Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
Sam Raften turned out to be more congenial than he looked. His slow, drawling speech had given a wrong impression of stupidity, and, after a formal showing of the house under Mr. Raften, a real investigation was headed by Sam. “This yer’s the paaar-le-r,” said he, unlocking a sort of dark cellar aboveground and groping to open what afterward proved to be a dead, buried and almost forgotten window. In Sanger settlement the farmhouse parlour is not a room; it is an institution. It is kept closed all the week except when the minister calls, and the one at Raften’s was the pure type. Its furniture consisted of six painted chairs (fifty cents each), two rockers ($1.49), one melodeon (thirty-two bushels of wheat–the agent asked forty), a sideboard made at home of the case the melodeon came in, one rag carpet woofed at home and warped and woven in exchange for wool, one center-table varnished (!) ($9.00 cash, $11.00 catalogue). On the center-table was one tintype album, a Bible, and some large books for company use. Though dusted once a week, they were never moved, and it was years later before they were found to have settled permanently into the varnish of the table. In extremely uncostly frames on the wall were the coffin-plates of the departed members of the family. It was the custom at Sanger to honour the dead by bringing back from the funeral the name-plate and framing it on a black background with some supposed appropriate scripture text.
The general atmosphere of the room was dusty and religious as it was never opened except on Sundays or when the parson called, which instituted a sort of temporary Sunday, and the two small windows were kept shut and plugged as well as muffled always, with green paper blinds and cotton hangings. It was a thing apart from the rest of the house–a sort of family ghost-room: a chamber of horrors, seen but once a week.
But it contained one thing at least of interest–something that at once brought Sam and Yan together. This was a collection of a score of birds’ eggs. They were all mixed together in an old glass-topped cravat box, half full of bran. None of them were labelled or properly blown. A collector would not have given it a second glance, but it proved an important matter. It was as though two New Yorkers, one disguised as a Chinaman and the other as a Negro, had accidently met in Greenland and by chance one had made the sign of the secret brotherhood to which they both belonged.
“Do you like these things?” said Yan, with sudden interest and warmth, in spite of the depressing surroundings.
“You bet,” said Sam. “And I’d a-had twice as many only Da said it was doing no good and birds was good for the farm.”
“Well, do you know their names?”
“Wall, I should say so. I know every Bird that flies and all about it, or putty near it,” drawled Sam, with an unusual stretch for him, as he was not given to bragging.
“I wish I did. Can’t I get some eggs to take home?”
“No; Da said if I wouldn’t take any more he’d lend me his Injun Chief gun to shoot Rabbits with.”
“What? Are there Rabbits here?”
“Wall, I should say so. I got three last winter.”
“But I mean now,” said Yan, with evident disappointment.
“They ain’t so easy to get at now, but we can try. Some day when all the work’s done I’ll ask Da for his gun.”
“When all the work’s done,” was a favourite expression of the Raftens for indefinitely shelving a project, it sounded so reasonable and was really so final.
Sam opened up the lower door of the sideboard and got out some flint arrow-heads picked up in the ploughing, the teeth of a Beaver dating from the early days of the settlement, and an Owl very badly stuffed. The sight of these precious things set Yan all ablaze. “Oh!” was all he could say. Sam was gratified to see such effect produced by the family possessions and explained, “Da shot that off’n the barn an’ the hired man stuffed it.”
The boys were getting on well together now. They exchanged confidences all day as they met in doing chores. In spite of the long interruptions, they got on so well that Sam said after supper, “Say, Yan, I’m going to show you something, but you must promise never to tell–Swelpye!” Of course Yan promised and added the absolutely binding and ununderstandable word–"Swelpme.”
“Le’s both go to the barn,” said Sam.
When they were half way he said: “Now I’ll let on I went back for something. You go on an’ round an’ I’ll meet you under the ’rusty-coat’ in the orchard.” When they met under the big russet apple tree, Sam closed one of his melancholy eyes and said in a voice of unnecessary hush, “Follow me.” He led to the other end of the orchard where stood the old log house that had been the home before the building of the brick one. It was now used as a tool house. Sam led up a ladder to the loft (this was all wholly delightful). There at the far end, and next the little gable pane, he again cautioned secrecy, then when on invitation Yan had once more “swelped” himself, he rummaged in a dirty old box and drew out a bow, some arrows, a rusty steel trap, an old butcher knife, some fish-hooks, a flint and steel, a box full of matches, and some dirty, greasy-looking stuff that he said-was dried meat. “You see,” he explained, “I always wanted to be a hunter, and Da was bound I’d be a dentist. Da said there was no money in hunting, but one day he had to go to the dentist an’ it cost four dollars, an’ the man wasn’t half a day at the job, so he wanted me to be a dentist, but I wanted to be a hunter, an’ one day he licked me and Bud (Bud, that’s my brother that died a year ago. If you hear Ma talk you’ll think he was an angel, but I always reckoned he was a crazy galoot, an’ he was the worst boy in school by odds). Wall, Da licked us awful for not feeding the hogs, so Bud got ready to clear out, an’ at first I felt just like he did an’ said I’d go too, an’ we’d j’ine the Injuns. Anyhow, I’d sure go if ever I was licked again, an’ this was the outfit we got together. Bud wanted to steal Da’s gun an’ I wouldn’t. I tell you I was hoppin’ mad that time, an’ Bud was wuss–but I cooled off an’ talked to Bud. I says, ’Say now, Bud, it would take about a month of travel to get out West, an’ if the Injuns didn’t want nothin’ but our scalps that wouldn’t be no fun, an’ Da ain’t really so bad, coz we sho’ly did starve them pigs so one of ’em died.’ I reckon we deserved all we got–anyhow, it was all dumb foolishness about skinnin’ out, though I’d like mighty well to be a hunter. Well, Bud died that winter. You seen the biggest coffin plate on the wall? Well, that’s him. I see Ma lookin’ at it an’ cryin’ the other day. Da says he’ll send me to college if I’ll be a dentist or a lawyer–lawyers make lots of money: Da had a lawsuit once–an’ if I don’t, he says I kin go to–you know.”
Here was Yan’s own kind of mind, and he opened his heart. He told all about his shanty in the woods and how he had laboured at and loved it. He was full of enthusiasm as of old, boiling over with purpose and energy, and Sam, he realized, had at least two things that he had not–ability with tools and cool judgment. It was like having the best parts of his brother Rad put into a real human being. And remembering the joy of his Glen, Yan said:
“Let’s build a shanty in the woods by the creek; your father won’t care, will he?”
“Not he, so long as the work’s done.”