Snake Oil

At the northern edge of Under-the-Hill Natchez, in a brick tavern called the Devil’s Punch Bowl, once a den for river pirates, Dr. Smith Lighthall sits at a card table and savors a dram of imported rum. He’s down to his shirtsleeves from the hot evening, worn out, his voice a rasp, yet satisfaction wells.

Just now, he watched the sun descend over the Mississippi, a light so intense that the first Indians here worshipped it as a god. A sunset never before witnessed by Smith. A town, wholly unknown to him until yesterday; a gift he’s now unwrapped.

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