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THE HOUSE IN THE WATER

A BOOK OF ANIMAL STORIES




THE HOUSE IN THE WATER

A BOOK OF ANIMAL STORIES

BY CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS

Author of "The Kindred of the Wild," "Red Fox," "The Heart of the Ancient
Wood," "The Forge in the Forest," "The Heart That Knows," etc.

Illustrated and decorated by

CHARLES LIVINGSTON BULL and FRANK VINING SMITH

THE PAGE COMPANY

PUBLISHERS BOSTON




Copyright, 1907, by Curtis Publishing Company

Copyright, 1908, by Funk & Wagnalls Company

Copyright, 1908, by The Circle Publishing Company

Copyright, 1908, by Associated Sunday Magazines, Incorporated

Copyright, 1908, by L. C. Page & Company (Incorporated)

All rights reserved

First Impression, May, 1908

Third Impression, May, 1916

THE COLONIAL PRESS

C. H. SIMONDS CO., BOSTON, U. S. A.




CONTENTS OF THE BOOK

PAGE
The House in the Water 1
The White-slashed Bull 125
When the Blueberries Are Ripe 152
The Glutton of the Great Snow 163
When the Truce of the Wild is Done 192
The Window in the Shack 204
The Return of the Moose 225
From the Teeth of the Tide 235
The Fight at the Wallow 252
Sonny and the Kid 271




A LIST OF THE FULL-PAGE DRAWINGS IN THE BOOK

PAGE
"Began to climb out upon the crest of the dam." 7
"A foraging fish-hawk winging above." 15
"The otter moved with unusual caution." 19
"Suddenly rearing his sleek, snaky body half out of the
water." 23
"Poked his head above water." 33
"Sticky lumps, which they could hug under their chins." 41
"Twisted it across his shoulders, and let it drag behind
him." 54
"Every beaver now made a mad rush for the canal." 58
"It was no longer a log, but a big gray lynx." 62
"He caught sight of a beaver swimming down the pond." 72
"'Or even maybe a bear.'" 90
"He drowns jest at the place where he come in." 96
"Hunted through the silent and pallid aisles of the forest." 102
"A sinister, dark, slow-moving beast." 106
"He sprang with a huge bound that landed him, claws open,
squarely on the wolverene's hind quarters." 110
"It was not until the moon appeared ... that Jabe began to
call." 142
"Something gleamed silver down his side." 148
"An old she-bear with two half-grown cubs." 154
"Crept slowly around the raging and snarling captive." 170
"Snapped back at him with a vicious growl." 176
"Running in the shallow water to cover his scent" 200
"Sniffed loudly along the crack of the door." 212
"Made a wild thrust at the dreadful face." 216
"A magnificent, black, wide-antlered bull, an ungainly brown
cow, and a long-legged, long-eared calf." 228
"Pulled the butt under her chest." 248
"He 'belled' harshly several times across the dark wastes." 254
"In a flash was up again on his haunches." 268
"He curled down his abbreviated tail, and ran." 280
"In his fright the kid dropped his toadstool and stared back
at the gray animal." 292




THE HOUSE IN THE WATER

CHAPTER I

The Sound in the Night


UPON the moonlit stillness came suddenly a far-off, muffled, crashing
sound. Just once it came, then once again the stillness of the
wilderness night, the stillness of vast, untraversed solitude. The Boy
lifted his eyes and glanced across the thin reek of the camp-fire at
Jabe Smith, who sat smoking contemplatively. Answering the glance, the
woodsman muttered "old tree fallin'," and resumed his passive
contemplation of the sticks glowing keenly in the fire. The Boy, upon
whom, as soon as he entered the wilderness, the taciturnity of the
woodsfolk descended as a garment, said nothing, but scanned his
companion's gaunt face with a gravely incredulous smile.

So wide-spread and supreme was the silence that five seconds after
that single strange sound had died out it seemed, somehow, impossible
to believe it had ever been. The light gurgle of the shallow and
shrunken brook which ran past the open front of the travellers'
"lean-to" served only to measure the stillness. Both Jabe and the Boy,
since eating their dinner, had gradually forgotten to talk. As the
moon rose over the low, fir-crested hills they had sunk into reverie,
watching the camp-fire die down.

At last, with a sort of crisp whisper a stick, burnt through the
middle, fell apart, and a flicker of red flame leaped up. The woodsman
knocked out his pipe, rose slowly to his feet, stretched his gaunt
length, and murmured, "Reckon we might as well turn in."

"That's all right for you, Jabe," answered the Boy, rising also,
tightening his belt, and reaching for his rifle, "but I'm going off to
see what I can see. Night's the time to see things in the woods."

Jabe grunted non-committally, and began spreading his blanket in the
lean-to. "Don't forgit to come back for breakfast, that's all," he
muttered. He regarded the Boy as a phenomenally brilliant hunter and
trapper spoiled by sentimental notions.

To the Boy, whose interest in all pertaining to woodcraft was much
broader and more sympathetic than that of his companion, Jabe's
interpretation of the sound of the falling tree had seemed hasty and
shallow. He knew that there was no better all-round woodsman in these
countries than Jabe Smith; but he knew also that Jabe's interest in
the craft was limited pretty strictly to his activities as hunter,
trapper and lumberman. Just now he was all lumberman. He was acting as
what is called a "timber-cruiser," roaming the remoter and less-known
regions of the wilderness to locate the best growths of spruce and
pine for the winter's lumbering operations, and for the present
his keen faculties were set on the noting of tree growths, and
water-courses, and the lay of the land for the getting out of a
winter's cutting. On this particular cruise the Boy - who, for all
the disparity in their years and the divergence in their views, was
his most valued comrade - had accompanied him with a special object
in view. The region they were cruising was one which had never been
adequately explored, and it was said to be full of little unnamed,
unmapped lakes and streams, where, in former days, the Indians had
had great beaver hunting.

When the sound of the falling tree came to his ears across the
night-silence, the Boy at once said to himself, "Beavers, at work!" He
said it to himself, not aloud, because he knew that Jabe also, as a
trapper, would be interested in beavers; and he had it in his mind to
score a point on Jabe. Noiseless as a lynx in his soft-soled
"larrigans," he ascended the half-empty channel of the brook, which
here strained its shrunken current through rocks and slate-slabs,
between steep banks. The channel curved steadily, rounding the
shoulder of a low ridge. When he felt that he had travelled somewhat
less than half a mile, he came out upon a bit of swampy marsh, beyond
which, over the crest of a low dam, spread the waters of a tranquil
pond shining like a mirror in the moonlight.

The Boy stopped short, his heart thumping with excitement and
anticipation. Here before him was what he had come so far to find.
From his books and from his innumerable talks with hunter and trapper,
he knew that the dam and the shining, lonely pond were the work of
beavers. Presently he distinguished amid the sheen of the water a
tiny, grassy islet, with a low, dome-shaped, stick-covered mound at
one end of it. This, plainly, was a beaver house, the first he had
ever seen. His delighted eyes, observing it at this distance, at once
pronounced it immeasurably superior to the finest and most pretentious
muskrat-house he had ever seen - a very palace, indeed, by comparison.
Then, a little further up the pond, and apparently adjoining the
shore, he made out another dome-shaped structure, broader and less
conspicuous than the first, and more like a mere pile of sticks. The
pond, which was several acres in extent, seemed to him an extremely
spacious domain for the dwellers in these two houses.

Presently he marked a black trail, as it were, moving down in the
middle of the radiance from the upper end of the pond. It was
obviously the trail of some swimmer, but much too broad, it seemed, to
be made by anything so small as a beaver. It puzzled him greatly. In
his eagerness he pushed noiselessly forward, seeking a better view,
till he was within some thirty feet of the dam. Then he made out a
small dark spot in the front of the trail, - evidently a beaver's head;
and at last he detected that the little swimmer was carrying a bushy
branch, one end held in his mouth while the rest was slung back
diagonally across his shoulders.

The Boy crept forward like a cat, his gray eyes shining with
expectancy. His purpose was to gain a point where he could crouch in
ambush behind the dam, and perhaps get a view of the lake-dwellers
actually at work. He was within six or eight feet of the dam,
crouching low (for the dam was not more than three feet in height),
when his trained and cunning ear caught a soft swirling sound in the
water on the other side of the barrier. Instantly he stiffened to a
statue, just as he was, his mouth open so that not a pant of his
quickened breath might be audible. The next moment the head of a
beaver appeared over the edge of the dam, not ten feet away, and
stared him straight in the face.

The beaver had a stick of alder in its mouth, to be used, no doubt, in
some repairing of the dam. The Boy, all in gray as he was, and
absolutely motionless, trusted to be mistaken for one of the gnarled,
gray stumps with which the open space below the dam was studded. He
had read that the beaver was very near-sighted, and on that he based
his hopes, though he was so near, and the moonlight so clear, that he
could see the bright eyes of the newcomer staring straight into his
with insistent question. Evidently, the story of that near-sightedness
had not been exaggerated. He saw the doubt in the beaver's eye fade
gradually into confidence, as the little animal became convinced that
the strange gray figure was in reality just one of the stumps. Then,
the industrious dam-builder began to climb out upon the crest of the
dam, dragging his huge and hairless tail, and glancing along as if to
determine where the stick which he carried would do most good. At this
critical moment, when the eager watcher felt that he was just about to
learn the exact methods of these wonderful architects of the wild, a
stick in the slowly settling mud beneath his feet broke with a soft,
thick-muffled snap.

[Illustration: "BEGAN TO CLIMB OUT UPON THE CREST OF THE DAM."]

So soft was the sound that it barely reached the Boy's ears. To the
marvellously sensitive ears of the beaver, however, it was a warning
more than sufficient. It was a noisy proclamation of peril. Swift as a
wink of light, the beaver dropped his stick and dived head first into
the pond. The Boy straightened up just in time to see him vanish. As
he vanished, his broad, flat, naked tail hit the water with a cracking
slap which resounded over the pond like a pistol-shot. It was re√Ђchoed
by four or five more splashes from the upper portion of the pond.
Then all was silence again, and the Boy realized that there would be
no more chance that night for him to watch the little people of the
House in the Water. Mounting the firm-woven face of the dam and
casting his eyes all over the pond, he satisfied himself that two
houses which he had first seen were all that it contained. Then,
resisting the impulse of his excitement, which was to explore all
around the pond's borders at once, he resolutely turned his face back
to camp, full of thrilling plans for the morrow.




CHAPTER II

The Battle in the Pond


AT breakfast, in the crisp of the morning, while yet the faint
mists clung over the brook and the warmth of the camp-fire was
attractive, the Boy proclaimed his find. Jabe had asked no questions,
inquisitiveness being contrary to the backwoodsman's code of
etiquette; but his silence had been full of interrogation. With his
mouth half-full of fried trout and cornbread, the Boy remarked:

"That was no windfall, Jabe, that noise we heard last night!"

"So?" muttered the woodsman, rather indifferently.

Without a greater show of interest than that the Boy would not divulge
his secret. He helped himself to another flaky pink section of trout,
and became seemingly engrossed in it. Presently the woodsman spoke
again. He had been thinking, and had realized that his prestige had
suffered some kind of blow.

"Of course," drawled the woodsman sarcastically, "it wa'n't no
windfall. I jest said that to git quit of bein' asked questions when I
was sleepy. I knowed all the time it was beaver!"

"Yes, Jabe," admitted the Boy, "it was beavers. I've found a big
beaver-pond just up the brook a ways - a pond with two big beaver-houses
in it. I've found it - so I claim it as mine, and there ain't to be
any trapping on that pond. Those are my beavers, Jabe, every one of
them, and they sha'n't be shot or trapped!"

"I don't know how fur yer injunction'd hold in law," said Jabe dryly,
as he speared a thick slab of bacon from the frying-pan to his tin
plate. "But fur as I'm concerned, it'll hold. An' I reckon the boys of
the camp this winter'll respect it, too, when I tell 'em as how it's
your own partic'lar beaver pond."

"Bless your old heart, Jabe!" said the Boy. "That's just what I was
hoping. And I imagine anyway there's lots more beaver round this
region to be food for the jaws of your beastly old traps!"

"Yes," acknowledged Jabe, rising to clear up, "I struck three likely
ponds yesterday, as I was cruisin over to west'ard of the camp. I
reckon we kin spare you the sixteen or twenty beaver in 'Boy's
Pond!'"

The Boy grinned appreciation of the notable honour done him in the
naming of the pond, and a little flush of pleasure deepened the red of
his cheeks. He knew that the name would stick, and eventually go upon
the maps, the lumbermen being a people tenacious of tradition and not
to be swerved from their own way.

"Thank you, Jabe!" he said simply. "But how do you know there are
sixteen or twenty beaver in my pond?"

"You said there was two houses," answered the woodsman. "Well, we
reckon always from eight to ten beaver to each house, bein' the old
couple, and then three or four yearlin's not yet kicked out to set up
housekeeping fer themselves, and three or four youngsters of the
spring's whelping. Beavers' good parents, an' the family holds
together long's the youngsters needs it. Now I'm off. See you here at
noon, fer grub!" and picking up his axe he strode off to southwestward
of the camp to investigate a valley which he had located the day
before.

Left alone, the Boy hurriedly set the camp in order, rolled up the
blankets, washed the dishes, and put out the last of the fire. Then,
picking up his little Winchester, which he always carried, - though he
never used it on anything more sensitive than a bottle or a tin
can, - he retraced his steps of the night before, up-stream to the
beaver pond.

Knowing that the beavers do most of their work, or, at least, most of
their above-water work, at night, he had little hope of catching any
of them abroad by daylight. He approached the dam, nevertheless, with
that noiseless caution which had become a habit with him in the woods,
a habit which rendered the woods populous for him and teeming with
interest, while to more noisy travellers they seemed quite empty of
life. One thing his study of the wilderness had well taught him, which
was that the wild kindreds do not by any means always do just what is
expected of them, but rather seem to delight in contradicting the
naturalists.

When he reached the edge of the open, however, and peered out across
the dam, there was absolutely nothing to break the shining morning
stillness. In the clear sunlight the dam, and the two beaver-houses
beyond, looked larger and more impressive than they had looked the
night before. There was no sign of life anywhere about the pond,
except a foraging fish-hawk winging above it, with fierce head
stretched low in the search for some basking trout or chub.

[Illustration: "A FORAGING FISH-HAWK WINGING ABOVE."]

Following the usual custom of the wild kindreds themselves, the Boy
stood motionless for some minutes behind his thin screen of bushes
before revealing himself frankly in the open. His patient watch being
unrewarded, he was on the very verge of stepping forth, when from the
tail of his eye he caught a motion in the shallow bed of the brook,
and ducked himself. He was too wary to turn his head; but a moment
later a little brown sinuous shape came into his field of view. It was
an otter, making his way up-stream.

The otter moved with unusual caution, glancing this way and that
and seeming to take minute note of all he saw. At the foot of the
dam he stopped, and investigated the structure with the air of one
who had never seen it before. So marked was this air that the Boy
concluded he was a stranger to that region, - perhaps a wanderer
from the head of the Ottanoonsis, some fifteen miles southward,
driven away by the operations of a crew of lumbermen who were
building a big lumber-camp there. However that might be, it was
evident that the brown traveller was a newcomer, an outsider. He
had none of the confident, businesslike manner which a wild animal
wears in moving about his own range.

When he had stolen softly along the whole base of the dam, and back
again, nosing each little rivulet of overflow, the otter seemed
satisfied that this was much like all other beaver dams. Then he
mounted to the crest and took a prolonged survey of the stretch of
water beyond. Nothing unusual appearing, he dived cleanly into the
pond, about the point where, as the Boy guessed, there would be the
greatest depth of water against the dam. He was apparently heading
straight up for the inlet of the pond, on a path which would take him
within about twenty-five or thirty yards of the main beaver-house on
the island. As soon as he had vanished under the water the Boy ran
forward, mounted the crest of the dam, and peered with shaded eyes to
see if he could mark the swimmer's progress.

[Illustration: "THE OTTER MOVED WITH UNUSUAL CAUTION."]

For a couple of minutes, perhaps, the surface of the pond gave no
indication of the otter's whereabouts. Then, just opposite the main
beaver-house, there was a commotion in the water, the surface curled
and eddied, and the otter appeared in great excitement. He dived again
immediately; and just as he did so the head of a huge beaver poked up
and snatched a breath. Where the two had gone under, the surface of
the pond now fairly boiled; and the Boy, in his excitement over this
novel and mysterious contest, nearly lost his balance on the frail
crest of the dam. A few moments more and both adversaries again came
to the surface, now at close grips and fighting furiously. They were
followed almost at once by a second beaver, smaller than the first,
who fell upon the otter with insane fury. It was plain that the
beavers were the aggressors. The Boy's sympathies were all with the
otter, who from time to time tried vainly to escape from the battle;
and once he raised his rifle. But he bethought him that the otter,
after all, whatever his intentions, was a trespasser; and that the
beavers had surely a right to police their own pond. He remembered an
old Indian's having told him that there was always a blood feud
between the beaver and the otter; and how was he to know how just the
cause of offence, or the stake at issue? Lowering his gun he stared in
breathless eagerness.

The otter, however, as it proved, was well able to take care of
himself. Suddenly rearing his sleek, snaky body half out of the water,
he flashed down upon the smaller beaver and caught it firmly behind
the ear with his long, deadly teeth - teeth designed to hold the
convulsive and slippery writhings of the largest salmon. With mad
contortions the beaver struggled to break that fatal grip. But the
otter held inexorably, shaking its victim as a terrier does a rat, and
paid no heed whatever to the slashing assaults of the other beaver.
The water was lashed to such a turmoil that the waves spread all over
the pond, washing up to the Boy's feet on the crest of the dam, and
swaying the bronze-green grasses about the house on the little island.
Though, without a doubt, all the other citizens of the pond were
watching the battle even more intently than himself, the Boy could not
catch sight of so much as nose or ear. The rest of the spectators kept
close to the covert of grass tuft and lily pad.

[Illustration: "SUDDENLY REARING HIS SLEEK, SNAKY BODY HALF OUT OF THE
WATER."]

All at once the small beaver stiffened itself out convulsively on top
of the water, turned belly up, and began to sink. At the same time the
otter let go, tore free of his second and more dangerous adversary,
and swam desperately for the nearest point of shore. The surviving
beaver, evidently hurt, made no effort to follow up his victory, but
paddled slowly to the house on the island, where he disappeared.
Presently the otter gained the shore and dragged himself up. His
glossy brown skin was gashed and streaming with blood, but the Boy
gathered that his wounds were not mortal. He turned, stared fixedly at
the beaver-house for several seconds as if unwilling to give in, then
stole off through the trees to seek some more hospitable water. As he
vanished, repulsed and maltreated, the Boy realized for the first time
how hostile even the unsophisticated wilderness is to a stranger.
Among the wild kindreds, even as among men, most things worth having
are preempted.

When the Boy's excitement over this strange fight had calmed down, he
set himself with keen interest to examining the dam. He knew that by
this time every beaver in the pond was aware of his presence, and
would take good care to keep out of sight; so there was no longer
anything to be gained by concealment. Pacing the crest, he made it to
be about one hundred feet in length. At the centre, and through a
great part of its length, it was a little over three feet high, its
ends diminishing gradually into the natural rise of the shores. The
base of the dam, as far as he could judge, seemed to be about twelve
feet in thickness, its upper face constructed with a much more gradual
slope than the lower. The whole structure, which was built of poles,
brush, stones, and earth, appeared to be very substantial, a most
sound and enduring piece of workmanship. But along the crest, which
was not more than a foot and a half in width, it was built with a
certain looseness and elasticity for which he was at a loss to
account. Presently he observed, however, that this dam had no place of
overflow for letting off the water. The water stood in the pond at a
height that brought it within three or four inches of the crest. At
this level he saw that it was escaping, without violence, by
percolating through the toughly but loosely woven tissue of sticks and
twigs. The force of the overflow was thus spread out so thin that its
destructive effect on the dam was almost nothing. It went filtering,
with little trickling noises, down over and through the whole lower
face of the structure, there to gather again into a brook and resume


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