WHEN one morning, not long after the story of Mr. Spider's successful courting, Sobah felt the hunter instinct strong upon him, he left the work of the little rice farm to Mammy Mamenah and some pickaninnies, took his trusted hunting-spear and sought the forest depths. He was a knowing hunter, artful and sure, and as familiar with the ways of the denizens of the woods as with the habits of his village neighbors.
But through all the morning hours his skill and cunning proved of no avail. He sought the well-known haunts of the desired prey, and lay patiently in wait, or followed a fresh trail, with every faculty alert. All in vain, for the spirits of the forest seemed in league against him. Always some unseen presence would give warning of his approach, or bewitch his aim. Tired out at last, and full of nameless dread, he threw himself down at the foot of a monkey-apple tree to think out the mystery. The cough of a deer from a neighboring thicket seemed to taunt his ill-success. A monkey swung down from a limb over his head, and chattered threateningly. A heavy body seemed to fall through the branches of a tree just behind him, and yet, as he turned, no object falling was visible. Starting up with the cry, "Now debble dat!" Sobah reached instinctively for the charm he always wore on his person as a safeguard against danger and an assurance of success. To his consternation he discovered that it was not in its accustomed place. The cause of his former ill-luck was now explained. This charm contained a potent medicine brought from afar, and had been consecrated as his personal guardian and helper. Greatly wrought up now at finding himself in this devil-haunted region without a charm so powerful, he made his way from the woods and to his hut with eager haste. To his great relief he found the precious little article hanging where he had carelessly left it. Much reassured when this object of his superstitious trust was again dangling from his neck, he started out once more, and in a new direction, bent on retrieving his lost prestige as a hunter. Sustained by that feeling of confidence which is half of success in any undertaking, he, keen-eyed and alert, followed the path along the river. Sagaciously hiding in a covert that overlooked a little path leading down to the water's edge, he awaited developments. A little later his quick ear detected the lightest possible step approaching along the path; then a pair of intelligent eyes peeped around a tuft of rushes, and soon there appeared the most graceful little body Nature ever made, incased in a glossy coat of softest satin, and supported by the daintiest of feet. Even in repose the little creature suggested the very poetry of motion, and looked as if the working of a slight spell would transform it wholly into spirit and let it fly away.
Sobah's heart had been nurtured in savagery, yet it almost stayed the hand from striking.
"Cunnie Rabbit," he muttered to himself, for so the natives call this deerlet, "I go get yo' now."
Surely the charm was working, for there the shy creature stood, and moved not until the well-directed spear from the hunter's hand laid it low.
While Sobah was gloating over his prize, a company of men from the village came along. After effusive congratulations, they tied Cunnie Rabbit upon a pole, covered the body with a white cloth, and eight men took up the burden and staggered along toward the village with it, as if the load were all they could possibly carry. "Eight man tote um," Mamenah explained later to the inquisitive Konah, "dem duh make as ef he heaby. Dey say he nar (is) king of de beas' fo' wise oh; not fo' stout, but fo' sense."
The stew that accompanied the usual boiled rice at that evening meal, was delicious enough to please a more fastidious palate.
With appetite richly satisfied for once, and in great good humor with himself and the world, Sobah was in a more genial mood than usual, when, later, a company of neighbors gathered around him. They had just come in from their little farms, and, remembering similar occasions, and knowing that if the hunter had been successful in the chase, his tongue would be "sweet" for story-telling, each man carried on his back a bundle of wood. Throwing it in a heap suggestive of a fire, they remarked: "Lookee de wood fo' de fiah," thus making a covert request for a story, and paying the story-teller a delicate compliment. Sobah felt the beauty of this indirect appeal, and was much pleased by it, but there was no need for haste, so he allowed the talk to run on various topics before he made a formal response to the desire of his friends.
All chatted freely of the experiences of the day. A bit of war news from "up country" had drifted in, and was heard with relish. Most of all the behavior of the various animals Sobah had met that day, and the supposed connection between the little charm and that behavior, held awed attention. Out of this talk concerning the human-like actions of certain animals, grew, naturally, references to the animals that appear with human attributes in the many fireside tales so dear to the hearts of the people.
Sobah was recognized as the story-teller of the village, and so when mention was made of the deer that coughed, Oleemah proposed that Sobah should tell them the story of how the deer acquired such a habit, adding diplomatically, "Yo' pass we all fo' pull story good fashion."
The story-teller was already in a gracious frame of mind, and, pleased with this last tribute to his art, lost no time in responding with a legend of Creation's early dawn.