The stories contained in this volume comprise gleanings from the six years of my more or less intermittent work as a writer. Not a few of them were done when I was a student at Ward Seminary, Nashville, Tennessee, and served only as fagots to keep the pot boiling while I pursued the study of drawing and painting. In the course of time, the boiling of the pot became the absorbing question, and drawing and painting had to give place to the steady work of fagot-gathering.
The way that I have trod in pursuit of this work has been a very pleasant one, and the kindly hand that has guided mine throughout is that of Mr. D. G. Fenno, Managing Editor of the Philadelphia Times. In the old studio days when life was young and hope was new, there was a dear friend whose easel sat beside my own, and together we planned our lives. But Another planned, and the lines diverged to meet again when Miss Louise Lewis made the illustrations which add so much to the interest of these pages.
If I write other and better books by and by, will the friends who read this remember that I hoped to do so?
Dec. 4, 1895.
The Legend of the Rift
HE changeful mid-August air blew nippingly through the chinks of Bill Teague’s log cabin, perched high up on a long western spur of the Cumberland ridge in East Tennessee, and within the cavernous chimney-depths beyond the wide hearth, the fire-light blazed and flared, sending out narrow rays that crept into every corner of the little room, and threw quaint shadows straggling up among the smoky rafters. Its warm glow touched the wide-ruffled white cap of Granny McDermot, dozing and nodding in her low chair in the corner; it shone upon the clicking knitting-needles in Penny Shackleford’s nimble, bony fingers, and upon the rasping cards in Mrs. Teague’s lazy, fat ones, and glinted upon the loose brown curls that broke about Licia’s brow as she trod softly back and forth before the spinning-wheel.
Licia Teague was a tall, slim, blue-eyed young thing, with smooth, fair skin, and a glow of color in her high cheeks, and now and then as the wide wheel whirred busily she added the music of her voice in a sweet, crooning contralto.
But the crooning and the whirring and the knitting and the carding suddenly ceased. With a scream that sent the empty pipe from between her own toothless gums, and the clicking needles from Penny Shackleford’s nimble fingers, rattling noisily upon the hearth-stones below. Granny waked from her doze and sprang to her feet, her head trembling, her cap-strings fluttering.
“What ails yer, Granny?” said Licia, going to her and taking her by the hand.
“Don’t yer tech me, chile,” said the old woman. “A vision is before me.”
Her voice was singularly rich, deep and unquaver-ing, her eyes glowed and shone beneath her beetling brows, and her head towered straightly erect above Licia’s as she held the girl off with one hand, and, with the other, extended her stout staff as a seer might a divining rod. Penny Shackleford and Mrs. Teague only gazed at the old woman in open-mouthed amazement as she went on fiercely, staring straight before her.
“I hear the stirring of a great wind, and see the burning of a fierce fire! I see death and destruction an’ dreary desolation! I see the lappin’ of the flame tongues an’ the whirlin’ of the blindin’ smoke! I hear the curses of strong men, an’ the wailing of women an’ the cryin’ of young child’n! Woe ter them that give suck this night, an’ ter the mountain woman, who suffers in the perils of childbirth! Woe, woe, woe! For the finger of God is pointed in wrath, and the flame tongues turn upon the hands that lighted them. Woe, woe, woe!”
The sparkling eyes hid themselves again beneath the wrinkled lids, the cap-strings fluttered and were still; the outstretched staff fell to the floor with a crash, and the old woman herself sank in a heap on the hearth at Licia’s feet.
“The old ’un air clean daft,” said Penny Shackle-ford by and by, when the three women had put Granny away for the night in the fat, round bed in the corner. The nimble Penny had resumed her seat in the chimney-jamb, and was trying vainly to pick up the stitches lost on Granny’s vision.
Licia only glanced up at her sharply without speaking. The girl had set the wheel back into its corner, and, from Granny’s low chair, was watching the fire pictures glow and fade.
“The Lord knows whar Licia’s Pa is at this night,” said Mrs. Teague, devoutly.
The present Mrs. Teague was the second of the name, and only Licia’s step-mother. She usually spoke of her husband as “Licia’s Pa,” because it seemed to her somehow to keep the proper relationship in evidence, and to save trouble generally, and Mrs. Teague always did cheerfully anything that saved trouble.
“Yes, the Lord only knows whar he is, Sister Liz’beth,” said the nimble Penny. “He ain’t been home sence yistiddy mornin’.”
“Yer ain’t got no call ter say the Lord only knows, Penny Shackleford,” said Licia, without lifting her eyes from the fire, “seein’s I know ’bout ’s well as the Lord do.”
“Well, I say, Licia Teague, you air a cool ’un, you air” said the fat Mrs. Teague. “A body would ’low as mebbe you an’ the Lord was sorter in cahoot the way you let on, an’ you a j’iner, too; you oughter be ’shame ter talk thater way!”
“You air wastin’ yer breath. Miss Liz’beth,” said the girl, wdth the patience of utter indifference. “Yer mought need it termorrow, mebbe, when yer’ll likely see as the old ’un air none so daft after all.”
“The way that gal do let on beats my time,” said the nimble Penny, with a sniff of her sharp nose. “Likely you kin tell whether your Pa air dead or ’live, seeiu’ he have been gone so long.”
A groan from Mrs. Teague at the dubious suggestion made Licia lean forward and put her hand gently upon her step-mother’s stout arm.
“You air overly nimble with yer tongue. Penny Shackleford, but Bill Teague air all right. Miss Liz’beth,” she said, reassuringly. “He war ever one ter look out fer hisse’f.”
Whatever knowledge or suspicion she may have had, however, concerning her father’s whereabouts must not at least have been particularly reassuring, for it was with considerable uneasiness about him that she crept into bed beside Penny in the little back room by and by.
The one small narrow window in the close little room was just beside the girl’s head, and when the voice of the sleeping Penny rasped out its slumberous staccato Licia opened the wooden shutter and leaned her head against the broad sill, looking out into the night. Away up the mountain side, toward the Rift, an owl screeched its unwelcome plaint, and with a shiver, the girl stole from bed and crept softly through the open door into the next room, feeling with her hands upon the floor in the dark till she found one of Granny’s slippers by the bedside, and turned it upside down to break the spell of the ominous bird’s warning.
Even the turning of a slipper could not break the spell that hung over all the mountain. The spirit of the times imbued its tree-crowned fastnesses, and the smouldering fires of discontent, touched by the fuse of oppression, were bursting into flame.
The morning of the thirteenth came but tardily over the eastern hills, as if to defer the evil day. About the little cabins, all along the hillslopes, womenfolk went laggingly to their work, their hearts with the men who were making a struggle with destiny, their hopes with the issue of the day’s work.
Up the ridge at Tracey City the guards, worn and spent with nights of fruitless watching, moved sleepily to their accustomed duties within the stockade, or followed the restless, sullen convicts to the mines and the coke-ovens. At a small, uncovered table in the long, silent refectory Warden Stone sat eating his solitary breakfast. Through the open doorway he could see, now and then, one of the guards pass, his head bowed and his footsteps lagging; the sunlight, steamy with the recent mist, blazed in the dust of the bare yard and on the glaring, whitewashed barracks. The whole thing oppressed him. Deep down in his heart he understood and sympathized with the rebellion and discontent which he knew were lurking without the stockade’s high wall, but, honest man that he was, he had determined to protect to the utmost the interest of the men he represented. He put the knife and fork across his still unemptied plate and was leaving the table, when a brisk step without startled him.
“You are wanted at the gate, sir,” said the guard, in a hoarse, sleepy voice, turning at once to go.
As Stone went down the steps and into the yard a kitten, a pretty little black and white thing, ran out from the kitchen behind and rubbed itself about his feet. Without thinking, perhaps, he stooped and picked the little thing up and carried it in his arms to the gate.
“What do you want?” he asked of the miner, wdio stood without, waiting for him.
“Ter tell yer that the drivers an’ bosses have struck,” said the man, sullenly.
Stone stopped and put the kitten down into the dusty road, Avaitiug till he saw it run away over the broken slate dumps toward the town, then he turned, himself, and started to the nearest convict mine. As he came to the entrance of the cave the donkey cart passed out over the tramway, dumping its black load beside the track; within he could hear a muffled sound of singing, and now and then the sharp click of a pick.
“Yer better not go in thar, sir,” said the cartman, unhitching his mule.
“Why not?” asked Stone a little sharply, as he wheeled about.
The man only jerked his thumb over his shoulder without speaking, and with less of consternation than of surprise, perhaps, Stone saw a long line of men marching through the stockade gate.
“They air the free miners, sir” said the cartman, “an’ they mean mischief, they do.”
Stone pushed his soft felt hat down upon his head and ran rapidly up the slope to the stockade.
A group of miners came to the gate to meet him from within.
“We’uns air changed things up some’at in here, sir,” said one of them, touching his cap with his left hand; there was a gun in his right. “We’ll hafter hol’ yer guards fer a while yit, what few yer got here, but we don’t mean no harm ter you, ef yer’ll jes’ be easy. We’uns have stood erbout as much as we air gwineter; that’s all, sir. The men air movin’ the things out’n the offices thar; whenst they git th’ough we’uns air goin’ ter burn the stockade.”
“There’s no use in doing that, men,” began Stone.
“Use ernough,” said a big, heavy-browed man, stepping up beside the spokesman. “Mebbe yer know as I’m Bill Teague, sir, an’ ef yer do, yer likewise knows I mean what I say. We air free men, we air, an’ we aim ter be treated as sech. We air fightin’ fur bread an’ meat, an’ we fight ter win.” The men behind murmured their assent, and Teague went on. “Yer kin have yer jail birds by an’ by, an’ clear out’n here with ’em, but right now yer’ll hafter lay low whilst we’uns sen’s this here ol’ barracks to Kingdom Come.”
There was not long to wait. The dry, lime-coated barracks burned like tinder, the flames spreading with their own wind. An escort of the miners had loaded a train with the convicts and their guards, and as Stone stood on the rear platform of the receding coach he saw the little black-and-white stockade kitten come out of the station, rubbing itself against the facing of the door. Away off up the slope the fire blazed and flared, the smoke clouds blotting the sky.
At Cowan they met an up-going train, a special carrying a company of State troops to the relief of the Tracey City camp.
“You boys are too late,”said Stone to the officer in charge.
“Our orders were to go to Tracey,” said the Captain, stepping upon the car as the bell rang.
“God help them and bring them through all right,” said Stone a little sadly, as he shook himself into his seat and pulled his hat down over his eyes.
“Well, it seems there is nothing left for us to do but to follow the brilliant example of the King of France, and march down the hill again,” said the Captain, ruefully, when once they got up the mountain. “I have wired for return orders, and we shall have to wait here till they come.”
“In the meantime, I should like leave of absence for a few hours,” said a tall young Sergeant, who sat looking out of the window of the car.
“What’s the game, Mac? ”asked the Captain, with a laugh.
“Nothing,” said the young fellow, stretching his long limbs. “I used to live over there on that lower spur once, and I think I should like to take a look at the old land, that is all. I shall report on time, Captain.”
Up the slope the stockade smoked and burned, but the mines were silent and empty; the fires were out in the coke furnaces, and all was quiet in the little dirty town. The young man crossed the dusty road, and, dropping down the mountain side, was soon deep in the underbrush. The afternoon air was hot and stifling and dense from the smoking barracks, but he took of his close-fitting cap and unbuttoned the high collar of his coat.
“I wonder if Licia will know me,” he said softly under his breath; “little Licia Teague.”
He had stooped to break a frond of sweet fern that shot up in the path, when the cracking of a dry twig startled him, and he turned to find himself looking straight down the barrel of a pistol.
They were desperate looking men enough, the two who stood over him, but he was no coward. “What is it?” he asked, drawing himself up.
“Yes, that’s what we ’low, too; what is it?” said one of the men, without moving. “What do you’uns mean by comin’ here with them soljer clo’es on in these mountings? We air free men, we air, an’ we want no sech trundle-bed trash as you’uns pesterin’ ’roun’ here.”
“Why, Bill Teague,” said the young fellow, when the man was done; “don’t you know me?”
“Yes, I know yer well ernough, Dan’l McAlpine,” Teague answered. “I knowed yer mother afore yer; I’d know them eyes er Hester Levan’s ef yer’d drapped out’n heaven with ’em. She gin me the slip oncet, but my turn’s come now. We’uns air set-lin’ up many er ol’ score on the mountings this day, an’ I air ghid you happened erlong to git your shur.”
“What do you mean, man?” asked Dan, sharply.
“Likely yer’ll fin’ out,” Teague answered. “Yer know the way to the Rift ridge, don’t yer?”
“Yes,” said Dan.
“Well, strike a trot.”
“To the Rift?” asked Dan. “Why, man, that is miles away, and I must report at eight.”
“Well, you air a fresh ’un,” said Teague, with a grin. “Likely yer’ll take yer marehin’ orders funi me yit erwhile, though. Give us yer gun an’ lead on ter the Rift. Me an’ Aaron here’ll foller.”
How dear and familiar everything seemed to Dan in the little wooded trail up the mountain, and how sweet the air was when the sun had gone, and he passed beyond reach of the smoke fumes! By and by came the glorious afterglow, warming all the niisty valley and tipping the treetops wdth color, till silently out of the darkness shot the moon, playing hide-ansd-seek among the trees as he passed, and sifting in patches of silver on the path through the underbrush. How beautiful it all was to Dan, who loved it so, and how glad he was for the very joy of living!
The next morning heaven itself seemed to have bent down to touch the earth, or else some Titan’s hand held the hills aloft, Avaving their tree-plumes in the clouds. The mist was over all, subtle, illusive, entrancing, hiding sights familiar, and holding, perhaps, all that one hoped.
In the midst of it, with its dampness cooling her cheeks and curling the soft tendrils of hair about her brow, stood Licia, leaning against the fence with the milkpail in her hand. But the tinkling of the cowbell came faintly from the underbrush below, and within the little pen the still unawakened calf slept in satisfied comfort, unready for his morning’s meal. The air was sweet with the odor of the morning, and the green leaves bent down, heavy with the moisture they seemed to hold greedily.
Licia watched the little space about her grow gradually more and more as the mists crept slowly backward with the coming of the sun over the hilltops; yet across the gorge, high up on the Rift ridge, fended by the trees, they still lingered, wrapping fold on fold about the rocks, weaving pictures that grew and faded between the tree-bolls. But, besides the tree-trunks and the sprawling underbrush, what was it that the girl saw up there in the mist? What was it that seemed to make her heart stop beating as she stood there wide-eyed and startled in the early morning light? High up on the ridge, with the veil of cloud enwrapping them, she had seen the faint figures of a man and a woman that seemed to beckon to her with dim spirit hands as together they sank through the mist into the darkness.
“The wraiths o’ the Rift,” said Licia, with a shudder.
Even as she spoke the mists parted, and now quite plainly in the sunlight she saw the two men that seemed to scramble up from the very jaws of the earth there among the rocks, and who disappeared together over the ridge. Tall, stalwart fellows they were and clad in the loose, ill-fitting garb of the mountaineer; what could it mean? Stranger even than the wraiths that beckoned her seemed it to Licia to see these mountain men up there on the Rift ridge.
“Ha’nts’ groun’,” it had always been, this riven, rocky ledge, all circled about with stories, weird legends born of the mists perhaps, and full of the pathos that is ever found in the lore of a simple folk who live forever in the clouds. As the years passed these stories had grown with the telling, parodoxically waxing stronger as their age increased, till more and more the mountain people had come to shun the mist-wrapped ridge, with its narrow, broken ledge jutting far out over the wooded gorge.
“It war ever a God-fursaken place, the Rift ridge war,” Granny McDermot always said. “He air jes’ lef’ it to hants an’ sech, that bare ledge up thar ‘mongst the clouds, an’ folks as sense the workin’s er His onseen han’ knows He never rifted them rocks fur nothin’. It air onhallered groun’, that air, an’ nought but evil comes ter them as meddles with it. In His own good time the Lord’ll sen’ it all, piece by piece, down inter the darkness. That air a true word, fur two rifts I’ve knowed up thar in my day an’ time, an’ likely them as come afore me knowed more; I dunno, I dunno! Mebbe it war the fust ’un that come early in my day, but even then, howsom-ever, the place war kinder onmolested, an’ we’uns never heared er the Rift tell Ab Somers he foun’ it. Ab war a wild ’un, he war, an’ they do say he come here with a price erpun his head, but howsomever that may be, he gin’ly managed ter keep hisse’f skurce in the daytime, an’ oncet when the sheriff an’ his posse fum over the mountings yon way come hereabouts kinder still an’ sarchin’ like, Ab he warn’t no whar ter be foun’, an’ arter while, whenst he did turn up, he tol’ erbout the Rift ’crost the ledge up thar. Jes’ a narrow crack he said it war, cuttin’ the rocks crostwise fum the ridge, an’ they do say as how Ab oughter know, sence he had crope inter the Rift, er hidin’ tell the sheriff war out’n the way. Ab war a cute ’un, anyhow, he war, an’ purty ter look at, but somehow folks didn’t seem ter take ter him; leastways none but ’Riah Peddy. ’Spite er ever’thing, whatsomever a man may be, thar’s some woman some-whar fool ernough ter keer fur him; and sech er one war ’Riah. Wrastle with her how they mought, her Pa an’ Ma couldn’t ween her off’n Ab Somers, oncet she sot her head thater way. So we’uns warn’t ’sprised none whenst one mornin’ Ab an’ ’Riah war both gone; nobody knowed how nur whar. Arter ’while, tho’, folks comin’ fum down the cove thar ter the west’ard ’lowed that now an’ ergin, when the sun hung low, techin’ only on the high lan’s, they viewed sometimes a man an’ a woman up thar on the ridge, Ab an’ ’Riah mo’n likely hidin’ in the Rift. Howsomever, nobody have ever seed hair nur hide uv ’em fum that good day ter this, an’ thar’s reason ernough fur not seein’ ’em, too, sence ’twar ’long er that time the big herricance come, strippin’ the mountings an’ snappin’ down trees same as yer’d break off a witch-hazel switch fer a toothbrush. ’Twar that storm as opened the cl’arin’ thar overlookin’ the valley, an’ in the thick er the thunder an’ lightin’ we’uns here on the spurs heared a soun’ that echoed an’ viberated ’ginst the mounting side like the Day er Judgment come ter han’, and whenst it war all over we seen the Rift had parted, the overhangin’ ledge had fell, mo’n likely takin’ Ab an’ ’Riah erlong with it an’ buryin’ uv ’em furever down thar in the darkness ’mongst the trees.
“Howsomever, they have never been viewed theyse’ves sence the night er the leavin’, the’r ha’nts may be seen when the mist is white on the ridge, an’ the soun’ er the’r voices is heared tell yit when the winds wail in the gorge an’ scream ’roun’ them scarred an’ riven rocks up thar. But woe ter them as happens ter view the ha’nts, er hears po’ Ab an’ ’Riah screechin’ in the win’! Many er one thar be as have viewed the wraiths ter the’r sorrow, but ’long er the fust war little Millisy Mathis down ter the cove. One mornin’, whilst she war crostin’ the spur thar, her an’ her little brother Bud — him as runs the tanyard yonder ter the crost-roads — Millisy she chance ter turn her eyes twodes the Rift, kinder onbe-knowinst like, an’ way up thar in the mist she seen the wraiths uv Ab an’ ’Riah. Skurce turned ’er fifteen she war then, but afore the year war out the po’ chile scrambled up thar ter the Rift rock an’ slid down over the precipice ter hide a shame she daresn’t face.
“Prit nigh twenty years passed, with now an’ then some one nuther seein’ the ha’nts up thar on the ridge, an’ whosomever viewed ’em, bad luck war sho ter foller. ’Long er them days the purtiest gal in the mountings war Hester Levan. Whenst the trees is bare, acrost the gorge thar on the nex’ spur, you kin view the ol’ Levan cabin, empty these eight year, whar Hester lived. She war alius purty, Hester war, ef I do say it, an’ thar warn’t nair young man in all the mounting side as didn’t want her; but thar warn’t never but one that she ever seemed ter favor none. Howsomever, I ’lowed fum the fust she somehow helt her head too high fur sech as come fum hereabouts. Thar’s some folks as thinks the best uv everything comes fum far off, an’ Hester war thater way.”
Just who the favored of Hester’s fickle fancy might have been. Granny herself did not say, but upon the mountain side — the story ran, that back in the sixties, when Bill Teague left home with a gun on his shoulder — he carried with him Hester Levan’s promised word. Be that as it may, however, certain it is that he found no bride awaiting him when the war was over and he came home.
“The misfort’n all come er Hester’s viewin’ the ha’nts o’ the Rift,” Granny always said.” One morin’ early, soon arter the boys war mostly gone off in the army, Hester ’lowed she viewed Ab an’ ’Riali plain as day up thar on the rocks, wavin’ an’ beck’nin’ ter her out’n the mist. Somehow, nuther, it never seem ter pester her none; she’s alius so pyert, Hester war, an’ us’n ter do as she please. Even when thar never come no news er the boys, an’ ever’body was pestered some, ’specially them as had men gone in the army, Hester she didn’t seem ter keer much. It war mighty little we’uns beared, too, in them days, sho’. ’Twas all so fur ’way, the war was; even Chicamauga an’ Missionary Ridge didn’t seem ter be nigh ernough ter hurt much. It was only when one er the boys ’ud come stragglin’ back with a arm er a leg lef’ behin’ in the valle er sometimes whenst the raiders dashed over the mountings that we’uns heared tell er the war. ’Longerbout the time Hester Levan viewed the ha’nts, Gin’l Forrest an’ his men clum’ up the mountings, thar under the Point, ter the south’ard an’ swep’ over the ridge. The evenin’ er that same day, jes’ as the sun settled twixt them two ridges over thar crost the valley, Hester Levan, er trapsin’ th’ough the underbresh lookin’ fur her ol’ muley that was over late er comin’ ter the cow-pen, looked up crost the gorge an’ seen on the Rift ridge thar the figer uv a man ’ginst the sky. So plain she viewed him tell she knowed him ter be a soljer, an’ whilst she still looked she seen him drap out er sight as ef the earth had opened an’ swallowed him up. She war ever a cute ’un, Hester war, an’ skeered er nothin’; so jest’ leavin’ the cow ter git home in her own good time, she sot the milk-pail down by the spring an’ sayin’ naught ter no one, she clum’ up the ridge thar tell she come ter the very top whar she’d viewed the man. Then she seen what we’uns hadn’t s’picioned afore, that a new Rift was openin’ in the rocks. ’Twar inter this the man had slipped — Mc-Alpine his name war. Major McAlpine — an’ Hester foun’ him a’ most dead with w’ariness an’ outdone with pain, sence he’d broke his leg whenst he fell, an’ was jes’ hangin’ thar ter the sides er the Rift. They do say that fum the time Hester seen him hangin’ thar she had heart nur thought fur no man else in all the worl’. Howsomever that may be, leastways she did have him tuck down ter the cabin crost thar, whar her an’ ol’ Miss Levan, Hester’s ma what uster be, they nussed him back ter health an’ strenk, an’ arter while, whenst he lef’, Hester went ’long, too, as his wife.”
“But that warn’t bad luck. Granny,” Licia had said, romantic little soul that she was, when the old woman told her the story long ago.
“Wait an’ see, wait an’ see, chile,” Granny had said. “Misfortin’s sho ter foller them as views the ha’nts o’ the Rift ridge.”
“Misfortin’ ernough to a married a valley man,” Bill Teague had said, when he came home to find no bride awaiting him. It was not till long afterwards that he consoled himself with Granny’s pretty granddaughter, the sweet, young thing, who was Licia’s mother, and who had died when the girl was born.
It was of all this that Licia was thinking as she stood there in the early morning and saw the wraiths o’ the Rift beckoning to her in the mists. Would they bring ill-luck to her, she wondered, or, perhaps, the fate that had come to Hester Levan?
Then she thought of something else, this slim, young maiden with her head in the clouds. There seemed to come to her a vision of a lonely little girl, scarce more than a wide-eyed, curly-haired toddler, who had sat on the cold stones under the trees, looking across the gorge at the blue smoke swirling up from the Levan cabin, and wondering what they were doing over there, the woman — widowed now — who had found her love in the Rift so long ago, and the child whom she had brought back with her to the mountains. She remembered, too, that as the little girl had sat dreaming there had come scrambling up under the rocks through the underbrush, a boy with a russet light in his rough, curling hair, and a glow of color in all his sunburnt face. Licia remembered how brightly his eyes had shone when he saw her, this young Dan McAlpine, Hester Levan’s son, and how his clear voice had echoed on the mountain side. What a glad day that had been to her, and afterwards! It seemed to Licia that she remembered everything; the little windmill he had set for her, where the water gurgled over the stones beneath the laurel; the snares for birds, which he had made among the underbrush; the whistles he had turned for her eager lips, and the songs he taught her to sing till the echo of them came back to her in her shrill child’s voice across the years. She could smell again the odor of the sweet fern that he brought back with him from the Rift, when he had scrambled up there once, and hear his laugh as he called to her to look at him standing high on the ledge, while she hid her eyes lest they should see him going down into the darkness. But better than all, perhaps, she remembered the day, eight years ago now, when Dan came to tell her goodby; his father’s people had sent for them, and he and his mother were going back to the valley again. Licia was only a slim little thing of ten then, and Dan had taken her tearful face in his two hands and kissed it.
“Don’t cry, dear; don’t cry,” he had said, gently. “Some day I shall come back and take you away, just as father did mother long ago. Don’t cry, and don’t forget.”
Not to cry, that had been hard, but not to forget?
Ah, me! Do women ever forget — women, who remember with their hearts? Had she forgotten, she who had waited through the years? Did she forget when she saw the wraiths beckoning to her in the mist? Was it a premonition of evil that made her heart cease to beat when she saw the men scramble up out of the Rift on the “ha’nts’ ground?”
Bill Teague, riding up through the trees, into the little rocky trail that led from the gorge below, drew rein sharply when he saw the girl still leaning upon the fence overlooking the road.
“You air up early,” he said shortly. It was a saying common among the mountain people that Teague’s daughter was “too cute fur him.” “Bill air too darn ’cute hisse’f’ ter stomach his wimmin folks knowin’ as much as he do,” they said.
Be that as it may, certain it is that of late since Teague had taken to consorting with men who were sometimes found doing deeds not the most irreproachable, there had seemed to spring up a kind of antagonism between him and his daughter. Her clear blue eyes seemed to pierce him through and through, and it did not please him.
“It air better ter be up early than late, I’m thinkin’,” she said now, watching his heavy, slouching figure, as he led the foam-flecked sorrel through the little creaking gate.
The noise disturbed a rooster that had been surprised into tardiness by the belated daylight, and the big bird stretehed his damp wings up overhead in the spreading chestnut, his shrill voice echoing loudly on the mountain side. The awakened calf lifted up his young voice pleadingly, and the mother mooed back coming consolation from the under-brush below; hens, noisy with their infant broods clucked and peeped in the wet grass, busy with the work of living. The day was begun, and Licia turned to its customary duties.
When she went into the house, Granny was already up and in her corner by the hearth. Penny Shackleford was laying the table, the dishes clattering noisily in her nimble finger. Upon a low stool before the blazing fire Mrs. Teague sat, looking now and then at the crusty pones of corn-bread that crisped and browned in the oven before her, or turning the slices of odorous bacon that writhed and sputtered in their exuberant grease in the skillet on the coals.
“The Fort up ter Tracy burn yistiddy,” said Teague, by and by. He had poured his smoking coffee into the saucer, and now stooped forward to blow upon it.
“We’uns viewed it,” said Penny Shackleford, who was always ready to talk, even to her taciturn brother-in-law.” We went up ter the cl’arin’, time we seen the smoke, er skinnin’ t’hough the underbresh like catamounts, an’ every step, I fetched a scream.”
In the mind of the nimble Penny there seemed to belong some peculiar merit in the “fetching” of this scream of hers, for she will tell about it with evident relish to this day.
“The old’un had a vision the night afore,” said Mrs. Teague in a subdued whisper, glancing over her shoulder at the dozing old woman. “She ’lowed as how evil would come ter them as lighted the fire.”
Teague threw up his head, and looked across the room sharply at the silent, drowsing old woman. “The old ’un air ’cute,” he said, after a pause, as he resumed his eating, “but she don’t sense ever’thing. We’uns war too clost pressed: ’twar agin natur’ ter s’pose we’d stan’ ever’thing. What with capital er grindin’ an’ er squeezin’ an’ the convicts er doin’ mo’ an’ mo’ ever’ year we’uns was bleeged ter turn. It air agin’ natur’ fur capital ter git ever’thing an’ labor nothin’.”
Just what Mrs. Teague comprehended by all this I shall not venture to say, but it seems probable that she conceived within the inner recesses of her unconvoluted brain the absorbing idea that Capital was a hard-fisted individual whose antics at the best of times was not to be depended upon, for she said quite calmly: “S’posin’ Capital was ter inform, an’ turn the law on the miners.”
“Inform an’ turn the law?” said Teague, with an unpleasant laugh. “Things have got past the law. Troops fum Nashville an’ Chattanoogy come up las’ night. Happen they’ll fin’ the mountings none so easy ter level. Them as sent trundle-bed soljers to molest hill men mebbe’ll live ter see naught but the leavin’s uv ’em some’ars in the mountings onsuspected.”
Licia looked up quickly as her father pushed his chair from the table, and left the house. Through the open door-way she watched him busily making preparations for departure, and waited till the rawboned sorrel disappeared with him over the ridge.
The early sun was still low in the eastern sky when with quick, free step Licia swung herself down the slope that led to the gorge beneath the Rift ridge.
Above her head great gnarled oaks, scarred with the storm of years, stretched their scraggy branches, and giant chestnuts spread their big leaves, and shook their full green burrs. The sunlight stole through the branches of the red-bud, and showed now and then in some sheltered corner a belated rhododendron flower, fresh and sweet. Blackberry vines with their beaded fruit and starry-white blossoms tangled the way, and on either side a glory of golden-rod and iron-weed waved their yellow and purple plumes in perpetual defiance. Tiny orchids shot up ever and anon; little “monkey-flowers” with queer squint eyes peeped up from the wet grass. Everywhere slim-necked sun-flowers held aloft their black heads, golden-crowned and glorious, and ferns sent their toothed fronds or trailed in graceful maiden hair over the moss-covered stones. The very air was sweet with the breath of flower-laden morn, and now and then from some shaded ledge, the startled leaves shook down their hoarded moisture shower-like, as Licia passed, while small wild fowls, shy and full-throated, made melody in the tree-tops.
How sweet it all was! Yet the girl passed through like one in a dream, the fear in her heart growing more and more as she came nearer and nearer to the “ha’nts’ groun.”
When at length she had climbed up under the ledge, she stood upon the jutting rocks, awed and fearful. About the Rift’s mouth there were tracks in the loose earth, and on the damp grass, but within, as she peered over, all was dark and still. Still it seemed, but not quite silent. Was it only the sighing of the wind through the fern-fronds, or did she hear the wraiths moaning in the darkness below?
Following the line of the cleft, Licia came to the cliff’s edge, and kneeling down and clinging to the jutting stones and springing shrubs, she scrambled over to a narrow ledge or shelf, six or eight feet below. Pressing close to the rocks, and still clinging to the branches she might look straight into the Rift’s perpendicular opening. Hers must have been, at best, a dangerous foothold; but it seemed that some higher sense, that was neither instinct nor reason, guided her. Meanwhile, the great white sun had swung round over the hilltops, and now there shot from it one long, narrow beam that pierced the Rift’s darkness, dancing and quivering on the rough stones and through the waving ferns till it showed there within the cavernous depths, crushed and broken with its fall, the poor bruised body of a man. The sun beam kissed into gold the loose curls that had escaped from the little soldier’s cap, and shone pityfully upon the wide visionless eyes. Without at the Rift’s mouth, the girl felt the wild beating of her hopeless heart and saw the light go out of her life. It was thus that Dan had came back to her.
Though Granny McDermot did not live to see the fulfillment of her prophecy, Bill Teague and Aaron Bennet have expiated with their own lives the crime of the Rift ridge, and the law is satisfied: but across the gorge, at the old Levan cabin where the mist is white on the mountains, two women, weary and sad-eyed, tell out their desolate days, united by the kinship of a common love and a common grief.
Text prepared by:
Spring 2017 Group
- Drew Caldwell
- Jordan Sanders
- Robert VanHoy
Summer 2017 Group:
- Daniel Culp
- Mackenzi Miller
- August Vidacovich
Fall 2017 Group:
- Roy Bougere
- Jonathan Jordan
- Bruce R. Magee
- Gaston Richardson
Egan, Lavinia Hartwell. “The Legend of the Rift.” A Bundle of Faggots. Franklin, Ohio: The Editor Publishing Co., 1895. 7-30. Internet Archive. Web. 21 Feb. 2018. <https:// archive.org/ details/ bundleof fagots00egan>.