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VI The low intoning of the canyon grew, Filling the silence of a story told With something immemorially old, Beyond all telling;1 till the Squire arose And with a boot heel broke the glowing doze Of gutted logs that startled into flame.2 “I can still see the five of you that came To Bear Lake camp,”3 he said. “If you had died, No buzzard would have thanked you for the hide And rags you packed!—We’ll need another log.”4 He melted into darkness; and the dog, ’Roused by the quiet of the brooding pair, Sat up, limp-eared, and with a surly air Flopped down again and snuggled into sleep. The brittle mock of axes, biting deep Into the crystal distances of night, Died out. The Squire stooped back into the light, Cast down his load upon the flame, and said: “It’s queer the way the night seems full of Jed Out yonder—sort of hiding everywhere, As though you’d maybe see him standing there Behind you, if you just turned quick enough— Taller than men and made of starry stuff And stillness.” While they passed the jug around The silence deepened with the busy sound The new wood made.5 “When he turned up again,” Said Black at length, “with less than half his men, Beside the Stanislaus,6 it seems to me The graybeard that he wouldn’t live to be Had somehow come to haunt him like a ghost.7 I felt it all the way along the coast To Oregon. And when we camped beside The Umpqua where it bitters with the tide, You know what happened. We had gone that day, Just he and I, to find a solid way Among the marshes.8 Two escaped to tell,9 Of all our comrades, how the Umpquas fell Upon the camp—a scrambled tale and queer, As though they’d had a nightmare; nothing clear But Rogers10 towering and the axe he plied Before he died the way old Silas died Down yonder on the Colorado shore.11 I felt the other ’Diah more and more Until we met the others up the Snake About the forks.12 Sometimes he’d seem to take A trail I couldn’t follow, all alone— Who knows?—somewhere beyond the Cimarrone13 As like as not. Beside a fire together, Or maybe rubbing knees and saddle leather, I’d know he’d gone exploring far away. And then he’d get that long-range look and say What made me feel ’twas good where he had been, But ’twas no country I was ever in,14 Or likely would be; something wise and old As light and growing, but, in being told, As new as morning or the first green grass. 302 the song of jed smith ’Twould be like seeing darkly in a glass, Then face to face, the way he often read it;15 And you would feel, the gentle way he said it, A little shaver listening to his mother. Between the common ’Diah and the other There might have been a thousand years or two.16 I often wonder if the other knew That he was getting near to where he is.17 Concerned, for all that might and youth of his, About the vanity of worldly gain! And making worldly trouble seem like rain Upon the desert of our mortal stuff!18 He used to tell me that he had enough Of worldly goods to help his folks and others— So no more beaver!”19 “Had a mess of brothers,”20 Observed the Squire. “I hear ’twas on the way To set them up in trade with Santa Fé He got his hair raised.”21 “Going to retire,” Mused Black, “—and did.”22 “I wonder,” yawned the Squire, With lazy stretching. “Got a horse to bet He’s nowhere or there’s blue horizon yet He’s chasing after with that hungry stride!” “I should have been there with him,” Evans sighed; “I should have followed anywhere he went.” With grave and unintentional assent The elder nodded, and the canyon’s moan Took up the old regret—alone, alone, Alone.23 The younger, slumped upon his pack, 303 The Song of Jed Smith Blinked dreamily. “But when he started back24 For California with another band— And Silas—all the torture of that land Came on me like a nightmare. I was gray And old inside. And so he...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781496207388
Related ISBN
9781496206374
MARC Record
OCLC
1039702821
Pages
726
Launched on MUSE
2018-06-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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