A Castle On The Brandywine continued…
Balser and Tom well knew that Jim’s prophecy might easily come true, but they had faith in the watchfulness of their sentinels, Tige and Prince, and the moon being at its full, they hoped rather than feared that his bearship might return, and were confident that, in case he did, his danger would be greater than theirs.
After the castle floor had been carefully swept, the boys carried in the deerskins and spread them on the ground for a carpet. The bearskins were then taken in, and the beds were made; traps, guns, and provisions were stored away, and the sleds were drawn around to one side of the door, and placed leaning against the tree.
The boys were hungry, and Jim insisted that supper should be prepared at once; but Tom, having made several trips around the tree, remarked mysteriously that he had a plan of his own. He said there was a great deal of work to be done before sundown, and that supper could be eaten after dark when they could not work. Tom was right, for the night gave promise of bitter cold.
Limpy did not tell his plans at once, but soon they were developed.
The hollow in the tree in which the boys had made their home was almost circular in form. It was at least ten or eleven feet in diameter, and extended up into the tree twenty or thirty feet. Springing from the same root, and a part of the parent tree, grew two large sprouts or branches, which at a little distance looked like separate trees. They were, however, each connected with the larger tree, and the three formed one.
“What on earth are you pounding at that tree for?” asked Jim, while Tom was striking one of the smaller trees with the butt end of the hatchet, and listening intently as if he expected to hear a response. Tom did not reply to Jim, but in a moment entered the main tree with axe in hand, and soon Balser and Jim heard him chopping.
The two boys at once followed Tom, to learn what their eccentric companion was doing. Tom did not respond to their questions, but after he had chopped vigorously for a few minutes the result of his work gave them an answer, for he soon cut an opening into the smaller tree, which was also hollow. Tom had discovered the hollow by striking the tree with his hatchet. In fact, Tom was a genius after his own peculiar pattern.
The newly discovered hollow proved to be three or four feet in diameter, and, like that in the larger tree, extended to a considerable height. After Tom had made the opening between the trees, he sat upon the ground, and with his hatchet hewed it to an oval shape, two feet high and two feet broad.
Jim could not imagine why Tom had taken so much trouble to add another room to their house, which was already large enough. But when Tom, having finished the opening upon the inside, went out and began to climb the smaller tree with the help of a few low-growing branches, the youngest member of the expedition became fully convinced in his own mind that the second in command was out of his head entirely. When Tom, having climbed to a height of twelve or fifteen feet, began to chop with his hatchet, Jim remarked, in most emphatic language, that he thought “a fellow who would chop at a sycamore tree just for the sake of making chips, when he might be eating his supper, was too big a fool to live.”
Tom did not respond to Jim’s sarcasm, but persevered in his chopping until he had made an opening at the point to which he had climbed. Balser had quickly guessed the object of Tom’s mighty labors, but he did not enlighten Jim. He had gone to other work, and by the time Tom had made the opening from the outside of the smaller tree, had collected a pile of firewood, and had carried several loads of it into the castle. Then Tom came down, and Jim quickly followed him into the large tree, for by that time his mysterious movements were full of interest to the little fellow.
Now what do you suppose was Tom’s object in wasting so much time and energy with his axe and hatchet?
You will at once understand that the opening which Tom had cut in the tree at the height of twelve or fifteen feet was for the purpose of making a chimney through which the smoke might escape.
The boys kindled a fire, and in a few minutes there was a cheery blaze in their fire place that lighted up the room and made “everything look just like home,” Jim said.
Then Jim went outside and gave a great hurrah of delight when he saw the smoke issuing from the chimney that ingenious Tom had made with his hatchet.
Jim watched the smoke for a few moments, and then walked around the tree to survey the premises. The result of his survey was the discovery of a hollow in the
third tree of their castle, and when he informed Balser and Tom of the important fact, it was agreed that the room which Jim had found should be prepared for Tige and Prince. The dogs were not fastidious, and a sleeping-place was soon made for them entirely to their satisfaction.
Meantime the fire was blazing and crackling in the fireplace, and the boys began to prepare supper. They had not had time to kill game, so they fried a few pieces of bacon and a dozen eggs, of which they had brought a good supply, and roasted a few sweet potatoes in the ashes. Then they made an opening in the ice, from which they drew a bucketful of sparkling ice water, and when all was ready they sat down to supper, served with the rarest of all dressings, appetite sauce, and at least one of the party, Jim, was happy as a boy could be.
The dogs then received their supper of bear meat.
The members of the expedition, from the commanding officer Balser to the high privates Tige and Prince, were very tired after their hard day’s work, and when Tom and Balser showed the dogs their sleeping-place, they curled up close to each other and soon were in the land of dog dreams.
By the time supper was finished night had fallen, and while Tom and Balser were engaged in stretching a deerskin across the door to exclude the cold air, Jim crept between the bearskins and soon was sound asleep, dreaming no doubt of suppers and dinners and breakfasts, and scolding in his dreams like the veritable little grumbler that he was. A great bed of embers had accumulated in the fireplace, and upon them Balser placed a hickory knot for the purpose of retaining fire till morning, and then he covered the fire with ashes.
After all was ready Balser and Tom crept in between the bearskins, and lying spoon fashion, one on each side of Jim, lost no time in making a rapid, happy journey to the land of Nod.
Tom slept next to the wall, next to Tom lay Jim, and next to Jim was Balser. The boys were lying with their feet to the fire, and upon the opposite side of room was the doorway closed by the deerskin, of which I have already told you.
Of course they went to bed “all standing,” as sailors say when they lie down to sleep with their clothing on, for the weather was cold, and the buckskin clothing and moccasins were soft and pleasant to sleep in, and would materially assist the bear skins in keeping the boys warm.
It must have been a pretty sight in the last flickering light of the smouldering fire to see the three boys huddled closely together, covered by the bearskins. I have no doubt had you seen them upon that night they would have appeared to you like a sleeping bear. In fact, before the night was over they did appear to but I must not go ahead of my story.
The swift-winged hours of darkness sped like moments to the sleeping boys. The smouldering coals in the fireplace were black and lustreless. The night wind softly moaned through the branches of the sycamore, and sighed as it swept the bare limbs of the willows and the rustling tops of the underbrush. Jack Frost was silently at work, and the cold, clear air seemed to glitter in the moonlight. It was an hour past midnight. Had the boys been awake and listening, or had Tige and Prince been attending to their duties as sentinels, they would have heard a crisp noise of footsteps, as the icy surface of the snow cracked, and as dead twigs broke beneath a heavy weight. Ah, could the boys but awaken! Could the dogs be aroused but for one instant from their deep lethargy of slumber!