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A Caribou. — Awful Sick, but not unto Death. — The Deceitful Nymph among the Sumachs.
AUG. 20. — While we were up at the ledges this forenoon, Cluey went out hunting, and was lucky enough to shoot a fine doe-caribou on the shore of one of the little ponds below us. It was too heavy for him to bring into camp alone; yet he was so anxious for us to see it whole, that he had not cut it up, but left it where he had shot it.
In the afternoon we went down with him to see it and help bring it up.
It was of a pale fawn-color, and would have weighed two hundred and fifty pounds, we thought. Cluey pronounced it fat.
After we had looked it over, he had us help him hang it up to a birch; when he stripped off the skin, and cut it into quarters, which we carried up to the camp.
That night we had caribou-steaks fried in our flat kettle.
Wash pronounced it much like veal. Raed thought it much more like mutton.
Aug. 22. — This afternoon we moved our camp along the foot of the mountain-ridge about three miles to a point near the base of a precipitous spur jutting out from the main ridge. This spur Raed intended to examine thoroughly, in view of its prominent position on the ridge, and also from the number and size of its exposed ledges and crags.
A cluster of second-growth oaks near the foot of the spur offered a tolerable situation for our camp; though this particular site was chosen more especially from the presence of a remarkably fine spring in a clump of sumach-shrubs a few rods below the oaks. It was sunset before we had our lug-pole up, fire built, and wood gathered.
“Some on ye git a bucket o’ water,” said Cluey; and I had taken one of the cedars and run down to the spring.
The water gushed up from a circular pool two or three feet deep, and as large round as the top of a hogshead, in volume sufficient to form quite a sizable rill. Indeed, the entire pool throbbed like a boiling pot, so profuse was the gush. But what struck me as more peculiar was the vast number of bubbles which rose from the bottom in perfect swarms, each pure, bright, white, and sparkling like diamonds as they wabbled upward from the black mud, and reached the surface with a simultaneous put-put-put-put put. I thought it about the liveliest, friskiest spring I had ever got acquainted with. Its waters had a certain nerve, elasticity, and frolic, to them, that was quite enchanting. In short, it was a most bewitching spring; and I stood listening to the jabber of its merry bubbles, till Cluey shouted, —
“Whar’n thunder hey ye gone with that ar bucket?”
Hurriedly dipping up what I could carry, I went hastily back.
Cluey then made coffee, and the usual pudding to go with our roast meat.
After supper the old man was telling us of some very remarkable doings, which no one could ever account for, that occurred at a logging-camp where he was at work one winter when he was a young man, — something of that sort. I did not pay very good attention. I did not feel just right. My throat would keep swallowing of its own accord. I thought I was thirsty, and drank several times from the bucket; but that did not seem to satisfy me. My head began to ache. I felt afraid I was going to be sick, and presently awoke to the fact that I was sick — to my stomach. There was a fearful burning behind my eye-balls, which seemed to tighten in their sockets. I looked anxiously around to test them. Raed was watching me; and I noticed that he was very pale. Wade, who lay stretched on the ground, had turned over on his face. Cluey went on narrating. All at once Wash got up, made a bogus attempt to whistle a bar of “Capt. Jenks,” then strolled off. A moment later we heard him “throwing up Jonah” at a great rate, though in a suppressed tone. He had probably intended to get farther off; but his distressed stomach had got the better of him while yet within six or eight rods. Cluey stopped — to listen.
“Show!” he exclaimed: “puking’, ain’t he?” Then, listening attentively while Wash’s “ur-r-r-r-ps” came thick and fast, “That’s pukin’, sartin’s ye live. Poor boy! Declar’ for’t! — why, I feel squawmish myself!”
I presume the old leather-stomach would have gone on with his yarn, and never found it out, if he had not been interrupted. By this time I had grown so sick, that I fairly shuddered all over. Raed was eying me.
“You are sick too,” he said.
“Sicker than a horse!” I groaned.
“I pity you if you feel worse than I do,” he replied. “I wonder how it is with Wade. Wade, look up here!”
Wade, thus adjured, turned up a very white face, and smiled a “ghastly smile.”
“I think I’ll go and find Wash,” said he, getting up dizzily like a man with several extra bricks in his hat.
“I’m afraid I shall have to help you find him,” said Raed.
“I know just where he is!” exclaimed I, staggering after them.
We all started to find Wash. Cluey sat tasting hard to keep down the woodchuck, and staring doubtfully after us.
“Show!” I heard him mutter. “Now, this ere’s cur’us!”
Reader, with your merciful permission, I will draw a veil over the events of the next fifteen minutes. We found Wash.
Some half an hour afterwards, four very haggard youngsters might have been seen straggling giddily in from as many different directions. Cluey still sat tasting. But, as may readily be inferred, we were in no humor to enjoy a joke. Faint, and utterly exhausted, we spread out the blankets with shaking hands, and threw ourselves down on them. For an hour or two my head throbbed dreadfully, till it throbbed itself to sleep.
When I awoke, it was day again. Cluey still sat on the stone where I had last seen him; but he had stopped tasting, and had in a chew of tobacco. I argued from this that he had probably not sat there all night. He was rolling the quid, and looking at us with much solicitude. Wash and Raed and Wade lay sprawled out, breathing heavily. It was really startling to see how shrunken and cadaverous their visages had be come. It doesn’t take long with some diseases to make a fellow look corpsey.
But they were now profoundly asleep. Cluey probably knew that sleep was the medicine we most needed; and, so long as we slept, he had forborne to waken us. But, seeing me rouse up, he at once shifted the quid, and, coming along with commiseration written in every lineament of his tough old countenance, reached down a fatherly hand to help me up. I got up, feeling decidedly old.
“I dunno — I dunno ‘ow ter ‘count for’t!” exclaimed the old man, leading me along like a young colt to a seat on the stone near the fire; for the morning was a little damp. “I’m onsartin whuther ter git brakfust or not. This ere attackt” (Cluey meant to put it mild) “must ‘a’ ben fetched on by suthin you’ve eat or drunk. Must ‘a’ ben so; fer we’s all attackted ter wunst. I didn’t say much. I didn’t hey it nothin’ ter what you yonkers did; but I did feel pooty squawmish fer an hour or tu. An’ I can’t seem ter ‘count for’t,” continued the old fellow, looking very puzzled indeed. “The pervizhuns is jest wot we ben eatin’ for a week back. I don’t think the meat’s hurt. I smelt on’t: smells sweet enough.”
I sat hearing all this in a very hazy, headachy mood, with what seemed a double-sized, super- sucked, Torricellian vacuum in the place of a stomach. I looked round for the water-bucket; when suddenly it flashed into my mind about the friskiness of the spring, and the rather flat taste of the sparkling water. In an instant — so curiously does a person’s internal condition influence his mind — I seemed to loathe it as if it had been some squaw-chewed pulque.
“It’s the water!” I exclaimed.
“Wal, I shouldn’t wonder much ef it war,” said Cluey with the air of a man suddenly convinced of a thing.
“I know it!” said I, getting up. “Just you come down here and look at it!”
We went down through the sumachs to where the rollicking quack of a fountain still sparkled and effervesced. Cluey squatted to examine it, bending over the pool with a very sinister expression; and, as if mocking his scrutiny, the facetious spring cast up hideous, distorted caricatures of his own homely face. Paying no attention to these insults, however, the old man broke a sumach-stalk, and, thrusting it down deep into the bottom, proceeded to stir it up. A great discharge of indignant bubbles followed this rude treatment; and I immediately perceived a faint acrid odor. Volumes of black mud gushed up. The spring scowled darkly.
“It’s sum sort o’ pizen garse,” remarked Cluey, still prodding, “frum way down in the bowels of the ‘arth. Narsty stuff! Glad I didn’t make ony more coffee out on’t. I du s’pose,” continued he reflectively, “that, ef they ‘ad this ‘ere at Saratogy or Newput, ‘twould be wuth a small forchewn. ‘Ow tham city folks ‘ud swizzle it down, an’ swing thar canes over it, sip it, an’ hang round it, jest like a parcel of horned critters will whar ye’ve turned down a lot uv salt pot licker! Need suthin o’ this sort ter reckterfy ‘em, I s’pose.”
Raed and Wade and Wash came trailing down where we were, looking very wretched, and, withal, a little sheepish. They gazed apathetically at the recusant spring; and the spring seemed instantly to clear itself to mimic their woe-begone faces, tossing off glittering bubbles, like so many jokes, at their demoralized condition. I told them our suspicions.
“A deceitful nymph!” said Wash in weakened accents, looking round as if for a place to sit down.
“Wal, wal, boys,” said Cluey compassionately, “this ere’s tu bad! But don’t drink no more on’t. Go right back ter the fire. I’ll take the buckit an’ go find anuther spring, an’ make ye sum coffee jest as quick as I ken.”
We walked back and sat down, gaping miser ably. In ten minutes Cluey came in with water from a new spring about a hundred rods farther on. Coffee was soon made. It refreshed us considerably; and breakfast, about an hour later, made us unite ourselves again.
We did not climb the spur, however, that morning: Raed thought we had best take the day to recuperate. Toward night we moved camp along to the other spring, and took up our temporary abode beneath a great white pine, and in the lee of a large bowlder of mica-schist.
We had nothing further to do with the deceitful nymph among the sumachs.
As we had no means of testing the water analytically, I can give the reader no chemical state ment regarding it, further than in its effect on our stomachs. I noticed that the bits of stick and twigs in the rill below were slightly coated with a fine white grit.