Rudder Grange/Chapter 9
WE CAMP OUT
My wife and I were both so fond of country life and country pursuits that month after month passed by at our little farm in a succession of delightful days. Time flew like a "limited express" train, and it was September before we knew it.
I had been working very hard at the office that summer, and was glad to think of my two weeks' vacation, which were to begin on the first Monday of the month. I had intended spending these two weeks in rural retirement at home, but an interview in the city with my family physician caused me to change my mind. I told him my plan.
"Now," said he, "if I were you, I'd do nothing of the kind. You have been working too hard; your face shows it. You need rest and change. Nothing will do you so much good as to camp out; that will be fifty times better than going to any summer resort. You can take your wife with you. I know she'll like it. I don't care where you go so that it's a healthy spot. Get a good tent and an outfit, be off to the woods, and forget all about business and domestic matters for a few weeks."
This sounded splendid, and I propounded the plan to Euphemia that evening. She thought very well of it, and was sure we could do it. Pomona would not be afraid to remain in the house, under the protection of Lord Edward, and she could easily attend to the cow and the chickens. It would be a holiday for her too. Old John, the man who occasionally worked for us, would come up sometimes and see after things. With her customary dexterity Euphemia swept away every obstacle to the plan, and all was settled before we went to bed.
As my wife had presumed, Pomona made no objections to remaining in charge of the house. The scheme pleased her greatly. So far, so good. I called that day on a friend who was in the habit of camping out to talk to him about getting a tent and the necessary "traps" for a life in the woods. He proved perfectly competent to furnish advice and everything else. He offered to lend me all I needed. He had a complete outfit; had done with them for the year, and I was perfectly welcome. Here was rare luck. He gave me a tent, camp-stove, dishes, pots, gun, fishing-tackle, a big canvas coat with dozens of pockets riveted on it, a canvas hat, rods, reels, boots that came up to my hips, and about a waggon-load of things in all. He was a real good fellow.
We laid in a stock of canned and condensed provisions, and I bought a book on camping-out so as to be well posted on the subject. On the Saturday before the first Monday in September we would have been entirely ready to start had we decided on the place where we were to go.
We found it very difficult to make this decision. There were thousands of places where people went to camp out, but none of them seemed to be the place for us. Most of them were too far away. We figured up the cost of taking ourselves and our camp equipage to the Adirondacks, the lakes, the trout-streams of Maine, or any of those well-known resorts, and we found that we could not afford such trips, especially for a vacation of but fourteen days.
On Sunday afternoon we took a little walk. Our minds were still troubled about the spot toward which we ought to journey next day, and we needed the soothing influences of Nature. The country to the north and west of our little farm was very beautiful. About half a mile from the house a modest river ran; on each side of it were grass-covered fields and hills, and in some places there were extensive tracks of woodlands.
"Look here!" exclaimed Euphemia, stopping short in the little path that wound along by the river-bank. "Do you see this river, those woods, those beautiful fields, with not a soul in them or anywhere near them; and those lovely blue mountains over there?"—as she spoke she waved her parasol in the direction of the objects indicated, and I could not mistake them. "Now what could we want better than this?" she continued. "Here we can fish, and do everything we want to. I say, let us camp here on our own river. I can take you to the very spot for the tent. Come on!" And she was so excited about it that she fairly ran.
The spot she pointed out was one we had frequently visited in our rural walks. It was a grassy peninsula, as I termed it, formed by a sudden turn of a creek which, a short distance below, flowed into the river. It was a very secluded spot. The place was approached through a pasture field—we had found it by mere accident—and where the peninsula joined the field (we had to climb a fence just there), there was a cluster of chestnut and hickory trees, while down near the point stood a wide-spreading oak.
"Here, under this oak, is the place for the tent," said Euphemia, her face flushed, her eyes sparkling, and her dress a little torn by getting over the fence in a hurry. "What do we want with your Adirondacks and your Dismal Swamps. This is the spot for us!"
"Euphemia," said I, in as composed a tone as possible, although my whole frame was trembling with emotion—"Euphemia, I am glad I married you!"
Had it not been Sunday we would have set up our tent that night. Early the next morning old John's fifteen-dollar horse drew from our house a waggon-load of camp fixtures. There was some difficulty in getting the waggon over the field, and there were fences to be taken down to allow of its passage; but we overcame all obstacles, and reached the camp-ground without breaking so much as a tea-cup. Old John helped me pitch the tent, and as neither of us understood the matter very well it took us some time. It was, indeed, nearly noon when old John left us, and it may have been possible that he delayed matters a little so as to be able to charge for a full half-day for himself and horse. Euphemia got into the waggon to ride back with him, that she might give some parting injunctions to Pomona.
"I'll have to stop a bit to put up the fences, ma'am," said old John, "or Misther Ball might make a fuss."
"Is this Mr. Ball's land?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, sir; it's Mr. Ball's land."
"I wonder how he'll like our camping on it?" I said thoughtfully.
"I'd 'a' thought, sir, you'd 'a' asked him that before you came," said old John, in a tone that seemed to indicate that he had his doubts about Mr. Ball.
"Oh, there'll be no trouble about that," cried Euphemia. "You can drive me past Mr. Ball's—it's not much out of the way—and I'll ask him."
"In that waggon?" said I. "Will you stop at Mr. Ball's door in that?"
"Certainly!" said she, as she arranged herself on the board, which served as a seat. "Now that our campaign has really commenced, we ought to begin to rough it, and should not be too proud to ride even in a—in a—"
She evidently couldn't think of any vehicle mean enough for her purpose.
"In a greengrocery cart," I suggested.
"Yes, or in a red one. Go ahead, John."
When Euphemia returned on foot, I had a fire in the camp-stove, and the kettle was on.
"Well," said Euphemia, "Mr. Ball says it's all right, if we keep the fence up. He don't want his cows to get into the creek, and I'm sure we don't want 'em walking over us. He couldn't understand, though, why we wanted to live out here. I explained the whole thing to him very carefully, but it didn't seem to make much impression on him. I believe he thinks Pomona has something the matter with her, and that we have come to stay out here in the fresh air so as not to take it."
"What an extremely stupid man Mr. Ball must be!" I said.
The fire did not burn very well, and while I was at work at it Euphemia spread a cloth upon the grass, and set forth bread and butter, cheese, sardines, potted ham, preserves, biscuits, and a lot of other things.
We did not wait for the kettle to boil, but concluded to do without tea or coffee for this meal, and content ourselves with pure water. For some reason or other, however, the creek water did not seem to be very pure, and we did not like it a bit.
"After lunch," said I, "we will go and look for a spring; that will be a good way of exploring the country."
"If we can't find one," said Euphemia, "we shall have to go to the house for water, for I can never drink that stuff."
Soon after lunch we started out. We searched high and low, near and far, for a spring, but could not find one.
At length by merest accident, we found ourselves in the vicinity of old John's little house. I knew he had a good well, and so we went in to get a drink, for our ham and biscuits had made us very thirsty. We told old John, who was digging potatoes, and was also very much surprised to see us so soon, about our unexpected trouble in finding a spring.
"No," said he, very slowly; "there is no spring very near to you. Didn't you tell your gal to bring you water?"
"No," I replied; "we don't want her coming down to the camp. She is to attend to the house."
"Oh, very well," said John; "I will bring you water morning and night—good fresh water—from my well, for—well, for ten cents a day."
"That will be nice," said Euphemia, "and cheap, too. And then it will be well to have John come every day; he can carry our letters."
"I don't expect to write any letters."
"Neither do I," said Euphemia; "but it will be pleasant to have some communication with the outer world."
So we engaged old John to bring us water twice a day. I was a little disappointed at this, for I thought that camping on the edge of a stream settled the matter of water. But we have many things to learn in this world.
Early in the afternoon I went out to catch some fish for supper. We agreed to dispense with dinner, and have breakfast, lunch, and a good, solid supper.
For some time I had poor luck. There were either very few fish in the creek, or they were not hungry.
I had been fishing an hour or more when I saw Euphemia running towards me.
"What's the matter?" said I.
"Oh, nothing! I've just come to see how you were getting along. Haven't you been gone an awfully long time? And are those all the fish you've caught? What little bits of things they are! I thought people who camped out caught big fish, and lots of them?"
"That depends a good deal upon where they go," said I.
"Yes, I suppose so," replied Euphemia; "but I should think a stream as big as this would have plenty of fish in it. However, if you can't catch any, you might go up to the road and watch for Mr. Mulligan. He sometimes comes along on Mondays."
"I'm not going to the road to watch for any fish-man," I replied, a little more testily than I should have spoken. "What sort of camping-out would that be? But we must not be talking here or I shall never get a bite. Those fish are a little soiled from jumping about in the dust. You might wash them off at that shallow place, while I go a little further on and try my luck."
I went a short distance up the creek, and threw my line into a dark, shadowy pool, under some alders, where there certainly should be fish. And, sure enough, in less than a minute I got a splendid bite—not only a bite, but a pull. I knew that I had certainly hooked a big fish! The thing actually tugged at my line so that I was afraid the pole would break. I did not fear for the line, for that I knew was strong. I would have played the fish until he was tired, and I could pull him out without risk to the pole, but I did not know exactly how the process of "playing" was conducted. I was very much excited. Sometimes I gave a jerk and a pull, and then the fish would give a jerk and a pull.
Directly I heard some one running toward me, and then I heard Euphemia cry out:
"Give him the butt! Give him the butt!"
"Give him what?" I exclaimed, without having time even to look up at her.
"The butt! the butt!" she cried, almost breathlessly. "I know that's right! I read how Edward Everett Hale did it in the Adirondacks."
"No, it wasn't Hale at all," said I, as I jumped about the bank; "it was Mr. Murray."
"Well, it was one of those fishing ministers, and I know that it caught the fish."
"I know; I know. I read it, but I don't know how to do it."
"Perhaps you ought to punch him with it," said she.
"No! no!" I hurriedly replied; "I can't do anything like that. I'm going to try to pull him out lengthwise. You take hold of the pole and go in shore as far as you can, and I'll try and get hold of the line."
Euphemia did as I bade her, and drew the line in so that I could reach it. As soon as I had a firm hold of it I pulled in, regardless of consequences, and hauled ashore an enormous cat-fish.
"Hurrah!" I shouted, "here is a prize."
Euphemia dropped the pole, and ran to me.
"What a horrid beast!" she exclaimed. "Throw it in again."
"Not at all!" said I. "This is a splendid fish, if I can ever get him off the hook. Don't come near him! If he sticks that back fin into you, it will poison you."
"Then I should think it would poison us to eat him," said she.
"No; it's only his fin."
"I've eaten cat-fish, but I never saw one like that," she said. "Look at its horrible mouth! And it has whiskers like a cat!"
"Oh, you never saw one with its head on," I said. "What I want to do is to get this hook out."
I had caught cat-fish before, but never one so large as this, and I was actually afraid to take hold of it, knowing as I did, that you must be very careful how you clutch a fish of the kind. I finally concluded to carry it home as it was, and then I could decapitate it, and take out the hook at my leisure. So back to camp we went, Euphemia picking up the little fish as we passed, for she did not think it right to catch fish and not eat them. They made her hands smell, it is true; but she did not mind that when we were camping.
I prepared the big fish (and I had a desperate time getting the skin off), while my wife, who is one of the daintiest cooks in the world, made the fire in the stove, and got ready the rest of the supper. She fried the fish, because I told her that was the way cat-fish ought to be cooked, although she said that it seemed very strange to her to camp out for the sake of one's health, and then to eat fried food.
But that fish was splendid! The very smell of it made us hungry. Everything was good, and when supper was over and the dishes washed, I lighted my pipe, and we sat down under a tree to enjoy the evening.
The sun had set behind the distant ridge; a delightful twilight was gently subduing every colour of the scene; the night insects were beginning to hum and chirp, and a fire that I had made under a tree blazed up gaily, and threw little flakes of light into the shadows under the shrubbery.
"Now, isn't this better than being cooped up in a narrow, constricted house?" said I.
"Ever so much better! " said Euphemia. "Now we know what Nature is. We are sitting right down in her lap, and she is cuddling us up. Isn't that sky lovely? Oh, I think this is perfectly splendid!" said she, making a little dab at her face—"if it wasn't for the mosquitoes."
"They are bad," I said. "I thought my pipe would keep them off, but it don't. There must be plenty of them down at that creek."
"Down there!" exclaimed Euphemia. "Why, there are thousands of them here! I never saw anything like it. They're getting worse every minute."
"I'll tell you what we must do," I exclaimed, jumping up. "We must make a smudge."
"What's that? Do you rub it on yourself?" asked Euphemia anxiously.
"No; it's only a great smoke. Come, let us gather up dry leaves and make a smouldering fire of them."
We managed to get up a very fair smudge, and we stood to the leeward of it, until Euphemia began to cough and sneeze, as if her head would come off. With tears running from her eyes she declared that she would rather go and be eaten alive, than stay in that smoke.
"Perhaps we were too near it," said I.
"That may be," she answered; "but I have had enough smoke. Why didn't I think of it before? I brought two veils! We can put these over our faces and wear gloves."
She was always full of expedients.
Veiled and gloved, we bade defiance to the mosquitoes, and we sat and talked for half an hour or more. I made a little hole in my veil, through which I put the mouth-piece of my pipe.
When it became really dark I lighted the lantern, and we prepared for a well-earned night's rest. The tent was spacious and comfortable, and we each had a nice little cot-bed.
"Are you going to leave the front door open all night?" said Euphemia, as I came in after a final round to see that all was right.
"I should hardly call this canvas-flap a front door," I said, "but I think it would be better to leave it open; otherwise we should smother. You need not be afraid. I shall keep my gun here by my bedside, and if anyone offers to come in, I'll bring him to a full-stop quick enough."
"Yes, if you are awake. But I suppose we ought not to be afraid of burglars here. People in tents never are. So you needn't shut it."
It was awfully quiet and dark and lonely, out there by that creek, when the light had been put out, and we had gone to bed. For some reason I could not go to sleep. After I had been lying awake for an hour or two, Euphemia spoke:
"Are you awake?" said she, in a low voice, as if she were afraid of disturbing the people in the next room.
"Yes," said I. "How long have you been awake?"
"I haven't been asleep."
"Neither have I."
"Suppose we light the lantern," said she. "Don't you think it would be pleasanter?"
"It might be," I replied; "but it would draw myriads of mosquitoes. I wish I had brought a mosquito-net and a clock. It seems so lonesome without the ticking. Good-night! We ought to have a long sleep, if we do much tramping about to-morrow."
In about half an hour more, just as I was beginning to be a little sleepy, she said:
"Where is that gun?"
"Here by me," I answered.
"Well, if a man should come in, try and be sure to put it up close to him before you fire. In a little tent like this, the shot might scatter everywhere, if you're not careful."
"All right," I said. "Good-night!"
"There's one thing we never thought of!" she presently exclaimed.
"What's that?" said I.
"Snakes," said she.
"Well, don't let's think of them. We must try and get a little sleep."
"Dear knows! I've been trying hard enough," she said plaintively, and all was quiet again. We succeeded this time in going to sleep, and it was broad daylight before we awoke.
That morning old John came with our water before breakfast was ready. He also brought us some milk, as he thought we would want it. We considered this a good idea, and agreed with him to bring us a quart a day.
"Don't you want some wegetables?" said he. "I've got some nice corn and some tomatoes, and I could bring you cabbage and peas."
We had hardly expected to have fresh vegetables every day, but there seemed to be no reason why old John should not bring them, as he had to come every day with the water and milk. So we arranged that he should furnish us daily with a few of the products of his garden.
"I could go to the butcher's and get you a steak or some chops, if you'd let me know in the morning," said he, intent on the profits of further commissions.
But this was going too far. We remembered we were camping out, and declined to have meat from the butcher.
John had not been gone more than ten minutes before we saw Mr. Ball approaching.
"Oh, I hope he isn't going to say we can't stay!" exclaimed Euphemia.
"How d'ye do?" said Mr. Ball, shaking hands with us. "Did you stick it out all night?"
"Oh, yes, indeed," I replied, "and expect to stick it out for a many more nights, if you don't object to our occupying your land."
"No objection in the world," said he; "but it seems a little queer for people who have a good house to be living out here in the fields in a tent; now, don't it?"
"Oh, but you see," said I, and I went on and explained the whole thing to him—the advice of the doctor, the discussion about the proper place to go to, and the good reasons for fixing on this spot.
"Ye-es," said he, "that's all very well, no doubt. But how's the girl?"
"What girl?" I asked.
"Your girl. The hired girl you left at the house."
"Oh, she's all right," said I; "she's always well."
"Well," said Mr. Ball, slowly turning on his heel, "if you say so, I suppose she is. But you're going up to the house to-day to see about her, aren't you?"
"Oh, no," said Euphemia. "We don't intend to go near the house until our camping is over."
"Just so—just so!" said Mr. Ball. "I expected as much. But look here! don't you think it would be well for me to ask Dr. Ames to step in and see how she is gettin' along? I daresay you've fixed everything for her, but that would be safer, you know. He's coming this morning to vaccinate my baby, and he might stop there, just as well as not, after he has left my house."
Euphemia and I could see no necessity for this proposed visit of the doctor, but we could not well object to it, and so Mr. Ball said he would be sure and send him.
After our visitor had gone, the significance of his remarks flashed on me. He still thought that Pomona was sick with something catching, and that we were afraid to stay in the house with her. But I said nothing about this to Euphemia. It would only worry her, and our vacation was to be a season of unalloyed delight.