Fragrance in Literature-Down the Ravine, by Charles Egbert Craddock

Down the Ravine, by Charles Egbert Craddock

So he went his way in his somewhat eccentric gait, compounded of a hop, and a skip, and a dawdle. He had made about half a mile when the path curved to the mountain’s brink. He paused and parted the glossy leaves of the dense laurel that he might look out over the precipice at the distant heights. How blue - how softly blue they were! - the endless ranges about the horizon. What a golden haze melted on those nearer at hand, bravely green in the sunshine! From among the beetling crags, the first red leaf was whirling away against the azure sky. Even a buzzard had its picturesque aspects, circling high above the mountains in its strong, majestic flight. To breathe the balsamic, sunlit air was luxury, happiness; it was a wonder that Rufe got on as fast as he did. How fragrant and cool and dark was the shadowy valley! A silver cloud lay deep in the waters of the “lick.” Why Rufe made up his mind to go down there, he could hardly have said - sheer curiosity, perhaps. He knew he had plenty of time to get to Nate’s house and back before dark. People who sent Rufe on errands usually reckoned for two hours’ waste in each direction. He had no idea of descending the cliffs as Birt had done. He stolidly retraced his way until he was nearly home; then scrambling down rocky slopes he came presently upon a deer-path. All at once, he noticed the footprint of a man in a dank, marshy spot. He stopped and looked hard at it, for he had naturally supposed this path was used only by the woodland gentry.

With his characteristic curiosity, he peered all around the “lick” when he was at last there. He even applied his tongue, calf-like, to the briny earth; it did not taste so salty as he had expected. As he rolled over luxuriously on his back among the fragrant summer weeds, he caught sight of something in the branches of an oak tree. He sat up and stared. It looked like a rude platform. After a moment, he divined that it was the remnant of a scaffold from which some early settler of Tennessee had been wont to fire upon the deer or the buffalo at the “lick,” below. Such relics, some of them a century old, are to be seen to this day in sequestered nooks of the Cumberland Mountains. Rufe had heard of these old scaffolds, but he had never known of the existence of this one down by the “lick.” He sprang up, a flush of excitement contending with the dirt on his countenance; he set his squirrel teeth resolutely together; he applied his sturdy fingers and his nimble legs to the bark of the tree, and up he went like a cat.

Birt was out early with his axe the next day. The air was delightfully pure after the rain-storm; the sky, gradually becoming visible, wore the ideal azure; the freshened foliage seemed tinted anew. And the morning was pierced by the gilded, glittering javelins of the sunrise, flung from over the misty eastern mountains. As the day dawned all sylvan fascinations were alert in the woods. The fragrant winds were garrulous with wild legends of piney gorges; of tumultuous cascades fringed by thyme and mint and ferns. Every humble weed lent odorous suggestions. The airy things all took to wing. And the spider was a-weaving.

It was something to be free and abroad in the woods. He heard the wind singing in the pines. Their fine, penetrating aroma pervaded the air, and the rusty needles, covering the ground, muffled his tread. Once he paused - was that the bleat of a fawn, away down on the mountain’s slope? He heard no more, and he walked on, looking about with his old alert interest. He was refreshed, invigorated, somehow consoled, as he went. O wise mother! he wondered if she foresaw this when she sent him into the woods.