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His Unquiet Ghost 1911   By: (1850-1922)

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By Charles Egbert Craddock


The moon was high in the sky. The wind was laid. So silent was the vast stretch of mountain wilderness, aglint with the dew, that the tinkle of a rill far below in the black abyss seemed less a sound than an evidence of the pervasive quietude, since so slight a thing, so distant, could compass so keen a vibration. For an hour or more the three men who lurked in the shadow of a crag in the narrow mountain pass, heard nothing else. When at last they caught the dull reverberation of a slow wheel and the occasional metallic clank of a tire against a stone, the vehicle was fully three miles distant by the winding road in the valley. Time lagged. Only by imperceptible degrees the sound of deliberate approach grew louder on the air as the interval of space lessened. At length, above their ambush at the summit of the mountain's brow the heads of horses came into view, distinct in the moonlight between the fibrous pines and the vast expanse of the sky above the valley. Even then there was renewed delay. The driver of the wagon paused to rest the team.

The three lurking men did not move; they scarcely ventured to breathe. Only when there was no retrograde possible, no chance of escape, when the vehicle was fairly on the steep declivity of the road, the precipice sheer on one side, the wall of the ridge rising perpendicularly on the other, did two of them, both revenue raiders disguised as mountaineers, step forth from the shadow. The other, the informer, a genuine mountaineer, still skulked motionless in the darkness. The "revenuers," ascending the road, maintained a slow, lunging gait, as if they had toiled from far.

Their abrupt appearance had the effect of a galvanic shock to the man handling the reins, a stalwart, rubicund fellow, who visibly paled. He drew up so suddenly as almost to throw the horses from their feet.

"G'evenin'," ventured Browdie, the elder of the raiders, in a husky voice affecting an untutored accent. He had some special ability as a mimic, and, being familiar with the dialect and manners of the people, this gift greatly facilitated the rustic impersonation he had essayed. "Ye're haulin' late," he added, for the hour was close to midnight.

"Yes, stranger; haulin' late, from Eskaqua a needcessity."

"What's yer cargo?" asked Browdie, seeming only ordinarily inquisitive.

A sepulchral cadence was in the driver's voice, and the disguised raiders noted that the three other men on the wagon had preserved, throughout, a solemn silence. "What we uns mus' all be one day, stranger a corpus."

Browdie was stultified for a moment Then, sustaining his assumed character, he said: "I hope it be nobody I know. I be fairly well acquainted in Eskaqua, though I hail from down in Lonesome Cove. Who be dead!"

There was palpably a moment's hesitation before the spokesman replied: "Watt Wyatt; died day 'fore yestiddy."

At the words, one of the silent men in the wagon turned his face suddenly, with such obvious amazement depicted upon it that it arrested the attention of the "rev enuers." This face was so individual that it was not likely to be easily mistaken or forgotten. A wild, breezy look it had, and a tricksy, incorporeal expression that might well befit some fantastic, fabled thing of the woods. It was full of fine script of elusive meanings, not registered in the lineaments of the prosaic man of the day, though perchance of scant utility, not worth interpretation. His full gray eyes were touched to glancing brilliancy by a moonbeam; his long, fibrously floating brown hair was thrown backward; his receding chin was peculiarly delicate; and though his well knit frame bespoke a hardy vigor, his pale cheek was soft and thin. All the rustic grotesquery of garb and posture was cancelled by the deep shadow of a bough, and his delicate face showed isolated in the moonlight.

Browdie silently pondered his vague suspicions for a moment "Whar did he die at?" he then demanded at a venture... Continue reading book >>

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