Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Three-Fingered Tramp.
Broad-shouldered, beetle-browed, brutal and lazy was Bill Hennard, son of a prosperous settler. He had inherited a fine farm, but he was as lazy as he was strong, and had soon run through his property and followed the usual course from laziness to crime. Bill had seen the inside of more than one jail. He was widely known in the adjoining township of Emolan; many petty thefts were traced to him, and it was openly stated that but for the help of a rich and clever confederate he would certainly be in the penitentiary. It was darkly hinted, further, that this confederate was a well-to-do Sangerite who had many farms and a wife and son and a little daughter, and his first name was William, and his second name Ra–– “But never mind; and don’t for the world say I told you.” Oh, it’s easy to get rich–if you know how. Of course, these rumours never reached the parties chiefly concerned.
Hennard had left Downey’s Dump the evening before, and avoiding the roads, had struck through the woods, to visit his partner, with important matters to arrange–very important for Hennard. He was much fuddled when he left Downey’s, the night was cloudy, and consequently he had wandered round and round till he was completely lost. He slept under a tree (a cold, miserable sleep it was), and in the sunless morning he set out with little certainty to find his “pal.” After some time he stumbled on the trail that led him to the boys’ camp. He was now savage with hunger and annoyance, and reckless with bottle assistance, for he carried a flask. No longer avoiding being seen, he walked up to the teepee just as Little Beaver was frying meat for the noonday meal he expected to eat alone. At the sound of footsteps Yan turned, supposing that one of his companions had come back, but there instead was a big, rough-looking tramp.
[Illustration: “Well, sonny, cookin’ dinner?"]
“Well, sonny, cookin’ dinner? I’ll be glad to j’ine ye,” he said with an unpleasant and fawning smile.
His manner was as repulsive as it could be, though he kept the form of politeness.
“Where’s your folks, sonny?”
“Haven’t any–here,” replied Yan, in some fear, remembering now the tramps of Glenyan.
“H-m–all alone–camped all alone, are ye?”
“The other fellers are away till the afternoon.”
“Wall, how nice. Glad to know it. I’ll trouble you to hand me that stick,” and now the tramp’s manner changed from fawning to command, as he pointed to Yan’s bow hanging unstrung.
“That’s my bow!” replied Yan, in fear and indignation.
“I won’t tell ye a second time–hand me that stick, or I’ll spifflicate ye.”
Yan stood still. The desperado strode forward, seized the bow, and gave him two or three blows on the back and legs.
“Now, you young Pup, get me my dinner, and be quick about it, or I’ll break yer useless neck.”
Yan now realized that he had fallen into the power of the worst enemy of the harmless camper, and saw too late the folly of neglecting Raften’s advice to have a big Dog in camp. He glanced around and would have run, but the tramp was too quick for him and grabbed him by the collar. “Oh, no you don’t; hold on, sonny. I’ll fix you so you’ll do as you’re told.” He cut the bowstring from its place, and violently throwing Yan down, he tied his feet so that they had about eighteen inches’ play.
“Now rush around and get my dinner; I’m hungry. An’ don’t you spile it in the cooking or I’ll use the gad on you; an’ if you holler or cut that cord I’ll kill ye. See that?” and he got out an ugly-looking knife.
Tears of fear and pain ran down Yan’s face as he limped about to obey the brute’s orders.
“Here, you move a little faster!” and the tramp turned from poking the fire with the bow to give another sounding blow. If he had looked down the trail he would have seen a small tow-topped figure that turned and scurried away at the sound.
Yan was trained to bear punishment, but the tyrant seemed careless of even his life.
“Are you going to kill me?” he burst out, after another attack for stumbling in his shackles.
“Don’t know but I will when I’ve got through with ye,” replied the desperado with brutal coolness. “I’ll take some more o’ that meat–an’ don’t you let it burn, neither. Where’s the sugar for the coffee? I’ll get a bigger club if ye don’t look spry,” and so the tramp was served with his meal. “Now bring me some tobaccer.”
Yan hobbled into the teepee and reached down Sam’s tobacco bag.
“Here, what’s that box? Bring that out here,” and the tramp pointed to the box in which they kept some spare clothes. Yan obeyed in fear and trembling. “Open it.”
“I can’t. It’s locked, and Sam has the key.”
“He has, has he? Well, I have a key that will open it,” and so he smashed the lid with the axe; then he went through the pockets, got Yan’s old silver watch and chain, and in Sam’s trousers pocket he got two dollars.
“Ha! That’s just what I want, sonny,” and the tramp put them in his own pockets. “’Pears to me the fire needs a little wood,” he remarked, as his eye fell on Yan’s quiverful of arrows, and he gave that a kick that sent many of them into the blaze.
“Now, sonny, don’t look at me quite so hard, like you was taking notes, or I may have to cut your throat and put you in the swamp hole to keep ye from telling tales.”
Yan was truly in terror of his life now.
“Bring me the whetstone,” the tyrant growled, “an’ some more coffee." Yan did so. The tramp began whetting his long knife, and Yan saw two things that stuck in his memory: first, the knife, which was of hunting pattern, had a brass Deer on the handle; second, the hand that grasped it had only three fingers.
“What’s that other box in there?”
“That’s–that’s–only our food box.”
“You lie to me, will ye?” and again the stick descended. “Haul it out.”
“Haul it out or I’ll choke ye.”
Yan tried, but it was too heavy.
“Get out, you useless Pup!” and the tramp walked into the teepee and gave Yan a push that sent him headlong out on the ground.
The boy was badly bruised, but saw his only chance. The big knife was there. He seized it, cut the cord on his legs, flung the knife afar in the swamp and ran like a Deer. The tramp rushed out of the teepee yelling and cursing. Yan might have gotten away had he been in good shape, but the tramp’s cruelty really had crippled him, and the brute was rapidly overtaking him. As he sped down the handiest, the south trail, he sighted in the trees ahead a familiar figure, and yelling with all his remaining strength, “Caleb! Caleb!! Caleb Clark!!!” he fell swooning in the grass.
There is no mistaking the voice of dire distress. Caleb hurried up, and with one impulse he and the tramp grappled in deadly struggle. Turk was not with his master, and the tramp had lost his knife, so it was a hand-to-hand conflict. A few clinches, a few heavy blows, and it was easy to see who must win. Caleb was old and slight. The tramp, strong, heavy-built, and just drunk enough to be dangerous, was too much for him, and after a couple of rounds the Trapper fell writhing with a foul blow. The tramp felt again for his knife, swore savagely, looked around for a club, found only a big stone, and would have done no one knows what, when there was a yell from behind, another big man crashed down the trail, and the tramp faced William Raften, puffing and panting, with Guy close behind. The stone meant for Caleb he hurled at William, who dodged it, and now there was an even fight. Had the tramp had his knife it might have gone hard with Raften, but fist to fist the farmer had the odds. His old-time science turned the day, and the desperado went down with a crusher “straight from the shoulder.”
It seemed a veritable battle-field–three on the ground and Raften, red-faced and puffing, but sturdy and fearless, standing in utter perplexity.
“Phwhat the divil does it all mane?”
“I’ll tell you, Mr. Raften,” chirped in Guy, as he stole from his safe shelter.
“Oh, ye’re here, are ye, Guy? Go and git a rope at camp–quick now," as the tramp began to move.
As soon as the rope came Raften tied the fellow’s arms safely.
“’Pears to me Oi’ve sane that hand befoore,” remarked Raften, as the three fingers caught his eye.
Yan was now sitting up, gazing about in a dazed way. Raften went over to his old partner and said: “Caleb, air ye hurrt? It’s me–it’s Bill Raften. Air ye hurrt?”
Caleb rolled his eyes and looked around.
Yan came over now and knelt down. “Are you hurt, Mr. Clark?”
He shook his head and pointed to his chest.
“He’s got his wind knocked out,” Raften explained; “he’ll be all right in a minute or two. Guy, bring some wather.”
Yan told his story and Guy supplied an important chapter. He had returned earlier than expected, and was near to camp, when he heard the tramp beating Yan. His first impulse to run home to his puny father was replaced with the wiser one to go for brawny Mr. Raften.
The tramp was now sitting up and grumbling savagely.
“Now, me foine feller,” said William. “We’ll take ye back to camp for a little visit before we take ye to the ’Pen.’ A year in the cooler will do ye moore good, Oi’m thinkin’, than anny other tratement. Here, Guy, you take the end av the rope and fetch the feller to camp, while I help Caleb.”
Guy was in his glory. The tramp was forced to go ahead; Guy followed, jerking the rope and playing Horse, shouting, “Ch’–ch’–ch’–get up, Horsey,” while William helped old Caleb with a gentleness that recalled a time long ago when Caleb had so helped him after a falling tree had nearly killed him in the woods.
At camp they found Sam. He was greatly astonished at the procession, for he knew nothing of the day’s events, and fearfully disappointed he was on learning what he had missed.
Caleb still looked white and sick when they got him to the fire, and Raften said, “Sam, go home and get your mother to give you a little brandy.”
“You don’t need to go so far,” said Yan, “for that fellow has a bottle in his pocket.”
“I wouldn’t touch a dhrap of annything he has, let alone give it to a sick friend,” was William’s reply.
So Sam went for the brandy and was back with it in half an hour.
“Here now, Caleb,” said William, “drink that now an’ ye’ll feel better,” and as he offered the cup he felt a little reviving glow of sympathy for his former comrade.
When Sam went home that morning it was with a very clear purpose. He had gone straight to his mother and told all he knew about the revolver and the misunderstanding with Caleb, and they two had had a long, unsatisfactory interview with the father. Raften was brutal and outspoken as usual. Mrs. Raften was calm and clear-witted. Sam was shrewd. The result was a complete defeat for William–a defeat that he would not acknowledge; and Sam came back to camp disappointed for the time being, but now to witness the very thing he had been striving for–his father and the Trapper reconciled; deadly enemies two hours ago, but now made friends through a fight. Though overpowered in argument, Raften’s rancour was not abated, but rather increased toward the man he had evidently misused, until the balance was turned by the chance of his helping that man in a time of direst straits.