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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter51)

2006-09-08 19:49

  CHAPTER LI Annette's New Dress

  Deep feelin's ain't any count by themselves; work 'em off, an' ye're somebody; weep 'em off an' you'd be more use with a heart o' stone —— Sayings of Si Sylvanne.

  Quonab, I am going out to get her a partridge." "Ugh, good."

  So Rolf went off. For a moment he was inclined to grant Skookom's prayer for leave to, follow, but another and better plan came in mind. Skookum would most likely find a mother partridge, which none should kill in June, and there was a simple way to find a cock; that was, listen. It was now the evening calm, and before Rolf had gone half a mile he heard the distant "Thump, thump, thump, thump —— rrrrrrr" of a partridge, drumming. He went quickly and cautiously toward the place, then waited for the next drumming. It was slow in coming, so he knelt down by a mossy, rotten log, and struck it with his hands to imitate the thump and roll of the partridge. At once this challenge procured response.

  "Thump —— thump —— thump,, thump rrrrrrrrrrrr" it came, with martial swing and fervour, and crawling nearer,

  Rolf spied the drummer, pompously strutting up and down a log some forty yards away. He took steady aim, not for the head —— a strange gun, at forty yards —— for the body. At the crack, the bird fell dead, and in Rolf's heart there swelled up a little gush of joy, which he believed was all for the sake of the invalid, but which a finer analysis might have proved to be due quite as much to pride in himself and his newly bought gun.

  Night was coming on when he got back, and he found the Dutch parents in some excitement. "Dot Indian he gay no bring Annette indoors for de night. How she sleep outdoors —— like dog —— like Bigger —— like tramp? Yah it is bad, ain't it?" and poor old Hendrik looked sadly upset and mystified.

  "Hendrik, do you suppose God turns out worse air in the night than in the day?"

  "Ach, dunno."

  "Well, you see Quonab knows what he's doing."

  "Yah."

  "Well, let him do it. He or I'll sleep alongside the child she'll be all right," and Rolf thought of those horrible brown crawlers under the bedding indoors.

  Rolf had much confidence in the Indian as a doctor, but he had more in his own mother. He was determined to give Annette the quinine, yet he hesitated to interfere. At length, he said: "It is cool enough now; I will put these thin curtains round her bed."

  "Ugh, good!" but the red man sat there while it was being done.

  "You need not stay now; I'll watch her, Quonab."

  "Soon, give more medicine," was the reply that Rolf did not want. So he changed his ruse. "I wish you'd take that partridge and make soup of it. I've had my hands in poison ivy, so I dare not touch it."

  "Ach, dot shall I do. Dot kin myself do," and the fat mother, laying the recent baby in its cradle, made cumbrous haste to cook the bird.

  "Foiled again," was Rolf's thought, but his Yankee wit was with him. He laid one hand on the bowl of snake-root tea. It was lukewarm. "Do you give it hot or cold, Quonab?"

  "Hot."

  "I'll take it in and heat it." He carried it off, thinking, "If Quonab won't let me give the bark extract, I'll make him give it." In the gloom of the kitchen he had no difficulty in adding to the tea, quite unseen, a quarter of the extract; when heated, he brought it again, and the Indian himself gave the dose.

  As bedtime drew near, and she heard the red man say he would sleep there, the little one said feebly, "Mother, mother," then whispered in her mother's ear, "I want Rolf."

  Rolf spread his blanket by the cot and slept lightly. Once or twice he rose to look at Annette. She was moving in her sleep, but did not awake. He saw to it that the mosquito bar was in place, and slept till morning.

  There was no question that the child was better. The renewed interest in food was the first good symptom, and the partridge served the end of its creation. The snakeroot and the quinine did noble work, and thenceforth her recovery was rapid. It was natural for her mother to wish the child back indoors. It was a matter of course that she should go. It was accepted as an unavoidable evil that they should always have those brown crawlers about the bed.

  But Rolf felt differently. He knew what his mother would have thought and done. It meant another visit to Warren's, and the remedy he brought was a strong-smelling oil, called in those days "rock oil" —— a crude petroleum. When all cracks in the bed and near wall were treated with this, it greatly mitigated, if it did not quite end, the nuisance of the "plague that walks in the dark."

  Meanwhile, Quonab had made good his welcome by working on the farm. But when a week had flown, he showed signs of restlessness. "We have enough money, Nibowaka, why do we stay?"

  Rolf was hauling a bucket of water from the well at the time. He stopped with his burden on the well-sweep, gazed into the well, and said slowly: "I don't know." If the truth were set forth, it would be that this was the only home circle he knew. It was the clan feeling that held him, and soon it was clearly the same reason that was driving Quonab to roam.

  "I have heard," said the Indian, "that my people still dwell in Canada, beyond Rouse's Point. I would see them. I will come again in the Red Moon (August)."

  So they hired a small canoe, and one bright morning, with Skookum in the bow, Quonab paddled away on his voyage of 120 miles on the plead waters of Lakes George and Champlain. His canoe became a dark spot on the water; slowly it faded till only the flashing paddle was seen, and that was lost around a headland.

  The next day Rolf was sorry he let Quonab go alone, for it was evident that Van Trumper needed no help for a month yet; that is, he could not afford to hire, and while it was well enough for Rolf to stay a few days and work to equalize his board, the arrangement would not long continue satisfactory to both.

  Yet there was one thing he must do before leaving, take Annette to pick out her dress. She was well again now, and they set off one morning in the canoe, she and Rolf. Neither father nor mother could leave the house. They had their misgivings, but what could they do? She was bright and happy, full of the childish joy that belongs to that age, and engaged on such an important errand for the first time in her life.

  There was something more than childish joy showing in her face, an older person would have seen that, but it was largely lost on Rolf. There was a tendency to blush when she laughed, a disposition to tease her "big brother," to tyrannize over him in little things.

  "Now, you tell me some more about 'Robinson Crusoe,'" she began, as soon as they were in the canoe, and Rolf resumed the ancient, inspiring tale to have it listened to eagerly, but criticized from the standpoint of a Lake George farm. "Where was his wife?" "How could he have a farm without hens?" "Dried grapes must be nice, but I'd rather have pork than goat," etc.

  Rolf, of course, took the part of Robinson Crusoe, and it gave him a little shock to hear Quonab called his man Friday.

  At the west side they were to invite Mrs. Callan to join their shopping trip, but in any case they were to borrow a horse and buckboard. Neither Mrs. Callan nor the buckboard was available, but they were welcome to the horse. So Annette was made comfortable on a bundle of blankets, and chattered incessantly while Rolf walked alongside with the grave interest and superiority of a much older brother. So they crossed the five-mile portage and came to Warren's store. Nervous and excited, with sparkling eyes, Annette laid down her marten skin, received five dollars, and set about the tremendous task of selecting her first dress of really, truly calico print; and Rolf realized that the joy he had found in his new rifle was a very small affair, compared with the epoch-making, soul-filling, life-absorbing, unspeakable, and cataclysmal bliss that a small girl can have in her first chance of unfettered action in choice of a cotton print.

  "Beautiful? " How can mere words do justice to masses of yellow corn, mixed recklessly with green and scarlet poppies on a bright blue ground. No, you should have seen Annette's dress, or you cannot expect to get the adequate thrill. And when they found that there was enough cash left over to add a red cotton parasol to the glorious spoils, every one there beamed in a sort of friendly joy, and the trader, carried away by the emotions of the hour, contributed a set of buttons of shining brass.

  Warren kept a "meal house," which phrase was a ruse that saved him from a burdensome hospitality. Determined to do it all in the best style, Rolf took Annette to the meal-house table. She was deeply awed by the grandeur of a tablecloth and white plates, but every one was kind.

  Warren, talking to a stranger opposite, and evidently resuming a subject they had discussed, said:

  "Yes, I'd like to send the hull lot down to Albany this week, if I could get another man for the canoe."

  Rolf was interested at once and said: "What wages are you offering?"

  "Twenty-five dollars and board."

  "How will I do?"

  "Well," said Warren, as though thinking it over: "I dunno but ye would. Could ye go to-morrow?"

  "Yes, indeed, for one month."

  "All right, it's a bargain."

  And so Rolf took the plunge that influenced his whole life.

  But Annette whispered gleefully and excitedly, "May I have some of that, and that?" pointing to every strange food she could see, and got them all.

  After noon they set out on their return journey, An- nette clutching her prizes, and prattling incessantly, while Rolf walked alongside, thinking deeply, replying to her chatter, but depressed by the thought of good-bye tomorrow. He was aroused at length by a scraping sound overhead and a sharp reprimand, "Rolf, you'll tear my new parasol, if you don't lead the horse better."

  By two o'clock they were at Callan's. Another hour and they had crossed the lake, and Annette, shrill with joy, was displaying her treasures to the wonder and envy of her kin.

  Making a dress was a simple matter in those and Marta promised: "Yah, soom day ven I one have, shall I it sew." Meanwhile, Annette was quaffing deep, soul-satisfying draughts in the mere contempt of the yellow, red, green, and blue glories in which was soon to appear in public. And when the bed came, she fell asleep holding the dress-goods stuff in arms, and with the red parasol spread above her head, tired out, but inexpressibly happy.

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