“Nothing is so firmly believed as what we least know.”–Michel de Montaigne
“Get your facts first, and then you can distort then as much as you please.”–Mark Twain
Well sir, spring has turned to summer here at Plumtree Crossin’. O’ course, the changin’ seasons don’t have much effect on the ol’ loafers who hang around at the General Store … other ‘n occasionin’ the rehashin’ of a diff’rent round of well-worn stories an’ the sheddin’ or addin’ of a layer or two of clothin’.
Fact is, them ol’ boys is about as close to a town monument as the Crossin’s got. Regardless of the weather, a number of them can be counted on to be sippin’, an’ swappin’ lies on enny given afternoon.
Which ain’t to say the gents don’t never do nothin’ but hold the storefront bench in place. In fact, it was jist the other night when those worthies decided thet an evenin’s outin’ were called fer. And, bein’ as how the nightly croakin’ choir from out at Mud Lake hadn’t escaped ennyone’s attention, the boys determined to head on over to the water for some frog hunting an’ nab themselves a sack or two.
Now those Mud Lake songsters is a breed apart from yer usual happy frogs. Folks say thet buzzards avoid flyin’ low over the water fer fear of bean’ swallered, an’ Doc Thromberg claims them frogs kin leap “tree high an’ river wide” on about the biggest, tastiest legs what was ever fried up in egg ‘n’ cornmeal.
So the fellers was anticipatin’ a feed–not to mention the kind of boy-fun thet even an old coot kin have sloppin’ around in the mud an’ water durin’ the dead o’ night–when they assembled (along with an assortment of frog gigs, dip nets, miners’ caps, lanterns, an’ young Billy Parson’s Red Ryder BB gun with its five-cell flashlight taped to the barrel) jist above the lake.
Since all of the gen’lmen present couldn’t go stompin’ along together without scarin’ ev’ry frog in the vicinity, it was decided thet Ott, Billy, Lafe Higgins, an’ Doe would try their luck along the lake banks, whilst Newt Blanchard, Cleedy McCannon, an’ Purvis Jacobs would (after divvyin’ up the cornsqueezed provisions the latter had brung along) take Newt’s rowboat out amongst the lily pads. An’ sein’ as thet skiff weighed about as much as an Angus bull, then footsloggin’ group was the first to git underway.
As you know, Mud Lake don’t have enny shoreline to speak of. In fact, most folks are hard put to tell jist where the body of water ends an’ the swamps around it begin. The evenin’ in question weren’t no romantic moonlit night neither, an’ afore the party’d gone a hunnert feet the darkness was lickin’ away at the beams from their lights.
It seemed thet ev’ry step the fellers took would cause another bullfrog to plop into the water up ahead, with a sound sommat akin to a watermelon hittin’ the bottom of a deep well, yet the hunters wasn’t actually seein’ enny of the critters at all.
Ol’ Ott was jist beginnin’ to hold forth on thet subject (speculatin’ thet the problem mighta had somethin’ to do with the company he was keepin’) when Billy’s flashlight lit up a nearby channel what was plumb decorated with reflected eyes!
“Well I’ll be,” breathed Doc. “Some of them bulls oughta go more’n a pound an’ a half.”
I’ll allow they is on the puny side,” replied Ott, _but at least they’s plenty of ’em.”
The boys doused their lights an’–with the distant stars seemin’ to make the night all the blacker–soft-footed toward the inlet.
Young Billy were in the lead, feelin’ his way through the darkness real cautious-like, when all of a sudden he was knocked back against Ott an’ let out a scream thet scared-the other men plumb speechless!
The Parsons boy’s wail carried across the water to the driftin’ boat. “Catamount howlin’, I reckon,” opined Lafe Higgins.
“Could be,” replied Newt, “but theys critters livin’ in these swamps what ain’t even been named yet. Time’s awastin’ though, so let’s pole over by them water weeds an’ see iffen enny frogs is about.”
Sure enough, ‘twern’t long afore the lantern light picked out a hopper as big as a banty hen.
“This ‘un’s mine,”said Purvis. And seen’ as he passed his jug back in order to grab a frog spear, the other fellers didn’t protest a lick. Now Mister Jacobs was jist a mite unsteady at the time, an’ with the lantern swingin’ back an’ forth in his left hand he kept a-inchin’ closer to the bow of the boat to get a clear poke at thet frog. The critter, o’course, were so blinded by the light thet it couldn’t tell up from down an’ sideways.
So when Purvis finally lunged an’ misted, the ol’ frog launched itself as fer into the air as it could …an’ landed smack down the front of its adversary’s overhauls. Purvis, he was already off balance from pokin’ his spear when he set to teeterin’ from one leg to t’other tryin’ to shake the critter outa his Oshkoshes. Fer a while it looked like the ol’ boy was gonna recover, too, but then he kicked his right foot out too far, muttered a few words what don’t bear repeatin’, an’ collapsed–lantern, gig, an’ all–into the water. The commotion caused Newt’s rowboat to waller to the left, upon which all the remainin’ occupants jumped to the right side, an’ the skiff responded by turnin’ over easy as a cat in a mint patch.
None of them fellers was tender in years, an’ there weren’t a coward in the bunch, but landin’ amongst six feet of pond weed and water in pitch darkness is enough to disconcert enny man, woman, or beast. They set to paddlin’ fer shore fer all they was worth.
Meanwhile, the other group of adventurers had jist about got Billy calmed down. It seemed thet somethin’ large had been high-taliin’ it through the dark an’ the young frogger had jist happened to be in its way.
“‘Twere a sow bear,” figgered Doc, flickin’ his light back an’ forth without seein’ so much as a swayin’ branch.
“I don’t know,” Ott spoke up. “Do you remember back in ’40 and 8 when ol’ Lester Lemuels were carried off from a spot near here?”
“Carried off, my eye,” retorted the physician, but his voice weren’t convinced enough to support the words. “I always figgered Les ran away with thet redheaded waitress from Lick Skillet an’…”
It was then the tellers heard a sound from the water’s edge: a gaspin’ an’ a sputterin’ an’ a splashin’ thet seemed to be headin’ right fer’em.
Well, young Billy couldn’t take no more. He let fly another unearthly beller an’ charged for the road, payin’ no heed to whatever muck, trees, or unimaginable critters might be in front of ‘im. The others followed suit. An’, though they claim they was jist after the young feller, I’ll allow as how the spring in their heels were inspired from the rear rather than the fore.
Billy’s outcry had a similar effect on the old boys in the water, too. There they was, a few feet from land, when the shore line erupted with a howl and a crashin’ the likes of which nobody’d ever heard. Newt claims thet Cleedy’s feet got to moovin’ so fast he was near atop the water. Irregardless, howev’r, the group did lay out a pretty fair bow wake in their haste to vacate the area … an’ arrived at the truck about the same time thet the other party come stumblin’ in.
“I declare, Ott,” Newt Blanchard spoke right up, “I ain’t seen you move so fast since you found them yallerjackets in yer privy.”
Speak fer yerself,” Old Man Bartlett replied. “Yer shoes got here a good five minutes afore the rest of you did. An’ they was still shakin’ when you caught up with ’em. I notice you boys didn’t bring back enny frogs, neither, despite the fact thet you went skin-divin’ after ’em.’
At that point Purvis Jacobs pulled off one of his pack boots an’ peered inside.
“Yer mistaken there, Ott,” he grinned, ” ’cause I do believe I’ve got me one!”
“Fear has been the original parent of superstition, and every new calamity urges trembling mortals to deprecate the wrath of their invisible enemies.”–Edward Gibbon