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A Marten. — A Fine View. — The Dogger-Hut on the Pond-Shore. — Old Cluey’s Smelling-Bottle. — Fleas. — A Wooden Chimney. — “Stand from under!” — A Close Shave. — The Disappearance of the Shot-Gun. — Breaking of “the Oil-Jug.” — “Coarks air allus Handy.
AUG. 25. — To-day we shot a marten in a spruce- thicket near the summit of the range. It was a beautiful little creature, about the size of a small cat, but slimmer, and much more delicate. Its fur resembles that of a young fox, — a dusky, pale yellow. It had been chasing a red squirrel about the thicket so eagerly, that it had not noticed our approach.
Aug. 26 — The forenoon was pleasant and bright.
The view to the north-west, as we climbed to ward the summit of the ridge, was beautiful, grand, unrivalled. Chesuncook, Telos, Matagamon, Cancomgomac, — all in sight, shining like silver plates; and, exactly north-west by the com pass, the whole Allaguash chain of lakes, — Chamberlain, Woolagasquigwam, Pomgokwahem, Allaguash, — names weird with savage legends, — stretching off in a glass-bright zone over the horizon toward Quebec. A wilderness of Nature’s own planting. Almost at our feet, in the heavy growth skirting a small pond, Wash espied — something; and, on examining it with the glass, it took the shape of a logger’s hut. Even here the keen-eyed Penobscot lumber-man had penetrated; and these long taper trunks of huge spruce and symmetrical pine are floated off with the spring freshets to bear the surge of canvas in many a fast-sailing clipper clearing for Liverpool, or lift the weight of ledges in groaning derricks.
Toward noon, however, the panorama paled; the sunlight lost its zeal. A murky haze, high up in the sky, thickened and darkened, till the heavens looked wet.
“We’re going to have a storm,” said Wash as we sat eating our lunch.
“Another three-days’ soaker, I’ll bet!” exclaimed Wade. “Sky looks just as it did before that other came on a fortnight ago.”
“We must get down to camp earlier to-night,” said Raed, “to make a shelter, and prepare for it.”
“We might go to that logger’s camp,” suggested Wash.
“So we could!” exclaimed Wade.
“Perhaps,” said Raed. “We will see what Cluey says.”
About three o’clock we went down to our camping-place. The sky was now thoroughly overcast and lowering. Loons, with their wild, troubled note, were flying in twos and threes from the smaller ponds above off toward the broad sheet of Chesuncook. Crows were hawing along the range, and wheeling about a ledgy peak high over our camp. Tree-toads called to each other from bush to bush. Mosquitoes came out, and hummed with wonderful distinctness. Cluey, too, had “felt it in his bones,” as he used to say, and was busy building a shed of bark and hemlock, stop ping momentarily to “brash a skeeter.” Raed told him of the shanty we had discovered down in the pond-shore, and asked if we had not better move our camp there during the coming storm.
“Wal,” said the old man, “if the ruff’s tight, ‘twouldn’t be a bard plan, sartin.”
As there were no means of finding out whether the roof was tight or not save by making an examination, we packed up, and set off.
It was farther down to the pond than we expected; in fact, it could not have been less than three or four miles. But we came out on the shore at last, and made our way along to the shanty about a quarter of a mile from where we struck the water. It was a rough log structure, eighteen feet by twenty, or thereabouts, with a stone fire place, and a very novel chimney; it being nothing less than a hollow log set up endwise on the top of the fire-place. How the occupants had ever been able to run such a chimney without its taking fire was not so clear! at least, we found considerable difficulty in doing so. Perhaps the original tenants had used it while it was green. The roof was thatched with hemlock-boughs, now pretty well dried up and “shed off;” but beneath the thatch there were shingles of hemlock-bark in broad cuts, overlapping each other. These had been held in place, and prevented from curling up, by laying on large flat stones from the pond- shore.
“Gass it’ll tarn water,” said Cluey, inspecting it with an experienced eye. “May drop through a leettle in spots; but that’s no great conserquance. We’ll try it. Now let’s spunk round an’ git in a lort o’ wood afore the rain comes on.”
There were plenty of chips, limbs, and other dry stuff, lying about. In ten or fifteen minutes we had in enough to last a week. For water we had only to go to the pond. Raed and I kindled a fire, while Cluey and the other boys went to cut sapin for bedding.
By dusk we had made ourselves quite comfort able, and sat down to a supper of fried meat and hasty-pudding, with sugar and coffee. But out chimney kept us in a state of continual jeopardy. The lower end persisted in taking fire every few minutes, requiring a constant use of the gill dipper and water-bucket to ward off a general conflagration. In my humble opinion, the man who puts up a wooden chimney does a very foolish thing. In one of these “fire-alarms,” Wash, while turning water on the back-side, discovered a sort of cranny, or cupboard, between the back of the fire-place and the wall of the hut. It was partially covered over, and barricaded with chunks of wood. On removing these, however, Wash handed out, one after the other, an old spider, a tin baker of the old style, a rusty kettle, a battered coffee-pot, several pewter spoons, a broken butcher-knife, and, finally, a huge stone jug, holding at least four gallons. Cluey had sat watching the taking-out of the articles rather indifferently; but, at the sight of the jug, his countenance suddenly brightened. He leaned for ward from the log, on which he sat smoking, with a wistful look that was not to be mistaken. In fact, the old jug, like a toper’s nose, had whiskey standing out all over it.
“Oil-jug, I guess,” said Raed, with a wink to the rest of us.
“That’s plain enough,” replied Wash, shaking it.
But no delicious swish-swash resounded from within. Cluey’s countenance fell. Wash set down the jug to rummage farther. There was nothing more, however. Just then, the chimney took fire again. While we were putting it out, I saw Cluey sidle along on the log to where the jug sat, and presently heard a hollow plung, which followed the removal of the big cork. The fire had got considerable hold; and Wash threw on water so plentifully, that, in extinguishing the chimney, he entirely put out the fire below; and, as we had no candle, we were left in great darkness. It was some minutes before another blaze could be coaxed. Several times, while we were breaking up splinters and scraping matches, I had seemed to hear profound sniffs, which echoed from the bottom of the jug, and, taking advantage of the first gleam of light, glanced curiously toward it, just in time to see Cluey’s nose take a lingering leave of the jug-nozzle. Before the fire had fairly blazed, however, he had replaced the cork dexterous as a juggler, and sidled back to his former position. Nothing was said. If the other fellows had noticed it, they kept quiet. After what Raed had said at the time we found the body in the West Branch (for he had intimated that liquor might have had something to do with it), the old man had always expressed himself in favor of strict temperance in the matter of intoxicants: indeed, I do not think he mistrusted that we suspected him of any undue fondness for the bottle.
The loons from out on the pond soloed us to sleep on our bed of boughs. But, before midnight, we were all broad awake, fighting fleas. The old hut proved fairly alive with them. I had noticed a sharp bite just ere going to sleep, but supposed it to be a wood-tick. They had not immediately commenced operations: the green boughs had perhaps kept them down for a while. I was awakened by a general stir and conflict, and found Wash and Wade cracking away right and left. Cluey was still asleep: so was Raed; though he waked a moment later. Ding-bat was grabbing and champing, first at one side of his back, then on the other. The sharp-biting little vermin were jumping about, hungry as Turks at the close of the Ramadan. The shanty would seem to have been empty for some years. They had had ample time to get up an appetite. And here I would venture to give a word of caution to any party of tourists who may stray into these regions: Beware of these old loggers’ huts: they are almost always fleay.
Cluey presently roused up, growled a little, and tracked once or twice in a highly scientific manner; but he soon rolled over and fell asleep again. I do not think the fleas bit him, save occasionally from mistake; but they went for us with a relish. After making as good a fight as possible for half an hour, Wade got up and built a fire. There was some queer talk, I remember, as we sat there on the boughs, watching with upraised palms.
It had begun to rain; and, as Cluey had predicted, the water dripped through the roof in several places. One of these began directly over the old man’s upturned countenance, patting leisurely into his face for some minutes ere he deemed it of sufficient consequence to rouse up and turn over. Altogether, we passed a wretched night; for it was not till toward daybreak that we grew recklessly weary enough to go to sleep and “let ‘em bite.”
Cluey was busily getting breakfast when I finally woke, with the dull light of a rainy morning falling in at the open door. He had a good fire built, with the meat frying, coffee boiling, and the gill dipper set ready to put out the chimney. The great stone jug still sat by the log. Cluey had been turning the meat. Finishing this necessary operation, he glanced furtively toward where we lay. Wash and Raed and Wade were still snoring. I perfidiously closed my eyes; till, hearing the same cavernous plung, I ventured to unclose them a crack. Cluey was bending affectionately over the jug, holding the big cork in one hand, and sniffing lovingly, his hairy old nostril well down into the great nose. I suppose it smelled good. He continued sniffing deeply for some seconds; till, chancing to glance around, and detecting my amused eye full upon him, he jumped up, looking very silly.
“Curi’s wot this ‘ere’s ‘ad in’t,” he stammered. “B’ar’s-ile, I reckon,” hastily replacing the cork, and turning to shake the coffee-pot.
This struck me as a rather good thing from the old man: so after breakfast, taking advantage of his being out, I told the boys of it.
“Keep it up!” exclaimed Wash. “Make him think we think it’s an oil-jug. See what he will do.”
And ever after that — during the three rainy days that succeeded — we always spoke of it as the “oil-jug;” neither by word nor wink allowing a suspicion to arise with Cluey that we mis trusted his secret. In fact, keeping up this little deception, and watching the old fellow at his stolen sniffs when he thought our backs were turned, coupled with the pleasing employment of fighting fleas, and putting out the chimney every few hours, was about all the “excitement” we had from the 26th to the 29th. A “rainy spell” in town is dreary; but ten times drearier is a rainy spell in the woods.
We were glad to see the sunlight once more sparkling on the little wooded pond; and, during the afternoon of the 29th, prepared to retrace our steps to our former camping-place, preferring to endure out-door dampness to again braving the fleas. We had each taken up our parts of the luggage, and were standing in front of the shanty, waiting for Cluey. But somehow it seemed to take the old man a good while to adjust his pack. It then occurred to us that he might possibly wish to take a parting sniff at the old jug. With a wink to the rest of us, Raed started off; and we followed leisurely, looking back from time to time. Presently Cluey came out with his pack of meal and meat on his bended shoulders, and (we could scarcely refrain from shouting) the old stone jug in his hand. Whether he had meant to take the jug away with him all along, or had at the very last moment found it impossible to separate from it, I am wholly unable to guess.
Turning to conceal our glee, we went on for some minutes ere allowing him to come up; which, indeed, he seemed in no great hurry to do. Presently, however, Raed looked around, and, as if greatly astonished, exclaimed, —
“Hollo, Cluey! what in the world are you going to do with that old oil-jug?”
“I’ve ben a-thinkin’,” said Cluey, and now doing his very poor best to play the arch hypocrite, — “I’ve ben a thinkin’ as ‘ow I’d best take it along with us to keep our water in. Best thing in the world to keep water in, these ere stun jugs. Keeps it ser cool! Ye know, it will get warm in the buckit, — dirt gets in’t; tastes narsty, sickish.
I ken rense the ile out o’ this ere, an’ so keep our water in’t, — all stopped up, an’ clean as er whistle.”
It would have been a sin not to accept so entirely reasonable an explanation.
“A good idea!” said Wash.
“Just the thing!” exclaimed Wade.
“The only objection to it is, the jug isn’t ours,” said Raed.
“Wal,” replied the old man, closing brazenly up now, “I’ve considered that ere thing: that’s what I’s stopping to do. I considered it like this: To be sure, this ‘ere jug ain’t ourn; but, as it ain’t likely it ever’ll be called fer at that ar desurted shanty, I’ve made bold ter take it along.”
This was not very conclusive. We did not deem the matter of sufficient consequence, however, to object.
Getting back to our old camp, we got supper, and put up a half-shelter of boughs; for the evening was rather damp and chilly. A flock of Canada partridges came whirring up from the hollow, startled by some prowling raccoon or fox. Two of them alighted in the top of a birch five or six rods up the side of the ridge; and Wash was so fortunate as to bring them both down at one shot. Last-spring chicks they were, but plump, and nearly full-grown. Their plumage was consider ably darker than that of our common birch partridges. Cluey dressed them, and put them in the kettle to parboil for next day.
If ever the old man made a perfectly bizarre picture, it was while sitting on a log that evening, smoking, with the great jug standing about a yard beyond him.
“Have you rinsed the oil out of the old jug yet?” Raed asked.
“I declar’ for’t,” exclaimed Cluey, “of that ar’ didn’t slip my mind! Ben ser bizzy all the evenin’, I naver thought on’t. Gass I’ll go right an’ du it now;” taking out his pipe, and starting down toward the spring with the jug.
He was gone some time; but by and by came back, bringing the jug, — rinsed and full of water, it was to be supposed. Wade, if none of the rest of us, had his doubts, however; and the next morning, while Cluey was out gathering firewood, he took the opportunity to uncork it.
“Not a drop of water in it,” he whispered to me. “Smells strong enough of whiskey to knock you down! He never rinsed it! Couldn’t hire him to!”
Wash was for pestering the old man a little about it; but Raed thought the best way would be to never take any further notice of the jug, but let him enjoy it all he could. It would only hurt his feelings, he argued, and perhaps injure his good-will toward us.
Aug. 30. — This evening we moved camp about a mile along the range towards the west, halting just at dusk in a growth of aspen, at the foot of a crag nearly or quite a hundred feet in height. There had seemingly been an avalanche or slide down the ridge above this precipice; for a vast rick of stones, earth, and dead, dry spruces torn out by the roots, had slid over the crag like snow from the eaves of a house, and lay piled in a. heap at the bottom. Quantities, too, of the branches, and whole trees even, were lodged or clinging among the rocks high up toward the top.
We built our camp-fire of the dry stuff at the bottom, and Cluey prepared supper as usual. While we were eating, the fire caught among the rick of spruces, and, running along the rocks, was soon blazing at a great rate. We made no effort to put it out. It seemed of no great consequence; not so much as the supper, at least. Presently the blaze caught up into some of the rubbish among the rocks along the face of the crag; and this, burning, carried the fire up higher, till, in less than half an hour, the whole side of the precipice was ablaze. We were glad to step back among the aspen to avoid the heat and cinders that kept falling down. It burned for nearly an hour; then gradually went out. We went back, and, collecting more wood, rekindled our fire for the night. Raed then took the hatchet, and started off to cut sapin boughs. He soon came in with a big armful.
“Just come out here with me, fellows,” he said. “See what you think of this.”
We followed him back to the clump of hemlocks where he had been hacking.
“There!” said he, turning to face the crag: “what do you make of that?”
Beyond the top of the crag, a pale, faint belt of light glimmered against the darkened sky. It looked, for all the world, like daybreak.
“It’s the moon rising,” said Wash.
“No; can’t be,” said Cluey, who always kept posted on the moon.
“Then it must be fire,” remarked Wade. “Possible that is caused by our fire?”
“That’s what I think,” said Raed. “I think that our fire here has run up beyond the top of the crag, and is extending off toward the summit of the ridge. The whole track of the slide above the crag is probably strewn with dry spruces; and that’s What’s burning, and shining up on the sky.”
“Duz luke like that,” said Cluey.
“Hope it won’t kindle a great fire,” remarked Wash.
“I am not sure we ought not to make an effort to stop it,” said Raed.
“It may burn over the top o’ the mountain,” replied Cluey; “but I don’t think as ‘ow it’ll spread inter the timber-land much. No great matter ef it do burn up tham black spruces an’ fars. Wuthlis stuff, the whole on’t.”
Adopting Cluey’s view, we sprigged off more hemlock, and went back. There were no mosquitoes that night. We spread out our blankets on the hemlock, and lay down in peace. I had nearly gone to sleep, when a low jarring noise as of distant thunder aroused me. It seemed to come from the ground beneath my ear. In a moment it was followed by another heavy earth-thump. This time I distinctly felt the earth tremble.
“What was that?” demanded Wade, starting up a little.
Ere the words were out, a long, rumbling sound began, interrupted by bursts of thunder, like the sudden explosion of heavy blasts of powder. We all bounded to our feet. The noise clearly came from the crag. I thought it was bursting asunder.
“It’s an earthquake!” exclaimed Wash.
The earth was indeed quaking; but the strange, grinding, bumping noise seemed to come from over the brow of the precipice. It came nearer, louder. A dozen thunder-peals all jangling at once could scarcely have made a greater racket. The very air seemed to rumble and roar. We stood still, not knowing what to do, nor where to betake ourselves.
“Look out!” shouted Raed suddenly. “Jump!! Get from under!”
I had an indistinct glimpse of something huge, roaring, crashing, plunging down from the lofty brow of the crag. Cluey uttered a tremendous whoop. We all sprang away like cats; but, ere we had got a rod, a heavy thud into the earth sounded from behind. The ground shook. A shower of dirt and stones flew against us. One big sod sent Wash sprawling forward on his hands and knees. But the noise had ceased. We turned to see what had happened.
Where our camp-fire had been there was now a great fragment of rock as large — I was about to say — as an average-sized village lawyer’s office. Without exaggeration, I think it would have weighed a hundred tons.
“Loddy mighty!” cried Cluey. “Show!”
“By Jude!” exclaimed Wash, picking himself up, and rubbing his knees, with a casual glance round to his dirty back, “that’s a sockdolager! Should like to know what that big soft thing was that hit me in the back,” feeling carefully round.
“You need to be mighty thankful it was soft!” exclaimed Raed. “It’s more than ordinary luck that we weren’t mashed, the whole of us.”
“That ar’s so, sartin!” said Cluey. “Whar, fer massy sake, did that ar come frum?”
“That’s one of your big meteors, Wash!” cried Wade. “Struck on the mountain, and rolled down.”
“Oh, hush! Here, brush my back. I’m all dirt”
“Wal,” said Cluey, recovering gradually from his amazement, “our fire’s under that ar big stun.”
“I’m afraid that is not the only thing that is under it,” said Raed. “Where are the buckets?”
“Here’s one of them rolling round out here,” replied Wade.
“Here’s one of the blankets, the one we had over us when we jumped up,” said I
“But the guns!” exclaimed Wash. “Where are they?”
“Let’s build a fire first,” said Raed, “so we can see; then look for the things.”
Cluey gathered some loose stuff, and, striking a match, started a blaze. The other bucket was then discovered, partly overset, and half buried in dirt; also the kettle ditto. The hatchet had been left sticking in a sapling: that was all safe. So, too, was the rifle, standing against another.
“I don’t see any thing of the shot-gun,” Wash observed.
Raed thought he had set it against the rocks, behind the fire, up next the crag. We dug over the loose earth which had been thrown up about the rock, and even dug under the edge of the rock, but could find no trace of it.
“Well, it will lie under there safe for the next ten thousand years,” said Wade.
“Some future race may exhume it as an interesting relic,” Raed remarked.
“Brava, Kit!” exclaimed Wash. “Your name is on the lock-plate! There’s a chance of your descending to posterity, — about your only one,” he maliciously added.
“That’s all, then,” said Raed, — “the shot-gun and one of the blankets. The rest of the things are all safe. Lucky to get off so easy, I say.”*
But we noticed that Cluey was still poking about, though he had just expressed an opinion that it was no use to look farther for the gun.
“What is it, Cluey?” Wash asked. “Anything else gone?”
The old man didn’t seem to make much answer, but continued scuffing over the dirt. Presently he picked up something. Feeling naturally curious to see what it was, we stepped along. ‘Twas a part of the neck and the nozzle of the old stone jug, with the cork still sticking in it! We all grinned hard at that. Cluey was gazing at it with homely ruefulness.
“The oil-jug, as I’m a sinner!” exclaimed Wash.
“Too bad!” groaned Wade.
“Don’t see what we’re going to keep our water in now!” lamented Raed.
And the joke of it all was, the old man didn’t see the point even then. He took out the big cork, and smelled of it incidentally.
“Coarks air allus handy,” said he. “Gass I’ll keep this ‘ere,” tucking it into his waistcoat- pocket, where we could see it bulging out during all the remainder of our acquaintance with him.
In the morning we went around and up to the brow of the crag. The rock which had fallen over into our camp had lain about a hundred and fifty yards up the slide from the brink of the crag. The traces where it had rolled down were plainly visible, as were also the coals and ashes of the fire about it. The rock seemed to have rested partially on some of the dry spruces which the fire burned away._______________________
*Just as we were going off next morning, Wade had the good fortune to espy the shot-gun among and under a clump of brakes, some ten or a dozen yards from where Raed had set it.