Prepared by David Reed haradda@aol.com or davidr@inconnect.com

A Cumberland Vendetta

by John Fox Jr.

TO MINERVA AND ELIZABETH

A Cumberland Vendetta

I

THE cave had been their hiding-place as children; it was a secret

refuge now against hunger or darkness when they were hunting in

the woods. The primitive meal was finished; ashes were raked

over the red coals; the slice of bacon and the little bag of meal

were hung high against the rock wall; and the two stepped from

the cavern into a thicket of rhododendrons.

Parting the bushes toward the dim light, they stood on a massive

shoulder of the mountain, the river girding it far below, and the

afternoon shadows at their feet. Both carried guns-the tall

mountaineer, a Winchester; the boy, a squirrel rifle longer than

himself. Climbing about the rocky spur, they kept the same level

over log and bowlder and through bushy ravine to the north. In half

an hour, they ran into a path that led up home from the river, and

they stopped to rest on a cliff that sank in a solid black wall

straight under them. The sharp edge of a steep corn-field ran near,

and, stripped of blade and tassel, the stalks and hooded ears looked

in the coming dusk a little like monks at prayer. In the sunlight

across the river the corn stood thin and frail. Over there a drought

was on it; and when drifting thistle-plumes marked the noontide of

the year, each yellow stalk had withered blades and an empty

sheath. Every-where a look of vague trouble lay upon the face of

the mountains, and when the wind blew, the silver of the leaves

showed ashen. Autumn was at hand.

There was no physical sign of kinship between the two,

half-brothers though they were. The tall one was dark; the boy, a

foundling, had flaxen hair, and was stunted and ~lender. He was a

dreamy~looking little fellow, and one may easily find his like

throughout the Cumberland -paler than his fellows, from staying

much indoors, with half-haunted face, and eyes that are deeply

pathetic when not cunning; ignorantly credited with idiocy and

uncanny powers; treated with much forbearance, some awe, and a

little contempt; and suffered to do his pleasure-nothing, or much

that is strange-without comment.

"I tell ye, Rome," he said, taking up the thread of talk that was

broken at the cave, "when Uncle Gabe says he's afeard thar's

trouble comm', hit's a-comm'; 'n' I want you to git me a Winchester.

I'm a-gittin' big enough now. I kin shoot might' nigh as good as

you, 'n' whut am I fit fer with this hyeh old pawpaw pop-gun?"

"I don't want you fightin', boy, I've told ye. Y'u air too little 'n'

puny, 'n' I want ye to stay home 'n' take keer o' mam 'n' the cattle-ef

fightin' does come, I reckon thar won't be triuch."

Don't ye? " cried the boy, with sharp contempt-" with ole Jas

Lewallen a-devilin' Uncle Rufe, 'n' that blackheaded young Jas

a-climbin' on stumps over thar 'cross the river, n' crowin' n' sayin'

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