It was a drizzly, disagreeable April night. The wind was howling in a particularly dismal and malignant way along the valleys and hollows of that part of Central Kentucky in which the rural settlement of Three Forks is situated. It had been “trying to rain” all day in a half-hearted sort of manner, and now the drops were flying about in a cold spray. The night was one of dense, inky blackness, occasionally relieved by flashes of lightning. It was hardly a night on which a girl should be out. And yet one was out, scudding before the storm, with clenched teeth and wild eyes, wrapped head and shoulders in a great blanket shawl, and looking, as she sped along like a restless, dark ghost. For her, the night and the storm had no terrors; passion had driven out fear. There was determination in her every movement, and purpose was apparent in the concentration of energy with which she set her foot down. She drew the shawl closer about her head with a convulsive grip, and muttered with a half sob, “‘Tain’t the first time, ’tain’t the first time she’s tried to take me down in comp’ny, but–” and the sob gave way to the dry, sharp note in her voice, “I’ll fix her, if it kills me. She thinks I ain’t her ekals, does she? ‘Cause her pap’s got money, an’ has good crops on his lan’, an’ my pap ain’t never had no luck, but I’ll show ‘er, I’ll show ‘er that good luck can’t allus last. Pleg-take ‘er, she’s jealous, ’cause I’m better lookin’ than she is, an’ pearter in every way, so she tries to make me little in the eyes of people. Well, you’ll find out what it is to be pore–to have nothin’, Seliny Williams, if you live.”
The black night hid a gleam in the girl’s eyes, and her shawl hid a bundle of something light, which she clutched very tightly, and which smelled of kerosene.
The dark outline of a house and its outbuildings loomed into view through the dense gloom; and the increased caution with which the girl proceeded, together with the sudden breathless intentness of her conduct, indicated that it was with this house and its occupants she was concerned.
The house was cellarless, but it was raised at the four corners on heavy blocks, leaving a space between the ground and the floor, the sides of which were partly closed by banks of ashes and earth which were thrown up against the weather-boarding. It was but a few minutes’ work to scrape away a portion of this earth, and push under the pack of shavings into which the mysterious bundle resolved itself. A match was lighted, sheltered, until it blazed, and then dropped among them. It took only a short walk and a shorter time to drop a handful of burning shavings into the hay at the barn. Then the girl turned and sped away, muttering: “I reckon I’ve fixed you, Seliny Williams, mebbe, next time you meet me out at a dance, you won’t snub me; mebbe next time, you’ll be ez pore ez I am, an’ll be willin’ to dance crost from even ole ‘Lias Hunster’s gal.”
The constantly falling drizzle might have dampened the shavings and put out the fire, had not the wind fanned the sparks into too rapid a flame, which caught eagerly at shingle, board and joist until house and barn were wrapped in flames. The whinnying of the horses first woke Isaac Williams, and he sprang from bed at sight of the furious light which surrounded his house. He got his family up and out of the house, each seizing what he could of wearing apparel as he fled before the flames. Nothing else could be saved, for the fire had gained terrible headway, and its fierceness precluded all possibility of fighting it. The neighbors attracted by the lurid glare came from far and near, but the fire had done its work, and their efforts availed nothing. House, barn, stock, all, were a mass of ashes and charred cinders. Isaac Williams, who had a day before, been accounted one of the solidest farmers in the region, went out that night with his family–homeless.