Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
How Yan Knew the Ducks Afar
One day as the great Woodpecker lay on his back in the shade he said in a tone of lofty command:
“Little Beaver, I want to be amused. Come hyar. Tell me a story.”
“How would you like a lesson in Tutnee?” was the Second Chief’s reply, but he had tried this before, and he found neither Sam nor Guy inclined to take any interest in the very dead language.
“Tell me a story, I said,” was the savage answer of the scowling and ferocious Woodpecker.
“All right,” said Little Beaver. “I’ll tell you a story of such a fine boy–oh, he was the noblest little hero that ever wore pantaloons or got spanked in school. Well, this boy went to live in the woods, and he wanted to get acquainted with all the living wild things. He found lots of difficulties and no one to help him, but he kept on and on–oh! he was so noble and brave–and made notes, and when he learned anything new he froze on to it like grim death. By and by he got a book that was some help, but not much. It told about some of the birds as if you had them in your hand. But this heroic youth only saw them at a distance and he was stuck. One day he saw a wild Duck on a pond so far away he could only see some spots of colour, but he made a sketch of it, and later he found out from that rough sketch that it was a Whistler, and then this wonderful boy had an idea. All the Ducks are different; all have little blots and streaks that are their labels, or like the uniforms of soldiers. ’Now, if I can put their uniforms down on paper I’ll know the Ducks as soon as I see them on a pond a long way off.’ So he set to work and drew what he could find. One of his friends had a stuffed Wood-duck, so the ’Boy-that-wanted-to-know’ drew that from a long way off. He got another from an engraving and two more from the window of a taxidermist shop. But he knew perfectly well that there are twenty or thirty different kinds of Ducks, for he often saw others at a distance and made far-sketches, hoping some day he’d find out what they were. Well, one day the ’Boy-that-wanted-to-know’ sketched a new Duck on a pond, and he saw it again and again, but couldn’t find out what it was, and there was his b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l sketch, but no one to tell him its name, so when he saw that he just had to go into the teepee and steal the First War Chief’s last apple and eat it to hide his emotion.”
Here Yan produced an apple and began to eat it with an air of sadness.
Without changing a muscle, the Great Woodpecker continued the tale:
“Then when the First War Chief heard the harrowing tale of a blighted life, he said: ’Shucks, I didn’t want that old apple. It was fished out of the swill-barrel anyway, but ’pears to me when a feller sets out to do a thing an’ don’t he’s a ’dumb failure,’ which ain’t much difference from a ’durn fool.’
“Now, if this heroic youth had had gumption enough to come out flat-footed, an’ instead of stealing rotten apples that the pigs has walked on, had told his trouble to the Great Head War Chief, that native-born noble Red-man would ’a’ said: ’Sonny, quite right. When in doubt come to Grandpa. You want to get sharp on Duck. Ugh! Good’–then he’d ’a’ took that simple youth to Downey’s Hotel at Downey’s Dump an’ there showed him every kind o’ Duck that ever was born, an’ all tagged an’ labelled. Wah! I have spoken.”
And the Great Woodpecker scowled ferociously at Guy, who was vainly searching his face for a clue, not sure but what this whole thing was some subtle mockery. But Yan had been on the lookout for this. Sam’s face throughout had shown nothing but real and growing interest. The good sense of this last suggestion was evident, and the result was an expedition was formed at once for Downey’s Dump, a little town five miles away, where the railroad crossed a long bog on the Skagbog River. Here Downey, the contractor, had carried the railroad dump across a supposed bottomless morass and by good luck had soon made a bottom and in consequence a small fortune, with which he built a hotel, and was now the great man of the town for which he had done so much.
“Guess we’ll leave the Third War Chief in charge of camp,” said Sam, “an’ I think we ought to go disguised as Whites.”
“You mean to go back to the Settlement and join the Whites?”
“Yep, an’ take a Horse an’ buggy, too. It’s five miles.”
That was a jarring note. Yan’s imagination had pictured a foot expedition through the woods, but this was more sensible, so he yielded.
They went to the house to report and had a loving reception from the mother and little Minnie. The men were away. The boys quickly harnessed a Horse and, charged also with some commissions from the mother, they drove to Downey’s Dump.
On arriving they went first to the livery-stable to put up the horse, then to the store, where Sam delivered his mother’s orders, and having made sure that Yan had pencil, paper and rubber, they went into Downey’s. Yan’s feelings were much like those of a country boy going for the first time to a circus–now he is really to see the things he has dreamed of so long; now all heaven is his.
And, curiously enough, he was not disappointed. Downey was a rough, vigorous business man. He took no notice of the boys beyond a brief “Morning, Sam,” till he saw that Yan was making very fair sketches. All the world loves an artist, and now there was danger of too much assistance.
The cases could not be opened, but were swung around and shades raised to give the best light. Yan went at once to the bird he had “far-sketched” on the pond. To his surprise, it was a female Wood-duck. He put in the whole afternoon drawing those Ducks, male and female, and as Downey had more than fifty specimens Yan felt like Aladdin in the Fairy Garden–overpowered with abundance of treasure. The birds were fairly well labelled with the popular names, and Yan brought away a lot of sketches, which made him very happy. These he afterward carefully finished and put together in a Duck Chart that solved many of his riddles about the Common Duck.
[Illustration: The Fish-Ducks, Sawbills, or Mergansers]
[Illustration: The River Ducks]
(See description below.)
Far-sketches showing common Ducks as seen on the water at about 50 yards distance. The pair is shown in each square, the male above.
N.B. The wings are rarely seen when the bird is swimming.
the Fish-Duck, Sawbills or Mergansers
Largely white and all are crested, wings with large white areas in flight.
1. The Shelldrake or Goosander (_Merganser americanus_). Bill, feet and eye red.
2. The Sawbill or Red-breasted Merganser (_Merganser serrator_). Bill and feet red.
3. Hooded Merganser (_Lophodytes cucullatus_). Bill and feet dark, paddle-box buff.
the River Ducks
The males usually with shining green and black on head and wings, the females streaky gray-brown.
4. Mallard (Anas boschas_). Red feet; male has pale, greenish bill. Known in flight by white tail feathers and thin white bar on wing.
5. Black Duck or Dusky Duck (_Anas obscura_). Dark bill, red feet, no white except in flight, then shows white lining of wings.
6. Gadwall or Gray Duck (_Anas strepera_). Beak flesh-coloured on edges, feet reddish, a white spot on wing showing in flight.
7. Widgeon or Baldpate (_A. americana_). Bill and feet dull blue; a large white spot on wing in flight; female has sides reddish.
8. Green-winged Teal (_A. carolinensis_). Bill and feet dark.
9. Blue-winged Teal (_A. discors_). Bill and feet dark.
10. Shoveller (_Spatula clypeata_). Bill dark, feet red, eye yellow-orange; a white patch on wings showing in flight
11. Pintail or Sprigtail (_Dafila acuta_). Bill and feet dull blue.
12. Wood Duck or Summer Duck (_Aix sponsa_). Bill of male red, paddle-box buff, bill of female and feet of both dark.
[Illustration: The Sea Ducks]
The Sea Ducks
Chiefly black and white in colour; the female brownish instead of black; most have yellow or orange eye, and more or less white on wings which does not show as they swim.
13. Red-head (_Aythya americana_). Head and neck bright red; eye of male yellow, bill and feet blue.
14. Canvasback (_A. vallisneria_). Head and neck dark-red, eye of male red, bill and feet of both dark or bluish.
15. Ring-necked Bluebill (_A. collaria_). Bill and feet bluish.
16. Big Bluebill (_A. marila_). Bill and feet bluish.
17. Little Bluebill (_A. affinis_). Same colour as the preceding.
18. Whistler or Goldeneye (_Clangula clangula americana_). Feet orange.
19. Bufflehead or Butterball (_Charitonetta albeola_).
20. Old-Squaw or Longtail (_Harelda hyemalis_). This is its winter plumage, in which it is mostly seen.
21. Black Scoter (_Oidemia americana_). A jet-black Duck with orange bill; no white on it anywhere.
22. White-winged Scoter (_O. deglandi_). A black Duck with white on cheek and wing; feet and bill orange; much white on wing shows as they fly, sometimes none as they swim.
23. Surf Duck or Sea Coot (_O. perspicillata_). A black Duck with white on head, but none on wings: bill and feet orange.
24. Ruddy Duck or Stiff-tailed Duck (_Erismatura jamaicensis_). Bill and feet bluish; male is in general a dull red with white face.
When they got back to camp at dusk they found a surprise. On the trail was a white thing, which on investigation proved to be a ghost, evidently made by Guy. The head was a large puff-ball carved like a skull, and the body a newspaper.
But the teepee was empty. Guy probably felt too much reaction after the setting up of the ghost to sit there alone in the still night.