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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter59)

2006-09-08 19:56

  CHAPTER LIX The Charm of Song

  With a regular tum ta tum ta, came a weird sound from the sunrise rock one morning, as Van slipped out of his cabin.

  "Ag-aj-way-o-say Pem-o-say Gezhik-om era-bid ah-keen Ena-bid ah-keen"

  "What's he doing, Rolf?"

  "That's his sunrise prayer," was the answer.

  "Do you know what it means?"

  "Yes, it ain't much; jest 'Oh, thou that walkest in the sky in the morning, I greet thee."'

  "Why, I didn't know Indians had such performances; that's exactly like the priests of Osiris. Did any one teach him? I mean any white folk."

  "No, it's always been the Indian way. They have a song or a prayer for most every big event, sunrise, sunset, moonrise, good hunting, and another for when they're sick, or when they're going on a journey, or when their heart is bad."

  "You astonish me. I had no idea they were so human. It carries me back to the temple of Delphi. It is worthy of Cassandra of Ilion. I supposed all Indians were just savage Indians that hunted till their bellies were full, and slept till they were empty again."

  "H'm," rejoined Rolf, with a gentle laugh. "I see you also have been doing some 'hair-trigger, steel-trap, cocksure jedgin'.'"

  "I wonder if he'd like to hear some of my songs? "

  "It's worth trying; anyway, I would," said Rolf.

  That night, by the fire, Van sang the "Gay Cavalier," "The Hunting of John Peel," and "Bonnie Dundee." He had a fine baritone voice. He was most acceptable in the musical circles of Albany. Rolf was delighted, Skookum moaned sympathetically, and Quonab sat nor moved till the music was over. He said nothing, but Rolf felt that it was a point gained, and, trying to follow it up, said:

  "Here's your drum, Quonab; won't you sing 'The Song of the Wabanaki?'" But it was not well timed, and the Indian shook his head.

  "Say, Van," said Rolf, (Van Cortlandt had suggested this abbreviation) "you'll never stand right with Quonab till you kill a deer."

  "I've done some trying."

  "Well, now, we'll go out to-morrow evening and try once more. What do you think of the weather, Quonab? "

  "Storm begin noon and last three days," was the brief answer, as the red man walked away.

  "That settles it," said Rolf; "we wait."

  Van was surprised, and all the more so when in an hour the sky grew black and heavy rain set in, with squalls.

  "How in the name of Belshazzar's weather bugler does he tell?"

  "I guess you better not ask him, if you want to know. I'll find out and tell you later."

  Rolf learned, not easily or at single talk:

  "Yesterday the chipmunks worked hard; to-day there are none to be seen.

  "Yesterday the loons were wailing; now they are still, and no small birds are about.

  "Yesterday it was a yellow sunrise; to-day a rosy dawn.

  "Last night the moon changed and had a thick little ring.

  "It has not rained for ten days, and this is the third day of easterly winds.

  "There was no dew last night. I saw Tongue Mountain at daybreak; my tom-tom will not sing.

  "The smoke went three ways at dawn, and Skookum's nose was hot."

  So they rested, not knowing, but forced to believe, and it was not till the third day that the sky broke; the west wind began to pay back its borrowings from the east, and the saying was proved that "three days' rain will empty any sky."

  That evening, after their meal, Rolf and Van launched the canoe and paddled down the lake. A mile from camp they landed, for this was a favourite deer run. Very soon Rolf pointed to the ground. He had found a perfectly fresh track, but Van seemed not to comprehend. They went along it, Rolf softly and silently, Van with his long feet and legs making a dangerous amount of clatter. Rolf turned and whispered, "That won't do. You must not stand on dry sticks." Van endeavoured to move more cautiously and thought he was doing well, but Rolf found it very trying to his patience and began to understand how Quonab had felt about himself a year ago. "See," said Rolf, "lift your legs so; don't turn your feet out that way. Look at the place before you put it down again; feel with your toe to make sure there is no dead stick, then wriggle it down to the solid ground. Of course, you'd do better in moccasins. Never brush past any branches; lift them aside and don't let them scratch; ease them back to the place; never try to bend a dry branch; go around it," etc. Van had not thought of these things, but now he grasped them quickly, and they made a wonderful improvement in his way of going.

  They came again to the water's edge; across a little bay Rolf sighted at once the form of a buck, perfectly still, gazing their way, wondering, no doubt, what made those noises.

  "Here's your chance," he whispered.

  "Where?" was the eager query.

  "There; see that gray and white thing?"

  "I can't see him."

  For five minutes Rolf tried in vain to make his friend see that statuesque form; for five minutes it never moved. Then, sensing danger, the buck gave a bound and was lost to view.

  It was disheartening. Rolf sat down, nearly disgusted; then one of Sylvanne's remarks came to him: "It don't prove any one a fool, coz he can't play your game."

  Presently Rolf said, "Van, hev ye a book with ye?"

  "Yes, I have my Virgil."

  "Read me the first page."

  Van read it, holding the book six inches from his nose.

  "Let's see ye read this page there," and Rolf held it up four feet away.

  "I can't; it's nothing but a dim white spot."

  "Well, can ye see that loon out there?"

  "You mean that long, dark thing in the bay? "

  "No, that's a pine log close to," said Rolf, with a laugh, "away out half a mile."

  "No, I can't see anything but shimmers."

  "I thought so. It's no use your trying to shoot deer till ye get a pair of specs to fit yer eyes. You have brains enough, but you haven't got the eyesight of a hunter. You stay here till I go see if I have any luck."

  Rolf melted into the woods. In twenty minutes Van heard a shot and very soon Rolf reappeared, carrying a two-year- old buck, and they returned to their camp by nightfall. Quonab glanced at their faces as they passed carrying the little buck. They tried to look inscrutable. But the Indian was not deceived. He gave out nothing but a sizzling " Humph!"

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