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Title: Tales of a Vanishing River
Author: Reed, Earl H. (Earl Howell)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                                TALES OF
                           A VANISHING RIVER



                           BY THE SAME AUTHOR

                          SKETCHES IN DUNELAND
                            THE DUNE COUNTRY
                        THE VOICES OF THE DUNES
                     ETCHING: A PRACTICAL TREATISE

[Illustration:

  (_See Page 15_)

  A KANKAKEE BAYOU
]



                      _Tales of A Vanishing River_


                                  _by_

                              EARL H. REED

                              _Author of_

                           “The Dune Country”
                         “Sketches in Duneland”
                                  etc.


                      _Illustrated by the Author_


                      NEW YORK ~ JOHN LANE COMPANY
                  LONDON ~ JOHN LANE. THE BODLEY HEAD
                                 MCMXX



                            COPYRIGHT, 1920,
                          BY JOHN LANE COMPANY


                                Press of
                      J. J. Little & Ives Company
                           New York, U. S. A.



                                  _To_

                               MY FRIEND

                                H. W. J.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                FOREWORD


The background of this collection of sketches and stories is the country
through which flowed one of the most interesting of our western rivers
before its destruction as a natural waterway.

This book is not a history. It is intended as an interpretation of the
life along the river that the author has come in contact with during
many years of familiarity with the region. Names of places and
characters have been changed for the reason that, while effort has been
made to adhere to artistic truth, literary liberties have been taken
with facts when they have not seemed essential to the story.

                                                                E. H. R.



                                CONTENTS


      CHAPTER                                                 PAGE
            I THE VANISHING RIVER                               15

           II THE SILVER ARROW                                  31

          III THE BRASS BOUND BOX                               47

           IV THE “WETHER BOOK” OF BUCK GRANGER’S GRANDFATHER   65

            V TIPTON POSEY’S STORE                             105

           VI MUSKRAT HYATT’S REDEMPTION                       135

          VII THE TURKEY CLUB                                  165

         VIII THE PREDICAMENTS OF COLONEL PEETS                207

           IX HIS UNLUCKY STAR                                 245



                             ILLUSTRATIONS


        A KANKAKEE BAYOU                          _Frontispiece_

        WAUKENA                     _Facing Page_             32

        FAMILIAR HAUNTS                                       48

        THE OLD LOG HOUSE                                     66

        TIPTON POSEY                                         106

        “PUCKERBRUSH BILL”                                   120

        SWAN PETERSON                                        122

        DICK SHAKES                                          130

        “MUSKRAT” HYATT                                      136

        THE REVEREND DANIEL BUTTERS                          148

        “BILL” STILES                                        166

        COLONEL JASPER M. PEETS                              208

        MISS ANASTASIA SIMPSON                               218

        THE SHERIFF                                          264



                                   I
                          THE VANISHING RIVER


Somewhere in a large swampland, about fifty miles east of the southern
end of Lake Michigan, the early French explorers found the beginning of
the river.

A thread-like current crept through a maze of oozy depressions,
quagmires, seeping bogs and little pools, among patches of sodden brush,
alders and rank grass. With many intricate windings, the vagrant waters,
swollen by numberless springs and rivulets, emerged from the tangled
morass, became a living stream, and began its long and tortuous journey
toward the southwest, finally to be lost in the immensity of unknown
floods beyond.

The explorers called the stream the Theakiki. In the changing
nomenclature of succeeding years it became the Kankakee. It was the main
confluent of the Illinois, and one of the first highways of the white
man to the Mississippi.

The crude topographic charts of the early voyagers on the river
naturally differ much in detail and accuracy, but, in comparing them
with our modern maps, we wonder at their keen observation and the
painstaking use of their limited facilities.

The annals of their journeys are replete with description, legend,
romance, disheartening hardship, and unremitting battle at the barriers
of nature against her would-be conquerors.

The name of LaSalle, that resplendent figure in the exploration of the
west, will be forever associated with the Kankakee. There are few pages
of historic lore more absorbing and thrilling to the admirer of
unflinching fortitude and dauntless heroism than the dramatic story of
this knight errant of France, and his intrepid followers. Among the
woods and waters, and on the desolate frozen wastes of a strange land,
they found paths that led to imperishable renown. They were
_avant-coureurs_ of a new force that was to transform a wilderness into
an empire, but an empire far different from that of their hopes and
dreams.

LaSalle’s little band had ascended the St. Joseph, and had portaged
their belongings from one of its bends about five miles away. They
launched their canoes on the narrow tide of the Theakiki and descended
the river to the Illinois. The incentives of the expedition were to
expand the dominions of Louis the XIV, to extend the pale of the cross,
and to find new fountains that would pour forth gold.

For gold and power man has scarred the earth he lives upon and
annihilated its creatures since the dawn of recorded time, and for gold
and power will he struggle to the end, whatever and wherever the end may
be, for somewhere in the scheme of creation it is so written. The
moralist may find the story on the Vanishing River, as he may find it
everywhere else in the world, in his study of the fabric of the foibles
and passions of his kind.

The old narratives mention a camp of Miami Indians, visible near the
source of the river, at the time of LaSalle’s embarkation. We may
imagine that curious beady eyes peered from the clustered wigwams in the
distance upon the newcomers, the wondering aborigines little knowing
that a serpent had entered their Eden, and thenceforth their race was to
look only upon a setting sun.

The river flowed through a mystic land. With magnificent sweeps and
bends it wound out on open fertile areas and into dense virgin forests,
doubling to and fro in its course, widening into broad lakes, and moving
on to vast labyrinths of dank grass, rushes, lily pads, trembling bogs
and impenetrable brush tangles. The main channel often lost itself in
the side currents and in mazes of rank vegetation. Here and there were
little still tarns and open pools that reflected the wandering clouds by
day and the changing moons at night.

There were great stretches of marshy wastes and flooded lowlands, where
millions upon millions of water fowl found welcome retreats and never
failing food. During the migrating seasons in the spring and fall, vast
flocks of ducks were patterned against the clouds. They swooped down in
endless hordes. Turbulent calls and loud trumpetings heralded the coming
of serried legions of geese, swans and brant, as they broke their ranks,
settled on to the hospitable waters and floated in gentle contentment.

The wild rice fields were inexhaustible granaries, and intrusion into
them was followed by hurried beating of hidden wings. A disturbance of a
few birds would start a slowly increasing alarm; soon the sky would be
darkened by the countless flocks swarming out of miles of grasses, and
the air would be filled with the roar of fleeing pinions. Gradually they
would return to enjoy their wonted tranquility.

The feathered myriads came and went with the transient seasons, but
great numbers remained and nested on the bogs among the rushes, and on
the little oak shaded islands in the swamps.

Coots, grebes, rails, and bitterns haunted the pools and runways among
the thick sedges. Sudden awkward flights out of concealed coverts often
startled the quiet wayfarer on the currents and ponds of the swamps. The
solitary loon’s weird calls echoed from distant open waters.

Swarms of blackbirds rose out of the reeds and rice, and, after
vicarious circlings, disappeared into other grassy retreats, enlivening
the solitudes with their busy clamor.

In the summer and autumn the flowers of the wet places bloomed in
luxuriant profusion. Limitless acres of pond lilies opened their chaste
petals in the slumberous airs. Harmonies of brilliant color bedecked the
russet robes of autumn, and far over the broad fenlands yellow and
vermillion banners waved in the soft winds of early fall.

In these wild marshlands was the kingdom of the muskrat. The little
villages and isolated domiciles—built of roots and rushes, and plastered
with mud—protruded above the surface over the wide expanses, and were
concealed in cleared spaces in the high, thick grasses. The pelts of
these prolific and industrious little animals were speedily converted
into wealth in after years.

The otter and the mink hunted their prey on the marshes and in the dank
labyrinths of brush and wood debris along the main stream. Beavers
thrived on the tributary waters, where these patient and skilful
engineers built their dams and established their towns with the sagacity
and foresight of their kind.

On still sunshiny days the tribes of the turtles emerged from their miry
retreats and basked in phlegmatic immobility on the sodden logs and
decayed fallen timber that littered the course of the current through
the deep woodlands. The muddy fraternity would often seem to cover every
low protruding object that could sustain them. At the passing of a boat
the gray masses would awake and tumble with loud splashings into the
depths.

The fish common to our western streams and lakes were prolific in the
river. Aged men sit in hickory rocking chairs and enliven the mythology
of their winter firesides with tales of mighty catfish, bass, pike and
pickerel that once swam in the clear waters and fell victims to their
lures.

The finny world has not only supplied man with invaluable food, but has
been a beneficent stimulant to his imaginative faculties.

The choruses of the bull frogs in the marshes and bayous at night are
among the joys unforgettable to those who have listened to these
concerts out on the moonlit stretches among the lily pads and bending
rushes. The corpulent gossips in the hidden places sent forth medleys of
resonant sound that resembled deep tones of bass viols. They mingled
with the rippling lighter notes of the smaller frog folk, and all
blended into lyrics of nocturnal harmonies that lulled the senses and
attuned the heart strings to the Voices of the Little Things.

Colonies of blue herons nested among the sycamores and elms in the
overflowed bottom lands bordering on the river. A well known
ornithologist has justly called this stately bird “the symbol of the
wild.” Visits to the populous heronries were events long to be
remembered by lovers of bird life. Sometimes eight or ten of the rudely
constructed nests would occupy one tree, and within an area of perhaps
twenty acres, hundreds of gawky offspring would come forth in April to
be fed and guarded by the powerful bills of the older birds.

These nesting retreats were often accessible from the river, and a canoe
floating into the placid and secluded precincts roused instant protest
from the ghostly forms perched about on the limbs. The great birds would
circle out over the trees with hoarse cries, but if the intruder became
motionless they would soon return and resume their family cares.

The perfect reflections in the clear still waters, with the inverted
tracery of the tree tops against the skies below, decorated with the
statuesque figures of the herons, pictured dreamlands that seemed of
another world, and tempted errant fancy into remote paths.

The passenger pigeons came in multitudes to the river country in the
fall and settled into the woods, where the ripe acorns afforded abundant
food. The old inhabitants tell wondrous tales of their migrations, when
the innumerable flocks obscured the clouds and the sound of the passing
of the gray hosts was that of a moaning wind. The gregariousness of
these birds was their ruin. They congregated on the dead trees in such
numbers as to often break the smaller limbs. Owls, hawks, and
four-footed night marauders feasted voraciously upon them. They were
easy victims for the nets and guns of the pot hunters and the blind
destructiveness of man wherever nature has been prodigal of her gifts.
For years these beautiful creatures have been extinct, but the lesson of
their going is only now beginning to be heeded.

The black companies of the crows kept watch and ward over the forests
and winding waters. Their noisy parliaments were in constant session,
and few vistas through the woods, or out over the open landscapes, were
without the accents of their moving forms against the sky.

Among the many feathered species there are none that appear to take
themselves more seriously. They are ubiquitous and most curious as to
everything that exists or happens within the spheres of their
activities, and are so much a part of our great out of doors that we
would miss them sadly if they were gone.

Wild turkeys and partridges were plentiful in the woods and underbrush.
Eagles soared in majestic flight over the country and dropped to the
waters and into the forests upon their furtive prey.

In the spring the woodlands were filled with melodious choirs of the
smaller birds. Their enemies were few and they thrived in their happy
homes.

Deer were once abundant. Elk horns have been found, and there are
disputed records of straggling herds of buffalo. Panther tracks were
sometimes seen, and the black bear—that interesting vagabond of the
woods—was a faithful visitor to the wild bee trees. Wolves roved through
the timber. Wild cats, foxes, woodchucks, raccoons, and hundreds of
smaller animals, dwelt in the great forests.

In this happy land lived the Miami and Pottowattomie Indians. Their
little villages of bark wigwams and tepees of dried skins were scattered
along the small streams, the borders of the river, and on the many
islands that divided its course.

They sat in spiritual darkness on the verdant banks until the white man
came to change their gods and superstitions, but the region teemed with
fish, game and wild fruits, and, with their limited wants, they enjoyed
the average contentment of humankind. Whether or not their moral well
being improved or deteriorated under the teachings and influence of the
Franciscan and Jesuit fathers and the protestant missionaries, is a
question for the casuists, but the ways of the white man withered and
swept them away. Unable to hold what they could not defend, they were
despoiled of their heritage and exiled to other climes.

Their little cemeteries are still found, where the buried skeletons
grimly await the Great Solution, amid the curious decayed trappings of a
past age that were interred for the use of the dead in mystical happy
hunting grounds. Their problem, like ours, remains as profound as their
sleep. Occasionally curious delvers into Indian history have unearthed
grisly skulls, covered with mould, and fragments of bones in these
silent places.

Many thousands of stone weapons, flint arrowheads, implements of the red
men’s simple agriculture, and utensils of their rude housekeeping, have
been found in the soil of the land where once their lodges tapered into
the green foliage.

Traces remain of the trails that connected the villages and threaded the
country in every direction.

The relations between the first settlers and the Indians seem to have
been harmonious, but friction of interests developed with the continued
influx of the whites, until the primitive law of “might makes right” was
applied to the coveted lands. Sculptured monuments have now been erected
to the red chieftains by the descendants of those who robbed them—empty
and belated recognition of their equities.

Many hunters and trappers came into the wild country, lured by the
abundant game and fur. The beavers and muskrats provided the greater
part of the spoil of the trappers.

Gradually the pioneer farmers began clearing tracts in the forests,
where they found a soil of exuberant fertility.

With improved methods and firearms the annihilation of the wild life
commenced. Many hundreds of tons of scattered leaden shot lie buried in
unknown miry depths, that streamed into the skies at the passing flocks.
The modern breech loader worked devastating havoc. The water fowl
dwindled rapidly in numbers with the onward years, for the fame of the
region as a sportsman’s paradise was nation wide.

The inroads of the trappers on the fur bearing animals practically
exterminated all but the prolific and obstinate muskrat, destined to be
one of the last survivors.

In later years the trappers lived in little shacks, “wickyups” and log
cabins on the bayous, near the edges of the marshes, and on the banks of
the tributary streams. Many of them were strange odd characters. The
almost continual solitude of their lives developed their baser
instincts, without teaching the arts of their concealment possessed by
those who have social and educational advantages.

With the increasing markets for wild game they became pot hunters and
sold great quantities of ducks and other slaughtered birds.

The rude habitations were often enlarged or rebuilt to accommodate
visiting duck shooters and fishermen, for whom they acted as guides and
hosts. They began to mingle in the life of the little towns, and
occasional isolated cross road stores, that came into being at long
distances apart, where they went to dispose of their pelts and game.

Queerly clad, long haired and much bewhiskered, they were picturesque
figures, standing in their sharp pointed canoes, which they propelled
with long handled paddles that served as push poles in shallow water.
Dogs that were trained retrievers and devoted companions, often occupied
the bows of the little boats. In the middle of the craft were piled
wooden decoys, dead birds, muskrats or steel traps, when they journeyed
to and from the marshes, where they appeared in all weathers and seasons
except midsummer. During the hot months they usually loafed in somnolent
idleness at the stores, puttered about their shacks, or did odd jobs on
the farms.

There are tales of lawlessness in the country characteristic of the raw
edges of civilization in a sparsely settled region. Horse stealing
appears to have been a favorite industry of evil doers, and timber
thieves were numerous. In the absence of convenient jails and courts the
law of the wild was administered without mercy to these and other
miscreants when they were caught.

Moonshiners, whose interests did not conflict with local public
sentiment, were seldom interfered with. The infrequent investigations of
emissaries of the government met with little sympathy except when they
were looking for counterfeiters.

The Kankakee of old has gone, for the lands over which it spread became
valuable. A mighty ditch has been excavated, extending almost its entire
course, to deepen and straighten its channel, and to drain away its
marshes. The altered line of the stream left many of the rude homes of
the old trappers far inland. Their occupations have ceased and they sit
in melancholy silence and brood upon the past. For them the book is
closed. They falter at the threshold of a new era in which nature has
not fitted them to live.

Ugly steam dredges, with ponderous iron jaws, came upon the river. Hoary
patriarchs of the forest were felled. Ancient roots and green banks,
mantled with vines, were ruthlessly blasted away. The dredge scoops
delved into mossy retreats. Secret dens and runways were opened to the
glaring light and there were many rustlings of furtive feet and wings
through the invaded grasses.

The limpid waters reflected Mammon’s sinister form. The despoiler tore
relentlessly through ferny aisles in the green embowered woods and
across the swamps and flowery fens. The glittering lakes, the meandering
loops and bends disappeared, and the fecund marshlands yielded their
life currents. The thousand night voices on their moon flooded stretches
were stilled. The wild life fled. Wondering flocks in the skies looked
down on the strange scene, changed their courses and winged on.

The passing of the river leaves its memories of musical ripplings over
pebbly shoals, murmurous runes among the fallen timber, tremulous moon
paths over darkened waters, the twinkling of wispy hosts of fireflies in
dreamy dusks, blended perfumes of still forests, heron haunted bayous,
enchanting islands, with their profusion of wild grapes and plums, and
the glories of afterglows beyond the vast marshes.

The currents that once widened in silvery magnificence to their natural
barriers, and wandered peacefully among the mysteries of the woods, now
flow madly on through a man-wrought channel. In sorrow the gloomy waters
flee with writhing swirls from the land where once they crept out over
the low areas and rested on their ways to the sea. In the moaning of the
homeless tide we may hear the requiem of the river.

Fields of corn and wheat stretch over the reclaimed acres, for the
utilitarian has triumphed over beauty and nature’s providence for her
wild creatures. The destruction of one of the most valuable bird refuges
on the continent has almost been completed, for the sake of immediate
wealth. The realization of this great economic wrong must be left to
future generations. The ugly dredges are finishing the desecration on
the lower reaches of the stream.

The Vanishing River moves on through a twilight of ignorance and error,
for the sacrifice of our bird life and our regions of natural beauty is
the sacrifice of precious material and spiritual gifts.

In the darkness of still nights pale phantom currents may creep into the
denuded winding channels, guided by the unseen Power that directs the
waters, and fade into the dim mists before the dawn.

Under the brooding care of the Great Spirit for the departed children,
ghostly war plumes may flutter softly among the leaves and tassels of
the corn that wave over the Red Man’s lost domain, when the autumn winds
whisper in the star-lit fields, for the land is peopled with shadows,
and has passed into the realm of legend, romance and fancy.



                                   II
                            THE SILVER ARROW


The story of the arrow was slowly unravelled from the tangled thread of
interrupted narrative related to us by old Waukena. She sat in her
little log hut among the tall poplars and birches, beyond the farther
end of Whippoorwill Bayou, and talked of the arrow during our visits,
but never in a way that enabled us to connect the scattered fragments of
the tale into proper sequence until we had heard various parts of it
many times.

She was a remnant of the Pottowattomies. She did not know when she was
born, but, from her knowledge of events that happened in her lifetime,
the approximate dates of which we knew, she must have been over ninety.

Her solitary life and habitual silence had developed a taciturnity that
steals upon those who dwell in the stillness of the forest. There was a
far away look in the old eyes, and a tinge of bitterness in her low
voice, as she talked sadly in her broken English, of the days that were
gone.

She cherished the traditions of her people, and their sorrows lingered
in her heart. Like shriveled leaves clinging to withered boughs, her
memories seemed to rustle faintly when a new breath of interest touched
them, and from among these rustlings we culled the arrow’s story.

The little cabin was very old. Its furnishings were in keeping with its
occupant and sufficient for her simple needs. There was a rough stone
fireplace at one end of the single room. A flat projecting boulder on
one side of its interior provided a shelf for the few cooking utensils.
They were hung on a rickety iron swinging arm over the wood fire when in
use. A much worn turkey wing, with charred edges, lay near the hearth,
with which the scattered ashes were dusted back into the fireplace. A
bedstead, constructed of birch saplings, occupied the other end of the
room. Several coon and fox skins, neatly sewed together, and a couple of
gray blankets, laid over some rush mats, completed the sleeping
arrangements. With the exception of a few bunches of bright hued
feathers, stuck about in various chinks, the rough walls were bare of
ornament.

The other furniture consisted of a couple of low stools, a heavy rocking
chair and a small pine table. A kerosene lantern and some candles
illumined the squalid interior at night.

In an open space near the cabin was a small patch of cultivated ground
that produced a few vegetables. Sunflowers and hollyhocks grew along its
edge and gave a touch of color to the surroundings.

[Illustration:

  WAUKENA
]

The old settlers and their families, who lived in the river country,
provided Waukena with most of her food supplies and the few other
comforts that were necessary to her lonely existence.

Many times I studied the rugged old face in the fire light. Among the
melancholy lines there lurked a certain grimness and lofty reserve.
There was no humility in the modelling of the determined mouth and chin.
The features were those of a mother of warriors. The blood of heroes,
unknown and forgotten, was in her veins, and the savage fatalism of
centuries slumbered in the placid dark eyes. It was the calmed face of
one who had defied vicissitude, and who, with head unbowed, would meet
finality.

My friend the historian had known her many years, and had made copious
notes of her childhood recollections of the enforced departure of her
tribe from the river country. She and several others had taken refuge in
a swamp until the soldiers had gone. They then made their way north and
dwelt for a few years near the St. Joseph, where a favored portion of
the tribe was allowed to retain land, but finally returned to their old
haunts.

When she was quite young her mother gave her the headless arrow, which
she took from one of the recesses in the log wall and showed to us. It
was a slender shaft of hickory, perfectly straight, and fragments of the
dyed feathers that once ornamented it still adhered to its delicately
notched base. At the other end were frayed remnants of animal fiber that
had once held the point in place. There were dark stains along the shaft
that had survived the years. The old squaw held it tenderly in her hands
as she talked of it, and always replaced it carefully in the narrow
niche when the subject was changed.

Nearly a hundred years ago the shaft was fashioned by an old arrowmaker
up the river for Little Turtle, a young hunter, who hoped to kill a
particular bald eagle with it. For a long time the bird had soared with
unconquered wings over the river country, and seemed to bear a charmed
life. It had successfully eluded him for nearly a year, but finally fell
when the twang of Little Turtle’s bow sent the new weapon into his
breast, as he sat unsuspectingly on a limb of a dead tree that bent over
the river.

The victor proudly bore his trophy to his bark canoe and paddled down
the stream to Whippoorwill Bayou. He pulled the little craft up into the
underbrush at twilight, and sat quietly on the bank until the full moon
came out from among the trees.

On the other side of the bayou were heavy masses of wild grape vines
that had climbed over some dead trees and undergrowth. Through a strange
freak of nature the convoluted piles had resolved themselves into
grotesque shapes that, in the magic sheen of the moonlight, suggested
the head and shoulders of a gigantic human figure, with long locks and
overhanging brows, standing at the edge of the forest. The lusty growth
had crept over the lower trees in such a way that the distribution of
the shadows completed the illusion. An unkempt old man seemed to stand
wearily, with masses of the tangled verdure heaped over his extended
hands. It was only when the moon was near the horizon that the lights
and shadows produced the strange apparition. The weird figure,
sculptured by the sorcery of the pale beams, was called “The Father of
the Vines” by the red men, and he was believed to have an occult
influence over the living things that dwelt in the forests along the
river.

Under one of the burdened hands was a dark grotto that led back into the
mysteries of the woods, and from it came the low cry of a whippoorwill.
Little Turtle instantly rose, dragged out the concealed canoe, paddled
silently over the moonlit water, and entered the grotto. A shadowy
figure had glided out to meet him, for the whippoorwill call was
Nebowie’s signal to her lover.

For months the grotto had been their trysting place. Rose winged hours
were spent there, and the great hands seemed to be held in benediction,
as the world old story was told within the hidden recesses.

Nebowie’s father, Moose Jaw, a scarred old warrior and hunter, had told
White Wolf that his dark-eyed willowy daughter should go to his wigwam
when the wild geese again crossed the sky, and White Wolf was anxiously
counting the days that lay between him and the fruition of his hopes.

He was a tall, low browed, villainous looking savage. He had once saved
Moose Jaw from an untimely death. The old Indian was crossing a frozen
marsh one winter morning, with a deer on his shoulders, and broke
through the ice. White Wolf happened to see him and effected his rescue.
He had long gazed from afar on the light in Moose Jaw’s wigwam, but
Nebowie’s eyes were downcast when he came. He lived down the river, and
the people of his village seldom came up as far as Whippoorwill Bayou.

His persistent visits, encouraged by the grateful old Indian, and
frowned upon by the flower he sought, gradually became less frequent,
and finally ceased, when he learned the secret of Nebowie and Little
Turtle, after stealthily haunting the neighborhood of the bayou for
several weeks.

An evil light came into White Wolf’s sinister eyes, and the fires of
blood lust kindled in his breast. He went on the path of vengeance. The
savage and the esthete are alike when the coveted male or female of
their kind is taken by another. He was too crafty to wage open warfare
and resolved to eliminate his rival in some way that would not arouse
suspicion and resentment when he again sought Nebowie’s smiles.

Old Moose Jaw smoked many pipes, and meditated philosophically over his
daughter’s obstinate disregard of the compact with White Wolf. Nebowie’s
mother had been dead several years, and the old Indian was easily
reconciled to what appeared to be his daughter’s resolution to remain
with him, for the little bark wigwam would be lonely without her. She
went cheerfully about her various tasks, and never mentioned Little
Turtle, until one day they came together and told him their story. As
nothing had been seen of White Wolf for a long time, the old man assumed
that his ardor had cooled, and finally consented to the building of the
new Wigwam on the bayou bank near the Father of the Vines, where Nebowie
would still be near him. He had no objections to Little Turtle and hoped
that the obligation to White Wolf could be discharged in some other way.

He rejoiced when the small black eyes of a papoose blinked at him when
he visited the new wigwam one afternoon during the following summer. He
spent much time with the little wild thing on his knee when she was old
enough to be handled by anybody but her mother. He would sit for hours,
gently swinging the birch bark cradle that hung from a low bough near
the bank, for he was no longer able to hunt or fish, and took no part in
the activities of the men of the village. Little Turtle’s prowess amply
supplied both wigwams with food and raiment, and there was no need for
further exertion.

White Wolf had apparently recovered from his infatuation. He
occasionally came up the river, but his connection with the affairs of
the community, whose little habitations were widely scattered through
the woods beyond the bayou, was considered a thing of the past.

Little Turtle was highly esteemed by the men of his village, and two
years after his marriage he was made its chief.

The following spring delegations from the various villages along the
river departed for a general powwow of the tribe, near the mouth of the
St. Joseph, in the country of the dunes, about eighty miles away. Little
Turtle and White Wolf went with them. Time had nurtured the demon in the
heart of the baffled suitor, but there were no indications of enmity
during the trip. The party broke up on its way home and took different
trails. Little Turtle never returned.

Nebowie pined in anguish for the home coming, and White Wolf waited for
her sorrow to pass. She spent months of misery, and finally carried her
aching heart to the “Black Robe,” who ministered to the spiritual needs
of her people, after the formula of his sect, in the little mission
house up the river. He was a kindly counselor and listened with sympathy
to her story.

He belonged to that hardy and zealous band of ecclesiastics who had come
into the land of another race to build new altars, and to teach what
they believed to be the ways to redemption. He told Nebowie to take her
sorrow to the white man’s deity and gave her a small silver crucifix as
a token that would bring divine consolation and peace. Forms of penance
and supplication were prescribed, and she was sent away with the
blessing of the devout priest.

Nebowie carried her cross and, during the still hours in the little
wigwam, she held it to her anguished breast. The months brought no
surcease. In the quiet ministry of the woods there crept into her heart
a belief that the magic of the Black Robe’s God was futile.

The inevitable atavism came and she departed into the silences. For a
long time her whereabouts were unknown. During the bitter months her
intuitive mind worked out the problem. Something that she found in the
wilderness had solved the mystery of her loved one’s disappearance, and,
when she returned, she hammered her silver crucifix into an arrow head,
bound it with deer sinew to the hickory shaft of the arrow with which
Little Turtle had killed the bald eagle, and meditated upon the hour of
her revenge. White Wolf was doomed, and his executioner patiently bided
the time for action.

He renewed his visits and condoled with the sad old man, but made no
progress with Nebowie, although she sometimes seemed to encourage his
advances.

One evening in the early fall he returned from a hunting trip over the
marshes. He followed one of the small trails that skirted the woods near
his village. A shadowy form moved silently among the trees. There was a
low whir, and something sped through the dusk.

When they found White Wolf in the morning the hair on one side of his
head was matted with blood, and a small hole led into his stilled brain,
but there was no clue to the motive or to the author of the tragedy. He
was duly mourned and buried after the manner of his fathers. His taking
off was numbered among the enigmas of the past, and was soon forgotten.

Nebowie continued her home life with her father and her little one, but
tranquility was in her face. She felt within her the glow that
retribution brings to the savage heart—whether it be red or white. A
recompense had come to her tortured soul that softened the after years.
The silver of the arrow point had achieved a mission that had failed
when it bore the form of a cross.


During our exploration of the sites of the old Indian villages in the
river country, we discovered a large pasture that had never been
ploughed. Traces of two well worn trails led through it, and, on a
little knoll near the center of the field, we found what appeared to be
burial mounds.

We were reluctant to desecrate the hallowed spot, but finally yielded to
the temptation to open one of them. We unearthed two skeletons. They
were both in a sitting position. I picked up one of the skulls and
curiously examined it. Something rattled within the uncanny relic and
dropped to the grass. The small object proved to be a silver arrowhead,
and Waukena’s story came home to us with startling reality. We replaced
the bones and reshaped the mound as best we could, but carried with us
the mouldy skull and its carefully wrought messenger of death.

Nearly all of the Indians in the river country were buried in a sitting
position. The grim skeletons of the vanished race belong to the world
that is under ground. In countless huddled hordes, they sit in the gloom
of the fragrant earth, with hands outstretched, as if in mute appeal,
and wait through the years for whatever gods may come.

In the darkness that may be eternal, the disputations of theologians do
not disturb the gathering mould. The multitudinous forms of reward and
punishment, that play in empty pageantry upon the hopes and fears of
those who walk the green earth, touch not the myriads in its bosom.

The self appointed, who bear the lights of man born dogma, and the
blessings and curses of imaginary deities, into the paths of the
unknowable, grope as blindly among pagan bones as through cathedral
aisles.

That evening we rowed up the river to carry our story to Waukena. She
held the mouldy skull in her lap for a long time and regarded it with
deep interest. Sealed fountains within her aged heart seemed to well
anew, for there were tears in her eyes when she raised them toward us.

Waukena was the little girl that played around the stricken wigwam on
the bayou, and she had treasured the stained shaft as a heritage from
those she had loved. To her it was a sacred thing. The life currents it
had changed had passed on, but they seemed to meet again as the gray
haired woman sat before her flickering fire, with the mute toys of the
fateful drama about her. We left her alone with her musings.

When we came one evening, a week later, the door was open, but the ashes
on the hearth were cold. On the rough table lay the mouldy skull, that
was once the home of relentless passion, and near it, before its eyeless
caverns, was the blood stained shaft, with the silver point neatly
fitted back into its place.

Waukena may have stolen away through the solitudes of the dim forest,
and yielded her tired heart unto the gods of her people, for she was
never again seen in the river country. Her chastened soul may still
wander in the shadowy vistas of the winter woods, when the sun sinks in
aureoles of crimson beyond the lacery of the tall trees—that stand still
and ghostly—their slender boles tinged with hues of red, like the lost
arrow shafts of those who are gone.

Sadly and thoughtfully we walked down the old trail that bordered the
bayou. We sat for a long time on the moss covered bank and talked of the
arrow and the destinies it had touched. The pearly disk of the full moon
hung in the eastern sky. A faint mist veiled the surface of the softly
lisping water. An owl swept low over the bayou into the gloom of the
forest. The pond lilies had closed their chalices and sealed their
fragrance for another day. Hosts of tiny wings were moving among the
sedges. Fireflies gemmed the dark places and vanished, as human lives
come out of the void, waver with transient glow, and are gone.

There was a tender eloquence and witchery in the gentle murmurings of
the night. Mystic voices were in the woods. Beyond the other shore the
hoary form of the Father of the Vines seemed transfigured with a holy
light. From somewhere in the gloom of the grotto came the plaintive
notes of a whippoorwill.

As one crying in the wilderness, Nebowie’s spirit was calling for her
lost lover from among the embowered labyrinths.

In the twilights of drowsy summers, the wild cadence still enchants the
bayou. The moon still rides through the highways of the star strewn
skies, and, with pensive luster, pictures the guardian of the trysting
place of long ago. The shadows below the lofty forehead have deepened,
and the great silent figure bends with the weight of the onward years.

                   Out yonder, in the moonlit woods,
                   With humble mien he stands,
                   With the burden of the fruitage
                   In his vine entangled hands;
                   Where the hiding purpling clusters
                   Are caught by silver beams,
                   That revel in the meshes
                   Of his leafy net of dreams.
                   With the weariness of fulfillment,
                   His tendril woven brow
                   Is bowed before the mystery
                   Of the eternal Why and How.



                                  III
                          THE BRASS BOUND BOX


Jerry Island was formed by one of the side currents of the river that
wandered off through the woods and lowland and rejoined the main stream
above the Big Marsh.

The herons, bitterns and wild ducks swept low over the brush entangled
water course and dropped into the quiet open places. Innumerable
clusters of small mud turtles fringed the drift wood and fallen timbers
that retarded the sluggish current. The patriarchs of the hard shelled
brotherhood—moss covered and intolerant—spent their days on the
half-submerged gray logs in somnolent isolation.

Kingfishers, crows and hawks found a fecund hunting ground along the
winding byway. Squirrels and chipmunks raced over the recumbent trunks,
and whisked their bushy tails in the patches of sunlight that filtered
through the interlacing boughs above them.

At night the owls, coons, minks and muskrats explored the wet
labyrinths, aged bull frogs trumpeted dolefully, and stealthy nocturnal
prowlers came there to drink. Sometimes the splash of a fish broke the
stillness, and little rings crept away over the surface and lost
themselves among the weeds and floating moss.

Long ago the trails of wolves, deer, and other large animals appeared in
the snow on the island during the winter; bear tracks were often found,
and there is a legend among the latter day prosaics that a couple of
panthers once had a den in the neighborhood. In later years most of the
winter pathways were made by foxes and rabbits and their human and
canine pursuers.

Near the bank of the main stream stood a decayed but well constructed
old house. It was built of faced logs with mortar between them. There
were three rooms on the ground floor, and some steep narrow stairs led
into an attic next to the roof that sloped to the floor along its sides.

My friend “Buck” Granger, a gray haired old trapper and hunter, whose
grandfather built the house about a hundred years ago, ushered me up the
creaky stairs late one night.

The alert eyes of a red squirrel peered at us from the end of a tattered
mink muff that lay on an oak chest close to the roof, and vanished.
Apparently the small visitor was not greatly disturbed, for, after two
or three gentle undulations, the muff was motionless.

After conventional but cordial injunctions to make myself at home, Buck
departed to his quarters below.

[Illustration:

  FAMILIAR HAUNTS
]

The quaint and picturesque attic was full of interest. An old fashioned
bedstead stood in the room, a cumbrous, home made “four poster.” Over
its cord lacings was a thick feather bed, several comforters, and a
multicolored patchwork quilt. The sheets and pillow slips were of
coarsely woven linen.

Bunches of seed corn and dried herbs were suspended from pegs along the
roof timbers; near the oak chest was a spinning wheel, and a broken
cradle—all veiled with mantles of fine dust and cobwebs. The cradle, in
which incipient genius may once have slumbered, was filled with bags of
beans, ears of pop corn, and hickory nuts. Squirrels and white footed
mice from the surrounding woods had held high revel in the tempting
hoard.

The cradle had guarded the infancy of many little furred families after
its first usefulness had ceased, for there were cosy tangled nests of
shredded cotton and woolen material among its mixed contents.

Moths had worked sad havoc in the row of worn out garments that
festooned the cross beams. Some rusty muskrat traps and obsolete fire
arms were heaped in one corner, with discarded hats and boots.

Close to the roof, near the edge of the unprotected stairway, was a tall
silent clock. It was very old. Most of the veneering had chipped away
from its woodwork, parts of the enameled and grotesquely ornamented dial
had scaled off, and across the scarred face its one crippled hand
pointed to the figure seven. The worn mechanism had not pulsated for
many years.

Innumerable tiny fibers connected the top and sides of the old clock
with the sloping roof timbers, and a sinister watcher, hairy and
misshapen—crouched within the mouth of a tubular web above the dial.

Tenuous highways spanned the spaces between the rafters. Gauzy filaments
led away into obscurities, and gossamer shreds hung motionless from the
upper gloom. There were mazes of webs, woven by generations of spiders,
laden with impalpable dust, and tenantless. The patient spinners had
lived their little day and left their airy tissues to the mercy of the
years. Like flimsy relics of human endeavor, the frail structures
awaited the inevitable.

There was an impression of mistiness and haziness in the wandering and
broken fibers, and the filmy labyrinths—as of a brain filled with
fancies that were inchoate and confused—an abode of idle dreams.

The web spanned attic pictured a mind, inert and fettered by dogma and
tradition, in which existence is passive, and where vital currents are
stilled—where light is instinctively excluded and intrusion of
extraneous ideas is resented. Occupants of endowed chairs in old
universities, pedantic art classicists, smug dignitaries of established
churches, and other guardians of embalmed and encrusted conclusions, are
apt to have such attics. Like the misshapen watcher within the tubular
web above the dial, they crouch in musty seclusion.

I opened the queer looking bed, that had evidently been made up a long
time, and lay for half an hour or so, trying to read by the light of the
sputtering candle. The subtle spell of the old attic at length overcame
the charm of my author, and I gave myself over to a troop of thronging
fancies.

Although the invisible inmate of the muff gave a life accent to the
room, the quiet was oppressive. A sense of seclusion from realities
pervaded the human belongings. Intimate personal things, that only
vanished hands have touched, seem to possess an indefinable
remoteness—as if they pertained to something detached and far away—and
lingered in an atmosphere of spiritual loneliness.

When the moon beams came through the cobwebbed window frame, and crept
along the floor to the ghostly old clock, it haunted the room with a
vague impression of weariness and futility. It seemed to stand in mute
and solemn mockery of the eternal hours that had passed on and left it
in hopeless vigil by the wayside.

The watcher in the web—grim and silent, like a waiting sexton—awakened
uncanny thought. There was gruesome suggestion in the dark stairway hole
at the foot of the clock—as if it had been newly dug in the earth.

Like evil phantoms into an idle mind, a pair of bats glided swiftly in
through the open window, circled noiselessly about, and departed.

The moon rays touched something in the rubbish at the further end of the
room that reflected a dull light. After restraining my curiosity for
some time, I arose, crossed the floor, and picked up a strange looking
box. It was about fourteen inches long, nine inches high, and a foot
wide. Its hasp and small handle on the cover appeared to be of wrought
iron, but the embossed facing that covered the sides and ends, and the
strips that protected the edges, were of brass, studded with nails of
the same metal. It seemed in the dim light to be much corroded by time.

Hoping that something might be learned of its history in the morning, I
placed the box on the floor near the bed, and was finally lulled to
belated slumber by the crickets in the crevices of the logs, and the
rustlings of tiny feet among the contents of the cradle. Speculations
regarding the brass bound box softly blended into dreams.

During breakfast the next morning my host told me that the box had once
belonged to a Jesuit priest; some Indians who formerly lived on the
island had given it to his grandfather, and it had been in the attic
ever since the house was built. He had often looked at its contents but
could make nothing of them, and considered that “they were not of much
account.” He said he would be glad to have me go through them and see if
they were of any value. He also said that there was a bundle of old
papers in the oak chest that he hoped I would look over, as his
grandfather had written much concerning the river and the Indians that
might interest me.

Filled with anticipation of congenial occupation during the rainy day, I
went with Buck to the attic after breakfast. We dragged a decrepit
walnut table to the window and dusted it carefully. Buck brought from
the chest a small bundle that was tied up in brown paper and left it
with me. The tenant of the muff had decamped, probably resenting the
intrusion into his domain. I brought the brass bound box, found a
comfortable hickory chair, lighted a tranquilizing pipe, and was soon
absorbed in the stack of closely written manuscript that I found in the
bundle.

Some parts of it were illegible and the spelling was unique. The old man
probably considered correct spelling to be an accomplishment of mere
literary hacks, and that it was not necessary for an author who had
anything else to think of to pay much attention to it.

There was much information regarding the Indian occupation of the river
country. It appeared that there were about fifty wigwams on the island
when the red men were compelled to leave by the government. Most of them
were taken to a reservation out west, and a number went to some lands of
their kindred along the St. Joseph river in Michigan. Eventually a few
returned and lived in scattered isolation, but their tribal organization
was broken up.

The head of the village on Jerry Island was a venerable warrior named
“Hot Ashes.” He was a friend of Buck’s grandfather, and it was he who
gave him the brass bound box when the Indians left. He said it had been
brought to the island by the “Black Robe” many years before, and that he
had left it in the mission house when he went away.

The box had been treasured by the Indians, for it was supposed for a
long time to be a “great medicine,” but when they departed they
considered it a useless burden. There had been much misfortune after the
Black Robe left and their faith in its powers gradually ceased.

The going away of the kindly priest was much mourned by his dusky flock.
He was supposed to have departed on some mysterious errand, and to have
met fatality in the woods, but they were never able to find any traces
of him.

Hot Ashes believed that the Black Robe had a great trouble, as, before
his disappearance, he neglected the work of his mission for several
days, and walked about on the island, carrying a little bundle which he
was seen to throw into the river the day he left.

There was no further reference in the manuscript to the Black Robe, or
to the brass bound box, which I now opened.

There were two compartments, divided into sections, one on either side
of a larger opening in the middle. These contained various small
articles. Two of them fitted low square bottles, one of which was half
filled with a black powdery substance. On the label, that fell off when
I removed the bottle, I deciphered the word ENCRE. Experiment justified
the conclusion that the powder had been added to water when ink was
needed. A dry coating on the inside of the other bottle indicated that
it had been used for this purpose.

In a larger section were some beads that were once a rosary, fragments
of a silk cord that had held them together, and a crucifix.

At the center of each end of the box, were half circular rests, probably
designed to hold a chalice. The space contained a breviary, bound in
leather, and much worn, some ink stained quill pens, a small box of fine
sand that had been used for blotting, and some loosely folded papers.
They consisted mostly of letters from the Superior of the Mission, and
pertained to routine affairs, suggestions regarding the work of the
little mission, and congratulations on its successful progress.

Comparison of the depth of the opening with the outside of the box
revealed the existence of a secret space, and it was only after long
study and experiment that I discovered the means of access to it. On
lifting its cover I found a flexible cloth covered book and a letter
enclosed in oiled silk, that was much tattered.

The book, which was yellow with age, and frayed at the edges, contained
closely written pages in French, many of them much faded, obscure, and
in some places entirely obliterated.

The chirography was in the main neat and methodical, but apparently the
writing had been done under many varying conditions that made uniformity
impossible. Several small drawings were scattered through the text. Some
of them showed considerable skill and care, and the others were rough
topographic sketches and memorandums of routes.

The book was the journal of Pierre de Lisle, a young Jesuit missionary
who left France in 1723 to carry salvation to the heathen in the remote
wilderness of the new continent.

The early entries related to his novitiate in Paris, his work in the
Jesuit college, and the preparations for his departure for America. They
reflected his hopes for the success of his perilous undertaking.

There were vague references to a deep affliction, and to periods of
heart sickness and mental depression, by reason of which he had taken
the long and difficult path of self denial and self effacement that led
him into the activities of the Society of Jesus.

He had spent the required years in the subjugation of the flesh and the
sanctification of mind and soul, when he went on board the vessel that
was to take him to Quebec.

In the hope of finding a clue to Pierre’s sorrow, I extracted the letter
from its silk covering. It had evidently been cherished through the
vicissitudes of purification and the perils of arduous journeyings. It
was signed by Marie d’Aubigney, and told of her love, that was undying
but hopeless, and of her approaching compulsory marriage to “M. le
Marquis.” His name did not appear in the letter.

Mingled with the musty odor of the ancient missive, I thought I detected
a faint lingering perfume—at least there was one in the message, if not
in the paper that bore it.

Several pages of the journal were devoted to the tempestuous voyage
across the Atlantic, and a gloomy week spent in the fog off the Grand
Banks. The vessel finally reached Quebec, where Pierre reported to the
Superior of the Canadian Mission.

He and several other missionaries, accompanied by voyageurs and Indian
guides, made a long and eventful trip up the St. Lawrence and Ottawa
rivers to Georgian Bay. They skirted its shores to Lake Huron, where a
violent gale scattered their boats, and wrecked two of them.

After much danger and hardship the party landed on the wild coast, but
the food supplies had been lost in the turbulent waters. In an attempt
to find sustenance, Pierre and one companion wandered a considerable
distance from the camp and lost their way in a snowstorm. They found an
Indian village that had been depopulated by small pox, and took refuge
in one of the squalid huts, where they were besieged by a pack of wolves
for several days. Had it not been for some scraps of dried fish that
they fortunately found in the hut, they would have starved. They were
finally rescued, and Pierre ascribed their deliverance to St. Francis.

The Indians succeeded in killing some game in the woods, and, after a
hazardous journey, the party reached Mackinac. Pierre went from there to
Green Bay. He stayed a few months and departed for the mission on the
St. Joseph river, where he remained a year.

The journal gave many details of his life as an assistant at this
mission, where he baptized numerous converts, and greatly increased the
attendance at the mission school.

In the hope of enlarging his usefulness, he sent a letter to Quebec,
asking permission to found a new mission among the Indians inhabiting
the river country south of the St. Joseph. With the doubtful means of
communication the letter was a long time in reaching its destination,
and he had about given up hope when a favorable reply came.

With one of his converts as a guide, he departed for the field of his
new labors. They ascended the St. Joseph in a canoe, made the portage
from its headwaters, and descended the Kankakee.

Frequent mention was made in the journal of the faithful guide, who
proved invaluable, and of the beautiful scenery of the route. Camps were
pitched on the verdant banks at night, but once, in passing through one
of the vast marshes, they lost the uncertain channel and were compelled
to sleep in the canoe.

They stopped at a few Indian villages along the river and were received
with kindness. The journey was continued down stream beyond Jerry
Island. The populous communities above and below that point commended it
to his judgment. He returned and began the work of establishing his
mission.

Although he found the manifold vices of paganism in the villages, he was
treated with bountiful hospitality. Successive feasts were prepared in
his honor, in which boiled dog was the “piece de resistance.” Willing
hands assisted in the construction of the mission house, and the date of
the first mass was recorded in the journal.

There was much sickness among the Indians when Pierre came, the nature
of which did not appear. Orgies and incantations continued day and night
to conjure away the epidemic. He performed the consolatory offices of
his church in the afflicted wigwams. Soon after his arrival practically
all of the sickness disappeared. Their recovered health convinced the
credulous savages that the Black Robe possessed a mysterious power, and
the small bottle of black powder was thought to be a mighty magic.

Ink has swayed the destinies of countless millions, but here its potency
seems to have played a strange role.

Much of the journal was devoted to happenings that now seem trivial, but
to the zealous disciple of Loyola—a protagonist of his faith on a
spiritual frontier—they were of great moment. Detached from their
contemporary human associations, events must affect the emotions or the
interests of the mass of mankind if their records endure.

Pierre assisted in the councils, gave advice on temporal affairs, and
patiently inculcated the precepts of his religion in the minds of his
primitive flock. Impressive baptisms and beautiful deaths were noted at
length. Converts who strayed from the fold, and were induced to return,
were given much space.

Here and there poetic reflections graced the faded pages, and pious
musings were recorded. Original verse, and quotations from favorite
authors, that seemed inspired by melancholy hours, mingled with the
text. The names of the various saint’s days were often used as captions
for the entries, instead of calendar dates.

In the back of the book was a list of names of converts, dates of
baptism, marriages and deaths, and a vocabulary of about three hundred
words of the Pottowatomie dialect of the Algonquin language, with their
French equivalents. Variations in the chirography indicated that the
lists had grown gradually, as additions were made with different pens.

A gloomy spirit seemed to pervade the dim pages. The broken heart of
Pierre de Lisle throbbed between the lines of the story of his life in
the wilderness. He had carried his cross to the far places, and, in
isolation, he yearned for the healing balm of forgetfulness on his
fevered soul. There were evidences of a great mental conflict among the
last entries. He mentioned the arrival at the island of Jacques Le
Moyne, a Jesuit priest, who was on his way to a distant post on the
Mississippi, and spent several weeks with him. They had been boyhood
friends in France and had entered the Jesuit college at about the same
time. His coming was a breath of life from the outer world.

Le Moyne told him of the death of the Marquis de Courcelles, whose
existence had darkened Pierre’s life, and all of the precepts, tenets,
and pageantry of the Church of Rome floated away as mists before a
freshening wind.

Pierre was born again. The dormant life currents quickened, and his
virile soul and body exulted in emancipation and new found hope.

The entries in the journal closed with a sorrowful farewell to his
spiritual charges, of which they probably never knew, and an expression
of pathetic gratitude to his friend Jacques, who had opened a gate
between desolation and earthly paradise, for warm arms in France were
reaching across the stormy seas, and into the wilds of the new world for
Pierre de Lisle.

It seemed strange that he had left the journal and the letter of Marie
d’Aubigney. He was probably obsessed by his one dominant thought, and
naturally excluded everything not needed for his long journey, but if
his mind had not been much perturbed and confused he might have taken or
destroyed the journal, but he surely would have carried the precious
letter with him.

The little bundle that he threw into the river, the day he left the
island, may have contained his sacramental chalice, for in it his lips
had found bitter waters.

He probably dissembled his apostasy and utilized such Jesuit facilities
as were available in getting back to his native land, lulling his
conscience with one of the maxims of the Society of Jesus—“the end
justifies the means”—but be that as it may, the chronicles in the attic
had come to an end.

I sat for a long time, listening to the patter of the rain on the old
roof, and mused over the frail memorials.

There is but one great passion in the world. With it all human destiny
is entwined. Votaries of established religion have ever been recruited
from the disconsolate. The gray walls of convents and monasteries have
lured the heart stricken, and in remote fields of pious endeavor
unguents have been sought for cruel wounds. In the waste places of the
earth have been scattered the ashes of despair, but while life lasts, it
somewhere holds the eternal chords. At hope’s vibrant touch the
enfeebled strings awake and attune to the sublime strains of the Great
Lyric.

The faint echo of a song lingered in the brass bound box. The silk
covered letter intoned a dream melody that the years had not hushed.



                                   IV
            THE “WETHER BOOK” OF BUCK GRANGER’S GRANDFATHER


My friend “Buck” told me something of his grandfather’s history as we
sat in the genial glow of the stone fireplace the evening after I had
examined the contents of the brass bound box.

The old pioneer, with his wife and two sons, had come west in 1810 and
located on the island. He found many Indians there and his relations
with them were very friendly. A small area was cleared and cultivated on
the island, but the main source of livelihood was hunting, fishing and
trapping. The woods and waters teemed with life and nature yielded
easily of her abundance.

The old man lived alone for many years after the death of his wife. His
sons married and went farther west. Two years before he died one of the
sons, Buck’s father, returned with his wife and little boy, to the old
home. Buck was now the only surviving member of the family.

His recollections of his grandfather were rather vague. He remembered
him as an old man with a white bushy beard, frowsy coon skin cap, ear
muffs, and fur mittens. He had spent much time with him fishing along
the river, and in trips through the woods. From him he had learned the
ways of the big marsh, and much of the unwritten lore of the forest. His
stories of the old pioneer gave an impression of one who was much given
to having his own way, rather crusty at times, but whose sympathy and
kindness of heart were often imposed upon by those who knew him.

Buck said that in the old oak chest in the attic was a lot of stuff that
had belonged to his grandfather. We went to the attic the next morning
and took out of the chest the odd assortment of things we found in it.
Most of them were of no special interest. There were some old account
books, several cancelled promissory notes for small amounts, and a
package of receipts. One note, payable to the old man, was marked across
its face “Debt forgiven—Can’t Collect.”

I was pleased to find a bag of Indian arrow heads, many of them
beautifully made, a couple of spear heads, and a tomahawk.

There was a section of a maple tree root, about a foot long, in the
chest, that Buck said he had chopped out one winter in the woods near
the marsh. A steel trap was imbedded in it, and between the jaws were
two bones of a coon’s foot. The uneven hammer marks on the metal
indicated that the trap was probably home forged. Buck had identified it
as one belonging to his grandfather, and there were others like it in
the chest. Apparently the victim had dragged the trap to the foot of the
tree, which it was unable to climb. He had died with his leg across the
young exposed root that had grown around and through the mechanism,
until only a portion of the rusty chain, the end of the spring, and the
upper parts of the jaws that held the little bones remained. The story
of the tragedy was plainly told.

[Illustration:

  THE OLD LOG HOUSE
]

In the bottom of the chest was a thick leather bound book. On the cover
was some crude lettering in black ink, with labored attempts at
ornamentation. On removing the dust I deciphered the inscription:

                       WETHER BOOK—JOSIAH GRANGER

Evidently its author had spent much time in keeping a record of the
weather and of his life on the island. Innumerable thermometer readings
filled columns at the right of the pages. After most of the dates were
weather observations, comments on intrusive friends, and various things
that had come within the sphere of a lonely existence.

Diaries are pictures of character—unsafe repositories of intimate
personal things that enlighten and betray. Among the pages were traces
of petty jealousies and much harmless egotism. Here and there were
patches of sunlight, touches of irony and unconscious humor. At times a
tinge of pathos shadowed the lines of the “wether book,” and under it
all was the human story of one who, in this humble form of expression,
had sought relief from solitude.

As I perused the faded chronicles the figure of the old man, sitting
before his fire at night, with his pipe and almanac, diligently
recording the happenings of the days that passed in his little world,
seemed a reality.

The record covered a number of years, but extracts from the entries of
1852 will convey a general idea of the contents of the old book.


_Jan 1st_—This is the first of the yeare & I start in not very well.
Cold prevales & a good dele of snow. Snow drifts stacked around the
house. Cant see out. I stay mostly in my blankett.

_Jan 10th_—Lots of snow. Froze hard last nite. Big wind. Stade in & must
hole up for rest of winter if this keaps up. Rumetiziam bad. Hiram
Barnes com today with feet froze. It is blowing bad. Looks worse
outside. Moon eclips was predicted for the 8th but nuthing of the kind
sene.

_Jan 12th_—I notis by my almanack Lady J. Gray behedded today in 1555
but what for does not say & hevy rain storms predicted but nuthing of
the kind. It has never ben colder. I got to melt som more snow and get
the pump going. She is froze hard.

_Jan 14th_—Was out som today & it looks thawy. Thaw coming. Som deer
traks on iland. Will get after deer soon.

_Jan 16th_—Got a buck today & fixed the meat. Sunup & Sunsett both
according to clock. Evrything on skedule. Som sweling white cloudds off
in W. The cold abates som.

_Jan 20_—We are geting storms in these parts & a good dele of wether
comes at nite. Som days are cleare & cold with merkery stedy at Zero.
The moon is around but nites dark & clouddy. Moon must hav ben full the
7th but not sene.

_Jan 31st_—Month closes mild yet flying snow. River ice som places over
a ft. thick. This has ben a remarkabel month. Thare was too much wether
in Jan. The merkery gets funny now and then. I dont think eny thermomter
is akkerate.

_Feb 2nd_—Big thaw has com & erly in the morning a shour of rain. Got a
buck on the ice at the marsh & got the meat home late. This was
yesterdy. Snow is all mushy. This has ben a quere day. It is now 5 P.M.

_Feb 3rd_—Snow flurrys mixed with rain. Ice braking som. I heare meney
cracks out on the river. As I sett down to rite in my wether book I
beleve the back bone of the winter is broke.

_Feb 5–6–7–8–9–10_—Had 1 nice brite day & ever sence a whopping big
storm. Big drifts. Cant see out. Must get some backake ointmint. Full
moon was on the 5th. Good thing I got a lot of wood in. I notis in my
almanack storms probabel this month & this is rite.

_Feb 15th_—Out yesterdy & 20 inches snow in woods. Shot 3 patriches near
the house. Wolves yelld all nite. Sene gese flying N. but they beter go
back. It is warmer thow. Som deer crossed river last nite. This is being
a remarkabel month. Cool & misty air prevales as I rite.

_Feb 20_—I was down to the marsh. This was yesterdy. Got 36 rats from 42
trapps. 2 trapps lost. Som rat houses near chanel butted out by ice
moving along. Sene som gese very high going N. One I think was a flock
of swanns. Fogg & sleat tonite.

_Feb 21–22–23–24–25_—All bad days. G. Washington had a birthday on the
22nd. That was my birthday too. The politicks would make him sick if he
could see them now. Thares lots of dead pepil that would not like what
is now going on, and we would not like som things they done if we was
thare.

_Feb 28_—Snow most gone & hard rain. Lot of ice moving in river. I sene
4 flocks gese 5 of ducks, mostly bloobills. Thare has ben few deer this
winter. I got 2 bucks & 1 doe all fat in good condition & I got a small
bear. This was over neare Wild Catt Swamp on the 18th & I forgot to rite
it down. Old Josiah & the dog was thare on that date.

_Feb 29th_—This is leap yeare. Hav not ben out today. I am geting throw
the winter all rite. Feb a changabel month. It closes with foggs & high
water. S. Conkrite com today on his way to the marsh. His noos is Ed
Baxter & Fanny Noonan got marrid Jan 6th. Probly she asked him. Wether
tonite looks thick. Cloudds both big & black are in the West.

_March 5th_—Gese coming rite along now & thousans of ducks. Rats on the
marsh ben prety fare. Got a lot so far but probly will find prices bad.
Your uncle Josiah was all over the oak tract in boat for malards. Got
over 50. He had on his shooting shirt. They was after the acorns in
about 2 ft. of watter. This was yesterdy. Meney ducks going on N. & som
gese gone too but som will stay & make nests.

_March 11th_—2 egals lit today on the iland & stade around all P.M. They
may think of nesting heare. Old Josiah will take a popp at them. Dense
cloudds are around.

_March 15th_—I notis in my almanack big flodes all over the south &
sweling rivers predicted. Big flode heare too as I rite & evrything
overflode. River ice all gone. Lots of dead timber coming down & floting
bushes. Most of the noos you read in the almanack is bad. On most all of
the dates bloodshed & fires & famins are notised & meney batels & deaths
of Kings & Quenes. Funy no Jacks are spoken of. Shot 62 ducks 11 gese.
Lost aminition on a big flock. Snipe are around & som plover coming in.
Got 34 rats & a wolf. This was yesterdy. Saw 2 deer at Huckelbery Byou.
They left on time. Thare was wild catt traks on the iland Monday morning
after a lite bust of snow. Would like to get that cuss. He beter look
out for the old man. His skin would make a good vest. Moon was full on
the 6th but I ben busy rite along & not evrything ritten down. This is a
bad day & I stade in. Awful hard rain going on as I rite. You get a
buckett full in the face if you open the door. High wind & probly a lot
of damage somwhare. It is now 8 P.M. & your uncle Josiah to bed.

_March 16th_—Clearing wether. Was out but rumetiziam som worse. Lost
aminition on 2 gese that flew over at evening. My almanack says the
planatary aspecks for planting potattoes will be faverabel in 4 weeks
now. I notis thare has ben a lot of small animils around. Som skunks &
foxes. Must put out som trapps.

_March 20_—Clear brite & calm & no wether now for foar days. It is a new
moon like a mellin rine tonite & I sene it over my left sholder. It
hangs wet in the west & this menes rain. Fixed the chickin house against
all skunks & foxes but weezels may get in. A wolf has ben around the
iland. A fogg prevales tonite.

_March 21_—Bad day but it gets into spring now.

_March 22_—Good wether for ducks but they fly high. Beter for gese.
Gusty looking sky tonite.

_March 24th_—I went after them yesterdy. Got no ducks but it was good
wether for them. Shot 22 gese. Bad day for gese too. Got 40 rats.
Perhaps a small snow tonite. Looks likely.

_March 26th_—Got a boat full of rats. Will skin tomorrow. This was
yesterdy I got the rats. Bad storm today. Cant see out. Wether foul &
bad. Old Josiah gets mushrats all rite when he goes out in his little
trapping boat.

_March 27th_—Cold day. Thermomter busted March 10. Cant tell how cold it
is but it is cold. The merkery must be way down. Lite bust of snow as I
rite. Must get som Magic Oil for stif joints.

_March 28th_—River is froze along edges but open in the curent. Ducks &
Gese moving thick. Big bunches went over today flying high. Som deer
around. Must go after deer tomorrow. A lot of Jaybirds round the house.
Crows & Jaybirds make rackett. Must hav quiet. Must get bag of small
shot.

_March 30th_—Got no deer yesterdy. Sene one but too far off. If could
hav shot with a spy glass I could hav got him if I had one. Got som
sasafras. Must cook som spring medicin. I now have all ingrediments.

_March 31st_—Foggy today. Snipe around. Lite sprinkel of rain. Lost
aminition on bunch of plover flying over. Chopped som wood. Caught 2
weezels & a skunk. This was yesterdy. Froggs are around. Got a new
thermomter but I think it not akkerate. The merkery is red. Probly all
rite for sumer wether. Am now taking Sistom Tonick. Good dele of baptist
wether & som snow this month but in general a fine month. Ducks & gese
hav ben thicker than hare on a dog & I done well on rats too. Got all
trapps out of marsh & som not mine. Spring is rite on skedule. Tomorrow
is April fools day & a lot of them are around.

_April 6–7–8–9–10_—All fare days with no wether, but a mushy bust of
snow has com as I rite. On the 9th was Good Friday. Our Lord was
Crucufied in my Almanack on that date. That was a big mistake. I notis
for 3 days sunup & sunsett late compard with clock so hav sett clock.
Sun & clock now on skedule acording to almanack & with my noon marker on
the stump & notch in window sill evrything is all rite up to date. Your
uncle Josiah knos the time of day.

_April 11th_—I see that Henry Clay was born today in 1776. I was always
a Henry Clay man. This is Easter Sunday the day on which Our Lord is
Risen. Thare is a lot of pepil that should take notis.

_April 15th_—Buds are well out & on skedule. Thare are freckels around
the trees showing we had a hard winter. Froggs are around thick. It was
bad wether for rats in Jan & Feb but they wintered well. I must go after
supplys & som spring medicin. I got som bisness to tend to.

_April 18th_—Must plant all gardin sass now. Moon is right tonite & this
is the time. A man com up from Beaver Lake & says hard winter thare. Wm
Hull a stedy helthy man of good bild & sober was froze with cold. He was
coming home from mil & he lived over neare West Creek. This was Jan
12th. He was found by 2 squas out after wood. He was found froze. He
owed me som money. This was a bad day. Sky looks all chesy tonite.

_April 20th_—Befoar sunup a lite spatter of rain that turned into bad
storm with high wind. All this must dry out then must plant. Lots of
herons nesting up to herontown this yeare same as usual in the
sickamores. Your uncle Josiah was all in thare in a boat. A hooting owl
was up the cottonwood last nite over the house. I got up with the gunn &
made a bloody mess of him. They cannot hoot above your uncle while he
sleeps.

_April 24th_—Jaybirds & crows ben jawing a good dele round the house &
making a rackett & thare is a lot of fox squorls & coons bobbing around
the iland when the wether is still & a bear com across. Would like to
get that cuss. Lots of wolves around. Big spring for ducks & gese but
most hav left. Meny staying to bild nests. Must see in the attic what
seeds I hav then must plan. Must plant erly stuff. It is now 5 P.M.

_April 26th_—Got all seeds in yesterdy. Robbins & Bloobirds & a lot of
Woodpekers & Chipping birds are around & they are mostly bilding nests.
I must plant som mellins. A good mellin in the shade on a hot day is a
fine thing. Almanack predicted April would be seasonable & this is rite
so far.

_April 30th_—Thares skunks on the iland maybe 3 or 4. Froggs are prety
noisy. Them crokers keap it up. Considrabel snipe around & some plover.
April has ben a remarkabel month. Mostly wet but meney fare days. Thare
was a lot of wether betwene the 1st & 15th. Lots of froggs & enybody
that wants a bullfrogg pie could get one rite heare if they went after
it. This is the place.

_May 4th_—No wether now sence the 30th. Fare & nether warm or cold.
Florida & Iowa admited into The Union yesterdy in 1845. Them are twin
states. The line of beens has sprouted & must look out for Jaybirds they
will get into these. The weeds will com along all rite. You Bet.

_May 5th_—N. Bonapart died in 1821. He was a bad egg.

_May 8th_—Sumery wether & fishing in the river is good. S. Conkrite was
down & says he got a pike of 17 lbs. I got one of 19. Pike are thick. I
can cetch all I want rite in front of the house & bass & cattfish. It is
knoing whare they are. He can not tell me eny thing he is a wind bag.
Old Josiah was not born yesterdy or the day befoar ether.

_May 10th_—Vegetition greening up & evrything lively & on skedule. Pete
Quagno & his squa com today to see how I was & if I had eny tobaco. Him
& the other inguns down the marsh all had a bad winter. They got a lot
of rat skins & coons & som Foxes. They et the bodies of all them animils
& smoaked som. Thare is nuthing not et by savidges. Thare was a lot of
sickness around thare. It shoured hard again to day as well as yesterdy
& this may wash them off som. Unusual shours along with thunder &
litening all P.M. Them inguns went back in the rain.

_May 12th_—Plum blosoms plenty. Potattoes up. All sines say a hot sumer.
Good meny snakes around som prety long ones. Som drizzel in the air as I
rite.

_May 13–14–15–16–17_—Spatters of rain a good dele now. Looks like a wet
May if this keaps up.

_May 18th_—Fishing prety good. Got a boatfull of pike & bass yesterdy. I
heare S. Conkrite has caught nuthing up to his place even if he uses
netts. Must salt down som for winter. Thares lots of sukkers in the
river. Evry litle while you get one & thare are a few eles. Must smoak
som.

_May 19th_—I put som 70 lbs. of fish in the pork brine that is all empty
now. Must get another barel for pork in the fall. Sprinkels as I rite.

_May 23rd_—Sombody stole my minnie box or it floted off. On this day my
almanack says Capt Kidd a famous pirate was hung in London & this was
rite. Thares a lot around now but not famous. Thick & sticky air tonite.

_May 25th_—Think I sene a lite frost this morning. Funy for this time of
yeare. Went after the skunks on the iland last nite & got som. The
chickins & me do not want skunks around. I got 3 in trapps & 1 with gunn
& 1 got me. You Bet. Thares too meney skunks. Som clouddy tonite with
wobblie sunsett.

_May 27th_—Foxes & skunks both got into the chickins last nite. Thares
too meney of both & if the chickins would only roost in the trees. It is
hard work to rase chickins & they get lots of things the mater with
them. Frisky looking sky tonite.

_May 29th_—Ed Baxter & his noo wife Fanny Noonan com today. It is hard
to see why them 2 got marrid. They wanted to see how I was & to borro
som things. Ed has got a sqwint in one eye & I gues that is why he got
fooled. Ed & her are both red hedded & she did not draw much when she
marrid him. I notis the temperature remains about the same with litle or
no drop or rise.

_May 31st_—These are fine days. S. Conkrite com down & I tell him I hav
4 barels of pike & bass that I caught & pikeled at odd times. He brought
som noos. He says thare was timber theves working down the river all the
winter & spring & them logs that went out was all stole. They was all
cut by the theves & floted down to the Illinoi when high watter com.
Next winter something will be done by the owners if they begin again. He
says over a thousan logs was floted out & partys are not knone. Looks
som like rain as I rite. He says if the theves get caught they will be
convicted by the laws of both states. The sherifs hav all ben given
notis. Almanack predicted May would be seasonabel & this is rite. This
has ben a remarkabel month.

_June 2nd_—Fine still day but all fish biting stoped when it thundered
in P.M. A swizzel of rain at evening.

_June 10th_—All this month so far fine days & sumery. Eny who do not
like this wether should have no wether at all. I got the gunn & blowed a
noo hornet nest in the tree by the pump. Will not need them. They are
worse than democrats. I notis flys are around.

_June 11–12–13–14–15_—All fine days. Nuthing hapened.

_June 17th_—On this day in 1775 was the Batel of Bunker Hill. Bad day
for England. Fish hav bit well. No wether to rite down. All fine. Your
uncle Josiah enjoys this. I must tell S. Conkrite of a catt fish I sene
in the river today 4 ft long. This fish was probly 6 ft if he sene it
when it passed his place. It was slopping in the shallo watter out on
the sand bar. It was probly astonished at all my empty medicin botles
that are all over the botom out thare.

_June 27th_—It rained catts & dogs & pitchforks today & I fore saw this
in the wether breeding cloudds of last nite. A hooting owl was around
but too dark to bust him. Joseph Smith the Mormon Prophet murdered in
the almanack today in 1844. Som wife troubel probly.

_June 30th_—Good month all through. Potattoes begin to carry buggs. Must
brush them off. June is a bugg month. Gardin fine if the woodchucks
would keap out. Shot severil & will shoot these rite along. Must get
them off the iland & the skunks too. You Bet. Coppery looking sunsett
tonite.

_July 2nd_—Geting hot wether. I do not kno whare all the potattoe buggs
are from. Thare must be a big bugg town somwhare that they all hale
from. We need som rain. The moon is now full.

_July 4th_—This is the Nation’s birth day but thare are too meney
forriners. J. Podnutt S. Conkrite & Amos Horner Ed Baxter & Peleg S.
Mason all com down. I think Podnutt is a forriner. Thares lots of
miskitos now & they bit well in the shade & plenty of flys. These men
all say it has never ben so dry. Thares no watter up the byous & the
marsh is drying out. Conkrite says thare are big fish left swiming in
puddels back in the woods whare the watter went down & left them in
April & he says pike & bass as long as your arm are thare. I tell him he
beter drop some salt in them puddels. Tally 1 for old Josiah. Sam Green
& a man named Wasson com in the P.M. to see if thare was eny hay around.
Wasson I think is a forriner. On Jan 5th 1828 it says in the almanack
the Turks banished all forriners from their empire. Thare was too meney
thare like thare is heare. Green says catel not geting filled on grass
yet can live. When my tobaco was gone these men all left in boats. They
went home by bugg lite at nite. Such a pack of lies hav never ben told
as today. I think Wasson should cut som whiskers this fall. It is prety
hot as I rite & thare is too much tumoil & visiting & too much going on
heare & thare. Thares too much passing to & fro. Thares too meney flys &
thares too dam meney pepil. God bless all departing travelors. I rite
this on the 5th.

_July 11th_—It has never ben hotter even in the shade. Hamilton & Burr
had a duel this day in 1804. Burr was a good shot but a bad man. For a
week it has ben to hot to rite in my wether book. & the nites are
sticky.

_July 12th_—We are having a bad dry spell & I fore saw this erly in the
month. Only 1 lite spurt of rain sence erly June. I stay in the shade
for I do not want eny body to get sun struck. This is a big miskito
month & they are at it constant. Eny body that wants miskitos & natts
can get them rite heare. Take notis. This is the place & dog days is the
time.

_July 13_—Hottest we ever had. At Nantuckett rite close to the watter
300 bildings burnt today in 1846. Took fire from the sun probly. A big
snapping turkel was around the pump today. Maybe he was chased out of
the river by the heat.

_July 15th_—My almanack says Jeruselum was taken today in 1029. It is
probly hot thare now. If the almanack would go as far foreds as it goes
back it would be a valubel record. It says also W. Penn died in 1718 on
the 20th. I keep my almanack heare with me in the shade. Penn was a
grate man. I com from his state. It has never ben so hot as sence the
10th. Your uncle Josiah has got the thermomter on the tree by the pump
now to cool it som.

_July 16–17–18–19–20_—When it is hot I sett genraly out of the sun &
smoak. That old yellow pipe is prety hot & it works all day. This has
ben going on for a week now. You can lite a match by sticking it in the
river now if you want to. It is sissing hot. You can cook eny thing by
setting it out doors. No frost in the air now. You Bet. I wattered all
gardin sass from the river with a buckett at evening & all grows well,
but some probly cooked. The merkery will hav to climb the tree if this
keaps up.

_July 31st_—Too hot to rite in wether book. Still dry. I mostly stay
down by the pump & the flys like this. I slep out on the grass sence the
15th & the miskitos liked that. This has ben a remarkabel month.

_Aug. 1st_—In August on the 1st in 1798 was the Batel of the Nile so my
almanack says. Must have ben hot out on the watter in Egipt at that
time. Meteors which are bals of fire in the sky are predicted for
August. They should begin dropping soon & your uncle Josiah will keap
his eye open. It is so dry now that Ed Baxter says the mushrats hav all
left the marsh & they are all going out round the country for watter to
qwench their thirst. He says thare are cases whare they went to wells &
fell in & 1 com to the watter buckett in his house. Bad sumer for rats.
A good catt nap in the shade is a fine thing now.

_Aug. 2nd_—This is Monday & I have stade in the shade now sence this
thing commenced. This wether will probly blister the buggs off the
potattoes. They wont get off no other way until it gets cool if they are
waiting for your uncle to brush them. Everything well het up. Lots of
smoak. Big fire in the woods somwhare I bet.

_Aug. 5th_—Nuthing ritten now sence the 2nd. Thare is thunder off in the
west tonite & she is coming up. Som wind & all sines say a soking storm
of rain.

_Aug. 7th_—Raining hevy as I rite. Rained all nite long & yesterdy. Must
patch the roof som. Had to put a buckett under a leak last nite. Good
thing I got plenty of bucketts. Litening struck all around in woods hard
all nite.

_August 9th_—Awful rains sence the nite of the 5th. We are geting too
much rain. Seems like something has busted up above and all thare is is
coming down. Som should be saved up & sprinkeled along the rest of the
calender. What is the use of all this. This is a very wet time. Thare
are no flodes predicted for this time of the yeare. I must read the
bible som if this keaps up & bild an ark. This is a grate lesson to us
all. In 1812 on this date a caravan of 2000 Turks from Mecca was
destroyed in the Desert by lack of watter. I bet they wished they had
som of this. Too bad all the Turks were not thare. All Turks are wicked
men & it says som whare in the bible that they shall have their part in
Hell Fire. Hell Fire & Turks will mix well. The litening was after your
uncle again last nite.

_August 10th_—Clearing now with som wind & again warm. Looks wet in the
west. Thares watter enough to swim the young ducks around now all rite &
plenty of it for eny body that wants it. My potattoe buggs all floted
away. This shows that trubels of all kinds will quit som time if you
wait & do nuthing. You could swim all over the country now. Ed Baxter &
S. Conkrite com in a boat today to see how I was & if I was still above
watter & to borro tobaco & cowcumbers. When eny body coms around it is
always somthing for them. They both say They never sene so meney snakes
around as this yeare. Ed Says he killed 4 rattlers & Conkrite says he
got 6. These men will both see more snakes next year than they did this
if they do not quit. Conkrite’s biggest snake was 5 ft with 6 ratles. I
showed them a skin I took off of 6 ft with 9 ratles & they lit som more
of my tobaco & told of erly days. I notis they all get into the trees
when your uncle Josiah comences to talk. His feet are mates & he drinks
nuthing but pump watter. Snakes do not com around him much but when they
do they are Whoppers. Drizzeled som at nite.

_Aug. 15_—It is hot again & the Old Bull Eye now glares stedy on the
crops. Thare was a pop corn sky last nite. No cloudds today. Full bugg
lite at nite.

_Aug. 21st_—Thare com up a hale storm today that was over in 5 minits
with hale stones big as pidgun eggs & a strong wind that would blow bark
off a bass wood. I do not kno whare it com from. Somthing must hav
hapened up above to do all this. Hale turned to rain & it drizzels as I
rite. Meney litle ded todes & froggs are all over the iland whare they
probly rained down. Maybe fish & small live stock will com next.

_Aug. 22nd_—Cleared off all rite but cloudds in the north look like
wether breeders tonite & it is a mackral sky all over. Ed Baxter &
Conkrite com today in a boat that looks like the one that got loose &
floted off away from my place 3 years ago. It is now painted up & the
ores changed. They com to see how I was & to borro som big fish hooks
for their sett lines. I tell them to use an axe for big fish same as I
do. Could not find eny hooks after I sene that boat. My eye sight got
bad. The old man’s mind is foggy. He does not kno how to do.

_Aug. 31st_—Your uncle Josiah went down to the marsh yesterdy to see how
mushrats are. They sumered well. Young ones are thick & well grown &
geting lots of clams. Meney wood ducks around & the ducks hatched in the
marsh all are flying well. Cloudded up at nite & had a dark time geting
back. The moon was around but it was so dark a cat could find nuthing.
Thares an awful lot of new thick grass in the marsh. I do not like
watter with so much whiskers on it. This has ben a quere month &
thermomter has jumped around a good dele. This has ben a remarkabel
month.

_Sept. 1st_—The meteors in my almanack did not fall in August &
predictions not reliabel. Nuthing of the kind around. It is geting along
toreds fall. Pidguns are around. They broke som ded lims on the iland
this week whare they roosted. Thares slews of them. This is a good yeare
for pidguns. I got 33 with 2 shots. They did not kno that your uncle
Josiah was around with a gunn. I notis in my almanack Oisters are now in
season. Nuthing of the kind around heare.

_Sept. 4th_—Soon after sunup it looked like streky black cloudds up
above but it was pidgun flocks coming south. Pidguns are all over now.
Big droves roosted around last nite. I must salt down som. They are in
the woods after the young akerns. Pidguns still going over. Cant tell if
it is clouddy. Warm day thow.

_Sept. 10th_—Must get a houn pupp. Old Tike is geting wobblie in the
nose & he looses his nose now & then. He is sick som & not lively. He is
a good dog but he has erned his money. He is now going on 13 yeares &
has ben over the country som sence I had him. S. Conkrite had some pupps
last week & I must go up. They may be all spoken for thow. Must get som
supplys & som backake ointmint. Hell I broke my pipe. Wether breeding
clouds in the west tonite as I rite.

_Sept. 12th_—A sorel mare was stolen by 2 men & a buggy Tuesday nite
from Ed Baxter who had just bote the mare. They caught these men over 18
miles off on the Hickery Top Road & they are now locked in jale. He was
down at evening to see how I was & to get some eggs. The sherif & a
possy was what nabbed the theves. I hear from Ed that Henry Clay died
last June & that a chese facktory & brick kill are to be bilt neare West
Crick. I fore see a church next. This country is geting too much setled
up. Thares too dam meney pepil. It rained som today but cleared at noon.
Ed had a lot of noos. He went off home by bugg lite about 9. He kep me
up. I rite this on the 13th.

_Sept. 14_—A wolf has ben on this iland frequent & has ben after
chickins & eny thing he can get. I set a trapp & he turned it over & got
the bate evry time. Last nite I set it botom sid up & he turned it over
& I got that cuss. He did not kno the trapp was botom upwards & he was
astonished. You can not fool much with your uncle Josiah. Som drizzel in
the air tonite & som colder. It is geting into fall all rite. I kno
whare 2 bee trees are. Your uncle has them spotted. Thare will be honey
heare in about a week. You Bet.

_Sept. 17th_—The merkery took a sudden jump & it is hot as July &
August. I slep out on the grass last nite. A good mush mellin in the
shade is a fine thing now. Conkrite & Baxter com yesterdy when I was not
within & left a buckett they borowed Saturday to take down the river. I
must put a date on that for its the first thing they ever brought back.

_Sept. 20th_—I got a cubb bear that was 1–2 in & 1–2 out of a bee tree
after honey & got him home well chained with a colar. I got about 60 lbs
honey. This was yesterdy & the day befoar. The animil eats well & acts
tame but scared. I name him Jim Crow.

_Sept. 21st_—S. Conkrite & Ed Baxter & Wife com today to see how I was &
to see if I got eny honey yet. They are rite on skedule. Also they
wanted to borro som small shot & to get som fouls. Ed’s wife made beleve
she was scared of the bear. Probly so Ed would save her from it.
Conkrite says he got a wild catt over to the swamp that was 37 inches
tip to tip. I got one 40 inches last winter that I spoke nuthing of.
Mine was a feerce animil. Conkrite blows a good dele. The pupp I got
from Conkrite houls all the time & has et his hed off up to date. Jim
Crow got a peice of the pupp yesterdy when he got neare. The pupp tried
to bite Conkrite & I think this shows he was treated bad at home. I
asked Conkrite about pork for winter pikel but he semes to think my
place is whare money dripps off the roof & shakes out of the trees. At
killing time it will be diferent. Ed Baxter says he has dug a deeper
well. His other he says is full of mushrats that com for watter in dry
spell in July to qwench their thirst & now living thare. I tell him to
sett & fish for them with a pole. It is now 8 P.M. & your uncle is reddy
for his blankett.

_Sept. 25th_—I went after supplys. Old Josiah now has plenty of
evrything. Thare is Backake Remedy Foot Ointmint Magick oil for Stif
Joints & Pain Killer & 2 kinds of Bitters & Sistom Tonick & pills both
blue & pink. I got Condition Powders for chickins if sick. I got som
tobaco black as Egipt for those who com to borro. It is strong enough so
you can pull nales with it. I got all they had and some candels. Jim
Crow is well & he likes all swete things. I got Jim som stripped candy 3
sticks. The Pacific Ocean was discovered in 1513 by my almanack on this
day. Funy they missed it befoar. When I com by Ed Baxter’s place last
nite the boat that used to be mine got loose & com along down with me. I
find certain marks on it that I will show Ed. I reckonize my own boat &
it now seeks its home. A drizzel of mosture as I rite. I tended to a lot
of bisness today. Conkrite says the Sistom Tonick I ben buying is loaded
but does not say what with. He says mix a lot of pump watter with it &
not take to much or darkness will com.

_Sept. 28th_—The wether stays moist. Today in 1828 in the almanack the
sultan proceeds to the Turkish Camp with the sacred standard. Probly
stole from som whare.

_Sept. 29th_—These cold stormy drizzels may bring in a few ducks. Would
like som ducks. Moon full last nite but not sene.

_Oct. 1st_—Sept. was a quere month without much wether other way. Oct.
now opens clear with frost that nipped the vines last nite. Had the pupp
out for a run on rabbitts. His nose is good & he may learn. I never sene
a good dog that com from S. Conkrite’s yet. Was down to the marsh
yesterdy & meney noo rat houses. They are bilding thick & high & this
menes a hard winter & high watter in the spring. All sines say a hard
winter. Snipe are skitting around & thare is a lot of mudd hens & loons
in the marsh. 2 deer swum the marsh & dove into the timber. They kno
when Old Josiah has got a gunn & when he left it home. Sam Green & his
friend Wasson com in a boat tonite to see how I was & to get som honey.
The pupp bit Wasson. Tally 1 for the pupp. These men also wanted to
borro tobaco. Gave them som of the black. I tell them smoaking that kind
makes me strong.

_Oct. 6th_—Stormed & I stade in. Conkrite com in the rain to see how I
was & to borro powder & see if I had eny thing in my medicins for boils.
He says he com yesterdy & nocked but I was not within. I was then in the
woods traning the pupp. His noos is Ed Baxter claims he has 2 twins that
com erly this morning & I bet they look like young mushrats. He spoke of
pork but old Josiah is keaping prety still until after the snow flys. He
says of Ed’s twins they are both boys & red hedded. Thares too meney
Baxters now. S. C. Says them 2 twins will be named James & John.

_Oct. 12th_—In the full of the moon & on a frosty nite your uncle Josiah
goes after coons & I note this down. It will be the 27th if nite is
clear. I notis Columbus landed today in the almanack in 1492. He was the
first of the forriners.

_Oct. 18th_—Nuthing happened sence the 12th, but last nite a killing
frost & today a swizzel of rain & sleat with N.W. Wind. This will bring
down ducks & gese. Stade in today & clened up shot gunn & rifel & all
trapps. Saw to all aminition. Evrything all fixed up as I rite. Put all
potattoes & vegitibels in sod celer & evrything all tite up to date.
Cleared off som today & som ducks are coming & som gese are in the sky.
Unusual wether for Oct. Gese honks all nite long as I slept. This was
last nite. I got 25 lbs tobaco in the sod celer too. When I need tobaco
this winter I kno whare som is.

_Oct. 19_—Blowing strong from N.W. Rain & sleat. Sky all speckeled with
ducks & gese. They are coming in slews now. Gese honk all nite can not
sleep. Active wether will come rite along now. No more lofing for your
uncle Josiah. He gets on his sheap skin coat now. Take notis. He is in
the field.

_Oct. 20–21–22–23–24–25_—I ben busy all this time. Josiah is around with
a gunn. He makes fethers fly & he fetches in the birds. Fine gese & duck
wether. The marsh is black with them evry morning at sunup. The Irish
Rebelion was on the 23rd of this month in 1641. They begun coming heare
then.

_Oct. 30th_—Duck & Gese wether has stoped & ingun sumer is upon us. I
fore saw this. They are around som whare but shooting is poor. No duck &
gese wether for a while yet. I stoped at S. Conkrite’s. I got to hav
pork, but he said nuthing of pork & neither did your uncle Josiah. He
has 9 squeeling around all fat in good condition.

_Oct. 31st_—This has ben a remarkabel month & changabel at times as
almanack predicted. Jim Crow is well. He has et well. I see hevy bunches
of cloudds in west that I fore see will breed duck & gese wether as I
rite. I notis in my almanack that meney thousans of pepil died of
sickness in India at this time of the yeare in 1724. Thare is too many
pepil. No sickness heare much at eny time. This is a helthy section only
3 died in 5 yeares. I see deer are around.

_Nov. 2nd_—Althow a stormy day Ed Baxter com in P.M. to see how I was &
to get honey & som tobaco if I hed eny. He told all the noos of them 2
twins James & John & you would think nobody ever had eny befoar. It is
all about them 2 red heds all the time how they et & how they are smart
& how much they way. All the branes in the country are setled in James &
John. He says he will bring them & show me. They must be som site & I
will be struck blind in 1 eye probly. You would think the world had com
to the end in them 2 & they was Danl Webstor. Thare was an awful famin
in Italy in the yeare 450 when parents et their children.

_Nov. 3rd_—Lite snow bust in the nite & I found bear traks all around
this morning. Som friend com to see Jim Crow probly. The pupp now sleeps
with Jim in the dog house & he howld in the nite. Som rain sputtering as
I rite.

_Nov. 4th_—Roring wind from the North today. A hevy sky & sleat. I notis
meney duck flocks & gese.

I will be busy now rite along. Must get a deer. A little venzon rite now
would be fine. Your uncle Josiah has apitite for som.

_Nov. 6th_—Got a buck rite on the iland. They will go poking their heds
in the window to get shot if I dont watch out. This was yesterdy. Jim
Crow is loose now & spends time mostly on the roof & up the cottonwood.
He was in the chickins Tuesday nite & today he was in the house & upsett
things. Might as well be a horse loose in the house. Must put him back
on chain. If you want to keap busy you want to keap a bear. He is a
quere cuss & probly smells the honey. She still blows & tomorro I go for
ducks. Wish I had all the lead I spattered around on that marsh in my
time. Must have raised the watter som.

_Nov. 7–8–9–10–11–12_—Was on the marsh all these days & tired at nite.
Wether lite winds & drizzeley. No finer duck & gese wether ever sene.
Your uncle was among them & he shook them loose. I com in wet tonite &
must sett around a while. I see traks showing sombody has ben heare.
Probly Conkrite or Ed Baxter to see how I was & to borro somthing & tell
me of them 2 twins. Must wrap up in my blankett & take som strong
medicin. I got a cold & I got wether pains. Will stay in & rite in my
wether book. On Nov. 9th in 1837 the quene of England dined at
Guildhall. Good meal probly.

_Nov. 13_—When your uncle Josiah takes medicin he doses up. I took 4
kinds today & kep my feet hot with my watter jug. I got a good fire.
Storms hevy outside but that does not hurt me eny. I read all it says on
all my medicin botles & I can get nuthing they will not cure. I got Jim
Crow & the pupp in the house for company now. They sleep mostly. When
they awake they make troubel. I fore see that these animils must be put
out.

_Nov. 14th_—Somthing I took yesterdy or last nite has helped som. I slep
well. Probly it was 1 of the bitters. Snow prevales outside & she falls
hevy as I rite. I put Jim & the pupp out. Thare was too meney in the
house. Jim has got honey coam & the pupp has got bones in the dog house
so they are hapy. Nobody could want more than that unless they are crazy
about money.

_Nov. 15–16–17_—I stade within mostly on these days. We are having a
spell of wether. My bitters & my Sistom Tonick are most gone but I still
got plenty of 2 kinds that I take internal & 3 kinds to rub on. Wolves
howl around a good dele at nite. I keap my sasafras tea het up rite
along but the bitters do most of the work. They are strong stuff & have
som get app to them. Sky is full of ducks & gese do a lot of honking
over the house. Probly to twitch me while I cant get out. Your uncle
feals som beter but he is wise. He will not go out too soon. It would be
beter for som body to go that would not be so much loss.

_Nov. 18_—S. Conkrite com today to see how I was & wanted to trade me a
nice fat hogg for Jim Crow & I done this. Jim is geting a litle sassy &
Conkrite’s will be a good place for him. Will now hav pork to put in
pikel & to smoak. He is to kill the pork & bring it & after that is to
take Jim home. I fore see that Jim will make troubel. I am up & around
all rite now. Must go after supplys of bitters & Sistom Tonick soon & I
must get a chese. A smitch of chese helps out a meal. Looks wethery
tonite & snow probabel.

_Nov. 19th_—S. Conkrite com today with the pork & it is good pork. We
fixed a crate to put Jim Crow in & he made a lot of fuss. Them 2 looked
funy going off in the boat. Cold & freezing som & ducks & gese have lit
out. Thare are deer around thow. I made soft soap today.

_Nov. 20th_—Ed Baxter com in P.M. to see how I was & to hang som meat in
my smoak house. When he sene the soft soap he wanted to borro som.
Probly to wash them red hedded twins. S. Conkrite also com at evening &
Sam Green & Wasson all with pork to smoak. I got lots of friends. My
pork must pikel a while befoar it smoaks but I got to fire up the smoak
house now for these men’s pork. They all like this because its something
for them. Ed told a lot about them twins. Thare has never ben such
twins. Conkrite’s noos is Jim Crow got away. The traks stade around the
chickins a while & then went to the woods whare fethers were found. Lite
sift of snow to nite. The Cape of Good Hope was doubled in the almanack
today in 1497. Quere they wanted 2 capes thare.

_Nov. 21st_—Jim Crow was up the cottonwood this morning when I went out.
Him & the pupp are now in the dog house. Conkrite will probly com after
Jim. She snows & blows hevy as I rite.

_Nov. 23rd_—My smoak house is well knone. Pete Quagno & 2 other inguns
com today to see about puting things in it but I tell them I want to kno
what they are. They say all sines show a hard winter coming. No danger
of them inguns stealing my soft soap. Your uncle Josiah is now all well
& feals fine. He was all over the iland today. He could pull up a tree
or kick the chimbly off the house if it had to be. I notis too meney
small animil tracks on the iland & I will now tend to these. The pupp is
fine & he now goes with me. Lite snow last nite & I see a wild catt has
ben across and I would like to get his fur.

_Nov. 25th_—Yesterdy I stade within with my medicins as I did not feal
so well. I got a stummick misry. Conkrite was down & took Jim Crow back
today. I do not think Jim likes Conkrite. He tried to get a peice out of
Conkrite when they was in the boat. Me & Jim always got along all rite.
Snow is faling.

_Nov. 26–27–28_—Snows all the time now. She dont know when to quit. My
almanack says G. Washington crossed the deleware Nov. 28th. It missed
saying what yeare but he got whare he wanted to go. Moon was full on the
26th but not sene.

_Nov. 29th_—S. Conkrite com with som meat to smoak today & it looks like
bear meat. I fear Jim Crow is now in the smoak house. That man knos
nuthing of how to keap pets. I was off in the woods when Conkrite com
but I kno it is Jim all rite. He was a fine bear & affecksionet. I wish
Conkrite had his dam pork back & I had Jim Crow.

_Nov. 30th_—That meat is not Jim at all for Jim is back & up the
cottonwood this morning. He did not want to com down but him & the pupp
are in the dog house as I rite. Jim likes it around heare. Mackarel sky
tonite & changing wether probabel. Nov. a remarkabel month all through.

_Dec. 1–2–3–4–5–6_—I ben fealing porly now som time with the misry in my
stummick. Tried som of all my internal medicins & feal som beter today.
Hav rubbed my Rumatiziam with Pain Killer & took pills both blue & pink
that are for liver complaint. Poor old Tike was sick too. I gave him the
box of condition powders I got in the fall for the chickins but he quit
that nite. This was on Saturday the 4th. The powders may not hav kep
well or maybe not good for a dog. I lost my best friend. Bad wether now.
I think animils should have no medicin at all of eny kind.

_Dec. 7th_—Ed Baxter com today to see how I was & to get his smoaked
pork. I promis to take Christmas diner with Ed & Wife. I must take
presents for James & John. Likely a buckett of soft soap will be good
for them 2. Looks gusty & snowy tonite.

_Dec. 8th_—S. Conkrite & Green & his friend Wasson all com to see how I
was today & get their smoaked stuff. Conkrite says would like me to keap
Jim Crow a while longer for he is too meney up to his place. This I will
do for Jim & me get along fine. Jim went up the cottonwood when he sene
Conkrite. Thares too meney smoak houses on this iland & too much
smoaking going on for other pepil. Snow storm slanting from the north
west & drifting som as I rite. I fore saw this last nite. I think
Conkrite is the one that is too meney up to his place instid of Jim
Crow. I got wether pains in both back & legs now.

_Dec. 9th_—Now she snows. Big drifts. Can not see dog house from window.
I now got Jim Crow & the pupp in the house. My wether pains som worse.
Must stay in my blankett.

_Dec. 10th_—A soft thaw has come on sudden. A warm sun prevales &
evrything all slushy. Good wether for wet feet. Your uncle still stays
within.

_Dec. 12th_—Both S. Conkrite & Ed Baxter com today & brought me a new
almanack for next yeare. This is the first time they ever com that it
was not somthing for them. They said I don litle favers for them & they
would like to make me this litle present. This all shows that if you
keap being good to pepil all your life some day they will bring you a
nice litle almanack. Probly they will want somthing next trip. I gave
them som Sistom Tonick & they liked that. Ed Spoke of them 2 twins &
they are both well & awful smart. He asked if my smoak house was still
in good working order & if my hens ben laying well lately & if I had
plenty of potattoes on hand.

_Dec. 13th_—Them 2 inguns that come heare last with Pete Quagno & his
squa com today & their noos is that Pete & his squa are both sick &
wanted tobaco. I sent Pete 2 pink pills. Them 2 inguns wanted me to send
Pete & his squa a big lot of tobaco by them but they did not know that
your uncle Josiah was setting around smoaking befoar eny of them was
born.

_Dec. 14th_—Last nite I read in my noo almanack. I notis it predicts
worse wether for next yeare. Storms & Tempests will prevale with intense
frosts probabel at times, but thare will be much changabel wether &
meney meteors that will betoken war. Thare will be awful winds on Parts
of the Earth. In the back are som Prophesies made by the Seventh Son,
which I copy down. He says thare will be wars and rumours of wars &
Turbulence & Teror will apear on evry hand & cloudds of darkest hue will
hang over the World in the East. Fires will abound & Tumults & Bloodshed
& Plots & Uprores in som Nations. Subject Pepils will turn & bite the
hoof that holds them down. A certain Luckless King may loose his hed &
something may hapen to the Pope. Armed Men may march to & fro & meney
will be smitten to the Dust. Blood will be shed in Ireland. Tyrants will
shake their Rods & the Torch of Discord will be hurled in Crimea. The
Couch of Mortality will be spred & meney pepil will die during the
yeare. Low Moans of the Oppressed will be heard in Italy. It is all bad
noos in the almanack for next yeare. The 7th Son predicts that Flocks of
Boobies will assale the TRUTHS OF PROPHESY. He predicts no troubels for
eny whare around here. Your uncle Josiah is in out of the wet.

_Dec. 15th_—Sam Green com & says his friend Wasson is sick & wants som
medicin. I give him som of each kind but I ought to see the simptoms.
Wasson does not kno what ales him but my medicin will probly fix him up.
He probly has stummick complaint. Stedy freezing wether now.

_Dec. 16–17–18_—Evrything is froze tite & so is the pump. I ben out on
trips & I think one ear is froze. I tended to a lot of bisness. I got
supplys & same kind of almanack for next yeare that I ben having. I
notis the predictions in it are not half so bad as the one that was
fetched for the litle present by Conkrite. He probly wanted to scare me
into the woods. I notis he keaps the same kind I do & he gave me the
other. I stopped at his place today & I saw Green & Wasson & J. Podnutt
thare. Wasson got well. Those were all good medicins I sent. Their noos
is timber theves are at it again down the river. Wasson hunts down thare
& he wants us all to form a possy and chase them out of the country but
your uncle chases nuthing these days he does not want. I tell them the
owners must be notified. I do not know what them old mud turkels talk
about all the time up to Conkrite’s. I got som candy for Jim Crow & I
paid Conkrite for his pork at a low price & Jim is now mine again. Jim
is good company if you kno how to get along with a bear. I got a noo
medicin. Instant Relief for Internal Disorders. Will try on sombody that
coms to see how I am & to borro medicin. It looks like a good remedy.
This has ben an active day.

_Dec. 20_—Think I got som cold on my trip Saturdy. Am taking the noo
remedy but do not yet kno what it will cure. I notis that 2 things that
are on the wrapper I am troubeled with. Big snow storm now going on.

_Dec. 21–22–23–24_—Your uncle Josiah has felt prety poorly for these 4
days. Hav taken my medicins stedy. Think I am now beter. Must go to
Baxter’s tomorro. Wether clear & cold.

_Dec. 26th_—I took diner up at Baxter’s & it was a good diner. We had
chickin fixings & cooked appels & a grate dele of other things & pie of
all kinds. I took the chickins up. We talked & smoaked & in P.M. Ed got
his fiddel out & playd hoppy tunes on it. A string was busted but he
done well with the rest. I got along fine with them 2 twins. Their
parents hav a lot of plesure with them babys. I had them on my lap & it
took me back to when I had 2 litle boys that did not kno beter than to
like to be around with their pa. I wish I had them litle boys back now.
They grew up & went away probly looking for beter friends. It is lonesom
heare on the iland with them & their mother all gone; once in a while I
find somthing around they playd with & things their mother had & them
things are what I got left. I must hav the Baxters down heare next
Chrismas if I am around. I will cetch them twins some young rabbitts
when they get old enough & som young mudturkels & pollywoggs to play
with like I used to do. Full moon at nite on my way back to the iland &
them 2 litle boys was asleep when I left.

_Dec. 27–28–29–30_—I ben too sick to rite in my wether book.

_Dec. 31st_—This was the last day of the yeare & whatever hapened is now
all over. It is awful cold & still outside & once in a while I heare
frost cracking in the woods. The yeare is now coming to its end in a few
minits. It is prety late for me to be around but I am waiting for the
old clock to strike 12. Maybe next yeare at this time I will be asleep.
It is awful lonesom heare tonite & I wish I had my folks around or if
them 2 litle boys was only heare or sombody. Maybe tomorro sombody will
com. I notis by the looking glass that the old man’s hed is prety white.
He has ben frosted som. He now goes into his blankett for the yeare ends
as he rites.



                                   V
                          TIPTON POSEY’S STORE


The unpretentious building stood just back from the road, near the end
of “Bundy’s Bridge.” It was a lonely looking structure, for there were
no near neighbors. Its sustenance was drawn from a thinly populated
region, but its location made it easy of access from many miles around.

The winding thoroughfare that led over the decrepit bridge was an
ancient Indian trail that, like the other cherished possessions of the
red man, had been merged into the economies of his white brothers.

The plashing waters of the river lulled the ear with gentle tumult. They
sighed softly under the old bridge, rippled against the decayed
abutments with a dirge-like rhythm, and spread out in little swirls and
scrolls over the tapering sand bar below.

During the hot summer forenoons barefooted boys in fragmentary costume
appeared on the structure from unknown sources. They rested long cane
fish poles along the side rails, and watched for the corks to bob that
floated on the lazy current. They soon disrobed and remained naked the
rest of the day, making frequent trips into the river, where they
wallowed along the muddy margin and splashed in the shallow water.

The agile sun burned bodies, and the shouts of the noisy happy crew,
gave a touch of vibrant life and human interest to the melancholy old
bridge.

When night came the scant raiment was gathered up and the slender
strings of small bull-heads and sun-fish—a meager spoil if judged from a
material standpoint—were carried proudly away on the dusty road.
Emperors—and particularly one of them—might well envy their innocence
and happiness as they faded away into the twilight.

Lofty elms, big sycamores and bass-woods, interlaced with wild grape
vines, shaded the approach to the bridge, and fringed the gently sloping
banks of the river.

The store was a remnant of the past. When it was built, about sixty
years ago, the location seemed to offer alluring prospects. While the
expected town did not materialize in the vicinity of the bridge, the
store had done a thriving business, before the railroads crossed the
river country, and after the old trail was graded. Few of the frequent
travelers along the road had failed to stop and contribute more or less
to its prosperity. The trappers from up and down the river sold their
pelts and obtained supplies there, some of which consisted of very raw
edged liquor, that they often claimed ate holes in their stockings. Much
of it had never enjoyed the society of a revenue stamp, but as stamps
affected neither the flavor or the hitting quality of the goods, nobody
ever inquired into these things.

[Illustration:

  TIPTON POSEY
]

The merciless years changed the fortunes of the place, and it was now in
an atmosphere of decay. It was a gray unpainted two story affair, with a
wooden awning over a broad platform in front, along the outer edge of
which hung a small squeaky sign:

                         +-------------------+
                         |   TIPTON POSEY    |
                         |GENERAL MERCHANDISE|
                         +-------------------+

It was the general loafing place of the old muskrat trappers and pot
hunters—known as “river rats,”—and old settlers, whose principal asset
was spare time, but everybody for miles around came occasionally to
“keep track o’ what’s goin’ on,” and to exchange the gossip of the river
country.

Posey, the jovial and philosophic proprietor, who lived upstairs, was a
sympathetic member of the motley gatherings. He was utilized in
countless ways. He acted as stakeholder and referee when bets were made
on disputed matters of fact, delivered verbal messages, and always had
the latest news. He was a good natured, ruddy faced old fellow, with an
eccentric moustache that curled in at one corner of his mouth, and
seemed to be trying to make its escape on the other side. He seldom wore
a hat and his gray hair stood up like a flare over his high forehead.

The confused stock of goods included a little of everything that any
reasonable human being would want to buy, and lots of things that nobody
could ever have any sane use for. Those who were unreasonable could
always get what they wanted by waiting a week or two, for “Tip” declared
that he would draw upon the resources of the civilized world through the
mails, if necessary, to accommodate his customers.

Posey was reliable in everything except regular attendance. He “opened
store” spasmodically in the morning, and closed it “whenever they was
nobody ’round” at night. When his life-long friend, Bill Stiles, was
unavailable as a substitute guardian he often locked up and left a
notice on the door indicating when he would return. I once found one
reading: “Gone off—back Monday.” It was Wednesday and it had been there
since Saturday. Various lead pencil comments had been inscribed on the
misleading notice by facetious visitors, among them “Liar!” “What
Monday?” “Sober up!” “Stranger called to buy a hundred dollars’ worth of
goods and found nobody home.” “The sheriff has been here looking for you
twice,” and several other notations calculated to annoy the delinquent.
Sometimes the notice would simply read “Gone off,” which, in connection
with the fact that the door was locked, was convincing to the most
obtuse observer. Tip usually found a fringe of patient customers and
assorted loiterers sitting along the edge of the platform, discussing
the burning questions of the day, when he returned.

During the shooting seasons he spent much time on the marsh down the
river. Orders were stuck under the door, and during his brief and
uncertain visits to the store, he filled them and left the goods in a
locked wooden box in the rear, to which a few favored customers had
duplicate keys.

While Tip’s affairs were not conducted on strictly commercial
principles, he had no competition, and eventually did all the business
there was to be done. “I git all the money they got, an’ nobody c’d do
more’n that if they was here all the time,” he remarked, as he laid his
gun and a bunch of bloody ducks on the platform and unlocked the door
late one night, after several days’ absence. “I got ’em all trained now
an’ they’d be spoiled if I took to bein’ here reg’lar.”

There were two “spare rooms” over the store, that were reached by a
stairway on the outside of the building. I usually occupied one of them
whenever I visited that part of the river. Bill Stiles slept in the
other when he thought it was too dark for him to go home, or he was not
in a condition to make the attempt. It was in use most of the time.

Bill was the _genius loci_, and gave it a rich and mellow character,
which it would have been difficult for Posey to sustain alone. He was a
grizzled veteran of the marshes. For many years he had lived in a
tumble-down shack on “Huckleberry Island.” He trapped muskrats and mink
over a wide area in the winter, and shot ducks and geese for the market
in the spring and fall. When the fur harvests began to fail, and the
game laws became oppressive, he concluded that he was getting too old to
work, and was too much alone in the world. He moved up the river and
built a new shack on “Watermelon Bend,” which was within easy walking
distance from the store, where he could usually find plenty of congenial
company when he wanted it. Here he had become a fixture.

Out of the ample fund of his experience, flavored and garnished by the
rich and inexhaustible fertility of an imagination, that at times was
almost uncanny, had come tales of early life on the river and marshes
that had enthralled the loiterers at the store. They shared the shade of
the awning with him during the hot summer days, and surrounded the big
bellied wood stove in the dingy interior during the winter days and
evenings when “they was nothin’ doin’” anywhere else in the region, and
listened with rapt interest to his reminiscences. Any expression of
incredulity met with crushing rebuke. “I didn’t notice that you was
there at the time,” he would remark with asperity. “If you wasn’t,
that’ll be all from you.”

The muskrat colonies still left along the river, and out on the marshy
areas, were often drawn upon by adventurous youngsters, solely for the
purpose of “seein’ Bill skin ’em.” Clusters of the unfortunates were
brought by their tails and laid on the store platform. The old man would
look the crowd over patronizingly, take his “ripper” from his pocket,
and, with a few dexterous strokes, perform feats of pelt surgery that
made the tyros gasp with admiration.

“I skun six hundred an’ forty-eight rats once’t, in five hours, that I’d
caught on Muckshaw Lake the night before,” was Bill’s invariable remark
after he had finished his grewsome performance.

The adulation of these small audiences was the glow that illumined his
declining days.

When I first met the old man years ago, he was engaged in writing his
autobiography, and at last accounts he was still at it. His shack and
the little room over the store had gradually become literary temples.
His complicated manuscripts and notes were kept in an old black satchel
of once shiny oil cloth, that he called his “war bag.” On its side was
the roughly lettered inscription: “HISTORIC CRONICELS—STILES.” He
carried it back and forth between his abodes with much solicitude.
During the many evenings I spent with him, he would frequently extract
its contents and read aloud in the dim light of a kerosene lamp. He
often paused and looked over the rims of his spectacles, with animation
in his gray eyes, when he came to passages that he deemed of special
importance. The masses of foolscap contained records that were only
intelligible to the writer. His grammar and spelling were hopelessly
bad, his methods of compilation were baffling, and his penmanship was
mystic, but his collection of facts and near-facts was prodigious. He
took long reflective rests between the periods of active composition.
They were deathless chronicles in the sense that they seemed to be
without end, and they appeared to become more and more deathless as he
proceeded.

The first two or three hundred pages were what Bill called a “Backfire
Chapter.” It began with the Creative Dawn, and was a general historical
résumé down to the time of his appearance on earth. It skipped lightly
over the great events, that loom like mountain peaks in the world’s
history and tower away into the receding centuries. When he came to the
Deluge he got lost among Noah’s animals for awhile and floundered
hopelessly for adjectives. It was impossible to enumerate and describe
all of them, but he did the best he could. Through a maze of wars and
falling empires, he got Columbus to America. The Republic was
established, and civilization finally flowered with the birth of Bill
Stiles, A.D., 1836. From the dawn of time to the rocking of Bill’s
cradle was a far cry, but his annals included what he considered the
essential features of that dark period.

In addition to a vast amount of matter of purely personal interest, the
work was designed to accurately record the happenings in the river
country during Bill’s lifetime.

Much of his material was collected at the store. The year that Bundy’s
Bridge was built, and the ferry ceased operations, was shrouded in
historic gloom. Five times the year had been changed in the chronicles,
for five eminent authorities differed as to the date, and each of them
had at one time or another succeeded in impressing Bill. He seemed
confident of all his other facts. The other bridges had given him no
trouble.

There was no question in his mind as to when the Pottowattomies were
relieved of their lands and forcibly removed from the country, or when
the camp of horse thieves on Grape Island was broken up.

There was a tale of another band of horse thieves, whose secret retreat
was on an island in the middle of a big lake of soft muck several miles
south of the river.

The one route of access to it was a concealed sand bar known only to the
outlaws. The unsavory crew collected their plunder on the island, where
the pilfered beasts were cared for, and their markings changed with
various dyes. In due time they smuggled them away in the darkness to
distant markets. They once captured a too curious preacher, who was
looking for his horse, and kept him in durance vile for several months.
The expounder of the gospels labored so faithfully in that seemingly
hopeless vineyard that the blasé bandits were finally “purified by the
word of the Lord, gave up their dark practices, made restitution, and
ever after lived model lives.”

There was a record of a mighty flood that drowned out everything and
everybody, ran over the top of the bridge and carried part of it away,
and following this were notations of approximate dates of sundry
happenings—when the gang of counterfeiters that dwelt in Pinkamink Marsh
were caught and “sent up”—the year that Bill killed a blue goose on
“Boiler Slough”—when the tornado blew all of the water out of the river
at “Ox Bow Bend” and left the channel bare for half an hour, and the
year that “forty-six thousand rat skins was took off Shelby Marsh.”

A page was devoted to a reign of terror that lasted several weeks in
1877. For five nights an awful roar had come out of “Bull Snake Bayou.”
The mystery was never explained, but Bill thought that the noise had
been produced by a “whiffmatick” or a “hodad” that had come down with
the spring flood, lost its way, and was shedding horns or scales in the
vine-clad thickets.

The births, weddings and deaths of all the old settlers were carefully
recorded, and many of their exploits detailed at length. There was an
account of the capture of Hank Butts and his illicit still by the
revenue officers, the failure of the jury to convict, owing to the
reputations of the culprit’s two sons as dead shots, and the story of
Hank’s death in a feather bed, with his boots on, when he went to visit
a city relative and blew out the gas a few months later.

Bill’s experience with a “cattymount” was related with much detail. He
had encountered it in the woods when he was young, and had spent two
days and nights in a tree, living on crackers, plug tobacco, and a
bottle of sage tea that he fortunately happened to have with him. The
animal’s foot had been shattered by Bill’s only bullet and this
prevented it from going into the foliage after him. The captive had
chewed up over a pound of the plug and had carefully aimed the resulting
juices at the baleful eye-balls that gleamed below him at night, hoping
to blind his besieger. When the supply of this ammunition was exhausted
the animal’s eyes were still bright, although Bill had scored many body
hits and had decidedly changed the general color of his enemy.

Hunger finally compelled the savage beast to beat a retreat and the
situation was relieved. The “cattymount” had evidently increased in size
with the succeeding years, for in the manuscript its estimated length
had been twice corrected with a pen, the last figures being the highest.
Bill added that he had killed this “fierce an’ formidable animal” later,
and that “its skin was taken east.”

Somewhere among the confused piles was the tale of the last voyage of
the little stern-wheel steamer, “Morning Star” to the ferry, under
command of “Cap’n Sink.” She had come up from the Illinois river, and
the falling waters had left her stranded for a week on a sand bar. Her
doughty commander paced the deck and blistered it with profanity. He
swore by nine gods that he never again would go above “Corkscrew Bend,”
that was so crooked that even the fish had sense enough to keep out of
it. His vociferous impiety filtered intermittently through the green
foliage that overhung the river, and desecrated the shadow-flecked
aisles of the forest, until the Morning Star’s sister boat, the
“Damfino,” came wheezing up stream. The unfortunate craft was pulled off
the bar and navigation officially ended.

Reliable data was becoming scarce. Bill’s recollections were getting
hazy. The old settlers, whose memories could be relied upon, were dying
off, and the mists were absorbing his ascertainable facts, but, while
life lasts the chronicles will go on, for Bill’s genius is not of the
sort that admits defeat.

There is much human history that might with profit be entombed in these
humble archives, and its obscurity would be a blessing to those who made
it. As the world grows older it finds less to respect in the dusty tomes
that are filled with the story of human folly, selfishness and needless
bloodshed.

Bill and I were enjoying a quiet smoke on the store platform one July
afternoon, and discussing his historical labors.

“We’r livin’ in ter’ble times, an’ the things that’s happenin’ now mops
ev’ry thing else offen the map,” he declared, as he refilled his cob
pipe. “I see things in my paper ev’ry week that oughta be noted down in
my history, but I’m pretty near eighty, an’ if I try to put ’em all in
I’ll never git through. There’s too damn much goin’ on. They’r ditchin’
the river an’ hell’s to pay up above. They’r blastin’ in the woods with
dinnymite, an’ some o’ them ol’ codgers that lives in them shacks up
above English Lake’ll be blown to kingdom come if they don’t watch out
an’ duck. They better wake up an’ come down stream. Say, d’ye see that
damn cuss comin’ over the bridge? That’s Rat Hyatt, an’ I’m goin’ to
jump ’im when ’e gits ’ere. He lost my dog I let ’im take. That feller’s
no good, an’ ’e’s ripenin’ fer damnation.”

“Muskrat Hyatt” was a tall, raw-boned, keen-eyed ne’er-do-well sort of a
fellow, who had hunted and trapped on the river for many years. He lived
in an old house boat that had floated down stream during high water one
spring, and got wedged in among some big trees in the woods, about half
a mile above the bridge. He moved into it when the waters subsided and
found it an agreeable abode.

“I hope the owner never shows up,” remarked Rat, after I knew him. “I
don’t think I’d like him. If the water ever gits that high ag’in an’
floats me off, I’m willin’ to go most anywheres in the old ark so long’s
she don’t take a notion to go down an’ roost on the bridge with me.”

He greeted us, with rather an embarrassed air, as he came up, and the
old man spent considerable time in attempting to extract some definite
information about “Spot.” Rat was evasive and unsatisfactory.

“They ain’t no more patheticker sight than to see some feller that sets
an’ flaps ’is ears, an’ can’t answer nothin’ that’s asked ’im without
tryin’ to chin about sump’n else all the time,” declared Bill. “I don’t
care nothin’ about its bein’ hot. I want to know where in hell my dog
is.”

“That dog o’ your’n’s all right,” said Hyatt. “I reckon ’e’s off some’rs
chas’n rabbits, an’ you needn’t do no worryin’. If anybody’s stole ’im
you bet I’ll git ’im an’ the scalp o’ the feller with ’im. If ’e aint
’ere tomorrer I’ll take a look around. A dog like that can’t be kep’ hid
long, an’ somebody’ll ’ave seen ’im. He ain’t no fool, an’ if ’e’s shut
up anywheres, you bet ’e’ll come back w’en ’e gits out.”

“Well, you see that ’e gits out,” replied the old man with asperity.
“I’m done havin’ heart disease ev’ry time I don’t see that dog w’en I go
by your place, an’ I want ’im back where ’e b’longs. I didn’t give ’im
to you, an’ if you don’t know where ’e is you aint fit to have charge o’
no animal. This aint no small talk that I’m doin’. Its the summin’ up o’
the court.”

Spot was a well trained bird dog. Hyatt had borrowed him from the old
man about two years before, and, as his facilities for taking care of
him were much better than Bill was able to provide, the animal was
allowed to remain at Hyatt’s house boat on indefinite leave. He slept
under the rude bed and seemed much happier there than at home.

Hyatt was now in rather a delicate position. The dog had not been seen
in the neighborhood for over a week. An old trapper had come down the
river in a canoe and stopped for an hour or so at the house boat. He
announced his intention of leaving the country forever, and was on his
way to the Illinois where he hoped to find enough muskrats to occupy his
remaining days. He wanted a good quail dog, and, after much jockeying,
had acquired Spot in exchange for a repeating rifle and a box of
cartridges. The dog was tied in the front end of the canoe and departed
with his new owner. Hyatt had an abiding faith that Spot would return in
a few days, and that the stranger would be too far away down stream to
want to buffet the strong current to get him back.

The dog’s homing instinct had proved reliable heretofore, as he had been
sold several times under similar conditions, and was now regarded as a
possible source of steady income by his thrifty guardian.

Hyatt was careful not to sell the animal to anybody who was liable to be
in that part of the country again. Spot had once gone as far as the
Mississippi river with a confiding purchaser, and was away only a little
over two weeks. He was now expected back at any time, in fact he was
under the bed when Hyatt arrived home after the disagreeable reproaches
of Bill Stiles, and the next day the incident was considered closed by
both parties.

The only pet that Bill had cared anything for in recent years, besides
his dog, was a one legged duck that he called “Esther.” The missing
support had been acquired by a snapping turtle in the river, and Bill’s
sympathies and affections had been aroused. During her owner’s absence
from his shack, Esther and her brown brood were confined in the hollow
base of a big tree, protected from the weasels and skunks by a wire
screen over the opening.

By Saturday night Hyatt and Stiles had become quite chummy again. It was
very hot and we sat in front of the store with our coats off. Bill was
discoursing sapiently on topics of international import, when we saw
somebody down the road.

“That ol’ mudturkle comin’ yonder with that pipe stuck in all them
whiskers, is Bill Wirrick,” he announced after further observation. “We
call ’im ‘Puckerbrush Bill,’ on account of ’is bein’ up in Puckerbrush
Bayou one night in ’is push boat, an’ tryin’ to make a short cut to git
back to the river. He got ’is whiskers tangled in the puckerbrush an’
had to cut away a lot of ’em with ’is knife to git out. He’s between
some pretty big bunches of ’em now, but they aint nothin’ to what they
was. He had pretty near half a bushel an’ ’e used to carry ’is money in
’em. I s’pose ’e’ll begin tellin’ about all ’is troubles w’en ’e gits
’ere. That’s what’s the matter with this place, an’ it makes me tired to
hear all these fellers tellin’ their troubles w’en they oughta be
listenin’ to mine. My troubles has got some importance, but theirs don’t
interest nobody.

“Hello, Puck,” greeted the old man, as Wirrick came up, “how’s things
down to the slough?”

“Pretty slow; got’ny tobacco?”

“Listen at ’im!” whispered Bill.

[Illustration:

  “PUCKERBRUSH BILL”
]

He was duly supplied, and took one of the hickory chairs under the
awning. Notwithstanding their reported depletion, his whiskers were
still impressive, and the warm evening breeze played softly and fondly
among the ample remnants. His mouth was concealed somewhere in the maze.
His pointed nose and watchful furtive eyes gave his face a peculiar foxy
expression.

“Its a good thing you didn’t strike a prairie fire with them whiskers,
instid of a mess o’ puckerbrush,” remarked Bill, after a period of
silence.

“I’m goin’ to mow ’em in a few days to cool off, an’ then raise a new
crop fer next winter. They’s lots more whar them come from,” replied
Wirrick. “I’ll git some whiskers that’ll make you fellers set up an’
take notice ’fore the snow flies.”

The mention of fire in connection with his whiskers must have suggested
something to Wirrick, for, when he appeared without them the following
week, he said that he hated a razor, couldn’t find any shears, and had
“frizzled ’em off with a candle.”

Bill was shocked at his appearance.

“You look like you was half naked. I see now w’y you been keepin’ that
ol’ mug o’ your’n covered up. You’ve got a bum face. You git busy an’
git all the whiskers you can right away!”

The next arrival was Swan Peterson, an aged Swede, who lived in a
dilapidated shack, festooned on the inside with rusty muskrat traps,
near the mouth of “Crooked Creek.” His liver had rebelled against many
years of unfair treatment, and his visage was of a greenish yellow. A
prodigious white moustache, that suggested a chrysanthemum in full
bloom, accentuated the evidence of his ailment. He was considerably over
six feet tall. The years of hardship and isolation had bent his mighty
shoulders and saddened his gray eyes. Peterson was cast in a heroic
mould. His ancestors were the sea wolves who roved over perilous and
unknown waters, and met violent deaths, in years when the Norse legends
were in the making, but their wild forays and stormy lives meant nothing
to him. He had no interest in the past or traditions to uphold. All he
now wanted in the world was plenty of patent medicine and whiskey to mix
with it, and in a pinch, he could get along without the medicine.

The jaundiced Viking came slowly up on to the platform, looked us over
languidly, and commented on the general cussedness of the weather and
life’s monotonies.

“I ban har fifty years, an’ I seen the same damn thing ev’ry year all
over again. It ban cold in winter an’ hot in summer. I eat an’ sleep,
an’ eat an’ sleep some more, an’ work hard all day, an’ then eat an’
sleep—ev’ry day the same damn thing. I ban takin’ medicine now five
years, an’ I can’t git none that’s got any kick. Mebbe I got some o’
them things that Rass Wattles says Wahoo Bitters’ll cure, but mebbe I
got something else that they didn’t know about when they mixed that
stuff. I find mixin’ half Wahoo an’ half whiskey ban some help, but I’m
goin’ to try some other bitters an’ mix in more whiskey. That whiskey
ban a good thing, an’ when I get a good thing I put a sinker on it.”

[Illustration:

  SWAN PETERSON
]

Old “Doc” Dust drove up in a squeaky buggy with an ancient top. His lazy
gray mare seemed glad to get her feet into the hollowed ground in front
of the hitching rail.

Certain types in the medical profession are never called anything but
“Doc,” except when more profane appellations are required. Dust was a
befitting name for the old man, for he appeared to be much dried up. His
parchment like skin was drawn tightly over his protruding cheek bones,
and his emaciated figure seemed almost ready to blow away. A frayed
Prince Albert coat was secured with one button at the waist, and a rusty
plug hat was jammed down on the back of his head. These things were
evidently intended to impart a professional air, but they completed a
sad satire. The Doc looked like a hypocritical old scamp.

Much human character, or the lack of it, may be indicated by a hat, and
the manner of wearing it, particularly if it is a “plug.” Worn in the
ordinary conventional way, a “correct” plug is supposed to provide a
roof for a certain kind of dignity, but usually it indicates nothing
beyond a mere lack of artistic sensibility. Tipped forward, it suggests
sulkiness, obstinacy, and self-complacency—a sort of sporty rowdyism,
when worn on one side—and disregard of the rights and opinions of
others, when it is tilted back of the ears.

Of course the condition and the year of coinage of the plug enter into
the equation and complicate it, but even a very shabby plug is an
entertaining story teller. To a careful and discriminating student of
human folly, it is replete with subtleties.

A Fiji Island cannibal, whose only wearing apparel was a plug hat, was
once made chief of his tribe on account of it. It was probably as
becoming to him as it had been to the spiritual adviser he had eaten.
Such dignity and distinction as it was capable of imparting was his. He
had attained what is possibly the apotheosis of barbaric head dress of
our age.

Doc carried two medicine cases under his buggy seat on his professional
rounds. One of them was stocked with a dozen large bottles with Latin
labels, and the other with small phials containing white pills the size
of number six shot. If his patient preferred “Alopathy,” he or she got
it with a vengeance. If “Homepathy” was wanted, the smaller receptacle
was drawn upon. The “leaders” in the “Alopathy” box were castor
oil—calomel, and quinine. Aconite and Belladona–100, and Magnesium
Phos–10 occupied the places of honor in the other.

Dust had weathered several matrimonial storms, and his last wife was now
under the wild flowers in the country cemetery, where the epitaph on the
unpretentious stone—erected by her own relatives—was more congratulatory
than sorrowful.

“Doc” Hopkins, or “Hoppy Doc” as he was irreverently dubbed along the
river, was Dust’s only rival. The competition was bitter, and many
untimely ends were ascribed by each of them to the other’s criminal
ignorance. Hoppy Doc often told, with great relish, a story of Cornelia
Kibbins, Dust’s first wife, alleging that after a year of tempestuous
married life, she had fled to her father’s home late one winter night
for refuge. Her irate parent refused her an asylum. He had felt greatly
outraged when the wedding took place and never wanted to see his
daughter again. In answer to the plaintive midnight cry at his door, he
leaned out of a second story window and delivered a torrent of
invective. As he closed the window he shouted, “Dust thou art, and unto
Dust shalt thou return!”

The suppliant disappeared, and evidently the worm turned, for Dust was a
physical wreck for a month afterwards. Old man Kibbins subsequently
declared that while his daughter “was a damn fool, she had fight’n blood
in ’er, an’ the Doc ’ad better look out fer squalls.”

Dust was guyed good-naturedly by the occupants of the platform, as he
went into the store to get some fine cut.

“What’s that you’ve got out there between them buggy thills, Doc?”
queried Hyatt.

Bill winked at me and asked him if he had driven by his garden lately—a
delicate reference to the cemetery, intended to be sarcastic.

Another stove pipe hat was brought by “Pop” Wilkins, an octogenarian. He
also wore it jammed well down behind his ears. The old man climbed
painfully up the steps with his hickory cane, and dropped into a chair
that Hyatt brought out of the store for him. He placed the ancient tile
under it, mopped his bald head with a large red bandanna, and looked
wistfully beyond the river.

Pop had been afflicted with intermittent ague for several years. He was
once a preacher and a temperance advocate. He was placed on the
superannuated list by the Methodist conference, and had finally been
expunged as a backslider. He fell from grace and yielded to the lure of
strong waters. Once, after he had over indulged for several weeks, he
went and sat in sad reflection on the bank of the gloomy river at night.
Out of its depths came strange six footed beasts and multicolored
crawling things that terrified Pop and drove remorse into his soul.
Since that eventful night he had been more moderate, but he was still in
danger, and it was a question as to whether old age, ague, or J.
Barleycorn would get him first.

My friend “Kun’l” Peets, who was a comparatively recent importation into
the river country, came over the bridge with a basket on his arm
containing a couple of setter pups that he wanted Posey to see, with a
view of possibly having them applied on his account at the store. He was
an ex-confederate from Tennessee, and seemed sadly out of harmony with
his surroundings. The pups were liberated on the platform and subjected
to much poking about and criticism by the experts. The Colonel
considered them “fine specimens of a noble strain,” but Wirrick thought
“they looked like they had some wolf blood in ’em.” Posey agreed to
accept the little animals in lieu of eight dollars owed by the Colonel,
with the understanding that they were to be kept for him until they were
a month older. Everybody understood his kindly consideration for the old
man, and knew that he had no earthly use for the pups.

The assemblage in front of the store became more varied and interesting
with the arrival of other visitors. The chairs were exhausted and the
platform edge was entirely occupied. Bill Stiles had just commenced the
narration of a horse trade story, when an old man appeared in the
twilight on the bridge. He wore a long gray overcoat, although the
evening was very warm. The story stopped and interest was centered on
the slowly approaching figure.

I asked Posey who he was. He bent his head toward me confidentially,
and, in something between a low whistle and a whisper, replied:
“S-s-s-s-t——‘the Serpent’s Hiss’!!!”

We were in prohibition territory, and the old “bootlegger” was bringing
twelve flat pint bottles in twelve inside pockets of the gray overcoat
to break the drought at Posey’s store.

He was an unbonded warehouse, and the reason for the mysterious
gathering on that particular evening was now apparent.

He came slowly up the steps, and seemed embarrassed to find a stranger
present. I was introduced and vouched for by my friend Posey, and he
seemed much relieved.

Conversation had been rather dull during the last half hour, but now it
had a merry note. The jaundiced Viking brightened up and wondered how
many bird’s nests had been constructed with the whiskers that Wirrick
had left up in the bayou. Time worn jokes were laughed at more than
usual. Some new insurance that Posey had acquired was regarded as
indicating a big fire as soon as business got dull, and Doc Dust was
told that he ought to keep the small bag of oats under his buggy seat
away from the medicine cases or he would lose his horse.

“Well, time is flitt’n,” remarked the “Serpent’s Hiss,” as he rose and
departed for the barn lot behind the store.

One by one, like turtles slipping off a log into a stream, those who sat
along the edge of the platform dropped silently to the ground and
followed him, and most of the occupants of the chairs joined the
procession. Like the oriflamme of Henry of Navarre, the gray overcoat
led them on through the dusk.

The retreat to the rear was in deference to Posey’s scruples. He
preferred that the store itself should be kept free from illegitimate
traffic.

The odor of substantial sin, and a faint suggestion of a dragon’s breath
was in the atmosphere when the crowd returned. Deliverance had come.
Aridity was succeeded by bountiful moisture, that like gentle rain, had
fallen upon thirsty flowers.

The Colonel seemed in some way to be dissatisfied with his visit to the
barn, and was at odds with the owner of the gray overcoat when the
expedition returned. He had parted with a silver coin under protest.

“Inate cou’tesy, suh, compelled me to pa’take of you’ah abundance, suh,”
he declared. “It was not that I wanted you’ah infe’nal mixcha, you mink
eyed old grave robbah,” he declared, as he left with his puppies.

The old bootlegger’s name was Richard Shakes, but the obvious natural
perversion to “Dick Snakes” was too tempting to be resisted by the river
humorists. He was also frequently alluded to as “Tiger Cat,” a term that
seemed much more appropriate to the liquids he dispensed than to him,
for, outside of his questionable occupation, the old man was entirely
inoffensive and harmless. He was another member of the old time trapping
fraternity, and lived alone in a log house on the creek about two miles
away.

He had a large collection of Indian relics, that he had spent many years
in accumulating, and he took great delight in showing them to anybody
who came to see him. The arrow and spear heads were methodically
arranged in long rows on thin smooth boards, and held in place by the
heads of tacks that overlapped their edges. The boards were nailed to
the walls of faced logs all over the interior of the cabin.

Nearly everybody in the surrounding country had contributed to the
collection at one time or another, and it was being added to constantly.

There were many fine specimens of tomahawk heads, stone axes, and other
implements, that had been fashioned with admirable skill. The old man
guarded his hoarded treasures with a miser’s solicitude, for they were
the solace of his lonely life. He had refused large offers for the
collection as a whole, and never could be induced to part with single
specimens, except under pressure of immediate necessity.

There are few mental comforts comparable with those of absorbing
hobbies. They temper the raw winds and asperities of existence to a
wonderful degree, and offer a welcome balm of heart interest to lives
weary of continued conflict for mythical goals. We may smile at them in
others, but we realize their deep significance when they are our own.

Poor old Shakes was but another example of one made happy by a harmless
fad, the joys of which might well be coveted by those whose millions
have brought only fear and sorrow. After it is all over the pursuit of
one phantom has been as gratifying as the quest of another, for they
both end in darkness.

[Illustration:

  DICK SHAKES
]

After sitting around for awhile, and listening to the enlivened
conversation, and the gossip of the neighborhood, that now circulated
freely, the old man bought a package of tobacco in the store, for which
he said he had “been stung ten cents,” and left us, with the overcoat,
from which the cargo had been discharged, hung lightly over his arm.

The assemblage gradually dispersed. Wirrick, Hyatt, and the jaundiced
Viking went down to the river bank and departed in their “push boats.”
Doc Dust invited Pop Wilkins to ride with him, and they betook
themselves into the shadows. Tipton Posey relighted his pipe and Bill
Stiles resumed the story of the horse trade.



                                   VI
                       MUSKRAT HYATT’S REDEMPTION


Except from a picturesque standpoint, “Rat” Hyatt was not an ornament to
the river country. Its meager and widely scattered social life, and its
average of morality, were more or less affected by his shortcomings. In
many communities he would be considered an undesirable citizen. He was
looked upon as a good natured “bad egg,” and as one industrious in the
ways of sin by his associates at Tipton Posey’s store, but the habitues
of that time honored loafing place always welcomed him, for he possessed
a reminiscent talent and a peculiar kind of dry wit and repartee that
helped to enliven the sleepy days.

In this world much sin is forgiven an entertaining personality.

There was always a feeling of incompleteness on the store platform when
Rat was absent, that nobody ever admitted, but when he arrived and took
his accustomed seat on the green wheel barrow, that was part of the
merchandise that Posey kept outside in the day time, the depressing
vacancy existed no longer.

Bill Stiles’s temperamental discharges of ornate philosophy, and his
comments on life’s ironies and human folly, required a target, and this
was commonly the role assigned to Rat Hyatt.

“I’m always the goat,” remarked Rat one hot afternoon, as we sat in the
shade of the wooden awning. “W’y don’t you pick on somebody that likes
to listen? I’ve been kidded by experts, an’ this long talk o’ your’n
seems kind o’ mixed up. The trouble with you an’ a lot o’ the other ol’
mud birds ’round ’ere, is you open yer mouth an’ go ’way an’ leave it,
an’ fergit you started it.”

“Now look ’ere, Rat,” replied Bill, “you aint got no call to talk back
to me. W’en I’m talkin’ to you, I aint arguin’. I’m tellin’ you how
’tis. I knowed you w’en you wasn’t knee high to a duck, an’ you aint got
brains enough to have the headache with.

“That feller that you sold my dog to the last time was ’ere yisterd’y
askin’ ’bout you, an’ if Spot ’ad ever come back. He’d been up to your
place, an’ its a good thing fer you that you an’ Spot was off some’rs in
the woods. He told me what ’e traded you fer the animal, an’ I want you
to bring them things to me, fer it was my dog you got ’em with.”

As Spot was asleep under the wheelbarrow, Bill’s equity in the repeating
rifle and cartridges, that Hyatt had received in exchange for him,
seemed rather hazy. The reason for Spot’s prolonged absence some months
before was now apparent to Bill, and, although the intelligent animal
had returned home, as expected, after being traded off, the old man’s
nurtured wrath was waiting for Rat when he arrived that afternoon. Hyatt
seemed in nowise abashed at the revelation of Bill’s knowledge of his
shady transaction with the trapper.

[Illustration:

  “MUSKRAT” HYATT
]

“If I hadn’t a knowed the dog ’ud come home, I wouldn’t a let ’im go. It
showed how much I trusted ’im w’en I let ’im go off with a stranger like
that. If that feller thought ’e c’d keep a fine dog like that away from
them that loved ’im, ’e oughta suffer fer ’is foolishness, an’ leave
sump’n in the country to be remembered by. Of course if sump’n ’ad a
happened to Spot, an’ ’e hadn’t a come back, I’d a given you the rifle,
but I knowed that dog was all right. You c’n have ’im back any time you
want ’im, if he’ll stay with you, but you hadn’t oughta jump on me as
long as ’e aint lost, an’ ’e’s in first class health.”

“Its the funny ideas that some fellers ’ave about other people’s propity
that keeps the state’s prisons filled up,” remarked Bill. “It aint the
lyin’ an’ stealin’ that gits ’em thar, its gitt’n caught. If they don’t
git caught its jest called business shrewdness. You bilked that feller
out o’ that gun an’ you’r deprivin’ me of it w’en you used my dog to git
it with. You’r a fine man to trust anythin’ with, you are. If I had any
place to keep Spot I wouldn’t let you have ’im a minute. I c’n fill my
shanty with stuff by tradin’ ’im off, an’ then wait’n fer ’im to come
home, jest as well as you can, an’ it ’ud be all right fer me to do it,
but you aint got no such right, ’specially if yer goin’ to swindle
people.”

After Bill’s assurance that he had told the deluded trapper nothing of
Spot’s return, and that he had gone off up the river, the conversation
drifted into channels that were less irritating.

The old man’s mind became calm and he ascended the narrow stairway on
the outside of the building, to his room over the store, for a nap.

“That ol’ feller oughta to have a phonygraph with ’is voice in it so he
c’d spin it an’ listen to ’imself speil,” remarked Rat after Bill had
left. “I used to often watch ’im when ’e was set’n quiet out ’ere by the
hour, with that dinkey hat pulled down in front an’ lookin’ wise, an’
wonder what big thoughts was ferment’n up in that old moss covered dome
o’ his, but I found out after a while that ’e wasn’t thinkin’ about
nuth’n at all.”

Rat wended his way down to the bank under the bridge, where he had left
his push boat, followed by the faithful Spot, and poled his way up
stream. When he reached the vicinity of the stranded house boat, where
he had lived for several years, he reconnoitered it cautiously. No
malign presence was detected. He looked over his bee hives that were
scattered about among the trees, and provided two or three week’s food
supplies for his chickens, and some young coons and weasles, that he was
raising for their fur in some wire cages under the house. He then packed
a few necessaries into his boat, and secured the door of the house with
a padlock.

He was not quite satisfied that the trapper, who was looking for Spot,
had left the country, and he did not intend to take any chances. The dog
was ordered to lie down in the bow of the canoe, where he was carefully
covered. The intelligent animal complied cheerfully with all of the
arrangements.

Rat then proceeded down the river for several miles to the big marsh,
where he did the most of his trapping during the late fall, winter, and
spring.

He had two motives for his trip, besides the idea of avoiding a possible
visit of the trapper to the house boat. One was to see if the muskrat
population on the marsh had increased properly during the summer, and
the other was to visit Malindy Taylor, whom he deeply loved, and by whom
he was scorned as a suitor.

Malindy was a peppery widow of about forty, who lived with her aged
mother in a small house beyond the marsh. She was the owner of a wild
duck farm, and conducted it with such success that Rat looked forward to
spending his declining days in peace and comfort if he could persuade
Malindy to take him into life partnership.

Many hundreds of mallards and teal nested among the boggy places in the
marsh during the summer. The eggs were gathered, put into incubators,
and under complaisant hens on the farm. The ducklings were reared in
wired enclosures that prevented them from joining their kind in the
skies when the fall migrations began. During the game season, when they
were properly matured, they were skilfully strangled and shipped away as
wild birds at game prices.

Rat had always willingly hunted nests and gathered eggs for his beloved.
He did odd jobs about the farm and participated in everything but the
harvest. Like Jacob of old, toiling for the hand of Rachael, Rat’s
industry, although intermittent, was sustained by alluring hope.

Outside of her earthly possessions, it must be admitted that Malindy had
few charms. One of her eyes was slightly on the bias, and at times it
had a baleful gleam. Two of her front teeth protruded in a particularly
unpleasant way, as though she expected to bite at something alive. She
had an angular disposition, and her temper was not conducive to the even
flow of life’s little amenities. To use a Scotch expression, she was
“unco pernickity.” She was intolerant of human frailty in others,
especially of the kinds that entered so largely into Rat Hyatt’s
make-up, but divinities sometimes appear in strange forms. To Rat’s love
blinded eyes she was the one lone flower that grew in the dreary desert
of life’s monotonies.

There is something about everybody that appeals to somebody, and this is
why there is nobody who cannot find somebody willing to marry them.

Perhaps the streak of primitive cussedness in Malindy appealed to
compatible instincts in Rat’s heart, but be that as it may, he was a
faithful and much abused worshiper.

When he reached the farther end of the great marsh, he threaded his way
through familiar openings among the tall masses of rushes and wild rice,
landed on the soggy shore, and pulled his canoe up among the underbrush.
He and Spot then took the winding path that led through the woods to the
duck farm, about a quarter of a mile away.

He intended to stay at the farm, in seclusion, for a week or two, do
some work that he had long promised, and then put out his traps on the
marsh. He kept about a hundred of them in Malindy’s barn, when they were
not in use.

About half way down the marsh a long tongue of wooded land extended out
into the oozy slough. It was known as “Swallow Tail Point.” This was
Tipton Posey’s favorite haunt during the shooting season. Thousands of
wild ducks and geese passed over it on their way up or down the river,
and in circling about over the marsh, which was a bountiful feeding
ground. Bill Wirrick spent much time on the point with Posey. They had a
little shack back among the low trees, sheltered so that it could not be
seen from the sky, and hidden from the water by the tall brush.

These two worthies had solved at least one of life’s problems in this
secluded retreat, for they did not have to adjust themselves to the
convenience of anybody else.

In the early morning, just before daylight, when the ducks began to move
over the marsh, and in the evening twilight, when the incoming flocks
were settling for the night, little puffs of smoke, and faint reports,
issued from the end of the point, and dark objects fell out of the sky.
They were diligently retrieved by Posey’s brown water spaniel.

Occasionally wild geese would sweep low over the point, scatter and rise
excitedly, as the puffs of smoke took toll from the honking ranks.

In addition to a big bunch of wooden decoys that floated in an open
space near the edge of the point, the wary birds were lured by
mechanical quacks and honks from small patented devices, operated by
their concealed enemies.

Notwithstanding their civilized garb, and highly developed weapons, Tip
and Bill were barbarians. Their instincts were lower than those of the
carnivora of the jungle, for they killed not for food, or even for
profit, but for the joy of the killing. They did not bother about the
wounded birds that curved away and fluttered into the matted grasses and
rushes, to suffer in silence, or be eaten by the big snapping turtles
that had no ideas of sport. They exulted over piles of beautiful
feathered creatures, motionless and splashed with blood, many of which
were afterwards thrown away.

Tip had devoted many of his idle hours to the invention of a new goose
call. The range of the ordinary devices seemed to him too restricted.
His theory was that if the volume of sound could be increased so as to
fill a radius of four or five miles, the distant V shaped flocks could
be lured to within gun shot of the point.

After long meditation, and consultation with Bill Wirrick, they began
putting the plan into execution.

They procured a pair of blacksmith’s bellows from a distant country
town, and some big instruments that had once belonged to the local brass
band. These things, in addition to some rubber garden hose, and a lot of
other miscellaneous material, were carefully covered in a wagon and
secretly conveyed to the point.

Weeks were spent in the construction of the apparatus. The brass
instruments were arranged in the interior of a huge megaphone. Rubber
balls bobbed about intermittently within the capacious horns when the
air was pumped through them. The requisite volume of sound was attained,
but somehow the turbulent honks of the wild geese were not
satisfactorily imitated, although repeated adjustment and alteration
gave much hope of success.

The experiments were conducted cautiously during the summer, when there
was nobody on the marsh, and no mention of the contrivance was made
around the store, for a cruel gauntlet of jibes and merciless humor
awaited the nonsuccess of the enterprise, if the wiseacres of the
platform ever learned of it.

Rat Hyatt, although much interested in all that pertained to the marsh,
and its surroundings, had never suspected what was going on on the
point. He never had occasion to land there, and, by common consent, its
possession by Posey and Wirrick for shooting purposes was respected by
the few hunters who frequented the vicinity.

Malindy Taylor had sometimes heard some terrible noises from the
direction of the point, but she was too far away to be much disturbed.
Both Posey and Wirrick had often referred to Malindy as “an old
fuss-bug,” although she was much younger than either of them, and they
probably would not have cared if they had scared her out of the country,
but she had little curiosity about things that did not affect her duck
farm.

She and her mother had concluded that the uncanny sounds were produced
by donkeys in the woods, and doubtless this was also the opinion of most
of those who afterwards learned all of the facts.

When Rat emerged from his retirement at the duck farm, he spent two or
three days puttering about through the water openings, setting his
traps.

The furred inhabitants of the slough had builded their picturesque
little domes of stringy roots, rushes, and dead grass, and plastered
them together with lumps of mud in the quiet places, away from the river
currents that crept in sinuous and broken channels through the broad
wastes of sodden labyrinths.

Hyatt was an intelligent trapper, and was careful not to depopulate his
grounds. He frequently moved the traps, so as not to exhaust the animals
in a particular locality. The little competition he had on the marsh
must have been discouraging to his rivals, for he always had more traps
at the end of the season than at its beginning, and the traps set by
others never seemed to be very productive, except to Hyatt. By degrees
each new comer was eliminated.

Rat had finished a hard day’s work. He sat on some dry grass in the
bottom of his canoe, lighted a redolent old pipe, and decided to indulge
in a good smoke and a long rest before starting up the river.

Twilight had come. The vast expanse of overgrown water was silent,
except for the low lullabies of the marsh birds among the thick grasses
and bulrushes. He sat for a long time and watched the smoke curl up into
the still air. The moon came over the distant rim of the forest that
bordered the great marsh, and one by one, the stars began to tremble in
the crystal sky, but it was not with the eye of the poet that Rat
regarded these things. The moonlighted river would be easy to navigate
on the trip home.

Suddenly a flash of greenish light shot into the heavens in the north
west, and in a few minutes the entire horizon in every direction flamed
and shimmered with long gleaming streamers of rose and green beams that
touched fluttering segments of a corona of orange glow at the zenith.

Rat had often seen the Aurora Borealis; he was familiar with sheet
lightning, and the electrical discharges of the thunder storms, but this
awful light was something new.

It was a magnetic storm, one of those rare phenomena, that the average
person sees but once in a life time, and never forgets, caused by the
sudden incandescence of heavily charged solar dust in the earth’s
atmosphere.

The play of the fitful quivering gleams through the firmament was a
sublime spectacle. The motionless air had the peculiar odor that comes
from an excess of ozone.

Rat Hyatt was in the throes of mortal fright. The dog uttered a long
howl, and just at that moment—like a yell of demonic mockery out of
sulphurous caverns—the unearthly tones of Tipton Posey’s goose call
resonated from the woods on Swallow Tail Point, and reverberated beyond
the weirdly lighted waters.

One or both of its builders had probably come to test the powers of the
unholy device, and were unabashed by the drama that glorified the night
skies.

With blind instinct of self preservation, Rat rose to his knees and made
a faltering attempt to grasp his paddle, but his hands refused the
dictates of his palsied brain. He cowered as one in the presence of the
Ultimate.

To him, in this appalling display of supernatural power, and the evident
impending end of all things, had come the agony of abject terror and
despair, and before it his rude conception of life collapsed.

His past flashed before his distorted vision like a hideous nightmare.
His world suddenly lost reality. The human creatures in it changed to
throngs of fleeting phantoms, impelled by unseen forces. They glared,
grinned and gibbered at each other, as they hurried through the mist,
and vanished into the oblivion from which they came.

In the realm of fear there are ghastly solitudes. They pervade dim
phosphorescent glows on ocean floors, and they brood in the desolation
around the poles. They creep into awe stricken hearts when the filmy
strands, that sustain the Ego on its frail human web are broken, and the
denuded spirit stands in utter loneliness at the brink of Chaos.

In the course of an hour the wonderful radiance, that had transfigured
the heavens, and chilled the marrow bones of Rat Hyatt, ceased as
suddenly as it had begun. The frightful unknown sounds from the woods
were not repeated.

Rat finally succeeded in getting on his feet. He pushed his canoe out
into the channel and started up stream, but it was a changed man who
swung the long paddle. His soul had been rarefied in chastening flames.
He was as one who had met his Maker face to face, and his only hope now
was that his life span might be mercifully extended until he could make
amends for the past.

He reached the house boat in the early morning, much exhausted, and
threw himself on the rude bed, where his shattered nerves found partial
repose.

His sleep was much troubled. He awoke with a sudden start late in the
afternoon, and, lashed by an avenging conscience, slid his canoe into
the river and hurried up stream to find the Reverend Daniel Butters, a
venerable preacher, who lived about six miles away. To him he would
carry his heavy laden heart, and in the consolations of religion seek
forgiveness and peace.

The Reverend Butters was known far and wide as “Dismal Dan,” and was
referred to in Bill Stiles’s chronicles as “the Javelin of the Lord.” He
was an eccentric, heavily bewhiskered old character, who believed in the
Church Militant, and had exhorted, quoted reproving scripture, and made
doleful prophecies in the river country for two normal generations.

In the little weather beaten country church, up the river, his small
audiences consisted of aged ladies and pious old settlers, who were
already saved, and did not need the rescuing hand. He preached
Calvinistic damnation in the belief that fear of hell was a more potent
factor in human redemption than hope of reward.

His principal authority on hell was Jonathan Edwards, a fiery divine,
who glowed in Massachusetts about two hundred years ago. During his
eruptive period, Edwards’s sermons on damnation blistered and enriched
the sectarian literature of his time. Dismal Dan frequently resurrected
and reheated these old printed sermons, and hurled the sputtering embers
at his inoffensive listeners.

He had not made a convert for many years. Of late his powers of
spiritual persuasion had languished, and, like his hearers, had become
atrophied.

He was a revivalist who did not revive. He needed new and pliant
material, and when Muskrat Hyatt had told his errand he was welcomed as
one who had fled from among the Pharisees. Out of the wilderness of sin
a lowly suppliant had come.

[Illustration:

  THE REVEREND DANIEL BUTTERS
]

They talked of the mysterious and unknown light that had illumined the
heavens the night before, and the terrifying sounds that had come over
the waters. Dismal Dan pronounced it all to be a “manifestation.” He had
long expected signs and angry portents in the skies as a warning to
sinners. Probably his biased mind would eagerly have ascribed divine
origin to any natural phenomenon that shooed fish into his ministerial
net.

They spent many days and nights in prayer and assiduous scriptural
readings. A far away look came into Hyatt’s eyes, and an elevation of
brow that did not seem to be of this world. The spiritual calm of the
neophite within cloistered walls was his. He had laid a contrite heart
upon the altar of his fears, and on it rested celestial rays.

He interrupted the period of his reconstruction with a trip down the
river to visit Malindy Taylor. Just what passed at the duck farm was
never known, but, after three days, Malindy opened her heart of stone to
the penitent. They came up the stream in the canoe, and, as the
enraptured township correspondent of the county paper expressed it,
“they were united on the front porch in the sacred bonds of holy
matrimony, by the Reverend Daniel Butters, on the afternoon of Thursday,
the bridegroom being attired in conventional black, and the bride with a
bouquet of white flowers.”

Rat betook himself to the duck farm with his bride. He removed all his
traps from the marsh, for he now considered the problem of his future
earthly existence solved, without the necessity of very much hard work.

He made frequent visits to Dismal Dan, but kept entirely away from the
store. That place was a sink of iniquity that he desired to avoid. He
and the old man spent many hours together that were sweetened with
blissful discourse. Dismal Dan felt that a life time devoted to
expounding the gospels had found glorious fruition in the salvation of
Muskrat Hyatt, and he was greatly elated by the sustained piety of the
proselyte.

He proposed to Brother Hyatt that they go together to the store, and, if
possible, “convert the bunch on the platform.” In his opinion a
successful attack on that citadel of sin would practically put the devil
out of business in the river country.

Brother Hyatt willingly consented. He was without fear of ridicule. He
floated in an atmosphere of moral purity that the mockery of sinners
could not defile.

They took a Bible, two old hymn books, and some lunch to the canoe, and,
accompanied by the trustful and devoted Spot, they proceeded down the
river. They stopped at the house boat and secured the gun and cartridges
that the trapper had left in exchange for the dog, and went on down to
the bridge.

On the river they practiced some of the old hymns, in the rendition of
which Brother Hyatt displayed a woeful technique. They finally gave up
trying to sing them, and Brother Butters droned out the rhythmic lines
in a most doleful way, that Brother Hyatt soon imitated successfully.

Brother Butters then outlined the form of exhortation that he would use
at the store, and instructed his assistant how he was to cooperate with
deep and loud amens, whenever big climaxes were reached. Minor climaxes
were to be left to Brother Hyatt’s judgment. He was to watch Brother
Butters, and when the forefinger was raised above the head, an amen of
more than usual sonorousness was to be forthcoming.

Brother Hyatt had studied the hymn books industriously, and had selected
scattered verses that pleased him and seemed appropriate. They were
laboriously copied on loose sheets of paper. It was his intention to
introduce these snatches of hymns into Brother Butters’s sermon with the
amens, whenever possible, and they both considered that holy power would
thereby be added to the exhortation. The order in which the extracts
were to be introduced was considered on the way down, but the sheets got
somewhat mixed in Brother Hyatt’s pocket before it was time to use them.

The enemies of Satan, with their carefully prepared batteries of pious
invective and Calvinistic hymns, landed safely under the bridge, late in
the afternoon. The canoe was pulled out. Brother Hyatt peeked over the
top of the embankment, and saw that the chairs on the store platform
were all filled, and that its edge was festooned with the usual
attendants.

Tipton Posey, Pop Wilkins, Bill Stiles, Doc Dust, Bill Wirrick, “the
Jaundiced Viking,” “the Serpent’s Hiss,” and the other “regulars,” were
all there. The vineyard looked ripe and inviting.

Bill Stiles hailed the proselyters cordially as they approached the
stronghold.

“Say, Rat, whar you been buried all this time?”

“Bill, they’s sump’n wonderful happened to me. I’ve got religion. A
great light ’as come to me, an’ I’ve repented of all my sins. I’ve
brought that gun an’ them catritches that I traded yer dog fer, an’ I
want you to find that feller an’ give ’em back to ’im. I done wrong, an’
I want to square things up. Three or four times I sold Spot, knowin’
he’d come home, but I’ve spent the money. I’m goin’ to git some of my
friends to pay back ev’ry cent, if I c’n find the fellers that bought
’im.”

“That’ll make yer friends awful happy, Rat. Say, you cert’nly are a
pippin! What done all this?”

“Never mind, Bill, you’ll see the light some day. No man knows w’en the
spirit cometh. Brother Butters an’ I are goin’ to hold some services out
in front o’ the store this afternoon. We want all the chairs fixed nice
an’ even. Brother Butters will preach, an’ I’m goin’ to line out hymn
passages ’long with the sermon. We aint got no music, but me linin’ ’em
out’ll be jest the same as if they was played in tunes, fer it’ll show
what they are. I hope that some o’ you fellers’ll bite at what’s
offered.”

Rat was regarded with much concealed levity and mock respect, as he
arranged the chairs in a curved row, and further developments were
awaited with suppressed interest.

Bill Stiles joyfully accepted the center of the row. Tipton Posey and
the Serpent’s Hiss were at the ends. After the chairs were filled the
rest of the audience sat along the edge of the platform and dangled its
feet.

Brother Butters and Brother Hyatt brought out a box, which they placed
on the ground about twenty feet from the audience. Brother Butters
thought that a little distance would add dignity and solemnity.

During the preparations the similarity of the chair arrangement on the
platform to that in the minstrel show at the county seat, which nearly
everybody present had attended during the preceding winter, occurred to
Tipton Posey.

“Mr. Brown!” he called to Bill Stiles in the center.

“Yes, Mr. Bones!” responded Bill, instantly catching the spirit of the
occasion.

“Mr. Brown, why is this congregation like a ten penny nail?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Bones, why this congregation is like a ten penny
nail. Why _is_ this congregation like a ten penny nail?”

“Because, Mr. Brown, it’s goin’ to be driven in,” sagely replied Mr.
Bones, with a significant glance at the gathering rain clouds overhead.

“Gentlemen, please shed yer hats!” said Brother Hyatt, as he pounded for
order on the box with a carrot that he had taken from a basket in the
store. “Brother Butters will now lead in prayer.”

During the invocation, which was brief but heartfelt, Spot walked out
and stretched himself on the ground in front of the box. Brother Butters
and Brother Hyatt both ended the prayer with loud amens.

“Here are the lines o’ the first hymn,” announced Brother Hyatt.

                   “Blow ye the trumpet! blow
                   The gladly solemn sound—
                   Let all the nations know,
                   To earth’s remotest bound,
                   The day of Jubilee is come,
                   Return, ye ransomed sinners, home!

                   And now the living waters flow,
                   To cheer the humble soul;
                   From sea to sea the rivers go,
                   And spread from pole to pole.”

Brother Butters then began his discourse, most of which consisted of
written extracts from old Calvinistic exhortations.

“Our sermon this afternoon is on the subject of the eternity of hell
torments, and the text is from Matthew 25–46: “These shall go away into
everlasting punishment.””

Brother Hyatt:—“A-A-MEN!—Now feel ye the sting of the lash of the
prophet!”

                   “Lo, on a narrow neck of land,
                   Twixt two unbounded seas I stand,
                   Yet how insensible!
                   A point of time, a moment’s space,
                   Removes me to yon heav’nly place,
                   Or shuts me up in hell!”

Brother Butters:—“You have a glorious opportunity today that may never
come again. The door of mercy is opened wide, but the path that leads to
it is long and narrow. A slight swerve leads to the fiery pit. Many come
from the east, the west, the north, the south, and many fall. We may
conceive of the fierceness of that awful fire of wrath if we think of a
spider, or other noisome insect, thrown into the midst of glowing coals.
How immediately it yields, and curls, and withers in the frightful heat!
What pleasure we take in its agonizing destruction! Here is a little
image of what ye may expect if ye persist in sin, and a picture of the
place where pestilential sinners wail.”

Brother Hyatt:—“A-A-MEN!—Oh, hear ye the happy message!”

                  “Since man by sin has lost his God,
                  He seeks creation through,
                  And vainly hopes for solid bliss,
                  In trying something new.”

Brother Butters:—“The thought comes to me that the row of sinners in
yonder chairs typifies sin in its vilest form—that of a snake. Tip at
one end suggests the tail, and Dick Shakes, whom ye call ‘the Serpent’s
Hiss,’ at the other, represents the loathsome head. It was a snake that
carried sin into the Garden of Eden. It is a snake that confronts the
Lord’s servants at this meeting, and, in my mind’s eye, I see that
writhing serpent, breeze-shaken and hair-hung, over the yawning abyss of
hell!”

Brother Hyatt:—“_Can you beat that?_”

                   “Oh, blissful thought!
                   There seems a voice in ev’ry gale,
                   A tongue in ev’ry op’ning flower!”

Bill Stiles:—“This is hot stuff!”

Brother Butters:—“How will the duration of torment without end cause the
heart to melt like wax! Even those proud, sturdy, and hell-hardened
spirits, the devils, tremble at the thoughts of that greater torture,
which they are to suffer on the day of judgment. The poor damned souls
of men will have their misery vastly augmented.”

Brother Hyatt:—“A-A-AMEN!—They will get the limit!”

                        “Oh, Lord, behold me,
                        And see how vile I am!”

Brother Butters:—“The fierceness of a great fire, as when a house is all
in flames, gives one an idea of its rage, and we see that the greater
the fire is, the fiercer is its heat in every part, and the reason is,
because one part heats another part.”

Bill Stiles:—“If that rain don’t come pretty soon you fellers’ talk’ll
set fire to that box!”

Brother Hyatt:—“The mockery of sinners availeth not! Now listen to
another verse!”

                    “I love to tell the story,
                    ’Tis pleasant to repeat
                    What seems each time I tell it,
                    More wonderfully sweet.”

Brother Butters:—“We have seen that the misery of the departed soul of a
sinner, besides what it now feels, consists in amazing fears of what is
yet to come. When the union of the soul and the body is actually broken,
and the body has fetched its last gasp, the soul forsakes the old
habitation, and then falls into the hands of devils, who fly upon it,
and seize it more violently than ever hungry lions flew upon their
prey.”

Brother Hyatt:—“A-A-MEN!!!—Oh, what a finish! They are no ice hunks
there!”

                 “Fresh as the grass our bodies stand,
                 And flourish bright as day—
                 A blasting wind sweeps o’er the land,
                 And fades the grass away!”

Brother Butters:—“We now come to the joy of the saints in heaven who
behold the sufferings of sinners and unbaptized infants in hell. They
shall see their doleful state, and it will heighten their sense of
blessedness. When they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the
raging of the flames, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and
consider that they in the meantime are in the most blissful state for
all eternity, how they will rejoice!”

Brother Hyatt:—“Oh, listen ye to the comforts of the church! Oh, speed
that happy day!”

                    “Hark! Hark! The notes of joy
                    Roll o’er the heav’nly plains,
                    And all the seraphs find employ
                    For their sublimest strains!”

Brother Butters:—“The scriptures plainly teach that the saints in glory
shall see the doleful state of the damned, and witness the execution of
Almighty wrath.”

Brother Hyatt:—“A-A-MEN!”

                 “Oh, the transporting rapturous scene,
                 That rises to my sight!”

Brother Butters:—“The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of
the saints forever, and give them a more lively relish of the joys of
their heavenly home. The righteous and the wicked in the other world
will see each other’s state. Thus the rich man in hell, and Lazarus and
Abraham in heaven, are represented as seeing each other in the 16th
chapter of Luke. The wicked in their misery will see the saints in the
kingdom of heaven.—Luke 13–28–29. ‘There shall be weeping and gnashing
of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all the
prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.’”

Brother Hyatt:—

                    “The seraphs bright are hov’ring
                    Around the throne above—
                    Their harps are ever tuning
                    To thrilling strains of love!
                    They’ll tell the sweet old story
                    I always loved so well!
                    Oh, let me float in glory
                    And hear sinners wail in hell!”

Brother Butters:—“Now come we to the procrastination practiced by the
average sinner, and in Proverbs 27–1 we find the words, ‘Boast not
thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.’”

Brother Hyatt:—

                     “The lilies of the field,
                     That quickly fade away,
                     May well to us a lesson yield,
                     For we are frail as they!”

Brother Butters:—“Dear friends, tomorrow is not our own. There are many
ways and means whereby the lives of men are ended. It is written in the
book of Job, chapter 21, verse 23, that ‘One dieth in his full strength,
being wholly at ease and quiet.’”

Brother Hyatt:—“A-A-MEN!—Now listen ye unto these words!”

                   “Melt, melt, these frozen hearts,
                   These stubborn wills subdue;
                   Each evil passion overcome,
                   And form them all anew!”

Brother Butters:—“Oh, ye unregenerates, that wallow in sin and
wickedness on that platform! God despises you, and the flames await you!
Go down upon your accursed knees tonight and beseech salvation. This is
Friday, Saturday may be too late, and everything in the way of grace may
be gone!”

Brother Hyatt:—“Slim chance fer this bunch! It’s you to the red hot
hooks!”

                      “Hark! What celestial notes,
                      What melody do we hear?
                      Soft on the morn it floats,
                      And fills the ravished ear!”

Brother Butters:—“How can you be reasonably quiet for one day, or for
one night, when you know not when the end will come? If you should be
found unregenerate, how fearful would be the consequence! Consider and
harken unto this counsel! Repent and be prepared for death! The bow of
wrath is bent, the arrow is made ready on the string, and nothing but
the restraint of Almighty anger keeps the arrow one moment from being
made drunk with your blood!”

Brother Hyatt:—“A-A-MEN!! A-A-MEN!!—Oh, ye tight wads of iniquity,
loosen up, fer this is the last call!”

                    “Let floods of penitential grief
                    Burst forth from ev’ry eye!”

Brother Butters:—“Be prepared for the opening of the eternal gates of
pearl that are bathed in the light that shines for the meek and the pure
in heart. The blessings of repentance are now before you. The choice of
taking or leaving is yours!”

Brother Hyatt:—“Nuthin’ could be fairer than that!”

               “Oh, Bless the harps that played the tune,
               That brings us together this afternoon!”

Brother Butters:—“Be prepared for that awful day of judgment, when the
paths that lead to heaven and the paths that lead to hell are divided by
the width of a hair!”

Brother Hyatt:—“A-A-MEN—A-A-MEN!!!”

                “There is a fountain filled with blood,
                Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
                And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
                Lose all their guilty stains.”

At this point the rain descended out of the kindly skies, the flaming
oratory was extinguished, and everybody retreated into the store. It was
getting dark, and while the services were not completed, the exhorters
felt that much spiritual progress had been made.

Most of the regulars departed silently when the shower was over.

“Say, Rat, was that you down on the marsh the night we tried the goose
call?” asked Bill Wirrick. “I seen somebody out near the channel w’en
them funny streaks was in the sky. Since it all come out about the goose
call we don’t try to keep it dark no more. The fellers ’round the store
got onto it, an’ they’ve been devillin’ the life out o’ me an’ Tip. The
dad gasted thing wouldn’t work an’ we’ve took it apart. We tried to make
it sound like a flock o’ geese, but it sounded more like a flock o’
thunder storms. Them sky streaks that night was a funny thing. They’s a
paper here some’rs that’s got it all in. Lemme see if I c’n find it. Tip
had it yisterd’y.”

Wirrick finally found the newspaper. Hyatt took it to the dim kerosene
lamp and spent some time studying the long account of the magnetic
storm. It was explained by scientific authorities, and bemoaned by the
interests it had affected. The telegraph and telephone companies had
been put out of business for several hours, and commerce had suffered
while Hyatt’s soul was being purified in celestial fires.

Disillusionment came. As long as the things that were going on in this
world were natural, and could be explained, Rat saw no reason for
worrying about the next. A cherished idol was shattered; his piety was
dead sea fruit.

With the calmness of a cool gamester, who has thrown and lost his
all—slightly pale, but with firm and deliberate step, he went behind the
door and secured the rifle and cartridges he had asked Bill Stiles to
restore to the swindled trapper. With no word of farewell to those
around him, he lighted his long neglected old pipe, reeking with sin and
nicotine, whistled to Spot, and walked away down the path to the river
bank where the canoe had been left, and disappeared.

Brother Butters went out on the platform and looked longingly after him.

Night had fallen upon the river. Somewhere far away in the purple gloom,
that softly lay upon its dimpling and restless tide, was a lost sheep.
Its fleece had become black, but it was more precious than the ninety
and nine that were still within the fold.



                                  VII
                            THE TURKEY CLUB


“We’re goin’ to take you up the river to the Turkey Club tomorrer,”
announced “Rat” Hyatt, as we left Posey’s store one night. “There’s
goin’ to be some doin’s there that you’ll like, an’ you’ll meet a lot o’
people you never seen before, an’ prob’ly some you won’t never want to
see ag’in.”

We had spent the evening with the usual group that clustered around the
smoky stove when the weather rendered the platform outside
uncomfortable. It was late in the fall and Thanksgiving was only a few
days away, but Indian Summer still lingered, with its purple days and
frosty nights, and I was loth to leave the river country while it
lasted.

The council around the stove often varied in composition, but not in
character. It was always picturesque, not only in its light and shade
and color, but in the primitive philosophy, spontaneous wit, original
profanity and ornate narrative that issued from it.

On this occasion “Pop” Wilkins had told, with much circumstantial
detail, a long story about his old plug hat. He said it “was minted
about thirty years ago some’rs down east,” and was bought for him by
subscription by the congregation over which he at that time presided.
The hat was in the Allegheny river a couple of days during its journey
to his address, but when it finally got to him the congregation had it
all fixed up so that everybody said it was just as good as new. Since
then he had only had to have it repaired twice. He had a great affection
for it, on account of its old associations, and hoped that it would be
buried with him when he died—a hope that was shared by all present. The
old plug was an echo of years long departed and a never-failing butt of
merry jest. The tickets of all the raffles that had ever been held in
that part of the country, that anybody could remember, had been shaken
up in Pop’s hat.

The old man’s story had reminded his listeners of others, and it was
quite late when Posey remarked that he was going upstairs to bed, and
“to keep things from bein’ carried off” he was “goin’ to lock up.”

At ten the next morning five of us started up stream in three of the
small boats that were usually attached to stakes under the bridge. Hyatt
and I were in his duck canoe, which he skilfully propelled with his long
paddle. Posey and Pop Wilkins followed, in a leaky green craft with
squeaky oars. Far in the rear Bill Stiles stemmed the gentle current in
his “push boat,” which he declared was never intended for anybody but
him. This idea had been generally accepted along the river, for Bill’s
boat was the only one for many miles up and down stream that had never
been borrowed or stolen. The fact that it was so “tippy” that nobody but
Bill seemed to be able to sit in it without being spilled into the river
accounted for its immunity.

[Illustration:

  “BILL” STILES
]

“Some day,” remarked Bill, “a cold wet stranger’ll come to the store to
git warm, an’ tell some kind of a story about fallin’ offen the bridge
into the river, but ev’rybody’ll know what’s happened. Nobody that’s
acquainted ’round ’ere’ll ever try to navigate with my push boat.”

He called the craft “The Flapjack.” The roughly lettered name appeared
in yellow paint on each side of the bow, and to his subtle mind, it was
a sufficient warning to the unwary. He said that the name was also
lettered along the bottom of the boat underneath, “an’ anybody that
wants to c’n take e’r out’n the river an’ read it. She won’t keep ’im
wait’n more’n a few minutes.”

The river was low and we scraped gently over a few sand bars on the way
up. After proceeding about two miles we came to a wobbly and much
patched bridge, on which were several figures. A fringe of cane fish
poles drooped idly from its sides. The figures were motionless and would
remain so until the Turkey Club activities began.

“Here’s where we git off,” said Hyatt, as we turned in near the bridge.
We waited for the rest of the flotilla to come up. When our party had
all arrived we climbed a zig-zag path and walked along the road to the
little gray church a few hundred feet away. It was here that the
Reverend Daniel Butters—“The Javelin of the Lord”—was wont to expound
the gospels, formulate dreary doctrines, and to depict the frightfulness
of damnation to his superannuated and docile flock.

So far as human faith and opinion could influence the destinies of any
of these aged and serene believers, their spiritual safety had been
assured for many years. They went regularly to church, principally
because they wanted to be seen there, and because they had nothing else
particularly to do or think about Sundays. Alas, how the ranks of
worldly worshipers would dwindle were it not for these things!

Like that of many preachers, the voice of Butters was of one crying in a
desert to passing airs and unheeding sands. There were none to succor or
uplift, and none to be beckoned to the fold. They were all in, and
further effort was painting the lily and adding perfume to the rose. The
strife was won, but yet he battled on. The great tide of human error
flowed far beyond his ken, and he could drag no spiritual spoil from its
turbid waters.

In fancy his religious establishment might be likened to a cocoon, into
which none might enter, and from which none might emerge, except in a
new and glorified state.

Some mournful Lombardy poplars stood in front of the unpainted
structure, and on one side was the little cemetery, with its serried
mounds and conventional epitaphs. A weeping willow wept near the center
of the plot, some rabbits hopped about near the broken fence at the
farther side of the enclosure, and a stray cow fed peacefully among the
leaning slabs.

“There’s a lot o’ people represented in that flock o’ tombstones,”
observed Hyatt, as we turned in from the road, “an’ they’s a lot o’
cussedness out there that it’s a good thing to have covered up.”

Both physically and spiritually the old church was a dismal remnant, but
it was the regional social center. The building was utilized in many
profane ways that saddened the pious heart of the Reverend Butters, but
to him, its crowning desecration was the Turkey Club.

The membership of this unique organization comprised practically all of
the male population within eight or ten miles up and down the river—and
Sophy Perkins, of whom more hereafter. Most of the small politicians of
the county were affiliated with the club, and used it for such
propaganda as from time to time befitted their objects and petty
ambitions. Originally its purpose was to foster and finance the annual
“turkey shoot.” This popular event usually just preceded Thanksgiving,
and was the occasion of a general holiday.

During the forty odd years of the club’s existence it had gradually
broadened the scope of its early activities until it became more or less
identified with pretty much everything of a local public character. Its
only rival as a social focus was Posey’s store.

Under its auspices the Fourth of July, golden weddings, and other
anniversaries, were celebrated. Dances, amateur theatricals, old
settlers’ picnics, tax protest meetings, lectures, political “rallies,”
“grand raffles,” dog and chicken fights, greased pig contests, quilting
bees, ministerial showers and other affairs were “pulled off” during the
year. The ministerial showers were about the only functions that the
Reverend Butters did not consider unholy.

There were special meetings for discussion of diverse subjects,
including the mistakes of congress, advice to the President, the tariff,
the oppressions of capital, the tyranny of labor, prohibition, the negro
question, restriction of immigration, Shakespeare criticism, the Wrongs
of Ireland, and a host of other things that generated heat and lasting
acrimony. The meetings sometimes approached turbulency when some
over-zealous orator gave vent to unpopular ideas, or made statements
that seemed to justify somebody in the audience in calling him a liar.
Few participants ever left convinced of anything in particular, except
the correctness of the opinions they had brought with them.

We found a gathering of about a hundred club members and numerous small
boys in the grove back of the church. We strolled about through the
crowd and I was introduced by my companions to a number of their old
friends.

Bill was the official head of the club and deservedly popular. To the
small boys he was a deified personage. His constitutional title was
“Chief Gobbler,” and he bore it with easy grace and a quiet air of
_noblesse oblige_. His opinion prevailed on club matters, except when
Sophy Perkins was in contact with the situation, and this was most of
the time.

Sophy was the secretary, treasurer, general manager, board of directors,
and, to her mind, constituted the greater part of the membership,
although her duties were supposed to be merely clerical. All her life
she had yearned for something besides her husband to regulate and
superintend, and the Turkey Club had been a godsend.

She was a somewhat attenuated female, on the regretful side of fifty.
Her physiognomy was repelling and expressed characteristics of an alley
cat. There was a predatory gleam in her narrowly placed greenish eyes.
They bespoke malignant jealousy and relentless cupidity. She seemed
enveloped by an atmosphere—vague and indefinable—that prompted cautious
and immediate retirement from her vicinity. In private conversation she
was commonly referred to as “The Stinger,” and the soubriquet seemed to
have been justly earned by a badly speckled record of secret intrigue
and underhanded methods. Anonymous letters, petty trickery and duplicity
in manifold forms were included in the misdeeds that had been tacitly
laid at Sophy’s door.

She was of that female type that demands all male privileges, in
addition to those of her own sex, and she often took advantage of the
fact that she was a woman to do and say things that she would probably
have been knocked down for if she had been a man—one of the most
contemptible forms of cowardice.

Her shortcomings were legion, but nobody else was available who was
willing to carry the burden of the clerical duties of the club, and she
was allowed to run things to her heart’s content. Her main reward was
the occasional mention of her name in the county paper, in connection
with the activities of the club. She treasured the carefully garnered
clippings and gloated over them through the dreary years. To her they
were precious incense, and, while they gratified, but never satisfied
her vanity and hunger for notoriety, they were the compensation of her
narrow and disappointed life, and the food of her impoverished and
selfish spirit.

She was without the consolations of religion, the resources of culture,
or the sweet recompense of children’s voices, to soften the asperities
of her fruitless existence. The gray hairs had come and there was no
love around Sophy, for she had sent forth none during the period of life
in which temples of the soul must be builded, if kindly light beams from
their windows, and there be fit sanctuary for the weary spirit in the
after years.

Successive official heads of the club, who seemed to be attracting more
public attention than Sophy, were submarined, made officially sick, and
retired gracefully. The supply of these official heads finally became
restricted, and for the past few years Bill’s incumbency had been
undisturbed, although he frequently threatened to “throw up the job.”

J. Montgomery Perkins was a subdued helpmate. He was an inoffensive
little man, who was always alluded to as “Sophy’s husband,” and when
this happened somebody would usually exclaim sympathetically, “Poor
Perk!”

Of late years the club had suffered from “too much Sophy Perkins.”
Interest had begun to lag and apathy was creeping over the membership.

“You want to look out fer Sophy,” confided Hyatt, before I had met her.
“She’s got a lot o’ wires loose in the upper story, but she knows where
the ends of all of ’em are when they’s anything in it fer her.”

Promptly at 2 P.M. Bill pounded with a big stick on a board that was
sustained at the ends by the heads of two resonant barrels. The confused
hum of voices ceased and the eyes of the scattered groups were upon him.
Sophy whispered to him that he was now to announce the opening of the
shoot. It was Bill’s intention to do this anyway, but Sophy thought it
better that she should take part in what was going on. Substantially his
remarks were as follows:

“Gentlemen and One Lady: This ain’t no time fer a long speech. The
annual turkey shoot o’ this club’s now on, an’ anybody that’s paid ’is
dues an’ ’is entrance fee c’n git in on the game. Ten fat an’ husky
birds are in them boxes, an’ the boxes are fifty yards from the rope
that’s stretched between them two trees, an’ that’s the shoot’n stand.
The chair has made the meas’erments. The birds’ll keep their heads poked
up out o’ the holes in the tops o’ the boxes to rubber at the scenery,
an’ they gotta be killed by a bullet in the head er neck. Hit’n ’em
through the boxes don’t go this year like it did last. Them stone piles
is to protect ’em up to the tops. Any eggs found in the boxes after the
shoot’n belongs to the winners. Ev’ry shooter’ll have ten shots for ’is
dollar, an’ ’e must stand an’ shoot without rest’n ’is rifle on anything
but ’imself. No bullet bigger’n yer thumb’s allowed. If you bust the
bird’s head, er break ’is neck, it’s yours, an’ if you don’t hit nuth’n
in the first ten shots you c’n buy more chances as long as the turkeys
an’ yer money last. The money from the shoot’n’ll go to pay fer the
fowls, an’ if they’s any live ones left after the show, they’ll be
auctioned off to the highest bidders, if they don’t git insulted by the
low bids an’ fly off with the boxes.

“I guess I’ve told all they is to say, but if they’s anything anybody
don’t understand, er if anybody’s got any kick comin’, speak up. Oh,
yes, I fergot to say there’ll be a booby prize of a little tin horn with
a purple ribbon on it, fer them that can’t shoot should be allowed to
toot. If they ain’t no objection the shoot’n’ll now commence.”

With another loud bang on the board the address closed and the crowd
drifted toward the taut rope.

“Hold on there!” yelled Sophy Perkins, frantically waving a small book.
“Nobody’s paid a cent yet!”

“You fellers’ll have to ante up before any blood runs!” shouted Bill as
he again pounded the board.

Nineteen contestants qualified at the barrel behind which Sophy
presided. Her fishy orbs lighted up at the sight of the money, which she
deftly deposited in her stocking after modestly turning her back to the
crowd.

“She’ll chaperone that cash to the day o’ the resurrection if somebody
don’t kep tab on it,” said Hyatt in an undertone as the proceeds
disappeared among the mysteries of Sophy’s apparel. “We’re goin’ to put
rollers under that old girl some day, but we can’t do it till we c’n git
somebody else willin’ to do the work.”

Posey and Hyatt were provided with firearms, and Pop Wilkins had brought
an old-fashioned muzzle loading rifle with a long barrel, which he
handled with much tenderness.

“I used to shoot lady-bugs offen the edges o’ the leaves on the tops o’
high trees with this old iron when I was young an’ spry, an’ mebbe I’ll
hit sump’n with it today,” he declared, as he ambled over toward the
shooting stand.

“I didn’t bring no gun, an’ I won’t do no shoot’n,” remarked Bill. “It
wouldn’t be dignified fer me as head of the club, an’ it wouldn’t be
fair fer the rest fer me to shoot. It ’ud be like swip’n candy from
little boys.”

As Bill had not been known to kill anything with a gun for over twenty
years, his explanation was accepted without comment.

Mr. Joshua T. Varney appeared at this stage of the proceedings, and
offered to take two dollars’ worth of chances and pay three dollars
premium if he could have the first trial and twenty successive shots. As
it usually took a great many shots to hit a turkey’s head at fifty
yards, his proposition was accepted after some discussion.

“Josh” Varney was a traveling salesman, who for several years had
periodically visited Posey’s store, on his rounds through the county,
and sold supplies adapted to the general country trade.

He was a smooth faced man of about forty, with keen gray eyes, a good
story teller, and from him radiated the assurance and suavity of his
kind. He had always been a “good mixer,” and was considered an all
around good fellow. He had joined the club two years before, but had
never attended a “shoot.”

He went to his buggy, that stood near the roadside among numerous other
vehicles, and returned with a small repeating rifle. He then stepped
over to the rope and began shooting at the bobbing heads above the
boxes. In this way hundreds of venerable gobblers and dignified hen
turkeys had lost their lives in past years through innocent curiosity as
to the doings of the outside world.

The birds were all dead when Mr. Varney had fired fourteen times. Quiet
but well chosen profanity troubled the air when the tenth bird succumbed
and the performance was ended.

Bill again belabored the board and announced the end of the contest.

“Gentlemen, you prob’ly notice that the shoot’n’s all over! Sump’n has
been done unto us, an’ somebody has had an elegant pastime. This ain’t
been no turkey shoot, it’s been a horr’ble massacre, an’ after this all
Deadwood Dicks’ll be barred, unless they git a mile away when they shoot
at anything ’round ’ere. We better kill our turkeys with axes after
this, an’ only sell the chance o’ one whopp. We ain’t got but one booby
prize, an’ I guess you all better take turns blowin’ on it. This ain’t
been no kind of a day, an’ it’s come to a sad end. The club’ll now
perceed to its annual business, an’ as the day is nice an’ warm we might
as well do it out doors ’stid o’ goin’ in an’ muss’n up the church.
Sophy, what you got on the fire that ’as to be ’tended to?”

“They ain’t no business that I can’t ’tend to myself,” replied Sophy
grimly. “The treasurer’s report’s been left home by accident, an’ they
ain’t nuth’n else to come up, ’less somebody wants to pay dues, or you
want to ’lect some new members.”

With this she favored me with a stealthy sidelong glance and I was
thereupon proposed for membership by Rat Hyatt, who added that I seemed
to be the “only outsider present from a distance that hadn’t
hornswoggled the club durin’ the past hour.”

Sophy’s talon-like fingers closed quickly on the two-dollar bill that I
handed her as the first year’s dues, after my election and the formal
adjournment of the meeting.

While I was entirely out of sympathy with the turkey shoots, I was glad
for several reasons to become a member.

After most of the crowd had dispersed I was solemnly conducted into the
church and informed that, in order to become a full-fledged member,
certain things must be imparted to me to complete my initiation. I was
then told that all “Turkeys” knew each other by certain grips and
cabalistic words. The “grip” consisted of shaking hands with three
fingers only, representing the three front toes of a turkey. The
“countersign” was “Pop-Pop!” signifying rifle firing at the annual
shoot. The countersign, loudly uttered, with three fingers held aloft,
constituted “the grand high sign,” and I was told that I must always
relieve any brother Turkey who hungered or thirsted, and made such a
sign. With my promise to remember all this, the ceremony, which my
instructors, Bill and Rat, considered very humorous, was ended.

The Reverend Butters had been a sorrowful spectator of the proceedings
of the afternoon, but his furrowed face brightened when Josh Varney
gracefully presented him with one of the big dripping birds that he was
carrying to his buggy. In prayer before his congregation on the
following Sunday he expressed humble gratitude with the words, “Out of
the iniquities of the world, O Lord, has sustenance come to the body of
thy servant, and beneath a cloak of sin have Thy blessings been
transmitted unto Thine anointed one.”

The relations between the old preacher and Rat Hyatt had been slightly
embarrassing since Rat’s conversion and sudden backsliding of the year
before, and they had little to say to each other when they met. Rat was
now regarded as a hopeless loss and a minute part of hell’s future fuel
supply. He considered his former spiritual comforter “a busted wind
bag,” so there seemed little left to say on either side.

On the way back to the boats I reflected on the degrading entertainment
of the afternoon. Outside of what Pop Wilkins called “the horning in of
that turkey pirate,” the day was considered a success. The well aimed
bullets had thrilled the spectators with savage joy, for somewhere in
the heart of nearly every average human abides the primitive lust for
blood. The marksmanship might just as well have been exhibited on
inanimate and unsuffering targets. The helpless turkeys in the boxes
gratified the baser instincts to the extent of their limitations, and
when they were all dead the crowd went home as happy as if it had been
to a bull fight, a prize ring, or to any other brutal spectacle
disguised by pretended admiration of scientific ability. On the way back
down the river, our boats kept close together and there was much
discussion over the day’s events.

Pop Wilkins delivered a long tirade against Varney, and wound up by
modestly admitting that probably he would have beheaded all of the birds
with his squirrel rifle if he had had the opportunity, so after all it
was merely a question as to who shot first.

“That feller c’d prob’ly thread needles with that damn rifle,” observed
Bill. “I’ve read o’ fellers that had telescope eyes an’ a sixth sense
that somehow couldn’t miss nuth’n they ever shot at. They c’d plunk
holes wherever they wanted to, like they was use’n a gimlet. I wonder
what ’e wasted them four extry catritches fer? Prob’ly so’s to make a
nice sociable feel’n all ’round an’ make ’em think it wasn’t quite so
raw. He prob’ly goes to shoots all over the country an’ sells the
plunder in the market.”

The chill winds of a desolate winter had swept through the naked woods
along the river, and a balmy May had come, with its tender unfolding
leaves of hope and perfumed blossoms, when Josh Varney again appeared on
the scene.

“Well! Well! How’s everybody?” he shouted genially as he drove up in
front of Posey’s store one forenoon with a roan horse and a smart new
buggy.

“We’re slowly git’n well. Say, Perfessor, you ain’t got no gun with you,
have you?” queried Bill, as the pair shook hands. “’Cause if you have
they’s a lot of us that’s goin’ to hide some poultry.”

“Now, look ’ere Bill, you don’t want to be sore ’bout that little
shoot’n last fall. I gave all them turkeys to some poor people, an’ they
done a lot o’ good. I just happened to hit ’em, an’ I couldn’t repeat
that performance in a hundred years.”

“You bet you couldn’t ’round ’ere if we seen you first,” replied Bill.
“I’d hate to furnish turkeys fer you to shoot at fer a hundred years, an
I’d hate to be the poor people wait’n fer you to feed the birds to ’em.
Say, what you got up yer sleeve this trip? Sump’n still funnier, I
s’pose.”

Posey was busy with a customer, and Varney remained with us on the
platform. He produced some murky and doubtful cigars that Bill declared
looked like genuine “El Hempos” and we smoked and talked for some time.
Pop Wilkins joined us, and Sophy Perkins arrived at the store to
purchase some calico. She bestowed a reserved nod and a feline glance on
Varney, and greeted the rest of the party with scant politeness. She
stood just inside, near the entrance, and utilized the time Posey was
spending with his other customer in listening to our conversation. She
soon became so absorbed in it that she forgot all about her calico and
remained riveted to her point of vantage. Posey respected her
preoccupation and busied himself with other things after his first
visitor had left through the side door.

The chairs outside were tipped against the long window sill, and the
party was making itself comfortable in the spring sunshine. Varney was
relating a wondrous tale, and was fully aware of the acute eavesdropping
within. Many of the romantic touches in his discourse were apparently
for Sophy’s benefit.

“I got a long letter from a friend of mine,” said Josh, as he felt
through his inside pockets, “an’ I wish I had it with me, but I guess
I’ve left it somewhere. He’s making a trip ’round the world an’ ’e
writes me that in India he ran across a marvellous breed of turkeys. You
know turkeys originated in India, an’ they come from there first about
five hundred years ago. These strange birds he writes about live away up
in the Himalaya mountains and are pure white. They’re much larger than
ordinary turkeys, an’ their color adapts ’em to the snowy peaks, an’
protects ’em from the natives when they pursue ’em out o’ the valleys,
where they go to eat frogs along the water courses. They live almost
entirely on frogs when they c’n git ’em. When they’re disturbed they
wing back to the frozen heights, an’ sometimes don’t come down for a
year. When they’re hunted up there they fly from crag to crag an’
they’re almost invisible, an’ its a funny thing, but their meat’s all
white, too. They ain’t no dark meat on ’em like there is on common
turkeys.

“They lay enormous eggs an’ the eggs generally have two yolks. Sometimes
twins hatch out of ’em. The double yolks give an extra amount of
vitality to the young turks, which is necessary up among the cold rocks
where they’re hatched.

“The eggs have a delicious spicy flavor that comes from the spearmint
and other pungent plants that the frogs nibble along the streams. The
eggs are highly prized by epicures, an’ there’s a Frenchman livin’ in
Bombay that pays two rupees apiece for all ’e c’n git of ’em. He makes
what ’e calls ‘_omelets de frog secondaire_,’ or something like that,
with ’em, an’ ’e says there’s nothing like ’em. With him its hen eggs no
more.

“There’s a sacred caste in India called the Brahmins, and they believe
that these white turkeys are what they call reincarnations of a
supernatural race of beings that ruled the earth before man existed.

“Somebody ought to import some o’ them turkeys an’ breed ’em in this
country. Along a river like this they’d find plenty to eat an’ they
wouldn’t be no expense at all. My friend writes that ’e hopes to bring
two or three back with him when ’e comes home, an’ I’m anxious to see
’em. Oh, yes, come to think of it, I put a photograph in my pocket book
that was in the letter.”

Varney thereupon produced a kodak print of a stately white bird. Some
figures in oriental costume, somewhat out of focus and indistinct, were
grouped back of it in the picture. Varney explained that these were
Brahmins and native hunters.

Sophy peeked over the pile of straw hats in the window and had a good
look at the photograph as Varney deftly held it so that it could be seen
from that direction without appearing to do so.

We were greatly entertained by the story.

“Say, Perfessor,” asked Bill, “what do them fowls an’ their young ones
feed on when they don’t git offen the snow an’ go down fer frogs? Do
they have to have the frogs fer their complexions?”

“That’s the strange part of it,” replied Varney. “You see they sort o’
lead double lives. Nature is wonderful in all her works. In the
Himalayas there’s a small red mosquito that has never been found except
away above the timber line. They have ’em out west in this country, too.
They sometimes cover the snow so thick that it looks like blood, an’ the
little turks patter ’round on the drifts an’ eat ’em with voracity, an’
the big ones do, too.”

“‘Voracity,’ what’s that—sump’n their mixed with?” asked Bill.

“No, it means their awful appetite.”

“I’d s’pose them skeets ’ud make the turkey meat taste kin’ o’ nippy an’
prickly, sort o’ red-pepper like,” observed Bill, winking solemnly in
our direction. “It oughta be hot stuff.”

“The insects make the finest kind o’ food for ’em,” continued Varney,
ignoring Bill’s gentle raillery, and the incredulous smiles of the rest
of us. “When the mosquito crop’s extra good they get so fat they can’t
fly or run very far, and are easily caught. When they’re lean they c’n
run like a race horse. The bird that’s in the picture weighed nearly
seventy pounds when ’e was captured. He couldn’t fly, an’ ’e was chased
into a cleft in a big rock and a net was slipped over ’im. The man that
caught ’im was named Bungush Swamee, an ’e was a famous hunter. You see
everybody has funny names in India.”

“What was that Bungush feller doin’ up there with a net?” asked Pop
Wilkins. “Did ’e s’pect to find fish?”

“No, he took it up there for that very purpose. He wanted to catch ’is
birds alive, without injury, so ’e c’d sell ’em to the museums an’
menageries. One year he caught seven an’ shipped ’em to the Zoo in
Bombay, an’ that’s how that Frenchman I just spoke of happened to try
the eggs. They laid ’em in the Zoo and the keeper o’ the Zoo was a
friend o’ his.

“You askin’ about expecting to find fish up there reminds me that my
friend said in ’is letter that another way they had o’ catching the
birds was to lay out set lines over the snow with big fish hooks on ’em.
They fastened ’em to the jagged rocks an’ left ’em out three or four
days. They baited the hooks with frogs they’d brought up from down
below. The frogs, of course, froze, but the turkeys would swallow ’em,
an’ when the frogs thawed out inside their crops they’d be stuck with
the hooks. My friend wrote that one man got three on one line once an’
had a terrible time pullin’ ’em in over the rough ice and snow. They
have some awful snow storms up in them mountains. Sometimes it snows for
years without let’n up, an’ the snow gits to be half a mile deep, so you
see there’s lots of uncertainties.”

At this point Bill removed his tattered hat and bowed reverently to
Varney.

Pop Wilkins remarked that he had often caught turkeys on fish lines, but
his custom had been to troll for them through the open fields with spoon
hooks, or use a pole and line with a casting bait when the birds were in
the trees. Although he had never tried set lines on snow, he had no
doubt it would work.

The subject was changed, and Sophy, after making her purchase, departed
without looking in our direction.

“That feller’s the oiliest liar I ever heard,” declared Bill, after
Varney had transacted his business and gone, “an’ e’ tells int’restin’
lies, too. It beats me how ’e does ’em. It’s a sort o’ natural gift,
like singin’ an’ drawin’ pitchers, an’ I love to hear ’im throw it. Most
liars ’ud stop when they seen it wasn’t soakin’ in an’ people was git’n
weak, but the Perfessor keeps right on ’till the goose flesh comes. Say,
Pop, you an’ me’ll have to ferment sump’n to drown ’im with when ’e
blows ’round ’ere ag’in. Let’s tell ’im one that’ll put ’im out o’
business for six months.”

“All right, Bill, you be thinkin’ of it. You’re sump’n of a past master
yourself. I’m goin’ home to rest. I got enough for one day.”

Varney chuckled quietly to himself as he crossed the bridge, for with
his story he had woven a web of many meshes, and to it he hoped time
would bring valuable spoil. He knew that he could rely on Sophy’s
cupidity and insatiable curiosity to “start something,” and when he came
again it was his intention to amplify and strengthen the ground work he
had laid.

A week later the firm by whom Josh was employed received a mysterious
letter asking all about him. It came from the county seat, and was
afterwards ascertained to have been written by one of Sophy’s
acquaintances, undoubtedly at her instigation. This was a characteristic
and favorite form of strategy with Sophy, and was quite recognizable to
Josh when the letter was shown to him. The reply that he suggested was
sent by his obliging employers. It contained the assurance that Mr.
Varney was a gentleman of high repute. He had sold their goods for
several years, and they considered his honesty and ability above
question.

In due course of time Sophy began to agitate the idea of getting “some
of those wonderful white foreign turkeys” that she had “accidentally
heard about” into the neighborhood. She thought that the club ought to
take the matter up.

Bill assured her that “the Perfessor was handin’ out bunk the day that
things was bein’ accident’ly overheard inside, an’ anything from ’im ’ud
be ’bout like what ’e put over at the Thanksgivin’ shoot.”

This spirit of opposition only stimulated Sophy, and the subtle Josh had
calculated on it to a nicety. He knew that the seed was now in fertile
soil and he calmly awaited the harvest.

In a month he came again, and incidentally mentioned that his friend who
wrote him about the Himalayan white turkeys had arrived in New York. He
had started home with three birds, but two of them had been sickened by
the roll of the ship on the way over, and had died just before getting
into port. The one that survived the voyage was the remarkable gobbler
that was in the picture he had shown on his last trip to the store.

“This bird’ll cause a lot of excitement in this country,” he declared.
“They call ’im Hyder Ali, an’ ’e’s named after a famous Mohametan
general that fought in Asia a good many years ago. This man Hyder Ali
pretty nearly cleaned the English out of India once an’ they had a hot
time getting ’im canned. There’s been ships an’ perfumery an’ race
horses an’ brands o’ cigars an’ lots of other things named after ’im. He
was one of the most famous men that ever lived in that part of the
world.”

By degrees the imaginative and romantic Josh succeeded in creating an
atmosphere of avid interest in everything relating to Hyder Ali, the
marvellous fowl from beyond the briny seas, and he intended to intensify
this atmosphere to the point of precipitation at the proper time.

A couple of weeks later Varney told Posey that he had bought the
Himalayan gobbler from his friend, but did not know what to do with him
for a week or ten days, as the man that was going to take care of it for
him was away. It was arranged that the gobbler was to be brought to the
store and temporarily installed in the chicken yard near the barn.

On the following Saturday afternoon, when Josh well knew that there
would be a full attendance at Posey’s, that gay and debonair gentleman
came in a light spring wagon. He was accompanied by a young man with a
thick “O’Merican” accent, who drove the rig, and whom he introduced as
Mr. Flaherty. Interest immediately centered on the big box, perforated
with many auger holes, that stood in the wagon back of the seat.

The vehicle was followed by the agitated and curious crowd, as it was
driven back to the chicken yard. The box was tenderly removed and placed
inside the wire netting enclosure by Varney and Flaherty.

The appearance of Hyder Ali had been skilfully timed. The composite
effect of Varney’s discourses on the subject of this wondrous bird had
been to produce psychologic conditions that he considered quite perfect
for his dark purposes. He knew that the halo of prestige and romance,
that had been patiently made to glow around Hyder Ali, would become
still brighter when that peerless bird burst dramatically upon the
rustic stage.

Out of the opened door of the box there came, with delicate mincing
steps and regal mien, what, to that crowd, was almost a celestial
vision. He was an enormous bird. With the exception of his eyes, he was
pure white, even to his carunculated neck wattle and comb. The eyes were
of a deep pink, and gleamed like iridescent opals in their snowy
setting. The slender comb dangled and hung jauntily on one side, like
the tassle on a Turkish fez, and it imparted a rakish oriental air. The
head was crowned with a dainty little wisp of airy feathers that would
have fluttered the heart of the most obdurate of hen turkeys. The
shifting light revealed pearly half-tones in the snowy raiment. He was
immaculate and would hardly have seemed out of place on a pedestal. Many
strange and queer things have stood on pedestals in this world, both in
fact and fancy, and Hyder Ali would have ranked very far from the lower
end of the scale.

He paused on being released from what to him must have been a
humiliating confinement, looked disdainfully at his surroundings, and
nonchalantly acquired a fat green tomato worm that decorated a nearby
leaf.

He walked slowly, and with lordly dignity, about the enclosure,
apparently conscious of the wonder and admiration he was attracting. He
seemed like some rare exotic—entirely foreign to the strange environment
into which an indiscriminate fate had thrust him.

“Let joy be unconfined! We’ve got Hyder Ali!” shouted Bill, half
sarcastically, as he joined the awe stricken crowd. He had arrived too
late to witness the unloading, but he was impressed with the fact that
Varney had, at least in some measure, “made good.” However, the demon of
distrust still lingered in his heart. He had never seen or heard of
anything that looked like Hyder Ali before, but was disposed to restrain
his enthusiasm and await further developments.

Sophy Perkins came late in the afternoon and was in a highly flustered
state. She spent a long time at the chicken yard with her wistful eyes
riveted on the distinguished guest. To own that bird would crown her
futile and disappointed life with bliss. She longed for its possession
as one who beseeches fate for the unattainable.

Seemingly in response to her fervent gaze, Hyder Ali spread his tail
feathers into vast fan-like forms over his downy back. His pink eyes
glistened with alluring and changing beams from amid the fluffy white
array of distended plumage, as he turned slowly round and round, posed,
and strutted, quite human like, before Sophy’s bewildered vision.

His prolonged gobbles, as he majestically patrolled the chicken pen, had
for her an ineffable musical charm.

She had once read a syndicated story in a newspaper magazine supplement,
in which reincarnation and transmigration of souls figured in a
supernatural and flesh creepy plot. After she had heard Josh Varney’s
allusion to reincarnation in his first talk with us at the store, she
had hunted it up and reread it carefully. In the woful and sobby tale a
beautiful princess and her affinity discovered that they had once loved
as shell-fish, and through countless ages had periodically met in other
strange forms, which did not happen to be identical until the time of
the story, when they met in a phosphorescent light in the dusty tomb of
a Manchu ancestor.

During her second day’s visit to Hyder Ali a mysterious and indefinable
thrill had crept into Sophy’s sterile heart. She pondered much over the
resistless fascination that the bird exercised over her, and suddenly
became obsessed with the idea that this was possibly the reincarnation
of a soul mate that she might have had in some far off previous
existence, somewhere in the star swept æons that were gone, that had
drifted through the ages in various forms, until predestination had
again brought them face to face. She had a hazy idea of the theory of
reincarnation, but she had an instinctive feeling that, if there was
anything of that sort, this was probably it, and a long lost affinity
was before her.

The “loose wires in her upper story” that Rat Hyatt had mentioned at the
turkey shoot began to rattle hopelessly on the subject of the white
gobbler.

Into her mind there came a desperate resolve to acquire that bird, by
fair means or foul. All of her persistence, and every form of artifice
and cunning of which she was capable would thenceforth be devoted to
that end.

After Hyder Ali had sojourned a week in Posey’s pen, attended with
adoration, and fed with selected worms, corn meal mush, and other
dainties by the faithful Sophy, Mr. Flaherty came with his little spring
wagon and took him away. He said that the man who was to keep him for
Mr. Varney had returned home, but he did not say where he lived.

Thus was Hyder Ali dangled temptingly before the Turkey Club, and
tantalizingly whisked from sight. Varney was eagerly questioned when he
came again, but his manner was very reserved. He seemed willing to talk
volubly on any subject but the gobbler, the only thing anybody wanted to
hear about. He finally said that he had paid three hundred dollars for
the bird and intended to exhibit him at the county fairs in various
parts of the state during the fall, charging a small admission fee to
make it profitable.

Sophy was anxious to know if he would sell the bird, and, after talking
it all over with her, the reluctant Josh consented to a “grand raffle”
for the turkey, provided three hundred chances could be sold at one
dollar each. He felt that exhibiting the bird around the country might
be a good deal of a job, although he regarded it as a fine thing from a
financial point of view. If he was to part with Hyder Ali he would
rather that he would remain with his friends along the river, as he was
very fond of all of them, and they might talk over the county fair idea
later.

It was agreed that when all of the chances were sold the drawing should
be held under the auspices of the Turkey Club in the yard back of
Posey’s store, where Hyder Ali was to be brought.

Numbered tickets, corresponding to the names in Sophy’s sales book were
to be deposited in a hat. Josh Varney, as the owner of the turkey, was
to hold the hat. Sophy was to be blindfolded, and to draw forth the
tickets one by one, until the contents of the hat were exhausted. They
were to be handed to somebody else who would call off the numbers and
cancel them in the book. The last ticket in the hat was to win Hyder
Ali.

The chances were all sold within a week, some purchasers taking as many
as a dozen. Just before the supply was gone Josh and his friend Flaherty
each took ten and the book was declared closed.

Sophy was only able to buy seven, but she hoped that they would be
sufficient for her purpose.

Every able bodied person, and some who were not, who lived within ten
miles and could by any means get to the store, was there on the day of
the drawing.

Hyder Ali arrived in his perforated box and was reinstalled in the
chicken yard, where he walked about in lonely majesty, while his destiny
was in the balance—the cynosure of many anxious and covetous eyes.

A platform had been improvised with four big drygoods boxes in the yard,
high enough for everybody to see what was going on. Mr. Varney stood on
it and announced the conditions. He acknowledged the receipt of the
proceeds of the raffle, and stated that the bird now belonged to the
winner.

The three hundred numbered tickets were then produced by Sophy. She
handed them to Varney to deposit in the ancient plug hat that Pop
Wilkins had obligingly loaned for the occasion, in accordance with time
honored custom. Pop, with the sun reflecting from his bald head, stood
on the platform, adjusted his brass rimmed spectacles, and made ready to
call off the cancellations.

Varney ran through the tickets several times and counted them to see if
they were all there. His numbers were from 281 to 290. He mixed the
tickets over thoroughly inside the hat with his hand, and the
blindfolded Sophy began drawing. She had carefully bent all of her own
tickets in such a way as to enable her to identify them by touch, and
had no doubt that she would own Hyder Ali within the next twenty
minutes. There was excited buying and selling, at big premiums, of
numbers remaining in the hat as the contest narrowed down, and there
were frequent delays in the drawing to accommodate the speculators. Six
of Sophy’s tickets had come out. None of them were bent and cold chills
raced up and down her spine. Her agile and nervous fingers had carefully
avoided a well bent ticket near one side of the grimy interior of the
hat. When she drew out a flat ticket next to it, she learned to her
horror that it was her last number. With a faint heart she reached for
the other, hoping that there had been some error in her count, but the
last ticket was number 294, and it belonged to Mr. Flaherty.

It was evident to her that the wily Josh had discovered the bent
tickets, and while he was handling them over inside the hat he had
managed to straighten them all and bend Flaherty’s. Whatever other
artifice Josh might have had in reserve had he not discovered the bunch
of bent tickets will always be a mystery, but he certainly had no
intention of leaving Hyder Ali in the river country.

Sophy removed the handkerchief, under which she had found no difficulty
in peeking during the drawing, and looked upon Josh.

Human eyes have seldom glittered with the venomous and deadly glow that
he now saw in Sophy’s orbs. Such eyes might have blazed through a
labyrinth in a jungle upon one who had seized a tiger cub. Backed by
courage the look would have portended murder.

Sophy at once realized the hopelessness of her position, for no specious
protest was possible. She had encountered an adept in an art in which
she was but a tyro. It was all over and she was compelled to smother her
impotent wrath.

To the crowd, ignorant of the little drama on the platform, everything
had seemed entirely regular. None of them had ever had a ghost of a
chance of getting the turkey, but they were good natured losers. Pop
Wilkins carefully restored the old stovepipe hat to his shining dome.
While regretting that he had not won Hyder Ali and that that remarkable
bird from foreign lands was not to remain in the community, he declared
that there was now nothing to do but congratulate the winner.

“That’s what we done at the turkey shoot last year,” remarked Bill in an
undertone, as we watched the perforated box being loaded on to
Flaherty’s spring wagon.

Varney tactfully refrained from assisting in the loading. “I hate to
part with that bird,” he declared, “but business is business an’ there
’e goes!”

Sophy continued to look upon him with a steely and viperous glare, but
he did not appear to notice her. They each knew that the other
thoroughly understood the situation, and there were no ethics that were
debatable. Sophy knew that Flaherty was a man of straw, and that she had
been skilfully robbed of the fruits of her chicanery. Varney regarded
her discomfiture with the generous benevolence of a victor.

Sophy believed that all moral logic, and every other kind of logic,
entitled her to Hyder Ali. She considered that in addition to the loss
of the bird, she had been swindled out of the seven dollars she had paid
for her worthless chances.

She justified her own dishonesty to herself by the conviction that she
had worked hard enough for the club to have the turkey anyway, and as
long as some ticket had to be left until the last, it might just as well
be her’s as anybody’s. It was all a matter of chance anyway, and, as it
turned out it would have been much better for everybody if Hyder Ali
could have been kept in the neighborhood with her instead of being taken
away. She considered that she had suffered a great injustice, and that a
defenseless woman should be thus robbed and maltreated was to her the
acme of outrage.

Varney had his own rig with him and left for the county seat soon after
Flaherty and his spring wagon had departed in an opposite direction. The
precious pair was gone—with Hyder Ali, and two hundred and eighty
dollars of tangible profits.

A melodious gobble was faintly heard far away on the road while Flaherty
was still in sight. It might have been a wail of sorrow and farewell.

“I s’pose,” remarked Bill, “that Hyder Ali’s yellin’ fer help. He’s
prob’ly ’fraid them two jay birds’ll send ’im back to them Brummins an’
that Bungspout Swammy fish net man in India, where ’e’ll git ’is crop
chilled with them frozen frogs, but ’e needn’t worry. I didn’t buy no
chances fer I didn’t think there’d be any show for a white man with Josh
an’ Sophy up on them boxes, an’ they wasn’t. I thought they was goin’ to
be sump’n doin’ when I seen Sophy eyein’ Josh. She looked like she
wanted to squirt some lye at ’im. Sophy’s got a bad eye. She c’n sour a
pan o’ milk that’s twenty feet off by jest lookin’ at it in a cert’n
way.

“Them kewpies ’ave finished the cookin’ this time an’ we’re done good
an’ brown. I don’t think they’ll be ’round any more ’less Josh comes to
sell us a striped elephant next year, an’ if ’e does I ’spose we’ll buy
it. I don’t think we wanted that misquito fatted bird anyway. He didn’t
look to me like ’e was healthy.”

Sophy was ill for a couple of weeks and visited the store but rarely
during the rest of the summer.

“She looks like she’d been licked,” observed Rat Hyatt. “She don’t seem
to have no pep any more. I met ’er on the bridge the other day, an’ when
I spoke to ’er she answered as nice an’ polite as anybody, instead o’
lookin’ at me like I was a skunk, an’ pass’n on the way she used to do.”

During the latter part of August Sophy chanced to see a copy of a weekly
paper that was published in a small town about fifty miles away. In it
was an announcement of a “grand raffle,” to be held the following week,
“for a wonderful white turkey imported from Siberia at great expense,
the like of which has never been seen or heard of in this country.”

The article went on to say that “this is a great event that is about to
take place in our midst, and ye editor blushingly owns to the soft
impeachment of having taken ten chances with his hard earned pelf. We
hope to win the splendid prize, but if we fail we respectfully ask
anybody who is in arrears on their subscription to please call at our
holy editorial sanctum with some mazuma, for though ye ed. toys with the
trailing skirts of fickle fortune, yet must he eat.”

Sophy kept her own counsel and prevailed on Pop Wilkins to lend her his
horse and two seated buggy for a few days to enable her to visit a sick
relative who lived some distance away. She was gone a week, and when she
returned Hyder Ali was in the buggy. His beautiful head protruded
inquiringly from the top of a gunny sack in which he was carefully
secured. Sophy drove home with her prize, returned the rig to the
obliging Pop, and walked loftily into the store, on her way back, to
make some purchases.

She was a changed woman, and victory was on her brow. She greeted the
loiterers about the store, but, as Posey expressed it, “she spoke from
above.”

Naturally the neighborhood was in a ferment of curiosity.

“How’d you git ’im?” asked Bill pleasantly.

“I caught ’im on a fish line,” she replied grimly.

Beyond this she refused any explanations and her attitude was regarded
as the height of cruelty. She said it was nobody’s business but her own,
and no further light was thrown on the subject.

Early in the fall a band of gipsies came and camped on a grassy glade in
the woods not far from where Sophy lived. They remained several weeks.
The men traded horses with the nearby farmers, and the women went about
the neighborhood in their picturesque costumes, begged small articles,
and told fortunes.

One morning Sophy was horrified to find that Hyder Ali was gone. She at
once suspected the gipsies, and rushed to their camp, but the Romany
folk had departed. She found a long white feather on the ground that
undoubtedly had come from her cherished bird. She at once enlisted all
the help she could get. The assistance of the sheriff was invoked and
the trail of the gipsies was taken by a large party. They were located
about fifteen miles away. Thorough search revealed no trace of the
missing property. The gipsies were confronted with the tell-tale
feather, but denied all knowledge of it. There seemed to be nothing
further to do and the matter was dropped by the sheriff.

In November, just before the annual turkey shoot, Mr. Roscoe Plunkett,
of the firm of Plunkett & Mott, whose goods Varney had sold for several
years, came to Posey’s store to check up their account. He said that his
firm had suffered considerable losses through the shady and sinuous
methods of Varney, and that he was no longer with them. They had delved
deep into his history before he came to them and found that he had a
rancid past. It was checkered with a couple of jail confinements, but he
had managed in each case to obtain his freedom after trial. He had been
a champion rifle shot, and had given exhibitions of trick shooting in a
wild west show for a year or two. Of late he had been mixed up with a
man named Flaherty. They had found a farmer in the southern part of the
state who had an albino turkey—one of those rare freaks of nature, due
to deficient pigmentation. It was a beautiful gobbler of abnormal size.
They bought the bird for twenty-five dollars, and, since that time they
had been going about the country raffling it off. One of them had always
won it.

During the previous week a friend of Plunkett’s, who was a commercial
traveler, had written him that he had met Varney in Michigan, and that
Flaherty and the white turkey were with him.

This new light on the general cussedness and dark ways of Josh Varney
came too late to be of any benefit to Sophy. She had gone to live with
some relatives in a small town in Iowa, taking her illusions and her
bitter hatreds with her. Her henpecked husband had mercifully been
relieved of his earthly troubles, but this had not seemed to disturb her
as much as her other afflictions. She had become completely disgusted
with her surroundings, and had sought new fields for her restless
propensities.

“It’s too bad Josh don’t know she’s a widow,” remarked Bill, “fer them
two might git married now, if they wanted to.”

Bill labored long in lettering out the notice of the next annual turkey
shoot, which he tacked up in the store.

There was a full attendance when the day came. The weather was again
pleasant, the blood letting was satisfactory, and no untoward incident
marred the joy of the occasion.

When the shooting was over Bill pounded officially on a barrel top and
called the business meeting to order.

“The first thing to be done at this meet’n is to ’lect a new Chief
Gobbler, fer this one has now resigned. This chair has quit, an’ now
pays its parting respects to all the members. I say now that this chair
has been blasphemed an’ jumped on fer five years. Nothin’ has ever been
done right. Ev’rybody has cussed the chair right an’ left, an’ the chair
has never peeped or said a word back. In quit’n this hon’able office
this chair now makes answer to all them sore heads that’s been
criticize’n it fer all these years, an’ that answer is _BAH!!!!_

“Now we’ll perceed to nominations fer the chair’s successor.”

A Voice:—“I nom’nate Mr. Bill Stiles fer the ensuin’ year, an’ I move it
be made unimous.”

The Chair:—“Is there no other nominations?”

Another Voice:—“I nom’nate Mr. Josh Varney, an’ I move it be made
unimous.” (Chorus of cat calls.)

A voice from the rear:—“I move that the chair stops smokin’ when it’s
presidin’ an’ I move we adjourn!”

The Chair:—“If that feller back there thinks ’e c’n run this meet’n
better’n it’s bein’ done, let ’im come up in front. This chair’s goin’
to do its smokin’ while it’s alive instid o’ wait’n ’till afterwards
like some people. We gotta have some dignity about this thing, an’ you
fellers keep quiet! Now who makes any more nominations?”

After some further parliamentary bickering, the reluctant Bill was duly
reëlected, as usual.

“Now,” he continued, “havin’ got this turr’ble weight offen our chests,
the next business’ll be the ’lection of a new boss, fer Sophy Perkins
has left us. She’s gone way off some’rs where the winds are blowin’ an’
she’ll never come back. Mr. Posey has been suggested fer new secretary
an’ treasurer. Does anybody nominate ’im?”

“He’d be a good man to take in the money, but he’d make a hell of a
secretary!” shouted somebody in the crowd.

“Never mind, does somebody nominate ’im?” continued Bill.

“How d’ye know Sophy’ll never come back?” demanded another voice from
the rear.

“How do I know? How do I know anything? Shut up!” replied the chair with
asperity.

Mr. Posey modestly declined his impending honors, but was elected.

“The next business,” announced Bill, “is the report o’ the chair on the
case o’ Mr. Josh Varney. Some o’ you’ll prob’ly faintly recollect of ’is
havin’ been among us some time ago.”

He then related the story of Plunkett, revealed the sins of Varney in
all their sable hues and commented caustically on the soft headedness of
the victims of that artful tactician.

“All you fellers has been just as easy marks fer Josh as them ten
turkeys in them boxes was a year ago. Some day we may ketch the
perfessor, but knowin’ ’im as I do, I don’t b’lieve we will. He bruised
a lot o’ gold shekels out o’ this bunch with that pale fowl, an’ besides
’e made us feel bad.”

Mr. Rat Hyatt was now recognized by the chair.

“Fer years,” said Rat, “all of us has called Sophy Perkins ‘the
stinger,’ an’ she was a stinger, but I now move you, Mr. Chairman, that
that title be hereby shifted offen ’er an’ put on that pink eyed turkey
man.”

The motion was unanimously carried and ordered spread upon the records
that Sophy had left at the store.

The meeting then adjourned.

As we left I casually mentioned the fine weather we were having.

“Yes, it’s been a phenonomous year,” replied Bill, thoughtfully.



                                  VIII
                  THE PREDICAMENTS OF COLONEL PEETS[1]


Near one of the picturesque bends of the river, about half a mile above
the beginning of the Big Marsh, was the home of Col. Jasper M. Peets, a
doughty warrior, who had fought valiantly for the Lost Cause, and was
spending his declining years in a troubled twilight.

Footnote 1:

  The author acknowledges his indebtedness to Mr. T. H. Ball, of Crown
  Point, Ind., for a portion of the material used in this story.

The Colonel was an exotic. Perverse fates had transplanted him into a
strange clime. All that anybody along the river knew of his history, up
to the time of his arrival, had come from his own lips, and none of it
was to his discredit.

I had made his acquaintance at Posey’s store, where he frequently came
for supplies. Muskrat Hyatt cautioned me not to have anything to do with
him.

“That feller’s bad medicine,” he declared. “He’s worse’n I am, an’
that’s sayin’ a whole lot. If you ever go down to his place, you keep
yer cash in yer shoes an’ don’t you take ’em off while you’re there.”

The little farm, with its dilapidated house and barn, had come to the
Colonel as an inheritance from a distant relative whom he had never
seen. The old pioneer, who had died there, had spent years of toil,
patient and unremitting, in clearing the land and coaxing a precarious
livelihood from the reluctant soil. He had left no will and the Colonel
was the nearest surviving relative.

The Colonel explained that this “fahm” and a “small passel of land down
south” was all that he now possessed in the world. The “iron heel of the
oppressah” had destroyed everything else. His “beautiful mansion on the
Cumbe’land,” and all his “niggahs,” had been lost in the fury of the
conflict. His “pussonal fo’tune” was a wreck.

He was over seventy, and quite gray, but his erect military figure and
splendid health somewhat belied his years. He was rather indolent in his
movements, but as he sat in his hickory arm chair before the stone fire
place, the lights that played over his storm beaten features pictured a
warrior in repose.

His heavy moustache was trained down in horseshoe fashion on each side
of his chin, and then twisted outward in a way that gave his face a
redoubtable expression when he frowned. He would often stand before the
three-cornered piece of mirror attached to the outside of the house,
combing and recombing the bellicose ornament, and observing it
attentively, until he achieved particular curves at the ends that
pleased his fancy. Apparently he affected a formidable facial aspect,
becoming to one who had led charging men.

[Illustration:

  COLONEL JASPER M. PEETS
]

Evidently he had somewhere received a fair education, but outside of
fiction, a field he had widely covered, he seemed to have little
interest in books. His former environment had left a romantic polish,
heightened by a florid imagination. His character had been moulded by
the traditions of the south and they were the only religion he had. His
vanity was delightful, and he had the heart of a child. Little gifts of
tobacco and cigars made him happy for hours, and there was a subtle
lovable quality about him that radiated even in his foibles.

The old house stood on the rising ground, among tall elms and walnuts,
about two hundred feet from the river. It had never been painted. Some
of the clapboards and shingles were missing and others were loose. When
the wind blew, stray currents permeated the structure, and there were
mournful sounds between the walls—like the moanings of uneasy ghosts.

The little log barn was decayed and tenantless, with the exception of a
few scraggly hens and a vicious looking old game cock. The Colonel had
bought him somewhere and annexed him to his estate—possibly as a
concession to his early sporting instincts, or for sympathetic reasons.
They were both warriors of better days.

In an enclosure beyond the barn were half a dozen young razor backed
pigs. These noisy shoats were a continual source of irritation to the
Colonel. He declared that he would shoot the two sopranos and let the
other pork loose if Seth Mussey, who looked after them, did not put
muzzles on them or find some other way of keeping them quiet at night.
The Colonel did not do any “wo’k on the fahm.” This was attended to by
Mussey “on shares.” Mussey lived a quarter of a mile away, and was the
only neighbor. The “shares” were not very remunerative, but, added to
the Colonel’s other small resources, they made existence possible.

A narrow path led down to the river bank, where the Colonel kept his row
boat and a small duck canoe which he propelled with a long paddle. The
landing consisted of a couple of logs secured with stakes, and overlaid
with planks. During high water in the spring the landing usually floated
away and a new one was built when the freshets subsided. There was an
air of general shiftlessness about the place that would have been
depressing to anybody who did not know its eccentric proprietor.

He spent much of his time fishing on the river in the summer and early
fall until the ducks began to come in. During the game seasons he acted
as host, guide and “pusher” for duck hunters, who sometimes spent weeks
with him. They had rare sport on the big marsh, but were compelled to
suffer some hardships at the Colonel’s house. He did the cooking, or
rather he heated the things that were eaten, and some of them baffled
analysis.

One of his guests once told of a “mud-hen hash” that the Colonel had
compounded, in which there were many feathers, and of some “snapping
turtle soup” where all was lost but the adjective. The complaining
visitor had slept on the floor, with a bag of shelled corn for a pillow,
and the unholy mess, with a cup of doubtful coffee, had been served for
breakfast, but he soon got “broken in” and learned to put up with these
things if he wanted to shoot ducks with the Colonel.

The various dishes, when cooked for the first time, could usually be
identified, but succeeding compositions were culinary by-products, and
afforded few clues to their component parts, except to a continuous and
very observant guest.

I once ate some “fish chowder” with the Colonel, which, if it had been
called almost anything else, would have been really very good. I never
knew the ingredients, and doubt if its author could have reconstructed
it, or have given an accurate account of its contents. Some one has
aptly said, “if you want to be happy don’t inquire into things,” and the
injunction seemed quite applicable to the Colonel’s fare.

There are many accidents—both happy and sad—in cookery. A wise cook is
never free with recipes, for, in any art, formula dissipates mystery
that is often essential to appreciation. Some cooks enter where angels
fear to tread, and when the trip is successful the glory is properly
theirs. Their task is thankless, and malediction is upon them when they
fail. They are in contact with elemental instincts, and their occupation
is perilous, for they are between an animal and its meat.

One stormy night we sat before the crackling fire. The loose clapboards
rattled outside and the big trees were grumbling in the wind. Water
dripped from the leaky roof and little streams crept across the floor.

I had come down the river in a small rowboat, and intended to spend a
week fishing for bass in the stream and sketching in the big marsh.

“You must pa’don the appeahance of things ’round heah,” remarked the
Colonel. “Theah is a lot of fixin’ up to be done, and the weatheh has
been so pleasant lately that that infe’nal Mussey has had to wo’k out
doahs. If this weatheh stays bad he will come in heah an’ straighten
things up.”

He had queer notions regarding work. There were some things that he
would do diligently, and others he considered beneath his dignity. The
line of demarcation was confused, and I was never quite able to be
certain of it. He cooked and partially washed the dishes, but never
swept the floors, or fed the chickens and shoats at the barn. He never
repaired anything except under urgent necessity, and his idea of order
was not to disturb anything after he had let go of it.

“You may be interested to know, suh, that I have been occupying my
spaiah time writing my memoahs,” he continued. “I have collected the
scattehed reco’ds of my careah. I have no descendants, an’ I may say to
you confidentially, as one gentleman to anotheh, that I do not expect
any, suh, so theah will be nobody to take pride in my literary wo’k
afteh I am gone, but the gene’l public, but as a paht of the history of
the south, durin’ its period of great trial, I think my memoahs would be
valuable.

“I am going to put my memoahs in the fawm of a novel, suh, an’ I have
had to mix up a lot of otheh people in it who ah, to some extent,
fictitious, so my book will be a combination of fact and romance. I have
thought it all oveh. I am of the opinion that a book to be populah must
be a story. It must have a plot, and somebody must get married on the
last page. I am writing such a story, suh, and am weaving the main
incidents of my careah into the plot. In this way I will get my history
befoah a great many people who nevah read memoahs. I will gild what is
the real pill, so to speak, by dipping it into the bright hued watehs of
romance.

“I am having a great deal of trouble with my plot, suh. Theah is a
fellah in it by the name of Puddington Calkins. I want to kill this
cussed Calkins, but if I kill ’im I will have nobody to marry to the
mystehious veiled lady that I see in the dim distance. She is gliding
towa’d the web of my plot, but I do not yet know whetheh she comes upon
an errand of vengeance, or to demand justice foh her child. This veiled
lady is pe’fumed with tube rose, suh, and I hate to leave her out, foh,
with the exception of bou’bon, tube rose is my favorite odeh, and that
reminds me, suh—pahdon me just one moment.”

The Colonel arose and went to the cupboard. He brought forth a tall
bottle, poured a liberal dose into a tin cup, and swallowed it with
impressive solemnity.

“That bou’bon came f’om Tennessee. It was sent to me by an old friend
who was related to Jedge Benton of Nashville. When the Jedge died he had
two bar’ls of this noble fluid in his cellah, and one of them was left
to my friend in the Jedge’s will. It had been twenty-foah yeahs in the
wood, suh. I was fo’tunate enough to be presented with some of that
wonde’ful whiskey. I am sorry, suh, that you do not indulge, foh you ah
missin’ something that puts spangles on a sad life, suh!

“Most people drink whiskey foh its alcohol, and such people, suh, should
pat’onize a drug stoah. A gentleman drinks it foh its flavah, and that
reminds me, suh, that birdy cannot fly with one wing, an’ if you’ll
pahdon me I’ll take anotheh.”

After replacing what was left of the “bou’bon,” the Colonel stuffed some
fragrant tobacco into a much darkened cob pipe, contemplated the
ascending wreaths for a while, and reverted to his novel.

“The plot of that story is a pe’plexity to me, suh. I think of things to
put in it when I am out on the rivah, and when I get back I fo’get what
they ah. I am going to get some moah papeh and write the whole thing
oveh. Maybe I will kill that infe’nal Pud Calkins and I will myself
marry that female whose face is concealed. Somebody must marry her or
she will be left without suppo’t at the end of the book. People will
nevah buy my memoahs. They will look in the back, and if theah is no
wedding theah, they will cast the volume aside.

“That Pud Calkins is much on my mind, suh. He is a predicament. He wakes
me f’om my slumbehs, an’ sits beside me at my humble meals. He has
dammed up the flow of my fancy in my novel, suh. I have nevah read a
novel that had anything like him in it. He is a damned nuisance, suh,
and he has got to go.

“The next time you come down I would like to read to you what I have
written. It is too much mixed up now, but I will have it all in o’deh
when you come again. And anotheh thing that bothehs me is my chestnut
filly that I rode durin’ the wah. I have got to have her in the story. I
rode her through battle smoke and oveh fields of ca’nage. I was at the
head of my men, suh, an’ ev’ry fall of her hoofs was on dead Yankees
that fell befoah ouah onslaught. It would break my heaht if Pud Calkins
should evah ride that hawss, even in a story, and yet Pud Calkins was on
the field where I fell covehed with wounds, and he rode some hawss home
to tell the tale, and if he had some otheh hawss, I would have to leave
my filly out, foh only one live hawss was left at the end of that
cha’ge, and that was the one I fell f’om, an’ Great Gawd, man, I
couldn’t kill my filly!

“Of co’se my hawss will succumb in my memoahs to the immutable laws of
natcha, but that must appeah as the reco’d of the actual fact, afteh the
wah was oveh. She will not die by my hand, even in fiction—no, suh! I
will kill Pud Calkins a thousand times first, suh!

“The prepahation of all this written matteh has been a great labah to
me, but it has occupied many houahs that would othe’wise be unbeahable
in this Gawd fo’saken country. I sit heah by my fiah and wo’k with my
pen, but this Pud Calkins is always by my side, suh.”

Barring a few unavoidable discomforts, I spent a very pleasant week with
the Colonel. The fishing had been good, and there was a world of
interest and joy in the stretches of the great marsh, teeming with wild
life, and filled with the gentle melodies of hidden waters.

I paid mine host his modest bill, bade him good bye at the landing,
rowed up stream, and, after spending a day with Tipton Posey at Bundy’s
Bridge, left the river country.

It was six months before I returned. I sought the Colonel and found him
much changed. A trouble had come upon him. His eye had lost its lustre,
he had an air of listlessness and preoccupation, and he looked older.

It seemed that there had been great excitement in the county after my
departure, and the Colonel had been the storm center.

When we had finished our simple evening meal, and had lighted our pipes
before the fire, the Colonel handed me a copy of _The Index_, the weekly
paper, published at the county seat. Its date was about four months old.

“I would like to have you read that, suh, and then I will hand you
anotheh.”

On the front page were some glaring headlines: THE BURGLARY!!!—THE
EXPLOSION!!!—THE PURSUIT!!! I read the account with deep interest, which
was as follows:

“On Monday morning of June 10th a crowd assembled in front of the County
Treasurer’s office at the Court House, amid very unusual circumstances.
Nearly seven thousand dollars were known to have been in the safe
Saturday night, and now as the anxious citizens crowded through the
door, they saw a ruined open safe, and abundant evidences of a fearful
explosion. A steel drill, some files, and an empty can that had probably
contained the explosive compound, were scattered about on the floor. The
rugs were in a pile near the safe, where they had probably been used to
muffle the explosion. The money was gone.

“It was learned that a stranger of singular appearance, and marked
individualities, with a gray coat, a heavy gray moustache and long chin
whiskers, who entered the town last Friday, and had been observed by
many of the citizens during Friday and Saturday, had deposited at the
Treasurer’s office, for safe keeping, a box represented to contain
valuables. This box, made of tin, some eight inches in length and five
in width, was deposited on Friday, and taken out on Saturday morning. It
was again deposited on Saturday afternoon, to be called for on Monday
morning.

“The county treasurer, the Hon. Truman W. Pettibone, had gone fishing on
Thursday and expected to remain away until Tuesday, as is his custom
during the summer months.

“The mysterious stranger was waited on by Mr. J. Milton Tuttle, the
courteous and well known clerk in the treasurer’s office. Mr. Tuttle’s
charming daughter has just returned from a visit to her aunt in Oak
Grove township—but we digress. J. Milton Tuttle had no suspicions, and
retired at evening to his home and his interesting family.

“The stranger was thought by several citizens to have taken the evening
train, but was seen lurking around town, with a slouch hat pulled well
down over his eyes, at a late hour Saturday night. He entered the Busy
Bee Buffet at eleven o’clock and was served by Mr. Oscar Sheets, the
gentlemanly bartender. He immediately departed. It is supposed that he
spent the night in some barn.

“It was ascertained that the tall and singular looking man, in the gray
coat, who appeared to be disguised, was seen on Sunday morning to enter
the front door of the Court House. This door, as is well known, is
usually left open on Sunday for the convenience of Sunday callers who
wish to read the legal notices on the bulletin board in the hallway.

“Miss Anastasia Simpson, an unmarried lady, living near the Court House,
noticed particularly that the stranger was very distinguished looking.
She watched from her window for his reappearance, which did not take
place until three in the afternoon, when he departed seemingly in a
state of great perturbation and excitement.

[Illustration:

  MISS ANASTASIA SIMPSON
]

“It was ascertained that Mr. Wellington Peters, proprietor of the
prominent and well known low priced hardware store bearing his name, and
whose business is advertised in our columns, while standing on the
corner talking with a traveling man near the hotel, heard a dull booming
sound from the direction of the court house, at about 2:45 P.M., but
thinking that it was boys making some kind of a racket, he paid no
attention to it. Several other prominent and well known citizens heard
the same sound at the same hour.

“The tall and mysterious stranger was seen by Miss Simpson to walk south
after leaving the court house. She went to another window to further
observe him, but he had disappeared.

“The little tin box which the artful and designing robber had left ‘for
safe keeping’ with J. Milton Tuttle, and which he locked up in the safe,
was opened and found to contain nothing but a bag of sand.

“It was evident to all that the tin box was a subterfuge. It was used as
an excuse to visit and inspect the ‘lay of the land’ in the office of
the treasurer of our county.

“About noon, on Monday, a posse was formed by the Hon. Cyrus Butts, our
gentlemanly and efficient sheriff. The posse, consisting of three
prominent and well known citizens, Oliver K. Gardner, Silas B. Kendall
and Elmer Dinwiddie, accompanied by the sheriff, made a circuit of the
town. They ascertained that the mysterious stranger had stopped at the
pleasant little home of Mr. Mike Carney, the genial and well known
butcher of our town, and asked for a drink of water, which was given
him. He had then taken a southerly direction along the section line
road. The posse procured Toppington Smith’s mottled blood hound and put
the intelligent animal on the trail of the fleeing burglar. The pursuit
continued for about twelve miles. The fugitive was evidently making a
bee line along the section road for the river marshes. A team was met on
the road, with a load of baled hay, and impressed into service. All of
the bales but two were unloaded and left by the roadside. The two bales
were retained on the wagon for use as a barricade in case of a revolver
battle with the burglar.

“Drivers of teams, met along the route, reported seeing a man enter the
woods before they met him, and go back into the road a long ways behind
them after they had passed. The variations in the course taken by the
hound confirmed this.

“About ten o’clock at night there was a full moon. The trail left the
road and led into some thick underbrush, near a small slough. Some smoke
issued from the brush, where the fugitive had evidently built a fire and
expected to spend the night. The place was surrounded and the posse
cautiously advanced, but the burglar was gone. It was thought that the
cunning malefactor had got wind of his pursuers, that he had turned
aside and lighted this fire in the brush with a view of delaying and
baffling those behind him with artful strategy.

“The hound left the brush, and a few minutes later a tall figure, with a
light gray coat, was seen a few hundred yards away on a bare ridge in
the moonlight. It was unquestionably the fugitive and the hound was with
him. The posse opened fire with revolvers, but at such a distance it was
futile. The man and the dog disappeared over the ridge into the woods.
The burglar had escaped, and the dog had evidently joined forces with
him.

“Further pursuit that night was considered hopeless. The posse slept at
a farm house and resumed the search Tuesday morning. They found the dog
tied to a tree near the edge of the big marsh, there were tracks in the
soft mud at the margin of the slough, and an old boat belonging to a
farmer in the vicinity was gone. There were marks in the mud showing
where the boat had been shoved out to the water.

“The pursuit was abandoned and the posse returned home. A full
description of the robber was sent broadcast, and it is thought that his
capture is only a matter of time.

“Up to the hour of going to press there are no further particulars to
record, but we hope that before our next issue, justice will triumph,
and the burglar with his ill gotten booty will be within its grasp.”

“And now, suh, will you please cast youah eye oveh this reco’d of
infamy,” requested the Colonel, as he handed me a later copy of the same
paper.

The next account was headed:

                        “ARRESTED!!!—PRELIMINARY
                      HEARING!!!—HABEAS CORPUS!!!”

and it read as follows:

“We are able to announce that the crafty and resourceful robber of the
county treasurer’s office, who so successfully eluded the grasp of his
pursuers, and made good his retreat into the river marshes, has probably
been apprehended.

“The evidence seems to indicate that one Col. Peets, who lives on a
small farm on the river, above the marsh, is the culprit.

“He was captured there by the sheriff, the day after our last week’s
issue was in the hands of the public. He offered no resistance. The
information that led to his capture was received from Mr. Tipton Posey
who keeps the well known general store near Bundy’s Bridge. Mr. Posey
stated that the description of the robber, printed in this paper,
exactly fitted Col. Peets, with the exception of the chin whiskers,
which he thought were false.

“This paper is invariably modest and unassuming. It vaunteth not itself,
but we may say, without undue self glorification, that it was the
thoroughness of the journalistic work of this paper that made the
description of the robber available, and that this capture is therefore
exclusively due to the enterprise of _The Index_. Our circulation covers
the entire county. Our advertising rates will be found on another page.
Our subscription rates are two dollars a year, cash, or two fifty in
produce—strictly in advance.

“Col. Peets claims to be an ex-officer in the Rebel Army. He bears a bad
reputation along the river, and is said to be a man of immoral
character.

“The prisoner was securely lodged in the county jail, and, after the
usual legal forms, he was brought before the Justice of the Peace for
preliminary hearing.

“When the morning of the examination came, the court was thronged as it
never has been before. The ladies crowded the room as they had never
done at any court during our existence as a county, while the trial
progressed, manifesting a strange interest, which has never been
exhibited till now, for or against any prisoner. And yet not so strange,
for a remarkable prisoner appeared before them. He was tall, strongly
built, with a heavy moustache, and pale—as though just recovering from
an illness—marked in his individualities, a man of martial bearing, whom
one would expect to recognize among ten thousand.

“Every female eye was uninterruptedly focussed on this striking looking
man during the entire hearing. He was claimed to be the same stranger
who had blown open the safe and abstracted the seven thousand dollars of
the county’s money. The loss will of course have to be made good by the
treasurer or his bondsmen, if the plunder is not recovered from the
thief, and much sympathy is felt for the Hon. Truman W. Pettibone, who
has long borne an enviable and unsullied reputation in our midst.

“Several of the ladies present were to appear among the witnesses in
behalf of the state and for the defense. The question under
consideration was the identity of this tall mysterious looking prisoner
and that tall disguised stranger who was unquestionably responsible
before the law for the astounding burglary.

“The counsel for the state was the Hon. John Wesley Watts, our brilliant
and alert county attorney. The prisoner was represented by W. St. John
Hopkins, whose very name smacks of irreverence for the Holy Writ. He is
a young aspiring sprig of the law who has recently come into our midst.

“It seems that this man Hopkins, who parts both his name and his hair in
the middle, volunteered to defend the prisoner without compensation,
probably for the purpose of showing off his talents. The prisoner was
without counsel, and claimed to have no funds with which to hire one.
They seemed to be suspiciously good friends in court. Whether or not a
part of the loot from the exploded safe has covertly changed hands in
payment for certain legal services during the past few days, it is not
within the province of this paper to determine, or even hint.

“The examination continued during Wednesday and Thursday, excellent
order prevailing in the court room. Many citizens gave strong testimony
both for and against the prisoner. The public were deeply interested in
the solution of the question, and there were strong and conflicting
opinions as to the identity of the prisoner in the minds of all present.
The progress of the examination, as numerous witnesses were examined who
had seen the prowling and disguised stranger, and who now saw the
prisoner, brought distinctly to notice the great difference which exists
in the observing power of different individuals. Many thought that if
the prisoner had on a gray coat, and had a long chin beard, in addition
to his moustache, they could absolutely swear to his identity. Others
thought that the stranger had worn false whiskers and had particularly
noticed it at the time.

“J. Milton Tuttle did not think that the chin whiskers were false, or
that the prisoner was the man who left the tin box for safe keeping. He
was quite positive that he would recognize the man if he ever saw him
again.

“Miss Anastasia Simpson, the unmarried lady, whose eyes were glued on
the mystic stranger in the vicinity of the court house, and whose eyes
were glued on the prisoner during the entire course of the trial, swore
absolutely that he was not the same man. Possibly the reasons that
prompted such positive testimony may be best known to herself.

“The prisoner, under the whispered advice of young Hopkins, declined to
go upon the stand, which in itself, in the opinion of most of those
present, was conclusive evidence of guilt.

“The state’s attorney made an able and scholarly address to the court,
and presented a masterly review of the evidence.

“Hopkins contented himself with claiming that no evidence had been
adduced to justify the court in holding his client. No false whiskers or
gray coat had been produced, and no witness had positively sworn to the
prisoner’s identity. On the contrary, the only witness who had conversed
with the alleged robber, Mr. J. Milton Tuttle, had failed to connect him
with the crime, and Miss Simpson, who had long and carefully observed
both men, had declared under her solemn oath that they were not the
same.

“He claimed that the cord that held his client was a rope of sand, and
had the effrontery to comment sarcastically on the account of the
pursuit of the flying burglar that appeared exclusively in our last
week’s issue. He indulged in sardonic levity at the expense of the
public-spirited posse, and remarked that it was queer that its dog had
shown a preference for the society of an alleged thief. He suggested
that the two bales of hay, that were retained on the pursuit wagon, were
better adapted for food for the posse than for a barricade.

“The outburst of indecent laughter that greeted this impudent sally was
promptly suppressed by the court, who threatened to clear the room if
anything of the kind was repeated. The court sternly rebuked the
offending attorney, and cautioned him to confine his remarks strictly to
the merits of the case before the court.

“Hopkins apologized to the court and claimed that humor was a malady of
his early youth and that he had never been entirely cured.

“The court retired to its library and took the case under advisement for
an hour, during which time the crowd waited in anxious suspense. When
the court returned it held Col. Peets to the Circuit Court—placing his
recognizance at three thousand dollars, in default of which the prisoner
was remanded to the custody of the sheriff.

“Much satisfaction was expressed at the decision of the court. Judge
Mark W. Giddings, our able and learned Justice of the Peace, is a man of
lofty attainments and an ornament to the bench. He has one of the finest
law libraries in the county. He is of fine old New England stock, his
ancestors having come over in the Mayflower. He is one of the oldest and
most valued subscribers to this newspaper.

“The press forms of this issue of our paper were held until proceedings
in this case were disposed of, that the inchoate attorney representing
the prisoner, began before the court now in session at the court house.

“He asked for a writ of _habeas corpus_, and his client has been turned
loose on the community!

“We may say, that while it may be that no jury would have convicted this
man Peets, who admits that he was once an enemy of his country, and
while the testimony was strongly conflicting, the opinion is strong in
this community that the honorable Justice of the Peace rendered a
perfectly just decision.

“The opinions of this journal have always been impartial, and, under the
circumstances it is far be it from us to express one, but not to mention
any names, there is a certain fresh young lawyer in this town who has a
tendency to be a smarty, and a cute Aleck, and to butt in on things that
do not concern him.

“It may be to his interest to lay a little lower. A word to the wise is
sufficient.

“In addition to this, there is a certain alien resident in this county,
of military pretensions, who lives by the sobbing waters of a certain
river—and again we do not mention names—who had better not be caught
wearing false whiskers when he visits this town.”

“And now,” said the Colonel, with a patronizing wave of his hand after
he had given me a still later copy of the paper, “I desiah you to look
at this account of the sequel of this distressing affaiah.”

On the editorial page I read:

                          “A PUBLIC OUTRAGE!!!

“It is far from the desire of this journal to discuss the personal
interests or affairs of its editor and proprietor. _The Index_, as the
public well knows, has ever been the fearless advocate of fair play for
every citizen, and for every human being, however humble, before the
law. Its motives have always been above reproach. Notwithstanding the
fact that it is the county’s greatest newspaper—unselfishly devoted to
the public interest—it never blows its own horn. It rarely mentions
itself in its own columns. It scorns to publish matter in its own
interest, but the time has come when its clarion voice must be raised to
such a pitch that it may be heard throughout the length and breadth of
the county, so that the public conscience may be awakened, and forever
make impossible a repetition of such an outrage as occurred in front of
the post office on last Saturday afternoon.

“As is well known by all, the editor of this paper, who is also its
proprietor, was publicly attacked by Col. Peets, the scoundrel and
erstwhile prisoner at the bar of justice, who figured so prominently and
so exclusively in the affair of the robbery of the safe in the county
treasurer’s office some weeks ago.

“A handful of our whiskers was seized and twisted away by this vile
miscreant, with the supposedly funny remark that he wanted them for a
disguise.

“We were forced to our knees on the dirty sidewalk and commanded to
apologize for certain statements that have appeared in our paper.

“We were belabored with a rawhide whip and kicked into the gutter by
this burly old brute.

“As humiliating as these things are it is necessary to mention them in
order to properly lay before the public the frightful enormity of the
outrage.

“It is, and always has been the policy of this paper, to hew to the line
and let the chips fall where they may. _The Index_ thinks before it
strikes, and it never retracts.

“If editors are to be publicly assaulted—if their persons are not
sacred—if the freedom of the press is to be trammelled and muzzled by
supposed private rights of individuals, and their likes and dislikes—if
publishers are to be beaten up or beaten down with impunity, or with
rawhide whips, and are to be coerced into cowardly silence by fear of
personal violence—then our republic, with its vaunted ideals, is a
stupendous failure.

“Far be it from us to complain, or put forth our private wrongs, but we
consider that we have been a martyr to the lawlessness of this
community, and to the fearless and outspoken attitude of our paper.

“An attack upon the person of the editor of a newspaper is an attack
upon the sacred foundations of human liberty.

“The public will be glad to know that the execrable villain and ruffian,
who assaulted us, is now immured in the county jail, where he was sent
by that wise and upright Justice of the Peace, the Hon. Mark W.
Giddings.

“It is to be devoutly hoped that when the term of his just imprisonment
expires, his presence in the county will be no longer tolerated.

“For the miserable cowards and loafers who witnessed the premeditated
violence upon us in front of the post office, and did not interfere,
this paper has the most withering contempt. Their craven names are
known, and this journal will remember them.

“To Constable Hawkins, who arrested the assailant, this paper—on behalf
of the public—extends its thanks. Constable Hawkins is an officer of
whom our town may well be proud. We wish him a long life of health and
happiness. We may mention, parenthetically, that Constable Hawkins and
his charming wife Sundayed with us two weeks ago and a delightful time
was had by one and all.

“To the misguided and mentally unbalanced females, who are daily sending
flowers and sundry cooked dainties to the county jail, this paper has
nothing to say. With the exception of one of them, who was a witness at
the trial, and who shall here be nameless, they all have male relatives
whose duty is plain. The names of these women are known and will be
preserved in the archives of this paper for future reference. There are
certain rumors being whispered about on our streets, that, from high
motives of public policy, will not find a place in our columns until
later.

“The sheriff is being quietly and severely criticized by many citizens,
whose good opinion is worth something to him at election time, for
permitting these indulgences to a criminal in his charge.

“We have always given our unqualified support to Sheriff Butts when he
has been a candidate, and we hope that we will not be compelled to
change our opinion regarding his fitness for the office. He will do well
to ponder. The eye of _The Index_ is upon him.

“The editor of this paper is pleased to announce, to relieve the public
mind, that we are recovering from our undeserved injuries, and will soon
be ourselves again. We feel deeply indebted to Dr. Ignace Stitt for the
wonderful professional skill with which he attended us. The Doctor’s
practice is increasing rapidly, and he is now the foremost physician in
our county. His office is over Ed Bang’s drug store, and he is among the
most valued subscribers of this paper.

“We and our wife thank our kind friends who have sent us watermelons,
and other delicacies, during our confinement.

“As a stern challenger of injustice, and an alert defender of the right,
_The Index_ will ever, as in the past, be in the forefront. Its battle
axe will gleam in the turmoil of the conflict, and on it will shine our
mottos—_Sic Semper Tyrannis_, and _Honi soit qui mal y pense_.”

I laid the paper down with the conviction that if the Colonel’s life
previous to his arrival in the river country had been as rapid as he had
been living it since he came, his “memoahs” would be quite a large
volume.

“Now, suh,” said he, “I want to relate to you the inside history of that
robbery, suh. I want to show you how it is possible foh a puffectly
innocent man, with puffectly good intentions, to get into a predicament
in this Gawd fo’saken no’the’n country.

“I was of co’se compelled, much against my wish, to hawss-whip the
editah of that rotten sheet. He was not a gentleman and I could not
challenge him, suh, and it was matteh of pussonal honah. The facts ah
substantially as he states in that sizzling angel song that you have
just read.

“I want to say, suh, that I nevah spent a moah pleasant thi’ty days in
my life than I spent in that jail. I was theah in a good cause, and I am
sorry it was not sixty days. The sheriff treated me with puffect
cou’tesy, and I was called on and congratulated by many people who had
strong private opinions of that editah.

“Those noble women made my incahceration a pleasuah, and I may say, suh,
without vanity, that I have nevah been oblivious or insensible to the
effect that I have always had upon ladies. Soft and beseeching eyes have
been cast upon me all my life, suh. I discovered in that jail that iron
bars cannot destroy beautiful visions.

“I was provided with papeh, and I was enabled to do a great deal of wo’k
on my memoahs, and I have included in them the events of the past few
months, but what I sta’ted to tell you was the unrevealed facts of that
robbery, suh.

“In odeh that you may get a clear idea of just what happened, I must
take you back to the awful days of ouah wah. Theah was a high bo’n
southe’n gentleman in my regiment, suh, named Majah Speed. He came f’om
one of the best families in Tennessee. Theah was a most unfo’tunate
pussonal resemblance between us, and even when we were togetheh, ouah
best friends could ha’dly tell us apaht. In o’deh not to continue to
embarrass ouah friends, we drew straws to decide who should raise a chin
bea’d in addition to his moustache. The Majah lost, and I still have my
military moustache without any hawsstail whiskehs to spoil it. I may
say, suh, that I have no doubt that my moustache had its effect in
making my stay at the jail delightful.

“The Majah and I have always kept ouah correspondence up. He came to see
me just befoah that explosion at the cou’t house. He was in that town
when it took place, and he was the man who was pussued by that posse and
that damn dawg, whose favah he won with a piece of bologna sausage.

“Afteh the Majah entered the ma’sh he came directly to my house and
explained the whole affaiah. We sunk the boat he came in with some
stones in the rivah.

“That infe’nal Milt Tuttle, who was the cle’k in the treasurer’s office,
was the scoundrel that got the money. His folks came f’om Tennessee, and
he knew the Majah. He was aweah that the Majah’s circumstances weah much
reduced, and that he had lost what he had left in the wo’ld at ca’ds. He
knew that the Majah would do almost anything to retrieve his fo’tunes.
The love of money was always the trouble with the Majah, but we all have
to be tolerant of the weaknesses of ouah friends, suh.

“That scoundrel Milt Tuttle sent money to Tennessee foh my friend the
Majah to come up heah. He did not know me, or that I knew the Majah.
When the Majah came no’th he came directly to see me and spent several
days at my place. We went down on the ma’sh togetheh. He told me about
Milt Tuttle and said he would come back and pay me a longeh visit a
little lateh.

“My friend Majah Speed went to the county seat, and the da’k scoundrelly
plan of Milt Tuttle was laid befoah him. In a moment of weakness the
Majah fell, and consented to blow open that safe and divide what he
found with Milt Tuttle. The tools and the explosive compound were hidden
in the office by Milt Tuttle, and during several visits he explained to
the Majah how he was to proceed. He gave him a duplicate key to the side
entrance of the office around the end of the hall, and a map of the
route he was to take afteh he had finished his wo’k, and on this map was
the place wheah he was to leave half of what he found in the safe. He
was to cross the ma’sh and make his way south to Tennessee afteh it was
all oveh.

“You can imagine the astonishment and chagrin of the Majah when he found
the safe empty of funds, afteh he had wo’ked all day to blow it open. He
was ho’nswoggled by this infe’nal thief of a Milt Tuttle. He had taken
ev’ry cent befoah the Majah came, and left the Majah in the lu’ch to
face all the consequences, and to get away the best he could.

“When the Majah came to me that night, and told me his tale, I was
astounded. Of co’se I do not approve of robbery, but the Majah had
committed no robbery. He had taken absolutely nothing f’om that safe,
and he was as innocent of robbery as a child unbawn. Milt Tuttle was the
thief, and on his ill gotten wealth he went off somewheah fo’ his
health, but he was stricken by a vengeful providence with pneumonia, and
he is now dead, and theah is no way of proving his dasta’dly connection
with the affaiah.

“I told the Majah that he had been made a cat’s paw, and that he had
betteh go home as fast as he could. He was without funds, and,
unfo’tunately, I did not have any to lend him, so he sta’ted fo’ the
south on foot. That was the last I saw of the Majah, and I had a letteh
f’om one of the fo’mah officers of ouah regiment, that the Majah is now
dead. I assume, suh, that he died of a broken heaht, all on account of
the villainy of that dehty thief of a Milt Tuttle.

“When I was unjustly and unfo’tunately dragged into that affaiah, I
could have told the whole story, but I felt bound to protect my friend
the Majah, who fought undeh me fo’ foah yeahs. He twice saved my life on
the field, and foah such a man, no matteh what his failings might be, I
was bound to make any sacrifice. I could have gone on the stand and
pointed my fingah at the thief, but of what avail? The attorney who
represented me in those disgraceful proceedings advised me to keep my
seat, as the state had no case whateveh. That mutton headed old bi’led
owl that was supposed to be a cou’t, bound me oveh, but I was soon
released, and my friend’s secret was not in jeopa’dy.

“I have now expiated the penalty of the No’the’n law fo’ whipping that
rascally editeh. My atto’ney also pounded him to a jelly. It is my
intention to hawss-whip Tipton Posey, foah he was the one that sta’ted
the talk that resulted in all those legal proceedings, and during the
thi’ty days that I am in jail foah that, it is my intention to complete
my novel, in which, as I told you, is to be woven my memoahs.

“It is a good thing fo’ Milt Tuttle that he had pneumonia, foah if he
was not deceased I would fill him full of holes fo’ the dishonah he
brought on my friend the Majah, and then I would leave the no’th
fo’evah.

“I shall nevah blacken the memory of Majah Speed by using his name with
the story of the blowing open of the safe in my book. I shall use
anotheh name, suh, and his secret shall be fo’evah safe and his memory
will be unta’nished, fo’ the Majah nevah stole a dollah. He can stand
befoah that greateh cou’t, wheah he has now gone, with a guiltless and
stainless soul.”

I was much interested in the Colonel’s narrative, and after talking over
some of the details, we retired for the night.

I had quietly enjoyed the naive reasoning, and the chivalrous devotion
of the Colonel to his war time friend. There was pathos in the tale of
sacrifice, and, several times I saw moisture in the old soldier’s eyes,
as he dilated upon the cruelty of his position in the affair of the
safe.

His conceptions of right and wrong were refreshing, and his penchant for
taking the law into his own hands was evidently going to get him into
more predicaments, but it was useless to argue with him. I felt sorry
about Posey’s coming castigation, but as Tip was abundantly able to take
care of himself, I concluded not to worry over it.

On our way down the river the next morning, the Colonel reverted to
Major Speed’s ill-starred visit.

“I presume that you would think, suh, that the interests of the living
ah paramount to those of the dead, and that I ought to tell Majah
Speed’s story to the world. His memory and the memory of that black
heahted vahlet, Milt Tuttle, would suffeh, and Tuttle’s ought to suffeh,
but my vindication would be complete. Natu’ally I do not enjoy being
looked at askance, and I sometimes think that I ought to remove the
stigma that now rests on my name.”

I advised him to let matters remain as they were, inasmuch as he could
produce no proof of the facts, and little would be gained by stirring up
the affair.

“But I do not need proof of facts, they would have my wo’d of honah,
suh!”

I explained the uncertain value of a “wo’d of honah” in that part of the
country. I refrained from telling him that I thought his reputation
would not be much improved by his explanation, for he would at least
still be regarded as an “accessory after the fact” because of his
admission of the protection to Speed.

“By the way, Colonel,” I asked, in order to change the subject, “what
did you finally do about Pud Calkins?”

“Pud Calkins? I killed him, suh, at Vicksbu’g. That cuss disappeahed
entiahly f’om from memoahs while I was in jail, and I assuah you, suh,
that I heaved a sigh of relief when that man fell. I can now go ahead
with my combination novel and memoahs without his bobbing up and down in
the plot every time I sit down to write.”

It occurred to me that the casualties among those whom the fates whirled
into the Colonel’s orbit were becoming rather numerous.

“I am vehy sorry to tell you that when you come down heah again, you
will probably not find me,” he continued. “I am in a vehy bad
predicament about the place where I live. As you know, I inherited that
place in good faith, but I find theah has been a mo’tgage on it that I
didn’t know anything about. The damned editeh of that scurrilous sheet
has in some way got possession of that mo’tgage. I am unable to meet its
obligations, suh, and I must move, probably this winteh. I will go back
to Tennessee, wheah the sun shines without expense to anybody, and wheah
a gentleman commands respect even though he is unfo’tunate. I may have
to walk to Tennessee, but I will make a sho’t call at the home of that
buzza’d that runs that newspapah, the evening that I go away, suh!”

The Colonel and I had spent happy days together, and it was with genuine
sadness that I bade him farewell a few days later. He was a mellow old
soul, ruled by emotions, and not by reason, drifting aimlessly on a sea
of troubles, totally lost to every consideration except his childish
vanity and the memories of a threadbare chivalry. He easily adjusted his
conscience to any point of view that conformed to his interest, and
suffered keenly from sensitiveness. Fate had thrown him into an
environment with which he could not mingle, and it was perhaps better
that he should go. When all else failed, there was a world in his
imaginative brain in which he could live, and woe to those who have not
these realms of fancy when the shadows come.

When I visited the river the following spring I arranged with my friend
Muskrat Hyatt to provide me with the shelter of his stranded house boat,
and to act as “pusher” and general utility man in my expeditions on the
river and marsh.

“Rat” was always interesting, and I anticipated a delightful two weeks.

One of the first trips we made was down to the Big Marsh, where we
intended to camp for a day or two on a little island that was scarcely
ever visited. It was thirty or forty yards long and half as wide. There
were a few trees, some underbrush and fallen timber on the islet. The
place was deserted, except for a blue heron that winged away in awkward
flight as we approached. There was no reason for stopping there, but a
wayward fancy and a desire to see the vast marsh in its different moods.

After we landed I asked Rat about the Colonel.

“The Colonel’s place was sold under a mortgage last fall, an’ that ol’
maid that swore fer ’im at the trial bid it in, an’ its in her name, an’
now the Colonel’s married the old maid, so there y’are.

“That ol’ feller come down to the store one mornin’ an’ him an’ Tip had
a fight, an’ Tip got licked. The Colonel an’ Seth Mussey had come in a
buggy, an’ they was goin’ on from Tip’s to the county seat to see the
editor of the paper. It was all about that safe blowin’ case, an’ the
Colonel accused Tip of start’n all the talk about ’im. Bill Wirrick an’
me got a rig an’ went to the county seat, fer we thought the Colonel was
goin’ to lick the editor ag’in an’ we wanted to see the fun, but the
editor was out of town. The Colonel went up to see the ol’ maid an’ they
was married the next day. I guess she had some money, fer they took the
cars an’ said they was goin’ down south.

“The Colonel went to the postmaster an’ told ’im to tell the editor,
w’en ’e got home, that if ’e ever put the Colonel’s name in ’is paper
ag’in, er any name that sounded like his, he’d kill ’im, an’ I guess the
editor b’lieved it, fer ’e didn’t mention nothin’ about the wedd’n w’en
’e got back.

“People don’t think the Colonel blowed open that safe after all. He
never flashed no wealth around afterwards, and the way he beat up that
editor fer sayin’ things about ’im, sort a squared ’im up.”

We erected our little tent, and Rat busied himself with collecting fuel.
He attacked a long hollow log with his axe. When it was split open we
found an old gray coat, that had at some time been stuffed into the
decayed interior. We laid the coat out on the ground and Rat extracted a
discolored brass key from one of the pockets, and a wad of hairy
material, that proved to be a set of false chin whiskers. In a damaged
manilla envelope, that we found in an inside pocket, was a certificate
of the honorable discharge of Jasper Montgomery Peets, as a private in
the Confederate Army.

The mildewed relics, with their eloquent though silent story, were
convincing.

“I s’spose ’e thought that gray coat was gitt’n too pop’lar with
possees, an’ ’e concluded to shed it,” remarked Rat. “Say, wasn’t that
feller a peach?”

I agreed that he was.

I sat for a long time on the sloping bank of the islet, and mused over
the soul mates that, like migrating songsters, had winged their way to
the balmy southland when the leaves had fallen, and the skies had become
gray. I thought of Anastasia’s hungry heart, and the precarious resting
place it had found.

The Colonel’s “plot” had certainly been woven to a consistent end; the
“mystehious veiled lady” had glided into its web, and there was a
wedding on the last page.



                                   IX
                            HIS UNLUCKY STAR


I had stopped on the old bridge in the twilight to look upon the glories
of a dreamy afterglow, and the gnarled tree forms that were etched
against its symphony of color far away down the river. Just above the
bands of purple and orange the evening star was coming out of a sea of
turquoise, and its radiance was creeping into the waters below the
trees. I heard a light foot fall behind me.

“Excuse me, mister, have you got a match?”

I turned and saw an odd looking little man, of perhaps fifty, with a
squirrel skin cap and ginger colored hair and beard, who laid down a
burden contained in a gunny sack, and approached deferentially.

As I produced the match he brought forth a virulent looking pipe that
seemed to consist mostly of solidified nicotine.

“I don’t seem to have no tobacco neither,” he continued ruefully, as he
fumbled in his pockets.

I gave him a cigar, a portion of which he broke up and stuffed into his
pipe. He carefully stowed the remainder in his vest pocket and began to
smoke composedly.

I asked him if he lived in the neighborhood.

“No, my place is about two miles from here. I’ve ben up the river after
some snake root that’s wanted right away by the man I do business with.
My name’s Erastus Wattles an’ I get all kinds of herbs around ’ere fer a
man that sells ’em to the medicine makers somewheres down east.”

We sat on the bridge rail and talked for some time, and I became much
interested in my new acquaintance. He spoke in a low voice, and his
manner seemed rather furtive. He told me much of the herbs and rare
plants that grew in the river country, and of his attempts to cultivate
ginseng. “Certain influences” had repeatedly caused failures of his
crop.

“That’s a fine scene out yonder,” he remarked, and the splendid glow of
Jupiter in the western sky led to a subject that I found had enthralled
his life, and his eyes quickened with a new light as he told me his
story.

When he was a young man he had studied for the stage, but had made a
failure of this, and had gone to work on an Ohio river steamboat as a
clerk. A very old man, with long white whiskers and green spectacles
came on board at Louisville late one night. He wanted to go to Cairo,
but lacked a dollar of the amount necessary for his boat fare. He stated
that he was a professor of astrology, and offered to cast the horoscope
of anybody on the boat who would supply the deficiency. After an
eloquent exposition of the wonders of astrology by the professor,
Wattles furnished the dollar and the date and hour of his birth.

Amid the jibes of the other employees on the boat he received his
horoscope just before the landing was made at Cairo. The aged seer
departed down the gang plank and disappeared.

This was the turning point in the life of Erastus Wattles.

He sought a secluded place on the boat and studied the several closely
written pages of foolscap, that were pinned together and numbered, and
found that the old man had done a conscientious and thorough job.

Wattles extracted a large worn envelope from an inside pocket. It
contained the document, which he said he always carried with him, and he
asked me to read it.

On the first page was the circle of the horoscope, divided into its
twelve “houses,” and above it was the “nativity” with the “sidereal
variation” noted.

In the “delineation,” which occupied the remaining pages, were black
clouds of misfortune. If Wattles had selected his hour of birth he could
not have found one in the whole gamut of heavenly chords when his
entrance into the world would have been more inopportune.

Mars was “on the ascendant in Taurus” and was his “significator”
and “ruling planet.” Its position in relation to the other
“malefics”—Saturn, Uranus and Neptune—all of which were above the
horizon, was most disastrous. Two malefics were “poised upon the
cusp of the House of Money,” indicating that Wattles “would go
broke, and remain so during life.” The moon was also in a hostile
square at the time.

The hoary headed astrologer had “dived into the Abyss of Futurity, and
through a glass darkly” he had seen “a pale light.” It illumined a life
of hopeless sorrow and futility. Ever and anon the blood red eye of Mars
gleamed with a baleful glow upon the destiny under consideration. When
Mars was off duty Saturn took up the malign rod, which was yielded to
Uranus and Neptune when he passed temporarily into other fields of
astral activity to indicate misfortunes of other people.

Periods of deep perplexities were apparent—when Wattles must not engage
in new ventures, or talk with men over sixty, or with women under
forty—when he must not deal with farmers, or have anything to do with
people with red hair or bushy eyebrows. He was not to ask favors,
travel, trade, write letters or marry, when the moon was in its first or
last quarter, or have anything to do with surgeons or tradesmen when the
moon was in conjunction with Saturn. Flying pains in limbs and joints,
warts, boils, and accidents to the head were indicated at these periods.
New enterprises might be undertaken when the sun was in Leo, but not if
Neptune was stationary in Aries at that time, or if Venus was
retrogressing in Cancer or Capricorn.

When Jupiter and Venus were together in Libra there would be
particularly distressing periods for Wattles. When Jupiter passed into
Sagittarius there might be temptation to make merry, but in the midst of
mirth he must remember death, for almost fatal accidents, and possibly
severe illness were indicated for these times, which were pregnant with
calamity.

A certain retrogression of Uranus in Leo in the fifth year after the
casting, with the sun hyleg, Mars in Aquarius, and the moon in
Capricorn, indicated a liver complaint, with pains in the back and head,
an almost fatal accident from an explosive compound, and interference in
his affairs by a fat person—probably a female with a retreating chin,
whose significator would be the malefic Neptune. A minor sub-related
transit “might change this female to a dark haired woman with pointed
features, who would spread strange reports with a bitter tongue, but in
an unknown language.”

No illnesses, accidents or women materialized in that year, and Wattles
thought they were all side tracked by a retrogression of Mercury in
Virgo.

The influence of an evil minded woman, whose ruling planet was Saturn,
was indicated during the eleventh year. Long arms, freckles and a high
instep were suggested, as Antares would be in Gemini when she came into
the sketch. Wattles had assumed that this peril had been fended off by
an unsuspected transit. He had stayed in the woods as much as possible
while Antares was in Gemini, and had spoken to no female during the
eleventh year, but afterwards learned that the postmistress, who
answered the description, had told an inquirer that no such man as
Wattles lived in that part of the country. Somebody had tried to find
him with a view of making a large herb contract, which had been thereby
lost, so, after all, the indication was correct.

Under the heads of “Heredity,” “Mental Faculties,” “Moral Qualities,”
and “Disposition,” it appeared that Wattles possessed most of the
characteristics of a goat. The “cause” was “obscure” but assiduous
effort might gradually overcome some of the tendencies.

In the twenty-second year, which was yet to come, the two malefics,
Saturn and Neptune, would retrograde in Taurus. Mars and the Moon would
be in Aquarius, and this would probably mean that Wattles would have an
affliction of the stomach, and would lose one or both legs if he waded
in unclear waters.

There were so many things to look out for that he was dazed with their
complexity. He was horrified by the “variations” and “transits of evil
omen” that were possible in unexpected quarters when the rest of the sky
was apparently free. Temporizing signs and harmless transits were rare.
Malign conjunctions and oppositions were leading features of every month
in the calendar.

At one of the periods, when the moon and Ceres would be in opposition,
and Venus “in trine” with Neptune, Wattles would die of an unindicated
disorder.

He had certainly got his dollar’s worth. With Mars careering continually
through the Zodiac, and all the other malefics falling into conjunction
and opposition at the most fateful times, he saw little prospect of
escaping an astrological coil that reeked with woe. For him there was no
balm in Gilead, or anywhere else in the universe. Like many others he
let the blessings of existence take care of themselves, and was
concerned solely with its ills. Apparently he was hopelessly enmeshed,
but instinctively he struggled on.

The far seeing sage delineated a collateral variation indicating that
the subject of the horoscope would, within a year after its casting,
become a disciple, and possibly a practitioner, of a certain ancient
science that had to do with the heavenly bodies, but the indication was
not quite clear as to its name.

Impelled by this covert and ingeniously mystic suggestion, Wattles had
procured all the literature he could find on the subject of astrology,
and had studied it carefully. He hoped that he might find error in his
horoscope, but the more he studied the more he believed. He had been
touched with a hypnotic wand and had drifted into the toils of a
remorseless power.

The opinion expressed by one of his friends on the steamboat that “the
old party who cast the horoscope was probably drunk” had no weight with
Wattles. There were too many confirmations of planet positions and
significations in the astrological almanacs and related literature that
he had succeeded in accumulating.

There was a postscript at the end of the delineation. Somewhere in the
realms of infinite space the white bearded prophet felt the presence of
a strange and malign star, that, for lack of data at hand, could not be
named. Its unknown orbit dimly intersected the fate lines of Wattles. At
some crisis in his affairs it would unexpectedly become manifest and
would have a woeful significance.

Wattles pondered long upon the missing star in his horoscope, and had
vainly sought it in his studies. There appeared to be nothing in his
books that could lead to a solution, and the unknown malefic besieged
his soul with a haunting fear.

“I got to keep track of all them heavenly bodies, and if that damn star
ever shows up I must get a line on it,” he declared, as he folded up his
horoscope. “I’ve got all the almanacs, and I know where ev’rything is
all the time. I’ve studied astrology ’till I’ve ben black in the face,
and I’m an expert caster. I’m goin’ to cast horoscopes right along now.
There’s my significator comin’ up, an’ its in Aquarius now,” he
remarked, and he pointed to Mars that had just scaled the tree tops in
the east.

He offered, “for the small sum of fifty cents,” to sell me an unlabelled
bottle of brown liquid, which he said was “an excellent tonic” that he
made himself. He called it “Wahoo Bitters.” I made the purchase and
placed the precious compound on the bridge rail.

He took a small book from his pocket, which he consulted for a moment,
and then invited me to visit him if I would come at a particular hour on
Thursday of the following week. This I promised to do if possible. He
told me how to find his house, gratefully accepted another cigar, and
bade me good night. He then softly mingled with the shadows of the woods
with his bag of roots. I pushed the Wahoo Bitters gently over into the
river and continued my walk.

He was a strange and pathetic figure. Naturally superstitious, he had
become imbued with illusions, that for ages have lured the imaginations
of those who have reached blindly into the unknowable and found only the
Ego—the “ruling star” in all horoscopes. Verily, to man, the luminary of
the greatest magnitude in the universe is himself. Not content to be
silly over little things, he must needs prowl among the constellations
and there spin the web of his puny personal affairs, as in theology he
assumes the particular concern of the Almighty with his daily doings.

Ancient as astrology is, it is not as old as conceit.

I was curious to know more of Wattles. At heart I scoffed, but concluded
to keep my engagement and ask him to cast my horoscope. On the appointed
day I made the little journey. The road led through the woods for a mile
or so to a big oak tree that Wattles had described. Here a narrow path
left it and followed the course of the river to a long bayou. Beyond the
end of the bayou I found some high ground on which perhaps an acre had
been cleared. Near the farther edge of the clearing was an unpainted
single story house with low eaves. There was some queer looking frame
work, and a small platform on the roof.

As I approached the door I was confronted with cabalistic
characters—painted in black on the wood work. The signs of the Zodiac
appeared around the rim of a roughly drawn circle. On a blue background
at the top of the door were four stars and a crescent moon in yellow. I
assumed that the stars represented the malefics in Wattles’ horoscope.

In response to my knock, he opened the door.

“Well, I’m glad to see you!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t think you’d come. I
thought mebbe you might size me up for a queer bird after all that talk
we had on the bridge. Set down an’ make yourself comfortable.”

He flung a villainous looking maltese tom cat, that he addressed as
“Scorpio,” out of a crippled rocking chair, and I occupied the vacated
space.

As Scorpio fled through a hole in the bottom of the door, that
apparently had been cut for his benefit, I noticed that he was much
scarred. One ear was gone, his left eyelid was missing, there were bare
places on him where the fur had been removed, evidently with violence,
and his tail was not complete. These things imparted a sinister aspect,
and I did not like him. He looked like a thoroughly bad cat, and was
probably a malefic.

It would seem fit that a cat found amid such uncanny surroundings should
be black instead of maltese, but as this is a veracious chronicle it is
necessary to adhere to facts.

We spent some time in desultory conversation before I mentioned the
ostensible object of my visit.

“Now,” said Wattles, “before I do anything about your horoscope, I want
to show some I’ve ben casting,” and he began pulling over some papers on
his shelves.

While he was doing this I looked around the strange room.

A row of bottles on one of the shelves contained various small reptiles
with filmy orbs that peered out through alcohol. From the end of the
shelf a stuffed badger stared fixedly and disdainfully, with dull glass
eyes, at a moth eaten coon that returned the gaze from a pedestal in a
darkened corner. A dismal and tattered owl occupied a perch above the
coon. One of his glass eyes had dropped out, but with the other he
regarded the offending badger sadly.

A dried snake skin, with several dangling rattles, was tacked on the
wall back of the stove, with a few Indian relics—bows, arrows, and a
spear head—that were arranged on each side of it. Some butterflies with
broken wings, and beetles, impaled on pins, were scattered through the
spaces around the relics. A number of colored botanical prints and
astronomical charts were pinned on the walls, and there were cobwebs in
the upper corners that appeared to be inhabited.

Some bunches of withered herbs and a broken violin hung above the
window. On a table near it was a violet tinted globe of solid glass,
about six inches in diameter. It was mounted on a block of wood. Wattles
afterwards explained that this was a “magic crystal of marvellous
power,” and that it “pictured prophetic visions under certain
influences.”

The air in the room had a pungent musty odor, as of dried roots and
plants, and I thought that a pile of small sacks back of the stove might
contain something of the kind.

Wattles finally produced copies of the horoscopes and I was pleased to
find among them those of my friends Tipton Posey, Bill Stiles and “Rat”
Hyatt.

As Wattles traded at Posey’s store, his horoscope had probably been
exchanged for merchandise.

Posey’s nativity was exceptionally fortuitous. Jupiter was his
significator, and the other benefics were advantageously placed at the
hour of his birth. In the delineation it appeared that there were few
blessings that would escape him as long as he was kind to friends and
not too fond of money. His historical parallel was a certain ancient
Persian king, who, after a long and happy reign, was suffocated in a
shower of gold.

He would be fortunate in his dealings with all those who had to do with
medicines of any kind. It would always be safe for him to extend credit
when any of the benefics were above the horizon, and at any time that
the sun was in Aquarius, Scorpio, or Leo. It would be a bad time for
Posey to ask for money, or to try to collect debts of any kind, when
Mercury was in opposition to Mars, when the moon was full, or partially
so, when the sun was in Virgo, Taurus, or Aries, or when two or more of
the malefics were above the horizon. Persons born under Posey’s planet
were tactful and magnetic, had much power over the minds of others and
were model housewives. They were proud, dignified and conservative,
intolerant of wrong, and well adapted to fill representative positions.
Usually they had piercing intellects and triumphed in all things. They
were at times inclined to avarice, and to be suspicious of others, and
this must be strongly guarded against. There was a dark warning against
the acquirement of too much wealth.

In his magic crystal Wattles dimly saw a figure that looked like Posey,
but the head was that of some kind of a beast. It sat upon a rock with a
big bag of gold, with which it had climbed a weary hill. Beyond was a
shady bower among the trees, under which dwelt happy hours. The way was
blocked by two black rams, that signified opposition. The figure could
not go on, for its fair form had been changed by the winning of the
gold.

Far beyond the bower was a wonderful city with brilliant domes. Its
towers sparkled with ruby and pearl, and unto this bright city the
figure could never go, because of its brutish aspect that betokened
greed.

Bill Stiles’s ruling star was Saturn, and his nativity was questionable.
The planet’s position, with regard to the moon and Mars in Leo,
indicated a Master Spirit, subject to many variations of fortune. The
tendencies were modified by the benign presence of Arcturus and Venus in
Aries at his natal hour. Two famous Roman emperors had almost identical
nativities. Bill was studious, veracious, instinctively noble and
imperious. He had an iron will, abhorred deception in others, and was
stern and able. He would be warlike and refractory when Mars was in the
square of Saturn. When his significator was in Aquarius, he would be
liable to serious errors of judgment, and he would have great potency
for evil. He would succeed in undertakings that would bring fame.
Certain literary work, upon which he was now engaged, was likened to
that of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus. At some period when
Mercury and Venus were in opposition, and the moon was in Capricorn,
Bill would fall to rise no more.

Venus was ascendant in Virgo when Rat Hyatt came into the world, but the
watchful eye of Saturn in Leo was upon him. The benign love star was not
allowed to monopolize his fortunes. There were three malefics in
strategic sectors that betokened danger. The moon was coyly ensconced
with respect to Venus, and thus neutralized the dire influences to some
extent. Counterparts of Rat’s characteristics, indicated by planetic
conditions at his birth, were found in Richard Coeur de Lion and Marcus
Aurelius. They evidenced one “skilful in command, ambitious, cautious,
strenuous, obstinate, active, yet indolent at times, versatile,
inventive, acute and self confident, busy in all things, terrible in
anger, intrepid and invincible when roused, loyal to friends and modest,
yet fond of applause.”

There were many dark spots in the picture, aspected by the moon, that
were fraught with peril, and Hyatt must beware of the angry Saturn. Mars
was also an interfering factor. Rat must never go below a certain bend
in the river during a waning moon, or in the summer time, and must shun
women with protruding teeth. (An obvious allusion to Hyatt ’s friend,
Malindy Taylor, whom Wattles admired from afar.)

In a vision in Wattles’s crystal, while Rat Hyatt was under
consideration, there appeared a tall skeleton, with a helmet and a fiery
spear. It wore a breast plate on which was inscribed “_Sent from God_.”
The bony arms waved the spear, and the crystal was suffused with red.

The interpretation was that Hyatt would be wanted in the near future.

In another crystal vision, a slowly moving figure, with a sorrow
stricken mien, and a halo above its head, approached a water’s edge and
contemplated men who drew a net. When the meshes came upon the sand the
figure stooped, took from them one of the fish, and cast it back into
the sea. A darkness then came upon the face of the waters.

Wattles divined that this signified something in connection with Hyatt,
and that “the fish was no good.”

As I finished reading the horoscopes the tom cat Scorpio returned
through the hole in the door and crawled under the stove with a chipmunk
he had caught in the woods.

“That crystal was at one time in India,” explained Wattles, as he placed
the horoscopes between the leaves of a big book. “The Buddhists used it,
and it was stolen by a desecrater of a temple, who fled to Italy. There
it was used by a great astrologer and magician for over fifty years.
From Italy it went to England and into the possession of the world
renowned Zadkiel. After that it went to New York by inheritance. I
bought it from a man in Cincinnati for two dollars. He did not know what
it was, but I did, for it was fully described in some books I have. I
believe it to be the celebrated Lady Blessington crystal that was
exhibited in London before all the nobility in 1850. I will show you how
it works.”

He placed the crystal on the window ledge, and into a little pan,
between it and the light, he poured some gray powder from a wide mouthed
bottle. He lighted the powder and a pale yellow smoke ascended. He then
covered his head and half of the globe with a black cloth, as one would
do in focussing a camera. In this way all light was excluded except that
which passed through the smoke and crystal into the darkened space under
the cloth.

“I am not expecting to see any visions now,” he continued, “but for all
that there may be one there.” He was silent for some time and then asked
me to look.

I carefully adjusted the cloth and gazed upon the luminous orb. Owing to
the wreaths of smoke on the other side of the globe, there were weird
filmy changes in the field of light. A dark indistinct form seemed to
wander in the dim depths of the crystal. The movement ceased near the
center.

I told Wattles what had happened, and asked him to interpret it, but he
made no reply. I withdrew the cloth and found that the mysterious
apparition had been produced by the blurred magnification of the
silhouette of a blue bottle fly that was crawling about on the light
side of the crystal.

Wattles said, in a regretful, kindly tone, that the influences were not
quite right for the visions. He had found by the test that I was a
skeptic, and, when looked into by unbelievers, the crystal remained
clouded and never “visualized.” I accepted the explanation humbly.

“Now,” said he, “I want you to see my observatory.” He took a long
marine spy glass from behind the books on the shelf and we ascended a
rickety ladder to a trap door in the roof, by means of which we reached
an enclosed platform over the house.

“By get’n’ up here I command a better horizon than I would from the
ground,” he explained, as he adjusted the spy glass into the top of some
revolving frame work. From the low seat near it he could inspect the
heavens to his heart’s content. Through the glass I scrutinized a flock
of turbulent crows around some tree tops beyond the river a mile or so
away, and it appeared to be an excellent instrument of its kind.

In this humble eyrie I could fancy Wattles communing with the stars on
quiet nights, listening to their spiritual voices, gazing with
apprehension upon the hovering malefics, and searching the immutable
heavens for the missing orb of his horoscope.

Like the Chaldeans of old upon their lonely watch towers in the dawn of
history, he contemplated the bejewelled scroll, and beheld the endless
processions of mighty planets that, in his belief, cycled through
infinity to fashion minute destinies on the distant speck of earth. The
flying shuttling spheres were weaving the mottled fabrics of the fates
of men, and, among them was the frail and ill-starred web of Wattles.
After all, was he of less consideration than all the others who assume
the creation of the universe to be a vast design for the final glory of
humanity?

We descended from the platform, and Wattles conducted me to his
“labertory,” a small room at the rear of the house.

Several large kettles were scattered about, and, on a low platform was a
large alembic. A big stove stood near the chimney. Stacked along the
shelves were baskets of dried leaves, flowers and berries, piles of
various herbs, bundles of wild cherry and wahoo bark, and bags of flag
and snake roots.

The tom cat Scorpio had followed us and he sniffed suspiciously around a
barrel in the corner, in which there were probably mouse nests.

“This is where I make them celebrated Wahoo Bitters,” Wattles announced
proudly, as he pointed to a row of filled bottles on one of the shelves.
“I got the formula from Waukena, the old Injun squaw that used to live
up in Whippoorwill Bayou. All the Injuns used to take it when they got
sick, but they didn’t ’ave such improved ways of makin’ it as I got.
They used to drop red hot stones in with the things its made of, and I
think that killed part o’ the edge the bitters ought to have on ’em when
they’re done. They didn’t know how to combine certain chemical
diffusions and decant ’em off the way I do. I sell a good deal o’ them
bitters around ’ere. Posey keeps ’em at the store an’ there’s lots of
other places where they have ’em in the stores.”

We left the “labertory” and I heard the sound of a swift scrape along
the floor. I inferred that Scorpio had made a seizure.

Wattles kindly asked me to have some lunch with him. It was more of a
“feed” than a repast. Late in the afternoon I finished my rather
prolonged but interesting visit.

Wattles wanted to show me his garden, and we walked out into the
clearing along the edge of a deep ravine back of the house. Some of the
vegetables in the garden had struggled hard for existence.

“Look at them beets!” he exclaimed ruefully. “I planted ’em under
exactly proper lunar aspects and I ain’t got a damn beet in the patch.”

He promised to leave my horoscope at Posey’s store in about a week. I
thanked him for his many courtesies and departed. I noticed that he did
not invite me to make him another visit.

It happened that nearly six months elapsed before I was in that part of
the country again. I inquired at the store for my horoscope and found
that it had been left according to agreement. It was a thrilling
document and I found much amusement in it.

I had a chat with Posey out on the platform, and he told me that my
astrological friend had got into all kinds of trouble.

“That feller was a pippin,” he declared; “the slickest that ever lived
around ’ere, an’ we’ve had some pretty good ones. He was foregathered by
the officers for makin’ queer half dollars up to his place an’ the devil
was to pay. The coins was finished up so fine you c’d hardly tell ’em.
He shipped ’em out with the herbs ’e sent to some feller away off, an’
it was a long time before they traced ’em. He had a little furnace in
the cellar under ’is house that ’e went down into through a trap door in
the floor, an’ they was a tunnel from the cellar out to the side of the
ravine back of the house that ’e’d dug to git away by if anybody ever
come after ’im.

[Illustration:

  THE SHERIFF
]

“That Wahoo Bitters fluid ’e made was hot stuff. It was about
three-quarters bad alcohol. You c’d take three er four fair sized doses
an’ you’d want to go out an’ throw stones at yer folks. Ev’rybody was
buyin’ it. Old Swan Peterson took it reg’lar an’ half the time ’e didn’t
know ’is name. I used to leave Bill in charge o’ the store when I went
off duck shoot’n. He slep’ upstairs, an’ would always ’ave a spell o’
sickness while I was away, an’ ’e’d come down in the night an’ drink up
the stock. He’d git a skinfull an’ sometimes he’d stay corned three
days. They wasn’t no money in that an’ I had to quit carryin’ it. All
the owls in the woods up and down the river hoot ‘Wahoo-Wahoo’ an’ that
always advertised ’is dope, but I guess ’e made more money in ’is little
furnace than ’e did out o’ Wahoo.

“Them dizzy dreams ’e wrote about us fellers made me think ’e was looney
fer awhile, an’ that the moon ’ad addled ’im when ’e was roostin’ up
among them sticks on top of ’is coop at night, but you bet there wasn’t
nuth’n looney about ’im. He had a wise head, all except git’n away with
it.”

Posey’s story was rather lengthy and involved, but it seemed that a
quiet and thorough investigation of the affairs of the versatile Wattles
had been made by a government detective. His place was visited one day
during his absence. The small furnace, some moulds, and other
counterfeiter’s paraphernalia were discovered, and several hundred
excellent imitations of Uncle Sam’s legal tender and Pullman porter tips
were found hidden under rubbish that concealed the entrance to the
underground exit from the cellar. The opening in the ravine was well
protected from observation by vegetation.

Two secret service men, accompanied by the sheriff, had come quietly up
the river in a boat late one night. One of the party stole up the path
along the bayou, one approached through the ravine, and the other
remained with the boat at the entrance to the bayou.

Wattles heard suspicious sounds and his lights went out. He crept
noiselessly through his secret exit, and at its end he saw the missing
evil star of his horoscope. It was on the vest of the officer who
awaited him at the mouth of the tunnel.

With the three malefics who came in the boat, poor Wattles, ever a child
of misfortune, and the accursed of the heavenly spheres, went forth to
meet the vengeance of the law, and the scarred tom cat Scorpio was alone
with the visions in the crystal.


[Illustration: THE END]

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES


 1. P. 232, changed “Sic Semper Tyranus” to “Sic Semper Tyrannis”.
 2. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.
 3. Anachronistic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings retained as
      printed.
 4. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.





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