Part 2 of 2
The Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1919-Current, October 15, 1920, Edition 1, Image 3 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.
(Reported by R. C. Haynes.)
The stable stood back some distance from the river and was invisible from where the ferryboat lay, the object being to construct it above high water mark. When the ferryman and I entered the stable and discovered that my gun was gone we knew that some miscreant had crept up to the building, unlocked the door with a skeleton key, stole the gun and again locked the door behind him.
"Wright," spoke up the ferryman, "someone doubtless saw you enter the stable and knew you left the gun. There are all kinds of lawless men around here, burglars as well as robbers and murderers. As late as it is and you having to pass through Panther Hollow, I would not advise you to undertake the journey today. You are welcome to stay with me tonight and in the morning you can return home in daylight, perhaps unmolested."
"I appreciate your kindness, Barker," I replied. "But my wife is alone, and I think by riding fast I can reach home before the night's darkness comes on."
Bidding the ferryman goodbye, I mounted the mule and rode off towards home, old Ben in a gallop. I knew from the way the mule traveled that old Ben was no less glad than I was that we were traveling homeward.
I gave the mule full rein and we went on at full speed up hill and down, old Ben's feet pounding against the hard roadway and his ears pointing in the direction of home.
"You are a fine donkey, old boy, and no mistake," I said to the faithful beast, "and I promise you a full meal when we get home; however you must not overdo yourself on the start. You may have to make good use of your legs further on."
I drew the reins, forcing the mule to a trot, and on we jogged at a more moderate gait. Though I could see that the sun was now getting low in the west, yet estimating the distance I judged we could arrive home by candlelight.
On we journeyed, old Ben trotting amicable along. On either side of the road grew great trees of oak and hickory and ash, but everything quiet and at peace. Occasionally, however, coming up from the bottoms of Hurricane creek to the right, I could hear the ominous hooting of an owl. Farther down the creek came the doleful answer of his mate, "Who-who-who?"
I was doomed to another disappointment--a greater one than that of not being able to cross the river. When we had traveled perhaps five miles I discovered that old Ben was getting lame. Though the poor beast still trotted along, I could see that it was painful for him to bear his weight on his right fore foot. I brought him to a walk and still he limped. The mule had never been lame before, and I knew no cause for his lameness. We went on in a slow walk, but the farther we went the more lame he became.
When I dismounted and examined the foot I discovered the cause of his lameness. The mule had been tampered with! The same miscreant, no doubt, who stole my gun had so disabled old Ben that I would not find it out until I was miles away from the river and from under the protection of the ferryman.
"There's nothing else to do, old fellow," I said to old Ben, "you with only three good legs can not be burdened with my weight. I must go the rest of the way afoot."
So tying the bridle reins around his neck, I left him to hobble home the best way he could and started off on foot. The sun was almost down and I knew it would be impossible for me to reach home before night. I must pass through Panther Hollow at night, alone, afoot and unarmed!
But there was nothing to be gained by useless meditation. I was now about half way home and would care nothing for the distance could I have had daylight. Good old Joshua of old never desired the sun to stand still any more than I did on that occasion. But Old Sol, the great dispenser of light, went on his regular course and soon sank from sight.
When I had reached the path leading up through Panther Hollow shadows were rapidly gathering and in a short time the darkness of a moonless night set in. Only the faint light of the stars enabled me to discern the dim pathway as I trudged on through the wilderness of woods.
Still on I went at as rapid a pace as I could through the giant trees, dense foliage and thick underbrush, which almost interlocked the scarcely discernible pathway. I could now hear the screech of the owl and the cries of the wild beast coming up through the dense darkness.
On and on I trudged, and as I approached a place rougher and darker if possible, than any I had passed through, I heard a crackling sound in the underbrush near me. Knowing it to be, undoubtedly, a wild beast of some kind and having no means of defense I set off in a run, hoping thus to escape its observation. But in vain. I soon discovered that the beast was following me.
On I ran and on followed the wild beast, springing through the thick underbrush, and at every spring gaining on me! When the pursuer had come within a few yards of me, knowing that it would be useless for me to run farther, I turned, facing the beast as he approached. When within a few feet of me the beast uttered an angry cry and paused, ready to make a spring upon me! At this moment I heard a sound behind me and, turning, I saw a weird white form dart out from the dark depths of woods, and at the same instant an arrow sped by me and the wild animal fell dead, pierced to the heart!
Before I could realize what had taken place, the mysterious form had disappeared in the darkness. Who was the brave archer? I did not know I had a friend within miles, much less in the middle of Panther Hollow! Whether man or ghost he or it had probably saved my life by the timely slaying of what I discovered to be a wildcat.
Having no time for solving the mystery, I again took my way toward home. The way was intricate and rough and dark. I could hear the howls and cries and screams of wild beasts in every direction. Would I ever get through this perilous wilderness? I meditated. Would I ever see wife and home again?
On I trudged, pushing my way through the thick woods, the way seeming to grow, if possible, more rough and dense and dark as I went. By paths, made by the wild animals as they prowled through the woods, led off in every direction and I had difficulty in following the intricate roadway.
When I had pushed on perhaps a mile from the scene of the mysterious killing of the wildcat, I heard an ominous sound in the distance behind me. It was the howling of an immense number of wolves! Could it be that a pack of these ravenous beasts was on my track? Must I, like Mazeppa, be chased by a pack of wolves? Unfortunately, I was afoot. How I wished for old Ben with four good legs!
But wishing being of no avail, I increased my speed and pushed on, anxious to put as great a distance as possible between me and the wolves. On I plunged through the woods, and as I went I could tell from the sound behind me that the wolves were on my trail, their howls growing louder and fiercer and nearer!
On I ran while the noisy beasts came rushing on, woof, woof, behind me and gaining at every bound!
I had now reached a place where the land was low, wet and swampy and the surroundings were more somber and ghostlike. The great pack of wolves came howling on, more noisy and angry as they approached. Though the darkness was so great I could not see the forms of the ravenous beasts, I could tell by the savage howls and the crackling of the underbrush that they were only a few rods behind. It will soon be all over with me I thought in despair, as I still hurried on, offering a silent prayer to the Great Defender of the defenseless.
At this moment, up through a dark ravine to the right I beheld a sight that, surrounded as I was, filled me with amazement and consternation. A red glare broke out, as coming up from the ground, and a great luminous ball, as of fire, came toward me gliding or rolling down the ravine! On came the mysterious light, and as it neared me, by its weird glare I could now discern the now startled beasts as they for the moment paused in their determined onslaught. Suddenly as the uncanny ball rolled on the frightened wolves took to their heels and scampered off through the woods, pell-mell, in every direction. The great ball of light passed on and disappeared down the ravine to the left.
Though I had never before seen a Jack-o-lantern, such I knew this must have been. After it had disappeared the woods seemed darker than ever; yet I again trudged onward, picking my way the best I could through the darkness, thankful for the Jack-o-lantern's timely appearance and, undoubtedly, the saving of my life.
I now hoped that the dangers were all behind me and that I would soon reach home. But all the demons of darkness seemed turned loose in Panther Hollow that night!
When I was within a mile of home breaking of a dry twig and, looking back, through the dim light I saw the form of a man creeping up behind me. The villain held a long knife in his hand and I knew he meant to take my life. How I wished for a similar weapon that I might have it out with him then and there. But having no weapon of any kind I knew it was a race for life between me and the murderous highwayman.
Realizing this I started off through the wilderness as fast as my legs would carry me. On I ran, and I could tell from the sound of breaking of the underbrush behind me that the demon was following me at full speed.
On and on I plunged, but my legs were now weary from so much exertion and I could tell that my deadly foe was gaining on me. In the darkness I could hear the panting of his breath as he approached me. Before me near the road stood a large [tree with branches outspreading] over the pathway. As I plunged on by this tree there was a disturbance among the branches overhead and, with a piercing scream a panther sprang down, barely missing my back and landing with full force on the shoulders of the highwayman!
Though the darkness was intense, I could tell, from the screams of the panther and the curses of the highwayman, that a desperate struggle was going on near me. It would be a fight to the death between the huge panther and the desperate villain.
Still hearing the struggle, I left them there to fight it out and took my way toward home, thankful for another miraculous escape. The panther had undoubtedly saved my life at the hands of the murderous highwayman. The highwayman had kept me from being slain by the panther.
I was now only a half mile from home, so I hurried on and in a short time I had emerged from Panther Hollow into a more open country. I would soon be at home. Though my legs were weary and my knees worked like rusty hinges, I hastened on. I passed over the creek where later stood the old water mill, then took my way up the hill to my home.
As I approached the house everything seemed wrapped in silence and no sign of life or light about the place. Not even the dim light of a candle shown through the window. Could anything disastrous have happened to my wife? With sinking heart I stepped upon the porch. In the darkness I felt my way to the door. As I was about to take hold of the knob a form sprang from a sheltered corner of the porch and a pistol was pressed against my head!
"Hands up!" cried the holder of the weapon. "Move but a muscle and you are dead!"
My hands shot up toward the sky and I realized that I was never nearer death than at that moment. I could feel the cold steel against my head and the click of the weapon, cocked and waiting but for the pressing of a finger. In the darkness I could not see the form, I knew the voice of the one who stood so near me with the pistol pressed so firmly against my head. It was my wife!
Could it be that I had escaped the wild beasts and desperadoes of Panther Hollow, but to be killed in my own home by my own wife?
"Nannie!" I cried, my voice scarcely more than a whisper. Instantly the pistol fell from her hands and crashed against the floor.
"Oh Abram--is it you?" she exclaimed. "I thought it was the desperado who has been prowling around here since nightfall. Oh, my dear, dear husband, what if I had killed you!" and throwing her arms around my neck she fainted in my arms.
The next morning I arose early and found old Ben waiting to be fed. The poor creature had hobbled home sometime during the night. After breakfast I took my way to the scene of the night before. There I beheld the evidence of a tragic encounter. In the road, side by side lay the panther and the highwayman, both dead. By the light of day I discovered that the dead man was the one who held me up the morning before. Near him was my gun, and I knew he was also the one who had burglarized the ferryman's stable.
Is it any wonder that the place was from this time called Panther Hollow?
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