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The Magic Forest
Day after day the Magic Forest slipped by. The going was often very difficult against the current, and sometimes Jimmy, with the others, had to step out in the shallow water of a riffle for the purpose of helping along the canoe. Or again the Indians had to push for many miles with poles, or they even had to turn themselves into tow horses and pull while one of their number steered. The banks of the river were stony and sometimes abrupt; or swampy with deep entangling grasses. When Jimmy had to walk, which was frequently, he found it very hard to keep up, and by night he was completely tired out.
But as compensation, the waters swarmed with young ducks, full grown but as yet unable to fly; and the woods teemed with young partridges which would sit still in trees while he shot arrow after arrow. And every once in a while, where the trees had been blown flat by some old-time storm or burned out l by fire, the children would come upon a patch of the delicious wild raspberries, hanging in clusters ready to be stripped into the hands. Then they would stuff themselves and fill bark mokoks1 to carry to the canoes. The big black bears were often to be encountered in these. berry patches. At first Jimmy used to be frightened, but after a little he imitated his companions, who merely raised a shout to scare the beasts away. Once, however, they did not attempt this, but dropped below the cover of the bushes and sneaked cautiously out of range. And Jimmy learned that a bear with cubs is not to be trifled with.
Jimmy by now was thoroughly accustomed to his new life. He spoke the Ojibway fluently, if not always with absolute correctness in the flexible verb forms, and understood all that was said to him. He liked the other children, and was accepted by them as one of themselves. If occasionally he felt slightly homesick, some new incident of the rapidly changing life drove the feeling almost immediately from his heart. He was not selfish, or without affection, but was simply a natural, healthy boy, keenly alive to everything about him, and entirely happy as long as the novelty and the wonder lasted.
"Jimmy learned that a bear with cubs is not to be trifled with."
Now the stream narrowed and became more often broken. One day the band did nine separate portages. The next it glided out into a series of long narrow lakes connected by threads of water that were hardly more than good-sized brooks. Finally, it arrived at a foam-flecked pool at the foot of a rapid.
"Here is where we found you," Makwa told him.
Jimmy looked. It all came back to him vividly -- the cold, the awakening to boulder hills and wraith forest, the struggle through the woods, the Indian canoes leaping down the rapid. And then his mind followed the natural sequence still farther. He felt the sway and rattle of the train, the good-night kiss on his lips, his mother's caressing voice.
"Is it far to New York?" he asked Makwa again.
And Makwa, who had been told some things, though vaguely, by Antoine Laviolette, answered him as before, "Very far." But beyond that he said nothing, for he knew that now the little boy must leave them, and his heart was sad.
An Indian, or indeed any north-country voyageur, for that matter, does not like to arrive at his journey's end late in the afternoon. It takes away from the impressiveness of the occasion. Often he prefers to go to camp within fifteen minutes of his destination rather than miss the pomp of an observed entry into town. So in the present instance. Makwa and his people pitched camp just within the fringe of the woods beyond which lay Chapleau and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. But to Jimmy the place looked no different, no nearer civilization than had the point at the junction of the two rivers some hundreds of miles farther north.
But that night, -- after he had rolled himself in his rabbit-skin robe, -- contrary to his usual custom he did not at once fall asleep. The fire danced with the shadows. Jimmy stared at them wistfully. The thoughts evoked by Makwa's simple words would not be downed. For the first time his heart turned with all its power toward the home he had so mysteriously left. One after another the details of it rose before his mind -- the soft bed, the dainty room, the toys, the quiet servants, the warmed apartments, and above all his beautiful young mother who loved him so deeply. Jimmy swallowed hard. He would like to see them all again. Out in the Magic Forest a little owl was blowing its tin trumpet, ko-ko-ko-oh! it cried. The shadows danced, growing huger and more fantastic before the boy's blurred vision. By and by they faded. Jimmy had fallen asleep. But, just as four months before, he left consciousness bearing a great longing in his heart. Then it had been the vision of the Long Trail, bodied by wistful musings through a snow-stained window; now it was a dream of home.
A little after two o'clock Jimmy threw aside the cover and sat up. Swiftly, yet with movements precise in their certainty, he dressed himself in his day garments. With equal precision he took his way out of the sleeping camp. A voice hailed him. He answered with perfect coherence. In a moment he had gained the clearing, and in a moment more was trudging down the broad, dusty street of the little frontier town. Straight ahead he walked, his eyes fixed, between the rows of houses. At the foot of the street he turned sharply to the left, mounted accurately a little wooden platform, and turned in the direction of a flaring train just bearing down on the primitive station. A sleepy agent spoke to him. Again he answered, but his reply was lost in the roar of the train. In the confusion Jimmy clambered aboard, turned to the right, went directly to Lower 7, parted the curtains, and fell back on the empty berth with a sigh of relief. When the train pulled out a moment later, Jimmy was curled up in a comfortable little ball, his arm tucked under the pillow, and his eyes fast shut.
He was finally awakened by a shaft of sunlight that struck him squarely in the face. His first impression was that he had been allowed to sleep very late, for it had been the custom of his Indian friends to turn out before the sun had risen above the forest trees. Then his consciousness brought to him a regular clinkety-clank, clinkety-clank. In very terror he shut his eyes tight again.
After a few moments he ventured to peep. Above him was a dull, polished surface in which dimly he made out his own figure. To the right were two darkened squares about whose edges streamed the sun. To the left swayed in irregular motion the folds of curtains. And the mattress on which he lay swayed, too, in time to the metallic noises of a train's motion.
Gradually Jimmy took it all in. He was aided in this experience by that of the morning so long ago when he had as mysteriously found himself on the boulder strewn hillside. The wand of enchantment had waved again. He was back in the train. Of course his father and mother must be near.
He parted the curtains and looked out directly into the face of the negro porter. The latter stared.
"W'at you a-doin' yere?" he demanded.
Then Jimmy swung to the floor, so that not only his head but his buckskin-clad body came into view.
"Foh de Lo'd!" ejaculated the porter. Jimmy knew exactly what he wanted to say, but the unaccustomed English words stuck in his throat. At last he managed to stammer.
The negro porter was still in a collapse of surprise, but the sleeping-car conductor, who had been approaching, took in the situation at a glance. The whole line had been looking for the lost boy during the last five months.
"Is your name Ferris?" asked the conductor, sharply.
And then there was excitement, you may be sure. Telegrams flew again, but this time they were telegrams of joy. Jimmy's father and mother boarded a west-bound train.
All the railroad men and the passengers made much of the little boy. They petted him and gave him things to eat and drink and bought him things to wear. But they could not get him to talk.
"Where have you been all this time?" asked the big conductor.
"In fairy land," replied Jimmy, gravely. A shiny commercial traveller laughed long and loud at this reply and at the boy's serious face. After that Jimmy kept silence. They would not believe, so what was the use in telling them?
And late one afternoon two people jumped eagerly aboard the train, and gathered Jimmy up in a great hug composed of laughter and of tears, and so his little heart overflowed, and he realized that in spite of the excitement of the Magic Forest, he had wanted his mother all along. So thereafter he journeyed home with his own people.
But here too he was forced to silence.
"Now tell me all about where you have been," said his mother, after they had all calmed down a little.
So Jimmy began to tell them in fairy-story language, just as Grimm or Andersen would have told of the Ugly Duckling, or some such matter. Mr. and Mrs. Ferris could make neither head nor tail of it.
"But, darling," expostulated Mrs. Ferris, "it couldn't have been that way! When and how did you leave the train?"
"I was trans-ported with a mag-ic wand," explained Jimmy, "and then in the Magic Forest I met Makwa, you see."
However, in spite of his efforts to make everything plain, they insisted on returning again and again to the same point. Jimmy quickly came to his old conclusion, that grown-ups are stupid. Soon he gave it up altogether. They did not believe. What was the use?
So he locked up the story of the Magic Forest in his little heart along with his firm beliefs in genii and water-babies and brownies and such folk. Try as they might, the grown-ups could never induce him to say another word as to his mysterious five months' experience. To all questions he replied vaguely. The only clews they had were the garments he had worn, and the strange syllables he sometimes used, accidentally in conversation or in naming animals at the zoological park. Mr. Ferris caused diligent inquiry to be made, but learned nothing. Makwa and his band had received their annual bounty, and were now far away in the wilds.
And sometimes now, in the twilight, before Morris, the butler, has come in to light the lamps, little Jimmy tucks his legs under him in the big leather library chair and dreams of the enchanted months. He sees once more the dark fringe of the forest, the swirl and glitter of the stream, the colors of the Indian encampment; he hears the dash of the rapids, the cries of beasts, the soft lisping chatter of the Ojibway language; he smells the freshness of balsam, the pungent wood smoke, the fragrance of new buckskin. One after another the events of the enchanted months rise before his eyes. He sees them all plainly, but without regret, for he is firmly convinced that they are in the hands of the Magician, and so he does not long for them as we long for past pleasures that might possibly be repeated: But when it is quite dark, and the shadows jump strangely against the black bookcases just as in old times they did against the black forest, visionary things become real, and little Jimmy, staring into the fire, wonders whether he will ever see old Makwa, or Taw-kwo, or Asádi, or pretty little, brown little May-may-gwan again.
1 A sort of Indian box.