Coal Creek Rebellion

Copyright, 1984 by Jamie McKenzie

Hidden in the shadows, young Lent Harris kept his eyes on two shaggy-looking men hunched over the commissary steps with shotguns cradled across laps and hats pulled low against the sun. A dirt road wandered past them through dozens of boarded, empty shacks. Lent could see nothing moving . . . nothing but a small band of chickens trying to scratch their lunch from hard baked earth. He had been watching all morning, waiting for these men to make some kind of move.

Finally a man shuffled out onto the store's front porch - a towering giant dressed in a wrinkled cotton shirt and dark, baggy pants held up by sagging suspenders. Lent recognized him as Captain Cross, the mine superintendent. Even from his hiding place at several hundred yards, Lent noted the coldness and sharp features of a weasel - a very large weasel. He hated Cross as much as he could hate anybody in the world.

Cross stood on the porch for a moment looking up the road toward the shacks, and then he spat into the dust.

"Time's come," he announced, giving one of the sleepers a prod
with his heavy boot.

Grumbling and sputtering, both men stumbled to their feet, grabbed up their shotguns, and fell into step behind Cross. The morning heat lay across the road in silence - a silence broken now by the muffled steps of hunters stalking prey.


Tall for fifteen, Lent sprawled behind a fallen tree in a stand of pine just down the road from the commissary. Slender and dark-haired, he normally had the face of a choir boy - a kind of sweet, smiling innocence which brought him no end of teasing from his friends - but now his face was all storm and darkness as he watched the men approach. From the moment they left the porch, he had tracked them with his squirrel gun.

"Got 'em!" he whispered, pretending to fire.

The tall one was in his sights now. Lent smiled. A slight squeeze of the trigger would send one more soul . . .

But the Mining Company which was sending these men would just send another . . . and another. Lent could still picture the hand, the hammer, the nail and the big sheet of paper giving them a week to clear out:


He could still recall the crossed arms and unyielding eyes of Captain Cross as family after family loaded mattresses, chests, rocking chairs and box upon box of belongings onto farm wagons that groaned in complaint at the heavy loads. There should be a bounty for that kind of man, he found himself thinking.

"Lent!" The whisper was an alarmed hiss in his ear. "Get back in the house before that pea-shooter of yours goes off by mistake."

His Uncle John knelt frowning by his side while his heavily calloused hand gripped Lent's shoulder. "We've got enough trouble, boy. Don't need you adding to it."

There was no time to argue, for Cross and his two gunmen were closing in on the house by now. Lent slipped quietly away from his fallen tree to scurry back along a line of bushes that led to the rear yard. Shoving the squirrel gun into a space in the wood pile, he hurried through the back door of their small house to catch the drama unraveling out front.

His mother and father sat rocking on the front porch. Not a Sunday kind of rocking. Slow and going nowhere, but not peaceful. Watchful, but silent.

Captain Cross halted before this silent couple, nodded his head slightly and then reached into his pocket. Unfolding a wrinkled square of paper, he began reading:

"As the Tennessee Coal Mining Company no longer plans to employ those who had formerly worked in the Briceville shaft, all men are hereby given notice that they, their families, and all their possessions must be removed from company property by May the fifteenth, at the latest. The foregoing is by order of B.A. Jenkins, President."

Lent saw amusement behind the man's mask - the glimmer of something dark, a shadowed form creeping out of a primitive corner. And Lent felt himself at the edge of a deep chasm, fearful of falling.

"You got to move out." The voice was distant and free of emotion. Lent watched the man spit a stream of tobacco juice into the dust. "Yesterday was the fifteenth, you know. Time's passed for leaving."

He had shoved out a hundred families, but the script was always the same . . . same words . . . same expressions . . . same quiet gunmen chewing in the background, shotguns at ready.

Lent scanned his father's face, cold and impassive like the superintendent's, no hint of anger, fear or movement. No sign that he had heard the other man's threat or command.

Charlie Harris would never move. Lent knew it. His father was like the old mountain looming above the hollow where they lived. Solid. Set in his ways. Hard to budge. Some would say stubborn. After working the Briceville shaft half a dozen years now, he had grown attached. The hollow . . . the people . . . even the mine . . . they had become home to him. He'd set deep roots in the bottom land, and now he met the captain's stare with no sign of weakening.

Lent knew his father would never move. They were the last family, but Lent felt the roots and knew his father meant to take a stand. He only wished his rifle was closer by, and found himself wondering what weapon his father would use when the time came.

He saw his father shift weight to send a stream of dark brown liquid toward the can perched on the porch edge.

"We're not movin," his father announced.

Silent shots rang out as the two men's eyes met. In the background Lent saw the gunmen tightening their grip on their shotguns.

"We're staying," said Charlie Harris. And he wiped his mouth
against his shirt sleeve before folding his arms across his chest.

A glimmer of something dark flickered once again on Cross' face, and Lent saw a smile spread across the captain's mouth . . . a smile that awakened a childhood memory Lent had shoved way back into a corner.

One day when he was much younger exploring the tall weeds behind his house, Lent noticed an older boy threading his way through the woods with a small bundle in his hands. Thinking himself alone and safe from watchful eyes, this older boy sank to his knees, opened the bundle and held out a tiny kitten which struggled and whined against its captor rough handling.

From where Lent was hiding, he could hear the kitten's whining shift to the desperate terror of torture and death. Squeezing the tiny body between his legs, the boy grabbed a front paw in each hand and begun to pull them apart, his mouth twisted in a strangely mocking smile. Lent found himself running, hands over ears, but the sound of the kitten chased him into his house, his room, his bed and the rest of his childhood. This shriek of terror stayed with him night after night for more than a year, and he still sometimes awoke with a huge smiling face looming over his head as if he were the kitten.

The same kind of smile played across the captain's features now. "We're not playing, Charlie. You'd best move out and not cause trouble."

Lent waited for his father to break the silence, but quiet settled over the porch as Charlie Harris rocked his chair and locked eyes with the other man.

Stupidly, then, the family's prize rooster, strutting and bold as ever, wandered out from behind the house.

The captain's smile broadened at the sight of the brightly feathered fighting cock. A long moment dragged by as they all saw what was coming. Cross glanced at his gunmen and nodded toward the target. When the two shotguns fired, the bird seemed to disappear. One moment he was strutting proudly, the next he was gone.

Cross nodded toward the few feathers settling in the dust of the road. "As I said, Charlie, you best move out today."

Lent watched the frozen form of his father and the rocker which had come to a complete stop. He waited for the swift lunge of revenge, some kind of strong response, but his father remained stiff and silent.

As the three men turned to wander back down the road, Lent remembered the gun lying in the wood pile. Would his father reach now for the rifle perched over the hearth? Lent could see them striding down the road together . . . Uncle John, his father and Lent. They would call Cross from the commissary and blow him across the road like the dead rooster. They would stop the smiling . . . put an end to the leering . . . silence
the screams of terror that had haunted so many nights.

Lent waited, but his father did not move, did not rise from the silent rocker. He sat stiffly, jaw working hard on his tobacco, eyes staring down at floorboards.

Lent kept waiting until his question finally burst forth.

"What are we gonna do, Pa?"

Lent saw the jaw stop for a moment and then keep on working as if his father had heard no question, as if Captain Cross had made no visit, as if that old rooster was still strutting before the house, as if nothing at all had happened and the day was just like any other day instead of the beginning of some kind of ending.

When Lent looked to his mother for an answer, she caught his gaze for a moment, then looked away, clearly uncomfortable with his question. Shrugging, she rose to her feet, smoothed out her gingham dress, and stood looking far up the hollow.

"I kinda liked it here," she said. And then, without looking at Lent she turned and disappeared into the house.

Lent's uncle moved slowly across the porch and dropped down into the empty rocker next to his brother Charlie. The two men were clearly brothers, both of them almost square in build, shoulders heavily muscled, their faces marked by the
same strong features, brows that seemed carved out of granite and eyes that reminded Lent of hawks. Charlie was a few inches taller than his younger brother, but Uncle John was known throughout the hollow as one of the strongest men to ever work the mines. He could often be found arm wrestling when he wasn't working. His fame had spread over the state line into Kentucky.

"Want me to go for George Cox's wagon?" Lent's father seemed to ignore the question, his expression blank, his jaw still working on the tobacco.

Lent kept waiting for the explosion he knew must come, the call to arms, the rush toward action, but his father did not move.

Finally, slowly - painfully it seemed - Lent saw his father stop chewing, lean forward and send a brown stream into the can.

"Got no choice," he announced. "No choice."

Lent's immediate reaction was violent. "NO!" he shouted. "We're not movin, Pa! We can't!"

Charlie Harris went back to chewing his tobacco, and his eyes never met the question that burned inside his son.

Lent suddenly found himself running, fighting tears, driven
by a rage that roared louder than earth shifting within some mine, louder than the rumble of gas exploding deep at the base of a lonely shaft, a rage more frightening than a miner's deepest fear - the fear of cave-in and burial, slow death and separation.

Lent had been so proud. Last family to leave the hollow. They, the Harris family, were the only ones to stay and fight.

It had almost made up for what his father had done months earlier. The company was fed up with union troubles. Just when business was booming along, the miners always seemed to walk out of the mines in complaint over some problem or other. And so, the president of the Tennessee Coal Mining Company, B.A. Jenkins, tired of losing money and time, had hatched a plan to end the troubles, keep the miners at work and push the union aside.

It was all pretty simple. If you wanted to work, you signed the paper. The paper said you wouldn't strike. It said you didn't want a "check-weighman" to make sure the company didn't cheat when it weighed your day's production. It said you didn't mind getting company "script" instead of cash wages - script that could only be used at a company store which charged high prices. Your signature on this contract meant you wouldn't argue company decisions and you didn't want a union.

Lent's father, reluctantly and bitterly, had signed the
contract, believing that he was buying time and security - a home, a job and a place in the hollow.

As Lent slowed to a walk, the rumble inside him settled into a duller, quieter pain. Although his dream of a last stand was hovering near death, the smile of the captain loomed before him, and Lent found himself making promises, deep promises which filled him with foreboding.


The wagon groaned to a stop, complaining loudly of the winding, rutted road they had followed up the mountain all morning. Road, family and wagon would now part company as the Harrises shouldered belongings to climb the ridge to the farm where Charlie Harris had been raised - a few acres of tobacco and a small cabin which lay half an hour away up a path which was barely wide enough for a mule.

"This could take til dark," grumbled John Harris, stepping back to eye the furniture, the chests and the family treasures which were piled high on the back of the wagon.

"Specially if you keep on talkin instead of workin," grinned his older brother. He finished unhitching the mule team and led the largest and angriest around back of the wagon.

"Climb up and give me a hand with that chest there, Lent."

Lent's thoughts were far away. In his mind he was off fighting battles on horseback. Pictures flashed like illustrations in dime novels as the miners in his daydreams found uniforms
and gallant steeds, sometimes even lances and armor. In these dreams, Captain Cross was usually the Knight of Darkness, while Lent took turns being Lancelot or Robin Hood.

Lent's band of miners sometimes resembled the green outlaws of Sherwood Forest and sometimes took on the finery of Arthur's Round Table, but one thing never changed . . . Captain Cross and his men were always defeated. Lent cut Cross down time after time like a rat caught in the feed bin. His sense of justice was simple and severe.

But his father was equally clear about his helping with the work . . .

"LENT!" The command was not especially loud, but Lent awakened as if slapped by a huge hand. His father's voice penetrated so intensely that his dream walls came tumbling down like a house of cards.

Lent vaulted onto the wagon and did as he was told.

By late afternoon the mountain of furniture had moved from wagon to porch. Lent squatted in the shadows while his grandfather rocked his chair back and forth, back and forth, the oaken ribs seeming to chant, "I told you so. I told you so." He had stood against working in the mines from the very start, and now he greeted his sons' return with cold, silent anger.

The boy's eyes wandered away from the bitter old man to explore the ramshackle farmyard. Down from the cabin ran several rows of lettuce and other vegetables, newly planted. His grandpa's house meant good food. That was one thing good about the change.

Lent gazed out across tree tops to a distant wisp of smoke. They were isolated - far removed from any other family. And far removed from the coal dust that had crept into every corner of their lives.

He hauled himself to his feet and found his way down to the creek. The water ran swift, cold and clear. As he bent to drink, he pictured the creek back in the coal camp, water clouded by debris and run-off from the mines. This was no coal camp. It was clean and unspoiled.

The two room cabin groaned with the weight of new arrivals. Lent slept with his two little brothers and his sister on mattresses thrown across the floor of the main room while the rest of the family crammed into what had once been the old man's bedroom. As night fell and the other children collapsed into an early sleep brought on by the day's hard labor, Lent found himself awake and listening to the muffled talk of father and grandfather out on the porch.

"Don't think we'll stay long, Pa. The farm's real nice, but I guess I spent too long workin the coal. It's a dirty life, but, it's what I know, what I do best."

Lent heard the older man clear his throat and spit into the darkness.

"I know it don't seem like much to you, Pa, but things are changing. A man needs some money to go to the store and buy his woman somethin nice now and then, shoes for the young ones . . . and schoolin, too. Life in town is better somehow."

The older man remained silent. He had argued once before and now there was nothing left to say.

"We'll stay a week or so until we can find work," Charlie Harris announced, his voice sounding confident and full of hope. Lent fell asleep wondering where his father found his hope. As far as he knew, the mines weren't hiring men like his father.

As the night pulled heavy covers up around his troubled thoughts, Lent dreamed of Captain Cross climbing onto an enormous dark battle steed.


While Lent took to the forest each day in search of small game, his father and uncle took a path down the mountain on a different kind of hunt. With hats in hand they approached the superintendents of half a dozen mines, but while Lent always came home with a bag of squirrel and rabbit, the two
older men always arrived home late and empty-handed.

"Work's slow right now."

"Won't hire now."

"Laid off thirty men down to Scoville."

"Closin Rose for a week or two."

And then came word of the old coal camp.

"Folks say they been tearin down all the houses to build some kind of stockade. Our place is gone . . . just bare ground now, they say."

"They brought in a trainload of convicts and guards already. They been tearin down houses one after the other."

"Convicts?" Lent had asked, surprised at the news. "What kind of convicts?"

"Don't know. Haven't seen any yet. But we heard they're sick from workin all day and bein locked up all night. Any that don't work hard enough, they get knocked around til they do."

"And one's from right here in Coal Creek, you know. Remember that Billy Evans they sent down the penitentiary a few months back for knifin a fella in the back? Well, he's back workin
in the mines again . . . only this time he ain't gettin paid for it!"

As Lent listened to the stories, he felt a hardening inside. Each time he captured a rabbit in his sights, he imagined Captain Cross and tried to blast away the pain that had built inside. And each time the two men came home with tales of convicts in the mines and real miners losing their jobs, Lent's rage darkened.

"Families been buildin cabins up in the hollows," explained Lent's father one day, "but they don't have much to eat. Most of the time they got to scratch for small game and they end up eatin beans and biscuits."

Lent's mother sat peeling potatoes into her apron. "When do you think the mines will start hirin again?" she asked.

"Don't know," sighed Charlie Harris. "I really don't know. Some say they'll bring these convicts into all the mines and throw the rest of us out for good. Folks say the owners are fed up with unions and all that . . ."

His words trailed off into silence. After a long while, his wife stood up with an apron full of peeled potatoes.

"It don't seem right, bringin all these convicts in to take jobs from folks who've been workin all these years," she announced. "It don't seem right," she repeated, shaking her
head as if she expected an answer.

Lent watched for a response from his father, some hint of a plan seething somewhere under the surface, but as he watched, his father's eyes darkened and shifted away. His mother noticed also, but spotting darkness and anger, she turned away to start the evening meal.


A few days later the two men came home excited and looking for Lent. They sent his brothers scurrying off to find him. "LENT!" they screamed, chasing around the cabin.

They discovered him out back with their sister on his lap whittling something small and delicate. It looked like a swan.

"Pa wants you, Lent."

Lent nodded and lifted his little sister, Caroline, down from his knee.

"Here," he said, handing the carving to her. "You hold on to this until we can finish it."

She looked up at him with a big smile, then watched him disappear with his brothers.

His father stood waiting impatiently.

""Got you a job today, boy. You can start drivin tomorrow down at Thistle. Boy got hurt this mornin in a bad cave-in. We were there when they brought him out."

Lent listened quietly while his uncle explained how they had jumped at the job, signing him up right on the spot.

"You get a job, too?" he asked.

They shook their heads.

"They gonna make me sign the paper?"

His father frowned. "You mean a contract?"

Lent nodded. "The paper that says no strikes and no union. The paper that says you gotta buy at the company store and do as you're told."

His father's eyes clouded as he nodded.

"Well, I ain't goin," Lent announced. "I ain't signin no paper and I ain't workin there." He dug his thumbs into his pants and planted his feet, standing ready to take a blow from his father's now upraised, threatening hand.

The hand loomed for a long moment as father stared at son,
and then Lent saw it fall to his father's side as if he had been winged by some hunter's shotgun.

"Suit yourself," he heard his father mutter. "You can find your own job, then."

A week passed with no change in luck. Each night the men returned empty handed to sit silently at the table inside the cabin. Words fled with hope. Laura Harris served stew and biscuits and left them to eat in peace. Later, out on the porch with pipes lit, they would speak of their day.

"Some of the boys are gettin ready to throw the convicts out," reported Uncle John one evening.

Lent stopped whittling to listen.

"They been meetin with a bunch of fellas from the Kentucky mines. Even been drillin . . . marchin back and forth like tin soldiers, with rifles and all, like they did it back in the war between the states."

Lent was bent forward, suddenly eager and alive. "When they gonna do it?" he asked. John shook his head. "Don't know. Expect it's gonna be soon, though. New trainload of convicts is comin in from Knoxville any day now."

Lent listened carefully to catch the name of a leader or a place, but all he heard was disapproval.

"They'll get themselves shot," said Lent's father. "Bunch of fools to march about like soldiers."

John nodded agreement. "You can't fight the mine owners. Even if they throw this bunch of convicts out, the owners will load the next train with twice as many new ones and a whole army of real soldiers!"

Lent's father seemed troubled. "I don't much like these convicts, myself, but there must be some better way . . ."

Lent stood up. He was ready to enlist in this new army of miners, ready to carry a rifle or a flag, ready to settle a score that burned in his memory like a scar. He hurried off into the night to get away from the mocking laughter of his father and uncle.

The next evening the two men returned home with a great deal of shouting.

"We're moving tomorrow!" announced Charlie Harris from a spot in front of the cabin. "Hear that? Is everybody ready to move?"

Laura Harris rushed to the doorway followed by a small crowd of faces. "Tomorrow? Did you get a job, Charlie?"

Charlie Harris grinned, relief spread across his whole face
like apple butter on warm bread.

"You bet we did. They took us both on at Fraterville. And we got a nice little house, too. There's room for a little garden out back."

Lent stood forward. "How come they hired you? I thought things were slow?"

Charlie Harris shrugged off his son's question. "Couple of men left their jobs, and we're takin their places. That's all."

Laura Harris frowned.

"How come they left, Charlie?"

Charlie Harris was no longer smiling. "They were part of that crew that's been marchin around pretendin to be soldiers. The Company laid off all men suspected to be takin part in the drills."

Lent saw his mother sink down onto one of the chairs.

"I don't know, Charlie. I don't much like this job you've brought us. I don't much like movin into another family's home or eatin another family's food."

Charlie Harris stood listening, his eyes seeming dull and

"I don't much like it either, Laura, but it's the only job I can find. I'm tired of livin squashed in this cabin and walkin from mine to mine with my hat in hand beggin for work."

He stopped to spit into the earth. "A man needs work. He isn't worth nothin unless he's workin."

He raised his hand as if to point at the sky. "Tomorrow evening, this time, we'll be in our new home." He looked from wife to son, his eyes set like heavy boulders.

Laura Harris seemed to weigh her choices for a moment, then stood with a sigh. "Guess I'll start packin, then. Seems a shame, though . . . one man losing a job so another can find one."

Lent sat quietly whittling while his uncle and father ate supper inside the cabin. His carving of the long piece of cherry was nearing completion. The barrel and stock of a miniature rifle were emerging, smooth and carefully crafted.


The mine whistle lay silent as the miners stayed late in bed while their women stirred quietly through frame houses readying biscuits, potatoes and ham for Sunday breakfast.

Lent's family rose earlier than most, for their walk to church was longer than most. Laura Harris was a preacher's daughter, a Methodist preacher's daughter who held tightly to her father's faith. This meant walking several miles down to the town of Coal Creek itself, for there was no Methodist church in the coal camp. Methodists were mostly store owners or farmers - the kind of farmers with large, well stocked barns. Methodist miners were rare, but the Harris family rarely missed a Sunday.

For Methodists, church was more than religion. It was also an important social occasion. Come each Sunday, family after family would pull up to the sharply spired, white frame building in neat buggies drawn by smartly stepping mares, the women bedecked in broad-brimmed hats and lace-trimmed blouses, the men stiff and formal in high collars and dark suits, the children uncomfortably slicked down and spruced

In the long moments before the service began, groups spread across the lawn with the women sharing new recipes for chocolate cake, the children chasing around clumps of parents, and the men speculating about whose quarter horse stood the best chance of outrunning E.C. Prescott's champion at the county fair.

The Harris family had no buggy to ride to church. They faced a two mile walk down a curving road to the town of Coal Creek, a dusty path which wandered alongside the railroad bed and the very creek the town was named after.

Lent felt sweat crawling down between his shoulder blades as they plodded along, and before long his neatly ironed pants and carefully polished shoes were covered with soft dust. His once stiff white shirt clung limp and wrinkled to his chest, while the suit jacket which once belonged to his father hung sadly from his shoulders. The whole family struggled through the morning heat in much the same condition.

Lent hoped they would arrive late. He hoped to hear the church bell which would call the families in off the lawn. That way he and his family could slip in the back of the church and find a pew without being noticed.

Lent had complained over and over again about this weekly ordeal. Since he worked and lived with miners, he didn't see
why they couldn't go to church with miners.

"Why not, Ma?" he would ask.

Laura Harris smiled each time. "I know it's a long walk, Lent. But those people are Baptists, and it's not the same thing. We believe Jesus will take us all to Heaven when our days on earth are over, but the Baptists don't."

His mother would go on describing how Baptists were different, but Lent never listened. He knew that he didn't fit in that church with those people, and each Sunday he wished he could disappear under the pew. He wondered what drew his family back again and again.

As they neared town, Lent tried brushing the dust from his clothes, but his rough hand just made matters worse, and his younger brother, Frank, began pointing and taunting, "Lent's got a sweetheart! Lent's got a sweetheart!"

Lent blushed and grabbed out for his brother's neck, but Frank darted free before the hand could connect. Catching his mother's look of warning, Lent held himself in check and contented himself with the sight of Frank fleeing down the road before them. His brother had been teasing him for weeks just because one Sunday he had spoken with a dark-haired girl at Church. Ever since then, Frank had been unmerciful.

The Harrises crossed a bridge over the creek, turned left down
a side street, and rounded a corner to face a freshly painted white church with a sharply pointed steeple and a green lawn that seemed to swarm with families.

Lent felt the weight of a hundred disapproving eyes all staring at him. It seemed as if the whole world was eying his rumpled clothes and the shroud of dust that had collected on shoulders, chest and pant legs. The whole world was staring and laughing, and there was no place to hide. He shuffled along behind his parents, his eyes looking down and away. He wondered if the girl was watching him.

He tried silent prayer . . .

"Please, Lord, won't you make the bell ring?"

No bells rang, and Lent found himself alone as his parents wandered off to join different groups. Laura Harris was quickly swallowed by a circle of chatting women while Charlie Harris stood respectfully at the edge of a group of prosperous looking men.

Lent was adrift in an unfriendly sea. There was nothing to do but lean against the church buildinh while he waited for the bell. Lent allowed his eyes to wander over the crowd, moving from face to face as he began to recognize a few of the men.

Standing stiff and tall at the center of his father's group
was G.W. Moore, the county sheriff. His long mustaches gave his face a slightly evil look, but Lent knew that Moore took the miners' side whenever he could. At least, that's what the miners all said. He'd been elected with miners' votes, and they knew they'd get something in return.

To Moore's right was a shorter, heavy-set man whose jacket opened to display a heavy gold watch chain stretching across a seemingly endless belly. John Chumbley was the superintendent of the new branch prison built to hold the convicts working the Knoxville Iron Mines.

During the entire time Chumbley stood talking, Lent noticed his hands were in constant motion. If they weren't fingering a button, they were twisting a piece of cord or messing with the watch chain. Lent wondered if there was a pistol hidden somewhere under the mammoth jacket, but then he decided even Chumbley wouldn't bring a weapon to church.

Twenty years earlier Chumbley had been superintendent of the Tennessee Penitentiary, and since that time he had held a string of jobs that guaranteed him a reputation for brutality.

Lent had heard tales of frequent beatings and unexplained deaths, of food too rancid to eat, and of men working double shifts in icy water that reached above the knees. He had heard of sickness and suicide, but he had heard no story of mercy or Christian charity. He found himself wondering what Chumbley was doing in church.

Surely this was one man who couldn't expect to get to Heaven! Even though his mother believed Jesus would forgive even the worst sinner, Lent felt certain that Jesus would have the good judgment to make a few exceptions, and he figured that Chumbley would appear high on the list.

Next to Chumbley stood a handsome, smiling hulk of a man whom Lent recognized as Dick Luallen. Luallen's general store had the best penny candy in Coal Creek, and he also owned a large saw mill which had supplied lumber for most of the houses in town. Before Lent started his first job in the mines, he had often spent summer afternoons watching Luallen's huge circular saw slice through mammoth logs as if they were sticks of butter.

The fourth member of the group Lent recognized as Donald Prebot, the operator of a large dry goods store. Lent knew little about the man - only that he and his family lived in a towering white house on Church Street. They were new in town, Mr. Prebot having moved his business to Coal Creek from Knoxville just the year before. It was Prebot's daughter who had approached him with a smile a few weeks earlier. It was she who had spoken with him and provided his brother with ammunition for teasing. Lent's feelings were mixed as he realized that she was nowhere in sight.


"Are you Lent Harris?" she had asked. And he had nodded.

"My mother knows your mother. I'm Sarah Prebot."

And with that she held out her hand, a formality that had caught Lent unprepared. He had blushed and stuck out his own big hand awkwardly.

"Pleased to meet you."


The ringing of the long awaited bell cut short Lent's thoughts as families clustered together and found their way through the doorway to their usual pews, the town leaders generally seated up front on the left. Lent and his family sat in the last row.

The large room was painted a crisp white with few decorations to break the simple, square lines and the rows of crudely fashioned wooden pews. Only a few windows had colored panes and there was nothing but a small wooden cross perched on the wall above the pulpit, but the church was still a great deal more elegant in Lent's eyes than the ramshackle building the miners used for worship.

Lent settled on the hard wood and waited for the minister to begin the ordeal. He noticed the girl, Sarah, immediately, six rows forward, but he tried not to stare at the long dark
hair and bright red ribbon. Before long he found his mind wandering off to another time and another place. He saw himself as older, a tall, handsome figure in a dark blue uniform astride a beautiful stallion commanding a large

army that was advancing along the valley below to engage the enemy in battle. Lent had gathered his staff at the crest of a long ridge and was busily sending off orders to the men below.

In the midst of all the coming and going, a courier broke wildly through the circle of officers and reined his horse to a violent stop right before Lent, his jacket darkly blood-stained and his horse ready to collapse.

"We've been attacked by cavalry on the left flank, General. The men are being overrun and cut down, and the Colonel says we must pull back to regroup."

"Never!" Lent heard himself cry. "We must attack!"

His brother elbowed him and whispered in his ear . . .

"Stand up, Lent!" It was a hymn.

Later on Lent found himself in the middle of another dream as the minister droned on through his endless sermon and the room sagged under the heavy, unrelenting heat of midsummer. In this dream he imagined his father with a band of heavily armed miners. His father was leader and spokesman . . .

Chumbley stood at the stockade mocking the ragged army of miners. He greeted Lent's father with contemptuous laughter.

"Go on home, Charlie Harris. You and these other boys here should stop playin soldier and go on home to your families before you get yourselves hurt."

Charlie Harris lifted his rifle and aimed it at Chumbley's chest.

"Out of the way, Chumbley!"

Chumbley's answering laugh was deep and loud, and it rolled from his belly like summer thunder . . . thunder cut short by rifle fire from a dozen miners, booming new thunder that echoed against the hillside and vibrated through the coal camp with the warning of a coming storm.

But Lent's dream and all the thunder was cut short by another elbow from his brother. Lent's head jerked to attention just as the minister came to the point of his sermon.

"The Lord Jesus tells of two men who built houses. One dug deep and tied the foundation to rock. And it is this man who builds his life on the words of Jesus."

Lent rubbed his eyes against the temptation of sleep. The minister paused as if the next few words were almost too big to say. "And then," he thundered mightily, waving a finger
of warning, "then there was the foolish man who built his house on sand. And we all know of such men, don't we? These are the men who ignore the words of Jesus and do just as they please."

Again he stopped and waited for what seemed to Lent to be an hour. "And you all know what happened in the Bible story. A great storm roared down from the heavens. It tore at the first man's home, but found it too strong to shake. Neither wind nor rain nor high waters could shift that house from its foundation."

"And so it is with your lives . . . If you trust in the Lord and follow his Word, you will stand up to the storms of life just as that house did."

And now the minister raised his finger in warning once again. "But heed the lesson of the foolish man who built on sand. The storm swept his house down into the valley and crushed it into tiny pieces. For he did not follow the Word of our Lord. And the same will befall each of you if you come to church Sunday after Sunday and fail to bring home the Word."

Lent shifted uncomfortably in his wrinkled clothes. Passing his eyes over the congregation, he wondered how many of them really did take the Lord's Word home with them. His eyes rested on Captain Chumbley. Had he listened to the sermon? Could he understand it? Lent had his doubts.

Lent's mind wandered to the story of the Good Samaritan. He tried to imagine Captain Chumbley stopping to help a man beaten and thrown to the roadside, but he could not picture it.

His eyes began moving again, landing for several moments on Sarah's long, dark hair and bright, red ribbon.

Suddenly he found himself flushing with embarrassment as she turned her head and caught him mid stare. His eyes darted swiftly away, a moment too late, for he thought he had seen the glimmer of a smile darting out from behind her eyes. He wanted to look back, but his eyes stayed glued to the floor boards at his feet.

As the congregation rose to sing, Lent felt sure he was being stared at, but he buried his face in the hymnal. When he finally built the courage to sneak a look, he caught her eyes darting away.

When his family shuffled back to the coal camp and morning turned to afternoon, Lent kept seeing the smiling, taunting eyes. He dreamed once again that he was a general on horseback marching an army through a hostile South. Lent had once seen a picture of a cotton plantation with a white columned mansion surrounded by slave quarters, and now he saw himself riding up to the door of the mansion, his officers following respectfully behind him.

Standing at the door was a dark-haired beauty with shot-gun in hand. Lent reined in his horse and tipped his hat gallantly.

"Evening, Ma'am. My men and I need a place to settle for the night, and we'd be pleased to pay you for food and lodging."

The lady's eyes burned with hatred. "No Yankee will ever sleep in this house," she announced.

The general was about to reply when the dream was interrupted by his mother's impatient voice.

"The weedin, Lent. You said you'd do the weedin when we got home."

The dream dissolved into coal dust as they came into sight of the mine tipple looming above a smoldering slag pile and the rows of frame houses. They marched on past the commissary with its broad front porch and half a dozen men chewing tobacco in its shade. Next to the commissary sat two saloons and the small building used as church on Sundays and school the rest of the week. Their own house lay across a log bridge on the other side of the creek.

As they crossed the bridge, Lent stared down into the yellowish brown current seeping through ash-covered banks. The stench of waste, both human and mine, forced Lent to hold his breath. He found himself wishing for the clear stream
up at Grave's Gap, remembering trout he had caught there.

He would waste no time fishing in this creek. The fish had long since passed down stream or died away.


The pile of firewood slowly grew taller as Lent chopped his way through the early morning. Each time he felt the ax bite wood, a faint smile flickered momentarily. With each blow anger rose to the surface, dark and shining like freshly mined coal.

The mining camp awakened around him with children running wildly about while mothers began to wrestle with the day's washing. Lunch pails in hand and faces freshly scrubbed, the men had left much earlier for the darkness of the mine shafts, reporting at the tipple just as the rising sun cast a rose hue across the sky to signal the arrival of a new day.

These miners lived most of their time in darkness. Rising before the sun, they lined up to disappear down shafts where they would spend their day carving and shoveling coal into iron cars that would be dragged back to the elevator shaft by mules who had no memory of the color green. They worked in an ocean of darkness cut here and there by lanterns and candles too weak to offer any real warmth or comfort. Like distant, flickering beacons along a rocky coast, they spoke
more of danger and warning than home and harbor.

Death lurked in the shadows and seemed to taunt the men. Sometimes it came rumbling down upon them, a mountain of stone and coal shifting and collapsing as a house will tumble upon its foundations after termites have eaten through the main timbers. And sometimes it chose to dance with the flame of a candle, sparking some wandering gas released by all the hammering and digging. Death might come quickly or it might linger, locking the miner in a room with no exit.

As Lent chopped, he recalled an August morning when he had been playing along the creek with other children. The mine whistle had blown - signal of disaster. He remembered looking up from his play to see an entire mining camp freeze and then run. Laundry, stoves and children were dropped and left behind as all the women sprinted toward the mine to discover just how bad it was, whose father or brother or husband was crushed or buried this time. The terror in their eyes had stayed with him through the years, sometimes visiting in dreams, sometimes disturbing the calm of a summer morning like this one.

Even as the sun wrapped him in its warmth, Lent found himself missing the darkness and the danger of the mines. Carving tunnels through stone had become a way of life. Somehow the danger and the hardship formed a bond among the miners, a brotherhood that drew them together.

As father and son worked side by side, the stories of disaster and danger, of brotherhood and survival, were told and retold until a folklore emerged to cloak mining with a robe of heroism and courage that brought pride to the miners and their families. These were not common laborers digging ditches in the earth. They were Greek warriors fighting demons and evil spirits, struggling each day like Odysseus on his way home from Troy.

This miner's pride would not easily wash off, for it clung like coal dust clings to the body even after the evening bath that was every miner's ritual. This miner's pride drove Lent's ax deeply into the wood as he thought of Captain Cross and the mine owners who had brought a new kind of mining disaster to Coal Creek.


He turned to see his friend Silas struggling up the path toward his wood pile. Silas had injured his leg in a cave-in, and his heavy limp slowed him down considerably.

Lent smiled at his sweating friend who was so out of breath he couldn't speak.

"What is it, Silas? Is there a fire or something?"

Silas shook his head and looked around to see if they were alone. He grabbed Lent's shoulder and pulled him close.

"They're meeting," he whispered hoarsely.

Lent grew serious and his frown returned. He, too, looked around to make certain no one was listening.

"Where, Silas? Where's it gonna be?"

"Rock face at noon. You going?"

Lent nodded.

Silas smiled and squeezed Lent's shoulder with his big hand. "I'm glad you're with us, Lent. We'll send those convicts packing and teach the owners a lesson. You'll see."

And then Lent noticed a change in Silas. He seemed to be remembering something unpleasant. His face darkened, and he seemed to be struggling.

"What is it?" Lent asked. "What's the trouble?"

Silas shook his head. "Nothing, Lent."

Lent took Silas by the shoulders and forced him to look him in the eye. "What is it, Silas? You're holding something back."

Silas looked down and away. "It's your pa," he muttered.
"Some of the men didn't want me to tell you about the meeting cause of your pa."

Lent pushed his friend away and cursed. His body was stiff with the shame and anger struggling for control within.

"I can't help what my Pa does," he whispered.

Silas nodded. "That's what I told 'em, Lent. I told em you were with us all the way. I told em how you wouldn't take that job your pa got you. So they said you could come."

Lent still frowned. He felt the weight of his father's

surrender heavy upon his shoulders now.


Now it was his mother calling from the doorway of their house. She had been watching them, Lent could tell, but he didn't know how long.

"You better go, Silas. I'll see you at the rock face."

He buried the ax in a nearby stump and walked slowly toward his mother.

"What is it, Lent? What did Silas want?"

Lent stared into his mother's fiery green eyes, wondering how
much to tell her.

"He wanted to go fishing, Ma. That's all."

His mother's eyes spoke of disbelief.

"Silas Turner never ran nowhere in his life like that unless it was for something important. The way he came huffin and puffin with his face all red and sweatin, I know it was something more than fishing."

Lent was trapped, but he remained silent. He could feel his mother's eyes trying to read what was going on inside his head, digging deep within to mine the secrets hidden below.

She reached out a hand to touch his cheek softly.

"I've a notion that you and that boy are running straight after trouble." She shook her head. "And I've a pretty good idea what it might be."

For a moment she looked troubled and undecided, but then she bent over to kiss him. "Just you be careful, Lent Harris. If those fish get too big to handle, you cut your line and get right on home here."

Lent could tell she was fighting tears.

"I'll be fine, Ma. Don't you worry."

His mother nodded. "I know you will, son. I know."


Lent hurried along the path, eager to hear when and how the miners would strike. After months of holding anger within he could finally load it into a rifle and send it where it belonged.

The group of men swung rifle barrels his way the moment he broke into the clearing.

"What do you want, boy?" Lent recognized the tall speaker as D.B. Munroe, a local hero among the miners who had often stood up to the mine owners when trouble had started. He had the huge, muscled shoulders of a man who had devoted years to lifting and digging.

"I want to join," Lent answered in his strongest, man voice, wondering if Munroe would send him away now because of his father.

"You Charlie Harris' boy?" asked Munroe, moving closer to scrutinize this young man trying to stand tall before the doubtful eyes of the group.

Lent nodded. He felt like a horse at an auction as the group of men joined Munroe in a circle that tightened around him,
a human noose of questions and suspicion.

Lent remembered that Munroe had been the main spokesman against the contract which took away the miner's right to pick their own check-weighman. Since miners were paid by how much coal they shoveled into the metal cars, they wanted to make sure the owners couldn't cheat them by weighing the coal unfairly. Munroe had been loud, angry and unsuccessful.

Lent scanned the tough, reddened face for anger or contempt, but he saw nothing but serious questioning.

"His pa's a scab!" yelled one man.

"Yeah, we don't need his kind," added another.

Lent felt his stomach tighten. Ignoring the hateful eyes of the last speaker, he spoke directly to Munroe.

"I drove mules for Tennessee Mining for two years, but when they shoved that new contract in front of me, I never signed it."

He paused and looked around at the other men. "It's true my Pa signed," he said, "but I ain't my Pa. I'm here to fight. What he does is his business."

Munroe smiled slightly at this. "How old are you, boy?"

"Fifteen, Mr. Munroe. And my name is Lent."

He stood tall and proud as the older man walked over and took him by his shoulders. His hands were heavily calloused and yet strangely gentle now as he stared into Lent's eyes.

"Can we trust you to keep our plans a secret?"

Lent nodded. "Yes, sir."

Munroe released his shoulders and waved over a man who produced a battered old Bible. Lent recognized the man as John Hatmaker, another of the miner's leaders.

"Put your hand on this Bible and repeat my words, Lent."

Lent swallowed hard and somehow found the breath to force out the words. "I swear to keep the secrets of this solemn brotherhood of miners. . . "

Lent imagined a long hallway with a door at one end. As he spoke the words, he saw the door to this hallway swing slowly shut and the heavy sound of metal striking metal echoed through his brain.

". . . to give my life, if need be. . ."

The hallway seemed to be growing shorter and shorter.

". . . to never quit until every convict is dead or gone."

It seemed like the walls were closing around him.

"If anyone betrays the brotherhood, I will help deliver the punishment of death."

The door suddenly swung open to show Lent's father bound to a tree, a bullet wound clearly marking his forehead. Lent frowned and cast the grotesque image out of his mind.

D.B. Munroe was shaking his hand warmly, welcoming him to the brotherhood.

"Sit yerself down, Lent. We're makin plans for the stripes up at Briceville."

Lent settled down on a log to listen to the older men debate tactics. They seemed about evenly divided between those who wanted to set the convicts free and those who wanted to burn the place down, killing everyone within.

John Hatmaker stood to argue the case for killing the guards. "Some of them used to work side by side with us, and now they're carryin guns for the company. Seems like we ought to show folks that it matters what side they take."

Another leader, a tall man with a white straw boater, Eugene Merrill, argued for calm and restraint. "I don't know, John.
If we go in there shootin and killin, they'll rush the militia down here and we'll end up fighting a war. We're better off with words than guns."

Hatmaker looked disgusted. "Time's passed for words. We've tried words before, and what good did they do?"

He stopped to pat his rifle. "There's only one kind of talk they understand," he said. And with that, most of the group nodded agreement.

Merrill looked around at the angry faces and frowned. "I know how you all feel," he said, "but if we start off killin, they'll chase us down put ropes round our necks. We won't get any changes, just an early grave."

The arguing went back and forth in the same manner for several hours until the two sides struck a compromise. They agreed to start with talk and hold their fire until the guards started something. Hatmaker, Munroe and Merrill went over the plan several times until each man knew what he was to do and what the signal was to begin firing.

"Spread the word to all those who are with us to meet here on Tuesday. We'll march up the tracks from here to the Tennessee stockade . . ."

The group split off to spread the word through the valley, and Lent knew that some would race their horses north to the
Kentucky mines where there were many friends willing to take up rifles in support of their cause.

Lent took his time returning to his house, wondering how he would get away to join the group in its visit to the stockade. It was clear that he could tell neither parent about the raid. He was on his own and they would just have to keep out of his way.

The sky was a clear, thin blue where it showed through the tree tops. There was no sign of the storm soon to hit the valley.


Lent helped his mother fix his father's bath by hauling buckets of water from the well they shared with several other families. As he plodded along with water slopping over the wooden sides, his mind focused on plans for his escape.

"Here, son. Fetch some more stove wood."

Mrs. Harris handed Lent a box, but Lent stood lost in thought.

"Son!" His mother was frowning by now. "You stand there dreamin long enough and this fire's gonna die. Get a move-on."

"Yes, Ma'am."

Lent hurried out to the back of the house where the wood was kept neatly stacked. His sister Caroline was playing happily in the grass with his wooden carving of the swan.

"Hi, Lent."

He smiled and turned to the wood-pile. As he carefully laid the wood in the box the way his mother liked it, he wondered if his father and uncle would be going to the saloon after supper. That would make his escape easy.

When the box was full, he waved to his sister and made his way back to the kitchen.

"Thanks, son. You can go off now, if you want."

Lent grabbed a wooden chair and settled down with a satisfied sigh. "I think I'll sit til you need more water."

"Suit yourself, Lent."

Lent surveyed the small kitchen thoughtfully. The walls were unpainted planks, rough hewn and hastily thrown together. Whoever built the house had no intention of living in it. His mother had tried picking up the appearance - calico curtains around the one small window and a small glass full of wild flowers on the table - but it was the same drab kind of room Lent had known as long as his father had worked in the mines.

In one corner sat a large wooden tub, half filled with steaming water, where his father and uncle would scrub away at the black coating they always carried home with them. Across the room squatted a soot-darkened iron stove with large kettles for heating the bath water. Each time his mother opened the stove's grate to feed it more wood, Lent could see hungry
flames dancing within.

As he watched her fussing over some small pots which held the night's supper, Lent thought his mother looked old and tired out. He stood up suddenly and wandered out into the space which served as living room and parlor.

The picture on the wall showed a different woman. This Laura Harris was so young, so beautiful and so smiling, her face not yet creased by years of living with the mines. Soft curls framed an oval marked by passionate eyes and a prettily pointed nose. And the groom beside her stood handsome and proud, shoulders as yet unbent by years and tons of coal. Lent shook his head at the sight of his parents stepping out of church with dreams and visions that had never come true. He wondered what would happen to his face and his dreams.

When he entered the kitchen, he found his mother sitting, her head in her hands. Hearing his footsteps, she sat upright and tried to smile, but Lent noticed heavy lines across the forehead. Although she tried to hide them in her apron, Lent could see that her hands were rough from years of washing, scrubbing, digging, kneading, peeling and sewing. Her hair, once a rich, reddish brown that caught attention wherever she went, was now dull and fading. To Lent, her face seemed gaunt and haggard, perhaps because her cheeks were somewhat sunken from the loss of teeth.

As Lent slid back into his chair, he noticed one remnant of
his mother's beauty . . . her eyes. They remained a piercing, bold light in the middle of a tired and aging face. There was still a sparkle and a glimmer of dreams.

"Now what are you starin at, boy?" Mrs. Harris rose to her feet and stood with hands on hips.

Lent looked away and muttered, "Nothin." He wondered if that girl he'd seen in church would grow old by the time she was thirty, but then he thought of the other women he had seen in church and knew the answer. The wives of doctors and store-owners did not seem to grow old. They had children his age, but their faces were strangely unmarked. They looked ten years younger than his mother.

And now he caught her staring at him. She looked worried.

"What is it that's so heavy on your mind this evenin, Lent? You never looked so dark and angry before."

Lent glanced down at his hands.

"Ma . . . Did you ever wish you hadn't married a miner? Someone with money? Or a house in town? Someone more like your own pa?"

Laura Harris stepped back as if slapped across the face.

"Lent! Whatever made you ask questions like that?"

Lent's hands rubbed together nervously. "I just wondered if you ever wished things had turned out differently." He looked up to search his mother's face and noticed her anger soften into understanding.

Laura Harris wiped hands on apron and settled onto a nearby wooden chair with a sigh. "I suppose I once thought of a house in town and . . . well . . . a flower garden. I always thought it would be nice to have a flower garden . . . one with roses."

Lent noticed her face grow calm. After a few quiet moments, she continued, "I once thought Charlie might be hired to work as a foreman or something. We might have moved into town then."

His mother became silent once again, and the two of them sat dreaming of other lives while the fire cracked on in the iron stove and the iron kettles began to steam.



It was Charlie Harris with lunch pail in hand and a face fully blackened by a day in the mines. His sudden arrival set off a flurry of activity as the bath was readied and the soiled clothes were stripped off to lie in a pile near the back door.

"How was it today?" asked Mrs. Harris.

"Not bad," his father grunted, as he always did.

Lent watched the older man scrub at the stubborn dust, a trail of blackened soap suds sliding from neck and shoulders into the once clean water of the tub. He had learned long ago that his father rarely spoke to his wife of what happened in the mines. He had learned it the first day he himself went down to work in the mines.

The morning of his ninth birthday his father led him to the tipple for his first job. Lent had spent the day picking up small coal pieces that scattered about as his father's pick went to work on the seam. The larger pieces he left for his father, but the small ones were his responsibility.

On that first morning he had hustled from piece to piece in order to show his father he could handle the job. He was so wrapped up in the work that he almost missed his father's warning whistle and raised hand. He froze in place, just as he had been taught to do, and watched for his father to show what to do next. The roof above his head was groaning and creaking as if the whole mountain was about to collapse and crush them against the floor, but his father stood calmly waiting and watching.

After a few moments, his father signalled for him to follow, and they had slowly backed their way out of the work area.
A few seconds later, the rocks started raining down from the ceiling with an enormous, thundering roar and Charlie Harris yelled to his son, "Hit the ground!"

Lent dropped immediately to his knees and crouched with arms over his neck the way he'd been taught. When the rocks stopped falling, the air was filled with choking dust that forced them to stumble blindly along the tunnel back to the main shaft.

That night his mother asked, "How was it today?" and Charlie Harris had grunted the same answer he always gave.

"Not bad," he said, leaving his son surprised and confused but proud at the sharing of a man secret.

Now Lent found himself wondering if his father was again hiding the truth. He seemed agitated and ill at ease as he scrubbed away at the dust.

"Any news of the convicts?" asked Laura Harris.

"The main group is coming tomorrow by train," answered Charlie Harris.

"They say there'll be a couple a hundred of em."

Mrs. Harris shook her head in anger. "It isn't right! They got no business bringing them in here like that."

Charlie Harris shrugged and went back to washing away the grime.

Lent felt the old anger creeping up inside as he saw his father's shrug. He couldn't see how his father could manage to block out the arrival of the convicts as if it meant nothing. His father stood in the tub and began drying.

"I hear there may be trouble tonight," he announced.

"What kind of trouble?" asked Mrs. Harris.

"Bunch of the men said there's gonna be a meeting tonight to run the convicts out of the valley."

Lent felt his breath catch at his father's words. "Are you goin, Pa?"

His father's answer was an angry look. "No. I ain't goin to no meeting."

Lent settled back in his chair and waited for supper. He could see that he would walk alone that night. If danger fell upon him, his father would not be there to give a whistle of warning or signal what to do. He was walking down a long tunnel all by himself, and the light he was following seemed to keep moving just beyond reach.


It was turning dark by the time Charlie Harris and his brother John had headed off to the saloon. Lent could finally think of leaving. His gun lay waiting for him where he had hidden it, but he was careful not to rush or seem impatient.

Finally, almost as if by plan, his mother wandered down the road to sit with a neighbor lady and sew. Since his brothers and sister had already disappeared to play hide-and-seek in the creeping darkness, Lent was able to slip away into the forrest unnoticed, rifle in hand. Once beyond earshot of the house, he hurried along the path so as not to miss Silas where he would be waiting near the railway tracks.

Silas crouched at the base of a huge maple tree, a heavy gauge shot gun cradled across his arm. At the sound of Lent's running feet, he swung the barrel round and called out a warning.

"Who's that? You stop right there now!"

""It's me, Silas!"

Silas swung the barrel away and spat noisily. "I been here all night, it seems. Where you been, Lent?"

Lent shrugged for an answer. "Let's go," he said. "If we stand here talkin, we'll miss the others."

The two boys set off at a trot, Lent slowing the pace a bit for his limping friend. After half an hour of following trails through the heavy woods, they came upon the miners' meeting place and found the clearing brightly lit with more than a hundred lamps and blazing torches. It was hard to count, but Lent thought there had to be several hundred men seething around the leaders. Some he recognized as local miners, but many faces were strange to him, and these he guessed were the miners from Kentucky.

The crowd was ready to move. They had heard speeches and sung a song or two. And now it was time. Eugene Merrill jumped onto a tree stump in the center of the crowd and raised arms to gain quiet.

"Are you ready?" he shouted.

The voices rose to greet his question like a tidal wave. He raised his arms again and waited for the screaming to settle down.

"All right, then. Remember, though. Ingraham, Turner and
I will start by giving them a chance to surrender."

This last message was greeted by groans. This crowd had no patience with talk. Each man held a rifle, and some carried pistols besides. Most intended to use them.

As Merrill gave the signal to start, the miners squeezed onto the narrow path toward the stockade, and the two boys found themselves swept along like small bits of wood in a storm swollen creek. Angry voices surged around them and the night was filled with curses.

When they finally poured out onto a hilltop overlooking the stockade, the wooden rectangle with its shacks and other buildings appeared small, dark and deserted.

Lent watched Merrill step to the front of the crowd, raise his pistol and fire two shots into the night sky. Below them, the stockade awakened with a great deal of shouting and lantern lighting.

Merrill tied a white rag on Captain Ingraham's rifle and began walking down the hill with him and Turner. Lent guessed the walls of the stockade were a good two hundred feet long and twenty feet high, with a block house set in the middle. As the three men neared the wall, they called out to those inside.

"You there, Cross?"

Lent could see nothing move within the stockade from where he stood, but he heard the same voice that had told his family to move. The voice carried all the way up the hillside.

"You all better go on home, now. These prisoners are under the protection of the state of Tennessee, and any man that steps near this stockade with a weapon can be shot on the spot."

Merrill did not waver but answered in a voice that was equally strong. "There are three hundred men here, Cross, and we know there are just six of you."

He paused to let his message sink in. "We want those convicts of yours let loose, Cross, and there ain't no wall and no man that's gonna stop us."

At these words, the hillside full of miners roared agreement and filled the night with a blur of waving torches.

Merrill raised his arms for quiet.

"We'll burn you out, if we need to, Cross, but no one gets hurt if you lay down your rifles and let us in."

Cross was silent. The entire stockade was silent. Even the hillside was silent as the miners awaited an answer.

"You up there, Cross?"

A single shot cut through the silence and thudded into the ground at Merrill's feet.

"That's my answer, Merrill. Step any closer, and the next shot will buy you a grave."

Merrill waved to the miners to take cover and ran back to the tree line with the rest of his committee.

"OK, men!" he shouted. "Fire one round."

Lent lifted his squirrel gun, feeling foolish as he noticed the men around him aiming Winchesters and Colts. All at once the night was fractured by hundreds of shots, no two of which seemed fired at the same time.

Just as suddenly, the silence returned as the miners awaited the next command. Lent was flushed with the excitement of his first battle as he hastily rammed a new load down the old muzzle-loader and crouched in readiness.

A thin voice called up from the stockade.


"What do you want, Cross?"

Lent tried to picture the man who had stood in the road before his house. He imagined him cowering behind the wooden

"We're coming out!"

Lent watched as the gate to the stockade swung open and Cross emerged with a half dozen guards with hands above their heads. The man looked small and helpless as he stood unarmed in the light of the miners' torches, but Lent suddenly found himself swept up once again as the miners rushed forward to open bunk houses and free the convicts.

The convicts were lined up double file and marched along down the road with miners swarming all around them, joking and yelling, pushing and prodding. It seemed to Lent a bit like a carnival as the joy of the miners mixed with the relief of the convicts. Both groups could almost taste the freedom that seemed just around the bend.

Houses along the road awakened to the uproar as the sky began to lighten around the edges. Here and there a hand offered bread or a shirt to the ragged group of convicts, many of whom stumbled along obviously weakened from the weeks of living under Cross' rule.

Silas and Lent hurried along with the human tide, listening eagerly for stories of life in the stockade. One man swore he'd not seen daylight for three weeks. Another pulled up his shirt to show a back that was purple from bruises.

{All I did was complain about the food," he explained.

"We were all gonna die there," insisted another man. "They were gonna work us til we dropped."

Earlier that night, the miners had cursed the convicts, but the stories of rotten food, endless work and harsh punishment softened them and drew them all together, as many a convict found a miner at each side to help him along the road.

Lent could still picture Cross and his men slipping away into the darkness, and he found himself wishing more had been done, more shots fired, more pain inflicted. To his way of thinking, Cross was building up a large debt.

When the crowd reached town, it was morning, and after the convicts were loaded onto a freight train headed for Knoxville, they were sent along their way to the victorious cheers of the miners. The early morning train steamed loudly out of the small town and sent back a plaintive, whining whistle, almost in warning, as it wound out of sight. Lent followed the smoke of the engine as it skirted the tree line, and he wondered what lay before the convicts . . . how many would jump train before Knoxville and how many would just end up back in prison?

His father sat waiting for Lent's return. His rocker moved with slow anger.


Lent approached the older man tentatively, almost as if afraid his father would leap forward to strike him. His father just stared into his eyes, probing for something.

"I had to go, Pa."

His father frowned and then nodded. "Figured you'd see it that way."

Lent's face showed quick surprise. "Then why didn't you stop me?"

At this, his father looked away and shifted uneasily. His rocker ceased moving. "I couldn't stop you. You're old enough to figure things for yourself and pay the price if there is a price."

"What do you mean?"

Charlie Harris stood up and walked toward his son. As they stood head to head, toe to toe, Lent knew he was just a finger taller.

Charlie Harris looked away at the sky again. "Rifles have a way of staying loaded," he said. "And the shots you fired tonight are just the beginning. There'll be soldiers back here on the next train from Knoxville, and then you'll see
real fighting."

Lent shook his head. "You're wrong, Pa. When they hear about a whole army of miners marching and fighting together, they won't dare send soldiers or stripes into this valley."

He saw his father shrug and shake his head. "I wish you were right, boy, but I fear the worst is coming."

Lent watched his father disappear down the path to the tipple, cap in hand, and wondered how he could go on with work as if nothing had happened.


Lent slept late into the morning. To his mother, his sleep seemed calm for the first time in months, and staring down at her son's face, her thoughts travelled back to the days when she first met Charlie, a hot-tempered young miner whose temper gradually softened under her calming touch. His fame for fighting had spread beyond Coal Creek to all of the neighboring towns, and when professional fighters came to town, Charlie was always the miners' favorite to challenge the stranger. He rarely disappointed the crowd. But all of that began changing when Laura entered his life. The clenched fist relaxed, and soon he became a family man, the wildness laid aside for good.

Lent reminded her of that younger Charlie Harris now. She had seen the anger burning behind his eyes and knew where it might lead. As he slept, she feared the calm was temporary, for she had developed a sixth sense about disaster. Having spent so many years in the mining camps, Laura Harris had hardened to disaster's frequent visits, but she wished there was some way to shield her sleeping boy from what lay ahead.

A sudden loud knocking broke her mood and Lent's sleep.

"What is it, Ma?"

Lent had been dreaming of wild horses racing across a vast meadow - fiercely beautiful stallions streaking across a sea of flowers and tall grass. But now he awakened with a frightened, hunted look.

"Who is it, Ma?"

Laura Harris shook her head and signaled silence with her finger to her lip.

"Lent Harris. You in there?" The pounding started up again.

Lent's face relaxed, and he reached for his pants.

"It's Jack Murphy, Ma. Could you let him in?"

The man stood impatiently in the doorway and shook his head when Laura offered coffee.

"Thanks, Ma'am, but I need to speak with Lent . . . outside."

Lent followed Jack down the path to where they could speak without being overheard.

"The stripes are back."

Lent stared in disbelief. "They couldn't be," he insisted. "We just loaded them on the train."

The older man frowned. "The Governor was so angry that he called up the militia, rounded up the convicts, and brought them back on the next train."

"The Governor? He came all the way from Knoxville?"

Murphy nodded. "He's agreed to meet with Merrill and the rest of us round noon time down at Thistle Switch, so we need to raise a crowd. Will you be there?"

"Sure I will."

Murphy smiled. "And leave your rifle behind, son. This is one time we'll have to do our fighting with words."


Lent hurried into his clothes and ran the half mile down to the main road where he hoped to catch a glimpse of the convicts.

He was not disappointed. A squad of khaki-uniformed militia was passing by leading some fifty prisoners back to their mining camp prison. As Lent stared down from behind a tree on a hill-top overlooking the road, the group seemed to drag
along with boots shuffling through the dust as if they had already marched fifty miles. This was no Fourth of July parade. It was more funeral march than parade.

Lent stared hard at the faces of the militia, trying to figure what kind of men would sign on for such duty. But they looked little different from the store clerks and young men he might have seen in Coal Creek. Beneath the surface harshness of their grim faces, Lent thought he saw fear and uncertainty. From the awkward way they slung rifles over their shoulders he could tell this soldiering business was new to most of them, and he noticed that they struggled with their packs as if they had never carried heavy loads of any kind.

This was no crack battalion of well-trained soldiers. They were nothing like the ones he had seen pictured in dime novels. They were city soldiers, poorly trained and ill-equipped to handle the men who marched along under their charge.

The prisoners' eyes seemed to dart from under cover as if always seeking escape. These men had made a life of killing or stealing, and Lent could tell the militia was no match. When they cursed at the prisoners or prodded them with rifle butts to keep them moving along, it was a toughness that seemed born out of fear. If not for the iron shackles that bound one prisoner to another, Lent knew the convicts would be long gone.

Lent shook his head as he watched the group slowly disappear
around a bend in the road. It had all seemed so sweet and simple when they loaded the convicts on the train to Knoxville, but now he knew his father's prediction was coming true. He began to wonder how they would untangle the knot that threatened to strangle them all.


Lent had never seen Governor Buchanan, except in newspaper pictures, and he never expected to see him in Coal Creek, but there he stood, a broad-bellied, well-dressed man surrounded by armed guards. His train had been slowed to a stop at Thistle Switch by a gathering of several hundred enraged miners demanding an explanation for the invasion of their valley.

The only guns Lent could see were in the hands of the militia and guards, but he noticed bulges under the jackets of many men standing throughout the crowd. As the governor spoke from the platform of his railroad car, Lent wondered if the anger and the guns could stay under cover. He half expected a shot to ring out, cutting short the governor's speech. Instead, each sentence the governor spoke was cut short by a groan or a loud uproar from the crowd.

"We must restore law and order to this valley," the Governor insisted, his finger pointing a warning at the crowd.

The crowd hurled angry insults back at the governor.

"As Governor of this state I give you my word that we will enforce safety in the mines and protect your rights as miners."

The crowd responded with shouts of disbelief, and Lent felt anger surging all around him. He was sure the shot would come.

"You have a right to be paid fairly for the coal you mine, and the mines should be well ventilated and drained. I promise our inspectors will close down any mine which violates these laws."

As the miners growled their distrust, Lent saw Eugene Merrill rise up out of the crowd onto a large wooden box where he could be seen by all. He loomed tall and foreboding above the miners, his own finger pointing a warning back at the governor. Well-dressed in a vested suit much like the governor's, he hardly looked like a miner to Lent at all. His flat straw boater rested on his head with a slightly rakish tilt that set him apart from the rest of the miners, most of whom sported crumpled felt hats and worn jackets.

The governor stopped talking as Merrill began his attack.

"We're tired of promises, Governor."

"Yeah!" roared the crowd, waving arms and hats in approval.

"We're tired of false promises and broken vows."

The crowd roared again.

"Your inspectors come to town, have a few drinks with the mine superintendent and sign the inspection papers without setting foot inside a mine or ever riding down the shaft."

The miners were fast becoming a mob. As Merrill waited for the crowd's frenzied agreement to subside, Lent saw the governor's face cloud with frustration and anger.

When the crowd was nearly still again, Merrill spoke sternly. "If you want law and order in this valley, take the convicts away and put them in prison where they belong. And you can take a few mine superintendents with them, too . . . the ones who cheat us at the check weigh station and the company store . . . the ones who make us work in water up to our knees . . . the ones who make us work in unventilated shafts . . . "

His words were cut off by the shouts and threats of the crowd.

Finally the governor gave his answer. His voice was shaking with anger as his guards pointed their rifles out at the crowd.

"The problems you list are well known to me, and I give you my word that those who break the law will be brought to trial and punished. But I warn you all . . ."

Here he paused and scanned the entire crowd. "There will be no mob rule in this valley or anywhere else in this state. Anyone who interferes with the lawful operation of this state's prison system will be severely punished."

With these words of warning, he drew his speech to an end and ducked inside his railroad car, leaving the crowd seething with rage. Lent and the others stepped back away from the tracks as the whistle called out a shrill warning and the train began to pull away.

Lent wondered why the shot had never come.


A huge bonfire filled the clearing with a wild, flickering light that twisted and distorted the faces of the miners who had gathered to make plans for a counter-attack. The anger sparked by the governor's words had ignited feelings of frustration buried through months of struggle, and Lent had found himself listening to more than two hours of bitter speeches.

"We should attack right now!" one man insisted. "We've got two hundred men here. Why wait for the others?"

Eugene Merrill was still the voice of calm and reason. "There's a hundred militia in the stockade right now, and the stockade gives them the advantage. By morning our friends
from Kentucky will be here and we'll have two thousand rifles to argue with. I like those odds a whole lot better."

The group settled into silence for the first time that evening. It seemed to Lent that every man was waiting for Merrill to give the orders. And they didn't have long to wait. Sensing their readiness, Merrill shared his plan . . .

"We march on the stockade tomorrow morning, first light. Go home, tell your neighbors and meet us back at Thistle Switch at dawn. We'll give the militia a surprise awakening and a free train ride home to Knoxville."

Lent lifted his rifle in the air to add his war cry to a rising chorus as the night filled with promises of revenge. Satisfied with he plan now, the crowd broke up into smaller groups that dispersed through the forest toward a dozen different mining camps.


Lent found his father waiting on the front steps. He seemed bent over and tired. Lent remembered the stories of Charlie Harris the fighter, the man with a clenched fist who would back down to nobody. He wondered what had happened to that Charlie Harris.

"Where you been, boy?"

Lent told him of the fire and the angry speeches.

His father sat shaking his head.

"They don't have a chance, Lent. Can't you see that? The Governor'll just send more troops until this valley is one big prison and we can't go anywhere without seeing guns and uniforms."

Lent remained silent, knowing that his words would not change his father's mind.

"If the fighting gets bad enough, they may just shut down the mines and try starving us all."

Lent hardly listened to his father's predictions. His mind was filled with pictures of two thousand miners marching on the stockade the next morning. He didn't know where the fighting would lead. He only knew that he must be there.

"We got to fight 'em, Pa. That's all there is to it."

His father stood and put his hands on his shoulders. His eyes were warm and full of concern.

"Be careful, son. We don't want to lose our boy over no convicts."

Lent nodded. "I'll be careful," he said. "Don't you worry."


The turbulence of Lent's dreams kept him on the edge of sleep and wakefulness. A huge smiling face loomed over him, and he heard the shriek of a tortured kitten which seemed to come from somewhere deep within his own body. When he twisted his way free from the grip of this dream, he found himself racing along bare-back with a herd of wild stallions, charging across a vast meadow of flowers and grass, and then . . . a cliff. He could see they were headed for a cliff, but there were no reins and Lent could not stop. The entire herd swept over the edge, and Lent was suddenly falling . . .


The whisper broke Lent's fall, and he awakened to the insistent voice of his friend Silas. The room was still dark, but he knew it was his friend from the feel of his hands on his shoulders.

"It's time to go. I waited for you down at the bridge, and when you didn't come, I thought you'd overslept."

Lent struggled to awaken, but his body complained and his spirit was shaken by the night of strange dreams.

His friend began to lose patience. "Come on, Lent! They're probably half-way to the stockade by now. We'll miss the action if you don't get movin!"

Lent grunted his agreement, grabbed his overalls and climbed into the rough denim.

"Sorry, Silas," he said, pulling the straps over his shoulder. "Thanks for coming to get me. Sorry I was so slow."

Silas was already heading out of the house, stopping only long enough to grab the rifle he'd left leaning just inside the door. Lent followed a bit more slowly, knowing his friend would slow down once he'd gone a few hundred paces. He'd catch up to him easily enough then.


They arrived breathless. From a hill overlooking the stockade they could see Eugene Merrill advancing with a dozen other miners.

"Where are the others?" asked Silas.

Lent's eyes scoured the trees on the hills facing them, but he could see no sign of the two thousand men Merrill had
promised the night before.

He shrugged.

"Do you think they stayed behind?"

Lent ignored his friend's question as he saw the committee of miners approach the stockade's gate. Merrill held a white flag, and the others stood weaponless in a cluster behind him.

The top edge of the stockade was suddenly lined with faces and rifles. The militia was not sleeping.

The group of miners halted fifty paces from the gate and Merrill stepped forward.

"Sevier! We've come for the convicts!"

There was a stir among the faces lining the stockade, and then a tall, brightly uniformed figure appeared.

"This is government property, Merrill, and you are trespassing."

Although Lent couldn't see his face, he felt sure a broad grin had spread across their leader's face.

"You're the ones who're trespassing," replied Merrill. "This is our town and our valley, and none of you belong here."

"We'll see," answered Sevier. He seemed to wave to someone out of sight behind him and the gates of the stockade suddenly swung open to spit forth a dozen riders. They dashed straight for the miners and had them quickly surrounded.

Lent saw Merrill and the others hold their ground despite the prodding of rifle butts. In what Lent suddenly realized was a prearranged signal, Merrill dropped the white flag and crossed his arms. The valley was immediately filled with miners streaming down from their hiding places behind the trees and boulders that lined the hillsides. There were too many to count, but it was clear to Lent that Merrill had been true to his word. There must have been close to two thousand.

"Call off your men, Sevier!"

Merrill was clearly in control again, for the riders lost no time in racing back to the cover of the stockade. The gates nearly swung shut before the last rider could spur his horse through the opening.

"You've got a choice, Sevier. If you open the stockade and release the convicts to us, we'll go away without hurting anyone or destroying anything. If you refuse, we'll burn you and this stockade to the ground before the day is over."

Lent smiled at his leader's courage. Lent had always connected courage with fighting and guns, yet here was a man who seemed to win more by talking than by fighting. He stood
weaponless before the stockade dictating terms of surrender, and Lent knew the militia had no real choice but to submit to the terms.


The air of celebration was dampened for Lent by his memory of the last time they had set the convicts free. Here they were shouting and dancing their way down the road to town as if all their troubles were over, and Lent just couldn't shake his father's words. How long would it be before this same group returned with a bigger army and more guns?

"What's the matter, Lent? You look like you're going to a


Silas had been whooping and hollering along with all the others as they swept down the valley with guns firing into the air and voices raised in song. Here and there a jug passed through the crowd and the tension of the early morning, once broken, gave way to a reckless kind of festivity which carried them along like leaves and twigs caught in a storm swollen river.

The road was lined with cheering families who held out sandwiches and drinks for soldier, prisoner and miner alike. For this brief morning, at least, all distinctions seemed blurred.

All of these men were seeking freedom in some form or other. For the convicts it meant the chance to jump off the train and head out across country away from iron bars and forced labor. For the militia, many of whom had been hastily conscripted and torn from jobs and families, it meant escape from this strange world of mountain men and miners, a train ride back to the city where they could lay aside rifles and heavy packs, where they could shrug off the constant possibility of a knife blade between the ribs from one of the convicts or a bullet in the neck from one of the mountain sharp-shooters who had perched high above the stockade waiting for some careless guard to show his head above the wooden posts.

For the miners, freedom meant lifting the cloud which had settled over the valley, driving off the intruders and regaining a hold over the mines. To most of them, the real enemy was the Governor and the mine owners. These other men were mere puppets whose strings the miners were now cutting free.

Lent tried to shake off the dread that perched on his shoulder like an unsmiling vulture, but the voices and the singing could not dispel his mood. He remembered the Governor's stern warning and his promise to punish all who broke the law. Even though the miners had cut the telegraph wires back to Knoxville, Lent knew that word would reach the Governor along with the train full of refugees. He could picture the Governor's angry response all too well.


Lent sat with Silas, legs dangling from the porch edge of Prebot's dry goods store. The morning's celebration had dragged to an uneasy conclusion as the party arrived in town to find no train waiting there bound for Knoxville. The cheering and singing subsided as the miners realized they would be spending the morning on guard duty. Separating the militia and the convicts into two groups at different ends of the street, the miners made them sit quietly in the dust of the road while the leaders went off to commandeer engine and engineer. The easy comradeship of the early morning evaporated as the miners' rifles were turned on militia and convict alike.

Lent found himself scanning the faces of the convicts before him, many of whom were black. There were so few blacks in his part of Tennessee that he had never spoken to one before this morning. One or two wandered through town now and then, but they always seemed to move on after a day or so as if there was some unwritten law that his was a white town. Even though most of the miners sided with the Union back in the war between the states, Lent knew it had nothing to do with love for these people sneeringly referred to as "Nigras." Most of the miners joked freely about " . . . sending the Nigras back to Africa."

While the white convicts seemed to look around with some curiosity about their surroundings, Lent noticed that most
of the blacks kept their eyes down on the ground. Here and there he could detect whispered conversations, but they all seemed to be concealing something. The group almost seemed to be plotting something that might suddenly erupt into serious fighting.

The miners stood with rifles casually pointing toward the ground, apparently unconcerned and unaware of any danger, but Lent sensed trouble. Word was being passed among the prisoners one by one. He could trace its path through the group as first one man would whisper, then the other would nod. This man would then whisper to his neighbor and the word would move on.

He grabbed Silas by the elbow. "They mean some kind of trouble, Silas."

Silas seemed surprised. "What kind of trouble, Lent?"

"Watch them over there."

Lent pointed to the spot where the message was weaving its way through the group. "Over there," he whispered.

"What is it?"

"They're passing some kind of message."

Silas shook his head. "I don't know what you're talkin about,

Lent shrugged and gave up trying to convince his friend. Perhaps he had been imagining it. Even when he had been little, his mother had always chided him about his wild imagination.

"Ma! There's a boy out back and he's hurting a kitten! Come quick!"

His mother had followed him grumbling into the woods only to find the boy and the kitten had disappeared. Frowning, she had warned him not to tell tales.

"You watch your stories, boy!" And she had told him the story of the boy who had cried "Wolf!" too many times.

Now he was silent and angry. Something was building up and about to burst, but he kept quiet.

"Lent Harris?"

"Yes, Ma'am?"

As he turned to speak, he found Mrs. Prebot standing behind him with an apron full of ribbons, thread and other items from the store within, and he realized that she must have recognized him from church.

Her daughter Sarah stood right alongside of her, the girl from church with the long dark hair and the bright red ribbon, the girl whose eyes had smiled so brightly at his that hot summer morning that seemed so long ago. They stared intently and seriously at him now as her mother did the talking.

"Does your mother know that you're here, Lent?"

He and Silas both stood up, and Lent suddenly felt awkward holding his rifle.

"Yes, Ma'am. Well . . . Not exactly."

Mrs. Prebot smiled and reached out a hand to touch him on the shoulder.

"She's probably worried about you, you know."

He nodded, unsure as to where she stood when it came to convicts and miners and rifles.

She looked out at the crowd of prisoners and militia sprawled across the street before her store. "We'll be glad to see them sent home once and for all, Lent. They've brought nothing but trouble to this town and this valley."

Lent found himself relaxing as he realized she might approve of the miners' actions. He stood a bit taller and cradled his rifle with a bit more assurance. Silas was a silent shadow
beside him.

"Yes, Ma'am. You're right about that."

It was hard speaking with the girl watching him so closely and with Silas right there witnessing the exchange. The girl's eyes were so serious. They seemed to penetrate deep inside.

"What was it like at the stockade?"

Now she was talking. He fought to keep his eyes from falling sheepishly to the ground. He wanted to speak to these women as a man, not a nervous boy.

"We . . . well, Merrill and the leaders I mean, they did it all with talking instead of fighting," he began. As he began to describe the first tense negotiations at the stockade gate and the festive march down the valley into town, he noticed that mother and daughter listened appreciatively, and he found himself regaining his calm.

The train whistle cut into his story with a startling, shrill warning, as the street was suddenly swarming with prisoners jumping to their feet and crowding toward the freight that was moving slowly and loudly into town. Lent and his audience turned to watch as the miners herded their charges up over the sides of the cars where they perched atop mountains of freshly mined black coal.

The locomotive snorted out great clouds of steam as it waited impatiently for its next move, and Lent realized that Sarah Prebot had moved up alongside him. He had trouble concentrating on the scene before him, for he was acutely aware of her presence. When her arm brushed lightly and accidentally against his, he found his body tensing with excitement. His pulse seemed to be pounding more furiously than the steam engine standing on the track before them.

In a matter of minutes the train was loaded and moving, and the street was filled with the cheers of the hundreds of miners who remained behind.

"And now we march on the stockade at the Knoxville Mines," Silas reminded Lent.

"The Knoxville Mines?" asked Mrs. Prebot.

The two boys nodded. "There's a pack of convicts and militia there, too," Lent explained. "We took a vow to send every one of them home before nightfall."

He stared at the smoke of the train weaving its way out of the valley. The body of the train had already disappeared from sight behind a line of trees, but the dark trail of smoke betrayed its movement down along the river bank that led to the west. He wondered what the prisoners had whispered to each other and what plans had been interrupted by the sudden
arrival of the train. The secret was safe with the men who were packed on the train, and Lent shivered slightly as the smiling face from his kitten dream flashed momentarily through his mind.

It was time for Lent and Silas to be going, as the street was rapidly clearing and returning to its normal calm.

"You give my best to your mother, now, Lent."

"I will, Ma'am."

He turned to say "Good bye" to the girl and found her smiling at him.

"Come back and see us," she said.

He nodded and returned her smile. "I will," he said and then hurried down the steps to join the miners racing out of town toward the Knoxville Mines. When he reached the corner of the street, he looked back to find her still watching and smiling. She raised her hand, he raised his, and then Silas broke the moment by shouting at him . . .

"Come on, Lent! They'll be done before we get there."


A group of miners traveled to Knoxville to try to convince the governor to end the convict labor system, and the governor sent them home with the promise to call the legislature together within sixty days to consider their request.

In a few days, a train rumbled back into Coal Creek with a load of convicts and guards. An unsteady truce settled over the valley as the convicts were delivered back to the mines and their guard was strengthened.

"How do we know the Governor will keep his promise? What if the Legislature refuses to change the law?"

The miners spent hours arguing over the compromise that had led to the return of the convicts.

"Merrill sold us out. After all that fighting, the stripes are back workin the mines and we have nothing to show for it."

Lent sat quietly on the edge of a group of men arguing the afternoon away on the porch of Prebot's store. Their anger swayed back and forth in the July heat. First one man would curse the leaders who had met with the Governor in Knoxville, and then another would rise to their defense.

"They gave him sixty days, Thornton. If he can't get the law changed by then, there will be plenty of time to settle with the stripes. Those stockades will burn just as well come October as they would if we put the torch to them today."

Thornton was a tall, sour-faced man "black-listed" a year earlier for arguing and causing trouble. The mine owners suspected him of union organizing, so they agreed amongst themselves to give him no work in the mines. He had stayed around town stirring up the miners' anger, hoping for revenge. He lived off odd jobs and a steady diet of bitterness. Lent had seen him stumble out of a saloon more than once, often at midday.

He sneered now at the other man's words. "You think they'll sit around and waste these two months?" He spat into the road dust. "If I know them boys at all, and I reckon I know them pretty well, you'll be seeing work done on those stockades to make them stronger and taller. We should have burned 'em down last week and had it done with."

The other speaker was Robert Walker, a kindly, older man who had worked alongside Lent's father in more than one mine over
the years. He was a family man who had raised nearly a dozen children, half of whom had followed their father into the mines. Lent remembered now that two of Walker's sons had been crushed in a cave-in a few years back. Lent had stood at grave-side while the mining camp paid its final respects.

Walker stood up to the taller man now. "This ain't no war, Thornton. Don't be so eager to get yourself into a fight. Some of us got families to look out for and bills to pay. If we can get the convicts out of town without shooting, it makes sense to wait."

Thornton looked disgusted. "You never been afraid of a fight before, Bob Walker. What's got into you?"

Walker smiled. "You ain't gonna bait me, Thornton. A man don't show courage by firin his gun off every time he sees something move in he woods."

A couple of the other men nodded, and one jumped in to defend Walker. "You got no right speakin to Bob that way, Thornton. You know his record in the war."

Thornton looked around and Lent could tell he sensed the group's anger. Lent thought he saw a sudden softening around the eyes as the tall man turned his hands palm up as if making a plea to the others.

"I didn't mean no offense," he apologized. "I just think we
shoulda finished what we started."

With this he shuffled over to a corner, lowered himself slowly into a chair and began searching through a small leather bag that hung at his side. In a few seconds he found what he wanted - a metal flask covered with old leather. Lent watched him raise the flask to his lips and take a long pull. He guessed it was "shine" from one of he stills which dotted the hollows. Now that Thornton had said his "piece," Lent knew he would slip deeper and deeper into silence as the afternoon crept along toward evening. He had watched this same scene unfold a dozen times before, and now he found himself wondering

where Thornton slept and whether he had a family any place nearby.

"I don't think the Governor will keep his word."

The group seemed shocked by Lent's speaking. He knew they viewed him as a boy, and boys were expected to keep silent when men spoke of politics. His father's friend, Bob Walker, helped to ease the moment by asking him to explain.

"Now why is it you feel that way, Lent Harris?"

As Lent felt the weight of two dozen eyes shift upon him, he nearly faltered.

"I . . . I heard Chumbley and some of the others talkin one day in church." He noticed the eyes widen with interest.
Strengthened by this sign of interest, he plunged on.

"They were talkin about the campaign and some money they had sent to Knoxville - some kind of 'contribution.' Chumbley pulled the others in close and whispered so I almost couldn't hear him. But I did hear." He paused long enough to notice his audience leaning forward with curiosity. "Chumbley whispered, 'He's our man now!'"

The miners exchanged knowing glances.

"Who were these men with Chumbley?" asked Walker, obviously alarmed by his message.

"Mine owners," answered Lent, who listed the names of the group.

Silence settled over the porch, and Lent almost regretted speaking. The hopeful mood of Walker and some of the others seemed to dissolve.

"But that was months ago," Lent explained. "Maybe he'll change his mind about the convicts since we threw em out twice."

The group had lost its momentum.

"Think I best be headin home," announced one man.

"Me, too," seconded Walker. "I got weeds to pull."

And next thing Lent knew he was left alone on the porch with Thornton. The older man slumped in his chair.

"I told em, boy. Told em."

Lent was about to follow the others down the street toward home when he heard a voice from within the store.


It was Sarah Prebot standing at the door. He turned to greet her with an awkward smile.

"Hello, Sarah."

"I heard what you said, Lent."

Lent nodded, looking past the intense eyes and noting her dark, shining hair tied back with a bright yellow ribbon. Sarah was different from the girls he'd known in the mining camp. It wasn't just the clothes - the ribbons and gaily colored dresses that one would expect a store-owner's daughter to wear. It was her eyes and the way she spoke. The girls he'd known always looked away and seemed to giggle or blush when speaking to a boy. Sarah's directness knocked him off balance.

"Did you really hear Captain Chumbley whispering at church?"

Lent nodded again, wondering if she would tell her parents of his spying. He could see the word passing through the church.

"Remember that Harris boy? The one whose mother married a miner? Well, he's been sneaking around spying on us."

He could imagine his parents called before the congregation and banished from attending services.

Sarah reached out her hand and touched his elbow.

Her voice was a low whisper as she leaned over close. "I never liked that Chumbley. He always seemed evil to me."

She looked over her shoulder as if to see if anyone in the store could hear her.

"Now and then he stops in the store here and sits talking with my father. He's always so loud and bragging about this time or that time when he was back in the war or running some prison. And he talks about the convicts as if they were animals. Specially the colored ones. 'Nigras are the worst!' he says. 'They can't stand hard work. Couple of weeks in the mines and they get sick. Always moanin and carryin on.'"

"I'm not surprised to hear he'd be trying to bribe the
Governor," she concluded.

Lent had stood listening, amazed by the angry feelings of this store owner's daughter. He'd half expected her to side with the mine owners, but he remembered her mother's words on the day they had loaded the convicts on the train to Knoxville . . .

"We'll be glad to see them sent home once and for all."

Lent had always split the valley into two groups. The miners, the dirt farmers and the workers in the lumber mill were one group, and those who owned stores or mines or large farms were the other group. There were workers and there were owners. It was all very simple, and in his simple picture people went about life without crossing boundary lines.

Miners' sons did not speak with store owner's daughters unless they were buying something, and then the exchange would be brief and business-like. They would never stand whispering secrets on a front porch, certainly not stand so close that Lent should be able to notice the subtle fragrance of wild flowers at Sarah's throat. He had never smelled a girl's perfume before - had only smelled cheap bar-maid perfume in mining saloons - and the scent was making it hard for him to focus on her words.

"I hate him," he blurted out.

Sarah nodded. "I can see that."

Lent found himself wondering why Sarah had picked him out. She must have known the boundary lines. What was it that drew her across the lines and made her want to speak with him?

It was as if she was reading his mind. "My father was a miner, too, Lent. A long time ago. Before he started working in a store. He often tells us stories of those days." She paused to watch his reaction. "They were hard times for my father, and he's never forgotten. He still has two brothers that are miners over at Oliver Springs, and they've been out of work for months now because of the convicts."

Lent's simple picture of the valley fractured like a thin layer of morning ice cracked by a miner's boot trudging toward mine tipple. It had never occurred to him that miners could become store owners, especially not wealthy store owners. And yet it seemed to make sense. After all, his own mother had come from a family that was very comfortable, if not wealthy. His own mother had crossed a boundary line by marrying Charlie Harris, and Sarah's words and actions suddenly seemed less mystifying. But why him? What did she see in him? Why did she seek him out?

"Where did you grow up?" he asked.

Sarah seemed pleased by his question. The tense lines in her face seemed to disappear as she described her birth in Oliver
Springs, the years her father had worked in another man's store and how he had saved enough to buy the store for himself. And then she described the sale of that store and the big move to Knoxville where he had bought a larger, more successful store - the store they sold in order to move to Coal Creek.

The two of them perched on the edge of the porch and swapped stories through the afternoon. When Sarah described the stern schoolmaster of her city school, Lent countered with his own tales of country schooling. When Lent told of his work in the mines as a trapper boy and the long hours leading mules through the mines, Sarah described her own long hours waiting on customers, some of whom treated her rudely when her father or mother were out of ear-shot.

As they sat with feet dangling, Lent mostly stared at the ground, but every now and then he turned to listen and watch. He found it hard to watch her for very long, for her eyes were shining with an excitement that set off strangely turbulent feelings of his own. When she wanted to make a special point, she had a way of lightly touching his arm that left him wishing she would leave her hand where it rested.

The town was quiet, and business was slow. Every now and then a family would drive a wagon up to the porch or a single farmer or miner would arrive on foot or horseback, but Lent and Sarah were left to themselves for most of the afternoon. When Sarah's mother appeared at the doorway several times, they did not notice her or see her turn to go back into the store.
When she finally stepped out onto the porch and walked over to stand above them, they snapped out of their reverie and both jumped to their feet.

"Oh, Momma, I'm so sorry! Lent and I got to talking and I just forgot the time."

Mrs. Prebot smiled and reached out to touch her daughter's arm reassuringly.

"It's fine, Sarah. Things were slow in the store. I managed fine."

Lent liked the woman's warm smile and the way she looked right at him with eyes that were intense like her daughter's.

"And how are you today, Lent Harris?"

Lent blushed a bit but managed to smile and meet her gaze directly. "I'm fine, Ma'am." He looked over at Sarah and then back at her mother. "Sarah and I have been tradin stories."

Mrs. Prebot nodded. "I figured."

"She tells me Mr. Prebot was a miner once."

She nodded again. "When we were growing up over in Oliver Springs, he worked in the mines and I worked in town in a store.
That's how we met . . . in the store."

Lent's own smile broadened and his blush deepened as he felt Sarah watching him.

Mrs. Prebot looked back and forth between the two. It seemed to Lent that she was busy hatching some idea, for her face reminded him of his mother's when her mind was working on a plan.

"Are you working on a job these days, Lent?"

"No, Ma'am."

Mrs. Prebot gestured back in the direction of the store.

"Well," she said, "Mr. Prebot and I have been talking, and we think we need another hand to help out in the store here. Would you be interested? The pay wouldn't be much at first, but we would teach you how to maintain the stock, wait on customers, keep the books and handle a store like this one."

She stopped talking and stood waiting for his reply.

Lent was shocked by the offer - caught completely off balance. He was a miner's son and a miner himself. He had never thought of working in a store or working in town. Miner's sons follow their fathers into the mines. It was as simple as that.

But there was Mr. Prebot, a miner's son who had become the owner of a store. And there was Sarah . . . waiting for him to answer . . .

"Yes, Ma'am. I think I'd like that . . . to learn about handling a store."

He did not have to look over at Sarah to see her smile. He could feel it without looking.


Lent's new job kept him busy, but not too busy to overhear a stream of stories flowing through the store with the customers who came to purchase dry goods and learn the latest news.

Sarah seemed to catch him every time.

"The way you push that broom, Lent. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were too busy to hear that Commissioner Ford's coming to inspect the Tennessee Coal Mine."

And then she smiled. "Course I knew you'd already swept that part of the floor this morning."

She had a way of touching his arm that softened the impact of the teasing. The words weren't harsh or biting like the words he'd traded with boys in the mines.

Sarah's father and mother made him feel welcome from the beginning, patiently explaining each new job and showing what they wanted him to do. Even though he was starting with
cleaning and the stocking of shelves, Mr. Prebot promised he would learn to wait on customers and keep the books.

"First I want you to know every inch of this store," the older man explained.

Lent found himself wondering at this miner turned store owner. The over-sized hands and shoulders were the only clues that betrayed his years below ground. His shirts and collars were carefully starched, and his speech was politely correct as he greeted the families that paraded through his store. Lent noticed the respect paid by all. Nobody, no matter how wealthy or important, ordered Donald Prebot around. Despite his gentle manner, there was a fierceness in his eyes that commanded respect even from the "mighty."

Lent remembered his first morning. They had set him to work with Sarah unpacking a large crate of material, when an insistent, shrill voice suddenly interrupted their work.

"You, there, boy! I need you to lift this."

Lent had turned to see a pointed finger and the familiar face of the preacher's wife. For the next ten minutes she kept Lent busy lifting and moving, hanging and unfolding, and by the time Mr. Prebot re-entered the store, Lent had started praying for deliverance.

"Well, Mrs. Hornby. What can we do for you this morning?"

Lent's tormentor turned to give Mr. Prebot a broad, sweet smile.

"Why, Mr. Prebot. It is such a pleasure to see you this morning. I was just asking your new boy to show me some of your latest material. I've been thinking of changing the curtains in our back bedroom."

Mr. Prebot waved Lent back to work and took Mrs. Hornby by the arm. "Well, Gloria, let me show you a bolt I've been saving just for you." He led her off to a corner of the store where he produced a bolt that Lent thought was too brightly colored for anyone's curtains, but the woman seemed delighted.

Sarah pulled Lent close enough to whisper. "That woman loves to spend the morning looking at fabric and bossing people around. If she catches me alone, I end up lifting and moving for a good hour, and she ends up buying nothing." And then she added as they watched Mr. Prebot move toward the cash register with an armful of cloth, "My father, on the other hand, sells something to her every time she steps through the doorway."

Weeks later, Lent had settled into a pattern of hard work and careful listening. The news that filtered through the store was often distorted, often contradictory, but usually exciting. No two people ever described the same event in identical terms, and Lent soon learned to read between lines
and ignore brightly painted exaggerations. Once people took sides they heard what they wanted to hear and saw what they wished to see.

It was like that with the visit of the mining inspector. When news of his coming spread through town, most of the townspeople and merchants nodded their heads and predicted a victory for the mine owners.

"This will put an end to the complaining," predicted one woman.

"The Governor said he'd enforce the law on everybody, and now he's keeping his word."

"Now we'll see about the rotting timbers and bad drainage. Maybe this will end the grumbling."

The miners, on the other hand, denied the importance of the visit.

"The Governor and his inspector are hired hands. They've been bought and sold."

"Ford'll never go below ground. They'll open a bottle of whiskey and start pouring his drink the moment they see him set foot on mine property."

"I can see the report now . . . 'Commissioner Ford visits mine
and finds no safety violations.'"

Lent listened and swept, wondering where the truth lay. By the end of that week, Lent had an answer that surprised the entire town.

"They're shutting down the Tennessee!"

His father and uncle arrived home in fine spirits with a story that they spread loudly up and down the row of company houses. In a matter of moments, a large crowd of miners gathered in front of the Lent's porch, and Charlie Harris was made to repeat the story over and over again.

"We were sittin there mindin our own business, when in walks the Commissioner, hisself."

"Where?" a voice called out from the crowd. "Where was this?"

"The saloon down at Briceville. That's where." Charlie Harris frowned at the interruption and hastened to regain lost momentum.

"We were sittin there, as I was sayin, and in walks Ford, hisself. And he's got a crowd with him . . . looks like a bunch of government types and a couple of the crew from Tennessee. Loud and arguin, they are."


"Ford was arguin with that bunch from the Tennessee Mine. They were shoutin and tryin to grab him by the elbows, but his men kept shovin them off."

"I heard one of em shout 'You can't do this to us, Ford! The Governor promised he'd be fair!'"

Charlie's brother broke in. "Ford's closin down the mine til they replace rotten timbers and fix the ventilation. He said the mine's not safe to work in."

The crowd greeted this last statement with loud, angry cheers.

"It's about time!"

"They got it comin to em!"

"Let the mine owners sweat it out for a change."

"Let them find a train for all those stripes this time!"

"Yeah. What will they do with the convicts?"

Lent's father shrugged. "Don't know. Said he'd make a report to the Board of Inspectors, and if they back him, the mine'll be shut down immediately."

"How long?"

"Until they fix everything."

Lent's dreams that night were troubled by screaming kittens and plunging horses. He tried to run alongside the horses, but they plunged past him as if running from a forest fire. Stumbling and falling to the ground, he crouched with legs and arms pulled up to protect his body from the heavy hooves.

His father's face suddenly appeared with a warmly reassuring smile and the horses disappeared, but just as the smile widened to show a mouth full of teeth, the face changed to Captain Cross, and there was the shock of shot guns firing. Lent found the air around him filled with rooster feathers as a long line of convicts shuffled by holding picks and shovels chanting work songs while the preacher's wife stood at the entrance to the mine hanging bright orange curtains.


"We resign our leadership."

Lent stood quietly in the midst of hundreds of angry miners who had gathered to hear bad news confirmed.

"The Legislature refused to throw the convicts out of the mines."

"The Governor broke his word."

"The courts ignored us."

"We're back where we started."

In the two months since Commissioner Ford's July visit, the miners had seen one small victory . . . the closing of the Tennessee Mine for violation of safety standards . . . but the victory was short lived. The owners scurried to fix violations and re-open the mine within the month. The convicts were back at work in early September as the Legislature came into special session to discuss the miners'

The following weekend Lent had wandered through the county fair with Sarah Prebot and her parents, wondering how the crowds of miners and farmers and shop owners managed to set aside their differences to enjoy the festivities. When they stopped to watch the weighing of prize watermelons, Lent's mind was in Knoxville with the Legislature. Sarah had to pull on his elbow . . .

"Forty-seven pounds, Lent. Can you imagine such a thing? How many people do you think that melon would feed? I'll bet the whole church could have a slice and still leave some untouched."

Lent smiled sourly. "I 'spect it would feed a whole army, Sarah."

Sarah frowned. "Can't you lay aside your talk of armies for one day?"

Lent nodded. "I guess so," he mumbled.

Sarah left her hand on his arm and moved a bit closer.

"I understand your anger, Lent. But there's nothing we can do today."

Lent shrugged agreement, but his mind still wandered off to
those days in July when the miners had the mine owners and the militia on the run. The taste of victory had soured with the long waiting.

Now the waiting was over. The legislators had made matters worse instead of better.

"They endorsed the convict labor law . . . said it would help pay the state's bills, keep us from the need to build new prisons, and do something useful with the convicts."

Eugene Merrill was reporting the details of their defeat. He stood tall and stiff on top of a large crate, his voice booming out over the restless crowd.

"They even passed a new law that makes it a serious crime to interfere with the work of a convict. And to make sure we can't break the law, they voted to establish a national guard in peace time. That's a standing army, friends! A standing army to come into this valley and take away your rights and your freedom."

The crowd roared out its anger at this announcement, and Lent noticed many rifles raised into the air along with clenched fists and heavy tools.

"Let's burn 'em down before the army gets here!"

"I've got a rope here just right for a mine owner's neck!"

"Let's march on Knoxville!"

"The Governor . . . Let's get the Governor!"

Merrill waited through several moments of angry shouting, and then he raised his hands for silence. The uproar surged on despite his signal until one man standing alongside Merrill raised his pistol to the sky to fire three quick shots. Like a sack of grain suddenly ripped open along its bottom seam, the shouting and roar collapsed to leave the crowd standing in stunned silence.

"We resign our leadership," Merrill announced.

There were a few shouts of "No!" from the crowd, but only a few.

Merrill hurried on with his speech, and Lent could tell from the way he hurried his words that the man was having trouble saying what he needed to say.

"Back when we first set the convicts free, there were those who told you to hold your ground and raise your rifles high. We told you to lay your rifles down and fight with words rather than bullets."

And now the man paused for a long moment. He looked out over
the crowd and buildings toward the ridge of mountains rising just past town.

"I think maybe we were wrong. I think maybe it's time for new leaders . . . someone who knows how to lead a different kind of fight . . . "

And then he simply waved and stepped down from the crate. Lent could barely make out his straw hat winding its way through the back of the crowd.

The miners stirred uneasily. They seemed to be waiting for someone to step forward, to climb up onto the box and tell them what to do next. But nothing happened and no one stepped forward.

Lent had learned earlier that day from Silas that new leaders were already chosen for the battle that lay ahead, but the names were being kept secret among those who had taken the oath of silence.

There would be no more public speeches because such speeches were a sure ticket to prison. Besides, as Lent saw it, the war of words was over and it was time for rifles and flames to speak the miners' feelings.

As the onlookers realized that nothing more was likely to happen, small groups began to break off and head down the streets of town toward the mining camps and the woods outside
of town. Not wanting to be left behind, Lent and Silas hurried through the thinning remnants of the meeting, trying to catch up with a large pack of miners led by D.B. Munroe.

As Lent and Silas sprinted around a corner and down the street in front of Prebot's store, Lent caught a quick glimpse of Sarah in a bright yellow dress out on the porch watching the stream of men rushing by. When he lifted his arm as if to salute, she smiled and called out his name.


He veered across the street and grabbed her hand.

"We're gonna set the convicts free again, Sarah!"

"I know, I know," she said, taking his hand and pulling slightly. "Come into the store for a moment, Lent."

Lent shook his head impatiently, looking back at his friend. ""I can't, Sarah. Silas and I are already late for a meeting."

Silas shrugged. "It's alright, Lent. I know where they're meeting. You go ahead."

Sarah took Lent's hand and pulled him inside where her father stood waiting with a large bolt of cloth across his arms.

"Sarah tells me you been carryin a squirrel gun these past
few months . . ." He paused and smiled at Lent. "Looks as if things may just get serious, so I wanted you to have this . . ."

Lent watched with curiosity as Mr. Prebot unfolded the bolt of material to reveal a lever action, repeating Remington unlike any he had seen in the mining camp.

"You . . . you're giving me that?" he said with surprise.

The older man nodded. "I've come to think of you as a son, Lent, and I wouldn't want no son of mine walking into battle with an old squirrel gun."

Lent took the gift in his hands and ran his fingers along the long barrel and stock. It was a beauty!

"And you'll find plenty of cartridges in that box there."

Lent caught Sarah's proud but worried smile.

"There's just one thing, Lent."

Mr. Prebot took Lent by the shoulders.

"I give you this rifle with the hope that you will never fire it . . . at least, not in anger."

Sensing Lent's puzzled look, Mr. Prebot tried to explain. "I
never heard of a killing yet that didn't lead to more killing, Lent. And I never found justice in the barrel of a gun. A rifle doesn't care much who's pulling the trigger or aiming the barrel."

Lent winced slightly as Mr. Prebot gave his shoulder a squeeze. "Sarah and Mrs. Prebot and I just want you to come back home alive, Lent."

Lent nodded and glanced over at Sarah. "Would you help me wrap this up, Sarah. Wouldn't do for me to go paradin down the street with such a fine rifle out in the open, now would it?"

Sarah shook her head and came to help him with the heavy material.

It was dark by the time Silas and Lent made it to the clearing where the miners' committee was meeting. A small fire lit the angry faces with an eerie flickering. As Munroe and the others took turns speaking their minds and proposing attacks, Lent stood holding his new gift now unwrapped, his cheek still warm from where Sarah had kissed him good-bye.


From the ridge where they gathered two nights later, the stockade looked small and far away. Staring down on the walls and dozen buildings which held a hundred or more convicts captive, Lent wondered how the guards must feel seeing the hillside ringed with blazing torches. He fingered the stock of his new rifle and found himself remembering the words of Sarah's father. The angry words of D.B. Munroe and the other leaders made him wonder how long he might be able to honor the advice.

Far below Lent's perch, Munroe and three other men had crept up near the gate of the stockade through a field of boulders and heavy undergrowth. Hiding behind one of these large stones, they fired several warning shots into the air and waited for the guards to respond.

Lent heard the shots and saw several lanterns appear along the stockade wall, but he could not hear the exchange of words.

"You in there, Cross?"

"What do you want, Munroe?"

"We want the convicts, and what's more, we're goin' to have 'em."

After a long silence, Cross announced what they already knew was true. The stockade was lightly guarded.

"Well," said the warden, "We have only six men, and we can't fight you."

Although Lent could not hear this conversation, a gong sounded loudly as the gates were opened to the miners, and Lent found himself rushing down the hillside with Silas and the rest of the miners. They were surrounded by loud cheers and cries of triumph, but Lent was somehow troubled by the memory of another night back in July when they had rushed down the same hillside into the same stockade. The feelings of victory and celebration that had surfaced with that first attack had lasted only a day or two before the convicts returned with militia that had left the valley imprisoned. He wondered how this attack would be any different.

The miners moved from building to building releasing the already awakened convicts and handing them clothes to trade for their prison uniforms. This time there would be no train rides back to Knoxville, for the miners had decided that made it too easy for the State to send them back. Munroe had argued for scattering them into the hills where they might better
elude the search parties that were sure to arrive in a few days. With the cutting of telegraph wires late that afternoon, Knoxville was sure to know something was happening with the mines, and they all expected a fresh train-load of militia to arrive within a day or two.

Lent and Silas had been assigned to a team of miners who were to douse the insides and outside of each building and stockade wall with kerosene. When a wagon and four exhausted horses pulled through the gate with a heavy load of kerosene in large wooden casks, the two boys found themselves climbing back and forth, up and down wooden ladders carrying buckets to the men who swept along the ramparts preparing the walls for the torch that would fall when the last convict, guard and miner had passed through the stockade gate. Lent remembered the last time he had passed buckets along a line, but that time it had been to stop a fire, not start one.

Silas cursed each time he picked up two full buckets.

"These damn buckets're heavy, Lent. You feel how they cut into your hands?"

Lent just shrugged. "No worse than water buckets, Silas. 'sides, we're almost done."

Mounted on horseback now, Munroe held a blazing torch aloft and drove the frightened mare from corner to corner ordering everyone out of the stockade.

"Let's go, men. Let's see how well this prison of theirs burns! We got other work to do tonight."

As Lent and Silas grabbed their rifles and raced out through the gate, Lent looked back to see Munroe rein in his horse at one building, bend over, touch a corner with the torch and then charge on to the next. In a matter of seconds, the flames were racing along roof lines and reaching toward the sky with angry clouds of heavy black smoke from the kerosene.

By the time Lent and Silas reached the hillside, the entire stockade was blazing so brightly the night seemed to race ahead of the running figures of miners and convicts all seeking the cover of the forest.

Lent suddenly realized that he had not fired a shot. His new rifle had remained silent all night, and as he now turned to watch the flaming buildings below him, he knew how different this night had been from the night in July. He was surrounded by silent miners, all of whom had stopped to watch the flames.

There was no shouting or cheering this time . . . no celebration. They stared with the glazed eyes of those who see more in flames than fire. This was no bon-fire of celebration. It was a fire so large that it threatened to sweep past the walls of the stockade and envelop the entire valley.

"Keep movin'! We've still got time for Chumbley's mine!"

Munroe was charging up the hillside now, his horse foaming from fear and exhaustion.

"Come on, men. There's no time to watch the fire. We got to light more."

Hypnotized by the flames, Lent failed to hear anything, and it took Silas grabbing his arm to shake him out of his trance.

"Come on, Lent! You heard what he said. Let's get a move on."

The Knoxville Iron Company went up in smoke a few hours later, but this blaze was smaller. After cleaning out the company store and setting free more than a hundred convicts, the rampaging miners torched the mine office along with a row of low wooden barracks built for the convicts.

By the time dawn began to shift the color of the sky from deep black to pale gray, more than three hundred convicts had fled for freedom through the pines and underbrush surrounding the two mining camps. A train load of militia was already steaming toward Coal Creek to round up the fugitives and return them to the shafts that cut deeply below the very mountains they were now scrambling over.

Lent and Silas sat side by side along a fallen tree watching the buildings burn. Lent lifted his rifle and seemed to aim
in the direction of the fire.

"What're you doin, Lent? You see something?"

Lent shook his head but kept right on sighting along the barrel.

"'s nothin, Silas. Just that I got this new rifle and I haven't

fired it yet."

Silas nodded with understanding. "I know what you mean. All we did was light fires and burn down buildings."

Lent shifted the barrel of his rifle to the cradle made by his bent arm. He was busy trying to guess the future. Pictures of militia detraining in Coal Creek mixed with scenes of men being chased through the forest. He recalled the long march of captives along the dirt road from town to mining camp . . . the chains and irons . . . the brooding prisoners and anxious guards.

"Next time they'll bring in Gatling guns and turn the valley into a prison."

Lent remembered this prediction by a customer who sided with the mine owners.

Sarah had asked innocently, "Gatling guns? And what are they?"

The man had the look of one who had never fired a shot in his life, but he had turned on Sarah as if she were stupid.

"You don't know what a Gatling gun is?" And he proceeded to point and wave his hands as if drawing pictures in the air. "And it just keeps shooting as if twenty or a hundred men were loading and firing without stopping."

Lent had seen pictures of Gatling guns, but he couldn't believe the Governor would send such weapons to Coal Creek. After all . . . hardly any shots had been fired. They had freed both superintendents, Cross and Chumbley, without doing any harm, sending them running for cover along with their pitiful handful of guards. Lent had a score to settle with Cross, but his rifle had remained silent.

"I could've shot him."

Silas stirred on the log. "What's that? Who?"

"Cross . . . Captain Cross." Lent patted the stock of his rifle. "I looked down this barrel right at his chest. If I had just squeezed the trigger . . ."

Feathers were all that were left of the prize rooster. A few

feathers lay in the road as Cross and his two men walked away from Lent and his family.

"As I said, Charlie, you best move out today."

Lent remembered the gun lying in the wood pile. His father went for the rifle above the hearth and the three of them - his father, his uncle and Lent - they fanned out across the road back to the commissary. They caught Cross on the broad porch and blasted him just as he blasted the rooster.

Feathers were all that were left of the prize rooster.


Sweeping off the porch of the Prebot's store the next Monday morning, Lent heard shouts of excitement and the sounds of galloping horses. Around the corner of the street swept half a dozen horsemen who had ridden all the way from Oliver Springs to spread the news of a stockade burning in that mining community.

"Oliver Springs burned to the ground!"

"We set a hundred and sixty convicts free!"

The men were strangers to Lent, though he could tell they were miners from their clothing, their broad shoulders and the awkward way they handled their horses. Before he could ask a question, they were gone down the street and around the corner. They left behind clusters of excited townspeople who chewed on the small piece of news as if it were much larger than it was. Lent had learned from his time in the store that folk were quick to fill in any details that might be missing from a story. He had come to appreciate that a good story needs those details, and making them up wasn't exactly lying. It was story-telling.

"They was all masked . . . all one hundred of them. They wore black hoods so they couldn't be seen comin through the woods."

"Five hundred riders . . . all hooded . . . an army of miners sweeping down the hillside."

"They ringed the valley with torches . . . thousands of torches."

"The guards ran for cover without firing a single shot, and the stripes were sent on their way with a change of clothes and maps of the mountain passes."

"The flames from the stockade rose high as the highest pine tree in Anderson County."

"The flames reached up to the mountain tops . . ."

All day long Lent heard story build upon story as customers passed through the store with new versions and elaborations. He winked at Sarah each time the number of riders increased or the height of the flames soared.

"I didn't have to fire a shot, sir."

Lent stood on the porch alongside Sarah's father. The store was closed and the town was settling down for the evening after hours of frenzied comings and goings.

The older man raised a hand to Lent's shoulder, gave a squeeze and nodded silently. He left the large hand where it lay, and Lent felt waves of confusion. His father never touched him except to punish or warn him. They just stood there without speaking, and Lent found a deep calm settle over him.

"You two interested in some dinner?"

Sarah and her mother stood waiting at the door of the store. It was just a short walk to their home, but Lent had never been invited there before. He was about to make up some excuse about getting on home, when Sarah cut him off.

"Mrs. Hadley's cooked up a fine batch of fried chicken and biscuits, Lent. You've got to come!"

Her eyes gave him no choice. This was a command performance. And her mother's smile didn't make it any easier.

As they headed down the street, the elder Prebots hurried along as if they were afraid the chicken would get cold while Sarah and Lent took their time. Lent was wondering who Mrs. Hadley was when suddenly he felt Sarah grab his hand in hers and hold on. When he turned to look at her with startled eyes, she just smiled.

"Don't look so startled, Lent Harris. You know darn well you and I are sweethearts. You just haven't been able to put it in words."

He almost pulled his hand away, uncertain as he was that he should let any girl speak to him so boldly, but the thought flew by in just a few seconds as he found himself relaxing. Her hand was warm and gentle in his, and her fingers seemed to be speaking for her in ways that would have made him blush if she had said the same things with words. When his own hand joined in, the silent conversation became fairly lively. It was the first time Lent had ever held a girl's hand.

Mr. Prebot wiped his face with his large cloth napkin, pushed his chair back from the table and patted his stomach with great satisfaction.

"Best fried chicken I ever ate! Mrs. Hadley, you sure are one fine cook."

By now Lent had figured out that Mrs. Hadley was some kind of cook-housekeeper who lived with the Prebots and managed the house while Mrs. Prebot worked in the store.

Lent had watched with awe as Sarah's father had consumed nearly one whole chicken all by himself. That same chicken would have had to make due for Lent's whole family, but a heap of pieces still remained on the china platter even though Lent had wolfed down four pieces himself.

"Have some more potatoes, Lent?" Mrs. Prebot was poised with serving spoon and bowl in hand.

"No thank you, Ma'am. There isn't room for more."

He could feel Sarah's toes reaching for his under the table, and even after he flashed a stern look, she kept on with it. Even though her parents didn't seem to notice anything, he was uncomfortable enough to pull his feet back under his chair where they would be well out of range.

Sarah's face wrinkled into a small grimace and then she smiled.

"Do you think they'll bring the convicts back, Papa?"

Mr. Prebot took a long time to answer, and when he finally responded to her question, Lent noticed that his voice had lost its joyful, satisfied tone.

"I think they will, Sarah." He shook his head. "I'm afraid we'll be seeing more guns, more soldiers, more convicts and more trouble."

"But why don't they just leave us alone?"

Her father just shrugged. "I don't know, daughter. There are plenty of questions that don't have answers in life, and you just asked one of them."

Lent and Sarah sat outside in the darkness, the porch swing moving ever so slowly as their toes skimmed along giving
occasional pushes. The late October sky, clear of clouds and filled with stars, was so crisply cool that Lent found Sarah snuggling up next to him for warmth.

"Do you want my jacket?" he asked.

She smiled up at him.

"No. This is fine."

Lent found himself studying the white railing that ran the length of the porch. Each upright piece of wood had been carved and turned by a carpenter so they stood up in a row, all fitting together in an elegant pattern. Porches in the mining camp had posts to keep the roof from falling, but railings were rare. Painted railings with carvings were non-existent.

"Tell me about the stockades again, Lent."

Lent shrugged. "There wasn't much to it, Sarah. They surrendered without a fight and then we torched the buildings. It was all over in a few minutes."

Sarah frowned with disappointment.

"I thought you'd have more to say than that . . ."

Lent shook his head.

"Well, how did you feel?"

Lent held his hat in hand, working the brim with his fingers. He didn't want to talk about the stockades, but she kept insisting.

"It made me angry," he confessed.

Sarah seemed confused. "What do you mean? Why angry?"

"I don't know. It's just that I found myself wondering whether it would do any good."

Lent felt Sarah take one of his hands in hers and squeeze it slightly.

"You had no choice, Lent."

They sat in silence watching a slice of moon sailing the sky like some ghostly ship that seemed caught between the two mountain peaks rising above the roof tops of the town.

"Did you ever wish you could ride the moon, Lent?"

When Lent nodded, Sarah reacted with surprise.

"You did? Nobody else has ever said they wished that!"

"Well I have," Lent smiled. "I've made a lot of wishes, Sarah,
and some have been stranger than that."

"Like what?"

Lent blushed.

"Well sometimes I've wished I was Lancelot."

"You mean Arthur's Lancelot? The knight?"

Lent nodded and blushed even more. "And sometimes I've imagined that you were my lady sitting in the stands as I rode into the tournament with a silk scarf tied to my lance."

Sarah smiled warmly. "You've been reading those books you borrowed from my father?"

Lent nodded. "But I had this dream before I borrowed those books, Sarah. It was back when I saw you in church for the first time."

Sarah seemed pleased but confused. "But how did you know about Lancelot?"

"My mother has always made sure we had books to read. There were times when there wasn't money for shoes but she somehow still found books for us. And she read stories to us as we sat by the fire or climbed into bed."

He felt her hand squeeze his.

"That's nice, Lent. You're lucky to have such a mother."

As his mother's face flashed through his mind, he thought he saw the eyes full of fear, and Lent jumped off the swing with a start.

"What is it?"

"I don't know, Sarah, but I better be getting home. I feel like something might be wrong."

Lent quickly paid his respects to Sarah's parents, kissed Sarah on the cheek and set off for the mining camp. The pictures flashing through his mind caused him to break into a run. Flames rose menacingly in all of the pictures, and his mother's tear-stained face kept appearing as if she were searching through the flames for something or someone.


When Lent arrived home breathless from his long run, there were no flames and no fire. The house was intact and the mining camp had settled for the night. Here and there dogs barked out warnings, but because there seemed to be no cause for alarm, Lent slowed to a walk when he saw his house sitting safely back in the shadows. It wasn't until he stepped up onto the front porch that he realized his mother was sitting there in her rocker.

"Ma . . . that you?"

"Where have you been, Lent? I've been waiting since supper."

Lent caught the edge of anger and concern in her voice.

"Prebot's house. They . . . they asked me to supper."

He tried to see if his mother's face was creased with anger, but it was too dark to make out anything but the silhouette of her head and the vague outline of her white shawl. She kept on rocking without speaking.

"They just asked me this afternoon when we closed for the day, and I . . . I figured you would just go ahead without me . . . like when Pa doesn't come home for supper sometimes."

His mother remained silent.

"I didn't mean to cause you to worry or nothin, Ma. I'm real sorry if you were worried."

His mother stood up and moved toward him. When she was close enough for him to see her face, he realized that she had been crying.

"You did wrong, Lent. I've been sitting here with all kinds of bad pictures floating through my mind. First I thought maybe you were off fighting again with that Munroe fellow, but Silas happened to wander by and told me nothing was happening tonight. And then I thought maybe someone had stopped you in town . . . one of the guards or the owners . . . someone who might've seen you the other night."

She reached her arms around him and pulled him close in the kind of hug he remembered from his childhood.

"I thought maybe they'd arrested you or thrashed you or something. Your Pa told me you were a man now and I should stop fretting about it, but I kept thinking the worst. I kept seeing these flames and your face."

He felt her body shudder.

"It was like some barn was burning or something and you were caught inside."

Lent tried to comfort his mother, but she had kept her fear under control all evening and now it was running wild.

"Promise me you won't do that again, Lent? I need to know where you are and when you're coming home. This valley is full of men who would just as soon shoot you down as take the time to ask you who you are or where you're going."

Lent stiffened, knowing that there was no way to keep such a promise.

"I can't promise that, Ma. I'll try to let you know, but if Munroe calls us together, I'll have to go. I may not be able to send word or warn you."

His mother released him from the embrace and let her arms drop to her sides.

"I guess you're right, son. That's what your Pa said, too. 'He's not a child no more, Laura. You can't be tying him with no apron strings. You got to think of this as war and Lent as a soldier. When he gets orders, he's got to march.'"

Surprised by his father's words, Lent nodded and reached out his hand to capture his mother's hand.

"I'll be real careful, Ma. I promise you."


"Mr. Prebot, sir?"

Later that week Lent stood nervously before Sarah's father, his hat in hand. The store had closed at the end of the day and the two men had stayed behind to finish up stock work. It was time for Lent to ask the question which had been bothering him all day and most of the week.

"What is it, Lent?"

"Well, sir. It's about the mines. I hear Big Mountain Coal and Tennessee Coal are hirin again and they won't be bringin back the convicts."

"I heard that rumor, too, Lent."

"Well, sir, I've been thinking about going back to work in the mines."

The older man was silent for what seemed to Lent like a very long time, but then he nodded.

"I thought maybe you'd come to me with that idea, Lent. I put myself in your shoes and thought back to when I was fifteen and working in the mines. I figured now that you'd fought to get the convicts out, you'd want to step in and take their place. That right?"

Lent smiled, relieved to know that Mr. Prebot could understand his feelings.

"Trouble is, Lent, Mrs. Prebot and I have come to count on your help. We spent these months teaching you the business because we thought you might stay with us."

Lent began to feel uncomfortable. He fought to keep his eyes from falling to the ground as Mr. Prebot continued speaking.

"I won't try to hold you here, Lent, but I think you need to weigh this decision very carefully. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that we want you to stay."

Lent took a very deep breath and tried to collect his thoughts. What had seemed a simple decision, sharp and clear, was now draped in mist.

"You think on it tonight and let me know tomorrow. But I want you to consider something more when you do your thinking . . . "

He paused and seemed to be considering whether to continue.

"I heard another rumor this week, Lent. I can't tell you where I heard it, but the word is that this hiring is just temporary . . . that come Christmas time we'll see convicts and soldiers swarming all over this valley. If that happens, you and your friends will be out in the snow, jobless and defeated."

He waited for the picture to sink in.

"But if you stay here, Lent, you may do more good than you would down in those mining shafts."

"How's that?"

"Well, it seems to me that just about any story or bit of news that's worth telling manages to find its way into this store. A boy with ears like yours is in a good place to catch those stories and pass them on to those who know how to use them best."

Lent smiled at the older man's cunning.


He learned of life in the re-opened mines from his friend Silas.

"There's something wrong, Lent."

It was a Sunday afternoon and the two boys perched together
with bare feet hanging out over the edge of a large boulder waiting for the fish to bite. Their lines trailed down river with pieces of cork serving as bobbers.

"What do you mean, Silas?"

"I don't know exactly. It just doesn't feel right. The mine seems different."

Lent concentrated on his piece of cork. They'd been sitting for more than an hour without a bite, and he'd begun to tire of the waiting.

"Think we should move down river?"

Silas seemed to read his mind.

"We could try that big old hole down near the bend where you caught that huge cat last summer."

Lent shook his head. "I'd just as soon stay here, Silas. They just ain't biting today. That's all. They never bite much this time of year."

Silas dropped back into silence, but Lent could tell from his stiffened body that he was angry. He knew he should say something, but he felt like staying where he was. He raised the subject of the mine again.

"Tell me about the mine, Silas. What's different?" He found himself remembering Mr. Prebot's warning.

Silas shook his head. "I don't know. It just seems like a prison now. Like something rubbed off of all them convicts . . . like they left something behind. I keep lookin round to see if there's a guard or something watching me."

The two fished in silence as each thought back to those days in the mine when they had worked together driving the mules which pulled coal laden cars to the surface.

"There's no laughter," Silas blurted out. "That's what's different. There are no stories, no jokin and no foolin around. All the men are silent and serious."

Lent saw his cork bob below the surface and felt his line tighten as some fish seized his worm in its mouth and headed for the bottom. He waited for just the right moment to give the tug that would force the barbed hook through the side of the fish's mouth and make escape impossible.


The line went limp as the fish darted away.

Silas shook his head. "Too bad, Lent. Must have grabbed the tail of the worm or something."

Lent pulled in his line and checked his bait. It was as his friend had guessed . . . the worm was torn in half.


Christmas was brightened for Lent by the warmth and attention of Sarah and her family, but throughout the festivities and the sharing of gifts he was mindful of the gloom which had settled over the valley. As he traveled back and forth from his home in the mining camp to the Prebot's town house, he was struck by contrasts. In Lent's home, Christmas was a time for new shoes and basic clothing like coats and mittens. Presents were practical and wrapping simple. There were candles and pine boughs, but there was no tree.

In Sarah's home, on the other hand, the colors were brighter, the gifts more elaborate and the decorations quite lavish. A huge fir tree reached from floor to ceiling and dominated the living room with sweeping branches covered with dozens of candles and glass ornaments as well as strings of popcorn and dazzling chains of metallic paper. Under this gaily decorated tree, a pile of boxes rose like a mountain of ribbon and tissue paper. Perched in the middle of the boxes was a wooden creche filled with china figurines that Sarah told him were imported from Italy.

Lent had picked up each small statue . . . the Wise Men . . . Mary . . . Jesus . . . the animals . . . to examine them with great care and amazement. He had never seen anything like them. They were so life-like and delicate, they made his wood carvings seem crude by comparison. He wondered whether Sarah would appreciate the carving he had made for her.

When they gathered around the Prebot's tree for the sharing of presents, Sarah grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the pile of presents.

"I want you to open mine first, Lent."

It was a small box, but a heavy one. As Lent struggled with wrapping and ribbon, he kept trying to imagine what could lie inside such a small box.

Nested in soft paper lay a pocket watch inside what seemed like a silver case. When you pushed a small button, the silver shell popped open to show the face of the watch marked with Roman numerals. He wound it and held it to his ear.

"Did you see the inscription?"

Lent held the watch up to read the words delicately carved in the silver shell . . .

With love and dreams of peace


Christmas, 1891

Lent looked up from the watch and found the three Prebot's smiling expectantly.

"It . . . it's a beautiful watch, Sarah. I . . . I've never had a present like this."

She smiled and reached out her hand to grab and squeeze his.

"I wanted you to have something you could carry with you and keep close at all times."

Lent found himself wishing they were alone. He could tell from the burning feeling in his cheeks that he was blushing as Sarah's parents were watching with smiles that were nearly as full of love as Sarah's. Although he wanted to reach out and kiss her, to let his thoughts tumble out as they came to him, to tell her how moved he was by her shining gift, he lapsed into a stiff silence.

"And where's my present?" she asked him, her hand letting him know that she understood his silence.

He fished for the tissue paper and ribbon amongst the pile of presents, half wishing that the present had disappeared. His carving seemed to him a poor gesture compared to the silver watch . . . that is until he saw her reaction.

Sarah held the carving up for her parents to see. Her eyes were filling with tears and she was even more silent than Lent had been. He felt pulled toward her, and then suddenly her arms were around his neck and she was clinging so hard it hurt.

After a long moment, she let go and smiled through all the wetness.

"It's so delicate and so beautiful, Lent. Whose hands are they? Ours?"

He had spent weeks on the stove-length piece of cherry. Each time he had sat with Sarah on the porch swing, he had studied their intertwined hands and fingers, making mental photographs of each line and knuckle, the subtle curves and shapes of her hand in his; and then, late at night, when he returned to the dark of his home, he lit a candle and pulled out the carving for more work.

Finding his knife too simple and crude a tool to do justice to the hands, he traded a few dollars of his pay to buy a set of carving tools which made him feel like a magician as the wood responded to his touch and began to look like human flesh.

"That sure is beautiful sculpture, Lent. May I, daughter?"

Mr. Prebot reached out his hand for the carving and ran his fingers over the two wrists and the carefully detailed fingers.

"You have a rare talent, boy. I've never seen carving like this."

Lent found the burning return to his cheeks.

The joy and pleasure of Christmas lingered for a day or two, but the arrival of militia, new convicts and two Gatling guns just before New Year's Eve shattered the sense of peace and the illusion of victory which had flickered like a fragile candle flame through the holidays. As the strangers began to dig trenches and fortifications along Walden's Ridge, the townspeople and miners shook their heads and muttered.

"It's a fort they're buildin up there on the Ridge."

"Turnin this town into a prison."

"I thought this was a free country!"


Winter seemed to join forces with the militia. It was colder, grayer and wetter than Lent could ever remember. Bad weather settled upon the valley and stayed for months as heavy wet clouds swept down over the mountain ridges and crept into every corner of every coal camp and farm. Desperate for warmth and dryness - as each family stoked up stoves and fireplaces to cut the chill - heavy, acrid smoke rose from chimneys and stove pipes to darken already heavy clouds.

When the sun managed to break through the dampness and smoke, it nearly always disappeared again after just a few short hours for the weather reflected the mood of the valley, and the sun acted almost like an unwanted guest.

Working in the Prebot's store, Lent heard stories of families uprooted from company housing to make room for convicts. Sometimes they moved in with relatives, sometimes they survived in make-shift shelters and sometimes they left town to seek better fortune elsewhere. Food was in short supply, prices were high, and the jobs that had opened in the Fall disappeared as convict took the place of miner and the failure
of the rebellion became evident to everyone.

Silas was especially bitter. Dismissed from his job as trapper boy at the end of February, he hung around town and spent his time in saloons where unemployed miners tried to stay warm drinking on credit. The arrival of Gatling guns and cannons had replaced the loud stories of courage with sullen silence. When Silas stopped by Lent's store to tell him the news, he reported no plans to throw the convicts out of town or storm the fort which housed the artillery.

"They've given up, Lent. All of em! They just sit and drink all day as if there's nothin anyone can do."

Lent was busy unpacking material from a crate that had just arrived, but he stopped and looked up at his friend's angry face.

"You can't exactly blame them, Silas. You seen them Gatling guns or heard em fire?" He shook his head with evident respect. "A man would have to be crazy to attack that fort they've built."

Silas shrugged and dug his fingers into his belt. "I know, Lent, but we can't just . . . give up."

Lent could feel his friend watching his every move. Mrs. Prebot didn't seem to mind Silas hanging around, but Lent was worried that she would think he was slacking off on his work
talking to his friend, so he hurried about at double speed.

He was growing tired of the dark moods Silas carried through the door each day. These moods lingered throughout the afternoon even after Silas had gone and Lent was left alone with Sarah and the store. The somber, desperate cloud that Silas dragged through the door each day hung in sharp contrast

with the bright smile that Sarah managed through the bleakest moments, and Lent found his own mood swing back and forth between the darkness of his friend and the spirit of this girl who made it hard to embrace feelings of gloom. Yet Lent felt somehow disloyal to the miners when he let the darkness slide away to hold onto Sarah.

"Maybe we could move away," he found himself saying one afternoon. "Maybe we could go to Knoxville . . . work in a store or something."

Sarah's smile had shifted to a half frown. "If you want to leave here, I'll go, Lent, but I'm afraid you'd get to feelin pretty bad leaving Silas and the others behind to finish what you started together."

She had a way of surprising him with her wisdom and her understanding, and he knew that what she was saying was true.

He squeezed her hand. "You're right, Sarah. But some day I'd like to climb on a train with you and leave this valley behind. Even if we win the battle . . . even if we send the
convicts and soldiers home for good . . . even so . . . I still want to go."

Her smile returned as she returned the squeeze of his hand. "Were you thinking we ought to get married first?"

And suddenly the reality of his plan struck home. He had not stopped long enough to think of the two of them riding on a train, unloading bags in Knoxville, looking for a place to spend the night, the night clerk asking them if they are married.

Her parents would not let her go unmarried.

What would his own parents say?

"I'd go with you either way, Lent."

He struggled with his thoughts for a few moments, but when he finally spoke his mind, the words flowed calmly in a voice that felt certain and manly.

"I think we should get married first, Sarah. Maybe in a year or two when we have saved some money."

Sarah's hand tightened on his. "We don't need to wait that long, Lent, and we don't need to get married first. I'd go right now, this very afternoon if it seemed right."

"I know, Sarah. I know you would. But we better wait a spell."

A silent calm settled over the room as Lent and Sarah stood feeling the impact of their words and the agreement they had just made. The sudden arrival of a customer broke the long moment of reverie, but even as they let go of each other's hands, they knew that they were now joined together in some deeper way. The wooden carving of their fingers intertwining had been transformed into a different kind of union.

Later that same day as Lent was on his way home from work in the growing darkness of early evening, he was surprised by the sudden appearance of two men running wildly out of the darkness from further up the road. Looking anxiously back over their shoulders, they both halted at Lent's feet and began to warn him of cannon fire. Lent recognized them both as old friends of his father's.

"You best stay clear of the road, boy! They's firin cans of mud or something down onto the road."

The older of the two men was still short of breath.

"That's right, boy. You jest turn yerself round and head back to town. Them militia are havin themselves a party, and they'd jest as soon string you up as let you go by."

Lent thanked the men, waved good-bye, and set off down the road to a spot where he knew a path that wound safely along
the heavy underbrush lining the creek. The nightly ritual of cannon fire and rifle shots had been going on for months now, and he had grown used to the need for detours. Because the militia was growing tired of life atop Walden's Ridge, the city boys had invented all kinds of new games to keep life interesting.

One morning Silas had burst loudly into the Prebot's store carrying an oyster can in his hand.

"Look what they been firin down on us!"

Cans, garbage, mud . . . Lent shook his head as he realized hat the very men who had been sent to keep law and order had become a band of outlaws. Hurrying along the creek bed he could see flames dancing high above him on the hilltop as the loud voices of men who have been drinking for hours carried down the hollow to where he was following the dirt path that kept him off the road.

Some nights he had narrowly escaped a militia patrol scouring the roads after dark on the pretense of checking the local people for weapons, whiskey and valuables. The valley reverberated with stories of men losing watches and women insulted. Lent had friends who had been seized and beaten . . . left bruised and bleeding in a ditch by the side of the road.

"That road is too dangerous," his mother had warned as the
stories wove their way from house to house in the mining camp, each beating and encounter gaining elaborate details with each retelling of the story.

"One of these nights . . . "

"Now you leave the boy alone, Laura! He's old enough to take of himself."

As Lent pushed along the path, he suddenly heard a loud explosion that seemed to rock the earth below him, and just as he hit the ground with hands around his neck, the bushes around him were showered by pieces of debris that must have been fired out of one of the cannons on the ridge above him.

Lent jumped up and sprinted along the path until the noise and the lights and the cannon fire were left far behind.

His mother sat waiting for him as always.

"How was it tonight, son?"

"Not bad," Lent answered. "What's that I smell cookin?"

Laura Harris looked sharply at her son, sensing his mood and the edge in his voice.

"You sure nothing went wrong tonight?"

Lent shrugged. "They were having a party, Ma. That's all."

Laura Harris rose to her feet with a sigh.


The rest of winter dragged by with unrelenting rain, mist and cold. While the militia continued to harass the residents of the valley and the convicts continued to work the mines, townspeople and unemployed miners spent their days grumbling and muttering.

Each day another group of families would load belongings onto wagons and head out of town to start life elsewhere, for there were no jobs in Coal Creek and little food for those with no money. Some moved back up into the hollows where they still had family, crowding a dozen or more people into mountain shacks intended to hold half that many. The entire valley had lost its spirit, it seemed, and Lent spent most of his days dreaming about faraway cities and some future life away from the mines.

As days began to grow longer, the weather warmer and brighter, leaves returned to the trees and flowers sprang to life along the roadsides, but the mood of the valley remained unchanged. Spring arrived without inspiring much joy, as the fort on top of Walden's Ridge continued to haunt the valley and the
unwanted visitors continued to fire garbage out of their cannons while screaming insults and profanity deep into the night.

Lent's father and uncle had held onto their jobs throughout the troubles, the mine closings and the arrival of the militia, but both men spent most evenings drinking and grumbling with their miner friends. Rumors of new closings or new carloads of convicts sprang up daily like the wild flowers springing up along the roadsides. Even those who had jobs felt they were bound to lose them soon, but the talk rarely moved beyond grumbling. When Lent sat beside his father listening to the saloon talk, the men's words seemed to smoke like emptied shot-gun barrels. He waited in vain for someone to insert a new shell and squeeze a trigger.

"Have you done any more carving, boy?"

Mr. Prebot's question took Lent by surprise. He shook his head.

"That sure is a shame. You've got real talent in those hands of yours, and you ought to do something with them. I've friends back in Knoxville who'd pay good money for one of your carvings, and next month when I take my June trip into town I was hoping to bring some of your work with me."

Lent had pulled out his set of carving tools almost daily, had touched the handles and fingered the blades, but each day
he had carefully placed them back in their case unused. He was searching for something to carve that would pull together all the different feelings that surged through him as he found summer approaching with his valley still caught in the grasp of the militia.

In free moments he would sit on the steps of the store staring out across the mountain peaks wondering where it would all lead, and then he would suddenly find Sarah sitting beside him, her arm touching his. They would sit like that for long silent moments, and Lent found that his questions and fears would often subside and along with them went the urge to carve.

This morning, however, Lent found Mr. Prebot's question troubling him through the entire morning, and he spent the day pondering what the older man had said. The idea of being paid for a carving was both exciting and upsetting. It had never occurred to him that someone might give him money for one of his carvings, but he wasn't sure if he could part with one. The idea of handing a carving to a stranger saddened him. It was one thing to give Sarah the carving of the hands . . . but a stranger? He wondered if he could do it.

His thinking turned to new carvings. First he pictured a grizzly reared up menacingly on hind paws ready to strike, and then he added a rattler poised on the ground below him in a similar pose. This picture he quickly rejected.

A dozen other images paraded through his mind as he sat working
on the store's accounts, but Lent dismissed each one after little real thought. None of them were right, and Lent was almost happy for the rows and columns of numbers before him that seemed so uncomplicated and neat. There was an order and a meaning to the account books that Lent missed in the rest of his life.

Walking home that afternoon, Lent continued the argument within. Could he sell one of his carvings? Would it be right? How much would they pay? How much would he demand? And what kind of person would he sell them to? Would he have any choice? He pictured a delicate swan in the hands of someone like Captain Cross and the thought turned from horror to anger.

His steps were so slow and his mind so filled with conflicting voices that he missed the sight of the hawk swooping down out of the sky to snatch a grey rabbit from the roadside. It was the rabbit's shrieking that drew his attention to the hawk and the rabbit rising slowly together into the afternoon sky. The hawk's talons had sunk deep into the rabbit's neck, and there would be no escaping, could be no escaping, yet the rabbit continued to shriek and struggle until the hawk suddenly released her.

There was a brief moment of freedom as the rabbit hurtled toward ground, silent now with the horror of fall, and then the hawk swooped down once again to seize his lifeless prey and resume his flight homeward.

Lent watched the flight of the hawk against the backdrop of the mountains and he knew what his next carving would be. The image of that hawk and that rabbit was burned so deeply into his soul that it would demand release. He would have no choice. His hands would seek out the stove length of cherry that very evening and transform the vision into wood.

"Where you headin, boy?"

They came from behind him with a suddenness that made Lent start with surprise . . . a dozen of them, not much older than he . . . all of them armed . . . all of them red-faced and flushed with whiskey. One of them held a bottle instead of a rifle, and he had a pistol strapped to his waist. It was he who had called out to Lent. He appeared to be the leader.

They were the same store clerk, city types he had watched the summer before as they had paraded the convicts back to the mines . . . a sorry bunch, really, and Lent knew he could beat any one of them with a single fist. He knew he could outrun the entire pack this very moment, because most of them were overweight and seemed soft and used to city living. But the rifles they held gave them control, for he knew even this group, drunk and disorderly as they were, would have trouble missing him at short range with ten barrels all firing at the same time. He stood quietly and calmly watching the leader and waiting for his chance to escape.

The leader was tall and skinny with a scraggly beard that
resulted more from a lack of shaving than any intent to grow a beard. He stood looking Lent up and down with a twisted kind of smile.

"You work in the mines with clothes like that, boy?"

Lent shook his head.

"No. I didn't think so. You dressed too nice for no miner."

Smelling strongly of whiskey . . . bad whiskey . . . he stepped up and leaned his face to within inches of Lent's face.

"You got any money with you, boy?"

Lent nodded.

The leader turned back to his group and winked.

"Well let's see it, then. Empty your pockets!"

Lent knew then how the rabbit must have felt when the hawk's talons sunk deeply into the muscles of the neck, but he was calm and quiet. In one pocket he had more than ten dollars, some of it in silver. Sarah's watch and a pocket knife sat in the other. If he played it right . . .

The leader stepped back and took a pull on his bottle, then passed it along to another member of the group. His now free
hand pulled the pistol from his belt which he pointed at Lent's mid-section, poking and jabbing, enjoying his power.

"Come on, boy. Empty your pockets!"

Lent reached down into his pocket, pulled free a fist of greenbacks and silver, held it high in the air, long enough for the group to gasp and rush forward, and then he tossed it all onto the ground at their feet.

The whole group, leader and all, dropped their rifles, fell to the ground, and started scratching and fighting over the fallen treasure.

At that same moment, Lent darted off on the fastest sprint of his life. The forest lay some forty yards away, where he knew the trees were thick enough to shelter him from the rifle shots that were sure to follow as soon as his hunters could find rifles and regain their feet.

His every step seemed heavy and slow as the forest loomed closer and shouts of anger reached his ears when his hunters awakened to the escape of their prey and dropped paper and coin in their sudden passion for the hunt.

"Hey!" he heard. "Get him, someone!"

"He's getting away!"

He expected a half dozen bullets to slam into his back just as he reached the edge of the forest. Darting past one tree, Lent heard the first shot, cut sharply to his left, heard another shot, cut right again, passed a few more trees, heard a half dozen shots, and suddenly felt a searing jolt of pain in his right arm, high near the shoulder. And then he was deep enough into the woods so the bullets thudded harmlessly into trees behind him.

He ran on, clutching his wounded arm with his left hand, trying to ignore the pain and the wetness, fighting waves of nausea that threatened to overtake him and force him to his knees. He ran on and on, the sounds of his pursuers fading and then dying as they gave up the chase and returned to the road to fight over the pocket full of change and greenbacks. Even after their shouting died, Lent continued running. Only when he had zig-zagged through the forest for several miles did he feel safe enough to rest.

When he found a small cave which had served Silas and him as a hiding place when they were boys playing in the woods, he crawled inside and collapsed. He could barely manage to pull the silver watch out of his right pocket, but once he did, he laid it on the ground beside him while he tended to his bleeding shoulder.

The bullet had entered from behind, cut through muscle and skin, and left through the front. It was still bleeding heavily, but he managed to rip some cloth from the bottom of
his shirt and fashion a crude bandage that brought the flow of blood to a halt.

Propping himself up against the stone wall of the cave, he held Sarah's watch in his left hand and waited for his strength to return. He knew from the darkness outside that his mother would already be worried about him, and he was determined to rise to his feet in just a few minutes once the nausea and the dizziness had passed.

He stared at the watch face and tried to keep awake by noticing each movement of the minute hand as it crept toward the top of the face, but he kept seeing Sarah's face or his mother's face, and he must have slipped in and out of consciousness, because next time he noticed the minute hand it had jumped around past the Roman numeral III.


It was morning by the time Silas and Charlie Harris found Lent lying in the cave with his watch in hand. Charlie lifted up his wounded, feverish son in his arms as if he were just a little boy of five.

"Those bastards!" he muttered.


It was August by the time Lent's arm was well enough to begin carving again. During the long days of lying in bed, his mind had done the carving for him as his head filled with visions of hawks and rabbits, grisly bears and rattle snakes. In the early days he was half delirious and he dreamed of wild horses and burning stables, but after the fever broke, he was able to sit up and think more clearly.

Accompanied by her father, Sarah drove the dappled mare and the Prebot's one-horse shay up the road to Briceville to visit him each afternoon even though Lent warned them both against the militia. Mr. Prebot seemed to dismiss the warnings, but when Lent had recovered enough to sit up and work on the store's accounts, they drove him to town and made up an extra bedroom for him.

"It's safer if you stay with us a while," explained Mr. Prebot.

Lent did not feel strong enough to argue, and he was worried that some day the militia would stop Sarah and her father the way they had stopped him.

"You go ahead, son. Your Ma and I will see you each Sunday at church."

Lent could tell that his father was torn by the decision, for he had taken to sitting by Lent's bed for hours telling him the day's news. After Lent's wounding, Charlie Harris was either working the mines, sitting with his son or slamming around the house as if taking out his anger on the doors and the walls themselves.

That same day he and Silas found Lent lying unconscious in his childhood hiding place, Charlie Harris went looking for D.B. Munroe. He found him in a Fraterville saloon drinking with a half dozen other men he'd never seen before. They had the look of miners, but they were all dressed too well and they were strangers to Charlie.

Munroe rose to greet him. "Sorry bout your boy, Charlie. I heard they got him real bad last night."

Charlie nodded. "I want to join you now. Next time you move on the militia or the mines, I want to be there with you."

Munroe seemed hesitant. "We don't have any plans, Charlie. We're just mindin our own business and stayin out of trouble."

Charlie Harris had stormed back into the house, slamming doors and cursing.

"How do you like that?" he complained to his son. "Munroe was sitting there with a bunch of union fellas and he plain out lied to me in fronta all of them."

Lent watched his father wringing his hands with anger. "I know they were planning something," his father went on. "I know it!"

Lent was worried by the rage boiling within his father, concerned that some evening he would pick up his rifle and go hunting for the pack of militia that had shot and robbed him. Some evenings his father sat alongside his son's bed running his fingers over the rifle stock as if he were planning revenge, and Lent would try to divert him by asking questions about his younger days.

"Tell me about that fight you had with that Parsons fellow."

His father would smile and seem to forget his anger for a while as he fell swiftly into a story-telling mode which lifted him up and away from where they sat together. Suddenly he was back in a make-shift boxer's ring and the crowd was chanting his name . . .


The other man was heavy and slow, but his right fist was known to be capable of lifting a man up out of the ring. He had killed men with a single blow, and there were towns in
Tennessee that he had run from after collecting his prize money. He was a professional fighter who went by the name of "Sledge Hammer Hurley," and Charlie Harris was Coal Creek's best hope of defeating the stranger.


He was fast on his feet. Darting, weaving, and dancing around the larger man, he had jabbed and poked, jabbed and poked until the other man was furious. Each time Sledge Hammer threw one of his famous round house punches, Charlie had slipped aside and managed to clobber his opponent on the side of the head.

He was winning, and the other man knew it. He glared and cursed at Charlie from behind his fists, looking for the opening that would end the fight and send Charlie sprawling. He had not lost a fight in two years, and he was not about to let Charlie break his streak.

As the bell sounded for the final round, Sledge Hammer came out of his corner like a stampeeding bull, rushing straight toward Charlie as if he could push him back into the corner and nail him against the ropes. As Charlie darted aside with the same move he had used all through the fight, he felt a shadow and then he was gone.

Sledge Hammer had watched that move all night, had been fooled by it six or seven times, had finally learned the move, and now he caught Charlie cold with his own famous punch.

Lent, who had heard the story dozens of times before, never tired of hearing it.

"You ever fight Sledge Hammer again?"

Charlie Harris shook his head.

"No. That was the last time we ever saw Sledge Hammer. Story came round that some woman over in Oliver Creek went after him with a shot gun same night he laid her husband out with the punch that nailed me. He and her husband were buried the same day in the same cemetery."

It was the most time Lent had spent talking with his father since those early days when he had worked beside him in the mines, and he was sorry when the time came for him to move into town. As he climbed up into the seat alongside Sarah, his parents stood quietly watching as if they were saying good-bye for good.

"I'll be back, you know," he blurted out.

They both nodded.

"And I'll see you in church."

They both nodded again, silent now that the time had come for parting.

He turned around to wave as the horse drew the shay down the path that led back out to the road, but they were gone. He expected to see them standing together watching him until he disappeared around the corner, but they had already disappeared inside.

The house seemed strangely deserted as he looked back and watched it disappear.


By August Lent was carving figures and carrying heavy fabric again. His arm had healed and life had pretty much returned to normal, though he stayed now in the Prebots' house as if he were their son. The militia, tiring of the winter-long siege, continued to test out new ways to harass the townspeople.

"You best not travel that road between here and Briceville til we rid this town of the militia," warned Sarah's mother, and Lent did not bother to argue. He knew she was right from the looks he got when groups of militia wandered through town. Although he never again saw the face of the leader of the group that had stopped and robbed him, Lent didn't like the looks cast his way, so he stayed inside whenever the militia was about. He developed a nervous habit of reaching into his pocket to check if Sarah's watch was still there.

Life might have proceeded like that for months if it had not been for the hanging. Lent had just finished opening up the store one August morning when Silas rushed through the front door. He was breathing so hard he barely managed to get his
message out.

"They hanged em, Lent! They . . . they hanged Drummond!"

"What are you talking about, Silas?"

"The militia . . . they strung him up on the railway bridge out near Briceville."

Drummond was a miner . . . just a few years older than Silas and Lent. Lent could remember Drummond a year earlier sprinting down the hill imitating Indian war cries with rifle raised above his head as they had all rushed the stockade together.

"Why'd they hang em?"

By this time, Sarah, her parents and a half dozen others had crowded around to hear the story.

"That Lt. Fytte and a bunch of the militia broke into a dance out at Briceville last night, and Fytte started botherin this girl, Sally Bullock. Well, it seems that Percy Drummond had been seein Sally off and on through the summer, and when he caught Fytte speakin with her, he started burnin and smokin . . ."

When Silas paused to catch his breath, his audience hurried him along.

"Go on! What happened next?"

"Well . . . Drummond stood there burnin until he couldn't stand it no longer. He marched up to Fytte and told him to leave off speakin with his girl. Fytte paid no attention . . . no attention at all . . . so Drummond grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around . . . face to face. 'I'm speaking to you, Lieutenant!'"

"When Fytte went for his pistol, Drummond pulled a knife, and the crowd closed in with a whole bunch of fellas pulling out their pistols and yelling at Fytte to leave. I guess he figured the odds were kind of rotten, because Fytte cleared out of there real fast, backing through the door with his pistol and his friends, cursing and promising revenge."

"How'd they get Drummond, then?"

"I'll get to that in just a moment."

Silas enjoyed his story-telling, and now he was drawing out the ending, taking his time, making his audience hungry for the story. Lent watched and listened with a growing sense of anger. This story was too important for Silas to be fooling with them.

Silas caught the warning in Lent's eyes and hurried on.

"It seems the dance went on for another hour or so . . .
breaking up just about midnight. Drummond went back to his rented room, and that's where they found him. They came to get him there . . . broke into the house, shoved right past old Mr. Landrum, dragged Percy out of his bed, pulled him downstairs right in front of the whole Landrum family and hauled him away into the night."

"He never had a chance. Dave Daniels stumbled upon him early this morning while Dave was wandering after a lost cow. Dave said Percy was twisted real bad . . . his neck, his face, his whole body . . .they was twisted as if . . ."

"Silas!" Lent broke in, sensing the horror in Sarah and her family. His mind filled with a picture of Percy Drummond's corpse dangling from the bridge.

Sarah moved close for comfort.

"That might have been you, Lent."

"I know," Lent whispered. "I know."

Outside the Prebot's store the town rumbled and seethed with anger as horses dashed through the streets foaming from long hard morning rides. Men from distant mining camps rushed past waving pistols, cursing and demanding revenge for Drummond's death.

As soon as Munroe heard the news of the killing, he had called a noon meeting for all miners, and the town swelled with a flood of armed men surging down the valley from hollow and mining camp to rally around their leader.

The long winter's siege was broken as the militia retreated to their trenches on Walden Ridge. While their Gatling guns still gave them a commanding hold over the stockades and the valley, no squad of militia could safely wander far from their trenches without being swept up like twigs in a rising tide. The ridge belonged to the militia, but the town and its streets were in the hands of the miners.

Lent and Sarah sat quietly on the store's porch watching the storm sweep through town. Lent's Remington lay freshly cleaned and ready for firing across its owner's lap. In just a few more hours Lent knew that he, too, would be swept up like a twig in the tide and the storm. He would leave Sarah and her family behind to wait and worry while he and the other miners threw themselves against the earthen and human dam that had been raised to fill their valley with convicts and soldiers, the dam that created a sea of pain and troubles that threatened to drown them all or drive them away to higher land.

Even though he knew he had no choice but to cast his fate in with that of the others, Lent found himself wondering what good it might do, this rushing headlong at the dam. Even if they were successful and the earth gave way before the rushing flood waters, could they dare hope that the valley would be
free forever? They had sent wave upon wave of convicts back to where they came from, only to see them swiftly returning like the ripples of a rock thrown into a mountain pool. First the waves spread out from where the rock has landed, but then they reach the edge of the pond and bounce back to criss-cross at the center.

"I think we should leave town when this is over," he announced to Sarah. "No matter what happens this time, we should leave."

He knew Sarah's face was hiding the sadness within. Her quick nod of agreement was underlined by her silence. She was holding on as if she might never touch him again . . . alive . . . and her eyes seemed to be memorizing each line, each curve of his face.

"I will be back!" he said, sounding almost angry.

Sarah smiled but remained silent. He knew that she was thinking that he could not be sure what might happen.

"I love you, Sarah."

Again she nodded. "I know you do, Lent, and I know that you must go today. I'm just sad. That's all."

Lent settled back into silence and watched two old men stride down the street with ancient muskets. They had the proud walk of young men about to fight their first battle, but Lent found
himself resenting their age and their enthusiasm. It seemed to him that they had nothing to lose by fighting and everything to gain. Their lives were nearly finished as it was, and a good battle might close their book with a heroic chapter. So what if they caught a bullet in the chest and died? Death was already perched on their shoulders waiting for a good moment.

Lent did not welcome Death now perched upon his own shoulder waiting to pounce later in the afternoon or evening. He felt too young and his own book was just a few scribbled pages of introduction. The first chapter was barely started, and ever since Sarah and her family had reached out to include him in their lives, the future had glowed with promise. Now he felt as if it might all be stolen away.


It was his father. Charlie Harris stood in the street below them, rifle in hand.

"I came to join you, son."

Lent rose to his feet in surprise.


"I know . . . I know. I remember what I said to you about fighting, but when they shot you everything changed. And now
they break into the Landrum's house and drag that boy, Percy Drummond, off for a lynching. If we don't stop them now, no one will be safe."

Lent stepped forward and reached out for his father while Sarah stood watching the two men embrace. Lent knew that the itching feeling on his cheeks was tears that he had been holding back for a very long time.


Munroe first led his army of miners out of the valley to free several hundred convicts held in the stockade twenty miles away over the mountain at Oliver Springs. Lent, his father, and many of the Coal Creek miners cursed the delay. Two days were lost firing at the heavy stockade . . . two days of sitting out in the August heat eating cold biscuits and waiting around.

There was no real drama or sense of victory, and they felt like race horses reined in mid-gallop. Ready to storm the ridge above their town and forever rid themselves of the militia, they found themselves waiting around in a different valley fighting a battle that mattered little to them.

Finally, when a white flag of surrender signaled victory, Lent and Silas had the pleasure of watching hundreds of convicts scurry away to escape into the mountains. During the siege, recruits had kept arriving from mines and towns to the south and north until the miners could no longer keep track of their numbers.

Marching back now toward Coal Creek, the line of armed men and boys stretched for nearly a mile, a line that resembled an army only because they carried weapons. There was little sign of order or discipline, and it could not be said that they "marched" in any true sense of the word. It was more like an enormous hunting party hurrying along the roadway with the impatience of those who have scented their prey and must move swiftly lest they lose the trail.

Most of the men moved along in silence, but here and there an argument flared up as Munroe's leadership came into question . . .

"How come we wasted all this time over at Oliver Springs? I say we should have gone right after Captain Anderson and his men . . . caught that Lt. Fytte and hanged em just the same as he hanged Drummond. This Munroe has gone and wasted two whole days. He's just given the Governor time to send more troops!"

Lent trudged along trying not to listen. The two day siege had left him sullen and disappointed. He and Silas had fired no shots and never saw a target. The hours had dragged along without action or drama until Lent began to think about leaving.

"But you can't leave!" argued Silas.

"And why can't I?"

Silas shrugged. "It's a battle. You can't just walk away!"

Lent knew his friend was right, but he couldn't see what good his staying was doing. The stockade would fall, but not because he, Lent Harris, had fired his rifle or shown bravery. There were simply too many miners and too many rifles for the small crew in the stockade to resist. It was just a matter of time . . .

His boots were hot on his store-softened feet as they stepped obediently along through the dust while Lent's stomach growled and complained of hunger. Because he and his friends had expected a quick assault on Walden's Ridge that first afternoon, they had packed no food, clothing or sleeping gear. The march to Oliver Springs had caught them surprised and ill prepared, and now they were dirty, unshaven and sore from sleeping on the ground.

"You seen those Gatling guns?"

"No. You?"

"They can fire as fast as thirty . . . forty men . . . spittin out bullets like watermelon seeds. Spttt! Spttt! Spttt!"

Lent shuddered at the sound, remembering his own encounter with the militia and his frantic, weaving run through the woods. As the bullet slammed into his shoulder one more time,
he felt the pain leap and tear through his flesh. And then he was bending over, kneeling at roadside.

"You all right, Lent?"

It was Silas holding him by the shoulders and the pain faded into just a memory. He snapped out of his trance and jumped back into line.

"I'm alright," he muttered, shrugging off his friend's hands. "I just forgot where I was for a moment there."

As the morning turned to afternoon, they came to familiar territory and the chatter of the men ceased as the pace picked up to what was nearly a run. Half a mile ahead where they knew the battle would be fought, they could already hear the spatter of rifles and the more staccato sound of the Gatling guns.

"They started already!" Silas complained. "You think we'll miss it, Lent? Think they'll take the fort before we get there?"

Lent ignored his friend and concentrated on his running. He found that Sarah's face danced before him in a way that sharpened his sense of the danger ahead and left his stomach tightened in a snarled tangle. The cramp made running excruciating, but he knew he could not stop now. He was swept along the road with the others until they all spilled out into
an open space below the ridge where Munroe and several others were directing the flow up into the woods.

As Lent ran with Silas and his father through the trees, they began to pass the wounded and retreating survivors of the first assault upon the ridge. They passed one man who stumbled along moaning, leaning upon a broken tree branch, his left leg dragging along behind him, the knee shattered and pants leg soaked with blood. Others were helped along by friends or carried in make-shift wooden stretchers made with branches and clothing.

Lent recognized friends who had worked alongside him in the mines, limping, bleeding, unable to focus, unaware of who he was. They struggled by carrying wounds and pain. Only a few still held a rifle or a weapon of any kind.

By the time they had reached the boulders at the front line where they would be safe from enemy fire, Lent and Silas had seen more than a dozen casualties and the glazed horror in the wounded men's eyes had sobered Silas and all the others around them.

"What happened?" asked Silas, dropping to the ground beside a group of men who crouched low behind one especially large boulder.

"They got to firin them Gatling guns and next thing we knew bodies were droppin all around us. They's still a coupla
fellas lying up above us there, wounded or dead. We couldn't stop to carry them all back."

Lent recognized the man who answered as Robert Walker, the man who had argued against fighting so many months earlier on Prebot's front porch. This man who had fought in the war between the states and lost sons to a mining disaster was greeting Death in a familiar costume. His face was creased with the sorrow of one long acquainted with death.

"What do we do now?" asked Silas. "Do we charge again?"

Walker shrugged. "Nobody knows. They's nobody to give commands. We just rushed through the woods like you and ran smack into a wall of bullets. We ran back here and been sittin here ever since. Where's Munroe?"

"Back down below us givin orders."

"What's he doin down there? Don't he have the sense to know we need him up here?"

With that, they all suddenly noticed a figure sprinting along the line of boulders from the right, stopping at each cluster of men to deliver what seemed to be some kind of brief message before hurrying along to the next group.

"Charge when you hear the bugle!" he whispered fiercely when he arrived at Lent's boulder.

"Bugle?" snorted Walker. "Who's got a bugle up here? And what sense is there chargin a wall of bullets? They's jest gonna get us all killed!"

The rest of the group who had survived the first charge seemed to huddle even closer to the safety of their boulders, and Lent could tell from their angry expressions that Walker spoke their minds exactly. Sarah's sad face loomed once again before his eyes, and he found his own body curling in against the comfort of the stone. Now and then there was a rifle shot or a shout, but the afternoon had turned strangely silent as each side waited for the next charge.

"The calm before the storm . . ."Lent found himself thinking, remembering a line from some book he and Sarah had read together. He wondered where she was and what she was thinking as the sounds of rifle-fire must have reached the ears of those in the town below them.

When the bugle call came, shouts and battle cries surged up and down the line as men and boys leapt to their feet to vault over their friendly boulders to begin the sprint towards the militia's trenches across two hundred yards that had been cleared of bushes and trees to give the enemy clear shooting. The forest had been chopped down and burned tree by tree until the land was marked by the stubble of dozens of tree stumps and the embers of brush fires.

Racing across the uneven ground, Lent cried out and jumped
as his foot nearly landed in a pit that concealed a row of heavily sharpened wooden stakes. The militia's traps drew sudden screams as others around Lent stumbled and fell upon the wooden barbs.

Lent felt Silas struggling to keep up, his one bad leg slowing him down as the rest of the attackers surged ahead. The militia fired a few shots, but because Lent found no welcoming wall of fire in that first hundred yards, he began to hope they could make it to the trenches, overpower the militia and bring a quick end to the battle. He shrieked and poured on all the speed he could find, racing ahead of Silas and his father, his eyes on the trench line directly ahead.

"Lent! Oh my God! Lent!"

The wall of fire cut through the line of miners like a scythe cutting wheat. Lent heard screams of pain and felt suddenly alone as bodies fell all around him. The Gatling gun had merely waited for them to be within good range before sweeping across the field like a reaper at harvest time.

He was a good dozen yards ahead of the others when he heard his father's cry, and wheeling around he saw his father crouched over Silas' crumpled form. All around him Lent saw men wounded or retreating. A single burst from the Gatling gun had cut the charge short, and now he found himself rushing back towards Silas and his father, bullets whistling through the air around him and thudding into the ground near his feet.

And then he realized his father was up and running for cover too, with his friend Silas either dead or too badly wounded to carry. Lent's eyes filled with tears as he ran past his friend's body, weaving and darting to escape the enemy fire. He saw his father weaving and darting ahead of him, his large form low to the ground, and then his father was suddenly a flailing ball of arms and legs crashing to the ground as a shot slammed into his thigh. Lent leapt to his side and grabbed an elbow, dragging his father to his feet and thrusting his own shoulder under his father's arm.

Somehow they made it across those final twenty yards to collapse together on the safe side of the boulders as half a dozen men came out to greet them and help the wounded Charlie Harris cover the last few yards. Lent fought the wave of nausea that threatened to overpower him, knowing that his father needed him now, but suddenly he found himself retching and heaving as the full impact of the charge centered in his stomach and exploded in a hot wave of acid.

"We're goin home, Pa," he cried, his mind clearing as the nausea passed and calm returned. "Can you manage?"

His father's face was twisted with pain, but he gave Lent a weak smile and tried to struggle to his feet. The two of them lurched and stumbled but managed to find their way back through the trees that would lead them back to the road. Lent figured he could find a horse or a wagon if they could only get back down to the road.

"It's gonna be alright, Pa," he kept repeating, "It's gonna be alright. We're goin home."

"Let me help you, boy."

It was Robert Walker who joined them now, and with one arm around Lent and the other man, Charlie Harris was able to move along quite rapidly, and even though he was weak from loss of blood, they made it down to the road in just a few minutes. There Charlie collapsed on the ground while Lent tore his shirt into strips that could serve as bandages so he and Walker could work on stemming the bleeding that had turned his father's pants red.

The road was lined with a dozen other wounded men and some thirty others who had either helped to carry the wounded back from the line of boulders or just arrived upon the scene of battle.

"There's a wagon coming soon for the wounded," volunteered one man whose arm was cradled in a sling made from torn strips of shirting. "Your pa can ride the wagon back to town where the doctor is."

Lent nodded and knelt over his father. "You alright now, Pa? They got a wagon comin to take you home."

Charlie Harris nodded, but Lent knew from his face that the
pain was nearly overwhelming. A spark had ignited an explosion, the mine had caved in around him, and now he was barely hanging on.

"It's the wagon comin!" yelled one man, and Lent turned to watch a horse drawn wagon race toward them around a bend in the road. He gasped as he realized . . . the horses, the driver, and the girl alongside of him . . . all were familiar. Sarah and her father had driven the store wagon all the way from town, and suddenly Lent was up on his feet running toward them.

"Lent!" Sarah shrieked, half standing as she recognized him and jumped down into his arms as the wagon and the team of horses came to a sudden stop. "Are you alright, Lent?"

He squeezed her hard and then drew her away to where his father lay unconscious, having finally fainted from the pain. "It's my Pa. He needs a ride in your wagon."

As they worked together with the rest of the men to lift his father and the other wounded onto the bed of the wagon, they were suddenly surprised by several hundred miners racing down the road in what seemed like obvious retreat.

Lent reached out and grabbed the arm of one he recognized.

"What is it? Where are you all headed?"

The man wrenched his arm free and kept running, turning to yell back. "It's reinforcements for the militia. And they got artillery!"

With that, Lent heard the roaring boom of what he guessed must be field pieces firing further up the valley.

"They got 500 maybe a thousand troops marching toward us!" added the next man Lent stopped.

"How far away are they?" asked Lent.

"Five minutes, maybe," the man answered over his shoulder. "I'd get moving if I were you," he added before sprinting away with the others.

Sarah's father jumped up on the seat of his wagon and swung the team of horses around toward town. The seat beside him was taken by one of the wounded.

"You get on back to town with Lent, Sarah."

And Lent found Mr. Prebot staring at him. "You bring her back safe now, you hear?"

Lent nodded. "You ready?"

The two of them joined the human flood rushing along the road, keeping pace with the wagon for a few yards but gradually
falling behind as Mr. Prebot urged the horses on to town. After a few hundred yards, most of the men cut right off the road and into the woods where they had been ordered to set up the next line of defense, but Lent and Sarah kept right on toward town, the sound of artillery fire booming along right behind them with the pressing urgency of a summer thunder storm sweeping down through the valley under a darkened sky.


Sarah and Lent were alone on the road now, having passed most of the walking wounded and having taken a different route than those staying behind to fight. They had slowed from their sprint to a loping kind of run when they rounded a bend in the road to see the wagon full of wounded drawn to the side of the road by a small patrol of militia. The militia had forced Sarah's father to the ground and were busy interrogating him.

Even as he dove with Sarah for the bushes alongside the road, Lent knew that these militia were no strangers to him. They were the same six who had stolen his money and tried to steal Sarah's watch.

Sarah seemed strangely calm as they lay together in the bushes.

"How fast can you shoot with that rifle of yours, Lent?"

"It's a repeater. I can pump five or six rounds in a just a few moments."

"I thought that's what my father told me. We have to make them believe we're a whole group. That way they may run and leave the wagon alone."

Lent remembered reading about a trick something like that in one of the dime novels he had read about the "Wild West," but he found himself wondering if it would work. He could still see the eyes of the one who had poked and jabbed him in the midsection. How quickly would he run just because a rifle began firing from the bushes? Lent feared he would turn and fire upon the wagon, his father and Mr. Prebot, and they were too far away for him to count upon his aim. He might hit one or two, but not before they finished off the wounded.

"It won't work," he muttered. "They'll kill them all."

Sarah tried to remain calm, but he could see that she was angry and worried. "Alright, then. What do we do, Lent? We must do something!"

A sudden storm of rifle fire cut her short as a large group of miners swarmed out of the forest next to the wagon and made short work of the militia. Jumping up from their hiding place, Lent and Sarah ran to see if their fathers had survived. So quickly had the miners attacked, the militia had fallen or surrendered without firing a single shot, and Mr. Prebot was safe along with all of the wounded.

Together in the Prebot's home later that night with Lent's
father sleeping peacefully in an upstairs bedroom, Lent and Sarah found themselves holding hands and listening intently to her father.

"I want you both to leave this valley for Knoxville first thing tomorrow morning."

The battle was over, the miners routed and martial law decreed across the valley. The arrival of General Carnes, five hundred troops and a battery of field guns had turned the tide and driven the miners back from the ridge into the forest where more than a hundred were hunted down and captured. The mountains were filled with thousands of fleeing miners as thousands of soldiers took their places in the valley and the Governor's hand restored law and order.

As Mr. Prebot spoke, Lent could tell that he was close to tears. "I have friends in Knoxville . . . the Adkins . . . friends that will take you and Sarah into their home. I've already seen them and told them about you, Lent. I showed them one of your carvings, and Tom Adkins said he knew of a master woodworker who could use a young man with carving skills."

Lent and Sarah remained silent. Neither wanted to leave their parents, but both wanted to leave the valley.

"Your father will be fine, Lent," said Mr. Prebot, as if reading Lent's thoughts. "His wound was painful and he lost
a great deal of blood, but the bullet passed through the flesh without doing all that much damage. With rest, he should be fine."

Lent stood up and walked toward the door of the sitting room.

"Where are you going, Lent?"

He left the room without answering Sarah and went to the closet where he had hidden the rifle . . . the Remington her father had given him many months before. He unwrapped the blanket in which it lay and ran his fingers gently over the stock and the barrel.

"I guess I won't be needin this rifle in Knoxville, will I?"

Lent stood before Mr. Prebot with the rifle extended. The older man rose to take his present back into his own hands.

"Sarah and I best do some packing if we're leaving tomorrow. You think there'll be a train after all this trouble?"

"If not tomorrow, the next day. It takes trains to bring soldiers in, and once they leave the soldiers off, they got to go back."

"I guess you're right about that."


Riding on the train the next morning, Lent and Sarah sat hand in hand. As mountains rolled by their windows and they left their valley behind, neither one of them noticed the scenery. They sat numbed by the events of the previous few days, their minds filled with pictures that left them uneasy and troubled.

"You think Silas made it?" Sarah asked.

Lent just shrugged. He was thinking about her father's parting words.

"You ever fire that rifle I gave you, Lent?"

It took him a while to realize the answer.

"No sir. I never did."

He shook his head slowly remembering Silas crumpled on the

ground, his father passed out along the roadside.

"Well," said Mr. Prebot, "you take good care of my daughter, Sarah, and you remember that your hands and your carvings will do more powerful work than any rifle."

As Lent held Sarah's hand in his, he turned his head to look out the window at the mountains. Leaving Coal Creek behind he felt he understood.


The Clinton Gazette reports that in the days following the battle, the valley filled with more than five thousand soldiers who ranged through the hills hunting down the rebel miners. Cabins were raided without warrants, arms were seized, and so many men were arrested that they had to be confined in railway cars, the school house and the Methodist church.

The leader of the state's forces, General Carnes, announced the arrest of 300 miners by August 20. "Soldiers have been engaged all day arresting miners. Houses are to be searched and all arms and ammunition in them will be confiscated. No quarter will be given miners who resist."

A black man, Jake Witson, supposedly resisting arrest, was shot dead. The arrests led to more than 300 indictments.

Angry and scared, many miners and their families fled the valley. Eugene Merrill escaped to Kansas posing as a doctor, but D.B. Munroe was put on trial as the main leader and for the murder of Frank Smith, a private of Company G shot on outpost duty the morning of August 19, 1892.

Judge W.R. Hicks heard the cases against the miners, with Munroe's trial starting October 6. Lt. Fytte testified that
he saw Munroe twice demand surrender from Captain Anderson on August 16 and August 18. The next witness, Spencer Keith, was on a train stopped by the miners below Coal Creek and he heard Munroe make a speech . . .

"Boys, go to the mountain and give them Hell!"

Munroe took the stand and denied his guilt . . . claimed he helped save Anderson's life . . . tried to stop the fighting. He first refused to name the true leaders of the conspiracy, but he finally named John Hatmaker.

The next witness, J. DeGrutchy, turned state's evidence and confirmed that Munroe and Hatmaker were the leaders of the revolt. Under cross examination, his credibility was undermined in view of contradictory statements made as to whether he himself killed any militia.

The jury in Tenn vs. D.B. Munroe voted 10 for acquittal, 2 for conviction on October 13. On October 20 Hatmaker surrendered.

November, 1892, Cleveland won the presidency.

January 19, 1893, court cases of some miners led to sentencing for rioting. Walter Roberts received one year in prison for rioting. C.C. Wilson received 9 months in the work house for rioting.

February 2, 1893, Munroe was out on $5,000 bail.

February 9, 1893, a new trial for Munroe led to a two year prison term for rioting.

In 1893 the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation to put an end to the system of using convict labor in the state's mines.

In 1896 the legislation became effective. The last convicts were removed from the mines.

This novel is copyrighted by Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved. Individuals may download the book to read on their computer and may print a single copy, but no other duplication or distribution is permitted without the author's permission.

If you enjoy this book, please e-mail comments to Jamie McKenzie

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