Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The very next day they must begin. As soon as every chore was done they went to the woods to select a spot.
The brook, or “creek,” as they called it, ran through a meadow, then through a fence into the woods. This was at first open and grassy, but farther down the creek it was joined by a dense cedar swamp. Through this there was no path, but Sam said that there was a nice high place beyond. The high ground seemed a long way off in the woods, though only a hundred yards through the swamp, but it was the very place for a camp–high, dry and open hard woods, with the creek in front and the cedar swamp all around. Yan was delighted. Sam caught no little of the enthusiasm, and having brought an axe, was ready to begin the shanty. But Yan had been thinking hard all morning, and now he said: “Sam, we don’t want to be White hunters. They’re no good; we want to be Indians.”
“Now, that’s just where you fool yourself,” said Sam. “Da says there ain’t nothin’ an Injun can do that a White-man can’t do better.”
“Oh, what are you talking about?” said Yan warmly. “A White hunter can’t trail a moccasined foot across a hard granite rock. A White hunter can’t go into the woods with nothing but a knife and make everything he needs. A White hunter can’t hunt with bows and arrows, and catch game with snares, can he? And there never yet was a White man could make a Birch canoe.” Then, changing his tone, Yan went on: “Say, now, Sam, we want to be the best kind of hunters, don’t we, so as to be ready for going out West. Let’s be Injuns and do everything like Injuns.”
After all, this had the advantage of romance and picturesqueness, and Sam consented to “try it for awhile, anyhow.” And now came the point of Yan’s argument. “Injuns don’t live in shanties; they live in teepees. Why not make a teepee instead?”
“That would be just bully,” said Sam, who had seen pictures enough to need no description, “but what are we to make it of?”
“Well,” answered Yan, promptly assuming the leadership and rejoicing in his ability to speak as an authority, “the Plains Injuns make their teepees of skins, but the wood Injuns generally use Birch bark.”
“Well, I bet you can’t find skins or Birch bark enough in this woods to make a teepee big enough for a Chipmunk to chaw nuts in.”
“We can use Elm bark.”
“That’s a heap easier,” replied Sam, “if it’ll answer, coz we cut a lot o’ Elm logs last winter and the bark’ll be about willin’ to peel now. But first let’s plan it out.”
This was a good move, one Yan would have overlooked. He would probably have got a lot of material together and made the plan afterward, but Sam had been taught to go about his work with method.
So Yan sketched on a smooth log his remembrance of an Indian teepee. “It seems to me it was about this shape, with the poles sticking up like that, a hole for the smoke here and another for the door there.”
“Sounds like you hain’t never seen one,” remarked Sam, with more point than politeness, “but we kin try it. Now ’bout how big?”
Eight feet high and eight feet across was decided to be about right. Four poles, each ten feet long, were cut in a few minutes, Yan carrying them to a smooth place above the creek as fast as Sam cut them.
“Now, what shall we tie them with?” said Yan.
“You mean for rope?”
“Yes, only we must get everything in the woods; real rope ain’t allowed.”
“I kin fix that,” said Sam; “when Da double-staked the orchard fence, he lashed every pair of stakes at the top with Willow withes.”
“That’s so–I quite forgot,” said Yan. In a few minutes they were at work trying to tie the four poles together with slippery stiff Willows, but it was no easy matter. They had to be perfectly tight or they would slip and fall in a heap each time they were raised, and it seemed at length that the boys would be forced to the impropriety of using hay wire, when they heard a low grunt, and turning, saw William Raften standing with his hands behind him as though he had watched them for hours.
The boys were no little startled. Raften had a knack of turning up at any point when something was going on, taking in the situation fully, and then, if he disapproved, of expressing himself in a few words of blistering mockery delivered in a rich Irish brogue. Just what view he would take of their pastime the boys had no idea, but awaited with uneasiness. If they had been wasting time when they should have been working there is no question but that they would have been sent with contumely to more profitable pursuits, but this was within their rightful play hours, and Raften, after regarding them with a searching look, said slowly: “Bhoys!” (Sam felt easier; his father would have said ’Bhise_” if really angry.) “Fhat’s the good o’ wastin’ yer time” (Yan’s heart sank) “wid Willow withes fur a job like that? They can’t be made to howld. Whoi don’t ye git some hay woire or coord at the barrun?”
The boys were greatly relieved, but still this friendly overture might be merely a feint to open the way for a home thrust. Sam was silent. So Yan said, presently, “We ain’t allowed to use anything but what the Indians had or could get in the woods.”
“An’ who don’t allow yez?”
“Oh,” said William, with some amusement. “Oi see! Hyar.”
He went into the woods looking this way and that, and presently stopped at a lot of low shrubs.
“Do ye know what this is, Yan?”
“Le’s see if yer man enough to break it aff.”
Yan tried. The wood was brittle enough, but the bark, thin, smooth and pliant, was as tough as leather, and even a narrow strip defied his strength.
“That’s Litherwood,” said Raften. “That’s what the Injuns used; that’s what we used ourselves in the airly days of this yer settlement.”
The boys had looked for a rebuke, and here was a helping hand. It all turned on the fact that this was “play hours,” Raften left with a parting word: “In wan hour an’ a half the pigs is fed.”
“You see Da’s all right when the work ain’t forgot,” said Sam, with a patronizing air. “I wonder why I didn’t think o’ that there Leatherwood meself. I’ve often heard that that’s what was used fur tying bags in the old days when cord was scarce, an’ the Injuns used it for tying their prisoners, too. Ain’t it the real stuff?”
Several strips were now used for tying four poles together at the top, then these four were raised on end and spread out at the bottom to serve as the frame of the teepee, or more properly wigwam, since it was to be made of bark.
After consulting, they now got a long, limber Willow rod an inch thick, and bending it around like a hoop, they tied it with Leatherwood to each pole at a point four feet from the ground. Next they cut four short poles to reach from the ground to this. These were lashed at their upper ends to the Willow rod, and now they were ready for the bark slabs. The boys went to the Elm logs and again Sam’s able use of the axe came in. He cut the bark open along the top of one log, and by using the edge of the axe and some wooden wedges they pried off a great roll eight feet long and four feet across. It was a pleasant surprise to see what a wide piece of bark the small log gave them.
Three logs yielded three fine large slabs and others yielded pieces of various sizes. The large ones were set up against the frame so as to make the most of them. Of course they were much too big for the top, and much too narrow for the bottom; but the little pieces would do to patch if some way could be found to make them stick.
Sam suggested nailing them to the posts, and Yan was horrified at the idea of using nails. “No Indian has any nails.”
“Well, what would they use?” said Sam.
“They used thongs, an’–an’–maybe wooden pegs. I don’t know, but seems to me that would be all right.”
“But them poles is hard wood,” objected the practical Sam. “You can drive Oak pegs into Pine, but you can’t drive wooden pegs into hard wood without you make some sort of a hole first. Maybe I’d better bring a gimlet.”
“Now, Sam, you might just as well hire a carpenter–thatwouldn’t be Indian at all. Let’s play it right. We’ll find some way. I believe we can tie them up with Leatherwood.”
So Sam made a sharp Oak pick with his axe, and Yan used it to pick holes in each piece of bark and then did a sort of rude sewing till the wigwam seemed beautifully covered in. But when they went inside to look they were unpleasantly surprised to find how many holes there were. It was impossible to close them all because the bark was cracking in so many places, but the boys plugged the worst of them and then prepared for the great sacred ceremony–the lighting of the fire in the middle.
They gathered a lot of dry fuel, then Yan produced a match.
“That don’t look to me very Injun,” drawled Sam critically. “I don’t think Injuns has matches.”
“Well, they don’t,” admitted Yan, humbly. “But I haven’t a flint and steel, and don’t know how to work rubbing-sticks, so we just got to use matches, if we want a fire.”
“Why, of course we want a fire. I ain’t kicking,” said Sam. “Go ahead with your old leg-fire sulphur stick. A camp without a fire would be ’bout like last year’s bird’s nest or a house with the roof off.”
Yan struck a match and put it to the wood. It went out. He struck another–same result. Yet another went out.
“Pears to me you don’t know much about lightin’ a fire. Lemme show you. Let the White hunter learn the Injun somethin’ about the woods," said he with a leer.
Sam took the axe and cut some sticks of a dry Pine root. Then with his knife he cut long curling shavings, which he left sticking in a fuzz at the end of each stick.
“Oh, I’ve seen a picture of an Indian making them. They call them ’prayer-sticks,’” said Yan.
“Well, prayer-sticks is mighty good kindlin’” replied the other. He struck a match, and in a minute he had a blazing fire in the middle of the wigwam.
“Old Granny de Neuville, she’s a witch–she knows all about the woods, and cracked Jimmy turns everything into poetry what she says. He says she says when you want to make a fire in the woods you take–
“First a curl of Birch bark as dry as it kin be, Then some twigs of soft-wood, dead, but on the tree, Last o’ all some Pine knots to make the kittle foam, An’ thar’s a fire to make you think you’re settin’ right at home.”
“Who’s Granny de Neuville?”
“Oh, she’s the old witch that lives down at the bend o’ the creek.”
“What? Has she got a granddaughter named Biddy?” said Yan, suddenly remembering that his ancient ally came from this part of Sanger.
“Oh, my! Hain’t she? Ain’t Biddy a peach–drinks like a fish, talks everybody to death about the time she resided in Bonnerton. Gits a letter every mail begging her to come back and ’reside’ with them some more.”
“Ain’t this fine,” said Yan, as he sat on a pile of Fir boughs in the wigwam.
“Looks like the real thing,” replied Sam from his seat on the other side. “But say, Yan, don’t make any more fire; it’s kind o’ warm here, an’ there seems to be something wrong with that flue–wants sweepin’, prob’ly–hain’t been swep’ since I kin remember.”
The fire blazed up and the smoke increased. Just a little of it wandered out of the smoke-hole at the top, then it decided that this was a mistake and thereafter positively declined to use the vent. Some of it went out by chinks, and a large stream issued from the door, but by far the best part of it seemed satisfied with the interior of the wigwam, so that in a minute or less both boys scrambled out. Their eyes were streaming with smoke-tears and their discomfiture was complete.
“’Pears to me,” observed Sam, “like we got them holes mixed. The dooer should ’a ’been at the top, sence the smoke has a fancy for usin’ it, an’ then we’d had a chance.”
“The Indians make it work,” said Yan; “a White hunter ought to know how.”
“Now’s the Injun’s chance,” said Sam. “Maybe it wants a dooer to close, then the smoke would have to go out.”
They tried this, and of course some of the smoke was crowded out, but not till long after the boys were.
“Seems like what does get out by the chinks is sucked back agin by that there double-action flue,” said Sam.
It was very disappointing. The romance of sitting by the fire in one’s teepee appealed to both of the boys, but the physical torture of the smoke made it unbearable. Their dream was dispelled, and Sam suggested, “Maybe we’d better try a shanty.”
“No,” said Yan, with his usual doggedness. “I know it can be done, because the Indians do it. We’ll find out in time.”
But all their efforts were in vain. The wigwam was a failure, as far as fire was concerned. It was very small and uncomfortable, too; the wind blew through a hundred crevices, which grew larger as the Elm bark dried and cracked. A heavy shower caught them once, and they were rather glad to be driven into their cheerless lodge, but the rain came abundantly into the smoke-hole as well as through the walls, and they found it but little protection.
[Illustration: “The wigwam was a failure."]
“Seems to me, if anything, a leetle wetter in here than outside,” said Sam, as he led in a dash for home.
That night a heavy storm set in, and next day the boys found their flimsy wigwam blown down–nothing but a heap of ruins.
Some time after, Raften asked at the table in characteristic stern style, “Bhoys, what’s doin’ down to yer camp? Is yer wigwam finished?”
“No good,” said Sam. “All blowed down.”
“I dunno’. It smoked like everything. We couldn’t stay in it.”
“Couldn’t a-been right made,” said Raften; then with a sudden interest, which showed how eagerly he would have joined in this forty years ago, he said, “Why don’t ye make a rale taypay?”
“Dunno’ how, an’ ain’t got no stuff.”
“Wall, now, yez have been pretty good an’ ain’t slacked on the wurruk, yez kin have the ould wagon kiver. Cousin Bert could tache ye how to make it, if he wuz here. Maybe Caleb Clark knows,” he added, with a significant twinkle of his eye. “Better ask him.” Then he turned to give orders to the hired men, who, of course, ate at the family table.
“Da, do you care if we go to Caleb?”
“I don’t care fwhat ye do wid him,” was the reply.
Raften was no idle talker and Sam knew that, so as soon as “the law was off” he and Yan got out the old wagon cover. It seemed like an acre of canvas when they spread it out. Having thus taken possession, they put it away again in the cow-house, their own domain, and Sam said: “I’ve a great notion to go right to Caleb; he sho’ly knows more about a teepee than any one else here, which ain’t sayin’ much.”
“Oh, he’s the old Billy Goat that shot at Da oncet, just after Da beat him at a horse trade. Let on it was a mistake: ’twas, too, as he found out, coz Da bought up some old notes of his, got ’em cheap, and squeezed him hard to meet them. He’s had hard luck ever since.
“He’s a mortal queer old duck, that Caleb. He knows heaps about the woods, coz he was a hunter an’ trapper oncet. My! wouldn’t he be down on me if he knowed who was my Da, but he don’t have to know.”