‘Be still,’ said Uncle Eb, as he boxed the dog’s ears. Then he rose and began to stir the fire and lay on more wood. As the flame leaped and threw its light into the tree-tops a shrill cry, like the scream of a frightened woman, only louder and more terrible to hear brought me to my feet, crying. I knew the source of it was near us and ran to Uncle Eb in a fearful panic.
‘Hush, boy,’ said he as it died away and went echoing in the far forest. ‘I’ll take care o’ you. Don’t be scairt. He’s more ’fraid uv us than we are o’ him. He’s makin’ off now.’
We heard then a great crackling of dead brush on the mountain above us. It grew fainter as we listened. In a little while the woods were silent.
‘It’s the ol’ man o’ the woods,’ said Uncle Eb. ‘E’s out takin’ a walk.’
‘Will he hurt folks?’ I enquired.
‘Tow!’ he answered, ‘jest as harmless as a kitten.’
Naturally there were a good many things I wanted to know about ‘the ol’ man o’ the woods,’ but Uncle Eb would take no part in any further conversation.
So I had to lie down beside him again and think out the problem as best I could. My mind was never more acutely conscious and it gathered many strange impressions, wandering in the kingdom of Fear, as I looked up at the tree-tops. Uncle Eb had built a furious fire and the warmth of it made me sleepy at last. Both he and old Fred had been snoring a long time when I ceased to hear them. Uncle Eb woke me at daylight, in the morning, and said we must be off to find the trail. He left me by the fire a little while and went looking on all sides and came back no wiser. We were both thirsty and started off on rough footing, without stopping to eat. We climbed and crawled for hours, it seemed to me, and everywhere the fallen tree trunks were heaped in our way. Uncle Eb sat down on one of them awhile to rest.
‘Like the bones o’ the dead,’ said he, as he took a chew of tobacco and picked at the rotten skeleton of a fallen tree. We were both pretty well out of breath and of hope also, if I remember rightly, when we rested again under the low hanging boughs of a basswood for a bite of luncheon. Uncle Eb opened the little box of honey and spread some of it on our bread and butter. In a moment I noticed that half a dozen bees had lit in the open box.
‘Lord Harry! here’s honey bees,’ said he, as he covered the box so as to keep them in, and tumbled everything else into the basket. ‘Make haste now, Willie, and follow me with all yer might,’ he added.
In a minute he let out one of the bees, and started running in the direction it flew. It went but a few feet and then rose into the tree-top.
‘He’s goin’ t’ git up into the open air,’ said Uncle Eb. ’But I’ve got his bearins’ an’ I guess he knows the way all right.’
We took the direction indicated for a few minutes and then Uncle Eb let out another prisoner. The bee flew off a little way and then rose in a slanting course to the tree-tops. He showed us, however, that we were looking the right way.