Tish by Mary Roberts Rinehart
The Simple Lifers
I suppose there is something in all of us that harks back to the soil. When you come to think of it, what are picnics but outcroppings of instinct? No one really enjoys them or expects to enjoy them, but with the first warm days some prehistoric instinct takes us out into the woods, to fry potatoes over a strangling wood fire and spend the next week getting grass stains out of our clothes. It must be instinct; every atom of intelligence warns us to stay at home near the refrigerator.
Tish is really a child of instinct. She is intelligent enough, but in a contest between instinct and brains, she always follows her instinct. Aggie under the same circumstances follows her heart. As for me, I generally follow Tish and Aggie, and they've led me into some curious places.
This is really a sort of apology, because, whereas usually Tish leads off and we follow her, in the adventure of the Simple Life we were all equally guilty. Tish made the suggestion, but we needed no urging. As you know, this summer two years ago was a fairly good one, as summers go,--plenty of fair weather, only two or three really hot spells, and not a great deal of rain. Charlie Sands, Tish's nephew, went over to England in June to report the visit of the French President to London for his newspaper, and Tish's automobile had been sent to the factory to be gone over. She had been teaching Aggie to drive it, and owing to Aggie's thinking she had her foot on the brake when it was really on the gas, they had leaped a four-foot ditch and gone down into a deep ravine, from which both Tish and Aggie had had to be pulled up with ropes.
Well, with no machine and Charlie Sands away, we hardly knew how to plan the summer. Tish thought at first she would stay at home and learn to ride. She thought her liver needed stirring up. She used to ride, she said, and it was like sitting in a rocking- chair, only perhaps more so. Aggie and I went out to her first lesson; but when I found she had bought a divided skirt and was going to try a man's saddle, I could not restrain my indignation.
"I'm going, Tish," I said firmly, when she had come out of the dressing-room and I realized the situation. "I shan't attempt to restrain you, but I shall not remain to witness your shame."
Tish eyed me coldly. "When you wish to lecture me," she snapped, "about revealing to the public that I have two legs, if I do wear a skirt, don't stand in a sunny doorway in that linen dress of yours. I am going to ride; every woman should ride. It's good for the liver."
I think she rather wavered when they brought the horse, which looked larger than usual and had a Roman nose. The instructor handed Tish four lines and she grabbed them nervously in a bunch.
"Just a moment!" said the instructor, and slipped a line between each two of her fingers.
Tish looked rather startled. "When I used to ride--" she began with dignity.
But the instructor only smiled. "These two are for the curb," he said--"if he bolts or anything like that, you know. Whoa, Viper! Still, old man!"
"Viper!" Tish repeated, clutching at the lines. "Is--is he--er-- nasty?"
"Not a bit of it," said the instructor, while he prepared to hoist her up. "He's as gentle as a woman to the people he likes. His only fault is that he's apt to take a little nip out of the stablemen now and then. He's very fond of ladies."
"Humph!" said Tish. "He's looking at me rather strangely, don't you think? Has he been fed lately?"
"Perhaps he sees that divided skirt," I suggested.
Tish gave me one look and got on the horse. They walked round the ring at first and Tish seemed to like it. Then a stableman put a nickel into a player-piano and that seemed to be a signal for the thing to trot. Tish said afterward that she never hit the horse's back twice in the same place. Once, she says, she came down on his neck, and several times she was back somewhere about his tail. Every time she landed, wherever it might be, he gave a heave and sent her up again. She tried to say "Whoa," but it came out in pieces, so to speak, and the creature seemed to be encouraged by it and took to going faster. By that time, she said, she wasn't coming down at all, but was in the air all the time, with the horse coming up at the rate of fifty revolutions a second. She had presence of mind enough to keep her mouth shut so she wouldn't bite her tongue off.
After four times round the music stopped and the horse did also. They were just in front of us, and Tish looked rather dazed.
"You did splendidly!" said Aggie. "Honestly, Tish, I was frightened at first, but you and that dear horse seemed one piece. Didn't they, Lizzie?"
Tish straightened out the fingers of her left hand with her right and extricated the lines. Then she turned her head slowly from right to left to see if she could.
"Help me down, somebody," she said in a thin voice, "and call an osteopath. There is something wrong with my spine!"
She was in bed three days, having massage and a vibrator and being rubbed with chloroform liniment. At the end of that time she offered me her divided skirt, but I refused.
"Riding would be good for your liver, Lizzie," she said, sitting up in bed with pillows all about her.
"I don't intend to detach it to do it good," I retorted. "What your liver and mine and most of the other livers need these days isn't to be sent out in a divided skirt and beaten to a jelly: they need rest--less food and simpler food. If instead of taking your liver on a horse you'd put it in a tent and feed it nuts and berries, you wouldn't be the color you are to-day, Tish Carberry."
That really started the whole thing, although at the time Tish said nothing. She has a way of getting an idea and letting it simmer on the back of her brain, as you may say, when nobody knows it's been cooking at all, and then suddenly bringing it out cooked and seasoned and ready to serve.
On the day Tish sat up for the first time, Aggie and I went over to see her. Hannah, the maid, had got her out of bed to a window, and Tish was sitting there with books all about her. It is in times of enforced physical idleness that most of Tish's ideas come to her, and Aggie had reminded me of that fact on the way over.
"You remember, Lizzie," she said, "how last winter when she was getting over the grippe she took up that correspondence-school course in swimming. She's reading, watch her books. It'll probably be suffrage or airships."
Tish always believes anything she reads. She had been quite sure she could swim after six correspondence lessons. She had all the movements exactly, and had worried her trained nurse almost into hysteria for a week by turning on her face in bed every now and then and trying the overhand stroke. She got very expert, and had decided she'd swim regularly, and even had Charlie Sands show her the Australian crawl business so she could go over some time and swim the Channel. It was a matter of breathing and of changing positions, she said, and was up to intelligence rather than muscle.
Then when she was quite strong, she had gone to the natatorium. Aggie and I went along, not that we were any good in emergency, but because Tish had convinced us there would be no emergency. And Tish went in at the deep end of the pool, head first, according to diagram, and did not come up.
Well, there seemed to be nothing threatening in what Tish was reading this time. She had ordered some books for Maria Lee's children and was looking them over before she sent them. The "Young Woods-man" was one and "Camper Craft" was another. How I shudder when I recall those names!
Aggie had baked an angel cake and I had brought over a jar of cookies. But Tish only thanked us and asked Hannah to take them out. Even then we were not suspicious. Tish sat back among her pillows and said very little. The conversation was something like this:--
Tish is very sensitive to lack of sympathy and she shut up like a clam. She was coldly polite to us for the remainder of our visit, but she did not again refer to the Indians, which in itself was suspicious.
Fortunately for us, or unfortunately, Tish's new scheme was one she could not very well carry out alone. I believe she tried to induce Hannah to go with her, and only when Hannah failed her did she turn to us. Hannah was frightened and came to warn us.
I remember the occasion very well. It was Mr. Wiggins's birthday anniversary, and we usually dine at Aggie's and have a cake with thirty candles on it. Tish was not yet able to be about, so Aggie and I ate together. She always likes to sit until the last candle is burned out, which is rather dispiriting and always leaves me low in my mind.
Just as it flickered and went out, Hannah came in.
"Miss Tish sent over Mr. Charlie's letter from London," said Hannah, and put it in front of Aggie. Then she sat down on a chair and commenced to cry.
"Why, Hannah!" said Aggie. "What in the world has happened?"
She's off again!" sniveled Hannah; "and she's worse this time than she's ever been. No sugar, no tea, only nuts and fruit, and her windows open all night, with the curtains getting black. I wisht I had Mr. Charlie by the neck."
I suppose it came over both of us at the same time- the "Young Woodsman," and the "Camper Craft," and no stays, and all that. I reached for Charlie Sands's letter, which was always sent to Tish and meant for all of us. He wrote:--
As I finished reading the letter aloud, I looked at Aggie in dismay. "That settles it," I said hopelessly. "She had some such idea before, and now this young idiot--" I stopped and stared across the table at Aggie. She was sitting rapt, her eyes fixed on the smouldering wicks of Mr. Wiggins's candles.
"Barefoot through the Elysian fields!" she said.
I am not trying to defend myself. I never had the enthusiasm of the other two, but I rather liked the idea. And I did restrain them. It was my suggestion, for instance, that we wear sandals without stockings, instead of going in our bare feet, which was a good thing, for the first day out Aggie stepped into a hornet's nest. And I made out the lists.
The idea, of course, is not how much one can carry, but how little. The "Young Woodsman" told exactly how to manage in the woods if one were lost there and had nothing in the world but a bootlace and a wire hairpin.
With the hairpin one could easily make a fair fish-hook--and with a bootlace or a good hemp cord one could make a rabbit snare.
"So you see," Tish explained, "there's fish and meat with no trouble at all. And there will be berries and nuts. That's a diet for a king."
I was making a list of the necessaries at the time and under bootlaces and hairpins I put down "spade."
"What in Heaven's name is the spade for?" Tish demanded.
"You've got to dig bait, haven't you?"
Tish eyed me with disgust.
"Grasshoppers!" she said tersely.
There was really nothing Tish was not prepared for. I should never have thought of grasshoppers.
"The idea is simply this," observed Tish: "We have surrounded ourselves with a thousand and one things we do not need and would be better without--houses, foolish clothing, electric light, idiotic servants--Hannah, get away from that door!--rich foods, furniture and crowds of people. We've developed and cared for our bodies instead of our souls. What we want is to get out into the woods and think; to forget those pampered bodies of ours and to let our souls grow and assert themselves."
We decided finally to take a blanket apiece, rolled on our shoulders, and Tish and I each took a strong knife. Aggie, instead of the knife, took a pair of scissors. We took a small bottle of blackberry cordial for emergencies, a cake of soap, a salt-cellar for seasoning the fish and rabbits, two towels, a package of court-plaster, Aggie's hay-fever remedy, a bottle of oil of pennyroyal to use against mosquitoes, and a large piece of canvas, light but strong, cut like the diagram.
Tish said it was the regulation Indian tepee, and that a squaw could set one up in an hour and have dinner cooked inside it in thirty minutes after. She said she guessed we could do it if an Indian squaw could, and that after we'd cut the poles once, we could carry them with us if we wished to move. She said the tent ought to be ornamented, but she had had no time, and we could paint designs on it with colored clay in the woods when we had nothing more important to do!
It made a largish bundle, but we did not intend to travel much. We thought we could find a good place by a lake somewhere and put up the tent, and set a few snares, and locate the nearest berry-bushes and mushroom-patches, and then, while the rabbits were catching themselves, we should have time to get acquainted with our souls again.
Tish put it in her terse manner most intelligently. "We intend to prove," she stated to Mrs. Ostermaier, the minister's wife, who came to call and found us all sitting on the floor trying to get used to it, for of course there would be no chairs, "we shall prove that the trappings of civilization are a delusion and a snare. We shall bring back 'Mens sana in corpore sano'."
The minister's wife thought this was a disease, for she said, "I hope not, I'm sure," very hastily.
"We shall make our own fire and our own shelter," said Tish from the floor. "We shall wear one garment, loose enough to allow entire freedom of movement. We shall bathe in Nature's pools and come out cleansed. On the Sabbath we shall attend divine service under the Gothic arches of the trees, read sermons in stones, and instead of that whining tenor in the choir we shall listen to the birds singing praise, overhead."
Mrs. Ostermaier looked rather bewildered. "I'm sure I hope so," she said vaguely. "I don't like camping myself. There are so many bugs."
As Tish said, some ideas are so large that the average person cannot see them at all.
We had fixed on Maine. It seemed to combine all the necessary qualities: woods and lakes, rabbits, game and fish, and-- solitude. Besides, Aggie's hay fever is better the farther north she gets. On the day we were leaving, Mr. Ostermaier came to see us.
"I--I really must protest, ladies," he said. "That sort of thing may be all right for savages, but--"
"Are we not as intelligent as savages?" Tish demanded.
"Primitive people are inured to hardships, and besides, they have methods of their own. They can make fire--" "So can I," retorted Tish. "Any fool can make a fire with a rubbing-stick. It's been done in thirty-one seconds."
"If you would only take some matches," he wailed, "and a good revolver, Miss Letitia. And--you must pardon this, but I have your well--being at heart--if I could persuade you to take along some--er--flannels and warm clothing!"
"Clothing," said Tish loftily, "is a matter of habit, Mr. Ostermaier."
I think he got the idea from this that we intended to discard clothing altogether, for he went away almost immediately, looking rather upset, and he preached on the following Sunday from "Consider the lilies of the field . . . . Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
We left on Monday evening, and by Tuesday at noon we were at our destination, as far as the railroad was concerned. Tish had a map with the lake we'd picked out, and we had figured that we'd drive out to within ten miles or so of it and then send the driver back. The lake was in an uninhabited neighborhood, with the nearest town twenty-five miles away. We had one suitcase containing our blankets, sandals, short dresses, soap, hairpins, salt-box, knives, scissors, and a compass, and the leather thongs for rabbit snares that we had had cut at a harness shop. In the other suitcase was the tepee.
We ate a substantial breakfast at Tish's suggestion, because we expected to be fairly busy the first day, and there would be no time for hunting. We had to walk ten miles, set up the tent, make a fire and gather nuts and berries. It was about that time, I think, that I happened to recall that it was early for nuts. Still there would be berries, and Tish had added mushrooms to our menu.
We found a man with a spring wagon to drive us out and Tish showed him the map.
"I guess I can get you out that way," he said, "but I ain't heard of no camp up that direction."
"Who said anything about a camp?" snapped Tish. "How much to drive us fifteen miles in that direction?"
"Fifteen miles! Well, about five dollars, but I think--"
"How much to drive us fifteen miles without thinking?"
"Ten dollars," said the man; and as he had the only wagon in the town we had to pay it.
It was a lovely day, although very warm. The morning sun turned the woods to fairylike glades. Tish sat on the front seat, erect and staring ahead.
Aggie bent over and touched my arm lightly. "Isn't she wonderful!" she whispered; "like some adventurer of old--Balboa discovering the Pacific Ocean, or Joan of Arc leading the what- you-call-'ems."
But somehow my enthusiasm was dying. The sun was hot and there were no berry-bushes to be seen. Aggie's fairy glades in the woods were filled, not with dancing sprites, but with gnats. I wanted a glass of iced tea, and some chicken salad, and talcum powder down my neck. The road was bad, and the driver seemed to have a joke to himself, for every now and then he chuckled, and kept his eyes on the woods on each side, as if he expected to see something. His manner puzzled us all.
"You can trust me not to say anything, ladies," he said at last, "but don't you think you're playing it a bit low down? This ain't quite up to contract, is it?"
"You've been drinking!" said Tish shortly.
After that he let her alone, but soon after he turned round to me and made another venture.
"In case you need grub, lady," he said,"--and them two suitcases don't hold a lot,--I'll bring out anything you say: eggs and butter and garden truck at market prices. I'm no phylanthropist," he said, glaring at Tish, "but I'd be glad to help the girl, and that's the truth. I been married to this here wife o' mine quite a spell, and to my first one for twenty years, and I'm a believer in married life."
"What girl?" I asked.
He turned right round in the seat and winked at me.
"All right," he said. "I'll not butt in unless you need me. But I'd like to know one thing: He hasn't got a mother, he says, so I take it you're his aunts. Am I on, ladies?"
We didn't know what he was talking about, and we said so. But he only smiled. A mile or so from our destination the horse scared up a rabbit, and Tish could hardly be restrained from running after it with a leather thong. Aggie, however, turned a little pale.
"I'll never be able to eat one, never!" she confided to me. "Did you see its eyes? Lizzie, do you remember Mr. Wiggins's eyes? and the way he used to move his nose, just like that?"
At the end of fifteen miles the driver drew up his horses and took a fresh chew of tobacco.
"I guess this is about right," he said. "That trail there'll take you to the lake. How long do you reckon it'll be before you'll need some fresh eggs?"
"We are quite able to look after ourselves," said Tish with hauteur, and got out of the wagon. She paid him off at once and sat down on her suitcase until he had driven out of sight. He drove slowly, looking back every now and then, and his last view of us must have been impressive--three middle-aged and determined women ready to conquer the wilderness, as Tish put it, and two suitcases.
It was as solitary a place as we could have wished. We had not seen a house in ten miles, and when the last creak of the wagon had died away there was a silence that made our city-broke ears fairly ache. Tish waited until the wagon was out of sight; then she stood up and threw out her arms.
"At last!" she said. "Free to have a lodge in some vast wilderness--to think, to breathe, to expand! Lizzie, do you suppose if we go back we can get that rabbit?"
I looked at my watch. It was one o'clock and there was not a berry-bush in sight. The drive had made me hungry, and I'd have eaten a rabbit that looked like Mr. Wiggins and called me by name if I'd had it. But there was absolutely no use going back for the one we'd seen on our drive.
Aggie was opening her suitcase and getting out her costume, which was a blue calico with short sleeves and a shoe-top skirt.
"Where'll I put it on?" she asked, looking about her.
"Right here!" Tish replied. "For goodness sake, Aggie, try to discard false modesty and false shame. We're here to get close to the great beating heart of Nature. Take off your switch before you do another thing."
None of us looked particularly well, I admit; but it was wonderful how much more comfortable we were. Aggie, who is very thin, discarded a part of her figure, and each of us parted with some pet hypocrisy. But I don't know that I have ever felt better. Only, of course we were hungry.
We packed our things in the suitcases and hid them in a hollow tree, and Tish suggested looking for a spring. She said water was always the first requisite and fire the second.
"Fire!" said Aggie. "What for? We've nothing to cook."
Well, that was true enough, so we sent Aggie to look for water and Tish and I made a rabbit snare. We made a good many snares and got to be rather quick at it. They were all made like this illustration.
First Tish, with her book open in front of her, made a running noose out of one of the buckskin thongs. Next we bent down a sapling and tied the noose to it, and last of all we bound the free part of the thong round a snag and thus held the sapling down. The idea is that a rabbit, bounding along, presumably with his eyes shut, will stick his head through the noose, kick the line clear of the snag and be drawn violently into the air. Tish figured that by putting tip half a dozen snares we'd have three or four rabbits at least each day.
It was about three when we finished, and we drew off to a safe distance to watch the rabbit bound to his doom. But no rabbits came along.
I was very empty and rather faint, but Tish said she had never been able to think so clearly, and that we were all overfed and stodgy and would be better for fasting.
Aggie came in at three-thirty with a hornet sting and no water. She said there were no springs, but that she had found a place where a spring had existed before the dry spell, and there was a naked footprint in the mud, quite fresh! We all went to look at it, and Tish was quite positive it was not a man's footprint at all, but only a bear's.
"A bear!" said Aggie.
"What of it?" Tish demanded. "The 'Young Woodsman' says that no bear attacks a human unless he is hungry, and at this time of the year with the woods full of food--"
"Humph!"--I could not restrain myself--"I wish you would show me a little of it. If no rabbit with acute melancholia comes along to commit suicide by hanging on that gallows of yours, I think we'll starve to death."
"There will be a rabbit," Tish said tersely; and we started back to the snare.
I was never so astonished in my life. There was a rabbit! It seems we had struck a runway without knowing it, although Tish said afterward that she had recognized it at once from the rabbit tracks. Anyhow, whether it died of design or curiosity, our supper was kicking at the top of the sapling, and Tish pretended to be calm and to have known all along that we'd get one. But it was not dead.
We got it down somehow or other and I held it by the ears while it kicked and scratched. I was hungry enough to have eaten it alive, but Aggie began to cry.
"You'll be murderers, nothing else," she wailed. "Look at his little white tail and pitiful baby eyes!"
"Good gracious, Aggie," Tish snapped, "get a knife and cut its throat while I make a fire. If it's any help to you, we're not going to eat either its little white tail or its pitiful baby eyes."
As a matter of fact Aggie wouldn't touch the rabbit and I did not care much about it myself. I do not like to kill things. My Aunt Sarah Mackintosh once killed a white hen that lived twenty minutes without its head; two weeks later she dreamed that that same hen, without a head, was sitting on the footboard of the bed, and the next day she got word that her cousin's husband in Sacramento had died of the hiccoughs.
It ended with Tish giving me the fire-making materials and stalking off into the woods with the rabbit in one hand and the knife in the other.
Tish is nothing if not thorough, but she seemed to me inconsistent. She brought blankets and a canvas tepee and sandals and an aluminum kettle, but she disdained matches. I rubbed with that silly drill and a sort of bow arrangement until my wrists ached, hut I did not get even a spark of fire. When Tish came back with the rabbit there was no fire, and Aggie had taken out her watch crystal and was holding it in the sun over a pile of leaves.
Tish got out the "Young Woodsman" from the suitcase. It seems I had followed cuts I and II, but had neglected cut III, which is: Hold the left wrist against the left shin, and the left foot on the fireblock. I had got my feet mixed and was trying to hold my left wrist against my right shin, which is exceedingly difficult. Tish got a fire in fourteen minutes and thirty-one seconds by Aggie's watch, and had to wear a bandage on her hand for a week.
But we had a fire. We cooked the rabbit, which proved to be much older than Aggie had thought, and ate what we could. Personally I am not fond of rabbit, and our enjoyment was rather chastened by the fear that some mushrooms Tish had collected and added to the stew were toadstools incognito. To make things worse, Aggie saw some goldenrod nearby and began to sneeze.
It was after five o'clock, but it seemed wisest to move on toward the lake.
"Even if we don't make it," said Tish, "we'll be on our way, and while that bear is likely harmless we needn't thrust temptation in his way."
We carried the fire with us in the kettle and we took turns with the tepee, which was heavy. Our suitcases with our city clothes in them we hid in a hollow tree, and one after the other, with Aggie last, we started on.
The trail, which was a sort of wide wagon road at first, became a footpath; as we went on even that disappeared at times under fallen leaves. Once we lost it entirely, and Aggie, falling over a hidden root, stilled the fire. She became exceedingly disagreeable at about that time, said she was sure Tish's mushrooms were toadstools because she felt very queer, and suddenly gave a yell and said she had seen something moving in the bushes.
We all looked, and the bushes were moving.
It was dusk by that time and the path was only a thread between masses of undergrowth. Tish said if it was the bear he would be afraid of the fire, so we put dry leaves in the kettle and made quite a blaze. By its light Tish read that bears in the summer are full fed and really frolicsome and that they are awful cowards. We felt quite cheered and brave, and Tish said if he came near to throw the fire kettle at him and he'd probably die of fright.
It was too late to put up the tepee, so we found a clearing near the path and decided to spend the night there. Aggie still watched the bushes and wanted to spend the night in a tree; but Tish's calmness was a reproach to us both, and after we had emptied the kettle and made quite a fire to keep off animals, we unrolled our blankets and prepared for sleep. I could have slept anywhere, although I was still rather hungry. My last view was of Tish in the firelight grimly bending down a sapling and fastening a rabbit snare to it.
During the night I was wakened by somebody clutching my arm. It was Aggie who lay next to me. When I raised my head she pointed off into the woods to our left. At a height of perhaps four feet from the ground a ghastly red glow was moving rapidly away from us. It was not a torch; it was more a radiance, and it moved not evenly, but jerkily. I could feel the very hair rising on my head and it was all I could do to call Tish. When we had roused her, however, the glow had faded entirely and she said we had had a nightmare.
The snare the next morning contained a skunk, and we moved on as quickly as possible, without attempting to secure the thong, of which we had several. We gathered some puffballs to soak for breakfast and in a clearing I found some blackberry bushes. We were very cheerful that morning, for if we could capture rabbits and skunks, we were sure of other things, also, and soon we would be able to add fish to our menu. True, we had not had much time to commune with our souls, and Aggie's arms were so sunburned that she could not bend them at the elbows. But, as Tish said, we had already proved our contention that we could get along without men or houses or things. Things, she said, were the curse of modern life; we filled our lives with things instead of thoughts.
It was when we were ready to cook the puffballs that we missed the kettle! Tish was very angry; she said it was evident that the bear was mischievous and that all bears were thieves. (See the "Young Woodsman.") But I recalled the glow of the night before, and more than once I caught Aggie's eyes on me, filled with consternation. For we had seen that kettle leaving the camp with some of our fire in it, and bears are afraid of fire!
We reached the lake at noon and it seemed as if we might soon have time to sit down and rest. But there was a great deal to do. Aggie was of no assistance on account of her arms, so Tish and I put up the tent. The "Young Woodsman" said it was easy. First you tied three long poles together near the top and stood them up so they made a sort of triangle. Then you cut about a dozen and filled in between the three. That looked easy, but it took an afternoon, and our first three looked like this first cut.
AS THE FIRST THREE LOOKED
AS THEY SHOULD HAVE LOOKED
We had caught a rabbit by noon, and Aggie being unfit for other work, and the kettle being gone, Tish set her to roasting it. It was not very good, but we ate some, being ravenous. The method was simplicity itself--two forked sticks in the ground, one across to hang the rabbit to and a fire beneath. It tasted rather smoky.
In the afternoon we finished putting up the tepee, and Tish made a fishhook out of a hairpin and tied it to a strong creeper I had found. But we caught no fish. We had more rabbit for supper, with some puffballs smoked and a few huckleberries. But by that time the very sight of a rabbit sickened me, and Aggie began to talk about broiled beefsteak and fried spring chicken.
We had seen no sign of the bear, or whatever it was, all day, and it seemed likely we were not to be again disturbed. But a most mysterious thing occurred that very night.
As I have said, we had caught no fish. The lake was full of them. We sat on a bank that evening and watched them playing leapfrog, and talked about frying them on red-hot stones, but nothing came near the hairpin. At last Tish made a suggestion.
"We need worms," she said. "A grasshopper loses all his spirit after he's been immersed for an hour, but a worm will keep on wriggling and attracting attention for half a day."
"I wanted to bring a spade," said I.
But Tish had read of a scheme for getting worms that she said the game warden of some place or other had guaranteed officially.
"You stick a piece of wood about two feet into the ground in a likely spot," she said, "and rub a rough piece of bark or plank across the top. This man claims, and it sounds reasonable, that the worms think it is raining and come up for water. All you have to do is to gather them up."
Tish found a pole for the purpose on the beach and set to work, while Aggie and I prepared several hooks and lines. The fish were jumping busily, and it seemed likely we should have more than we could do to haul them in.
The experiment, however, failed entirely, for not a single worm appeared. Tish laid it to the fact that it was very late and that the worms were probably settled down for the night. It may have been that, or it may have been the wrong kind of wood.
The mysterious happening was this: We rose quite early because the tepee did not seem to be well anchored and fell down on us at daybreak. Tish went down to the beach to examine the lines that had been out all night, and found nothing. She was returning rather dispirited to tell us that it would be rabbit again for breakfast, when she saw lying on a flat stone half a dozen beautiful fish, one or two still gasping, in our lost kettle!
Tish said she stood there, opening and shutting her mouth like the fish. Then she gave a whoop and we came running. At first we thought they might have been jumping and leaped out on to the beach by accident, but, as Tish said, they would hardly have landed all together and into a kettle that had been lost for two nights and a day. The queer thing was that they had not been caught with a hook at all. They hadn't a mark on them.
We were so hungry that we ate every one of then for breakfast. It was only when we had eaten, and were sitting gorged and not caring whether the tent was set up again or not, that we fell to wondering about the fish. Tish fancied it might have been the driver of the spring wagon, but decided he'd have sold us the fish at thirty cents a pound live weight.
All day long we watched for a sign of our benefactor, but we saw nothing. Tish set up more rabbit snares; not that she wanted rabbits, but it had become a mania with her, and there were so many of them that as they grew accustomed to us they sat round our camp in a ring and criticized our housekeeping. She thought if she got a good many skins she could have a fur robe made for her automobile. As a matter of fact she found another use for them.
It was that night, then, that we were sitting round the camp- fire on stones that we had brought up from the beach. We had seen nothing more of the bear, and if we had been asked we should have said that the nearest human being was twenty-five miles away.
Suddenly a voice came out of the woods just behind us, a man's voice.
"Please don't be alarmed," said the voice. "But may I have a little of your fire? Mine has gone out again."
"G-g-g-good gracious!" said Aggie. "T-Tish, get your revolver!"
This was for effect. Tish had no revolver.
All of us had turned and were staring into the woods behind, but we could see no one. After Aggie's speech about the revolver it was some time before the voice spoke again.
"Never mind, Aggie," Tish observed, very loud. "The revolver is here and loaded--as nice a little thirty-six as any one needs here in the woods."
She said afterward that she knew all the time there was no thirty- six caliber revolver, but in the excitement she got it mixed with her bust measure. Having replied to Aggie, Tish then turned in the direction of the voice.
"Don't skulk back there," she called. "Come out, where we can see you. If you look reliable, we'll give you some fire, of course."
There was another pause, as if the stranger were hesitating. Then:--
"I think I'd better not," he said with reluctance in his voice. "Can't you toss a brand this way?"
By that time we had grown accustomed to the darkness, and I thought I could see in the shadow of a tree a lightish figure. Aggie saw it at the same instant and clutched my arm.
"Lizzie!" she gasped.
It was at that moment that Tish tossed the brand. It fell far short, but her movement caught the stranger unawares. He ducked behind the tree, but the flare of light had caught him. With the exception of what looked like a pair of bathing-trunks he was as bare as my hand!
There was a sort of astonished silence. Then the voice called out:--"Why in the world didn't you warn me?" it said, aggrieved. "I didn't know you were going to throw the blamed thing."
We had all turned our backs at once and Tish's face was awful.
"Take it and go," she said, without turning. "Take it and go."
>From the crackling of leaves and twigs we judged that he had come out and got the brand, and when he spoke again it was from farther back in the woods.
"You know," he said, "I don't like this any more than you do. I've got forty-two mosquito bites on my left arm."
He waited, as if for a reply; but getting none he evidently retreated. The sound of rustling leaves and crackling twigs grew fainter, fainter still, died away altogether. We turned then with one accord and gazed through the dark arches of the forest. A glowing star was retreating there--a smouldering fire, that seemed to move slowly and with an appearance of dejection.
It was the second time Aggie and I had seen fire thus carried through the wood; but whereas about the kettle there had been a glow and radiance that was almost triumphant, the brand we now watched seemed smouldering, dejected, ashamed. Even Tish felt it.
"The wretch!" she exclaimed. "Daring to come here like that! No wonder he's ashamed."
But Aggie, who is very romantic, sat staring after the distant torch.
"Mr. Wiggins suffered so from mosquitoes," she said softly.
The next morning we found more fish awaiting us, and on the smooth sand of the beach was a message written with a stick:--
Tish was touched by the fish, I think. She smoothed off the sand carefully and wrote a reply:--
All day we were in a state of expectancy. The mosquitoes were very bad, and had it not been for the excitement of the P-- person I should have given up and gone home. I wanted mashed potatoes and lima beans with butter dressing, and a cup of hot tea, and muffins, and ice--in fact, I cannot think of anything I did not want, except rabbits and fish and puffballs and such blackberries as the birds did not fancy. Although we were well enough--almost too well--the better I felt the hungrier I got.
Tish thought the time had now come to rest and invite our souls. She set the example that day by going out on a flat rock in the lake and preparing to think all the things she'd been waiting most of her life to consider.
"I am ready to form my own opinions about some things," she said. "I realize now that all my life the newspapers and stupid people and books have formed my opinions. Now I'm going to think along my own lines. Is there another life after this? Do I really desire the suffrage? Why am I a Baptist?"
Aggie said she would like to invite her soul that day also, not to form any opinions,--Tish always does that for her,--but she had to get some clothes in September and she might as well think them out.
So it happened that I was alone when I met the P-- person's young woman.
I had intended to wander only a short way along the trail, but after I had gone a mile or two it occurred to me as likely that the spring-wagon driver would come back that way before long out of curiosity, and I thought I might leave a message for him to bring out some fresh eggs and leave them there. I could tell Tish I had found a nest, or perhaps, since that would be lying, I could put them in a nest and let her find them. I'd have ordered tea, too, if I could have thought of any way to account for it.
"I'm going to do some meditating myself to-day," I remarked, "but I think better when I'm moving. If I don't come back in an hour or so don't imagine I've been kidnaped."
Tish turned on her stone and looked at me.
"You will not be kidnaped," she said shortly. "I cannot imagine any one safer than you are in that costume."
Well, I made my way along the trail as rapidly as I could. It was twenty miles there and back and I've seen the day when two city blocks would send me home to soak my feet in hot water. But the sandals were easy to walk in and my calico skirt was short and light.
I had no paper to write my message on, of course, but on the way I gathered a large white fungus and I scraped a note on it with a pin. With the fungus under mp arm I walked briskly along, planning an omelet with the eggs, if we got any, and gathering mushrooms here and there. It was the mushrooms that led me to the discovery of a camping-place that was prehistoric in its primitiveness--a clearing, surrounded by low bushes, and in the center a fireplace of stones with a fire smouldering. At one side a heap of leaves and small twigs for a bed, a stump for a seat, and lying on top of it a sort of stone axe, made by inserting a sharp stone into the cleft of a sapling and tying it into place with a wild-grape tendril. Pegged out on the ground to cure was a rabbit skin, indifferently scraped. It made our aluminum kettle and canvas tepee look like a marble-vestibuled apartment on Riverside Drive.
The whole thing looked pitiful, hungry. I thought of Tish sitting on a stone inviting her soul, while rabbits came from miles round to stick their heads through our nooses and hang themselves for our dinner; and it seemed to me that we should share our plenty. I thought it probable that the gentleman of the woods lived here, and from the appearance of the place he carried all his possessions with him when he wore his bathing-trunks. If I had been in any doubt, the sight of Aggie's wire hairpin, sharpened and bent into a serviceable fishhook, decided me. I scratched a message for him on another fungus and left it:--
I went on after that and about noon reached our point of exodus from the wagon. I was tired and hot and I kept thinking of my little dining-room at home, with the electric fan going, and iced cantaloupe, and nobody worrying about her soul or thinking her own thoughts, and no rabbits.
Our suitcases were safe enough in the hollow tree, and I thought the spring wagon had been back already, for there were fresh tracks. This discouraged me and I sat down on a log to rest. It was then that I heard the girl crying.
She was crying softly, but in the woods sounds travel. I found her on her face on the pine needles about twenty yards away, wailing her heart out into a pink automobile veil, and she was so absorbed in her misery that I had to stoop and touch her before she looked up.
"Don't cry," I said. "If you are lost, I can direct you to a settlement."
She looked up at me, and from being very red and suffused she went quite pale. It seems that with my bare legs and sandals and my hair down, which was Tish's idea for making it come in thick and not gray, and what with my being sunburned and stained with berries, she thought I was a wild woman. I realized what was wrong.
"Don't be alarmed," I said somewhat grimly. "I'm rational enough; if I hop about instead of walking, it's because I'm the tomb of more rabbits than I care to remember, but aside from that I'm all right. Are you lost?"
She sat up, still staring, and wiped her eyes.
"No. I have a machine over there among the trees. Are there--are there plenty of rabbits in the woods? "
"Thousands." She was a pretty little thing, very young, and dressed in a white motor coat with white shoes and hat.
"There aren't many berries," I admitted. "The birds eat 'em. We get the ones they don't fancy."
Now I didn't think for a moment that she was worried about my diet, but she was worried about the food supply in the woods, that was sure. So I sat down on a stump and told her about puffballs, and what Tish had read about ants being edible but acid, and that wood mice, roasted and not cooked too dry, were good food, but that Aggie had made us liberate the only ones we had caught, because a man she was once engaged to used to carry a pet mouse in his pocket.
Nothing had really appealed to her until I mentioned Mr. Wiggins. Then unexpectedly she began to cry again. And after that I got the whole story.
It seems she was in love with a young man who was everything a young man ought to be and had money as well. But the money was the barrier really, for the girl's father wouldn't believe that a youth who played polo, and did not have to work for a living, and led cotillons, and paid calls in the afternoon could have really good red blood in him. He had a man in view for her, she said, one who had made his money himself, and had to have his valet lay out his clothes for fear he'd make a mistake. Once the valet had to go to have a tooth pulled and the man had to decline a dinner.
"Father said," finished the little girl tearfully, "that if Percy--that's his name, and it counted against him too--that if Percy was a real man he'd do something. And then he hap-happened on a book of my small brother's, telling how people used to live in the woods, and kill their own food and make their own fire--"
"The 'Young Woodsman,' of course," I put in.
"And how the strong survived, but the weak succumbed, and he said if Percy was a man, and not a t-tailor's dummy, he'd go out in the woods, j-just primitive man, without anything but a pair of bathing trunks, and keep himself alive for a month. If he s- stood the test father was willing to forget the 'Percy.' He said that he knew Mr. Willoughby could do it--that's the other man-- and that he'd come in at the end of the time with a deed for the forest and mortgages on all the surrounding camps."
"And Percy agreed?"
"He didn't want to. He said it took mentality and physical endurance as well as some courage to play polo. Father said it did--on the part of the pony. Then s-some of the men heard of it, and there were bets on it--ten to one he wouldn't do it and twenty to one he couldn't do it. So Percy decided to try. Father was so afraid that some of the campers and guides would help him that he had notices sent out at Mr. Willoughby's suggestion offering a reward if Percy could be shown to have asked any assistance. Oh, I know he's sick in there somewhere, or starving or--dead!"
I had had a great light break over me, and now I stooped and patted the girl on the shoulder.
"Dead! Certainly not," I said. "I saw him last night."
"Well, not exactly saw him--there wasn't much light. But he's alive and well, and--do you really want him to win?"
"Do I?" She sat up with shining eyes. "I don't care whether he owns anything in the world but the trunks. If I didn't think I'd add to his troubles I'd go into the woods this minute and find him and suffer with him."
"You'd have to be married to him first," I objected, rather startled.
But she looked at me with her cheeks as red strawberries. "Why?" she demanded. "Father's crazy about primitive man--did primitive man take his woman to church to be married, with eight brides maids and a reception after the ceremony? Of course not. He grabbed her and carried her off."
"Good Heavens! You're not in earnest?" "I think I am," she said slowly. "I'd rather live in the woods with Percy and no ceremony than live without him anywhere in the world. And I'll bet primitive man would have been wiped off the earth if he hadn't had primitive woman to add her wits to his strength. If Percy only had a woman to help him!"
"My dear," I said solemnly, "he has! He has, not one, but three!"
It took me some time to explain that Percy was not supporting a harem in the Maine woods; but when at last she got my idea and that the other two classed with me in beauty and attractiveness, she was overjoyed.
"But Percy promised not to ask for help," she said suddenly.
"He needn't. My dear, go away and stop worrying about Percy-- he's all right. When is the time up?"
"In three weeks."
"I suppose father and the Willoughby person will come to meet him?"
"Yes, and all the fellows from the club who have put money up on him. We're going to motor over and father's bringing the physical director of the athletic club. He's not only got to survive, but he's got to be in good condition."
"He'll be in good condition," I said grimly. "Does he drink and smoke?"
"A little, not too much. Oh, yes, I had forgotten!" She opened up a little gold cigarette case, which she took from her pocket, and extracted a handful of cigarettes.
"If you are going to see him," she said, "you might put them where he'll find them?"
"But that's not giving them to him."
"My dear child," I said sternly, "Percy is going to come out of these woods so well and strong that he may not have to work, but he'll want to. And he'll not smoke anything stronger than corn- silk, if we're to take charge of this thing."
She understood quickly enough and I must say she was grateful. She was almost radiant with joy when I told her how capable Tish was, and that she was sure to be interested, and about Aggie's hay fever and Mr. Wiggins and the rabbit snares. She leaned over and kissed me impulsively.
"You dear old thing!" she cried. "I know you'll look after him and make him comfortable and--how old is Miss Letitia?"
"Something over fifty and Aggie Pilkington's about the same, although she won't admit it."
She kissed me again at that, and after looking at her wrist watch she jumped to her feet.
"Heavens!" she said. "It's four o'clock and my engine has been running all this time!"
She got a smart little car from somewhere up the road, and the last I saw of her she was smiling back over her shoulder and the car running on the edge of a ditch.
"You are three darlings!" she called back. "And tell Percy I love him--love him--love him!"
I thought I'd never get back to the lake. I was tired to begin with, and after I'd gone about four miles and was limping with a splinter in my heel and no needle to get it out with, I found I still had the fungus message to the spring-wagon person under my arm.
It was dark when I got back and my nerves were rather unstrung, what with wandering from the path here and there, with nothing to eat since morning, and running into a tree and taking the skin off my nose. When I limped into camp at last, I didn't care whether Percy lived or died, and the thought, of rabbit stew made my mouth water.
It was not rabbit, however. Aggie was sitting alone by the fire, waving a brand round her head to keep off mosquitoes, and in front of her, dangling from the spit, were a dozen pairs of frogs' legs in a row.
I ate six pairs without a question and then I asked for Tish.
"Catching frogs," said Aggie laconically, and flourished the brand.
"Pulling them off the trees. Where do you think she gets them?" she demanded.
A large mosquito broke through her guard at that moment and she flung the torch angrily at the fire.
"I'm eaten alive!" she snapped. "I wish to Heaven I had smallpox or something they could all take and go away and die."
The frogs' legs were heavenly, although in a restaurant I loathe the things. I left Aggie wondering if her hay fever wasn't contagious through the blood and hoping the mosquitoes would get it and sneeze themselves to death, and went to find Tish.
She was standing in the margin of the lake up to her knees in water, with a blazing torch in one hand and one of our tent poles in the other. Tied to the end the pole was a grapevine line, and a fishing-hook made of a hairpin was attached to it.
Her method, which it seems she'd heard from Charlie Sands and which was not in the "Young Woodsman," was simple and effectual.
"Don't move," she said tensely when she heard me on the bank. "There's one here as big as a chicken!"
She struck the flare forward, and I could see the frog looking at it and not blinking. He sat in a sort of heavenly ecstasy, like a dog about to bay at the moon, while the hook dangled just at his throat.
"I'm half-ashamed to do it, Lizzie, it's so easy," she said calmly, still tickling the thing's throat with the hook. "Grab him as I throw him at you. They slip off sometimes."
The next instant she jerked the hook up and caught the creature by the lower jaw. It was the neatest thing I have ever seen. Tish came wading over to where I stood and examined the frog.
"If we only had some Tartare sauce!" she said regretfully. "I wish you'd look at my ankle, Lizzie. There's something stuck to it."
The something was a leech. It refused to come off, and so she carried both frog and leech back to the camp. Aggie said on no account to pull a leech off, it left its teeth in and the teeth went on burrowing, or laid eggs or something. One must leave it on until it was full and round and couldn't hold any more, and then it dropped off.
So all night Tish kept getting up and going to the fire to see if it was swelling. But toward morning she fell asleep and it dropped off, and we had a terrible feeling that it was somewhere in our blankets.
But the leech caused less excitement that evening than my story of Percy and the little girl in the white coat. Aggie was entranced, and Tish had made Percy a suit of rabbit skin with a cap to match and outlined a set of exercises to increase his chest measure before I was half through with my story.
But Percy did not appear, although we had an idea teat he was not far off in the woods. We could hear a crackling in the undergrowth, but when we called mere was no reply. Tish was eating a frog's leg when the idea came to her.
"He'll never come out under ordinary circumstances in that--er-- costume," she said. "Suppose we call for help. He'll probably come bounding. Help!" she yelled, between bites, as one may say.
"Help! Fire! Police!"
"Help!" cried Aggie. "Percy, help!" It sounded like "Mercy, help!"
It worked like a charm. The faint cracking became louder, nearer, turned from a suspicion to a certainty and from a certainty to a fact. The bushes parted and Percy stood before us. All he saw was three elderly women eating frogs' legs round a fire under a cloud of mosquitoes. He stopped, dum-founded, and in that instant we saw that he didn't need the physical exercises, but that, of course, he did need the rabbit-skin suit.
"Great Scott!" he panted. "I thought I heard you calling for help."
"So we did," said Tish, "but we didn't need it. Won't you sit down?"
He looked dazed and backed toward the bushes.
"I--I think," he said, "if there's nothing wrong I'd better not-- "
"Fiddlesticks!" Tish snapped. "Are you ashamed of the body the Lord gave you? Don't you suppose we've all got skins? And didn't I thrash my nephew, Charlie Sands, when he was almost as big as you and had less on, for bathing in the river? Sit down, man, and don't be a fool."
He edged toward the fire, looking rather silly, and Aggie passed him a frog's leg on a piece of bark.
"Try this, Percy," she said, smiling.
At the name he looked ready to run. "I guess you've seen the notices," he said, "so you'll understand I cannot accept any food or assistance. I'm very grateful to you, anyhow."
"You may take what food you find, surely," said Aggie. "If you find a roasted frog's leg on the ground--so--there's nothing to prevent you eating it, is there?"
"Nothing at all," said Percy, and picked it up. "Unless, of course--"
"It's not a trap, young man," said Tish. "Eat it and enjoy it. There are lots more where it carne from."
He relaxed at that, and on Tish's bringing out a blanket from the tent to throw over his shoulders he became almost easy. He was much surprised to learn that we knew his story, and when I repeated the "love him" message, he seemed to grow a foot taller and his eyes glowed.
"I'm holding out all right," he said. "I'm fit physically. But the thing that gets my goat is that I'm to come out clothed. Dorothea's father says that primitive man, with nothing but his hands and perhaps a stone club, fed himself, made himself a shelter, and clothed himself in skins. Skins! I'm so big that two or three bears would hardly be enough. I did find a hole that I thought a bear or two might fall into, and got almost stung to death robbing a bee tree to bait the thing with honey. But there aren't any bears, and if there were how'd I kill 'em? Wait until they starve to death?"
"Rabbits!" said Tish.
He looked down at himself and he seemed very large in the firelight. "Dear lady," he said, "there aren't enough rabbits in the county to cover me, and how'd I put 'em together? I was a fool to undertake the thing, that's all."
"But aren't you in love with her?" asked Aggie.
"Well, I guess I am. It isn't that, you know. I'm a good bit worse than crazy about her. A man might be crazy about a mint julep or a power boat, but--he'd hardly go into the woods in his skin and live on fish until he's scaly for either of them. If I don't get her, I don't want to live. That's all."
He looked so gloomy and savage that we saw he meant it, and Aggie was perceptibly thrilled. Trish, however, was thinking hard, her eyes on the leech. "Was there anything in the agreement to prevent your accepting any suggestions?"
He pondered. "No, I was to be given no food, drink, shelter, or any weapon. The old man forgot fire--that's how I came to beg some."
"Fire and brains," reflected Tish. "We've given you the first and we've plenty of the second to offer. Now, young man, this is my plan. We'll give you nothing but suggestions. If now and then you find a cooked meal under that tree, that's accident, not design, and you'd better eat it. Can you sew?"
"I'm like the Irishman and the fiddle--I never tried, but I guess I can." He was much more cheerful.
"Do you have to be alone?"
"I believe he took that for granted, in this costume."
"Will it take you long to move over here?"
"I think I can move without a van," he said, grinning. "My sole worldly possessions are a stone hatchet and a hairpin fishhook."
"Get them and come over," commanded Tish. "When you leave this forest at the end of the time you are going to be fed and clothed and carry a tent; you will have with you smoked meat and fish; you will carry under your arm an Indian clock or sundial; you will have a lamp--if we can find a clamshell or a broken bottle-- and you will have a fire-making outfit with your monogram on it."
"But, my dear friend," he said, "I am not supposed to have any assistance and--"
"Assistance!" Tish snapped. "Who said assistance? I'm providing the brains, but you'll do it all yourself."
He moved over an hour or so later and Tish and I went into the tent to bed. Somewhat later, when she limped to the fire to see how the leech was filling up, he and Aggie were sitting together talking, he of Dorothea and Aggie of Mr. Wiggins. Tish said they were both talking at the same time, neither one listening to the other, and that it sounded like this:--"She's so sweet and trusting and honest--well, I'd believe what she said if she--"
"--fell off a roof on a rainy day and was picked up by a man with a horse and buggy quite unconscious."
The next three weeks were busy times for Percy. He wore Tish's blanket for two days, and then, finding it in the way, he discarded it altogether. Seen in daylight it was easy to understand why little Dorothea was in love with him. He was a handsome young giant, although much bitten by mosquitoes and scratched with briers.
The arrangement was a good one all round. He knew of things in the wood we'd never heard of--wild onions and artichokes, and he had found a clump of wild cherry trees. He made snares of the fibers of tree bark, and he brought in turtles and made plates out of the shells. And all the time he was working on his outfit, curing rabbit skins and sewing them together with fibers under my direction.
When he'd made one sleeve of his coat we had a sort of celebration. He'd found an empty bottle somewhere in the woods, and he had made a wild-cherry decoction that he declared was cherry brandy, keeping it in the sun to ferment. Well, he insisted on opening the brandy that day and passing it round. We had cups made of leaves and we drank to his sleeve, although the stuff was villainous. He had put the sleeve on, and it looked rather inadequate. "Here's fun," he said joyously. "If my English tailor could see this sleeve he'd die of envy. A sleeve's not all of a coat, but what's a coat without a sleeve? Look at it-- grace, ease of line, and beauty of material."
Aggie lifted her leaf.
"To Dorothea!" she said. "And may the sleeve soon be about her."
Tish thought this toast was not delicate, but Percy was enchanted with it.
It was on the evening of the fourth day of Percy's joining our camp that the Willoughby person appeared. It happened at a most inauspicious tune. We had eaten supper and were gathered round the camp-fire and Tish had put wet leaves on the blaze to make a smudge that would drive the mosquitoes away. We were sitting there, Tish and I coughing and Aggie sneezing in the smoke, when Percy came running through the woods and stopped at the foot of a tree near by.
"Bring a club, somebody," he yelled. "I've treed the back of my coat."
Tish ran with one of the tent poles. A tepee is inconvenient for that reason. Every time any one wants a fishing-pole or a weapon, the tent loses part of its bony structure and sags like the face of a stout woman who has reduced. And it turned out that Percy had treed a coon. He climbed up after it, taking Tish's pole with him to dislodge it, and it was at that moment that a man rode into the clearing and practically fell off his horse. He was dirty and scratched with brambles, and his once immaculate riding- clothes were torn. He was about to take off his hat when he got a good look at us and changed his mind.
"Have you got anything to eat?" he asked. "I've been lost since noon yesterday and I'm about all in."
The leaves caught fire suddenly and sent a glow into Percy's tree. I shall never forget Aggie's agonized look or the way Tish flung on more wet leaves in a hurry.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but supper's over."
"But surely a starving man--"
"You won't starve inside of a week," Tish snapped. "You've got enough flesh on you for a month."
He stared at her incredulously.
"But, my good woman," he said, "I can pay for my food. Even you itinerant folk need money now and then, don't you? Come, now, cook me a fish; I'll pay for it. My name is Willoughby--J. K. Willoughby. Perhaps you've heard of me."
Tish cast a swift glance into the tree. It was in shadow again and she drew a long breath. She said afterward that the whole plan came to her in the instant of that breath.
"We can give you something," she said indifferently. "We have a stewed rabbit, if you care for it."
There was a wild scramble in the tree at that moment, and we thought all was over. We learned later that Percy had made a move to climb higher, out of the firelight, and the coon bad been so startled that he almost fell out. But instead of looking up to investigate, the stranger backed toward the fire.
"Only a wildcat," said Tish. "They'll not come near the fire."
"Near!" exclaimed Mr. Willoughby. "If they came any nearer, they'd have to get into it!"
"I think," said Tish, "that if you are afraid or them--although you are safe enough if you don't get under the trees; they jump down, you know--that you would better stay by the fire to-night. In the morning we'll start you toward a road."
All night with Percy in the tree! I gave her a savage glance, but she ignored me.
The Willoughby looked up nervously, and of course there were trees all about.
"I guess I'll stay," he agreed. "What about that rabbit?"
I did not know Tish's plan at that time, and while Aggie was feeding the Willoughby person and he was grumbling over his food, I took Tish aside.
"Are you crazy?" I demanded. "Just through your idiocy Percy will have to stay in that tree all night--and he'll go to sleep, likely, and fall out."
Tish eyed me coldly.
"You are a good soul, Lizzie," she observed, "but don't overwork your mind. Go back and do something easy--let the Willoughby cross your palm with silver, and tell his fortune. If he asks any questions I'm queen of the gypsies, and give him to understand that we're in temporary hiding from the law. The worse he thinks of us the better. Remember, we haven't seen Percy."
"I'm not going to lie," I said sternly.
"Pooh!" Tish sneered. "That wretch came into the woods to gloat over his rival's misery. The truth's too good for him."
I did my best, and I still have the silver dollar he gave me. I told him I saw a small girl, who loved him but didn't realize it yet, and there was another man.
"Good gracious," I said, "there must be something wrong with your palm. I see the other man, but he seems to be in trouble. His clothing has been stolen, for he has none, and he is hungry, very hungry."
"Ha!" said Mr. Willoughby, looking startled. "You old gypsies beat the devil! Hungry, eh? Is that all?"
The light flared up again and I could see clearly the pale spot in the tree, which was Percy. But Mr. Willoughby's eyes were on his palm.
"He has about decided to give up something--I cannot see just what," I said loudly. "He seems to be in the air, in a tree, perhaps. If he wishes to be safe he should go higher."
Percy took the hint and moved up, and I said that was all there was in the palm. Soon after that Mr. Willoughby stretched out on the ground by the fire, and before long he was asleep.
During the night I heard Tish moving stealthily about in the tepee and she stepped on my ankle as she went out. I fell asleep again as soon as it stopped aching. Just at dawn Tish came back and touched me on the shoulder.
"Where's the blackberry cordial?" she whispered I sat up instantly.
"Has Percy fallen out of the tree?"
"No. Don't ask any questions, Lizzie. I want it for myself. That dratted horse fell on me."
She refused to say any more and lay down groaning. But I was too worried to sleep again. In the morning Percy was gone from the tree. Mr. Willoughby had more rabbit and prepared to leave the forest. He offered Tish a dollar for the two meals and a bed, and Tish, who was moving about stiffly, said that she and her people took no money for their Hospitality. Telling fortunes was one thing, bread and salt was another. She looked quite haughty, and the Willoughby person apologized and went into the woods to get his horse.
The horse was gone!
It was rather disagreeable for a time. He plainly thought we'd taken it, although Tish showed him that the end of the strap had been chewed partly through and then jerked free.
"If the creature smelled a wildcat," she said, "nothing would hold it. None of my people ever bring a horse into this part of the country."
"Humph!" said Mr. Willoughby. "Well, I'll bet they take a few out!"
He departed on foot shortly after, very disgusted and suspicious. We showed him the trail, and the last we saw of him he was striding along, looking up now and then for wildcats.
When he was well on his way, Percy emerged from the bushes. I had thought that he had helped Tish to take the Willoughby horse, but it seems he had not, and he was much amazed when Tish came through the wood leading the creature by the broken strap.
"I'll turn it loose," she said to Percy, "and you can capture it. It will make a good effect for you to emerge from the forest on horseback, and anyhow, what with the rabbit skin, the tent, and the sundial and the other things, you have a lot to carry. You can say you found it straying in the woods and captured it."
Percy looked at her with admiration not unmixed with reverence. "Miss Letitia," he said solemnly, "if it were not for Dorothea, I should ask you to marry me. I'd like to have you in my family."
I am very nearly to the end of my narrative.
Toward the last Percy was obliged to work far into the night, for of course we could not assist him. He made a full suit of rabbit skins sewed with fibers, and a cap and shoes of coonskin to match. The shoes were cut from a bedroom-slipper pattern that Tish traced in the sand on the beach, and the cap had an eagle feather in it. He made a birch-bark knapsack to hold the fish he smoked and a bow and arrow that looked well but would not shoot. When he had the outfit completed, he put it on, with the stone hatchet stuck into a grapevine belt and the bow and arrow over his shoulder, and he looked superb.
"The question is," he reflected, trying to view himself in the edge of the lake: "Will Dorothea like it? She's very keen about clothes. And gee, how she hates a beard!"
"You could shave as the Indians do," Tish said.
"With a clamshell."
He looked dubious, but Tish assured him it was feasible. So he hunted a clamshell, a double one, Tish requested, and brought it into camp.
"I'd better do it for you," said Tish. "It's likely to be slow, but it is sure."
He was eyeing the clamshell and looking more and snore uneasy.
"You're not going to scrape it off?" he asked anxiously. "You know, pumice would be better for that, but somehow I don't like the idea."
"Nothing of the sort," said Tish. "The double clamshell merely forms a pair of Indian nippers. I'm going to pull it out."
But he made quite a fuss about it, and said he didn't care whether the Indians did it or not, he wouldn't. I think he saw how disappointed Tish was and was afraid she would attempt it while he slept, for he threw the Indian nippers into the lake and then went over and kissed her hand.
"Dear Miss Tish," he said; "no one realizes more than I your inherent nobility of soul and steadfastness of purpose. I admire them both. But if you attempt the Indian nipper business, or to singe me like a chicken while I sleep, I shall be--forgive me, but I know my impulsiveness of disposition--I shall be really vexed with you."
Toward the last we all became uneasy for fear hard work was telling on him physically. He used to sit cross- legged on the ground, sewing for dear life and singing Hood's "Song of the Shirt" in a doleful tenor.
"You know," he said, "I've thought once or twice I'd like to do something--have a business like other fellows. But somehow dressmaking never occurred to me. Don't you think the expression of this right pant is good? And shall I make this gore bias or on the selvage?"
He wanted to slash one trouser leg.
"Why not?" he demanded when Tish frowned him down. "It's awfully fetching, and beauty half-revealed, you know. Do you suppose my breastbone will ever straighten out again? It's concave from stooping."
It was after this that Tish made him exercise morning and evening and then take a swim in the lake. By the time he was to start back, he was in wonderful condition, and even the horse looked saucy and shiny, owing to our rubbing him down each day with dried grasses.
The actual leave-taking was rather sad. We'd grown to think a lot of the boy and I believe he liked us. He kissed each one of us twice, once for himself and once for Dorothea, and flushed a little over doing it, and Aggie's eyes were full of tears.
He rode away down the trail like a mixture of Robinson Crusoe and Indian brave, his rubbing-fire stick, his sundial with burned figures, and his bow and arrow jingling, his eagle feather blowing back in the wind, and his moccasined feet thrust into Mr. Willoughby's stirrups, and left us desolate. Tish watched him out of sight with set lips and Aggie was whimpering on a bank.
"Tish," she said brokenly, "does he recall anything to you?"
"Only my age," said Tish rather wearily, "and that I'm an elderly spinster teaching children to defy their parents and committing larceny to help them."
"To me," said Aggie softly, "he is young love going out to seek his mate. Oh, Tish, do you remember how Mr. Wiggins used to ride by taking his work horses to be shod!"
We went home the following day, which was the time the spring- wagon man was to meet us. We started very early and were properly clothed and hatted when we saw him down the road.
The spring- wagon person came on without hurry and surveyed us as he came.
"Well, ladies," he said, stopping before us, "I see you pulled it off all right."
"We've had a very nice time, thank you," said Tish, drawing on her gloves. "It's been rather lonely, of course."
The spring-wagon person did not speak again until he had reached the open road. Then he turned round.
"The horse business was pretty good," he said. "You ought to hev seen them folks when he rode out of the wood. Flabbergasted ain't the word. The was ding-busted."
Tish whispered to us to show moderate interest and to say as little as possible, except to protest our ignorance. And we got the story at last like this:--
It seems the newspapers had been full of the attempt Percy was to make, and so on the day before quite a crowd had gathered to see him come out of the wood.
"Ten of these here automobiles," said the spring-wagon person, "and a hay-wagon full of newspaper fellows from the city with cameras, and about half the village back home walked out or druv and brought their lunches--sort of a picnic. I kep' my eye on the girl and on a Mr. Willoughby.
"The story is that Willoughby who was the father's choice-- Willoughby was pale and twitching and kep' moving about all the time. But the girl, she just kep' her eyes on the trail and waited. Noon was the time set, or as near it as possible.
"The father talked to the newspaper men mostly. 'I don't think he'll do it, boys!' he said. 'He's as soft as milk and he's surprised me by sticking it out as long as he has. But mark my words, boys,' he said, 'he's been living on berries and things he could pick up off the ground, and if his physical condition's bad he loses all bets!"
"It seems that, just as he said it, somebody pulled out a watch and announced "noon." And on the instant Percy was seen riding down the trail and whistling. At first they did not know it was he, as they lead expected him to arrive on foot, staggering with fatigue probably. He rode out into the sunlight, still whistling, and threw an unconcerned glance over the crowd.
He looked at the trees, and located north by the moss on the trunks, the S.-W. P. said, and unslinging his Indian clock he held it in front of him, pointing north and south. It showed exactly noon. It was then, and not until then, that Percy addressed the astonished crowd.
"Twelve o'clock, gentlemen," he said. "My watch is quite accurate."
Nobody said anything, being, as the S.-W. P. remarked, struck dumb. But a moment afterward the hay-wagon started a cheer and the machines took it up. Even the father "let loose," as we learned, and the little girl sat back in her motor car and smiled through her tears.
But Willoughby was furious. It seems he had recognized the horse. "That's my horse," he snarled. "You stole it from me."
"As a matter of fact," Percy retorted, "I found the beast wandering loose among the trees and I'm perfectly willing to return him to you. I brought him out for a purpose."
"To make a Garrison finish!"
"Not entirely. To prove that you violated the contract by going into the forest to see if you could find me and gloat over my misery. Instead you found--By the way, Willoughby, did you see any wild-cats?"
"Those three hags are in this!" said Willoughby furiously. "Are you willing to swear you made that silly outfit?"
"I am, but not to you."
"And at that minute, if you'll believe me," said the S.-W. P., "the girl got out of her machine and walked right up to the Percy fellow. I was standing right by and I heard what she said. It was, curious, seeing he'd had no help and had gone in naked, as you may say, and came out clothed head to foot, with a horse and weapons and a watch, and able to make fire in thirty-one seconds, and a tent made of about a thousand rabbit skins."
Tish eyed him coldly.
"What did she say?" she demanded severely. "She said: 'Those three dear old things!'" replied the S.-W. P. "And she said: 'I hope you kissed them for me.'"
"He did indeed," said Aggie dreamily, and only roused when Tish nudged her in a rage.
Charlie Sands came to have tea with us yesterday at Tish's. He is just back from England and full of the subject.
"But after all," he said, "the Simple Lifers take the palm. Think of it, my three revered and dearly beloved spinster friends; think of the peace, the holy calm of it! Now, if you three would only drink less tea and once in a while would get back to Nature a bit, it would be good for you. You're all too civilized."
"Probably," said Tish, pulling down her sleeves to hide her sunburned hands. "But do you think people have so much time in the--er--woods?"
"Time!" he repeated. "Why, what is there to do?"
Just then the doorbell rang and a huge box was carried in. Tish had a warning and did not wish to open it, but Charlie Sands insisted and cut the string. Inside were three sets of sable furs, handsomer than any in the church, Tish says, and I know I've never seen any like them.
Tish and I hid the cards, but Aggie dropped her, and Charlie Sands pounced on it.
"'The sleeve is now about Dorothea,'" he read aloud, and then, turning, eyed us all sternly.
"Now, then," said Charlie Sands, "out with it! What have you been up to this time?"
Tish returned his gaze calmly. "We have been in the Maine woods in the holy calm," she said. "As for those furs, I suppose a body may buy a set of furs if she likes." This, of course, was not a lie. "As for that card, it's a mistake." Which it was indeed.
"But--Dorothea!" persisted Charlie Sands.
"Never in my life knew anybody named Dorothea. Did you, Aggie?"
"Never," said Aggie firmly.
Charlie Sands apologized and looked thoughtful. On Tish's remaining rather injured, he asked us all out to dinner that night, and almost the first thing he ordered was frogs' legs. Aggie got rather white about the lips.
"I--I think I'll not take any," she said feebly. "I--I keep thinking of Tish tickling their throats with the hairpin, and how Percy--"
We glared at her, but it was too late. Charlie Sands drew up his chair and rested his elbows on the table.
"So there was a Percy as well as a Dorothea!" he said cheerfully. "I might have known it. Now we'll have the story!"