Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton

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Yan and the Witch

  The Sanger Witch hated the Shanty-man’s axe
  And wildfire, too, they tell,
  But the hate that she had for the Sporting man
  Was wuss nor her hate of Hell!

–Cracked Jimmie’s Ballad of Sanger.

Yan took his earliest opportunity to revisit the Sanger Witch.

“Better leave me out,” advised Sam, when he heard of it. “She’d never look at you if I went. You look too blame healthy.”

So Yan went alone, and he was glad of it. Fond as he was of Sam, his voluble tongue and ready wit left Yan more or less in the shade, made him look sober and dull, and what was worse, continually turned the conversation just as it was approaching some subject that was of deepest interest to him.

As he was leaving, Sam called out, “Say, Yan, if you want to stay there to dinner it’ll be all right–we’ll know why you hain’t turned up.” Then he stuck his tongue in his cheek, closed one eye and went to the barn with his usual expression of inscrutable melancholy.

Yan carried his note-book–he used it more and more, also his sketching materials. On the road he gathered a handful of flowers and herbs. His reception by the old woman was very different this time.

“Come in, come in, God bless ye, an’ hoo air ye, an’ how is yer father an’ mother–come in an’ set down, an’ how is that spalpeen, Sam Raften?”

“Sam’s all right now,” said Yan with a blush.

“All right! Av coorse he’s all right. I knowed I’d fix him all right, an’ he knowed it, an’ his Ma knowed it when she let him come. Did she say onything about it?”

“No, Granny, not a word.”

“The dhirty hussy! Saved the boy’s life in sphite of their robbin’ me an’ she ain’t human enough to say ’thank ye’–the dhirty hussy! May God forgive her as I do,” said the old woman with evident and implacable enmity.

“Fwhat hev ye got thayer? Hivin be praised, they can’t kill them all off. They kin cut down the trees, but the flowers comes ivery year, me little beauties–me little beauties!” Yan spread them out. She picked up an Arum and went on. “Now, that’s Sorry-plant, only some calls it Injun Turnip, an’ I hear the childer call it Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Don’t ye never put the root o’ that near yer tongue. It’ll sure burn ye like fire. First thing whin they gits howld av a greeny the bhise throis to make him boite that same. Shure he niver does it twicet. The Injuns b’ile the pizen out o’ the root an’ ates it; shure it’s better’n starvin’.”

Golden Seal (_Hydrastis canadensis_), the plant she had used for Sam’s knee, was duly recognized and praised, its wonderful golden root, “the best goold iver came out av the ground,” was described with its impression of the seal of the Wise King.

“Thim’s Mandrakes, an’ they’re moighty late, an’ ye shure got thim in the woods. Some calls it May Apples, an’ more calls it Kingroot. The Injuns use it fur their bowels, an’ it has cured many a horse of pole evil that I seen meself.

“An’ Blue Cohosh, only I call that Spazzum-root. Thayer ain’t nothin’ like it fur spazzums–took like tay; only fur that the Injun women wouldn’t live in all their thrubles, but that’s something that don’t consarn ye. Luk now, how the laves is all spread out like wan wid spazzums. Glory be to the Saints and the Blessed Virgin, everything is done fur us on airth an’ plain marked, if we’d only take the thruble to luk.

“Now luk at thot,” said she, clawing over the bundle and picking out a yellow Cypripedium, “that’s Moccasin-plant wid the Injuns, but mercy on ’em fur bloind, miserable haythens. They don’t know nothin’ an’ don’t want to larn it. That’s Umbil, or Sterrick-root. It’s powerful good fur sterricks. Luk at it! See the face av a woman in sterricks wid her hayer flyin’ an’ her jaw a-droppin’. I moind the toime Larry’s little gurrl didn’t want to go to her ’place’ an’ hed sterricks. They jest sent fur me an’ I brung along a Sterrick-root. First, I sez, sez I, ’Get me some b’ilin’ wather,’ an’ I made tay an’ give it to her b’ilin’ hot. As share as Oi’m a livin’ corpse, the very first spoonful fetched her all right. Oh, but it’s God’s own gift, an’ it’s be His blessin’ we know how to use it. An’ it don’t do to just go an’ dig it when ye want it. It has to be grubbed when the flower ain’t thayer. Ye see, the strength ain’t in both places to oncet. It’s ayther in the flower or in the root, so when the flower is thayer the root’s no more good than an ould straw. Ye hes to Hunt fur it in spring or in fall, just when the divil himself wouldn’t know whayer to find it.

“An’ fwhat hev ye thayer? Good land! if it ain’t Skunk’s Cabbage! Ye sure come up by the Bend. That’s the on’y place whayer that grows.”

“Yes,” replied Yan; “that’s just where I got it. But hold on, Granny, I want to sketch all those and note down their names and what you say about them.”

“Shure, you’d hev a big book when I wuz through,” said the old woman with pride, as she lit her pipe, striking the match on what would have been the leg of her pants had she been a man.

“An’ shure ye don’t need to write down what they’re good fur, fur the good Lord done that Himself long ago. Luk here, now. That’s Cohosh, fur spazzums, an’ luks like it; that’s Moccasin, fur Highsterricks, an’ luks like it; wall, thar’s Skunk-root fur both, an’ don’t it luk like the two o’ thim thigither?”

Yan feebly agreed, but had much difficulty in seeing what the plant had in common with the others.

“An’ luk here! Thayer ye got Lowbelier, that some calls Injun tobaccer. Ye found this by the crick, an’ it’s a little airly–ahead o’ toime. That’s the shtuff to make ye throw up when ye want to. Luk, ain’t that lafe the livin’ shape of a shtummick?

“Thayer’s the Highbelier; it’s a high hairb, an’ it’s moighty foine fur the bowels when ye drink the dry root.

“Spicewood” [Spicebush, Lindera benzoin], “or Fayverbush, them twigs is great fur tay–that cures shakes and fayver. Shure an’ it shakes ivery toime the wind blows.

“That’s Clayvers,” she said, picking up a Galium. “Now fwhat wud ye think that wuz fur to cure?”

“I don’t know. What is it?”

“Luk now, an’ see how it’s wrote in it plain as prent–yes, an’ a sight plainer, fur I can read them an’ I can’t read a wurrud in a book. Now fwhat is that loike?” said she, holding up the double seed-pod.

“A brain and spinal column,” said Yan.

“Och, choild, I hev better eyes than ye. Shure them’s two kidneys, an’ that’s fwhat Clayver tay will cure better’n all the docthers in the wurruld, an’ ye hev to know just how. Ye see, kidney thruble is a koind o’ fayver; it’s hatin’, so ye make yer Clayver tay in cold wather; if ye make it o’ warrum wather it just makes ye wuss an’ acts loike didly pizen. Thayer’s Sweatplant, or Boneset" [_Eupatorium perfoliatum], “that’s the thing to sweat ye. Wanst Oi sane a feller jest dyin’ o’ dry hoide, wuz all hoidebound, an’ the docthers throid an’ throid an’ couldn’t help wan bit, till I guv his mother some Boneset leaves to make tay, an’ he sweat buckets before he’d more’n smelt av it, an’ the docthers thought they done it theirsilves!” and she cackled gleefully.

“Thayer’s Goldthread fur cankermouth, an’ Pipsissewa that cures fayver an’ rheumatiz, too. It always grows where folks gits them disayses. Luk at the flower just blotched red an’ white loike fayver blotches–an’ Spearmint, that saves ye if ya pizen yerself with Spaszum-root, an’ shure it grows right next it in the woods!

“Thayer’s Wormseed fur wurrums–see the ’ittle wurrum on the leaves" [Chenopodium] “an’ that thayer is Pleurisy root, an’ thayer! well, thayer’s the foinest hairb that iver God made to grow–that’s Cure all. Some things cures wan thing and some cures another, but when ye don’t know just what to take, ye make tay o’ that root an’ ye can’t go wrong. It was an Injun larned me that. The poor miserable baste of a haythen hed some larnin’, an’ the minit he showed me I knowed it was so, fur ivery lafe wuz three in wan an’ wan in three, an’ had the sign o’ the blessed crass in the middle as plain as that biler settin’ on the stove.”

Thus she chattered away, smoking her short pipe, expectorating on the top of the hot stove, but with true feminine delicacy she was careful each time to wipe her mouth on the back of her skinny arm.

“An’ that’s what’s called Catnip; sure Oi moind well the day Oi furst larned about that. It warn’t a Injun nor a docther nor a man at all, at all, that larned me that. It was that ould black Cat, an’ may the saints stand bechuxt me an’ his grane eyes! Bejabers, sometimes he scares me wid his knowin’ ways, but I hev nothin’ agin him except that he kills the wee burruds. He koind o’ measled all wan winter an’ lay around the stove. Whiniver the dooer was open he’d go an’ luk out an’ then come back an’ meow an’ wheen an’ lay down–an’ so he kep’ on, gittin’ waker an’ worser, till the snow wuz gone an’ grass come up, an’ still he’d go a-lukin’ toward the ayst, especially nights. Then thayer come up a plant I had never sane, right thayer, an’ he’d luk at it an’ luk at it loike he wanted it but didn’t dar to. Thar was some foine trays out thayer in thim days afore the ould baste cut thim down, an’ wan av thim hed a big limb, so–an’ another so–an’ when the moon come up full at jest the right time the shaddy made the sign av the crass an’ loighted on me dooer, an’ after it was past it didn’t make no crass. Well, bejabers, the full moon come up at last an’ she made the sign of the shaddy crass, an’ the ould Cat goes out an’ watches an’ watches loike he wanted to an’ didn’t dar to, till that crass drapped fayer onto the hairbs, an’ Tom he jumped then an’ ate an’ ate, an’ from that day he was a well Cat; an’ that’s how Oi larned Catnip, an’ it set me moind aisy, too, fur no Cat that’s possesst ’ll iver ate inunder the shaddy av the crass.”

Yan was scribbling away, but had given up any attempt to make sketches or even notes beyond the names of the plants.

“Shure, choild, put them papers wid the names on the hairbs an’ save them; that wuz fwhat Docther Carmartin done whin Oi was larnin’ him. Thayer, now, that’s it,” she added, as Yan took the hint and began slipping on each stalk a paper label with its name.

“That’s a curious broom,” said Yan, as his eye fell on the symbol of order and cleanliness, making strange reflections on itself.

“Yes; sure, that’s a Baitche broom. Larry makes ’em.”


“Yes, me bhoy.” [Larry was nearly sixty.] “He makes thim of Blue Baitche.”

“How?” asked Yan, picking it up and examining it with intense interest.

“Whoi, shure, by whittlin’. Larry’s a howly terror to whittle, an’ he gets a Blue Baitche sapling ’bout three inches thick an’ starts a-whittlin” long slivers, but laves them on the sthick at wan end till thayer all round loike that.”

“What, like a fire-lighter?”

“Yis, yis, that’s it, only bigger, an Blue Baitche is terrible tough. Then whin he has the sthick down to ’bout an inch thick, he ties all the slivers the wrong way wid a sthrand o’ Litherwood, an’ thrims down the han’el to suit, an’ evens up the ind av the broom wid the axe an’ lets it dhry out, an’ thayer yer is. Better broom was niver made, an’ there niver wus ony other in th’ famb’ly till he married that Kitty Connor, the lowest av the low, an’ it’s meself was all agin her, wid her proide an’ her dirthy sthuck-up ways’ nothin’ but boughten things wuz good enough fur her, her that niver had a dacint male till she thrapped moi Larry. Yis, low be it sphoken, but ’thrapped’ ’s the wurrud,” said the old woman, raising her voice to give emphasis that told a lurid tale.

At this moment the door opened and in came Biddy, and as she was the daughter of the unspeakable Kitty the conversation turned.

“An’ sure it’s glad to see ye I am, an’ when are ye comin’ down to reside at our place?” was her greeting to Yan, and while they talked Granny took advantage of the chance to take a long pull at a bottle that looked and smelled like Lung-balm.

“Moi, Biddy, yer airly,” said Granny.

“Shure, an’ now it was late whin I left home, an’ the schulmaster says it’s always so walking from ayst to west.”

“An’ shure it’s glad Oi am to say ye, fur Yan will shtop an ate wid us. It ain’t duck an’ grane pase, but, thank God, we hev enough an’ a hearty welcome wid ivery boite. Ye say, Biddy makes me dinner ivery foine day an’ Oi get a boite an’ a sup for meself other toimes, an’ slapes be me lone furby me Dog an’ Cat an’ the apples, which thayer ain’t but a handful left, but fwhat thar is is yourn. Help yerself, choild, an’ ate hearty,” and she turned down the gray-looking bedclothes to show the last half-dozen of the same rosy apples.

“Aint you afraid to sleep here alone nights, Granny?”

“Shure fwhat hev Oi to fayre? Thayer niver wuz robbers come but wanst, an’ shure I got theyer last cint aff av them. They come one night an’ broke in, an’ settin’ up, Oi sez, ’Now fwhat are yez lukin’ fur?’

“’Money,’ sez they, fur thayer was talk all round thin that Oi had sold me cow fur $25.

“’Sure, thin, Oi’ll get up an’ help ye,’ sez Oi, fur divil a cint hev Oi been able to set me eyes on sense apple harvest.’”

’"We want $25, or we’ll kill ye.’

“’Faith, an’ if it wuz twenty-five cints Oi couldn’t help it,’ sez Oi, ’an’ it’s ready to die Oi am,’ sez Oi, ’fur Oi was confessed last wake an’ Oi’m a-sayin’ me prayers this minit.’

“Sez the littlest wan, an’ he wa’n’t so little, nigh as br’ad as that dooer, ’Hevn’t ye sold yer cow?’

“’Ye’ll foind her in the barrun,’ sez Oi, ’though Oi hate to hev yez disturb her slapin’. It makes her drame an’ that’s bad fur the milk.’

“An’ next thing them two robbers wuz laffin’ at each other fur fools. Then the little wan sez:

“’Now, Granny, we’ll lave ye in pace, if ye’ll niver say a wurrud o’ this’–but the other wan seemed kind o’ sulky.

“’Sorra a wurrud,’ sez Oi, ’an’ good frinds we’ll be yit,’ an’ they wuz makin’ fur the dooer to clayer out whin I sez:

“’Howld on! Me friends can’t lave me house an’ naither boite nor sup; turn yer backs an’ ye plaze, till Oi get on me skirt.’ An’ whin Oi wuz up an’ dacint an’ tould them they could luk, Oi sez, ’It’s the foinest Lung balm in the land ye shall taste,’ an’ the littlest feller he starts a-coughin’, oh, a turrible cough–it fair scairt me, like a hoopin’ croup–an’ the other seemed just mad, and the littlest wan made fun av him. Oi seen the mean wan wuz left-handed or let on he wuz, but when he reached out fur the bottle he had on’y three fingers on his right, an’ they both av them had the biggest, blackest, awfulest lukin’ bairds–I’d know them two bairds agin ony place–an’ the littlest had a rag round his head, said he had a toothache, but shure yer teeth don’t ache in the roots o’ yer haiyer. Then when they wuz goin’ the littlest wan put a dollar in me hand an’ sez, ’It’s all we got bechuxst us, Granny.’ ’Godbless ye,’ sez Oi, ’an’ Oi take it kindly. It’s the first Oi seen sense apple harvest, an’ it’s a friend ye hev in me whin ye nade wan,’” and the old woman chuckled over her victory.

“Granny, do you know what the Indians use for dyeing colours?” asked Yan, harking back to his main purpose.

“Shure, Yahn, they jest goes to the store an’ gets boughten dyes in packages like we do.”

“But before there were boughten dyes, didn’t they use things in the woods?”

“That they did, for shure. Iverything man iver naded the good Lord made grow fur him in the woods.”

“Yes, but what plants?”

“Faix, an’ they differ fur different things.”

“Yes, but what are they?” Then seeing how general questions failed, he went at it in detail.

“What do they use for yellow dye on the Porcupine quills–I mean before the boughten dyes came?”

“Well, shure an’ that’s a purty yellow flower that grows in the fall out in the field an’ along the fences. The Yaller Weed, I call it, an’ some calls it Goldenrod. They bile the quills in wather with the flower. Luk! Thar’s some wool dyed that way.”

“An’ the red?” said Yan, scribbling away.

“Faix, an’ they had no rale good red. They made a koind o’ red o’ berry juice b’iled, an’ wanst I seen a turrible nice red an ol’ squaw made b’ilin’ the quills fust in yaller awhile an’ next awhile in red.”

“What berries make the best red, Granny?”

“Well, ’tain’t the red wans, as ye moight think. Ye kin make it of Rosberries or Sumac or Huckleberries an’ lots more, but Black Currants is redder than Red Currants, an’ Squaw berries is best av them all.”

“What are they like?”

“Shure, an’ Oi’ll show ye that same hairb,” and they wandered around outside the shanty in vain search. “It’s too airly,” said Granny, “but it’s round thayer in heaps in August an’ is the purtiest red iver grew. ’An Pokeweed, too, it ain’t har’ly flowerin’ yit, but in the fall it hez berries that’s so red they’re nigh black, an’ dyes the purtiest kind o’ a purple.”

“What makes blue?”

“Oi niver sane none in the quills. Thayer may be some. The good Lord made iverything grow in the woods, but I ain’t found it an’ niver seen none. Ye kin make a grane av the young shoots av Elder, but it ain’t purty like that,” and she pointed to a frightful emerald ribbon that Biddy wore, “an’ a brown of Butternut bark, an’ a black av White Oak chips an’ bark. Ye kin make a kind o’ grane av two dips, wan of yaller an wan av black. Ye kin dye black wid Hickory bark, an’ orange (bad scran to it) wid the inner bark of Birch, an’ yaller wid the roots av Hoop Ash, an’ a foine scarlet from the bark av the little root av Dogwood, but there ain’t no rale blue in the woods, an’ that’s what I tell them orange-an’-blue Prattisons on the 12th o’ July, fur what the Lord didn’t make the divil did.

“Ye kin make a koind of blue out o’ the Indigo hairb, but ’tain’t like this,” pointing to some screaming cobalt, “an’ if it ain’t in the woods the good Lord niver meant us to have it. Yis! I tell ye it’s the divil’s own colour, that blue-orange an’ blue is the divil’s own colours, shure enough, fur brimstone’s yaller; an’ its blue whin it’s burnin’, that I hed from his riv’rince himself–bless him!”


Part I  •  II  •  III  •  IV  •  V  •  VI  •  VII  •  VIII  •  IX  •  X  •  XI  •  XII  •  XIII  •  XIV  •  Part II  •  II  •  III  •  IV  •  V  •  VI  •  VII  •  VIII  •  IX  •  X  •  XI  •  XII  •  XIII  •  XIV  •  XV  •  Part III  •  II  •  III  •  IV  •  V  •  VI  •  VII  •  VIII  •  IX  •  X  •  XI  •  XII  •  XIII  •  XIV  •  XV  •  XVI  •  XVII  •  XVIII  •  XIX  •  XX  •  XXI  •  XXII  •  XXIII  •  XXIV  •  XXV  •  XXVI  •  XXVII  •  XXVIII  •  XXIX  •  XXX  •  XXXI  •  XXXII

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Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
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