A NOVEL OF TRAVEL BACK IN TIME
Once in the parlor, I parked Miss Newcomer in a high-back winged chair and took a seat on a small, two-person sofa opposite her.
The rest of the family followed us into the room. Jonah sat next to me. Mr. Newcomer sat in the largest wing back chair, which I would designate as “the patriarch’s chair.” Mrs. Newcomer sat in a chair that was a smaller version of her husband’s. Tom sat next to Daphne in a small, wooden chair.
We all looked at each other awkwardly for a few seconds. Then, Tom asked me what Arkansas was like. I responded that it was still a semi-settled area. I described the vast differences in the state from east to west and north to south. He seemed interested. I wondered if he had itchy feet and wanted to follow Horace Greeley’s admonition of “Go West Young Man, Go West.” He seemed mature beyond his age.
After my monologue about Arkansas, Mrs. Newcomer queried, “Are you ever going back to Arkansas?”
I knew where this was leading, and I wanted to put their minds to rest.
I responded, “I doubt it. Even though I am an Arkansawer by birth, I really prefer this part of the country. It is so more civilized. You don’t have to worry about being attacked by a ‘Panter’ or a wild hog when you go out into the woods. Also, even though you might have colder winters here, you definitely don’t have scorching hot summers like we do in the Deep South.”
Mrs. Newcomer’s countenance showed relief.
Tom quickly asked me what a Panter was. I glanced and him and excused myself for using an Arkansas colloquialism. I explained a Panter is what we call a panther.
He asked, “What is a panther?”
“It’s a large cat, just a little smaller than a mountain lion.”
He looked astonished and quizzed me further, “Have you ever seen one?”
“No, but I have heard one. It is one of the eeriest sounds you can imagine. Their cry is like the squall of a newborn baby. It will send shivers up and down your spine.”
The boy’s eyes were so wide you could see the whites around his irises. Then, he realized how I had captured his imagination, and not to be thought an uneducated youth, he crossed his arms and said, “Truly, Mr. Hager, you must be having fun at my expense.”
I looked at him firmly and vowed, “I would never do that to you Tom. Panters have scared me ever since I heard one when I was 12 years old. They are not to be trifled with.”
We looked at each other for a few seconds. Then he nodded his head in my direction. He knew I was not lying to him or trying to make him the butt of a joke. I hoped he understood that I would treat him as an adult in the future, and if I could keep from it, not lie to him.