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The Exit Of Anse Dugmore
by [?]

When a Kentucky mountaineer goes to the penitentiary the chances are that he gets sore eyes from the white walls that enclose him, or quick consumption from the thick air that he breathes. It was entirely in accordance with the run of his luck that Anse Dugmore should get them both, the sore eyes first and then the consumption.

There is seldom anything that is picturesque about the man-killer of the mountain country. He is lacking sadly in the romantic aspect and the delightfully studied vernacular with which an inspired school of fiction has invested our Western gun-fighter. No alluring jingle of belted accouterment goes with him, no gift of deadly humor adorns his equally deadly gun-play. He does his killing in an unemotional, unattractive kind of way, with absolutely no regard for costume or setting. Rarely is he a fine figure of a man.

Take Anse Dugmore now. He had a short-waisted, thin body and abnormally long, thin legs, like the shadow a man casts at sunup. He didn’t have that steel-gray eye of which we so often read. His eyes weren’t of any particular color, and he had a straggly mustache of sandy red and no chin worth mentioning; but he could shoot off a squirrel’s head, or a man’s, at the distance of a considerable number of yards.

Until he was past thirty he played merely an incidental part in the tribal war that had raged up and down Yellow Banks Creek and its principal tributary, the Pigeon Roost, since long before the Big War. He was getting out timber to be floated down the river on the spring rise when word came to him of an ambuscade that made him the head of his immediate clan and the upholder of his family’s honor.

“Yore paw an’ yore two brothers was laywaid this mawnin’ comin’ ‘long Yaller Banks togither,” was the message brought by a breathless bearer of news. “The wimmenfolks air totin’ ’em home now. Talt, he ain’t dead yit.”

From a dry spot behind a log Anse lifted his rifle and started over the ridge with the long, shambling gait of the born hill-climber that eats up the miles. For this emergency he had been schooled years back when he sat by a wood fire in a cabin of split boards and listened to his crippled-up father reciting the saga of the feud, with the tally of this one killed and that one maimed; for this he had been schooled when he practised with rifle and revolver until, even as a boy, his aim had become as near an infallible thing as anything human gets to be; for this he had been schooled still more when he rode, armed and watchful, to church or court or election. Its coming found him ready.

Two days he ranged the ridges, watching his chance. The Tranthams were hard to find. They were barricaded in their log-walled strongholds, well guarded in anticipation of expected reprisals, and prepared in due season to come forth and prove by a dozen witnesses, or two dozen if so many should be needed to establish the alibi, that they had no hand in the massacre of the Dugmores.

But two days and nights of still-hunting, of patiently lying in wait behind brush fences, of noiseless, pussy-footed patrolling in likely places, brought the survivor of the decimated Dugmores his chance. He caught Pegleg Trantham riding down Red Bird Creek on a mare-mule. Pegleg was only a distant connection of the main strain of the enemy. It was probable that he had no part in the latest murdering; perhaps doubtful that he had any prior knowledge of the plot. But by his name and his blood-tie he was a Trantham, which was enough.

A writer of the Western school would have found little in this encounter that was really worth while to write about. Above the place of the meeting rose the flank of the mountain, scarred with washes and scantily clothed with stunted trees, so that in patches the soil showed through like the hide of a mangy hound. The creek was swollen by the April rains and ran bank-full through raw, red walls. Old Pegleg came cantering along with his rifle balanced on the sliding withers of his mare-mule, for he rode without a saddle. He was an oldish man and fat for a mountaineer. A ten-year-old nephew rode behind him, with his short arms encircling his uncle’s paunch. The old man wore a dirty white shirt with a tabbed bosom; a single shiny white china button held the neckband together at the back. Below the button the shirt billowed open, showing his naked back. His wooden leg stuck straight out to the side, its worn brass tip carrying a blob of red mud, and his good leg dangled down straight, with the trousers hitched half-way up the bare shank and a soiled white-yarn sock falling down into the wrinkled and gaping top of an ancient congress gaiter.