Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
An Irish-Canadian servant girl from Sanger now became a member of their household. Her grandmother was an herb-doctor in great repute. She had frequently been denounced as a witch, although in good standing as a Catholic. This girl had picked up some herb-lore, and one day when all the family were visiting the cemetery she darted into various copses and produced plants which she named, together with the complaint that her grandmother used them for.
“Sassafras, that makes tea for skin disease; Ginseng, that’s good to sell; Bloodroot for the blood in springtime; Goldthread, that cures sore mouths; Pipsissewa for chills and fever; White-man’s Foot, that springs up wherever a White-man treads; Indian cup, that grows where an Indian dies; Dandelion roots for coffee; Catnip tea for a cold; Lavender tea for drinking at meals; Injun Tobacco to mix with boughten tobacco; Hemlock bark to dye pink; Goldthread to dye yellow, and Butternut rinds for greenish.”
All of these were passing trifles to the others, but to Yan they were the very breath of life, and he treasured up all of these things in his memory. Biddy’s information was not unmixed with error and superstition:
“Hold Daddy Longlegs by one leg and say, ’tell me where the cows are,’ and he will point just right under another leg, and onct he told me where to find my necklace when I lost it.
“Shoot the Swallows and the cows give bloody milk. That’s the way old Sam White ruined his milk business–shooting Swallows.
“Lightning never strikes a barn where Swallows nest. Paw never rested easy after the new barn was built till the Swallows nested in it. He had it insured for a hundred dollars till the Swallows got round to look after it.
“When a Measuring-worm crawls on you, you are going to get a new suit of clothes. My brother-in-law says they walk over him every year in summer and sure enough, he gets a new suit. But they never does it in winter, cause he don’t get new clothes then.
“Split a Crow’s tongue and he will talk like a girl. Granny knowed a man that had a brother back of Mara that got a young Crow and split his tongue an’ he told Granny it was just like a girl talking–an’ Granny told me!
“Soak a Horse-hair in rainwater and it will turn into a Snake. Ain’t there lots uv Snakes around ponds where Horses drink? Well!
“Kill a Spider an’ it will rain to-morrow. Now, that’s worth knowin’. I mind one year when the Orangeman’s picnic was comin’, 12th of July, Maw made us catch twenty Spiders and we killed them all the day before, and law, how it did rain on the picnic! Mebbe we didn’t laugh. Most of them hed to go home in boats, that’s what our paper said. But next year they done the same thing on us for St. Patrick’s Day, but Spiders is scarce on the 16th of March, an’ it didn’t rain so much as snow, so it was about a stand-off.
“Toads gives warts. You seen them McKenna twins–their hands is a sight with warts. Well, I seen them two boys playing with Toads like they was marbles. So! An’ they might a-knowed what was comin’. Ain’t every Toad just covered with warts as thick as he can stick?
“That there’s Injun tobacco. The Injuns always use it, and Granny does, too, sometimes.” (Yan made special note of this–he must get some and smoke it, if it was Indian.)
“A Witch-hazel wand will bob over a hidden spring and show where to dig. Denny Scully is awful good at it. He gets a dollar for showing where to sink a well, an’ if they don’t strike water it’s because they didn’t dig where he said, or spiled the charm some way or nuther, and hez to try over.
“Now, that’s Dandelion. Its roots makes awful good coffee. Granny allers uses it. She says that it is healthier than store coffee, but Maw says she likes boughten things best, and the more they cost the better she likes them.
“Now, that’s Ginseng. It has a terrible pretty flower in spring. There’s tons and tons of it sent to China. Granny says the Chinese eats it, to make them cheerful, but they don’t seem to eat enough.
“There’s Slippery Elm. It’s awfully good for loosening up a cold, if you drink the juice the bark’s bin biled in. One spring Granny made a bucketful. She set it outside to cool, an’ the pig he drunk it all up, an’ he must a had a cold, for it loosened him up so he dropped his back teeth. I seen them myself lying out there in the yard. Yes, I did.
“That’s Wintergreen. Lots of boys I know chew that to make the girls like them. Lots of them gits a beau that way, too. I done it myself many’s a time.
“Now, that is what some folks calls Injun Turnip, an’ the children calls it Jack-in-a-Pulpit, but Granny calls it ’Sorry-plant,’ cos she says when any one eats it it makes them feel sorry for the last fool thing they done. I’ll put some in your Paw’s coffee next time he licks yer and mebbe that’ll make him quit. It just makes me sick to see ye gettin’ licked fur every little thing ye can’t help.
“A Snake’s tongue is its sting. You put your foot on a Snake and see how he tries to sting you. An’ his tail don’t die till sundown. I seen that myself, onct, an’ Granny says so, too, an’ what Granny don’t know ain’t knowledge–it’s only book-larnin’.”
These were her superstitions, most of them more or less obviously absurd to Yan; but she had also a smattering of backwoods lore and Yan gleaned all he could.
She had so much of what he wanted to know that he had almost made up his mind to tell her where he went each Saturday when he had finished his work.
A week or two longer and she would have shared the great secret, but something took place to end their comradeship.