WHEN he was then five, a visiting lady asked Omicron (which was to distinguish him from his father, who was Big Owen) how he got to his "camp" across the pasture swamp, and Omicron said, "by a devious route." As a boy, I had a secret place I gained in the same manner. It was my answer to the glades of Sherwood Forest for one year, but it also served in turn for the adventures of Huck Finn and Jim Hawkins. There is nothing in a rich boyhood more important than a secret place reached by a devious route.
Anybody might have stumbled on my hideaway, but nobody was about to come so deviously as I. The only real way was by the beehives.
My father kept bees, and, at 10 in the year of Robin Hood, I hived my very first swarm alone. 'Twas in May, and Dad thought he had dethroned Her Majesty so there would be no swarm. I was drawing a good long bow at Hastings when I found myself surrounded by airborne bees.
The swarm had emerged and would fly about until the out-coming queen chose her place to rest. Then the whole bunch would gang up on a tree limb until the scouts came back with news of a vacant apartment. Dad was away, so I blew my horn and Will Stutly and Will Scarlet appeared to help me, and we brought a new hive and made it ready.
So the devious route to my secret place began there between two of "our" (now) beehives, and interlopers and eavesdroppers were not likely to run that gauntlet to surprise me. I knew for a fact that Guy of Gisbourne and the High Sheriff of Nottingham were a-feared of honeybees. I could sling my quiver and string my bow and fare into the greenwood to be alone with my friends.
First, I thumped on a hive as I went by, giving the secret signal that all was well. Everybody says that bees have no ears and it does no good to speak to them, but that is nonsense.
When I thumped in passing I could hear them talking about me, and I would tell them where I was going and what the plans were this time. I'd ask them to keep good guard, and let nobody come unless he had the password of the merry men of Sherwood Forest.
Then my devious route went between two towering spruce trees and around a big rock, to come to the high-bush blueberry patch, where in late July I could snag all I needed to nourish me in my happy business of robbing the rich wayfarers to benefit the poor. I'd also have some cookies in my pocket for emergencies.
It is the privilege of age to remember. It is the folly of youth to grow up.
Nobody can imagine the great esteem people had for me in those days, as I came about regularly to hand money to the hungry, and pay the taxes for the needy. Thousands blessed me, and the evil sheriff searched in vain in every direction save the right one - he never went near the beehives.
My special place, when I came to it, was under a big white pine, surrounded by a clustered ring of balsam firs. Nobody chancing along would see me. I could jump and grab a limb, pull myself up to a perch, and then sit and watch for rich people to pass.
One day I spied a fallow deer. It belonged to the King, I knew, but we were outlaws anyway! Being in the tree and off balance, I couldn't draw properly, and the beautiful fallow deer was a red squirrel, anyway. My arrow missed completely, and so much for good archer Locksley. Then I scrambled down and hunted for my only arrow for almost an hour. It was lodged in a fir; still unbroke, as the poet saith. Then it was time to go home, feed my hens, and get ready for supper. That is, to return to the humdrum world and resume my responsibilities.
Years later I went back to my secret place. The beehives were gone, so there was nothing devious there. One spruce had blown down. The blueberry patch had been crowded out by Gatchell birches. My pine tree was still there, but the surrounding firs were tall and straight. And the limb on which I perched to watch for rich people was strangely close to the ground. And Sherwood Forest had shrunk.
Close by my secret place some carpenters were hammering on a house, and I heard a man call, "Charlie - y'wanna send up a coupla bundles of shingles?"