Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Trial of Grit
The boys had made war bonnets after the “really truly” Indian style learned from Caleb. White Turkey tail-feathers and white Goose wing-feathers dyed black at the tips made good Eagle feathers. Some wisps of red-dyed horsehair from an old harness tassel; strips of red flannel from an old shirt, and some scraps of sheepskin supplied the remaining raw material. Caleb took an increasing interest, and helped them not only to make the bonnet, but also to decide on what things should count coup and what grand coup. Sam had a number of feathers for shooting, diving, “massacreeing the Whites,” and his grand tufted feathers for felling the pine and shooting the Cat-Owl.
Among other things, Yan had counted coup for trailing. The Deer hunt had been made still more real by having the “Deer-boy” wear a pair of sandals made from old boots; on the sole of each they put two lines of hobnails in V shape, pointing forward. These made hooflike marks wherever the Deer went. One of the difficulties with the corn was that it gave no clue to the direction or doubling of the trail, but the sandals met the trouble, and with a very little corn to help they had an ideal trail. All became very expert, and could follow fast a very slight track, but Yan continued the best, for what he lacked in eyesight he more than made up in patience and observation. He already had a grand coup for finding and shooting the Deer in the heart, that time, at first shot before the others came up even, and had won six other grand coups–one for swimming 200 yards in five minutes, one for walking four measured miles in one hour, one for running 100 yards in twelve seconds, one for knowing 100 wild plants, one for knowing 100 birds, and the one for shooting the Horned Owl.
Guy had several good coups, chiefly for eyesight. He could see “the papoose on the squaws back,” and in the Deer hunt he had several times won coups that came near being called grand coup, but so far fate was against him, and even old Caleb, who was partial to him, could not fairly vote him a grand coup.
“What is it that the Injuns most likes in a man: I mean, what would they druther have, Caleb?” asked Sappy one day, confidently expecting to have his keen eyesight praised.
“Bravery,” was the reply. “They don’t care what a man is if he’s brave. That’s their greatest thing–that is, if the feller has the stuff to back it up. An’ it ain’t confined to Injuns; I tell you there ain’t anything that anybody goes on so much. Some men pretends to think one thing the best of all, an’ some another, but come right down to it, what every man, woman an’ child in the country loves an’ worships is pluck, clear grit, well backed up.”
“_Well, I tell you,” said Guy, boiling up with enthusiasm at this glorification of grit, ’I ain’t scared o’ nothin’.”
“Wall, how’d you like to fight Yan there?”
“Oh, that ain’t fair. He’s older an’ bigger’n I am.”
“Say, Sappy, I’ll give you one. Suppose you go to the orchard alone an’ get a pail of cherries. All the men’ll be away at nine o’clock.”
“Yes, and have old Cap chaw me up.”
“Thought you weren’t scared of anything, an’ a poor little Dog smaller than a yearling Heifer scares you.”
“Well, I don’t like cherries, anyhow.”
“Here, now, Guy, I’ll give you a real test. You see that stone?” and Caleb held up a small round stone with a hole in it. “Now, you know where old Garney is buried?”
Garney was a dissolute soldier who blew his head off, accidentally, his friends claimed, and he was buried on what was supposed to be his own land just north of Raften’s, but it afterward proved to be part of the highway where a sidepath joined in, and in spite of its diggers the grave was at the crossing of two roads. Thus by the hand of fate Bill Garney was stamped as a suicide.
The legend was that every time a wagon went over his head he must groan, but unwilling to waste those outcries during the rumbling of the wheels, he waited till midnight and rolled them out all together. Anyone hearing should make a sympathetic reply or they would surely suffer some dreadful fate. This was the legend that Caleb called up to memory and made very impressive by being properly impressed himself.
“Now,” said he, “I am going to hide this stone just behind the rock that marks the head of Garney’s grave, an’ I’ll send you to git it some night. Air ye game?”
“Y-e-s, I’ll go,” said the Third War Chief without visible enthusiasm.
“If he’s so keen for it now, there’ll be no holding him back when night comes,” remarked the Woodpecker.
“Remember, now,” said Caleb, as he left them to return to his own miserable shanty, “this is the chance to show what you’re made of. I’ll tie a cord to the stone to make sure that you get it.”
“We’re just going to eat. Won’t you stay and jine with us,” called Sam, but Caleb strode off without taking notice of the invitation.
In the middle of the night the boys were aroused by a man’s voice outside and the scratching of a stick on the canvas.
“Boys! Guy–Yan! Oh, Guy!”
“Hello! Who is it?”
“Caleb Clark! Say, Guy, it’s about half-past eleven now. You have just about time to go to Garney’s grave by midnight an’ get that stone, and if you can’t find the exact spot you listen for the groaning –that’ll guide you.”
This cheerful information was given in a hoarse whisper that somehow conveyed the idea that the old man was as scared as he could be.
“I–I–I–” stammered Guy, “I can’t see the way.”
“This is the chance of your life, boy. You get that stone and you’ll get a grand coup feather, top honours fur grit. I’ll wait here till you come back.”
“I–I–can’t find the blamed old thing on such a dark night. I–I–ain’t goin’.”
“Errr–you’re scared,” whispered Caleb.
“I ain’t scared, on’y what’s the use of goin’ when I couldn’t find the place? I’ll go when it’s moonlight.”
“Err–anybody here brave enough to go after that stone?”
“I’ll go,” said the other two at the same time, though with a certain air of “But I hope I don’t have to, all the same.”
“You kin have the honour, Yan,” said the Woodpecker, with evident relief.
“Of course, I’d like the chance–but–but–I don’t want to push ahead of you–you’re the oldest; that wouldn’t be square,” was the reply.
“Guess we’d better draw straws for it.”
So Sam sought a long straw while Yan stirred up the coals to a blaze. The long straw was broken in two unequal pieces and hidden in Sam’s hand. Then after shuffling he held it toward Yan, showing only the two tips, and said, “Longest straw takes the job.” Yan knew from old experience that a common trick was to let the shortest straw stick out farthest, so he took the other, drew it slowly out and out–it seemed endless. Sam opened his hand and showed that the short straw remained, then added with evident relief: “You got it. You are the luckiest feller I ever did see. Everything comes your way.”
If there had been any loophole Yan would have taken it, but it was now clearly his duty to go for that stone. It was pride rather than courage that carried him through. He dressed quietly and nervously; his hands trembled a little as he laced his shoes. Caleb waited outside when he heard that it was Yan who was going. He braced him up by telling him: “You’re the stuff. I jest love to see grit. I’ll go with you to the edge of the woods–’twouldn’t be fair to go farther–and wait there till you come back. It’s easy to find. Go four panels of fence past the little Elm, then right across on the other side of the road is the big stone. Well, on the side next the north fence you’ll find the ring pebble. The coord is lying kind o’ cross the big white stone, so you’ll find it easy; and here, take this chalk; if your grit gives out, you mark on the fence how far you did get, but don’t you worry about that groaning–it’s nothing but a yarn–don’t be scairt.”
“I am afraid I am scared, but still I’ll go.”
“That’s right,” said the Trapper with emphasis. “Bravery ain’t so much not being scairt as going ahead when you are scairt, showing that you kin boss your fears.”
So they talked till they struck out of the gloom of the trees to the comparative light of the open field.
“It’s just fifteen minutes to midnight,” said Caleb, looking at his watch with the light of a match, “You’ll make it easy. I’ll wait here.”
Then Yan went on alone.
It was a somber night, but he felt his way along the field fence to the line fence and climbed that into the road that was visible as a less intense darkness on the black darkness of the grass. Yan walked on up the middle cautiously. His heart beat violently and his hands were cold. It was a still night, and once or twice little mousey sounds in the fence corner made him start, but he pushed on. Suddenly in the blackness to the right of the road he heard a loud “whisk," then he caught sight of a white thing that chilled his blood. It was the shape of a man wrapped in white, but lacked a head, just as the story had it. Yan stood frozen to the ground. Then his intellect came to the rescue of his trembling body. “What nonsense! It must be a white stone.” But no, it moved. Yan had a big stick in his hand. He shouted: “Sh, sh, sh!” Again the “corpse” moved. Yan groped on the road for some stones and sent one straight at the “white thing.” He heard a “whooff” and a rush. The “white thing” sprang up and ran past him with a clatter that told him he had been scared by Granny de Neuville’s white-faced cow. At first the reaction made him weak at the knees, but that gave way to a better feeling. If a harmless old Cow could lie out there all night, why should he fear? He went on more quietly till he neared the rise in the road. He should soon see the little Elm. He kept to the left of the highway and peered into the gloom, going more slowly. He was not so near as he had supposed, and the tension of the early part of the expedition was coming back more than ever. He wondered if he had not passed the Elm–should he go back? But no, he could not bear the idea; that would mean retreat. Anyhow, he would put his chalk mark here to show how far he did get. He sneaked cautiously toward the fence to make it, then to his relief made out the Elm not twenty-five feet away. Once at the tree, he counted off the four panels westward and knew that he was opposite the grave of the suicide. It must now be nearly midnight. He thought he heard sounds not far away, and there across the road he saw a whitish thing–the headstone. He was greatly agitated as he crawled quietly as possible toward it. Why quietly he did not know. He stumbled through the mud of the shallow ditch at each side, reached the white stone, and groped with clammy, cold hands over the surface for the string. If Caleb had put it there it was gone now. So he took his chalk and wrote on the stone “Yan.”
Oh, what a scraping that chalk made! He searched about with his fingers around the big boulder. Yes, there it was; the wind, no doubt, had blown it off. He pulled it toward him. The pebble was drawn across the boulder with another and louder rasping that sounded fearfully in the night. Then at once a gasp, a scuffle, a rush, a splash of something in mud, or water–horrible sounds of a being choking, strangling or trying to speak. For a moment Yan sank down in terror. His lips refused to move. But the remembrance of the cow came to help him. He got up and ran down the road as fast as he could go, a cold sweat on him. He ran so blindly he almost ran into a man who shouted “Ho, Yan; is that you?” It was Caleb coming to meet him. Yan could not speak. He was trembling so violently that he had to cling to the Trapper’s arm.
“What was it, boy? I heard it, but what was it?”
“I–I–don’t know,” he gasped; “only it was at the g-g-grave.”
“Gosh! I heard it, all right,” and Caleb showed no little uneasiness, but added, “We’ll be back in camp in ten minutes.”
He took Yan’s trembling hand and led him for a little while, but he was all right when he came to the blazed trail. Caleb stepped ahead, groping in the darkness.
Yan now found voice to say, “I got the stone all right, and I wrote my name on the grave, too.”
“Good boy! You’re the stuff!” was the admiring response.
They were very glad to see that there was a fire in the teepee when they drew near. At the edge of the clearing they gave a loud “_O-hoo–O-hoo–O-hoo-oo,” the Owl cry that they had adopted because it is commonly used by the Indians as a night signal, and they got the same in reply from within.
“All right,” shouted Caleb; “he done it, an’ he’s bully good stuff and gets an uncommon grand coup.”
“Wish I had gone now,” said Guy. “I could ’a’ done it just as well as Yan.”
“Well, go on now.”
“Oh, there ain’t any stone to get now for proof.”
“You can write your name on the grave, as I did.”
“Ah, that wouldn’t prove nothin’,” and Guy dropped the subject.
Yan did not mean to tell his adventure that night, but his excitement was evident, and they soon got it out of him in full. They were a weird-looking crowd as they sat around the flickering fire, experiencing as he told it no small measure of the scare he had just been through.
When he had finished Yan said, “Now, Guy, don’t you want to go and try it?”
“Oh, quit,” said Guy; “I never saw such a feller as you for yammering away on the same subjek.”
Caleb looked at his watch now, as though about to leave, when Yan said:
“Say, Mr. Clark, won’t you sleep here? There’s lots o’ room in Guy’s bed.”
“Don’t mind if I do, seem’ it’s late.”