The Devil's Track

From: The Dulles Family of South Carolina

It was Wm. Heatly's sister Rachel who maintained the matriarchal tradition in this generation. She and her second husband, John Lloyd, lived near where the main road to Camden crossed the Congaree at McCord's Ferry and not far from a long ridge called Buck Head Hill that bluffed over the river for about a mile. Lloyd, though incurable hospitable. was also given to flights of wild profanity that sometimes assumed awesome proportions. This led to the Adventure that proved Rachel's heritage.

One evening when dusk was turning to dark, a courtly stranger driving a fine black gig-horse and vehicle to match stopped to ask the distance to the ferry. Lloyd, taking no denial, had him in to stay the night and sent the equipage to the stable. Its owner was a swarthy man, elegantly but conservatively dressed in black broadcloth, who walked with a slight limp. At the supper table he proved almost too congenial and companionable, sharing enthusiastically Lloyd's pet prejudices and aversions. As Lloyd began to express himself more freely his receptive guest pushed him into his great failing. Profanity streamed forth. The stranger enticed further oaths and the horrified Rachel began to detect the smell of smoke. Apparently it came from under the table increasing as her husband's language became more and more unseemly. A quick glance revealed sulphurous wisps hovering about the stranger's well varnished boots. The heels seemed to burn into the floor whenever Lloyd's curses became egregious. Rachel realized that the boots were mismatched. One of them was shaped for all the world like the hoof of an ox. She knew what must be done. As soon as she was able she went into the next room with her Bible, opened it to the last page, and began to read it backwards. As she read she could hear through the walls the creature she knew to be the Devil tempting her husband toward the brink of ultimate blasphemy. The words which would assure his eternal damnation, she fended off with Holy Writ. She held out to the third cock-crow. At its sound the Devil leaped up from the table, ran out to the porch and took a tremendous jump to a rock on the highest point of Buck Head Hill. He cannoned from it across five miles of river swamp to the land in the forks of the Congaree and Wateree. The horse hitched itself to the gig and bounded over the rock and after its master. Conveniently for posterity, the track of the gig and the deep prints of the mismatched feet have remained in that senseless thing to bear witness to the power of the Sterling women's heritage in the red hills

Article reprinted as it was published and written by S.G. Stoney in 1950.

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