That First Muskrat

WE had been called to fireside conference in order that we might most wisely spend the succeeding twenty-four hours, already appropriated in our general bill of the future to certain familiar covers and known cornfields. But we straightway left the morrow to the councils of the morrow, and went hunting again in yesterdays. We foregathered with mutual dog-friends of large virtues and intellectuals, and hailed again certain mighty grouse-hunters who ere this, in unknown but surely happy hunting-grounds, have had communion with other great ones among the followers of the son of Cush. We wandered much, after the fashion of the night-before hunts, along dear paths that I could not plot, that were careless of time and space. I give the red gods the offering of a thankful heart that this is ever the way of those paths. For they are leading somewhere always, with no more unpleasant abruptness in the change from here to there than one may find in the joyous turning of a hill-road or the story told by a close-aldered stream as one follows in its arches.

One of these paths took a far sweep to a very early yesterday and to a great pasture, divided by a little river which furnished a wonderful swimming-pool. Many things we had done by that river for the first time, and I now made afresh one of my first conquests. For it was altogether of the way of this world we were in, that there should suddenly appear, just over the pleasantly running water of memory (and without the least surprise or incongruity), the nose of my first, fat, oily muskrat, at quite the spot where a boy’s eye caught him, that dismal, drizzling day of early spring — down where the fence-wires crossed the brook and the waters went swiftly over small stones to the making of a pool under the high bank below; only it was then a freshet stream and all boiling.

When I met that muskrat again, I must needs stay with him till I brought him home. For it had been a long reach of time since I had seen him, and Leal nodded from across the fire that he remembered the way from that pool and he would go with me. That special journey home is even more pleasant to me now than when I first took it.

I had stopped the noble animal with duck-shot, back of which was so much powder and so well rammed that the tingle came in my shoulder, where something had happened, never diagnosed, when the old velocipede went to pieces — the race almost won. But that was remembered much later, for the capture was important, and the prize must needs be promptly secured in the network gamebag; which I can almost feel now as it slops heavily on my back for the three rainy miles on the railroad ties before I reached home. The wind was with me, and those more appreciative of fragrances and their opposites would not have done as I did. It is not so hard now to have sympathy with the feeling of my blood relatives and next friends, to me-wards, when I had laid my quarry on the family work-bench, which, as respects the rest of the house, was not impenetrably environed. But at that time it seemed strange that their manner, though without bitterness, was so little like welcome; which manner, as I recall, became accentuated after I had begun the task of separating the muskrat from his valuable coat. Doubtless some importance should have been attached by me to the fact that this great work was interrupted for the space of two-days, while I made a visit to the country.

Even under pressure, memory does not definitely bring back the experiences following my return, except that I took up the task where I had left it off. There is no clear vision, among the pictures of the past, of a perfect pelt or a peltless form; but I do recall a great deal of discussion among my elders, not at all clear to me, concerning the peculiar structure and endowments of my prey and certain delicate surgeries much to be desired at the outset of my task, which (by inference) were adjudged to have been omitted. And I remember that, though it came off cold, the windows of the house were open much of the time for days, and my uncle’s smoking of his very black cigars was most welcome to the other members of the family. This did not mean much to me, for I had lived very close to the muskrat and was without regrets. Would that my muse were competent to the high opportunity of the memory of these few days, and might in any way fitly take-up the theme of parental love and fraternal forbearance!