Chapter 9

     Priscian a little scratch’d;
’Twill serve.

Love’s Labour Lost.

Having made the reader acquainted with the manner in which Ishmael Bush had disposed of his family, under circumstances that might have proved so embarrassing to most other men, we shall again shift the scene a few short miles from the place last described, preserving, however, the due and natural succession of time. At the very moment that the squatter and his sons departed in the manner mentioned in the preceding chapter, two men were intently occupied in a swale that lay along the borders of a little run, just out of cannon-shot from the encampment, discussing the merits of a savoury bison’s hump, that had been prepared for their palates with the utmost attention to the particular merits of that description of food. The choice morsel had been judiciously separated from the adjoining and less worthy parts of the beast, and, enveloped in the hairy coating provided by nature, it had duly undergone the heat of the customary subterraneous oven, and was now laid before its proprietors in all the culinary glory of the prairies. So far as richness, delicacy, and wildness of flavour, and substantial nourishment were concerned, the viand might well have claimed a decided superiority over the meretricious cookery and laboured compounds of the most renowned artist; though the service of the dainty was certainly achieved in a manner far from artificial. It would appear that the two fortunate mortals, to whose happy lot it fell to enjoy a meal in which health and appetite lent so keen a relish to the exquisite food of the American deserts, were far from being insensible of the advantage they possessed.

The one, to whose knowledge in the culinary art the other was indebted for his banquet, seemed the least disposed of the two to profit by his own skill. He eat, it is true, and with a relish; but it was always with the moderation with which age is apt to temper the appetite. No such restraint, however, was imposed on the inclination of his companion. In the very flower of his days and in the vigour of manhood, the homage that he paid to the work of his more aged friend’s hands was of the most profound and engrossing character. As one delicious morsel succeeded another he rolled his eyes towards his companion, and seemed to express that gratitude which he had not speech to utter, in looks of the most benignant nature.

“Cut more into the heart of it, lad,” said the trapper, for it was the venerable inhabitant of those vast wastes, who had served the bee-hunter with the banquet in question; “cut more into the centre of the piece; there you will find the genuine riches of natur’; and that without need from spices, or any of your biting mustard to give it a foreign relish.”

“If I had but a cup of metheglin,” said Paul, stopping to perform the necessary operation of breathing, “I should swear this was the strongest meal that was ever placed before the mouth of man!”

“Ay, ay, well you may call it strong!” returned the other, laughing after his peculiar manner, in pure satisfaction at witnessing the infinite contentment of his companion; “strong it is, and strong it makes him who eats it! Here, Hector,” tossing the patient hound, who was watching his eye with a wistful look, a portion of the meat, “you have need of strength, my friend, in your old days as well as your master. Now, lad, there is a dog that has eaten and slept wiser and better, ay, and that of richer food, than any king of them all! and why? because he has used and not abused the gifts of his Maker. He was made a hound, and like a hound has he feasted. Them did He create men; but they have eaten like famished wolves! A good and prudent dog has Hector proved, and never have I found one of his breed false in nose or friendship. Do you know the difference between the cookery of the wilderness and that which is found in the settlements? No; I see plainly you don’t, by your appetite; then I will tell you. The one follows man, the other natur’. One thinks he can add to the gifts of the Creator, while the other is humble enough to enjoy them; therein lies the secret.”

“I tell you, trapper,” said Paul, who was very little edified by the morality with which his associate saw fit to season their repast, “that, every day while we are in this place, and they are likely to be many, I will shoot a buffaloe and you shall cook his hump!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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