It was a pleasant journey—the waysides glowing with the blue of violets, the green of tender grass, the thick-sown, starry gold of dandelions. Wild fowl crossed the sky in wedge and battalion, their videttes out, their lines now firm, now wheeling in a long curve to take the path of the wind. Every thicket was a fount of song that fell to silence when darkness came and the low chant of the marshes.
When they came into settled country below the big woods they began selling. At length the drove was reduced to one section; Trove following with the helper named Thurston Tilly, familiarly known as “Thurst.”
He was a tall, heavy, good-natured man, distinguished for fat, happiness, and singular aptitudes. He had lifted a barrel of salt by the chimes and put it on a wagon; once he had eaten two mince pies at a meal; again he had put his heel six inches above his head on a barn door, and, any time, he could wiggle one ear or both or whistle on his thumb. At every lodging place he had left a feeling of dread and relief as well as a perennial topic of conversation. At every inn he added something to his stock of fat and happiness. Then, often, he seemed to be overloaded with the latter and would sit and shake his head and roar with laughter, now and then giving out a wild yell. He had a story of which no one had ever heard the finish. He began it often, but, somehow, never got to the end. He always clung to the lapel of his hearer’s coat as if in fear of losing him, and never tried his tale but once on the same pair of ears. Having got his inspiration he went in quest of his hearer, and having hitched him, as it were, by laying hold of his elbow or coat collar, began the tale. It was like pouring molasses on a level place—it moved slowly and spread and got nowhere in particular. At first his manner was slow, dignified, and confidential, changing to fit his emotion. He whispered, he shouted, he laughed, he looked sorrowful, he nudged the stranger in his abdomen, he glared upon him, eye close to eye, he shook him by the shoulder, and slowly wore him out. Some endured long and were patient, but soon or late all began to back and dodge, and finally broke away, and seeing the hand of the narrator reach for them, dodged quickly and, being pursued, ran. Often this odd chase took them around trees and stumps and buildings, the stranger escaping, frequently, through some friendly door which he could lock or hold fast. Then Thurst, knocking loudly, gave out a wild yell or two, peered in at the nearest window, and came at last to his chair, sorrowful and much out of breath, his tale unfinished. There was in the man a saving element of good nature, and no one ever got angry with him. At each new attempt be showed a grimmer determination to finish, but even there, in a land of strong and patient men, not one, they used to say, had ever the endurance to hear the end of that unfinished tale.
It was not easy to dispose of cattle in the southern counties that year, but they found a better market as they bore west, and were across the border of Ohio when the last of the drove were sold. That done, Trove and Thurst Tilly took the main road to Cleveland, whence they were to return home by steamboat.