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The Tempering   By: (1879-1930)

Book cover

First Page:

THE TEMPERING

by

CHARLES NEVILLE BUCK

Author of "The Call of the Cumberland," "The Battle Cry," etc., etc.

Frontispiece by Ralph Pallen Coleman

Garden City New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1920

Copyright, 1920, by Doubleday, Page & Company

All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages including the Scandinavian

Copyright, 1919, by The Ridgeway Company

[Illustration: "' I've never seen the evening star rise up over the Kaintuck Ridges that I haven't ... thought of it as your own star. '"]

THE TEMPERING

CHAPTER I

"Nothin' don't nuver come ter pass hyarabouts!"

The boy perched disconsolately on the rotting fence threw forth his lament aloud to the laurelled silences of the mountain sides and the emptiness of space.

"Every doggone day's jest identical with all ther balance save only thet hit's wuss!"

He sat with his back turned on the only signs of human life within the circle of his vision; unless one called the twisting creek bed at his front, which served that pocket of the Kentucky Cumberlands as a highway, a human manifestation.

There behind him a log cabin breathed smokily through its mud daubed chimney; a pioneer habitation in every crude line and characteristic. On the door hung, drying, the odorous pelt of a "varmint." Against the wall leaned a rickety spinning wheel.

To all that, which he hated, he kept his stiff back turned, but his ears had no defence against the cracked falsetto of an aged voice crooning a ballad that the pioneers had brought across the ridges from tide water ... a ballad whose phrasing was quaintly redolent of antiquity.

The boy kicked his broganned heels and snorted. His clothes were homespun and home sewed and his touselled shock of red brown hair cropped out from under a coon skin cap. His given name was Boone and his life was as hobbled by pioneer restrictions as was that of the greater Boone but with a difference.

The overland argonauts who had set their feet and faces westward across these same mountains bore on their memories the stimulating image of all that they had left behind and carried before their eyes the alluring hope of what they were to find.

This Boone, whose eyes, set in a freckled face, were as blue as overhead skies and deep with a fathomless discontent, had neither past nor future to contemplate only a consuming hunger for a life less desolate. That of his people was unaltered save for a lapse into piteous human lethargy from the days when the other Boone had come on moccasined feet to win the West for they were the offspring of the stranded; the heirs of the lost.

Over all the high, hunched steepness of the ranges, Autumn had wandered with a palette of high colour and a brush of frost, splashing out the summer's sun burned green with champagne yellow, burgundy red and claret crimson. To the nostrils, too, there floated with the thistledown, hints of bursting ripe fox grapes and apples ready for the cider press.

Countless other times Boone had sat here on this top rail in his hodden gray clothes and his slate gray despair, making the same plaint, and knowing that only a miracle would ever bring around the road's turning anything less commonplace than a yoke of oxen or a native as drab as the mule he straddled.

Yet as the boy capped his lamentation with a sigh that seemed to struggle up from the depths of his being, a breeze whispered along the mountain sides; the crisp leaves stirred to a tinkle like low laughter and there materialized a horseman who was in no wise to be confused with ordinary travellers in these parts. Boone Wellver caught his breath in a gasp of surprise and interest, and a low whistle sounded between his white teeth.

"Lord o' Mercy," breathed the urchin, "hit's a furriner! Now I wonder who is he?"

The stranger was mounted on a mule whose long ears flapped dejectedly and whose shamble had in it the flinch of galled withers, but the man in the saddle sat as if he had a charger under him and it was this indefinable declaration of bearing that the boy saw and which, at first glance, fired his imagination... Continue reading book >>




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