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all be spoiled before I got to it. Eben was stout as
I was, and about all the land Uncle Eldin could
handle had been cleared ; or I wouldn't have thought
of going away. It didn't seem as though I could
stay much longer. And now it was June two days
ago another June would soon be gone.

Aunt Lib got up and begun to pick the dishes



14 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

from the table. She knowed what I was thinking.
So I went 'round the house to where Bugle was lay-
ing to see if he was hurt much.

Soon's I showed up he come to me, whimpering
and limping, though I see right away he was mak-
ing believe a lot so's I'd pet him. I talked to him
a spell and then went back to my plowing.

I finished the corn a good half hour before sun-
down, and right away I got to thinking again of
the upper Missouri river country. I tended to old
Becky and then went to the house.

I stopped outside to wash up, figuring how to go
to talking to Aunt Lib and not get her started fuss-
ing against me going away. It had clouded up a
little, so I said it looked some like it would rain.

"Wished it would rain cats and dogs," she says.
"It's been so hot all day I cain't seem to get a
breath to breathe. Supper's all ready soon's Eldin
comes. Here he is now. Hurry and git washed,
Eldin. Everything'll get cold as stones."

"Bet we can eat it, hot or cold, cain't we, Lige?"
he laughed. And I felt mighty glad neither seemed
anxious to talk about me going away. He rolled up
his sleeves, good-natured-like and says, "Never did
see so many squirrels as they is this year. Must
have been more'n a dozen in sight at one time over
yonder where I was working to-day."

"There is a right smart of 'em," I told him. I
wanted to keep 'em going. So I says, "That old
hen-turkey that Mrs. Hawkins give Aunt Lib's a-
nestin' in that hazel thicket down by the little
spring. I've seen her go in there twice now of
mornings."

That fetched Aunt Lib into the talk again. "I
been missin' her," she says, coming to the door.



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER



15



"The huzzey! So that's where she's a-stealin' her
nest. I'll just have to ferrit her out of there or
some varmit'll get her shore 'nuff. Land of mas-
sey! if it ain't one thing it's another, and no rest
between 'em. Hurry, Eldin! My land!"

After supper there was chores to do; but when
they was done I couldn't he'p getting my paper out
of the box under my bed. It was nigh three
months old a'ready, dated April, 1822. But it was
always new to me. I read the story again. And
long after they was all asleep I blowed out the tal-
low dip and got into my bed to dream.



CHAPTER II

It rained during the night, but when morning
come there wa'n't a sign of a cloud nowhere. Every-
thing was fresh and smelled good, and I was mighty
glad, for the young corn needed a wetting. I 'lowed
to he'p Uncle Eldin over in the timber that day ; but
when we got set down to the breakfast table, Aunt
Lib said, "Somebody's got to take a grist o* co'n to
the mill, or we'll be plumb out o' meal soon. To-
day's as good's any to go, too. Lige, I wished you'd
go. A body cain't feed folks without somethin' in
the house."

I reckon she'd got used to me going, instead of
Eben or Charles. Having been to school there reg-
ular when Abner Hastings was living, I'd got to
know folks pretty well, so I brought home more
news than the boys would, mebby. Anyway, she
mostly sent me ; and I was glad of it.

"I'll go, Aunt Lib," I told her, "unless Uncle Eldin
wants me at somethin' else worse."

"Might's well go, Lige," Uncle said. "You can
ride Becky."

But old Becky needed a rest from the spring
work, so I decided to go afoot. I mighty soon
found a good sack and filled it nigh half full of corn.
Then I divided the grain and swung the sack over
my shoulder I reckoned I'd take the rifle too, and
I did.

I'd no sooner stepped 'round the corner of the
cabin, when Bugle spied the gun, and right away
he forgot Caley Byers' kick. He wa'n't lame at all,
and he fell in behind my heels, whining and carry-

16



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 17

ing on. Cracky ! I sure thought a heap of that old
hound.

In a minute I was on the Coon Creek trail, and
Bugle begun ranging a little, snuffing and making
out he was mighty busy I let him, for I was sure
there hadn't been a varmi't there for a spell and
besides it had just rained. I didn't 'low to let him
take up a trail, for sure as he did I'd never get to
the mill; so I watched him nosing ahead of me and
on both sides, intending to stop him if he got a
fresh trail.

The woods smelled sweet as honey and all along
the creek was flowers a-plenty, and birds too. I
got to thinking of the upper river, and I reckon
dreaming, too; for directly, Bowoo-oo! I heered old
Bugle, and so durn far away I couldn't make him
hear me, either. Cracky! I was mad mad at him
and mad at myse'f . I knowed he'd never quit now,
so all I could do was to let him go and forget him
till he come in. And I did. But I kept hearing
his voice baying 'way off in the timber for a long
spell, getting fainter and fainter, till finally I
couldn't hear him no more.

The bushes that had growed up in Dan's Clearing
was plumb full of birds, when I got there all sing-
ing their thanks for the rain. Brown thrushes,
robins, and catbirds, too, made mighty sweet music
in the sunlight that was a heap brighter there be-
cause of Dan's axe. A little ornery wren with his
tail pretty nigh touching his pert little head warbled
his sharp song over and over again from the broken
door of the old cabin, while just under the edge of
the pole roof his mate sat on her nest listening to
him.

A big tree had fallen and laid on one side of the
clearing about thirty yards from the trail, its rag-



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ged roots full of chunks of clay and looking like a
turkey-tail fan. On top of one of the crookedest
roots was a squirrel looking sharp at the trunk of
the tree, or something I couldn't see. He was so
stiff and still that at first I thought mebby I was
fooled ; but directly he run down onto the trunk and
up pretty well towards its middle, where he stopped
and begun to bark and scold like fury. Qua-qua-
quaa! Qua-qua-quaa ! he said, flipping his tail like
he wanted to drive something away from there.
Then all of a sudden, like his own daring had scared
him to fits, he turned and scampered off like all get
out.

I started to see what it was that he wanted to
scare. But just as I headed that way an old owl
flew out of some bushes near there with a rabbit
in his claws. So I didn't go no further.

But if I'd knowed then what I know now well,
like as not I wouldn't have looked, noway but I
sure wouldn't be telling this story.

A kernel of corn had got into my boot and was
hurting my foot, so I leaned the rifle against the
cabin and set down on a stump to pull off the boot.
Then, after I got out the kernel of corn, I saw there
was a little hole in the sack. So I mended that and
rested before I went on.

The grist mill at the Crossing was the most im-
portant of the village institutions ; and its big, over-
shot water wheel was turning right merry. I could
hear the water splash as it fell from its paddles,
and the clang of Mat Walker's hammer in his black-
smith shop aross the road from Hawkins' store,
before I could see either of them. They was about
the only noise Coon Creek Crossing owned, any-
way, and I always liked to hear them.

There was other visitors in town besides me.



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 19

Several saddle bosses was tied to the hitch rack in
the street. So as soon's I took my corn to the mill
I went over to the Hawkins' store to get the news,
if there was any. Aunt Lib would want to know
what was going on, and besides I liked to hear what
folks had to say, myse'f .

There was seven or eight men in the store, setting
on barrels and on the counter. Caley Byers was
one of them, and he was reading aloud about another
big rucus up the river. I found a place on the
counter where I could hear good and listen with
the rest.

It had been a bad row, and again the whitemen
had got the worst of it. The story was told by
one of the wounded trappers that had been fetched
into St. Louis more'n a month after the fight.

There was another story in the paper that Caley
Byers read, and I heered all that one. It said Gen-
eral Ashley was back in St. Louis. The General
had told a lot more about the fight that was
in the paper under my bed. He said in that
row he'd lost a keel boat loaded with ten thou-
sand dollars' worth of trade goods, besides a passel
of men. The part that I liked best was where the
General told about the country up the river.
Cracky ! I did like that part. But finally it was all
told and Caley Byers folded up the newspaper and
put it in his pocket. I wished I could borrow it a
spell; but I'd rot before I'd ask him to lend it.
Though I reckon if he'd offered to let me take it, I'd
a-f orgive him for kicking Bugle, and even crowding
me off'n the trail, mebby. Most likely he never
thought of it; but I did, a little.

Mr. Hawkins weighed out some tea for Caley
Byers, and while Hawkins' back was turned I saw
his boy Jeff take a hank of tobacco. I reckoned I



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could have made him give me back the bullet-mould
then, but I didn't. Both the men was talking about
the upper country and the fight. Mr. Hawkins
said, "I don't know's I blame them Injins a great
sight for fightin'. The country's theirs, an' they'll
be drove out of it soon enough, anyway. I'd fight,
too, if I was an Injin." Then he weighed out some
sugar for his customer and added, "But, right or
wrong, if I was young, I'd j'ine up with one of them
trappin' an' tradin' parties. But I'm past that now.
It's a young man's country, I reckon."

"Yes, you and I are too old, Hawkins," Caley
Byers said, but as though he was satisfied. "It's a
land for the young a rich land and wild. It will be
wild for a long time yet. And as it opens up St.
Louis will grow to be a big city, mark my words.
For all the trade of that great wilderness must come
to her as it develops."

He leaned against the counter, facing me; but he
made out he didn't see me, like he did that morning
on the trail, so I didn't even nod nor say liowdy' to
him.

By and by Mat Walker, the blacksmith, come in
to get some borax, and right away Caley Byers said,
"I must get my hoss shod, Mat. I 'most forgot it."

Then him and Mat went out, and I saw Caley
Byers lead his saddle-hoss to the blacksmith shop.

Mr. Hawkins asked about Aunt Lib and Uncle
Eldin, like he always did, and I bought some pow-
der and lead; for I'd plumb made up my mind. I
shook hands with Mr. Hawkins and said, "Good-bye
for a spell."

It surprised him, I reckon, and he asked me if I
was going somewheres. I told him I was going to
have a look around for myse'f soon's the work was



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 21

finished, and that it was mighty nigh done a'ready.

"Take keer o' yourse'f ," he says, "an* come back
yer' sometime. I wished JefFd spruce up an' try
to do something 'sides loaf 'round the store where I
don't need him."

Right away I felt better'n I had for a year. I
knowed I was doing right. And when I got my
sack of meal I flung it over my shoulder and struck
out for home lickety-split.

The big river was high now, I knowed, and I
was afraid it wouldn't stay up till I got there. Out-
fits would be setting out for the upper country only
as long as the river was high, and I was afraid I'd
be late.

It's mighty good to get your mind made up to
something that's been pestering. I never knowed it
before then; but ever since then I've tried to go
into camp with a question and settle it quick as I
can, for while its teetering around in your mind
you ain't fit for much. Most always you do just
what you first thought you would, anyway, because
you're mighty nigh sure to measure the sides of a
question soon's it comes to you and better'n you
think you do, too.

I was sweating like a nigger when I got to Dan's
Clearing, and I stopped and shifted the sack of
meal. But I didn't stop long. The sun was pretty
low, so I hurried on.

It was still as death in the Clearing. The shad-
ows of the tallest trees reached mighty nigh to
the middle of it. I saw the old root again, but
there wa'n't no squirrel on it this time. A rabbit
bobbed across the trail ahead to find a better hid-
ing place in a patch of young hazel brush. The
little wren had quit his song and so had the rest of



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the birds. I didn't hear a sound, except a yellow-
hammer's drumming 'way off in the woods. But I
saw an old red-head light on the roof of Dan's
cabin, only to go off again, when I come along.

I got to thinking of Bugle, and wondering if he'd
quit yet; but I reckoned he hadn't, 'less he'd killed
or treed what he was after. Durndest hound that
ever did live, Bugle was. Anyway, I knowed he'd
come home when he finished his run.

By the time I got to our place the sun was down,
and there was some clouds in the west. The wind
had come up a little and it felt like it had run onto
a shower of rain in its travels; so I thought mebby
it would rain again in the night. When I was let-
ting 1 down the bars I heered an old hen clucking
fretful, like, and I hung the sack of meal on the
fence to see what was troubling her. She was
fussing around over in a patch of hazel brush, and
I slipped over that way, parting the bushes care-
ful. Directly I saw her. She was capering and
jawing at a skunk sucking her eggs in a nest she'd
stole. I pulled down on mister man and killed
him. At the crack of the rifle the old hen ran, half
flying towards the house, raising the durndest
racket she could, and in a minute Aunt Lib was in
the door.

"Whatever's the matter, Lige?" she called.

"Nothin' much," I answered. "That ol' fool hen
stole her nest in them hazels and a skunk's sucked
her aiggs."

"Land o' massey!" she says. "If it ain't one
thing it's another. I f errited out that ol' hen-tur-
key down by the little spring this afternoon, an' she
had fourteen aiggs under her. How many was in
the hen's nest, Lige?"



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 23

"I didn't count 'em, nor try to, Aunt Lib," I said,
going in the house to put up the sack and rifle.
"But she won't never go back to 'em noway. It
smells mighty bad down there now."

"Massey!" she frets. "Yonder comes Eldin, an*
supper ain't nigh ready yit. I wished you'd split
some o' that wood finer, Lige. A body cain't cook
with a passel o' logs fer kindlin'. Eben's been
he'pin' Eldin all day an' so there ain't no kindlin'."

She didn't say anything about Charles splittin'
the kindling. She never did. Seems like when
boys don't natur'ly he'p their folks they just
natur'ly don't ask 'em to. I reckoned that when
I'd gone Charles'd wake up and see there was a
heap he could do. I reckoned he'd have to.

"Was they many folks down to the Crossin' to-
day?" Aunt Lib was asking.

"I didn't see many, Aunt Lib," I said. "No
women folks at all." And then I went out to the
woodpile.

I'd made up my mind to tell them at supper. I
wished it was over with, for I did hate to fret Aunt
Lib. But I reckoned this would be the last time
I'd have it to do for quite a spell. It seemed as
though every minute I waited made it worse. So
all of a sudden I picked up an armful of wood and
followed Uncle Eldin into the house. Then I come
out with it.

"I've made up my mind, folks," I said, trying to
keep my voice stiddy and not look at Aunt Lib.
"In the mornin'," I says, "I'm goin' to St. Louis an'
try to git me a place there."

"Oh, Lige Mounts! You've been a-readin' more
trash an' you'll git yerse'f killed, shore nuif. You
talk to him, Eldin." And Aunt Lib turned away



24 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

in disgust. Cracky ! I was glad she was more mad
than hurt.

But Uncle Eldin only said, "Well, boy, if ye must
ye will, I reckon."

He'd give up. I could see that. And I felt nigh
happy.

He walked over to hang up his hat. Then he
said, "But why all this hurry? St. Louis'll be there
when ye git to it, Lige."

"Yes, I reckon it will," I said, "but it's high
water now, an* outfits are goin' up the river to
trade. I'd hate to be late, so I'm goin' in the
mornin'."

There! I felt lots better. He started to whistle.
Directly I says, "Uncle Eldin, kin I hev the new
rifle?"

He walked over to the wall and looked at it, all
slick and clean as a wolf's tooth. "Of course, boy.
It's yours more'n mine, anyway. Take it along,
an' welcome," he said, right low.

It was sure a dreary meal, supper was. Nobody
talked much. Even the littler ones was quiet. I
knowed Eben envied me some; but I felt his case
was a heap different than mine. I could have no
share in the place when Aunt Lib and Uncle Eldin
was through with it. There was more'n a plenty
to divide it with, leaving me out. And I didn't
belong in, noway.



CHAPTER III

I can't forget that night nor the next morning.
I could hear Aunt Lib stirring about long after the
others was sleeping, and I knowed she was fixing
and fussing for me. And again before daylight
she was up and at it by candle light.

Although I was anxious to be starting, I hated
to get out of my bed, not because I was weakening,
but because I'd have to talk to Aunt Lib.

At last I got up and dressed. It promised to be
a fine day, though it wa'n't quite light, even then.
I found them all at the breakfast table. Jinny had
her hair done up high, like she was going some
place. She was fourteen and right pretty. She
tied a bib 'round Susan's neck and set Alexander
Hamilton on his high chair before she set down
herse'f . It appeared to me she was he'pin' more'n
usual that morning. Then I saw that Jane Ellen
had tied a ribbon in her hair; and I felt like they
was all bent on seeing me off in style. Jane Ellen
was only ten, but I'd always thought a heap of her ;
she was so kind and thoughtful for a little girl.
Eben set right across from me and looked sulky
and down in the mouth.

Directly Charles started to talk about In j ins, but
Aunt Lib shut him up quicker'n scat, and Eben got
up and went out to the barn. I kept thinking how
pretty Jinny was and how good little Jane Ellen
had always been since she was a baby. The little
ones, Susan and Alexander Hamilton, didn't know
I was going away, and I felt glad enough, for there
was plenty to say good-bye to, as it was.

25



26 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

Breakfast was soon over, and I moulded my lead
into bullets with the rest watching by the fireplace.
Aunt Lib had made a bundle of some clothes and
food, and when she give them to me, she couldn't
keep back her tears. I felt mighty bad, for I
knowed she was fretting a heap; but this was the
last time she'd have to worry about me for a long
spell.

I kissed her and the girls and said good-bye as
quick as I could. Then I shook hands with Uncle
Eldin and said, "Good-bye for a spell. One of
these days I'll come back, an' if I've been lucky I'll
shore divide."

Then I took down the rifle and powder-horn and
bullet-ppuch and went out of the cabin as quick as
I could. They was all gathered in the door, I
knowed, but I didn't look back till I climbed the
fence on the far side of the corn field. Then I
turned and waved my hand. I saw them all, even
Bugle who'd got back in the night standing
there in the door all except Uncle Eldin. He was
on his way to the spring for a bucket of water. I
had never knowed him to pack drinking water be-
fore.

In a jiffy the timber hid me, and I struck out
lickety split, like I was afraid something would
catch up and steal my chance of going away. I
followed the winding road, that led, folks said, clean
to St. Louis, a hundred miles off, till I come to a
spring of water. Right away I wanted a drink.
It seemed so good to know I could do whatever I
pleased that even that little thing demanded atten-
tion. So I stopped by the spring.

I hadn't looked back for an hour, I reckon. But
from the spring the way I'd come was straight for



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 27

more'n a quarter, and far back I could see Bugle
comin' on his three old laigs. I forgot all about
drinking. In a minute he'd caught up to me, tick-
led nigh to death. I hadn't the heart to be cross
with him. But of course I couldn't be bothered
with a hound going to St. Louis, so I patted him
first and then sent him back. He didn't want to
go, and now that I'd got this far I didn't blame
him. "Git home," I says, making believe I'd
picked up a rock and was going to throw it.

He turned and hobbled off, looking over his
shoulder at me. Cracky ! the reproach that was in
his eyes! But I stooped again and made him
think I'd got another rock, and he went off faster
and faster, till he got to the bend down the road,
where he set down and just looked back at me. He
wouldn't budge further. I felt I was sneaking
away from a friend when at last I started on. And
I'd forgot to drink. I kept looking back every lit-
tle while to see if he was followeing, but I didn't
see him no more, and was mighty glad.

Gnarled stumps and crooked roots was plenty in
the wagon road; so the traveling wa'n't very good.
But the sunlight and shade cut all kinds of capers
and I got to watching the little blotches of gold
that shivered and trembled on the dark ground.
The road made me think of a leopard's skin I'd
seen in Abner Hastings' natural history book. And
all day long there was blue- jays, and from most
every hickory squirrels barking at me as I followed
the dim wheel tracks; for the road wa'n't much
used noway. It was cool in the woods and I trav-
eled pretty fast, always keeping a watch for Bugle,
because I couldn't believe he'd quit, once he started.



28 UGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

Mebby he knowed more'n I give him credit for,
though.

I come to a clearing pretty soon, just an acre or
two, and I reckoned it was the Jesson place. Folks
didn't respect Les Jesson much, so I didn't stop.
But they was three small children perched on the
top rail of the fence around the clearing. I said
'howdy* and the oldest, a boy, answered; then
finally, after I was far enough away, he got cour-
age and called "Where ye goin', stranger?" But I
made out like I didn't hear him.

Then for hours there wa'n't any clearings or
cabins, just the woods and the road to St. Louis.

I couldn't hardly wait to get there. I traveled
till plumb dark. Then I built a little fire and ate
most half of the food Aunt Lib had give me. After
that I went to sleep ; for I was tired as a dog, but
happy.

First I knowed the sun was in my eyes. Cracky !
I jumped up; but I didn't build a fire. I just ate a
lunch and away I went, lickety-split. I wanted to
make up, for I'd ought to have been on the way
long ago. I hit an awful gait, and kept it up till
noon, when I passed a right big clearing. There
was a store and a mill there, and a lot of hounds
and cur-dogs that barked at me when I passed ; but
I didn't stop. I saw folks looking at me from doors
and windows, but I made out like I didn't notice
them and kept going.

I was getting right tired by dark, so I knowed
I'd most likely made up what I'd lost by oversleep-
ing. And so I built me a fire to roast a squirrel I'd
shot just before sundown.

By the time the fire was going good the moon
was up, and it looked mighty pretty through the



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 29

trees. I'd passed a cabin a little way back; and
when I was skinning out the squirrel I heered
something, and looking up, saw a man on the other
side of my fire.

"Howdy, stranger," he says, cheery-like.

"Howdy," I says, hanging my squirrel on a stick
before the blaze.

"Travelin'?"

"Yep."

"Which way?"

"St. Louis," I says. "How fer is it from here?"

"Reckon it's nigh onto thirty-two mile," he says.
"Where'd ye come from?"

"Back yonder nigh to Coon Creek Crossin'."

"By gum! ye've had a right smart hike, ain't
ye? Better come right over to the house an' rest
yo'se'f."

"No thanks," I says. "I'm plumb comfortable
here. Won't ye set down an' have a bite with
me?"

"No," he says, "had my supper long ago. What's
yer name?"

"Lige Mounts."

"Mounts, hey?" he says, like he'd heered it be-
fore. "Well, Mounts, if you won't come over to
the house, I reckon I'll be goin' back myse'f. Folks
seen yer fire an' kep' a-naggin' an* peckin' at me
till I come over to see who built it. Good night,"
he says, and went off.

I was glad of it. My squirrel was nigh done,
and I was tired and hungry.

I mighty nigh finished Aunt Lib's grub. But
the squirrel he'ped a lot, and I saved some of it.


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