired children bore no more dirt than was
consistent with their recent occupation of making mudpies; and the
sedate, bald-headed baby, lying silent but wide-awake in an uncouth
wooden cradle, was as clean as clear spring water and yellow soap could
make it. Mrs. Hollis herself, seen through the vista of opposite open
doors, energetically rubbing the coarse wet clothes upon the resonant
washboard, seemed neat enough in her blue-and-white checked homespun
dress, and with her scanty hair drawn smoothly back from her brow into
a tidy little knot on the top of her head.
Spare and gaunt she was, and with many lines in her prematurely old
face. Perhaps they told of the hard fight her brave spirit waged
against the stern ordering of her life; of the struggles with
squalor,inevitable concomitant of poverty,and to keep together the
souls and bodies of those numerous children, with no more efficient
assistance than could be wrung from her reluctant husband in the short
intervals when he did not sit on the fence. She managed as well as she
could; there was an abundance of fine fruit in that low line of foliage
behind the housebut everybody on Old Bear Mountain had fine fruit.
Something rarer, she had good vegetablesthe planting and hoeing being
her own work and her eldest daughter's; an occasional shallow furrow
representing the contribution of her husband's plough. The
althea-bushes and the branches of the laurel sheltered a goodly number
of roosting hens in these September nights; and to the pond, which had
been formed by damming the waters of the spring branch in the hollow
across the road, was moving even now a stately procession of geese in
single file. These simple belongings were the trophies of a gallant
battle against unalterable conditions and the dragging, dispiriting
clog of her husband's inertia.
His inner lifedoes it seem hard to realize that in that uncouth
personality concentred the complex, incomprehensible, ever-shifting
emotions of that inner life which, after all, is so much stronger, and
deeper, and broader than the material? Here, too, beat the hot heart of
humanitybeat with no measured throb. He had his hopes, his pleasure,
his pain, like those of a higher culture, differing only in object, and
something perhaps in degree. His disappointments were bitter and
lasting; his triumphs, few and sordid; his single aspirationto take
the premium offered by the directors of the Kildeer County Fair for the
This incongruous and unpromising ambition had sprung up in this
wise: Between the country people of Kildeer County and the citizens of
the village of Colbury, the county-seat, existed a bitter and deeply
rooted animosity manifesting itself at conventions, elections for the
legislature, etc., the rural population voting as a unit against the
town's candidate. On all occasions of public meetings there was a
struggle to crush any invidious distinction against the country boys,
especially at the annual fair. Here to the rustics of Kildeer County
came the tug of war. The population of the outlying districts was more
numerous, and, when it could be used as a suffrage-engine,
all-powerful; but the region immediately adjacent to the town was far
more fertile. On those fine meadows grazed the graceful Jersey; there
gamboled sundry long-tailed colts with long-tailed pedigrees; there
greedy Berkshires fattened themselves to abnormal proportions; and the
merinos could hardly walk, for the weight of their own rich wardrobes.
The well-to-do farmers of this section were hand-in-glove with the
town's people; they drove their trotters in every day or so to get
their mail, to chat with their cronies, to attend to their affairs in
court, to sell or to buytheir pleasures centred in the town, and they
turned the cold shoulder upon the country, which supported them, and
gave their influence to Colbury, accounting themselves an integrant
part of it. Thus, at the fairs the town claimed the honor and glory.
The blue ribbon decorated cattle and horses bred within ten miles of
the flaunting flag on the judges' stand, and the foaming
mountain-torrents and the placid stream in the valley beheld no
cerulean hues save those of the sky which they reflected.
The premium offered this year for the best rider was, as it
happened, a new feature, and excited especial interest. The country's
blood was up. Here was something for which it could fairly compete,
with none of the disadvantages of the false position in which it was
placed. Hence a prosperous landed proprietor, the leader of the rural
faction, dwelling midway between the town and the range of mountains
that bounded the county on the north and east, bethought himself one
day of Jenkins Hollis, whose famous riding had been the feature of a
certain dashing cavalry chargeonce famous, tooforgotten now by all
but the men who, for the first and only time in their existence,
penetrated in those war days the blue mountains fencing in their county
from the outer world, and looked upon the alien life beyond that wooded
barrier. The experience of those four years, submerged in the whirling
rush of events elsewhere, survives in these eventless regions in a
dreamy, dispassionate sort of longevity. And Jenkins Hollis's feat of
riding stolidlyone could hardly say bravelyup an almost sheer
precipice to a flame-belching battery came suddenly into the landed
magnate's recollection with the gentle vapors and soothing aroma of a
meditative after-dinner pipe. Quivering with party spirit, Squire
Goodlet sent for Hollis and offered to lend him the best horse on the
place, and a saddle and bridle, if he would go down to Colbury and beat
those town fellows out on their own ground.
No misgivings had Hollis. The inordinate personal pride
characteristic of the mountaineer precluded his feeling a shrinking
pain at the prospect of being presented, a sorry contrast, among the
well-clad, well-to-do town's people, to compete in a public contest. He
did not appreciate the differencehe thought himself as good as the
And to-day, complacent enough, he sat upon the rickety fence at
home, oracularly disparaging the equestrian accomplishments of the
town's noted champion.
I dunnoI dunno, said his young companion doubtfully. Hackett
sets mighty firm onto his saddle. He's ez straight ez any shingle, an'
ez tough ez a pine-knot. He come up hyar las' summerwar it las'
summer, now? No, 't war summer afore las'with some o' them other
Colbury folks, a-fox-huntin', an' a-deer-huntin, an' one thing an'
'nother. I seen 'em a time or two in the woods. An' he kin ride jes' ez
good 'mongst the gullies and boulders like ez ef he had been born in
the hills. He ain't a-goin' ter be beat easy.
It don't make no differ, retorted Jenks Hollis. He'll never git
no premi-um. The certif'cate's good a-plenty fur what ridin' he
Doubt was still expressed in the face of the young man, but he said
no more, and, after a short silence, Mr. Hollis, perhaps not relishing
his visitor's want of appreciation, dismounted, so to speak, from the
fence, and slouched off slowly up the road.
Jacob Brice still stood leaning against the rails and whittling his
pine stick, in no wise angered or dismayed by his host's unceremonious
departure, for social etiquette is not very rigid on Old Bear Mountain.
He was a tall athletic fellow, clad in a suit of brown jeans, which
displayed, besides the ornaments of patches, sundry deep grass stains
about the knees. Not that piety induced Brice to spend much time in the
lowly attitude of prayer, unless, indeed, Diana might be accounted the
goddess of his worship. The green juice was pressed out when kneeling,
hidden in some leafy, grassy nook, he heard the infrequent cry of the
wild turkey, or his large, intent blue eyes caught a glimpse of the
stately head of an antlered buck, moving majestically in the alternate
sheen of the sunlight and shadow of the overhanging crags; or while
with his deft hunter's hands he dragged himself by slow, noiseless
degrees through the ferns and tufts of rank weeds to the water's edge,
that he might catch a shot at the feeding wild duck. A leather belt
around his waist supported his powder-horn and shot-pouch,for his
accoutrements were exactly such as might have been borne a hundred
years ago by a hunter of Old Bear Mountain,and his gun leaned against
the trunk of a chestnut-oak.
Although he still stood outside the fence, aimlessly lounging, there
was a look on his face of a half-suppressed expectancy, which rendered
the features less statuesque than was their wontan expectancy that
showed itself in the furtive lifting of his eyelids now and then,
enabling him to survey the doorway without turning his head. Suddenly
his face reassumed its habitual, inexpressive mask of immobility, and
the furtive eyes were persistently downcast.
A flare of color, and Cynthia Hollis was standing in the doorway,
leaning against its frame. She was robed, like September, in brilliant
yellow. The material and make were of the meanest, but there was a
certain appropriateness in the color with her slumberous dark eyes and
the curling tendrils of brown hair which fell upon her forehead and
were clustered together at the back of her neck. No cuffs and no collar
could this costume boast, but she had shown the inclination to finery
characteristic of her age and sex by wearing around her throat, where
the yellow hue of her dress met the creamy tint of her skin, a row of
large black beads, threaded upon a shoe-string in default of an
elastic, the brass ends flaunting brazenly enough among them. She held
in her hand a string of red pepper, to which she was adding some newly
gathered pods. A slow job Cynthia seemed to make of it.
She took no more notice of the man under the tree than he accorded
to her. There they stood, within twelve feet of each other, in utter
silence, and, to all appearance, each entirely unconscious of the
other's existence: he whittling his pine stick; she, slowly, slowly
stringing the pods of red pepper.
There was something almost portentous in the gravity and sobriety of
demeanor of this girl of seventeen; she manifested less interest in the
young man than her own grandmother might have shown.
He was constrained to speak first. Cynthyhe said at length,
without raising his eyes or turning his head. She did not answer; but
he knew without looking that she had fixed those slumberous brown eyes
upon him, waiting for him to go on. Cynthyhe said again, with a
hesitating, uneasy manner. Then, with an awkward attempt at raillery,
Ain't ye never a-thinkin' 'bout a-gittin' married?
He cast a laughing glance toward her, and looked down quickly at his
clasp-knife and the stick he was whittling. It was growing very slender
Cynthia's serious face relaxed its gravity. Ye air foolish, Jacob,
she said, laughing. After stringing on another pepper-pod with great
deliberation, she continued: Ef I war a-studyin' 'bout a-gittin'
married, thar ain't nobody round 'bout hyar ez I'd hev. And she added
another pod to the flaming red string, so bright against the yellow of
That stick could not long escape annihilation. The clasp-knife moved
vigorously through its fibres, and accented certain arbitrary clauses
in its owner's retort. Ye talk like, he said, his face as monotonous
in its expression as if every line were cut in marbleye talk
likeye thought ez how Iwar a-goin' ter ax yeter marry me. I ain't
The stick was a shaving. It fell among the weeds. The young hunter
shut his clasp-knife with a snap, shouldered his gun, and without a
word of adieu on either side the conference terminated, and he walked
off down the sandy road.
Cynthia stood watching him until the laurel-bushes hid him from
sight; then sliding from the door-frame to the step, she sat
motionless, a bright-hued mass of yellow draperies and red peppers, her
slumberous deep eyes resting on the leaves that had closed upon him.
She was the central figure of a still landscape. The mid-day
sunshine fell in broad effulgence upon it; the homely, dun-colored
shadows had been running away all the morning, as if shirking the
contrast with the splendors of the golden light, until nothing was left
of them except a dark circle beneath the wide-spreading trees. No
breath of wind stirred the leaves, or rippled the surface of the little
pond. The lethargy of the hour had descended even upon the towering
pine-trees, growing on the precipitous slope of the mountain, and
showing their topmost plumes just above the frowning, gray cragtheir
melancholy song was hushed. The silent masses of dazzling white clouds
were poised motionless in the ambient air, high above the valley and
the misty expanse of the distant, wooded ranges.
A lazy, lazy day, and very, very warm. The birds had much ado to
find sheltering shady nooks where they might escape the glare and the
heat; their gay carols were out of season, and they blinked and nodded
under their leafy umbrellas, and fanned themselves with their wings,
and twittered disapproval of the weather. Hot, hot, red-hot! said the
Now and then an acorn fell from among the serrated chestnut leaves,
striking upon the fence with a sounding thwack, and rebounding in the
weeds. Those chestnut-oaks always seem to unaccustomed eyes the
creation of Nature in a fit of mental aberrationuseful freak! the
mountain swine fatten on the plenteous mast, and the bark is highly
esteemed at the tan-yard.
A large cat was lying at full length on the floor of the little
porch, watching with drowsy, half-closed eyes the assembled birds in
the tree. But she seemed to have relinquished the pleasures of the
chase until the mercury should fall.
Close in to the muddiest side of the pond over there, which was all
silver and blue with the reflection of the great masses of white
clouds, and the deep azure sky, a fleet of shining, snowy geese was
moored, perfectly motionless too. No circumnavigation for them this hot
And Cynthia's dark brown eyes, fixed upon the leafy vista of the
road, were as slumberous as the noontide sunshine.
Cynthy! whar is the gal? said poor Mrs. Hollis, as she came
around the house to hang out the ragged clothes on the althea-bushes
and the rickety fence. Cynthy, air ye a-goin' ter sit thar in the door
all day, an' that thar pot a-bilin' all the stren'th out 'n that thar
cabbige an' roas'in'-ears? Dish up dinner, child, an' don't be so slow
an' slack-twisted like yer dad.
* * * * *
Great merriment there was, to be sure, at the Kildeer Fair grounds,
situated on the outskirts of Colbury, when it became known to the
convulsed town faction that the gawky Jenks Hollis intended to compete
for the premium to be awarded to the best and most graceful rider. The
contests of the week had as usual resulted in Colbury's favor; this was
the last day of the fair, and the defeated country population anxiously
but still hopefully awaited its notable event.
A warm sun shone; a brisk autumnal breeze waved the flag flying from
the judges' stand; a brass band in the upper story of that structure
thrilled the air with the vibrations of popular waltzes and marches,
somewhat marred now and then by mysteriously discordant bass tones; the
judges, portly, red-faced, middle-aged gentlemen, sat below in
cane-bottom chairs critically a-tilt on the hind legs. The rough wooden
amphitheatre, a bold satire on the stately Roman edifice, was filled
with the denizens of Colbury and the rosy rural faces of the country
people of Kildeer County; and within the charmed arena the competitors
for the blue ribbon and the saddle and bridle to be awarded to the best
rider were just now entering, ready mounted, from a door beneath the
tiers of seats, and were slowly making the tour of the circle around
the judges' stand. One by one they came, with a certain nonchalant
pride of demeanor, conscious of an effort to display themselves and
their horses to the greatest advantage, and yet a little ashamed of the
consciousness. For the most part they were young men, prosperous
looking, and clad according to the requirements of fashion which
prevailed in this little town. Shut in though it was from the pomps and
vanities of the world by the encircling chains of blue ranges and the
bending sky which rested upon their summits, the frivolity of the mode,
though somewhat belated, found its way and ruled with imperative rigor.
Good riders they were undoubtedly, accustomed to the saddle almost from
infancy, and well mounted. A certain air of gallantry, always
characteristic of an athletic horseman, commended these equestrian
figures to the eye as they slowly circled about. Still they
cameeightninetenthe eleventh, the long, lank frame of Jenkins
Hollis mounted on Squire Goodlet's John Barleycorn.
The horsemen received this ungainly addition to their party with
polite composure, and the genteel element of the spectators remained
silent too from the force of good breeding and good feeling; but the
roughs, always critically a-loose in a crowd, shouted and screamed
with derisive hilarity. What they were laughing at Jenks Hollis never
knew. Grave and stolid, but as complacent as the best, he too made the
usual circuit with his ill-fitting jeans suit, his slouching old wool
hat, and his long, gaunt figure. But he sat the spirited John
Barleycorn as if he were a part of the steed, and held up his head
with unwonted dignity, inspired perhaps by the stately attitudes of the
horse, which were the result of no training nor compelling reins, but
the instinct transmitted through a long line of high-headed ancestry.
Of a fine old family was John Barleycorn.
A deeper sensation was in store for the spectators. Before Jenkins
Hollis's appearance most of them had heard of his intention to compete,
but the feeling was one of unmixed astonishment when entry No. 12 rode
into the arena, and, on the part of the country people, this surprise
was supplemented by an intense indignation. The twelfth man was Jacob
Brice. As he was a mounting boy, one would imagine that, if victory
should crown his efforts, the rural faction ought to feel the elation
of success, but the prevailing sentiment toward him was that which
every well-conducted mind must entertain concerning the individual who
runs against the nominee. Notwithstanding the fact that Brice was a
notable rider, too, and well calculated to try the mettle of the town's
champion, there arose from the excited countrymen a keen, bitter, and
outraged cry of Take him out! So strongly does the partisan heart
pulsate to the interests of the nominee! This frantic petition had no
effect on the interloper. A man who has inherited half a dozen violent
quarrels, any one of which may at any moment burst into a
vendetta,inheriting little else,is not easily dismayed by the
disapprobation of either friend or foe. His statuesque features, shaded
by the drooping brim of his old black hat were as calm as ever, and his
slow blue eyes did not, for one moment, rest upon the excited scene
about him, so unspeakably new to his scanty experience. His fine figure
showed to great advantage on horseback, despite his uncouth, coarse
garb; he was mounted upon a sturdy, brown mare of obscure origin, but
good-looking, clean-built, sure-footed, and with the blended charm of
spirit and docility; she represented his whole estate, except his gun
and his lean, old hound, that had accompanied him to the fair, and was
even now improving the shining hour by quarreling over a bone outside
the grounds with other people's handsomer dogs.
The judges were exacting. The riders were ordered to gallop to the
rightand around they went. To the leftand there was again the
spectacle of the swiftly circling equestrian figures. They were
required to draw up in a line, and to dismount; then to mount, and
again to alight. Those whom these manoeuvres proved inferior were
dismissed at once, and the circle was reduced to eight. An exchange of
horses was commanded; and once more the riding, fast and slow, left and
right, the mounting and dismounting were repeated. The proficiency of
the remaining candidates rendered them worthy of more difficult
ordeals. They were required to snatch a hat from the ground while
riding at full gallop. Pistols loaded with blank cartridges were fired
behind the horses, and subsequently close to their quivering and
snorting nostrils, in order that the relative capacity of the riders to
manage a frightened and unruly steed might be compared, and the
criticism of the judges mowed the number down to four.
Free speech is conceded by all right-thinking people to be a
blessing. It is often a balm. Outside of the building and of earshot
the defeated aspirants took what comfort they could in consigning, with
great fervor and volubility, all the judicial magnates to that torrid
region unknown to polite geographical works.
Of the four horsemen remaining in the ring, two were Jenkins Hollis
and Jacob Brice. Short turns at full gallop were prescribed. The horses
were required to go backward at various gaits. Bars were brought in and
the crowd enjoyed the exhibition of the standing-leap, at an
ever-increasing height and then the flying-leapa tumultuous confused
impression of thundering hoofs and tossing mane and grim defiant faces
of horse and rider, in the lightning-like moment of passing.
Obstructions were piled on the track for the long jumps, and in one
of the wildest leaps a good rider was unhorsed and rolled on the ground
while his recreant steed that had balked at the last moment scampered
around and around the arena in a wild effort to find the door beneath
the tiers of seats to escape so fierce a competition. This accident
reduced the number of candidates to the two mountaineers and Tip
Hackett, the man whom Jacob had pronounced a formidable rival. The
circling about, the mounting and dismounting, the exchange of horses
were several times repeated without any apparent result, and excitement
rose to fever heat.
The premium and certificate lay between the three men. The town
faction trembled at the thought that the substantial award of the
saddle and bridle, with the decoration of the blue ribbon, and the
intangible but still precious secondary glory of the certificate and
the red ribbon might be given to the two mountaineers, leaving the
crack rider of Colbury in an ignominious lurch; while the country party
feared Hollis's defeat by Hackett rather less than that Jenks would be
required to relinquish the premium to the interloper Brice, for the
young hunter's riding had stricken a pang of prophetic terror to more
than one partisan rustic's heart. In the midst of the perplexing doubt,
which tried the judges' minds, came the hour for dinner, and the
decision was postponed until after that meal.
The competitors left the arena, and the spectators transferred their
attention to unburdening hampers, or to jostling one another in the
Everybody was feasting but Cynthia Hollis. The intense excitement of
the day, the novel sights and sounds utterly undreamed of in her former
life, the abruptly struck chords of new emotions suddenly set vibrating
within her, had dulled her relish for the midday meal; and while the
other members of the family repaired to the shade of a tree outside the
grounds to enjoy that refection, she wandered about the floral hall,
gazing at the splendors of bloom thronging there, all so different from
the shy grace, the fragility of poise, the delicacy of texture of the
flowers of her ken,the rhododendron, the azalea, the Chilhowee
lily,yet vastly imposing in their massed exuberance and scarlet
pride, for somehow they all seemed high colored.
She went more than once to note with a kind of aghast dismay those
trophies of feminine industry, the quilts; some were of the log cabin
and rising sun variety, but others were of geometric intricacy of
form and were kaleidoscopic of color with an amazing labyrinth of
stitchings and embroideriesit seemed a species of effrontery to dub
one gorgeous poly-tinted silken banner a quilt. But already it bore a
blue ribbon, and its owner was the richer by the prize of a glass bowl
and the envy of a score of deft-handed competitors. She gazed upon the
glittering jellies and preserves, upon the biscuits and cheeses, the
hair-work and wax flowers, and paintings. These latter treated for the
most part of castles and seas rather than of the surrounding altitudes,
but Cynthia came to a pause of blank surprise in front of a shadow
rather than a picture which represented a spring of still brown water
in a mossy cleft of a rock where the fronds of a fern seemed to stir in
the foreground. I hev viewed the like o' that a many a time, she said
disparagingly. To her it hardly seemed rare enough for the blue ribbon
on the frame.
In the next room she dawdled through great piles of prize fruits and
vegetableswater-melons unduly vast of bulk, peaches and pears and
pumpkins of proportions never seen before out of a nightmare, stalks of
Indian corn eighteen feet high with seven ears each,all apparently
attesting what they could do when they would, and that all the
enterprise of Kildeer County was not exclusively of the feminine
Finally Cynthia came out from the midst of them and stood leaning
against one of the large pillars which supported the roof of the
amphitheatre, still gazing about the half-deserted building, with the
smouldering fires of her slumberous eyes newly kindled.
To other eyes and ears it might not have seemed a scene of
tumultuous metropolitan life, with the murmuring trees close at hand
dappling the floor with sycamore shadows, the fields of Indian corn
across the road, the exuberant rush of the stream down the slope just
beyond, the few hundred spectators who had intently watched the events
of the day; but to Cynthia Hollis the excitement of the crowd and
movement and noise could no further go.
By the natural force of gravitation Jacob Brice presently was
walking slowly and apparently aimlessly around to where she was
standing. He said nothing, however, when he was beside her, and she
seemed entirely unconscious of his presence. Her yellow dress was as
stiff as a board, and as clean as her strong, young arms could make it;
at her throat were the shining black beads; on her head she wore a
limp, yellow calico sunbonnet, which hung down over her eyes, and
almost obscured her countenance. To this article she perhaps owed the
singular purity and transparency of her complexion, as much as to the
mountain air, and the chiefly vegetable fare of her father's table. She
wore it constantly, although it operated almost as a mask, rendering
her more easily recognizable to their few neighbors by her flaring
attire than by her features, and obstructing from her own view all
surrounding scenery, so that she could hardly see the cow, which so
much of her time she was slowly poking after.
She spoke unexpectedly, and without any other symptom that she knew
of the young hunter's proximity. I never thought, Jacob, ez how ye
would hev come down hyar, all the way from the mountings, to ride agin
my dad, an' beat him out'n that thar saddle an' bridle.
Ye won't hev nothin' ter say ter me, retorted Jacob sourly.
A long silence ensued.
Then he resumed didactically, but with some irrelevancy, I tole ye
t'other day ez how ye war old enough ter be a-studyin' 'bout gittin'
They don't think nothin' of ye ter our house, Jacob. Dad 's always
a-jowin' at ye. Cynthia's candor certainly could not be called in
The young hunter replied with some natural irritation: He hed
better not let me hear him, ef he wants to keep whole bones inside his
skin. He better not tell me, nuther.
He don't keer enough 'bout ye, Jacob, ter tell ye. He don't think
nothin' of ye.
Love is popularly supposed to dull the mental faculties. It
developed in Jacob Brice sudden strategic abilities.
Thar is them ez does, he said diplomatically.
Cynthia spoke promptly with more vivacity than usual, but in her
customary drawl and apparently utterly irrelevantly:
I never in all my days see no sech red-headed gal ez that thar
Becky Stiles. She's the red-headedest gal ever I see. And Cynthia once
more was silent.
Jacob resumed, also irrelevantly:
When I goes a-huntin' up yander ter Pine Lick, they is mighty
perlite ter me. They ain't never done nothin' agin me, ez I knows on.
Then, after a pause of deep cogitation, he added, Nor hev they said
nothin' agin me, nuther.
Cynthia took up her side of the dialogue, if dialogue it could be
called, with wonted irrelevancy: That thar Becky Stiles, she's got the
freckledest faceez freckled ez any turkey-aig (with an indescribable
drawl on the last word).
They ain't done nothin' agin me, reiterated Jacob astutely, nor
said nothin' nuthernone of 'em.
Cynthia looked hard across the amphitheatre at the distant Great
Smoky Mountains shimmering in the hazy September sunlightso ineffably
beautiful, so delicately blue, that they might have seemed the ideal
scenery of some impossibly lovely ideal world. Perhaps she was
wondering what the unconscious Becky Stiles, far away in those dark
woods about Pine Lick, had secured in this life besides her freckled
face. Was this the sylvan deity of the young hunter's adoration?
Cynthia took off her sunbonnet to use it for a fan. Perhaps it was
well for her that she did so at this moment; it had so entirely
concealed her head that her hair might have been the color of Becky
Stiles's, and no one the wiser. The dark brown tendrils curled
delicately on her creamy forehead; the excitement of the day had
flushed her pale cheeks with an unwonted glow; her eyes were alight
with their newly kindled fires; the clinging curtain of her bonnet had
concealed the sloping curves of her shouldersaltogether she was
attractive enough, despite the flare of her yellow dress, and
especially attractive to the untutored eyes of Jacob Brice. He relented
suddenly, and lost all the advantages of his tact and diplomacy.
I likes ye better nor I does Becky Stiles, he said moderately.
Then with more fervor, I likes ye better nor any gal I ever see.
The usual long pause ensued.
Ye hev got a mighty cur'ous way o' showin' it, Cynthia replied.
I dunno what ye 're talkin' 'bout, Cynthy.
Ye hev got a mighty cur'ous way o' showin' it, she reiterated,
with renewed animationa-comin' all the way down hyar from the
mountings ter beat my dad out'n that thar saddle an' bridle, what he's
done sot his heart onto. Mighty cur'ous way.
Look hyar, Cynthy. The young hunter broke off suddenly, and did
not speak again for several minutes. A great perplexity was surging
this way and that in his slow brainsa great struggle was waging in
his heart. He was to choose between love and ambitionnay, avarice too
was ranged beside his aspiration. He felt himself an assured victor in
the competition, and he had seen that saddle and bridle. They were on
exhibition to-day, and to him their material and workmanship seemed
beyond expression wonderful, and elegant, and substantial. He could
never hope otherwise to own such accoutrements. His eyes would never
again even rest upon such resplendent objects, unless indeed in
Hollis's possession. Any one who has ever loved a horse can appreciate
a horseman's dear desire that beauty should go beautifully caparisoned.
And then, there was his pride in his own riding, and his anxiety to
have his preeminence in that accomplishment acknowledged and recognized
by his friends, and, dearer triumph still, by his enemies. A terrible
pang before he spoke again.
Look hyar, Cynthy, he said at last; ef ye will marry me, I won't
go back in yander no more. I'll leave the premi-um ter them ez
kin git it.
Ye're foolish, Jacob, she replied, still fanning with the yellow
calico sunbonnet. Ain't I done tole ye, ez how they don't think
nothin' of ye ter our house? I don't want all of 'em a-jowin' at me,
Ye talk like ye ain't got good sense, Cynthy, said Jacob
irritably. What's ter hender me from hitchin' up my mare ter my
uncle's wagon an' ye an' me a-drivin' up hyar to the Cross-Roads,
fifteen mile, and git Pa'son Jones ter marry us? We'll get the license
down hyar ter the Court House afore we start. An' while they'll all be
a-foolin' away thar time a-ridin' round that thar ring, ye an' me will
be a-gittin' married. Ten minutes ago Jacob Brice did not think riding
around that ring was such a reprehensible waste of time. What's ter
hender? It don't make no differ how they jow then.
I done tole ye, Jacob, said the sedate Cynthia, still fanning with
With a sudden return of his inspiration, Jacob retorted, affecting
an air of stolid indifference: Jes' ez ye choose. I won't hev
ter ax Becky Stiles twict.
And he turned to go.
I never said no, Jacob, said Cynthia precipitately. I never said
ez how I wouldn't hev ye.
Waal, then, jes' come along with me right now while I hitch up the
mare. I ain't a-goin' ter leave yer a-standin' hyar. Ye're too
skittish. Time I come back ye'd hev done run away I dunno whar. A
moment's pause and he added: Is ye a-goin' ter stand thar all day,
Cynthy Hollis, a-lookin' up an' around, and a-turnin' yer neck fust
this way and then t'other, an' a-lookin' fur all the worl' like a wild
turkey in a trap, or one o' them thar skeery young deer, or sech
senseless critters? What ails the gal?
Thar'll be nobody ter help along the work ter our house, said
Cynthia, the weight of the home difficulties bearing heavily on her
What's ter hender ye from a-goin' down thar an' lendin' a hand
every wunst in a while? But ef ye're a-goin' ter stand thar like ye
hedn't no more action than aa-dunno-what,jes' like yer dad, I
ain't. I'll jes' leave ye a-growed ter that thar post, an' I'll jes'
light out stiddier, an' afore the cows git ter Pine Lick, I'll be thar
too. Jes' ez ye choose. Come along ef ye wants ter come. I ain't
a-goin' ter ax ye no more.
I'm a-comin', said Cynthia.
There was great though illogical rejoicing on the part of the
country faction when the crowds were again seated, tier above tier, in
the amphitheatre, and the riders were once more summoned into the
arena, to discover from Jacob Brice's unaccounted-for absence that he
had withdrawn and left the nominee to his chances.
In the ensuing competition it became very evident to the not
altogether impartially disposed judges that they could not, without
incurring the suspicions alike of friend and foe, award the premium to
their fellow-townsman. Straight as a shingle though he might be, more
prepossessing to the eye, the ex-cavalryman of fifty battles was far
better trained in all the arts of horsemanship.
A wild shout of joy burst from the rural party when the most portly
and rubicund of the portly and red-faced judges advanced into the ring
and decorated Jenkins Hollis with the blue ribbon. A frantic
antistrophe rent the air. Take it off! vociferated the bitter town
factiontake it off!
A diversion was produced by the refusal of the Colbury champion to
receive the empty honor of the red ribbon and the certificate. Thus did
he except to the ruling of the judges. In high dudgeon he faced about
and left the arena, followed shortly by the decorated Jenks, bearing
the precious saddle and bridle, and going with a wooden face to receive
the congratulations of his friends.
The entries for the slow mule race had been withdrawn at the last
moment; and the spectators, balked of that unique sport, and the fair
being virtually over, were rising from their seats and making their
noisy preparations for departure. Before Jenks had cleared the
fair-building, being somewhat impeded by the moving mass of humanity,
he encountered one of his neighbors, a listless mountaineer, who spoke
on this wise:
Does ye know that thar gal o' yournthat thar Cynthy?
Mr. Hollis nodded his expressionless headpresumably he did know
Waal, continued his leisurely interlocutor, still interrogative,
does ye know Jacob Brice?
Ill-starred association of ideas! There was a look of apprehension
on Jenkins Hollis's wooden face.
They hev done got a license down hyar ter the Court House an' gone
a-kitin' out on the Old B'ar road.
This was explicit.
Whar's my horse? exclaimed Jenks, appropriating John Barleycorn
in his haste. Great as was his hurry, it was not too imperative to
prevent him from strapping upon the horse the premium saddle, and
inserting in his mouth the new bit and bridle. And in less than ten
minutes a goodly number of recruits from the crowd assembled in Colbury
were also a-kitin' out on the road to Old Bear, delighted with a new
excitement, and bent on running down the eloping couple with no more
appreciation of the sentimental phase of the question and the tender
illusions of love's young dream than if Jacob and Cynthia were two
Down the red-clay slopes of the outskirts of the town John
Barleycorn thunders with a train of horsemen at his heels. Splash into
the clear fair stream whose translucent depths tell of its birthplace
among the mountain springshow the silver spray showers about as the
pursuers surge through the ford leaving behind them a foamy wake!and
now they are pressing hard up the steep ascent of the opposite bank,
and galloping furiously along a level stretch of road, with the fences
and trees whirling by, and the September landscape flying on the wings
of the wind. The chase leads past fields of tasseled Indian corn, with
yellowing thickly swathed ears, leaning heavily from the stalk; past
wheat-lands, the crops harvested and the crab-grass having its day at
last; past woods-lots and their black shadows, and out again into the
September sunshine; past rickety little homes, not unlike Hollis's own,
with tow-headed children, exactly like his, standing with wide eyes,
looking at the rush and hurry of the pursuitsometimes in the ill-kept
yards a wood-fire is burning under the boiling sorghum kettle, or
beneath the branches of the orchard near at hand a cider-mill is
crushing the juice out of the red and yellow, ripe and luscious apples.
Homeward-bound prize cattle are overtakena Durham bull, reluctantly
permitting himself to be led into a fence corner that the hunt may
sweep by unobstructed, and turning his proud blue-ribboned head angrily
toward the riders as if indignant that anything except him should
absorb attention; a gallant horse, with another floating blue streamer,
bearing himself as becometh a king's son; the chase comes near to
crushing sundry grunting porkers impervious to pride and glory in any
worldly distinctions of cerulean decorations, and at last is fain to
draw up and wait until a flock of silly over-dressed sheep, running in
frantic fear every way but the right way, can be gathered together and
guided to a place of safety.
And once more, forward; past white frame houses with porches, and
vine-grown verandas, and well-tended gardens, and groves of oak and
beech and hickory treesJohn Barleycorn makes an ineffectual but
gallant struggle to get in at the large white gate of one of these
comfortable places, Squire Goodlet's home, but he is urged back into
the road, and again the pursuit sweeps on. Those blue mountains, the
long parallel ranges of Old Bear and his brothers, seem no more a
misty, uncertain mirage against the delicious indefinable tints of the
horizon. Sharply outlined they are now, with dark, irregular shadows
upon their precipitous slopes which tell of wild ravines, and
rock-lined gorges, and swirling mountain torrents, and great, beetling,
gray crags. A breath of balsams comes on the freshening windthe lungs
expand to meet it. There is a new aspect in the scene; a revivifying
current thrills through the blood; a sudden ideal beauty descends on
'Pears like I can't git my breath good in them flat countries,
says Jenkins Hollis to himself, as John Barleycorn improves his speed
under the exhilarating influence of the wind. I'm nigh on to
sifflicated every time I goes down yander ter Colbury (with a jerk of
his wooden head in the direction of the village).
Long stretches of woods are on either side of the road now, with no
sign of the changing season in the foliage save the slender, pointed,
scarlet leaves and creamy plumes of the sourwood, gleaming here and
there; and presently another panorama of open country unrolls to the
view. Two or three frame houses appear with gardens and orchards, a
number of humble log cabins, and a dingy little store, and the
Cross-Roads are reached. And here the conclusive intelligence meets the
party that Jacob and Cynthia were married by Parson Jones an hour ago,
and were still a-kitin', at last accounts, out on the road to Old
The pursuit stayed its ardor. On the auspicious day when Jenkins
Hollis took the blue ribbon at the County Fair and won the saddle and
bridle he lost his daughter.
They saw Cynthia no more until late in the autumn when she came,
without a word of self-justification or apology for her conduct, to
lend her mother a helping hand in spinning and weaving her little
brothers' and sisters' clothes. And gradually the éclat
attendant upon her nuptials was forgotten, except that Mrs. Hollis now
and then remarks that she dunno how we could hev bore up agin Cynthy's
a-runnin' away like she done, ef it hedn't a-been fur that thar saddle
an' bridle an' takin' the blue ribbon at the County Fair.