Malachite’s Big Hole
John Hatcher Goes to Hell and Meets the Old Gentleman:
Here is a true "tall tale" as told by John Hatcher. The tale was intended to provide campfire entertainment for a good part of an evening, and as such it is rather long. This story is recorded by Lewis Garrard in 1847 (Wah-To-Ya). Here is the story:
“Hatch, old hos! Hyar’s the coon as would like to hear of the time you seed the old gentleman. You’s the one as savys all’bout them diggin’s.” [asked by Louis Simmonds??]
“Well, Louy, sence you ask it, and as Garmond’s aguardiente is good, I don’t care ef I do tell that yarn; but it’s mity long.”
“What one is that?” asked Garmond.
“Why, the old beaver says as how he was in hell once-eh, Hatch?”
“Sartain! This old hos wasn’t any whar else- wagh!” replied Hatcher to Louy’s doubting remark; “an’ I tellee, it’s me kin tell the yarn.”
He kept his pipe in his mouth, the stem hard held between the teeth, using his hands and knife to cut from a solid plug of “Missouri manufactured” a fresh pipe of strong tobacco. His eyes were fast fixed on an imaginary object in the yellow-pine blaze, and his face indicated a concentration of thought to call back important items for the forthcoming incongruous story, attractive by reason of its improbability-interesting in the manner of delivery.
“Well!” taking a puff at his pipe to deep in fire, “it’s me as had been to Fort William [Bent’s Fort] to get powder, Galena, an’ a few contraptions, one beginning of robe season. I stuck around, waitin’ for my possibles, which Holt was fixin’ for me. Only a small train was from the States, an’ goods were high-two plews a plug for bacca, three fur powder, an’ so on. Jim Finch, as went under on ‘Divide,’ told me thar was lots of beaver on the Purgatoire. Nobody knowed it; they think the creek’s cleared. At the kanyon, three suns from the fort, I sot my traps. I was by myself; but you know beaver’s not to be trapped by two-they’re shy as a coyote as runs round camp to gnaw a rope, or steal an apishamore. I’ll be darned if ten Injuns didn’t come screechin’ rite onter me. I cached-I did-an’ the niggurs made for the prairie with my animals. I tellee, this hos was fawch´e [mad]; but he kept dark fur an hour. I heerd a trampin’ in the bushes, an’ in breaks my little gray mule. Thinks I, them Rapahoes aint smart; so I tries her to grass. But the Injuns had skeered the beaver, an’ I stays in camp, eatin’ parfleche and lariat. Now I ‘gan to feel wolfish an’ squeamish, an’somthin’ was pullin an’ gnawin’ at my innards like a wolf in a trap. Jest then an idee struck me, that I’d been hyar afore, tradin’ liquor to the Yutes.
I looked round fur sign, and hurraw fur the mountains, if I didn’t find the cache. An’ now, if this hos hasn’t kissed the rock as was pecked with his butcherknife to mark the place, he’s ongrateful. Maybe the gravel wasn’t scratched up from that cache some! An’ me, as would have given my traps fur ‘old bull,’ rolled in the arwerdenty -wagh!
I was weaker ‘an a goat in the spring; but when the Touse was opened, I fell back, an’ let it run in. In four swallers I ‘cluded to pull up stakes fur the head waters of Purgatoire for meat. I roped old Blue, tied on my traps, an’ left.
It used to be the best place in the mountains fur meat-me an’ Bill Williams has made it come-but nothin’ in sight. Things looked mity strange, an’ I wanted to make back track; “But” sez I, “hyar I are, doesn’t turn, surely.”
The bushes was scorched an’ curled, an’ the cedar was like fire had been put to it. The brown rocks was covered with black smoke, an’ the little drink in the bottom of the kanyon was dried up. We was now most under the old twin peaks of Wah-to-yah [ Spanish Peaks ]; the cold snow on top looked mity cool an’ refreshin’.
Somethin’ was wrong; I must be shovin’ backards, an’ that afore long, or I’ll go under; an’ I jerked the rein, but I’ll be doggone-an’ it’s true as there’s meat a runnin’-Blue kept goin’ forrad. I laid back, an’ cussed an’ kicked till I saw blood, sartin; an’ I put out my hand fur my knife to kill the beast, but the Green River wouldn’t come. I tellee some onvisible spirit had a paw thar, an’ it’s me as says it-bad ‘medicine’ it was that trappin’ time.
“Loosin’ my pistol-the one traded at ‘Big Horn, from Suckeree Tomblow, time I lost my Yute squaw-an’ primin’ my rifle, I swore to keep rite on; fur, after stayin’ ten year, that’s past, in these mountains, to be fooled this way wasn’t the game fur me, nohow.”
Well, we-I say ‘we’ fur Blue was some-good as a man any day, I could talk to her, an’ she’d turn her head as ef she onderstood me. Mules are knowin’ critters-next thing to human. At a sharp corner, Blue snorted an’ turned her head but couldn’t go back. Thar in front was a level kanyon, with walls of black an’ brown gray stone, an’ stumps of burnt pinyon hung down ready to fall onter us; an’ as we passed, the rocks and trees shook an’ grated an’ creaked. All at once Blue tucked tail, backed her ears, bowed her neck, an’ whinnied rite out, a-rarin’ onto her hind legs, a pawin’ an snickerin’. This hos doesn’t see the cute of them notions; he’s fur examinin’, so I goes to jump off the lam fool; but I was stuck tight as ef tar was to the saddle. I took my gun-that ar iron,” (pointing to his rifle, leaning against a tree), “an’ pops Blue over the head, but she squealed an’ dodged, all the time pawin’; but ‘twasn’t no use, an’ I says, ‘you didn’t cost moren two blankets when you was traded from the Yutes, an’ two blankets aint worth moren six plews at Fort William, which comes to dos pesos a pair, you consarned ugly picter-darn you, anyhow!’ Jest then I heerd a laffin’. I looked up, an’ two black critters-they wasn’t human, sure, fur they had tails an’ red coats (Injun cloth like that traded to the Navyhoes), edged with shiny white stuff, an’ brass buttons.
They kem forrad an’ made two low bows. I felt fur my scalpknife (fur I thought they was ‘proaching to take me), but I couldn’ use it-they were so darned polite.
One of the devils said, with a grin an’ bow, ‘Good mornin, Mr. Hatcher!’
“’Hell!’ sez I, “How do you know me? I swar this hos never saw you afore.’”
“’Oh! We’ve expected you a long time,” said the other, “and we are quite happy to see you-we’ve known you ever since your arrival in the mountains.”
I was gittin sorter scared. I wanted a drop of arwerdenty mity bad, but the bottle was gone, an’ I looked at them in astonishment, an’ said, ‘The devil!’
“’Hush!” screamed one, “you must not say that here-keep still, you will see him presently.”
I felt streaked, an’ cold sweat broke out all over me. I tried to say my prayers, as I used to at home when they made me turn in at night-‘Now I lay me down to sleep-Lan’lord fill the flowin’ bowl.”
“P’shaw! I’m off agin, I can’t say it.” But if this child could have got off his animal, he’d tuk ‘har’, and gone the trail fur Purgatoire. All this time the long-tailed devils was leadin’ my animal (an’ me on top of her, the biggest fool dug out) up the same kanyon. The rocks on the sides was pecked as smooth as a beaverplew rubbed with the grain, an’ the ground was covered with bits of cedar, like a cavyard of mules had been nippin’ an’ scatterin’ ‘em about. Overhead it was roofed; leastwise it was dark in thar, an’ only a little light come through holes in the rock. I thought I knew whar we was an’ eeched awfully to talk, but I sot still an’ didn’t ax questions.
Presently we were stopped by a dead wall-no opening anywhar. When the devils turned from me, I jerked my head around quick, but thar was no place to get out-the wall had growed up ahind us too. I was mad, an’ I wasn’t mad nuther, fur I expected the time had come fur this child to go under. So I let my head fall onter my brest, an’ I pulled the old wool hat over my eyes an’ thought for the last of the beaver I had trapped, an’ buffler as had took my G’lena pills in thar livers, an’ the ‘poker’ an’ euker’ I’d played to rendevoo an’ Fort William. I felt comfortable as eatin’ ‘fat cow’ to think I hadn’t cheated any one.
All at once the kanyon got bright as day. I looked up, an’ thar was a room with lights, an’ people talkin’ an’ laffin’ an’ fiddles a screechin’. Dad an’ the preacher to Wapakonneta [the community in which Hatcher grew up] told me the fiddle was the Devil’s invention; I believe it now.
The little feller as had hold of my animal, squeaked out-“Get off your mule, Mr. Hatcher!”
“Get off!” sez I, for I was mad as a bull pecked with Comanche lances, fur his disturbin’ me, “Get off? I have been trying to ever since I came in this infernal hole.”
“You can do so now. Be quick, for the company is waitin” sez he, piert-like. They all stopped talkin’ an’ were lookin’ rite at me. I felt riled.
“Darn your company. I’ve got to lose my scalp anyhow, an’ no difference to me how soon – but to obleege ye”- so I slid off as easy as ef I’d never been stuck.
A hunchback boy, with little gray eyes way in his head, took old Blue away. I might never see her agin, an’ I souted –“Poor Blue; Good-bye Blue!”
The young devil snickered; I turned around mity starn – ‘”stop your laffin’, you hellcat – ef I am alone, I can take you,” an’ I grabs fur my knife to wade into his liver; but, it was gone – gun, bulletpouch, an’ pistol – like mules in a stampeded.
I stepped forrad with a big feller, with har frizzled out like an old buffler’s just afore sheddin’ time, an’ the people jawin’ worse ‘an a cavyard of parokeets, stopped, while Frizzly shouted; “Mr Hatcher, formerly of Wapakonetta, latterly of the Rocky Mountains!”
Well, thar I stood. Things was mity strange, an’ every darned niggur on ‘em looked so pleased like. To show ‘em manners, I said- “How are ye!” an’ I went to bow, but chaw my last ‘bacca ef I could, my breeches was so tight – the heat way back in the kanyon had shrunk them. They were too polite to notice it, an’ I felt fur my knife to rip the doggone things, but recollecting the scalptaker was stolen, I straightens up an’ bows my head. A kind-lookin’ smallish old gentleman with a black coat and britches, an’ a bright, cute face, an’ gold spectacles, walks up an’ pressed my hand softly.
“How do you do, my dear friend? I have long expected you. You cannot imagine the pleasure it gives me to meet you at home. I have watched your peregrinations in the busy, tiresome world with much interest. Sit down, sit down; take a chair,” an’ he handed me one.
I squared myself on it, but a ten-pronged buck wasn’t done sucking when I last sot on a cheer, an I squirmed awhile, oneasy as a gut-shot coyote. I jumps up an’ tells the old gentleman them sort of ‘state fixins,’ didn’t suit this beaver, an’ he prefers the floor. I sets cross-legged like in camp as easy as eatin’ boudin. I reached for my pipe-a feller’s so used to it-but the devils in the kanyon had cached it too.
“You wish to smoke, Mr. Hatcher?-we will have cigars. Here!!” he called to an imp near him, “some cigars.”
They was brought on a waiter, size of my bulletbag. I empties ‘em in my hat, for good cigars ain’t to be picked upon on the peraira every day, but lookin’ at the old man, I saw somethin’ was wrong. To be polite, I ought to have taken but one.
“I beg pardon” says I scratchin’ my old scalp. “This hos didn’t think-he’s been so long in the mountains, he forgets civilized doin,” an’ I shoves the hat to him.
“Never mind,” says he, wavin’ his hand, an’ smiling faintly, “Get others,” speakin’ to the boy aside him. The old gentleman took one, and touched his finger to the end of my cigar-it smoked as if fire had been sot to it.
“Wagh! The devil!” screams I drawin’ back. “The same,” chimed in he, biting off the little end of his’n an’ spittin’ it out – “The same, sir.”
“The same! What?”
“Why the Devil”
“Hell! This ain’t the holler tree for this coon-I’ll be makin’ medicin,” so I offers my cigar to the sky, an’ to the earth, like Injun.
“You must not do that here – out upon such superstition,” says he, sharplike.
“Don’t ask to many questions – come with me,” risin; to his feet, an’ walkin’ off slow, a blowin’ his cigar smoke, over his shoulder in a long line, an’ I gets alongside of him.
“I want to show you my establishment – did not expect to find this down here, eh?”
My briches was stiff with the all-fired heat in the kaynon, an’ my friend seein’ it, said “Your breeches are tight; allow me to place my hand on them.” He rubbed his fingers up an’ down once an’ by beaver, they got as soft as when I traded them from Pi Yutes on the Heely (you mind, Louy, my Yute squaw; old Cutlips, her boss, came with us far as Sangry Christy goldmine. She’s the squaw that dressed them skins). I now felt as brave as a butterfly in spring. The old man was so clever, an’ I walked ‘longside like a ‘quaintance. We stopped afore a stone door, an’ it opened without touchin’.
“Hyar’s damp powder, an’ no fire to dry it,” shouts I, stoppin’.
“What’s the matter-do you not wish to perambulate through my possessions?”
“This hos doesn’t savy what the “human” for perambulate is; but I’ll walk plum to the hottest fire in your settlement, if that’s all you mean.”
The place was hot, an’ smelt bad of brimstone; but the darned screechin’ took me. I walks up to other end of the ‘lodge,’ an’ steal my mule, if thar wasn’t Jake Beloo, as trapped with me to Brown’s Hole! A lot of hellcats was a pullin’ at his ears, an’ jumpin’ on his shoulders, a swingin’ themselves to the ground by his long har. Some was runnin’ hot irons in him, but when we came up, they went off in a corner a-laffin’ and talkin’ like wildcats’ gibberish on a cold night.
Poor Jake! He came to the bar, lookin’ like a sick buffler in the eye. The bones stuck through the skin, an’ his har was matted an’ long – all over jest like a blind bull, an’ white blisters spotted him, with water runnin’ out of ‘em.
“Hatch, old feller, you here, too? How are ye?” says he, in a faintlike voice, staggerin’ an’ catchin’ on to the bar fur support. “I’m sorry to see you here, what did you…”- he raised his eyes to the old man standin’ ahind me, who gave him such a look he went howlin’ an’ foamin’ at the mouth to the fur end of the den an’ fell down, rollin’ over the damp stones. The devils, who was chucklin’ by a furnis whar was irons a heatin’, approached easy an run one into his back. I jumped at ‘em and hollered, “You owdacious little hellpups, let him alone; ef my sculptaker was hyar, I’d make buzzard feed of your meat, an parfleche of your dogskins,” but they squealed out to “go to the devil.”
“Wagh!” says I, “ef I ain’t pretty close to his lodge, I’m a niggur!”
The old gentleman speaks up, “Take care of yourself, Mr. Hatcher,” in a mity soft, kind of voice, an’ he smiled so calm an’ devilish – it nigh on froze me. I thought ef the ground would open with a yairthquake an’ take me in, I’d be much obleeged anyhow. Thinks I – “You Saint-forsaken, infernal hell-chief, how I’d like to stick my knife in your withered old breadbasket.”
“Ah, my dear fellow, no use in tryin’ that is a decided impossibility.” I jumped ten feet. I swar, a ‘medicine‘ man couldn’t a heerd me, for my lips didn’t move; an’ how he knew is more’n this hos kin tell.
“Evil communications corrupt good manners. But I see your nervous equilibrium is destroyed-come with me.”
At t’other side, the old gentleman told me to reach down for a brass knob. I thought a trick was goin’ to be played on me, an’ I dodged.
“Do not be afraid; turn it when you pull-steady there-that’s it”-it came, an’ a door, too. He walked in. I followed while the door shut of itself.
“Mity good hinges!” sez I, “Don’t make a noise, an’ go shut without slammin’ an cussin’ ‘em.”
“Yes-yes! Some of my own importation - No! They were made here.”
It was dark at first, but when the other door opened, thar was too much light. In another room was a table in the middle with two bottles an’ little glasses like them to the Saint Louy drink houses, only prettier. A soft, thick carpet was on the floor-an’ a square glass lamp hung from the ceiling. I sat cross-legged on the floor, an’ he on a sofy, his feet cocked on a chair, an’ his tail coiled under him, comfortable as traders in a lodge. He hollered somethin’ I couldn’t make out, an’ in comes two black, crooked-shank devils, with a round bench on one leg, an’ a glass with cigars in it. They vamoosed an’ the old coon invited me to take a cigar, helped himself, an’ rared his head back while I sorter lays on the floor, an’ we smoked an’ talked.
We were speaking of the size of the apple Eve ate, an’ I said thar were none but crabapples until we grafted them, but he replied thar was good fruit until the flood. Then Noah was so hurried to git the yelaphants, pinchin’ bugs, an’ sich varmint aboard, he forgot good appleseed until the water got knee-deep, so he jumps out, gathers a lot of our sour crabs, crams ‘em in his pickets, an’ Shem pulled him with a rope in the ark agin.
I got ahead of him several times, an’ he, sez- “Do you really believe the preachers, with their smooth faces, upturned eyes, and whining cant?”
“Certainly I do! Cause they’re mity kind and good to the poor.”
“Why I had no idea you were so ignorant-I assuredly expected more from so sensible a man as you.”
“Now look’ee hyar, this child isn’t used to be abused to his own face-I-I tell’ee it’s mity hard to choke down – ef it ain’t, sculp me!”
“Keep quiet, my young friend, suffer not your temper to gain the mastery, let patience have its perfect work. I beg your pardon sincerely – and so you believe the Bible, and permit the benighted preachers to gull you unsparingly. Come now! What is the reason you imagine faith in the Bible is the work to take you to Heaven?”
“Well, don’t crowd me an’ I’ll think a little-why, it’s the oldest history anyhow; so they told me at home. I used to read it myself, old hos-this child did. It tells how the first man an’ his squaw got hyar, an’ the buffler, an’ antelope, an’ beaver, an’ hosses too. An’ when I see it on the table, somethin’ ahind my ribs thumps out: “Look, John, thar’s a book you must be mity respectful to,” an somehow, I believe it’s more’n human, an’ I tell’ee its agin natur to believe otherwise, wagh!”
Another thing the old gentleman mentioned I thought was pretty much the fact. When he said he fooled Eve an’ walked about, I said it was a snake what deceived the ole woman.
“Nonsense! Snake indeed! I can satisfactorily account for that-but why think you so?”
“Because the big Bibles, with picters, has a snake coiled in an appletree, pokin’ out his tongue at Adam’s squaw.”
“P’shaw! The early inhabitants were so angry to think that Satan could deceive their first mother and entail so much misery on them, that at a meeting to which the principal men attended, they agreed to call me a serpent, because a serpent can insinuate himself so easily. When Moses compiled the different narratives of the earlier times in his five books, he wrote it so, too. It is typical, merely, of the wiles of the devil-my humble self” and the old coon bowed, “and an error, it seems, into which the whole world, since Moses, has irretrievably fallen. But have we not been sitting long enough? Take a fresh cigar, an’ we will walk. That’s Purgatory where your quondam friend Jake Beloo is. He will remain there a while longer, and if you desire it, can go, though it cost much exertion to entice him here, and then only after he drank hard.”
“I wish you would, sir. Jake’s as good a companyero as ever trapped beaver, or gnawed poor bull in spring, an’ he treated his squaw as ef she was a white woman.”
“For your sake, I will; we may see others of your acquaintance before leaving this,” sez he, sorter queer-like, as if to say “No doubt of it.”
The door of the room we had been talkin’ shut of its own accord. We stopped, an’ he touchin’ a spring in the wall, a trapdoor flew open, showin’ a flight of steps. He went first, cautioning me not to slip on the dark staars; but I shouted ”Not to mind me, but thankee for tellin’ it though.”
We went down, an’ down, an’ down, till I ‘gan to think the old cuss was goin’ to get me safe, too, so I sung out – “Hello! Which way? We must be mity nigh under Wah-to-yah, we’ve been goin’ on so long.”
“Yes!” sez he, much astonished, “We’re just under the twins. Why, turn and twist you ever so much you lose not your reckoning.”
“Not by a long chalk! This child had his bringin’ up to Wapakonetta an’ that’s a fact.”
From the bottom we went on in a dampish, dark sort of passage, gloomily lit up, with one candle. The grease was runnin’ down the block as had an augerhole bored in it for a candlestick, an’ the long snuff to the end was red, an’ the blaze clung to it as ef it hated to part company, an’ turned black an’ smoked at the p’int in mournin’. The cold chills shook me, an’ the old gentleman kept so still, the echo of my feet rolled back too hollow an’ solemn. I wanted liquor mity bad - mity bad. Thar was a noise smothered-like, an’ some poor feller would cry out worse ‘an Comanches chargin’. A door opened, and the old gentleman touchin’ me on the back, I went in, an’ he followed. It flew to, an’ though I turned rite around to look fur sign to ‘scape ef the place got too hot, I couldn’t find it.
“Wa-agh!” sez I.
“What now, are you dissatisfied?”
“Oh no! I was just lookin’ to see what sort of lodge you have.”
“I understand you perfectly, sir – be not afraid.”
My eyes were blinded in the light, but rubbin’ ‘em, I saw two big snakes comin’ at me, thar yaller an’ blood-shot eyes shinin’ awfully, an’ thar big red tongues dartin’ back an’ forad, an’ thar wide jaws open, showin’ long, slim, white fangs. On my right, four ugly animals jumped at me an’ rattled thar chains – I swar, ther heads were bigger ‘an a buffaler’s in summer. The snakes hissed an’ the dogs howled, an’ growled, an’ charged, an’ the light from the furnis flashed out brighter an’ brighter; an’ above me an’ around me, a hundred devils yelled, an’ laffed, an’ swore, an’ spit, an’ snapped ther boney fingers in my face, an’ leaped up to the ceiling into the black, long spiderwebs, an’ rode on the spiders bigger ‘an powderhorn, an’ jumped off onter my head. Then they all formed in line, an’ marched, an’ hooted, an’ yelled; an’ when the snakes jined the percession, the devils leaped on thar backs an’ rode. Then some smaller ones rocked up an’ down on springin’ boards, and when the snakes kem opposite, darted way up in the room an’ dived down in their mouths screechin’ like so many Pawnees for sculps. When the snakes was in front of us, the little devils came to the end of the snakes’ tongues, laffin’, an’ dancin’, an’ singin’ like little eediuts. Then the big dogs jumped clean over us, growlin’ louder ‘an a cavyard of grisly b’ar, an’ the devils holdin on to thar tails, flopped over my head, screamin’ “We’ve got you, we’ve got you at last!”
I couldn’t stand it no longer, an’ shuttin’ my eyes, I yelled rite out, and groaned.
“Be not alarmed,” and my friend drew his fingers along my head an’ back, an’ pulled a little narrow, black flask from his pocket with “Take some of this.”
I swallered a few drops. It tasted sweetish an’ bitterish – I don’t exactly savy how, but soon as it was down, I jumped up five times an’ yelled “Out of the way, you little ones, an’ let me ride; an’ after runnin’ longside, and climbin’ up his slimey scales, I got straddle of a big snake, who turned his head around, blowin’ his hot, sickenin’ breath in my face. I waved my old wool hat, an’ kickin’ him in a fast run, sung out to the little devils to git up behind’ an’ off we all started, screechin’ “Hooray fur Hell!!”
The old gentleman bent himself double with laffin’ till he purty nigh choked. We kept goin’ faster an’ faster till I got on to my feet (though the scales were mity slippery) an’ danced injun, an’ whooped louder than ‘em all. All at once, the old gentleman stopped laffin’ pulled his spectacles down on his nose an’ said – “Mr. Hatcher, we had better go now,” an ‘ then he spoke somethin’ I couldn’t make out, an’ the animals all stood still; I slid off, an’ the little hellcats a pinchin’ my ears, an’ pullin’ my beard, went off squeakin’. Then they all formed in a halfmoon afore us – the snakes on their tails, with heads way up to the black cobwebby roof; the dogs rared on thar hindfeet, an’ the little devils hangin’ everywhar. Then they all roared, an’ hissed, and screeched seven times, an’ wheelin’ off, disappeared, just as the light went out, leaving us in the dark.
“Mr. Hatcher,” sez the old gentleman again, movin’ off, “you please amuse yourself until I return,” but seein’ me look wild, “You haves seen too much of me to feel alarmed for your own safety. Take this imp fur a guide, an’ if he is impertinent, put him through; an’ for fear of the exhibitions may overcome your nerves, imbibe a portion of this cordial,” which I did, an’ everything danced before my eyes, an’ I wasn’t a bit scairt.
I started fur a red light as came through the crack of a door, a-stumblin’ over a three-legged stool, an’ pitchin’ my last cigar stump to one of the dogs, chained to the wall, who ketched it in his mouth. When the door was opened by my guide, I saw a big blaze like a peraira on fire – red and gloomy; an’ big black smoke was curlin’, an’ twistin’ an’ shootin’ an’ spreadin’, and the flames a-licken’ the walls, goin’ up to a pint, and breakin’ in to a wide blaze, with white an’ green ends. Thar was bells a tollin’, an’ chains a clinkin’, an’ mad howls an’ screams; but the old gentleman’s “medicine” made me feel as independent as a trapper with his animals feedin’ round him, two pack of beaver in camp, with traps sot fur more. Close to the hot place was a lot of merry devils laffin’ an’ shoutin’ with an’ ol pack of greasy cards – it ‘minded me of them we played with to rendezvoo – shufflin’ ‘em to “Devil’s Dream,” an’ “Money Musk”; then they ‘ud deal in slow time’ with ”Dead March in Saul,” whistlin’ as solemn as medicine men. Then they broke out of a suddent with “Paddy O’Rafferty,” which maked this hos move about in his moccasins so lively, one of them as was playin’, looked up an’ sed – “Mr. Hatcher, won’t you take a hand? – Make way, boys, fur the gentleman.” Down I sot amongst ‘em, but stepped on the little feller’s tail, who had been leadin’ the Irish jig. He hollered till I got off it “Owch! But it’s on my tail ye are!”
“Pardon,” sez I, “But you’re an Irishman!”
“No indeed! I’m a hellimp, He! He! Who-oop! I’m a hellimp,” an’ he laffed, and pulled my beard, an’ screeched till the rest threatened to choke him ef he didn’t stop.
“What’s trumps?” sez I, “an’ whose deal?”
“Here is my place,” sez one, “I’m tired playin’; take a horn,” an’ pickin’ up an iron rod heatin’ in the fire, he pinched a miserable burnin’ feller ahind the bars, who cussed him, an’ run way in the blaze outen reach.
I thought I was great at poker by the way I took the plews an’ traps from the boys to rendezvoo, but hyar the slick devils beat me without half tryin’. When they slapped down a bully pair, they ‘ud screech an’ laff worse ‘an fellers on a spree. Sez one – “Mr. Hatcher, I reckon you’re a hos at poker away to your country, but you can’t shine down here – you are nowhar.”
Well now, this child felt sorter queer, so he santers ‘long slowly, till he saw an’ open place in the rock; not mindin’ the imps who was drinkin’ away like trappers on a bust.
It was so dark thar, I felt my way mity still (fur I was afraid they ‘ud be after me); I got almost to a streak of light, when thar was sich a rumpus back in the cave as give me the trimbles. Doors was slammin’, dogs screamin’. They come a chargin’. The snakes was hissin’ sharp an’ wiry; the beasts howled out long an’ mournful; an’ thunder rolled up overhead, an’ the imps was yellin’ an screechin’ like mad.
“It’s time to break fur timber, sure,” and I run as ef a wounded buffler was raisin’ my shirt with his horns. The place was damp, an’ in the narrow rock, lizards an’ vipers an’ copperheads jumped out at me an’ clum on my legs, but I stompt an’ shook ‘em off. Owls, too flopped thar wings in my face, an’ hooted at me, an’ fire blazed out an’ lit the place up, an’ brimstone smoke came nigh on chokin’ me. Lookin’ back, the whole cavyard of hell was comin’ an devils on devils, nothin’ but devils, filled the hole. I threw down my hat to run faster, an’then jerked off my old blanket, but still they was gainin’. I made one jump clean out of my moccasins. The big snake in front was closer an’ closer, with his head drawed back to strike; then a helldog raised up nearly ‘longside, pantin’ an’ blowin’ with the slobber runnin ’outen his mouth, an’ a lot of devils hangin’ on to him, was cussin’ me an’ screechin. I strained every jint, but no use; they still gained’ not fast, but gainin’ they was. I jumped an’ swore an’ leaned down, flung out my hands, but the dogs was nearer every time, an’ the horrid yellin’ an’ hissin’ way back, grew louder an’ louder.
At last, a prayer mother used to make me say that I hadn’t thought of fur twenty year or more, came rite afore me clear as a powderhorn. I kept runnin’ an’ sayin’ it, an the niggurs held back a little. I gained some on them – “Wagh!” I stopped repeatin’, to get breath, an’ the foremost dog made such a lunge at me, I forgot it. Turnin’ up my eyes, thar was the old gentleman, lookin’ at me, an keepin’ alongside, without walkin’. His face warn’t more than two feet off, an’ his eyes was fixed steady, an’ calm, an’ devilish. I screamed rite out. I shut my eyes but he was thar, too. I howled an’ spit an’ hit at it, but couldn’t git the darn face away. A dog ketched hold of my shirt with his fangs, an’ two devils, jumpin on me, caught me by the throat, a-tryin’ to choke me. While I was pullin’ ‘em off, I fell down, with about thirty-five of the infernal things, an’ the dogs, an’ the slimy snakes a top of me, a mashing’ an taren’ me. I bit big pieces out of them an’ bit an’ bit again, an’ scratched an’ gouged.
When I was most give out, I heerd the Pawnee skulp yell, an’ I use my rifle fur a pokin’ stick, ef it didn’t charge a party of the best boys in the mountains. They slayed the devils right an’ left, an’ sot ‘em runnin’ like goats, but this hos was so weak fightin’ he fainted away.
Then I found the liquor, an’ my companyeros was slappin’ thar wet hats in my face to bring me to. Round whar I was layin’, the grass was pulled up an’ the ground dug with my knife, and the bottle, cached when I traded with the Yutes, was smashed to flinders ‘gainst a tree.
“Why, what on airth, Hatcher, have ye bin doin’ hyar? You was a-kickin’ an’ tearin’ up the grass an’ yellin’ as ef yer “har” was taken. Why, old hos, this coon don’t savy them hifelutin’ notions, he doesn’t.”
“The devils from hell was after me,” sez I, mity gruff, “This hos has seen mor’n ever he wants to agin.”
They tried to git me outen the notion, but I swar, an’ I’ll stick to it, this child saw a heap more of the all-fired place than he wants to agin; an’ ef it ain’t fact he doesn’t know “fat cow” from “poor bull – Wagh!”
So ended Hatcher’s tale of Wah-to-yah, or what the mountaineer saw when he had the mania potu.
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