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Title: The Dune Country
Author: Reed, Earl Howell
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.

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                           THE DUNE COUNTRY

                         _BY THE SAME AUTHOR_


                        THE VOICES OF THE DUNES

                  QUARTO      BOARDS        $6.00 NET


                               ETCHING:

                         A PRACTICAL TREATISE

              CROWN QUARTO        CLOTH        $2.50 NET

                            [Illustration:

                           The Dune Country.]



                                  THE
                             DUNE COUNTRY

                                 _By_

                             EARL H. REED

                               AUTHOR OF
                       “THE VOICES OF THE DUNES”
                    “ETCHING: A PRACTICAL TREATISE”

                       WITH SIXTY ILLUSTRATIONS
                             BY THE AUTHOR

                      NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY
                  LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
                     TORONTO: S. B. GUNDY, MCMXVI


                            COPYRIGHT, 1916
                         BY JOHN LANE COMPANY


                               PRESS OF
                           EATON & GETTINGER
                           NEW YORK, U.S.A.



                             _To_ C. C. R.



INTRODUCTION


The text and illustrations in this book are intended to depict a strange
and picturesque country, with some of its interesting wild life, and a
few of the unique human characters that inhabit it.

The big ranges of sand dunes that skirt the southern and eastern shores
of Lake Michigan, and the strip of sparsely settled broken country back
of them, contain a rich fund of material for the artist, poet, and
nature lover, as well as for those who would seek out the oddities of
human kind in by-paths remote from much travelled highways.

In the following pages are some of the results of numerous sketching
trips into this region, covering a series of years. Much material was
found that was beyond the reach of the etching needle or the lead
pencil, but many things seemed to come particularly within the province
of those mediums, and they have both been freely used.

While many interesting volumes could be filled by pencil and pen, this
story of the dunes and the “back country” has been condensed as much as
seems consistent with the portrayal of their essential characteristics.

We are lured into the wilds by a natural instinct. Contact with nature’s
forms and moods is a necessary stimulant to our spiritual and
intellectual life. The untrammelled mind may find inspiration and growth
in congenial isolation, for in it there are no competitive or
antagonistic influences to divert or destroy its fruitage.

Comparatively isolated human types are usually more interesting, for the
reason that individual development and natural ruggedness have not been
rounded and polished by social attrition.

Social attrition would have ruined “old Sipes,” a part of whose story is
in this book, and if it had ever been mentioned to him he probably would
have thought that it was something that lived up in the woods that he
had never seen.

Fictitious names have, for various reasons, been substituted for some of
the characters in the following chapters. One of the old derelicts
objected strenuously to the use of his name. “I don’t want to be in no
book,” said he. “You can draw all the pitchers o’ me you want to, an’
use ’em, but as fer names, there’s nothin’ doin’.”

“Old Sipes” suggested that if “Doc Looney’s pitcher was put in a book,
some o’ them females might see it an’ locate ’im,” but as the “Doc” has
now disappeared this danger is probably remote.

                                                               E. H. R.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

I. THE DUNE COUNTRY                                                   15

II. THE GULLS AND TERNS                                               39

III. THE TURTLES                                                      47

IV. THE CROWS                                                         55

V. “OLD SIPES”                                                        73

VI. “HAPPY CAL”                                                       97

VII. “CATFISH JOHN”                                                  115

VIII. “DOC LOONEY”                                                   149

IX. THE MYSTERIOUS PROWLER                                           169

X. “J. LEDYARD SYMINGTON”                                            179

XI. THE BACK COUNTRY                                                 193

XII. JUDGE CASSIUS BLOSSOM                                           229

XIII. THE WINDING RIVER                                              255

XIV. THE RED ARROW                                                   279



THE DUNE COUNTRY



[Illustration] CHAPTER I

THE DUNE COUNTRY


While there are immense stretches of sand dunes in other parts of the
world, it is of a particular dune country, to which many journeys have
been made, and in which many days have been spent, that this story will
be told.

The dunes sweep for many miles along the Lake Michigan coasts. They are
post-glacial, and are undergoing slow continual changes, both in form
and place,--the loose sand responding lightly to the action of varying
winds.

The “fixed dunes” retain general forms, more or less stable, owing to
the scraggly and irregular vegetation that has obtained a foothold upon
them, but the “wandering dunes” move constantly. The fine sand is wafted
in shimmering veils across the smooth expanses, over the ridges to the
lee slopes. It swirls in soft clouds from the wind-swept summits, and,
in the course of time, whole forests are engulfed. After years of
entombment, the dead trunks and branches occasionally reappear in the
path of the destroyer, and bend back with gnarled arms in self-defence,
seeming to challenge their flinty foe to further conflict.

The general movement is east and southeast, owing to the prevalence of
west and northwest winds in this region, which gather force in coming
over the waters of the lake. The finer grains, which are washed up on
the beach, are carried inland, the coarser particles remaining near the
shore. The off-shore winds, being broken by the topography of the
country, exercise a less but still noticeable influence. The loose
masses retreat perceptibly toward the beach when these winds prevail for
any great length of time.

To many this region simply means a distant line of sandy crests,
tree-flecked and ragged, against the sky on the horizon--a mysterious
and unknown waste, without commercial value, and therefore useless from
a utilitarian standpoint.

It is not the land, but the landscape, not the utility, but the romantic
and interesting wild life among these yellow ranges that is of value. It
is the picturesque and poetic quality that we find in this land of
enchantment that appeals to us, and it is because of this love in our
lives that we now enter this strange country.

The landscapes among the dunes are not for the realist, not for the cold
and discriminating recorder of facts, nor the materialist who would
weigh with exact scales or look with scientific eyes. It is a country
for the dreamer and the poet, who would cherish its secrets, open
enchanted locks, and explore hidden vistas, which the Spirit of the
Dunes has kept for those who understand.

The winds have here fashioned wondrous forms with the shuttles of the
air and the mutable sands. Shadowy fortresses have been reared and
bannered with the pines. Illusive distant towers are tinged by the
subtle hues of the afterglows, as the twilights softly blend them into
the glooms. In the fading light we may fancy the outlines of frowning
castles and weird battlements, with ghostly figures along their heights.

If the desert was of concrete, its mystery and spiritual power would not
exist. The deadly silences which nature leaves among her ruins are
appalling, unless brightened by her voices of enduring hope. It is then
that our spirits revive with her.

There is an unutterable gloom in the hush of the rocky immensities,
where, in dim ages past, the waters have slowly worn away the stony
barriers of the great canyons among the mountains. The countless
centuries seem to hang over them like a pall, when no living green comes
forth among the stones to nourish the soul with faith in life to come.
We walk in these profound solitudes with an irresistible sense of
spiritual depression.

On Nature’s great palette green is the color of hope. We see it in the
leaves when the miracle of the spring unfolds them, and on the ocean’s
troubled waters when the sun comes from behind the curtains of the sky.
Even the tiny mosses cover with their mantles the emblems of despair
when decay begins its subtle work on the fallen tree and broken stump.

We find in the dune country whatever we take to it. The repose of the
yellow hills, which have been sculptured by the winds and the years,
reflects the solemnity of our minds, and eternal hope is sustained by
the expectant life that creeps from every fertile crevice.

While the wandering masses are fascinating, it is among the more
permanent forms, where nature has laid her restraining hand, that we
find the most picturesque material. It is here that the reconstructive
processes have begun which impart life to the waste places. At first,
among these wastes, one is likely to have a sense of loneliness. The
long, undulating lines of ridged sand inspire thoughts of hopeless
melancholy. The sparse vegetation, which in its struggle for life
pathetically seizes and holds the partially fertile spots among these
ever-shifting masses, has the appearance of broken submission. The
wildly tangled roots--derelicts of the sands--which have been deserted
and left to bleach in the sun by the slow movement of the great hills,
emphasize the feeling of isolation. The changing winds may again give
them a winding sheet, but as a part of nature’s refuse, they are slowly
and steadily being resolved back into her crucible.

[Illustration:

“DERELICTS OF THE SANDS”]

To the colorist the dunes present ever-changing panoramas of hue and
tone. Every cloud that trails its purple, phantom-like shadow across
them can call forth the resources of his palette, and he can find
inspiration in the high nooks where the pines cling to their perilous
anchorage.

The etcher may revel in their wealth of line. The harmonic undulations
of the long, serrated crests, with sharp accents of gnarled roots and
stunted trees, offer infinite possibilities in composition. To the
imaginative enthusiast, seeking poetic forms of line expression, these
dwarfed, neglected, crippled, and wasted things become subtle units in
artistic arrangement.

As in all landscape, we find much material in these subjects that is
entirely useless from an artistic standpoint. The thoughtful translator
must be rigidly selective, and his work must go to other minds, to which
he appeals, stripped of dross and unencumbered with superfluities. An
ugly and ill-arranged mass of light and shade, that may disfigure the
foreground, may be eliminated from the composition, but the graceful and
slender weed growing near it may be used. A low, dark cloud in the
distance may be carried a little farther away, if necessary, or it may
be blown entirely away, if another cloud--floating only in the realm of
imagination--will furnish the desired note of harmony. Truth need not
necessarily be fact, but we must not include in our composition that
which is not possible or natural to our subject. Representation of fact
is not art, in its pure sense, but effective expression of thought,
which fact may inspire, is art--and there is but one art, although there
are many mediums.

[Illustration:

IN THE WILD PLACES]

One must feel the spirit and poetry of the dunes, if he deals with them
as an artist who would send their story into the world. The magic of
successful artistic translation changes the sense of desolation into an
impression of wild, weird beauty and romantic charm. It is the wildness,
the mystery, the deep solemnity, and the infinite grandeur of this
region which furnish themes of appealing picturesqueness.

Man has changed or destroyed natural scenery wherever he has come into
practical contact with it. The fact that these wonderful hills are left
to us is simply because he has not yet been able to carry away and use
the sand of which they are composed. He has dragged the pines from their
storm-scarred tops, and is utilizing their sands for the elevation of
city railway tracks. Shrieking, rasping wheels now pass over them,
instead of the crow’s shadow, the cry of the tern, or the echo of waves
from glistening and untrampled shores.

The turmoil and bustle of the outside world is not heard on the placid
stretches of these quiet undulations. Here the weary spirit finds repose
among elemental forms which the ravages of civilization have left
unspoiled. If we take beautiful minds and beautiful hearts into the dune
country, we will find only beauty in it; and if we have not the love of
beauty, we walk in darkness.

Filmy veils of white mist gather in the hollows during the still, cool
hours of the night, and begin to move like curling smoke wreaths with
the first faint breaths of dawn. The early hours of the morning are full
of strange enchantment, and dawn on the dunes brings many wonders. When
the first gray tones of light appear, the night-prowlers seek seclusion,
and the stillness is broken by the crows. A single note is heard from
among the boughs of a far-off pine, and in a few moments the air is
filled with the noisy conversation of these interesting birds--mingled
with the cries of the gulls and terns, which have come in from the lake
and are searching for the refuse of the night waves. The beams of a
great light burst through the trees--the leaves and the sands are
touched with gold--and the awakening of the hills has come.

The twilights bring forth manifold beauties which the bright glare of
the day has kept within their hiding-places. The rich purples that have
been concealed among secret recesses creep out on

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

DAWN IN THE HILLS]

the open spaces to meet the silvery light of the rising moon, and the
colors of the dusk come to weave a web of phantasy over the landscape.

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

TWILIGHT ON THE DUNES]

It is then that the movement of nocturnal life commences and the
tragedies of the night begin. A fleeting silhouette of a wing intersects
the moon’s disc, and a dark shadowy thing moves swiftly across the
sky-line of the trees. An attentive listener will hear many strange and
mysterious sounds. The Dune People are coming forth to seek their food
from God.

[Illustration:

“A FLEETING SILHOUETTE OF A WING
INTERSECTS THE MOON’S DISC”]

When the morning comes, if the air is still, we can find the stories on
the sand. Its surface is interlaced with thousands of little tracks and
trails, leading in all directions. The tracks of the toads, and the
hundreds of creeping insects on which they subsist, are all over the
open places, crossed and recrossed many times by the footmarks of crows,
herons, gulls, sandpipers, and other birds.

The movement of the four-footed life is mostly nocturnal. We find the
imprints of the fox, raccoon, mink, muskrat, skunk, white-footed mouse,
and other quadrupeds, that have been active during the night. To the
practiced eye these trails are readily distinguishable, and often traces
are found of a tragedy that has been enacted in the darkness. Some
confused marks, and a mussy-looking spot on the sand, record a brief
struggle for existence, and perhaps a few mangled remains, with some
scattered feathers or bits of fur, are left to tell the tale. A weak
life has gone out to support a stronger.

With the exception of the insects, the mice are the most frequent
victims. Their hiding-places under tufts of grass, old stumps and
decayed wood are ruthlessly sought out and the little families eagerly
devoured. The owls glide silently over the wastes, searching the deep
shadows for the small, velvet-footed creatures whose helplessness
renders them easy prey. They are subject to immutable law and must
perish.

Much of the mysterious lure of the dunes is in the magnificent sweep of
the great lake along the wild shores. Its restless waters are the
complement of the indolent sands. The distant bands of deep blue and
green, dappled with dancing white-caps, in the vistas through the
openings, impart vivid color accents to the grays and neutral tones of
the foregrounds.

No great mind has ever flowered to its fullness that was insensible to
the allurements of a large body of water. It may be likened to a human
soul. It is now tempestuous, and now placid. Beneath its surface are
unknown caverns and unsounded depths into which light never goes. If by
chance some piercing ray should ever reach them, wondrous beauty might
be revealed.

The waters of the lake are never perfectly still. In calms that seem
absolute, a careful eye will find at least a slight undulation.

On quiet days the little waves ripple and lisp along the miles of wet
sand, and the delicate streaks of oscillating foam creep away in a
feathery and uncertain line, that fades and steals around a distant
curve in the shore.

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

THE SONG OF THE EAST SHORE]

After the storms the long ground-swells roll in for days, beating their
rhythmic measures, and unfolding their snowy veils before them as they
come.

The echoes of the roar of the surf among the distant dunes pervade them
with solemn sound. An indefinable spirit of mute resistance and power
broods in the inert masses. They seem to be holding back mighty and
remote forces that beat upon their barriers.

The color fairies play out on the bosom of the lake in the silver
radiance of the moon and stars, and marvelous tones are spread upon it
by the sun and clouds. Invisible brushes, charged with celestial
pigments, seem to sweep over its great expanse, mingling prismatic hues
and changing them fitfully, in wayward fancy, as a master might delight
to play with a medium that he had conquered. Fugitive cloud shadows move
swiftly over areas of turquoise and amethyst. Fleeting iridescent hues
revel with the capricious breezes in loving companionship.

When the storm gods lash the lake with whistling winds, and send their
sullen dark array through the skies, and the music of the tempest blends
with song of the surges on the shore, the color tones seem to become
vocal and to mingle their cadences with the voices of the gale.

We may look from the higher dune tops upon panoramas of surpassing
splendor. There are piles on piles of sandy hills, accented with green
masses and solitary pines. These highways of the winds and storms, with
their glittering crowns and shadowy defiles, sweep into dim perspective.
Their noble curves become smaller and smaller, until they are folded
away and lost on the horizon’s hazy rim.

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

HIGHWAYS OF THE WINDS]

A sinuous ribbon of sunlit beach winds along the line of the breakers,
and meets the point of a misty headland far away.

The blue immensity of the lake glistens, and is flecked with foam. White
plumes are tossing and waving along the sky-line. In the foreground
little groups of sandpipers are running nimbly along the edges of the
incoming waves, racing after them as they retreat, and lightly taking
wing when they come too near. There are flocks of stately gulls,
balancing themselves with set wings, high in the wind, and a few terns
are skimming along the crests. The gray figures of two or three herons
are stalking about, with much dignity, near some driftwood that dots the
dry sand farther up the shore.

Colors rare and glorious are in the sky. The sun is riding down in a
chariot of gold and purple, attended by a retinue of clouds in
resplendent robes. The twilight comes, the picture fades, but the spell
remains.

Intrepid voyagers from the Old World journeyed along these primitive
coasts centuries ago. Their footprints were soon washed away in the surf
lines, but the romance of their trails still rests upon the sands that
they traversed.

In years of obscure legend, birch-bark canoes were drawn out on the
gleaming beach by red men who carried weapons of stone. They hunted and
fought among the yellow hills. They saw them basking under summer suns,
and swept by the furies of winter storms. From their tops they watched
the dying glories of the afterglows in the western skies. They saw the
great lake shimmer in still airs, and heard the pounding of remorseless
waters in its sterner moods. They who carried the weapons of stone are
gone, and time has hidden them in the silence of the past.

Out in the mysterious depths of the lake are pale sandy floors that no
eye has ever seen. The mobile particles are shifted and eddied into
strange shadowy forms by the inconstant and unknown currents that flow
in the gloom. There are white bones and ghostly timbers there which are
buried and again uncovered. There are dunes under the waters, as well as
on the shores. Slimy mosses creep along their shelving sides and over
their pallid tops into profound chasms beyond. Finny life moves among
the subaqueous vegetation that thrives in the fertile areas, and out
over the smooth wastes, but this is a world concealed. Our pictures are
in the air.

When winter lays its mantle of snow upon the country of the dunes the
whitened crests loom in softened lines. The contours become spectral in
their chaste robes. Along the frosty summits the intricacies of the
naked trees and branches, in their winter sleep, are woven delicately
against the moody skies, and the hills, far away, draped in their chill
raiment, stand in faint relief on the gray horizon. The black companies
of the crows wing across the snow-clad heights in desultory flight.

When the bitter blasts come out of the clouds in the north, the light
snow scurries over the hoary tops into the shelters of the hollows. Out
in the ice fields on the lake grinding masses heave with the angry
surges that seek the shore. Crystal fragments, shattered and splintered,
shine in the dim light, far out along the margins of the open, turbulent
water. Great piles of broken ice have been flung along the beach, heaped
into bewildering forms by the billows, and a few gulls skirt the ragged
frozen mounds for possible stray bits of food.

The wind and the cold have builded grim ramparts for the sunshine and
the April rains to conquer.

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

“HERALDS OF THE STORM”]



CHAPTER II

THE GULLS AND TERNS


The gulls are a picturesque and interesting feature of dune life. These
gray and white birds, while they do not entirely avoid human
association, have few of the home-like charms of most of our feathered
neighbors.

“Catfish John,” the old fisherman with whom I often talked about the
birds and animals in the dune country, had very little use for them. He
said that “they flopped ’round a whole lot, an’ seemed to keep a goin’.”
He “didn’t never find no eggs, an’ they didn’t seem to set anywheres.
They git away with the bait when its left out, an’ they seem mostly to
live off’n fish an’ dead things they find on the beach an’ floatin’
round in the lake. They’ll tackle a mouthful big enough to choke a horse
if they like the looks of it.”

He thought that “them that roosted out on the net stakes didn’t go to
sleep entirely, or they’d slip off in the night.”

The gull has many charms for the ornithologist and the poet. He is
valuable to the artist, as an accent in the sky, when he is on the
wing, giving a thrill of life to the most desolate landscape.

[Illustration: “THEM THAT ROOSTED OUT ON THE NET STAKES”]

He is interesting to the eye when proudly walking along the beach, or
sitting silently, with hundreds of others, in solemn conclave on the
shore. Old piles and floating objects in the lake have an added interest
with his trim figure perched upon them. The perched birds seem magnified
and ghostly when one comes suddenly upon them in the fog and they
disappear with shrill cries into the mists.

There is no gleam of human interest in the eye of a gull. It is fierce,
cold, and utterly wild. The birds we love most are those that nest in
the land in which we live. The home is the real bond among living
things, and our feathered friends creep easily into our affections when
we can hear their love songs and watch their home life.

The transient winged tribes, that come and go--like ships on the
sea--and rear their young in other lands, arouse our poetic reflections,
challenge our admiration, and excite our love of the beautiful. They
delight our eyes but not our hearts.

The graceful forms of the gulls give an ethereal note of exaltation to
the spirit of the landscape--a suggestion of the Infinite--as they soar
in long curves in the azure blue, or against the dark clouds that roll
up in portentous masses from the distant horizon and sweep across the
heavens over the great lake. They are the heralds of the storms, and a
typical expression of life in the sky.

Their matchless grace on the wing, as they wheel in the teeth of the
tempest or glide with set pinions in the currents of the angry winds,
makes them a part of nature’s dramas in the heavens--aloof and remote
from earthly things--mingling with the unseen forces and mysteries of
the Great Unknown.

These rovers of the clouds seem to love no abodes but the stormy skies
and foaming waves. Their flights are desultory when the winds are still.
When the calms brood over the face of the waters, they congregate on the
glassy surface, like little white fleets at anchor, and rest for hours,
until hunger again takes them into the air.

They often leave the lake and soar over the dune country on windy days,
searching far inland for food, but when night comes they return to the
water.

In early August they come down from the Lake Superior country and from
the more distant north, where perhaps many of them have spent the summer
near the arctic circle. They bring with them their big brown young, from
the rocky islands in those remote regions, and to these islands they
will return in the spring. The young birds do not don their silver-gray
plumage until the second year.

In the autumn the unseen paths in the sky are filled with countless
wings on their way to the tropics, but the gulls remain to haunt the
bare landscapes and the chill waters of the lake, until the return of
the great multitudes of migrant birds in April or May, when they leave
for their northern homes.

In the wake of the gulls come the terns--those graceful, gliding little
creatures in pearl-gray robes--which skim and hover over the waves, and
search them for their daily food.

There is something peculiarly elf-like and wispy in their flight. Agile
and keen eyed, with their mosquito-like bills pointed downward, they
dart furtively, like water-sprites, along the crests of the billows,
seeming to winnow the foam and spray.

With low plaintive cries the scattered flocks follow the surf lines
against the wind and the dipping wings can be seen far out over the
lake.

They often pause in the air, and drop like plummets, entirely out of
sight under water, in pursuit of unsuspecting small fish, to reappear
with the wiggling tails of the little victims protruding from their
bills. Many thousands of them patrol the shores and waters, but they
also are transients, and soon wing their ways to colder or warmer
climes.

The nature lover finds manifold charms in the bird life of the dune
country. There are many varieties to interest him. While we may endeavor
to restrict our consideration to the purely artistic side of the
subject, it would be impossible to define a point that would separate
the artistic instinct from the love of the live things, and of nature in
general, for there is no such point. One merges naturally into the
other.

It is not necessary for a lover of nature to have an exact scientific
knowledge of all the things he sees in order to derive enjoyment from
them, but a trained observer is more sensitive to the poetic influences
of nature, has a wider range of vision, a greater capacity for
appreciation, and is more deeply responsive to the subtle harmonies than
one who is only susceptible to the more obvious aspects.

The love of the Little Things which are concealed from the ordinary eye
comes only to one who has sought out their hiding-places, and learned
their ways by tender and long association. Their world and ours is
fundamentally the same, and to know them is to know ourselves.

We sometimes cannot tell whether the clear, flutelike note from the
depths of the ravine comes from the thrush or the oriole, but we know
that the little song has carried us just a little nearer to nature’s
heart than we were before. If we could see the singer and learn his
name, his silvery tones would be still more pure and sweet when he comes
again.

The spring songs in the dune country seem to exalt and sanctify the
forest aisles, and to weave a spell out over the open spaces. The still
sands seem to awaken under the vibrant melodies of the choirs among the
trees. These sanctuaries are not for those who would “shower shot into a
singing tree,” but for him who comes to listen and to worship.

The voices of the dunes are in many keys. The cries of the gulls and
crows--the melodies of the songsters--the wind tones among the
trees--the roar of the surf on the shore--the soft rustling of the loose
sands, eddying among the beach grasses--the whirr of startled wings in
the ravines--the piping of the frogs and little toads in the marshy
spots--the chorus of the katydids and locusts--the prolonged notes of
the owls at night--and many other sounds, all blend into the greater
song of the hills, and become a part of the appeal to our higher
emotions, in this land of enchantment and mystery.



[Illustration] CHAPTER III

THE TURTLES


Sometimes we find interesting little comedies mapped on the sands.

One morning the July sun had come from behind the clouds, after a heavy
rain, and quickly dried the surface, leaving the firm, wet sand
underneath. On the dunes, walks are particularly delightful when the
moist, packed sand becomes a yellow floor, but it requires much
endurance and enthusiasm to trudge through miles of soft sand on a hot
day and retain a contemplative mood.

We suddenly came upon some turtle tracks, beginning abruptly out on an
open space, indicating that the traveler had probably withdrawn into the
privacy and shelter of his mobile castle, and resumed his journey when
the sun appeared. All traces of his arrival at the point where the
tracks began had been obliterated by the rain.

We were curious to ascertain his objective, and as the trail was in
perfect condition, we followed it carefully for several hundred yards,
when we found another trail interrupting it obliquely from another
direction. Within an area of perhaps twenty feet in diameter the tracks
had left a confused network on the smooth sand. Evidently there had been
much discussion and consideration before a final decision had been
reached. Then the trails started off in the same direction, side by
side, varying from a foot to two feet or so apart.

There was much mystery in all this. Our curiosity continued, and about
half a mile farther on the smaller trail of the last comer suddenly
veered off toward the lake and disappeared in the wet sand of the
beach. The original trail finally ended several hundred yards farther on
in a clear stream, and there we saw Mr. Hardfinish resting quietly on
the shallow bottom, with the cool current flowing over him.

We may have stumbled on a turtle romance. Perhaps a tryst had been kept,
and after much argument and persuasion the two had decided to combine
their destinies. It may have been incompatibility of temperament, or
affection grown cold, which caused the later estrangement. A fickle
heart may have throbbed under the shell of the faithless amphibian who
had joined the expedition, but whatever the cause of the separation was,
the initiator of the journey had been left to finish it alone. His trail
showed no wavering at the point of desertion, and evidently the rhythm
of his march was not disturbed by it.

There is much food for reflection in this story on the sand. What we
call human nature is very largely the nature of all animal life, and
community of interest governs all association. When it ceases to exist,
the quadruped or biped invariably seeks isolation. Selfishness is soul
solitude.

In the case of the turtles the highly civilized divorce courts were not
necessary. They simply quit.

The record of the little romance was written upon a frail page, which
the next wind or shower obliterated as completely as time effaces most
of the stories of human lives.

The turtles are persistent wanderers. Their trails are found all through
the dune country, and usually a definite objective seems to be
indicated. A trail will begin at the margin of a small pond back of the
hills, and follow practically a direct route for a long distance to
another pond, often over a mile away. Sometimes high eminences
intervene, which are patiently climbed over without material alteration
in the course which the mysterious compass under the brown shell has
laid before it.

The deserted habitat may have been invaded by unwelcome new arrivals and
rendered socially unattractive. Domestic complications may have inspired
the pilgrimage, the voyager may have decided that he was unappreciated
in the community in which he lived, or he may have been excommunicated
for unbelief in established turtle dogmas.

The common variegated pond turtle, which is the variety most often found
among the dunes, is a beautiful harmless creature, but his wicked
cousin, the snapping turtle, is an ugly customer. He leads a life of
debased villainy, and no justification for his existence has yet been
discovered. He is a rank outlaw, and the enemy of everything within his
radius of destruction. His crimes are legion, and like the sand-burr, he
seems to be one of nature’s inadvertencies. The mother ducks, the frog
folk, and all the small life in the sloughs dread his sinister bulk and
relentless jaws.

He is a voracious brute, and feeds upon all kinds of animal fare. He
often attains a weight of about forty pounds, and the rough moss covered
shell of a full grown specimen is sometimes fourteen inches long. One of
the peculiarities of this repulsive wretch is that he strikes at his
victims much in the same manner as a rattlesnake, and with
lightning-like rapidity.

Possibly he was sent into the world to assist in enabling us to
accentuate our blessings by contrast--as some people we occasionally
meet undoubtedly were--and it is best to let him absolutely alone. He is
an evil and unclean thing and we will pass him by. Like the skunk, he
does not invite companionship, and has no social charms whatever.

It was not he who helped to play the little comedy on the sand.

[Illustration: SOCIALLY UNATTRACTIVE]

[Illustration:

“STEADILY WINGING THEIR WAY
TO THE CHOSEN SPOT”]



CHAPTER IV

THE CROWS


Of all the wild life among the dunes, the crow is the most active and
conspicuous. He is ever present in the daytime, and his black form seems
to be intimately associated with nearly every mass and contour in the
landscape.

The artists and the poets can love him, but the hand of the prosaic and
the philistine is against him. His enemies are numberless, and his life
is one of constant combat and elusion. The owls seek him at night, and
during the day he meets antagonism in many forms. Some ornithologists
have tried to find justification for the crow, but the weight of the
testimony is against him. He pilfers the eggs and nestlings of the
songsters, invades the newly planted cornfields, and apparently abuses
every confidence reposed in him.

He has been known to take his family into fields of sprouting potatoes
and, when the plants were hardly out of the ground, feed its members on
the soft tubers which were used as seed. Even very young chickens and
ducks enter into his economies. He is an inveterate mischiefmaker, and
by those who fail to see the attractive sides of his character, is
looked upon as a general nuisance.

He cannot be considered valuable from a utilitarian point of view, but
as a picturesque element he possesses many charms. Notwithstanding the
sins laid at his door, this bird is of absorbing interest. His genteel
insolence, his ability to cope with the wiles of his persecutors, and
his complete self-assurance may well challenge our admiration.

He takes full charge of the dune country before the morning sun appears
above the horizon, and maintains his vigils until the evening shadows
relieve him from further responsibility. All of the happenings on the
sands, and among the pines, are subjected to his careful inspection and
noisy comment. His curiosity is intense, and any unusual object or event
will attract his excited scrutiny and an agitated assemblage of his
friends.

Like many people, he is both wise and foolish to a surprising degree. He
is crafty and circumspect in his methods of obtaining food and avoiding
most of his enemies, but shows a lack of judgment when his curiosity is
aroused.

He will approach quite near to a person sitting still, but will retreat
in great trepidation at the slightest movement. An old crow knows the
difference between a cane and a gun, but a man carrying a gun can ride a
horse much nearer to him than he can go on foot.

In the community life of the crows there is much material for study.
Their social organization is cohesive and effective. It is impossible
not to believe that they have a limited language. Different cries
produce different effects among them. They undoubtedly communicate with
each other. The older and wiser crows have qualities of leadership which
compel or attract the obedience of the sable hordes that follow them in
long processions through the air, to and from the feeding grounds, and
to the roosting-places at night.

The cries of the leaders are distinctive, and the entire band will wheel
and change the direction of its flight when the loud signal comes from
the head of the column. These bands often number several thousand
birds.

[Illustration:

     (_From the Author’s Etching_)

NEIGHBORHOOD GOSSIP]

After spending the day in detached groups, they gather late in the
afternoon, and prepare for the flight to the roosting-grounds, which is
an affair of the utmost importance and ceremony. A single scout will
come ahead, and after slowly and carefully inspecting the area in the
forest where the night is usually spent, he returns in the direction
from which he came.

In a few minutes several crows come over the same course and apparently
verify the conditions. These also return, and a little later, perhaps
twenty or thirty more will appear and fly all over the territory under
consideration. They go and report to the main body beyond the hills, and
soon the horizon becomes black with the oncoming phalanxes, steadily
winging their way to the chosen spot.

For a long time the sky above it is filled with their dark forms,
circling and hovering over and among the trees. Much uncertainty seems
to agitate them, and there is a great deal of noisy confusion before
even comparative quiet comes. It requires about half an hour for them to
get comfortably settled after their arrival. Sentinels are posted and
they maintain a vigilant watch during the night.

I have sat quietly on a log and seen these multitudes settle into the
trees around me in the deep woods. Although perfectly motionless, I have
sometimes been detected by a watchful sentinel. His quick, loud note of
alarm arouses the entire aggregation, and the air is immediately filled
with the turmoil of discordant cries and beating wings. Sacred
precincts have been invaded, and an enemy is within the gates.

After much anxiety, and shifting of positions, confidence seems to be
finally restored, and the black masses on the bending boughs become
quiet.

A footfall on the dead leaves, the snapping of a twig, a suspicious
movement among the trees, or the hoot of an owl, may alarm the wary
watchers and start another uproar that will result in complete desertion
of the vicinity of the suspected danger.

When morning comes, various groups visit the beach and strut along the
shore, drinking and picking up stray morsels. Dead fish that have been
cast in by the waves, and numerous insects crawling on the sand, are
eagerly devoured. Usually before sunrise the crows have started out over
the country in detached flocks.

Like all the affairs of the crows, courtship is a serious and important
matter. The young male stretches his wings, struts dramatically, and
performs all kinds of crow feats to attract favorable glances from the
coy eyes of a black divinity who sits demurely still and waits. After
the manner of female kind, she will remain obdurate as long as
supplication continues. She will yield only when it ceases.

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

“THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE”]

Several days are spent in the wooing. It often has its vicissitudes. The
proverbial course of true love has its rough spots, for sometimes
shiny-coated rivals come which are insistent and boisterous. They
refuse to respect a privacy that is much desired, and create unwelcome
disturbances.

There are battles in the tree-tops that send many black feathers down
before the fickle beauty makes her final decision. She has little love
for defeated suitors, and her admiration is the spoil of the victor when
trouble comes.

When the love-making is over the happy pair begin the construction of
the nest, which is usually composed of broken twigs or small bits of
grape vine, and lined with moss or dead grass. It is generally built
about thirty feet from the ground among the strong branches in the deep
woods. It is jealously guarded, and combats with would-be intruders are
numerous and desperate. The sharp bills are effective weapons when the
home is at stake, and it is a bold invader who would risk contact with
them for the sake of the mottled eggs or the tender young in the nest.

The crow may be a subtle and artful villain, and his evil ways may have
brought him into disrepute, but he has picturesque quality. His black
form is often an effective accent in composition, and his presence adds
character and interest to the waste places.

The black roving flocks impart a peculiar charm to the white winter
landscapes. The bleak uplands and the solemn trees in the still bare
woods are enlivened by the dark busy forms. They seem undaunted by the
cold and but few of them migrate. During the winter storms they find
what refuge they can in the seclusion of the hollows in the deep woods,
and among the heavy foliage of the pines. They eke out a precarious
livelihood, with scanty food and uncertain shelter, until nature becomes
more heedful of their wants and again sends the springtime into the
world.

This bird has his own peculiar and special ways of living, which are
adapted to his own temperament and necessities. He is only a crow, and
nature never intended that he should adjust himself to the convenience
and desires of other forms of animal life. He is without ethics or
conscience, and in this he differs little from the man with a gun.

Some of the most pleasant memories of the dunes are clustered around
“Billy,” a pet crow which remained with us one summer through the
kindness of a naturalist friend. He was acquired at a tender age, a
small boy having abstracted him from a happy home in an old tree in the
deep woods.

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

“BILLY”]

His early life was devoted principally to bread and milk, hard boiled
eggs, bits of meat, and other food, with which he had to be constantly
supplied. A large cage was built for his protection as well as for his
confinement, until he could become domesticated and strong enough to
take care of himself.

He became clamorous at unreasonable morning hours, and required constant
attention during the day. His comical and whimsical ways soon found him
a place in our affections, and Billy became a member of the family.

He developed a decided character of his own. When he was old enough to
fly he was given his freedom, which he utilized in his own way. He would
spend a large part of his time in a nearby ravine, studying the problems
of crow life, but his visits to the house were frequent, and his demands
insistent when he was hungry.

He would almost invariably discover the departure of any one of us who
left the house, flying short distances ahead and waiting until he was
overtaken, or proudly riding on our heads or shoulders, if he was not
quite sure of the general direction of the expedition.

The berry patch was a great attraction to him, and if we took a basket
with us he would help himself to the fruit after it had been picked,
much preferring to have the picking done for him.

One of his delights was walking back and forth on the hammock. The loose
meshes seemed to fascinate him, and he would spend much time in studying
its intricacies and picking at the knots. He soon became distantly
acquainted with Gip, our black cocker spaniel. While no particular
intimacy developed between them, each seemed to understand that the
other was a part of the family. They finally got to the point where they
would eat out of the same dish.

Billy was a delightful companion on many sketching trips into the dunes,
and it was amusing to watch the perplexities of the wild crows when my
close association with one of their own kind was observed. They could
not understand the relationship, and it gave rise to much animated
discussion. Billy was immediately visited when he flew into a tree top,
and carefully looked over. Other crows joined in the consultations and
the final verdict was not always favorable, for hostility frequently
became evident, and poor Billy was compelled to leave the tree, often
with cruel wounds. He was probably regarded as a heretic and a
backslider, who had violated all crow traditions--a fit subject for
ostracism and seclusion beyond the pale.

He promptly responded to my call when he got into trouble, or thought it
might be lunch-time. He would watch with much interest the undoing of
the sandwiches, and would wait expectantly on my knee for the coveted
tid-bits which constituted his share of the meal.

When preparations were made for the return, Billy’s interest in the
day’s proceedings seemed to flag, and he would suddenly disappear, not
to be seen again until the next morning, when he would alight on the
rail of the back porch and loudly demand his breakfast.

I was never able to ascertain where he spent a great part of his time.
His identity was, of course, lost when he was with the other crows
unless he happened to get into a storm center near the house, and we
only knew him when he was with us.

He had the elemental love of color, which always begins with red, and
the vermilion on my palette seemed to exercise a spell over him. After
getting his bill into it, he would plume and pick his feathers, and I
have spent considerable time with a rag and benzine in trying to make
him presentable after he had produced quite good post-impressionistic
pictures on the feathers of his breast.

Occasionally he would take my pencils or brushes into the trees while I
was at work, and play with them for some time, but would not return
anything that he had once secured. I often had difficulty in recovering
lost articles, but usually he would accidentally drop them. In such
cases there would be a race between us, for he quickly became jealous of
their possession.

Billy was, to a certain extent, affectionate, and would often come to be
petted, alighting on my outstretched hand and holding his head down
toward me. When his head feathers were stroked gently, low, contented
sounds indicated the pleasure he took in the attention devoted to him.

Stories of the numerous little tricks and insinuating ways of this
interesting bird could occupy many pages, but enough has been told to
convey an idea of his character. Perhaps he may have been a rascal at
heart, but his ancestry was responsible for his moral shortcomings.

One morning we missed Billy, and we possibly have never seen him since.
He may have answered “the call of the wild” and joined the black company
that goes over into the back country in the morning and returns to the
bluffs at night, or he may have fallen a victim to indiscriminating
over-confidence in mankind--a misfortune that is not confined to crows.

He left tender recollections with us. He had an engaging personality,
and was a most admirable and lovable crow. Such an epitaph would be due
him if he has departed from life, and a more sincere tribute could not
be offered him if he still lives.

During the following year I was able to approach quite near to a crow
who seemed to show slight signs of recognition. A broken pinion in his
left wing, a reminiscence of a vicious battle in the fall, seemed to
complete the identification of Billy. He appeared to be making his
headquarters in the ravine. Further careful observation and
investigation convinced me that if this crow was actually Billy, he had
laid three eggs.

The name, however, meant much to us, and by simply changing its spelling
to “Billie,” we preserved its pleasant associations.

[Illustration:

A HAPPY HOME]

It was a contented couple whose nest was in the gnarled branches in the
ravine, where the little home was protected from the chill spring winds.
In due time small, queer-looking heads appeared above the edge of the
nest, with widely opened bills that clamored continuously for the bits
of food which the assiduous parents had to supply constantly. The nest
required much attention. Marauding red squirrels, owls, hawks, and other
enemies had to be kept away from the time the first egg was laid until
the fledglings were old enough to fly. Their first attempts resulted in
many falls, but they soon became experts, and one morning the entire
family was gone.

They probably flew over into the back country, where food was more
abundant and where they were subjected to less observation.

The nest was never used again. The twigs, little pieces of wild
grapevine, and moss of which it was made, have gradually fallen away
during the succeeding years, until but a few fragments remain in the
tree crotch. A red lead pencil was found under the tree. Possibly
“Billie” may have tucked it in among the twigs as a souvenir of former
ties, or its color may have suggested esthetic adornment of a happy
home.

[Illustration: “OLD SIPES”]



[Illustration] CHAPTER V

OLD SIPES


Beyond its barren wastes, inland, the dune country merges into the
fertile soil and comes into contact with the highly trained selfishness
which in this age of iron we call civilization. The steady waves of such
a civilization have thrown upon this desolate margin some of its human
derelicts--men who have failed in the strife and who have been cast
ashore. Their little huts of driftwood are scattered here and there at
long distances from each other, among the depressions and behind the big
masses of sand along the shore.

Their faces wear a dejected look. They walk with shambling step, and
their bearing is that of men who have received heavy blows in their
early struggles, which have extinguished the light in their lives. They
are, as a rule, morose and taciturn. They have become desocialized, and
have sullenly sunk into the hermit lives that harmonize with the dead
and tangled roots which the roving sands have left uncovered to bleach
and decay in the sun and rain.

They eke out a simple existence with their nets and set-lines in the
lake, and by shooting and trapping the small game which still lives in
this region. The driftwood supplies them with fuel in winter, and
occasional wreckage that is washed ashore sometimes adds conveniences
and comparative luxury to their impoverished abodes.

The world has gone on without them, and they are content to exist in
solitudes where time is measured by years, rather than by achievement.

Sometimes the bitterness of a broken heart, or the story of thwarted
hopes, will come to the surface out of the turbid memories which they
carry. When their confidence is inspired by sympathetic association,
they will often turn back some of the hidden pages in the stories of
their lives, which are almost always of vivid interest.

Feeble flashes will then light up from among the dying embers. The story
is not the one of success that the world loves to hear, but it is
usually the melodies in the minor keys that touch our hearts. Many of
the simple narratives, told under the roof of driftwood, before the rude
scrap iron stove, are full of homely philosophy, subtle wit, and tragic
interest.

“Old Sipes” was a grotesque character. He was apparently somewhere in
the seventies. He had but one eye, his whiskers were scraggly, unequal
in distribution, and uncertain as to direction. His old faded hat and
short gray coat were quite the worse for wear, and a few patches on his
trousers, put on with sail stitches, added a picturesque nautical
quality to his attire.

He lived in a small driftwood hut, compactly built, about sixteen feet
long, and perhaps ten feet wide. A rude bunk was built into one side of
the single room, and another was placed about three feet above it.

He explained this arrangement of the bunks with quite a long story about
a friend of his named Bill Saunders. It seems that he and Saunders had
once been shipmates. They had been around the world together, and had
cruised in many far-off waters. A howling gale and a lee shore had
finally put an inglorious end to the old ship and most of the crew, and
left Sipes and Bill on an unknown island in the South Pacific.

His stories of the man-eating sharks and other sea monsters which
infested these waters, were hair-raising, and his descriptions of the
wonderful natives whom they met, indicated that somewhere a race of
people exists that the ethnologists have never found--and would be much
astounded if they did. His accounts of man-apes and strange reptiles,
olive-skinned beauties, and fierce war-like men nearly seven feet tall,
would have made a modern marine novelist pale with envy.

No ship had ever sailed that was as stanch as the “Blue Porpoise,” and
no winds had ever blown before like those that took away her proud sails
and ripped the shrouds from her sides. No fish-poles had ever bent as
her masts did when the ropes parted, and no waves had ever soared as
high as those that broke in her faithful ribs, and cast the two
shipmates high on the sands of that distant island.

After years of waiting for a friendly sail, Bill married into the royal
family several times, and became a part of the kingdom. Sipes
persistently resisted blandishment for nearly five years, when a small
cloud of black smoke on the horizon gradually grew into a tramp steamer.
A boat came ashore for fresh water, and our hero gladly became a member
of the crew, leaving happy Bill in the land of luxury and promiscuous
matrimony. After a long voyage he was put ashore at some gulf port and
became a wanderer.

How he got into the sand hills he didn’t exactly know, but his idea was
to keep as far as possible away from salt water. He had developed an
antipathy for it, and felt that the lake would be quite sufficient for
his future needs.

I asked him how he spent his time, and he said, “mostly smokin’ an’
thinkin’ about Bill, an’ them sirenes, an’ their little black an’ tan
families, ’way off down there in the South Pacific.”

[Illustration: “THINKIN’ ABOUT BILL AN’ THEM SIRENES”]

He hoped that Bill would change his mind and come back to a decent
country. Perhaps Bill might find him here, and if he did the extra bunk
would come in handy. He said that somehow he didn’t feel so lonesome
with the other bunk above him, and, at night, he often thought that
maybe Bill was in it.

His idea of what constitutes companionship may appear a little crude to
some of us, but after all it is our point of view that makes us happy or
unhappy in this world.

I asked him if he thought Bill would be able to find him if he ever
tried to, and he replied, “never you mind--you leave that to Bill. He’s
a wonder.”

I regretted that he did not tell me all about what happened to Bill
after he had left him on the island. This would not have been at all
impossible if he had taken up the subject with the same compositional
ability that he applied to the rest of his narrative.

His conversational charms were somewhat marred by a slight impediment in
his speech, which he said had been acquired in trying to pronounce the
names of all the foreign parts he had visited. Now that he had got
settled down the impediment was becoming much less troublesome.

His brawny arms and chest were tattooed with fantastic oriental
designs--fiery-mouthed dragons, coiling snakes in blue and red, and
rising suns--which he said had been “put on by a Chink” when he was
ashore for three weeks in Hong Kong. The intricacy and elaborateness of
the work indicated that a large part of the three weeks must have been
spent with the tattoo expert, for he had absorbed much more of Chinese
art in the short time he had been in contact with it than most modern
scholars do in a lifetime.

In answer to a delicate allusion to his missing eye, he declared that it
had been blown out in a gale somewhere off the coast of Japan. The
terrible winds had prevailed for nearly two weeks, and his shipmate,
Bill Saunders, had lost all of his clothes during the blow. The eye had
gone to leeward and was never recovered. He said it was glass anyway,
and he never thought much of it. How the original eye had been lost he
did not explain. He wore what he called a “hatch” over the place where
the eye ought to be, and said that “as long as there was nothin’ goin’
out,” he “didn’t want nothin’ comin’ in.”

His “live eye,” as he called it, had a wide range of expression. It was
shrewd and quizzical at times, occasionally merry, and often sad. It
would glitter fiercely when he talked of some of his “aversions,” or
told of wrongs he had suffered. In his reminiscent moods it would
remain half closed, and there was a certain far-away look that seemed to
wander in obscurity. This lone eye was the distinguishing feature of a
personality that seemed to dominate the little world around it.

I asked this ancient mariner if he had many visitors. He replied that
the artists bothered him some, but outside of that he seldom saw anybody
“’cept them I have business with, an’ them two guys that live about
three miles apart down the shore, an’ the game warden that comes ’long
oncet in a while. If people commence buttin’ in ’ere I’m goin’ to git
out, an’ go ’bout forty miles north, where I can’t hear the cars. I
ain’t got much to move. The stuff’ll all go in the boat, an’ I’ll just
take my ol’ flannel collar an’ the sock I keep it in, an’ skip.”

He seemed to feel that he could properly criticize most of the people he
had met, being practically free from frailties himself. Although he was
somewhat of a pessimist, there was seldom much heartfelt bitterness in
what he said. His mental attitude was usually that of a patronizing and
indulgent observer. His satirical comments were generally tempered with
unconscious humor. He knew that out beyond the margins of the yellow
hills lay a world of sin, for he had been in it, and his friend Bill was
in it now. His philosophy did not contemplate the possible redemption of
anybody he had ever met in the dunes, with one or two exceptions. He
thought that most of them were “headed fer the coals.”

“Happy Cal,” was one of his pet aversions, and from a human standpoint,
he considered him a total loss. They had once been friends, but Sipes
was now “miffed” and there was rancor in his heart. Cal had “gone off
som’eres,” but the wound was unhealed. The trouble originated over the
ownership of a bunch of tangled set-lines, which had got loose somewhere
out in the lake, and drifted ashore some years ago. It was conceded that
neither of them had owned the lines originally, but Cal thought they
ought to belong to him as he had seen them first.

Sipes descried the soggy mass and carried it up the beach to his shanty.
Cal came after the prize before daylight the next morning, but found
that he had been forestalled. Sipes spent two days in getting the
tangles out and had stretched the lines out to dry. One night they were
mysteriously visited and cut to pieces.

[Illustration]

A few days later a piece of board, nailed crosswise to a stake which was
driven into the sand, appeared about a mile down the shore, between the
two shanties. On it was the crude inscription:--“_The Partys that cut
them lines is knone_.”

While protesting that he was perfectly innocent, Cal looked upon this
as a deadly personal affront, and the _entente cordiale_ was forever
broken.

After this Sipes bored a small hole in the side of his shanty, through
which he could secretly reconnoiter the landscape in Cal’s direction
when occasion required. He was satisfied that Cal would be up to
something some day that he would catch him at, and thus even the score.

I had noticed a similar hole in the side of Cal’s hut, during a day that
I had spent with him two years before.

Since the disappearance of Cal the old man had used the peep hole to
enable him to avoid the visits of a certain other individual with whom
he had become disgusted. Through it he would study any distant
approaching figure on the shore that looked suspicious, with an old
brass marine spy glass, that he said “had bin on salt water.” If he was
not pleased with his inspection, he would quietly slip out on the
opposite side and disappear until the possible visitor had passed, or
had called and discovered that Mr. Sipes was not in. He referred to his
instrument as a “spotter,” and claimed that it saved him a lot of
misery. While more refined methods of accomplishing such an object are
often used, none could be more effective.

After learning what the orifice was for, I always felt highly flattered
when I found my old friend at home, although I sometimes had rather a
curious sensation, in walking up the shore, feeling that far away the
single brilliant eye of old Sipes might be twinkling at me through the
rickety old spy glass. Astronomers tell of unseen stars in the universe,
which are found only with the most powerful telescopes. These orbs,
isolated in awful space, may be scrutinizing our sphere with the same
curiosity as that behind the little spotter in the dim distance on the
beach.

I made a practice of taking a particularly good cigar with me on these
expeditions, especially for Sipes, which may have helped to account for
his almost invariable presence when I arrived. He would accept it with a
deprecating smile and a low bow. If the weather was pleasant he would
seat himself outside on the sand, with his back against the side of the
shanty, and extend his feet over the crosspiece of a dilapidated
saw-buck near the door. He would carefully remove the paper band from
the cigar, light it, and tilt it to a high angle. After a few whiffs of
the fragrant weed, he once sententiously remarked, “Say, this is the
life!--I’d ruther be settin’ right ’ere, smokin’ this ’ere _see_gar,
than to be some famous mutt commandin’ a ship.”

The cigar bands were always scrupulously saved. He hoped eventually to
get enough of them to paste around the edges of a picture which was
stuck up on his wall opposite the bunks, and was willing to smoke all
the cigars that might be necessary to furnish the requisite number of
bands for this frame, which he thought would “look fine.” The picture
had been taken from the colored supplement of some old sporting journal,
and depicted two prominent pugilists in violent action. When he had
“cussed out” nearly everybody else, he would take up the case of one of
these champions, who had gone into the ring once too often. His ornate
vocabulary came into splendid play on these occasions, and the
unfortunate “pug” had no professional reputation left when the old man
had finished his remarks.

There was an interesting and formidable array of armament in Sipes’s
shanty. In one corner stood an old-fashioned muzzle-loading, big bore
shotgun, weighing about sixteen pounds, with rusty barrels and one
broken hammer. The stock had once been split, but had been carefully
repaired and bound with wire. It was a murderous looking weapon.

A heavy rifle of antiquated pattern was suspended from a couple of hooks
above the bunks, but the old man explained that this piece of ordnance
was “no good,” as he “couldn’t git no catritches that ’ud fit it, an’ it
’ad a busted trigger an’ a bum lock.” He had traded some skins for it
years ago, and “the feller that ’ad it didn’t ’ave no catritches
neither. I was stung in that trade, but them skins wasn’t worth nothin’
neither. Some day I’ll trade it off to some feller that wants a good
rifle.”

On the shelf was a sinister looking firearm, which had once been a
smooth-bore army musket. The barrel had been sawed off to within a foot
of the breech. This he called his “scatter gun.” It was kept loaded with
about six ounces of black powder, and wadded on top of this was a
handful of pellets which he had made out of flour dough, mixed with red
pepper, and dried in the sun. He explained that, at three rods, such a
charge would go just under the skin. “It wouldn’t kill nothin’, but it
’ud be hot stuff.” He was keeping it “fer a certain purpose,” the nature
of which he refused to divulge.

The intended destiny of the “hot stuff” was suggested by a story I
afterwards heard from “Catfish John.” It seems that an eccentric
character occasionally roamed along the beach who was a theological
fanatic. He had tried to convert Sipes, and had often left tracts around
the shanty when the owner was absent. He was intensely Calvinistic and
utterly uncompromising in his beliefs. John did not consider that he was
“quite all thar.” This unkempt individual projected his red bushy
whiskers and wild eyes through Sipes’ open window one night.

“Do you believe in infant damnation?” he roared.

“Wot?” asked the dumfounded Sipes.

“’Cause if ye don’t yer jest as sure to go to hell as the sun is to
rise tomorrer mornin’,” the intruder continued. He then left as suddenly
as he had come. “Sipes sailed a pufectly good egg after ’im, but it
didn’t stick,” remarked John.

It was Sipes’s custom to take the old shot gun over into the marshes of
the back country, and shoot ducks in the fall and spring. His ideas of
killing ducks were worthy of the Stone Age, for it was meat that he
sought, and not sport. He always “killed ’em settin’,” and would “lay
fer ’em ’till fifteen er twenty got in a bunch, an’ then let ’em ’ave
both bar’ls.

“I don’t allow nobody but me to shoot that gun. It kicks like it was
drivin’ some spiles, an’ so does my scatter gun. When it goes off one
end is pretty near as bad as the other. I fetch them ducks home an’ salt
down them I can’t use right off, an’ sometimes I git enough to last all
winter.”

I suggested that lighter charges might cause less recoil, and do just as
much execution.

“Not on yer life,” he replied, “if they ain’t no kick behind they won’t
be no kick forrads, an’ the shot won’t go no distance. Now just lemme
show you.”

In spite of my protest, he got the gun out, loaded it far beyond its
maximum efficiency, and fired it at a passing flock of sandpipers, that
were fortunately beyond range. The report was like a thunder clap, and
when the echoes died away, and it was evident that the innocent little
creatures had escaped unharmed, he explained that he “wasn’t any good at
shootin’ ’em flyin’, but them shot made ’em skip all right.”

I had my own suspicions as to what had made the little birds “skip.”

His supplies of ammunition were obtained for him at the general store in
the sleepy village by his old friend “Catfish John,” whose reward
consisted in portions of the bloody spoil from the marshes.

Sipes’s shanty would have been a most unpleasant place to approach if
hostility should develop inside of it. He “didn’t want no monkeyin’
’round that joint, an’ they wasn’t goin’ to be none.”

It was to the old man’s credit that he let most of the wild life alone
that he could not utilize. The crows, gulls, and herons along the beach
did not interest him. The songsters and the little shore birds were
exempt on account of their size. They required too much ammunition, and
it was too much trouble to pick them.

[Illustration:

THE DISTURBER IN THE RAVINE]

Occasionally a pair of eagles would soar around over the dune country.
These he longed to kill, but he could never get near enough to them. The
wary birds were inconsiderate, and “wouldn’t never light, ’cept away
off.”

A “hoot’n owl” somewhere in the ravine caused him many sleepless
nights. Its prolonged and unearthly cries frequently startled him from
dreams of his friend Bill off in the South Pacific, and he spent many
hours prowling softly around among the trees in the darkness, trying to
locate the offender. Probably the owl, in the wisdom of his kind, had
kept the silent stealthy figure under observation, and was careful not
to do any hooting within shooting distance,--certainly an example to be
emulated. He usually resumed his lamentations when Sipes returned to his
shanty.

The old man had this owl listed as one of his bitter enemies, and
annihilation awaited the wily bird if he ever found it. “One hoot’n
owl’s too dam’ many to have ’round,” he declared. “This critter reminds
me o’ one night when I was on a ship off the coast o’ South Ameriky.

“I was aloft on one o’ the yard-arms, an’ there was a little roll on the
sea. I seen some long white streaks o’ foam comin’, about two points
offen the lee bow, an’ there was sumpen that shined in the moonlight
mixed up in it. It seemed all yellow, an’ about two hundred feet long,
an’ it flopped up an’ down. When it got close, it opened up a mouth
pretty near half as big as the ship, an’ let out an awful yell. It
sounded like a hoot’n owl, only ten thousand times louder an’ deeper.
Then it dove down an’ went under the ship. The sails all shook, an’ my
blood was froze, so I couldn’t call out to the feller at the wheel, an’
I dropped off on to the deck.

“I never found out what the cussed thing was. If I’d bin drinkin’ very
much I’d ’a’ thought I had the jimmies. The wheel feller said he hadn’t
noticed nothin’, but I did all the same, an’ I’ll never fergit it.

“I had some ter’ble experiences off down there in that part o’ the
gorgofy. We sailed fer months an’ months, an’ never seen nothin’ but the
big waves an’ the sky. There was a lot o’ latitude an’ longitude, an’ me
an’ Bill used to offen wonder, when we was roostin’ out on the bowsprit
smokin’ at night, what ’ud happen if we butted into one o’ them lines
that’s always runnin’ up an’ down an’ sideways on them salt water maps.

“There was ter’ble perils all the time. Sometimes we’d run among
icebergs, an waterspouts, an’ cyclones, an’ we wallered in bilin’ seas,
an’ the skies was black as yer hat, an’ we got lost on the ocean a
couple o’ times, an’ we got smashed up on that island I told ye about.
You bet this lake’s plenty wet enough fer me, an’ I’m goin’ to spatter
’round right ’ere, an’ if Bill was only ’ere instid o’ cavortin’ ’round
with them South Pacific floozies, I’d be all right.”

Some of Sipes’s many sea yarns sounded suspiciously like stories I had
read in early youth, but I generally gave him the benefit of the doubt,
as he did not need to be strictly truthful to be entertaining. In one
instance he related a thrilling tale in which his experiences were
practically identical with those of the hero in a favorite yellow
covered treasure of years ago. I rather tactlessly called his attention
to that fact. He at once replied, “Now you see how queer some things git
’round in this world. _I was that feller._”

After that I considered comment hopeless, and simply listened.

Perhaps this lonely philosopher may have solved one of the problems of
existence that have baffled more serious and deeper thinkers. He has
perfectly adjusted himself to his environment, and his life is complete
and happy within it. Even his many aversions give him more pleasure than
pain. His memories afford him abundant and pleasant society, and he is
able, psychologically, to import his friend Bill when he needs him.
Beyond these things he apparently has no desires. To use his own
expression,--“the great an’ pow’rful o’ the earth ’as got nothin’ on
me.”

That priceless jewel, contentment, is his, and the kindly fates could do
little more for one who wore a crown.

[Illustration:

“HAPPY CAL”]

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

HAPPY CAL’S SHANTY]



CHAPTER VI

HAPPY CAL


One of the nondescript beach characters bears, or did bear, the somewhat
deceptive sobriquet of “Happy Cal.” His little shanty was on the sand
about two hundred feet from the lake. The grizzled head, the gnarled
rugged hands, the sinewy but slightly bent figure, betokened one who had
met tempests on the highways of life. The deep set gray eyes were
without luster, although they occasionally twinkled with quiet humor.

The slightly retreating chin, which could be discerned through the white
beard when his profile was against the light, offered a key to the
frailty of his character. The power of combat was not there. He had
yielded to the storms. He said they called him “Happy Cal” because he
wasn’t happy at all.

One dreary forenoon, when the black clouds piled up over the lake in the
northwest and the big drops began to come, I went to Cal’s shanty and
was cordially asked to put my sketching outfit behind an old soap-box
back of the door. It is needless to say that he had acquired this
soap-box when it was empty. A long cigar and the recollection of a
former visit put him at his ease.

The rain increased, and the breakers began to roar on the beach. The
wind whistled through the crevices in the side of the shanty, and Cal
went out to stuff them with some strips of rotten canvas that he had
probably picked up along the shore. It was quite characteristic of Cal
to delay this stuffing until stern necessity made it imperative.

He came in dripping wet, and asked if I happened to have a bottle with
me. The stove was a metamorphosed hot-water tank. The rusty cylinder had
been found somewhere among some junk years before. He had made an
opening in the front for the wood, a hole in the bottom provided for the
draft and the egress of the ashes, and a stove pipe, that had seen
better days, led through a hole in the irregular roof.

A fire was soon singing in the cylinder, and under its genial warmth
Happy Cal became reminiscent.

“I’ve had some mighty strange experiences since I’ve bin livin’ ’ere,”
he began. “About nine years ago they was a shipwreck out ’ere that
raised the devil with all on board an’ with me too. Nobody got drownded,
but it would ’ave bin a good thing if some of ’em had.

“It was late in November an’ nobody ’ad any business navigatin’ the
lake, ’less they ’ad to, ’cause when it gits to blowin’ out ’ere at that
time o’ year, it blows without any trouble at all. A big gale come up in
the night an’ the breakers was tearin’ away at a great rate, an’ they
swashed ’most up to the shanty. I was settin’ up in the bunk playin’
sollytare, an’ wonderin’ if the shanty was goin’ to git busted up, when
I thought I heard voices. I lit my lantern an’ went out to see what was
doin’ an’ I saw a light a little ways out an’ heard somebody yellin’.

“There was a big schooner almost on the shore. She was poundin’ up an’
down on the bottom in about five feet o’ water. The big rollers was
takin’ ’er up an’ smashin’ ’er down so you could hear it a mile. Pretty
soon the light went out an’ after that four o’ the wettest fellers y’
ever seen came pilin’ in with the breakers. I grabbed one of ’em that
was bein’ washed back agin’, an’ after that I got another one that
seemed to be pretty near dead. The other two got out all right by
themselves, but they was pretty shaky. They helped me git the others up
to the shanty, an’ they was a sight o’ pity when we got ’em there.

“I put some more wood in the stove an’ gave ’em all some whisky. They
was about a pint left in a gallon jug that I got about a week before,
with some money I got fer a bunch o’ rabbits. I don’t drink much, but I
like to keep sumpen in the shanty in case somebody should git
ship-wrecked, an’ it might be me, but I ain’t got none now. I went on
the water wagon about an hour ago, an’ I’m afraid I’m goin’ to fall off
if I git a chance.

“Them fellers lapped up the booze like it was milk, an’ when they found
they wasn’t any more they got mad an’ said I was runnin’ a temperance
joint. Then they asked me sarcastic if I had any soft drinks, an’ I told
’em they’d find plenty outside. I fried ’em some fish an’ they et up all
the crackers I had. Then one of ’em got my pipe an’ smoked it.

“They were a tough lot an’ when they got all dried out an’ fed they got
to cussin’ each other. I told ’em if they wanted to fight to git out fer
I didn’t want no scrappin’ in the shanty. Then two of ’em clinched an’ I
shoved ’em out doors. Then the others went out an’ pitched on both of
’em. After that they all piled inside agin’ an’ over went the stove. In
a few minutes the place looked like it ’ad bin blowed up. We got the
stove up after a while, but I lit out up the ravine an’ stayed there
pretty near the rest o’ the night, waitin’ fer a calm in the shanty.
Hell was poppin’ down there an’ ev’ry minute I was expectin’ to see the
sides fly out.

“’Long toward mornin’ I took a sneak down an’ peeked in. Them sailors
was all settin’ in there quiet as lambs, playin’ cards with my deck an’
usin’ all my matches fer chips. I opened the door an’ spoke pleasant
like to ’em but they told me to git out fer the place ’ad changed hands.
After a while, when they found they couldn’t make the stove work, they
let me in an’ we had some coffee.”

There are some visitors who make calls, others who come and visit, and
still others who make visitations. It was not difficult to classify
Cal’s guests as he proceeded with his story.

“It seems that them devils,” continued Cal, “had started down the lake
with a load o’ slabs an’ some lumber from one o’ the saw mills up north.
One of ’em’s name was Burke, an’ ’e got to scrappin’ with the cap’n, a
feller named Swanson, about the grub they had on board. The other two
butted in an’ said they wasn’t goin’ to eat no more beans, an’ the
feller at the wheel headed the vessel--the Mud Hen ’er name
was--straight fer the coast, an’ swore ’e’d hold ’er there ’till the
cap’n ’ud tell where some canned things was that ’e knew ’e had on
board hid, an’ a’ big jug that they seen ’im put on the night before
they sailed. They was about a mile off shore when the wind struck ’em,
an’ one o’ the wheel ropes busted, an’ before they could git things
fixed up they blowed in.

“They was all sore at the cap’n an’ the cap’n an’ the other two was sore
at the feller at the wheel, an’ ’e was sore at the whole bunch fer
cussin’ ’im, an’ so when they all got soaked it didn’t help things any,
an’ when they got dried out they begun beatin’ each other up.

“Olson, the one that ’ad bin pretty near drownded, couldn’t talk much
English, but him an’ me sort o’ took to each other after a couple o’
days, an’ ’e told me all about the doin’s on the boat.

“Swanson an’ Burke took my gun an’ went over in the back country an’
shot some tame ducks an’ brought ’em back to the shanty an’ wanted me to
fix ’em up to cook. When I was pickin’ ’em on the beach the owners come
over. They’d heard the shots an’ they found some tracks an’ seen where
they was some feathers. I told ’em I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it,
but as I was settin’ there undressin’ the fowls they seemed to think I
had, an’ I had a lot o’ trouble fixin’ things up.

“All this time the ol’ boat was layin’ in the shallow water keeled over
sideways, an’ badly busted up. We climbed into ’er an’ got out a lot o’
stuff, an’ that bunch was mighty glad to git the beans, an’ so was I. We
found the cap’n’s jug an’ the cans, an’ that night things broke loose
agin, an’ they all went on a bat. They went the limit an’ acted like a
lot o’ wild Indians. I poured about a quart out o’ the jug into a bottle
an’ hid it in some bushes, but they got to that, too. I told ’em I was
just tryin’ to save it fer ’em till the next day, but they got sore
about it. They only let me have two drinks from the whole jug.

“The next night they set the ol’ wreck afire an’ lit out. What they done
that fer I can’t make out. After she burnt down to the water, some big
combers washed ’er up on the beach one night an’ you can see what’s left
of ’er stickin’ up out there yet. They was a lot o’ good stuff in that
boat fer a nice new big cabin fer me, an’ I felt awful bad about it. I
saw the tracks of two of ’em goin’ up the

[Illustration:

The Wreck
of the
“Mud Hen”]

beach, an’ the others ’ad gone off in the hills, an’ I guess they’d ’ad
another row. They carried off my gun an’ my cards, an’ I never want to
see a bunch o’ lunatics like that agin. I’d as leave take in a lot o’
mad dogs as I would them geezers. I wish that dam’ Swede at the wheel
’ad headed ’is ol’ tub som’eres else, ’er sunk ’er out in the middle ’o
the lake, instid o’ shootin’ ’er in ’ere an’ fussin’ me all up. Them
fellers’ll be about as pop’lar as a skunk if they ever come ’round ’ere
agin.”

The remains of the poor old “Mud Hen” were visible about half a mile
down the coast. Her charred and broken ribs protruded from the sands
that had buried her keel, seemingly in mute protest against final
oblivion. The fate that evil company brings was hers, but her refuge is
now secure.

Happy Cal had been born and educated in a southern city. At twenty he
had fallen in love with a dark-haired, beautiful, and softly languorous
creature, with dreamy eyes, whose faded and worn photograph he produced
after a long search through the leaves of an old and very dirty book.
The book, which he also showed me, was rather anarchistic in character,
and its well-thumbed pages may have considerably influenced Cal’s lack
of faith in things in general.

After the exchange of fervent mutual vows, he had shouldered a musket
and answered the call of the cause that was lost on the battlefields of
the sixties.

After many vicissitudes and many months of suffering and hardship, poor
Cal, in a tattered uniform, found his way back through the mountains to
the altar on which he had laid his heart. He found the raven tresses on
the shoulder of another, and retreated into the soul darkness from which
he never emerged. He was only partially conscious of the weary miles and
aimless wanderings that eventually took him into the silence and
isolation of the sand hills, where he elected to abide in secrecy.

The golden chalice had been dashed from his lips--he had drunk of bitter
waters. His star had fallen, and, like a wounded animal, he had sought
the solitudes, beyond the arrows that had torn him.

The sad, lonely years in the little driftwood hut had benumbed the cruel
memories, but the problems of existence brought only partial
forgetfulness. Under the cold northern stars and during the winter
storms, his seared and tortured soul strove for peace, but it came not.

His sole companion in his exile was a big gray and white dog. He had
found the poor, half-starved, stray creature prowling around in the
vicinity of the hut one night, and had taken him in. Community of
interest had caused these two atoms to coalesce. The dogs name was Pete,
and it was Pete who was the indirect and innocent cause of Cal’s final
awakening to what he considered a sad reality a year or two later.

Pete got in contact with a voracious bulldog, that came from somewhere
over in the back country; and in the final analysis--in which the two
animals participated--Pete was left in a badly mangled condition.

Cal found him, and happening to be near the shanty of a neighbor,
several miles from his own shack, carried the unfortunate Pete tenderly
to shelter.

It was through this neighbor, another hermit, with another history, that
Cal got interested in a pile of old newspapers and magazines which had
been procured in some way by this isolated tenant of the sands, who
still maintained a lagging interest in the affairs of the outside world.

[Illustration: “PETE”]

During Pete’s convalescence, Cal found in one of these old papers an
account of a women’s rights meeting in his native city, in which his
former ideal of beauty and loveliness had taken a prominent part.

Her picture was in the paper and Cal was

[Illustration: “A Cactus at Fifty”]

disillusioned. The finger of time had touched the love of his youth and
she was ugly. The tender blossom of nineteen was a cactus at fifty. To
use his own phrase--“she looked like the breakin’ up of a hard winter.”
In addition to the picture, the report of the proceedings, during which
his former affinity had violently attacked what Cal considered were the
sacred prerogatives of the male sex, extinguished the last lingering
fond impression, and the lovely vision vanished.

He did not believe that women had sufficient intelligence to vote, and
the idea of their taking part in sage political councils was repugnant
to him. While he did not vote himself, he said that there “was plenty o’
men to ’tend to them things, an’ its foolish to allow women to git mixed
up in the govament.”

This wise and smug anti-suffragist thought that the female sex “should
be allowed to meet, if they want to, but they hadn’t ought a butt in on
things that require superior intelligence.”

The newspaper cut had done its awful work on Cal, and women’s rights had
completed the demolition of an ideal that had been cherished through the
years. His idol had crumbled and turned to ashes, and his dog was now
the only live thing that he considered worthy of affection.

The story had in it much pathos, but interspersed through it was a great
deal of picturesque profanity, particularly in connection with the idea
of women casting votes, which had aroused the dormant passions of his
nature.

The storm was over. I left him a small supply of tobacco, promised to
drop in again, and bade him good-bye.

       *       *       *       *       *

Several days later, in talking with Sipes, I happened to mention Cal’s
sad life history. He laughed and said that Cal was a liar.

“The real facts is ’e lived over in the back country fer twenty years,
an’ ’e was chased into the hills by ’is wife an’ mother-in-law fer good
an’ sufficient reasons. He handed me all that dope oncet about some girl
’e was stuck on some’res down south. It’s all right fer an old cuss like
’im to set ’round an’ talk, but ’e was just ’avin’ dizzy dreams, an’ you
fergit ’em. If ’e’d only tell the truth, the way I always do, ’e
wouldn’t never have no trouble, an’ folks would ’ave some respect fer
’im, like they do fer me.”

       *       *       *       *       *

A year elapsed before I again saw the little shanty. The drifting sands
had partially covered it, and my knock was unanswered. Several boards
were missing from the roof, and through a wide crack I saw that
occupation had ceased. The bunk was covered with débris. There were
some empty cans on the floor and, I am sorry to say, a few bottles, but
Happy Cal was gone.

Let us hope that the wave of fortune or misfortune that took this poor
piece of human driftwood on its crest carried him to some far-off,
sun-kissed, and glorious shore, where there is no political equality,
and where women have no rights.

Either he had spent a most pathetic and adventurous life, or he was one
of the most delightful liars I ever listened to.

[Illustration: “CATFISH JOHN”]

[Illustration:

The Home
of
“Catfish John”]



CHAPTER VII

CATFISH JOHN


“Catfish John” lived several miles farther up the shore. He was nearly
eighty--at least, so he thought. Rheumatism had interfered with his
activities to a considerable extent, and his net reels on the beach were
getting a little harder to turn as the years rolled on. He considered
the invasion of the dune country by the newcomers a great misfortune,
although he was perfectly content to deal with them in a business way.

“Fifty years ago, when I fust come ’ere,” he said, “this country was
sumpen to live in. There was some o’ the Injuns ’ere, but they didn’t
never bother nobody. Thar was lots o’ game, an’ things ’round ’ere was
pretty wild.”

“How did you happen to come here, John?” I asked.

“I come from down East on the Erie Canal, an’ I traveled out ’ere to see
some land a feller was tryin’ to sell that ’e showed me on some maps ’e
had. He said it was pretty wet, but it had thousands o’ huckleberry
bushes on it, an’ the berries grew so thick the bushes all bent over
with ’em.

“I didn’t ’ave much money, an’ I didn’t expect to pay much out, but I
thought I’d come out an’ take a look at it. I didn’t see no
huckleberries, but it was wet sure ’nough. If I’d ’a’ gone on it I’d ’a’
had to gone in a boat an’ feel fer the land with a pole, an’ if I’d
wanted to live on it, I’d ’a’ had to growed some fins. It was a good
thing fer that feller that he didn’t git that thar land onto me afore
I’d seen it.

“After I’d bin ’round ’ere fer a while, I built a cabin over on the
river, five miles back o’ here. I got some slabs from the lumber comp’ny
that was skinnin’ out the pine an’ robbin’ the guvament, an’ put up a
good house. I stayed thar ’bout ten years, I guess.

“One night somebody knocked at the door. I opened it, an’ that stood
three fellers. I asked ’em in, an’ we smoked an’ talked fer awhile, an’
I cooked ’em some pork. I had about fifty pounds outside in a bar’l,
with a cover an’ a stone on it.

“In the mornin’ them fellers wanted to go fishin’. We went up the river
a ways, an’ chopped some holes in the ice, an’ caught a lot o’ pick’rel.
We took ’em to the cabin an’ put ’em on the roof to keep ’em away from
the varmints. In the mornin’ I got up, an’ all that pork an’ them fish
was gone, an’ so was them fellers. It’s bin forty years that I’ve bin
watchin’ now, an’ I haint never seen them fellers since.”

John then relapsed into a reflective silence, and shifted his quid of
“natural leaf,” that was filtering down through his unkempt whiskers.
“Them fellers” were preying on his vindictive mind.

“What do you do with them pitchers you make?” he asked.

“I just make them for fun.”

“I don’t see no fun makin’ them things. That was a feller along ’ere in
the spring that used to set under an umbreller, when it wasn’t rainin’.
He painted a pitcher o’ me, an’ then took it away with ’im. It had a lot
o’ paint on it, an’ it was all rough. I don’t think ’e amounted to
much.”

“Did it look like you, John?”

“I s’pose it did to him; ’e carried it off.”

John knew most of the outcasts along the beach for many miles. He
occasionally visited some of them, particularly Sipes, to obtain extra
supplies of fish, with an old gray horse and a dilapidated buggy
frame--both of which were also rheumatic. On the wheels back of the seat
he had mounted a big covered box for the fish, which he peddled over
into the back country. Some of the fish were very dead, and the whole
box was replete with mystery and suspicion.

“After the second day,” he said, “I sometimes give ’way them I haint
sold.” Even at this price, some of them were probably quite expensive.

[Illustration: THE LITTLE SMOKE HOUSE]

Snuggled up against the bluff, near the shanty he lived in, was an
odd-looking little structure that John used for a smoke-house. When his
fish became a little too _passé_ to permit of ready sales, or, as he
expressed it, “too soft,” he smoked them. Thus disguised, they were
again ready for the channels of commerce.

He generally included some smoked fish in his load when he started out,
and usually it was not their first trip.

While his thrift was commendable, it was always best to let the output
of that little smokehouse severely alone, for its roof, like charity,
covered a multitude of sins.

Sipes declared that he always knew when the old man “was gittin’ ready
to smoke fish, if the wind was right.”

His nickname had been acquired because of the yellow slimy things which
he procured from the sluggish river, when the storms prevented supplies
from the lake. A prodigious haul of catfish was made from the river one
spring by a settler, who turned the catch over to John to peddle on
shares.

“I loaded up them fish, an’ I peddled ’em clear to the Indianny line. I
was gone a week, an’ I sold ’em all. When I got back that feller said ’e
hadn’t never seen no fish peddled like them was.”

I tried to get him to talk about some of the characters he had met in
his travels, but he said he “didn’t never ask no questions of nobody.”
Then, after a long silence, he remarked, reflectively, “I guess them
fellers that stole the pork prob’ly left the country.”

[Illustration:

JOHN’S METHOD OF TAKING A BATH]

Catfish John apparently relied on the heavenly rains, when he got caught
in them, to keep him clean, and on the golden sunshine that followed
them to remove the traces of these involuntary and infrequent ablutions.

I doubt if he suspected the existence of soap. Such cleanliness as he
possessed must have been in his heart, for it was invisible.

I once asked John to allow me to spend a day with him on one of his
peddling trips to the village, and he cheerfully consented.

“I don’t git lonesome, but it ’ud be nice to have somebody ’long,” he
said.

I was to meet him at five o’clock the following morning at Sipes’s
place. I inwardly rebelled at the unseemly hour, but those who would
derive the full measure of enjoyment with Catfish John must not be
particular about hours.

I rowed along the shore, and was at the trysting place promptly.
Fortunately I had a slight cold, and was thereby better enabled to
resist some of the odors that I was likely to encounter during the day.

Sipes was dumfounded when I explained the object of the early visit.

“You cert’nly must be lookin’ fer trouble,” he declared; “if ye want to
spend a day like that, why don’t ye go over an’ set quiet ’round ’is
smokehouse, instid o’ bein’ bumped along on ’is honey cart all day?”

The air was still, and the low, gentle swells out on the water were
opalescent in the early morning light. Sipes had just returned from a
visit to his set-lines and gill-nets, over a mile away in the lake. He
had started about two o’clock, and his boat on the beach contained the
slimy merchandise which we were to convert into what Sipes called
“cash-money” during the day.

We went down to the shore to inspect the catch. Numerous flopping tails
and other unavailing protests against uncongenial environment were
evident in the boat. There were fifteen or twenty Whitefish, about a
dozen carp, several suckers, and a lot of good-sized perch, which had
been found in the gill-nets. The set-lines had yielded two sturgeon, one
weighing about thirty-five pounds and the other over fifty. These two
finny victims dominated the boat.

“I swatted ’em when I took ’em in, but they seem to be gittin’ gay
agin,” remarked Sipes, as he reached for an old axe handle lying near
the bow. The struggling fish soon became quiet.

“There comes yer old college friend,” he said, as he glanced up the
beach. The rheumatic horse was patiently pulling the odd vehicle along
the shore, near the water line where the sand was firm, partially
concealing the bent figure with the faded slouch hat on the seat behind
him.

“I’d know that ol’ hat if I seen it at the South Pole,” said Sipes. “It
turns up in front an’ flops down behind. It’s got some little holes in
the top, through which some wind blows when ’e’s wearin’ it. He’s ’ad it
ever since I come on the beach, an’ that wasn’t yisterd’y, neither, an’
they ain’t no other lid that ’ud look right on John, an’ they ain’t
nobody else that ’ud wear it fer a minute. He needn’t never be ’fraid
that anybody’s goin’ to swipe it, ’specially ’round ’ere.”

After the conventional greetings, flavored with much bantering and
playful innuendoes by Sipes concerning the disreputable society which
some nice fresh fish were about to get into, the two worthies weighed
the catch, in installments, on some steelyards with a tin pan
attachment, which were kept in the shanty. Sipes made a memorandum with
a stubby pencil on the inside of the door, where his accounts were kept.
“I got so dam’ many things to think of that I can’t keep track of ’em
’less I jot ’em down,” he remarked, as he slowly and laboriously
inscribed some figures on the rough board.

John had a few fish in his box that he had found in his own nets that
morning, and a few more that Sipes said “didn’t look recent” and “must
’ave bin caught some time previous.”

The fish that Sipes had brought in were turned over to John on a
consignment basis. It was their custom to divide the proceeds equally.
Sipes considered that old John was “pufectly honest about everythin’ but
cash-money an’ fish.” He therefore kept “strict ’count o’ wot goes out
an’ wot comes back.” The inside of the door was covered with a maze of
hieroglyphics, the complicated records of previous transactions.

“If I wasn’t strictly honest at all times,” said Sipes, confidentially,
while John was out of hearing, “I’d slip some hunks o’ lead that I use
fer sinkers on the set-lines down the gullets o’ them sturgeon. I can
git lead fer six cents a pound an’ sturgeon is worth twenty. If anybody
found the hunks they’d think they’d bin eat offen the lines, but of
course I wouldn’t do nothin’ like that; an’ besides, them big fish has
to be dressed ’fore they’re weighed, an’ they ’ave to be cut in chunks
fer small sales. A sturgeon that only weighs about six or seven pounds
an’ don’t ’ave to be cut open ’fore ’e’s sold, can swallow a couple o’
sinkers without hurtin’ ’is digestion any.”

After all necessary details had been attended to, we climbed into the
seat and started. Sipes winked at me impressively, and his last words
were, “Don’t you fellers take in no bad money.”

He had several ways of opening and closing his single eye, which were
very different from winking it naturally. He would wink with the whole
side of his face, thereby conveying various subtle meanings which words
could not express.

As we departed, the old man, with a final wave of his hand, disappeared
into his shanty to prepare his breakfast. John had brought him a few
fresh eggs, and Sipes hoped that “they wouldn’t hatch ’fore they got to
the kittle.”

The poor old horse had rather a hard time pulling the additional burden
through the sand. This interesting animal was quite a character. He was
somewhere in the early twenties, and his name was “Napoleon.” John had
bought him from a farmer for ten dollars. The horse was sick and not
expected to live, but it transpired that what he really needed was a
long rest. This he was in a fair way of getting when John came to look
at him.

[Illustration: NAPOLEON]

The old fisherman built a little shanty for him, put a lot of dead
leaves and straw into it, fed him well, and in the course of a few weeks
the patient began to evince an interest in his surroundings. “Doc”
Looney came over to see him and volunteered to prescribe, but John
refused to permit Doc to give anything but an opinion. Sipes claimed
that John had thereby greatly safeguarded the original investment.

“If Doc wouldn’t give patients nothin’ but opinions, most of ’em would
pull through, but ’is opinions’ll make me sick even when I’m well,”
Sipes declared.

Napoleon was finally able to get into the harness that was constructed
for him out of various straps and odds and ends of other harnesses that
John had picked up around the country. Several pieces of rope and frayed
clothes-line were also utilized, and when it was all assembled it was
quite an effective harness.

The convalescent was taken only on short trips at first, but he
gradually became stronger, and, with the exception of a limp in his left
foreleg, he got along very well. His speed was not great. He walked most
of the time, but occasionally broke into a peculiar trot that was not
quite as fast as his walk. His trotting was mostly up and down. Like
many people, whom we all know, he was inclined to mistake motion for
progress. He was more successful when he recognized his limitations,
and adhered strictly to the method of locomotion to which he was
naturally adapted.

His intelligence might be called selective. He understood “Whoa!”
perfectly, and obeyed it instantly, but “Giddap!” was not quite so clear
to him. He could not talk about his rheumatic leg, and thus suffered
from one great disadvantage that made him more agreeable to those around
him.

I asked John how the horse happened to be called Napoleon, but he did
not know. He was equally ignorant concerning the animal’s eminent
blood-stained namesake. He thought he “was some fightin’ feller in
Europe,” but did not know “which side ’e was on.”

The world execrates its petty criminals, and immortalizes its great
malefactors. As Napoleon, for selfish ends, caused the destruction of
countless lives, instead of one, his glory should reach even unto
Catfish John.

If the poor little horse had been called “Rembrandt” or “Shakespeare,”
the name would have been just as heavy for him to bear, but it would
suggest good instead of evil to enlightened minds. He was, however,
oblivious to all these things, and went on his humble way, thinking
probably only of his oats and the queer smells that emanated from the
fish-box.

We proceeded about half a mile along the shore, and took the road that
led through the sand hills into the back country. When we got to the
marshy strip, we bumped along over the corduroy for quite a distance,
but the road became better when we got to higher ground. As soon as we
arrived on firm soil, Napoleon stopped. A fat man with a green basket
was advancing hurriedly along the edge of the thin timber, about a
quarter of a mile away, and the horse probably surmised that his coming
was in some way connected with a rest.

The fat man was a picturesque figure, and we watched his progress with
interest. His _embonpoint_ was rendered more conspicuous by the legs of
his breeches, which were about twice as large and not as long as
appeared to be necessary. The wide ends flapped to and fro about nine
inches above his feet as he ambled along. The garment was ridiculous
simply because it did not happen to be “in style” at the time. A faint
and mysterious whisper from the unknown gods who dictate the absurdities
in human attire would immediately invest its masses and contours with
elegance and propriety, and those we now wear would appear as
outrageous, artistically, as they really are. The freaks of vanity are
the mockeries of art.

“Them are high-water pants all right, an’ some day I’m goin’ to have
some like ’em,” remarked John.

It might be suggested that “trousers” are breeches which are in style,
and “pants” are those which are not. Gentlemen wear trousers and “gents”
wear “pants.”

“That ol’ feller lives in that brown house over in the clearin’ yonder,”
said John. “His name is Dan’l Smith. He’s got two sons, an’ them an’ ’is
wife do all the work now, an’ ’e’s got fat settin’ ’round an’ eatin’
everythin’ in sight. He trots over ’ere when ’e sees me comin’ an’ gits
fish. He’s partic’lar ’bout ’em bein’ fresh, an’ ’e likes to git ’em
when I first start out. He’s a good customer, but ’e owes me a lot o’
money. He says ’e’s got some money comin’ from a patent he’s inventin’,
an’ I’ll have to wait awhile. This patent’s to keep flies offen cows
when they’re bein’ milked, but I ain’t never seen it work. He drawed it
all out on some paper oncet, to show me, but I don’t know nothin’ ’bout
patents, an’ I couldn’t see just how it went. It’s some kind o’ thing
with little oars on it that ’e winds up an’ fastens on ’em, an’ then it
goes ’round an’ ’round. The little oars are all sticky with some goo ’e
puts on ’em, an’ the flies that don’t go ’way, when the little oars come
’round, git stuck on ’em, an’ can’t git off. The contraption’s got some
guide sticks on behind, an’ when the cows switch their tails, they have
to switch ’em back’ards an’ forrads, instid o’ sideways. There’s some
parts of it that ’e’s keepin’ secret, so’s none o’ them fellers down to
the store’ll git the patent fust.”

“Good mornin’, Dan’l!” said John cheerily, as the fat man came up, much
out of breath; “did ye have a hard time gittin’ through?”

“I got through all right, but it’s a good ways over ’ere from the house,
an’ I ain’t as frisky as I was oncet, an’ I’m ’fraid I’m gittin’ a
little rheumaticks in my legs. Wotcher got in th’ box to-day?”

Old John patiently sorted over the fish for inspection. The fat man
selected four, which he carefully put in his green basket, and covered
with leaves. He then waddled away with them and we drove on.

“I don’t never keep no ’counts,” said John, “but Dan’l’s got all them
fish marked down som’ers, that ’e’s got from me, an’ keeps track of ’em.
When ’e gits ’is money fer ’is patent ’e’s goin’ to fix it all up. Sipes
says we can git slews o’ them kind o’ customers, an’ ’e wants me to quit
givin’ ’im fish er else feed ’im on smoked ones fer awhile. He says if
we try to fat up all the fellers we meet on the road, the fish’ll all be
gone out o’ the lake ’fore we’re through, an’ ’e don’t want to be in on
it.”

While Napoleon and I may have regarded the fat man and the green basket
with some suspicion, John’s faith seemed secure.

We approached a weather-beaten house standing near the road. A
middle-aged woman in a gingham dress and brown shawl stood near the
fence. The nondescript rig had been seen coming. Travelers on the road
in the back country are so rare that a passing vehicle is an event; it
is always observed, and its mission thoroughly understood, if possible.
In no case during the day were we compelled to announce our arrival.

“Got any live ones this mornin’, John?” she asked.

“Anythin’ ye like,” he replied, as he raised the lid of the box. A
bargain was soon struck, and actual commerce had commenced. John put
eighteen cents into a big, greasy, leather pouch, the opening of which
was gathered with an old shoestring. He carried it in his side pocket.

He then gave the lines a shake, said “Giddap!” to Napoleon, and we moved
slowly on.

“That thar woman,” said he, “has bin married to two fellers. The fust
feller died right away, an’ the last one skipped off som’eres an’ never
come back. She’s got that little place an’ ’er father’s livin’ thar with
’er. He’s got money in the bank som’eres. He didn’t like neither o’ them
husbands, an’ now they’re gone’ e’s’ livin’ ’ere. She’s a nice woman,
but she made it hot fer them fellers, an’ if she’ll quit gittin’
married she’ll be all right. That house we’re comin’ to now b’longs to
ol’ Jedge Blossom. He’s a slick one. I had some trouble with some
fellers oncet, an’ went to the Jedge’s house to have ’im haul ’em into
court over to the county seat. We got beat in the case an’ them fellers
got discharged by the court, but the Jedge said I owed ’im ten dollars.
I didn’t have no ten dollars to spare, but I told ’im I’d leave ’im a
fish whenever I went by, so I must drop one off when we git thar.”

We stopped in front of the house. The old man reached back into the box
and pulled the slippery inmates over until he got hold of two that were
near the bottom. When they came up they did not look quite as attractive
as those I had seen in the boat. He climbed slowly and painfully down
and carried them around to the back door. On his return he remarked that
“them fish ain’t so awful good, but they’re a dam’ sight better’n some
o’ the law that ol’ bunch o’ whiskers ladled out fer me over to the
county seat. I never see ’im ’cept at the store when I go thar. The
Jedge’s got a turrible thirst, an’ most always ’e’s soused. I gen’rally
take the fish ’round an’ give ’em to the housekeeper, er else leave ’em
near the pump.”

With another “Giddap!” we continued our journey.

About a quarter of a mile farther on we met a little cross-eyed man with
stubby whiskers, carrying a big stiff satchel covered with shiny black
oilcloth. It did not seem very heavy. He swung it lightly back and forth
as he walked. He stopped and asked if we could direct him to “Sam
Peters’s place.” He explained that Peters was a relative of his and that
he had come to visit him. John told him that he had passed the cross
road that led to his destination, and offered to give him a ride back to
it, if he would sit up on the fish-box. The traveler gratefully accepted
the invitation. When we came to the corner where the cross-eyed man was
to leave us, he said that he “would like to buy a couple o’ fish, an’
take ’em over to Peters fer a present.”

Evidently he desired in this way to repay John for his ride; and thirty
cents dropped into the capacious maw of the greasy pouch.

The fish were wrapped up in a piece of newspaper, and the cross-eyed
man cautiously opened the satchel on the ground to insert the package.
To our great astonishment a large maltese cat jumped out, ran a few
yards, stopped, and gazed back at us with a scared look.

The cross-eyed man was much excited, but finally succeeded in capturing
the animal. He then explained that it belonged to his mother-in-law. It
“yowled so much nights” that after trying various other expedients, he
concluded to carry it away and give it to Peters, who had once told him
that he was fond of cats. He had got off at the railroad station, about
six miles away, and had walked the rest of the way.

The cat and the package were soon safely enclosed and he started off
down the road.

“That cat’ll prob’ly eat them fish up on the way to Peters’ place,” said
John, “but it’s my business to sell ’em an’ not to say what’s done with
’em afterwards.”

The cross-eyed man must also have had misgivings as to the security of
the fish, for we saw him stop in the distance, and open the satchel,
probably with a view of separating the contents while it was still
possible.

“I ain’t goin’ to stop at the next place,” said John. “When I drive in
thar the feller always comes out an’ jaws about half an hour, an’ then
sometimes don’t buy nothin’. When I go on by, if ’e wants a fish, ’e
comes out an’ yells fer me to stop. When ’e gits the fish ’is wife
hollers fer ’im to hustle up an’ fetch it to the house, out o’ the sun,
so I git away, an’ thar ain’t no time wasted.”

The old man’s acumen in this case resulted in the enrichment of the
greasy pouch to the extent of twenty-five cents, without objectionable
delay in the day’s business.

We were now getting into the sleepy village, and the houses were nearer
together. We stopped at several of them before we arrived at the general
store. The male population was lined up in chairs on the platform under
the awning, and a curious assortment of horses and vehicles stood around
in the neighborhood.

None of the horses looked as though they would run away if they were
not tied, but all of them were securely fastened to hitching rails and
posts.

We had a number of things to attend to at the store. A poor old
gray-haired woman, who lived alone at the edge of the village, had
requested John to “please see if there is a letter for me when you stop
at the post office, and bring it to me on your way back, if there is
one.”

John had presented her with a fish, and said that he always gave her one
when he went by, when he had a good supply.

“She’s bin expectin’ that letter fer nearly twenty years, from ’er son
that went away, but it don’t never come. She’s always waitin’ at the
gate, when I go back, to see if I git it.”

Alas, how many forlorn ones there are who wait, with hearts that ache,
through the lonesome years, for letters that “don’t never come!” Those
who have gone may have wandered far in the world--they may have
forgotten, or their fingers may have become cold and still, but there is
hope in one heart that only ends with life itself. A pen may sometimes
tremble, lips may sometimes falter, and eyes become dim, when the
thought comes that a mother’s love will be “waitin’ at the gate” when
the other loves in this world are dead.

[Illustration: “WAITIN’ AT THE GATE”]

We tied Napoleon tightly with a big piece of rope which it would be
utterly impossible for him to break if he should attempt to run away,
fixed a small bag of oats so that he could munch them, and went over to
the platform.

John was greeted with solemn nods, good-natured sallies, in which there
was more or less wit--generally less--and various questions about “the
fishin’.” One old fellow had “bin over to the river” and “seen a feller
with a couple o’ catfish an’ a pick’rel, but ’e’d bin all day gittin’
’em, an’ ’e didn’t need no wheelbarrow to git ’em home.”

We went inside the store to make a few purchases, and to inquire for any
mail which we might be able to leave with people who lived on the return
route.

John bought several pounds of number six shot, three dozen heavy lead
sinkers, and a pound of “natural leaf” for Sipes, and two pounds of
natural leaf for himself. I was tempted to purchase a few cakes of soap
and present them to John as a souvenir of the trip, but remembering that
it is the tactless people on this mundane sphere that have most of the
trouble, I changed my mind and purchased a big briar pipe for him. He
was greatly pleased with it, and thought that “in about six months
smokin’ it ’ud git mellered up an’ be a dam’ fine pipe.” We bought some
crackers, cheese and a can of sardines for our lunch, which we ate out
under one of the trees.

“I don’t know what Sipes has to ’ave so many sinkers fer,” remarked
John. “He wants me to git ’im a whole lot ev’ry time I come to town. I
guess ’e must use ’em fer bait, fer I offen find ’em in ’is fish when I
dress ’em.”

The expression on the old man’s face conveyed a suspicion that he was
not quite as gullible as he might be, and that Sipes’s strategy had not
entirely deceived him. He probably had his own quiet way of adjusting
matters on an equitable basis.

After lunch we spent a few minutes more with the wise ones in front of
the store, deposited our parcels under the seat, released the reluctant
horse and departed.

“Them fellers that set ’round that store don’t ’ave nothin’ else to do,”
said John. “They set inside in the winter time an’ do a lot o’ talkin’,
an’ sometimes I set with ’em just to hear what’s goin’ on. When it’s hot
they set outside an’ count the clouds, but they’re always settin’, an’
they don’t never hatch nothin’. Ev’ry year one or two of ’em drops off,
an’ thar ain’t many of ’em left to what thar was ten years ago. They
didn’t none of ’em amount to much, but I guess they’re just as well off
now as anybody else that’s dead.”

The contents of the greasy pouch had been sadly depleted at the store,
but we got more “cash-money” from the few remaining houses in the
village. The miller took three fish, and credited John’s account with
the amount of the sale. There was a debit on his books against John for
flour and meal furnished during the winter.

It was getting late in the afternoon, and it was a long way to John’s
smoke-house, where the unsold portion of the stock must be “dressed an’
put in pickle,” preparatory to smoking it.

We returned by the same route as we came. The poor old woman was
“waitin’ at the gate,” and turned sadly toward the house as we passed.
She carried her cross in silence, and the picture was pathetic.

On the way back we saw a sharp-featured man with red hair, who had come
out of a house and was waiting near the road.

“That feller,” declared John, as we approached the possible purchaser,
“gives me pains. He seen me goin’ by all right this mornin’, but ’e
didn’t come out. He’s a tight wad, an’ ’e thinks I’ll sell ’im fish fer
almost nothin’ before I’ll tote ’em back. I’ve got ’em all trained but
’im. Now you just watch me.”

When we stopped the man asked if we had “any cheap bargains in fresh
fish.”

“Yes,” said John, “I have, an’ I’ll tell ye what I’ll do. I hain’t sold
many to-day, an’ I’ve got about twenty left. If you’ll take the whole
bunch, you can have ’em fer a dollar an’ a half.”

“I can use two of ’em, at ten cents apiece, if you’ll let me pick ’em
out,” the man replied.

“Giddap!” said John, and we were once more on our way.

Pride is the most expensive thing in the world, and under various forms
it dominates mankind. I could not help but admire John’s resolute
sacrifice of this opportunity to add twenty cents in “cash-money” to the
greasy pouch, which sorely needed it, but evidently he was following a
policy that had in it much wisdom.

After crossing the marshy strip, we went through the sand hills, and
down the beach to Sipes’s place, where I had left my boat.

We found him peacefully smoking out in front of his shanty, apparently
without a care in the world.

John showed Sipes the fish he had brought back, and gave him the things
he had bought for him at the store. When the account was all figured
out, there was a balance of twelve cents in John’s favor, which Sipes
said “we’ll make up next time.” He was deeply disappointed that there
was no “cash-money” coming.

Sipes considered the fish that were to go to the smoke-house “a dead
loss, an’ they’d soon be worse’n that.” He wanted “nothin’ to do with
’em after they struck the morgue.” He looked upon the smoke-house as a
sink of iniquity, from which nothing good could possibly emanate.

I thanked John for his kindness in taking me with him, and bade him
good-bye. He and Napoleon departed, and soon faded away in the distance.

The old fisherman had retailed a great deal of the current gossip of the
country to me during the day. Humor and pathos, happiness and misery,
honesty and wickedness, and all the other elements that enter into the
stories of human lives, found their places in the day’s recital. The old
man has much benevolence in his heart. Most of his comments upon the
frailties of his fellow-creatures were tolerant and charitable. They
were usually tempered with sly quips, and a disposition to accord the
benefit of doubt.

He frequently gives away fish, on his various trips, to people who
cannot afford to buy them and to whom the food is most welcome, and
extends credit to others who he knows can never pay. He does all kinds
of little errands that his routes make possible, and altogether he is a
simple, good-natured soul.

Like everybody else, he is an infinitesimal item in the scheme of
creation, but there are many other items that are much more
objectionable than Catfish John. Cleanliness may be next to godliness,
but it is often associated with cussedness, so we can safely leave the
matter of John’s redemption to other agencies than soap.

Sipes once wisely remarked that “it’s no use tryin’ to tell ev’rybody
wot to do all the time, an’ I’ve quit. If ev’ry feller’d mind ’is own
business instid o’ butt’n in an’ tryin’ to boss ev’rybody else, there’d
be a lot less fussin’ goin’ on. The only way to git John clean ’ud be to
burn ’im, an’ they’s a lot o’ clean-lookin’ people that’ll come to that
long ’fore he does. He’s a nice ol’ feller.”

[Illustration:

“Doc Looney”]



CHAPTER VIII

DOC LOONEY


Another nondescript, whom I occasionally met prowling around among the
hills and along the beach, was known as “Doc Looney.” Catfish John said
he was a “yarb man,” and that he had been to see him sometimes when he
“felt bad.”

Doc seemed to have no fixed abode, and seemed disinclined to talk about
one. He had rather a moth-eaten appearance, and wore an old pair of
smoke-colored spectacles. He spent a great deal of time around the edges
of the little marshes, back of the hills, looking for some particular
“potential plant,” which he was never able to find.

He gave me an interesting account of Catfish John’s case, and said he
hoped to operate on him in the spring if he didn’t improve. His theory
was that the knee-joints had lost the “essential oils” that nature had
used for lubrication, and that reinforcements were needed. He intended
to “make a cut” in the side of the left knee, and “squirt some animal
oil into it.” If this worked, he would “oil up the other leg later.”

The consent of the intended victim of this experimental surgery had not
yet been obtained.

He had tried smart-weed tea, slippery elm, and snake-root on John,
internally, and fish oil and rat musk externally, without being able to
make him stop complaining. The smart-weed was to furnish the compound
with the necessary “punch.” The slippery elm was a “possible interior
lubricant,” and the snake-root was designed to impart the desired
“sinuousness and mobility” to the affected joints. The fish oil, applied
to the outside, was also to provide possible lubrication, and the
addition of the rat musk was intended “to drive it in.”

Before resorting to the operation, he was willing to try the mysterious
herb that he had been looking for all summer. Possibly this might fix
John up all right if he wouldn’t consent to the operation. Doc hoped,
however, that the operation could be arranged, as he had “never
performed one on a leg, and would like to try it.”

He believed that everybody, even when the general health was good,
should “take some powerful remedy occasionally. It would explore the
system for imperfections, find disease in unsuspected localities, and
probably eradicate it before it had a chance to form. Whatever the
remedy was good for would be headed off and it was best to take no
chances.” He thought that the medicine used “should have some bromide in
it.” He did not know exactly what the bromide did, but “anyway its a
dam’ good chemical, and it ought to be used whenever possible.”

He had what he called a “spring medicine” which I could have for half a
dollar. He stated that the compound contained “ten different and
distinct sovereign remedies and the bottle must be kept securely
corked.” The remedies were all “secret,” and “seven of them were very
powerful.” He had known of cases “in which a few doses had destroyed two
or three diseases at once, and had undoubtedly prevented others.” Used
externally, it “made an excellent liniment for bruises and sprains.” It
was also “good to rub on eruptions of any kind.”

He thought that a little whisky might help a patient of his if he could
get it to him that afternoon, and asked if I “happened to carry any.” He
suggested that I bring some the next time I “happened along, as it might
be very useful.” He seldom used it himself, except when he had “stummick
cramps,” but these were “likely to come on ’most any time”--in fact he
had had quite a severe attack about an hour before, and this was what
had reminded him of it.

He told me a long story about his matrimonial troubles. He had been
married twice, to unappreciative mates. To use his own expression, he
had been “fired” in both instances, but they were now trying to find him
again. He was a much abused man. He had been badly “stung,” and was now
“hostile toward all females.” He did not intend to get caught in their
toils again--and probably there is not much danger that he will be.

My private sympathies were entirely with these unknown irate women who
had resorted to the radical methods of which Doc complained.

He had met with some very difficult cases during the past few years.
Some of them “presented symptoms which had never been heard of before.”
In such cases it was his custom to give the patient “a certain solution
that would produce convulsions,” and, as he was “particularly strong on
convulsions,” he was usually “able to cure these in a short time.” When
the convulsions stopped, the unknown symptoms would usually disappear.

He had endeavored several times to get Catfish John to try this method,
“but for some reason he didn’t want to do it.” His fees in John’s case
had consisted of the entrée of the smoke-house that contained the fish
which had become too dead to be peddled. He did not think much of the
fish, but declared that he had got a large one there the week before,
“an’ some of it was all right.”

Sipes once suggested to John that he smoke some fish “’specially fer the
Doc,” and if he was not willing to do it, he would come up some day and
do it himself. He would “smoke some that ’ud finish the Doc in a few
hours.” John objected to this and thought that the “Doc ought to have
the same kind o’ smoked fish that other people got.” Sipes replied that
this was “pufectly satisfactory” to him.

After discoursing at length on some wonderful cures which he had
effected, in cases that “the reg’lar doctors had given up,” and the
“marvelous potentialities” of some of his secret herb extracts, and
“saline infusions, even when given in small doses,” Doc would disappear
in the gray landscape--probably absorbed in his reflections upon the
“general cussedness of womankind” and the futility of medical schools.

I was always apprehensive when he went in John’s direction, but as the
old fisherman looked comparatively well when I last saw him, it was
evident that Doc had not yet operated.

“You know it’s far be it from me to knock anybody,” said Sipes one
morning, “but this Doc Looney gives me a big chill. He’s always moseyin’
around, an’ never seems to be goin’ anywheres.

“Oncet ’e come here an’ borrowed a kittle. He took it off up the shore,
an’ that night I seen ’im with a little fire that ’e’d built on the sand
up next to the bluff, near some logs. He was roostin’ on one o’ the
logs, studyin’ sumpen that was in the kittle. I sneaked up unbeknown,
an’ watched ’im fer a long time. He kept puttin’ weeds an’ han’fulls o’
buds in the kittle an’ stirrin’ the mess with

[Illustration]

a stick. Every little while ’e’d taste o’ the dope by coolin’ the end o’
the stick an’ lickin’ it. Before I seen ’im doin’ this I thought ’e
might be mixin’ pizen. He was mixin’ sumpen all right, fer after a while
’e got the kittle offen the fire an’ let it cool a little; then ’e
dreened it into a flat bottle through a little birch bark funnel, an’
hid the bottle under a log, an’ covered it up with sand. He took my
kittle an’ stowed it in some thick brush, an’ went off up the ravine.

“He’s bin doctorin’ ol’ Catfish, an’ ’e’s always talkin’ ’bout operatin’
on ’im. There ain’t nothin’ the matter with the Catfish, ’cept ’e’s got
cricks in ’is legs, an’ they bend out when ’e walks. All ’e needs to do
is to set down instid o’ standin’ up, and ’is legs won’t bother ’im. He
comes along ’ere oncet in a while, with that ol’ honey cart that ’e
loads them much deceased fish into that ’e peddles. It ain’t no rose
garden, an’ I always stay to wind’ard when ’e’s ’round. The next time ’e
comes I’m goin’ to tell ’im wot I seen the Doc doin’. The first thing
Catfish knows Doc’ll dope ’im with that stuff in the bottle, an’ then go
after ’im with a knife. There ought to be a law aginst fellers like
that. He’s full o’ bats, an’ ’e ought to be put som’eres where they
could fly without scarin’ people.

“I never got my kittle back. I went an’ looked where I seen ’im hide it,
but ’e’d got to it first, an’ I ain’t seen it since. The next time the
Doc comes up ’ere fer a kittle ’e’ll git it out o’ the air, an’ ’e’ll
recollect it the rest of ’is life.

[Illustration:

“On the trail
of the Doc”]

“There was a funny lookin’ female come along the beach a couple o’ years
ago. She asked me if I’d ever seen a man ’round ’ere with colored
glasses, an’ I’ll bet she was on the trail o’ the Doc. She had three or
four long wire pins stickin’ through a pie shaped bunnit, with a dead
bird on it. She didn’t look good to me an’ I’d hate to ’a’ bin the Doc
if she ever got to ’im. I told ’er I wasn’t acquainted with no such
person. I may not like the Doc, but I wouldn’t steer nothin’ like that
ag’inst ’im, even if ’e did swipe my kittle. She asked me about a
thousand questions. The lake was calm an’ there was a lot o’ places out
on it where some breeze was puffin’, an’ there was a lot of other places
where it was all still an’ glassy. She wanted to know what made them
little smooth spots, an’ I told ’er that them places showed where I cut
ice out last winter.”

Catfish John said one day that “the feller that hates the Doc the worst
’round ’ere is Sipes. He gave Sipes some medicine oncet when ’e was
feelin’ poorly. It was some ’e’d bin usin’ fer a horse. He said Sipes
’ad got pips, an’ would need a lot o’ doctorin’. He kept takin’ it fer
about a week, an’ when ’e went out on the beach one day ’e thought ’e
met ’imself comin’ back, an’ ’e quit takin’ it. I guess the dope was too
strong fer ’im. After that they had a fuss about sumpen else, an’ the
old man didn’t have no use fer ’im. Sipes located a big hornet’s nest
som’eres up in the woods. He went thar one dark night an’ slipped a bag
over it so the hornets couldn’t git out, an’ carried it into the ravine
to a little path that the Doc always used when ’e went to see Sipes. He
fastened it in a bush, close to the path, so the Doc ’ud flush ’em when
’e come by. He come through several times but thar was nothin’ doin.
Sipes said the reason they didn’t sting the Doc was that they was all
friends o’ his, an’ they was all the same kind o’ critters ’e was. He
hoped they’d swarm on the Doc an’ chase ’im out o’ the county, but like
a lot of ’is plans it didn’t work.”

Sipes’s theory of the existence of a state of natural affinity between
Doc and a nest of hornets, seemed to amuse old John immensely.

“The Doc seems to think I’m goin’ to let ’im tinker my knee, but I
ain’t. He gen’rally leaves some dope that ’e cooks up ’imself fer me to
take, when ’e comes up ’ere, but I throw most of it out back o’ the
smoke-house. I let ’im leave it fer I don’t want to make ’im feel bad.
He keeps whettin’ a funny lookin’ knife when ’e’s ’ere, an’ hintin’
about sumpen ’e wants to try on my leg, but I ain’t goin’ to have no
cuttin’ done. I’ve got a new cure that I’m tryin’ now, that I ain’t
sayin’ nothin’ about.”

One cloudy day during the following fall, my friend Sipes and I went up
the shore a few miles, and landed our boat near the opening of a deep
heavily wooded ravine, through which a small creek flowed to the lake.

I intended making some sketches in the neighborhood, and Sipes offered
to accompany me. He took his gun, as he thought there might be some
“patritches” in the ravine.

We pulled the boat well up on the beach, and picked our way along
through some pine-trees and underbrush, following a narrow trail that
crossed the stream several times. We had proceeded perhaps a couple of
hundred yards, when we came to a queer looking structure, built into the
side of the ravine, which had been partially hollowed out. It was rudely
constructed of planks, short boards, and various odds and ends of
building material, which had evidently been gathered up on the beach. It
was about twelve feet long and possibly nine feet wide. There were two
windows and a door that hung on rusty hinges. One hinge had lamentably
failed to meet the necessary requirements and had been reinforced with a
heavy piece of leather, which had once been a part of an old boot.

It began to rain, and as the little hut was apparently deserted, and
seemed to offer a convenient shelter, we ventured to investigate the
interior. After removing a large accumulation of dead leaves and sand in
front of the door, we pulled it open and looked in.

[Illustration:

THE DESERTED LABORATORY]

There was a small rusty old stove, in a bad state of repair, two broken
chairs, and a table in the single room. An irregular row of bottles, of
various shapes and sizes, filled a long shelf, and sundry worthless
looking utensils were scattered about. At the end of the room was a
mildewed husk mattress on some boards which had been nailed to the ends
of four pieces of wood, about two feet from the floor. Suspended from
nails which were driven along the boards next to the roof, were large
bunches of dried plants of various kinds.

“This is ’is nest all right, an’ this is where ’e makes ’is dope,”
remarked Sipes, and a minute later he held up a battered looking object,
and exclaimed, “Dam’d if ’ere ain’t my kittle!”

We had indeed stumbled upon an abandoned secret retreat of Doc Looney.
Like an illicit still, his laboratory had been hidden in untrodden
recesses, away from the paths of men. In this quiet spot he could
meditate, and compound his mysterious “powerful remedies” with little
fear of intrusion by his female pursuers, and out of it he could emerge
and roam where his fancy led.

Into this deep seclusion the turmoil of warring schools of medicine, and
the abuse of a captious world could not come. His medicines and his
theories were beyond criticism. Such a fortress enabled him to concoct
ammunition with which to offer battle to the diseases of his kind,
without fear of capture and incarceration, which he may or may not
richly deserve.

If the motto “_similia similibus curantur_” be true, some terrible human
suffering could be alleviated with some of the stuff we found on the
shelf. Many of the bottles were empty, but we removed the stopper from
one of them, and regretted it. We were assailed by a pungent and
sickening odor. Sipes remarked that “sumpen must ’a’ crawled in that
bottle an’ died.” On taking it out to the light we discovered that it
was about half filled with angle worms, whose identity was practically
gone.

“I know wot that stuff is,” said Sipes, “it’s angle worm ile. That old
cuss said oncet ’e was goin’ to squirt some in John’s knees to make ’em
supple, when ’e operated on ’im, but John wouldn’t let ’im monkey with
’em.”

There were no labels on the bottles, with the exception of one which was
marked “Bromide.” The remaining _materia medica_ could not be
identified.

We examined the odd pieces which had been used in building the shanty,
with much interest.

The widely scattered driftwood, along the miles of curving sandy shore,
suggests many reflections to the imaginative mind. Trees that have been
washed from their footholds on the margins of distant forests--logs,
slabs, and wasted material of many kinds, incident to man’s destruction
in the wilderness--broken and lost timbers from piers, bridges and
wrecks--are among the spoils of winds and seas that are relentless.

Nature is as regardless as she is beneficent, and her storms and her
sunshine do not discriminate.

Some lonely dweller on the coast may have builded too near the abodes of
the water gods, and, in their anger they may have reached out long arms
to his humble home, and flung the fruits of his toil among the mysteries
of the deep. Some unfortunate bark may have lost its battle with the
tempest, and given its sails and timbers to the waves.

When the vagrant breezes found them, they may have wandered for many
months on the wide expanse. They may have floated in on the crests of
the singing ground swells--touched strange shores and left them--drifted
lazily in summer calms, and offered brief respites to tired wings far
out on the undulating waters. They may have been buffeted by savage seas
under angry skies, and battered among the ice fields by the winter
gales.

Like frail and feeble souls, unable to master their course, the lost and
worn timbers have been the sport of the varying winds and the playthings
of chance. They have at last found refuge and quiet on the desolate
sands. Living forces have thrown them aside and gone on.

Sometimes a name, a few letters on a plank, or a frayed piece of canvas,
will offer a clue to its origin, and tell a belated story of misfortune
somewhere out on the trackless deep.

Outside, on one of the boards used in the construction of the rude
little hut, we deciphered the name “Pauline Mahaffy.” It had evidently
come from the hull of some proud craft that had once ridden nobly
through the white-caps, and dashed the foam and spray before her. Alas,
to what a prosaic end had her destiny led her! Immured in a deep
ravine, her last sad relic--her honored name--was a part of a
disreputable shanty, and her last friend had left it to fade into
oblivion.

Even unto his solitude had femininity, in a modified form, pursued poor
Looney. Sipes, unpoetic and irreverent, found much joy in the name. He
chuckled in his glee, and mingled his mockery with his quaint
philosophy.

“Oh, Lord, if only that funny lookin’ female I told ye about, that was
huntin’ the Doc, could see this! She’d spend a few seconds on the Doc,
an’ the rest of ’er life trackin’ Pauline. She wouldn’t know nothin’
about names on ships, an’ she’d think the Mahaffy woman ’ad snared ’im
an’ took ’im away, an’ ’e was that fond of ’er that ’e put ’er name on
’is shanty.

“Mebbe she landed on ’im ’ere, an’ ’e lit out up the ravine. Them that
live in this world can make all the trouble fer themselves they want,
an’ they don’t need the help o’ nobody else, an’ I’ll bet the Doc
thought so too, an’ scooted. ‘Pauline Mahaffy!’ Gosh what a name!
Wouldn’t that blow yer hat off? He ought to ’a’ hunted fer a board that
’ad ‘Idler’ or sumpen like that on it that wouldn’t never make no
trouble. Most o’ the pleasure boats that gits wrecked is named ‘The
Idler.’ They’r mostly run by lubbers, an’ ’e wouldn’t have no trouble
findin’ one if ’e wanted a nice name to put on that old dog house.
‘Idler’ ’ud just mean that ’e wasn’t workin’, an’ you bet ’e ain’t, but
‘Pauline Mahaffy’ don’t sound good to me. I seen the old cuss less’n a
week ago, an’ ’e must ’ave another coop som’eres else. This ravine ’ud
be a good place to set some bear traps ’round in. There’s no knowin’ wot
they might ketch.”

When it stopped raining we continued our journey up the ravine to higher
ground, and walked through the woods. We finally emerged into the open
country, made a long detour, and returned to the boat.

A sketch had been made of the shanty, but we had found no “patritches.”
The old man was greatly elated over the recovery of the long lost
“kittle.” Its present value was at least questionable, but he was happy,
and he had carried it tenderly during the trip.

“When I git home,” said he, “I’ll git some sodder an’ plug it up. If
you’ve got some o’ them kind of _see_gars with you, that you gave me
the other day, I think it ’ud be nice fer us to smoke one on the
strength o’ me findin’ my kittle.”

The disreputable utensil was stowed carefully in the boat, with the rest
of our belongings, and finally reached its rightful home.

The adaptation of particular minds to particular forms of activity is
one of the most difficult problems of our highly specialized social
structure. Happiness and achievement are largely dependent upon mental
and physical harmony between the man and his task. The learned
professions, like all other mediums of human activity, carry with them
in their progress the “misfits” and the “by-products” which are
inseparable from them.

Poor old Doc Looney is both a misfit and a by-product. He is innocently
drifting in waters that are beyond his depth, and while he is of little
value in the world, his “powerful remedies,” “potential herbs” and
“infusions” will probably find but few victims.

[Illustration:

The Mysterious Tracks]



CHAPTER IX

THE MYSTERIOUS PROWLER


One fall there were queer happenings in the dune country. The story is
nearly twelve miles long, the details extending all along the shore,
from Happy Cal’s shanty to a point away north of where old Sipes sweeps
the horizon through his little “spotter.”

The tracks of some strange and unknown animal began to appear on the
sand at different places along the beach. They were about three inches
long, and nearly round, with irregular edges. The impressions were not
very deep. They had not been made with hoofs. They were too large for
the imprints of a dog or wolf, and were too small, and not of the right
shape for a bear.

No bird or beast could have made these tracks, that had ever been seen
or heard of by anybody who inspected them. The denizens of the
sandhills, who had hunted and trapped among them for many years, were
utterly amazed and dumfounded. Some marvelous thing had come into the
country. All conjecture seemed futile, and there appeared to be no
possible or plausible theory that would in any way explain the enigma.

The mystery became more and more impenetrable. Many superstitious
speculations and surmises were indulged in by the old derelicts. They
were deeply perplexed and completely at a loss to understand a situation
that was becoming uncanny, and began to suggest some kind of witchcraft.

Extended search and diligent watch failed to locate the four-footed
thing in the daytime. It seemed only to travel at night. Like the
wondrous “Questing Beast” in the Arthurian legend, and the fabled
ferocious white whale of the antarctic seas, it became the object of
vain and anxious pursuit. It seemed to elude miraculously all of the
snares and stratagems devised for its capture. Evidences of its recent
presence were apparent at the most unexpected times and places.

Attempts to trail it through the woods resulted in failure, as there
seemed to be no scent that a dog could distinguish. The only tracks that
could be followed were those that were visible on the smooth sand of the
shore. They always eventually led into the woods on the bluffs and were
lost. The unsolved riddle became more puzzling with the discovery of
each new depredation, committed by the unknown marauder, and the fresh
undecipherable imprints were seen somewhere on the beach almost every
morning.

Once a half-devoured woodchuck was found near the mouth of a little
creek that emptied into the lake, and a large fish, that had been cast
in by the waves, was discovered, partially eaten, a little farther on.

Catfish John left half a pailful of dead minnows, which he intended to
use for bait, under an old box. When he returned the next morning, he
found the box overturned, and the pail empty. His little smoke-house was
invaded, the half-cured fish were gone, and the tell-tale tracks were
all over the sand.

Late, one dark night, Sipes landed his rowboat on the beach. From some
unknown source he had obtained a side of bacon, which he left, with some
other things, in the boat, while he went over to his shanty to get a
lantern. He puttered around for awhile, getting his lantern ready, and
looking for some tobacco. When he went back to the boat with his light,
he discovered that the bacon and the remains of some lunch that he had
taken with him, had disappeared. The round tracks of the mysterious
thief were around the end of the boat, and the trail led straight across
the beach into the ravine. Three nights later a couple of dead rabbits,
that he had hung up on the side of the shanty, were missing.

With this fresh outrage, Sipes went on the war-path. He loaded up his
old shotgun, with double charges of powder, and some lead slugs, and
lurked along the edges of the bluffs all night. He was beside himself
with curiosity and rage, and it would have gone hard with almost any
live thing that he might have seen silhouetted between him and the dim
light on the lake during his vigil. The baffling mystery was getting
entirely too serious, and was affecting him too much personally, to
admit of further temporizing.

[Illustration:

HE WAS “GOIN’ TO
BUTCHER IT ON SIGHT”]

He went on several of these nocturnal expeditions, all of which were
fruitless, and his sulphurous comments on his failures to find what he
was looking for, indicated the intensity of his eagerness to meet and
annihilate “that cussed thing that ’ad rained down, or come in offen the
lake, an’ done all this.” He “didn’t care whether it ’ad scales, wings
er tusks.” He was “goin’ to butcher it on sight.”

“He was cert’nly dead sore,” said Catfish John, in relating Sipes’s part
in the drama. “After ’e’d hunted it awhile, ’e thought ’e’d try an’ trap
this varmint. He got an old net an’ spread it up over some sticks. Then
’e put some meat on a long stick under the middle of it, an’ fixed it so
the net ’ud fall down over anything that tried to pull away the meat.
The net was to tangle the varmint all up, when it fell on ’im, an’ ’e
tried to git loose.

“The next day ’e went thar an’ found them tracks all ’round an’ the meat
gone. Somehow the contraption hadn’t worked. He set it agin, an’ in
about a week there was a big skunk in it, all messed up an’ hostile, an’
after that Sipes quit. He said that them fellers that wanted to trap
that varmint could go ahead an’ do it. He didn’t want nothin’ to do
with no more traps. He was goin’ to wait ’till ’e saw it, whatever it
was, an’ plug it with ’is gun.

“He hunted ’round a whole lot at night, an’ once ’e saw sumpen black,
movin’ along under the bluff. It was bright moonlight, but this thing
was in the shadow. He took a couple o’ pops at it, but it got away up in
the brush. Sometimes ’e’d hear queer sounds outside ’is house in the
night. He’d git up quick an’ sneak out with ’is gun, but ’e didn’t never
find nothin’. The next mornin’ ’e’d look for them funny tracks an’ most
always found some. Next ’e was goin’ to put out some pizen, but ’e
couldn’t git none.

“Afterward the whole thing come out. It was Cal’s dog that done it. He
come ’long the beach one day when I was fixin’ my boat. I had it up on
the sand, an’ ’ad poured a lot o’ tar in it. I was tippin’ it an’
flowin’ the tar ’round in it to catch all the little leaks in the
bottom. I left it fer a minute, an’ the dog got in the boat an’ puddled
all ’round in the tar. What ’e done it fer I don’t know. Then ’e hopped
out on the sand an’ caked ’is feet all up, an’ that’s the reason ’e
made them funny tracks, an’ that’s why them fellers with the dogs
couldn’t follow the scent. He didn’t leave no animal scent. The tar an’
the sand killed it. He probly didn’t like the way ’is feet felt, an’
when ’e skipped out from ’ere ’e was prob’ly scart an’ didn’t go back to
Cal’s. He must ’av spent his time hidin’ ’round in the woods in the
daytime, an’ at night ’e’d come out ’long the beach to git sumpen to
eat.

“I didn’t think of all this ’till some feller come ’long ’ere an’ said
’e’d followed them tracks down to Cal’s place an’ found ’im settin’
outside rubbin’ ’is dog’s paws with grease, an’ tryin’ to git big lumps
o’ tar an’ sand off ’em. The dog ’ad bin gone about two weeks, an’ Cal
thought ’e’d gone off fer good. I’ll bet Cal was glad to git ’im back.

“I’d oughter thought it out before, fer Cal come up ’ere one day an’
asked me if I’d seen ’is dog, but I’d forgot all about ’is gittin in the
tar, an’ s’posed ’e’d gone off home when ’e left ’ere.”

Pete’s adventures had been varied and exciting while they lasted. He had
added variety and interest to the community in which he lived, and had
really done but very little actual harm during his absence from home.

Sipes philosophically remarked that “everythin’ comes to an end in this
world, an’ this ’ere dog ’ll come to one, if ’e ever gits this way agin.
I s’pose it’s all sweet an’ proper fer me to git a bunch o’ bacon an’
two rabbits stole, an’ I s’pose I’m the only one that cares about them
things I lost, but all the same, I ain’t runnin’ no animile restaurant,
an’ some day there’ll be some dog tracks on this beach that’ll all point
the same way, if that thievin’ quadrypeed ever comes skulpin’ ’round
’ere.”

[Illustration: “J. Ledyard Symington”]



CHAPTER X

J. LEDYARD SYMINGTON


A lonely abode near the opening of a ravine, about four miles from
Sipes’s hut, bore the scars of many winters. It was not over twelve feet
square. It had two small windows, a narrow door and a “lean to” roof. On
the door was the roughly carved inscription--“J. Ledyard Symington,
Tuesdays and Thursdays.” Near this was nailed an old cigar box, with a
slit in the cover. Lettered on the box was a request to “Please leave
card.”

I often passed this mysterious dwelling without seeing any indications
of life, but one chilly rainy day I saw smoke issuing from the bent
piece of stove-pipe, protruding through the roof. The fact that it
happened to be Thursday helped to overcome my reluctance to disturb the
occupant.

A cordial and cheery call to “come in” was the response to my gentle
knock.

I found a rather tall, pleasant faced, watery eyed old man, with a gray
beard, aquiline nose, and shaggy eyebrows, who rose from a box on which
he had been sitting before a small table. There was an unmistakable air
of _noblesse oblige_ in his polite offer of another box. His clothes
bespoke the “shabby genteel,” which was accentuated by a somewhat
battered and much worn plug hat, that hung on a peg near the window back
of the table.

I apologized for my intrusion, told him that I had had rather a long
walk, and would be glad to rest awhile before his fire. He seemed
interested in some sketches made during the morning, which he asked to
see. His courtly air did not desert him when he confessed that he
“hadn’t had a smoke for a week.” I handed him some tobacco. He fished a
disreputable looking big black pipe out of some rubbish on a shelf, and
was soon enveloped in the comforting fumes.

I was made to feel much at home, and his conversation soon lost its
tinge of formality. He looked at me curiously and asked where I was
from. When I told him, his eyes brightened, and he wanted to know what
the principal society events had been during the winter. He said he had
only seen half a dozen papers in five or six months, and had lost all
track of what had been going on.

Along one of the shelves at the end of the room were ranged several
books on etiquette, and thirty or forty much worn novels, of the variety
usually absorbed by very young ladies in hammocks, scattered around the
shaded lawns of white flannel summer resorts, where the most intense
intellectual occupations are tennis and dancing--books in which are
recorded the “dashing devilish beauty of Cyril,” With his “corking and
perfectly ripping” ideas, and the bewildering charms of willowy
Geraldine, the violet eyed heiress, with the long lashes, her many
stunning costumes and clinging gowns. Flashing glances, nonchalantly
twirled canes, faintly perfumed stationery, and softly tearful moods
adorn the pages.

The limousine of the “Soap King” goes whirling by, which is placed at
the service of the duke, when he arrives, incognito, to annex,
matrimonially, the anxious millions that await him. The story takes us
up wondrously carved staircases, among many palms, and into marble
halls, through which faint voluptuous music flows. The walls are lined
with long rows of priceless old masters. Modern society novelists have
found and given to the world many more Rembrandts and Van Dykes than
those two humble toilers at the lower end of the social scale could have
painted in a geological era. The duke eventually fails to produce his
coronet, and the true love match is off. Cupid disappears through a
stained glass casement. Dare Devil Cyril rescues the lovely Geraldine
from under a fallen horse, or a purple touring car, and bravely carries
her to another; her warm breath touches his cheek, and the wedding
chimes come just in time to enable the fair reader to dress for dinner.

Oh, noble Cyril, and bewitching Geraldine!--your names may change on
different pages, but ever and anon you flit through the countless
cylinders of unnumbered presses. Like the lilies of the field, you toil
not, neither do you spin. The triumphs and the failures of a thinking,
striving world are not for you; its problems and its tears are not
within your charmed circle, but He who marks the sparrow’s fall, may
gather even you, with the rest of the created things, if there are
other worlds to come.

Noticing my glance at the book-shelf, my host said, rather
apologetically, “my library is not as large as I would like to have it.
The fact is that I take a great deal of interest in social matters. I am
unfortunately placed in a very peculiar and humiliating position. A
great many years ago I fell heir to a large fortune, on the death of my
uncle, and expected to devote my time entirely to society, and the
pleasures of a gentleman of leisure. A lot of contesting relatives came
on the scene, and for over twenty years the case has been in the courts.
Several times I almost got cheated out of my inheritance, but it looks
now as though I might get it.

“I keep in touch with everything that may be of use to me when I go into
the world in the way that my uncle intended that I should. As social
novelists generally reflect their own periods quite accurately, I feel
that these books give me a very good idea of what is going on, and I get
a great deal of pleasure out of them.

“I had a pretty good education, when I was young, but I don’t care so
much about that, as I do for the ability to do things in proper form
when I get what is coming to me. This enforced residence in these
miserable hills, is just to make certain people think that I am dead. I
am going to be alive at just the right time, and when I show up there
will be a lot of surprises.

“As a matter of fact my ancestry is very ancient. I looked it up in
Burke’s Peerage when my uncle died, and found that I came from two of
the very best families. On the other side I would be a baronet, but I
don’t want to go over there until I get my money. When I walk into my
estates, I will do so unknown. I will suddenly reveal myself, and there
will be a scattering of a lot of upstarts and false nobility who have
been enjoying what rightfully belongs to me.

“I don’t associate with these loafers that live around in these sand
hills at all. They are low fellows, and I have no use for them. Every
three months I go to a certain post-office, and get a money order for a
certain amount, from a certain party who knows where I am, and is
keeping track of things for me. It isn’t as big a money order as I
would like, but I assure you that these conditions are only temporary,
and when the proper time comes, you will find me gone.”

I listened to the old man’s story, which occupied most of the afternoon,
with some suspicion, but with much interest. Some mysterious tea and a
couple of damp soda crackers were served at this impromptu reception. He
expressed much pleasure that I had called, and said that he hoped I
would come again.

The impressions of my visit were really very pleasant, until, a few days
later, they came under the fire of the withering sarcasm and barbed
satire of Sipes, who from his lonely eyrie four miles away, across a
bend in the shore, could observe the home of J. Ledyard Symington
through his little spy-glass.

“That feller down there makes me tired. When ’e fust come in the hills,
about six years ago, ’e put up a sign that said ‘J. Simons.’ He used to
go ’way oncet in a while, an’ ev’ry time ’e’d come back with a lot o’
red an’ green books that ’e’d set out on the sand an’ read. He’s got the
society bug, an’ ’e thinks ’e’s cut out fer to shine in new clothes all
the time.

“Some day ’e says ’e’s goin to live in a big house. He comes ’ere
sometimes to see if I’ve got any newspapers. I got some oncet, to see if
them Japs ’ad got them fellers in Port Arthur yet, an’ Simons set down
an’ studied ’em all through to see wot the society push was doin’.

“He’s got a box out in front that says to drop in cards. Oncet, just to
show ’im that I was polite, I stuck a seven spot into it. I wouldn’t
hand nothin’ above a seven to a guy like ’im. After that I laid out a
lot o’ games o’ sollytare that I couldn’t make work, an’ I seen sumpen
was the matter with my deck, an’ then I recollected that cussed seven
spot, an’ I skipped back there when that ol’ goat was snoozin’ one night
an’ fished it out of ’is box. He’s plumb nutty, an’ ’e don’t amuse me a
bit. You fellers may like ’im, but I’ll bet that when ’e gits ’is big
house, you an’ me won’t be asked to it. Nothin’ like him goes with me.

“He never has no whisky, an’ I don’t never see ’im out on the lake. He
don’t fish ner hunt, an’ Hell! I don’t know where ’e gits ’is money.
After ’e’d bin down there a couple o’ years, ’e changed the name on ’is
door to ‘J. L. Simons’, an’ after that ’e had it ‘J. Ledward Simons’ an’
now its ‘J. Ledyard Symington--Tuesdays & Thursdays’. I s’pose ’e’ll
’ave ‘Tuesdays & Thursdays’ fer a part o’ that name ’e’s grad’ally
constructin’ if ’e keeps it up. Mebbe ’e means that on them days ’e’s
always out, but I ain’t goin’ to keep track o’ the days o’ the week fer
_him_, and ’e and ’is ol’ hard-boiled hat can go to the devil.

“If ’e has ‘J. Ledyard Symington Tuesdays & Thursdays’ fer a name ’ere,
wot d’ye s’pose ’e’ll ’ave it when ’e gits in ’is big house, that ’e’s
always tellin’ about? I’ll bet ’e’ll ’ave a name that ye can’t git
through the yard. His plug hat makes me sick. Wot d’ye s’pose Dewey at
Maniller would ’av said to a man with a lid like that? He’d a said
‘_Bingo!_’ an’ smashed it. After that ’e’d a told Gridley to begin’ on
’im any time ’e was ready.”

At this point the old man’s comments began to be mingled with so much
ornate profanity that it seems futile to attempt properly to expurgate
his remarks. He declared that Simons was certainly “bunk.” “A name like
wot ’e’d built out o’ nothin’ would finish anybody.” He thought that
something “ought to happen to everybody that got stuck on themselves,
an’ usually it did. All o’ them geezers that live ’ere an’ there on the
shore, are prob’ly ’ere an’ there ’cause it’s better so fer them. With
me its different. I’m ’ere ’cause I want to be ’ere. Simons ’ll prob’ly
light out some day, the same way Cal did. I’m goin’ down there some
night an’ slip the whole darn deck in ’is card box, just to show my
heart’s in the right place.”

Sipes was a captious critic, and to him the “mantle of charity” was an
unknown fabric. It was evident that the social strata in the dunes had
some humps that would never be leveled.

I passed the shanty some months later, but there was no smoke or other
sign of habitation. The disappointed old occupant had evidently “lit
out.” The sad-looking “plug” was stuck over the top of the rusty section
of stovepipe that had served as the chimney. It was now literally a
“stovepipe hat”--that crown of absurdity among the follies of mankind,
against which both art and nature have vainly protested through blinding
tears.

I suspected the subtle facetiousness of Sipes in the apt decoration of
the protruding piece of stove pipe with this melancholy emblem of
departed gentility. Its top was ripped around the edge, and it moved
languidly up and down in the varying winds, as if in mockery of
inconstant fashion, which is regulated by custom instead of artistic
taste.

[Illustration:

The Home of
“J. Ledyard Symington”]

The building of the distinguished name had, however, been continued,
and the legend on the door was now, “J. Ledyard Symington-Symington,
Bart.” The reception days had been effaced. The old man may have
achieved that point in his social aspirations when he “didn’t care to
know anybody who wasn’t anybody.” Like Don Quixote, he may have departed
to battle with hostile windmills, or he may have walked into his estates
“unknown,” to mingle in phantom social functions in ghostly halls and
silent chambers in the Great Beyond.

Perhaps there are no “Tuesdays and Thursdays” there, and calling cards
and stovepipe hats are unnecessary. His blighted hopes, and those that
may have ended in fruition, concern the widely distributed gossips along
the coast no more.

While we may be interested and amused with the petty gossip, the rude
philosophy, the quaint humor, the little antagonisms, and the child-like
foibles of these lonely dwellers in the dune country, the pathos that
overshadows them must touch our hearts.

They have brought their life scars into the desolate sands, where the
twilight has come upon them. The roar of a mighty world goes on beyond
them. Unable to navigate the great currents of life, they have drifted
into stagnant waters.

Happy Cal’s unwelcome guests and his blighted affections--Catfish John’s
rheumatism and his pork that “them fellers” stole--Old Sipes’s lost
“kittle”--Doc Looney’s unappreciative wives--J. Ledyard Symington’s
“humiliations,” and all the other troubles of the old outcasts, will
disappear into the oblivion of the years, with the rest of the affairs
and happenings of this life.

If they have not been ambitious, their rapacity has not destroyed
empires, or deluged the earth with blood. If they have not been learned,
they have not used knowledge to devise means for the destruction of
human life. If they have not been powerful, their greed has not
oppressed and impoverished their fellow-beings.

Let us hope that the storms from the lake, and civilization on the
shore, will deal gently with these poor derelicts, as they peacefully
fade away into the elements from which they came.

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

“RESUMING THEIR MIGRATIONS”]



[Illustration] CHAPTER XI

THE BACK COUNTRY


Behind the ranges of the sand hills, lie stretches of broken waste
country. It is diversified with patches of woods, tangled thickets,
swamps, little ponds, stagnant pools covered with green microscopic
vegetation, and small areas of productive soil. There are long, low
elevations, covered sparsely with gnarled pines, spruces, poplars, and
sumacs. Tall elms, many willows, and an occasional silvery barked
sycamore, lend variety to the scene.

Here and there, just back of the big hills, are deep secluded tarns,
which have no visible outlets or inlets. One looks cautiously down from
the surrounding edges. In the obscurity of the deep shadows there is
tangled dead vegetation, a few decayed tree-trunks, and an uncanny
stillness. Unseen stagnant water is there, and the mysterious depths
seem to be without life. They are fit abodes for gnomes, and evil
spirits may haunt their silences. There is an instinctive creepy
feeling, and an undefined dread in the atmosphere around them.

Swamps of tamarack, which are impenetrable, contribute their masses of
deep green to the charm of the landscape. The ravagers of the wet places
hide in them, and the timid, hunted wild life finds refuge in their
still labyrinths. In the winter countless tracks and trails on the snow
lead into them and are lost.

Among the most interesting of the marsh dwellers is the muskrat. This
active little animal is an ever-present element in the life of the
sloughs, and he is the most industrious live thing in the back country.
His numerous families thrive and increase, in spite of vigilant enemies
that besiege them. The larger owls, the foxes, minks, and steel traps
are their principal foes.

[Illustration:

A MARSH DWELLER]

The houses, irregular in shape and size, dot the surfaces of the ponds
and swamps. They are built of lumps of sod and mud, mixed with
bulrushes and heavy grass. They usually contain two rooms, one above
the other, and little tunnels lead out from them, under ground,
providing channels of escape in case of danger, and safe routes of
approach to the houses from the burrows in the higher ground along the
banks.

The upper cavity of the little adobe structure is usually lined with
moss and fine grass. Lily roots, freshwater clams, and other food are
carried up into it from under the ice in the winter. In these cosy
retreats the little colonies live during the cold months, oblivious to
the cares and dangers of the outside world.

There is a network of thoroughfares and burrows in the soft earth among
the roots of the willows on the neighboring banks. The devious secret
passages and runways are in constant use during the summer.

The muskrats are great travelers, and roam over the meadows, through the
ravines, up and down the creeks, and around on the sand hills, in search
of food and adventure. They run along the lake shore at night, and their
tracks are found all over the beach. Their well-beaten paths radiate in
all directions from their homes. They are not entirely lovable, but the
back country would be desolate indeed without them.

[Illustration:

A SENTINEL IN THE MARSH]

The herons stand solemnly, like sentinels, among the thick grasses, and
out in the open places, watching for unwary frogs, minnows, and other
small life with which nature has bountifully peopled the sloughs. The
crows and hawks drop quickly behind clumps of weeds on deadly errands in
the day time, and at night the owls, foxes, and minks haunt the margins
of the wet places. The enemies of the Little Things are legion. Violent
death is their destiny. With the exception of the turtles, they are all
eaten by something larger and more powerful than themselves.

[Illustration: (_From the Author’s Etching_)

THEY “DROP INTO
THE PONDS AND MARSHES”]

In the fall and early spring the wild ducks and geese drop into the
ponds and marshes, and rest for days at a time, before resuming their
migrations. They come in from over the lake during the storms to find
shelter for the night, and are reluctant to leave the abundant food in
these nooks behind the hills. A flat-bottomed boat among the bulrushes,
and a few artificially arranged thick bunches of brush and long grass,
which have been used as shooting blinds, usually explain why they have
not stayed longer.

A few of the ducks remain during the summer, build their nests on
secluded boggy spots, and rear their young; but the minks, snapping
turtles, and other enemies besides man, generally see that few of them
live to fly away in the fall.

Occasionally a small weather-beaten frame house, and a tumble-down old
barn, project their gables into the landscape. Around them is usually a
piece of cleared land that represents years of toil and combat with the
reluctant soil, obstinate stumps, and tough roots.

Nature has begrudgingly yielded a scanty livelihood to the brave and
simple ones who have spent their youth and middle age in wresting away
the barriers which have stood between them and the comforts of life. The
broken-spirited animals that stand still, with lowered heads, in the
little fields and around the barn, are mute testimonies of the years of
drudgery and hardship.

On approaching the house we encounter a few ducks that splash into the
ditch along the muddy road, and disappear in great trepidation among the
weeds and bulrushes beyond the fence. The loud barking of a mongrel dog
is heard, a lot of chickens scatter, and several children with touseled
heads and frightened faces appear. Behind them a lean-faced woman in a
faded calico dress looks out with a reserved and kindly welcome. The dog
is rebuked sharply, and finally quieted. The scared children hastily
retreat into the house, and peek out through the curtained windows. We
explain that we came to ask for a drink of water. The woman disappears
for a moment, brings a cup, and some rain water in a broken pitcher,
with which to prime the pump in the yard.

This wheezy piece of hardware, after much teasing, and encouragement
from the broken pitcher, finally yields, and one object of the visit is
accomplished. The children begin cautiously to reappear, their curiosity
having got the better of their alarm.

A few commonplace remarks about the weather, a complimentary reference
to a flower bed near the fence, an inquiry as to the ages of the
children, soon establish a friendly footing, and we are asked to sit
down on the bench near the pump and rest awhile.

“Don’t you sometimes feel lonely out here, with no neighbors?” I asked.
“No, indeed,” she replied. “We’ve got all the neighbors we want. Nobody
lives very near here, but there isn’t a day passes that I don’t see
somebody drivin’ by out on the road. I ride to town every two or three
weeks, an’ that’s enough for anybody.”

A man of perhaps forty, but who looks to be fifty, rather tall and
spare, with bent shoulders and shambling step, appears after a few
minutes. His shaved upper lip and long chin whiskers strictly conform to
the established customs of the back country.

It is a land of the chin whiskers, and they are met with everywhere in
the by-paths of civilization. Their picturesque quality is the delight
of him who uses the lead pencil and pen to portray the oddities of his
race.

He has come from over near the edge of the timber, where he has been
repairing a decayed rail fence. His greeting is kindly, and we are made
to feel quite at home. Some fresh buttermilk from an old-fashioned churn
near the back door adds to the pleasant hospitality, and the loud
cackling of a proud and energetic rooster, adorned with brilliant
plumage, who takes credit for the warm egg which a dignified old hen has
just left in the corner of the corn crib, lends an air of cheerfulness
and animation to the scene. He has just learned of the achievement, and
the glory is his.

Out in the yard is a covered box with a circular hole in its front. A
small chain leads into it, which is attached to the outside by a staple.
After a few minutes the furtive wild eyes of a captive coon peer out
fearfully from the inner darkness of the box. He was extracted from the
cosy interior of a hollow tree, over near the edge of the swamp, during
his infancy, and was the sole survivor of a moonlight attack on his home
tree, after the dogs had located the happy family. The tree was cut
down, the little furry things mangled by savage teeth, and their house
made desolate. The little fellow was carried into a hopeless captivity,
where his days and nights are passed in terror. He is a prisoner and not
a pet.

It is mankind that does these things--not the brutes--and yet we cry out
in denunciation when humanity is thus outraged. We chain and cage the
wild things, and shriek for freedom of thought and action. Verily this
is a strange world!

I talked with one of the little girls about the coon. She told me his
story and said they called him “Tip.” My heart went out to him, and I
longed to take him under my coat, carry him into the deep woods, and bid
him God speed. He probably would have bitten me had I attempted it, but
in this he would have been justified from his point of view, for he had
never had a chance in his despoiled life to learn that there could be
sympathy in a human touch. In this poor Tip is not alone in the world.

Time slumbers in the back country. The weekly paper is the only printed
source of news from the outside, and, with the addition of a monthly
farm magazine, with its woman’s department, constitutes the literature
of the home. These periodicals are read by the light of the big kerosene
lamp on the table in the middle of the room, and the facts and opinions
found in them become gospel.

The country village is perhaps a couple of miles farther inland. There
is a water-mill on the little river, and bags of wheat and corn are
taken to it to be ground. The miller--sleepy-eyed and white--comes out
and helps to unload the incoming grain, or deposit the flour or meal in
the back part of the wagon.

The general store and post-office is on the main road, near the mill.
The proprietor is the oracle of the community, and a fountain of wit and
wisdom. The store is the clearing-house for the news and gossip of the
passing days.

A weather-beaten sign across the front of the building reads, “THE
CENTER OF THE WORLD.” The owner declares that “this must be so, fer the
edges of it are just the same distance off from the store, no matter
which way ye look.”

There is much unconscious philosophy in the quaintly humorous sign, for,
after all, how little we realize the immensity of the material and
intellectual world that is beyond our own horizon. The homely wit
touches incisively one of the foibles of human kind.

Elihu Baxter Brown, the storekeeper, is well

[Illustration:

THE “GENERAL STORE”]

along in years. He is tall, somewhat stoop-shouldered, and his eyes look
quizzically out of narrow slits. His heavy gray mustache dominates his
face, the cumbersome ornament suggesting a pair of frayed lambrequins.
He lives in a little old-fashioned house that sets back in a yard next
his store. A quiet gray-haired woman, with a kindly face, sits sewing in
the shade near the back door. They walked to the home of the minister
fifteen miles away, to be married, over fifty years ago. They trudged
back in the afternoon and began their lives together in the humble frame
house that now shows the touch of decay and the scars of winter storms.

[Illustration:

THE STOREKEEPER]

The small trees that they planted around it have grown tall enough
almost to hide the quiet home among their shadows. Little patches of
sunlight that have stolen through the leaves are scattered over the
roof on bright days, like happy hours in solemn lives.

In a sealed glass jar on a “what-not” in a corner of the front room is a
hard queer-looking lump, encrusted with dry mold, a fragment of the
wedding cake of half a century ago, which has been faithfully kept and
cherished through the years. To the world outside it is meaningless;
here it is sacred.

The little things to which sentiment can cling are the anchorages of our
hearts. They keep us from drifting too far away, and they call to us
when we have wandered. The small piece of wedding cake--gray like the
heads of those who reverence it--has helped to prolong the echoes of the
chimes of years ago. It was a rough gnarled hand which carefully put the
glass jar back into its place after it was shown, but it was a tender
and beautiful thought that kept it there.

The old man is now seventy-six. He says that sometimes he is only about
thirty, and at other times he is over a hundred--it all depends on the
weather and the condition of his rheumatism.

“When I git up in the mornin’,” said he, “I first find out how my
rheumatism is, then I take a look at the weather, an’ figger out what
kind of a day it’s goin’ to be. If it’s goin’ to rain I let ’er rain,
an’ if it ain’t, all well an’ good. Business is pretty slow when it
rains, an’ when its ten or fifteen below in the winter, they ain’t no
business at all. When it gits like that I hole up like a woodchuck, an’
set in the back part o’ the store in my high-chair, an’ make poetry an’
read. I don’t like to do too much readin’, fer readin’ rots the mind,
an’ I’d rather be waitin’ on people comin’ in. Most gen’rally a lot o’
the old cods that live ’round ’ere drop in an’ we talk things over.

“This rheumatism o’ mine is a queer thing. I’ll tell ye sumpen
confidential. You prob’ly won’t believe it, an’ I wouldn’t want what I
say to git out ’cause its so improb’le, an’ it might hurt my credit, but
I’ve bin cured o’ my rheumatism twice by carryin’ a petrified potato in
my pocket. An old friend of mine, Catfish John’s got it now, an’ I don’t
want to take it away from ’im as long as it’s helpin’ ’im, but when ’e
gits through with it, I’m goin’ to have it back on the job, an’ you bet
I’ll be hoppin’ ’round ’ere as lively as a cricket. The potato ’ll
prob’ly be ’ere next week. I’ve had it fer ten years, an’ it beats
everything I’ve ever tried.”

I asked the old man to allow me to see some of the poetry he had “made,”
and thereby opened up a literary mine. The request touched a tender
chord and I was ushered back to a worn desk of antique pattern in the
rear of the store. He raised the lid and extracted the treasure. A book
had been removed from its binding, and the covers converted into a
portfolio. He gently removed about a hundred sheets of paper of various
shapes and sizes, covered with closely written matter. Some of the
spelling would have shocked the shade of Lindley Murray, and made it
glad that he had passed away, and some of it would have made a champion
of spelling reform quite happy. It was _vers libre_ of the most
malignant type. Rhymes were freely distributed at picturesque random,
and while the ideas, rhythm, and meter were quite lame at times, much of
the verse was better than some recently published imagist poetry, which
contains none of these things. Humor and pathos were intermingled.
Sometimes there was much humor where pathos was intended, and often real
pathos lurked among the lighter lines.

There are many singers who are never heard. Melodies in impenetrable
forests and trills that float on desert air are for those who sing, and
not for those who listen. A happy soul may pour forth impassioned song
in solitude, for the joy of the singing, and a solitary bard may distil
his fancy upon pages that are for him alone.

The verse of Elihu Baxter Brown is its own and only excuse for being. It
has solaced the still hours, and if its creator has been its only
reader, he has been most appreciative.

A touching lay depicts his elation upon the departure of his wife “in a
autobeel” on a long visit to distant relatives, but the joy prevails
only during the first six lines. The remaining thirty are devoted to
sorrow and “lonely misery as I walketh the street,” and end with “when
will she be back I wonder?” He falls into a “reverree” and from under
its gentle spell the virile lines, “The brite moon makes a strong
impress on me,” and “I’ve named my pet hen after thee,” float into the
world. With “eyes full of weep” he reflects that “sometimes she’s cold
as all git out,” and further on he wishes that his “loved one was a
pie,” so as to facilitate immediate and affectionate assimilation.

He bids the world to “go on with its music and kink it another note
higher.” In later lines he naïvely admits that “of all the poets I love
myself the best.” Alas, he has much company! This effusion ends with
“Gosh, I can’t finish this poetry till I pull myself together.”

War, love, spring, and beautiful snow flow through the limping measures.
There are odes to the sun, the rain, and to his old bob-tailed gray cat,
“Tobunkus,” who drowses peacefully on the counter near the scales.

The inspection of the poems led to the exhibition of his box of relics
and curios, which he greatly valued. Among the carefully ticketed and
labeled items, which we spread out on the counter, was a small chip from
Libby Prison, a fragment of stone picked up near the National Capitol, a
shark’s tooth, some Indian arrow-heads, an iron ring from a slave
auction pen of ante-bellum days, a chip from the pilot house of a
steamboat that was wrecked sixty years ago on the Atlantic coast, the
dried stump of a cigar which had been given to him when he visited a
Russian man-of-war in Boston harbor in 1859, and many other odds and
ends that were of priceless value to him.

I picked up a small, round piece of wood, which he told me was the most
remarkable and interesting relic of the whole lot. “That,” said he, “is
a piece of the first shaving brush I ever shaved with”--a fact fully as
important as most things, seemingly significant at present, will be a
century hence. This wonderful object completed the exhibition, and the
collection was carefully put away.

The interior of the store was rather gloomy, badly ventilated, and was
pervaded with numberless and commingled odors. I could distinguish
kerosene, dead tobacco-smoke, stale vegetables, damp dry-goods, and
smoked herrings, but the rest of the indescribable medley of smells
baffled analysis.

The stock of merchandise was varied, but there was very little of any
one kind, except plug tobacco. Over a case containing several large
boxes of this necessity of life in the back country was a strip of
cardboard, on which was inscribed, “Don’t use the nasty stuff.” Under a
wall-lamp was another placard, “This flue don’t smoke, neither should
you.” Other examples of the proprietor’s wit were scattered along the
edges of the shelves, and on the walls, and helped to impart an
individual character to the place. Among them were, “Don’t be bashful.
You can have anything you can pay for.” “This store is not run by a
trust.” “No setting on the counter--this means _you_!” “Credit given
only on Sundies, when the store is closed.” “Don’t talk about the
war--it makes me sick.”

A large portion of the stock was in cans. Some of them had evidently
been on the shelves for many years. There were cove oysters, sardines,
and tinned meats of various kinds, with badly fly-specked labels. The
old man remarked that “some o’ them air-tights has bin on hand since the
early eighties.”

The humble tin can has been one of the important factors in the progress
of the human race. With the theodolite, the sextant, and the rifle, it
has been carried to the waste places of the earth, and because of it
they have bloomed. Tin cans have lined the trails to unknown lands, and
they have been left at both of the poles. The invader has flung them
along his remorseless path when he has gone to murder quiet distant
peoples whose religion differed from his own, and they have thus been
made “instruments of the Lord’s mercy.” They lie on ghastly
battlefields, mingled with splintered bones, where a civilization, of
which we have boasted, has left them.

They are scattered over the bottom of the sea, float languidly in the
currents of uncharted rivers, and rust on the sands of the deserts. They
are hiding-places for tropical reptiles in tangled morasses, and
prowling beasts sniff at them curiously in deserted camps along the
outer rims of the world.

They symbolize the ingenuity of the white man, and in them has reposed
the remains of every kind of fish, reptile, bird and beast that he has
used for food. The aged bull, the scrawny family cow, the venerable
rooster, the faithful superannuated hen, the senile billy goat, and
other obsolete domestic animals, have found a temporary tomb within
mysterious walls of tin, and have helped to feed others than those who
canned them. They enclose fruit and vegetables that could not be sold
fresh, and in them they go to the uttermost parts of the earth.

It was indeed strange destiny that took the sardine, flashing his bright
sides in the blue Mediterranean, and left him immured on a musty shelf
in a store in the back country. If he, with the contents of the cans
around him, could return to life, there would be a motley company.

Perhaps, in quiet midnight hours, wraiths come out of the tins and play
in the moonbeams that filter through the dusty windows. They may all
have been there so long that social caste has been established. The
fish, lobsters, cove oysters and clams, being sea people, probably hold
aloof. This they may well do, as they are on the upper shelves.

The elderly domestic animals may have a dignified stratum of their own,
in which the affairs of the old families can be discussed, while those
who were feathered in life possibly form another pale group that
devotes itself entirely to questions of personal adornment.

Behind the red labels on the lower shelves are the devilled ham and the
pig’s feet. The goblins from these may hold high carnival in the silvery
light--the frolics of the indigestibles--and their antics may last until
the gray of the morning comes.

Nameless elfs may appear in the little throng. They are from the soups,
and have so many component parts that they know not what they are.
Naturally they may precede the others, but if they are in the ghostly
circle, they are not of it.

Probably the specters from the canned hash are at the lower end of the
scale.

I suggested to the old man that all these things might be happening
while he slumbered, but he declared that I was mistaken. “There’s never
bin any doin’s like that goin’ on ’round the store,” said he.

Figuratively, it might be said that many of us obtain most of our
intellectual food from cans. The diet may be varied occasionally by
fresh nutrients, but too often we rely upon products bearing established
trade-marks for our mental sustenance. The rows of labels, honored by
time and dimmed by dust, stand like tiers of skulls, with their eyeless
caverns gravely still--mute symbols of the eternal hours--as if staring
in dull mockery out of a vanished past. Living currents flow around us
unheeded. We absorb predigested thought to repletion, and neglect
vibrant mental forces, that through disuse become depleted, instead of
enriching them with the study of the green and growing things that have
not been put in cans.

“About ev’ry third year,” said the old man, “business gits worse’n ever,
an’ that’s when a hoss trader named Than Gandy comes ’round. He lives
some’rs in the eastern part o’ the state, an’ after ’e’s bin through
’ere ’e waits long enough fer most of ’em to fergit ’im before ’e comes
agin. He starts out from where ’e lives with a sulky, an’ a crow bait
hoss, an’ about five dollars. He spends a couple o’ months on ’is
travels among the little places away from the railroads, an’ when ’e
gits through with ’is trip, ’e has a string o’ seven er eight hosses,
an’ four er five little wagons an’ buggies, an’ a lot o’ harnesses an’
whips an’ calves an’ sheep, an’ a big wad o’ money. He’s got all them
things to boot in trades ’e keeps makin’. He beats ev’rybody ’e runs up
ag’inst, an’ when ’e quits ’round ’ere nobody’s got any money left to
buy things with. They don’t know what’s happened to ’em till ’e’s away
off. When ’e stops at the store, he gen’rally trades me sumpen fer what
’e wants.

“Once Jedge Blossom traded hosses with ’im when ’e was piped, an’ gave
’im ten dollars to boot. He got a bum animal shifted on ’im, an’ when ’e
sobered up, ’e sent Gandy a bill fer fifteen dollars fer legal advice,
an’ the advice was not to come into this part o’ the country any more.”

The old man told me that he was born in a small town in Massachusetts.

“I was named after the preacher of our church. He was a great man an’
’is eloquence was wonderful. His name was the Reverend Elihu Baxter, an’
’e used to go up into the pulpit, an’ lean ’is stummick ’way out over
it, an’ say, _‘Now you listen to me’!_--an’ that’s the way ’e drawed ’em
to ’im. When ’e’d first begin, the church ’ud be so still that you could
hear the flies buzz, an’ ’is voice would sound all hollow, like ’e was
talkin’ into a big dish-pan. We don’t have no more preachers like ’im
now days, an’ people don’t go to church no more like they did then. We
don’t have no more old-fashioned Sundays. There’s too many newspapers,
an’ what they have to say takes the place o’ what we used to hear in the
pulpit. What the preachers say now days ain’t interestin’ any more.
People rest an’ play on Sunday now, instid o’ bein’ solemn an’ sad an’
settin’ ’round an’ listenin’ over an’ over to somebody tellin’ about
them three fellers that was in the fiery furnace.”

He felt deeply his responsibility as a representative of the national
government. The post-office department, with its rows of glass-fronted
mail boxes, numbered from 1 to 40, was located at the right of the store
entrance. The mail bag was brought daily from the railroad station, five
miles away, by a fat-faced young man in blue overalls and a hickory
shirt. His elbows flopped madly up and down as his horse galloped along
the highway with the precious burden across the pommel. He made another
trip at night with the out-going mail, and when the hoof-beats were
heard on the road, there would be many glances at the clocks in the
houses along his route, and the fact approvingly noted, that “Bill’s on
time to-night, all right.”

There are many people in the world who win lasting laurels by being “on
time.” Some do it quietly, and others by flopping their arms violently,
to the accompaniment of resonant hoof-beats, as “Bill” does, but being
“on time” is essential to success in life. “Bill” may have no other
argument to present for his eventual redemption than the fact that he
was always “on time,” but it cannot fail to be powerful and convincing.

“I would like this postmaster business,” said the old man, “if it wasn’t
fer all the books I have to write in an’ the blanks I have to fill out.
It keeps people comin’ in, but sometimes I have to set up pretty near
all night writin’ out things fer the gov’ament. I don’t keep no books
fer the store, fer I never sell nothin’ ’cept fer cash, or fer sumpen
that’s brought in, an’ I keep my expense account in my hat. If the
sheriff ever comes ’round ’ere to close me up, ’e won’t find no books to
go by. I spend all the money that gits in the drawer, an’ if what’s in
the store should burn up, I’d be ahead ’cause I’ve got insurance, an’
I’d git it all at once; so I guess I’m all right. I ain’t got much to
show fer my life, ’cept a grin, but that’s sumpen. Some day I’ll have
all the poetry I’ve made printed into a volume that’ll be put on sale,
an’ I’ll have a reg’lar income an’ I won’t have to work no more.

“I’m keepin’ a first class place here. There’s a lot o’ this new-fangled
stuff that I’ve stopped carryin’. People always buy it out when they
come in, an’ I have to keep gittin’ more all the time. If I don’t have
them things they ask fer, they’ll prob’ly buy sumpen that’s already on
hand. I can’t please ev’rybody all the time, or I’d be worked to death.
I don’t keep no likker, but anybody can git most anything else here
that’ll make ’em smell like a man, an’ I don’t sell no cigarettes. A
feller come in ’ere with one once, an’ when ’e went out ’e left ’is punk
on the edge of a pile o’ paper. After a while some o’ the bunch out in
front noticed some fire, an’ it pretty near burnt up the store, an’
besides they smell like a burnt offering, an’ I don’t like ’em.”

I asked him if he ever went over to the lake.

“Not fer about fifteen years. We all drove over there fer a bath, an’ I
took a bad cold an’ I haven’t bin there since. This talk o’ washin’ all
the time is nonsence. Jedge Blossom’s got a big tin bath tub up to his
place, that’s painted green, an’ ’e gits in it an’ sloshes ’round ev’ry
Saturday night when ’e’s home, but when Monday mornin’ comes ’e don’t
look no better’n anybody else.”

During one afternoon that I spent with him in the rear of the store, he
showed me some of the literature which he had taken down from the stock
on one of the upper shelves, and had been reading during the winter. The
pile consisted of old-fashioned dime novels of years ago, with their
multicolored illustrated paper covers. Among the titles, and on the
blood-curdling, well-thumbed pages, I found names that were once
familiar and much beloved. “Lantern-Jawed Bob,” “Snake Eye,” “Deadwood
Dick,” “Iron Hand,” “Navajo Bill,” “Shadow Bill,” “The Forest Avenger,”
“Eagle-Eyed Zeke,” “The War Tiger of the Modocs,” “The Mountain Demon,”
and many other forgotten heroes of boyhood days, “advanced coolly and
stealthily” out of the mists of the dim past, and once more they
scalped, robbed, trailed, circumvented bloodthirsty pursuers, had
hair-breadth escapes, mocked death, rescued peerless maidens from savage
redskins in the wilderness, and finally married them, as of yore.

The romance in the pile was irretrievably bad, but it recalled happy
memories. It was not surprising that the old man was impressed with the
idea that “too much readin’ rots the mind,” when spring came, and he had
finished the stack.

Around the big stove, on chilly days, the owners of the chin whiskers
congregate, with cob pipes and juicy plug. They contribute liberally to
the square boxes filled with sawdust that serve as cuspidors. In this
solemn circle the great political problems of the nation are considered
and solved.

The gossip of the township is exchanged, and the personal frailties of
absent ones discussed. The local Munchausen tells wondrous tales of his
cow, that stands out in the river and is milked by hungry fish that wait
among the lilies, and of hailstorms he has seen that have demolished
brickyards.

A projected barn, the sale of a horse or cow, the repairs on a wagon,
the prospects of frost or rain, the crops, the price of hogs, the
tariff, the trusts, the rascality of the railroads, and many other
subjects, are mingled with the gossip of the neighborhood. These matters
are all deeply pondered over. They talk about their rheumatism, the
“cricks” in their backs, their coughs, their aches and pains, and the
foolish vagaries of the “women folks.” They buy patent medicines, and
they bathe only when they get caught in the rain.

[Illustration: THE PESSIMISTS]

A slatternly looking woman comes in, buys some calico, thread, two
yards of ribbon, and some hooks and eyes. When she departs some one
remarks, “Wonder wot she’s goin’ to make now!” From that the
conversation drifts to “the feller that left ’er about two years ago.”
The proprietors of the chin whiskers all knew “when ’e fust come ’round,
’e wasn’t any good,” and the sage prophecies of by-gone days are now
fully verified. The demerits of a certain horse, which he had once sold
to one of the prophets, are again recounted, and the general opinion is
that after the delinquent “got through with the lawsuit ’e was mixed up
in, ’e went out west som’ers with the money ’is lawyer didn’t git.
Anyhow, ’e was no good.” Nobody is “any good.”

When the time comes to “git home to supper,” the dilapidated vehicles
begin to crawl out into the fading light and disappear. They carry the
pessimists and the few necessaries which they have bought at the
store--some molasses, sugar, tea and coffee, possibly a new shovel, some
nails, and always a plentiful supply of plug tobacco, a great deal of
which is filtered into the soil of the back country. Some eggs, butter,
vegetables, and other produce of the little farm has been left in
payment.

[Illustration: THEY “CRAWL OUT INTO THE FADING LIGHT”]

After the tired horses are unhitched and fed, the exciting gossip is
retold at the supper table. A few chores are done, an hour or so is
spent around the big lamp, and another eventful day has closed. A week
may pass before another trip is made to the sleepy village.

Those who are gone are under the tall grasses and wild flowers on the
hill near the woods, beyond the little weather-beaten country church.
The iron bell has tolled for them as they were laid away, and now that
it is all over, it is the same with them as if they had been monarchs or
millionaires.

A touching, if crude, epitaph can be deciphered on one of the gray mossy
stones through the crumbling fence. After the name and the final date
are the lines,

    “Shed not for me the bitter tears
     Nor fill the heart with vain regrets.
     ’Tis but the casket that lies here,
     The gems that filled them sparkles yet.”

and lower, under a pair of clasped hands, “We will meet again,” and it
may be that a mighty truth is on the stone.

[Illustration: The “Jedge”.]



CHAPTER XII

JUDGE CASSIUS BLOSSOM


The road leading from the lake, through the sand hills, and the low
stretches of the back country, over to the sleepy village, is
broken--and badly broken--by numerous sections of corduroy
reinforcements, which have been laid in the marshy places, across small
creeks and quagmires. The portion of the road near the lake is seldom
traveled. Occasionally, during the hot weather, a wagon-load of people
will come over from the sleepy village, and from the little farms along
the road, and go into the lake to get cool. They will then spend the
rest of the day sweltering on the hot sand to get warm, and return at
night.

Beyond the marsh, perhaps half way to the village, is the residence and
office of Judge Cassius Blossom, the local Dogberry, the repository of
the conflicting interests, and final arbiter in most of the petty
dissensions of the sparsely settled country in which he lives.

[Illustration: OLD SETTLERS IN THE BACK COUNTRY]

The “Jedge” was a faithful member of the solemn conclaves of the wise
ones with the chin whiskers at the general store in the sleepy village,
where he often reversed the decisions of the supreme court. His chair in
the charmed circle around the big old-fashioned stove, and among the
sawdust cuspidors, in winter, and out on the platform under the awning
in summer, was looked upon as the resting-place of about as much legal
wisdom, and about as much bad whisky, as one man could comfortably carry
around. His dissertations were always anxiously listened to and absorbed
by his auditors, each according to his capacity. His opinions and
observations were variously interpreted to the home firesides around
through the country at night, according to the intellectual limitations
of the narrator.

“The Jedge says that they’s some cases that’s agin the common law, an’
they’s some cases that’s agin the stattoot law, but about this ’ere case
he was talkin’ about, ’e said ’e’d ’ave to look up sumpen. He told about
a case where some feller ’ad sued another feller fer some money that was
owin’ to ’im, but ’e’d lost the notes, but ’e was goin’ to git a
judgment agin this feller all the same, an’ make a levy on ’im. You bet
I’m goin’ to be thar when this case comes up in court an’ see wot’s
doin’. The Jedge is sharper’n a tack, an’ you bet them fellers over to
the county seat ain’t goin’ to put nothin’ over on’ im, if ’e’s sober.
He’ll make points on all of ’em, but if ’e goes over thar an’ sets
’round Fogarty’s place boozin’, ’e’ll lose out.”

In talking with Sipes, one afternoon, about some of the roads in the
back country, he suggested that we take a walk over to the Judge’s house
and see him. “The Jedge has got a map that’s got all them things on it.
The ol’ feller deals in law, an’ land, an’ fire insurance, an’
everythin’ else.”

After Sipes had carefully shut the door of his shanty, and secured it
with an old iron padlock, we started on our journey. He said that he
generally locked the place up when he went away, as “there was sometimes
some fellers snoopin’ ’round that might swipe sumpen, an’ the Jedge told
me oncet that if anybody ever busted open the lock, it would show
bulgarious intent, an’ they’d git sent up fer it if they ever got
caught, but if they went in when the place wasn’t locked, it was
trespass on the case, or sumpen like that.”

We trudged along through the deep sand for half a mile or so, and then
turned through an opening in the dunes where the road came in. Our walk
led through the broken wet country for about a mile before we came to
more solid ground. On the way across the marshy strip the old man
pointed out familiar spots where he had “lambasted pretty near a whole
flock o’ ducks at one shot.” In another place he had once spent nearly
an hour in “sneakin’ up on a bunch o’ wooden decoys that some feller had
out, an’ when I shot into ’em you’d a thought a ton o’ lead ’ad struck a
lumber pile. The feller yelled when I fired. He was back in some weeds,
an’ I guess ’e was afraid there was goin’ to be sumpen doin’ on ’im with
the other bar’l if ’e didn’t yell.”

A tamarack swamp, about half a mile away, was a favorite haunt for
rabbits in the winter. He often went over there on the ice after there
had been a light fall of snow.

“Them little beasts are pretty foxy, but I just go over there an’ set
still, an’ when one of ’em comes hoppin’ ’round out in the open, I
shoot the fillin’ out of ’im. I’ve got as many as twenty there in one
day.

“When we git over to the Jedge’s house, don’t you go ag’inst none o’
that whisky that ’e’s got in a big black bottle in the under part of ’is
desk. He calls the bottle ‘Black Betty,’ an’ it’s ter’ble stuff. It
kicks pretty near as hard as my ol’ scatter gun, an’ ’e has to keep a
glass stopper in the bottle. A common cork would be et up. A man that
laps up whisky like that has to have a sheet-iron stummick, an’ I guess
the Jedge’s got one all right, fer ’e’s bin hittin’ it fer years.

“He fills the bottle up out of a big demijohn, that ’e gits loaded up
from a partic’lar bar’l at Fogarty’s place over to the county seat when
’e goes to court, an’ lots o’ times when ’e don’t go to court. The bar’l
replenishes the demijohn, the demijohn replenishes Black Betty, an’
Black Betty replenishes the Jedge, an’ after that the Jedge has to
replenish Fogarty--so it all works ’round natural--an’ the Jedge keeps a
skinful all the time.

“A white man could drink the grog we used to have on the ship an’ still
see, but the Jedge’s dope would make a hole in a pine board, an’ you
pass it by.”

This I solemnly promised to do.

“I notice that them fellers that take up stiddy boozin’ have to ’tend to
it all the time. When ol’ Jedge Blossom finds out that them law cases
that ’e’s always talkin’ about interferes with ’is boozin’, ’e’ll quit
monkeyin’ with ’em. It must a bin a sweet country that ’e bloomed in.
Pretty near every time I go to see ’im, ’e ain’t home. They say ’e’s off
’tendin’ to some important cases before the master in chancery. Them
cases is prob’ly mostly before Black Betty, fer I notice ’e always comes
home from ’em stewed, an’ sometimes ’is horse comes home alone an’ ’e
comes later. He takes drinks lots o’ times when ’e don’t need ’em. He
just drops ’em in to hear ’em spatter.

“They’ll find ’im in a catamose condition some day when ’e’s over to the
county seat, that ’e won’t come out of, an’ when it’s all over they can
dispose of ’is remains by just pourin’ ’im back into Fogarty’s bar’l.
All that’ll be left of ’im’ll be ’is thirst, an’ they’d better put
wot’ll be left of ’is fire insurance business in with ’im, fer ’e’ll
need some.”

The old man’s entertaining review of the frailties of the “Jedge,” and
of alcoholic humanity in general, continued until we arrived at our
destination.

The small frame house, which was once white, but now a dingy gray, was
adorned with faded green blinds. It stood about fifty feet back from the
road. Some mournful evergreens stood in painful regularity in the front
yard. The fence was somewhat dilapidated, and on it was a weather-beaten
sign:

                        CASSIUS BLOSSOM, J.P.,
                    Attorney and Counsellor at Law,
                            Notary Public,
                     Fire Insurance, Real Estate.

A gravel walk, fringed with white shells, led from the rickety gate to
the rather ecclesiastical-looking front door. Sipes remarked in passing
that “them white shells was to help the Jedge steer ’is course on dark
nights, when ’e was three sheets in the wind, an’ beatin’ up aginst it.”

There was a brown bell-handle near the door, and when it was pulled we
could hear a prolonged, hoarse tinkling somewhere off in the rear of
the house. We soon heard footsteps, and a forbidding-looking female
opened the door. She was quite tall and angular. A few faded freckles
around the nose--a mass of frowsy red hair, liberally streaked with
gray--a general untidiness--and a glint in her yellowish-brown eyes, as
she peered out at us over her brass-rimmed spectacles, produced
impressions that were anything but assuring.

On being admitted to the house, we were ushered into the “library,”
which also evidently served as a dining-room and office. A round table
stood in the middle of the room, covered with a soiled red and white
fringed table cloth. A hair-cloth sofa, with some broken springs and
bits of excelsior protruding from underneath, occupied one side of the
apartment, and there were several chairs of the same repellant material.
A narrow roll-top combination desk and bookcase, freely splotched with
ink-stains, stood near the window. Behind the dusty glass doors of the
bookcase were a few well-worn books, bound in sheepskin. The first
volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries, a copy of Parsons on Contracts, two
or three volumes of court reports, and the Revised Statutes of the
state, completed the assemblage of legal lore.

The pictures on the walls consisted of some stiff-looking crayon
portraits in gloomy frames, evidently copied from old photographs--all
of which were very bad--another somber frame containing a fly-specked
steel engraving of the justices of the U. S. Supreme Court, and still
another, out of which the stern and noble face of Daniel Webster looked
into the room. His immeasurable services to his country did not prevent
him from leaving a malign influence behind him. His unfortunate example
convinces many budding statesmen and promising lawyers that the human
intellect is not soluble in alcohol, and they are lulled into the belief
that the brilliancy of his mind was not dimmed by his indulgences. They
emulate his weakness, as well as his strength, and console themselves in
their cups with the greatness of Webster.

The “Jedge” sat at the desk, without his coat, writing, his back toward
us. His shirt-sleeves, and his wide stand-up collar, were not clean.
Evidently he was very busy and must not be disturbed just yet. With a
solemn wink of his solitary eye, and an expressive gesture, Sipes
attracted my attention to a faint wreath of softly ascending smoke
issuing from a cob pipe, which was lying on a window-sill on the
opposite side of the room, which suggested that the important business
at the desk may have commenced when the bell rang.

Evidently the “Jedge” appreciated the tactical advantage which
preoccupation always establishes when business callers come. The
visitor, in being compelled to await the disposal of more weighty
matters, is duly humbled and impressed with the fact that, at least so
far as time is concerned, he is a suppliant and not a dictator.

Dissimulation is an universal practice of man and woman kind. A
pessimistic student of the complexities of the human comedy might, with
much justice, conclude that at least half of the people on the
globe--and especially of those who are super-civilized--pretend, to a
greater or less degree, to be something that they are not, and the other
half pretend not to be something that they are.

Further thought upon this subject was interrupted by the “Jedge.” The
cane-seated swivel chair turned with a loud squeak, and we were before
the disciple of Blackstone & Bacchus--that famous firm whose
dissolution the shade of Webster will never permit.

He was a spare, red-faced man, of perhaps sixty-five, with white hair
and tobacco-stained whiskers. His prominent nose appeared to be a little
swollen and wore a deep blush. With a learned frown he looked out of his
deep-set and bloodshot eyes, over the tops of his spectacles. His voice
was deep and hoarse.

“Good morning, gentlemen. What can I do for you?”

It was afternoon, but, as the uncharitable Sipes suggested later, “the
Jedge prob’ly hadn’t got home last night yet, or mebbe ’e’d just got
up.”

“You will have to excuse me for keeping you waiting, but I’ve just been
preparing the final papers in a very important case that I’ve got to
file in court by Saturday. I’ve had to work on them steadily for the
past few days, as there are some very complicated questions of law
involved, and I’ve had to look up a lot of decisions. I am now entirely
at your service.”

After being formally introduced by my friend Sipes, I explained the
object of the visit. The “Jedge” was very cordial. He arose from his
chair, walked impressively, and with much dignity, across the room,
resumed his cob pipe, which was still alive, and raised the lid of an
old leather-covered trunk, bound with brass nails. After a long search
he produced the desired map and spread it out on the table.

“Before we take up this matter of the roads, I think, gentlemen, that we
had better have a little refreshment.”

We both politely declined his invitation and expressed a preference for
some cold water. He seemed disappointed, and, with a surprised and
curious glance at Sipes, returned to the desk, opened one of the lower
doors, and gently lifted “Black Betty” out of the gloom.

“I haven’t been feeling very well for several days, and I’ve had some
pains in my back. If you’ll excuse me for drinking alone, I’ll just take
a little bracer.” Sipes’ solitary eye again closed expressively, as the
“Jedge” removed the stopper, grasped the big bottle firmly around the
neck, and tilted it among his whiskers with a motion that no tyro could
ever hope to imitate.

The answering gurgle indicated that the “bracer” was “going home,” and
that, to say the least, it was not homeopathic. After the restoration of
“Black Betty” to her hiding-place, the “Jedge” resumed the conversation,
without referring to the cold water which we had suggested. Possibly the
mention of it had affected him unpleasantly.

He explained the map in detail, and told of several changes that would
have to be made in a new one. This led to long accounts, punctuated with
more winks by Sipes, of petty litigation, in which he had taken a
prominent part, as a result of which a lot of land had been condemned
and some new roads established. Had it not been for him, the highways
would have been “entirely inadequate, and in very poor condition.”

In summing up his public services he said that he had lived in that part
of the state for about thirty years. His advice was now being generally
followed, and the country was beginning to pick up. He had several small
farms for sale which he would like to show me, if I thought of locating
around there; in fact, there was nothing anywhere in that part of the
country that was not for sale.

I told him that my interest in the subject was entirely of an artistic
character.

“Well, if that’s the case, I can show you a lot of fine scenes, and if
you’ll come over some day and get into a buggy with me, I’ll drive you
over to the county seat when I go to court.”

He seemed much flattered when I asked him to allow me to make a sketch
of him. After it was finished, he examined it critically, to the intense
amusement of Sipes. He thought the nose was a little too big, and the
hair was “too much mussed up.” He also thought that the drawing made him
look a little older than he was, and that the eye was not quite natural,
“but of course I can’t see the side of my face, and it may be all right.

“As you are interested in art, you’ll enjoy looking at my pictures.”

He then showed me the array on the walls, of which he was very proud.
The crayon portrait of his first wife, with the cheeks tinted pink and
the ear-rings gilded, he thought “was a fine piece of work.” A man had
come along, about ten years ago, and had made three “genuine crayon
portraits” for ten dollars. The “Jedge” supposed that “now days they
would be worth a great deal more than that.” The other two “genuine
crayon portraits” represented his father and mother, an antiquated
couple in the Sunday dress of pioneer days, who looked severely out of
their heavy frames. The man had taken the old daguerreotypes away to be
copied, and when the completed goods were delivered, he claimed that
“the frames alone were worth as much as the pictures.” In this he was
quite right.

The “Jedge” wanted to show me an album containing pictures of the rest
of his relatives, but fortunately he was unable to find it. In searching
for it, however, he ran across a box containing a collection of Indian
arrow heads, flint implements, and spears, which were of absorbing
interest. He had found some of them himself, and numerous friends,
knowing of his hobby, had furnished him with many of these valuable
relics of the red man, whose white brothers came with guns and strong
waters and appropriated his heritage.

He soon began to show signs of more pains in his back. With an
apologetic reference to them, and with more sly winks from Sipes, “Black
Betty” was again produced, and her fiery fluid again solaced the arid
esophagus of the “Jedge.”

The contents of the bottle were evidently getting dangerously low. He
excused himself for a minute, and took it into the next room, where he
refilled it from the big demijohn that stood in the corner. Sipes
indulged in many amusing grimaces as the sounds from the other room
indicated that “Black Betty’s” condition had again become normal.

After we had talked a little while longer, Sipes related to the “Jedge”
the story of the tangled set lines, over which he and “Happy Cal” had
got into trouble years ago, and wanted to know “what the law was.”

After listening carefully to all of the facts, the “Jedge” cleared his
throat slightly and delivered his opinion.

This preliminary slight clearing of the throat implies deliberation, and
often adds impressiveness to a forthcoming utterance. Sipes remarked
later, that “nobody never lived that was as wise as the Jedge looked
when ’e hemmed a little an’ got on ’is legal frown.”

“It seems from the facts before us, that the mass of property under
consideration was discovered on the shore, about half-way between the
homes of the two claimants, neither of whom, as a matter of fact,
possessed original title to it. The position of the mass when found
brings up several difficult questions of law, involving facts which are
_malum in se_. A portion of it was on the surface of the water, a
portion of it was submerged, and still another portion was on dry land.
According to maritime law, that portion on the surface was flotsam, and
that portion which was submerged was jetsam. The laws affecting flotsam
and jetsam would prevail as to these two portions, but as to the portion
which rested on dry land, I am inclined to think that the _lex loci_
would apply.”

Whereupon, the bewildered Sipes asked, “Who done this?”

Disregarding the interruption, the “Jedge” again slightly cleared his
throat and continued:

“_A priori_, I am of opinion that _prima facie_ evidence of ownership
rests with possession, and that the _onus probandi_ must necessarily be
_ex adverso_.” The “Jedge” then stated that the opinion would cost half
a dollar. Sipes was speechless, but paid the fee.

The “Jedge” had charged “Happy Cal” a dollar one night, years ago, for
an opinion in the same case. He had advised Cal “not to disturb the
_status quo_.” The dazed client paid the money and disappeared into the
darkness. He probably stopped at Sipes’s place, where the untangled
lines were stretched out to dry, and cut them up, on his way home, thus
disposing of the “_status quo_” entirely.

It was to the credit of the “Jedge” that he never took any more than his
clients had, and they could always come back when they had more.

We finally thanked the “Jedge” for his courtesy, and bade him good-bye.

On the way back I reimbursed Sipes in the matter of the half-dollar
which he had paid for the opinion, as it had really been worth more to
me than it was to him. After we had left the house, the old man’s
comments on the visit were earnest and caustic.

“Wot d’ye think o’ the gall o’ that old cuss chargin’ me half a dollar
fer all that noise ’e made about them lines? I don’t know that feller
Losey ’e spoke of. He was never ’round ’ere at all, an’ ’e never ’ad
nothin’ to do with them lines, an’ that melon in the sea, that ’e told
about, was all bunk. There was nothin’ like that near that bunch o’
stuff. I don’t know what ever become o’ Cal. He may be now in spotless
robes, fer all I know, but I know ’e cut up them lines just the same.
There was about two miles of ’em, when they was fixed up an’ stretched
out, an’ they was worth some money, an’ as long as the feller that ’ad
’em out in the lake didn’t come along to claim ’em, they was mine. Cal
never ’ad no bus’ness with ’em, an’ I don’t need to mosey over an’ pay
that old tank fifty cents to find it out, neither. Cash us Blossom is a
good name fer him, all right. He’s everythin’ I said ’e was on the way
over, an’ more, too. He’s got some fresh money now, an’ I’ll bet the
demijohn’ll be trundled over to the county seat the first thing in the
mornin’. He can buy a lot o’ the kind o’ Whisky ’e drinks fer half a
dollar.

“He lays ’is demijohn on the side, underneath, when ’e starts out, but
when ’e drives home it’s always standin’ up in the back o’ the buggy,
so nothin’ ’ll spill, an’ that’s more’n the Jedge could do. When I see
’im drivin’ on the road, I can always tell, by where the demijohn is,
whether ’e’s got a cargo or travelin’ light. That heap big Injun dignity
that ’e’s always puttin’ on when ’e makes them spiels o’ his, gives me
tired feelin’s. You can’t mix up dignity with whisky without spoilin’
both of ’em. If ’e ever comes over to my place, you can turn me into
snakes if I don’t charge ’im a half a dollar fer the first question ’e
asks. I’ll bet ’e won’t come though, fer I’m too near the water. I wish
I could sic old Doc Looney on ’im some time. He wouldn’t stay afloat
long after the Doc got to ’im.”

I asked Sipes if the forbidding-looking female who came to the door was
the Judge’s wife.

“Not on yer life,” he replied. “If ’e had a wife, she’d kill ’im. That
ol’ cactus is ’is housekeeper. She’s a distant relative o’ some kind,
an’ she’s just waitin’ fer Black Betty to finish ’im up so’s she’ll git
the house.”

We arrived at Sipes’s place about dusk. I had left my boat on the beach,
and, as the old man helped me push it into the water, he indulged in
final anathemas against the “Jedge.” He shook his fist in his direction
and said that “when we go over there ag’in we’d better leave our money
in the shanty.”

I happened to stop at the store in the sleepy village one hot day during
the following summer. The “Jedge” was just getting into his buggy, but
stopped and greeted me cordially. I intended leaving for home that
evening, and he kindly offered to take me to the railroad station, about
five miles away. I gladly accepted his offer, although he did not appear
to be in a very good condition to drive a horse.

On the way across the country he recited his public services, discussed
the details of his “important cases,” and unfolded his dreams of the
future of the county.

We arrived at the station just in time to enable me to jump quickly out
of the buggy and catch the train that was pulling out. I paused on the
rear platform to call out a good-bye to the “Jedge,” but he had tried to
make too short a turn on the narrow road, and the buggy was lying on its
side, much twisted up. The horse had stopped and was looking
inquiringly back from between the broken thills. The “Jedge,” who was
partially under the wreck, but evidently unhurt, waved a cheerful
farewell at me as the train passed the water tank, and in the distance I
could see that he was getting safely out of the scrape.

The station agent and a few villagers, who had come to the depot to see
that the train arrived and departed properly, were going to his
assistance.

From about two miles away I saw the black buggy top slowly resume its
normal position and begin to move on the road. The “Jedge” was probably
by this time much in need of “refreshment,” and, as he was now on the
way to the county seat, relief was not very far off. Undoubtedly his
friend Fogarty would fully and deeply sympathize with him in his
troubles as long as his cash lasted.

He was one of the pathetic failures whom we meet daily in the walks of
life. Naturally gifted, and fairly well educated, he had started bravely
out on his road of destiny, with noble ambitions and alluring hopes. In
the early part of the journey he had lifted a fatal chalice to his
lips, and the way became dark. He drifted from the highway that might
have led to fame and fortune to the still by-path in which we found him.
Because he was not strong, he fell--as countless others have fallen
before him.

The shadow of “Black Betty” has fallen over a chair in the sleepy
village that is now empty, and it may be that the poor old “Jedge” is
arguing his own plea for mercy before a greater Court. Let us hope that
his final appeal may bring forgiveness and peace.

The stone, simple and suggestive, which was erected to his memory, was
designed and paid for by his friends. Even Sipes relented and requested
Catfish John to put fifty cents in “cash-money” into the contribution
box at the store for him.

[Illustration]

[Illustration:

“AMONG BIG WET STRETCHES OF
HIGH GRASS AND BULRUSHES”]



[Illustration] CHAPTER XIII

THE WINDING RIVER


To enjoy a river we must adjust ourselves to its moods, for a river has
many moods. It moves swiftly and light-heartedly over the shallows, as
we do, and it has its solemn, quiet moments in the shadows of the steep
banks, where the current is deep and still. It begins, like our lives,
somewhere far away, and twists and turns, flows in long swerves, meets
many rocks, ripples over pebbly places, smiles among many riffles,
frowns under stormy skies, meditates in quiet nooks, and then goes on.

As it becomes older it broadens and becomes stronger. It begins to make
a larger path of its own in the world, which it follows with varying
fortunes, until its waters have gone beyond it.

The Winding River begins miles away and steals down through the back
country. It curves and runs through devious channels and makes wide
detours, before it finally flows out through the sand hills into the
great lake.

Along its tranquil course there are many things to be studied and
learned, and many new thoughts and sensations to grow out of them. We
must go down the river, and not against its current, to know its strange
spirit, and to love it. There is always a feeling of closer
companionship when we are traveling in the same direction.

It is best to go alone, in a small boat, carrying a few feet of rope
attached to a heavy stone, so that the boat may be anchored in any
desirable spot. You should sit facing the bow, and guide the boat with a
paddle, or a pair of oars in front of you, and let the current carry you
along.

The journey commences several miles up in the woods, where the banks are
only a few feet apart. The boat is piloted cautiously through the deep
forest, among the ancient logs that clog the current. The patriarchs
have fallen in bygone years, and are slowly moldering away into the
limpid waters that once reflected them in their stately Indian summer
robes of red and gold.

Masses of water-soaked brush must be encountered, and sunken snags
avoided. Fringes of small turtles, on decayed and broken branches,
protruding from the water, and on the recumbent trunks, splash noisily
into the depths below--a wood duck glides away downstream--a muskrat,
that has been investigating a deep pool near the bank, beats a hasty
retreat, and a few scolding chipmunks flip their tails saucily, and
whisk out of sight. A gray squirrel barks defiantly from the branch of
an over-hanging tree, and an excited kingfisher circles around, loudly
protesting against the invasion of his hunting grounds.

All of the wild things resent intrusion into their solitudes, and
disappear, when there is any movement. If we would know them and learn
their ways, we must sit silently and wait for them to come around us. We
may go into the woods and sit upon a log or stump, without seeing the
slightest sign of life, and apparently none exists in the vicinity, but
many pairs of sharp eyes have observed our coming long before we could
see them.

After a period of silence the small life will again become active, and
in the course of an afternoon, if we are cautious as well as observant,
we will find that we have seen and heard a great deal that is of
absorbing interest.

Larger openings begin to appear among the trees, the sunlit spaces
become broader, and patches of distant sky come into the picture. There
are fewer obstructions in the course, and the little boat floats out
into comparatively open country. Tall graceful elms, with the delicate
lacery of their green-clad branches etched against the clouds, a few
groups of silvery poplars, some straggling sycamores, and bunches of
gnarled stubby willows line the margins of the stream, and detached
masses of them appear out on the boggy land.

The Winding River flows through a happy valley. From a bank among the
trees a silver glint is seen upon water, near a clump of willows, not so
very far away, but the sinuous stream will loiter for hours before it
comes to them.

A few cattle, several horses, and a solitary crow give a life note to
the landscape. A faint wreath of smoke is visible above some trees on
the right, there are echoes from a hidden barnyard, and a fussy bunch of
tame ducks are splashing around the end of a half-sunken flat-bottomed
boat attached to a stake.

A freckled faced boy, of about ten, with faded blue overalls, frayed
below the knees, and sustained by one suspender, is watching a crooked
fishpole and a silent cork, near the roots of a big sycamore that shades
a pool.

He wears a rudimentary shirt, and his red hair projects, like little
streaks of flame, through his torn hat. His bare feet and legs are very
dirty. He looks out from under the uncertain rim of the hat with a
comical expression when asked what luck he is having, and holds up a
willow switch, on which are suspended a couple of diminutive bullheads,
and a small but richly colored sunfish. The spoil is not abundant, yet
the freckled boy is happy.

After the boat has passed on nearly a quarter of a mile, his distant
yell of triumph is heard. “I’ve got another one!” Pæons of victory from
conquered walls could tell no more.

Farther on, the banks become a little higher, the stream is wider and
faster. In the distance a dingy old water-mill creeps into the
landscape. This means that a dam will soon be encountered. The boat will
have to be pulled out and put back into the river below it. For this it
will be necessary to arouse the cooperative interest of the miller in
some way, for the boat is not built of feathers.

A crude mill-race has been dug parallel to the river’s course, and the
clumsy old-fashioned wheel is slowly and noisily churning away under the
side of the mill. The structure was once painted a dull red, but time
has blended it into a warm neutral gray. Some comparatively recent
repairs on the sides and roof give it a mottled appearance, and add
picturesque quality. A few small houses are scattered along the road
leading to the mill, and the general store is visible among the trees
farther back, for the little boat has now come to the sleepy village in
the back country. There are no railroad trains or trolley-cars to
desecrate its repose, for these are far away. Several slowly moving
figures appear on the road. There is an event of some kind down near the
mill, and the well-worn chairs on the platform in front of the Store
have been deserted. Whatever is going on must be carefully inspected and
considered at once.

There is an interesting foreground between the boat and the mill, the
reflections to be seen from the opposite bank seem tempting, and an
absorbing half hour is spent under the tree, with the sketch book and
soft pencil.

The curious group on the other side is evidently indulging in all sorts
of theories and speculations as to “wot that feller over there is tryin’
to do.” It is a foregone conclusion that curiosity will eventually
triumph, and soon the strain becomes too intense for further endurance.
The old miller, with the dust of his trade copiously sifted into his
clothes and whiskers, gets into the flat-bottomed boat near the dam and
slowly poles it across. All of the details of the voyage are attentively
scrutinized from the other side.

After a friendly “good morning,” a few remarks about the stage of the
water, and the weather prospects, he stands around for a while, and then
looks over at the sketch. He produces a pair of brass-rimmed
spectacles, which enables him to study it more carefully, and he is much
pleased. He “haint never noticed the scene much from this side, but it
looks pretty. After this is finished off you’d better come ’round on the
other side, so’s to show the platform an’ the sign. A feller made a
photograph of my mill once, an’ ’e promised to send me one, but ’e
didn’t never do it.” The long remembered incident, and the broken faith,
seemed to disturb him, and he appeared to be concerned as to the destiny
of the sketch. He wanted it “to put up in the mill.”

His befloured whiskers and general appearance suggest more sketches, and
he is induced to pose for a few minutes. One of the drawings is
presented to him, and the curiosity on the other bank is now getting to
the breaking point. Only the absence of transportation facilities
prevents the crossing of the anxious spectators. There have been several
additions to the gaping group on the other side. A portly female, in a
gingham dress, stands bareheaded in the road, contemplating the scene
from afar, and a couple of barking dogs have come down to the edge of
the water.

The deliberate and dignified approach of the keeper of the general store
lends a new note of interest.

After further pleasant conversation, the dusty miller helps to drag the
boat around the dam. He waves a cheerful farewell, recrosses the stream,
and immediately becomes the center of concentrated interest. The fat
woman in the road waddles down to the mill, and a number of bareheaded
children come running down the slope, who have peeked at the proceedings
from secluded points of vantage.

As the boat floats on, the figures become indistinct, the houses fade
into the soft distance, the mill, like those of the gods, grinds slowly
on, and, with the next bend in the river, the sleepy village is gone.

The story of the eventful day percolates from the store off into the
back country, and weeks later we hear it from a rheumatic old dweller in
the marshy land, near the beginning of the sand hills. He unfortunately
“wasn’t to town” at the time.

“A feller come ’long in a boat an’ stopped at the mill. He was ’round
thar fer over an hour

[Illustration:

“WITH THE NEXT BEND IN THE RIVER
THE SLEEPY VILLAGE IS GONE”]

an’ drawed some pitchers of it. He made one o’ the old man with ’is pipe
showin’. He was some city feller, an’ had to git the old man to help ’im
with ’is boat ’round the dam. The old man’s got a pitcher ’e made of ’im
stickin’ up in the mill now. A feller like him oughter larn some trade,
instid o’ foolin’ away ’is time makin’ pitchers. Nobody ’ud ever buy one
o’ them dam’ things in a thousand years. I’ll bet ’e was spyin’ fer the
railroad, an’ they’ll prob’ly be ’long here makin’ a _sur_vey before
long.”

A little farther down is a loose-jointed bridge with some patent
medicine signs on it. Another sign tells the users not to drive over the
structure “faster than a walk.” Any kind of a speed limit in this
slumbrous land seems preposterous, but the cautionary board is there,
peppered over with little holes, made by repeated charges of small shot,
and partially defaced with sundry initials cut into it with jack-knives.
Some crude and unknown humorist has changed some of the letters and
syllables in the patent medicine signs, and made them even more
eloquent.

Another lone fisherman is on the bridge, watching a cork that bobs idly
on the dimpled tide below. Another single suspender supports some
deteriorated overalls. Possibly the freckled boy up the river was
wearing the rest of the suspenders. He is an old man, with heavy gray
eyebrows, and long white whiskers that sway gently in the soft wind. His
face has an air of patient resignation. He wears a faded colored shirt
and a weather-beaten straw hat. His feet, encased in cowhide boots,
hang down over the edge of the rickety structure, and he sadly shakes
his head when asked if he has caught any fish. His lure has been
ineffectual and he is about ready to go home. There is still a faint
lingering hope that the cork may be suddenly submerged, and the
appearance of a new object of interest has decided him to remain a
little while longer.

He explains that “the wind ain’t right fer fishin’. I’ve seen fish
caught off’en this bridge so fast you couldn’t bait the hooks, but the
wind has to be south. Besides the water’s all roily to-day an’ the fish
can’t see nothin’. I bin drownin’ worms ’ere most all day, an’ I ain’t
had a bite, an’ I’m goin’ to quit.”

Just after the boat had passed under the bridge, a dead minnow floated
along on the current. A large pickerel broke water and seized it. His
sweeping tail made a loud swish, and the water boiled with commotion as
he turned and dove with his prize.

Instantly the dejected figure on the bridge became thrilled with a new
life, and a torrent of profanity filled the air.

“Now wot d’ye think o’ that! The gosh dangled idjut’s bin ’round ’ere
all the time, an’ me settin’ ’ere with worms fer ’im. They’s a lot o’
fish in this ’ere river that I’ll teach sumpen to before I’m through
with ’em. I’m a pretty old man, but you bet I’m goin’ to play the game
while I’m ’ere. I wonder where ’e went with that dam’ minnie!”

The boat goes tranquilly on, and in the dim distance the old man is
actively moving around on the bridge, flourishing his cane pole and
casting the tempting bait all over the surface of the water, evidently
hoping that the “gosh dangled idjut” will rise again.

The river now comes to the beginning of the vast marsh, through which
its well-defined channel follows a tortuous route among big wet
stretches of high grasses and bulrushes, winds with innumerable turns,
makes long sweeps and loops, and comes back, almost doubling itself in
its serpentine course. The current slackens and the water becomes
deeper.

The cries of the marsh birds are heard, and muskrats are swimming at the
apexes of the long V-shaped wakes out on the open water. On small boggy
spots are piles of empty freshwater clam shells where these interesting
little animals have feasted. As the crows seem to dominate the sand
hills, the muskrats contribute much picturesque quality to the marsh.
Their little houses add interest to the wet places, and traces of them
appear all over the low land.

[Illustration:

“THE RIVER NOW COMES TO THE BEGINNING
OF THE VAST MARSH”]

A wild duck hurries her downy young into the thick grasses--a few
turtles tumble hastily from the bogs into the water--a large blue heron
rises slowly out of an unseen retreat, and trails his long legs after
him in rhythmic flight down the marsh--mysterious wings are heard among
the rushes--immense flocks of blackbirds fill the air--there is a splash
out among the lily pads, where a hungry fish has captured his
unsuspecting prey, and the deep sonorous bass of a philosophic bullfrog
resounds from concealed recesses.

Another bend in the channel reveals a flock of wild ducks feeding
quietly along the edges of the weeds. The intrusion is quickly detected
and they swiftly take wing. A sinister head, with beady eyes, appears on
the surface behind the boat, and is instantly withdrawn. A big
snapping-turtle has come up to investigate the cause of the dark shadow
which has passed along the bottom.

Some open wet ground comes into view around the next curve, and some
lazy cattle look up inquiringly. After their curiosity is satisfied,
they turn their heads away and resume their reflections.

The Winding River has its solemn hours as well as those of gladness.
Heavy masses of low gray clouds are creeping into the sky, the shadows
are disappearing and a moody monotone has come over the landscape. Deep
mutterings of thunder, and a few vivid flashes, herald the approach of
a storm.

Some thick willows, which can be reached through openings among the lily
pads, a short distance from the main channel, offer a convenient
shelter, and from it the coming drama can be contemplated.

The big drops are soon heard among the leaves, the distant trees loom in
ghostly stillness through veils of moving mist, the delicate color tones
gently change into a lower scale, and the voices of the falling waters
come. The reeds and rushes bend humbly, and there are subdued cries from
the feathered life that is hurrying to shelter among them. The rain
patters and murmurs out among the thick grasses and on the open river.

There are noble beauties and sublimities in the storm, which those who
only love the sunshine can never know. Truly “Our Lady of the Rain”
weaves a marvelous spell, and her song is of surpassing beauty, as she
trails her robes in majesty over the river and through the marshy
wastes. Her pictures blend with her measures, for a song may have other
mediums than sound, and there are many symphonies that are silent. The
prelude in the lowering clouds, and the melody of the loosened waters,
bring to us a sense of unity and closer communion with the powers in the
skies above us.

The sheets of flying waters have gone on up the marsh, a long rift has
appeared in the clouds beyond the hills, a bright gleam has come through
it, and the end of a rainbow touches a clump of poplars far away. The
storm is over and the little boat is piloted out through the lily pads,
to resume its journey on the tranquil stream. It finally reaches the
sand hills. The river narrows and runs more rapidly as it leaves the
swamp. Another sleepy little town, with two or three bridges, appears
ahead. There are more still figures on the bank, watching corks on lines
attached to long cane poles, which are stuck into the earth and
supported by forked sticks. The labor of holding them has proved too
great and natural forces have been utilized to avoid unnecessary
exertion. The anglers appear much depressed and are soaking wet. A
nearby bridge would have provided a refuge from the recent rain, but
possibly their intellectual limitations did not permit of advantage
being taken of it.

A friendly inquiry as to their success evokes sleepy responses, and
looks of languid curiosity. “The fishin’ ain’t no good. I got one
yisterd’y, but I guess the water’s too high fer ’em to bite.”

We have now come to the end of the Winding River. Its waters glide
peacefully out and blend into the blue immensity of the great lake. Like
a human life that has run its course through the vicissitudes and varied
paths of the years, they have ceased to flow, and have been gathered
into unknown depths beyond.

There are many winding rivers, but this one has numberless joyful and
poetic associations. On its peaceful waters many sketch-books have been
filled, and happy hours dreamed away. From the little boat wonderful
vistas have unfolded, and marvelous skies have been contemplated.

The heavens at twilight, flushed with glorious afterglows in orange,
green and purple--the clear still firmament at mid-day, lightly flecked
with little wisps of smoky vapor--the lazy white masses against the
infinite blue, and the billowing thunderheads on the horizon on quiet
afternoons--the stormy array of dark battalions of wind-blown clouds,
with their trailing sheets of rain--and many other convolutions of the
great panoramas in the skies, have been humbly observed from the little
boat. The Winding River has reflected them, and the picturesque sweeps
and bends, the masses of trees on the banks, with the silvery stretches
of slowly moving waters, have given wonderful foregrounds to these
entrancing prospects.

Fancy has woven rare fabrics, and builded strange and fragile dreams
among these glowing and ever-changing symphonies of light and color. The
little boat has been a kingdom in a world of enchantment. The domes and
vistas of a fairy-land have been visible from it. The Psalm of Life has
seemed to float softly over the bosom of the river, and mingle with the
harmonies of infinite hues in the heavens beyond. The lances of the
departing sun have trailed over the waters, and dark purple shadows have
gently crept into the landscape. Manifold voices are hushed, and the
story of another day is told.

Nature, seemingly jealous of other companionship, yields her spiritual
treasures only to him who comes alone into her sweet solitudes. Before
him who comes in reverence, the filmy veils are lifted, and the poetic
soul is gently led into mystic paths beyond.

In her great anthems of sublimity and power, she fills our hearts with
awe, and appals us with our insignificance, but her soft lullabies,
which we hear in the secluded places, are within the capacity of our
emotions. It is here that she comes to us in her tenderness and beauty,
and gently touches the finer chords of our being.

One may stand upon a mountain-top and behold the splendors of awful
immensities, but the imagination is soon lost in infinity, and only the
atom on the rock remains. The music of the swaying rushes, the whispers
among rippling waters and softly moving leaves, and the voices of the
Little Things that sing around us, all come within the compass of our
spiritual realm. It is with them that we must abide if we would find
contentment of heart and soul.

The love of moving water is one of our primal instincts. The tired mind
seeks it, and weary travelers on the deserts of life are sustained by
the hope of living waters beyond. There are winding rivers on which we
may float in the world of our fancy, and it is on them that we may find
peace when sorrows have afflicted us and our burdens have made scars.
They may flow through lordly forests, and stately mansions and magic
gardens may be reflected in their limpid tides. The songs of these
rivers are the songs of the heart, and in them there is no note of
triumph over the fallen, or despair of the stricken. They are songs of
courageous life and melodies of the living things, but only those who
listen may hear them.

Sometimes, in faint half-heard tones from far away, we may imagine
echoes from another world than ours, and, as we enter into the final
gloom, these harmonies may become divine. In the darker recesses of our
intellectual life we find shadows that never move. They seem to lie like
black sinister bars across our mental paths. We know not what is beyond
them, and we shrink from a nameless terror. Into these shadows our loved
ones have gone. They have returned into the Elemental Mystery. Their
voices have not come back to us, but their cadences may be in the
singing winds and amid the patter of the summer rain.

Our Ship of Dreams can bear a wondrous cargo. We can sometimes see its
mirage in the still skies beyond the winding rivers, though its sails
and spars are far below the horizon’s rim. We know that on it are those
who beckon, and its wave-kissed prow is toward us. Frail though its
timbers be, the years may bring it, but if it never comes, we have seen
the picture, and new banners have been unfurled before it.

[Illustration:

HE “WAITED UNTIL HE SAW HIS STAR COME OVER THE
HORIZON IN THE PATH OF THE YOUNG MOON”]



CHAPTER XIV

THE RED ARROW


While merciless masters have driven the red man from the dune country,
indelible impressions of his race remain. His nomenclature is on the
maps, and the lakes, rivers, and streams carry names that were precious
to his people. His mythology still envelops the region with a halo of
romance and fable.

The dust of his forefathers has mingled with the hills, and time has
obliterated nearly every material trace of him, except those among the
imperishable stones. The débris of the little quarries is still visible
on small promontories, and in the depressions along the ridges, where
the pines have held the soil against the action of the wind and rain.
Here we find innumerable chips and fragments of broken stones, left by
the workers, who fashioned the implements of war and peace on these
sequestered spots.

Occasionally an imperfect or unfinished arrow or spear-head appears
among the refuse, which the patient artificer discarded. Many perfect
specimens are found, but these are seldom discovered near the sites of
the rude workshops. They are uncovered by the shifting sands in the
“blow outs,” where the winds eddy on the sides of hills that may have
held their secrets for centuries, and turned up out of the fertile soil
in the back country, by the plowshares of a race that carried the bitter
cup of affliction to the aborigine.

The little flakes of flint may be scattered over a space forty or fifty
feet across, and many thousands of perfect points may have gone forth
from it, as messages of death to the hearts of enemies, or to pierce the
quivering flesh of the innocent.

The refined ingenuity of man has ever been applied to things that kill.
The art of annihilation has attracted some of the dominant intellects of
mankind, and the extinction of life has been the industry of millions
since human history began.

The feathered shaft of the savage, and the steel shell of the white
man, go upon the same errand, and they both leave the same dark stain
upon the green earth. The children of men, in all ages, have been taught
that war is the only path to glory.

Under His quiet skies the living things must die, because they live. The
Great Riddle awaits solution beyond the confines of our philosophy, and
in the midst of our speculative wanderings, we become dust. Theology is
as helpless before a burial mound in the wilderness, as beside the
gilded tomb of a prince of the church.

The spiritual needs of the primitive savage were administered by his
tribal gods, and the spirits of his mythology. In his child-like faith
he believed the favor of a Great Spirit to be in the sunshine, and that
omnipotent wrath was thundered in the storms. His good manitous presided
over his fortunes in life, and gently led him into fabled hunting
grounds beyond the grave.

He was a fatalist, and not being civilized, his theology was imperfect.

Civilization approached him with a Bible in one hand and a bottle in the
other, and the decay of his race began. The finger of fate had touched
him, and the last heart-broken remnants of once happy and powerful
tribes were tied and led away by benign and Christian soldiers. They
carried crushed spirits and shattered lives to an alien soil, which an
all-wise conqueror had selected for them, leaving their burned homes,
and the bones of those they loved, in the land of their birth.

The moralist finds abundant food for reflection in the sufferings of the
weak, at the hands of the strong, and the triumph of might over
helplessness, but the Indian interfered with enlightened selfishness and
he perished.

The record of the expatriation and the practical extinction of the
Pottawatomies, who lived in this region, is written upon dark pages of
our history, but perhaps they had no rights as living creatures that an
enlightened government was bound to respect.

When the fog rolls in from the distant waters, and steals through the
pines, wraith-like forms of a forgotten race seem to haunt the scenes of
by-gone years. We may imagine the march of phantom throngs through the
trees, to meet silent battalions beyond the hills. The sands seem to
yield to the folds of a gray mantle that is laid upon them, and retreat
into obscurity.

When the night shadows come into the dune country, the spell of mystery
and poetry comes with them. The sorcery of the dark places leads us into
a land of dreams and unreality.

Out on the tremulous surface of the lake, we may fancy the lifting of
silvery paddles in the path of the moon’s reflections, and the furtive
movement across the bar of light, of mystic shapes in phantom canoes.

Mingled with the lispings of the little waves, we may hear ghostly prows
touch the sand, and see spectral figures file into the hills. The faint
echoes of strokes upon flint come out of the shadows.

The spirits of an ancient race have gone to their quarries, for
arrowheads and spears, for the unseen battles with evil gods.

Voices in the night wind recall them, and they go out into the purple
mists, that come upon the face of the waters before the dawn.

Sometimes among the silences, comes the beautiful dream form of Naeta,
the Spirit of the Dunes, who was once an Indian maiden with laughing
eyes and raven hair. It was she who lured the soul of Taqua, a mighty
warrior, who first saw her in the silver moonlight among the pines, in a
far-off time, before the first legends of the people were told.

Love stole into their lives and brought with him a train of sorrows,
which, one by one, were laid upon aching hearts, until the burden became
too heavy to bear. A dark shadow fell upon the little wigwam, and the
world-old story of shattered faith, that sent two souls adrift, was told
by the two trails that led from the ashes before the door.

The heart of Taqua became black, and for many days and nights he sped
over sandy hills, and along rocky shores, with the deadly gleam of
revenge in his eyes, and the bitterness of hate in his breast.

Once he sat brooding by the shore of the great lake, and saw a fragment
of red flint, which the numberless waves had worn into the rude
resemblance of an arrow-head. He picked it out of the wet sand, and with
patient skill, he fashioned it to a cutting point. He fastened it into
a shaft of ironwood, which he feathered with the pinions of a hawk.

He then climbed to the top of a high promontory, and waited until he saw
his star come over the horizon, in the path of the young moon. It was at
this time that he could talk to Manabush, the hero god, who was the
intermediary between the Indian and his manitous.

When he was certain of the presence of Manabush, he held his red arrow
before him--told the story of his wrongs--and consecrated the arrow to
the heart of his enemy. When the dawn came, and Manabush was gone, he
placed the arrow in his quiver, and began his march upon the path of
vengeance.

Through weary years he followed it, finding upon it many cross trails,
and the footprints of those who had gone before, upon the same errand.
The path led him into strange places, and through numberless dark
defiles, into which the sunlight never came.

It led him through lonesome loveless years, that marked his brow with
wrinkled hate, and hardened the lines that are only curved by smiles.

Time finally bent the sinewy form, the springing strides became shorter,
and their vigor became less. The frosts and sorrows of many winters had
turned the dark locks white, when, at the end of one summer--just as the
first leaves began to fall--he once more journeyed to the high rock to
invoke the aid and counsel of the hero god.

His dimmed eyes once more sought the star, and when he saw its light, he
told Manabush the story of his fruitless quest. His tired limbs could no
longer keep the trail, and his weary arms could no longer bend the bow
to the arrow’s length.

Long he talked and meditated, and a voice seemed to come out of the
darkness. It was a voice of sweetness and mercy--a voice of love and
forgiveness--that told of the futility of hatred and revenge, which
would be lost in the gloom of the Great Beyond, when the earth should
know him no more.

A new light burst upon him. He became glorified with a new thought. He
resolved that he would no longer carry the red arrow in his quiver. He
would abandon the black and sinister trail which he had hoped to redden
with the blood of his enemy, and part with this evil thing that had
mastered him.

When the morning sun came over the hills, and bathed them in the
radiance of a new day, he straightened his bent figure, and resolutely
placed the red arrow in the bow. With a new strength, he drew the shaft
to its full length, and, with a loud twang, the red arrow sang in the
morning air.

His poor old eyes could follow it only a little way, but he saw it
strike the shining bark of a little tree. With a sad smile--the first of
many years--he saw the leaves of the little tree turn red.

He looked for the arrow in vain. It had gone on through the forest, and
at night he found that it had struck many trees, for their leaves were
also red. The next day he traveled on, and the scarlet leaves were ever
before his eyes.

At last, tired and footsore, he laid down and slept. There came to him
in his dreams the beautiful Naeta. She told him of a long journey
through the years; how she had wearily sought him, how she had patiently
followed the tangled threads of fate, hoping to find the end, where the
sun might shine, without bitterness, without hatred--with love and
repentance in her heart.

Her feet had faltered on her weary way, and many times she had grasped
the little trees to keep from falling.

He awoke and looked again into the forest. He saw that these little
trees were touched with gold.

He then closed his eyes in eternal sleep, and the Indian Summer had come
upon the land.

The red arrow and the repentant hand had transfigured the hills, and the
glory of the Divine was upon them.


THE END

[Illustration]





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