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Down the Ravine   By: (1850-1922)

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This Etext was produced by Les Bowler, St. Ives, Dorset.



The new moon, a gleaming scimitar, cleft the gauzy mists above a rugged spur of the Cumberland Mountains. The sky, still crimson and amber, stretched vast and lonely above the vast and lonely landscape. A fox was barking in the laurel.

This was an imprudent proceeding on the part of the fox, considering the value of his head gear. A young mountaineer down the ravine was reminded, by the sharp, abrupt sound, of a premium offered by the State of Tennessee for the scalp and ears of the pestiferous red fox.

All unconscious of the legislation of extermination, the animal sped nimbly along the ledge of a cliff, becoming visible from the ravine below, a tawny streak against the gray rock. Swift though he was, a jet of red light flashing out in the dusk was yet swifter. The echoing crags clamored with the report of a rifle. The tawny streak was suddenly still. Three boys appeared in the depths of the ravine and looked up.

"Thar now! Ye can't git him off'n that thar ledge, Birt," said Tim Griggs. "The contrairy beastis couldn't hev fund a more ill convenient spot ter die of he hed sarched the mounting."

"I ain't goin' ter leave him thar, though," stoutly declared the boy who still held the rifle. "That thar fox's scalp an' his two ears air wuth one whole dollar."

Tim remonstrated. "Look a hyar, Birt; ef ye try ter climb up this hyar bluff, ye'll git yer neck bruk, sure."

Birt Dicey looked up critically. It was a rugged ascent of forty feet or more to the narrow ledge where the red fox lay. Although the face of the cliff was jagged, the rock greatly splintered and fissured, with many ledges, and here and there a tuft of weeds or a stunted bush growing in a niche, it was very steep, and would afford precarious foothold. The sunset was fading. The uncertain light would multiply the dangers of the attempt. But to leave a dollar lying there on the fox's head, that the wolf and the buzzard might dine expensively to morrow!

"An' me so tried for money!" he exclaimed, thinking aloud.

Nate Griggs, who had not before spoken, gave a sudden laugh, a dry, jeering laugh.

"Ef all the foxes on the mounting war ter hold a pertracted meet'n, jes' ter pleasure you uns, thar wouldn't be enough scalps an' ears 'mongst 'em ter make up the money ye hanker fur ter buy a horse."

To buy a horse was the height of Birt's ambition. His mother was a widow; and as an instance of the fact that misfortunes seldom come singly, the horse on which the family depended to till their scanty acres died shortly after his owner. And so, whenever the spring opened and the ploughs all over the countryside were starting, their one chance to cultivate a crop was to hire a mule from their nearest neighbor, the tanner. Birt was the eldest son, and his mother had only his work to offer in payment. The proposition always took the tanner in what he called a "jubious time." Spring is the season for stripping the trees of their bark, which is richer in tannin when the sap flows most freely, and the mule was needed to haul up the piles of bark from out the depths of the woods to the tanyard. Then, too, Jubal Perkins had his own crops to put in. As he often remarked in the course of the negotiation, "I don't eat tan bark nor yit raw hides." Although the mule was a multifarious animal, and ploughed and worked in the bark mill, and hauled from the woods, and went long journeys in the wagon or under the saddle, he was not ubiquitous, and it was impossible for him to be in the several places in which he was urgently needed at the same time. Therefore, to hire him out on these terms seemed hardly an advantage to his master. Nevertheless, this bargain was annually struck. The poverty stricken widow always congratulated herself upon its conclusion, and it never occurred to her that the amount of work that Birt did in the tanyard was a disproportionately large return for the few days that the tanner's mule ploughed their little fields... Continue reading book >>

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