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Page's Short Stories

Little Darby
I
The County had been settled as a "frontier" in early colonial days, and when it ceased to
be frontier, settlement had taken a jump beyond it, and in a certain sense over it, to the
richer lands of the Piedmont. When, later on, steam came, the railway simply cut across it
at its narrowest part, and then skirted along just inside its border on the bank of the little
river which bounded it on the north, as if it intentionally left it to one side. Thus, modern
progress had not greatly interfered with it either for good or bad, and its development was
entirely natural.
It was divided into "neighborhoods", a name in itself implying something both of its age
and origin; for the population was old, and the customs of life and speech were old
likewise.
This chronicle, however, is not of the "neighborhoods", for they were known, or may be
known by any who will take the trouble to plunge boldly in and throw themselves on the
hospitality of any of the dwellers therein. It is rather of the unknown tract, which lay
vague and undefined in between the several neighborhoods of the upper end. The history
of the former is known both in peace and in war: in the pleasant homesteads which lie on
the hills above the little rivers which make down through the county to join the great river
below, and in the long list of those who fell in battle, and whose names are recorded on
the slabs set up by their comrades on the walls of the old Court House. The history of the
latter, however, is unrecorded. The lands were in the main very poor and grown up in
pine, or else, where the head-waters of a little stream made down in a number of
"branches", were swampy and malarial. Possibly it was this poverty of the soil or
unwholesomeness of their location, which more than anything else kept the people of this
district somewhat distinct from others around them, however poor they might be. They
dwelt in their little cabins among their pines, or down on the edges of the swampy
district, distinct both from the gentlemen on their old plantations and from the sturdy
farmer-folk who owned the smaller places. What title they had to their lands originally, or
how they traced it back, or where they had come from, no one knew. They had been there
from time immemorial, as long or longer, if anything, than the owners of the plantations
about them; and insignificant as they were, they were not the kind to attempt to question,
even had anyone been inclined to do so, which no one was.
They had the names of the old English gentry, and were a clean-limbed, blond, blue-eyed
people.
When they were growing to middle age, their life told on them and made them weather-
beaten, and not infrequently hard-visaged; but when they were young there were often
among them straight, supple young fellows with clear-cut features, and lithe, willowy-
looking girls, with pink faces and blue, or brown, or hazel eyes, and a mien which one
might have expected to find in a hall rather than in a cabin.
 
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