Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
One hot day early in July they were enjoying themselves in the shallow bathing-hole of the creek, when Sam observed: “It’s getting low. It goes dry every summer.”
This was not pleasing to foresee, and Yan said, “Why can’t we make a dam?”
“A little too much like work.”
“Oh, pshaw! That’d be fun and we’d have a swimming-place for all summer, then. Come on; let’s start now.”
“Never heard of Injuns doing so much work.”
“Well, we’ll play Beaver while we do it. Come on, now; here’s for a starter,” and Yan carried a big stone to what seemed to him the narrowest place. Then he brought more, and worked with enthusiasm till he had a line of stones right across the creek bed.
Sam still sat naked on the bank, his knees to his chin and his arms around them. The war-paint was running down his chest in blue and red streaks.
“Come on, here, you lazy freak, and work,” cried Yan, and flung a handful of mud to emphasize the invite.
“My festered knee’s broke out again,” was the reply.
At length Yan said, “I’m not going to do it all alone,” and straightened up his back.
“Look a-here,” was the answer. “I’ve been thinking. The cattle water here. The creek runs dry in summer, then the cattle has to go to the barnyard and drink at the trough–has to be pumped for, and hang round for hours after hoping some one will give them some oats, instead of hustling back to the woods to get fat. Now, two big logs across there would be more’n half the work. I guess we’ll ask Da to lend us the team to put them logs across to make a drinking-pond for the cattle. Them cattle is awful on my mind. Didn’t sleep all night thinking o’ them. I just hate like pizen to see them walking all the way to the barn in hot weather for a drink–’tain’t right.” So Sam waited for a proper chance to “tackle” his father. It did not come that day, but at breakfast next morning Raften looked straight at Yan across the table, and evidently thinking hard about something, said:
“Yahn, this yer room is twenty foot by fifteen, how much ilecloth three foot wide will it call fur?”
“Thirty-three and one-third yards,” Yan said at once.
Raften was staggered. Yan’s manner was convincing, but to do all that in his head was the miracle. Various rude tests were applied and the general opinion prevailed that Yan was right.
The farmer’s face beamed with admiration for the first time. “Luk at that,” he said to the table, “luk at that fur eddication. When’ll you be able to do the like?” he said to Sam.
“Never,” returned his son, with slow promptness. “Dentists don’t have to figger on ilecloth.”
“Say, Yan,” said Sam aside, “guess you better tackle Da about the dam. Kind o’ sot up about ye this mornin’; your eddication has softened him some, an’ it’ll last till about noon, I jedge. Strike while the iron is hot.”
So after breakfast Yan commenced:
“Mr. Raften, the creek’s running dry. We want to make a pond for the cattle to drink, but we can’t make a dam without two big logs across. Will you let us have the team a few minutes to place the logs?”
“It ain’t fur a swimmin’-pond, is it, ye mean?” said Raften, with a twinkle in his eye.
“It would do for that as well,” and Yan blushed.
“Sounds to me like Sam talking through Yan’s face,” added Raften, shrewdly taking in the situation. “I’ll see fur meself.”
Arrived at the camp, he asked: “Now, whayer’s yer dam to be? Thar? That’s no good. It’s narrer but it’d be runnin’ round both ends afore ye had any water to speak of. Thayer’s a better place, a bit wider, but givin’ a good pond. Whayer’s yer logs? Thayer? What–my seasoning timber? Ye can’t hev that. That’s the sill fur the new barrn; nor that–it’s seasonin’ fur gate posts. Thayer’s two ye kin hev. I’ll send the team, but don’t let me ketch ye stealin’ any o’ my seasonin’ timber or the fur’ll fly.”
With true Raften promptness the heavy team came, the two great logs were duly dragged across and left as Yan requested (four feet apart for the top of the dam).
The boys now drove in a row of stakes against each log on the inner side, to form a crib, and were beginning to fill in the space with mud and stones. They were digging and filling it up level as they went. Clay was scarce and the work went slowly; the water, of course, rising as the wall arose, added to the difficulty. But presently Yan said:
“Hold on. New scheme. Let’s open her and dig a deep trench on one side so all the water will go by, then leave a clay wall to it” [the trench] “and dig a deep hole on the other side of it. That will give us plenty of stuff for the dam and help to deepen the pond.”
Thus they worked. In a week the crib was full of packed clay and stone. Then came the grand finish–the closing of this sluiceway through the dam. It was not easy with the full head of water running, but they worked like beavers and finally got it stopped.
That night there was a heavy shower. Next day when they came near they heard a dull roar in the woods. They stopped and listened in doubt, then Yan exclaimed gleefully: “The dam! That’s the water running over the dam.”
They both set off with a yell and ran their fastest. As soon as they came near they saw a great sheet of smooth water where the stony creek bottom had been and a steady current over the low place left as an overflow in the middle of the dam.
What a thrill of pleasure that was!
“Last in’s a dirty sucker.”
“Look out for my bad knee,” was the response.
The rest of the race was a mixture of stripping and sprinting and the boys splashed in together.
Five feet deep in the deep hole, a hundred yards long, and all their own doing.
“Now, wasn’t it worth it?” asked Yan, who had had much difficulty in keeping Sam steadily at play that looked so very much like work.
“Wonder how that got here? I thought I left that in the teepee?” and Sam pointed to a log that he used for a seat in the teepee, but now it was lodged in the overflow.
Yan was a good swimmer, and as they played and splashed, Sam said: “Now I know who you are. You can’t hide it from me no longer. I suspicioned it when you were working on the dam. You’re that tarnal Redskin they call ’Little Beaver.’”
“I’ve been watching you,” retorted Yan, “and it seems to me I’ve run up against that copper-coloured scallawag–’Young-Man-Afraid-of-a-Shovel.’”
[Illustration: The dam was a great success]
“No, you don’t,” said Sam. “Nor I ain’t ’_Bald-Eagle-Settin’-on-a-Rock-with-his-Tail-Hangin’-over-the-Edge,’nuther. In fact, I don’t keer to be recognized just now. Ain’t it a relief to think the cattle don’t have to take that walk any more?”
Sam was evidently trying to turn the subject, but Yan would not be balked. “I heard Si call you ’Woodpecker’ the other day.”
“Yep. I got that at school. When I was a kid to hum I heerd Ma talk about me be-a-u-tiful golden hair, but when I got big enough to go to school I learned that it was only red, an’ they called me the ’Red-headed Woodpecker.’ I tried to lick them, but lots of them could lick me an’ rubbed it in wuss. When I seen fightin’ didn’t work, I let on to like it, but it was too late then. Mostly it’s just ’Woodpecker’ for short. I don’t know as it ever lost me any sleep.”
Half an hour later, as they sat by the fire that Yan made with rubbing-sticks, he said, “Say, Woodpecker, I want to tell you a story.” Sam grimaced, pulled his ears forward, and made ostentatious preparations to listen.
“There was once an Indian squaw taken prisoner by some other tribe way up north. They marched her 500 miles away, but one night she escaped and set out, not on the home trail, for she knew they would follow that way and kill her, but to one side. She didn’t know the country and got lost. She had no weapons but a knife, and no food but berries. Well, she travelled fast for several days till a rainstorm came, then she felt safe, for she knew her enemies could not trail her now. But winter was near and she could not get home before it came. So she set to work right where she was.
“She made a wigwam of Birch bark and a fire with rubbing-sticks, using the lace of her moccasin for a bow-string. She made snares of the inner bark of the Willow and of Spruce roots, and deadfalls, too, for Rabbits. She was starving sometimes, at first, but she ate the buds and inner bark of Birch trees till she found a place where there were lots of Rabbits. And when she caught some she used every scrap of them. She made a fishing-line of the sinews, and a hook of the bones and teeth lashed together with sinew and Spruce gum.
“She made a cloak of Rabbit skins, sewed with needles of Rabbit bone and thread of Rabbit sinew, and a lot of dishes of Birch bark sewed with Spruce roots.
“She put in the whole winter there alone, and when the spring came she was found by Samuel Hearne, the great traveller. Her precious knife was worn down, but she was fat and happy and ready to set out for her own people.”
“Well, I say that’s mighty inter-est-in’,” said Sam–he had listened attentively–"an’ I’d like nothin’ better than to try it myself if I had a gun an’ there was lots of game.”
“Pooh, who wouldn’t?”
“Mighty few–an’ there’s mighty few who could." “I could.”
“What, make everything with just a knife? I’d like to see you make a teepee,” then adding earnestly, “Sam, we’ve been kind o’ playing Injuns; now let’s do it properly. Let’s make everything out of what we find in the woods.”
“Guess we’ll have to visit the Sanger Witch again. She knows all about plants.”
“We’ll be the Sanger Indians. We can both be Chiefs,” said Yan, not wishing to propose himself as Chief or caring to accept Sam as his superior. “I’m Little Beaver. Now what are you?”
“No, try again. Make it something you can draw, so you can make your totem, and make it short.”
“What’s the smartest animal there is?”
“I–I–suppose the Wolverine.”
“What! Smarter’n a Fox?”
“The books say so.”
“Kin he lick a Beaver?”
“Well, I should say so.”
“Well, that’s me.”
“No, you don’t. I’m not going around with a fellow that licks me. It don’t fit you as well as ’Woodpecker,’ anyhow. I always get youwhen I want a nice tree spoiled or pecked into holes,” retorted Yan, magnanimously ignoring the personal reason for the name.
“Tain t as bad as beavering,” answered Sam
“Beavering” was a word with a history. Axes and timber were the biggest things in the lives of the Sangerites. Skill with the axe was the highest accomplishment. The old settlers used to make everything in the house out of wood, and with the axe for the only tool. It was even said that some of them used to “edge her up a bit” and shave with her on Sundays. When a father was setting his son up in life he gave him simply a good axe. The axe was the grand essential of life and work, and was supposed to be a whole outfit. Skill with the axe was general. Every man and boy was more or less expert, and did not know how expert he was till a real “greeny” came among them. There is a right way to cut for each kind of grain, and a certain proper way of felling a tree to throw it in any given direction with the minimum of labour. All these things are second nature to the Sangerite. A Beaver is credited with a haphazard way of gnawing round and round a tree till somehow it tumbles, and when a chopper deviates in the least from the correct form, the exact right cut in the exact right place, he is said to be “beavering"; therefore, while “working like a Beaver” is high praise, “beavering” a tree is a term of unmeasured reproach, and Sam’s final gibe had point and force that none but a Sangerite could possibly have appreciated.