The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, страница 1
Produced by Mary Starr and Martin Robb. HTML version by Al Haines.
THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME
JOHN FOX, JR.
To CURRIE DUKE DAUGHTER OF THE CHIEF AMONG MORGAN'S MEN
KENTUCKY, APRIL, 1898
1. TWO RUNAWAYS FROM LONESOME 2. FIGHTING THEIR WAY 3. A "BLAB SCHOOL" ON KINGDOM COME 4. THE COMING OF THE TIDE 5. OUT OF THE WILDERNESS 6. LOST AT THE CAPITAL 7. A FRIEND ON THE ROAD 8. HOME WITH THE MAJOR 9. MARGARET 10. THE BLUEGRASS 11. A TOURNAMENT 12. BACK TO KINGDOM COME 13. ON TRIAL FOR HIS LIFE 14. THE MAJOR IN THE MOUNTAINS 15. TO COLLEGE IN THE BLUEGRASS 16. AGAIN THE BAR SINISTER 17. CHADWICK BUFORD, GENTLEMAN 18. THE SPIRIT OF '76 AND THE SHADOW OF '61 19. THE BLUE OR THE GRAY 20. OFF TO THE WAR 21. MELISSA 22. MORGAN'S MEN 23. CHAD CAPTURES AN OLD FRIEND 24. A RACE BETWEEN DIXIE AND DAWN 25. AFTER DAWS DILLON--GUERILLA 26. BROTHER AGAINST BROTHER AT LAST 27. AT THE HOSPITAL OF MORGAN'S MEN 28. PALL-BEARERS OF THE LOST CAUSE 29. MELISSA AND MARGARET 30. PEACE 31. THE WESTWARD WAY
THE LITTLE SHEPHERD OF KINGDOM COME
TWO RUNAWAYS FROM LONESOME
The days of that April had been days of mist and rain. Sometimes, forhours, there would come a miracle of blue sky, white cloud, and yellowlight, but always between dark and dark the rain would fall and themist creep up the mountains and steam from the tops--only to rolltogether from either range, drip back into the valleys, and lift,straightway, as mist again. So that, all the while Nature was trying togive lustier life to every living thing in the lowland Bluegrass, allthe while a gaunt skeleton was stalking down the Cumberland--tappingwith fleshless knuckles, now at some unlovely cottage of faded whiteand green, and now at a log cabin, stark and gray. Passing the mouth ofLonesome, he flashed his scythe into its unlifting shadows and wentstalking on. High up, at the source of the dismal little stream, thepoint of the shining blade darted thrice into the open door of a cabinset deep into a shaggy flank of Black Mountain, and three spirits,within, were quickly loosed from aching flesh for the long flight intothe unknown.
It was the spirit of the plague that passed, taking with it the breathof the unlucky and the unfit: and in the hut on Lonesome three weredead--a gaunt mountaineer, a gaunt daughter, and a gaunt son. Later,the mother, too, "jes' kind o' got tired," as little Chad said, andsoon to her worn hands and feet came the well-earned rest. Nobody wasleft then but Chad and Jack, and Jack was a dog with a belly to feedand went for less than nothing with everybody but his little master andthe chance mountaineer who had sheep to guard. So, for the fourth time,Chad, with Jack at his heels, trudged up to the point of a wooded spurabove the cabin, where, at the foot of a giant poplar and under awilderness of shaking June leaves, were three piles of rough boards,loosely covering three hillocks of rain-beaten earth; and, near them,an open grave. There was no service sung or spoken over the dead, forthe circuit-rider was then months away; so, unnoticed, Chad stoodbehind the big poplar, watching the neighbors gently let down into theshallow trench a home-made coffin, rudely hollowed from the half of abee-gum log, and, unnoticed, slipped away at the first muffled strokeof the dirt--doubling his fists into his eyes and stumbling against thegnarled bodies of laurel and rhododendron until, out in a clear sunnyspace, he dropped on a thick, velvet mat of moss and sobbed himself tosleep. When he awoke, Jack was licking his face and he sat up, dazedand yawning. The sun was dropping fast, the ravines were filling withblue shadows, luminous and misty, and a far drowsy tinkling from thevalley told him that cows were starting homeward. From habit, he sprangquickly to his feet, but, sharply conscious on a sudden, dropped slowlyback to the moss again, while Jack, who had started down the spur,circled back to see what the matter was, and stood with uplifted foot,much puzzled.
There had been a consultation about Chad early that morning among theneighbors, and old Nathan Cherry, who lived over on Stone Creek, in thenext cove but one, said that he would take charge of the boy. Nathandid not wait for the burial, but went back home for his wagon, leavingword that Chad was to stay all night with a neighbor and meet him atthe death-stricken cabin an hour by sun. The old man meant to have Chadbound to him for seven years by law--the boy had been told that--andNathan hated dogs as much as Chad hated Nathan. So the lad did not lielong. He did not mean to be bound out, nor to have Jack mistreated, andhe rose quickly and Jack sprang before him down the rocky path andtoward the hut that had been a home to both. Under the poplar, Jacksniffed curiously at the new-made grave, and Chad called him away sosharply that Jack's tail drooped and he crept toward his master, asthough to ask pardon for a fault of which he was not conscious. For onemoment, Chad stood looking. Again the stroke of the falling earth smotehis ears and his eyes filled; a curious pain caught him by the throatand he passed on, whistling--down into the shadows below to the opendoor of the cabin.
It was deathly still. The homespun bedclothes and hand-made quilts ofbrilliant colors had been thrown in a heap on one of the two beds ofhickory withes; the kitchen utensils--a crane and a few pots andpans--had been piled on the hearth, along with strings of herbs andbeans and red pepper-pods--all ready for old Nathan when he should comeover for them, next morning, with his wagon. Not a living thing was tobe heard or seen that suggested human life, and Chad sat down in thedeepening loneliness, watching the shadows rise up the green walls thatbound him in, and wondering what he should do, and where he should go,if he was not to go to old Nathan; while Jack, who seemed to know thatsome crisis was come, settled on his haunches a little way off, towait, with perfect faith and patience, for the boy to make up his mind.
It was the first time, perhaps, that Chad had ever thought veryseriously about himself, or wondered who he was, or whence he had come.Digging back into his memory as far as he could, it seemed to him thatwhat had just happened now had happened to him once before, and that hehad simply wandered away. He could not recollect where he had startedfrom first, but he could recall many of the places where he had lived,and why he had left them--usually because somebody, like old Nathan,had wanted to have him bound out, or had misused Jack, or would not letthe two stray off into the woods together, when there was nothing elseto be done. He had stayed longest where he was now, because the old manand his son and his girl had all taken a great fancy to Jack, and hadlet the two guard cattle in the mountains and drive sheep and, if theystayed out in the woods over night, struck neither a stroke of hand nortongue. The old mother had been his mother and, once more, Chad leanedhis head against the worn lintel and wept silently. So far, nobody hadseemed to care particularly who he was, or was not--nor had Chad. Mostpeople were very kind to him, looking upon him as one of the wanderingwaifs that one finds throughout the Cumberland, upon whom the goodfolks of the mountains do not visit the father's sin. He knew what hewas thought to be, and it mattered so little, since it made nodiscrimination against him, that he had accepted it without question.It did not matter now, except as it bore on the question as to where heshould start his feet. It was a long time for him to have stayed in oneplace, and the roving memories, stirred within him now, took root,doubtless, in the restless spirit that had led his unknown ancestorinto those mountain wilds after the Revolution.
All this while he had been sitting on the low threshold, with hiselbows in the hollows of his thighs and his left hand across his mouth.Once more, he meant to be bound to no man's service and, at the finalthought of losing Jack, the liberty loving little tramp spat over hishand with sharp decision and rose.
Just above him and across the buck antlers over the door, lay a longflint-lock rifle; a bullet-pouch, a powder-horn, and a smallraccoon-skin haversack hung from one of the pron
"Uncle Jim said once he aimed to give this rifle gun to me. Mebbe hewas foolin', but I don't believe he owed ole Nathan so much, an',anyways," he muttered grimly, "I reckon Uncle Jim ud kind o' like ferme to git the better of that ole devil--jes a LEETLE, anyways."
The rifle, he knew, was always loaded, there was not much powder in thehorn and there were not more than a dozen bullets in the pouch, butthey would last him until he could get far away. No more would he take,however, than what he thought he could get along with--one blanket fromthe bed and, from the fireplace, a little bacon and a pone ofcorn-bread.
"An' I KNOW Aunt Jane wouldn't 'a' keered about these leetle fixin's,fer I have to have 'em, an' I know I've earned 'em anyways."
Then he closed the door softly on the spirits of the dead within, andcaught the short, deer skin latch-string to the wooden pin outside.With his Barlow knife, he swiftly stripped a bark string from a pawpawbush near by, folded and tied his blanket, and was swinging the littlepack to his shoulder, when the tinkle of a cow-bell came through thebushes, close at hand. Old Nance, lean and pied, was coming home; hehad forgotten her, it was getting late, and he was anxious to leave forfear some neighbor might come; but there was no one to milk and, whenshe drew near with a low moo, he saw that her udders were full anddripping. It would hurt her to go unmilked, so Chad put his things downand took up a cedar piggin from a shelf outside the cabin and did thetask thoroughly--putting the strippings in a cup and, so strong was thehabit in him, hurrying with both to the rude spring-house and settingthem in cool running water. A moment more and he had his pack and hisrifle on one shoulder and was climbing the fence at the wood-pile.There he stopped once more with a sudden thought, and wrenching loose ashort axe from the face of a hickory log, staggered under the weight ofhis weapons up the mountain. The sun was yet an hour high and, on thespur, he leaned his rifle against the big poplar and set to work withhis axe on a sapling close by--talking frankly now to the God who madehim:
"I reckon You know it, but I'm a-goin' to run away now. I hain't got nodaddy an' no mammy, an' I hain't never had none as I knows--but AuntJane hyeh--she's been jes' like a mother to me an' I'm a-doin' fer herjes' whut I wish You'd have somebody do fer my mother, ef You know wharshe's a-layin'."
Eight round sticks he cut swiftly--four long and four short--and withthese he built a low pen, as is the custom of the mountaineers, closeabout the fresh mound, and, borrowing a board or two from each of theother mounds, covered the grave from the rain. Then he sunk the axeinto the trunk of the great poplar as high up as he could reach--sothat it could easily be seen--and brushing the sweat from his face, heknelt down:
"God!" he said, simply, "I hain't nothin' but a boy, but I got to acklike a man now. I'm a-goin' now. I don't believe You keer much andseems like I bring ever'body bad luck: an' I'm a-goin' to live up hyehon the mountain jes' as long as I can. I don't want you to think I'ma-complainin'--fer I ain't. Only hit does seem sort o' curious thatYou'd let me be down hyah--with me a-keerint fer nobody now, an' nobodya-keerin' fer me. But Thy ways is inscrutable--leastwise, that's whutthe circuit-rider says--an' I ain't got a word more to say--Amen."
Chad rose then and Jack, who had sat perfectly still, with his headcocked to one side, and his ears straight forward in wonder over thisstrange proceeding, sprang into the air, when Chad picked up his gun,and, with a joyful bark, circled a clump of bushes and sped back,leaping as high as the little fellow's head and trying to lick hisface--for Jack was a rover, too.
The sun was low when the two waifs turned their backs upon it, and theblue shadows in valley and ravine were darkening fast. Down the spurthey went swiftly--across the river and up the slope of Pine Mountain.As they climbed, Chad heard the last faint sound of a cow-bell farbelow him and he stopped short, with a lump in his throat that hurt.Soon darkness fell, and, on the very top, the boy made a fire with hisflint and steel, cooked a little bacon, warmed his corn-pone, munchedthem and, wrapping his blanket around him and letting Jack curl intothe hollow of his legs and stomach, turned his face to the kindly starsand went to sleep.