THE LAST OF THE MALUNGEONS.
By Will Allen Dromgoole.
A Stentorian voice was making merry with the echoes among the crags of the isolated old summit known as Newman's Ridge. Isolated indeed is the Ridge; and perilous enough to the traveller who, by virtue of accident or duty, ventures upon the territory of the Ridgemanites, or Malungeons, that strange and lawless clan, the most unconquerable that ever infested the State of Tennessee. Ten years ago he would have been called a hero, or else a fool, who ventured into the "lawless district." The county conceded, without remonstrance, so much of Hancock County, sans taxes, sans interference in any way whatsoever, to the Malungeons.
But times are changing, changing; albeit slowly. There is a schoolhouse over in the Black Water Swamps, and a half-finished meetinghouse down on Big Sycamore Creek. The negroes, to be sure, built both houses, thinking to settle themselves permanently among the hills where life is easy and labor light. But they were driven away by the Malungeons before they had worshipped half a year in their house. Driven away because of the social - association that sprang up between the younger people of both colors. The older ones would not have it: the Malungeons were Indians, they claimed, descendants of those Cherokees who, refusing to follow the banished tribes to the reservation, still inhabit an isolated peak of the Great Smokies. This handful had sought the Ridge and had lived alone, neither giving nor asking quarter, until the darker race of negroes settled on Black Water Creek, the treacherous stream that feeds the swamp at the base of the Ridge.
The negroes formed themselves into a settlement across the Virginia line. A few have wandered back of late years since the old bloods are gone, and worship Sunday afternoons in their old, still unfinished meeting-house with the Malungeons. Nobody offers resistance now, unless it be the owner of the stentorian voice, who having of late become a convert, as they said, to "ligyion," occupied the pulpit now and then, singing the same song, in the same clarion tones, that he sang as he trudged home in the dewy evening from the still under the echoing crags.
He was very tall and straight, with hawk-like eye, and long, coarse hair that fell about his well-shapen shoulders with that careless abandon which characterizes the free child of the forest. He wore neither shoes nor stockings, and his trousers were rolled back above the strong, well formed knee, showing the dusky skin which marked him of a race other than white or black. Indian: the grandson of a chief, and the son of a full-blooded Cherokee. Such he claimed, and the most dubious would have yielded the point when, entering a small clearing near the bluffs edge, he mounted an overhanging rock and bent his sharp, penetrating gaze down upon the valley below, warm with the October sunset. No lynx-eyed warrior ever scanned the white man's country with more earnest thoroughness than did he that mist-mellowed, far-away valley of the Clinch.
Indeed he might have been a warrior, some exiled chief, so kingly was his bearing, watching from his isolated height the movements of his white foes. What is he? Who is he? And what means it, that strange, Indian-like presence, in all its savage freedom of dress and manner, treading with fearless abandon the old Tennessee forest in this, the good year of our Lord, eighteen hundred and ninety! Study him a moment! His hawk-like eye sweeps the valley from mountain to mountain, the long, winding river, with slumbrous, sluggish flow, passes under the searching gaze. Empty, both field and flood. Wait! Ah, the Indian leaves no uninspected avenue. He drops upon his belly, lays his ear to the cooling earth, moist now with the caressing mist. A moment of absorbing silence, intense straining of the sensitive ear, then to his feet again; again he turns into the hidden trail, and takes up the song at precisely the point at which he left off singing a moment before
"Some cruerl foe ha' laid me low,
On the col' groun' ter suffer,
Stay brother, stay, an' lay m' away,
An' write meh wife er letter."
The song comes to an abrupt stop; and again he puts his ear to the earth. It was only his mother's voice he had heard; he was nearing the cabin upon the bluff; his voice had reached the little group gathered about the rude fireplace near the spring where they were preparing the evening meal. "Hit air King," said his mother, when the song floated up to her from the crags. "He air singin' 's if ther' wanno still ter forty mile roun'. He ull git tuk yit ef he ain't mo' minful o' his music. Times ain't what they useter wuz." Shucks! ther' air n no dange' ter King. Folkes air all too busy long o' ter railroa' a-comin', ter be a-layin fur stills en' sech." "Sin* I berlieve in Jesus Chris' Meh sin air a* furgivin."
The singer drew nearer the group at the fire. There were his two brothers and their wives and their children, a goodly gang. And there was his mother, a toothless old crone with the same sharp eyes and raven hair that were common to the Malungeons. She, too, was barefoot, as were the others. And her short dress, hanging a trifle below the knee, allowing the firelight to play upon the strong old limbs, gave her a grotesque appearance thoroughly in keeping with her surroundings. Leaning against a tree was a tall, lithe young man, a visitor, also barefoot, and bearing the unmistakable mark of the Malungeons.
The fireplace was simply a careful placing of rocks, convenient alike to the spring half-hidden in a jungle of sassafras and chinquapin bushes, and the cabin some hundred yards farther back. The blaze from the fire leaped up right royally into the arms of the gray mists, waving a crimson banner of defiance to the sun almost reiuly to drop behind the farther peaks beyond the valley. It illumined with real splendor the open space between the spring and cabin, over which stood an arbor of dry twigs, old leaves, and remnants of cast-aside garments. The ground underneath was sleek with wear, for the arbor was indeed a part of the house itself, and had been used assuch for generations back.
Summer days the family gathered there to smoke and dream; dream away the long, purposeless hours. At night, indeed, it made as comfortable bed as the Malungeon cared to rest upon. Within the cabin, to be sure, there were heaps of sweet old leaves, long fallen, which made good sleeping, and filled, perhaps, thfi sleeper's dreams with the drowsy odors of the autumn forest. But for the strong-limbed distiller whom the women called King, he chose the solid earth and his blanket, as his grandfather and his father had done before him, under the tottering old arbor.
Just now, a rude table stood in the midst of the clearing, and dusky forms were passing to and fro from fire to table as the old squaw dished up the smoking rabbit, and removed the corn-pones from the clay oven among the rocks. A coffee-pot set to boil on one of the red-hot stones was sending out delicious odors. All hands were busy with the supper, but all stopped at the approach of King, and one of the women addressed herself to the visitor leaning against the tree. She was answering some question he had put:
"I dunno," she said. "King hev got a heaps o' erligyion lately. I misdoubts but he ull gin up ther fiddle sholy. Hear that!" "Sin' I berlieve in Jesus Chris' Meh sin air all furgivin."
The singer passed through the midst of them into the cabin beyond. He had noted the presence of the visitor, but had not thought it necessary to extend further greeting than a welcoming nod. When he emerged from the cabin he carried a piggin, a cedarn piggin, which he proceeded to arrange beneath the bung of a large barrel, ostensibly a water-barrel, only half-concealed in an angle of rocks about the spring. He slowly drew forth the stopper of red corn-cob, and the yellow liquid bounded with a kind of jubilant gurgle into the cedarn vessel. When it was full, brimful, he replaced the stopper and deposited the piggin in the centre of the table.
It was then the old woman announced that supper was "a-coolin'," and invited the assembly to " draw up."' "Come on, King," she called, "come on, Clydie," the other son's wife, and " come on, Calloway." "Come on, Calloway," said King, "an' give us ther news from Black Water Swamps. How's ole Mam Mullins, an' the res'?" "Po'ly, po'ly," said the visitor. "Mam Mullins sey she cayrn stay here long nohow, 'case she sey all the charmer folks air dead, 'septin them ets got erligyion. She sey erligyion an' charm don't go tergether."
The dark face of the Malungeon grew stern. He had felt some pride in being "a charmer" for the afflicted and the bewitched but his religion well, he was not prepared to give that up; he had only just begun to learn to feel at home in it. Still, it was good to be a healer; his grandfather, old Jordan Collins, had been a healer too, a healer and a chief; a full-blooded Cherokee chief. No doubt about that: it was on the records. He sighed; he was given to melancholy, this strange, silent, eagleeyed, soft-voiced man, who was neither white nor black, and against whom the heel of the law was forever set. He sighed.
"Air she much po'ly?" he asked, slowly. "Right much. But I wair not come fur her. I wair come fur ther gals. They-uns wants ter come ter yore house ternight fur ter dance. They allows it air a long time sin' they had a frolic 'case ther ain' nobody ter play ther fiddle, sin' Jording died, an' yer own pappy wair tuk, an' you-uns got erligyion." "Erligyion!" The dusky faces about the table were full of interest; they were always interested when King spoke: "Der ligyion hender pleasure? Didn' David play an' Sauler sing? Tell ther gals ter come on. King ull play fur 'em. King ull coax a chune out'n er ther ole chief's fiddle. Tell 'em ter come. Tell 'em erligyion don't stop ther fiddle. King air a fiddler, ez ole Jording wair afore him."
He half rose from his seat, and waved his large, strong hand toward the upper heights, dark with the purplish forests in whose mysterious depths the old Cherokee Jordan had been sleeping for fifty years. A Cherokee! Such he claimed, and none have yet successfully denied the claim; which seemed, indeed, to have descended to those dusky representatives seated about the rude board with the glaring firelight playing upon their faces and bare, brown limbs. But to King, more than to any, did the resemblance cling. A king indeed he might have been, as he stood before his people and proclaimed his royal independence calling upon the ancient dead, long ago a part of the ancient forest to attest his royalty.
The visitor smiled. "Thankee, King," he said. "I'll go er tell 'em, King." "Wait!" The moonshiner reached for the gourd swung to a sharp stub driven into a convenient tree. "Dring somethin' erfore yer go." He plunged the gourd into the brimming piggin; the amber liquor bubbled and gurgled and ran over the brim of the pail in a stream of dazzling richness, which seemed to have caught the sparkle of the Malungeon's dark eyes and danced for very jubilance. The guest drained the gourd to the last fiery drop. "Thankee, King." He laid the gourd back upon the table. "I'll go fur ther gals, King. Goo'-bye, King."
The Malungeon waved his hand, but his lips were closed. The frown had not left his brow. When his guest had departed, he turned from his untasted supper and strode off toward the clinging, shadowy cedars under whose drooping boughs his Cherokee ancestors were sleeping. With the coming of night upon the mountain the air grew chill, so that when the table had been cleared away to make room for the dancers, the old Malungeon woman left the coffee-pot, freshly filled, to simmer upon the hot rocks of the fireplace. Coffee is no stranger to the Malungeons, but is, next to the,ir illicit brandy, the most dearly prized of all luxuries. So the old woman set the pot " ter keep" for the revellers, who might drink it from the same gourd which did service for the stronger beverage.
King, occupying a chair that had been elevated to the table, was industriously screwing up the old fiddle. There were but two strings, and it boasted neither bow nor bridge. A bow was a small matter to the sober-faced Malungeon. His strong index-finger was quite enough bow for him. As for bridge, an old piece of cob kept the strings pretty fairly in place. He was somewhat out of practice, and as he played softly, as if tuning his soul, fingers and fiddle to harmony before the arrival of the revellers, he presented, indeed, a strangely melancholy and majestic picture. His long, dark hair sprinkled with gray, hung about his face, solemn and sombre, yet more sad than sombre, and lay in glossy masses upon his breast. His body drooped forward, as if weary, and even the brownish-red hands hunting among the strings of the dead chief's fiddle for the chords of the dead chief's music, had a kind of indolent listlessness in their movements.
Yet the keen eyes never once lost fire, and were seldom removed from that dark cedar forest towering behind the cabin where the old Cherokee patriots were buried. All was in readiness; the women had replenished the fire; the long, gaunt flame-arms reached upward toward the purple plumes of cedar that waved triumphantly, forever, beyond their searing touch. Beyond the mountain, the mist-mellowed harvest-moon was tenderly flooding the slumbrous valley below, as she sailed westward in a mantle of amber, fringed with roseate kisses of madder and pale pink.
The musician ceased playing: the fiddle lay across his knee. Now and then his hand strayed among the mellow old strings, but only to , caress them. His thoughts were far away among the days when old Jordan Collins had fiddled for the young people on Newman's Ridge and Black Water Swamp. Old Jordan was an Indian, "Spft Soul" they called him, and he had been respected by the whites. No man had ever dared call old Jordan a negro: he was a Cherokee, feared and respected as a Cherokee. But the present generation, the handful left to fight revenue and railroads, the Malungeon's face darkened; a heavy scowl contracted his brow.
"They air some mixed," he admitted in an unspoken whisper. "They hadn't orter er done it, but who wair ther' ter hender? Ther chiefs air all dead. Ther white man's door wair shut: ther Malungeon knocked ter ther door a' ther black man. It wair opened. They-uns mixed some, an' it wair the las' o' ther Malungeon. He wair then ther n****r. 'The n****r,' ther white man allowed. Jording druv 'em off once, then weuns druv 'em. But it wair too late: they-uns mixed some, then Malungeon an' then n****r. Ther n****r wair ther curse ter ther Malungeon."
He frowned heavily: his proud old heart was sore, sore because of the fatal blood-taint which must forever cling to the handful who still called themselves descendants of the Cherokees. "They wair lonesome," he continued his melancholy musings, "an' they knocked ter ther' black man's door. It ruint 'em; mint 'em. I nev' knocked. Jording Collins' gran'son hev knocked ter no man's door. He air at home in his blanket und' ther stars." Dusky forms were flitting here and there in the firelight. Each one paid his or her respects with scrupulous nicety to the figure upon the table. He arose and stood, his full magnificent height, the old fiddle held against his breast, and received their greetings.
"Howdye, King?" "How air yer, King?" "How do, King?"
He waved his hand; it spoke enough of welcome to the hurrying throng bent more upon a frolic than a welcome. All save one: a small, frail young negress, clearly not one of the red-brown tribe gathered under the arbor. Yet she seemed at home among them, and none spoke her unkindly, as she pressed forward to give her host greeting. Unconsciously she waited until the restless eagle-eye should fall upon her.
"How air ye, King?" she asked lingeringly, while her dark eyes,soft with a great tenderness, rested upon the Malungeon's calm, melancholy face. ""How air ye, King?" "Howdye; howdye all. Yer's all welcome." The Malungeon's dark eye had caught the girl's loitering look and had quickly passed on over the assembling dancers. "All air welcome, an' all he'p yese'ves ter coffee. The pot air down 'fc ther fi'e, set ter het. Ther liquor air in ther piggin onter ther water-she'f. Ther water air in ther sprin'-branch yon side er ther fireplace. He'p yerse'ves he'p yerse'ves, all."
He dropped back upon the chair, and the revellers understood they were welcome to all that Malungeon hospitality could offer. "We will, King." "A' right, King." "Thankee, King." The responses were many and musical; for no voice is sweeter than the bell-tones of the Malungeon woman, and none more quaintly melodious than the soft, lazy drawl of the men.
It was late when the dance began, for they had come one, two, and three miles, those dark-skinned women with their sparkling eyes and glossy locks, and their short, bare feet that sped over the hidden trails with the swiftness indeed of the Cherokee, the ancient son of the forest. In spite of the long walk they had taken, the little brown feet were soon impatiently beating the hard earth in a quaint, half-dance, halfswing time to the fiddle.
"Play louder, King."
The musician's eye followed the dancers a moment as they moved here and there in what they called the "six-hand reel," only a moment, and his gaze fell back upon old Jordan's fiddle. He had eaught the eye of the young negress fixed upon him, as her lithe, nimble figure moved among the dancers. It was a pleading, melancholy look, yet full of a mute, unspoken passion. He merely glanced at her, swinging gracefully in and out the complicated "six-hander," twisting her little body as a pretty serpent might, swinging, swaying to and fro> this side and that, to the music; in exquisite time, as totally unlike the half-savage leaping of the untrained Malungeon as melancholy to madness. Lightly! lightly! the dark eyes closed dreamily, as if the dancer were drinking in delicious melody. Suddenly she began to croon a kind of accompaniment to the twanging melody
"Um-m-m! Oom, oo-m!"
One by one the others fell back to listen and admire, until only the light form of the negress was left, still keeping that exquisite time
Simultaneously the assembly burst into applause. Only upon the melancholy face of the musician was there no show of approval. A dark scowl furrowed his brow.
"She'd ortent be here," he whispered to himself. "In the time o' Jording she udn't a dared. An' this air Jording's fiddle. She'd ortent. They'd ortent ter mix. They ull all be n****rs alike bimeby, ef they mixes. They ortent. She'd ortent be here."
"Play louder, King." " Stan' up, King." " Fetch er taller cheer fur King." " Fetch er barr'l fur King." " Ther't air." " Lif him up." " Git up, King." " Shove him up. Now, King, play loud, so's we kin heear."
And very like a king he looked, upon his rude, improvised throne. A king: the last of the kings indeed; the last full-blooded male representative of that strange, unclaimed clan the Malungeons. A chief! such he felt himself for one brief, transitory moment. And these were his people, this handful, which the wanton Aragaries of fancy multiplied to myriad millions. His eye kindled, his full chest rose and fell, while the old sparkle danced in his eye, and the proud flush sprang to his dusky cheek.
"Play louder, King."
The form of the young black woman danced to his throne, and mistaking his rapt interest for applause, lifted her dark face upward to his and smiled. The light, the rapture, the triumph vanished instantly from the strong features; the old melancholy indifference returned. An angry pang shot through his heart. The negress the curse, the downfall of the Malungeons. Here and there among the revellers his quick eye could single out with exact certainty the traces of the blood of his black brother. And was he to play for her! Where was old Jordan's blood that had thus stooped to make music for the negress' "Sing, King! Sing Jording's song."
"Yes, King. Sing yer gran'dad's song Ole Jording's song."
We ull hear mo' better ef yer ull sing, King."
The fiddle did not trouble itself to follow the voice. With his hand he still twanged the old dance-melody, while the strong, stern, quiverless voice broke into the quaint, rhymeless hymn that he sung at the meeting-house, at the graveyard above the newly-dead, or in the echoing forest as he tramped home at noon or at midnight from the still.
"Stay, brother Green, do come ter me,
Fur I nir shot en bleeding,
An' I mus' die, no mo' ter see
Meh wife en meh deah chilring." (Civil War Song)
The dance began again with new vigor, as the odd, wrangling discord gained strength. Only the young negress, after vainly endeavoring to time her step to one air, either that of the voice or the fiddle, quietly stepped aside from the dancers, and stood leaning against a leafless wahoo-tree, watching with puzzled expression the flying figures under the arbor. After a while she leaned her head back against the tree, and a dreamy smile parted her lips, as with half-closed eyes she watched the grave, handsome face of the fiddler.
King's brow cleared when he saw the girl leave the dancers. He bent his face nearer the old fiddle Jordan's fiddle as if to catch the very spirit that had thrilled the proud heart of his Indian ancestor. When he lifted his head, a smile played about the stern, thin lips, and he kept his eye fixed upon the forest the cedar-girdled forest where " Jording" was sleeping.
"Meh lillul chilring I loves 'em so." His mother, smoking and nodding on the cabin doorstep, began to rock to and fro, and finally joined her shrill, cracked voice with King's in song:
"0 cud I once mo' see 'em,
An' gi' thum ther las' fai'well word,
Tell we shall meet in Heavin."
One by one the dancers caught up the refrain:
"Tell we shall meet in Heavin."
Over and over again the fiddler sang the favored stanza, and again the dusky dancers chimed in on the last line. The dance was at its height: only the young negress, growing weary'with looking on, was nodding, after the manner of her race, over the fire down by the spring among the chinquapin-bushes. Suddenly a wild shriek rang out above the creaking of the fiddle and the wailing music of the singers. The festivities came to a sudden stop, as the negress, bounding into the midst of the throng and shoving the dancers aside with her arms, sprang upon the table where King sat upon his throne.
"Something in ther brush," she panted, pointing with her left hand to the chinquapin-thicket, while with her right she seized the riddle a-s if to wrench it from his hold. "Somethin's ther' it laffed; in a whisper; it did laff. It air a ghost."
There was a moment's startled silence then the musician pushed aside the dark hand clasping his proud old ancestor's riddle. But repeated visits to the piggin had tended to excite unusual courage in the breast of the dancers.
"Yer wair dreamin', Mandy," said one of them. "I see yer nod meh own se'f." "I wair wake, I tell ye,"' she insisted, earnestly. "An' it laffed. Oh, it did! it did, King. It laffed ever' time yer sung. It laffed a ghost laff. An'it air come fur you, King God A'mighty! it air come ter fetch you erway, King."
She reeled forward like a drunken women; dropped upon her knees and clasped his bare, brown limbs encircled them with her arms her strong, protecting arms, and tried to draw him down from his elevated place in full range of the "ghost" skulking in the chinquapinthicket. All the superstition of her race was upon her while she pleaded with him to "come down out o' the light the firelight and the witchlight of the new moon." He became angry under her clasp and the smiling faces turned upon him, where the dancers, with good-humored indifference, were watching and listening until the music should begin again.
"Ger long 'ith yer," he said, " ther air no moon; it air gone long go. Ger long, an' don't bender Jording's fiddle."
He dropped his chin again upon the beloved old instrument; and then when the chorus rose again, led by him, so cruelly contemptuous of her warning, the girl threw her arms above her head that old, old gesture of helpless agony, and springing from the table, plunged into the forest, down the narrow, shadow-girt trail leading to her cabin
"Tell we shall meet in Heavin."
The song followed her as she ran, like a dusky spirit, through the echoing gloom. King's voice rose above all the rest
"Tell we shall meet in Heavin."
It had a farewell ring in it somehow, and she stuffed her fingers into her ears and ran on on until she stood at her mother's door. Softly she lifted the latch.
"Tell we shall meet in Heavin."
She crept to her pallet and drew the covers over her head to shut out the sound of the chorus, floating down the mountain in the arms of the midnight wind. But she could not shut out the nameless fear, the uncomprehended awe that possessed her. At last she fell asleep, to awake again with a start. It was near daybreak and she sat up, cold and breathless, to listen "Tell we shall meet in Heavin."
It was a man's voice; those beloved tones could belong to but one throat. She listened, holding her heart "Tell we shall meet " Suddenly, silence ; unconsciously she finished the strain: "in Heavin." Then with a low cry she dropped back among the bed-clothes with that stifled agony of superstitious despair tearing at heart and lip. "O, King, King!' Tell we shall meet in Heavin.'"
The dancers wearied at last. The fiddler's throat was husky beyond the power of the piggin to relieve. The king was forced to ask surcease. "Goo'-night, King." "Hit air a goo' chune, King." An' yer sings it like yer gran'dad, King; yer sings like .lording." "Goo'-night, King." "Goo'-bye." "Goo'-bye! Goo'-bye, King. Goo'-bye, goo'-bye, goo'-bye."
And as the last dusky dancer disappeared, the double refrain came back to him, seated alone upon his throne.
"Goo'-bye, King " "Tell we shall meet in Heavin.''
They seemed to jingle somehow and form one refrain, so perfectly were the ideas connected.
"Goo'-bye, King, tell we shall meet in Heavin."
He came down from his throne and went into the cabin and hung the precious fiddle in its place above the low door. His mother and sisters were asleep in their bed of leaves. His brothers were stretched fulllength upon the earth floor; all were sleeping heavily, heavily. He felt for his blanket swung across the drooping rafters, and went outside again. As he stepped again into the fading fire-glow, something dark flitted before him for an instant. A loitering Malungeon perhaps, was his thought, who had fallen asleep and been left behind. Or else he was sneaking back for a last pull at the cedarn piggin. Or perhaps it was only a cedar branch, waved by the gentle night-wind, nodding goodnight to the stars. And then, it might have been a ghost.
"I 'ud like ter know what it wair et skairt ther n****r gal," he said, remembering for the first time her warning. "I allowed et I see er spark o' fire in ther graveyard once, afore they-uns all kem. But it went out, an' I allowed it wair unly witch-fire," meaning the phosphorescent light which appears upon decaying vegetation. Suddenly it occurred to him that he was thirsty, and he resolved to have a cup of hot, sugarless coffee before rolling into his blanket for the little night that remained. He went down to the fire by the spring and taking the pot from the warm stones shook it, and lifting the lid peeped in. Only grounds. He went over to the spring and poured three gourds-full of water upon the smoking grounds and set the pot back upon a bed of trembling red coals.
His pipe ought to be somewhere near about, for the family lived at the spring even more than in the leaky old cabin. Ah! there it was, swung in the hollow of a dead wahoo-tree. His rifle was there, too. There was another up at the cabin, and still another at the still. And all loaded, in case of danger to the Malungeon distiller. He filled his pipe and seated himself over against a stone to wait for his coffee. He made a noble picture, sitting there between the gray gloom of the new day and the melancholy shades of the fleeing night. His red limbs were crossed with careless grace ; his strong neck, from which he had thrown back the light shirt when the heat of exertion became too great, showed large and magnificent in the half-glow of the dying fire. His red bosom, bare and broad, might have shamed the gladiator trained for the arena. A noble picture! A picture of splendid strength and unspent power. A picture of loyal devotion, and right royal determination which refused to abandon the old habits, customs, and lore of his people. He had helped to keep the while law-makers at bay; he had helped to push all forms of trespassing "progress" back when it had attempted to invade the Ridge. He would always do so. He had lived like an Indian, he would die like one. And all he asked was to be buried like one at last.
The coffee hummed and sputtered a merry accompaniment to his thoughts. Suddenly he started, and bent his ear, his quick ear ever on the alert. Something was coming up the trail softly, rapidly. He reached for his rifle, then calmly laid it back again against the wahoo. The approaching feet were bare the comer was a Malungeon. A woman, he knew by the soft, slight patter. A moment, and she emerged from the shadows of the wood a lissome young creature, panting and breathless.
"Mam Mullins wancher, King," she said. "Wancher quick. She air er dyin', King." He arose, and threw his blanket across his shoulder. He was accustomed to those midnight summons, and never thought of refusal. Still ke must have his coffee. While lie prepared to pour it into the gourd, the girl talked on. "She air charmed," she said. "Mam Mullins air charmed. Firs' she air col', then hot, hurnin'. Ole Ria air ther' with her hlood-beads. And Calloway air ther' with his conjure-thread. But Mam Mullins air er dyin'." King paused in the process of pouring the coffee. He lifted the lid and turned the contents of the gourd back into the pot. He understood that form of "conjure " thoroughly.
"Ger long," he said to the girl. And a moment more he was following in her wake down the trail, the warm coffee-pot concealed in the folds of his blanket. When he approached the cabin where the sick woman waited Ins coming, the sound of mourning came to him. The Malungeons were performing their customary service of respect for the dying. He pushed the door back, and entered. The room was filled with women, sitting about upon the earth-floor with heads covered, slowly rocking to and fro and crooning a kind of half-hymn in time with their swaying bodies. Upon a bed of leaves lay an old copper-skinned crone battling with the " charm" that was upon her. Close to the foot of the bed, or pallet, an old Malungcon "conjure-man," or "witch," was sitting, slowly winding a ball of greasy yarn. Near him, a shrivelled old crone was stringing a handful of dingy beads " blood-beads " of green and yellow glass, whose healing power was well established among the Malungeons.
When King entered, the conjurer moved aside to make room. "Howdye, King? The charm air failed, King. An'ole Kia's beadsair failed, too. Come in, an' try yer han\ King." "Yeas, come in, King." The sick woman caught the name. "Howdye, King? I'm er dyin' now, King." He offered no consolation, attempted no cheering words of hope. He merely stepped to the bed-side, and felt the sufferer's pulse. It was bounding with the fever that sent the hot blood coursing through all her veins. Then he turned to the mourners, still wailing their funeral hymn.
"Heish !" he commanded, and they were instantly silent. His commands were numerous: to one he handed the coffee-pot with instructions to "het it red-hot." "A' right, King." They recognized a master in the strong, able presence. He took a flask from his bosom, and, pouring the contents into the water-gourd near by, put it to the woman's lips. "Dring," he said. "A' right, King." The coffee, hot and penetrating, was then offered, and another swallow from the flask. "Dring it," he said; "dring ull o' it." "Yeas, King. A'right."'
When the hot stuff began to penetrate the old limbs, and the warm moisture stood upon the wrinkled brow, he gave the patient still more of the wild-cat liquor, and watched to see the eyes begin to droop. "Sing, King. Sing yer gran'dad's song," said the sick woman, sleepily. As she dozed off into a quiet stupor, the Malungeon's voice slowly closed the refrain with which old Jordan hefore him had exorcised the demons of unrest: "Tell we shall meet in lleavin."
Day was breaking when he set out again through the forest toward his own cabin. He still wore his blanket, and his face wore the old melancholy pain which had grown a part of him since he had begun to see the end of his people. His great heart was full full of their misery: the misery of annihilation, which they alas! were blind to. The mists were drifting, leaving free and clear the bold brow of the Ihdge. His spirits seemed suddenly to bound upward too, clear of the mists and clouds. His soul's eye saw beyond the dusky depths and rested upon the heights, the fairer heights of faith. He broke into song, the old song of Jordan and his father:
"O end I once mo' see 'em
An' gi' thum ther Ins' fai'wcll word,
Tell we shall meet "
There was a sharp crack of a rifle in the thicket, a sudden break in the music, and the song passed on to a cabin in the gulch where a woman, a negress, finished the strain "In lleavin." And she, too, passed it on, a farewell anthem, to the portals of eternity.
Wrapped in his blanket, his dead face turned to meet the rising sun, one hand holding his gray winding-sheet, his lips still parted with the broken song: so she found him in the early morning; so she found him lying there across the path. Into her dark face had crept a wild fear, as with a shriek of agony she threw herself upon his breast:
"King! Oh, King!"
And the proud heart offered no resistance now. As if, in death, it matters aught whether the arms that clasp be white or black!
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