My Wild-Hog Claim: A Dubious Asset: From Highland Annals

I

IT was mostly during my first two years on the farm that things happened. Unfamiliarity sharpened events into adventure. Later on the unusual gradually flattened into matter of course. For this reason I am glad that I looked over my wild-hog claim during the first year of possession, a time when I fed on explorer’s elixir, and knew not plain bread and meat.

I can still see Sam, a clear-cut figure, swinging from an overhead bough which he had grasped just in time to save himself from the plunging, foamscattering boar that in another second would have had his life. But the beginning of the day was calm enough. For some time I had heard talk of my claim as a fund-producing property which, if looked after as it should be, would enable me to buy out the County Bank as soon as I chose. My predecessor had imported a few Berkshires and Poland Chinas to mix with the wild breed, and the result, Len assured me, was ‘the best mixtry in the mountains.’ Quality had been improved without unfitting the hogs for hardy life on the ridges. Acorns were abundant; sprouting chestnuts could be uprooted until late in the spring. By taking the hogs in midwinter, before the mast began to grow scant, one could find them fairly fat, and two or three weeks in the pen, with plenty of corn to crunch, would make the meat sweet and marketable. Whenever things looked expensively blue on the farm there was always someone to remind me cheerfully of my wild hogs that could be ‘fotched in an’ cashed quick as nothin’.'

We were having some bright, windless days in January, and Len said to me wistfully, ‘Ain’t this the hoghuntin’ time, though?’

I was getting close to the wall as to ways and means, so I answered, ‘Very well, Len. Tell Sam about it and get ready for a round-up to-morrow.’

He was delighted. ‘I jest been achin’ to git into the woods,’ he said. ‘There ‘ll be a lot o’ young-uns to mark. Course you know what yer mark is, Mis’ Dolly?’ I did n’t, and he apologized for my ignorance in a matter so vital. ‘A woman kain’t be expected to know ever’thing ‘bout the hog business. Yer mark is an undercrap in the right year an’ two main smart slits in the top o’ the left. Ag Snead’s got a mark nearly like yorn, only they’s a slit in the right an’ a crap too. It’s a top slit, an’ ever’ hog that ‘s got the top o’ his year torn off ol’ Ag drives in fer his’n. An’ they’s mainly yorn, Mis’ Dolly.’

‘But how do they get their ears torn off?’

‘Dogs. We have to ketch ‘em with a dog, an’ he gits ‘em by the year. Sometimes a blame hog ‘ll leave part of his year with the dog an’ go on. I’ve hearn ol’ Ag ‘ll sic his dogs onto yore mark, hopin’ to tear a year off an’ claim the hog, an’ I would n’t put it past him.’

‘That’s rascality, Len, and Mr. Snead is a deacon.’

‘Law, when a man goes hog-huntin’ he puts his ‘ligion in the cupboard, so it won’t git hurt while he’s out.’

‘Those hogs are mine. I’m going to have a talk with neighbor Snead.’

Len was startled. ‘ Lord-a-mercy! This here’s a country where you kain’t call a man a hog-thief an’ git home by sundown.’

‘I won’t call him a thief.’

‘No, I reckon you ‘ll jest inquire ef he’s got any o’ yore hogs in his pen.’

Noting that I duly crumpled, he became protective as usual.

‘You see, Mis’ Dolly, they ain’t any way to ‘proach a man on sech a subject, less’n yer carryin’ a good gun.'

‘We’ll meet at Sam’s,’ he told me, ‘round about ‘fore good daylight. There ‘ ll be pap an’ my Ben, an’ we ‘ll take Burl ‘cause he’s got a big dog.’

Burl was a cousin of Coretta’s, staying at Sam’s and trying, with fluctuating success, to court Len’s oldest girl. ‘A good hog-hunt,’ said Len, ‘will show ef he’s any account, him an’ that dog o’ hisn.’

I managed to reach Sam’s the next morning while the smoky lamp was still burning on the kitchen table. As I approached I heard voices, zestful and happy, but when I appeared in the door there was surprise, then a troubled silence.

‘ You need n’t been afeard I would n’t git ‘em off early,’ said Coretta. ‘I been up sence three o’clock, an’ Len an’ Ben come at four. We’d done breakfast, an’ was jest chowin’ till light broke.’

‘I’m not hurrying you. I was only afraid that I would n’t be in time myself.’

‘You ‘re not going?’ all questioned at once, and plunged into talk of the cliffs that I would tumble over, the thickets I could n’t crawl through, and the ‘straight-ups’ I couldn’t climb. I did not doubt their concern for me, but felt that more was behind their opposition than desire for my safety. In some subterranean way they knew that crafty hints had reached me of their having now and then spirited hogs to neighborly markets, forgetting to share the proceeds with the owner; they knew too, by the same invisible channels, that the tainting insinuations had been indignantly discouraged; yet they suspected me of wanting to keep on their track. After getting up at an heroic hour to prove my full comradeship, it was depressing to run against suspicion, as cold in my confident face as the frosty air of the dawn. But I innocently urged that I was bound for the hunt, that our lives were of equal value, and I would share all risks. After some minutes of talk — genuine even as it veiled the core of discussion — the springs of good humor began to flow, doubt was put to cover, and we were on the road.

Serena was with us. She had come with Len to the meet, and I had heard him insisting on her accompanying me. ‘You won’t have to go fur,’he said. ‘She ‘ll turn back ‘fore we git to Broke Yoke Gap.’

Granpap also was of the party. ‘He kain’t run,’ said Len, ‘but he’ll he’p us more’n you ‘d think. He caught a big feller last year all by hisse’f, ‘cept what little ol’ Bub could do.’

‘All right, granpap,’ I said, feeling gay and generous as the sun began to warm our mountain, ‘ you can have all you catch to-day. I won’t take any toll from you.’

There was no answer — no thanks. Everybody looked straight into the woods, ostensibly concerned with nothing but sighting a hog; and I knew thereby that my words had been taken seriously.

II

‘We ought to git Red Granny today,’ said Sam, examining the ground where the smoking leaves had been stirred. ‘Here’s her consarned ol’ broke-toed track. An’ here’s a lot o’ littler tracks. She’s been in an’ tolled out some more o’ our shotes. I bet if we hurried up we’d come right on her.’

‘Let’s hurry then,’ I urged; for I knew about the old sow called Red Granny, that for three years had proved uncapturable. She kept her inaccessible house on the side of a rough mountain, making her way to it through a great pile of rock by a passage yet undiscovered. Though a good breeder, filling the woods with sandy-haired pigs, she also seemed able to teach them the secret of escape. Bub, who was an old dog, could hardly be made to run a red pig unless it was on his own side of the mountain.

‘Tain’t no use to trail Red Granny,’ said Len. ‘Ol’ Bub leads the dogs, an’ he won’t run that-a-way. I put him on her trail onct an’ he was out all night. When he come in next day he was too ‘shamed to look at me.’

‘Well, let’s get somewhere,’I said, feeling the cold in spite of the sun. Then I found I had made a mistake. The first part of hog-hunting is deliberation. There was a long discussion as to the most fruitful direction.

Finally little Ross, who had followed Serena, said, ‘Let’s go to the sow’s oak,’ and to my amazement everybody agreed. ‘ I bet that spotted sow is there with some little pigs, an’ poppie promised me one,’ said Ross.

The sow’s oak was a giant tree with a large hollow at the butt, big enough to furnish good shelter for a litter. For years it had been a favorite beddingplace. To find it we had to descend into a cove where there was a clear spring. All stopped for water, though everybody had taken a drink just before leaving Sam’s. The Highlander can go without a meal or two with no inconvenience, but he drinks water in season and out of season. After leaving the spring we passed around the curving side of a hill and came in sight of the tree.

‘Sst!’ said Sam. ‘I see her. She’s in there, an’ she’s got pigs. Don’t crowd her now. Keep the dogs back. We don’t want her to git tore, an’ her a-sucklin’ pigs. Y’all stand out here in a circle like, so she kain’t git through if she runs, and I ‘ll ease up behind the tree. When ye see me bounce ‘round to the front to grab her leg, ever’body an’ the dogs bear right in.’

He made a wide circuit and came up behind the tree, but before he reached it Burl’s dog, Bugle, who was new at the game, gave a yelp and the sow sprang out. About a dozen tiny pigs, black-spotted and with delicate pink noses, followed her. All three of the dogs rushed forward and yapped in her face. She bristled to fight, then turned and dashed in the opposite direction, flashing by Sam and leaving him to look foolish, with a knotted rope in his hands. The dogs flew after the sow and the men followed the dogs. Little Ross began to scramble after the terrified, squealing pigs.

‘Go after the one with the black spot on its year,’ said Serena. ‘It’s the purtiest.’ Ross tumbled after the one she pointed out and secured it. Serena took it into her apron. By that time not a pig was to be seen or heard. They were all under the leaves, behind logs, anywhere they could secrete their quivering bodies. In the distance we could hear the cry of the dogs and shouts of the men. Then the yelping ceased and we heard the wild squeals of the captive. When we reached the spot the men were looking down on the struggling sow. She was tied by one hind leg, and the other end of the rope was made fast to a young tree.

‘She ‘ll keep all right,’ said granpap, examining the knots critically. ‘Reckon anybody’ll find her here ‘fore we git back? The woods air full o’ hunters.’

‘Hunters and stealers,’ said Len indignantly. ‘But we kain’t he’p it. We got to go on.’

‘She’ll drive in easy,’ said Serena. ‘It’s that sow you brought in last year, an’ I gentled her with slop fer a month.’ She put the little pig down by his mother, who became very still as he lifted a nudging nose to her. I wanted to return and find the other pigs, but was swiftly talked down.

‘They’ll find the sow ef she’ll squeal loud enough,’ said Sam. ‘They won’t run fur anyhow, an’ we’ll look ‘em out as we go home.’

The men had discovered some signs which they were sure would lead to a fine bunch of shotes. ‘An’ shotes pay,’ they said. ‘Anybody’ll buy a shote.’

The ‘signs’ took us by a very rough way through a damp hollow. Serena declared it was so ‘ blustery’ she could n’t stand it, and persuaded me to turn up the slope and walk along the ridge, leaving the men to push their way below. ‘They always scour that holler,’ she said, ‘but they’ve never brought a pig out of it.’ In half an hour the men came up defeated. Some pigs had been found, but they proved to be in Ag Snead’s mark.

‘I’ll tell ye what let’s do,’ said Len. ‘We’ll go to Raven Den side to find that big b’ar hog that’s tuskin’ our gentles ever’ time they go to the woods.’

‘ I’m afraid o’ that feller,’ said young Ben. ‘I seen him onct. He suits me where he is.’

‘Let’s go fer him,’ said Burl. ‘That sounds like a hunt.’

‘I’m ready,’ said Sam. ‘That feller’s too mean to let live. I’ve had to sew up two shotes this week that come in all cut up.’

We were moving slowly along the ridge, and little Ross, who had been running ahead, came flying back to say that he had found a hog sound asleep. We rushed forward and came upon a fine sow lying dead. Len pointed to a bullet hole in her forehead.

’Is it ours?’ I asked, for my mind was set on revenue and this was a dismal beginning. So far we had to our credit only a half-tame sow that would probably have come in of her own accord when food grew scarce — and this. Len flicked the exposed ear of the sow. ‘You see the undercrap,’ he said. Then he pulled the other ear from under her head. ‘An’ there’s the two slits. It’s a ten-dollar bill you got layin’ there.’

‘Ay,’ said Sam, ‘she’s worth ten dollars more yisterday than to-day.’

‘Yisterday!’ said Len. ‘She’s shot early this mornin’. She ain’t froze yit, an’ last night would ‘a’ froze fire. Whoever shot her is in the woods now, an’ he better not come shammuckin’ where I can see him. I’d have my say.’

‘You ain’t goin’ to talk into a gun, Len,’ said Serena. ‘ Wha’d you promise me about this hog business?’

‘Shucks, Reenie, I ain’t broke no promise yit.’

‘Y’ain’t goin’ to nuther. Ol’ Ag’s got more bullets. Reckon I’m goin’ to chance comin’ on you layin’ in the woods like this here sow?’

‘Why,’ I asked, at last getting in my burning question, ‘did they shoot the poor thing and leave her here?’

‘Oh, she looked slick an’ fine a hundred yards off, but when they shot her an’ come up close they seen she was goin’ to litter an’ was n’t fit fer meat.’

‘What about a stomach that can eat a hog right off the mast?’ said Sam. ‘Ag Snead ain’t more’n ha’f human anyway.’

‘’Twa’n’t Ag,’ said granpap. ‘It ‘ud take two men to git this hog in home, an’ ol’ Ag is secrety. He would n’t want a partner in this kind o’ work. It’s the Copp boys more ‘n likely.’

‘There’s ol’ Aggervation now,’ called Ben. We looked ahead and saw a man approaching. It was Agnashus Snead. A boy, big-limbed and nearly grown, walked beside him.

‘That’s his nephew, Ted Shoals,’ said Len. ‘’Course they done it! Now watch Ag, the ol’ devil! You’d think he was jest from prayer-meetin’.’

‘Howdy, folks,’ Snead called to us. He was about seventy, with cool, pink cheeks, and white hair that still kept a youthful ripple. His eyes were golden brown and young as a boy’s. I found myself introduced, and shook hands with him almost eagerly. Oh, no, he could n’t have done it!

‘Any luck?’ he asked, and Len pointed to the dead hog. The old man was properly shocked. ‘They’s some rotten folks in this kentry,’ he said, ‘ef a man knowed where to find ‘em.’

‘Right, there is,’ said Len, ‘an’ I b’lieve I’d know ‘em ef I seen ‘em.’ His black eyes looked kindlingly into the brown eyes of Snead. Serena pushed in. ‘ Your luck’s all right, uncle Ag. The boys jest now found a bunch o’ yore shotes down in that holler.’

‘Reckon they did n’t have no years tore off?’ he asked, repaying Len’s thrust. But no fight was precipitated because he accompanied his question with the frankest of smiles. Serena had often told me that you could say anything in the mountains if you took care to say it laughing.

‘No,’ put in Sam, with a grin equally disarming, ‘but if I’s as mean as some folks I’d whacked off their years ragged-like, an’ druv ‘em in home.’ The laugh went round. Both parties had spoken their minds. Old Ag bent over and touched the bullet hole.

‘Them Copp boys air in the woods to-day.’

We knew what he meant, but if the Copp boys should ever get him cornered not one of us could swear that he had accused them.

‘Their gun makes the same kind of a hole yorn does, I reckon,’ said Len, with a steady look at Snead’s rifle.

This was going too far. Snead rose up and looked about. He would be two against five, with maybe a woman to claw him from the back. A tolerant smile spread over his face. ‘It shore does,’ he said. ‘I ‘ll tell you what, boys. I kain’t take my shotes in with jest Ted here to he’p me. S’pose I hunt with you to-day, an’ you he’p me to-morr’.’

Asking a favor was more disarming than laughter. This was a neighborly appeal, and Len was first, last, and always, a good neighbor. In two minutes we were all on our way to the haunt of the big b’ar hog, leaving the embryo feud, for a time at least, to smother under amenities.

III

Serena had slyly given me several opportunities to turn back with her. At last she openly rebelled. ‘Ef yer goin’ down in them rocks,’ she said, ' I’m goin’ to make a fire on the ridge an’ set here till ye git back, if ye ever do git back.’

‘Stay if you want to,’ Len told her, ‘an’ keep Ross to he’p ye pick up brush. Ef we roust that b’ar there’d best be nobody round that kain’t hop quick.’

The entire party gave me a look which was a plain request that I keep Serena company. I was half angered. ‘Come on,’ I said, taking the lead along the ridge. ‘I hope you ‘ll enjoy yourself, Serena.’

They stood dubiously, then came on with a shout.

‘Yer like my first wife,’ said Snead, striding alongside of me. ‘Nothin’ could head her. You’ve heard ‘bout the man that had had three wives an’ when ho prayed he would say, “God bless Patch, an’ Piece-patch, but dern ol’ Tear-all.” Now I say it back’ards. My first un wuz Tear-all, an’ I’d ruther have her back than any of ‘em. There wuz n’t any government them days. Ever’ feller had his own still ef he wanted one, an’ tended to his own business. Governments had n’t come inter fashion. I’d say to my wife, “Serry, I’d like to cut up fer a week an’ lay drunk,” an’ she’d say, “Go it, Ag, I ‘ll ‘tend to the crap.” An’ when I got through I’d let her have her turn ef she wanted it, and she generally did. When she wuz dyin’ she says, “ Ag, you’ve been square. You’ve come as you wanted an’ gone as you wanted, an’ so’ve I, bless Jesus.” “Yes, Serry,” I says, “you’ve never been tied to the meat-skillet or wash-pot.” She laffed then an’ says, “I reckon you knowed that string would ‘a’ broke anyhow, Ag.” When she wuz dead I wuz fool enough to think my luck would n’t turn, an’ I married agin in about six weeks. Lord, Lord, she cleaned an’ she cooked an’ she mended till I begged her to let up an’ go huntin’ with me. I wuz so lonesome I purty near cried, an’ all she done wuz to git down on her marr’s an’ pray fer my soul. “O Lord,” she says, “I’ll take keer o’ his pore neglected body ef you ‘ll jest save his soul.” Well, I set in then an’ made her glad to git out. I set down an’ cussed her steady fer two days. She was ready to go the first day, but said she could n’t till she got ever’thing done. She left my clothes all fixed an’ the house like pie, an’ enough cooked to keep me fer a week, an’ me cussin’ her in a solid streak. She had the grit, but it wuz turned the wrong way fer me. It gives me the all-gonest, lonesome feeling now to think of how she worked an’ worked, an’ all I wanted wuz company. ‘T wa’n’t long till she married Ham Copp an’ I reckon he suited her fer they’re livin’ together yit. It’s her two boys what’s been so near that dead sow back yander, no matter what Len Merlin’s got in his head about it. You kain’t blame the boys, they been brought up so religious. I think a heap of religion, but you got to keep it in bounds er it’s like fire an’ water; it’ll eat ye up. The Copp boys don’t want to be et up, an’ when they gets out they make t’other way, toward the Devil. I’m a deacon, an’ pay my dues, but nobody can say I treat my religion too familiar.’

Sam called us to halt, and we paused in a body to look down over the cliffs where boulders struggled brokenly and trees and saplings scrambled for distorted life.

’He’s down there, boys. I’ll take Bub an’ Bugle, an’ Pap to carry the rope, an’ when we find where he is, y’ all stretch ‘round above us, an’ I’ll go in an’ sic up the dogs. Len, you hold Buck. He’s my dog, an’ I ain’t savin’ him, but bein’ a fox dog he’s better fer the run, ef it comes to runnin’. They’s the masterest ivy thicket ‘bout a quarter furder, an’ ef we roust him out he’s liable to make fer it.’

We began the descent, and as I stumbled laboriously downward I thought of Serena sitting by her fire, no doubt singing one of the many ballads which she had learned from her grandmother, and which had probably been sung by a score of generations before her without ever losing its essence in print. I stifled a lyrical regret and clung resolutely to my commercial mood. About thirty yards from the top we scattered and took our stations as Sam directed.

‘Ef he breaks out, beat the bushes an’ make a noise like the whole Cher’kee nation full of corn-juice.’

Sam then went farther down, and was beginning to peer cautiously about for the boar when Len cried out, ‘Hold on! There he is! At the top!’

We looked up and saw the boar above us, monstrously outlined at the top of the ridge. He was huge and black, and my startled eyes magnified him to a fearsome thing. I found out later that he was not of inordinate size. He was poking a nose that seemed several feet long over the verge of a sheer cliff. There were simultaneous howls from the three dogs. The boar’s bristles rose like black Lombardy poplars; as he flung himself around, his tusks, whiter than the whitest cloud, seemed to circle Heaven. He shot along the ridge, Buck plunging after him.

‘Foller him, fellers,’shouted Sam. ‘I ‘ll take Bub an’ Bugle an’ make fer the thicket. That’s where he’s goin’.’

Len, Burl, Ted, and Ben began to leap up the mountain-side and were soon racing along the ridge trail. I could be of no use in heading off the boar, and after one staggered look upward at the almost vertical slope I decided to follow Sam and granpap. Snead was of the same mind, and we struggled along, swinging from bushes and scrambling over boulders until we arrived at the ivy thicket, which was not ivy at all, but a mass of twisted kalmia from which several great chestnut trees rose in triumph. From somewhere in the tangled interior I could hear Sam’s voice constantly repeating a formula, ‘Sic ‘im, Bub! Sic, sic, sic!’ not loud but in a steady tone, half pleading, half commanding.

Snead crawled into the thicket, and in about ten minutes was back again.

‘Sam’s standin’ to his waist in a sink-hole,’ he said, ‘an’ skeered whiteeyed. But he ain’t in no danger, the ivy’s so thick round that sink-hole. Bub nor Bugle won’t take holt o’ the b’ar. They prance all round him, much as the ivy’ll let ‘em, an’ keep out o’ the way o’ his tusks, an’ that’s all. We got to have a dog that’ll take holt. Sam says fer me to send Ben down the mountain Pizen Branch way an’ git Jake Sutton’s ol’ dog, Drum. Drum’ll bring him out ef anything will.’

‘There’s Buck.’

‘Shucks, ef Bub won’t take holt we need n’t wait on Buck.’

‘What’s granpap doing?’

‘Nothin’ but squattin’ in the bottom o’ that sink-hole wishin’ he’s in prayermeetin’.’

Snead made his way up to the circle of silent watchers, and Ben was soon flying down the mountain Pizen Branch way. In ten minutes he would be at the foot, but he would have to return slowly by a winding trail, and it would be nearly an hour before Drum could be one of us. In the meantime Sam, with the two dogs, endeavored to keep the boar entertained. Suddenly there was a shriek. A dark body was thrown into the air and fell on top of a thick bunch of ‘ivy.’ ‘The blood jest sprinkled,’ said Sam afterward.

‘He’s killed my dog,’ shouted Burl from the hillside. But Bugle had received only a skin wound and, scrambling down, crept with viscerated courage to his master. Sam kept on incessantly with the formula, ‘Sic ‘im, Bub! Sic, sic, sic!’ and finally called to Len, ‘Send Buck in here ‘less ye want me to git tore up. Bub’s winded.’

From somewhere up the hill Len unloosed Buck, who rushed for the thicket. His entrance was Wagnerian, with a sound that reached the spheres. I had crept forward until I could get black glimpses of the boar as he whirled about, charging at the agile Bub and missing him by a hair’s breadth. With the entrance of Buck he decided to run, and dashed along the ‘tunnel’ that in happier days he had worn to his hiding-place. The dogs tumbled over each other and were slower in getting out. Sam appeared and shouted to the watchers above, ‘Tear along up there! Ef he gits round the mountain we might as well go home.’

I was at granpap’s heels and going fine, when he fell. He was n’t seriously hurt, but sat on a rock rubbing his ankle, and I was astounded at the imprecations which he dropped on that ‘b’ar devil.’ It meant more to him than being out of the race. Life had beaten him and gone on, and he knew it. ‘Reckon they’ll say I done it apurpose,’ he said forlornly.

‘Oh no, they won’t. Sam himself could n’t have jumped that rock.’

‘I’ll set here till the pain gits meller.’

We waited, and the tumult died away and with it my hope of witnessing the capture. After a little we heard a sort of scrambling in the bushes.

‘That’s Ag,’ said granpap. ‘He’d git out o’ the run ef he had to break his neck fer it.’

A moment passed and Snead joined us, slightly limping.

‘I was jumpin’ a blame rock, an’ it tumbled me off,’ he said. ‘What’s the matter with the ol’ man?’

‘Not a durn thing,’ said granpap. ‘I jest ‘lowed I’d drap out.’

To show his scorn of subterfuge, he got up and took a few firm steps, then sat down, white with pain but grinning with triumph.

‘ I’d give my coat an’ shirt to go with the boys,’ said Snead. ‘Ef I hadn’t struck on that sore knee I could ‘a’ kept up all right.’

‘Reckon I could n’t,’ said granpap. ‘When I got old I knowed it. Time ain’t slipped nothin’ on me.’

‘ Well, I ain’t give in yit,’ Snead asserted, his yellow-brown eyes shimmering. ‘These woods’ll be my back yard as long as I’m topside o’ earth, an’ when I’m under it I’ll rattle the dirt ef I can.’

‘I’d do a lot myself,’ said granpap, ‘ef I could do it with my tongue.’

Snead’s retort was lost in the returning tumult. The racers were coming back with a rush that made us think of scurrying to refuge. Sam afterward related what had happened.

‘When I got out of the thicket,’ he said, ‘ I started over the rocks like a jumpin’ spider. Thet ol’ b’ar devil went straight like he was goin’ round the mountain, but the dogs kept bearin’ down on his upper side an’ brought him up under a cliff that he had n’t counted on meetin’. He had to turn on ‘em then, but they would n’t rush in an’ he would n’t rush out. The foam was flyin’ an’ Buck was all bloody. Them tusks had scraped some sense into him, an’ he was standin’ off, yappin’ an’ yowin’. Little ol’ Bub was jumpin’ up an’ down an’ wantin’ like fire to go in, but he knowed better. “All we can do,” I says to Len when the boys come up, “ is to hold the feller here till Ben comes with ol’ Drum.” An’ about that time the b’ar decided to come out an’ give them dogs a skeer. You run me in here, he thinks, an’ by golly I ‘ll run ye out. An’ he lit fer ‘em. You never seen dogs so skeert. An’ that’s why we all come back. ‘Cause that b’ar wanted to. He jest rid the saplin’s after them dogs. It was the masterest thing to see him goin’ over ever’thing like he had wings in his insides.’

He was ‘riding the saplings’ when we saw him, but we had no time for leisurely observation. We were in the most open strip of the brush and this was the highway for the chase. The dogs seemed divided between fear and shame. They rushed forward with their tongues out, but every few rods would fling their heads back as if to turn on their pursuer; then at sight of him they would give an apparently dying screech and flee forward again.

‘Scroonch up to that poplar,’ called Snead, ‘an’ they’ll pass us.’ The poplar was an immense one, five feet through at the butt, and was only three or four yards from us; but we had barely time to cross the distance and crowd against the tree before the wild runners flew by. I felt that the earth must be moving; that the whole mountain was a penumbration of that black, vaulting body; the air ought to bleed, torn by those merciless tusks.

They passed out of sight, to our left; and very soon, on our right, we saw Sam. His shoes were ripped open, and his overalls, in strips from his knees down, revealed legs and ankles scratched and bloody. In his hard-set face I scarcely recognized the softly placating features of Sam. As he passed us he was muttering something about old Drum. ‘Ef ol’ Drum’ll ever git here! ‘ A few minutes later Len and Ted came up.

‘Where’s Burl?’ asked granpap.

‘Back yander, tendin’ that no ‘count dog o’ hisn.’

They hurried on, and Len called over his shoulder, ‘Come on, pap, with yer rope. I hear Ben an’ ol’ Drum. We’ll git him now.’

We listened, and a long, deep, freshsounding bay echoed through the woods. Granpap grabbed his rope, dropping his lameness and twenty years of his age. ‘Smoke yer heels, boys,’ he said; and like boys we followed. ‘He’s bayed agin,’ said granpap, as we neared a discord of indescribable sounds. Soon we saw the boar, on top of a lichen-covered boulder, sitting on his haunches, his eyes, like two little black stars, pouring vitriol that ought to have made the forest crumple. The rock itself, with its green, black, and creamy spots and vein-like roots climbing over it, seemed a part of the creature’s body, making a monster as superior to attack as granite, as formidable as if Nature had condensed her forces into his resisting form. The yapping dogs at the base of the rock, and the men wit h their ceaseless ‘sic, sic,’ were as negligible as squeaking gnats.

Sam was the only one with any apparent dignity. He had yielded to fatigue, and lay motionless on the ground, probably forty feet from me and an equal distance from the group about the rock.

A long musical sound came from old Drum. It was not loud, but of a sure timbre that made the woods quiver. The boar threw up his head and his sides thumped. From my safe distance I fancied a trembling among all the little ruffled scales of the lichens. Suddenly Ben’s young voice called out from somewhere above the rock, ‘Go it, Drum, sic ‘im, sic ‘im!’ and Drum’s huge yellow body vaulted from the slope to the upper edge of the boulder. At that instant the boar shot into the air, curved downward, and struck the ground near the men, scattering them to cover. He rolled for a second, like a knotted ball, then found his four feet properly under him and made straight for Sam.

For a second I felt blinded by a swirling black cloud, then stood clearsighted in a small but painfully vivid human world. Nature with her everlasting forces retreated and consciousness was trivially reabsorbed in the by-product, humanity. I could even see Coretta, a pale widow, in the country store with a basket of eggs, insisting on an exchange of black percale; and myself distractedly guiding the destinies of her fatherless young.

But Sam was quicker than the boar. With one motion he leaped three feet from the ground, and with arms abnormally long seized the limb of a tree that stretched above him, drawing his body up accordion-fashion and hanging there like a half-opened jackknife. The boar dashed under him and on toward me. I resigned life resentfully. My passion for union with earth was spent. There was nothing but ignominy in being trampled into the ground and muddily tusked.

Drum saved me. I saw him at the boar’s side trying to reach his ear. The boar whirled in defense, and Len cried, ' Run, God A’mighty, run! ‘ I supposed he meant me, but I could n’t move. I had to see whether Drum got that ear or not. My arm was grabbed and I was viciously shaken. ‘Ain’t you got a bit o’ sense?’ That did n’t seem to matter, but when I had been pulled to safety I managed to say, ‘Thank you, Len, I guess I ‘ll — faint.’ Which I did, but it was not a desperate lapse. I was up in a few minutes, watching the game between Drum and the boar, and commenting on it in a very small voice.

It was worth seeing. Drum clearly understood his difficulty. He was to get his teeth into the boar’s ear and keep his own body safely guarded from the tossing tusks. They shuttled back and forth, for every time that Drum was near getting a hold the boar would whirl in an effort to drive his tusk into the dog, and this would cause a faceabout for both of them. I did not see how the game of wits and muscle could end except by the exhaustion of one or the other; and the boar was doubtless using his last strength. It seemed shockingly unfair for Drum to come so fresh to the contest.

‘Be right still; be right still,’Len would say, though nobody needed the adjuration, all being tense and motionless. ‘Drum’s gittin’ him winded. He’ll land in a minute. Be right still.’

I understood what he meant by ‘landing’ when Drum finally sailed upward and dropped down on the boar’s back just behind his ears.

‘He’s got him!’ shouted Sam. ‘Git yer sticks, ever’body. I’ll grab his leg. Y’all be ready to come in, er he’ll tear me up ef Drum’s holt breaks.’

But this time Drum held on, and the boar spun round and round helplessly. It seemed death to approach him, but Sam got behind a rock, lay down, and reached out a long arm, ready to grab a flying hind leg if it should come near.

‘Len, you an’ pap git the noose over his nose. Where’s that Burl? Let him an’ Ben hold my legs.’ But Burl called from a prudent distance, ‘He ain’t winded yit. You ‘d all better keep out.’

‘Dern yer white skin,’ said Sam, ‘git back to yer dry-goods box in Asheville. Ben, you an’ Ted ketch holt o’ my legs.’ They obeyed, bracing their feet against the rock, getting ready, it appeared, to pull Sam in two. Len, holding a big club, look the dangerous position of granpap’s guard in his attempts to noose the boar. Snead was to tie another rope about the leg if Sam succeeded in grabbing it.

There was a ragged throaty shout. Sam had him. Snead, too reckless, rushed in on the wrong side and had to rush out again.

‘Tie him, kain’t you?’ puffed Sam. ‘I ain’t no snake, I kain’t live in two pieces!' Snead made another rush and got the rope securely tied. This freed Sam, who made a grab for the other hapless hind leg of the boar, and the two were then made fast together. The animal, crazed by the outrage, tossed his tusks in a last desperation, and Drum’s hold broke. The dog was thrown ten feet, just as granpap, by a miraculous move, got the noose around the boar’s nose above his tusks.

‘Pap’s done it!’ cried Len. And ‘ Pap’s got him! ‘ echoed Sam. ‘ Me fer granpap!’ shouted Ben. ‘Smart fer ol’ bones,’ said Snead; and ‘Hurrah, granpap!’ said I, to be with the tide.

‘I could n’t’a’ beat it,’ said Burl, and Len turned on him. ‘Ef you want to marry my girl, you’ll have to carry a better gun’n I do.’

‘You got to pay fer my dog,’ said Burl, backing off.

‘When Hell cools butter,’ said Len. ‘ Shet yer mouth ef you can do it with those tight breeches on.’ Then his angry spurt was over. ‘You goin’ to he’p carry this thing in home?’

Burl came trippingly forward and looked at the boar. Forefeet and back were tied, and a long pole thrust under them. Safely trussed, but the tusks looked alive. ‘ I ‘ll he’p at his hind feet,’ said Burl, and laughter rolled over him.

‘You walk ahead to keep the bears an’ Injuns off us,’ said Len. ‘Ben, you an’ Sam git aholt the hind end o’ that pole. Me an’ Ted’ll take the front.’

They took off their jackets and, doubling them up, placed them between their shoulders and the pole.

‘ Won’t it hurt him?’ I asked, as they swung their load.

‘Hurt that feller? I jest wish we could,’ said Sam.

I remembered that the creature was revenue and hardened my heart. We would get twenty-five dollars, at least, for him, half of which would be mine, the other half going to Sam and Len.

As it was easier to keep around the side of the hill with their heavy load, and come into the trail lower down, I said that I would go up to the ridge and get Serena. I should be glad to be out of sight of the pathetic monster swinging in torture from the pole.

I got up the hill, and at some distance caught sight of Serena’s fire. She was placidly singing, in utter detachment from little Ross, who was ‘playing horse’ up and down the ridge. The song was her favorite ballad about the cruelty of sundering true lovers. She liked to repeat it; and though she usually began singing in a robust major key, with each repetition her tone would become more plaintive. She was now at her happiest, in an unbearably wailing minor. The girl, persecuted by obdurate parents, had wandered from home

And rambled the green growing meadows around.
Until she came to a clear broad river.
And under a green shade tree sat down.
She then took o — u — t a silver dagger-r,
And percht it thr — ougli her lily-white breast,
And these words uttered as she staggered,
‘True love, true 1 — o — ve, I’m goin’ to rest.’

And her lover, being at that very moment on that clear broad river, and passing that very tree,

He ran, he r — a — n, he ran unto her,

and picking up the same silver dagger, he ‘ percht it through his weeping heart,’ and Serena sang to the world: —

Let this be a gr—ea — t and awful warning,
To all who ke— e — p true lovers apart;
To all who ke — e — p true lovers apart,

‘Serena,’ said I gently, ‘would n’t you just as soon say “pierced” as “percht”?’

‘That would n’t be doin’ right by granmommie. She always sung it thata-way, an’ she was a hundred and three when she died, an’ died in her cheer. She knowed what she’s about to the last minute. She sung it “percht,” an’ I would n’t change it noways. My, but you look like you’d been beehuntin’ in a locus’ patch!’

‘ I’ve had a good time, Serena.’

‘So’ve I,’ she said, getting up. ‘An’ I did n’t resk my life fer it nuther.’

We were to meet the men at the place where the spotted sow lay tied. Serena and I arrived first by a few minutes, as the men traveled slowly with their burden, and stopped frequently to ‘change the bone.’ We found the sow quiet and sullen. There was only the one pig with her.

‘We must find the other pigs,’I said to the men, when they came up blowing and put their load down.

‘We kain’t do that. It’s turnin’ colder, an’ it’ll be night now ‘fore we git in home with this chap.’

‘But they’re so little! They’ll starve! ‘

‘Oh, half of ‘em’ll scratch through alive. Let’s go fer water, boys.’

Everybody but myself went round the side of the hill to the spring. I stayed to ponder on the extravagant method of bringing in wild hogs. The thought of those ten or more little black and pink creatures shivering in the woods until starvation released them was more than I could supinely bear. I looked at the rope, and found it tied in what to me was an unalterable knot. But I could cut it by laying it against a rock and rubbing it with the sharp edge of another rock. I found the stones I wanted and set to work, making the rope as ragged as possible. When the stringy ends dropped no one would have suspected that the rope had been cut. The sow rushed off with her little pig following, and they were soon out of sight. Then I found that I too was longing for water, and hurried to the spring. I knew I should find the others lingering, each wanting to get in one more comment on the inexhaustible subject of the capture.

‘We’d better git back,’ said Len at last. ‘Pap, you can drive the sow in.

Thanks to gracious, we don’t have to carry her.’

It was an angry and bewildered group that paused at the spot where the sow had been tied.

‘ Dorn her sides, wha ‘d she mean by layin’ here all day an’ breakin’ the rope at the last minute?’ said Sam. ‘It wuz a good rope too. There wuz n’t a weak spot in it.'

‘I reckon it wuz a good rope,’ complained Len. ‘That young-un got holt o’ my plough-lines. I would n’t ‘a’ give ‘em fer that ol’ sow.’

‘Ain’t it a cussin’ shame now Mis’ Dolly won’t git nothin’? Ha’f that sow would ‘a’ been hern. ‘Course the b’ar is pap’s. It wuz pap ‘at got in the throw that tied him.’

It was a moment before I got the full meaning of Sam’s words, and when I did my astounded silence seemed to create a slight embarrassment.

‘Pap’ll give her a part,’ said Len, ‘ef she wants to take it. Mebbe she did n’t ‘zackly mean what she told him ‘bout havin’ what he could ketch. It’ll disappint pap, but we ain’t goin’ to have no hard feelin’ ‘bout an’ ol’ b’ar hog.’

‘I’m shore glad,’ said Sam, ‘that she saw pap ketch him, an’s got her own eyes fer it. I would n’t take a throwedaway dishrag off’n her underhand. Ez fer her not meanin’ what she said, her word’s as good in the woods as ‘tis in the meetin’house. Ever’body’ll tell ye that. ‘T ain’t jest me a-talkin’.'

My inward tumult subsided. There was no profit in rebellion when the elements were against me. I looked at granpap, silent and apart, chewing his bit of dogwood.

‘What about it, granpap?’

‘What y’all say’s good enough fer me.’

No help there, so I yielded with a gayety that left them slightly puzzled, not understanding the lubricant value of a good laugh at one’s self.

‘The victory is yours, granpap. Let’s get him home.’

There was a buzz of spirited talk, all to show granpap that he was to be congratulated. When we started again Snead proposed going by Abe Siler’s.

‘He’ll buy that feller right off the pole, an’ we’ll save time by drappin’ him there. Abe’s wantin’ to git a hog to pen right now, an’ he’ll give you six dollars fer that b’ar.’

‘Six dollars!’ I exclaimed. ‘Three weeks with all the corn he wants, and he’ll weigh out forty dollars’ worth of meat!’

‘It’ud make a big hole in my pile o’ corn,’ said granpap.

‘You gittin’ it wrong, Mis’ Dolly,’said Snead. ‘B’ar meat as old as that feller is stringy an’ tough, an’ don’t make no grease to talk about. Ain’t hardly anybody’ll buy it. Ol’ Abe ain’t pertickler ef he gits it cheap. He’ll take the green meat to Carson an’ sell it. An’ rec’lect the b’ar’s got to be knifed. That’s allers a resk. Six dollars is top money fer him.’

‘Yer talkin’ right, Ag,’ said granpap. ‘Let’s go by Abe’s.’

He went by Abe’s, and granpap pocketed five dollars for the hog, the buyer considering six a ‘masterous price.’

Everybody seemed happy going home, except for a few regrets over the sow that got away, and a wail from little Ross for his lost pig. Everybody except myself. I was reflecting heavily in terms of profit and loss. All of my farm-help had given a day’s work; they would give another to-morrow, helping Snead. Four men two days meant a loss to me of eight days’ labor. Coretta would surely shame me into contributing toward new shoes and overalls for Sam. I must also count my disturbing escape from starting a feud; must even consider future entanglements on that score. Nor should I forget the emotional waste due to seeing every member of the party narrowly and frequently elude death from pitching head over heels into a rock-bed. And to its hopeless depths I must consider the probability of becoming indentured to the family of some ghost who had sacrificed his fleshly part in bringing out ‘my’ hogs: that is, if I persisted in exploiting my claim.

Snead dropped back and put an end to my list of contingencies. His voice was intimately lowered and I caught Sam’s eye following him furtively.

’I hate to see a woman git the worst of it when she’s tryin’ to be fair,’ he began. ‘You’ve got a fine hog-claim, an’ you ought to be gittin’ something out of it. How many hogs hev the boys brought in fer ye this year?’

‘This is the first time we’ve been after them.'

‘Course, though, the boys hev been out more’n onet a-markin’ shotes?’

‘I don’t know about that.’

‘Well, I do, fer I’ve seen ‘em.’ He called to Sam. ‘Sam, how many shotes did ye git marked that day I seed ye out fer ‘em?’

Sam did not flinch under the attack. ‘We marked a fine lot,’ he said. ‘I don’t jest remember how many. I been meanin’ to tell ye ‘bout that, Mis’ Dolly, ‘cause you’ll be wantin’ to ‘low us something for the markin’. It’s shore hard work. That wuz when you’s gone to Hiwassee, an’ I fergot to tell ye when you come home. I knowed you’d make it all right.’

‘What’s it worth to mark hogs, Sam?’

‘It’s worth more’n ketchin’ ‘em, ‘cause we’ve got to ketch ‘em an’ mark ‘em, an’ turn ‘em loose. But we’re goin’ to make it easier on you than that.’

I exonerate Sam from any intention of charging me for ‘turning them loose.’ He was merely embellishing his defense. But by a brief calculation I saw that if I gave half the value of the hogs for catching and bringing them in, and the other half, or a little less, for marking the young, I would have to pursue my profit with a microscope.

Snead again took up his confidential tone. ‘I ain’t a man fer makin’ trouble, an’ there ain’t anybody in a hundred miles o’ me can swear I ever accused him o’ sellin’ other folks’ hogs; but I wish you’d a gone by Ham Copp’s next day an’ seed what he had in his pen. I ain’t sayin’ what, an’ I never will say what, in court er out, but I ‘low you’d know yer own mark.’

Sam and Lcn had hastily entered upon a subdued conference of their own, and just then Sam called to Snead.

‘Wha’d you say, Uncle Ag, ef we don’t he’p ye to-morr’,an’ call it square about them shotes you ain’t paid fer yit?’

He was staggered, taken in the open, but rallied jauntily.

‘All right, boys; jest as you say.’

Sam turned to me. ‘We did n’t tell ye ‘bout them shotes Uncle Ag got, ‘cause he was in sech a hole ‘bout payin’ fer ‘em, an’ nacherly we did n’t want to worry ye till we got it fixed. Now he gits our part o’ the shotes fer he’ppin’ us to-day, an’ we’re willin’ to take yore part fer the markin’ you owes us, an’ wait on Uncle Ag fer it, seein’ we made sech a slow trade fer ye.’

By then I was in a position to foretell just the amount of revenue that in all time to come I was going to derive from my claim.

‘We don’t want to take any downright money from ye, Mis’ Dolly,’ explained Sam. ‘You’ve never been hard on us, an’ we kain’t afford to be hard on you. An’ by fixin’ it the way I said, ever’body’ll be satisfied, an’ you won’t be out nothin’ but a few shotes.’

‘And a few shotes, Sam, don’t matter when I’ve got the woods full of them.’

‘That’s what I wuz goin’ to say.’

‘A man with the woods full of hogs is in a pretty good fix, is n’t he?’

‘Jest about fat rich, Mis’ Dolly.’

‘Then you and Len are rich. The hog-claim is yours.’

They thought it a joke at first, and I labored to convince them; then they insisted on my keeping half of it.

‘No, boys,’I persisted generously. ‘That would mix up our calculations. As it is, you’ll know what you’ve got, and I’ll know what I’ve got.’

‘You’re right about that,’ said Sam.

‘I want to say too, that this deal works backward. If there’s anybody owing for hogs, the debt is yours, and you need n’t ever bother me about it.’

‘An’ if any meddlin’ ol’ loafer comes tellin’ ye ‘bout seein’ hogs here, there, an’ yander, in other folks’ pens, from time back,’ said Sam, with the dignity of righteousness, ‘it won’t be wuth a blue bean to him.’

‘I’ll send him to you and Len. It will be your affair, not mine.’

At that, Len came over to me. His face was serious but glowing. ‘ I knowed you’s white,’ he said, ‘but I did n’t know jest how white you wuz. Abe Siler’s beggin’ me underhand to leave you an’ work on his place. Next time he asts me, I’m goin’ to bust my knuckles on them two big front teeth o’ hisn.’

Len, who was noted as a ‘cleancrop-man,’ was the most coveted tenant within three townships. I had bought his loyalty cheap.

Sam, of coarser but shrewder mind, spared me any disconcerting gratitude. Before their early bedtime I was to hear his comment to Coretta, who was shedding grateful tears.

‘Aw, shet up, K’rettie. I reckon she’s got sense enough to know that the woods full o’ hogs ain’t wuth much to a woman.’