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Knight of the Cumberland
by John Fox
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Thereafter the Wild Dog was in town every day, and he behaved well until one Saturday he got drunk again, and this time, by a peculiar chance, it was Marston again who leaped on him, wrenched his pistol away, and put him in the calaboose. Again he paid his fine, promptly visited a blind Tiger, came back to town, emptied another pistol at Marston on sight and fled for the hills.
The writing of John Fox, Jr. has had profound significance in the way America studies turn-of-the-century Appalachian mountain life, lending fondness for its customs, respect for its survival, and deep regard for its environmental and psychological altercations. "Knight of the Cumberland" gives a narrative and a vivid setting for these sentiments. The story is told by a writer who is the son of a moonshiner. He has moved to the city to contend with a more civilized existence, but he comes back to The Gap (Big Stone Gap, VA) every summer. This summer he brings along his little sister and a womanish, black-haired, black-eyed beauty that townspeople and mountainfolk perversely call "The Blight." And yet no man nor woman nor stubborn mule could withstand her undefinable appeal. The boy and two girls travel from the north by train and arrive in town where they meet the Hon. Samuel Budd who is involved with the budding politics of this new district, Marston who engineered the train, and a drunken young tough who tries to attack Marston for a timeless injustice. There is an immediate trial where the young man is fined and told to leave town. He does, but his vision of The Blight wins his attention. The three travelers continue on their way up the mountain (silently protected by The Knight) because the boy had promised to show The Blight the blossoming, fragrant, Applachian summer. Before winter hits, the girls are sent back up north, but they revisit the next summer where there is an uncommon incorporation of tournament, duel, and stump-speaking. Fox attempts to illustrate the ways people of the wilderness struggled--sometimes unsuccessfully--with the patronizing socialites. The character of Marston the engineer and The Wild Dog, who is also The Knight, blends the civilizing effects of steady work and the emotional attraction of magnificence, whether by scenic beauty or human elegance.
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