Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Hostile Spy
“Wonder where Caleb got that big piece of Birch bark,” said Yan; “I’d like some for dishes.”
“Guess I know. He was over to Burns’s bush. There’s none in ours. We kin git some.”
“Will you ask him?”
“Naw, who cares for an old Birch tree. We’ll go an’ borrow it when he ain’t lookin’.”
Sam took the axe. “We’ll call this a war party into the enemy’s country. There’s sure ’nuff war that-a-way. He’s one of Da’s ’_friends.’_”
Yan followed, in doubt still as to the strict honesty of the proceeding.
Over the line they soon found a good-sized canoe Birch, and were busy whacking away to get off a long roll, when a tall man and a small boy, apparently attracted by the chopping, came in sight and made toward them. Sam called under his breath: “It’s old Burns. Let’s git.”
There was no time to save anything but themselves and the axe. They ran for the boundary fence, while Burns contented himself with shouting out threats and denunciations. Not that he cared a straw for the Birch tree–timber had no value in that country–but unfortunately Raften had quarrelled with all his immediate neighbours, therefore Burns did his best to make a fearful crime of the petty depredation.
His valiant son, a somewhat smaller boy than either Yan or Sam, came near enough to the boundary to hurl opprobrious epithets.
“Red-head–red-head! You red-headed thief! Hol’ on till my paw gits hol’ o’ you–Raften, the Baften, the rick-strick Straften,” and others equally galling and even more exquisitely refined.
“War party escaped and saved their scalps,” and Sam placidly laid the axe in its usual place.
“Nothing lost but honour,” added Yan. “Who’s the kid?”
“Oh, that’s Guy Burns. I know him. He’s a mean little cuss, always sneaking and peeking. Lies like sixty. Got the prize–a big scrubbing-brush–for being the dirtiest boy in school. We all voted, and the teacher gave it to him.”
Next day the boys made another war party for Birch bark, but had hardly begun operations when there was an uproar not far away, and a voice, evidently of a small boy, mouthing it largely, trying to pass itself off as a man’s voice: “Hi, yer the –– ––. Yer git off my –– –– place –– ––”
“Le’s capture the little cuss, Yan.”
“An’ burn him at the stake with horrid torture,” was the rejoinder.
They set out in his direction, but again the appearance of Burns changed their war-party onslaught into a rapid retreat.
During the days that followed the boys were often close to the boundary, but it happened that Burns was working near and Guy had the quickest of eyes and ears. The little rat seemed ever on the alert. He soon showed by his long-distance remarks that he knew all about the boys’ pursuits–had doubtless visited the camp in their absence. Several times they saw him watching them with intense interest when they were practising with bow and arrow, but he always retreated to a safe distance when discovered, and then enjoyed himself breathing out fire and slaughter.
One day the boys came to the camp at an unusual hour. On going into a near thicket Yan saw a bare foot under some foliage. “Hallo, what’s this?” He stooped down and found a leg to it and at the end of that Guy Burns.
Up Guy jumped, yelling “Paw–Paw–PAW!” He ran for his life, the Indians uttering blood-curdlers on his track. But Yan was a runner, and Guy’s podgy legs, even winged by fear, had no chance. He was seized and dragged howling back to the camp.
“You let me alone, you Sam Raften–now you let me alone!” There was, however, a striking lack of opprobrium in his remarks now. (Such delicacy is highly commendable in the very young.)
“First thing is to secure the prisoner, Yan.”
Sam produced a cord.
“Pooh,” said Yan. “You’ve got no style about you. Bring me some Leatherwood.”
This was at hand, and in spite of howls and scuffles, Guy was solemnly tied to a tree–a green one–because, as Yan pointed out, that would resist the fire better.
The two Warriors now squatted cross-legged by the fire. The older one lighted a peace-pipe, and they proceeded to discuss the fate of the unhappy captive.
“Brother,” said Yan, with stately gestures, “it is very pleasant to hear the howls of this miserable paleface.” (It was really getting to be more than they could endure.)
“Ugh–heap good,” said the Woodpecker.
“Ye better let me alone. My Paw’ll fix you for this, you dirty cowards,” wailed the prisoner, fast losing control of his tongue.
“Ugh! Take um scalp first, burn him after,” and Little Beaver made some expressive signs.
“Wah–bully–me heap wicked,” rejoined the Woodpecker, expectorating on a stone and beginning to whet his jack-knife.
The keen and suggestive ’weet, weet, weet_” of the knife on the stone smote on Guy’s ears and nerves with appalling effect.
“Brother Woodpecker, the spirit of our tribe calls out for the blood of the victim–all of it.”
“Great Chief Woodpecker, you mean,” said Sam, aside. “If you don’t call me Chief, I won’t call you Chief, that’s all.”
The Great Woodpecker and Little Beaver now entered the teepee, repainted each other’s faces, adjusted their head-dresses and stepped out to the execution.
The Woodpecker re-whetted his knife. It did not need it, but he liked the sound.
Little Beaver now carried a lot of light firewood and arranged it in front of the prisoner, but Guy’s legs were free and he gave it a kick which sent it all flying. The two War-chiefs leaped aside. “Ugh! Heap sassy,” said the ferocious Woodpecker. “Tie him legs, oh, Brother Great Chief Little Beaver!”
A new bark strip tied his legs securely to the tree. Then Chief Woodpecker approached with his knife and said:
“Great Brother Chief Little Beaver, if we scalp him there is only one scalp, and you will have nothing to show, except you’re content with the wishbone.”
Here was a difficulty, artificial yet real, but Yan suggested:
“Great Brother Chief Red-headed-Woodpecker-Settin’-on-a-Stump-with-his-Tail-Waggling-over-the Edge, no scalp him; skin his hull head, then each take half skin.”
“Wah! Very good, oh Brother Big-Injun-Chief Great-Little-Beaver- Chaw-a-Tree-Down.”
Then the Woodpecker got a piece of charcoal and proceeded in horrid gravity to mark out on the tow hair of the prisoner just what he considered a fair division. Little Beaver objected that he was entitled to an ear and half of the crown, which is the essential part of the scalp. The Woodpecker pointed out that fortunately the prisoner had a cow-lick that was practically a second crown. This ought to do perfectly well for the younger Chief’s share. The charcoal lines were dusted off for a try-over. Both Chiefs got charcoal now and a new sketch plan was made on Guy’s tow top and corrected till it was accepted by both.
[Illustration: “Ugh! Heap sassy!"]
The victim had really never lost heart till now. His flow of threats and epithets had been continuous and somewhat tedious. He had threatened to tell his “paw” and “the teacher,” and all the world, but finally he threatened to tell Mr. Raften. This was the nearest to a home thrust of any yet, and in some uneasiness the Woodpecker turned to Little Beaver and said:
“Brother Chief, do you comprehend the language of the blithering Paleface? What does he say?”
“Ugh, I know not,” was the reply. “Maybe he now singeth a death song in his own tongue.”
Guy was not without pluck. He had kept up heart so far believing that the boys were “foolin’,” but when he felt the awful charcoal line drawn to divide his scalp satisfactorily between these two inhuman, painted monsters, and when with a final ’weet, weet, weet_" of the knife on the stone the implacable Woodpecker approached and grabbed his tow locks in one hand, then he broke down and wept bitterly.
“Oh, please don’t––Oh, Paw! Oh, Maw! Let me go this time an’ I’ll never do it again.” What he would not do was not specified, but the evidence of surrender was complete.
“Hold on, Great Brother Chief,” said Little Beaver. “It is the custom of the tribes to release or even to adopt such prisoners as have shown notable fortitude.”
“Showed fortitude enough for six if it’s the same thing as yellin’," said the Woodpecker, dropping into his own vernacular.
“Let us cut his bonds so that he may escape to his own people.”
“Thar’d be more style to it if we left him thar overnight an’ found next mornin’ he had escaped somehow by himself,” said the older Chief. The victim noted the improvement in his situation and now promised amid sobs to get them all the Birch bark they wanted–to do anything, if they would let him go. He would even steal for them the choicest products of his father’s orchard.
Little Beaver drew his knife and cut bond after bond.
Woodpecker got his bow and arrow, remarking “Ugh, heap fun shoot him runnin’.”
The last bark strip was cut. Guy needed no urging. He ran for the boundary fence in silence till he got over; then finding himself safe and unpursued, he rilled the air with threats and execrations. No part of his statement would do to print here.
After such a harrowing experience most boys would have avoided that swamp, but Guy knew Sam at school as a good-natured fellow. He began to think he had been unduly scared. He was impelled by several motives, a burning curiosity being, perhaps the most important. The result was that one day when the boys came to camp they saw Guy sneaking off. It was fun to capture him and drag him back. He was very sullen, and not so noisy as the other time, evidently less scared. The Chiefs talked of fire and torture and of ducking him in the pond without getting much response. Then they began to cross-examine the prisoner. He gave no answer. Why did he come to the camp? What was he doing–stealing? etc. He only looked sullen.
“Let’s blindfold him and drive a Gyascutus down his back,” said Yan in a hollow voice.
“Good idee,” agreed Sam, not knowing any more than the prisoner what a Gyascutus was. Then he added, “just as well be merciful. It’ll put him out o’ pain.”
It is the unknown that terrifies. The prisoner’s soul was touched again. His mouth was trembling at the corners. He was breaking down when Yan followed it up: “Then why don’t you tell us what you are doing here?”
He blubbered out, “I want to play Injun, too.”
The boys broke down in another way. They had not had time to paint their faces, so that their expressions were very clear on this occasion.
Then Little Beaver arose and addressed the Council.
“Great Chiefs of the Sanger Nation: The last time we tortured and burned to death this prisoner, he created quite an impression. Never before has one of our prisoners shown so many different kinds of gifts. I vote to receive him into the Tribe.”
The Woodpecker now arose and spoke:
“O wisest Chief but one in this Tribe, that’s all right enough, but you know that no warrior can join us without first showing that he’s good stuff and clear grit, all wool, and a cut above the average somehow. It hain’t never been so. Now he’s got to lick some Warrior of the Tribe. Kin you do that?”
“Or outrun one or outshoot him or something–or give us all a present. What kin you do?”
“I kin steal watermillyons, an’ I kin see farder ’n any boy in school, an’ I kin sneak to beat all creation. I watched you fellers lots of times from them bushes. I watched you buildin’ that thar dam. I swum in it ’fore you did, an’ I uster set an’ smoke in your teepee when you wasn’t thar, an’ I heerd you talk the time you was fixin’ up to steal our Birch bark.”
“Don’t seem to me like it all proves much fortitude. Have you got any presents for the oldest head Chief of the tribe?”
“I’ll get you all the Birch bark you want. I can’t git what you cut, coz me an’ Paw burned that so you couldn’t git it, but I’ll git you lots more, an’ maybe–I’ll steal you a chicken once in awhile.”
“His intentions are evidently honourable Let’s take him in on sufferance,” said Yan.
“All right,” replied the head Chief, “he kin come in, but that don’t spile my claim to that left half of his scalp down to that tuft of yellow moss on the scruff of his neck where the collar has wore off the dirt. I’m liable to call for it any time, an’ the ear goes with it.”
Guy wanted to treat this as a joke, but Sam’s glittering eyes and inscrutable face were centered hungrily on that “yaller tuft” in a way that gave him the “creeps” again.
“Say, Yan–I mean Great Little Beaver–you know all about it, what kind o’ stunts did they have to do to get into an Injun tribe, anyhow?”
“Different tribes do different ways, but the Sun Dance and the Fire Test are the most respectable and both terribly hard.”
“Well, what did you do?” queried the Great Woodpecker.
“Both,” said Yan grinning, as he remembered his sunburnt arms and shoulders.
“Quite sure?” said the older Chief in a tone of doubt.
“Yes, sir; and I bore it so well that every one there agreed that I was the best one in the Tribe,” said Little Beaver, omitting to mention the fact that he was the only one in it. “I was unanimously named ’Howling Sunrise.’”
“Well, I want to be ’Howling Sunrise,’” piped Guy in his shrill voice.
“You? You don’t know whether you can pass at all, you Yaller Mossback.”
“Come, Mossy, which will you do?”
Guy’s choice was to be sunburnt to the waist. He was burnt and freckled already to the shoulders, on arms as well as on neck, and his miserable cotton shirt so barely turned the sun’s rays that he was elsewhere of a deep yellow tinge with an occasional constellation of freckles. Accordingly he danced about camp all one day with nothing on but his pants, and, of course, being so seasoned, he did not burn.
As the sun swung low the Chiefs assembled in Council.
The head Chief looked over the new Warrior, shook his head gravely and said emphatically: “Too green to burn. Your name is Sapwood.”
Protest was in vain. “Sappy,” he was and had to be until he won a better name. The peace pipe was smoked all round and he was proclaimed third War Chief of the Sanger Indians (the word War inserted by special request).
He was quite the most harmless member of the band and therefore took unusual pleasure in posing as the possessor of a perennial thirst for human heart-blood. War-paint was his delight, and with its aid he was singularly successful in correcting his round and smiling face into a savage visage of revolting ferocity. Paint was his hobby and his pride, but alas! how often it happens one’s deepest sorrow is in the midst of one’s greatest joy–the deepest lake is the old crater on top of the highest mountain. Sappy’s eyes were not the sinister black beads of the wily Red-man, but a washed-out blue. His ragged, tow-coloured locks he could hide under wisps of horsehair, the paint itself redeemed his freckled skin, but there was no remedy for the white eyelashes and the pale, piggy, blue eyes. He kept his sorrow to himself, however, for he knew that if the others got an inkling of his feelings on the subject his name would have been promptly changed to “Dolly” or “Birdy,” or some other equally horrible and un-Indian appellation.