Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Banshee’s Wail and the Huge Night Prowler
Next day while working on the Coon-skin Sam and Yan discussed thoroughly the unpleasant incident of the night before, but they decided that it would be unwise to speak of it to Caleb unless he should bring up the subject, and Guy was duly cautioned.
That morning Yan went to the mud albums on one of his regular rounds and again found, first that curious hoof-mark that had puzzled him before, and down by the pond album the track of a very large bird–much like a Turkey track, indeed. He brought Caleb to see them. The Trapper said that one was probably the track of a Blue Crane (Heron), and the other, “Well, I don’t hardly know; but it looks to me mighty like the track of a big Buck–only there ain’t any short of the Long Swamp, and that’s ten miles at least. Of course, when there’s only out it ain’t a track; it’s an accident.”
“Yes; but I’ve found lots of them–a trail every time, but not quite enough to follow.”
That night after dark, when he was coming to camp with the product of a “massacree,” Yan heard a peculiar squawking, guttural sound that rose from the edge of the pond and increased in strength, drawing nearer, till it was a hideous and terrifying uproar. It was exactly the sound that Guy had provoked on that first night when he came and tried to frighten the camp. It passed overhead, and Yan saw for a moment the form of a large slow-flying bird.
Next day it was Yan’s turn to cook. At sunrise, as he went for water, he saw a large Blue Heron rise from the edge of the pond and fly on heavy pinions away over the tree-tops. It was a thrilling sight. The boy stood gazing after it, absolutely rapt with delight, and when it was gone he went to the place where it rose and found plenty of large tracks just like the one he had sketched. Unquestionably it was the same bird as on the night before, and the mystery of the Wolf with the sore throat was solved. This explanation seemed quite satisfactory to everybody but Guy. He had always maintained stoutly that the woods were full of Bears right after sundown. Where they went at other times was a mystery, but he “reckoned he hadn’t yet run across the bird that could scare him–no, nor the beast, nuther.”
Caleb agreed that the grating cry must be that of the Blue Crane, but the screech and wail in the tree-tops at night he could shed no light on.
There were many other voices of the night that became more or less familiar. Some of them were evidently birds; one was the familiar Song-Sparrow, and high over the tree-tops from the gloaming sky they often heard a prolonged sweet song. It was not till years afterward that Yan found out this to be the night-song of the Oven-bird, but he was able to tell them at once the cause of the startling outcry that happened one evening an hour after sundown.
The Woodpecker was outside, the other two inside the teepee. A peculiar sound fell on his ear. It kept on–a succession of long whines, and getting stronger. As it gave no sign of ending, Sam called the other boys. They stood in a row there and heard this peculiar “_whine, whine, whine_” develop into a loud, harsh ’whow, whow, whow.”
“It must be some new Heron cry,” Yan whispered.
But the sound kept on increasing till it most resembled the yowling of a very strong-voiced Cat, and still grew till each separate “_meow_” might have been the yell of a Panther. Then at its highest and loudest there was a prolonged ’meow” and silence, followed finally by the sweet chant of the Song-sparrow.
A great light dawned on Little Beaver. Now he remembered that voice in Glenyan so long ago, and told the others with an air of certainty:
“Boys, that’s the yelling of a Lynx,” and the next day Caleb said that Yan was right.
Some days later they learned that another lamb had been taken from the Raften flock that night.
In the morning Yan took down the tom-tom for a little music and found it flat and soft.
“Hallo,” said he; “going to rain.”
Caleb looked up at him with an amused expression. “You’re a reg’lar Injun. It’s surely an Injun trick that. When the tom-tom won’t sing without being warmed at the fire they allus says ’rain before night.’”
The Trapper stayed late that evening. It had been cloudy all the afternoon, and at sundown it began to rain, so he was invited to supper. The shower grew heavier instead of ending. Caleb went out and dug a trench all round the teepee to catch the rain, then a leader to take it away. After supper they sat around the campfire in the teepee; the wind arose and the rain beat down. Yan had to go out and swing the smoke poles, and again his ear was greeted with the screech. He brought in an armful of wood and made the inside of the teepee a blaze of cheerful light. A high wind now came in gusts, so that the canvas flopped unpleasantly on the poles.
“Where’s your anchor rope?” asked the Trapper.
Sam produced the loose end; the other was fastened properly to the poles above. It had never been used, for so far the weather had been fine; but now Caleb sunk a heavy stake, lashed the anchor rope to that, then went out and drove all the pegs a little deeper, and the Tribe felt safe from any ordinary storm.
There was nothing to attract the old Trapper to his own shanty. His heirs had begun to forget that he needed food, and what little they did send was of vilest quality. The old man was as fond of human society as any one, and was easily persuaded now to stay all night, “if you can stand Guy for a bedfeller.” So Caleb and Turk settled down for a comfortable evening within, while the storm raged without.
“Say, don’t you touch that canvas, Guy; you’ll make it leak.”
“What, me? Oh, pshaw! How can it leak for a little thing like that?" and Guy slapped it again in bravado.
“All right, it’s on your side of the bed,” and sure enough, within two minutes a little stream of water was trickling from the place he had rubbed, while elsewhere the canvas turned every drop.
This is well known to all who have camped under canvas during a storm, and is more easily remembered than explained.
The smoke hung heavy in the top of the teepee and kept crowding down until it became unpleasant.
“Lift the teepee cover on the windward side, Yan. There, that’s it–but hold on,” as a great gust came in, driving the smoke and ashes around in whirlwinds. “You had ought to have a lining. Give me that canvas: that’ll do.” Taking great care not to touch the teepee cover, Caleb fastened the lining across three pole spaces so that the opening under the canvas was behind it. This turned the draught from their backs and, sending it over their heads, quickly cleared the teepee of smoke as well as kept off what little rain entered by the smoke hole.
“It’s on them linings the Injuns paint their records and adventures. They mostly puts their totems on the outside an’ their records on the lining.”
“Bully,” said Sam; “now there’s a job for you. Little Beaver; by the time you get our adventures on the inside and our totems on the out I tell you we’ll be living in splendour.”
“I think,” answered Yan indirectly, “we ought to take Mr. Clark into the Tribe. Will you be our Medicine Man?” Caleb chuckled in a quiet way, apparently consenting. “Now I have four totems to paint on the outside,” and this was the beginning of the teepee painting that Yan carried out with yellow clay, blue clay dried to a white, yellow clay burned to red, and charcoal, all ground in Coon grease and Pine gum, to be properly Indian. He could easily have gotten bright colours in oil paint, but scorned such White-man’s truck, and doubtless the general effect was all the better for it.
“Say, Caleb,” piped Guy, “tell us about the Injuns–about their bravery. Bravery is what I like,” he added with emphasis, conscious of being now on his own special ground. “Why, I mind the time that old Woodchuck was coming roaring at me–I bet some fellers would just ’a’ been so scared–”
“_Hssh!_” said Sam.
Caleb smoked in silence. The rain pattered on the teepee without; the wind heaved the cover. They all sat silently. Then sounded loud and clear a terrifying ’scrrrrrr–oouwurr.” The boys were startled–would have been terrified had they been outside or alone.
“That’s it–that’s the Banshee,” whispered Sam.
Caleb looked up sharply.
“What is it?” queried Yan. “We’ve heard it a dozen times, at least.”
Caleb shook his head, made no reply, but turned to his Dog. Turk was lying on his side by the fire, and at this piercing screech he had merely lifted his head, looked backward over his shoulder, turned his big sad eyes on his master, then laid down again.
“Turk don’t take no stock in it.”
“Dogs never hear a Banshee,” objected Sam, “no more than they can see a ghost; anyway, that’s what Granny de Neuville says.” So the Dog’s negative testimony was the reverse of comforting.
“Hawkeye,” said the Woodpecker, “you’re the bravest one of the crowd. Don’t you want to go out and try a shot at the Banshee? I’ll lend you my Witch-hazel arrow. We’ll give you a grand coup feather if you hit him. Go ahead, now–you know bravery is what you like.”
“Yer nothin’ but a passel o’ blame dumb fools,” was the answer, “an’ I wouldn’t be bothered talking to ye. Caleb, tell us something about the Indians.”
“What the Injuns love is bravery,” said the Medicine Man with a twinkle in his eye, and everybody but Guy laughed, not very loudly, for each was restrained by the thought that he would rather not be called upon to show his bravery to-night.
“I’m going to bed,” said Hawkeye with unnecessary energy.
“Don’t forget to roost under the waterspout you started when you got funny,” remarked the Woodpecker.
Yan soon followed Guy’s example, and Sam, who had already learned to smoke, sat up with Caleb. Not a word passed between them until after Guy’s snore and Yan’s regular puffs told of sound sleep, when Sam, taking advantage of a long-awaited chance, opened out rather abruptly:
“Say, Caleb, I ain’t going to side with no man against Da, but I know him just about as well as he knows me. Da’s all right; he’s plumb and square, and way down deep he’s got an awful kind heart; it’s pretty deep, I grant you, but it’s there, O.K. The things he does on the quiet to help folks is done on the quiet and ain’t noticed. The things he does to beat folks–an’ he does do plenty–is talked all over creation. But I know he has a wrong notion of you, just as you have of him, and it’s got to be set right.”
Sam’s good sense was always evident, and now, when he laid aside his buffoonery, his voice and manner were very impressive–more like those of a grown man than of a fifteen-year-old boy.
Caleb simply grunted and went on smoking, so Sam continued, “I want to hear your story, then Ma an’ me’ll soon fix Da.”
The mention of “Ma” was a happy stroke. Caleb had known her from youth as a kind-hearted girl. She was all gentleness and obedience to her husband except in matters of what she considered right and wrong, and here she was immovable. She had always believed in Caleb, even after the row, and had not hesitated to make known her belief.
“There ain’t much to tell,” replied Caleb bitterly. “He done me on that Horse-trade, an’ crowded me on my note so I had to pay it off with oats at sixty cents, then he turned round and sold them within half an hour for seventy-five cents. We had words right there, an’ I believe I did say I’d fix him for it. I left Downey’s Dump early that day. He had about $300 in his pocket–$300 of my money–the last I had in the world. He was too late to bank it, so was taking it home, when he was fired at in going through the ’green bush’. My tobacco pouch and some letters addressed to me was found there in the morning. Course he blamed me, but I didn’t have any shootin’-iron then; my revolver, the white one, was stole from me a week before–along with them same letters, I expect. I consider they was put there to lay the blame on me, an’ it was a little overdone, most folks would think. Well, then your Da set Dick Pogue on me, an’ I lost my farm–that’s all.”
Sam smoked gravely for awhile, then continued:
“That’s true about the note an’ the oats an’ the Horse-trade–just what Da would do; that’s all in the game: but you’re all wrong about Dick Pogue–that’s too dirty for Da.”
“_You may think so, but I don’t.”
Sam made no answer, but after a minute laid his hand on Turk, who responded with a low growl. This made Caleb continue: “Down on me, down on my Dog. Pogue says he kills Sheep ’an’ every one is ready to believe it. I never knowed a Hound turn Sheep-killer, an’ I never knowed a Sheep-killer kill at home, an’ I never knowed a Sheep-killer content with one each night, an’ I never knowed a Sheep-killer leave no tracks, an’ Sheep was killed again and again when Turk was locked up in the shanty with me.”
“Well, whose Dog is it does it?”
“I don’t know as it’s any Dog, for part of the Sheep was eat each time, they say, though I never seen one o’ them that was killed or I could tell. It’s more likely a Fox or a Lynx than a Dog.”
There was a long silence, then outside again the hair-lifting screech to which the Dog paid no heed, although the Trapper and the boy were evidently startled and scared.
They made up a blazing fire and turned in silently for the night.
The rain came down steadily, and the wind swept by in gusts. It was the Banshee’s hour, and two or three times, as they were dropping off, that fearful, quavering human wail, “like a woman in distress,” came from the woods to set their hearts a-jumping, not Caleb and Sam only, but all four.
In the diary which Yan kept of those times each day was named after its event; there was Deer day, Skunk-and-Cat day, Blue Crane day, and this was noted down as the night of the Banshee’s wailing.
Caleb was up and had breakfast ready before the others were fully awake. They had carefully kept and cleaned the Coon meat, and Caleb made of it a “prairie pie,” in which bacon, potatoes, bread, one small onion and various scraps of food were made important. This, warmed up for breakfast and washed down with coffee, made a royal meal, and feasting they forgot the fears of the night.
The rain was over, but the wind kept on. Great blockish clouds were tumbling across the upper sky Yan went out to look for tracks. He found none but those of raindrops.
The day was spent chiefly about camp, making arrows and painting the teepee.
Again Caleb was satisfied to sleep in the camp. The Banshee called once that night, and again Turk seemed not to hear, but half an hour later there was a different and much lower sound outside, a light, nasal ’wow.” The boys scarcely heard it, but Turk sprang up with bristling hair, growling, and forcing his way out under the door, he ran, loudly barking, into the woods.
“He’s after something now, all right,” said his master; “and now he’s treed it,” as the Dog began his high-pitched yelps.
“Good old Dog; he’s treed the Banshee,” and Yan rushed out into the darkness. The others followed, and they found Turk barking and scratching at a big leaning Beech, but could get no hint of what the creature up it might be like.
“How does he usually bark for a Banshee?” asked the Woodpecker, but got no satisfaction, and wondering why Turk should bother himself so mightily over a little squeal and never hear that awful scream, they retired to camp.
Next morning in the mud not far from the teepee Yan found the track of a common Cat, and shrewdly guessed that this was the prowler that had been heard and treed by the Dog; probably it was his old friend of the Skunk fight. The wind was still high, and as Yan pored over the tracks he heard for the first time in broad daylight the appalling screech. It certainly was loud, though less dreadful than at night, and peering up Yan saw two large limbs that crossed and rubbed each other, when the right puff of wind came. This was the Banshee that did the wailing that had scared them all–all but the Dog. His keener senses, unspoiled by superstition, had rightly judged the awful sound as the harmless scraping of two limbs in the high wind, but the lower, softer noise made by the prowling Cat he had just as truly placed and keenly followed up.
Guy was the only one not convinced. He clung to his theory of Bears.
Late in the night the two Chiefs were awakened by Guy. “Say, Sam–Sam. Yan–Yan–Yan–Yan, get up; that big Bear is ’round again. I told you there was a Bear, an’ you wouldn’t believe me.”
There was a loud champing sound outside, and occasionally growls or grumbling.
“There’s surely something there, Sam. I wish Turk and Caleb were here now.”
The boys opened the door a little and peered out. There, looming up in the dim starlight, was a huge black animal, picking up scraps of meat and digging up the tins that were buried in the garbage hole. All doubts were dispelled. Guy had another triumph, and he would have expressed his feelings to the full but for fear of the monster outside.
“What had we better do?”
“Better not shoot him with arrows. That’ll only rile him. Guy, you blow up the coals and get a blaze.”
All was intense excitement now, “Oh, why haven’t we got a gun!”
“Say, Sam, while Sap–I mean Hawkeye–makes a blaze, let’s you and me shoot with blunt arrows, if the Bear comes toward the teepee.” So they arranged themselves, Guy puttering in terror at the fire and begging them not to shoot.
“What’s the good o’ riling him? It–it–it’s croo-oo-el.”
Sam and Yan stood with bows ready and arrows nocked.
Guy was making a failure of the fire, and the Bear began nosing nearer, champing his teeth and grunting. Now the boys could see the great ears as the monster threw up its head.
“Let’s shoot before he gets any nearer.” At this Guy promptly abandoned further attempts to make a fire and scrambled up on a cross stick that was high in the teepee for hanging the pot. He broke out into tears when he saw Sam and Yan actually drawing their bows.
“He’ll come in and eat us, he will.”
But the Bear was coming anyway, and having the two tomahawks ready, the boys let fly. At once the Bear wheeled and ran off, uttering the loud, unmistakable squeal of an old Pig–Burns’s own Pig–for young Burns had again forgotten to put up the bars that crossed his trail from the homestead to the camp.
Guy came down quickly to join in the laugh. “I tole you fellers not to shoot. I just believed it was our old Hog, an’ I couldn’t help crying when I thought how mad Paw’d be when he found out.”
“I s’pose you got up on that cross pole to see if Paw was coming, didn’t you?”
“No; he got up there to show how brave he was.”
This was the huge night prowler that Guy had seen, and in the morning one more mystery was explained, for careful examination of Yan’s diary of the big Buck’s track showed that it was nothing more than the track of Burns’s old Hog. Why had Caleb and Raften both been mistaken? First, because it was a long time since they had seen a Buck track, and second, because this Pig happened to have a very unpiggy foot–one as much like that of a Buck as of a Hog.