leaped through his heated brain, and his boast to the old miller
followed it. His finger trembled at the trigger.
"No; by--, no! "he breathed between his teeth; and old Jasper
passed on, unharmed.
NEXT day the news of Rufe Stetson's flight went down the river
on the wind, and before nightfall the spirit of murder was loosed
on both shores of the Cumberland. The more cautious warned old
Jasper. The Stetsons were gaining strength again, they said; so
were their feudsmen, the Marcums, enemies of the Braytons, old
Jasper's kinspeople. Keeping store, Rufe had made money in the
West, and money and friends right and left through the mountains.
With all his good-nature, he was a persistent hater, and he was
shrewd. He had waited the chance to put himself on the side of the
law, and now the law was with him. But old Jasper laughed
contemptuously. Rufe Stetson was gone again, he said, as he had
gone before, and this time for good. Rufe had tried to do what
nobody had done, or could do, while he was alive. Anyway, he
was reckless, and he cared little if war did come again. Still, the
old man prepared for a fight, and Steve Marcum on the other shore
made ready for Rufe's return.
It was like the breaking of peace in feudal days. The close kin of
each leader were already about him, and now the close friends of
each took sides. Each leader trading in Hazlan had debtors
scattered through the mountains, and these rallied to aid the man
who had befriended them. There was no grudge but served a
pretext for partisanship in the coming war. Political rivalry had
wedged apart two strong families, the Marcums and Braytons; a
boundary line in dispute was a chain of bitterness; a suit in a
country court had sown seeds of hatred.
Sometimes it was a horse-trade, a fence left down, or a gate left
open, and the trespassing of cattle; in one instance, through spite, a
neighbor had docked the tail of a neighbor's horse-had " muled his
critter," as the owner phrased the outrage. There was no old sore
that was not opened by the crafty leaders, no slumbering bitterness
that they did not wake to life. " Help us to revenge, and we will
he!p you," was the whispered promise. So, had one man a grudge
against another, he could set his foot on one or the other shore,
sure that his enemy would be fighting for the other.
Others there were, friends of neither leader, who, under stress of
poverty or hatred of work, would fight with either for food and
clothes; and others still, the ne'er-do-wells and outlaws, who
fought by the day or month for hire. Even these were secured by
one or the other faction, for Steve and old Jasper left no resource
untried, knowing well that the fight, if there was one, would be
fought to a quick and decisive end. The day for the leisurely feud,
for patient planning, and the slow picking off of men from one
side or the other, was gone. The people in the Blue Grass, whoDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>