Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
Sam’s Woodcraft Exploit
Sam’s “long suit,” as he put it, was axemanship. He was remarkable even in this land of the axe, and, of course, among the “Injuns” he was a marvel. Yan might pound away for half an hour at some block that he was trying to split and make no headway, till Sam would say, “Yan, hit it right there,” or perhaps take the axe and do it for him; then at one tap the block would fly apart. There was no rule for this happy hit. Sometimes it was above the binding knot, sometimes beside it, sometimes right in the middle of it, and sometimes in the end of the wood away from the binder altogether–often at the unlikeliest places. Sometimes it was done by a simple stroke, sometimes a glancing stroke, sometimes with the grain or again angling, and sometimes a compound of one or more of each kind of blow; but whatever was the right stroke, Sam seemed to know it instinctively and applied it to exactly the right spot, the only spot where the hard, tough log was open to attack, and rarely failed to make it tumble apart as though it were a trick got ready beforehand. He did not brag about it. He simply took it for granted that he was the master of the art, and as such the others accepted him.
On one occasion Yan, who began to think he now had some skill, was whacking away at a big, tough stick till he had tried, as he thought, every possible combination and still could make no sign of a crack. Then Guy insisted on “showing him how,” without any better result.
“Here, Sam,” cried Yan, “I’ll bet this is a baffler for you.”
Sam turned the stick over, selected a hopeless-looking spot, one as yet not touched by the axe, set the stick on end, poured a cup of water on the place, then, when that had soaked in, he struck with all his force a single straight blow at the line where the grain spread to embrace the knot. The aim was true to a hair and the block flew open.
“Hooray!” shouted Little Beaver in admiration.
“Pooh!” said Sapwood. “That was just chance. He couldn’t do that again.”
“Not to the same stick!” retorted Yan. He recognized the consummate skill and the cleverness of knowing that the cup of water was just what was needed to rob the wood of its spring and turn the balance.
But Guy continued contemptuously, “I had it started for him.”
“_I think that should count a coup,” said Little Beaver.
“Coup nothin’,” snorted the Third War Chief, in scorn. “I’ll give you something to do that’ll try if you can chop. Kin you chop a six-inch tree down in three minutes an’ throw it up the wind ?”
“What kind o’ tree?” asked the Woodpecker.
“Oh, any kind.”
“I’ll bet you five dollars I kin cut down a six-inch White Pine in two minutes an’ throw it any way I want to. You pick out the spot for me to lay it. Mark it with a stake an’ I’ll drive the stake.”
“I don’t think any of the Tribe has five dollars to bet. If you can do it we’ll give you a grand coup feather,” answered Little Beaver.
“No spring pole,” said Guy, eager to make it impossible.
“All right,” replied the Woodpecker; “I’ll do it without using a spring pole.”
So he whetted up his axe, tried the lower margin of the head, found it was a trifle out of the true–that is, its under curve centred, not on the handle one span down, but half an inch out from the handle. A nail driven into the point of the axe-eye corrected this and the chiefs went forth to select a tree. A White Pine that measured roughly six inches through was soon found, and Sam was allowed to clear away the brush around it. Yan and Guy now took a stout stake and, standing close to the tree, looked up the trunk. Of course, every tree in the woods leans one way or another, and it was easy to see that this leaned slightly southward. What wind there was came from the north, so Yan decided to set the stake due north.
Sam’s little Japanese eyes twinkled. But Guy who, of course, knew something of chopping, fairly exploded with scorn. “Pooh! What do you know? That’s easy; any one can throw it straight up the wind. Give him a cornering shot and let him try. There, now,” and Guy set the stake off to the north-west. “Now, smarty. Let’s see you do that.”
“All right. You’ll see me. Just let me look at it a minute.”
Sam walked round the tree, studied its lean and the force of the wind on its top, rolled up his sleeves, slipped his suspenders, spat on his palms, and, standing to west of the tree, said “Ready.”
Yan had his watch out and shouted ’Go.”
Two firm, unhasty strokes up on the south side of the tree left a clean nick across and two inches deep in the middle. The chopper then stepped forward one pace and on the north-northwesterly side, eighteen inches lower down than the first cut, after reversing his hands–which is what few can do–he rapidly chopped a butt-kerf. Not a stroke was hasty; not a blow went wrong. The first chips that flew were ten inches long, but they quickly dwindled as the kerf sank in. The butt-kerf was two-thirds through the tree when Yan called “One minute up.” Sam stopped work, apparently without cause, leaned one hand against the south side of the tree and gazed unconcernedly up at its top.
“Hurry up, Sam. You’re losing time!” called his friend. Sam made no reply. He was watching the wind pushes and waiting for a strong one. It came–it struck the tree-top. There was an ominous crack, but Sam had left enough and pushed hard to make sure; as soon as the recoil began he struck in very rapid succession three heavy strokes, cutting away all the remaining wood on the west side and leaving only a three-inch triangle of uncut fibre. All the weight was now northwest of this. The tree toppled that way, but swung around on the uncut part; another puff of wind gave help, the swing was lost, the tree crashed down to the northwest and drove the stake right out of sight in the ground.
“Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! One minute and forty-five seconds!” How Yan did cheer. Sam was silent, but his eyes looked a little less dull and stupid than usual, and Guy said “Pooh? That’s nothin’.”
Yan took out his pocket rule and went to the stump. As soon as he laid it on, he exclaimed “Seven and one-half inches through where you cut," and again he had to swing his hat and cheer.
“Well, old man, you surely did it that time. That’s a grand coup if ever I saw one,” and so, notwithstanding Guy’s proposal to “leave it to Caleb,” Sam got his grand Eagle feather as Axeman A1 of the Sanger Indians.