away at dusk. That night his house was searched by men masked
and armed. The Lewallens were in town, and were ready to fight.
The crisis had come.
BACK at the mill old Gabe was troubled. Usually he sat in a
cane-bottomed chair near the hopper, whittling, while the lad
tended the mill, and took pay in an oaken toll-dish smooth with the
use of half a century. But the incident across the river that morning
had made the old man uneasy, and he moved restlessly from his
chair to the door, and back again, while the boy watched him,
wondering what the matter was, but asking no questions. At noon
an old mountaineer rode by, and the miller hailed him.
"Any news in town?" he asked.
"Hain't been to town. Reckon fightin' 's goin' on thar from whut I
heerd." The careless, high-pitched answer brought the boy with
wide eyes to the door.
Whut d'ye hear? " asked Gabe. Jes heerd fightin' 's goin' on!
Then every man who came for his meal brought a wild rumor from
town, and the old miller moved his chair to the door, and sat there
whittling fast, and looking anxiously toward Hazlan. The boy was
in a fever of unrest, and old Gabe could hardly keep him in the
mill. In the middle of the afternoon the report of a rifle came
down the river, breaking into echoes against the cliffs below, and
Isom ran out the door, and stood listening for another, with an odd
contradiction of fear and delight on his eager face. In a few
moments Rome Stetson galloped into sight, and, with a shrill cry
of relief, the boy ran down the road to meet him, and ran back,
holding by a stirrup. Young Stetson's face was black with passion,
and his eyes were heavy with drink. At the door of the mill he
swung from his horse, and for a moment was hardly able to speak
from rage. There had been no fight. The Stetsons were few and
unprepared. They had neither the guns nor, without Rufe, the
means to open the war, and they believed Rufe had gone for arms.
So they had chafed in the store all day, and all day Lewallens on
horseback and on foot were in sight; and each was a taunt to every
Stetson, and, few as they were, the young and hot-headed wanted
to go out and fight. In the afternoon a tale-bearer had brought some
of Jasper's boasts to Rome, and, made reckless by moonshine and
much brooding, he sprang up to lead them. Steve Marcum, too,
caught up his gun, but old Sam's counsel checked him, and the two
by force held Rome back. A little later the Lewallens left town.
The Stetsons, too, disbanded, and on the way home a last drop of
gall ran Rome's cup of bitterness over. Opposite Steve Brayton's
cabin a jet of smoke puffed from the bushes across the river, and a
bullet furrowed the road in front of him. That was the shot they
had heard at the mill. Somebody was drawing a dead-line," and
Rome wheeled his horse at the brink of it. A mocking yell came
over the river, and a gray horse flashed past an open space in theDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>