So think back along your recent route and recall the best place where all four of those things you need are to be found—that is, the raw materials— and go to it.
I am assuming that the night is likely to be cold, but that there is no indication of rain or snow— that contingency will be considered later.
In a primitive forest there are big fallen trees on nearly every acre. Find a sound one that lies flat on level ground. You might use it either as a backlog or as a windbreak; the latter in this case, since you are to erect no shelter. In summer, a bed of dead leaves piled against the log, with a small fire in front, would be a good cubby for the night. But we assume that there will be frost.
Select the spot that you intend to lie on (leeward side of the log, of course), cover it with dry brush, and set it afire. The object is to dry out the ground and heat it. If the tree is not punky it will stand a considerable blaze close to it without igniting more than little spots on the bark, which can be extinguished with a handful or two of dirt. But don't, on your life, kindle a fire against a decayed or hollow log—you never could be sure of putting it out. If there are no sound down-logs, build an artificial windbreak of poles laid on top of each other and chinked with earth.
You first have raked the leaves together toward the center so that the fire cannot spread. Don't make too big a blaze at a time. When the ground you are to sleep on is burned off, keep a fire of small sticks going on it for half an hour, the length and width you are to occupy. Meantime you will be dragging in, and piling on one side, all the sound, dry wood you can get, for the night's fuel. Get long sticks, as big as you can handle, and plenty of them. Perhaps there are some old pine stumps that you can uproot. Don't fool with soggy, decayed stuff. Probably the top of your fallen tree will furnish a lot of broken limbs that sprangle enough to have been kept mostly off the ground and have seasoned hard.
When you have plenty of night-wood piled up, take a pair of sticks and rake the embers of your brush fire forward to a place five or six feet in front of your bed. Build there your night fire. Tramp down all embers left by the first fire, and carefully extinguish any smoking spots on the tree. If the log does not quite meet the ground, chink the openings with dirt.
If there are evergreen bushes at hand, they make the best bedding (balsam, hemlock, spruce, in that order—even pine or cedar will do in a pinch). You won't have time to make a real browse bed (described in Chapter XIII of this book), but remember that the smaller the sticks under you, the better you will rest. If there are no evergreens, then use moss, ferns, grass, or whatever other soft stuff you may find. Dead leaves and pine needles are the last choice, as they are inflammable. If you have time, make that bed two feet deep.
The ground that you are going to sleep on is dry and hot, and will stay so a long time, being insulated by the bedding stuff. The log behind you is warm, and it will shield you from the wind. You have effected a double economy, because a small fire in front will suffice until the cold hours on the far side of midnight, for which time the bulk of your fuel is to be saved.
Don't fire any distress signals until shortly before dark; earlier ones would be attributed to some wandering hunter. But when the shadows begin to fall, and you have not shown up, your comrades will begin to grow uneasy and will listen for signals. The best signal with a gun is a shot, a pause of teri seconds, and then two shots in quick succession. The first attracts attention, the others give the direction. If the men of your party hear you they will reply instantly. But if you hear no answer, do not try again for half an hour. Save ammunition. You will need it worse to-morrow, for signalling as you travel, and to get meat with.
If your camp-fire smokes badly, it is because it lies too flat on the ground for air to get under it. Build it on thick chunks, or on rocks if there are flat ones to be found.
So long as it does not rain, the problem of keeping warm without a blanket is not serious. If more covering is demanded, and there are enough small balsams in the neighborhood, one can make a deep bed of the browse, lay two or three poles over it, pile a lot of boughs on top, and then, by manipulating the poles, insinuate himself between the twc layers. This will help very much to prevent too rapid radiation of the bodily heat. Another good kink is to get a number of stones, six to eight inches in diameter, heat them before the fire, and place them around you wherever the cold is felt. Have others heating in the meantime, and change from time to time. To lift and carry them, cut a small forked limb close to the joint, leaving two feet of each fork for handles, put the crotch over the rock, and press inward with the handles.
Perhaps, instead of a fallen tree, you may have the good luck to find a big uptilted rock with flat face, long enough to serve as windbreak, or a ledge, with enough level ground in front of it for your purpose. Rock holds heat a long time, yet generously radiates it. The warm air from the camp-fire will eddy around it.
A man without a blanket can bivouac in the way here described, and get a pretty good night's rest, even in freezing weather. If it snows, a browse bed-covering will help. But a chill fall rain is something else. Ugh! Maybe you can twist up enough evergreen shrubs with your hands to build a kennel of some sort, but its slope must be steeper than 45 ° to do any good. If you find old logs from which sheets of bark can be peeled with a stick whittled wedge-shape at one end, you can make a pent-roof over your bed. Slope some sticks from the far side of the big log that serves as windbreak, fonvard over your bed, weight them down with rocks or a heavy stick, and shingle the bark over the upper ends. But you are in for a night of it—the best you can do— all for the lack of what "Nessmuk's" scoffers called his "limber-go-shiftless pocket axe." With the like of it you could build a good shelter of bark or of browse, such as will be described in a future chapter.