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´╗┐Title: In the Wilderness
Author: Warner, Charles Dudley, 1829-1900
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Wilderness" ***

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By Charles Dudley Warner



So many conflicting accounts have appeared about my casual encounter
with an Adirondack bear last summer that in justice to the public, to
myself, and to the bear, it is necessary to make a plain statement of
the facts. Besides, it is so seldom I have occasion to kill a bear,
that the celebration of the exploit may be excused.

The encounter was unpremeditated on both sides. I was not hunting
for a bear, and I have no reason to suppose that a bear was looking
for me. The fact is, that we were both out blackberrying, and met by
chance, the usual way. There is among the Adirondack visitors always
a great deal of conversation about bears,--a general expression of
the wish to see one in the woods, and much speculation as to how a
person would act if he or she chanced to meet one. But bears are
scarce and timid, and appear only to a favored few.

It was a warm day in August, just the sort of day when an adventure
of any kind seemed impossible. But it occurred to the housekeepers
at our cottage--there were four of them--to send me to the clearing,
on the mountain back of the house, to pick blackberries. It was
rather a series of small clearings, running up into the forest, much
overgrown with bushes and briers, and not unromantic. Cows pastured
there, penetrating through the leafy passages from one opening to
another, and browsing among the bushes. I was kindly furnished with
a six-quart pail, and told not to be gone long.

Not from any predatory instinct, but to save appearances, I took a
gun. It adds to the manly aspect of a person with a tin pail if he
also carries a gun. It was possible I might start up a partridge;
though how I was to hit him, if he started up instead of standing
still, puzzled me. Many people use a shotgun for partridges. I
prefer the rifle: it makes a clean job of death, and does not
prematurely stuff the bird with globules of lead. The rifle was a
Sharps, carrying a ball cartridge (ten to the pound),--an excellent
weapon belonging to a friend of mine, who had intended, for a good
many years back, to kill a deer with it. He could hit a tree with it
--if the wind did not blow, and the atmosphere was just right, and
the tree was not too far off--nearly every time. Of course, the tree
must have some size. Needless to say that I was at that time no
sportsman. Years ago I killed a robin under the most humiliating
circumstances. The bird was in a low cherry-tree. I loaded a big
shotgun pretty full, crept up under the tree, rested the gun on the
fence, with the muzzle more than ten feet from the bird, shut both
eyes, and pulled the trigger. When I got up to see what had
happened, the robin was scattered about under the tree in more than a
thousand pieces, no one of which was big enough to enable a
naturalist to decide from it to what species it belonged. This
disgusted me with the life of a sportsman. I mention the incident to
show that, although I went blackberrying armed, there was not much
inequality between me and the bear.

In this blackberry-patch bears had been seen. The summer before, our
colored cook, accompanied by a little girl of the vicinage, was
picking berries there one day, when a bear came out of the woods, and
walked towards them. The girl took to her heels, and escaped. Aunt
Chloe was paralyzed with terror. Instead of attempting to run, she
sat down on the ground where she was standing, and began to weep and
scream, giving herself up for lost. The bear was bewildered by this
conduct. He approached and looked at her; he walked around and
surveyed her. Probably he had never seen a colored person before,
and did not know whether she would agree with him: at any rate, after
watching her a few moments, he turned about, and went into the
forest. This is an authentic instance of the delicate consideration
of a bear, and is much more remarkable than the forbearance towards
the African slave of the well-known lion, because the bear had no
thorn in his foot.

When I had climbed the hill,--I set up my rifle against a tree, and
began picking berries, lured on from bush to bush by the black gleam
of fruit (that always promises more in the distance than it realizes
when you reach it); penetrating farther and farther, through
leaf-shaded cow-paths flecked with sunlight, into clearing after
clearing. I could hear on all sides the tinkle of bells, the cracking
of sticks, and the stamping of cattle that were taking refuge in the
thicket from the flies. Occasionally, as I broke through a covert, I
encountered a meek cow, who stared at me stupidly for a second, and
then shambled off into the brush. I became accustomed to this dumb
society, and picked on in silence, attributing all the wood noises to
the cattle, thinking nothing of any real bear. In point of fact,
however, I was thinking all the time of a nice romantic bear, and as I
picked, was composing a story about a generous she-bear who had lost
her cub, and who seized a small girl in this very wood, carried her
tenderly off to a cave, and brought her up on bear's milk and honey.
When the girl got big enough to run away, moved by her inherited
instincts, she escaped, and came into the valley to her father's house
(this part of the story was to be worked out, so that the child would
know her father by some family resemblance, and have some language in
which to address him), and told him where the bear lived. The father
took his gun, and, guided by the unfeeling daughter, went into the
woods and shot the bear, who never made any resistance, and only, when
dying, turned reproachful eyes upon her murderer. The moral of the
tale was to be kindness to animals.

I was in the midst of this tale when I happened to look some rods
away to the other edge of the clearing, and there was a bear! He was
standing on his hind legs, and doing just what I was doing,--picking
blackberries. With one paw he bent down the bush, while with the
other he clawed the berries into his mouth,--green ones and all. To
say that I was astonished is inside the mark. I suddenly discovered
that I didn't want to see a bear, after all. At about the same
moment the bear saw me, stopped eating berries, and regarded me with
a glad surprise. It is all very well to imagine what you would do
under such circumstances. Probably you wouldn't do it: I didn't.
The bear dropped down on his forefeet, and came slowly towards me.
Climbing a tree was of no use, with so good a climber in the rear.
If I started to run, I had no doubt the bear would give chase; and
although a bear cannot run down hill as fast as he can run up hill,
yet I felt that he could get over this rough, brush-tangled ground
faster than I could.

The bear was approaching. It suddenly occurred to me how I could
divert his mind until I could fall back upon my military base. My
pail was nearly full of excellent berries, much better than the bear
could pick himself. I put the pail on the ground, and slowly backed
away from it, keeping my eye, as beast-tamers do, on the bear. The
ruse succeeded.

The bear came up to the berries, and stopped. Not accustomed to eat
out of a pail, he tipped it over, and nosed about in the fruit,
"gorming" (if there is such a word) it down, mixed with leaves and
dirt, like a pig. The bear is a worse feeder than the pig. Whenever
he disturbs a maple-sugar camp in the spring, he always upsets the
buckets of syrup, and tramples round in the sticky sweets, wasting
more than he eats. The bear's manners are thoroughly disagreeable.

As soon as my enemy's head was down, I started and ran. Somewhat out
of breath, and shaky, I reached my faithful rifle. It was not a
moment too soon. I heard the bear crashing through the brush after
me. Enraged at my duplicity, he was now coming on with blood in his
eye. I felt that the time of one of us was probably short. The
rapidity of thought at such moments of peril is well known. I
thought an octavo volume, had it illustrated and published, sold
fifty thousand copies, and went to Europe on the proceeds, while that
bear was loping across the clearing. As I was cocking the gun, I
made a hasty and unsatisfactory review of my whole life. I noted,
that, even in such a compulsory review, it is almost impossible to
think of any good thing you have done. The sins come out uncommonly
strong. I recollected a newspaper subscription I had delayed paying
years and years ago, until both editor and newspaper were dead, and
which now never could be paid to all eternity.

The bear was coming on.

I tried to remember what I had read about encounters with bears. I
couldn't recall an instance in which a man had run away from a bear
in the woods and escaped, although I recalled plenty where the bear
had run from the man and got off. I tried to think what is the best
way to kill a bear with a gun, when you are not near enough to club
him with the stock. My first thought was to fire at his head; to
plant the ball between his eyes: but this is a dangerous experiment.
The bear's brain is very small; and, unless you hit that, the bear
does not mind a bullet in his head; that is, not at the time. I
remembered that the instant death of the bear would follow a bullet
planted just back of his fore-leg, and sent into his heart. This
spot is also difficult to reach, unless the bear stands off, side
towards you, like a target. I finally determined to fire at him

The bear was coming on.

The contest seemed to me very different from anything at Creedmoor.
I had carefully read the reports of the shooting there; but it was
not easy to apply the experience I had thus acquired. I hesitated
whether I had better fire lying on my stomach or lying on my back,
and resting the gun on my toes. But in neither position, I
reflected, could I see the bear until he was upon me. The range was
too short; and the bear wouldn't wait for me to examine the
thermometer, and note the direction of the wind. Trial of the
Creedmoor method, therefore, had to be abandoned; and I bitterly
regretted that I had not read more accounts of offhand shooting.

For the bear was coming on.

I tried to fix my last thoughts upon my family. As my family is
small, this was not difficult. Dread of displeasing my wife, or
hurting her feelings, was uppermost in my mind. What would be her
anxiety as hour after hour passed on, and I did not return! What
would the rest of the household think as the afternoon passed, and no
blackberries came! What would be my wife's mortification when the
news was brought that her husband had been eaten by a bear! I cannot
imagine anything more ignominious than to have a husband eaten by a
bear. And this was not my only anxiety. The mind at such times is
not under control. With the gravest fears the most whimsical ideas
will occur. I looked beyond the mourning friends, and thought what
kind of an epitaph they would be compelled to put upon the stone.

Something like this:


         ----- -------

         EATEN BY A BEAR
         Aug. 20, 1877

It is a very unheroic and even disagreeable epitaph. That "eaten by
a bear" is intolerable. It is grotesque. And then I thought what an
inadequate language the English is for compact expression. It would
not answer to put upon the stone simply "eaten"; for that is
indefinite, and requires explanation: it might mean eaten by a
cannibal. This difficulty could not occur in the German, where essen
signifies the act of feeding by a man, and fressen by a beast. How
simple the thing would be in German!

          HIER LIEGT
        HERR _____ _______

        Aug. 20, 1877

That explains itself. The well-born one was eaten by a beast, and
presumably by a bear,--an animal that has a bad reputation since the
days of Elisha.

The bear was coming on; he had, in fact, come on. I judged that he
could see the whites of my eyes. All my subsequent reflections were
confused. I raised the gun, covered the bear's breast with the
sight, and let drive. Then I turned, and ran like a deer. I did not
hear the bear pursuing. I looked back. The bear had stopped. He
was lying down. I then remembered that the best thing to do after
having fired your gun is to reload it. I slipped in a charge,
keeping my eyes on the bear. He never stirred. I walked back
suspiciously. There was a quiver in the hindlegs, but no other
motion. Still, he might be shamming: bears often sham. To make
sure, I approached, and put a ball into his head. He didn't mind it
now: he minded nothing. Death had come to him with a merciful
suddenness. He was calm in death. In order that he might remain so,
I blew his brains out, and then started for home. I had killed a

Notwithstanding my excitement, I managed to saunter into the house
with an unconcerned air. There was a chorus of voices:

"Where are your blackberries?"
"Why were you gone so long?"
"Where's your pail?"

"I left the pail."

"Left the pail? What for?"

"A bear wanted it."

"Oh, nonsense!"

"Well, the last I saw of it, a bear had it."

"Oh, come! You didn't really see a bear?"

"Yes, but I did really see a real bear."

"Did he run?"

"Yes: he ran after me."

"I don't believe a word of it. What did you do?"

"Oh! nothing particular--except kill the bear."

Cries of "Gammon!" "Don't believe it!" "Where's the bear?"

"If you want to see the bear, you must go up into the woods. I
couldn't bring him down alone."

Having satisfied the household that something extraordinary had
occurred, and excited the posthumous fear of some of them for my
own safety, I went down into the valley to get help. The great
bear-hunter, who keeps one of the summer boarding-houses, received my
story with a smile of incredulity; and the incredulity spread to the
other inhabitants and to the boarders as soon as the story was known.
However, as I insisted in all soberness, and offered to lead them to
the bear, a party of forty or fifty people at last started off with
me to bring the bear in. Nobody believed there was any bear in the
case; but everybody who could get a gun carried one; and we went into
the woods armed with guns, pistols, pitchforks, and sticks, against
all contingencies or surprises,--a crowd made up mostly of scoffers
and jeerers.

But when I led the way to the fatal spot, and pointed out the bear,
lying peacefully wrapped in his own skin, something like terror
seized the boarders, and genuine excitement the natives. It was a
no-mistake bear, by George! and the hero of the fight well, I will
not insist upon that. But what a procession that was, carrying the
bear home! and what a congregation, was speedily gathered in the
valley to see the bear! Our best preacher up there never drew
anything like it on Sunday.

And I must say that my particular friends, who were sportsmen,
behaved very well, on the whole. They didn't deny that it was a
bear, although they said it was small for a bear. Mr... Deane, who
is equally good with a rifle and a rod, admitted that it was a very
fair shot. He is probably the best salmon fisher in the United
States, and he is an equally good hunter. I suppose there is no
person in America who is more desirous to kill a moose than he. But
he needlessly remarked, after he had examined the wound in the bear,
that he had seen that kind of a shot made by a cow's horn.

This sort of talk affected me not. When I went to sleep that night,
my last delicious thought was, "I've killed a bear!"



It ought to be said, by way of explanation, that my being lost in the
woods was not premeditated. Nothing could have been more informal.
This apology can be necessary only to those who are familiar with the
Adirondack literature. Any person not familiar with it would see the
absurdity of one going to the Northern Wilderness with the deliberate
purpose of writing about himself as a lost man. It may be true that
a book about this wild tract would not be recognized as complete
without a lost-man story in it, since it is almost as easy for a
stranger to get lost in the Adirondacks as in Boston. I merely
desire to say that my unimportant adventure is not narrated in answer
to the popular demand, and I do not wish to be held responsible for
its variation from the typical character of such experiences.

We had been in camp a week, on the Upper Au Sable Lake. This is a
gem--emerald or turquoise as the light changes it--set in the virgin
forest. It is not a large body of water, is irregular in form, and
about a mile and a half in length; but in the sweep of its wooded
shores, and the lovely contour of the lofty mountains that guard it,
the lake is probably the most charming in America. Why the young
ladies and gentlemen who camp there occasionally vex the days and
nights with hooting, and singing sentimental songs, is a mystery even
to the laughing loon.

I left my companions there one Saturday morning, to return to Keene
Valley, intending to fish down the Au Sable River. The Upper Lake
discharges itself into the Lower by a brook which winds through a
mile and a half of swamp and woods. Out of the north end of the
Lower Lake, which is a huge sink in the mountains, and mirrors the
savage precipices, the Au Sable breaks its rocky barriers, and flows
through a wild gorge, several miles, to the valley below. Between
the Lower Lake and the settlements is an extensive forest, traversed
by a cart-path, admirably constructed of loose stones, roots of
trees, decayed logs, slippery rocks, and mud. The gorge of the river
forms its western boundary. I followed this caricature of a road a
mile or more; then gave my luggage to the guide to carry home, and
struck off through the forest, by compass, to the river. I promised
myself an exciting scramble down this little-frequented canyon, and a
creel full of trout. There was no difficulty in finding the river,
or in descending the steep precipice to its bed: getting into a
scrape is usually the easiest part of it. The river is strewn with
bowlders, big and little, through which the amber water rushes with
an unceasing thunderous roar, now plunging down in white falls, then
swirling round in dark pools. The day, already past meridian, was
delightful; at least, the blue strip of it I could see overhead.

Better pools and rapids for trout never were, I thought, as I
concealed myself behind a bowlder, and made the first cast. There is
nothing like the thrill of expectation over the first throw in
unfamiliar waters. Fishing is like gambling, in that failure only
excites hope of a fortunate throw next time. There was no rise to
the "leader" on the first cast, nor on the twenty-first; and I
cautiously worked my way down stream, throwing right and left. When
I had gone half a mile, my opinion of the character of the pools was
unchanged: never were there such places for trout; but the trout were
out of their places. Perhaps they didn't care for the fly: some
trout seem to be so unsophisticated as to prefer the worm. I
replaced the fly with a baited hook: the worm squirmed; the waters
rushed and roared; a cloud sailed across the blue: no trout rose to
the lonesome opportunity. There is a certain companionship in the
presence of trout, especially when you can feel them flopping in your
fish basket; but it became evident that there were no trout in this
wilderness, and a sense of isolation for the first time came over me.
There was no living thing near. The river had by this time entered a
deeper gorge; walls of rocks rose perpendicularly on either side,
--picturesque rocks, painted many colors by the oxide of iron. It was
not possible to climb out of the gorge; it was impossible to find a
way by the side of the river; and getting down the bed, over the
falls, and through the flumes, was not easy, and consumed time.

Was that thunder? Very likely. But thunder showers are always
brewing in these mountain fortresses, and it did not occur to me that
there was anything personal in it. Very soon, however, the hole in
the sky closed in, and the rain dashed down. It seemed a
providential time to eat my luncheon; and I took shelter under a
scraggy pine that had rooted itself in the edge of the rocky slope.
The shower soon passed, and I continued my journey, creeping over the
slippery rocks, and continuing to show my confidence in the
unresponsive trout. The way grew wilder and more grewsome. The
thunder began again, rolling along over the tops of the mountains,
and reverberating in sharp concussions in the gorge: the lightning
also darted down into the darkening passage, and then the rain.
Every enlightened being, even if he is in a fisherman's dress of
shirt and pantaloons, hates to get wet; and I ignominiously crept
under the edge of a sloping bowlder. It was all very well at first,
until streams of water began to crawl along the face of the rock, and
trickle down the back of my neck. This was refined misery, unheroic
and humiliating, as suffering always is when unaccompanied by

A longer time than I knew was consumed in this and repeated efforts
to wait for the slackening and renewing storm to pass away. In the
intervals of calm I still fished, and even descended to what a
sportsman considers incredible baseness: I put a "sinker" on my line.
It is the practice of the country folk, whose only object is to get
fish, to use a good deal of bait, sink the hook to the bottom of the
pools, and wait the slow appetite of the summer trout. I tried this
also. I might as well have fished in a pork barrel. It is true that
in one deep, black, round pool I lured a small trout from the bottom,
and deposited him in the creel; but it was an accident. Though I sat
there in the awful silence (the roar of water and thunder only
emphasized the stillness) full half an hour, I was not encouraged by
another nibble. Hope, however, did not die: I always expected to
find the trout in the next flume; and so I toiled slowly on,
unconscious of the passing time. At each turn of the stream I
expected to see the end, and at each turn I saw a long, narrow
stretch of rocks and foaming water. Climbing out of the ravine was,
in most places, simply impossible; and I began to look with interest
for a slide, where bushes rooted in the scant earth would enable me
to scale the precipice. I did not doubt that I was nearly through
the gorge. I could at length see the huge form of the Giant of the
Valley, scarred with avalanches, at the end of the vista; and it
seemed not far off. But it kept its distance, as only a mountain
can, while I stumbled and slid down the rocky way. The rain had now
set in with persistence, and suddenly I became aware that it was
growing dark; and I said to myself, "If you don't wish to spend the
night in this horrible chasm, you'd better escape speedily."
Fortunately I reached a place where the face of the precipice was
bushgrown, and with considerable labor scrambled up it.

Having no doubt that I was within half a mile, perhaps within a few
rods, of the house above the entrance of the gorge, and that, in any
event, I should fall into the cart-path in a few minutes, I struck
boldly into the forest, congratulating myself on having escaped out
of the river. So sure was I of my whereabouts that I did not note
the bend of the river, nor look at my compass. The one trout in my
basket was no burden, and I stepped lightly out.

The forest was of hard-wood, and open, except for a thick undergrowth
of moose-bush. It was raining,--in fact, it had been raining, more
or less, for a month,--and the woods were soaked. This moose-bush is
most annoying stuff to travel through in a rain; for the broad leaves
slap one in the face, and sop him with wet. The way grew every
moment more dingy. The heavy clouds above the thick foliage brought
night on prematurely. It was decidedly premature to a near-sighted
man, whose glasses the rain rendered useless: such a person ought to
be at home early. On leaving the river bank I had borne to the left,
so as to be sure to strike either the clearing or the road, and not
wander off into the measureless forest. I confidently pursued this
course, and went gayly on by the left flank. That I did not come to
any opening or path only showed that I had slightly mistaken the
distance: I was going in the right direction.

I was so certain of this that I quickened my pace and got up with
alacrity every time I tumbled down amid the slippery leaves and
catching roots, and hurried on. And I kept to the left. It even
occurred to me that I was turning to the left so much that I might
come back to the river again. It grew more dusky, and rained more
violently; but there was nothing alarming in the situation, since I
knew exactly where I was. It was a little mortifying that I had
miscalculated the distance: yet, so far was I from feeling any
uneasiness about this that I quickened my pace again, and, before I
knew it, was in a full run; that is, as full a run as a person can
indulge in in the dusk, with so many trees in the way. No
nervousness, but simply a reasonable desire to get there. I desired
to look upon myself as the person "not lost, but gone before." As
time passed, and darkness fell, and no clearing or road appeared, I
ran a little faster. It didn't seem possible that the people had
moved, or the road been changed; and yet I was sure of my direction.
I went on with an energy increased by the ridiculousness of the
situation, the danger that an experienced woodsman was in of getting
home late for supper; the lateness of the meal being nothing to the
gibes of the unlost. How long I kept this course, and how far I went
on, I do not know; but suddenly I stumbled against an ill-placed
tree, and sat down on the soaked ground, a trifle out of breath. It
then occurred to me that I had better verify my course by the
compass. There was scarcely light enough to distinguish the black
end of the needle. To my amazement, the compass, which was made near
Greenwich, was wrong. Allowing for the natural variation of the
needle, it was absurdly wrong. It made out that I was going south
when I was going north. It intimated that, instead of turning to the
left, I had been making a circuit to the right. According to the
compass, the Lord only knew where I was.

The inclination of persons in the woods to travel in a circle is
unexplained. I suppose it arises from the sympathy of the legs with
the brain. Most people reason in a circle: their minds go round and
round, always in the same track. For the last half hour I had been
saying over a sentence that started itself: "I wonder where that road
is!" I had said it over till it had lost all meaning. I kept going
round on it; and yet I could not believe that my body had been
traveling in a circle. Not being able to recognize any tracks, I
have no evidence that I had so traveled, except the general testimony
of lost men.

The compass annoyed me. I've known experienced guides utterly
discredit it. It couldn't be that I was to turn about, and go the
way I had come. Nevertheless, I said to myself, "You'd better keep a
cool head, my boy, or you are in for a night of it. Better listen to
science than to spunk." And I resolved to heed the impartial needle.
I was a little weary of the rough tramping: but it was necessary to
be moving; for, with wet clothes and the night air, I was decidedly
chilly. I turned towards the north, and slipped and stumbled along.
A more uninviting forest to pass the night in I never saw.
Every-thing was soaked. If I became exhausted, it would be necessary
to build a fire; and, as I walked on, I couldn't find a dry bit of
wood. Even if a little punk were discovered in a rotten log I had no
hatchet to cut fuel. I thought it all over calmly. I had the usual
three matches in my pocket. I knew exactly what would happen if I
tried to build a fire. The first match would prove to be wet. The
second match, when struck, would shine and smell, and fizz a little,
and then go out. There would be only one match left. Death would
ensue if it failed. I should get close to the log, crawl under my
hat, strike the match, see it catch, flicker, almost go out (the
reader painfully excited by this time), blaze up, nearly expire, and
finally fire the punk,--thank God! And I said to myself, "The public
don't want any more of this thing: it is played out. Either have a
box of matches, or let the first one catch fire."

In this gloomy mood I plunged along. The prospect was cheerless; for,
apart from the comfort that a fire would give, it is necessary, at
night, to keep off the wild beasts. I fancied I could hear the tread
of the stealthy brutes following their prey. But there was one source
of profound satisfaction,--the catamount had been killed. Mr. Colvin,
the triangulating surveyor of the Adirondacks, killed him in his last
official report to the State. Whether he despatched him with a
theodolite or a barometer does not matter: he is officially dead, and
none of the travelers can kill him any more. Yet he has served them a
good turn.

I knew that catamount well. One night when we lay in the bogs of the
South Beaver Meadow, under a canopy of mosquitoes, the serene
midnight was parted by a wild and humanlike cry from a neighboring
mountain. "That's a cat," said the guide. I felt in a moment that
it was the voice of "modern cultchah." "Modern culture," says Mr.
Joseph Cook in a most impressive period,--"modern culture is a child
crying in the wilderness, and with no voice but a cry." That
describes the catamount exactly. The next day, when we ascended the
mountain, we came upon the traces of this brute,--a spot where he had
stood and cried in the night; and I confess that my hair rose with
the consciousness of his recent presence, as it is said to do when a
spirit passes by.

Whatever consolation the absence of catamount in a dark, drenched,
and howling wilderness can impart, that I experienced; but I thought
what a satire upon my present condition was modern culture, with its
plain thinking and high living! It was impossible to get much
satisfaction out of the real and the ideal,--the me and the not-me.
At this time what impressed me most was the absurdity of my position
looked at in the light of modern civilization and all my advantages
and acquirements. It seemed pitiful that society could do absolutely
nothing for me. It was, in fact, humiliating to reflect that it
would now be profitable to exchange all my possessions for the woods
instinct of the most unlettered guide. I began to doubt the value of
the "culture" that blunts the natural instincts.

It began to be a question whether I could hold out to walk all night;
for I must travel, or perish. And now I imagined that a spectre was
walking by my side. This was Famine. To be sure, I had only
recently eaten a hearty luncheon: but the pangs of hunger got hold on
me when I thought that I should have no supper, no breakfast; and, as
the procession of unattainable meals stretched before me, I grew
hungrier and hungrier. I could feel that I was becoming gaunt, and
wasting away: already I seemed to be emaciated. It is astonishing
how speedily a jocund, well-conditioned human being can be
transformed into a spectacle of poverty and want, Lose a man in the
Woods, drench him, tear his pantaloons, get his imagination running
on his lost supper and the cheerful fireside that is expecting him,
and he will become haggard in an hour. I am not dwelling upon these
things to excite the reader's sympathy, but only to advise him, if he
contemplates an adventure of this kind, to provide himself with
matches, kindling wood, something more to eat than one raw trout, and
not to select a rainy night for it.

Nature is so pitiless, so unresponsive, to a person in trouble! I
had read of the soothing companionship of the forest, the pleasure of
the pathless woods. But I thought, as I stumbled along in the dismal
actuality, that, if I ever got out of it, I would write a letter to
the newspapers, exposing the whole thing. There is an impassive,
stolid brutality about the woods that has never been enough insisted
on. I tried to keep my mind fixed upon the fact of man's superiority
to Nature; his ability to dominate and outwit her. My situation was
an amusing satire on this theory. I fancied that I could feel a
sneer in the woods at my detected conceit. There was something
personal in it. The downpour of the rain and the slipperiness of the
ground were elements of discomfort; but there was, besides these, a
kind of terror in the very character of the forest itself. I think
this arose not more from its immensity than from the kind of
stolidity to which I have alluded. It seemed to me that it would be
a sort of relief to kick the trees. I don't wonder that the bears
fall to, occasionally, and scratch the bark off the great pines and
maples, tearing it angrily away. One must have some vent to his
feelings. It is a common experience of people lost in the woods to
lose their heads; and even the woodsmen themselves are not free from
this panic when some accident has thrown them out of their reckoning.
Fright unsettles the judgment: the oppressive silence of the woods is
a vacuum in which the mind goes astray. It's a hollow sham, this
pantheism, I said; being "one with Nature" is all humbug: I should
like to see somebody. Man, to be sure, is of very little account,
and soon gets beyond his depth; but the society of the least human
being is better than this gigantic indifference. The "rapture on the
lonely shore" is agreeable only when you know you can at any moment
go home.

I had now given up all expectation of finding the road, and was
steering my way as well as I could northward towards the valley. In
my haste I made slow progress. Probably the distance I traveled was
short, and the time consumed not long; but I seemed to be adding mile
to mile, and hour to hour. I had time to review the incidents of the
Russo-Turkish war, and to forecast the entire Eastern question; I
outlined the characters of all my companions left in camp, and
sketched in a sort of comedy the sympathetic and disparaging
observations they would make on my adventure; I repeated something
like a thousand times, without contradiction, "What a fool you were
to leave the river!" I stopped twenty times, thinking I heard its
loud roar, always deceived by the wind in the tree-tops; I began to
entertain serious doubts about the compass,--when suddenly I became
aware that I was no longer on level ground: I was descending a slope;
I was actually in a ravine. In a moment more I was in a brook newly
formed by the rain. "Thank Heaven!" I cried: "this I shall follow,
whatever conscience or the compass says." In this region, all
streams go, sooner or later, into the valley. This ravine, this
stream, no doubt, led to the river. I splashed and tumbled along
down it in mud and water. Down hill we went together, the fall
showing that I must have wandered to high ground. When I guessed
that I must be close to the river, I suddenly stepped into mud up to
my ankles. It was the road,--running, of course, the wrong way, but
still the blessed road. It was a mere canal of liquid mud; but man
had made it, and it would take me home. I was at least three miles
from the point I supposed I was near at sunset, and I had before me a
toilsome walk of six or seven miles, most of the way in a ditch; but
it is truth to say that I enjoyed every step of it. I was safe; I
knew where I was; and I could have walked till morning. The mind had
again got the upper hand of the body, and began to plume itself on
its superiority: it was even disposed to doubt whether it had been
"lost" at all.



Trout fishing in the Adirondacks would be a more attractive pastime
than it is but for the popular notion of its danger. The trout is a
retiring and harmless animal, except when he is aroused and forced
into a combat; and then his agility, fierceness, and vindictiveness
become apparent. No one who has studied the excellent pictures
representing men in an open boat, exposed to the assaults of long,
enraged trout flying at them through the open air with open mouth,
ever ventures with his rod upon the lonely lakes of the forest
without a certain terror, or ever reads of the exploits of daring
fishermen without a feeling of admiration for their heroism. Most of
their adventures are thrilling, and all of them are, in narration,
more or less unjust to the trout: in fact, the object of them seems
to be to exhibit, at the expense of the trout, the shrewdness, the
skill, and the muscular power of the sportsman. My own simple story
has few of these recommendations.

We had built our bark camp one summer and were staying on one of the
popular lakes of the Saranac region. It would be a very pretty
region if it were not so flat, if the margins of the lakes had not
been flooded by dams at the outlets, which have killed the trees, and
left a rim of ghastly deadwood like the swamps of the under-world
pictured by Dore's bizarre pencil,--and if the pianos at the hotels
were in tune. It would be an excellent sporting region also (for
there is water enough) if the fish commissioners would stock the
waters, and if previous hunters had not pulled all the hair and skin
off from the deers' tails. Formerly sportsmen had a habit of
catching the deer by the tails, and of being dragged in mere
wantonness round and round the shores. It is well known that if you
seize a deer by this "holt" the skin will slip off like the peel from
a banana--This reprehensible practice was carried so far that the
traveler is now hourly pained by the sight of peeled-tail deer
mournfully sneaking about the wood.

We had been hearing, for weeks, of a small lake in the heart of the
virgin forest, some ten miles from our camp, which was alive with
trout, unsophisticated, hungry trout: the inlet to it was described
as stiff with them. In my imagination I saw them lying there in
ranks and rows, each a foot long, three tiers deep, a solid mass.
The lake had never been visited except by stray sable hunters in the
winter, and was known as the Unknown Pond. I determined to explore
it, fully expecting, however, that it would prove to be a delusion,
as such mysterious haunts of the trout usually are. Confiding my
purpose to Luke, we secretly made our preparations, and stole away
from the shanty one morning at daybreak. Each of us carried a boat,
a pair of blankets, a sack of bread, pork, and maple-sugar; while I
had my case of rods, creel, and book of flies, and Luke had an axe
and the kitchen utensils. We think nothing of loads of this sort in
the woods.

Five miles through a tamarack swamp brought us to the inlet of
Unknown Pond, upon which we embarked our fleet, and paddled down its
vagrant waters. They were at first sluggish, winding among triste
fir-trees, but gradually developed a strong current. At the end of
three miles a loud roar ahead warned us that we were approaching
rapids, falls, and cascades. We paused. The danger was unknown. We
had our choice of shouldering our loads and making a detour through
the woods, or of "shooting the rapids." Naturally we chose the more
dangerous course. Shooting the rapids has often been described, and
I will not repeat the description here. It is needless to say that I
drove my frail bark through the boiling rapids, over the successive
waterfalls, amid rocks and vicious eddies, and landed, half a mile
below with whitened hair and a boat half full of water; and that the
guide was upset, and boat, contents, and man were strewn along the

After this common experience we went quickly on our journey, and, a
couple of hours before sundown, reached the lake. If I live to my
dying day, I never shall forget its appearance. The lake is almost
an exact circle, about a quarter of a mile in diameter. The forest
about it was untouched by axe, and unkilled by artificial flooding.
The azure water had a perfect setting of evergreens, in which all the
shades of the fir, the balsam, the pine, and the spruce were
perfectly blended; and at intervals on the shore in the emerald rim
blazed the ruby of the cardinal flower. It was at once evident that
the unruffled waters had never been vexed by the keel of a boat. But
what chiefly attracted my attention, and amused me, was the boiling
of the water, the bubbling and breaking, as if the lake were a vast
kettle, with a fire underneath. A tyro would have been astonished at
this common phenomenon; but sportsmen will at once understand me when
I say that the water boiled with the breaking trout. I studied the
surface for some time to see upon what sort of flies they were
feeding, in order to suit my cast to their appetites; but they seemed
to be at play rather than feeding, leaping high in the air in
graceful curves, and tumbling about each other as we see them in the
Adirondack pictures.

It is well known that no person who regards his reputation will ever
kill a trout with anything but a fly. It requires some training on
the part of the trout to take to this method. The uncultivated,
unsophisticated trout in unfrequented waters prefers the bait; and
the rural people, whose sole object in going a-fishing appears to be
to catch fish, indulge them in their primitive taste for the worm.
No sportsman, however, will use anything but a fly, except he happens
to be alone.

While Luke launched my boat and arranged his seat in the stern, I
prepared my rod and line. The rod is a bamboo, weighing seven
ounces, which has to be spliced with a winding of silk thread every
time it is used. This is a tedious process; but, by fastening the
joints in this way, a uniform spring is secured in the rod. No one
devoted to high art would think of using a socket joint. My line was
forty yards of untwisted silk upon a multiplying reel. The "leader"
(I am very particular about my leaders) had been made to order from a
domestic animal with which I had been acquainted. The fisherman
requires as good a catgut as the violinist. The interior of the
house cat, it is well known, is exceedingly sensitive; but it may not
be so well known that the reason why some cats leave the room in
distress when a piano-forte is played is because the two instruments
are not in the same key, and the vibrations of the chords of the one
are in discord with the catgut of the other. On six feet of this
superior article I fixed three artificial flies,--a simple brown
hackle, a gray body with scarlet wings, and one of my own invention,
which I thought would be new to the most experienced fly-catcher.
The trout-fly does not resemble any known species of insect. It is a
"conventionalized" creation, as we say of ornamentation. The theory
is that, fly-fishing being a high art, the fly must not be a tame
imitation of nature, but an artistic suggestion of it. It requires
an artist to construct one; and not every bungler can take a bit of
red flannel, a peacock's feather, a flash of tinsel thread, a cock's
plume, a section of a hen's wing, and fabricate a tiny object that
will not look like any fly, but still will suggest the universal
conventional fly.

I took my stand in the center of the tipsy boat; and Luke shoved off,
and slowly paddled towards some lily-pads, while I began casting,
unlimbering my tools, as it were. The fish had all disappeared.
I got out, perhaps, fifty feet of line, with no response, and
gradually increased it to one hundred. It is not difficult to learn
to cast; but it is difficult to learn not to snap off the flies at
every throw. Of this, however, we will not speak. I continued
casting for some moments, until I became satisfied that there had
been a miscalculation. Either the trout were too green to know what
I was at, or they were dissatisfied with my offers. I reeled in, and
changed the flies (that is, the fly that was not snapped off). After
studying the color of the sky, of the water, and of the foliage, and
the moderated light of the afternoon, I put on a series of beguilers,
all of a subdued brilliancy, in harmony with the approach of evening.
At the second cast, which was a short one, I saw a splash where the
leader fell, and gave an excited jerk. The next instant I perceived
the game, and did not need the unfeigned "dam" of Luke to convince me
that I had snatched his felt hat from his head and deposited it among
the lilies. Discouraged by this, we whirled about, and paddled over
to the inlet, where a little ripple was visible in the tinted light.
At the very first cast I saw that the hour had come. Three trout
leaped into the air. The danger of this manoeuvre all fishermen
understand. It is one of the commonest in the woods: three heavy
trout taking hold at once, rushing in different directions, smash the
tackle into flinders. I evaded this catch, and threw again. I
recall the moment. A hermit thrush, on the tip of a balsam, uttered
his long, liquid, evening note. Happening to look over my shoulder,
I saw the peak of Marcy gleam rosy in the sky (I can't help it that
Marcy is fifty miles off, and cannot be seen from this region: these
incidental touches are always used). The hundred feet of silk
swished through the air, and the tail-fly fell as lightly on the
water as a three-cent piece (which no slamming will give the weight
of a ten) drops upon the contribution plate. Instantly there was a
rush, a swirl. I struck, and "Got him, by---!" Never mind what Luke
said I got him by. "Out on a fly!" continued that irreverent guide;
but I told him to back water, and make for the center of the lake.
The trout, as soon as he felt the prick of the hook, was off like a
shot, and took out the whole of the line with a rapidity that made it
smoke. "Give him the butt!" shouted Luke. It is the usual remark in
such an emergency. I gave him the butt; and, recognizing the fact
and my spirit, the trout at once sank to the bottom, and sulked. It
is the most dangerous mood of a trout; for you cannot tell what he
will do next. We reeled up a little, and waited five minutes for him
to reflect. A tightening of the line enraged him, and he soon
developed his tactics. Coming to the surface, he made straight for
the boat faster than I could reel in, and evidently with hostile
intentions. "Look out for him!" cried Luke as he came flying in the
air. I evaded him by dropping flat in the bottom of the boat; and,
when I picked my traps up, he was spinning across the lake as if he
had a new idea: but the line was still fast. He did not run far. I
gave him the butt again; a thing he seemed to hate, even as a gift.
In a moment the evil-minded fish, lashing the water in his rage, was
coming back again, making straight for the boat as before. Luke, who
was used to these encounters, having read of them in the writings of
travelers he had accompanied, raised his paddle in self-defense. The
trout left the water about ten feet from the boat, and came directly
at me with fiery eyes, his speckled sides flashing like a meteor. I
dodged as he whisked by with a vicious slap of his bifurcated tail,
and nearly upset the boat. The line was of course slack, and the
danger was that he would entangle it about me, and carry away a leg.
This was evidently his game; but I untangled it, and only lost a
breast button or two by the swiftly-moving string. The trout plunged
into the water with a hissing sound, and went away again with all the
line on the reel. More butt; more indignation on the part of the
captive. The contest had now been going on for half an hour, and I
was getting exhausted. We had been back and forth across the lake,
and round and round the lake. What I feared was that the trout would
start up the inlet and wreck us in the bushes. But he had a new
fancy, and began the execution of a manoeuvre which I had never read
of. Instead of coming straight towards me, he took a large circle,
swimming rapidly, and gradually contracting his orbit. I reeled in,
and kept my eye on him. Round and round he went, narrowing his
circle. I began to suspect the game; which was, to twist my head
off.--When he had reduced the radius of his circle to about
twenty-five feet, he struck a tremendous pace through the water. It
would be false modesty in a sportsman to say that I was not equal to
the occasion. Instead of turning round with him, as he expected, I
stepped to the bow, braced myself, and let the boat swing. Round went
the fish, and round we went like a top. I saw a line of Mount Marcys
all round the horizon; the rosy tint in the west made a broad band of
pink along the sky above the tree-tops; the evening star was a perfect
circle of light, a hoop of gold in the heavens. We whirled and
reeled, and reeled and whirled. I was willing to give the malicious
beast butt and line, and all, if he would only go the other way for a

When I came to myself, Luke was gaffing the trout at the boat-side.
After we had got him in and dressed him, he weighed three-quarters of
a pound. Fish always lose by being "got in and dressed." It is best
to weigh them while they are in the water. The only really large one
I ever caught got away with my leader when I first struck him. He
weighed ten pounds.



If civilization owes a debt of gratitude to the self-sacrificing
sportsmen who have cleared the Adirondack regions of catamounts and
savage trout, what shall be said of the army which has so nobly
relieved them of the terror of the deer? The deer-slayers have
somewhat celebrated their exploits in print; but I think that justice
has never been done them.

The American deer in the wilderness, left to himself, leads a
comparatively harmless but rather stupid life, with only such
excitement as his own timid fancy raises. It was very seldom that
one of his tribe was eaten by the North American tiger. For a wild
animal he is very domestic, simple in his tastes, regular in his
habits, affectionate in his family. Unfortunately for his repose,
his haunch is as tender as his heart. Of all wild creatures he is
one of the most graceful in action, and he poses with the skill of an
experienced model. I have seen the goats on Mount Pentelicus scatter
at the approach of a stranger, climb to the sharp points of
projecting rocks, and attitudinize in the most self-conscious manner,
striking at once those picturesque postures against the sky with
which Oriental pictures have made us and them familiar. But the
whole proceeding was theatrical.

Greece is the home of art, and it is rare to find anything there
natural and unstudied. I presume that these goats have no nonsense
about them when they are alone with the goatherds, any more than the
goatherds have, except when they come to pose in the studio; but the
long ages of culture, the presence always to the eye of the best
models and the forms of immortal beauty, the heroic friezes of the
Temple of Theseus, the marble processions of sacrificial animals,
have had a steady molding, educating influence equal to a society of
decorative art upon the people and the animals who have dwelt in this
artistic atmosphere. The Attic goat has become an artificially
artistic being; though of course he is not now what he was, as a
poser, in the days of Polycletus. There is opportunity for a very
instructive essay by Mr. E. A. Freeman on the decadence of the Attic
goat under the influence of the Ottoman Turk.

The American deer, in the free atmosphere of our country, and as yet
untouched by our decorative art, is without self-consciousness, and
all his attitudes are free and unstudied. The favorite position of
the deer--his fore-feet in the shallow margin of the lake, among the
lily-pads, his antlers thrown back and his nose in the air at the
moment he hears the stealthy breaking of a twig in the forest--is
still spirited and graceful, and wholly unaffected by the pictures of
him which the artists have put upon canvas.

Wherever you go in the Northern forest you will find deer-paths. So
plainly marked and well-trodden are they that it is easy to mistake
them for trails made by hunters; but he who follows one of them is
soon in difficulties. He may find himself climbing through cedar
thickets an almost inaccessible cliff, or immersed in the intricacies
of a marsh. The "run," in one direction, will lead to water; but, in
the other, it climbs the highest hills, to which the deer retires,
for safety and repose, in impenetrable thickets. The hunters, in
winter, find them congregated in "yards," where they can be
surrounded and shot as easily as our troops shoot Comanche women and
children in their winter villages. These little paths are full of
pitfalls among the roots and stones; and, nimble as the deer is, he
sometimes breaks one of his slender legs in them. Yet he knows how
to treat himself without a surgeon. I knew of a tame deer in a
settlement in the edge of the forest who had the misfortune to break
her leg. She immediately disappeared with a delicacy rare in an
invalid, and was not seen for two weeks. Her friends had given her
up, supposing that she had dragged herself away into the depths of
the woods, and died of starvation, when one day she returned, cured
of lameness, but thin as a virgin shadow. She had the sense to shun
the doctor; to lie down in some safe place, and patiently wait for
her leg to heal. I have observed in many of the more refined animals
this sort of shyness, and reluctance to give trouble, which excite
our admiration when noticed in mankind.

The deer is called a timid animal, and taunted with possessing
courage only when he is "at bay"; the stag will fight when he can
no longer flee; and the doe will defend her young in the face
of murderous enemies. The deer gets little credit for this
eleventh-hour bravery. But I think that in any truly Christian
condition of society the deer would not be conspicuous for cowardice.
I suppose that if the American girl, even as she is described in
foreign romances, were pursued by bull-dogs, and fired at from behind
fences every time she ventured outdoors, she would become timid, and
reluctant to go abroad. When that golden era comes which the poets
think is behind us, and the prophets declare is about to be ushered in
by the opening of the "vials," and the killing of everybody who does
not believe as those nations believe which have the most cannon; when
we all live in real concord,--perhaps the gentle-hearted deer will be
respected, and will find that men are not more savage to the weak than
are the cougars and panthers. If the little spotted fawn can think,
it must seem to her a queer world in which the advent of innocence is
hailed by the baying of fierce hounds and the "ping" of the rifle.

Hunting the deer in the Adirondacks is conducted in the most manly
fashion. There are several methods, and in none of them is a fair
chance to the deer considered. A favorite method with the natives is
practiced in winter, and is called by them "still hunting." My idea
of still hunting is for one man to go alone into the forest, look
about for a deer, put his wits fairly against the wits of the
keen-scented animal, and kill his deer, or get lost in the attempt.
There seems to be a sort of fairness about this. It is private
assassination, tempered with a little uncertainty about finding your
man. The still hunting of the natives has all the romance and danger
attending the slaughter of sheep in an abattoir. As the snow gets
deep, many deer congregate in the depths of the forest, and keep a
place trodden down, which grows larger as they tramp down the snow in
search of food. In time this refuge becomes a sort of "yard,"
surrounded by unbroken snow-banks. The hunters then make their way
to this retreat on snowshoes, and from the top of the banks pick off
the deer at leisure with their rifles, and haul them away to market,
until the enclosure is pretty much emptied. This is one of the
surest methods of exterminating the deer; it is also one of the most
merciful; and, being the plan adopted by our government for
civilizing the Indian, it ought to be popular. The only people who
object to it are the summer sportsmen. They naturally want some
pleasure out of the death of the deer.

Some of our best sportsmen, who desire to protract the pleasure of
slaying deer through as many seasons as possible, object to the
practice of the hunters, who make it their chief business to
slaughter as many deer in a camping season as they can. Their own
rule, they say, is to kill a deer only when they need venison to eat.
Their excuse is specious. What right have these sophists to put
themselves into a desert place, out of the reach of provisions, and
then ground a right to slay deer on their own improvidence? If it is
necessary for these people to have anything to eat, which I doubt, it
is not necessary that they should have the luxury of venison.

One of the most picturesque methods of hunting the poor deer is
called "floating." The person, with murder in his heart, chooses a
cloudy night, seats himself, rifle in hand, in a canoe, which is
noiselessly paddled by the guide, and explores the shore of the lake
or the dark inlet. In the bow of the boat is a light in a "jack,"
the rays of which are shielded from the boat and its occupants. A
deer comes down to feed upon the lily-pads. The boat approaches him.
He looks up, and stands a moment, terrified or fascinated by the
bright flames. In that moment the sportsman is supposed to shoot the
deer. As an historical fact, his hand usually shakes so that he
misses the animal, or only wounds him; and the stag limps away to die
after days of suffering. Usually, however, the hunters remain out
all night, get stiff from cold and the cramped position in the boat,
and, when they return in the morning to camp, cloud their future
existence by the assertion that they "heard a big buck" moving along
the shore, but the people in camp made so much noise that he was
frightened off.

By all odds, the favorite and prevalent mode is hunting with dogs.
The dogs do the hunting, the men the killing. The hounds are sent
into the forest to rouse the deer, and drive him from his cover.
They climb the mountains, strike the trails, and go baying and
yelping on the track of the poor beast. The deer have their
established runways, as I said; and, when they are disturbed in their
retreat, they are certain to attempt to escape by following one which
invariably leads to some lake or stream. All that the hunter has to
do is to seat himself by one of these runways, or sit in a boat on
the lake, and wait the coming of the pursued deer. The frightened
beast, fleeing from the unreasoning brutality of the hounds, will
often seek the open country, with a mistaken confidence in the
humanity of man. To kill a deer when he suddenly passes one on a
runway demands presence of mind and quickness of aim: to shoot him
from the boat, after he has plunged panting into the lake, requires
the rare ability to hit a moving object the size of a deer's head a
few rods distant. Either exploit is sufficient to make a hero of a
common man. To paddle up to the swimming deer, and cut his throat,
is a sure means of getting venison, and has its charms for some.
Even women and doctors of divinity have enjoyed this exquisite
pleasure. It cannot be denied that we are so constituted by a wise
Creator as to feel a delight in killing a wild animal which we do not
experience in killing a tame one.

The pleasurable excitement of a deer-hunt has never, I believe, been
regarded from the deer's point of view. I happen to be in a
position, by reason of a lucky Adirondack experience, to present it
in that light. I am sorry if this introduction to my little story
has seemed long to the reader: it is too late now to skip it; but he
can recoup himself by omitting the story.

Early on the morning of the 23d of August, 1877, a doe was feeding on
Basin Mountain. The night had been warm and showery, and the morning
opened in an undecided way. The wind was southerly: it is what the
deer call a dog-wind, having come to know quite well the meaning of
"a southerly wind and a cloudy sky." The sole companion of the doe
was her only child, a charming little fawn, whose brown coat was just
beginning to be mottled with the beautiful spots which make this
young creature as lovely as the gazelle. The buck, its father, had
been that night on a long tramp across the mountain to Clear Pond,
and had not yet returned: he went ostensibly to feed on the succulent
lily-pads there. "He feedeth among the lilies until the day break
and the shadows flee away, and he should be here by this hour; but he
cometh not," she said, "leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the
hills." Clear Pond was too far off for the young mother to go with
her fawn for a night's pleasure. It was a fashionable watering-place
at this season among the deer; and the doe may have remembered, not
without uneasiness, the moonlight meetings of a frivolous society
there. But the buck did not come: he was very likely sleeping under
one of the ledges on Tight Nippin. Was he alone? "I charge you, by
the roes and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not nor awake my
love till he please."

The doe was feeding, daintily cropping the tender leaves of the young
shoots, and turning from time to time to regard her offspring. The
fawn had taken his morning meal, and now lay curled up on a bed of
moss, watching contentedly, with his large, soft brown eyes, every
movement of his mother. The great eyes followed her with an alert
entreaty; and, if the mother stepped a pace or two farther away in
feeding, the fawn made a half movement, as if to rise and follow her.
You see, she was his sole dependence in all the world. But he was
quickly reassured when she turned her gaze on him; and if, in alarm,
he uttered a plaintive cry, she bounded to him at once, and, with
every demonstration of affection, licked his mottled skin till it
shone again.

It was a pretty picture,--maternal love on the one part, and happy
trust on the other. The doe was a beauty, and would have been so
considered anywhere, as graceful and winning a creature as the sun
that day shone on,--slender limbs, not too heavy flanks, round body,
and aristocratic head, with small ears, and luminous, intelligent,
affectionate eyes. How alert, supple, free, she was! What untaught
grace in every movement! What a charming pose when she lifted her
head, and turned it to regard her child! You would have had a
companion picture if you had seen, as I saw that morning, a baby
kicking about among the dry pine-needles on a ledge above the Au
Sable, in the valley below, while its young mother sat near, with an
easel before her, touching in the color of a reluctant landscape,
giving a quick look at the sky and the outline of the Twin Mountains,
and bestowing every third glance upon the laughing boy,--art in its

The doe lifted her head a little with a quick motion, and turned her
ear to the south. Had she heard something? Probably it was only the
south wind in the balsams. There was silence all about in the
forest. If the doe had heard anything, it was one of the distant
noises of the world. There are in the woods occasional moanings,
premonitions of change, which are inaudible to the dull ears of men,
but which, I have no doubt, the forest-folk hear and understand. If
the doe's suspicions were excited for an instant, they were gone as
soon. With an affectionate glance at her fawn, she continued picking
up her breakfast.

But suddenly she started, head erect, eyes dilated, a tremor in her
limbs. She took a step; she turned her head to the south; she
listened intently. There was a sound,--a distant, prolonged note,
bell-toned, pervading the woods, shaking the air in smooth
vibrations. It was repeated. The doe had no doubt now. She shook
like the sensitive mimosa when a footstep approaches. It was the
baying of a hound! It was far off,--at the foot of the mountain.
Time enough to fly; time enough to put miles between her and the
hound, before he should come upon her fresh trail; time enough to
escape away through the dense forest, and hide in the recesses of
Panther Gorge; yes, time enough. But there was the fawn. The cry of
the hound was repeated, more distinct this time. The mother
instinctively bounded away a few paces. The fawn started up with an
anxious bleat: the doe turned; she came back; she couldn't leave it.
She bent over it, and licked it, and seemed to say, "Come, my child:
we are pursued: we must go." She walked away towards the west, and
the little thing skipped after her. It was slow going for the
slender legs, over the fallen logs, and through the rasping bushes.
The doe bounded in advance, and waited: the fawn scrambled after her,
slipping and tumbling along, very groggy yet on its legs, and whining
a good deal because its mother kept always moving away from it. The
fawn evidently did not hear the hound: the little innocent would even
have looked sweetly at the dog, and tried to make friends with it, if
the brute had been rushing upon him. By all the means at her command
the doe urged her young one on; but it was slow work. She might have
been a mile away while they were making a few rods. Whenever the
fawn caught up, he was quite content to frisk about. He wanted more
breakfast, for one thing; and his mother wouldn't stand still. She
moved on continually; and his weak legs were tangled in the roots of
the narrow deer-path.

Shortly came a sound that threw the doe into a panic of terror,--a
short, sharp yelp, followed by a prolonged howl, caught up and
reechoed by other bayings along the mountain-side. The doe knew what
that meant. One hound had caught her trail, and the whole pack
responded to the "view-halloo." The danger was certain now; it was
near. She could not crawl on in this way: the dogs would soon be
upon them. She turned again for flight: the fawn, scrambling after
her, tumbled over, and bleated piteously. The baying, emphasized now
by the yelp of certainty, came nearer. Flight with the fawn was
impossible. The doe returned and stood by it, head erect, and
nostrils distended. She stood perfectly still, but trembling.
Perhaps she was thinking. The fawn took advantage of the situation,
and began to draw his luncheon ration. The doe seemed to have made
up her mind. She let him finish. The fawn, having taken all he
wanted, lay down contentedly, and the doe licked him for a moment.
Then, with the swiftness of a bird, she dashed away, and in a moment
was lost in the forest. She went in the direction of the hounds.

According to all human calculations, she was going into the jaws of
death. So she was: all human calculations are selfish. She kept
straight on, hearing the baying every moment more distinctly. She
descended the slope of the mountain until she reached the more open
forest of hard-wood. It was freer going here, and the cry of the
pack echoed more resoundingly in the great spaces. She was going due
east, when (judging by the sound, the hounds were not far off, though
they were still hidden by a ridge) she turned short away to the
north, and kept on at a good pace. In five minutes more she heard
the sharp, exultant yelp of discovery, and then the deep-mouthed howl
of pursuit. The hounds had struck her trail where she turned, and
the fawn was safe.

The doe was in good running condition, the ground was not bad, and
she felt the exhilaration of the chase. For the moment, fear left
her, and she bounded on with the exaltation of triumph. For a
quarter of an hour she went on at a slapping pace, clearing the
moose-bushes with bound after bound, flying over the fallen logs,
pausing neither for brook nor ravine. The baying of the hounds grew
fainter behind her. But she struck a bad piece of going, a dead-wood
slash. It was marvelous to see her skim over it, leaping among its
intricacies, and not breaking her slender legs. No other living
animal could do it. But it was killing work. She began to pant
fearfully; she lost ground. The baying of the hounds was nearer.
She climbed the hard-wood hill at a slower gait; but, once on more
level, free ground, her breath came back to her, and she stretched
away with new courage, and maybe a sort of contempt of her heavy

After running at high speed perhaps half a mile farther, it occurred
to her that it would be safe now to turn to the west, and, by a wide
circuit, seek her fawn. But, at the moment, she heard a sound that
chilled her heart. It was the cry of a hound to the west of her.
The crafty brute had made the circuit of the slash, and cut off her
retreat. There was nothing to do but to keep on; and on she went,
still to the north, with the noise of the pack behind her. In five
minutes more she had passed into a hillside clearing. Cows and young
steers were grazing there. She heard a tinkle of bells. Below her,
down the mountain slope, were other clearings, broken by patches of
woods. Fences intervened; and a mile or two down lay the valley, the
shining Au Sable, and the peaceful farmhouses. That way also her
hereditary enemies were. Not a merciful heart in all that lovely
valley. She hesitated: it was only for an instant. She must cross
the Slidebrook Valley if possible, and gain the mountain opposite.
She bounded on; she stopped. What was that? From the valley ahead
came the cry of a searching hound. All the devils were loose this
morning. Every way was closed but one, and that led straight down
the mountain to the cluster of houses. Conspicuous among them was a
slender white wooden spire. The doe did not know that it was the
spire of a Christian chapel. But perhaps she thought that human pity
dwelt there, and would be more merciful than the teeth of the hounds.

     "The hounds are baying on my track:
     O white man! will you send me back?"

In a panic, frightened animals will always flee to human-kind from
the danger of more savage foes. They always make a mistake in doing
so. Perhaps the trait is the survival of an era of peace on earth;
perhaps it is a prophecy of the golden age of the future. The
business of this age is murder,--the slaughter of animals, the
slaughter of fellow-men, by the wholesale. Hilarious poets who have
never fired a gun write hunting-songs,--Ti-ra-la: and good bishops
write war-songs,--Ave the Czar!

The hunted doe went down the "open," clearing the fences splendidly,
flying along the stony path. It was a beautiful sight. But consider
what a shot it was! If the deer, now, could only have been caught I
No doubt there were tenderhearted people in the valley who would have
spared her life, shut her up in a stable, and petted her. Was there
one who would have let her go back to her waiting-fawn? It is the
business of civilization to tame or kill.

The doe went on. She left the sawmill on John's Brook to her right;
she turned into a wood-path. As she approached Slide Brook, she saw
a boy standing by a tree with a raised rifle. The dogs were not in
sight; but she could hear them coming down the hill. There was no
time for hesitation. With a tremendous burst of speed she cleared
the stream, and, as she touched the bank, heard the "ping" of a rifle
bullet in the air above her. The cruel sound gave wings to the poor
thing. In a moment more she was in the opening: she leaped into the
traveled road. Which way? Below her in the wood was a load of hay:
a man and a boy, with pitchforks in their hands, were running towards
her. She turned south, and flew along the street. The town was up.
Women and children ran to the doors and windows; men snatched their
rifles; shots were fired; at the big boarding-houses, the summer
boarders, who never have anything to do, came out and cheered; a
campstool was thrown from a veranda. Some young fellows shooting at
a mark in the meadow saw the flying deer, and popped away at her; but
they were accustomed to a mark that stood still. It was all so
sudden! There were twenty people who were just going to shoot her;
when the doe leaped the road fence, and went away across a marsh
toward the foothills. It was a fearful gauntlet to run. But nobody
except the deer considered it in that light. Everybody told what he
was just going to do; everybody who had seen the performance was a
kind of hero,--everybody except the deer. For days and days it was
the subject of conversation; and the summer boarders kept their guns
at hand, expecting another deer would come to be shot at.

The doe went away to the foothills, going now slower, and evidently
fatigued, if not frightened half to death. Nothing is so appalling
to a recluse as half a mile of summer boarders. As the deer entered
the thin woods, she saw a rabble of people start across the meadow in
pursuit. By this time, the dogs, panting, and lolling out their
tongues, came swinging along, keeping the trail, like stupids, and
consequently losing ground when the deer doubled. But, when the doe
had got into the timber, she heard the savage brutes howling across
the meadow. (It is well enough, perhaps, to say that nobody offered
to shoot the dogs.)

The courage of the panting fugitive was not gone: she was game to the
tip of her high-bred ears. But the fearful pace at which she had
just been going told on her. Her legs trembled, and her heart beat
like a trip-hammer. She slowed her speed perforce, but still fled
industriously up the right bank of the stream. When she had gone a
couple of miles, and the dogs were evidently gaining again, she
crossed the broad, deep brook, climbed the steep left bank, and fled
on in the direction of the Mount-Marcy trail. The fording of the
river threw the hounds off for a time. She knew, by their uncertain
yelping up and down the opposite bank, that she had a little respite:
she used it, however, to push on until the baying was faint in her
ears; and then she dropped, exhausted, upon the ground.

This rest, brief as it was, saved her life. Roused again by the
baying pack, she leaped forward with better speed, though without
that keen feeling of exhilarating flight that she had in the morning.
It was still a race for life; but the odds were in her--favor, she
thought. She did not appreciate the dogged persistence of the
hounds, nor had any inspiration told her that the race is not to the

She was a little confused in her mind where to go; but an instinct
kept her course to the left, and consequently farther away from her
fawn. Going now slower, and now faster, as the pursuit seemed more
distant or nearer, she kept to the southwest, crossed the stream
again, left Panther Gorge on her right, and ran on by Haystack and
Skylight in the direction of the Upper Au Sable Pond. I do not know
her exact course through this maze of mountains, swamps, ravines, and
frightful wildernesses. I only know that the poor thing worked her
way along painfully, with sinking heart and unsteady limbs, lying
down "dead beat" at intervals, and then spurred on by the cry of the
remorseless dogs, until, late in the afternoon, she staggered down
the shoulder of Bartlett, and stood upon the shore of the lake. If
she could put that piece of water between her and her pursuers, she
would be safe. Had she strength to swim it?

At her first step into the water she saw a sight that sent her back
with a bound. There was a boat mid-lake: two men were in it. One
was rowing: the other had a gun in his hand. They were looking
towards her: they had seen her. (She did not know that they had
heard the baying of hounds on the mountains, and had been lying in
wait for her an hour.) What should she do? The hounds were drawing
near. No escape that way, even if she could still run. With only a
moment's hesitation she plunged into the lake, and struck obliquely
across. Her tired legs could not propel the tired body rapidly. She
saw the boat headed for her. She turned toward the centre of the
lake. The boat turned. She could hear the rattle of the oarlocks.
It was gaining on her. Then there was a silence. Then there was a
splash of the water just ahead of her, followed by a roar round the
lake, the words "Confound it all!" and a rattle of the oars again.
The doe saw the boat nearing her. She turned irresolutely to the
shore whence she came: the dogs were lapping the water, and howling
there. She turned again to the center of the lake.

The brave, pretty creature was quite exhausted now. In a moment
more, with a rush of water, the boat was on her, and the man at the
oars had leaned over and caught her by the tail.

"Knock her on the head with that paddle!" he shouted to the gentleman
in the stern.

The gentleman was a gentleman, with a kind, smooth-shaven face, and
might have been a minister of some sort of everlasting gospel. He
took the paddle in his hand. Just then the doe turned her head, and
looked at him with her great, appealing eyes.

"I can't do it! my soul, I can't do it!" and he dropped the paddle.
"Oh, let her go!"

"Let H. go!" was the only response of the guide as he slung the deer
round, whipped out his hunting-knife, and made a pass that severed
her jugular.

And the gentleman ate that night of the venison.

The buck returned about the middle of the afternoon. The fawn was
bleating piteously, hungry and lonesome. The buck was surprised. He
looked about in the forest. He took a circuit, and came back. His
doe was nowhere to be seen. He looked down at the fawn in a helpless
sort of way. The fawn appealed for his supper. The buck had nothing
whatever to give his child,--nothing but his sympathy. If he said
anything, this is what he said: "I'm the head of this family; but,
really, this is a novel case. I've nothing whatever for you. I
don't know what to do. I've the feelings of a father; but you can't
live on them. Let us travel."

The buck walked away: the little one toddled after him. They
disappeared in the forest.



There has been a lively inquiry after the primeval man. Wanted, a
man who would satisfy the conditions of the miocene environment, and
yet would be good enough for an ancestor. We are not particular
about our ancestors, if they are sufficiently remote; but we must
have something. Failing to apprehend the primeval man, science has
sought the primitive man where he exists as a survival in present
savage races. He is, at best, only a mushroom growth of the recent
period (came in, probably, with the general raft of mammalian fauna);
but he possesses yet some rudimentary traits that may be studied.

It is a good mental exercise to try to fix the mind on the primitive
man divested of all the attributes he has acquired in his struggles
with the other mammalian fauna. Fix the mind on an orange, the
ordinary occupation of the metaphysician: take from it (without
eating it) odor, color, weight, form, substance, and peel; then let
the mind still dwell on it as an orange. The experiment is perfectly
successful; only, at the end of it, you haven't any mind. Better
still, consider the telephone: take away from it the metallic disk,
and the magnetized iron, and the connecting wire, and then let the
mind run abroad on the telephone. The mind won't come back. I have
tried by this sort of process to get a conception of the primitive
man. I let the mind roam away back over the vast geologic spaces,
and sometimes fancy I see a dim image of him stalking across the
terrace epoch of the quaternary period.

But this is an unsatisfying pleasure. The best results are obtained
by studying the primitive man as he is left here and there in our
era, a witness of what has been; and I find him most to my mind in
the Adirondack system of what geologists call the Champlain epoch. I
suppose the primitive man is one who owes more to nature than to the
forces of civilization. What we seek in him are the primal and
original traits, unmixed with the sophistications of society, and
unimpaired by the refinements of an artificial culture. He would
retain the primitive instincts, which are cultivated out of the
ordinary, commonplace man. I should expect to find him, by reason of
an unrelinquished kinship, enjoying a special communion with nature,
--admitted to its mysteries, understanding its moods, and able to
predict its vagaries. He would be a kind of test to us of what we
have lost by our gregarious acquisitions. On the one hand, there
would be the sharpness of the senses, the keen instincts (which the
fox and the beaver still possess), the ability to find one's way in
the pathless forest, to follow a trail, to circumvent the wild
denizens of the woods; and, on the other hand, there would be the
philosophy of life which the primitive man, with little external aid,
would evolve from original observation and cogitation. It is our
good fortune to know such a man; but it is difficult to present him
to a scientific and caviling generation. He emigrated from somewhat
limited conditions in Vermont, at an early age, nearly half a century
ago, and sought freedom for his natural development backward in the
wilds of the Adirondacks. Sometimes it is a love of adventure and
freedom that sends men out of the more civilized conditions into the
less; sometimes it is a constitutional physical lassitude which leads
them to prefer the rod to the hoe, the trap to the sickle, and the
society of bears to town meetings and taxes. I think that Old
Mountain Phelps had merely the instincts of the primitive man, and
never any hostile civilizing intent as to the wilderness into which
he plunged. Why should he want to slash away the forest and plow up
the ancient mould, when it is infinitely pleasanter to roam about in
the leafy solitudes, or sit upon a mossy log and listen to the
chatter of birds and the stir of beasts? Are there not trout in the
streams, gum exuding from the spruce, sugar in the maples, honey in
the hollow trees, fur on the sables, warmth in hickory logs? Will
not a few days' planting and scratching in the "open" yield potatoes
and rye? And, if there is steadier diet needed than venison and
bear, is the pig an expensive animal? If Old Phelps bowed to the
prejudice or fashion of his age (since we have come out of the
tertiary state of things), and reared a family, built a frame house
in a secluded nook by a cold spring, planted about it some apple
trees and a rudimentary garden, and installed a group of flaming
sunflowers by the door, I am convinced that it was a concession that
did not touch his radical character; that is to say, it did not
impair his reluctance to split oven-wood.

He was a true citizen of the wilderness. Thoreau would have liked
him, as he liked Indians and woodchucks, and the smell of pine
forests; and, if Old Phelps had seen Thoreau, he would probably have
said to him, "Why on airth, Mr. Thoreau, don't you live accordin' to
your preachin'?" You might be misled by the shaggy suggestion of Old
Phelps's given name--Orson--into the notion that he was a mighty
hunter, with the fierce spirit of the Berserkers in his veins.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. The hirsute and grisly
sound of Orson expresses only his entire affinity with the untamed
and the natural, an uncouth but gentle passion for the freedom and
wildness of the forest. Orson Phelps has only those unconventional
and humorous qualities of the bear which make the animal so beloved
in literature; and one does not think of Old Phelps so much as a
lover of nature,--to use the sentimental slang of the period,--as a
part of nature itself.

His appearance at the time when as a "guide" he began to come into
public notice fostered this impression,--a sturdy figure with long
body and short legs, clad in a woolen shirt and butternut-colored
trousers repaired to the point of picturesqueness, his head
surmounted by a limp, light-brown felt hat, frayed away at the top,
so that his yellowish hair grew out of it like some nameless fern out
of a pot. His tawny hair was long and tangled, matted now many years
past the possibility of being entered by a comb.

His features were small and delicate, and set in the frame of a
reddish beard, the razor having mowed away a clearing about the
sensitive mouth, which was not seldom wreathed with a childlike and
charming smile. Out of this hirsute environment looked the small
gray eyes, set near together; eyes keen to observe, and quick to
express change of thought; eyes that made you believe instinct can
grow into philosophic judgment. His feet and hands were of
aristocratic smallness, although the latter were not worn away by
ablutions; in fact, they assisted his toilet to give you the
impression that here was a man who had just come out of the ground,
--a real son of the soil, whose appearance was partially explained by
his humorous relation to-soap. "Soap is a thing," he said, "that I
hain't no kinder use for." His clothes seemed to have been put on
him once for all, like the bark of a tree, a long time ago. The
observant stranger was sure to be puzzled by the contrast of this
realistic and uncouth exterior with the internal fineness, amounting
to refinement and culture, that shone through it all. What communion
had supplied the place of our artificial breeding to this man?

Perhaps his most characteristic attitude was sitting on a log, with a
short pipe in his mouth. If ever man was formed to sit on a log, it
was Old Phelps. He was essentially a contemplative person. Walking
on a country road, or anywhere in the "open," was irksome to him. He
had a shambling, loose-jointed gait, not unlike that of the bear: his
short legs bowed out, as if they had been more in the habit of
climbing trees than of walking. On land, if we may use that
expression, he was something like a sailor; but, once in the rugged
trail or the unmarked route of his native forest, he was a different
person, and few pedestrians could compete with him. The vulgar
estimate of his contemporaries, that reckoned Old Phelps "lazy," was
simply a failure to comprehend the conditions of his being. It is
the unjustness of civilization that it sets up uniform and artificial
standards for all persons. The primitive man suffers by them much as
the contemplative philosopher does, when one happens to arrive in
this busy, fussy world.

If the appearance of Old Phelps attracts attention, his voice, when
first heard, invariably startles the listener. A small,
high-pitched, half-querulous voice, it easily rises into the shrillest
falsetto; and it has a quality in it that makes it audible in all the
tempests of the forest, or the roar of rapids, like the piping of a
boatswain's whistle at sea in a gale. He has a way of letting it
rise as his sentence goes on, or when he is opposed in argument, or
wishes to mount above other voices in the conversation, until it
dominates everything. Heard in the depths of the woods, quavering
aloft, it is felt to be as much a part of nature, an original force,
as the northwest wind or the scream of the hen-hawk. When he is
pottering about the camp-fire, trying to light his pipe with a twig
held in the flame, he is apt to begin some philosophical observation
in a small, slow, stumbling voice, which seems about to end in
defeat; when he puts on some unsuspected force, and the sentence ends
in an insistent shriek. Horace Greeley had such a voice, and could
regulate it in the same manner. But Phelps's voice is not seldom
plaintive, as if touched by the dreamy sadness of the woods

When Old Mountain Phelps was discovered, he was, as the reader has
already guessed, not understood by his contemporaries. His
neighbors, farmers in the secluded valley, had many of them grown
thrifty and prosperous, cultivating the fertile meadows, and
vigorously attacking the timbered mountains; while Phelps, with not
much more faculty of acquiring property than the roaming deer, had
pursued the even tenor of the life in the forest on which he set out.
They would have been surprised to be told that Old Phelps owned more
of what makes the value of the Adirondacks than all of them put
together, but it was true. This woodsman, this trapper, this hunter,
this fisherman, this sitter on a log, and philosopher, was the real
proprietor of the region over which he was ready to guide the
stranger. It is true that he had not a monopoly of its geography or
its topography (though his knowledge was superior in these respects);
there were other trappers, and more deadly hunters, and as intrepid
guides: but Old Phelps was the discoverer of the beauties and
sublimities of the mountains; and, when city strangers broke into the
region, he monopolized the appreciation of these delights and wonders
of nature. I suppose that in all that country he alone had noticed
the sunsets, and observed the delightful processes of the seasons,
taken pleasure in the woods for themselves, and climbed mountains
solely for the sake of the prospect. He alone understood what was
meant by "scenery." In the eyes of his neighbors, who did not know
that he was a poet and a philosopher, I dare say he appeared to be a
slack provider, a rather shiftless trapper and fisherman; and his
passionate love of the forest and the mountains, if it was noticed,
was accounted to him for idleness. When the appreciative tourist
arrived, Phelps was ready, as guide, to open to him all the wonders
of his possessions; he, for the first time, found an outlet for his
enthusiasm, and a response to his own passion. It then became known
what manner of man this was who had grown up here in the
companionship of forests, mountains, and wild animals; that these
scenes had highly developed in him the love of beauty, the aesthetic
sense, delicacy of appreciation, refinement of feeling; and that, in
his solitary wanderings and musings, the primitive man, self-taught,
had evolved for himself a philosophy and a system of things. And it
was a sufficient system, so long as it was not disturbed by external
skepticism. When the outer world came to him, perhaps he had about
as much to give to it as to receive from it; probably more, in his
own estimation; for there is no conceit like that of isolation.

Phelps loved his mountains. He was the discoverer of Marcy, and
caused the first trail to be cut to its summit, so that others could
enjoy the noble views from its round and rocky top. To him it was,
in noble symmetry and beauty, the chief mountain of the globe.
To stand on it gave him, as he said, "a feeling of heaven
up-h'istedness." He heard with impatience that Mount Washington was a
thousand feet higher, and he had a childlike incredulity about the
surpassing sublimity of the Alps. Praise of any other elevation he
seemed to consider a slight to Mount Marcy, and did not willingly hear
it, any more than a lover hears the laudation of the beauty of another
woman than the one he loves. When he showed us scenery he loved, it
made him melancholy to have us speak of scenery elsewhere that was
finer. And yet there was this delicacy about him, that he never
over-praised what he brought us to see, any more than one would
over-praise a friend of whom he was fond. I remember that when for
the first time, after a toilsome journey through the forest, the
splendors of the Lower Au Sable Pond broke upon our vision,--that
low-lying silver lake, imprisoned by the precipices which it reflected
in its bosom,--he made no outward response to our burst of admiration:
only a quiet gleam of the eye showed the pleasure our appreciation
gave him. As some one said, it was as if his friend had been admired
--a friend about whom he was unwilling to say much himself, but well
pleased to have others praise.

Thus far, we have considered Old Phelps as simply the product of the
Adirondacks; not so much a self-made man (as the doubtful phrase has
it) as a natural growth amid primal forces. But our study is
interrupted by another influence, which complicates the problem, but
increases its interest. No scientific observer, so far as we know,
has ever been able to watch the development of the primitive man,
played upon and fashioned by the hebdomadal iteration of "Greeley's
Weekly Tri-bune." Old Phelps educated by the woods is a fascinating
study; educated by the woods and the Tri-bune, he is a phenomenon.
No one at this day can reasonably conceive exactly what this
newspaper was to such a mountain valley as Keene. If it was not a
Providence, it was a Bible. It was no doubt owing to it that
Democrats became as scarce as moose in the Adirondacks. But it is
not of its political aspect that I speak. I suppose that the most
cultivated and best informed portion of the earth's surface--the
Western Reserve of Ohio, as free from conceit as it is from a
suspicion that it lacks anything owes its pre-eminence solely to this
comprehensive journal. It received from it everything except a
collegiate and a classical education,--things not to be desired,
since they interfere with the self-manufacture of man. If Greek had
been in this curriculum, its best known dictum would have been
translated, "Make thyself." This journal carried to the community
that fed on it not only a complete education in all departments of
human practice and theorizing, but the more valuable and satisfying
assurance that there was nothing more to be gleaned in the universe
worth the attention of man. This panoplied its readers in
completeness. Politics, literature, arts, sciences, universal
brotherhood and sisterhood, nothing was omitted; neither the poetry
of Tennyson, nor the philosophy of Margaret Fuller; neither the
virtues of association, nor of unbolted wheat. The laws of political
economy and trade were laid down as positively and clearly as the
best way to bake beans, and the saving truth that the millennium
would come, and come only when every foot of the earth was subsoiled.

I do not say that Orson Phelps was the product of nature and the
Tri-bune: but he cannot be explained without considering these two
factors. To him Greeley was the Tri-bune, and the Tri-bune was
Greeley; and yet I think he conceived of Horace Greeley as something
greater than his newspaper, and perhaps capable of producing another
journal equal to it in another part of the universe. At any rate, so
completely did Phelps absorb this paper and this personality that he
was popularly known as "Greeley" in the region where he lived.
Perhaps a fancied resemblance of the two men in the popular mind had
something to do with this transfer of name. There is no doubt that
Horace Greeley owed his vast influence in the country to his genius,
nor much doubt that he owed his popularity in the rural districts to
James Gordon Bennett; that is, to the personality of the man which
the ingenious Bennett impressed upon the country. That he despised
the conventionalities of society, and was a sloven in his toilet, was
firmly believed; and the belief endeared him to the hearts of the
people. To them "the old white coat"--an antique garment of
unrenewed immortality--was as much a subject of idolatry as the
redingote grise to the soldiers of the first Napoleon, who had seen
it by the campfires on the Po and on the Borysthenes, and believed
that he would come again in it to lead them against the enemies of
France. The Greeley of the popular heart was clad as Bennett said he
was clad. It was in vain, even pathetically in vain, that he
published in his newspaper the full bill of his fashionable tailor
(the fact that it was receipted may have excited the animosity of
some of his contemporaries) to show that he wore the best broadcloth,
and that the folds of his trousers followed the city fashion of
falling outside his boots. If this revelation was believed, it made
no sort of impression in the country. The rural readers were not to
be wheedled out of their cherished conception of the personal
appearance of the philosopher of the Tri-bune.

That the Tri-bune taught Old Phelps to be more Phelps than he would
have been without it was part of the independence-teaching mission of
Greeley's paper. The subscribers were an army, in which every man
was a general. And I am not surprised to find Old Phelps lately
rising to the audacity of criticising his exemplar. In some
recently-published observations by Phelps upon the philosophy of
reading is laid down this definition: "If I understand the necessity
or use of reading, it is to reproduce again what has been said or
proclaimed before. Hence, letters, characters, &c., are arranged in
all the perfection they possibly can be, to show how certain language
has been spoken by the original author. Now, to reproduce by
reading, the reading should be so perfectly like the original that no
one standing out of sight could tell the reading from the first time
the language was spoken."

This is illustrated by the highest authority at hand: I have heard as
good readers read, and as poor readers, as almost any one in this
region. If I have not heard as many, I have had a chance to hear
nearly the extreme in variety. Horace Greeley ought to have been a
good reader. Certainly but few, if any, ever knew every word of the
English language at a glance more readily than he did, or knew the
meaning of every mark of punctuation more clearly; but he could not
read proper. 'But how do you know?' says one. From the fact I heard
him in the same lecture deliver or produce remarks in his own
particular way, that, if they had been published properly in print, a
proper reader would have reproduced them again the same way. In the
midst of those remarks Mr. Greeley took up a paper, to reproduce by
reading part of a speech that some one else had made; and his reading
did not sound much more like the man that first read or made
the speech than the clatter of a nail factory sounds like a
well-delivered speech. Now, the fault was not because Mr. Greeley did
not know how to read as well as almost any man that ever lived, if not
quite: but in his youth he learned to read wrong; and, as it is ten
times harder to unlearn anything than it is to learn it, he, like
thousands of others, could never stop to unlearn it, but carried it on
through his whole life.

Whether a reader would be thanked for reproducing one of Horace
Greeley's lectures as he delivered it is a question that cannot
detain us here; but the teaching that he ought to do so, I think,
would please Mr. Greeley.

The first driblets of professional tourists and summer boarders who
arrived among the Adirondack Mountains a few years ago found Old
Phelps the chief and best guide of the region. Those who were eager
to throw off the usages of civilization, and tramp and camp in the
wilderness, could not but be well satisfied with the aboriginal
appearance of this guide; and when he led off into the woods, axe in
hand, and a huge canvas sack upon his shoulders, they seemed to be
following the Wandering Jew. The contents--of this sack would have
furnished a modern industrial exhibition, provisions cooked and raw,
blankets, maple-sugar, tinware, clothing, pork, Indian meal, flour,
coffee, tea, &c. Phelps was the ideal guide: he knew every foot of
the pathless forest; he knew all woodcraft, all the signs of the
weather, or, what is the same thing, how to make a Delphic prediction
about it. He was fisherman and hunter, and had been the comrade of
sportsmen and explorers; and his enthusiasm for the beauty and
sublimity of the region, and for its untamable wildness, amounted to
a passion. He loved his profession; and yet it very soon appeared
that he exercised it with reluctance for those who had neither
ideality, nor love for the woods. Their presence was a profanation
amid the scenery he loved. To guide into his private and secret
haunts a party that had no appreciation of their loveliness disgusted
him. It was a waste of his time to conduct flippant young men and
giddy girls who made a noisy and irreverent lark of the expedition.
And, for their part, they did not appreciate the benefit of being
accompanied by a poet and a philosopher. They neither understood nor
valued his special knowledge and his shrewd observations: they didn't
even like his shrill voice; his quaint talk bored them. It was true
that, at this period, Phelps had lost something of the activity of
his youth; and the habit of contemplative sitting on a log and
talking increased with the infirmities induced by the hard life of
the woodsman. Perhaps he would rather talk, either about the
woods-life or the various problems of existence, than cut wood, or
busy himself in the drudgery of the camp. His critics went so far as
to say, "Old Phelps is a fraud." They would have said the same of
Socrates. Xantippe, who never appreciated the world in which Socrates
lived, thought he was lazy. Probably Socrates could cook no better
than Old Phelps, and no doubt went "gumming" about Athens with very
little care of what was in the pot for dinner.

If the summer visitors measured Old Phelps, he also measured them by
his own standards. He used to write out what he called "short-faced
descriptions" of his comrades in the woods, which were never so
flattering as true. It was curious to see how the various qualities
which are esteemed in society appeared in his eyes, looked at merely
in their relation to the limited world he knew, and judged by their
adaptation to the primitive life. It was a much subtler comparison
than that of the ordinary guide, who rates his traveler by his
ability to endure on a march, to carry a pack, use an oar, hit a
mark, or sing a song. Phelps brought his people to a test of their
naturalness and sincerity, tried by contact with the verities of the
woods. If a person failed to appreciate the woods, Phelps had no
opinion of him or his culture; and yet, although he was perfectly
satisfied with his own philosophy of life, worked out by close
observation of nature and study of the Tri-bune, he was always eager
for converse with superior minds, with those who had the advantage of
travel and much reading, and, above all, with those who had any
original "speckerlation." Of all the society he was ever permitted
to enjoy, I think he prized most that of Dr. Bushnell. The doctor
enjoyed the quaint and first-hand observations of the old woodsman,
and Phelps found new worlds open to him in the wide ranges of the
doctor's mind. They talked by the hour upon all sorts of themes, the
growth of the tree, the habits of wild animals, the migration of
seeds, the succession of oak and pine, not to mention theology, and
the mysteries of the supernatural.

I recall the bearing of Old Phelps, when, several years ago, he
conducted a party to the summit of Mount Marcy by the way he had
"bushed out." This was his mountain, and he had a peculiar sense of
ownership in it. In a way, it was holy ground; and he would rather
no one should go on it who did not feel its sanctity. Perhaps it was
a sense of some divine relation in it that made him always speak of
it as "Mercy." To him this ridiculously dubbed Mount Marcy was
always "Mount Mercy." By a like effort to soften the personal
offensiveness of the nomenclature of this region, he invariably spoke
of Dix's Peak, one of the southern peaks of the range, as "Dixie."
It was some time since Phelps himself had visited his mountain; and,
as he pushed on through the miles of forest, we noticed a kind of
eagerness in the old man, as of a lover going to a rendezvous. Along
the foot of the mountain flows a clear trout stream, secluded and
undisturbed in those awful solitudes, which is the "Mercy Brook" of
the old woodsman. That day when he crossed it, in advance of his
company, he was heard to say in a low voice, as if greeting some
object of which he was shyly fond, "So, little brook, do I meet you
once more?" and when we were well up the mountain, and emerged from
the last stunted fringe of vegetation upon the rock-bound slope, I
saw Old Phelps, who was still foremost, cast himself upon the ground,
and heard him cry, with an enthusiasm that was intended for no mortal
ear, "I'm with you once again!" His great passion very rarely found
expression in any such theatrical burst. The bare summit that day
was swept by a fierce, cold wind, and lost in an occasional chilling
cloud. Some of the party, exhausted by the climb, and shivering in
the rude wind, wanted a fire kindled and a cup of tea made, and
thought this the guide's business. Fire and tea were far enough from
his thought. He had withdrawn himself quite apart, and wrapped in a
ragged blanket, still and silent as the rock he stood on, was gazing
out upon the wilderness of peaks. The view from Marcy is peculiar.
It is without softness or relief. The narrow valleys are only dark
shadows; the lakes are bits of broken mirror. From horizon to
horizon there is a tumultuous sea of billows turned to stone. You
stand upon the highest billow; you command the situation; you have
surprised Nature in a high creative act; the mighty primal energy has
only just become repose. This was a supreme hour to Old Phelps.
Tea! I believe the boys succeeded in kindling a fire; but the
enthusiastic stoic had no reason to complain of want of appreciation
in the rest of the party. When we were descending, he told us, with
mingled humor and scorn, of a party of ladies he once led to the top
of the mountain on a still day, who began immediately to talk about
the fashions! As he related the scene, stopping and facing us in the
trail, his mild, far-in eyes came to the front, and his voice rose
with his language to a kind of scream.

"Why, there they were, right before the greatest view they ever saw,
talkin' about the fashions!"

Impossible to convey the accent of contempt in which he pronounced
the word "fashions," and then added, with a sort of regretful
bitterness, "I was a great mind to come down, and leave 'em there."

In common with the Greeks, Old Phelps personified the woods,
mountains, and streams. They had not only personality, but
distinctions of sex. It was something beyond the characterization of
the hunter, which appeared, for instance, when he related a fight
with a panther, in such expressions as, "Then Mr. Panther thought he
would see what he could do," etc. He was in "imaginative sympathy"
with all wild things. The afternoon we descended Marcy, we went away
to the west, through the primeval forests, toward Avalanche and
Colden, and followed the course of the charming Opalescent. When we
reached the leaping stream, Phelps exclaimed,

"Here's little Miss Opalescent!"

"Why don't you say Mr. Opalescent?" some one asked.

"Oh, she's too pretty!" And too pretty she was, with her foam-white
and rainbow dress, and her downfalls, and fountainlike uprising. A
bewitching young person we found her all that summer afternoon.

This sylph-like person had little in common with a monstrous lady
whose adventures in the wildernes Phelps was fond of relating. She
was built some thing on the plan of the mountains, and her ambition
to explore was equal to her size. Phelps and the other guides once
succeeded in raising her to the top of Marcy; but the feat of getting
a hogshead of molasses up there would have been easier. In
attempting to give us an idea of her magnitude that night, as we sat
in the forest camp, Phelps hesitated a moment, while he cast his eye
around the woods: "Waal, there ain't no tree!"

It is only by recalling fragmentary remarks and incidents that I can
put the reader in possession of the peculiarities of my subject; and
this involves the wrenching of things out of their natural order and
continuity, and introducing them abruptly, an abruptness illustrated
by the remark of "Old Man Hoskins" (which Phelps liked to quote),
when one day he suddenly slipped down a bank into a thicket, and
seated himself in a wasps' nest: "I hain't no business here; but here
I be!"

The first time we went into camp on the Upper Au Sable Pond, which
has been justly celebrated as the most prettily set sheet of water in
the region, we were disposed to build our shanty on the south side,
so that we could have in full view the Gothics and that loveliest of
mountain contours. To our surprise, Old Phelps, whose sentimental
weakness for these mountains we knew, opposed this. His favorite
camping ground was on the north side,--a pretty site in itself, but
with no special view. In order to enjoy the lovely mountains, we
should be obliged to row out into the lake: we wanted them always
before our eyes,--at sunrise and sunset, and in the blaze of noon.
With deliberate speech, as if weighing our arguments and disposing of
them, he replied, "Waal, now, them Gothics ain't the kinder scenery
you want ter hog down!"

It was on quiet Sundays in the woods, or in talks by the camp-fire,
that Phelps came out as the philosopher, and commonly contributed the
light of his observations. Unfortunate marriages, and marriages in
general, were, on one occasion, the subject of discussion; and a good
deal of darkness had been cast on it by various speakers; when Phelps
suddenly piped up, from a log where he had sat silent, almost
invisible, in the shadow and smoke, "Waal, now, when you've said all
there is to be said, marriage is mostly for discipline."

Discipline, certainly, the old man had, in one way or another; and
years of solitary communing in the forest had given him, perhaps, a
childlike insight into spiritual concerns. Whether he had formulated
any creed or what faith he had, I never knew. Keene Valley had a
reputation of not ripening Christians any more successfully than
maize, the season there being short; and on our first visit it was
said to contain but one Bible Christian, though I think an accurate
census disclosed three. Old Phelps, who sometimes made abrupt
remarks in trying situations, was not included in this census; but he
was the disciple of supernaturalism in a most charming form. I have
heard of his opening his inmost thoughts to a lady, one Sunday, after
a noble sermon of Robertson's had been read in the cathedral
stillness of the forest. His experience was entirely first-hand, and
related with unconsciousness that it was not common to all. There
was nothing of the mystic or the sentimentalist, only a vivid
realism, in that nearness of God of which he spoke,--"as near
some-times as those trees,"--and of the holy voice, that, in a time
of inward struggle, had seemed to him to come from the depths of the
forest, saying, "Poor soul, I am the way."

In later years there was a "revival" in Keene Valley, the result of
which was a number of young "converts," whom Phelps seemed to regard
as a veteran might raw recruits, and to have his doubts what sort of
soldiers they would make.

"Waal, Jimmy," he said to one of them, "you've kindled a pretty good
fire with light wood. That's what we do of a dark night in the
woods, you know but we do it just so as we can look around and find
the solid wood: so now put on your solid wood."

In the Sunday Bible classes of the period Phelps was a perpetual
anxiety to the others, who followed closely the printed lessons, and
beheld with alarm his discursive efforts to get into freer air and
light. His remarks were the most refreshing part of the exercises,
but were outside of the safe path into which the others thought it
necessary to win him from his "speckerlations." The class were one
day on the verses concerning "God's word" being "written on the
heart," and were keeping close to the shore, under the guidance of
"Barnes's Notes," when Old Phelps made a dive to the bottom, and
remarked that he had "thought a good deal about the expression,
'God's word written on the heart,' and had been asking himself how
that was to be done; and suddenly it occurred to him (having been
much interested lately in watching the work of a photographer) that,
when a photograph is going to be taken, all that has to be done is to
put the object in position, and the sun makes the picture; and so he
rather thought that all we had got to do was to put our hearts in
place, and God would do the writin'."

Phelps's theology, like his science, is first-hand. In the woods,
one day, talk ran on the Trinity as being nowhere asserted as a
doctrine in the Bible, and some one suggested that the attempt to
pack these great and fluent mysteries into one word must always be
more or less unsatisfactory. "Ye-es," droned Phelps: "I never could
see much speckerlation in that expression the Trinity. Why, they'd a
good deal better say Legion."

The sentiment of the man about nature, or his poetic sensibility, was
frequently not to be distinguished from a natural religion, and was
always tinged with the devoutness of Wordsworth's verse. Climbing
slowly one day up the Balcony,--he was more than usually calm and
slow,--he espied an exquisite fragile flower in the crevice of a
rock, in a very lonely spot.

"It seems as if," he said, or rather dreamed out, "it seems as if the
Creator had kept something just to look at himself."

To a lady whom he had taken to Chapel Pond (a retired but rather
uninteresting spot), and who expressed a little disappointment at its
tameness, saying, of this "Why, Mr. Phelps, the principal charm of
this place seems to be its loneliness."

"Yes," he replied in gentle and lingering tones, and its nativeness.
"It lies here just where it was born."

Rest and quiet had infinite attractions for him. A secluded opening
in the woods was a "calm spot." He told of seeing once, or rather
being in, a circular rainbow. He stood on Indian Head, overlooking
the Lower Lake, so that he saw the whole bow in the sky and the lake,
and seemed to be in the midst of it; "only at one place there was an
indentation in it, where it rested on the lake, just enough to keep
it from rolling off." This "resting" of the sphere seemed to give
him great comfort.

One Indian-summer morning in October, some ladies found the old man
sitting on his doorstep smoking a short pipe.

He gave no sign of recognition except a twinkle of the eye, being
evidently quite in harmony with the peaceful day. They stood there a
full minute before he opened his mouth: then he did not rise, but
slowly took his pipe from his mouth, and said in a dreamy way,
pointing towards the brook,--

"Do you see that tree?" indicating a maple almost denuded of leaves,
which lay like a yellow garment cast at its feet. "I've been
watching that tree all the morning. There hain't been a breath of
wind: but for hours the leaves have been falling, falling, just as
you see them now; and at last it's pretty much bare." And after a
pause, pensively: "Waal, I suppose its hour had come."

This contemplative habit of Old Phelps is wholly unappreciated by his
neighbors; but it has been indulged in no inconsiderable part of his
life. Rising after a time, he said, "Now I want you to go with me
and see my golden city I've talked so much about." He led the way to
a hill-outlook, when suddenly, emerging from the forest, the
spectators saw revealed the winding valley and its stream. He said
quietly, "There is my golden city." Far below, at their feet, they
saw that vast assemblage of birches and "popples," yellow as gold in
the brooding noonday, and slender spires rising out of the glowing
mass. Without another word, Phelps sat a long time in silent
content: it was to him, as Bunyan says, "a place desirous to be in."

Is this philosopher contented with what life has brought him?
Speaking of money one day, when we had asked him if he should do
differently if he had his life to live over again, he said, "Yes, but
not about money. To have had hours such as I have had in these
mountains, and with such men as Dr. Bushnell and Dr. Shaw and Mr.
Twichell, and others I could name, is worth all the money the world
could give." He read character very well, and took in accurately the
boy nature. "Tom" (an irrepressible, rather overdone specimen),--
"Tom's a nice kind of a boy; but he's got to come up against a
snubbin'-post one of these days."--"Boys!" he once said: "you can't
git boys to take any kinder notice of scenery. I never yet saw a boy
that would look a second time at a sunset. Now, a girl will some
times; but even then it's instantaneous,--comes an goes like the
sunset. As for me," still speaking of scenery, "these mountains
about here, that I see every day, are no more to me, in one sense,
than a man's farm is to him. What mostly interests me now is when I
see some new freak or shape in the face of Nature."

In literature it may be said that Old Phelps prefers the best in the
very limited range that has been open to him. Tennyson is his
favorite among poets an affinity explained by the fact that they are
both lotos-eaters. Speaking of a lecture-room talk of Mr. Beecher's
which he had read, he said, "It filled my cup about as full as I
callerlate to have it: there was a good deal of truth in it, and some
poetry; waal, and a little spice, too. We've got to have the spice,
you know." He admired, for different reasons, a lecture by Greeley
that he once heard, into which so much knowledge of various kinds was
crowded that he said he "made a reg'lar gobble of it." He was not
without discrimination, which he exercised upon the local preaching
when nothing better offered. Of one sermon he said, "The man began
way back at the creation, and just preached right along down; and he
didn't say nothing, after all. It just seemed to me as if he was
tryin' to git up a kind of a fix-up."

Old Phelps used words sometimes like algebraic signs, and had a habit
of making one do duty for a season together for all occasions.
"Speckerlation" and "callerlation" and "fix-up" are specimens of
words that were prolific in expression. An unusual expression, or an
unusual article, would be charactcrized as a "kind of a scientific
literary git-up."

"What is the program for tomorrow?" I once asked him. "Waal, I
callerlate, if they rig up the callerlation they callerlate on, we'll
go to the Boreas." Starting out for a day's tramp in the woods, he
would ask whether we wanted to take a "reg'lar walk, or a random
scoot,"--the latter being a plunge into the pathless forest. When he
was on such an expedition, and became entangled in dense brush, and
maybe a network of "slash" and swamp, he was like an old wizard, as
he looked here and there, seeking a way, peering into the tangle, or
withdrawing from a thicket, and muttering to himself, "There ain't no
speckerlation there." And when the way became altogether
inscrutable,--"Waal, this is a reg'lar random scoot of a rigmarole."
As some one remarked, "The dictionary in his hands is like clay in
the hands of the potter." "A petrifaction was a kind of a hard-wood
chemical git-up."

There is no conceit, we are apt to say, like that born of isolation
from the world, and there are no such conceited people as those who
have lived all their lives in the woods. Phelps was, however,
unsophisticated in his until the advent of strangers into his life,
who brought in literature and various other disturbing influences. I
am sorry to say that the effect has been to take off something of the
bloom of his simplicity, and to elevate him into an oracle. I
suppose this is inevitable as soon as one goes into print; and Phelps
has gone into print in the local papers. He has been bitten with the
literary "git up." Justly regarding most of the Adirondack
literature as a "perfect fizzle," he has himself projected a work,
and written much on the natural history of his region. Long ago he
made a large map of the mountain country; and, until recent surveys,
it was the only one that could lay any claim to accuracy. His
history is no doubt original in form, and unconventional in
expression. Like most of the writers of the seventeenth century, and
the court ladies and gentlemen of the eighteenth century, he is an
independent speller. Writing of his work on the Adirondacks, he
says, "If I should ever live to get this wonderful thing written, I
expect it will show one thing, if no more; and that is, that every
thing has an opposite. I expect to show in this that literature has
an opposite, if I do not show any thing els. We could not enjoy the
blessings and happiness of riteousness if we did not know innicuty
was in the world: in fact, there would be no riteousness without
innicuty." Writing also of his great enjoyment of being in the
woods, especially since he has had the society there of some people
he names, he adds, "And since I have Literature, Siance, and Art all
spread about on the green moss of the mountain woods or the gravell
banks of a cristle stream, it seems like finding roses, honeysuckels,
and violets on a crisp brown cliff in December. You know I don't
believe much in the religion of seramony; but any riteous thing that
has life and spirit in it is food for me." I must not neglect to
mention an essay, continued in several numbers of his local paper, on
"The Growth of the Tree," in which he demolishes the theory of Mr.
Greeley, whom he calls "one of the best vegetable philosophers,"
about "growth without seed." He treats of the office of sap: "All
trees have some kind of sap and some kind of operation of sap flowing
in their season," the dissemination of seeds, the processes of
growth, the power of healing wounds, the proportion of roots to
branches, &c. Speaking of the latter, he says, "I have thought it
would be one of the greatest curiosities on earth to see a thrifty
growing maple or elm, that had grown on a deep soil interval to be
two feet in diameter, to be raised clear into the air with every root
and fibre down to the minutest thread, all entirely cleared of soil,
so that every particle could be seen in its natural position. I
think it would astonish even the wise ones." From his instinctive
sympathy with nature, he often credits vegetable organism with
"instinctive judgment." "Observation teaches us that a tree is
given powerful instincts, which would almost appear to amount to
judgment in some cases, to provide for its own wants and

Here our study must cease. When the primitive man comes into
literature, he is no longer primitive.



It seems to be agreed that civilization is kept up only by a constant
effort: Nature claims its own speedily when the effort is relaxed.
If you clear a patch of fertile ground in the forest, uproot the
stumps, and plant it, year after year, in potatoes and maize, you say
you have subdued it. But, if you leave it for a season or two, a
kind of barbarism seems to steal out upon it from the circling woods;
coarse grass and brambles cover it; bushes spring up in a wild
tangle; the raspberry and the blackberry flower and fruit; and the
humorous bear feeds upon them. The last state of that ground is
worse than the first.

Perhaps the cleared spot is called Ephesus. There is a splendid city
on the plain; there are temples and theatres on the hills; the
commerce of the world seeks its port; the luxury of the Orient flows
through its marble streets. You are there one day when the sea has
receded: the plain is a pestilent marsh; the temples, the theatres,
the lofty gates have sunken and crumbled, and the wild-brier runs
over them; and, as you grow pensive in the most desolate place in the
world, a bandit lounges out of a tomb, and offers to relieve you of
all that which creates artificial distinctions in society. The
higher the civilization has risen, the more abject is the desolation
of barbarism that ensues. The most melancholy spot in the
Adirondacks is not a tamarack-swamp, where the traveler wades in moss
and mire, and the atmosphere is composed of equal active parts of
black-flies, mosquitoes, and midges. It is the village of the
Adirondack Iron-Works, where the streets of gaunt houses are falling
to pieces, tenantless; the factory-wheels have stopped; the furnaces
are in ruins; the iron and wooden machinery is strewn about in
helpless detachment; and heaps of charcoal, ore, and slag proclaim an
arrested industry. Beside this deserted village, even Calamity Pond,
shallow, sedgy, with its ragged shores of stunted firs, and its
melancholy shaft that marks the spot where the proprietor of the
iron-works accidentally shot himself, is cheerful.

The instinct of barbarism that leads people periodically to throw
aside the habits of civilization, and seek the freedom and discomfort
of the woods, is explicable enough; but it is not so easy to
understand why this passion should be strongest in those who are most
refined, and most trained in intellectual and social fastidiousness.
Philistinism and shoddy do not like the woods, unless it becomes
fashionable to do so; and then, as speedily as possible, they
introduce their artificial luxuries, and reduce the life in the
wilderness to the vulgarity of a well-fed picnic. It is they who
have strewn the Adirondacks with paper collars and tin cans. The
real enjoyment of camping and tramping in the woods lies in a return
to primitive conditions of lodging, dress, and food, in as total an
escape as may be from the requirements of civilization. And it
remains to be explained why this is enjoyed most by those who are
most highly civilized. It is wonderful to see how easily the
restraints of society fall off. Of course it is not true that
courtesy depends upon clothes with the best people; but, with others,
behavior hangs almost entirely upon dress. Many good habits are
easily got rid of in the woods. Doubt sometimes seems to be felt
whether Sunday is a legal holiday there. It becomes a question of
casuistry with a clergyman whether he may shoot at a mark on Sunday,
if none of his congregation are present. He intends no harm: he only
gratifies a curiosity to see if he can hit the mark. Where shall he
draw the line? Doubtless he might throw a stone at a chipmunk, or
shout at a loon. Might he fire at a mark with an air-gun that makes
no noise? He will not fish or hunt on Sunday (although he is no more
likely to catch anything that day than on any other); but may he eat
trout that the guide has caught on Sunday, if the guide swears he
caught them Saturday night? Is there such a thing as a vacation in
religion? How much of our virtue do we owe to inherited habits?

I am not at all sure whether this desire to camp outside of
civilization is creditable to human nature, or otherwise. We hear
sometimes that the Turk has been merely camping for four centuries in
Europe. I suspect that many of us are, after all, really camping
temporarily in civilized conditions; and that going into the
wilderness is an escape, longed for, into our natural and preferred
state. Consider what this "camping out" is, that is confessedly so
agreeable to people most delicately reared. I have no desire to
exaggerate its delights.

The Adirondack wilderness is essentially unbroken. A few bad roads
that penetrate it, a few jolting wagons that traverse them, a few
barn-like boarding-houses on the edge of the forest, where the
boarders are soothed by patent coffee, and stimulated to unnatural
gayety by Japan tea, and experimented on by unique cookery, do little
to destroy the savage fascination of the region. In half an hour, at
any point, one can put himself into solitude and every desirable
discomfort. The party that covets the experience of the camp comes
down to primitive conditions of dress and equipment. There are
guides and porters to carry the blankets for beds, the raw
provisions, and the camp equipage; and the motley party of the
temporarily decivilized files into the woods, and begins, perhaps by
a road, perhaps on a trail, its exhilarating and weary march. The
exhilaration arises partly from the casting aside of restraint,
partly from the adventure of exploration; and the weariness, from the
interminable toil of bad walking, a heavy pack, and the grim monotony
of trees and bushes, that shut out all prospect, except an occasional
glimpse of the sky. Mountains are painfully climbed, streams forded,
lonesome lakes paddled over, long and muddy "carries" traversed.
Fancy this party the victim of political exile, banished by the law,
and a more sorrowful march could not be imagined; but the voluntary
hardship becomes pleasure, and it is undeniable that the spirits of
the party rise as the difficulties increase.

For this straggling and stumbling band the world is young again: it
has come to the beginning of things; it has cut loose from tradition,
and is free to make a home anywhere: the movement has all the promise
of a revolution. All this virginal freshness invites the primitive
instincts of play and disorder. The free range of the forests
suggests endless possibilities of exploration and possession.
Perhaps we are treading where man since the creation never trod
before; perhaps the waters of this bubbling spring, which we deepen
by scraping out the decayed leaves and the black earth, have never
been tasted before, except by the wild denizens of these woods. We
cross the trails of lurking animals,--paths that heighten our sense
of seclusion from the world. The hammering of the infrequent
woodpecker, the call of the lonely bird, the drumming of the solitary
partridge,--all these sounds do but emphasize the lonesomeness of
nature. The roar of the mountain brook, dashing over its bed of
pebbles, rising out of the ravine, and spreading, as it were, a mist
of sound through all the forest (continuous beating waves that have
the rhythm of eternity in them), and the fitful movement of the
air-tides through the balsams and firs and the giant pines,--how these
grand symphonies shut out the little exasperations of our vexed life!
It seems easy to begin life over again on the simplest terms.
Probably it is not so much the desire of the congregation to escape
from the preacher, or of the preacher to escape from himself, that
drives sophisticated people into the wilderness, as it is the
unconquered craving for primitive simplicity, the revolt against the
everlasting dress-parade of our civilization. From this monstrous
pomposity even the artificial rusticity of a Petit Trianon is a
relief. It was only human nature that the jaded Frenchman of the
regency should run away to the New World, and live in a forest-hut
with an Indian squaw; although he found little satisfaction in his
act of heroism, unless it was talked about at Versailles.

When our trampers come, late in the afternoon, to the bank of a
lovely lake where they purpose to enter the primitive life,
everything is waiting for them in virgin expectation. There is a
little promontory jutting into the lake, and sloping down to a sandy
beach, on which the waters idly lapse, and shoals of red-fins and
shiners come to greet the stranger; the forest is untouched by the
axe; the tender green sweeps the water's edge; ranks of slender firs
are marshaled by the shore; clumps of white-birch stems shine in
satin purity among the evergreens; the boles of giant spruces,
maples, and oaks, lifting high their crowns of foliage, stretch away
in endless galleries and arcades; through the shifting leaves the
sunshine falls upon the brown earth; overhead are fragments of blue
sky; under the boughs and in chance openings appear the bluer lake
and the outline of the gracious mountains. The discoverers of this
paradise, which they have entered to destroy, note the babbling of
the brook that flows close at hand; they hear the splash of the
leaping fish; they listen to the sweet, metallic song of the evening
thrush, and the chatter of the red squirrel, who angrily challenges
their right to be there. But the moment of sentiment passes. This
party has come here to eat and to sleep, and not to encourage Nature
in her poetic attitudinizing.

The spot for a shanty is selected. This side shall be its opening,
towards the lake; and in front of it the fire, so that the smoke
shall drift into the hut, and discourage the mosquitoes; yonder shall
be the cook's fire and the path to the spring. The whole colony
bestir themselves in the foundation of a new home,--an enterprise
that has all the fascination, and none of the danger, of a veritable
new settlement in the wilderness. The axes of the guides resound in
the echoing spaces; great trunks fall with a crash; vistas are opened
towards the lake and the mountains. The spot for the shanty is
cleared of underbrush; forked stakes are driven into the ground,
cross-pieces are laid on them, and poles sloping back to the ground.
In an incredible space of time there is the skeleton of a house,
which is entirely open in front. The roof and sides must be covered.
For this purpose the trunks of great spruces are skinned. The
woodman rims the bark near the foot of the tree, and again six feet
above, and slashes it perpendicularly; then, with a blunt stick, he
crowds off this thick hide exactly as an ox is skinned. It needs but
a few of these skins to cover the roof; and they make a perfectly
water-tight roof, except when it rains. Meantime busy hands have
gathered boughs of the spruce and the feathery balsam, and shingled
the ground underneath the shanty for a bed. It is an aromatic bed:
in theory it is elastic and consoling. Upon it are spread the
blankets. The sleepers, of all sexes and ages, are to lie there in a
row, their feet to the fire, and their heads under the edge of the
sloping roof. Nothing could be better contrived. The fire is in
front: it is not a fire, but a conflagration--a vast heap of green
logs set on fire--of pitch, and split dead-wood, and crackling
balsams, raging and roaring. By the time, twilight falls, the cook
has prepared supper. Everything has been cooked in a tin pail and a
skillet,--potatoes, tea, pork, mutton, slapjacks. You wonder how
everything could have been prepared in so few utensils. When you
eat, the wonder ceases: everything might have been cooked in one
pail. It is a noble meal; and nobly is it disposed of by these
amateur savages, sitting about upon logs and roots of trees. Never
were there such potatoes, never beans that seemed to have more of the
bean in them, never such curly pork, never trout with more
Indian-meal on them, never mutton more distinctly sheepy; and the tea,
drunk out of a tin cup, with a lump of maple-sugar dissolved in it,
--it is the sort of tea that takes hold, lifts the hair, and disposes
the drinker to anecdote and hilariousness. There is no deception
about it: it tastes of tannin and spruce and creosote. Everything, in
short, has the flavor of the wilderness and a free life. It is
idyllic. And yet, with all our sentimentality, there is nothing
feeble about the cooking. The slapjacks are a solid job of work, made
to last, and not go to pieces in a person's stomach like a trivial
bun: we might record on them, in cuneiform characters, our incipient
civilization; and future generations would doubtless turn them up as
Acadian bricks. Good, robust victuals are what the primitive man

Darkness falls suddenly. Outside the ring of light from our
conflagration the woods are black. There is a tremendous impression
of isolation and lonesomeness in our situation. We are the prisoners
of the night. The woods never seemed so vast and mysterious. The
trees are gigantic. There are noises that we do not understand,
--mysterious winds passing overhead, and rambling in the great
galleries, tree-trunks grinding against each other, undefinable stirs
and uneasinesses. The shapes of those who pass into the dimness are
outlined in monstrous proportions. The spectres, seated about in the
glare of the fire, talk about appearances and presentiments and
religion. The guides cheer the night with bear-fights, and catamount
encounters, and frozen-to-death experiences, and simple tales of
great prolixity and no point, and jokes of primitive lucidity. We
hear catamounts, and the stealthy tread of things in the leaves, and
the hooting of owls, and, when the moon rises, the laughter of the
loon. Everything is strange, spectral, fascinating.

By and by we get our positions in the shanty for the night, and
arrange the row of sleepers. The shanty has become a smoke-house by
this time: waves of smoke roll into it from the fire. It is only by
lying down, and getting the head well under the eaves, that one can
breathe. No one can find her "things"; nobody has a pillow. At
length the row is laid out, with the solemn protestation of intention
to sleep. The wind, shifting, drives away the smoke.

Good-night is said a hundred times; positions are readjusted, more
last words, new shifting about, final remarks; it is all so
comfortable and romantic; and then silence. Silence continues for a
minute. The fire flashes up; all the row of heads is lifted up
simultaneously to watch it; showers of sparks sail aloft into the
blue night; the vast vault of greenery is a fairy spectacle. How the
sparks mount and twinkle and disappear like tropical fireflies, and
all the leaves murmur, and clap their hands! Some of the sparks do
not go out: we see them flaming in the sky when the flame of the fire
has died down. Well, good-night, goodnight. More folding of the
arms to sleep; more grumbling about the hardness of a hand-bag,
or the insufficiency of a pocket-handkerchief, for a pillow.
Good-night. Was that a remark?--something about a root, a stub in
the ground sticking into the back. "You couldn't lie along a hair?"
---"Well, no: here's another stub. It needs but a moment for the
conversation to become general,--about roots under the shoulder,
stubs in the back, a ridge on which it is impossible for the sleeper
to balance, the non-elasticity of boughs, the hardness of the ground,
the heat, the smoke, the chilly air. Subjects of remarks multiply.
The whole camp is awake, and chattering like an aviary. The owl is
also awake; but the guides who are asleep outside make more noise
than the owls. Water is wanted, and is handed about in a dipper.
Everybody is yawning; everybody is now determined to go to sleep in
good earnest. A last good-night. There is an appalling silence. It
is interrupted in the most natural way in the world. Somebody has
got the start, and gone to sleep. He proclaims the fact. He seems
to have been brought up on the seashore, and to know how to make all
the deep-toned noises of the restless ocean. He is also like a
war-horse; or, it is suggested, like a saw-horse. How malignantly he
snorts, and breaks off short, and at once begins again in another
key! One head is raised after another.

"Who is that?"

"Somebody punch him."

"Turn him over."

"Reason with him."

The sleeper is turned over. The turn was a mistake. He was before,
it appears, on his most agreeable side. The camp rises in
indignation. The sleeper sits up in bewilderment. Before he can go
off again, two or three others have preceded him. They are all
alike. You never can judge what a person is when he is awake. There
are here half a dozen disturbers of the peace who should be put in
solitary confinement. At midnight, when a philosopher crawls out to
sit on a log by the fire, and smoke a pipe, a duet in tenor and
mezzo-soprano is going on in the shanty, with a chorus always coming
in at the wrong time. Those who are not asleep want to know why the
smoker doesn't go to bed. He is requested to get some water, to
throw on another log, to see what time it is, to note whether it
looks like rain. A buzz of conversation arises. She is sure she
heard something behind the shanty. He says it is all nonsense.
"Perhaps, however, it might be a mouse."

"Mercy! Are there mice?"


"Then that's what I heard nibbling by my head. I shan't sleep a
wink! Do they bite?"

"No, they nibble; scarcely ever take a full bite out."

"It's horrid!"

Towards morning it grows chilly; the guides have let the fire go out;
the blankets will slip down. Anxiety begins to be expressed about
the dawn.

"What time does the sun rise?"

"Awful early. Did you sleep?

"Not a wink. And you?"

"In spots. I'm going to dig up this root as soon as it is light

"See that mist on the lake, and the light just coming on the Gothics!
I'd no idea it was so cold: all the first part of the night I was

"What were they talking about all night?"

When the party crawls out to the early breakfast, after it has washed
its faces in the lake, it is disorganized, but cheerful. Nobody
admits much sleep; but everybody is refreshed, and declares it
delightful. It is the fresh air all night that invigorates; or maybe
it is the tea, or the slap-jacks. The guides have erected a table of
spruce bark, with benches at the sides; so that breakfast is taken in
form. It is served on tin plates and oak chips. After breakfast
begins the day's work. It may be a mountain-climbing expedition, or
rowing and angling in the lake, or fishing for trout in some stream
two or three miles distant. Nobody can stir far from camp without a
guide. Hammocks are swung, bowers are built novel-reading begins,
worsted work appears, cards are shuffled and dealt. The day passes
in absolute freedom from responsibility to one's self. At night when
the expeditions return, the camp resumes its animation. Adventures
are recounted, every statement of the narrator being disputed and
argued. Everybody has become an adept in woodcraft; but nobody
credits his neighbor with like instinct. Society getting resolved
into its elements, confidence is gone.

Whilst the hilarious party are at supper, a drop or two of rain
falls. The head guide is appealed to. Is it going to rain? He says
it does rain. But will it be a rainy night? The guide goes down to
the lake, looks at the sky, and concludes that, if the wind shifts a
p'int more, there is no telling what sort of weather we shall have.
Meantime the drops patter thicker on the leaves overhead, and the
leaves, in turn, pass the water down to the table; the sky darkens;
the wind rises; there is a kind of shiver in the woods; and we scud
away into the shanty, taking the remains of our supper, and eating it
as best we can. The rain increases. The fire sputters and fumes.
All the trees are dripping, dripping, and the ground is wet. We
cannot step outdoors without getting a drenching. Like sheep, we are
penned in the little hut, where no one can stand erect. The rain
swirls into the open front, and wets the bottom of the blankets. The
smoke drives in. We curl up, and enjoy ourselves. The guides at
length conclude that it is going to be damp. The dismal situation
sets us all into good spirits; and it is later than the night before
when we crawl under our blankets, sure this time of a sound sleep,
lulled by the storm and the rain resounding on the bark roof. How
much better off we are than many a shelter-less wretch! We are as
snug as dry herrings. At the moment, however, of dropping off to
sleep, somebody unfortunately notes a drop of water on his face; this
is followed by another drop; in an instant a stream is established.
He moves his head to a dry place. Scarcely has he done so, when he
feels a dampness in his back. Reaching his hand outside, he finds a
puddle of water soaking through his blanket. By this time, somebody
inquires if it is possible that the roof leaks. One man has a stream
of water under him; another says it is coming into his ear. The roof
appears to be a discriminating sieve. Those who are dry see no need
of such a fuss. The man in the corner spreads his umbrella, and the
protective measure is resented by his neighbor. In the darkness
there is recrimination. One of the guides, who is summoned, suggests
that the rubber blankets be passed out, and spread over the roof.
The inmates dislike the proposal, saying that a shower-bath is no
worse than a tub-bath. The rain continues to soak down. The fire is
only half alive. The bedding is damp. Some sit up, if they can find
a dry spot to sit on, and smoke. Heartless observations are made. A
few sleep. And the night wears on. The morning opens cheerless.
The sky is still leaking, and so is the shanty. The guides bring in
a half-cooked breakfast. The roof is patched up. There are reviving
signs of breaking away, delusive signs that create momentary
exhilaration. Even if the storm clears, the woods are soaked. There
is no chance of stirring. The world is only ten feet square.

This life, without responsibility or clean clothes, may continue as
long as the reader desires. There are, those who would like to live
in this free fashion forever, taking rain and sun as heaven pleases;
and there are some souls so constituted that they cannot exist more
than three days without their worldly--baggage. Taking the party
altogether, from one cause or another it is likely to strike camp
sooner than was intended. And the stricken camp is a melancholy
sight. The woods have been despoiled; the stumps are ugly; the
bushes are scorched; the pine-leaf-strewn earth is trodden into mire;
the landing looks like a cattle-ford; the ground is littered with all
the unsightly dibris of a hand-to-hand life; the dismantled shanty is
a shabby object; the charred and blackened logs, where the fire
blazed, suggest the extinction of family life. Man has wrought his
usual wrong upon Nature, and he can save his self-respect only by
moving to virgin forests.

And move to them he will, the next season, if not this. For he who
has once experienced the fascination of the woods-life never escapes
its enticement: in the memory nothing remains but its charm.



At the south end of Keene Valley, in the Adirondacks, stands Noon
Mark, a shapely peak thirty-five hundred feet above the sea, which,
with the aid of the sun, tells the Keene people when it is time to
eat dinner. From its summit you look south into a vast wilderness
basin, a great stretch of forest little trodden, and out of whose
bosom you can hear from the heights on a still day the loud murmur of
the Boquet. This basin of unbroken green rises away to the south and
southeast into the rocky heights of Dix's Peak and Nipple Top,--the
latter a local name which neither the mountain nor the fastidious
tourist is able to shake off. Indeed, so long as the mountain keeps
its present shape as seen from the southern lowlands, it cannot get
on without this name.

These two mountains, which belong to the great system of which Marcy
is the giant centre, and are in the neighborhood of five thousand
feet high, on the southern outposts of the great mountains, form the
gate-posts of the pass into the south country. This opening between
them is called Hunter's Pass. It is the most elevated and one of the
wildest of the mountain passes. Its summit is thirty-five hundred
feet high. In former years it is presumed the hunters occasionally
followed the game through; but latterly it is rare to find a guide
who has been that way, and the tin-can and paper-collar tourists have
not yet made it a runway. This seclusion is due not to any inherent
difficulty of travel, but to the fact that it lies a little out of
the way.

We went through it last summer; making our way into the jaws from the
foot of the great slides on Dix, keeping along the ragged spurs of
the mountain through the virgin forest. The pass is narrow, walled
in on each side by precipices of granite, and blocked up with
bowlders and fallen trees, and beset with pitfalls in the roads
ingeniously covered with fair-seeming moss. When the climber
occasionally loses sight of a leg in one of these treacherous holes,
and feels a cold sensation in his foot, he learns that he has dipped
into the sources of the Boquet, which emerges lower down into falls
and rapids, and, recruited by creeping tributaries, goes brawling
through the forest basin, and at last comes out an amiable and
boat-bearing stream in the valley of Elizabeth Town. From the summit
another rivulet trickles away to the south, and finds its way through
a frightful tamarack swamp, and through woods scarred by ruthless
lumbering, to Mud Pond, a quiet body of water, with a ghastly fringe
of dead trees, upon which people of grand intentions and weak
vocabulary are trying to fix the name of Elk Lake. The descent of
the pass on that side is precipitous and exciting. The way is in the
stream itself; and a considerable portion of the distance we swung
ourselves down the faces of considerable falls, and tumbled down
cascades. The descent, however, was made easy by the fact that it
rained, and every footstep was yielding and slippery. Why sane
people, often church-members respectably connected, will subject
themselves to this sort of treatment,--be wet to the skin, bruised by
the rocks, and flung about among the bushes and dead wood until the
most necessary part of their apparel hangs in shreds,--is one of the
delightful mysteries of these woods. I suspect that every man is at
heart a roving animal, and likes, at intervals, to revert to the
condition of the bear and the catamount.

There is no trail through Hunter's Pass, which, as I have intimated,
is the least frequented portion of this wilderness. Yet we were
surprised to find a well-beaten path a considerable portion of the
way and wherever a path is possible. It was not a mere deer's
runway: these are found everywhere in the mountains. It is trodden
by other and larger animals, and is, no doubt, the highway of beasts.
It bears marks of having been so for a long period, and probably a
period long ago. Large animals are not common in these woods now,
and you seldom meet anything fiercer than the timid deer and the
gentle bear. But in days gone by, Hunter's Pass was the highway of
the whole caravan of animals who were continually going backward; and
forwards, in the aimless, roaming way that beasts have, between Mud
Pond and the Boquet Basin. I think I can see now the procession of
them between the heights of Dix and Nipple Top; the elk and the moose
shambling along, cropping the twigs; the heavy bear lounging by with
his exploring nose; the frightened deer trembling at every twig that
snapped beneath his little hoofs, intent on the lily-pads of the
pond; the raccoon and the hedgehog, sidling along; and the
velvet-footed panther, insouciant and conscienceless, scenting the
path with a curious glow in his eye, or crouching in an overhanging
tree ready to drop into the procession at the right moment. Night and
day, year after year, I see them going by, watched by the red fox and
the comfortably clad sable, and grinned at by the black cat,--the
innocent, the vicious, the timid and the savage, the shy and the bold,
the chattering slanderer and the screaming prowler, the industrious
and the peaceful, the tree-top critic and the crawling biter,--just as
it is elsewhere. It makes me blush for my species when I think of it.
This charming society is nearly extinct now: of the larger animals
there only remain the bear, who minds his own business more thoroughly
than any person I know, and the deer, who would like to be friendly
with men, but whose winning face and gentle ways are no protection
from the savageness of man, and who is treated with the same unpitying
destruction as the snarling catamount. I have read in history that
the amiable natives of Hispaniola fared no better at the hands of the
brutal Spaniards than the fierce and warlike Caribs. As society is at
present constituted in Christian countries, I would rather for my own
security be a cougar than a fawn.

There is not much of romantic interest in the Adirondacks. Out of
the books of daring travelers, nothing. I do not know that the Keene
Valley has any history. The mountains always stood here, and the Au
Sable, flowing now in shallows and now in rippling reaches over the
sands and pebbles, has for ages filled the air with continuous and
soothing sounds. Before the Vermonters broke into it some
three-quarters of a century ago, and made meadows of its bottoms and
sugar-camps of its fringing woods, I suppose the red Indian lived here
in his usual discomfort, and was as restless as his successors, the
summer boarders. But the streams were full of trout then, and the
moose and the elk left their broad tracks on the sands of the river.
But of the Indian there is no trace. There is a mound in the valley,
much like a Tel in the country of Bashan beyond the Jordan, that may
have been built by some pre-historic race, and may contain treasure
and the seated figure of a preserved chieftain on his slow way
to Paradise. What the gentle and accomplished race of the
Mound-Builders should want in this savage region where the frost kills
the early potatoes and stunts the scanty oats, I do not know. I have
seen no trace of them, except this Tel, and one other slight relic,
which came to light last summer, and is not enough to found the
history of a race upon.

Some workingmen, getting stone from the hillside on one of the little
plateaus, for a house-cellar, discovered, partly embedded, a piece of
pottery unique in this region. With the unerring instinct of workmen
in regard to antiquities, they thrust a crowbar through it, and broke
the bowl into several pieces. The joint fragments, however, give us
the form of the dish. It is a bowl about nine inches high and eight
inches across, made of red clay, baked but not glazed. The bottom is
round, the top flares into four comers, and the rim is rudely but
rather artistically ornamented with criss-cross scratches made when
the clay was soft. The vessel is made of clay not found about here,
and it is one that the Indians formerly living here could not form.
Was it brought here by roving Indians who may have made an expedition
to the Ohio; was it passed from tribe to tribe; or did it belong to a
race that occupied the country before the Indian, and who have left
traces of their civilized skill in pottery scattered all over the

If I could establish the fact that this jar was made by a prehistoric
race, we should then have four generations in this lovely valley:-the
amiable Pre-Historic people (whose gentle descendants were probably
killed by the Spaniards in the West Indies); the Red Indians; the
Keene Flaters (from Vermont); and the Summer Boarders, to say nothing
of the various races of animals who have been unable to live here
since the advent of the Summer Boarders, the valley being not
productive enough to sustain both. This last incursion has been more
destructive to the noble serenity of the forest than all the

But we are wandering from Hunter's Pass. The western walls of it are
formed by the precipices of Nipple Top, not so striking nor so bare
as the great slides of Dix which glisten in the sun like silver, but
rough and repelling, and consequently alluring. I have a great
desire to scale them. I have always had an unreasonable wish to
explore the rough summit of this crabbed hill, which is too broken
and jagged for pleasure and not high enough for glory. This desire
was stimulated by a legend related by our guide that night in the Mud
Pond cabin. The guide had never been through the pass before;
although he was familiar with the region, and had ascended Nipple Top
in the winter in pursuit of the sable. The story he told doesn't
amount to much, none of the guides' stories do, faithfully reported,
and I should not have believed it if I had not had a good deal of
leisure on my hands at the time, and been of a willing mind, and I
may say in rather of a starved condition as to any romance in this

The guide said then--and he mentioned it casually, in reply to our
inquiries about ascending the mountain--that there was a cave high up
among the precipices on the southeast side of Nipple Top. He
scarcely volunteered the information, and with seeming reluctance
gave us any particulars about it. I always admire this art by which
the accomplished story-teller lets his listener drag the reluctant
tale of the marvelous from him, and makes you in a manner responsible
for its improbability. If this is well managed, the listener is
always eager to believe a great deal more than the romancer seems
willing to tell, and always resents the assumed reservations and
doubts of the latter.

There were strange reports about this cave when the old guide was a
boy, and even then its very existence had become legendary. Nobody
knew exactly where it was, but there was no doubt that it had been
inhabited. Hunters in the forests south of Dix had seen a light late
at night twinkling through the trees high up the mountain, and now
and then a ruddy glare as from the flaring-up of a furnace. Settlers
were few in the wilderness then, and all the inhabitants were well
known. If the cave was inhabited, it must be by strangers, and by
men who had some secret purpose in seeking this seclusion and eluding
observation. If suspicious characters were seen about Port Henry, or
if any such landed from the steamers on the shore of Lake Champlain,
it was impossible to identify them with these invaders who were never
seen. Their not being seen did not, however, prevent the growth of
the belief in their existence. Little indications and rumors, each
trivial in itself, became a mass of testimony that could not be
disposed of because of its very indefiniteness, but which appealed
strongly to man's noblest faculty, his imagination, or credulity.

The cave existed; and it was inhabited by men who came and went on
mysterious errands, and transacted their business by night. What
this band of adventurers or desperadoes lived on, how they conveyed
their food through the trackless woods to their high eyrie, and what
could induce men to seek such a retreat, were questions discussed,
but never settled. They might be banditti; but there was nothing to
plunder in these savage wilds, and, in fact, robberies and raids
either in the settlements of the hills or the distant lake shore were
unknown. In another age, these might have been hermits, holy men who
had retired from the world to feed the vanity of their godliness in a
spot where they were subject neither to interruption nor comparison;
they would have had a shrine in the cave, and an image of the Blessed
Virgin, with a lamp always burning before it and sending out its
mellow light over the savage waste. A more probable notion was that
they were romantic Frenchmen who had grow weary of vice and
refinement together,--possibly princes, expectants of the throne,
Bourbon remainders, named Williams or otherwise, unhatched eggs, so
to speak, of kings, who had withdrawn out of observation to wait for
the next turn-over in Paris. Frenchmen do such things. If they were
not Frenchmen, they might be honest-thieves or criminals, escaped
from justice or from the friendly state-prison of New York. This
last supposition was, however, more violent than the others, or seems
so to us in this day of grace. For what well-brought-up New York
criminal would be so insane as to run away from his political friends
the keepers, from the easily had companionship of his pals outside,
and from the society of his criminal lawyer, and, in short, to put
himself into the depths of a wilderness out of which escape, when
escape was desired, is a good deal more difficult than it is out of
the swarming jails of the Empire State? Besides, how foolish for a
man, if he were a really hardened and professional criminal, having
established connections and a regular business, to run away from the
governor's pardon, which might have difficulty in finding him in the
craggy bosom of Nipple Top!

This gang of men--there is some doubt whether they were accompanied
by women--gave little evidence in their appearance of being escaped
criminals or expectant kings. Their movements were mysterious but
not necessarily violent. If their occupation could have been
discovered, that would have furnished a clew to their true character.
But about this the strangers were as close as mice. If anything
could betray them, it was the steady light from the cavern, and its
occasional ruddy flashing. This gave rise to the opinion, which was
strengthened by a good many indications equally conclusive, that the
cave was the resort of a gang of coiners and counterfeiters. Here
they had their furnace, smelting-pots, and dies; here they
manufactured those spurious quarters and halves that their
confidants, who were pardoned, were circulating, and which a few
honest men were "nailing to the counter."

This prosaic explanation of a romantic situation satisfies all the
requirements of the known facts, but the lively imagination at once
rejects it as unworthy of the subject. I think the guide put it
forward in order to have it rejected. The fact is,--at least, it has
never been disproved,--these strangers whose movements were veiled
belonged to that dark and mysterious race whose presence anywhere on
this continent is a nest-egg of romance or of terror. They were
Spaniards! You need not say buccaneers, you need not say
gold-hunters, you need not say swarthy adventurers even: it is enough
to say Spaniards! There is no tale of mystery and fanaticism and
daring I would not believe if a Spaniard is the hero of it, and it is
not necessary either that he should have the high-sounding name of
Bodadilla or Ojeda.

Nobody, I suppose, would doubt this story if the moose, quaffing deep
draughts of red wine from silver tankards, and then throwing
themselves back upon divans, and lazily puffing the fragrant Havana.
After a day of toil, what more natural, and what more probable for a

Does the reader think these inferences not warranted by the facts?
He does not know the facts. It is true that our guide had never
himself personally visited the cave, but he has always intended to
hunt it up. His information in regard to it comes from his father,
who was a mighty hunter and trapper. In one of his expeditions over
Nipple Top he chanced upon the cave. The mouth was half concealed by
undergrowth. He entered, not without some apprehension engendered by
the legends which make it famous. I think he showed some boldness in
venturing into such a place alone. I confess that, before I went in,
I should want to fire a Gatling gun into the mouth for a little
while, in order to rout out the bears which usually dwell there. He
went in, however. The entrance was low; but the cave was spacious,
not large, but big enough, with a level floor and a vaulted ceiling.
It had long been deserted, but that it was once the residence of
highly civilized beings there could be no doubt. The dead brands in
the centre were the remains of a fire that could not have been
kindled by wild beasts, and the bones scattered about had been
scientifically dissected and handled. There were also remnants of
furniture and pieces of garments scattered about. At the farther
end, in a fissure of the rock, were stones regularly built up, the
rem Yins of a larger fire,--and what the hunter did not doubt was the
smelting furnace of the Spaniards. He poked about in the ashes, but
found no silver. That had all been carried away.

But what most provoked his wonder in this rude cave was a chair I
This was not such a seat as a woodman might knock up with an axe,
with rough body and a seat of woven splits, but a manufactured chair
of commerce, and a chair, too, of an unusual pattern and some
elegance. This chair itself was a mute witness of luxury and
mystery. The chair itself might have been accounted for, though I
don't know how; but upon the back of the chair hung, as if the owner
had carelessly flung it there before going out an hour before, a
man's waistcoat. This waistcoat seemed to him of foreign make and
peculiar style, but what endeared it to him was its row of metal
buttons. These buttons were of silver! I forget now whether he did
not say they were of silver coin, and that the coin was Spanish. But
I am not certain about this latter fact, and I wish to cast no air of
improbability over my narrative. This rich vestment the hunter
carried away with him. This was all the plunder his expedition
afforded. Yes: there was one other article, and, to my mind, more
significant than the vest of the hidalgo. This was a short and stout
crowbar of iron; not one of the long crowbars that farmers use to pry
up stones, but a short handy one, such as you would use in digging
silver-ore out of the cracks of rocks.

This was the guide's simple story. I asked him what became of the
vest and the buttons, and the bar of iron. The old man wore the vest
until he wore it out; and then he handed it over to the boys, and
they wore it in turn till they wore it out. The buttons were cut
off, and kept as curiosities. They were about the cabin, and the
children had them to play with. The guide distinctly remembers
playing with them; one of them he kept for a long time, and he didn't
know but he could find it now, but he guessed it had disappeared. I
regretted that he had not treasured this slender verification of an
interesting romance, but he said in those days he never paid much
attention to such things. Lately he has turned the subject over, and
is sorry that his father wore out the vest and did not bring away the
chair. It is his steady purpose to find the cave some time when he
has leisure, and capture the chair, if it has not tumbled to pieces.
But about the crowbar? Oh I that is all right. The guide has the
bar at his house in Keene Valley, and has always used it.
   I am happy to be able to confirm this story by saying that next
day I saw the crowbar, and had it in my hand. It is short and thick,
and the most interesting kind of crowbar. This evidence is enough
for me. I intend in the course of this vacation to search for the
cave; and, if I find it, my readers shall know the truth about it, if
it destroys the only bit of romance connected with these mountains.



My readers were promised an account of Spaniard's Cave on Nipple-Top
Mountain in the Adirondacks, if such a cave exists, and could be
found. There is none but negative evidence that this is a mere cave
of the imagination, the void fancy of a vacant hour; but it is the
duty of the historian to present the negative testimony of a
fruitless expedition in search of it, made last summer. I beg leave
to offer this in the simple language befitting all sincere exploits
of a geographical character.

The summit of Nipple-Top Mountain has been trodden by few white men
of good character: it is in the heart of a hirsute wilderness; it is
itself a rough and unsocial pile of granite nearly five thousand feet
high, bristling with a stunted and unpleasant growth of firs and
balsams, and there is no earthly reason why a person should go there.
Therefore we went. In the party of three there was, of course, a
chaplain. The guide was Old Mountain Phelps, who had made the ascent
once before, but not from the northwest side, the direction from
which we approached it. The enthusiasm of this philosopher has grown
with his years, and outlived his endurance: we carried our own
knapsacks and supplies, therefore, and drew upon him for nothing but
moral reflections and a general knowledge of the wilderness. Our
first day's route was through the Gill-brook woods and up one of its
branches to the head of Caribou Pass, which separates Nipple Top from

It was about the first of September; no rain had fallen for several
weeks, and this heart of the forest was as dry as tinder; a lighted
match dropped anywhere would start a conflagration. This dryness has
its advantages: the walking is improved; the long heat has expressed
all the spicy odors of the cedars and balsams, and the woods are
filled with a soothing fragrance; the waters of the streams, though
scant and clear, are cold as ice; the common forest chill is gone
from the air. The afternoon was bright; there was a feeling of
exultation and adventure in stepping off into the open but pathless
forest; the great stems of deciduous trees were mottled with patches
of sunlight, which brought out upon the variegated barks and mosses
of the old trunks a thousand shifting hues. There is nothing like a
primeval wood for color on a sunny day. The shades of green and
brown are infinite; the dull red of the hemlock bark glows in the
sun, the russet of the changing moose-bush becomes brilliant; there
are silvery openings here and there; and everywhere the columns rise
up to the canopy of tender green which supports the intense blue sky
and holds up a part of it from falling through in fragments to the
floor of the forest. Decorators can learn here how Nature dares to
put blue and green in juxtaposition: she has evidently the secret of
harmonizing all the colors.

The way, as we ascended, was not all through open woods; dense masses
of firs were encountered, jagged spurs were to be crossed, and the
going became at length so slow and toilsome that we took to the rocky
bed of a stream, where bowlders and flumes and cascades offered us
sufficient variety. The deeper we penetrated, the greater the sense
of savageness and solitude; in the silence of these hidden places one
seems to approach the beginning of things. We emerged from the
defile into an open basin, formed by the curved side of the mountain,
and stood silent before a waterfall coming down out of the sky in the
centre of the curve. I do not know anything exactly like this fall,
which some poetical explorer has named the Fairy-Ladder Falls. It
appears to have a height of something like a hundred and fifty feet,
and the water falls obliquely across the face of the cliff from left
to right in short steps, which in the moonlight might seem like a
veritable ladder for fairies. Our impression of its height was
confirmed by climbing the very steep slope at its side some three or
four hundred feet. At the top we found the stream flowing over a
broad bed of rock, like a street in the wilderness, slanting up still
towards the sky, and bordered by low firs and balsams, and bowlders
completely covered with moss. It was above the world and open to the

On account of the tindery condition of the woods we made our fire on
the natural pavement, and selected a smooth place for our bed near by
on the flat rock, with a pool of limpid water at the foot. This
granite couch we covered with the dry and springy moss, which we
stripped off in heavy fleeces a foot thick from the bowlders. First,
however, we fed upon the fruit that was offered us. Over these hills
of moss ran an exquisite vine with a tiny, ovate, green leaf, bearing
small, delicate berries, oblong and white as wax, having a faint
flavor of wintergreen and the slightest acid taste, the very essence
of the wilderness; fairy food, no doubt, and too refined for palates
accustomed to coarser viands. There must exist somewhere sinless
women who could eat these berries without being reminded of the lost
purity and delicacy of the primeval senses. Every year I doubt not
this stainless berry ripens here, and is unplucked by any knight of
the Holy Grail who is worthy to eat it, and keeps alive, in the
prodigality of nature, the tradition of the unperverted conditions of
taste before the fall. We ate these berries, I am bound to say, with
a sense of guilty enjoyment, as if they had been a sort of shew-bread
of the wilderness, though I cannot answer for the chaplain, who is by
virtue of his office a little nearer to these mysteries of nature
than I. This plant belongs to the heath family, and is first cousin
to the blueberry and cranberry. It is commonly called the creeping
snowberry, but I like better its official title of chiogenes,--the

Our mossy resting-place was named the Bridal Chamber Camp, in the
enthusiasm of the hour, after darkness fell upon the woods and the
stars came out. We were two thousand five hundred feet above the
common world. We lay, as it were, on a shelf in the sky, with a
basin of illimitable forests below us and dim mountain-passes-in the
far horizon.

And as we lay there courting sleep which the blinking stars refused
to shower down, our philosopher discoursed to us of the principle of
fire, which he holds, with the ancients, to be an independent element
that comes and goes in a mysterious manner, as we see flame spring up
and vanish, and is in some way vital and indestructible, and has a
mysterious relation to the source of all things. "That flame," he
says, "you have put out, but where has it gone?" We could not say,
nor whether it is anything like the spirit of a man which is here for
a little hour, and then vanishes away. Our own philosophy of the
correlation of forces found no sort of favor at that elevation, and
we went to sleep leaving the principle of fire in the apostolic
category of "any other creature."

At daylight we were astir; and, having pressed the principle of fire
into our service to make a pot of tea, we carefully extinguished it
or sent it into another place, and addressed ourselves to the climb
of some thing over two thousand feet. The arduous labor of scaling
an Alpine peak has a compensating glory; but the dead lift of our
bodies up Nipple Top had no stimulus of this sort. It is simply hard
work, for which the strained muscles only get the approbation of the
individual conscience that drives them to the task. The pleasure of
such an ascent is difficult to explain on the spot, and I suspect
consists not so much in positive enjoyment as in the delight the mind
experiences in tyrannizing over the body. I do not object to the
elevation of this mountain, nor to the uncommonly steep grade by
which it attains it, but only to the other obstacles thrown in the
way of the climber. All the slopes of Nipple Top are hirsute and
jagged to the last degree. Granite ledges interpose; granite
bowlders seem to have been dumped over the sides with no more attempt
at arrangement than in a rip-rap wall; the slashes and windfalls of a
century present here and there an almost impenetrable chevalier des
arbres; and the steep sides bristle with a mass of thick balsams,
with dead, protruding spikes, as unyielding as iron stakes. The
mountain has had its own way forever, and is as untamed as a wolf; or
rather the elements, the frightful tempests, the frosts, the heavy
snows, the coaxing sun, and the avalanches have had their way with it
until its surface is in hopeless confusion. We made our way very
slowly; and it was ten o'clock before we reached what appeared to be
the summit, a ridge deeply covered with moss, low balsams, and

I say, appeared to be; for we stood in thick fog or in the heart of
clouds which limited our dim view to a radius of twenty feet. It was
a warm and cheerful fog, stirred by little wind, but moving,
shifting, and boiling as by its own volatile nature, rolling up black
from below and dancing in silvery splendor overhead As a fog it could
not have been improved; as a medium for viewing the landscape it was
a failure and we lay down upon the Sybarite couch of moss, as in a
Russian bath, to await revelations.

We waited two hours without change, except an occasional hopeful
lightness in the fog above, and at last the appearance for a moment
of the spectral sun. Only for an instant was this luminous promise
vouchsafed. But we watched in intense excitement. There it was
again; and this time the fog was so thin overhead that we caught
sight of a patch of blue sky a yard square, across which the curtain
was instantly drawn. A little wind was stirring, and the fog boiled
up from the valley caldrons thicker than ever. But the spell was
broken. In a moment more Old Phelps was shouting, "The sun!" and
before we could gain our feet there was a patch of sky overhead as
big as a farm. "See! quick!" The old man was dancing like a
lunatic. There was a rift in the vapor at our feet, down, down,
three thousand feet into the forest abyss, and lo! lifting out of it
yonder the tawny side of Dix,--the vision of a second, snatched away
in the rolling fog. The play had just begun. Before we could turn,
there was the gorge of Caribou Pass, savage and dark, visible to the
bottom. The opening shut as suddenly; and then, looking over the
clouds, miles away we saw the peaceful farms of the Au Sable Valley,
and in a moment more the plateau of North Elba and the sentinel
mountains about the grave of John Brown. These glimpses were as
fleeting as thought, and instantly we were again isolated in the sea
of mist. The expectation of these sudden strokes of sublimity kept
us exultingly on the alert; and yet it was a blow of surprise when
the curtain was swiftly withdrawn on the west, and the long ridge of
Colvin, seemingly within a stone's throw, heaved up like an island
out of the ocean, and was the next moment ingulfed. We waited longer
for Dix to show its shapely peak and its glistening sides of rock
gashed by avalanches. The fantastic clouds, torn and streaming,
hurried up from the south in haste as if to a witch's rendezvous,
hiding and disclosing the great summit in their flight. The mist
boiled up from the valley, whirled over the summit where we stood,
and plunged again into the depths. Objects were forming and
disappearing, shifting and dancing, now in sun and now gone in fog,
and in the elemental whirl we felt that we were "assisting" in an
original process of creation. The sun strove, and his very striving
called up new vapors; the wind rent away the clouds, and brought new
masses to surge about us; and the spectacle to right and left, above
and below, changed with incredible swiftness. Such glory of abyss
and summit, of color and form and transformation, is seldom granted
to mortal eyes. For an hour we watched it until our vast mountain
was revealed in all its bulk, its long spurs, its abysses and its
savagery, and the great basins of wilderness with their shining
lakes, and the giant peaks of the region, were one by one disclosed,
and hidden and again tranquil in the sunshine.

Where was the cave? There was ample surface in which to look for it.
If we could have flitted about, like the hawks that came circling
round, over the steep slopes, the long spurs, the jagged precipices,
I have no doubt we should have found it. But moving about on this
mountain is not a holiday pastime; and we were chiefly anxious to
discover a practicable mode of descent into the great wilderness
basin on the south, which we must traverse that afternoon before
reaching the hospitable shanty on Mud Pond. It was enough for us to
have discovered the general whereabouts of the Spanish Cave, and we
left the fixing of its exact position to future explorers.

The spur we chose for our escape looked smooth in the distance; but
we found it bristling with obstructions, dead balsams set thickly
together, slashes of fallen timber, and every manner of woody chaos;
and when at length we swung and tumbled off the ledge to the general
slope, we exchanged only for more disagreeable going. The slope for
a couple of thousand feet was steep enough; but it was formed of
granite rocks all moss-covered, so that the footing could not be
determined, and at short intervals we nearly went out of sight in
holes under the treacherous carpeting. Add to this that stems of
great trees were laid longitudinally and transversely and criss-cross
over and among the rocks, and the reader can see that a good deal of
work needs to be done to make this a practicable highway for anything
but a squirrel....

We had had no water since our daylight breakfast: our lunch on the
mountain had been moistened only by the fog. Our thirst began to be
that of Tantalus, because we could hear the water running deep down
among the rocks, but we could not come at it. The imagination drank
the living stream, and we realized anew what delusive food the
imagination furnishes in an actual strait. A good deal of the crime
of this world, I am convinced, is the direct result of the unlicensed
play of the imagination in adverse circumstances. This reflection
had nothing to do with our actual situation; for we added to our
imagination patience, and to our patience long-suffering, and
probably all the Christian virtues would have been developed in us if
the descent had been long enough. Before we reached the bottom of
Caribou Pass, the water burst out from the rocks in a clear stream
that was as cold as ice. Shortly after, we struck the roaring brook
that issues from the Pass to the south. It is a stream full of
character, not navigable even for trout in the upper part, but a
succession of falls, cascades, flumes, and pools that would delight
an artist. It is not an easy bed for anything except water to
descend; and before we reached the level reaches, where the stream
flows with a murmurous noise through open woods, one of our party
began to show signs of exhaustion.

This was Old Phelps, whose appetite had failed the day before,--his
imagination being in better working order than his stomach: he had
eaten little that day, and his legs became so groggy that he was
obliged to rest at short intervals. Here was a situation! The
afternoon was wearing away. We had six or seven miles of unknown
wilderness to traverse, a portion of it swampy, in which a progress
of more than a mile an hour is difficult, and the condition of the
guide compelled even a slower march. What should we do in that
lonesome solitude if the guide became disabled? We couldn't carry
him out; could we find our own way out to get assistance? The guide
himself had never been there before; and although he knew the general
direction of our point of egress, and was entirely adequate to
extricate himself from any position in the woods, his knowledge was
of that occult sort possessed by woodsmen which it is impossible to
communicate. Our object was to strike a trail that led from the Au
Sable Pond, the other side of the mountain-range, to an inlet on Mud
Pond. We knew that if we traveled southwestward far enough we must
strike that trail, but how far? No one could tell. If we reached
that trail, and found a boat at the inlet, there would be only a row
of a couple of miles to the house at the foot of the lake. If no
boat was there, then we must circle the lake three or four miles
farther through a cedar-swamp, with no trail in particular. The
prospect was not pleasing. We were short of supplies, for we had not
expected to pass that night in the woods. The pleasure of the
excursion began to develop itself.

We stumbled on in the general direction marked out, through a forest
that began to seem endless as hour after hour passed, compelled as we
were to make long detours over the ridges of the foothills to avoid
the swamp, which sent out from the border of the lake long tongues
into the firm ground. The guide became more ill at every step, and
needed frequent halts and long rests. Food he could not eat; and
tea, water, and even brandy he rejected. Again and again the old
philosopher, enfeebled by excessive exertion and illness, would
collapse in a heap on the ground, an almost comical picture of
despair, while we stood and waited the waning of the day, and peered
forward in vain for any sign of an open country. At every brook we
encountered, we suggested a halt for the night, while it was still
light enough to select a camping-place, but the plucky old man
wouldn't hear of it: the trail might be only a quarter of a mile
ahead, and we crawled on again at a snail's pace. His honor as a
guide seemed to be at stake; and, besides, he confessed to a notion
that his end was near, and he didn't want to die like a dog in the
woods. And yet, if this was his last journey, it seemed not an
inappropriate ending for the old woodsman to lie down and give up the
ghost in the midst of the untamed forest and the solemn silences he
felt most at home in. There is a popular theory, held by civilians,
that a soldier likes to die in battle. I suppose it is as true that
a woodsman would like to "pass in his chips,"--the figure seems to be
inevitable, struck down by illness and exposure, in the forest
solitude, with heaven in sight and a tree-root for his pillow.

The guide seemed really to fear that, if we did not get out of the
woods that night, he would never go out; and, yielding to his dogged
resolution, we kept on in search of the trail, although the gathering
of dusk over the ground warned us that we might easily cross the
trail without recognizing it. We were traveling by the light in the
upper sky, and by the forms of the tree-stems, which every moment
grew dimmer. At last the end came. We had just felt our way over
what seemed to be a little run of water, when the old man sunk down,
remarking, "I might as well die here as anywhere," and was silent.

Suddenly night fell like a blanket on us. We could neither see the
guide nor each other. We became at once conscious that miles of
night on all sides shut us in. The sky was clouded over: there
wasn't a gleam of light to show us where to step. Our first thought
was to build a fire, which would drive back the thick darkness into
the woods, and boil some water for our tea. But it was too dark to
use the axe. We scraped together leaves and twigs to make a blaze,
and, as this failed, such dead sticks as we could find by groping
about. The fire was only a temporary affair, but it sufficed to boil
a can of water. The water we obtained by feeling about the stones of
the little run for an opening big enough to dip our cup in. The
supper to be prepared was fortunately simple. It consisted of a
decoction of tea and other leaves which had got into the pail, and a
part of a loaf of bread. A loaf of bread which has been carried in a
knapsack for a couple of days, bruised and handled and hacked at with
a hunting-knife, becomes an uninteresting object. But we ate of it
with thankfulness, washed it down with hot fluid, and bitterly
thought of the morrow. Would our old friend survive the night?
Would he be in any condition to travel in the morning? How were we
to get out with him or without him?

The old man lay silent in the bushes out of sight, and desired only
to be let alone. We tried to tempt him with the offer of a piece of
toast: it was no temptation. Tea we thought would revive him: he
refused it. A drink of brandy would certainly quicken his life: he
couldn't touch it. We were at the end of our resources. He seemed
to think that if he were at home, and could get a bit of fried bacon,
or a piece of pie, he should be all right. We knew no more how to
doctor him than if he had been a sick bear. He withdrew within
himself, rolled himself up, so to speak, in his primitive habits, and
waited for the healing power of nature. Before our feeble fire
disappeared, we smoothed a level place near it for Phelps to lie on,
and got him over to it. But it didn't suit: it was too open. In
fact, at the moment some drops of rain fell. Rain was quite outside
of our program for the night. But the guide had an instinct about
it; and, while we were groping about some yards distant for a place
where we could lie down, he crawled away into the darkness, and
curled himself up amid the roots of a gigantic pine, very much as a
bear would do, I suppose, with his back against the trunk, and there
passed the night comparatively dry and comfortable; but of this we
knew nothing till morning, and had to trust to the assurance of a
voice out of the darkness that he was all right.

Our own bed where we spread our blankets was excellent in one
respect,--there was no danger of tumbling out of it. At first the
rain pattered gently on the leaves overhead, and we congratulated
ourselves on the snugness of our situation. There was something
cheerful about this free life. We contrasted our condition with that
of tired invalids who were tossing on downy beds, and wooing sleep in
vain. Nothing was so wholesome and invigorating as this bivouac in
the forest. But, somehow, sleep did not come. The rain had ceased
to patter, and began to fall with a steady determination, a sort of
soak, soak, all about us. In fact, it roared on the rubber blanket,
and beat in our faces. The wind began to stir a little, and there
was a moaning on high. Not contented with dripping, the rain was
driven into our faces. Another suspicious circumstance was noticed.
Little rills of water got established along the sides under the
blankets, cold, undeniable streams, that interfered with drowsiness.
Pools of water settled on the bed; and the chaplain had a habit of
moving suddenly, and letting a quart or two inside, and down my neck.
It began to be evident that we and our bed were probably the wettest
objects in the woods. The rubber was an excellent catch-all. There
was no trouble about ventilation, but we found that we had
established our quarters without any provision for drainage. There
was not exactly a wild tempest abroad; but there was a degree of
liveliness in the thrashing limbs and the creaking of the
tree-branches which rubbed against each other, and the pouring rain
increased in volume and power of penetration. Sleep was quite out of
the question, with so much to distract our attention. In fine, our
misery became so perfect that we both broke out into loud and
sarcastic laughter over the absurdity of our situation. We had
subjected ourselves to all this forlornness simply for pleasure.
Whether Old Phelps was still in existence, we couldn't tell: we could
get no response from him. With daylight, if he continued ill and
could not move, our situation would be little improved. Our supplies
were gone, we lay in a pond, a deluge of water was pouring down on
us. This was summer recreation. The whole thing was so excessively
absurd that we laughed again, louder than ever. We had plenty of
this sort of amusement. Suddenly through the night we heard a sort
of reply that started us bolt upright. This was a prolonged squawk.
It was like the voice of no beast or bird with which we were
familiar. At first it was distant; but it rapidly approached,
tearing through the night and apparently through the tree-tops, like
the harsh cry of a web-footed bird with a snarl in it; in fact, as I
said, a squawk. It came close to us, and then turned, and as rapidly
as it came fled away through the forest, and we lost the unearthly
noise far up the mountain-slope.

"What was that, Phelps?" we cried out. But no response came; and we
wondered if his spirit had been rent away, or if some evil genius had
sought it, and then, baffled by his serene and philosophic spirit,
had shot off into the void in rage and disappointment.

The night had no other adventure. The moon at length coming up
behind the clouds lent a spectral aspect to the forest, and deceived
us for a time into the notion that day was at hand; but the rain
never ceased, and we lay wishful and waiting, with no item of solid
misery wanting that we could conceive.

Day was slow a-coming, and didn't amount to much when it came, so
heavy were the clouds; but the rain slackened. We crawled out of our
water-cure "pack," and sought the guide. To our infinite relief he
announced himself not only alive, but in a going condition. I looked
at my watch. It had stopped at five o'clock. I poured the water out
of it, and shook it; but, not being constructed on the hydraulic
principle, it refused to go. Some hours later we encountered a
huntsman, from whom I procured some gun-grease; with this I filled
the watch, and heated it in by the fire. This is a most effectual
way of treating a delicate Genevan timepiece.

The light disclosed fully the suspected fact that our bed had been
made in a slight depression: the under rubber blanket spread in this
had prevented the rain from soaking into the ground, and we had been
lying in what was in fact a well-contrived bathtub. While Old Phelps
was pulling himself together, and we were wringing some gallons of
water out of our blankets, we questioned the old man about the
"squawk," and what bird was possessed of such a voice. It was not a
bird at all, he said, but a cat, the black-cat of the woods, larger
than the domestic animal, and an ugly customer, who is fond of fish,
and carries a pelt that is worth two or three dollars in the market.
Occasionally he blunders into a sable-trap; and he is altogether
hateful in his ways, and has the most uncultivated voice that is
heard in the woods. We shall remember him as one of the least
pleasant phantoms of that cheerful night when we lay in the storm,
fearing any moment the advent to one of us of the grimmest messenger.

We rolled up and shouldered our wet belongings, and, before the
shades had yet lifted from the saturated bushes, pursued our march.
It was a relief to be again in motion, although our progress was
slow, and it was a question every rod whether the guide could go on.
We had the day before us; but if we did not find a boat at the inlet
a day might not suffice, in the weak condition of the guide, to
extricate us from our ridiculous position. There was nothing heroic
in it; we had no object: it was merely, as it must appear by this
time, a pleasure excursion, and we might be lost or perish in it
without reward and with little sympathy. We had something like a
hour and a half of stumbling through the swamp when suddenly we stood
in the little trail! Slight as it was, it appeared to us a very
Broadway to Paradise if broad ways ever lead thither. Phelps hailed
it and sank down in it like one reprieved from death. But the boat?
Leaving him, we quickly ran a quarter of a mile down to the inlet.
The boat was there. Our shout to the guide would have roused him out
of a death-slumber. He came down the trail with the agility of an
aged deer: never was so glad a sound in his ear, he said, as that
shout. It was in a very jubilant mood that we emptied the boat of
water, pushed off, shipped the clumsy oars, and bent to the two-mile
row through the black waters of the winding, desolate channel, and
over the lake, whose dark waves were tossed a little in the morning
breeze. The trunks of dead trees stand about this lake, and all its
shores are ragged with ghastly drift-wood; but it was open to
the sky, and although the heavy clouds still obscured all the
mountain-ranges we had a sense of escape and freedom that almost
made the melancholy scene lovely.

How lightly past hardship sits upon us! All the misery of the night
vanished, as if it had not been, in the shelter of the log cabin at
Mud Pond, with dry clothes that fitted us as the skin of the bear
fits him in the spring, a noble breakfast, a toasting fire,
solicitude about our comfort, judicious sympathy with our suffering,
and willingness to hear the now growing tale of our adventure. Then
came, in a day of absolute idleness, while the showers came and went,
and the mountains appeared and disappeared in sun and storm, that
perfect physical enjoyment which consists in a feeling of strength
without any inclination to use it, and in a delicious languor which
is too enjoyable to be surrendered to sleep.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In the Wilderness" ***

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