Some Day You’ll Thank Me
AFTER his last prospecting trip my mother's father came to visit US for a month. He stayed seven years and as he grew older he
would sometimes forget and tell the same story he’d told at dinner the night before.
When that happened my father’s round, smoothshaven face would turn pink, especially if we had someone important up for dinner like Senator Borghum. He never interrupted, but at the end he’d say in the tired voice he used with finicky
buyers at the plant, “Last time, Mr. Wilson, the glacier was only three miles wide,” or “I had a distinct impression it was Volcanic Bevan shot that grizzly.”
The Senator would turn loose his rich-sounding chuckle and for a minute mother would look worried and sort of helpless. Grandpa would finish his tea, then climb to his room under the eaves and stay there the rest of the evening. I’d hear him at his own affairs while I sat with my homework, wondering whether he was rubbing up the stock of his .44-.40 lever action or maybe working on the Yukon packboard he’d promised me.
It took Grandpa most of a year to finish my packboard. He seemed to enjoy spinning the job out and I started to be afraid he’d head off on one of the trips he was always planning before he had it made. I’d just about lost hope of ever getting it when he brought it down one evening all complete. It had wide leather shoulder straps and ribs carved out of yew wood with his stag-handled jackknife and Sitka spruce side poles.
“She’ll hold more than you can heft,” he told me in a voice that stayed gruff and chesty in spite of his being seventy-three years old. “You, or your pa either.”
My father saw it when he drove home from the plant. He poked it with his foot a couple of times and said, “Pretty nice,” but I could see he wasn’t really interested. He never cared much for things that had to do with the woods—he thought they were a waste of time.
Finishing the packboard must have made Grandpa forget again, because he started on last night’s story while we were still eating our banana cream pie. It was a long one,» about how he and Volcanic Bevan walked right over the outcroppings
at Klahana Lake and didn’t know the stuff was mercury ore.
This time my father interrupted. His face wasn’t pink buf real red and he pushed back from the table so quickly that his napkin slipped off his knees to the floor.
“Why don’t you write your memoirs?” he snapped. “Put it all in a book. That way you could bore more people!”
I heard mother draw a sudden, sharp breath. She had turned quite pale. Grandpa got up, not hurrying, and gave my father one fierce, hurt look from under his ledgy grey eyebrows, then tramped out of the dining room and upstairs. Mother followed him, but his door slammed and she came back down. She began to clear the table and I could see she was crying.
F GOT my books out and settled to work with my
packboard against my knees, reading the same page over and over with the words not making sense. After a while my father stopped rustling his newspaper.
“Think I’ll stroll downtown,” he said. He came over and stood behind me and asked in an odd, strained voice, “Jim, how about coming along? We might stop by Ryerson’s for a soda.”
I’d sure like to,” I said, “but we have an exam tomorrow.”
“Go with your father, Jim,” my mother called from fhe kitchen.
1 leaned the packboard carefully in the front hall closet and got my jacket and cap and we went out to the street. It was middle fall. The air was full of the smell of burning leaves and the smoke had turned the moon red.
“I’ve been thinking, son,” my father said. “How would you like to go north with me on my trip?”
My father doesn’t like hunting, but the Senator asks him out once a year and he goes. Every other fall he’d said I was too young, or that there wasn’t room in the lodge, or that the Senator wouldn’t like it.
“Could I take my packboard?” I asked.
“Yes,” my father said. “Yes, I suppose so, if you want.”
He didn’t speak again for a while, and we walked down Arbutus Street with the dry leaves scuffing under our shoe3. The fires were mostly burned out, but a red eye still showed here and there along the
Father was blinded by the senator’s cigar smoke but he finally saw Grandpa was right about big deer and small boys
curbs. My father stopped under the street light at the corner.
“I’ve never gone prospecting, Jim,” he said. “Never been out of the cities much and never wanted to be. But I’ve made more out of myself than your grandfat her ever did. When I’m old I won’t have to impose myself on you and your family. I want you to remember that.”
He hadn’t talked to me this way before and it made me feel stiff and awkward inside. Far as I was concerned Grandpa had made plenty out of himself, lie was a bigger man than Bridger or Carson or even Daniel Boone.
“I want you to be a success,” my father went on. “To have a good sound business and be a figure in the community. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, sir,” I said.
“When you’re older,” he said, “you’ll understand things bet ter. About your grandfather, for instance. He’s living in the past, Jim. He forgets times have changed. That’s why I blew off at. him tonight. I couldn’t sit there any longer and watch him sucking you into a world that isn’t real any more. Today’s big men are in the cities, not off in the woods. Take the Senator now. A sound businessman. Biggest man in town. D’you know what your grandfather thinks of him?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “He thinks he’s a crook.”
My fat her made a noise in his throat. “So he’s filled you full of that nonsense, too,” he said. “He’s told it to so many people it’s certainly come back to the Senator by this time. That kind of thing can hurt our business, Jim. Hurt it a lot.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and I tried not to tighten under it.
“Jim,” he said, “I’ll tell you what I most look forward to. That’s the day I introduce my son as a new junior member at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon. It won’t be so long now. No, not many years.”
I couldn’t look at him but his voice had got smooth and easy again. Just by bilking like that he’d made himself happy. He gave my shoulder a slap and said, “Come on, Jim. We’ll go down for that soda.”
SENATOR BORGHUM was buying cigars at Ryerson’s tobacco counter. He picked out four, holding them under his nose and sniffing carefully, then he snapped three of them into his silver cigar case. The Senator is a big man, almost as tall as Grandpa but fleshier, with a heavy square chin and thick silvery-grey hair that always makes me think of a kingfisher’s topknot.
He lit the fourth cigar at the lighter on the counter and walked over to our booth.
“Grand evening, Fred,” he said to my father in his big round voice. “I tell you, this weather whets my teeth for venison.” He puffed on his cigar and said, “I can see that six-point rack on my library wall now.”
My father laughed and slapped his hand on the table. The Senator has been after a six-point, blacktail for years and never yet shot one. Grandpa used to say he’d sooner get himself a nice little spikehorn than any lough old randy with a rocking-chair head. He didn’t call it venison, either. He called it mowitsh, or just plain deer meat.
The Senator seemed to notice me for the first time.
“Father and son,” he said. “A lad and his dad. That’s what I like to see.”
The way he said it, it sounded like part of the speech he once made at our school. But it pleased my father, I could tell that. “I’ve been wondering, Senator,” he said. “Perhaps it’s a lot to ask, but I’d like to take Jim here with us next week. I’ve felt for a long time he
needs something to—-well,
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to balance the home influence, if you know what I mean. It might do him good to get out with a bunch of real men.”
-Just for a second the Senator frowned. It was hardly a frown, really - more as if he’d hit a bad spot in his cigar and it was gone almost before you’d notice.
“By all means,” he said in his hearty voice. “Plenty of room in the lodge, Fred, and you can’t start ’em too young. As the twig is bent, they say.”
He studied the white ash on his cigar, his head to one side. “By the way,” he asked, “how is your worthy father-inlaw these days? Still packing two hundred pounds on his back across t he ranges?”
That was a story Grandpa had told once when we had the Senator to dinner. Grandpa and Volcanic Bevan were fixing to trap on the North Fork of the Nehalem that year and some crazy Indian bet they couldn’t freight all their supplies to the cabin in one trip.
“Last time,” my father said, “it was three hundred pounds. It grows with the telling. Frankly, that’s one reason I’d like to get the boy away.”
The Senator rolled his cigar across to the other side of his mouth. He was still smiling but there was something in his pale blue, stick-out eyes that puzzled me.
“Say,” he said, “I’ve got a better idea. Bring the old Chief, too. It must be a mighty long time since lie’s had a workout.”
I felt excitement run like a chill along my spine. I could see it plain—me deer hunting with Grandpa, away off in the woods with him, maybe so far out we’d have to light a fire and roast our deer meat on sticks and sleep in a brush lean-to. Maybe I’d even get to shoot with his .44-,40.
“He’d like that, sir,” I said. “He was telling me just last week how much he’d like to go hunting again.”
“Well, you bring him along,” the Senator said. “With the Chief in the party we’ll get my six-point buck for sure!” He ruffled my hair with his big, soft hand and walked in his dignified way toward the door. I’d never much cared for Senator Borghum even though he was an important customer of father’s. Grandpa always said the only difference between him and a holdup man was the Senator didn’t pack a gun. But right then I thought he was pretty fine.
The girl brought our sodas. Mine could have been chocolate or pineapple or just plain water. All I could think about was getting home to Grandpa with the news.
THE next week was the longest I ever lived through. I’d been afraid Grandpa might not want to go, thinking of the Senator as he did. But he studied on it for a minute, then his old, long leathery face wrinkled into a grin. I had a queer feeling he was all of a sudden really coming alive.
“We’ll have to get ca’tridges,” he said, “and my boots need nailing.” He looked at me for a minute with his eyes that w'ere the same cold grey as the barrel of the .44-.40, then he said, gruff and awkward, “Jim, I find myself a mite strapped. You got any chikamin in that tin bank of yours?”
I told him no and he thought a spell longer. Then he said, “Tell you what. S’pose we were to sell that packboard? We can use mine for tins jaunt. I’ll make you another come wânter, a better one, with the side posts wound in buckskin.”
“Sure,” 1 said. “You take and sell it. I don’t mind a bit.”
I did mind, but what use was the .44-,40 if we didn’t have shells for it?
The night before we started for the lodge 1 lay awake till almost morning and when we were out and dressed and waiting for the Senator to call by in his station wagon 1 was one steady shiver. He picked up the rest, of the party first and got to our place half an hour late. My father rode up front with the Senator. Mr. Adams, the bank manager, and Mr. Dawson who runs the feed store, were in the middle seat.
Dr. Phillips was jammed in the back seat with Grandpa and me. He wears glasses and is kind of plump and has a dry way of talking. Some folks say he drinks too much but I’ve liked him real well since the time I broke my arm falling out of a tree. Grandpa appeared to like him too, maybe because Dr. Phillips listened closely to his stories and asked questions in the right places.
The man who looked after the lodge for the Senator was at Volke Lake landing with a motorboat when we got there toward evening. We piled in and started across. The lodge is right on the lakeshore. It’s built of peeled, oiled logs and has a big stone chimney up one end and a veranda going all the way round and the roof is painted red so it shows up from the water. Away above and behind it I could see big mountains with snow on their tops.
Grandpa looked at the lodge for a long time. Then he grunted and spat overside. He was wearing a grey wool shirt and his old blue denim pants with police braces, and the fancy belt he’d won from the Indian that time with Volcanic Bevan. His shirt had smelled of mothballs in the car but you didn’t notice here with the wind whipping down the lake. Except for Dr. Phillips the other men wore checked shirts and high boots with their pants tucked into the tops, and they all carried big hunting knives in sheaths on their belts. My father’s knife had got twisted under his belt so it stuck out behind like a tail.
Dr. Phillips, though, just wore a ratty old blue serge suit and a flannel shirt. He didn’t look much different than he did in town. I was glad Grandpa got along well with him—you never could tell who Grandpa would decide not to like.
1 was even more sure he didn’t like the Senator after I’d gone to bed in the room off the kitchen where I was to sleep along with Grandpa and my father. What with the long day and staying awake the night before, I could hardly keep my eyes open in spite of the laughing and loud talk outside. But I was still half awake when Grandpa came in. He was wearing his mad look and I knew by the way he yanked the loggers’ knots out of his bootlaces that he was riled over something.
He said to me in a low growl, “Jim, you asleep?”
“No,” I said.
“Jim,” Grandpa said while he tugged at his other boot, “you ever doubt my word? You ever think, for instance, I couldn’t freight a man-size load?”
I said “No!” and sat up in my bunk. I knew Grandpa might forget and tell the same story twice but I was sure the things he told me about had happened just that way.
“Well,” he said, “that fat politician out there seems to. He tells me three hundred pounds would break any man’s heart.” He let the boot go thump on the floor. “Maybe his, but not ours. Maybe we had extra skookum hearts, Volcanic Bevan and me.”
He peeled down to his union suit and hopped into his bunk, still mad. Last thing I heard him growl was, “Jumped-
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jVWY FATHER came in a lot later i ? 1 He stumbled a couple of times and seemed to have trouble finding his bunk and he started snoring right away. Even that couldn’t keep me awake any longer, though.
It was just getting light when Grandpa prodded me out. He was dressed except for his hoots and he grinned down at me with his breath making smoke in the air.
“Hit the planks,” he told me. “This is the day we get. our mowitsh.”
The linoleum was cold under my feet and 1 climbed into my things in a hurry. My father was still snoring with not even his nose out of the blankets. He must have tripped over the Springfield Sporter he’d borrowed from the Senator, because it was lying on the floor in its yellow cowhide case. 1 could see into the living room. There were two empty bottles on the table and one in the ashes of the fireplace.
Mother doesn’t let me drink coffee at, home and Grandpa knew it, but he poured me out a mug to go with the bacon and eggs he’d fried on the kitchen stove.
“Wake up your gizzard with this,” he told me, “Then we’ll mosey along.”
We were finishing when the Senator’s hired man came padding down the stairs. He gave us a surprised look from the doorway, then smiled in a sour sort of way.
“Well,” he said, “two hot sports without a hang-over, anyhow.”
He fetched another mug from the cupboard over the sink and sat down with us.
“Deer still use that little swamp at the butt of the ridge?” Grandpa asked him.
The hired man stopped stirring His coffee. “You know about that swamp?” lie asked, and he sounded none too pleased.
“Sure.” Grandpa gave a snort. “My partner and me bushwhacked in this country before you was born or this gingerbread palace was thrown together.”
“If I were you, pop,” the hired man said, “I’d give that swamp the go-by. The Old Man sort of figures his sixpoint buck will come from there. He’s dead set on getting it and if anyone beat him to it he might be snuffy.”
“She’s a free country,” Grandpa told him .snappishly. “Deer goes to the man that downs him.” He got up and reached the .44-.40 from where he’d leaned it behind the door. “But. I don’t hanker after any six-pointer. I aim to get me a nice fat spike, Mister, that’s fit for a man to eat.”
I was kind of sorry to hear him say that. I’d already started thinking how swell a deer’s head with six points to each horn would look on the wall of my room.
A trail went in from behind the lodge. Grandpa didn’t talk much and I was so busy keeping up with him I hadn’t the wind to ask questions. The trail started to climb and after a while it forked. Grandpa took the left-hand fork. It was narrow and cluttered with brush as if it wasn’t very often used. We climbed over two separate ridges and when I’d begun to think there just wasn’t any swamp, Grandpa stopped.
He motioned me up beside him. I squinted through the fringe of brush. There was a wild meadow below us with a creek twisting through it. The creek made a soft, lonely sounding rustle and the meadow' was still in mist. Grandpa pointed. I saw them and my heart gave a great jump. They were grazing like cows in a pasture, five of them, near the far side of the meadow where the creek slid out of the timber. Only they weren’t cows, they were deer.
“Too far,” Grandpa muttered.
His boots didn’t make a sound and his pants just the littlest scratching as he slithered through the brush. I followed him, not daring to peek out across the meadow to where the deer still fed in the mist. When Grandpa stopped again we weren’t, more than 75 yards away. I never even bothered to look at the others—it was the big buck closest to the timber 1 goggled at. ( lis head was down hut His horns looked an axe handle across and 1 could see their white points shining like candles among the wolf willow.
“Yonder’s ours,” Grandpa whispered. “The lit tle one nearest us. He’ll make prime eating.”
He must have seen in my face, t hen, how it was. For a second he looked cross, then he breathed, “All right, if you want him that had!”
Then he did something I’d never expected, never even dreamed could happen to me. He shoved t he rifle into my hands.
“Remember,” he whispered, “aim low and don’t yank that trigger.”
I’d held the .44-.40 often before, making believe. Only now it was loaded and cocked and out there was a real huck. I let the ivory head drift past his shoulder. Grandpa gave one sharp whistle. The buck’s head came up and he froze like that for the second 1 was squeezing the t rigger.
The butt rammed my shoulder and l could hardly see through blackpowder smoke. My buck was running, bouncing away, melting like a ghost into the timber. I threw the lever and swung ahead of him and fired again. His tail clamped in and he skidded forward on his knees.
1 ran across the meadow and through the creek. “Stay clear,” Grandpa hollered after me. “Watch out for them hoofs, you fool!”
t i 1HE buck wasn’t dead. He tried to X haul himself up hut he could only just lift his neck off the bloody moss and salai brush. He looked sad and surprised as if he’d been hit by something he couldn’t fight or understand.
“Go ahead,” Grandpa said to me harshly. “Don’t stand gawkin’ while he suffers. Finish him off.”
It was a hard thing to do with the buck’s eyes on me like that, hut I jacked another cartridge into the chamber and shot him low down behind the shoulder. His rocking-chair head flopped to the moss and he lay still. Then l dropped the rifle in the salai and 1 guess I must have cried.
“You gut-shot him that first time,” Grandpa was saying and he sounded pretty disgusted. “Held too far back . . . Well, Jim, you got. yourself an eight-point head, but he won’t eat like that, spikehorn would have.”
Even dressed with Grandpa’s big jackknife my buck weighed an awful lot. It would have taken us all day to get, him out if we hadn’t met my father and Dr. Phillips on the main trail. I’d half expected my father to make a fuss over me and he did say I’d done well, hut I could feel he was put out.
“1 didn’t think you two would sneak off so early,” he said. “You could have wakened me, Jim.”
We hung my buck on a scaffold in the shade back of the lodge. The Senator’s hired man helped us. He kept, saying, “Holy mackinaw, wait till the Old Man sees this!”
The Senator didn’t see it until just before dark, when he came back from hunting. He stared at the buck and that tight look I’d seen in Ryerson’s drugstore was on his face again.
“Out of the swamp, eh?” he said. “A nice head. Yes, a real trophy. Matter of fact, Fred, I’d been counting on that
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fellow. Had him marked down for my library, but it seems your Jim and the Chief have stolen a march on me.”
“The head’s yours, Senator,” my father told him. His voice was hearty but the look he gave me was anxious, almost as if he was begging me to agree. “Jim’U be glad to let«you have it.”
The Senator smiled at me. “That’s mighty nice of him,” he said. “Jim, you’re a sportsman. A chip off the old block.”
I was still half stunned by the shock of it when Grandpa’s voice cut across the sudden quiet like the slash of a knife.
“Mister,” he said, “there was other things we could do besides pack. One of ’em was rustle our own meat.”
The Senator chose a cigar from his silver case. “I don’t want the meat, Chief,” he said. “We’ll make you a present of that. It should be tough enough for even an old warrior like you.”
Mr. Adams and Mr. Dawson laughed like they always did when the Senator made a joke. My father laughed too.
“Boys,” the Senator said, “this has been a hard day for all of us. What we need is a hair of the dog.” He snapped his cigar case shut and the click sounded like a rifle hammer tipping back to full cock.
They went inside then, me traipsing along behind with my heart in my boots. At the door Dr. Phillips put his fist under my chin and gave a little quick lift. “You still shot it, Jim,” he said softly. “He can’t take that away from you.”
Grandpa was muttering to himself. “The oopoos,” I heard him say. “The kumtuks oopoos!" I didn’t know much Chinook but I knew that much. It means skunk.
We had fried deer liver for supper. Grandpa ate heartily in spite of being mad and he told a story about some claim jumpers and how he and Volcanic Be van handled them. The Senator laughed fit to bust.
“You’re a character, Chief,” he said. “A genuine, gold-plated character. Pity there aren’t more of your breed left in the land. You old-timers had a gift for a tall tale. You could all pack at least twice your weight—”
“Tall tale?” Grandpa had been mopping up his gravy with a biscuit. Now his hand stopped in the middle of his plate. 11 was a big hand, freckled, with a parchment look as if the skin had shriveled and dried, but you could tell there was still strength in it. “That was no windy,” he said. “That was God’s own truth.” He began mopping again, bearing down hard on the biscuit. “And if I had to, I could still freight twice my weight!”
“Of course, Chief,” the Senator told him as if he were talking to an excited kid. “Of course you could.” He took his after-dinner cigar out of the case and trimmed the end and lit it. “Well,” he said, “I’ve got my buck hung. I’ll take care of you fellows tomorrow.” He blew out smoke and leaned back in his chair at the head of the table. “We’ll start early, hike it to my old cabin at the edge of the high country. Most of the bucks are still up there— hasn’t been snow enough to chase ’em into the bottoms. We’ll pack blankets and supplies for a couple of days.”
He’d let out his belt and he looked jolly and comfortable in his red-andblack checked shirt with his silvery hair like a kingfisher’s crest. “I’ve been thinking, Chief,” he said. “You’ve had an active day for an old man and that’s a pretty tough climb. How’d you like to loaf around the lodge while we’re gone? Rest up, do a little fishing?”
once thought of himself as old. “Man’s as young as he feels! I’ll string along, mister.” Then he said with his teeth in every word, “I’m not forgetting how you pirated that buck, either. The whole town will know when I get through.”
Dr. Phillips hadn’t been talking much but he said now in his dry, quiet way, “I’m in the mood for poker, gentlemen. Any takers?”
Grandpa went to bed right after dinner. I asked him if he was sick and he said no, it was just that his belly wasn’t used to wild meat after so long in town.
I wandered down to the lake and sat on the edge of the landing, swinging my legs over the green water and watching the baby trout where they darted around the piles. I was pretty disappointed. All the way back to the lodge I’d heard myself telling the kids at school about my buck. This trip wasn’t as much fun as I’d thought it would be. I wished of a sudden that Grandpa and me were back in town, up in his room with him telling me stories while he puttered with his gear.
After a while my father walked down from the lodge. He stood behind me and cleared his throat a couple of times before he spoke.
“I’m sorry about your deer,” he said. “You’re hurt and I can’t blame you. But, Jim, that’s one of the things you aren’t yet old enough to understand. You will later and you’ll thank me.”
I didn’t lift my head. Off in the woods a whitethroat sparrow was calling “Canada . . . Canada ... oh poor Canada," and I wondered where he was and what he’d look like singing. Grandpa could have told me.
“It’s like this, Jim,” my father said. “I’m going to be running for city council in a few months. With the Senator behind me, it’s a sure thing. Being an alderman won’t hurt the business one bit. Sometimes it’s a lot better to yield a point for future gain. Even eight points if you have to—even an eight-point buck.”
He laughed too loudly, and up in the woods the whitethroat stopped singing.
“Yes, you’ll thank me for what I did today,” my father said. “Later when you take over at the plant you’ll see your old dad knew best.”
He was making himself happy again and I didn’t want him to. There was too much churning around inside me.'
“1 don’t want the plant,” I said. “Not ever. I’m going to learn forestry and go into the Forest Service soon U9 I’m old enough.”
I heard my father’s breath go out of him as if I’d hit him under the ribs. He reached down and put his hand on my shoulder, squeezing hard, as if he were trying to hold me there. “Jim, what is it?” he asked, almost whispering. “Why can’t I get close to you any more? I love you, son. I spend more time thinking about your future than about myself.” "
The bitter things came boiling out then. How if I tried to talk to him about the woods he always just kind of brushed me off. How he’d got different since he took up with the Senator— how I had to fight boys who’d heard their own fathers say he hung on to the Senator’s coattails.
It all came out. I heard my own voice, half crying, saying dreadful things. “Grandpa isn’t like that. Grandpa doesn’t suck up to anybody. He’s tough. But you—you’d dive off this float and come up with a fish in your mouth if the Senator told you!”
My father slapped me then, hard, across the mouth. He said, “Your grandfather’s talk. He’s back of this. I should have thrown the old devil out when I saw it beginning.” His voice was shaky and kind of helpless. “He’s
tâken you away from me. You’re not my son—you’re his!”
I didn’t answer, just sat looking down at the water. My face was numb from the slap and I felt as if I were crying, only not with my eyes hut away deep inside. I heard the new high-cut boots my father had bought for the trip squeak on the planking as he headed back for the lodge. It was quiet then and up in the dark timber the whitethroat began to sing again about poor ('añada.
THF, wild meat was still sil ting heavy on Grandpa ’s stomach when he got iij) next morning. Everyone else except Dr. Phillips had ('aten breakfast so we had the kitchen to ourselves. ( irandpa just had coffee and 1 didn’t cat much I was wishing harder than ever we were home.
First thing I saw when we went out the back door was all the packs in a row on the edge of the veranda, Grandpa’s old curved-frame packboard along with the rest.
“Hullo there, Chief,” the Senator cálled loud and cheery from the yard. “Raring to go, I see. Well, there’s a full load for everyone. I had my man make up the packs last night to save time.” He made like he was spitting into his hands and rubbed them together and grinned at my father as we came down the steps. “Not the load you’re used to, Chief, but you’ll have to make allowances for us city dudes.” My father had said, “Good morning, Jim,” just as usual, but he didn’t smile when the Senator cracked his joke. Instead he gave him an odd, sober look that was next door to a frown. He seemed strained and worried and puffy aroünd the eyes, as if he hadn’t slept well either.
Grandpa was scowling at his packboard. He hated other people—even me—to monkey with his things. But he didn’t say anything, just handed me the .44-.40 and slipped his arms through the packstraps.
^Ve were standing below the veranda and its edge was level with the small of his back. The Senator watched as Gfàndpa settled the straps into place. Grandpa straightened slowly, and I heard the packboard creak as he took thh weight. Just for a second his knees bent and I thought he was going to fall. Then he started walking toward the trail, one slow step after another.
‘“Hey,” the Senator called after him, “what’s your hurry. Chief? Better wait for the rest of us.”
“I won’t get lost,” Grandpa told him without turning his head. “Me and Volcanic Bevan built that cabin you stole.”
My father started to say something but the Senator cut him off. He said, “Shut up, Fred. Let them go.”
It had rained in the night and it was warm and muggy in the timber. The black-earth trail pulled at our feet. There was no sound except the mud sucking around our boots and Grandpa’s heavy breathing. We climbed and the sun got hotter on our backs but Grandpa kept on at the same slow, steady pace. The load wrapped in the tarpaulin on his packboard didn’t look extra big but I began to think it must he pretty heavy. We climbed the first ridge and jogged down into the bottom, then up again with the mud clogging our boots. I thought Grandpa would rest when wo came to the forks but he kept st raight on, taking the right-hand branch this time. It was all uphill now, a hill that didn’t seem to have any top, and even just carrying the rifle I was puffing and sweating.
“When we get over this one,” 1 asked, “can we rest?”
“No,” Grandpa wheezed. “Got to keep going. Don’t talk.”
The veins were standing out on his forehead and the sweat rolled down his cheeks and dripped off his chin.
At the top of that hill was a quartermile flat but the hill above was worse. Water ran down it in a tiny creek and it was hard to keep our footing. Grandpa stumbled once and I thought he’d go down but he caught himself and kept on climbing.
When I looked back I could see my father and Dr. Phillips away below through a hole in the timber, my father’s shirt a little bright patch against the green. They seemed to be hurrying and the rest weren’t anywhere in sight. Then the trail corkscrewed again and we were alone in the hot timber.
It began to turn into a kind of nightmare. My feet hurt where the blisters I’d got the day before had broken, and red-hot wires jabbed me above the knees at every lift.
He'll rest soon, l told myself. He has to. When we get to the big hemlock, then he'll stop. We'll have a cold drink, and rest . . .
But he didn’t stop. He plugged on like a man climbing in a dream, the sweat dripping off his chin.
The timber was different now, opening out, and the trees stood in clumps like in a park. There were meadows too, with ponds in them, and patches of heather by the trail. I’d never before seen heather but Grandpa had told me about it and I knew we must be near the high country.
“ ’Nother . . . ten minutes . . . an’ we’ll have ’er made,” Grandpa wheezed. “One more . . . hill.”
It was a short hill but very steep. Then, as if someone had pulled a green curtain away, we were over the top. We could look ahead across open country full of lakes to grey mountains squatting on the skyline. They didn’t seem high but their tops were streaky with new snow. These must be the big mountains we’d seen from the motorboat on Volke Lake. This was the high country. I could see the roof of a cabin dead ahead. It looked old and grey and falling apart, sitting there under a yellow cedar.
The door hung open. Grandpa lurched across the sill. He stood swaying, then his knees buckled and the packboard dragged him backward to the floor. I dropped beside him and started working his arms out of the straps, but he whispered, “Leave me lay.”
His face had gone grey and I had to bend close to hear him.
“I did it,” he muttered. “I showed ’em I could do it.”
He was still muttering with me kneeling by him when a shadow fell across us. It was Dr. Phillips with my father behind him. My father was scratched across the forehead and blowing hard. Neither of them looked to be in much better shape than Grandpa.
“Open that tarpaulin,” my father told me. “I want to see what’s in it.”
The pack was so heavy I could hardly tug it off the frame after I’d slipped the knots in the pack rope. I unrolled the tarp and a stove lid spilled out on the floor. There were more lids and chunks of rusty iron and even stones that must have come from Volke Lake. I knew then why the Senator had grinned that way.
“Just what I thought,” Dr. Phillips grunted. “I should have guessed last night—we came after you fast as we could but we’re no iron men.” He was on his knees too and he had his fingers on Grandpa’s left wrist. “His little joke!”
Grandpa opened his eyes. He said, “No joke. I knew from the start what he was up to. He wanted to make me
out a windbag. I couldn’t let him do that to the kid.”
“No,” Dr. Phillips told him in his dry, quiet voice. “You couldn’t let him do that. Have you had these attacks before?”
“Twinge or two,” Grandpa said. “Had one this morning.” He was still for a spell, then he said, “I’m played out. I’m no good any longer. Took me seven years to see it.”
Lying there with his fierce grey head against the packboard he made me think of something I’d seen not long ago. I knew what it was then. The big eight-pointer I’d gut-shot in the swamp meadow.
“You’re old,” Dr. Phillips said. “Bodies wear out, Mr. Wilson. Even the toughest. That’s something a wise man has to realize.”
“Me,” Grandpa said, “I never was a wise man.”
Dr. Phillips got up. “Fred,” he told my father, “he should be dead. But if he doesn’t try another stunt like this, he’s good for donkey’s years. Make him rest—I’m going back for a word with the Senator!”
He tramped out of the cabin, looking mad as blazes.
After a spell Grandpa said, “I could use a drink of water.”
We both went for it. When we were halfway back from the nearest little lake with water in my father’s hat, we saw Grandpa coming toward us.
“You weren’t to get up,” my father called to him. “You’ll kill yourself!”
Grandpa said, “Fred, there’s another thing about us old-timers. We’re mighty hard to kill.” He said to me, “Something I want you to do, Jim. Make up with your dad. Maybe he won’t ever see things your way, him or any other town man. But he needs you just like you need him. I’ve come between you. I didn’t mean to, but after Volcanic Bevan sashayed off it got downright lonely.”
He said to my father, “Only let him be his own man. He’s got to be his own man. We’re the same breed of cat, him
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and me. If you twist him away from what’s in his blood I’ll have freighted that mess of scrap iron up here for nothing.”
“I know that now,” my father said. “I saw it last night. That buck—we’re taking it back from the Senator. The head goes on Jim’s wall.”
“You sure won’t get to be alderman that way,” Grandpa said, “and you’ll lose the old wolverine’s trade.”
“We don’t need his trade,” my father said.
Grandpa’s face wrinkled in his tough smile. He was looking a lot better, I thought. “One other thing,” he said. “I’m curious to know just how heavy was that load he weaseled onto my back. You think I can truthfully claim she weighed two hund’erd pounds?”
I looked at my father and he looked back at me. Of a sudden I felt close to him, closer that I ever had in my life before. I reached out and took his hand, and his fingers closed hard around mine.
“Two hundred?” he said to Grandpa. “Not an ounce less than three hundred!”