- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Ships from: Greer, SC
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
Ships from: Greer, SC
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
Ships from: Chatham, NJ
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
Young Matt McLaren stared out an inn window and watched an old man approach from the south, squinting against the wind. The man tugged his jerkin tighter at the neck and leaned forward, stumbled and regained his footing. He reached the building, sighed, and elbowed the plank door open. Matt turned to the door.
The man looked away from the bright flickering fireplace at one end of the long room and stared instead at the rough-plank bar at the other end where several drinking men with glowing yellow faces watched him. The bartender eyed him as he leaned on the counter.
"Dandridge." The bartender nodded and held the gaze.
"Well, shut the damned door."
"Struthers." The old man stomped to dislodge dirt from his moccasins, and slammed the door tightly against the chill.
"I s'pose you want to sit. We're pretty filled up."
The bartender glanced about the murmuring crowd sitting at the room's four long, split-log tables. His bulging eyes spotted Matt leaning against one cluttered table, a bucket dangling from a limp arm. Struthers slapped his rag against the bar.
"You! Get back to work! We got people what want to sit down."
Matt straightened and sloshed his wash rag into the greasy water. He wrung it out, dark liquid oozing between his fingers, its odor stinging his nostrils. He gagged, turned away, and wiped more table scraps into the bucket. Sweat dropped onto his chin, more prominent now than when he'd arrived two weeks ago, before he'd lost the weight.
Struthers glared at Matt as he poured a shot of whiskey. Beaded sweat glistened on his bald head in the low light thrown from beef-tallow candles, which dripped foul-smelling waste down the chinked log walls.
Matt wiped the table with jerky motions, and the old man sat down. Sounds of clinking tankards and murmuring voices softened. Matt fought off vomiting, balanced his load of dirty trenchers in his thin hands, and glanced at the twisting path to the kitchen. He gathered his strength and sidestepped among the farmers and tradesmen dressed in animal skin caps, deerskin jerkins, moccasins and home-pegged boots, sipping their nightly pints and whiskey. Two wore frayed frock coats left from earlier days in the north, or in Tidewater towns across the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Matt knew more stragglers would arrive before nightfall. The inn was an island of civilization on the lonely rutted Great Road that snaked through the Virginia Valley's rolling, tree-choked terrain. It laid just a stone's throw south of the James River's Cherry Bottom ford, where the forest opened to a wedge of brush and grass next to the river's swift waters.
When Matt's own family moved down from Pennsylvania two summers ago, they had no choice but to sleep upriver under a sailcloth tent. But those who could afford it were glad to pay six pennies for a bed upstairs with reasonably clean sheets, or four pennies if they'd sleep two or more to a bed. The single room was full every night he'd been there. The travelers pulled their cots close to the fireplace and buried their deerskin valises and traveling trunks under them for protection. Some paid another shilling to eat a warm meal with meat downstairs, then wash it down with beer or whiskey. He cleaned up after it all while they slept.
Matt reached the small lean-to kitchen and set the dirty trenchers and utensils beside the wash tub. The black slave woman, as thin as he but a head taller, dried her bony hands on her tattered grey gown and felt his forehead. He welcomed the coldness of her touch. She frowned. "You be sick," she said. "You got no business doin' this kinda work."
He looked into her black face and shrugged.
"I means it." She felt his forehead again. "You just a child, no bigger'n a tadpole. A bitty thing like you, and him working you to death. You ain't fit to be out of bed."
He stretched tall, arms back, trying to loosen his aching muscles. The dizziness came back. He steadied against the wall and blinked to refocus his eyes.
"You needs some air, boy." The woman grabbed a huge wooden pail of scraps and thrust it at him. "Here. Slop them hogs, and stay out there a while. 'Fore you keel right over."
He grasped the bucket's frayed rope handle with both hands and duck-walked out the door and down the dirt path past the stable. Foul garbage sloshed onto his homespun trousers and bare feet with each step. He upended the bucket and watched the slop spill over the bottom fence rail into the pig trough.
Matt leaned against the fence and glanced around. He'd started before dawn, after Struthers shook him out of his feverish sleep, to feed the fire. The sun broke over the Blue Ridge Mountains as he set out breakfast things, melting the frost around the inn and its stable, where he slept. It was high overhead when he chopped the kindling just before the noon meal. Now, it was almost dark.
He glanced north into the cold wind, toward where he'd lived until two weeks before, then turned west. A big red sun was setting over the Allegheny Mountains. He fought back the wind's chill and the memories, concentrated instead on the sun. He could actually see it sinking when he looked at where its round edge touched the treetops. Actually moving down, taking with it the light, then the color from around him. Just now, the tree colors were changing from blue and green and brown to purple, a deep purple that washed over the landscape as if a giant hand brushed it on.
An owl hooted to his left, a bobcat screeched. Matt stood still. What lay on the other side of the mountain besides the Indians? The Virginia province claimed all that land, clear to where an ocean might stop it. But King George forbade his subjects from settling there, on what the Shawnee Indians called the Can-Tuc-Kee land, although he did allow French and Indian war soldiers to claim homesteads there as pay. None had moved yet, as far as Matt knew.
But some men did go there to hunt. People called them the long hunters because they stayed a long time before returning with their hides and stories. His closest neighbor, Paul Tatum, had gone the year before. He'd harvested his crops, then set out with a hatchet, a hunting knife, and a shot-pouch on his belt, and his long black rifle in the crook of his arm. He'd led two pack horses past the McLaren farm and waved to Matt. When he returned earlier this spring, his horses loaded with pelts, he told exciting tales. There were big buffalo herds, he said, and elk and other game, all easy targets on the salt lick trails.
Matt looked south, down the valley. A few had settled down there, in Cherokee country. They didn't have to fight the mountains. They just walked down the valley, forded the rivers, and started a new life in the forbidden wilderness.
Heavy footsteps. Matt turned as somebody grabbed his arm.
"What the hell you doin'?" The man jerked him back to the inn. "You finish them damned tables."
Struthers' broad hand shoved Matt at the inn's door. Matt stumbled, caught his balance and glanced back toward the disappearing sun. The purple was gone now. In its place were black and gray, and jagged edges. He went inside and got his wash bucket from the kitchen and returned to the dirty tables, then realized he'd left his cleaning rag behind.
"Use this one." Struthers, now behind the bar, tossed a soggy rag at him.
Mat missed. It hit a plate and knocked pork scraps onto the table's uneven surface.
Struthers shook his head.
"You ain't worth a bucket of warm spit."
A bar customer laughed and Struthers grinned. The laughing young man wore a leather jacket and a tomahawk hung at his side. A white scar angled across his whiskered cheek.
"He ain't worth nothin' now, but I'll learn him," Struthers said. "Though prob'ly I should'a left him out there with the Indians, that's what I should'a done."
Matt's stomach churned. He wiped another section of table top, next to where the farmer called Dandridge was sitting. The old man frowned at him.
"You don't look too good," he said. "You all right?"
Matt nodded. His eyes blurred when he glanced back at Struthers. Horrible pictures flashed in his mind's eye. Images of the burned-out cabin, of what happened at the Indian camp. Struthers told the story at least once a night.
The innkeeper leaned back, his fat belly pushed against the bar. His stubby fingers grasped its edge as if for support to launch the story once again. He licked his uneven teeth and grinned at the man who'd laughed. He gurgled fresh whiskey into his glass.
"On the house, sir." He leaned back, beaming. "Like your looks. Want to hear a hell of a story?"
The young man nodded and sipped his whiskey. He set the glass aside and hunkered down on the bar, peering at Struthers over crossed forearms.
"Well, it's hard to believe." Struthers sighed and pulled another towel from under the bar. He slowly wiped the surface, worried a small spot into submission. "You'd think this here valley was gettin' civilized. Hell, we been living here a while, at least up in the north part. But it ain't civilized at all, no siree."
He bent forward and squinted hard at Matt. The crowd quieted. Struthers' gaze drifted from Matt to his bar customers. He let the silence build, as if he enjoyed the attention. Finally he spoke.
"Well, I was standin' right here, and that there boy come runnin' in," he said. "He must be ... what, fourteen, fifteen years old? But he was cryin' like a baby. Said the Indians killed his daddy and run off with his mama and sister. Next morning some militia took him back up there and found the Indian camp up on the Jackson River, 'fore it and the Cow Pasture form the James."
His voice rose during the story's telling, and the crowd quieted more. Matt gathered three trenchers and carried them down the table, dodging among staring patrons. His ears burned, his face was hot. Struthers now stood erect, palms planted solidly on the bare bar before him, boring his gaze into Matt's soul.
"Them Indians was already gone," Struthers said. "But they found the boy's mama. She was layin' there deader'n hell, stripped naked."
Matt felt every eye in the room on him. That farmer watched, too. But he looked different now, like he had a question. The old man glanced at his rough, weathered hands, sighed, and set his whiskey down. He turned to Struthers.
"You have to talk about it in front of the boy?" He shot a critical glance at Matt.
The innkeeper eyed the farmer, his eyebrows raised. He flicked his rag at something on the bar.
"Hell, Dandridge, it's a good story. And this here young man ain't heard it yet."
He wiped the now-polished bar surface, shrugged and turned back to the stranger. "His ma's head was skinned completely bald. I hear they peeled her scalp off just like a rabbit hide. The militia laid her 'tween two rocks and piled more on top to keep the animals out, they did, then chased after them damned Indians. And you know what? It looked like they might've been Cherokee, from the south, not Shawnees like you'd think. Could'a been up here on a raidin' party, I s'pose. Then again, mebbe it was Shawnees."
Struthers slowly poured more whiskey into the stranger's glass. He frowned, then looked up and beamed. "Why, by God! Maybe they was Shawnees. 'Member when that stranger shot that Shawnee kid a month back? Not five miles from here. The one that got too close to his camp? Why, that was a Shawnee, he showed me the scalp! I 'spect they killed this boy's mama and daddy to get even."
The room was silent. Tears rolled down Matt's cheeks. His own mother, naked and scalped, had laid there for all to see. He turned toward the wall to hide his shame. And his tears.
"I said that'll be enough!"
It was Dandridge. He stood, staggered slightly and pushed his bench back, making scraping sounds on the puncheon floor. He was tall, even lanky, yet looked muscular across the chest. His long white-speckled brown hair shook as he slammed his empty tankard down onto the table and turned to Struthers. The two men stared at each other for several seconds. Dandridge's body sagged.
"I think that'll be enough," he said, softer this time. He motioned to Matt. "Don't you see the boy don't feel good? Why torment him?"
Struthers stared at Dandridge. He threw his rag down and stomped around the bar, stopped in front of Dandridge with a tight-lipped glare. What had earlier seemed like fat now looked like solid muscle, tensed and ready to explode. His right hand hid something behind him, and Matt knew it was the pistol the man had played with two nights before while telling a customer how he'd shot someone trying to rob him last winter.
"This here's my bar," he said. "I can say what I want."
"But you don't have to be mean to the boy," Dandridge said. "Common courtesy, that's all I ask."
The old man's hand inched down to his mug and he wrapped gnarled fingers around its handle. He seemed unsteady. Matt realized he'd started drinking long before he came into the tavern.
"What rights you got to this boy, anyhow?" Dandridge said. "He ain't yours."
"You're drunk again. Every time I see you you're drunk."
"Who the hell is he? He ain't your boy."
"I aim to get him bound out to me, if it's any of your business," Struthers said. "My indentured boy run away."
Dandridge waved Matt over and Matt felt a chill. He paused and set his load down. Two trenchers crashed to the floor, slopping food on a man's boots. He walked slowly to Dandridge and stood there, staring at his own bare feet.
"How about it, boy. You want to stay with Struthers?"
Dandridge's whiskey breath hit Matt's face in a long sigh. Matt glanced at the stiffened innkeeper, back to the floor.
"Well?" Dandridge stumbled sideways, caught himself.
"What's that? I couldn't hear ..."
"I said I guess. I don't have no place else to go."
Struthers relaxed. "There, you see? Now, you go on back to your drinkin'. Just sit there and get sloshed, like you usually do. And you, boy, clean that mess up off the floor!"
Matt started to turn. Dandridge touched his shoulder and Matt paused to peer into the old man's face. He appeared to be about Granddad McLaren's age when he died three years ago up in Pennsylvania. Wrinkles moved at the corners of his puffy red eyes. He cupped his rough fingers under Matt's chin.
"Son, you look terrible. How long you been like this?"
Matt tried not to move. Dandridge shook his head, then dropped his hand and turned to Struthers.
"This boy's sick," he said. "I'm taking him with me."
Struther's mouth dropped open. "You're ... you're what?"
"The boy's coming with me. He ain't goin' to be your draft horse."
Struthers stepped back. His face looked like somebody had rubbed flour on it. He fingered the pistol and waved it at Dandridge.
"You ain't goin' to talk to me like that," he said. "A little work won't hurt him none. Besides, I seen him first."
The inn was quiet. Matt stared at the floor and wished he could disappear. When he looked up Dandridge's soft face worked slowly, then stopped.
"What's your name, son?"
"Well, Matthew - Matt - it's up to you."
Matt glanced at Struthers. He looked mad enough to pop a blood vessel. Then he looked at Dandridge. He knew what he wanted to do.
"I'll go with you," he said, quietly.
"Fine. Then let's get out of here."
The innkeeper stepped forward. "Now, just hold on. I don't want to have to use this gun! 'Sides, how's a drunk like you goin' to take care of that boy?"
Dandridge peered at the other man with sad eyes. "Look. I'm too old to worry about gettin' shot. You do what you have to do. I suspect, though, that not everybody here'd want you to shoot us."
Struthers' face got blood red. He leaned toward Dandridge until their noses almost touched. "You're a dead man," he breathed, too softly for anybody but Dandridge and Matt to hear. "I'm goin' to kill you for this."
Dandridge's hand guided Matt to the door. He stumbled, and Matt felt his weight as they stepped outside. The cold wind hit him, and he shivered as he tried to fight his chilling sickness. He walked rigidly, braced for a bullet. He heard a click, then a pop behind him. The stars swirled, and he hit the ground.
Excerpted from The Long Hunter by Don McNair Copyright © 2006 by Don McNair. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 22, 2007
The Long Hunter is a timeless classic, one to be passed down through the generations. The author bonds with his reader like a brother come from another place and time to sit a spell and share his story. If the story of Matt Mclaren doesn't move you, you're not human.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
In 1770 Matt McLaren watched in horror as Indians attacked his family¿s Virginia farm killing his parents and kidnapping his sister Mandy. He vows to somehow rescue his sibling as he blames himself for her abduction, but first must recover his health He staggers into a bar where owner Struthers ¿bounds¿ him in exchange for food and shelter. When elderly frontiersman Noah Dandridge sees the sickly child, he removes him from the cruel master. With help of Reverend Ashbrooke, Matt is bound to the caring Noah, which angers Struthers. The innkeeper kills Noah, but Matt kills him. When he flees the crime scene, the law enforcement officials assume he is a murderer. Using the skills he learned from Noah, Matt becomes a hunter still seeking his sibling in Indian Territory though years have passed. --- THE LONG HUNTER is a fabulous insightful historical thriller that showcases some of abuses of colonial society. The story line focuses on the adventures of Matt as he tries to survive under laws that offer no protection towards the young similar to Charles Dickens¿s complaints about Victorian living conditions for the poor and disenfranchised. The support cast though somewhat stereotyped augment the enlightening look back in time. The final twist seems so plausible that it enhances the entire novel adding to the realism of a well written late eighteenth century American tale. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.