Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Cub of the Panther: A Hunter Legend of the ''Old North State'' >> Afterword >> Page 262

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Novel (Romance) | The University of Arkansas Press | 1997
Transcription 262 THE CUB OF THE PANTHER
novel, shifts from the contrast between the suitors of Rose Carter in 1847
to the contrast between the father, Squire Fairleigh, and his natural son,
the Cub of the Panther, in 1867. The Cub and his adopted father,
Baynam, have amply demonstrated their skill as professional hunters and
their generosity in supplying meat to neighbors, while the natural father,
Fairleigh, and his postwar cronies have displayed gross incompetence
in hunting both bear and deer. On the second hunt the occasion of the
Cub's seventeenth birthday the Oedipal theme culminates. The
unlearned youth unwittingly violates the rules of benerie when he shoots
a deer in territory staked out by Fairleigh's party. "Inflamed with passion
and strong drink, Fairleigh . . . vent[s] the bitterest curses upon the
youth," and then strikes him with his horsewhip. Shocked, the Cub drives
"his knife deep into the body of his assailant." Fairleigh is transported
home where he dies, learning in his mortal suffering of the kinship
between them.
The war had put Simms in a dilemma that he solved by choosing a
politically neutral setting. Yet social commentary in the scenes between
these two important hunts provides additional insight into Simms's own
struggle to realign his thinking with the new order. Conduct that may
have been foolish yet condoned in the old order could no longer be
assumed to be appropriate; the ready cliches, such as dueling, that were
available to Simms in earlier fiction, no longer could be used. When
Fairleigh strikes Gabriella, his wife, he is naturally condemned by the
narrator, the Widow Fairleigh, and her houseguests. Despite previous
representations of Gabriella as the haughty Englishwoman, in this scene
"the contrast between her noble presence and that of her lord, he bloated,
obese, and somewhat infirm from frequent debauchery, made itself felt
to all spectators." After Gabriella, escorted by Bulkley, flees Fairleigh
Lodge with her Irish maid on the seventeenth anniversary of Rose's mid-
winter flight, one Major Todd suggests the necessity of a duel to avenge
Fairleigh's honor.' The convention of dueling, while anachronistic,
evokes in this 1867 scene antipathy toward the practice, and hence
toward the social class that would condone it.
The author did not risk the reader's mistaking Major Todd for an hon-
orable man, nor Fairleigh for an imperceptive fool. The Major, as
spokesman for an anachronistic code of honor, refers to Gabriella's flight
under Bulkley's escort as having "dishonored [Fairleigh's] name forever."
He believes that, "according to the custom of the country, Fairleigh should
either challenge Bulkley or shoot him down upon the highway." The erro-