The Last Rebel
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THE LAST REBEL
JOSEPH A. ALTSHELER
Author of "A Knight of Philadelphia,"
"The Sun of Saratoga," etc.
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY
ELENORE PLAISTED ABBOTT
PHILADELPHIA & LONDON
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
Copyright, 1898, by J. B. Lippincott Company.
Copyright, 1899, by J. B. Lippincott Company.
Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U. S. A.
|At Odds with the Compass||7|
|An Unlucky Sketch||56|
|Among the Peaks||86|
|A Change of Situations||111|
|At the Hut||138|
|Besiegers and Besieged||168|
|The Results of a Snow-Slide||195|
|I am in Favor||215|
THE LAST REBEL
AT ODDS WITH THE COMPASS.
East or west, north or south? Withall the experience of a man's yearsand the knowledge of many wise booksof travel, I could not tell. I had takenno note of the sun when I left, and, neglectedthen, it would not serve me nowas a guide. To me at that moment allpoints of the compass were the same.
The provoking sun which I could notuse as a sign-post seemed bent uponshowing how brilliant it really could be.The last shred of white and harmlesscloud had been driven from the heavens,which were a deep unbroken blue, withthe golden lining showing through like afaint, yellow haze. The glowing lightclothed the earth, and intensified the redand yellow and brown tints of the leaves,painted by the master artist, autumn. Insuch a glorious flush the woods and themountains were a dazzle and tangle ofcolor. But through all the glow andblaze of the sun came the crisp andtonic coolness which marks the waningautumn and makes it best and mostbeautiful as it goes. It was good to bealone with forest and mountain. Tobreathe and to see were enough.
I cared nothing at the moment forthe lost camp and my comrades of thehunt. Yet I was in no Arcady. Takedown the map of Kentucky, and youwill see in the east a vast region, roughenedover with the dark scrawls meaningmountains, through which no railroadcomes, and few roads of any kind either.Add to it other large and similar portionsof the map contiguous in Virginia,West Virginia, and Tennessee, and youhave enough country to make a bravekingdom,—a kingdom, too, over whichno man yet has been able to make himselfruler, not even any governor of thefour States, and they have had some fineand fit governors. In this kingdom ofmountain and wilderness I was lost, andwas not mourning it, for the time.
A light wind stirred the currents ofair and began that faint, curious moaningthrough the drying leaves which I callthe swan-song of autumn. The brilliantfoliage quivered before the lighttouch of the breeze, and the reds andthe yellows and the browns and the lingeringbits of green shifted and changedlike shaken pieces of colored silk.
But one must do more than merelybreathe and see, or even listen to thewind playing on the autumn leaves.This kingdom might be mine by rightof sole tenancy, but after a little I preferred—greatlypreferred—to find somepartner of my throne who would feedme and house me and show me my wayback to camp. Not knowing any othermode by which to choose, I chose thedirection which indicated the easiestfoot-path, though that might lead mefarthest astray. I put my rifle upon myshoulder and walked through the yellowinggrass and the short red bushes,over hills and down gullies, which werea trial to muscles and the forgiving spirit.But I came to nothing which lookedfamiliar, not a tree, not a bush, not ahill, not a rock.
I began to tire of the monotony ofthe wilderness, which was lately so beautiful;ever the same reds and yellowsand browns and bits of lingering green;ever the same burnt grass and purplingbushes and rocky hills; but never ahuman being except myself, and I amnot company for two. When onegrows lonesome beauty departs. Iabused the wilderness in its unchangedgarb, and longed for the camp and theugly black cook frying strips of baconover the coals. Hunger will not be deniedits complaints, though in my casethey availed nothing.
I wandered about until the spirit andthe flesh rebelled sorely and called uponme for the relief which I had not to give.Both ankles were in a state of openmutiny; and I sat down upon the crestof a high hill to soothe them into temporaryquiet. I observed then a verymarked change in the skies, real, and notdue to the state of my mind. The sun,as if satisfied with a half-day's splendor,was withdrawing. Some clouds, darkpurple streaks showing in them, hid theblue and made the skies sombre. Allthe bright color with which the wildernesshad prinked and primped itself inthe sunshine faded and became dull inthis twilight afternoon.
It needed no weather-wise prophet toguess quickly the meaning of thesechanges. In the mountains a whiff ofsnow sometimes comes very early,—nowand then so early that it whitensthe skirt of lingering autumn. Theclouds and the misty air with the chillydamp in it betokened such an arrival.Once more I longed for our snug littlevalley, with the camp, half tent, halfcabin, and the sight of the fat blackcook frying strips of bacon over theglowing coals.
I had no fear of a heavy snow. Theseason was too early, I thought, for anythingmore than a mere spatter of white.But snow, whether in large or smallquantities, is wet and cold, and it wassufficient to be lost, without these newtroubles.
From the hill I thought I could see avalley far to the northeast, with the blueand silver waters of a brook or smallriver shining here and there through thefoliage. I decided to make all haste towardit, for in these mountains humanlife seeks the valleys, and if I foundfood and shelter at all it would mostlikely be there.
I took small account of the roughway, and almost ran over the stones andthrough the scrub. I was in somealarm, for which there was ample cause.The clouds thickened, and clothed thehigher peaks. Yet I was cheered bymy belief that in truth I had seen a valleyof some extent; the patches of blueand silver water showed more plainlythrough the distant foliage, which lookedgreener than the withering leaves on themountain, indicating a sheltered andwarmer zone. Rising hope broughtback some of my strength, and when Ireached the summit of a new hill in thelong rows of hills that thrust themselvesbefore me as if to bar my way, I wasready to shout for gladness at the sightof smoke.
The smoke rose from the valley,merely a faint spiral of blue, slowly ascending,and melting so imperceptiblyinto the clouds that I could not tellwhere it ended. Yet there was never amore welcome sight to me than thatlittle smoky wisp which told so plainlyof man's presence.
I pushed on with new zeal, stumbledagainst a stone, and rose with an anklethat made bitter complaints. It was nota sprain, but it was unpleasantly nearone, and I doubted my ability to walkwith the cripple over so wicked a wayto the valley. I abused the cruelty offate, which was but my own carelessnessand haste, and then tried to think outthe matter. My first impulse was tothrow aside my gun and escape itsweight; that led to my second, whichwas to fire it in the hope of attractingattention.
I had plenty of cartridges. I dischargeda bullet into the air. The echowas carried from hill-top to hill-top,until at last I heard it faintly speedingaway through the distant mountains.If any one were near, such a reportcould not escape his ears; but the onlyanswer was the snow, which began tofall as if my shot had been the signalfor its coming. The soft flakes descendedgently, but they would soonput a sheet of white over all the ridges.Some melted on my face, and the dampchilled me. It was not a time to sparemy crippled ankle. I limped on, firingmy rifle a second, third, and fourth time.I could still see the spiral of smoke, atrue beacon to me, though it was all buthid by the increasing clouds.
I fired the fifth time, and while theecho was yet travelling among the peaksI heard a faint and very distant halloo.I had no doubt that it was an answer tomy shot, and, to be sure, I emptied asixth cartridge into the air. Back camethe far cry. Like the shot, it too wastaken up by the echo: ridge repeated itto ridge, faint and far away, until I couldnot tell from what point of the compassthe true sound had come.
I was perplexed, but hopeful. I believedthat help of some kind was near.I sat down on a rock and expendedmuch ammunition. The snow was stillcoming down in the same gentle undecidedway, but I was compelled to stopbetween shots and brush the damp,white patches off my clothing.
Presently the answering halloo soundedvery near me, and I ceased to fire, replyingwith a shout.
Two large dogs scampered throughthe bushes, and, approaching me, beganto bark as if they had brought game tobay. A strong voice ordered them tobe quiet, and then the owner of dogsand voice came into view.
I had expected the usual mountaineer,sallow, angular, and shabby, but I sawat once that this man was different. Theclean-featured, keen, intelligent face couldnot belong to one of the ignorant dwellersin cabins. He was tall, thin, and pastsixty, well dressed in a gray uniform,upon which the brass buttons shone withpeculiar brightness. I had seen such uniformsbefore, but they were relics, andmen do not often wear them nowadays.
He approached me, walking in theupright fashion of a military man, andshowed much strength and activity forone so far advanced in years.
"I must apologize for my dogs, sir,"he said. "They see strangers but seldom,and when they do see one theymust lift up their voices and announce itto all the world."
"The sight of your dogs, and stillmore that of their master, is very welcometo me," I replied.
He bowed with ancient grace andthanked me for my courtesy.
"I must ask your help," I said. "I'velost my way, and I've bruised my ankleso badly on a stone that I fear I cannotwalk many more miles."
"It is not far to my place," he replied,"and I will be glad to offer yousuch hospitality as it can afford."
I looked at him with the greatest curiosity,a curiosity, too, that increased withall he said. He had no weapon, nothingto indicate that he was a hunter; and theuniform of a fashion that went out ofstyle forever, I thought, more than thirtyyears ago, with its gleaming brass buttonsand freshness of texture, drew morethan one inquiring glance from me,despite my effort not to appear curiousto a stranger upon whom I hadbecome dependent. But if he noticedmy curiosity it did not appear in hismanner.
The dogs, secure in the judgment oftheir master, sniffed about me in friendlyfashion. The man pointed toward thecorkscrew of smoke which the cloudsand the film of snow had not yet hidden.
"My home is there," he said. "Come,let us start. This is no place for a manin your condition to linger. If yourankle gives way I can help you."
But rest had improved my ankle, andI found that I could walk in a tolerablemanner. He took my gun from me,put it over his own shoulder, and whistledto the dogs. They were leapingabout