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Of all the men in that romantic and picturesque country, I must yield the palm, in many respects, to Johnson Snow.
He was one of the oldest settlers of Stewart's Creek, near its head, and within a few miles of the "Flour Gap" of the Blue Ridge. "Johnson," for so he was always familiarly called, had not the advantages of even a Dilworth's Spelling-Book education. He had learned the common vernacular of the country, with a few additional eccentricities of his own, but he "axed nobody no boot, and could weed his own row, and keep it clean too---that's sartin."
Look at him, and you will believe every word of it, and more too.
He is about five feet six inches high, well set, muscularly and powerfully made; but he is good-humored, wears a generous face, and has a warm heart. Well for the "Stewart's Creek Suckers" that he was a good-natured man. He is also fond of good eating, and shows his keeping.
There was a long line of kings in Egypt that went by the common name of "Ptolemy," and to distinguish one Ptolemy from another the people and historians appended an adjunct expressive of the character or habits of each monarch. One of them was called "Ptolemy Physcon," or "Tunbelly." And to distinguish Johnson Snow from the numerous Snows that lived in that region, and to give the reader some idea of the effects of a good appetite, he might with great propriety be called Tunbelly Johnson Snow.
Two things he was particularly fond of, and upon which he flourished whenever he could get them---turnip greens and "hog's gullicks," the "Adam's apple" of a hog's haslet, or the "google," as it is commonly called. Johnson had departed from all technicalities, and called it "gullick."
Hog-kiling time was a glorious time with Johnson---equal to herring time with seaboard North Carolinians. At meals he would say to his wife Patsey, after "sweepin' the platter" of the gullicks and turnip greens already on his rude, crossed-legged table,
"Hello, Patsey! God love your soul! is there any more gullicks and greens in the pot? If there is, God love your soul, Patsey! git 'um fur me."
I will add that he would help all his neighbors kill hogs for the "gullicks."
There was an arch, provoking smile ever playing upon his full face, which would attract attention in any crowd, and mark him out as a "rare bird" in any community. He had, moreover, a fund of sharp, provoking wit, running into satire when necessary, which Johnson maintained "were worth more than all yer college lingo, a plaguy sight." His waggish wit was a terror to the whole country. Woe to the man who happened to fall into some ludicrous mishap! He never heard the last of it from Johnson. He had "a rig" on nearly every man. Invulnerable himself, in one scrape only was he "cotched"--at Bellow's meeting---as you shall soon learn. Johnson Snow was a necessary appendage at every public gathering. "Licker" was at them all, and he loved it as a thirsty ox does pond-water. The fact is, it sharpened his wit, and he would indulge freely for that additional reason.
He had a peculiar way of prefacing his weightiest sentences with a short word, uttered twice in a guttural manner, clearing up his throat, or his "gullick," as he would term it, just before uttering them. Henry VIII. and Johnson Snow used the same short, expressive, and significant word, though their pronunciation, action, and manner were quite different. When King Henry used his ha! men might walk a chalkline; when Johnson uttered his, some one might look out.
For instance, when he was where "candidites" for the "Legislater" were treating for votes, he would say,
"Ha! ha! boys, let's take some uv the knock-'em-stiff, fur I can't half talk to these gentlemen candidites till I'm 'bout half slewed."
Soon Johnson would have first one then another of the "candidites" aside, "borin' them fur the holler horn" to their hearts' content.
He now lets fly his provoking gibes in every direction, striking one, then another, producing all the time peals of laughter from all except himself. In this he resembled Dean Swift. The man that laughs heartiest Johnson turns upon him and he is "seisorified." A physician dares to laugh, and he "cotches it" thus:
"Ha! ha! hello, Doctor Oglesby, how do you come on killin' folks? You'd better be laughin' t'other side o' yer mouth, and down on yer knees a-prayin'. Ef I'd a kilt as many folks as you, wid yer callomy and jollermy, I'd now, instid o' laughin', be on the yeth, in sackcloth and ashes. Ha! ha! look a here, Doctor Oglesby, where do you bury yer dade? It's a bully grave-yard by this time, I s'pose. When you a-gwine to add any more yeth to it?"
But the above is a much space as I can give my tunbellied, merry, and illustrious Stewart's Creek hero by way of introduction, and will now bring him on the stage in a few acts and scenes.
The first act and the first scene was at
THE NIGHT MEETING.
Johnson Snow had the bump of curiosity fully developed.
"I want to know suthin uv every thing that's a-gwine on. I'll be smashed inter piecrust---yes, inter a million o' giblets, afore I'll be as ignunt as some jewkers! Ha! ha! I've hearn uv this feller Beller's shoutin' night meetin's, and I'm a-gwine to one on 'um."
With such aspiring feelings as the above, our Stewart's Creek hero "moseyed' off, "three sheets in the breeze," to one of Parson Bellow's night meetings.
In raw-hide "stitched-down shoes," he stood six feet four inches. He was raw-boned, long-faced, pug-nosed, and wide-mouthed. In size, small men were no more to him than Liliputians were to Captain Gulliver. A mountain "boomer," dressed in a linsey hunting-shirt down to his knees, with a leather band round his waist, a tow and cotton shirt, dressed buckskin pants, with a few other things of minor importance, made up the uniform, the surplice and gown, of the Rev. Mr. Bellow.
We will now "mosey off" with Johnson to the "night meetin'," and see what happens, for there is always music where our jolly hero goes.
Out "leather-britches parson" had a revival going on, and there was quite "a stir" among the people, for he made his mark as well as Johnson. Johnson staggers in, and with a good deal of difficulty takes his seat.
Bellow commences "the sarvices," and, notwithstanding his powerful voice, quite in harmony with his name---despite of an occasional stamp with his big snake-killing foot, enough to break through any other than a puncheon floor: with now and then a heavy blow upon the Bible with his herculean fist, and often a keen, deafening pop with his hands together, by way of variety---Johnson goes fast to sleep, and snores grandiloquently.
Johnson seems to be opposing the parson's eloquence---Bellow with his mouth, hands, and feet, Johnson only with his nose. The combat is not equal, but Johnson is "one on 'um." Usually snorers have but little variety in their music, and it is grating and shocking to the nerves; but not so with our hero, for he has a great and pleasing variety. He is as freakish, amusing, and as interesting in snoring as in any other relation of life. There is nothing dull and monotonous about the man. It puts one in a good humor to look at him.
The rivalry lasted for some time, and victory appeared to be doubtful; but at last the parson triumphed. At the close of his discourse---and a masterly effort it was---there was a general shout all through the congregation. Men and women mingled together, shouting and clapping their hands. Johnson's nose eloquence was "nowhar."
At last some of them---it hapened to be women mostly---"crowded" Johnson, and woke him up, and the first idea that entered his "noggin'" was that he was in a general "still-house" fight. He was so "slewed" when he went in that he had forgotten all his antecedents, and woke up, as he thought, in a "gin'ral row." He was no coward, and he determined to "wade through 'um."
He rolled up his sleeves, clenched his fists, "gritted" his teeth, and commenced:
"Ha! ha! what the devil you about here? What you smackin' yer fists in my face fur? Ha! ha! ef you ar' 'umun, you'd better skin yer eyes and look sharp. I don't 'low man nur 'umun to pop thar fists in my face. No, by juckers! Hello! git out'n the track here! Rip shins and marrer bones! Wake snakes, the winter's broke! Ha! ha! here's at you! I can lick the whole possercommertatus of yer afore you can say Toney Lumpkins three times, by Zucks! Come on, yer cowards!"
By this time the people were quieted in the shouting line, and began to leave the house---some to laugh, but most of them through fear---and every body was silent in the house but Johnson. The cowardly retreat made him more furious than ever. He shouted after them,
"Ha! ha! come back here ef you dare, and face a brave man! Look him plump in the face and eyes a minnit, you cowardly villuns! Your're a purty set uv ill-begotten, turkey-trottin' pukes, to raise a quarrel with a peaceubble man, and then run like a gang uv geese. Gone! gone, are you? Ha! ha! I've clared the tan-yard! I've clared the tan-yard! Hoo-pee!"
Just here Johnson discovered that the parson was the only man that maintained his position. He marched up to him, without the least respect for his reverence, and said, "Ha! ha! Beller, you're the ringleader uv all this devilment. You're the biggest rascal in this crowd. I can lick you, sir, any day, any minnit."
Rubbing first one fist, then the other, in the parson's face, he continued:
"Smell uv yer master! Smell uv yer mistiss! Smell uv yer master! Smell uv yer mistiss! Ha! ha! no fight in you? Your're a purty feller, to raise a row with a peaceubble man, and then won't fight it out! Mosey! Trollop! Git out'n here, you dinged old sloomy Yahoo!"
The parson, to get rid of his furious antagonist, left the house, and Johnson was left alone in his glory, having "clared the tan-yard."
HE JOINS THE CHURCH.
Not long after the foregoing act and scene, Johnson had a spell of sickness that reduced his abdominal dimensions considerably, and, in his own expressive language, "I got so I couldn't eat nuther turnup greens nur hog's gullicks, and like to a pegged out, and left Patsey a poor reflicted widder upon this sinful, villanus world---these mundanious shores uv mortality."
He reflected not a little on his past life, more especially about that "night-meetin' scrape." So, in a mellow state of feeling, and with quite a penitent heart, he joined Parson Bellow's church. There was great rejoicing by the class at this "triumph of grace"---at this "wonderful convarsion." The great Goliath, who had defied Israel---that Manasseh---that Saul of Tarsus---was now a humble penitent and a devout "seeker."
Johnson, being an ardent and enthusiastic man any way, made pretty rapid progress in his religious duties and life, and so encouraged the class that they had serious thoughts of procuring a license for him to preach; "fur," said Parson Bellow, "he sartinly has a good gift in prayer, and thar mout be a work fur him to do. He mout be the instrument to slay these Stewart's Creek sinners."
One day, in class-meeting, Johnson "got happy," and groaned, cried, shouted, and "tuck on no little." Johnson would make a "racket" any where; it was his "natur, and he didn't b'lieve in squashin' natur." Bellow was gratified, went to him, and inquired,
"How do you feel, Brother Snow?"
"Ha! ha! good---mighty good, Brother Beller, and make no mistake! It beats creation all holler! Nothin' like it---not even hog's gullicks. Knock-'em-stiff's nowhar compared unto it. Brethering and sistering, one an' all, I'll give you my 'pinion, though not axed fur it: a heap uv groanin', gobs uv shoutin' and cryin', goes a ways toads settin' off a meetin'. It's half the battle, sartin. The old inimy has to tuck his tail and leave when he hears it."
Johnson's "first love" did not continue sufficiently long for him to obtain a license to preach; hence he never "held forth," as was confidently expected. He imprudently went out to some public gathering, where "candidites," his old associates, were treating, got a scent of his old "inimy" knock-'em-stiff, tasted a little, and, some said, "got tight."
Be the charge true or false, he declined rapidly in his religious duties, and it was very afflictive to his preacher and class. Bellow and the class did all they could to keep him in duty's path, but all their efforts signally failed. They never gave him up till they heard, with much pain, his answers one day to Parson Bellow in class-meeting. (Note: The author has no intention, in this sketch, to slur that most excellent denomination of Christians among whom his mother lived and died a pious member.)
All the other members of the class had been examined in the usual way, and had reported favorably in regard to their religious prospects to the parson, and Johnson was the last one that was examined. He had listened attentively to every one in their turn, with looks of doubt and indignation, as they gave an account of the "good work" in their hearts, believing all the time, judging from his looks, that they were "putting too much paint in the brush." At last the parson approached him, when the following questions were asked and answers were given:
"How do you come on, Brother Snow?" asked the parson.
"I come on my feet," growled Johnson.
"But how do you feel, Brother Snow?"
"Ha! ha! nation hungry! I want some hog's gullicks and turnup greens right smack now. Ef you've got any on 'um, I'm fur 'um right off. It wounldn't hurt my feelin's ef you'd draw a bottle o' knock-'em-stiff on me nuther."
"But how do you feel in religious matters, Brother Snow? that's the question," persisted Bellow.
"Ha! ha! deng shacklin, I tell you! I hain't a thimbleful o' religion, ef it was to save yer neck from the gallows. I can't tell at grate tales as the rest on ye here, nur I ain't a-gwine to do it nuther. My chance is mighty slim; but I wouldn't swap it fur some uv yourn and a mess o' turnup greens to boot. Ax me no more questions, else I'll settle the hash with you all quick. That t'other time when I clared the tan-yard won't be a primin' to it."
They took the hint, opened the door, and let him out, and thus ended Johnson's religious freak.
THE INTERVIEW AND TRIUMPH.
Johnson Snow possessed, in addition to his waggish wit, a good deal of "hard common sense like a hoss." He was rich in resources and expedients, and seldom failed of a triumph in times of emergency. In all the "tight fits" and "tarnatious snarls" he got into, he would outfight, outquarrel, or outwit; out he would come with "flyin' colors."
He triumphed over one of the sternest men in the community, as the following incident will show.
There lived in the neighborhood a rigid Baptist and great "Scriptorian," one of the few men in that social region that would not take some of the "good critter," but hated it most cordially. His aversion went so far that he would not let a drunken man tarry with him for the night. He was highly respected by all who knew him, even by the worst drunkards, and bore two titles which were quite honorable then and there. (This was before Americans began to manufacture and apply titles indiscriminately.) He was always addressed very respectfully as "'Squire Charles Taliaferro" and "Cap'en Taliaferro."
Johnson knew him well, and was fully aware of his hatred to his friend "Cap'en Knock-'em-stiff;" but what of that? Ha! ha! I'm ready for the old 'coon, cocked and primed, and triggers sprung. I'll show him he don't know uvry thing about Scripter afore I'm done with him. This boy has dipped into Scripter as well as still-houses, sure as gun's iron."
These sentences were uttered by Johnson at a "still-house," not long after he had quit Parson Bellow's church. He had just made a bet with some "jewkers" of a gallon of apple brandy that he could stay all night with "old Taliaferro, and could beat him all holler, too, talkin' on Scripter."
Chuckling as above, he leaves a "still-house" one cold evening, "high up in the picters," and arrived at Taliaferro's gate just at sunset, altered his voice, and hallooed. Taliaferro opened the door, and our hero commenced.
"Hellow, old Scripter; I'm come to stay all night with you. I want to talk all night with you on Scripter. I've learn you was a reg'lar built screamer in that way, and I want to try my hand with you, sartin. 'Squire, I'll talk all round you. I'll ring-fire you with Scripter. Ha! ha! see here, cap'en, ef you lick me out, you can beat the old Scripter-maker, sartin. I give you far warnin'. No shirkin', now, sartin."
"You can not stay, Johnson," replied Taliaferro. "Come when you are sober, and you can stay a week, if you wish; but a drunken man shall not stay all night in my house."
"Don't be too fast, old 'coon,," said Johnson; "I'll show you a trick ur two afore I'm done, sartin. You Humph! you Humph!" (calling a negro man named Humphrey); "come here, you bandy-shanked rascal, and take my hoss. Put him up, and in the mornin', ef he ain't up to his eyes in corn and fodder, I'll larrup you well. Ha! ha! you b'longed to me once, you cathamed puke, but I gulluped you down my gullick in whisky, and sold you to this rich man, Taliaferro, who's got too big fur his britches, and won't let me stay all night with him. But I'll show him I'm a huckleberry over his 'simmon, sartin."
Orders were obeyed; the horse was taken, and out Stewart's Creek hero walked to the door and halted. He placed one foot on the door-steps, his elbow upon his knee, his chin in his hand, with a face as long as the president of a club of Pharisees, and commenced his telling speech on "Scripter."
"Ha! ha! Taliaferro, I read uv you in Scripter. You think I know nuthin' about Scripter, but I'll show you afore I'm done. I know and read of you in that holy book. You're that rich man in the parrabul, which you may find by sarching the 16th chapter of Luke, that fared sumptoriously uvry day, and I'm poor ezzerus. That rich man wouldn't let poor reflicted Lezzerus come into his house, nur will you let me come into yourn nuther. Don't you see the 'nalogy? But that rich man died, and how was it with him, Taliaferro? Be alarmed, sir! Poor reflicted Lezzerus died, too, and how was it with him? Look into Abram's bosom; see him restin' thar, safe as a bar in a hollow tree in the dead o' inter. Ah! you'll see how it will go with you and me in 'that day,' as Parson Beller calls it. When I'm shinin' away in Abram's bosom, like a piece uv new money, where will you be, Taliaferro? Don't Paul, in Hebrews, tell you to be 'careful to entertain strangers---thereby some have entertained angels? What good does all yer Scripter readin' do you, ef you don't 'ply it better? You'd better be studyin' Gale's Almynac, for the good it does you. Ha! ha! you won't let me come into yer house, and even eat the crumbs what falls from your table, now groanin' and screechin' under rich dainties---maybe some hog's gullicks on it too. I'll go out here" (leaving the door, and affecting to weep), "and lie down in yer fence corner, and let yer dogs come and lick my sores. You'll wee how it will go with us in that day, sartin."
"Come back, Johnson," said Taliaferro, "and stay all night. I acknowledge myself beaten for once in 'Scripter.' You certainly got your lesson well while you were in Bellow's church."