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Out of Coffee. — Cluey goes on a Long Tramp. — A Dismal Cry. — A Midnight Prowler. — The death of Ding-bat.
SEPT. 5 — This morning we used the last of our coffee; and even that was taken sugarless, the sugar — what remained after the accident to the bucket among the rocks of the “slide” — having given out the preceding day.
Affairs looked dubious. We had not yet found the slightest indication of lead. I am afraid, that, if the future of the expedition had been up for decision by a pro and con vote that morning, there would have been four votes out of five, or, including Ding-bat, five out of six, in favor of making a bee-line for the East Branch, and thence down to Mattawamkeag. But Raed would not even notice, much less consider, this state of feeling among the rest of us.
“Raed,” said Wade, “the coffee’s followed the sugar. The sugar went up yesterday.”
“Coffee gone?” said Raed.
“Coffee an’ sugar ar’ both gone,” replied Cluey.
We were all looking at Raed, thinking that now, at least, he would have to give in, and allow a re treat. He seemed to reflect a moment; then, turning to Cluey, he asked him pleasantly how far he supposed it was out to the little settlement at the head of Lake Chesuncook, — the same we had seen while on the summit of Katahdin.
“Wal, it must be nigh on ter twenty-five mile,” replied Cluey.
“There are, as I understand it, no impassable streams between here and there,” said Raed.
“Nothin’ bigger’n the Sourdnahunk. Any one can wade across that this time o’ year; wade it, or jump across on the rocks.”
“And this ‘head of Chesuncook’ is, I believe you told me, a sort of supply dépôt for the lumbering camps, is it not?” continued Raed.
“Wal, the lumberin’ companies most allers have stuff on hand thar, I b’l’eve.”
“Mr. Robbins,” Raed began, speaking in a grave, business-like tone. “I am obliged to ask you to make a trip out there in behalf of the party.”
Cluey looked a little blank at that.
“I presume you did not expect to be asked to take so long a tramp when you engaged with us. Indeed, I am sorry to ask you: if it could possibly be helped, I wouldn’t ask you. But it can’t be helped,” added Raed, with considerable emphasis on the negative. “However, in addition to your regular pay of two dollars per day, I will give you five dollars extra for this trip, out of my own pocket.”
Cluey’s chin rose just a little at this last offer; for though far from being of a mercenary disposition, yet I suppose he thought, that, if he must go, the extra fiver would help it a little.
“Wal,” said he, “ef it’s nacessary, I’ll go. Yer a pooty true-blue yonker. I’d take yer head-work quicker’n I wud the most uv older men’s, an’ resk it.”
“Thank you for the compliment,” said Raed. “I think you had best start this morning.”
“Yas; but I can’t make the trip in one day”
“Of course not; but I would like to have you back by to-morrow night.”
“That I ken do easy anough.”
“Here are five dollars to buy coffee and sugar with, and a pound of tea if you can find it. I will pay you your extra five now if you want it,” continued Raed. “But perhaps it will be as well not to take it out there with you. For look here, Cluey” (speaking low): “excuse me if I am impudent; but I would not invest in any liquids; might interfere with your wading across the Sourdnahunk, or possibly mix up the points of the compass. I’m a temperance man, you know “(giving the old man a slap on the back). “Better give me your word not to indulge while you are out there.”
Cluey had begun to look very foolish.
“Wal, I declar’ for’t!” he exclaimed; “yer a cur’us boy! I did think likely I might jest rense the dust out o’ my throat.”
“Do it with water,” urged Raed, smiling.
“Wal, I declar’! I dunno: so I will. Here’s my hand on’t.”
‘Twas a funny sight to see them shaking hands; though the rest of us were not supposed to have heard the compact.
The simple but good-hearted old man set off, and was soon out of sight, going along the foot of the ridge to the westward.
That day we again ascended to the summit of the range, carefully examining all the ledges and crags along a belt or strip about forty rods wide in going up, and a similar strip coming down in the afternoon. There was plenty of iron pyrites, quartz-crystals, mica, garnets, etc., and even iron ore in small quantities, but no lead: indeed, it is about the last place I should now think of searching for lead ore. But at that time we did not understand the subject nearly so well. Like De Soto, we were hunting down a legend.
Getting down to camp tired enough too, we missed the hot coffee and smoking supper Cluey was wont to have ready for us. It took fully an hour to prepare a meal; and, although Raed did his best at broiling the meat, it somehow lacked the flavor of Cluey’s handiwork. The absence of coffee, too, was a severe privation; how severe, none save those who have encountered the rough life of a jaunt in the wilderness can know. It made us gloomy. The sky, too, was gloomy; the woods were gloomier; and gloomiest of all was the ever-deepening shadow of ill success which had hung over us for the past month.
Raed told us of Dr. Kane (a favorite hero of his), and then tried to get up a debate on the chances of the north pole being reached within the next ten years: but it failed miserably, — all for the want of a little coffee, I honestly believe; though it seems Whimsical enough to say so. But coffee (as well as some other more objectionable. articles) is a great promoter of cheeriness. No: voyagers into the wild woods should go without it, in my humble opinion. It is truly a wonderful antidote for that strange, depressing effect which the wilderness always exerts, even on persons of the most buoyant disposition.
We lay down silent, dreary, and homesick; and, as if to add dismal to dismals, a wolf began to howl over on the ridge beyond the ravine below us. Not that this was the first time we had heard it; but somehow to-night it was ten times more lonely and hideous.
All the wretchedness, starving misery, and gaunt savagery, of earth’s primal ages of ancient barbarism seemed to echo to this hated note. Raed got up to build a couple of extra fires off on either side of where we lay. We were not much afraid of the wolf. Cluey had said that there was little chance of a pack collecting at this season. This was a mere cowardly straggler.
After starting the fires, Raed came back and lay down again. Ding-bat sat at our feet, looking gravely off.
“Keep watch, sir,” said Wade, rising up to pat him, “keep watch, and tell us if the wolf comes round.”
We went to sleep soon afterward.
Ding-bat kept watch probably for an hour or two. Later we were awakened by his barking violently. Rousing up, I saw him standing near one of the fires which Raed had kindled, laying down the rules to something with ears erect, and a particularly savage curl on his tail.
About three rods from where he stood, Olney had hung up a quarter of the smoked moose-meat in a small oak; suspending it from a limb up eight or nine feet from the ground to keep it out of the way of the foxes that used to come round the camp nearly every night, attracted by the smell of the meat. The little picked-nosed fellows would sly up, and stand sniffing at us out of the dark ness at a distance of four or five rods; till, seeing some suspicious motion, they would dart off. A moment later we would hear their sharp cur-like bark, or perhaps catch another glimpse of the same one round on the other side. Very curious the little rogues appeared, especially where fresh meat was concerned; and, what at first seemed to us quite singular, they appeared to pay very little attention to Ding-bat, not having the hereditary fear of the hound which characterizes our cleared-land foxes.
Ding-bat was facing the meat. Every bark was a growl, and every growl was a bark.
“What does he see, I wonder?” demanded Wash, in a whisper.
“Nothing but a fox, I guess,” said I.
Just then we heard a movement out under the oak, as if the fox had jumped up to grab at the meat.
“It’s a fox,” I continued, “trying to reach that meat.”
I had entirely forgotten about the wolf; so had the other boys, I think.
“Take him, Ding-bat!” exclaimed Wade. “S-st! take him!”
The dog looked round to us.
“Take him!” cried Wash. “What you waiting for? Take him! Drive him off!”
Thus bidden, the Chinaman made a gallant rush. Instantly from out the obscurity there came a noise as of a sudden clinch, a suppressed bark and a growl, followed immediately by a sharp cry from the dog. We sprang up, knowing too well now that it was no fox.
“Get the rifle!” shouted Raed.
Wash had it already. Wade caught up the hatchet, and we all ran to the rescue. A large gray beast was struggling with Ding-bat; both rolling and writhing among the dry leaves, making a frightful outcry. Wash presented the gun within a yard of the creature’s neck and shoulder, and fired; Raed struck it at nearly the same instant with a long stick of firewood; and Wade dealt it a cut on the head with the hatchet. But the beast tore away, and ran howling off, despite these wounds. We chased after it for several rods, but immediately lost sight of it in the brush and darkness.
“It’s the wolf!” exclaimed Raed, panting.
None of us had ever seen a gray wolf alive; yet there could be no doubt about it. We could hear it howling, too, as it coursed away down the valley, — howling for pain. After standing some minutes to listen, we turned back.
“Where did Ding-bat go to?” said Wash.
“I’m afraid the wolf hurt him pretty bad,” re marked Raed.
“There he is,” said Wade, “crouching under the tree there, watching the meat. — Come here, poor fellow!”
The dog did not get up, but sat looking to ward us; and, on stooping over him, we could hear a distressful, wheezing sound every time he breathed.
“He is hurt!” exclaimed Wash; “hurt bad!”
We took him up without his making any resistance, and carried him along to the fire. Raed threw on some dry sticks, which blazed up brightly. In a moment we perceived that he was bleeding profusely, and dabbled with blood all over.
“It’s in his neck,” said Wash, moving the drooped head a little aside.
The poor dog’s throat was torn dreadfully; and there were several deep holes, looking as if made by the wolf’s fangs, from one of which the blood gushed with every breath.
“He’s a dead dog!” exclaimed Wade. “It’s no use, poor doggy! That cursed wolf has done for you!”
We placed his head so that he might breath as easily as possible while he did live. Wash brought the water-bucket, and we washed his neck; but nothing could stop the gush of blood from the lacerated vein. Seeing the water, he seemed to want to drink. We let him try; but he only strangled himself. All this time he had neither yelled nor whined; and now lay still, save from the motion and gurgling of the blood in his throat, with his eyes fixed expressively on our faces. By the firelight they seemed wonderfully dark and large; and the look in them was touchingly piteous and patient.
We had never considered him a very noble nor a particularly brave dog; though his attack on the wolf certainly bespoke no little courage. His lack of hair had rather raised a prejudice against him (a very foolish one, I am afraid). His face wasn’t just like a Yankee dog’s; but perhaps it was equally good in its way. We had come to like him better, however, the longer we knew him; and I, for one, felt very sad to see him lie there dying.
I suppose that very many of our dislikes and prejudices are found either in a partial or total ignorance of the objects against which they are directed, and that these prejudices will melt away as we come to understand matters better. So, at least, it had been in Ding-bat’s case.
Presently, as we watched him, the almost hu man look in his appealing eyes grew dull; a low gurgling, then a little spasm. The poor China man was gone! All the life, the fierce, sharp strength and fire, that had grappled so savagely with the wolf a few minutes before, had run out with the little dark pool that now dabbled the leaves. Where had it gone? What was it now?
We laid him tenderly on the boughs, and threw over him one of the well-worn blankets, — a part of the charge he had so often watched over.
It was only half-past two o’clock. Wade fixed up the fire, and we lay down again; but somehow none of us felt like going to sleep, nor yet like talking much. Death — even the death of a dog — is a hard, sad thing. To forever leave the bright light of the glorious sun is a fearful departure; and life, miserably as some abuse the gift, has something inexpressibly sad in its forfeiture.
As soon as it got light enough, Raed got up and began to get breakfast, taking Cluey’s duties with out comment. We ate at sunrise.
“What shall we do with Ding-bat?” asked Wash, folding up the blankets.
“Well, we must dig a hole and bury him, I suppose,” replied Raed.
Wade suggested that we should make his grave under a beech a few yards up the side-hill. Sharpening off some stakes with the hatchet, we dug a hole about two feet deep, put in the body, and, filling in the dirt, rolled on some heavy stones to keep out hungry plunderers. As on a former occasion, Wade with his jackknife performed the office of engraver, cutting in the smooth, dull-azure bark (the parent of all printing-type) the words, —
Sept. 6, 186-.”
“I suppose, by good rights,” said he, coming down where we were getting ready to ascend the ridge, “we ought to send the body back to China. No good Chinaman, it is said, can rest content in a grave outside the Celestial Empire. You know, the Chinese in California send all their dead home.”
“It is unfortunate, truly,” said Raed, putting up cold meat and pudding for lunch; “but, considering the distance and the time, I fear he will have to sleep as soundly as he can where he is.”
Cluey did not get back till after we had come down to camp at sunset. He had succeeded in getting some coffee and sugar, but no tea. We said nothing about Ding-bat, waiting to see if he would miss him.
Several times that evening I thought he appeared to miss something; but, as he had a great many things to tell us, he did not seem to find out what it was till the next morning. Then he asked all at once “whar that ar leper of a dorg had gone to.”
Raed pointed silently to the mound of stones under the beech. The old man looked, started, and, giving a quick deprecatory glance at our rather sober faces, exclaimed, —
It seemed to give him quite a shock too. He never said another word about it till evening; when he asked, rather repentantly I thought, how it had happened. And ever after that he was al ways praising Ding-bat, and speaking of his “good points.” He evidently thought some reparation was due him; and, really, I think the old man missed him most of any of us.