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“Old Cluey” and his Strange Tale of the Pomoola.
DURING the evening we explained to Cluey the object of our expedition. He had heard the “lead story.”
“Were you ever on Mount Katahdin?” asked Raed.
“I never clomb to the tip-top,” said Cluey, “but I’ve tramped all round it after moose and caribou.”
“We would like to have you go with us,” said Raed. “We will give you two dollars per day to go with us as hunter and help carry the lug gage.”
Cluey said he would take till morning to consider the matter.
“Do you ever see anything of the Indian devil here?” Wash asked.
“Theingin dav’l!” exclaimed Cluey. “Where’d ever ye hear anything about the In gin dav’l, yonker?”
“Oh! I’ve heard that he lives in this vicinity,” said Wash, laughing.
Old Cluey shook his head.
“We’ve often heard stories of the Indian devil,” said I. “Can’t you give us one?”
“Do ye know what theingins say about the tip-top of Mount Katahdin, yonker?” demanded Cluey, suddenly turning to me.
“Oh, yes! they say that Pomoola will destroy every one who seeks to reach the summit. But that does not apply to white men.”
“‘Ow do you know that ar?”
“Dr. Jackson ascended it without any in convenience in 1838; so did Mr. Bowditch; and so also did Dr. Holmes and party.”
“Be ye sartin that they went to the tip-top? Thar ar’ three or four different peeks.”
“They reached the highest point on the Katahdin ridge, if we may believe their statement; and there is no reason why we should not,” I added, seeing that Cluey still looked a little doubtful.
“What made you shake your head when I asked you about the Indian devil?” queried Wash. “Do you believe in it?”
“Wal,” said Cluey, fairly cornered, “I don’t myself; but thar’s plenty as do. An’ they do tell some cur’us yarns about it, — mighty cur’us.”
“But did ever you see any thing of the sort yourself, — any thing that looked diabolical?” persisted Wash, determined to pin at least one of these singular tales.
“Wal,” began the old man, after hesitating considerably, “I did see suthin ruther cur’us wunst. I did, no mistake.”
“Ah, you did!” exclaimed Wash. “Tell us about it, please.”
“Yes, tell us about that,” we all put in.
Thus brought to book, Cluey related the following incident. Wash has straightened out his English, and fixed it up fit for perusal. The story is Cluey’s in Wash’s words, as recorded at the time in his note-book, from which I extract it. Wash entitled it, —
OLD CLUEY’S INDIAN-DEVIL STORY.
“‘Twas years ago,” said old Cluey Robbins. “I was nothing but a youngster then. My brother Zeke and I used to hunt in company with an old woodsman named Hughy Watson. This was either our first or second trip with him up to the lakes. After a tramp of five days through the woods from Norridgewock, our native town, we had come out on the shore of a wild-looking sheet of water, now called ‘Ragged Pond.’ Its notched, scraggy, and craggy shores might well have suggested the name. Near us a noisy brook came rattling down into it; and, not more than a quarter of a mile farther on, the outlet comes out in a parallel direction with equal noise and foam. Some idea may be obtained, from this circumstance, of the rough surface of the country about us.
“It ought to be a clever place for mink,’ said Hughy; ‘and we may find a family of beaver up this brook. I never was on these waters before.’
“We made up an open camp, Indian fashion, under some large spruces; and just at dusk we had the good fortune to see and shoot a caribou. It was cloudy, and came on very dark. I never, before nor since, heard such a serenade from owls as our fire drew around us. Screeches and the most dismal hoots blended in horrible concert. Round and round us they glided in noiseless circles. There were scores of them. It was utterly impossible to sleep; and the frequent discharge of our guns failed to disperse them.
But in the morning the merry notes of the king fisher told us there were plenty of trout in the stream we were on; and, where there are trout, there are always mink: so we fell to lining the banks with ‘ figure-four’ traps, which occupied us during the whole of the following day. There were no indications that the stream had ever been trapped before; and we anticipated a full pack of fur.
“This is what I call freedom,’ said Hughy as we sat around our fire that night. ‘Every thing just as old Mother Nature made it; and she made it pretty rough and wild too,’ continued the old fellow, gazing off at the black spruce- clad peaks of Katahdin far to the eastward, where the hunter’s moon’ was looming up over that desolate ridge. Like enough we are the first white folks ever in here. The lumber-men wouldn’t come into such a region as this. We crossed their old trail ten miles below.’
“Likely enough we were; at least, we had no reason to complain of the trapping-ground we had thus stumbled upon. We began to reap a fine harvest of fur ere the first three days had passed; and for boys of sixteen, like Zeke and I, no better entertainment could have been got up.
“But, as days passed, we began to notice that Hughy seemed uneasy and watchful.
“‘What can ail the old man?’ asked Zeke as we were making the round of the traps one day.
He don’t act at all as he did the first few days we were in here. Haven’t you noticed it?’
“Yes, I had noticed it; and we agreed to rally the old chap a little when we got back. Well, after supper that night, seeing Hughy looking sulky and absent, I asked all at once, —
“‘What is it Hughy? Aren’t things going on right here?’
The old man turned and looked at us a mo ment, as if not certain what he should answer. Then he said, —
“‘I never like to be laughed at, especially by boys. I thought, at first, we’d struck a fine stream: and perhaps it’s all fancy; for I haven’t seen or heard a single thing wrong yet. But I’ve been feeling for several days just as if there was something, either man or beast, hanging round us here. It may be a catamount; or it may be some mean thief of a river-driver, sneaking about for a chance to steal our fur; or some Indian who hunts here, and would be glad to be rid of us. Can’t tell. And perhaps it’s all my notion; but I can’t get rid of it. I remember, once when I was up at the Telos Lake, I felt just so several days; and finally one night I hid in a clump of hemlocks a little ways from my camp, and didn’t go to it at all. Along in the night I heard a noise about it, and saw what I took for men there.
I didn’t speak, or fire on them. Things were up set round the next morning; but I had moved my fur the day before. And, another time, I was up beyond Katahdin; and, several days before I had seen any signs, I began to feel that something was watching me. A night or two after, I waked up, and saw a catamount glaring at me from a tree-top. I suppose he had been prowling round, but had kept out of sight. And I think we shall find that there’s something unusual lurking round us now.’
“Old Hughy’s presentiments served to keep us wakeful and vigilant; but several days passed without the least sign of any one’s being near us, and we were beginning to forget it, when one evening I saw what certainly justified Hughy’s suspicions. I had left the fire to bring some water from the brook, which was within a few rods of us. I had stooped to dip it up, when, as I rose, I caught a glimpse of what I took to be a man, standing at a little distance. In an instant it vanished behind a shrubby fir. I felt quite positive; yet it was so dark, and whatever I had seen was out of sight so quick, that I knew I was very liable to have been mistaken. Checking my first impulse to run to the camp and give an alarm, I decided to say nothing at present, but watch.
“The evening passed. By nine o’clock, Hughy and Zeke were both asleep. I lay down, but kept awake.
“Hour after hour went by. At length, the moon rose. It was one of those still, late autumn nights when frogs are silent, and birds and insects are gone; when only the larger beasts of prey are abroad. There were no owls that night. The leaves had fallen, and covered the ground with a dry and rustling carpet.
“After a while I began to distinguish foot steps among them at a distance. They were faint and stealthy; and I was somewhat in doubt whether it were not my fancy, till the sharp snap of a twig convinced me. It might easily have been a ‘lucivee,’ or a ‘fisher,’ or a bear; but some how I at once connected it with what I had seen in the evening.
“I listened breathlessly.
“The steps were coming nearer. But it was very dark under the thick spruce-boughs. Suddenly the steps ceased, and for a few moments all was still. Then I saw a dark shadow pass a narrow vista where the moonlight fell through the black tree-tops. It had the shape of a man. The steps went on as if the creature, or whatever it was, were passing around us, keeping at about the same distance. Gradually it came around to the point where I had first heard it. There was another pause; and again I saw it cross the moon‑lit line, to continue its walk around our camp. I wasn’t much scared; but its movements gave me a strange sort of feeling. I remember thinking it was no use to wake Zeke, or Hughy, who was snoring away at a great rate. So, cocking my gun, I crept noiselessly down the path we had beaten to the brook, to get nearer the place where I had seen the shadow in the moonlight. Creeping up within two or three rods, I crouched at the root of a fallen tree, and waited. The footsteps were again approaching in their circuit. There was the same pause as before; and again the form stepped into the moonlight a moment, and was again in the shadow. But the moon was pouring down brightly; and I distinctly saw its shape, — the figure of a man, looking brown and naked, save where a hairy outline showed against the light. A feeling of sickness or of horror came over me. The idea of using my gun did not even present itself. I crept back as silently as I came down. I heard the steps come round again; then they grew fainter and fainter as the walker moved off into the forest.
“It was getting toward morning. I sat down to think the matter over. Presently Hughy woke.
“‘You up?’ said he. Whereupon I told him what I had seen. He listened without a word, till I was describing how it looked as I last saw it; when he exclaimed, —
“It’s an Indian devil! It’s old Pomoola! That’s just as I’ve heard the Oldtown Indians de scribe it a hundred times; but I always thought it was all a lie. They always left a place as soon as they’d seen one of these things; and I reckon we’d better.’
“But we didn’t leave; and our good luck with our traps continued, despite Hughy’s hints at Indian superstitions. We were pretty cautious, however, and kept together a good deal. It was not that we were particularly afraid of it as a beast; but its singular movements had given us a sort of dread of it.
“Nothing further was seen for some time. We had begun to fish in the lake for trout. It was alive with them too, — splendid fellows. We frequently caught them as heavy as ten pounds; and one day Zeke caught a toque which must have weighed twenty or twenty-five pounds. He fairly drew our canoe after him when he was booked, and it took all our skill to land him.
“I remember we were up near the head of the lake that afternoon. Our camp was at the foot, or lower end. It was getting dusk as we paddled back along. There were several islands in the lake, nearly all of them craggy and high. Just as we were passing the lower one we heard a curious noise, — a sort of ‘Waugh, waugh!’ and, looking round to the island, we saw a strange, manlike creature standing upright on a rock overlooking the water. We were not more than eight rods off, and it was not so dark but that we could see it plainly enough. As we stopped paddling, it uttered the same sound again, — a noise between a grunt and a bark.
“I knew at once it was the same creature I had seen before, and told them so. It must have swum half a mile to get up on the island. If we hadn’t been fools we should have gone up, and found out then and there what it was, and so solved the mystery; for the island was small, and we should have had it completely penned up, and at our mercy. But we were boys then, with our heads full of Hughy’s big stories; and as for Hughy himself, all the fur in Maine wouldn’t have hired him to go a stroke nearer. Zeke hallooed at it: whereupon it raised its fore-paws, or arms, and swung them about like a drunken man, making the same noise as before. It was growing dark; and we came off and left it.
“The next day we went down round the island; but it wasn’t there. It had gone away during the night.
“It was now November; and one morning we woke up to find the ground white and a smart snow coming. Towards night it cleared up cold and wintry. Our open camp wasn’t very comfortable that night. We waked up shivering. Hughy was wincing under twinges of his old foe the ‘rheumatiz.’
“‘We must get out of this, boys,’ said he. ‘Winter’s coming.’
“During the day we took up our traps, and prepared for our long tramp southward. We packed our fur in bundles; for we had to back it out for the first forty miles. It was to be our last night there; and we sat about our fire talking over home-matters, and thinking of what might have happened since we left. All at once, Hughy remembered our canoe.
“‘We may come here again,’ said he; ‘and it’s some work to make one. You go down, Cluey, and pull it up out of the lake, and hide it in that little clump of cedars close to the water. It’ll keep sound there two or three years.’
“So I ran down to the lake. It wasn’t more than a hundred rods. Drawing the canoe out of the water, I stowed it away, bottom up, among the cedars at the foot of a low crag which over hung the lake.
“I was just coming away, when I heard be hind me the same queer sound we had heard at the island, and, looking up, saw the beast-man again, standing at the top of the crag. He wasn’t more than a hundred feet off: so I had a pretty good view of him as he stood out against the clear sunset sky. It was the same form and shape as before, fully as tall as a man; and I could now see his face. Perhaps it was partly fear; but I did think it had a devilish look. There was a tuft of thick hair on the head, which lent a frightful expression to the face.
“If this was what the Indians used to see, I don’t wonder they thought it was the Devil. I had my gun, and slowly raised it as if to take aim. The creature raised his arm in the same way. But I had no thoughts of firing; I didn’t dare to: and, when I lowered my gun, the creature dropped its arm with another ‘Waugh, waugh!’
“I know I was frightened; yet I saw it plainly enough, and could have sworn to its identity anywhere.
“I don’t know how long we stood staring at each other: but I saw it was growing darker; and, stepping backward till I was out of sight behind a cedar, I went into camp about as fast as my legs would carry me.
“Zeke was for going down all together, and shooting at it; but Hughy wouldn’t hear of it. He was pretty strongly tinged with the old Indian whims concerning Pomoola, the demon of the mountain near us.
“‘We’d no business with it,’ he said; ‘and he’d have nothing to do with it whatever, unless he was obliged to.’
“The next day we started for the settlements. That was the last we saw of it. Of course, Zeke and I told our story after getting home; and I presume it never increased our reputation for veracity among our neighbors. Hughy showed an old hunter’s wisdom by keeping still about it. When persons who had heard us asked him, he merely said that we did see something rather queer; and that was all they could get out of him. Zeke and I pitched into him once for not substantiating our account better.
“‘No use, no use at all,’ said the old man; ‘and I ain’t going to get laughed at for nothing.’
“I’ve thought about it a great deal since; but I never could satisfy myself what it was we saw. I’ve heard of wild men, of children carried off and reared by wild beasts; and the Indians were always telling of Pomoola: but I never could settle it in my mind. I know there are a great many things in the Northern wilderness which the scientific men’ would laugh at a person for seeing or trying to describe.
“But here’s my story. You can take it for what it is worth; and so must the reader. But we record it as a very fair specimen of hundreds of similar yarns,’ common among the lumber men and Indians, concerning the fabulous being or demon of the Katahdin region. My opinion is that it is all pure bosh, not only this story of Cluey’s, but the whole batch of them.”
I heartily concur with Wash; though it does seem strange that there should be so many stories with no foundation whatever in fact.