Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
He had none but the poorest of tools, but he set about building a shanty. He was not a resourceful boy. His effort to win the book had been an unusual one for him, as his instincts were not at all commercial. When that matter came to the knowledge of the Home Government, he was rebuked for doing “work unworthy of a gentleman’s son” and forbidden under frightful penalties “ever again to resort to such degrading ways of raising money.”
They gave him no money, so he was penniless. Most boys would have possessed themselves somehow of a good axe and spade. He had neither. An old plane blade, fastened to a stick with nails, was all the axe and spade he had, yet with this he set to work and offset its poorness as a tool by dogged persistency. First, he selected the quietest spot near the spring–a bank hidden by a mass of foliage. He knew no special reason for hiding it, beyond the love of secrecy. He had read in some of his books “how the wily scouts led the way through a pathless jungle, pulled aside a bough and there revealed a comfortable dwelling that none without the secret could possibly have discovered," so it seemed very proper to make it a complete mystery–a sort of secret panel in the enchanted castle–and so picture himself as the wily scout leading his wondering companions to the shanty, though, of course, he had not made up his mind to reveal his secret to any one. He often wished he could have the advantage of Rad’s strong arms and efficacious tools; but the workshop incident was only one of many that taught him to leave his brother out of all calculation.
Mother Earth is the best guardian of a secret, and Yan with his crude spade began by digging a hole in the bank. The hard blue clay made the work slow, but two holidays spent in steady labour resulted in a hole seven feet wide and about four feet into the bank.
In this he set about building the shanty. Logs seven or eight feet long must be got to the place–at least twenty-five or thirty would be needed, and how to cut and handle them with his poor axe was a question. Somehow, he never looked for a better axe. The half-formed notion that the Indians had no better was sufficient support, and he struggled away bravely, using whatever ready sized material he could find. Each piece as he brought it was put into place. Some boys would have gathered the logs first and built it all at once, but that was not Yan’s way; he was too eager to see the walls rise. He had painfully and slowly gathered logs enough to raise the walls three rounds, when the question of a door occurred to him. This, of course, could not be cut through the logs in the ordinary way; that required the best of tools. So he lifted out all the front logs except the lowest, replacing them at the ends with stones and blocks to sustain the sides. This gave him the sudden gain of two logs, and helped the rest of the walls that much. The shanty was now about three feet high, and no two logs in it were alike: some were much too long, most were crooked and some were half rotten, for the simple reason that these were the only ones he could cut. He had exhausted the logs in the neighbourhood and was forced to go farther. Now he remembered seeing one that might do, half a mile away on the home trail (they were always “trails"; he never called them “roads” or “paths”). He went after this, and to his great surprise and delight found that it was one of a dozen old cedar posts that had been cut long before and thrown aside as culls, or worthless. He could carry only one at a time, so that to bring each one meant a journey of a mile, and the post got woefully heavy each time before that mile was over. To get those twelve logs he had twelve miles to walk. It took several Saturdays, but he stuck doggedly to it. Twelve good logs completed his shanty, making it five feet high and leaving three logs over for rafters. These he laid flat across, dividing the spaces equally. Over them he laid plenty of small sticks and branches till it was thickly covered. Then he went down to a rank, grassy meadow and, with his knife, cut hay for a couple of hours. This was spread thickly on the roof, to be covered with strips of Elm bark then on top of all he threw the clay dug from the bank, piling it well back, stamping on it, and working it down at the edges. Finally, he threw rubbish and leaves over it, so that it was confused with the general tangle.
Thus the roof was finished, but the whole of the front was open. He dreaded the search for more logs, so tried a new plan. He found, first, some sticks about six feet long and two or three inches through. Not having an axe to sharpen and drive them, he dug pairs of holes a foot deep, one at each end and another pair near the middle of the front ground log.
Into each of these he put a pair of upright sticks, leading up to the eave log, one inside and one outside of it, then packed the earth around them in the holes. Next, he went to the brook-side and cut a number of long green willow switches about half an inch thick at the butt. These switches he twisted around the top of each pair of stakes in a figure 8, placing them to hold the stake tight against the bottom and top logs at the front.
Down by the spring he now dug a hole and worked water and clay together into mortar, then with a trowel cut out of a shingle, and mortar carried in an old bucket, he built a wall within the stakes, using sticks laid along the outside and stones set in mud till the front was closed up, except a small hole for a window and a large hole for a door.
Now he set about finishing the inside. He gathered moss in the woods and stuffed all the chinks in the upper parts, and those next the ground he filled with stones and earth. Thus the shanty was finished; but it lacked a door.
The opening was four feet high and two feet wide, so in the woodshed at home he cut three boards, each eight inches wide and four feet high, but he left at each end of one a long point. Doing this at home gave him the advantage of a saw. Then with these and two shorter boards, each two feet long and six inches wide, he sneaked out to Glenyan, and there, with some nails and a stone for a hammer, he fastened them together into a door. In the ground log he pecked a hole big enough to receive one of the points and made a corresponding hole in the under side of the top log. Then, prying up the eave log, he put the door in place, let the eave log down again, and the door was hung. A string to it made an outside fastening when it was twisted around a projecting snag in the wall, and a peg thrust into a hole within made an inside fastener. Some logs, with fir boughs and dried grass, formed a bunk within. This left only the window, and for lack of better cover he fastened over it a piece of muslin brought from home. But finding its dull white a jarring note, he gathered a quart of butternuts, and watching his chance at home, he boiled the cotton in water with the nuts and so reduced it to a satisfactory yellowish brown.
His final task was to remove all appearance of disturbance and to fully hide the shanty in brush and trailing vines. Thus, after weeks of labour, his woodland home was finished. It was only five feet high inside, six feet long and six feet wide–dirty and uncomfortable–but what a happiness it was to have it.
Here for the first time in his life he began to realize something of the pleasure of single-handed achievement in the line of a great ambition.