Folks, if you reckon you can set a spell, I might could tell you the sad story of Tubalcain Johnson's last day on earth. Now, some folks might say the story ain't so sad as all that, bein' as Tubalcain was a bad man and what could be more fittin' than that he come to a bad end. But I say he warn't so bad a man as all that, and if you study it out, you'll see he didn't deserve what befell him.
Tubalcain Johnson was somewhere between six and seven feet high, and strong as a brace of oxen. The strongest man in those parts of the hills. Only Jebediah Smith was anywhere near so strong, and if Jeb et more hogs at breakfast than Tubalcain, he might could have been a mite stronger on that day. And though Jeb was favored with a smithy, it fell to Tubalcain to walk from place to place doing odd jobs as a tinker. And if sometimes a chicken went missing, or a loaf of bread got a bit leaner, or a woodpile got a bit lighter after Tubalcain passed by, that only went to eke out the poor wages the folks thereabout offered him. Now it may be that Tubalcain was a part of the ill-favored Flaye Clan, and not even I can say a good word for Mother Flaye, but no one in the Pine Mountains could argue that the Flayes hadn't done right by everyone for years.
The day I'm telling of, Tubalcain showed what a fine man he was, despite his hieving, loafing, drinking, philandering and lying. He pitched in at the barn-raising for Heck Prescott's kin, and it was a wonder to everyone how he and Jebediah worked. In their pride, they each wanted to outdo the other, but at the end of it, there was the finest barn anyone could hope to see.
After that come the dinner, and Tubalcain's hunger was such that he mistook the Smith's bean pot for a bowl and ate it all up, before you could say 'lightning'. After a possum or two, a dozen biscuits and whole plate of Mother Flaye's Hoppin' John Salad, the edge of Tubalcain's hunger was taken off, so he only downed two pies. It goes without saying that he drank off a jug and a half of Jessup's own particlar variety of Pine Mountain shine.
During the meal, Mother Flaye asked her grandson to get Maybelle Smith a drink. Tubalcain didn't like to, as Maybell was surely hatched by the Ugly Bird, but he did it. If he kept his eyes on the floor, and not on Maybelle's face, well that's not any worse than what her own kinfolk do.
During the meal, Stephen Elias Tyree come along and spoke to Tubalcain. Now the full story of that man's life would take a month of Sundays to tell, but this all happened after all the interesting stuff. Stephen Elias had done twenty years in the service of the state, and prison had made him a changed man. All he could talk of now was the Lord, the Bible and the error of his past ways. This wasn't a subject much to Tubalcain's liking -- Old Nick might not be a friend of his bosom, but neither was the Lord. But Stephen Elias told him that the man he killed was a distant Johnson relation, and that he had not only murdered him in his blood, but had been doing the man wrong with his wife as well.
Now think how easy it would be for Tubalcain to take this polyanna and break him cross his knee in vengeance for the death of his kinfolk. And none there could blame him for it. But Tubalcain left him be, on account of everyone being supposed to be so friendly at a barn-raising. Maybe someday, Tubalcain might have taken that eye for an eye, as the good book says, but that never came to pass.
Now it so happens that that theaving, lying, cheating Abner O'Hara was there at the barn raising. Since Abner hadn't never done a lick of honest work in his whole life, it can only be on account of the free meal. Tubalcain knew that Abner had filched a small bottle from the Flaye household, something of Mother Flaye's witchery. Tubalcain inquired him if he knew where that bottle was, but Abner said he hadn't seen hide nor hair of it.
Long about then, as Tubalcain was stretching his legs with a quick trip up the mountainside, when a hoop snake came all a-roll down the slope at him. Tubalcain was startled, but he swung his gunny-sack of tinker's tools at the snake when it darted at him. The sting on that hoop-snake spread poison all over the sack, and it blackened and swole up and Tubalcain had to drop it before the poison reached his hand. The hoopsnake sped off, but Tubalcain was right sore when he had to carry all his tools in his pockets, now his sack was spoilt.
Then a funny thing happened. A stranger, a Mr. Nightshade by name, come by the barn and spoke right peacably, though most of the folk didn't show a drop of neighborly spirit to the man. Tubalcain, he was just showing off the four cents he'd made the previous day on a job, and Nightshade... Why Nightshade pulls a whole gold dollar out of his pocket and inquires Tubalcain if he's a betting man, and would he put up a penny against Nightshade's dollar in a game of mumbledypeg? Nightshade looked a smart fellow, but Tubalcain couldn't resist the odds. And if he spotted any trick, he'd thump the fellow black and blue. As luck had it, Tubalcain won that shiny dollar. The other folk about didn't cotton to Nightshade so well, maybe on account of his gambling ways, and they all but run him off.
Abner O'Hara told Tubalcain he oughtta watch that gold, and make sure it don't turn into lead in the morning. Tubalcain showed it him, and Abner bit it, and it seemed fine to him, or so he said. Abner dropped the gold dollar back in Tubalcain's shirt pocket, and Tubalcain went off to show Mother Flaye what he'd got. But when he reached in his pocket, he couldn't find that gold dollar of his! There were the two pennies, the two-cent piece and a nickel that Tubalcain hadn't remembered as being in his pocket. But you can bet that any thought of good fortune was plum wiped out by the loss of that shiny gold dollar. Then Tubalcain realized who the last person was that had touched that coin: that grasping, thieving ne'er-do-well O'Hara!
So up he walks to Abner, and socks him in the jaw so lighting-fast that Abner's hat flies off and lands in the hayloft. Tubalcain picks him up by his collar and shakes him like a rat for a bit. When his feet are back on the ground, Abner denies it all and tries to calm Tubalcain down with a few friendly pats on the back. Was he sure that coin was gone missing? Tubalcain, he checks his pocket again, and his ears go bright scarlet as he finds he's somehow overlooked the shine of that coin in his pocket. Now maybe some of you might could study out some other explanation for how things fell out, but Tubalcain was not the sharpest of tacks. Be that as it might, Tubalcain apologized nicely to Abner and all the other folk that had seen the outburst.
As he walked off, he caught up with Mother Flaye who was sitting by her lonesome, mumbling about curses and guilt. Right at that moment, a slavering bear come tumbling out of the wood. Tubalcain rushed to meet it, wrassled with it, and grabbed it about the middle and squeezed the very life out of that bear. He slung it over his shoulder and was heading for the Flaye house to skin it and hang the meat, when a thunderous crash rung out from the Prescott land. Seems the new barn had fallen down, all on account of them Smiths and O'Hara's and MacDonalds and Banfields a-shaking and a-praying and a-jumping and a-hollering like fools for the Lord in there. For now, all the other Clans had joined up, forgetting their past differences, in order to band together against the Flayes, who hadn't done no harm to no one at all. Now, if there be a moral in this tale of mine, it's this. Tubalcain Johnson was just an ordinary sinner, and if the other folks had treated him well, who knows how this story might have ended. But instead, they were so sure of their righteous standing with the Lord that they repaid his hard work and forbearance with nothing but spite and injury.
Indeed, not long after, Abner O'Hara finally tried to do right by the Flayes, but the others would barely let him. Abner had that bottle of old Mother Flaye's, and the Lord filled him with such powerful guilt that there was nothing for it, but that he bring it back to her. And yet those good Christian folks of the moutainsides would rather that he kept that stolen bottle, and all but knocked poor Abner out, keeping him from his duty.
But the bottle was finally back in Mother Flaye's hands, and the rest of that brood all took themselves off, without a friendly word of invite to the Flayes. Knowing they wasn't wanted, they decided they might as well have a look in that cave full of gold, or at least that's what legends said about it. They passed through fallen timbers and spiders, but they soon came up against something few men have ever seen and lived to tell the tale: the Hodag.
With a roar, it came at them. Mother Flaye was about to be trampled by the Hodag when Tubalcain ran to her aid, flailing hammers in either hand. He beat the thing into submission, but not before it had gored him through on the points of its five-foot horns. He breathed a couple more times, but hadn't the strength to say ary word.
For a time, he walked the earth as a spirit, seeking vengeance on that no-account Abner O'Hara, but soon his spirit was drawn away into flesh again. Tubalcain flexed his arms and found them just as strong as he remembered, but something was queer. He wasn't in his own body, which lay broken and bloodied down in that cave. Instead, Mother Flaye had called his spirit down into that bear that Tubalcain had strangled the life out of.
No sooner had he gotten to his feet again than the other folk of the mountain came stamping their way toward the Flaye house with ill intent. Without speaking ary word, Jebediah Samson Smith swung his twenty-pound sledge straight at Mother Flaye's head. Tubalcain caught it by its weighty head in one great bear-paw, and then slapped Jeb headlong with the other. But that ugly Maybelle swung the butt of a hatchet head into the back of Tubalcain's head and his lights went out.
Mother Flaye magicked up some spirits to carry them all away to safety, but Tubalcain had barely come to his senses when he heard the sound of chanting and praying out on the hills. They prayed God that He smite Tubalcain, who hadn't done nothing that day but build a barn and protect his Grandmother. Driven into rage by injustice, Tubalcain swore a powerful oath. And in the instant that he gave over his soul to Satan, God struck him dead on the spot. Again, I'm not saying Tubalcain was a saint, and offering your soul to Satan is the worst possible thing a man can do, but I inquire you all, would he have done it if he hadn't been pestered so?
I think the Lord himself repented of the ill-treatment Tubalcain got at the hands of the hypocritical folk of Kentucky's Pine Mountains, and that's why He slew them all, the very night that Tubalcain Johnson breathed his last. But I see your jugs are empty, so the story of the fiery comet Wormwood will have to await some other time.
Now maybe before I go, I'll puzzle out a song on my fiddle. No doubt you all know the words:
Weep no more, my lady,
Oh weep no more today!
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the old Kentucky home far a way.
They hunt no more for the 'possum and the coon,
On meadow, the hill and the shore,
They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,
On the bench by that old cabin door;
The day goes by like a shadow o'er the heart,
With sorrow where all was delight;
The time has come when the people have to part,
Then my old Kentucky home, good night!