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Chapter 16

I remember how hopefully we started that morning with Elizabeth
Brower and Hope waving their handkerchiefs on the porch and
David near them whittling. They had told us what to do and what
not to do over and over again. I sat with Gerald on blankets that
were spread over a thick mat of hay. The morning air was sweet
with the odour of new hay and the music of the bobolink. Uncle
Eb and Tip Taylor sang merrily as we rode over the hills.

When we entered the shade of the big forest Uncle Eb got out his
rifle and loaded it. He sat a long time whispering and looking
eagerly for game to right and left. He was still a boy. One could
see evidences of age only in his white hair and beard and wrinkled
brow. He retained the little tufts in front of his ears, and lately had
grown a silver crescent of thin and silky hair that circled his throat
under a bare chin. Young as I was I had no keener relish for a
holiday than he. At noon we halted beside a brook and unhitched
our horses. Then we caught some fish, built a fire and cooked
them, and brewed our tea. At sunset we halted at Tuley Pond,
looking along its reedy margin, under purple tamaracks, for deer.
There was a great silence, here in the deep of the woods, and Tip
Taylor's axe, while he peeled the bark for our camp, seemed to fill
the wilderness with echoes. It was after dark when the shanty was
covered and we lay on its fragrant mow of balsam and hemlock.
The great logs that we had rolled in front of our shanty were set
afire and shortly supper was cooking.

Gerald had stood the journey well. Uncle Eb and he stayed in
while Tip and I got our jack ready and went off in quest of a
dugout He said Bill Ellsworth had one hid in a thicket on the south
side of Tuley. We found it after an hour's tramp near by. It needed
a little repairing but we soon made it water worthy, and then took
our seats, he in the stern, with the paddle, and I in the bow with the
gun. Slowly and silently we clove a way through the star-sown
shadows. It was like the hushed and mystic movement of a dream.
We seemed to be above the deep of heaven, the stars below us.
The shadow of the forest in the still water looked like the wall of
some mighty castle with towers and battlements and myriads of
windows lighted for a fete. Once the groan of a nighthawk fell out
of the upper air with a sound like that of a stone striking in water. I
thought little of the deer Tip was after. His only aim in life was the
one he got with a gun barrel. I had forgotten all but the beauty of
the scene. Suddenly Tip roused me by laying his hand to the
gunwale and gently shaking the dugout. In the dark distance, ahead
of us, I could hear the faint tinkle of dripping water. Then I knew a
deer was feeding not far away and that the water was falling from
his muzzle. When I opened my jack we were close upon him. His
eyes gleamed. I shot high above the deer that went splashing

ashore before I had pulled my trigger. After the roar of the gun had
got away, in the distant timber, Tip mentioned a place abhorred of
all men, turned and paddled for the landing.

'Could 'a killed 'im with a club,' said he snickering. 'Guess he must
a looked putty tall didn't he?'

'Why?' I asked.

'Cos ye aimed into the sky,' said he. 'Mebbe ye thought he was a
bird.'

'My hand trembled a little,' said I.

''Minds me of Bill Barber,' he said in a half-whisper, as he worked
his paddle, chuckling with amusement.

'How's that?' I asked.

'Nothin' safe but the thing he shoots at,' said he. 'Terrible bad shot.
Kills a cow every time he goes huntin'.'

Uncle Eb was stirring the fire when we came whispering into
camp, and Gerald lay asleep under the blankets.

'Willie couldn't hit the broadside of a bam,' said Tip. 'He don't take
to it nat'ral.'

'Killin' an' book learnin' don't often go together,' said Uncle Eb.

I turned in by the side of Gerald and Uncle Eb went off with Tip
for another trip in the dugout. The night was chilly but the fire
flooded our shanty with its warm glow. What with the light, and the
boughs under us, and the strangeness of the black forest we got
little sleep. I heard the gun roar late in the night, and when I woke
again Uncle Eb and Tip Taylor were standing over the fire in the
chilly grey of the morning. A dead deer hung on the limb of a tree
near by. They began dressing it while Gerald and I went to the
spring for water, peeled potatoes, and got the pots boiling. After a
hearty breakfast we packed up, and were soon on the road again,
reaching Blueberry Lake before noon. There we hired a boat of the
lonely keeper of the reservoir, found an abandoned camp with an
excellent bark shanty and made ourselves at home.

That evening in camp was one to be remembered. An Thomas, the
guide who tended the reservoir, came over and sat beside our fire
until bedtime. He had spent years in the wilderness going out for
nothing less important than an annual spree at circus time. He eyed
us over, each in turn, as if he thought us all very rare and
interesting.

'Many bears here?' Uncle Eb enquired.

'More plenty 'n human bein's,' he answered, puffing lazily at his
pipe with a dead calm in his voice and manner that I have never
seen equalled except in a tropic sea.

'See 'em often?' I asked.

He emptied his pipe, striking it on his palm until the bowl rang,
without answering. Then he blew into the stem with great
violence.

'Three or four 'n a summer, mebbe,' he said at length.

'Ever git sassy?' Uncle Eb asked.

He whipped a coal out of the ashes then and lifted it in his fingers
to the bowl of his pipe.

'Never real sassy,' he said between vigourous puffs. 'One stole a
ham off my pyazz las' summer; Al Fifield brought 't in fer me one
day - smelt good too! I kep' savin' uv it thinkin' I'd enjoy it all the
more when I did hev it. One day I went off cuttin' timber an' stayed
'til mos' night. Comin' home I got t' thinkin' o' thet ham, an' made
up my mind I'd hev some fer supper. The more I thought uv it the
faster I hurried an' when I got hum I was hungrier'n I'd been fer a
year. When I see the ol' bear's tracks an' the empty peg where the
ham had hung I went t' work an' got mad. Then I started after thet
bear. Tracked 'im over yender, up Cat Mountin'.'

Here Ab paused. He had a way of stopping always at the most
interesting point to puff at his pipe. It looked as if he were getting
up steam for another sentence and these delays had the effect of
'continued in our next'.

'Kill 'im?' Uncle Eb asked.

'Licked him,' he said.

'Huh!' we remarked incredulously.

'Licked 'im,' he repeated chucking. 'Went into his cave with a
sledge stake an' whaled 'im - whaled 'im 'til he run fer his life.'

Whether it was true or not I have never been sure, even to this day,
but Ab's manner was at once modest and convincing.

'Should 'a thought he'd 'a rassled with ye,' Uncle Eb remarked.

'Didn't give 'im time,' said Ab, as he took out his knife and began
slowly to sharpen a stick.

'Don't never wan' t' rassle with no bear,' he added, 'but hams is too
scurce here 'n the woods t' hev 'em tuk away 'fore ye know the taste
uv 'em. I ain't never been hard on bears. Don't seldom ever set no
traps an' I ain't shot a bear fer mor'n 'n ten year. But they've got t' be
decent. If any bear steals my vittles he's goin' t' git cuffed bard.'

Ab's tongue had limbered up at last. His pipe was going well and
he seemed to have struck an easy grade. There was a tone of injury
and aggrievement in his talk of the bear's ingratitude. He snailed
over his whittling as we laughed heartily at the droll effect of it all.

'D'ye ever hear o' the wild man 'at roams 'round'n these woods?' he
asked.

'Never did,' said Uncle Eb.

'I've seen 'im more times 'n ye could shake a stick at,' said Ab
crossing his legs comfortably and spitting into the fire. 'Kind o'
thank he's the same man folks tells uv down 'n Paradise Valley
there - 'at goes 'round 'n the clearin' after bedtime.'

'The night man!' I exclaimed.

'Guess thet's what they call 'im,' said Ab. 'Curus man! Sometimes
I've hed a good squint at 'im off 'n the woods. He's wilder 'n a deer
an' I've seen 'im jump over logs, half as high as this shanty, jest as
easy as ye 'd hop a twig. Tried t' foller 'im once er twice but tain' no
use. He's quicker 'n a wil' cat.'

'What kind of a lookin' man is he?' Tip Taylor asked.

'Great, big, broad-shouldered feller,' said Ab. 'Six feet tall if he's an
inch. Hed a kind of a deerskin jacket on when I seen 'im an'
breeches an' moccasins made o' some kind o' hide. I recollec' one
day I was over on the ridge two mile er more from the Stillwater
goin' south. I seen 'im gittin' a drink at the spring there 'n the burnt
timber. An' if I ain't mistaken there was a real live panther playin'
'round 'im. If 't wa'n't a panther 'twas pesky nigh it I can tell ye. The
critter see me fast an' drew up 'is back. Then the man got up
quickerin' a flash. Soon 'she see me -Jeemimey! didn't they move.
Never see no human critter run as he did! A big tree hed fell 'cross
a lot o' bush right 'n his path. I'll be gol dummed if 'twan't higher 'n
my head! But he cleared it - jest as easy as a grasshopper'd go over
a straw. I'd like t' know wher he comes from, gol dummed if I
wouldn't. He's the consarndest queerest animal 'n these woods.'

Ab emphasised this lucid view of the night man by an animated
movement of his fist that held the big hunting knife with which he
whittled. Then he emptied his pipe and began cutting more
tobacco.

'Some says 'e 's a ghost,' said Tip Taylor, splitting his sentence with
a yawn, as he lay on a buffalo robe in the shanty.

'Shucks an' shoestrings!' said Ab, 'he looks too nat'ral. Don't believe
no ghost ever wore whiskers an' long hair like his'n. Thet don't hol'
t' reason.'

This remark was followed by dead silence. Tip seemed to lack
both courage and information with which to prolong the argument.

Gerald had long been asleep and we were all worn out with uphill
travelling and the lack of rest. Uncle Eb went out to look after the
horses that were tethered near us. Ab rose, looked up through the
tree-tops, ventured a guess about the weather, and strode off into
the darkness.

We were five days in camp, hunting, fishing, fighting files and
picking blueberries. Gerald's cough had not improved at all - it
was, if anything, a bit worse than it had been and the worry of that
had clouded our holiday. We were not in high spirits when, finally,
we decided to break camp the next afternoon.

The morning of our fourth day at Blueberry Uncle Eb and I crossed
the lake, at daylight, to fish awhile in Soda Brook and gather
orchids then abundant and beautiful in that part of the woods. We
headed for camp at noon and were well away from shore when a
wild yell rang in the dead timber that choked the wide inlet behind
us. I was rowing and stopped the oars while we both looked back
at the naked trees, belly deep in the water.

But for the dry limbs, here and there, they would have looked like
masts of sunken ships. In a moment another wild whoop came
rushing over the water. Thinking it might be somebody in trouble
we worked about and pulled for the mouth of the inlet. Suddenly I
saw a boat coming in the dead timber. There were three men in it,
two of whom were paddling. They yelled like mad men as they
caught sight of us, and one of them waved a bottle in the air.

'They're Indians,' said Uncle Eb. 'Drunk as lords. Guess we'd better
git out o' the way.'

I put about and with a hearty pull made for the other side of the
lake, three miles away. The Indians came after us, their yells
echoing in the far forest. Suddenly one of them lifted his rifle, as if
taking aim at us, and, bang it went the ball ricocheting across our
bows.

'Crazy drunk,' said Uncle Eb, 'an' they're in fer trouble. Pull with all
yer might.'

I did that same putting my arms so stiffly to their task I feared the
oars would break.

In a moment another ball came splintering the gunwales right
between us, but fortunately, well above the water line. Being half a
mile from shore I saw we were in great peril. Uncle Eb reached for
his rifle, his hand trembling.

'Sink 'em,' I shouted, 'an' do it quick or they'll sink us.'

My old companion took careful aim and his ball hit them right on
the starboard bow below the water line. A splash told where it had
landed. They stopped yelling. The man in the bow clapped his hat
against the side of the boat.

'Guess we've gin 'em a little business t' ten' to,' said Uncle Eb as he
made haste to load his rifle.

The Indian at the bow was lifting his rifle again. He seemed to reel
as he took aim. He was very slow about it. I kept pulling as I
watched him. I saw that their boat was slowly sinking. I had a
strange fear that he would hit me in the stomach. I dodged when I
saw the flash of his rifle. His ball struck the water, ten feet away
from us, and threw a spray into my face.

Uncle Eb had lifted his rifle to shoot again. Suddenly the Indian,
who had shot at us, went overboard. In a second they were all in
the water, their boat bottom up.

'Now take yer time,' said Uncle Eb coolly, a frown upon his face.

'They'll drown,' said I.

'Don't care if they do, consam 'em,' he answered. 'They're some o'
them St Regis devils, an' when they git whisky in 'em they'd jes'
soon kill ye as look at ye. They am' no better 'n rats.'

We kept on our way and by and by a wind came up that gave us
both some comfort, for we knew it would soon blow them ashore.
Ab Thomas had come to our camp and sat with Tip and Gerald
when we got there. We told of our adventure and then Ab gave us
a bad turn, and a proper appreciation of our luck, by telling us that
they were a gang of cut-throats - the worst in the wilderness.

'They'd a robbed ye sure,' he said. 'It's the same gang 'at killed a
man on Cat Mountain las' summer, an' I'll bet a dollar on it.'

Tip had everything ready for our journey home. Each day Gerald
had grown paler and thinner. As we wrapped him in a shawl and
tenderly helped him into the wagon I read his doom in his face.
We saw so much of that kind of thing in our stern climate we knew
what it meant. Our fun was over. We sat in silence, speeding down
the long hills in the fading light of the afternoon. Those few
solemn hours in which I heard only the wagon's rumble and the
sweet calls of the whip-poor-will-waves of music on a sea of
silence-started me in a way of thought which has led me high and
low these many years and still invites me. The day was near its end
when we got to the first big clearing. From the top of a high hill we
could see above the far forest, the red rim of the setting sun, big
with winding from the skein of day, that was now flying off the
tree-tops in the west.

We stopped to feed the horses and to take a bite of jerked venison,
wrapped ourselves warmer, for it was now dunk and chilly, and
went on again. The road went mostly downhill, going out of the
woods, and we could make good time. It was near midnight when
we drove in at our gate. There was a light in the sitting-room and
Uncle Eb and I went in with Gerald at once. Elizabeth Brower
knelt at the feet of her son, unbuttoned his coat and took off his
muffler. Then she put her arms about his neck while neither spoke
nor uttered any sound. Both mother and son felt and understood
and were silent. The ancient law of God, that rends asunder and
makes havoc of our plans, bore heavy on them in that moment, I
have no doubt, but neither murmured. Uncle Eb began to pump
vigorously at the cistern while David fussed with the fire. We were
all quaking inwardly but neither betrayed a sign of it. It is a way
the Puritan has of suffering. His emotions are like the deep
undercurrents of the sea.

Irving Bacheller