Grandpapa's Wolf Story by Edward William Thomson

"Tell us a story, grandpapa."

"One that will last all the evening, chickens?"

"Yes, grandpapa, darling," said Jenny, while Jimmy clapped hands.

"What about?" said the old lumber king.

"About when you were a boy."

"When I was a boy," said the old gentleman, taking Jenny on his knee and putting his arm round Jimmy, "the boys and girls were as fond of stories as they are now. Once when I was a boy I said to my grandfather, 'Tell me a story, grandpa,' and he replied, 'When I was a boy the boys were as fond of stories as they are now; for once when I was a boy I said to my grandfather, "Tell me a story, grandpa,—"'".

"Why, it seems to go on just the same story, grandpapa," said Jenny.

"That's not the end of it, Jenny, dear," said grandpapa.

"No-o?" said Jenny, dubiously.

Jimmy said nothing. He lived with his grandfather, and knew his ways. Jenny came on visits only, and was not well enough acquainted with the old gentleman to know that he would soon tire of the old joke, and reward patient children by a good story.

"Shall I go on with the story, Jenny?" said grandpapa.

"Oh, yes, grandpapa!"

"Well, then, when that grandpa was a boy, he said to his grandfather, 'Tell me a story, grandpapa,' and his grandfather replied—"

Jenny soon listened with a demure smile of attention.

"Do you like this story, dear?" said grandpapa, after pursuing the repetition for some minutes longer.

"I shall, grandpapa, darling. It must be very good when you come to the grandfather that told it. I like to think of all my grandfathers, and great, great, great, greater, greatest, great, great-grandpapas all telling the same story."

"Yes, it's a genuine family story, Jenny, and you're a little witch." The old gentleman kissed her. "Well, where was I? Oh, now I remember! And that grandpapa said to his grandfather, 'Tell me a story, grandpapa,' and his grandpapa replied, 'When I was a young fellow—'"

"Now it's beginning!" cried Jimmy, clapping his hands, and shifting to an easier attitude by the old man's easy-chair.

Grandpapa looked comically at Jimmy, and said, "His grandfather replied, 'When I was a young fellow—'"

The faces of the children became woful again.

"'One rainy day I took my revolver—'"

"Revolver! Grandpapa!" cried Jenny.

"Yes, dear."

"An American revolver, grandpapa?"

"Certainly, dear."

"And did he tell the story in English?"

"Yes, pet."

"But, grandpapa, darling, that grandpapa was seventy-three grandpapas back!"

"About that, my dear."

"I kept count, grandpapa."

"And don't you like good old-fashioned stories, Jenny?"

"Oh, yes, grandpapa, but revolvers—and Americans—and the English language! Why, it was more than twenty-two hundred years ago, grandpapa, darling!"

"Ha! ha! You never thought of that, Jimmy! Oh, you've been at school, Miss Bright-eyes! Kiss me, you little rogue. Now listen!

"When I was a young fellow—"

"You yourself, grandpapa?"

"Yes, Jenny."

"I'm so glad it was you yourself! I like my own grandpapa's stories best of all."

"Thank you, my dear. After that I must be very entertaining. Yes, I'll tell my best story of all—and Jimmy has never heard it. Well, when I was a young fellow of seventeen I was clerk in a lumber shanty on the Sheboiobonzhe-gunpashageshickawigamog River."

"How did you ever learn that name, grandpapa, darling?" cried Jenny.

"Oh, I could learn things in those days. Remembering it is the difficulty, dear—see if it isn't. I'll give you a nice new ten-dollar bill if you tell me that name to-morrow."

Jenny bent her brows and tried so hard to recall the syllables that she almost lost part of the story. Grandpapa went steadily on:—

"One day in February, when it was too rainy for the men to work, and just rainy enough to go deer-shooting if you hadn't had fresh meat for five months, I took to the woods with my gun, revolver, hatchet, and dinner. All the fore part of the day I failed to get a shot, though I saw many deer on the hemlock ridges of Sheboi—that's the way it begins, Jenny, and Sheboi we called it.

"But late in the afternoon I killed a buck. I cut off a haunch, lifted the carcass into the low boughs of a spruce, and started for camp, six miles away, across snowy hills and frozen lakes. The snow-shoeing was heavy, and I feared I should not get in before dark. The Sheboi country was infested with wolves—"

"Bully! It's a wolf story!" said Jimmy. Jenny shuddered with delight.

"As I went along you may be sure I never thought my grandchildren would be pleased to have me in danger of being eaten up by wolves."

Jenny looked shocked at the imputation. Grandpapa watched her with twinkling eyes. When she saw he was joking, she cried: "But you weren't eaten, grandpapa. You were too brave."

"Ah, I hadn't thought of that. Perhaps I'd better not tell the story. You'll have a worse opinion of my courage, my dear."

"Of course you had to run from wolves, grandpapa!" said the little girl.

"I'll bet grandpapa didn't run then, miss," said Jimmy. "I'll bet he shot them with his gun."

"He couldn't—could you, grandpapa? There were too many. Of course grandpapa had to run. That wasn't being cowardly. It was just—just—running."

"No, Jenny, I didn't run a yard."

"Didn't I tell you?" cried Jimmy. "Grandpapa shot them with his gun."

"You're mistaken, Jimmy."

"Then you must—No, for you're here—you weren't eaten up?" said wondering Jenny.

"No, dear, I wasn't eaten up."

"Oh, I know! The wolves didn't come!" cried Jimmy, who remembered one of his grandpapa's stories as having ended in that unhappy way.

"Oh, but they did, Jimmy!"

"Why, grandpapa, what did you do?"

"I climbed into a hollow tree."

"Of course!" said both children.

"Now I'm going to tell you a true wolf story, and that's what few grandpapas can do out of their own experience.

"I was resting on the shore of a lake, with my snow-shoes off to ease my sore toes, when I saw a pack of wolves trotting lazily toward me on the snow that covered the ice. I was sure they had not seen me. Right at my elbow was a big hollow pine. It had an opening down to the ground, a good deal like the door of a sentry-box.

"There was a smaller opening about thirty feet higher up. I had looked up and seen this before I saw the wolves. Then I rose, stood for a moment in the hollow, and climbed up by my feet, knees, hands, and elbows till I thought my feet were well above the top of the opening. Dead wood and dust fell as I ascended, but I hoped the wolves had not heard me."

"Did they, grandpapa?"

"Perhaps not at first, Jenny. But maybe they got a scent of the deer-meat I was carrying. At any rate, they were soon snapping and snarling over it and my snow-shoes. Gobble-de-gobble, yip, yap, snap, growl, snarl, gobble—the meat was all gone in a moment, like little Red Riding Hood."

"Why, grandpapa! The wolf didn't eat little Red Riding Hood. The boy came in time—don't you remember?"

"Perhaps you never read my Red Riding Hood, Jenny," said the old gentleman, laughing. "At any rate, the wolves lunched at my expense; yet I hoped they wouldn't be polite enough to look round for their host. But they did inquire for me—not very politely, I must say. They seemed in bad humor—perhaps there hadn't been enough lunch to go round."

"The greedy things! A whole haunch of venison!" cried Jenny.

"Ah, but I had provided no currant jelly with it, and of course they were vexed. If you ever give a dinner-party to wolves, don't forget the currant jelly, Jenny. How they yelled for it—Cur-r-r-rant-jell-yell-yell-elly-yell! That's the way they went.

"And they also said, Yow—yow—there's—yow—no—desser-r-rt—either—yow—yow! Perhaps they wanted me to explain. At any rate, they put their heads into the opening—how many at once I don't know, for I could not see down; and then they screamed for me. It was an uncomfortably close scream, chickens. My feet must have been nearer them than I thought, for one fellow's nose touched my moccasin as he jumped."

"O grandpapa! If he had caught your foot!"

"But he didn't, Jenny, dear. He caught something worse. When he tumbled back he must have fallen on the other fellows, for there was a great snapping and snarling and yelping all at once.

"Meantime I tried to go up out of reach. It was easy enough; but with every fresh hold I took with shoulders, elbows, hands, and feet, the dead old wood crumbled and broke away, so that thick dust filled the hollow tree.

"I was afraid I should be suffocated. But up I worked till at last I got to the upper hole and stuck out my head for fresh air. There I was, pretty comfortable for a little while, and I easily supported my weight by bending my back, thrusting with my feet, and holding on the edge of the hole by my hands.

"After getting breath I gave my attention to the wolves. They did not catch sight of me for a few moments. Some stood looking much interested at the lower opening, as terriers do at the hole where a rat has disappeared.

"Dust still came from the hole to the open air. Some wolves sneezed; others sat and squealed with annoyance, as Bruno does when you close the door on him at dinner-time. They were disgusted at my concealment. Of course you have a pretty good idea of what they said, Jenny."

"No, grandpapa. The horrid, cruel things! What did they say?"

"Well, of course wolf talk is rude, even savage, and dreadfully profane. As near as I could make out, one fellow screamed, 'Shame, boy, taking an unfair advantage of poor starving wolves!' It seemed as if another fellow yelled, 'You young coward!' A third cried, 'Oh, yes, you think you're safe, do you?' A fourth, 'Yow—yow—but we can wait till you come down!'"

Grandpapa mimicked the wolfish voices and looks so effectively that Jenny was rather alarmed.

"One old fellow seemed to suggest that they should go away and look for more venison for supper, while he kept watch on me. At that there was a general howl of derision. They seemed to me to be telling the old fellow that they were just as fond of boy as he, and that they understood his little game.

"The old chap evidently tried to explain, but they grinned with all their teeth as he turned from one to another. You must not suppose, chickens, that wolves have no sense of humor. Yet, poor things—"

"Poor things! Why, grandpapa!"

"Yes, Jenny; so lean and hungry, you know. Then one of them suddenly caught sight of my head, and didn't he yell! 'There he is—look up the tree!' cried Mr. Wolf.

"For a few moments they were silent. Then they sprang all at once, absurdly anxious to get nearer to me, twenty-five feet or so above their reach. On falling, they tumbled into several heaps of mouths and legs and tails. After scuffling and separating, they gazed up at me with silent longing. I should have been very popular for a few minutes had I gone down."

Jenny shuddered, and then nestled closer to her grandfather.

"Don't be afraid, Jenny. They didn't eat me—not that time. After a few moments' staring I became very impolite. 'Boo-ooh!' said I. 'Yah-ha-ha!' said I. 'You be shot!' I cried. They resented it. Even wolves love to be gently addressed.

"They began yelling, snarling, and howling at me worse than politicians at a sarcastic member of the opposite party. I imitated them. Nevertheless, I was beginning to be frightened. The weather was turning cold, night was coming on, and I didn't like the prospect of staying till morning.

"All of a sudden I began laughing. I had till then forgotten my pistol and pocketful of cartridges. There were seventeen nice wolves—"

"Nice! Why, grandpa!"

"They seemed very nice wolves when I recollected the county bounty of six dollars for a wolf's head. Also, their skins would fetch two dollars apiece. 'Why,' said I, 'my dear wolves, you're worth one hundred and thirty-six dollars.'

"'Don't you wish you may get it!' said they, sneering.

"'You're worth one hundred and thirty-six dollars,' I repeated, 'and yet you want to sponge on a poor boy for a free supper! Shame!'"

"Did you say it out loud, grandpapa?"

"Well—no, Jenny. It's a thing I might have said, you know; but I didn't exactly think of it at the time. I was feeling for my pistol. Just as I tugged it out of its case at my waist, my knees, arms, and all lost their hold, and down I fell."

"Grandpapa, dear!" Jenny nervously clutched him.

"I didn't fall far, pet. But the dust! Talk of sweeping floors! The whole inside of the tree below me, borne down by my weight, had fallen in chunks and dust. There I was, gasping for breath, and the hole eight feet above my head. The lower entrance was of course blocked up by the rotten wood."

"And they couldn't get at you?"

"No, Jimmy; but I was in a dreadful situation. At first I did not fully realize it. Choking for air, my throat filled with particles of dry rot, I tried to climb up again. But the hollow had become too large. Nothing but a round shell of sound wood, a few inches thick, was left around me. With feet, hands, elbows, and back, I strove to ascend as before. But I could not. I was stuck fast!

"When I pushed with my feet I could only press my back against the other side of the enlarged hole. I was horrified. Indeed, I thought the tree would be my coffin. There I stood, breathing with difficulty even when I breathed through my capuchin, which I took off of my blanket overcoat. And there, I said to myself, I was doomed to stand till my knees should give way and my head fall forward, and some day, after many years, the old tree would blow down, and out would fall my white and r-rattling bo-o-nes."

"Don't—please, grandpapa!" Jenny was trying to keep from crying.

"In spite of my vision of my own skull and cross-bones," went on grandpapa, solemnly, "I was too young to despair wholly. I was at first more annoyed than desperate. To be trapped so, to die in a hole when I might have shot a couple of wolves and split the heads of one or two more with my hatchet before they could have had boy for supper—this thought made me very angry. And that brought me to thinking of my hatchet.

"It was, I remembered, beneath my feet at the bottom of the lower opening. If I could get hold of it, I might use it to chop a hole through my prison wall.

"But to burrow down was clearly impossible. Nevertheless, I knelt to feel the punky stuff under my feet. The absurdity of trying to work down a hole without having, like a squirrel, any place to throw out the material, was plain.

"But something more cheerful occurred to me. As I knelt, an object at my back touched my heels. It was the brass point of my hunting-knife sheath. Instantly I sprang to my feet, thrust my revolver back into its case, drew the stout knife, and drove the blade into the shell of pine.

"In two minutes I had scooped the blade through. In five minutes I had my face at a small hole that gave me fresh air. In half an hour I had hacked out a space big enough to put my shoulders through.

"The wolves, when they saw me again, were delighted. As for me, I was much pleased to see them, and said so. At the compliment they licked their jaws. They thought I was coming down, but I had something important to do first.

"I drew my pistol. It was a big old-fashioned Colt's revolver. With the first round of seven shots I killed three, and wounded another badly."

"Then the rest jumped on them and ate them all up, didn't they, grandpapa?"

"No, Jimmy, I'm glad to say they didn't. Wolves in Russian stories do, but American wolves are not cannibalistic; for this is a civilized country, you know.

"These wolves didn't even notice their fallen friends. They devoted their attention wholly to me, and I assure you, chickens, that I was much gratified at that.

"I loaded again. It was a good deal of trouble in those days, when revolvers wore caps. I aimed very carefully, and killed four more. The other ten then ran away—at least some did; three could drag themselves but slowly.

"After loading again I dropped down, and started for camp. Next morning we came back and got ten skins, after looking up the three wounded."

"And you got only eighty dollars, instead of one hundred and thirty-six, grandpapa," said Jimmy, ruefully.

"Well, Jimmy, that was better than furnishing the pack with raw boy for supper."

"Is that all, grandpapa?"

"Yes, Jenny, dear."

"Do tell us another story."

"Not to-night, chickens. Not to-night. Grandpapa is old and sleepy. Good night, dears; and if you begin to dream of wolves, be sure you change the subject."

Grandpapa walked slowly up stairs.

"Can you make different dreams come, Jimmy?" said Jenny.

"You goose! Grandpapa was pretending."