Dwellers in the Hills (Chapter 8, page 1 of 7)


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Chapter 8

A great student of men has written somewhere about the fear that hovers at the threshold of events. And a great essayist, in a dozen lines, as clean-cut as the work of a gem engraver, marks the idleness of that fear when above the trembling one are only the gods,--he alone, with them alone.

The first great man is seeing right, we know. The other may be also seeing right, but few of us are tall enough to see with him, though we stand a-tiptoe. We sleep when we have looked upon the face of the threatening, but we sleep not when it crouches in the closet of the to-morrow. Men run away before the battle opens, who would charge first under its booming, and men faint before the surgeon begins to cut, who never whimper after the knife has gone through the epidermis. It is the fear of the dark.

It sat with me on the crupper as we rode into Roy's tavern. Marks and Peppers and the club-footed Malan were all moving somewhere in our front. Hawk Rufe was not intending to watch six hundred black cattle filing into his pasture with thirty dollars lost on every one of their curly heads. Fortune had helped him hugely, or he had helped himself hugely, and this was all a part of the structure of his plan. Ward out of the way first! Accident it might have been, design I believed it was. Yet, upon my life, with my prejudice against him I could not say.

That we could not tell the whims of chance from the plans of Woodford was the best testimonial to this man's genius. One moved a master when he used the hands of Providence to lift his pieces. The accident to Ward was clear accident, to hear it told. At the lower falls of the Gauley, the road home runs close to the river and is rough and narrow. On the opposite side the deep laurel thickets reach from the hill-top to the water. Here, in the roar of the falls, the Black Abbot had fallen suddenly, throwing Ward down the embankment. It was a thing that might occur any day in the Hills. The Black Abbot was a bad horse, and the prediction was common that he would kill Ward some day. But there was something about this accident that was not clear. Mean as his fame put him, the Black Abbot had never been known to fall in all of his vicious life. On his right knee there was a great furrow, long as a man's finger and torn at one corner. It was scarcely the sort of wound that the edge of a stone would make on a falling horse.

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