On A Higher Level

Author: Charles Egbert Craddock

As Jack Dunn stood in the door of his home on a great crag of Persimmon Ridge and loaded his old rifle, his eyes rested upon a vast and imposing array of mountains filling the landscape. All are heavily wooded, all are alike, save that in one the long horizontal line of the summit is broken by a sudden vertical ascent, and thence the mountain seems to take up life on a higher level, for it sinks no more and passes out of sight.

This abrupt rise is called "Elijah's Step,"--named, perhaps, in honor of some neighboring farmer who first explored it; but the ignorant boy believed that here the prophet had stepped into his waiting fiery chariot.

He knew of no foreign lands,--no Syria, no Palestine. He had no dream of the world that lay beyond those misty, azure hills. Indistinctly he had caught the old story from the nasal drawl of the circuit-rider, and he thought that here, among these wild Tennessee mountains, Elijah had lived and had not died.

There came suddenly from the valley the baying of a pack of hounds in full cry, and when the crags caught the sound and tossed it from mountain to mountain, when more delicate echoes on a higher key rang out from the deep ravines, there was a wonderful exhilaration in this sylvan minstrelsy. The young fellow looked wistful as he heard it, then he frowned heavily.

"Them thar Saunders men hev gone off an' left me," he said reproachfully to some one within the log cabin. "Hyar I be kept a-choppin' wood an' a pullin' fodder till they hev hed time ter git up a deer. It 'pears ter me ez I mought hev been let ter put off that thar work till I war through huntin'."

He was a tall young fellow, with a frank, freckled face and auburn hair; stalwart, too. Judging from his appearance, he could chop wood and pull fodder to some purpose.

A heavy, middle-aged man emerged from the house, and stood regarding his son with grim disfavor. "An' who oughter chop wood an' pull fodder but ye, while my hand air sprained this way?" he demanded.

That hand had been sprained for many a long day, but the boy made no reply; perhaps he knew its weight. He walked to the verge of the cliff, and gazed down at the tops of the trees in the valley far, far below.

The expanse of foliage was surging in the wind like the waves of the sea. From the unseen depths beneath there rose again the cry of the pack, inexpressibly stirring, and replete with woodland suggestions. All the echoes came out to meet it.

"I war promised ter go!" cried Jack bitterly.

"Waal," said his mother, from within the house, "'tain't no good nohow."

Her voice was calculated to throw oil upon the troubled waters,--low, languid, and full of pacifying intonations. She was a tall, thin woman, clad in a blue-checked homespun dress, and seated before a great hand-loom, as a lady sits before a piano or an organ. The creak of the treadle, and the thump, thump of the batten, punctuated, as it were, her consolatory disquisition.

Her son looked at her in great depression of spirit as she threw the shuttle back and forth with deft, practiced hands.

"Wild meat air a mighty savin'," she continued, with a housewifely afterthought. "I ain't denyin' that."

Thump, thump, went the batten.

"But ye needn't pester the life out'n yerself 'kase ye ain't a-runnin' the deer along o' them Saunders men. It 'pears like a powerful waste o' time, when ye kin take yer gun down ter the river enny evenin' late, jes' ez the deer air goin' ter drink, an' shoot ez big a buck ez ye hev got the grit ter git enny other way. Ye can't do nothin' with a buck but eat him, an' a-runnin' him all around the mounting don't make him no tenderer, ter my mind. I don't see no sense in huntin' 'cept ter git somethin' fitten ter eat."

This logic, enough to break a sportsman's heart, was not a panacea for the tedium of the day, spent in the tame occupation of pulling fodder, as the process of stripping the blades from the standing cornstalks is called.

But when the shadows were growing long, Jack took his rifle and set out for the profit and the pleasure of still-hunting. As he made his way through the dense woods, the metallic tones of a cow-bell jangled on the air,--melodious sound in the forest quiet, but it conjured up a scowl on the face of the young mountaineer.

"Everything on this hyar mounting hev got the twistin's ter-day!" he exclaimed wrath-fully. "Hyar is our old red cow a-traipsing off ter Andy Bailey's house, an' thar won't be a drap of milk for supper."

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