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Chapter 37 - Adventures in the Far West by Mayne Reid

Killing a Trail

An hour or more we had spent since entering the glade—now no longer terrible. Once more its flowers looked bright, and their perfume had recovered its sweetness. Once more the singing of the birds and the hum of the insect-world fell soothingly upon my ears; and there, as before, sat the pretty doves, still repeating their soft “co-co-a”—the endearing expression of their loves.

I could have lingered long in the midst of this fair scene—long have enjoyed its sylvan beauty; but the intellectual must over yield to the physical. I felt sensations of hunger, and soon the appetite began to distress me. Where was I to obtain relief from this pain—where obtain food? I could not ask my companion to guide me to the plantations, now that I knew the risk he would run in so doing. I knew that it really was as he had stated—the loss of an arm, perhaps of life, should he be caught. There was but little hope of mercy for him—the less so as he had no master with power to protect him, and who might be interested in his not being thus crippled!

By approaching the open country on the edge of the clearings, he would not only run the hazard of being seen, but, what he feared still more, being tracked by hounds! This mode of searching for “runaways” was not uncommon, and there were even white men base enough to follow it as a calling! So learnt I from my companion. His information was afterwards confirmed by my own experience!

I was hungry—what was to be done? I could not find my way alone. I might again get lost, and have to spend the night in the swamp. What had I best do?

I appealed to my companion. He had been silent for some time—busy with his thoughts. They were running on the same subject as my own. The brave fellow had not forgotten me.

“Jes what dis nigga am thinkin’ ’bout,” replied he. “Well, mass’,” he continued, “when sun go down, den I guide you safe—no fear den. Gabr’l take you close to de Lebee road. Mass’ must wait till sun go down.”


“Mass’ hungry?” inquired he, interrupting me.

I assented.

“Jes thot so. Dar’s nuffin’ yeer to eat ’cept dis ole snake. Mass’ no care to eat snake: dis nigga eat ’im. Cook ’im at night, when smoke ob de fire not seen ober de woods. Got place to cook ’im, mass’ see. Gabr’l truss mass’ Edwad. He take him to caboose ob de runaway.”

He had already cut off the head of the reptile while he was talking; and having pinned neck and tail together with a sharp stick, he lifted the glittering body, and flinging it over his shoulders, stood ready to depart.

“Come, now, mass’,” continued he, “come ’long wi’ Ole Gabe; he find you somethin’ to eat.”

So saying, he turned round and walked off into the bushes.

I took up my gun and followed. I could not do better. To have attempted to find my own way back to the clearings might again have resulted in failure, since I had twice failed. I had nothing to hurry me back. It would be quite as well if I returned to the village after night—the more prudent course, in fact—as then my mud-bedaubed and blood-stained habiliments would be less likely to attract attention; and this I desired to avoid. I was contented, therefore, to follow the runaway to his “lair,” and share it with him till after sunset.

For some hundred yards he led on in silence. His eyes wandered around the forest, as though he was seeking for something. They were not directed upon the ground, but upward to the trees; and, therefore, I know it was not the path he was in search of.

A slight exclamation escaped him, and, suddenly turning in his tracks, he struck off in a direction different to that we had been following. I walked after; and now saw that he had halted by a tall tree, and was looking up among its branches.

The tree was the frankincense, or loblolly pine (Pinus toeda). That much of botany I knew. I could tell the species by the large spinous cones and light-green needles. Why had he stopped there?

“Mass’ Edwad soon see,” he said, in answer to my interrogatory. “Please, mass’,” he continued, “hold de snake a bit—don’t let um touch de groun’—dam dogs dey smell um!”

I relieved him of his burden; and, holding it as he desired, stood watching him in silence.

The loblolly pine grows with a straight, naked shaft and pyramidal head, often without branches, to the height of fifty feet. In this case, however, several fronds stood out from the trunk, at less than twenty feet from the ground. These were loaded with large green cones, full five inches in length; and it appeared to be these that my companion desired to obtain—though for what purpose I had not the remotest idea.

After a while he procured a long pole; and with the end of this knocked down several of the cones, along with pieces of the branchlets to which they adhered.

As soon as he believed he had a sufficient quantity for his purpose, he desisted, and flung the pole away.

What next? I watched with increasing interest.

He now gathered up both the cones and the adhering spray; but to my surprise he flung the former away. It was not the cones, then, he wanted, but the young shoots that grew on the very tops of the branches. These were of a brownish-red colour, and thickly coated with resin—for the Pinus taeda is more resinous than any tree of its kind—emitting a strong aromatic odour, which has given to it one of its trivial names.

Having collected the shoots until he had both hands full, my guide now bent down, and rubbed the resin over both the soles and upper surface of his coarse brogans. He then advanced to where I stood, stooped down again, and treated my boots to a similar polishing!

“Now, mass’, all right—de dam, blood-dogs no scent Ole Gabe now—dat hill de trail. Come, mass’ Edwad, come ’long.”

Saying this, he again shouldered the snake and started off, leaving me to follow in his tracks.

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