Life on the Mississippi/Chapter 34
STACK ISLAND. I remembered Stack Island; also Lake Providence, Louisiana--which is the first distinctly Southern-looking town you come to, downward-bound; lies level and low, shade-trees hung with venerable gray beards of Spanish moss; 'restful, pensive, Sunday aspect about the place,' comments Uncle Mumford, with feeling--also with truth.
A Mr. H. furnished some minor details of fact concerning this region which I would have hesitated to believe if I had not known him to be a steamboat mate. He was a passenger of ours, a resident of Arkansas City, and bound to Vicksburg to join his boat, a little Sunflower packet. He was an austere man, and had the reputation of being singularly unworldly, for a river man. Among other things, he said that Arkansas had been injured and kept back by generations of exaggerations concerning the mosquitoes here. One may smile, said he, and turn the matter off as being a small thing; but when you come to look at the effects produced, in the way of discouragement of immigration, and diminished values of property, it was quite the opposite of a small thing, or thing in any wise to be coughed down or sneered at. These mosquitoes had been persistently represented as being formidable and lawless; whereas 'the truth is, they are feeble, insignificant in size, diffident to a fault, sensitive'--and so on, and so on; you would have supposed he was talking about his family. But if he was soft on the Arkansas mosquitoes, he was hard enough on the mosquitoes of Lake Providence to make up for it--'those Lake Providence colossi,' as he finely called them. He said that two of them could whip a dog, and that four of them could hold a man down; and except help come, they would kill him--'butcher him,' as he expressed it. Referred in a sort of casual way--and yet significant way--to 'the fact that the life policy in its simplest form is unknown in Lake Providence--they take out a mosquito policy besides.' He told many remarkable things about those lawless insects. Among others, said he had seen them try to vote. Noticing that this statement seemed to be a good deal of a strain on us, he modified it a little: said he might have been mistaken, as to that particular, but knew he had seen them around the polls 'canvassing.'
There was another passenger--friend of H.'s--who backed up the harsh evidence against those mosquitoes, and detailed some stirring adventures which he had had with them. The stories were pretty sizable, merely pretty sizable; yet Mr. H. was continually interrupting with a cold, inexorable 'Wait--knock off twenty-five per cent. of that; now go on;' or, 'Wait--you are getting that too strong; cut it down, cut it down--you get a leetle too much costumery on to your statements: always dress a fact in tights, never in an ulster;' or, 'Pardon, once more: if you are going to load anything more on to that statement, you want to get a couple of lighters and tow the rest, because it's drawing all the water there is in the river already; stick to facts--just stick to the cold facts; what these gentlemen want for a book is the frozen truth--ain't that so, gentlemen?' He explained privately that it was necessary to watch this man all the time, and keep him within bounds; it would not do to neglect this precaution, as he, Mr. H., 'knew to his sorrow.' Said he, 'I will not deceive you; he told me such a monstrous lie once, that it swelled my left ear up, and spread it so that I was actually not able to see out around it; it remained so for months, and people came miles to see me fan myself with it.'