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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter7)

2006-09-08 19:29

  CHAPTER VII Skookum Accepts Rolf At Last

  Rolf expected that Micky would soon hear of his hiding place and come within a few days, backed by a constable, to claim his runaway ward. But a week went by and Quonab, passing through Myanos, learned, first, that Rolf had been seen tramping northward on the road to Dumpling Pond, and was now supposed to be back in Redding; second, that Micky Kittering was lodged in jail under charge of horse-stealing and would certainly get a long sentence; third, that his wife had gone back to her own folks at Norwalk, and the house was held by strangers.

  All other doors were closed now, and each day that drifted by made it the more clear that Rolf and Quonab were to continue together. What boy would not exult at the thought of it? Here was freedom from a brutal tyranny that was crushing out his young life; here was a dream of the wild world coming true, with gratification of all the hunter instincts that he had held in his heart for years, and nurtured in that single, ragged volume of "Robinson Crusoe." The plunge was not a plunge, except it be one when an eagle, pinion-bound, is freed and springs from a cliff of the mountain to ride the mountain wind.

  The memory of that fateful cooning day was deep and lasting. Never afterward did smell of coon fail to bring it back; in spite of the many evil incidents it was a smell of joy.

  "Where are you going, Quonab?" he asked one morning, as he saw the Indian rise at dawn and go forth with his song drum, after warming it at the fire. He pointed up to the rock, and for the first time Rolf heard the chant for the sunrise. Later he heard the Indian's song for "Good Hunting," and another for "When His Heart Was Bad." They were prayers or praise, all addressed to the Great Spirit, or the Great Father, and it gave Rolf an entirely new idea of the red man, and a startling light on himself. Here was the Indian, whom no one considered anything but a hopeless pagan, praying to God for guidance at each step in life, while he himself, supposed to be a Christian, had not prayed regularly for months —— was in danger of forgetting how.

  Yet there was one religious observance that Rolf never forgot —— that was to keep the Sabbath, and on that day each week he did occasionally say a little prayer his mother had taught him. He avoided being seen at such times and did not speak of kindred doings. Whereas Quonab neither hid nor advertised his religious practices, and it was only after many Sundays had gone that Quonab remarked:

  "Does your God come only one day of the week? Does He sneak in after dark? Why is He ashamed that you only whisper to Him? Mine is here all the time. I can always reach Him with my song; all days are my Sunday."

  The evil memories of his late life were dimming quickly, and the joys of the new one growing. Rolf learned early that, although one may talk of the hardy savage, no Indian seeks for hardship. Everything is done that he knows to make life pleasant, and of nothing is he more careful than the comfort of his couch. On the second day, under guidance of his host, Rolf set about making his own bed. Two logs, each four inches thick and three feet long, were cut. Then two strong poles, each six feet long, were laid into notches at the ends of the short logs. About seventy-five straight sticks of willow were cut and woven with willow bark into a lattice, three feet wide and six feet long. This, laid on the poles, furnished a spring mattress, on which a couple of blankets made a most comfortable couch, dry, warm, and off the ground. In addition to the lodge cover, each bed had a dew cloth which gave perfect protection, no matter how the storm might rage outdoors. There was no hardship in it, only a new-found pleasure, to sleep and breathe the pure night air of the woods.

  The Grass Moon - April - had passed, and the Song Moon was waxing, with its hosts of small birds, and one of Rolf's early discoveries was that many of these love to sing by night. Again and again the familiar voice of the song sparrow came from the dark shore of Asamuk, or the field sparrow trilled from the top of some cedar, occasionally the painted one, Aunakeu, the partridge, drummed in the upper woods, and nightly there was the persistent chant of Muckawis, the whippoorwill, the myriad voices of the little frogs called spring-peepers, and the peculiar, "peent, peent," from the sky, followed by a twittering, that Quonab told him was the love song of the swamp bird —— the big snipe, with the fantail and long, soft bill, and eyes like a deer.

  "Do you mean the woodcock?" "Ugh, that's the name; Pah-dash-ka-anja we call it."

  The waning of the moon brought new songsters, with many a nightingale among them. A low bush near the plain was vocal during the full moon with the sweet but disconnected music of the yellow-breasted chat. The forest rang again and again with a wild, torrential strain of music that seemed to come from the stars. It sent peculiar thrill into Rolf's heart, and gave him a lump his throat as he listened.

  "What is that, Quonab?"

  "The Indian shook his head. Then, later, when it ended, he said: "That is the mystery song of some one I never saw him."

  There was a long silence, then the lad began, "There's no good hunting here now, Quonab. Why don't you go to the north woods, where deer are plentiful?"

  The Indian gave a short shake of his head, and then to prevent further talk, "Put up your dew cloth; the sea wind blows to-night."

  He finished; both stood for a moment gazing into the fire. Then Rolf felt something wet and cold thrust into his hand. It was Skookum's nose. At last the little dog had made up his mind to accept the white boy as a friend.

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