Read CHAPTER II of Wolfville Nights, free online book, by Alfred Lewis, on

Colonel Sterett’s Panther Hunt,

“Panthers, what we-all calls ‘mountain lions,’” observed the Old Cattleman, wearing meanwhile the sapient air of him who feels equipped of his subject, “is plenty furtive, not to say mighty sedyoolous to skulk. That’s why a gent don’t meet up with more of ’em while pirootin’ about in the hills. Them cats hears him, or they sees him, an’ him still ignorant tharof; an’ with that they bashfully withdraws. Which it’s to be urged in favour of mountain lions that they never forces themse’fs on no gent; they’re shore considerate, that a-way, an’ speshul of themse’fs. If one’s ever hurt, you can bet it won’t be a accident. However, it ain’t for me to go ‘round impugnin’ the motives of no mountain lion; partic’lar when the entire tribe is strangers to me complete. But still a love of trooth compels me to concede that if mountain lions ain’t cowardly, they’re shore cautious a lot. Cattle an’ calves they passes up as too bellicose, an’ none of ’em ever faces any anamile more warlike than a baby colt or mebby a half-grown deer. I’m ridin’ along the Caliente once when I hears a crashin’ in the bushes on the bluff above two hundred foot high, she is, an’ as sheer as the walls of this yere tavern. As I lifts my eyes, a fear-frenzied mare an’ colt comes chargin’ up an’ projects themse’fs over the precipice an’ lands in the valley below. They’re dead as Joolius Cæsar when I rides onto ’em, while a brace of mountain lions is skirtin’ up an’ down the aige of the bluff they leaps from, mewin’ an’ lashin’ their long tails in hot enthoosiasm. Shore, the cats has been chasin’ the mare an’ foal, an’ they locoes ’em to that extent they don’t know where they’re headin’ an’ makes the death jump I relates. I bangs away with my six-shooter, but beyond givin’ the mountain lions a convulsive start I can’t say I does any execootion. They turns an’ goes streakin’ it through the pine woods like a drunkard to a barn raisin’.

“Timid? Shore! They’re that timid seminary girls compared to ’em is as sternly courageous as a passel of buccaneers. Out in Mitchell’s canyon a couple of the Lee-Scott riders cuts the trail of a mountain lion and her two kittens. Now whatever do you-all reckon this old tabby does? Basely deserts her offsprings without even barin’ a tooth, an’ the cow-punchers takes ’em gently by their tails an’ beats out their joovenile brains. That’s straight; that mother lion goes swarmin’ up the canyon like she ain’t got a minute to live. An’ you can gamble the limit that where a anamile sees its children perish without frontin’ up for war, it don’t possess the commonest roodiments of sand. Sech, son, is mountain lions.

“It’s one evenin’ in the Red Light when Colonel Sterett, who’s got through his day’s toil on that Coyote paper he’s editor of, onfolds concernin’ a panther round-up which he pulls off in his yooth.

“‘This panther hunt,’ says Colonel Sterett, as he fills his third tumbler, ‘occurs when mighty likely I’m goin’ on seventeen winters. I’m a leader among my young companions at the time; in fact, I allers is. An’ I’m proud to say that my soopremacy that a-way is doo to the dom’nant character of my intellects. I’m ever bright an’ sparklin’ as a child, an’ I recalls how my aptitoode for learnin’ promotes me to be regyarded as the smartest lad in my set. If thar’s visitors, to the school, or if the selectmen invades that academy to sort o’ size us up, the teacher allers plays me on ’em. I’d go to the front for the outfit. Which I’m wont on sech harrowin’ o’casions to recite a ode the teacher’s done wrote it himse’f an’ which is entitled Napoleon’s Mad Career. Thar’s twenty-four stanzas to it; an’ while these interlopin’ selectmen sets thar lookin’ owley an’ sagacious, I’d wallop loose with the twenty-four verses, stampin’ up and down, an’ accompanyin’ said recitations with sech a multitood of reckless gestures, it comes plenty clost to backin’ everybody plumb outen the room. Yere’s the first verse:

I’d drink an’ sw’ar an’ r’ar an’ t’ar
An’ fall down in the mud,
While the y’earth for forty miles about
Is kivered with my blood.

“’You-all can see from that speciment that our schoolmaster ain’t simply flirtin’ with the muses when he originates that epic; no sir, he means business; an’ whenever I throws it into the selectmen, I does it jestice. The trustees used to silently line out for home when I finishes, an’ never a yeep. It stuns ’em; it shore fills ’em to the brim!

“‘As I gazes r’arward,’ goes on the Colonel, as by one rapt impulse he uplifts both his eyes an’ his nosepaint, ’as I gazes r’arward, I says, on them sun-filled days, an’ speshul if ever I gets betrayed into talkin’ about ’em, I can hardly t’ar myse’f from the subject. I explains yeretofore, that not only by inclination but by birth, I’m a shore-enough ’ristocrat. This captaincy of local fashion I assoomes at a tender age. I wears the record as the first child to don shoes throughout the entire summer in that neighbourhood; an’ many a time an’ oft does my yoothful but envy-eaten compeers lambaste me for the insultin’ innovation. But I sticks to my moccasins; an’ to-day shoes in the Bloo Grass is almost as yooniversal as the licker habit.

“’Thar dawns a hour, however, when my p’sition in the van of Kaintucky ton comes within a ace of bein’ ser’ously shook. It’s on my way to school one dewey mornin’ when I gets involved all inadvertent in a onhappy rupture with a polecat. I never does know how the misonderstandin’ starts. After all, the seeds of said dispoote is by no means important; it’s enough to say that polecat finally has me thoroughly convinced.

Followin’ the difference an’ my defeat, I’m witless enough to keep goin’ on to school, whereas I should have returned homeward an’ cast myse’f upon my parents as a sacred trust. Of course, when I’m in school I don’t go impartin’ my troubles to the other chil’en; I emyoolates the heroism of the Spartan boy who stands to be eat by a fox, an’ keeps ’em to myself. But the views of my late enemy is not to be smothered; they appeals to my young companions; who tharupon puts up a most onneedful riot of coughin’s an’ sneezin’s. But nobody knows me as the party who’s so pungent.

“‘It’s a tryin’ moment. I can see that, once I’m located, I’m goin’ to be as onpop’lar as a b’ar in a hawg pen; I’ll come tumblin’ from my pinnacle in that proud commoonity as the glass of fashion an’ the mold of form. You can go your bottom peso, the thought causes me to feel plenty perturbed.

“’At this peril I has a inspiration; as good, too, as I ever entertains without the aid of rum. I determines to cast the opprobrium on some other boy an’ send the hunt of gen’ral indignation sweepin’ along his trail.

“’Thar’s a innocent infant who’s a stoodent at this temple of childish learnin’ an’ his name is Riley Bark. This Riley is one of them giant children who’s only twelve an’ weighs three hundred pounds. An’ in proportions as Riley is a son of Anak, physical, he’s dwarfed mental; he ain’t half as well upholstered with brains as a shepherd dog. That’s right; Riley’s intellects, is like a fly in a saucer of syrup, they struggles ’round plumb slow. I decides to uplift Riley to the public eye as the felon who’s disturbin’ that seminary’s sereenity. Comin’ to this decision, I p’ints at him where he’s planted four seats ahead, all tangled up in a spellin’ book, an’ says in a loud whisper to a child who’s sittin’ next:

“‘Throw him out!’

“’That’s enough. No gent will ever realise how easy it is to direct a people’s sentiment ontil he take a whirl at the game. In two minutes by the teacher’s bull’s-eye copper watch, every soul knows it’s pore Riley; an’ in three, the teacher’s done drug Riley out doors by the ha’r of his head an’ chased him home. Gents, I look back on that yoothful feat as a triumph of diplomacy; it shore saves my standin’ as the Beau Brummel of the Bloo Grass.

“‘Good old days, them!’ observes the Colonel mournfully, ‘an’ ones never to come ag’in! My sternest studies is romances, an’ the peroosals of old tales as I tells you-all prior fills me full of moss an’ mockin’ birds in equal parts. I reads deep of Walter Scott an’ waxes to be a sharp on Moslems speshul. I dreams of the Siege of Acre, an’ Richard the Lion Heart; an’ I simply can’t sleep nights for honin’ to hold a tournament an’ joust a whole lot for some fair lady’s love.

“‘Once I commits the error of my career by joustin’ with my brother Jeff. This yere Jeff is settin’ on the bank of the Branch fishin’ for bullpouts at the time, an’ Jeff don’t know I’m hoverin’ near at all. Jeff’s reedic’lous fond of fishin’; which he’d sooner fish than read Paradise Lost. I’m romancin’ along, sim’larly bent, when I notes Jeff perched on the bank. To my boyish imagination Jeff at once turns to be a Paynim. I drops my bait box, couches my fishpole, an’ emittin’ a impromptoo warcry, charges him. It’s the work of a moment; Jeff’s onhossed an’ falls into the Branch.

“’But thar’s bitterness to follow vict’ry. Jeff emerges like Diana from the bath an’ frales the wamus off me with a club. Talk of puttin’ a crimp in folks! Gents when Jeff’s wrath is assuaged I’m all on one side like the leanin’ tower of Pisa. Jeff actooally confers a skew-gee to my spinal column.

“’A week later my folks takes me to a doctor. That practitioner puts on his specs an’ looks me over with jealous care.

“’"Whatever’s wrong with him, Doc?” says my father.

“’"Nothin’,” says the physician, “only your son Willyum’s five inches out o’ plumb.”

“‘Then he rigs a contraption made up of guy-ropes an’ stay-laths, an’ I has to wear it; an’ mebby in three or four weeks he’s got me warped back into the perpendic’lar.’

“’But how about this cat hunt?” asks Dan Boggs. ’Which I don’t aim to be introosive none, but I’m camped yere through the second drink waitin’ for it, an’ these procrastinations is makin’ me kind o’ batty.’

“‘That panther hunt is like this,’ says the Colonel turnin’ to Dan. ‘At the age of seventeen, me an’ eight or nine of my intimate brave comrades founds what we-all denom’nates as the “Chevy Chase Huntin’ Club.” Each of us maintains a passel of odds an’ ends of dogs, an’ at stated intervals we convenes on hosses, an’ with these fourscore curs at our tails goes yellin’ an’ skally-hootin’ up an’ down the countryside allowin’ we’re shore a band of Nimrods.

“‘The Chevy Chasers ain’t been in bein’ as a institootion over long when chance opens a gate to ser’ous work. The deep snows in the Eastern mountains it looks like has done drove a panther into our neighbourhood. You could hear of him on all sides. Folks glimpses him now an’ then. They allows he’s about the size of a yearlin’ calf; an’ the way he pulls down sech feeble people as sheep or lays desolate some he’pless henroost don’t bother him a bit. This panther spreads a horror over the county. Dances, pra’er meetin’s, an’ even poker parties is broken up, an’ the social life of that region begins to bog down. Even a weddin’ suffers; the bridesmaids stayin’ away lest this ferocious monster should show up in the road an’ chaw one of ’em while she’s en route for the scene of trouble. That’s gospel trooth! the pore deserted bride has to heel an’ handle herse’f an’ never a friend to yoonite her sobs with hers doorin’ that weddin’ ordeal. The old ladies present shakes their heads a heap solemn.

“’"It’s a worse augoory,” says one, “than the hoots of a score of squinch owls.”

“’When this reign of terror is at its height, the local eye is rolled appealin’ly towards us Chevy Chasers. We rises to the opportoonity. Day after day we’re ridin’ the hills an’ vales, readin’ the milk white snow for tracks. An’ we has success. One mornin’ I comes up on two of the Brackenridge boys an’ five more of the Chevy Chasers settin’ on their hosses at the Skinner cross roads. Bob Crittenden’s gone to turn me out, they says. Then they p’ints down to a handful of close-wove bresh an’ stunted timber an’ allows that this maraudin’ cat-o-mount is hidin’ thar; they sees him go skulkin’ in.

“‘Gents, I ain’t above admittin’ that the news puts my heart to a canter. I’m brave; but conflicts with wild an’ savage beasts is to me a novelty an’ while I faces my fate without a flutter, I’m yere to say I’d sooner been in pursoot of minks or raccoons or some varmint whose grievous cap’bilities I can more ackerately stack up an’ in whose merry ways I’m better versed. However, the dauntless blood of my grandsire mounts in my cheek; an’ as if the shade of that old Trojan is thar personal to su’gest it, I searches forth a flask an’ renoos my sperit; thus qualified for perils, come in what form they may, I resolootely stands my hand.

“’Thar’s forty dogs if thar’s one in our company as we pauses at the Skinner crossroads. An’ when the Crittenden yooth returns, he brings with him the Rickett boys an’ forty added dogs. Which it’s worth a ten-mile ride to get a glimpse of that outfit of canines! Thar’s every sort onder the canopy: thar’s the stolid hound, the alert fice, the sapient collie; that is thar’s individyool beasts wherein the hound, or fice, or collie seems to preedominate as a strain. The trooth is thar’s not that dog a-whinin’ about our hosses’ fetlocks who ain’t proudly descended from fifteen different tribes, an’ they shorely makes a motley mass meetin’. Still, they’re good, zealous dogs; an’ as they’re going to go for’ard an’ take most of the resks of that panther, it seems invidious to criticise ’em.

“‘One of the Twitty boys rides down an’ puts the eighty or more dogs into the bresh. The rest of us lays back an’ strains our eyes. Thar he is! A shout goes up as we descries the panther stealin’ off by a far corner. He’s headin’ along a hollow that’s full of bresh an’ baby timber an’ runs parallel with the pike. Big an’ yaller he is; we can tell from the slight flash we gets of him as he darts into a second clump of bushes. With a cry what young Crittenden calls a “view halloo,” we goes stampedin’ down the pike in pursoot.

“‘Our dogs is sta’nch; they shore does themse’fs proud. Singin’ in twenty keys, reachin’ from growls to yelps an’ from yelps to shrillest screams, they pushes dauntlessly on the fresh trail of their terrified quarry. Now an’ then we gets a squint of the panther as he skulks from one copse to another jest ahead. Which he’s goin’ like a arrow; no mistake! As for us Chevy Chasers, we parallels the hunt, an’ continyoos poundin’ the Skinner turnpike abreast of the pack, ever an’ anon givin’ a encouragin’ shout as we briefly sights our game.

“‘Gents,’ says Colonel Sterett, as he ag’in refreshes himse’f, ’it’s needless to go over that hunt in detail. We hustles the flyin’ demon full eighteen miles, our faithful dogs crowdin’ close an’ breathless at his coward heels. Still, they don’t catch up with him; he streaks it like some saffron meteor.

“‘Only once does we approach within strikin’ distance; that’s when he crosses at old Stafford’s whiskey still. As he glides into view, Crittenden shouts:

“’"Thar he goes!”

“’For myse’f I’m prepared. I’ve got one of these misguided cap-an’-ball six-shooters that’s built doorin’ the war; an’ I cuts that hardware loose! This weepon seems a born profligate of lead, for the six chambers goes off together. Which you should have seen the Chevy Chasers dodge! An’ well they may; that broadside ain’t in vain! My aim is so troo that one of the r’armost dogs evolves a howl an’ rolls over; then he sets up gnawin’ an’ lickin’ his off hind laig in frantic alternations. That hunt is done for him. We leaves him doctorin’ himse’f an’ picks him up two hours later on our triumphant return.

“‘As I states, we harries that foogitive panther for eighteen miles an’ in our hot ardour founders two hosses. Fatigue an’ weariness begins to overpower us; also our prey weakens along with the rest. In the half glimpses we now an’ ag’in gets of him its plain that both pace an’ distance is tellin’ fast. Still, he presses on; an’ as thar’s no spur like fear, that panther holds his distance.

“’But the end comes. We’ve done run him into a rough, wild stretch of country where settlements is few an’ cabins roode. Of a sudden, the panther emerges onto the road an’ goes rackin’ along the trail. We pushes our spent steeds to the utmost.

“’Thar’s a log house ahead; out in the stump-filled lot in front is a frowsy woman an’ five small children. The panther leaps the rickety worm-fence an’ heads straight as a bullet for the cl’arin’! Horrors! the sight freezes our marrows! Mad an’ savage, he’s doo to bite a hunk outen that devoted household! Mutooally callin’ to each other, we goads our hosses to the utmost. We gain on the panther! He may wound but he won’t have time to slay that fam’ly.

“’Gents, it’s a soopreme moment! The panther makes for the female squatter an’ her litter, we pantin’ an’ pressin’ clost behind. The panther is among ’em; the woman an’ the children seems transfixed by the awful spectacle an’ stands rooted with open eyes an’ mouths. Our emotions shore beggars deescriptions.

“’Now ensooes a scene to smite the hardiest of us with dismay. No sooner does the panther find himse’f in the midst of that he’pless bevy of little ones, than he stops, turns round abrupt, an’ sets down on his tail; an’ then upliftin’ his muzzle he busts into shrieks an’ yells an’ howls an’ cries, a complete case of dog hysterics! That’s what he is, a great yeller dog; his reason is now a wrack because we harasses him the eighteen miles.

“‘Thar’s a ugly outcast of a squatter, mattock in hand, comes tumblin’ down the hillside from some’ers out back of the shanty where he’s been grubbin’:

“‘"What be you-all eediots chasin’ my dog for?” demands this onkempt party. Then he menaces us with the implement.

“’We makes no retort but stands passive. The great orange brute whose nerves has been torn to rags creeps to the squatter an’ with mournful howls explains what we’ve made him suffer.

“‘No, thar’s nothin’ further to do an’ less to be said. That cavalcade, erstwhile so gala an’ buoyant, drags itself wearily homeward, the exhausted dogs in the r’ar walkin’ stiff an’ sore like their laigs is wood. For more’n a mile the complainin’ howls of the hysterical yeller dog is wafted to our y’ears. Then they ceases; an’ we figgers his sympathizin’ master has done took him into the shanty an’ shet the door.

“’No one comments on this adventure, not a word is heard. Each is silent ontil we mounts the Big Murray hill. As we collects ourse’fs on this eminence one of the Brackenridge boys holds up his hand for a halt. “Gents,” he says, as hosses, hunters an’ dogs we-all gathers ‘round, “gents, I moves you the Chevy Chase Huntin’ Club yereby stands adjourned sine die.” Thar’s a moment’s pause, an’ then as by one impulse every gent, hoss an’ dog, says “Ay!” It’s yoonanimous, an’ from that hour till now the Chevy Chase Huntin’ Club ain’t been nothin’ save tradition. But that panther shore disappears; it’s the end of his vandalage; an’ ag’in does quadrilles, pra’rs, an poker resoom their wonted sway. That’s the end; an’ now, gents, if Black Jack will caper to his dooties we’ll uplift our drooped energies with the usual forty drops.”