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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter14)

2006-09-08 19:32

  CHAPTER XIV Selectman Horton Appears At the Rock

  Summer was at its height on the Asamuk. The woodthrush was nearing the end of its song; a vast concourse of young robins in their speckled plumage joined chattering every night in the thickest cedars; and one or two broods of young ducks were seen on the Pipestave Pond.

  Rolf had grown wonderfully well into his wigwam life. He knew now exactly how to set the flap so as to draw out all the smoke, no matter which way the wind blew; he had learned the sunset signs, which tell what change of wind the night might bring. He knew without going to the shore whether the tide was a little ebb, with poor chances, or a mighty outflow that would expose the fattest oyster beds. His practiced fingers told at a touch whether it was a turtle or a big fish on his night line; and by the tone of the tom-tom he knew when a rainstorm was at hand.

  Being trained in industry, he had made many improvements in their camp, not the least of which was to clean up and burn all the rubbish and garbage that attracted hordes of flies. He had fitted into the camp partly by changing it to fit himself, and he no longer felt that his stay there was a temporary shift. When it was to end, he neither knew nor cared. He realized only that he was enjoying life as he never had done before. His canoe had passed a lot of rapids and was now in a steady, unbroken stream —— but it was the swift shoot before the fall. A lull in the clamour does not mean the end of war, but a new onset preparing; and, of course, it came in the way least looked for.

  Selectman Horton stood well with the community; he was a man of good judgment, good position, and kind heart. He was owner of all the woods along the Asamuk, and thus the Indian's landlord on the Indian's ancestral land. Both Rolf and Quonab had worked for Horton, and so they knew him well, and liked him for his goodness.

  It was Wednesday morning, late in July, when Selectman Horton, clean-shaven and large, appeared at the wigwam under the rock.

  "Good morrow to ye both!" Then without wasting time he plunged in. "There's been some controversy and much criticism of the selectmen for allowing a white lad, the child of Christian parents, the grandson of a clergyman, to leave all Christian folk and folds, and herd with a pagan, to become, as it were, a mere barbarian. I hold not, indeed, with those that out of hand would condemn as godless a good fellow like Quonab, who, in my certain knowledge and according to his poor light, doth indeed maintain in some kind a daily worship of a sort. Nevertheless, the selectmen, the magistrates, the clergy, the people generally, and above all the Missionary Society, are deeply moved in the matter. It hath even been made a personal charge against myself, and with much bitterness I am held up as unzealous for allowing such a nefarious stronghold of Satan to continue on mine own demesne, and harbour one, escaped, as it were, from grace. Acting, therefore, not according to my heart, but as spokesman of the Town Council, the Synod of Elders, and the Society for the Promulgation of Godliness among the Heathen, I am to state that you, Rolf Kittering, being without kinsfolk and under age, are in verity a ward of the parish, and as such, it hath been arranged that you become a member of the household of the most worthy Elder Ezekiel Peck, a household filled with the spirit of estimable piety and true doctrine; a man, indeed, who, notwithstanding his exterior coldness and severity, is very sound in all matters regarding the Communion of Saints, and, I may even say in a measure a man of fame for some most excellent remarks he hath passed on the shorter catechism, beside which he hath gained much approval for having pointed out two hidden meanings in the 27th verse of the 12th chapter of Hebrews; one whose very presence, therefore, is a guarantee against levity, laxity, and false preachment.

  "There, now, my good lad, look not so like a colt that feels the whip for the first time. You will have a good home, imbued with the spirit of a most excellent piety that will be ever about you."

  "Like a colt feeling the whip," indeed! Rolf reeled like a stricken deer. To go back as a chore-boy drudge was possible, but not alluring; to leave Quonab, just as the wood world was opening to him, was devastating; but to exchange it all for bondage in the pious household of Old Peck, whose cold cruelty had driven off all his own children, was an accumulation of disasters that aroused him.

  "I won't go!" he blurted out, and gazed defiantly at the broad and benevolent selectman.

  "Come now, Rolf, such language is unbecoming. Let not a hasty tongue betray you into sin. This is what your mother would have wished. Be sensible; you will soon find it was all for the best. I have ever liked you, and will ever be a friend you can count on.

  "Acting, not according to my instructions, but according to my heart, I will say further that you need not come now, you need not even give answer now, but think it over. Nevertheless, remember that on or before Monday morning next, you will be expected to appear at Elder Peck's, and I fear that, in case you fail, the messenger next arriving will be one much less friendly than myself. Come now, Rolf, be a good lad, and remember that in your new home you will at least be living for the glory of God."

  Then, with a friendly nod, but an expression of sorrow, the large, black messenger turned and tramped away.

  Rolf slowly, limply, sank down on a rock and stared at the fire. After awhile Quonab got up and began to prepare the mid-day meal. Usually Rolf helped him. Now he did nothing but sullenly glare at the glowing coals. In half an hour the food was ready. He ate little; then went away in the woods by himself. Quonab saw him lying on a flat rock, looking at the pond, and throwing pebbles into it. Later Quonab went to Myanos. On his return he found that Rolf had cut up a great pile of wood, but not a word passed between them. The look of sullen anger and rebellion on Rolf's face was changing to one of stony despair. What was passing in each mind the other could not divine.

  The evening meal was eaten in silence; then Quonab smoked for an hour, both staring into the fire. A barred owl hooted and laughed over their heads, causing the dog to jump up and bark at the sound that ordinarily he would have heeded not at all. Then silence was restored, and the red man's hidden train of thought was in a flash revealed.

  "Rolf, let's go to the North Woods!"

  It was another astounding idea. Rolf had realized more and more how much this valley meant to Quonab, who worshipped the memory of his people.

  "And leave all this?" he replied, making a sweep with his hand toward the rock, the Indian trail, the site of bygone Petuquapen, and the graves of the tribe.

  For reply their eyes met, and from the Indian's deep chest came the single word, "Ugh." One syllable, deep and descending, but what a tale it told of the slowly engendered and strong-grown partiality, of a struggle that had continued since the morning when the selectman came with words of doom, and of friendship's victory won.

  Rolf realized this, and it gave him a momentary choking in his throat, and, "I'm ready if you really mean it."

  "Ugh I go, but some day come back."

  There was a long silence, then Rolf, "When shall we start?" and the answer, "To-morrow night,"

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