Nick’s own education in those earlier matters had been acquired in the hemlock woods behind the Indian camp. This was reached by a trail which ran from the cottage through the woods to the farm and then by a road which wound through the slashings to the camp. Now he could still feel all of that trail with bare feet. First there was the pine needle loam through the hemlock woods behind the cottage where the fallen logs crumbled into wood dust and long splintered pieces of wood hung like javelins in the tree that had been struck by lightning. You crossed the creek on a log and if you stepped off there was the black muck of the swamp. You climbed a fence out of the woods and the trail was hard in the sun across the field with cropped grass and sheep sorrel and mullen growing and to the left the quaky bog of the creek bottom where the killdeer plover fed. The springhouse was in that creek. Below the barn there was fresh warm manure and the other older manure that was caked dry on top. Then there was another fence and the hard, hot trail from the barn to the house and the hot sandy road that ran down to the woods, crossing the creek, on a bridge this time, where the cattails grew that you soaked in kerosene to make jack lights with for spearing fish at night.
Then the main road went off to the left, skirting the woods and climbing the hill, while you went into the woods on the wide clay and shale road, cool under the trees, and broadened for them to skid out the hemlock bark the Indians cut. The hemlock bark was piled in long rows of stacks, roofed over with more bark, like houses, and the peeled logs lay huge and yellow where the trees had been felled. They left the logs in the woods to rot, they did not even clear away or burn the tops. It was only the bark they wanted for the tannery at Boyne City; hauling it across the lake on the ice in winter, and each year there was less forest and more open, hot, shadeless, weed-grown slashing.
But there was still much forest then, virgin forest where the trees grew high before there were any branches and you walked on the brown, clean springy-needled ground with no undergrowth and it was cool on the hottest days and they three lay against the trunk of a hemlock wider than two beds are long, with the breeze high in the tops and the cool light that came in patches, and Billy said:
“You want Trudy again?”
“You want to?”
“I no mind Billy. He my brother.”
Then afterward they sat, the three of them, listening for a black squirrel that was in the top branches where they could not see him. They were waiting for him to bark again because when he barked he would jerk his tail and Nick would shoot where he saw any movement. His father gave him only three cartridges a day to hunt with and he had a single-barrel twenty-gauge shotgun with a very long barrel.
“Son of a bitch never move,” Billy said.
“You shoot, Nickie. Scare him. We see him jump. Shoot him again,” Trudy said. It was a long speech for her.
“I’ve only got two shells,” Nick said.
“Son of a bitch,” said Billy.
They sat against the tree and were quiet. Nick was feeling hollow and happy.
“Eddie says he going to come some night sleep in bed with you sister Dorothy.”
“That’s all he want do,” she said. Eddie was their older half brother. He was seventeen,
“If Eddie Gilby ever comes at night and even speaks to Dorothy you know what I’d do to him? I’d kill him like this.” Nick cocked the gun and hardly taking aim pulled the trigger, blowing a hole as big as your hand in the head or belly of that half-breed bastard Eddie Gilby. “Like that. I’d kill him like that.”
“He better not come then,” Trudy said. She put her hand in Nick’s pocket.