Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Long Swamp
The union of the tribes, however, was far from complete. Blackhawk was inclined to be turbulent. He was heavier than Beaver. He could not understand how that slighter, younger boy could throw him, and he wished to try again. Now Yan was growing stronger every day. He was quick and of very wiry build. In the first battle, which was entirely fisty, he was worsted; on the try-over, which cost him such an effort, he had arranged “a rough-and-tumble,” as they called it, and had won chiefly by working his only trick. But now Blackhawk was not satisfied, and while he did not care to offer another deadly challenge, by way of a feeler he offered, some days after the peace, to try a friendly throw for scalps.
“Fists left out!” Just what Beaver wanted, and the biggest boy was sent flying. “If any other Boiler would like to try I’d be pleased to oblige him,” said Yan, just a little puffed up, as he held up the second scalp he had won from Blackhawk.
Much to his surprise, Bluejay, the city boy, accepted, and he was still more surprised when the city boy sent him down in the dust.
“Best out of three!” shouted Woodpecker quickly, in the interest of his friend, taking advantage of an unwritten law that when it is not stated to be in one try, usually called “sudden death,” it is “best two out of three” that counts.
Yan knew now that he had found a worthy foe. He dodged, waiting for an opening–gripped–locked–and had him on the hip, he thought, but the city boy squirmed in time, yielding instead of resisting, and both went down tight-gripped. For a minute it was doubtful.
“Go it, Yan.”
“Give it to him, Bluejay.”
But Yan quickly threw out one leg, got a little purchase, and turned the city boy on his back.
“Hooray for Little Beaver!”
“One try more! So far even!” cried Blackhawk.
They closed again, but Yan was more than ever careful. The city boy was puffing hard. The real trial was over and Cy went down quite easily.
“Three cheers for Little Beaver!” A fourth scalp was added to his collection, and Sam patted him on the back, while Bluejay got out a pocket mirror and comb and put his hair straight.
But this did not help out in the matter of leadership, and when the Medicine Man heard of the continued deadlock he said:
“Boys, you know when there is a doubt about who is to lead the only way is for all Chiefs to resign and have a new election.” The boys acted on this suggestion but found another deadlock. Little Beaver refused to be put up. Woodpecker got three votes, Blackhawk four, and Guy one (his own), and the Sangers refused to stand by the decision.
“Let’s wait till after the ’hard trip’–that will show who is the real Chief–then have a new election,” suggested Little Beaver, with an eye to Woodpecker’s interest, for this hard trip was one that had been promised them by Caleb–a three-days’ expedition in the Long Swamp.
This swamp was a wild tract, ten miles by thirty, that lay a dozen miles north of Sanger. It was swampy only in parts, but the dry places were mere rocky ridges, like islands in the bogs. The land on these was worthless and the timber had been ruined by fire, so Long Swamp continued an uninhabited wilderness.
There was said to be a few Deer on the hardwood ridges. Bears and Lynx were occasionally seen, and Wolves had been heard in recent winters. Of course there were Foxes, Grouse and Northern Hare. The streams were more or less choked with logs, but were known to harbour a few Beavers and an occasional Otter. There were no roads for summer use, only long, dim openings across the bogs, known as winter trails and timber roads. This was the region that the boys proposed to visit under Caleb’s guidance.
Thus at last they were really going on an “Indian trip"–to explore the great unknown, with every probability of adventure.
At dawn Yan tapped the tom-tom. It sang a high and vibrant note, in guarantee of a sunny day.
They left camp at seven in the morning, and after three hours’ tramp they got to the first part of the wilderness, a great tract of rocky land, disfigured with blackened trees and stumps, but green in places with groves of young Poplars or quaking Aspen.
The Indians were very ready to camp now, but the Medicine Man said, “No; better keep on till we find water.” In another mile they reached the first stretch of level Tamarack bog and a welcome halt for lunch was called. “Camp!” shouted the leader, and the Indians ran each to do his part. Sam got wood for the fire and Blackhawk went to seek water, and with him was Blue jay, conspicuous in a high linen collar and broad cuffs, for Caleb unfortunately had admitted that he once saw an Indian Chief in high hat and stand-up collar.
Beaver was just a little disappointed to see the Medicine Man light the fire with a match. He wanted it all in truly Indian style, but the Trapper remarked, “Jest as well to have some tinder and a thong along when you’re in the woods, but matches is handier than rubbing-sticks.”
Blackhawk and Bluejay returned with two pails of dirty, tepid, swampy water.
“Why, that’s all there is!” was their defense.
“Yan, you go and show them how to get good water,” said Caleb, so the Second Sanger Chief, remembering his training, took the axe and quickly made a wooden digger, then went to the edge of the swamp, and on the land twenty feet from the bog he began to dig a hole in the sandy loam. He made it two feet across and sunk it down three feet. The roily water kept oozing in all around, and Bluejay was scornful. “Well, I’d rather have what we got.” Beaver dug on till there was a foot of dirty water in the hole. Then he took a pail and bailed it all out as fast as possible, left it to fill, bailed it out a second time, and ten minutes later cautiously dipped out with a cup a full pail of crystal-clear cold water, and thus the Boilers learned how to make an Indian well and get clear water out of a dirty puddle.
After their simple meal of tea, bread and meat Caleb told his plan. “You never get the same good of a trip if you jest wander off; better have a plan–something to do; and do it without a guide if ye want adventures. Now eight is too many to travel together; you’d scare everything with racket and never see a livin’ thing. Better divide in parties. I’ll stay in camp and get things ready for the night.”
Thus the leaders, Sam and Yan, soon found themselves paired with Guy and Peetweet. Wes felt bound to take care of his little cousin Char-less.
Bluejay, finding himself the odd man, decided to stay with Caleb, especially as the swamp evidently was without proper footpaths.
“Now,” said Caleb, “northwest of here there is a river called the Beaver, that runs into Black River. I want one of you to locate that. It’s thirty or forty feet wide and easy to know, for it’s the only big stream in the swamp. Right north there is an open stretch of plain, with a little spring creek, where there’s a band of Injuns camped. Somewhere northeast they say there’s a tract of Pine bush not burned off, and there is some Deer there. None of the places is ten miles away except, maybe, the Injuns’ camp. I want ye to go scoutin’ and report. You kin draw straws to say who goes where.”
So the straws were marked and drawn. Yan drew the timber hunt. He would rather have had the one after the Indians. Sam had to seek the river, and Wesley the Indian camp. Caleb gave each of them a few matches and this parting word:
“I’ll stay here till you come back. I’ll keep up a fire, and toward sundown I’ll make a smoke with rotten wood and grass so you kin find your way back. Remember, steer by the sun; keep your main lines of travel; don’t try to remember trees and mudholes; and if you get lost, you make two smokes well apart and stay right there and holler every once in awhile; some one will be sure to come.”
So about eleven o’clock the boys set out eagerly. As they were going Blackhawk called to the others, “First to carry out his job wins a grand coup!”
“Let the three leaders stake their scalps,” said the Woodpecker.
“All right. First winner home gets a scalp from each of the others and saves his own.”
“Say, boys, you better take along; your hull outfit, some grub an’ your blankets,” was the Medicine Man’s last suggestion. “You may have to stay out all night.”
Yan would rather have had Sam along, but that couldn’t be, and Peetweet proved a good fellow, though rather slow. They soon left the high ground and came to the bog–flat and seemingly endless and with a few tall Tamaracks. There were some Cedar-birds catching Flies on the tall tree-tops, and a single Flycatcher was calling out: “_Whoit–whoit–whoit!_” Yan did not know until long after that it was the Olive-side. A Sparrow-hawk sailed over, and later a Bald Eagle with a Sparrow-hawk in hot and noisy pursuit. But the most curious thing was the surface of the bog. The spongy stretch of moss among the scattering Tamaracks was dotted with great masses of Pitcher Plant, and half concealed by the curious leaves were thousands of Droserę, or fly-eating plants, with their traps set to secure their prey.
The bog was wonderful, but very bad walking. The boys sank knee-deep in the soft moss, and as they went farther, steering only by the sun, they found the moss sank till their feet reached the water below and they were speedily wet to the knees. Yan cut for each a long pole to carry in the hand; in case the bog gave way this would save them from sinking. After two miles of this Peetweet wanted to go back, but was scornfully suppressed by Little Beaver.
Shortly afterward they came to a sluggish little stream in the bog with a peculiar red-and-yellow scum along its banks. It was deep and soft-bottomed. Yan tried it with the pole–did not dare to wade, so they walked along its course till they found a small tree lying from bank to bank, then crossed on this. Half a mile farther on the bog got dryer, and a mass of green ahead marked one of the islands of high land. Over this they passed quickly, keeping the northwest course. They now had a succession of small bogs and large islands. The sun was hot here and Peetweet was getting tired. He was thirsty, too, and persisted in drinking the swamp water whenever he found a hole.
“Say, Peetweet, you’ll suffer for that if you don’t quit; that water isn’t fit to drink unless you boil it.”
But Peetweet complained of burning thirst and drank recklessly. After two hours’ tramp he was very tired and wanted to turn back. Yan sought a dry island and then gathered sticks for a fire, but found all the matches they had were soaking wet with wading through the bog. Peetweet was much upset by this, not on account of fire now, but in case they should be out all night.
“You wait and see what an Indian does,” said Little Beaver. He sought for a dried Balsam Fir, cut the rubbing-sticks, made a bow of a slightly bent branch, and soon had a blazing fire, to Peter’s utter amazement, for he had never seen the trick of making a fire by rubbing-sticks.
After drinking some tea and eating a little, Pete felt more encouraged.
“We have travelled more than six miles now, I reckon,” said the Chief; “an hour longer and we shall be in sight of the forest if there is one,” and Yan led off across swamps more or less open and islands of burned timber.
Pete began to be appalled by the distance they were putting between them and their friends. “What if we should get lost? They never could find us.”
“We won’t get lost,” said Yan in some impatience; “and if we did, what of it? We have only to keep on straight north or south for four or five hours and we reach some kind of a settlement.”
After an hour’s tramp northeast they came to an island with a tall tree that had branches right to the ground. Yan climbed up. A vast extent of country lay all about him–open flat bogs and timber islands, and on far ahead was a long, dark mass of solid ever-green–surely the forest he sought. Between him and it he saw water sparkling.
“Oh, Pete, you ought to be up here,” he shouted joyfully; “it’s worth the climb to see this view.”
“I’d rather see our own back-yard,” grumbled Pete.
Yan came down, his face aglow with pleasure, and exclaimed: “It’s close to, now! I saw the Pine woods. Just off there.”
“Oh, a couple of miles, at most.”
“That’s what you have been saying all along.”
“Well, I saw it this time; and there is water out there. I saw that, too.”
He tramped on, and in half an hour they came to the water, a deep, clear, slow stream, fringed with scrub willows, covered with lily-pads, and following the middle of a broad, boggy flat. Yan had looked for a pond, and was puzzled by the stream. Then it struck him. “Caleb said there was only one big stream through this swamp. This must be it. This is Beaver River.”
The stream was barely forty feet across, but it was clearly out of the question to find a pole for a bridge, so Yan stripped off, put all his things in a bundle, and throwing them over, swam after them. Pete had to come now or be left.
As they were dressing on the northern side there was a sudden loud “_Bang–swish!” A torrent of water was thrown in the air, with lily-pads broken from their mooring, the water pattered down, the wavelets settled, and the boys stood in astonishment to see what strange animal had made this disturbance; but nothing more of it was seen, and the mystery remained unsolved.
Then Yan heard a familiar ’Quack!_” down the stream. He took his bow and arrow, while Pete sat gloomily on a hummock. As soon as he peered through the rushes in a little bay he saw three Mallard close at hand. He waited till two were in line, then fired, killing one instantly, and the others flew away. The breeze wafted it within reach of a stick, and he seized it and returned in triumph to Pete, but found him ready to cry. “I want to go home!” he said miserably. The sight of the Mallard cheered him a little, and Yan said: “Come now, Pete, don’t spoil everything, there’s a good fellow. Brace up, and if I don’t show you the Pine woods in twenty minutes I’ll turn and take you home.”
As soon as they got to the next island they saw the Pine wood–a solid green bank not half a mile away, and the boys gave a little cheer, and felt, no doubt, as Mungo Park did when first he sighted the Niger. In fifteen minutes they were walking in its dry and delightful aisles.
“Now we’ve won,” said Yan, “whatever the others do, and all that remains is to get back.”
“I’m awfully tired,” said Pete; “let’s rest awhile.”
Yan looked at his watch. “It’s four o’clock. I think we’d better camp for the night.”
“Oh, no; I want to go home. It looks like rain.”
It certainly did, but Yan replied, “Well, let’s eat first.” He delayed as much as possible so as to compel the making of a camp, and the rain came unexpectedly, before he even had a fire. Yet to his own delight and Peter’s astonishment he quickly made a rubbing-stick fire, and they hung up their wet clothes about it. Then he dug an Indian well and took lots of time in the preparation, so it was six o’clock before they began to eat, and seven when finished–evidently too late to move out even though the rain seemed to be over. So Yan collected firewood, made a bed of Fir boughs and a windbreak of bushes and bark. The weather was warm, and with the fire and two blankets they passed a comfortable night. They heard their old friend the Horned Owl, a Fox barked his querulous ’Yap-yurr!_” close at hand, and once or twice they were awakened by rustling footsteps in the leaves, but slept fairly well.
At dawn Yan was up. He made a fire and heated some water for tea. They had very little bread left, but the Mallard was untouched.
Yan cleaned it, rolled it in wet clay, hid it in the ashes and covered it with glowing coals. This is an Indian method of cooking, but Yan had not fully mastered it. In half an hour he opened his clay pie and found the Duck burned on one side and very raw on the other. Part of it was good, however, so he called his companion to breakfast. Pete sat up white-faced and miserable, evidently a sick boy. Not only had he caught cold, but he was upset by the swamp water he had taken. He was paying the penalty of his indiscretion. He ate a little and drank some tea, then felt better, but clearly was unable to travel that day. Now for the first time Yan felt a qualm of fear. Separated by a dozen miles of swamp from all help, what could he do with a sick boy? He barked a small dead tree with a knife, then on the smooth surface wrote with a pencil, “Yan Yeoman and Pete Boyle camped here August 10, 18–”
He made Pete comfortable by the fire, and, looking for tracks, he found that during the night two Deer had come nearly into the camp; then he climbed a high tree and scanned the southern horizon for a smoke sign. He saw none there, but to the northwest, beyond some shining yellow hills, he discovered a level plain dotted over with black Fir clumps; from one of these smoke went up, and near it were two or three white things like teepees.
Yan hurried down to tell Pete the good news, but when he confessed that it was two miles farther from home Pete had no notion of going to the Indian camp; so Yan made a smoke fire, and knife-blazing the saplings on two sides as he went, he set out alone for the Indian camp. Getting there in half an hour, he found two log shanties and three teepees. As he came near he had to use a stick to keep off the numerous Dogs. The Indians proved shy, as usual, to White visitors. Yan made some signs that he had learned from Caleb. Pointing to himself, he held up two fingers–meaning that he was two. Then he pointed to the Pine woods and made sign of the other lying down, and added the hungry sign by pressing in his stomach with the edges of the hands, meaning “I am cut in two here.” The Chief Indian offered him a Deer-tongue, but did not take further interest. Yan received it thankfully, made a hasty sketch of the camp, and returned to find Pete much better, but thoroughly alarmed at being so long alone. He was able and anxious now to go back. Yan led off, carrying all the things of the outfit, and his comrade followed slowly and peevishly. When they came to the river, Pete held back in fear, believing that the loud noise they had heard was made by some monster of the deep, who would seize them.
Yan was certain it could be only an explosion of swamp gas, and forced Pete to swim across by setting the example. What the cause really was they never learned.
They travelled very fast now for a time. Pete was helped by the knowledge that he was really going home. A hasty lunch of Deer-tongue delayed them but little. At three they sighted Caleb’s smoke signal, and at four they burst into camp with yells of triumph.
Caleb fired off his revolver, and Turk bayed his basso profundo full-cry Fox salute. All the others had come back the night before.
Sam said he had “gone ten mile and never got a sight of that blamed river.” Guy swore they had gone forty miles, and didn’t believe there was any such river.
“What kind o’ country did you see?”
“Nothin’ but burned land and rocks.”
“H-m, you went too far west–was runnin’ parallel with Beaver River.”
“Now, Blackhawk, give an account of yourself to Little Beaver,” said Woodpecker. “Did you two win out?”
“Well,” replied the Boiler Chief, “if Hawkeye travelled forty miles, we must have gone sixty. We pointed straight north for three hours and never saw a thing but bogs and islands of burned timber–never a sign of a plain or of Indians. I don’t believe there are any.”
“Did you see any sandhills?” asked Little Beaver.
“Then you didn’t get within miles of it.”
Now he told his own story, backed by Pete, and he was kind enough to leave out all about Peetweet’s whimpering. His comrade responded to this by giving a glowing account of Yan’s Woodcraft, especially dwelling on the feat of the rubbing-stick fire in the rain, and when they finished Caleb said:
“Yan, you won, and you more than won, for you found the green timber you went after, you found the river Sam went after, an’ the Injuns Wesley went after. Sam and Wesley, hand over your scalps.”