He had commenced while the hawthorn was just putting forth its first spray, when the thickets and the trees were yet bare. Now the May bloom scented the air, the forest was green, and his work approached completion. There remained, indeed, but some final shaping and rounding off, and the construction, or rather cutting out, of a secret locker in the stern. This locker was nothing more than a square aperture chiselled out like a mortice, entering not from above but parallel with the bottom, and was to be closed with a tight-fitting piece of wood driven in by force of mallet.
A little paint would then conceal the slight chinks, and the boat might be examined in every possible way without any trace of this hiding-place being observed. The canoe was some eleven feet long, and nearly three feet in the beam; it tapered at either end, so that it might be propelled backwards or forwards without turning, and stem and stern (interchangeable definitions in this case) each rose a few inches higher than the general gunwale. The sides were about two inches thick, the bottom three, so that although dug out from light wood the canoe was rather heavy.
At first Felix constructed a light shed of fir poles roofed with spruce-fir branches over the log, so that he might work sheltered from the bitter winds of the early spring. As the warmth increased he had taken the shed down, and now as the sun rose higher was glad of the shade of an adjacent beech.
Felix had scarcely worked half an hour before Oliver returned and threw himself on the ground at full length. He had wearied of fishing, the delicate adjustment of the tackle and the care necessary to keep the hook and line from catching in the branches had quickly proved too much for his patience. He lay on the grass, his feet towards the stream which ran and bubbled beneath, and watched Felix chipping out the block intended to fit into the secret opening or locker.
“Is it nearly finished, then?” he said presently. “What a time you have been at it!”
“Nearly three months.”
“Why did you make it so big? It is too big.”
“Is it really? Perhaps I want to put some things in it.”
“Oh, I see; cargo. But where are you going to launch it?”
“Below the stones there.”
“Well, you won’t be able to go far; there’s an old fir across the river down yonder, and a hollow willow has fallen in. Besides, the stream’s too shallow; you’ll take ground before you get half a mile.”
“Of course you will. That boat will float six inches deep by herself, and I’m sure there’s not six inches by the Thorns.”
“Why didn’t you have a hide boat made, with a willow framework and leather cover? Then you might perhaps get down the river by hauling it past the shallows and the fallen trees. In two days’ time you would be in the hands of the gipsies.”