The Shagganappi

by Emily Pauline Johnson



The Saucy Seven


    PROBABLY Bob Stuart would never have been asked to join the camping party had he not been the best canoeist in the Club. He was so much younger than the other half dozen that composed the party that his joining was much discussed, but there were no two opinions about Bob’s paddling, nor yet about his ability to pitch a tent, cast a fly, shoot small game at long range, and, when you are far up North, on a canoe cruise, and have to depend on the forest and river to supply your dinner, you don’t sneer at an enthusiastic fisherman, or a good shot. So one royal August day Bob found himself on the train with six University graduates, bound for “up North,” for a glorious three weeks’ outing. Their canoes, tents and duffle were all stored away in the express car ahead. Their cares and their studies were packed away in the weeks left behind, their hearts as merry, their clothes as hideous as a jolly crowd of holiday-makers could desire. It was a long, hot, dusty railway journey, but at last the tiny Northern railway station hove in sight, the rasping screech of the sawmill rivalled the shrill call of the locomotive, and directly behind the little settlement stretched the smooth surface of “Lake Nameless,” ready and waiting to be ruffled by the dip of paddle blades.
    It does not take long for seven practical campers to get their kit and canoes in shape to pitch canvas for the night, and just as the sun dropped behind a rim of dense fir forest, “the Saucy Seven,” as the boys had christened themselves, lighted their first camp fire and hung their kettle for supper. The two tents were already up, white and gleaming against the lake line, the three cruising [Page 238] canoes were safely beached for the night, blankets were already spread over beds of hemlock boughs, and the goodly smell of frying bacon arose temptingly in the warm, still, twilight air. Seven hungry mouths took a long time to be satisfied, but the frying-pan and the tea-pot were empty at last, and the boys ready to turn in early, after their long journey and busy settling. The first night in camp is always a restless one. The flapping tent, the straining guy ropes, the strange wild sounds and scents seem to prop your eyelids open for hours. The night birds winging overhead, the far laugh of loons across the waters, the twigs creaking and snapping beneath the feet of little, timid animals, the soft singing of the pines above the canvas, these things get into one’s blood, one’s brain, and almost before you know it the night is gone, and a whole chorus of song arises with the coming of day. There is nothing in all the world more enjoyable than tumbling from your blankets, to unlace the “flap” of the tent, to fling it wide and step out into the soft gray world before sunrise, to swallow whole breaths of fresh, sweet morning air; then to plunge into a still, cool lake, and drive sleep from the corners of your eyes, as the winking sun drives night from the forest. Then another enjoyable thing is to have Tom, Dick or Harry hustle about and get the kettle boiling and fish frying while you are yet plunging about like a frog, and by the time you have rushed ashore, and into your shorts and sweater and “wigwam” shoes, the aforesaid pleasant persons have breakfast ready, and you come around just in time to make way with vast bowls of coffee, and unlimited fish and toast.
    This is all very well, if you have the whole lake and its outletting river all to yourselves, with no one to scare the fish and game, and none to trespass on your camp ground; but picture to yourselves the consternation that assailed the boys when, the following night, the train brought in another camping crowd, that trailed up the shore with a [Page 239] great deal of fuss, and pitched camp directly across the point from them—a crowd of at least ten men. No rollicking boys there, all big, full-grown men with beards and whiskers, with a dozen gun cases, stretcher camp beds, and some scarlet velvet rugs—actually rugs. The boys just stood and stared, then sneered.
    “Nice ‘Saucy Seven’ those chaps will make of our holiday,” groaned one of the grads. “‘Sorry Seven,’ we’d better call ourselves, I say, and to-morrow I’m for moving, striking camp at daylight and getting away from that gang that camps with rugs.” The last word took on the expression of an article of actual disgrace. “Hello! They’re running up the colors,” interrupted Bob. “It’s a Union Jack, all right. Perhaps they’re not such rummies, after all.”
    Then, after much peering and squinting, they made out that the biggest tent stretched directly at the base of the flagstaff, and contained the despised scarlet rugs, which the boys were still jeering at when they noticed a little canoe, singly manned, put out from the rocky ledge and make swiftly towards them. The Saucy Seven unbent sufficiently to all go in a body to the landing. Their minds were fully made up to invite the intruder to “shinny on his own side,” and not come “moseying” around their camp, when the canoeist beached his bow and sprang lightly ashore. He was a very handsome young man, clean shaven and merry-eyed, and, touching his cap lightly, he said in a tremendously English voice:
    “Beg pardon, gentlemen, sorry to trouble you, but His Excellency, the Governor-General, presents his compliments, and would you kindly lend him a can of condensed milk? Our cook seems to have forgotten everything. We haven’t a drop for our coffee.”
    The Saucy Seven raised seven disgraceful-looking caps, but only one spoke. It was the biggest grad. “Why, we’re honoured. We had no idea who it was.”
    “Oh, that’s all right,” answered the Englishman. [Page 240] “You know His Excellency goes camping for a day or two every year, just for the fun and fish and things.”
    “Fish? Does he like fish?” asked Bob. Then, without waiting for a reply, he disappeared, only to return with the can of condensed milk and three splendid four-pound bass he had landed for their own supper. He looked shyly at the young aide-de-camp, handing him the can, and said, “Will you present our compliments to His Excellency, and ask him to accept these for supper?”
    “Delighted, I’m sure,” said the officer. “He’s fond of bass. Thanks for the milk, gentlemen. Perhaps we can help you out some time.” And in another minute the canoe was skimming away towards the point, where the Union Jack hung idly against a background of firs, but just before the Englishman was out of hearing the big grad yelled, “Tell the Governor-General that the fish were caught and sent by Bobbie.”
    “All right,” came faintly across the distance, with a wave of the smart little cap, and a bright backward smile from the handsome Englishman.
    The Saucy Seven looked at each other, then the big grad simply expressed things in one explosive “Well!”
    “No, I don’t think we’ll move to-morrow,” said one.
    “Move from here!” said another.
    “Well, I’m a frazzle,” added a third.
    “The Governor-General of all Canada,” gasped another.
    “And borrowing milk from us!” chimed in two more.
    “No fish for supper,” said Bob, “and my fault, too, but I’ll get some for breakfast, or my name’ll be Dennis.” And he did get fish for breakfast, which was evidently more than His Excellency did, for about sunset the following evening a guide came paddling over with a large, square envelope directed to
                                        Mr. “Bobbie.” [Page 241]
    Inside was this note, written in a small, firm hand:
    “Lord Dunbridge presents his compliments to Mr. ‘Bobbie,’ and thanks him for the enjoyable fish dinner tendered him last evening. And would Mr. Bobbie kindly do him an additional favor? Would he come at six o’clock to-morrow morning to assist a poor fisherman who has had no luck to-day?”
    That night Bob was a regular hero around the camp fire. The boys sang, “He’s a jolly good fellow,” and a dozen other gay choruses, while Bob looked to his tackle and bait, and gathered all the courage he could muster to meet the great man in the morning. He need not have trembled—it was no ordeal—for as he paddled up to the big camp a quiet-looking gentleman with an iron gray moustache and kindly, genial eyes, stepped down to the landing and held out his hand, and said, “Good-morning, Bobbie. I hope we shall be friends. I have been most unlucky; not a fish yesterday. We’ll have to do better than that, won’t we?”
    “Yes, sir—Yes, Your Excellency,” said Bob, slowly trying to get his nerves steady.
    “I’m afraid my guides are very little good,” said Lord Dunbridge, as he carefully settled himself in the canoe. “They both profess to know these waters, but they don’t seem to be able to find any good fishing pools.”
    “I can do better than that,” ventured Bob. “I have been around these lakes every summer I can remember. If, Your Excellency, you don’t mind, we’ll paddle across to the outletting river. It’s full of rapids, and below them we’ll find fish.”
    “Then we’ll go there,” replied His Excellency.
    For one whole hour the great man and the great fisherman had sport that a king might envy. Side by side they sat, or stood, baiting or reeling in the heavy, gleaming bass, chatting, boasting, and eager for game. It was [Page 242] a great morning’s catch. A dozen noble fish testified to their skill, when the pair, overcome with hunger, were compelled to put up their rods and make for the camp and breakfast.
    “We have had a glorious morning, haven’t we, Bob?” said the Governor. “I feel like a boy again, a boy playing truant, a boy who has run away from his big school of politicians at Ottawa, just to get a few days’ fishing and—and—oh, well, get away from it all.”
    There was a brief silence, then Lord Dunbridge continued, “Bob, you’re a boy; so was I once, but I think you’ll understand. You Canadian boys do seem to grasp things, some way or other. My boyhood was not quite as jolly as yours is—not so independent. You see, we always had tutors and things to look after us and keep us shut in, as it were, and I never knew, as I dare say you do, the pleasure of getting about myself, and—” His voice trailed off as if he were thinking of something else. Suddenly he seemed to awaken, and, removing his cap, let the keen morning air blow across his long, fine hair—dark hair touched about the temples with gray. Then he smiled down at the sunburnt boy at his side, and said, as if he feared to be overheard, “Bob, I’d give five dollars to be a boy like you to-day, and be able to run those rapids in a canoe. Would it be safe?”
    “I’ve done it twenty times, Your Excellency,” said Bob, eagerly, “and in this same old canoe here. I know every shoal, every rock, every bar in the river. Oh, sir, that is sport, the very best sport I know of!”
    The spirit of the thing seemed to take hold of Lord Dunbridge, “Perhaps, Bob,” he exclaimed, with a dashing enthusiasm, “perhaps, Bob, some day you and I will—“
    “Yes, sir, I think I know,” interrupted Bob, as the other hesitated; then, in a half whisper, “I’ll bring you through safely, sir, any time you want to go.”
    “And you quite understand, Bob, you are to say [Page 243] nothing about that canoe trip we’re to have, don’t you?” said His Excellency, as they parted at the Governor’s landing.
    Bob lifted his cap, saying very quietly, “Very well, sir, no one shall know.” Then he paddled slowly, very slowly, away. His thoughts were busy. Here was he, Bob Stuart, an obscure boy from an obscure Ontario town, holding in common a secret with the Governor-General of all Canada, a secret that not even the Prime Minister at Ottawa knew. Then came the horror, the fear of an accident. Suppose something happened to the canoe. Suppose she split her bow on a rock. Suppose His Excellency “lost his head” and got nervous. Suppose a thousand things. But Bob put it all resolutely behind him. He felt his strong young muscles, his vital fingers, his pliant wrists. Yes, it was a great thing to be a boy—a boy whose great pride had always been to excel in typical Canadian sports, to be the “crack” canoeist, and to handle a paddle with the ease of a professional. It was worth everything in the world to recall the time when someone had tauntingly said, “Oh, Bob Stuart’s no good at cricket and baseball. Why, he can’t even play tennis. All he can do is to potter at his old Canuck sports of paddling a canoe and swinging a lacrosse stick.” And Bob had laughed with satisfaction, and said, good-naturedly, “You bet! You’re right. I’m for our national games every time.” And now had come the reward; he was to run the rapids with the representative of the throne of Great Britain in the bow of his canoe.
    Two days later came the summons, and early the next morning Bob was supposed to set forth again to take His Excellency fishing. The vice-regal staff, aides and guides saw them depart, never dreaming for a moment that they were really runaways bound for a royal holiday. Bob hardly realized it himself until, at the head of the rapids, they unshipped all unnecessary tackle and [Page 244] prepared to make the run. They hauled a big rock aboard, placing it astern to trim Bob’s light weight to balance Lord Dunbridge’s. “Now,” said the boy, “when I yell for you to paddle port or starboard, you had better work for all you’re worth, Your Excellency, or we may grind on the rocks.”
    “Good,” replied the Governor. “You can depend on me, Bob.” His Excellency knelt low on his heels forward of the bow thwart. Bob knelt high, with the stern thwart just catching his seat. He felt his strong ashen paddle carefully, stowed an extra blade “handy,” said, “Now, then,” and the little canoe shot out into the middle of the placid river. Far in the distance the rapids frothed and curled, their song rippling backwards like a beckoning hand. On either side fir forests crowded to the rocky edges, that broke like cruel granite jaws against the waters. Immediately ahead the stream twisted into circles, those smooth, deadly circles that herald the coming tumult. Bob’s strong young arms grew taut, their sinews like thin cords of steel. There was not a tremor in his entire body. He knelt, steady and calm, his keen, narrow eyes fixed plumb ahead, alert and shrewd as an animal. He felt his fingers grip the paddle with a strength that was vise-like, grip, and cling, and command. The canoe obeyed even his thought, obeyed the turn of his smallest finger, obeyed, steadied itself, stood motionless for a second, then lifted its nose and plunged forward. The spray split in two, showering the gunwales, then roared abaft, and—they were in the thick of the fight.
    “Do you want me to paddle?” shouted back Lord Dunbridge.
    “No, I can pilot her all right,” came the response through the wind that almost shrieked Bob’s voice away. The rocky ledges of shores were crowding closer now. The firs, dark and melancholy, were frowning down; sharp crags arose like ragged teeth; to right, to left, [Page 245] ahead, and between them the river boiled and lashed itself into fury, pitching headlong on and on down the throat of the yawning channel. The tiny canoe flung between the rocks like a shuttle. Twice its keel shivered, rabbit-wise, in the force of crossing currents; once, far above the tumult, came a wild, anxious voice from the shore, but neither Bob nor his passenger gave heed. The dash of that wild-cat rapid left no second of time for replying or turning one’s eyelid; it was one long, breathless, hurling plunge, that got into their blood like a fever. Then presently the riot seemed all behind them. The savage music of the river grew fainter and fainter, the canoe slipped through the exhausted waters silently as a snake. A moment more, and the bow beached on a strip of yellow sand, secure, steadfast, triumphant. The glorious cruise was over.
    A little group of scared, white-faced men huddled together on shore, the handsome young aide-de-camp reaching down his eager hands, which shook with anxiety. “Oh, Your Excellency,” he exclaimed, “how could you run such a risk, and with only this boy to pilot you?”
    “Bob and I ran away,” said Lord Dunbridge, as, breathless, but happy, he sprang from the canoe. “We ran away for a little holiday just by ourselves. I would not have missed it for the world.” Then, more seriously, he added, “Gentlemen, if I could think that my Prime Minister and the Government at Ottawa could steer the Ship of State as splendidly as Bobbie steered that canoe, I would never have another wrinkle on my forehead or another gray hair on my head.” [Page 246]