Here I shall quote you again from the diary of Uncle Eb. ’It was so dark I couldn’t see a han’ before me. “Don’t p’int yer gun at me,” the man whispered. Thought ’twas funny he could see me when I couldn’t see him. Said ‘twas his home an’ we’d better leave. Tol him I was sick (rumatiz) an’ couldn’t stir. Said he was sorry an’ come over near us. Tol’ him I was an’ ol’ man goin’ west with a small boy. Stopped in the rain. Got sick. Out o’ purvisions. ’Bout ready t’ die. Did’n know what t’ do. Started t’ stike a match an’ the man said don’t make no light cos I don’t want to hev ye see my face. Never let nobody see my face. Said he never went out ’less ’twas a dark night until folks was abed. Said we looked like good folks. Scairt me a little cos we couldn’t see a thing. Also he said don’t be ‘fraid of me. Do what I can fer ye.’
I remember the man crossed the creaking floor and sat down near us after he had parleyed with Uncle Eb awhile in whispers. Young as I was I keep a vivid impression of that night and, aided by the diary of Uncle Eb, I have made a record of what was said that is, in the main, accurate.
‘Do you know where you are?’ he enquired presently, whispering as he had done before.
‘I’ve no idee,’ said Uncle Eb.
‘Well, down the hill is Paradise Valley in the township o’ Faraway,’ he continued. ‘It’s the end o’ Paradise Road an’ a purty country. Been settled a long time an’ the farms are big an’ prosperous — kind uv a land o’ plenty. That big house at the foot o’ the hill is Dave Brower’s. He’s the richest man in the valley.’
‘How do you happen t’ be livin’ here? — if ye don’t min’ tellin’ me,’ Uncle Eb asked.
‘Crazy,’ said he; ‘’fraid uv everybody an’ everybody’s ‘fraid o’ me. Lived a good long time in this way. Winters I go into the big woods. Got a camp in a big cave an’ when I’m there I see a little daylight. Here ‘n the clearin’ I’m only up in the night-time. Thet’s how I’ve come to see so well in the dark. It’s give me cat’s eyes.’
‘Don’t ye git lonesome?’ Uncle Eb asked.
‘Awful — sometimes,’ he answered with a sad sigh, ‘an’ it seems good t’ talk with somebody besides myself. I get enough to eat generally. There are deer in the woods an’ cows in the fields, ye know, an’ potatoes an’ corn an’ berries an’ apples, an’ all thet kind o’ thing. Then I’ve got my traps in the woods where I ketch partridges, an’ squirrels an’ coons an’ all the meat I need. I’ve got a place in the thick timber t’ do my cookin’ — all I want t’ do — in the middle of the night Sometimes I come here an’ spend a day in the garret if I’m caught in a storm or if I happen to stay a little too late in the valley. Once in a great while I meet a man somewhere in the open but he always gits away quick as he can. Guess they think I’m a ghost — dunno what I think o’ them.’
Our host went on talking as if he were glad to tell the secrets of his heart to some creature of his own kind. I have often wondered at his frankness; but there was a fatherly tenderness, I remember in the voice of Uncle Eb, and I judge it tempted his confidence. Probably the love of companionship can never be so dead in a man but that the voice of kindness may call it back to life again.