The Little Postmistress

When Rev. James Martin visited the celebrated Penn’s Cave, in the Spring
of 1795, it was related that he found a small group of Indians encamped
there. That evening, around the campfire, one of the redskins related a
legend of one of the curiosities of the watery cave, the flambuoyant
“Indian Riding Pony” mural-piece which decorates one of the walls.

Spirited as a Remington, it bursts upon the view, creates a lasting
impression, then vanishes as the power skiff, the “Nita-nee,” draws
nearer.

According to the old Indians, there lived not far from where the
Karoondinha emerges from the cavern a body of aborigines of the
Susquehannock tribe who made this delightful lowland their permanent
abode. While most of their cabins were huddled near together on the
upper reaches of the stream, there were straggling huts clear to the
Beaver Dams. The finding of arrow points, beads and pottery along the
creek amply attests to this.

Among the clan was a maiden named Quetajaku, not good to look upon, but
in no way ugly or deformed. In her youth she was light-hearted and
sociable, with a gentle disposition. Yet for some reason she was not
favored by the young bucks. All her contemporaries found lovers and
husbands, but poor Quetajaku was left severely alone. She knew that she
was not beautiful, though she was of good size; she was equally certain
that she was not a physical monster. She could not understand why she
could find no lover, why she was singled out to be a “chauchschisis,” or
old maid. It hurt her pride as a young girl, it broke her heart
completely when she was older.

Gradually she withdrew from the society of her tribal friends, building
herself a lodge-house on the hill, in what is now the cave orchard.
There she led a very introspective life, grieving over the love that
might have been. To console herself she imagined that some day a
handsome warrior would appear, seek her out, load her with gifts,
overwhelm her with love and carry her away to some distant region in
triumph. He would be handsomer and braver than any youth in the whole
country of the Karoondinha. She would be the most envied of women when
he came.

This poor little fancy saved her from going stark mad; it remedied the
horror of her lonely lot. Every time the night wind stirred the rude
hempen curtain which hung before the door of her cabin, she would
picture it was the chivalrous stranger knight come to claim her. When it
was cold she drew the folds of her buffalo robe tighter about her as if
it was his arms.

As time went on she grew happy in her secret lover, whom no other
woman’s flame could equal, whom no one could steal away. She was ever
imagining him saying to her that her looks exactly suited him, that she
was his ideal.

But like the seeker after Eldorado, years passed, and Quetajaku did not
come nearer to her spirit lover. But her soul kept up the conceit; every
night when she curled herself up to sleep he was the vastness of the
night.

On one occasion an Indian artist named Naganit, an undersized old
wanderer appeared at the lonely woman’s home. For a living he decorated
pottery, shells and bones, sometimes even painted war pictures on rocks.
Quetajaku was so kind to him that he built himself a lean-to on the
slope of the hill, intending to spend the winter.

On the long winter evenings the old woman confided to the wanderer the
story of her unhappy life, of her inward consolation. She said that she
had longed to meet an artist who could carry out a certain part of her
dream which had a right to come true.

When she died she had arranged to be buried in a fissure of rocks which
ran horizontally into one of the walls of the “watery” cave. On the
opposite wall she would like painted in the most brilliant colors a
portrait of a handsome young warrior, with arms outstretched, coming
towards her.

Naganit said that he understood what she meant exactly, but suggested
that the youth be mounted on a pony, a beast which was coming into use
as a mount for warriors, of which he had lately seen a number in his
travels on the Virginia coast, near Chincoteague.

This idea was pleasing to Quetajaku, who authorized the stranger to
begin work at once. She had saved up a little property of various kinds;
she promised to bestow all of this on Naganit, except what would be
necessary to bury her, if the picture proved satisfactory.

The artist rigged up a dog-raft with a scaffold on it, and this he poled
into the place where the fissure was located, the woman accompanying him
the first time, so there would be no mistake. All winter long by
torchlight, he labored away. He used only one color, an intensive
brick-red made from mixing sumac berries, the pollen of the Turk’s Cap
Lily, a small root and the bark of a tree, as being more permanent than
that made from ochers and other ores of stained earth.

Marvelous and vital was the result of this early impressionist; the
painting had all the action of life. The superb youth in war dress, with
arms outstretched, on the agile war pony, rushing towards the
foreground, almost in the act of leaping from the rocky panel into life,
across the waters of the cave to the arms of his beloved.

It would make old Quetajaku happy to see it, she who had never known
love or beauty. The youth in the mural typified what Naganit would have
been himself were he the chosen, and what the “bachelor maid” would have
possessed had nature favored her. It was the ideal for two disappointed
souls.

Breathlessly the old artist ferried Quetajaku to the scene of his
endeavors. When they reached the proper spot he held aloft his quavering
torch. Quetajaku, in order to see more clearly, held her two hands above
her eyes. She gave a little cry of exclamation, then turned and looked
at Naganit intently. Then she dropped her eyes, beginning to cry to
herself, a rare thing for an Indian to do!

The artist looked at her fine face, down which the tears were streaming,
and asked her the cause of her grief–was the picture _such_ a terrible
disappointment?

The woman drew herself together, replying that it was grander than she
had anticipated, but the face of Naganit’s, and, strangely enough, the
face she had dreamed of all her life.

“But I am not the heroic youth you pictured”, said the artist, sadly. “I
am sixty years old, stoop-shouldered, and one leg is shorter than the
other.” “ Naganit looked at the Indian woman. She was not hideous; there
was even a dignity to her large, plain features, her great, gaunt form.

“I have never received such praise as yours. I always vowed I would love
the woman who really understood me and my art. I am yours. Let us think
no more of funeral decorations, but go to the east, to the land of war
ponies, and ride to endless joy together.”

Quetajaku, overcome by the majesty of his words, leaned against his
massive shoulder. In that way he poled his dog-raft against the current
to the entrance of the cave. There was a glory in the reflection from
the setting sun over against the east; night would not close in for an
hour or two. And towards the darkening east that night two happy
travelers could be seen wending their way.

It was long past dark when Mifflin Sargeant, of the Snow Shoe Land
Company, came within sight of the welcoming lights of Stover’s. For
fourteen miles, through the foothills on the Narrows, he had not seen a
sign of human habitation, except one deserted hunter’s cabin at Yankee
Gap. There was an air of cheerfulness and life about the building he had
arrived at. Several doors opened simultaneously at the signal of his
approach, given by a faithful watchdog, throwing the rich glow of the
fat-lamps and tallow candles across the road.

The structure, which was very long and two stories high, housed under
its accommodating roofs a tavern, a boarding house, a farmstead, a
lumber camp, a general store, and a post office. It was the last outpost
of civilization in the east end of Brush Valley; beyond were mountains
and wilderness almost to Youngmanstown. Tom Tunis had not yet erected
the substantial structure on the verge of the forest later known as “The
Forest House.”

A dark-complexioned lad, who later proved to be Reuben Stover, the son
of the landlord, took the horse by the bridle, assisting the young
stranger to dismount. He also helped him to unstrap his saddle-bags,
carrying them into the house. Sargeant noticed, as he passed across the
porch, that the walls were closely hung with stags’ horns, which showed
the prevalence of these noble animals in the neighborhood.

Old Daddy and Mammy Stover, who ran the quaint caravansery, quickly made
the visitor feel at home. It was after the regular supper-time, but a
fresh repast of bear’s meat and corn bread was cheerfully prepared in
the huge stone chimney.

The young man explained to his hosts that he had ridden that day from
New Berlin; he had come from Philadelphia to Harrisburg by train, to
Liverpool by packet boat, at which last named place his horse had been
sent on to meet him. He added that he was on his way into the
Alleghenies, where he had recently purchased an interest in the Snow
Shoe development.

After supper he strolled along the porch to the far end, to the post
office, thinking he would send a letter home. A mail had been brought in
from Rebersburg during the afternoon, consequently the post office, and
not the tavern stand, was the attraction of the crowd this night.

The narrow room was poorly lighted by fat-lamps, which cast great,
fitful shadows, making grotesques out of the oddly-costumed, bearded
wolf hunters present, who were the principal inhabitants of the
surrounding ridges. A few women, hooded and shawled, were noticeable in
the throng. In a far corner, leaning against the water bench, was young
Reuben, the hostler, tuning up his wheezy fiddle. As many persons as
possible hung over the rude counter, across which the mail was being
delivered, and where many letters were written in reply. Above this
counter were suspended three fat-lamps, attached to grooved poles,
which, by cleverly-devised pulleys, could be lifted to any height
desired.

[Illustration: SETH NELSON, JR., AFTER A GOOD DAY’S SPORT]

The young Philadelphian edged his way through the good-humored concourse
to ask permission to use the ink; he had brought his favorite quill pen
and the paper with him. This brought him face to face, across the
counter, with the postmistress. He had not been able to see her before,
as her trim little figure had been wholly obscured by the ponderous
forms that lined the counter.

Instantly he was charmed by her appearance–it was unusual–by her look of
neatness and alertness. Their eyes met–it was almost with a smile of
mutual recognition. When he asked her if he could borrow the ink, which
was kept in a large earthen pot of famous Sugar Valley make, she smiled
on him again, and he absorbed the charm of her personality anew.

Though she was below the middle height, her figure was so lithe and
erect that it fully compensated for the lack of inches. She wore a blue
homespun dress, with a neat checked apron over it, the material for
which constituted a luxury, and must have come all the way from
Youngmanstown or Sunbury. Her profuse masses of soft, wavy, light brown
hair, on which the hanging lamps above brought out a glint of gold, was
worn low on her head. Her deepset eyes were a transparent blue, her
features well developed, and when she turned her face in profile, the
high arch of the nose showed at once mental stability and energy. Her
complexion was pink and white. There seemed to be always that kindly
smile playing about the eyes and lips.

When she pushed the heavy inkwell towards him he noticed that her hands
were very white, the fingers tapering; they were the hands of innate
refinement.

Almost imperceptibly the young man found himself in conversation with
the little postmistress. Doubtless she was interested to meet an
attractive stranger, one from such a distant city as Philadelphia. While
they talked, the letter was gradually written, sealed, weighed and paid
for–it was before the days of postage stamps, and the postmistress
politely waited on her customers.

He had told her his name–Mifflin Sargeant–and she had given him
hers–Caroline Hager–and that she was eighteen years of age. He had told
her about his prospective trip into the wilds of Centre County, of the
fierce beasts which he had heard still abounded there. The girl informed
him that he would not have to go farther west to meet wild animals; that
wolf hides by the dozen were brought to Stover’s each winter, where they
were traded in; that old Stover, a justice of the peace, attested to the
bounty warrants–in fact, the wolves howled from the hill across the road
on cold nights when the dogs were particularly restless.

Her father was a wolf hunter, and would never allow her to go home
alone; consequently, when he could not accompany her she remained over
night in the dwelling which housed the post office. Panthers, too, were
occasionally met with in the locality–in the original surveys this
region was referred to as “Catland”–also huge red bears and the somewhat
smaller black ones.

If he was going West, she continued in her pretty way, he must not fail
to visit the great limestone cave near where the Brush Mountains ended.
She had a sister married and living not far from it, from whom she had
heard wonderful tales, though she had never been there herself. It was a
cave so vast it had not as yet been fully explored; one could travel for
miles in it in a boat; the Karoondinha, or John Penn’s Creek, had its
source in it; Indians had formerly lived in the dry parts, and wild
beasts. Then she lowered her voice to say that it was now haunted by the
Indians’ spirits.

And so they talked until a very late hour, the crowd in the post office
melting away, until Jared Hager, the girl’s father, in his wolfskin
coat, appeared to escort her home, to the cabin beyond the waterfall
near the trail to Dolly Hope’s Valley. She was to have a holiday until
the next afternoon.

The wolf hunter was a courageous-looking man, much darker than his
daughter, with a heavy black beard and bushy eyebrows; in fact, she was
the only brown-haired, blue-eyed one in the entire family connection. He
spoke pleasantly with the young stranger, and then they all said good
night.

“Don’t forget to visit the great cavern,” Caroline called to the youth.

“I surely will,” he answered, “and stop here on my way east to tell you
all about it.”

“That’s good; we want to see you again,” said the girl, as she
disappeared into the gloomy shadows which the shaggy white pines cast
across the road.

Young Stover was playing “Green Grows the Rushes” on his fiddle in the
tap-room, and Sargeant sat there listening to him, dreaming and musing
all the while, his consciousness singularly alert, until the closing
hour came.

That night, in the old stained four-poster, in his tiny, cold room, he
slept not at all. “Yet he feared to dream.” Though his thoughts carried
him all over the world, the little postmistress was uppermost in every
fancy. Among the other things, he wished that he had asked her to ride
with him to the cave. They could have visited the subterranean marvels
together. He got out of bed and managed to light the fat lamp. By its
sputtering gleams he wrote her a letter, which came to an abrupt end as
the small supply of ink which he carried with him was exhausted. But as
he repented of the intense sentences penned to a person who knew him so
slightly, he arose again before morning and tore it to bits.

There was a white frost on the buildings and ground when he came
downstairs. The autumn air was cold, the atmosphere was a hazy,
melancholy gray. There seemed to be a cessation of all the living forces
of nature, as if waiting for the summons of winter. From the chimney of
the old inn came purple smoke, charged with the pungent odor of burning
pine wood.

With a strange sadness he saddled his horse and resumed his ride towards
the west. He thought constantly of Caroline–so much so that after he had
traveled ten miles he wanted to turn back; he felt miserable without
her. If only she were riding beside him, the two bound for Penn’s Valley
Cave, he could be supremely happy. Without her, he did not care to visit
the cavern, or anything else; so at Jacobsburg he crossed the Nittany
Mountains, leaving the southerly valleys behind.

He rode up Nittany Valley to Bellefonte, where he met the agent of the
Snow Shoe Company. With this gentleman he visited the vast tract being
opened up to lumbering, mining and colonization. But his thoughts were
elsewhere; they were across the mountains with the little postmistress
of Stover’s.

Satisfied that his investment would prove remunerative, he left the
development company’s cozy lodge-house, and, with a heart growing
lighter with each mile, started for the east. It was wonderful how
differently–how vastly more beautiful the country seemed on this return
journey. He fully appreciated the wistful loveliness of the fast-fading
autumn foliage, the crispness of the air, the beauty of each stray tuft
of asters, the last survivors of the wild flowers along the trail. The
world was full of joy, everything was in harmony.

Again it was after nightfall when he reined his horse in front of
Stover’s long, rambling public house. This time two doors opened
simultaneously, sending forth golden lights and shadows. One was from
the tap-room, where the hostler emerged; the other from the post office,
bringing little Caroline. There was no mail that night, consequently the
office was practically deserted; she had time to come out and greet her
much-admired friend. And let it be said that ever since she had seen him
her heart was agog with the image of Mifflin Sargeant. She was canny
enough to appreciate such a man; besides, he was a good-looking youth
though perhaps of a less robust type than those most admired in the Red
Hills.

After cordial greetings the young man ate supper, after which he
repaired to the post office. By that time the last straggler was gone;
he had a blissful evening with his fair Caroline. She anticipated his
coming, being somewhat of a _psychic_, and had arranged to spend the
night with the Stovers. There was no hurry to retire; when they went out
on the porch, preparatory to locking up, the hunter’s moon was sinking
behind the western knobs, which rose like the pyramids of Egypt against
the sky line.

Sargeant lingered around the old house for three days; when he departed
it was with extreme reluctance. Seeing Caroline again in the future
appeared like something too good to be true, so down-hearted was he at
the parting. But he had arranged to come back the following autumn,
bringing an extra horse with him, and the two would ride to the
wonderful cavern in Penn’s Valley and explore to the ends its stygian
depths. Meanwhile they would make most of their separation through a
regular correspondence.

Despite glances, pressure of hands, chance caresses, and evident
happiness in one another’s society, not a word of love had passed
between the pair. That was why the pain of parting was so intense. If
Caroline could have remembered one loving phrase, then she would have
felt that she had something tangible on which to hang her hopes. If the
young Philadelphian had unburdened his heart by telling her that he
loved her, and her alone, and heard her words of affirmation, the world
out into which he was riding would have seemed less blank.

But underneath his love, burning like a hot branding iron, was his
consciousness of class, his fear of the consequences if he took to the
great city a bride from another sphere. As an only son, he could not
picture himself deserting his widowed mother and sisters, and living at
Snow Shoe; there he was sure that Caroline would be happy. Neither could
he see permanent peace of mind if he married her and brought her into
his exclusive circles in the Quaker City.

As he was an honorable young man, and his love was real, making her
truly and always happy was the solitary consideration. These thoughts
marred the parting; they blistered and ravaged his spirit on the whole
dreary way back to Liverpool. There his colored servant, an antic
darkey, was waiting at the old Susquehanna House to ride the horse to
Philadelphia.

The young man boarded the packet, riding on it to Harrisburg, where he
took the steam train for home. In one way he was happier than ever
before in his life, for he had found love; in another he was the most
dejected of men, for his beloved might never be his own.

He seemed gayer and stronger to his family; evidently the trip into the
wilderness had done him good. He had begun his letter-writing to
Caroline promptly. It was his great solace in his heart perplexity. She
wrote a very good letter, very tender and sympathetic; the handwriting
was clear, almost masculine, denoting the bravery of her spirit.

During the winter he was called upon through his sisters to mingle much
with the society of the city. He met many beautiful and attractive young
women, but for him the die of love had been cast. He was Caroline’s
irretrievably. Absence made his love firmer, yet the solution of it all
the more enigmatical.

The time passed on apace. Another autumn set in, but on account of
important business matters it was not until December that Sargeant
departed for the wilds of mountainous Pennsylvania. But he could spend
Christmas with his love.



This time he sent two horses ahead to Liverpool. When he reached the
queer old river town he dropped into an old saddlery shop, where the
canal-boat drivers had their harness mended, and purchased a neat side
saddle, all studded with brass-headed nails. This he tied on behind his
servant’s saddle.

The two horsemen started up the beautiful West Mahantango, crossing the
Shade Mountain to Swinefordstown, thence along the edge of Jack’s
Mountain, by the gently flowing Karoondinha, to Hartley Hall and the
Narrows, through the Fox Gap and Minnick’s Gap, a slightly shorter route
to Stover’s.

On his previous trip he had ridden along the river to Selin’s Grove,
across Chestnut Ridge to New Berlin, over Shamokin Ridge to
Youngmanstown, and from there to the Narrows; he was in no hurry; no
dearly loved girl was waiting for him in those days.

Caroline, looking prettier than ever–she was a trifle plumper and redder
cheeked–was at the post office steps to greet him. Despite his avoidance
of words of love, she was certain of his inmost feelings, and opined
that somehow the ultimate result would be well.

Sargeant had arranged to arrive on a Saturday evening, so that they
could begin their ride to the cave that night after the post office
closed, and be there bright and early Sunday morning. For this reason he
had traveled by very easy stages from Hartley Hall, that the horses
might be fresh for their added journey.

Sargeant’s devoted Negro factotum was taken somewhat aback when he saw
how attentive the young man was to the girl, and marveled at the
mountain maid’s rare beauty. Upon instructions from his master, he set
about to changing the saddles, placing the brand new lady’s saddle on
the horse he had been riding.

It was not long until the tiny post office was closed for the night, and
Caroline emerged, wearing a many-caped red riding coat, the hood of
which she threw over her head to keep the wavy, chestnut hair in place.
She climbed into the saddle gracefully–she seemed a natural
horse-woman–and soon the loving pair were cantering up the road towards
Wolfe’s Store, Rebersburg and the cave.

It was not quite daybreak when they passed the home of old Jacob
Harshbarger, the tenant of the “cave farm;” a Creeley rooster was
crowing lustily in the barnyard, the unmilked cattle of the ancient
black breed shook their shaggy heads lazily; no one was up.

The young couple had planned to visit the cave, breakfast, and spend the
day with Caroline’s sister, who lived not far away at Centre Hill, and
ride leisurely back to Stover’s in the late afternoon. It had been a
very cold all-night ride, but they had been so happy that it seemed
brief and free from all disagreeable physical sensations.

In those days there was no boat in the cave, and no guides; consequently
all intending visitors had to bring their own torches. This Caroline had
seen to, and in her leisure moments for weeks before her lover’s coming,
had been arranging a supply of rich pine lights that would see them
safely through the gloomy labyrinths.

They fed their horses and then tied them to the fence of the orchard
which surrounded the entrance to the “dry” cave, which had been recently
set out. Several big original white pines grew along the road, and would
give the horses shelter in case it turned out to be a windy day. The
young couple strolled through the orchard, and down the steep path to
the mouth of the “watery” cave, where they gazed for some minutes at the
expanse of greenish water, the high span of the arched roof, the general
impressiveness of the scene, so like the stage setting of some elfin
drama.

They sat on the dead grass, near this entrance, eating a light breakfast
with relish. Then they wended their way up the hill to the circular
“hole in the ground” which formed the doorway to the “dry” cave. The
torches were carefully lit, the supply of fresh ones was tied in a
bundle about Sargeant’s waist. The burning pine gave forth an aromatic
odor and a mellow light. They descended through the narrow opening, the
young man going ahead and helping his sweetheart after him. Down the
spiral passageway they went, until at length they came into a larger
chamber. Here the torches cast unearthly shadows, bats flitted about;
some small animal ran past them into an aperture at a far corner.
Sargeant declared that he believed the elusive creature a fox, and he
followed in the direction in which it had gone.

When he came to this opening he peered through it, finding that it led
to an inner chamber of impressive proportions. He went back, taking
Caroline by the hand, and led her to the narrow chamber, into which they
both entered. Once in the interior room, they were amazed by its size,
the height of its roof, the beauty of the stalactite formations. They
sat down on a fallen stalagmite, holding aloft their torches, absorbed
by the beauty of the scene.

In the midst of their musing, a sudden gust of wind blew out their
lights. They were in utter darkness. The young lover bade his sweetheart
be unafraid, while he reached his hand in his pocket for the matches.
They were primitive affairs, the few he had, and he could not make them
light. He had not counted on the use of the matches, as he thought one
torch could be lit from another; consequently had brought so few with
him. Finally he lit a match, but the dampness extinguished it before he
could ignite his torch.

When the last match failed, it seemed as if the couple were in a serious
predicament. They first shouted at the top of their voices but only
empty echoes answered them. They fumbled about in the chamber, stumbling
over rocks and stalagmites, their eyes refusing to become accustomed to
the profound blackness. Try as they would, they could not locate the
passage that led from the room they were in to the outer apartment.

Caroline, little heroine that she was, made no complaint. If she had any
secret fears, her lover effectually quenched them by telling her that
the presence of the two saddle horses tied to the orchard fence would
acquaint the Harshbarger family of their presence in the cave.

“Surely,” he went on, “we will be rescued in a few hours. There’s bound
to be some member of the household or some hunter see those horses.”

But the hours passed, and with them came no intimations of rescue. But
the two “prisoners” loved one another, time was nothing to them. In the
outer world, both thought, but neither made bold to say, that they might
have to separate–in the cave they were one in purpose, one in love. How
gloriously happy they were! But they did get a trifle hungry, but that
was appeased at first by the remnants of the breakfast provisions, which
they luckily still had in a little bundle.

When sufficient time had elapsed for night to set in, they fell asleep,
and in each other’s arms. Caroline’s last conscious moment was to feel
her lover’s kisses. When they awoke, many hours afterwards, they were
hungrier than ever, and thirsty. Sargeant fumbled about, locating a
small pool of water, where the two quenched their thirsts. But still
they were happy, come what may.

They would be rescued, that was certain, unless the horses had broken
loose and run away, but there was small chance of that. They had been
securely tied. It was strange that no one had seen the steeds in so long
a time, with the farmhouse less than a quarter of a mile away–but it was
at the foot of the hill.

Hunger grew apace with every hour. After a while drinking water could
not sate it. It throbbed and ached, it became a dull pain that only love
could triumph over. Again enough hours elapsed to bring sleep, but it
was harder to find repose, though Sargeant’s kisses were marvelous
recompense. Caroline never whimpered from lack of food. To be with her
lover was all she asked. She had prayed for over a year to be with him
again. She would be glad to die at his side, even of starvation.

The young man was content; hunger was less a pain to him than had been
the past fourteen months’ separation.

Again came what they supposed to be morning. They knew that there must
be some way out near at hand, as the air was so pure. They shouted, but
the dull echoes were their only reward. Strangely enough, they had never
felt another cold gust like the one which had blown out their torches.
Could the shade of one of the old-time Indians who had fought for
possession of the cave been perpetrator of the trick? suggested lovely
little Caroline. If so, she thought to herself, he had helped her, not
harmed her, for could there be in the world a sensation half so sweet as
sinking to rest in her lover’s arms?

Meanwhile the world outside the cavern had been going its way. Shortly
after the young equestrian passed the Harshbarger dwelling, all the
family had come out, and, after attending to their farm duties, driven
off to the Seven Mountains, where the sons of the family maintained a
hunting camp on Cherry Run, on the other side of High Valley.

The boys had killed an elk, consequently the guests remained longer than
expected, to partake of a grand Christmas feast. They tarried at the
camp all of that day, all of the next; it was not until early on the
morning of the third day that they started back to the Penn’s Creek
farm.

They had arranged with a neighbor’s boy, Mosey Scull, who lived further
along the creek below the farm house, to do the feeding in their
absence; it was winter, there was no need to hurry home.

When they got home they found Mosey in the act of watering two very
dejected and dirty looking horses with saddles on their backs.

“Where did they come from?” shouted the big freight-wagon load in
unison.

“I found them tied to the fence up at the orchard. By the way they act
I’d think they hadn’t been watered or fed for several days,” replied the
boy.

“You dummy!” said old Harshbarger, in Dutch. “Somebody’s in that cave,
and got lost, and can’t get out.”

He jumped from the heavy wagon and ran to a corner of the corncrib,
where he kept a stock of torches. Then he hurried up the steep hill
towards the entrance to the “dry” cave. The big man was panting when he
reached the opening, where he paused a moment to kindle a torch with his
flints. Then he lowered himself into the aperture, shouting at the top
of his voice, “Hello! Hello! Hello!”

It was not until he had gotten into the first chamber that the captives
in the inner room could hear him. Sargeant had been sitting with his
back propped against the cavern wall, while Caroline, very pale and
white-lipped, was lying across his knees, gazing up into the darkness,
imagining that she could see his face.

When they heard the cheery shouts of their deliverer they did not
instantly attempt to scramble to their feet. Instead the young lover
bent over; his lips touched Caroline’s, who instinctively had raised her
face to meet his. As his lips touched hers, he whispered:

“I love you, darling, with all my heart. We will be married when we get
out of here.”

Caroline had time to say: “You are my only love,” before their lips came
together.

They were in that position when the flare of Farmer Harshbarger’s torch
lit up their hiding place. Pretty soon they were on their feet and, with
their rescuer, figuring out just how long they had been in their
prison–their prison of love.

They had gone into the cave on the morning of December 24th; it was now
the morning of the 27th; in fact almost noon. Christmas had come and
gone.

Caroline still had enough strength in reserve to enable her to climb up
the tortuous passage, though her lover did help her some, as all lovers
should.

The farmer’s wife had some coffee and buckwheat cakes ready when they
arrived at the mansion; which the erstwhile captives of Penn’s Cave sat
down to enjoy.

As they were eating, another of Harshbarger’s sons rode up on horseback.
He had been to the post office at Earlysburg. He handed Sargeant a tiny,
roughly typed newspaper published in Millheim. Across the front page, in
letters larger than usual, were the words, “Mexico Declares War on the
United States.”

Sargeant scanned the headline intently, then laid the paper on the
table.

“Our country has been drawn into a war with Mexico,” he said, his voice
trembling with emotion. “I had hoped it might be avoided. I am First
Lieutenant of the Lafayette Greys; I fear I’ll have to go.”

Caroline lost the color which had come back to her pretty cheeks since
emerging from the underground dungeon. She reached over, grasping her
lover’s now clammy hand. Then, noticing that no one was listening, she
said, faintly:

“It is terrible to have you leave me now; but won’t you marry me before
you go? I do love you.” “replied Sargeant, with enthusiasm. “I will have
more to fight for, with you at home bearing my name.”

Love had broken the bonds of caste.

Every one who has hunted in the “Seven Brothers’”, as the Seven
Mountains are called in Central Pennsylvania, has heard of Daniel
Karstetter, the famous Nimrod. The Seven Mountains comprise the Path
Valley, Short Bald, Thick Head, Sand, Shade and Tussey Mountains. Though
three-quarters of a century has passed since he was in his hey-day as a
slayer of big game, his fame is undiminished. Anecdotes of his prowess
are related in every hunting camp; by one and all he has been acclaimed
the greatest hunter that the Seven Brothers ever produced.

The great Nimrod, who lived to a very advanced age, was born in 1818 on
the banks of Pine Creek, a: the Blue Rock, half a mile below the present
town of Coburn. In addition to his hunting prowess, he was interested in
psychic experiences, and was as prone to discuss his adventures with
supernatural agencies as his conflicts with the wild denizens of the
forests. There was a particular ghost story which he loved dearly to
relate.

Accompanied by his younger brother Jacob, he had been attending a dance
one night across the mountains, in the environs of the town of Milroy,
for like all the backwoods boys of his time, he was adept in the art of
terpsichore. The long journey was made on horseback, the lads being
mounted on stout Conestoga chargers.

The homeward ride was commenced after midnight, the two brothers riding
along the dark trail in single file. In the wide flat on the top of the
“Big Mountain” Daniel fell into a doze. When he awoke, his mount having
stumbled on a stone, Jacob was nowhere to be seen. Thinking that his
brother had put his horse to trot and gone on ahead, Daniel dismissed
the matter of his absence from his mind.

As he was riding down the steep slope of the mountain, he noticed a
horseman waiting for him on the path. When they came abreast the other
rider fell in beside him, skillfully guiding his horse so that it did
not encounter the dense foliage which lined the narrow way. Daniel
supposed the party to be his brother, although the unknown kept his
lynx-skin collar turned up, and his felt cap was pulled down level with
his eyes. It was pitchy dark, so to make sure, Daniel called out:

“Is that you, Jacob?”

His companion did not reply, so the young man repeated his query in
still louder tones, but all he heard was the crunching of the horses’
hoofs on the pebbly road.

Daniel Karstetter, master slayer of panthers, bears and wolves, was no
coward, though on this occasion he felt uneasy. Yet he disliked picking
a quarrel with the silent man at his side, who clearly was not his
brother, and he feared to put his horse to a gallop on the steep, uneven
roadway. The trip home never before seemed of such interminable length.
For the greater part of the distance Daniel made no attempt to converse
with his unsociable comrade. Finally, he heaved a sigh of relief when he
saw a light gleaming in the horse stable at the home farm. When he
reached the barnyard gate he dismounted to let down the bars, while the
stranger apparently vanished in the gloom.

Daniel led his mount to the horse stable, where he found his brother
Jacob sitting by the old tin lantern, fast asleep. He awakened him and
asked him when he had gotten home. Jacob stated that his horse had been
feeling good, so he let him canter all the way. He had been sleeping,
but judged that he had been home at least half an hour. He had met no
horseman on the road.

Daniel was convinced that his companion had been a ghost, or, as they
are called in the “Seven Brothers,” a _gshpook_. But he made no further
comment that night.

A year afterwards, in coming back alone from a dance in Stone Valley, he
was again joined by the silent horseman, who followed him to his
barnyard gate. He gave up going to dances on that account. At least once
a year, or as long as he was able to go out at night, he met the ghostly
rider. Sometimes, when tramping along on foot after a hunt, or, in later
years, coming back from market at Bellefonte in his Jenny Lind, he would
find the silent horseman at his side. After the first experience, he
never attempted to speak to the night rider, but he became convinced
that it meant him no harm.

As his prowess as a hunter became recognized, he had many jealous rivals
among the less successful Nimrods. In those old days threats of all
kinds were freely made. He heard on several occasions that certain
hunters were setting out to “fix” him. But a man who could wrestle with
panthers and bears knew no such thing as fear.

One night, while tramping along in Green’s Valley, he was startled by
some one in the path ahead of him shouting out in Pennsylvania German,
“Hands up!” He was on the point of dropping his rifle, when he heard the
rattle of hoof beats back of him. The silent horseman in an instant was
by his side, the dark horse pawing the earth with his giant hoofs. There
was a crackling of brush in the path ahead, and no more threats of _hend
uff_.

The ghostly rider followed Daniel to his barn yard gate, but was gone
before he could utter a word of thanks. As the result of this adventure,
he became imbued with the idea that he possessed a charmed life. It gave
him added courage in his many encounters with panthers, the fierce red
bears and lynxes.

Apart from his love of hunting the more dangerous animals, Daniel
enjoyed the sport of deer-stalking. He maintained several licks, one of
them in a patch of low ground over the hill from the entrance to the
“dry” part of Penn’s Cave. At this spot he constructed a blind, or
platform, between the two ancient tupelo trees, about twenty feet from
the ground, and many were the huge white-faced stags which fell to his
unerring bullets during the rutting season.

One cold night, according to an anecdote frequently related by one of
his descendants, while perched in his eyrie overlooking the natural
clearing which constituted the _lick_, and in sight of a path frequented
by the fiercer beasts, which led to the opening of the “dry” cave, he
saw, about midnight, a huge pantheress, followed by a large male of the
same species, come out into the open.

“The pantheress strolled from the path,” so the story went, “and came
and laid herself down at the roots of the tupelo trees, while the
panther remained in the path, and seemed to be listening to some noise
as yet inaudible to the hunter.

“Daniel soon heard a distant roaring; it seemed to come from the very
summit of the Brush Mountain, and immediately the pantheress answered
it. The the panther on the path, his jealousy aroused, commenced to roar
with a voice so loud that the frightened hunter almost let go his trusty
rifle and held tighter to the railing of his blind, lest he might tumble
to the earth. As the voice of the animal that he had heard in the
distance gradually approached, the pantheress welcomed him with renewed
roarings, and the panther, restless, went and came from the path to his
flirtatious flame, as though he wished her to keep silence, as though to
say, ‘Let him come if he dares; he will find his match’.

“In about an hour a panther, with mouse-color, or grey coat, stepped out
of the forest, and stood in the full moonlight on the other side of the
cleared place, the moonbeams illuminating his form with a glow like
phosphorescence. The pantheress, eyeing him with admiration, raised
herself to go to him, but the panther, divining her intent, rushed
before her and marched right at his adversary. With measured step and
slow, they approached to within a dozen paces of each other, their
smooth, round heads high in the air, their bulging yellow eyes gleaming,
their long, tufted tails slowly sweeping down the brittle asters that
grew about them. They crouched to the earth–a moment’s pause–and then
they bounded with a hellish scream high in the air and rolled on the
ground, locked in their last embrace.

“The battle was long and fearful, to the amazed and spellbound witness
of this midnight duel. Even if he had so wished, he could not have taken
steady enough aim to fire. But he preferred to watch the combat, while
the moonlight lasted. The bones of the two combatants cracked under
their powerful jaws, their talons painted the frosty ground with blood,
and their outcries, now gutteral, now sharp and loud, told their rage
and agony.

“At the beginning of the contest the pantheress crouched herself on her
belly, with her eyes fixed upon the gladiators, and all the while the
battle raged, manifested by the slow, catlike motion of her tail, the
pleasure she felt at the spectacle. When the scene closed, and all was
quiet and silent and deathlike on the lick, and the moon had commenced
to wane, she cautiously approached the battle-ground and, sniffing the
lifeless bodies of her two lovers, walked leisurely to a nearby oak,
where she stood on her hind feet, sharpening her fore claws on the bark.

“She glared up ferociously at the hunter in the blind, as if she meant
to vent her anger by climbing after him. In the moonlight her golden
eyes appeared so terrifying that Daniel dropped his rifle, and it fell
to the earth with a sickening thud. As he reached after it, the flimsy
railing gave way and he fell, literally into the arms of the pantheress.
At that moment the rumble of horses’ hoofs, like thunder on some distant
mountain, was heard. Just as the panther was about to rend the helpless
Nimrod to bits, the unknown rider came into view. Scowling at the
intruder, mounted on his huge black horse, the brute abandoned its prey
and ambled off up the hill in the direction of the dry cave.

“Daniel seized his firearm and sent a bullet after her retreating form,
but it apparently went wild of its mark. Meanwhile, before he had time
to express his gratitude to the strange deliverer, he had vanished.

“Daniel was dumbfounded. As soon as he had recovered from the
blood-curdling episodes, he built a small fire near the mammoth
carcasses, where he warmed his much benumbed hands. Then he examined the
dead panthers, but found that their hides were too badly torn to warrant
skinning.

“Disgusted at not getting his deer, and being even cheated out of the
panther pelts, he dragged the ghastly remains of the erstwhile kings of
the forest by their tails to the edge of the entrance to the dry cave.
There he cut off the long ears in order to collect the bounty, and then
shoved the carcasses into the opening. They fell with sickening thuds
into the chamber beneath, to the evident horror of the pantheress, which
uttered a couple of piercing screams as the horrid remnants of the
recent battle royal landed in her vicinity.

“Then Jacob shouldered his rifle and started out in search of small game
for breakfast. That night he went to another of his licks on Elk Creek,
near Fulmer’s Sink, where he killed four superb stags,” so the story
concludes.

But to his dying day he always placed the battle of the panthers first
of all his hunting adventures. And his faith in the unknown horseman as
his deliverer and good genius became the absorbing, all-pervading
influence of his life.