DID any of you folks ever hear tell of Paul Bunyan, that wonderful lumberjack they got up North somewheres? They say he kin burl a log so fast he’ll skin it right outer its bark, and then run to shore on the bubbles. Well, we got a mighty logger right here in West Virginia, by t he name of Tony Beaver, and the tricks he pulls off sure air all outer the common. He has his log camp up Eel River, and I’m aiming now to tell you all erbout the time them two great fellers, Tony Beaver and Paul Bunyan, met up face to face. That sure must er bin sompen to see! And outer it, too, come the biggest kinder eye opener for Tony and Paul both.
The first news Tony Beaver’s crew had of Paid Bunyan was one time when a strange logger come by the Eel River camp singing a little song: —
Its branches scratched the sky;
And when he felled the doggoned thing
It ripped a hole on high.’
‘Hey, stranger!’ Big Henry, one of Tony’s stoutest hands, yells at him. ‘That song’s all right, but you got the names twisted. It wa’n’t no Paul Somebody growed that tree; it was Tony Beaver hisself, and well I recollect the time.’
‘I never heard tell of no Tony Beaver,’ says the stranger, ‘but Paul Bunyan I know well, being one of his hands. In Paul’s camp now,’ he says, setting down on a stump and biting him off a chaw of terbacker, ‘ they got a griddle for frying the batter cakes the fellers eats so big that the onliest way they kin grease the thing is to have six men skate over it with a slab of fat meat on each foot.’
‘Welcome to Eel River!’ says Big Henry. ‘It’s right here in Tony Beaver’s camp you belong — only first you got to git them names straight.’
’I hate to git things wrong,’ says the stranger, looking like he was doing his best to hit the truth; ‘and it’s a fact I made a slip when I said Paul Bunyan needs six men to grease that there griddle. It’s really eight he uses, and in a pinch I’ve seen as many as ten er twelve hands skating over it, with them slabs of bacon on they feets. It sure is hot work fer the fellers! Every slide they make they leave a trail of smoke behind ’em, and they have to keep stomping they feet all the time to stomp the flames out.’
‘Look a-here, stranger, didn’t you hear me say that was Tony Beaver you was talking erbout?’ says Big Henry, git ting mighty restless.
‘Paul Bunyan is the man I’m speaking of,’ says the tother, buttoning up his mouth in a right stubborn way.
‘That’s a—’ says Big Henry, and sidesteps. ‘That’s a — ’he says ergin, riding right up to the word and jumping off jest in time.
‘If the word yer aiming at is “lie,” hit it!’ says the stranger, standing up kinder dangerous.
‘Well,’ says Big Henry, knowing he has to be polite to company, ’we don’t have to say nothing erbout lies in this camp, for Tony Beaver’s got a trick for ketching ’em. lie’s invented him some sticky lie paper that ketches lies as fast as fly paper ketches flies. Wait, and I’ll show you!’
With that he goes into the bunk house, and comes back with a great roll of that thar lie paper. Thar was two or three ole lies still hanging on to the thing, and if thar’s one thing worse-looking ’an a fresh lie, it’s a ole one.
‘Here, now, we’ll jest see what’s what!’ says Big Henry, swishing the paper all erbout in the air whar the stranger’d been talking. But no, sir! He did n’t ketch nary ernother lie.
‘Hey! Looks like I’ve been telling the truth all erlong!' says the strange hand, kinder tickled, and some s’prised too. ‘Or else sompen’s the matter with the paper — mebbe you fellers in this camp has sorter overworked it.’
‘Sompen’s wrong, sure,’ says Big Henry, mightily outdone. ‘ Thar, now! ’ says he, looking down the trail. ‘Here comes ole Preacher Mutters! He’s got all kinds er book sense if he ain’t got no other kind. Mebbe he kin straighten things out. Hey, Brother Mutters!’ he bawls. ‘Did you ever hear tell of a feller by the name of Paul Bunyan?’
The ole preacher claws his fingers through his beard for a spell, looking as earnest as a billy goat. ‘It’s John Bunyan you mean — him as writ that holy book, The Pilgrim’s Progress,’ he says, rolling back his eyes, and tipping up his chin to let them pious words trickle down his throat, like a ole hen drinking.
‘That’s news to me,’ says the stranger. ‘Paul mought of had a brother by the name of John, but I never heared tell of him. The Bunyan I’m speaking of,’ he says, gitting into his stride ergin, ‘has the biggest bees a feller ever did see. Each one of ’em’s big as a full-grown ox, and Paul crossed ’em a while back with a gang er moskeeters, and the offsprings of that wedding is the awfulest critters a person ever did see, fer they has stings both before and behind.’
‘That sure don’t sound like nothing I ever beared tell of John Bunyan,’ says the preacher, shaking his head mightily mystified.
‘Looks like the bunion’s on the tot her foot, then,’ says the stranger, acting smart.
‘It ain’t no Paul Bunyan, ner no John neither—it’s Tony Beaver! And I’m here to tell the world so!’ says Big Henry, jumping up.
But it was the stranger got in the furst lick. ‘Paid Bunyan!’ he says, putting his fist in the word, and landing it on Big Henry’s jaw.
‘ Tony Beaver! ’ Big Henry bellers back at him, placing his name on the tother’s nose.
‘Hol’ on, brothers! Hol’ on!’ says the preacher, reaching out and trying to peacify the two. But pore ole feller! Bang! he got a Paul on the side of his head, and next a Tony tuck him in the chist, bowling him over on the ground with the wind knocked outer him.
He lay thar for quite a spell gaping up at the sky. ‘No,’ he says at last, kinder talking to hisself. ‘No, that Paul Bunyan surely ain’t no kin at all to John.’
But jest erbout then Tony Beaver hisself happens up on the scene, toting a little boy on his shoulder what’s a great buddy of his’n.
‘Here, now! Here!’ he says. ‘What’s all this erbout?’ With that he scoops ole Brother Mutters up off’n the ground, steps right in betwixt the two fighting fellers, and had everything ca’med down jest in no time.
‘But look a-here, Tony,’ says Big Henry, still all worried up. ‘Here’s a strange hand telling some of your doings, and tacking ’em all on to a logger by the name of Paul Bunyan — or mebbe his furst name’s John.’
‘No, sir! It ain’t John Bunyan!’ says Brother Mutters, feeling hisself all over to see was he fatally busted.
‘You all oughter see that blue ox, Babe, of Paul’s,’ says the strange hand, going right erlong like nothing had n’t happened. ‘He measures all of fortytwo axe handles and a plug of terbacker acrost his forehead — forty-two, that is, of Paul’s axe handles; that ’ud be erlong erbout one hundred and seventyfive of any common hand’s. An’ his nose is so fer away from his years he can’t hear heself snort.’
‘Well, that ain’t nothing,’ chips in the little boy setting up on Tony Beaver’s shoulder mighty proud, fer he jest thinks Tony Beaver makes the world go round. ‘Tony, he’s got him a yoke er steers so big it takes a crow a week to fly betwixt the horns of one of ’em.’
‘Shake, young feller,’ says the stranger. ‘If yer needing a job, I’d be glad to take you up to Paul; he’s looking fer stout fellers like you right this minute.’
‘I thank you,’ says the little feller, all swelled up, ‘ but I got jest erbout all I kin han’le right here he’ping Tony out.’
‘ I ’ve beared tell of that Paul Bunyan afore now,’ says Tony, scratching his year more like he was some kinder varmint than a human. ‘If he’s the great logger you say he is, tell him to come on up Eel River, and him and me’ll have a contest and find out which is the best feller.’
‘That’s the very trick!’ Big Henry hollers out.
‘All right, I’ll take your word to Paul — he ’ll show you all sompen,’ says the stranger, laying back his years, and making ready to shoot fer his own shanty.
‘Tony Beaver’ll show him sompen!’ the little feller hollers after him, cocking up his head, and flapping his arms like he was a rooster about to crow.
Well, it wa’n’t hardly no time after that ’fore Paul Bunyan come up Eel River with a whole parcel of hands from his camp. Thar was Charlie the Swede, Big Ole, and a heap more, besides Johnny Inkslinger, Paul’s timekeeper, with his fountain pen as big as a saw log — no, I dunno’s it’s quite that big.
Well, sirs! When they met, Tony and Paul sure did set a swift pace in manners!
‘Welcome to Eel River, Mr. Bunyan,’ says Tony.
‘Pleased to meet you, Mr. Beaver,’ says Paul. ‘Me and my crew put out the minute I got your word, but mebbe I’m a bit late gitting here. What’s the time?’
‘It’s any time you say, Mr. Bunyan,’ says Tony.
‘How’s that, Mr. Beaver?’ says Paul.
‘Jest like I say — name the time you want, and it’s your’n.’
‘Well, I was aiming to hit your camp at sunup, but now looks like it’s nigh midday,’ says Paul.
‘Sunup she shall be!' says Tony. With that he reaches in his pocket and hauls out a handful of time, and swish! thar she was right back at sunup ergin, with the dew fresh on the grass, and all the little birds chirping up to sing.
‘That’s a mighty handy trick,’ says Paul. ‘Inkslinger, make a note of that.’
The timekeeper laid aholt of his pen, and the scratch-scratching of it was like a million katydids ripsawing on they hind legs in fall weather.
‘We had bad luck with the time in our camp the winter of the blue snow,’ says Paul. ‘There was mighty little forage that year, and Babe, that ox of mine, busted into the granery where the time was kep’ an’ chawed it all up ’fore we could make him quit — all, that is, ’cept the leap years. Even Babe could n’t stomick them.’
‘My time is yours, Mr. Bunyan. Jest help yerself; take right smart, take darned nigh all,’says Tony, showing his manners.
‘I thank you,’ says Paul. ‘I fetched you a present of a couple of my bees. The pair of ’em’ll make you a ton er honey a month. Here, Ole! Fetch up them bees!’ he hollers out.
Big Ole brung the bees up, and I wished you could er seen ’em! Each one of ’em was as big as a ox, and they was loaded down with log chains to keep ’em from flying erway.
‘We had ’em check they stings with the timekeeper while we was traveling,’ says Paul. ‘But Johnny Inkslinger’s got ’em labeled which ones goes behind and which before, and kin slip ’em in whenever you say.’
Tony casts his eye over ’em, and they sure did give him back a mighty mean look, with both of ’em buzzing like a sawmill cutting through white oak.
‘Well,’ he says, ‘let’s git better acquainted afore we give ’em back they weepons.’
After that the stunts betwixt Paul Bunyan and Tony Beaver commenced. But pshaw! It looked like thar wa’n’t a pin to choose betwixt the two of ’em. If Tony Beaver tore a white oak up by the roots and pitched it acrost Eel River, Paul Bunyan’d pull up a red oak and toss it over the ridge. And if Paul set the calks of his boots nigh fifty feet up in the face of a cliff, Tony’d jump across Eel River and back ergin without tetching ground on the tother side. So thar they was wasting a lot er sweat and nothing gitting settled. But d’reckly all hands got to noticing that that little boy belonging to Tony’s camp kep’ a-hollering all the time for Tony no matter which feller done the trick. ‘Aw, look at Tony Beaver jumping acrost Eel River! Aw, look at Tony stomping his boots up yander on the rocks!’ he’d holler.
That made Paul’s hands kinder mad. ‘Look a-here, young feller, your man ain’t doing it all! That was Mr. Bunyan what set his calks in the face of the cliff,’ Big Ole t ells him.
The little feller looks at him kinder big-eyed and s’prised, and then he says, ‘Aw, you fool me!’ an’ kep’ right erlong hollering ‘Looky! Look at Tony!’ for everything that happened.
But Paul hisself did n’t git mad. He looks at the little feller fer a spell, and then he throws back his head and busts out with a great big round ‘Haw, haw, haw!’
‘What’s hitting your funny bone, brother?’ Tony asks him, for by now the two of ’em was gitting mighty friendly.
‘Thar’s a big laf coming from somewhers,’ says Paul, kinder sniffing the air like he was a hound dawg. ‘I can’t tell whar it’s heading from, but when she busts she sure will be a big one. I’m funny that way,’ he says; ‘I kin sense a joke and commence to laf when it’s still all of ten miles off—be damned if I can’t! Aw—oh! ’ lie says, clapping his hand to his mouth, ‘I did n’t go to let that word fly out before the little feller!’
‘Take it back then, brother!’ says Tony.
‘How kin I? I spit that word out so hard it’s nigh half a mile down the skidways of the past by now.’
‘I kin git it back fer you!’ says Tony, bawling to his hands to fetch him around his riding horse.
Now that nag of Tony’s sure is swift, but it ain’t so much its swiftness that’s peculiar as the way they got him saddled. Tony had a chore boy in his camp a while back what appeared to be jest a fool fer want er sense, and one time the feller fetched the horse round with the saddle facing the tail. ‘I saddled him thataway so’s you could ride both going and coming,’ he says, his mouth gaping open at his own smartness.
‘Well, thar ain’t one grain er sense to t hat, ’ says Tony, ‘ and jest fer that very reason I b’lieve it ’s true.’ With that he jumps on the beast, and dogged if he could n’t do jest like the fool said, ride both going and coming. It sure is a swift way er traveling, and the onliest way I know of that a person kin be in two places at onct.
Well, Tony jumps on his beast now, and takes out pluckety-pluck after that cuss word Paul had let fly. Riding thataway, it wa’n’t hardly no time ’fore he come up with it. But course I don’t have to tell none er you all that if thar’s one thing a cuss word hates worse’n another it is to be taken back once it’s loose. So, with Tony right atop of it, that word turned a kind of a summersault, and tuck back up the road ergin, its years laid flat, jest scooting fer — Well, to name the place that ‘damn’ was heading fer I’d have to let out another cuss word, which I ain’t aiming to do; so I’ll jest say it was making fer home, and let it go at that.
‘Thar she goes! Head her off! Head her!’ Tony bawls, checking up his horse, and turning erbout with the gravel flying off into the bresh, and the trail smoking behind him.
All hands from both camps spread out acrost the road whooping and hollering fer all they was wurth. But, with them hollering in front, and Tony whooping up behind, that ‘damn’ word commenced to squawk and to fly like a skeered guinea hen. All hands made a jump fer it, but it sailed right over the heads of everyone ’cept Paul. He give sech a master leap that it landed him atop of a white oak tree, and from thar he bounded over on to a low-hanging cloud, ketching that cuss word on the way.
‘Aw, looky! Look at Tony up in the clouds!’ the little feller screeches out, dancing eround and all carried erway.
‘That ain’t Mr. Beaver up yander; it’s Mr. Bunyan,’ Paul’s hands hollers back at him, clean outdone.
Well, sirs! Things sure commenced to look bad fer Paul. That cloud had been jest drifting erlong, hanging low in a kind of a doze, but when Paul landed down on it, all so sudden, it give a great bound, and headed fer the sky like a skeered racer, with Paul hung up on it, and no way er reaching ground ergin. More’n that, the cloud was right thin, and it looked like, heavy as Paul is, he mought fall spang through it any minute. Every step he tuck he went down waist-deep in the thing; and it’s the truth, time and ergin the fellers seen his boots come dangling through the bottom side of the cloud with nothing but air betwixt them and deestruction. All of Paul’s hands sets up a tumble yammering, hollering up at him to ‘take keer’ and ‘mind out’ and ‘don’t fall,’ and all like that, like the feller would fall if he could he’p hisself. Tony’s hands, wanting to show they manners, they hollered too. Johnny Inkslinger, what’s the greatest cal’ulator the world has ever knowed, unlimbered his fountain pen and commenced to Agger out the distance from the ground, Paul’s weight, and all like that, so’s they’d know how bad he’d be busted when he drapped.
‘Git ready fer the wurst, boys, fer he’ll be nothing but fractions when he hits,’ he says, figgering and sniffling, with the ink and tears all spluttering out together.
But erbout then Big Ole lets out a great yell. ‘It’s all right! Ole Paul’s all right! He’s kicking him up a thunderstorm!’ he hollers.
Sure ’nough, when the hands looked they seen that Paul was milling ’round in the cloud, trompling on it and teasing it, making the thing so mad that it was gitting blacker and blacker, twill d’reckly it all fires up and busts out in er turrible storm, swearing and spitting out thunder and lightening at him. Paul waits jest long ernough to pick him a good streak of lightening, and then he slides to the ground on it all safe and sound, ’cept his pants was some scorched, and a person could smell singed whiskers. But the cuss word, it was burnt to a crisp.
‘I have to thank ole Pecos Bill for that trick,’ says Paul, breshing hisself off. ‘Bill, he’s that great cattle man they got down in Texas. He kin take a cyclone by the year, ride it acrost three states, and slide to ground on the lightening whenever he gits ready.’
‘I knowed you was all right, Tony. I knowed you’d slide down on the lightening streak,’ says the little feller.
‘Now look a-here, Buddy, you got to git things straight,’ says Tony, kinder worried. ‘That’s Mister Bunyan,’ he says, pinting at Paul, ‘and this here is me. It was him, not me, slided down on the lightening streak.’
The little feller looks at him mighty earnest, doing his best to understand, but in the end he says, jest like he had afore, ‘Aw, you fool me!’
At that Paul Bunyan lets out ernother great crackling laf, shrugging up his shoulders, and rubbing his elbows erginst his ribs. ‘That big laf’s gitting closer, I kin feel it tickling my funny bones,’ he says.
Tony Beaver looks and looks at the little feller in a kind of a daze.
‘Well, I will be dogged!’ he says, like big news had struck him.
‘Haw, haw, haw! Do you reckon it kin be true, brother?' says Paul.
‘Well, thar’s one way to find out. Come on, let’s take it!’ says Tony. With that he takes the little boy up on his shoulder, and, not saying nothing to the tother fellers, him and Paul went off into the bresh together.
Tony, he led along through the woods till they come to a little clear spring running out from under the roots of a maple tree. ‘Now then, Buddy, you work us a charm,’ he says to the little feller. With that he breaks off a switch from a witch-hazel bush like what you’ve seen a water doctor use, and gives it to the young-un to whip through the spring fer a spell. Then he says to Paul, ‘Look, brother, and tell me what you kin see.’ And standing right side by side they both of ’em looked down into the water.
‘I see myself and nobody else,’ says Paul. ‘What do you see, brother?’
‘I see myself and nobody else,’ says Tony.
So thar you see how it was: after the little feller had charmed the water it showed ’em the truth, — what the young-un had sensed all erlong, — that Tony and Paul was one and the same feller, only dressed up in different bodies, and going under the name er Paul Bunyan in one part er the world and Tony Reaver in ernother. Did any of you folks ever meet yer very own self right face to face? Well, I ain’t neither, and I know mighty well I ain’t craving to. You’d think it would be a powerful awesome sight, but dogged if it tuck them two fellers thataway.
‘So you’re me and I’m you!’ says Tony with a great ‘Haw, haw!’
‘I’m you an’ you’re me, and I would n’t be s’prised if ole Pecos Bill from down yander in Texas was n’t mixed up with us, too,’ says Paul. ‘Air’ what did I tell you erbout a big laf coming?’
With that the two of ’em jest laid back, whooping and hollering and laffing fit to bust the sky wide open. They did sorter try to check theyselves up and not act too much like fools fer wanter sense, but the big laf had struck ’em; one of ’em ’ud holler out, ‘You’re me!’ and the tother ’ud answer back, ‘I’m you!' and off they’d go ergin: ‘Haw, haw, haw!'
Well, er course all that whooping and carrying on fetched the tother fellers loping into the woods, hollering to know what was the joke, like hounds on a hot trail. By that time it. sure looked like Paul and Tony had n’t got no sense at all, fer they was carrying on like they was making theyselves acquainted with theyselves. ‘Mr. Beaver, meet Mr. Beaver,’ Tony ’ud say, and Paul ’ud answer back, ‘Mr. Bunyan, shake hands with my friend Mr. Bunyan,’ and off the two of ’em would go ergin in the craziest laffing a person ever did hear, with the little feller jumping up and down, hollering, ‘Aw, look at Tony introducing hisself to hisself!'
Well, course none er the hands could make head ner tail outer the thing, but d’reckly the big laf struck them, too, and seemed like the more they did n’t know what it was all erbout the more tickled they got. One feller’d holler out to another, ‘Hey, Buddy! What’s the joke?’ And the tother’d answer back, ‘I ’ll be dogged if I know!’ And then the whole shooting match’d go off ergin, whooping and laffing, laying up erginst stumps, and holding on to they sides.
Well, now, er course when a whole parcel er folks gits to laffing beyond theyselves thataway they is running a turrible risk er hitting the world’s funny bone, and everybody knows when that happens the world can’t hold the laf in and it comes shaking out in a earthquake that’s liable to crack a smile a mile wide. So when Paul and Tony commenced to feel the earth heaving up in a kind of a giggle, with a deep far-off growl rumbling up through it, they knowed mighty well what they was heading fer.
‘Hey, brother, mind out er we’ll have the world laffing with us d’reckly!’ Tony sings out. ‘An’ more’n that, my jaws is commencing to hurt,’ he says.
‘That’s bad! Haw, haw, haw, haw! That sure is bad!’ Paul hollers back. ‘Here, you fellers, quit this foolishness now and sober down like I’m doing,’ he says, holding on to a sapling and laffing so hard a person could see the lafs running up the tree and giggling out through the leaves. ‘Here, quit, I say, and think er sompen solemn!’
‘A toothache’s a solemn thing; let’s think of that,’ says Charlie the Swede.
‘A stomickache is more solemn,’ says Big Henry, doing his best.
But at that all the Eel River crew jest fell over on the ground laffing, fer if ther’s one thing that, is comical it’s Big Henry when his vittles turns erginst him. ‘Aw, Tony, make him quit! Don’t let him say nothing like that if yer aiming to git us checked up! Aw, my jaws, my jaws!’ they hollers out, and the world itself rumbled out ernother long ‘ Ho! Ho! Ho-o-o-o-o !'
‘Here, Inkslingcr, git to work now and figger out how long it’ll be ’fore the world busts out with that laf!’ Paul hollers to his timekeeper.
Johnny Inkslinger sets to work, figgering and laffing as best he could, and d’reckly he gits out, ‘Mr. Bunyan, sir—Haw, haw, haw! Excuse me. Haw, haw! As nigh as I can figger it the world’ll bust out laffing inside of the next fifteen minutes, thirty-three seconds, and sixty-seven hundredths of a second. Haw, haw, haw!’
‘You hear that now, Mr. Beaver!’ says Paul, reeling up to Tony, and skeercely able to stand fer laffing. ‘ The world’s going to bust wide open inside of the next fifteen minutes if we don’t all git together and think up sompen solemn.’
‘Well,’ says Tony, easing hisself down on a stump, ’cause by now his legs had done failed him, ‘ the solemnest thing we got in this camp is ole Brother Moses Mutters, the preacher feller.’
‘Send fer him, then!’ says Paul. ‘Send for him quick afore the world busts!’
So, running and laffing, Big Henry and the Sullivan feller puts out after the preacher, and all the tother hands fell over on the ground and jest fa’rly give up, whooping and hollering, holding on to they sides, and complaining erbout they jaws, with the world frisking up beneath ’em, shaking out little giggles ahead of the big laf like you’ve seen dust devils scooting along in front of a big windstorm. Then d’reckly here come Big Henry and Sullivan back ergin, still running and laffing with the ole preacher hustled erlong betwixt ’em. The ole feller stood up thar in the midst of all them crazy hands, clawing his fingers through his beard and looking like a scan’alized billy goat.
‘Thar, now! Did n’t I tell you he was solemn? Aw, my jaws, my jaws!’ says Tony.
‘It ain’t my jaws, it’s my stomick hurts the most! Aw, haw, haw, haw! He’s the solemnest thing I ever seen in all my life!’ Paul says.
‘Yes! Go on and laf!’ the ole preacher bellers at ’em, all fired up, and gitting inter his stride. ‘Laf yer silly heads off, but some day you all will find out that this world is but a desert dreer.’
‘Aw, my soul! Don’t she look like it right this minute!’ Jack Sullivan sings out, and ‘Ho! Ho! Ho-o-o-o-o-o!’ come that deep rumble from the world, fer seemed like having itself called a desert dreer tickled it all up and down the bed rock of its ribs.
The ole preacher was kinder startled when he heard that long ‘Ho! Ho! Ho-o-o-o-o-o-o! ’ But he tuck a brace and sets out ergin. ‘Don’t you know that hell is right down thar?' he says, stomping his foot on the ground, and ‘ Whoof!’ says the world back at him, giving a kind of a giggle and a buckjump.
‘Hey! What’s that?' says the ole feller, jucking up his foot mighty quick.
Well, all hands knowed doggoned well what it was, and they sure did n’t want the thing to bust through, but having the world sassing back at the preacher thataway, and him jucking up his foot so quick jest after locating hell right under it, got ’em more tickled ’n ever, so’s they jest couldn’t speak fer laffing. More’n that, Jack Sullivan jumps his feets up, too, like Brother Mutters had done, and sings out, ‘Ouch! My foot’s hot, too! What erbout your’n, Buddy?’
‘They’s on fire!’ says Big Henry, and after that them two big idgits went off in a crazy kind of a dance, jucking up they feets and shaking ’em in the air like they was walking on a hot griddle. It sure was scan’lous, and course it did n’t do nothing to sober down the tothers.
‘Aw, my jaws! My jaws!’ says Tony.
‘It’ll be more’n yer jaws that’ll hurt bimeby!’ the preacher yells at him. ‘Hell — hell — hell — ’ he says, and thar he hung up dead with a kind of a guggle, his face drawed up and his throat working like he was fighting fer all he was wurth to git his words out.
‘Aw, my soul! Look a-yander! The ole feller’s going to laf!’ Big Henry bawls, all dumbfoundered. At that all hands ketches aholt of they breath and jest looks and looks with all the looks they had, fer it sure was a awesome sight.
‘ Hell—’ Brother Mutters commences ergin, making a brave fight fer it. ‘ Hell — h-e-e-el — he — he — he — HE—’ But, puff as he would, pore ole feller, he jest could n’t make the grade, and in another pair er seconds he busts all ter pieces, — ‘He, he, he! Aw, ho, ho! He, he, he! Haw, haw! ’—crackling out the awfulest laffing a person ever did hear. He stands up and lafs fer a spell, but d’reckly his knees broke under him, and he flops down on a log; but even that wa’n’t enough, and in the end the ole feller jest sprawls right out on the ground, whooping and hollering and laffing.
Well, sirs! That done the trick, sobering up the tot her fellers in a hurry, fer thar wa’n’t no living man had ever heared the preacher laf afore and it sure was a turrible solemn sound. Even the world itself swallowed back its giggles, with the long rumble of the big laf dying down and down in the distance. All hands commenced to tell the news of it to one another. ‘ Ole Brother Moses Mutters is laffing,’ they’d say, passing the word from mouth to mouth like they was awestruck. Thataway it got turrible solemn to ’em, and d’reckly they give way under it.
‘Aw, my soul! Jest look a-yander now at ole Brother Mutters!’ Jack Sullivan says, breaking down, and hunting him his bandanna.
’I jest can’t stand having him laf! Make him quit, Tony!’ Big Henry bawls, sniffling and sniffling, and wiping his nose acrost his sleeve.
‘Brother Mutters is laffing, and he’ll never tell us no more erbout he-hell,’ says Jack Sullivan.
‘Ner erbout the devil! Seems like I jest can’t git erlong t’out the devil!’ Big Henry bellers, carrying on like he was losing his blood brother.
And thar you see how it was: none er the Eel River crew had ever set much store by hell and the devil, and all like that, as long as they had it, but now when it looked like it was slipping from ’em they sets up a turrible lamentation—ain’t, that jest like human natur?
‘Here, quit that! Don’t you know this world is a desert dreer like you allus said?’ Big Henry yells at the preacher. But ‘Haw, haw, haw!’ was all he got back from the ole feller. ‘He never lafl’ed afore in all his life, and lie’s sixty-three if lie’s a day. Make him quit, Tony! I jest can’t stand this!' Big Henry blubbers.
‘You say he’s sixty-three and never laffed afore?’ says Johnny Inkslinger. ‘Then, as nigh as I kin figger it, he’ll have to go on laffing day and night fer three weeks, five days, sixteen hours, thirty-three minutes, and forty-seven seconds afore he gits hisself laffed up to date and kin quit. No, hol’ on a minute! I made a bad mistake,’ he says, scratching out some figgers. ‘He’ll have to laf fer three weeks, five days, sixteen hours, thirty-three minutes, and forty-five seconds and a half, ’stead of forty-seven seconds like I said at furst.’
And that’s jest exactly what the ole feller done. He kep’ right erlong day and night with that awful dry crackling laf till the very second and a half Johnny Inkslinger had figgered out, and then bang! he stopped dead, and went on back to being jest as solemn as he ever had been.
Well, anyhow, him laffing jest in the nick er time like he done got all hands and the world itself outer a turrible fix. But what it was hit the world’s funny bone and started the big laf in the furst place none er the hands ever did know. The nighest any of ’em ever come to tetching the truth was when Paul Bunyan and his crew was leaving the Eel River camp.
‘Well, good-bye, Tony Bunyan,’ Paul says with a grin.
‘Aw, Paul Beaver, don’t start nothing like that now, er you’ll have us all off ergin,’ Tony answers him back.