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Starting off. — The Outfit. — On the Pond. — The “Dead Growth.” A Lynx. — Hornets. — The “Thoroughfare.” — On the Second Pond. — A Thunder-Gust among the Mountains. — A Race to escape a Ducking. — “A Mean Skunk.” — The Camp on the “Big Rock.” — Hasty-Pudding.
WE were up long before sunrise, dressing and getting ready. Grandmother and the girls were bustling about, preparing breakfast and putting up our provisions.
For the benefit of any of my young fellow-citizens who may desire to make a similar excursion (and they cannot do better if they have good health and enjoy wild scenery), I will state briefly what we wore for clothes, and also what necessaries we took along with us.
We wore our previous winter suits — pants, vest, and sack-coat — of good firm woollen goods. Sometimes these were rather uncomfortable to ward the middle of the day; but this was more than overbalanced by the comfort they afforded at night, especially in wet weather. For shirts we had two apiece (one to wear and one to carry), of wool flannel, with quite broad, turn-over collars, under which we wore narrow silk neckties; thus dispensing with paper-collars altogether, though it did seem odd enough at first.
For hats we wore stiff, round-crowned, light-colored wool hats, with broad black bands and widish brims, such as were then in fashion; and a very serviceable sort of hat we found them too. Our watches we carried with short guards of deer skin, with the key knotted into the guard. We had two pairs of woollen socks apiece; and our boots were of thick calf-skin, with the soles wide, so as to protect the upper leather. We each of us carried a large, two-bladed jack-knife in our trousers-pockets. The boys had brought two hunting-knives to wear in sheaths: but, in view of their weight and unwieldiness, we decided to leave them behind; very wisely too, as I now think: our large jack-knives answered every purpose. It should be made a rule to take nothing that is not absolutely necessary. We all had a comb and tooth brush, which we carried in our pockets; as also a large strong linen handkerchief apiece. I came near forgetting our fish-hooks, of which we had nearly a dozen of all sizes, attached to gimp. I had also purloined a small darning-needle from Nell’s cushion, and a hank of coarse linen thread from Wealthy’s work-box; and, while I was about it, I caught out a miscellaneous handful of buttons. All these articles proved useful in their time.
Then there were the guns, — the rifle and the shot-gun. The ammunition consisted of one pound of fine Curtis and Harvey powder, with two pounds of mixed shot, from bird-size up to buck shot, together with a box of caps. We had also five dozen cartridges for the rifle. For the am munition we had a small water-proof bag of rubber cloth. This bag we stowed in the bottom of a shallow iron kettle, which was to serve both as kettle and spider.
The compass, not much larger than an old- fashioned watch, was Raed’s property: he took charge of it exclusively. The aneroid barometer and protractor belonged to Additon. The aneroid itself was about the size of the compass, which it much resembled. The “mosquito-bar,” without which no party should start into the wilderness, was simply a small tent of mosquito-netting. When folded up, its weight was very insignificant. Nothing but the netting need be carried. The sticks on which to pitch it may be cut anywhere, and at any time. Wash had a small pocket spy glass, which was always handy, and frequently of use. We had also two large woollen blankets; “army blankets,” as they were then called. To cut poles, hack off boughs, break up wood, etc., we had a medium-sized hatchet with a hammer head; which proved, on the whole, the most useful article of all. Each took a bunch of matches. These were stowed away, well wrapped up, in our vest pockets. Parties who smoke would need to take more. As regards money, we had, if I remember correctly, somewhere from thirty to forty dollars apiece, but did not spend over half this sum. The provisions we carried with us from home were not intended to last over a week. In that time we expected to reach either the “head of Chesuncook,” where the Penobscot lumbering-companies have a sort of supply-dépôt; or a certain clearing made for a hay-farm, which I had heard of on the west branch of the Penobscot River. After some talk, it was decided to forego the use of tea and coffee, thus to avoid carrying a coffee-pot. We repented of this afterwards. Our advice to all tourists is to carry coffee, somehow.
The sun of a bright July morning was just peeping over the eastward ridges as we started down to the boat. The grass and the tall milkweeds were drenched with dew. The very stones were in tears. But when the broad, bright disk shot up, a thousand jewels flashed. Raed led the way, with the shot-gun over his shoulder, and “the bundle” containing the blankets and mosquito-bar, together with our spare shirts, socks, etc., rolled up and tightly strapped; after him marched Wash, with the rifle and one of grandmother’s white capped buckets chock-full of meal and eggs; Additon, or Wade as we soon came to call him, fell in behind with the other bucket; while number four brought up the rear, with the hatchet in one hand, and the old iron kettle of ammunition, etc., in the other.
The girls went down to the pond shore with us to carry a basket of cakes and cheese, and to see us off. What breeze there was that morning was almost directly from the north, — square against us. It was so light, and would require so much time in tacking to beat into it, that we did not try to use the sail, but took the oars. The cargo was soon shipped. Wash and I took the rower’s thwart. Wade sat down in the bow. Raed stood in the stern.
“Good-by, Nell!” from Wash.
“Adieu, fair shootist!” from Wade.
“Come aboard, Ding-bat!” to the Chinaman, who stood hesitating. In fact, he seemed to much prefer the society of the ladies on the shore. I thought, too, that I detected Nell slyly encouraging him in his disobedience. Wade had to get out, take him by the forelegs, and drag him aboard.
“Give way!” shouted the captain. We bent to the oars; the boat shot out; and the expedition was begun.
The farther shore of the pond was wooded; and, as it was not more than half a mile, we decided to row across, in order to go up under the shade of the overarching forest. Looking back, we could see the girls in their white dresses going up through the pasture. They turned and waved their handkerchiefs as we neared the other side. It was a glorious morning. The nightingales and orioles were making the cool woods resound to their mellow, leaf-echoed warblings; while from an upland maple a robin (Turdus migratorius) was chanting the praises of his “two-legged skillet,” — that famous old skillet.
Up around the Hardscrabble (hill) a flock of crows were hawing and cawing in a wrangle over something, — a dead woodchuck, perhaps; and we here and there caught a glimpse of one flapping silently about among the trees, robbing the nests of the smaller birds. Disreputable fellows, these crows!
In the shade the water looked very black and deep as we pulled along within four or five rods of the shore. Two loons (the Great Northern Diver) were sailing about far ahead. Presently their wild cry came quavering down to us. As we drew nearer, they dived, one after the other.
Wash counted ninety-seven ere they rose to the surface far out toward the middle of the pond. They often remain under water for fully two minutes.
We had already passed the limits of the “cleared lands.” On both sides of the pond, and to the north and north-west, the whole country was covered with a heavy growth of dark spruce, the sombre green of which was here and there flecked with the lighter tints of maples and birches. An hour of steady tugging had taken us up within plain sight of the low alder-girt shores that skirt the head of the pond. Raed and Wade now took their turn at the oars. The boat shot ahead under their fresh strokes. A mile was soon gone over; and we were approaching the two low knolls between which the “thoroughfare” makes in from the upper pond. This channel was originally only a large brook; in short, the outlet of the second pond into the lower pond; but the dam of the lumbering company, at the foot of the lower pond, had raised the level of the water eight or ten feet, causing it to flow back into the brook, and even into the upper pond, the level of which is thereby considerably raised. What was once a brook, has thus become what lumber-men call a thoroughfare, — a broad channel of slack-water leading from one pond or lake into another, along which logs may be driven down to the mills. Entering this channel, which was from twenty to thirty yards in width, with water extending back among the bushes on both sides, we made our way up toward the second pond, blue glimpses of which could, from time to time, be caught over the woods to the northward. These thoroughfares have an inexpressibly dreary appearance; for the water, flowing back on each side, sometimes for a long distance, soon kills the forest, which stands sear and dead, rotting and falling. The death of the forest on so vast a scale gives the landscape a very unsightly aspect. One is unconsciously depressed, saddened.
“Gloomy!” exclaimed Wash. “No wonder they call it a ‘dead growth;’” for I had just been saying that these flowed tracts were thus designated by the lumber-men.
Half a mile farther on we were passing where a heavier growth had covered the banks of the brook. Huge trunks — two, three, and even four feet in diameter — rose like columns from the water. From mere curiosity we turned the boat out of the channel, and, entering this submerged forest, paddled about for some time. The water stood from five to six feet deep about the trees, and was covered with a red-blue scum, which had dried on in rings around the trunks at odd heights above the present level. A strong odor as from old wooden cisterns filled the air. Devil’s-darning‑needles skimmed and darted about our boat, and hordes of blue-green water-bugs scampered up the trunks as we bumped along between them.
For some rods back from the stream the growth had been quite thick, a border of elms and ashes: but, after making our way through these (not without considerable difficulty, for the brush had begun to fall from the tops), we entered what had been a grand interval bottom, studded with great bass-woods. Many of these had already leaned over and lodged upon each other. The tough fibrous bark hung in long shreds from the tops, and, gently waving in a breeze scarcely felt by us in the boat, switched idly into the water. Much of it had fallen and sunk, where it lay on the bottom, looking like red flannel. Bits of limbs were dropping almost continually with dull splashes; and, on taking up the paddles for a moment, we could hear the steady, unremitting cut of thou sands of “borers” inside the dead trunks, some of which, denuded of their bark, showed white as chalk.
Hundreds of woodpeckers were tapping all about us. I would earnestly recommend these flowed tracts to naturalists who may wish to study up on the Picidæ. We saw several of the golden-winged variety; and I remember counting four or five other kinds, attracted to the harvest of worms in the mouldering-wood. Woodcocks now and then made the flow resound to their loud, swiftly-repeated note, and flew about in squads of three and four. Among the maples, a little farther back, we saw a number of their nest-holes high up the trunks. On thumping them at the bottom with the paddle, the faint call of the young birds could be heard.
Pushing on, a low growling, accompanied by sudden snarls, began to be heard. We listened a moment, then pulled hastily forward. It seemed to issue from a rick of maple-tops formed by several trees leaning over and lodging into a larger one. A set-to of some kind was going on; but the thick entangled mass of branches hid it from view. We worked the boat round to the right, keeping off pretty well.
“Ah, there he is!” whispered Wade, pointing into the tops.
A largish gray creature had climbed up one of the leaning maples to where it lodged into the large one, and, with long retractile claws fastened into the rough bark, crouched grabbing into a big gnarl-hole in the larger trunk. Now he would get a hold and pull a moment, but as often draw suddenly back with a sharp snarl. Some animal was disputing the entrance with him. We got glimpses of a pointed nose and flashing eyes in the hole. So intent was the savage besieger on his prey, that he had not espied us.
“What is it?” whispered Wash.
“It’s a Canada lynx, I think,” said I. “Look at those tasselled ears and that stub tail! That one in the tree is a raccoon, I believe: nose looks like a ‘coon’s.”
“Shove the boat along!” whispered Wash. “Get it past this tree a little. I’ll fix him” (cocking the rifle) . “Sh, Ding-bat!” for the Chinaman had begun to growl.
But there was brush under us; and, in endeavoring to push the boat ahead, it cracked slightly. Instantly the lynx faced about, and, catching sight of us, ran down the trunk, and jumped splash into the water. Wash fired: but the cat swam off; and, before we could get the boat round to give chase, it climbed out upon a fallen tree, and ran along to another and another, and thus escaped us.
That an animal of the cat kind should take to the water may seem a little singular. The Canada lynx, however, loves the water as well as a dog. They may frequently be seen swimming in the lakes, on a warm summer evening, of their own accord; and they are very rapid swimmers, too. It is not often that they can be overtaken with a boat.
Finding that the game had given us the slip, and seeing nothing more of the ‘coon, we paddled off toward a clump of hackmatacks, easily distinguished by their mosses, which hung in pale-green curtains from the bare branches, trailing down ten and fifteen feet from the point of attach ment. A great gray hornet’s nest, fully as large as one of our buckets, hung from a small limb, fairly embowered in the moss. Raed threw up a club, which, striking into the nest with a soft thud, immediately drew out an angry multitude, filling the mossy boughs with their vengeful hum. One came darting down to the boat with hostile design evidently, which he was only prevented from carrying into execution after quite a sharp skirmish with our hats. We hastily pulled out from under them.
The limb from which the nest hung was small, — not much more than an inch in diameter.
“Hold on a bit!” said Wash. “I’ll drop them off into the water.”
He fired. A splinter flew up from the limb. It jogged sharply, but was not cut enough to break off. At the report, a large whitish-gray hawk, which had been sitting unobserved on a near tree, started up, gave a few quick flaps, then sailed noiselessly off.
“A bad shot,” muttered Wash.
He put in another cartridge, and took a more careful aim. At the rifle crack the limb snapped off, and floated down with its sailing mosses. The nest touched into the water with a light pat, raising a circle of lazy ripples, over which hovered a blackening cloud of the mad insects. We sat watching them for some minutes.
“Half-past eleven,” said Raed at length. “Almost dinner-time. We will take a lunch from the basket to-day, I guess.”
“Shall we dine aboard?” asked Wade.
“I begin to feel as if I should like to get out and stretch my legs,” said Wash.
“Can’t very well get out here,” remarked Raed. “Let’s get back into the channel, and so pull up along toward the pond. We may see a landing- place.”
Making our way back into the thoroughfare, we paddled on for a mile or two till considerably past twelve, but without finding any spot fit to land on. The submerged “interval” continued on both sides of the stream. We had to lunch aboard. Fortunately grandmother had put in a bottle of cold milk, which stood us in good stead for drink; for the warm dead-water of the thoroughfare would have been utterly nauseous.
“I used to wonder why sailors need to die of thirst at sea,” said Wade, taking a tip at the bottle; “but this (with a glance at the sluggish stream) helps me to an idea.”
“Only in the case of the ocean the water holds salt and other mineral matter in solution, which render it, to a certain extent, poisonous,” Raed remarked! “while here the water is simply dirty, — laden with decayed vegetable matter.”
“I’m not sure,” said Wash, with a glance of dis gust at the purplish scum, “that this might not prove poisonous. Believe I should as lief take a drink of seawater, and risk it.”
About a mile farther on the thoroughfare opened into the second pond, — a fine roomy expanse nearly a mile wide, and stretching away to the north-east for fully four miles. We changed hands at the oars, and pulled away toward the “head.”
The pond was completely locked by forest-clad hills and mountains. On the east side the rocky face of an almost perpendicular precipice seems to overhang the water. For this reason the lumber-men call it the “overset pond.” Farther to the north-east and north the green woods enclose the sparkling waters, save at one point a little west of north, where we fancied we could detect a small clearing. A lazy blue smoke was just perceptible here, coiling faintly up, and then stretching out in a long snaky cloud on the tree-tops be hind. On examining this spot with the glass, Wash thought he could make out a log-house or shanty with a newly-shingled roof. This was quite a surprise for me; for I knew of no human habitation on the upper pond.
Directly north, the pond basin seemed to bend back from the water for several miles, the ground rising gradually to the summit of a high, crescent-shaped ridge. Prominent along this ridge were two peaks, separated by a deep gorge opening back against the sky. This gorge Raed found to be almost exactly north by the compass; and, as this was very nearly the direction we wished to take, we judged that it would be well to make directly for it on landing, in order to pass up through it into the country beyond.
On the west and north-west side of the pond was a very large, massive-looking mountain. It rose abruptly from the water, and toward the top was clad with the usual dark evergreens of this region, which render all our mountains so sombre, and wild-looking. Through the black-green shrubbery peeped out the hoary faces of gray-white ledges. Altogether the mountain has an almost fearful seeming, it is so huge, and out of proportion with the rest of the landscape. This impression was heightened as we began to get off opposite it, while yet about two miles below the head of the pond.
It was one of those still, sultry days common to the first of August. There was not breeze enough to raise a ripple. The water was like glass; and the sun shone with a sickly, headachy glare. We had stopped rowing, and lay facing the mountain, longing for its stern old shadow. While we were looking, a bright, white cloud-head poked itself up over the summit. We thought at first that it was smoke, it shot up so rapidly; but a moment later, discovered that it was a cloud. Dazzling white as a snow-drift it rose up, up, slender as a minaret. In a few minutes another showed itself farther along the mountain, then another and another; and presently a low sound, scarcely heard. Was it the suppressed hum of one of those hornets under some of our coats? or the distant drum of a partridge, indistinct and drowsy at mid-day?
“It’s thunder!” exclaimed Wash.
“Those are thunder pillars,” said Raed: “there’s a shower coming!”
“Hurry up, then!” I exclaimed. “We must pull like blazes! It will blow like great guns!”
For, knowing the rapidity with which thunder showers dash across this country, especially this most mountainous portion of it, I knew we had not a minute to lose if we got over the two miles between us and the head of the pond. It would be no joke to be caught out on the pond in it; for, if not capsized by the wind, which often blows a perfect tornado, we should have a very rough sea, besides getting thoroughly drenched. A month later we should have laughed at the idea of getting drenched; but, after a fellow has been living indoors a long time, he develops a horror of getting wet.
Wash and Raed seized the oars, and fell to tugging; while I took the steering-oar, and began to scull at the stern. On we went at a great rate, moving obliquely toward the shower, to gain the shore ere it burst over the mountain.
The great white cloud-heads were but peaks up into the sunshine from a black scowling mass which was now soaring swiftly up to the sun; and the far-cry rumble grew more distinct. Under the impulse of our united strength the boat forged ahead. I could hear the bow cut. Wade, too, had begun to paddle, using one of the thwarts. The water swirled past the stern. Altogether we left quite a foamy wake. The sudden exertion began to tell, however: I could hear Wash and Raed panting; and, by the time we had got over half a mile, they were so “blown,” that we had to stop rowing a minute to change Wade into Wash’s place and get breath.
Just then the sun was buried; the great wave of sunlight rolled back; a chilly gust shuddered in the air; the pond blackened; the sparkle and glitter of the ripples vanished. Sharp, bright flashes gleamed out from the cloud. The mountain seemed to tremble under the heavy explosions behind it. Away we sped, doing our best now. Timing my oar with theirs, the boat fairly leaped beneath our combined stroke. We were running in under shadow of the mountain, as it were, and, glancing round for a moment, I saw that we were nearing the shore along the head of the pond. The freshly-shingled roof was now distinctly visible up in the clearing above the water. But we were getting fearfully tired; blisters were rising in our hands, and our lungs ached; while far out over us hung the cloud, showing jetty depths, with misty edges of a greenish-yellow tint. Zig-zag fire-bolts darted down to the mountain-top with sharp, short crashes. I saw an old pine-stub begin to smoke white; then a red blaze burst forth against the blackening cloud behind. As yet, not a breath of wind had reached us. The pond looked like a huge pool of ink: the lightning threw swift, blood-red flushes over it.
It darkened. Night seemed falling upon the lit tle mountain-basin, — a night of blackness and flame. Still we pulled on. There came a quick, near flash. It seemed to glance from the oar-blades into our eyes. A hollow, rattling peal filled the air. The great electric battery was getting up overhead.
“These guns — puff — are liable — puff — puff — to draw it!” panted Wash.
“‘Twon’t draw — but — but fifty feet — radius!” gasped Raed.
This was scientific consolation indeed.
We were driving in upon the shore. I kept my eye on the mountain, which now towered above us. The rain-fall was just bursting over the summit with a deep, solemn roar which muffled the thunder-claps.
“Ease away!” shouted Raed.
But, despite this precaution, the boat came to the bank with a tremendous pudge into the mud, which pitched Wade out among the alders, and piled the rest of us up in the bow. We scrambled up, and, hastily chucking the buckets, kettle, and “bundle” into the boat’s cuddy, seized the hatchet and guns, and pushed through the alders into the clearing. The shanty stood up fifteen or twenty rods from the shore. Stumbling among stumps and brush, we ran along beside a smutty log-fence, which enclosed a “burnt-land” potato-patch with rank green rows, between which lay dead coals and charred fagots. Great drops began to hit down here and there. A boy — a great lump of a boy — with a stub hoe, was just climbing over the fence out of the potatoes as we came up. He had not seen us: his eyes were on the shower. “Hollo!” shouted Wash. “Hollo — hollo!” between puffs. The youngster turned, — saw us coming at him with brandished weapons! With a yell which a simultaneous crash of thunder couldn’t quite drown, he bounded from the fence, and legged it for the shanty; looked over his shoulder for an instant as he turned in; then bobbed within the door, which was instantly slammed to. A moment more, and the shower struck, — a foaming drift of rain; and not only rain, but hail, the pellets as large as hen’s eggs, striking and dancing along the ground. The dry, shingled roof of the shanty rattled like a snare-drum. We were nearly beaten down, getting some tremendous raps. A tornado of wind drove it; and, over all, the incessant flash and rattle of the thunderbolts. We turned in perforce, and ran at the door full tilt with a great rattling of hatchet and guns. It was barred. A dog barked and growled. We shouted, and knocked ponderously for admittance. The front-window went up a crack; and horrors! out came the great rusty muzzle of an old musket about a foot, and looked — big oaths! We jumped back from that door “in hot haste” to the middle of the yard, shouting and gesticulating. The shower fell in sheets, and poured a watery curtain from the eaves to the ground. The gun-barrel stuck out through it. The window, a four-pane concern, looked blank as zinc. We could see nothing of the gunner or gunners within; knew not what irresponsible idiot had hold of the trigger. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t hear, and kept the gun covering us point-blank.
All this in less than a minute; the shower in creasing, if such a cataract could increase, every second. A still wilder gust now fairly whirled me around; and I saw dimly, a couple of rods off, a cow-shed, — saw it, and made for it, followed by Raed and the two other boys. Diving in, we drew breath; then turned to look at the belligerent window. The gun had been swivelled round to bear on the shed, and had us well in range.
“Well, by Jude!” exclaimed Wash. “The inhospitable wretch!”
“Let him shoot, if he wants to!” cried Wade with eyes aflame. “We’ll try shooting!” pointing the rifle out between the slabs of the shed.
“Hold on!” exclaimed Raed: “not too fast! We scared the boy half to death. They’re afraid of us. That’s what’s the matter. Don’t you think so, Kit?”
I thought it looked more like that than any thing else.
“He no need to have been scared,” said Wash.
“Of course not!” cried Wade.
“No use to tell what he no need to be,” replied Raed. “He was scared fast enough. I don’t think he will fire on us though, if we keep back from the door. ‘Wait till the shower slacks; then we will talk with him. Better not point the rifle at him.”
The shower, indeed, had already begun to abate. It was one of those fierce, momentary gusts that soon expend their fury. The west was brightening. Five minutes later, the dark cloud-mass was rolling down the pond, with a grand bow spanning the waters. Beyond it, the angry lightning still darted in bright, glancing lines, and gruffly muttered the sullen peals. A great burst of sunshine soon set all the leaves a-glittering; and out on the edge of the clearing a woods-bird chirruped on a sudden, then thrilled all the fresh, moist air with its joyous song. The roof of the shanty steamed like a huge soup-platter; but there stuck the old musket, grim as fate. Drawing the yam mer from the shot-gun, Raed put his handkerchief on the end of it; and we crept out of the still- dripping shed to hold a parley.
“Say, you man with the gun!” Raed began, advancing a few steps with his flag of truce. “What do you mean, anyway?”
“Yes, what do you mean by pointing your beastly old musket at us in that shape?” exclaimed Wash.
No answer; no movement of any kind. “What are you afraid of?” demanded Raed.
“Are you afraid of us? We won’t hurt you.”
“All we wanted was to get in out of the shower,” said I. “Take in your gun now. We won’t molest you.”
“Come, do say something!” exclaimed Wash.
“Open your door now, like a man, and come out here where we can see you.”
“We’re only up here on a hunt, — a bear-hunt,” said Wade, by way of simplifying it to his probable ideas. “Draw in your musket, and come to the door where we can talk with you. We will give” —
Here he was interrupted by a raw, untuned voice bawling out, —
“You g’long off, ole Sesashers! — you g’long off!”
‘Twas so absurd, and withal the tone was so comically truculent, that we all burst out laughing, — all save Wade: he reddened, and began to look mad.
“Oh, we’re not ‘Sesashers’!” said Raed. “We are nothing of that sort. We’re only up here on a hunt.”
“Ye lie! ‘Tain’t the right time o’ y’ar to hunt b’ars! G’long off, er I’ll blow ye! I’ve gut six fingers in ‘ere, an’ tu slugs!”
“Well, by Jude!” cried Wash. “Did ever any body hear the like of that?”
“Let’s go for him!” exclaimed Wade. “Let’s drag him out here and thrash him!”
“Oh, nonsense!” said Raed. “We don’t want any thing of him now the shower’s over. Best way is to leave him alone — in his glory.”
“Yes, let’s leave the fool!” said Wash.
“I should like to get hold of him!” muttered Wade. “The mean skunk!”
“It is a good deal the best way to let skunks alone,” laughed Raed, putting up the unavailing flag of truce.
We went back to the boat, and, shoving off, paddled along the shore for nearly half a mile to where a large brook came in at the extreme northern end of the pond. Into the mouth of this brook we ran the boat, and, chaining it to a small black ah, put down several stakes to keep it from rubbing. This done, we got out our buckets, etc., and disembarking, entered the woods, following up the right bank of the brook. The trees still dripped, from the shower; but, as there were few bushes amid the heavy old growth, we were not much troubled by wet brush. The forest was not dense. The trees were often ten and a dozen feet apart. We could see twenty rods ahead, some times fifty. Here and there a red squirrel chirred from a pine, or ran up the roughened ash-gray bark of a rock-maple. But, aside from these merry little gamins, the old wood was profoundly still. Our voices awoke hollow echoes. It is very hard to be jocose in such a forest valley. The brook gave forth a peculiar fishy odor, and gurgled hoarsely among great bowlders overgrown with thick, dank moss. Sombre spruces, often two feet in diameter, began to show among the maples and ashes. Their trunks were studded with great bolls and knobs of gum as large as one’s fist. Some of these were clear as garnet, others black with the moss of years. We were not long providing ourselves with quids, which, under our tongues, speedily assumed that pale-purple tint so prized by all gum-chewers. Seeing a squirrel sitting convenient, Wash dropped him off with the shot-gun. Wade then offered it to Ding-bat; but the Chinaman merely sniffed the carcass, and passed it by, — not yet hungry enough to eat raw squirrel.
Thus we went on for an hour or more. The valley led up — as we had supposed — into the ravine, between the two peaks we had seen from the pond, at an incline sufficient to render the brook quite rapid and brawling. Going on, great bowlders of gneiss and mica-schist began to appear, scattered about among the trees. It was now about half-past five o’clock.
“We must be getting up near the gorge,” remarked Raed. “Is it best to push on through it?”
“I’m getting rather tired,” said Wash. “We must have come four or five miles from the pond. These buckets lug a fellow prodigiously!”
As the gorge would probably give us some pretty difficult walking, I advised to camp at the foot of it, and so take it in the morning when we were fresh.
“Be on the lookout for a good spot to camp, then,” said Raed.
A little farther on Wade pointed out a very remarkable bowlder, one of the largest we had any of us ever seen. It was on the very bank of the brook which foamed and dashed over a ledge a little above, forming quite a deep pool against the rock. Raed estimated its diameter to be fully a hundred and fifty feet. It rose sheer up from the brook for ten or twelve feet; and, on the other side, was not less than nine feet high. The top was nearly flat; and, in the lapse of centuries, a soil had collected on it, and shrubs had sprung up. There were several small poplars, and half a score of shrubby hemlocks.
“What say to that for a place to camp?” Wade asked.
It at once struck us as a very pleasant, dry, and withal a very strong position. At one of the angles there stood a scrubby spruce. By hacking off a part of the boughs, and leaving three or four as steps, we were able to mount to the top with our buckets, kettle, etc.
“Has another advantage too,” said Wade going along to the farther side. “One can stand here, and fish in the brook. Let’s try it, Wash.”
Thereupon they got out some of the small hooks, and, baiting them with bits of cold meat from the lunch-basket, dropped into the pool under the rock.
Raed and I, meanwhile, began to collect fire-wood, dry knots, and slivers from an old pine-trunk, which we split open with the hatchet. Carrying this along, and tossing it up on the rock, we soon had a fire going. I then arranged a lug- pole, over the fire, resting it into the scrubby hem locks on opposite sides of the blaze. We hung on the kettle with water, and, unpacking one of the buckets, got out a dozen of eggs, which were put on to boil.
“Now, let’s see,” said Raed. “Five minutes, isn’t it? But I suppose the old lady meant five minutes after the water had begun to boil.”
It was highly probable that such was her meaning; so we took them out to wait for the boiling of the water.
Wash and Wade were having wonderful success fishing, judging from the jerks they were making; though, come to inquire, we learned that they had only landed five. “Something was the matter with the bait.” One of the five, however, was a “walloper” in size for a brook-trout. Wade (it was his catch) declared it would weigh a pound. After a great many “bites,” two more were pulled out, — enough for breakfast, Wash thought.
All hands then stood round to assist at the making of the pudding, — the famous “hasty-pudding” that anybody could make. Some fresh water was dipped up and the kettle boiled again.
“Let’s see, now,” says Raed. “What’s the first step?”
“Why, shake in the meal,” advised Wash.
“No; hold on!” exclaimed Wade. “That’s not the first step. Something else comes first.”
After some severe thought on the part of all, Raed suddenly exclaimed, “Salt!”
Search was accordingly made for salt; and, on untying the other bucket, lo! there was one paper marked “Pepper,” and another “Salt.”
“Now, here’s a grandmother worth having!” shouted Wash.
“How much salt?” was the next question.
“Three table-spoonfuls,” replied Wash.
“Oh, ho! you’ve exposed your ignorance!” exclaimed Wade. “Three table-spoonfuls! Hear that! Make it salter than brine. Put him off the rock!”
“Some folks want their pudding salter than others,” continued Wash. “You Southerners didn’t have your victuals very salt at one time, from all accounts.”
“I’ll bet we didn’t! Afterwards we had them salter. Meanwhile, I learned about how much a table-spoonful of salt would do; and I say a tea‑ spoonful will be too much. Just a pinch will do.”
“I yield to the gentleman’s undoubted experience,” said Wash. “I’ve no doubt he’s correct on the salt question.”
A pinch was stirred in.
“Now for the meal,” said Raed. “There are only two ingredients, — salt and meal; and, as we’ve got in the salt, meal must come next.”
Raed held the bucket over the kettle; and Wash clawed out the meal, — about a quart of it.
“Now stir it quick!” cried Wade. “Where’s a spoon?”
But there was no spoon. There were salt, pep per, a tin plate, and a gill dipper, nicely packed in, but no spoons. (Grandmother had actually for gotten to put them in, — an oversight she is said to have discovered an hour after we had started, and lamented every day we were gone.)
“Well, get a stick!” shouted Raed when this lack became apparent.
A clean sliver was procured, and the stirring began.
“I can’t seem to make it mix in!” complained Wash, who was engineering the sliver.
“Let me take it!” cried Wade. “It’s of the utmost importance that it should be well stirred.”
Wade seized the splinter, and bent over the kettle. It was now boiling and blubbering at a great rate. Presently it kicked. A big bubble of hot meal and water flew up. Wade jumped back, and brushed frantically at his nose. A hot spatter had landed on that sensitive feature: several more had touched on the back of his hand.
“Gracious!” he ejaculated. “Never saw any thing so hot! Here take your old splinter! I’m going down to the brook.”
Raed took the splinter and darted up toward the now furious pudding, which kicked and puffed with amazing spitefulness.
“Needs a longer splinter,” said Wash. “Here, take this big one,” bringing a stick of the split pine, nearly three feet long.
By the use of this the pudding was stirred, till a pungent odor of burned meal warned us to catch it off. Just then, Wade came back with a very red spot on the end of his nose. While the pudding was cooling, we ate the eggs with salt and pepper from the tin plate. They were hard as shots almost. The old pitch-pine had made a ferocious fire. I then got out a cake of the maple-sugar, and breaking it up strewed it over the pudding. We formed a ring round the kettle, and, opening the large blades of our jack-knives, went in. Several mouthfuls were taken in silence.
“What do you think of it?” I asked.
“Very fair,” remarked Raed.
“But what do you call that?” demanded Wade, poking out a hard lump about the-size of a sparrow’s egg.
“It’s full of ‘ern!”
“Oh! those are nothing but blubs,” said Wash. “One ot those things what exploded against your nose!”
“Confound blubs, I say, then!” cried Wade. “Chew it up,” I suggested.
Wade did so; then hastily spit it out. “Full of dry, raw meal!” said he.
“I move we give the blubs to Ding-bat,” said Wade, throwing him one.
The Chinaman grabbed it up, chewed at it, wobbled his mouth about, gullucked once or twice, but finally got it down. After that he swallowed them at once, without chewing, like sugar-coated pills. He liked the outside best.
“The trouble came,” said Raed, “from putting in too much meal at once. Ought to be stirred in a little at a time.”
The sun had set, and twilight was deepening. However brave and courageous a fellow may feel by daylight, the coming-on of night in the forest will give him some queerish sensations at first, till it gets to be an old story. He may not be actually afraid of bears or wolves or cats; yet there is something in a darkening wood that inspires loneliness and timidity. Of course, four together would not experience this sense of solitude like one alone; yet as the shades deepened, and the various wild sounds of the wilderness began to come to our ears, I think we all felt a little strange, and were glad we had chosen the top of the rock for our camp. There was hemlock enough on the top to furnish “sapin” * for our bed. Raed hacked it off with the hatchet, while Wade and I arranged it a little back from the fire. Wade had climbed down to cut some slender poles of spotted maple for our mosquito-bar; for these torturous little pests had come buzzing around as soon as it grew dusk. They are worst in June, but generally continue to torment the tourist more or Jess until September. We therefore set up our bar directly over our sapin. All that then remained was to crawl under and go to sleep.
“Now what think, fellows,” said Raed: “shall we take turns standing guard nights? or shall we go to sleep and risk it?”
We were all sleepy; and yet it did not seem just right for all to go to sleep at once.
“What do you think, Kit?” Raed asked.
Parties of loggers, hunters, and explorers in these wilds do not generally trouble to set a watch nights. Usually, however, they build an extra fire, sometimes several, on each side of their camp, so that the blaze, as well as the odor of smoke, may frighten off any wild beast that may come round. This much I had frequently heard, and now advised that we should do the same.
“I don’t imagine there can be much danger to us up here on the rock,” remarked Raed.
“Besides, Ding-bat will keep watch, and bark if anything comes round,” added Wade.
Some brands were carried along to the lower side of the rock, and another fire started. The light shone down upon the dark rocks along the bed of the brook, and glanced from the swirling waters. A small animal, which I took to be a mink, was sitting on a bowlder under the bank, watching us. We could see the light in its small bead-like eyes. Wash stepped back to get the gun; but, as if aware of our intent, the wily little creature darted back out of sight.
The guns were freshly capped, and laid handy. We then crept under the “bar,” and, spreading our blankets over us, lay down on our green bed. It was a long time before we could get to sleep, tired as we were; our surroundings were too novel and wild: but sleep came at last, as it always does.
About midnight, though, we were awakened by an owl hooting from a near tree, — attracted by the light of our fire, probably; for the pine-knots still blazed and flickered.
“Hoot! hoot! hoooooot!” — the most dismal sound of the forest.
Wash reached out for the shot-gun, and, raising this side of the bar a little, let drive at him. The report awoke long-reverberated echoes. The ill-omened bird departed with a single flap.
It was nearly an hour ere we could again get to sleep. A raccoon was uttering his plaintive note farther up the valley: and once we heard a querulous screech off in the forest, and lay listening a long time; but it was not repeated.
Our second nap was
undisturbed till dawn.
* “Sapin,” a name given to a bed of evergreen-boughs by the Canadian voyagers.