Day breaks in the great forest in a hushed solemnity, as if all nature bowed in silent worship. The very leaves hang motionless. The voices of the night are stilled. The-prowlers in the dark have slunk back to their lairs. The furred and feathered folk who people the mighty woodland through all the hours of light have not yet awakened. The peace of the perfect stillness is at once a benediction and a prayer.
It was at just this hour that Walter awoke. There was no sound save the heavy breathing of Big Jim. For a few minutes he lay peering out through a break in the bark wall of the shack. Swiftly the gray light threaded the forest aisles. A ros}' flush touched the top of a giant pine and instantly, as if this were a signal, a white-throated sparrow softly fluted its exquisite song from a thicket close by the camp. Another more distant took up the song, and another and another until the woods rang with the joyous matins. A red squirrel chirred sharply and his claws rattled on the bark of the roof as he scampered across. A rabbit thumped twice close at hand. Cautiously raising himself on one elbow Walter discovered the little gray-coated fellow peering with timid curiosity into the opposite lean-to.
As if this were the morning alarm Big Jim yawned, then sprang from his blankets. Brer Rabbit dived headlong for the underbrush, but the guide's quick eyes caught the flash of bunny's white tail, and he laughed good-naturedly.
" Why didn't you invite him t' breakfast, son ? " he inquired.
Walter grinned as he crawled out of his blankets. " Felt too bashful on such short acquaintance," he replied.
" Pro'bly them's his feelin's, too," said the guide, producing two rough towels from the depths of his pack basket. " Now fer a wash and then breakfast."
There was a sharp nip to the air that made Walter shiver at the thought of what the water must be like. He dreaded that first plunge, but he said nothing, and followed Big Jim's lead down to the lake. To his surprise he found the water warmer than the air, as if the heavy blanket of mist in which the lake was still shrouded was indeed a coverlid provided to hold fast the warmth absorbed from the sun of yesterday. A brisk swim followed by an equally brisk rub-down banished all thoughts of chill, and just as the first low-flung rays of the rising sun burned a hole through the slowly rising vapor they started back for camp and breakfast.
" You start th' fire while I rastle round th' grub," said the guide, as he once more dug down into the pack. " How will flapjacks and th' rest o' them trout hit yer fer a lining fer yer stomach, pard ? "
While the guide prepared the batter Walter showed how well he had learned his lesson in fire building the night before. Between the two big bed-logs he placed two fairly good-sized sticks about a foot apart. Dry twigs and splinters were laid loosely across, and on these at one side some strips of birch bark.
Two more sticks were now laid across the twigs at right angles, then another layer of small sticks. The next layer of larger sticks was laid at right angles to the former. So the pile was built up, log-cabin fashion, good-sized split hard wood being used for the upper layers.
Touching a match to the birch bark he had the satisfaction of seeing the whole mass leap into flame in less than a minute because, built in this way, air had immediate circula-tion to the whole mass, free access of air being essential to a brisk fire. Then again the whole would burn down together to live coals, the object to be obtained for successful cooking.
In the meantime Big Jim had stirred up the flapjack batter and gone in quest of the trout, which had been left in a pail hung on the stub of a dead branch of a pine near by. He returned with a look of chagrin on his good-natured face.
"Reckon, pard, thet we've had more visitors than thet leetle cottontail we ketched a glimpse o' this mornin'. If yer ain't no ways pertic'lar you an' me will have bacon stid o' trout with them flapjacks. Ought t' known thet if leetle ole Mr. Mink really wanted them fish he wouldn't mind takin' th' trouble V shin up a tree. If I'd hung thet pail by a wire as I'd ought t' hev, Mr. Mink wouldn't hev th' laugh on us now."
Walter laughed at the rueful face of the guide. " How do you know it was a mink ? " he asked.
" 'Cause thar's no other critter in these here woods likes fish well enough t' use his wits thet way t' git 'em. Besides, he wasn't pertic'lar 'bout coverin' up his tracks. Left 'em 'round most promiscus and insultin'. Say, son," he added, his face brightening with a sudden thought, " you take thet tin dipper and hit th' trail past th' big pine over yonder. Keep a-goin' till yer strike a patch o' old burned-over ground. Yesterday I see a lot o' early blueberries over thar. Pick th' dipper full and I'll give yer somethin't' tickle yer ribs so thet yer'll fergit all about them trout."
Walter took the dipper and following the trail shortly reached the burned land. Sure enough, there were the berries, so plentiful that it took but a short time to fill the dipper. Before he reached camp he smelt the bacon and his mouth watered. A pot of steaming cocoa hung from one of the pot-hooks, and a plate of crisp bacon rested on one end of the fore-log where it would keep warm.
Big Jim took the dipper with a grin of satisfaction and stirred the berries into his kettle of batter. Then into the sizzling hot frying-pan, well greased with bacon fat, he poured enough batter to cover the bottom, and placed it over the glowing coals before which he squatted, watching the bubbling cake with a critical eye. Suddenly he lifted the pan, and with a dextrous twist of the wrist, so deftly executed that Walter did not see how the trick was done, the flapjack was sent into the air, where it turned over and was caught in the pan, brown side up as it came down. It was returned to the fire all in the one motion and two minutes later, buttered and sugared, was on its way to "line Walter's ribs."