Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The First Night and Morning
It was a strange new feeling that took possession of the boys as they saw Mr. Raften go, and when his step actually died away on the blazed trail they felt that they were really and truly alone in the woods and camping out. To Yan it was the realization of many dreams, and the weirdness of it was helped by the remembrance of the tall old man he had seen watching them from behind the trees. He made an excuse to wander out there, but of course Caleb was gone.
“Fire up,” Sam presently called out. Yan was the chief expert with the rubbing-sticks, and within a minute or two he had the fire going in the middle of the teepee and Sam set about preparing the evening meal. This was supposed to be Buffalo meat and Prairie roots (beef and potatoes). It was eaten rather quietly, and then the boys sat down on the opposite sides of the fire. The conversation dragged, then died a natural death; each was busy with his thoughts, and there was, moreover, an impressive and repressive something or other all around them. Not a stillness, for there were many sounds, but beyond those a sort of voiceless background that showed up all the myriad voices. Some of these were evidently Bird, some Insect, and a few were recognized as Tree-frog notes. In the near stream were sounds of splashing or a little plunge.
“Must be Mushrat,” whispered Sam to the unspoken query of his friend.
A loud, far “Oho-oho-oho” was familiar to both as the cry of the Horned Owl, but a strange long wail rang out from the trees overhead.
“Don’t know,” was all they whispered, and both felt very uncomfortable. The solemnity and mystery of the night was on them and weighing more heavily with the waning light. The feeling was oppressive. Neither had courage enough to propose going to the house or their camping would have ended. Sam arose and stirred the fire, looked around for more wood, and, seeing none, he grumbled (to himself) and stepped outside in the darkness to find some. It was not till long afterward that he admitted having had to dare himself to step out into the darkness. He brought in some sticks and fastened the door as tightly as possible. The blazing fire in the teepee was cheering again. The boys perhaps did not realize that there was actually a tinge of homesickness in their mood, yet both were thinking of the comfortable circle at the house. The blazing fire smoked a little, and Sam said:
“Kin you fix that to draw? You know more about it ’an me.”
Yan now forced himself to step outside. The wind was rising and had changed. He swung the smoke poles till the vent was quartering down, then hoarsely whispered, “How’s that?”
“That’s better,” was the reply in a similar tone, though there was no obvious difference yet.
He went inside with nervous haste and fastened up the entrance.
“Let’s make a good fire and go to bed.”
So they turned in after partly undressing, but not to sleep for hours. Yan in particular was in a state of nervous excitement. His heart had beaten violently when he went out that time, and even now that mysterious dread was on him. The fire was the one comfortable thing. He dozed off, but started up several times at some slight sound. Once it was a peculiar “_Tick, tick, scr-a-a-a-a-pe, lick-scra-a-a-a-a-a-pe,” down the teepee over his head. ’A Bear_” was his first notion, but on second thoughts he decided it was only a leaf sliding down the canvas. Later he was roused by a ’Scratch, scratch, scratch_” close to him. He listened silently for some time. This was no leaf; it was an animal! Yes, surely–it was a Mouse. He slapped the canvas violently and “hissed" till it went away, but as he listened he heard again that peculiar wail in the tree-tops. It almost made his hair sit up. He reached out and poked the fire together into a blaze. All was still and in time he dozed off. Once more he was wide awake in a flash and saw Sam sitting up in bed listening.
[Illustration: “Where’s the axe?"]
“What is it, Sam?” he whispered.
“I dunno. Where’s the axe?”
“Let me have it on my side. You kin have the hatchet.”
But they dropped off at last and slept soundly till the sun was strong on the canvas and filling the teepee with a blaze of transmitted light.
“Woodpecker! Woodpecker! Get up! Get up! Hi-e-yo! Hi-e-yo! Double-u-double-o-d-bang-fizz-whackety-whack-y-r-chuck- brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-Woodpecker,” shouted Yan to his sleepy chum, quoting a phrase that Sam when a child had been taught as the true spelling of his nickname.
Sam woke slowly, but knowing perfectly where he was, and drawled:
“Get up yourself. You’re cook to-day, an’ I’ll take my breakfast in bed. Seems like my knee is broke out again.”
“Oh, get up, and let’s have a swim before breakfast.”
“No, thank you, I’m too busy just now; ’sides, it’s both cold and wet in that pond, this time o’ day.”
The morning was fresh and bright; many birds were singing, although it was July, a Red-eyed Vireo and a Robin were in full song; and as Yan rose to get the breakfast he wondered why he had been haunted by such strange feelings the night before. It was incomprehensible now. He wished that appalling wail in the tree-tops would sound again, so he might trace it home.
There still were some live coals in the ashes, and in a few minutes he had a blazing fire, with the pot boiling for coffee, and the bacon in the fryer singing sweetest music for the hungry.
Sam lay on his back watching his companion and making critical remarks.
“You may be an A1 cook–at least, I hope you are, but you don’t know much about fire-wood,” said he. “Now look at that,” as one huge spark after another exploded from the fire and dropped on the bed and the teepee cover.
“How can I help it?”
“I’ll bet Da’s best cow against your jack-knife you got some Ellum or Hemlock in that fire.”
“Well, I have,” Yan admitted, with an air of surrender.
“My son,” said the Great Chief Woodpecker, “no sparking allowed in the teepee. Beech, Maple, Hickory or Ash never spark. Pine knots an’ roots don’t, but they make smoke like–like–oh–you know. Hemlock, Ellum, Chestnut, Spruce and Cedar is public sparkers, an’ not fit for dacint teepee sassiety. Big Injun heap hate noisy, crackling fire. Enemy hear that, an’–an’–it burns his bedclothes.”
“All right, Grandpa,” and the cook made a mental note, then added in tones of deadly menace, “You get up now, do you understand!” and he picked up a bucket of water.
“That might scare the Great Chief Woodpecker if the Great Chief Cook had a separate bed, but now he smiles kind o’ scornful,” was all the satisfaction he got. Then seeing that breakfast really was ready, Sam scrambled out a few minutes later. The coffee acted like an elixir–their spirits rose, and before the meal was ended it would have been hard to find two more hilarious and enthusiastic campers. Even the vague terrors of the night were now sources of amusement.