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UNCLE ABNER 



UNCLE ABNER 

MASTER OF MYSTERIES 



BY 

MELVILLE DAVISSON POST 

AUTHOR O* "THE NAMXUESS THING," SIC 




D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 

NEW YORK LONDON 

1918 



THE NEW YORK 
PUBLIC LIBRARY 

a-"^, u:\ox and 



COPYMGHT, 19x8, BY 

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 



COPYKIGKT, X9II, 191a, 19x5, BY THE CUXXZS PUBUSHINO COMPAVY 

COPniGHT, X9I2, X9X3, BY THE METROPOLITAN MAGAZINE COMPANY 

OOPYUGHT, X9X6, 19x7, BY THE ILLUSTRATED SUHDAY MAGAZINE 

OOPYIMHT, X9XS, 1916, BY THE BED BOOK COIPO&ATXOH 



Printed in the United States of America 



TO 
MY FATHER 

WHOSE UNFAILING FAITH IN 
AN ULTIMATE JUSTICE BEHIND 
THE MOVING OF EVENTS HAS 
BEEN TO THE WRITER A 
WONDER AND AN INSPIRATION 



o 






CONTENTS 

CHAPTER^ PAGE 

I. The Doomdorf Mystbry i 

II. The Wrong Hand . . . .^/. . . 21 

III. The Angel of the Lord 41 

IV. An Act of God 64 

V. The Treasure Hunter . . • . . . 82 

VI. The House of the Dead Man . ~ . . 101 

VII. A Twilight Adventure . .... 118 

VIII. The Age of Miracles 136 

IX. The Tenth Commandment . .... 153 

/ X. The Devil's Tools 171 

XI. The Hidden Law ....... 191 

XII. The Riddle 208 

XIII. The Straw Man . . . ._ •_•_•_• 227 

XIV.. TheIMystery of Chance . • . . . 249 

XV. The Concealed Path 266 

XVI. The Edge of the Shadow 286 

XVII. The Adopted Daughter 303 

XVIII. Naboth's Vineyard ...... 323 



vii 



UNCLE ABNER 



CHAPTER I: The Doomdorf Mystery 

THE pioneer was not the only man in the 
great mountains behind Virginia. Strange 
aliens drifted in after the Colonial wars. 
All foreign armies are sprinkled with a cockle of ad- 
venturers that take root and remain. They were 
with Braddock and La Salle, and they rode north out 
of Mexico after her many empires went to pieces. 

I think Doomdorf crossed the seas with Iturbide 
when that ill-starred adventurer returned to be shot 
against a wall; but there was no Southern blood in 
him. He came from some European race remote 
and barbaric. The evidences were all about him. 
He was a huge figure of a man, with a black spade 
beard, broad, thick hands, and square, flat Angers. 

He had found a wedge of land between the 
Crown's grant to Daniel Davisson and a Washington 
survey. It was an uncovered triangle not worth the 
running of the lines ; and so, no doubt, was left out, 
a sheer rock standing up out of the river for a base, 
and a peak of the mountain rising northward behind 
it for an apex. 

Doomdorf squatted on the rock. He must have 



Uncle Abner 



brought a belt of gold pieces when he took to his 
horse, for he hired old Robert Steuart's slaves and 
built a stone house on the rock, and he brought the 
furnishings overland from a frigate in the Chesa- 
peake ; and then in the handfuls of earth, wherever 
a root would hold, he planted the mountain behind 
his house with peach trees. The gold gave out; but 
the devil is fertile in resources. Doomdorf built a 
log still and turned the first fruits of the garden into 
a hell-brew. The idle and the vicious came with 
their stone jugs, and violence and riot flowed out. 

The government of Virginia was remote and its 
arm short and feeble ; but the men who held the lands 
west of the mountains against the savages under 
grants from George, and after that held them against 
George himself, were efficient and expeditious. They 
had long patience, but when that failed they went up 
from their fields and drove the thing before them 
out of the land, like a scourge of God. 

There came a day, then, when my Uncle Abner 
and Squire Randolph rode through the gap of the 
mountains to have the thing out with Doomdorf. 
The work of this brew, which had the odors of Eden 
and the impulses of the devil in it, could be borne no 
longer. The drunken negroes had shot old Dun- 
can's cattle and burned his haystacks, and the land 
was on its feet. 

They rode alone, but they were worth an army of 
little men. Randolph was vain and pompous and 

2 



The Doomdorf Mystery 



given over to extravagance of words, but he was a 
gentleman beneath it, and fear was an alien and a 
stranger to him. And Abner was the right hand of 
the land. 

It was a day in early summer and the sun lay hot. 
They crossed through the broken spine of the moun- 
tains and trailed along the river in the shade of the 
great chestnut trees. The road was only a path and 
the horses went one before the other. It left the 
river when the rock began to rise and, making a de- 
tour through the grove of peach trees, reached the 
house on the mountain side. Randolph and Abner 
got down, unsaddled their horses and turned them 
out to graze, for their business with Doomdorf 
would not be over in an hour. Then they took a 
steep path that brought them out on the mountain 
side of the house. 

A man sat on a big red-roan horse in the paved 
court before the door. He was a gaunt old man. 
He sat bare-headed, the palms of his hands resting 
on the pommel of his saddle, his chin sunk in his 
black stock, his face in retrospection, the wind mov- 
ing gently his great shock of voluminous white hair. 
Under him the huge red horse stood with his legs 
spread out like a horse of stone. 

There was no sound. The door to the house was 
closed; insects moved in the sun; a shadow crept out 
from the motionless figure, and swarms of yellow 
butterflies maneuvered like an army. 

Abner and Randolph stopped. They knew the 

3 



Uncle Abner 



tragic figure — a circuit rider of the hills who 
preached the invective of Isaiah as though he were 
the mouthpiece of a militant and avenging overlord; 
as though the government of Virginia were the aw- 
ful theocracy of the Book of Kings. The horse was 
dripping with sweat and the man bore the dust and 
the evidences of a journey on him. 

"Bronson," said Abner, "where is Doomdorf ?" 

The old man lifted his head and looked down at 
Abner ov$r the pommel of the saddle. 

" 'Surely,' " he said, " 'he covereth his feet in his 
summer chamber.' " 

Abner went over and knocked on the closed door, 
and presently the white, frightened face of a woman 
looked out at him. She was a little, faded woman, 
with fair hair, a broad foreign face, but with the 
delicate evidences of gentle blood. 

Abner repeated his question. 

"Where is Doomdorf ?" 

"Oh, sir," she answered with a queer lisping ac- 
cent, "he went to lie down in his south room after 
his midday meal, as his custom is; and I went to the 
orchard to gather any fruit that might be ripened." 
She hesitated and her voice lisped into a whisper: 
"He is not come out and I cannot wake him." 

The two men followed her through the hall and 
up the stairway to the door. 

"It is always bolted," she said, "when he goes to 
lie down." And she knocked feebly with the tips of 
her fingers. 

4 



The Doomdorf Mystery 



There was no answer and Randolph rattled the 
doorknob. 

"Come out, Doomdorf !" he called in his big, bel- 
lowing voice. 

There was only silence and the echoes of the 
words among the rafters. Then Randolph set his 
shoulder to the door and burst it open. 

They went in. The room was flooded with sun 
from the tall south windows. Doomdorf lay on a 
couch in a little offset of the room, a great scarlet 
patch on his bosom and a pool of scarlet on the floor. 

The woman stood for a moment staring; then she 
cried out: 

"At last I have killed him I" And she ran like a 
frightened hare. 

The two men closed the door and went over to the 
couch. Doomdorf had been shot to death. There 
was a great ragged hole in his waistcoat. They be- 
gan to look about for the weapon with which the 
deed had been accomplished, and in a moment found 
it — a fowling piece lying in two dogwood forks 
against the wall. The gun had just been fired; 
there was a freshly exploded paper cap under the 
hammer. 

There was little else in the room — a loom-woven 
rag carpet on the floor; wooden shutters flung back 
from the windows; a great oak table, and on it a 
big, round, glass water bottle, filled to its glass 
stopper with raw liquor from the still. The stuff 
was limpid and clear as spring water; and, but for 

5 



Uticle Abner 



its pungent odor, one would have taken it for God's 
brew instead of Doomdorf 's. The sun lay on it and 
against the wall where hung the weapon that had 
ejected the dead man out of life. 

"Abner," said Randolf, "this is murder! The 
woman took that gun down from the wall and shot 
Doomdorf while he slept." 

Abner was standing by the table, his fingers round 
his chin. 

"Randolph," he replied, "what brought Bronsoiv 
here?" 

"The same outrages that brought us," said Ran* 
dolph. "The mad old circuit rider has been preach- 
ing a crusade against Doomdorf far and wide in th* 
hills." 

Abner answered, without taking his fingers ^ron^ 
about his chin : 

"You think this woman killed Doomdorf? WeH 
let us go and ask Bronson who killed him." 

They closed the door, leaving the dead man on hit 
couch, and went down into the court. 

The old circuit rider had put away his horse and 
got an ax. He had taken off his coat and pushed 
his shirtsleeves up over his long elbows. He wai 
on his way to the still to destroy the barrels of liquor. 
He stopped when the two men came out, and Abner 
called to him. 

"Bronson," he said, "who killed Doomdorf?" 

"I killed him," replied the old man, and went on 
toward the still. 

6 



The Doomdorf Mystery 



Randolph swore under his breath. u By the 
Almighty," he said, "everybody couldn't kill him !" 

"Who can tell how many had a hand in it?" re- 
plied Abner. 

"Two have confessed!" cried Randolph. "Was 
there perhaps a third? Did you kill him, Abner? 
And I too? Man, the thing is impossible !" 

"The impossible," replied Abner, "looks here like 
the truth. Come with me, Randolph, and I will 
show you a thing more impossible than this." 

They returned through the house and up the stairs 
to the room. Abner closed the door behind them. 

"Look at this bolt," he said; "it is on the inside 
and not connected with the lock. How did the one 
who killed Doomdorf get into this room, since the 
door was bolted?" 

"Through the windows," replied Randolph. 

There were but two windows, facing the south, 
through which the sun entered. Abner led Ran- 
dolph to them. 

"Look!" he said. "The wall of the house is 
plumb with the sheer face of the rock. It is a hun- 
dred feet to the river and the rock is as smooth as a 
sheet of glass. But that is not all. Look at these 
window frames; they are cemented into their case- 
ment with dust and they are bound along their edges 
with cobwebs. These windows have not been 
opened. How did the assassin enter?" 

"The answer is evident," said Randolph: "The 

7 



Uncle Abner 



one who killed Doomdorf hid in the room until he 
was asleep ; then he shot him and went out* 9 

"The explanation is excellent but for one thing/ 9 
replied Abner: "How did the assassin bolt the door 
behind him on the inside of this room after he had 
gone out?" 

Randolph flung out his arms with a hopeless ges- 
ture. 

"Who knows?" he cried. "Maybe Doomdorf 
killed himself." 

Abner laughed. 

"And after firing a handful of shot into his heart 
he got up and put the gun back carefully into the 
forks against the wall I" 

"Well," cried Randolph, "there is one open road 
out of this mystery. Bronson and this woman say 
they killed Doomdorf, and if they killed him they 
surely know how they did it. Let us go down and 
ask them." 

"In the law court," replied Abner, "that procedure 
would be considered sound sense ; but we are in God's 
court and things are managed there in a somewhat 
stranger way. Before we go let us find out, if we 
can, at what hour it was that Doomdorf died." 

He went over and took a big silver watch out of 
the dead man's pocket. It was broken by a shot 
and the hands lay at one hour after noon. He stood 
for a moment fingering his chin. 

"At one o'clock," he said. "Bronson, I think, 

8 



The Doomdorf Mystery 



was on the road to this place, and the woman was on 
the mountain among the peach trees." 

Randolph threw back his shoulders. 

"Why waste time in a speculation about it, 
Abner?" he said. "We know who did this thing. 
Let us go and get the story of it out of their own 
mouths. Doomdorf died by the hands of either 
Bronson or this woman." 

"Icould better believe it," replied Abner, "but for 
the running of a certain awful law." 

"What law?" said Randolph. "Is it a statute of 
Virginia?" 

"It is a statute," replied Abner, "of an authority 
somewhat higher. Mark the language of it: 'He 
that killeth with the sword must be killed with the 
sword. 1 " 

He came over and took Randolph by the arm. 

"Must ! Randolph, did you mark particularly the 
word 'must' ? It is a mandatory law. There is no 
room in it for the vicissitudes of chance or fortune. 
There is no way round that word. Thus, we reap 
what we sow and nothing else ; thus, we receive what 
we give and nothing else. It is the weapon in our 
own hands that finally destroys us. You are looking 
at it now." And he turned him about so that the 
table and the weapon and the dead man were before 
him. " 'He that killeth with the sword must be 
killed with the sword.' And now," he said, "let us 
go and try the method of the law courts. Your faith 
is in the wisdom of their ways." 

9 



Uncle Abner 



They found the old circuit rider at work in the 
still, staving in Doomdorf 's liquor casks, splitting the 
oak heads with his ax. 

"Bronson," said Randolph, "how did you kill 
Doomdorf?" 

The old man stopped and stood leaning on his ax. 

"I killed him," replied the old man, "as Elijah 
killed the captains of Ahaziah and their fifties. But 
not by the hand of any man did I pray the Lord God 
to destroy Doomdorf, but with fire from heaven to 
destroy him." 

He stood up and extended his arms. 

"His hands were full of blood," he said. "With 
his abomination from these groves of Baal he stirred 
up the people to contention, to strife and murder. 
The widow and the orphan cried to heaven against 
him. l I will surely hear their cry,' is the promise 
written in the Book. The land was weary of him ; 
and I prayed the Lord God to destroy him with fire 
from heaven, as he destroyed the Princes of Gomor- 
rah in their palaces!" 

Randolph made a gesture as of one who dismisses 
the impossible, but Abner's face took on a deep, 
strange look. 

"With fire from heaven I" he repeated slowly to 
himself. Then he asked a question. "A little 
while ago," he said, "when we came, I asked you 
where Doomdorf was, and you answered me in the 
language of the third chapter of the Book of Judges. 

10 



The Doomdorf Mystery 



Why did you answer me like that, Bronson? — 'Surely 
he covereth his feet in his summer chamber.' " 

"The woman told me that he had not come down 
from the room where he had gone up to sleep," re- 
plied the old man, "and that the door was locked* 
And then I knew that he was dead in his summer 
chamber like Eglon, King of Moab." 

He extended his arm toward the south. 

"I came here from the Great Valley," he said, "to 
cut down these groves of Baal and to empty out this 
abomination; but I did not know that the Lord had 
heard my prayer and visited His wrath on Doom- 
dorf until I was come up into these mountains to his 
door. When the woman spoke I knew it." And 
he went away to his horse, leaving the ax among the 
ruined barrels. 

Randolph interrupted. 

"Come, Abner," he said; "this is wasted time. 
Bronson did not kill Doomdorf." 

Abner answered slowly in his deep, level voice : 

"Do you realize, Randolph, how Doomdorf 
died?" 

"Not by fire from heaven, at any rate," said Ran- 
dolph. 

"Randolph," replied Abner, "are you sure?" 

"Abner," cried Randolph, "you are pleased to 
jest, but I am in deadly earnest A crime has been 
done here against the state. I am an officer of jus- 
tice and I propose to discover the assassin if I can." 

He walked away toward the house and Abner 

ii 



Uncle Abner 



followed, his hands behind him and his great shoul- 
ders thrown loosely forward, with a grim smile 
about his mouth. 

"It is no use to talk with the mad old preacher," 
Randolph went on. "Let him empty out the liquor 
and ride away. I won't issue a warrant against him. 
Prayer may be a handy implement to do a murder 
with, Abner, but it is not a deadly weapon under the 
statutes of Virginia. Doomdorf was dead when old 
Bronson got here with his Scriptural jargon. This 
woman killed Doomdorf. I shall put her to an 
inquisition." 

"As you like," replied Abner. "Your faith re- 
mains in the methods of the law courts." 

"Do you know of any better methods?" said Ran- 
dolph. 

"Perhaps," replied Abner, "when you have fin- 
ished." 

Night had entered the valley. The two men went 
into the house and set about preparing the corpse for 
burial. They got candles, and made a coffin, and 
put Doomdorf in it, and straightened out his limbs, 
and folded his arms across his shot-out heart. Then 
they set the coffin on benches in the hall. 

They kindled a fire in the dining room and sat 
down before it, with the door open and the red fire- 
light shining through on the dead man's narrow, 
everlasting house. The woman had put some cold 
meat, a golden cheese and a loaf on the table. They 
did not see her, but they heard her moving about the 

12 



The Doomdorf Mystery 



house; and finally, on the gravel court 6utside, her 
step and the whinny of a horse. Then she came in, 
dressed as for a journey. Randolph sprang up. 

"Where are you going?" he said. 

"To the sea and a ship," replied the woman. 
Then she indicated the hall with a gesture. "He ts 
dead and I am free/ 9 

There was a sudden illumination in her face. 
Randolph took a step toward her. His voice was 
big and harsh. 

"Who killed Doomdorf?" he cried. 

"I killed him," replied the woman. "It was 
fair!" 

"Fair I" echoed the justice. "What do you mean 
by that?" 

The woman shrugged her shoulders and put out 
her hands with a foreign gesture. 

"I remember an old, old man sitting against a 
sunny wall, and a little girl, and one who came and 
talked a long time with the old man, while the little 
girl plucked yellow flowers out of the grass and put 
them into her hair. Then finally the stranger gave 
the old man a gold chain and took the little girl 
away." She flung out her hands. "Oh, it was fair 
to kill him I" She looked up with a queer, pathetic 
smile. 

"The old man will be gojie by now," she said; "but 
I shall perhaps find the wall there, with the sun on it, 
and the yellow flowers in the grass. And now, may 
I go?" 

13 



Uncle Abner 



It is a law of the story-teller's art that he does not 
tell a story. It is the listener who tells it. The 
story-teller does but provide him with the stimuli. 

Randolph got up and walked about the floor. He 
was a justice of the peace in a day when that office 
was filled only by the landed gentry, after the Eng- 
lish fashion; and the obligations of the law were 
strong on him. If he should take liberties with the 
letter of it, how could the weak and the evil be made 
to hold it in respect? Here was this woman before 
him a confessed assassin. Could he let her go? 

Abner sat unmoving by the hearth, his elbow on 
the arm of his chair, his palm propping up his jaw, 
his face clouded in deep lines. Randolph was con- 
sumed with vanity and the weakness of ostentation, 
but he shouldered his duties for himself. Presently 
he stopped and looked at the woman, wan, faded like 
some prisoner of legend escaped out of fabled dun- 
geons into the sun. 

The firelight flickered past her to the box on the 
benches in the hall, and the vast, inscrutable justice 
of heaven entered and overcame him. 

"Yes," he said. "Go ! There is no jury in Vir- 
ginia that would hold a woman for shooting a beast 
like that." And he thrust out his arm, with the 
lingers extended toward the dead man. 

The woman made a little awkward curtsy. 

"I thank you, sir." Then she hesitated and 
lisped, "But I have not shoot him." 

14 



The Doomdorf Mystery 



"Not shoot him!" cried Randolph. "Why, the 
man's heart is riddled!" 

"Yes, sir," she s'aid simply, like a child. "I kill 
him, but have not shoot him." 

Randolph took two long strides toward the 
woman. 

"Not shoot him!" he repeated. "How then, in 
the name of heaven, did you kill Doomdorf?" And 
his big voice filled the empty places of the room. 

"I will show you, sir," she said. 

She turned and went away into the house. Pres- 
ently she returned with something folded up in a 
linen towel. She put it on the table between the loaf 
of bread and the yellow cheese. 

Randolph stood over the table, and the woman's 
deft fingers undid the towel from round its deadly 
contents ; and presently the thing lay there uncovered. 

It was a little crude model of a human figure done 
in wax with a needle thrust through the bosom. 

Randolph stood up with a great intake of the 
breath. 

"Magic! By the eternal!" 

"Yes, sir," the woman explained, in her voice and 
manner of a child. "I have try to kill him many 
times — oh, very many times! — with witch words 
which I have remember; but always they fail. 
Then, at last, I make him in wax, and I put a needle 
through his heart; and I kill him very quickly." 

It was as clear as daylight, even to Randolph, that 
the woman was innocent. Her little harmless magic 

15 



Uncle Abner 



was the pathetic effort of a child to kill a dragon. 
He hesitated a moment before he spoke, and then he 
decided like the gentleman he was. If it helped the 
child to believe that her enchanted straw had slain 
the monster — well, he would let her believe it. 

"And now, sir, may I go?" 

Randolph looked at the woman in a sort of won- 
der. 

"Are you not afraid," he said, "of the night and 
the mountains, and the long road?" 

"Oh no, sir," she replied simply. "The good 
God will be everywhere now." 

It was an awful commentary on the dead man- 
that this strange half-child believed that all the evil 
in the world had gone out with him; that now that 
he was dead, the sunlight of heaven would fill every 
nook and corner. 

It was not a faith that either of the two men 
wished to shatter, and they let her go. It would J>e 
daylight presently and the road through the moun- 
tains to the Chesapeake was open. 

Randolph came back to the fireside after he had 
helped her into the saddle, and sat down. He 
tapped on the hearth for some time idly with the 
iron poker; and then finally he spoke. 

"This is the strangest thing that ever happened," 
he said. "Here's a mad old preacher who thinks 
that he killed Doomdorf with fire from Heaven, 
like Elijah the Tishbite; and here is a simple child 
of a woman who thinks she killed him with a piece of 

16 



The Doomdorf Mystery 



magic of the Middle Ages — each as innocent of his 
death as I am. And yet, by the eternal, the beast is 
dead!" 

He drummed on the hearth with the poker, lifting 
it up and letting it drop through the hollow of his 
fingers. 

"Somebody shot Doomdorf. But who? And 
how did he get into and out of that shut-up room? 
The assassin that killed Doomdorf must have gotten 
into the room to kill him. Now, how did he get 
in?" He spoke as to himself; but my uncle sitting 
across the hearth replied: 

"Through the window." 

"Through the window!" echoed Randolph 9 . 
"Why, man, you yourself showed me that the win- 
dow had not been opened, and the precipice below it 
a fly could hardly climb. Do you tell me now that 
die window was opened?" 

"No," said Abner, "it was never opened." 

Randolph got on his feet. 

"Abner," he cried, "are you saying that the one 
who killed Doomdorf climbed the sheer wall and got 
in through a closed window, without disturbing the 
dust or the cobwebs on the window frame ?" 

My uncle looked Randolph in the face. 

"The murderer of Doomdorf did even more," 
he said. "That assassin not only climbed the face 
of that precipice and got in through the closed win- 
dow, but he shot Doomdorf to death and got out 
again through the closed window without leaving a 

17 



Uncle Abner 



single track or trace behind, and without disturbing 
a grain of dust or a thread of a cobweb." 

Randolph swore a great oath. 

"The thing is impossible!" he cried. "Men are 
not killed today in Virginia by black art or a curse 
of God." 

"By black art, no," replied Abner; "but by the 
curse of God, yes. I think they are." 

Randolph drove his clenched right hand into the 
palm of his left. 

"By the eternal !" he cried. "I would like to see 
the assassin who could do a murder like this, whether 
he be an imp from the pit or an angel out of 
Heaven." 

"Very well," replied Abner, undisturbed. "When 
he comes back tomorrow I will show you the assas- 
sin who killed Doomdorf." 

When day broke they dug a grave and buried the 
dead man against the mountain among his peach 
trees. It was noon when that work was ended. 
Abner threw down his spade and looked up at the 
sun. 

"Randolph," he said, "let us go and lay an ambush 
for this assassin. He is on the way here." 

And it was a strange ambush that he laid. When 
they were come again into the chamber where Doom- 
dorf died he bolted the door; then he loaded the 
fowling piece and put it carefully back on its rack 
against the wall. After that he did another curious 
thing: He took the blood-stained coat, which they 

18 



The Dootndorf Mystery 



had stripped off the dead man when they had pre- 
pared his body for the earth, put a pillow in it and 
laid it on the couch precisely where Doomdorf had 
slept. And while he did these things Randolph 
stood in wonder and Abner talked: 

"Look you, Randolph. . . . We will trick 
the murderer. . . . We will catch him in the 
act." 

Then he went over and took the puzzled justice by 
the arm. 

"Watch!" he said. "The assassin is coming 
along the wall !" 

But Randolph heard nothing, saw nothing. Only 
the sun entered. Abner's hand tightened on his 
arm. 

"It is here! Look!" And he pointed to the 
wall. 

Randolph, following the extended finger, saw a 
tiny brilliant disk of light moving slowly up the wall 
toward the lock of the fowling piece. Abner's hand 
became a vise and his voice rang as over metal. 

" 'He that killeth with the sword must be killed 
with the sword.' It is the water bottle, full of 
Doomdorf 's liquor, focusing the sun. . . . And 
look, Randolph, how Bronson's prayer was an- 
swered!" 

The tiny disk of light traveled on the plate of the 
lock. 

"It is fire from heaven!" 

The words rang above the roar of the fowling 

19 



Uncle Abner 



piece, and Randolph saw the dead man's coat leap up 
on the couch, riddled by the shot. The gun, in its 
natural position on the rack, pointed to the couch 
standing at the end of the chamber, beyond the offset 
of the wall, and the focused sun had exploded the 
percussion cap. 

Randolph made a great gesture, with his arm ex- 
tended. 

"It is a world," he said, "filled with the mysterious 
joinder of accident!" 

"It is a world," replied Abner, "filled with the 
mysterious justice of God!" 



CHAPTER II: The Wrong Hand 

ABNER never would have taken me Into that 
house iif he could have helped it. He was 
on a desperate mission and a child was the 
last company he wished; but he had to do it. It 
was an evening of early winter — raw and cold. A 
chilling rain was beginning to fall; night was de- 
scending and I could not go on. I had been into the 
upcountry and had taken this short cut through the 
hills that lay here against the mountains. I would 
have been home by now, but a broken shoe had de- 
layed me. 

I did not see Abner's horse until I approached the 
crossroads, but I think he had seen me from a dis- 
tance. His great chestnut stood in the grassplot 
between the roads, and Abner sat upon him like a 
man of stone. He had made his decision when I 
got to him. 

The very aspect of the land was sinister. The 
house stood on a hill; round its base, through the 
sodded meadows, the river ran — dark, swift and 
silent; stretching westward was a forest and for back- 
ground the great mountains stood into the sky. The 
house was very old. The high windows were of lit- 
tle panes of glass and on the ancient white door the 
paint was seamed and cracked with age. 

21 



Uncle Abner 



The name of the man who lived here was a by- 
word in the hills. He was a hunchback, who sat his 
great roan as though he were a spider in the saddle. 
He had been married more than once ; but one wife 
had gone mad, and my Uncle Abner's drovers had 
found the other on a summer morning swinging to 
the limb of a great elm that stood before the door, 
a bridle-rein knotted around her throat and her bare 
feet scattering the yellow pollen of the ragweed. 
That elm was to us a duletree. One could not ride 
beneath it for the swinging of this ghost. 

The estate, undivided, belonged to Gaul and his 
brother. This brother lived beyond the moutains. 
He never came until he came that last time. Gaul 
rendered some accounting and they managed in that 
way. It was said the brother believed himself de- 
frauded and had come finally to divide the lands; but 
this was gossip. Gaul said his brother came upon a 
visit and out of love for him. 

One did not know where the truth lay between 
these stories. Why he came we could not be cer- 
tain ; but why he remained was beyond a doubt. 

One morning Gaul came to my Uncle Abner, cling- 
ing to the pommel of his saddle while his great horse 
galloped, to say that he had found his brother dead, 
and asking Abner to go with some others and look 
upon the man before one touched his body — and 
then to get him buried. 

The hunchback sniveled and cried out that his 
nerves were gone with grief and the terror of find- 

22 



The Wrong Hand 



ing his brother's throat cut open and the blood upon 
him as he lay ghastly in his bed. He did not know 
a detail. He had looked in at the door — and fled. 
His brother had not got up and he had gone to call 
him. Why his brother had done this thing he could 
not imagine — he was in perfect health and he slept 
beneath his roof in love. The hunchback had 
blinked his red-lidded eyes and twisted his big, hairy 
hands, and presented the aspect of grief. It looked 
grotesque and loathsome; but — how else could a 
toad look in his extremity? 

Abner had gone with my father and Elnathan 
Stone. They had found the man as Gaul said — the 
razor by his hand and the marks of his fingers and 
his struggle on him and about the bed. And the 
country had gone to see him buried. The hills had 
been afire with talk, but Abner and my father and 
Elnathan Stone were silent. They came silent from 
Gaul's house ; they stood silent before the body when 
it was laid out for burial; and, bareheaded, they 
were silent when the earth received it. 

A little later, however, when Gaul brought forth 
a will, leaving the brother's share of the estate to the 
hunchback, with certain loving words, and a mean 
allowance to the man's children, the three had met 
together and Abner had walked about all night. 

As we turned in toward the house Abner asked me 
if I had got my supper. I told him "Yes" ; and at 
the ford he stopped and sat a moment in the saddle. 

*3 



Uncle Abner 



"Martin," he said, "get down and drink. It is 
God's river and the water clean in it." 

Then he extended his great arm toward the 
shadowy house. 

"We shall go in," he said; "but we shall not eat 
nor drink there, for we do not come in peace." 

I do not know much about that house, for I saw 
only one room in it; that was empty, cluttered with 
dust and rubbish, and preempted by the spider. 
Long double windows of little panes of glass looked 
out over the dark, silent river slipping past without 
a sound, and the rain driving into the forest and the 
loom of the mountains. There was a fire — the 
trunk of an apple tree burning, with one end in the 
fireplace. There were some old chairs with blade 
hair-cloth seats, and a sofa — all very old. These 
the hunchback did not sit on, for the dust appeared 
when they were touched. He had a chair beside the 
hearth, and he sat in that — a high-backed chair, 
made like a settee and padded, — the arms padded 
too ; but there the padding was worn out and ragged, 
where his hands had plucked it. 

He wore a blue coat, made with little capes to hide 
his hump, and he sat tapping the burning tree with 
his cane. There was a gold piece set into the head 
of this black stick. He had it put there, the gossips 
said, that his fingers might be always on the thing 
he loved. His gray hair lay along his face and the 
draft of the chimney moved it. 

He wondered why we came, and his eyes declared 
24 



The Wrong Hand 



how the thing disturbed him; they flared dp and 
burned down — now gleaming in his head as he 
looked us over, and now dull as he considered what 
he saw. 

The man was misshapen and doubled up, but there 
was strength and vigor in him. He had a great, 
cavernous mouth, and his voice was a sort of bellow. 
One has seen an oak tree, dwarfed and stunted into 
knots, but with the toughness and vigor of a great 
oak in it. Gaul was a thing like that. 

He cried out when he saw Abner. He was taken 
by surprise; and he wished to know if we came by 
chance or upon some errand. 

11 Abner/' he said, "come in. It's a devil's night 
— rain and the driving wind." 

"The weather," said Abner, "is in God's hand." 

"God!" cried Gaul. "I would shoestrap* such a 
God! The autumn is not half over and here is 
winter come, and no pasture left and the cattle to 
be fed." 

Then he saw me, with my scared white face — and 
he was certain that we came by chance. He craned 
his thick neck and looked. 

"Bub," he said, "come in and warm your fingers. 
I will not hurt you. I did not twist my body up 
like this to frighten children — it was Abner's God." 

We entered and sat down by the fire. The apple 
tree blazed and crackled; the wind outside increased; 

* Referring to the custom of flogging a slave with a shoemaker's 
strap. 

25 



Uncle Aon 



er 



the rain turned to a kind of sleet that rattled on the 
window-glass like shot. The room was lighted by 
two candles in tall brass candlesticks. They stood 
at each end of the mantelpiece, smeared with tal- 
low. The wind whopped and spat into the chimney; 
and now and then a puff of wood-smoke blew out 
and mounted up along the blackened fireboard. 

Abner and the hunchback talked of the price of 
cattle, of the "blackleg" among yearlings — that fatal 
disease that we had so much trouble with — and of 
the "lump-jaw." 

Gaul said that if calves were kept in small lots 
and not all together the "blackleg" was not so apt 
to strike them; and he thought the "lump-jaw" was 
a germ. Fatten the bullock with green corn and put 
it in a car, he said, when the lump begins to come. 
The Dutch would eat it — and what poison could hurt 
the Dutch! But Abner said the creature should 
be shot. 

"And lose the purchase money and a summer's 
grazing?" cried Gaul. "Not 1 1 I ship the beast." 

"Then," said Abner, "the inspector in the market 
ought to have it shot and you fined to boot." 

"The inspectoi in the market 1" And Gaul 
laughed. "Why, I slip him a greenback — thus !" — 
and he set his thumb against his palm. "And he is 
glad to see me. 'Gaul, bring in all you can,' said 
one; c it means a little something to us both.' " And 
the hunchback's laugh clucked and chuckled in his 
throat. 

26 



The Wrong Hand 



And they talked of renters, and men to harvest 
the hay and feed the cattle in the winter. And on 
this topic Gaul did not laugh ; he cursed. Labor was 
a lost art and the breed of men run out. This new 
set were worthless — they had hours — and his oaths 
filled all the rafters. Hours! Why, under his 
father men worked from dawn until dark and 
cleaned their horses by a lantern. . . * These were 
decadent times that we were come on. In the good 
days one bought a man for two hundred eagles; but 
now die creature was a citizen and voted at the 
polls — and could not be kicked. And if one took 
his cane ahd drubbed him he was straightway sued 
at law, in an action of trespass on the case, for dam- 
ages. . . . Men had gone mad with these new- 
fangled notions, and the earth was likely to grow 
up with weeds ! 

Abner said there was a certain truth in this — 
and that truth was that men were idler than their 
fathers. Certain preachers preached that labor was 
a curse and backed it up with Scripture; but he had 
read the Scriptures for himself and the curse was 
idleness. Labor and God's Book would save the 
world; they were two wings that a man could get 
his soul to Heaven on. 

"They can all go to hell, for me," said Gaul, "and 
so I have my day's work first." 

And he tapped the tree with his great stick and 
cried out that his workhands robbed him. He had 
to sit his horse and watch or they hung their scythes 

27 



Uncle Abner 



up ; and he must put sulphur in' his cattle's meal or 
they stole it from him ; and they milked his cows to 
feed their scurvy babies. He would have their 
hides off if it were not for these tender laws. 

Abner said that, while one saw to his day's work 
done, he must see to something more; that a man 
was his brother's keeper in spite of Cain's denial — 
and he must keep him; that the elder had his right 
to the day's work, but the younger had also his right 
to the benefits of his brother's guardianship. The 
fiduciary had One to settle with. It would go hard 
if he should shirk the trust. 

"I do not recognize your trust," said Gaul. "I 
live here for myself." 

"For yourself 1" cried Abner. "And would you 
know what God thinks of you?" 

"And would you know what I think of God?" 
cried Gaul. 

"What do you think of Him?" said Abner. 

"I think He's a scarecrow," said Gaul. "And I 
think, Abner, that I am a wiser bird than you are. 
I have not sat cawing in a tree, afraid of this thing. 
I have seen its wooden spine under its patched jacket, 
and the crosspiece peeping from the sleeves, and its 
dangling legs. And I have gone down into its field 
and taken what I liked in spite of its flapping coat- 
tails. . . . Why, Abner, this thing your God de- 
pends on is a thing called fear; and I do not have 
k." 



28 



The Wrong Hand 



Abner looked at him hard, but he did not answer. 
He turned, instead, to mc. 

"Martin," he said, "you must go to sleep, lad/' 
And he wrapped me in his greatcoat and put me to 
bed on the sofa — behind him in the corner. I was 
snug and warm there and I could have slept like 
Saul, but I was curious to know what Abner came 
for and I peeped out through a buttonhole of the 
greatcoat 

Abner sat for a long time, his elbows on his knees, 
his hands together and his eyes looking into the fire. 
The hunchback watched him, his big, hairy hands 
moving on the padded arms of his chair and his 
sharp eyes twinkling like specks of glass. Finally 
Abner spoke — I judged he believed me now asleep. 

"And so, Gaul," he said, "you think God is a 
scarecrow?" 

"I do," said Gaul. 

"And, you have taken what you liked?" 

"I have," said Gaul. 

"Well," said Abner, "I have come to ask you to 
return what you have taken — and something besides, 
for usury." 

He got a folded paper out of his pocket and 
handed it across the hearth to Gaul. 

The hunchback took it, leaned back in his chair, 
unfolded it at his leisure and at his leisure read it 
through. 

"A deed in fee," he said, "for all these lands . . . 
to my brother's children. The legal terms are 

29 



Uncle Abner 



right: 'Doth grant, with covenants of general war- 
ranty.* ... It is well drawn, Abner; but I am not 
pleased to 'grant.' " 

"Gaul," said Abner, "there are certain reasons 
that may move you." 

The hunchback smiled. 

"They must be very excellent to move a man to 
alienate his lands." 

"Excellent they are," said Abner. "I shall men- 
tion the best one first." 

"Do," said Gaul, and his grotesque face was 
merry. 

"It is this," said Abner: "You have no heirs. 
Your brother's son is now a man; he should marry 
a wife and rear up children to possess these lands. 
And, as he is thus called upon to do what you cannot 
do, Gaul, he should have the things you have, to use." 

"That's a very pretty reason, Abner," said the 
hunchback, "and it does you honor; but I know a 
better." 

"What is it, Gaul?" said Abner. 

The hunchback grinned. "Let us say, my pleas- 
ure!" 

Then he struck his bootleg with his great black 
stick. 

"And now," he cried, "who's back of this tom- 
foolery?" 

"I am," said Abner. 

The hunchback's heavy brows shot down. He 
30 



The Wrong Hand 



was not disturbed, but he knew that Abner moved 
on no fool's errand. 

"Abner," he said, "you have some reason for this 
thing. What is it?" 

"I have several reasons for it," replied Abner, 
"and I gave you the best one first." 

"Then the rest are not worth the words to say 
them in," cried Gaul. 

"You are mistaken there," replied Abner; "I said 
that I would give you the best reason, not the strong- 
est. . . . Think of the reason I have given. We 
do not have our possessions in fee in this world, Gaul, 
but upon lease and for a certain term of service. 
And when we make default in that service the lease 
abates and a new man can take the title." 

Gaul did not understand and he was wary. 
- "I carry out my brother's will," he said. 

"But the dead," replied Abner, "cannot retain 
dominion over things. There can be no tenure be- 
yond a life estate. These lands and chattels are 
for the uses of men as they arrive. The needs of 
the living overrule the devises of the dead." 

Gaul was watching Abner closely. He knew that 
this was some digression, but he met it with equanim- 
ity. He put his big, hairy fingers together and 
spoke with a judicial air. 

"Your argument," he said, "is without a leg to 
stand on. It is the dead who govern. Look you, 
man, how they work their will upon us ! Who have 
made the laws? The dead! Who have made the 

3i 



Uncle Abner 



customs that we obey and that form and shape our 
lives? The dead I And the titles to our lands — 
have not the dead devised them? ... If a sur- 
veyor runs a line he begins at some corner that the 
dead set up ; and if one goes to law upon a question 
the judge loofcs backward through his books until 
he finds out how the dead have settled it — and he 
follows that. And all the writers, when they would 
give weight and authority to their opinions, quote 
the dead; and the orators and all those who preach 
and lecture — are not their mouths filled with words 
that the dead have spoken? Why, man, our lives 
follow grooves that the dead have run out with 
their thumbnails I" 

He got on his feet and looked at Abner. 

"What my brother has written in his will I will 
obey," he said. "Have you seen that paper, Ab- 
ner?" 

"I have not," said Abner, "but I have read the 
copy in the county clerk's book. It bequeathed 
these lands to you." 

The hunchback went over to an old secretary 
standing against the wall. He pulled it open, got 
out the will and a pack of letters and brought them 
to the fire. He laid the letters on the table beside 
Abner's deed and held out the will. 

Abner took the testament and read it. 

"Do you know my brother's writing?" said Gaul. 

"I do," said Abner. 

"Then you know he wrote that will." 
3* 



The Wrong Hand 



"He did," said Abner. "It is in Enoch's hand." 
Then he added : "But the date is a month before 
your brother came here." 

"Yes," said Gaul; "it was not written in this 
house. My brother sent it to me. See — here is 
the envelope that it came in, postmarked on that 
date." 

Abner took the envelope and compared the date. 
"It is the very day," he said, "and the address is in 
Enoch's hand." 

"It is," said Gaul; "when my brother had set his 
signature to this will he addressed that coven He 
told me of it." The hunchback sucked in his cheeks 
and drew down his eyelids. "Ah, yes," he said, 
"my brother loved me I" 

"He must have loved you greatly," replied Ab- 
ner, "to thus disinherit his own flesh and blood." 

"And am not I of his own flesh and blood too?" 
cried the hunchback. "The strain of blood in my 
brother runs pure in me; in these children it is 
diluted. Shall not one love his own blood first?" 

"Love!" echoed Abner. "You speak the word, 
Gaul; — but do you understand it?" 

"I do," said Gaul; "for it bound my brother to 



me. 



"And did it bind you to him?" said Abner. 
I could see the hunchback's great white eyelids 
drooping and his lengthened face. 

"We were like David and Jonathan," he said "I 
33 



1 r i 
Uncle Abner 



would have given my right arm for Enoch and he 
would have died for me." 

"He did!" said Abner. 

I saw the hunchback start, and, to conceal the ges- 
ture, he stooped and thrust the trunk of the apple 
tree a little farther into the fireplace. A cloud of 
9parks/sprang up. A gust of wind caught the loose 
sash in the casement behind us and shook it as one, 
barred out and angry, shakes a door. When the 
hunchback rose Abner had gone on. 

"If you loved your brother like that," he said, 
"you will do him this service — you will sign this 
deed." 

"But, Abner," replied Gaul, "such was not my 
brother's will. By the law, these children will in- 
herit at my death. Can they not wait?" 

"Did you wait?" said Abner. 

The hunchback flung up his head. 

"Abner," he cried, "what do you mean by that?" 
And he searched my uncle's face for some indicatory 
sign; but there was no sign there — the face was 
stern and quiet. 

"I mean," said Abner, "that one ought not to 
have an interest in another's death." 

"Why not?" said Gaul. 

"Because," replied Abner, "one may be tempted 
to step in before the providence of God and do its 
work for it." 

Gaul turned the innuendo with a cunning twist. 
34 



The Wrong Hand 



"You mean/ 9 he said, "that these children may 
come to seek my death?" 

I was astonished at Abner's answer. 

"Yes," he said; "that is what I mean." 

"Man," cried the hunchback, "you make me 
laugh!" 

"Laugh as you like," replied Abner; "but I am 
sure that these children will not look at this thing as 
we have looked at it." 

"As who have looked at it?" said Gaul. 

"As my brother Rufus and Elnathan Stone and 
I," said Abner. 

"And so," said the hunchback, "you gentlemen 
have considered how to save my life. I am much 
obliged to you." He made a grotesque, mocking 
bow. "And how have you meant to save it?" 

"By the signing of that deed," said Abner. 

"I thank you I" cried the hunchback. "But I am 
not pleased to save my life that way." 

I thought Abner would give some biting answer; 
but, instead, he spoke slowly and with a certain 
hesitation. 

"There is no other way," he said. "We have be- 
lieved that the stigma of your death and the odium 
on the name and all the scandal would in the end 
wrong these children more than the loss of this es- 
tate during the term of your natural life; but it is 
clear to me that they will not so regard it. And we 
are bound to lay it before them if you do not sign 

35 



Uncle Abner 



this deed. It is not for my brother Rufus and El- 
nathan Stone and me to decide this question." 

"To decide what question ?" said Gaul. 

"Whether you are to live or die 1" said Abner. 

The hunchback's face grew stern and resolute. 
He sat down in his chair, put his stick between his 
knees and looked my uncle in the eyes. 

"Abner," he said, "you are talking in some rid- 
dle. . . . Say the thing out plain. Do you think 
I forged that will?" 

"I do not," said Abner. 

"Nor could any man!" cried the hunchback. "It 
is in my brother's hand — every word of it; and, be- 
sides, there is neither ink nor paper in this house. I 
figure on a slate ; and when I have a thing to say I 
go and tell it." 

"And yet," said Abner, "the day before your 
brother's death you bought some sheets of foolscap 
of the postmaster." 

"I did," said Gaul — "and for my brother. Enoch 
wished to make some calculations with his pencil. 
I have the paper with his figures on it." 

He went to his desk and brought back some 
sheets. 

"And yet," said Abner, "this will is written on a 
page of foolscap." 

"And why not?" said Gaul. "Is it not sold in 
every store to Mexico?" 

It was the truth — and Abner drummed on die 
table. 

36 



The Wrong Hand 



"And now," 9aid Gaul, "we have laid one sus- 
picion by looking it squarely in the face; let us lay 
the other. What did you find about my brother's 
death to moon over?" 

"Why," said Abner, "should he take his own life 
in this house?" 

"I do not know that," said Gaul. 

"I will tell you," said Abner; "we found a bloody 
handprint on your brother !" 

"Is that all that you found on him?" 

"That is all," said Abner. 

"Well," cried Gaul, "does that prove that I 
killed him? Let me look your ugly suspicion in 
die face. Were not my brother's hands covered 
with his blood and was not the bed covered with his 
finger-prints, where he had clutched about it in his 
death-struggle?" 

"Yes," said Abner; "that is all true." 

"And was there any mark or sign in that print," 
said Gaul, "by which you could know that it was 
made by any certain hand" — and he spread out his 
fingers; — "as, for instance, my hand?" 

"No," said Abner. 

There was victory in Gaul's face. 

He had now learned all that Abner knew and he 
no longer feared him. There was no evidence 
against him — even I saw that. 

'-And now," he cried, "will you get out of my 
house? I will have no more words with you. Be* 
gone!" 

37 



Uncle Abner 



Abncr did not move. For the last five minutes 
he had been at work at something, but I could not 
see what it was, for his back was toward me. Now 
he turned to the table beside Gaul and I saw what he 
had been doing. He had been making a pen out 
of a goosequill! He laid the pen down on the table 
and beside it a horn of ink. He opened out the 
deed that he had brought, put his finger on a line, 
dipped the quill into the ink and held it out to Gaul. 

"Sign there !" he said. 

The hunchback got on his feet, with an oath. 

"Begone with your damned paper!" he cried. 

Abner did not move. 

"When you have signed," he said. 

"Signed I" cried the hunchback. "I will see you 
and your brother Rufus, and Elnathan Stone, and 
all the kit and kittle of you in hell!" 

"Gaul," said Abner, "you will surely see all who 
are to be seen in hell!" 

. By Abner's manner I knew that the end of the 
business had arrived. He seized the will and the 
envelope that Gaul had brought from his secretary 
and held them out before him. 

"You tell me," he said, "that these papers were 
written at one sitting! Look! The hand that 
wrote that envelope was calm and steady, but the 
hand that wrote this will shook. See how the letters 
wave and jerk! I will explain it. You have kept 
that envelope from some old letter; but this paper 
was written in this house — in fear! And it was 

38 



The Wrong Hand 



written on the morning that your brother died. . . . 
Listen! When Elnathan Stone stepped back from 
your brother's bed he stumbled over a piece of car- 
pet. The under side of that carpet was smeared 
with ink, where a bottle had been broken. I put 
my finger on it and it was wet." 

The hunchback began to howl and bellow like a 
beast penned in a corner. I crouched under Ab- 
ner's coat in terror. The creature's cries filled the 
great, empty house. They rose a hellish crescendo 
on the voices of the wind; and for accompaniment 
the sleet played shrill notes on the windowpanes, 
and the loose shingles clattered a staccato, and the 
chimney whistled — like weird instruments under a 
devil's fingers. 

And all the time Abner stood looking down at the 
man — an implacable, avenging Nemesis — and his 
voice, deep and level, did not change. 

"But, before that, we knew that you had killed 
your brother! We knew it when we stood before 
his bed. 'Look there,' said Rufus — 'at that bloody 
handprint!' . . . We looked. . . . And we knew 
that Enoch's hand had not made that print. Do 
you know how we knew that, Gaul? ... I will 
tell you. . . . The bloody print on your brother's 
right hand was the print of a right hand!" 

Gaul signed the deed, and at dawn we rode away, 
with the hunchback's promise that he would come 
that afternoon before a notary and acknowledge 

39 



Uncle Abner 



what he had signed; but he did not comer— neither 
on that day nor on any day after that. 

When Abner went to fetch him he found him 
swinging from his elm tree. 



CHAPTER III: The 'Angel of the Lord 

I ALWAYS thought my father took a long 
chance, but somebody had to take it and cer- 
tainly I was the one least likely to be suspected. 
It was a wild country. There were no banks. We 
had to pay for the cattle, and somebody had to carry 
the money. My father and my uncle were always 
being watched. My father was right, I think. 

"Abner," he said, "I'm going to send Martin. 
No one will ever suppose that we would trust this 
money to a child." 

My uncle drummed on the table and rapped his 
heels on the floor. He was a bachelor, stern and 
silent. But he could talk • . . and when he 
did, he began at the beginning and you heard him 
through; and what he said — well, he stood behind 
it. 

"To stop Martin," my father went on, "would be 
only to lose the money; but to stop you would be to 
get somebody killed." 

I knew what my father meant. He meant that 
no one would undertake to rob Abner until after he 
had shot him to death. 

I ought to say a word about my Uncle Abner. 
He was one of those austere, deeply religious men 
who were the product of the Reformation. He 

4i 



Uncle Abner 



always carried a Bible in his pocket and he read it 
where he pleased. Once the crowd at Roy's Tavern 
tried to make sport of him when he got his book 
out by the fire ; but they never tried it again. When 
the fight was over Abner paid Roy eighteen silver 
dollars for the broken chairs and the table — and he 
was the only man in the tavern who could ride a 
horse. Abner belonged to the church militant, and 
his God was a war lord. 

So that is how they came to send me. The money 
was in greenbacks in packages. They wrapped it 
up in newspaper and put it into a pair of saddle-bags, 
and I set out. I was about nine years old. No, it 
was not as bad as you think. I could ride a horse 
all day when I was nine years old — most any kind 
of a horse. I was tough as whit'-leather, and I 
knew the country I was going into. You must not 
picture a little boy rolling a hoop in the park. 

It was an afternoon in early autumn. The clay 
roads froze in the night; they thawed out in the day 
and they were a bit sticky. I was to stop at Roy's 
Tavern, south of the river, and go on in the morn- 
ing. Now and then I passed some cattle driver, but 
no one overtook me on the road until almost sun- 
down; then I heard a horse behind me and a man 
came up. I knew him. He was a cattleman named 
Dix. He had once been a shipper, but he had come 
in for a good deal of bad luck. His partner, Alkire, 
had absconded with a big sum of money due the 
grazers. This had ruined Dix; he had given up his 

4* 



The Angel of the Lord 



land, which wasn't very much, to the grazers. 
After that he had gone over the mountain to his 
people, got together a pretty big sum of money and 
bought a large tract of grazing land. Foreign 
claimants had sued him in the courts on some old 
title and he had lost the whole tract and the money 
that he had paid for it. He had married a remote 
cousin of ours and he had always lived on her lands, 
adjoining those of my Uncle Abner. 

Dix seemed surprised to see me on the road. 

"So it's you, Martin," he said; "I thought Abner 
would be going into the upcountry." 

One gets to be a pretty cunning youngster, even at 
this age, and I told no one what I was about 

"Father wants the cattle over the river to run a 
month,' 9 I returned easily, "and I'm going up there 
to give his orders to the grazers." 

He looked me over, then he rapped the saddle- 
bags with his knuckles. "You carry a good deal of 
baggage, my lad." 

I laughed. "Horse feed," I said. "You know 
my father I A horse must be fed at dinner time, but 
a man can go till he gets it." 

One was always glad of any company on the road, 
and we fell into an idle talk. Dix said he was going 
out into the Ten Mile country; and I have always 
thought that was, in fact, his intention. The road 
turned south about a mile our side of the tavern. I 
never liked Dix; he was of an apologetic manner, 
with a cunning, irresolute face. 

43 



Uncle Abner 



A little later a man passed us at a gallop. He 
was a drover named Marks, who lived beyond my 
Uncle Abner, and he was riding hard to get in before 
night. He hailed us, but he did not stop ; we got a 
shower of mud and Dix cursed him. I have never 
seen a more evil face. I suppose it was because Dix 
usually had a grin about his mouth, and when that 
sort of face gets twisted there's nothing like it. 

After that he was silent. He rode with his head 
down and his fingers plucking at his jaw, like a man 
in some perplexity. At the crossroads he stopped 
and sat for some time in the saddle, looking before 
him. I left him there, but at the bridge he overtook 
me. He said he had concluded to get some supper 
and go on after that. 

Roy's Tavern consisted of a single big room, with 
a loft above it for sleeping quarters. A narrow 
covered way connected this room with the house in 
which Roy and his family lived. We used to hang 
our saddles on wooden pegs in this covered way. I 
have seen that wall so hung with saddles that you 
could not find a place for another stirrup. But to- 
night Dix and I were alone in the tavern. He 
looked cunningly at me when I took the saddle-bags 
with me into the big room and when I went with 
them up the ladder into the loft. But he said 
nothing — in fact, he had scarcely spoken. It was 
cold; the road had begun to freeze when we got in. 
Roy had lighted a big fire. I left Dix before it. 
I did not take off my clothes, because Roy's beds 

44 



The Angel of the Lord 



were mattresses of wheat straw covered with heifer 
skins — good enough for summer but pretty cold on 
such a night, even with the heavy, hand-woven cover- 
let in big white and black checks. 

I put the saddle-bags under my head and lay down* 
I went at once to sleep, but I suddenly awaked. I 
thought there was a candle in the loft, but it was a 
gleam of light from the fire below, shining through 
a crack in the floor. I lay and watched it, the cover- 
let pulled up to my chin. Then I began to wonder 
why the fire burned so brightly. Dix ought to be 
on his way some time and it was a custom for the last 
man to rake out the fire. There was not a sound. 
The light streamed steadily through the crack. 

Presently it occurred to me that Dix had forgotten 
the fire and that I ought to go down and rake it out. 
Roy always warned us about the fire when he went 
to bed. I got up, wrapped the great coverlet 
around me, went over to the gleam of light and 
looked down through the crack in the floor. I had 
to lie out at full length to get my eye against the 
board. The hickory logs had turned to great em- 
bers and glowed like a furnace of red coals. 

Before this fire stood Dix. He was holding out 
his hands and turning himself about as though he 
were cold to the marrow; but with all that chill 
upon him, when the man's face came into the light I 
saw it covered with a sprinkling of sweat. 

I shall carry the memory of that face. The grin 
was there at the mouth, but it was pulled about; 

45 



Uncle Abner 



the eyelids were drawn in; the teeth were clamped 
together. I have seen a dog poisoned with strych- 
nine look like that. 

I lay there and watched the thing. It was as 
though something potent and evil dwelling within 
the man were in travail to re-form his face upon its 
image. You cannot realize how that devilish labor 
held me — the face worked as though it were some 
plastic stuff, and the sweat oozed through. And all 
the time the man was cold; and he was crowding into 
the fire and turning himself about and putting out his 
hands. And it was as though the heat would no 
more enter in and warm him than it will enter in and 
warm the ice. 

It seemed to scorch him and leave him cold — and 
he was fearfully and desperately cold! I could 
smell the singe of the fire on him, but it had no power 
against this diabolic chill. I began myself to shiver, 
although I had the heavy coverlet wrapped around 
me. 

The thing was a fascinating horror; I seemed to 
be looking down into the chamber of some abomi- 
nable maternity. The room was filled with the steady 
red light of the fire. Not a shadow mov$d in it. 
And there was silence. The man had taken off his 
boots and he twisted before the fire without a sound. 
It was like the shuddering tales of possession or 
transformation by a drug. I thought the man 
would burn himself to death. His clothes smoked. 
How could he be so cold? 

46 



The Angel of the Lord 



Then, finally, the thing was aver ! I did not see 
it for his face was in the fire. But suddenly he grew 
composed and stepped back into the room. I tell 
you I was afraid to look! I do not know what 
thing I expected to see there, but I did not think it 
would be Dix. 

Well, it was Dix; but not the Dix that any of us 
knew. There was a certain apology, a certain in- 
decision, a certain servility in that other Dix, and 
these things showed about his face. But there was 
none of these weaknesses in this man. 

His face had been pulled into planes of firmness 
and decision; the slack in his features had been 
taken up; the furtive moving of the eye was gone. 
He stood now squarely on his feet and he was full 
of courage. But I was afraid of him as I have 
never been afraid of any human creature in this 
world! Something that had been servile in him, 
that had skulked behind disguises, that had worn the 
habiliments of subterfuge, had now come forth; and 
it had molded the features of the man to its abom- 
inable courage. 

Presently he began to move swiftly about the 
room. He looked out at the window and he listened 
at the door; then he went softly into the covered way. 
I thought he was going on his journey; but then he 
could not be going with his boots there beside the 
fire. In a moment he returned with a saddle blanket 
in his hand and came softly across the room to the 
ladder. 

47 



Uncle Abner 



Then I understood the thing that he intended, and 
I was motionless with fear. I tried to get up, but 
I could not. I could* only lie there with my eye 
strained to the crack in the floor. His foot was on 
the ladder, and I could already feel his hand on my 
throat and that blanket on my face, and the suffoca- 
tion of death in me, when far away on the hard road 
I heard a horse ! 

He heard it, too, for he stopped on the ladder and 
turned his evil face about toward the door. The 
horse was on the long hill beyond the bridge, and 
he was coming as though the devil rode in his saddle. 
It was a hard, dark night. The frozen road waa 
like flint; I could hear the iron of the shoes ring. 
Whoever rode that horse rode for his life or for 
something more than his life, or he was mad. I 
heard the horse strike the bridge and thunder across 
it. And all the while Dix hung there on the ladder 
by his hands and listened. Now he sprang softly 
down, pulled on his boots and stood up before the 
fire, his face — this new face — gleaming with its evil 
courage. The next, moment the horse stopped. 

I could hear him plunge under the bit, his iron 
shoes ripping the frozen road; then the door leaped 
back and my Uncle Abner was in the room. I was 
so glad that my heart almost choked me and for a 
moment I could hardly see: — everything was in a sort 
of mist. 

Abner swept the room in a glance, then he 
stopped. 

48 



The Angel of the Lord 



"Thank God I" he said; "I'm in time." And he 
drew his hand down over his face with the fingers 
hard and dose as though he pulled something away. 

"In time for what?" said Dix. 

Abner looked him over. And I could see the 
muscles of his big shoulders stiffen as he looked. 
And again he looked him over. Then he spoke and 
his voice was strange. 

"Dix," he said, "is it you?" 

"Who would it be but me?" said Dix. 

"It might be the devil," said Abner* "Do you 
know what your face looks like?" 

"No matter what it looks like !" said Dix. 

"And so," said Abner, "we have got courage with 
this new face." 

Dix threw up his head. 

"Now, look here, Abner," he said, "I've had 
about enough of your big manner. You ride a horse 
to death and you come plunging in here; what the 
devil's wrong with you?" 

"There's nothing wrong with me," replied Abner, 
and his voice was low. "But there's something 
damnably wrong with you, Dix." 

"The devil take you," said Dix, and I saw him 
measure Abner with his eye. It was not fear that 
held him back; fear was gone out of the creature; 
I think it was a kind of prudence. 

Abner's eyes kindled, but his voice remained low 
and steady. 

"Those are big words," he said. 

49 



Uncle Abner 



"Well," cried Dix, "get out of the door then and 
let me pass!" 

"Not just yet," said Abner; "I have something to 
say to you." 

"Say it then," cried Dix, "and get out of the 
door." 

"Why hurry?" said Abner. "It's a long time un- 
til daylight, and I have a good deal to say." 

"You'll not say it to me," said Dix. "I've got a 
trip to make tonight; get out of the door." 

Abner did not move. "You've got a longer trip 
to make tonight than you think, Dix," he said; "but 
you're going to hear what I have to say before you 
set out on it." 

I saw Dix rise on his toes and I knew what he 
wished for. He wished for a weapon; and he 
wished for the bulk of bone and muscle that would 
have a chance against Abner. But he had neither 
the one nor the other. And he stood there on his 
toes and began to curse — low, vicious, withering 
oaths, that were like the swish of a knife. 

Abner was looking at the man with a curious in* 
terest. 

"It is strange," he said, as though speaking to 
himself, "but it explains the thing. While one is 
the servant of neither, one has the courage of 
neither; but wheri he finally makes his choice he gets 
what his master has to give him." 

Then he spoke to Dix. 

"Sit down !" he said ; and it was in that deep, level 
50 



The Angel of the Lord 



voice that Abner used when he was standing close 
behind his words. Every man in the hills knew that 
voice; one had only a moment to decide after he 
heard it. Dix knew that, and yet for one instant 
he hung there on his toes, his eyes shimmering like 
a weasel's, his mouth twisting. He was not afraid 1 
If he had had the ghost of a chance against Abner 
he would have taken it. But he knew he had not, 
and with an oath he threw the saddle blanket into 
a corner and sat down by the fire. 

Abner came away from the door then. He took 
off his great coat. He put a log on the fire and he 
sat down across the hearth from Dix. The new 
hickory sprang crackling into flames. For a good 
while there was silence; the two men sat at either 
end of the hearth without a word. Abner seemed 
to have fallen into a study of the man before him. 
Finally he spoke : 

"Dix," he said, "do you believe in the providence 
of God?" 

Dix flung up his head. 

"Abner," he cried, "if you are going to talk non- . 
sense I promise you upon my oath that I will not 
stay to listen." 

Abner did not at once reply. He seemed to be- 
gin now at another point. 

"Dix," he said, "you've had a good deal of bad 
luck. . . . Perhaps you wish it put that way." 

"Now, Abner," he cried, "you speak the truth; I 
have had hell's luck." 

Si 



Uncle Abner 



"Hell's luck you have had," replied Abner. "It 
is a good word. I accept it. Your partner disap- 
peared with all the money of the grazers on the 
other side of the river; you lost the land in your 
lawsuit; and you are to-night without a dollar. That 
was a big tract of land to lose. Where did you get 
so great a sum of money?" 

"I have told you a hundred times," replied Dix. 
"I got it from my people over the mountains. You 
know where I got it." 

"Yes," said Abner. "I know where you got it, 
Dix. And I know another thing. But first I want 
to show you this," and he took a little penknife out 
of his pocket. "And I want to tell you that I believe 
in the providence of God, Dix." 

"I don't care a fiddler's damn what you believe 
in," said Dix. 

"But you do care what I know," replied Abner* 

"What do you know?" said Dix. 

"I know where your partner is," replied Abner. 

I was uncertain about what Dix was going to do, 
but finally he answered with a sneer. 

"Then you know something that nobody else 
knows." 

"Yes," replied Abner, "there is another man who 
knows." 

"Who?" said Dix. 

"You," said Abner. 

Dix leaned over in his chair and looked at Abner 
closely. 

5* 



The Angel of the Lord 



"Abner," he cried, "you are talking nonsense. 
Nobody knows where Alkire is. If I knew I'd go 
after him." 

"Dix," Abner answered, and it was again in that 
deep, level voice, "if I had got here five minutes later 
you would have gone after him. I can promise you 
that, Dix. 

"Now, listen! I was in the upcountry when I 
got your word about the partnership ; and I was on 
my way back when at Big Run I broke a stirrup- 
kather. I had no knife and I went into the store 
and bought this one; then the storekeeper told me 
that Alkire had gone to see you. I didn't want to 
interfere with him and I turned bade. ... So I did 
not become your partner. And so I did not disap- 
pear. . . . What was it that prevented? The 
broken stirrup-leather? The knife? In old times, 
Dix, men were so blind that God had to ope? their 
eyes before they could see His angel in the way be- 
fore them. . . . They are still blind, but they ought 
not to be that blind. • . . Well, on the night that 
Alkire disappeared I met him on his way to your 
house. It was out there at the bridge. He had 
broken a stirrup-leather and he was trying to fasten 
it with a nail. He asked me if I had a knife, and I 
gave him this one. It was beginning to rain and I 
went on, leaving him there in the road with the 
knife in his hand." 

Abner paused; the muscles of his great iron jaw 
contracted. 

53 



Uncle Abner 



"God forgive me," he said; "it was His angel 
again ! I never saw Alkire after that." 

"Nobody ever saw him after that," said Dix. 
"He got out of the hills that night." 

"No," replied Abner; "it was not in the night 
when Alkire started on his journey; it was in the 
day." 

"Abner," said Dix, "you talk like a fool. If Al- 
kire had traveled the road in the day somebody 
would have seen him." 

"Nobody could see him on the road he traveled," 
replied Abner. 

"What road?" said Dix. 

"Dix," replied Abner, "you will learn that soon 
enough." 

Abner looked hard at the man. 

"You saw Alkire when he started on his journey," 
he continued; "but did you see who it was that went 
with him?" 

"Nobody went with him," replied Dix; "Alkire 
rode alone." 

"Not alone," said Abner; "there was another." 

"I didn't see him," said Dix. 

"And yet," continued Abner, "you made Alkire 
go with him." 

I saw cunning enter Dix's face. He was puz- 
zled, but he thought Abner off the scent. 

"And I made Alkire go with somebody, did I? 
•Well, who was it? Did you see him?" 

"Nobody ever saw him." 
54 



The Angel of the Lord 



"He must be a stranger." 

"No," replied Abner, "he rode the hills before we 
came into them." 

"Indeed!" said Dix. "And what kind of a horse 
did he ride?" 

"White!" said Abner. 

Dix got some inkling of what Abner meant now, 
and his face grew livid. 

"What are you driving at?" he cried. "You sit 
here beating around the bush. If you know any- 
thing, say it out; let's hear it. What is it?" 

Abner put out his big sinewy hand as though to 
thrust Dix back into his chair. 

"Listen!" he said. "Two days after that I 
wanted to get out into the Ten Mile country and I 
went through your lands; I rode a path through the 
narrow valley west of your house. At a point on 
the path where there is an apple tree something 
caught my eye and I stopped. Five minutes later I 
knew exactly what had happened under that apple 
tree. . . . Someone had ridden there; he had 
stopped under that tree; then something happened 
and the horse had run away — I knew that by the 
tracks of a horse on this path. I knew that the 
horse had a rider and that it had stopped under this 
tree, because there was a limb cut from the tree at 
a certain height. I knew the horse had remained 
there, because the small twigs of the apple limb had 
been pared off, and they lay in a heap on the path. 
I knew that something had frightened the horse and 

55 



Uncle Abner 



that it had run away, because the sod was torn up 
where it had jumped. . . . Ten minutes later I 
knew that the rider had not been in the saddle when 
the horse jumped; I knew what it was that had 
frightened the horse ; and I knew that the thing had 
occurred the day before. Now, how did I know 
that? 

"Listen ! I put my horse into the tracks of that 
other horse under the tree and studied the ground. 
Immediately I saw where the weeds beside the path 
had been crushed, as though some animal had been 
lying down there, and in the very center of that bed 
I saw a little heap of fresh earth. That was strange, 
Dix, that fresh earth where the animal had been 
lying down ! It had come there after the animal had 
got up, or else it would have been pressed flat. But 
where had it come from? 

"I got off and walked around the apple tree, mov- 
ing out from it in an ever-widening circle. Finally 
I found an ant heap, the top of which had been 
scraped away as though one had taken up the loose 
earth in his hands. Then I went back and plucked 
up some of the earth. The under clods of it were 
colored as with red paint. . . . No, it wasn't paint. 

"There was a brush fence some fifty yards away. 
I went oyer to it and followed it down. 

"Opposite the apple tree the weeds were again 
crushed as though some animal had lain there. I 
sat down in that place and drew a line with my eye 
across a log of the fence to a limb of the apple tree* 

.5* 



The Angel of the Lord 



Then I got on my horse and again put him in the 
tracks of that other horse under the tree ; the imag- 
inary line passed through the pit of my stomach I 
... I am four inches taller than Alkire." 

It was then that Dix began to curse. I had seen 
his face work while Abner was speaking and that 
spray of sweat had reappeared. But he kept the 
courage he had got. 

"Lord Almighty, man!" he cried. "How pret- 
tily you sum it up ! We shall presently have Law- 
yer Abner with his brief. Because my renters have 
killed a calf; because one of their horses frightened 
at the blood has bolted, and because they cover the 
blood with earth so the other horses traveling the 
path may not do the like; straightway I have shot 
Alkire out of his saddle. . . • Man! What a 
mare's nest! And now, Lawyer Abner, with your 
neat little conclusions, what did I do with Alkire 
after I had killed him? Did I cause him to vanish 
into the air with a smell of sulphur or did I cause 
the earth to yawn and Alkire to descend into its 
bowels ?" 

"Dix," replied Abner, "your words move some- 
what near the truth." 

"Upon my soul," cried Dix, "you compliment me. 
If I had that trick of magic, believe me, you would 
be already some distance down." 

Abner remained a moment silent. 

"Dix," he said, "what does it mean when one 
finds a plot of earth resodded?" 

57 



Uncle 'Abner 



"Is that a riddle?" cried Dix. "Well, confound 
me, if I don't answer it ! You charge me with mur- 
der and then you fling in this neat conundrum. Now, 
what could be the answer to that riddle, Abner? If 
one had done a murder this sod would overlie a 
grave and Alkire would be in it in his bloody shirt. 
Do I give the answer?" 

"You do not," replied Abner. 

"No!" cried Dix. "Your sodded plot no grave, 
and Alkire not within it waiting for the trump of 
Gabriel ! Why, man, where are your little damned 
conclusions?" 

"Dix," said Abner, "you do not deceive me in the 
least; Alkire is not sleeping in a grave." 

"Then in the air," sneered Dix, "with a smell of 
sulphur?" 

"Nor in the air," said Abner. 

"Then consumed with fire, like the priests of 
Baal?" 

"Nor with fire," said Abner. 

Dix had got back the quiet of his face ; this ban- 
ter had put him where he was when Abner entered. 
"This is *11 fools' talk," he said; "if I had killed 
Alkire, what could I have done with the body? And 
the horse ! What could I have done with the horse ? 
Remember, no man has ever seen Alkire's horse any 
more than he has seen Alkire — and for the reason 
that Alkire rode him out of the hills that night. 
Now, look here, Abner, you have asked me a good 
many questions. I will ask you one. Among your 

58 



The Angel of the Lord 



little conclusions do you find that I did this thing 
alone or with the aid of others?" 

"Dix," replied Abner, "I will answer that upon 
my own belief you had no accomplice." 

"Then," said Dix, "how could I have carried off 
the horse? Alkire I might carry; but his horse 
weighed thirteen hundred pounds!" 

"Dix," said Abner, "no man helped you do this 
thing; but there were men who helped you to con- 
ceal it." 

"And now," cried Dix, "the man is going mad! 
Who could I trust with such work, I ask you? Have 
I a renter that would not tell it when he moved on tq 
another's land, or when he got a quart of cider in 
him? Where are the men who helped me?" 

"Dix," said Abner, "they have been dead these 
fifty years." 

I heard Dix laugh then, and his evil face lighted 
as though a candle were behind it. And, in truth, 
I thought he had got Abner silenced. 

"In the name of Heaven!" he cried. "With such 
proofs it is a wonder that you did not have me 
hanged." 

"And hanged you should have been," said Abner. 

"Well," cried Dix, "go and tell the sheriff, and 
mind you lay before him those little, neat conclu- 
sions : How from a horse track and the place where 
a calf was butchered you have reasoned on Allure's 
murder, and to conceal the body and the horse you 
have reasoned on the aid of men who were rotting 

59 



Uncle Abner 



in their graves when I was born ; and see how he will 
receive you!" 

Abner gave no attention to the man's flippant 
speech. He got his great silver watch out of his 
pocket, pressed the stem and looked. Then he 
spoke in his deep, even voice. 

"Dix," he said, "it is nearly midnight; in an hour 
you must be on your journey, and I have something 
more to say. Listen ! I knew this thing had been 
done the previous day because it had rained on the 
night that I met Alkire, and the earth of this ant 
heap had been disturbed after that. Moreover, this 
earth had been frozen, and that showed a night had 
passed since it had been placed there. And I knew 
the rider of that horse was Alkire because, beside 
the path near the severed twigs lay my knife, where 
it had fallen from his hand. This much I learned 
in some fifteen minutes; the rest took somewhat 
longer. 

"I followed the track of the horse until it stopped 
in the little valley below. It was easy to follow 
while the horse ran, because the sod was torn; but 
when it ceased to run there was no track that I could 
follow. There was a little stream threading the 
valley, and I began at the wood and came slowly up 
to see if I could find where the horse had crossed. 
Finally I found a horse track and there was also a 
man's track, which meant that you had caught the 
horse and were leading it away. But where? 

"On the rising ground above there was an old or- 
60 



The Angel of the Lord 



chard where there had once been a house. The 
work about that house had been done a hundred 
years. It was rotted down now. You had opened 
this orchard into the pasture. I rode all over the 
face of this hill and finally I entered this orchard. 
There was a great, flat, moss-covered stone lying a 
few steps from where the house had stood. As I 
looked I noticed that the moss growing from it into 
the earth had been broken along the edges of the 
stone, and then I noticed that for a few feet about 
the stone the ground had been resodded. I got 
down and lifted up some of this new sod. Under it 
the earth had been soaked with that . . . red 
paint. 

"It was clever of you, Dix, to resod the ground; 
that took only a little time and it effectually con- 
cealed the place where you had killed the horse; 
but it was foolish of you to forget that the broken 
moss around the edges of the great flat stone could 
not be mended." 

"Abner!" cried Dix. "Stop!" And I saw that 
spray of sweat, and his face working like kneaded 
bread, and the shiver of that abominable chill on 
him. 

Abner was silent for a moment and then he went 
on, but from another quarter. 

"Twice," said Abner, "the Angel of the Lord 
stood before me and I did not know it; but the third 
time I knew it. It is not in the cry of the wind, nor 
in the voice of many waters that His presence is 

61 



Uncle Abner 



made known to us. That man in Israel had only the 
sign that the beast under him would not go on. 
Twice I had as good a sign, and tonight, when 
Marks broke a stirrup-leather before my house and 
called me to the door and asked me for a knife to 
mend it, I saw and I came !" 

The log that Abner had thrown on was burned 
down, and the fire was again a mass of embers; the 
room was filled with that dull red light. Dix had 
got on to his feet, and he stood now twisting before 
the fire, his hands reaching out to it, and that cold 
creeping in his bones, and the smell of the fire on 
him. 

Abner rose. And when he spoke his voice was 
like a thing that has dimensions and weight. 

"Dix," he said, "you robbed the grazers; you shot 
Alkire out of his saddle ; and a child you would have 
murdered 1" 

And I saw the sleeve of Abner's coat begin to 
move, then it stopped. He stood staring at some- 
thing against the wall. I looked to see what the 
thing was, but I did not see it. Abner was looking 
beyond the wall, as though it had been moved away. 

And all the time Dix had been shaking with that 
hellish cold, and twisting on the hearth and crowding 
into the fire. Then he fell back, and he was the 
Dix I knew — his face was slack; his eye was fur- 
tive; and he was full of terror. 

It was his weak whine that awakened Abner. He 
put up his hand and brought the fingers hard down 

62 



The Angel of the Lord 



over his face, and then he looked at this new crea- 
ture, cringing and beset with fears. 

"Dix," he said, "Alkire was a just man; he sleeps 
as peacefully in that abandoned well under his horse 
as he would sleep in the churchyard My hand has 
been held back; you may go. Vengeance is mine, I 
will repay, saith the Lord." 

"But where shall I go, Abner?" the creature 
wailed; "I have no money and I am cold." 

Abner took out his leather wallet and flung it 
toward the door. 

"There is money," he said — "a hundred dollars 
— and there is my coat. Go ! But if I find you in 
the hills to-morrow, or if I ever find you, I warn 
you in the name of the living God that I will stamp 
you out of life!" 

I saw the loathsome thing writhe into Abner's 
coat and seize the wallet and slip out through the 
door; and a moment later I heard a horse. And I 
crept back on to Roy's heifer skin. 

When I came down at daylight my Uncle Abner 
was reading by the fire. 



Chapter IV: An Act of God 

IT was the last day of the County Fair, and I 
stood beside my Uncle Abner, on the edge of 
the crowd, watching the performance of a 
mountebank. 

On a raised platform, before a little house on 
wheels, stood a girl dressed like a gypsy, with her 
arms extended, while an old man out in the oqowd, 
standing on a chair, was throwing great knives that 
Hemmed her in with a steel hedge. The girl was 
very young, scarcely more than a child, and the man 
was old, but he was hale and powerful. He wore 
wooden shoes, travel-worn purple velvet trousers, a 
red sash, and a white blouse of a shirt open at the 
throat. 

I was watching the man, whose marvelous skill 
fascinated me. He seemed to be looking always at 
the crowd of faces that passed between him and the 
wagon, and yet the great knife fell to a hair on the 
target, grazing the body of the girl. 

But while the old man with his sheaf of knives 
held my attention, it was the girl that Abner looked 
at. He stood studying her face with a strange rapt 
attention. Sometimes he lifted his head and looked 
vacantly over the crowd with the eyelids narrowed, 
like one searching for a memory that eluded him, 

64 



An Act of God 



then he came back to the face in its cluster of dark 
ringlets, framed in knives that stood quivering in 
the poplar board. 

It was thus that my father found us when he 
came up. 

"Have you noticed Blackford about? 9 ' he said; 
"I want to see him." 

"No," replied Abner, "but he should be here, I 
think; he is at every frolic." 

"I sent him the money for his cattle last night," 
my father went on, "and I wish to know if he got 
it" 

Abner turned upon him at that. 

"You will always take a chance with that scoun- 
drel, Rufus," he said, "and some day you will be 
robbed. His lands are covered with a deed of 
trust." 

"Well," replied my father, with his hearty laugh, 
"I shall not be robbed this time. I have Blackford's 
request over his signature for the money, with the 
statement that the letter is to be evidence of its pay- 
ment." 

And he took an envelope out of his pocket and 
handed it to Abner. 

My uncle read the letter to the end, and then his 
great fingers tightened on the sheet, and he read it 
carefully again, and yet again, with his eyes nar- 
rowed and his jaw protruding. Finally he looked 
my father in the face. 

"Blackford did not write this letter!" he said. 
65 



Uncle Abner 



"Not write it!" my father cried. "Why, man, I 
know the deaf mute's writing like a book. I know 
every line and slant of his letters, and every crook 
and twist of his signature." 

But my uncle shook his head. 

My father was annoyed. 

"Nonsense !" he said. "I can call a hundred men 
on these fair grounds who will swear that Black- 
ford made every stroke of the pen in that letter, even 
against his denial, and though he bring Moses and 
the prophets to support him." 

Abner looked my father steadily in the face. 

"That is true, Rufus," he said; "the thing is per- 
fect. There is no letter or line or stroke or twist 
*of the pen that varies from Blackford's hand, and 
every grazer in the hills, to a man, will swear upon 
the Bible that he wrote it. Blackford himself can- 
not tell this writing from his own, nor can any other 
living man ; and yet the deaf mute did not write it." 

"Well," said my father, "yonder is Blackford 
now; we will ask him." 

But they never did. 

I saw the tall deaf mute swagger up and enter the 
crowd before the mountebank's wagon. And then W 
thing happened. The chair upon which the old man 
stood broke under him. He fell and the great knife 
in his hand swerved downward and went through 
the deaf mute's body, as though it were a cheese. 
The man was dead when we picked him up; the 
knife blade stood out between his shoulders, and 

66 



An Act of God 



the haft was jammed against his bloody coat. 

We carried him into the Agricultural Hall among 
the prize apples and the pumpkins, summoned 
Squire Randolph from the cattle pens, and brought 
the mountebank before him. 

Randolph came in his big blustering manner and 
sat down as though he were the judge of all the 
world. He heard the evidence, and upon the word 
of every witness the tragedy was an accident clean 
through. But it was an accident that made one 
shudder. It came swift and deadly and unforeseen, 
like a vengeance of God in the Book of Kings. One 
passing among his fellows, in no apprehension, had 
been smitten out of life. There was terror in the 
mystery of selection that had thus claimed Black- 
ford in this crowd for death. It brought our voices 
to a whisper to feel how unprotected a man was in 
this life, and how little we could see. 

And yet the thing had the aspect of design and 
moved with our stern Scriptural beliefs. In the pul- 
pit this deaf mute had been an example and a warn- 
ing. His life was profligate and loose. He was a« 
cattle shipper who knew the abominations indexed 
by the Psalmist. He was an Ishmaelite In more 
ways than his affliction. He had no wife nor child, 
nor any next of kin. He had been predestined to an 
evil end by every good housewife in the hills. He 
would go swiftly and by violence into hell, the preach- 
ers said; and swiftly and by violence he had gone 

6 7 



Uncle Abner 



on this autumn morning when the world was like an 
Eden. 

He lay there among the sheaves of corn and the 
fruits and cereals of the earth, so fully come to the 
end predestined that those who had cried the 
prophecy the loudest were the most amazed. With 
all their vaporings, they could not believe that God 
would be so expeditious, and they spoke in whispers 
and crowded about on tiptoe, as though the Angel 
of the Lord stood at the entrance of this little festal 
hall, as before the threshing floor of Araunah the 
Jebusite. 

Randolph could do nothing but find the thing an 
accident, and let the old man go. But he thundered 
from behind his table on the dangers of such a trade 
as this. And all the time the mountebank stood stu- 
pidly before him like a man dazed, and the little 
girl wept and clung to the big peasant's hand. Ran- 
dolph pointed to the girl and told the old man that 
he would kill her some day, and with the gestures 
and authority of omnipotence forbade his trade. The 
old mountebank promised to cast his knives into 
the river and get at something else. Randolph spoke 
upon the law of accidents sententiously for some 
thirty minutes, quoted Lord Blackstone and Mr. 
Chitty, called the thing an act of God, within a cer- 
tain definition of the law, and rose. 

My Uncle Abner had been standing near the door, 
looking on with a grave, undecipherable face. He 
had gone through the crowd to the chair when the 

68 



An Act of God 



old man fell, had drawn the knife out of Blackford's 
body, but he had not helped to carry him in, and he 
had remained by the door, his big shoulders tower- 
ing above the audience. Randolph stopped beside 
him as he went out, took a pinch of snuff, and trum- 
peted in his big, many-colored handkerchief. 

"Ah, Abner," he said, "do you concur in my de- 
cision? 

"You called the thing an act of God," replied Ab- 
ner, "and I concur in that." 

"And so it is," said Randolph, with judicial 
pomp; "the writers on the law, in their disquisitions 
upon torts, include within that term those inscrut- 
able injuries that no human intelligence can foresee; 
for instance, floods, earthquakes and tornadoes." 

"Now, that is very stupid in the writers on the 
law," replied Abner; "I should call such injuries 
acts of the devil. It would not occur to me to be- 
lieve that God would use the agency of the elements 
in order to injure the innocent." 

"Well," said Randolph, "the writers upon the 
law have not been theologians, although Mr. Green- 
leaf was devout, and Chitty with a proper rever- 
ence, and my lords Coke and Blackstone and Sir 
Matthew Hale in respectable submission to the es- 
tablished church. They have grouped and catalogued 
injuries with delicate and nice distinctions with re- 
spect to their being actionable at law, and they found 
certain injuries to be acts of God, but I do not read 
that they found any injury to be an act of the devil. 

6 9 



Uncle Abner 



The law does not recognize the sovereignty and do- 
minion of the devil." 

"Then," replied Abner, "with great fitness is the 
law represented blindfold. I have not entered any 
jurisdiction where his writs have failed to run." 

There was a smile about the door that would have 
broken into laughter but for the dead man inside. 

Randolph blustered, consulted his snuffbox, and 
turned the conversation into a neighboring channel. 

"Do you think, Abner," he said, "that this old 
showman will give up his dangerous practice as he 
promised me?" 

"Yes," replied Abner, "he will give it up, but not 
because he promised you." 

And he walked away to my father, took him by 
the arm, and led him aside. 

"Rufus," he said, "I have learned something. 
Your receipt is valid." 

"Of course it is valid," replied my father; "it is 
in Blackford's hand." 

"Well," said Abner, "he cannot come back to 
deny it, and I will not be a witness for him." 

"What do you mean, Abner?" my father said. 
"You say that Blackford did not write this letter, 
and now you say that it is valid." 

"I mean," replied Abner, "that when the one en- 
titled to a debt receives it, that is enough." 

Then he walked away into the crowd, his head 
lifted and his fingers locked behind his massive back. 

The County Fair closed that evening in much gos- 

70 



An Act of God 



sip and many idle comments on Blackford's end. 
The chimney corner lawyers, riding out with the 
homing crowd, vapored upon Mr. Jefferson's Statute 
of Descents, and how Blackford's property would 
escheat to the state since there was no next of kin, 
and were met with the information that his lands and 
his cattle would precisely pay his debts, with an 
eagle or two beyond for a coffin. And, after the 
manner of lawyers, were not silenced, but laid down 
what the law would be if only the facts were agree- 
able to their premise. And the prophets, sitting in 
their wagons, assembled their witnesses and estab- 
lished the dates at which they had been prophetically 
delivered. 

Evening descended, and the fair grounds were 
mostly deserted. Those who lived at no great dis- 
tance had moved their live stock with the crowd and 
had given up their pens and stalls. But my father, 
who always brought a drove of prize cattle to these 
fairs, gave orders that we should remain until the 
morning. The distance home was too great and the 
roads were filled. My father's cattle were no less 
sacred than the bulls of Egypt, and not to be 
crowded by a wagon wheel or ridden into by a 
shouting drunkard. 

The night fell. There was no moon, but the earth 
was not in darkness. The sky was clear and sown 
with stars like a seeded field. I did not go to bed in 
the cattle stall filled with clover hay under a hand- 
woven blanket, as I was intended to do. A young- 

7i 



Uncle Abner 



ster at a certain age is a sort of jackal and loves 
nothing in this world so much as to prowl over the 
ground where a crowd of people has encamped Be- 
sides, I wished to know what had become of the old 
mountebank, and it was a thing I soon discovered. 

His wagon stood on the edge of the ground among 
the trees near the river, with the door closed His 
horse, tethered to a wheel, was nosing an armful of 
hay. The light of the stars filtered through the 
treetops, filled the wheels with shadows and threw 
one side of the wagon into the blackness of the pit* 
I went down to the fringe of trees; there I sat squat- 
ted on the earth until I heard a footstep and saw my 
Uncle Abner coming toward the wagon. He 
walked as I had seen him walking in the crowd, his 
hands behind him and his face lifted as though he 
considered something that perplexed him. He came 
to the steps, knocked with his clenched hand 04 the 
door, and when a voice replied, entered. 

Curiosity overcame me. I scurried up to the dark 
side of the wagon. There a piece of fortune 
awaited me; a gilded panel had cracked with some 
jolt upon the road, and by perching myself upon the 
wheel I could see inside. The old man had been 
seated behind a table made by letting down a board 
hinged to the wall. His knives were lying on the 
floor beside him, bound together in a sheaf with a 
twine string. There were some packets of old let- 
ters on the table and a candle. The little girl lay 
asleep in a sort of bunk at the end of the wagon. 

72 



An Act of God 



The old man stood up when my uncle entered, and 
his face, that had been dull and stupid before the 
justice of the peace, was now keen and bright. . 

"Monsieur does me an honor," he said. The 
words were an interrogation with no welcome in 
them. 

"No honor," replied my uncle, standing with his 
hat on; "but possibly a service." 

"That would be strange," the mountebank said 
dryly, "for I have received no service from any man 
here." 

"You have a short memory," replied Abner; "the 
justice of the peace rendered you a great service on 
this day. Do you put no value on your life ?" 

"My life has not been in danger, monsieur," he 
said. 

"I think it has," replied Abner. 

"Then monsieur questions the decision?" 

"No," said Abner; "I think it was the very wis- 
est decision that Randolph ever made." 

"Then why does monsieur say that my life was in 
danger?" 

"Well," replied my uncle, "are not the lives of all 
men in danger ? Is there any day or hour of a day 
in which they are secure, or any tract or parcel of 
this earth where danger is not? And can a man 
say when he awakes at daylight in his bed, on this 
day I shall go into danger, or I shall not? In the 
light it is, and in the darkness it is, and where one 
looks to find it, and where he does not. Did Black- 

73 



Uncle Abner 



ford believe himself in danger today when he passed 
before you?" 

"Ah, monsieur," replied the man, "that was a 
terrible accident!" 

My uncle picked up a stool, placed it by the table 
and sat down. He took off his hat and set it on his 
knees, then he spoke, looking at the floor. 

"Do you believe in God?" 

I saw the old man rub his forehead with his hand 
and the ball of his first finger make a cross. 

"Yes, monsieur," he said, "I do." 

"Then," replied Abner, "you can hardly believe 
that things happen out of chance." 

"We call it chance, monsieur," said the man, 
"when we do not understand it." 

"Sometimes we use a better term," replied Ab- 
ner. "Now, today Randolph did not understand 
this death of Blackford, and yet he called it an act 
of God." 

"Who knows," said the man; "are not the ways 
of God past finding out?" 

"Not always," replied my uncle. 

He gathered his chin into his hand and sat for 
some time motionless, then he continued : 

"I have found out something about this one." 

The old mountebank moved to his stool beyond 
the table and sat down. 

"And what is that, monsieur?" he said. 

"That you are in danger of your life — for one 
thing." 

74 



An Act of God 



"In what danger?" 

"Do you come from the south of Europe," re- 
plied Abner, "and forget that when a man is killed 
there are others to threaten his assassin?" 

"But this Blackford has no kin to carry a blood 
feud," said the mountebank. 

"And so," cried Abner, "you knew that before 
you killed him. And yet, in spite of that precau- 
tion, there stood a man in the crowd before the jus- 
tice of the peace who held your life in his hand. He 
had but to speak." 

"And why did he not speak — this man?" said the 
mountebank, looking at Abner across the table. 

"I will tell you that," replied Abn$r. "He 
feared that the justice of the law might contravene 
the justice of God. It is a fabric woven from many 
threads — this justice of God. I saw three of these 
threads today stretching into the great loom, and I 
feared to touch them lest I disturb the weaver at his 
work. I saw men see a murder and not know it. I 
saw a child see its father and not know it, and I saw 
a letter in the handwriting of a man who did not 
write it." 

The face of the old mountebank did not whiten, 
but instead it grew stern and resolute, and the mus- 
cles came out in it so that it seemed a thing of cords 
under the tanned skin. 

"The proofs," he said. 

"They are all here," replied Abner. 

He stooped, lifted the sheaf of knives, broke the 

75 



Uncle Abner 



string and spread them on the table. He selected 
the one from which Blackford's blood had been 
wiped off. 

"Randolph examined this knife," he continued, 
"but not the others; he assumed that they are all 
alike. Well, they are not. The others are dull, 
but this one has the edge of a razor." 

And he plucked a piece of paper from the table 
and sheared it in two. Then he put the knife down 
on the board and looked toward the far end of the 
wagon. 

"And the child's face," he said — "I was not cer- 
tain of that until I saw Blackford's ironed out under 
the hand of death, and then I knew. And the let- 
ter, " 

But the old man was on his feet straining over 
the table, his features twitching like a taut rope. 

"Hush! Hush!" he said. 

There came a little gust of wind that whispered 
in the dry grass and blew the dead leaves against the 
wagon and about my face. They fluttered like a 
presence, these dead leaves, and pecked and clawed 
at the gilded panel like the nails of some feeble hand. 
I began to be assailed with fear as I sat there alone 
in the darkness looking in upon this tragedy. 

My Uncle Abner sat down, and the old man re- 
mained with the palms of his hands pressed against 
the table. Finally he spoke. 

"Monsieur," he said, "shall a man lead another 
into hell and escape the pit himself? Yes, she is his 

76 



An Act of God 



daughter, and her mother was mine, and I have 
killed him. He could not speak, but with those let- 
ters he persuaded her." 

The man paused and turned over the packet of 
yellow envelopes tied up with faded ribbon. 

"And she believed what a woman will always be- 
lieve. What would you have done, monsieur? Go 
to the law — your English law that gives the woman 
a pittance and puts her out of the court-house door 
for the ribald to laugh at! Diable! Monsieur, 
that is not the law. I know the law, as my father 
and my father's father, and your father and your 
father's father knew it. I would have killed him 
then, when she died, but for this child. I would have 
followed him into these hills, day after day, like his 
shadow behind him, until I got a knife into him and 
ripped him up like a butchered pig. But I could 
not go to the hangman and leave this child, and so 
I waited." 

He sat down. 

"We can wait, monsieur. That is one thing we 
have in my country — patience. And when I was 
ready I killed him." 

The old man paused and put out his hand, palm 
upward, on the table. It was a wonderful hand, 
like a live thing. 

"You have eyes, monsieur, but the others are as 
blind men. Did they think that hand could have 
failed me ? Cunning men have made machinery so 
accurate that you marvel at them; but there was 

77 



Uncle Abner 



never a machine with the accuracy of the human 
hand when it is trained as we train it. Monsieur, 
I could scratch a line on the door behind you with 
a needle, and with my eyes closed set a knife point 
into every twist and turn of it. Why, monsieur, 
there was a straw clinging to Blackford's coat — a 
straw that had fallen on him as he passed some horse 
stall. I marked it as he came up through the crowd, 
and I split it with the knife. 

"And now, monsieur?" 

But my uncle stopped him. "Not yet," he said. 
"I am concerned about the living and not the dead. 
If I had thought of the dead only, I should have 
spoken this day; but I have thought also of the liv- 
ing. W.hat have you done for the child?" 

There came a great tenderness into the old man's 
face. 

"I have brought it up in love," he said, "and in 
honor, and I have got its inheritance for it." 

He stopped and indicated the pack of letters." 

"I was about to burn these when you came in, 
monsieur, for they have served their purpose. I 
thought I might need to know Blackford's hand and 
I set out to learn it. Not in a day, monsieur, nor a 
week, like your common forger, and with an untried 
hand — but in a year, and years — with a hand that 
obeys me, I went over and over every letter of every 
word until I could write the man's hand, not an imi- 
tation of it, monsieur, not that, but the very hand 
itself — the very hand that Blackford writes with his 

78 



An Act of God 



own fingers. And it was well, for I was able to get 
the child all that Blackford had, beyond his debts, 
by a letter that no man could know that Blackford 
did not write." 

"I knew that he did not write it," said Abner. 

The old man smiled. 

"You jest, monsieur," he said; "Blackford him- 
self could not tell the writing from his own. I could 
not, nor can any living man." 

"That is true," replied Abner; "the letter is in 
Blackford's hand, as he would have written it with 
his own fingers. It is no imitation, as you say; it 
is the very writing of the man, and yet he did not 
;write it, and when I saw it I knew that he did not." 

The old man's face was incredulous. 

"How could you know that, monsieur?" he said. 

My uncle took the letter which my father had 
received out of his pocket and spread it out on the 
table. 

"I will tell you," he said, "how I knew that Black- 
ford did not write this letter, although it is in his 
very hand. When my brother Ruf us showed me 
this letter, and I read it, I noticed that there were 
words misspelled in it. Well, that of itself was 
nothing for the deaf mute did not always spell cor- 
rectly. It was the manner in which the words were 
misspelled. Under the old system, when a deaf 
mute was taught to write he was taught by the eye ; 
consequently, he writes words as he remembers them 
to look, and not as he remembers them to sound. 

79 



Uncle Abner 



His mistakes, then, are mistakes of the eye and not 
of the ear. And in this he differs from every man 
who can hear; for the man who can hear, when he 
is uncertain about the spelling of a word, spells it 
as it sounds phonetically, using not a letter that looks 
like the correct one, but a letter that sounds like it 
-—using V for V and V for V — a thing no deaf 
mute would ever do in this world, because he does 
not know what letters sound like. Consequently, 
when I saw the words in this letter misspelled by 
sound — when I saw that the person who had writ- 
ten this letter remembered his word as a sound, and 
by the arrangement of the letters in it was endeav- 
oring to indicate that sound — I knew he could hear." 

The old man did not reply, but he rose and stood 
before my uncle. He stood straight and fearless, 
his long white hair thrown back, his bronzed throat 
exposed, his face lifted, and his eyes calm and level, 
like some ancient druid among his sacred oak trees. 

And I crowded my face against the cracked panel, 
straining to hear what he would say. 

"Monsieur," he said, "I have done an act of jus- 
tice, not as men do it, but as the providence of God 
does it. With care and with patience I have accom- 
plished every act, so that to the eyes of men it bore 
the relation and aspect of God's providence. And 
all who saw were content but you. You have pried 
and ferreted behind these things, and now you must 
bear the obligations of your knowledge." 

He spread out his hands toward the sleeping girl. 

80 



An Act of God 



"Shall this child grow up to honor in ignorance, 
or in knowledge go down to hell? Shall she know 
what her mother was, and what her father was, and 
what I am, and be fouled by the knowledge of it, 
and shall she be stripped of her inheritance and left 
not only outlawed, but paupered? And shall I go 
to the hangman, and she to the street? These are 
things for you to decide, since you would search out 
what was hidden and reveal what was covered! I 
leave it in your hands." 

"And I," replied Abner, rising, "leave it in 
God's." 



CHAPTER V: The Treasure Hunter 

I REMEMBER very well when the sailor came 
to Highfield. It was the return of the prodigal 
— a belated return. The hospitalities of the 
parable did not await him. Old Thorndike 
Madison was dead. And Charlie Madison, in pos- 
session as sole heir, was not pleased to see a lost 
brother land from a river boat after twenty years 
of silence. 

The law presumes death after seven years, and 
for twenty Dabney Madison had been counted out 
of life — counted out by old Thorndike when he left 
his estate to pass by operation of law to the surviving 
son; and counted out by Charlie when he received 
the title. 

The imagination of every lad in the Hills was 
fired by the romantic properties of this event. The 
negroes carried every detail, and they would have 
colored it to suit the fancy had not the thing hap- 
pened in ample color. 

The estate had gone to rack with Charlie drunk 
from dawn until midnight. Old Clayborne and 
Mariah kept the negro quarters, half a mile from 
the house. Clayborne would put Charlie to bed and 
then go home to his cabin. In the morning Mariah 
would come to get his coffee. So Charlie lived after 

82 



The Treasure Hunter 



old Thorndike, at ninety, had gone to the graveyard. 

It was a witch's night when the thing happened — 
rain and a high wind that wailed and whooped round 
the pillars and chimneys of the house. The house 
was set on a high bank above the river, where the 
swift water, running like a flood, made a sharp bend. 
It caught the full force of wind and rain. It was 
old and the timbers creaked. 

Charlie was drunk. He cried out when he saw 
the lost brother and got unsteadily on his legs. 

"You are not Dabney!" he said. "You are a 
picture out of a storybook 1" And he laughed in a 
sort of half terror, like a child before a homemade 
ghost. "Look at your earrings I" 

It was a good comment for a man in liquor; for if 
ever a character stepped out of the pages of a pirate 
tale, here it was. 

Dabney had lifted the latch and entered without 
warning. He had the big frame and the hawk nose 
of his race. He was in sea-stained sailor clothes, his 
face white as plaster, a red cloth wound tightly 
round his head, huge half-moon rings in his ears; 
and he carried a seaman's chest on his shoulder. 

Old Clayborne told the story. 

Dabney put down his chest carefully, as though 
it had something precious in it. Then he spoke. 

"Are you glad to see me, brother?" 

Charlie was holding on to the table with both 
hands, his eyes bleared, his mouth gaping. 

"I don't see you," he quavered. Then he turned 
83 



Uncle Abner 



his head, with a curious duck of the chin, toward the 
old negro. "I don't see anything — do I?" 

Dabney came over to the table then; he took up 
the flask of liquor and a glass. 

"Clabe," he said, "is this apple whisky ?" 

I have heard the ancient negro tell the story a 
thousand times. He gave a great shout of recog- 
nition. Those words — those five word$ — settled it. 
He used to sing this part in a long, nasal chant when 
he reached it in his tale: "Marse Dabney I Oh, 
my Lord! How many times ain't I heard 'im say 
dem words — jis' lak dat: 'Clabe, is dis apple 
whisky?' Dem outlandish clo's couldn't fool dis 
nigger I I'd 'a' knowed Marse Dabney after dat if 
he'd been 'parisoned in de garments ob Israel I" 

But the old negro had Satan's time with Charlie, 
who held on to the table and cursed. 

"You're not Dabney!" he cried. "... I 
know you! You're old Lafitte, the Pirate, who 
helped General Jackson thrash the British at New 
Orleans. Grandfather used to tell about you !" 

He began to cry and blame his grandfather for so 
vividly impressing the figure that it came up now in 
his liquor to annoy him. Then he would get his 
courage and shake a trembling fist across the table. 

"You can't frighten me, Lafitte— curse you! 
I've seen worse things than you over there. I've 
seen the devil, with a spade, digging a grave; and a 
horsefly, as big as a buzzard, perched on the high- 

8 4 



The Treasure Hunter 



boy, looking at me and calling out to the devil : 'Dig 
it deep ! We'll bury old Charlie deep' I" 

Clayborne finally got him to realize that Dabney 
was a figure in life, in spite of the chalk face under 
the red headcloth. 

And then Charlie went into a drunken mania of 
resentment. Dabney was dead — or if he was not 
dead he ought to be ; and he started to the highboy 
for a dueling pistol. His fury and his drunken 
curses filled the house. The place belonged to him ! 
He would not divide it 

It was the devil's night. About daybreak the 
ancient negro got Charlie into bed and the sailor in- 
stalled in old Thorndike's room, with a fire and all 
the attentions of a guest. 

After that Charlie was strangely quiet. He suf- 
fered the intrusion of the sailor with no word. 
Dabney might have been always in the house for any 
indication in Charlie's manner. There was peace; 
but one was impressed that it was a sort of armistice. 

Dabney went over the old estate pretty carefully, 
but he did not interfere with Charlie's possession. 
He laid no claim that anybody heard of. Charlie 
seemed to watch him. He kept the drink in hand 
and he grew silent. 

There seemed no overt reason, old Clayborne 
said, but presently Dabney began to act like a man 
in fear. He made friends with the dog, a big old 
bearhound. He got a fowling piece and set it up 
by the head of his bed, and finally took the dog into 

85 



Uncle Abner 



the room with him at night. He kept out of the 
house by day. 

One could see him, with a mariner's glass, striding 
across the high fields above the river, or perched in 
the fork of a tree. He wore the sailor clothes, and 
the red cloth wound round nis head. 

I am sure my uncle Abner saw him more than 
once. I know of one time. He was riding home 
from a sitting of the county justices. Dabney was 
walking through the deep broom sedge in the high 
field beyond the old house. Abner called and he 
came down to the road. He had the mariner's 
glass, the sailor clothes and the headcloth. 

He was not pleased to see my uncle. He seemed 
nervous, like a man under some restraint While 
my uncle talked he would take three steps straight 
ahead and then turn back. Abner marked it, with 
a query. 

"Dabney," he said, "why do you turn about like 
that?" 

The man stopped in his tracks; for a moment he 
seemed in a sort of frenzied terror. Then he 
cursed: 

"Habit— damme, Abner!" 

"And where did you get a habit like that?" said 
my uncle. 

"In a ship," replied the man. 

"What sort of ship?" said my uncle. 

The sailor hesitated for a moment. 

"Now, Abner," he cried finally, "what sort of 
86 



The Treasure Hunter 



ships are they that sail the Caribbee and rendezvous 
on the Dry Tortugas?" His voice took a strained, 
wild note. "Have they spacious cabins, or does one 
take three steps thus in the narrow pen of their 
hold?" 

My uncle gathered his chin into his big fingers and 
looked steadily at the man. 

"Strange quarters, Dabney," he said, "for a son 
of Thorndike Madison." 

"Well, Abner!" cried the man, "what would you 
have ? It was that or the plank. It's all very nice 
to be a gentleman and the son of a gentleman under 
the protection of Virginia; but off the Bermudas, 
with the muzzle of a musket pressed into your back 
and the sea boiling below you — what then?" 

My uncle watched the man closely and with a 
strange expression. 

"A clean death," he said, "would be better than 
God's vengeance to follow on one's heels." 

The sailor swore a great oath. 

"God's vengeance!" And he laughed. "I 
should not care how that followed on my heels. It's 
the vengeance of old Jules le Noir and the damned 
Britisher, Barrett, following on a man's heels, that 
puts ice in the blood. God's vengeance! Why, 
Abner, a preacher could pray that off in a meeting- 
house ; but can he pray the half-breed off ? Or the 
broken-nosed Englishman?" 

The man seemed caught in a current of passion 
that whirled him headlong into indiscretions from 

87 



Uncle Abner 



which a saner mood would have steered him dear. 

"The Spanish Main is not Virginia I" he cried 
"One does not live the life of a gentleman on it 
Loot and murder are not the pastimes of a gentle- 
man. The Spanish Main is not safe. But is Vir- 
ginia safe? Is any spot safe? Eh, Abner? Show 
it to me if you know it I" And he plunged off into 
the deep broom sedge. 

So it came about that an evil Frenchman with a 
cutlass in his teeth, and a vile old rum-soaked crea- 
ture with a broken nose and a brace of pistols, got 
entangled in the common fancy with Dabney's 
legend. * 

Everybody in the Hills thought something was 
going to happen; but the wild thing that did happen 
came sooner than anybody thought. 

One morning at sunrise a negro house boy ran in, 
out of breath, to say that old Clayborne had gone by 
at a gallop on his way to Randolph, the justice of 
the peace, and shouted for my uncle to come to High- 
field. 

Randolph had the nearer road; but Abner met 
him at the Madison door and the two men went into 
the house together. 

Old Charlie was sober; but he was drinking raw 
liquor and doing his best to get drunk. His face 
was ghastly, and his hands shook so that he could 
keep only a few spoonfuls of the white brandy in his 
big tumbler. My uncle said that if ever the terror 

88 



The Treasure Hunter 



of the damned was on a human creature in this 
world it was on old Charlie. 

It was some time before they could get at what 
had happened. It was of no use to bother with 
Charlie until the liquor should begin to steady him. 
His loose underlip jerked and every faculty he could 
muster was massed on the one labor of getting the 
brandy to his mouth. 

Old Mariah sat in the kitchen, with her apron 
over her head, rocking on the four legs of a split- 
bottomed chair. She was worse than useless. 

My uncle and Randolph had got some things out 
of Clayborne on the way. There had been nothing 
to indicate the thing that night. Dabney had gone 
into old Thorndike's room, as usual, with the dog. 
Old Clayborne had put Charlie to bed drunk, snuffed 
out the candles and departed to his cabin, half a 
mile away. That was all old Clayborne could tell 
of the night before. Perhaps the sailor seemed a 
little more in fear than usual, and perhaps Charlie 
was a little more in liquor; but he could not be sure 
on those questions of degree. The sailor lately 
seemed to be in constant fear and Charlie had got 
back at his liquor with an increased and abandoned 
indulgence. 

What happened after that my uncle and Randolph 
could see for themselves better than Clayborne could 
tell it. 

Old Thorndike's room, like the other rooms of 
the house, had a door that opened on a long covered 

8 9 



Uncle Abner 



porch, facing the river. This door now stood open. 
The ancient rusted lock plate, with its screws, was 
hanging to the frame. There were no marks of 
violence on the door. The sailor was gone. His 
pillow and the bedclothes were soaked with blood. 
All his clothes, including the red headcloth, were 
lying neatly folded on the arm of a chair. 

The sailor's chest stood open and empty. There 
was a little sprinkling of blood drops from the bed 
to the door and into the weeds outside, but no blood 
anywhere else in the room. And from there, direct- 
ly in a line to the river, the weeds and grass had been 
trampled. The ground was hard and dry, and no 
one could say how many persons had gone that way 
from the house. The dog lay just inside the door 
of the room, with his throat cut. It was the slash 
of a knife with the edge of a razor, for the dog's 
head was nearly severed from the neck. 

It was noiseless, swift work — incredibly noiseless 
and swift. Dabney had not wakened, for the fowl- 
ing piece stood unmoved at the head of the bed." 
When the door swung open somebody had caught 
the dog's muzzle and slipped the knife across his 
throat . . . and then the rest. 

"It must have happened that way," Randolph 
said. 

At any rate, the unwelcome sailor was gone. He 
had arrived in an abundance of mystery and he had 
departed in it, though where he went was clear 
enough. The great river, swinging round the high 

90 



The Treasure Hunter 



point of land, swallowed what it got. A lost 
swimmer in that deadly water was sometimes found 
miles below, months later— or, rather, a hideous, 
unrecognizable human flotsam that the Hills ac- 
cepted for the dead man. 

The means, too, were not without the indication 
Dabney had given in his wild talk to my uncle. 
Besides, the negroes had seen a figure— or more than 
one — at dusk, about an abandoned tobacco house 
beyond the great meadow on the landward side of 
Highfield. 

It was a tumble-down old structure in a strip of 
bush between the line of the meadow and the acres 
of morass beyond it — called swamps in the South. 
It was ghost land — haunted, the negroes said; and so 
what moved there before the tragedy, behind the 
great elm at the edge of the meadow, old Clay- 
borne had seen only at a distance, with no wish to 
spy on it. 

Was it the inevitable irony of chance that Dabney 
scouted the river with his glass while the thing he 
feared came in through the swamps behind him? 

By the time my uncle and Randolph had got these 
evidences assembled the liquor had steadied Charlie. 
At first he pretended to know nothing at all about 
the affair. He had not wakened, and had heard 
nothing until the cries of old Mariah filled the house 
with bedlam. 

Randolph said he had never seen my uncle so pro- 
foundly puzzled; he sat down in old Charlie's room, 

9i 



Uncle Abner 



silent, with his keen, strong-featured face as immov- 
able as wood. But the justice saw light in a crevice 
of the mystery and he drove directly at it, with no 
pretension. 

"Charlie," he said, "you were not pleased to see 
Dabney turn up I" 

The drunken creature did not lie. 

"No; I didn't want to see him." 

"Why not?" 

"Because I thought he was dead." 

"Because you did not wish to divide your father's 
estate with him — wasn't that it?" 

"Well, it was all mine — wasn't it — if Dabney was 
dead?" 

The justice went on: 

"You tried to shoot Dabney on the night he ar- 
rived!" 

"I don't know," said Charlie. "I was drunk. 
Ask Clabe." 

The man was in terror; but he kept his head — 
that was clear as light. 

"Dabney knew he was in danger here, didn't he?" 

"Yes; he did," said Charlie. 

"And he was in fear?" 

"Yes," said Charlie — "damnably in fear I" 

"Of you I" cried the justice with a sudden, aggres- 
sive menace. 

"Me?" Old Charlie looked strangely at the 
man. "Why, no— not me I" 
, "Of what, then?" said Randolph. 

92 



The Treasure Hunter 



Old Charlie wavered ; he got another measure of 
the brandy in him. 

"Well," he said, "it was enough to be afraid of. 
Look what it did to him!" 

Randolph got up, then, and stood over against 
the man across the table. 

"You Madisons are all big men. Now listen to 
me! It required force to break that door in, and 
yet there is no mark on the door; that means some- 
body broke it in with the pressure of his shoulder, 
softly. And there is another thing, Charlie, that 
you have got to face : Dabney was killed in his bed 
while asleep. The dog in the room did not make 
a sound. Why?" 

The face of the drunken man took on a strange, 
perplexed expression. 

"That's so, Randolph," he said; "and it's strange 
—it's damned strange!" 

"Not so very strange," replied the justice. 

"Why not?" said Charlie. 

"Because the dog knew the man who did that 
work in your father's room !" 

And again, with menace and vigor, Randolph 
drove at the shaken drunkard : 

"Where's th« knife Dabney was killed with?" 

Then, against all belief, against all expectation in 
the men, old Charlie fumbled in a drawer beside 
him and laid a knife on the table. 

Randolph gasped at the unbelievable success of 
his driven query, and my uncle rose and joined him. 

93 



Uncle Ab%er 



They looked closely at the knife. It was the 
common butcher knife of the countryside, made by a 
smith from a worn-out file and to be found in any 
kitchen ; but it was ground to the point, and whetted 
to the hair-shearing edge of a razor. 

"Look on the handle I" said Charlie. 

They looked. And there, burned in the wood 
crudely, like the imitative undertaking of a child, was 
a skull and crossbones. 

"Where did you get this knife?" said my uncle. 

"It was sticking here in my table, in my room, 
beside my bed, when I woke up." He indicated 
with his finger nail the narrow hole in the mahogany 
board where the point of the knife had been forced 
down. "And this was under it." 

He stooped again to the drawer and put a sheet 
of paper on the table before the astonished men. It 
was a page of foolscap, with words printed in blood 
by the point of the knife : "Chest empty I Put thou- 
sand in gold — elm — meadow. Or the same to 
you!" 

And there was the puncture in the center of the 
sheet where the point of the knife had gone through. 
My uncle laid it on the table, over the narrow hole 
in the mahogany board, and pressed it down with the 
knife. The point fitted into the paper and the 
board. 

There was blood on the knife ; and the gruesome 
thing, thus reset, very nearly threw old Charlie back 
into the panic of terror out of which the brandy had 

94 



The Treasure Hunter 



helped him. His fingers twitched, and he kept 
puffing out his loose underlip like a child laboring 
to hold back his emotions. 

He went at the brandy bottle. And the tale he 
finally got out was the wildest lie anybody ever put 
forward in his own defense — if it was a lie. That 
was the point to judge. And this was Randolph's 
estimate at the time. 

Charlie said that, to cap all of Dabney's strange 
acts, about a week before this night he asked for a 
thousand dollars. Charlie told him to go to hell. 
He said Dabney did not resent either the refusal or 
the harsh words of it. He simply sat still and began 
to take on an appearance of fear that sent old 
Charlie, tumbler in hand, straight to his liquor bot- 
tle. Dabney kept coming in every day or two to 
beg for money ; so Charlie got drunk to escape the 
thing. 

"Where was I to get a thousand dollars?" he 
queried in the tale to my uncle and Randolph. 

He said the day before the tragedy was the worst. 
Dabney got at him in terror for the money. He 
must have it to save his life, he went on desperately, 
Charlie said. And then he cried 1 

Charlie spat violently at the recollection. There 
was something gruesome, helpless and awful in the 
memory — in the way Dabney quaked; the tears, and 
the jingle of the earrings ; all the appearance of the 
man so set to a part of brutal courage — and this 
shattering fear 1 The flapping of the big half-moon 

95 



Uncle Abner 



earrings against the man's white quivering jowls was 
the worst, Charlie said. 

Randolph thought old Charlie colored the thing 
if he was lying about it. If it was the truth the delu- 
sions of liquor would account for these overdrawn 
impressions. At any rate, the justice promptly 
spoke out what he thought. 

"Charlie," he said, "you're trying to stage a sea 
yarn by the penny writers. It won't do I" 

The man reflected, looking Randolph in the face. 

"Why, yes," he said; "you're right — that's what 
it sounds like. But it isn't that. It's the truth." 
And he turned to my uncle. "You know it's the 
truth, Abner." 

Randolph said that just here, at this point in the 
affair, all the established landmarks of common 
sense and sane credibility were suddenly jumbled up. 

What my uncle answered was : 

"I think it's all true." 

Charlie took a big linen handkerchief out of his 
pocket and wiped his face. Then he said simply, 
quite simply, like a child: 

"I'm afraid!" 

One could doubt everything else, Randolph said; 
but not this. The man was in fear, beyond question. 

"I've got it all figured out," Charlie continued. 
"They were after Dabney for something they 
thought he had in the chest. They offered to 
take a thousand dollars for their share and let him 
off. That's why he was so crazy to raise the money. 

9 6 



The Treasure Hunter 



When they found the chest empty they thought I had 
the thing, or knew where Dabney had concealed it; 
and now they are after me!" 

Old Charlie stopped again and wiped his face. 

"I don't want to die, Abner," he added, "like 
Dabney — in the bed. What shall I do?" 

"There is only one thing to do," replied my uncle. 
"Put the money by the elm in the meadow." 

\"But, Abner," replied the man, "where would I 
get a thousand dollars, as I said to Dabney?" 

"I will lend it to you," replied my uncle. 

"But, Abner," said Charlie, "you haven't got a 
thousand dollars in gold in your pocket." 

"No," replied my uncle; "but if you will give me 
a lien on the land I will undertake to pay the money. 
The estate is in ruin, but it's worth double that sum." 

And Randolph said that,. among the other strange, 
mad, ridiculous things of that memorable, extraor- 
dinary day, he wrote a deed of trust on the Madison 
lands to secure Charlie's note to my uncle for a 
thousand dollars. 

So great virtue was there in my uncle's word, and 
such power had he to inspire the faith of men, that 
he rode away, leaving old Charlie at peace and con- 
fident that he had escaped from peril — whether, as 
Randolph wondered, it was the peril of the pirate 
assassins in the great swamp or the gibbet of Vir- 
ginia. 

Two hundred yards from the house, where the 
atrip of bush, skirting the meadow, touched the road, 

97 



Uncle Abner 



my uncle got down from his horse and tied the bridle 
rein to a sapling. 

"What now, Abner?" cried Randolph, like a man 
swept along in a current of crazy happenings. 

"I am going in to arrange about the payment of 
the money," replied my uncle. 

The justice swore a great oath. If my uncle was 
setting out to interview desperate assassins — as his 
acts indicated — alone and unarmed, it was the ex- 
treme of foolhardy peril. Did he think murderers 
would parley with him and let him come away to tell 
it and to lead in a posse ? It was a thing beyond all 
sane belief ! 

And it is evidence of the blood in Randolph that in 
this conviction, with the inevitable end of the venture 
before his face, he got down and went in with my 
uncle. 

The path lay along a sort of dike, thrown up in 
some ancient time against the swamp. Now along 
the sides it was grown with great reeds, water beecK 
and the common bush of wet lands. 

They came to the old tobacco hou»e noiselessly on 
the damp path. The tumble-down door had been 
set in place. 

My uncle did not pause for any consideration of 
finesse or safety. He went straight ahead to the 
door and flung it open. It was rotten and insecurely 
set, and it fell with a clatter into the abandoned 
house. 

9 8 



The Treasure Hunter 



At the sound a big, gaunt figure, asleep on the 
floor, sprang up. 

In the dim light Randolph looked about for a 
weapon — a piece of the broken door would do. 
But my uncle was undisturbed. 

"Dabney," he said, "I came to arrange about the 
money. My agent, Mr. Gray, in Memphis, will 
hand it to you. There will be nothing to sign.' 9 

Randolph said he cried out, because he was as- 
tonished: 

"Dabney Madison, by the living God ! I thought 
you were dead I " 

My uncle turned about. 

"How could you think that, Randolph?" he said. 
"You yourself pointed out how the dog was killed 
by somebody who knew him; and you must have 
seen that there was no blood on the floor where the 
dog lay — and consequently that the dog was killed 
in the bed to furnish blood for the pretended mur- 
der." 

"But the money, Abner!" cried Randolph. "Why 
do you pay Dabney Madison this money?" 

"Because it is his share of his father's estate," 
replied my uncle. 

"So you were after that I" cried Randolph; "the 
half of your father's estate. Damme, man, you 
took a lot of hell-turns on the road to that ! Why 
didn't you sue in the courts ? Your right was legal." 

"Because a suit at law would have brought out his 
past," replied my uncle. 

99 



Uncle Abner 



The man roused thus abruptly out of sleep had got 
now some measure of control. 

"Randolph," he said, "no law of God or man runs 
on the sea. The trade of the sea south of the Ber- 
mudas is no business for a gentleman or to be told 
in the land of his father's honor. Abner knew 
where I'd been I" 

"Yes," replied my uncle. "When I saw your 
bleached face ; when I saw your cropped head under 
the pirate cloth ; when I saw you take three steps in 
your nervous walk, and turn — I knew." 

"That I had been in the Spanish Main?" said 
Dabney. 

"That you had been in the penitentiary!" said 
my uncle. 



CHAPTER VI: The House of the Dead 
Man 

« 

WE were on our way to the Smallwood 
place — Abner and I. It was early in the 
morning and I thought we were the first 
on the road; but at the Three Forks, where the 
Lost Creek turnpike trails down from the moun- 
tains, a horse had turned in before us. 

It was a morning out of Paradise, crisp and 
bright. The spider-webs glistened on the fence 
rails. The timber cracked. The ragweed was 
dusted with silver. The sun was moving upward 
from behind the world. I could have whistled out 
of sheer joy in being alive on this October morning 
and the horse under me danced; but Abner rode 
looking down his nose. He was always silent when 
he had this trip to make. And he had a reason 
for it. 

The pastureland that we were going on to did 
not belong to us. It had been owned by the sheriff, 
Asbury Smallwood. In those days the sheriff col- 
lected the county taxes. One night the sheriff's 
house had been entered, burned over his head and 
a large sum of the county revenues carried off. No 
one ever found a trace of those who had done this 
deed. The sheriff was ruined. He had given up 

IOI 



Uncle Abner 



his lands and moved to a neighboring county. His 
bondsmen had been forced to meet the loss. My 
father had been one of them; but it was not the loss 
to my father that bothered Abner. 

"The thing does not hurt you, Rufus," he said; 
"but it cripples Elnathan. Stone and it breaks Adam 
Greathouse." 

Stone was a grazier with heavy debts and Great- 
house was a little farmer. I remember how my 
father chaffed Abner when he paid his portion of 
this loss. 

11 The Lord gave,' " he said, " 'and the Lord 
hath taken awayV— eh, Abner?" 

"But, Rufus," replied Abner, "did the Lord take? 
We must be sure of that. There are others who 
take." 

It was clear what Abner meant. If the Lord 
took he would be resigned to it; but if another took 
he would follow with a weapon in his hand and re- 
cover what had been taken. Abner's God was an 
exacting Overlord and His requisitions were to be 
met with equanimity; but He did not go halves with 
thieves and He issued no letters of marque. 

When the sheriff failed Abner had put cattle on 
the land in an effort to make what he could for the 
bondsmen. It was good grazing land, but it was 
watered by springs, and we had to watch them. A 
beef steer does not grow fat without plenty of water. 
We went every week to give the cattle salt and to 
watch the springs. 

X02 



The House of the Dead Man 

As we rode I presently noticed that Abner was 
looking down at the horsetrack. And then I saw 
what I had not noticed before, that there were three 
horsetracks in the road — two going our way and 
one returning — but only one of the tracks was fresh. 
Finally Abner pulled up his big chestnut. We were 
passing the old burned house. The crumbled 
foundations and the blasted trees stood at the end 
of a lane. There had once been a gate before the 
house at the end of this lane, but it was now nailed 
up. The horse going before us had entered this 
lane for a few steps, then turned back into the road. 

Abner did not speak. He looked at the track 
for a moment and then rode on. Presently we came 
to the bars leading from the road into the pasture. 
The horse had stopped here and its rider had got 
out of the saddle and let down the bars. One could 
see where the horse had gone through and the foot- 
prints of the rider were visible in the soft clay. The 
old horsetrack also went in and came out at these 
bars. 

Abner examined the man's footprints with what 
I thought was an excess of interest. Travelers were 
always going through one's land ; and, provided they 
closed the bars behind them, what did it matter? 
Abner seemed concerned about this traveler how- 
ever. When we had entered the field he sat for 
some time in the saddle ; and then, instead of going 
to the hills where the springs were, he rode up the 
valley toward a piece of woods. There was a little 

103 



Uncle Abner 



rivulet threading this valley and he watched it as 
he rode. 

Finally, just before the rivulet entered the woods, 
he stopped and got down out of his saddle. When 
I came up he was looking at a track on the edge of 
the little stream. It was the footprint of a man, 
still muddy where the water had run into it. Abner 
stood on the bank beside the rivulet, and for a good 
while I could not imagine what he was waiting for. 
Then, as he watched the track, I understood. He 
was waiting for the muddy water to clear so he 
could see the imprint of the man's foot. 

"Uncle Abner," I said, "what do you care about 
who goes through the field?" 

"Ordinarily I do not care," he said, "if the man 
lays up the fence behind him ; but there is something 
out of the ordinary about this thing. The man who 
crossed there on foot is the same man who came in 
on the horse. The footprints here and at the bars 
show the same plate on the bootheel. He rode a 
horse that had been here before today, because it 
remembered the lane and tried to turn in there. 
Moreover, the man did not wish to be seen, because 
he came early, hid the horse and went on foot back 
toward the burned house." 

"How do you know that he had hidden the horse, 
Uncle Abner?" 

For answer he beckoned to me and we rode into 
the woods. The leaves were damp and the horses 
made no sound. In a few moments Abner stopped 

104 



The House of the Dead Man 

and pointed through the beech trees, and I saw a bay 
horse tied to a sapling. The horse stood with his 
legs wide apart and his head down. 

"The horse is asleep," said Abner; "it has been 
ridden all night. We must find the rider." 

I was now alive with interest. The old story of 
the robbery floated before me in romantic colors. 
What innocent person would come here by stealth, 
ride his horse all night and then hide it in the woods? 
Moreover, as Abner said, this horse had been to 
the sheriff's house before today; and it had been 
there before the house was burned — because it had 
started to enter the old lane and had been turned 
back by its rider. We were all familiar with such 
striking examples of memory in horses. A horse, 
having once gone over a road and entered at a cer- 
tain gate, will follow that road on a second trip and 
again enter that gate. 

Then I remembered the old horsetrack that had 
preceded this one, and the solution of this thing ap- 
peared before me. The story had gone about that 
two men had robbed the sheriff and these evidences 
tallied with that story. Two men had ridden into 
that pasture; that one track was older was because 
one of the men had gone to tell the other to meet 
him here — had ridden back — and the other had fol- 
lowed. The horse of the first robber was ^doubt- 
less concealed deeper in the wood. And why had 
they returned? That was clear enough — they had 

105 



Uncle Abner 



concealed the booty until now and had just come back 
for it. 

The thrill of adventure tingled in my blood. We 
were on the trail of the robbers and they could not 
easily escape us. The one who had ridden this 
horse could not be far away, since his track in the 
brook was muddy when we found it; but why had 
he crossed the brook in the direction of the burned 
house? The way over the hill toward the house 
was wholly in the open, — clean sod, not even a tree. 
The man on foot could not have been out of sight 
of us when we rode across the brook and round the 
brow of the hill — but he was out of sight. We sat 
there in our saddles and searched the land, lying 
smooth and open before us. There was the burned 
house below, bare as my hand, and the meadows, all 
open to the eye. A rabbit could not have hidden— 
where was the rider of that worn-out, sleeping 
horse? 

Abner sat there looking down at this clean, open 
land. A man could not vanish into the air ; he could 
not hide in a wisp of blue grass; he could not cross 
three hundred acres of open country while his track 
in a running brook remained muddy. He could have 
reached the brow of the hill and perhaps gone down 
to the house, but he could not have passed the mead- 
ows and the pasture field beyond without wings on 
his shoulders. 

The morning was on its way ; the air was like lotus. 
The sun, still out of sight, was beginning to gild the 

106 



The House of the Dead Man 

hilltops. I looked up; away on the knob at the 
summit of the hill there was an old graveyard — 
that was a curious custom, to put our dead on the 
highest point of land. A patch of sunlight lay on 
this village of the dead — and as I looked a thing 
caught my eye. 

I turned in the saddle. 

"I saw something flash up there, Uncle Abner." 

"Flash," he said— "like a weapon?" 

"Glitter," I said. And I caught up the bridle- 
rein. 

But Abner put his hand on the bk. 

"Quietly, Martin," he said. "We will ride slowly 
round the hill, as though we were looking for the 
cattle, and go up behind that knob; there is a ridge 
there and we shall not be seen until we come out on 
the crest of the hill beside the graveyard." 

We rode idly away, stopping now and then, like 
persons at their leisure. But I was afire with in- 
terest. All the way to the crest of the hill the 
blood skipped in my veins. The horses made no 
sound on the carpet of green sod. And when we 
came out suddenly beside the ancient graveyard I 
fully expected to see there a brace of robbers — like 
some picture in a story; — with bloody cloths around 
their heads and pistols in their belts; or two be- 
whiskered pirates before a heap of pieces-of-eight. 

On the tick of the clock I was disillusioned, how- 
ever. A man who had been kneeling by a grave 
rose. I knew him in the twinkling of an eye. He 

107 



Uncle Abner 



was the sheriff and in the twinkling of an eye I knew 
why he was there; and I was covered with confus- 
ion. His father was buried in this old graveyard. 
It was a land where men concealed their feelings as 
one conceals the practice of a crime ; and one would 
have stolen his neighbor's goods before he would 
have intruded upon the secrecy of his emotions. 

I pulled up my horse and would have turned back, 
pretending that I had not seen him, for I was 
ashamed; but Abner rode on and presently I fol- 
lowed in amazement. If Abner had cursed his 
horse or warbled a ribald song I could not have been 
more astonished. I was ashamed for myself and 
I was ashamed for Abner. How could he ride in 
on a man who had just got up from beside his 
father's grave? My mind flashed back over Ab- 
ner's life to find a precedent for this conspicuous in- 
considerate act; but there was nothing like it in all 
the history of the man. 

When the sheriff saw us he wiped his face with his 
sleeve and went white as a sheet. And under my 
own shirt I felt and suffered with the man. I should 
have gone white like that if one had caught me thus. 
And in my throat I choked with bitterness at Abner. 
Had his heart tilted and every generous instinct been 
emptied out of it? Then I thought he meant to 
turn the thing with some word that would cover the 
man's confusion and save his feelings inviolate ; but 
he shocked me out of that. 

"Smallwood," said Abner, "you have come back!" 
10S 



The House of the Dead Man 

The man blinked as though the sun were in his 
eyes. He had not yet regained the mastery of him- 
self. v 

"Yes," he said. 

"And why do you come?" said Abner. 

A flush of scarlet spread over the man's white 
face. 

"And do you ask me that?" he cried. "It is the 
tomb of my father!" 

"Your father," said Abner, "was an upright man. 
He lived in* the fear of God. I respect his tomb." 

"I thank you, Abner," replied the man. "I honor 
my father's grave." 

"You honor it late," said Abner. 

"Late I" echoed Smallwood. 

"Late," said Abner. s 

The man spread out his hands with a gesture of 
resignation. 

"You mean that my misfortune has dishonored 
my father?" 

"No," said Abner, "that is not what I mean ; by 
a misfortune no man can be dishonored — neither his 
father nor his father's father." 

"What is it you mean, then?" said the man 

"Smallwood," said Abner, "is it not before you; 
where you in your ownership allowed the fence 
around this grave to rot I have rebuilt it, and where 
you allowed the weeds to grow up I have cut them 
down?" 

It was the truth. Abner had put up a fence and 
109 



Uncle Abner 



had cleaned the graveyard. Only the myrtle and 
cinquefoil covered it. I thought the sheriff would 
be ashamed at that, but his face brightened. 

"It is disaster, Abner, that brings a man back to 
his duties to the dead. In prosperity we forget, but 
in poverty we remember." 

"The Master," replied Abner, "was not very 
much concerned about the dead; nor am I. The 
dead are in God's keeping I It is our duties to the 
living that should move us. Do you remember, 
Smallwood, the story of the young man who wished 
to go and bury his father?" 

"I do," said Smallwood, "and I have always held 
him in honor for it." 

"And so, too, the Master would have held him, 
but for one thing." 

"What thing?" said Smallwood. 

"That the story was an excuse," replied Abner. 

I saw the light go out of the man's face and his 
lips tremble; and then he said what I was afraid he 
would say. 

"Abner," he said, "if you are determined to gouge 
this thing out of me, why here it is : I cannot bear 
to live in this community any longer. I am ashamed 
to see those upon whom I have brought misfortune 
— Elnathan Stone, and your brother Rufus, and 
Adam Greathouse. I have made up my mind to 
leave the country forever, but I wanted to see the 
place where my father was buried before I went, be- 
cause I shall never see it again. You don't under- 

no 



The House of the Dead Man 

stand how a man can feel like that; but I tell you, 
when a man is in trouble he will remember his 
father's roof if he is living, and his father's grave 
if he is dead." 

I was so mortified before this confession that 
Abner's heartless manner had forced out of the man 
that I reached over and caught my uncle by the 
sleeve. My horse stood by Abner's chestnut, and 
I hoped that he would yield to my importunity and 
ride on ; but he turned in his saddle and looked first 
at me and then down upon the sheriff, 

"Martin," he said, "thinks we ought to leave you 
to your filial devotions," 

"It is a credit to the child's heart," replied the 
man, "and a rebuke to you, Abner. It is a pity that 
age robs us of charity." 

. Abner put his hands on the pommel of his saddle 
and regarded the sheriff. 

"I have read St. Paul's epistle on charity," he 
said, "and, after long reflection, I am persuaded 
that there exists a greater thing than charity — a 
thing of more value to the human family. Like 
charity, it rejoiceth not in iniquity, but it does not 
bear all things or believe all things, or endure all 
things; and, unlike charity, it seeketh its own. . . . 
Do you know what thing I mean, Small wood? I 
will tell you. It is Justice." 

"Abner," replied the man, "I am in no humor to 
hear a sermon." 

m 



Uncle Abner 



"Those who need a sermon," said Abner, "are 
rarely in the humor to hear it." 

"Abner," cried the man, "you annoy me ! Will 
you ride on?" 

"Presently," replied Abner; "when we have 
talked together a little further. You are about to 
leave the country. I shall perhaps never see you 
again and I would have your opinion upon a certain 
matter." 

"Well," said the man, "what is it?" 

"It is this," said Abner. "You appear to enter- 
tain great filial respect, and I would ask you a ques- 
tion touching that regard : What ought to be done 
with a man who would use a weapon against his 
father?" 

"He ought to be hanged," said Smallwood. 

"And would it change the case," said Abner, "if 
the father held something which the son had in- 
trusted to him and would not give it up because it 
belonged to another, and the son, to take it, should 
come against his father with an iron in his hand?" 

The sheriff's face became a land of doubt, of sus- 
picion, of uncertainty and, I thought, of fear. 

"Abner," cried the man, "I do not understand; 
will you explain it?" 

"I will explain this thing which you do not un- 
derstand," replied Abner, "when you have explained 
a thing which I do not understand. Why was it 
that you came here last night and again this morn- 
ing? That was two visits to your father's grave 

112 



The House of the Dead Man 

within six hours. I do not understand why you 
should make two trips — and one upon the heels of 
the other." 

For a moment the man did not reply; then he 
spoke. 

"How do you know that I was here last night? 
Did you see me come or did another see and tell 
you?" 

"I did not see you," replied Abner, "nor did any 
one tell me that you came ; but I know it in spite of 
that." 

"And how do you know it?" said Smallwood. 

"I will tell you," said Abner. "On the road this 
morning I observed two horse-tracks leading this 
way; they both turned in at the same crossroads and 
they both came to this place. One was fresh, the 
other was some hours old — it is easy to tell that on 
a clay road. I compared those two tracks and the 
third returning track, and presently I saw that they 
had been made by the same horse." 

Abner stopped and pointed down toward the 
beech woods. 

"Moreover," he continued, "your horse, hidden 
among those trees, is worn out and asleep. Now 
you live only some twenty miles away — that journey 
this morning would not have so fatigued your horse 
that he would sleep on his feet ; but to make two trips 
i — to go all night — to travel sixty miles — would 
doit." 

The sheriff's head did not move, but I saw his 
"3 



Uncle Abner 



eyes glance down. The glance did not escape Abner 
and he went on. 

"I saw the crowbar in the grass there some time 
ago," he said; "but what has the crowbar to do with 
your two trips?" 

I, too, saw now the iron bar. It was the thing 
that had glittered in the sun. 

The man threw back his shoulders; he lifted his 
face and stood up. There came upon him the pose 
and expression of one who steps out at last desper- 
ately into the open. 

"Yes," he said, "I was here last night. It was 
my horse that made those tracks in the road and it 
is my horse that is hidden in the woods now. And 
that is my crowbar in the grass. . • • And do you 
want to know why I made those two trips, and why 
I brought that crowbar, and why I hid my horse? 
♦ . . Well, I'll tell you, since there is no shame in 
you and no decent feeling, and you are determined 
to have it. . . . You can't understand, Abner, be- 
cause you have a heart of stone; but I tell you I 
wanted to see my father's grave before I left the 
country forever. I was ashamed to meet the people 
over here and so I came in the night. When I got 
here I saw that the heavy slab over my father's 
grave had settled down and was wedged in against 
the coping. I tried to straighten it up, but I could 
not. . . . Well, what would you have done, Abner 
— gone away and left your father's tomb a ruin? 
. . . No matter what you would have done! I 

114 



The House of the Dead Man 

went back twenty miles and got that crowbar and 
came again to lift and straighten the stone over my 
father's grave before I left it. . . . And now, will 
you ride on and leave me to finish my work and go?" 

"Smallwood," Abner said presently, "how do you 
know that your house was robbed before it was 
burned? Might it not be that the county revenues 
were burned with the house?" 

"I will tell you how I know that, Abner," replied 
the man. "The revenues of the county were all in 
my deerskin saddle-pockets, under my pillow; when 
I awoke in the night the house was dark and filled 
with smoke. I jumped up, seized my clothes, 
which were on a chair by the bed, and ran down- 
stairs; but, first, I felt under the pillow for my sad- 
dle-pockets — and they were gone." 

"But, Smallwood," said Abner, "how can you be 
certain that the money was stolen out of your sad- 
dle-pockets if you did not find them?" 

"I did find them," replied the sheriff; "I went 
back into the house and got the saddle-pockets and 
brought them out — and they were empty." 

"That was a brave thing to do, Smallwood," said 
Abner — "to go back into a burning house filled with 
smoke and dark. You could have had only a mo- 
ment." 

"You speak the truth, Abner," replied the sheriff. 
"I had only a moment — the house was a pot of 
smoke. But the money was in my care, Abner. 

ii5 



Uncle Abner 



There was my duty — and what is a man's life against 
that!" 

I saw Abner's back straighten and I heard his feet 
grind on the iron of his stirrups. 

"And now, Smallwood," he said, and his voice was 
like the menace of a weapon, "will you tell me how 
it was possible for you to go into a house that was 
dark and filled with smoke, and thus quickly — in a 
moment — find those empty saddle pockets, unless 
you knew exactly where they were?" 

I saw that Abner's question had impaled the man, 
as one pierces a fly through with a needle; and, like 
a fly, the man in his confusion fluttered. 

"Smallwdod," said Abner, "you are a thief and a 
hypocrite and a liar ! And, like all liars, you have 
destroyed yourself ! You not only stole this money 
but you tried to make your father an accomplice in 
that robbery. To conceal it, you hid it in this dead 
man's house. And, behold, the dead man has held 
his house against you! When you came here last 
night to carry away the money you found that the 
slab over your father's grave had fallen and wedged 
itself in against the limestone coping, and you could 
not lift it; and so you went back for that crowbar. 
. . . But who knows, you thief, what influence, 
though he be dead, a just man has with God! I 
came in time to help your father hold his house— - 
and against his son, with a weapon in his hand!" 

I saw the man cringe and writhe and shiver, as 
though he were unable to get out of his tracks; then 

116 



The House of the Dead Man 

the power came to him, and he vaulted over the 
fence and ran. He ran in fear down the hill and 
across the brook and into the wood; and a moment 
later he came out with his tired horse at a gallop. 

Abner looked down from the hilltop on the flying 
thief, but he made no move to follow. 

"Let him go," he said, "for his father's sake. 
We owe the dead man that much." 

Then he got down from his horse, thrust the 
.crowbar under the slab over the grave and lifted it 
up. 

Beneath it were the sheriff's deerskin saddle* 
pockets and the stolen money 1 



CHAPTER VII: A Twilight Adventure 

IT was a strange scene that we approached. 
Before a crossroad leading into a grove of 
beech trees, a man sat on his horse with a rifle 
across his saddle. He did not speak until we were 
before him in the road, and then his words were 
sinister. 

"Ride on!" he said. 

But my Uncle Abner did not ride on. He pulled 
up his big chestnut and looked calmly at the man. 

"You speak like one having authority, 91 he said. 

The man answered with an oath. 

"Ride on, or you'll get into trouble !" 

"I am accustomed to trouble," replied my uncie 
with great composure; "you must give me a better 
reason.' 9 

"I'll give you hell!" growled the man. "Ride 
on!". 

Abner's eyes traveled over the speaker with a 
deliberate scrutiny. 

"It is not yours to give," he said, "although pos- 
sibly to receive. Are the roads of Virginia held by 
arms?" 

"This one is," replied the man. 

"I think not," replied my Uncle Abner, and, 
touching his horse with his heel, he turned into the 
crossroad. 

u» 



A Twilight Adventure 



The man seized his weapon, and I heard the 
hammer click under his thumb. Abner must have 
heard it, too, but he did not turn his broad back. 
He only called to me in his usual matter-of-fact 
voice : 

"Go on, Martin; I will overtake you." 

The man brought his gun up to his middle, but 
he did not shoot. He was like all those who under- 
take to command obedience without having first 
determined precisely what they will do if their 
orders are disregarded. He was prepared to 
threaten with desperate words, but not to support 
that threat with a desperate act, and he hung there 
uncertain, cursing under his breath. 

I would have gone on as my uncle had told me 
to do, but now the man came to a decision. 

"No, by God!" he said; "if he goes in, you go 
in, too!" 

And he seized my bridle and turned my horse 
into the crossroad; then he followed. 

There is a long twilight in these hills. The sun 
departs, but the day remains. A sort of weird, 
dim, elfin day, that dawns at sunset, and envelops 
and possesses the world. The land is full of light, 
but it is the light of no heavenly sun. It is a light 
equal everywhere, as though the earth strove to 
illumine itself, and succeeded with that labor. 

The stars are not yet out. Now and then a pale 
moon rides in the sky, but it has no power, and the 
light is not from it. The wind is usually gone; the 

119 



Uncle Abner 



air is soft, and the fragrance of the fields fills it like 
a perfume. The noises of the day and of the crea- 
tures that go about by day cease, and the noises of 
the night and of the creatures that haunt the night 
begin. The bat swoops and circles in the maddest 
action, but without a sound. The eye sees him, but 
the ear hears nothing. The whippoorwill begins 
his plaintive cry, and one hears, but does not see. 

It is a world that we do not understand, for we 
are creatures of the sun, and we are fearful lest we 
come upon things at work here, of which we have 
no experience, and that may be able to justify 
themselves against our reason. And so a man falls 
into silence when he travels in this twilight, and he 
looks and listens with his senses out on guard. 

It was an old wagon-road that we entered, with 
the grass growing between the ruts. The horses 
traveled without a sound until we began to enter a 
grove of ancient beech trees; then the dead leaves 
cracked and rustled. Abner did not look behind 
him, and so he did not know that I came. He knew 
that some one followed, but he doubtless took it for 
the sentinel in the road. And I did not speak. 

The man with the cocked gun rode grimly behind 
me. I did not know whither we went or to what 
end. We might be shot down from behind a tree 
or murdered in our saddles. It was not a land where 
men took desperate measures upon a triviality. And 
I knew that Abner rode into something that little 

I40 



A Twilight Adventure 



men, lacking courage, would gladly have stayed 
out of. 

Presently my ear caught a sound, or, rather, a 
confused mingling of sounds, as of men digging in 
the earth. It was faint, and some distance beyond 
us in the heart of the beech woods, but as we trav- 
eled the sound increased and I. could distinguish 
the strokes of the mattock, and the thrust of the 
shovel and the clatter of the earth on the dry leaves. 

These sounds seemed at first to be before us, and 
then, a little later, off on our right-hand. And finally, 
through the gray boles of the beech trees in the 
lowland, I saw two men at work digging a pit. 
They had just begun their work, for there was lit- 
tle earth thrown out. But there was a great heap 
of leaves that they had cleared away, and heavy 
cakes of the baked crust that the mattocks had 
pried up. The length of the pit lay at right angles 
to the road, and the men were working with their 
backs toward us. They were in their shirts and 
trousers, and the heavy mottled shadows thrown by 
the beech limbs hovered on their backs and shoul- 
ders like a flock of night birds. The earth was 
baked and hard; the mattock rang on it, and among 
the noises of their work they did not hear us. 

I saw Abner look off at this strange labor, his 
head half turned, but he did not stop and we went 
on. The old wagon-road made a turn into the low 
ground. I heard the sound of horses, and a moment 
later we came upon a dozen men. 

121 



Uncle Abner 



I shall not easily forget that scene. The beech 
trees had been deadened by some settler who had 
chopped a ring around them, and they stood gaunt 
with a few tattered leaves, letting the weird twi- 
light in. Some of the men stood about, others sat 
on the fallen trees, and others in their saddles. But 
upon every man of that grim company there was 
the air and aspect of one who waits for something 
to be finished. 

An old man with a heavy iron-gray beard smoked 
a pipe, puffing out great mouthfuls of smoke with 
a sort of deliberate energy; another whittled a 
stick, cutting a bull with horns, and shaping his 
work with the nicest care; and still another traced 
letters on the pommel of his saddle with his thumb- 
nail. 

A little to one side a great pronged beech thrust 
out a gray arm, and under it two men sat on their 
horses, their elbows strapped to their bodies and 
their mouths gagged with a saddle-cloth. And be- 
hind them a man in his saddle was working with a 
colt halter, unraveling the twine that bound the 
headpiece and seeking thereby to get a greater 
length of rope. 

This was the scene when I caught it first. But a 
moment later, when my uncle rode into it, the thing 
burst into furious life. Men sprang up, caught his 
horse by the bit and covered him with weapons. 
Some one called for the sentinel who rode behind 
me, and he galloped up. For a moment there was 

122 



A Twilight Adventure 



confusion. Then the big man who had smoked with 
such deliberation called out my uncle's name, others 
repeated it, and the panic was gone. But a ring 
of stern, determined faces were around him and 
before his horse, and with the passing of the flash 
of action there passed no whit of the grim purpose 
upon which these men were set. 

My uncle looked about him. 

"Lemuel Arnold/' he said; "Nicholas Vance, 
Hiram Ward, you here!'' 

As my uncle named these men I knew them. They 
were cattle grazers. Ward was the big man with 
the pipe. The men with them were their renters 
and drovers. 

Their lands lay nearest to the mountains. The 
geographical position made for feudal customs and 
a certain independence of action. They were on the 
border, they were accustomed to say, and had to 
take care of themselves. And it ought to be writ- 
ten that they did take care of themselves with cour- 
age and decision, and on occasion they also took care 
of Virginia. 

Their fathers had pushed the frontier of the do- 
minion northward and westward and had held the 
land. They had fought the savage single-handed 
and desperately, by his own methods and with his 
own weapons. Ruthless and merciless, eye for eye 
and tooth for tooth, they returned what they were 
given. 

They did not send to Virginia for militia when 
123 



Uncle Abner 



the savage came; they fought him at their doors, 
and followed him through the forest, and took their 
toll of death. They were hardier than he was, and 
their hands were heavier and bloodier, until the old 
men in the tribes of the Ohio Valley forbade these 
raids because they cost too much, and turned the 
war parties south into Kentucky. 

Certain historians have written severely of these 
men and their ruthless methods, and prattled of 
humane warfare ; but they wrote nursing their soft 
spines in the security of a civilization which these 
men's hands had builded, and their words are hol- 
low. 

"Abner," said Ward, "let me speak plainly. We 
have got an account to settle with a couple of cattle 
thieves and we are not going to be interfered with. 
Cattle stealing and murder have got to stop in these 
hills. We've had enough of it." 

"Well," replied my uncle, "I am the last man 
in Virginia to interfere with that. We have all had 
enough of it, and we are all determined that it must 
cease. But how do you propose to end it?" 

"With a rope," said Ward. 

"It is a good way," replied Abner, "when it is 
done the right way." 

"What do you mean by the right way?" said 
Ward. 

"I mean," answered my uncle, "that we have all 
agreed to a way and we ought to stick to our agree- 
ment. Now, I want to help you to put down cattle 

124 



A Twilight Adventure 



stealing and murder, but I want also to keep my 
word." 

"And how have you given your word?" 

"In the same way that you have given yours," 
said Abner, "and as every man here has given his. 
Our fathers found out that they could not manage 
the assassin and the thief when every man under- 
took to act for himself, so they got together and 
agreed upon a certain way to do these things. Now, 
we have indorsed what they agreed to, and prom- 
ised to obey it, and I for one would like to keep 
my promise." 

The big man's face was puzzled. Now it cleared. 

"Hell!" he said. "You mean the law?" 

"Call it what you like," replied Abner; "it is 
merely the agreement of everybody to do certain 
things in a certain way." 

The man made a decisive gesture with a jerk of 
his head. 

"Well," he said, "we're going to do this thing 
our own way." 

My uncle's face became thoughtful. 

"Then," he said, "you will injure some innocent 
people." 

"You mean these two blacklegs?" 

And Ward indicated the prisoners with a gesture 
of his thumb. 

My uncle lifted his face and looked at the two 
men some distance away beneath the great beech, 
as though he had but now observed them. 

125. 



Uncle Abner 



"I was not thinking of them," he answered. "I 
was thinking that if men like you and Lemuel Ar- 
nold and Nicholas Vance violate the law, lesser men 
will follow your example, and as you justify your 
act for security, they will justify theirs for revenge 
and plunder. And so the law will go to pieces and 
a lot of weak and innocent people who depend upon 
it for security will be left unprotected." 

These were words that I have remembered, be- 
cause they put the danger of lynch law in a light I 
had not thought of. But I saw that they would 
not move these determined men. Their blood was 
up and they received them coldly. 

"Abner," said Ward, "we are not going to argue 
this thing with you. There are times when men 
have to take the law into their own hands. We live 
here at the foot of the mountains. Our cattle are 
stolen and run across the border into Maryland. 
We are tired of it and we intend to stop it. 

"Our lives and our property are menaced by a 
set of reckless desperate devils that we have deter- 
mined to hunt down and hang to the first tree in 
Bight. We did not send for you. You pushed ypur 
way in here ; and now, if you are afraid of breaking 
the law, you can ride on, because we are going to 
break it — if to hang a pair of murderous devils is 
to break it." 

I was astonished at my uncle's decision. 

"Well," he said, "if the law must be broken, I 
will stay and help you break it!" 

126 



A Twilight Adventure 



"Very well," replied Ward; "but don't get a 
wrong notion in your head, Abner. If you choose 
to stay, you put yourself on a footing with every- 
body else." 

"And that is precisely what I want to do," replied 
Abner, "but as matters stand now, every man here 
has an advantage over me." 

"What advantage, Abner?" said Ward. 

"The advantage," answered my uncle, "that he 
has heard all the evidence against your prisoners 
and is convinced that they are guilty." 

"If that is all the advantage, Abner," replied 
Ward, "you shall not be denied it. There has been 
so much cattle stealing here of late that our people 
living on the border finally got together and deter- 
mined to stop every drove going up into the moun- 
tains that wasn't accompanied by somebody that we 
knew was all right. This afternoon one of my men 
reported a little bunch of about a hundred steers 
on the road, and I stopped it. These two men were 
driving the cattle. I inquired if the cattle belonged 
to them and they replied that they were not the own- 
ers, but that they had been hired to take the drove 
over into Maryland. I did not know the men, and 
as they met my inquiries with oaths and impreca- 
tions, I was suspicious of them. I demanded the 
name of the owner who had hired them to drive the 
cattle. They said it was none of my damned busi- 
ness and went on. I raised the county. We over- 
took them, turned their cattle into a field, and 

127 



Uncle Abner 



brought them back until we could find out who the 
drove belonged to. On the road we met Bowers." 

He turned and indicated the man who was work- 
ing with the rope halter. 

I knew the man. He was a cattle shipper, some- 
what involved in debt, but who managed to buy and 
sell and somehow keep his head above water. 

"He told us the truth. Yesterday evening he had 
gone over on the Stone-Coal to look at Daniel Coop- 
4 man's cattle. He had heard that some grazer from 
your county, Abner, was on the way up to buy the 
cattle for stockers. He wanted to get in ahead of 
your man, so he left home that evening and got to 
Coopman's place about sundown. He took a short 
cut on foot over the hill, and when he came out he 
saw a man on the opposite ridge where the road 
runs, ride away. The man seemed to have been 
sitting on his horse looking down into the little val- 
ley where Coopman's house stands. Bowers went 
down to the house, but Coopman was not there. 
The door was open, and Bowers says the house 
looked as though Coopman had just gone out of it 
and might come back any moment. There was no 
one about, because Coopman's wife had gone on a 
visit to her daughter, over the mountains, and the 
olcj man was alone. 

"Bowers thought Coopman was out showing the 
cattle to the man whom he had just seen ride off, 
so he went out to the pasture field to look for him. 
He could not find him and he could not find the 

128 



A Twilight Adventure 



cattle. He came back to the house to wait until 
Coopman should come in. He sat down on the 
porch. As he sat there he noticed that the porch 
had been scrubbed and was still wet. He looked at 
it and saw that it had been scrubbed only at one 
place before the door. This seemed to him a little 
peculiar, and he wondered why Coopman had scrub- 
bed his porch only in one place. He got up and 
as he went toward the door he saw that the jamb 
of the door was splintered at a point about half- 
way up. He examined this splintered place and 
presently discovered that it was a bullet hole. 

"This alarmed him, and he went out into the 
yard. There he saw a wagon track leading away 
from the house toward the road. In the weeds he 
found Coopman' s watch. He picked it up and put 
it into his pocket. It was a big silver watch, with 
Coopman's name on it, and attached to it was a 
buckskin string. He followed the track to the gate, 
where it entered the road. He discovered then that 
the cattle had also passed through this gate. It was 
now night. Bowers went back, got Coopman's sad- 
dle horse out of the stable, rode him home, and 
followed the track of the cattle this morning, but 
he saw no trace of the drove until we met him." 

"What did Shifflet and Twiggs say to this story?" 
inquired Abner. 

"They did not hear it," answered Ward; "Bowers 
did not talk before them. He rode aside with us 
when we met him." 

129 



Uncle Abner 



"Did Shifflet and Twiggs know Bowers ?" said 
Abner. 

"I don't know/' replied Ward; "their talk was 
so foul when we stopped the drove that we had to 
tie their mouths up." 

"Is that all?" said Abner. 

Ward swore a great oath. 

"No!" he said. "Do you think we would hang 
men on that? From what Bowers told us, we 
thought Shifflet and Twiggs had killed Daniel Coop* 
man and driven off his cattle ; but we wanted to be 
certain of it, so we set out to discover what they 
had done with Coopman's body after they had 
killed him and what they had done with the wagon. 
We followed the trail of the drove down to the 
Valley River. No wagon had crossed, but on the 
other side we found that a wagon and a drove of 
cattle had turned out of the road and gone along 
the basin of the river for about a mile through the 
woods. And there in a bend of the river we found 
where these devils had camped. 

"There had been a great fire of logs very near 
to the river, but none of the ashes of this fire re- 
mained. From a circular space some twelve feet in 
diameter the ashes had all been shoveled off, the 
marks of the shovel being distinct. In the center of 
the place where this fire had burned the ground had 
been scraped clean, but near the edges there were 
some traces of cinders and the ground wis black* 
ened. In the river at this point, just opposite the 

130 



A Twilight Adventure 



remains of the fire, was a natural washout or hole. 
We made a raft of logs, cut a pole with a fork on 
the end and dragged the river. We found most of 
the wagon iron, all showing the effect of fire. Then 
we fastened a tin bucket to a pole and fished the 
washout We brought up cinders, buttons, buckles 
and pieces of bone." 

Ward paused. 

"That settled it, and we came back here to swing 
the devils up." 

My uncle had listened very carefully, and now he 
spoke. 

"What did the man pay Twiggs and Shifflet?" 
said my uncle. "Did they tell you that when you 
stopped the drove?" 

"Now that," answered Ward, "was another 
piece of damning evidence. When we searched the 
men we found a pocketbook on Shifflet with a hun- 
dred and fifteen dollars and some odd cents. It was 
Daniel Coopman's pocketbook, because there was 
an old tax receipt in it that had slipped down be- 
tween the leather and the lining. 

"We asked Shifflet where he got it, and he said 
that the fifteen dollars and the change was his own 
money and that the hundred had been paid to him 
by the man who had hired them to drive the cattle. 
He explained his possession of the pocketbook by 
saying that this man had the money in it, and when 
he went to pay them he said that they might just 
as well take it, too." 

131 



Uncle Abner 



"Who was this man?" said Abner. 

"They will not tell who he was." 

"Why not?" 

"Now, Abner," cried Ward, "why not, indeed! 
Because there never was any such man. The story 
is a lie out of the whole cloth. Those two devils 
are guilty as hell. The proof is all dead against 
them." 

"Well," replied my uncle, "what circumstantial 
evidence proves, depends a good deal on how you 
get started. It is a somewhat dangerous road to 
the truth, because all the sign-boards have a curious 
trick of pointing in the direction that you are going. 
Now^ a man will never realize this unless he turns 
around and starts back, then he will see, to his 
amazement that the signboards have also turned. 
But as long as his face is set one certain way, it 
is of no use to talk to him, he won't listen to you; 
and if he sees you going the other way, he will call 
you a fool " 

"There is only one way in this case," said Ward. 

"There are always two ways in every case," re- 
plied Abner, "that the suspected person is either 
guilty or innocent. You have started upon the the- 
ory that Shifflet and Twiggs are guilty. Now, sup- 
pose you had started the other way, what then?" 

"Well," said Ward, "what then?" 

"This, then," continued Abner. "You stop Shiff- 
let and Twiggs on the road with Daniel Coopman's 
cattle, and they tell you that a man has hired them 

132 



A Twilight Adventure 



to drive this drove into Maryland. You believe 
that and start out to find the man. You find Bow- 
ers r 

Bowers went deadly white. 

"For God's sake, Abner I" he said. 

But my uncle was merciless and he drove in the 
conclusion. 

"What then?" 

There was no answer, but the faces of the men 
about my uncle turned toward the man whose trem- 
bling hands fingered the rope that he was prepar- 
ing for another. 

"But the things we found, Abner?" said Ward. 

"What do they prove," continued my uncle, "now 
that the signboards are turned? That somebody 
killed Daniel Coopman and drove off his cattle, and 
afterward destroyed the body and the wagon in 
which it was hauled away. . . . But who did that? 
• . . The men who were driving Daniel Coopman's 
cattle, or the man who was riding Daniel Coopman's 
horse, and carrying Daniel Coopman's watch in his 
pocket?" 

Ward's face was a study in expression. 

"Ah!" cried Abner. "Remember that the sign- 
boards have turned about. And what do they point 
to if we read them on the way we are going now? 
The man who killed Coopman was afraid to be 
found with the cattle, so he hired Twiggs and Shiff- 
let to drive them into Maryland for him and ioV 
lows on another road." 

133 



Uncle Abner 



"But his story, Abner?" said Ward. 

"And what of it?" replied my uncle. "He is 
taken and he must explain how he comes by the 
horse that he rides, and the watch that he carries, 
and he must find the criminal. Well, he tells you 
a tale to fit the facts that you will find when you 
go back to look, and he gives you Shifflet and Twiggs 
to hang." 

I never saw a man in more mortal terror than 
Jacob Bowers. He sat in his saddle like a man 
bewildered. 

"My God!! 1 he said, and again he repeated it, 
and again. 

And he had cause for that terror on him. My 
uncle was stern and ruthless. The pendulum had 
swung the other way, and the lawless monster that 
Bowers had allied was now turning on himself. He 
saw it and his joints were unhinged with fear. 

A voice crashed out of the ring of desperate men, 
uttering the changed opinion. 

"By God!" it cried, "weVe got the right man 
now." 

And one caught the rope out of Bowers' hand. 

But my Uncle Abner rode in on them. 

"Are you sure about that?" he said. 

"Sure !" they echoed. "You have shown it your- 
self, Abner." 

"No," replied my uncle, "I have not shown it. I 
have shown merely whither circumstantial evidence 
leads us when we go hotfoot after a theory. Bowers 

134 



A Twilight Adventure 



says that there was a man on the hill above Daniel 
Coopman's house, and this man will know that he 
did not kill Daniel Coopman and that his story is 
the truth." 

They laughed in my uncle's face. 
"Do you believe that there was any such person?" 
My uncle seemed to increase in stature, and his 
voice became big and dominant. 

"I do," he said, "because I am the man!" 
They had got their lesson, and we rode out with 
Shifflet and Twiggs to a legal trial. 



CHAPTER VIII: The Age of Miracles 

THE girl was standing apart from the crowd 
in the great avenue of poplars that led 
up to the house. She seemed embarrassed 
and uncertain what to do, a thing of April emerging 
into Summer. 

Abner and Randolph marked her as they entered 
along the gravel road. 

They had left their horses at the gate, but she had 
brought hers inside, as though after some habit un- 
consciously upon her. 

But half-way to the house she had remembered 
and got down. And she stood now against the 
horse's shoulder. It was a black hunter, big and 
old, but age marred no beauty of his lines. He was 
like a horse of ebony, enchanted out of the earth 
by some Arabian magic, but not yet by that magic 
awakened into life. 

The girl wore a long, dark riding-skirt, after the 
fashion of the time, and a coat of hunter's pink. 
Her dark hair was in a great wrist-thick plait. Her 
eyes, too, were big and dark, and her body firm and 
lithe from the out-of-doors. 

"Ah I" cried Randolph, making his characteristic 
gesture, "Prospero has been piping in this grove? 
Here is a daughter of the immortal morning I We 

136 



The Age of Miracles 



grow old, Abncr, and it is youth that the gods love." 

My uncle, his hands behind him, his eyes on the 
gravel road, looked up at the bewitching picture. 

"Poor child," he said; "the gods that love her 
must be gods of the valleys and not gods of the 
hills." 

"Ruth amid the alien corn ! Is it a better figure, 
Abner? Well, she has a finer inheritance than 
these lands; she has youth!" 

"She ought to have both," replied my uncle* 
"It was sheer robbery to take her inheritance." 

"It was a proceeding at law," replied the Justice. 
"It was the law that did the thing, and we can not 
hold the law in disrespect." 

"But the man who uses the law to accomplish a 
wrong, we can so hold," said Abner. "He is an 
outlaw, as the highwayman and the pirate are." 

He extended his arm toward the great house sit- 
ting at the end of the avenue. 

"In spite of the sanction of the law, I hold this 
dead man for a robber. And I would have wrested 
these lands from him, if I could. But your law* 
Randolph, stood before him." 

"Well," replied the Justice, "he takes no gain 
from it; he lies yonder waiting for the grave." 

"But his brother takes," said Abner, "and this 
child loses." 

The Justice, elegant in the costume of the time* 
turned his ebony stick in his fingers. 

"One should forgive the dead," he commented in 
137 



Uncle Abner 



a facetious note; v 'it is a mandate of the Scripture." 

"I am not concerned about the dead," replied 
Abner. "The dead are in God's hands. It is the 
living who concern me." 

"Then," cried the Justice, "you should forgive the 
brother who takes." 

"And I shall forgive him," replied Abner, "when 
he returns what he has taken." 

"Returns what he has taken!" Randolph laughed. 
"Why, Abner, the devil could not filch a coin out 
of the clutches of old Benton Wolf." 

"The devil," said my uncle, "is not an authority 
that I depend on." 

"A miracle of Heaven, then," said the Justice. 
"But, alas, it is not the age of miracles." 

"Perhaps," replied Abner, his voice descending 
into a deeper tone, "but I am not so certain." 

They had come now to where the girl stood, her 
back against the black shoulder of the horse. The 
morning air moved the yellow leaves about her feet. 
She darted out to meet them, her face aglow. 

"Damme !" cried Randolph. "William of Avon 
knew only witches of the second order! How do 
you do, Julia? I have hardly seen you since you 
were no taller than my stick, and told me that your 
name was 'Pete-George,' and that you were a cir- 
cus-horse, and offered to do tricks for me." 

A shadow crossed the girl's face. 

"I remember," she said, "it was up there on the 
porch!" 

138 



The Age of Miracles 



"Egad!" cried Randolph, embarrassed. "And so 
it was !" 

He kissed the tips of the girl's fingers and the 
shadow in her face fled. 

For the man's heart was good, and he had the 
manner of a gentleman. But it was Abner that she 
turned to in her dilemma. 

"I forgot," she said, "and almost rode into the 
house. Do you think I could leave the horse here? 
He will stand if I drop the rein." 

Then she went on to make her explanation. She 
wanted to see the old house that had been so long 
her home. This was the only opportunity, to-day, 
when all the countryside came to the dead man's 
burial. She thought she might come, too, although 
her motive was no tribute of respect. 

She put her hand through Abner's arm and he 
looked down upon her, grave and troubled. 

"My child," he said, "leave the horse where he 
stands and come with me, for my motive, also, is no 
tribute of respect; and you go with a better right 
than I do." 

"I suppose," the girl hesitated, "that one ought to 
respect the dead, but this man — these men — 1 can 
not." 

"Nor can I," replied my uncle. "If I do not re- 
spect a man when he is living, I shall not pretend to 
when he is dead. One does not make a claim upon 
my honor by going out of life." 

They went up the avenue among the yellow poplar 

139 



Uncle Abner 



leaves and the ragweed and fennel springing up 
along the unkept gravel. 

It was a crisp and glorious morning. The frost 
lay on the rail fence. The spider-webs stretched 
here and there across the high grasses of the mead- 
ows in intricate and bewildering lace-work. The sun 
was clear and bright, but it carried no oppressive 
heat as it drew on in its course toward noon. 

The countryside had gathered to see Adam Wolf 
buried. It was a company of tenants, the idle and 
worthless mostly, drawn by curiosity. For in life 
the two old men who had seized upon this property 
by virtue of a defective acknowledgment to a deed, 
permitted no invasion of their boundary. 

Everywhere the lands were posted; no urchin 
fished and no schoolboy hunted. The green perch, 
fattened in the deep creek that threaded the rich 
bottom lands, no man disturbed. But the quail, the 
pheasant, the robin and the meadow-lark, old Adam 
pursued with his fowling-piece. He tramped about 
with it at all seasons. One would have believed 
that all the birds of heaven had done the creature 
some unending harm and in revenge he had declared 
a war. And so the accident by which he met his 
death was a jeopardy of the old man's habits, and 
to be looked for when one lived with a fowling-piece 
in one's hands and grew careless in its use. 

The two men lived alone and thus all sorts of 
mystery sprang up around them, elaborated by the 
negro fancy and gaining in grim detail at every 

140 



The Age of Miracles 



story-teller's hand. It had the charm and thrilling 
interest of an adventure, then, for the countryside 
to get this entry. 

The brothers lived in striking contrast. Adam 
was violent, and his cries and curses, his hard and 
brutal manner were the terror of the negro who 
passed at night that way, or the urchin overtaken 
by darkness on his road home. But Benton got 
about his affairs in silence, with a certain humility 
of manner, and a mild concern for the opinion of his 
fellows. Still, somehow, the negro and the urchin: 
held him in a greater terror. Perhaps because he 
had got his coffin made and kept it in his house, to- 
gether with his clothes for burial. It seemed un- 
canny thus to prepare against his dissolution and to 
bargain for the outfit, with anxiety to have his shil- 
ling's worth. 

And yet, with this gruesome furniture at hand, the 
old man, it would seem, was in no contemplation of 
his death. He spoke sometimes with a marked 
savor and an unctuous kneading of the hands of that 
time when he should own the land, for he was the 
younger and by rule should have the expectancy of 
life. 

There was a crowd about the door and filling the 
hall inside, a crowd that elbowed and jostled, taken 
with a quivering interest, and there to feed its maw 
of curiosity with every item. 

The girl wished to remain on the portico, where 
she could see the ancient garden and the orchard and 

141 



Uncle Abner 



all the paths and byways that had been her wonder- 
land of youth, but Abner asked her to go in. 

Randolph turned away, but my uncle and the girl 
remained some time by the coffin. The rim of the 
dead man's forehead and his jaw were riddled with 
bird-shot, but his eyes and an area of his face below 
them, where the thin nose came down and with its 
lines and furrows made up the main identity of fea- 
tures, were not disfigured. And these preserved the 
hard stamp of his violent nature, untouched by the 
accident that had dispossessed him of his life. 

He lay in the burial clothes and the coffin that 
Benton Wolf had provided for himself, all except 
the gloves upon his hands. These the old man had 
forgot. And now when he came to prepare his 
brother for a public burial, for no other had touched 
the man, he must needs take what he could find 
about the house, a pair of old, knit gloves with every 
rent and moth-hole carefully darned, as though the 
man had sat down there with pains to give his 
brother the best appearance that he could. 

This little touch affected the girl to tears, so 
strange is a woman's heart. "Poor thing !" she said. 
And for this triviality she would forget the injury 
that the dead man and his brother had done to her, 
the loss they had inflicted, and her long distress. 

She took a closer hold upon Abner's arm, and 
dabbed her eyes with a tiny kerchief. 

"I am sorry for him," she said, "for the living 
brother. It is so pathetic." 

142 



The Age of Miracles 



And she indicated the old, coarse gloves so 
crudely darned and patched together. 

But my uncle looked down at her, strangely, and 
with a cold, inexorable face. 

"My child," he said "there is a curious virtue in 
this thing that moves you. Perhaps it will also move 
the man whose handiwork it is. Let us go up and 
see him." 

Then he called the Justice. 

"Randolph," he said, "come with us." 

The Justice turned about. "Where do you go?'* 
he asked. 

"Why, sir," Abner answered, "this child is weep- 
ing at the sight of the dead man's gloves, and I 
thought, perhaps, that old Benton might weep at 
them too, and in the softened mood return what he 
has stolen." 

The Justice looked upon Abner as upon one gone 
mad. 

"And be sorry for his sins ! And pluck out his 
eye and give it to you for a bauble ! Why, Abner, 
where is your common sense. This thing would 
take a miracle of God." 

My uncle was undisturbed. 

"Well," he said, "come with me, Randolph, and 
help me to perform that miracle." 

He went out into the hall, and up the wide old 
stairway, with the girl, in tears, upon his arm. And 
the Justice followed, like one who goes upon a pat- 
ent and ridiculous fool's errand. 

143 



Uncle Abner 



They came into an upper chamber, where a great 
bulk of a man sat in a padded chair looking down 
upon his avenue of trees. He looked with satisfac- 
tion. He turned his head about when the three 
came in and then his eyes widened in among the 
folds of fat. 

"Abner and Mr. Randolph and Miss Julia Clay- 
borne I" he gurgled. "You come to do honor to the 
dead!" 

"No, Wolf," replied my uncle, "we come to do 
justice to the living." 

The room was big, and empty but for chairs and 
an open secretary of some English make. The pic- 
tures on the wall had been turned about as though 
from a lack of interest in the tenant. But there hung 
in a frame above the secretary — with its sheets of 
foolscap, its iron ink-pot and quill pens — a map in 
detail, and the written deed for the estate that these 
men had taken in their lawsuit. It was not the skill 
of any painter that gave pleasure to this mountain 
of a man; not fields or groves imagined or copied 
for their charm, but the fields and groves that he 
possessed and mastered. And he would be re- 
minded at his ease of them and of no other. 

The old man's eyelids fluttered an instant as with 
some indecision, then he replied, "It was kind to 
have this thought of me. I have been long neg- 
lected. A litde justice of recognition, even now, 
does much to soften the sorrow at my brother's 
death." Randolph caught at his jaw to keep in the 

144 



The Age of Miracles 



laughter. And the huge old man, his head crouched 
into his billowy shoulders, his little reptilian eye 
shining like a crum of glass, went on with his speech. 

"I am the greater moved," he said, "because you 
have been aloof and distant with me. You, Abner, 
have not visited my house, nor you, Randolph, al- 
though you live at no great distance. It is not thus 
that one gentleman should treat another. And es- 
pecially when I and my dead brother, Adam, were 
from distant parts and came among you without a 
friend to take us by the hand and bring us to your 
door." 

He sighed and put the fingers of his hands to- 
gether. 

"Ah, Abner," he went on, "it was a cruel negli- 
gence, and one from which I and my brother Adam 
suffered. You, who have a hand and a word at 
every turning, can feel no longing for this human 
comfort. But to the stranger, alone, and without 
the land of his nativity, it is a bitter lack." 

He indicated the chairs about him. 

"I beg you to be seated, gentlemen and Miss Clay- 
borne. And overlook that I do not rise. I am 
shaken at Adam's death." 

Randolph remained planted on his feet, his face 
now under control. But Abner put the child into 
a chair and stood behind it, as though he were some 
close and masterful familiar. 

"Wolf," he said, "I am glad that your heart is 
softened." 

145 



Uncle Abner 



"My heart — softened !" cried the man. "Why, 
iAbner, I have the tenderest heart of any of God's 
creatures. I can not endure to kill a sparrow. My 
brother Adam was not like that. He would be for 
hunting the wild creatures to their death with fire- 
arms. But I took no pleasure in it." 

"Well," said Randolph, "the creatures of the air 
got their revenge of him. It was a foolish accident 
to die by." 

"Randolph," replied the man, "it was the very end 
and extreme of carelessness. To look into a fowl- 
ing-piece, a finger on the hammer, a left hand hold- 
ing the barrel half-way up, to see if it was empty. 
It was a foolish and simple habit of my brother, and 
one that I abhorred and begged him to forego, again 
and again, when I have seen him do it. 

"But he had no fear of any firearms, as though by 
use and habit he had got their spirit tamed — as 
trainers, I am told, grow careless of wild beasts, 
and jugglers of the fangs and poison of their rep- 
tiles. He was growing old and would forget if they 
were loaded." 

He spoke to Randolph, but he looked at Julia 
Clayborne and Abner behind her chair. 

The girl sat straight and composed, in silence. 
The body of my uncle was to her a great protecting 
presence. He stood with his broad shoulders above 
her, his hands on the back of the chair, his face 
lifted. And he was big and dominant, as painters 
are accustomed to draw Michael in Satan's wars. 

146 



The Age of Miracles 



The pose held the old man's eye, and he moved in 
his chair; then he went on, speaking to the girl. 

"It was kind of you, Abner, and you, Randolph, 
to come in to see me in my distress, but it was fine 
and noble in Miss Julia Clayborne. Men will un- 
derstand the justice of the law and by what right it 
gives and takes. But a child will hardly understand 
that. It would be in nature for Miss Clayborne in 
her youth, to hold the issue of this lawsuit against 
me and my brother Adam, to feel that we had 
wronged her; had by some unfairness taken what 
her father bequeathed to her at his death, and al- 
ways regarded as his own. A child would not see 
how the title had never vested, as our judges do. 
How possession is one thing, and the title in fee sim- 
ple another and distinct. And so I am touched by 
this consideration." 

Abner spoke then. 

"Wolf," he said, "I am glad to find you in this 
mood, for now Randolph can write his deed, with 
consideration of love and affection instead of the 
real one I came with." 

The old man's beady eye glimmered and slipped 
about. 

"I do not understand, Abner. What deed?" 

"The one Randolph came to write," replied my 
uncle. 

"But, Abner," interrupted the Justice, "I did not 
come to write a deed." And he looked at my uncle 
in amazement. 

147 



Uncle Abner 



"Oh, yes," returned Abner, "that is precisely what 
you came to do." 

He indicated the open secretary with his hand. 

"And the grantor, as it happens, has got every- 
thing ready for you. Here are foolscap and quill 
pens and ink. And here, exhibited for your conven- 
ience, is a map of the lands with all the metes and 
bounds. And here," he pointed to the wall, "in a 
frame, as though it were a work of art with charm, 
is the court's deed. Sit down, Randolph, and 
write." And such virtue is there in a dominant com- 
mand, that the Justice sat down before the secretary 
and began to select a goose quill. 

Then he realized the absurdity of the direction 
and turned about. 

"What do you mean, Abner?" he cried. 

"I mean precisely what I say," replied my uncle. 
"I want you to write a deed." 

"But what sort of deed," cried the astonished 
Justice, "and by what grantor, and to whom, and for 
what lands?" 

"You will draw a conveyance," replied Abner, 
"in form, with covenants of general warranty for 
the manor and lands set out in the deed before you 
and given in the plat. The grantor will be Benton 
Wolf, esquire, and the grantee Julia Clayborne, in- 
fant, and mark you, Randolph, the consideration 
will be love and affection, with a dollar added for 
the form." 

The old man was amazed. His head, bedded 
148 



The Age of Miracles 



into his huge shoulders, swung about; his pudgy fea- 
tures worked; his expression and his manner 
changed; his reptilian eyes hardened; he puSed with 
his breath in gusts. 

"Not so fast, my fine gentleman!" he gurgled* 
"There will be no such deed." 

"Go on, Randolph," said my uncle, as though 
there had been no interruption, "let us get this busi- 
ness over." 

"But, Abner," returned the Justice, "it is fool 
work, the grantor will not sign." 

"He will sign," said my uncle, "when you have 
finished, and seal and acknowledge — go on!" 

"But, Abner, Abner!" the amazed Justice pro- 
tested. 

"Randolph," cried my uncle, "will you write, and 
leave this thing to me?" 

And such authority was in the man to impose his 
will that the bewildered Justice spread out his sheet 
of foolscap, dipped his quill into the ink and began 
to draw the instrument, in form and of the parties, 
as my uncle said. And while he wrote, Abner 
turned back to the gross old man. 

"Wolf," he said, "must I persuade you to sign 
the deed?" 

"Abner," cried the man, "do you take me for a 
fool?" 

He had got his unwieldy body up and defiant in 
the chain 

149 



Uncle Abner 



"I do not," replied my uncle, "and therefore I 
think that you will sign." 

The obese old man spat violently on the floor, his 
face a horror of great folds. 

"Sign!" he sputtered. "Fool, idiot, madman! 
Why should I sign away my lands?" 

"There are many reasons," replied Abner calmly. 
"The property is not yours. You got it by a legal 
trick, the judge who heard you was bound by the 
technicalities of language. But you are old, Wolf, 
and the next Judge will go behind the record. He 
will be hard to face. He has expressed Himself on 
these affairs. 'If the widow and the orphan cry to 
me, I will surely hear their cry.' Sinister words, 
Wolf, for one who comes with a case like yours into 
the court of Final Equity." 

"Abner," cried the old man, "begone with your 
little sermons !" 

My uncle's big fingers tightened on the bade of 
the chair. 

"Then, Wolf," he said, "if this thing does not 
move you, let me urge the esteem of men and this 
child's sorrow, and our high regard." 

The old man's jaw chattered and he snapped his 
fingers. 

"I would not give that for the things you name," 
he cried, and he set off a tiny measure on his index- 
finger with the thumb. 

"Why, sir, my whim, idle and ridiculous, is a 
greater power to move me than this drivel." 

150 



The Age of Miracles 



Abner did not move, but his voice took on depth 
and volume. 

"Woh," he said, u a whim is sometimes a great 
lever to move a man. Now, I am taken with a whim 
myself. I have a fancy, Wolf, that your brother 
Adam ought to go out of the world barehanded as 
he came into it." 

The old man twisted his great head, as though he 
would get Abner wholly within the sweep of his rep- 
tilian eye. 

"What?" he gurgled. "What is that?" 

"Why, this," replied my uncle. "I have a whim 
— -'idle and ridiculous,' did you say, Wolf? Well, 
then, idle and ridiculous, if you like, that your 
brother ought not to be buried in his gloves." 

Abner looked hard at the man and, although he 
did not move, the threat and menace of his presence 
seemed somehow to advance him. And the effect 
upon the huge old man was like some work of sor- 
cery. The whole mountain of him began to quiver 
and the folds of his face seemed spread over with 
thin oil. He sat piled up in the chair and the oily 
sweat gathered and thickened on him. His jaw 
jerked and fell into a baggy gaping and the great 
expanse of him worked as with an ague. 

Finally, out of the pudgy, undulating mass, a voice 
issued, thin and shaken. 

"Abner," it said, "has any other man this fancy?" 

"No," replied my uncle, "but I hold it, Wolf, at 
your decision." 

151 



Uncle Abner 



"And, Abner," his thin voice trebled, "you will let 
my brother be buried as he is?" 

"If you sign!" said my uncle. 

The man reeked and grew wet in the terror on 
him, and one thought that his billowy body would 
never be again at peace. "Randolph," he quav- 
ered, "bring me the deed." 

Outside, the girl sobbed in Abner's arms. She 
asked for no explanation. She wished to believe 
her fortune a miracle of God, forever — to the end 
of all things. But Randolph turned on my uncle 
when she was gone. 

"Abner 1 Abner!" he cried. "Why in the name 
of the Eternal was the old creature so shaken at the 
gloves?" 

"Because he saw the hangman behind them," re- 
plied my uncle. "Did you notice how the rim of 
the dead man's face was riddled by the bird-shot and 
the center of it clean? How could that happen, 
Randolph?" 

"It was a curious accident of gun-fire," replied the 
Justice. 

"It was no accident at all," said Abner. "That 
area of the man's face is clean because it was pro- 
tected. Because the dead man put up his hands to 
cover his face when he saw that his brother was 
about to shoot him. 

"The backs of old Adam's hands, hidden by the 
gloves, will be riddled with bird-shot like the rim of 
his face." 

152 



CHAPTER IX: The Tenth Commandment 

THE afternoon sun was hot, and when the 
drove began to descend the long wooded 
hill we could hardly keep them out of the 
timber. We were bringing in our stock cattle. We 
had been on the road since daybreak and the cattle 
were tired. Abner was behind the drove and I was 
riding the line of the wood. The mare under me 
knew as much about driving cattle as I did, and be- 
tween us we managed to keep the steers in the road; 
but finally a bullock broke away and plunged down 
into the deep wood. Abner called to me to turn all 
the cattle into the grove on the upper side of the 
road and let them rest in the shade while we got the 
runaway steer out of the underbrush: I turned the 
drove in among the open oak trees, left my mare to 
watch them and went on foot down through the un- 
derbrush. The long hill descending to the river was 
unfenced wood grown up with thickets. I was per- 
haps three hundred yards below the road when I 
lost sight of the steer, and got up on a stump to look. 
I did not see the steer, but in a thicket beyond me 
I saw a thing that caught my eye. The bushes had 
been cut out, the leaves trampled, and there was a 
dogwood fork driven into the ground. About fifty 
feet away there was a steep bank and below it a 
horse path ran through the wood. 

153 



Uncle Abner 



The thing savored of mystery. All round was a 
dense tangle of thicket, and here, hidden at a point 
commanding the horse path, was this cleared spot 
with the leaves trampled and the forked limb of a 
dogwood driven into the ground. I was so absorbed 
that I did not know that Abner had ridden down 
the hill behind me until I turned and saw him sit- 
ting there on his great chestnut gelding looking over 
the dense bushes into the thicket. 

He got down out of his saddle, parted the bushes 
carefully and entered the thicket. There was a hol- 
low log lying beyond the dogwood fork. Abner put 
his hand into the log and drew out a gun. It was a 
bright, new, one-barreled fowling-piece! — a muzzle- 
loader, for there were no breech-loaders in that 
country then. Abner turned the gun about and 
looked it over carefully. The gun was evidently 
loaded, because I could see the cap shining under the 
hammer. Abner opened the brass plate on the 
stock, but it contained only a bit of new tow and the 
implement, like a corkscrew, which fitted to the ram- 
rod and held the tow when one wished to clean the 
gun. It was at this moment that I caught sight of 
the steer moving in the bushes and I leaped down 
and ran to head him off, leaving Abner standing 
with the gun in his hands. 

When I got the steer out and across the road into 
the drove Abner had come up out of the wood. He 
was in the saddle, his clenched hand lay on the pom- 
mel. 

154 



The Tenth Commandment 

I was afraid to ask Abner questions when he 
looked like that, but my curiosity overcame me. 

"What did you do with the gun, Uncle Abner?" 

"I put it back where it was," he said. 

"Do you know who the owner is?" 

"I do not know who he is," replied Abner without 
looking in my direction, "but I know what he is — 
he is a coward!" 

The afternoon drew on. The sun moved 
towards the far-off chain of mountains. Silence lay 
on the world. Only the tiny creatures of the air 
moved with the hum of a distant spinner, and the 
companies of yellow butterflies swarmed on the 
road. The cattle rested in the shade of the oak 
trees and we waited. Abner's chestnut stood like a 
horse of bronze and I dozed in the saddle. 

Shadows were entering the world through the 
gaps and passes of the mountains when I heard a 
horse. I stood up in my stirrups and looked. 

The horse was traveling the path running through 
the wood below us. I could see the rider through 
the trees. He was a grazer whose lands lay west- 
ward beyond the wood. In the deep, utter silence 
I could hear the creak of his saddle-leather. Then 
suddenly as he rode there was the roar of a gun, 
and a cloud of powder smoke blotted him out of 
sight. 

In that portentous instant of time I realized the 
meaning of the things that I had seen there in the 
thicket. It was an ambush to kill this man! The 

155 



Uncle Abner 



foiic in the ground was to hold the gun-barrel so the 
assassin could not miss his mark. 

And with this understanding came an appalling 
sense of my Uncle Abner's negligence. He must 
have known all this when he stood there in the 
thicket, and when he knew it, why had he left that 
gun there ? Why had he put it back into its hiding- 
place? Why had he gone his way thus unconcern- 
edly and left this assassin to accomplish his mur- 
der? Moreover, this man riding there through the 
wood was a man whom Abner knew. His house 
was the very house at which Abner expected to stop 
this night. We were on our way there 1 

It was in one of those vast spaces of time that a 
second sometimes stretches over that I put these 
things togethei and jerked my head toward Abner, 
but he sat there without the tremor of a muscle. 

The next second I saw the frightened horse plung- 
ing in the path and I looked to see its saddle empty, 
or the rider reeling with the blood creeping through 
his coat, or some ghastly thing that clutched and 
swayed. But I did not see it. The rider sat firmly 
in his saddle, pulled up the horse, and, looking idly 
about him, rode on. He believed the gun had been 
fired by some hunter shooting squirrels. 

"Oh," I cried, "he missed!" 

But Abner did not reply. He was standing in his 
stirrups searching the wood. 

"How could he miss, Uncle Abner," I said, "when 
156 



The Tenth Commandment 

he was so near to the path and had that fork to rest 
his gun-barrel in? Did you see him?" 

It was some time before Abner answered, and then 
his reply was to my final query. 

"I did not see him," he said deliberately. "He 
must have slipped away somehow through the 
thicket." 

That was all he said, and for a good while he was 
silent, drumming with his fingers on the pommel of 
his saddle and looking out over the distant treetops. 

The sun was touching the mountains before Ab- 
ner began to move the drove. We got the cattle out 
of the wood and started the line down the long hill. 
The road forked at the bottom of the hill — one 
branch of it, the main road, went on to the house of 
the grazer with whom we had expected to spend the 
night and the other turned off through the wood. 

I was astonished when Abner turned the drove 
into this other road, but I said nothing, for I pres- 
ently understood the reason for this change of plans. 
One could hardly accept the hospitality of a man 
when he had negligently stood by to see him mur- 
dered. 

In half a mile the road came out into the open. 
There was a big new house on a bit of rising land 
and, below, fields and meadows. I did not know 
the crossroad, but I knew this place.. The man, Dill- 
worth, who lived here had been sometime the clerk 
of the county court. He had got this land, it was 
said, by taking advantage of a defective record, and 

157 



Uncle Abner 



he had now a suit in chancery against the neighbor- 
ing grazers for the land about him. He had built 
this great new house, in pride boasting that it would 
sit in the center of the estate that he would gain. I 
had heard this talked about — this boasting, and how 
one of the grazers had sworn before the courthouse 
that he would kill Dillworth on the day that the de- 
cree was entered. I knew in what esteem Abner 
held this man and I wondered that he should choose 
him to stay the night with. 

When we first entered the house and while we ate 
our supper Abner had very little to say, but after 
that, when we had gone with the man out on to the 
great porch that overlooked the country, Abner 
changed — I think it was when he picked up the 
county newspaper from the table. Something in 
this paper seized on his attention and he examined it 
with care. It was a court notice of the sale of lands 
for delinquent taxes, but the paper had been torn 
and only half of the article was there. Abner 
called our host's attention to it. 

"Dillworth," he said, "what lands are included in 
this notice?" 

"Are they not there?" replied the man. 

"No," said Abner, "a portion of the newspaper 
is gone. It is torn off at a description of the Jen- 
kins' tract" — and he put his finger on the line and 
showed the paper to the man — "what lands follow 
after that?" 

"I do not remember the several tracts," Dill- 
158 



The Tenth Commandment 

worth answered, "but you can easily get another 
copy of the newspaper. Are you interested in these 
lands?" 

"No," said Abner, "but I am interested in this 
notice." 

Then he laid the newspaper on the table and sat 
down in a chair. And then it was that his silence 
left him and he began to talk. 

Abner looked out over the country. 

"This is fine pasture land," he said. 

Dillworth moved forward in his chair. He was 
a big man with a bushy chestnut beard, little glim- 
mering eyes and a huge body. 

"Why, Abner," he said, "it is the very best land 
that a beef steer ever cropped the grass on." 

"It is a corner of the lands that Daniel Davisson 
got in a grant from George the Third," Abner con- 
tinued. "I don't know what service he rendered the 
crown, but the pay was princely — a man would do 
king's work for an estate like this." 

"King's work he would do," said Dillworth, "or 
hell's work. Why, Abner, the earth is rich for a 
yard down. I saw old Hezekiah Davisson buried in 
it, and the shovels full of earth that the negroes 
threw on him were as black as their faces, and the 
sod over that land is as clean as a woman's hair. I 
was a lad then, but I promised myself that I would 
one day possess these lands." 

"It is a dangerous thing to covet the possession of 
another," said Abner. "King David tried it and 

159 



Uncle Abner 



he had to do— what did you call it, Dillworth? — 
'hell's work.'" 

"And why not," replied Dillworth, "if you get 
the things you want by it?" 

"There are several reasons," said Abner, "and 
one is that it requires a certain courage. Hell's work 
is heavy work, Dillworth, and the weakling who 
goes about it is apt to fail." 

Dillworth laughed. "King David didn't fail, did 
he?" 

"He did not," replied Abner; "but David, the 
son of Jesse, was not a coward." 

"Well," said Dillworth, "I shall not fail either. 
My hands are not trained to war like this, but they 
are trained to lawsuits." 

"You got this wedge of land on which your house 
is built by a lawsuit, did you not?" said Abner. 

"I did," replied Dillworth; "but if men do not 
exercise ordinary care they must suffer for that neg- 
ligence." 

"Well," said Abner, "the little farmer who lived 
here on this wedge suffered enough for his. When 
you dispossessed him he hanged himself in his stable 
with a halter." 

"Abner," cried Dillworth, "I have heard enough 
about that. I did not take the man's life. I took 
what the law gave me. If a man will buy land and 
not look up the title it is his own fault." 

"He bought at a judicial sale," said Abner, "and 
he believed the court would not sell him a defective 

1 60 



The Tenth Commandment 

■ 

title. He was an honest man, and he thought the 
world was honest." 

"He thought wrong," said Dillworth. 

"He did," said Abner. 

"Well," cried Dillworth, "am I to blame because 
there is a fool the less? Will the people never learn 
that the court does not warrant the title to the lands 
that it sells in a suit in chancery? The man who 
buys before the courthouse door buys a pig in a 
poke, and it is not the court's fault if the poke is 
empty. The judge could not look up the title to 
every tract of land that comes into his court, nor 
could the title to every tract be judicially determined 
in every suit that involves it. To do that, every 
suit over land would have to be a suit to determine 
title and every claimant would have to be a party." 

"What you say may be the truth," said Abner, 
"but the people do not always know it." 

"They could know it if they would inquire," an- 
swered Dillworth; "why did not this man go before 
the judge?" 

"Well," replied Abner, "he has gone before a 
greater Judge." Abner leaned back in his chair and 
his fingers rapped on the table. 

"The law is not always justice," he said. "Is it 
not the law that a man may buy a tract of land and 
pay down the price in gold and enter into the pos- 
session of it, and yet, if by inadvertence the justice 
of the peace omits to write certain words into the 

161 



Uncle Abner 



acknowledgment of the deed, the purchaser takes no 
title and may be dispossessed of his lands?" 

"That is the law," said Dillworth emphatically; 
"it is the very point in my suit against these grazers. 
Squire Randolph could not find his copy of Mayo's 
Guide on the day that the deeds were drawn and so 
he wrote from memory." 

Abner was silent for a moment. 

"It is the law," he said, "but is it justice, Dill- 
worth?" 

"Abner," replied Dillworth, "how shall we know 
what justice is unless the law defines it?" 

"I think every man knows what it is," said Abner. 

"And shall every man set up a standard of his 
own," said Dillworth, "and disregard the standard 
that the law sets up? That would be the end of 
justice." 

"It would be the beginning of justice," said Ab- 
'ner, "if every man followed the standard that God 
gives him." 

"But, Abner," replied Dillworth, "is there a court 
that could administer justice if there were no arbi- 
trary standard and every man followed his own?" 

"I think there is such a court," said Abner. 

Dillworth laughed. 

"If there is such a court it does hot sit in Vir- 
ginia. 

Then he settled his huge body in his chair and 
spoke like a lawyer who sums up his case. 

"I know what you have in mind, Abner, but it is 
• 162 



( 
\ 



The Tenth Commandment 

a fantastic nation. You would saddle every man 
with the thing you call a conscience, and let that ride 
him. Well, I would unsaddle him from that. 
What is right? What is wrong? These are vexed 
questions. I would leave them to the law. Look 
what a burden is on every man if he must decide the 
justice of every act as it comes up. Now the law 
would lift that burden from his shoulders, and I 
would let the law bear it." 

"But under the law," replied Abner, "the weak 

and the ignorant suffer for their weakness and for 

this ignorance, and the shrewd and the cunning profit 

w4>y their shrewdness and by their cunning. How 

would you help that?" 

"Now, Abner," said Dillworth, "to help that you 
would have to make the world over." 

Again Abner was silent for a while. 

"Well," he said, "perhaps it could be done if every 
man put his shoulder to the wheel." 

"But why should it be done?" replied Dillworth. 
"Does Nature do it? Look with what indifference 
she kills off the weakling. Is there any pity in her 
or any of your little soft concerns? I tell you these 
things are not to be found anywhere in Nature — 
theyare man-made." 

"Or God-made," said Abner. 

"Call it what you like," replied Dillworth, "it 
will be equally fantastic, and the law would be fan- 
tastic to follow after it. As for myself, Abner, I 
would avoid these troublesome refinements. Since 

163 



Uncle Abner 



the law will undertake to say what is right and what 
is wrong I shall leave her to say it and let myself go 
free. What she requires me to give I shall give, and 
what she permits me to take I shall take, and there 
shall be an end of it." 

"It is an easy standard," replied Abner, "and it 
simplifies a thing that I have come to see you about" 

"And what have you come to see me about?" said 
Dillworth; "I knew that it was for something you 
came." 

And he laughed a little, dry, nervous laugh. 

I had observed this laugh breaking now and then 
into his talk and I had observed his uneasy manner 
ever since we came. There was something below 
the surface in this man that made him nervous and 
it was from that under thing that this laugh broke 
out 

"It is about your lawsuit," said Abner. 

"And what about it?" 

"This," said Abner: "That your suit has reached 
the point where you are not the man to have charge 
of it." 

"Abner," cried Dillworth, "what do you mean?" 

"I will tell you," said Abner. "I have followed 
the progress of this suit, and you have won it. On 
any day that you call it up the judge will enter a de- 
cree, and yet for a year it has stood there on the 
docket and you have not called it up. Why?" 

Dillworth did not reply, but again that dry, 
nervous laugh broke out. 

164 



The Tenth Commandment 

"I will answer for you, Dillworth," said Abner 
—"you arc afraid!" 

Abner extended his arm and pointed out over the 
pasture lands, growing dimmer in the gathering twi- 
light, across the river, across the wood to where 
lights moved and twinkled. 

"Yonder," said Abner, "lives Lemuel Arnold; he 
is the only man who is a defendant in your suit, the 
others are women and children. I know Lemuel 
Arnold. I intended to stop this night with him un- 
til I thought of you. I know the stock he comes 
from. When Hamilton was buying scalps on the 
Ohio, and haggling with the Indians over the price 
to be paid for those of the women and the children, 
old Hiram Arnold walked into the conference: 
'Scalp-buyer,' he said, 'buy my scalps; there are no 
little ones among them,' and he emptied out on to 
the table a bagful of scalps of the king's soldiefs. 
That man was Lemuel Arnold's grandfather and 
that is the blood he has. You would call him vio- 
lent and dangerous, Dillworth, and you would b£ 
right. He is violent and he is dangerous. I know 
what he told you before the courthouse door. And, 
Dillworth, you are afraid of that. And so you sit 
here looking out over these rich lands and coveting 
them in your heart — and are afraid to take them." 

The night was descending, and I sat on a step of 
the great porch, in the shadow, forgotten by these 
two men. Dillworth did not move, and Abner 
went on. 

i6 5 



Uncle Abner 



"That is bad for you, Dillworth, to sit here and 
brood over a thing like this. Plans will come to 
you that include 'hell's work'; this is no thing for 
you to handle. Put it into my hands." 

The man cleared his throat with that bit of ner- 
vous laugh. 

"How do you mean — into your hands?" he said. 

"Sell me the lawsuit," replied Abner. 

Dillworth sat back in his chair at that and covered 
his jaw with his hand, and for a good while he was 
silent. 

"But it is these lands I want, Abner, not the money 
for them." 

. "I know what you want," said Abner, "and I will 
agree to give you a proportion of all the lands that 
I recover in the suit." 

"It ought to be a large proportion, then, for the 
suit is won." 

"As large as you like," said Abner. 

Dillworth got up at that and walked about the 
porch. One could tell the two things that were mov- 
ing in his mind : That Abner was, in truth, the man 
to carry the thing through, — he stood well before 
the courts and he was not afraid; and the other thing 
— How great a proportion of the lands could he de- 
mand? Finally he came back and stood before the 
table. 

"Seven-eights then. Is it a bargain?" 

"It is," said Abner. "Write out the contract. 1 ' 

A negro brought foolscap paper, ink, pens and a 
166 



The Tenth Commandment 

candle arid set them cm the table. Dillworth wrote, 
and when he had finished he signed the paper and 
made his seal with a flourish of the pen after his 
signature. Then he handed the contract to Abner' 
across the table. 

Abner read it aloud, weighing each legal term 
and every lawyer's phrase in it. Dillworth had 
knowledge of such things and he wrote with skill. 
Abner folded the contract carefully and put it into 
his pocket, then he got a silver dollar out of his 
leather wallet and flung it on to the table, for the 
paper read : "In consideration of one dollar cash in 
hand paid, the receipt of which is hereby acknowl- 
edged." The coin struck hard and spun on the oak 
board. "There," he Said, "is your silver. It is the 
money that Judas was paid in and, like that first 
payment to Judas, it is all you'll get." 

Dillworth got on his feet. "Abner," he said, 
"what do you drive at now?" 

"This," replied Abner: "I have bought your 
lawsuit; I have paid you for it, and it belongs to me. 
The terms of that sale are written down and signed. 
You are to receive a portion of what I recover; but 
if I recover nothing you can receive nothing." 

"Nothing?" Dillworth echoed. 

"Nothing!" replied Abner. 

Dillworth put his big hands on the table and 
rested his body on them ; his head drooped below his 
shoulders, and he looked at Abner across the table. 

"You mean — you mean " 

167 



Uncle Abner 



"Yes," said Abner, "that is what I mean. I shall 
dismiss this suit" 

"Abner," the other wailed, "this is ruin — these 
lands — these rich lands 1" And he put out his arms, 
as toward something that one loves. "I have been 
a fool. Give me back my paper." Abner arose. 

"Dillworth," he said, "you have a short memory. 
You said that a man ought to suffer for his lack of 
care, and you shall suffer for yours. You said that 
pity was fantastic, and I find it fantastic now. You 
said that you would take what the law gives you; 
well, so shall L" 

The sniveling creature rocked his big body gro- 
tesquely in his chair. 

"Abner," he whined, "why did you come here to 
ruin me?" 

"I did not come to ruin you," said Abner. "I 
came to save you. But for me you would have done 
a murder." 

"Abner," the man cried, "you are mad. Why 
should I do a murder?" 

"Dillworth," replied Abner, "there is a certain 
commandment prohibited, not because of the evil in 
it, but because of the thing it leads to — because there 
follows it — I use your own name, Dillworth, 'hell's 
work.' This afternoon you tried to kill Lemuel Ar- 
nold from an ambush." 

Terror was on the man. He ceased to rock his 
body. He leaned forward, staring at Abner, the 
muscles of his face flabby. 

168 



The Tenth Commandment 

"Did you sec me?" 

"No," replied Abner, "I did not" 

The man's body seemed, at that, to escape from 
some hideous pressure. He cried out in relief, and 
his voice was like air wheezing from the bellows. 

"It's a lie! a lie! a lie!" 

I saw Abner look hard at the man, but he could 
not strike a thing like that. 

"It's the truth," he said, "you are the man; but 
when I stood in the thicket with your weapon in my 
hand I did not know it, and when I came here I did 
not know it. But I knew that this ambush was the 
work of a coward, and you were the only coward 
that I could think of. No," he said, "do not delude 
yourself — that was no proof. But it was enough to 
bring me here. And the proof? I found it in this 
house. I will show it to you. But before I do that, 
Dillworth, I will return to you something that is 
yours." 

He put his hand into his pocket, took out a score 
of buckshot and dropped them on the table. > They 
clattered off and rolled away on the floor. 

"And that is how I saved you from murder, Dill- 
worth. Before I put your gun back into the hollow 
log I drew all the charge in it except the powder." 

He advanced a step nearer to the table. 

"Dillworth," he said, "a little while ago I asked 
you a question that you could not answer. I asked 
you what lands were included in the notice of sale for 
delinquent taxes printed in that county newspaper. 

169 



Uncle Abner 



Half of the newspaper had been torn off, and with 
it the other half of that notice. And you could not 
answer. Do you remember that question, Dill- 
worth? Well, when I asked it of you I had the an- 
swer in my pocket. The missing part of that notice 
was the wadding over the buckshot !" 

He took a crumpled piece of newspaper out of his 
pocket and joined it to the other half lying before 
Dillworth on the table. 

"Look," he said, "how the edges fit!" 



CHAPTER X: The Devil's Tools 

I WAS about to follow my Uncle Abner into the 
garden when at a turn of the hedge, I stopped. 
A step or two beyond me in the sun, screened 
by a lattice of vines, was a scene that filled me full 
of wonder. Abner was standing quite still in the 
path, and a girl was clinging to his arm, with her 
face buried against his coat. There was no sound, 
but the girl's hands trembled and her shoulders were 
convulsed with sobs. 

Whenever I think of pretty women, even now, I 
somehow always begin with Betty Randolph, and 
yet, I cannot put her before the eye, for all the 
memories. She remains in the fairy-land of youth, 
and her description is with the poets ; their extrava- 
gances intrude and possess me, and I give it up. 

I cannot say that a woman is an armful of apple 
blossoms, as they do, or as white as milk, and as 
playful as a kitten. These are happy collocations 
of words and quite descriptive of her, but they are 
not mine. Nor can I draw her in the language of 
a civilization to which she does not belong — one of 
wheels and spindles with its own type ; superior, no 
doubt, but less desirable, I fancy. The age that 
grew its women in romance and dowered them with 
poetic fancies was not so impracticable as you think. 
It is a queer world; those who put their faith in 

171 



Uncle Abner 



the plow are rewarded by the plow, and those who 
put their faith in miracles are rewarded by miracles. 

I -remained in the shelter of the hedge in some 
considerable wonder. We had come to pay our 
respects to this young woman on her approaching 
marriage, and to be received like this was somewhat 
beyond our expectations. There could be nothing 
in this marriage on which to found a tragedy of 
tears. It was a love match if ever there was one. 

Edward Duncan was a fine figure of a man; his 
lands adjoined, and he had ancestors enough for 
Randolph. He stood high in the hills, but I did 
not like him. You will smile at that, seeing what 
I have written of Betty Randolph, and remember- 
ing how, at ten, the human heart is desperately 
jealous. 

The two had been mated by the county gossips 
from the cradle, and had lived the prophecy. The 
romance, too, had got its tang of denial to make it 
sharper. The young man had bought his lands and 
builded his house, but he must pay for them before 
he took his bride in, Randolph said, and he had 
stood by that condition. 

There had been some years of waiting, and Ran- 
dolph had been stormed. The debt had been re- 
duced, but a mortgage remained, until now, by 
chance, it had been removed, and the gates of Para- 
dise were opened. Edward Duncan had a tract of 
wild land in the edge of Maryland which his father 
had got for a song at a judicial sa^e. He had sold 

172 



The Devil's Tools 



this land, he said, to a foreign purchaser, and so got 
the money to clear off his debt. He had written to 
Betty, who was in Baltimore at the time, and she 
had hurried back with frocks and furbelows. The 
day was set, we had come to see how happy 
she would be, and here she was clinging to my Uncle 
Abner's arm and crying like her heart would break. 

It was sometime before the girl spoke, and Abner 
stood caressing her hair, as though she were a little 
child. When the paroxysms of tears was over she 
told him what distressed her, and I heard the story, 
for the turn of the hedge was beside them, and I 
could have touched the girl with my hand. She took 
a worn ribbon from around her neck and held it 
out to Abner. There was a heavy gold cross slung 
to it on a tiny ring. I knew this cross, as every one 
did; it had been her mother's, and the three big em- 
eralds set in it were of the few fine gems in the 
county* They were worth five thousand dollars, and 
had been passed down from the divided heirlooms 
of an English grandmother. I knew what the matter 
was before Betty Randolph said it. The emeralds 
were gone. The cross lying in her hand was bare. 

She told the story in a dozen words. The jewels 
had been gone for some time, but her father had not 
known it until to-day. She had hoped he would 
never know, but by accident he had found it out. 
Then he had called an inquisition, and sat down to 
discover who had done the robbery. And here it 
was that Betty Randolph's greatest grief came in. 

173 



Uncle Abner 



The loss of the emeralds was enough; but to have 
her old Mammy Liza, who had been the only mother 
that she could remember, singled out and interro- 
gated for the criminal, was too much to be borne. 
Her father was now in his office proceeding with 
the outrage. Would my Uncle Abner go and see 
him before he broke her heart? 

Abner took the cross and held it in his hand. He 
asked a question or two, but, on the whole, he said 
very little, which seemed strange to me, with the 
matter to clear up. How long had the emeralds 
been missing? And she replied that they had been 
in the cross before her trip to Baltimore, and miss- 
ing at her return. She had not taken the cross on 
the journey. It had remained among her posses- 
sions in her room. She did not know when she had 
seen it on her return. 

And she began once more to cry, and her dainty 
mouth to tremble, and the big tears to gather in 
her brown eyes. 

Abner promised to go in and brave Randolph at 
his inquisition, and bring Mammy Liza out. He 
bade Betty walk in the garden until he returned, 
and she went away comforted. 

But Abner did not at once go in. He remained 
for some moments standing there with the cross in 
his hand; then, to my surprise, he turned about and 
went back the way that he had come. I had barely 
time to get out of his way, for he walked swiftly 
along the path to the gate, and down to the stable. I 

174 



The Devil's Tools 



followed, for I wondered why he went here instead 
of to the house, as he had promised. He crossed 
before the stables and entered a big shed where the 
plows and farm tools were kept, the scythes hung 
up, and the corn hoes. The shed was- of huge logs, 
roofed with clapboards, and open at each end. 

I lost a little time in making a detour around the 
stable, but when I looked into the shed between a 
crack of the logs, my Uncle Abner was sitting be- 
fore the big grindstone, turning it with his foot, and 
very delicately holding the cross on the edge of the 
stone. He paused and examined his work, and then 
continued. I could not understand what he was at. 
Why had he come here, and why did he grind the 
cross on the stone? At any rate, he presently 
stopped, looked about until he found a piece of old 
leather, and again sat down to rub the cross, as 
though to polish what he had ground. 

He examined his work from time to time, until 
a£ last it pleased him, and he got up. He went out 
of the shed and up the path toward the garden. I 
knew where he was going now and I took some short 
cuts. 

. Randolph's office was a wing built on to the main 
residence, after the fashion of the old Virginia man* 
sion house. It was a single story with a separate 
entrance, so arranged that the master of the house 
could receive his official visitors and transact his 
business without disturbing his domestic household. 

I was a very good Indian at that period of my 
175 



Uncle Abner 



life, and skilled in the acts of taking cover. I was 
ten years old and had lived the life of the Mohawk, 
with much care for accuracy of detail. True, it was 
a life I had now given up for larger affairs, but I 
retained its advantages. One does not spend whole 
afternoons at the blood-thirsty age of five, in stalk- 
ing the turkeycock in the wooded pasture, noise- 
lessly on his belly, with his wooden knife in his 
hand, and not come to the maturity of ten with 
the accomplishments of Uncas. 

I was presently in a snowball bush, with a very 
good view of Randolph's inquisition, and I think that 
if Betty had waited to see it, she need not have 
gone away in so great a grief. Randolph was sit- 
ting behind his table in his pompous manner and 
with the dignity of kings. But for all his attitudes, 
he took no advantage over Mammy Liza. 

The old woman sat beyond him, straight as a rod 
in her chair, her black silk dress smoothed into 
straight folds, her white cap prim and immaculate, 
her square-rimmed spectacles on her nose, and her 
hands in her lap. If there was royal blood on 
the Congo, she carried it in her veins, for her dig- 
nity was real. And there I think she held Ran- 
dolph back from any definite accusation. He ad- 
vanced with specious and sententious innuendoes and 
arguments, a priori and conclusion post hoc ergo 
propter hoc to inclose her as the guilty agent. But 
from the commanding position of a blameless life, 
she did not see it, and he could not make her see 

176 



The Devil's Tools 



it. She regarded this conference as that of two 
important persons in convention assembled, — a meet- 
ing together of the heads of the House of Randolph 
to consider a certain matter touching its goods and 
its honor. And, for all his efforts, he could not dis- 
lodge her from the serenity of that position. 

"Your room adjoins Betty's?" he said. 

"Yes, Mars Ran," she answered. "I's always 
slep' next to my chile, ever since her ma handed her 
to me outen the bed she was borned in." 

"And no one goes into her room but you?" 

"No, sah, 'ccptin' when I's there to see what 
they's doin'." 

"Then no other servant in this house could have 
taken anything out of Betty's room without your 
knowing it?" 

"That's right, Mars Ran. I'd 'a' knowed it." 

"Then," said Randolph, tightening the lines of 
his premises, "if you alone have access to the room, 
and no one goes in without your consent or knowl- 
edge, how could any other servant in this house 
have taken these jewels?" 

"They didn't!" said the old woman. "I's done 
had all the niggers up before me, an' I's ravaged 'em 
an' scarchified 'em." 

Her mouth tightened with the savage memory. 

"I knows 'em 1 I knows 'cm all — mopin' niggers, 
an' mealy mouthed niggers, an' shoutin' niggers, an' 
cussin' niggers, an' I knows all their carryin's-on, 
an' all their underhan' oneryness, an' all their low- 

177 



Uncle Abner 



down contraptions. An' they knows I knows it." 
She paused and lifted a long, black finger. 

"They fools Miss Betty, an' they fools you, Mars 
Ran, but they don't fool Mammy Liza." 

She replaced her hands together primly in the 
lap of her silk dress and continued in a confidential 
tone. 

" 'Course we knows niggers steals, but they steals 
eatables, an 9 nobody pays any 'tention to that. Your 
Grandpap never did, nor your pap, nor us. You 
can't be too hard on niggers, jist as you can't be 
too easy on 'em. If you's too hard, they gits down 
in the mouth, an' if you's too easy they takes the 
place. A down in the mouth nigger is always a 
wuthless nigger, an' a biggity nigger is a 'bomina- 
tion!" 

She paused a moment, but she had entered upon 
her discourse, and she continued. 

"I ain't specifyin' but what there's some on this 
place that would b'ar watchin', an' I's had my eye 
on 'em; but they's like the unthinking horse, they'd 
slip a f ril-fral outen the kitchen, or a side of bacon 
outen the smoke-house, but they wouldn't do none 
of your gran' stealin'. 

"No, sah! No, sahl Mars Ran, them julcs 
wasn't took by nobody in this house." 

She paused and reflected, and her face filled with 
the energy of battle. 

"I'd jist like to see a nigger tech a whip-stitch 
that belongs to my chile. I'd shore peel the hide 

178 



The Devil's Tools 



offen 'em. Tech it I No, sah, they ain't no nigger 
on this place that's a-goin' to rile me." 

And in her energy she told Randolph some 
homely truths. 

"They ain't afearcd of you, Mars Ran, 'cause 
they knows they can make up some cock an' bull 
story to fool you; an' they ain't afeared of Miss 
Betty 'cause they knows they can whip it 'roun' her 
with a pitiful face; but I's different. I rules 'em 
with the weepen of iron I They ain't none of 'em 
that can stand up before me with a lie, for I knows 
the innermost and hidden searchings of a nigger." 

She extended her clenched hand with a savage 
gesture. 

"An' I tells 'em, Mars Ran'll welt you with a 
withe, but I'll scarify you with a scorpeen 1" 

It was at this moment that my Uncle Abner en- 
tered. 

Mammy Liza immediately assumed her company 
manners. She rose and made a little courtesy. 

" 'Eben\ Mars Abner," she said; "is you all 
well?" 

Abner replied, and Randolph came forward to 
receive him. He got my uncle a chair, and began 
to explain the matter with which he was engaged. 
Abner said that he had already got the story from 
Betty. 

Randolph went back to his place behind the table, 
and to his judicial attitudes. 

"There is no direct evidence bearing upon this 
179 



Uncle Abner 



robbery," he said, "consequently, in pursuing an in- 
vestigation of it, we must follow the established and 
orderly formula laid down by the law writers. We 
must carefully scrutinize all the circumstances of 
time, place, motive, means, opportunity, and con- 
duct. And, while upon a trial, a judge must assume 
the innocence of everybody indicated, upon an in- 
vestigation, the inquisitor must assume their guilt." 

He compressed his lips and continued with ex- 
alted dignity. * 

"No one is to be exempt from consideration, not 
even the oldest and most trusted servants. The 
wisdom of this course was strikingly shown in Lord 
William Russell's case, where the facts indicated 
suicide, but a rigid application of this rule demon- 
strated that my Lord Russell had been, in fact, mur- 
dered by his valet." 

My uncle did not interrupt. But Mammy Liza 
could not restrain her enthusiasm. She was very 
proud of Randolph, and, like all negroes, associ- 
ated ability with high sounding words. His gran- 
diloquence and his pomposity were her delight. Her 
eyes beamed with admiration. 

"Go on, Mars Ran," she said; "you certainly is 
a gran* talker." 

Randolph banged the table. 

"Shut up!" he roared. "A man can't open his 
mouth in this house without being interrupted." 

But Mammy Liza only beamed serenely. She 
was accustomed to these outbursts of her lord, and 

1 80 



The Devil's Tools 



unembarrassed by them. She sat primly in her chair 
with the radiance of the beloved disciple. 

It is one of the excellences of vanity that it can- 
not be overthrown by a chance blow. However 
desperately rammed, it always topples back upon 
its pedestal. Another would have gone hopelessly 
to wreckage under that, but not Randolph. He con- 
tinued in his finest manner. 

"Bearing this in mind," he said, "let us analyze 
the indicatory circumstances. It is possible, of 
course, that a criminal agent may plan his crime 
with skill, execute it without accident, and maintain 
the secret with equanimity, and that all interroga- 
tion following upon his act, will be wholly futile; 
but this is not usually true, as was conspicuously 
evidenced in Sir Ashby Coopers case." 

He paused and put the tips of his extended fingers 
together. 

"What have we here to indicate the criminal 
agent? No human eye has seen the robber at his 
work, and there are no witnesses to speak; but we 
are not to abandon our investigation for that. The 
writers on the law tell us that circumstantial evidence 
in the case of crimes committed in secret is the most 
satisfactory from which to draw conclusions of 
guilt, for men may be seduced to perjury from base 
motives, but facts, as Mr. Baron Legg so aptly puts 
it, 4 cannot lie/ " 

He made a large indicatory gesture toward his 
bookshelf. 

181 



Uncle Abner 



"True," he said, "I would not go so far as Mr. 
Justice Butler in Donellan's case. I would not hold 
circumstantial evidence to be superior to direct evi- 
dence, nor would I take the position that it is wholly 
beyond the reach and compass of human abilities to 
invent a train of circumstances that might deceive 
the ordinary inexperienced magistrate. I would re- 
call the Vroom case, and the lamentable error of Sir 
Matthew Hale, in hanging some sailors for the mur- 
der of a shipmate who was, in fact, not dead. But 
even that error, sir," and he addressed my uncle 
directly in the heat and eloquence of his oration, 
"if in the law one may ever take an illustration front 
the poets, bore a jewel in its head. It gave us Hale's 
Rule." 

He paused for emphasis, and my uncle spoke. 

"And what was that rule?" he said. 

"That rule, sir," replied Randolph, "ought not to 
be stated from memory. It is a nefarious practice 
of our judges, whereby errors creep into the sound 
text. It should be read as it stands, sir, in the 
elegant language of Sir Matthew." 

"Leaving out the elegant language of Sir Mat- 
thew," replied Abner, "what does the rule mean?" 

"In substance and effect," continued Randolph, 
"but by no means in these words, the rule directs 
the magistrate to be first certain that a crime has 
been committed before he undertakes to punish any- 
body for it." 

182 



The Devil's Tools 



"Precisely 1" said my uncle; "and it is the very 
best sense that I ever heard of in the law." 

He held the gold cross out in his big palm. 

"Take this case," he said. "What is the use to 
speculate about who stole the emeralds, when it is 
certain that they have not been stolen!" 

"Not stolen !" cried Randolph. "They are gone !" 

"Yes," replied Abner, "they are gone, but they are 
not stolen. ... I would ask you to consider this 
fact: If these emeralds had been stolen out of the 
cross, the tines of the metal which held the stones 
in place, would have been either broken off or pried 
up, and we would find either the new break in the 
metal, or the twisted projecting tines. . . . But, in- 
stead," he continued, "the points of the setting are 
all quite smooth. What does that indicate?" 

Randolph took the cross and examined it with 
care. 

"You are right, Abner," he said; "the settings are 
all worn away. I am not surprised; the cross is 
very old." 

"And if the settings are worn away," continued 
my uncle, "what has become of the stones?" 

Randolph banged the table with his clenched hand. 

"They have fallen out. Lost 1 By gad, sir I" 

My uncle leaned back in his chair, like one to 
whom a comment is superfluous. But Randolph de- 
livered an oration. It was directed to Mammy Liza, 
and the tenor of it was felicitations upon the happy 
incident that turned aside suspicion from any mem* 

183 



■Ig =3 

Uncle Abner 



ber of his household. He grew eloquent, pictured 
his distress, and how his stern, impartial sense of 
justice had restrained it, and finally, with what seign- 
iorial joy he now received the truth. 

And the old woman sat under it in ecstatic rap* 
ture. She made little audible sighs and chirrups. 
Her elbows were lifted and she moved her body 
rhythmically to the swing of Randolph's periods. 
She was entranced at the eloquence, but the intent 
of Randolph's speech never reached her. She was 
beyond the acquittal, as she had been beyond the 
accusation. 

She continued to bow radiantly after Randolph 
had made an end. 

"Yes, sab," she said; "yes, sah, Mars Ran, I done 
tole you that them jules wan't took by none of 
our niggers." 

But, as for me, I was overcome with wonder. 
Here was my uncle convincing Randolph by a piece 
of evidence which he, himself, had deliberately man- 
ufactured on the face of the grindstone. 

So that was what he had been at in the shed- 
grinding off the tines and polishing the settings with 
a piece of leather, so they would give the appear- 
ance of being worn. From my point of vantage in 
the snowball bush, I looked upon him with a grow- 
ing interest. He sat, oblivious to Randolph's vapor- 
ings, looking beyond him, through the open window 
at the far-off green fields. He had taken these pains 
to acquit Mammy Liza. But some one was guilty 

184 



The Devil's Tools 



then I And who? I got a hint of that within the 
next five minutes, and I was appalled. 

"Liza," said Randolph, descending to the prac- 
tical, "who sweeps Miss Betty's room?" 

"Laws, Mars Ran," replied the old negro, 
" 'course I does everything fo' my chile. The house 
niggers don't do nothin' — that is, they don't do 
nothin' 'thouten I sets an' watches 'em. I sets when 
they washes the winders, and I sets when they 
sweeps, an' I sets when they makes the bed up. Fa 
been a-settin' there all the time Miss Betty's been 
gone, 'ceptin', of course, when Mars Cedward waa 
there." 

She paused and tittered. 

"Bless my life, how young folks does carry on I 
Every day heah comes Mara Cedward a-ridin 1 up, 
an' he says, *Howdy, Mammy, I reckon if I can't 
see Miss Betty, 1 Fll have to run upstairs an' look at 
her Ma.' An' he lights offen his horse, 'Get your 
key, Mammy,' he says, 'an* open the sacred po'tals.' 
And I gets the key outeh my pocket an' unlocks the 
do' an' he whippits in there to that little picture of 
Miss Betty's Ma, that hangs over her bureau." 

The old woman paused and wiped a mist from her 
spectacles with an immaculate and carefully folded 
handkerchief. 

"Yes, yes, sah, 'co'se Miss Betty does look like 
her Ma — she's the very spit-an'-image of her. . . . 
Well, I goes along back an' sets down on the stair- 
ateps, an' waits till Mars Cedward gets done with 

185 



Uncle Abner 



his worshiping, an' he comes along an 9 says, 
'Thankee, Mammy, I reckon that'll have to last me 
until to-morrow,' an' then I goes back an' locks the 
do'. I's mighty keerful to lock do's, I ain't minded 
to have no 'quisitive nigger ramshakin' 'roun'." 

But my uncle stopped her and sent her to Betty 
as evidence in the flesh that she had come acquit of 
Randolph's inquisition. And the two men fell into 
a talk upon other matters. 

But I no longer listened. I sat within my bush 
and studied the impassive face of my Uncle Abner, 
and tried to join these contradictory incidents into 
something that I could understand. Slowly the 
thing came to me ! But I did not push on into the 
inevitable conclusion. Its consequences were too 
appalling. I saw it and let it lie. 

Somebody had pried the emeralds out of that 
cross, — somebody having access to the room. And 
that person was not Mammy Liza! Abner knew 
that • . . And he deliberately falsified the evi- 
dence. To acquit Mammy Liza ? Something more 
than that, I thought. She was in no danger; even 
Randolph behind his judicial attitudes, 'had never 
entertained the idea for a moment. Then, this thing 
meant that my uncle had deliberately screened the 
real criminal. But why? Abner was no respecter 
of men. He stood for justice— clean and ruthless 
justice, tempered by no distinctions. Why, then, 
indeed? 

And then I had an inspiration. Abner was think- 
186 



The Devil's Tools 



ing of some one beyond the criminal, and of the 
consequences to that one if the truth were known; 
and this thing he had done, he had done for her! 
And now I thought about her, too. 

Her faith, her trust, the dearest illusion of her 
life had been imperiled, had been destroyed, but 
for my uncle's firm, deliberate act. 

And then, another thing rose up desperately be- 
fore me. How could he let this girl go on in 
ignorance of the truth? Must he not, after all, 
tell her what he knew? And my tongue grew dry 
in contemplation of that ordeal. And yet again, 
why? Love of her had been ultimately the mo- 
tive. She need never know, and the secret might 
live out everybody's life. Moreover, for all his 
iron ways, Abner was a man who saw justice in its 
large and human aspect, and he stood for the spirit, 
above the letter, of the truth. 

And yet, even there under the limited horizon of 
a child,! seemed to feel that he must tell her. And 
so when he finally got away from Randolph, and 
turned into the garden, I stalked him with desper- 
ate cunning. I was on fire to know what he would 
do. Would he speak? Or would he keep the thing 
forever silent? I had sat before two acts of this 
drama, and I would see what the curtains went 
down on. And I did see it from the shelter of the 
tall timothy-grass. 

He found Betty at the foot of the garden. She 
ran to him in joy at Mammy Liza's vindication, and 

i8 7 



Uncle Abner 



with pretty evidences of her affection. But he took 
her by the hand without a word and led her to 
a bench. 

And when she was seated he sat down beside her. 
I could not see her face, but I could hear his voice 
and it was wonderfully kind. 

"My child," he said, "there is always one reason, 
if no other, why good people must not undertake 
to work with a tool of the devil, and that reason 
is because they handle it so badly." 

He paused and took the gold cross out of his 
pocket. 

"Now here," he continued, "I have had to help 
somebody out who was the very poorest bungler 
with a devil's tool. I am not very skilled myself 
with that sort of an implement, but, dear me, I 
am not so bad a workman as this person 1 . . . Let 
me show you. . . . The one who got the emeralds 
out of this cross left the twisted and broken tines 
to indicate a deliberate criminal act, so I had to 
grind them off in order that the thing might look 
like an accident. . . . That cleared everybody—^ 
Mammy Liza, who had no motive for this act, and 
Edward Duncan, who had." 

The girl stood straight up. 

"Oh," she said, and her voice was a long shud- 
dering whisper, "no one could think he did it I" 

"And why not?" continued my uncle. "He had 
the opportunity and the motive. He was in the 
room during your absence, and he needed the money 

188 



The Devil's Tools 



which those emeralds would bring in order to clear 
his lands of debt." 

The girl clenched her hands and drew them in 
against her heart. 

"But you don't think he stole them?" And again 
her voice was in that shuddering whisper. 

I lay trembling. 

"No," replied Abner, "I do not think that Ed- 
ward Duncan stole these emeralds, because I know 
that they were never stolen at all." 

He put out his hand and drew the girl do\rn be- 
side him. 

"My child," he continued, "we must always credit 
the poorest thief with some glimmering of intelli- 
gence. When I first saw this cross in your hand, 
I knew that this was not the work of a thief, be- 
cause no thief would have painfully pried the emer- 
alds out, in order to leave the cross behind as an 
evidence of his guilt. Now, there is a reason why 
this cross was left behind, but it is not the reason of 
a thief — two reasons, in fact: because some one 
wished to keep it, and because they were not afraid 
to do so. 

"Now, my child," and Abner put his arm ten- 
derly around the girl's shoulders, "who could that 
person be who treasured this cross and was not 
afraid to keep it?" 

She clung to my uncle then, and I heard the con- 
fession among her sobbings. Edward Duncan was 
making every sacrifice for her, and she had made 

189. 



Uncle Abner 



one for him. She had sold the emeralds In Balti- 
more, and through an agent* bought his mountain 
land. But he must never know, never in this world, 
and my Uncle Abner must promise her that upon 
his honor. 

And lying in the deep timothy-grass, I heard him 
promise. 



Chapter XI: The Hidden Law 

WE had come out to Dudley Betts' house 
and were standing in a bit of meadow. 
It was an afternoon of April; there had 
been a shower of rain, and now the sun was on the 
velvet grass and the white-headed clover blossoms. 
The sky was blue above and the earth green below, 
and swimming between them was an air like lotus. 
Facing the south upon this sunny field was a stand 
of bees, thatched with rye-straw and covered over 
with a clapboard roof, the house of each tribe a 
section of a hollow gum-tree, with a cap on the top 
for the tribute of honey to the human tyrant. The 
bees had come out after the shower was gone, and 
they hummed at their work with the sound of a 
spinner. 

Randolph stopped and looked down upon the 
humming hive. He lifted his finger with a little 
circling gesture. 

" 'Singing masons building roofs of gold,' " he 
said. "Ah, Abner, William of Avon was a great 
poet." 

My uncle turned about at that and looked at 
Randolph and then at the hive of bees. A girl was 
coming up from the brook below with a pail of wa- 
ter. She wore a simple butternut frock, and she 

191 



Uncle Abner 



was clean-limbed and straight like those first daugh- 
ters of the world who wove and spun. She paused 
before the hive and the bees swarmed about her 
as about a great clover blossom, and she was at 
home and unafraid like a child in a company of 
yellow butterflies. She went on to the spring house 
with her dripping wooden pail, kissing the tips of 
her fingers to the bees. We followed, but before 
the hive my uncle stopped and repeated the line 
that Randolph had quoted : 

" 'Singing masons building roofs of gold, 9 • . . 
and over a floor of gold and pillars of gold." 
He added, "He was a good riddle maker, your Eng- 
lish poet, but not so good as Samson, unless I help 
him out." 

I received the fairy fancy with all children's joy. 
Those little men singing as they laid their yellow 
floor, and raised their yellow walls, and arched 
their yellow roof! Singing! The word seemed to 
open up some sunlit fairy world. 

It pleased Randolph to have thus touched my 
uncle. 

"A great poet, Abner," he repeated, "and more 
than that; he drew lessons from nature valuable 
for doctrine. Men should hymn as they labor and 
fill the fields with song and so suck out the virus 
from the curse. He was a great philosopher, Ab- 
ner — William of Avon." 

"But not so great a philosopher as Saint Paul," 
replied Abner, and he turned from the bees toward 

192 



The Hidden Law 



old Dudley Bctts, digging in the fields before his 
door. He put his hands behind him and lifted his 
stern bronze face. 

"Those who coveted after money," he said, 
"have 'pierced themselves through with many sor- 
rows.' And is it not the truth? Yonder is old 
Dudley Betts. He is doubled up with aches; he 
has lost his son; he is losing his life, and he will 
lose his soul — all for money — 'Pierced themselves 
through with many sorrows,' as Saint Paul said it, 
and now, at the end he has lost the horde that he 
slaved for." 

The man was a by-word in the hills; mean and 
narrow, with an economy past belief. He used 
everything about him to one end and with no 
thought but gain. He cultivated his fields to the 
very door, and set his fences out into the road, and 
he extracted from those about him every tithe of 
service. He had worked his son until the boy had 
finally run away across the mountains. He had 
driven his daughter to the makeshifts of the first 
patriarchal people- — soap from ashes, linen from 
hemp, and the wheel and the loom for the frock 
upon her limbs. 

And like every man under a single dominating 
passion, he grew in suspicion and in fear. He was 
afraid to lend out his money lest he lose it. He 
had given so much for this treasure that he would 
take no chance with it, and so kept it by him in 
gold. 

193 



Uncle Abner 



But caution and fear are not harpies to be 
halted; they wing on. Betts was dragged far in 
their claw-feet. There is a land of dim things that 
these convoys can enter. Betts arrived there. We 
must not press the earth too hard,. old, forgotten 
peoples believed, lest evil things are squeezed out 
that strip us and avenge it. And ancient crones, 
feeble, wrapped up by the fire, warned him: The 
earth suffered us to reap, but not to glean her. 
We must not gather up every head of wheat. The 
earth or dim creatures behind the earth would be 
offended. It was the oldest belief. The first men 
poured a little wine out when they drank and brought 
an offering of their herds and the first fruits of the 
fields. It was written in the Book. He could get it 
down and read it. 

What did they know that they did this? Life 
was hard then; men saved all they could. There 
was some terrible experience behind this custom, 
some experience that appalled and stamped the race 
with a lesson ! 

At first Betts laughed at their warnings ; then he 
cursed at them, and his changed manner marked how 
far he had got. The laugh meant disbelief, but the 
curse meant fear. 

And now, the very strangest thing had happened: 
The treasure that the old man had so painfully laid 
up had mysteriously vanished clear away. No one 
knew it. Men like Betts, cautious and secretive, 
are dumb before disaster. They conceal the deep 

194 



The Hidden Law 



mortal hurt as though to hide it from themselves. 

He had gone in the night and told Randolph 
and Abner, and now they had come to see his house. 

He put down his hoe when we came up and led 
us in. It was a house like those of the first men, 
with everything in it home-made — hand-woven rag- 
carpets on the floor, and hand-woven coverlets on 
the beds; tables and shelves and benches of rude 
carpentry. These things spoke of the man's econ- 
omy. But there were also things that spoke of his 
fear: The house was a primitive stockade. The 
door was barred with a beam, and there were heavy 
shutters at the window; an ax stood by the old 
man's bed and an ancient dueling pistol hung by 
its trigger-guard to a nail. 

I did not go in, for youth is cunning. I sat down 
on the doorstep and fell into so close a study of 
a certain wasp at work under a sill that I was 
overlooked as a creature without ears; but I had 
ears of the finest and I lost no word. 

The old man got two splint-bottom chairs and 
put them by the table for his guests, and then he 
brought a blue earthen jar and set it before them. 
It was one of the old-fashioned glazed jars peddled 
by the hucksters, smaller but deeper than a crock, 
with a thick rim and two great ears. In this he 
kept his gold pieces until on a certain night they 
had vanished. 

The old man's voice ran in and out of a whisper 
as he told the story. He knew the very night, 

195 



Uncle Abner 



because he looked into his jar before he slept and 
every morning when he got out of his bed. It had 
been a devil's night — streaming clouds drove across 
an iron sky, a thin crook of a moon sailed, and a 
high bitter wind scythed the earth. 

Everybody remembered the night when he got 
out his almanac and named it There had been 
noises, old Betts said, but he could not define them. 
Such a" night is full of voices; the wind whispers 
in the chimney and the house frame creaks. The 
wind had come on in gusts at sunset, full of dust 
and whirling leaves, but later it had got up into a 
gale. The fire had gone out and the house inside 
was black as a pit. He did not know what went 
on inside or out, but he knew that the gold was gone 
at daylight, and he knew that no living human 
creature had got into his house. The bar on his 
door held and the shutters were bolted. Whatever 
entered, entered through the keyhole or through the 
throat of the chimney that a cat would stick in. 

Abner said nothing, but Randolph sat down to 
an official inquiry: 

"You have been robbed, Betts," he said. "Some- 
body entered your house that night." 

"Nobody entered it," replied the old man in his 
hoarse, half-whispered voice, "either on that night 
or any other night. The door was fast, Squire." 

"But the thief may have closed it behind him." 

Betts shook his head. "He could not put up the 
bar behind him, and besides, I set it in a certain way, 

196 



The Hidden Law 



It was not moved. And the windows — I bolt them 
and turn the bolt at a certain angle. No human 
touched them." 

It was not possible to believe that this man could 
be mistaken. One could see with what care he had 
set his little traps — the bar across the door pre- 
cisely at a certain hidden line; the bolts of the 
window shutters turned precisely to an angle that 
he alone knew. It was not likely that Randolph 
would suggest anything that this cautious old man 
had not already thought of. 

"Then," continued Randolph, "the thief concealed 
himself in your house the day before the robbery 
and got out of it on the day after." 

But again Betts shook his head, and his eyes ran 
over the house and to a candle on the mantelpiece. 

"I look," he said, "every night before I go to 
bed." 

And one could see the picture of this old, fearful 
man, looking through his house with the smoking 
tallow candle, peering into every nook and corner. 
Could a thief hide from him in this house that he 
knew inch by inch? One could not believe it. The 
creature took no chance; he had thought of every 
danger, this one among them, and every night he 
looked! He would know, then, the very cracks in 
the wall. He would have found a rat. 

Then, it seemed to me, Randolph entered the only 
road there was out of this mystery. 

"Your son knew about this money?" 
197 



Uncle Abner 



"Yes," replied Betts, " 'Lander knew about it. 
He used to say that a part of it was his because 
he had worked for it as much as I had. But I told 
him," and the old man's voice cheeped in a sort of 
laugh, "that he was mine." 

"Where was your son Philander when the money 
disappeared?" said Randolph. 

"Over the mountains," said Betts; "he had been 
gone a month." Then he paused and looked at 
Randolph. "It was not 'Lander. On that day he 
was in the school that Mr. Jefferson set up. I had 
a letter from the master asking for money. . . . 
I have the letter," and he got up to get it. 

But Randolph waved his hand and sat back in 
his chair with the aspect of a brooding oracle. 

It was then that my uncle spoke. 

"Betts," he said, "how do you think the money 
went?" 

The old man's voice got again into that big crude 
whisper. 

"I don't know, Abner." 

But my uncle pressed him. 
• "What do you think?" 

Betts drew a little nearer to the table. 

"Abner," he said, "there are a good many things 
going on around a man that he don't understand. 
We turn out a horse to pasture, and he comes in 
with hand-holts in his mane. . . . You have seen 
it?" 

"Yes," replied my uncle. 
198 



The Hidden Law 



And I had seen it, too, many a time, when the 
horses were brought up in the spring from pasture, 
their manes twisted and knotted into loops, as though 
to furnish a hand-holt to a rider. 

"Well, Abner," continued the old man in his 
rustling whisper, "who rides the horse? You can- 
not untie or untwist those hand-holts — you must 
cut them out with shears — with iron. Is jt true?" 

"It is true," replied my uncle. 

"And why, eh, Abner? Because those hand-holts 
were never knotted in by any human fingers ! You 
know what the old folk say?" 

"I know," answered my uncle. "Do you believe 
it, Betts?" 

"Eh, Abner!" he croaked in the guttural whis- 
per. "If there were no witches, why did our fa- 
thers hang up iron to keep them off? My grand- 
mother saw one burned in the old country. She 
had ridden the king's horse, and greased her hands 
with shoemakers 9 wax so her fingers would not slip 
in the mane. . . . Shoemakers 9 wax! Mark you 
that, Abner!" 

"Betts," cried Randolph, "you are a fool; there 
are no witches!" 

"There was the Witch of Endor," replied my 
uncle. "Go on, Betts." 

"By gad, sir!" roared Randolph, "if we are to 
try witches, I shall have to read up James the 
First. That Scotch king wrote a learned work on 
demonology. He advised the magistrates to search 

199 



Uncle Abner 



on the body of the witch for the seal of the devil; 
that would be a spot insensible to pain, and, James 
said, Trod for it with a needle.' " 

But my uncle was serious. 

"Go on, Betts, ,, he said. "I do not believe that 
any man entered your house and robbed you. But 
why do you think that a witch did?" 

"Well, Abner," answered the old man, "who 
could have got in but such a creature? A thief 
cannot crawl through a keyhole, but there are things 
that can. My grandmother said that once in the 
old country a man awoke one night to see a gray 
wolf sitting by his fireside. He had an ax, as I have, 
and he fought the wolf with that and cut off its paw, 
whereupon it fled screaming through the keyhole. 
And the paw lying on the floor was a woman's 
hand!" 

"Then, Betts," cried Randolph, "it's damned 
lucky that you didn't use your ax, if that is what 
one finds on the floor." 

Randolph had spoken with pompous sarcasm, but 
at the words there came upon Abner's face a look 
of horror. 

"It is," he said, "in God's name!" 

Betts leaned forward in his chair. 

"And what would have happened to me, Abner, 
do you think, if I had used my ax? Would I have 
died there with the ax in my hand?" 

The look of horror remained upon my uncle's 
face. 

200 



The Hidden Law 



"You would have wished for that when the light 
came; to die is sometimes to escape the pit." 

"I would have fallen into hell, then?" 

"Aye, Betts," replied my uncle, "straightway into* 
hell!" 

The old man rested his hands on the posts of the 
chair. 

"The creatures behind the world are baleful 
creatures," he muttered in his big whisper. 

Randolph got up at that 

"Damme !" he said. "Are we in the time of 
Roger Williams, and is this Massachusetts, that 
witches ride and men are filched of their gold by 
magic and threatened with hell fire? What is this 
cursed foolery, Abner?" 

"It is no foolery, Randolph," replied my uncle* 
"but the living truth." 

"The truth!" cried Randolph. "Do you call it 
the truth that creatures, not human, able to enter 
through the keyhole and fly away, have Betts' gold, 
and if he had fought against this robbery with his 
ax he would have put himself in torment? Damme, 
man! In the name of common sense, do you call 
this the truth?" 

"Randolph," replied Abner, and his voice was 
slow and deep, "it is every word the truth." 

Randolph moved back the chair before him and 
sat down. He looked at my uncle curiously. 

"Abner," he raid, "you used to be a crag of 
common sense. The legends and theories of fools 

201 



Uncle Abner 



1>roke on you and went to pieces. Would you now 
testify to witches?" 

"And if I did," replied my uncle, "I should have 
Saint Paul behind me." 

"The fathers of the church fell into some errors," 
replied Randolph. 

"The fathers of the law, then?" said Abner. 

Randolph took his chin in his hand at that "It 
is true," he said, "that Sir Matthew Hale held noth- 
ing to be so well established as the fact of witch- 
craft for three great reasons, which he gave in their 
order, as became the greatest judge in England: 
First, because it was asserted in the Scriptures; sec- 
ond, because all nations had made laws against it; 
and, third, because the human testimony in support 
of it was overwhelming. I believe that Sir Matthew 
had knowledge of some six thousand cases. . . . 
But Mr. Jefferson has lived since then, Abner, and 
this is Virginia." 

"Nevertheless," replied my uncle, "after Mr. Jef- 
ferson, and in Virginia, this thing has happened" 

Randolph swore a great oath. 

"Then, by gad, sir, let us burn the old women in 
the villages until the creatures who carried Berts' 
treasure through the keyhole bring it back!" 

Betts spoke then. 

"They have brought some of it back I" 

My uncle turned sharply in his chair. 

"What do you mean, Betts?" he said. 

"Why this, Abner," replied the old man, his voice 
202 



The Hidden Law 



descending into the cavernous whisper; "on three 
mornings I have found some of my gold pieces 
in the jar. And they came as they went, Abner, 
with every window fastened down and the bar across 
the door. And there is another thing about these 
pieces that have come bade — they are mine, for I 
know every piece — but they have been in the hands 
of the creatures that ride the horses in the pasture 
—they have been handled by witches!" He whis- 
pered the word with a fearful glance about him. 
"How do I know that? Wait, I will show you !" 

He went over to his bed and got out a little box 
from beneath his cornhusk mattress — a worn, smoke- 
stained box with a sliding lid. He drew the lid off 
with his thumb and turned the contents out on the 
table. 

"Now look," he said; "look, there is wax on every 
piece ! Shoemakers 9 wax, mark you. • • . Eh, Ab- 
ner! My mother said that — the creatures grease 
their hands with that so their fingers will not slip 
when they ride the barebacked horses in the night. 
They have carried this gold clutched in their hands, 
see, and the wax has come off !" 

My uncle and Randolph leaned over the table. 
They examined the coins. 

"By the Eternal I" cried Randolph. "It is wax! 
But were they clean before?" 

"They were clean," the old man answered. "The 
wax is from the creatures* fingers. Did not my 
mother say it?" 

203 



Uncle Abner 



My uncle sat back in his chair, but Betts strained 
forward and put his fearful query: 

"What do you think, Abner; will all the gold 
come back?" 

My uncle did not at once reply. He sat for some 
time silent, looking through the open door at the 
sunny meadowland and the far off hills. But finally 
he spoke like one who has worked out a problem 
and got the answer. 

"It will not all come back/' he said. 

"How much, then?" whispered Betts. 

"What is left," replied Abner, "when the toll is 
taken out." 

"You know where the gold is?" 

"Yes." 

"And the creatures that have it, Abner," Betts 
whispered, "they are not human?" 

"They are not human !" replied my uncle. 

Then he got up and began to walk about the 
house, but not to search for clews to this mysterious 
thing. He walked like one who examines some* 
thing within himself — or something beyond the eye 
— and old Betts followed him with his straining 
face. And Randolph sat in his chair with his arms 
folded and his chin against his stock, as a skeptic 
overwhelmed by proof might sit in a house of 
haunted voices. He was puzzled upon every hand. 
The thing was out of reason at every point, both in 
the loss and in the return of these coins upon the 
table, and my uncle's comments were below the 

204 



The Hidden Law 



soundings of all sense. The creatures who now 
had Berts' gold could enter through the keyhole! 
Betts would have gone into the pit if he had struck 
out with his %xl A moiety of this treasure would 
be taken out and the rest returned I And the coins 
testified to no human handling! The thing had no 
face nor aspect of events in nature. Mortal thieves 
enjoyed no such supernal powers. These were the 
attributes of the familiar spirit. Nor did the hu- 
man robber return a per cent upon his gains! 

I have said that my uncle walked about the floor. 
But he stopped now and looked down at the hard, 
miserly old man. 

"Betts," he said, "this is a mysterious world. 
It is hedged about and steeped in mystery. Listen 
to me! The Patriarchs were directed to make an 
offering to the Lord of a portion of the increase in 
their herds. Why? Because the Lord had need of 
sheep and heifers? Surely not, for the whole earth 
and its increase were His. There was some other 
reason, Betts. I do not understand what it was, 
but I do understand that no man can use the earth 
and keep every tithe of the increase for himself* 
They did not try it, but you did!" 

He paused and filled his big lungs. 

"It was a disastrous experiment. . . . What will 
you do?" 

"What must I do, Abner?" the old man whis- 
pered. "Make a sacrifice like the Patriarchs?" 

"A sacrifice you must make, Betts," replied my 
20$ 



Uncle Abner 



uncle, "but not like the Patriarchs. What you re- 
ceive from the earth you must divide into three equal 
parts and keep one part for yourself." 

"And to whom shall I give the other two parts, 
Abner?" 

"To whom would you wish to give them, Betts, 
if you had the choice?" 

The old man fingered about his mouth. 

"Well," he said, "a man would give to those of 
his own household first — if he had to give." 

"Then," said Abner, "from this day keep a third 
of your increase for yourself and give the other 
two-thirds to your son and your daughter." 

"And the gold, Abner? Will it come back?" 

"A third part will come back. Be content with 
that" 

"And the creatures that have my gold? Will 
they harm me?" 

"Betts," replied my uncle, "the creatures that 
have your gold on this day hidden in their house 
will labor for you as no slaves have ever labored 
—without word or whip. Do you promise?" 

The fearful old man promised, and we went out 
into the sun. 

The tall straight young girl was standing before 
the springhouse, kneading a dish of yellow butter 
and singing like a blackbird. My uncle strode down 
to her. We could not hear the thing he said, but 
the singing ceased when he began to talk and burst 
out in a fuller note when he had finished — a big, 

206 



The Hidden Law 



happy, joyous note that seemed to fill the meadow* 

We waited for him before the stand of bees, and 
Randolph turned on him when he came. 

"Abner," he said, "what is the answer to this 
damned riddle ?" 

"You gave it, Randolph," he replied—" •Sing- 
ing masons building roofs of gold.'" And he 
pointed to the bees. "When I saw that the cap 
on one of the gums had b$en moved I thought 
Bens' gold was there, and when I saw the wax 
on the coins I was certain." 

"But," cried Randolph, "you spoke of creatures 
not human — creatures that could enter through the 
ieyhole — creatures — \ — " 

"I spoke of the bees," replied my uncle. 

"But you said Betts would have fallen into hell 
if he had struck out with his ax 1" 

"He would have killed his daughter," replied 
Abner. "Can you think of a more fearful hell? 
She took the gold and hid it in the bee cap. But 
she was honest with her father; whenever she sent 
a sum of money to her brother she returned an 
equal number of gold pieces to old Betts' jar." 

"Then," said Randolph, with a great oath, "there 
is no witch here with her familiar spirits?" 

"Now that," replied my uncle, "will depend upon 
the imagery of language. There is here a subtle 
maiden and a stand of bees !" 



Chapter XII: The Riddle 

I HAVE never seen the snow fall as it fell on 
the night of the seventeenth of February. It 
had been a mild day with a soft, stagnant air. 
The sky seemed about to descend and enclose the 
earth, as though it were a thing which it had long 
pursued and had now got into a corner. All day it 
seemed thus to hover motionless above its quarry, 
and the earth to be apprehensive like a thing in 
fear. Animals were restless, and men, as they stood 
about and talked together, looked up at the sky. 

We were in the county seat on that day. The 
grand jury was sitting, and Abner had been sum- 
moned to appear before it. It was the killing of 
old Christian Lance that the grand jury was inquir- 
ing into. He had been found one morning in his 
house, bound into a chair. The body sat straining 
forward, death on it, and terror in its face. There 
was no one in the house but old Christian, and it 
was noon before the neighbors found him. The 
tragedy had brought the grand jury together, and 
had filled the hills with talk, for it left a mystery 
unsolved. 

This mystery that Christian sealed up in his death 
was one that no man could get a hint at while he 
was living — what had the old man done with his 

208 



The Riddle 



money? He grazed a few cattle and got a hand- 
some profit. He spent next to nothing; he gave 
nothing to any one, and he did not put his money 
out to interest. It was known that he would take 
only gold in payment for his cattle. He made no 
secret of that. The natural inference was that he 
buried this coin in some spot about his garden, but 
idle persons had watched his house for whole nights 
after he had sold his cattle, and had never seen him 
come out with a spade. And young bloods, more 
curious, I think, than criminal, had gone into his 
house when he was absent, and searched it more 
than once. There was no corner that they had not 
looked into, and no floor board that they had not 
lifted, nor any loose stone about the hearth that they 
had not felt under. 

Once, in conference on this mystery, somebody 
had suggested that the knobs on the andirons and 
the handles on the old high-boy were gold, having 
gotten the idea from some tale. And a little later, 
when the old man returned one evening from the 
grist-mill, he found that one of these knobs on the 
andirons had been broken off. But, as the thief 
never came back for the other, it was pretty certain 
that this fantastic notion was not the key to Chris- 
tian's secret. 

It was after one of these mischievous searchings 
that he put up his Delphic notice when he went 
away — a leaf from a day-book, scrawled in pencil, 
and pinned to the mantelpiece: 

209 



Uncle Abner 



"Why don't you look in the cow?" 

The idle gossips puzzled over that. What did it 
mean? Was the thing a sort of taunt? And did 
the old man mean that since these persons had 
looked into every nook and corner of his house, they 
ought also to have looked into the red mouth of the 
cow? Or did he mean that his money wa$ invested 
in cattle and there was the place to look? Or was 
the thing a cryptic sentence — like that of some an- 
cient oracle — in which the secret to his hoarded 
gold was hidden? 

At any rate it was certain that old Christian was 
not afraid to go away and leave his door open, and 
the secret to guard itself. And he was justified in 
that confidence. The mischievous gave over their 
inquisitions, and the mystery became a sort of 
legend. 

With the eyes of the curious thus on him, and that 
mystery for background, it was little wonder that 
his tragic death fired the country. 

I have said there was a horror about the dead 
man's face as he sat straining in the chair. And the 
thing was in truth a horror! But that word does 
not tell the story. The eyes, the muscles of his jaw, 
the very flesh upon his bones seemed to strain with 
some deadly resolution, as though the indomitable 
spirit of the man, by sheer determination, would 
force the body to do its will, even after death was 
on it. And here there was a curious thing. It was 
not about the house, where his treasure might have 

210 



The Riddle 



been concealed, that the dead man strained, but 
toward the door, as though he would follow after 
some one who had gone out there. 

The neighbors cut him from the chair, straight- 
ened out his limbs, and got him buried. <But his 
features, set in that deadly resolution, they could not 
straighten out. Neither the placidity of death, nor 
the fingers of those who prepared the man for 
burial, could relax the muscles or get down his eye- 
lids. He lay in the coffin with that hideous resolu- 
tion on his face, and .he went into the earth with it. 

When the man was found, Randolph sent for 
Abner, and the two of them looked through the 
house. Nothing had been disturbed. There was 
a kettle on the crane, and a crock beside the 
hearth. The ears of seed corn hung from the raft- 
ers, trussed up by their shucks; the bean pods to- 
gether in a cluster; the cakes of tallow sat on a shelf 
above the mantel; the festoons of dried apples and 
the bunches of seasoned herbs hung against the chim- 
ney. The bed and all the furniture about the house 
was in its order. 

When they had finished with that work they did 
not know who it was that had killed old Christian. 
Abner did not talk, but he said that much, and the 
Justice of the Peace told all he knew to every casual 
visitor. True, it was nothing more than the county 
knew already, but his talk annoyed Abner. 

"Randolph's a leaky pitcher," he said. And I 
think it was this comment that inspired the notion 

211 



Uncle Abner 



that Abner knew something that he had not told the 
Justice. 

At any rate he was a long time before the grand 
jury on this February day. The grand jury sat be- 
hind closed doors. They were stern, silent men, and 
nothing crept out through the keyhole. But after 
the witnesses were heard, the impression got about 
that the grand jury did not know who had killed 
old Christian, and this conclusion was presently veri- 
fied when they came in before the judge. They had 
no indictment to find. And when the judge inquired 
if they knew of anything that would justify the pros- 
ecuting attorney in taking any further action on be- 
half of the state, the foreman shook his head. 

Night was descending when we left the county- 
seat. Abner sat in his saddle like a man of bronze, 
his face stern, as it always was when he was silent, 
and I rode beside him. I wish I could get my Uncle 
Abner before your eye. He was one of those aus* 
tere, deeply religious men who might have followed 
Cromwell, with a big iron frame, a grizzled beard 
and features forged out by a smith. His god was 
thi god of the Tishbite, who numbered his followers 
by the companies who drew the sword. The land 
had need of men like Abner. The government of 
Virginia was over the Alleghenies, and this great, 
fertile cattle country, hemmed in by the far-off 
mountains like a wall of the world, had its own 
peace to keep. And it was these iron men who kept 
it. The fathers had got this land in grants from 

212 



The Riddle 



the King of England; they had held it against the 
savage and finally against the King himself . . . 
And the sons were like them. 

The horses were nervous; they flung their heads 
about, and rattled the bit rings and traveled together 
like men apprehensive of some danger to be over- 
taken. That deadly stillness of the day remained, 
but the snow was now beginning to appear. It fell 
like no other snow that I have ever seen — not a 
gust of specks or a shower of tiny flakes, but now 
and then, out of the dirty putty-colored sky, a flake 
as big as a man's thumb-nail winged down and 
lighted on the earth like some living creature. And 
it clung to the thing that it lighted on as though 
out of the heavens it had selected that thing to 
destroy. And, while it clung, there came another 
of these soft white creatures to its aid, and settled 
beside it, and another and another, until the bare 
stem of the ragweed, or the brown leaf of the beech 
tree snapped under the weight of these clinging 
bodies. 

It is a marvel how quickly this snow covered up 
the world, and how swiftly and silently it descended. 
The trees and fences were grotesque and misshapen 
with it, The landscape changed and was blotted out. 
Night was on us, and always the invading swarm of 
flakes increased until they seemed to crowd one an- 
other in the stagnant air. 

Presently Abner stopped and looked up at the sky, 
but he did not speak and we went on. But now the 

213 



Uncle Abner 



very road began to be clogged with this wet snow; 
great limbs broke at the tree trunks tinder the weight 
of it; the horses began to flounder, and at last Abner 
stopped. It seemed to be at a sort of cross-road 
in a forest, but I was lost. The snow had covered 
every landmark that I knew. We had been travel- 
ing for an hour in a country as unfamiliar as the 
Tartar Steppes. 

Abner turned out of the road into the forest My 
horse followed. We came presently into the open, 
and stopped under the loom of a house. It was a 
great barn of hewn logs, but unused and empty. The 
door stood open on its broken hinges. We got down, 
took the horses in, removed the saddles, and filled 
the mangers with some old hay from the loft. I 
had no idea where we were. We could not go on, 
and I thought we would be forced to pass the night 
here. But this was not Abner's plan. 

"Let us try to find the house, Martin," he said, 
"and build a fire." 

We set out from the stable. Abner broke a trail 
through the deep snow, and I followed at his heels. 
He must have had some sense of direction, for we 
could not see. We seemed an hour laboring in that 
snow, but it could only have been a few minutes at 
the furthest. Presently we came upon broad steps, 
and under the big columns of a portico. And I knew 
the place for an old abandoned manor house, set 
in a corner of worn-out fields, in the edge of the 
forest, where the river bowed in under sheer banks 

21+ 



The Riddle 



a dozen fathoms down. The estate was grown up 
with weeds, and the house falling to decay. But 
now, when we came into the portico, a haze of light 
was shining through the fan-shaped glass over the 
door. It was this light that disturbed Abner. He 
stopped and stood there in the shelter of the col- 
umns, like a man in some perplexity. 

"Now, who could that be?" he said, not to me, 
but to himself. 

And he remained for some time, watching the 
blur of light, and listening for a sound. But there 
was no sound. The house had been abandoned. 
The windows were nailed up. Finally he went over 
to the ancient door and knocked. For answer there 
was the heavy report of a weapon, and a white 
splinter leaped out of a panel above his head. He 
sprang aside, and the weapon bellowed again, and 
I saw another splinter. And then I saw a thing that 
I had not noticed, that the door and the boards over 
the windows were riddled with these bullet holes. 
Abner shouted out his name and called on the man 
within to stop shooting and open the door. 

For some time there was silence ; then, finally the 
door did open, and a man stood there with a candle 
in his hand. He was a little old man with a stub of 
wiry beard, red grizzled hair, keen eyes like a crumb 
of glass, and a body knotted and tawny like a stunted 
oak tree. He wore a sort of cap with a broad fur 
collar fastened with big brass wolf-head clasps. And 
I knew him. He was the old country doctor, Storm, 

215 



Uncle Abner 



who had come into the hills, f rom God knows where. 
He lived not far away, and as a child, I feared him. 
I feared the flappings of his cape on some windy 
ridge, for he walked the country in his practice, and 
only rode when the distances were great. No one 
knew his history, and about him the negroes had 
conjured up every sort of fancy. These notions took 
a sort of form. Storm was a rival of the Devil 
and jousted with him for the lives of men and 
beasts. He would work on a horse, snapping his 
jaws and muttering his strange oaths, as long and 
as patiently as upon the body of a man. And surely, 
if one stood and watched him, one would presently 
believe that Storm contended with something for its 
prey. I can see him now, standing in the door with 
the candle held high up so he could peer into the 
darkness. 

He cried out when he saw Abner. 

"Come in," he said, "by the Eternal, you are wel- 
come I" 

"Storm I" said Abner, "you in this house!' 1 

"And why not?" replied the man. "I walk and 
am overtaken by a snow; and you ride and do not 
escape it." 

He laughed, showing his twisted, yellow teeth, 
and turned about in the doorway, and we followed 
him into the house. There was a fire burning on the 
hearth and another candle guttering on the table. 
It was a hall that the door led into— the conven- 
tional hall of the great old Southern manor house, 

216 



The Riddle 



wide mahogany doors on either side stood closed in 
their white frames, a white stairway going up to a 
broad landing, and a huge fireplace with brass and- 
irons. The place was warm, but musty. It had long 
been stripped and gutted. It was hung with cob- 
webs and powdered down with dust. There was 
a small portmanteau on the table, such as one's 
father used to carry, of black leather with little 
flaps and buddies. And beside it a blue iron stone 
jug and a dirty tumbler. 

The man set down the candle and indicated the 
jug and the fireplace with a queer, ironical gesture. 

"I offer you the hospitality of the cup and the 
hearth, Abner," he said. 

"We will take the hearth, Storm," replied Abner, 
"if you please." 

And we went over to the fireplace, took off our 
great coats, beat out the wet snow, and sat down 
on the old mahogany settle by the andirons. 

"Every man to the desire of his heart and the 
custom of his life," said Storm. 

He took up the jug, turned it on end, and drained 
its contents into the glass. There was only a little 
of the liquor left. It was brewed from apples, raw 
and fiery, and the odor of it filled the place. Then 
he held up the glass, watching the firelight play in 
the white-blue liquor. 

"You fill the mind with phantoms," he said, turn- 
ing the glass about as though it held some curious 

217 



Uncle Abner 



drug. "We swallow you and see things that are 
not, and dead men from their graves." 

He toyed with the glass, put it on the table, and 
sat down. 

"Abner," he said, "I know the body of a man 
down to the fiber of his bones; but the mind — it is 
a land of mystery. We dare not trust it." He 
paused and rapped the table with his callous fingers. 

"Against another we may be secure, but against 
himself what one of us is safe ? A man may have 
no fear of your Hebrew God, Abner, or your Assy- 
rian Devil, and yet, his own mind may turn against 
him and fill him full of terror. ... A man may kill 
his enemy in secret and hide him, and return to his 
house secure — and find the dead man sitting in his 
chair with the wet blood on him. And with all his 
philosophies he cannot eject that phantom from its 
seat. He will say this thing does not exist. But 
what avails the word when the thing is there !" 

He got on his feet and leaned over the table with 
his crooked fingers out before him. 

I was afraid and I drew closer to my uncle. This 
strange old man, straining over the table, peering 
into the shadows, held me with a gripping fascina- 
tion. His wiry, faded red hair seemed to rise on 
his scalp, and I looked to see some horror in its 
grave clothes appear before him. 

Abner turned his stern face upon him. It was 
some time before he spoke. 

"Storm," he said, "what do you fear?" 
218 



The Riddle 



"Fear!" cried the old man, his voice rising in a 
sharp staccato; and he made a gesture outward 
with his hand. 

"You fear your God, Abner, and I fear myself !" 
But there was something in Abner's voice and in 
this query launched at him that changed the man as 
by some sorcery. He sat down, fingered the glass 
of liquor, and looked at Abner closely. He did not 
speak for some time. He appeared to be turning 
some problem slowly in his mind. There was a 
lot of mystery here to clear up. We had discov- 
ered him by chance, and surely he had received us 
in the strangest manner. His explanation could not 
be true that he had come into the house before us 
on this night, for the house was warm, and it could 
npt have been heated in that time. What was the 
creature's secret? Why was he here, and who be- 
sieged him. These were things which he must fear 
to have known, and yet, he was glad to see us, glad 
to find us there in the snow, instead of another whom 
he feared to find there. And yet, we disturbed him, 
and he was uncertain what to do. He sat beyond 
the table, and I could see his eyes run over us, and 
wander off about the hall and return and glance at 
the black portmanteau. 

And while he hung there between his plans, Abner 
spoke. 

"Storm," he said, "what does all this mean?' 1 
The old man looked about him swiftly, furtively, 
219 



Uncle Abner 



I thought; then he spoke in a voice so low that we 
could hardly hear him. 

"Let me put it this way, Abner," he said: "One 
comes here, as you come; he is met as you are met; 
well, what happens from all this ? . . . A suspicion 
enters the visitor's mind. There is peril to the host 
in that, and he is put to an alternative. He must 
explain or he must shoot the guest. . . . Well, he 
chooses to make his explanation first, and if that 
fail, there is the other I 

" 'And, 1 he says, 'you have done me a service to 
come in ; I am glad to see you.* And you say, * What 
do you fear?' He answers, Jobbers. 1 You say, 
*What have you in this house to lose?' And he 
tells you this: 

"Michael Dale owned this house. He was rich. 
When he was dying he sat here by this hearth, tap- 
ping the bricks with his cane, and peering at his 
worthless son. You remember that son, Abner; 
he looked like the Jupiter of Elis before the Devil 
got him. 'Wellington,' he said, 'I am leaving you 
a treasure here.' He had been speaking of this 
estate, and one thought he meant the lands, and so 
gave the thing no notice. But later one remembered 
that expression and began to think it over. One 
recalled where it was that Michael Dale sat and the 
tapping of his stick. Well, when one is going down, 
any straw is worth the clutching. One slips into this 
house and looks." 

He indicated the brick hearth with a gesture. 

220 



The Riddle 



"No, it is not there now. The gold is in that 
portmanteau." 

He arose, opened the bag, and fumbled in it. 
Then he came to us with some pieces in his hand. 

Abner took the gold and examined it carefully 
by the firelight. They were old pieces, and he rubbed 
them between his fingers and scraped something 
from their faces with his thumb-nail. Then he 
handed them back, and Storm cast them into the 
portmanteau and buckled it together. Then he sat 
down and drew the stone jug over beside him. 

"Now, Abner," he said, "there is this evil about a 
treasure. It fills one full of fear. You must stand 
guard over it, and the thing gets on your nerves. 
The wind in the chimney is a voice, and every noise 
a footstep. At first one goes about with the weapon 
in his hand, and then, when he can bear it no more, 
he shoots at every sound." 

Abner did not move, and I listened to the man as 
to a tale of Bagdad. Every mystery was now cleared 
up — his presence in this house, his fear, the bullet 
holes, and why he was glad to see us, and yet dis- 
turbed that we had come. And I saw what he had 
been turning in his mind — whether he should trust 
us with the truth or leave us to our own conclusions. 
I understood and verified in myself every detail of 
this story. I should have acted as he did at every 
step, and I could realize this fear, and how, as the 
thing possessed him, one might come at last to shoot 

221 



Uncle Abner 



up the shadows. I looked at the man with a sort 
of wonder. 

Abner had been stroking his bronze face with his 
great sinewy hand, and now he spoke. 

"Storm," he said, "Michael Dale's riddle is not 
the only one that has been read." And he told of 
Christian Lance's death, and the Delphic sentence 
that had doubtless caused it. "You knew old Chris- 
tian, Storm, and his curious life?" 

"I did," replied Storm, "and I knew the man who 
carried off the knob of the andiron. But how do 
you say that any man read his riddle, Abner, and 
how do you know that there was any riddle in it? 
I took the thing to be an idle taunt" 

"And so did Randolph," said Abner, "but you 
were both wrong. The secret was in that scrawled 
sentence, and some one guessed it." 

"How do you know that, Abner?" said Storm. 

Abner did not reply directly to the point. 

"Old Christian loved money," he went on. "He 
would have died before he told where it was hidden. 
And his straining toward the door, as though in 
death he would follow one who had gone out there, 
meant that his secret had been divined, and that his 
gold had gone that way." 

"You ride to a conclusion on straws, Abner," said 
Storm, "if that is all the proof you have." 

"Well," replied Abner, "I have also a theory." 

"And what is your theory?" said Storm. 

"It is this," continued Abner; "when old Chris- 
222 



The Riddle 



tian wrote, 'Why don't you look in the cow/ he 
meant a certain thing. There was a row of tallow 
cakes on a shelf. My theory is that each year when 
he got the gold from his cattle, he molded it into 
one of these tallow cakes, turned it out of the crock, 
and put it on the shelif. And there, in the heart 
of these tallow cakes, was the old man's treasure I" 

"But you tell me that the cakes were there on 
this shelf when you found old Christian," said 
Storm. 

"They were," replied Abner. 

"Every one of them," said Storm. 

"Every one of them," answered Abner. 

"Had any one of them been cut or broken?" 

"Not one of them; they were smooth and per- 
fect." 

"Then your first conclusion goes to pieces, Abner. 
No man carried Christian's money through the 
door; it is there on the shelf." 

"No," said Abner, "it is not there. The man 
who killed old Christian Lance got the gold out of 
those cakes of tallow." 

"And, now, Abner," cried the man, "the bottom 
of your theory falls. How could one get the gold 
out of these cakes, and leave them perfect?" 

"I will tell you that," replied Abner. "There was 
a kettle on the crane and a crock beside the hearth, 
and every cake of tallow on the shelf was white. . . 
They had been remolded! Randolph did not see 
that, but I did." 

223 



Uncle Abner 



Storm got on his feet. 

"Then you do not believe this explanation, Abner 
— that the gold comes from the hearth?" 

"I do not," replied Abner, and his voice was deep 
and level. "There is tallow on these coins!" 

I saw Abner glance at the iron poker and watch 
Storm's hand. 

But the old man did not draw his weapon. He 
laughed noiselessly, twisting his crooked mouth. 

"You are right, Abner," he said, "it is Christian's 
gold, and this tale a lie. But you are wrong in 
your conclusion. Lance was not killed by a little 
man like I am ; he was killed by a big man like you !" 

He paused and leaned over, resting his hands on 
the table. 

"The man who killed him did not guess that rid- 
dle, Abner. . . . Put the evidences together. . . . 
Lance was tied into his chair before the assassin 
y killed him. Why? That was to threaten him with 
death unless he told where his gold was hidden. 
. . . Well, Lance would not tell that, but the assas- 
sin found it out by chance. He stooped to put the 
poker into the fire to heat it, and torture Christian. 
The cakes of tallow were on a hanging shelf against 
the white-washed chimney; as the assassin arose, fce 
struck this shelf with his shoulder, and one of the 
tallow cakes fell and burst on the hearth. Then he 
killed Christian with a blow of the heated poker. 
I know that because the hair about the wound was 
scorched ! 

224 



The Riddle 



"You saw a good deal in that house, Abner, but 
did you see a crease in the chimney where the shelf 
smote it, and the mark of a man's shoulder on the 
whitewash? And that shoulder, Abner," he raised 
his hand above his head, "it was as high as yours I" 

There was silence. 

And as the two men looked thus at each other, 
there was a sound as of something padding about 
the house outside. For a moment I did not under- 
stand these sounds, then I realized that the wind 
was rising, and clumps of snow falling from the 
trees. But to another in that house these sounds 
had no such explanation. 

Then a thing happened. One of the mahogany 
doors entering the hall leaped back, and a man 
stood there with a pistol in his hand. And in all 
my life I have never seen a creature like him I There 
was everything fine and distinguished in his face, but 
the face was a ruin. It was a loathsome and hideous 
ruin. Made for the occupancy of a god, the man's 
body was the dwelling of a devil. I do not mean 
a clean and vicious devil, but one low and bestial, 
that wallowed and .gorged itself with sins. And 
there was another thing in that face that to under- 
stand, one must have seen it. There was terror, but 
no fear! It was as though the man advanced 
against a thing that filled him full of horror, but 
he advanced with courage. He had a spirit in him 
that saw and knew the aspect and elements of dan- 
ger, but it could not be stampeded into flight. 

225* 



Uncle Abner 



I heard Abner say, "Dale!" like one who pro- 
nounces the name of some extraordinary thing. And 
I heard Storm say, "Mon dieu I With a teaspoon- 
ful of laudanum in him, he walks!" 

The creature did not see us; he was listening to 
the sounds outside, and he started for the door. 

"You there," he bellowed, "again! . . . Damn 
you! . . . Well, I'll get you this time. . . . I'll 
hunt you to hell!" . . . And his drunken voice rum- 
bled off into obscenities and oaths. 

He flung the door open and went out. His weapon 
thundered, and by it and the drunken shouting, we 
could track him. He seemed to move north, as 
though lured that way. We stood and listened. 

"He goes toward the river," said Abner. "It 
is God's will." 

Then far off there was a last report of the weapon 
and a great bellowing cry that shuddered through 
the forest. 

That night over the fire, Storm told us how he 
had come in from the snow and found Dale drunk 
and fighting the ghost of Christian Lance; how he 
listened to his story, and slipped the drug into his 
glass, and how he got him hidden, when we came, 
on the promise to keep his secret ; and how he had 
fenced with Abner, seeing that Abner suspected him. 

But it was the failure of his drug that vexed him. 

"It would put a brigadier and his horse to sleep 
— that much, if it were pure. I shall take ten drops 
to-morrow night and see." 

226 



Chapter XIII: The Straw Man 

IT was a day of early June in Virginia. The 
afternoon sun lay warm on the courthouse with 
its great plaster pillars; on the tavern with its 
two-story porch; on the stretches of green fields be- 
yond and the low wooded hill, rimmed by the far-off 
mountains like a wall of the world. 

It was the first day of the circuit court, which all 
the country attended. And on this afternoon, two 
men crossed the one thoroughfare that lay through 
the county seat, and went up the wide stone steps 
into the courthouse. 

The two men were in striking contrast. One, 
short of stature and beginning to take on the rotun- 
dity of age, was dressed with elaborate care, his 
great black stock propping up his chin, his linen and 
the cloth of his coat immaculate. He wore a huge 
carved ring and a bunch of seals attached to his 
watch-fob. The other was a big, broad-shouldered, 
deep-chested Saxon, with all those marked character- 
istics of a race living out of doors and hardened by 
wind and sun. His powerful frame carried no 
ounce of surplus weight. It was the frame of the 
empire builder on the frontier of the empire. The 
face reminded one of Cromwell, the craggy features 
in repose seemed molded over iron, but the fine 

227 



Uncle Abner 



gray eyes had a calm serenity, like remote spaces in 
the summer sky. The man's clothes were plain and 
somber. And he gave one the impression of things 
big and vast. 

As the two entered between the plaster pillars, a 
tall old man came out from the county clerk's office. 
But for his face, he might have been one of a thou- 
sand Englishmen in Virginia. There was nothing 
in the big, spare figure or the cranial lines of the man 
to mark. 

But the face seized you. In it was an unfathom- 
able disgust with life, joined, one would say, with a 
cruel courage. The hard, bony jaw protruded; bit- 
ter lines descended along the planes of the face, and 
the eyes circled by red rims were expressionless and 
staring, as though, by some abominable negligence 
of nature, they were lidless. 

The two approached, and the one so elaborately 
dressed spoke to the old man. 

"How do you do, Northcote Moore?" he said 
"You know Abner?" 

The old man stopped instantly and stood very 
still. He moved the stick in his hand a trifle before 
him. Then he spoke in a high-pitched, irascible 
voice. 

"Abner, eh I Well, what the devil is Abner here 
for?" 

The little pompous man clenched his fingers in his 
yellow gloves, but his voice showed no annoyance. 

"I asked him to have a look at Eastwood Court." 
228 



The Straw Man 



"Damn the justice of the peace of every county," 
cried the old man, "and you included, Randolph I 
You never make an end of anything." 

He gave no attention to Abner, who remained 
unembarrassed, regarding the impolite old man as 
one regards some strange, new, and particularly of- 
fensive beast. 

"Chuck the whole business, Randolph, that's what 
I say," the irascible old man continued, "and forget 
about it. Who the devil cares? A drooling old 
paralytic is snuffed out. Well, he ought to have 
gone five and twenty years ago I He couldn't man- 
age his estate and he kept me out. I was like to 
hang about until I rotted, while the creature played 
at Patience, propped up against the table and the 
wall. A nigger, on a search for shillings, knocks 
him on the head. Shall I hunt the nigger down and 
hang him? Damme! I would rather get him a 
patent of state lands I" 

The face of Randolph was a study in expression. 

"But, sir," he said, "there are some things about 
this affair that are peculiar — I may say extraordi- 
narily peculiar." 

Again the old man stood still. When he spoke 
his voice was in a lower note. 

"And so," he said, "you have nosed out a new clew 
and got Abner over, and we are to have another 
inquisition." 

He reflected, moving his stick idly before him. 
Then he went on in a petulant, persuasive tone. 

229 



Uncle Abner 



"Why can't you let sleeping dogs lie? The coun- 
try is beginning to forget this affair, and you set 
about to stir it up. Shall I always have the thing 
clanking at my heels like a ball and chain?" 

Then he rang the paved court with the ferrule of 
his stick. 

"Damme, man!" he cried. "Has Virginia no 
mysteries, that you yap forever on old scents at 
Eastwood? What does it matter who did this 
thing? It was a public service. Virginia needs a 
few men on her lands with a bit of courage. This 
state is rotten with old timber. In youth, Duncan 
Moore was a fool. In age, he was better dead. Let 
there be an end to this, Randolph." 

And he turned about and went back into the county 
clerk's office. 

Randolph was a justice of the peace in Virginia. 
He looked a moment after the departing figure; then 
he spoke to his companion. 

"He is here to have the lands of Duncan Moore 
transferred on the assessor's book to his own name. 
He takes the estate under the Life and Lives statute 
of Virginia, that the legislature got up to soften the 
rigor of Mr. Jefferson's Statute of Descents. 
Under it, this estate with its great English manor 
house was devised by the original ancestor to Duncan 
Moore for his life, and after him to Northcote 
Moore for his life, and at his death to Esdale 
Moore. It could have run twenty-one years farther 
if the ttrivener had known the statute. Mr. Jef- 

230 



The Straw Man 



ferson did not entirely decapitate the law of entail." 

He. paused and lifted his finger with a curious 
gesture. 

"It is a queer family — I think the very queerest in 
Virginia. There is something defective about every 
one of them. Duncan Moore, the decedent, had 
no children. His two brothers died epileptics. 
This man, the son of the elder brother, is blind. 
And the son of the junior, Mr. Esdale Moore, the 
attorney-at-law " 

The Justice of the Peace was interrupted. A 
little dapper man, sunburned and bareheaded, 
dressed like a tailor's print, but with the smart, ag- 
gressive air of a well-bred colonial Englishman, 
pushed through the crowd and clapped the Justice 
on the shoulder. 

"What luck, Randolph?" he cried. "I am sure 
Abner has run the assassin to cover." And he 
bobbed his head to Abner like one whose profession 
permits a certain familiarity. "Come along to the 
tavern; 'I would listen to your wondrous tales,' as 
Homer says it." 

He led the way, calling out to a member of the 
bar, hailing an acquaintance, and hurling banter 
about him in the bluff, hearty fashion which he 
imagined to be the correct manner of a man of the 
people who is getting on. He was in the strength 
and vigor of his race at forty. 

"Beastly dull, Randolph," he rattled; "nothing 
exciting since the dawn expect old Baron-Vitch's end- 

231 



Uncle Abner 



less suit in chancery. But one must sit tight, rain 
or shine. The people must know where to find a 
lawyer when they want him." 

He swung along with a big military stride. 

"The life of a lawyer is far from jolly. I should 
like to cut it, Randolph, if I had a good shooting 
and bit of trout water. Alas, I am poor !" And he 
made a dramatic gesture. 

One felt that under this froth the man was calling 
out the truth. For all his hearty interest in affairs, 
the law was merely a sort of game. It was nothing 
real. He played to win, and he had chosen his profes- 
sion with care and after long reflection, as a breeder 
chooses a colt for the Derby, or as an English 
family of influence selects a crack regiment for the 
heir at Oxford. He cared not one penny what the 
laws were or the great policies of Virginia. But he 
did care, with an inbred and abiding interest, about 
the value of a partridge shooting, or the damming 
of a trout stream by the grist mills. These things 
were the realities of life, and not the actions at law 
or the suits in chancery. 

"How does one get a fortune nowadays, Abner?" 
he called back across his shoulder, "for I need one 
like the devil. Marriage or crime, eh? Crime re- 
quires a certain courage, and they say out in the 
open that lawyers are decadent. With you and 
Randolph on the lookout, I should be afraid to go 
in for crime I" 

He clapped a passing pant on the back, called him 
232 



The Straw Man 



Harrison, accused him of having an eye on Congress, 
and went on across his shoulder to Abner : 

"Marriage, then? Do you know a convenient or- 
phan with a golden goose? Pleasure and a certain 
gain would be idyllic I The simplest men under- 
stand that Do not the writers in Paris tell us that 
the French peasant on his marriage night, while em- 
bracing his bride with one arm, extends the other 
in order to feel the sack that contains her dowry ?" 

They were now on the upper floor of the tavern 
porch. Mr. Esdale Moore sent a negro for a 
dish of tea, after the English fashion. 

Then he got a table at the end of the porch, some- 
what apart, and the three men sat down. 

"And now, Randolph," he said, "what did you 
find at Eastwood?" 

"I am afraid," replied the Justice of the Peace, 
"that we found little new there. The evidence re- 
mains, with trifling additions, what it was; but Abner 
has arrived at some interesting opinions upon this 
evidence." 

"I am sure Abner can clap his hand on the as- 
sassin," said the attorney. "Come, sir, let me fill 
your cup, and while I stand on one foot, as St. 
Augustine used to say, tell me who ejected my uncle, 
the venerable Duncan Moore, out of life." 

The negro servant had returned with a great 
silver pot, and a tray of cups with queer kneeling 
purple cows on them. 

Abner held out his cup. 
*33 



Uncle Abner 



"Sir," he said, "one must be very certain, to an- 
swer that question." His voice was deep and level, 
like some balanced element in nature. 

He waited while the man filled the cup; then he 
replaced it on the table. 

"And, sir," he continued slowly, "I am not yet 
precisely certain." 

He slipped a lump of sugar slowly into the cup. 

"It is the Ruler of Events who knows, sir; we 
can only conjecture. We cannot see the truth naked 
before us as He does; we must grope for it from 
one indication to another until we find it." 

"But, reason, Abner," interrupted the lawyer, 
bustling in his chair; "we have that, and God has 
nothing better I" 

"Sir," replied Abner, "I cannot think of God de- 
pending on a thing so crude as reason. If one 
reflects upon it, I think one will immediately see 
that reason is a quality exclusively peculiar to the 
human mind. It is a thing that God could never, 
by any chance, require. Reason is the method by 
which those who do not know the truth, step by step, 
finally discover it." 

He paused and looked out across the table at the 
far-off mountains. 

"And so, sir, God knows who in Virginia has a 
red hand from this work at Eastwood Court, with- 
out assembling the evidence and laboring to deter- 
mine whither these signboards point. But Ran- 
dolph and I are like children with a puzzle. We 

*34 



The Straw Man 



must get all the pieces first, and then sit down and 
laboriously fit them up." 

He looked down into his cup, his face in repose 
and reflective. 

"Ah, sir," he went on, "if one could be certain that 
one had always every piece, there would no longer 
remain such a thing as a human mystery. Every 
event dovetails into every other event that precedes 
and follows. With the pieces complete, the truth 
could never elude us. But, alas, sir, human intel- 
ligence is feeble and easily deludes itself, and the re- 
lations and ramifications of events are vast and in- 
tricate." 

"Then, sir," said Mr. Esdale Moore, "you do not 
believe that the criminal can create a series of false 
evidences that will be at all points consistent with 
the truth." 

"No man can do it," replied Abner. "For 
to do that, one must know everything that goes be- 
fore and everything that follows the event which one 
is attempting to falsify. And this omniscience only 
the intelligence of God can compass. It is impos- 
sible for the human mind to manufacture a false 
consistency of events except to a very limited extent." 

"Then, gentlemen," cried the lawyer, "you can 
make me no excuse for leaving this affair a mystery." 

"Yes," replied my uncle, "we could make you an 
excuse — a valid and sound excuse: the excuse of in- 
competency." 

*35 



Uncle Abner 



Mr. Esdale Moore laughed in his big, hearty 
voice. 

"With your reputation, Abner, and that of Squire 
Randolph in Virginia, I should refuse to receive it." 

"Alas," continued Abner, "we are no better than 
other men. A certain experience, some knowledge 
of the habits of criminals, and a little skill in observa- 
tion are the only advantages we have. If one were 
born among us with, let us say, a double equipment 
of skull space, no criminal would ever escape him." 

"He would laugh at us, Abner," said the Justice. 

"He would never cease to laugh," returned my 
uncle, "but he would laugh the loudest at the 
bungling criminal. To him, the most cunning crime 
would be a botch; fabricated events would be con* 
spicuous patch-work, and he would see the identity 
of the criminal agent in a thousand evidences." 

He hesitated a moment; then he added: 

"Fortunately for human society, the inconsistency 
of false evidence is usually so glaring that any one 
of us is able to see it." 

"As in Lord William Russell's case," said the 
Justice, "where the valet, having killed his master in 
such a manner as to create the aspect of suicide, 
Inadvertently carried away the knife with which his 
victim was supposed to have cut his own throat." 

"Precisely," said Abner. "And there is, I think, 
in every case something equally inconsistent, if we 
only look close enough to find it." 

He turned to Mr. Esdale Moore. 
236 



The Straw Man 



"With a little observation, sir, to ascertain the 
evidence, and a little common sense to interpret its 
intent, Randolph and I manage to get on." 

The lawyer put a leading question. 

"What glaring inconsistency did you find at East- 
wood?" he said. 

Abner looked at Randolph, as though for permis- 
sion to go on. The Justice nodded. 

"Why, this thing, sir," he answered, "that a secre- 
tary that was not locked should be broken open." 

"But, Abner," said the lawyer, "who, but myself, 
knew that this secretary was not locked? It was 
the custom to lock it, although it contained nothing 
but my uncle's playing cards. As I told Randolph, 
on the day of my uncle's death I put the key down 
among the litter of papers inside the secretary, after 
I had opened it, and could not find it again, so I 
merely closed the lid. But I alone knew this. 
Everybody else would imagine the secretary to be 
locked as usual." 

"Not everybody," continued my uncle. "Re- 
flect a moment: To believe the secretary locked on 
this night, one must have known that it was locked 
on every preceding night. To believe that it was 
locked on this night because the lid was closed, one 
must have known that it was always locked on every 
preceding night when the lid was closed. And fur- 
ther, sir, one must have known this custom so well — 
one must have been so certain of it — that one knew 
it was not worth while to attempt to open the secre- 

*37 



Uncle Abner 



tary by pulling down the lid on the chance that it 
might not be locked, and so, broke it open at once. 

"Now, sir," he went on, "does this not exclude 
the theory that Duncan Moore was killed by a com- 
mon burglar who entered the house for the purpose 
of committing a robbery? Such a criminal agent 
could not have known this custom. He might have 
believed the secretary to be locked, or imagined it 
to be, but he could not have known it conclusively. 
He could not have been so certain that he would fail 
to lay hold of the lid to make sure. One must as- 
sume the lowest criminal will act with some degree 
of intelligence." 

"By Jove!" cried the attorney, striking the table, 
"I had a feeling that my uncle was not killed by a 
common thief! I thought the authorities were not 
at the bottom of this thing, and that is why I kept at 
Randolph, why I urged him to get you out to East- 
wood Court." 

"Sir," replied Abner, "I am obliged to you for the 
compliment. But your feeling was justified, and 
your persistence in this case will, I think, be re- 
warded. 

"Nevertheless, sir, if you will pardon the digres- 
sion, permit me to say that your remark interests me 
profoundly. Whence, I wonder, came this feeling 
that caused you to reject the obvious explanation and 
to urge a further and more elaborate inquiry?" 

"Now, Abner," returned Mr. Esdale Moore, "I 
cannot answer that question. The thing was a kind 

238 



The Straw Man 



of presentiment. I had a sort of feeling, as we ex- 
press it. I cannot say more than that." 

"I have had occasion," continued Abner, "to 
examine the theory of presentiments, and I find 
that we are forced to one of two conclusions : Either 
they are of an origin exterior to the individual, of 
which we have no reliable proof, or they are founded 
upon some knowledge of which the correlation in 
the .mind is, for the moment, obscure. That is to 
say, a feeling, presentiment, or premonition, may be 
a sort of shadow thrown by an unformed conclusion. 

"An unconscious or subconscious mental process 
produces an impression. We take this impression 
to be from behind the stars, when, in fact, it merely 
indicates the rational conclusion at which we would 
have arrived if we had made a strong, conscious 
effort to understand the enigma before us." 

He drank a little tea and put the cup back gently 
on the table. 

"Perhaps, sir, if you had gone forward with the 
mental processes that produced your premonition, 
you would have worked out the solution of this 
mystery. Why, I wonder, did your deductions re- 
main subconscious?" 

"That is a question in mental science," replied the 
lawyer. 

"Is not all science mental?" continued my un- 
cle. "Do not men take their facts in a bag to 
the philosopher that he may put them together? 
Let us reflect a moment, sir: Are not the primitive 

*39 



Uncle Abner 



emotions — as, for example, fear — in their initial 
• stages always subconscious, or, as we say, instinctive? 
Thus, a thousand times in the day do not our bodies 
draw back from danger of which we are wholly un- 
conscious? We do not go forward into these perils, 
and we pass on with no realization of their existence. 
Can we doubt, sir, that the mind also instinctively 
perceives danger at the end of certain mental 
processes and does not go forward upon them?" 

The lawyer regarded my uncle in a sort of won- 
der. 

"Abner," he said, "you forget my activities in this 
affair. It is I who have kept at Randolph. What 
instinctive fear, then, could have mentally re- 
strained me ?" 

"Why, sir," replied Abner, "the same fear that 
instinctively restrained Randolph and myself." 

Mr. Esdale Moore looked my uncle in the face. 

"What fear?" he said. 

"The fear," continued Abner, "of what these de- 
ductions lead to." 

Abner moved his chair a little nearer to the table 
and went on in a lower voice. 

"Now, sir, if we exclude the untenable hypothesis 
that this crime was committed by an unknown thief, 
ffom the motive of robbery, what explanation re- 
mains? Let us see: This secretary could have been 
broken open only by some one who knew that it was 
the custom to keep it locked Who was certain of 

240 



The Straw Man 



that custom? Obviously, sir, only those in the 
household of the aged Duncan Moore." 

The face of the lawyer showed a profound in- 
terest. He leaned over, put his right elbow on the 
table, rested his chin in the trough of the thumb and 
finger, and with his other hand, took a box of tobacco 
cigarettes from his pocket and began to break it 
open. It was one of the elegancies of that day. 

Abner went on, "Was it a servant at Eastwood 

Court?" 

He paused, and Randolph interrupted. 

"On the night of this tragedy," said the Justice of 
the Peace, "all the negroes in the household attended 
a servants' ball on a neighboring estate. They 
went in a body and returned in a body. The aged 
Duncan Moore was alive when they left the house, 
and dead when they returned." 

"But, Randolph," Abner went on, "independent 
of this chance event, conclusive in itself — which I 
feel is an accident to which we are hardly entitled! 
—do not our inferences legitimately indicate a crim- 
inal agent other than a servant at Eastwood Court? 

"Sane men do not commit violent crimes without 
a motive. There was no motive to move any 
servant except that of gain, and there was no gain to 
be derived from the death of the aged Duncan 
Moore, except that to be got from rifling his secre- 
tary. But the one who knew so much about this 
secretary that he was certain it was locked, would 

241 



Uncle Abner 



also have known enough about it to know that it con- 
tained nothing of value." 

He hesitated and moved the handle of his cup. 

"Now, sir," he added, "two persons remain." 

The lawyer, fingering the box of cigarettes, broke 
it open and presented them to my uncle and Ran* 
dolph. He lighted one, and over the table looked 
Abner in the face. 

"You mean Northcote Moore and myself," he 
said in a firm, even voice. "Well, sir, which one 
was it?" 

My uncle remained undisturbed. 

"Sir," he said, "there was at least a pretense of 
consistency in the work of the one who manufactured 
the evidences of a burglar. There was a window 
open in the north wing at the end of the long, many- 
cornered passage that leads through Eastwood Court 
to the room in the south wing where the aged Duncan 
Moore was killed. Now some one had gone along 
that passage, as you pointed out to Randolph when 
Eastwood Court was first inspected, because there 
were finger-prints on the walls at the turns and 
angles. These finger-prints were marked in the 
dust on the walls of the passage on the east side, but 
on the west side, beginning heaviest near Duncan 
Moore's room, the prints were in blood. 

"These marks on the wall show that the assassin 
did, in fact, enter by this passage and return along 
it. But he did not enter by the open window. The 
frame, of this window was cemented into the case- 

242 



The Straw Man 



ment with dust This dust was removed only on 
the inside. Moreover, violence had been used to 
force it open, and the marks of this violence were all 
plainly visible on the inside of the f ram$." 

He stopped, remained a moment silent, and then 
continued : 

"This corridor is the usual and customary way — 
in fact, the only way leading from the north wing 
of Eastwood Court to the south wing. Duncan 
Moore alone occupied the south wing. And, sir, on 
this night, Northcote Moore and yourself alone oc- 
cupied the north wing. You were both equally fa- 
miliar with this passage, since you lived in the house, 
and used it constantly." 

Abner paused and looked at Mr. Esdale Moore. 

"Shall I go on, sir?" he said. 

"Pray do," replied the lawyer. 

Abner continued, in his deep, level voice. 

"Now, sir, you will realize why Randolph and I 
felt an instinctive fear of the result of these deduc- 
tions, and perhaps, sir, why your subconscious conclu- 
sions went no further than a premonition." 

"But the law of Virginia," put in the Justice, "is 
no respecter of persons. If the Governor should 
do a murder, his office would not save him from 
the gallows." 

"It would not," said the lawyer. "Go on, 
Abner." 

My uncle moved slightly in his chair. 

"If the aged Duncan Moore were removed," he 
*43 



Uncle Abner 



continued, "Northcote Moore would take the manor- 
house and the lands. For Esdale Moore to take 
the estate, both the aged Duncan Moore and the 
present incumbent must be removed. Only the aged 
Duncan Moore was removed. Who was planning 
a gain, then, by this criminal act? Esdale Moore 
or Northcote Moore? 

"Another significant thing: Mr. Esdale Moore 
knew this secretary was unlocked on this night; 
Northcote Moore did not. Who, then, was the 
more likely to break it open as evidence of a pre- 
sumptive robbery? 

"And, finally, sir, who would grope along this 
corridor feeling with his hands for the corners and 
angles of the wall, one who could see, or a blind 
man?" 

My uncle stopped and sat back in his chair. 

The lawyer leaned over and put both arms on the 
table. 

"Gentlemen," he said, since he addressed both 
Randolph and Abner, "you amaze me I You accuse 
the most prominent man. in Virginia." 

"Before the law," said the Justice, "all men are 
equal." 

The lawyer turned toward my uncle, as to one 
of more consideration. 

"While you were making your deductions," he 
said, "I had to insist that you go on, for I was myself 
included. I was bound to hear you to the end, 
although you shocked me at every step. But now, 

244 



The Straw Man 



I beg you to reflect. Northcote Moore belongs to 
an ancient and honorable family. He is old; he is 
blind. Surely something can be done to save him." 

"Nothing," replied the Justice firmly. 

Abner lifted his face, placid, unmoving, like a 
mask. 

"Perhaps," he said. 

The two men before him at the table moved with 
astonishment. 

"Perhaps !" cried the Justice of the Peace. "This 
is Virginia 1" 

But it was the lawyer who was the more amazed. 
He had not moved; he did not move; but his face* 
as by some sorcery, became suddenly perplexed. 

The tavern was now deserted ; every one had gone 
back into the courthouse. The three men were 
alone. There was silence except for the noises of 
the village and the far-off hum of winged insects in 
the air. Mr. Esdale Moore sat facing north along 
the upper porch ; Abner opposite ; Randolph looking 
eastward toward the courthouse. My uncle did not 
go on at once. He reached across the table for 
one of the tobacco cigarettes. The lawyer mechan- 
ically took up the box with his hand nearest to the 
Justice of the Peace and opened the lid with his 
thumb and finger. Abner selected one but did not 
light it. 

"Writers on the law," he began, "warn us against 
the obvious inference when dealing with the intelli- 
gent criminal agent, and for this reason: while the 

245 



Uncle Abner 



criminal of the lowest order seeks only to coyer his 
identity, and the criminal of the second order to 
indicate another rather than himself, the criminal 
of the first order, sir, will sometimes undertake a 
subtle finesse — a double intention. 

"The criminal of the lowest order gives tht au- 
thorities no one to suspect. The criminal of the 
second order sets up a straw man before his own 
door, hoping to mislead the authorities. But the 
criminal of the first order sets it before the door of 
another, expecting the authorities of the state to 
knock it down and take the man behind it. 

"Now, sir," — my uncle paused — "looked at from 
this quarter, do not our obvious deductions lack a 
certain conclusiveness? 

"If Northcote Moore were hanged for murder, 
Esdale Moore would take the manor-house and the 
landed estate. Therefore, he might wish Northcote 
Moore hanged, just as Northcote Moore might wish 
Duncan Moore murdered 

"And, if one were deliberately placing a straw 
man, would there be any inconsistency in breaking 
open a secretary obviously unlocked? The straw, 
sir, would be only a trifle more conspicuous I 

"And the third deduction" — his gray eyes nar- 
rowed, and he spoke slowly: "If one born blind, and 
another, were accustomed to go along a passage day 
after day; in the dark, who would grope, feeling 
his way in the night, step by step, along the angles 

246 



The Straw Man 



of the wall — the one who could see, or the blind 
man?" 

The amazed Justice struck the table with his 
clenched hand. 

"By the gods," he cried, "not the blind man! 
For to the blind man, the passage was always dark!" 

The lawyer had not moved, but his face, in its 
desperate perplexity, began to sweat. The Justice 
swung around upon him, but Abner put out his hand. 

U A moment, Randolph," he said. "The human 
body is a curious structure. It has two sides, as 
though two similar mechanisms were joined with a 
central trunk, — the dexter side, or that which is 
toward the south when the man is facing the rising 
sun, and the sinister side, or that which is toward the 
north. These sides are not coequal. One of them 
is controlling and dominates the man, and when the 
task before him is difficult, it is with this more effi- 
cient controlling side that he approaches it. 

"Thus, one set on murder and desperately anxious 
to make no sound, to make no false step, to strike 
no turn or angle, would instinctively follow the side 
of the wall that he could feel along with his con- 
trolling hand. This passage runs north and south. 
The bloody finger-prints are all on the west side of 
the wall, the prints in the dust on the east side; 
therefore, the assassin followed the east side of the 
wall when he set out on his deadly errand, and the 
west side when he returned with the blood on him. 

"That is to say," and his voice lifted into a 
247 



Uncle Abner 



stronger note, "he always followed the left side of 
the wall. 

"Why, sir?" And he got on his feet, his voice 
ringing, his finger pointing at the sweating, cornered 
man. "Because his controlling side was on the left 
— because he was left handed! 

"And you, sir — I have been watching you " 

The pent-up energies of Mr. Esdale Moore 
seemed to burst asunder. 

"It's a lie!" he cried. 

And he lunged at Abner across the table, with his 
clenched left hand 



CHAPTER XIV: The Mystery of Chance 

IT was a night like the pit The rain fell 
steadily. Now and then a gust of wind rattled 
the shutters, and the tavern sign, painted with 
the features of George the Third, now damaged by 
musket-balls and with the eyes burned out, creaked 

The tavern sat on the bank of the Ohio. Below 
lay the river and the long, flat island, where the ill- 
starred Blennerhasset had set up his feudal tenure* 
Flood water covered the island and spread every- 
where — a vast sea of yellow that enveloped the 
meadow-lands and plucked at the fringe of the 
forest. % 

The scenes in the tavern were in striking contrast. 
The place boomed with mirth, shouts of laughter, 
ribald tales and songs. The whole crew of the 
Eldorado of New Orleans banqueted in the guest- 
room of the tavern. This was the open room for 
the public. Beyond it and facing the river was the 
guest-room for the gentry, with its floor scrubbed 
with sand, its high-boy in veneered mahogany, its 
polished andirons and its various pretensions to a 
hostelry of substance. 

At a table in this room, unmindful of the bedlam 
beyond him, a man sat reading a pamphlet. He 
leaned over on the table, between two tall brass 

249 



Uncle Abner 



candlesticks, his elbows on the board, his thumb 
marking the page. He had the dress and manner 
of a gentleman— excellent cloth in his coat, a rich 
stock and imported linen. On the table sat a top 
hat of the time, and in the corner by the driftwood 
lire was a portmanteau with silver buckles, strapped 
up as for a journey. The man was under forty, his 
features regular and clean-cut; his dark brows joined 
above eyes big and blue and wholly out of place in 
the olive skin. 

Now and then he got up, went over to the window 
and looked out, but he was unable to see anything, 
for the rain continued and the puffs of wind. He 
seemed disturbed and uneasy. He drummed on die 
sill with his fingers, and then, with a glance at his 
portmanteau, returned to his chair between the two 
big tallow candles. 

From time to time the tavern-keeper looked in at 
the door with some servile inquiry. This interrup- 
tion annoyed the guest. 

"Damme, man," he said, "are you forever at the 
door?" 

"Shall I give the crew rum, sir?" the landlord 
asked. 

"No," replied the man; "I will not pay your ex- 
tortions for imported liquor." 

"They wish it, sir." 

The man looked up from his pamphlet. 

"They wish it, eh," he said with nice enunciation. 
"Well, Mr. Castoe, I do notl" 

250 



The Mystery of Chance 



The soft voice dwelt on the "Mr. Castoe" with 
ironical emphasis. The mobile upper lip, shadowed 
with a silken mustache, lifted along the teeth with 
a curious feline menace. 

The man was hardly over his table before the 
door opened again. He turned abruptly, like a 
panther, but when he saw who stood in the door, he 
arose with a formal courtesy. 

"You are a day early, Abner," he said. "Are 
the Virginia wagons in for their salt and iron?" 

"They will arrive tomorrow," replied my uncle ; 
"the roads are washed out with the rains." 

The man looked at my uncle, his hat and 4iis great- 
coat splashed with mud. 

"How did you come?" he asked. 

"Along the river," replied my uncle, <# I thought 
to find you on the Eldorado." 

"On the Eldoradof" cried the man. "On such a 
night, when the Tavem of George the Third has a 
log fire and kegs in the cellar 1" 

My uncle entered, closed the door, took off his 
greatcoat and hat, and sat down by the hearth. 

"The boat looked deserted," he said. 

"To the last nigger," said the man. "I could not 
take the comforts of the tavern and deny them to 
the crew." 

My uncle warmed his hands over the snapping 
fire. 

"A considerate heart, Byrd," he said, with some 
deliberation, "is a fine quality in a man. But how 

251 



Uncle Abner 



about the owners of your cargo, and the company 
that insures your boat?" 

"The cargo, Abner," replied the man, "is in 
Benton's warehouse, unloaded for your wagons. 
The boat is tied up in the back-water. No log can 
strike it" 

He paused and stroked his clean-cut, aristocratic 
jaw. 

"The journey down from Fort Pitt was dam- 
nable," he added, " — miles of flood water, yellow 
and running with an accursed current. It was no 
pleasure voyage, believe me, Abner. There was 
the current running logs, and when we got in near 
the shore, the settlers fired on us. A careless des- 
perado, your settler, Abner I" 

"More careless, Byrd, do you think," replied my 
uncle, "than the river captain who overturns the 
half-submerged cabins with the wash of his boat?" 

"The river," said the man, "is the steamboat's 
highway." 

"And the cabin," replied my uncle, "is the settler's 
home." 

"One would think," said Byrd, "that this home 
was a palace and the swamp land a garden of the 
Hesperides, and your settler a King of the Golden 
Mountains. My stacks are full of bullet holes." 

My uncle was thoughtful by the fire. 

"This thing will run into a river war," he said. 
"There will be violence and murder done." 

"A war, eh !" echoed the man. "I had not 
252 



The Mystery of Chance 



thought of that, and yet, I had but now an ultima- 
tum. When we swung in to-night, a big backwoods- 
man came out in a canoe and delivered an oration. 
I have forgotten the periods, Abner, but he would 
burn me at the stake, I think, and send the boat to 
Satan, unless I dropped down the river and came in 
below the settlement." 

He paused and stroked his jaw again with that 
curious gesture. 

"But for the creature's command," he added, "I 
would have made the detour. But when he threat- 
ened, I ran in as I liked and the creature got a duck- 
ing for his pains. His canoe went bottom upward, 
and if he had not been a man of oak, he would have 
gone himself to Satan." 

"And what damage did you do?" inquired my 
uncle. 

"Why, no damage, as it happened," said the man. 
"Some cabins swayed, but not one of them went over. 
I looked, Abner, for a skirmish in your war. There 
was more than one rifle at a window. If I were 
going to follow the river," he continued, "I would 
mount a six-pounder." 

"You will quit the river, then," remarked my 
uncle. 

"It is a dog's life, Abner," said the man. "To 
make a gain in these days of Yankee trading, the 
owner must travel with his boat. Captains are a 
trifle too susceptible to bribe. I do not mean gold- 
pieces, slipped into the hand, but the hospitalities of 

*53 



Uncle Abner 



the shopkeeper. Your Yankee, Abner, sees no dif- 
ference in men, or he will waive it for a sixpence in 
his till. The captain is banqueted at his house, and 
the cargo is put on short. One cannot sit in com- 
fort at New Orleans and trade along the Ohio." 

"Is one, then, so happy in New Orleans?" asked 
my uncle. 

"In New Orleans, no," replied the man, "but New 
Orleans is not the world. The world is in Picca- 
dilly, where one can live among his fellows like a 
gentleman, and see something of lifa— a Venetian 
dancer, ladies of fashion, and men who dice for 
something more than a trader's greasy shillings." 

Byrd again got up and went to the window. The 
rain and gusts of wind continued. His anxiety 
seemed visibly to increase. 

My uncle arose and stood with his back to the 
driftwood fire, his hands spread out to the flame. 
He glanced at Byrd and at the pamphlet on the 
table, and the firm muscles of his mouth hardened 
into an ironical smile. 

"Mr. Evlyn Byrrf," he said, "what do you read?" 

The man came back to the table. He sat down 
and crossed one elegant knee over the other. 

"It is an essay by the Englishman, Mill," he said, 
"reprinted in the press that Benjamin Franklin set 
up at Philadelphia. I agree with Lord Fairfax 
where the estimable Benjamin is concerned: 'Damn 
his little maxims I They smack too much of New 

254 



The Mystery of Chance 



England!' But his press gives now and then an 
English thing worth while." 

"And why is this English essay worth while?" 
asked my uncle. 

"Because, Abner, in its ultimate conclusions, it is 
a justification of a gentleman's most interesting vice. 
'Chance,' Mr. Mill demonstrates, 'is not only at the 
end of all our knowledge, but it is also at the be- 
ginning of all our postulates. 1 We begin with it, 
Abner, and we end with it. The structure of all 
our philosophy is laid down on the sills of chance 
and roofed over with the rafters of it." 

"The Providence of God, then," said my uncle, 
"does not come into Mr. Mill's admirable essay." 

Mr. Evlyn Byrd laughed. 

"It does not, Abner," he said. "Things happen 
in this world by chance, and this chance is no aide* 
de-camp of your God. It happens unconcernedly to 
all men. It has no rogue to rum and no good 
churchman, pattering his prayers, to save. A man 
lays his plans according to the scope and grasp of 
his intelligence, and this chance comes by to help 
him or to harm him, as it may happen, with no con- 
cern about his little morals, and with no divine 
intent." 

"And so you leave God out," said my uncle, with 
no comment. 

"And why not, Abner?" replied the man. "Is 
there any place in this scheme of nature for His 
intervention? Why, sir, the intelligence of man 

*55 



Uncle Abner 



that your Scriptures so despise can easily put His 
little plan of rewards and punishments out of joint. 
Not the good, Abner, but the intelligent, possess the 
earth. The man who sees on all sides of his plan, 
and hedges it about with wise precaution, brings it 
to success. Every day the foresight of men out- 
wits your God." 

My uncle lifted his chin above his wet stock. He 
looked at the window with the night banked behind 
it, and then down at the refined and elegant gentle- 
man in the chair beside the table, and then at the 
strapped-up portmanteau in the corner. His great 
jaw moved out under the massive chin. From his 
face, from his manner, he seemed about to approach 
some business of vital import. Then, suddenly, 
from the room beyond there came a great boom of 
curses, a cry that the dice had fallen against a platter, 
a blow and a gust of obscenities and oaths. 

My uncle extended his arm toward the room. 

"Your gentleman's vice," he said; "eh, Mr. 
Byrdl" 

The man put out a jeweled hand and snuffed the 
candles. 

"The vice, Abner, but not the gentlemen." 

Mr. Byrd flicked a bit of soot from his immacu- 
late sleeve. Then he made a careless gesture. 

"These beasts," he said, "are the scum of New 
Orleans. They would bring any practice into dis- 
repute. One cannot illustrate a theory by such 
creatures. Gaming, Abner, is the diversion of a 

256 



The Mystery of Chance 



gentleman ; it depends on chance, even as all trading 
does. The Bishop of London has been unable to 
point out wherein it is immoral." 

"Then," said Abner, "the Bishop does little credit 
to his intelligence." 

"It has been discussed in the coffee-houses of New 
Orleans," replied Mr. Byrd, "and no worthy objec- 
tion found." 

"I think I can give you one," replied my uncle. 

"And what is your objection, Abner?" asked the 
man. 

"It has this objection, if no other," replied my 
uncle, "it encourages a hope of reward without labor, 
and it is this hope, Byrd, that fills the jail house with 
weak men, and sets strong ones to dangerous ven- 
tures." 

He looked down at the man before him, and again 
his iron jaw moved. 

"Byrd," he said, "under the wisdom of God, 
labor alone can save the world. It is everywhere 
before all benefits that we would enjoy. Every man 
must till the earth before he can eat of its fruits. He 
must fell the forest and let in the sun before his grain 
will ripen. He must spin and weave. And in his 
trading he must labor to carry his surplus stuff to for- 
eign people, and to bring back what he needs from 
their abundance. Labor is the great condition of re- 
ward. And your gentleman's vice, Byrd, would an- 
nul it and overturn the world." 

But the man was not listening to Abner's words. 
257 



Uncle Abner 



He was on his feet and again before the window. 
He had his jaw gathered into his hand. The man 
swore softly. 

"What disturbs you, Byrd?" said my uncle. 

He stood unmoving before the fire, his hands to 
the flame. 

The man turned quickly. 

"It is the night, Abner — wind and driring rain. 
The devil has it!" 

"The weather, Byrd," replied my uncle, "happens 
in your philosophy by chance, so be content with 
what it brings you, for this chance regards, as you 
teH me, no man's plans; neither the wise man nor 
the fool hath any favor of it." 

"Nor the just nor the unjust, Abner." 

My uncle looked down at the floor. He locked 
his great bronze fingers behind his massive back. 

"And so you believe, Byrd," he said. "Well, I 
take issue with you. I think this thing you call 
•chance* is the* Providence of God, and I think it 
favors the just." 

"Abner," cried the man, now turning from the 
window, "if you believe that, you believe it without 
proof." 

"Why, no," replied my uncle; "I have got the 
proof on this very night." 

He paused a moment; then he went on. 

"I was riding with the Virginia wagons," he said, 
"on the journey here. It was my plan to come on 
slowly with them, arriving on the morrow. But 

258 



The Mystery of Chance 



these rains fell; the road on this side of the Hills 
was heavy; and I determined to leave the wagons 
and ride in to-night. 

"Now, call this what you like — this unforeseen 
condition of the road, this change of plan. Call it 
'chance,' Byrd!" 

Again he paused and his big jaw tightened. 

"But it is no chance, sir, nor any accidental hap- 
pening that Madison of Virginia, Simon Carroll of 
Maryland and my brother Rufus are upright men, 
honorable in their dealings and fair before the 
world. 

"Now, sir, if this chance, this chance of my com- 
ing on to-night before the Virginia wagons, this acci- 
dental happening, favored Madison, Simon Carroll 
and my brother Rufus as though with a direct and 
obvious intent, as though with a clear and precon- 
ceived design, you will allow it to me as a proof, or, 
at least, Mr. Evlyn Byrd, as a bit of evidence, as 
a sort of indisputable sign, that honorable men, men 
who deal fairly with their fellows, have some favor 
of these inscrutable events." 

The man was listening now with a careful atten- 
tion. He came away from the window and stood 
beside the table, his clenched fingers resting on the 
board. 

"What do you drive at, Abner?" he asked. 

My uncle lifted his chin above the big wet stock. 

"A proof of my contention, Byrd," he answered. 

"But your story, Abner? What happened?" 
259 



Uncle Abner 



My uncle looked down at the man. 

"There is no hurry, Byrd," he said; "the night is 
but half advanced and you will not now go forward 
on your journey." 

"My journey 1" echoed the man. "What do you 
mean?" 

"Why, this," replied my uncle: "that you would 
be setting out for Piccadilly, I imagine, and the danc- 
ing women, and the gentlemen who live by chance. 
But as you do not go now, we have ample leisure 
for our talk." 

"Abner," cried Mr. Byrd, "what is this riddle?" 

My uncle moved a little in his place before the 
fire. 

"I left the Virginia wagons at midday," he went 
on; "night fell in the flat land; I could hardly get 
on; the mud was deep and the rains blew. The 
whole world was like the pit. 

"It is a common belief that a horse can see on 
any night, however dark, but this belief is error, like 
that which attributes supernatural perception to the 
beast. My horse went into the trees and the fence; 
now and then there was a candle in a window, but 
it did not lighten the world; it served only to accen- 
tuate the darkness. It seemed impossible to go 
forward on a strange road, now flooded. I thought 
more than once to stop in at some settler's cabin. 
But mark you, Byrd, I came on. Why? I cannot 
say. 'Chance/ Mr. Evlyn Byrd, if you 4ikc. I 
would call it otherwise. But no matter." 

260 



The Mystery of Chance 



He paused a moment, and then continued: 

"I came in by the river. It was all dark like the 
kingdom of Satan. Then, suddenly, I saw a light 
and your boat tied up. This light seemed some- 
where inside, and its flame puzzled me. I got down 
from my horse and went onto the steamboat. I 
found no one, but I found the light. It was a fire 
just gathering under way. A carpenter had been 
at work; he had left some shavings and bits of 
candle, and in this line of rubbish the fire had 
started." 

The man sat down in his chair beside the two 
tallow candles. 

"Fire I" he said. "Yes, there was a carpenter at 
work in my office cabin to-day. He left shavings, 
and perhaps bits of candle, it is likely. Was it in 
my office cabin?" 

"Along the floor there," replied my uncle, "be- 
ginning to flame up.' 9 

"Along the floor!" repeated Mr. Byrd. "Then 
nothing in my cabin was burned? The wall desk, 
Abner, with the long mahogany drawer — it was not 
burned?" 

He spoke with an eager interest. 

"It was not burned," replied my uncle. "Did it 
contain things of value?" 

"Of great value," returned the man. 

"You leave, then, things of value strangely un- 
protected," replied my uncle. "The door was 
open." 

261 



Uncle Abner 



"But not the desk, Abner. It was securely 
locked. I had that lock from Sheffield No key 
would turn it but my own.'* 

Byrd sat for some moments unmoving, his deli- 
cate hand fingering his chin, his lips parted. Then, 
as with an effort, he got back his genial manner. 

"I thank you, Abner," he said. "You hav* 
saved my boat. And it was a strange coincidence 
that brought you there to do it" 

Then he flung back in his big chair with a laugh. 

"But your theory, Abner? This chance event 
does not support it. It is not the good or Christian 
that this coincidence has benefited. It is I, Abner, 
who am neither good nor Christian." 

My uncle did not reply. His face remained set 
and reflective. 

The rain beat on the window-pane, and the 
drunken feast went on in the room beyond him. 

"Byrd," he said, "how do you think that fire was 
set? A half-burned cigar dropped by a careless 
hand, or an enemy?" 

"An enemy, Abner," replied the man. "It will 
be the work of these damned settlers. Did not their 
envoy threaten if I should come in, to the peril of 
their cabins? I gave them no concern then, but I 
was wrong in that. I should have looked out for 
their venom. Still, they threaten with such ease 
and with no hand behind it that one comes, in time, 
to take no notice of their words," 

262 



The Mystery of Chance 



He paused and looked up at the big man above 
him. 

"What do you think, Abner? Was the fire set?" 

"One cannot tell from the burning rubbish," re- 
plied my uncle. 

"But your opinion, Abner?" said the man. 
"What is your opinion?" 

"The fire was set," replied my uncle. 

Byrd got up at that, and his clenched hand 
crashed on the table. 

"Then, by the kingdom of Satan, I will overturn 
every settler's cabin when the boat goes out to- 
morrow." 

My uncle gave no attention to the man's violence. 

"You would do wanton injury to innocent men," 
he said. "The settlers did not fire your boat." 

"How can you know that, Abner?" 

My uncle changed. Vigor and energy and an 
iron will got into his body and his face. 

"Byrd," he said, "we had an argument just now; 
let me recall it to your attention. You said 'chance' 
happened equally to all, and I that the Providence 
of God directs it. If I had failed to come on to- 
night, the boat would have burned. The settlers 
would have taken blame for it. And Madison of 
Virginia, Simon Carroll of Maryland and my 
brother Rufus, whose company at Baltimore insure 
your boat, would have met a loss they can ill afford." 

His voice was hard and level like a sheet of light. 

"Not you, Byrd, who, as you tell me, are neither 
263 



Uncle Abner 



good nor Christian, but these men, who are, would 
have settled for this loss. Is it the truth — eh, Mr* 
Evlyn Byrd?" 

The man's big blue eyes widened in his olive skin. 

"I should have claimed the insurance, of course, 
as I had the right to do," he said coldly, for he was 
not in fear. "But, Abneri " 

"Precisely 1" replied my uncle. "And now, Mr. 
Evlyn Byrd, let us go on. We had a further argu- 
ment. You thought a man in his intelligence could * 
outwit God. And, sir, you undertook to do itl 
With your crew drunken here, the boat deserted, the 
settlers to bear suspicion and your portmanteau 
packed up for your journey overland to Baltimore, 
you watched at that window to see the flames burst 
out." 

The man's blue eyes — strange, incredible eyes in 
that olive skin — were now hard and expressionless 
as glass. His lips moved, and his hand crept up 
toward a bulging pocket of his satin waistcoat. 

Grim, hard as iron, inevitable, my uncle went on: 

"But you failed, Byrd! God outwitted you! 
When I put that fire out in the rubbish, the cabin was 
dark, and in the dark, Byrd, there, I saw a gleam of 
light shining through the keyhole of your wall desk 
— the desk that you alone can open, that you keep so 
securely locked. Three bits of candle were burning 
in that empty drawer." 

The man's white hand approached the bulging 
pocket. 

264 



The Mystery of Chance 



And my uncle's voice rang as over a plate of steel. 

"Outwit God!" he cried. "Why, Byrd, you ha J 
forgotten a thing that any* schoolboy could have 
told you. You had forgotten that a bit of candle 
in a drawer, for lack of air, burns more slowly than 
a bit outside. Your pieces set to fire the rubbish 
were consumed, but your pieces set in that locked 
drawer to make sure — to outwit God, if, by chance, 
the others failed — were burning when I burst the lid 
off." 

The man's nimble hand, lithe like a snake, 
whipped a derringer out of his bulging pocket. 

But, quicker than that motion, quicker than light, 
quicker than the eye, my uncle was upon him. The 
derringer fell harmless to the floor. The bones of 
the man's slender fingers snapped in an iron palm. 
And my uncle's voice, big, echoing like a trumpet^ 
rang above the storm and the drunken shouting: 

"Outwit God 1 Why, Mr. Evlyn Byrd, you can- 
not outwit me, who am the feeblest of His crea- 
tures 1" 



CHAPTER XV: The Concealed Path 

IT was night, and the first snow of October was 
in the air when my uncle got down from his 
horse before the door. The great stone house 
sat on a bench of the mountains. Behind it lay the 
forest, and below, the pasture land of the Hills. 

After the disastrous failure of Prince Charles 
Edward Stuart to set up his kingdom in Scotland, 
more than one great Highland family had fled over- 
sea into Virginia, and for a hundred years had main- 
tained its customs. It was at the house of such a 
family that my uncle stopped. 

There was the evidence of travel hard and long 
on my uncle and his horse. An old man bade him 
-enter. 

"Who is here?" said my uncle. 

The servant replied with two foreign words, 
meaning "The Red Eagle" in the Gaelic tongue. 

And he led my uncle through the hall into the 
dining-room. It was a scene laid back a hundred 
years in Skye that he came on. A big woman of 
middle age dined alone, in a long, beamed room, 
lighted with tallow candles. An ancient servant 
stood behind her chair. 

Two features of the woman were conspicuous — 
lier bowed nose and her coarse red hair. 

266 



The Concealed Path 



She got up when she saw my uncle. 

"Abner," she cried, "by the Blessed God I am 
glad to see you! Come in I Come in!" 

My uncle entered, and she put him beyond her 
at the table. 

"You ought to cat, Abner," she said; "for by all 
the tokens, you have traveled." 

"A long way," replied my uncle. 

"And did the ravens of Elijah send you to me?" 
said the woman. "For I need you." 

"What need?" inquired my uncle, while he at- 
tacked the rib of beef and the baked potatoes, for 
the dinner, although set with some formality, was 
plain. 

"Why, this need, Abner: For a witness whose 
name will stand against the world." 

"A' witness 1" repeated my uncle. 

"Aye, a witness," continued the woman. "The 
country holds me hard and dour, and given to im- 
pose my will. There will be a wedding in my house 
to-night, and I would have you see it, free of prcs* 
sure. My niece, Margaret McDonald, has got her 
senses finally." 

My uncle looked down at the cloth. 

"Who is the man?" he said. 

"Campbell," she answered, "and good man 
enough for a stupid woman." 

For a moment my uncle did not move. His 
hands, his body, the very muscles in his eyelids, were 

267 



Uncle Abner 



ipv that moment inert as plaster. Then he went 
on with the potato and the rib of beef. 

"Campbell is here, then?" he said. 

"He came to-night," replied the woman, "and for 
once the creature has some spirit. He will have 
the girl to-night or never. He and my husband 
Allen Eliott, have driven their cattle out of the 
glades and on the way to Baltimore. Allen is with 
the cattle on the Cumberland road, and Campbell 
rode hard in here to take the girl or to leave her. 
And whether she goes or stays, he will not return. 
When the cattle are sold in Baltimore, he will take 
a ship out of the Chesapeake for Glasgow." 

She paused and made a derisive gesture. 

"The devil, Abner, or some witch trick, has made 
a man of Campbell. He used to be irresolute and 
sullen, but to-night he has the spirit of the men who 
lifted cattle in the lowlands. He is a Campbell 
of Glen Lion on this night. Believe me, Abner, the 
wavering beastie is now as hard as oak, and has the 
devil's courage. Wherefore is it that a man can 
change like that?" 

"A man may hesitate between two masters," re- 
plied my uncle, "and be only weak, but when he 
finally makes his choice he will get what his master 
has to give him — the courage of heaven, if he go 
that way, or of hell, Madam, if he go that way." 

"Man! Man!" she laughed. "If 'the one who 
is not to be named,' as we say, put his spirit into 
Campbell, he did a grand work. It is the wild old 

268 



The Concealed Path 



cattle-lifter of Glen Lion that he is the night !" 

"Do you think," said my uncle, "that a McDon- 
ald of Glencoe ought to be mated with a Campbell 
of Glen Lion?" 

The woman's face hardened. 

"Did Lord Stair and the Campbells of Glen Lion 
massacre the McDonalds of Glencoe on yesterday 
at sunrise, or two hundred years back? Margaret 
— the fool! — said that before she got my final 
word." 

"Is it not in an adage," said my uncle, "that the 
Highlander does not change?" 

"But the world changes, Abner," replied the 
woman. "Campbell is not 'Bonnie Charlie'; he 
is at middle age, a dour man and silent, but he will 
have a sum of money from a half of the cattle* 
and he c^n take care of this girl." 

Then she cried out in a sharper voice : 

"And what is here in this mountain for her, will 
you tell me? We grow poor! The old men are 
to feed. Allen owes money that his half of the 
cattle will hardly pay. Even old MacPherson" 
— and she indicated the ancient man behind her 
chair — "has tried to tell her, in his wise-wife fol- 
derol, 4 I see you in the direst peril that overtakes; 
a lassie, and a big shouldered man to save you/ 
And it was no omen, Abner, but the vision of his 
common sense. Here are the lean years to dry out 
the fool's youth, and surely Campbell is big shoul- 

269 



Uncle Abner 



dered enough for any prophecy. And now, Abner, 
will you stay and be a witness?" 

"I will be one witness," replied my uncle slowly, 
"if you will send for my brother Rufus to be an- 
other." 

The woman looked at her guest in wonder. 

"That would be twenty miles through the Hills," 
she said. "We could not get Rufus by the morn's 
morn. 

"No," said Abner, "it would be three miles to 
Maxwell's Tavern. Rufus is there to-night." 

The big-nosed, red-haired woman drummed on 
the cloth with the tips of her fingers, and one knew 
what she was thinking. Her relentless will was 
the common talk. What she wished she forced 
with no concern. 

But the girl was afraid of Campbell. The man 
seemed evil to her. It was not evidenced in any 
act It was instinct in the girl. She felt the nature 
of the man like some venomous thing pretending 
to be gentle until its hour. And this fear, dominant 
and compelling, gave her courage to resist the wom- 
an's will. 

The long suit of Campbell for the girl was known 
to everybody, and the woman's favor of it and the 
girl's resistance. The woman foresaw what folk 
in the Hills would say, and she wished to forestall 
that gossip by the presence in her house of men 
whose word could not be gainsaid. If Abner and 

270 



The Concealed Path 



his brother Rufus were here, no report of pressure 
on the girl could gain belief. 

She knew what repdrts her dominating person- 
ality set current. She, and not hef husband, was 
the head of their affairs, and with an iron deter- 
mination she held to every Highland custom, every 
form, every feudal detail that she could, against the 
detritus of democratic times and ridicule, and the 
gain upon her house of poverty,, and lean years* 
She was alone at that heavy labor. Allen Eliott 
was a person without force. He was usually on 
his cattle range in the mountains, with his big part- 
ner Campbell, or in the great drive, as now, to 
Baltimore. And she had the world to face. 

"That will be to wait," she said, "and Camp- 
bell is in haste, and the bride is being made ready 
by the women, and the minister is got ... to Max- 
well's Tavern I" 

Then she arose. 

"Well, I will make a bargain with you. I will 
send for Rufus, but you must gain Campbell over 
to the waiting. And you must gain him, Abner, by 
your own devices, for I will not tell him that I have 
sent out for a witness to the freedom of my niece 
in this affair. If you can make him wait, the thing 
shall wait until Rufus is come. But I will turn no 
hand to help." 

"Is Campbell in the house?" said my uncle. 

"Yes," she said, "and ready when the minister 
is come." 



271 



Uncle Abner 



"Is he alone?" said Abncr. 

"Alone," she said, with a satirical smile, "as a 
bridegroom ought to be for his last reflections." 

"Then," replied my uncle, "I will strike the bar- 
gain. 

She laughed in a heavy chuckle, like a man. 

"Hold him if you can. It will be a pretty under- 
taking, Abner, and practice for your wits. But by 
stealth it shall be. I will not have you bind the 
bridegroom- like the strong man in the Scriptures." 
And the chuckle deepened. "And that, too, I think, 
might be no easier than the finesse you set at. He 
is a great man in the body, like yoursel'." 

She stood up to go out, but before she went, she 
said another word. 

"Abner," she said, "you will not blame me," and 
her voice was calm. "Somebody must think a little 
for these pretty fools. They are like the lilies of 
the field in their lack of wisdom; they will always 
bloom, and there is no winter! Why, man, they 
have no more brain than a haggis ! And what are 
their little loves against the realities of life? And 
their tears, Abner, are like the rains in summer, 
showering from every cloud. And their heads cram- 
med with folderol — a prince will come, and they 
cannot take a good man for that dream I" She 
paused and added: 

"I will go and send for Rufus. And when you 
have finished with your dinner, MacPherson will 
take you in to Campbell." 

272 



The Concealed Path 



The woman was hardly gone before the old man 
slipped over to Abner's chair. 

"Mon," he whispered, "ha'e ye a web drop?" 

"No liquor, MacPherson," said my uncle. 

The old man's bleared eyes blinked like a half- 
blinded owl's. 

"It would be gran', a wee drop, the night," he 
said. 

"For joy at the wedding," said my uncle. 

"Na, mon, na, mon!" Then he looked swiftly 
around. 

"The eagle ha beak and talons, and what ha the 
dove, mon?" 

"What do you mean, MacPherson?" said my 
uncle. 

The old creature peered across the table. 

"Ye ha gran' shoulders, mon," he said. 

My uncle put down his fork. 

"MacPherson," he said, "what do you beat 
about?" 

"I wa borned," he replied, "wi a cowl, and I 
can see !" 

"And what do you see?" inquired Abner. 

"A vulture flying," said the old man, "but it 
is unco dark beneath him." 

Again on this night every motion and every sign 
of motion disappeared from my uncle's body and 
his face. He remained for a moment like a figure 
cut in wood. 

"A vulture !" he echoed. 

*73 



Uncle Abner 



"Aye, mon 1 What ha the dove to save it?" 

"The vulture, it may be," said my uncle. 

"The Red Eagle, and the foul vulture 1" cried 
the old man. "Noo, mon, it is the bird of death 1" 

"A bird of death, but not a bird of prey." Then 
he got up. 

"You may have a familiar spirit, MacPherson," 
he said coldly, "for all I know. Perhaps they live 
on after the Witch of Endor. It is a world of 
mystery. But I should not come to you to get up 
Samuel, and I see now why the Lord stamped out 
your 'practice. It was because you misled his peo- 
ple. If there is a vulture in this business, MacPher- 
son, it is no symbol of your bridegroom. And now, 
will you take me in to Campbell?" 

The old man flung the door open, and Abner 
went out into the hall. As he crossed the sill, a 
girl, listening at the door, fled past him. She had 
been crouched down against it. 

She was half-dressed, all in white, as though es- 
caped for a moment out of the hands of tiring wom- 
en. But she had the chalk face of a ghost, and eyes 
wide with fear. 

My uncle went on as though he had passed noth- 
ing, and the old Scotchman before him only wagged 
his head, with the whispered comment, "It wa be 
gran', a wee drop, the night." 

They came into a big room of the house with 
candles on a table, and a Are of chestnut logs. A 

274 



The Concealed Path 



man walking about stopped on the hearth. He 
was a huge figure of a man in middle life. 

A fierce light leaped up in his face when he saw 
my uncle. 

"Abner I" he cried. "Why does the devil bring 
you here?'* 

"It would be strange, Campbell," replied my un- 
cle, "if the devil were against you. The devil has 
been much maligned. He is very nearly equal, the 
Scriptures tell us, to the King of Kings. He is no 
fool to mislead his people and to trap his servants. 
I find him always zealous in their interests, Camp- 
bell, fertile in devices, and holding hard with every 
trick to save them. I do not admire the devil, Mr. 
Campbell, but I do not find his vice to be a lack 
of interest in his own." l * T 

"Then," cried Campbell, "it is clear that I am 
not one of his own. For if the devil were on my 
side, Abner, he would have turned you away from 
this door to-night." 

"Why, no," replied my uncle, with a reflective air, 
"that does not follow. I do not grant the devil 
a supreme control. There is One above him, and if 
he cannot always manage as his people wish, they 
should not for that reason condemn him with a 
treasonable intent." 

The man turned with a decisive gesture. 

"Abner," he said, "let me understand this thing. 
Do you come here upon some idle gossip, to inter- 
fere with me in this marriage? Or by chance?" 

275 



Uncle Abner 



"Neither the one nor the other," replied my uncle. 
"I went into the mountains to buy the cattle you 
and Eliott range there. I found you gone already, 
with the herd, toward Maryland. And so, as I 
returned, I rode in here to Eliott's house to rest 
and to feed my horse." 

"Eliott is with the drove," said Campbell. 

"No," replied my uncle, "Eliott is not with the 
drove. I overtook it on the Cheat River. The 
drivers said you hired them this morning, and rode 
away." 

The man shifted his feet and looked down at 
my uncle. 

"It is late in the season," he said. "One must go 
ahead to arrange for a field and for some shocks 
of fodder. Eliott is ahead." 

"He is not on the road ahead," returned Abner. 
"Arnold and his drovers came that way from Mary- 
land, and they had not seen him." 

"He did not go the road," said Campbell; "he 
took a path through the mountains." 

My uncle remained silent for some moments. 

"Campbell," said my uncle, "the Scriptures tell 
us that there is a path which the vulture's eye hath 
not seen. Did Eliott take that path?" 

The man changed his posture. 

"Now, Abner," he said, "I cannot answer a fool 
thing like that." 

"Well, Campbell," replied my uncle, "I can an- 
swer it for you : Eliott did not take that path." 

276 



The Concealed Path 



The man took out a big silver watch and opened 
the case with his thumb-nail. 

"The woman ought to be ready," he said. 

My uncle looked up at him. 

"Campbell," he said, "put off this marriage." 

The man turned about. 

"Why should I put it off?" he said. 

"Well, for one reason, Campbell," replied my 
uncle, "the omens are not propitious." 

"I do not believe in signs," said the man. 

"The Scriptures are full of signs," returned Ab- 
ner. "There was the sign to Joshua and the sign 
to Ahaz, and there is the sign to you." 

The man turned with an oath. 

"What accursed thing do you hint about, Abner?" 

"Campbell," replied my uncle, "I accept the 
word; accursed is the word." 

"Say the thing out plain! What omen? What 
sign?" 

"Why, this sign," replied Abner: "MacPherson, 
who was born with a cowl, has seen a vulture fly- 
mg." 

"Damme, man !" cried Campbell. "Do you hang 
on such a piece of foolery. MacPherson sees his 
visions in a tin cup — raw corn liquor would set fly- 
ing beasts of Patmos. Do you tell me, Abner, that 
you believe in what MacPherson sees?" 

"I believe in what I see myself," replied my uncle. 

"And what have you seen?" said the man. 

"I have seen the vulture I" replied my uncle. "And 
277 



Uncle Abner 



I was born clean and have no taste for liquor." 

"Abner," said Campbell, "you move about in the 
dark, and I have no time to grope after you. The 
woman should be ready." 

"But are you ready?" said my uncle. 

"Manl Manl" cried Campbell. "Will you be 
forever in a fog? Well, travel on to Satan in it! 
I am ready, and here are the women!" 

But it was not the bride. It was MacPherson to 
inquire if the bride should come. 

My uncfe got ut> then. 

"Campbell," h/ said, in his deep, level voice, "if 
the bride is ready, you arc not." 

The man was at the limit of forbearance. 

"The devil take you!" he cried. "If you mean 
anything, say what it is !" 

"Campbell," replied my uncle, "it is the custom 
to inquire if any man knows a reason why a mar- 
riage should not go on. Shall I stand up before 
the company and give the reason, while the marriage 
waits? Or shall I give it to you here while the 
marriage waits?" 

The man divined something behind my uncle's 
menace. 

"Bid them wait," he said to MacPherson. 

Then he closed the door and turned back on my 
uncle — his shoulders thrown forward, his fingers 
clenched, his words prefaced by an oath. 

"Now, sir," — and the oath returned,— "what is 

k?" 

278 



The Concealed Path 



My uncle got up, took something from his pocket, 
and put it down on the table. It was a piece of lint, 
twisted together, as though one had rolled it firmly 
between the palms of one's hands. 

"Campbell," he said, "as I rode the trail on your 
cattle range, in the mountains, this morning, a bit 
of white thing caught my eye. I got down and 
picked up this fragment of lint on the hard ground. 
It puzzled me. How came it thus rolled? I began 
to search the ground, riding slowly in an ever-widen- 
ing circle. Presently I found a second bit, and then 
a third, rolled hard together like the first. Then 
I observed a significant thing: these bits were in 
line and leading from your trail down the slope of 
the cattle range to the border of the forest. I went 
back to the trail, and there on the baked earth, in 
line with these bits of lint, I found a spot where a 
bucket of water had been poured out." 

Campbell was standing beyond him, staring at the 
bit of lint. He looked up without disturbing the 
crouch of his shoulders. 

"Go on," he said. 

"It occurred to me," continued my uncle, "that 
perhaps these bits of lint might be found above the 
trail, as I had found them below it, and so I rode 
straight on up the hill to a rail fence. I found no 
fragment of twisted stuff, but I found another thing, 
Campbell : I found the weeds trampled on the other 
side of the fence. I got down and looked closely. 
On the upper surface of a flat rail, immediately 

279 



Uncle Abner 



before the trampled weeds, there was an impression 
as though a square bar of iron had been laid across 
it" 

My uncle stopped. And Campbell said: 

"Go on." 

Abner remained a moment, his eyes on the man ; 
then he continued: 

"The impression was in a direct line toward the 
point on the trail where the water had been poured 
out. I was puzzled. I got into the saddle and rode 
back across the trail and down the line of the frag- 
ments of lint. At the edge of the forest I found 
where a log-heap had been burned. I got down 
again and walked back along the line of the twisted 
lint. I looked closely, and I saw that the fragments 
of dried grass, and now and then a rag-weed, had 
been pressed down, as though by something moving 
down the hillside from the trail to the burned log- 
heap. 

"Now, Campbell," he said, "what happened on 
that hillside?" 

Campbell stood up and looked my uncle in the 
face. "What do you think happened?" he said. 

"I think," replied Abner, "that some one sat in 
the weeds behind the fence with a half-stocked, 
square-barreled rifle laid on the flat rail, and from 
that ambush shot something passing on the trail, and 
then dragged it down the hillside to the log-heap. 
I think that poured-out water was to wash away 
the blood where the thing fell. I do not know 

280 



The Concealed Path 



where the bits of lint came from, but I think they 
were rolled there under the weight of the heavy 
body. Do I think correctly, eh, Campbell?" 

"You do," said the man. 

My uncle was astonished, for Campbell faced 
liim, his aspect grim, determined, like one who at 
any hazard will have the whole of a menace out. 
"Abner," he said, "you have trailed this thing with 
some theory behind it. In plain words, what is that 
theory?" 

My uncle was amazed. 

"Campbell," he replied, "since you wish the thing 
said plain, I will not obscure it. Two men own a 
great herd of cattle between them. The herd is to 
be driven over the mountains to Baltimore and sold. 
If one of the partners is shot out of his saddle and 
the crime concealed, may not the other partner sell 
the entire drove for his own and put the whole sum 
in his pocket? 

"And if this surviving partner, Campbell, were a 
man taken with the devil's resolution, I think he 
might try to make one great stroke of this business. 
I think he might hire men to drive his cattle, giving 
out that his partner had gone on ahead, arid then 
turn back for the woman he wanted, take her to 
Baltimore, put her on the ship, sell the cattle, and 
with the woman and money sail out of the Chesa- 
peake for the Scotch Highlands he came from ! Who 
could say what became of the missing partner, or 
that he did not receive his half of the money and 

281 



Uncle Abner 



meet robbery and murder on his way home?" 
1 My uncle stopped. And Campbell broke out into 



a great ironical laugh. 

"Now, let this thing be a lesson to you, Abner. 
Your little deductions are correct, but your great 
conclusion is folly. 

"We had a wild heifer that would not drive, so 
we butchered the beast. I had great trouble to 
shoot her, but I finally managed it from behind the 
fence." 

"But the bits of lint," said my uncle, "and the 
washed spot?" 

"Abner," cried the man, "do you handle cattle 
for a lifetime and do not know how blood disturbs 
them? We did not want them in commotion, so we 
drenched the place where the heifer fell. And your 
bits of lint! I will discover the mystery there. To 
keep the blood off we put an old quilt under the 
yearling and dragged her down the hill on that. The 
bits of lint were from the quilt, and rolled thus un- 
der the weight of the heifer." 

Then he added: "That was weeks ago, but there 
has been no rain for a month, and these signs of 
crime, Abner, were providentially preserved against 
your coming 1" 

"And the log-heap," said my uncle, like one who 
would have the whole of an explanation, "why was 
it burned?" 

"Now, Abner," continued the man, "after your 
keen deductions, would you ask me a thing like that? 

282 



The Concealed Path 



To get rid of the offal from the butchered beast. 
We would not wash out the blood-stains and leave 
that to set our cattle mad." 

His laugh changed to a note of victory. 

"And now, Abner," he cried, "will you stay and 
see me married, who have come hoping to see me 
hanged?" 

My uncle had moved over to the window. While 
Campbell spoke, he seemed to listen, not so much to 
the man as to sounds outside. Now far off on a 
covered wooden bridge of the road there was the 
faint sound of horses. And with a grim smile Abner 
turned about. 

"I will stay," he said, "and see which it is." 

It was the very strangest wedding — the big, de- 
termined woman like a Fate, the tattered servants 
with candles in their hands, the minister, and the 
bride covered and hidden in her veil, like a wooden 
figure counterfeiting life. 

The thing began. There was an atmosphere of 
silence. My uncle went over to the window. The 
snow on the road deadened the sounds of the ad- 
vancing horses, until the iron shoes rang on the 
stones before the door. Then, suddenly, as though 
he waited for the sound, he cried out with a great 
voice against the marriage. The big-nosed, red- 
haired woman turned on him: 

"Why do you object, who have no concern in this 
thing?" 

*8 3 



Uncle Abner 



"I object," said Abner, "because Campbell has 
sent Eliott on the wrong path !" 

"The wrong pathl" cried the woman. 

"Aye," said Abner, "on the wrong path. There 
is a path which the vulture's eye hath not seen, Job 
tells us. But the path Campbell sent Eliott on, 
the vulture did see." 

He advanced with great strides into the room. 

"Campbell," he cried, "before I left your accursed 
pasture, I saw a buzzard descend into the forest 
beyond your logheap. I went in, and there, shot 
through the heart, was the naked body of Allen 
Eliott. Your log heap, Campbell, was to burn the 
quilt and the dead man's clothes. You trusted to 
the vultures, for the rest, and the vultures, Camp- 
bel, over-reached you." 

My uncle's voice rose and deepened. 

"I sent word to my brother Rufus to raise a posse 
comitates and bring it to Maxwell's Tavern. Then 
I rode in here to rest and to feed my horse. I found 
you, Campbell, on the second line of your hell- 
planned venture I 

"I got Mrs. Eliott to send for Rufus to be a wit- 
ness with me to your accursed marriage. And I 
undertook to delay it until he came." 

He raised his great arm, the clenched bronze 
fingers big like the coupling pins of a cart. 

"I would have stopped it with my own hand," he 
said, "but I wanted the men of the Hills to hang 
you. . . . And they are here." 

284 



The Concealed Path 



There was a great sound of tramping feet in the 
hall outside. 

And while the men entered, big, grim, determined 
men, Abner called out their names : 

"Arnold, Randolph, Stuart, Elnathan Stone and 
my brother Rufus!" 



CHAPTER XVI: The Edge of the Shadow 

IT was a land of strange varieties of courage. 
But, even in the great hills, I never saw a man 
like Cyrus Mansfield. He was old and dying 
when this ghastly adventure happened; but, even in 
the extremity of life, with its terrors on him, he met 
the thing with his pagan notions of the public wel- 
fare, and it is for his own gods to judge him. 

It was a long afternoon of autumn. The dead 
man lay in the whitewashed cabin staring up at the 
cobwebbed ceiling. His left cheek below the eye 
was burned with the brand of a pistol shot. The 
track of a bullet ran along the eyebrow, plowing 
into the skull above the ear. His grizzled hair stood 
up like a brush, and the fanaticism of his face was 
exaggerated by the strained postures of death. 

A tall, gaunt woman sat by the door in the sun. 
She had a lapful of honey locust, and she worked at 
that, putting the pieces together in a sort of wreath. 
The branches were full of thorns, and the inside of 
the woman's hand was torn and wounded upon the 
balls of the fingers and Ae palm, but she plaited 
the thorns together, giving no heed to her injured 
hand. 

She did not get up when my Uncle Abner and 
Squire Randolph entered. She sat over her work 
with imperturbable stoicism. 

286 



The Edge of the Shadow 



The man and woman were strangers in the land, 
preempting one of Mansfield's cabins. Their mis- 
sion was a mystery for conjecture. And now the 
man's death was a mystery beyond it. 

When Randolph inquired how the man had met 
his death, the woman got up, without a word, went 
to a cupboard in the wall, took out a dueling pistol, 
and handed it to him. Then, shle spoke in a dreary 
voice : 

"He was mad. The cause,' he said, 'must have a 
sacrifice of blood.' " 

She looked steadily at the dead man. 

"Ah, yes," she added, "he was mad!" 

Then she turned about and went back to her chair 
in the sun before the door. 

Randolph and Abner examined the weapon. It 
was a handsome dueling pistol, with an inlaid sil- 
ver stock and a long, octagon barrel of hard, sharp- 
edged steel. It had been lately fired, for the ex- 
ploded percussion cap was still on the nipple. 

"He was a poor shot," said Randolph; "he very 
nearly missed." 

My uncle looked closely at the dead man's wound 
and the burned cheek beneath it. He turned the 
weapon slowly in his hand, but Randolph was im- 
patient. 

"Well, Abner," he said, "did the pistol kill him, 
or was it the finger of God?" 

"The pistol killed him," replied my uncle. 

"And shall we believe the woman, eh, Abner?" 
287 



Uncle Abner 



"I am willing to believe her," replied my uncle. 

They looked about the cabin. There was blood 
on the floor and flecked against the wall, and stains 
on the barrel of die pistol, as though the man had 
staggered about, stunned by the bullet, before he 
died. And so the wound looked — not mortal on the 
instant, but one from which, after some time, a man 
might die. 

Randolph wrote down his memorandum, and the 
two went out into the road. 

It was an afternoon of Paradise. The road ran 
in a long endless ribbon westward toward the Ohio. 
Negroes in the wide bottom land were harvesting 
the corn and setting it up in great bulging shocks 
tied with grapevine. Beyond on a high wooded 
knoll, stood a mansion-house with white pillars. 

My uncle took the duelling pistol out of his pocket 
and handed it to the Justice of the Peace. 

"Randolph," he said, "these weapons were made 1 
in pairs ; there should be another. And," he added, 
"there is a crest on the butt plate." 

"Virginia is full of such folderols," replied the 
Justice, "and bought and sold, pledged and traded. 
It would not serve to identify the dead man. And 
besides, Abner, why do we care ? He is dead by his 
own hand; his rights and his injuries touch no other; 
let him lie with his secrets." 

He made a little circling gesture upward with his 
index finger. 

" 'Duncan is dead/ " he quoted. " 'After life's 
288 



The Edge of the Shadow 



fitful fever he sleeps well.' Shall we pay our re- 
spects to Mansfield before we ride away?" 

And he indicated the house like a white cornice 
on the high cliff above them. 

They had been standing with their backs to the 
cabin door. Now the woman passed them. She 
wore a calico sunbonnet, and carried a little bundle 
tied up in a cotton handkerchief. She set out west- 
ward along the road toward the Ohio. She walked 
slowly, like one bound on an interminable journey. 

Moved by some impulse they looked in at the 
cabin door. The dead man lay as he had been, 
his face turned toward the ceiling, his hands gro- 
tesquely crossed, his body rigid. But now the sprigs 
of honey locust, at which the woman worked, were 
pressed down on his unkempt grizzled hair. The 
sun lay on the floor, and there was silence. 

They left the cabin with no word and climbed 
the long path to the mansion on the hill. 

Mansfield sat in a great chair on the pillared 
porch. It was wide and cool, paved with colored 
tiles carried over from England in a sailing ship. 

He was the strangest man I have ever seen. He 
was old and dying then, but he had a spirit in him 
that no event could bludgeon into servility. He sat 
with a gray shawl pinned around his shoulders. The 
lights and shadows of the afternoon fell on his jaw 
like a plowshare, on his big, crooked, bony nose, 
on his hard gray eyes, bringing them into relief 
against the lines and furrows of his face. 

289 



Uncle Abner 



"Mansfield," cried Randolph, "how do you do?'* 

"I still live," replied the old man, "but at any 
hour I may be ejected out of life." 

"We all live, Mansfield," said my uncle, "as long 
as God wills." 

"Now, Abner," cried the old man, "you repeat 
the jargon of the churches. The will of man is the 
only power in the universe, so far as we can find out, 
that is able to direct the movings of events. Noth- 
ing else that exists can make the most trivial thing 
happen or cease to happen. No imagined god or 
demon in all the history of the race has ever in- 
fluenced the order of events as much as the feeblest 
human creature in an hour of life. Sit down, Abner, 
and let me tell you the truth before I cease to exist, 
as the beasts of the field cease." 

He indicated the great carved oak chairs about 
him, and the two visitors sat down. 

Randolph loved the vanities of argument, and he 
thrust in: 

"I am afraid, Mansfield," he said, "you will never 
enjoy the pleasures of Paradise." 

The old man made a contemptuous gesture. 

"Pleasure, Randolph," he said, "is the happiness 
of little men; big men are after something more. 
They are after the satisfaction that comes from di- 
recting events. This is the only happiness : to crush 
out every other authority — to be the one dominating 
authority — to make events take the avenue one likes. 

290 



The Edge of the Shadow 



This is the happiness of the god of the universe, if 
there is any god of the universe." 

He moved in his chair, his elbows out, his fingers 
extended, his bony face uplifted. 

"Abner," he cried, "I am willing for you to en- 
dure life as you find it and say it is the will of God, 
but, as for me, I will not be cowed into submission. 
I will not be held back from laying hold of the lever 
of the great engine merely because the rumble of 
the machinery fills other men with terror." 

"Mansfield," replied my uncle, in his deep, level 
voice, "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." 

The old man moved his extended arms with a 
powerful threshing motion, like a vulture beating the 
air with its great wings. 

"Fear I" he cried. "Why, Abner, fear is the last 
clutch of the animal clinging to the intelligence of 
man as it emerges from the instinct of the beast. 
The first man thought the monsters about him were 
gods. Our fathers thought the elements were gods, 
and we think the impulse moving the machinery of 
the world is the will of some divine authority. And 
always the only thing in the universe that was su- 
perior to these things has been afraid to assert it- 
self. The human will that can change things, that 
can do as it likes, has been afraid of phantasms that 
never yet met with anything they could turn aside." 

He clenched his hands, contracted his elbows, and 
brought them down with an abrupt derisive gesture. 

"I do not understand," he said, "but I am not 
291 



Uncle Abner 



afraid. I will not be beaten into submission by 
vague, inherited terrors. I will not be subservient 
to things that have a lesser power than I have. I 
will not yield the control of events to elements that 
are dead, to laws that are unthinking, or to an in- 
fluence that cannot change. 

"Not all the gods that man has ever worshiped 
can make things happen to-morrow, but I can make 
them happen; therefore, I am a god above them. 
And how shall a god that is greater than these gods 
give over the dominion of events into their hands?" 

"And so, Mansfield," said Abner, "you have been 
acting just now upon this belief?" 

The old man turned his bony face sharply on my 
uncle. 

"Now, Abner," he said, "what do you mean by 
this Delphic sentence?" 

For reply, my uncle extended his arms toward 
the whitewashed cabin. 

"Who is the dead man down there?" 

"Randolph can tell you that," said Mansfield. 

"I never saw the man until to-day," replied the 
Justice. 

"Eh, Randolph," cried the old man, "do you ad- 
minister the law and have a memdry like that? In 
midsummer the justices sat at the county seat. Have 
you forgot that inquisition?" 

"I have not," said the Justice. "It was a fool's 
inquiry. One of Nixon's negro women reported a 
slave plot to poison the wells and attack the people 

292 



The Edge of the Shadow 



with a curious weapon. She got the description of 
the weapon out of some preacher's sermon — a kind 
of spear. If she had named some implement of 
modern warfare, we could have better credited her 
story." 

"Well, Randolph," cried the old man, "for all the 
wisdom of your justices, she spoke the truth. They 
were pikes the woman saw, and not the spears of 
the horsemen of Israel. Did you notice a stranger 
who remained in a corner of the courtroom while 
the justices were sitting? He disappeared after the 
trial. But did you mark him, Randolph ? He lies 
dead down yonder in my negro cabin." 

A light came into the face of the Justice. 

"By the Eternal," he cried, "an abolitionist!" 

He flipped the gold seals on his watch fob; then 
he added, with that little circling gesture of his fin- 
ger: 

"Well, he has taken himself away with his own 
hands." 

"He is dead," said Mansfield, thrusting out his 
plowshare jaw, "as all such vermin ought to be. 
We are too careless in the South of these vicious 
reptiles. We ought to stamp them out of life when- 
ever we find them. They are a menace to the peace 
of the land. They incite the slaves to arson and to 
murder. They are beyond the law, as the panther 
and the wolf are. We ought to have the courage 
to destroy the creatures. 

293 



Uncle Abner 



"The destiny of this republic," he added, u is in 
our hands." 

My uncle Abner spoke then : 

"It is in God's hands," he said. 

"God!" cried Mansfield. "I would not give 
house room to such a god I When we dawdle, At* 
ner, the Yankees always beat us. Why, man, if this 
thing runs on, it will wind up in a lawsuit. We shall 
be stripped of our property by a court f s writ. And 
instead of imposing our will on this republic, we 
shall be answering a little New England lawyer with 
rejoinders and rebuttals." 

"Would the bayonet be a better answer?" said my 
uncle. 

"Now, Abner," said Mansfield, "you amuse me. 
These Yankees have no stomach for the bayonet. 
They are traders, Abner; they handle the shears and 
the steel-yard." 

My uncle looked steadily at the man. 

"Virginia held that opinion of New England when 
the King's troops landed," he said. "It was a com- 
mon belief. Why, sir, even Washington riding 
north to the command of the Colonial army, when 
he heard of the battle of Bunker Hill, did not ask 
who had won ; his only inquiry was, 'Did the militia 
of Massachusetts fight? 9 It did fight, Mansfield, 
with immortal courage." 

My uncle Abner lifted his face and looked out 
over the great valley, mellow with its ripened corn. 
His voice fell into a reflective note. 

294 



The Edge of the Shadow 



"The situation in this republic," he said, "is grave, 
and I am full of fear. In God's hands the thing 
would finally adjust itself. In God's slow, devious 
way it would finally come out all right. But neither 
you, Mansfield, nor the abolitionist, will leave the 
thing to God. You will rush in and settle it witK 
violence. You will find a short cut of your own 
through God's deliberate way, and I tremble before 
the horror of blood that you would plunge us into." 

He paused again, and his big, bronzed features 
had the serenity of some vast belief. 

"To be fair," he said, "everywhere in this repub- 
lic, to enforce the law everywhere, to put down vio- 
lence, to try every man who takes the law In his own 
hand, fairly in the courts, and, if he is guilty, pun- 
ish him without fear or favor, according to the let- 
ter of the statute, to keep everywhere a public sen- 
timent of fair dealing, by an administration of jus- 
tice above all public clamor — in this time of heat, this 
is our only hope of peace !" 

He spoke in his deep, level voice, and the words 
seemed to be concrete things having dimensions and 
weight. 

"Shall a fanatic who stirs up our slaves to mur- 
der," said Mansfield, "be tried like a gentleman be- 
fore a jury?" 

"Aye, Mansfield," replied my uncle, "like a gen- 
tleman, and before a jury ! If the fanatic murders 
the citizen, I would hang him, and if the citizen mur- 
ders the fanatic, I would hang him too, without one 

295 



Uncle Abner 



finger's weight of difference in the method of pro- 
cedure. I would show New England that the jus- 
tice of Virginia is even-eyed. And she would emu- 
late that fairness, and all over the land the law 
would hold against the unrestraint that is gather- 
ing. 

"Abner," cried Mansfield, "you are a dawdler 
like your god. I know a swifter way." 

"I am ready to believe it," replied my uncle. 
"Who killed the mad abolitionist down yonder?" 

"Who cares," said the old man, "since the beast 
is dead?" 

"I care," replied Abner. 

"Then, find it out, Abner, if you care," said the 
old man, snapping his jaws. 

"I have found it out," said my uncle, "and it has 
happened in so strange a way, and with so ctirious 
an intervention, that I cannot save the State from 
shame." 

"It happened in the simplest way imaginable," 
said Randolph: "The fool killed himself." 

It was not an unthinkable conclusion. The whole 
land was wrought up to the highest tension. Men 
were beginning to hold their properties and their 
lives as of little account in this tremendous issue. 
The country was ready to flare up in a war, and to 
fire it the life of one man would be nothing. A 
thousand madmen were ready to make that sacrifice 
of life. That a fanatic would shoot himself in Vir- 
ginia with the idea that the slave owners would be 

296 



The Edge of the Shadow 



charged by the country with his murder and so the 
war brought on, was not a thing improbable in that 
day's extremity of passion. To the madman it 
would be only the slight sacrifice of his life for the 
immortal gain of a holy war. 

My uncle looked at the Justice with a curious 
smile. 

"I think Mansfield will hardly believe that," he 
said. 

The old man laughed. 

"It is a pretty explanation, Randolph/' he said, 
"and I commend it to all men, but I do not believe 
it" 

"Not believe itl" cried the Justice, looking first 
at my uncle and then at the old man. "Why, Ab- 
ner, you said the woman spoke the truth I" 

"She did speak it," replied my uncle. 

"Damme, man !" cried the Justice. "Why do you 
beat about? If you believe the woman, why do you 
gentlemen disbelieve my conclusion on her words?" 

"I disbelieve it, Randolph," replied my uncle, "for 
the convincing reason that I know who killed him." 

"And I," cried Mansfield, "disbelieve it for an 
equally convincing reason — for the most convincing 
reason in the world, Randolph," — and his big voice 
laughed in among the pillars and rafters of his porch 
— "because I killed him myself I" 

Abner sat unmoving, and Randolph like a man 
past belief. The Justice fumbled with the pistol in 
his pocket, got it out, and laid it on the flat arm on 

297 



Uncle Abner 



his chair, but he did not speak. The confession 
overwhelmed him. 

The old man stood up, and the voice in his time- 
shaken body was Homeric : 

"Ho! Ho !" he cried. "And so you thought I 
would be afraid, Randolph, and dodge about like 
your little men, shaken and overcome by fear." And 
he huddled in his shawl with a dramatic gesture. 

"Fear !" And his laugh burst out again in a high 
staccato. "Even the devils in Abner's Christian hell 
lack that 1 I shot the creature, Randolph ! Do you 
hear the awful words? And do you tremble for me, 
lest I hang and go to Abner's hell?" 

The mock terror in the old man's voice and man- 
ner was compelling drama. He indicated the pistol 
on the chair arm. 

"Yes," he said, "it is mine. Abner should have 
known it by the Mansfield arms." 

"I did know it," replied my uncle. 

The old man looked at the Justice with a queer 
ironical smile ; then he went into the house. 

"Await me, Randolph," he said. "I would pro- 
duce the evidence and make out your case." 

And prodded by the words, Randolph cursed bit- 
terly. 

"By the Eternal," he cried, "I am as little afraid 
as any of God's creatures, but the man confounds 
me!" 

And he spoke the truth. He was a justice of the 
peace in Virginia when only gentlemen could hold 

298 



The Edge of the Shadow 



that office He lacked the balance and the ability 
of his pioneer ancestors, and he was given over to 
the vanity and the extravagance of words, but fear 
and all the manifestations of feaf were alien to him. 

He turned when the old man came out with a rose- 
wood box in his hand, and faced him calmly. 

"Mansfield," he said, "I want you. I represent 
the law, and if you have done a murder, I will get 
you hanged." 

The old man paused, and looked at Randolph 
with his maddening ironical smile. 

"Fear again, eh, Randolph!" he said. "Is it by 
fear that you would always restrain me? Shall I 
be plucked back from the gibbet and Abner's hell 
only by this fear? It is a menace I have too long 
disregarded. You must give me a better reason." 

Mansfield opened the rosewood box and took out 
a pistol like the one on the arm of Randolph's chair. 
He held the weapon lightly in his hand. 

"The creature came here to harangue me," he 
said, "and like the genie in the copper pot, I gave 
him his choice of deaths." 

He laughed, for the fancy pleased him. 

"In the swirl of his heroics, Abner, I carried him 
the pistol yonder, to the steps of my portico where 
he stood, and with this other and my father's watch, 
I sat down here. 'After three minutes, sir, 9 I said, 
'I shall shoot you down. It is my price for hearing 
your oration. Fire before that time is up. I shall 
call out the minutes for your convenience/ 

299 



Uncle Abner 



"And so, I sat here, Abner, with my father 1 * 
watch, while the creature ranted with my pistol in 
his hand. 

"I called out the time, and he harangued me : 'The 
black of the negro shall be washed white with blood V 
And I answered him: 'One minute, sir!' 

" 'The Lord will make Virginia a possession for 
the bittern!' was his second climax, and I replied, 
'Two minutes of your time are upl' 

" 'The South is one great brothel,' he shouted, and 
I answered, 'Three minutes, my fine fellow,' and 
shot him as I had promised! He leaped off into 
the darkness with my unfired pistol aijtd fled to the 
cabin where yqu found him." 

There was a moment's silence, and my uncle put 
out his arm and pointed down across the long 
meadow to a grim outline traveling far off on the 
road. 

"Mansfield," he said, "you have lighted the pow- 
der train that God, at His leisure, would have damp- 
ened. You have broken the faith of the world in 
our sincerity. Virginia will be credited with this 
man's death, and we cannot hang you for it!" 

"And why not?" cried Randolph, standing up. 
He had been prodded into unmanageable anger. 
"The Commonwealth has granted no letters of 
marque; it has proclaimed no outlawry. Neither 
Mansfield nor any other has a patent to do mur- 
der. I shall get him hanged!" 

My uncle shook his head. 
300 



The Edge of the Shadow 



"No, Randolph," he said, "you cannot hang him." 

"And why not?" cried the Justice of the Peace, 
aroused now, and defiant. "Is Mansfield above the 
law? If he kills this madman, shall he have a writ 
of exemption for it?" 

"But he did not kill him!" replied my uncle. 

Randolph was amazed. And Mansfield shook 
his head slowly, his face retaining its ironical smile. 

"No, Abner," he said, "let Randolph have his 
case. I shot him." 

Then he put out his hand, as though in courtesy, 
to my uncle. "Be at peace," he said. "If I were 
moved by fear, there is a greater near me than 
Randolph's gibbet. I shall be dead and buried be- 
fore his grand jury can hold its inquisition." 

"Mansfield," replied my uncle, "be yourself at 
peace, for you did not kill him." 

"Not kill himl" cried the man. "I shot him 
thus!" 

He sat down in his chair and taking the pistol out 
of the rosewood box, leveled it at an imaginary fig- 
ure across the portico. The man 9 s hand was steady 
and the sun glinted on the steel barrel. 

"And because you shot thus," said Abner, "you 
did not kill him. Listen, Mansfield : the pistol that 
killed the Abolitionist was held upside down and 
close. The brand on the dead man's face is under 
the bullet hole. If the pistol had been held as usual, 
the brand would have been above it. It is a law of 
pistol wounds: as you turn the weapon, so will the 

301 



Uncle Abner 



brand follow. Held upside down, the brand was 
below the wound." 

A deepening wonder came into the old man's 
ironical face. 

"How did the creature die, then, if I missed him?" 

Abner took up the weapon on the arm of Ran- 
dolph's chair. 

"The dead man did not shoot in Mansfield's fan- 
tastic duel," he said. "Nevertheless this pistol has 
been fired. And observe there is a smeared blood- 
stain on the sharp edges of the barrel. I think I 
know what happened. 

"The madman with his pistol, overwrought, 
struggled in the cabin yonder to make himself a 
'sacrifice of blood' and so bring on this war. Some- 
one resisted his mad act — some one who seized the 
barrel of the pistol and in this struggle also got a 
wounded hand. Who in that cabin had a wounded 
hand, Randolph?" 

"By the living God!" cried the Justice of the 
Peace. "The woman who plaited thorns I It was 
a blind to cover her injured hand!" 

Abner looked out across the great meadows at 
a tiny figure far off, fading into the twilight of the 
distant road that led toward the Ohio. 

"To cover her injured hand," he echoed, "and 
also, perhaps, who knows, to symbolize the dead 
man's mission, as she knew he saw it! The heart 
of a woman is the deepest of all God's riddles!" 



302 



CHAPTER XVII: The Adopted Daughter 

ISN'T she a beauty— eh, Randolph?" 
Vespatian Flornoy had a tumbler of French 
brandy. He sucked in a mouthful. Then he 
put it on the table. 

The house was the strangest in Virginia. It was 
of some foreign model. The whole second floor on 
the side lying toward the east was in two spacious 
chambers lighted with great casement windows to 
the ceiling. Outside, on this brilliant morning, the 
world was yellow and dried-up, sere and baked. 
But the. sun was thin and the autumn air hard and 
vital. 

My uncle, Squire Randolph, the old country doc- 
tor, Storm, and the host, Vespatian Flornoy, were in 
one of these enormous rooms. They sat about a 
table, a long mahogany piece made in England and 
brought over in a sailing ship. There were a squat 
bottle of French brandy and some tumblers. Flor- 
noy drank and recovered his spirit of abandon. 

Now he leered at Randolph, and at the girl that 
he had just called in. 

He was a man one would have traveled far to 
see — yesterday or the day ahead of that. He had 
a figure out of Athens, a face cast in some forgotten 
foundry by the Arno, thick-curled mahogany-colored 
hair, and eyes like the velvet hull of an Italian chest- 

303 



Uncle Abner 



nut. These excellencies the heavenly workman had 
turned out, and now by some sorcery of the pit they 
were changed into abominations. 

Hell-charms, one thought of, when one looked the 
creature in the face. Drops of some potent liquor, 
and devil-words had done it, on yesterday or the 
day ahead of yesterday. Surely not the things that 
really had done it — time and the iniquities of 
Gomorrah. His stock and his fine ruffled shirt were 
soiled. His satin waistcoat was stained with liquor. 

"A daughter of a French marquis, eh 1" he went 
on. "Sold into slavery by a jest of the gods — stolen 
out of the garden of a convent ! It's the fabled his- 
tory of every octoroon in New Orleans 1" 

Fabled or not, the girl might have been the thing 
he said. The contour of the face came to a point 
at the chin, and the skin was a soft Oriental olive. 
She was the perfect expression of a type. One never 
could wish to change a line of her figure or a fea- 
ture of her face. She stood now in the room before 
the door in the morning sun, in the quaint, alluring 
costume of a young girl of the time — a young girl 
of degree, stolen out of the garden of a convent! 
She had entered at Flornoy's drunken call, and 
there was the aspect of terror on her. 

The man went on in his thick, abominable voice : 

"My brother Sheppard, coming north to an inspec- 
tion of our joint estate, presents her as his adopted 
daughter. But when he dropped dead in this room 
last night and I went about the preparation of his 

304 



The Adopted Daughter 



body for your inquisition— eh, what, my gentlemen 1 
I find a bill of sale running back ten years, for the 
dainty baggage! 

"French, and noble, stolen from the garden of a 
convent, perhaps 1 Perhaps I but not by my brother 
Sheppard. His adopted daughter — sentimentally, 
perhaps! Perhaps! But legally a piece of prop- 
erty, I think, descending to his heirs. Eh, Ran- 
dolph!" 

And he thrust a folded yellow paper across the 
table. 

The Justice put down his glass with the almost un- 
tasted liquor in it, and examined the bill of sale. 

"It is in form !" he said. "And you interpret it 
correctly, Flornoy, by the law's letter. But you will 
not wish to enforce it, I imagine!" 

"And why not, Randolph?" cried the man. 

The Justice looked him firmly in the face. 

"You take enough by chance, sir. You and your 
brother Sheppard held the estate jointly at your 
father's death, and now at your brother's death you 
hold it as sole heir. You will not wish, also, to hold 
his adopted daughter." 

Then he added: 

"This bill of sale would hold in the courts against 
any unindentured purpose, not accompanied by an 
intention expressed in some overt act. It would 
also fix the status of the girl against any pretended . 
or legendary exemption of birth. The judges might 
believe that your brother Sheppard was convinced of 

305 



Uncle Abner 



this pretension when he rescued the child by pur- 
chase, and made his informal adoption at a tender 
age. But they would hold the paper, like a deed, 
irrevocable, and not to be disturbed by this conjec- 
ture." 

"It will hold," cried the man, "and I wUi hold! 
You make an easy disclaimer of the rights of other 
men." 

Then his face took on the aspect of a satyr's. 

"Give her up, eh! to be a lady! Why Randolph, 
I would have given Sheppard five hundred golden 
eagles for this little beauty — five hundred golden 
eagles in his hand! Look at her, Randolph. You 
are not too old to forget the points — the trim ankle, 
the slender body, the snap of a thoroughbred. 
There's the blood of the French marquis, on my 
honor! A drop of black won't curdle it." 

And he laughed, snapping his fingers at his wit. 

"It only makes the noble lady merchandise ! And 
perhaps, as you say, perhaps it isn't there, in fact. 
Egad ! old man, I would have bid a thousand eagles 
if Sheppard had put her up. A thousand eagles I 
and I get her for nothing! He falls dead in my 
house, and I take her by inheritance." 

It was the living truth. The two men, Vespatian 
Flornoy and his brother Sheppard, took their 
father's estate jointly at his death. They were un- 
married, and now at the death of Sheppard, the sur- 
viving brother Vespatian was sole heir, under the 
law, to the dead man's properties: houses and lands 

306 



The Adopted Daughter 



and slaves. The bill of tale put the girl an item in 
die inventory of the dead man's estate, to descend 
with the manor-house and lands. 

The thing had happened, as fortune is predis- 
posed to change, in a moment, as by the turning of 
dice. 

At daybreak on this morning Vespatian Flornoy 
had sent a negro at a gallop, to summon the old 
country doctor, Storm, Squire Randolph and my 
uncle Abner. At midnight, in this chamber where 
they now sat, Sheppard as he got on his feet, with 
his candle, fell and died, Vespatian said, before he 
could reach his body. He lay now shaven and 
clothed for burial in the great chamber that ad- 
joined. 

Old Storm had stripped the body and found no 
mark. The man was dead with no scratch or bruise. 

He could not say what vital organ had suddenly 
played out — perhaps a string of the heart had 
snapped. At any rate, the dead man had not gone 
out by any sort of violence, nor by any poison. 
Every drug or herb that killed left its stamp and 
superscription, old Storm said, and one could see 
it, if one had the eye, as one could see the slash of 
a knife or the bruise of an assassin's fingers. 

It was plain death "by the Providence of God," 
was Randolph's verdict. So the Justice and old 
Storm summed up the thing and they represented the 
Inquiry and the requirements of the law. 

My uncle Abner made no comment on this con- 
3<>7 



Uncle Abner 



elusion. He came and looked and was silent. He 
demurred to the 'Providence of God' in Randolph's 
verdict, with a great gesture of rejection. He dis- 
liked this term in any human horror. "By the 
abandonment of God," he said, these verdicts ought 
rather to be written. But he gave no sign that his 
objection was of any special tenor. He seemed 
profoundly puzzled. 

When the girl came in, at Vespatian's command, 
to this appraisal, he continued silent At the man's 
speech, and evident intent, his features and his great 
jaw hardened, as though under the sunburned skin 
the bony structure of the face were metal. 

He sat in his chair, a little way out beyond the 
table, as he sat on a Sunday before the pulpit, 
on a bench, motionless, in some deep concern. 

Randolph and Vespatian Flornoy were in this 
dialogue. Old Storm sat with his arms folded 
across his chest, his head down. His interest in the 
matter had departed with his inspection of the dead 
man, or remained in the adjoining chamber where 
the body lay, the eyelids closed forever on the land 
of living men, shut up tight like the shutters of a 
window in a house of mystery. He only glanced 
at the girl with no interest, as at a bauble. 

And now while the dialogue went on and Storm 
looked down his nose, the girl, silent and in terror, 
appealed to my uncle in a furtive glance, swift, 
charged with horror, and like a flash of shadow. 
The great table had "a broad board connecting the 

308 



The Adopted Daughter 



carved legs beneath, a sort of shelf raised a little 
from the floor. In her glance, swift and fearful, 
she directed my uncle's attention to this board. 

It was a long piece of veneered mahogany, mak- 
ing a shelf down the whole length of the table. On 
it my uncle saw a big folded cloth of squares white 
and black, and a set of huge ivory chess-men. The 
cloth was made to spread across the top of the table, 
and the chess-men were of unusual size in propor- 
tion to the squares; the round knobs on the heads of 
the pawns were as big as marbles. Beside these 
things was a rosewood box for dueling-pistols, after 
the fashion of the time. 

My uncle stooped over, took up these articles and 
set them on the table. 

"And so, Flornoy," he said, "you played at chess 
with your brother Sheppard." 

The man turned swiftly; then he paused and 
drank his glass of liquor. 

"I entertained my brother," he said, "as I could; 
there is no coffee-house to enter, nor any dancing 
women to please the eye, in the mountains of Vir- 
gima. 

"For what stake?" said my uncle. 

"I have forgotten, Abner," replied the man, 
"—some trifle." 

"And who won?" said my uncle. 

"I won," replied the man. He spoke promptly* 

"You won," said my uncle, "and you remember 
309 



Uncle Abner 



that; but what you won, you have forgotten 1 Re- 
flect a little on it, Flornoy." 

The man cursed, his face in anger. 

"Does it matter, Abner, a thing great or small? 
It is all mine to-day!" 

"But it was not all yours last night,' 1 said my uncle. 

"What I won was mine," replied the man, 

"Now, there," replied my uncle, "lies a point that 
I would amplify. One might win* byt might not 
receive the thing one played for. One might claim 
it for one's own, and the loser might deny it. If the 
stake were great, the loser might undertake to re- 
pudiate the bargain. And how would one enforce 
it?" 

The man put down his glass, leaned over and 
looked steadily at my uncle. 

Abner slipped the silver hooks on the rosewood 
box, slowly, with his thumb and finger. 

"I think," he said, "that if the gentleman you 
have in mind won, and were met with a refusal, he 
would undertake to enforce his claim, not in the 
courts or by any legal writ, but by the methods which 
gentlemen such as you have in mind are accustomed 
to invoke." 

He opened the box and took out two pistols of the 
time. Then his faced clouded with perplexity. 
Both weapons were clean and loaded. 

The man, propping his wonderful face in the hol- 
low of his hand, laughed. He had the face and the 
laughter of the angels cast out with Satan, when in 

310 



The Adopted Daughter 



a moment of some gain over the hosts of Michael 
they forgot the pit. 

"Abner," he cried, "you are hag-ridden by a habit, 
and it leads you into the wildest fancies !" 

His laughter chuckled and gurgled in his throat. 

"Let me put your theory together. It is a very 
pretty theory, lacking in some trifles, but spirited 
and packed with dramatic tension. Let me sketch 
it out as it stands before your eye. . . . Have 
no fear, I shall not mar it by any delicate concern 
for the cunning villain, or any suppression of his 
evil nature. I shall uncover the base creature amid 
his deeds of darkness!" 

He paused, and mocked the tragedy of actors. 

"It is the hour of yawning graveyards — midnight 
in this house. Vespatian Flornoy sits at this table 
with his good brother Sheppard. He has the covet- 
ousness of David the son of Jesse, in his evil heart. 
He would possess the noble daughter of the Latin 
marquis, by a sardonic fate sold at childhood into 
slavery, but by the ever watchful Providence of God, 
for such cases made and provided, purchased by the 
good brother Sheppard and adopted for his 
daughter ! 

"Mark, Abner, how beautifully it falls into the 
formula of the tragic poets I 

"The wicked Vespatian Flornoy, foiled in every 
scheme of purchase, moved by the instigation of the 
Devil, and with no fear of God before his eyes, plays 
at chess with his good brother Sheppard, wins his 

3ii 



Uncle Abner 



interest in the manor-house and lands, and his last 
gold-piece — taunts and seduces him into a final game 
with everything staked against this Iphigenia. The 
evil one rises invisible but sulphurous to Vespatian's 
aid. He wins. In terror, appalled, aghast at the 
realization of his folly, the good brother Sheppard 
repudiates the bargain. They duel across the table, 
and Vespatian, being the better shot, kills his good 
brother Sheppard I 

"Why, Abner, it is the plan of the 'Poetics/ It 
lacks no element of completeness. It is joined and 
fitted for the diction of Euripides !" 

The man declaimed, his wonderful fouled face, his 
Adonis head with its thick curled hair, virile and 
spirited with the liquor and the momentum of his 
words. Old Storm gave no attention. Randolph 
listened as to the periods of an oration. And my 
uncle sat, puzzled, before the articles on the table. 
The girl now and then, when the speaker's eyes were 
on my uncle, by slight indicatory signs affirmed the 
speech, and continued strongly to indicate the chess- 
men. 

My uncle began to turn the pieces over under the 
protection of his hand, idly, like one who fingers 
about a table in abstraction. Presently he stopped 
and covered one of the pieces with his hand. It was 
a pawn, large, like the other chess-men, but the 
round ivory knob at the top of it was gone. It had 
been sawed off I 

The man Flornoy, consumed with his idea, failed 
3" 



The Adopted Daughter 



to mark the incident, and moved by the tenor of his 
speech, went on : 

"This is the Greek plan for a tragedy. It is the 
plan of Athens m the fifth century. It is the plan 
of Sophocles and <£schyhis. Mark how it turns 
upon die Hellenic idea of a dominating Fate: a Fate 
in control over the affairs of men, pagan and not 
good. The innocent and virtuous have no gain 
above the shrewd and wicked. The good 'Sheppard 
dies, and the evil Vespatian takes his daughter, his 
goods and lands to enjoy in a gilded life, long and 
happy I" 

He thought the deep reflection In my uncle's face 
was confusion at his wit. 

"That ending would not please you, Abner. 
Luther and Calvin and John Wesley have lived 
after Aristotle assembled this formula in his 
'Poetics.' And they will have the evil punished— 
a dagger in the wicked Veepatiaa's heart, and the 
yirgin slave, by the interposition of the will of 
Heaven, preserved in her virginity. And so you 
come, like the Providence of God, to set the thing 
in order 1" 

My uncle looked up at the man, his hand covering 
the mutilated pawn, his face calm in its profound 
reflection. 

"You quote the tragic poets, with much pedantry," 
he said. "Well, I will quote them too: 'Ofttimes, 
to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness 

313 



Uncle Abner 



tell us truth! 9 How much truth, in all this dis- 
course, have you told us?" 

"Now, Abner," cried the man, "if it is truth you 
seek, and not the imaginations of a theory, how 
much could there be in it? If it were not for the 
granite ledges of reality, one might blow iris-colored 
bubbles of the fancy and watch them, in their beauty, 
journey to the stars! But alas, they collide with 
the hard edges of a fact and puff out 

"To begin with, the pistols have not been fired I" 

"One could reload a pistol," replied my uncle. 

"But one could not shoot a man, Abner, and leave 
no mark of the bullet on his body!" 

He paused and addressed the old doctor. 

"I sent for Storm, when I sent for Randolph, to 
rid me of every innuendo of a gossip. Ask him if 
there is a mark of violence on my brother's body." 

The old man lifted his lined, withered face. 

"There is no mark on him!" he said. 

Vespatian Flornoy leaned across the table. 

"Are you sure?" he said "Perhaps you might 
be mistaken." 

Thd words were in the taunting note of Elijah 
to the priests of Baal. 

The old man made a decisive gesture. "Voila!" 
lie said, "I have handled a thousand dead men! I 
am not mistaken!" 

Vespatian Flornoy put up his hands as in a great, 
hopeless gesture. 

"Alas, Abner," he said, "we must give up thia 
3H 



The Adopted Daughter 



pretty theory. It does honor to your creative in- 
stinct, and save for this trifle, we might commend it 
to all men. But you see, Abner, Storm and the 
world will unreasonably insist that a bullet leaves a 
mark. I do not think we can persuade them against 
their experience in that belief. I am sorry for you, 
Abner. You have a reputation in Virginia to keep 
up. Let us think; perhaps there is a way around 
this disconcerting fact." 

And he put his extended palm across his forehead, 
in mock reflection. 

It was at this moment, when for an instant the 
man's face was covered, that the girl standing be- 
fore the door made a strange indicatory signal to 
my uncle Abner. 

Vespatian Flornoy, removing his hand, caught a 
glimpse of the gijrl's after-expression. And he 
burst out in a great laugh, striking the table with 
his clenched hand. 

"Egad!" he cried. "By the soul of Satan I the 
coy little baggage is winking at Abner I" 

He saw only the final composition of the girl's 
face. He did not see the stress and vigor of the 
indicatory sign. He roared in a pretension of jeal- 
ous anger. 

"I will not have my property ogle another in my 
house. You shall answer for this, Abner, on the 
field of honor. And I warn you, sir: I have the 
surest eye and the steadiest hand in the mountains of 
Virginia. 

315 



Uncle Abner 



It was the truth. The man was the wonder of 
the countryside. He could cut a string; with a 
pistol at ten paces; he could drive in a carpet-tack 
with his bullet, across a room. With the weapon 
of the time, the creature was sure, accurate to a hair, 
and deadly. 

"No man/ 1 he cried, u shaU carry 06 this dainty 
baggage. Select your weapon, Abner; let us duel 
over this seduction!" 

He spoke in tfoe flippancies of jest. But my 
uncle's face was now alight with some great com- 
prehensive purpose. It was like the face of one 
who begins to see the bulk and outlines of a thins 
that before this hour, in spite of every scrutiny, was 
formless. 

And to Flornoy's surprise and wonder, my uncle 
put out his hand, took up one of the pistols and 
suddenly fired it into the wood of the mantelpiece 
beyond the table. He got up and looked at the 
mark. The bullet was hardly bedded in the veneer* 

"You use a light charge of powder, Flornoy," 
said my uncle. 

The man was puzzled at thb act, but he answered 
at once. 

"Abner," he said, "that is a secret I have learned. 
A pistol pivots on the grip. In firing, there are two 
things to avoid : a jerk on the trigger, and the ten- 
dency of the muzzle to jump up, caused by the recoil 
of the charge. No man can control his weapon with 
a heavy charge of powder behind the bullet. If one 

316 



The Adopted Daughter 



would shoot true to a hair, one must load light." 

It seemed a considerable explanation. And not 
one of the men who heard it ever knew whether it 
was, in fact, the controlling cause, or whether an- 
other and more subtle thing inspired it. 

"But, Flornoy," said my uncle, "if to kill were the 
object of a duelist, such a charge of powder might 
defeat the purpose." 

"You are mistaken, Abner," he said. "The body 
of a man is soft. If one avoids the bony structure, 
a trifling charge of powder will carry one's bullet 
into a vital organ. There is no gain in shooting 
through a man as though one were going to string 
him on a thread. Powder enough to lodge the 
bullet in the vital organ is sufficient." 

"There might be a point in not shooting through 
him," said Abner. 

The man looked calmly at my uncle ; then he made 
an irrelevant gesture. 

"No object, Abner, but no use. The whole point 
is to shoot to a hair, to lodge the bullet precisely in 
the point selected. Look how a light charge of 
powder does it." 

And taking up the other pistol, he steadied it a 
moment in his hand, and fired at Abner's bullet-hole. 
No mark appeared on the mantel board. One 
would have believed that the bullet, if the barrel 
held one, had wholly vanished. But when they 
looked closely, it was seen that my uncle's bullet, 
struck precisely, was driven a little deeper into the 

317 



Uncle Abner 



wood. It was amazing accuracy. No wonder the 
man's skill was a byword in the land. 

My uncle made a single comment. 

"You shoot like the slingers of Benjamin! 1 ' he 
said t 

Then he came back to the table and stood looking 
down at the man. He held the mutilated ivory 
pawn in his closed left hand. The girl, like an ap- 
praised article, was in the doorway; Storm and 
Randolph looked on, like men before the blind mov- 
ing of events. 

"Flornoy," said Abner, "you have told us more 
truth than you intended us to believe. How did 
your brother Sheppard die?" 

The man's face changed. His fingers tightened 
on the pistol. His eyes became determined and 
alert. 

"Damme, man," he cried, "do you return to that! 
Sheppard fell and died, where you stand, beside the 
table in this room. I am no surgeon to say what 
disorder killed him. I sent for Storm to determine 
that." 

My uncle turned to the old eccentric doctor. 

"Storm," he said, "how did Sheppard Flornoy 
die?" 

The old man shrugged his shoulders and put out 
his nervous hands. 

"I do not know," he said, "the heart, maybe* 
There is no mark on him." 

And here Randolph interrupted. 

318 



The Adopted Daughter 



"Abner," he said, "you put a question that no man 
can answer: something snaps within the body, and 
we die. We have no hint at the cause of Shep- 
pard's death. 

"Why yes," replied my uncle, "I think we have." 

"What hint?" said Randolph. 

"The hint," said Abner, "that the eloquent Vea- 
patian gave us just now in his discourse. I think 
he set out the cause in his apt recollection from the 
Book of Samuel." 

He paused and looked down at the man. 

Vespatian Flornoy got on his feet. His face and 
manner changed. There was now decision and 
menace in his voice. 

"Abner," he said, "there shall be an end to this. 
I have turned your ugly hint with pleasantry, and 
met it squarely with indisputable facts. I shall not 
go any further on this way. I shall clear myself 
now, after the manner of a gentleman." 

My uncle looked steadily at the man. 

"Flornoy," he said, "if you would test your inno- 
cence by a device of the Middle Ages, I would sug- 
gest a simpler and swifter method of that time. 
Wager of battle is outlawed in Virginia. It is pro- 
hibited by statute, and we cannot use it. . But the 
test I offer in its place is equally medieval. It is 
based on the same belief, old and persistent, that the 
Providence of God will indicate the guilty. And 
it is not against the law." 

He paused. 

319 



Uncle Abner 



"The same generation of men who believed in 
Wager of Battle, in the Morsel of Execration, in the 
red-hot plowshares* as a test of the guilt of murder, 
also believed that if the assassin touched his victim, 
the body of the murdered man would bleed 1 

"Flornoy," he said, "if you would have recourse 
to one of those medieval devices, let it be the last. 
• • . Go in with me and touch the body of your 
brother Sheppard, and I g£ve you my word of honor 
that I will accept the decision of the test." 

It was impossible to believe that my uncle Abner 
trifled, and yet the thing was beyond the soundings 
of all sense. 

Storm and Randolph, and even the girl standing 
in the door, regarded him in wonder. 

Vespatian Flornoy was amazed. 

"Damme, man!" he cried, "superstitions have ua^ 
hinged your mind. Would you believe in a thing 
like that?" 

"I would rather believe it," replied my uncle, 
"than to believe that in a duel God would direct the 
assassin's bullet" 

Then he added, with weight and decision in his 
voice : 

"If you would be clear of my suspicion, if you 
would be free to take and enjoy the lands and prop- 
erties that you inherit, go in before these witnesses 
and touch the dead body of your brother Sheppard. 
There is no mark appearing on him. Storm has 
found no wound to bleed. You are innocent of any 

320 



The Adopted Daughter 



\ 



easure in his death, you tell us. There's no peril 
to you, and I shall ride away to assure every man 
that Sheppard Flornoy died, as Randolph has writ- 
ten, by the 'Providence of God.' " 

He extended his arm toward the adjacent cham- 
ber, and across the table he looked Flornoy in the 
face. 

"Go in before us and touch the dead man." 

"By the soul of Satan 1" cried the man, "if you 
hang on such a piece of foolery, you shall have it 
The curse of superstition sticks in your fleece, Abner, 
like a burr.' 9 

He turned and flung open the door behind him and 
went ul The others followed — Storm and Ran- 
dolph behind the man, the jprl, shaken and fearful, 
and my uncle Abner. 

Sheppard Flornoy lay prepared for burial in the 
center of the room. The morning sun entering 
through the long windows flooded him with light; 
his features were sharply outlined in the mask of 
death, his eyelids closed. 

They stood about the dead man, at peace in this 
glorious shroud of sun, and the living brother was 
about to touch him when my uncle put out his hand. 

"Flornoy," he said, "the dead man ought to see 
who comes to touch him. I will open his eyes." 

And at the words, for no cause or reason conceiv- 
able to the two men looking on, Vespatian Flornoy 
shouted with an oath, and ran in on my uncle. 

He was big and mad with terror. But even in 
3^1 



Uncle Abner 



his youth and fury he was not a match for my Uncle 
Abner. Liquor and excess failed before wind and 
sun and the clean life of the hills. The man went 
down under my uncle's clenched hand, like an ox 
polled with a hammer. 

It was Randolph who cried out, while the others 
crowded around the dead man and his brother un- 
conscious on the floor. 

"Abner, Abner," he said, "what is the answer to 
this ghastly riddle ?" 

For reply my uncle drew back the eyelids of the 
dead man. And stooping over, Randolph and old 
Storm saw that Sheppard Flornoy had been shot 
through the eye, and that the head of the ivory pawn 
had been forced into the bullet-hole to round out the 
damaged eyeball under the closed lid. 

The girl sobbed, clinging to my uncle's arm. 
Randolph tore the bill of sale into indistinguishable 
bits. And the old doctor Storm made a great ges- 
ture with his hands extended and crooked. 

"Mon Dieu!" he cried, in a consuming revulsion 
of disgust. "My father was surgeon in the field for 
Napoleon, I was raised with dead men, and a drunk- 
en assassin fools me in the mountains of Virginia 1" 



CHAPTER XVIII: Nqboth's Vineyard 

ONE hears a good deal about the sovereignty 
of the people in this republic; and many 
persons imagine it a sort of fiction, and 
wonder where it lies, who are the guardians of it, 
and how they would exercise it if the forms and 
agents of the law were removed. I am not one of 
those who speculate upon this mystery, for I have 
seen this primal ultimate authority naked at its work. 
And, having seen it, I know how mighty and how 
dread a thing it is. And I know where it lies, and 
who are the guardians of it, and how they exercise 
it when the need arises. 

There was a great crowd, for the whole country 
was in the courtroom. It was a notorious trial. 

Elihu Marsh had been shot down in his house. 
He had been found lying in a room, with a hole 
through his body that one could put his thumb in. 
He was an irascible old man, the last of his fam- 
ily, and so, lived alone. He had rich lands, but 
only a life estate in them, the remainder was to some 
foreign heirs. A girl from a neighboring farm 
came now and then to bake and put his house in or- 
der, and he kept a farm hand about the premises. 

Nothing had been disturbed in the house when the 
neighbors found Marsh; no robbery had been at- 

3*3 



Uncle Abner 



tempted, for the man's money, a considerable sum, 
remained on him. 

There was not much mystery about the thing, be- 
cause the farm hand had disappeared. This man 
was a stranger in the hills. He had come from over 
the mountains some months before, and gone to work 
for Marsh. He was a big blond man, young and 
good looking; of better blood, one would say, than 
the average laborer. He gave his name as Taylor, 
but he was not communicative, and little else about 
him was known. 

The country was raised, and this man was over- 
taken in the foothills of the mountains. He had his 
clothes tied into a bundle, and a long-barreled fowl- 
ing-piece on his shoulder. The story he told wal 
that he and Marsh had settled that morning, and he 
had left the house at noon, but that he had forgot- 
ten his gun and had gone back for it; had reached 
the house about four o'clock, gone into the kitchen, 
got his gun down from the dogwood forks over the 
chimney, and at once left the house. He had not 
seen Marsh, and did not know where he was. 

He admitted that this gun had been loaded with 
a single huge lead bullet. He had so loaded it to 
kill a dog that sometimes approached the house, but 
not close enough to be reached with a load of shot. 
He affected surprise when it was pointed out that 
the gun had been discharged. He said that he had 
not fired it, and had not, until then, noticed that it 
was empty. When asked why he had so suddenly 

3*4 



Naboth's Vin*y<ard 



determined to leave the country, lie was silent. 

He was carried back and confined in the county 
jail, and now, he was on trial at the September term 
of the circuit court. 

The court sat early. Although the judge, Simon 
Kilrail, was a landowner and lived on his estate in 
the country some half dozen miles away, he rode to 
the courthouse in the morning, and home at night, 
with his legal papers in his saddle-pockets. It was 
only when the court sat that he was a lawyer. At 
other times he harvested his hay and grazed his cat- 
tle, and tried to add to his lands Eke any other man 
in the hills, and he was as hard in a trade and as 
hungry for an acre as any. 

It was the sign and insignia of distinction in Vir- 
ginia to own land. Mr. Jefferson had annuled the 
titles that George the Third had granted, and the 
land alone remained as a patent of nobility. The 
Judge wished to be one of these landed gentry, and 
he had gone a good way to accomplish it. But when 
the court convened he became a lawyer and sat upon 
the bench with no heart in him, and a cruel tongue 
like the English judges. 

I think everybody was at this trial. My Uncle 
Abner and the strange old doctor, Storm, sat on a 
bench near the center aisle of the court-room, and 
I sat behind them, for I was a half-grown lad, and 
permitted to witness the terrors and severities of 
the law. 

The prisoner was the center of interest. He sat 

3*5 



Uncle Abner 



with a stolid countenance like a man careless of the 
issues of life. But not everybody was concerned 
with him, for my Uncle Abner and Storm watched 
the girl who had been accustomed to bake for Marsh 
and red up his house. 

She was a beauty of her type; dark haired and 
dark eyed like a gypsy* and with an April nature of 
storm and sun. She sat among the witnesses with 
a little handkerchief clutched in her hands. She was 
nervous to the point of hysteria, and I thought 
that was the reason the old doctor watched her. 
She would be taken with a gust of tears, and then 
throw up her head with a fine defiance; and she 
kneaded and knotted and worked the handkerchief 
in her fingers. It was a time of stress and many 
witnesses were unnerved, and I think I should not 
have noticed this girl but for the whispering of 
Storm and my Uncle Abner. 

The trial went forward, and it became certain 
that the prisoner would hang. His stubborn re- 
fusal to give any reason for his hurried departure 
had but one meaning, and the circumstantial evidence 
was conclusive. The motive, only, remained in 
doubt, and the Judge had charged on this with so 
many cases in point, and with so heavy a hand, that 
any virtue in it was removed. The Judge was hard 
against this man, and indeed there was little sym- 
pathy anywhere, for it was a foul killing — the victim 
an old man and no hot blood to excuse it. 

In all trials of great public interest, where the evi- 
326 



Naboth's Vineyard 



dences of guilt overwhelmingly assemble against a 
prisoner, there comes a moment when all the people 
in the court-room, as one man, and without a sign 
of the common purpose, agree upon a verdict; there 
is no outward or visible evidence of this decision, but 
one feels it, and it is a moment of the tensest stress. 

The trial of Taylor had reached this point, and 
there lay a moment of deep silence, when this girl 
sitting among the witnesses suddenly burst into a 
very hysteria of tears. She stood up shaking with 
sobs, her voice choking in her throat, and the tears 
gushing through her fingers. 

What she said was not heard at the time by the 
audience in the court-room, but it brought the Judge 
to his feet and the jury crowding about her, and it 
broke down the silence of the prisoner, and threw 
him into a perfect fury of denials. We could hear 
his voice rise above the confusion, and we could see 
him struggling to get to the girl and stop her. But 
what she said was presently known to everybody, 
for it was taken down and signed ; and it put the case 
against Taylor, to use a lawyer's term, out of court. 

The girl had killed Marsh herself. And this was 
the manner and the reason of it: She and Taylor 
were sweethearts and were to be married. But they 
had quarreled the night before Marsh's death and 
the following morning Taylor had left the country. 
The point of the quarrel was some remark that 
Marsh had made to Taylor touching the girl's repu- 
tation. She had come to the house in the afternoon; 

327 



Uncle Abntr 



and finding her lover gone, and maddened at the 
sight of the one who had robbed her of him, had 
taken the gun down from the chimney and killed 
Marsh. She had then put the gun bade into its place 
and left the house. This was about two o'clock m 
the afternoon, and about an hour before Taylor re- 
turned for his gun. 

There was a grefct veer of public feeling with a 
profound sense of having come at last upoa the 
truth, for the story not only fitted to the circumstan- 
tial evidence against Taylor, but it fitted also to his 
story and it disclosed the motive for the killing. It 
explained, too, why he had refused to give the rea- 
son for his disappearance. That Taylor denied 
what the girl said and tried to stop her in her dec- 
laration, meant nothing except that the prisoner was 
a man, and would not have the woman he loved make 
such a sacrifice for him. 

I cannot give all the forms of legal procedure with 
which the closing hours of the court were taken up t 
but nothing happened to shake the girl's confession. 
Whatever the law required was speedily got ready* 
and she was remanded to the care of the sheriff in 
order that she might come before the court in the 
morning. 

Taylor was not released, but was also held in cus- 
tody, although the case against him seemed utterly 
broken down. The Judge refused to permit the 
prisoner's counsel to take a verdict. He said that he 
would withdraw a juror and continue the case. But 

3*8 



Naboth's Vineyard 



he seemed unwilling to release any clutch of the law 
until some one was punished for this crime. 

It was on our way, and we rode out with the 
Judge that night. He talked with Abner and Storm 
about the pastures and the price of cattle, but not 
about the trial, as I hoped he would do, except once 
only, and then it was to inquire why the prosecuting 
attorney had not called either of them as witnesses, 
since they were the first to find Marsh, and Storm 
had been among the doctors who examined him. 
And Storm had explained how he had mortally of- 
fended the prosecutor in his canvass, by his remark 
that only a gentleman should hold office. He did 
but quote Mr. Hamilton, Storm said, but the man 
had received it as a deadly insult, and thereby proved 
the truth of Mr. Hamilton's expression, Storm 
added. And Abner said that as no circumstance 
about Marsh's death was questioned, and others ar- 
riving about the same time had been called, the 
prosecutor doubtless considered further testimony 
unnecessary. 

The Judge nodded, and the conversation turned 
to other questions. At the gate, after the common 
formal courtesy of the country, the Judge asked us 
to ride in, and, to my astonishment, Abner and 
Storm accepted his invitation. I could see that the 
man was surprised, and I thought annoyed, but he 
took us into his library. 

I could not understand why Abner and Storm had 
stopped here, until I remembered how from the first 

3*9 



Uncle Abner 



they had been considering the girl, and it occurred 
to me that they thus sought the Judge in the hope of 
getting some word to him in her favor. A great 
sentiment had leaped up for this girl. She had made 
a staggering sacrifice, and with a headlong courage, 
and it was like these men to help her if they could. 

And it was to speak of the woman that they came, 
but not in her favor. And while Simon Kilrail lis* 
tened, they told this extraordinary story: They had 
been of the opinion that Taylor was not guilty when 
the trial began, but they had suffered it to proceed 
in order to see what might develop. The reason 
was that there were certain circumstantial evidences, 
overlooked by the prosecutor, indicating the guilt 
of the woman and the innocence of Taylor. When 
Storm examined the body of Marsh he discovered 
that the man had been killed by poison, and was dead 
when the bullet was fired into his body. This meant 
that the shooting was a fabricated evidence to di- 
rect suspicion against Taylor. The woman had 
baked for Marsh on this morning, and the poison 
was in the bread which he had eaten at noon. 

Abner was going on to explain something further, 
when a servant entered and asked the Judge what 
time it was. The man had been greatly impressed, 
and he now sat in a profound reflection. He took 
his watch out of his pocket and held it in his hand, 
then he seemed to realize the question and replied 
that his watch had run down. Abner gave the hour, 
and said that perhaps his key would wind the watch. 

330 



Naboth's Vineyard 



The Judge gave it to him, and he wound it and laid 
it on the table. Storm observed my Uncle with, 
what I thought, a curious interest, but the Judge 
paid no attention. He was deep in his reflection and 
oblivious to everything. Finally he roused himself 
and made his comment 

"This clears the matter up," he said. "The 
woman killed Marsh from the motive which she 
gave in her confession, and she created this false 
evidence against Taylor because he had abandoned 
her. She thereby avenged herself desperately in 
two directions. ... It would be like a woman to do 
this, and then regret it and confess." 

He then asked my Uncle if he had anything fur- 
ther to tell him, and although I was sure that Abner 
was going on to say something further when the 
servant entered, he replied now that he had not, and 
asked for the horses. The Judge went out to have 
the horses brought, and we remained in silence. My 
Uncle was calm, as with some consuming idea, but 
Storm was as nervous as a cat. He was out of his 
chair when the door was closed, and hopping about 
the room looking at the law books standing on the 
shelves in their leather covers. Suddenly he stopped 
and plucked out a little volume. He whipped 
through it with his forefinger, smothered a great 
oath, and shot it into his pocket, then he crooked his 
finger to my Uncle, and they talked together in a 
recess of the window until the Judge returned. 

We rode away. I was sure that they intended 
33i 



Uncle Abner 



to say something to the Judge in the woman's fa* 
vor, for, guilty or not, it was a fine thing she had 
done to stand up and confess. But something in 
the interview had changed their purpose. Perhaps 
when they had heard the Judge's comment they saw 
it would be of no use. They talked closely together 
as they rode, but they kept before me and I could 
not hear. It was of the woman they spoke, how- 
ever, for I caught a fragment. 

"But where is the motive? 9 ' said Storm. 

Arid my Uncle answered, "In the twenty-first chap- 
ter of the Book of Kings-" 

We were early at the county seat, and it was a 
good thing for us, because the court-room was 
crowded to the doors. My Uncle had got a big rec- 
ord book out of the county clerk's office as he came 
in, and I was glad of it, for he gave it to me to sit 
on, and it raised me up so I could see. Storm was 
there, too, and, in fact, every man of any standing 
in the county. 

The sheriff opened the court, the prisoners were 
brought in, and the Judge took his seat on the bench. 
He looked haggard like a man who had not slept, 
as, in fact, one could hardly have done who had so 
cruel a duty before him. Here was every human 
feeling pressing to save a woman, and the law to 
hang her. But for all his hag-ridden face, when he 
came to act, the man was adamant. 

He ordered the confession read, and directed the 
girl to stand up. Taylor tried again to protest, but 

33* 



Naboth's Vineyard 



he was forced down into his chair. The girl stood 
up bravely, but she was white as plaster, and her eyes 
dilated. She was asked if she still adhered to the 
confession and understood the consequences of it, 
and, although she trembled from head to toe, she 
spoke out distinctly. There was a moment of si- 
lence and the Judge was about to speak, when an- 
other voice filled the court-room. I turned about 
on my book to find my head against my Uncle Ab- 
ner's legs. 

"I challenge the confession !" he said. 

The whole court-room moved. Every eye was 
on the two tragic figures standing up : the slim, pale 
girl and the big, somber figure of my Uncle. The 
Judge was astounded. 

**On what ground?" he said. 

"On the ground," replied my Uncle, "that the 
confession is a lie I" 

One could have heard a pin fall anywhere in the 
whole room. The girl caught her breath in a little 
gasp, and the prisoner, Taylor, half rose and then 
;sat down as though his knees were too weak to bear 
him. The Judge's mouth opened, but for a moment 
or two he did not speak, and I could understand his 
amazement. Here was Abner assailing a confes- 
sion which he himself had supported before the 
Judge, and speaking for the innocence of a woman 
whom he himself had shown to be guilty and taking 
one position privately, and another publicly. What 

333 



Uncle Abner 



did the man mean? And I was not surprised that 
the Judge's voice was stern when he spoke. 

"This is irregular/' he said. "It may be that this 
woman killed Marsh, or it may be that Taylor killed 
him, and there is some collusion between these per- 
sons, as you appear to suggest And you may know 
something to throw light on the matter, or you may 
not. However that may be, this is not the time for 
me to hear you. You will have ample opportunity 
to speak when I come to try the case." 

"But you will never try this case !" said Abner. 

I cannot undertake to describe the desperate in- 
terest that lay on the people in the courtroom. 
They were breathlessly silent; one could hear the 
voices from the village outside, and the sounds of 
men and horses that came up through the open win- 
dows. No one knew what hidden thing Abner 
drove at. But he was a man who meant what he 
said, and the people knew it. 

The Judge turned on him with a terrible face. 

"What do you mean?" he said. 

"I mean," replied Abner, and it was in his deep, 
hard voice, "that you must come down from the 
bench." 

The Judge was in a heat of fury. 

"You are in contempt," he roared. "I order 
your arrest. Sheriff 1" he called. 

But Abner did not move. He looked the man 
calmly in the face. 

"You threaten me," he said, "but God Almighty 
334 



Naboth's Vineyard 



threatens you." And he turned about to the audi- 
ence. "The authority of the law," he said, "is in 
the hands of the electors of this county. Will they 
stand up?" 

I shall never forget what happened then, for I 
have never in my life seen anything so deliberate 
and impressive. Slowly, in silence, and without pas- 
sion, as though they were in a church of God, men 
began to get up in the courtroom. 

Randolph was the first. He was a justice of the 
peace, vain and pompous, proud of the abilities of 
an ancestry that he did not inherit. And his super- 
ficialities were the annoyance of my Uncle Abner's 
life. But whatever I may have to say of him here- 
after I want to say this thing of him here, that his 
bigotry and his vanities were builded on the founda- 
tions of a man. He stood up as though he stood 
alone, with no glance about him to see what other, 
men would do, and he faced the Judge calmly above 
his great black stock. And I learned then that a 
man may be a blusterer and a lion. 

Hiram Arnold got up, and Rockford, and Arm- 
strong, and Alkire, and Coopman, and Monroe, and 
Elnathan Stone, and my father, Lewis, and Dayton 
and Ward, and Madison from beyond the moun- 
tains. And it seemed to me that the very hills and 
valleys were standing up. 

It was a strange and instructive thing to see. The 
loud-mouthed and the reckless were in that court- 
room, men who would have shouted in a political 

335 



Uncle Abner 



convention, or run howling with a mob, but they 
were not the persons who stood up when Abner 
called upon the authority of the people to appear. 
Men rose whom one would not have looked to see 
i — the blacksmith, the saddler, and old Asa Divers. 
And I saw that law and order and all the structure 
that civilization had builded up, rested on the sense 
of justice that certain men carried in their breasts, 
and that those who possessed it not, in the crisis of 
necessity, did not count. 

Father Donovan stood up; he had a little flock 
beyond the valley river, and he was as poor, and 
almost as humble as his Master, but he was not 
afraid; and Bronson, who preached Calvin, and 
Adam Rider, who traveled a Methodist circuit. No 
one of them believed in what the other taught; but 
they all believed in justice, and when the line was 
drawn, there was but one side for them alL 

The last man up was Nathaniel Davisson, but the 
reason was that he was very old, and he had to wait 
for his sons to help him. He had been time and 
again in the Assembly of Virginia, at a time when 
only a gentleman and landowner could sit there. He 
was a just man, and honorable and unafraid. 

The Judge, his face purple, made a desperate ef- 
fort to enforce his authority. He pounded on his 
desk and ordered the sheriff to clear the courtroom. 
But the sheriff remained standing apart. He did 
pot lack for courage, and I think he would have 
faced the people if his duty had been that way. His 

336 



Naboth's Vineyard 



attitude was firm, and one could mark no uncer- 
tainty upon him, but he took no step to obey what 
the Judge commanded 

The Judge cried out at him in a terrible voice. 

"I am the representative of the law here. Go 
on!" 

The sheriff was a plain man, and unacquainted 
with the nice expressions of Mr. Jefferson, but his 
answer could not have been better if that gentleman 
had written it out for him. 

"I would obey the representative of the law," he 
said, "if I were not in the presence of the law it- 
self!" 

The Judge rose. "This is revolution," he said; 
"I will send to the Governor for the militia." 

It was Nathaniel Davisson who spoke then. He 
was very old and the tremors of dissolution were on 
him, but his voice was steady. 

"Sit down, your Honor," he said, "there is no 
revolution here, and you do not require troops to 
support your authority. We are here to support it 
if it ought to be lawfully enforced. But the people 
have elevated you to the Bench because they believed 
in your integrity, and if they have been mistaken they 
would know it." He paused, as though to collect 
his strength, and then went on. "The presumptions 
of right are all with your Honor. You administer 
the law upon our authority and we stand behind you. 
Be assured that we will not suffer our authority to 
be insulted in your person." His voice grew deep 

337 



Uncle Abner 



and resolute. "It is a grave thing to call us up 
against you, and not lightly, nor for a trivial reason 
shall any man dare to do it." Then he turned about. 
"Now, Abner/' he said, "what is this thing?" 

Young as I was, I felt that the old man spoke for 
the people standing in the courtroom, with their 
voice and their authority, and I began to fear that 
the measure which my Uncle had taken was high 
handed. But he stood there like the shadow of a 
great rock. 

"I charge him," he said, "with the murder of 
Elihu Marsh 1 And I call upon him to vacate die 
Bench." 

When I think about this extraordinary event now, 
I wonder at the calmness with which Simon Kilrail 
met this blow, until I reflect that he had seen it on 
its way, and had got ready to meet it. But even 
with that preparation, it took a man of iron nerve 
to face an assault like that and keep every muscle 
in its place. He had tried violence and had failed 
with it, and he had recourse now to the attitudes 
and mannerisms of a judicial dignity. He sat with 
his elbows on the table, and his clenched fingers 
propping up his jaw. He looked coldly at Abner, 
but he did not speak, and there was silence until 
Nathaniel Davisson spoke for him. His face and 
his voice were like iron. 

"No, Abner," he said, "he shall not vacate the 
Bench for that, nor upon the accusation of any man. 
We will have your proofs, if you please." 

33« 



Naboth's Vineyard 



The Judge turned his cold face from Abner to 
Nathaniel Davisson, and then he looked over the 
men standing in the courtroom. 

"I am not going to remain here," he said, "to be 
tried by a mob, upon the viva voce indictment of a 
bystander. You may nullify your court, if you like, 
and suspend the forms of law for yourselves, but 
you cannot nullify the constitution of Virginia, nor 
suspend my right as a citizen of that common- 
wealth." 

"And now," he said, rising, "if you will kindly 
make way, I will vacate this courtroom, which your 
violence has converted into a chamber of sedition." 

The man spoke in a cold, even voice, and I 
thought he had presented a difficulty that could not 
be met. How could these men before him under- 
take to keep the peace of this frontier, and force 
its lawless elements to submit to the forms of law 
for trial, and deny any letter of those formalities 
to this man? Was the grand jury, and the formal 
indictment, and all the right and privilege of an 
orderly procedure for one, and not for another? 

It was Nathaniel Davisson who met this danger- 
ous problem. 

"We are not concerned," he said, "at this mo- 
ment with your rights as a citizen; the rights of 
private citizenship are inviolate, and they remain 
to you, when you return to it. But you are not 
a private citizen. You are our agent. We have 
selected you to administer the law for us, and your 

339 



Uncle Abner 



right to act has been challenged Well, as the au- 
thority behind you, we appear and would know the 
reason." 

The Judge retained his imperturbable calm. 

"Do you hold me a prisoner here?" he said. 

"We hold you an official in your office," replied 
Davisson, "not only do we refuse to permit you 
to leave the courtroom, but we refuse to permit 
you to leave the Bench. This court shall remain 
as we have set it up until it is our will to read- 
just it. And it shall not be changed at the pleasure 
or demand of any man but by us only, and for a 
sufficient cause shown to us." 

And again I was anxious for my Uncle, for I saw 
how grave a thing it was to interfere with the author- 
ity of the people as manifested in the forms and 
agencies of the law. Abner must be very sure of 
the ground under him. 

And he was sure. He spoke now, with no intro- 
ductory expressions, but directly and in the simplest 
words. 

"These two persons," he said, indicating Taylor 
and the girl, "have each been willing to die in or- 
der to save the other. Neither is guilty of this 
crime. Taylor has kept silent, and the girl has 
lied, to the same end. This is the truth : There was 
a lovers' quarrel, and Taylor left the country pre- 
cisely as he told us, except the motive, which he 
would not tell lest the girl be involved. And the 

340 



Naboth's Vineyard 



woman, to save him, confesses to a crime that she 
did not commit. 

"Who did commit it?" He paused and included 
Storm with a gesture. "We suspected this woman 
because Marsh had been killed by poison in his 
bread, and afterwards mutilated with a shot. Yes- 
terday rte rode out with the Judge to put those 
facts before him." Again he paused. "An incident 
occurring in that interview indicated that we were 
wrong; a second incident assured us, and still later, 
a third convinced us. These incidents were, first, 
that the Judge's watch had rat down; second, that 
we found in his library a book with all the leaves 
in k uncut, except at one certain page; and, third, 
that we found in the county cleric's office an uriirf- 
dexed record in an old deed book." There was deep 
quiet and he went on: 

"In addition to the theory of Taylor's guilt or 
this woman's, there was still a third; but it had 
only a single incident to support it, and we feared 
to suggest it until the others had been explained. 
This theory was that some one, to benefit by Marsh's 
death, had planned to kill him in such a manner as 
to throw suspicion on this woman who baked his 
bread, arid finding Taylor gone, and the gun above 
the mantel, yielded to an afterthought to create a 
further false evidence. It was overdone 1 

"The trigger guard of the gun in the recoil caught 
in the chain of the assassin's watch and jerked it out 

341 



Uncle Abner 



of his pocket; he replaced the watch, but not the 
key which fell to the floor, and which I picked up 
beside the body of the dead man." 

Abner turned toward the judge. 

"And so," he said, "I charge Simon Kilrail with 
this murder; because the key winds his watch; be- 
cause the record in the old deed book is a convey- 
ance by the heirs of Marsh's lands to him at the 
life tenant's death; and because the book we found 
in his library is a book on poisons with the leaves 
uncut, except at the very page describing that iden- 
tical poison with which Elihu Marsh was mur- 
dered." 

The strained silence that followed Abner's words 
was broken by a voice that thundered in the court- 
room. It was Randolph's. 

"Come down I" he said. 

And this time Nathaniel Davisson was silent. 

The Judge got slowly on his feet, a resolution was 
forming in his face, and it advanced swiftly. 

"I will give you my answer in a moment," he 
said. 

Then he turned about and went into his room 
behind the Bench. There was but one door, 
and that opening into the court, and the people 
waited. 

The windows were open and we could see the 
green fields, and the sun, and the far-off mountains, 
and the peace and quiet and serenity of autumn 

342 



Naboth's Vineyard 



entered. The Judge did not appear. Presently 
there was the sound of a shot from behind the closed 
door. The sheriff threw it open, and upon the floor, 
sprawling in a smear of blood, lay Simon Kilrail, 
with a dueling pistol in his hand. 



(3)