The Jumped Snowshoes
THEODORE GOODRIDGE ROBERTS
BOB SCANLON traveled light. His outfit consisted of a canoe, a rifle, a few chunks of cold, broiled moose meat in the pockets of his coat, two blankets and a plug of tobacco. He traveled fast, straining every muscle to cover the maximum mileage in the minimum time. To the wild creatures who saw him, his sweating haste appeared to be both unnecessary and undignified. Wild creatures were the only beholders of his strenuous efforts. But for him the green and water-voiced wilderness showed empty of human life day after day.
Bob Scanlon climbed white waters, forced passages through brush-choked channels and at last won to the he ght-of-land between the two great, water sheds. He had looked behind him frequently during the long climb, and not once had he made a fire. He carried across rocks and blow-me-downs, into the most northern of the Wigwam Lakes. He paddled hard down the lakes, but he always kept close in the shadow of one or the other of the wooded shores. Mosquitoes and blackflies tortured him, but he did not make a smudge to drive them away. He ate his meat cold and quenched his thirst with water.
Once clear of the lakes, young Scanlon and the running waters were headed on the same course. Then he made better speed with less effort. So great was his haste that he slid into
the shouting white heads of rapids, without considering the fact that he knew nothing of their tails. And the sting of rapids is often in the tail. Luck was with him for a time. Then luck quit, sudden and cold! In a flash, the back-curled waves disclosed to his startled eyes an impassable barrier of roaring rocks, surging up to meet him and smash him. They met him. They smashed him.
When he dragged himself ashore he was amazed to find that all his ribs and both arms and both legs were whole and in place. What was left of the cold broiled moose meat was still in his pockets. But rifle and canoe and blankets were gone.
A STRANGER appeared at Riley Clearings on Right Branch early in the summer of 1912.
Jim Riley was the first to see him come o.ut of the woods to the northward. Jim was hand-mowing in the orchard up back of the house, at the time, pausing at the end of every swath to hearken for the dinner horn. When he saw the stranger climb the rail fence, he propt the scythe securely, leaned on the heel of it and waited for the young man to approach.
“All-fired hot day for walkin’,” was Riley’s first remark.
“Sure is—an’ then some,” returned the stranger, pleasantly.
“This ain’t the time o’ year for cruisin’ the woods afoot,” said the farmer.
“I bust a canoe in
the rapids two days back,” explained the other. “Me and another guide had two sports fishin’, an’ I’m a stranger to this river. When I bust my canoe an’ spilled Mister Man into the drink he was that mad he got into t’other canoe. And they left me to hoof it!”
“Now that’s too bad! Come down from the lakes, didn’t ye?”
“Lakes? I seen one lake.”
“Said ye come acrost the height-o’-land, didn’t ye?” “We come acrost from Left Branch.”
“Zat so. Well, my name’s Riley—Jim Riley.”
“My name’s Smith—Bill Smith.”
They shook hands.
“An’ there’s the hornat last!” exclaimed Riley. “Ye’re jist in time for dinner, an’ Emily’s cook to-day. Ye’re in luck!”
They were half-way to the weather-greyed house at the foot of the long slope before anything more was said. Then Riley spoke.
“D’ye happen to be lookin’ for a job?” he asked.
“I might be, at that—but I ain’t sure jist yet,” replied Smith.
“I reckon ye’ll know, by the time ye’ve et one of Emily’s dinners,” returned the farmer good-humoredly.
Bill Smith hung round for two days and then asked Jim Riley for a job. He proved to be all, if not a little more, than Riley had hoped for. He worked steadily through haying, harvest and potato digging, and then accompanied Jim into the woods, up Buckshot Creek, as a chopper. He was as good a chopper as he was a farm-hand. He was an able man to hire and as pleasant-tempered a young fellow to have around, as there was in the whole country.
In the early spring, after the winter’s cut had all
been run out of Buckshot Creek, Bill Smith took over the Steve Riley farm, which lies just above Jim’s place and is the last piece of plowed land on Right Branch. He shingled the roof and mended the chimney of the little deserted house. He patched the barn, strength ened the fences and bought a pair of horses. He put in crops of oats, buckwheat and potatoes, single-handed. He worked early and late—but he was never too tired to change his clothes and go over to Jim Riley’s hospitable home in the dusk of the evening.
Bill Smith saved his hay in prime condition that year and harvested a fat, clean lot of grain. Then he told Emily Riley what he thought of her and she was glad to hear it. But she had guessed it already. They decided to get married as soon as he owned ten head of horned cattle. That was easy. Yearlings have little nobs of horns and don’t cost much.
By August of the next year the young farmer owned ten head of horned cattle, sure enough; but Emily agreed with him that the right thing to do at that particular time was to go to Europe with a rifle. Jim Riley promised to look after the horses and the ten head of horns, and Bill Smith went down river to find a uniform and a rifle.
GpHE young man returned to A Riley Clearings early in 1918. He was slightly scarred, a shade thinner than of old, his nerves had been shaken by the constant recoil of a Lewis gun against his right shoulder, and he was minus the first and second fingers of his right hand—
—but otherwise he was as good as new.
They were to be married in September, right after harvest.
One night, about a week before the great day, Bill gave the Rileys the first big surprise of their sheltered lives.
“I want to tell you folks right now, before things get tangled up, that Bill Smith ain’t my name,” he said. “Robert Scanlon’s ,my name.”
They gazed at him, speechless.
“I’ll tell you how it happened,” continued the young man, calmly.
And he told them. It seems that his only near relative was an elder brother, and that he had quarreled with this brother away back in 1912 over a sawmill their father had left to them. Peter had been too danged high-handed; so he, Bob, had cleaned out and taken to the woods and adopted the name of Bill Smith. But he had gone to war as Bob Scanlon, and he would marry as Bob Scanlon. It was his name, and he wasn’t ashamed of it, and he was a good enough man to use it and to give it to his wife.
“Where’s yer brother now?” asked Jim Riley.
“Over on Scanlon Brook, acrost the heighi-o-land,” replied the astonishing young man, frankly. “I seen him on my way home from the war. We’re friends now, and he’s cornin’ to our weddin’.”
“He’d better,” said Riley. “If he don’t, me an’ you’ll have to make a trip over to Scanlon Brook afore that glad occasion. I like ye fine, Bill— Bob—but when a girl o’ mine cal’lates to change her name, then I wanter know for sure what she’s changin’ it to.”
Peter Scanlon arrived at Riley Clearings from down river, the direction of civilization, in plenty of time for the wedding. He had made a railroad journey clear around the province to get there. He confirmed Bob’s story of a quarrel. He was proud of young Bob, had been mighty glad to see him safe back from the war, and was willing to take him into business on Scanlon’s Brook or buy out his one-third interest in the saw-mill at an outside price. Bob sold. The business was done in the midst of the Riley family. Papers were signed and bank notes to the amount of fifteen hundred dollars passed between Peter and Bob. And that wasn’t all. The elder brother gave Emily Riley one hundred dollars as a wedding present.
THE young couple moved into the little house immediately after the wedding, and Bob paid his father-in-law the balance of the purchase price of the so-called Steve Riley farm.
Jim Riley crossed to the little house one evening in October to talk with Bob about putting a crew into the woods, and he stayed to supper. He wanted Bob to hire out with him as a teamster for the winter, but the young man refused to consider the proposition for a moment. Bob wouldn’t leave his farm for all the money in the province, summer or winter. Jim remained late. The two men sat up smoking and yarning long after Emily had gone to bed.
“Me an’ Steve built this house,” said the father-inlaw reminiscing. “We give a frolic for ráisin’ the frame, an’ that’s all the help we had. Steve’s been kinder on my mind of late. We ain’t seen so much as a scratch of a pen from him since he went away.” “Why did he go away?” asked Bob. “I’ve often wondered—but you folks always seem kinder secret about him.”
“He wasn’t cut out for farmin’,” replied Jim. “He was a slick hand at huntin’ and he trapped fur some. He run the woods a lot with a durn old Injun, an’ one day the game-warden come a-lookin’ for him. But Steve was two jumps ahead o’ the warden, an’ I reckon he’s kep’ his lead ever since! But there wasn' no real badness in Steve—not what I could ever see anyhow. I’d sure like fine to see him agin.”
“He sounds all right to me,” said Bob.
The long winter passed swiftly and happily in the little house. Except for three hauls to Benton’s Portage, for provisions, Bob didn’t go more than two miles away from home between November and April. He did the milking and helped with the churning and
house-work. On fine days he worked in his own timber, cutting and hauling fence-rails and cordwood.
AFTER dinner on the second day of April, Bob kissed his wife, lit his pipe, hitched the horses to the sleds "and set out to haul in a few cords of wood on the last of the snow. The tall horses trotted briskly with the empty bob-sleds stacked at their heels. The chain traces jangled and rang, the bells on the hame-straps jingled, the sun shone clear and Bob Scanlon’s heart was light as a flying bird. The track was bare in spots and the iron shoes of the sled dragged across the exposed patches and smeared the red soil like rust on the snow between. Bob thought of Emily as he put on the load, and of the chance that had brought him into the Right Branch country. But for the necessity of going somewhere in a hurry, he might never have crossed the height-of-land, never have seen Emily! Life was a darned queer thing! The wisest and best man in the world could not have been more successful by intention than he. Bob Scanlon, had been by accident. It was a big thought.
On the homeward way he walked beside the loaded sleds, and he continued to think of his wife and his happiness. By the time the yard was reached, he had decided not to make another turn before morning. The sledding would be improved by a night of hard frost, anyway. So he unhitched, stabled the horses and started for the house, leaving the load on the sleds. It could be thrown off later, after he had told Emily what a lucky fellow he was. The wood-yard was out of range of the kitchen windows, so he decided to give her a surprise. He was not expected before supper-time. Bob slid around a corner of the house and along the
wall and peeped cautiously in at one of the kitchen windows. He saw Emily at work with her back to him, rolling pastry. Then he saw the other occupant of the kitchen—and the smile left his lips and eyes and the color crept from his cheeks.
The unexpected visitor sat beside the stove, smoking, with his profile to the window; and by that profile did he recognize him. He knew the fellow in a flash, though he had seen him only once before, away back in the summer of 1912.
He drew cautiously aside from the window and leaned against the wall, trembling from head to foot. He could not think, for even his* mind was atremble—but he knew that something had to be done, and done quick. He stooped low and passed the windows beneath the level of the sills and entered the woodshed noiselessly. One idea possessed him, and that was to clear out. From the shed he stole like a cat to the outer kitchen, where the cooking was done in hot weather. This apartment was now used as a dairy, but in one corner stood a big closet in which Bob kept his new rifle and shot gun and ammunition, snowshoes, sleigh robes and spare pieces of harness. He extracted the gun, twenty cartridges, two robes and his snowshoes from the closet without a sound and then faded silently and swiftly away.
UNCLE STEVE was a smooth talker and smooth-mannered, but he didn’t make much of a hit with his niece. Her manner was only mildly polite. She didn’t like him any better now than she had twelve years ago when she was a little girl. He talked and talked, ami then he began all over again.
“When yer ma told me you was married an’ living right in my own little old house, I jist grabbed my hat,” he told her for the second time. “Little Em’ly married! It sure makes me feel an old man.”
“You wouldn’t look quite so old if you had more hair, Uncle Steve,” she replied; and that shifted his line of talk.
“More hair, hey!” he exclaimed. “If I’ve lost a mite o’ hair, it ain’t to be wondered at. A man can’t knock ’round the world like I do without losin’ something, 1 guess. Always out for excitement an’ danger an’ life—that’s me! That’s yer Uncle Steve!”
“Have you been looking for danger?” she asked. “I sure hev! Couldn’t live without it. Now Jim, yer pa, he’s different. He was always for the safe jobs an’ I was always for the dangerous ones.
“Did you get wounded, Uncle Steve?”
“What’s that? Did ye say wounded?”
“Yes. In the war, I mean.”
“Oh, the war! Well, it was like this, Em ly. I got wounded afore the war. That’s right. Shot an left for dead on the field of duty! I reckon a man who’s been a game-warden wouldn t of saw much danger in that wrar!”
“A game-warden? Why, Uncle Steve! You mean a poacher, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t! You hadn’t ought to listen to them old stories, Em’ly.”
“I’m sorry, Uncle. How came you to get shot?
“It was this way, Em’ly. I was cruisin round one summer mornin’ and I happened on the tracks of a trottin’ moose. I seen blood on the brush an ferns. Then I seen moccasin tracks in the soft spots. It was close season,so I done my duty an’ follered them tracks. Pretty soon I smelt smoke. I dropt an’ crawled ahead. It wasn't long afore I sighted a little fire, an' alongside it a big feller with a wicked face fryin an eat in hesn meat. An' there was the green hide hangin acrost a limb a few yards off. It was Dope Goodine. the Quebec half-breed, the most dangerous half-breed in them woods. , ,
“It was the first time I'd set eyes on him, ,u
knowed him sure enough. So 1 poles my rifle orwarc
an' says, Hands p. I) ml In .~ please. lie drop~ ImIU~ II IS IflIPIS gr;IlI fifi ills rifle-so I twjtil~ fly 11IILI~ 1w Ill lrp~gIr but It
Continaed on page 44
The Jumped Snowshoes
Continued from page 17
goes high, that shot. An’ then, afore I can pull agin, he shoots at me! Next I know, Sam Lunt has me all bandaged up an’ in his canoe. Sam was another warden. He’d happened on them tracks, too, an' follered along. Dope Goodine had left me for dead an’ got clear away. Sam Lunt took me to a doctor; an’ from the doctor they shifted me to a hospital; an’ it was weeks afore I was up an’ round again. Then I got a job down to the States. If that there had happened tomein the war, they’d of pinned amedal on to me, I reckon.”
“For shooting and missing?” queried
AT LAST Emily went out to Took for Bob, and Uhcle Steve accompanied her. They found the sleds in the woodyard, with the load still on, and-the horses in the stable. She searched the barns, calling his name. She ran back to the little house and searched downstairs and upstairs, but all in vain. At last, she went to the tall closet in the outer kitchen and investigated it with trembling hands and anxious eyes.
“He’s taken his snowshoes!” she exclaimed. “And his gun,” she added, with a note of puzzled relief in her voice. “He must have seen something to hunt.” “Close season,” remarked her uncle. “But why didn’t he tell me?” she asked herself, heedless of the man’s words. “He could have stopped long enough to tell me. And the sleigh robes are gone! He’s taken the robes. But the horses are in the stable! He's gone afoot—with the robes]'
She sped across the dark fields to the old house without waiting to put on boots or a coat. Uncle Steve had all he could comfortably do to keep up with her—and yet he was accustomed to running.
Jim Riley had returned from the scene of his lumbering operations up Buckshot Creek only the day before. Emily found him on the point of sitting down to supper with her mother and sister. She told her amazing news in the least possible number of words. Her hearers sprang to their feet.
Jim hastened back to the little house with her—but Bob had not returned. The tough crust on the shrunken snow held no mark of his feet.
It was not until the third day after Bob Scanlon’s mysterious disappearance that a sign of him was discovered. Wandering far back in the wet woods at noon, miles from the clearings, Emily and her father came suddenly upon Bob’s snowshoes. There they lay, on a film of wet snow, one a little in advance ofjthe otherand pointed straight away from h ome. There was not enough snow left in sight to fill a hat. The wet moss showed no tracks. There was nothing but the pair of big webbed frames.
“What would he jump his snowshoes for?” muttered Jim, dully. “They ain’t broke. Maybe the snow give out right here—but why didn’t he pick ’em up an’ carry ’em along?”
The young woman crouched in silence above the snowshoes, blind with tears.
“Scart crazy that’s what it looks like to me,” continued her father. “But that ain’t like Bob. He ain’t the kind to scare—an’ what was there to scare ’im?” They searched every square foot of ground for hundreds of yards around the desolate snowshoes and followed the course indicated by them for weary miles through the April wilderness—but all in
DOB SCANLON turned at last, clear of U brain and steady of nerve. The panic of his nerves had worn itself out. Now, his anxiety for his wife, drove and pulled him homeward as relentlessly as jangled nerves and panicky brain had chased him out. Nothing mattered now but Emily. He must get back to her and reassure her. He was hungry, for he had eaten nothing for days but a few ill-
cooked partridges. But he was himself again, the master of his fears and thought and actions.
He had ten cartridges left for his gun, but he did not move a yard aside from the straight course in search of game. When he flushed a partridge or started a hare, he shot from his tracks if he was in need of food. He had a few matches left; and whenever his hunger became urgent he made a fire, broiled flesh and ate; and whenever his eyes threatened to close against his will he lay down in the robes and slept. For the rest of the time, he traveled.
It was dusk when he came in sight of the little house. He saw the warm shine of lamp-light at the kitchen windows and broke into a run. He stumbled in the dark shed. He stumbled and nearly fell in the gloom of the outer kitchen. Then he opened the door and saw her. She was standing beside the table as if but just risen from her chair, gazing wide-eyed at the door. He caught her in his arms, and she clung to him. Minutes passed, in which they neither moved nor spoke.
“Where have you been?” she whispered at last.
“In the woods. Nowhere. Jist goin’ and cornin’,” he answered.
“Why, Bob? What was it?”
. “That man I saw through the window— settin’ here beside the stove. Where’s he
“That man? He’s gone away. Why?”
“I thought he was dead. I thought I’d killed him—long ago.”
“Bob! What are you saying, dear?”
“It was the summer I come here, jist about a week before I got here. He crawled up on me an’ shot at me an’ missed by a hair—an’ I shot backfor my life— an’ I got ’im cold. So I beat it. An’ when I seen him through the window— Lord! My nerves seemed to bust! But I’m all right agin now, an’ here I am. He ain’t dead after all—an’ it was him shot first. I’m willin’ to face the Law—but I won’t stop away from you another minute, except they kill me or jail me! I was near starved when I shot the moose, anyhow. An’ that feller’s alive. An’ it was him shot first.”
Then she made him sit down and eat.
AND WHAT about upsetting that sport out of a canoe, Bob dear, and being left to walk out of the woods?” she asked. “The story you told Pa the first day you come to Riley Clearings?” “That’s the only lie I ever told you folks,” he answered. “That an’ sayin my name was Bill Smith. I had to make up somethin’ quick, now didn’t I! I thought sure I was bein’ chased for mur-
“Of course you had to,” she said. “It was a very harmless little story. And now we must go across and tell Pa and Ma and Sis about it.”
“But what’ll I tell them, Emily?” he asked, anxiously. “I don’t want to go lookin’ for trouble—an’ five people can’t keep one secret—nor I don’t want ’em to think I’m jist a plain fool. What’ll I say?”
“Tell them the whole truth, dear,” she replied, serenely. “The man you shot—that bald-headed man you saw through the window—was Uncle Steve Riley. And he thinks the man who shot him was a dangerous ’breed called Dope Goodine. But you wouldn’t have to worry about him, whatever he thought, for he’s lit out of here, with the police after him, for selling moonshine to the lumber-camps last winter.”
“Ÿour Uncle Steve?” queried the bewildered Bob. “The man whe built this house! An’ it was him I shot an’ reckoned I’d murdered! Don’t it beat all, Emily?”
“Yes, dear, it is very strange— and fortunate.”
“An’ now the Law’s huntin’ him. That’s too bad!”
“But I don’t think he deserves your pity, Bob dear.”
“Well, maybe not—but I owe him more nor I’m worth or will ever be worth. But for your Uncle Steve creepin’ up an’ tryin’ to shoot me when I wasn’t lookin’,
I guess maybe I’d never of crossed the height-o-land. An’ where’d I be now if I hadn’t, Emily? An’ what about yerself?”