Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Indian Drum
“Oh, that hair of horse and skin of sheep should Have such power to move the souls of men.”
“If you were real Injun you’d make a drum of that,” said Caleb to Yan, as they came to a Basswood blown over by a recent storm and now showing its weakness, for it was quite hollow–a mere shell.
“How do they do it? I want to know how.”
“Get me the axe.”
Yan ran for the axe. Caleb cut out a straight unbroken section about two feet long. This they carried to camp.
“Coorse ye know,” said Caleb, “ye can’t have a drum without skins for heads.”
“What kind of skins?”
“Oh, Horse, Dog, Cow, Calf–’most any kind that’s strong enough.”
“I got a Calfskin in our barn, an’ I know where there’s another in the shed, but it’s all chawed up with Rats. Them’s mine. I killed them Calves. Paw give me the skins for killin’ an’ skinnin’ them. Oh, you jest ought to see me kill a Calf–”
Guy was going off into one of his autopanegyrics when Sam who was now being rubbed on a sore place, gave a “Whoop!” and grabbed the tow-tuft with a jerk that sent the Third War Chief sprawling and ended the panegyric in the usual volley of “you-let-me-’lones.”
“Oh, quit, Sam,” objected Little Beaver. “You can’t stop a Dog barking. It’s his nature.” Then to Guy: “Never mind, Guy; you are not hurt. I’ll bet you can beat him hunting Deer, and you can see twice as far as he can.”
“Yes, I kin; that’s what makes him so mad. I’ll bet I kin see three times as far–maybe five times,” was the answer in injured tones.
“Go on now, Guy, and get the skins–that is, if you want a drum for the war dance. You’re the only one in the crowd that’s man enough to make the raise of a hide,” and fired by this flattery, Guy sped away.
Meanwhile Caleb worked on the hollow log. He trimmed off the bark, then with the hatchet he cleared out all the punk and splinters inside. He made a fire on the ground in the middle of the drum-log as it stood on end, and watching carefully, he lifted it off from time to time and chopped away all the charred parts, smoothing and trimming till he had the log down thin and smooth within and without. They heard Guy shouting soon after he left. They thought him near at hand, but he did not come. Trimming the drum-log took a couple of hours, and still Guy did not return. The remark from Caleb, “’Bout ready for the skins now!” called from Sam the explanation, “Guess Old Man Burns snapped him up and put him to weeding the garden. Probably that was him we heard gettin’ licked.”
“Old Man Burns” was a poor and shiftless character, a thin, stoop-shouldered man. He was only thirty-five years of age, but, being married, that was enough to secure for him the title “Old Man.” In Sanger, if Tom Nolan was a bachelor at eighty years of age he would still be Tom Nolan, “wan of the bhoys,” but if he married at twenty he at once became “Old Man Nolan.”
Mrs. Burns had produced the usual string of tow-tops, but several had died, the charitable neighbours said of starvation, leaving Guy, the eldest, his mother’s darling, then a gap and four little girls, four, three, two and one years of age. She was a fat, fair, easy-going person, with a general sense of antagonism to her husband, who was, of course, the natural enemy of the children. Jim Burns cherished the ideal of bringing “that boy” up right–that is, getting all the work he could out of him–and Guy clung to his own ideal of doing as little work as possible. In this clash of ideals Guy’s mother was his firm, though more or less secret, ally. He was without fault in her eyes: all that he did was right. His freckled visage and pudgy face were types of noble beauty, standards of comeliness and human excellence; his ways were ways of pleasantness and all his paths were peace; Margat Burns was sure of it.
Burns had a good deal of natural affection, but he was erratic; sometimes he would flog Guy mercilessly for nothing, and again laugh at some serious misdeed, so that the boy never knew just what to expect, and kept on the safe side by avoiding his “Paw” as much as possible. His visits to the camp had been thoroughly disapproved, partly because it was on Old Man Raften’s land and partly because it enabled Guy to dodge the chores. Burns had been quite violent about it once or twice, but Mrs. Burns had the great advantage of persistence, and like the steady strain of the skilful angler on the slender line, it wins in the end against the erratic violence of the strongest trout. She had managed then that Guy should join the Injun camp, and gloried in his outrageously exaggerated accounts of how he could lick them all at anything, “though they wuz so much older’n bigger’n he wuz.”
But on this day he was fallen in hard luck. His father saw him coming, met him with a “gad” and lashed him furiously. Knowing perfectly well that the flogging would not stop till the proper effect was produced, and that was to be gauged by the racket, Guy yelled his loudest. This was the uproar the boys had heard.
“Now, ye idle young scut! I’ll larn ye to go round leaving bars down. You go an’ tend to your work.” So instead of hiking back gloriously laden with Calfskins, Guy was sent to ignominious and un-Injun toil in the garden.
Soon he heard his mother: “Guysie, Guysie.” He dropped his hoe and walked to the kitchen.
“Where you goin’?” roared his father from afar. “Go back and mind your work.”
“Maw wants me. She called me.”
“You mind your work. Don’t you dar’ on your life to go thayer.”
But Guy took no notice and walked on to his mother. He knew that at this post-thrashing stage of wrath his father was mouthy and harmless, and soon he was happy eating a huge piece of bread and jam.
“Poor dear, you must be hungry, an’ your Paw was so mean to you. There, now, don’t cry,” for Guy began to weep again at the recollection of his wrongs. Then she whispered confidentially: “Paw’s going to Downey’s this afternoon, an’ you can slip away as soon as he’s gone, an’ if you work well before that he won’t be so awful mad after you come back. But be sure you don’t let down the bars, coz if the pig was to get in Raften’s woods dear knows what.”
This was the reason of Guy’s delay. He did not return to camp with the skins till late that day. As soon as he was gone, his foolish, doting mother, already crushed with the burden of the house, left everything and hoed two or three extra rows of cabbages, so “Paw” should find a great showing of work when he came back.
The Calfskins were hard as tin and, of course, had the hair on.
Caleb remarked, “It’ll take two or three days to get them right,” and buried them in a marshy, muddy pool in the full sunlight. “The warmer the better.”
Three days later he took them out. Instead of being thin, hard, yellow, semi-transparent, they now were much thicker, densely white, and soft as silk. The hair was easily scraped off and the two pieces were pronounced all right for drumheads.
Caleb washed them thoroughly in warm water, with soap to clear off the grease, scraping them on both sides with a blunt knife; then he straightened the outer edge of the largest, and cut a thin strip round and round it till he had some sixty feet of rawhide line, about three-quarters of an inch wide. This he twisted, rolled and stretched until it was nearly round, then he cut from the remainder a circular piece thirty inches across, and a second from the “unchawed” part of the other skin. He laid these one on the other, and with the sharp point of a knife he made a row of holes in both, one inch from the edge and two inches apart. Then he set one skin on the ground, the drum-log on that and the other skin on the top, and bound them together with the long lace, running it from hole No. 1 on the top to No. 2 on the bottom, then to No. 3 on the top, and No. 4 on the bottom, and so on twice around, till every hole had a lace through it and the crossing laces made a diamond pattern all around. At first this was done loosely, but tightened up when once around, and finally both the drum-heads were drawn tense. To the surprise of all, Guy promptly took possession of the finished drum. “Them’s my Calfskins,” which, of course, was true.
And Caleb said, with a twinkle in his eye, “The wood seems to go with the skins.”
A drumstick of wood, with a piece of sacking lashed on to soften it, was made, and Guy was disgusted to find how little sound the drum gave out.
“’Bout like pounding a fur cap with a lamb’s tail,” Sam thought.
“You hang that up in the shade to dry and you’ll find a change,” said the Trapper.
It was quite curious to note the effect of the drying as the hours went by. The drum seemed to be wracking and straining itself in the agony of effort, and slight noises came from it at times. When perfectly dry the semi-transparency of the rawhide came back, and the sound now was one to thrill the Red-man’s heart.
Caleb taught them a little Indian war chant, and they danced round to it as he drummed and sang, till their savage instincts seemed to revive. But above all it worked on Yan. As he pranced around in step his whole nature seemed to respond; he felt himself a part of that dance. It was in himself; it thrilled him through and through and sent his blood exulting. He would gladly have given up all the White-man’s “glorious gains” to live with the feeling called up by that Indian drum.