On Kingdom Mountain
By Howard Frank Mosher
Published by Houghton Mifflin
July 2007; 0618197230; 288 pages

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On Kingdom Mountain by Frank Howard MosherPrologue

In the late summer of the last full year of the bloodiest war in American history, two men in butternut uniforms rode hard into the northern Vermont village of Kingdom Common, yelling and firing their rifles into the air. They galloped across the short north end of the rectangular central green, scattering a gang of kids playing one old cat on the grass under the tall New England elms, waking up the old men dozing on the porch of the Common Hotel.While one man held the horses, the other ran into the squat brick First Farmers and Lumberers Bank of
Kingdom Common and demanded, in what a clerk later characterized as a “Rebel- sounding” accent, all of the gold on hand. He stipulated that he wanted only
gold, the clerk remembered. Besides his rifle and two holstered pistols, he had eight white linen sacks for the clerks to fill. He made eight trips back outside to the horses, staggering under the weight of each sack. His companion, in the meantime, continued to holler and spout all kinds of threats, damning the Union army in general and Vermont Yankees in particular, and firing his rifle at random intervals. To this day there is a pockmark the size of a half-dollar partway up the granite clock tower of the courthouse, presumably from one of the stray bullets fired by the cursing raider. The Gray Ghosts, as the two riders would become known in the mythology of Kingdom County, were not long at their work. At most, the robbery took ten minutes. No one had any idea who they were. They might have been Confederate soldiers hoping to divert Union forces to the north or common bandits disguised as Confederate soldiers. Still shouting, they galloped east out of town on the county road, then, it was thought, up the Canada Pike Road over Kingdom Mountain toward the border, five miles to the north. By the time the
sheriff, a seventy-year-old Mexican War veteran who, at the time of the raid, was playing checkers at the feed store at the other end of town, had assembled a posse of other graybeards too old for active service and teenage boys too young, the raiders had a good half-hour start. Beyond the border, the pike road was just a faint trace, scarcely more than an animal trail through big woods and trackless bogs and bigger woods still, some of the last true wilderness east of the Rocky
Mountains. It was not surprising that the Ghosts got away with their plunder scot- free.

The legend of the Great Kingdom Common Raid, however, was
considerably enhanced by two unusual circumstances. First, the nondescript little country bank happened to be one of the wealthiest in northern New England, owing to the deposits of a number of local farmers who had paid substitutes to go to war in their stead and had made huge profits selling provender to sutlers to feed Union soldiers and horses. Astonishingly, the estimated take from the robbery was just under one hundred thousand dollars, all in double-eagle twenty-
dollar gold pieces.

Second, so far as anyone could determine, neither of the rifle-
toting raiders was ever heard from again, either north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Except for a few stray gold coins on the lower reaches of the pike road, not far from the Kinneson homestead, all traces of the riders, their horses, and the stolen gold seemed to vanish from the earth, leaving nothing but the legend of the treasure. The Treasure of Kingdom Mountain.

Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson had lived all her life on Kingdom Mountain. Like her father before her, she enjoyed the reputation of being relentlessly old- fashioned.Winter and summer she wore long black dresses made from homespun wool. In the days when she was still farming, she worked her fields with oxen. She still raised most of her own food, and even Miss Jane’s manner of expressing herself was old-fashioned. She delighted in using the antique phrases of her father and his Scottish ancestors, calling the brooks on her mountain “burns,” the
valleys “glens,” and the trout “char.” During her years as mistress of the Kinnesonville schoolhouse, when families with children still lived on Kingdom Mountain, she referred to the students as her scholars. In recent years she had operated a small bookshop and lending library in the village, which she called the Atheneum, open three afternoons and one evening a week.


For the word “certain,” Miss Jane often said “determined.” “I’m not
entirely determined what to do with you scholars, but I shall give you fair warning. I won’t abide slothfulness in the young.” “Abide” was another of Miss Jane’s favorite expressions. And she loved the word “vex” to denote a frame of mind just this side of anger. “Class, you are late in from recess again. How many times must I tell you that in this short life punctuality is all? Sometimes you vex me beyond human endurance.” As the sole proprietor and last resident of Kingdom Mountain, Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson was vexed, and mightily so, by anyone who presumed to interfere in her affairs there. She was vexed by King James the First, whom she held personally responsible for the King James Bible. She was also vexed, though perhaps only mildly, by her title in the village, where she was known as the Duchess of Kingdom Mountain. Most of all, in the late winter of 1930, she was
vexed by the proposed highway that would cut directly over the top of her mountain, linking Kingdom County and the rest of Vermont with the Eastern Townships of Quebec and Montreal. Most Commoners, as the villagers called themselves in those days, referred to the new road as the Connector. Miss Jane called it the high road, no one was sure why. Maybe this was another of her beloved Kinneson anachronisms. Or perhaps she thought of the Connector as the high road because it would pass mainly through elevated terrain, skirting the river valleys
where the villages and more prosperous farms were located. Then again, she may have wished to distinguish it from the tangled network of country lanes and dirt roads linking the hill farms and upland hamlets of the county one to another in the roundabout manner of the Kingdom of that era, where a straight line was almost never the shortest distance between two points. This much was certain: there would be nothing circuitous about the Connector. And there was no doubt at all
that the proposed highway was a vexation Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson would not abide.

Yet the Duchess was as unpredictable as she was stubborn. At
the public hearing for the Connector at the Kingdom Common town hall, she listened to other farmers whose land would be confiscated inveigh against change in general and the new road in particular. She listened to her cousin Eben Kinneson Esquire, the wealthiest man in Kingdom County and the chief attorney for the highway project, present plans and maps and assure landowners that every effort had been made to route the Connector through higher, less valuable terrain. When her cousin Charles Kinneson, the editor of the Kingdom County Monitor,
pointed out that the Kingdom’s hill farmers valued their high mowings and mountain meadows as much as the valley farmers valued their river-bottom land, Miss Jane merely pursed her lips. Maybe she knew that protesting would do no good. Even as she sat in the little town hall listening to the debate, the right of way for the high road was unspooling northeast from the Common with something of the inexorableness of the glacier that, ten thousand years before, had carved out the hills and valleys of what would become northern Vermont. The hill farmers’ best hope now, their last hope, really, was that the Duchess, who for decades had held sway over Kingdom Mountain like a Russian empress, and whose words at town meeting still caused grown men whom she had taught as boys to quake in
their boots, would speak for them. Wasn’t Miss Jane widely believed to have second sight? Perhaps she would prophesy some magnificent catastrophe if the township went ahead with the Connector.

At last Jane rose. Tall and slender, with long, light hair and wide-
set gray eyes, still a strikingly attractive woman at nearly fifty, she stepped into the sloping wooden aisle of the hall where, some thirty years earlier, she had delivered her high school valedictory, a scathing denunciation of small-town complacency and provincialism that had shocked the entire room into a prolonged and stunned silence. But instead of the expected denunciation of progress she said only, in her usual direct manner, “I can plainly see that in this instance we shall have to render unto Caesar what’s his. In Vermont, at least, this high
road will go where it has a mind to go.” While Eben Kinneson Esquire and the town fathers probably did not much relish being compared to a Roman dictator, it was with evident relief that Eben said, “We appreciate your willingness to understand our situation,
cousin. Particularly in your case, where this is such a personal matter. Of course we, I mean we the town, will take care to cross your mountain at the very farthest remove from your house and fields.”
“You the town will do no such thing,” Miss Jane said. “I said, in
Vermont the high road will go where it wishes. Kingdom Mountain is not in Vermont.Nor is it in Canada. It is an entity unto itself, every square foot of which belongs to me.”

“Cousin, as I’m sure you know, that notion has long since —”

“Hear me well, sir,” Miss Jane interrupted. “If I spy you or any of
your legions on my mountain, I’ll defend it by whatever means are necessary.”

It is difficult to say how such a declaration might have been
greeted elsewhere. With applause, maybe. In the town hall of Kingdom Common on that long-ago March evening, Miss Jane’s announcement was met with solemn nods of satisfaction. Eben Kinneson Esquire said nothing more. But not a soul in the room doubted that the battle for Kingdom Mountain had been joined.

Copyright © 2007 by Howard Frank Mosher
Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company

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Set in northern Vermont in 1930, On Kingdom Mountain recounts the life and times of Miss Jane Hubbell Kinneson. A renowned local bookwoman and bird carver, she is the sole proprietor and last resident of a remote and wild mountain situated on the U.S.Canadian border, now threatened by the Connector, a proposed new highway over her mountain. Abounding with Howard Frank Moshers trademark action scenes, from daring bank robberies to outrageous comedy to a passionate and surprising love affair, On Kingdom Mountain is rooted deeply in Moshers own family history, in one of Americas last frontiers, and in a way of life on the brink of extinction.

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Howard Frank MosherHoward Frank Mosher has been described by the Los Angeles Times as “a combination of Ernest Hemingway, Henry David Thoreau, and Jim Harrison.” He has received a Guggenheim fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Literature Award, the American Civil Liberties Union Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the New England Book Award.

Mosher was born in upstate New York, he is a longtime resident of Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, where he lives with Phillis, his wife of nearly four decades—the inspiration for Yellow Sage Flower Who Tells Wise Stories in The True Account. They have two children.

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