Chapter XI
 

Spring was coming: and, meanwhile, that late autumn and short winter, things went merrily on at the gap in some ways, and in some ways--not.

Within eight miles of the place, for instance, the man fell ill-- the man who was to take up Hale's options--and he had to be taken home. Still Hale was undaunted: here he was and here he would stay--and he would try again. Two other young men, Bluegrass Kentuckians, Logan and Macfarlan, had settled at the gap--both lawyers and both of pioneer, Indian-fighting blood. The report of the State geologist had been spread broadcast. A famous magazine writer had come through on horseback and had gone home and given a fervid account of the riches and the beauty of the region. Helmeted Englishmen began to prowl prospectively around the gap sixty miles to the southwest. New surveying parties were directing lines for the rocky gateway between the iron ore and the coal. Engineers and coal experts passed in and out. There were rumours of a furnace and a steel plant when the railroad should reach the place. Capital had flowed in from the East, and already a Pennsylvanian was starting a main entry into a ten-foot vein of coal up through the gap and was coking it. His report was that his own was better than the Connellsville coke, which was the standard: it was higher in carbon and lower in ash. The Ludlow brothers, from Eastern Virginia, had started a general store. Two of the Berkley brothers had come over from Bluegrass Kentucky and their family was coming in the spring. The bearded Senator up the valley, who was also a preacher, had got his Methodist brethren interested--and the community was further enriched by the coming of the Hon. Samuel Budd, lawyer and budding statesman. As a recreation, the Hon. Sam was an anthropologist: he knew the mountaineers from Virginia to Alabama and they were his pet illustrations of his pet theories of the effect of a mountain environment on human life and character. Hale took a great fancy to him from the first moment he saw his smooth, ageless, kindly face, surmounted by a huge pair of spectacles that were hooked behind two large ears, above which his pale yellow hair, parted in the middle, was drawn back with plaster-like precision. A mayor and a constable had been appointed, and the Hon. Sam had just finished his first case--Squire Morton and the Widow Crane, who ran a boarding-house, each having laid claim to three pigs that obstructed traffic in the town. The Hon. Sam was sitting by the stove, deep in thought, when Hale came into the hotel and he lifted his great glaring lenses and waited for no introduction:

"Brother," he said, "do you know twelve reliable witnesses come on the stand and swore them pigs belonged to the squire's sow, and twelve equally reliable witnesses swore them pigs belonged to the Widow Crane's sow? I shorely was a heap perplexed."

"That was curious." The Hon. Sam laughed:

"Well, sir, them intelligent pigs used both them sows as mothers, and may be they had another mother somewhere else. They would breakfast with the Widow Crane's sow and take supper with the squire's sow. And so them witnesses, too, was naturally perplexed."

Hale waited while the Hon. Sam puffed his pipe into a glow:

"Believin', as I do, that the most important principle in law is mutually forgivin' and a square division o' spoils, I suggested a compromise. The widow said the squire was an old rascal an' thief and he'd never sink a tooth into one of them shoats, but that her lawyer was a gentleman--meanin' me--and the squire said the widow had been blackguardin' him all over town and he'd see her in heaven before she got one, but that his lawyer was a prince of the realm: so the other lawyer took one and I got the other."

"What became of the third?"

The Hon. Sam was an ardent disciple of Sir Walter Scott:

"Well, just now the mayor is a-playin' Gurth to that little runt for costs."

Outside, the wheels of the stage rattled, and as half a dozen strangers trooped in, the Hon. Sam waved his hand: "Things is comin'."

Things were coming. The following week "the booming editor" brought in a printing-press and started a paper. An enterprising Hoosier soon established a brick-plant. A geologist--Hale's predecessor in Lonesome Cove--made the Gap his headquarters, and one by one the vanguard of engineers, surveyors, speculators and coalmen drifted in. The wings of progress began to sprout, but the new town-constable soon tendered his resignation with informality and violence. He had arrested a Falin, whose companions straightway took him from custody and set him free. Straightway the constable threw his pistol and badge of office to the ground.

"I've fit an' I've hollered fer help," he shouted, almost crying with rage, "an' I've fit agin. Now this town can go to hell": and he picked up his pistol but left his symbol of law and order in the dust. Next morning there was a new constable, and only that afternoon when Hale stepped into the Ludlow Brothers' store he found the constable already busy. A line of men with revolver or knife in sight was drawn up inside with their backs to Hale, and beyond them he could see the new constable with a man under arrest. Hale had not forgotten his promise to himself and he began now:

"Come on," he called quietly, and when the men turned at the sound of his voice, the constable, who was of sterner stuff than his predecessor, pushed through them, dragging his man after him.

"Look here, boys," said Hale calmly. "Let's not have any row. Let him go to the mayor's office. If he isn't guilty, the mayor will let him go. If he is, the mayor will give him bond. I'll go on it myself. But let's not have a row."

Now, to the mountain eye, Hale appeared no more than the ordinary man, and even a close observer would have seen no more than that his face was clean-cut and thoughtful, that his eye was blue and singularly clear and fearless, and that he was calm with a calmness that might come from anything else than stolidity of temperament--and that, by the way, is the self-control which counts most against the unruly passions of other men--but anybody near Hale, at a time when excitement was high and a crisis was imminent, would have felt the resultant of forces emanating from him that were beyond analysis. And so it was now--the curious power he instinctively had over rough men had its way.

"Go on," he continued quietly, and the constable went on with his prisoner, his friends following, still swearing and with their weapons in their hands. When constable and prisoner passed into the mayor's office, Hale stepped quickly after them and turned on the threshold with his arm across the door.

"Hold on, boys," he said, still good-naturedly. "The mayor can attend to this. If you boys want to fight anybody, fight me. I'm unarmed and you can whip me easily enough," he added with a laugh, "but you mustn't come in here," he concluded, as though the matter was settled beyond further discussion. For one instant--the crucial one, of course--the men hesitated, for the reason that so often makes superior numbers of no avail among the lawless--the lack of a leader of nerve--and without another word Hale held the door. But the frightened mayor inside let the prisoner out at once on bond and Hale, combining law and diplomacy, went on the bond.

Only a day or two later the mountaineers, who worked at the brick- plant with pistols buckled around them, went on a strike and, that night, shot out the lights and punctured the chromos in their boarding-house. Then, armed with sticks, knives, clubs and pistols, they took a triumphant march through town. That night two knives and two pistols were whipped out by two of them in the same store. One of the Ludlows promptly blew out the light and astutely got under the counter. When the combatants scrambled outside, he locked the door and crawled out the back window. Next morning the brick-yard malcontents marched triumphantly again and Hale called for volunteers to arrest them. To his disgust only Logan, Macfarlan, the Hon. Sam Budd, and two or three others seemed willing to go, but when the few who would go started, Hale, leading them, looked back and the whole town seemed to be strung out after him. Below the hill, he saw the mountaineers drawn up in two bodies for battle and, as he led his followers towards them, the Hoosier owner of the plant rode out at a gallop, waving his hands and apparently beside himself with anxiety and terror.

"Don't," he shouted; "somebody'll get killed. Wait--they'll give up." So Hale halted and the Hoosier rode back. After a short parley he came back to Hale to say that the strikers would give up, but when Logan started again, they broke and ran, and only three or four were captured. The Hoosier was delirious over his troubles and straightway closed his plant.

"See," said Hale in disgust. "We've got to do something now."

"We have," said the lawyers, and that night on Hale's porch, the three, with the Hon. Sam Budd, pondered the problem. They could not build a town without law and order--they could not have law and order without taking part themselves, and even then they plainly would have their hands full. And so, that night, on the tiny porch of the little cottage that was Hale's sleeping-room and office, with the creaking of the one wheel of their one industry-- the old grist-mill--making patient music through the rhododendron- darkness that hid the steep bank of the stream, the three pioneers forged their plan. There had been gentlemen-regulators a plenty, vigilance committees of gentlemen, and the Ku-Klux clan had been originally composed of gentlemen, as they all knew, but they meant to hew to the strict line of town-ordinance and common law and do the rough everyday work of the common policeman. So volunteer policemen they would be and, in order to extend their authority as much as possible, as county policemen they would be enrolled. Each man would purchase his own Winchester, pistol, billy, badge and a whistle--to call for help--and they would begin drilling and target-shooting at once. The Hon. Sam shook his head dubiously:

"The natives won't understand."

"We can't help that," said Hale.

"I know--I'm with you."

Hale was made captain, Logan first lieutenant, Macfarlan second, and the Hon. Sam third. Two rules, Logan, who, too, knew the mountaineer well, suggested as inflexible. One was never to draw a pistol at all unless necessary, never to pretend to draw as a threat or to intimidate, and never to draw unless one meant to shoot, if need be.

"And the other," added Logan, "always go in force to make an arrest--never alone unless necessary." The Hon. Sam moved his head up and down in hearty approval.

"Why is that?" asked Hale.

"To save bloodshed," he said. "These fellows we will have to deal with have a pride that is morbid. A mountaineer doesn't like to go home and have to say that one man put him in the calaboose--but he doesn't mind telling that it took several to arrest him. Moreover, he will give in to two or three men, when he would look on the coming of one man as a personal issue and to be met as such."

Hale nodded.

"Oh, there'll be plenty of chances," Logan added with a smile, "for everyone to go it alone." Again the Hon. Sam nodded grimly. It was plain to him that they would have all they could do, but no one of them dreamed of the far-reaching effect that night's work would bring.

They were the vanguard of civilization--"crusaders of the nineteenth century against the benighted of the Middle Ages," said the Hon. Sam, and when Logan and Macfarlan left, he lingered and lit his pipe.

"The trouble will be," he said slowly, "that they won't understand our purpose or our methods. They will look on us as a lot of meddlesome 'furriners' who have come in to run their country as we please, when they have been running it as they please for more than a hundred years. You see, you mustn't judge them by the standards of to-day--you must go back to the standards of the Revolution. Practically, they are the pioneers of that day and hardly a bit have they advanced. They are our contemporary ancestors." And then the Hon. Sam, having dropped his vernacular, lounged ponderously into what he was pleased to call his anthropological drool.

"You see, mountains isolate people and the effect of isolation on human life is to crystallize it. Those people over the line have had no navigable rivers, no lakes, no wagon roads, except often the beds of streams. They have been cut off from all communication with the outside world. They are a perfect example of an arrested civilization and they are the closest link we have with the Old World. They were Unionists because of the Revolution, as they were Americans in the beginning because of the spirit of the Covenanter. They live like the pioneers; the axe and the rifle are still their weapons and they still have the same fight with nature. This feud business is a matter of clan-loyalty that goes back to Scotland. They argue this way: You are my friend or my kinsman, your quarrel is my quarrel, and whoever hits you hits me. If you are in trouble, I must not testify against you. If you are an officer, you must not arrest me; you must send me a kindly request to come into court. If I'm innocent and it's perfectly convenient--why, maybe I'll come. Yes, we're the vanguard of civilization, all right, all right--but I opine we're goin' to have a hell of a merry time."

Hale laughed, but he was to remember those words of the Hon. Samuel Budd. Other members of that vanguard began to drift in now by twos and threes from the bluegrass region of Kentucky and from the tide-water country of Virginia and from New England--strong, bold young men with the spirit of the pioneer and the birth, breeding and education of gentlemen, and the war between civilization and a lawlessness that was the result of isolation, and consequent ignorance and idleness started in earnest.

"A remarkable array," murmured the Hon. Sam, when he took an inventory one night with Hale, "I'm proud to be among 'em."

Many times Hale went over to Lonesome Cove and with every visit his interest grew steadily in the little girl and in the curious people over there, until he actually began to believe in the Hon. Sam Budd's anthropological theories. In the cabin on Lonesome Cove was a crane swinging in the big stone fireplace, and he saw the old step-mother and June putting the spinning wheel and the loom to actual use. Sometimes he found a cabin of unhewn logs with a puncheon floor, clapboards for shingles and wooden pin and auger holes for nails; a batten wooden shutter, the logs filled with mud and stones and holes in the roof for the wind and the rain. Over a pair of buck antlers sometimes lay the long heavy home-made rifle of the backwoodsman--sometimes even with a flintlock and called by some pet feminine name. Once he saw the hominy block that the mountaineers had borrowed from the Indians, and once a handmill like the one from which the one woman was taken and the other left in biblical days. He struck communities where the medium of exchange was still barter, and he found mountaineers drinking metheglin still as well as moonshine. Moreover, there were still log-rollings, house-warmings, corn-shuckings, and quilting parties, and sports were the same as in pioneer days--wrestling, racing, jumping, and lifting barrels. Often he saw a cradle of beegum, and old Judd had in his house a fox-horn made of hickory bark which even June could blow. He ran across old-world superstitions, too, and met one seventh son of a seventh son who cured children of rash by blowing into their mouths. And he got June to singing transatlantic songs, after old Judd said one day that she knowed the "miserablest song he'd ever heerd"--meaning the most sorrowful. And, thereupon, with quaint simplicity, June put her heels on the rung of her chair, and with her elbows on her knees, and her chin on both bent thumbs, sang him the oldest version of "Barbara Allen" in a voice that startled Hale by its power and sweetness. She knew lots more "song-ballets," she said shyly, and the old man had her sing some songs that were rather rude, but were as innocent as hymns from her lips.

Everywhere he found unlimited hospitality.

"Take out, stranger," said one old fellow, when there was nothing on the table but some bread and a few potatoes, "have a tater. Take two of 'em--take damn nigh all of 'em."

Moreover, their pride was morbid, and they were very religious. Indeed, they used religion to cloak their deviltry, as honestly as it was ever used in history. He had heard old Judd say once, when he was speaking of the feud:

"Well, I've al'ays laid out my enemies. The Lord's been on my side an' I gits a better Christian every year."

Always Hale took some children's book for June when he went to Lonesome Cove, and she rarely failed to know it almost by heart when he went again. She was so intelligent that he began to wonder if, in her case, at least, another of the Hon. Sam's theories might not be true--that the mountaineers were of the same class as the other westward-sweeping emigrants of more than a century before, that they had simply lain dormant in the hills and--a century counting for nothing in the matter of inheritance--that their possibilities were little changed, and that the children of that day would, if given the chance, wipe out the handicap of a century in one generation and take their place abreast with children of the outside world. The Tollivers were of good blood; they had come from Eastern Virginia, and the original Tolliver had been a slave-owner. The very name was, undoubtedly, a corruption of Tagliaferro. So, when the Widow Crane began to build a brick house for her boarders that winter, and the foundations of a school-house were laid at the Gap, Hale began to plead with old Judd to allow June to go over to the Gap and go to school, but the old man was firm in refusal:

"He couldn't git along without her," he said; "he was afeerd he'd lose her, an' he reckoned June was a-larnin' enough without goin' to school--she was a-studyin' them leetle books o' hers so hard." But as his confidence in Hale grew and as Hale stated his intention to take an option on the old man's coal lands, he could see that Devil Judd, though his answer never varied, was considering the question seriously.

Through the winter, then, Hale made occasional trips to Lonesome Cove and bided his time. Often he met young Dave Tolliver there, but the boy usually left when Hale came, and if Hale was already there, he kept outside the house, until the engineer was gone.

Knowing nothing of the ethics of courtship in the mountains--how, when two men meet at the same girl's house, "they makes the gal say which one she likes best and t'other one gits"--Hale little dreamed that the first time Dave stalked out of the room, he threw his hat in the grass behind the big chimney and executed a war- dance on it, cursing the blankety-blank "furriner" within from Dan to Beersheba.

Indeed, he never suspected the fierce depths of the boy's jealousy at all, and he would have laughed incredulously, if he had been told how, time after time as he climbed the mountain homeward, the boy's black eyes burned from the bushes on him, while his hand twitched at his pistol-butt and his lips worked with noiseless threats. For Dave had to keep his heart-burnings to himself or he would have been laughed at through all the mountains, and not only by his own family, but by June's; so he, too, bided his time.

In late February, old Buck Falin and old Dave Tolliver shot each other down in the road and the Red Fox, who hated both and whom each thought was his friend, dressed the wounds of both with equal care. The temporary lull of peace that Bad Rufe's absence in the West had brought about, gave way to a threatening storm then, and then it was that old Judd gave his consent: when the roads got better, June could go to the Gap to school. A month later the old man sent word that he did not want June in the mountains while the trouble was going on, and that Hale could come over for her when he pleased: and Hale sent word back that within three days he would meet the father and the little girl at the big Pine. That last day at home June passed in a dream. She went through her daily tasks in a dream and she hardly noticed young Dave when he came in at mid-day, and Dave, when he heard the news, left in sullen silence. In the afternoon she went down to the mill to tell Uncle Billy and ole Hon good-by and the three sat in the porch a long time and with few words. Ole Hon had been to the Gap once, but there was "so much bustle over thar it made her head ache." Uncle Billy shook his head doubtfully over June's going, and the two old people stood at the gate looking long after the little girl when she went homeward up the road. Before supper June slipped up to her little hiding-place at the pool and sat on the old log saying good-by to the comforting spirit that always brooded for her there, and, when she stood on the porch at sunset, a new spirit was coming on the wings of the South wind. Hale felt it as he stepped into the soft night air; he heard it in the piping of frogs--"Marsh-birds," as he always called them; he could almost see it in the flying clouds and the moonlight and even the bare trees seemed tremulously expectant. An indefinable happiness seemed to pervade the whole earth and Hale stretched his arms lazily. Over in Lonesome Cove little June felt it more keenly than ever in her life before. She did not want to go to bed that night, and when the others were asleep she slipped out to the porch and sat on the steps, her eyes luminous and her face wistful--looking towards the big Pine which pointed the way towards the far silence into which she was going at last.