The Red Moccasins
BY MORRISON HEADY
LOUISVILLE, KY.: COURIER-JOURNAL JOB PRINTING CO. 1901.
ENTERED ACCORDING TO ACT OF CONGRESS, IN THE YEAR 1901, BY THE AUTHOR.
THE RED MOCCASINS,
Portrait of Our Hero.
Once, in the spring-green years of the good old times, when our great-grandfathers were great-grandchildren themselves, there lived in the land of green Kentucky a sprout of a man, some dozen years old, who went by the name of Sprigg. And "Sprigg," for aught I know to the contrary, was his real name; though it has so little the sound of a name, I sometimes wonder his father and mother should ever have thought of giving it to him, when any grandmother of common capacity for naming babies could have suggested a better one. "Jeems," for example, or "Weeliam." Be this as it may, "Sprigg" was the name to which our hero always answered, whenever addressed as cousin, or uncle, or friend; and which, before going the way of all good grandfathers, he left at the end of his will, where it was thought real enough, not only to make that instrument good in the eyes of the law, but his heirs highly respectable in the eyes of the world. We have no choice, then, but to call our hero "Sprigg," just as everybody else did; though were we allowed to christen him more to our liking, we should certainly call him Jack. Jack, in our humble opinion, being the fittingest name in the world for giving pointedge and moral force to a juvenile novel. Especially would we be allowed this liberty in the present instance, where the hero, whose fortune we propose to follow, is described as being of a wild and run-away turn, and, hence, well fitted to figure as a warning example to all dissatisfied youngsters, who not content to stay at home and do their sliding on dry ground, go seeking for ice on a summer day at imminent risk of getting drowned.
Now green Kentucky, in the days of Sprigg, was green Kentucky, indeed! Mrs. Daniel Boone and her daughters had not yet distinguished themselves by being the first white women who ever set foot upon the banks of the Kentucky River, when Sprigg was already a three-years' child, the joy and pride of a home in a hewn log house in western Virginia; as merry and saucy, and every whit as well pleased with himself as were he the rising hope and promise of one of the "F. F. Vs." The eight or nine years of pioneer activity which had followed the historical event just noticed, had made many a wide gap in the forest, yet had not changed the general aspect of the country so much but that the fields, as viewed by the eagle who sailed with the clouds, must have appeared no more than as the prints of man's feet, left impressed in the otherwise universal verdure. As you may well imagine, so wild and savage a region must still have been the home of a thousand wild and savage creatures, the like whereof we never dream of now-a-days, even in our loneliest woodland rambles. There, too, was the terrible red man, who, though he built not his wigwam in these wilds, made it his frequent custom of resorting thither, sometimes to follow the chase, but oftener to war with the whites, who lived in great terror of him the whole year round.
The Christian name of our hero's father, whom he called "Pap," was Jervis; the Christian name of his mother, whom he called "Mam," was Elster, and the surname was Whitney. They dwelt in a roomy cabin, rudely built of logs and boards, with a clay-topped chimney at each end, and a porch or shed on each side. Under the front porch Jervis hung his saddle, fishing tackle, beaver traps and the like. Under the back porch Elster kept her spinning wheel, crockeryware, garden seed, a big cedar water bucket, with its crooked-handle gourd, and the like; while in there, on the earthen floor of the kitchen, stood her huge, unwieldly loom. The cabin was situated in the midst of a small patch of cultivated ground, hemmed in on every side by dense and lofty woods, which spread their waving shadows for miles and miles away to the north and south, to the east and west, with only here and there, at wide intervals, a similar clearing, or a natural glade to speck the boundless green.
Now Sprigg, you must know, happened to be an only child—a most uncommon circumstance in backwoods life—your backwoodsman, like your poor woodcutter, who makes such a figure in old-time story-books, rarely stopped short of a baker's dozen, as a replenisher of the earth. Such being the case, "Pap" and "Mam" must need, of course, do their very utmost to make their one chub as troublesome as six, in order to realize, so it would seem, how much kind Providence had done for them; i. e., by overdoing the thing to make him happy; underdoing the thing to make him good enough to be what they most desired. To exemplify: If there chanced to be a little bread in the cupboard and a little milk in the springhouse (these were luxuries then in the Hunter's Paradise), all of it, though there might be quite enough for two, was sure to find its way to Sprigg's tin cup and pewter spoon; and Sprigg's pewter plate always received the tit-bits of venison and bear's meat. The best feather bed in the house was Sprigg's; so was the warmest place by the fire, which he would share with nobody, but Pow-wow, the dog—the only creature, four-footed or two-footed, with whom he could be in contact for a whole day without coming to hard rubs. If a deer-skin proved, upon dressing, an uncommonly nice piece of buckskin, fine, fair and soft, straight, it was cut up and made into moccasins, breeches and hunting shirt for Sprigg; and should a fat raccoon take a fancy to quarter himself for the night in "Pap's" trap, its fresh, sleek skin would be seen in less than a fortnight thence on Sprigg's head, in the form of a cap, with the ringed tail left on behind, as ornamental there as a cue, if not more so. In short, there was nothing rare, or choice of its kind and within the bestowal of the Hunter's Paradise, which did not, sooner or later, find its way to the hands or feet, to the head or back, or to the selfish little belly of master Sprigg. But these were trifling indulgences compared with others, and would, in all likelihood, have left upon his disposition no other lasting evil effect than to render him overwatchful of his own ease and comfort. What was far worse, he was allowed to say, with his saucy young tongue, whatever he should choose to say; and to do, with his meddling young hands, whatever he should choose to do; and to go, with his wayward young feet, whithersoever his foolish young nose should choose to lead him; so that, by the time he had walked into his twelfth year, a worse spoilt boy, a vainer boy, a more self-conceited boy, a more self-willed boy than master Sprigg was not to be found in the land—ransack the Paradise from Big Bone Lick to the Mammoth Cave.
And yet, to put the question to such parents, as Jervis and Elster—though with little expectation of receiving an audible answer—what other result could reasonably have been looked for in a boy, brought up, like Sprigg, to know no will but his own? This was the very thing to render it next to impossible for him to know what his own will really was and how he should use it, not knowing that of his elders and wisers. This, in turn, was the very thing to keep him but ill at ease with himself, and iller at ease, if not at downright loggerheads, with everybody else.
Now, had Jervis and Elster been as wise as we are—you and I—they would, at the very outset of their son's existence, have laid their own will down, as the rule, whereby he should order his steps until the beard on his lip announced him qualified to follow his own nose, without too great danger of forgetting to allow that organ the help of his eyes and ears. But as it was, they would have done a wiser and more benevolent part by their boy had they given him a scalping knife, without sheath, for a plaything, or a young bear, without a muzzle and chain, for a pet. The knife might have cut off a few of his fingers, and the bear might have clawed off some of his flesh, but the mischief done would have been slight, compared to that of letting him have his will to play with.
So, it were hardly to be laid to poor Sprigg's charge that he was mad enough to figure as a warning example to juvenile evildoers; and it were but Christian in us to draw our sketch of him with a soft nib to our pen, softening down the lines with words from the law of love, which is, or ought to be, written on all our hearts. Had he been as wisely trained as he was affectionately cared for, there is no telling but that Sprigg, instead of being one of the worst boys in the world, he might have turned out to be one of the best—nearly as good, it may be, as a brave little George, the boy, you know, who cut his father's cherry tree with his little hatchet, and when the matter was inquired into, had the courage to own that he was the offender, even while fully expecting that his tender young legs would be made to smart for his adherence to principle. With so brave a start in life, our hero, when he and the time were ripe for it, might have figured as the hero of Mew Orleans, instead of General Jackson, and, qualified by that achievement, have made the American people just as good a President—kicking the national bank as unmercifully out of existence as ever Old Hickory did.
But leaving the might-have-been out of the question and taking things as we find them, Sprigg, by the time he had climbed to the top of his twelfth year, had more serious faults and more foolish ways than I feel willing to stop and take a list of, preferring to let them come out little by little of their own accord, which will seem less like telling tales away from home. One of his faults, however, the most conspicuous, though, by no means, the most grievous, I must mention here at the outset, it being that trait of his character which imparts to our story its particular color and drift. I allude to his vanity, which displayed itself in a ridiculous fondness for fine clothes, not to mention that he was, in every way, a very handsome boy; and the fools, as usual in such cases, had blabbed this into his ears, until he had grown to be as strutty and vain as a peacock.
Now, you smile to think that a boy, who lived in a log cabin and ate his bread and milk with a pewter spoon, and dressed in buckskin breeches and a coonskin cap, should fancy that he had anything to be vain of. But take the second thought; or, if you do not feel inclined to make the effort, I will, by a simple illustration of the point, save you the trouble. Is not turkey-cock just as proud of his homely feathers as peacock of his magnificent plumes? And after the battle fought, which leaves him but the tattered rag of a tail to display to the sun, will not turkey-cock spread that tattered rag of a tail as self-complacently, and strut as grandly and gobble as obstreperously as ever? Aye, that will he! And why? Because his tail—tag-rag or not—is all his own and nobody else's; though almost anybody else may have one which the sun would rather shine on. As with turkey-cock, so with an overwhelming majority of mankind.
Our Hero Falls in Love.
It had only been three or four years since Jervis Whitney and his wife, Elster, had left their old home beyond the Alleghenies to find a new home here in the perilous wilds of green Kentucky, where they had built the cabin they lived in, and cleared the ground they tilled. Among their household goods, they had brought along with them quite a curious medley of such little notions as fancy ribbons and kerchiefs, books, big wood engravings, odd pieces of ware—china, silver and glass—odd pieces of family jewels, strings of bright-colored beads, and the like. Among the rest, were several locks of hair, some of which were gray, the others black or brown, golden-yellow, or flaxen, or white, as the case might be; locks of hair in those simple times being viewed pretty much in the same light that photographs now-a-days are, and, perhaps, even more highly prized and tenderly preserved.
As you have already anticipated, these little notions were gifts for dear remembrance sake from the loved ones they had left so far behind them and whom they were to meet no more for long, long years—perhaps, forever. Precious relics, which the lonely young pair took out, from time to time, to look at them; when, with a smile and a tear, they would tell of the sweet recollections, which this lock of hair, or that piece of chinaware, this book or that old picture was conjuring up from out the lights and shadows of such days as no land but brave old Virginia—happy old Virginia—ever knew.
Now, in this same pack, along with these odds and ends of dear remembrance, there chanced to be an old show bill, which Jervis and Elster had brought along with the rest just to keep them in mind of the happy, happy day, when they two had united their hearts and fortunes for life. On that self-same day they had gone to the show, which was blazed by this self-same show bill; and the occasion made their bridal tour as complete a thing of its kind as nothing short of a centennial could make in these latter days do for the like excursions. On the show bill, in a variety of fancy colors, such as we sometimes see in pictures of Daniel in the den of lions, and the like, were the representations of the animals which were to be seen at the show; and more, you may be sure, than were seen there on that day, or ever had been seen in the land, or ever shall be seen in the world, unless, indeed, what African travelers tell us, backed by Barnum and the man in the moon, should some day turn out to be true. To lend their rustic home a more genteel and civilized appearance, as well as to keep them in mind of the ever-to-be-remembered day just mentioned, Elster had tacked the show bill to the rough log wall of their best room, and against this, for a background, had hung their only looking-glass, with a comb case on one side and Jervis' jolly-faced silver watch on the other; while crowning the glass was a bunch of magnificent eagle feathers—a trophy of her husband's skill as a marksman.
Now, these pictures, flashy, extravagant and out of all nature, though they might seem to our age of chromo, crayon, perfection, had for this many a day been the delight of Sprigg's young eyes. But the one that charmed his fancy more than all the others was that of an Indian boy, apparently about his own age, riding a Shetland pony at a dashing gallop, with the right foot tip-toe on his charger's back, the left amusing itself in the air, the left hand holding the bridle-reins, the right hand flourishing aloft a savage little tomahawk. In the browband of the pony's bridle was stuck the staff of a small red flag, while the gallant young horseman himself was rigged out in leggins and hunting shirt of the fairest of buckskin, trimmed with the blackest of bearskin, a hat of gay feathers upon his head, and upon his feet a magnificent pair of red moccasins.
There was scarcely a day in the week, not even excepting Sunday, that Sprigg did not go and, planting himself before the old show bill, take a long look at the Indian boy and his Shetland pony. And more than a few times, after thus feasting his eyes, had he gone to his mother, where she would be plying her loom in the kitchen, when something like the following confab would take place between them:
"Mam, I do wish that I had a pair of red moccasins, such as the Indian boy in yonder has on!"
"And a red cap, too, such as Jack Monkey in yonder has on!" would his mother rejoin, as she paused in her work. Then resting her arm on the breast beam of the loom and regarding her rising hope with a half-fond, half-ridiculous smile, she would add:
"Still harping on the same old tune! Still hankering after the red tomfooleries! Well, suppose if a civilized white boy should happen to have a pair of red moccasins, what could he do with them?"
"I could wear them to quiltings and to log-rollings and to house-raisings and to shooting matches and to weddings—yes, and to church, too."
"Why, Sprigg, a church is the last place in the world where so outlandish a thing as a pair of red moccasins ought to be seen. How the old people would frown and shake their heads at you! How the young people would titter and point at you; and some would say: 'Just look yonder at Sprigg, strutting about in a pair of red moccasins, as if he were thinking himself so much finer than our bare-footed boys—the young monkey!' And, Sprigg, would you like to be called a monkey? I rather think not. You'd rather take a whipping any day than to be laughed at and ridiculed."
"No, but they wouldn't laugh; nobody would think of laughing. The boys would envy me and the girls would admire me, and everybody would say: 'Just look yonder at Sprigg! But isn't he fine? Oh, how beautiful! So beautiful in his red moccasins.'"
And the vain boy would fall to dancing and skipping about the earthen floor of the kitchen, as if the very thought of the moccasins had made him tipsy.
"Dandy Jim, of Caroline, might say all that of dandy monkey at a show," would Elster answer, "and dandy Jim might say as much of dandy Sprigg at church, but nobody else would—count on that! So, just leave the red tomfooleries to Indians and monkeys, my boy; and just make up your mind to be satisfied, and more than satisfied, too, with the nice boots, which pap has promised to bring you when he goes to our old home next spring."
But, let his mother picture him in whatever color she might, the vain boy would go on hankering after the red moccasins all the same; till, by and by, they took such hold on his fancy that his thoughts by day and his dreams by night assumed the same complexion, and became, so to speak, as red as the reddest of leather. Indeed, there were moments when it did seem to Sprigg as if he would be willing to part with one of his legs for a pair of red moccasins.
Now, you are thinking such a whim, out of all nature and reason, absurd, and I fully agree with you; yet, have I known a few grown-up children in my day, of high reputation for judgment, who in some of the fancies they have cherished, and in some of the bargains they have made, have exhibited not a whit more judgment than poor Sprigg. Distinguished personages, who, from the solid and dignified outward appearance they showed to the eyes of the world, would give you the impression that they had never entertained a foolish fancy, or mistaken the shadow for the substance in all their lives, I have known women who have given their hands—sacrificed the best of their hearts—to put their heads in other women's bonnets; and I have known men who have sold their very souls to set their feet in other men's shoes.
So, time went lagging by; lagging, perhaps, because his feet were not shod with a pair of red moccasins; or, it may be, because he was not mounted on a Shetland pony. At last, one night in April, as they were all sitting around a roaring log fire, Sprigg's dreams took a definite shape, as well as color. Jervis had sat for some time smoking his pipe in thoughtful silence, when he turned to his wife and thus addressed her:
"So, Elster, I am to set out on my long tramp for the Old Dominion; and with what a light heart I could do it, too, could I but take you and our boy along with me. But, as it is, I am beginning to feel already quite out of sorts at the very thought of leaving you behind me for so long, and I would give up the trip altogether were it not for the business, which no one else can attend to but myself."
Sprigg was sitting directly in front of the fire, gazing with a fixed and dreamy look into the glowing embers before him; and, observing this, his father said to him:
"Come, Sprigg, let us have some of the pictures you are drawing there in the fire-coals! You can beat any boy of your size at that sort of headwork that ever I saw. What do you see in the coals?"
"I see," answered the boy, in a musing way, "I see an Indian boy standing tip-toe on the back of a Shetland pony, riding at full gallop, his head all waving with feathers, his feet so fine with red moccasins, and he is showing off before a great crowd of people, who seem to be waving their hats, as if they were shouting: 'Hurrah! Hurrah! Splendid! Splendid!' Oh, how I wish that I were an Indian boy, and had a Shetland pony; then might I travel from town to town and show off before the people, and be somebody, and so happy!"
Then, with a start, as if a bright thought had flashed out to him from the fire-coal, he exclaimed:
"Oh, pap! won't you get me a pair of red moccasins while you are gone, please?" And coming over and laying his hand on his father's shoulder, he repeated his request—all in the softest, winningest way you can well imagine. For, whenever he had an object near at heart, and knew he could gain it by a little palaver, Sprigg could appear as soft and winning as any young tom-cat you ever saw.
"But, Sprigg, why not the boots, which I have been promising you for a year or more? Black boots, with fair tops and brass heel-taps, that will make a gentleman of you as soon as you put them on."
"But I would not care for the boots half so much; and, if you will just only bring me the moccasins I won't say one word about anything else you have been promising me. I won't even ask you to get me the fur hat, nor the red waistcoat, nor the little hunting knife, nor the little tomahawk—nothing but the red moccasins."
The artful young rogue made this spreading display of self-denial merely to jog his father's memory, knowing perfectly well that he was running no risk of being taken at his word, and that by his offer of release he should be all the more certain of receiving what had been promised him.
"Then, red moccasins shall you have, my boy!" cried the fond father, giving his son a chum-like slap on the back. "Let me but find them in the Old Dominion, and the red moccasins shall you have—yes, and the boots to boot."
Of course, it never once entered Jervis Whitney's mind that so fantastic a thing as a pair of red moccasins was to be found in the Old Dominion, or anywhere else outside of a monkey show, though he might search the world, with a will-o'-the-wisp, from Big Bone Lick to the Land of Nod. So, in saying, "let me but find them, and you shall have them," he thought he was hazarding his word no more than were he to say: "Let the man in the moon but give me the moon, and the moon, my boy, is yours."
"Yes, pap, get him the red moccasins—do, by all means!" here put in Elster, who had a vein of mocking pleasantry, in which she was wont to indulge, especially whenever, as now, her fingers were busy with yarn and knitting needles. "With a little practice he could play Indian every whit as well as Jack Monkey, if not better; and we ought to do all we can to bring out his talent, so that he may make a monkey of himself, and, as he says, 'be somebody, and so happy.' So you furnish the moccasins and the tomahawk and I will get up the rest of the rigging. I will trim his new buckskin breeches and hunting shirt with bearskin, and take those plumes from over the looking-glass up there, and make him as fine a feathered hat as ever grandmother Pocahontas fixed up for brothers. Nor shall the war paint be forgotten. I will streak and stripe and spot his face till he looks as savage and fierce as Big Foot, the Wyandot giant—scary enough to scare a scare-crow. Then, having so bedaubed and bedizened him that his own looking-glass couldn't tell him whose son he was, we will take him out, and, mounting him upon old Blue Blaze, witness him make his maiden effort. To be sure, old Blue Blaze is not exactly what you might call a Shetland pony, but by that time she will have a colt a month or two old, so that while our monkey is up there, playing Big Injun on the old mare's back, coltie can trot along behind and play Little Shetland. Meanwhile, we must be making all the noise we can, clapping our hands and shouting: 'Hurrah! hurrah! splendid! splendid!' Should our demonstrations fall short of the desired effect, and we should happen to hear some of our red neighbors shouting and yelling over there in the woods, we will call them in to help us out. They will make noise enough to slack his thirst for applause, I warrant you. They will be so delighted with his performance that nothing will satisfy them short of taking him home with them—Blue Blaze, coltie and all—to old Chillicothe, where he shall be kept all his days to play Big Paleface for the reds, just as Jack Monkey is kept in the Old Dominion to play Dandy Nigger for the whites.
"Yes, pap, get him the red moccasins. Let him make a monkey of himself, and 'be somebody and so happy.'"
Now, you must know that our hero, though tough to reproof, was keenly sensitive to ridicule—a jimson weed to that, a snap dragon to this. Having discovered his weakness, his mother was much in the habit of playing upon it, as the only means of persuasion or dissuasion within her command which was likely to make any impression upon his knotty young rind. So, while she was spinning out her rigmarole, Sprigg was making a great show of amusing himself with Pow-wow, slapping him over the muzzle with his coonskin cap, or setting that ornament in divers ways on the old dog's head; now with the tail over the right ear, then over the left, or over the nose; the young sauce-box the while keeping up, in a confidential undertone to his four-footed chum, a running commentary on his mother's burlesque of himself, for every word of which he should have received a sounding spank.
"Some folks think they are monstrous smart, don't they, Pow-wow?"
"You could bark tip a tree and do better than that, couldn't you, Pow-wow?"
"Funny enough to make a dog laugh, isn't it, Pow-wow?"
"Some folks ought to be told what fools they are, oughtn't they, Pow-wow?"
"Ding-dong bell, when the fools are all dead, Then we will have plenty of butter and bread,
won't we, Pow-wow?"
Meets with the Object of His Love.
So, next Monday, Jervis Whitney set out on his long tramp, with Pow-wow for company, and with Black Bess, his rifle, to keep them supplied with game, their chief dependence for subsistence while traveling the five hundred miles of wilderness, which lay between them and their old home beyond the Alleghenies. While they were gone, Sprigg kept count of the months and weeks and days, and, as they went silently gliding by, he went silently dreaming on about the red moccasins. Silently, for never another word said he to his mother concerning the matter he had so near at heart. He knew she would laugh at him, and call him a monkey—our hero, bear in mind, being as touchy to ridicule as a raw mouth to ginger. You might scold him and rate him, sneap him and snub him, to a degree you would suppose sufficient to break the heart of any boy who knew his catechism, yet not a fig nor a flint would he care for it all. Perhaps, he would kick up his heels in the very face of your reproof; or, it may be, merely wrinkle up his saucy young knob of a nose, thereby saying as plainly as words could say it:
"Thin! thin! When the wise waste words, then fools may grin, So, save your breath for a rainy day, Or the wind will blow it all away; Bottle it up and cork it fast, The longer you keep it, the longer 'twill last."
The month of May was drawing near its close. Night was spreading its dusky shadows over the lonely forest home. The turkey-cock had gone to its rest; so had the red-bird, so had the jay-bird; so had Sprigg. Elster had heard her boy repeat his prayers and was now singing him to sleep with a hymn; a pious custom which, in all sincerity, she had faithfully observed from his infancy up; doing her best, from night to night, to make him a Christian, while suffering him, from day to day, to become more and more of a heathen. Such parental inconsistencies were rare in the days of Mary Washington, but are so common nowadays that no one excepting himself or herself can find an exception to the rule except at home. The last line of the hymn had just been sung, and Sprigg was making his last big sleepy wink at the cradle before fairly off for nodland, when they heard, first, a glad yelp out there in the yard, which they thought they knew; then a brisk, firm step on the loose board floor of the porch, which they were certain they knew. Up from her chair sprang Elster; up from his bed bounced Sprigg, and by the time the door, with a ringing click of its wooden latch, swung open, both were there, and both hugged tight in the long, strong arms of husband and father.
"Heaven be thanked!" exclaimed Elster, kissing her husband for the——, but I must not say what number of times.
"The moccasins! the moccasins!—where are my red moccasins?" cried Sprigg, who had not kissed nor hugged his father once.
"You young feather-pate! you jay-bird!" exclaimed Jervis. "Can't you give your poor pap some little sign of welcome first?"
"Oh! then, you have got them! You have got them!" And now, assured that such was the case, Sprigg could find it in his heart to hug and kiss his father, which he did as sleekly and lovingly as any he-kitten. But Sprigg paid for this bit of selfishness, and that dearly, too. Having laid Black Bess in the rifle-hooks over the fireplace, and hung his bearskin cap on the hook to the left and his ammunition pouch and powder horn on the hook to the right, Jervis hugged and kissed his wife again. Then, from the capacious game bag which, slung by a strap from the shoulder, he wore at his side, he began drawing out slowly and with great show of carefulness a small package, which Sprigg instinctively knew to be the object of his heart's desire. The next moment, held high aloft in pap's right hand, there they were at last, in plain view before his eyes, the long dreamed of red moccasins. How beautiful looked they. Trimmed with the finest of fur and glittering all over with the brightest of beads, to say nothing of the color—red, as the reddest of leather could be, not dyed in blood. You would have laughed, or, perhaps, felt more like crying, to have seen the poor, vain boy, as he stood there, with his heart in his eyes, gazing gloatingly up at the moccasins as if the very shine of them had charmed him out of his senses. Thus he stood for several moments till, giving a quick turn of the head, he glanced sharply up at the Indian boy on the show bill, as if half expecting to find the young horseman stripped of his moccasins and now performing his equestrian antics in bare feet.
"Jervis," said Elster, grieved and provoked, "I am so surprised that you should indulge our boy in so ridiculous a fancy, as were he, after all, the monkey he would make himself. I had no idea that you would ever give the whim a second thought. Why did you not get him the boots you have been promising him? Throw the moccasins into the fire and let us be rid of the nuisance at once! If you won't, I will!"
"Mum, Elster! Mum! I neither bought them nor sought them. They were sent as a present to our boy by some one, who said that he was one of Sprigg's very best friends; and that he could not do a better part by our boy and ourselves, too, than to let him have them and wear them, a little experience being all that he needed to disenchant him of his fancy. 'Our boy's case,' said he, 'was like a man's case, whose heart is set on matrimony—a little lively experience being all that was needed to cure him of his hankering and set him right with matrimony, so with moccasins.' Quoting, Elster; understand me, now, only quoting: Thirteen years of lively experience, and here am I, just as far from being cured as I was the day we went to the show, and your case every whit as desperate. But here stands the boy like one bewitched. Sprigg!"
The boy giving a big start, the spell, which the moccasins, or his own fancy, or, it were hard to say what, had thrown upon him, was snapped in a twinkle, and recovering the use of his tongue, he cried out: "Let me try them on! Let me try them on!" and on they were in a trice. "Look, look! Do but see how nicely they fit! Oh, what beautiful shoes!" And the boy began dancing about the room in a fashion so fantastic as were enough to make one fancy that what he had on his feet were medicine moccasins, which could carry him whithersoever and in what manner soever might please him, or might please them. In the extravagance of his delight he ran up to Pow-wow, where he sat on the hearth, and gave him an affectionate hug; then, taking the old dog's paws in his hand and shaking it heartily, said: "How are you, old pard, and did you bring your Sprigg the red moccasins? Yes, that you did, and you shall have a good meat-bone for it, too; that you shall." And going to the cupboard, like old Mother Hubbard, to get the poor dog a bone, Sprigg found there three ribs of a bear, and so the poor dog had plenty.
"Sprigg," said Elster, in a grieved and reproachful voice, "are all your thanks for the dog? Have you none for pap? Poor pap, who has been gone so long and traveled so far, and has come home so weary, and has been so kind to bring you the moccasins, which, of all things else, you have most desired! Shame upon you! Who would have thought that our boy could have shown himself so thankless!"
Sprigg stopped short in his capers; looked first at his mother and then at his father, and, perceiving that pap also seemed hurt and grieved, he hung his head, but not this time to look at the moccasins. It was to hide the blush of shame, which, redder than they, burst up from his heart and burned in his cheek—the first that had ever been seen there. They had hardly observed the change and wondered thereat when the boy burst into tears, and drawing off the moccasins crept back to bed. Nor could they get another word out of him that night, though they tried hard to do so—harder, indeed, than was wise. So, at last they gave it up and allowed him to sob himself to sleep.
But all night long, to and fro and up and down, were the red moccasins walking about in his dreams. Sometimes he felt as if they were treading upon his naked heart and brain, as though feet were in them—cruel feet, which took a delight in trampling upon him, and once or twice it seemed to him as if some wild and fearful shape of the night were clutching at his toes, when he had cried out in a fright: "Oh! the red moccasins! How they hurt my feet!"
He Has Them—What Shall He Do With Them?
But the first broad stare of the day's bright eyes drove all these dark dreams and wild shapes of the night from his mind; and nimble and fresh as a jay-bird—nimbler and fresher, indeed, than was his wont—Sprigg sprang from his bed and donned the red moccasins. Yes, shod his feet the first thing; and, leaving his breeches to cover the naked legs of the stool, he went out on the front porch, there to take his morning airing and see what color red moccasins were by daylight. Here, at the end of an hour, he was found by his mother, strutting to and fro like a young peacock in the pride of his first tail feathers. The morning breezes briskly fluttering his only garment and doing all they could for his health. Provoked to find him at so late an hour, in such a guise, which was full six inches too short for any guise at all, Elster gave the "rising hope and promise" a spank, which would have done you good to see and hear, and bade him go and finish his toilet and perform his morning ablutions—all in a hurry, too, or she would give his bread and milk to Pow-wow. Whereat the hopeful youngster kicked up his heels, and, as it pleased him for once to be obedient, ran and did as he was bidden, and in a trice was ready for his bread and milk, which, in the glee of the moment, he shared with Pow-wow.
The day succeeding pap's return chanced to be Sunday, so Sprigg, as a matter of course, was allowed to wear the red moccasins from morning till night, just by way of making him sensible. How much better and more dearly to be remembered that day was than Monday, or any other day of the week. But a too full Sunday makes an empty Monday, as Mother Goose herself has covertly hinted in the well known lines:
"As Tommie Snooks and Bessie Brooks Were walking out on Sunday, Says Tommie Snooks to Bessie Brooks: 'To-morrow will be Monday.'"
The next day, not being permitted to wear the red moccasins, our hero grew tenderfooted and ill at ease with the ground he needs must walk on, and more than once, with a moccasin in each hand, did he go to his mother and lay before her his trouble of mind.
"Mam, I do wish that I could go to grandpap's house to-day."
"And why do you wish to go to grandpap's house?"
"To wear my red moccasins to church next Sunday."
"I have set my foot on your moccasins there, my boy!" and Elster, for once, laid down the law, with a look and tone of decision which put it in force right there on the spot. "To church your red tomfooleries never shall go while I have a membership there!"
"Well, then, if not to church, to grandmam's quilting?"
"I rather think you will have to wait for the day. Grandmam will hardly get up a quilting just to give you a chance of showing off your moccasins."
"And how long shall I have to wait for the day?"
"Monday—Wednesday—eight—ten days," replied Elster, counting them off on her fingers.
Giving a backward jerk of the heel, expressive of impatience, the spoilt boy exclaimed: "Oh, how long a time to wait! Where's the use of a feller's always waiting?"
"A kick in the ribs may make old Blue Blaze quicken her pace, but if you want Old Time to quicken his you must neither kick him nor seize him by the forelock, but catch him by the tail and do your best to hold him back; then he'll go fast enough, I warrant you! So go along with your moccasins and put them away in the chest, or the rats and mice will gnaw them, as rats and mice are always sure to do with everything of the sort we set our hearts too much on. Then go to the woods and play like a bird. Pow-wow will go along with you and show you how—be glad to do it."
Sprigg and Pow-wow went out to play, but the dog was more like a bird than the boy. The glad light was gone from his heart. His heart was in the chest with his treasures—his treasures denied him as too precious for every day and Sunday too. Barefooted and out of sorts, he dragged along through the idle hours. He should have been hoeing corn; and, when the night was come and the jay-bird went to his nest with a thankful heart, Sprigg went to his with nothing of the kind, and, therefore, had no pleasant dreams. Nor was this all. That night, for the third time in his life—the second being the night before, and the first the night before that—Sprigg went to his rest without saying "Now I lay me down to sleep," the sweet old words his mother had taught him to speak when he could scarcely speak at all, and which he could never fitly and truly speak again, so long as the red moccasins and the like vain fancies filled his heart. The next day, iller at ease than ever—all but desperate—he went to his mother, where, banging away at her ponderous loom, she was just finishing a nice piece of flax linen for him and pap, thus renewing the subject:
"Mam, wouldn't you like to know how the old folks are at the fort to-day?"
"Yes, indeed; that I would!"
"And wouldn't you like for me to go and see how they are?"
"And wear your red moccasins?" added his mother, with a mocking smile.
"I could carry the moccasins in my hands."
"And who would carry your feet?"
"Shank's mare can carry my feet, for Shank's mare can carry double."
"But Shank's mare is tenderfooted, and there are twenty miles of stony hills and shaggy woods between here and the fort. Besides, Shank's mare could never find the way."
"Yes, but I can! You first go by the hunting camp, then by the Lick, then by the sugar camp, and the next thing you know you are there."
"Now, what did I tell you? The Lick comes before the hunting camp, and there is no sugar camp at all. So the next thing you know you are not there, but lost. Besides all this, there are a thousand wild things in the woods, which even a strong man without his gun and knife would not be willing to run the risk of meeting. So just content yourself to stay at home, my boy, until to-morrow week, when we shall all be going to grandmam's quilting, and you will have somebody to keep you out of harm's way."
"I could go now and get back in time to go then, too," urged Sprigg, who was in a fair way of sliding off into one of his pets.
"But Sprigg, have you so soon forgotten what pap was telling us last night of his adventures between here and our old home? Once he was by three Indians chased far into the night, and pressed so closely that he only saved himself by leaping from a high bank into a deep river, where, as good luck would have it, a thick growth of rushes fringed the water's edge, thus affording him a hiding place until the savages gave up the pursuit. Then there was that other adventure with the two Indians, in which he should certainly have lost his life but for the timely assistance of brave Pow-wow. Now, Sprigg, what would you do miles and miles away from home, in the dark and lonesome woods, were you to see one of these terrible red men running to meet you, yelling like a demon—all hideously painted, rifle in hand, belt stuck full of tomahawks and scalping knives, eh?"
"I would scamper away as fast as Shank's mare could carry me," promptly rejoined our hero, who, though vain as a young peacock, was as bold as a young game-cock. Elster continued:
"And, Sprigg, there are bears in the woods, who have such a fancy for little boys that, should they find one astray too close to their den, they would hug him, and hug him, till there would not be enough breath left in his body to carry him home. So he stays just there; and when he is found, if ever he is found at all, the grass and the weeds and the dead leaves of the trees have gathered about him and covered him up—nothing left but his bones and his buttons to tell you whether his name was John or Sprigg. And, Sprigg" here Elster lowered her voice as if he of whom she would speak might hear her—"there is one bear in the woods so large and strong and bold that five dogs as large and strong and bold as Pow-wow would be no match for him in a fight. Hunters who have lived much alone in the forest—red hunters, as well as white—say that neither arrow nor bullet has power to kill him. Though the eye of the marksman be as keen as that of a lynx, and his hand as steady and firm as the limb of an oak, and his bullet as swift as the red bolt shot from the edge of a storm cloud—all will avail him nothing; for, in a flash of time, where but the moment before appeared a bear, the hunter now sees nothing but a vine-clad rock, or a moss-grown stump, or a low, thick bush, waving its green head to the forest winds. Sometimes no shape whatever appears, and when this is the case, while yet the blue rifle smoke is curling up over his head, the hunter will hear, just there in the empty air so near that he could lay his hand on the spot, a low laugh—He-he-he! A wild, low laugh of scorn and derision, which causes the strong, bold man to quake and quail far more than were he to hear the loud, fierce growl of a bear behind him. Saving the red man, no one knows who or what this terrible shape of the wilderness is—where he dwells, nor how he exists; whom he loves, nor whom he hates; but white men call him 'Nick of the Woods.'"
Who Gave Sprigg The Red Moccasins?
"Will-o'-the-Wisp. Some would wear our moccasins red, Though the road should lead to the dead. Some would wear our coronals green, Who would keep themselves unseen! Jervis Whitney! Jervis Whitney!"
So sang a wild and musical voice out there in the woods; and halting suddenly and cocking his gun, Jervis Whitney stood on his guard.
"Will-o'-the-Wisp! None shall wear our moccasins red, On the road that leads to the dead. None shall wear our coronals green, But to see themselves as they are seen! Jervis Whitney! Jervis Whitney!"
Again sang the voice out there in the night; and looking straight before him, his eyes upon the spot where a speaker should be, Jervis Whitney saw never a living thing; saw nothing but the moss-grown trunk of a tree, where it lay on the ground, not ten paces distant, with the moonlight shining full upon it.
What I am now telling you happened last Saturday night, on which, as you will remember, Jervis Whitney returned from their old Virginia home. He was within a mile of his journey's end, and had reached a glade in the forest where there was scarcely a tree or bush to break the clearest of moonlight with a shadow, when his ear was caught by the voice of the invisible speaker.
"Who calls Jervis Whitney?" now in his turn cried the White Hunter, looking in wonder all around him, far and near, still seeing never a shape of life that could call a man by name.
"I do!" answered the voice. "I, the king of the Manitous; or, as you white men call me, Nick of the Woods." And with these words there seemed to perch on the tree trunk, whence the voice proceeded, what seemed a magnificent bird of bright green plumage, and there beside it, visible, stood the mysterious speaker.
It was a manikin, scarcely more than a yard in height, but beautifully formed, with limbs as round and strong as those of a roebuck. In color and feature, the style of his face was that of the Indian, as was, indeed, his whole external appearance, excepting that, instead of the characteristic scalp-lock, he wore all his hair, which, straight, thick and long, fell in a sable gleam to his shoulders. He wore a bearskin robe, which, secured at the throat by a clasp which seemed to be a pair of claws interlocked, hung gracefully about his form; on the hair side, fresh and sleek; on the flesh side, smooth as satin and red as blood. His airy little feet were shod with a pair of red moccasins, all agleam with bright-colored beads, which shone like rubies and diamonds in the glistering moonlight. The object, which the white hunter at first glance had supposed to be a large, green bird, now proved to be a kind of feathered hat, or coronal, resembling those worn by Indian sachems when in full dress. The red mist-cap of the fairies possessed the magic power of rendering the person who wore it—man, as well as elf—invisible to mortal eyes. That the white hunter might use his eyes as well as ears, and thus stand on equal terms in the interview, which had opened at a disadvantage to him, the elf had laid aside his magic headpiece, and now stood as plainly revealed to bodily vision as the brightest of moonlight could show him.
"And what can Jervis Whitney do for Nick of the Woods?" at length said the hunter, after eyeing the manikin over from top to toe for some moments in silent wonder, as well he might.
"For Nick of the Woods," replied the elf, "Jervis Whitney can do nothing; nor could he were he king of the earth. But for Jervis Whitney, Nick of the Woods can, and is willing to, do much." And the elf paused.
"Well, say on," said the hunter, as, uncocking his rifle and setting it on the ground, he propped his chin upon the muzzle, thereby signifying his readiness to listen. The elf resumed:
"You have a son, who goes by the name of Sprigg, I think."
"Yes, that have I; and a rare young buck he is. As antic at times in his capers as were he kin to an elf."
"Has he not teased you much of late for a pair of red moccasins?" And pat to the question, the manikin thrust out one of his small moccasined feet. "And did he beg you to get him a pair while you were gone to the land of Pocahontas?"
Jervis started. He had never given the matter a serious thought, there being no monkeys as yet in the country to create a demand for the article in question. After musing a moment he answered:
"Yes, it is even so, though I must confess that the thing had quite escaped my memory. But granting it to be as we say, how does the circumstance interest Nick of the Woods?"
"Listen!" replied the Manitou king. "I also have a son, who goes by the name of Manitou-Echo, until you white men christen him more to your fancy. Now my son Manitou-Echo has fallen in love with your son Sprigg, Sprigg being a boy more after his own heart than any young human being he has known for more than a hundred years. Of all fleet-footed fairies, Manitou-Echo, be it known, is the fleetest, and it is the chief delight of his existence to run races with fast boys. Sprigg, he says, is the fastest boy that has skipped upon the green earth since the days of Little Winged Moccasin, the boy who ran to the setting sun in quest of his shadow, which he had lost at noonday. So, then, my son Manitou-Echo is burning to run a race with your son Sprigg."
"Well, and how is my son Sprigg to run this race with your son Manitou-Echo?" and the hunter crossed his legs, still with his chin propped on the muzzle of his gun, an attitude characteristic of hunters, from Robin Hood, in the cross-bow days of Merry England, to Daniel Boone, in the rifle days of green Kentucky.
"True," rejoined Nick of the Woods, "Sprigg, with merely his own bare feet to go on, would stand but a slender chance in a trial of speed with Manitou-Echo. Therefore, to put him on an equal footing for the feat, Sprigg must be furnished with a pair of red moccasins such as we elves wear." And the elf again thrust out his moccasined feet, by way of exemplification.
"But, while we shall be doing so much to please the whim of your son Manitou-Echo, what shall we be doing to please or benefit my son Sprigg?"
"Pat to the point!" quoth Nick of the Woods. "The very thing I was coming to next—the main thing, indeed, which has led me to seek this interview with Sprigg's father. I should hardly have come a thousand miles out of my way, since set of sun, had it been merely to gratify Manitou-Echo in an elfish whim. In brief, then, and in sweet earnest, too, the object we have in view is intended mainly for Sprigg's own good; and, as the means to this end, my son Manitou-Echo has sent, as a present to your son Sprigg, a pair of red moccasins, to put him, as I have just said, on an equal footing in the trial of speed between them. Refuse the gift, and nothing shall follow therefrom, be it for good or for evil. Accept the gift, and good—nothing but good—shall come of it, sooner or later."
Here, with the air of one who has had his say, and now but awaits your final answer to take fair leave of you, the Manitou paused. Jervis Whitney did the like, remaining silent for many moments, half in doubt, half in debate, his eyes bent fixedly the while upon his companion. At length, very dubiously, indeed, he answered:
"I must confess, were we to drop the matter just here, I should be left as much in the mist as if you had kept your mist-cap on your head and allowed me only the use of my ears. Will you please enlighten me, sir, with a few more gleams of your moonshine?"
"Certainly, sir; certainly!" rejoined Nick of the Woods, with an obliging smile and a courteous wave of the hand. "I perceive you are something of a philosopher, by wishing to view the subject in that light. Know, then, that Sprigg's fancy for red moccasins has grown to be the one idea of his mind—a hankering, so to speak; and the best cure in the world for a hankering, as everybody knows, is a strong, sudden, overwhelming dose of the thing so hankered after. Sprigg's case is like that of a man's case, whose heart is dead set on matrimony—a little experience, tough and lively, being all that is needed to cure him of the hankering and restore him to a healthy condition of mind. As with matrimony, so with moccasins."
"I am glad that Elster is not present to hear that speech; else should I feel constrained to send a bullet through your bearskin, just by way of giving you the lie, and of satisfying her that I am the truest of husbands, as she is the best of wives, although I am perfectly aware that it would be a waste of powder and lead, having once or twice in my time sent my bullet after a bear, and found that, without missing my mark, I had shot nothing."
"And I should esteem you all the more highly for doing so much to please your wife," rejoined Nick of the Woods, with increased complacency; "and my wife, Meg of the Hills, were she present, also, at the time, would cordially join in my expression of commendation. When I say, 'as with matrimony, so with moccasins,' it is merely by way of illustration, and is not to be understood as an expression of my private sentiments. Our married life—Meg's and mine—began with that of Adam and Eve, and our honeymoon is not yet on the wane. Just here, I should be tempted to go off at a tangent into wide digression, had long observation not taught me that there is nothing so galling to a hunter's patience as a hang-fire gun. As with a gun, so with a speaker. Then, in fine, I will say, 'trust me, and to the latest day of your life you never shall rue it, though you should live until the Indian, the Jeer and the Manitou cease to exist.'"
Then, as if he had, indeed, made an end of his say, the Manitou king picked up his crown of plumes and placed it upon his head, when straight he was no more to be seen than the transparent air around him. The next instant, with a magnificent somerset curve, full ten feet aloft in the air, a pair of red moccasins plumped themselves, as if firm little feet were in them, square in front of the hunter, where he stood—with his chin still propped on the muzzle of his gun and his legs still crossed? I rather think not! "Leave, and lose! Take, and gain! But leave or take, it is all one to Nick of the Woods!" And hardly were the words spoken, just there in the empty moonlight, when a whirr in the leaves and flutter in the air announced that the elf was gone.
For many moments Jervis Whitney stood there gazing down on the moccasins, debating within himself, with a look of great perplexity, whether to take them or to leave them. He went over, in his mind, all that had been said by the elf, and so well said, too, it needs must be as well meant, odd and fantastic though it might seem. He recalled the Manitou's aspect—so clear and bright, so free from disguise; and, withal, as beautiful, while so Indian-like—as well could be the eyes of a white man, who, for some years past, had had a hard scuffle to keep his scalp.
Then, too, there was Pow-wow's behavior on the occasion to be taken into consideration. There was not a dog west or east of the Alleghany Mountains who had a sharper nose than Pow-wow for detecting an ill wind; yet, all this while, he had set there on his haunches, without betraying the least sign of uneasiness or distrust, nor even of curiosity, as if a Manitou to him were a sight as familiar as a jay-bird, and no more to be barked at. Now, the real state of the case was this: Foreseeing that the dog, dog-like, would be for putting in his jaw to help his master out, the prudent elf had thrown a spell or charm upon him, hoodwinking not his eyes only, but also his ears and nose, thus making one side, at least, of the interview as blank to him as the middle of next week. Therefore, not a glimpse nor a sniff of the elf had Pow-wow caught; nor had he heard a word of what the elf had said from "Will-o'-the-Wisp" to "Nick of the Woods." His master, he could see and hear, and doubtless marveled much that a husband and father, who had traveled hundreds of miles to be with his wife and child again, should thus hang fire within dinner-horn call of home, merely to hold a pow-wow with a rotten log. As Jervis could no more see the charm on the dog than the dog the charmer on the log, he must needs regard the orderly deportment of his dumb companion—in whose sagacity he had unbounded confidence—as the strongest additional evidence he could wish for confirming him in the favorable view; his own senses had already inclined him to take off the Manitou and the matter between them. At length his thoughts shaped themselves into a conclusion, which he thus expressed aloud:
"I have never known a dog of Pow-wow's blood whose instinct did not tell him when there was an enemy near his master. I have never known that man to deceive me, nor try to deceive me, whose eye spoke with his tongue, and before it and after it, as did the eye of the strange being here but now. To doubt the word of such a one, were to do him a wrong. To refuse the gift of such a one, might be to withhold a blessing from me and mine. I will take the moccasins and trust this Nick of the Woods."
Temptation and Flight.
"It was the first of June, the day on which It is as easy for the heart to be true, As for grass to be green, or for skies to be blue."
But Sprigg's heart was too full of red moccasins for the laughing gladness of the green fields, or the smiling delight of the blue sky, to find any place there. What his mother had told him of the wild shapes which haunted the forest had, for the time, caused his heart, bold as it was for one of his years, to quake with a nameless dread, which seemed to dog his shadow wherever he went. When the shades of night and the hours of sleep were come, these wild remembrances took the form of wilder dreams, which vexed and scared his slumbers till break of day. But next day was the first of June; and the sun was too bright, and the sky too blue, and the earth too green, for ugly dreams to linger long in the mind, and by the time the shadows stood still at noon Nick of the Woods, chasing Indians, hugging bears and the like terrors of the forest were remembered only as frightful pictures seen in a book.
Sprigg had dined; and a healthy young cub of a bear never cleaned out a hive of honey with a keener appetite than our hero his bowl of milk and bread. For the seventh time that day he had looked at and tried on the moccasins, just to reassure himself that they were made for his feet and nobody else's, and to take a few quiet turns in them about the room, just to see if they felt as easy as they fitted well. Now, with greater liveliness and earnestness than ever, his thoughts returned to the matter he had so near at heart; nor would they let him rest until he had answered the question which, for the seventh time that day, he had put to himself: "Shall I on with the moccasins and go to grandpap's house to-day?"
The good voice in his heart said: "No, Sprigg! No! Don't you do it! Don't even think of such a thing! It is not mam's wish; it is not pap's wish, that you should venture so far away, through the wild and dangerous woods all alone! It would vex and grieve them a thousand times more than it could possibly gratify you. So stay at home, Sprigg; stay at home, and have a care how you let red moccasins tempt you astray! Wait, like a good boy, until you can go with pap and mam to grandmam's quilting."
But quickly spoke up the bad voice in his heart and said: "Go, Sprigg! Go! By all means go, and a delightful time you shall have of it—be sure of that. The old folks won't care so much—not so very much! When did they care so very much for anything you had done, even though it might not have been exactly right. So up and away to grandpap's house! and never a fear that a pair of red moccasins could take you anywhere it pleased you not to go."
The good voice spoke soft and low; the bad voice loud and high. Sprigg heard the bad voice best, because he liked it best. Still, he could not fairly make up his mind. Perhaps the moccasins could help him to decide. He went to the chest and, for the eighth time, took them out, that the very thing that was tempting him to do wrong might tell him what were best to be done. As he stood there, holding up the red temptation in the fairest light before his eyes, he thought he heard a noise, coming, he could not tell whence, which caused him to set the moccasins hastily down on the chest lid and look about him. Nothing was there to be seen that he had not seen a thousand times before. In a little while the noise shaped itself into something almost like a voice, which seemed to come directly up from the moccasins, saying:
"Are we not beautiful things for the feet, Sprigg? Oh, but we are! You can't deny it! On with us, and away to grandpap's house!"
With startled eyes the boy looked all around him—not a living thing was to be seen in the room. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. The Indian boy on the show bill was the nearest approach to a shape of life that met his gaze. He clapped his hands to his ears to make sure they had not played him a trick. His ears were all right; so was his coonskin cap, the rim before, the tail behind. What seemed a voice began again, and, for the life of him, Sprigg could not determine whether it came from the moccasins or from his own heart.
"Who plies her loom, with shuttle and beam, and sings at her work with so blithe a heart? Elster Whitney. And her shuttle shall fly, and her beam shall bang, from hour to hour, till the day is well nigh done. Who roams the forest, with dog and gun, and follows the chase with heart so bold? Jervis Whitney. And his dog shall bound, and his gun shall bang, from hour to hour, till the day is well nigh done. So, Sprigg, the day is clear, and you have the half of a long, bright, summer day before you. Make the most of it! There, near the fort, where grandpap lives, lives young Ben Logan. Ben, when he sees you coming, all by your own lone self, will shout: 'Hurrah! hurrah! what a brave boy is Sprigg!' Yet, let him admire your bravery ever so much, he will be ready to die of very envy, because of your beautiful moccasins. And there is little Bertha Bryant, too, at the fort; blue-eyed little Bertha, laughing little Bertha, dancing little Bertha! And Bertha will admire your bravery even more than Ben, and love you to very distraction, because of your beautiful moccasins. On with us, then, and away to grandpap's house. We know the road; we can take you there safely enough. Let us alone for that! and Sprigg is a brave boy! Who said our Sprigg was not a brave boy? He-he-he!"
Sprigg thought he heard a low laugh; the queerest little laugh he had ever heard. A laugh he did not exactly fancy, because it made the chills come creeping up his back and set his flesh to creeping, and caused the most peculiar sensations about the roots of the hair you can well imagine. So, to keep up his spirits, he forced out a mechanical sort of a sound, meant for a laugh, after which he felt considerably better, because it made him imagine it was he who laughed but now, and that the words he had heard were but the thoughts of his own heart.
Sprigg's mind was made up: He would go to grandpap's house that self-same day. But he dared not put on the moccasins there in the house, lest his mother should see him as he was making off and put her foot on his little pet project. "I have it!" said he to the moccasins, for he felt that they knew what was afloat, as well as himself. Pat to the word, he slipped out to a bench in the yard, where Elster had set her household vessels to sun. From these he took their large, oak-bound cedar water bucket and brought it into the house. In this he concealed the moccasins, and, with a cat-like step, stole out by the way of the front porch. But just as he was climbing the yard fence, his mother, who had left off her work at the loom for a few minutes, came to the door to throw an old hen and her brood of young ones some dough, and seeing her boy on the fence she called out:
"Where now, Sprigg, so brisk and spry, with my big cedar bucket?"
"I am going to our best spring, down yonder in the edge of the woods, to fetch dear mam a good, cool drink of water."
"Our boy will be a credit and a blessing to us yet, let the wiseacres predict as they will!" and Elster returned to her work with a glad heart, that her son, for once, of his own accord, had bethought him of doing a kind turn for his mother.
Sprigg sped down the hill till he reached the hollow in the edge of the woods, where their favorite spring, screened from the rays of the noon-day sun by thick, overhanging trees, came bubbling up from under a mossy ledge of rock. Here, in the dark, cool shade, he sat down on the ground to put on his moccasins. But why so trembled his hands? Why trembled he so all over? And why did he fumble so long at the moccasin latches? It was the guilt of that ugly lie, which he had sent back to his mother, and with which his mouth and heart were now all hot and foul.
"Quick! Quick!" There it was again at his side. That sound so like a voice. "Right and tight! Brave! Brave! Who said our Sprigg was not a brave boy? He-he-he!" And, while the voice was yet speaking, the moccasins seemed to adjust themselves, to his feet of their own accord. Now he was up, and now he was speeding away through the forest; his road, one of those buffalo-traces, which, in those days, formed the only highways through the wilderness; the road of all others to lead a young runaway wide and wild of his mark. Soon, too soon, was Sprigg—vain Sprigg, bad Sprigg, poor Sprigg—far out of sight of home, the one place under the pitiful heavens where the young and the aged, the weak and the helpless, the untried and the overtried, should look for happiness and peace and safety!
He fled with his face toward Sunset-land; but never once thought he of Little Winged Moccasin. Elster had often told her son of the little Indian boy, who ran to Sunset-land in quest of his shadow, which he had lost at noon-day. The legend ran thus:
"There was a Cherokee boy, who discovered one morning at sunrise what a long shadow he cast on the ground. Whereat, greatly delighted, he cried out: 'Look! look! see what a shadow I make! See what a giant I am!' But as the sun rose higher and higher his shadow grew shorter and shorter, until, at noon, it had dwindled to scarcely a span's length. Whereupon, he set up a loud lamentation, when suddenly a Manitou appeared before him, who wore on his feet a pair of winged red moccasins.
"'What grieves you, boy?' said the Manitou.
"'I have lost my shadow!' cried the boy.
"'Wait until sunset, and you shall find it again,' said the Manitou.
"'But I have not the patience to wait so long!' whined the boy. 'Could I but get there, I would go to Sunset-land, to live forever, where the shadows are always long!'
"'Look!' said the Manitou, 'I have no shadow at all; never had, neither in Sunset-land nor anywhere else. Yet am I perfectly satisfied.'
"'Maybe I would be satisfied, too, without one, had I never had one,' put in the boy.
"'Well,' quoth the Manitou, 'since you are not willing to wait for your shadow till sunset, and must need go to Sunset-land, where you think the shadows are always long—here, I will lend you my moccasins, which, being winged, will enable you to keep pace with the sun, and arrive at Sunset-land as soon as he.'
"The boy put on the moccasins; and, in a trice, he was flitting away over the face of the green earth at ten times the speed of a wild goose chased by the winds. He ran and ran, nor ceased to run, even when come to the land he was in quest of. All unwitting where he was, or whither going, on—right through with might and main speed—on and on, until he had put the Land of Sunrise as far behind him as the Land of Sunset was before him; nor yet had found the object of his heart's desire. And why? because he had gone the wrong course and the wrong speed to keep himself in the right light for the long shadow. Suddenly, to his astonishment, he found himself once more at the self-same spot whence, but the day just gone, he had set out on his wilder than a wild goose chase; and there was the Manitou waiting for him, who, with a twinkling smile, said:
"'Boy, have you found your shadow?'
"The poor shadow-hunter pointed to the insignificant figure he still made on the earth and remained silent.
"'Foolish youth!' exclaimed the Manitou, 'had you but been content to remain where you were and abide your time, you would have found your shadow, not only at sunset, but also at sunrise; and little enough worth the seeking at that! Thus, have you cheated yourself of your happiness twice from being unwilling to wait for it once!'"
No! Poor Sprigg never once thought of Little Winged Moccasin.
Met—and Only His Shadow to Be Seen.
Sprigg ran for more than a mile with all his might, and was astonished to find he was not in the least degree weary or short of breath. Then he thought it must be the moccasins making his feet so light, and little dreamed he how swift; and he was all the more certain that they would carry him straight to grandpap's house, as they, or the voice, or his own heart—it were hard to say which—had promised. With this discovery, he need have no fear of now being overtaken and carried back home before he had made his way to the fort; and, once there, fairly nestled under grandmam's wing. He well knew from pet-boy experience he could spin out his visit until it should please him to remount Shank's mare and trot back home of his own free will. His mind thus eased from the apprehension of pursuit, there was nothing to hinder him now, even while moving so swiftly along, from feasting his eyes on his beautiful moccasins—so red, so light, so fleet—so brave with their glittering beads.
The light-footed fawns were skipping, like lambs, in the sunlit glades of the forest. The glad-voiced birdlings were singing, for joy of the summer, in every tree. The bright-eyed flowerets were smiling in every sunny spot by the wayside, and doing their utmost to make the wilderness lovely. But the flowerets might smile, and the birdlings sing, and the fawns, like lambkins, skip—they skipped and sang and smiled in vain for Sprigg! His eyes were on his moccasins, and his heart was in his eyes.
The boy was moving along in this half-dreamy state of self-admiration, when his ear was caught by a noise, as of feet, which stirred the leaves and came on with a quick, quick tramp. He started and looked up. Started again, then stood stock still. What think you Sprigg saw there, in the wild and lonesome woods? A gaunt-ribbed wolf, with teeth so long and sharp? No, not a wolf. A shaggy-coated bear, with claws so long and sharp? No, not a bear, nor panther, nor yet a wild-cat! Then it must have been an Indian, as Elster had pictured, all hideously painted, with a tomahawk in his right hand, a scalping knife in his left, and, by this time, yelling like a demon! No, nor an Indian either. Only pap and Pow-wow; pap, rifle on shoulder, not ten paces distant, and Pow-wow so near that Sprigg could easily have laid his hand on his dear old play-fellow's shaggy head.
The boy's first impulse was to slink aside and hide himself in a thick clump of bushes which grew by the wayside; but it was too late, his father's eyes were already fixed, or seemed to be fixed, directly upon him. So he remained perfectly motionless where he was, standing, too, in the very midst of a bright spot of sunlight—the only one which, just there, broke the sombre shade of the forest. Pow-wow trotted on by, nor wagged his tail in greeting to his young master, nor even so much as raised his nose from the ground to sniff at him. His father passed on by; passed within arm's length of his own flesh and blood, nor yet extended his hand to touch him, nor even so much as moved his lips to speak to him. What might this mean?
And a low, wild laugh went out on the air. All three jumped—the boy, the man, the dog—and, with startled eyes, all glanced behind them. The dog slunk cowering back to the side of his master, who, with a glance of his keen hunter's eye, which comprehended every object around them, said, addressing his dumb companion:
"What! frightened, my brave old fellow? Frightened for the first time in your life! What could it have been? for not a thing do I see." Yet his eyes, as also those of the dog, were turned directly toward the spot where, as though he were a bush and his feet roots, the boy still stood, the sunlight shining full upon him. Sprigg felt a strange thrill come creeping through his veins, to find that, though he was looked at, it was with a look as if he were not perceived. A discovery, which caused his heart to quake with a terror he could not have felt, had his father actually seen him and called to him in a loud, stern voice, to know what he did there, and to command him to go back home.
"No, Pow-wow," again said the hunter to his cowering dog, and still glancing keenly about him, "not a thing do I see that could either laugh or cry; and yet, just there on the ground, in that spot of sunlight, I do see something which looks for all the world like a boy's shadow." And lifting his eyes to the branches of the trees above him, Jervis scanned them narrowly to discover the particular bough to which the freak might be ascribed. Then lowering his eyes against to the shadow on the ground, with a look of no small wonderment, he added:
"It seems, Pow-wow, that our ears and eyes have a plot among them to play us a trick. But, come! Let's push on home. The day grows late, and we still have ten long miles to trudge; and Sprigg, you know, must have a good, broad edge of daylight for looking at and playing with the young black fox we found in our trap this morning. How our boy will kick up his heels when he comes out to meet us, finding we have brought him so rare a pet! But won't he, though? So up with your tail, my brave old fellow! Up with your tail and lead on!"
But Pow-wow did not up with his tail; nor, till now, when they were turning to go, had he ceased to glare at the spot where his young master was standing, and whence had come that low, wild laugh. Sprigg watched them till he could see them no longer. Then he laughed, as he had done at home, to pluck up the spirit he had lost; laughed in such a way as to make him imagine that, after all, it could only have been himself, who but now had laughed. But that his father and Pow-wow could have passed right by him without seeing him, or discovering his presence in any way, was a circumstance certainly far from pleasant to think of; even while the young runaway felt quite assured that had he been found there, so far from home, he should, for that one time, at least, have been severely punished. But there it was coming again! That sound, so like a voice shaping in words the thoughts of his own heart.
"Pluck up, Sprigg! Pluck up! Ten long miles from home, and the old hen and her chickens still with their bills in the dough, which Elster threw out to them as we were climbing the fence. And now, Sprigg, don't you see that with these red moccasins on your feet you are as swift as a young wild goose, if not swifter? Better still, you are no more to be seen in them, even when met by your own father, face to face—no more to be seen than the thin air you stand in! Then, what can catch you? What can hurt you? Sprigg, this is fine! It is splendid! Only see how high the sun is, and we already here at the old hunting camp, exactly half way between your house and grandpap's. You heard pap say to Pow-wow that you must have a good, broad edge of daylight for the young black fox, but you shall have that for better things than black foxes. You shall, in the first place, go by young Ben Logan's house, only a mile or so out of your way, and letting him have just one broad stare at your brave moccasins—set him to dying of envy at once. This done, you will have time enough, and to spare, for going by pretty little Bertha Bryant's house; although, to do this, you will be obliged to pass by grandpap's first. But I would do it; and I would walk directly through the yard, and allowing Bertha just one flitting glimpse of your beautiful moccasins, set her, there on the spot, to losing her senses for very admiration and love of them. Then, pluck up your heart, my boy! Pluck up heart! Oh, what a brave boy is Sprigg! Who said our Sprigg was not a brave boy? He-he-he!"
Poor Sprigg! Why did you not cast off the terrible moccasins then and there? And, all in your naked feet, unmindful of tearing stones and piercing thorns, speed you after your father, and confessing all, implore him to beat you, ere he had forgiven you? He might have done so; rebuked you sternly, punished you sorely, but far easier and better for you had been all that than the fearful delight which was now charming you out of your better nature. For, had he done so, would he not have taken you, with your feet all torn and bleeding as they were, your body all bruised with the stripes of his chastising rod—taken you up in his strong, loving arms and borne you home? Home, the one place under the pitiful heavens where the young and the aged, the weak and the helpless, the untried and the overtried, should look for happiness, peace and safety!
Awakes to Find that He Is Lost.
Again the poor, vain boy was speeding him on his lone and perilous way. His flight was as swift as the wind, yet so smooth and lightsome that he could gaze upon his moccasins and delight his eyes with their glitter and gleam, as completely at his ease as were he perched on his three-legged stool at home. Of course, then, rambling on thus, with neither eye nor thought but for the red allurements on his feet, he must, ere long, lose sight of the road he set out to follow. This will surprise you the less when told that from the time he had put them on at the spring, it had seemed to the poor boy's fancy that the moccasins knew, as well as himself, whither they were bound, and that they would take him there by the shortest and easiest route, did he but yield himself to their guidance. The road to be followed, thus lost sight of—what wonder, then, if the place to be reached should at last be lost sight of also!
In this strange plight, the young wanderer was pursuing his way, when he was aroused from his walking dream by a broad, red glare, which struck full upon his downcast eyes, and for the moment left him blind as night. Soon, however, his vision returned to him strong and clear, when he found himself on the top of a lofty hill, just where a gap in the forest let in the flood of sunlight; and this it was which had dazzled him into transient blindness, as, too suddenly, he had entered it from out the sombre shadows, in which he for long hours had been wandering.
Now had you seen that hill, how lofty and steep it was, and marked with what ease and swiftness our hero scaled it, you would have said at once that the red moccasins had more to do with the feat than Sprigg's own legs. The gap in the forest proved to be a long, lane-like opening through the trees, which covered only the sides of a round-backed ridge. Through this opening Sprigg had an unobstructed view toward some distant hills in the West, and could see that the sun had well nigh run his daily course. The ridge ascended gradually till it reached it greatest elevation where the boy was standing, and here ended abruptly in a promontory-like hill, which overlooked a wide sea of waving verdure far below. The brow of the hill and the crest of the ridge were not so bare of trees but that, here and there, a lofty oak tree might be seen; but the face toward the East was much too steep and smooth to offer a foothold for trees, being covered instead with a dense growth of low bushes, whose twisted twigs and crisped leaves had, from a distance, more the appearance of moss than of verdure.
Upon waking from his reverie, and turning to look behind him, Sprigg had found himself on the very brink of the declivity. Could it be possible that he had climbed it without conscious effort? Or, indeed, without any effort at all of his own! A bear climbing, paw over paw, might have been equal to the feat; but even a bear, were he minded to scale the hill, would have chosen a more circuitous and less laborious route. There was not the sign of a path made by man or beast anywhere to be seen, either up the steep or along the ridge. Even of his own footsteps, Sprigg could not discern a single trace, whether in crushed leaf, or bruised weed, or print of his moccasins left in the soft soil. The spot was utterly strange to him; it could not have been more so, had he been taken and set down on a hill in the land of Nod. He looked around. There were hills far, far beneath the one on which he stood. And beneath these valleys and plains, while one unbroken forest spread dark and sombre over all, not a token of man or savage could he discover, whether in house, or field, or road, or column of smoke curling up from among the trees. Nothing but woods, woods. Woods! Then, like a sudden awakening from a wild dream, it flashed upon his consciousness that he was lost.
"Where am I?" cried the poor boy. "How came I here?"
Sprigg jumped. This time, the sound that seemed so like a laugh was too completely outside of himself; too little in harmony with his present thoughts for him to fancy it was himself that laughed. First on this side, then on that. Quite near at hand he looked—not a thing of life could he see. He looked far forth; a herd of deer was grazing in a blue-grass glade, a great way off to the right; and a great way off to the left, a herd of buffalo, browsing on the tender shoots of a cane-brake, which skirted the banks of a beautiful river. Behind him, toward the setting sun, a few birds of prey were wheeling and screaming aloft in the crimson evening sky. Saving these, not a thing of life or sound was there to be seen in all the wilds. Lost! Lost! Lost! To find himself lost is the only discovery your waking dreamer is apt to make.
Then Sprigg looked down and scanned the red moccasins. They showed not a grain of dust, not a speck of mire, not a stain of grass, or weed, or water, although he had walked in them—or, if you please, they had walked with him—through many a mile of grassy wood and reedy swamp, where path was none, that had ever been trodden by foot of man. As clean and bright and red were they as when he had drawn them on in the shade of the spring trees there at home. A rather singular circumstance, certainly; and only to be explained upon the ground that, as the boy had submitted himself entirely to their guidance, the moccasins had daintily picked out the road which suited them best, and such roads, I warrant you, as common shoes were not at all in the habit of traveling.
Yes, the red charms had beguiled the young runaway, and, without any motive or knowledge of his own, had brought him to that remote and solitary spot—how, or to what end, he could not imagine. Of one thing he was certain, they had not brought him to grandpap's house, as they—for so it had seemed to him—had promised they would, and he had been so foolish as to believe they could. At last, but when it was too late, the scales were beginning to fall from his eyes. In other words, the red fog, in which he had so long been chased by the shadow he sought, was beginning to grow a little transparent, so that he could view his case in a somewhat clearer and more natural light. Apparent enough was it now that the red moccasins had deceived him, mocked him, laughed at him—in short, made a fool of Sprigg completely. This discovery brought a twinge to his self-love, far more severe than any pain of conscience he felt at the thought of the foul lie he had told, or of his shabby flight from home; even while he could not help but be aware of the grief and shame and distressing apprehensions he must thereby be causing his dear father and mother. In a pet of wrath, plump down he sat, this poor, vain boy; and, jerking the moccasins from off his feet, flung them, one after the other, over the brink of the steep, as far as his sturdy, young arms could send them.