Puslapio vaizdai

as the two sat together on the porch, for the clouds lingering after a shower had not drifted away.

"I really must go inside and dress," said Miss Asia, rousing herself at length.

"Make the most of your resources, then," laughed King, as she stepped to the parlor mantel for a tiny Cyprian cup. "Here is the very last match we have left in the house!" "The last! Then the two boxes I ordered yesterday cannot have come!" And Miss Asia took the match quickly in her hand, and examined the head with a critical eye. "What would ever become of us, if it should not prove to go off?" she exclaimed, with a swift turn upon King.

King laughed again, but the next instant she caught her breath in dismay. There was a scratch, a fizz, and a quaver of yellow light; then a flicker, and a burnt little stump in Miss Asia's hand. She had lighted the match to prove whether it was good, and a puff from the open window had blown it out! There was a moment's silence, and then King found her voice.

two seemed just then in a talkative mood. King drew more and more closely into the screen of the vines-quite out of sight at last, and the curve of Miss Asia's elegant shoulders was just visible where she sat, shadowy and dim. Strangely alike, in outline of head and shoulders, Miss Asia and King had always been said to be, and King sat dreamily peering out at her, and thinking about it, as the echo of the retreating carriage died away.

Suddenly a firm, quick footstep fell on the gravel-walk; then nearer, then on the shadow-mat King had sketched on the floor of the porch. It hesitated for one instant, as if searching through the dark, then came closer, and, for the first time in her life, Miss Asia felt the touch of strong lips left reverently just above her eyes.

"My darling! You are right!" said a low, manly voice in her ear.



New sensations, as has been remarked, Miss Asia did not often or willingly meet, but this one brought a dozen others flashing in its train. Her tongue held to the roof "What will become of us now?" she of her mouth, her speech failed, and a tiny asked, not daring to laugh or to cry. feeling of chill crept up and down her spine. My King! My Queen! Do not tremble!" the voice went on. Surely you trust me, even though another may not! And I cannot blame any one who loves you so much, for that. If I could persuade you to be mine without her consent, it would be the first base or dishonorable action of my life. I have never put a stain yet on my name or my heart, and I will not begin now! She has loved you too long for my love to prove traitor to hers. You are right! I will wait-I will go and leave you-but oh, my darling, speak to me while you may!"

It was too dark in the house already for any dressing to be done; the boxes Miss Asia had ordered were a mile away, and the road lay through woods romantic enough for a drive, but too shadowy for a feminine foot after dusk. And, besides, how was King to be left alone a whole evening, in the dark? Miss Asia turned the stump slowly around in her hand, and looked at it on every side. Then she dropped it into an embroidered cup that hung ready for such

A sound like a half-whispered "Ridiculous!" came from her lips, but she turned, with the quietest movement, toward the door. "We will sit on the porch again till the moon comes up," she said. "After that, we can move through the house very well." The clouds drifted lightly away, but the night settled in quite as fast, and Miss Asia and King could hardly distinguish each other's forms by the time the expected carriage rolled into the yard. Miss Asia rose quietly and sent it away, and then came back to her seat, but neither of the

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

FROM my youth, bear-hunting has been to me a fascinating sport, and, after an experience of more than thirty years in all kinds of Southern sports, during which I have seldom failed to spend a portion of the winter camp-hunting in the Mississippi bottom, I think I may venture to relate one of my bear-hunts, and give the inexperienced sportsman some idea of the characteristics of the bear.

We had pitched our tent on the banks of a beautiful sheet of water, one of the chain of lakes that drains the swamps of Tunica County, Mississippi, when the Father of Waters inundates the valleys. Through these lakes and the bayous leading from them the annual overflows are carried off into the Coldwater, Tallahatchie, and Sun

VOL. XXII.-67.

flower rivers, thence into the Yazoo, and back into the Mississippi.


Besides old Hannibal, a negro servant, there were only four of us in camp. was a professional hunter, two were cotton-planters and experienced hunters-not simply sportsmen who occasionally spent a day of recreation in quail-shooting over a brace of pointers, but hunters who had studied wood-craft until it seemed like instinct to thread their way through the wilderness by day or night, without other compass than the moss on the north side of the trees.

When a novice in wood-craft joins a party of old hunters, he is often subjected to many a practical joke; while, at the same time, old hunters are very generous in imparting information or in rescuing him from

danger. On this occasion, the target of our jokes was James Rogers, a fair-haired Northerner from "old Long Island's seagirt shore," an enthusiastic sportsman, a crack shot at pigeons, but in our section almost as helpless as a babe,-the opposite, in every respect, of our backwoods hunter, whose pen-portrait I will endeavor to give. Living by hunting and trapping from boyhood, an uneducated frontiersman, he was the beau ideal of a hunter-clad in buckskin hunting-shirt and leggins, with an otterskin cap on his head and a 'coon-skin pouch in which he carried his ammunition swung across his shoulders, and a short rifle in his hand; about five feet ten inches tall, roundbodied, but with no surplus flesh, and with muscles like corded steel. His hair was steel gray and inclined to curl where it fell below the temples. His features were regular, and by long exposure to sun, rain, and miasma were wrinkled and bronzed; but, clear and brilliant through a complexion like a tanned alligator-skin, sparkled a pair of merry blue eyes that indicated a soul as gay and free as the wild woods he loved so well. All through the swamps he was known as "Old Asa, the bear-hunter." The two planters were Major Duncan and myself.

When old Asa sounded his horn, about twenty-five dogs of all descriptions gathered around him; like their master they were trained hunters, and many bore the marks of Bruin's claws. If you should ask the pedigree of old Beargrease or Bravo, the two most noted leaders of the pack, I should be compelled to admit that the vilest mongrel strains coursed through their veins. For there is no certainty in breeding them: often the most "or'nary "-looking cur makes the best bear-dog. On my annual expeditions to the swamps, I was accustomed to buy, borrow, and "persuade" to follow, every specimen of the canine race I could pick up; and if out of a dozen I secured one who "took to bear," I was lucky.

A bear-pack requires dogs of various sizes. A few rough-haired terriers, active and plucky, that can fight close to Bruin's nose and dodge under the cane when pursued; some medium-sized dogs to fight on all sides, and a few large, active curs to pinch his hindquarters when he charges in front or crosses an opening in the woods. Bear-dogs must fight close, but not attempt to hold a bear; you want them to hang on but not to hold fast. A well-trained pack will only seize hold at the same time when one of their

number is caught; then they boldly charge to the rescue of their comrade, and as soon as he is freed, loose their holds and run. Then gathering around the bear again, they worry him until he climbs a tree, where he falls an easy prey to the hunter. The hunter never cheers his pack unless he is in trouble and wants their assistance; then good beardogs will charge regardless of danger.

The bear usually makes his bed in the most impenetrable canebrake. He cuts and piles up heaps of cane until he has a comfortable spring mattress. He is very fastidious in his taste, and will not remain long in a wet bed; so after every spell of bad weather he changes his quarters. In diet he has a wide, almost omnivorous taste. In the summer he is very destructive to the farmer's corn-fields, showing a decided relish for green corn or roasting ears, or fat pig or mutton as a side dish, not refusing a pumpkin by way of dessert. As the fall season approaches, he climbs after the wild grape, the succulent muscadine, the acorn, and the persimmon; and leaves his sign everywhere he travels, in heaps of hulls of pecan and scaly-bark hickory nuts. This is called the lapping season, as he ensconces himself in a tree-lap and breaks the limbs to pieces, in gathering nuts and fruits. He is also excessively fond of honey, and is utterly regardless of bee-stings while tearing to pieces a nest of wild bees from a hollow tree.

Hunters sometimes entrap him by placing in his path a vessel containing whisky made very sweet with honey. Bruin is easily intoxicated, and very human in his drunken antics. I have seen him killed by negroes while lying helpless upon his back catching at back catching at the clouds, but such slaughter is unsportsmanlike, and no true hunter would resort to it.

But old Asa and the dogs are off down the lake-side, and we follow in single file.

Here, indeed, is the hunter's paradise. Flocks of mallard, teal, and wild duck, covering acres of surface, are floating lazily upon the limpid water; on the other side, a dozen swans are gracefully gliding along. A flock of ungainly pelicans, with their huge mandibles scooping after minnows, waddle about the opposite shore. The wild goose is heard overhead, while the sentinel of the flock on the water replies. The white and blue crane, motionless as the sentinels of Pompeii, line the shore. The tall cypresses in the lake, with their fringed foliage, lift their weird knees out of the water, and look lonely and desolate; while the oaks

and gums upon the shore, draped in clinging vines, festooned with moss, and reflected in the lake, add to the somber picture of the wilderness. The sycamores and cottonwoods are of immense size, some being ten feet in diameter.

Old Asa turned from the lake and boldly entered a canebrake, we following. Here the foremost horse has the hardest time, for he must break the way for the rest through cane and bamboo-vines. Old Asa's horse, like his master, was a trained hunter, and would wait the stroke of the hunting-knife which cut the vines, and then push on through the tangled mass. Going through cane, every one is required to take the cartridge from his gun; or, if he has a muzzleloader, to take the cap from the tube.

After crossing a canebrake ridge of half a mile, we entered a large, open wood, where we found a quantity of overcup acorn mast, upon which bear and deer feed during the winter months. Under the limb of a pawpaw, we saw a fresh buck-scrape. This is made by the male deer, while scratching his antlers amid the branches above; he scrapes the earth with his feet, as a sign for his tawny mate. A little farther on, within easy range, we startled the antlered monarch from his lair; but not a gun was raised to arrest his flight. As the deer lifted his white flag and bounded off, the younger dogs pricked up their ears and looked anxiously forward, ready to burst forth in full cry; but a word in a harsh tone from old Asa caused them to fall to the rear. "This is a bear-hunt, and these are beardogs," said Asa, and we understood that no other game must be shot before them. On rainy days, we go out from camp, singly, and "still-hunt" for deer; then they are easily found, as they avoid the wet cane and feed in the open woods.


Here's b'ar sign!" exclaimed old Asa, as he pointed to the foot of a large overcup acorn tree. Just then, a sound that vibrates through the hunter's heart with a thrill of pleasurable emotions fell on our ears, like the voice of the prophet crying in the wilderness. Only reliable hunters, like Bravo and Beargrease, are allowed full liberty in ranging the woods. There it was again! Bravo had struck a trail! every dog rushed forward at the well-known signal of their leader; but the track was cold, and every nose was busy smelling among the leaves, trying to unravel its mystic windings. We rode slowly along; old Beargrease made a circle, and struck the trail farther


ahead. The old dog seemed to know he had solved the problem this time, for, sitting upon his haunches, he raised his head, and uttered a prolonged cry-a note of exquisite joy, as old Asa said, "a psalm of melody." Bravo, Granger, and twenty more joined in the chorus, and slowly, but surely and steadily, they moved along on the trail. "More sign," shouted old Asa, presently; "here's his steppingpath," and he pointed to a path made by the bear, as he passed to and fro from the canebrake. Here he explained to Rogers that the path was made by a habit the bear has of always putting his feet in precisely the same tracks; this habit is often taken advantage of, and a trap is set in his path, or a gun is placed so as to kill or mortally wound him. "And this is a big fat old he," added old Asa.

"Now, look here, old fellow," replied Rogers, "don't test my credulity too far. I would like to know how you can tell a fat bear from a lean bear, or a he-bear from a she-bear, when you have never seen it."

"Little boy," replied Asa, while a benevolent expression mocked the gay humor in his clear blue eye, "your edication has been sadly neglected; book-l'arnin' may be very useful in town, but one grain of common sense is worth a bushel of college diplomas in the swamps. Now listen and l'arn wisdom; I know this is a fat b'ar, because his hind toe marks do not reach the fore ones; had he been poor, they would well-nigh have overlapped."

"But how do you know it is a he-bear, and a big he besides ? "

"The Lord pity your ignorance, child! don't you see whar he writ it up on that hackberry, as plain as mene mene tekel upharsin, that Parson Bellows told us about last Sunday?"

"Well," replied Rogers, "you will have to find a Daniel to interpret it; I see nothing but scratches on the tree; what do you make of it?"

"Look close," replied Asa, "and you will see the tallest marks are the freshest ; a young b'ar, feeling very large all by himself, wrote his name thar first; the way he does it, he places his back ag'in' the tree and, turning his head, bites the bark as high as he can reach, which means, in b'ar lingo, I'm boss of the woods- beware how you trespass on my domains.' The next b'ar that comes along takes the same position and tries to outreach the first; now this old fellow has written in b'ar hiero

[graphic][merged small]

glyphics a foot higher, Mind your eye, young un, you 're a very small potato; I'm the hoss that claims preemption rights to these pastures.' Another reason for thinking it a he-b'ar is that the shes have young about the third week in January, and it's about that time. We hunt them in February by examining the cypress-trees, where they have left their marks climbing to their dens. The young ones, when first born, are not larger than a rat."

"I have read that the bear was a hibernating animal; how about that ?" asked Rogers.


The b'ar becomes very fat in winter," said Asa, "and his insides are so covered with fat that he has no room for food; in a cold climate he would lie up, but here he is tempted by the mild winters to keep traveling around."

While old Asa was giving our city friend

this bit of natural history, the dogs were busy at work on the trail; the track was growing warmer; suddenly they all dashed into the cane; when, whew!-with a snort and crash through the cane, as if all the fiends had broken loose from Tartarus, the bear was started from his lair. With a wild yell, we all followed, pell-mell, in pursuit. For a mile or more, the bear seemed to gain upon his pursuers, but like a relentless fate the fierce pack stuck to his heels, while the hunters were slowly cutting their way through the cane. way through the cane. Old Asa led the way, with that intuition which belongs to the practiced woodsman and aids him in avoiding the heaviest canebrakes.

Reaching a boggy bayou, we paused to listen for the pack; the baying of dogs underneath the heavy cane cannot be heard at a great distance; and as we halted our horses we could hear no sound


« AnkstesnisTęsti »