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A Tough Old Citizen. — “Beelly.” — A Voice of Wail. — A Hard Case. — Money won’t heal it. — Suthin in a Green Bottle.
IN a couple of hours we had caught both buckets full of trout; but, on coming up out of the bushes which fringed the bank into the clearing, we were not a little surprised to see a blithe smoke pouring out of the chimney of the shanty.
“Hollo!” exclaimed Wade. “What does that mean? I put the fire out before we started.”
“Tell you, fellows, the proprietor’s got back!” exclaimed Raed. “Now we just apologize our prettiest for upsetting things so. Come on! I’ll make him a speech soon as ever I get my eye on him.
“But if he undertakes to thrash me,” continued Raed, laughing, — “why, you must stand by me; that’s all.”
“Go ahead, captain!” said Wade. “We’ll back you!”
There was nobody in sight as we made our way across the stumpy space; but, on turning the corner of the shanty, lo! there stood the gentleman in the doorway, — a very odd-looking person age indeed. It was a thick-set, rather short man, in an old gray coat, with loose trousers made from the hide of some animal, with the hair turned in. He wore a black skin cap, with the hair out, — the skin of a fisher, probably. His own hair, which straggled long from under the cap, was a weathered gray. This rather grim-seeming personage seemed not in the least surprised at our sudden appearance: on the contrary, when I first espied him, he was regarding us with a very stolid stare, wherein there seemed to lurk unbounded reproach and possible wrath.
“I am very sorry, sir,” began Raed, taking his cue from the old fellow’s lugubrious countenance, “that necessity compelled us to trespass on your property: but we’ll pay you, sir; we want to pay you for all we’ve had. You see, we’re making a trip through here. Our supplies fell short. We had to put in here and help ourselves to keep from starving.”
Here Raed pulled up to see, as he afterward said, if the old chap understood English.
“Oh! sich things is all weel anough,” began the unknown in a strange, creaky, husky voice (as if his vocal machinery was rusty from long dis use, and needed oiling), — “sich things is all weel anough, an’ to be expected in a coontry like this. An’ I wouldn’t ‘a’ cared an’ ye mont ha’ took everything ‘ere, an’ welcome, ef — only — ye — hadn’t a — keelled — Beelly,” with a gesture so solemn that we were appalled.
“Killed Billy!” exclaimed Raed in horror.
“Ef — only — ye — hadn’t a — keelled — Beelly,” repeated the singular being, pointing reproachfully to the carcass of the wild-cat, hanging from the hook.
“Is that Billy ?” inquired Wade, while we all strove hard to keep down a grin at this un expected upshot of our cat-hunt.
“That ‘ar,” continued the old man, very sorrowfully too, — “that ‘ar war — Beelly — wunst!”
“By Jude!” exclaimed Wash, turning round to me to keep his countenance shaded, “if we haven’t been and gone and killed the old man’s cat!”
Raed, meanwhile, was trying to explain it, assuring him that it was a mistake, — one we all deeply regretted. The old man heard him in grieved silence.
“I thought like anough that mont ‘a’ ben the way on’t,” he replied, after Raed had said every thing of a pacifying nature he could think of.
“I thought like anough that mont ‘a’ ben the way on’t,” he repeated several times. “‘Twas nartral anough, him bein’ a bob-cat, so. But, oh!” (in a deep bass whine like a camel’s,) “to come ‘ome ‘ere — arter bein’ gone amost a fotnit — an’ see Beelly hung up thar” (pointing to the hook) — “dade — dade — dade — da-a-de!”
Every one of these words, dead, sounded like a sob.
“Him as I left ‘ere a-purrin’ in the sun, an’ a-rubbin’ agin my laigs,” the old man went on, “weeth a nice leetle nest up in the loft, an’ plenty o’ bones to suck teel I gut back — to find him dade!”
The old man was tenderly lifting the carcass from the hook. We could do nothing, save look on in chagrin and wondering pity. The animal’s legs had already stiffened, and the eyes were glazed and hideous; but he gathered it up as if it had been a sick child, and, sitting down in the door-way, rested the big cat-head on his rough sleeve.
“It’s three year ago, goin’ on,” he continued stroking back the stiff, wiry whiskers beneath the creature’s nostrils, “sence I fust picked him up out in the woods. Nothin’ but a keetten then; ‘adn’t gut his eyes open; gut lost away from the old ‘un, I s’pose. I picked ‘im up, and fetched ‘im in ‘ere. Drefful hungry the leettle feller was. I fed ‘im on bits o’ meat; an’ then he toddled along, — you’ve minded ‘ow leettle keettens’ll walk, — he toddled along, and poked his leettle wet nose inter my ‘and, jess as ‘ow he wanted to nuss. I s’pose he did.
“That kinder made me take to ‘im. An’ he’s lived ‘ere weeth me ever sence;” still stroking the rumpled fur.
“I make no doubt he spit an’ snarled at you, bein’ strangers so; an’ I make no doubt he took at yer dog: an’ that’s about the quarest-looking dog I ever set my eye on; looks as ‘ow he’d ben skulped all over. But ef it ‘ad been me as come instead of you, then you’d oughter seen ‘im tare round an’ purred an’ rubbed agin’ my laigs, an’ ‘opped up outer my shoulders, an’ sharpened his nails in my trousis-knees. He’d ‘a’ ben so teekled, he’d ‘a’ fairly screeched for j’y at the sight o’ me, lookin’ as I do.”
To get any idea of the miserable pathos of the scene, the reader would need to have seen the un kempt old man sitting there, sprawlingly as he did, stroking that carcass, with tears standing in his hard old eyes, and now and then trickling down his leathery and not over-clean face.
“Fer the last two seasons,” said the old man, “he’s allus ben weeth me when I’d go ter look ter my traps; follered me closer’n a dog ‘ud ‘a’ done. Hardly ever strayed off inter the woods. Soon’s ever he’d happen to luse sight on me fer a minit, he’d begin ter mawl, — ‘Per-mowh, per mowh!’ An’ all I’d hey ter do was ter say ‘Pure Ruin,’ like this, — ‘P-ew-er R-ew-in,’ — an’ in a jiffy I’d hear ‘im a-comin’, his soft feet goin’ pat, pat, pat, on the dead leaves.
“He’d ketch fatties too (hares), an’ squirrels; an’ wunst he fetched in a ‘saple.’ A saple, mind ye, ‘s no slimpsy critter ter ketch. An’ nights he’d stretch ‘imself out jess like a man on the hay, side o’ me; an’ I do s’pose that his purrin’, when he was goin’ ter sleep, was about the sweetest mewsic I’ll ever hear. Meny an’ meny’s the night he’s purred me ter sleep. An’ now — poor leetle Beelly (fondling the body), yew naver’ll purr no more, — yew naver’ll — purr — no m-o-r-e!”
‘Twas pitiful! ‘Twas the most piteous, and perhaps the most ridiculous, scene I ever witnessed. I never felt so bad in my life. I could have cried right out. We didn’t know what to say, nor how to say it. Here we had come blundering in, and killed the only living thing this lonely old man cared for in the world. Murder in the first degree could hardly have seemed worse. Suddenly Raed whisked the tears from his eyes, and began to fumble in his inside pocket: at that we all began to fumble. Raed took out his wallet: we all took out our wallets.
“Make it five dollars apiece, fellows!” exclaimed Raed, taking off his hat to pass round.
We each threw in a V.
“Here, old man!” cried Raed. “I’m mighty sorry for this! Here’s twenty dollars, if that will help it any.”
The old fellow had sat pooring his dead pet. I don’t think he had noticed what we were about. But. when Raed held out the money, he looked up, — looked first at the bills, then at Raed, — and cried, —
“Take it!” said Raed. “It’s the best we can do now. We can’t bring him back to life, or we would, quick enough.”
“Why, show!” exclaimed the old man, laying down the carcass in the doorway behind him; doing it with a touching gentleness, despite his amazement. “Why, I don’t blame ye for’t. ‘Twas nartral anough. I make no doubt you’re good-hearted yonkers as ever was.
“But I couldn’t tech the money,” he continued, as Raed was about to renew the proffer; “‘twould seem like sellin’ Beelly; “and his eyes wandered back to the body in the door.
Seeing there was danger of setting him off into another panegyric, Raed quietly put up the money, and proposed that we should bury “Billy” with military honors.
When this proposal was explained to the old man, he concurred with us that Billy ought to be buried befittingly.
Wash was accordingly set to dig a grave with the hoe under a sweet-elder-bush a few rods in front of the shanty. The rest of us performed the office of undertakers. Billy was got into an old soap-box, that, by some strange vicissitude of fortune, had found its way up into this remote corner of the universe; and about one o’clock, P. M., the remains were committed to the earth to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” We preserved due decorum, however; for there was one sincere mourner. After the interment, we fired a salute of five guns over the grave. To Wade was intrusted the task of erecting a “head board,” with a suitable inscription; it being doubtful whether the old man’s educational qualifications would admit of this office. Wade procured the side of a salt-box, which he planted at the head of the grave; and for some minutes I saw him patiently engraving with his jack knife. Taking occasion to pass the spot about an hour afterwards, I saw that the inscription consisted of the one touching and significant word, —
“BEELLY;”over which was, very well cut, a wild-cat rampant.
On calling the old man, he expressed his entire satisfaction, and even admiration, of the performance. I doubt if the orthographical deviation ever occurred to him: if it did, he was too considerate of Wade’s feelings to point it out.
Dinner that afternoon at five o’clock; the bill of fare consisting of boiled beef, potatoes, and turnips, fried trout, and coffee with sugar.
During the convivialities we told the old man our names, and made bold to ask his. He told us that he was generally known in that section as “Old Cluey,” but that his surname was Rob bins. We forthwith proceeded to address him as Cluey, which he assured us would suit him if it suited us. He had been out to the settlement of Mattawamkeag after powder, tobacco, sugar, and “suthin in a green bottle,” the precise nature of which we forbore to pry into; though Raed afterwards remarked that it was barely possible that this same green bottle had, wholly or in part, furnished the inspiration for “Billy’s” panegyric, at which we had all grown lachrymose. I hope not. I should be sorry to have shed tears for any thing inside of a “green bottle.”