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- Gaut Gurley - 20/59 -
Nor was the Herculean strength which he so often displayed before the eyes of the astonished workmen, ever made useless, as is sometimes the case with men of great physical powers, by any misapplication of his efforts. He seemed perfectly to understand the business in which they were engaged; and, while all wondered, though no one knew, where he had received his training for such work, it was soon, by common consent, decided that he was much the most efficient hand on the ground, many even going so far as to declare that his equal was never before seen in that part of the country.
"You see that, don't you, captain?" said Codman, coming up close to Elwood, and speaking in a half whisper, as he pointed to Gaut Gurley, who, having noticed two of the stoutest of the hands vainly trying to roll up a large log, rushed forward, and, bidding them stand aside, threw it up single-handed without appearing to exert half his strength. "You see that, don't you, captain?" he repeated, with an air of mingled wonder and waggishness. "Now, what do you think of my story, and the great, stout, black-looking devil that came, on reading the first chapter, and made the big stones fly so?"
"I haven't thought much about it," carelessly replied Elwood, evidently wishing not to appear to understand the allusion of the other. "But why do you ask such a question?"
"Don't know myself, it's a fact; but I happened to be thinking of things. But say, captain, you haven't been reading any chapters in any strange book yourself, lately, have you?" said Codman, with a queer look.
"No, I guess not," replied Elwood, laughingly, though visibly annoyed by the subject.
"No? Nor none of the family?" persisted the other, glancing towards Claud Elwood, who was standing near by. "Well, I wish I knew what put that story into my head, when I let it off this morning. It is de-ive-lish queer, at any rate, considering." So saying, he walked off to his work, croaking like a rooster at some questionable object.
Although none of the settlers present seemed disposed to attribute the extraordinary physical powers, which Gaut Gurley had so unmistakably shown, to any supernatural agency, as the trapper, Codman, whose other singularities were not without a smart sprinkling of superstition, was obviously inclining to do, yet those powers were especially calculated, as may well be supposed of men of their class, to make a strong impression on the minds of them all, and invest the possessor with an importance which, in their eyes, he could in no other way obtain. Accordingly he soon came to be looked upon as the lion of the day, and suddenly thus acquired, for the time being, as he doubtless shrewdly calculated he could do in this way, a consequence and influence of which no other man could boast, perhaps, in the whole settlement.
Meanwhile the work of clearing off the logs was prosecuted with increasing spirit and resolution. And so eagerly intent had all the hands become, in pressing forward to its completion their self-imposed task, which all could see was now fast drawing to a close, that they took no note of the flight of time, and were consequently taken by surprise when the sound of the horn summoned them to their midday meal.
"Why! it can't yet be noon," exclaimed one, glancing up at the sun.
"No" responded another. "Some of us here have been counting on seeing the whole job nearly done by noon, but it will take three hours yet to do that. No, the women must have made a mistake."
"Well, I don't know about that: let us see," said the hunter, turning his back to the sun, and throwing out one foot as far as he could while keeping his body perpendicular. "Now my clock, which, for noon on the 21st of June, or longest day of summer, is the shadow of my head falling on half my foot, and then passing off beyond it about half an inch each day for the rest of the season, makes it, as _I_ should calculate the distance between my foot and the shadow of my head, now evidently receding,--makes it, for this last day of August, about a quarter past twelve."
"I am but little over half past eleven," said Codman, pulling out and inspecting an old watch. "Phillips, may be, is thinking of that deer that he has been promising himself and us for dinner; and, before I take his calculation on shadows and distances, I should like to know how many inches he allowed for the hurrying influence of his appetite."
"What nonsense, Comical! But what you mean by it is, I suppose, that I can't tell the time?"
"Not within half an hour by the sun."
"Why, man, it is the sun that makes the time; and, as that body never gets out of order or runs down, why not learn to read it, and depend directly upon it for the hour of the day? If half the time men spend in bothering over timepieces were devoted to studying the great clock of the heavens, they need not depend on such uncertain contrivances as common clocks and watches to know the time of day."
"But how in cloudy weather?"
"Tell the time of day by your feelings. Take note of the state of your appetite and general feelings at the various hours of the day, when it is fair and you know the time, and then apply the rule when you have no other means of judging; and you may thus train yourself, so that you need not be half an hour out of the way in your reckoning through the whole day."
"Well, supposing it is night?"
"Night is for sleep, and it is no consequence to know the time, except the time waking. And, as to that, none need be in fault, if they had you anywhere within two miles to crow for them."
"A regular hit! I own it a hit, Mr. Hunter. But here comes Mr. Elwood: we will leave the question of the time of day to him."
"We have a correct noon-mark at the house, and the women are probably right," replied Elwood. "At all events, men who have worked like lions, as you all have this forenoon, must by this time need refreshment. So, let us all drop work, and at once be off to dinner."
With such familiar jokes and converse, the light-hearted backwoodsmen threw off their crocky frocks, and, after washing up at a runlet at hand, marched off in chatty groups to the house, where they found awaiting their arrival the well-spread board of their appreciating hostess, this time made more tempting to their vigorous and healthy appetites by the addition, to the fine trout of the morning, of the variously-cooked haunches of the hunter's venison. And, having here done ample justice to their excellent meal, they again hastened back to their labor in the field, unanimously declaring for the good husbandman's rule, "Work first and play afterwards," and saying they would have no rest nor recreation till they had seen the last log of the slash disposed of. And with such animation did they resume their labors, and with such vigor continue to apply themselves in carrying out their resolution, and in hastening the hour of its fulfilment, that by the middle of the afternoon their task was ended; and the gratified Mr. Elwood had the satisfaction of seeing the formidable-looking slash of the morning converted into a comparatively smooth field, requiring only the action of the fire on the log heaps, with a few days' tending, to make it fit for the seed and harrow.
"Come, boys," said the hunter to the company, now all within speaking distance, except two or three who had somehow disappeared; "come, boys," he repeated, after pausing to see the last log thrown up in its place, "let us gather up here near the middle of the lot. Comical Codman and some others, I have noticed, have been putting their heads together, and I kinder surmise we may now soon expect some sort of christening ceremony of the field we have walked through in such fine style to-day; and, if they make out any thing worth the while, it may be well to give them a good cheer or two, to wind off with."
While the men were taking their stand at the spot designated by the hunter, Codman was seen mounting a conspicuous logheap at the southerly end of the field; and two more men, at the same time, made their appearance on the tops of different piles on opposite sides of the lot, and nearly abreast of the place where the expectant company were collected and standing, silently awaiting the commencement of the promised ceremony. Presently one of the two last-named, with a preliminary flourish of his hand, slowly and loudly began:
"Since we see the last logs fairly roll'd, And log-heaps full fifty, all told, We should deem it a shame If so handsome and well-cleared a field, Bidding fair for a hundred-fold yield, Be afforded no name."
To this, the man standing on the opposite pile, in the same loud and measured tone promptly responded:
"Then a name we will certainly give it, If you'll listen, and all well receive it, As justly you may:
We will call it the thing it will make, We will name it the Pride of the Lake, Or the Job of a Day."
Before the last words of this unique duet had died on the ear, Comical Codman on his distant perch straightened up, and, triumphantly clapping his sides like the boastful bird whose crowing he could so wonderfully imitate, raised his shrill, loud, and long-drawn _kuk-kuk-ke-o-ho_ in a volume of sound that thrilled through the forest and sent its repeating echoes from hill to hill along the distant borders of the lake.
"There, the dog has got the start of us!" exclaimed the hunter, joining the rest of the company in their surprise and laughter at the prompt action of the trapper as well as at the striking character of his performance,--"fairly the start of us; but let's follow him up close, boys. So here goes for the new name!"
And the prolonged "hurra! hurra! hurra!" burst from the lips of the strong-voiced woodmen in three tremendous cheers for the "_Pride of the Lake and the Job of a Day_."
All the labors and performances of the field being now over, the company gathered up their tools, and by common consent moved towards the house, where, it was understood, an hour or so, before starting for their respective homes, should be spent in rest, chatting with the women, or other recreation, and a consultation also be held, among those interested, for forming a company, fixing on the time, and making other arrangements for the contemplated trapping and hunting expedition of the now fast-approaching season.
As the company were proceeding along promiscuously towards the house, Gaut Gurley, who had thus far through the day manifested no desire for any particular conversation with Mr. Elwood, nor in any way deported himself so as to lead others to infer a former acquaintance between them, now suddenly fell in by his side; when, contriving to detain him till the rest had passed on out of sight, he paused in his steps and said:
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