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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter15)

2006-09-08 19:32

  CHAPTER XV Bound for the North Woods

  When Quonab left camp in the morning he went heavy laden, and the trail he took led to Myanos. There was nothing surprising in it when he appeared at Silas Peck's counter and offered for sale a pair of snowshoes, a bundle of traps, some dishes of birch bark and basswood, and a tom-tom, receiving in exchange some tea, tobacco, gunpowder, and two dollars in cash. He turned without comment, and soon was back in camp. He now took the kettle into the woods and brought it back filled with bark, fresh chipped from a butternut tree. Water was added, and the whole boiled till it made a deep brown liquid. When this was cooled he poured it into a flat dish, then said to Rolf: "Come now, I make you a Sinawa."

  With a soft rag the colour was laid on. Face, head, neck, and hands were all at first intended, but Rolf said, "May as well do the whole thing." So he stripped off; the yellow brown juice on his white skin turned it a rich copper colour, and he was changed into an Indian lad that none would have taken for Rolf Kittering. The stains soon dried, and Rolf, re-clothed, felt that already he had burned a bridge.

  Two portions of the wigwam cover were taken off; and two packs were made of the bedding. The tomahawk, bows, arrows, and gun, with the few precious food pounds in the copper pot, were divided between them and arranged into packs with shoulder straps; then all was ready. But there was one thing more for Quonab; he went up alone to the rock. Rolf knew what he went for, and judged it best not to follow.

  The Indian lighted his pipe, blew the four smokes to the four winds, beginning with the west, then he sat in silence for a time. Presently the prayer for good hunting came from the rock:

  "Father lead us!

  Father, help us!

  Father, guide us to the good hunting."

  And when that ceased a barred owl hooted in the woods, away to the north.

  "Ugh! good," was all he said as he rejoined Rolf; and they set out, as the sun went down, on their long journey due northward, Quonab, Rolf, and Skookum. They had not gone a hundred yards before the dog turned back, raced to a place where he had a bone in cache and rejoining there trotted along with his bone.

  The high road would have been the easier travelling, but it was very necessary to be unobserved, so they took the trail up the brook Asamuk, and after an hour's tramp came out by the Cat-Rock road that runs westerly. Again they were tempted by the easy path, but again Quonab decided on keeping to the woods. Half an hour later they were halted by Skookum treeing a coon. After they had secured the dog, they tramped on through the woods for two hours more, and then, some eight miles from the Pipestave, they halted, Rolf, at least, tired out. It was now midnight. They made a hasty double bed of the canvas cover over a pole above them, and slept till morning, cheered, as they closed their drowsy eyes, by the "Hoo, Hoo, Hoo, Hoo, yah, hoo," of their friend, the barred owl, still to the northward.

  The sun was high, and Quonab had breakfast ready before Rolf awoke. He was so stiff with the tramp and the heavy pack that it was with secret joy he learned that they were to rest, concealed in the woods, that day, and travel only by night, until in a different region, where none knew or were likely to stop them. They were now in York State, but that did not by any means imply that they were beyond pursuit.

  As the sun rose high, Rolf went forth with his bow and blunt arrows, and then, thanks largely to Skookum, he succeeded in knocking over a couple of squirrels, which, skinned and roasted, made their dinner that day. At night they set out as before, making about ten miles. The third night they did better, and the next day being Sunday, they kept out of sight. But Monday morning, bright and clear, although it was the first morning when they were sure of being missed, they started to tramp openly along the highway, with a sense of elation that they had not hitherto known on the joumey. Two things impressed Rolf by their novelty: the curious stare of the country folk whose houses and teams they passed, and the violent antagonism of the dogs. Usually the latter could be quelled by shaking a stick at them, or by pretending to pick up a stone, but one huge and savage brindled mastiff kept following and barking just out of stick range, and managed to give Skookum a mauling, until Quonab drew his bow and let fly a blunt arrow that took the brute on the end of the nose, and sent him howl- ing homeward, while Skookum got a few highly satisfactory nips at the enemy's rear. Twenty miles they made that day and twenty-five the next, for now they were on good roads, and their packs were lighter. More than once they found kind farmer folk who gave them a meal. But many times Skookum made trouble for them. The farmers did not like the way he behaved among their hens. Skookum never could be made to grasp the fine zoological distinction between partridges which are large birds and fair game, and hens which are large birds, but not fair game. Such hair splitting was obviously unworthy of study, much less of acceptance.

  Soon it was clearly better for Rolf, approaching a house, to go alone, while Quonab held Skookum. The dogs seemed less excited by Rolf's smell, and remembering his own attitude when tramps came to one or another of his ancient homes, he always asked if they would let him work for a meal, and soon remarked that his success was better when he sought first the women of the house, and then, smiling to show his very white teeth, spoke in clear and un-Indian English, which had the more effect coming from an evident Indian.

  "Since I am to be an Indian, Quonab, you must give me an Indian name," he said after one of these episodes.

  "Ugh! Good! That's easy! You are 'Nibowaka,' the wise one." For the Indian had not missed any of the points, and so he was named.

  Twenty or thirty miles a day they went now, avoiding the settlements along the river. Thus they saw nothing of Albany, but on the tenth day they reached Fort Edward, and for the first time viewed the great Hudson. Here they stayed as short a time as might be, pushed on by Glen's Falls, and on the eleventh night of the journey they passed the old, abandoned fort, and sighted the long stretch of Lake George, with its wooded shore, and glimpses of the mountains farther north.

  Now a new thought possessed them —— "If only the had the canoe that they had abandoned on the Pipestave." It came to them both at the sight of the limit less water, and especially when Rolf remembered that Lake George joined with Champlain, which again was the highway to all the wilderness.

  They camped now as they had fifty times before, and made their meal. The bright blue water dancing near was alluring, inspiring; as they sought the shore Quonab pointed to a track and said, "Deer." He did not show much excitement, but Rolf did, and they returned to the camp fire with a new feeling of elation - they had reached the Promised Land. Now they must prepare for the serious work of finding a hunting ground that was not already claimed.

  Quonab, remembering the ancient law of the woods, that parcels off the valleys, each to the hunter first arriving, or succeeding the one who had, was following his own line of thought. Rolf was puzzling over means to get an outfit, canoe, traps, axes, and provisions. The boy broke silence.

  "Quonab, we must have money to get an outfit; this is the beginning of harvest; we can easily get work for a month. That will feed us and give us money enough to live on, and a chance to learn something about the country."

  The reply was simple, "You are Nibowaka."

  The farms were few and scattered here, but there were one or two along the lake. To the nearest one with standing grain Rolf led the way. But their reception, from the first brush with the dog to the final tilt with the farmer, was unpleasant —— "He didn't want any darn red-skins around there. He had had two St. Regis Indians last year, and they were a couple of drunken good- for-nothings."

  The next was the house of a fat Dutchman, who was just wondering how he should meet the compounded accumulated emergencies of late hay, early oats, weedy potatoes, lost cattle, and a prospective increase of his family, when two angels of relief appeared at his door, in copper-coloured skins.

  "Cahn yo work putty goood?

  "Yes, I have always lived on a farm," and Rolf showed his hands, broad and heavy for his years.

  "Cahn yo mebby find my lost cows, which I haf not find, already yet?"

  Could they! it would be fun to try.

  "I giff yo two dollars you pring dem putty kvick."

  So Quonab took the trail to the woods, and Rolf started into the potatoes with a hoe, but he was stopped by a sudden outcry of poultry. Alas! It was Skookum on an ill-judged partridge hunt. A minute later he was ignominiously chained to a penitential post, nor left it during the travellers' sojourn.

  In the afternoon Quonab returned with the cattle, and as he told Rolf he saw five deer, there was an unmisakable hunter gleam in his eye.

  Three cows in milk, and which had not been milked for two days, was a serious matter, needing immediate attention. Rolf had milked five cows twice a day for five years, and a glance showed old Van Trumper that the boy was an expert.

  "Good, good! I go now make feed swine."

  He went into the outhouse, but a tow-topped, redcheeked girl ran after him. "Father, father, mother says ——" and the rest was lost.

  "Myn Hemel! Myn Hemel! I thought it not so soon," and the fat Dutchman followed the child. A moment later he reappeared, his jolly face clouded with a look of grave concern. "Hi yo big Injun, yo cahn paddle canoe?" Quonab nodded. "Den coom. Annette, pring Tomas und Hendrik." So the father carried two-year-old Hendrik, while the Indian carried six-year-old Tomas, and twelve-year-old Annette followed in vague, uncomprehended alarm. Arrived at the shore the children were placed in the canoe, and then the difficulties came fully to the father's mind —— he could not leave his wife. He must send the children with the messenger —— In a sort of desperation, "Cahn you dem childen take to de house across de lake, and pring back Mrs. Callan? Tell her Marta Van Trumper need her right now mooch very kvick." The Indian nodded. Then the father hesitated, but a glance at the Indian was enough. Something said, "He is safe," and in spite of sundry wails from the little ones left with a dark stranger, he pushed off the canoe: "Yo take care for my babies," and turned his brimming eyes away.

  The farmhouse was only two miles off, and the evening calm; no time was lost: what woman will not instantly drop all work and all interests, to come to the help of another in the trial time of motherhood?

  Within an hour the neighbour's wife was holding hands with the mother of the banished tow-heads. He who tempers the wind and appoints the season of the wild deer hinds had not forgotten the womanhood beyond the reach of skilful human help, and with the hard and lonesome life had conjoined a sweet and blessed compensation. What would not her sister of the city give for such immunity; and long before that dark, dread hour of night that brings the ebbing life force low, the wonderful miracle was complete; there was another tow-top in the settler's home, and all was well.

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