Beetle Ring's Thanksgiving Mascot
by Sheldon C. Stoddard
Beetle Ring had the reputation of being the toughest lumber
camp on the river. The boys were certainly rough, and rather hard
drinkers, but their hearts were in the right place, after all.
SIX months of idleness following a long run of fever,
a lost position, and consequent discouragement had
brought poverty and wretchedness to Joe Bennett.
The lumber camp on the Featherstone, where he had
been at work, had broken up and gone, and an old shack,
deserted by some hunter, and now standing alone in
the great woods, was the only home he could provide for
his little family. It had answered its purpose as a
makeshift in the warm weather, but now, in late November,
and with the terrible northern winter coming
swiftly on, it was small wonder the young lumberman
had been discouraged as he tried to forecast the
His strength had returned, however, and lately something
of his old courage, for he had found work. It was
fifteen miles away, to be sure, and in "Beetle Ring"
lumber camp, the camp that bore the reputation of being
the roughest on the Featherstone, but it was work.
He was earning something, and might hope soon to
move his family into a habitable house and civilization.
But his position at Beetle Ring was not an enviable
one. The men took scant pains to conceal their dislike
for the young fellow who steadfastly refused to "chip
in" when the camp jug was sent to the Skylark, the
nearest saloon, some miles down the river, and who invariably
declined to join in the camp's numerous sprees.
But Bennett worked on quietly.
And in the meantime to the old shack in the woods
the baby had come—in the bleak November weather.
Night was settling down over the woods. An old
half-breed woman was tending the fire in the one room
of the shack, and on the wretched bed lay a fair-faced
woman, the young wife and mother, who looked wistfully
out at the bleak woods, white with the first snow,
then turned her wan, pale face toward the tiny bundle
at her side.
"Your pappy will come to-night, baby," she said,
softly. "It's Saturday, and your pappy will come
to-night, sure." She drew the covers more closely, and
tucked them carefully about the small figure.
"Mend the fire, Lisette, please. It's cold. And,
Lisette, please watch out down the road. Sometimes
Joe comes early Saturdays."
The old woman shook her head and muttered over the
little pile of wood, but she fed the fire, and then turned
and looked down the long white trail.
"No Joe yet," she said, with a sympathetic glance
toward the bed. She looked at the thick gray clouds,
and added, "Heap snow soon."
But the night came down and the evening passed,
while the women waited anxiously. It was near midnight
when the wife's face lighted up suddenly at a
sound outside, and directly there was a pounding, uncertain
step on the threshold. The door opened and
Bennett came in clumsily.
The woman's little glad cry of welcome was changed
to one of apprehension at her husband's appearance.
The resolute swing and bearing of the lumberman—that
had returned as he regained his strength—were gone.
He clumped across the room unsteadily on a pair of rude
crutches, his left foot swathed in bandages—a big,
"What is it, Joe?" the wife asked anxiously.
"Just more of my precious luck, that's all, Nannie."
He threw off the old box coat and heavy cap, brushed
the melting snow from his hair and beard, and without
waiting to warm his chilled hands at the fire, hobbled
to the bed and bent over the woman and the tiny
"Are you all right, Nan?" he asked anxiously.
"All right, Joe; but I've been so worried!"
"And the baby, Nan?"
The wife gently pushed back the covers and proudly
brought to view a tiny pink and puckered face. "Fine,
Joe. She's just as fine, isn't she?"
A proud, happy light flickered for a moment in the
man's eyes as he stooped to kiss the tiny face; then he
shut his teeth hard and swallowed suddenly.
"What is it, Joe?" his wife asked, looking at the
rudely bandaged foot.
"Cut it—nigh half off, and hurt the bone. It'll be
weeks before I can do a stroke of work again. It means—I
don't know what, and I daren't think what, Nannie.
The cook sewed it up." He glowered at the injured
His wife's face grew paler still, but she only asked
tenderly, "How did you ever get here, Joe?"
"Rode one of Pose Breem's hosses—his red roan."
"Fifteen miles on horseback with that foot? I
should have thought it would have killed you, Joe."
"I had to come, Nan," said the lumberman. "I
didn't know how you were getting on, and I had to
"I didn't suppose they'd let you have a horse, any of
'em, now sleighing's come."
"They wouldn't—if I'd asked 'em. They don't
seem to like me very well, and I didn't ask."
His wife's big, wistful eyes were turned upon him in
quick alarm. "I'm scared, Joe, if you took a horse without
asking. What'll they think? Where is it, Joe?"
"Don't ye worry, Nan. I've sent the horse back by
Pikepole Pete. He'll have him back before morning—Pose
won't miss him till then—and I wrote a note explaining.
Pose will be mad some, but he'll get over it."
The young lumberman listened uneasily to the storm,
which was increasing, looked at his wife's pale face a
moment, and added:
"I had to come, Nan. I just had to."
But the woman was only half reassured. "If anything
should happen," she said, "if he shouldn't get it
back, they'd think you—you stole it, and——"
"There, there, Nan!" broke in her husband, "don't
be crossing bridges. Pete'll take the horse back. I've
done the fellow lots of favours, and he won't go back on
me. Don't worry, girl!"
He moved the bandaged foot and winced, but not
from the pain of the wound. The hard look grew deeper
on his face. "I'm down on my luck, Nan," he said,
hopelessly. "There's no use trying. Everything's
against me, everything—following me like grim death.
And grim death," he jerked the words out harshly, "is
like to be the end of it, here in this old shack that's not
fit to winter hogs in, let alone humans. There's not
wood enough cut to last a week. You'll freeze, Nan,
you and the baby, and I'm—just nothing."
He took two silver dollars from his pocket, and said,
almost savagely, "There's what we've got to winter on,
and me crippled."
But his wife put her hand on his softly. "Don't you
give up so, Joe," she said. And presently she added:
"Next Thursday's Thanksgiving. We've seen hard
times, and we may see harder, but I never knew Thanksgiving
to come yet without something to be thankful for—never."
Outside the storm continued, fine snow sifting down
rapidly. "Pikepole Pete" found stiff work facing it,
and bent low over the red roan's neck.
"Blue blazes!" he muttered. "Bennett's a good
fellow all right, and he's hurt; but if he hadn't nigh
saved my life twice he could get this critter back himself
fer all of me!" He glanced at the dark woods and drew
up suddenly. "The road forks here, and Turner's is
yonder—less than a mile. I'll hitch in his barn a spell
and go on later," and he took the Turner fork.
But at Turner's Pete found two or three congenial
spirits—and a jug; and a few hours later the easy-going
fellow was deep in a tipsy sleep that would last for hours.
The following Sunday morning came bright and clear
upon freshly fallen snow that softened all the ruder outlines
of town and field and woods. Beetle Ring camp
lay wrapped in fleecy whiteness.
The camp was late astir, for Sunday was Beetle Ring's
day—not of rest, but of carousal. Two men had started
out rather early—the camp's jug delegation to the Skylark.
Presently the men began to straggle out to the
snug row of sheds where the horses were kept. Posey
Breem yawned lazily as he threw open the door of his
particular stall, then suddenly brought himself together
with a jerk and stared fixedly.
"What ails you now, Pose? Seen a ghost?"
"Skid" Thomson stopped with the big measure of
feed which he was carrying.
"No, I've seen no ghost," said Breem slowly, still
staring. "Look here, Skid!" Thomson looked into the
stall, and nearly dropped the measure.
"By George, Pose!" he said. "By—George!"
The news flew over the camp like wildfire. Posey
Breem's red roan, the best horse in the camp, had been
stolen! The burly lumbermen came hurrying from
all directions. There was no doubt about it—the horse
was gone, and the snow had covered every trace. There
was absolutely no clue to follow. Silently and sullenly
the men filed in to breakfast. In a lumberman's eyes
hardly a crime could exceed that of horse stealing.
"What I want to know is," said Breem, as he glanced
sharply round the long room of the camp, "what's
become of that yellow-haired jay—Bennett?"
"By George!" said Skid Thomson, "that's right!
Where is the critter?"
"Skipped!" said Bill Bates, sententiously, after a
quick search had been made. "It's all plain enough
now. I never liked the close-fisted critter."
"Nor I, either!" growled Skid. "Never chipped in
with the boys, but was laying low just the same."
"You won't catch him, either," said Bates. "They're
sharp—that kind. The critter knew 'twould snow and
hide his tracks."
"And I'd just sewed up his blamed foot!" muttered
the cook in disgust.
"Maybe we'll catch him. Up to Fat Pine two years
ago," began Breem, reminiscently, "Big Donovan had a
horse stole. They caught the fellow."
"Yes, I remember," said Skid Thomson. "I was
there. We caught him up north." The men nodded
understandingly and approvingly.
"Wuth a hundred and fifty dollars, the roan was,"
Beetle Ring camp passed an uneasy day, the "jug"
for once receiving scant attention. Late in the afternoon
"Trapper John," an old half-breed who hunted
and trapped about the woods, stopped at the camp to
"Didn't see anybody with a horse last night or this
morning, eh, John?" asked Posey Breem.
"Um, yes," responded the old trapper, quickly.
"Saw um horse las' night—man ride—big foot—so."
Old John held out his arms in exaggerated illustration.
Beetle Ring rose to its feet as one man. "What
colour was the horse, John?" asked Breem softly.
"Huh! Can't see good after dark, but think um
roan." Breem looked slowly round the silent camp,
and Beetle Ring grimly made ready for business.
It was evening when the men stopped a few rods below
the shack. A light shone out from a window, lighting
up a little space in the sombre woods.
"The fellow's got pals prob'bly," said Posey Breem.
"You wait here while I do a little scouting."
Breem crept cautiously into the circle of light, and
glancing through the uncurtained window, saw his man—with
his "pals." He saw upon the miserable bed a
woman with a thin, pale face and sad, wistful eyes, eyes
that yet lighted up with a beautiful pride as they rested
upon the man, who sat close by, holding a tiny bundle
in his arms.
The man shifted his position a little, so that the light
fell upon the bundle, and then the watcher outside saw
the sleeping face of a baby.
There was a rumour in the camp that Posey Breem
had not always been the man that he was—that a
woman had once blessed his life. But since they had
carried the young mother away, with her dead baby
on her breast, to place the two in one deep grave together,
he had gone steadily downward.
With hungry eyes Breem gazed at the scene in the
poor little house, his thoughts flying backward over the
years. A sudden sharp, impatient whistle roused him,
and he strode hastily back to the waiting men.
"Well, Pose?" interrogated Skid impatiently.
"He's there, all right," said Breem, in a peculiar tone.
"I ain't overmuch given to advising prowling round
folks' houses, but you fellows just look in yonder."
He jerked his head toward the shack. And a line of
big, rough-looking men filed into the little illumined
space, to come back presently silent and subdued.
"Now let's go home," said Breem, turning his horse
"And your horse, Pose?" questioned Bates.
"Burn the horse!" said Breem quickly. "D'ye
think the like of yonder's a horse thief? I ain't worrying
'bout the horse." And the men rode back to camp
The next morning, when Breem swung open the door
of the stall, he was not surprised to find the red roan
standing quietly by the side of his mate. A bit of
crumpled paper was pinned to the blanket. Breem
I rode your horse. I had to. I'll surely make it right.
"Course he had to!" growled the lumberman, and
he passed the paper round.
"Oncommon peart baby," said Skid, at last.
"Dreadful cold shack, though!" muttered Bates,
conveying a quarter of a griddlecake to his mouth.
"That's just it," said Pose, scowling. "Just let a
stiff nip of winter come, and the woman yonder and
the little critter, they'd freeze, that's what they'd do,
in that old rattletrap."
The men looked at one another in solemn assent.
"And I've been thinking," continued Breem, "since
Bennett there belonged to the camp, and since we
kind of misused the fellow for being stingy—for which
we ought to have been smashed with logs—that we
have a kind of a claim on 'em, as 'twere, and they on us.
And we must get 'em out of that yonder before they
freeze plumb solid." He stopped inquiringly.
"Right as right," assented several.
"And I've been thinking," said Bates suddenly,
"about that storeroom of ours. It's snug and warm,
and there's a lot of room in it, and we can put a stove
into it and——" But the rest of Bates's suggestion was
drowned in a round of applause.
"And I've been thinking, just a little," put in Skid
Thomson, "and if I've figured correct, next Thursday's
Thanksgiving—don't know as I've thought of it in
ten years—and if we stir round sharp we can get
things ready by then, and—well, 'twouldn't hurt
Beetle Ring to celebrate for once——" But Skid was
also interrupted by a cheer.
"And it's my firm belief," reflected Bates with an air
of profound conviction, "that that baby of Bennett's
was designed special and, as you might say, providential,
for to be Beetle Ring's mascot. Fat Pine and
Horseshoe have 'em—mascots—to bring luck, and I've
noticed Beetle Ring ain't had the luck lately it should
Bates paused, and the camp meditated in silent delight.
Thanksgiving morning was a cold one, but clear.
More snow had fallen, and the deep, feathery whiteness
stretched away until lost in the dark background of
the pines and spruces. A wavering line of smoke
rose over the roof of the little old shack in the woods.
Bennett was winding rags round the armpieces of the
rough crutches. He had dragged in some short limbs
the day before for fuel, but in so doing had broken open
the wound, which gave him excruciating pain.
"Joe," said his wife, suddenly, "where are you going?"
"I'm going to try for help, Nan. We're out of nigh
everything, and my foot no better."
"You can't do it, Joe. You—you'll die, if you try,
Joe, alone in the woods. Oh, Joe!"
The look of hope that had never wholly left the woman's
eyes was slowly fading out.
"We'll all die if I don't try, Nannie. I'm——"
"Huh!" suddenly exclaimed the old woman, peering
out of the little window. "Heap men, heap horses!
Look, see 'em come!"
Bennett turned hastily, and saw a long line of stalwart
men and sturdy horses threshing resolutely through
the deep snow and heading directly for the shack.
He looked keenly at the men, and his face paled a
little, but he said steadily, "It's the Beetle Ring men,
His wife gave a sharp cry. "It's the horse, Joe!
It's the horse! They're after you, Joe, sure!" She
caught her husband's arm.
The men were now filling up the little space before the
shack. Directly there came a sounding knock. Bennett
opened the door to admit the burly frame of Posey
Breem. He said quietly:
"I'm here all right, Pose, and I took your horse,
"Burn the hoss!" said Breem explosively. "That's
all right. Shake, pard!" He held out a brawny hand.
Bennett "shook" wonderingly.
"Wife, pard?" asked Breem, gently, nodding toward
the bed. Bennett hastily introduced him.
"Kid, pard?" Breem pointed a stubby finger at the
The lumberman grinned delightedly, then coughed a
little, and began awkwardly:
"Pard, th' boys over at Beetle Ring heard—as you
might say, accidental"—Breem coughed into his big
hand—"about your folks over here, your wife and—the
baby. They were powerful interested, specially
about the baby. Why, pard, some of the boys hain't
seen a baby in ten years, and we thought as you belonged
to the camp, maybe you and your wife would
allow that the camp had a sort of claim on the little
critter yonder." He eyed the tiny bundle wistfully.
"And another thing that hit the boys, pard," he went
on. "Up at Fat Pine they got what they call a mascot,
bein' a tame b'ar; an' up at Horseshoe they got a
mascot, bein' a goat. Lots of camps have 'em—fetches
luck. And the boys are sure that this baby of yours
was designed special to be Beetle Ring's mascot. Now,
pard, Beetle Ring, as you know, ain't what you'd call
a Sunday-school, but the boys they'll behave. They
fixed up that storeroom to beat all, nice bed, big stove,
and lots of wood, and so on, and we've got a cow for
the woman and baby. Say, we want you powerful.
Got a sleigh fixed, hemlock boughs and a cover of robes
and blankets, and Skid'll drive careful. He's a master
at drivin', Skid is. You'll come, won't you? The boys
Big tears were in the woman's eyes as she turned
toward her husband. "Oh, Joe," she said, and choked
suddenly; but she pressed the baby tightly to her
breast. "I knew 'twould come Thanksgiving."
"There, pard," said Breem, after blowing his nose
explosively, "you just see to wrappin' up the woman
and the kid, and me and Skid, being as you're hurt,
you know, 'll tote 'em out to the sleigh."
The young mother was soon placed carefully in the
sleigh, the old woman following. But when Skid Thomson
appeared in the door of the old shack, bearing a
tiny form muffled up with wondrous care, the whole of
Beetle Ring shouted.
Breem led up a spare horse for Bennett's use. The
latter stopped short, with a curious expression on his
face. The horse was the red roan.
But Breem only said, his keen eyes twinkling:
"Under such circumstances as these, pard, you're
welcome to all the hosses in Beetle Ring."
With steady, practiced hand Skid Thomson guided
his powerful team through the deep snow, over the
rough forest road; and sometimes brawny arms carried
the sleigh bodily over the roughest places.
At the close of the day an anxious consultation took
place in the big main room of Beetle Ring, and presently
two men appeared outside.
They walked slowly toward what had been the
camp's storeroom, but halted before the door hesitatingly.
"You go in ahead, Skid, and ask 'em," said Breem,
earnestly, to his companion.
"No, go ahead yourself, Pose. I'd be sure to calk a
hoss or split a runner, or somethin'. Go on!"
Breem knocked, and both went in.
"All right, pard?"
"Right as right, Pose," said Joe Bennett.
"Wife all right?" Breem turned toward the bed,
and Mrs. Bennett smiled up at him with happy eyes,
and with a bit of colour already showing in her pale
face. Breem smiled back broadly. Then he asked,
"And, pard, the baby?"
"Peart as peart, Pose."
Breem waited a little, twirling his cap, but receiving
a sharp thump from Thomson, went on:
"The boys, pard, are anxious about the little critter.
They're kind of hankering, pard, and, mum, if you are
willin', and ain't 'fraid to trust her with us, why, we'd
be mighty glad to tote her—just for a few minutes—over
to camp. The boys are stiddy, all of 'em, stiddy
as churches. They hain't soaked a mite to-day, mum,
and they ain't goin' to; they've hove the jug into a
snowdrift, and they'd take it kind, mum—if you are
The woman, still smiling happily, was already wrapping
up the baby.
Breem held up a warning finger when he returned a
little later, and again smiled delightedly.
"Went to sleep a-totin'—if you'll believe it, the
burned little critter!" he said, softly. "And," he added,
"the boys, pard, are mighty pleased; and, mum, they
thank you kindly. They say, the boys do, there ain't
such a mascot as theirs in five hundred miles; they see
luck comin', chunks of it, pard, already." And the big
fellow went out and closed the door gently.