- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: July 2005
From the book
What I hoped for was a fat bear, and what I came up with was a skinny Indian.
It was lonely on the mountain, and I had been watching the sun crest the peaks with light. There was some mist lying in the valleys, and all around me the rhododendrons were in bloom, covering the flanks of the Blue Ridge and the mountains nearby. Seated among them, their petals falling across my shoulders and into my hair, I watched the path below.
It was an old, old path, old before the coming of the Cherokees, old before the Shawnees hunted these hills, as old as the first men on these mountains.
All through the afternoon there had been no sound but the twittering of birds, but I knew something was coming up the trail yonder, for I'd seen birds fly up from time to time, marking its progress along the path, which was visible only at intervals.
What I wanted was a fat bear, for we were needful of grease, and my ribs were showing. When a body lives off the country around, fat is the hardest thing to come by. Fresh meat was no problem, but it was lean, mighty lean.
An Indian was the last thing I was wishful of seeing. We had good friends among them, but when a body becomes friendly with one nation, he naturally becomes an enemy of their enemies whether he is wishful for it or not. Moreover, a friendly Indian could eat us out of house and home, and we were shy of meat and corn flour.
Next to a fat bear it was Yance I was most anxious to see, for he was coming across the hills with fur, which we would soon be packing for trade in the settlements.
This Indian was old, and he was hurt. When I put my glass on him, I could see that. It was pa's glass, one used by him during his seafaring days and a right handy contrivance.
Sitting among the blooms of rhododendron, all pink, purple, and white, and scattered among them the pink of mountain laurel, I watched him come. Scrooched down in the brush the way I was, it was unlikely he'd see me.
The old man was reaching for the end of his rope. He was worn out and in need of help, but I'd had dealings with redskins since I was knee-high to a short duck, and Indians could be mighty sly. That old Indian might be a decoy to get me to show myself so's I could be bow shot or lanced, and I was wishful for neither.
He seemed to be in perishing bad shape. Coming to my feet, I must needs take the shortest way, which meant right down the steep cliff through the rhododendrons. It was all of three hundred paces back to where our path turned off, and that old man was hurting.
This here was our country, leaving out a few Indians who might argue the point, but I'd see no man die whom I had not personally shot.
He was still a-coming when I slid into the trail before him, but he was weaving a mighty weird path and was ready to drop in his tracks. I was close enough to catch him.
He wasn't only worn down from travel, he was gun shot.
Getting an arm around him to keep him from falling, I took time to slip his knife from its sheath for safety's sake. Then I walked him to where I could lead him through the brush to our cabin.
We'd built, Yance and I, well back in a niche among the rocks with a cliff overhanging from above. We had a fine field of fire on three sides in case of attack, which happened whenever a passing war party took the notion. This was the place we built after the Senecas killed pa and Tom Watkins in the mountains above Crab Orchard.
When I put that Indian down on the bed, he just naturally passed out. Putting water on to boil, I unlaced the top of his hunting shirt and found he'd been shot through the top of the shoulder with a...