Chapter II. The Cabin in the Clearing
 

It was already four o'clock and the short winter day was drawing to a close. On every side of the two young hunters arose the almost trackless woods, with here and there a small opening, where the wind had swept the rocks clear of snow. Not a sound broke the stillness.

"Were we ever in this neighborhood before?" questioned Dave, after a silence of several minutes.

"Yes, I was up here three or four years ago," answered his cousin, who, as my old readers know, was a natural-born hunter and woodsman. "Got a deer right over yonder." And he pointed with his hand. "The one I hit plumb in the left eye."

"Oh, yes, I remember that," came from Dave. "It was a prime shot. Wish I could do as well sometime."

"You needn't complain, Dave. You've done better than lots of men around here. Some of 'em can't shoot anything at all. They are farmers and nothing else."

"Well, we'll all have to turn farmers sooner or later--after the best of the game is killed off."

"Has your father said anything about going out to his trading-post on the Kinotah again?"

"Nothing more than what you heard him say on New Year's day--that he would go as soon as the weather got warm enough, and it was considered safe."

"I wish I could go out with you. I really believe I could make some money, bringing in pelts,--more money than I can make by staying here."

"Perhaps you could, Henry, and, oh, I wish you could go!" went on Dave impulsively. "Wouldn't we have the best times, though!"

"The trouble is father wants me on the farm. There is so much to do, you see. While the war was on everything went to pieces."

"But Rodney can help now. He told me only yesterday that he felt strong enough to do almost anything."

"Yes, I've thought of that. If he can take hold, perhaps I can get father to consent. Did you say Sam Barringford was going?"

"To be sure. And so is White Buffalo. I suppose father will take not less than a dozen hunters and trappers with him and six or eight Indians, too. He says he doesn't want to depend altogether on strangers when he gets out there, and he hardly knows what has become of the most of those who were with him before."

"More than half of the crowd are dead, shot down either in the trouble with the redskins or in the war."

"I've been wondering if there is anything left of the trading-post. Father has half a notion that the Indians burnt it to the ground, and burnt the forest around it, too. If they have done that, he won't want to build again on the burn-over, but at some new spot where the forest hasn't been touched and timber is easy to get."

"Do you suppose they burnt the post Jean Bevoir had?"

"I reckon not. The Indians were very friendly with that rascal."

The youths had now come to the edge of the woods. Here was a well-defined trail, running from Will's Creek to a hamlet knows as Shadd's Run, named after an old Englishman who had settled there six years previous. Shadd and his family had been massacred by the Indians at the time of Braddock's defeat, and all that was left of his commodious log cabin was a heap of half-burnt logs.

Turning into the trail, the young hunters continued on their way to the Morris homestead. This itself was a new building, for the first cabin had also gone up in flames during the terrible uprising. On either side of the road were patches of woods, with here and there a cleared field. Soon they came in sight of a log cabin.

"Hullo, Neighbor Thompson!" sang out Henry, and in a moment a man appeared at the door of the house, musket in hand.

"So you've got back," said the man, and lowered his weapon. "What luck?"

"Two wild turkeys and seven rabbits," answered Henry. He reached into his game-bag. "Here are the two rabbits I promised you for the powder." And he handed over the game.

"Thank you, Henry, they'll make a fine pot-pie. Didn't see any deer?"

"No."

"Thought not. Will you come in and warm up?"

"I'm not cold."

"Nor am I," put in Dave.

Paul Thompson had been followed to the doorway by his wife Sarah, and the pair asked the two young hunters how matters were faring at home.

"We feel lonely here," said Mrs. Thompson. "In Philadelphia we had so much company."

"You must come over to our house more," answered Henry. "Mother, I know, will be glad to see you."

The Thompsons had come to that neighborhood the summer before, taking up a claim of land left by a near relative who had died. Both were young, and the husband had thought to improve his condition by turning farmer rather than by remaining a clerk in one of the Philadelphia shops. But the loneliness of the life was something neither had counted on, and both were glad enough to talk to a neighbor at every available opportunity.

"I am coming over in a week or two, to stay three days, if your folks will keep me," said Mrs. Thompson. "Paul is going over to Dennett's Mills on business."

"You'll be welcome," said Henry; and after a little more talk the young hunters went on their way.

"I'm anxious to see what sort of a farmer Thompson will make," said Dave as he strode along. "I don't believe he knows a thing about tilling the soil. He's as green as we should be behind the counter of a shop."

"He'll have to learn, the same as anybody else."

At last the youths came in sight of home. It was now dark, and through the living-room window they saw the gleam of a tallow candle which rested on the table.

A shout from Dave brought his father to the doorway. "Back again, eh?" exclaimed James Morris. "And tired as two dogs after the chase, I'll warrant."

"We are tired," answered the son. "But I reckon we could walk a few miles more if we had to."

"I see you didn't get a deer this time," came from Rodney Morris, as he, too, appeared at the doorway.

"Mercy on us, you can't expect them to get a deer every trip!" ejaculated Mrs. Morris, who was bustling around the big open fire-place preparing supper. "It's a wonder they start up anything at all around here, with all the hunting that's going on."

"We got two wild turkeys and seven rabbits," said Henry. "We left two rabbits at the Thompsons'. And, by the way, Mrs. Thompson is coming over in a week or two to stay three days. Paul is going to Dennett's on business."

"I'll be glad to have her here," was the mother's reply. "Poor dear, I know just how lonely she feels. Of course you said it would be all right."

"Yes, I said she'd be welcome."

"I'm so glad!" came from little Nell, as she brushed back the curls that were flying around her face. "Mrs. Thompson is so nice! She can tell the cutest stories!"

"A story-teller always makes a friend of Nell!" laughed her father. "Even White Buffalo can charm her with what he has to say when it comes to stories."

"White Buffalo is a nice Indian," answered the little miss promptly. "The next time he comes here he said he would make me a big, big wooden doll, with joints that would move, and glass beads for eyes."

"You won't fail to keep him busy, if he lets you," came from Dave, as he kicked the snow from his feet and came into the cabin. He threw his game on a bench and hung up his bag, musket, outer coat, and his hat. "Something smells good in here," he declared.

"You've walked yourselves into an appetite," said Rodney. He picked up the wild turkeys. "Good big fellows, aren't they? You've earned your supper."

The game was placed in a cold pantry, to be cleaned and dressed on the morrow, and then the inmates of the cabin gathered around the table to enjoy what Mrs. Morris had to offer.

It was a scene common in those days. The living-room floor was bare and so was the long table, but both were scrubbed to a whiteness and cleanliness that could not be excelled. On either side of the table were rude, but substantial benches, and at the ends were chairs which had been in use for several generations. In a corner of the room stood Mrs. Morris's spinning-wheel and behind this was a shelf containing the family Bible, half a dozen books, and a pile of newspapers which had been carefully preserved from time to time, including copies of the "Pennsylvania Gazette," edited by Benjamin Franklin, and also of the latter's publications known as "Poor Richard's Almanack," full of quaint sayings and maxims. Over the shelf were some deer's antlers and on these rested two muskets, with the powder horns and bullet pouches hanging beneath. Behind the door stood another musket, loaded and ready for use, should an enemy or a wild beast put in an unexpected appearance.

With no tablecloth, one could scarcely look for napkins, but a towel hung handy, upon which one might wipe his fingers after handling a bone. The dishes were far from plentiful and mostly of a sort to stand rough usage. Coffee and milk were drunk from bowls with narrow bottoms and wide tops, and sometimes these bowls served also for corn mush and similar dishes. Forks had been introduced and also regular eating knives, but old hunters and trappers like James Morris and Sam Barringford preferred to use their hunting knives with which to cut their food, and Barringford considered a fork rather superfluous and "dandified."

When all were assembled, Joseph Morris said grace, and then Mrs. Morris brought in what she had to offer--some fried bacon, a pot of baked beans, apple sauce made from several strings of dried apples brought from the loft of the cabin, and fresh bread, just from the hot stones of the fireplace. All fell to without delay, and while eating Dave and Henry told the particulars of the hunt just ended. It was not an elaborate meal, but it was much better than many of their neighbors could afford, and the Morrises were well content.

"I think you were wise to go out to-day," said James Morris, after the young hunters had told their story. "There is another storm in the air and it won't be long in settling down."

"It is going to be a long, hard winter, father," answered Dave.

"What makes you say that?"

"Henry said so. He found a squirrel's nest just loaded with nuts."

"Certainly a pretty good sign, for the squirrels know just about how long they have got to keep themselves in food before spring comes."

"I hope it stays clear for a day longer," put in Joseph Morris. "I am looking for Sam Barringford. He went to Bedford for me, and if it should snow, traveling for him will be bad."

"Sam won't mind a little snowstorm," came from Henry. "He has been out in the heaviest kind of a storm more than once."

After the evening meal, the whole family gathered around the open fire-place and an extra log was piled on the blaze. As nobody seemed to want to read, the tallow candle was extinguished and saved for another occasion, for candles were by no means as plentiful as some of my youthful readers may imagine. They were all of home manufacture and the making of them was no easy task.