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- Quill's Window - 2/55 -
"How many of them things do you smoke in a day?"
"It depends entirely on how early I get up in the morning,--and how late I stay up at night. Good Lord, it's getting hotter every minute. For two cents, I'd strip and jump in there for a game of hide and seek with the fish. By the way, I don't suppose there are any mermaids in these parts, are there?"
"You stay out of that water," commanded the old man. "You ain't strong enough yet to be takin' any such chances. You're here to get well, and you got to be mighty all-fired careful. The bed of that river is full of cold springs,--and it's pretty deep along this stretch. Weak as you are,--and as hot as you are,--you'd get cramps in less'n a minute."
"I happen to be a good swimmer."
"So was Bart Edgecomb,--best swimmer I ever saw. He could swim back an' forth across this river half a dozen times,--and do you know what happened to him last September? He drowned in three foot of water up above the bend, that's what he did. Come on. Let's be movin'. It'll be hotter'n blazes by eleven o'clock, and you oughtn't to be walkin' in the sun."
The young man settled himself a little more comfortably against the tree.
"I think I'll stay here in the shade for a while longer. Don't be uneasy. I shan't go popping into the water the minute your back's turned. What was it you said early this morning about sniffing rain in the air?"
"Thunderstorms today, sure as my name's Brown. Been threatening rain for nearly a week. Got to come some time, and I figure today's--"
"Threats are all we get," growled the young man peevishly. "Lord, I never dreamed I could get so sick of white skies and what you call fresh air. You farmers go to bed every night praying for rain, and you get up in the morning still praying, and what's the result? Nothing except a whiter sky than the day before, and a greater shortage of fresh air. Don't talk to me about country air and country sunshine and country quiet. My God, it never was so hot and stifling as this in New York, and as for peace and quiet,--why, those rotten birds in the trees around the house make more noise than the elevated trains at the rush hour, and the rotten roosters begin crowing just about the time I'm going to sleep, and the dogs bark, and the cows,--the cows do whatever cows do to make a noise,--and then the crows begin to yawp. And all night long the katydids keep up their beastly racket, and the frogs in the pond back of the barns,--my God, man, the city is as silent as the grave compared to what you get in the country."
"I manage to sleep through it all," said the old man drily. "The frogs and katydids don't keep me awake."
"Yes, and that reminds me of another noise that makes the night hideous. It's the way you people sleep. At nine o'clock sharp, every night, the whole house begins to snore, and--Say, I've seen service in France, I've slept in barracks with scores of tired soldiers, I've walked through camps where thousands of able-bodied men were snoring their heads off,--but never have I heard anything so terrifying as the racket that lasts from nine to five in the land of my forefathers. Gad, it sometimes seems to me you're all trying to make my forefathers turn over in their graves up there on the hill."
"You're kind of peevish today, ain't you?" inquired the other, grinning. "You'll get used to the way we snore before long, and you'll kind of enjoy it. I'd be scared to death if I got awake in the night and didn't hear everybody in the house snoring. It's kind of restful to know that everybody's asleep,--and not dead. If they wasn't snoring, I'd certainly think they was dead."
The young man smiled. "I'll say this much for you farmers,--you're a good-natured bunch. I ought to be ashamed of myself for grousing. I suppose it's because I've been sick. You're all so kind and thoughtful,--and so darned GENUINE,--even when you're asleep,--that I feel like a dog for finding fault. By the way, you said something awhile ago about that big black cliff over yonder having a history. I've been looking at that cliff or hill or rock, or whatever it is, and it doesn't look real. It doesn't look as though God had made it. It's more like the work of man. So far as I can see, there isn't another hill on either bank of the river, and yet that thing over there must be three or four hundred feet high, sticking up like a gigantic wart on the face of the earth. What is it? Solid rock?"
"Sort like slate rock, I guess. There's a stretch of about a mile on both sides of the river along here that's solid rock. This bank we're standin' on is rock, covered with six or eight foot of earth. You're right about that big rock over there being a queer thing. There's been college professors and all sorts of scientific men here, off and on, to examine it and to try to account for its being there. But, thunderation, if it's been there for a million years as they say, what's the sense of explaining it?"
"There's something positively forbidding about it. Gives you the willies. How did it come by the name you called it a while ago?"
"Quill's Window? Goes back to the days of the Indians. Long before the time of Tecumseh or The Prophet. They used to range up and down this river more than a hundred years ago. The old trail is over there on the other bank as plain as day, covered with grass but beaten down till it's like a macadam road. I suppose the Indians followed that trail for hundreds of years. There's still traces of their camps over there on that side, and a little ways down the river is a place where they had a regular village. Over here on this side, quite a little ways farther down, is the remains of an old earthwork fort used by the French long before the Revolution, and afterwards by American soldiers about the time of the War of 1812. We'll go and look at it some day if you like. Most people are interested in it, but for why, I can't see.
"There ain't nothing to see but some busted up breastworks and lunettes, covered with weeds, with here and there a sort of opening where they must have had a cannon sticking out to scare the squaws and papooses. You was askin' about the name of that rock. Well, it originally had an Indian name, which I always forget because it's the easiest way to keep from pronouncing it. Then the French came along and sort of Frenchified the name,--which made it worse, far as I'm concerned. I'm not much on French. About three-quarters of the way up the rock, facing the river, is a sort of cave. You can't see the opening from here, 'cause it faces north, looking up the river from the bend. There are a lot of little caves and cracks in the rock, but none of 'em amounts to anything except this one. It runs back something like twenty foot in the rock and is about as high as a man's head.
"Shortly after General Harrison licked The Prophet and his warriors up on the Tippecanoe, a man named Quill,--an Irishman from down the river some'eres towards Vincennes,--all this is hearsay so far as I'm concerned, mind you,--but as I was saying, this man Quill begin to make his home up in that cave. He was what you might call a hermit. There were no white people in these parts except a few scattered trappers and some people living in a settlement twenty-odd miles south of here. As the story goes, this man Quill lived up there in that cave for about four or five years, hunting and trapping all around the country. White people begin to get purty thick in these parts soon after that, Indiana having been made a state. There was a lot of coming and going up and down the river. A feller named Digby started a kind of settlement or trading-post further up, and clearings were made all around,--farms and all that, you see. Your great grandfather was one of the first men to settle in this section. Coming down the river by night you could see the light, up there in Quill's Cave. You could see it for miles, they say. People begin to speak of it as the light in Quill's window,--and that's how the name happened. I'm over seventy, and I've never heard that hill called anything but Quill's Window."
"What happened to Quill?"
"Well, that's something nobody seems to be quite certain about. Whether he hung himself or somebody else done the job for him, nobody knows. According to the story that was told when I was a boy, it seems he killed somebody down the river and come up here to hide. The relations of the man he killed never stopped hunting for him. A good many people were of the opinion they finally tracked him to that cave. In any case, his body was found hanging by the neck up there one day, on a sort of ridge-pole he had put in. This was after people had missed seeing the light in Quill's Window for quite a spell. There are some people who still say the cave is ha'nted. When I was a young boy, shortly before the Civil War, a couple of horse thieves were chased up to that cave and--ahem!--I reckon your grandfather, if he was alive, could tell you all about what became of 'em and who was in the party that stood 'em up against the back wall of the cave and shot 'em. There's another story that goes back even farther than the horse thieves. The skeleton of a woman was found up there, with the skull split wide open. That was back in 1830 or 1840. So, you see, when all of them ghosts get together and begin scrapping over property rights, it's enough to scare the gizzard out of 'most anybody that happens to be in the neighbourhood. But I guess old man Quill was the first white man to shuffle off, so it's generally understood that his ghost rules the roost. Come on now, let's be moving. It's gettin' hotter every minute, and you oughtn't to be out in all this heat. For the Lord's sake, you ain't going to light another one of them things, are you?"
"Sure. It's the only vice I'm capable of enjoying at present. Being gassed and shell-shocked, and then having the flu and pneumonia and rheumatism,--and God knows what else,--sort of purifies a chap, you see."
"Well, all I got to say is--I guess I'd better not say it, after all."
"You can't hurt my feelings."
"I'm not so sure about that," said the old man gruffly.
"How do you get up to that cave?"
"You ain't thinking of trying it, are you?" apprehensively.
"When I'm a bit huskier, yes."
The old man removed his cigar in order to obtain the full effect of a triumphant grin.
"Well, in the first place, you can't get up to it. You've got to come down to it. The only way to get to the mouth of that cave is
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