Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
One day as this girl went with him through a little grove on the edge of the town, she stopped at a certain tree and said:
“If that ain’t Black-cherry!”
“You mean Choke-cherry.”
“No, Black-cherry. Choke-cherry ain’t no good; but Black-cherry bark’s awful good for lung complaint. Grandma always keeps it. I’ve been feeling a bit queer meself” [she was really as strong as an ox]. “Guess I’ll git some.” So she and Yan planned an expedition together. The boldness of it scared the boy. The girl helped herself to a hatchet in the tool box–the sacred tool box of his father.
Yan’s mother saw her with it and demanded why she had it. With ready effrontery she said it was to hammer in the hook that held the clothesline, and proceeded to carry out the lie with a smiling face. That gave Yan a new lesson and not a good one. The hatchet was at once put back in the box, to be stolen more carefully later on.
Biddy announced that she was going to the grocery shop. She met Yan around the corner and they made for the lot. Utterly regardless of property rights, she showed Yan how to chip off the bark of the Black-cherry. “Don’t chip off all around; that’s bad luck–take it on’y from the sunny side.” She filled a basket with the pieces and they returned home.
Here she filled a jar with bits of the inner layer, then, pouring water over it, let it stand for a week. The water was then changed to a dark brown stuff with a bitter taste and a sweet, aromatic smell.
“It’s terrible good,” she said. “Granny always keeps it handy. It cures lots of people. Now there was Bud Ellis–the doctors just guv him up. They said he didn’t have a single lung left, and he come around to Granny. He used to make fun of Granny; but now he wuz plumb scairt. At first Granny chased him away; then when she seen that he was awful sick, she got sorry and told him how to make Lung Balm. He was to make two gallons each time and bring it to her. Then she took and fixed it so it was one-half as much and give it back to him. Well, in six months if he wasn’t all right.”
Biddy now complained nightly of “feelin’s” in her chest. These feelings could be controlled only by a glass or two of Lung Balm. Her condition must have been critical, for one night after several necessary doses of Balm her head seemed affected. She became abusive to the lady of the house and at the end of the month a less interesting help was in her place.
There were many lessons good and bad that Yan might have drawn from this; but the only one that he took in was that the Black-cherry bark is a wonderful remedy. The family doctor said that it really was so, and Yan treasured up this as a new and precious fragment of woodcraft.
Having once identified the tree, he was surprised to see that it was rather common, and was delighted to find it flourishing in his own Glenyan.
This made him set down on paper all the trees he knew, and he was surprised to find how few they were and how uncertain he was about them.
Maple–hard and soft. Beach. Elm–swamp and slippery. Ironwood. Birch–white and black. Ash–white and black. Pine. Cedar. Balsam. Hemlock and Cherry.
He had heard that the Indians knew the name and properties of every tree and plant in the woods, and that was what he wished to be able to say of himself.
One day by the bank of the river he noticed a pile of empty shells of the fresh-water Mussel, or Clam. The shells were common enough, but why all together and marked in the same way? Around the pile on the mud were curious tracks and marks. There were so many that it was hard to find a perfect one, but when he did, remembering the Coon track, he drew a picture of it. It was too small to be the mark of his old acquaintance. He did not find any one to tell him what it was, but one day he saw a round, brown animal hunched up on the bank eating a clam. It dived into the water at his approach, but it reappeared swimming farther on. Then, when it dived again, Yan saw by its long thin tail that it was a Muskrat, like the stuffed one he had seen in the taxidermist’s window.
He soon learned that the more he studied those tracks the more different kinds he found. Many were rather mysterious, so he could only draw them and put them aside, hoping some day for light. One of the strangest and most puzzling turned out to be the trail of a Snapper, and another proved to be merely the track of a Common Crow that came to the water’s edge to drink.
The curios that he gathered and stored in his shanty increased in number and in interest. The place became more and more part of himself. Its concealment bettered as the foliage grew around it again, and he gloried in its wild seclusion and mystery, and wandered through the woods with his bow and arrows, aiming harmless, deadly blows at snickering Red-squirrels–though doubtless he would have been as sorry as they had he really hit one.
Yan soon found out that he was not the only resident of the shanty. One day as he sat inside wondering why he had not made a fireplace, so that he could sit at an indoor fire, he saw a silent little creature flit along between two logs in the back wall. He remained still. A beautiful little Woodmouse, for such it was, soon came out in plain view and sat up to look at Yan and wash its face. Yan reached out for his bow and arrow, but the Mouse was gone in a flash. He fitted a blunt arrow to the string, then waited, and when the Mouse returned he shot the arrow. It missed the Mouse, struck the log and bounded back into Yan’s face, giving him a stinging blow on the cheek. And as Yan rolled around grunting and rubbing his cheek, he thought, “This is what I tried to do to the Woodmouse.” Thenceforth, Yan made no attempt to harm the Mouse; indeed, he was willing to share his meals with it. In time they became well acquainted, and Yan found that not one, but a whole family, were sharing with him his shanty in the woods.
Biddy’s remark about the Indian tobacco bore fruit. Yan was not a smoker, but now he felt he must learn. He gathered a lot of this tobacco, put it to dry, and set about making a pipe–a real Indian peace pipe. He had no red sandstone to make it of, but a soft red brick did very well. He first roughed out the general shape with his knife, and was trying to bore the bowl out with the same tool, when he remembered that in one of the school-readers was an account of the Indian method of drilling into stone with a bow-drill and wet sand. One of his schoolmates, the son of a woodworker, had seen his father use a bow-drill. This knowledge gave him new importance in Yan’s eyes. Under his guidance a bow-drill was made, and used much and on many things till it was understood, and now it did real Indian service by drilling the bowl and stem holes of the pipe.
He made a stem of an Elderberry shoot, punching out the pith at home with a long knitting-needle. Some white pigeon wing feathers trimmed small, and each tipped with a bit of pitch, were strung on a stout thread and fastened to the stem for a finishing touch; and he would sit by his camp fire solemnly smoking–a few draws only, for he did not like it–then say, “Ugh, heap hungry,” knock the ashes out, and proceed with whatever work he had on hand.
Thus he spent the bright Saturdays, hiding his accouterments each day in his shanty, washing the paint from his face in the brook, and replacing the hated paper collar that the pride and poverty of his family made a daily necessity, before returning home. He was a little dreamer, but oh! what happy dreams. Whatever childish sorrow he found at home he knew he could always come out here and forget and be happy as a king–be a real King in a Kingdom wholly after his heart, and all his very own.