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"Cease to lament for that thou canst not help,
And study help for that which thou lament'st."—SHAKESPERE.
A NIGHT IN THE WOODS.
AS near as I could figure we were about nine miles from our objective point for the night, and, as the greater part of the way lay through the
woods, over a road that had not been used much for years, and was quite difficult to follow, it behooved us not to loiter. An additional reason, if any were needed, was the fact that neither Jack nor I had been over the route we were to travel, and only knew about it from hearsay. But as yet I did not apprehend any difficulty or delay, although I knew we had to cross the river. Taking our overcoats on our arm we started on a brisk walk down the old carry road. Jack was pulling at his pipe, and that reminded me that I had some cigars in my overcoat. They were in an inside pocket, and, fortunately, had not been wet. In a moment I had applied the light of a match to one of the weeds, and was puffing along beside him.
"Twelve o'clock," said Jack, as he looked at his watch; "how far is it to Upton?"
"About ten miles, and, as we don't know the road very well, we have no more time than we want."
We scared up several flocks of partridges on our way, but did not get a shot at any of them. Just beyond Forest Lodge we stopped to get a drink, and for the first time noticed that the sky was becoming overcast.
"It looks as if we might get a storm to-night, Captain," said Jack, as he took a look around at the clouds.
"Then let's be moving forward," I replied; "we don't wish to spend the night in the woods. Come, Spot;" and I started along.
"It would be a nice joke if we had to camp out tonight. No grub and not a blanket between us, eh, Captain?"
"Yes, too much of a joke. But I expect to sleep at Upton to-night, don't you?"
"Of course. And if we don't we shall lose the boat. You know to-morrow is Tuesday, and she will go up the Magalloway."
"Yes, and if we miss Lar we shall have to stay at Upton until Friday, for at this season of the year she does not make that Magalloway trip but twice a week."
"That is so," replied my companion, "and we must reach Upton to-night."
About two o'clock we came to a point where the road forked, and we could not agree which road to follow. I wanted to take the left-hand one, and Jack the right. I had been over the carry as far as the cedar stump several years before, and was quite sure that the left-hand road was the one we should travel. On the contrary, Jack insisted that we should follow the one to the right, and, as I could not agree with him, we did as juries do in similar cases, -- agreed to disagree.
It seemed a foolish thing to do, this parting company in the wilderness under the circumstances in which we were placed; but Jack was stubborn and was bound to have his own way, and as I had the advantage of having crossed the carry once, while this was his first attempt, I could not conscientiously follow him. I had an inward conviction that my choice of roads was the right one, and did not care to put in several miles of extra walking just to gratify his whim. Before we parted I made a last effort to coax him to accompany me, but it was only so much time wasted.
Each one now took the things that belonged to him, and, wishing each other good luck and a pleasant journey, pursued our separate ways.
Whistling to Spot I started down the left-hand road, and in a moment had lost sight of my companion. A few minutes' walk satisfied me that I was right, as I began to recognize objects along my way.
Shortly after leaving Jack the dog raised a flock of partridges, and I was lucky enough to shoot one with my revolver. Taking the bird by the legs I carried it along, and after some fifteen minutes' walk from the main road I reached the river landing known as the Cedar Stump, and knew that I was all right thus far. Then I fired three or four shots from my revolver to let Jack know I had found the place, a signal agreed on when we parted.
We had expected to find a boat here to cross the river in; but, to my surprise and alarm, nothing in the shape of a boat was to be seen. Knowing that the owners of boats in that section of the country sometimes hid them when not in use, I began a diligent search along the bank of the river, both above and below the building, in every hole or corner that offered the slightest chance of concealment for a boat. But in vain I searched. Not a water craft of any shape was to be found, and, tired and discouraged, I returned to the landing.
We are in a nice pickle now, I thought, — no boat, and on the wrong side of the river. I see no way of getting across unless we build a raft; for the river was deep and quite wide, with an angry current that forbade swimming or fording. However I took the matter easily, for I had been in the woods too much to let any slight accident disconcert me. I began to feel hungry, so started a fire.
When it was well under way I took my partridge and, after plucking it, cut it open, then went down to the river and cleaned it. Then I took a long green stick, and running it through the bird held it over the fire until it was roasted, Spot sitting by and watching the cooking with a watering mouth.
I had put a small paper of salt in my vest-pocket on leaving camp in the morning, in anticipation of shooting a partridge, and drawing it forth I sprinkled some on my "chicken," and made a hearty meal, throwing the remains to the dog.
As I arose to get a drink of water I heard the report of a gun some way below me, and, thinking it must be Jack, answered it with my revolver. In about fifteen minutes I heard another report, nearer this time, and again I answered, and shortly after I descried Jack on the bank of the river coming toward me.
I began now to look around to see what material we could find for a raft; but the prospect was not very encouraging. I found on the bank above me a couple of dry cedars, about twenty feet long, and, rolling them into the river, floated them down to the landing, and pulled an end of each up on shore, so that they could not float away. By this time Jack had reached the landing; he looked tired and sheepish. He had a couple of partridges with him that he had shot down the river.
"Well, my boy," I said, "you have not been to Upton yet."
"No; the road I followed ended at the lake. Then I struck off through the woods to the left and found the river, and followed it up to this point. But let's go across, the afternoon is slipping away fast."
"That is easier said than done," I replied; "there is no boat here."
"No boat!" and my companion's eyes opened wide with astonishment.
"No boat," I chuckled, for I had recovered from the first feeling of alarm, and began to look upon our fix as a good joke.
"I thought Godwin always kept one here."
"If he did they must have taken it away the day they broke camp, for I have hunted high and low, and can't even find the ghost of one."
"This is a nice scrape to be in," he replied, with a tone of alarm: "perhaps you have overlooked it."
"Well, if you can find it you will do better than I can; and, as I suppose you will not be satisfied until you look, you had better do so at once, and I will keep at work raising the material for a raft."
"A raft" he exclaimed, contemptuously; "how are you going to make a raft without hammer, saw, or nails, and an axe with a blade like a handsaw?"
"That is the question," I replied; "but it has got to be done all the same, and just bear in mind that if you had listened to me we should have had a sharp axe."
Jack turned away, unable to deny my assertion, and began hunting through the underbrush for the boat that was not there, while I continued to get together anything and everything that would float, that I could lay my hands on.
About the time he gave up hunting for the boat I had completed my collection, and a queer-looking pile it made. Small logs and poles, stumps, a few boards and stray planks, and a couple of young spruces I had managed to hack down with the axe.
Ont of the boards and planks I had been fortunate enough to get about twenty nails, and these, with some green withes, and about thirty feet of strong marline, were all we had to fasten our craft together.
As soon as Jack was convinced that there was no boat to be found he took hold with alacrity to help me build the raft.
We used our four largest and driest logs for the bottom and nailed the two planks across them. Then we put the three remaining logs on top of the planks, and bound them down as securely as we could with the marline and withes. We filled the spaces between the logs with light, dry poles, taken from a deserted river-driver's camp near us, and then nailed on our four boards for an upper deck. On top of these we rolled two or three dry pine stumps, getting them all together in the middle, forming a place to stand on that was about a foot above the floor of the raft. Then we brought down a couple more of the longest and lightest poles we could find around the river-driver's camp, to propel our ungainly craft with.
"Now where shall we land on the other side?" asked Jack, who was scanning the opposite shore for a desirable point.
"That little cove is just the place," I answered, nodding toward a miniature bay a few rods below us, on the other bank of the river.
"I am afraid the current will sweep us by it if we start from here," and Jack calculated the distance.
I threw a stick into the river and watched it as it floated down, and then felt sure his supposition was correct.
"You are right, my boy; we shall have to start from higher up the stream; but let's get the old craft into the water, and see how she floats."
Carefully we launched the raft upon which so much depended, and taking our poles stepped on, the dog following us. The old craft settled down until the water was even with the upper deck.
"By Jove! this is a pretty ticklish affair, Captain. I don't believe we can cross on it and take our things at the same time; every pound will count."
"If there was any way of getting it back you might go over alone," I returned.
"I think it would float you and I and the dog, if we had nothing else, and I'll tell you what I think we had better do. You take off your coat and give it to me; with our overcoats, my gun and the ammunition, game-bag, and those big rubber boots of yours, I will try and get to the other side. If I succeed I will leave the things and then come back for you and the dog."
"Spot can swim. You and I together will be all the old craft will carry."
We accordingly put all the things on the raft, and I kept it off the shore while Jack poled it up stream a short distance.
"Now give her a push," he said, "and we will see what she will do."
I gave him a send off and he began to float down stream.
"If the old thing comes to pieces in the middle of the river, throw me a life-preserver, will you?" and Jack laughed.
"Two or three," I replied; "life-preservers are very plenty about here."
He managed the clumsy craft well, and succeeded in making the cove. He took off the things, pulled off his coat and boots, and laid them on shore, and then started to return.
"Head up stream pretty well, Jack," I yelled.
"All right," he answered, and plied his pole diligently.
Spot and I watched him anxiously, but he reached us in safety.
"Come on, Captain," he cried, "for the sooner we are over the better; it begins to grow colder and looks more like a storm."
I did not need any urging.
As the raft struck the shore I jumped on, and took my seat on a stump, Jack declaring he could manage the craft alone. The dog followed, and I was about to pitch him into the river, when Jack interfered for him, saying the raft would carry us all. It did, after a fashion; but I was not sorry when it grounded in the little cove, and we sprung on shore.
We put on our boots and coats, and, taking the rest of the things in the most convenient way we could carry them, struck off down the river.
It was five o'clock when we left the raft; the sun had been clouded in for a couple of hours, and it began to feel like snow. But the exertion of walking kept us warm, and we made our way along as fast as possible.
It was the worst piece of country I had ever traveled over. The ground was uneven and rocky, and in some places we could scarcely force our way through the underbrush. We often came to clumps of windfalls, piled up in such a manner as nearly to stop our progress; but, by climbing over some and crawling under others, we managed to make slow headway. Occasionally we struck a bayou that made in from the river, and we were obliged to make long detours to clear them. Finally, after an hour's hard work, we reached the old Magalloway bridge piers just at dusk.
From this point it was six miles to Upton by an old road that had been discontinued many years, and consequently was none too plain to follow, especially in the night. We rested at this spot a few moments, and I proposed that we camp where we were till morning. There was plenty of dry wood in the vicinity, and by cutting a few boughs we could have fixed up a camp beside the pier, where we could have passed the night quite comfortably. But Jack did not take kindly to my proposition, saying we could reach Upton by ten o'clock, and have a comfortable bed to sleep in, which would be much better than camping out. For my own part, however, I was disposed to let well enough alone; for neither of us had ever been over the road, and only knew about it from the Upton guides, who occasionally traveled it. Very foolishly I allowed myself to be persuaded against my better judgment, and leaving the river we plunged into the woods.
We found the road to be worse than our most vivid fancy had painted. It was so indistinct that it would have been a hard job to have followed it in the middle of the day, and now it was so dark that one could scarcely discern objects three feet away. To add to our discomfort the road was badly grown up, and it was actually easier to get along just outside of where the road had been than try to follow the old track. Windfalls were also numerous, and retarded our progress, and in turning aside to avoid these we frequently lost all traces of the road, and would have to hunt some time before we found it again.
Tired and panting we struggled on, and at eight o'clock we had not made more than a mile, and further locomotion, except by groping our way, was impossible, it had become so dark.
"Ready to camp yet, Jack?" I asked, as we stopped a moment to rest.
"No, sir; I am going to get to Upton to-night."
"Well, my boy, your pluck is good; but, mark my words, "you won't sleep in a hotel to-night."
"I'll make a try for it, any way," he said, as he started forward once more.
For the next three hours we stumbled and scrambled along; now falling flat over the decaying trunk of some tree that lay across our path, then bumping our noses against standing trees, obtaining the first intimation of their proximity in this manner.
To vary the fun we occasionally barked our shins over huge boulders, that we could feel but not see. The night was intensely dark, — so dark you could almost feel it, — and not a star to be seen. Indeed, as we were in a thick growth, you could not see the sky half the time when you looked up.
Struggling on with more courage than common-sense we at last reached a swamp, and stopped and lit a match, and then a piece of paper, to make out where we were. By the light of the burning paper Jack looked at his watch and found it was eleven o'clock. Just beyond us, to the left, we saw a little knoll that looked comparatively dry, and we made our way to it. As we reached the middle of it Jack dropped his gun and overcoat, and exclaimed: —
"It is no use, Captain, I give it up!"
"Then the sooner we make a fire the better," I replied, with a quiet smile at his discomfiture.
Lighting a match and another piece of paper we began searching for a dry stump or a white birch tree, but, to our disgust, could find neither.
We appeared to be surrounded on all sides by a thick growth of firs, the only other trees I saw being two yellow birches, one about three, and the other about eight, inches in diameter.
Feeling my way to the larger one, for my paper had now burned out, I succeeded by the aid of my knife in getting about two handfuls of yellow birch-bark, — poor stuff for kindling a fire.
I put this in my hat, and feeling about under the tree found a few dry leaves; these I added to the bark, then made my way back to Jack, who had managed in spite of the darkness to get three or four rocks together to build our fire on.
I emptied my hat of the bark and leaves, then went through my pockets and produced all the paper I could find about my clothing, while Jack gathered a few dead limbs from a fir near us.
By this time it had grown very cold, and both of us were shivering with the chill night air, and we really needed a fire as much for its warmth as for the light it would furnish.
Fumbling in my vest-pocket with my cold fingers, I was vexed to find that I had only three matches left, and I knew that Jack bad used all of his some time before. I scratched the first match; it sputtered a little, then went out. The second one burned some better, but went out before I could light the bark. Things were getting desperate. Only one match and a cold night before us.
"Only one match left, Jack," I said, as I threw the second one away.
"What!" and there was a world of meaning in that little word as he pronounced it.
"Just as I tell you. Now hold your hat near me. If this match goes back on us we shall have to dance to keep warm."
Jack held his hat in such a position that when I ignited the match he sheltered the blaze from the wind, and working carefully I succeeded in catching fire to the paper and the light bark of the yellow birch. For fear it would be blown ont, for the wind had come up quite strong in the last hour, we held our hats to windward of the flame until it had grown a little, and then pushed the dry twigs from the fir over it.
While I attended to the fire Jack broke off some more of the dead limbs from the fir, then taking the axe managed to hack down the smallest of the yellow birches, and cut it into lengths about two feet long. Piling on a good half of this fuel, we soon had a fair fire blazing, and while Jack took a rest, for it was warm work chopping with our sharp(?) axe, I cut down a couple of good-sized firs, trimming the limbs all off, and divided them into two piles. Those that were dead or dry I threw toward the fire, and the live or green ones I threw into a separate pile, to be used in building a brush camp.
After that I cut up the trunks of the firs into firewood, and then tackled the large yellow birch, hacking about half-way through it.
By this time I was willing to turn the axe over to my companion in misery, and while he finished felling the birch I selected a place for our camp, and broke off some more fir boughs to use in its construction.
After the birch fell Jack hacked off a lot of the smaller limbs, and we piled them on the fire until we had a glorious blaze, throwing a circle of light several rods from us. This enabled us to take a good look about us, and we found we were but a few steps from the road, on a slight elevation of ground, a round knoll, which sloped off on all sides to a swamp.
But although we strained our eyes to catch a glimpse of some white birches, or even another yellow birch, they were not to be seen, the entire forest as far as our light extended showing only firs, with a very few cedars.
While Jack took care of the fire I went for some small firs, and cut down about fifteen of them, then dragged them up to the fire, and trimmed off all the boughs, and threw them on the pile with the others; then I cut the poles of an even length, about eight feet, and sharpened five of them at one end.
We were now ready to set up our camp, but before commencing we cut up the balance of our yellow birch into small pieces and threw some of them on the fire.
Selecting the five poles I had sharpened at the end, we drove four of them into the ground, each two crossed near the top, and about eight feet of space between them. The fifth stake we drove down perpendicularly at the back of the camp, the bottom being in the middle of the two crossed stakes at that end. Then we took one of the other poles, and laid it into the crotches formed by the four end poles, and that made our ridge-pole.
We now had a skeleton frame, tent-shaped. To enable us to cover it more easily we took six of the other poles, and sharpening the larger ends set them into the ground a little, on a line with the others, and rested the tops against the ridge-pole. Then we began to wattle on our fir boughs, and soon had both sides covered. At the back end we stood up several small thick firs, that effectually closed that part. The front of our camp we left open, so as to obtain the heat from the fire, which was about six feet from us.
When this was done we threw fresh fuel on the fire, and by the additional light went and stripped all the cedar trees we could find of their limbs, and brought them to the camp and spread them on the ground to lie on.
"Any pitch on your hands, Captain?" asked Jack, as we rested a moment from our labor.
"Only about half an inch thick. I think fir is the meanest wood that grows."
"Poor stuff for firewood, any way, and the pitch is making my hands sore; but before we lay down we shall have to cut two or three of those large firs, for the birch won't last us till morning."
It was now one o'clock, and thinking that if we intended to get any sleep at all, the sooner the wood was cut the better, we went at it.
Relieving each other at short intervals we worked steadily for about an hour, and procured quite a pile of wood, such as it was. After throwing a lot of it on the fire we spread Jack's coat over the cedar boughs, and used mine, which was the heaviest, to cover us with. We lay pretty snugly, the better to keep warm, and the dog crawled up to us, and stretched out by my side. It was now two o'clock, and a few stray snow-flakes were finding their way to the ground; but, overcome with fatigue, and unmindful of the weather, we dropped to sleep at once.
In about an hour I awoke feeling chilly, and I turned out and piled the remainder of the wood on the fire, calculating that it would last until daylight, which would be between four and five o'clock. I found an inch of snow had fallen, and that it was snowing very fast.
As I crawled back to our primitive couch Jack awoke and wanted to know what the matter was. I told him I had been replenishing the fire, and that there was an inch of snow on the ground.
"I don't care if there's a foot," he replied, drowsily, and turned over and went to sleep.
We slept without waking again until about half-past four, when Jack roused up and awoke me. I felt stiff and cold, and every bone in my body seemed to ache. I was not at all sorry to get up.
"Come, Captain, let's leave this God-forsaken hole. Daylight is just breaking, and we can follow the road all right now. I think I took cold last night; I feel as if I had been pounded from head to foot."
We picked up our things, scattered the fire, for it had stopped snowing, and after I had written on a card "Camp Misery," and the date, and pinned it to a tree, we headed for Upton.
About two inches of snow had fallen, loading the trees and bushes, and we found it very disagreeable traveling. We took it easy, however, and reached the hotel about eight o'clock.