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Camping Out by William O. Stoddard

 

"What am I a-stoppin' for? Why, this 'ere's the eend of the road. It's as fur as I can git, even with one hoss and a buckboard."

It looked like it, for the wood road had been getting dreadfully scrubby for a mile or so.

"Wade, was it like this when you and your father and the rest were here before?"

"A good deal like it. How far are we from Pot Lake now, Mr. Jones?"

The queer-looking old teamster was busily unfastening several small packages from the broad "buckboard" of his rude wagon, but he looked gruffly up to say, "'Baout a mile 'n' a half."

"It's all of that, Sid, but it's of no use to grumble. We've got to foot it the rest of the way. It's a plain enough path."

"Foot it! And lug all that?"

"Guess you'll be glad there ain't any more of it afore ye git thar."

Mr. Jones was right, for they were both of them glad already, considering how warm a day it was.

Neither of the boys was much over sixteen, but Wade Norton looked the older of the two, although his companion was fully as tall and strong. Standing together, they made a good "specimen pair" of vigorous, bright-eyed, self-reliant youngsters.

In three minutes more Mr. Jones and his pony and his buckboard were out of sight among the trees, and Sid and Wade were left to their own resources.

It was seven miles due south, and a good deal longer by the road, to the nearest clearing, and all to the north of them was wilderness—woods, lakes, and mountains.

"Now, Wade, how'll we divide the load? There's a heap of it."

"Guess we won't divide it. I'll show you—here's the hatchet."

"Go ahead. I'm a greenhorn yet. What are you going to do?"

Wade was too busy to answer, but he quickly had a pair of very slender ash saplings hacked down, trimmed clean, and laid side by side about two feet apart. To these he tied a couple of cross-sticks, six feet from each other. Then he spread his blanket on the ground, laid the frame in the middle, folded the blanket across, and pinned it firmly.

"Looks like a litter," said Sid.

"That's what it is. Put the tin box of hard-tack in the middle. It's the heaviest thing we've got; weighs ten pounds. Now the bacon; that only weighs five. Now the other things. The guns ain't loaded; lay 'em along the sides. And the fishing-rods. Now we're ready."

One boy in front between the poles, and one behind, and it was a pleasant surprise to Sid to find how easy it worked. Still, it was a dreadfully long and warm mile and a half over that rough forest path before they came out on the slope that led down to the blue waters of Pot Lake.

"It's just beautiful," said Sid, as they set down their load for a rest and a look.

"Hist! Let me get my gun."

A cartridge was slipped in like a flash; and then there came another flash, and a report.

"Thought you said it was unsportsmanlike to kill a partridge sitting?"

"So it is, my boy; but it's a question of dinner. Our breakfast was an early one. Look at 'em, will you?"

Sid was looking, and there was a very strong suggestion of dinner in that pair of barely full-grown young birds. Fat, plump, the very thing for a boy whose breakfast had been eaten early. There was a sort of natural "open" on that side of the little lake, and Wade led the way straight to it.

"Just as I expected. The old shanty's knocked all to pieces. The boards and the nails are there, though. They may be good for something."

"What next? Shall I unpack?"

"Hold up, Sid. Yes, there's the spring. Down yonder; that's where we'll pitch our tent."

"Needn't do that, yet awhile."

"First thing always. We're not in camp till the tent's up."

"Go ahead. Don't you wish you had the tent poles here now?"

"Not if I had 'em to carry besides the other things. We can cut all we want."

As they talked they walked, and they were now standing by the spring, on the slope, not more than a hundred yards from the shore.

"There's the place for the tent."

"Isn't one spot as good as another?" asked Sid.

"You don't want to sleep slanting, do you? That isn't all, either. That little hump of ground in front of it's a tiptop fire-place."

"Don't look much like one."

"You'll see. Come on and let's cut some tent poles."

Two five-foot sticks, each with a "crotch" at the upper end, were soon set in the ground about six feet apart, and a ridge pole laid across them.

"You haven't set 'em deep enough," said Sid. "They'd go over too easy."

"No they won't. The strength of a tent is in the canvas and pegs, not in the poles," said Wade.

He was unrolling the great square piece of strong but light "cotton duck," and in a moment more it was flapping over the poles.

"Stretch it well, and peg it strong. That tent won't blow down."

"Can't stand up in it."

"That isn't what it's for. In with the supplies. The sun's as bad as rain would be, for part of 'em, spite of the tin boxes."

"Nothing extra—not even butter."

"Butter? There's one roll of it, but the bacon's the butter for us. Now for the butcher-knives. We must ditch our tent."

"What for?"

"To drain away the water, if it rains. We must cut a V."

The apex of the V was cut pretty deeply on the slope above the tent, and the arms were cut around it till they led out below.

"Water doesn't run up hill," said Sid. "We're drained. What next?"

"Fire."

"A day like this? Are you going to cook right away? I'd rather try the lake for some fish."

"Of course we will. But it takes an hour for an open fire to be fit to cook by. Got to have plenty of coals and ashes."

Fuel was plentiful enough, and a rousing fire was speedily blazing on the little hump of ground, a rod in front of the tent.

"Not near enough to set anything on fire. If that hump hadn't been there, we'd have made one."

As it was, he had levelled it on top a little, and the surface so made was barely two feet across.

Sid was a little curious about such a fire-place, but decided to wait and see what his friend meant.

Wade's father was an old army officer, and had taken his boy with him on more than one "camping-out" excursion, while Sid was taking his very first lesson.

"That'll do. Now for some fish. You go ahead, while I pluck the partridges."

"Guess not. I can do that as well as you can. Give me one of 'em."

It was easy work to strip the tender game and hang it in the tent, but the boys were thoroughly tired of mere "going into camp" by the time they started for the lake.

"Hullo, Sid! If there isn't the old dug-out floating yet!"

"That thing out there by the snag? We can't get at her."

"Can't we? Can't you swim as far as that? I can."

"Swim? Oh yes, of course we can. Shall you go now?"

"Why, no; not till we get in fish enough for dinner."

"That's it. We're Indians. Got to fish, hunt, or starve—or live on hard-tack and bacon."

Pot Lake was a great place for trout, and both of the boys knew how to handle a rod.

"No three-inchers; none of your speckled minnows," shouted Sid, as he landed a half-pound beauty.

"Here comes a bigger one. Oh, but isn't this fun?"

"Better fun than going into camp."

"Or tramping through the woods with a load. But don't you begin to feel hungry?"

"Begin? Well, you may say begin if you want to. Seems to me I began a little while after breakfast," replied Sid.

They had caught more fish than any two boys could eat; but Sid's first remark on reaching the tent with them was, "I do hate cleaning fish."

"Clean fish? Out here in the woods? While we're Indians? You wait till I find a bass-wood tree."

There were plenty of lindens, or bass-woods, in that vicinity, and the broad flat leaves were as good as brown paper to wrap up a trout in, fold over fold.

The fire had now burned long enough to supply Wade with a heap of hot ashes, which he raked out on one edge of it. All the little coals were carefully poked aside, the leaf-covered trout were put down and smothered an inch deep in their ashy bed, and then a pile of glowing cinders was raked over them.

"They'll cook, Sid. You go to the lake for a kettle of water, while I get out the frying-pan and the coffee-pot."

"Frying-pan! We won't need any bacon with all those fish and the partridges."

"We'll only broil one bird, but we must have some hard-tack. I'll show you."

Sid went for the water, but when he got back Wade was putting the frying-pan on a bed of coals, with a couple of thin slices of bacon in it.

CAMP LIFE.—Drawn by Charles Graham. CAMP LIFE.—Drawn by Charles Graham.

"They look lonely," said Sid.

"They'll have company enough. This coffee smells first rate."

"No milk, Wade, and nothing to settle it with."

"I thought I'd surprise you, Sid. I've brought some little cans of condensed milk."

"Why not a big can?"

"Spoils after it's opened, just like other milk."

"Next thing to having a cow. But, oh, won't the coffee be muddy!"

"I guess not. There, the bacon's beginning to fry."

Half a dozen ship biscuit, hard as dinner plates, were dipped for a moment in the water, and quickly transferred to the frying-pan.

It was wonderful how puffed up and soft they became, and what a fine flavor of bacon improved their taste when it came time to eat them.

Wade was at his coffee-pot before that, however.

Two heaping table-spoonfuls of the ground coffee were first poured into one of the tin cups, which were all the "table crockery" in that camp, and just covered with cold water.

That had been done before the bacon was put on, and now the coffee-pot full of water was sitting on a bed of coals and beginning to steam.

"She's boiling," shouted Sid.

In went the contents of the tin cup, and on went the cover.

"Let her boil awhile."

"The hard-tack's a-swelling."

"The fish must be done, too. Now for settling."

The cover of the coffee-pot was lifted, and half a cupful of cold water was suddenly dashed in, and then the pot was lifted from the coals to the grass.

"Let her stand a bit. Now for the fish. Have your tin plate ready."

"Ain't they splendid?"

So they were, when they were dug out from the ashes, their leafy coats removed; and Sid discovered that by a careful use of his fork and fingers all the parts of the fish that he did not want seemed to come away together. A little salt and pepper improved both them and the hard-tack, and the coffee poured out beautifully clear and strong.

Just as he and Sid were getting ready to begin their meal, however, Wade took one of the partridges and spread him flat on the forks of a long crooked branch he had cut.

"That'll hold him just high enough above the coals."

"Yes, but you stuck him right into the heat, first thing."

"Always. That shuts up his outside coat, so he won't lose all his juice in broiling. Cook him slow, now. I've put a little salt and pepper on him, and a piece of butter as big as a chestnut. He'll do."

"We can't eat all we're cooking."

"Take our time to it."

So they did, and Wade went so far as to clean a small trout, and show Sid how to fry him.

"Always break up a little hard-tack fine as you can, and sprinkle it on the bottom of the frying-pan as soon as your bacon fat begins to smoke. Then your fish won't stick, unless your pan's too hot. You must look out for that."

Dinner was over at last, and then the boys went to the edge of the woods for a couple of strong forked stakes and a cross-stick to hang their kettle on.

"What are you setting the crotches so far from the fire for?" asked Sid.

"So they won't burn down. Besides, when you don't want your kettle on the fire, you can just slide it along; needn't take it off every time."

"Look, Wade—the sky isn't as clear as it was."

"That's so. May have rain. We must cut our bedding and lay in our wood-pile."

Plenty of small hemlock boughs were heaped on the bottom of the tent to spread their blankets on; and Sid almost rebelled at the amount of dry wood Wade insisted on piling up.

"May rain all day to-morrow, Sid. We must catch a lot of fish to-night."

"What are all these great slabs of bark for? Kindling?"

"I'll show you. It's mean work starting an open fire with wet wood."

The first day in camp was clearly a day of hard work; but the fish seemed to bite better than ever as the sun went down, and the boys had each a capital "string" before supper-time.

The old dug-out canoe was swam after, and brought to the shore.

"We can use it, Sid. It was a tottlish thing to get into, till father nailed a keel-board on the bottom of it. We'll bail it out to-morrow. I'm too tired for that sort of fun now."

"So am I. Let's go for supper. Let me make the coffee this time."

"All right. But don't put any more wood on the fire. I'll broil some fish instead of frying them. Clean 'em, and split 'em down along the backbone inside, and they'll lie flat. Spread 'em on a forked stick, so they won't touch the coals and ashes. Season 'em just a little."

Sid decided afterward that there was very little to be said against broiled trout.

They were both of them tired enough to go to bed early, but it was hardly eight o'clock when the rain-drops began to patter on the tent cover.

"We must keep our fire, Sid," said Wade.

He was raking' it from the top of the "hump" as he spoke, and putting down there several solid pieces of dry wood. These he covered with the live coals and burning fragments, and these again with ashes; and then he made over all a sort of conical "wigwam" of his slabs of bark, putting flat stones against them at the bottom, so they would not easily blow away.

"Couldn't do that with too big a fire. Always make a camp fire as small as possible, so my father told me. That'll keep, if it rains ever so hard."

"It's going to do that. Will our fish be safe?"

"Hanging in the water by the canoe? Of course they will. Who'll steal 'em? They'll be fresh, too, in the morning. We can't live on fish, though. I can show you twenty ways of cooking birds."

They had crept into the tent now, and the rain was pelting harder and harder.

"Glad the tent's well ditched," said Wade. "We'll be as dry as two bones."

"Oh, but isn't it fun! But I tell you what, Wade Norton, I feel as if I wanted to sleep about twenty-four hours."