Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Calm Evening
It was a calm June evening, the time of the second daily outburst of bird song, the day’s aftermath. The singers seemed to be in unusual numbers as well. Nearly every good perch had some little bird that seemed near bursting with joy and yet trying to avert that dire catastrophe.
As the boys went down the road by the outer fence of their own orchard a Hawk came sailing over, silencing as he came the singing within a given radius. Many of the singers hid, but a Meadow Lark that had been whistling on a stake in the open was now vainly seeking shelter in the broad field. The Hawk was speeding his way. The Lark dodged and put on all power to reach the orchard, but the Hawk was after him now–was gaining–in another moment would, have clutched the terrified musician, but out of the Apple trees there dashed a small black-and-white bird–the Kingbird. With a loud harsh twitter–his war-cry–repeated again and again, with his little gray head-feathers raised to show the blood-and-flame-coloured undercrest–his war colours–he darted straight at the great robber.
“Clicker-a-clicker,” he fairly screamed, and made for the huge Hawk, ten times his size.
“Clicker-a-clicker!” he shrieked, like a cateran shouting the “slogan,” and down like a black-and-white dart–to strike the Hawk fairly between the shoulders just as the Meadow Lark dropped in despair to the bare ground and hid its head from the approaching stroke of death.
“Clicker-a-clicker"–and the Hawk wheeled in sudden consternation. “Clicker-a-clicker"–and the dauntless little warrior dropped between his wings, stabbing and tearing.
The Hawk bucked like a mustang, the Kingbird was thrown, but sprung on agile pinions above again.
“Clicker-a-clicker,” and he struck as before. Large brown feathers were floating away on the breeze now. The Meadow Lark was forgotten. The Hawk thought only of escape.
“Clicker-a-clicker,” the slogan still was heard. The Hawk was putting on all speed to get away, but the Kingbird was riding him most of the time. Several brown feathers floated down, the Hawk dwindled in the distance to a Sparrow and the Kingbird to a fly dancing on his back. The Hawk made a final plunge into a thicket, and the king came home again, uttering the shrill war-cry once or twice, probably to let the queen know that he was coming back, for she flew to a high branch of the Apple tree where she could greet the returning hero. He came with an occasional “clicker-a-clicker"–then, when near her, he sprung fifty feet in the air and dashed down, screaming his slogan without interruption, darting zigzag with the most surprising evolutions and turns–this way, that way, sideways and downward, dealing the deadliest blows right and left at an imaginary foe, then soared, and did it all over again two or three times, just to show how far he was from being tired, and how much better he could have done it had it been necessary. Then with a final swoop and a volley of “clickers” he dashed into the bush to receive the congratulations of the one for whom it all was meant and the only spectator for whose opinion he cared in the least.
[Illustration: “Clicker-a-clicker!’ he shrieked ... and down like a dart."]
“Now, ain’t that great,” said Sam, with evident sincerity and pleasure. His voice startled Yan and brought him back. He had been wholly lost in silent admiring wonder of the dauntless little Kingbird.
A Vesper Sparrow ran along the road before them, flitting a few feet ahead each time they overtook it and showing the white outer tail-feathers as it flew.
“A little Graybird,” remarked Sam.
“No, that isn’t a Graybird; that’s a Vesper Sparrow,” exclaimed Yan, in surprise, for he knew he was right.
“Well, I dunno,” said Sam, yielding the point.
“I thought you said you knew every bird that flies and all about it" replied his companion, for the memory of this first day was strong with him yet.
Sam snorted: “I didn’t know you then. I was just loadin’ you up so you’d think I was a wonderful feller, an’ you did, too–for awhile.”
A Red-headed Woodpecker, carrying a yellow butterfly, flew on a fence stake ahead of them and peeped around as they drew near. The setting sun on his bright plumage, the lilac stake and the yellow butterfly, completed a most gorgeous bit of colour and gave Yan a thrill of joy. A Meadow Lark on a farther stake, a Bluebird on another, and a Vesper Bird on a stone, each added his appeal to eye and ear, till Sam exclaimed:
“Oh, ain’t that awful nice?” and Yan was dumb with a sort of saddened joy.
Birds hate the wind, and this was one of those birdy days that come only with a dead calm.
They passed a barn with two hundred pairs of Swallows flying and twittering around, a cut bank of the road had a colony of 1,000 Sand Martins, a stream had its rattling Kingfishers, and a marsh was the playground of a multitude of Red-winged Blackbirds.
Yan was lifted up with the joy of the naturalist at seeing so many beautiful living things. Sam felt it, too; he grew very silent, and the last half-mile to the “Corner” was passed without a word. The boots were got. Sam swung them around his neck and the boys set out for home. The sun was gone, but not the birds, and the spell of the evening was on them still. A Song Sparrow by the brook and a Robin high in the Elm were yet pouring out their liquid notes in the gloaming.
“I wish I could be always here,” said Yan, but he started a little when he remembered how unwilling he had been to come.
There was a long silence as they lingered on the darkening road. Each was thinking hard.
A loud, startling but soft “Ohoo–O-hoo–O-hoooooo,” like the coo of a giant dove, now sounded about their heads in a tree. They stopped and Sam whispered, “Owl; big Hoot Owl.” Yan’s heart leaped with pleasure. He had read all his life of Owls, and even had seen them alive in cages, but this was the first time he had ever heard the famous hooting of the real live wild Owl, and it was a delicious experience.
The night was quite dark now, but there were plenty of sounds that told of life. A Whippoorwill was chanting in the woods, a hundred Toads and Frogs creaked and trilled, a strange rolling, laughing cry on a marshy pond puzzled them both, then a Song Sparrow in the black night of a dense thicket poured forth its sweet little sunshine song with all the vigour and joy of its best daytime doing.
They listened attentively for a repetition of the serenade, when a high-pitched but not loud ’Wa–wa–wa–wa–wa–wa–wa–wa!" reached their ears from a grove of heavy timbers.
“Hear that?” exclaimed Sam.
Again it came, a quavering squall, apparently much nearer. It was a rather shrill sound, quite unbirdy, and Sam whispered:
“Coon–that’s the whicker of a Coon. We can come down here some time when corn’s ’in roastin’’ an’ have a Coon hunt.”
“Oh, Sam, wouldn’t that be glorious!” said Yan. “How I wish it was now. I never saw a Coon hunt or any kind of a hunt. Do we have to wait till ’roasting-ear’ time?”
“Oh, yes; it’s easier to find them then. You say to your Coons, ’Me an’ me dogs will meet you to-night at the nearest roastin’-ear patch,’ an’ sure nuff they’ll keep the appointment.”
“But they’re around now, for we just heard one, and there’s another.”
A long faint ’Lil–lil–lil–lil–lil–li-looo!_” now sounded from the trees. It was like the other, but much softer and sweeter.
“There’s where you fool yerself,” replied Sam, “an’ there’s where many a hunter is fooled. That last one’s the call of a Screech Owl. You see it’s softer and whistlier than the Coon whicker.”
They heard it again and again from the trees. It was a sweet musical sound, and Yan remembered how squally the Coon call was in comparison, and yet many hunters never learn the difference.
As they came near the tree whence the Owl called at intervals, a gray blot went over their heads, shutting out a handful of stars for a moment as it passed over them, but making no noise. “There he goes," whispered Sam. “That’s the Screech Owl. Not much of a screech, was it?” Not long afterward Yan came across a line of Lowell’s which says, “The song of the Screech Owl is the sweetest sound in nature,” and appreciated the absurdity of the name.
“I want to go on a Coon hunt,” continued Yan, and the sentence was just tinged with the deep-laid doggedness that was usually lost in his courteous manner.
“That settles it,” answered the other, for he was learning what that tone meant. “We’ll surely go when you talk that way, for, of coorse, it kin be done. You see, I know more about animals than birds," he continued. “I’m just as likely to be a dentist as a hunter so far as serious business is concerned, but I’d sure love to be a hunter for awhile, an’ I made Da promise to go with me some time. Maybe we kin get a Deer by going back ten miles to the Long Swamp. I only wish Da and Old Caleb hadn’t fought, ’cause Caleb sure knows the woods, an’ that old Hound of his has treed more Coons than ye could shake a stick at in a month o’ Sundays.”
“Well, if that’s the only Coon dog around, I’m going to get him. You’ll see,” was the reply.
“I believe you will,” answered Sam, in a tone of mixed admiration and amusement.
It was ten o’clock when they got home, and every one was in bed but Mr. Raften. The boys turned in at once, but next morning, on going to the barn, they found that Si had not only sewed on and hemmed the smoke-flaps, but had resewn the worst of the patches and hemmed the whole bottom of the teepee cover with a small rope in the hem, so that they were ready now for the pins and poles.
The cover was taken at once to the camp ground. Yan carried the axe. When they came to the brush fence over the creek at the edge of the swamp, he said:
“Sam, I want to blaze that trail for old Caleb. How do you do it?”
“Spot the trees with the axe every few yards.”
“This way?” and Yan cut a tree in three places, so as to show three white spots or blazes.
“No; that’s a trapper’s blaze for a trap or a ’special blaze’, but a ’road blaze’ is one on the front of the tree and one on the back–so–then ye can run the trail both ways, an’ you put them thicker if it’s to be followed at night.”