A Brush Hollow Tale

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The third shot did not fell the animal, but it struck a more sensitive spot and generated in the victim’s mind a suspicion that the group gathered around its pen did not really wish it well. The hog uttered a sharp squeal, lumped over the fence, and dashed down through the orchard. On its way, as though impelled by a lust for vengeance, it ran under the pole on which the kettle of boiling water was hanging. Its height was just sufficient to lift the pole from one of its supports. The kettle upset, pouring the water over the fire my uncle had been stoking since early morning and extinguishing it. The hog continued its headlong course, taking two fences that were in its path like an Olympic hurdler and heading out the ridge to disappear into the wood lot.

My uncle always found it hard to accept responsibility for any setback. He invariably sought a scapegoat. As my cousin and Terminal were not promising candidates, he went to the house.

“What time is it?” he demanded.

“Eleven o’clock,” replied my aunt.

“Well,” said my uncle, in the manner of a just man who has made a careful judicial investigation, discovered the culprit responsible for some misadventure, and is delivering a well-deserved rebuke, “you’d ought to have had dinner ready.”

The kettle was rehung and refilled, the fire rekindled, and after dinner a three-man posse set out to locate the fugitive. The animal showed a marked disinclination to fraternize with the group, although from its earliest days it had never known anything but amiable and greathearted indulgence from humankind. The appearance of any person near its pen invariably foreshadowed an invigorating drink of slops or a good solid meal of corn on the cob. This had the effect of creating a benignant image of man in the porcine mind—but that image had been destroyed by the sting of the third shot.

Because of this loss of confidence it took some time for my cousin, armed now with a .30-caliber deer rifle, to come near enough for a shot. When the opportunity presented itself, he did not falter. The bullet flew true to its mark, and the prey expired. This solved only part of the problem. It was necessary to bring in a horsedrawn stoneboat to get the victim out. As a consequence of all this it was nearly dusk before the time-consuming butchering operation finally reached the scalding stage.

 

The kettle of boiling water was emptied into the barrel and the carcass brought and lowered into it. Accepted technique called for two men to grasp the ganibrel and lower and raise the body slowly so that the hot water could do its bristle-loosening work. But once the carcass had sunk to the bottom of the barrel, it fitted the container so snugly that the combined strength of my cousin and Terminal could not budge it.

My uncle, of course, chose to regard this failure as evidence that the boys were not bringing proper muscle and spirit to the job. “Stand aside, both of you,” he ordered. “Let a man show you how.”

He strained until Terminal whispered, “His eyes is buggin’ out like a bullfrog’s,” but with no more success than the boys had enjoyed. It was growing dark, and so it was imperative that the problem be solved at once. Horsepower seemed the only answer.

Old Kit, an elderly roan, was harnessed and brought from the barn. The singletree was hooked to the gambrel, my uncle called “Giddap” and slapped Kit with the reins. She surged into the collar, and the pig popped out of the barrel.

Now Kit was known to all for a gentleness that bordered on lethargy. Women and children could safely drive her. She showed no concern when confronted by automobiles, road graders, or even traction engines. But she had never before had a gigantic and fearsome ghostly white body suddenly appear at her heels, and her reaction was immediate. She ran away.

My uncle was jerked off his feet, and while he clung to the reins for a brief time, sliding along on his stomach was too unpleasant a form of locomotion to be continued, and he let go. Kit and the pig vanished into the evening darkness.

It was after midnight when Old Kit finally came back. She had apparently run astraddle of a stump someplace and so had freed herself from the incubus that caused her panic. A search next day discovered the corpus. It had been dragged for two or three miles along a rocky side road, then through a patch of woods, and it had proved a very poor traveller. The carcass was rolled into a gully and covered up. No graveside services were held.

Terminal’s period of employment was finished next day, and he went home. Some weeks later he reappeared. He was in the driver’s seat of a Model T that, although of recent vintage, showed signs of high mileage and hard usage. It was filled to overflowing with six of Terminal’s contemporaries. One was riding astride the hood.

“What do you think of her?” called Terminal. “Ain’t she a daisy? There’s been quite a few arguments about who’d get to drive her, but today George and ArIo and Fred and Wes was all in a fight about it, so I just got in and took off. Right now we’re headed for Lay -crosse. Might as well see the country while we got the means for it.”

“But Term,” said my uncle, “whatever changed your dad’s mind? You didn’t seem to think he’d ever buy a car.”