Night Under The Stars
After a dinner of pan fish cooked on an open fire, and dessert of berries Virgil had picked from a patch overlooked somehow by the birds and bears, they settled in for the night. The high meadow could be chilly at night, even after a hot summer day, but the two had brought their bedrolls.
"Should we make a lean-to, Grampa?” he asked. If the weather was going to turn, some shelter was an essential alternative to an uncomfortable night. Moses scanned the heavens.
"No, I don't think so, not tonight. We'll have plenty of stars.” Virgil mimicked Moses smoothing the ground beneath his bed. "Make it nice and smooth, Virgie, so we don't wake up mean in the morning."
"Like the Indians?” he said picking up some twigs and stones.
Moses chuckled. "Yes, like the Indians.”
The boy remembered everything Moses had ever told him, especially about Indians. Once after a chilling story of the Indian raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, he had asked Moses why Indians were so mean and Moses told him it was because they had to sleep on the ground every night. It made sense to the boy who had had the experience. Moses continued to chuckle. He knew they would be mean in the morning anyway.
It was quiet as they lay by the glowing embers of the dying fire, gazing at the sparkling heavens. Virgil was counting the stars. Until he ran out of numbers.
"Grampa, how many stars are there in the sky?"
"Oh my. So many, I don't think I can count that high."
"What makes them shine?"
"Well, I’m not really sure myself, but I read in a book once that they're all suns, like our sun."
"Then why are they so tiny, and why can't we see them during the day?"
"They only look tiny because they are far, far away. And I think they do shine during the day. We just can't see them because our sun is so close and bright."
"They are very tiny. And there are so many of them. Where did they all come from, Grampa?"
Moses interrupted him. "Listen, do you hear that?” he whispered. There was a faint rippling in the water near the dam.
"What?" asked the boy. "I don't hear anything."
"Something's swimming by the dam."
Virgil held his breath and listened. "Do you suppose it’s an Indian?" he whispered.
"I don't think so. Come, we'll light a torch and see."
Virgil grabbed Moses' arm. "But Grampa, what if it is an Indian?"
"Why, we’ll just hit him over the head and scalp him, and that'll be that!"
Somehow, this seemed very logical to the boy and tended to allay his fears. Moses struck a piece of flint on his musket. The spark set the pitch-soaked torch aflame immediately. He held it above their heads as they approached the waters edge.
"Do you see the rascal, Virgie?" he asked. Across the channel on the opposite bank sat a beaver, calmly eating the tender shoots of a freshly hewn reinforcement for his dam. "Well, there's your redskin, should we run or stand our ground and fight?" he chuckled.
"Why, it's nothing but a fat old beaver."
"He'd make a nice hat for your mother, wouldn't he?"
"It's not time yet, is it, Grampa?"
"No, we'll come back for him when he's got his winter coat on."
Moses extinguished the torch in the water and the two retired to their bedrolls. It was quiet. Virgil began to nod off. But suddenly, a hundred little footsteps scurried up his bedroll, pitta, patta, pitta, patta, pitta, patta, pitta, pat, and a hundred little footsteps scurried back down again, pitta, patta, pitta, patta, pitta, patta, pitta, pat.
"What's that?" shuddered the startled boy, sitting up wide-awake.
Down at the bottom of his blanket, illumined by the night sky, staring back at the boy was the gray black shadow of a curious field mouse, no bigger than Virgil's thumb and as unconcerned with their presence as was the beaver. It was grooming its whiskers.
"Looks like we've got a visitor," said Moses.
"Should we kill it Grampa?"
"Why, are you hungry?"
"Are you going to make him into a hat?"
"Well then, let's leave him be."
No sooner had Moses announced this benediction than the mouse turned his tail and disappeared in a layer of leaves.
The boy lay on his back with his hands propping up his head and gazed at the heavens. It was very quiet.
"Grampa, where's my comet?"
"Oh, my, your comet only comes once in a lifetime, son. We'll both probably never see it again, at least I won't."
"But I've never seen it!"
"That's because you were being born when it blazed its way across our heaven. You were just a tiny baby."
"Did you see it Grampa?"
"I surely did. In fact I saw it twice, when you were born and once when I was a little fella like you are now. It was a magnificent sight, too, it was, never to be forgotten.” Moses thought for a moment and added, "And all those born in its light are thought to have good fortune in wait for them."
"I hope I see it someday," he said rather down at heart.
"I certainly hope you do, son."
It was very quiet.
"You know what I think Grampa?"
"No, what Virgie?"
"I think each one of those stars is one of God's angels, and each one of them belongs to somebody. And that's why there are so many stars because there are so many people."
"You may be right," he murmured, and he thought, you may very well be right! "And which one is yours, do you think, Virgie?"
"That little one right there," he pointed. "And that one next to it is yours, Grampa."
The boy turned to his grandfather, who cradled him in his arms, and the two of them fell asleep in the soft velvet comfort of a perfect summer night.
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