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- Castle Nowhere - 2/23 -
'Do the nobodies reside in Nowhere, I wonder,' pursued the smoker; 'because if they do, I am afraid I shall meet all my friends and relatives. What a pity the somebodies could not reside there! But perhaps they do; cynics would say so.'
But at this stage the shape waved its oar impatiently and demanded, 'Who are you?'
'Well I do not exactly know. Once I supposed I was Jarvis Waring, but the wilderness has routed that prejudice. We can be anybody we please; it is only a question of force or will; and my latest character has been William Shakespeare. I have been trying to find out whether I wrote my own plays. Stay to supper and take the other side; it is long since I have had an argument with flesh and blood. And you are that,--aren't you?'
But the shape frowned until it seemed all eyebrow. 'Young man,' it said, 'how came you here? By water?'
'No; by land.'
'No; through the woods.'
'Nobody ever comes through the woods.'
'Agreed; but I am somebody.'
'Do you mean that you have come across from Lake Superior on foot?'
'I landed on the shore of Lake Superior a month or two ago, and struck inland the same day; where I am now I neither know nor want to know.'
'Very well,' said the shape,--'very well.' But it scowled more gently. 'You have no boat?'
'Do you start on to-morrow?'
'Probably; by that time the waves and "the sessions of sweet silent thought" will have driven me distracted between them.'
'I will stay to supper, I think,' said the shape, unbending still farther, and stepping out of the skiff.
'Deeds before words then,' replied Waring, starting back towards a tree where his game-bag and knapsack were standing. When he returned the skiff had disappeared; but the shape was warming its moccassined feet in a very human sort of way. They cooked and eat with the appetites of the wilderness, and grew sociable after a fashion. The shape's name was Fog, Amos Fog, or old Fog, a fisherman and a hunter among the islands farther to the south; he had come inshore to see what that fire meant, no person having camped there in fifteen long years.
'You have been here all that time, then?'
'Off and on, off and on; I live a wandering life,' replied old Fog; and then, with the large curiosity that solitude begets, he turned the conversation back towards the other and his story.
The other, not unwilling to tell his adventures, began readily; and the old man listened, smoking meanwhile a second pipe produced from the compact stores in the knapsack. In the web of encounters and escapes, he placed his little questions now and then; no, Waring had no plan for exploring the region, no intention of settling there, was merely idling away a summer in the wilderness and would then go back to civilization never to return, at least, not that way; might go west across the plains, but that would be farther south. They talked on, one much, the other little; after a time, Waring, whose heart had been warmed by his flask, began to extol his ways and means.
'Live? I live like a prince,' he said. 'See these tin cases; they contain concentrated stores of various kinds. I carry a little tea, you see, and even a few lumps of white sugar as a special treat now and then on a wet night.
'Did you buy that sugar at the Sault?' said the old man, eagerly.
'O no; I brought it up from below. For literature I have this small edition of Shakespeare's sonnets, the cream of the whole world's poetry; and when I am tired of looking at the trees and the sky, I look at this, Titian's lovely daughter with her upheld salver of fruit. Is she not beautiful as a dream?'
'I don't know much about dreams,' replied old Fog, scanning the small picture with curious eyes 'but isn't she a trifle heavy in build? They dress like that nowadays, I suppose,--flowered gowns and gold chains around the waist?'
'Why, man, that picture was painted more than three centuries ago.'
'Was it now? Women don't alter much, do they?' said old Fog, simply. 'Then they don't dress like that nowadays?'
'I don't know how they dress, and don't care,' said the younger man, repacking his treasures.
Old Fog concluded to camp with his new friend that night and be off at dawn. 'You see it is late,' he said, 'and your fire's all made and everything comfortable. I've a long row before me to-morrow: I'm on my way to the Beavers.'
'Ah! very intelligent animals, I am told. Friends of yours?'
'Why, they're islands, boy; Big and Little Beaver! What do you know, if you don't know the Beavers?'
'Man,' replied Waring. 'I flatter myself I know the human animal well; he is a miserable beast.'
'Is he?' said old Fog, wonderingly; 'who'd have thought it!' Then, giving up the problem as something beyond his reach,--'Don't trouble yourself if you hear me stirring in the night,' he said; 'I am often mighty restless.' And rolling himself in his blanket, he soon became, at least as regards the camp-fire and sociability, a nonentity.
'Simple-minded old fellow,' thought Waring, lighting a fresh pipe; 'has lived around here all his life apparently. Think of that,--to have lived around here all one's life! I, to be sure, am here now; but then, have I not been--' And here followed a revery of remembrances, that glittering network of gayety and folly which only young hearts can weave, the network around whose border is written in a thousand hues, 'Rejoice, young man, in thy youth, for it cometh not again.'
'Alas, what sighs from our boding hearts The infinite skies have borne away!'
sings a poet of our time; and the same thought lies in many hearts unexpressed, and sighed itself away in this heart of our Jarvis Waring that still foggy evening on the beach.
The middle of the night, the long watch before dawn; ten chances to one against his awakening! A shape is moving towards the bags hanging on the distant tree. How the sand crunches,--but he sleeps on. It reaches the bags, this shape, and hastily, rifles them; then it steals back and crosses the sand again, its moccasined feet making no sound. But, as it happened, that one chance (which so few of us ever see!) appeared on the scene at this moment and guided these feet directly towards a large, thin, old shell masked with newly blown sand; it broke with a crack; Waring woke and gave chase. The old man was unarmed, he had noticed that; and then such a simple-minded, harmless old fellow! But simple-minded, harmless old fellows do not run like mad if one happens to wake; so the younger pursued. He was strong, he was fleet; but the shape was fleeter, and the space between them grew wider. Suddenly the shape turned and darted into the water, running out until only its head was visible above the surface, a dark spot in the foggy moonlight. Waring pursued, and saw meanwhile another dark spot beyond, an empty skiff which came rapidly inshore-ward, until it met the head, which forthwith took to itself a body, clambered in, lifted the oars, and was gone in an instant.
'Well,' said Waring, still pursuing down the gradual slope of the beach, 'will a phantom bark come at my call, I wonder? At any rate I will go out as far as he did and see.' But no; the perfidious beach at this instant shelved off suddenly and left him afloat in deep water. Fortunately he was a skilled swimmer, and soon regained the shore wet and angry. His dogs were whimpering at a distance, both securely fastened to trees, and the light of the fire had died down: evidently the old Fog was not, after all, so simple as some other people!
'I might as well see what the old rogue has taken,' thought Waring; 'all the tobacco and whiskey, I'll be bound.' But nothing had been touched save the lump-sugar, the little book, and the picture of Titian's daughter! Upon this what do you suppose Waring did? He built a boat.
When it was done, and it took some days and was nothing but a dug-out after all (the Spirit said that), he sailed out into the unknown; which being interpreted means that he paddled southward. From the conformation of the shore, he judged that he was in a deep curve, protected in a measure from the force of wind and wave. 'I'll find that ancient mariner,' he said to himself, 'if I have to circumnavigate the entire lake. My book of sonnets, indeed, and my Titian picture! Would nothing else content him? This voyage I undertake from a pure inborn sense of justice--'
'Now, Waring, you know it is nothing of the kind,' said the Spirit who had sailed also. 'You know you are tired of the woods and dread going back that way, and you know you may hit a steamer off the islands; besides, you are curious about this old man who steals Shakespeare and sugar, leaving tobacco and whiskey untouched.'
'Spirit,' replied the man at the paddle, 'you fairly corrupt me with your mendacity. Be off and unlimber yourself in the fog; I see it coming in.'
He did see it indeed; in it rolled upon him in columns, a soft silvery cloud enveloping everything, the sunshine, the shore, and the water, so that he paddled at random, and knew not whither he went, or rather saw not, since knowing was long since out of the question. 'This is pleasant,' he said to himself when the morning had turned to afternoon and the afternoon to night, 'and it is certainly new. A stratus of tepid cloud a thousand miles long and a thousand miles deep, and a man in a dug-out paddling through! Sisyphus was nothing to this.' But he made himself comfortable in a philosophic way, and went to the only place left to him,--to sleep.
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