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Farther Down the Trail




Where I've been is places and what I've seen is things, and there've been times I've run off from seeing them, off to other places and things. I keep moving, me and this guitar with the silver strings to it, slung behind my shoulder. Sometimes I've got food with me and an extra shirt maybe, but most times just the guitar, and trust to God for what I need else.

I don't claim much. John's my name, and about that I'll only say I hope I've got some of the goodness of good men who've been named it. I'm no more than just a natural man; well, maybe taller than some. Sure enough, I fought in the war across the sea, but so does near about every man in war times. Now I go here and go there, and up and down, from place to place and from thing to thing, here in among the mountains.

Up these heights and down these hollows you'd best go expecting anything. Maybe everything. What's long time ago left off happening outside still goes on here, and the tales the mountain folks tell sound truer here than outside. About what I tell, if you believe it you might could get some good thing out of it. If you don't believe it, well, I don't have a gun out to you to make you stop and hark at it.




If the gardinel's an old folks' tale, I'm honest to tell you it's a true one.

Few words about them are best, I should reckon. They look some way like a shed or cabin, snug and rightly made, except the open door might could be a mouth, the two little windows might could be eyes. Never you'll see one on main roads or near towns; only back in the thicketty places, by high trails among tall ridges, and they show themselves there when it rains and storms and a lone rarer hopes to come to a house to shelter him.

The few that's lucky enough to have gone into a gardinel and win out again, helped maybe by friends with axes and corn knives to chop in to them, tell that inside it's pinky-walled and dippy-floored, with on the floor all the skulls and bones of those who never did win out; and from the floor and the walls come spouting rivers of wet juice that stings, and as they tell this, why, all at once you know that inside a gardinel is like a stomach.

Down in the lowlands I've seen things grow they name the Venus flytrap and the pitcher plant, that can tole in bugs and flies to eat. It's just a possible chance that the gardinel is some way the same species, only it's so big it can tole in people.

Gardinel. Why they're named that I can't tell you, so don't inquire me.




Jabe Mawks howdied Sol Gentry, cutting up a fat deer in his yard. Sol sliced off enough for a supper and did it up in newspaper for Jabe to carry home, past Morg McGeehee's place that you can see from Sol's gate, and from where you can see Jabe's cabin.

Jabe never got home that day. As if the earth had opened, he was swallowed up. Only that wrapped-up meat lay on the trail in front of Morg's. The high sheriff questioned. Jabe's wife sought but did not find. Some reckoned Jabe to be killed and hid, some told he'd fled off with some woman. Twenty-eight long years died.

When one day Morg hollered from his door: "Jabe Mawks!"

"Where's the meat?" Jabe asked to know. "Where's it gone?"

He looked no older than when last he was there. He wore old wool pants, new checked shirt, broad brown hat, he'd worn that other day. "Where's the meat?" he wondered Morg.

Jabe's wife was dead and gone, and he didn't know his children, grown up with children of their own. He just knew he didn't have that deer meat he'd been fetching home for supper.

Science men allow maybe there's a nook in space and time you can stumble in and be lost beyond power to follow or seek, till by chance you stumble out again. But if that's so, Jabe is none wiser for the trip.

Last time I saw him, he talked about that deer meat Sol gave him. "It was prime," he said, "I had my mouth all set for it. Wish we had it now, John, for you and me to eat up. But if twenty-eight years sure enough passed me on my way home, why, they passed me in the blink of an eye."




Fifty of us paid a dollar to be in the Walnut Cap beef shoot, and Deputy Noble set the target, a two-inch diamond out in white paper on a black-charred board, and a cross marked in the diamond for us to try at from sixty steps away.

All reckoned first choice of beef quarters was betwixt Niles Lashly and Eby Coffle. Niles aimed, and we knew he'd loaded a bat's heart and liver in with his bullet. Bang!

Deputy Noble went to look. "Drove the cross," he hollered us. "The up-and-down-mark, just above the sideways one."

Then Eby. He'd dug a skull from an old burying ground and poured lead through the eye-hole into his bullet mold. Bang!

Deputy Noble looked and hollered; "Drove the cross, too, just under that there line-joining."

Eby and Niles fussed over who'd won, while I took my turn, with Luns Lamar's borrowed rifle. Bang! Deputy Noble looked, and looked again.

"John's drove the cross plumb center!" he yelled. "Right where them two lines cross, betwixt the other two best shots!"

Niles and Eby bug-eyed at me. "Whatever was your spell, John?" they wondered to know.

"Nary spell," I said. "But in the army I was the foremost shot in my regiment, foremost shot in my brigade, foremost shot in my division. Preacher Ricks, won't you cut up this quarter of beef for whoever's families need it most round Walnut Gap?"


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