The most disreputable thing in Yancey Goree's law office was
Goree himself, sprawled in his creakv old arm- chair. The rickety
little office, built of red brick, was set flush with the street --
the main street of the town of Bethel.
Bethel rested upon the foot-hills of the Blue Ridge. Above it
the mountains were piled to the sky. Far below it the turbid
Catawba gleamed yellow along its disconsolate valley.
The June day was at its sultriest hour. Bethel dozed in the
tepid shade. Trade was not. It was so still that Goree, reclining
in his chair, distinctly heard the clicking of the chips in the
grand-jury room, where the "court- house gang" was playing poker.
From the open back door of the office a well-worn path meandered
across the grassy lot to the court-house. The treading out of that
path had cost Goree all he ever had -- first inheritance of a few
thousand dollars, next the old family home, and, latterly the last
shreds of his self-respect and manhood. The "gang" had cleaned him
out. The broken gambler had turned drunkard and parasite; he had
lived to see this day come when the men who had stripped him denied
him a seat at the game. His word was no longer to be taken. The
daily bouts at cards had arranged itself accordingly, and to him
was assigned the ignoble part of the onlooker. The sheriff, the
county clerk, a sportive deputy, a gay attorney, and a chalk-faced
man hailing "from the valley," sat at table, and the sheared one
was thus tacitly advised to go and grow more wool.
Soon wearying of his ostracism, Goree had departed for his
office, muttering to himself as he unsteadily tra- versed the
unlucky pathway. After a drink of corn whiskey from a demijohn
under the table, he had flung himself into the chair, staring, in a
sort of maudlin apathy, out at the mountains immersed in the summer
haze. The little white patch he saw away up on the side of
Blackjack was Laurel, the village near which he had been born and
bred. There, also, was the birthplace of the feud between the
Gorees and the Coltranes. Now no direct heir of the Gorees survived
except this plucked and singed bird of misfortune. To the
Coltranes, also, but one male supporter was left -- Colonel Abner
Col- trane, a man of substance and standing, a member of the State
Legislature, and a contemporary with Goree's father. The feud had
been a typical one of the region; it had left a red record of hate,
wrong and slaughter. But Yancey Goree was not thinking of feuds.
His befuddled brain was hopelessly attacking the problem of the
future maintenance of himself and his favourite follies. Of late,
old friends of the family had seen to it that he had whereof to eat
and a place to sleep -- but whiskey they would not buy for him, and
he must have whiskey. His law business was extinct; no case had
been intrusted to him in two years. He had been a borrower and a
sponge, and it seemed that if he fell no lower it would be from
lack of opportunity. One more chance -- he was saying to himself --
if he had one more stake at the game, he thought he could win; but
he had nothing left to sell, and his credit was more than
He could not help smiling, even in his misery, as he thought
of the man to whom, six months before, he had sold the old Goree
homestead. There had come from "back yan'" in the mountains two of
the strangest creatures, a man named Pike Garvey and his wife.
"Back yan'," with a wave of the hand toward the hills, was
understood among the mountaineers to designate the remotest
fastnesses, the unplumbed gorges, the haunts of lawbreakers, the
wolf's den, and the boudoir of the bear. In the cabin far up on
Blackjack's shoulder, in the wildest part of these retreats, this
odd couple had lived for twenty years. They had neither dog nor
children to mitigate the heavy silence of the hills. Pike Garvey
was little known in the settlements, but all who had dealt with him
pronounced him "crazy as a loon." He acknowledged no occupation
save that of a squirrel hunter, but he "moonshined" occasionally by
way of diversion. Once the "revenues" had dragged him from his
lair, fighting silently and desperately like a terrier, and he had
been sent to state's prison for two years. Released, he popped back
into his hole like an angry weasel.
Fortune, passing over many anxious wooers, made a freakish
flight into Blackjack's bosky pockets to smile upon Pike and his
One day a party of spectacled, knickerbockered, and altogether
absurd prospectors invaded the vicinity of the Garvey's cabin. Pike
lifted his squirrel rifle off the hooks and took a shot at them at
long range on the chance of their being revenues. Happily he
missed, and the unconscious agents of good luck drew nearer,
disclosing their innocence of anything resembling law or justice.
Later on, they offered the Garveys an enormous quantity of ready,
green, crisp money for their thirty-acre patch of cleared land,
mentioning, as an excuse for such a mad action, some irrelevant and
inadequate nonsense about a bed of mica underlying the said
When the Garveys became possessed of so many dol- lars that
they faltered in computing them, the deficiencies of life on
Blackjack began to grow prominent. Pike began to talk of new shoes,
a hogshead of tobacco to set in the corner, a new lock to his
rifle; and, leading Martella to a certain spot on the
mountain-side, he pointed out to her how a small cannon --
doubtless a thing not beyond the scope of their fortune in price --
might be planted so as to command and defend the sole accessible
trail to the cabin, to the confusion of revenues and meddling
But Adam reckoned without his Eve. These things represented to
him the applied power of wealth, but there slumbered in his dingy
cabin an ambition that soared far above his primitive wants.
Somewhere in Mrs. Garvey's bosom still survived a spot of
femininity unstarved by twenty years of Blackjack. For so long a
time the sounds in her ears had been the scaly-barks dropping in
the woods at noon, and the wolves singing among the rocks at night,
and it was enough to have purged her of vanities. She had grown fat
and sad and yellow and dull. But when the means came, she felt a
rekindled desire to assume the perquisites of her sex -- to sit at
tea tables; to buy futile things; to whitewash the hideous veracity
of life with a little form and ceremony. So she coldly vetoed
Pike's proposed system of fortifica- tions, and announced that thev
would descend upon the world, and gyrate socially.
And thus, at length, it was decided, and the thing done. The
village of Laurel was their compromise between Mrs. Garvey's
preference for one of the large valley towns and Pike's hankering
for primeval solitudes. Laurel yielded a halting round of feeble
social distractions omportable with Martella's ambitions, and was
not entirely without recommendation to Pike, its contiguity to the
mountains presenting advantages for sudden retreat in case
fashionable society should make it advisable.
Their descent upon Laurel had been coincident with Yancey
Goree's feverish desire to convert property into cash, and they
bought the old Goree homestead, paying four thousand dollars ready
money into the spendthrift's shaking hands.
Thus it happened that while the disreputable last of the
Gorees sprawled in his disreputable office, at the end of his row,
spurned by the cronies whom he had gorged, strangers dwelt in the
halls of his fathers.
A cloud of dust was rolling, slowly up the parched street,
with something travelling in the midst of it. A little breeze
wafted the cloud to one side, and a new, brightly painted carryall,
drawn by a slothful gray horse, became visible. The vehicle
deflected from the middle of the street as it neared Goree's
office, and stopped in the gutter directly in front of his
On the front seat sat a gaunt, tall man, dressed in black
broadcloth, his rigid hands incarcerated in yellow kid gloves. On
the back seat was a lady who triumphed over the June heat. Her
stout form was armoured in a skintight silk dress of the
description known as "change- able," being a gorgeous combination
of shifting hues. She sat erect, waving a much-omamented fan, with
her eyes fixed stonily far down the street. However Martella
Garvey's heart might be rejoicing at the pleasures of her new life,
Blackjack had done his work with her exterior. He had carved her
countenance to the image of emptiness and inanity; had imbued her
with the stolidity of his crags, and the reserve of his hushed
interiors. She always seemed to hear, whatever her surroundings
were, the scaly-barks falling and pattering down the mountain-
side. She could always hear the awful silence of Black- jack
sounding through the stillest of nights.
Goree watched this solemn equipage, as it drove to his door,
with only faint interest; but when the lank driver wrapped the
reins about his whip, awkwardly descended, and stepped into the
office, he rose unsteadily to receive him, recognizing Pike Garvey,
the new, the transformed, the recently civilized.
The mountaineer took the chair Goree offered him. They who
cast doubts upon Garvey's soundness of mind had a strong witness in
the man's countenance. His face was too long, a dull saffron in
hue, and immobile as a statue's. Pale-blue, unwinking round eyes
without lashes added to the singularity of his gruesome visage.
Goree was at a loss to account for the visit.
"Everything all right at Laurel, Mr. Garvey?" he
"Everything all right, sir, and mighty pleased is Missis
Garvey and me with the property. Missis Garvey likes yo' old place,
and she likes the neighbourhood. Society is what she 'lows she
wants, and she is gettin' of it. The Rogerses, the Hapgoods, the
Pratts and the Troys hev been to see Missis Garvey, and she hev et
meals to most of thar houses. The best folks hev axed her to
differ'nt kinds of doin's. I cyan't say, Mr. Goree, that sech
things suits me -- fur me, give me them thar." Garvey's huge,
yellow-gloved hand flourished in the direction of the mountains.
"That's whar I b'long, 'mongst the wild honey bees and the b'ars.
But that ain't what I come fur to say, Mr. Goree. Thar's somethin'
you got what me and Missis Garvey wants to buy."
"Buy!" echoed Goree. "From me?" Then he laughed harshly. "I
reckon you are mistaken about that. I reckon you are mistaken about
that. I sold out to you, as you yourself expressed it, 'lock, stock
and barrel.' There isn't even a ramrod left to sell."
"You've got it; and we 'uns want it. 'Take the money,' says
Missis Garvey, 'and buy it fa'r and squared'.'"
Goree shook his head. "The cupboard's bare," he said.
"We've riz," pursued the mountaineer, undetected from his
object, "a heap. We was pore as possums, and now we could hev folks
to dinner every day. We been recognized, Missis Garvey says, by the
best society. But there's somethin' we need we ain't got. She says
it ought to been put in the 'ventory ov the sale, but it tain't
thar. 'Take the money, then,' says she, 'and buy it fa'r and
"Out with it," said Goree, his racked nerves growing
Garvey threw his slouch bat upon the table, and leaned
forward, fixing his unblinking eves upon Goree's.
"There's a old feud," he said distinctly and slowly, "'tween
you 'uns and the Coltranes."
Goree frowned ominously. To speak of his feud to a feudist is
a serious breach of the mountain etiquette. The man from "back
yan'" knew it as well as the lawyer did.
"Na offense," he went on "but purely in the way of business.
Missis Garvey hev studied all about feuds. Most of the quality
folks in the mountains hev 'em. The Settles and the Goforths, the
Rankins and the Boyds, the Silers and the Galloways, hev all been
cyarin' on feuds f'om twenty to a hundred year. The last man to
drap was when yo' uncle, Jedge Paisley Goree, 'journed co't and
shot Len Coltrane f'om the bench. Missis Garvey and me, we come
f'om the po' white trash. Nobody wouldn't pick a feud with we 'uns,
no mo'n with a fam'ly of tree-toads. Quality people everywhar, says
Missis Garvey, has feuds. We 'uns ain't quality, but we're uyin'
into it as fur as we can. 'Take the money, then,' says Missis
Garvey, 'and buy Mr. Goree's feud, fa'r and squar'.'"
The squirrel hunter straightened a leg half across the room,
drew a roll of bills from his pocket, and threw them on the
"Thar's two hundred dollars, Mr. Goree; what you would call a
fa'r price for a feud that's been 'lowed to run down like yourn
hev. Thar's only you left to cyar' on yo' side of it, and you'd
make mighty po' killin'. I'll take it off yo' hands, and it'll set
me and Missis Garvey up among the quality. Thar's the money."
The little roll of currency on the table slowly untwisted
itself, writhing and jumping as its folds relaxed. In the silence
that followed Garvey's last speech the rattling of the poker chips
in the court-house could be plainly heard. Goree knew that the
sheriff had just won a pot, for the subdued whoop with which he
always greeted a victory floated across the sqquare upon the
crinkly heat waves. Beads of moisture stood on Goree's brow.
Stooping, he drew the wicker-covered demijohn from under the table,
and filled a tumbler from it.
"A little corn liquor, Mr. Garvey? Of course you are joking
about what you spoke of? Opens quite a new market, doesn't it?
Feuds. Prime, two-fifty to three. Feuds, slightly damaged -- two
hundred, I believe you said, Mr. Garvey?"
Goree laughed self-consciously.
The mountaineer took the glass Goree handed him, and drank the
whisky without a tremor of the lids of his staring eyes. The lawyer
applauded the feat by a look of envious admiration. He poured his
own drink, and took it like a drunkard, by gulps, and with shudders
at the smell and taste.
"Two hundred," repeated Garvey. "Thar's the money."
A sudden passion flared up in Goree's brain. He struck the
table with his fist. One of the bills flipped over and touched his
hand. He flinched as if something had stung him.
"Do you come to me," he shouted, "seriously with such a
ridiculous, insulting, darned-fool proposition?"
"It's fa'r and squar'," said the squirrel hunter, but he
reached out his hand as if to take back the money; and then Goree
knew that his own flurry of rage had not been from pride or
resentment, but from anger at himself, knowing that he would set
foot in the deeper depths that were being opened to him. He turned
in an instant from an outraged gentleman to an anxious chafferer
recom- mending his goods.