xt7m901zd99j https://nyx.uky.edu/dips/xt7m901zd99j/data/mets.xml Buck, Charles Neville, b. 1879. 1918  books b92-222-31182242 English W.J. Watt, : New York : Contact the Special Collections Research Center for information regarding rights and use of this collection. When 0bear cat' went dry  / by Charles Neville Buck ; illustrations by George W. Gage. text When 0bear cat' went dry  / by Charles Neville Buck ; illustrations by George W. Gage. 1918 2002 true xt7m901zd99j section xt7m901zd99j 














WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY

 

















































You're agoing to marry me and we're goin' to dvell thar-together

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT'

      WENT DRY


                BY
     CHARLES NEVILLE BUCK
              Author of
       "TuE CALL OF THE CUMBERLANDS," etc.


             Illustrations by
          GEORGE W. GAGE














             NEW YORK
        W. J. WATT & COMPANY
             PUBLISH ERS

 






    Copyright, x9x8, by
W. J, WATT & COMPANY



      OTHER BOOKS

            By

CHARLES NEVILLE BUCK

THE KEY TO YESTERDAY
THE LIGHTED MATCH
THE PORTAL OF DREAMS
THE CALL OF THE CUMBERLANDS
THE BATTLE CRY
THE CODE OF THE MOUNTAINS
DESTINY
THE TYRANNY OF WEAKNESS



   Me_ or
RAAUNWOR1 & 00.
Soo. MA.UfACTU.ERO
8ROCLI.. a. I'.



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  TO

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 This page in the original text is blank.

 




    WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY


                       CHAPTER I

  A    CREAKING complaint of loose and rattling boards
        rose under the old mountaineer's brogans as he stepped
        from the threshold to the porch. His eyes, searching
the wooded mountain-side, held at first only that penetration
which born woodsmen share with the hawk and ferret, but
presently they kindled into irascibility as well.
   He raised his voice in a loud whoop that went skittering off
across the rocky creek bed where Little Slippery crawled along
to feed the trickle of Big Slippery ten miles below, and the
volume of sound broke into a splintering of echoes against
the forested crags of the Old Wilderness Ridges.
   "You, Turner !" bellowed the man with such a bull-like
roar as might have issued from the chest of a Viking. "You,
Turner, don't ye heer me a-callin' ye"
  A woman, rawboned and crone-like before her time under the
merciless forcing of drudgery, appeared in the door, wiping
reddened hands on a coarse cotton apron.
   "I reckon he'll be hyar, presently, paw," she suggested in a
high-pitched voice meant to be placating. "I reckon he hain't
fared far away."
   The hodden-gray figure of the man turned to his wife and
his voice, as it dropped to conversational pitch, held a surpris-
ingly low and drawling cadence.
   "What needcessity did he hev ter go away a-tall " came his
interrogation. "He knowed I aimed ter hev him tote thet
gryste acrost ther ridge ter the tub-mill, didn't he He knows
that hits perilous business ter leave corn like that a-layin'
'round, don't he-sprouted corn l"
                             I

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



   A flash of poignant anxiety clouded the woman's eyes.
Corn sprouted in the grain before grinding! She knew well
enough what that meant-incrimination in the eyes of the
Government-trial, perhaps, and imprisonment.
   "Ye 'lowed a long while since, Lone," she reminded him
with a trace of wistfulness in her voice, "that ye aimed ter
quit makin' blockade licker fer all time. Hit don't pleasure me
none ter see ye a-follerin' hit ergin. Seems like thar's a curse
on hit from start ter finish."
   "I don't foller hit because I delights in hit," he retorted
grimly. "But what else is thar ter do I reckon we've got ter
live somehow-hain't we"   For an instant his eyes flared
with an upleaping of rebellion; then he turned again on his
heel and roared "Turner-you, Turner !"
   "Ther boy seemed kinderly fagged out when he come in.
I reckon he aimed ter slip off and rest in ther shade somewhars
fer a lettle spell afore ye needed him," volunteered the boy's
mother, but the suggestion failed to mollify the mounting im-
patience of the father.
   "Fagged! What's fagged him I hain't never disc'arnef
nothin' puny about him. He's survigrous enough ter go a-snort-
in' an' a-stompin' over ther hills like a yearlin' bull, a-honin
fer battle. He's knowed from God's Blessin' Creek ter Hell's
Holler by ther name of Bear Cat Stacy, hain't he Bear Cat
Stacy! I'd hate ter take my name from a varmint-but it
pleasures him."
   "I don't sca'cely b'lieve he seeks no aimless quarrels,"
argued the mother defensively. "Thar hain't no meanness in
him. He's jest like you was, Lone, when ye was twenty a-goin'
on twenty-one. He's full o' sperrit. I reckon Bear Cat jest
means thet he's quick-like an' supple."
  "Supple! Hell's torment! Whar's he at now He's jest
about a-layin' somewhar's on his shoulder-blades a-readin'
thet everlastin' book erbout Abe Lincoln- You, Turner !"
   Then the figure of a young man appeared, swinging along



2

 

WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



with an effortless stride down the steep grade of the mountain
which was richly mottled with the afternoon sun. He came
between giant clusters of flowering laurel, along aisles pink
with wild roses and white with the foaming spray of elder
blossoms; flanked by masses of colossal rock, and every move-
ment was a note of frictionless power.
   Like his father, Turner Stacy measured a full six feet, but
age and the yoke of hardship had not yet stooped his fine
shoulders nor thickened his slenderness of girth. His face was
striking in its clear chiseling of feature and its bronzed color.
It would have been arrestingly handsome but for its marring
shadow of surliness.
   In one hand he held a battered book, palpably one used
with the constancy and devotion of a monk's breviary, and a
forefinger was still thrust between the dog-eared pages. "Lin-
coln: Master of Men,"-such was the title of the volume.
   As Turner Stacy arrived at the house, his father's uncom-
promisingly stern eyes dwelt on the book and they were brim-
ming with displeasure.
   "Didn't ye know I hed work for ye ter do terday"
   The boy nodded indifferently.
   "I 'lowed ye hed ther power ter shout fer me when ye war
ready. I wasn't more'n a whoop an' a holler distant."
   The mother, hovering in the shadowed interior of the
house, listened silently, and a little anxiously. This friction of
unbending temper between her husband and son was a thing
to which she could never quite accustom herself. Always she
was interposing herself as a buffer between their threats of
clashing wills.
   "Turner," said the elder man slowly, and now he spoke
quietly with an effort to curb his irascibililty, "I knows thet
boys often-times gits uppety an' brash when they're a-growin'
inter manhood. They've got thar growth an' they feel thar
strength an' they hain't acquired neither sense ner experience
enough ter realize how plumb teetotally much they don't know



3

 

WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



yit. But speakin' jedgmatically, I hain't never heered tell of
no Stacy afore what hain't been loyal ter his family an' ther
head of his house. 'Pears like ter me hit pleasures ye beyond
all reason ter sot yoreself crost-wise erginst me."
   The boy's eyes grew somberly dark as they met those of
his father with undeviating steadiness. An analyst would have
said that the outward surliness was after all only a mask for
an inner questioning-the inarticulate stress of a cramped and
aspiring spirit.
   "I don't know as ye hev any rightful cause fer ter charge
me with bein' disloyal," he answered slowly, as if pondering
the accusation. "I hain't never aimed ter contrary ye."
   Lone Stacy paused for a moment and then the timbre of
his voice acquired the barb of an irony more massive than
subtle.
   "Air yore heart in torment because ye hain't ther President
of ther country, like Abe Lincoln was Is thet why ye don't
delight in nothin' save dilitary dreams"
   A slow7, brick-red flush suffused the brown cheeks of Bear
Cat Stacy, and his answer came with a slowness that was almost
halting.
   "When Abraham Lincoln was twenty years old he warn't
no more President then what I be. Thar hain't many Lin-
coln's, but any feller kin have ther thing in him, though, thet
carried Lincoln up ter whar he went. Any feller kin do his
best and want ter do some better. Thet's all I'm aimin' after."
   The father studied his son's suddenly animated eyes and
inquired drily, "Does this book-l'arnin' teach ye ter lay around
plumb indlent with times so slavish hard thet I've been pintedly
compelled ter start ther still workin' ergin, despite my a-bein'
a Christian an' a law-lover: despite my seekin' godliness an'
abhorin' iniquity "
   There was in the sober expression of the questioner no cast
of hypocrisy or conscious anomaly, and the younger man shook
his head.



4

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



   "I hain't never shirked no labor, neither in ther field ner
at ther still, but " He paused a moment and once more
the rebellious light flared in his eyes and he continued with the
level steadiness of resolution. "But I hates ter foller thet
business, an' when I comes of age I aims ter quit hit."
   "Ye aims ter quit hit, does ye " The old mountaineer
forgot, in the sudden leaping of wrath at such unfilial utter-
ances, that he himself had a few minutes before spoken in the
same tenor. "Ye aims ter defy me, does ye Wa'al even
afore ye comes of age hit wouldn't hardly hurt ye none ter
quit drinkin' hit. Ye're too everlastin' good ter make blockade
licker, but ye hain't none too good ter lay drunk up thar with
hit."
   This time the boy's flush was one of genuine chagrin and
he bit off the instinctive retort that perhaps a realization of
this overpowering thirst was the precise thing which haunted
him: the exact urge which made him want to break away from
a serfdom that held him always chained to his temptation.
' "Ye thinks ye're too much like Abe Lincoln ter make
blockade licker," went on the angry parent, "but ye hain't above
rampagin' about these hills seekin' trouble an' raisin' up ene-
mies whar I've done spent my days aimin' ter consort peace-
able with my neighbors. Hit hain't been but a week since ye
broke Ratler Webb's nose."
   "Hit come about in fair fight-fist an' skull, an' I only hit
him oncet."
   "Nobody else didn't feel compelled ter hit him even oncet,
did they "
   "Mebby not-but he was seekin' ter bulldoze me an' he
hurt my feelin's. I'd done laughed hit off twic't."
   "An' so ye're a-goin' on a-layin' up trouble erginst ther
future. Hit hain't ther makin' of licker thet's laid a curse on
these hills. Hit's drinkin' hit. Ef a man kin walk abroad
nowadays without totin' his rifle-gun an' a-dreadin' ther shot
from the la'rel, hit's because men like me hev sought day an'



5

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



night ter bring about peace. I counseled a truce in ther
Stacy-Towers war because I war a Christian an' I didn't 'low
thet God favored bloodshed. But ther truce won't hardly
last ef ye goes about stirrin' up ructions.
   "Bear Cat Stacy!" stormed the older man furiously as his
anger fed upon itself. "What air a bear cat anyways Hit's
a beast thet rouses up from sleep an' crosses a mountain fer
ther pure pleasure of tearin' out some other critter's throat
an' vitals. Hit's a varmint drove on by ther devil's own sperit
of hatefulness.
   "Even in ther feud days men warred with clean powder
an' lead, but sich-like fightin' don't seem ter satisfy ye. Ye
hain't got no use fer a rifle-gun. Ye wants ter tear men apart
with yore bare hands an' ter plumb rend 'em asunder! I've trod
ther streets of Marlin Town with ye, an' watched yore eyes
burnin' like hot embers, until peaceable men drew back from
ye an' p'inted ye out ter strangers. 'Thar goes ther Bear Cat,'
they'd whisper. 'Give him ther whole road!' Even ther town
marshal walked in fear of ye an' war a-prayin' ter God Al-
mighty ye wouldn't start nothin'."
   "I don't never seek no fight." This time Turner Stacy
spoke without shame. "I don't never have no trouble save
whar I'm plumb obleeged ter hev hit."
   "Thet's what Kinnard Towers always 'lowed," was the
dry retort, "though he's killed numerous men, and folks says
he's hired others killed, too."
   The boy met the accusing glance and answered quietly:
   "Ye don't favor peace no more than what I do."
   "I've aimed ter be both God-fearin' an' law-abidin'," con-
tinued the parent whose face and figure might have been cast
in bronze as a type of the American pioneer, "yet ye censures
me fer makin' untaxed licker !" His voice trembled with a re-
pressed thunder of emotion.
   "I've seed times right hyar on this creek when fer ther most
part of a whole winter we hurted fer salt an' thar warn't none



6

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



to be had fer love nor money. Thar warn't no money in these
hills nohow-an' damn'-little love ter brag about. Yore maw
an' me an' Poverty dwelt hyar tergether-ther three of us.
We've got timber an' coal an' no way ter git hit ter market.
Thar's jest only one thing we kin turn inter money or store-
credit-an' thet's our corn run inter white licker."
   He paused as if awaiting a reply and when his son volun-
teered none he swept on to his peroration. "When I makes hit
now I takes numerous chances, an' don't complain. Some
revenuer, a-settin' on his hunkers, takin' life easy an' a-waitin'
fer a fist full of blood money is liable ter meet up in ther
highway with some feller thet's nursin' of a grudge erginst
me or you. Hit's plumb risky an' hits damn'-hard work, but
hit hain't no wrong-doin' an' ef yore grandsires an' yore father
hain't been above hit, I rekon you hain't above hit neither."
   Turner Stacy was still standing on the porch, with one
finger marking the place where he had left off reading his
biography of Lincoln-the master of men.
   Born of a line of stoics, heir to laconic speech and reared
to stifle emotions, he was inarticulate and the somberness of
his eyes, which masked a pageantry of dreams and a surging
conflict in his breast, seemed only the surliness of rebellion.
   He looked at his father and his mother, withered to sereness
by their unrelenting battle with a life that had all been frost-
bite until even their power of resentment for its injustice had
guttered out and dried into a dull acceptance.
   His fingers gripped the book. Abraham Lincoln had, like
himself, started life in a log house and among crude people.
Probably he, too, had in those early days no one who could give
an understanding ear to the whispering voices that urged him
upward. At first the urge itself must have been blurred of
detail and shadowy of object.
   Turner's lips parted under an impulse of explanation, and
closed again into a more hopelessly sullen line. The older



7

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



man had chafed too long in heaxy harness to comprehend a
new vision. Any attempt at self-expression would be futile.
   So the picture he made was only that of a headstrong and
wilful junior who had listened unmoved to reason, and a
mounting resentment kindled in the gaze of the bearded moon-
shiner.
   "I've done aimed ter talk reason with ye," barked the angry
voice, "an' hit don't seem ter convince ye none. Ef ther
pattern of life I've sot ye hain't good enough, do ye think ye're
better than yore maw, too "
   "I didn't never say ye warn't good enough." The boy
found himself freezing into defiant stiffness under this mis-
construction until his very eagerness to be understood militated
against him.
   "Wa'al, I'll tell ye a thing I don't talk a heap about. Hit's
a thing thet happened when ye was a young baby. I spent two
y ars in prison then fer makin' white whiskey."
   "You!" Turner Stacy's eyes dilated with amazement and
the older face hardened with a baleful resentment.
   "Hit warn't jest bein' put in ther jail-house thet I kain't
fergit ner fergive so long as I goes on livin'. Hit war ther
reason. Ye talks mighty brash erbout ther sacredness of ther
Revenue laws-wa'al, listen ter me afore ye talks any more."
He paused and then continued, as if forcing himself to an un-
welcome recital.
   "I've always borne the name hyarabouts of bein' a law-
abidin' citizen and a man thet could be trusted. I'd hoped ter
bring peace to the mountings, but when they lawed me and
sent me down to Looeyville fer trial, ther Government lawyer
'lowed thet sence I was a prominent citizen up hyar a-breakin'
of the law, they had ought to make a sample of me. Because
my reputation was good I got two y'ars. Ef hit hed been bad,
I rnout hev come cl'ar."
   The son took an impulsive step forward, but with an im-



8

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



perious wave of the hand, his father halted him and the chance
for a sympathetic understanding was gone.
   "Hold on! I hain't quite done talkin' yit. In them days
we war livin' over ther ridge, whar Little Ivy heads up. You
thinks this hyar's a pore fashion of dwellin'-house, but thet
one hed jest a single room an' na'ry a winder in all hits four
walls. You're maw war right ailin' when they tuck me away
ter ther big Co'te an' she war mighty young, too, an' purty
them days afore she broke. Thar warn't no man left ter
raise ther crops, an' you ra'red like a young calf ef ye didn't
git yore vittles reg'lar.
   "I reckon mebby ye hain't hardly got no proper idee how
long two y'ars kin string out ter be when a man's sulterin' be-
hind bars with a young wife an' a baby thet's liable ter be
starvin' meanwhile! I reckon ye don't hardly realize how I
studied down thar in prison about ther snow on these God-
forsaken hillsides an' ther wind whirrin' through ther chinks.
But mebby ye kin comprehend this hyar fact. You'd hey
piittedly starved ter death, ef yore maw hedn't rigged up a
new still in place of ther one the Government confiscated, an'
made white licker all ther time I was down thar sarvin' time.
She did thet an' paid off ther interest on the mortgage an'
saved a leetle mite for me erginst ther day when I come home.
Now air ye sich a sight better then yore maw was"
   A yellow flood of sunlight fell upon the two figures and
threw into a relief of high lights their two faces; one sternly
patriarchal and rugged, the other vitally young and spare of
feature.
   Corded arteries appeared on Bear Cat's temples and, as he
listened, the nails of his fingers bit into the flesh of his palms,
but his father swept on, giving him no opportunity to reply.
   "My daddy hed jest shortly afore been lay-wayed an' killed
by some Towers murderer, an' his property had done been
parceled out amongst his children.  Thar wasn't but jest
fourteen of us ter heir hit an' nobody got much. When they



9

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



tuck me down ter ther big Co'te I had ter hire me a lawyer-
an' thet meant a mortgage. Yore maw hedn't, up ter then,
been used ter sich-like slavish poverty. She could hev married
mighty nigh any man in these parts-an' she tuck me.
   "Whilst I war a-layin' thar in jail a-tormentin' myself with
my doubtin' whether either one of ye would weather them
times alive, she was a-runnin' ther still hyar in my stead.
Many's the day she tromped over them hills through ther
snow an' mud with you a-whimperin' on her breast an' wropped
in a shawl thet she needed her own self. Many's ther night she
tromped back ergin an' went.hongry ter bed, so's you could
have plenty ter eat, when thar warn't sca'cely enough ter
divide betwixt ye. But them things she did in famine days,
you're too sanctified ter relish now."
   Turner Stacy trembled from head to foot. It seemed to
him that he could see that grim picture in retrospect and
despite his stoic's training his eyes burned with unshed tears.
Loyalty to kith and kin is the cornerstone of every mountain
man's religion, the very grail of his faith. Into his eyes blazed
a tawny, tigerish light, but words choked in his throat and his
father read, in his agitation, only a defiance which was no part
of his thought.
   "Now, see hyar," he went on with mounting autocracy, "I've
done told ye things I don't oftentimes discuss. I've done
reasoned with ye an' now I commands ye! Ye hain't of age
yit and until ye do be, ye've got to do as I bids ye. Atter that,
ef ye aims to turn yore back on yore family ye can do hit, an'
I reckon we can go our two ways. That's all I got to say to ye.
Now pick up that sack of gryste an' be gone with hit."
   The boy's face blackened and his muscles tautened under
the arrogant domineering of the edict. For a moment he
neither spoke nor stirred from his place, though his chest
heaved with the fulness of his breathing. The elder man
moved ominously forward and his tone was violently truculent.
   "Air ye goin' ter obey me or do I hev ter make ye Thar's



IO

 

WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY'



a sayin' thet come acrost ther waters thet no man kin lick his
own daddy. I reckon hit still holds good."
   Still the son remained as unmoving as bronze while his
eyes sustained unflinchingly the wrathful gaze of a patriarchal
order. Then he spoke in a voice carefully schooled to quiet-
ness.
   "As to thet sayin'," he suggested evenly, "I reckon mebbe
hit mought be disproved, but I hain't aimin' to try hit. Ye've
done said some right-hard things to-day an' some thet wasn't
hardly justified-but I aims ter fergit 'em."
   Suddenly, by virtue of a leaping light in his eyes, the boy in
jeans and hodden-gray stood forth strangely transfigured.
Some spirit revelation seemed to have converted him into
a mystifying incarnation of latent, if uncomprehended power.
It was as startling as though a road-side beggar had tossed
aside a drab cloak and hood of rags and revealed beneath it,
the glitter of helmet and whole armor.
   "I aims ter fergit hit all," he repeated. "But don't seek ter
fo'c6 me ner ter drive me none-fer thet's a thing I kain't
hardly suffer. As fur as a man kin go outen loyalty I'll go fer
you-but I've got ter go in my own fashion-an' of my own
free will. Ye've done said that I went erbout seekin' trouble
an' I hain't got no doubt ye believes what ye says albeit most
of hit's false. Ye says I lays drunk sometimes. Thet's true
an' hit's a shameful thing fer a man ter admit, but hit's a thing
I've got ter fight out fer myself. Hit don't profit neither of
us fer ye ter vilify me."
   He broke off abruptly, his chest heaving, and to Lone
Stacy it seemed that the air was electrically charged, as with
the still tensity that goes, windless and breathless, before the
bursting of thunder heads among the crags. Then Bear Cat
spoke again somewhat gropingly and with inarticulate faulti-
ness, as though a flood pressure were seeking egress through
a choked channel. The words were crude, but back of them
was a dammed-up meaning like the power of hurricane and



PI1

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



forest fire. "Thar's somethin' in me-I don't know how ter
name it-thar's somethin' in me sort of strugglin' an' a-drivin'
me like a torment! Thet weakness fer licker-I hates hit like
-like all hell-but I hain't all weakness! Thet thing, what-
ever hit be-sometimes jest when hit seems like hit ought ter
raise nme up-hit crushes me down like the weight of ther
mountings themselves."
   He wheeled suddenly and disappeared into the house where
he deposited his book on the mantel-shelf and from behind the
door swung a grain sack to his shoulder. Then he left the
house.
   Lone Stacy turned to his wife and lifted his hands with a
gesture of baffled perplexity as he inquired, "Does ye under-
stand ther boy He's our own blood an' bone, but sometimes
I feels like I was talkin' ter a person from a teetotally diff'rent
world. Nobody round hyar don't comprehend him. I've
even heered hit norated round amongst foolish folks thet he
talks with graveyard ha'nts an' hes a witch-craft charm on his
life. Air he jest headstrong, maw, or air he so master big
thet we kain't comprehend him No man hain't never called
me a coward, but thar's spells when I'm half-way skeered of
my own boy."
   "Mebby," suggested the woman quietly, "ef ye gentled him
a leetle mite he wouldn't contrary ye so much."
   Lone Stacy nodded his head and spoke with a grim smile.
"Seems like I've got ter be eternally blusterin' at him jest ter
remind myself thet I'm ther head of this fam'ly. Ef I didn't
fo'ce myself ter git mad, I'd be actin' like he was my daddy
instid of me bei' his'n."



12

 








CHAPTER II



T     HE afternoon was half spent and the sun, making its
        way toward the purpled ridges of the west, was al-
        ready casting long shadows athwart the valleys.
Along a trail which wound itself in many tortuous twists across
forested heights and dipped down to lose itself at intervals in
the creek bed of Little Slippery, a mounted traveler rode at
a snail-like pace. The horse was a lean brute through whose
rusty coat the ribs showed in under-nourished prominence,
but it went sure-footedly up and down broken stairways of
slimy ledges where tiny waterfalls licked at its fetlocks and
along the brinks of chasms where the sand shelved with
treacherous looseness.
   The rider, a man weather-rusted to a drab monotone,
slouched in his saddle with an apathetic droop which was al-
most stupor, permitting his reins to flap loosely. His face,
under an unclean bristle of beard, wore a sleepy sneer and
his eyes were bloodshot from white whiskey.
   As he rode, unseeing, through the magnificent beauty of the
Cumberlands his glance was sluggish and his face emotionless.
But at last the horse halted where a spring came with a
crystal gush out of the rhododendron thickets, and then Rat-
ler Webb's stupefaction yielded to a semi-wakefulness of in-
terest. He rubbed a shoddy coat-sleeve across his eyes and
straightened his stooped shoulders. The old horse had thrust
his nose thirstily into the basin with evident eagerness to drink.
Yet, after splashing his muzzle about for a moment he refused
refreshment and jerked his head up with a snort of disgust.
A leering smile parted the man's lips over his yellow and
uneven teeth:
                             13

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



   "So ye won't partake of hit, old Bag-o'-bones, won't ye"
he inquired ironically. "Ye hain't nobody's brag critter to
look at, but I reckon some revenue fellers mought be willin' to
pay a master price for ye. Ye kin stand at ther mouth of a
spring-branch an' smell a still-house cl'ar up on hits head-
waters, kain't ye "
   For a while Webb suffered the tired horse to stand pant-
ing in the creek bed, while his own eyes, lit now with a crafty
livening, traveled up the hillside impenetrably masked with
verdure, where all was silence. Somewhere up along the water-
course was the mash-vat and coil which had contaminated this
basin for his mount's brute fastidiousness: an illicit distillery.
This man clad in rusty store clothes was not inspired with a
crusading ardor for supporting the law. He lived among
men whose community opinion condones certain offenses-
and pillories the tale-bearer. But above the ethical bearing
of local standards and Federal Statutes, alike, loomed a matter
of personal hatred, which powerfully stimulated his curiosity.
He raised one hand and thoughtfully stroked his nose-re-
cently broken with workman-like thoroughness and reset with
amateurish imperfection.
   "Damn thet Bear Cat Stacy," he muttered, as he kicked his
weary mount into jogging motion. "I reckon I'll hev my
chance at him yit. I'm jest a-waitin' fer hit."
   A half-mile further on, he suddenly drew rein and re-
mained in an attitude of alert listening. Then slipping quietly
to the ground, he hitched his horse in the concealment of a deep
gulch and melted out of sight into the thicket. Soon he sat
crouched on his heels, invisible in the tangled laurel. His
place of vantage overlooked a foot-path so little traveled as to
be hardly discernible, but shortly a figure came into view
around a hulking head of rock, and Ratler Webb's smile
broadened to a grin of satisfaction. The figure was tall and
spare and it stooped as it plodded up the ascent under the
weight of a heavy sack upon its shoulders. The observer did



I4

 

WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



not move or make a sound until the other man had been for
several minutes out of sight. He was engaged in reflection.
   "So, thet's how ther land lays," he ruminated. "Bear Cat
Stacy's totin' thet gryste over to Bud Jason's tub-mill on Little
Ivy despite ther fact thet thar's numerous bigger mills nigher
to his house. Thet sack's full of sprouted corn, and he dasn't
turn it in at no reg'lar mill. Them Stacys air jest about
blockadin' up thet spring-branch."
   He spat at a toad which blinked beadily up at him and then,
rising from his cramped posture, he commented, "I hain't
plumb dead sartin yet, but I aims ter be afore sun-up ter-
morrer."
   Bear Cat Stacy might have crossed the ridge that afternoon
by a less devious route than the one he followed. In so doing
he would have saved much weariness of leg and ache of bur-
dened shoulder, but Ratler Webb's summing up had been cor-
rect, and though honest corn may follow the highways,
sprouted grain must go by blinder trails.
   When he reached the backbone of the heights, he eased the
jute sack from his shoulders to the ground and stretched the
cramp out of his arms. Sweat dripped f rom his face and
streamed down the brown throat where his coarse shirt stood
open. He had carried a dead weight of seventy pounds across
a mountain, and must carry back another as heavy.
   Now he wiped his forehead with his shirt-sleeve and stood
looking away with a sudden distraction of dreaminess. A few
more steps would take him again into the steamy swelter of
woods where no breath of breeze stirred the still leafage,
and even in the open spaces the afternoon was torridly hot.
But here he could sweep with his eyes league upon league of
a vast panorama where sky and peak mingled in a glory of
purple haze. Unaccountably the whole beauty of it smote him
with a sense of undefined appreciation and grateful wonder-
ment. The cramp of heart was eased and the groping voices



I 5

 


WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



of imagination seemed for the time no longer tortured night-
mares of complaint.
   There was no one here to censor his fantasies and out of
the gray eyes went their veiling sullenness and out of the lips
their taut grimness. Into eyes and lips alike came something
else-something touched with the zealousness of aspiration.
   "Hit's right over thar !" he murmured aloud but in a voice
low pitched and caressing of tone. "I've got ter get me money
enough ter buy thet farm offen Kinnard Towers."
   He was looking down upon a point far below him where
through a cleared space flashed the shimmer of flowing water,
and where in a small pocket of acreage, the bottom ground
rolled in gracious amenability to the plow and harrow.
   Again he nodded, and since he was quite alone he laughed
aloud.
   "She 'lows thet's ther place whar she wants ter live at,"
he added to himself, "an' I aims ter satisfy her."
   So after all some of his day-dreams were tangible!
   He realized that he ought to be going on, yet he lin-
gered and after a few moments he spoke again, confiding his
secrets to the open woods and the arching skies-his only con-
fidants.
   "Blossom 'lowed yestiddy she was a-goin' over ter Aunt
Jane Colby's this mornin'. 'Pears like she ought ter be passin'
back by hyar about this time."
   Cupping his hands at his lips, he sent out a long whoop, but
before he did that he took the precaution of concealing his
sack of sprouted grain under a ledge. Then he bent listening
for an answer-but without reward, and disappointment mant-
led in his gray eyes as he dropped to the age-corroded rock
and sat with his hands clasped about his updrawn knees.
   It was very still there, except for the industrious hammer-
ing of a "peckerwood" on a decayed tree trunk, and the young
mountaineer sat almost as motionless as his pedestal.
   Then without warning a lilting peal of laughter sounded



r 6

 

WHEN 'BEAR CAT' WENT DRY



at his back and Turner came to his feet. As he wheeled he
saw Blossom Fulkerson standing there above him and her eyes
were dancing with the mischievous delight of having stalked
him undiscovered.
   "It's a right happy thing fer you, Turner Stacy, that I
didn't aim ter kill ye," she informed him with mock solemnity.
"I've heered ye brag thet no feller hereabouts could slip up
on ye in the woods, unbeknownst."
   "I wasn't studyin' erbout nobody slippin' up on me, Blos-
som," he answered calmly. "I hain't got no cause ter be
a-hidin' out from nobody."
   She was standing with the waxen green of the laurel break-
ing in