“Yes,” said Nick.
“I know I forced you to take me. But I fixed it so you wouldn’t get in trouble about it. And I did keep them from catching you.”
They had reached the height of land and from here they could see the lake again although from here it looked narrow now and almost like a big river.
“We cut across country here,” Nick said. “Then we’ll hit that old logging road. Here’s where you go back from if you want to go back.”
He took off his pack and put it back into the timber and his sister leaned the rifle on it.
“Sit down, Littless, and take a rest,” he said. “We’re both tired.”
Nick lay with his head on the pack and his sister lay by him with her head on his shoulder.
“I’m not going back, Nickie, unless you tell me to,” she said. “I just don’t want fights. Promise me we won’t have fights?”
“I won’t talk about Trudy.”
“The hell with Trudy.”
“I want to be useful and a good partner.”
“You are. You won’t mind if I get restless and mix it up with being lonesome?”
“No. We’ll take good care of each other and have fun. We can have a lovely time.”
“All right. We’ll start to have it now.”
“I’ve been having it all the time.”
“We just have one pretty hard stretch and then a really hard stretch and then we’ll be there. We might as well wait until it gets light to start. You go to sleep, Littless. Are you warm enough?”
“Oh yes, Nickie. I’ve got my sweater.”
She curled up beside him and was asleep. In a little while Nick was sleeping, too. He slept for two hours until the morning light woke him.
Nick had circled around through the second-growth timber until they had come onto the old logging road.
“We couldn’t leave tracks going into it from the main road,” he told his sister.
The old road was so overgrown that he had to stoop many times to avoid hitting branches.
“It’s like a tunnel,” his sister said.
“It opens up after a while.”
“Have I ever been here before?”
“No. This goes up way beyond where I ever took you hunting.”
“Does it come out on the secret place?”
“No, Littless. We have to go through some long bad slashings. Nobody gets in where we’re going.”
They kept on along the road and then took another road that was even more overgrown. Then they came out onto a clearing. There was fireweed and brush in the clearing and the old cabins of the logging camp. They were very old and some of the roofs had fallen in. But there was a spring by the road and they both drank at it. The sun wasn’t up yet and they both felt hollow and empty in the early morning after the night of walking.
“All this beyond was hemlock forest,” Nick said. “They only cut it for the bark and they never used the logs.”
“But what happens to the road?”
“They must have cut up at the far end first and hauled and piled the bark by the road to snake it out. Then finally they cut everything right to the road and piled the bark here and then pulled out.”
“Is the secret place beyond all this slashing?”
“Yes. We go through the slashing and then some more road and then another slashing and then we come to virgin timber.”
“How did they leave it when they cut all this?”
“I don’t know, it belonged to somebody that wouldn’t sell, I guess. They stole a lot from the edges and paid stumpage on it. But the good part’s still there and there isn’t any passable road into it.”
“But why can’t people go down the creek? The creek has to come from somewhere?”
They were resting before they started the bad traveling through the slashing and Nick wanted to explain.
“Look, Littless. The creek crosses the main road we were on and it goes through a farmer’s land. The farmer has it fenced for a pasture and he runs people off that want to fish. So they stop at the bridge on his land. On the section of the creek where they would hit if they cut across his pasture on the other side from his house he runs a bull. The bull is mean and he really runs everybody off. He’s the meanest bull I ever saw and he just stays there, mean all the time, and hunts for people. Then after him the farmer’s land ends and there’s a section of cedar swamp with sink holes and you’d have to know it to get through. And then, even if you know it, it’s bad. Below that is the secret place. We’re going in over the hills and sort of in the back way. Then below the secret place there’s real swamp. Bad swamp that you can’t get through. Now we better start the bad part.”