The Cat of the Cane-Brake

“Sally! O-oh, Sally! I’m a-goin’ now.” Jim Gantt pushed back the limp brim of his rusty felt hat and turned colourless eyes toward the cabin.

A young woman came from around the corner of the house. From each hand dangled a bunch of squawking chickens. She did not speak until she had reached the wagon.

“Now, Jim, you ain’t a-goin’ to let them fellers down in Andalushy git you inter no blind tiger, air you?” The question came in a hopeless drawl; hopeless, too, her look into the man’s sallow face.

“I ain’t tetched a drop in more’n three months, has I?” Jim’s answer was in a sullen key.

“No, Jim, you bin doin’ right well lately.” She tossed the chickens into the wagon, thoughtless of the hurt to their tied and twisted legs. “They’re worth two bits apiece. That comes to two dollars, Jim. Don’t you take a nickel less’n that.”

Jim gave a listless pull at the cotton rope that served as reins.

“Git up thar, mule!” he called, and the wagon creaked off on wobbling wheels down the hot, dusty road.

The woman looked scornfully at the man’s humped-over back for a full minute, turned and walked to the house, a hard smile at her mouth.

Sally Gantt gave no heed to her drab surroundings as she crossed the short stretch from road to cabin. All her twenty-two years had been spent in this far end of Alabama, where one dreary, unkempt clearing in the pine-woods is as dismal as the next. Comparisons which might add their fuel to her smouldering discontent were spared her. Yet, unconsciously, this bare, grassless country, with its flat miles of monotonous pine forests, its flatter miles of rank cane-brake, served to distil gall, poisoning all her thoughts.

The double cabin of Jim Gantt, its two rooms separated by a “dog-trot”—an open porch cut through the centre of the structure—was counted a thing of luxury by his scattered neighbours. Gantt had built it four years before, when he took up the land as his homestead, and Sally for his wife. The labour of building this cabin had apparently drained his stock of energy to the dregs. Beyond the necessary toil of planting a small patch of corn, a smaller one of sweet potatoes, and fishing in the sluggish waters of Pigeon Creek, he now did nothing. Sally tended the chickens, their one source of money, and gave intermittent attention to the half-dozen razor-back hogs, which, with the scrubby mule, comprises their toll of live-stock.

As the woman mounted the hewn log that answered as a step to the dog-trot, she stopped to listen. From the kitchen came a faint noise; a sound of crunching. Sally went on silent feet to the door. On the table, littered with unwashed dishes, a cat was gnawing at a fish head—a gaunt beast, its lean flanks covered with wiry fur except where ragged scars left exposed the bare hide. Its strong jaws crushed through the thick skull-bone of the fish as if it were an empty bird’s egg.

Sally sprang to the stove and seized a pine knot.

“Dog-gone your yaller hide!” she screamed. “Git out of hyar!”

The cat wheeled with a start and faced the woman, its evil eyes glittering.

“Git, you yaller devil!” the woman screamed again.

The cat sprang sidewise to the floor. Sally sent the jagged piece of wood spinning through the air. It crashed against the far wall, missing the beast by an inch. The animal arched its huge body and held its ground.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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