Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
At school he was a model boy except in one respect–he had strange, uncertain outbreaks of disrespect for his teachers. One day he amused himself by covering the blackboard with ridiculous caricatures of the principal, whose favourite he undoubtedly was. They were rather clever and proportionately galling. The principal set about an elaborate plan to discover who had done them. He assembled the whole school and began cross-examining one wretched dunce, thinking him the culprit. The lad denied it in a confused and guilty way; the principal was convinced of his guilt, and reached for his rawhide, while the condemned set up a howl. To the surprise of the assembly, Yan now spoke up, and in a tone of weary impatience said:
“Oh, let him alone. I did it.”
His manner and the circumstances were such that every one laughed. The principal was nettled to fury. He forgot his manhood; he seized Yan by the collar. He was considered a timid boy; his face was white; his lips set. The principal beat him with the rawhide till the school cried “Shame,” but he got no cry from Yan.
That night, on undressing for bed, his brother Rad saw the long black wales from head to foot, and an explanation was necessary. He was incapable of lying; his parents learned of his wickedness, and new and harsh punishments were added. Next day was Saturday. He cut his usual double or Saturday’s share of wood for the house, and, bruised and smarting, set out for the one happy spot he knew. The shadow lifted from his spirit as he drew near. He was already forming a plan for adding a fireplace and chimney to his house. He followed the secret path he had made with aim to magnify its secrets. He crossed the open glade, was, nearly at the shanty, when he heard voices–loud, coarse voices–coming from his shanty. He crawled up close. The door was open. There in his dear cabin were three tramps playing cards and drinking out of a bottle. On the ground beside them were his shell necklaces broken up to furnish poker chips. In a smouldering fire outside were the remains of his bow and arrows.
Poor Yan! His determination to be like an Indian under torture had sustained him in the teacher’s cruel beating and in his home punishments, but this was too much. He fled to a far and quiet corner and there flung himself down and sobbed in grief and rage–he would have killed them if he could. After an hour or two he came trembling back to see the tramps finish their game and their liquor; then they defiled the shanty and left it in ruins.
The brightest thing in his life was gone–a King discrowned, dethroned. Feeling now every wale on his back and legs, he sullenly went home.
This was late in the summer. Autumn followed last, with shortening days and chilly winds. Yan had no chance to see his glen, even had he greatly wished it. He became more studious; books were his pleasure now. He worked harder than ever, winning honour at school, but attracting no notice at the home, where piety reigned.
The teachers and some of the boys remarked that Yan was getting very thin and pale. Never very robust, he now looked like an invalid; but at home no note was taken of the change. His mother’s thoughts were all concentrated on his scapegrace younger brother. For two years she had rarely spoken to Yan peaceably. There was a hungry place in his heart as he left the house unnoticed each morning and saw his graceless brother kissed and darlinged. At school their positions were reversed. Yan was the principal’s pride. He had drawn no more caricatures, and the teacher flattered himself that that beating was what had saved the pale-faced head boy.
He grew thinner and heart-hungrier till near Christmas, when the breakdown came.
“He is far gone in consumption,” said the physician. “He cannot live over a month or two”
[Illustration: “There in his dear cabin were three tramps"]
“He must live,” sobbed the conscience-stricken mother. “He must live–O God, he must live.”
All that suddenly awakened mother’s love could do was done. The skilful physician did his best, but it was the mother that saved him. She watched over him night and day; she studied his wishes and comfort in every way. She prayed by his bedside, and often asked God to forgive her for her long neglect. It was Yan’s first taste of mother-love. Why she had ignored him so long was unknown. She was simply erratic, but now she awoke to his brilliant gifts, his steady, earnest life, already purposeful.