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THE BLIGHT IN THE HILLS am among them. She began early, regard
less of age, sex or previous condition of serI
vitude—she continues recklessly as she
began-and none makes complaint. Thus IGH noon of a crisp October was it in her own world—thus it was when day, sunshine flooding the she came to mine. On the way down from earth with the warmth and the North, the conductor's voice changed light of old wine and, going from a command to a request when he asked single-file up through the for her ticket. The jacketed lord of the din
jagged gap that the dripping ing car saw her from afar and advanced to of water has worn down through the Cum- show her to a seat—that she might ride forberland Mountains from crest to valley- ward, sit next to a shaded window and be level, a gray horse and two big mules, a man free from the glare of the sun on the other and two young girls. On the gray horse, I side. Two porters made a rush for her bag led the tortuous way. After me came my when she got off the car and the proprietor small sister-and after her and like her, of the little hotel in the little town where we mule-back, rode the Blight-dressed as she had to wait several hours for the train into would be for a gallop in Central Park or to the mountains, gave her the bridal chamber ride a hunter in a horse show.
for an afternoon nap. From this little town I was taking them, according to promise, to “The Gap” is the worst sixty-mile ride, where the feet of other women than moun- perhaps, in the world. She sat in a dirty taineers had never trod-beyond the crest day-coach; the smoke rolled in at the winof the Big Black-to the waters of the Cum- dows and doors; the cars shook and swayed berland—the lair of moonshiner and feuds- and lumbered around curves and down and man, where is yet pocketed a civilization up gorges; there were about her rough men, that, elsewhere, is long ago gone. This had crying children, slatternly women, tobacco been a pet dream of the Blight's for a long juice, peanuts, popcorn and apple cores, but time, and now the dream was coming true. dainty, serene and as merry as ever, she sat The Blight was in the hills.
through that ride with a radiant smile, her
keen black eyes noting everything unlovely Nobody ever went to her mother's house within and the glory of hill, tree and chasm without asking to see her even when she without. Next morning at home, where we was a little thing with black hair, merry rise early, no one was allowed to waken her face and black eyes. Both men and women, and she had breakfast in bed—for the with children of their own, have told me Blight's gentle tyranny was established on that she was, perhaps, the most fascinating sight and varied not at the Gap. child that ever lived. There be some who When she went down the street that day claim that she has never changed-and I everybody stared surreptitiously and with
Copyright, 1906, by Charles Scribner's Sons. All rights reserved.
perfect respect, as her dainty black-plumed face calmed magically and he, too, stared at figure passed; the Post-office clerk could her, and turned away with an oath checked barely bring himself to say that there was at his lips. We went on the Blight thrilled, no letter for her. The soda-fountain boy for she had heard much of our volunteer nearly filled her glass with syrup before he force at the Gap and had seen something saw that he was not strictly minding his own already. Presently I looked back. Prisoner business; the clerk, when I bought choco- and captors were climbing the little hill late for her, unblushingly added extra weight towards the calaboose and the mountain boy and, as we went back, she met them both just then turned his head and I could swear Marston, theyoung engineerfrom the North, that his eyes sought not the engineer, whom crossing the street and, at the same mo we left at the corner, but, like the engineer, ment, a drunken young tough with an in- he was looking at the Blight. Whereat I furiated face reeling in a run around the did not wonder-particularly as to the encorner ahead of us as though he were gineer. He had been in the mountains for a being pursued. Now we have a volunteer long time and I knew what this vision from police guard some forty strong at the Gap home meant to him. He turned up at the -and from habit, I started for him, but house quite early that night. the Blight caught my arm tight. The “I'm not on duty until eleven," he said young engineer in three strides had reached hesitantly, “and I thought I'dthe curb-stone and all he sternly said was: “Come right in.” “Here! Here!”
I asked him a few questions about busiThe drunken youth wheeled and his right ness and then I left him and the Blight hand shot towards his hip pocket. The en- alone. When I came back she had a Gatgineer was belted with a pistol, but with one ling gun of eager questions ranged on him lightning movement and an incredibly long and–happy withal-he was squirming no reach, his right fist caught the fellow's jaw little. I followed him to the gate. so that he pitched backward and collapsed "Are you really going over into those like an empty bag. Then the engineer God-forsaken mountains ?” he asked. caught sight of the Blight's bewildered face, “I thought I would.” flushed, gripped his hands in front of him “And you are going to take her?” and simply stared. At last he saw me: “And my sister.”
"Oh," he said, “how do you do?” and “Oh, I beg your pardon.” He strode he turned to his prisoner, but the panting away. sergeant and another policeman-also a “Coming up by the mines ?” he called volunteer-were already lifting him to his back. feet. I introduced the boy and the Blight "Perhaps—will you show us around?” then, and for the first time in my life I saw "I guess I will,” he said emphatically, the Blight-shaken. Round-eyed, she and he went on to risk his neck on a tenmerely gazed at him.
mile ride along a mountain road in the dark. “That was pretty well done,” I said. “I like a man,” said the Blight. "I like
“Oh, he was drunk and I knew he would a man.” be slow.” Now something curious hap Of course the Blight must see everypened. The dazed prisoner was on his feet, thing, so she insisted on going to the poand his captors were starting with him to lice court next morning for the trial of the the calaboose when he seemed suddenly to mountain boy. The boy was in the witness come to his senses.
chair when we got there, and the Hon. Sam"Jes wait a minute, will ye?” he said uel Budd was his counsel. He had volunquietly, and his captors, thinking perhaps teered to defend the prisoner, I was soon that he wanted to say something to me, told, and then I understood. The Novemstopped. The mountain youth turned a ber election was not far off and the Hon. strangely sobered face and fixed his blue Samuel Budd was candidate for legislature. eyes on the engineer as though he were sear- More even, the boy's father was a warm ing every feature of that imperturbable supporter of Mr. Budd and the boy himself young man in his brain forever. It was not might perhaps render good service in the a bad face, but the avenging hatred in it was cause when the time cameras indeed he fearful. Then he, too, saw the Blight, his did. one of the front chairs sat the
young engineer and it was a question has, if he had known what he knows now, whether he or the prisoner saw the Blight's and, knowing, he will not repeat the offence. black plumes first. The eyes of both I need say no more. I plead simply that your flashed towards her simultaneously, the Honor will temper the justice that is only engineer colored perceptibly and the moun- yours with the mercy that is yours-only.” tain boy stopped short in speech and his His Honor was visibly affected and to pallid face fushed with unmistakable cover it—his methods being informal—he shame. Then he went on: “He had said with sharp irrelevancy: liquered up,” he said, “and had got tight “Who bailed this young feller out last afore he knowed it and he didn't mean no night?” The sergeant spoke: harm and had never been arrested afore in “Why Mr. Marston thar”—with outhis whole life.”
stretched finger towards the young engineer. “Have you ever been drunk before?” The Blight's black eyes leaped with exultasked the prosecuting attorney severely. ant appreciation and the engineer turned The lad looked surprised.
crimson. His Honcr rolled his quid around “Cos'e I have, but I ain't goin' to aginin his mouth once, and peered over his leastwise not in this here town.” There was glasses: a general laugh at this and the aged mayor "I fine this young feller two dollars and rapped loudly.
costs." The young fellow had turned slowly “That will do,” said the attorney. in his chair and his blue eyes blazed at the
The lad stepped down, hitched his chair engineer with unappeasable hatred. I doubt slightly so that his back was to the Blight, if he had heard his Honor's voice. sank down in it until his head rested on “I want ye to know that I'm obleeged to the back of the chair and crossed his legs. ye an’ I ain't a-goin' to fergit it: but if I'd The Hon. Samuel Budd arose and the a'known hit was you I'd a stayed in jail an' Blight looked at him with wonder. His seen you in hell afore I'd a been bounden to long yellow hair was parted in the middle ye.” and brushed with plaster-like precision be- “Ten dollars fer contempt of couht.” hind two enormous ears, he wore spectacles, The boy was hot now. gold-rimmed and with great staring lenses, “Oh, fine and be," the Hon. Samuel and his face was smooth and ageless. He Budd had him by the shoulder, the boy caressed his chin ruminatingly and rolled his swallowed his voice and his starting tears lips until they settled into a fine resultant of rage, and after a whisper to his Honor, of wisdom, patience, toleration and firm- the Hon. Samuel led him out. Outside, the ness. His manner was profound and his engineer laughed to the Blight: voice oily and soothing.
“Pretty peppery, isn't he?” but the "May it please your Honor-my young Blight said nothing, and later we saw the friend frankly pleads guilty,” he paused as youth on a gray horse crossing the bridge though the majesty of the law could ask no and conducted by the Hon. Samuel Budd, more. “He is a young man of naturally who stopped and waved him towards the high and somewhat-naturally, too, no mountains. The boy went on and across doubt-bibulous spirits. Homeopathically the plateau, the gray Gap swallowed him. -if inversely—the result was logical. In That night, at the post-office, the Hon. the untrammelled life of the liberty-breath- Sam plucked me aside by the sleeve. ing mountains, where the stern spirit of law “I know Marston is agin me in this race and order, of which your Honor is the au- —but I'll do him a good turn just the gust symbol, does not prevail as it does here same. You tell him to watch out for that -thanks to your Honor's wise and just dis- young fellow. He's all right when he's pensations—the lad has, I may say, natur- sober, but when he's drunk-well
, over ally acquired a certain recklessness of mood in Kentucky, they call him the Wild Dog.” -indulgence which, however easily condoned there, must here be sternly rebuked. Several days later we started out through At the same time, he knew not the condi- that same Gap. The glum stableman looked tions here, he became exhilarated without at the Blight's girths three times, and with malice, prepensey or even, I may say, con- my own eyes starting and my heart in my sciousness. He would not have done as he mouth, I saw her pass behind her sixteen