A Castle On The Brandywine continued…
“He’d have eaten you, Limpy Fox, if Balser hadn’t been the best shot in the world.”
“That’s what he would,” answered Tom, half inclined to cry.
“Nonsense,” said Balser, “anybody could have done it.”
“Well, I reckon not,” said Jim. “Me and Tom and the dogs and the bear was as thick as six in a bed; and honest, Balser, I think you had to shoot around a curve to miss us all but the bear.”
After a few minutes Jim said : “Golly! wasn’t that an awful fight we had in here before the bear got out?”
“Yes, it was,” returned Balser, seriously.
“Well, I rather think it was,” continued Jim. “Honestly, fellows, I ran around this here room so fast for a while, that that I could see my own back most of the time.”
Balser and Tom laughed, and Tom said: “Jim, if you keep on improving, you’ll be a bigger liar than that fellow in the Bible before you’re half his age.”
Then the boys lapsed into silence, and the dogs lay stretched before the fire till the welcome sun began to climb the hill of the sky and spread his blessed tints of gray and blue and pink and red, followed by the glorious flood of day.
After breakfast the boys skinned the bear and cut his carcass into small pieces that is, such portions of it as they cared to keep. They hung the bearskin and meat upon the branches of their castle beyond the reach of wolves and foxes, and they gave to Tige and Prince each a piece of meat that made their sides stand out with fulness.
The saving of the bear meat and skin consumed most of the morning, and at noon the boys took a loin steak from the bear and broiled it upon the coals for dinner. After dinner they began the real work of the expedition by preparing to set the traps.
When all was ready they started up the creek, each boy carrying a load of traps over his shoulder. At a distance of a little more than half a mile from the castle they found a beaver dam stretching across the creek, and at the water’s edge near each end of the dam they saw numberless tracks made by the little animals whose precious pelts they were so anxious to obtain.
I should like to tell you of the marvellous home of that wonderful little animal the beaver, and of his curious habits and instincts; how he chops wood and digs into the ground and plasters his home, under the water, with mud, using his tail for shovel and trowel. But all that you may learn from any book on natural history, and I assure you it will be found interesting reading.
The boys placed five or six traps upon the beaver paths on each side of the creek, and then continued their journey up stream until they found a little opening in the ice down to which, from the bank above, ran a well-beaten path, telling plainly of the many kinds of animals that had been going there to drink. There they set a few traps and baited them with small pieces of bear meat, and then they returned home, intending to visit the traps next morning at an early hour, and hoping to reap a rich harvest of pelts.
When the boys reached home it lacked little more than an hour of sunset, but the young fellows had recovered from the excitement of the night before, which had somewhat destroyed their appetites for breakfast and dinner, and by the time they had returned from setting their traps those same appetites were asserting themselves with a vigour that showed plainly enough a fixed determination to make up for lost time.
“How would a wild turkey or a venison steak taste for supper?” asked Balser.
Jim simply looked up at him with a greedy, hungry expression, and exclaimed the one word “Taste?”
“Well, I’ll go down the creek a little way and see what I can find. You fellows stay here and build a fire, so that we can have a fine bed of coals when I return.”
Balser shouldered his gun and went down the creek to find his supper. He did not take the dogs, for he hoped to kill a wild turkey, and dogs are apt to bark in the pursuit of squirrels and rabbits, thereby frightening the turkey, which is a shy and wary bird.
When the boy had travelled quite a long distance down stream, he began to fear that, after all, he should be compelled to content himself with a rabbit or two for supper. So he turned homeward and scanned the woods carefully for the humble game, that he might not go home entirely empty handed.
Upon his journey down the creek rabbits had sprung up on every side of him, but now that he wanted a pair for supper they all had mysteriously disappeared, and he feared that he and the boys and the dogs would be compelled to content themselves with bear meat.
When the boy was within a few hundred yards of home, and had almost despaired of obtaining even a rabbit, he spied a doe and a fawn, standing upon the opposite side of the creek at a distance of sixty or seventy yards, watching him intently with their great brown eyes, so full of fatal curiosity.
Balser imitated the cry of the fawn, and held the attention of the doe until he was enabled to lessen the distance by fifteen or twenty yards. Then he shot the fawn, knowing that if he did so, its mother, the doe, would run for a short distance and would return to the fawn. In the meantime Balser would load his gun and would kill the doe when she returned. And so it happened that the doe and the fawn each fell a victim to our hunter’s skill. Balser threw the fawn over his shoulder and carried it to the castle; then the boys took one of the sleds and fetched home the doe.
They hung the doe high upon the branches of the sycamore, and cut the fawn into small pieces, which they put upon the ice of the creek and covered with snow, that the meat might quickly cool. The bed of coals was ready, and the boys were ready too, you may be sure.
Soon the fawn meat cooled, and soon each boy was devouring a savoury piece that had been broiled upon the coals.
After supper the boys again built a fine fire, and sat before it talking of the events of the day, and wondering how many beavers, foxes, coons, and muskrats they would find in their traps next morning.
As the fire died down drowsiness stole over our trappers, who were in the habit of going to bed soon after sunset, and they again crept in between the bearskins with Jim in the middle. They, however, took the precaution to keep Tige and Prince in the same room with them, and the boys slept that night without fear of an intrusion such as had disturbed them the night before.
Next morning, bright and early, the boys hurried up the creek to examine their traps, and greatly to their joy found five beavers and several minks, coons, and muskrats safely captured. Near one of the traps was the foot of a fox, which its possessor had bitten off in the night when he learned that he could not free it from the cruel steel.
The boys killed the animals they had caught by striking them on the head with a heavy club, which method of inflicting death did not damage the pelts as a sharp instrument or bullet would have done. After resetting the traps, our hunters placed the game upon the sled and hurried home to their castle, where the pelts were carefully removed, stretched upon forked sticks, and hung up to dry.
Our heroes remained in camp for ten or twelve days, and each morning brought them a fine supply of fur. They met with no other adventure worthy to be related, and one day was like another. They awakened each morning with the sun, and ate their breakfast of broiled venison, fish, or quail, with now and then a rabbit. Upon one occasion they had the breast of a wild turkey. They sought the traps, took the game, prepared the pelts, ate their dinners and suppers of broiled meats and baked sweet potatoes, and slumbered cozily beneath their warm bearskins till morning.
One day Balser noticed that the snow was melting and was falling from the trees. He and his companions had taken enough pelts to make a heavy load upon each of the sleds. They feared that the weather might suddenly grow warm and that the snow might disappear. So they leisurely packed the pelts and their belongings, and next morning started for home on Blue River, the richest, happiest boys in the settlement. They were glad to go home, but it was with a touch of sadness, when they passed around the bend in the creek, that they said “Good-by” to their “Castle on Brandywine.”