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Authors: Howard Frank Mosher

God's Kingdom

BOOK: God's Kingdom
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To Phillis

aka

Dr. Frannie Lafleur Kinneson

 

1

Blooded

On the earliest maps of Vermont, the wilderness that would later become Kingdom County was referred to as “Territory but Little Known.” The first settlers called it “God's Kingdom,” in reference to its remoteness and extraordinary beauty. To this day, you will occasionally hear the term “God's Kingdom” used to suggest the wild and unspoiled character of this last New England frontier.

—THE REVEREND DR. PLINY TEMPLETON,

The Ecclesiastical, Natural, Social, and Political History of Kingdom County

In those years in God's Kingdom there was always a ridge runner. There was always one deer that was bigger, darker, and smarter, with ten or more points on its antlers and a track three fingers wide and as deep as the snow was soft. Of course, there was more snow then. Back when Editor James Kinneson was just Jimmy Kinneson, a boy who had not yet been blooded, it seemed that by Thanksgiving week at the latest there was always a foot of fresh snow in the Kingdom.

The year Jim turned fourteen they referred to the ridge runner as “Jimmy's deer.” “That old boy has your name on him, bub,” Jim's older brother, Charlie, told him. It was as though Charlie, and Jim's grandfather and namesake, James Kinneson II, and Jim's father, Editor Charles Kinneson, had let the runner grow to a great size so that it would be there for Jim to hunt when he turned fourteen. This was the usual age for a boy to be blooded in the Kingdom of that era.

They left for camp on Thanksgiving Day after the big meal at the Kinneson family farmhouse, heading up along the river toward the Canadian border in Charlie's pickup. Their gear was in the bed of the truck. The open-sighted .30-30 deer rifles they favored in the dense woods on the mountain. Their sleeping bags. An extra set of clothing. “Go light—the lighter the better,” was Gramp's hunting motto. Gramp was already at the camp. Charlie and the editor and Jim would meet him there.

As they bounced up the washboard road along the river toward the border, Charlie's empties rolled around on the towing chain under Jim's feet, clattering together like little glass duckpins.

“My God, Charles, you ought to hoe out your rig once every decade or so,” the editor said.

“Why?” Charlie said. “I'm just going to give it to Jim when he turns sixteen. He can hoe it out then.”

The road ended in a brushy clearing, beyond which the river widened into Pond Number One. The camp boat, a former lumbering bateau painted dark green, sat upside down under a tarp in a stand of black spruce on the shore. They transferred their gear from the truck bed to the boat and started out across the open water. Charlie rowed, the editor sat in the squared-off stern, Jim sat facing backward in the bow. The surface of Pond Number One was calm and the same steel gray as their rifle barrels.

Jim was excited by the prospect of hunting the ridge runner. He'd glimpsed it this past August when he and Gramp were fishing Pond Number One from Gramp's Old Town. They'd spotted the buck drinking from the pond near the collapsing logging dam across the outlet. Except for a white patch on its chest, it was as red in its summer coat as a Jersey cow, and its horns were in velvet. Jim counted six points on each side. The deer lifted its head and watched them for a moment as water slid off its dark muzzle into the pond. Then it made two long bounds and vanished into the woods. Gramp looked at Jim and nodded. That was all. But Jim knew that this was the ridge runner. Come hunting season, if he was smart enough to walk it down and shoot it, this was his deer.

*   *   *

They put out just above the dam spillway where Jim and Gramp had seen the runner the past summer, and dragged the heavy bateau around the broken-down old dam and put it back into the rippling, noisy current, which carried them fast down the river to Pond Number Two. Charlie would have shipped his oars and shot the spillway in the bateau had he and Jim been alone. Gramp, too, liked to shoot the spillway. But the editor was all about boat safety and water safety, not to mention gun safety, and disapproved of taking any risks whatsoever on the water or in the woods.

Soon the river slowed down and opened out into Pond Number Two. The fishing here was never as good as the fishing in Number One except once in a cloudburst when Jim and Gramp couldn't distinguish between the surface of the pond and the torrents of water pouring out of the sky and trout were rising to their flies so fast that it seemed to be raining fish.

There was no dam at the outlet of Pond Number Two. It had gone out with the ice in a spring freshet decades ago. Just another short stretch of quick water, then Pond Number Three, then the rapids, then the Dead Water between Kingdom and Canada Mountains and, beyond the Dead Water, the big lake, Memphremagog, stretching twenty-five miles across the border into Canada through mountains taller still.

Out on the ponds in the bateau no one spoke much, even Charlie. It was fall-still on the flat open water. The water dripping off the oars and the occasional muffled
thunk
of an oar blade bumping the wooden side of the bateau was the only sounds this late in the year. Even the pair of loons that raised a brood on Pond Number Three every summer was gone. Jim looked back over his shoulder. The tops of Kingdom and Canada Mountains were invisible in the clouds. Smoke curled out of the black stovepipe of the camp at the foot of Kingdom Mountain. Gramp stood on the pebbly shore next to the green, canvas-covered Old Town, watching as the bateau drew closer.

“I thought the
loup-garou
had gotten you boys,” Gramp said, grabbing the bow of the bateau and pulling it grating up onto the pebbles. “Did you bring along some of that Thanksgiving turkey? For camp meat?”

This was one of Gramp's standard jokes. He supplied the camp meat himself. By the time Jim and his dad and brother arrived at camp, Gramp always had a young doe hanging from the game beam. In those years there was no doe season in Vermont, but Gramp said that God's Kingdom wasn't in Vermont, or in Canada, either. Gramp said that the Kingdom belonged to God. As with the Sabbath, God had created deer for the benefit of mankind, not the other way around.

Jim helped carry the rifles and gear up the slope to the camp. Long ago some Kinneson ancestor had carved the words “God's Kingdom” on the lintel over the door. Jim had never been sure whether “God's Kingdom” referred to the hunting camp or the territory they hunted.

In the hour before supper Charlie walked up the mountain to scout for sign. While Jim's father and grandfather cut up the doe, Jim read in the camp journal, a tall ledger-book with blank white pages where, for one hundred and fifty years, Kinnesons had recorded the weather, seasons, game hunted, fish caught, and visitors to the camp.

Abenaki fur trader, Sabattis, stopped for night en route to Montreal. C. Kinneson, April 3, 1801.

Sighted 6 caribou-deer on ice on Two at sunset. J. Kinneson, January 26, 1815.

And, from the past summer, Jim's single entry:

Spotted huge red buck, 12 points, near dam of Two at sunset. J. Kinneson III, August 10, 1952.

Jim's father liked to say that while Gramp ran the camp, he ran the frying pan. As he fried up venison tenderloins, the editor said, “How many points did this young skipper have, Dad?”

“What, you eat the horns, do you, Charles?” Gramp said, winking at Jim.

Jim grinned. He knew what was coming next.

“If this deer had horns, I'll eat them,” the editor said.

The camp door opened and a gust of wind and snow blew in with Charlie. “He's been up there, Jimmy. Your runner. I found his rubs on a young maple. I saw some fresh tracks, too. Headed down toward the cedar swamp along the Dead Water.”

“I could have told you all that this afternoon when you arrived, Charlie,” Gramp said. “I believe young Jim is going to have a good hunt tomorrow.”

“If he doesn't get buck fever and hurry his shot,” Charlie said, elbowing Jim.

“Let's eat,” Gramp said. “Jim isn't going to get buck fever. Are you, Jimmy?”

“No,” Jim said, wishing he had as much confidence in himself as Gramp seemed to have in him.

After supper Jim cleared the table. Charlie heated water in the tin dishpan and washed the dishes as Jim rinsed them with cold water from the hand pump in the wooden sink. Jim liked doing camp chores with his brother. Like their father, the editor, Charlie was tall, six feet two or three. Jim hoped that someday he'd be tall, too, but for his age he was slight, and seemed to favor Gramp instead. Of the three living generations of Kinneson men, Gramp was the best hunter. Even Jim's dad said so. The editor said that Gramp was the best man in the woods in all Kingdom County, and the best storyteller, as well.

Gramp settled into his white-ash old-man's rocker beside the Glenwood. The editor sat at the table, noting the day's weather in the camp journal. Jim and Charlie played King of the Mountain for the choice perch on the lid of the woodbox. After a tussle, Charlie let Jim win. Picking himself up off the floor and laughing, Jim's brother sat down at the table across from the editor.

“I noticed you reading the camp log before supper, Jimmy,” Gramp said.

“Yes, sir,” Jim said. “They didn't shoot many deer up here in the early years, did they?”

“There weren't many deer to shoot,” Gramp said. “There were very few natural meadows for deer to graze in. Just unbroken woods when the first Kinneson came here. That would have been your great-great-great-grandfather Charles I. He came here to hunt men, not deer.”

Gramp never hurried a story. After a pause he said, “Charles Kinneson I was born in Scotland. He fought at Culloden with the Bonnie Prince in the uprising of 1745. After the battle he fled to America and settled in Massachusetts. He first came to Vermont in 1759 with Robert Rogers's Rangers. They were on their way north to Canada, on what they called a retaliatory raid against the St. Francis Indians.”

BOOK: God's Kingdom
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