Mary Ilsley Chapman wrote a variety of fiction pieces under the alias “Maristan Chapman.” Her short story “Treat You Clever,” was published in the March 30, 1929, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. It was a finalist for the O. Henry award for its clever representation of Native American culture in Tennessee.
Published on March 30, 1929
A trickle of people ran from the lamplit church building that rested on the slant of Cragg Hill and were lost to sight in the murk of Glen Hazard below. Rashe Lowe lingered to put out the light and lock the door before he joined Tom Carr, his outland neighbor, who waited for him.
Tom Carr, born and raised outland, had come homing to his grandsir’s place, top of Cragg Hill, and in the matter of years was grown sib with his former folk. The old Tom Carr and Rashe Lowe had been lads together, and for the sake of that friendship, as well as for this boy’s pleasant own sake, Rashe Lowe was fellowly. But there was uneasiness, too, for the young man would turn again to his outland ways, and such times Rashe Lowe distasted him.
Now they dropped down and made across to the depot, dark upon the far side of town’s hollow. It was past sundown of a fall evening, with a rain wind tearing at the trees that overbraedened the hills westerly of the Tennessee divide. In the long distance the wind thundered, but when the echoes went to see who’s there, they came back, whispering and afraid. Down in Glen Hazard the night was still, for the draft ran north and south, and the east wind leaped from crest to crest of the sheltering hillsides.
When they came so far as the station, Rashe said: “‘Tis heathenish for him to journey upon a Sunday.”
Lighting his pipe, Carr hid a smile behind his cupped hands. “You mustn’t expect Mr. Parker to feel as we do, Rashe. He’s a city man, and from the North too. He very likely was not brought up to think it evil.”
“Then he should have been,” Rashe said. “How come he craves to be using in these parts at all?”
“He wants to get acquainted,” Carr answered, feeling for a way to tell the mountain man about his outland friend. “He’s writing a book about these parts and wants to get it down truly. He wants to see our country and to hear our people talk.”
“Lick me!” Rashe said. “There’s slight need to put it down in a book. It’s ordinary.”
The far cry of the night train was picked up by the wind and flung into Glen Hazard in torn shreds of sound. Carr hurried his words.
“These parts are not ordinary to foreigners; and Mr. Parker would write about us to show those who have never been here. He sent me a letter to ask if I’d put him up.”
“Keep him as a guest in my house, while he studied and took down matters in writing. But he’d learn a lot more if he could stay with you and Barsha. Will you have him for company?”
“What manner of man is he?”
The train slid around the last curve, creaking and groaning.
“He is my friend,” Tom Carr said quickly.
No. 9 slowed down and the heathen jumped from the step of a sleeping car into the blackness. A porter threw a suitcase after him, and the train made away with itself southward.
Carr ran forward and he and Emmet Parker greeted like old familiars. Rashe Lowe stood in the shadow and studied the lank young man who seemed to be all made of traveling cap and blackrimmed spectacles. He watched the man slap Carr on the shoulder and saw the two prance round each other like colts in a clearing — and it Sunday night — but when Carr brought the stranger to him, Rashe was pleased with his frank eyes and heartened at the strength of his handclasp. The young fellows now stopped their goings on and waited for Rashe to speak. Heathen the stranger might be, but some manners undoubtedly.
“You are to be my company,” Rashe said, “since Mist’ Carr wills it. May you take naturally to us.”
“That’s fine!” Emmet Parker said. “Where do we go from here?”
“Home,” Rashe made answer simply. “I’ll step ahead and leave you free.” And he strode away across the town, carrying Parker’s suitcase.
“What is it?” Parker asked. “Is it the sheriff? What’s he mean — free?”
“Only that we may want to talk without being hindered by his presence.” Tom Carr was vexed at the tone in Parker’s voice.
“Good; we do. Now, what’s your game, wishing me onto the natives? Haven’t you a spare bunk?”
“You’ll get a lot more local color and dialect if you stay with them. If you are with me, who am still half outland, they’ll sheer off you, and you could stay years without getting what you came for.”
“But look here; I don’t know these people.”
“You soon will. Barsha, Rashe’s wife, will take good care of you. All you have to do is to be perfectly straight with them. Tell them the truth about your writing business and be yourself.” Carr spoke sharply.
“Fact is,” Emmet Parker said, dropping into seriousness, “I am not sure myself just what I’m up to. I’m in a tight corner — not a notion in my bean.”
“So you are trying to get fresh atmosphere and try your public on that?”
“That’s it — local color — native American stuff, and so on. I said to myself, ‘Emmet, my boy, you’re going stale; you must dash into the great open spaces. But,’ I said, ‘where dash?’ Then I thought of you, lost down here in the sticks, and I said, ‘Why not skid in Tom’s direction and cheer him up and roll the makings of a folk novel too?’ Kill you and the book with the same happy stone. You shoving me off like this is a bit hard on you, but I begin to see it will be fine business.”
“Well, don’t be rampant with them,” Tom Carr warned. “Thanks for the tip; I’ll be careful not to scare ‘em. What are you laughing at?”
“Nothing,” Carr said. “Here’s your host; you drop off here.”
Following the outlander’s sharp “‘Night, o’ man,” came Rashe Lowe’s drawl: “A fair Sunday night to you, Mist’ Carr, ‘n’ a kindly waking. . . . Efn you’ll follow in my steps, Mist’ Parker, we’ll treat you clever as we can.”
The rain wind tore the clouds open and the moon hung in the space between so that the hollow where stood the Lowes’ cabin was full flooded with its light. The faraway spark of Barsha Lowe’s lamp looked lonesome, and the two men tasted the smoke from the cabin fire and hastened.
Barsha Lowe asked no question when she saw the guest. She rose stiffly from her chair and went out back to mix bread for supper. Church nights always ended in after-dark supper, which she hated; but seeing there was company, it happened well tonight. She put more sweet potatoes and bacon in the iron skillet and added half a mug more coffee to the brew upon the stove, the while her ears stretched to hear the talk in the next room and her weatherworn old face puckered into a smile.
“A wild one,” she told the paring knife, “but gently raised.”
Padding about her dark kitchen hole, setting table and searching for a spare fork and spoon, she gathered enough of the talk to salve her doubts of the wild one. He could no more keep his body still than his tongue, and he tramped restlessly about the room or twisted to and fro in his chair while he told Rashe all news of himself. Likely he didn’t know that a sudden guest should rest silent. He told how he wrote many books and now wanted to write one about the Southern mountaineers.
Barsha went to the between door to see what manner of thing that might be, and Rashe said: “Us, you mean to say?”
“Why, of course; what do you call yourselves?”
Rashe thought about it. “I scarcely know,” he gave slow answer, “but never heard tell of mounty-neer. We don’t cherish that in our word hoard.” He turned the word over on his tongue carefully, and then put it away in his mind. “Mist’ Parker,” he said, “gin you’re liable to write a book about these parts and peoples, you’d best come it inchmeal.”
“It won’t take me so long to look about,” Parker said. “All I need is to gather up a few notes on customs and manners, get some scenic description, and listen to the dialect first-hand.”
“How many years you aim to rest with us?” Rashe asked him.
“Years? I’m afraid I’ll have to get back home in a few days.”
“You’ll be an active man from now on,” Rashe told him. A thud against the outer door made the outlander jump. “What’s that?”
“Likely the calf thinks this the barn,” Rashe said. “Hit’ll find its way directly. Now, talking about all you got to do: Our manners, take the clock round, and you’ll have seen all; our ways is ordinary and days follow each other easy, and like as bean seed. What’s that di’lect you talk of?”
“Manner of speech, way of talking,” Parker explained.
“What ails my way of talking?” Rashe asked. “Or maybe you’re like a visiting woman come here one year. She cared to hear me say: ‘This yere is a cheer’”— he slapped the withe rocker in which he sat — “‘that thar’s a b’ar,’ and ‘Stop thar en tell you-un’s name ere I shoot!’ “He pointed a ghostly rifle at Parker in stage play that made the guest shout with laughter.
Barsha showed herself in the kitchen door. “I’d be obliged to you not to do that.”
“My woman,” Rashe excused her, “is gnarled, growing on this hard-won land and being a penned-at-home woman too. But talking about talking, you’d do better to leave our talk outen your book. I’ve seen a heap o’ bad spelling like that in Mist’ Carr’s books. No one sensed what it might be. Hit’s the sound o’ words is different in all lands, and no print’ll give that, addle it how you may. That’s most of your troubles down with; now, efn you care for seeing the country, we could go out tonight —”
“Tonight?” Parker said. “There’s a heap to look at, and gin you’re in such a said to be gone, best get on with it.”
Parker waited to fetch something out of his memory and throw it away — something he’d heard about a slow and backward people. “All right,” he said. “I’m game, and I’d be glad if you’d tell me something about these feuds you have down here, and give me a line on this moonshine proposition.”
“I’m right proud to have a gentleman talking outland English in my house,” Rashe answered. “ Maybe, gin you could content your mind to stay a while longer, we’d learn not to be backwoods. I might maybe could show you something, and you me.”
Parker took himself around the room again, and soon roamed to the rear door and peered in upon Barsha.
“Your cooking smells good!” he roared, and Barsha carefully turned her slow smile on him.
“Likely it won’t taste so to you, but good or bad it’ll be ready time your echo dies down. Don’t folks from your parts. ever fit the voice to the place?”
Emmet Parker laughed aloud again and Barsha went on with supper fixments. Once, in her girlhood, she had laughed out loud like that, and the memory was pleasant. She lost herself in the past and stirred the present potatoes that were thinking about scorching.
They sat down to the table, and Horatio made his usual grace: “A blessing on us all, and may this daily bread give strength.” Then he told the guest: “We fare poorly, but what is here is as your own. Use freely of it.”
Native manners call for a bashfulness and a first refusing of every dish, and, upon urging, a zestful taking of all, slighting nothing that is upon the table, even though it be against your whim. Emmet Parker, not knowing this, took Rashe’s words at their meaning and eagerly entered upon the meal.
Rashe and Barsha were calm. They knew by the newspapers that foreigners were raised without manners. Their silence, usual with them at meals, acted upon their guest like fire gone out. He bubbled mer- rily, he went off the boil, and at last he cooled off. He wondered what he had done amiss just when he began to do most right. Rashe and Barsha, given a piece of silence in which to study him, liked his clean crispness and admired his easy clothes and smooth, shining black hair.
The three looked cautiously at one another. They each broke a piece of the hot bread. They all took a gulp of coffee.
Into the kitchen hole came a shadow, cast by the main-room fire. An easy-hearted young man followed it and stood by the door, his black eyes glinting in the light from the table candle. He had a well-made head and curly black hair, all in disorder, and there was something quick and sudden about him, though he stood without moving.
“My son,” Rashe said to the guest, without turning his head.
“Myson,” said Barsha, “Wait-still-on- the-Lord –”
“Lowe,” Rashe added firmly.
The guest inclined his head and said: “How do you do?”
“Well as common,” said Waits in good part, “and I wish you the same.”
He backed out and his voice came to them from the main room: “I’ve et up at Dena’s. Couple o’ rabbits I killed is hanging to the well house waiting breakfast.”
Parker made sudden question: “Have you other children?”
“A handful somewheres around,” Barsha owned, “and miscarried of three besides.”
Parker finished his coffee in two gulps.
“Young-uns,” Rashe said, “is a blessing and a weariness world without end.”
As they got up from the table, Waits Lowe took out from the forward room like his own shadow and stood fornenst the outer wall. There, with eye to chink, he saw his father settle for sleep, saying: “I never worry a meal till ‘tis set.” He saw the foreigner take out a book of paper and write fast upon the pages thereof. Saving Mist’ Carr, Waits had never seen a book writer before, but he suspected them to be a powerful race of people. Waits held his eye steady to the crack, while his mind played between his ears. Before supper he had pressed against the outer door and lost not a word of the outlander’s talk, and he now treddaned upon a plan to enjoy this foreigner.
“Mist’ Carr,” Waits said to himself, “has been sib to we-uns nigh upon three years. Owing to him we have a book writer for company. Pretty soon we’ll be all swarved up with outlanders.”
In three minutes Waits had set his mind, and in that time Rashe was broad awake and stirring. Waits gave a sharp whistle and his father stepped without-doors in answer. Waits drew him to the well house where the limp rabbit corpses hung.
The two men disagreed as soon as they began to talk, and the wind blew their words away.
Waits argued: “Leave a book writer get loose and he’s liable to raise hell-fire. No telling what garble he’ll print.”
“Still ‘n’ all, he’s my trusting guest,” Rashe warned, “and his safety rests with me.”
“I’ve no call to do him hurt,” Waits said, “but before your meal I heard him speak, and from his own words he wants to know about blockade and killings. I’d be surprised but he’d admire to be mixed in a fray and see a revenue raid with his proper eyes. Do you get him a loaned gun and meet the hunt by the dead sycamore yon side Devil’s Butt?” He looked up to the harried clouds. “‘Tis an ill night for a hunt, and the boys will be fast abed, but a coon hunt we’ll have, and the dogs ‘11 bay rabbit blood happen ne’er a coon hankers to come catch his death.” Waits unslung one of the rabbits, and he looked deeply at his father. “You’d not grudge for us to enjoy the foreigner gin he comes to no hurt,” he pleaded.
Rashe yet held back, but a twinkling was born in his deep-set gray eyes, and ere it could be quenched Waits had lit along the upward path as if his feet had known wings. The old man shook his head, but the meaning of the play was sinking into him as he stepped back into the house. And when he saw Emmet Parker still busy with his pencil, the sight of being written down made his mind set. Happen this man took news outland, no telling what!
Barsha sat by the lamp at her mending; now and again she looked sidely at the stranger, willing, yet fearful to have him laugh again.
“Likely night for a hunt,” Rashe said, while he redd up a shotgun for his guest, “and being that way up, I may as well look to my business.” He crouched over the fire to mend it, and while he knelt there, he muttered: “The old still’s a-grummeling ‘n’ a-gawking; time I was up there seeing after it.”
Parker looked up quickly and Barsha’s needle stopped halfway astride a stocking hole. For a moment the old woman was mazed, and then she went on sewing. ‘Twas nought but Rashe at his play-acting ways. Barsha might wonder, but she was content to let all rest. It was a night of foolishment. The foreigner laughed out loud and Rashe laughed back of his eyes, and now they went out to hunt coon on a night no coon could run, with such a gale blowing. Men’s ways! Men’s ways!
“‘Tis the Sabbath,” she told Rashe. “And you talk o’ coon hunting. Take shame.”
“Come midnight ‘twill be over, and that before we’re well afoot. Reckon the Lord’ll notice efn we lap over a half hour?”
“Do as you’ve a mind,” Barsha answered, “but when you find yourself in hell, don’t look to me to come down from heaven ‘n’ fetch you out. Reckon I’ll pick a quilt and stretch.” And she wrapped a covering about her and went and lay down upon the bed in the corner in front of Mr. Parker’s naked eyes. He came near writing it in his book, but Rashe called on him to hasten, for he wanted time left over from the hunt to go tend his still.
They climbed through the rough night to the saddle of the divide above Devil’s Butt, without speech, for all breath was needed for the going. Soon they came upon the hunting men that Waits had gathered, ten or more, milling around and beating their arms for warmth and trying to quiet the pack of hounds that fretted among their feet.
Rashe and his guest drew in and Rashe made the tale of the hantle: “There’s Waits again, and there’s Morris Ott, Fayre Jones, Dite Morgan, Burl and Chadburn Avery, and the rest just some boys outen Glen Hazard.”
The men growled a greeting and peered with sharp eyes at the man from city places, and all moved forward together. The moon showed for an instant and was put out like a candle by a lone black cloud.”
Efn the wind’ll cease,” said one of the men, “we’ll maybe do somewhat of hunting.”
But the wind roared down Defeat from Desolation, and the sound of many thousand trees struggling beat upon their ears. The men slanted against the wind till they drew in lee of a bankside and curved together to rest and draw breath. The stranger was gasping and strangling, till Waits showed him how to cup his hands about his nose and mouth and take deep breaths of the still air. Ahead, they heard the dogs baying in the darkness.
“This ain’t nothing to what blew five year since come grass!” Fayre shouted as they set forward again. “ I recollect walking on a ridge top and being turned end for end down Desolation and being carried four mile across Hog Hollow, straight as a bird would fly, and being drap in the mud patch under Barren She Mountain — yes, sir!”
Waits Lowe struck in: “Reckon we all recall that time. We laid you in the old burying ground. We was mighty sorry to lose you, Fayre Jones, and been lamenting you sore since that day.”
They would have fallen to ructions, but that Waits got lost in the shadows, and the dogs, casting in the brush around, had set to a gant persimmon tree and were crying up it loudly.
“How’d they scent the critter in this blow?” Fayre Jones wondered; and a smile drifted over the faces of the mountain men, while the stranger began to feel his gun. The men unwrapped torches and lighted them with some trouble, and they gathered close around the guest.
“Hi-yar!” Morris Ott cried out, waving his torch above his head. “See him up high! ‘Tain’t ne’er a coon, neither. That’s a b’ar!” He pointed to the large black mass huddled among the middle branches of the tree just above the glare.
“Your shot,” Rashe told Parker, while the men gathered close. “Company always has first chance among us.”
They formed a close circle, back to wind, shielding the torches.
“There y’are, now!” Rashe urged the stranger. “Stand back, boys; this man’s hunting and needs a free arm.”
Taking careful aim at the black shadow among the bare branches, Emmet Parker fired both barrels and staggered back into the arms of Morris Ott, who stood handily waiting to catch him.
“That’ll make dust o’ him,” said a voice from back of the crowd when the sound of the gunshot faded against the hillside.
There was a slithering crash and a man’s body tumbled from the tree onto a great heap of leaves. Its face was smeared with blood, its arms and legs were doubled and twisted hideously as it twitched; then it lay still.
The stranger’s face went gray even in the red glare of torchlight, and the men held back the dogs.
There was a full minute of silence. Then Fayre Jones stepped forward and stirred the thing with his foot.
“Have mercy on us! It’s Waits!” he said.
The men drew about. “So ‘tis,” they agreed.
Rashe bent over the body. “‘Tis my boy for a fact.” Then he said slowly: “Still ‘n’ all, Mist’ Parker’s my guest.”
All waited for Rashe’s next word, hindering the dogs who fretted about in the torch- light circle.”
Sometimes,” he said, “a man shoots into a tree and brings down coon, sometimes bear, another time possum; this time, it so happened, a fellow man.”
Mazed and shaking, the outlander stared at Rashe Lowe; his mouth opened and shut, but he failed of words. A hand took his shoulder and he was pulled back from the circle of light. And while he was yet held silent in a fearful horror, he was dragged into the underbrush by Morris Ott, pulled down a rocky bank into a dry branch and, soon as he came uppermost again, ordered to creekle along easy-like.
The night was full of fury and chasing shadows, and the sound of forlorn branches scratching together was eerie. From far distances the wind sounded like a blast of powder set off — a short roar that leaped echoing among the rocks. The white moon fell like a tossed coin from cloud to cloud.
This night going in the mountain country so bewildered Parker that he did what Ott said do without answering back nor questioning why.
They went over a dry falls, Ott sliding lightly and saying: “Hesh, can’t yuh?” when Parker started a rock shower and came tearing through the brier vines on top of him. The outlander was yet without words, but Ott spoke freely: “Hit don’t do,” he said, taking his words up carefully, “to trust a man like Rashe Lowe when he speaks you fair. Likely it’s common in your country, but here-among it’s a sorry business to kill ary man’s son. His fair words may lay your terror so’s he can get you sooner, but he’s bound to believe that ‘tweren’t no accident.”
“Heaven knows, it could have been nothing else,” Parker mourned, feeling at his scratched face and wrists.
“What heaven knows don’t signify,” Ott said. “Hit’s what Rashe Lowe thinks he knows. And it’s bound to be his belief that Sanders Hughett’s widow hired you to kill Waits. They’s been trouble betwixt the Lowes and the Hughetts since time everlasting — all the way from a jower to a fray. Last time was when I was no higher than your gun stands, and I tracked my dad up to Hughett’s Branch in the trail of Rashe Lowe. Man-sir, that was a fray! They feathered into him, I’m telling you! ` Go in peace,’ says Hughett’s woman when she seen her man laying dead. ` Go in peace, till your boy that sleeps in his cradle box tonight is a man grown.’ So I tell you,” Ott ended, “that expecting all this time a Hughett would catch Waits, it’s not supposable that old Rashe is going to set his mind to a happen-so.”
The outlander stopped and rested uncertain, and then drew himself to the full of his inches. “But I don’t know the woman. I’ve never been in this place until tonight. . .Where are you taking me?”
“To a hide hole.”
“No doubt you mean to do a friendly thing for me, but I’ve got to get back to town and give myself up.”
“Who to, this hour o’ night? Besides which, you’re a murderer in your own right. Hit don’t stand with reason to give yourself up; best have patience till you’re took.”
“But see here, can’t you? I’m in the very devil of a mess, and it’s my fault — or ill luck. I can’t let this feud go on — letting it be thought that someone hired me. There’s justice to be had —”
“The which there ain’t,” said Ott.
“— and I’ll give myself up and take my chance. I can’t let some poor woman suffer for this terrible accident.” He spoke with • the quality of one gently raised, and Ott could tell he was serious. Parker sat down upon the bankside with his head in his hands; the mountain man stood over and watched him with a drawn smile. Morris Ott was fere with him — but the man was a book writer; let him learn his story good.
“No manner of use acting in these parts like you were outside,” he reasoned. “Best rest here a spell, and then I’ll put you on the railroad at Robbin’s Gap and you can go home and write in your book about feuds.”
“Confound my book!” yelled Parker, jumping up. “Tell me the way out of this forest!” He turned about and about and met only the silence of black trees before rain. It wrought on his nerves. “Let’s get back and be doing something! I was a fool to let you drag me away. I didn’t know what I was doing. Take me back!”
He weaved right and left and found himself close hemmed by the brush. He tried to cast back up the way he had come and found no outlet through the laurel scrub, for down in the dark corners a man is a bear in a fell trap unless he knows the yield of the branches and the slope of the rock. His companion’s solemn eyes watching his twistings to and fro gave Parker a new fear. All his little knowledge of these people roused within him, and he saw, too late, that he had laid himself at the mercy of this man.
But Ott’s peaceable speech threw back this fear upon itself.
“Times the best something to be doing is just nothing,” he counseled. “I’d despise to be as doing as your kind of folks. Hit’s pointing scorn at the Lord. The Lord says he’ll take care of his children. Well, let Him.”
Parker was in no fit mind to cap this scripture, for he was wearied out and the bruise on his shoulder from the gun’s mighty kick now took time to hurt. He looked up and down the gully and to the rim of hill crest on either side, and his nerves began to creep up and down his backbone.
And directly Ott said: “We’d best move.” For voices came to them, shouting from the upper ridge. Parker’s slick shoes skidded on dead leaves and hurt him. on hidden rocks. He was spent and wearied when they gained the farther hill crest and came be-. hind a cabin shelter of hewn logs. Through the middle porch they could see a new-lit fire upon a small clearing. The snap of the fire and the smell of leaf smoke came to them, mixed with voices.
“Shucks ‘n’ all!” Ott said, after he had sneaked close under the clapboard roof for a view. “Efn this ain’t the unwholesomest night! We’ve crope up on the revenue and they stalking Rashe Lowe’s still. You ‘n’ me’d best buck down the hollow; we’ll take a shape at going out the same way we come in at, but gin we meet up with Rashe ‘n’ the sheriff you’ll never get out alive to write in your book.”
Suddenly the mountain man backed, crowded the outlander against a tree bole and held himself. rigid. There was a trampling in front of the cabin and hoarse shouts of men below the draw, the same having come up from gully’s far end.
“Lay low,” Ott said, “and quit breathing. Creekle back easy-like and leave the brush overspread you.” He buried himself forthwith, and Parker tried his mightiest to do so, but found himself the wrong shape for such a trick. His knees and elbows stuck out too much and he made a woeful noise crawling away. A shout from one of the revenue men discovered him and he was taken by two of them, who bore him roughhanded downside the next valley. A voice followed and called to them to have a care:
“Bring him in ansund, boys!”
But the next talk that came was among the revenuers about to trail themselves to Rashe Lowe’s still. The men who had laid hands on the outlander dragged him betwixt them till he was foredone, and when they stopped he was gone stupid and stood harmless, waiting what might next happen.
“Rashe’ll be down at the workings,” a man said, “and we’d best take this man along. The look of him don’t pleasure me.”
Morris Ott drew close up to Parker and he said: “Slip ‘em and you can — gin Rashe catches you hunting alongside the revenue, after what you done a’ready, he’s liable to fall pointedly out o’ patience.”
All in a mix, the mountain men fled to the dark corners, some chasing, some holding back around Parker, and all making a survigorous halloo, so he had no hope of winning free.
In a pocket place betwixt steep sides from which there was no climbing forth, they met with Rashe and his following, and all came together in a roaring fray. They hurtled among the scrub and the noise of shots and curses was fitten to send a man outgate his senses. Parker was thrust back through a laurel bush for safekeeping, and fell into a cleared patch where stood the still.
It was the first he had ever seen with his proper eyes, and he knew it only by the worm, for the rest was an old kerosene can and a common washtub. The thing was foolishly small for such a bloody business as was going on; Parker could have picked it up and run off with it single-handed. So much he saw in the clink of an eye, when Rashe Lowe crashed into the clear patch and stood to hold his properties against a revenuer. Sturdily they twisted and fought and at last fell in a heap; the men and the oil can and the washtub all embrangled. And Morris Ott was there again and dragging at Parker to scouse out and traffick after him. And, greatly aching in all his bones, Parker went.
The wind died to gentleness, for the night was spent, and the mountains slept in peace till day should waken them. The men dragged the foreigner up and down the hard slopes till he was a fair spectacle of himself, and themselves too wearied out to talk. And they left him at Tom Carr’s house.
With his tender, town-fetched clothes dripping from him, Emmet Parker was dropped on the doorstep just as morn glom gave way to day. He was too forespent to wonder that he had been left by the way. He had forgotten his where-ats and was past caring. And Rashe Lowe, who watched the book writer from behind a handy tree bole, saw that he was only a common man, all used out and leaning against the door frame.
There was a noise of stirring in the house and Carr, all sleep-tumbled, with his hair a-fright, pulled open the door. As Parker fell within, Rashe threw his rifle to his shoulder and fired. The bullet flattened on the stone step.
“Never missed a fat mark at twenty paces yet,” he said. “And now, likely, there’ll be the devil to pay and no pitch hot. We’ll be hearing from Tom Carr over this night’s work.”
And Rashe turned homeward for breakfast, measuring firm steps down the slant path, unhasting.
Night went away with its trailing robe of mist torn off in shreds by the rock crags, and soon the fields gave back a dull glow, showing that sun was about to happen. Rashe looked down to where the valley, pale yellow with dead corn, backed up the spurs, and mildly he said:
“Blackbirds circling over cut fields since corn’s been laid by.”
Back kitchen of his house Barsha had food in waiting, and looked a question at him that she did not speak. When he had eaten, he took his sickle from its hook on the back porch and went afield, lamenting that a work day should follow sharply on a full night.
Barsha’s question got the best of her at the last, and she cried after him to know: “What’s gone with Waitstill?”
“Time sets all things right,” Rashe called back. “Go you indoors and keep house.”
Directly came Tom Carr and the scraily outlander swarming down on Lowes’ house, and Carr shouting to know what all the business of the night might be, and who shot at Emmet Parker at his very door.
Barsha came front, tempered up from her last word with Rashe, and stood looking dourly upon them.
“Does a man good to be shot at once in a while,” she said.
Tom Carr ordered her to fetch Rashe and edzact out the meaning of such using of their guest. “Tell me the rights about Waits being shot and a still being torn up.”
These words were matches to Barsha’s powder, and she set herself to mistake him, and hid what started as a smile behind a scowling face. Besides, she was yet uneasy about the truth of Waits being hurt in last night’s doings.
“You got no call to come frecking me,” she said. “Every hand’s while there comes a needle nose from outland craving to turn our affairs upsides. Gin he gets what he searches, what blame?” And she made to go withindoors unkindly, but when she turned, the devil showed her Rashe’s rifle where he’d leaned it by the door, and she thought to have her play with the foreigners. She swung up the gun and pointed it at the two, who stumbled back from it.
“You’d best morris your town-fetched gentleman down to depot, gin he aims to lay hold of next train,” she said. “One more holy minute ‘n’ I’ll ruinate the both of you the way you’ve embrangled my men-folks.”
Her eye fell upon Waits, now standing soundless in the scrub behind the outlanders. He winked slowly and melted back among the leaves.
Barsha made lament. “Gin you’ve done away with my last left boy, Mist’ Parker,” she cried harshly, “I’ll so spoil you that — “
Rashe’s voice cut down to them from the high field where he had been watching. “Lay by the gun, old woman; this judgment’s mine!” And he came down to them.
Rashe looked long and solemnly at the foreigners.
“Sooner gone, sooner peace,” he said to Parker. “Me, I’m not hardened to so much feud ‘n’ moonshine, ‘n’ I got aches in my legs.”
“To hell with your legs!” Parker shouted. “Where’s this Hughett woman and the sheriff and — “
“You’ll pointedly miss your train out,” Rashe warned him, “gin you aim to go visiting. Furthermore, Sanders Hughett don’t own no widow — never was married, wasn’t Sanders. Put that gun down like I told you, old woman. Hit’s liable to go off ‘n’ get some person hurt.”
Parker gaped at Rashe, and then, to the glory of the outland places, he laughed and held out his hand to his host. And Rashe let out an answering laugh — a great roar long saved up and fit to enjoy itself — and he took Parker’s hand heartily.
“Well, sleep me standing up!” he said. “I knowed in reason you’d wear well. Come in house; try us again, Mist’ Parker, and we’ll treat you clever as we can.”
Barsha’s voice came grumbling from back kitchen: “I’ve already put breakfast work back o’ me one time, but gin you crave a smidgen, come on in; and you as well, Mist’ Carr, so be you don’t care to eat along of the dead.”
For when they came withindoors, there sat Waits eating heartily of new baked bread and fried rabbit. He stood up and said: “Morning to you, Mist’ Carr. Morning, Mist’ Parker. Seems you missed that hasty home train. Yonder’s the whistle now.”
They waited till the long-drawn echo had trailed out northerly, and then Parker said: “And more than that, I missed a good shot last night.”
“Thank you, Mist’ Parker. I ain’t damaged to amount to much; blank shot’s wholesome to a man’s skin.” And then Barsha went out to the back porch and closed the door firmly after her, for that everlasting foreigner was laughing again.
Illustrations by James C. McKell (©SEPS)