Saturday, April 14, 2012

"La. Swamp Doctor and the Panther"

..."Telling the people that I would not return unless they sent for me, and the sun being low, I mounted my horse and dashed off for home.  Coming to a fork in the path, I took the one I thought I had come in the morning and gave myself no further concern about the road.
I mentioned that I had filled my pockets with valerian on leaving home, and on this simple thing depended two lives, as the sequill [sic]  will show.  It is a root and when fresh of a powerful and penetrating odor peculiar to its species."...."The root possesses great attractions for the cat tribe which smells it at a great distance and resorts to it eagerly, devouring its fragrant fibers with great apparent relish."... "I had proceeded some distance when it began to appear to me that the path I was travelling was not the one by which I had come in the morning, but as it was some miles back...."   ...."I determined to proceed."   "It was near sunset, and, in despite of my endeavors to the contrary, I was becoming somewhat anxious as a gloom was upon the bayou or slough whose illusory appearance I have noted.  Not remarking that the part instead of crossing turned up the bank, I gave my horse the rein and he sprang into the stream..."  ...."I was mistaken in the slough and that in the instance the proximity of the knees to the surface was no illusion.  He had fortunately become wedged between two of the largest which sustained his weight and saved him from being impaled upon those beneath.  I had nothing in the shape of a cutting instrument except a small penknife which under the circumstance could afford me no aid. Dismounting in the water, by main strength I released my horse, and as the sun withdrew its lingering ray from the top most bough of the trees-jaded, wet, and exhausted--we stood in the midst of the swamp on the banks of an unknown slough without food, fire, or weapon--lost! lost! lost! I could form no idea where I was, and go as I would it would be haphazard if I went right.  The probabilities were that I would have to spend the night in the drearisome place."
..."An unusual stillness rested over the swamp, unbroken save by the tramp of my horse; not even a frog or chichado [cicada] was to be heard, and the wind had assumed that low, plaintive wail amidst the leaves..."   " such a glorious sun go down shrouded with darkness whilst it yet was day, when the ominous silence was broken by a sound which, God grant, I may never hear agin.  Like a woman's shriek in the damning anguish of desertion and despair--lost and ruined--was the long, piercing scream of the panther, whose awful yell palsied my heart and curdled the blood within my smallest veins.  Again and again it rose, filling the solemn aisles of the darksome swamp till echo took up the fearful sound and every tree, bush, and brake gave back the hellish, agonizing shriek." 
"It was evidently approaching us; my poor horse trembled like an aspen beneath me and seemed incapable of moving."....  "I struck my horse, and twining my hands in his mane, lay down on his neck, letting him go as he wished..."  "With a snort of terror he spring off through the darkness and trees with a speed that seemed miraculous." ...."I began to despair as I had no weapon save the penknife, and the animal, I knew, was one of the fiercest nature--else why did he follow for my blood? ( I never thought of the valerian.)"
..."Again and again the awful scream of the infuriated animal arose and fell like the weight of a mountain on my trembling frame.  Nobly my gallant horse strove to save me...."  ... "with fearfullness of my situation  made me half delirous, and my thought began to wander...."   "  I imagined that I was in the midst of a well-contested battle..."  ".... "Making an effort to draw my sword, my hand came in contact with the vial of prussic acid in my vest pocket with considerable force.  This aroused me, and taking it out I determined to commit suicide should the panther overtake me--preferring to die thus to being devoured alive."...   "... I heard the scream of the panther not two hundred yards behind and could almost hear his feet as they struck the ground after his leaps.  He seemed to be rejoicing over his approaching feast--his screams arouse fiercer-shriller--more horrid than before.  The heavens gave back the sound...." 
..."I tore the neck of my poor horse with my teeth to incite him to greater speed.  My time had come.  Again I heard the panther's scream so near that it perced my brain with its acuteness.  I heard his spring, as he threw himself over the lowermost boughs of the trees, and shrank withing my self, momentarily expecting him to alight with his sharp teeth in my heart.   The thought occured to me.."  ..."if I kill my horse, may not the panther be satified with his blood and allow me to esape?"  ..."With my penknife I felt carefully for the carotid artery and when it was found, I plunged the blade in, inflicting a small but deadly gash.  Give a terrible spring, the hot blood gushing all over, he ran as none but a noble horse in the agonies of death can run and then with a low, reproachful moan fell dead. I, disengaging myself, at a full run strove to make my escape.
I heard the yell of the panther as he reched the horse, and as he stopped I thought myself safe--but not so long.  Again his fierce scream came ringing o'er the air, and I was too well aware...."  "... when the quarry is being devoured his voice is still.  Suicide by poison or a more awful death was all that was now left me.  I heard the rapid leap of the panther, yelling at every spring.   I uncorked the vial and was raising it to my lips when, as if by inspiration, came the blessed thought that when the panther seized me to pour the instantaneous poison down his throat.  I uttered a low, deep prayer to God, and for one who, if she had known my peril, would have sought to die with me, and then bracing myself firmly against a tree with the vial clenched in my right hand awaited the deadly foe.  I heard his shriek, saw a huge form flying through the darkness, felt a keen pang in my shoulder, and then pouring the acid in the mouth of the panther, fainted.
When I recoved consiousness the moon was shining in my upturned face, and the huge form of the dead panther was lying by my side with the pocket holding the valerian firmly clenched in his teeth."

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