The Camp of the Good Fairy
THE CAMP OF THE GOOD FAIRY
By Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews
Illustrations by F. Walter Taylor
MY young brother Bob, long-legged, spindle-shanked, draped casually in a big bath-towel, stood astride a hole in the camp floor, and, bending over, stared.
"Great Cæsar! What do you think that little red sucker's been up to now?" he inquired, in the manner of a man who has great facts to impart.
Knowing Bob's methods I knew he meant the squirrel, and I didn't care if he did. I was just out of the lake, very wet, and beginning to be chilly, and the cub was in my way.
"Do get out of the middle of the room, Bob," I answered, "and get dressed and let me. I'd like some of the fire."
"Yes. In a second," the youngster answered, with a terse dignity that will be a help to him some day, when he is at the head of a large business. Then he bent still farther, and clawing with lean fingers into the widened crack, he brought up a long, green, rubber-headed, able-bodied lead-pencil. "If that isn't exactly what I wanted!" was his triumphant sentence.
It did have the look of an answer to prayer, for Bob and I had been at our wits' end the day before to know how to send out a letter, lacking writing utensils. We had forgotten pen, ink, and pencils with sweeping thoroughness, and, a hundred miles of Canadian hills being on top of us, we could not get any. A guide was finally found in possession of half a crippled lead-pencil, and birch-bark did the rest. But the squirrel had dug up one adequate to the whole trip from under the log floor.
"He's a good spirit," the cub remarked sentimentally. "Every morning he scratches up anything I want. It's just like a fairy story."
It was a fact that Bob's lost cuff-button had gleamed from the edge of the hole the morning before. But there is seldom a silver lining without a cloud, and I answered briefly with a sniff, and Bob laughed. My feelings about the squirrel differed from his. At fifteen the human animal seems able to sleep serenely while an unresting small beast puts in at his ear nine conscientious hours of scampering, gnawing, and scratching; but my years nearly doubled Bob's, and my nerves had been strained a bit too far, and I could not sleep at all. The boy and I were in an old club camp, waiting while our own was building a mile away up the lake. The moss chinking had dried and fallen out in places, the logs were shrunken, the flooring broken, and the result of it all was holes where mice and squirrels might enter freely. Most of them we knew only as vague little brown shadows disappearing under beams and into holes; but one squirrel was so curious, so apparently interested in our doings, that in four days he had come to an acknowledged partnership in the camp life, with my brother and myself. We identified him by a large nick out of his left ear, the mark, probably, of a hard-won escape from some larger animal; and he was so bold a rascal that we had plenty of chances to study him. Two minutes' silence in the camp where Bob and I read or cleaned our guns, almost always brought out the fleet little golden-brown vision, first into the middle of the floor, then under the legs of our chairs, then rigid for a second where our hands could almost touch him; then, with a startling burst into his scolding, mocking song, off and up the side of the camp, and across the roof and away. A sudden movement, a word from us, always frightened him either quite away or into the wonderful frozen stillness of a wild creature, every strong little muscle tense, quick breath arrested, velvet-brown eyes fixed and staring. For all my grudge against him the creature fascinated me—the ease and lightness of his movement, the overjoy of living that seemed to have oceans of energy to draw on, after a small lifetime of continuous swift dashes. I felt myself a huge, hulking animal, heavy and awkward, as I watched this tireless, copper-colored bunch of fur and springs.
Almost he persuaded me that I liked him, with his grace and his daring, his solemn mischief and his innocent curiosity, his poise on the verge of confidence in our friendliness—in the daytime! But when night came, and I fell into the sound, first sleep of healthy physical weariness, to be wakened with a jump at a mad scamper of tiny feet across my bed, or the crash of a bottle knocked on the floor by his squirrelship—when this sort of thing happened two or three times a night, I rose up in the morning with blood in my eye.
"Bob," I said, "I'm going to shoot that brute."
"Who?" demanded Bob, wide-eyed, as if I had a habit of killing a man a day.
"That beast of a squirrel."
The welkin rang with Bob's fifteen-year-old shouts of laughter. "I heard you last night—it was great! You woke me up by shying shoes into the stovepipe. Then you gave the order to 'Stop!' Then you groaned when Bunny fell into the water-pail. Then he scrambled out and ran over you, I reckon, and you whispered 'Go away!' in such a dignified way for the middle of the night that I stayed awake to laugh; and just as I was getting to sleep again he knocked over a bottle. Oh!" Bob doubled in a fit. "It's your shaving soap! You always get it!"
It seemed much less funny to me, but it was curiously true—the little wretch appeared to make a distinction between us. His tricks to Bob were always friendly tricks, and only my belongings suffered. I said rather stiffly:
"Well, it may be witty, but it's his last joke on me," and I got down my pistol and began rummaging for cartridges.
Then the cub pleaded earnestly. "Oh no, Walter! You wouldn't be murderous, would you? He's such a little beggar, and so pretty! He trusts us, too—why, he sat on your foot yesterday."
My heart is not of granite-ware, and I stopped looking for cartridges and looked at Bob.
"And he dragged in my necktie when I left it out in the rain—he's a good fairy to the camp. And I think it was awfully funny of him to knock off your soap and nick your razor."
I had forgotten that—I began the cartridge hunt again.
"Now don't," begged Bob, catching my hand. "Think how we would miss him when we clean the guns!"
"But, cub, I can't sleep. We've been in this camp five nights, and I haven't had a good rest yet. I came up here because I had overworked, and I must get sleep. Last night that little devil kept me awake till four o'clock. Either he must leave the camp or I must."
Bob caught at the alternative unexpectedly. "Why can't we do that?" he asked earnestly. "There's the big walled-tent—why can't we have that put up and sleep in it? We could keep our traps here, and stay here day times when we're in camp at all. I think it's jolly to sleep in tents."
I looked at the youngster quite speechless for a moment with indignation.
"Well, you are the coolest!" I sputtered at last. "Do you suppose I'm going to be turned out of camp for the benefit of a contemptible little squirrel? Not much, sir! I'll settle the question in another way," I concluded darkly, and brought up the green covered box of No. 22 cartridges.
"Oh! Walter, please," Bob begged pitifully. "I can't bear to have you kill him. He's so cunning and so little, and he means all right; it's just fun to him."
"Yes," I interjected, with deep-felt sarcasm; but the cub went on in a flood:
"Do let me have the tent up! I'll 'cherche' the guides, and look after it all alone, and you can go off fishing with Beauramé, and not have any bother. I'll do it ah right—I promise I will. And it'll be bully in a tent. I'll have a big camp-fire every night, and 'sapin' cut for the cots, and I know you'll like it better than a dirty old camp."
There was something in that, besides which I can never bear to refuse the boy what he really wants. He is a good boy and so ready to give up his way to mine, that it is not fair to disappoint his wishes when they are strong. But I was not very gracious. I said only:
"I'm going to take Beauramé and go over to Rivière à la Poêle for the morning. You can try the tent if you want, but I won't stay in it if I'm uncomfortable." And Bob's gratitude was out of proportion, and he capered out to the boat on his long legs like a large frisky spider, squealing with joy and thanksgiving.
On Frying-pan River, under the cloudy sky of a warm day, with the water a bit low, the fishing was a marvel that morning. The stream bubbled with trout, and they flew at my brown hackle, they almost swallowed my Yellow Sally, they rose madly for my hand-fly, a quiet-colored Reuben Wood. Any fly seemed to suit them, and four times I landed two at once, and twice I had three on the leader, Beauramé skilfully saving all of them one lucky time. Most of them were under a half pound, but one or two came up to a pound and a half; and I took fifty, and could have taken five hundred, I believe, but for time and conscience. It was a phenomenal morning's luck, and I came back in the best of spirits, with overworked nerves nearly quieted, and underworked muscles aching comfortably.
The sun came out gloriously from the morning's gray as I threw my paddle on the dock and stretched my cramped knees from the bow of the canoe. There was an old clearing about the club camp where the bushes grew high and thick, and thirty feet from the dilapidated pile of logs I saw the white gleam of our brand-new tent shining above the fresh greens in the sunlight, and I caught through the underbrush the cheerful crackling of a fire. I heard the ring of an axe, the slow crash of a falling tree back in the forest, and Zoetique's soft voice near the tent called with a rising inflection:
"Comment, M'sieur Bob?" as the boat ran in to the landing. But M'sieur Bob's moccasined feet were kicking high in air as he raced away from Zoetique's inquiries and down to the dock to meet me. There was the proper excitement over my catch, the correct questions asked as to the stream and the water and the flies and the rapids. I had my innings first, as fitted the returning voyager, and Bob was genuinely interested as fitted a true sportsman. Yet it was with an air of arriving at the goal that at last he led me down the the trail through the bushes to the new encampment.
The tent smiled at us spotlessly, the canvas cots were invitingly comfortable with their folded blankets, there was a floor of fresh balsam boughs, our necessary belongings were hung neatly on poles swung into crotched standards and placed back of the beds, a glowing fire of birch logs blazed and steamed outside—it was certainly very attractive.
"Now isn't this better than that nasty old camp? Aren't you glad the squirrel turned us out?" demanded Bob joyfully, dancing from one leg to the other. "I've made 'em work like tigers, and I've worked too. Alexandre is off chopping a big pile of wood for a camp-fire to-night, and Zoetique is splitting dry sticks for kindling. We're going to dress and undress by the stove in the old camp, and keep our things there for dryth, but it'll be lots more fun to sleep out here. Isn't it bully? Don't you think it's bully?" and, as always, the cub's delight and excitement went to his legs. He vaulted about like an ecstatic grasshopper.
That night it rained. The five-foot birch logs burned courageously, as birch will burn through a deluge, once started, but it needed some nursing. The careless abandon of its crackling, the pleasant certainty that a log burned through the centre will only help the fire as it breaks and falls, the hot reach of the red-gold bed of coals drawing ever more and more steaming wood into its pulsing circle—all the masterful dash that makes the charm of a fire—these were gone. We put in spruce with a careful hand to be sure of heat, before we laid on fresh birch logs, and the dull silver bark was wet as we lifted them, and about the fire were patches of muddy water.
In the log camp, with a table, a stove, a lamp and books, we were decently comfortable until bedtime came; but the world was a sorry place when, our pajamas covered with mackintoshes, our ankles cold and bare, we blew out the lamp, and shutting the door of the warm camp from the outside, stood on its ramshackle piazza in the black night and pouring storm.
Ten yards away, a faint glow in the jungle told that our fire, though discouraged, still stood wearily by us; but the tent was only a blacker shadow. I had no love for the squirrel at this stage of the game. I felt it a bitter thing to go out-doors to go to bed in a cold rain on the squirrel's account.
Bob, swinging a lantern, pranced lightly before me down the winding way, the length of scarlet pajamas as his rain-coat swung open telling of unquenchable glee still in his speaking legs.
"This is fun! Just like burglars or something!" he announced gayly; and I stumbled over a root and fell into a wet bush, and the mud splashed over my sneakers on my skin, and I felt that I deserved a halo for not saying what I thought. But the tent, so far, was dry, and when we got down into our blankets and the last invoice of spruce logs made friends with the red-hot coal-bed and blazed up cheerfully, it was not so bad after all. The firelight played goldenly in wide, wavering masses of light and shadow across the white walls; through the half-open flap there was a long narrowing picture of wet woods and ghostly, ever-dimmer silver birch trunks, fleeing silently in long procession, back, back to the great unknown mountains; the logs sputtered and crackled and fell with delicious unconcern. It was comfortable to lie drowsily and feel that all the human animal needed to be we were—fed, warm, and dry. Let it rain, let it blow; life was simple. With blankets, a tent, a certainty of breakfast to-morrow, what was there to do but go to sleep? And before the thought was finished, the cub and I lay dreamlessly asleep. And as we slept the skies opened, and the rain descended; the drops came thicker, harder, the sturdy birch fire sizzled, steamed, went out in stress of tempest; about us, that one red spark of hope being gone, was sodden forest and raging storm. And we slept quietly.
Till at last, beating against the cobweb that stood between us and misery, the torrent had its way, and the tent leaked. Many a woodsman knows, and will not forget, the first vague breaking-down of unconsciousness, when he feels the insistent, merciless, slow drop at long intervals fall on his face, and turns again drowsily to the strong, pleasant arms of the sleep that holds him!
I reasoned with myself heavily that it was a good world, that this was a wordless horror I was dreaming—this imagined leak in the kind, friendly tent—it was morbid, almost irreligious, to believe such a thing. Burrowing an inch further into the blankets I slept again.
But again it came, that wet, calm, soft splash on my left eyebrow, and this time it waked me enough to be sure of its horrid reality. Still I clung to hope and to slumber. It could not be but that all might yet be well—it would stop in a minute—best not notice it. So, numb with sleep, I moved my head and drew away my blankets, and dropped off; and the next thing I knew a small river was trickling coldly down my neck.
Those who know what it means to light a lantern in a chilly tent at two in the morning, to explore by that cheerless illumination for leaks, and to fight them pitifully, as best one may, with arrangements of rubber blankets and holes hastily dug in the ground—those who have been through this form of spiritual training, know that work in the slums does not approach it as a moral test. To Bob it was no test at all, for he regarded it as "fun." His brand of the "purple light of youth" seems to work like a photographic red-lantern, excluding entirely all rays that show discomfort. I know of only one or two things in the world which the boy does not enjoy in one degree or another, and that the tent should leak appealed to him as a simple adventure of a sportsmanlike sort.
For me, I worried through the night with two or three readjustments of the precarious apparatus against leaking, with more or less sleep of a staccato character, and with a deep and deadly remembrance of the squirrel responsible for my misery, and a plan for the next day. In accordance with it I sent the cub off on an exploring expedition with his guide, saw that the rest of the men were at work for the morning, and, taking a chair and a book outside the open door of the club camp, I waited, in the bright sunshine that was laughing now at the tempest of the night, a loaded revolver at my right hand, for M. l'Écureuil—the squirrel.
I did not have to wait long. There was a light scurrying across the old broken floor and I looked up to see him by his favorite hole in the middle of the room, facing me with pretty confidence, sitting upright and munching with quick, tiny bites at something held in his short little arms to his mouth. His fine bushy tail curved like a plume around him; he was such a picture that I decided not to shoot him quite yet, to wait and watch him play awhile.
"You little beggar," I said aloud, "do you know that your minutes are numbered?" At my voice he dropped his lunch, froze into utter stillness and stared so at space for a second, and then stampeded delicately across the camp straight toward me, over my foot, and out of sight. In a moment heard him scolding me shrilly, thirty feet away, from the end of the dead tree that mirrored itself, a steel-tipped blur, in the wind-touched lake below.
That was the last of the spoiled child of the woods for ten minutes, and I had lost myself in my book when I was aware through the forest stillness of a small insistent noise like a needle scratching on a bit of bark. I looked up. There was a rough bench about six feet in front of me, and on it was my friend the enemy, comfortably seated on his hind legs, sitting up like a Christian and lunching again on a large, luscious red raspberry. I almost laughed aloud at the friendly sociability of this creature whom I was waiting to kill. He had such a saucy and casual air of saying "I thought it would be pleasant to bring my lunch and have it with you," that I felt it a breach of hospitality to shoot him down. My hand loosened the revolver, and I took stock of the points of this vivid bit of life: short shining body, alert even in stillness; high-bred Roman line of forehead; velvet-black, big eyes with a cream-colored outline; round muzzle, black pointed, sensitive; short forelegs—or arms, as they seemed; long pinkish claws that held the big berry like tiny, thin brown hands; and, crowning glory of the perfect mechanism—the beautiful feathery tail, copper-tinted, tipped with vanishing silver, sweeping about him like an aureole, an expression of the elusive, uncertain light that plays ever around wild things of the woods.
As I studied him he sat up and ate daintily, shooting out sidewise glances which I knew took me in but which never met mine—I never once made him look at me. He sat so five minutes within reach of my hand if I took only a step; yet I knew that, though I might look my fill, if I made one quick movement he was gone, and the knowledge added to him the charm of the unattainable. If I watched my chance I might possess myself, certainly, of the little body with a bullet-hole through it, but the bit of intense life I might never touch.
And as I looked, and he munched, it seemed as if arguments swarmed from his silence why I should not kill him: First the old one of the doubtful right to take life. A little lower than the angels we may be, yet all the men in the world in all their lives may not put together one squirrel. Then, from far back, down dim ways from the ancient dawn of life there was a faint call of kindred blood. Once an ancestor of M. I'Écureuil and an ancestor of mine had been much of the same sort. My unsung progenitor had developed a trick of using his claws as a thumb and forefinger, had preferred legs to tail as a means of locomotion; two or three habits of the sort had made the difference. Otherwise I might have been the squirrel nibbling at the berry, he the man with a loaded revolver. I seemed to hear Kipling's race-word, "We be of one blood, thou and I," in the echo of the little beast's scolding song. Also the undoubted superiority of his existence to mine bade me hold respectfully my hand. Sometimes, in my best moments, in the still hills, I felt for a breath of time what was the untrammelled joy of life; the secret of freedom was half whispered, the glory of simplicity flashed for a second before my eyes; he knew these things always. I stared upward from earth at masses of emerald birch leaves, splashed between silver trunks below and turquoise skies above; he lived up there, on intimate terms with the tree-tops. The things that were my dream ten months of the year—steep mountains, quiet lakes, rushing rapids, the flash of jumping trout, the woodland walk of moose and caribou—these were his life of every day. How might I dare destroy this living song of the woods?
And meantime the said song, with an infinite suddenness which might well be the despair of a Winchester cartridge, whisked himself off. The swiftness of his going made me jump, and the jump dispelled my soliloquies. I reproved myself for sentimentality, for weakness of will, and full-cocked my revolver carefully with a determination to carry out my plans and not wander into side issues. Next time the animal appeared I would shoot him. It had been impossible to do it when he treated me like a comrade—all but offered me a bite of his raspberry. But he could hardly do anything as winning, as saucily bewitching as that again.
I filled my pipe, lighted a match, and in a moment was pulling away at it, and reading again at "Monte Cristo." I forgot my disarming foe in the forever-enchanting story, and it was perhaps ten minutes later that a light scratching made me raise my eyes cautiously to the bench in front.
I could hardly believe them, and I never expect anyone to believe what they saw, but it is quite true. There sat Monsieur, the copper-colored, the resourceful, the fearless, as before, squatted comfortably on his back feet, and in his half-human the hands he held to his mouth, as he faced me, a pipe! Why I did not drop mine from my astonished jaws I do not know, but I stared in as frozen a silence as my visitor himself could have achieved. To all appearances he had come as man to man, to have a smoke with me. One of his sidewise glances assured him I was properly motionless, and I went on to study the situation. I did not dare even to lift my head, but from under my eyebrows I saw that it was an old ruin of a pipe-bowl, with a bit of stem still left, and he had doubtless picked it up in the portage where some guide had thrown it away as useless. The fact, the coincidence, has never ceased to surprise me, but that it happened as I have written it is a simple truth.
And so M. I'Écureuil won his case against me. I watched him nibbling delicately at the old wood for a few minutes, and then, with a movement which sent him scampering, which he little knew was the signing of his pardon, I picked up my Smith & Wesson and unloaded it.
"Encore de toutes chosess!" remarked Bob to Godin at the lunch table that day; it was his most frequent speech.
It sent Godin flying to the open kitchen, roofed with birch-bark, built against the flat side of a bowlder, and it brought him back to the table in quick trips with frying-pans of sizzling trout, of hot potatoes, with fresh flapjacks, with other delicacies of a camp cuisine. And while filling his plate with a liberal hand, M'sieur Bob showered, liberally also, French conversation upon us. It is correct to talk to the butler at table in the woods, and the cub told Godin, the circle of guides at the fire listening earnestly, the story of the squirrel, adding the theory that he was without doubt a fairy.
Godin's laughing blue eyes grew serious. "It is that which arrives at times," he said, and nodded impressively. "There are beasts which bring of good luck, one knows. My grandmother, who was born in France, it is she who has told me. She was very old, my grandmother, and had much experience. There was a red calf in the household of my great-grandfather, her father, which brought great good luck to the family, and many troubles came when by unhappiness the brother of my grandmother killed that calf. And in our village itself such things are well known. It is the beasts that have red skins that are lucky—as, by example, the red fox that came always to the house of Louis Beaupré."
He turned toward the fire where the men sat listening solemnly.
"Blanc, thou rememberest that red fox there, eh? Eugene, thou also?" he demanded in swift patois, and there was a deep chorus of "Ah, oui!"
He went on. "It came constantly to the house, which was at the side of the forest, and they gave it much to eat, and it was gentle almost as a dog, and all went well. But so it happened that the brother-in-law of Beaupré came to make a visit, and he was a man ignorant, rough, and he shot the fox with his 'fusil à cartouches," and so it happened that the luck changed. Louis Beaupré, he—he cut his foot with his axe the week after, and also the pig died, and also an infant; there was much trouble in that family because of the killing of the fox."
Bob was listening with eyes stretched wide.
Godin, getting his breath, continued, as he brought another "poêlée" of simmering fish from the fire: "Also it is well known that a red-haired child brings luck." Suddenly he began to laugh. Bob and I looked up expectantly, for Godin knows a joke when he meets one.
"Qu'est-ce que c'est?" the boy asked, laughing too at the contagious soft chuckle.
"It is but a little happening of our village, of the doctor there." Godin was diligently] refilling the glasses, making excuses to stay about the table till he could tell his story. A word of encouragement set him off: "He is known to be a good doctor, very capable, yet he drinks much. But so it happened that there was a funeral—it was the wife of one of my cousins, a Godin, who was to be buried, and the doctor was there, but a little drunk—a little en fête. And the daughter of the dead woman, a child of twelve years, had hair very red. So it happened that the doctor leaned over to her from across the room, and whispered, but quite loudly, so that all heard him with distinctness, 'You ought not to be here—you are not in mourning—your hair is red.' "
He went off into restrained fits of laughter, and the guides about the camp-fire shook softly, their faces shining with child-like merriment. In a moment Godin was decorous again. "But that makes nothing. However, it may well be that the squirrel of M'sieur is perhaps more than a mere squirrel. Nobody knows—I am glad that M'sieur did not fire. It is not 'chanceux' to kill a beast so intelligent that is red. He will without doubt bring luck now to our camp."
And as I poured half a pint of maple syrup on a hot, puffy flapjack I little thought how my tiny foe was to justify Godin's prophecy.
The next day after lunch, while the cub was off in a boat with Zoetique to 'cherche' fire-wood, I sat about camp doing nothing in particular, but meditating more or less on the crimes of a mink which had persistently stolen our fish. His last misdemeanor was the ruin of a four-pound trout which I had taken on the fly, and which I had pictured as the pièce de résistance of a meal, boiled with cream sauce as Vézina knew well how to do it. The mink had chewed the fat back entirely off my game. So sly was the thief that I had never seen him, and despaired of a meeting, yet we could not keep the trout from him. I reflected, as I waited for Bob to come in, that I might poison him, and the thought flashed across me of the pyrogallic acid among my photographic materials. Instantly I searched in my box and found the bottle, and looked about for something plausible to put it on. A fish, of course, would be the best, but there happened to be no fish about camp, and I had a desire to carry the plan into instant execution. The cub, who seems to have a sweet tooth in every corner of his mouth, could never get enough of that Canadian staple, maple sugar, and brought majestic masses of it from the dining-room to stay himself between meals. A large brown chunk lay on the table now, between two plates to guard it from mice and fairies, and it seemed to me to be what I wanted. A normal mink would surely experiment at least with so alluring a bait. I mixed with water and poured in slowly the deadly pyrogallic, and the sugar drank it greedily.
"Walter," called a fresh young voice from the landing, "the trout are jumping like mad—big ones—sockdologers! Get your rod, quick, and come on."
An invitation to fish never finds me slow in responding. I hurriedly put the cork into the bottle of developer, and threw the covering plate over the bit of poisoned sugar, not troubling myself that I pushed it partly over the edge of the table in my carelessness. Then I rushed outside, took down my rod with careful haste, and was at the dock in half a dozen jumps.
Bob was right about the fishing; it was uncommonly good, and after a fruitful afternoon of it we went directly with our spoils to the dining camp and stood about the fire talking hunting talk to the men, while we waited for the tails just out of the water to curl up in the spider. Supper was long and conscientious, and, when at last we paddled back to our camp, a late August twilight had blurred the wide, still landscape into solemn depths of blacks and grays.
"I forgot to bring my piece of maple sugar," Bob lamented, perched high on the stern, a slim young figure silhouetted against the dull silver water, his paddle plying rhythmically. "I've only about half a pound at the camp and I'll chew that up in a minute," he went on.
I hardly heard, and did not realize till afterward what he said. I was staring at a gap in the darkening hills, and pondering Zoetique's theory that at the head of the stream which ran through it must lie a lake, where no one had ever been and where should be good country for game.
I thought long, geographical thoughts, of directions, of distances, of possible other lakes in those mysterious openings, lying waiting with their secrets untold; with glassy surfaces that had mirrored no faces but dark faces of Indians; where loons called to deep loneliness of mountain silences; where moose and caribou, stately and shy, came down to drink unmolested as they had come for twenty centuries.
The spell of the forest was on me—stronger in the gloom of the twilight than at any other time—so I did not notice that we had run alongside the dock, until Bob, suddenly arising to the length of his pervading legs, sprang lightly to shore, his jump kicking the canoe and me off into outer darkness.
I fished cautiously for the paddle in the unbalanced boat, and brought myself deviously to land, slightly cross at the poorness of the joke from my side of the question. The cub was gone from the quai, leaving me to pull up and turn over the canoe alone, and I made ready for him a brief but biting reproof, as I mounted the dozen steps which led to the camp door. I heard him stumbling about inside and complaining.
"What is it?" I asked, irritated afresh at having to delay my remarks.
"I left it right here," the boyish voice went on through the blackness, and I heard him knocking things about on the table. "It was away back and covered over. I can't think what—" another bottle or two went down under his rummaging fingers.
"Bob, what on earth are you talking about?" I demanded.
"Why, my lump of maple sugar. I came in because I was in a hurry for it, this second. I couldn't wait till—" but I had suddenly screamed out, and my voice frightened me:
"Bob! for God's sake! Don't touch it! Don't touch it!" I cried, and through the dark silence I knew that the boy was suddenly as still as death—as still as—I could not finish the thought.
With unsteady fingers I scratched a match and lighted a candle, and a few words had told the reason of my panic. The sugar was gone from the table, but we did not have to look far to understand.
It was on the floor near both the plates which had been knocked off with it, and by the ruin of his work, caught at last in his mischievous career, lay the poor little villain of the plot, the squirrel.
His pathetic short legs were stretched stiffly; the white fur of his breast, that had moved so fast to his quick breathing, was motionless; the black brilliant eyes stared lustreless; the plume of his tail, gorgeously brown and silver, curled for the last time around him. We who might not touch him alive, with a finger-tip, could handle now the wild thing as we chose. Dust to dust for the beauty of his body, and the breath of his life was gone—where? Before the dignity of death I rebelled at the human judgment that denies to dumb things, which are God's creatures too, share in our eternity. He had saved the cub's life. Unknowingly, indeed, but very really, he had stood the last test of humanity; he had given his life for his friend. Out of the deep places of the soul where life-long loves are kept, welled up a sudden sense of my brother's dearness which choked me, and as I stood speechless, staring at the lad, he lifted his yellow head, which had bent silently over the still, tiny thing on the floor, and I honored the manly boy no less that his eyes shone with tears for the poor little dead fairy of the camp.