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A Knight Of The Cumberland
by [?]

I. THE BLIGHT IN THE HILLS

High noon of a crisp October day, sunshine flooding the earth with the warmth and light of old wine and, going single-file up through the jagged gap that the dripping of water has worn down through the Cumberland Mountains from crest to valley-level, a gray horse and two big mules, a man and two young girls. On the gray horse, I led the tortuous way. After me came my small sister–and after her and like her, mule-back, rode the Blight–dressed as she would be for a gallop in Central Park or to ride a hunter in a horse show.

I was taking them, according to promise, where the feet of other women than mountaineers had never trod–beyond the crest of the Big Black–to the waters of the Cumberland–the lair of moonshiner and feudsman, where is yet pocketed a civilization that, elsewhere, is long ago gone. This had been a pet dream of the Blight’s for a long time, and now the dream was coming true. The Blight was in the hills.

Nobody ever went to her mother’s house without asking to see her even when she was a little thing with black hair, merry face and black eyes. Both men and women, with children of their own, have told me that she was, perhaps, the most fascinating child that ever lived. There be some who claim that she has never changed–and I am among them. She began early, regardless of age, sex or previous condition of servitude–she continues recklessly as she began–and none makes complaint. Thus was it in her own world–thus it was when she came to mine. On the way down from the North, the conductor’s voice changed from a command to a request when he asked for her ticket. The jacketed lord of the dining-car saw her from afar and advanced to show her to a seat–that she might ride forward, sit next to a shaded window and be free from the glare of the sun on the other side. Two porters made a rush for her bag when she got off the car, and the proprietor of the little hotel in the little town where we had to wait several hours for the train into the mountains gave her the bridal chamber for an afternoon nap. From this little town to “The Gap” is the worst sixty-mile ride, perhaps, in the world. She sat in a dirty day-coach; the smoke rolled in at the windows and doors; the cars shook and swayed and lumbered around curves and down and up gorges; there were about her rough men, crying children, slatternly women, tobacco juice, peanuts, popcorn and apple cores, but dainty, serene and as merry as ever, she sat through that ride with a radiant smile, her keen black eyes noting everything unlovely within and the glory of hill, tree and chasm without. Next morning at home, where we rise early, no one was allowed to waken her and she had breakfast in bed–for the Blight’s gentle tyranny was established on sight and varied not at the Gap.

When she went down the street that day everybody stared surreptitiously and with perfect respect, as her dainty black plumed figure passed; the post-office clerk could barely bring himself to say that there was no letter for her. The soda-fountain boy nearly filled her glass with syrup before he saw that he was not strictly minding his own business; the clerk, when I bought chocolate for her, unblushingly added extra weight and, as we went back, she met them both–Marston, the young engineer from the North, crossing the street and, at the same moment, a drunken young tough with an infuriated face reeling in a run around the corner ahead of us as though he were being pursued. Now we have a volunteer police guard some forty strong at the Gap–and from habit, I started for him, but the Blight caught my arm tight. The young engineer in three strides had reached the curb-stone and all he sternly said was: