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Title: Sketches in Duneland
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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SKETCHES IN DUNELAND



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR_


  THE VOICES OF THE DUNES
  QUARTO BOARDS $6.00 NET

  ETCHING
  A PRACTICAL TREATISE
  CROWN QUARTO CLOTH $2.50 NET

  THE DUNE COUNTRY
  SQUARE OCTAVO CLOTH $3.00 NET

[Illustration: The Ancient]



  _Sketches in_
  DUNELAND

  _by_
  EARL H. REED

  _Author of_
  “The Voices of the Dunes”
  “Etching: A Practical Treatise”
  “The Dune Country”

  _Illustrated by the Author_

  NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY
  LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
  MCMXVIII


  COPYRIGHT, 1918
  BY JOHN LANE COMPANY


  THE·PLIMPTON·PRESS
  NORWOOD·MASS·U·S·A



  _To_
  THE MEMORY OF
  C. C. R.



INTRODUCTION


In the dune region that extends along the wild coasts of Lake Michigan,
and in the back country contiguous to it, is a land of allurement.

The strange human characters, whose little drift-wood shanties are
scattered along the shore, and among the sandhills, and whose isolated
retreats are further inland, are difficult to become acquainted with,
except in a most casual way. They look upon the chance wayfarer with
suspicion and disfavor.

Readers of “The Dune Country” will remember “Old Sipes,” “Happy Cal,”
and “Catfish John,” the old derelicts living along the beach, further
accounts of whose “doin’s” are in the following pages. As portraits of
these worthies have already appeared, they are omitted in this volume.
New characters are introduced, who, it is hoped, will be, as cordially
welcomed.

The region is of important historical interest. Narratives of early
exploration, and primitive Indian lore associated with it, have filled
many pages of American history. The Pottowattomies have gone, but the
romance of the vanished race still lingers among the silent hills.
While many poetic legends, of unknown antiquity, have survived the red
men, the Indian stories in these pages are entirely fanciful, except as
to environment.

The nature loving public will be fortunate if the organized efforts
succeed, which are being made to preserve the country of the
dunes as a national park. In compliance with a resolution of the
Senate, the Department of the Interior, through the able assistant
to the Secretary, Mr. Stephen T. Mather, has recently made an
exhaustive report on the subject, which is most favorable to the
project. Momentous events have, for the time being, eclipsed minor
considerations, and this, as well as many other measures for the public
good, must wait until the shadow of the Hun has passed.

It is only within the past few years that the picturesque quality of
the region has become known to lovers of American landscape, who are
now lured by its varied attractions.

The country is of immeasurable value to botanists, ornithologists, and
investigators in other fields of natural science.

The Audubon societies are taking a deep interest in its preservation.
Those of us for whom it is not necessary to slaughter songsters for
the decoration of our hats, and who believe that nature’s beautiful
feathered messengers should not be made to bleed and suffer for
thoughtless vanity, can sympathize with any movement that will
contribute to their welfare. As a refuge for migratory birds, the
proposed preserve would be invaluable. It is within the Mississippi
valley flight zone, and during the periods of migration the bird
life in the dune country is abundant, but unfortunately finds little
protection among the wooded hills.

The wild flowers also suffer from vandal hands. Many armfuls of them
are ruthlessly picked and carried away, preventing further propagation.
A human being is only partially emancipated from barbarism, who cannot
look upon a beautiful thing without wanting to pick it or kill it.
Primitive savagery would not be attracted by beauty at all. Partial
development of the love of beauty suggests its selfish acquirement,
while further enlightenment teaches us to cherish and preserve it.
The destruction of the wild flowers, and the use of bird plumage for
personal adornment, is modified barbarism. We cannot be fully civilized
until we are able to love these beautiful things in their natural
habitats, without temptation to injure them.

To the botanist, the country is a treasure house. Almost, if not all,
of the flora indigenous to the temperate zone, is found within its
borders.

The flowers have a kingdom in the dunes. From the secluded nooks and
fertile crevices, from among the shadows of the trees, and along the
margins of the marshes and little pools, their silent songs of color go
out over the landscapes. In no form is beauty so completely expressed,
and in no form is it so accessible to us.

The sketches in this volume are culled from the experiences and
reflections of many happy days that were spent in this mystic land. In
such a retreat we may find refuge from the town, from the nerve-racking
noise and stifling smoke, and from the artificialities and the social
illusions that becloud our daily lives.

  E. H. R.



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                         PAGE

  I. THE DREAM JEWEL                                                17

  II. A ROMANCE OF MT. TOM                                          25

  III. THE HERON’S POOL                                             41

  IV. THE STORY OF THE STREAM                                       51

  V. THE MOON IN THE MARSH                                          67

  VI. HOLY ZEKE                                                     75

  VII. THE LOVE AFFAIR OF HAPPY CAL AND ELVIREY SMETTERS           107

  VIII. THE RESURRECTION OF BILL SAUNDERS                          135

  IX. THE WINDING RIVER’S TREASURE                                 165

  X. THE PLUTOCRATS                                                223



ILLUSTRATIONS


  The “Ancient”                                         _Frontispiece_

  Mt. Tom                                          _Facing page_    24

  The Heron’s Pool                                                  40

  “Omemee”                                                          50

  The Moon in the Marsh                                             66

  “Holy Zeke”                                                       74

  Mrs. Elvirey Smetters                                            106

  Bill Saunders                                                    134

  The “Bogie House”                                                150

  “Na’cissus Jackson”                                              164

  The Requiem of the Leaves                                        204

  The Game Warden and his Deputy                                   222

  On the White Hills                                               236

  The Troopers of the Sky                                          270



I

THE DREAM JEWEL



I

THE DREAM JEWEL


The tribe of the sturgeon was speeding southward over the rock-strewn
floors of the inland sea. In the van of the swimming host its leader
bore a wondrous stone. From it multicolored beams flashed out through
the dim waters and into unsounded depths. Shapes, still and ghostly,
with waving fins and solemn orbs, stared at the passing glow and
vanished. Phantom-like forms faded quickly into dark recesses, and
frightened schools of small fish fled away over pale sandy expanses.
Clouds of fluttering gulls and terns followed the strange light that
gleamed below the waves. Migrating birds, high in the night skies,
wheeled with plaintive calls, for this new radiance was not of the
world of wings and fins.

The wonder stone was being carried out of the Northland. For ages
untold it had reposed in the heart of a stupendous glacier, that crept
over the region of the great lakes from the roof of the world--from
that vast frozen sea of desolation that is ghastly white and
endless--under the corona of the Northern Lights.

From a cavern deep in ice, its prismatic rays had illumined the crystal
labyrinths during the slow progress of the monster of the north,
grinding and scarring the earth in its path of devastation.

The radiance from the stone was ineffable. Such color may have swept
into the heavens on the world’s first morning, when the Spirit moved
over the face of the waters, or have trembled in the halo at the
Creation, when cosmos was evolved out of elemental fires.

It glowed in the awful stillness of its prison, untouched by the
primeval storms that raged before the mammoths trod the earth, and
before men of the stone age had learned the use of fire.

Many centuries after the greater part of the gigantic ice sheet had
yielded to balmy airs, its frowning ramparts lingered along the wild
shores of the north. The white silence was broken by reverberations
from crumbling masses that crashed down the steeps into the billows
that broke against the barrier. In one of the pieces the stone was
borne away. The luminous lump drifted with the winds. It was nuzzled
by curious rovers of the blue waters that rubbed gently along its
sides and basked in the refulgence. With the final dissolution of the
fragment, the stone was released.

In quest of new feeding grounds, the sturgeon had explored these frigid
depths, and, after privation and fruitless wanderings, had gathered for
the long retreat to a warmer clime. Their leader beheld the blazing gem
falling, like a meteor, before him. With fateful instinct he seized
it and moved grimly on. The gray horde saw the light from afar and
streamed after it, as warriors might have followed the banner of a hero.

Through many miles of dark solitudes the bearer of the stone led his
adventurous array. Swiftly moving fins took the sturgeon to waters
where nature had been more merciful.

The roaring surf lines of the southern shore washed vast flat stretches
of sand that were bleak and sterile, for no living green relieved the
monotonous wilds.

A few Indians had been driven by warfare into this dreary land.
Their wigwams were scattered along the coast, where they eked out a
precarious existence from the spoil of the waters.

When the sturgeon came their lives were quickened with new energy.
With their bark canoes and stone spears they found many victims among
the tired fish. A wrinkled prophet, who had communed with the gods of
his people, in a dream, had foretold the sending of a luminous stone,
by a sturgeon, that would mark the beginning of an era of prosperity
and happiness for his tribe. There was rejoicing when the lustre was
seen among the waves. In the belief that the promised gift of the
manitous had come, and the prophecy was fulfilled, the big fish was
pursued with eagerness and finally captured. The long-awaited prize was
carried in triumph to the lodge of the chief. The red men gathered in
solemn council, and honors were heaped upon the aged seer whose vision
had become true. After long deliberation, Flying Fawn, the loveliest
maiden of the tribe, was appointed keeper of the stone. The lithe and
beautiful barbarian child of nature clasped it to her budding breast,
and departed into the wastes. With an invocation to her gods for its
protection, she hid their precious gift far beyond the reach of prying
eyes.

The winds carried myriads of flying grains to the chosen spot. They
came in thin veils and little spirals over the barrens, and gathered,
with many sweeps and swirls, into the mound that rose over the resting
place of the stone. The army of the silent sands had become its
guardian, for nevermore was its hiding place known.

The winds and the years sculptured the shifting masses into strange and
bewildering forms. Trees, grasses, and flowers grew, and the hilltops
were crowned with perennial garlands. The green sanctuaries were filled
with melody. The forests teemed with game and the red men were in a
land of plenty.

The Country of the Dunes had come into being. Somewhere deep in its
bosom shines the Dream Jewel. Like “The Great Carbuncle,” its fervid
splendor beams from a fount unknown. Its iridescence flashes from the
distant dunes at sunset. It is in the twilight afterglows, on the
sapphire waters of the lake on summer days, and in the fairylands that
are pictured in the pools. It glorifies dull winter landscapes with
skies of infinite hues, and glances from twisted trunks of ancient
pines on hills that defy the storms. It pulsates in star reflections
that haunt the margins of wet sands, and where crescent moons touch
the waves that toss on night horizons. Its tinge is in the tender
leaves and petals of the springtime, and in the flush of autumn’s
robes. We see its elusive tints through vistas in the dusk, and in the
purple mystery that fills the shadowy places, for the Dream Jewel is
Beauty, and they who know not its holy light must walk in darkness.



II

A ROMANCE OF MT. TOM

[Illustration: “MT. TOM”

  (_From the Author’s Etching_)]



II

A ROMANCE OF MT. TOM


Before strangers came into the land, bringing with them a prosaic
nomenclature, there was no Mt. Tom. When the early white explorers
crossed the southern end of Lake Michigan in their frail canoes, they
saw, from far out on the water, dim irregular filaments of yellow that
stretched along the horizon. There was a bold accent in the far-flung
line of distant coast, an ancient landmark of a primitive race. The
noble promontory that lifted its royal brow from among the contours of
the sand hills--the monarch of the range--was called Wud-ju-na-gow, or
Sand Mountain, by the red men.

Its top was the highest point along the great sweep of shore that
bordered the country of the dunes. In past centuries its sand had been
slowly piled by the shifting winds. Eventually the sand grasses rooted
themselves, and, in succeeding years, the trees grew. Wud-ju-na-gow
became a “fixed dune,” no longer subject to the caprices of the winds.

The slopes were robed with vegetation. Stately pines, spruces, and
cedars flourished among the dense forest growth that reached almost to
the summit. Here the trees were smaller, and bare patches of yellow
were visible against the sky-line, from which wispy wreaths of sand
would spiral up in the air currents on windy days.

In the autumn the groups of green conifers made dark accents in the
expanse of red and gold that draped Wud-ju-na-gow’s massive form.
Flowers grew lavishly along the steep slopes. The wild life sought
refuge in the impassable thickets and tall timber. Hawks and eagles
soared above the woods with watchful eyes and dropped down into them
for furtive prey. Hordes of noisy crows circled over the tree-tops
and around the wind-swept summit. Wolves and other marauders crept
stealthily through the undergrowth at night. Startled deer leaped
from quiet hiding places and fled from suspicious sounds and odors.
Partridges thrived in the patches of brush and tangled grape-vines, in
spite of many enemies. Beady eyes peered out from under fallen trunks.
The hunters and the hunted followed their destinies among the shadows.

A Pottawattomie village had flourished for many years on a low ridge
back of the hills, near Wud-ju-na-gow. Just below the village a small
creek, fed by springs, wound through the open woods and reached the
lake through a deep ravine. The high hills protected the lodges from
the north winds and violent storms from the lake. About sixty bark
wigwams were strung along the ridge.

The young men hunted through the hills and usually had no difficulty in
keeping the village supplied with meat. They carried their birch-bark
canoes through the ravine to the lake and varied the food supplies
with sturgeon and other fish. In times of plenty the game and fish not
needed for immediate use were smoked and stored for winter consumption.
Small patches of corn were scattered through the fertile open spaces
away from the creek. The women gossiped over their domestic concerns,
the men loitered along the hillside, and the little community lived in
peace, with no troubles but those that nature has laid upon all her
children. In their uncivilized state they were spared the miseries of
temperament, and the refined tortures, as well as the joys, of more
highly developed mentality. Their primitive needs were provided for.
Food was abundant and the red men were contented--if there be real
contentment in the world.

After a long period of prosperity there came a summer of drought.
Pitiless heat and breathless skies shrivelled the leaves, dried up the
streams and ponds, and brought suffering to the live things. In the
autumn the parched land had yielded up its vibrant life. Instead of the
mellow golds and crimsons, there were grays and neutral browns. The
voices of the forest were hushed. The fall flowers did not come. The
willows and tall grasses drooped in sorrow, for a blight had come upon
the land. Day after day the blood-red sun went below the sharp rim of
the horizon without promise to the faded hills.

Smoke appeared far in the southwest and a black pall crept into the
sky overhead. Before many hours there was a vague unrest in the woods.
There were strange noises among the withered trees and dried marshes.
The wild life was fleeing eastward. At night a baleful glare tinged the
crests of the dunes and reflected from swiftly moving wings above them.

With the coming of the wind stifling smoke crept through the woods.
Soon the crackling lines of flame came, writhing and roaring through
the dry timber. There were muffled cries from tiny furred fugitives
in the matted grasses in the low places. Noble landscapes were being
scourged by demons. Nature’s cool cloisters and her dream cathedrals
were on fire.

There is a heart-felt grief that comes with the burning of the trees.
The sacrilege of their destruction touches us more deeply if we have
lived among them, and learned that with them have been builded the real
kingdoms of the earth. In them we may find reflection of all human
emotion, and for the subtly attuned soul, they have emotion of their
own.

The terrified dwellers along the creek fled to the beach, and, with
awe-stricken faces watched the march of the flames through the country.
They saw the flashes from the cedars, pines, and spruces shoot high
into clouds of smoke and flying sparks, and heard the crackling of
countless trunks and branches that quivered in torment on the blazing
hills.

By some fortuitous chance--perhaps a temporary veering of the air
currents--the ravine, through which the little creek found its way,
was spared. A portion of the timber on the slopes of Wud-ju-na-gow
was also untouched, but everywhere else was desolation. The blackened
and smouldering expanse carried dismay into the hearts of the
horror-stricken groups huddled near the mouth of the stream. Most of
their primitive belongings had been rescued, but their future looked as
dark as the grim landscapes around them.

It was late in the season. The fishing in the lake had been unusually
poor, and there was no living thing among the forest ruins that could
be used for food. The stores that had been saved would last but a short
time and there was an appalling fear of famine.

Many anxious hours were spent in deliberation. Believing that
Omnipotent wrath had destroyed everything except the sands and the
waters of the lake, the bewildered Indians saw no ray of hope. The
calamity had fallen with crushing force. The vengeance of evil gods
was upon them. Their few frail canoes could not carry all of them on
the lake. The range of smoking hills that swept away along the curving
beach-lines seemed to offer no path of refuge.

Young Wa-be-no-je had listened intently to all of the discussions, and
had pondered deeply over the desperate straits of his people. He bore
the Indian name of the white marsh hawk. He was nearly nineteen. His
proud father, a shrewd old hunter and trapper, had taught him the craft
and lore of the woods. He sat near little Taheta, the playmate of his
childhood. With ripening years love had come into their lives. Before
the great fire they had begun to talk of a wigwam of their own, but now
that dark hours had come they knew that they would have to wait.

Wa-be-no-je rose from a log on which they had been sitting, near a
group of the older men, stepped forward and volunteered to follow
the fire and find the game. With care the scant supply of food would
be sufficient to support his companions for two moons. If he did not
return by the end of that time they would understand that his quest had
failed.

A few simple preparations were made for his journey. With forebodings
in her heart, with love light shining through her tears, little Taheta
saw him depart into the charred wastes on his errand of salvation.
No mailed knight ever rode out upon the path to glory with brighter
eyes upon him than those that glowed under the long lashes of the
Pottawattomie maiden, as she gazed longingly after him from the edge of
the ravine. She watched his lithe, sinewy figure as he bravely strode
away and faded into the distance. She went back in sorrow and began
with the others to endure patiently the long wait and suspense which
they knew was inevitable before the hunter’s return.

It was agreed that every night at sundown a fire should be built on
the lofty top of Wud-ju-na-gow, and kept burning until dawn, during
Wa-be-no-je’s absence. If he was where he could see this light, he
would know that his people were still in the ravine, and in the
darkness it would take the place of burned landmarks to guide him on
his return journey. Ten members of the little band, including Taheta,
were to perform this duty, and each night one of them climbed the
zigzag trail to the sandy top, kindled the beacon fire, watched and
replenished it until sunrise, and returned.

From miles away the young hunter could see the tiny light against the
sky. When its glow was very bright he knew that one he loved was
near it. He tramped on through the ashes and débris for many days.
At night he climbed to some high spot and slept. One afternoon he
reached a sandy stretch where the trees were scattered and there were
few grasses. The wind had evidently lulled when the fire reached this
area for the burnt places ended. He began to find the game trails
leading from them, which he followed for several days. The signs became
fresher, and one morning his eyes were gladdened by the sight of deer
and buffalo peacefully grazing beyond a small river that he had never
seen before.

Fearing that the animals might move on and be beyond reach before he
could return and obtain help, he decided to kill as many as possible
and preserve and hide the meat. Its transportation would then be a
comparatively simple matter, and he was sure that he could secure
enough for the winter’s supply.

He set cautiously to work. The noiseless arrows brought down one of
the buffalo and a deer the first day. He killed no more until this
meat was cut into little strips, strung on many switches, smoked over
fires of dried leaves and dead wood, and thoroughly dried in the sun.
He enlarged a small cave under some rocks by digging away the sand. He
made a floor of dead leaves inside on which to pile his stores, and
carefully walled up the opening with stones to protect the precious
contents from the wolves and other prowlers. The game was gradually
moving away, but before it disappeared the cave was well filled and
there was more than enough to last his people for a year.

The long dry period was now broken by a heavy rain storm which
lasted for several days. The arid earth drank of the falling waters;
the blackness and ruin upon the land were washed as with tears of
atonement. The streams again flowed and the pools and marshes that give
life and joy to the wild things were filled.

When the skies cleared Wa-be-no-je piled more rocks over the entrance
to the cave and started homeward with a light heart. Weary miles were
traversed before he could see the faint light on the horizon against
the sky at night. During two nights he heard wolves howling in the
distance, and the next night they were much closer. They gradually
closed in toward him and he knew that danger had come. He had but two
good arrows. The others were lost or broken. He came to a small stream
and waded it for a mile or so to throw his hungry followers off his
trail, but they soon found it again. Yellow eyeballs reflected his
firelight while he slept. Once he loosed one of the precious arrows to
save his life. The pack immediately fell upon their wounded comrade and
devoured him. Their hunger was only partially appeased and they kept
close to Wa-be-no-je until the following evening. He knew that unless
he could find some means of shaking them off he would never see Taheta
or his people again. He decided to attempt to pick his way through the
end of a wide marsh, believing that his pursuers would not follow him
into the water. If he could get safely across, he would be able to
elude them.

The swamp was full of quaking bogs, and near the middle the water
was quite deep. His progress was impeded by the soft mud and decayed
vegetation on the bottom, and the further he went the chances became
more desperate. One foot sank suddenly in the soft ooze and then the
other. He could neither retreat nor go ahead. He had reached a mass of
quicksand, and with every attempt to extricate himself he sank a little
lower. He clutched the ends of a few sodden grasses and held them for
some time, but the stagnant murky waters slowly closed over him and he
was gone.

The baffled wolves howled along the margins of the marsh for a while
but soon disappeared, like all enemies whose quarry has met finality.
The little fire on the horizon flared up brightly, as though fresh
sticks had been piled upon it, and gleamed through the darkness
brighter than ever before. It faded away in the gray of the morning and
its watcher followed the steep trail down the side of Wud-ju-na-gow to
rest.

Wa-be-no-je’s silent departure from the world left hardly a ripple
in the marsh. It is human to cherish the hope, or fondly believe,
that some store of gold, or grandeur of achievement--some sculptured
monument, or service to mankind--will stand at our place of exit and
be eloquent while the ages last, but the Waters of Oblivion hide
well their secrets. Beneath them are neither pride nor vanity. The
primordial slime from which we came reclaims without pomp or jewelled
vesture, and if there be a Great Beyond, poor Wa-be-no-je may reach
it from the quicksand as safely as he who becomes dust within marble
walls.

The early snows came and the nightly fires on Wud-ju-na-gow still
glowed. Only one guardian sat beside them, for Wa-be-no-je’s people
now believed that he would never return. Hope still abided in Taheta’s
loyal heart, and night after night she climbed the shelving steeps and
built her fire. One cold, stormy night she sat huddled in her blanket
and listened to the north wind. The snow swirled around her and toward
morning the light was gone. The next day they found the rigid little
form in the blanket and buried it below the ashes of her fire.

Today the Fireweed, that ever haunts the burnt places, lifts its
slender stalk above the spot, and it may be that the soul of faithful
Taheta lurks among the tender pink blossoms--a halo that may be seen
from the dark waters of the distant marsh.



III

THE HERON’S POOL

[Illustration: THE HERON’S POOL

  (_From the Author’s Etching_)]



III

THE HERON’S POOL


The pool was far back from the big marshes through which the lazy
current of the river wound. It was in one of those secluded nooks
that the seeping water finds for itself when it would hide in secret
retreats and form a little world of its own. It was bordered by slushy
grasses and small willows; its waters spread silently among the
bulrushes, lily pads and thick brush tangles. A few ghostly sycamores
and poplars protruded above the undergrowth, and the intricate network
of wild grape-vines concealed broken stumps that were mantled with
moss. The placid pool was seldom ruffled, for the dense vegetation
protected it from the winds. Wandering clouds were mirrored in its
limpid depths. Water-snakes made silvery trails across it. Sinister
shadows of hawks’ wings sometimes swept by, and often the splash of a
frog sent little rings out over the surface. Opalescent dragon-flies
hovered among the weeds and small turtles basked in the sun-light along
the margins.

The Voices of the Little Things were in this abode of tranquillity--the
gentle sounds that fill nature’s sanctuaries with soft music. There
were contented songs of feathered visitors, distant cries of crows
beyond the tree-tops, faint echoes of a cardinal, rejoicing in the deep
woods, and the drowsy hum of insects--the myriad little tribes that
sing in the unseen aisles of the grasses.

One spring a gray old heron winged his way slowly over the pool, and,
after a few uncertain turns over the trees, wearily settled among
the rushes. After stalking about in the labyrinth of weeds along the
shallow edges for some time, he took his station on a dead branch that
protruded from the water near the shore, and solemnly contemplated his
surroundings.

His plumage was tattered, and he bore the record of the years he
had spent on the marshy wastes along the river. His eye had lost
its lustre, and the delicate blue that had adorned the wings of his
youth had faded to a pale ashen gray. The tired pinions were slightly
frayed--the wings hung rather loosely in repose, and the lanky legs
carried scars and crusty gray scales that told of vicissitudes in
the battle for existence. He looked long and curiously at a round
white object on the bottom near his low perch. The round object had a
history, but its story did not come within the sphere of the heron’s
interests, and he returned to his meditations on the gnarled limb.
He may have dreamed of far-off shores and happy homes in distant
tree-tops. A memory of a mate that flew devotedly by his side, but
could not go all the way, may have abided with him. The peace of
windless waters brooded in this quiet haven. It was a refuge from
the storms and antagonisms of the outer world, its store of food was
abundant, and in it he was content to pass his remaining days.

When night came his still figure melted into the darkness. A fallen
luna moth, whose wet wings might faintly reflect the starlight, would
sometimes tempt him, and he would listen languidly to the lonely cries
of an owl that lived in one of the sycamores. The periodic visits of
coons and foxes, that prowled stealthily in the deep shadows, and
craftily searched the wet grasses for small prey, did not disturb him.
They well knew the power of the gray old warrior’s cruel bill. All his
dangerous enemies were far away. The will-o’-the-wisps that spookily
and fitfully hovered along the tops of the rushes, and the erratic
flights of the fire-flies, did not mar his serenity. He was spending
his old age in comfort and repose.

There is a certain air, or quality, about certain spots which is
indefinable. An elusive and intangible impression, an idea, or a
story, may become inseparably associated with a particular place.
With a recurrence of the thought, or the memory of the story
there always comes the involuntary mental picture of the physical
environment with which it is interwoven. This association of thought
and place is in most cases entirely individual, and is often a subtle
sub-consciousness--more of a relationship of the soul, than the mind,
to such an environment. Something in or near some particular spot that
imparts a peculiar and distinctive character to it, or inspires some
dominant thought or emotion, constitutes the “genius” of that place.
The Genius of the Place may be a legend, an unwritten romance, a
memory of some event, an imaginary apparition, an unaccountable sound,
the presence of certain flowers or odors, a deformed tree, a strange
inhabitant, or any thought or thing that would always bring it to the
mind.

When the heron came to the pool the Genius of the Place was old Topago,
a chief of the Pottawattomies. A great many years ago he lived in a
little hut, rudely built of logs and elm bark, on an open space a few
hundred feet from the pool. The fortunes of his tribe had steadily
declined, and their sun was setting. After the coming of the white
man, war and sickness had decimated his people. The wild game began to
disappear and hunger stalked among the little villages. The old chief
brooded constantly over the sorrows of his race. As the years rolled
on his melancholy deepened. He sought isolation in the deep woods and
built his lonely dwelling near the pool to pass his last years in
solitude. His was the anguish of heart that comes when hope has fled.
Occasionally one of the few faithful followers who were left would come
to the little cabin and leave supplies of corn and dried meat, but
beyond this he had no visitors. His contact with his tribe had ceased.

One stormy night, when the north wind howled around the frail abode,
and the spirits of the cold were sighing in the trunks of the big
trees, the aged Indian sat over his small fire and held his medicine
bag in his shrivelled hands. Its potent charm had carried him safely
through many perils, and he now asked of it the redemption of his
people. That night the wind ceased and he felt the presence of his good
manitous in the darkness. They told him that the magic of his medicine
was still strong. If he would watch the reflections in the pool, there
would sometime appear among them the form of a crescent moon that would
foretell a great change in the fortunes of his race, but he must see
the reflection with his own eyes.

In the spring, as soon as the ice had melted, he began his nightly
vigils at the foot of an ancient pine that overhung the water. Through
weary years he gazed with dimmed eyes upon the infinite and inscrutable
lights that gleamed and trembled in the pool. Many times he saw the
new moon shine in the twilights of the west, and saw the old crescent
near the horizon before the dawn, but no crescent was ever reflected
from the zenith into the still depths below. Only the larger moons
rode into the night skies above him. His aching heart fought with
despair and distrust of his tribal gods. The wrinkles deepened on his
wan face. The cold nights of spring and fall bent the decrepit figure
and whitened the withered locks. Time dealt harshly with the faithful
watcher, nobly guarding his sacred trust.

One spring a few tattered shreds of a blanket clung to the rough roots.
Heavy snow masses around the pine had slipped into the pool sometime
during the winter, and carried with them a helpless burden. The melting
ice had let it into the sombre depths below. The birds sang as before,
the leaves came and went, and Mother Nature continued her eternal
rhythm.

During a March gale the ancient pine tottered and fell across the
open water. In the grim procession of the years it became sodden and
gradually settled into the oozy bottom. Only the gnarled and decayed
branch--the perch of the old heron--remained above the surface.

One night in early fall, when there was a tinge of frost in the air,
and the messages of the dying year were fluttering down to the water
from the overhanging trees, the full moon shone resplendent directly
above the pool. The old heron turned his tapering head up toward it for
a moment, plumed his straggling feathers for a while, nonchalantly
gazed at the white skull that caught the moon’s light below the water
near his perch, and relapsed into immobility. A rim of darkness crept
over the edge of the moon, and the earth’s shadow began to steal slowly
across the silver disk. The soft beams that glowed on the trees and
grasses became dimmed and they retreated into the shadows. The darkened
orb was almost eclipsed. Only a portion of it was left, but far down in
the chill mystery of the depths of the pool, among countless stars, was
reflected a crescent moon.

The magic of Topago’s medicine was still potent. The hour for the
redemption of the red man had come, but he was no more. The mantle
of the Genius of the Place had fallen upon the old heron. He was the
keeper of the secret of his pool.



IV

THE STORY OF THE STREAM

[Illustration: “Omemee”]



IV

THE STORY OF THE STREAM


The bistre-colored waters of French Creek seep sluggishly out of the
ancient peat beds far away in the country back of the dunes. Countless
tiny rivulets of transparent golden brown creep through the low land
among the underbrush and mingle with the gentle current that whispers
in the deep grasses, ripples against decayed branches and fallen
trunks, hides under masses of gnarled roots and projecting banks,
and enters the long sinuous ravine that winds through the woods and
sand-hills. The ravine ends abruptly at the broad shore of the lake.
The stream spreads out over the beach and tints the incoming surf with
wondrous hues.

In the daytime occasional gleams of light from the gliding water can be
seen through the small openings in the labyrinths of undergrowth and
between the tall tree trunks that crowd the shadowy defile. At night
there are tremulous reflections of the moon among the thick foliage.
Strange ghostly beams touch the boles of the solemn pines and sycamores
and filter into the sombre recesses.

The dramas of human life leave romance behind them. Its halo hovers
over these darkened woods, for it was here that the beautiful Indian
girl, Omemee, was brought by her dusky Pottawattomie lover, in the moon
of falling leaves, and it was here that the threads of their fate were
woven nearly a hundred years ago.

Red Owl first saw her among the wild blackberry bushes near the village
of her people. She had responded to his entreaties with shy glances,
and after many visits and much negotiation, her father, a wrinkled old
chief, had consented to their union. Omemee’s savage charms had brought
many suitors to her father’s wigwam. Her graceful willowy figure, long
raven hair, musical voice, dark luminous eyes and gentle ways had made
her a favorite of her village. She was called the dove in the language
of her tribe. There was sorrow when she went away.

Red Owl’s prowess as a hunter, his skill in the rude athletic sports
of the village, displayed on his frequent visits during the wooing,
had won the admiration of the old warrior. Among the many bundles
of valuable pelts that were borne along the Great Sauk Trail to
the traders’ posts, the largest were usually those of Red Owl. The
fire-water of the white man did not lure him to disaster as it did many
of his red brothers. He always transacted his business quickly and
returned from the posts with the ammunition, traps and other supplies
for which he had exchanged his furs.

For a year he quietly accumulated a secret hoard of selected skins,
which he laid before the door of the fond father as the marriage
offering. The lovers disappeared on the trail that was to lead them to
their home. For five days they travelled through the dunes and primeval
forests. They came down the trail that crossed French Creek, climbed
out of the ravine, and entered the village of Red Owl’s people. The
wigwams were scattered along the stretch of higher ground among the
trees. Omemee was cordially welcomed and soon grew accustomed to her
new environment.

For many years the young men of the tribe had trapped muskrats, beaver
and mink along the creek and in the swamps beyond its headwaters.
Small furred animals were abundant for many miles around, and, during
the fur season, the trappers were dispersed over a wide extent of
territory.

When “Peg Leg” Carr came into the dune country the only human trails he
found were those of the red men. He came alone and built a cabin on the
creek not far from the Indian Village. Peg Leg may have still cherished
a secret longing for human society which he was not willing to admit,
even to himself. He had abandoned his last habitat for the ostensible
reason that “thar was too many people ’round.” He came from about a
hundred miles back on the Sauk Trail. After a family disagreement he
had left his wife and two sons to their own devices in the wilderness,
and was not heard of for nearly ten years. He suddenly appeared one
morning, stumping along the trail, with his left knee fitted to the
top of a hickory support. The lower part of the leg was gone, and he
explained its absence by declaring that it had been “bit off.” The
time-worn pleasantry seemed to amuse him, and no amount of coaxing
would elicit further details. There was a deep ugly scar in the left
side of his neck. His vocal chords had been injured and he could talk
only in hoarse whispers. He said that his throat had been “gouged out.”
Somebody or something had nearly wrecked Peg Leg physically, but the
story, whatever it was, remained locked in his bosom. He admitted that
he had “been to sea,” but beyond that no facts were obtainable.

After a brief sojourn at his old home he shouldered his pack and
started west. When he arrived at French Creek he spent several days in
looking the country over before deciding on the location of his cabin.
He was a good-natured old fellow and the Indians did not particularly
resent his intrusion, even when he began to set a line of traps along
the creek. The small animals were so numerous that one trapper more
or less made little difference, and he got on very well with his red
neighbors. They rather pitied his infirmities and were disposed to make
allowances. He was over seventy and apparently harmless.

When the old man had accumulated a small stock of pelts it was his
custom to carry them to a trading post located about forty miles
back on the trail and exchange them for supplies for his simple
housekeeping and other necessities. These trips often consumed ten
days, as his loads were heavy and he was compelled to travel slowly. On
his return, when he came to the rude log bridge over which the trail
crossed the creek in the ravine, he would sometimes wearily lay his
pack down and pound on the timbers with his hickory stump as a signal
to those above. He was unable to reach them with his impaired voice.
Somebody in the wigwams usually heard him and came down to help the
exhausted old trapper carry his burden up the steep incline. After
resting awhile he would trudge on to his cabin.

A few years after the advent of Peg Leg a troop of soldiers arrived and
built a fort. For strategic reasons the commander of the government
post at Detroit decided to keep a small garrison at the end of the
lake. A spot was cleared on the bluff and two small brass cannon were
mounted in the block-house inside the log stockade. The tops of the
surrounding trees were cut away so that the guns would command the
trail from where it entered the north side of the ravine to the point
at which it disappeared around a low hill south of the fort.

The French Creek Trail was a branch of the Great Sauk Trail, which
was the main thoroughfare from the Detroit post to the mouth of
Chicago river. It was joined near the headwaters of the St. Joseph
and Kankakee rivers, in what is now northeastern Indiana, by another
trail that followed the north banks of the Kankakee from the Illinois
country. The sinuous routes had been used from time immemorable. They
were the established highways of the red men and the arteries of
their simple commerce. Thousands of moccasined feet traversed them on
peaceful errands, and grim war parties sometimes moved swiftly along
the numberless forest paths that connected with the main trails. There
was a net-work of these all through the Indian country. Trees twisted
and bent in a peculiar way, which we now often see in the woods,
were landmarks left by the makers of various small trails that were
travelled infrequently.

Soon after the fort was built at French Creek, Pierre Chenault came
and established a trading post near the village. He was followed by a
number of settlers who built log houses along the edge of the bluff.
The red man’s fatherland was invaded. The civilization of the white
man--or the lack of it--had come, with its attending evils of strong
waters and organized rapacity. The waves of an alien race, with strange
tongues and new weapons of steel, had broken over him. His means of
subsistence dwindled. His heritage was passing to the sway of the
despoiler.

The Indians loitered around Pierre Chenault’s trading post, bartered
their few valuables for fire-water, and neglected the pursuits that had
made them happy and prosperous. Chenault was a half-breed. His father
belonged to that hardy race of French-Canadian voyageurs who had broken
the paths of the wilderness in the north country, and penetrated the
fastnesses of the territory of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. His
mother was an Ojibwa on the south shore of Lake Superior. He was about
forty, with a lean and hardened frame. His straight black hair was
beginning to be streaked with gray, and fell to his shoulders. Piercing
eyes looked out from under the heavy brows with an expression of low
cunning, and his face carried the stamp of villainy. He was a mongrel,
and in his case the mixture was a failure. He inherited the evil traits
of both races and none of the virtues of either.

The creek was now practically abandoned as a trapping ground by the
Indians. With the exception of Red Owl and Peg Leg, who divided the
few miles of the stream, the trappers had sought other regions that
were less disturbed. The dwellers in the wigwams contemplated a general
removal to a more congenial habitat. Their neighbors were getting too
numerous for comfort, and their ways of life were meeting with too much
interference. They did not object to Peg Leg, but he was all of their
white brothers that they felt they needed.

As the fur grew scarcer Red Owl rather resented the rivalry of the
old man’s interests, and occasionally appropriated an otter or mink,
when he passed Peg Leg’s traps, and had found nothing in his own. He
probably lulled his conscience with the idea that the animals naturally
belonged to the Indians, and that Peg Leg’s privileges were a form of
charity that need not be extended to the point of his own self-denial.

Many times the half-breed had looked longingly on the quiet-eyed
Omemee when she came to his post. He coveted Red Owl’s savage jewel.
Wickedness fermented in his depraved mind, but he was too wise to make
advances. He knew of Red Owl’s surreptitious visits to Peg Leg’s traps
and laid his plans with far-seeing craft. One still February morning he
saw him go into the ravine and start up the creek on the ice. He seized
his rifle and crept through the thick timber and undergrowth, away from
the creek, paralleling the course taken by the unsuspecting Indian.
After going a mile or so Red Owl stopped near the projecting roots of
a large elm. One of Peg Leg’s traps was there and his rival was soon
engaged in killing and extracting a mink from the steel jaws of the
trap. The half-breed stole up to within a hundred yards. A report rang
in the crisp air and a bullet crashed into the back of the Indian’s
head. The murderer left no trail near the frozen creek. He made a wide
detour, returned to his post, after hiding his rifle in the snow, and
awaited results.

A couple of hours later Peg Leg hobbled along the white water course to
inspect his traps. He followed Red Owl’s trail and came upon the still
form lying in the blood-stained snow on the ice. He speculated for some
time over the mystery and went to the settlement to report what he had
found.

The broken-hearted Omemee went with those who departed for the scene
of the tragedy. No trail was visible except those of Red Owl and Peg
Leg. The old man’s tracks were easily recognized. His denial of any
guilty knowledge of the killing was met by silence and dark looks.
Circumstantial evidence was against him. The motive was obvious and
the story was on the snow. The partial justice of the retribution that
had mysteriously fallen upon the thief did not lessen the innocent old
trapper’s sorrow and fear, for he knew that justice, age, or infirmity
would be no bar to Indian revenge. He would never have killed Red Owl
for interfering with his traps. A high wind and a snow storm came up in
the afternoon that effectually baffled any further investigation. The
despondent old man kept the seclusion of his cabin and brooded over his
trouble for several weeks.

Red Owl was laid away after the customs of his people. Omemee departed
into the wilderness to mourn for her dead. After many days she returned
with the light in her eyes that gleams from those of the she-panther
when her young have been killed before her--a light that an enemy sees
but once.

In the spring Peg Leg left with his pack of winter pelts. He had once
been cheated by Chenault and preferred to do his trading where he had
gone before the half-breed came. His journey consumed nearly two weeks.
One evening at dusk he laboriously picked his way down the steep path
into the ravine, laid his load of supplies on the rude bridge, and then
signalled for help by pounding the bridge timbers with his hickory
stump. He was worn out and could not carry his burden up the steep
incline alone.

Like a snake from its covert, a beautiful wild thing darted from the
deep shadows of the pines. The moccasined feet made no sound on the
logs. There was a gleam of steel, a lightning-like movement, and Omemee
glided on out of the ravine into the gathering gloom. The silence was
broken by a heavy splash below the side of the bridge, and when they
found poor old Peg Leg the hilt of a knife protruded from between his
shoulders.

There was a hidden observer of the tragedy. Pierre Chenault had watched
long and anxiously for the stroke of Omemee’s revenge. The white man’s
law now gave him a coveted advantage. He broke cover and pursued the
fast retreating figure. He would offer to conduct her to a place of
safety, protect her and declare his love.

Omemee ran with the speed of a deer in the direction of the home of
her childhood. She fled out over the dunes to the shore of the lake.
For miles along the wild wave-washed coast the two dim figures sped in
the darkness. Omemee finally dropped from exhaustion. The half-breed
carried her in his arms to the foot of the bluff where he built a small
fire behind a mass of drift-wood, and sat beside her until the gray of
the morning came over the sand-hills. They were now about twelve miles
from the settlement. They walked along the beach together for several
hours and turned into the dunes.

After the April rains tender leaves unfolded in the trees around the
bark wigwam where Omemee was born. The old chief had died two years
before, but a faint wreath of smoke ascended softly to the overhanging
branches. Fastened above the door was a grisly and uncanny thing that
moved fitfully to and fro when the winds blew from the lake. It was the
scalp of Pierre Chenault.

With the failure to obtain a government appropriation for a harbor at
City West, the name of the new settlement, the embryo town vanished
utterly and became a dream of the past. Its ambitions and crushed
hopes are entombed in obscure history. No vestiges of its buildings
remain. There are traces of a crude mill race near the place where the
now obliterated trail crossed the creek. Around the site of the old
fort the trees, whose tops were cut away to clear the range for the
six-pounders, have covered their wounds with new limbs that have grown
from the mutilated trunks.

Near the roots of a gnarled oak at a bend in the stream Peg Leg’s dust
has mingled with the black loam, where his spirit may be lulled by the
passing waters. When we seem to hear the tapping of the woodpecker on
a hidden hollow tree in the depths of the dark ravine, it may be the
echoes through the mists of the years of the strokes of the poor old
trapper on the timbers of the bridge.

The red man has gone. The currents of human passion that rose and fell
along the banks of the little stream have passed into silence. The
bistre-colored waters still flow out on the wide expanse of sand and
spread their web of romance in the moon-light.



V

THE MOON IN THE MARSH

[Illustration: THE MOON IN THE MARSH

  (_From the Author’s Etching_)]



V

THE MOON IN THE MARSH


There is a hazy mist on the horizon where the red rim of the October
sun left the sky-line. The twilight of Indian Summer is stealing over
the marsh. There is a hush of vibrant voices and a muffled movement of
tiny life in the darkened places. Sorrow rests upon the world, for the
time of the requiem of the leaves has come. The red arrows are abroad;
a flush of crimson is creeping through the forest. An elusive fragrance
of fruition is in the air, and a drowsy languor droops the stems and
branches.

Royal robes rustle faintly on the hills and in the shadows of the
woods. From among the living trees a mighty presence has vanished. A
queen who came in green has departed as a nun in gray, and the color
fairies have entered the bereaved realm with offerings of red and gold.

A vague unrest troubles the trembling aspens and the little sassafras
trees that flock like timid children beyond the sturdy sycamores. The
gnarled oaks mutely await the winds of winter on their castanets of
cold dead leaves--music of our Mother Earth to which we all must listen
until our slumber hour comes.

Through darkening masses of tangled thickets, and over bogs concealed
by matted grasses, some soggy and decayed logs, covered with moss and
slime, lead out over the wet margin of the tarn to the edge of the
clear water. A startled bittern rises clumsily out of the rushes. A
pair of wild ducks tower out and glide away over the tree-tops. There
are stifled rustlings in the ferns and sedges, and little wings are
fluttering furtively among unseen branches. There is a soft splash
near the edge of the woods. From out the shadow the curling wake of a
muskrat stretches across an open space. A mottled water-snake drops
stealthily into a wet labyrinth--the muffled movements cease--and muted
echoes of vesper choirs sweeten the solitude that broods over the tarn.

After a period of silence another whir of pinions overhead heralds the
return of the ducks. They circle swiftly and invisibly in the deep
shadows--their silhouettes dart across the sky openings, and, with a
loud swish, they strike the water and settle comfortably for the night
behind some weedy bogs close to the opposite shore.

In the gathering gloom tiny beams creep into the depths of the water.
One by one the starry host begins to twinkle in the inverted canopy of
the heavens. The full-orbed silver moon rides into the sky through the
delicate lacery of the trees with a flood of soft light. Another disk
sinks majestically into the abyss.

The asterisms of the astronomer are in the firmament above, rolling in
mighty cycles to the ordered destinies of the spheres, but the stars
of Arcady are in the quiet pools, the placid bosoms of gently flowing
rivers, and far out in seas that are beyond our ken. They sparkle in
the smooth curves of heavy swells on distant deeps, and shine far
below coral worlds in ocean depths. These stars are measureless. They
gleam in awful profundities and illumine a world of dreams. We may
look down to them from the windows of a fair castle in which a noble
spirit dwells, but beyond its walls we may not go. There are travellers
in that dimly lighted vault, for dark wings blur the points of pallid
radiance in swift and silent flight. Eternity is not there, for its
constellations will tremble and vanish with a passing zephyr on the
surface of the pool.

A white web of mist gathers on the water. A phosphorescent trunk in the
distance glows with ghostly light. The fluffy movement of the wings
of a small owl is visible against a patch of sky, and a moment later
the dusky form whisks by in the gloom. Agile bats wheel and plunge
noiselessly in pursuit of invisible prey. A few bulrushes in a near-by
clump are slightly disturbed. The night life has begun to move in the
slough, for it is nature’s law that it must kill to live.

The veil of mist thickens--the stars in the depths disappear--the
moon’s reflection becomes a nebula of pale effulgence, and is finally
lost in vaporous obscurity. Like the soft fabric of forgetfulness that
time weaves over sorrow, the mist envelopes the tarn. Like wraiths of
dead years, filmy wreaths trail tenderly and delicately through the
solemn woods. The purple darkness has become gray. A clammy wetness
clings to the tall grasses. Beads of crystal on their bending points
mirror feeble beams of light, and the heaviness of humidity is upon the
boughs and fallen leaves.

The moods of Nature are manifold in expression and power. In her
infinite alchemy she reflects a different ray into every facet of the
human soul. She echoes its exaltation, has sweet unguents for its
weariness, and leads it upon lofty paths of promise when hope has died.
The music of her strings brings forth hidden melodies, and it is with
her that we must go if we would reach the heights.

The dark morass becomes a dreamland. Through it stately legions go.
Ethereal aisles wind through the trees. Cloudy walls rise along its
borders, and beyond them are kingdoms in elf-land where fancy may spin
fabrics of gossamer and build mansions remote from earthly being.

There is a life of the soul as well as of the body. We may ponder as to
its immortality, but undeniably it is in the present, if not in a state
to come. Hope grasps at a shadowy vision of the future that dissolves
at our touch. Reason gives only the substance of the present, elusive
though it be. We live in a world of illusion, where seeming realities
may be but phantoms. We wander in a maze of speculative thought. The
paths are intricate and only lead to narrow cells. The Forest Gods that
dwell in the high and hidden places speak a language that is without
words. The fallen leaf is as eloquent as established dogma or voice
of hoary seer. In our own hearts must we find our shrines, for the
obscurity beyond the borderland of philosophy is as deep as the mould
below the leaves. The multitudes that have come upon the earth and
vanished have left no clue.

The key lies at the bottom of the tarn, and the story is in the marsh.



VI

HOLY ZEKE

[Illustration: “HOLY ZEKE”]



VI

HOLY ZEKE

    “_And mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; I will
    recompense thee according to thy ways and thine abominations that
    are in the midst of thee; and ye shall know that I am the Lord that
    smiteth._”--EZEKIEL 7:9


After an industrious day with my sketch book among the dunes, I walked
over to the lake shore and looked up the beach toward Sipes’s shanty.
In the gathering twilight a faint gleam came through the small window.
Not having seen my old friend for nearly a year, I decided to pay him
a visit. My acquaintance with him had brought me many happy hours as
I listened to his reminiscences, some of which are recorded in former
stories.

He had been a salt water sailor, and, with his shipmate Bill Saunders,
had met with many thrilling adventures. He had finally drifted to the
sand-hills, where he had found a quiet refuge after a stormy life.
Fishing and hunting small game yielded him a scanty but comparatively
happy livelihood. He was a queer, bewhiskered little man, somewhere in
the seventies, with many idiosyncrasies, a fund of unconscious humor,
much profanity, a great deal of homely philosophy, and with many ideas
that were peculiarly his own.

He wore what he called a “hatch” over the place which his right eye
formerly occupied, and explained the absence of the eye by telling me
that it had been blown out in a gale somewhere off the coast of Japan.
He said that “it was glass anyway” and he “never thought much of it.”
Saunders figured more or less in all of his stories of the sea.

On approaching the nondescript driftwood structure, I heard a
stentorian voice, the tones of which the little shanty was too frail
to confine, and which seemed to be pitched for the solemn pines that
fringed the brink of the dark ravine beyond.

“Now all ye hell-destined sinners that are in this holy edifice,
listen to me! Ye who are steeped in sin shall frizzle in the fires o’
damnation. The seethin’ cauldrons yawn. Ye have deserved the fiery pit
an’ yer already sentenced to it. Hell is gaping fer this whole outfit.
The flames gather an’ flash. The fury o’ the wrath to come is almost
’ere. Yer souls are damned an’ you may all be in hell ’fore tomorrer
mornin’. The red clouds o’ comin’ vengeance are over yer miserable
heads. You’ll be enveloped in fiery floods fer all eternity--fer
millions of ages will ye sizzle. Ye hang by a slender thread. The
flames may singe it any minute an’ in ye go. Ye have reason to wonder
that yer not already in hell! Yer accursed bodies shall be laid on
live coals, an’ with red-hot pitch-forks shall ye be sorted into
writhin’ piles an’ hurled into bottomless pits of endless torment. I’m
the scourge o’ the Almighty. I’m Ezekiel-seven-nine. This is yer last
chance to quit, an’ you’ve got to git in line, an’ do it quick if ye
want to keep from bein’ soused in torrents o’ burnin’ brimstone, an’
have melted metal poured into yer blasphemous throats!”

At this point the door partially opened and a furtive figure slipped
out. “Let all them that has hard hearts an’ soft heads git out!” roared
the voice. The figure moved swiftly toward me and I recognized Sipes.

“Gosh! Is that you? You keep away from that place,” he sputtered, as he
came up.

“What seems to be the trouble?” I asked.

“It’s Holy Zeke an’ he’s cussin’ the bunch. It looks like we’d all have
a gloomy finish. He was up ’ere this mornin’ an’ ast me if ’e could
’ave a reevival in my place tonight. He’s ’ad pretty much ev’rythin’
else that was loose ’round ’ere, an’ like a damn fool I told ’im O. K.,
an’ this is wot I git. I thought it was sump’n else. You c’n go an’
listen to ’is roar if you want to, but I got some business to ’tend to
’bout ten miles from ’ere, an’ I wont be back ’till tomorrer, an’ w’en
I come back it’ll be by water. I’m goin’ to lay fer that ol’ skeet with
my scatter gun, an’ he’ll think he’s got hot cinders under ’is skin
w’en I git to ’im. I’ll give ’im all the hell I can without murderin’
’im.” Sipes then disappeared into the gloom, muttering to himself.

His “scatter gun” was a sinister weapon. It had once been a smooth-bore
army musket. The barrel had been sawed off to within a foot of the
breach. It was kept loaded with about six ounces of black powder, and,
wadded on top of this, was a handful of pellets which the old man had
made of flour dough, mixed with red pepper, and hardened in the sun.
He claimed that, at three rods, such a charge would go just under the
skin. “It wouldn’t kill nothin’, but it ’ud be hot stuff.”

I sat on a pile of driftwood for some time and waited for the turmoil
in the shanty to subside. Finally the door opened and four more
figures emerged. I was glad to recognize my old friend “Happy Cal,”
whom I had not seen since his mysterious departure from the sand-hills
several years ago, after his dispute with Sipes over some tangled
set-lines. Evidently the two old derelicts had amicably adjusted
their differences, and Cal had rejoined the widely scattered colony.
Another old acquaintance, “Catfish John,” was also in the party. After
greetings were exchanged, John introduced me to a short stocky man with
gray whiskers.

“Shake hands with Bill Saunders,” said he.

This I did with pleasure, as Sipes’s yarns of the many exploits of this
supposedly mythical individual invested him with much interest.

“This ’ere’s Ezekiel-seven-nine,” continued John, indicating the
remaining member of the quartette.

I offered “Ezekiel-seven-nine” my hand, but it was ignored. He looked
at me sternly. “Yer smokin’ a vile an’ filthy weed,” said he. “It
defiles yer soul an’ yer body. It’s an abomination in the sight o’ the
Lord. Yer unclean to my touch.” With that he turned away.

I glanced at his hands and if anything could be “unclean” to them its
condition must be quite serious. I quite agreed with him, but from a
different standpoint, that the cigar was “an abomination,” and, after
a few more doubtful whiffs, I threw it away, as I had been tempted to
do several times after lighting it. Its purchase had proved an error of
judgment.

Zeke’s impressions of me were evidently not very favorable. He walked
away a short distance and stopped. In the dim light I could see that he
was regarding us with disapproval. He took no part in the conversation.
He finally seated himself on the sand and gazed moodily toward the lake
for some time, probably reflecting upon the unutterable depravity of
his present associates, and calculating their proximity to eternal fire.

“Holy Zeke,” as Sipes had called him, was about six feet two. His
clothes indicated that they had been worn uninterruptedly for a long
time. The mass of bushy red whiskers would have offered a tempting
refuge for wild mice, and from under his shaggy brows the piercing eyes
glowed with fanatic light.

Calvinism had placed its dark and heavy seal upon his soul, and the
image of an angry and pitiless Creator enthralled his mind--a God who
paves infernal regions with tender infants who neglect theology, who
marks the fall of a sparrow, but sends war, pestilence and famine to
annihilate the meek and pure in heart.

The wonderful drama of the creation, and the beautiful story of
Omnipotent love carried no message for him. Lakes of brimstone and fire
awaited all of earth’s blindly groping children who failed to find the
creed of the self-elect. Notwithstanding the fact that the national
governing board of an orthodox church, with plenary powers, convened a
few years ago, officially abolished infant damnation, and exonerated
and redeemed all infants, who up to that time had been subjected to the
fury of Divine wrath, Zeke’s doctrine was unaltered. It glowed with
undiminished fervor. He was a restless exponent of a vicious and cruel
man-made dogma, which was as evil as the punishments it prescribed,
and as futile as the rewards it promised.

To me Holy Zeke was an incarnation. His eyes and whiskers bespoke the
flames of his theology, and his personality was suggestive of its place
in modern thought. His battered plug hat was also Calvinistic. It
looked like hades. It was indescribable. One edge of the rim had been
scorched, and a rent in the side of the crown suggested the possibility
of the escape of volcanic thought in that direction. Like his theology,
he had picturesque quality.

If he had been a Mohammedan, his eyes would have had the same gleam,
and he would have called the faithful to prayer from a minaret with
the same fierce fervor as that with which he conjured up the eternal
fires in Sipes’s shanty. Had not Calvinism obsessed him, his type of
mind might have made him a murderous criminal and outlaw, who, with
submarines and poison gas, would deny mercy to mankind, for there was
no quality of mercy in those cruel orbs. They were the baleful eyes of
the jungle, that coldly regard the chances of the kill. In Holy Zeke’s
case the kill was the forcible snatching of the quarry from hell, not
that he desired its salvation, but was anxious to deprive the devil of
it. He had no idea of pointing a way to righteousness. There was no
spiritual interest in the individual to be rescued. He was the devil’s
implacable enemy, and it was purely a matter of successful attack upon
the property of his foe. Predestination or preordination did not bother
him. He made no distinctions. There was no escape for any human being
whose belief differed from his; even the slightest variation from his
infallible creed meant the bottomless pit.

Zeke had one redeeming quality. He was not a mercenary. No board of
trustees paid him the wages of hypocrisy. He did not arch his brows
and fingers and deliver carefully prepared eloquent addresses to the
Creator, designed more for the ears of his listeners than for the
throne above. He did not beseech the Almighty for private favors, or
for money to pay a church debt. He regarded himself as a messenger of
wrath, and considered that he was authorized to go forth and smite and
curse anything and everything within his radius of action. This radius
was restricted to the old derelicts who lived in the little driftwood
shanties along the beach and among the sand-hills. There were but
few of them, but the limited scope of Zeke’s labors enabled him to
concentrate his power instead of diffusing and losing it in larger
fields.

Zeke soon left our little party and followed a path up into the ravine.
After his departure we built a fire of driftwood, sat around it on the
sand, and discussed the “scourge.”

“I hate to see anythin’ that looks like a fire, after wot we’ve been
up ag’inst tonight,” remarked Cal, as he threw on some more sticks,
“but as ’e ain’t ’ere to chuck us in, I guess we’ll be safe if we don’t
put on too much wood. Where d’ye s’pose ’e gits all that dope? I had
a Bible once’t, but I didn’t see nothin’ like that in it. There was
a place in it where some fellers got throwed in a fiery furnace an’
nothin’ happened to ’em at all, an’ there was another place where it
said that the wicked ’ud have their part in hell fire, but I didn’t
read all o’ the book an’ mebbe there’s a lot o’ hot stuff in it I
missed. W’en did you fust see that ol’ cuss, John?”

Catfish John contemplated the fire for a while, shifted his quid
of “natural leaf,” and relighted his pipe. He always said that he
“couldn’t git no enjoyment out o’ tobacco without usin’ it both ways.”

“He come ’long by my place one day ’bout three years ago,” said the
old man. “It was Sunday an’ ’e stopped an’ read some verses out of ’is
Bible while I was workin’ on my boat. He said the Lord rested on the
seventh day, an’ I’d go to hell if I didn’t stop work on the Sabbath.
I told ’im that my boat would go to hell if I didn’t fix it, an’ they
wasn’t no other day to do it. Then ’e gave me wot ’e called ‘tracks’
fer me to read an’ went on. The Almighty’s got some funny fellers
workin’ fer ’im. This one’s got hell on the brain an’ ’e ought to stay
out in the lake where it’s cool. Ev’ry little while ’e comes ’round an’
talks ’bout loaves an’ fishes, an’ sometimes I give ’im a fish, w’en
I have a lot of ’em. He does the loaf part ’imself, fer sometimes ’e
sticks ’round fer an hour or two. Then ’e tells me some more ’bout hell
an’ goes off some’r’s, prob’ly to cook ’is fish.”

“Sipes must ’a’ come back. Let’s go over there,” suggested Saunders, as
he called our attention to the glimmer of a light in the shanty.

As we approached the place the light was extinguished, and a voice
called out, “Who’s there?”

After the identity of the party had been established, and the assurance
given that Holy Zeke was not in it, the light reappeared and we were
hospitably received.

“Wot did you fellers do with that hell-fire cuss?” demanded Sipes when
we were all seated in the shanty. “Look wot’s ’ere!” and he picked
up a small, greasy hymn book which the orator had forgotten in the
excitement. Sipes handed me the book. I opened it at random and read:

    “_Not all the blood of beasts, on Jewish altars slain,_
     _Can give the guilty conscience peace, or wash away the stain._”

“Gimme that!” yelled Sipes, and I heard the little volume strike the
sand somewhere out in the dark near the water. “Wot d’ye s’pose I got
this place fer if it ain’t to have peace an’ quiet ’ere, an’ wot’s
this red-headed devil comin’ ’round ’ere fer an’ fussin’ me all up
tell’n’ me where I’m goin’ w’en I die, w’en I don’t give a whoop where
I go when I die. That feller’s bunk an’ don’t you fergit it, an’ ’e’s
worse’n that, fer look ’ere wot I found in that basket where I had
about two pounds o’ salt pork!”

He produced a piece of soiled and crumpled paper, on which were
scrawled the following quotations: “Of their flesh shall ye not
eat, and their carcass shall ye not touch. They are unclean to
you” (Leviticus 11:8). “Curséd shall be thy basket and thy store”
(Deuteronomy 28:17).

“It’s all right fer ’im to cuss my basket if ’e wants to, but I ain’t
got no store. I’ll bet ’e frisked that hunk o’ pork an’ chucked in them
texts ’fore you fellers got ’ere an’ I got in off’n the lake. It was
in ’is big coat pocket all the time he was makin’ that hot spiel, an’
that’s w’y ’e didn’t ’ave no room fer ’is hymn book. He’s swiped my
food an’ I can’t fry them texts, an’ you fellers are all in on it fer I
was goin’ to cook the pork an’ we’d all have sump’n to eat. He cert’nly
spread hell ’round ’ere thick tonight. Some day he’ll be yellin’ fer
ice all right. Who are them Leviticus an’ Deuteronomy fellers anyhow?
They ain’t no friends o’ mine!

“I’m weary o’ that name o’ Zekiel-seven-nine he’s carryin’ ’round. ’E
ought to have an eight spot in it, an’ with a six an’ a ten ’e’d ’ave
a straight an’ it ’ud take a flush er a full house to beat ’im. I bet
’e’s a poker sharp, an’ ’e’s hidin’ from sump’n over ’ere, an’ ’e
ain’t the fust one that’s done it. I seen ’im stewed once’t an’ ’e had
a lovely still. He’d oozed in the juice over to the county seat an’
come over ’ere an’ felt bad about it in my shanty. He come up to the
window w’en I was fixin’ my pipe an yelled, ‘Bow ye not down ’afore
idols!’ I went out an’ hustled ’im in out o’ the wet. It was rainin’
pretty bad an’ ’e was soaked, but ’e said ’e didn’t care so long’s none
of it didn’t git in ’is stummick. I dassent light a match near ’is
breath.

“I had ’im ’ere two days, an’ ’e said he’d took sump’n by mistake,
an’ ’e had. I had to keep givin’ ’im more air all the time. He drunk
enough water the next mornin’ to put out a big fire an’ I guess ’e had
one in ’im all right. After that ’e ast me if I had any whiskey, an’
w’en I told ’im I didn’t, ’e said ’e was glad of it, fer it was devil’s
lure. He’d ’a’ stowed it if he’d got to it. I did ’ave a little an’ I
guess now’s a good time to git it out, an’ I hope I don’t find no texts
stuck in the jug. We all need bracin’ up, so ’ere goes! That feller’s a
blankety-blankety-blank--blank-blank, an’ besides that ’e’s got other
faults!”

It seems a pity to have to expurgate Sipes’s original and ornate
profanity from his discourses, but common decency requires it. The old
man left the shanty with a lantern and shovel. A few minutes later we
saw his light at the edge of the lake where he was washing the sand
from the outside of his jug. Evidently it had been buried treasure.

“I’ve et an’ drunk so much sand since I been livin’ ’ere on this beach
that my throat’s all wore out an’ full o’ little holes, an’ I ain’t
goin’ to swaller no more’n I c’n help after this,” he remarked, as
he came in and hung the lantern on its hook in the ceiling; “now you
fellers drink hearty.”

At this juncture a wailing sepulchral voice, loud and deep, came out of
the darkness in the distance.

“Beware! Beware! Beware! In the earth have ye found damnation!”

“There ’e is!” yelled Sipes, as he leaped across the floor for his
scatter-gun. He ran out with it and was gone for some time. He returned
with an expression of disgust on his weather-beaten face. “I’ll wing
that cuss some night ’fore the snow falls,” he remarked, as he resumed
his seat. “We’d better soak up all this booze tonight fer it won’t be
safe in any o’ the ground ’round ’ere any more. Gosh! but this is a
fine country to live in!”

The party broke up quite late. Happy Cal had imbibed rather freely.
Catfish John had been more temperate, and thought he had “better
go ’long with Cal,” and it seemed better that he should. As they
went away I could hear Cal entertaining John with snatches of some
old air about “wine, women, an’ song.” They stopped a while at the
margin of the lake, where the wet sand made the walking better, and
Cal affectionately assured John of his eternal devotion. They then
disappeared.

I bade Sipes and his old shipmate good-night, and left them alone with
the demon in the jug. There was very little chance of any of it ever
falling into the hands of “the scourge,” who was evidently lurking in
the vicinity.

The glory of the full moon over the lake caused Sipes to remark that
“ev’rythin’s full tonight,” as he followed me out to bid me another
good-by. After I left I could hear noisy vocalism in the shanty. The
words, which were sung over and over, were:

    “_Comrades, comrades, ever since we was boys,--_
     _Sharing each other’s sorrows, sharing each other’s joys._”

After each repetition there would be boisterous, rhythmic pounding of
heavy boots on the wooden floor.

While the song was in many keys, and was technically open to much
criticism, it was evidently sincere. The old shipmates were happy, and,
after all, besides happiness, how much is there in the world really
worth striving for?

I walked along the beach for a couple of miles to my temporary quarters
in the dunes, and the stirring events of the evening furnished much
food for reflection. I was interested in the advent of Bill Saunders,
concerning whom I had heard so much from Sipes. Bill was a good deal
of a mystery. He had “showed up” a few days before in response to a
letter which Sipes told me he had “put in _pust_office fer ’im.” He may
at some time have lived on the “unknown island in the South Pacific”
that Sipes told me about, where he and Bill had been wrecked, and Bill
had “married into the royal family several times,” but evidently he had
deserted his black and tan household. For at least two years he had
been living over on the river. Sipes explained that he stayed there
“so as to be unbeknown.” For some reason which I did not learn, he
and Sipes considered it advisable for him to “keep dark” for a while.
The trouble, whatever it was, had evidently blown over, and Bill had
returned to the sand-hills.

There was a rudely painted sign on the shanty a few days later, which
read:

[Illustration: $IPE$ & $AUNDER$--FRE$H FI$H]

“It might ’a’ been Saunders & Sipes,” said the old man to me,
confidentially, “but I think Sipes & Saunders sounds more dignified
like, don’t you? We got ‘fresh fish’ on the sign so’s people won’t git
’em mixed up with the kind o’ fish John peddles. Them fish are fresh
w’en John gits ’em ’ere, but after ’e’s ’ad ’em ’round a while there’s
invisible bein’s gits into ’em out o’ the air, an’ you c’n smell ’em
a mile. W’en they git to be candydates fer ’is smoke-house their ol’
friends wouldn’t know ’em, an’ I put them up an’ down lines in them S’s
in them names so’s to make the sign look like cash money.”

Several days later I discovered that my tent had been visited during my
absence. Outside, pinned to the flap, was a piece of paper on which was
written:

“All ye who smoke or chew the filthy weed shall be damned.”

    “_The breath of hell, an angry breath,_
     _Supplies and fans the fire,_
     _When smokers taste the second death_
     _And shriek and howl, but can’t expire._”

Inside, on the cot, were several tracts containing extracts from
sermons on hell by an old ranter of early New England days, setting
forth the practical impossibility of anybody ever escaping it.

I examined the literature with interest and amusement. Some of the more
virulent paragraphs were marked for my benefit.

I looked out over the landscape, with its glorious autumn coloring,
to the expanse of turquoise waters beyond, and wondered if, above
the fleecy clouds and the infinite blue of the heavens, there was
an Omnipotent monstrosity Who gloried in the torture of what He
created, and brought forth life that He might wreak vengeance upon
it. Ignorance, fear, and superstition have led men into strange
paths. It may be that our philosophy will finally lead us back to the
beginning, and teach us that we are humble, wondering children who do
not understand, and that there is a border land beyond which we may not
go.

I met the firm of Sipes & Saunders on the beach one morning, on their
way to Catfish John’s place, which was about four miles from their
shanty. John’s abode was on a low bluff, and on the beach near it,
about a hundred feet from the lake, was the little structure in which
he smoked what Sipes called “them much-deceased fish” which he had
failed to sell. His peddling trips were made through the back country
with a queer little wagon and a rheumatic horse, that bore the name
of “Napoleon” with his other troubles. Some of the fish were from
his own nets, but most of his supplies were obtained from Sipes on a
consignment basis.

At the earnest solicitation of the old mariners, I turned back and went
with them to call on John. Sipes said that I “had better come along fer
there’s goin’ to be sump’n doin’.”

We found the old man out on the sand repairing his gill-nets.

“Wot ’ave I done that I should be descended on like this?” he asked
jocularly, as we came up. “You fellers must be lookin’ fer trouble, fer
Zeke’s comin’ ’ere this mornin’ fer a fish that I told ’im ’e could
’ave if I got any.

“I figgered it all out,” said Sipes, “cause Bill heard you tell ’im
you was goin’ to lift the nets Sunday, an’ I seen you out’n the lake
with the spotter, an’ as Bill an’ me’s got some business with Zeke, we
thought we’d drop ’round.”

Sipes’s “spotter” was an old spy glass, which he declared “had been on
salt water.” Through a small hole in the side of his shanty he could
sweep the curving shore for several miles with the rickety instrument.

I walked over to the smoke-house with the party and inspected it with
much interest. The smoke supply came from a dilapidated old stove on
the sand from which a rusty pipe entered the side of the structure. The
smoke escaped slowly through various cracks in the roof, which provided
a light draft for the fire.

“That smoke gits a lot of experience in this place ’fore it goes out
through them cracks,” remarked Sipes, as he opened the door and peered
inside. “I don’t blame it fer leavin’. Can ye lock this door tight,
John?”

I curiously awaited further developments.

It was not long before we saw Zeke plodding toward us on the sand.

“Now don’t you fellers say nothin’. You jest set ’round careless
like, an’ let me do the talkin’,” cautioned Sipes, as he filled his
pipe. With an expressive closing of his single eye, he turned to me
confidentially and said with a chuckle, “We’re goin’ to fumigate Zeke.”

There was a look of quiet determination in his face, and guile in his
smile as he contemplated the approaching visitor.

“Hello, Zeke!” he called out, as soon as that frowsy individual was
within hailing distance, “wot’s the news from hell this fine mornin’?”

We smiled at Sipes’s sally. Zeke looked at us solemnly, and in deep
impressive tones replied: “Verily, them that laughs at sin, laughs
w’en their Maker frowns, laughs with the sword o’ vengeance over their
heads.”

“Oh, come on, Zeke, cut that out,” said Sipes, “an’ let’s go in an’
see the big sturgeon wot John got this mornin’. It’s ’ere in the
smoke-house.” Sipes led the way to the door and opened it. Zeke peeked
in cautiously.

“It’s over in that big box with them other fish near the wall,” said
Sipes. Zeke stepped inside. Sipes instantly closed the door and sprung
the padlock that secured it. He then ran around to the stove and
lighted the fuel with which it was stuffed.

An angry roar came from the interior, as we departed. After we reached
the damp sand on the shore, Sipes joyfully exclaimed, “Verily we’ll now
’ave to git a new scourge, fer this one’s up ag’inst damnation!”

While John had passively acquiesced in the proceedings, I knew that he
did not intend to allow Sipes’s escapade to go too far, so I did not
worry about Zeke.

As we walked down the shore, Sipes and Bill turned frequently to look
at the softly ascending wreaths from the roof with much glee.

“That coop’s never ’ad nothin’ wuss in it than it’s got now,” declared
Sipes. “That ol’ bunch o’ whiskers ’as got wot’s comin’ to ’im this
time, an’ I wish I’d stuck John’s rubber boots in that stove, but,
honest, I fergot it.”

We had gone quite a distance when I turned and discerned a retreating
form far beyond the smoke-house close to the bluff. One side of the
structure was wrecked, and it was evident that the “scourge” had broken
through and escaped. I said nothing, as I did not want to mar the
pleasure of the old shipmates. To them it was “the end of a perfect
day.”

A little further on I left them and turned into the dunes. As they
waved farewell, Sipes called out cheerily, “You c’n travel anywheres
’round ’ere now without git’n’ burnt!”

Later, from far away over the sands, I could faintly hear:

    “_Shipmates, shipmates, ever since we was boys--_
     _Sharing each other’s sorrows, sharing each other’s joys!_”

One night I encased myself in storm-defying raiment and went down to
the shore to contemplate a drama that was being enacted in the skies.

Swiftly moving battalions of stygian clouds were illuminated by almost
continuous flashes of lightning. Heavy peals of thunder rolled through
the convoluted masses, and reverberated along the horizon. The
wind-driven rain came in thin sheets that mingled with the flying spray
from the waves that swept the beach. The sublimity of the storm was
soul stirring and inspiring. I plodded for half a mile or so along the
surf-washed sand to the foot of a bluff on which were a few old pines,
to see the effect of the gnarled branches against the lightning-charged
clouds.

A brilliant flash revealed a silhouetted figure with gesticulating
arms. It was Holy Zeke. His battered plug was jammed down over the back
of his head, and his long coat tails were flapping in the gale. The
apparition was grotesque and startling, but seemed naturally to take
its place in the wild pageant of the elements. It added a note of human
interest that seemed strangely harmonious.

I did not wish to intrude on him, or allow him to interfere with my
enjoyment of the storm, but passed near enough to hear his resonant
voice above the roar of the wind.

He was in his element. He had sought a height from which he could
behold the scourging of the earth, and pour forth imprecations on
imaginary multitudes of heretics and unbelievers. With fanatic fervor
he was calling down curses upon a world of hopeless sin. Hatred of
human kind was exhaled from his poisoned soul amid the fury of the
storm.

To his disordered imagination, any unusual manifestation of nature’s
forces was an expression of Divine wrath. Condemnation was now coming
out of the black vault above him, and the vengeance of an incensed
Diety was being heralded from on high. Unregenerate sinners and
rejectors of Zeke’s creed were in the hands of an angry God. The scroll
of earth’s infamy was being unrolled out of the clouds. “The seventh
vial” was being poured out, and the hour of final damnation was at hand.

In the armor of his infallible orthodoxy, like Ajax, he stood unafraid
before the lurid shafts. Serene in his exclusive holiness he was immune
from the fiery pit and the shambles of the damned, and gloried in the
coming destruction of all those unblessed with his faultless dogma.

The storm was increasing in violence, and I had started to return.
After going some distance I turned for a final view of Zeke, and it was
unexpectedly dramatic.

There was a sudden dazzling glare, and a deafening crash. A tall tree,
not far from where he stood, was shattered into fragments. The shock
was terrific. He was gone when a succeeding flash lighted the scene.
Fearing that the old man might have met fatality, or at least have been
badly injured, I hurried back and climbed the steep path that led to
the top of the promontory from the ravine beyond it. Careful search,
with the aid of an electric pocket light and the lightning flashes,
failed to reveal any traces of the old fanatic, and it was safe to
assume that he had retreated in good order from surroundings that he
had reluctantly decided were untenable.

The bolt that struck the tree was charged with an obvious moral that
was probably lost on the fugitive.

The old shipmates were much interested when they heard the tale of the
night’s adventure.

“That ol’ cuss’ll git his, sometime, good an’ plenty,” observed Sipes.
“Sump’n took a pot shot at Zeke an’ made a bad score. It would ’a’
helped some if the lightnin’ ’ad only got that ol’ hat o’ his. Prob’ly
it’s been hit before. Zeke ’ad better look out. He’s been talkin’ too
much ’bout them things. It’s too bad fer a nice tree like that to git
all busted up. No feller with a two-gallon hat an’ red whiskers ever
oughta buzz ’round in a thunder storm.”

John was quite philosophical about Zeke.

“He ought to learn to stay in w’en it’s wet. His kind o’ relig’n don’t
mix with water, an’ some night ’e’ll go out in a storm like that an’ ’e
won’t come back. He was ’round ’ere this mornin’ tell’n me ’bout the
signs o’ the times an’ heav’nly fires.

“Them ol’ fellers hadn’t ought to fuss so much ’bout ’im. They come up
’ere the day after they smoked ’im, an’ fixed my smoke-house all up fer
me. They said thar was too many cracks ’round in it, an’ the boards
’round the sides was all too thin. They got some heavy boards an’ big
nails an’ they done a good job. They said they’d fixed it so it ’ud
hold a grizzly b’ar if I wanted to keep one, an’ I was glad they come
up.

“When Zeke broke through ’e didn’t fergit ’is fish. He took the biggest
one thar was in the box. When ’e went off ’e was yell’n sump’n ’bout
them that stoned an’ mocked the prophets, an’ sump’n ’bout a feller
named Elijah, that was goin’ up in a big wind in a chair o’ fire, but
I didn’t hear all of it, fer ’e was excited. Zeke’s a poor ol’ feller.
It’s all right fer ’em to cuss ’im, fer ’e gives it to ’em pretty hard
w’en ’e gits down thar, but that don’t do no harm. They ain’t no nearer
hell than they’d be without Zeke tell’n ’em ’bout it all the time. He’s
part o’ the people what’s ’round us, an’ we ought to git ’long with
’im. I’ll alw’ys give ’im a fish when ’e’s hungry, even if ’e does
think I’m goin’ to hell.”



VII

THE LOVE AFFAIR OF HAPPY CAL AND ELVIREY SMETTERS

[Illustration: Mrs Elvirey Smetters]



VII

THE LOVE AFFAIR OF HAPPY CAL AND ELVIREY SMETTERS


“Happy Cal” had been a member of the widely scattered colony of
derelicts along the wild coast for many years; in fact, he was its
beginning, for when he came through the sand-hills and gathered the
driftwood to build his humble dwelling, there were no human neighbors.

The circling gulls, the crows, and the big blue herons that stalked
along the wave-washed beach looked curiously at the intruder into
their solitudes. The blue-jays scolded boisterously, and many pairs of
concealed eyes peered at him slyly from tangled masses of tree roots
that lay denuded upon the slopes of the wind-swept dunes.

Nature’s slow and orderly processes of generation and decay were now
to be disturbed by a new element, for man, who changes, destroys, and
makes ugly the fair world he looks upon, had entered these sanctuaries.
The furred and feathered things instinctively resented the advent
of the despoiler. They heard strange noises as rusty nails were
pounded, and odd pieces of gray, smooth wood were fashioned into the
queer-looking structure that obtruded itself among the undulations of
the sand.

Happy Cal was human wreckage. He had been thrown upon this desolate
shore by the cruel forces of a social system which he was unable to
combat. They had cast him aside and he had sought isolation. As he
expressed it, “there was too much goin’ on.”

Cal’s stories of his early life, and his final escape from a heartless
world, incited derisive comment from his friend Sipes.

On still, cool days the smoke ascended softly from Cal’s shanty, and my
sketching was often neglected for an hour or two with its interesting
occupant.

He sometimes prowled around through the country back of the dunes at
night, and the necessaries for his rude housekeeping were collected
gradually. His age was difficult to guess; perhaps he looked older than
he was. His lustreless eyes, weather-beaten face, grizzled unkempt
beard, and rough hands, carried the story of a struggle on the raw
edges of life.

While he said that he had “been up ag’inst it,” he seemed now
comparatively contented. His interests were few, but they filled his
days, and, as he expressed it, he “didn’t need nothin’ to think about
nights.” Sipes claimed, however, that “Cal done all ’s thinkin’ at
night, if ’e done any, fer ’e don’t never do none in the daytime.”

Sipes and Cal met occasionally. With the exception of a few serious
misunderstandings, which were always eventually patched up, they got
along very well with each other. Sipes’s attitude, while generally
friendly, was not very charitable. He was disposed to comment
caustically upon the many flaws he found in Cal, who, he believed, was
destined for a hot hereafter. It is only fair to Cal to say that Sipes
did not know of anybody in the dune country who would not have a hot
hereafter, except his friend “Catfish John,” and his old shipmate, Bill
Saunders, who lived with him, and with whom, in early life, he had
sailed many stormy seas. He transacted his fish business with John,
and was very fond of him. He once remarked that, “Old John don’t never
wash, an’ ’e smells pretty fishy, but you bet ’e treats me all right,
an’ wot’s the difference? I c’n always stay to wind’ard if I want to.”

Mrs. Elvirey Smetters lived over in the back country, on the road
that led from the sleepy village to the marshy strip, and through it
over into the dunes, where it was finally lost in the sand. It was a
township line road and was seldom used for traffic. Travellers on it
usually walked. The house, which had once been painted white, with
green blinds, was rather shabby. Two tall evergreens stood in the front
yard. In the carefully kept flower-beds along the fence the geraniums,
cockscombs, marigolds, and verbenas bloomed gorgeously. They were
constantly refreshed from the wooden pump near the back door. A smooth
path led from the front gate, flanked with a luxurious growth of myrtle.

I pulled the brown bell handle one morning with a view of buying one of
the young ducks which were waddling and quacking about the yard. I was
going over to visit my old friend Sipes and intended it as a present
for his Sunday dinner.

Mrs. Smetters, whom I had often met, opened the door. She wiped
her face with her apron, and was profuse with her apologies for the
appearance of everything. She explained at length the various causes
that had brought about the disorderly conditions, which I must know
would be different if so and so, and so and so, and so and so.

She was tall, muscular, of many angles, red-headed, and freckled. The
pupils of the piercing eyes behind the brass-rimmed spectacles had a
reddish tinge, and her square, protruding chin suggested anything but
domestic docility. It was such a chin that took Napoleon over the Alps,
and Cæsar into Gaul.

She had buried three husbands. They were resting, as Sipes said, “fer
the fust time in their lives,” in the church-yard beyond the village,
where flowers from the little garden were often laid upon the mounds.

A village gossip had said that Mrs. Smetters would sometimes return to
the mounds, after she had left them, and transfer a bunch of geraniums
from one to another, and once, she had cleaned off two of them and
piled all of the offerings over the one near the tree. Sometimes the
others would have all of the geraniums. The gossips could see these
things, but they could not look into the secret chambers of Elvirey
Smetters’s heart.

On the walls of such chambers are recorded something that is never
told. Thoughtful deeds, tender looks of sympathy and understanding, and
years devoted, leave their traces there. With a thread of gossamer,
memory leads us gently to them, and out into the world again, where
we carry flowers to silent places. The strongest sometimes become the
weakest, but who knows if such weakness is not the strength of the
mighty?

Time had softened the sorrows of Elvirey Smetters. Little wrinkles were
beginning to tell the story of her passing years, for she was nearly
sixty, and a sense of life’s futility was creeping over her. She felt
the need of new environment and new sensations.

“Now before you begin talkin’ about any duck you want to buy,” said
Mrs. Smetters, after the object of the visit was explained, “I want to
know if you’ve seen anythin’ o’ Cal. I ain’t seen ’im fer a month, an’
if you run across ’im, I want you to tell ’im I’m sick, an’ ’e better
come an’ see how I am. I’ll make you a present o’ that duck if you’ll
just walk in on ’im an’ tell ’im sump’n that don’t look like it come
from me, that’ll make ’im come over ’ere. You needn’t let on that I
want to see ’im, but you fix it somehow so’s ’e’ll _come_.”

I solemnly promised to do this, but insisted upon settling for the
duck, which was soon dressed and wrapped in an old copy of _The Weekly
Clarion_, which was published at the county seat.

“Now you be careful an’ not let ’im know I said a word about ’im,” was
her parting injunction at the gate, “but _you git ’im ’ere_, an’ don’t
say nothin’ to Sipes either!”

She was assured that great care would be exercised.

During the walk through the dunes I mused upon the wiles of Mrs.
Smetters’s sex, and reflected upon the futility of any attempt to
escape them, when they are practiced by an adept upon an average man.
It is a world-old story--as old as the Garden of Eden. The lure of the
feminine rules the earth, and it is a part of the scheme of things
that it should be so. The female of all breathing creatures controls
the wooing--from the lady-bug to Elvirey Smetters. However masculine
vanity may seek to disguise it, the wooer is as clay in the hands of
the potter. The meditations of some of the world’s greatest men have
been devoted to the complexities of female human nature, and during
these meditations they have often married.

Along toward noon the duck was turned over to Sipes in front of his
shanty. He was greatly pleased. It varied the monotony of small gifts
of tobacco and cigars which usually reciprocated his many hospitalities.

“Elvirey’s got a lot o’ them birds,” he remarked, “an’ I was goin’ over
some night to persuade one of ’em to come to my shanty. If she wasn’t
a woman, they’d all been gone long ago. I hear ’em spatterin’ in the
ditch ev’ry time I go by, an’ I often think, s’posen them lily-white
ducks b’longed to some o’ them fellers that set ’round the village
store, wot would I do?”

I inquired if he had seen anything of Cal lately.

“Cal’s snoopin’ ’round ’is coop right now. You c’n see ’im with the
spotter,” said the old man, as he brought out his rickety old brass
spy-glass. Through it I could just make out a figure moving about on
the sand near the distant shanty.

I left the old mariner, intending to come out of the dunes near
Cal’s place sometime during the afternoon, being really anxious to
accommodate Mrs. Smetters.

In the course of time I reached Cal’s shanty and found him sharpening
a knife near the door. We shook hands and, after discussing various
matters of mutual interest, I mentioned the call on Mrs. Smetters for
the purpose of buying a duck for Sipes.

“W’y didn’t you git me a duck too if you was git’n one fer him?”
he asked rather peevishly. He was placated with a cigar and the
explanation that I had not expected to see him on this trip. He
betrayed no curiosity at the mention of Mrs. Smetters. I tried again,
and told him that I had had a long talk with her and she did not look
as though she was very well; she appeared sad, and seemed ill. At this
he began to show interest.

“Wot d’ye s’pose is the matter with ’er? W’y don’t she eat some catnip
if she’s sick?”

I replied that probably she found it rather lonely since her last
husband died.

“Say, d’ye know wot I think I’ll do? I’ll go over there tomorrer an’
take ’er some fresh fish, an’ mebbe she’ll gimme a duck. I ain’t seen
’er fer a long time.”

Having approved of his suggestion, and realizing that the mission had
been accomplished, I departed after we had talked of other things for a
while. Visits to Cal were always enjoyable, although his reminiscences
were to be accepted with a grain of salt. His logic, morals, and
language were bad, but his narratives had the charm of originality, and
he never failed to be entertaining. Naturally, I was curious as to the
outcome of the projected call on Mrs. Smetters, but not being concerned
in further developments, I dismissed it from my mind. Interest was
quickly revived on meeting Sipes a month later.

“Say, wot d’ye think’s happened?” exclaimed the old man. “Elvirey’s
snared Cal good an’ plenty. That ol’ cuss has been up to see ’er a
dozen times in the last two weeks. Bill an’ me’s been watchin’ ’em with
the spotter from up yonder in them trees on top o’ that big dune where
we c’n see ’er house. Say, you’d laugh yerself sick. Gener’ly ’e sneaks
’round an’ goes along the edge o’ the marsh over back o’ here, so’s
’e won’t ’ave to go by our place. Last night ’e come by with a collar
on. His whiskers was combed an’ so was ’is hair. He was all lit up
an’ reminded Bill an’ me o’ that hiker we found walkin’ on the beach
once’t that we piloted off a couple o’ miles to show ’im where we told
’im ’e could cetch some mock-turtles. Bill’s up there with the spotter
watchin’ now. We call that place the masthead.”

Far away I could see the glint of the spy-glass, and could dimly make
out the figure of the lone sentinel in his eyry upon the height. He was
ensconced in a mass of gnarled and tangled roots which the wind-blown
sand had left bare on the distant hilltop.

“We got a little place among them roots,” said the old man, “that jest
fits the spotter w’en it’s trained on Elvirey’s place, an’ all ye have
to do is jest set down an’ look. Bill takes the fust watch w’en we
can’t see nothin’ ’round Cal’s shanty, an’ I go aloft in the afternoon.
We seen ’im twice yisterd’y. Him an’ Elvirey was out in the yard
waterin’ the flowers. I s’pose she wants to keep ’em growin’ nice so’s
she c’n lay ’em over Cal like she does the others.

“If there’s sump’n doin’ at Elvirey’s, Bill’ll hang a rag on that big
dead limb ye see stickin’ out, an’ it’s there now!” The fluttering
signal of “sump’n doin’” was faintly visible.

“That rag’s jest to show he’s seen Cal over there, an’ if ’e thinks I
oughta come up, ’e’ll put out another in a minute. That ’ud mean that
they was set’n out in the yard, er goin’ off som’er’s together, mebbe
to the village.” We kept our eyes on the summit for some time, but the
second signal did not appear.

A week later I found Cal at the home of the old shipmates. He looked
rather crestfallen. An air of embarrassment and restraint seemed to
pervade the place. I feared that I had intruded, and was going away,
when Sipes insisted that I remain and go out on the lake with him. He
thought that a recent storm might have damaged his gill-nets and wanted
to look them over. After Cal’s departure we shoved the row-boat into
the water. On the way out to the nets the old man told me the thrilling
tale of the love of Happy Cal and Elvirey Smetters.

“This Elvirey’s a queer ol’ girl,” he began. “Them husbands she’s been
git’n a c’lection of over in the cemetery was a bum lot. Before she
begun git’n married ’er name was Prokop. Fust she married a feller
named Swisher, an’ she was livin’ with ’im w’en I fust come in the
hills. He was no good, an’ I never liked ’is name. It sounded kind o’
fishy an’ whistley to me. After a while Swisher commenced git’n thin
an’ all yellow, an’ one day ’e skipped. She lit out after ’im an’
brought ’im back from over to the county seat. He died about a month
later of sump’n the doctor said ’ad busted up ’is liver. He left ’er
that little place, where she lives.

“The next feller’s name was Smythe, an’ ’e was a funny lookin’ gink. He
was runnin’ a little circus wot went ’round the country in the summer.
He used to wear high brown boots with ’is trowsies stuck in ’em, an’
a velvet vest, with a watch chain that weighed about a pound. He had
a wide gray hat, an’ a red neck-tie with a hunk o’ glass on it, an’ a
long moustache that looked like a feather duster. He looked fierce, but
Elvirey fell fer ’im w’en she seen ’im out in front of ’is tent on a
box doin’ a lot o’ funny tricks with cards fer the crowd. The circus
busted up an’ ’e moved over to Elvirey’s place. The circus posters
said ’is name was Blondini, but ’is real name was Smith. He wrote it
Smythe, so’s to make folks think ’e had money an’ was a society bug.
He died o’ sump’n, I don’t know wot it was, an’ then poor ol’ Smetters
come along. He was a fat feller. He painted the house, an’ fussed
’round on the place fer a year, an’ then ’ad fits. His conniptions
would come on most any time, an’ Elvirey let ol’ Doc Looney in on to
’im one night, an’ the next mornin’ ’e was dead. The Doc ’ad given ’im
some horse medicine, an’ it finished ’im.

“Them three are all layin’ side by side, wait’n fer Cal, fer ’e told us
this mornin’ that ’im an’ Elvirey’s goin’ to git married.

“Bill an’ me seen ’em from the masthead yisterd’y, walkin’ down the
road. They set down on the grass, an’ we sneaked over an’ got behind
some bushes, an’ we heard ’im callin’ ’er ‘kitten’ an’ she was callin’
’im a duck. Bill says, ‘Look at them columbines!’ an’ we busted out
laughin’. Then they both roasted us fer listenin’. Cal was dead sore,
but ’e didn’t say very much. Elvirey pretty near killed Bill with a big
stick, an’ knocked ’im into the bushes. He got up an’ lit out, an’ so
did I, fer after Bill was down she started fer me. I didn’t need no
clubbin’ an’ scooted. She chased me a ways, but I got home all right. I
wonder w’y them that gits love-sick always calls each other animals an’
birds?”

During Sipes’s narrative I felt a pang of regret that I had not spent
the day at “the masthead,” for evidently it would have been worth while.

“Cal come over today an’ we had a long talk,” continued the old man.
“He said ’e hoped they wasn’t no hard feelin’s, ’cause ’e hadn’t
started nothin’ an’ it was us fellers’ fault that Elvirey got to goin’.
Bill ’ad a bump on ’is head as big as an aig, but we all shook hands
an’ agreed to call it off. An’ now comes this damn wedd’n they’re goin’
to have. Cal says they’re goin’ to be married by Holy Zeke, an’ wot
d’ye think? they want to have the wedd’n in our shanty, ’cause Elvirey
says she won’t let Bill an’ me come to her house, an’ Cal won’t be
married ’less ’e c’n ’ave ’is friends with ’im. His shanty ain’t big
enough fer the bunch, an’ ours is halfway between, so they’ve fixed on
that, an’ we’re in fer it.

“I don’t know wot Cal’s goin’ to do about ’is last name that ’e’s got
to be married with. He says ’e’s been livin’ alone so long ’e’s fergot
wot it is, an’ we got to pick out a new one fer ’im. I told ’im ’e
better call it Mud, but ’e didn’t cetch on to no joke. Wouldn’t that
make a fine soundin’ lot o’ names fer Elvirey’s lot in the church-yard?
Swisher, Smythe, Smetters, an’ Mud! Ev’rybody’d stop to look at ’em.

“Cal’s gone to tell John, an’ Saturd’y night him an’ Holy Zeke’ll
come down, an’ Cal’s kitten’s going to fetch a cake. Cal said you was
invited, an’ if you got any business to close up ’fore you come, you’d
better ’tend to it, fer mebbe hell’ll be to pay ’fore it’s over. I’ll
bet Elvirey won’t stand fer me an’ Bill w’en she sees wot we’re goin’
to do to the shanty fer the wedd’n.”

After inspecting the nets we returned, and I promised to be on hand
Saturday evening. Sipes requested me to come early, “so as to think o’
sump’n us fellers might fergit.”

I looked forward to Saturday with eager anticipation, and arrived at
the shanty just before dusk. Evidently the old shipmates had been very
busy. They were in high spirits.

A couple of old fish-nets were stretched from each side of the door,
in parallel lines, to a point about fifty feet away on the sand.
Boards, obtained from among the driftwood on the beach, had been laid
along between them. “Bill’s a big help about them things,” said the old
man. “He says it’s ’is habit w’en ’e gits married to have sump’n like
that stretched out fer the bride to walk between so’s nobody’ll try to
steal ’er at the last minute.”

The roof of the shanty was thickly covered with dead leaves, held in
place by more nets which were laid over them and weighted with stones.
“We could ’a’ got green ones,” said Sipes, “but them old leaves looks
more fit like. They wasn’t neither of ’em born yisterd’y.

The rusty stove-pipe, which served as a chimney, had been carefully
wrapped in white cloth, at least it had once been white, and a long
strip of bright red material had been tied to it, which fluttered in
the breeze. Sipes said that this was the danger signal. A large bunch
of bulrushes and cat-tails was stuffed into the top of the stove-pipe.

The sign on the shanty--

[Illustration: $IPE$ & $AUNDER$--FRE$H FI$H]

had been covered with a strip of rotten canvas, on which was painted,

[Illustration: Many HAPPy ReTURNS]

The conspirators had gathered a lot of thistle blossoms, with plenty
of the leaves, with which they had festooned the interior. An old
beer-keg, mounted on a box, which stood at one end of the single room,
was to serve as the altar. On it were two lemons, with which time had
not dealt very gently. Their significance was not explained.

All over the shanty, where the decorations did not interfere, were
groups of four vertical chalk-lines. “Them marks is Elvirey’s score,”
explained the old man.

A nail keg, with one end knocked out, hung endwise above the altar, and
in the opening a large ripe tomato was suspended from the inside by
a string. On the keg was painted a large figure 4. “That there’s the
marriage bell,” said Sipes.

A lantern on a hook in the ceiling, and a dozen candle stubs were
to furnish illumination. The music was also provided for. There was
a covered box near the wall, with gimlet holes all over it, that
evidently contained something alive.

“That’s full o’ hummin’ locusts that me an’ Bill caught,” said Sipes,
“an’ when Zeke says it’s all over, I’ll hammer on the box an’ them
little singers’ll git busy. We tried ’em this mornin’ an’ it works
fine.”

The stove was stuffed with stray pieces of old leather and rubber
boots, mixed with oiled rags. “W’en we light that fire, with the
chimbly stopped up with them cat-tails, it’ll show that the party’s
over,” chuckled the old man.

The arrangements seemed quite complete, and I had no suggestions to
offer. The wedding party was to assemble around a drift-wood fire
on the sand, some distance away, and proceed to the shanty at eight
o’clock. A huge pile of material for the bonfire had been gathered.

The flames soon crackled merrily and lit up the beach. The red light
touched the crests of the little waves that lapped the shore, and
bathed the side of the sandy bluff with a mellow glow. It illuminated
the shanty which, with its grotesque decorations, relieved against the
dark green of the ravine beyond, resembled a stage setting for a comic
opera.

The wedding guests soon began to arrive. “Catfish John,” with a large
package under his arm, accompanied by Holy Zeke, were the first comers,
after the fire was lighted. They had walked a long distance, and sat
down wearily on the sand, after the conventional greetings. John’s
package probably contained some smoked fish which he intended as a
present for the bride. Sipes sniffed at it with evident approval.

In a few minutes Mrs. Smetters arrived with her friend Mrs. McCafferty,
who carried the cake in a basket. Mrs. McCafferty lived in the sleepy
village, several miles away. She was to act as bridesmaid, and was
to “give the bride away,” which Sipes declared she would “do anyhow
afterwards if she didn’t do it now.” She was a buxom Irish widow, with
a fighting record, and a mind of her own. She had brought Mrs. Smetters
to the wedding with her buggy and gray horse, which had been left where
the sloping road ended in the beach sand. It was her custom to attend
all of Elvirey’s weddings in the same capacity. She was her bosom
friend and confidante.

Mrs. Smetters was attired in a new white muslin dress, with a bountiful
corsage bouquet of white peonies. She was bareheaded, and lilies of
the valley accented the bricky red of her hair. As at all weddings,
“the bride was very beautiful.”

We rose and greeted the ladies cordially. Mrs. Smetters looked
inquiringly around for Cal, but he had not yet arrived. She then seated
herself on the shawl which Mrs. McCafferty carefully spread out on the
sand. No reference was made to the stormy scene of the interrupted
wooing of a few days before. Bill was still nursing his sore head, but
made no unpleasant allusions.

The hour had arrived, but the party was still incomplete. Happy Cal was
conspicuously absent.

“Mebbe he’s doin’ a lot o’ fixin’ up an’ can’t find ’is perfumery, er
mebbe he’s fergot about the wedd’n,” observed Sipes.

An angry glance from Mrs. Smetters was the only response to this sally.

The ladies looked curiously at the shanty, and Sipes had much
difficulty in keeping them away from it. He announced that “they wasn’t
goin’ to be no rubberin’ ’round the place ’till the wedd’n.” They
started several times, but were persuaded to wait until Cal came.

An hour slipped by, and the delinquent did not appear.

“Lo, the bridegroom cometh not,” said Holy Zeke, solemnly.

Clouds of feminine wrath were gathering on the other side of the fire.

“We’re goin’ over to see them fixin’s,” announced Mrs. Smetters, with
determination. “This is wot I git fer wearin’ my heart on my sleeve!”

I walked along the beach in the hope that I might meet Cal. Sipes went
to the shanty and lit the lantern and the candles. The two females led
the rest of the party along between the nets. After they entered it
took them but a few seconds to fully comprehend the _tout ensemble_,
and then came the event of the evening.

Mrs. McCafferty started to swoon, but suddenly revived when Mrs.
Smetters hurled a stove-lid at Sipes, followed by the keg from the
altar. The male members of the party beat a rapid retreat through the
door into the welcome shadows. Sipes ran in my direction. We stood
about a hundred yards away in the darkness, and surveyed the scene.

With the fury of a woman scorned, Elvirey was smashing up the place.
With the able help of her bosom friend, every movable breakable thing
was being destroyed and thrown out. The window was demolished early
in the proceedings, and through the broken sash went wrecked cooking
utensils, blankets, guns, cards, bottles, boxes, pieces of the table,
and other things, too numerous to mention. Amid loud blows of an axe,
the side of the shanty began to give way.

Suddenly we heard piercing shrieks, and the two maddened women fled
wildly from the shanty in the direction of the buggy.

“I’ll bet they’ve busted open them insects!” exclaimed Sipes.

We waited a while, and looked for the other members of the party. We
called repeatedly, but no answer came out of the gloom. They had been
swallowed in the blackness of the night.

We then went to inspect the wreck. All of the old shipmates’ efforts
to make the wedding a success had been “love’s labor lost.” The
decorations were mingled with fragments of the stove and the splintered
bunks. There seemed to be nothing in the place that was breakable
that had not been attended to. The “hummin’ locusts” were innocently
crawling about the floor and walls.

“We might as well c’lect this music an’ put it out,” said Sipes,
ruefully, as he began picking up the locusts. “We wouldn’t ’a’ had no
shanty left if it hadn’t been fer them. I guess I must ’a’ started
sump’n. After this I’m goin to let ev’ry feller run ’is own business,
an’ me an’ Bill’ll flock by ourselves. Look wot I git fer tryin’ to
please ev’rybody all the time! Somebody’s always butt’n in an’ spoilin’
ev’rythin’ I try to do. I got hit with too damn many things out o’ the
air tonight to be happy. Wot d’ye ’spose become o’ Cal? He’d ’a’ got a
lemon if ’e’d ’a’ married that ol’ swivel-eyed sliver-cat. I’m goin’
up in the ravine to sleep, an’ mebbe Bill’ll show up in the mornin’.
Say, wot do _you_ think o’ matrimony, anyway? Gosh! but this is rough
work. Bill an’ me was in a hurricane once’t out’n the Pacific--the
ship’s rudder got busted off an’ we was spun along on the equator fer a
thousand miles, but that wasn’t nothin’ ’side o’ this.”

The old man stood disconsolate among his ruins. There was gloom on his
face as I bade him good-night, and there was a pressure in his hand
grasp, as of one who did not want to be left alone. From a distance
down the shore I could see the flickering light of the expiring
bonfire, playing upon the scene of the recent drama, as fate toys with
the destinies of human lives.

Cal’s failure to appear at his wedding was never accounted for. The
following week we found his shanty deserted. Its simple furnishings and
Cal’s boat were gone.

“That ol’ skeesicks ’as got more sense than I ever thought, an’ ’e’s
skipped. He’ll be number four in that cemetery lot all right if ’e ever
shows up,” declared Sipes as we parted. “She rough-housed me when I
didn’t do nothin’, an’ I wouldn’t like to see Cal’s finish if she ever
gits to ’im. The feller that ought to marry Hellfirey Smetters is Holy
Zeke.”

Perhaps from somewhere out in the darkness, Cal may have studied the
group around the fire on the sand. Its light may have reflected the
quiet gleam of tigerish ferocity that creeps into the eyes of a woman
who is made to wait. He may have been appalled by the prospect of the
loss of his much-loved freedom, and recoiled from further contact with
a social system which had discarded him, or he may have seen his
“kitten” in a new light that dissipated illusion.

Anyway, as Sipes declared, “Elvirey’s duck” had “lit out.”

During a visit to Mrs. Smetters late in the fall, she gloomily
remarked, “Now if _you_ will tell _me_ wot’s the _use o’ livin’_, I’d
be _very grateful_!”



VIII

THE RESURRECTION OF BILL SAUNDERS

[Illustration: Bill Saunders]



VIII

THE RESURRECTION OF BILL SAUNDERS


Sipes and Saunders had acquired a detachable motor for their boat.
Catfish John had obtained it on one of his various trips to the
little village at the mouth of the river about fifteen miles away.
The disgusted owner had traded it in on his fish account with John,
and had thrown in, as a bonus, some gasoline, mixing oil, a lot of
damaged small tools, a much-worn book of instructions, and a great
deal of conversation. He was careful to impress on John that he wanted
no “come back,” and was not responsible in any way for what the
contraption might or might not do after it left him. He had just had it
“overhauled” by the makers for the third time, and he never wanted to
see it again.

John, knowing the great persistence and ingenuity of his friends, and
feeling that he was in the way of doing them a favor, put the despised
machine in his wagon and departed.

The following morning he drove up the beach to the fish shanty for his
supplies.

“Wot’s all this iron fickits?” asked Sipes, as he peered curiously into
the wagon.

“That’s a gas motor wot ye stick on the back o’ yer boat. You fill up
the tin thing with gasoline an’ some kind of oil, an’ then whirl that
wheel wot’s got the little wooden handle on it, an’ ’way she goes an’
runs yer boat, an’ ye don’t ’ave to row, an’ ye c’n go anywheres whar
it’s wet. I traded wot a feller owed me fer ’bout fifty pounds o’ fish
fer it, an’ if you fellers want it, ye c’n ’ave it if ye gimme the
fish.”

“Bill, come ’ere!” yelled Sipes.

The tousled gray head of Bill Saunders appeared in the doorway of the
shanty.

“Wot’s doin’?” he asked sleepily.

“Never you mind; you put on yer trowsies an’ come on out ’ere an’ see
wot our ol’ friend an’ feller-citizen ’as fetched in.”

Without following Sipes’s instructions implicitly, the disturbed
occupant of the shanty came out to the wagon.

“This ’ere little book wot the feller gave me,” continued John, “has
got it all in, with pitchers of all the little things in the machine,
an’ how to grease it, an’ run it, an’ ev’rythin’ about it. Thar’s a
lot o’ figgers in it wot tells wot ye pay fer all the things that gits
busted.”

On the cover of the worn book, which the old man produced, was a highly
colored picture of a slender youth, gay and debonair, with one of the
machines in a canvas carrying bag. He swung it lightly and merrily in
his hand as he tripped along toward his boat, which floated in the
distance, where soft ripples laved its polished sides with pink water.
His derby hat was tilted to a careless angle. On his face was a smile
of joyful anticipation. There was no more suggestion of exertion than
if the bag contained toy balloons instead of a motor. Nevertheless it
required the united efforts of the three weather-buffeted old fishermen
to get the machine out of the wagon on to the beach. Such is the
contrast between exuberant youth and seasoned maturity.

“I bet that feller with the hard-boiled hat ain’t got the machine in
that bag at all,” remarked Saunders, as he studied the scene on the
cover. “They’s prob’ly some fellers follerin’ ’im with it that don’t
show in the pitcher. I don’t like that cigarette moustache on ’im;
I’ll bet ’e knows durned little ’bout navigation ’ceptin’ with crackers
on soup. You leave this thing ’ere an’ me an’ Sipes’ll try ’er out, an’
if it works, we’ll keep ’er. Anyhow we’ll make up the fish yer out an’
you won’t lose nothin’.”

The fish for John’s peddling trip were carefully sorted out and
recorded by Sipes, with a stubby pencil, on the inside of the shanty
door where the accounts were kept. The nets had been lifted in the
early morning and the supply was abundant. When John had sold the fish
the proceeds were to be divided equally.

After John and his aged horse “Napoleon” had left with the slimy
merchandise, the old shipmates sat down and considered the apparatus.

To this primitive coast, torn by the storms and yellowed by the suns
of thousands of years, where elemental forces had ruled since the
beginning, had come a strange and misfitting thing. It seemed an
unhallowed and discordant intrusion into the Great Harmonies. Somehow
we can, in a measure, be reconciled, poetically, to the use of steam,
without great violence to our worship of the grandeur of nature’s
forces, but there is no poetry in a gasoline engine. It is a fiend
that wars upon things spiritual. Its dissonant soul-offending clatter
on the rivers that flow gently through venerable woods, and out in the
solitudes of wide and quiet waters is profanation.

Utilitarianism and ideality clashed when the motor touched the beach,
but these things did not disturb Sipes and Saunders, engaged in the
contemplation of the machine, as bewildered savages might gaze upon a
fragment of a meteor that had dropped out of the sky from another world.

After a while they lugged it to the shanty. “I could ’a’ carried it
alone if I’d ’a’ had one o’ them darby hats on!” declared Sipes.

They spent long hours over the book of instructions, and the light in
the shanty burned far into the night. They carefully and repeatedly
examined the various parts in connection with the text. There were some
words which they did not understand, but they finally felt that they
had mastered the problem.

Saunders remarked, as they turned into their bunks, “I guess we got
’er, Sipes. We’ll pour in the juice an’ start ’er up in the mornin’.
Then we’ll buzz off on the lake an’ look at the nets.”

“She oughta have a name on ’er, like a boat,” suggested Sipes. “S’pose
we call ’er the ‘Anabel,’ er sump’n like that?”

“‘Anabel’ ain’t no kind of a name fer anythin’ o’ this kind. I seen
that name on a sailboat once’t that didn’t make no noise at all, an’
this thing will. Wot’s the matter with ‘June Bug’?”

“All right,” said Sipes, “‘June Bug’ she is, now let’s go to sleep.”

Loud snores resounded in the shanty, and the “June Bug” spent the night
on the floor near the stove. Fortunately there was no leak in the
gasoline tank or fire in the stove.

With the coming of dawn the old cronies hastily prepared breakfast.
The lake was calm and everything seemed propitious for the initial
voyage with the June Bug. That deceptive bit of machinery was carefully
carried to the big flat-bottomed boat, and, after an hour of hard work,
was securely attached to the wide stem. The gasoline tank was filled
to the top, the batteries adjusted, the spark tested, and every detail
seemed to tally with the directions. Sipes gave the fly-wheel a couple
of quick turns. The motor responded instantly. The propeller ran in
the air with a cheerful hum, and the regular detonations of the little
engine awoke the echoes along the shore.

With shouts of boyish glee the old shipmates pushed the big boat
over the rollers on the sand and down into the water. There was much
discussion as to which should run the engine and steer. Sipes produced
a penny and, by flipping it skilfully, won the decision.

“I don’t s’pose they’s any use takin’ the oars, but I’ll put ’em in,”
he observed as he threw them into the boat.

Saunders complacently took his place forward. Sipes gave the boat a
final shove and jumped in. He pushed it well out with one of the oars,
and turned and looked with pride on the wonderful labor-saving device
on the stern. It seemed too good to be true.

“Say, Bill, to think that us fellers c’n go hundreds o’ miles out’n the
lake, if we want to, an’ ev’rywhere else, an’ let this dingus do all
the work. We c’n set an’ smoke an’ watch the foam, an’ listen to the
hummin’ o’ the Bug. I’ve heard fellers go by way out b’yond the nets
with them choo-choo boats, but I never seen wot did it before. Gosh!
but this is fine. Now all we gotta do is to touch ’er off an’ away we
go!”

The old man’s single eye beamed with enthusiasm, as he grasped the
handle and made the prescribed turns. The result was a couple of pops
and some coughing sounds somewhere in the concealed iron recesses.

“Guess she’s coy, an’ I didn’t give ’er enough. I’ll whirl ’er some
more.” His efforts were again ineffectual.

“Lemme try ’er,” pleaded Saunders.

“Not on yer life! You keep off. You don’t know nothin’ ’bout machines.
She’ll be all right in a minute. Gimme that book!”

The boat drifted sideways for some time while Sipes studied the
directions and puttered over the parts with various tools.

“I’ll jolly ’er up with the screw-driver an’ monkey-wrench, an’ she’ll
feel better.” He tinkered and cranked for nearly an hour, during which
time Saunders offered many ill-received suggestions. Then came a
torrent of invective.

“You got too many whiskers to swear like that,” remarked Saunders,
“you’ll burn ’em.”

“Never you mind, I’m watchin’ ’em! The man wot ’ud make a thing like
this, an’ take good cash money fer it, er even fish, oughta be cut up
an’ sizzled!” he declared. “The skin’s all offen my hands, an’ I wish
the devil wot built this gas bug ’ud ’ave to keep ’is head in hot tar
’til she went. Come ’ere, Bill, an’ start ’er up. You seem to know so
much about it.”

They exchanged places and Sipes glared maliciously at the rebellious
motor from the bow. Saunders put his pipe in his pocket, produced
a chunk of “plug twist,” and bit off a large piece. He stowed it
comfortably and considered the problem before him. After a couple of
hours of fruitless efforts the profanity in the boat became unified
and vociferous. The ancestors of the makers of the motor, and those of
the man who had it last, as well as the undoubted destiny of everybody
who had ever had any connection with it, were embraced in sulphuric
execration. John was, in a way, excepted. He “meant well,” but he was
“a damned old fool.”

After this general vituperation the old sailors rested for a while and
rowed back. The constant cranking had turned the propeller a great many
times. The boat had made erratic headway and was quite a distance from
shore. They landed, pulled the boat out on the sand with the windlass,
and retired to the shanty for lunch and consultation.

Saunders strolled out a little later, with a piece of cold fried fish
in his hand, and looked the motor over again. He gave the fly-wheel a
careless turn and the engine started off gayly. Sipes heard the welcome
sound and ran out, spilling his coffee over the door step. Lunch was
discontinued, and the boat was re-floated. There was more cranking, but
no answering vibrations. With more profanity the craft was restored to
its berth on the sand, and another retreat made to the shanty.

“The Bug’ll run all right on land,” declared Sipes, “an’ we’ll turn the
propeller so’s the edges’ll be fore an’ aft, an’ belay it. We’ll bend
a rim on it an’ fasten some little truck wheels on the bottom o’ the
boat. Then we’ll run the ol’ girl up an’ down on the hard sand ’long
the edge o’ the water. We won’t go in the lake at all ’til we git ’er
well het up, an’ then we’ll turn ’er in sudden an’ cut them lashin’s.
She won’t know she’s in an’ ’way she’ll go.”

For many days the old shipmates struggled with the obstinate
mechanism. It once ran for an hour without a break and they were
jubilant. “Some gas bug that!” Saunders exclaimed joyfully, but just
then it sputtered and stopped. They were quite a ways out, and the oars
had been forgotten. Fortunately there was a light in-shore breeze and
they drifted to the beach about two miles from home.

The oars were finally procured and the day closed with everything snug
and tight at the shanty.

“I bet we ain’t got the right kind o’ gasoline,” declared Sipes.
“They’s lots o’ kinds. This ’ere wot’s in the Bug ain’t got no kick to
it. We got too much oil mixed in it, an’ we gotta git s’more.”

When John came again the many troubles were related to him. He knew
nothing of motors, but offered to get some more gasoline when he went
to the village, and to bring the former owner of the motor over to see
if he could suggest anything.

“You jest fetch that feller,” said Sipes, “an’ we’ll take ’im out fer a
nice little spin on the lake, an’ we’ll go where it’s deep.”

When the new gasoline came there was much more tinkering and study of
the directions. Resignation alternated with hope. Sometimes the motor
would run, but more often it refused. John finally took it to the
village and it was shipped to the makers. A carefully and painfully
composed letter was put in the “pustoffice.” The long-delayed answer
was that the machine needed “overhauling,” which would cost about half
as much as a new one.

“The money that them pie-biters makes ain’t sellin’ motors, but
overhaulin’ ’em,” declared Sipes. They sell one o’ them bum things an’
git their hooks in an’ git a stiddy income from it long as you’ll stand
fer it.”

It was decided, after much discussion, to send the money “fer the
overhaulin’.” Several months elapsed. The machine came back too late to
be of further use that season, and was carefully stowed away for the
winter.

“She’ll prob’ly need another ‘overhaulin’’ in the spring ’fore she’ll
go, an’ them fellers’ll want to nick us ag’in an’ keep ’er all next
summer,” said Saunders. “If they charged by the days they kep’ ’er
instid o’ by the job, we’d be busted. They’ll bust us anyhow, an’ it
might as well be all at one crack. The Bug’s goin’ to stay in the
house now, where she won’t git wet. She ain’t goin’ out on the vasty
deep no more ’til spring. If she gits uneasy, she c’n run ’round in
’ere.”

The following May I called at the shanty and found Sipes sitting
disconsolately in the door-way. After visiting with him for a while, I
inquired for Saunders.

“Poor Bill’s dead. I ain’t got no partner now an’ it’s awful lonesome.
He was a nice ol’ feller. He fussed ’round with the gas bug fer days
an’ days, an’ ’e couldn’t make it go. He come in one night late, an’
the next mornin’ ’e didn’t git up. He didn’t seem in ’is right mind.
His hand ’ud keep goin’ ’round an’ ’round, like it was crankin’ sump’n.
Then ’e’d make sputterin’ sounds with ’is mouth like as if a motor was
goin’, an’ then ’e’d keep still a long time like the Bug does, an’ then
begin ag’in. He wouldn’t eat nothin’, an’ one night he said ’e guessed
’e needed overhaulin’. Then ’e said ‘choo-choo! choo-choo!’ three er
four times, an’ ’e was gone. Come on with me an’ I’ll show you where ’e
was laid away.”

We walked along the shore a short distance, crossed the beach and
climbed the bluff. Near the foot of an old pine was a mound, on which
was scattered the dried remnants of many spring flowers, which probably
had come from the low ground in the ravine. Several bunches of white
trilliums, with their leaves and roots, had been transplanted to the
mound, but they had withered and died. A wide board, which protruded
from the ground at the head of the grave, bore the rude inscription:

[Illustration: BiLL SauNDERS--DEAD]

Under the name was a rough drawing of the fly-wheel of the motor,
evidently made with Sipes’s stubby pencil.

Chiselled epitaphs on granite tombs have said, but told no more.

We stood for some time before the mound. The old sailor wiped a tear
from his single eye as we left Bill’s last resting place in silence and
sorrow.

“Him an’ me was shipmates,” said the old man sadly, as we returned to
the shanty. “I off’n go up there an’ set down an’ think about ’im. Bill
was honest. They’s lots o’ fellers that wouldn’t swipe nothin’ that was
red-hot an’ nailed down, ’spesh’ly ’round ’ere, but Bill never’d touch
nothin’ that didn’t b’long to him er me. It was the gas bug that killed
’im. Fust it made ’im daffy an’ then it finished ’im. She’s over there
now on the stern o’ the boat. I ain’t never had ’er out this year, but
I’m goin’ to try ’er once’t, jest fer Bill’s sake. I think ’e’d like to
have me do it.”

After many condolences, and a general review of the Bug’s disgraceful
career by Sipes, I picked up my sketching outfit and resumed my
journey, depressed, as we all are, by a sense of the transience and
unsolvable mystery of life, when we have stood near one who has gone.

One calm morning, about a month later, I was rowing on the lake several
miles from Sipes’s shanty. A boat appeared in the distance. Its high
sides, broad beam, the labored, intermittent coughing of a motor,
and the doughty little bewhiskered figure on the stern seat were
unmistakable. Sipes altered his course slightly so as to pass within
fifty or sixty yards. I wondered why he did not come nearer. He went on
by with a cheery “Wot Oh!” and a friendly wave of his hand. Evidently
he was on some errand that he did not want to explain, or was afraid
to stop the motor, fearing that it would not start again. In a few
weeks I encountered him again, under almost identical conditions. His
nets were nowhere in the vicinity.

In the early fall I found an old flat-roofed hut, built with faced
logs, about six miles down the coast, in the direction that the old man
had been going when I had last seen him. It was in a hollow near the
top of a high bluff that faced the lake. It was effectually hidden from
the water and shore by a bank of sand and tangled growth along the edge
of the bluff. Built against the outside was a large dilapidated brick
chimney, entirely out of proportion in size to the cabin. No smoke
issued from it and the place seemed deserted. I went down to the beach.
A mile or so further on I found a fisherman repairing a boat on the
sand, and asked him about the cabin.

“That place is witched,” he declared. “Thar’s funny doin’s ’round thar
at night an’ don’t you go near it. Thar’s a white thing that dances
on the roof. It goes up an’ down an’ out o’ sight, an’ then thar’s a
big thunderin’ noise. I don’t want to know no more ’bout it’n I know
now. It don’t look right to me. I seen a wild man ’round ’ere in
the woods once’t, a couple o’ years ago, an’ mebbe he lived thar an’
’e’s dead an’ ’e hants that place. I don’t come ’round ’ere often an’ I
don’t want to.”

[Illustration: THE “BOGIE HOUSE”

  (_From the Author’s Etching_)]

My curiosity was aroused and I decided to investigate the mystery
when an opportunity came. About nine o’clock one night I walked up
a little trail in the sand that led toward the cabin from the woods
back of the bluff. There was a dim light inside that was extinguished
when I carelessly stepped on a mass of dead brush that had been piled
across the path. The breaking of the little sticks had made quite a
noise. Immediately a long, wavy, white object appeared over the roof
of the cabin. It vaguely resembled a human shape and looked peculiarly
uncanny. It swayed back and forth a few times and then seemed to
grow taller. The trees beyond were partially visible through it in
the uncertain light. Clearly I was in the presence of a spook. The
apparition vanished as suddenly as it came. Then a dull, hollow sound
came from the cabin, followed by a low, rasping, ringing noise. When it
ceased, the silence was weird and oppressive.

I went on by the structure to the edge of the bluff, where another pile
of dry brush obstructed the path, and purposely walked on it, instead
of over the high sand on the sides of the opening. The breaking sticks
made more noise. I turned and again saw the spectral form over the
roof. The wraith swayed slowly to the right and left, bent backward and
forward a few times, grew longer and shorter, and disappeared as before.

In departing I stumbled over a board which stuck out of the sand, and
in the dim light could distinguish the words “Dinnymite--Keep Out!”
heavily scrawled on it with red paint.

Evidently visitors were not wanted, and the tell-tale brush-piles were
designed to give alarm of the approach of intruders. The functions of
the filmy ghost and the queer sounds were to inspire terror of the
place.

I related my experience to Sipes the next time I saw him. He was deeply
interested.

“Did ye hear any groanin’ after them funny sounds?” he asked, with a
quizzical look in his eye. I replied that I had not.

“I’ll tell ye wot we’ll do,” said he, after a few moments of
reflection, “you an’ me’ll go down to that bogie house some time an’
we’ll butt in an’ see wot’s doin’. I gotta go that way in the boat next
week. We’ll take the gun, an’ mebbe we’ll blow that bogie offen the top
o’ the house. I seen that place last year an’ I know where it is.”

I did not approve of the idea of needlessly invading the privacy of
anybody who did not want to see us, and who had inhospitably stocked
their domain with brush-piles, ghosts, and forbidding placards, but
there was a strange look in Sipes’s eye that convinced me that the trip
might in some way be justified.

On the appointed day we made the start. “I always spend jest an hour
tunin’ up the Bug,” remarked the old man, as he began cranking the
motor, “an’ then if she don’t pop, I cuss ’er out fer jest fifteen
minutes, an’ then I row. Hell, I gotta have some system!”

Fortunately the Bug was in good humor and took us three-quarters of the
distance without a break. It then went to sleep, and half an hour’s
cranking and assiduous doctoring failed to arouse it.

“I got a great scheme,” said Sipes. “W’en she gits like that I fasten
the steerin’ gear solid fer the way I want to go, an’ then w’en I keep
on crankin’, the propeller goes ’round an’ ’round, an’ I keep goin’
some.”

A little later a single turn of the fly-wheel started the treacherous
device, but it was going backward. Sipes promptly seized the oars and
turned the stern of the boat toward our destination.

“We got ’er now! Jest keep quiet an’ touch wood! Sometimes she likes to
do that, an’ if I try to reverse ’er she’ll balk. She thinks it’s time
to go home, but it ain’t. This crawfish navigat’n’s fine w’en ye git
used to it.”

We landed beyond a point on the beach which was opposite to the cabin.
After we had secured the boat to some heavy drift-wood with a long
rope, I followed Sipes up the side of a bluff west of the cabin. We
made a detour through the woods and approached it at dusk. The dry
brush-piles practically surrounded it at a distance of about fifty
yards.

“Don’t step on none o’ them sticks,” cautioned Sipes. He gave a low,
peculiar whistle, which was answered from the cabin. “That there’s the
high sign,” he remarked, as we walked to the door. We were greeted by
Bill Saunders, alive and in the flesh. He seemed surprised that Sipes
had brought a visitor, but was very cordial. Sipes greatly enjoyed the
situation and chuckled over what he considered an immense joke.

“You see it’s like this,” he explained. “Bill got to thinkin’ wot’s the
use o’ gasoline? W’y not have sump’n that ’ud run ferever, an’ not ’ave
to keep buyin’ that stuff all the time? He’d set an’ think about it in
the shanty an’ then somebody’d butt in an’ mess up ’is thinkin’. He’d
go ’way off an’ set on the sand by ’isself, an’ then some geezer’d come
snoopin’ ’long an’ chin ’im, an’ ’e couldn’t git no thinkin’ done.

“That cusséd dog o’ Cal’s come ’long the beach one mornin’. He’s bin
runnin’ wild since Cal lit out. Fer years this whole country’s been
fussed up with ’im an’ ’is doin’s. He died jest as ’e was pass’n the
shanty. We buried ’im up there on that bluff, an’ that gave Bill an’ me
an idea. We fixed up the place so’s people ’ud think Bill ’ad faded.
Then we humped off down to this bogie house so Bill could ’ave some
peace an’ quiet to do ’is thinkin’ in. Bill’s invent’n some kind o’
power that’ll make ev’rythin’ hum w’en ’e gits it finished. It’ll put
all them other kinds o’ machines on the blink. That cusséd motor’ll go
’round an’ ’round, an’ she can’t stop ev’ry time ye bat yer eye at ’er.

“I been bringin’ things down ’ere fer Bill to eat, an’ sometimes little
beasties come ’round the hut wot ’e shoots. We fixed up that dry brush
so’s nobody ’ud come snoopin’ ’round without Bill knowin’ it. Him an’
me’s goin’ to divide wot we make out o’ th’ invention, an’ we’ll ’ave
cash money to burn w’en ’e gits it goin’. We’ll set in a float’n palace
out’n the lake an’ smoke _see_gars, with bands on ’em, an’ let the
other fellers do the fishin’, won’t we, Bill?”

“You bet!” responded Saunders. Just then we heard a sound of breaking
sticks outside. Instantly he seized a long pole that lay along the side
of the wall. It was fitted with a cross-piece and a round top. Over it
was draped various kinds of thin white fabric. He mounted a box and
pushed the contrivance up through a hole in the flat roof, moved it up
and down, waved the upper end back and forth a few times, and withdrew
it. He thumped the empty box heavily with the end of the pole as he
took it in, and picked up about four feet of rusty chain, which he
shook and dragged over the edge of the box several times.

Through a small chink between the logs we saw a dim figure moving
rapidly away in the gloom. We heard the crackling of the brush at the
edge of the bluff, and knew that the intruder had gone.

“That feller’s got the third degree all right,” remarked Saunders, as
he carefully put the ghost back into its place. “’Tain’t often anybody
comes, but w’en they do they gotta be foiled off. Them dinnymite signs
helps in the daytime, but fer night we gotta have sump’n else.

“This dress’n’ on the ghost mast come from Elvirey Smetters. We made
up with ’er after ’er wedd’n with Cal busted up an’ Cal skipped. She
was wearin’ most o’ this tackle fer the wedd’n, an’ she said she didn’t
never want to see it ag’in. There’s a big thin veil fer the top o’ the
pole, an’ some o’ the other stuff she said was long-cherry, er sump’n
like that. We keep that hatch battened down w’en it rains, but she’s
loose most o’ the time. W’en I shove the ghost out it pushes it open.”

Saunders extracted some rye bread, salt pork, and cheese from a
cupboard. We fried the pork in a skillet over some embers in the big
brick fire-place, and toasted the cheese. After our simple meal the old
man piled more wood on the fire, and we smoked and talked until quite
late.

The mechanism, on which Saunders was spending his days of seclusion,
reposed under some tattered canvas near the wall. He was reticent
concerning it, but Sipes volunteered the information that “they was
some little wood’n balls wot went up an’ down in some tubes that was
filled with oil, an’ then they rolled ’round inside of a wheel an’ come
back.”

“Now you shut up!” commanded Saunders. “You leave this thing to me ’til
I git it done, an’ then you c’n talk ’til yer hat’s wore out. They
ain’t no use talkin’ ’til we git somew’eres, an’ then we won’t ’ave to
talk. Wait ’til I git some little springs that’ll spread out quick an’
come back slow, an’ we’ll be through.”

Saunders’s mind was struggling with the eternal and alluring problem of
perpetual motion. He was groping blindly for the priceless jewel that
would revolutionize the world of mechanics.

It was after midnight when we bade him good-by, and departed through
the moonlit woods for the beach.

We left the old man in the company of his fire, and is there greater
companionship? It is in our fires that we find the realm of reverie.
The fecund world of fancy reveals its fair fields and rose-tinted
clouds in the vistas of shimmering light. Memory brings forth pages
that the years have blurred. Fleeting filaments of faces wondrous
fair, that long ago faded into the mists, smile wistfully, in halos of
tremulous hues, and vanish. Slow-moving figures, crowned with wreaths
of gray, sometimes linger, turn with looks of tender mother love, and
dissolve in the curling smoke. The years that have slumbered in the
old logs come forth at the touch of a familiar wand, and a soft light
illumines chambers that time has sealed. The grim realities are lost
in the glow of our hearth. In the dreamland of the fire we may ride
noble steeds and soar on tireless pinions. We see heroes fight and
fall. Cities with gilded walls and bright towers, broad landscapes,
enthralling beauty, leaves of laurel on triumphant brows, majestic
pageants, and acclaiming multitudes, are pictured in the flickering
flames.

On the little stage under the arch of the fireplace the puppets come
and go,--the comedies and the tragedies, the laughter and the sorrow.
The dramas of hopes and fears are enacted in shifting pantomimes that
melt away into the gloom.

Our hearth-stones are the symbols of home. We go forth to battle when
their sanctity is imperilled. It would be a desolate world without our
fires. Winding highways lead through them on which he who travels must
mark the light and not the ruin. He must feel the glow and not the
burning, and be far beyond the ashes when they come.

In the twilight, when our lives become gray, and only the embers lie
before us, we can still dream, if our souls are strong. If we have
learned to live with the ideals we have created, instead of charred
hopes, golden visions may linger in the mellow light. Happy hours, as
transient as the fitful flames, may dance again, and shine among the
smouldering coals.

The grizzled old sailor, who had been fortune’s toy, and had been cast
aside, may have found his solace in the visions before his fire. The
pictures in it may have been of millions of wheels turned with the
new force, myriads of aëroplanes soaring through the skies, dynamos of
inexhaustible power giving heat and light, and countless looms spinning
the fabrics of the world.

He may have seen himself worshipped, not for his achievement, but for
his wealth, in the domain of Vulgaria, where Avarice is king--where
worth is measured by dollars--where utter selfishness rules, and the
cave man still dwells, veneered with a gilded tinsel of what, in
his foolish pride, he thinks is civilization--where vanity parades
in the guise of charity--where cruelty and greed hide under fine
raiment--where human hyenas rend the weak and grovel before the
strong--where the bestiality of the Hun darkens the world--where the
only god is Gold, and where the idealist must fight or perish.

One night during the following spring I passed the cabin. The little
structure, from which a great light might have radiated over the
scientific world, was deserted. A pale, ghostly gleam was visible
through the empty window frame. It might have been a phosphorescent
glow from one of the decaying wall-logs, or a faint spark from the
dream-fire that ever burns in the hearts of men.



IX

THE WINDING RIVER’S TREASURE

[Illustration: “Na’cissus Jackson”]



IX

THE WINDING RIVER’S TREASURE


There was much bustle and preparation around the fish shanty one August
morning. Hoarded on a shelf of the bluff were a lot of water-worn
boards, which had drifted in along the beach at various times, or been
thrown up by the storms, and gradually gathered.

The old shipmates had selected suitable pieces from the pile, and were
busily engaged, with hammer and saw, in building a cabin on the big
boat. It was a cumbrous and unwieldy craft, about twenty feet long,
with high sides and a broad beam. For years it had been used in the
work of installing the pound- and gill-nets in the lake, and for the
necessary visits to them when the surf was too high for the small
row-boat, which was kept for ordinary use.

The long oars, with which Sipes and Saunders had so often fought the
big waves, were not exactly mated, but when the detachable motor
on the wide stern failed to run, navigation was still possible. A
bowsprit had been added to the boat, and a mast protruded through the
partially completed cabin. Many rusty nails and odd pieces entered into
the building of the superstructure. A large square of soiled canvas
and some miscellaneous cordage lay scattered about on the sand. Some
scrawled lettering in red paint across the stern indicated that the
boat was henceforth to be the _Crawfish_.

“We’r’ goin’ on a v’yage,” explained Sipes. “We’r’ goin’ ’way off up
the lake, an’ we’ll touch at diff’nt ports fer some stores we gotta
have, an’ then we’r’ comin’ back, an’ we’r’ goin’ to a cert’n river you
know ’bout, an’ we’r’ goin’ up it. If you want to make pitchers, you
c’n come ’long. We’ll stop an’ take you aboard w’en we come by with the
stuff we gotta git.”

I had learned from experience that Sipes usually became reticent when
questioned too closely. It was better to let him volunteer whatever he
wanted to say about his own affairs. I was careful not to evince any
curiosity as to the object of the river trip, and gladly accepted the
invitation, as I had intended visiting the river during the fall.

The shanty was stripped of most of its small movable contents, which
were put on board when the additions were completed. The nets were
taken into the house and piled up. The small boat was laid on top of
them along the wall, and the door fastened with a rusty padlock.

Sipes remarked, as he put the key in his pocket, that “they was always
some bulgarious feller rubber’n round fer sump’n light an’ easy, that
’ud clean out that shanty if it wasn’t batt’n’d up an’ locked.”

The reincarnated craft was floated, and it sailed slowly away, with the
doughty mariners giving boisterous orders to each other.

A week later I heard a loud halloo, and cries of “Wot Oh!” down on
the beach opposite to my camp in the dunes. I looked over the edge of
the bluff and saw the _Crawfish_ riding proudly on the low swells.
The broad sail flapped idly in the breeze, and Saunders was ensconced
on top of the cabin, smoking his pipe. Sipes had waded ashore and was
waiting to help get my belongings on board.

A small tent, a supply of canned goods, sketching materials, a camera,
and other items were carefully stowed. My row-boat was connected with
a line, and we were ready to start. We had only about fifteen miles to
go, and expected to reach the mouth of the river about noon.

The cabin was characteristic of its builders. It was intended for use
and not as an ornament. Ordinarily two could sleep in it comfortably,
but the present cargo taxed its capacity. There was little ventilation
when the door was closed. What fresh air there was entered through a
pair of auger holes, which had evidently been bored for observation
purposes. I suggested that the air inside would be better if the holes
were larger, or if there were more of them, but Sipes claimed that they
were large enough.

“Air c’n come in now faster’n you c’n breath it. Jest notice how
much bigger them holes is than them in yer nose.” Such logic was
uncombatable and the subject was changed.

The motor worked spasmodically and we sailed most of the way. The
breeze died down when we were about half a mile from where the Winding
River came out of the dunes. After much cranking the motor started, but
would only run backwards. We turned the stern toward the river’s mouth
and made fair progress.

“That’s w’y we named ’er the _Crawfish_,” explained Sipes. “We know’d
we’d ’ave to do a lot o’ that kind o’ navigat’n’.”

We ran on to a small sand-bar, which delayed us for some time, but got
off with the oars. After a hard row against the current, we entered the
mouth of the river, which was not over fifty yards wide. We heard the
sound of music from among the decayed ruins of a pier that extended
into the lake. Seated on some chunks of broken limestone, between the
rotting piles, we saw a gray-haired colored man of about sixty. He
was playing “Money Musk” on a mouth organ. Near him a cane fish-pole
was stuck in among the rocks, and extended out over the water. He was
whiling away the time between bites with his music.

“I bet that feller ain’t no nigro,” remarked Sipes. “He looks like a
white man wot’s been smoked.”

The solitary fisherman regarded us with an expectant look, as we tied
up to one of the piles.

“Good mawnin’, gen’lemen! Does you-all happ’n to have sump’n to drink
in yo’ boat?”

“We ain’t got nothin’ wet but wot’s leaked in. You c’n ’ave some o’
that if you want it,” Sipes replied with some asperity. “Wot’s the
matter with the lake if you’r’ thirsty?”

“Ah beg yo’ pa’don, but you-all looked like gen’lemen that might have
sump’n with you. This ain’t thirst. Ah got a misery, an’ it ’curred to
me you might like to save ma life. Ah ain’t had no breakfus’, an Ah
feels weak.”

“Listen at that smoke,” said Sipes, in an undertone. “Wonder if ’e
thinks we’r’ a float’n’ s’loon?”

Evidently discouraged over his prospects with Sipes, the old darky
turned to me.

“Say, Boss, will you gimme a qua’tah, so Ah c’n go an’ git some
breakfus’?”

We thought it better to give him some “breakfus’” from the boat, and,
as it was lunch time, we passed part of our eatables over to him.

“Ah nevah had the pleas’ah of meet’n you gen’lemen befo’. Ma name’s
Na’cissus Jackson, an’ Ah’m up heah f’om the south. Ah ce’t’nly am
’bliged to you fo’ this li’l breakfus’.”

We talked with Narcissus for some time. Evidently he was a victim of
strong drink. He had drifted into prohibition territory, the extent of
which he did not know, and out of which he had no financial means of
escape.

“Ah’m on a dry island, Boss, an’ Ah don’t know how Ah’m goin’ to git
off it. Ah was cook at the place wheah Ah wo’ked, an’ Ah got fiahed
just ’cause Ah didn’t show up one mawnin’. They was goin’ to have me
’rested fo’ sump’n Ah didn’t have nuff’n to do with, an’ Ah come heah
fo’ a li’l vacation.”

Sipes suggested that we ought to have a pilot to take us up the river,
on account of its many sand-bars, that must have shifted since he was
on it after ducks years ago.

“We oughta have somebody sett’n on top o’ the cab’n to yell out, an’
keep us from butt’n into sump’n w’en we’r’ tear’n up stream. This
ain’t no canoe, an’ we got import’nt business an’ we don’t want to git
stuck,” declared the old man.

“Theah’s a man ovah in the village named Cap’n Peppehs, that knows all
about this rivah,” replied Narcissus. “S’pos’n you-all gimme a qua’tah,
an’ Ah’ll go up an’ git Cap’n Peppehs fo’ you.”

I agreed to furnish the coveted coin if “Cap’n Peppehs” was produced,
and our new-found friend took in his pole, climbed out over the rough
stone filling, and departed for the village, which was only a short
distance off. He soon reappeared, accompanied by a pompous, deep-voiced
old man, with a red nose and scraggly whiskers, who looked us over with
curiosity.

“My name’s Peppers. What can I do for you?” he asked in a friendly tone.

“We’r’ goin’ up the river an’ we don’t want to git messed up on no
sand-bars,” replied Saunders. “If you been navigat’n’ these waters,
we’d like to git you to go ’long ’til we git where we want to go.”

“If you’ll drop me off back o’ the third bend, I’ll git aboard,” said
the old man. “You won’t need no pilot after that. You c’n go on up an’
not hit anythin’ but float’n snags beyond that fer three miles in that
craft.”

He got into the boat. I handed Narcissus his “qua’tah,” and he picked
his way back over the rocks to his fish-pole, where, like his fabled
namesake, he may have found solace in the contemplation of his image in
the placid water.

“Cap’n Peppehs” examined the motor with interest. “Are you goin’ to run
’er up with that?” he asked.

“Yes, if she’ll go,” replied Saunders, “but I bet she won’t. A friend
of ours that peddles fish got it some’r’s ’round ’ere, an’ turned it
over to us. If we ever cetch the feller that shifted that cusséd thing
onto John, we’r’ goin’ to kill ’im. We got a gun in the cab’n wot’s
wait’n’ fer ’im.”

“I know sump’n ’bout them things,” said the Captain, “an’ mebbe I c’n
start ’er.” He fussed over the machine for some time, and finally got
it going. With the help of the oars we made fair progress against the
slow current.

“You c’n go on up now an’ camp in that bunch o’ timber beyond the
marsh, an’ you’ll be all right,” said the old man, when we reached the
point where he was to leave us. “You’ll find a mighty fine spring up
there.”

We thanked him warmly for his services. Sipes proffered the hospitality
of a two-gallon jug, which he extracted from the pile of stuff in the
cabin. It was eagerly accepted. He wished us good luck, and disappeared.

“That’ll make ’is nose bloom some more,” remarked Sipes. “He’s a nice
ol’ feller, but wot’s springs to him? It wasn’t no green peppers ’e was
named after.”

The river made many turns in its sinuous course through the marsh, and
it was nearly dark when we reached a hard bank at the edge of the
woods.

The _Crawfish_ was made fast to a venerable elm, and we went ashore.

“I’ll put a couple o’ extra hitches on ’er so she can’t back off in the
night, if the gas bug takes a notion to git busy,” said Saunders, as he
took another line ashore from the stern.

It was warm and pleasant, and we decided that no shelter would be
necessary that night. We built a small fire against the side of a log,
fried some bacon in a skillet, made coffee, and fared well, if not
sumptuously, with supplies from the boat.

We sat around and talked until quite late. The object of the expedition
was revealed by Saunders.

“They was a feller that come to the bogie-house one night w’en they was
a big storm that ’ad come up sudd’n. He’d come from the lake, an’ it
was blowin’ so hard that it ’ud take hair off a frog. He’d started on
a long trip with a little boat. He had one o’ them cusséd motors like
wot we got, an’ it went punk, an’ ’e had an awful time git’n’ in alive.
He seen my light an’ come up. I didn’t ’ear ’im til ’e knocked, so I
didn’t ’ave no chance to spring the ghost on ’im. W’en I seen the mess
’e was in, I took ’im in an’ fed ’im an’ dried ’im out ’fore the fire.

“He seemed to be a scientific feller, an’ ’e told me a lot about the
rivers all over the country. He said that durin’ the fall ’is business
was to go ’round an’ buy pearls wot fishers got out o’ them fresh-water
clams that’s all over the bottoms o’ the rivers. He’d pay ’em good
prices. He said the pearls ’ad thin layers on ’em, like onions, an’
sometimes one would look like it was no good. Then ’e’d take a steel
thing an’ peel off the outside skin, an’ sometimes ’e’d git one that
way that was wuth five hundred dollars. Then ’e said they was button
companies that ’ud buy all the shells o’ the clams, so they was a
lot o’ money in it, even if they wasn’t no pearls found. He had a
little pearl in ’is pocket that ’e’d peeled. It wasn’t a very good
one--prob’ly wuth three er four dollars. He gave it to me fer bein’
good to ’im, an’ ’ere it is.”

The old sailor carefully unrolled a small piece of paper, which he took
out of his tobacco pouch, and produced the pearl.

“This feller gimme a little book that didn’t ’ave no cover on, that’s
sent out by the gov’ment, an’ it tells all about clam fish’n’, an’ how
to make drag-hooks, an’ how to rig ’em, an’ drag ’em, an’ all about it.”

He brought out the interesting pamphlet, with the address of the giver
written in pencil on one of the margins.

“The next mornin’ I helped the feller put wot was left o’ his boat an’
motor up in the bogie-house, an’ ’e went off through the woods. He said
’e’d come back some day an’ git ’em.

“Invent’n’s no good. We gotta git sump’n we c’n git a big bunch o’
money out of. Fish’n’s git’n’ to be too hard work fer us. They’s slews
o’ wealth in this water, an’ we’r’ goin’ to git it out an’ we won’t
’ave to work no more. We didn’t say nothin’ to nobody. John come
’round an’ we told ’im, but ’e’s all right. This whole thing’s a dark
secret. It’s all right fer you to know, but we gotta keep still, er the
place’ll be full o’ flatboats an’ the pearls’ll be gone. Sipes an’ me’s
seen where the mushrats ’as been pilin’ the shells ’round them little
places where they got holes in the banks, an’ out’n the marsh where
their houses are, w’en we was down ’ere duck-shoot’n’. If them little
beasties c’n git ’em, we c’n mop out the whole river with all that
tackle that the book tells about.”

“The fust thing we gotta do, after we git a flatboat built, is to git
some heavy wire fer them clam drags,” said Sipes. “We c’n go back to
the railroad an’ git some out between them telegraph poles. The wire
don’t cost them fellers nothin’, an’ it’s better we should ’ave it.
Tomorrer we’ll rig up a reg’lar camp, an’ then we’ll go to work on all
the things we gotta git ready so we c’n begin devastat’n them clamsies.”

The old man then went over to the boat for the jug. He set it down and
began working the cork out with his knife.

“I don’t do much drink’n’, but me an’ Bill’s git’n’ old, an’ we’r’ in a
my-larious country, an’ we gotta have grog once an’ aw’ile.”

Just as the cork came out, we heard a rustle of dead leaves on the
ground back of us.

“Good evenin’, gen’lemen!” greeted Narcissus Jackson, as he appeared
out of the darkness, and walked deferentially up to the fire. “Fine
evenin’, ain’t it?”

“You _bet_ it’s a fine evenin’!” exclaimed Sipes, with freezing
politeness. “How fur off did you smell this jug from?”

“Ah just thought Ah’d drop ’round an’ see how you gen’lemen was get’n’
’long. Ah come up in a li’l boat I got offen Cap’n Peppehs. Ah saw
yo’ fiah, an’ Ah just come to pay ma respec’s. Is you-all well an’
puffec’ly comfo’ble up heah? How’s you feel’n’, Mr. Sipes? Seem’s like
you had a li’l cold this mawnin’.”

“I’m better, but ‘Ah feels weak,’” quoted Sipes, with biting sarcasm.

“Ah ce’t’nly am glad to heah yo’ voice again,” continued Narcissus.
“It’s a long tia’some row up heah, an Ah ce’t’nly am glad to find you
gen’lemen all sit’n’ so comfo’ble ’round yo’ li’l fiah.”

The veiled appeal was irresistible. Sipes handed over the jug and
cup, after he and Saunders had been “refreshed,” and he had pitied my
teetotalism with a patronizing glance.

“That’s a _nice_ li’l tin cup, an’ that’s an awful pretty shaped jug,”
observed our unexpected visitor, as he affectionately watched the red
liquid trickle out. “Pa’don me, but Ah always closes ma eyes when Ah
take ma li’l drink, ’cause if Ah don’t, ma mouth watahs so it weak’ns
ma whiskey.” The contents of the cup instantly vanished.

We were about ready to make our arrangements for the night when
Narcissus appeared. Fortunately my own supplies included a lot of
mosquito netting. I got it out and he promptly offered to help. He
deftly improvised an effective covering with the netting and some
sticks that excited the admiration of all of us.

“If you’d git toughed up, an’ raise a face o’ whiskers, them skeets
wouldn’t chase after you,” observed Sipes.

Narcissus sat on a log and did not seem inclined to go away.

“Say, Boss, will you lemme have a qua’tah to get ma breakfus’ with in
the mawnin’?” he asked humbly.

The request was cheerfully complied with. I really liked Narcissus. His
interesting face, winning personality, and happy-go-lucky ways appealed
to my sense of the picturesque. It occurred to me that if the jug could
be eliminated from the situation, he would be a valuable addition to
the camp. I invited him to stay all night and have breakfast with us in
the morning.

When Sipes heard the invitation accepted, he went down to the boat to
satisfy himself that Saunders had locked the door when he had returned
the jug to the cabin.

In the morning Narcissus volunteered to prepare our simple breakfast.
He did it with such skill that we realized that our own cooking was
crude and amateurish.

During the forenoon I had a long talk with him. He was stranded and
would like to stay with us if we were willing. For a moderate stipend
he agreed to do the cooking and make himself generally useful.

I did not wish to intrude too much on the old shipmates, and, as I
wanted to be alone much of the time, and do some sketching along
the river, I established my camp about a hundred yards further up
on the same side of the stream. This I judged to be near enough for
sociability, and far enough for privacy. Narcissus helped erect my
tent, and made many ingenious arrangements for my work and comfort.

The old sailors became so enthusiastic over his cooking that they were
glad to have him down with them most of the time. The sail had been
taken off the boat, and a “lean-to” tent rigged between two trees,
where they all slept.

“You jest watch that cookie coin pancakes!” exclaimed Sipes. “He jest
whisks up the dope in the pan, an’ gives ’em a couple o’ flops, an’
they all come to pieces in yer mouth ’fore ye begin chewin’.”

He seemed to anticipate all our wants. He had evidently overheard what
Sipes had said about telegraph wire, and the second morning afterward
there was about a hundred feet of it in camp, with a pair of heavy
wire-nippers, and other tools used by repair men on the lines, which he
said he had found. The next night he came in with a half-grown turkey,
which he claimed he had found dead in a fence, where it had caught
its neck on the barbed wire. The unfortunate bird was roasted to a
beautiful brown, and I noticed that the feathers were carefully burned.

The aspect of affairs was getting serious. I took Narcissus in hand
and subjected him to a thorough cross-examination. I told him that we
wanted to pay for anything we used, and that he positively must not
find any more young turkeys in wire fences. The telegraph wire incident
was perplexing. He declared that this stuff had been abandoned, and
was far from the railroad. The fact that the tools and wire were
somewhat rusty seemed to lend some slight color of truth to his
statement, but we finally understood each other as to the rule to be
followed in the future.

A cash allowance was made for the fresh vegetables, eggs, fruit, and
other supplies, which he was instructed to buy around in the back
country and along the river. I hoped later to discover the owner of the
ill-fated turkey.

The old shipmates worked industriously. They took the _Crawfish_ down
the river to the village twice, and returned with cargos of second-hand
lumber, with which they constructed a flatboat about ten feet long by
six wide. Supports were put at the four corners, and railings nailed to
the tops. They rigged a strong pole, the length of the platform, along
which they attached four-foot wires eight inches apart. At the ends of
these were the four-pronged clam-hooks. Lines ran from the ends of the
pole to a centre rope, by means of which the device was attached to
the flatboat and dragged in the river. When the hooks came in contact
with the unsuspecting mollusks, lying open on the bottom, they were
to close their shells on them tightly, and thus their fate would be
sealed. When the pole was pulled out sideways, with the big rope, the
bivalves would hang on its fringe of dangling wires, like grapes on
pendant vines.

Our “cookie” was assiduous in his camp duties. He procured some flat
stones, which he skilfully piled so as to confine his fire. Heavy
stakes were driven into the ground, and another laid across, with its
ends in the forked tops. The cross-piece supported the iron kettle,
with which he performed mysterious feats of cookery. He improvised a
broiler with some of the telegraph wire, and baked delicious bread and
biscuits in a reflecting oven, made of a piece of old sheet-iron. He
was very resourceful. From somewhere beyond the confines of the dark
forest he obtained materials for menus that exceeded our fondest hopes.

He spent a great deal of time off by himself, and would often drop
around where I happened to be sketching. We had many confidential
talks. He confessed that drink was his besetting sin. He had generally
been able to get good jobs, but invariably lost them when he drank.
Some day he was “goin’ to sweah off fo’ good.” The poor fellow was
floating wreckage on that poison stream of alcohol that our false
conception of economics permits to exist. It was battering another
derelict along the rocks that line its sinister shores.

He had attached himself to us like a stray dog. His moral sense had
been blunted by his infirmity, but, under proper influences, his
reclamation was possible. Narcissus was a strong argument in favor of
compulsory prohibition, for he was beyond his own help.

The old shipmates agreed with me that he ought to be kept away from
temptation as much as possible, “spesh’ly,” said Sipes, “as we ain’t
got none too much in the jug. It ain’t fit fer nobody that’s under
sixty-seven. Young fellers oughta let that stuff alone. They git filled
up with it an’ it runs down in their legs an’ floats their feet off.”

Narcissus’s ancestry was mixed. He had some white blood, and one of
his grandfathers was an Indian. Though the African characteristics
predominated, there were traces of both the white man and the Indian in
his face. It may have been a remnant of Indian instinct--a mysterious
call of the blood--that lured him to the dune country, where the red
men were once happy, when he got into trouble. Possibly it was the
sixth sense of the Indian that led him up the river to the jug, on the
night of our arrival, or, as Sipes remarked, “mebbe the perfumery got
out through the cork an’ drifted over ’im w’en ’e was roostin’ on them
rocks.”

He cooked some carp, which he had caught in the river, and was much
disappointed when we found them unpalatable. The following evening he
compounded a delicious sauce, with which he camouflaged the despised
fish almost beyond recognition, but their identity was unmistakable.
Sipes declared that “the dope on them carps is fine, but I don’t like
wot it’s mixed with.” He ate the sauce and threw his piece of fish out
among the trees. The next morning he saw a crow drop down and eat it.

“That ol’ bird’s been through enough to know better’n that,” he
remarked.

The fish that came to us from the land of the Hun, and now infests our
inland waters, has little to commend it. It is objectionable wherever
it exists. It breeds immoderately, eats the spawn of respectable fish,
and begrimes the pure waters with its hog-like rooting along the
weedy bottoms. It is of inferior food value and pernicious. No means
of exterminating these noxious aliens have been discovered. Like the
Huns, they have all of the instincts of marauding swine, without their
redeeming qualities.

“These heah cahp ah funny fish,” said Narcissus. “A gen’leman tol’ me a
few yeahs ago of a cahp that was caught in the Mississippi rivah that
was ve’y la’ge. They opened ’im an’ found a gold watch an’ chain that
’e’d swallowed, an’ the watch was tickin’ when they took it out, an’
theah was a cha’m on the chain, an’ inside the cha’m was a li’l pict’ah
of a young lady. The young man that caught the cahp found that young
lady an’ theah was a wedd’n. Of co’se Ah didn’t see the watch, er the
young man, but that was the tale Ah hea’d. Theah’s been some awful
wonde’ful things happened down on that Mississippi rivah.”

“Gosh! if them Dutch fish ’ave got timepieces in ’em, mebbe we better
pursue ’em instid o’ clams,” remarked Sipes. “Them carps c’n live on
land pretty near as well as they do in water. They’r’ like mudturkles.
Bill an’ me seen a big one once’t, that was in a little puddle on some
land that ’ad been flowed over. We thought prob’ly the water’d gone
down an’ left ’im stranded. His back stuck out o’ the puddle an’ was
all dry an’ caked with mud. Mebbe he’d been out devastat’n’ the country
fer watches an’ jools, er sump’n, in the night, an’ ’ad jest stopped at
that hole fer a little rest on ’is way back.”

We spent many interesting evenings around the old shipmates’ camp fire.
Sipes and Saunders related marvellous tales of the sea. Narcissus told
many ornate yarns that he had picked up during his checkered life, and
sang negro revival songs and plantation melodies. The bleached skeleton
of some animal in the woods had provided him with material for two
pairs of “bones,” with which he was an adept. His mouth organ was a
source of much entertainment. Sipes’s favorite was “Money Musk,” the
merry jingle that came over the water when we entered the river, and he
often asked Narcissus to “play that cash-money tune some more.”

When the clam-boat was completed, and fully rigged with its
paraphernalia, it was pushed out into the slow current. It was
controlled with the oars from the _Crawfish_. The pole, with its
pendant wires, was dropped over the side, and actual operations began.
A bench had been erected in the middle of the rude craft, before which
Sipes stood, flourishing a stubby knife, ready to open the mollusks and
remove their precious contents. He had a small red tin tobacco box,
with a hinged cover, which he intended to fill with pearls the first
day.

“Let’s pull ’er up now,” he suggested, after the flatboat had drifted
about a hundred feet downstream. Saunders lifted in the tackle. Two
victims dangled on the wires.

“Gosh, this is easy! Gimme them clams!” They were eagerly opened, but
careful scrutiny revealed no pearls. “I guess them damn Dutch fish ’ave
got ’em, like they did that watch Cookie told about. Heave ’er over an’
we’ll try ’er ag’in, Bill.”

The first day’s work was fruitless, as were many that followed. The
clam-hooks frequently got snagged, and seemed to bring up everything
but pearls. Once an angry snapping-turtle was thrown back. An enormous
catfish, whose meditations on the bottom had been violently disturbed,
was pulled to the surface, but escaped.

“Mebbe we’ll cetch a billy-goat if this keeps up,” remarked Sipes.

The old men toiled on with dogged persistence. One Sunday morning an
aged bivalve was pulled up and a pearl, over three-eighths of an inch
in diameter, fell out on the bench when Sipes’s knife struck the inside
of the shell.

“Hoo-_ray_!!! Here she is!” he yelled.

“Be quiet, y’ol’ miser! Gimme that,” commanded Saunders.

He examined it closely and compared it with the one the wrecked
pearl-buyer had given him.

“How much d’ye think that onion-skinner’d give us fer that?” asked
Sipes, anxiously.

“It’s about three times as big, an’ it’s rounder. It oughta be wuth
fifteen er twenty dollars,” replied Saunders, as he put it with the
other specimen and rolled it up in the soiled paper.

“Here, Bill, you can’t do that! Gimme that jool. It’s gotta go in the
box.” Saunders surrendered the pearl, and Sipes carefully put it where
it belonged.

“We ain’t goin’ to fuss with no button companies, w’en we c’n find
them things,” declared Sipes, as he kicked the pile of empty shells
overboard. “That ain’t no money fer a jool like that. Wot are you
talk’n’ about? You don’t know nothin’ ’bout pearls. I bet it’s wuth a
thousand dollars right now, an’ mebbe it’ll be wuth two thousand if we
git that feller to peel it. I bet all them jools has to be peeled.”

That part of the pearl-buyer’s talk with Saunders that related to
the removal of the layers, and the comparison of a pearl’s structure
with that of an onion, had strongly impressed Sipes, and he generally
referred to him as “the onion-skinner.”

During the rest of the day he shook the box frequently to assure
himself that the pearl was still there.

Various “slugs,” pearls of irregular shape and of little value, were
found during the next week, and the increasing spoil was gloated over
at night.

Narcissus was sometimes added to the working force on the flatboat,
which was taken up stream as far as the depth permitted, for a fresh
start.

“We’r’ goin’ to drag this ol’ river from stem to gudgeon,” declared
Sipes. “W’en we git through the mushrats’ll have a tough time hustl’n’
fer food. We’ll git back in the marsh where the big clams stay in them
open places ’mong the splatter-docks, where all them lily-flowers grow,
an’ we’ll git some jools that it won’t do to drop on yer foot. I seen a
clam in the marsh once’t that was over eight inches long, an’ I bet ’e
was a hundred years old.”

One night Narcissus tied his little boat to a tree near the spring. He
left some fresh vegetables in it, which he had procured up the river.
In the morning it was discovered that the boat had been visited. The
unknown caller had eaten most of the supplies. Fragments were scattered
about, but no tracks were visible. A pile of green corn and some melons
met the same fate a few nights afterward, and Sipes decided to ambush
the visitor.

He lay on his stomach in the dark, with his gun beside him, and
waited. About midnight he heard splashing in the shallow water along
the bank, and, a moment later, the dim light revealed a spotted cow
helping herself liberally to the contents of the boat. Evidently she
had forded the river somewhere up stream, and had accidentally found a
welcome base of supplies.

“Come ’ere, Spotty!” Sipes called softly, as he cautiously advanced.
The friendly marauder did not seem at all alarmed, and submitted
peacefully to the coil of anchor rope that was taken from the bottom
of the boat and gently slipped over her horns. She was led out of the
water and tied to a tree. Sipes procured a tin pail at the camp, and
“Spotty” yielded of her abundance.

There was cream for our coffee the next day. Spotty was nowhere
visible. The old man had conducted her into the woods and “anchored
’er,” with a stake and a long rope, in a hidden glade, where there was
plenty of grass.

The following evening we were enjoying our pipes, while Narcissus was
cleaning up after a delicious dinner. An old man with a heavy hickory
cane hobbled into camp. His unkempt white beard nearly reached his
waist. His shoulders were bent with age. He appeared to be over eighty.

“Hello, Ancient!” was Sipes’s cheery greeting, as the patriarch came up
to the fire.

“Good evenin’!” responded the visitor. “How’s the clam fish’n’?”

“Jest so-so,” replied Saunders. “Have a seat.”

He gave the old man a box, with an improvised back, to sit on, and,
after a few remarks about the weather, our caller explained that he had
lost a cow, and wondered if we had seen anything of her.

“Wot kind of a look’n’ anamile was she?” inquired Sipes.

“Gray, with a lot o’ black spots on ’er. One horn bent out forrads,
an’ the other was twisted back, an’ she had a short tail. She’s been
roamin’ in the woods a good deal lately, an’ last night she didn’t come
home. I thought I’d come down this way an’ see if I could locate ’er.”

“I seen a cow like that yisterd’y,” replied the culprit. “She was over
on the other side o’ the river, an’ come down to drink. She prob’ly
mosies ’round nights like that ’cause she’s restluss. Her tail’s bobbed
an’ she can’t switch away the skeets. She’ll prob’ly show up all right.”

“Yes, I s’pose she will. Guess I won’t worry about ’er.” The visitor’s
eyes wandered about the camp. I had noticed a small brown turkey
feather on the ground, near where Sipes sat, but that wily strategist
had deftly slipped it into his side pocket.

Evidently the industry on the river had been duly observed by the
scattered dwellers in the back country, for our caller seemed to know
all about us. He understood that I was “drawin’ scenes ’round ’ere.”
Possibly some unknown observer had, at some time, come near enough to
see what I was doing, and noislessly retreated.

Sipes went down to the cabin of the _Crawfish_, and returned with the
jug. “Wouldn’t ye like to ’ave a little sump’n, after yer long walk?”
he asked.

“B’lieve I would!”

“Say w’en,” said Sipes, as he tilted the jug over the cup.

“Jest a _lee_tle, not more’n a thimbleful!”

“Some thimbles is bigger’n others,” observed the old sailor, as he half
filled the cup.

While protesting against the liberal offering, the old man disposed of
the “little sump’n” with much relish.

Narcissus watched the proceedings from behind his kitchen bench with
appealing eyes.

“How long you been liv’n’ ’round ’ere, Ancient?” asked Sipes.

“I come here in the fall o’ forty-eight. It was all open water whar
that slough is then. It’s weeded up sence. We used to chase deer out
all over the ice thar in the winter. They’d slip down an’ couldn’t git
up, an’ we got slews of ’em that way. In the fall we’d find ’em on the
beach ’long the big lake. We’d shoo ’em out in the water, an’ then stay
’long the shore an’ yell at ’em an’ keep ’em from comin’ in. They’d
swim ’round fer a couple of hours, an’ they’d git so tired the waves
’ud wash ’em in, an’ we’d cetch ’em. We’d lay up enough meat to last
all winter.

“We had to save amminition, fer we had to go twenty miles to the
trading post fer wot we used. The Injuns was thicker’n hair on a dog
’round ’ere then. Many’s the time, in the summer, I’ve looked down the
marsh an’ seen ’em set’n’ on the mushrat houses suckin’ wild duck eggs
wot they’d found ’round in the slough.”

“I bet them was big pearls wot they was munchin’ on,” observed Sipes.

Not noticing the interruption the Ancient continued.

“They was so many wild ducks an’ geese ’round ’ere in the fall, that
you didn’t ’ave to shoot ’em at all. You c’d go down on that sand-spit
whar the river runs out o’ the marsh, jest ’fore daylight, w’en they
was comin’ out, an’ knock ’em down with a stick. They’d fly so low, an’
they was so thick you couldn’t miss ’em, an’ you c’d git all you c’d
carry.”

“Gosh! Let’s give ’im another drink!” whispered Sipes.

“Them days is all gone. Sometimes you see ducks hereabouts, but the
sky’s never black with ’em like it used to be. Thar was millions o’
wild pigeons ’ere too. They’d set on the dead trees so thick that the
branches busted off, an’ thar was eagles ’ere that used to fly off with
the young pigs, an’ I’ve killed rattlesnakes over in the hills as thick
as yer arm, an’ eight feet long, but they’ve been gone fer years.

“Thar was tall pine all through this country then, but it’s been
cut out. Pretty near ev’ry mile ’long the big lake thar’s old piles
stick’n’ up. Them was piers that the logs was hauled to with oxen an’
bob-sleds. The logs was loaded from the piers onto schooners that
carried ’em off on the lake. I used to work at the loggin’ in the
winter.

“Ev’ry now an’ then we’d git a b’ar, an’ we used to find lots o’ wild
honey. The wolves used to chase us w’en they was in packs, but w’en one
was alone ’e’d always run. Thar’s been some awful big fires through
’ere. Once it was all burnt over fer fifty miles.”

“That ol’ mossback knows a lot, don’t ’e?” whispered Sipes to me, as
the narrator paused to light his pipe.

“Them pearls you fellers er fish’n’ fer reminds me of a story. Thar
was a lot o’ Injuns lived ’ere at this end o’ the marsh long about
sixty-three. Thar was an’ ol’ medicine-man that ’ad gathered about a
peck o’ them things, big an’ little, an’ kep’ ’em in a skin bag. Thar
was a bad Injun ’ere named Tom Skunk, an’ ’e stole ev’rything ’e c’d
lay ’is hands on. He didn’t know the bag had much value, but ’e carried
it off one day w’en the old man was gone. The Injuns got so mad ’bout
all the meat an’ skins this feller kep’ takin’ that they fixed it up
to drill ’im out o’ the country. They caught ’im an’ made ’im give the
ol’ Injun back ’is bag. Then they told ’im to vamoose. He stuck ’round
fer a few days, an’ one night ’e paddled down the river in ’is canoe.
The ol’ Injun was pretty mad. He peeked out of ’is wigwam an’ seen ’im
comin’. He got ’is ol’ smooth-bore rifle out an’ rammed a handful o’
them little pearls on top o’ the powder. [Groan from Sipes.] W’en Tom
Skunk come by ’e let loose an’ filled ’im full of ’em. Tom got away
somehow, an’ that was the last seen of ’im in these parts. We heard
afterward that ’e went to a govament post, an’ the surgeon spent a week
pick’n’ out the pearls an’ sold ’em fer a big price.

“We used to have snapp’n’ turtles in this river that was two feet
across, an’ they’d come out in the night after the hens. We cut the
head off o’ one once, an’ ’e lived a week after that. He had a date,
seventeen hundred and sump’n, on ’is back. He was all caked up with
moss an’ crusted shell, so we couldn’t quite make out the year.
Somebody must ’a’ burnt it on with a hot iron.

“All the ol’ settlers in these parts are dead now, ’ceptin’ me, an’
I’m git’n’ pretty feeble, an’ don’t git ’round like I used to. I’m
eighty-four an’, damn ’em, I’ve buried ’em all!”

He reached for his hickory cane and rose painfully.

“I guess I gotta be goin’ ’long now, fer it’s git’n’ late. If you see
anything o’ my cow, I wish you’d let me know.”

We loaned him a lantern and bade him good-night, as he limped away
through the woods.

After the departure of our entertaining visitor, we took Sipes to task
about the cow. Under gentle pressure, he reluctantly agreed to release
the animal, and left for the glade, where Spotty was secreted. I
noticed that he took a pail with him.

Spotty visited the camp several times during the next week, and
the menus were enriched with dishes that would have been otherwise
impossible. I suggested that something ought to be done for the Ancient
to even things up.

“All right,” said Sipes, “we’ll have Cookie take ’im up a big bunch o’
carps, so ’e c’n ’av’ some fish. Gosh! We gotta have milk.”

By the use of delicate diplomacy and confidential explanation, I
amicably adjusted the milk difficulty with Spotty’s owner, and arranged
that the faithful animal should furnish us with two quarts a day. The
old settler was very tolerant and reasonable, and I had no trouble
about the matter at all. He often came to see us, and brought welcome
additions to our food supplies.

The golden fall days and the cool nights came. The pearl hunting and
the genial gatherings at the camp fire continued. The destruction of
the unios in the river went on with unabated zeal. Many hundreds of
them were opened and thrown away. Man, the wisest, and yet the most
ignorant of living creatures, lays waste the land of plenty that
prodigal nature has spread before him.

The tin box was nearly full of specimens, varying in size, shape, and
color. The attrition which Sipes caused by frequently shaking the
box dulled the lustre on many of the pearls. Saunders discovered the
damage, and afterwards they were properly protected. He suggested that
we get a baby-rattle and a rubber teething ring for Sipes, so he would
not “have to amoose ’imself shakin’ the shine offen them pearls.”

The dauntless toilers refused to be driven in by unfavorable weather.
One morning dawned with a cold drizzly rain, but it was the day of days
on the flatboat.

“Whoop! Whoop! Holy jumpin’ wild-cats!” shrieked Sipes, hysterically.

A resplendent oval form, as large as a filbert, iridescent with subtle
light and flashing hues of rose and green, rolled out of a bivalve
which he had partially opened. Its satiny sheen gleamed softly in the
palm of the old man’s gnarled and dirty hand--a pearl that might glow
on the bosom of a houri, or mingle in the splendor of a diadem.

“Avast there, you ol’ money-bags! You’ll founder the ship!” yelled
Saunders, as they danced with delirious joy in each other’s arms.

Work was suspended for the day. The prize was proudly and tenderly
carried to camp, with great rejoicing.

“Come ’ere, you Jack o’ Clubs, an’ see wot a million dollars looks
like!” shouted Sipes to Narcissus, who was hurrying to meet them.

Saunders told me, when we met that night, that “Cookie’s eyes stuck out
like grapes, an’ you c’d ’a’ brushed ’em off with a stick w’en ’e seen
wot we had.”

Unfortunately the jug was much in evidence. Narcissus responded many
times to Sipes’s insistent demands for “that cash-money tune.” The old
shipmates danced in the flickering firelight. Vociferous songs awoke
the echoes in the surrounding gloom of the damp forest. The big pearl
was repeatedly examined, and much speculation was indulged in as to its
value, which was considered almost fabulous. The hilarity extended far
into the night, until the revellers fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
The jug was left on the grass, and Narcissus fondled it between drinks,
while the magnates slumbered.

“It’s only the rich an’ fuzzy that enjoys this life,” observed Sipes
with a prolonged yawn, when I came over and woke him in the morning.
“Think o’ them val’able clams wot sleeps out there in the bottom o’ the
river. The little runts can’t swim ’round, an’ they can’t chase food.
They ’ave to take wot’s fed ’em by the current. They can’t smoke ’er
talk, an’ they can’t ’ave nothin’ but water to drink. They jest lay
there an’ make them little jools fer me an’ Bill. That big feller’d
prob’ly been wait’n’ fer us all summer to come ’long an’ save ’im from
them mushrats.”

The happy old sailor’s remarks suggested the thought that most of the
great intellectual pearls in the world have come from the minds of
those who have pondered long in silent and secluded places.

“Hi there, Bill, you ol’ lobster, wake up. I want some breakfast.
Where’s that cusséd cookie?” he demanded.

We found poor Narcissus reclining against a tree--a pitiful picture.
The jug sat near him. The cup, mouth organ, and his tattered cap were
lying about on the grass. A primitive human animal had found satiety in
what he craved.

“Gosh! Look at that id’jut!” exclaimed Sipes, as he picked up the jug.
“They was two gallons in ’ere w’en we started out, an’ they was about
two quarts last night. This soak’s spilt it all into ’im ’cept about a
pint, an’ we gotta save it fer snake-bites.”

“Say, Boss, lemme off!” pleaded the culprit, weakly. In his confused
brain there was a sense of trouble that he could not quite comprehend.

We got our own breakfast. Narcissus watched us helplessly from under
his tree. He appeared quite sick.

“That cookie’s blue ’round the gills,” remarked Sipes. “He’d jest as
lief ’ave a pestilence come now as to see whiskey. His stummick’s gone
punk. His eyes looks like holes burnt in a blanket, an’ ’is head don’t
fit ’im. He needs a few kind words, an’ I’m goin’ to take ’im over a
little piece o’ the dog that bit ’im.”

He filled the cup to the brim and offered it to the sufferer.

“Here, Cookie, cheer up! Here’s some nice little meddy. You swallow it
an’ you’ll feel fine!”

Pathos and misery were written on Narcissus’s doleful face, as he
mutely protested against the cup being held where he could smell its
contents. Sipes, with refined cruelty, sprinkled some of the liquid
on the penitent’s coat, so that the odor would remain with him, and
chuckled, as he returned the unused portion to the jug, which he locked
in the boat’s cabin.

One night there was a light frost. When morning dawned there was a
crispness in the air. A spirit of foreboding was in the forest, and
a sadness in the tones of the wind that rustled the weakly clinging
leaves. The wood odors had changed. Dashes of color brilliance were
scattered along the edges of the timber on the river banks. The deep
green of tamaracks, and flaming scarlet of vines and dogwoods, relieved
by backgrounds of subtle and delicate minor hues, swept along the
borders of the great marsh, and stole away into veils of purple haze
beyond. Fruition and fulfilment had passed over the hills and through
the low places, and it was time for sleep.

[Illustration: THE REQUIEM OF THE LEAVES

  (_From the Author’s Etching_)]

The tired grasses in the marsh were bent and gray. Among their dull
masses the current of the open stream crept in a maze of silvery lines,
that wound back in many retreating loops, and then moved slowly on,
seemingly reluctant to enter into the oblivion of the depths beyond the
passage through the dunes.

Wedges of wild geese trailed across the great clouds--valiant voyagers
along the unseen paths of the sky. In the darkness their turbulent
cries came out of the regions of the upper air, faint echoes of the
Song of Life from the vault of the Infinite.

“Them winds ’as got an edge on ’em. I guess we gotta git out o’ here,
Bill,” declared Sipes, as he warmed his numbed hands before the fire.
“The news o’ that jool’ll git ’round, an’ the fust thing we know this
country’ll be full o’ robbers. They’ll swipe it, an’ you an’ me’ll ’ave
to work the rest of our lives, an’ mebbe eat carps, instid o’ set’n’ on
soft cushions an’ smok’n’. The clams is ’bout all cleaned out an’ we
got a fort’n’. Wot’s the use o’ try’n’ to grab it all? We got plenty
to last us, an’ we can’t take no cash-money to the graveyard with us.
We’ll git hold o’ that onion-skinnin’ feller, an’ mebbe ’e c’n peel
some o’ them other jools, an’ make ’em wuth a lot more.

“We c’n do anything we want to now. Mebbe we’ll buy a big red church
fer Holy Zeke, so ’e c’n git in it an’ spout damnation up the chimbly
all by ’imself, an’ not come ’round us. I wonder wot that ol’ cuss
is doin’ nowdays? Anyway, we’ll buy ’im a new hard hat, an’ a ticket
that’ll carry ’im way off.”

The pearls were carefully concealed on the _Crawfish_. The sail, which
had done duty as a shelter on shore, was put back in its place, and
everything was snugly stowed on board. The boat that Narcissus had
borrowed “offen Cap’n Peppehs” was attached, with my own, to the stern
of the larger craft, and we were ready to push out into the current,
when we saw Spotty contemplating us with mild eyes from among the trees.

“Gosh! I gotta bid that ol’ girl good-by,” exclaimed Sipes, as he
seized a pail and nimbly hopped ashore. When he returned the homeward
voyage began.

We threaded the sinuous channel for hours before we came to the
sand-hills.

“This big dump’s full o’ jools,” remarked Sipes, as he indicated the
marsh with a broad sweep of his hand. “Next year we’ll come down ’ere
an’ bag the whole bunch.”

Narcissus, who had stuck by us faithfully, was anxious to go and spend
the winter at the fish shanty. The old men were immensely pleased both
with him and his cooking, and cheerfully consented.

The current took us through the hills, and we tied up at the
dilapidated pier. We were out of tobacco, and other small necessities,
and needed some gasoline, as Sipes wanted to “tune up” the motor, in
case we found no wind on the lake. Narcissus was provided with a list,
some funds, and the gasoline can, and he went ashore. Sipes considered
that he was perfectly reliable up to five dollars in prohibition
territory. We saw him swinging his can gayly, as he walked up the
little path that led to the village and disappeared around a bend. We
had had a wonderful trip, and everybody was in high spirits.

We waited nearly an hour for Narcissus, but he did not return. We
got ashore and went up to the general store, where he was to do his
shopping, but he had not been seen. Further search around the village
was fruitless. Thinking that he might have returned to the boat by
another route, we retraced our steps, and found the can in some weeds
near the bend where we last saw him.

With sudden inspiration, Sipes ran to the boat. He dived into the
cabin, and we heard an angry yell.

“Holy Mike! He’s frisked the jools!”

We hurried on board. The tin box had disappeared.

“We put ’em between them boards back o’ that little cuddy-hole. He
swiped ’em an’ ’e’s lit out! Hold on a minute!” cried the distracted
old man, as, with a glimmer of hope on his pale face, he again ducked
into the cabin.

“Gosh! We’r’ saved!” he exclaimed, as he emerged with the big pearl.
“Bully fer us! I stuck this in a crack with some paper, an’ ’e missed
it.”

Saunders had been too much overcome by the sudden misfortune to say
much. He appeared crushed. His face lighted up when it was found that
the disaster was not complete.

The question now was to catch Narcissus Jackson. He had had about two
hours’ start.

“Gimme that gun!” commanded Sipes. “I’ll pot that nigger, if I git ’im
inside o’ fifty yards. This gun ain’t loaded with no jools like that
Injun’s was!”

Adjectives are weapons of temperament. Sipes had a plentiful supply of
both. The past, present, and future of Narcissus Jackson was completely
covered by a torrent of scarifying invective.

The next day we gave up the search, in which we were excitedly assisted
by the villagers and scattered farmers. We returned to the boat and
rowed it out into the calm lake, where we waited for a breeze. The
motor had again “gone punk.”

“That smoke’s jest natch’ally drifted off,” remarked Sipes
philosophically, as we floated idly on the gentle swells, “but we got
enough to make us rich; wot do we care? I guess that ‘dark secret’ that
Bill said this trip was, was set’n on them rocks w’en we fust come in
the river. Think of all wot we done fer ’im! Me offerin’ ’im that whole
cupful w’en ’e was sick, an’ git’n’ milk fer ’im to cook with, an’ all
them things you an’ Bill did, an’ now ’e’s hornswoggled us. They ain’t
no gratitude. That smoke’s jest like all the rest of ’em!”

“You have had a prosperous trip,” I replied. “You will probably get a
high price for your big pearl, and you won’t have to worry about money
for quite a while. You had better get this trouble off your mind.
Surplus wealth is mere dross.”

“How much dross d’ye think that damn cookie’ll git fer them jools?”

“He will get very little. You had spoiled the lustre on most of them by
constantly shaking the box.”

“If I’d knowed ’e was goin’ to frisk ’em, I’d a shook the stuff’n’ out
of ’em!”

During a visit to the village store, Saunders had written a letter to
the “onion-skinner,” as Sipes persisted in calling the pearl-buyer, and
mailed it to the address on the margin of the pamphlet. He described
the location of the fish shanty, and informed him of the finding of the
big pearl. He also told of the robbery, described Narcissus, and asked
him to have him “nabbed” if he came to sell him the stolen pearls,
which he probably would do. Saunders spent much time writing and
rewriting the letter. Sipes stood over him and cautioned him repeatedly
not to say anything in it that “looked like we wanted to sell the jool.”

“Cat’s paws” appeared on the water. The breeze freshened rapidly, and
there were white-caps on the lake shortly after we began to make fair
headway. The wind increased, the boat careened under the pressure
of the broad sail, and we shipped water copiously several times.
Fortunately I had left my row-boat and tent with a fisherman at the
village, who was to care for them during the winter, so we did not
have these to bother us. I felt relieved when we saw the shanty in the
distance.

“Hard-a-port, Bill,” commanded Sipes in a stentorian tone as he
loosened the main-sheet. We turned in toward shore. Like a roving
galleon proudly returning from distant seas, with her treasure in her
hold, the gallant _Crawfish_ tore in through the curling waves and
flying spray, and felt the foam of her home waters over her prow.

We all got soaking wet getting in through the surf. The long rope
from the windlass on the sand, composed of many odd pieces, knotted
together, was finally attached to the iron ring on the bow, and the now
historic craft was hauled out over the wooden rollers to its berth on
the beach.

We had commenced taking some of the stuff out of the boat, when we
suddenly paused with astonishment, and looked toward the shanty.
Mingled with the voices of the wind, and the roar of the surf, we
faintly, but unmistakably, heard the thrilling strains of “Money Musk”
issuing from the weather beaten structure.

“Now wot d’ye think o’ that!” exclaimed Sipes. “That damn cookie’s in
there. He don’t know it’s our place an’ ’e thinks ’e’s escaped. We got
’im trapped. Gimme the gun!

I happened to know that the gun was not loaded, and had no fears
that there would be any shooting. In solid formation we marched to
the shanty. The padlock on the door was undisturbed. Sipes unlocked
it. Narcissus sat on the pile of nets inside and regarded us with
a frightened expression. Evidently the wind had prevented him from
hearing us when we landed. He seemed overawed by the presence of the
gun and our angry looks.

“Say, Boss, lemme off!” he begged, as he looked up at me pleadingly.

“Narcissus, where are those pearls?” I demanded.

“Pea’ls? Ah don’t know nuff’n ’bout no pea’ls! Ah ain’t seen no pea’ls!
Is theah some pea’ls miss’n’?”

“Of course they’re miss’n’, an’ you know it, you black devil!” roared
Sipes, as he cocked his gun. “You shell out them jools, er yer goin’ to
be shot right ’ere this minute!”

Narcissus’s face turned ashen gray.

“Ah ain’t nevah touched no pea’ls! Ah ain’t nevah seen you gen’lemen’s
pea’ls since you had ’em at the camp. Gimme a Bible an’ Ah’ll take ma
oath!”

While I knew that he was quite safe in asking Sipes for a Bible, his
earnest denial seemed to have the ring of sincerity. I took Sipes
aside, leaving Saunders with the now thoroughly terrified negro. He
leaned against the side of the shanty and seemed in such mental agony
that I felt sorry for him.

I asked Sipes to show me exactly where he had placed the tin box. With
a small electric flashlight we explored a deep recess between the
boards back of the cuddy-hole, and found the box, wedged about a foot
below where the old man had hidden it. Sipes seized it with a shout of
jubilation. He and Saunders acted like a couple of small boys who had
just been told that they could stay out of school and go to a circus.

The mystery of Narcissus’s disappearance and his presence in the shanty
was still to be explained. He was greatly relieved when the box was
found, but seemed too much confused by the sudden flood of events to
talk, so we let him alone. That night, after the shanty was put in
order, and a fire built in the stove, he told his story.

“When Ah took that gas can, an’ went fo’ them things at the stoah, Ah
jest thought Ah’d stop at Cap’n Peppehs’s house. That’s the fi’st li’l
house Ah come to. Ah wanted to thank ’im fo’ the boat Ah got offen
’im, an’ tell ’im Ah hoped ’e was well. Ah left the can neah the path.
Cap’n Peppehs asked me all about you gen’lemen, an’ wanted me to come
in a minute. He wanted to know what you-all had done up the rivah, an’
if you got any pea’ls. Ah didn’t tell ’im nuff’n. Then ’e got out ’is
bottle, an’ we had some drinks. Then ’e asked me ’bout yo’ motah, an’
how you come by it. I told ’im you got it offen a fish man named John.
Then ’e told me John got it f’om him, an’ ’e didn’t want me to let you
know that.”

“And to think,” interrupted Sipes, “that we had that cuss right in the
boat, an’ didn’t know it!”

“Then, aftah a while, we got to feel’n’ pretty good, an’ Ah done fergot
all ’bout the gasoline. We looked out o’ the window, an’ theah was Mr.
Sipes goin’ ’round with ’is gun. We didn’t know whethah he thought Ah’d
run off with that li’l bunch o’ money Ah was goin’ to get the things
with, er was aftah Cap’n Peppehs’ ’count o’ that motah, an’ Ah jest
thought we’d keep still fo’ a while ’till Mr. Sipes put away ’is gun.
Ah was sca’ed o’ that gun. Aftah that Cap’n Peppehs asked me mo’ about
the pea’ls, an’ offe’d me a li’l mo’ ref’eshment. Ah must ’a’ went to
sleep then, an’ Ah didn’t wake up ’til this mawnin’. Ah saw yo’ boat
way out on the lake set’n’ still. I shuah felt bad, an’ Ah was goin’ to
take a boat an’ row out, but ma haid hurt so Ah couldn’t. Ah knew ’bout
wheah you lived, ’cause Ah hea’d you talkin’ ’bout it, an’ Ah jest
walked ’long the beach ’til Ah come to the place that had yo’ sign.
The do’ was locked, but Ah got the window open an’ come in that way. Ah
was ve’y ti’ed, an’ laid down fo’ a nap; then Ah got up an’ played that
li’l tune Mr. Sipes likes so much.

“Say, Ah hope you’ll lemme off. Ah ain’t done nuff’n so awful bad. Ah’m
awful sorry Ah made all that trouble, an’ had all them drinks with
Cap’n Peppehs. Ah fo’got all ’bout that gasoline, an’ Ah won’t nevah
do nuff’n like that no mo’. Mr. Sipes, does theah happ’n to be jest a
few drops in the bottom o’ the jug, that Ah c’d have? Honest, Ah feels
weak!”

Narcissus met with the full measure of forgiveness. He had faltered by
the wayside, where hosts have fallen. The mantle of charity was laid
over his sin. Sipes, while usually intolerant, was mollified with the
recovery of the pearls.

We all slept in the shanty that night. In the morning we saw a horse
and buggy on the beach in the distance. Saunders inspected the driver
attentively through the “spotter.”

“That’s the onion-skinner comin’,” he remarked.

“Yes, an’ I bet we’ll be the onions,” said Sipes, as he took the glass.

The visitor arrived and looked over the fruits of the season’s work. He
did not seem at all dazzled by the beauty of the big pearl. He examined
it casually and laid it aside. He seemed more interested in the others.

“You be careful an’ don’t show no frenzy over that jool. You don’t own
it,” cautioned Sipes, sarcastically. “You may want to buy it later
if you ain’t got enough cash-money now. Mebbe you know o’ some rich
fellers that ’ud like to buy intrusts in it with you.”

A substantial offer was made for the lot. The amount mentioned was much
larger than I had any idea the pearls were worth.

“They was a feller ’long ’ere yisterd’y that offered us twice as much
as that, an’ I told ’im ’e was a cheap skate. Wot d’ye think them
are--peanuts? D’ye think we c’lected all them val’able jools jest fer
love o’ you? Wot d’ye s’pose we are--helpless orphants?”

Most of the day was spent in jockeying over the price. The buyer was an
expert judge of human nature, as well as pearls. He exhibited a large
roll of bills at a psychological moment, and became the owner of the
collection.

He drove away along the beach and turned into the dunes.

“He’ll prob’ly hide some’r’s off’n the woods, an’ peel some o’ them
jools, like ’e did us,” said Sipes. “He oughta fly a black flag over
that buggy, so people ’ud know wot’s comin’. I’ve seen piruts in furrin
waters that was all bloodied up, but ’side o’ that robber, they’d look
like a lot o’ funny kids. Bill, you oughta keep yer mouth shut w’en I’m
sell’n’ jools! You butted in all the time an’ spoilt wot I was doin’.
If you’d a kep’ still, I’d ’a’ got jest twice them figgers. By rights,
I oughta keep wot’s ’ere fer my half an’ let you w’istle fer the half
that that feller saved by you shoot’n’ off yer mouth at the wrong
times.”

That night I sat before the dying embers of driftwood and mused over
the eventful weeks.

I remembered the picturesque camp scenes; the genial gatherings around
the fire; the advent of Narcissus,--his lovable qualities, frailties,
and final vindication; the sociability of Spotty; the Ancient’s graphic
reminiscences; the finding of the big pearl, and the odd combination of
childish foibles, homely wit, kindliness, cupidity, shrewdness, and
primitive savagery in the old shipmates.

The mingled glories of the autumn came back, with memories of the
fragrant woods; the broad sweeps of changing color over the swamp-land;
the majesty of the onward marching storms; the songs of the wind
through trees and bending grasses; the music and beauty of rippling
currents; the companionship and voices of the wild things; the
witchery of twilight mists and purple shadows, and the enchantment of
moon-silvered vistas.

I felt again the haunting mystery that is over the marsh, along the
river through the silent nights, and in its fecund depths, where pearls
are wrought among hidden eddies.

Under the gently moving water was the dreamland of the reflections. The
dark forests and the ghostly dunes hung low in the realm of unreality.
Beyond them the Pleiades and Orion glowed softly in the limitless abyss
that held the endless story of the stars.

The Ego, mocking the Infinite with puny dogma, in its minute orbit--a
speck between two eternities--recoils in terror from the void beyond
the world.

The river bears a secret in its bosom deeper than its pearls. He who
learns it has found the melodies that brood among tremulous strings in
the human heart.

I meditated, and wondered if I, or the valiant crew of the flatboat,
had found the Winding River’s Treasure?



X

THE PLUTOCRATS

[Illustration:

  The Game Warden
  and his
  Deputy]



X

THE PLUTOCRATS


The invitation of the old shipmates to remain with them for a while was
gratefully accepted. The witchery of the changing landscapes and the
color-crowned dunes was irresistible. The society of my odd friends,
which was full of human interest, and certain beguiling promises made
by Narcissus, were factors that prolonged the stay.

After a week of blustery weather, and a light fall of snow, the haze of
Indian Summer stole softly over the hills. The mystic slumberous days
had come, when, in listless reverie, we may believe that the spirits of
a vanished race have returned to the woods, and are dancing around camp
fires that smoulder in hidden places. Spectral forms sit in council
through the still nights, when the moon, red and full-orbed, comes up
out of a sea of mist. Smoke from phantom wigwams creeps through the
forest. Unseen arrows have touched the leaves that carpet aisles among
the trees where myriad banners have fallen.

Our drift-wood fire glowed on the beach in the evening. Sipes piled
on all sorts of things that kept it much larger than necessary. With
reckless prodigality, he dragged forth boxes, damaged rope, broken
oars, and miscellaneous odds and ends, that under former conditions
would have been carefully kept.

Sipes and Saunders were in high spirits. They walked with an elastic
swagger that bespoke supreme confidence in themselves, and a lofty
disdain of the rest of the world. There was much discussion of plans
for the future.

“We got all kinds o’ money now, an’ we c’n spread out,” declared Sipes.
“We gotta git ol’ John an’ ’is horse down ’ere, an’ take care of ’em.
That ol’ nag’s dragged millions o’ pounds o’ fish ’round fer us, an’
’e oughta have a rest. They’r’ both git’n’ too old to work any more,
an’, outside o’ me an’ Bill an’ Cookie, them’s the only ones that lives
round ’ere that’s fit to keep alive through the cold weather.

“We gotta haul down that ol’ sign on the shanty, ’cause we’ve gone out
o’ the fish business. We’r’ goin’ to fix this place all over. All them
fellers that has money, an’ lives in the country, an’ don’t work, has
signs out that’s got names on ’em fer their places. I drawed out the
new sign with the pencil yisterd’y, an’ this is wot it’s goin’ to be.”

He unfolded a piece of soiled wrapping paper, on which he had rudely
lettered--

[Illustration: $HiPMATE$ RE$T]

“The names won’t be on it, but shipmates’ll mean us all right. The
sign’ll still look like cash-money, an’ you bet we’r’ goin’ to rest, so
that sign’s all right, an’ she’s goin’ up.”

Catfish John and Napoleon arrived the next morning.

“You can’t git no more fish ’ere!” announced Sipes, after he had made
his usual derisive comments on the old peddler’s general appearance.
“This place ’as changed hands. Some fellers own it now that don’t ’ave
to work. You’r’ a wuthless ol’ slab-sided wreck, an’ you ain’t no good
peddlin’ fish. You oughta be ’shamed o’ yerself. Yer ol’ horse is a
crowbait, an’ yer fish waggin’s on the bum. You git down offen it an’
come ’ere. We got sump’n we want to tell you.”

John willingly admitted that all the charges were true, as he slowly
and painfully descended from the rickety vehicle.

“Now listen ’ere, John,” continued Sipes seriously, “us fellers ’as got
rich out o’ the jools wot we fished out o’ the river. We’r’ jest goin
to set ’round an’ look pleasant, an’ quit work’n. You’ve been our ol’
friend fer years, an’ we got enough to keep you an’ Napoleon in tobaccy
an’ hay fer the rest o’ yer lives. You’re a nice pair, an’ if you’ll
go in the lake an’ wash up, we’ll burn all yer ol’ nets, an’ the other
stuff up to your place, an’ yer ol’ boat, too, an’ you c’n come down
’ere an’ live. We don’t want none o’ them things ’ere, fer it ’ud make
us tired to look at ’em. We don’t want to see nothin’ that looks like
work ’round ’ere, no more’n we c’n help, but you gotta help haul some
lumber. We’r’ goin’ to tack some more rooms on the shanty. It ain’t a
fit place fer fellers like us to live in.”

John was greatly pleased over the good fortune that had come to his
friends, and happy over the plans that had been made for his future. He
said little, but I noticed that his eyes were moist as he limped over
to the shanty to be “interduced to Cookie.”

“Ah ce’t’nly am glad to meet you, Mr. Catfish!” said Narcissus,
cordially, as they shook hands. “Ah’ve hea’d a great deal ’bout you
f’om these gen’lemen. Ah would like to make a li’l cup o’ coffee fo’
you. Jest have a seat an’ Ah’ll have it ready in jest a few minutes.”

John looked at him gratefully and sat down. He was much impressed by
the evidences of prosperity around him. The old pine table was covered
with a cloth that was spotless, except where Sipes had spilled a “loose
egg” on one corner of it. There was a bewildering array of new clean
dishes and kitchen utensils about the room, and some boxes that had
not yet been unpacked. Narcissus had been given _carte blanche_ as to
the domestic arrangements. He was chef, valet, major domo, and general
manager.

“Cookie’s boss o’ the eats an’ the beds, an’ ev’rythin’ else ’round the
house, ’cept drinks,” declared Saunders.

He had made several trips to the village with the old cronies and they
had acquired a large part of the stock of the general store. Their
advent must have been a godsend to the aged proprietor.

“Now, John,” said Sipes, after the old man had finished his coffee,
“you c’n go back to yer place jest once, an’ fetch anythin’ you want
to keep that’s small, but don’t you bring nothin’ that weighs over a
pound, an’ then you come an’ sleep in the cabin o’ the _Crawfish_ till
we git the new fix’n’s on the shanty. We’ll feed you up so you’ll feel
like a prize-fighter, an’ we’ll make Napoleon into a spring colt. He
c’n stay in the work-shed ’til we make a barn fer ’im. We’r’ goin’ up
there tomorrer night, an’ we’r’ goin’ to burn up the whole mess wot
you leave, an’ you can’t go with us. We’ll chuck ev’rythin’ into that
cusséd ol’ smoke-house, an’ set fire to it. Tomorrer night’s the night,
an’ don’t you fergit it!”

John stayed for a couple of hours, but did little talking. Evidently he
was deeply touched. He drove away slowly up the beach toward the only
home he had known for many years. His quiet, undemonstrative nature was
calloused by the unconscious philosophy of the poor. Gratitude welled
from a fountain deep in his heart, but its outward flow was restrained
by the rough barriers that a lifetime of unremitting toil and poverty
had thrown around his honest soul.

He returned late the following afternoon. His wagon contained a few
things that he said he wanted to keep, no matter what happened to him.

“Thar ain’t no value to the stuff I got ’ere, ’cept to me. If
you’ll put this in a safe place ’til things git settled, I’ll be
much obliged,” said the old man, as he extracted a small package
from an inside pocket. He carefully opened it and showed us an old
daguerreotype. A rather handsome young man, dressed in the style of
the early fifties, sat stiffly in a high-backed chair. Beside him,
trustfully holding his hand, was a sweet-faced girl in bridal costume.
Pride and happiness beamed from her eyes.

“That thar’s me an’ Mary the day we was married. She died the year
after it was took,” said the old fisherman, slowly. There was
tenderness in the quiet look that he bestowed on the picture, and
the care with which he rewrapped it and handed it to Saunders for
safe-keeping.

The old daguerreotype had been treasured for over half a century. I
knew that tears had fallen upon it in silent hours. Its story was in
the old man’s face as he turned and walked over to his wagon to get the
rest of his things.

“Now, hooray fer the fireworks!” shouted Sipes, when we had finished
our after-dinner pipes in the evening. By the light of the lantern,
the small row-boat was shoved into the lake. John watched the sinister
preparations with misgivings. As we rowed away, Sipes called out
cheerily, “Now you brace up, John; you ain’t got no kick comin’! You
c’n stay an’ play with Cookie. He’ll make you some more coffee, an’
you’ll find a big can o’ tobaccy on the shelf.”

The old shipmates did not intend that any lingering affection that John
might retain for his old habitat, or any heartaches, should interfere
with his enjoyment of his new home, or with their delight in burning
his old one. They had grimly resolved that the transition should be
complete and irrevocable.

We reached the old fisherman’s former abode in due time. We found the
tattered nets wound on the reels, which were old and much broken.
We piled all of the loose stuff on the beach around the nets, and
the leaky boat was set up endwise against them. With the lantern we
explored the disreputable little smoke-house. It was filled with fish
tubs, bait pails, and confused rubbish, and was redolent with fishy
odors of the past that Saunders declared “a clock couldn’t tick in.”

We climbed up to the shanty on the edge of the bluff. The door of the
ramshackle structure was fastened with a piece of old hitching strap
that was looped over a nail. We entered and looked around the squalid
interior. Four bricks in the middle of the room supported a nondescript
stove. A rough bench stood against the wall, and a few tin plates,
cups, and kettles were scattered about. The only other room was John’s
sleeping apartment. A decrepit bedstead, that had seen better days
and nights, an old hay mattress, a couple of much soiled blankets, a
cracked mirror, some candle stubs, and two broken chairs were the only
articles we found in it.

“All some people needs to make ’em happy is a lookin’ glass,” observed
Sipes, “but ol’ John ain’t stuck on ’imself; wot does ’e want with it?
He prob’ly busted it w’en ’e peeked in it to see if ’is ol’ hat was on
straight.”

“I hope John’s got some insurance on this place,” Saunders remarked, as
he dragged the mattress to the wall and piled the bedstead and chairs
on it. We found a bottle half full of kerosene under the bench, which
we emptied over the floor.

“Now gimme a match!” demanded Sipes.

When we reached the foot of the bluff the flames were merrily at work
above us. The smoke-house, and the stuff accumulated around the nets,
were soon on fire. We next visited Napoleon’s humble quarters on the
sand, and another column of smoke and flame was added to the joy of the
occasion.

“We can’t leave fer a while yet,” said Saunders; “no fire’s any good
’less somebody’s ’round to poke it.”

We spent considerable time watching the fires, to assure ourselves that
the destruction was complete, and that there was no possibility of the
flames on the bluff getting into the woods beyond through the dry weeds
on the sand. There was a light off-shore breeze, so there was little
danger.

“That ol’ joint’s clean at last,” observed Sipes, as we rowed away in
the early hours of the morning.

From far away we looked upon the scene of Catfish John’s dreary life,
illumined by gleams from the smouldering embers that played along the
face of the bluff.

There were essentials that the old man’s humble surroundings had
lacked. Long sad years were interwoven with them, but the faded face
in the old daguerreotype may have lighted the dark rooms and helped
to make the lonely place an anchorage, for is home anywhere but in
the heart? It does not seem to consist of material things. Absence,
estrangement, and death destroy it--not fire. Sometimes, out of the
losses and wrecks of life, it is rebuilded, but not of wood and stone.

I arranged with John to transport my few belongings to the railroad
station the next day, and regretfully left the contented old mariners
and their happy “cookie,” who was no small part of the riches that had
come from the Winding River.

On the way through the hills the old man opened his heart.

“Now wot d’ye think o’ them ol’ fellers? They battered ’round the
seas an’ they been up ag’in pretty near ev’rythin’ they is. They come
in these hills an’ settled down to fish’n’. We alw’ys got ’long well
together. I done little things fer them an’ they done little things fer
me. Sipes is a queer ol’ cod, an’ so’s Saunders, but all of us has
quirks, an’ they ain’t nobody that pleases ev’rybody else. Now them ol’
fellers has got rich. I don’t know how much they got, but w’en anybody
gits a lot o’ money you c’n alw’ys tell wot they really was all the
time they didn’t have it. They’r’ all right, an’ you bet I like ’em,
an’ I alw’ys did. They drink some, but they don’t go to town an’ go
’round all day shoppin’ in s’loons, like some fellers do. Mebbe they’ll
git busted some day, an I c’n do sump’n fer ’em like they done fer me.”

I bade my old friend farewell on the railroad platform and departed.

       *       *       *       *       *

In response to a letter sent to him in January, John was at the station
when I stepped off the train one crisp morning a week after I wrote,
but it was a metamorphosed John who stood before me. He was muffled up
in a heavy overcoat and fur cap. He wore a gray suit, new high-topped
boots, and leather fur-backed gloves. I hardly recognized him. Much
as I was delighted with these evidences of his comfort, there was
an inward pang, for the picturesque and fishy John, who had been
one of the joys of former years, was gone. This was a reincarnation.
The strange toggery seemed discordant. Somehow his general air, and
the protuberance of his high coat collar above the back of his head,
suggested an Indian chief, great in his own environment, who had been
rescued out of barbarism and debased by an unwelcome civilization. He
was like some rare old book that had been revised and expurgated into
inanity.

“I got yer letter,” said the old man, after our greetings, “an’ ’ere
I am! I yelled out at ye, fer I didn’t think you’d know me. What d’ye
think o’ all this stuff them ol’ fellers ’as got hooked on me?”

Napoleon, sleek and apparently happy, with a new blanket over him, was
standing near the country store, hitched to a light bobsled.

I congratulated the old man and inquired about our mutual friends.
After we had put the baggage and some supplies from the store into
the sled, we adjusted ourselves comfortably under a thick robe,
and Napoleon trotted away on the road, with a merry jingle of two
sleigh-bells on his new harness.

There were no tracks on the road after we got into the wooded hills,
except those made by Napoleon and the sled a couple of hours before,
and the cross trails of rabbits and birds that had left the tiny marks
on the snow, in their search for stray bits of food that the frost and
winter winds might have spared for their keeping.

Nature in her nudity is prodigal of alluring charms on her winter
landscapes. The forests, cold, still, and bare, stretched away over the
undulating contours of the dunes in their mantle of snow. The lacery of
naked branches, silvered with frost, was etched against the moody sky.

He who is alone in the winter woods is in a realm of the spirit where
the only borders are the limits of fancy. The big trees, like sentinels
grim and gray, seem to keep watch and ward over the treasures that lie
in the hush of the frozen ground, where a mighty song awaits the wand
of the South Wind. The winding sheet that lies upon the white hills
hides the promise as well as the sorrow. The great mystery of earth’s
fecundity that is under the chaste raiment of the snow is the mystery
of all life, and to it the questioning soul must ever come. The message
of our loved ones, who are under the white folds, may be among the
petals of the flowers when they open.

[Illustration: ON THE WHITE HILLS

  (_From the Author’s Etching_)]

When we descended the steep road to the beach, we saw Shipmates’ Rest
in the distance. Saunders came out to greet us on our arrival. He was
enveloped in a heavy reefer, and wore a rather sporty-looking new cap.
He conducted us into what was once the fish shanty, but, alas, what a
change! It had been almost entirely rebuilt. There were five rooms. A
stairway led to a trap door in the roof, above which was a railed-in,
covered platform. A stone fireplace had replaced the old stove, and
there was a large new cook stove in the kitchen, where Narcissus
reigned supreme. I was struck with the almost immaculate cleanliness
of the place. While the architecture was nerve-racking, and seemed to
pursue lines of the most resistance, it looked very comfortable.

“Sipes is out hunt’n rabbits. He’ll be back shortly,” said Saunders.
“You jest hang up yer things an’ make yerself to home. Cookie’s out
back undressin’ some fowls, an’ ’e’ll be glad to see you.”

Narcissus soon appeared with a grin on his honest face.

“Ah ce’t’nly am glad to see you down heah again!” he exclaimed. “Ah
was just fixin’ some chick’ns, an’ tomorrow we’ll have a fracassee with
dumplin’s. Chick’ns have to wait ovah night in salt watah fo’ they ah
cooked, but we got pa’tridges fo’ today. Ah you fond of them?”

Idle questions, propounded simply to make conversation, often inspire
doubt of normal mentality. I had brought a new mouth organ and a
ukelele for him from the city, and his delight over the little gifts
quite repaid their cost.

My old friend Sipes arrived during the next hour, without any
rabbits, and we had a happy reunion over the delicately roasted
partridges. There were six of them, with little bits of bacon on their
breasts--like decorations for valor on the field.

Sipes presided at the head of the table with the air of a medieval
robber baron who had returned to his castle from a successful foray.
A napkin was tied around his neck, and he wielded his knife and fork
with impressive gusto. Prosperity had begun to bubble. I was told the
prices of everything in sight, and informed of the cost of the glass
that he had used to make a small skylight in the north room, so as to
adapt it for a studio. In the fall I had jokingly alluded to something
of this kind, but had no idea that it would be included in the plans.
Compensation was grandly refused.

“You’r’ in on all this, an’ we want you to stick ’round ’ere w’en you
ain’t got nothin’ else to do. You knowed us w’en we didn’t ’ave a
dollar, an’ you thought jest as much of us, so you quit talkin’ ’bout
payin’ fer sky-view glass. There’s nothin’ doin’!”

During the afternoon we heard intermittent strains of “Money-Musk”
from the new mouth organ in the kitchen, accompanied by experimental
fingering of the ukelele. Narcissus had devised an ingenious framework,
which he had put on his head, to hold the mouth organ in place, and
enable him to use his hands for the other instrument, but it was only
partially successful.

One of the objects of the winter visit was to make some sketches of
Saunders and Narcissus for this volume, which had been neglected during
the fall. They seemed pleased, and were willing models. Saunders
insisted on wetting and combing his hair carefully, and getting into
stilted attitudes. He was finally persuaded to let his hair alone
and wear his old cap. He was anxious that his ancient meerschaum pipe
should be in the picture. It seeped with the nicotine of many years.

“The tobaccy that’s been puffed in that ol’ pipe ’ud cover a ten-acre
lot,” he declared, and I believed him. “You can’t show that in the
pitcher, but you c’n make it look kind o’ dark like. Gener’ly I smoke
‘Bosun’s Delight’ an’ it’s pretty good. It’s strong stuff an’ none of
it ever gits swiped.”

When the drawing was finished he criticized it severely, which was
quite natural, for no human being is entirely without vanity. Portrait
artists, like courtiers, must flatter to succeed.

Narcissus also wanted a pipe in his picture. He thought it would look
better than a mouth organ, and, as it was much easier to draw, I
humored him. He posed with unctuous ceremony, and assumed some most
serious and baffling expressions.

Sipes watched the proceedings with interest, and enlivened them with
running comment.

“I been through all that lots o’ times. You fellers ain’t got nothin’
on me, an’ if you ever git in a book you’ll look like a couple o’ horse
thieves. I know wot e’ done to me.”

The disapproval of these particular sketches was probably deserved. It
is a fact, however, that, while readily admitting limitations in other
fields of knowledge, there are few people who hesitate to criticize any
kind of art work authoritatively. Their immunity from error seems to
them remarkable, and to be the result of a natural instinct that they
have possessed from childhood. “I know what I like” is a common and
much abused expression. They who use it usually do not know what they
like or what they ought to like. The phrase covers infinite ignorance,
with a complacent disposition of the subject. The assumption of
critical infallibility is complete before a portrait of the critic.

Many otherwise intelligent critics respect only age and established
art dogma. The dead masters haunt pedantic essayists and opulent
purchasers, who accept embalmed opinions that they would be incapable
of forming for themselves. Extended consideration of this subject is
out of place amid the landscapes of Duneland, where the shades of
the justly revered old painters may have deserted their madonnas and
be wielding spiritual brushes, charged with elusive tints that flow
unerringly upon canvases as tenuous as the evening mists. On them
filmy portraits of the old dwellers along the shore may take form and
vanish with the morning light, for in these rugged faces are the same
attributes that made humanity picturesque centuries ago. If one of
these portraits could suddenly materialize, it would bring a staggering
price, if there was no suspicion that a modern had painted it. Some
stray rhymester has aptly said:

    “_If Leonardo done it,_
       _It is a masterpiece._
     _If Mr. Lucas made it,_
       _’Tis but a mass o’ grease._”

“We gotta git some pitchers fer them walls,” declared Sipes, “an’ you
buy ’em fer us. Git some colored ones that’s got boats in ’em, an’ some
fight’n scenes. I’d like to git a nice smooth han’-painted pitcher o’
John L. Sullivan, an’ I don’t care wot it costs!”

The old man wanted these things to enjoy. His purse pride had not yet
suggested the idea of posing as a connoisseur and condescending patron
of the enshrined dead, without love or understanding of what they did,
but the germs were there that might enthrall him in the future, for
affluence sometimes begets strange vanities.

Great masses of ice had been tumbled and heaped along the shore by the
winter waves, and we saw little of the lake, except when we climbed
the bluffs. The winds howled over the desolate beach at night in
angry portent, and one morning a driving storm came out of the north.
Occasionally, from somewhere out above the waves that thundered against
the ice, we could hear plaintive cries of gulls that groped through the
blinding snow. The drifts piled high against the bluffs on the wild
coast. The flying flakes were swept along in thick clouds by the fury
of the gale. The house was almost buried. The wind subsided after about
twenty-four hours, but the snow continued and fell ceaselessly for
three days.

When the skies cleared we opened the trap door to the “crow’s nest,”
the covered platform over the roof, and looked out over the white
waste. A few straggling crows accented the immaculate expanse, the blue
billows were pounding the ice packs, and a part of the mast of the
_Crawfish_ protruded in the foreground, but everything else was white
and still.

We were snowbound for ten days, but contentment reigned at Shipmates’
Rest. We dug deep paths that enabled us to reach our water supply, and
to communicate with Napoleon in his cosy little barn in the ravine.

The plentiful supply of canned goods, that Narcissus had wisely laid
in, was drawn upon for sustenance.

“Them air-tights is life savers!” exclaimed Sipes, as he mixed up some
lobster, lima beans, ripe olives, and prunes on his plate. “Wot’s the
use o’ monkeyin’ with them fresh things w’en you c’n git grub like this
that’s all cooked an’ ready? All ye need is a can opener to live up as
high as ye want to go. Gimme some o’ that pineapple fer this lobster,
an’ pass John them dill pickles!”

“You better let Cookie chop up that mess fer you an’ squirt some
lollydop on it, an’ eat it with a spoon,” advised Saunders; “yer git’n’
it all over us!”

“It’s too bad they can’t can pie,” said Sipes, “but we got pudd’n’s.
Hi, there, Cookie, fetch some o’ them little brown cans an’ tap ’em!”

Narcissus appeared with a delicious cranberry pie, “with slats on it,”
and the pudding was forgotten.

“This is the life!” continued the old man, as he broke some crackers
into his coffee, “wot do we care fer expense?”

Our evenings were spent in various interesting ways. John and Narcissus
had grown very fond of each other, and they spent much time playing
checkers. Numberless sound waves went out into the dark, over the cold
snow, that came from music, laughter, and rattling poker chips.

There are many hardships in this life, both real and imaginary, but
being snowbound at Shipmates’ Rest is not one of them.

A typical January thaw set in, and the warm sunshine released us from
our feathery bondage. The _Crawfish_ was floated out on to the still
lake, and we voyaged to the little town at the mouth of the river,
from where I took the train for the grimy, noise-cursed city--cursed,
indeed, for the unnecessary and preventable dirt and noise in most of
our cities would hardly be tolerated in Hades.

It was August when I again visited Shipmates’ Rest. There was a lazy
calm on the lake, and a delicate and peculiar odor from the evaporating
water. Scattered flocks of terns, nimble-winged and graceful, skimmed
over the surface, and dipped, with gentle splashes, for minnows that
basked in the sun. The still air over the sandy bluffs shimmered in the
heat.

I found my friends in the lake, where they had gone to get cool, and
soon joined them.

There were more transformations on the beach. A mouse-colored donkey
stood in the shade of the house, regarding us with wise and sleepy
eyes. A black puppy gambolled at the water’s edge, clamoring for
attention. A cow, which I recognized as “Spotty,” stood in the creek
that flowed out of the ravine, peacefully chewing her cud and switching
flies with her abbreviated tail. A couple of white pigs were squealing
and grunting in a pen near the little barn, and about a dozen fluffy
brown hens, attended by a dignified rooster, were wandering over the
sand after stray insects. A tall flag-pole extended above the “crow’s
nest” on top of the house.

All these things were explained at length, as we stood out on the
smooth sandy bottom, with the cool water around our necks.

“That anamile wot’s huggin’ the house,” said Sipes, “is to hitch to the
windlass w’en we have to haul the boat out. Cookie calls ’im Archibald,
but ’is real name’s Mike. He goes ’round an’ ’round with the pole, like
we used to do, an’ winds up the rope. W’en we want to run the boat in
the lake, we got a block an’ tackle wot’s lashed to that spile out’n
the water. We take the rope out from the boat to it, an’ run it back to
the windlass, an’ Mike winds ’er out fer us. That kind o’ work ain’t
fit fer nobody but a jackass, an’ ’e wouldn’t do it if ’e had money.
Mike strays ’round the country a good deal at night fer young cabbage
an’ lettuce an’ things, but he’s gener’ly ’ere on deck in the mornin’.
Cookie bought ’im an’ the pup in the village this summer. We gotta have
a pup, but he’s a cusséd nuisance. W’en ’e’s in ’e yelps to git out,
an’ the minute ’e’s out ’e howls an’ scratches to git in. It takes
’bout all o’ one feller’s time to ’tend ’im, but ’e’s lots o’ company.
He’ll bark if anybody snoops ’round at night. They’s val’ables ’ere an’
we gotta look out. We call ’im Coonie, an’ ’e’s some dog. Cookie’s
teachin’ ’im a lot o’ tricks, an’ w’en ’e grows up ’e’ll be good to
chase patritches out o’ the brush.

“We bought Spotty off o’ the Ancient up the river, an’ Cookie towed ’er
in ’long the road through the hills with a rope. Somehow I alw’ys liked
that ol’ girl, an’ we gotta have milk.

“Them squealers is to eat wot’s left out o’ the kitchen, an’ next
winter they’ll quit squealin’. Them hens is from the village, too,
an’ their business is to make aigs. Next year we’ll have slews o’
young chicks, an’ some w’ite ducks. Cookie’s got a rubber thing wot ’e
fastens on that rooster’s bill ev’ry night w’en ’e puts ’im to bed, so
’e can’t crow an’ roust us out in the mornin’.

“We got a compass an’ a binnacle an’ a new spy-glass up in the crow’s
nest. Me an’ Bill an’ John set an’ smoke up there in the shade an’ see
fellers work’n way off, an’ watch Mike windin’ up the boat.”

“Tell ’im ’bout the motor, long as yer goin’ to keep this up all day,”
interrupted Saunders.

“Oh, yes. We got a new one wot’s built in aft o’ the cab’n. It’s got
two cylinders, an’ it works fine. We buried the old one up ’side o’
Cal’s dog. It ’ad to be that er us. Bill, you keep still w’en I’m
talk’n!

“The mast an’ them halyards over the house is to fly signals. W’en
we’r’ up er down the beach, er out buzz’n on the lake, Cookie runs up
the mess flag w’en it’s dinner time. He uses red with w’ite edges fer
chops an’ steaks, an’ the w’ite one with a round yellow splotch in
the middle means aigs wot’s been poached. He flys that, an’ a square
o’ calico under it, w’en we’r’ goin’ to have corn beef hash an’ aigs
on top of it. He runs up a big bunch o’ cotton cords w’en ’e’s made
oggrytong speggetties, an’ w’en the flag’s plain brown, it means beans.
There’s no knowin’ wot that cookie’s goin’ to do next.”

A cool breeze came up in the evening and we built our usual fire on
the beach, more for its subtle cheer than its heat, and talked over
reminiscences of the big snow-storm, and things that had happened since.

The old sailors were in a state of opulent bliss. All of their desires
were satisfied, except, as Sipes expressed it, “git’n even with two er
three fellers I know of,” and happiness reigned in their simple hearts.

Out of the tempests of many seas, their battered ship had come, and
was anchored in a haven of tranquillity. The languor that comes with
satiety and completion was stealing gently over them. Life presented no
riddles, and they were without illusions. So far as their capacity for
enjoyment extended, the fair earth and the fulness thereof was theirs.
The great blue lake, the floating clouds, the jewelled fire of the
sunsets, and the star-decked firmament belonged to them, as much as to
anybody else. Title deeds to the sands, vine-clad hills, woods, and to
the open fields, where suppliant petals drink the rain, could not add
to their sense of possession.

Every comfort was around them that their limitations could require.
They were spared the inanities and shallow snobbery of “society,” and
the many other ills that come with existence in a sphere of vanity and
hypocrisy. The gates of higher knowledge were not opened to them. Art,
science, and literature lay in garnered hoards far beyond their ken,
but after their lives are closed, who may judge of the futility, or
award the laurel?

Into this happy Arcady--this land of the heart’s desire and hope’s
fruition--softly prowled the onion-skinner. Like an evil wind upon
a flowery lea, he crept out of the north over the wide waters. He
landed at the beach with a boat on the still morning of a day that had
promised to be bright and fair. Eveless though this garden was, Satan
had entered.

Horatius T. Bascom was a man of perhaps forty-five. His closely cropped
moustache was slightly gray. Under it was a mouth like a slit in a
letter-box. It seemed to have a certain steel-trap quality that savored
of acquirement but not disbursement. His eyes had a shrewd, greedy
expression, and, when he frowned, small wrinkles formed between them
that somehow suggested the lines of the dollar sign--that sordid mark
that disfigures great characters and destroys small ones.

He was the type of man who signs his business letters with a rubber
stamp facsimile signature, to facilitate legal evasion in the future.
Such letters, insulting to the recipient, are also often stamped with a
small inscription to the effect that they were “dictated, but not read”
by the cautious sender. Altogether his personality was such as to
prompt one to protect his watch pocket with one hand and his scarf pin
with the other while talking with him.

“Hello, boys!” he called out glibly, as he walked up to our group. “You
seem quite cosy around here. Have some cigars.” He produced a handful
and passed them around. We all happened to be smoking, and Sipes was
the only one who accepted the proffered weed. He put it in his pocket,
with the remark that he would “smoke it some other time”--a phrase
that the giver always inwardly resents, but the wily old man may have
intended it to offend.

We were not particularly enthusiastic over his descent into our little
circle.

“You look pretty cosy yerself,” said Sipes; “how much did you git fer
that big jool you gouged us out of?”

“I sold it at a loss. It had a small imperfection that I didn’t notice
when I bought it. You certainly got the best of that bargain.”

“They wasn’t no imperfection in yer bunch o’ bunk w’en you was buyin’
it.”

We kept rather quiet and let our caller lead the conversation, hoping
that the object of his visit would finally unravel from the tangle
of his small talk. Coonie sniffed around him a few times, and, with
unerring instinct, retreated under the house.

The atmosphere of hostility that enveloped his coming gradually
dissipated during the forenoon, and he was invited to join us when
Narcissus announced lunch.

“Now what you fellows ought to do,” he declared, “is to go up the river
again and drag it more thoroughly. I think you’d find some more pearls
there that would put you well on your feet financially. You could buy
some land on the bluff and along the shore and have a larger place.
This property will all be much more valuable some day. You could have
an automobile, and keep more servants. If you had a bigger and better
boat you could put a small crew on it and go anywhere in the world you
wanted to.”

He outlined methods of using money that dazzled imagination. Like Moses
of old, Sipes and Saunders were shown a land of allurement, from what
seemed to them a towering height. It could be theirs, if they had the
price, and the price was in the lily-margined channel of the Winding
River.

Like most of the rest of humanity, the onion-skinner craved “unearned
increment,” and he hoped to inveigle his hearers into procuring it for
him. The echo of the coin’s ring--a sound that encircles the world--was
in the voice of the tempter, and the old mariners listened as to a
siren’s song.

“I’ll go with you, if you’d like to have me,” he declared, “and I’ll
pay you a good price for your pearls, as I did before.”

“I’ll tell ye wot we’ll do,” said Sipes. “We ain’t busy now, an’ we’ll
take the _Crawfish_ up to our ol’ camp. We’ll take Cookie ’long an’
keep things up. You c’n go out with the flatboat an’ fish fer jools.
We’ll stick ’round an’ watch you work, if we don’t git too tired, and
we’ll give you a fifth o’ wot you git. We’ll sell our jools to somebody
else, an’ w’en you sell your share you c’n fix up with us fer our time.
If you don’t find nothin’ you won’t have to pay us much anyway, so
it’ll be a good thing fer you.”

While the proposition might have excited the onion-skinner’s
admiration, from a professional point of view, he failed to see its
advantages to him. He suggested that it might be well to think matters
over for a few days, and that he “might drop around again the latter
part of the week.”

We helped him push his boat into the lake, and he rowed away, leaving a
writhing serpent of discontent at Shipmates’ Rest.

“They’s a good deal in wot that feller says,” declared Sipes. “I don’t
think nothin’ o’ him, but jest think wot we c’d do if we had two bar’ls
o’ cash-money instid o’ one! We c’d branch out an’ buy this whole
cusséd shore. We’d stick up signs and nobody’d dast come on it!”

Saunders was virulent and profane in his comment on “fellers that ain’t
satisfied with wot they got, w’en they got all they need, er ever
oughta have,” but finally admitted that “they’s a lot more things we
might do if we c’d find some more o’ them big pearls.”

That evening the old cronies departed into the moonlight for
consultation. John and I sought our couches early. Narcissus took his
new mouth organ and ukelele, and strolled off up the beach with Coonie.
They had evidently returned sometime before midnight, for I heard loud
imprecations being bestowed on the pup by Saunders, who had found him
chewing up a deck of cards on the floor, when he and Sipes had come in
later. Doubtless Coonie had been ennuied and distrait, and had longed
for occupation. With all his sins, he was a lovable little dog, and his
good nature and affection made him irresistible. He was fully forgiven
in the morning.

“Bill an’ me’s talked this thing all over,” announced Sipes at the
breakfast table. “This damn onion-skinner’s got sump’n else in ’is head
’sides jools. He wouldn’t want to go up there an’ stick ’round jest to
watch us clam-fish’n’. We’ll find out wot’s bit’n’ ’im. We’r’ goin’
to tell ’im to come on with us, an’ we want you to go too. We’ll go
up there an’ start the camp an’ do some jool-fish’n’, an’ have a good
time, an’ mebbe we’ll git some. That cuss bilked us on that deal last
year, an’ you bet we’r’ goin’ to git square somehow. We’r’ goin’ to
give ’im the third degree, an’ you jest watch us fondle ’im. All such
fellers as him oughta be exported.”

Bascom was received with faultless urbanity when he came again. It was
agreed that he should be simply a guest, and that operations should
be resumed on the old basis. Sipes assured him that he would be made
comfortable.

“You’ll have a fine time up there in them woods. You c’n fish an’ loaf
’round an’ pick posy flowers, an’ us fellers’ll find out wot’s left in
the river. Cookie’s goin’ to fix up a lot o’ stuff, an’ we’ll have a
fine trip. You go an’ fetch wot you want to take ’long, an’ come early
tomorrer.”

The necessary preparations were made. Mike wound the _Crawfish_ into
the lake. Bascom had brought some seedy old clothes, a soft gray hat,
and some high boots. His baggage was light and he appeared quite well
prepared for an outing. He had some interesting maps with him, which
he said would enable us to keep posted as to exactly where we were.
He brought a pocket compass, some light fishing tackle, a leather gun
case, and I noticed, when his coat was off, that the handle of a small
revolver protruded from his left hip pocket.

John was to remain in charge of the place.

“Now don’t you take in no bad money, an’ don’t you pay out none o’ no
kind w’ile we’r’ gone,” cautioned Sipes, as we climbed into the boat.
“You take care o’ yerself, an’ don’t fall in the water.” He bestowed a
solemn wink on the old man as the motor began to hum, and we departed,
waving farewells to our faithful custodian.

The voyage to the mouth of the river was uneventful. We tied up at
the old pier, and Sipes and Narcissus left us for an hour to do some
errands in the village. A former experience of Narcissus in that town
was disastrous, and the old man thought “somebody’d better be ’long to
help Cookie carry things, fer ’e got overloaded ’ere once’t.”

Saunders and I found my small boat and tent where they had been stored
during the winter, and got them out to take with us.

“That feller that Sipes is talk’n’ to up there on the hill’s the game
warden,” remarked Saunders. “Wot d’ye s’pose ’e wants with ’im?”

We reëmbarked, made our way up through the marsh, and saw our old
camping ground in the distance.

Out in the middle of the river we beheld Captain Peppers on the
flatboat, which we had left on the bank the year before. He had been
dragging the stream, but had stopped work when he heard our motor in
the marsh.

“Look at that ol’ pussyfoot up there fish’n fer jools!” exclaimed
Sipes. “He looks like a bug float’n on a chip. You c’n see ’is ol’
beak from ’ere! Listen at me josh ’im w’en we git up to ’im. He gives
me pains. I’d like to know wot ’e was ever cap’n of. It’s prob’ly one
o’ them demijohn titles. They’s slews of ’em. Fellers that drinks a
lot gits to be called Colonel an’ Major an’ Cap’n, that ain’t never
c’mmanded nothin’ er fit nothin’ but demijohns all their lives, an’ I
bet ’e’s one of ’em. The redder their noses gits the higher up their
titles goes, an’ some of ’em gits to be gen’rals ’fore they’r laid
away, an’ they’s some s’loon jedges over to the county seat that ain’t
never been in no court ’cept to be fined fer bein’ drunk. Don’t you
start nothin’ ’bout that ol’ motor, Bill, ’cause it won’t do now.”

“Hello, Cap’n!” shouted the old man, as we came up. “Fine day, ain’t
it? Cetchin’ any mudturkles?”

The Captain, ill at ease, began poling the flatboat toward the bank.

“I didn’t know you expected to use this outfit again, an’ I thought
I’d see if they was any loose pearls layin’ ’round ’ere. Of course now
you’re here you c’n go ahead. I don’t want to interfere with you in no
way.”

“You won’t,” replied Sipes. “We didn’t know you was clam-fish’n w’en
we fust seen you. We thought you’d mosied up ’ere so’s to be near that
spring, an’ was jest out cruisin’ on the river fer fun.”

The Captain’s nose was a little redder than when we last saw him, but
otherwise he appeared unchanged. He was invited to land and have lunch
with us. Saunders introduced him to the onion-skinner, liquid cheer was
produced, and an _entente cordiale_ soon prevailed.

The big sail was again rigged as a shelter tent in its old place, and
my tent was put where it was before. The Captain kindly helped to get
our camp in order. He showed us a few pearls of moderate value, that he
had found during the two weeks he had been at work on the river, and
they were purchased by Bascom, at what seemed to be a fair price. Late
in the afternoon he partook of more liquid cheer, and rowed away down
the river in his little boat.

That night we assembled around the fire, but the circle was not as
of old. Something was missing and something had been added. The
atmosphere was unsympathetic. There is a certain psychology that
pervades gatherings, both great and small, that is subtly sensitive to
influences that are often indefinable. In this instance the “repellent
aura” was obviously the onion-skinner. He exerted himself to be
agreeable, but his _bonhomie_ was about as infectious as that of a
crocodile trying to be playful. His personality did not harmonize with
the little amenities of life, and he was a misfit anywhere but in a
financial transaction.

Sipes’s habitual effervescence seemed to have a false note. Saunders
and I kept rather quiet, and the melodies that dwelt in the volatile
soul of Narcissus were hushed.

The arboreal katydids were abroad in the woods. These insects are
exquisitely beautiful in their green gowns. Like many human creatures,
they would be fascinating if they kept still, but they stridulate
boisterously and persistently. Their scientific name--_Cyrtophyllus
perspicillatus_--is only one of the things against them. The insects
seldom move after they have established themselves in a tree for the
night, and they often stay in one spot from early August, when they
usually mature, until the fall frosts silence their penetrating clamor.
The green foliage provides a camouflage that renders them practically
undiscoverable, except by accident. We hunted for one particular
offender with an electric flashlight and murderous intent nearly half
of one night, without finding him. We hurled many sticks and clods of
earth into the tree, but failed even to disturb his meter.

It is the male katydid that proclaims the troubles of his kind to the
forest world. He begins soon after dark, and continues his work until
morning. Curiously, the female is silent.

The loud dissonant sounds are produced by friction of the wings, which
have hard, drumlike membranes and edges like curved files. He shuffles
them with a continuity that is nerve-racking. Often I would suddenly
start from sound sleep, with an indistinct apprehension of some
impending peril.

One morning, after a haunted and vexatious night in the little tent, I
found that the following impressions had crept over white paper during
the hours of darkness, and lay beside the burned-out candle. They are
the lines of one who suffered and should be read with reverence.


A DIABOLIC CADENCE

_Into the choirs of the trees there has come a rasping, strident, and
unholy sound. A fiend in green is mocking the transient year with mad
threnody from his eyrie among the boughs._

_In that suspended half consciousness that hovers along the margin
of a dream, there seems to echo, out of some vast and awful chasm, a
rumbling roar of rocks--from some abysmal smithy of the gods within the
hidden caverns of the earth where huge boulders are being fashioned
by giant hands, to be hurled up into space, to descend with frightful
crash, and extinguish the life upon the globe._

_In the agonized recoil of frenzied fancy from the borders of the
dream, the demonic ceaseless sawing, of the arboreal fiend in green,
arrests the fleeting phantoms of the brain, and, like a doleful
tuneless tolling of a fractured funeral bell--like a barbaric song
of sorrow over fallen warriors--the ripping, rasping, resonant notes
mingle with the night wind, and drown the harmonious hum of drowsy
insects, that kindly nature has sent into the world to lull somnolent
fancy into paths of dreams._

_After the gentle prelude of the crickets--and the lullabies of forest
folk--like a mad discordant piper, he starts a strain of dismal dole,
and files away the seconds from the onward hours. Mercilessly across
the tender human nerves, that seem to span the taut bridge of a
swaying violin, he sweeps a berosined and excruciating bow._

_Prolonged wailing for a “lost or stolen” love may have disintegrated
his vocal chords. His agonized and shattered heart may have sunk
into hopeless depths, and all his articulate forces may have been
transmitted to his foliated wings, when his belovéd was lured away by
some unknown marauder--mayhap of darker green or lovely pink._

_The errant pair may be hidden in a distant glade--or dingly
dell--gazing upward through the leaves, wondering “what star should be
their home when love becomes immortal,” and listening to him, as he
scrapes the melodies out of the night with that infernal, insistent,
and slang-infected song:_

    “_She’s beat it--she’s beat it--she’s beat it--_
     _Come back--come back--come back--_
     _You skate--you skate--_
     _You’ve swiped--you’ve swiped_
     _My mate--my mate--my mate!_”

_Intermittently he seems to muffle the ragged rhyme, and merge into
virulent_ vers libre--_imagistic muse and amputated prose--containing
sound projectiles, of low trajectory, that winnow the aisles of the
forest for an erring spouse who has fled beyond the range of common
rhyme_.

_Perhaps it’s all wrong--about this insect having loved--for love is
a holy thing, and it may be that it abides not among the things that
have wings and stings. It would seem that he who could trill this
nerve-destroying song could know no love, or that it was ever in the
world._

_It may be that this emerald villain has been outlawed by his kind,
and he’s filing, up there in the dark, on some terrible iron thing,
that he’s sharpening to annihilate the tribe that banned him. He may be
sawing of a branch, and, if so, I hope he’s straddling the part that’ll
fall off when he’s through. Maybe he’s got some ex-friend up there,
pinioned to the bark, and he’s boring him to death, by telling him the
same thing--the same thing--the same thing--o’er and o’er and o’er._

_I wish that some gliding fluffy owl, or other rover of the darkened
woods, would only pause a moment, and divest the bough of this
green-mantled wretch, and then that some mighty ravenous bird would
collect the people we know, who come and scrape on something that’s
inside of them--lay a sound barrage before us--fret the air with
piffle, and with sorrows all their own--and chant a woeful ceaseless
cadence, like the green arboreal fiend, whose sonorous and satanic
notes assail us from the bough. Miscreated, malignant, and hellish
though they and the fiend may be, they all revel in that rare joy that
comes only to him who has found his life work._

_For our sins must we be scourged, else, why are these people?_

_And,_

      _Pourquoi--pourquoi--pourquoi--_
    _Is this_
      _Katydid--Katydid--Katydid?_

After listening patiently to the reading of the production, my
unfeeling prosaic friend Sipes remarked, “Gosh, we gotta git that
insect ’fore it gits dark ag’in!”

The Ancient called the third day after our arrival, and spent the
afternoon with us. Bascom seemed much interested in helping to
entertain him, and got out his maps. On one of them was indicated
the names of the owners of the different tracts of land, and we were
surprised to learn that the old man was the possessor of the woods we
were in, practically all of the land around the marsh, and a long strip
of frontage on the lake. Captain Peppers was also a large owner of
property along the lake.

The veiled motive of Bascom’s trip with us was now apparent. He wanted
options for a year on a large part of these holdings, and was willing
to pay what he considered a good price. It seemed that on the day we
came, he had had some talk with the Captain on the subject, and they
were to take the matter up again.

He wanted options only on the tracts with marsh and lake frontage, and
argued that if they were improved the rest of the land would be made
much more valuable. He had skilfully arranged his stage setting for the
object of his trip, and claimed that the idea had just occurred to him
while he was taking this little outing. He said that he accidentally
happened to have the maps, and had brought them along to familiarize
himself with the country he was in.

He made the Ancient a substantial offer for an option on most of
his holdings, at a price that the old man did not seem inclined to
consider, but he was open to negotiation.

“I been livin’ ’ere most all my life, an’ I’ve ranged ’round this ol’
marsh an’ them sand-hills so much that I wouldn’t know how to act if
they wasn’t mine, but if you’ll git yer figgers up whar I c’n see ’em,
mebbe we’ll talk about it some more.”

“You see,” said Bascom to Saunders, after the old settler had left,
“this land idea is a sort of a side issue with me. I think that perhaps
a little money might be made here, but I would have to take some big
chances. You and Sipes talk with those fellows a little, and see if
you can’t bring them around to business, and I’ll pay you something
for it if they sign up. You might have some influence with them. Tell
them that I mentioned to you that it was just a gamble with me, and
probably there isn’t a chance in a hundred that I will exercise the
options at all, and they will be ahead whatever they get out of me now.”

The old shipmates agreed to do what they could and the subject was
dropped for the time being.

The accidental exposure of the contents of a long fat wallet that
Bascom carried inside his vest revealed the fact that he had a large
amount of money with him, much larger than could possibly be required
for ordinary use. Evidently he was prepared to close the business with
the owners of the land the moment their minds met.

“Holy Mike! Did ye see that wad?” whispered Sipes, who was awed by the
magic of the gold certificates. “I’d like to know some way to git that
wad,” he remarked later. “I’d play some seven-up with ’im fer some of
it, but they’s sump’n ’bout ’im that makes me think it wouldn’t do.”

I realized that the despoiler was at the gates of the Dune Country. The
foot of the Philistine was on holy ground. This man with a withered
soul was an invader of sanctuary. He would tear the dream temples down
that the centuries had builded. With steam shovels and freight cars he
would level the undulating hills, and haul away their shining sands to
a world of greed, where man does not discriminate. The wild life would
flee from steam whistles that shrieked through the forests, and from
smoke that defiled the quiet places. Belching chimneys and unsightly
signs would befoul and deface the fair domain. With the beauty of the
dunes he would feed a Moloch in the sordid town.

The peaceful marsh, and the river with its channel of silver light,
would be invaded with dredges. Abbatoirs, tanneries, factories,
and blast furnaces might come. The Winding River, with its halo of
memories, would flow away with receding years, and a foul stream would
carry the stain of desecration and filth out to pollute the crystal
depths of the lake.

“Improvements” were contemplated in Duneland, and the spectre of
hopeless ugliness hovered along its borders. The altar of Mammon
awaited a sacrifice, for “money might be made here” if certain
manufacturing interests, to which Bascom vaguely alluded, “could be
induced to utilize these now practically worthless wastes of sand.”

In years to come the wild geese may look down from their paths through
the soiled skies, to the earth carpet below them, and wonder at the
creatures that have changed it from a fabric of beauty to a source of
evil odors and terrifying sounds.

The clam-fishing was unsatisfactory. The mollusks seemed to be about
exhausted. Sipes and Saunders worked faithfully for several days, but
only found a dozen or so, and none of them contained pearls.

“We gotta wait fer a new crop,” declared Saunders, who was disgusted
with the whole trip and wanted to go home.

Bascom persuaded the old sailors to remain a few days, to give the
Ancient a chance to come back, and to impress the Captain at the
village with the idea that he was in no hurry to see him. They had no
love for that red-nosed worthy and acquiesced.

The flatboat was restored to its berth on the bank, and in the
early morning Sipes and Saunders made a trip to the village in the
_Crawfish_. On their return at lunch time they reported that they had
seen nothing of the Captain.

[Illustration: The Troopers of the Sky

  (_From the Author’s Etching_)]

I spent the afternoon up the river and heard a great many shots echoing
through the woods. When I returned to camp I found that Bascom had been
out shooting robins. There were thirty-seven of the innocent little
redbreasts in his bloody bag, and the game warden was with him when he
returned from his shameful expedition.

It seemed that Sipes, when he arrived from the village, had pictured
to Bascom the glories of a certain robin pie, “with little dumplins,”
that he said Narcissus had once compounded, and the fascinated
onion-skinner, although knowing that it was illegal to kill songsters,
had taken the risk of going out with his gun to obtain material for
another one. He was mad all the way through, but was a much subdued man.

“Them robins is song birds, an’ it’s ag’in the law to kill ’em at any
time,” said the warden. “They’re wuth ten dollars apiece an’ costs
to the state, an’ you’ve got to go to the county seat with me. Mebbe
you’ll be jugged too, fer they’re pretty severe with fellers that shoot
little birds.”

Bascom offered to fix up the matter privately, on a liberal financial
basis, but the minion of the law was inexorable. The culprit must have
regarded that part of the country as most peculiar and inhospitable.

Erskine Douglas Potts, the game warden, was a lengthy loose-jointed
individual. One eye drooped in a peculiar way, and seemed to rove
independently of the other. Sipes declared that “Doug’ c’n look up in
a tree with one eye, an’ down a hole with the other lamp at the same
time.” Odd humor radiated from him and he had a deep sense of his
dignity as an upholder of the “revised stat-toots.” Two printed copies
of the state game laws protruded from the top of his trousers, where
they were secured by a safety pin. “Casey,” his small yellow dog, was
his inseparable companion. They were a devoted pair of chums and Potts
refused to allow a “pitcher” to be made of him unless the dog was
included.

Casey was an animal of rare acumen. He had once taken the prize at a
village dog-show, where intelligence and not breeding was considered,
and his laurels were regarded as imperishable by his proud master.

“They didn’t put me up, but if they had I’d ’a’ lost out ’side o’ him,”
he remarked. “The dogs is the smartest things in that town, an’ they
couldn’t be no kind of a brain show thar without ’em. This dog’s a
wonder. He knows the time o’ day, an’ all the short cuts through the
woods an’ sand-hills. We ain’t neither of us got no pedigrees, but we
seem to navigate ’round pretty well without ’em.

“W’en we hear any shoot’n off in the woods we go out on a still-hunt.
Casey finds the foot trails an’ follers ’em up. ’Tain’t long ’fore we
spot the feller with the gun. Then we foregather with ’im an’ ask fer
’is shoot’n license, an’ inspect wot ’e’s got. If it’s song birds, er
game out o’ season, we form in line an’ perceed to whar the scales o’
justice hang, an’ the feller has to loosen up.

“Casey hikes down to the depot w’en they’s anybody that with baggage er
packages, an’ sniffs ’em over. If ’e scents any birds ’e alw’ys lets me
know. I git half o’ the fines that’s levied, an’ this ’ere bag we’ve
jest brought in looks like pretty good pickin’. It’s durn poor shoot’n
that don’t shake down sump’n fer somebody. Casey an’ me lives alone,
an’ we have lots o’ long talks together. He knows more’n most lawyers.
He’s my depity, an’ I couldn’t git along without ’im. A feller that
owns a nice new breech loadin’ gun offered to trade me a horse fer ’im
last week, but they was nothin’ doin’.

“Me an’ Casey don’t miss much that goes on ’round ’ere. After them
robins is took off o’ the bar o’ justice, we’ll fetch ’em back, if the
jedge don’t cop ’em, an’ we’ll let yer dark-spot cook ’em, an’ we’ll
have a pie that’s all our own. Yer moneyed friend c’n think about it
while ’e’s in the county jail countin’ the change ’e’s got left.”

It was arranged that the prisoner and his marble-hearted captor should
be taken to the village that night in the _Crawfish_, and the journey
to the county seat made the next day.

The evening meal was far from festive. The boat was poled out into the
current and started away down stream in the moonlight, with Saunders at
the helm. Sipes and the warden smoked complacently on the roof of the
cabin, and the moody Bascom sat between them. Casey was in charge of
the evidence near the bow, where he jealously guarded the bag of robins
and kept his eye on the evil doer.

Sipes had remarked to me before they left that “things has been pretty
dull ’round this ’ere camp, but now they’s sump’n doin’.”

“Ah tole Mr. Bascom that ’e bettah not go shoot’n’ much ’round heah,”
said Narcissus, with a quiet chuckle, after the party had left, “but ’e
said ’e wanted one o’ them robin pies that Mr. Sipes tole ’im ’bout.
Ah don’t remembah ’bout no robin pie, but it might be awful good. The
wa’den has ’fiscated all them robins, an’ Ah guess we got to fix up
sump’n else fo’ dinnah tomorrow.”

I asked no questions when the old shipmates returned, and they
volunteered no information as to any part that they might or might not
have played in the little drama of the afternoon, but I suspected that
the “third degree” that Sipes had mentioned before we started was now
in process of application.

Justice was dealt out to Bascom with unsparing hand when he reached
the county seat, and he was compelled to pay the full penalty of his
wrongdoing. After liquidating his fines, and incidentally himself, in a
moderate way, to drown his troubles, he had spent an hour or so about
town, and was just taking the train, when he was again arrested for
carrying a concealed weapon. He had neglected to leave his revolver at
the camp, and was assessed accordingly.

He came back to us after three days, with a crestfallen air, and said
that he was ready to break camp if we were. Nothing had been seen of
the Ancient or the Captain, and he regarded it as poor strategy to stay
longer, with no particular excuse for doing so. He would devise some
other way of getting at the coy landowners.

We packed up our things and departed. The engine stopped just before
we reached the village, and we found that our gasoline was exhausted.
Unfortunately the oars had been forgotten when we left Shipmates’ Rest,
but as the new motor had worked perfectly, there had been no occasion
for them. We poled the _Crawfish_ to the old pier, landed, and stowed
my little boat and tent where we had found them. We then took the
gasoline can and walked up to the village, leaving Bascom in charge of
the _Crawfish_.

He was anxious for us to run across the Captain accidentally, and if
possible get him down to the boat on some pretence. In effect, we were
to shoo the wary Captain to the ambush, where the onion-skinner lay in
wait with his tempting yellowbacks. We did not look very hard for him,
but I happened to see him down the road talking to a man in a buggy. I
was not inclined to do any shooing, and did not disturb him.

We spent some time in the village store. When we came out, the sky,
which had looked threatening all the morning, was overcast with dark
angry clouds. A big storm was brewing, and we decided not to start for
Shipmates’ Rest until it was over. There was a high off-shore wind.
The waves were rising rapidly out on the lake, but the protected water
along the bluffs was still comparatively calm. As the wind increased we
went down to the pier, intending to tie the boat up in a more sheltered
place, and remain at the village all night. We found to our dismay that
the _Crawfish_ was adrift far out on the water. Under the strain of the
wind and the river current, the line had parted that had held it to the
pier.

Bascom was gesticulating wildly for help, but there was no means of
getting to him. There happened to be no boats around the mouth of the
river large enough to be of use in the waves that were now breaking
over the _Crawfish_. There was no gasoline on the boat, and if there
had been oars Bascom could not have got the boat back with them after
he got into the current. Evidently he had not realized his danger until
it was too late to jump overboard and swim ashore, or it may not have
occurred to him.

“That poor feller ain’t got no more chance ’an a fish worm on a red-hot
stove,” shouted Sipes above the roar of the wind, as we watched the
helpless craft being tossed and borne away. To do the old man justice,
he forgot the boat, and our belongings on it, in the face of Bascom’s
peril, as we all did.

There was a faint hope that some steamer on the lake might rescue him,
but there was none in sight, and we doubted if the boat would stay
afloat more than a few minutes more in such a wind and sea. Rain began
to come in torrents, and the distant object, that we had watched so
anxiously, was obliterated by the storm.

We made our way back to the village store with difficulty, and
telephoned to the lifesaving station about thirty miles away on the
coast, but there was no possible hope of help from there. There was
much excitement among a few villagers who came out into the storm, but
nobody could suggest any means of relief.

We spent a gloomy and sleepless night in the little town, where we were
hospitably provided for.

Somewhere far out on the wind-lashed lake the turbulent seas and the
storm played with a thing that had become a part of the waste and
débris of the wide waters. Bascom’s god was in his leather wallet, but
it was powerless, except with men. The winds and the waves knew it not.
Greed, that dominates the greater part of mankind, becomes ghastly
illusion, as the frail creature it disfigures blends into the elements
when finality comes.

Mother Nature, with her invincible forces, sometimes chastens her
erring children who do not understand. She had guarded her treasures in
Duneland through the countless years, and now, with a breath from the
skies, a destroyer had been wafted from its portals.

Poor Bascom had indeed received the “third degree” and had been
“exported” in a way that was not contemplated by the sorrowful old
sailors.

The storm subsided the next day and we made the journey along the beach
on foot to Shipmates’ Rest, where we found everything in good order.
We related our doleful experience to John, and there was a cloud over
our little party for several days. Like most of the troubles in this
world, particularly when they are those of others, the sadness of
Bascom’s fate soon lost its poignancy.

“I’m sorry fer Bascom,” remarked Sipes, “an’ I hate to lose the boat
an’ all the stuff wot’s on it, but Gosh, I wish I had that wad! He
made a lot o’ money in ’is business, an’ money’s all ’e ever wanted to
git, an’ ’e’s got plenty of it right with ’im, so he ain’t got no kick
comin’. He was a hard citizen. All they was that was good about ’im was
’is cash-money, an’ it’s like that with a lot o’ people. I don’t s’pose
’e’ll ever git anywheres near the New Jerus’lum that Zeke tells about,
but if ’e does, I bet ’e’ll want to skin some o’ them pearls wot’s on
the gate.”

I arranged to leave for home, and promised to write to Sipes if I ever
saw anything in the newspapers relating to the finding of Bascom’s body.

“By the way, Sipes, I never knew your first name. What is it?”

“My fust name? It’s Willie, but don’t you never put that on no letter.
Me an’ you an’ Bill’s the only ones wot knows it.”

I departed out of Duneland, and one cold afternoon during the winter I
opened the door of my city studio, after a short absence, and under it
was a card that had been left during the past hour. On it was engraved,

  HORATIUS T. BASCOM

  REAL ESTATE

  FARM LANDS AND MANUFACTURING

  SITES A SPECIALTY

I mailed it to “Mr. W. Sipes” with a trite allusion to bad pennies, and
such other comment as seemed befitting.


[Transcriber’s Note:

Obvious printer errors corrected silently.

Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation are as in the original.]





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