Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > American
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. I–V: American
 
The Old Settler
By Ed Mott
 
His Reasons for Thinking There is Natural Gas in Deep Rock Gully

“I SEE by the papers, squire,” said the Old Settler, “that they’re a-findin’ signs o’ coal-ile an’ nat’ral gas like sixty here an’ thar in deestricks not so terrible fur from here, an’ th’t konsekently land they usety beg folks to come an’ take offen their hands at any price at all, is wuth a dollar now jist for a peep over the stun wall at it. The minute a feller finds signs o’ ile or nat’ral gas on his plantation, he needn’t lug home his supplies in a quart jug no more, but kin roll ’em in by the bar’l; fer signs o’ them kind is wuth more an inch th’n a sartin-per-sure grass an’ ’tater farm is wuth an acre.”
  1
  “Guess ye’re huggin’ the truth pooty clus fer wunst, major,” replied the squire, “but th’ hain’t none o’ them signs ez likely to strike anywhar in our bailiwick ez lightnin’ is to kill a crow roostin’ on the North Pole. There’s one thing I’ve alluz wanted to see,” continued the squire, “but natur’ has ben agin me an’ I hain’t never seen it, an’ that thing is the h’istin’ of a balloon. Th’ can’t be no balloon h’isted nowhar, I’m told, ’nless there’s gas to h’ist it with. I s’pose if we’d ha’ had gas here, a good many fellers with balloons’d ha’ kim ’round this way an’ showed us a balloon-raisin’ ev’ry now an’ then. Them must be lucky deestricks that’s got gas, an’ I’d like to hev somebody strike it ’round here some’rs, jist fer the sake o’ havin’ the chance to see a balloon h’istin’ ’fore I turn my toes up. But that’s ’bout ez liable to happen ez it is fer to go out an’ find a silver dollar rollin’ up hill an’ my name gouged in it.”  2
  “Don’t ye be so consarned sure o’ that, squire,” said the Old Settler mysteriously, and with a knowing shake of his head. “I’ve been a-thinkin’ a leetle sence readin’ ’bout them signs o’ gas, b’gosh! I hain’t been only thinkin’, but I’ve been a-recollectin’, an’ the chances is th’t me an’ you’ll see wonders yet afore we paddle over Jurdan. I’m a-goin’ ter tell ye fer w’y, but I hadn’t orter, squire, an’ if it wa’n’t fer makin’ ye ’shamed o’ yerself, an’ showin’ th’t truth squashed in the mud is bound to git up agin if ye give her time, I wouldn’t do it. Ye mowt remember th’t jist ten years ago this month I kim in from a leetle b’ar hunt. I didn’t bring in no b’ar, but I fotched back an up-an’-up account o’ how I had shot one, an’ how th’ were sumpin’ fearful an’ queer an’ amazin’ in the p’formances o’ that b’ar arter bein’ shot. Mebbe ye ’member me a-tellin’ ye that story, squire, an’ you a-tellin’ me right in my teeth th’t ye know’d th’t some o’ yer friends had took to lyin’, but th’t ye didn’t think any of ’em had it so bad ez that. But I hain’t a-holdin’ no gredge, an’ now I’ll tell ye sumpin’ that’ll s’prise ye.  3
  “Ez I tol’ ye at the time, squire, I got the tip ten year ago this month, th’t unless somebody went up to Steve Groner’s hill place an’ poured a pound or two o’ lead inter a big b’ar th’t had squatted on that farm, th’t Steve wouldn’t hev no live-stock left to pervide pork an’ beef fer his winterin’ over, even if he managed to keep hisself an’ fam’ly theirselfs from linin’ the b’ar’s innards. I shouldered my gun an’ went up to Steve’s to hev some fun with bruin, an’ to save Steve’s stock and resky him an’ his folks from the rampagin’ b’ar.  4
  “‘He’s a rip-snorter,’ Steve says to me, w’en I got thar. ‘He don’t think nuthin’ o’ luggin’ off a cow,’ he says, ‘an’ ye don’t wanter hev yer weather eye shet w’en you an’ him comes together,’ he says.  5
  “‘B’ars,’ I says to Steve, ‘b’ars is nuts fer me, an’ the bigger an’ sassier they be,’ I says, ‘the more I inj’y ’em,’ I says; an’ with that I clim’ inter the woods to show bruin th’t th’ wa’n’t room enough here below fer me an’ him both. ’Tain’t necessary fer me to tell o’ the half dozen or more lively skrimmages me an’ that b’ar had ez we follered an’ chased one another round an’ round them woods; how he’d hid ahind some big tree or stumps, an’ ez I went by, climb onto me with all four o’ his feet, an’ yank an’ bite an’ claw an’ dig meat an’ clothes offen me till I slung him off an’ made him skin away to save his bacon; an’ how I’d lay the same way fer him, an’ w’en he come sneakin’ ’long arter me agin, pitch arter him like a mad painter, an’ swat an’ pound an’ choke an’ rassel him till his tongue hung out, till I were sorry for him, an’ let him git away inter the brush agin to recooperate fer the next round. ’Tain’t wuth w’ile fer me to say anything ’bout them little skrimmages ’cept the last un, an’ that un wa’n’t a skrimmage, but sumpin’ that’d ’a’ skeert some folks dead in their tracks.  6
  “Arter havin’ a half a dozen or so o’ rassels with this big b’ar, jist fer fun, I made up my mind, ez ’twere gettin’ late, an’ ez Steve Groner’s folks was mebbe feelin’ anxious to hear which was goin’ ter run the farm, them or the b’ar, th’t the next heat with bruin would be for keeps. I guess the ol’ feller had made up his mind the same way, fer w’en I run agin him the las’ time, he were riz up on his hind legs right on the edge o’ Deep Rock Gully, and were waitin’ fer me with his jaws wide open. I unslung my gun, an’ takin’ aim at one o’ the b’ar’s forepaws, thought I’d wing him an’ make him come away from the edge o’ the gully ’fore I tackled him. The ball hit the paw, an’ the b’ar throw’d ’em both up. But he throw’d ’em up too fur, an’ he fell over back’rd, an’ went head foremost inter the gully. Deep Rock Gully ain’t an inch less’n fifty foot from top to bottom, an’ the walls is ez steep ez the side of a house. I went up to the edge an’ looked over. There were the b’ar layin’ on his face at the bottom, whar them queer cracks is in the ground, an’ he were a-howlin’ like a hurricane and kickin’ like a mule. There he laid, and he wa’n’t able to rise up. Th’ wa’n’t no way o’ gettin’ down to him ’cept by tumblin’ down ez he hed, an’ if ever anybody were poppin’ mad I were, ez I see my meat a-layin’ at the bottom o’ that gully, an’ the crows a-getherin’ to hev a picnic with it. The more I kep’ my eyes on that b’ar the madder I got, an’ I were jist about to roll and tumble an’ slide down the side o’ that gully rather than go back home an’ say th’t I’d let the crows steal a b’ar away from me, w’en I see a funny change comin’ over the b’ar. He didn’t howl so much, an’ his kicks wa’n’t so vicious. Then his hind parts began to lift themse’fs up offen the ground in a cur’ous sort o’ way, and swung an’ bobbed in the air. They kep’ raisin’ higher an’ higher, till the b’ar were act’ally standin’ on his head, an’ swayin’ to and fro ez if a wind were blowin’ him an’ he couldn’t help it. The sight was so oncommon out o’ the reg’lar way b’ars has o’ actin’ that it seemed skeery, an’ I felt ez if I’d rather be home diggin’ my ’taters. But I kep’ on gazin’ at the b’ar a-circusin’ at the bottom o’ the gully, and ’twa’n’t long ’fore the hull big carcass begun to rise right up offen the ground an’ come a-floatin’ up outen the gully, fer all the world ez if ’twa’n’t more’n a feather. The b’ar come up’ard tail foremost, an’ I noticed th’t he looked consid’able puffed out like, makin’ him seem lik’ a bar’l sailin’ in the air. Ez the b’ar kim a-floatin’ out o’ the dep’s I could feel my eyes begin to bulge, an’ my knees to shake like a jumpin’-jack’s. But I couldn’t move no more’n a stun wall kin, an’ thar I stood on the edge o’ the gully, starin’ at the b’ar ez it sailed on up to’rd me. The b’ar were making a desperate effort to git itself back to its nat’ral p’sition on all fours, but th’ wa’n’t no use, an’ up he sailed, tail foremost, an’ lookin’ ez if he were goin’ ter bust the next minute, he were swelled out so. Ez the b’ar bobbed up and passed by me I could ha’ reached out an’ grabbed him by the paw, an’ I think he wanted me to, the way he acted, but I couldn’t ha’ made a move to stop him, not if he’d ben my gran’mother. The b’ar sailed on above me, an’ th’ were a look in his eyes th’t I won’t never fergit. It was a skeert look, an’ a look that seemed to say th’t it were all my fault, an’ th’t I’d be sorry fer it some time. The b’ar squirmed an’ struggled agin comin’ to setch an’ onheerd-on end, but up’ard he went, tail foremost, to’rd the clouds.  7
  “I stood thar par’lyzed, w’ile the b’ar went up’ard. The crows that had been settlin’ round in the trees, expectin’ to hev a bully meal, went to flyin’ an’ scootin’ around the onfortnit b’ar, an’ yelled till I were durn nigh deef. It wa’n’t until the b’ar had floated up nigh onto a hundred yards in the air, an’ begun to look like a flyin’ cub, that my senses kim back to me. Quick ez a flash I rammed a load inter my rifle, wrappin’ the ball with a big piece o’ dry linen, not havin’ time to tear it to the right size. Then I took aim an’ let her go. Fast ez that ball went, I could see that the linen round it had been sot on fire by the powder. The ball overtook the b’ar and bored a hole in his side. Then the funniest thing of all happened. A streak of fire a yard long shot out o’ the b’ar’s side where the bullet had gone in, an’ ez long ez that poor bewitched b’ar were in sight—fer o’ course I thort at the time th’t the b’ar were bewitched—I could see that streak o’ fire sailin’ along in the sky till it went out at last like a shootin’ star. I never knowed w’at become o’ the b’ar, an’ the hull thing were a startlin’ myst’ry to me; but I kim home, squire, an’ tol’ ye the story, jest ez I’ve tol’ ye now, an’ ye were so durn polite th’t ye said I were a liar. But sence, I’ve been a-thinkin’ an’ recollectin’. Squire, I don’t hold no gredge. The myst’ry’s plain ez day, now. We don’t want no better signs o’ gas th’n that, do we, squire?”  8
  “Than what?” said the squire.  9
  “Than what!” exclaimed the Old Settler. “Than that b’ar, o’ course! That’s w’at ailed him. It’s plain enough th’t there’s nat’ral gas on the Groner place, an’ th’t it leaks outen the ground in Deep Rock Gully. W’en that b’ar tumbled to the bottom that day, he fell on his face. He were hurt so th’t he couldn’t get up. O’ course the gas didn’t shut itself off, but kep’ on a-leakin’, an’ shot up inter the b’ar’s mouth and down his throat. The onfortnit b’ar couldn’t help hisself, an’ bimeby he were filled with gas like a balloon, till he had to float, an’ away he sailed, up an’ up an’ up. W’en I fired at the b’ar, ez he was floatin’ to’ard the clouds, the linen on the bullet carried fire with it, and w’en the bullet tapped the b’ar’s side the burnin’ linen sot it on fire, showin’ th’t th’ can’t be no doubt ’bout it bein’ gas th’t the b’ar swallered in Deep Rock Gully. So ye see, squire, I wa’n’t no liar, an’ the chances is all in favor o’ your seein’ a balloon h’isted from gas right in yer own bailiwick afore ye turn up yer toes.”  10
  The squire gazed at the Old Settler in silent amazement for a minute or more. Then he threw up his hands, and said:  11
  “Wal—I’ll—be-durned!”  12
 
 
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