Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Sanger Witch
The Sanger Witch dwelt in the bend of the creek, And neither could read nor write; But she knew in a day what few knew in a week, For hers was the second sight. “Read?” said she, “I am double read; You fools of the ink and pen Count never the eggs, but the sticks of the nest, See the clothes, not the souls of men.”
–Cracked Jimmy’s Ballad of Sanger.
The boys set out for Caleb’s. It was up the creek away from the camp ground. As they neared the bend they saw a small log shanty, with some poultry and a pig at the door.
“That’s where the witch lives,” said Sam.
“Who–old Granny de Neuville?”
“Yep, and she just loves me. Oh, yes; about the same way an old hen loves a Chicken-hawk. ’Pears to me she sets up nights to love me.”
“Oh, I guess it started with the pigs. No, let’s see: first about the trees. Da chopped off a lot of Elm trees that looked terrible nice from her windy. She’s awful queer about a tree. She hates to see ’em cut down, an’ that soured her same as if she owned ’em. Then there wuz the pigs. You see, one winter she was awful hard up, an’ she had two pigs worth, maybe, $5.00 each–anyway, she said they was, an’ she ought to know, for they lived right in the shanty with her–an’ she come to Da (I guess she had tried every one else first) an’ Da he squeezed her down an’ got the two pigs for $7.00. He al’ays does that. Then he comes home an’ says to Ma, ’Seems to me the old lady is pretty hard put. ’Bout next Saturday you take two sacks of flour and some pork an’ potatoes around an’ see that she is fixed up right.’ Da’s al’ays doin’ them things, too, on the quiet. So Ma goes with about $15.00 worth o’ truck. The old witch was kinder ’stand off.’ She didn’t say much. Ma was goin’ slow, not knowin’ just whether to give the stuff out an’ out, or say it could be worked for next year, or some other year, when there was two moons, or some time when the work was all done. Well, the old witch said mighty little until the stuff was all put in the cellar, then she grabs up a big stick an’ breaks out at Ma:
“’Now you git out o’ my house, you dhirty, sthuck-up thing. I ain’t takin’ no charity from the likes o’ you. That thing you call your husband robbed me o’ my pigs, an’ we ain’t any more’n square now, so git out an’ don’t you dar set fut in my house agin’.
“Well, she was sore on us when Da bought her pigs, but she was five times wuss after she clinched the groceries. ’Pears like they soured on her stummick.”
“What a shame, the old wretch,” said Yan, with ready sympathy for the Raftens.
“No,” replied Sam; “she’s only queer. There’s lots o’ folk takes her side. But she’s awful queer. She won’t have a tree cut if she can help it, an’ when the flowers come in the spring she goes out in the woods and sets down beside ’em for hours an’ calls ’em ’Me beauty–me little beauty,’ an’ she just loves the birds. When the boys want to rile her they get a sling-shot an’ shoot the birds in her garden an’ she just goes crazy. She pretty near starves herself every winter trying to feed all the birds that come around. She has lots of ’em to feed right out o’ her hand. Da says they think its an old pine root, but she has a way o’ coaxin’ ’em that’s awful nice. There she’ll stand in freezin’ weather calling them ’Me beauties’.
“You see that little windy in the end?” he continued, as they came close to the witch’s hut. “Well, that’s the loft, an’ it’s full o’ all sorts o’ plants an’ roots.”
“Oh, for medicine. She’s great on hairbs.”
“Oh, yes, I remember now Biddy did say that her Granny was a herb doctor.”
“Doctor? She ain’t much of a doctor, but I bet she knows every plant that grows in the woods, an’ they’re sure strong after they’ve been up there for a year, with the cat sleepin’ on them.”
“I wish I could go and see her.”
“Guess we can,” was the reply.
“Doesn’t she know you?”
“Yes, but watch me fix her,” drawled Sam. “There ain’t nothin’ she likes better’n a sick pusson.”
Sam stopped now, rolled up his sleeves and examined both arms, apparently without success, for he then loosed his suspenders, dropped his pants, and proceeded to examine his legs. Of course, all boys have more or less cuts and bruises in various stages of healing. Sam selected his best, just below the knee, a scratch from a nail in the fence. He had never given it a thought before, but now he “reckoned it would do.” With a lead pencil borrowed from Yan he spread a hue of mortification all around it, a green butternut rind added the unpleasant yellowish-brown of human decomposition, and the result was a frightful looking plague spot. By chewing some grass he made a yellowish-green dye and expectorated this on the handkerchief which he bound on the sore. He then got a stick and proceeded to limp painfully toward the witch’s abode. As they drew near, the partly open door was slammed with ominous force. Sam, quite unabashed, looked at Yan and winked, then knocked. The bark of a small dog answered. He knocked again. A sound now of some one moving within, but no answer. A third time he knocked, then a shrill voice: “Get out o’ that. Get aff my place, you dirthy young riff-raff.”
Sam grinned at Yan. Then drawling a little more than usual, he said:
“It’s a poor boy, Granny. The doctors can’t do nothin’ for him,” which last, at least, was quite true.
There was no reply, so Sam made bold to open the door. There sat the old woman glowering with angry red eyes across the stove, a cat in her lap, a pipe in her mouth, and a dog growling toward the strangers.
“Ain’t you Sam Raften?” she asked fiercely.
“Yes, marm. I get hurt on a nail in the fence. They say you kin git blood-p’isinin’ that way,” said Sam, groaning a little and trying to look interesting. The order to “get out” died on the witch’s lips. Her good old Irish heart warmed to the sufferer. After all, it was rather pleasant to have the enemy thus humbly seek her aid, so she muttered:
“Le’s see it.”
Sam was trying amid many groans to expose the disgusting mess he had made around his knee, when a step was heard outside. The door opened and in walked Biddy.
She and Yan recognized each other at once. The one had grown much longer, the other much broader since the last meeting, but the greeting was that of two warm-hearted people glad to see each other once more.
“An’ how’s yer father an’ yer mother an’ how is all the fambily? Law, do ye mind the Cherry Lung-balm we uster make? My, but we wuz greenies then! Ye mind, I uster tell ye about Granny? Well, here she is. Granny, this is Yan. Me an’ him hed lots o’ fun together when I ’resided’ with his mamma, didn’t we, Yan? Now, Granny’s the one to tell ye all about the plants.”
A long groan from Sam now called all attention his way.
“Well, if it ain’t Sam Raften,” said Biddy coldly.
“Yes, an’ he’s deathly sick,” added Granny. “Their own docther guv him up an said mortal man couldn’t save him nohow, so he jest hed to come to me.”
Another long groan was ample indorsement.
“Le’s see. Gimme my scissors, Biddy; I’ll hev to cut the pant leg aff.”
“No, no,” Sam blurted out with sudden vigour, dreading the consequences at home. “I kin roll it up.”
“Thayer, thot’ll do. Now I say,” said the witch. “Yes, sure enough, thayer is proud flesh. I moight cut it out,” said she, fumbling in her pocket (Sam supposed for a knife, and made ready to dash for the door), “but le’s see, no–that would be a fool docther trick. I kin git on without.”
“Yes, sure,” said Sam, clutching at the idea, “that’s just what a fool doctor would do, but you kin give me something to take that’s far better.”
“Well, sure an’ I kin,” and Yan and Sam breathed more freely. “Shwaller this, now,” and she offered him a tin cup of water into which she spilled some powder of dry leaves. Sam did so. “An’ you take this yer bundle and bile it in two gallons of wather and drink a glassful ivery hour, an’ hev a loive chicken sphlit with an axe an’ laid hot on the place twicet ivery day, till the proud flesh goes, an’ it’ll be all right wid ye–a fresh chicken ivery toime, moind ye.”
“Wouldn’t–turkeys–do–better?” groaned Sam, feebly. “I’m me mother’s pet, Granny, an’ expense ain’t any objek"–a snort that may have meant mortal agony escaped him.
“Niver moind, now. Sure we won’t talk of yer father an’ mother; they’re punished pretty bad already. Hiven forbid they don’t lose the rest o’ ye fur their sins. It ain’t meself that ’ud bear ony ill-will.”
A long groan cut short what looked like a young sermon.
“What’s the plant, Granny?” asked Yan, carefully avoiding Sam’s gaze.
“Shure, an’ it grows in the woods.”
“Yes, but I want to know what it’s like and what it’s called.”
“Shure, ’tain’t like nothin’ else. It’s just like itself, an’ it’s called Witch-hazel.
“’Witch-hazel blossoms in the faal, To cure the chills and Fayvers aall,’
“as cracked Jimmy says.”
“I’ll show you some av it sometime,” said Biddy.
“Can it be made into Lung-balm?” asked Yan, mischievously.
“I guess we’ll have to go now,” Sam feebly put in. “I’m feeling much better. Where’s my stick? Here, Yan, you kin carry my medicine, an’ be very keerful of it.”
Yan took the bundle, not daring to look Sam in the face.
Granny bade them both come back again, and followed to the door with a hearty farewell. At the same moment she said:
“Howld on!” Then she went to the one bed in the room, which also was the house, turned down the clothes, and in the middle exposed a lot of rosy apples. She picked out two of the best and gave one to each of the boys.
“Shure, Oi hev to hoide them thayer fram the pig, for they’re the foinest iver grew.”
“I know they are,” whispered Sam, as he limped out of hearing, “for her son Larry stole them out of our orchard last fall. They’re the only kind that keeps over. They’re the best that grow, but a trifle too warm just now.”
“Good-by, and thank you much,” said Yan.
“I-feel-better-already,” drawled Sam. “That tired feeling has left me, an’ sense tryin’ your remedy I have took no other,” but added aside, “I wish I could throw up the stuff before it pisens me,” and then, with a keen eye to the picturesque effect, he wanted to fling his stick away and bound into the woods.
It was all Yan could do to make him observe some of the decencies and limp a little till out of sight. As it was, the change was quite marked and the genial old witch called loudly on Biddy to see with her own eyes how quickly she had helped young Raften “afther all the dochters in the country hed giv him up.”
“Now for Caleb Clark, Esq., Q.C.,” said Sam.
“Q.C.?” inquired his friend.
“Some consider it means Queen’s Counsel, an’ some claims as it stands for Queer Cuss. One or other maybe is right.”
“You’re stepping wonderfully for a crippled boy the doctors have given up,” remarked Yan.
“Yes; that’s the proud flesh in me right leg that’s doin’ the high steppin’. The left one is jest plain laig.”
“Let’s hide this somewhere till we get back,” and Yan held up the bundle of Witch-hazel.
“I’ll hide that,” said Sam, and he hurled the bundle afar into the creek.
“Oh, Sam, that’s mean. Maybe she wants it herself.”
“Pooh, that’s all the old brush is good for. I done more’n me duty when I drank that swill. I could fairly taste the cat in it.”
“What’ll you tell her next time?”
“Well, I’ll tell her I put the sticks in the right place an’ where they done the most good. I soaked ’em in water an’ took as much as I wanted of the flooid.
“She’ll see for herself I really did pull through, and will be a blamed sight happier than if I drank her old pisen brushwood an’ had to send for a really truly doctor.”
Yan was silenced, but not satisfied. It seemed discourteous to throw the sticks away–so soon, anyway; besides, he had curiosity to know just what they were and how they acted.