Day breaking on the edge of the Bluegrass and birds singing the dawn in. Ten minutes swiftly along the sunrise and the world is changed: from nervous exaltation of atmosphere to an air of balm and peace; from grim hills to the rolling sweep of green slopes; from a high mist of thin verdure to low wind-shaken banners of young leaves; from giant poplar to white ash and sugar-tree; from log-cabin to homesteads of brick and stone; from wood-thrush to meadow-lark; rhododendron to bluegrass; from mountain to lowland, Crittenden was passing home.
He had been in the backwoods for more than a month, ostensibly to fish and look at coal lands, but, really, to get away for a while, as his custom was, from his worse self to the better self that he was when he was in the mountains–alone. As usual, he had gone in with bitterness and, as usual, he had set his face homeward with but half a heart for the old fight against fate and himself that seemed destined always to end in defeat. At dusk, he heard the word of the outer world from the lips of an old mountaineer at the foot of the Cumberland–the first heard, except from his mother, for full thirty days–and the word was–war. He smiled incredulously at the old fellow, but, unconsciously, he pushed his horse on a little faster up the mountain, pushed him, as the moon rose, aslant the breast of a mighty hill and, winding at a gallop about the last downward turn of the snaky path, went at full speed alongside the big gray wall that, above him, rose sheer a thousand feet and, straight ahead, broke wildly and crumbled into historic Cumberland Gap. From a little knoll he saw the railway station in the shadow of the wall, and, on one prong of a switch, his train panting lazily; and, with a laugh, he pulled his horse down to a walk and then to a dead stop–his face grave again and uplifted. Where his eyes rested and plain in the moonlight was a rocky path winding upward–the old Wilderness Trail that the Kentucky pioneers had worn with moccasined feet more than a century before. He had seen it a hundred times before–moved always; but it thrilled him now, and he rode on slowly, looking up at it. His forefathers had helped blaze that trail. On one side of that wall they had fought savage and Briton for a home and a country, and on the other side they had done it again. Later, they had fought the Mexican and in time they came to fight each other, for and against the nation they had done so much to upbuild. It was even true that a Crittenden had already given his life for the very cause that was so tardily thrilling the nation now. Thus it had always been with his people straight down the bloody national highway from Yorktown to Appomattox, and if there was war, he thought proudly, as he swung from his horse–thus it would now be with him.
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