When a start was made for the settlement, Joe bundled up the skin, and, as a tribute of respect to Neal’s “game blood,” carried it, in addition to his heavy pack, for a distance of four miles over the desolate brulee and across a soft, miry bog. On reaching the farm clearing, he cut the stem of a tall cedar bush, which he bent into the shape of a hoop, binding the ends together with cedar bark. He then pricked holes all around the edges of the hide with the sharp point of his hunting-knife, stretched it to its full extent, and fastened it to the hoop, which he hung up to a tree near the settler’s cabin, telling Neal that in a few days it would be dry enough to pack away in a bag.
But as it was a cumbersome article to carry while tramping a dozen miles farther to the camp on Millinokett Lake, the farmer offered to take charge of it for its owner until he passed that way again on his return journey; an offer which Neal thankfully accepted. The old backwoodsman was, truth to tell, delighted to see hanging up near his cabin door the skin of an enemy who had ofttimes plundered him so unmercifully.
He made the travellers royally welcome, let them have the roomy kitchen of his log shanty to sleep in, with a soft bed of hay. Here he lay with them, while his wife and sickly little girl occupied an adjoining space about twelve feet square, which had been boarded off. This was all the accommodation the log home afforded.
The forest child was a puzzle to the lads. To them she looked as if the soul of a grandmother had taken possession of a thin, long-limbed body which ought to belong to a girl of ten. Her pinched features and over-wise eyes told a tale of suffering, and so did her high-pitched, quivering voice, as it made elfishly sharp remarks about the boys until they blenched before her.
This was the little one of whom the doctor had said “that she fretted if he did not come to see her once in a while.” And with Doc she was a different being. Her voice softened, her eyes became childlike, and thin tinkles of laughter broke from her as she clung to him, and received certain presents of medicines and picture-books which he had brought for her in a corner of his knapsack.
For two nights the travellers slept in a row on their hay bed; for two long-remembered days the five boys roamed the country round the clearing, starting deer, catching glimpses of a wildcat, a marten or two, and of another coon. Then came, to use Dol’s expression, “the beastly nuisance of saying good-by.”
Dr. Phil was obliged to return to Greenville; and he declared that now he must surely start his nephews homeward, for Royal expected to graduate from the High School during the following year, and to let him waste more time from study would be questionable kindness. Joe Flint of course would go back with his party. And here Cyrus paid Uncle Eb’s fees for guiding, and dismissed him too.