The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Forest Pilot, by Edward Huntington
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Title: The Forest Pilot
A Story for Boy Scouts
Author: Edward Huntington
Release Date: July 11, 2022 [eBook #68506]
Produced by: Roger Frank and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive)
*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE FOREST PILOT ***
“Shoot! Shoot! For God’s sake shoot, Larry!”
THE FOREST PILOT
A STORY FOR BOY SCOUTS
BY EDWARD HUNTINGTON
HEARST’S INTERNATIONAL LIBRARY CO.
By HEARST’S INTERNATIONAL LIBRARY CO., Inc.
All rights reserved, including the translation into foreign
languages, including the Scandinavian.
|II||The Home on the Rocks|
|III||The First Supper|
|IV||Lessons in Piloting|
|V||The Story of Weewah the Hunter|
|VII||The Journey Through the Forest|
|IX||The Timber Wolves|
|X||The Wounded Moose|
|XI||The Return to the Wreck|
|XII||The Early Morning Visitor|
The November sun that had been red and threatening all day, slowlydisappeared behind a cloud bank. The wind that had held steadily tothe south for a week, now shifted suddenly to the northeast, comingas a furious blast. In a moment, it seemed, the mild Indian Summerbreeze was changed to a fierce winter gale.
The little schooner yacht that had been riding in the bay not morethan a half mile from the jagged, rocky shore line, began dancingabout like a cork. For a swell had come driving in from the oceanjust as the wind changed, and now the two tall masts waved back andforth, bending in wide sweeps before the gale. Unfortunately for thelittle craft the change of the direction of the wind exposed it tothe storm’s full fury.
The captain, a weatherbeaten old Yankee who had sailed vessels ofhis own as well as those belonging to other people for forty years,was plainly worried. With a glass in his hand he scanned the shoreline of the bay in every direction, occasionally giving a sharporder to the four sailors who hurried about the deck to carry outhis commands.
The only other persons on the yacht were a man and a boy who hadbeen sitting together beside the forward mast when the wind changed.The man was a tall, straight figure, with the erect carriage thatsinewy, muscular men who are accustomed to hard work retain wellinto old age. His face, with its leathery skin, which contrastedsharply with his iron gray beard, was softened by a pair of deepblue eyes—the kind of blue eyes that can snap with determination onoccasion, in contrast to their usually kindly expression.
Obviously this man was past his prime, or, better perhaps, was pastthat period of life reckoned in years that civilized man has becomeaccustomed to speaking of as “prime.” Yet he was old only in yearsand experience. For his step was quick and elastic, and everymovement showed the alertness of youth. Were it not for the grayhairs peeping out from under his hat and his grizzled beard, hemight have passed for a man of forty. Martin MacLean was his name,and almost any one in the New Brunswick forest region could tell youall about him. For Martin was a famous hunter and guide, even in aland where almost every male inhabitant depends upon those twothings for his livelihood.
Needless to say, then, this man was something quite out of theordinary among woodsmen. When the woods people gossiped amongthemselves about their hunting and trapping experiences, old Martinwas often the theme of many a story. And the story was always one ofcourage or skill.
But you must remember that in this land, deeds of courage and skillwere every-day occurrences. So that the man who could earn theadmiration of his fellow woodsmen must possess unusual qualities.Martin had repeatedly demonstrated these qualities. Not by anysingle act at any one time, but by the accumulated acts of manyyears had he earned his title of leader in his craft.
The older woodsmen would tell you of the terrible winter when Martinhad made a journey of fifty miles through the forests to getmedicines from the only doctor within a hundred miles for a boyinjured by a falling tree. They would tell you of the time that ahunting party from the States were lost in the woods in a greatNovember blizzard, and how Martin, frost-bitten and famished, hadfinally found them and brought them back to the settlement. Theycould tell of his fight with a wounded moose that had gored anotherhunter, and would have killed him but for the quick work of Martin’shunting knife. Indeed, once the old hunter became the theme of theirtalk, there was no end to the tales the woodsmen would tell of hisadventures.
The boy who was with him on the yacht was obviously from an entirelydifferent walk of life. Any woodsman could have told you that he hadbeen reared far from the country of lakes and forests. He was,indeed, a city boy, who except for one winter spent in theAdirondacks, had scarcely been beyond the suburbs of his nativecity. In the north country he would have passed for a boy of twelveyears; but in reality he was just rounding his fifteenth birthday.
He was a medium sized boy for his age, with bright red hair, and arosy complexion. He had the appearance of a boy just outgrowing a“delicate constitution” as one of the neighbor women had put it,although he had every appearance of robustness. Nevertheless it wason account of his health that he was now on the little schooneryacht rolling in the gale of a bleak Labrador inlet. His neighbor inthe city, Mr. Ware, the owner of the yacht, thinking that a fewweeks in the woods and on the water would be helpful to him, hadmade him a member of his hunting party into the northern wilderness.
The old guide was obviously apprehensive at the fury of the galethat had struck them, while the boy, Larry, seemed to regard it as alark designed for their special amusement. Noticing the seriousexpression of Martin’s face, and mistaking its meaning, he could nothelp jibing the old fellow, boy fashion, at his solicitude.
“You look as if you thought we were going to the bottom sure enough,Martin,” Larry laughed. “Why, there isn’t any more danger on thisboat than there is on an ocean liner. You’re no seaman, I can seethat.” And he threw back his bushy head and laughed heartily at hiscompanion’s serious face.
“Besides,” he added, “there’s the land only half a mile away even ifwe did spring a leak or something. It’s only a step over there, sowe surely could get ashore.”
“That’s just the trouble,” said a deep voice beside him. “That’sjust the trouble. And if you knew the first thing about a ship orthe ocean you would know it.” And the captain strode aft, givingorders to his seamen as he went.
“What does he mean?” Larry asked of Martin, clinging to a brassstanchion to keep from being thrown into the scuppers as the littleboat rolled heavily until the rail dipped the water.
“Why, just this,” Martin told him. “The real danger to us now isthat we are so near the shore. Out in the open sea we could roll andtumble about and drift as far as we liked until the storm blew over.But here if we drift very far we will go smash against thoserocks—and that would be the end of every one of us.”
“Well, if we went ashore why couldn’t we just jump and swim right toland a few feet away?” Larry asked, looking serious himself now, hisblue eyes opening wide.
Martin’s little laugh was lost in the roar of the wind.
“That shows how much of a landlubber you are, Larry,” he said. “Ifyou had been brought up near the ocean you would know that if thisboat struck on this shore where all the coast is a lot of jaggedrocks, it would be smashed into kindling wood. And no man can swimin the waves at the shore. They pick a man up like a cork; but theysmash him down on those rocks like the hammer of the old Norse Seagod. That is why the sailor prays for the open sea.”
All this time Martin had been clinging to the rail with one hand,and trying to scan the shore line with his hunting glasses. But theblinding spray and the ceaseless rolling and pitching made itimpossible for him to use them.
“But I’m not worrying about what may happen to this boat,” heshouted presently, putting the glasses in his pocket. “Either wewill come out all right or else we won’t. And in any case we willhave to grin and take what comes. What I’m worried about is Mr. Wareand the fellows in the boat with him. If they have started out fromshore to come aboard before this gale hit us they are lost, sure.And I am certain they had started, for I caught a glimpse of theboat coming out of a cove fifteen minutes before the storm broke.”
For a minute Larry stared at the old man, comprehending theseriousness of the situation at last. “You mean then—” he asked,clutching the brass rail as the boat lurched forward,—“You mean thatyou think they will be drowned—really drowned, Martin?”
“That’s it, Larry,” Martin replied, seriously. “They haven’t onechance in a thousand, as I see it. Even if they could reach us wecouldn’t get them aboard; and if they are blown ashore it will endeverything. They haven’t a chance.”
As if to emphasize the seriousness of the situation the yacht justthen dug her nose deep into the trough of a great wave, then rose,lifting her bowsprit high in the air like a rearing horse tugging ata restraining leash. It was a strain that tested every link of theanchor chain to its utmost. But for the moment it held.
“A few more like that, Larry,” Martin shouted above the gale, “andthat chain will snap. The anchor is caught fast in the rocks at thebottom.”
Meanwhile the sailors and the captain were working desperately tocut loose the other anchor and get it over the side as their onlychance of keeping the boat off the rocks. The gale, the rolling ofthe vessel, and the waves buffeted them about, however, so thatbefore they could release the heavy mass of iron, the yacht againplunged her nose into the waves, then rose on her stern, tremblingand jerking at the single anchor chain. For a moment it held. Thenthere was a sharp report, as a short length of chain flew back,knocking two of the sailors overboard, and gouging a great chunk ofwood from the fore mast. At the same time the boat settled back,careening far to port with the rail clear under.
The violence of the shock had thrown Larry off his feet, but for amoment he clung to the railing with one hand. Then as the boatrighted herself, quivering and creaking, the flood of water comingover the bow tore loose his hands, and hurled him blinded andstupified along the deck. The next thing he knew he found himselflying in a heap at the foot of the narrow companionway stairs downwhich he had been thrown by the waves.
He was dazed and bruised by the fall, yet above the roar of thestorm, he heard faintly the howling of the huskie dogs, confined ina pen on the forward deck. Then there was the awful roar of thewaves again, the crash of breaking timbers, and again a deluge ofwater poured down the companionway. At the same time Larry wasstruck with some soft, heavy object, that came hurtling down withthe torrent of water. Gasping for breath and half choked with thewater, he managed to cling to the steps until the water had rushedout through the scuppers as the boat heeled over the other way. Thencrawling on hands and knees he succeeded in reaching the cabin door,the latch of which was not over six feet away.
With a desperate plunge he threw it open and fell sprawling into theroom. At the same time two great malamoot dogs, who had been washeddown the companionway with the preceding wave, sprang in after him,whining and cowering against him. Even in his fright he could nothelp contrasting the present actions of these dogs with their usualbehavior. Ordinarily they were quiet, reserved fellows, given tominding their own business and imparting the general impression thatit would be well for others to do the same. Now all their sturdyindependence was gone, and cowering and trembling they pressed closeto the boy for protection, apparently realizing that they werebattling with an enemy against whom they had no defence.
But the storm gave Larry little time to think of anything but hisown safety. Even as he struggled to rise and push the cabin doorshut, the boat heeled over and performed that office for him with acrash. The next moment a torrent of water rushed down thecompanionway, but only a few drops were forced through the cracks ofthe door casing, fitted for just such an occasion, so that the cabinremained practically dry. Over and over again at short intervalsthis crash of descending waters shook the cabin and strained at thedoor casing. And all the time the movements of the boat kept Larrylying close to the floor, clinging to the edge of the lower bunk tokeep from being thrown violently across the cabin.
The dogs, unable to find a foothold when the cabin floor rosebeneath them, were often thrown violently about the room, theirclaws scratching futilely along the hard boards as they strove tostop the impetus of the fall. But the moment the boat righteditself, they crawled whimpering back and crouched close to thefrightened boy.
Little enough, indeed, was the protection or comfort Larry couldgive the shivering brutes. He himself was sobbing with terror, andat each plunge and crash of the boat he expected to find himselfengulfed by the black waters. Now and again, above the sound of thestorm, he heard the crash of splintering timbers, with furious blowsupon the decks and against the sides of the hull. He guessed fromthis that the masts had been broken off and were pounding for amoment against the hull, held temporarily by the steel shrouds untilfinally torn away by the waves.
Vaguely he wondered what had become of Martin, and the Captain, andthe two remaining members of the crew. Perhaps they had been washeddown the after companionway as he had gone down the forward one. Butfar more likely they were now in their long resting place at thebottom of the bay. There seemed little probability that they hadbeen as lucky as he, and he expected to follow them at any moment.Yet he shut his teeth and clung fast to the side of the bunk.
It was terribly exhausting work, this clinging with one’s hands, andat each successive plunge he felt his grip weakening. In a very fewminutes, he knew he should find himself hurled about the cabin likea loose piece of furniture, and then it would only be a matter ofminutes until he was flung against some object and crushed. He wouldnot be able to endure the kind of pounding that the dogs weregetting. The protection of their thick fur, and the ability to relaxand fall limply, saved them from serious injury.
Little by little he felt his fingers slipping from the edge of thebunk. He shut his teeth hard, and tried to get a firmer grip. Atthat moment the boat seemed to be lifted high into the air, andpoised there for a breathless second. Then with a shock that bumpedLarry’s head against the floor, it descended and and stopped as ifwedged on the rocks at the bottom, with a sound like a violentexplosion right underneath the cabin.
Larry, stupified by the crash, realized vaguely that the boat hadstruck something and was held fast. In his confusion he thought shehad gone to the bottom, but he was satisfied that he was no longerbeing pounded about the cabin. And presently as his mind cleared alittle, and he could hear the roar of the waves with an occasionaltrickle of water down the companionway, he reached the conclusionthat they were not at the bottom of the sea. Nor did he care verymuch one way or the other at that time. It was pitch dark in thecabin, and as he was utterly worn out, he closed his eyes and laystill, a big trembling dog nestling against him on either side. Andpresently he and his two companions were sleeping the dreamlesssleep of the exhausted.
THE HOME ON THE ROCKS
It seemed only a moment later that Larry was roused by a thumping onthe planks over his head. Half awake, and shivering with cold, herubbed his eyes and tried to think where he was. Everything aboutthe cabin could be seen now, a ray of light streaming in through theround port. For a little time he could not recall how he happened tobe lying on the cold floor and not in his bunk; but the presence ofthe two dogs, still lying beside him, helped to freshen his memory.
The thumping on the deck seemed to have a familiar sound; there wassomebody walking about up there. Some one else must have been aslucky as he in escaping the storm. And presently he heard some onecome clumping down the companionway stairs. The dogs, who had beenlistening intently with cocked ears to the approaching footsteps,sprang across the cabin wagging their tails and whining, and amoment later old Martin stood in the doorway. He greeted the dogswith a shout of surprise and welcome, followed by another evenlouder shout when his eyes found Larry. For once the reserved oldhunter relaxed and showed the depths of his nature. He literallypicked the astonished boy up in his arms and danced about the littleroom with delight.
“Oh, but I am sure glad to see you, boy,” he said, when he finallylet Larry down on his feet. “I didn’t suppose for a minute that Ishould ever see you or any one else here again—not even the dogs. Ithought that you and everybody else went over the side when thefirst big wave struck us.”
“Why, where are all the rest of them, and why is the boat so still?”Larry asked, eagerly.
The old man’s face grew grave at once at the questions.
“Come out on deck and you can see for yourself,” he said quietly,and led the way up the companionway.
With his head still ringing, and with aching limbs and sore spotsall over his body from the effects of bumping about the nightbefore, Larry crawled up the companionway. He could hear the wavesroaring all about them, and yet the boat was as stationary as ahouse. What could it mean?
When he reached the deck the explanation was quickly apparent. Theboat was wedged hard and fast in a crevice of rock, her deck severalfeet above the water, and just below the level of the rocky cliff ofthe shore. She had been picked up bodily by the tremendous comberand flung against the cliff, and luckily for them, had been jammedinto a crevice that prevented her slipping back into the ocean andsinking. For her bottom and her port side were stove in, and she wascompletely wrecked.
For a few minutes the boy stood gazing in mute astonishment. OldMartin also stood silently looking about him. Then he offered anexplanation.
“’Tisn’t anything short of a miracle, I should say,” he explained toLarry. “I have heard of some such things happening, but I neverbelieved that they did really. You see the waves just washedeverything overboard—captain, crew, masts, everything—except you andme, and the two dogs. It washed me just as it did you, but I wentdown the after hatchway by luck, and I hung on down there in thecompanionway until the thing struck. But all the time that the waveswere washing over us we were being driven along toward this ledge ofrock full tilt. And when we were flung against this rock we shouldby good rights, have been battered to kindling wood at one blow, andthen have slipped back into the water and sunk.
“But right here is the curious part of it all. Just as she got tothe foot of this cliff, an unusually big comber must have caughther, raised her up in its arms fifteen or twenty feet higher thanthe usual wave would have done, and just chucked her up on the sideof this bluff out o’ harm’s way—at least for the time being. Thesharp edge of the ledge happened to be such a shape that it held herin place like the barb of a fish-hook. And all that the smallerwaves could do was to pound away at the lower side of her, withouthurting her enough to make her fall to pieces.
“But of course they’ll get her after a while—almost any hour forthat matter; for this storm is a long way from being blown out yet,I’m afraid. And so it’s up to us to just get as much food and otherthings unloaded and up away from this shore line as fast as we can.Most of the stores are forward, and that is where she is stove inthe least.
“I suppose we’ve got to take off five minutes and cram a little coldfood into ourselves, so that we can work faster and longer. For wesurely have got to work for our lives to-day. If this boat shouldsuddenly take it into her head to slide off into the ocean again, asshe may do at any minute, we’re goners, even if we are left onshore, unless we get a winter’s supply unloaded and stored on therocks. For we are a long way from civilization, I can tell you.”
With that Martin rushed Larry to the galley, dug out some bread,cold meat, and a can of condensed milk. And, grudging every minute’sdelay, they stood among the wreckage of the once beautiful cabin,cramming down their cold breakfast as hastily as possible. In theexcitement Larry forgot his bruises and sore spots.
As soon as they had finished Martin hurried the boy to the forwardstore-room door, bursting it open with a heavy piece of iron.
“Now pick up anything that you can handle,” he instructed, “run withit up on deck, and throw it on to the bank. I’ll take the heavierthings. But work as hard and as fast as you can, for our livesdepend upon it.”
For the next two hours they worked with furious energy rushing backand forth from the store-rooms, staggering up the tilted steps tothe deck, and hurling the boxes across the few feet that separatedthe boat from the ledge. Every few minutes Martin would leap acrossthe gap, and hastily toss the boxes that had been landed further upon the shore, to get them out of the way for others that were tofollow.
The enormous strength and endurance of the old hunter were shown bythe amount he accomplished in those two hours. Boxes and kegs, soheavy that Larry could hardly budge them, he seized and tossedashore in tireless succession, only pausing once long enough tothrow off his jacket and outer shirt. For the perspiration wasrunning off his face in streams, despite the fact that the air wasfreezing cold.
Fortunately most of the parcels were relatively small, as they hadbeen prepared for the prospective inland hunting excursion which wasto have been made on sledges. Many of the important articles were insmall cans, and Larry rushed these ashore by the armful. He wasstaggering, and gasping for breath at times, and once he stumbledand fell half way down a stairway from sheer exhaustion. But he hadcaught Martin’s spirit of eager haste, and although the fall hadshaken him up considerably, he picked himself up and went on as fastas his weary limbs would carry him.
At last Martin paused, wiping his face with his coat sleeve. “Sitdown and rest,” he said to the boy. “We’ve got a whole winter’ssupply on shore there now, if food alone was all we needed. So wecan take a little more time about the rest of the things; and whileyou rest I’ll rig up some tackle for getting what we can of theheavier things ashore. You’ve done pretty well, for a city boy,” headded.
Then he went below, and Larry heard the sounds of blows and crackingtimber. Presently Martin appeared, dragging some heavy planks afterhim. With these he quickly laid a bridge from the deck to the shore.Then he hunted out some long ropes and pulleys, and, carrying themto a tree far up on the bank, he rigged a block and tackle betweenthis anchorage and the yacht.
“Now we’re ready for the heavy things,” he said.
With this new contrivance nothing seemed too big to handle. Martinand Larry would roll and push the heavy cases into a companionway,or near a hatch, and then both would seize the rope, and hand overhand would work the heavy object up to the deck across the bridge,and finally far out on shore. In this way the greater part ofeverything movable had been transferred from the boat by the middleof the afternoon; but not until the last of the more preciousarticles had been disposed of did Martin think of food, althoughthey had breakfasted at daylight.
In the excitement Larry, too, had forgotten his hunger; but now agnawing sensation reminded him that he was famished. Martin was “ashungry as a wolf in winter” he admitted. But he did not stop to eat.Calling the dogs and filling his pockets with biscuit to munch as hewalked, he started out along the rocky shore of the inlet, to see ifby any chance some survivor had washed ashore. Meanwhile Larry builta big fire at the edge of the woods to act as a signal, and to keephimself warm.
In two hours the old man returned from his fruitless search. He hadfound some wreckage strewn among the rocks, but no sign of a livingthing. “And now we must get these things under cover,” he said,indicating the pile of stores.
For this purpose he selected a knoll some little distance from theshore above where any waves could possibly reach. Over this he laida floor of planks, and spread a huge canvas over the boards. Thenthey began the task of piling all the landed goods on top of this,laying them up neatly so as to occupy as little space as possible,and over this great mound of food-boxes, gun-cases, canned goods,and miscellaneous objects, they pulled a huge canvas deck covering.
By the time they had finished the daylight was beginning to wane.Taking the hint from the approaching darkness, Martin dug into themass of packages and produced a small silk tent, which he set upunder one of the scrub trees which was sheltered by a big rock wellback from the shore.
“Take that axe,” he told Larry, pointing to a carefully forgedhunting axe that had been landed with the other things, “and collectall the wood you can before dark.”
Larry, scarcely able to stand, looked wistfully at the yacht. “Thecabin is dry in there,” he suggested, “why don’t we sleep in thereto-night?”
Old Martin shook his head. “I don’t dare risk it,” he said. “I amtired, and I’d sleep too soundly. I don’t think I’d wake up, nomatter what happened. And something may happen to-night. The stormis still brewing, and the waves are still so high that they poundthe old hull all the time. A little more hammering and she may go topieces. We couldn’t tell from the noise whether the storm was comingup or not, because there is so much pounding all the time anyway.And wouldn’t it be a fine thing for us to find ourselves droppedinto the ocean after we have just finished getting ourselves and ourthings safely ashore? No, you get the wood and I’ll give you asample of the out-door suppers that we are likely to have togetherevery night for the next few months.”
Larry picked up the axe and dragged his weary feet off to thethicker line of trees a short distance away. There was really littleuse for the axe, as the woods were filled with fallen trunks andbranches that could be gathered for the picking up. So he sparedhimself the exertion of chopping and began dragging branches andsmall logs to the tent.
He found that the old hunter, while he was collecting the wood, hadunearthed a cooking outfit, and had pots, pans, and kettles strewnabout ready for use. Best of all he had hunted out two fur sleepingbags, and had placed a pile of blankets in the little tent, whichlooked very inviting to the weary boy.
Martin saw his wistful look and chuckled. “Too tired to eat Isuppose?” he inquired.
“Well, pretty near it,” Larry confessed. “I was never half so tiredin my whole life.”
“All right,” said Martin; “you’ve worked like a real man to-day. Soyou just crawl into those blankets and have a little snooze while Iand the doggies get the supper. I’ll call you when the things areready.”
“Don’t you ever get tired, ever, Martin?” Larry asked as he flunghimself down. But if Martin answered his question he did not hearit. He was asleep the moment he touched the blankets.
THE FIRST SUPPER
The next thing Larry knew he was being roused by old Martin’svigorous shakes. Something cold was pressing against his cheek,—theblack muzzle of one of the malamoots. Martin and the big dog werestanding over him, the man laughing and the dog wagging his bushytail. It seemed to the boy that he had scarcely closed his eyes, butwhen he had rubbed them open he knew that he must have been asleepsome little time, for many things seemed changed.
It was night now, and the stars were out. But inside the tent it waswarm and cozy, for before the open flap a cheerful fire was burning.The odor of coffee reached his nostrils and he could hear the baconfrying over the fire, and these things reminded him that he washungry again.
“Sit right up to the table and begin,” Martin said to him, pointingto a row of cooking utensils and two tin plates on the ground infront of the tent. “Every one for himself, and Old Nick take thehindmost.”
No second invitation was necessary. In a moment he was bending overa plate heaped with bacon and potatoes, while the big malamoots satwatching him wistfully keeping an expectant eye on Martin as hepoured the coffee. Such potatoes, such bacon, and such coffee theboy had never tasted. Even the soggy bread which Martin had improvedby frying in some bacon fat, seemed delicious. This beingshipwrecked was not so bad after all.
Old Martin, seated beside him and busy with his heaping plate seemedto read his thoughts.
“Not such a bad place, is it?” he volunteered presently.
“Bad?” the boy echoed. “It’s about the best place I ever saw. Onlyperhaps it will get lonesome if we have to wait long,” he addedthoughtfully.
“Wait?” repeated Martin, poising his fork in the air. “Wait for whoand for what, do you suppose, boy?”
“Well, aren’t we going to wait for some one to come for us?” the boyinquired.
Old Martin emptied his plate, drank his third cup of coffee, andthrew a couple of sticks on the fire before answering.
“If we waited for some one to come for us,” he said presently and ina very serious tone, “we’d be waiting here until all theseprovisions that we landed to-day are gone. And there’s a good fullyear’s supply for us two up there under the canvas. Did you supposewe are going to wait here?”
The boy looked thoughtful.
“But we can’t get the yacht off the rocks, and she’d sink if we did.And anyhow you couldn’t sail her home. You told me only yesterdaythat you didn’t know a yacht from a battleship, Martin.”
“I told you the truth, at that,” Martin chuckled. “But I’m somethingof a navigator all the same. I can navigate a craft as well as poorold Captain Roberts himself, only I use a different craft, and Inavigate her on land. And, what’s more to the point, I’ve got theland to do it on, the craft, and the crew.” And Martin pointedsuccessively at the pile of supplies in the distance, the two dogs,and Larry.
“I don’t understand at all what you mean,” the boy declared; “tellme what you intend to do, Martin, won’t you?”
“Why, boy, if I started in to tell you now you’d be asleep before Icould get well into the story,” said the old hunter.
“No, I wouldn’t,” the boy protested. “I never was more wide awake inmy life. I feel as if I could do another day’s work right now.”
“That’s the meat and potatoes and coffee,” old Martin commented.“It’s marvellous what fuel will do for a tired engine. Well, if youcan keep awake long enough I’ll tell you just what we are going todo in the next few weeks—or months, maybe.
“Here we are stranded away up on the Labrador coast, at least two orthree hundred miles from the nearest settlement, perhaps evenfarther than that. And the worst of it is that I haven’t the leastidea where that nearest settlement is. It may be on the coast,somewhat nearer than I think; and then again it may be ’crosscountry inland still farther away than I judge. What we’ve got to dois to make up our minds where we think that settlement is, and findit. And we’ve got to go to it by land and on foot.”
“On foot!” Larry cried in amazement. “Three or four hundred miles onfoot in the winter time in a strange country where nobody lives!”
“That’s the correct answer,” the hunter replied: “and we’re two ofthe luckiest dogs in the world to have the chance to do it in thestyle we can. If we hadn’t been given the chance to save all thatplunder from the ship to-day we would be far better off to be in thebottom of the ocean with Mr. Ware and the other poor fellows. But wehad the luck, and now we have a good even fighting chance to getback home. But it means work—work and hardships, such as you neverdreamed of, boy. And yet we’ll do it, or I’ll hand in my commissionas a land pilot.
“Did you notice those cans of stuff that you were throwing ashoreto-day—did you notice anything peculiar about those cans?” Martinasked, a moment later.
“E—er, no I didn’t,” Larry hesitated. “Unless it was that some ofthe bigger ones seemed lighter than tin cans of stuff usually do.”
“That’s the correct answer again,” the old man nodded; “that’s thewhole thing. They were lighter, for the very good reason that theyare not made of tin. They are aluminum cans. They cost like the verysin, those cans do, many times more than tin, you know. But Mr. Waredidn’t have to think about such a small thing as cost, and when heplanned this hunting trip, where every ounce that we would have tohaul by hand or with the dogs had to be considered, he madeeverything just the lightest and best that money could get it made.If there was a way of getting anything better, or more condensed,whether it was food or outfit, he did it. And you and I willprobably owe our lives to this hobby of his, poor man.
“Among that stuff that we unloaded to-day there are specialcondensed foods, guns, tents, and outfits, just made to take such aforced tramping trip through the wilderness as we are to take. Yousee Mr. Ware planned to go on a long hunt back into the interior ofthis land, a thing that has never been done at this time of year tomy knowledge. And as no one knows just what the conditions arethere, he had his outfit made so that he could travel for weeks, andcarry everything that he needed along with him.
“So it’s up to us to take the things that Mr. Ware had made, andwhich we are lucky enough to have saved, and get back to the landwhere people live. In my day I have undertaken just as dangerous,and probably difficult things in the heart of winter; only on thosetrips I didn’t have any such complete equipment as we have here.
“Why, look at that sleeping bag, for example,” the old manexclaimed, pointing to one of the bags lying in the tent. “Mysleeping outfit, when I hiked from upper Quebec clear to the shoreof old Hudson’s Bay in the winter, consisted of a blanket. Whenevermy fire got low at night I nearly froze. But mind you, I could lieout of doors in one of these fur bags without a fire on the coldestnight, and be warm as a gopher. They are made of reindeer skin, furinside, and are lined with the skin of reindeer fawn. So there aretwo layers of the warmest skin and fur known, between the man insideand the cold outside. Those bags will be a blessing to us everyminute. For when we strike out across this country we don’t knowwhat kind of a land we may get into. We may find timber region allthe way, and if we do there will be no danger of our freezing. Butit’s more than likely that we shall strike barren country part ofthe time where there will be no fire-wood; and then we willappreciate these fur bags. For I don’t care how cold it gets or howhard it blows, we can burrow down into the snow and crawl into thebags, and always be sure of a warm place to sleep.
“Then again, the very luckiest thing for us was the saving of thosetwo dogs,” Martin continued. “If they had gone overboard with theother twelve I should be feeling a good deal sadder to-night than Iam. For there is nothing to equal a malamoot dog for hauling loadsthrough this country in winter. Look at this fellow,” he saidindicating one of the big shaggy dogs curled up a few feet from thetent, caring nothing for the biting cold. “There doesn’t seem to beanything very remarkable about him, does there? And yet that fellowcan haul a heavier load on a sled, and haul it farther every day,than I can. And his weight is less than half what mine is.
“The dogs that Mr. Ware had selected were all veteran sledge dogs,and picked because they had proved their metal. So we’ll give thisfellow a load of two hundred and fifty pounds to haul. And he coulddo better than that I know if he had to.”
The wind, which had died down a little at dusk, had gradually risenand was now blowing hard again, and fine flakes of snow and sleethissed into the camp-fire. The rock which sheltered the tentprotected it from the main force of the blast, but Larry could hearit lashing its way through the spruce trees with an ominous roar.Martin rose and examined the fastenings of the tent, tightened arope here and there, and then returned to his seat on the blankets.
“We can’t start to-morrow if it storms like this,” Larry suggestedpresently.
“Well, we can’t start to-morrow anyhow,” the old trapper answered.“And we surely can’t start until there is more snow. How are wegoing to haul a pair of toboggans over the snow if there is no snowto be hauled over, I’d like to know? But there is no danger aboutthe lack of snow. There’ll be plenty of it by the time we are readyto start.”
“And when will that be?” the boy asked.
“In about ten days, I think,” Martin answered, “——that is, if youhave learned to shoot a rifle, harness the dogs, pitch a camp, setsnares, walk on snow-shoes, and carry a pretty good-sized pack onyour back,” he added, looking at Larry out of the corner of hiseyes. “Did you ever shoot a rifle?”
“Sure I have,” the boy answered proudly; “and I hit the mark,too—sometimes.”
“I suppose you shot a Flobert twenty-two, at a mark ten feet away,”Martin commented with a little smile. “Well, all that helps. But onthis trip you are not going to hit the mark sometimes: it must beevery time. And the ‘mark’ will be something for the camp kettle tokeep the breath of life in us. I’ve been turning over in my mindto-day the question of what kind of a gun you are going to tote onthis trip. We’ve got all kinds to select from up there under thecanvas, from elephant killers to squirrel poppers, for Mr. Ware didlove every kind of shooting iron. I’ve picked out yours, andto-morrow you will begin learning to use it—learning to shoot quickand straight—straight, every time. For we won’t have one bullet towaste after we leave here.”
Larry fairly hugged himself. Think of having a rifle of his veryown, a real rifle that would kill things, with the probability ofhaving plenty of chances for using it! One of his fondest dreams wascoming true. The old hunter read his happiness in his face, andwithout a word rose and left the tent. When he returned he carriedin his hand a little weapon which, in its leather case, seemed likea toy about two feet long. Handing this to Larry he said, simply:“Here’s your gun.”
The boy’s countenance fell. To be raised to the height of bliss andexpectation, and then be handed a pop-gun, was a cruel joke. Withoutremoving the gun from its case he tossed it contemptuously into theblankets behind him.
“Mr. Ware killed a moose with it last winter,” the old huntercommented, suspecting the cause of the boy’s disappointment. “And itshoots as big a ball, and shoots just as hard as the gun I am goingto carry,” he added. “You’d better get acquainted with it.”
There was no doubting the old man’s sincerity now, and Larry pickedup the gun and examined it.
It was a curious little weapon, having two barrels placed one abovethe other, and with a stock like a pistol. Attached to thepistol-like handle was a skeleton stock made of aluminum rods, andso arranged that it folded against the under side of the barrelswhen not in use. The whole thing could be slipped into a leathercase not unlike the ordinary revolver holster, and carried with astrap over the shoulder. When folded in this way it was only twofeet long, and had the appearance of the toy gun for which Larry hadmistaken it.
Yet it was anything but a toy. The two barrels were of differentcalibre, the upper one being the ordinary .22, while the lower one,as Martin had stated, was of large calibre and chambered for apowerful cartridge.
The old hunter watched the boy eagerly examining the little gun,opening it and squinting through the barrels, aiming it at imaginaryobjects, and strutting about with it slung from his shoulder in thepure joy that a red-blooded boy finds in the possession of a firearm. Then, when Larry’s excitement cooled a little, he took the gun,and explained its fine points to his eager pupil.
“From this time on,” he began, “I want you to remember everything Iam going to tell you just as nearly as you can, not only about thisgun, but everything else. For you’ve got to cram a heap of knowledgeinto your head in the next few days, and I haven’t time to saythings twice.
“This gun was made specially for Mr. Ware after his own design andto fit his own idea. He wanted a gun that was as light as possibleand could be carried easily, and at the same time be adapted to allkinds of game, big and little. This upper barrel, the smaller oneyou see, shoots a cartridge that will kill anything up to the sizeof a jack rabbit, and is as accurate a shooter as any gun can bemade. Yet the cartridges are so small that a pocket full will last aman a whole season.
“Now the best rule in all hunting is to use the smallest bullet thatwill surely kill the game you are aiming at, and in every countrythere are always ten chances to kill small things to one chance atthe bigger game. Up in this region, for example, there will beflocks of ptarmigan, the little northern grouse, and countlessrabbits that we shall need for food, but which we couldn’t afford towaste heavy ammunition on. And this smaller barrel is the one to usein getting them.
“If you used the big cartridge when you found a flock of theseptarmigans sitting on a tree, the noise of the first shot wouldprobably frighten them all away, to say nothing of the fact that thebig ball would tear the little bird all to pieces, and make itworthless for food. With the .22 you can pop them over one at a timewithout scaring them, and without spoiling the meat.
“But suppose, when you were out hunting for ptarmigan or rabbits youcame upon a deer, or even a moose. All right, you’ve got somethingfor him, too, and right in the same gun. All you have to do is toshift the little catch on the hammer here which connects with thefiring-pin in the lower barrel, draw a bead, and you knock him downdead with the big bullet—as Mr. Ware did last fall up in NewBrunswick. There will be a louder report, and a harder kick, but youwon’t notice either when you see the big fellow roll over and kickhis legs in the air.”
The very suggestion of such a possibility was too much for the boy’simagination. “Do you really think that I may kill a deer, or amoose, Martin?” he asked eagerly. “Do you, Martin?”
“Perhaps,” the old man assented, “if you will remember all I tellyou. But first of all let’s learn all we can about the thing you aregoing to kill it with.
“Mr. Ware and I had many long talks, and tried many experimentsbefore he could decide upon the very best size of cartridge for thislarger barrel. You see there scores of different kinds and sizes tochoose from. There are cartridges almost as long and about the sameshape as a lead pencil, with steel jacketed bullets that will traveltwo or three miles, and go through six feet thickness of wood atshort range. It is the fad among hunters these days to use thatkind. But if a man is a real hunter he doesn’t need them.
“Mr. Ware was a real hunter. When he pulled the trigger he knew justwhere the bullet was going to land. And when a man is that kind of ashot he doesn’t have to use a bullet that will shoot through sixfeet of pine wood. So he picked out one of the older style ofcartridges, one that we call the .38-40, which is only half as longas the lead-pencil kind. By using a steel jacketed bullet andsmokeless powder this cartridge is powerful enough to kill any kindof game in this region, if you strike the right spot.
“So don’t get the idea, just because this gun won’t shoot a bulletthrough an old fashioned battleship, that it’s a plaything. It willpenetrate eighteen inches of pine wood, and the force of its blow isvery nearly that of a good big load of hay falling off a sled. Thislittle three-pound gun—just a boy’s sparrow gun to look at—shootsfarther and hits harder than the best rifle old Daniel Boone everowned. And yet Boone and his friends cleaned out all the Indians andmost of the big game in several States. So you see you’ve got thebetter of Boone and all the great hunters and Indian killers of hisday—that is, as far as the gun is concerned. To-morrow I will beginteaching you how to use it as a hunter should; but now we had betterturn in, for there are hard days ahead of us.”
And so Larry crawled into his snug fur-lined bag, too excited towish to sleep, but so exhausted by the hard day’s work that his eyeswould not stay open.
LESSONS IN PILOTING
At daylight the next morning old Martin roused the boy, remindinghim that he “was to begin learning his trade” that day. “And thereare many things to learn about this land-piloting, too,” he toldhim. Meanwhile the old hunter took the axe and went into the woodsfor fuel while Larry was putting on his shoes and his coat—the onlygarments he had removed on going to bed the night before.
The air was very cold and everything frozen hard, and Larry’s teethwere chattering before Martin returned and started the fire. “Nownotice how I lay these sticks and make this fire,” Martininstructed. “I am making it to cook our breakfast over, so I’llbuild it in a very different way from what I should if I only wantedit for heating our tent. Learning how to build at least threedifferent kinds of fires is a very important part of youreducation.”
The old man selected two small logs about four feet long and seveninches in diameter. He laid these side by side on the ground,separating them at one end a distance of about six inches and at theother end something over a foot. In the space between the logs helaid small branches and twigs, and lighted them, and in a jiffy hada hot fire going.
Larry noticed that Martin had placed the logs so that they lay atright angles to the direction from which the wind was blowing; andnow as the heat thawed out the ground, the hunter took a sharppointed stick and dug away the earth from under the log almost itswhole length on the windward side. The wind, sucking in under this,created a draught from beneath, which made the fire burn fiercely.
Then Martin placed two frying pans filled with slices of ham andsoggy, grease-covered bread over the fire, the tops of the two logsholding the pans rigidly in place. Next he took the wide-bottomedcoffee pot, filled it with water, threw in a handful of coffee, andplaced the pot at the end where the logs were near enough togetherto hold it firmly.
“Pretty good stove, isn’t it,” he commented, when he had finished.
“You see that kind of a fire does several things that you want itto, and doesn’t do several others that you don’t want. It makes allthe heat go right up against the bottom of the pans where you needit most, and it only takes a little wood to get a lot of heat. Whatis more, the sides of the logs keep the heat from burning your faceand your hands when you have to stir things, as a big camp-firewould. You can always tell a woodsman by the kind of fire hebuilds.”
Presently the coffee boiled over and Martin set it off, and by thattime the ham and the bread were ready. And while they were eatingtheir breakfast he set a pail of water on the fire to heat. “That’sto wash the dishes in,” he said. “A real woodsman washes his dishesas soon as he finishes each meal—does it a good deal morereligiously than he washes his face or his hands, I fear.”
When breakfast was finished, and the last dish cleaned, Martin said:“Now you’ll have an hour’s practice at target-shooting. Take yourgun and come along.”
He led the way to the pile of boxes, and hunted out three or foursolid looking cases. These were filled with paper boxes containingcartridges—enough to supply an army, Larry thought. Tearing some ofthese open, Martin instructed the boy to fill the right hand pocketof his jacket with the little twenty-twos. “And always remember thatthey are in that pocket and nowhere else,” he instructed.
Next he opened a bundle and took out a belt on which there were arow of little leather pockets with snap fasteners. He filled thesepockets with the larger calibre cartridges, six to each pocket, andinstructed Larry to buckle it on over his coat. Then he led the wayto a level piece of ground just above the camp, and having paced offfifty yards he fastened the round top of a large tin can against atree and stepped back to the firing line.
“I’ll try one shot first to see if the sights are true,” he said, ashe slipped a cartridge into each barrel. Then raising the gun to hisshoulder he glanced through the sights and fired. “Go and see wherethat hit,” he told the boy.
Larry, running to the target, found the little hole of the .22bullet almost in the center of the tin, and shouted his discoveryexultantly. Martin had fired so quickly after bringing the gun tohis shoulder that the boy could scarcely believe his eyes, althoughthe result of the shot did not seem to surprise the old hunter.
“Don’t try the .38 yet,” he instructed, handing Larry the gun. “Firetwenty shots with the .22, and go and see where each shot strikes assoon as you fire and have loaded. And don’t forget to bring the gunto half-cock, and to load before you leave your tracks. That is oneof the main things to remember. After a little practice you will doit instinctively, so that you will always have a loaded gun in yourhands. It may save your life sometime when you run up to a buck thatyou have knocked over and only stunned.”
The boy took the gun and began his lesson, the hunter leaving himwithout waiting to see how he went about it. A few minutes later,when Larry had finished the twenty rounds, he found the old mangoing through the dismantled yacht.
“Just making a final inspection to see if there is anything leftthat we may need,” the old hunter said. “There’s a king’s ransom inhere yet, but we can’t use it on our trip, and in anothertwenty-four hours it may be on the bottom of the ocean.”
Larry, trying to conceal the pride he felt, handed Martin the tintarget he had brought with him. The old hunter examined it gravely,counting the number of bullet holes carefully. There were ten ofthem, including the one Martin had made.
“Eleven misses in twenty shots,” he commented, simply.
The boy, who was swelling with pride, looked crestfallen.
“But the last five all hit it,” he explained. “At first I hit allaround it, and then I hit it almost every other time, and at last Ihit it five times straight.”
“Put up a new target and try ten more,” was Martin’s only comment.But when Larry had gone he chuckled to himself with satisfaction.“Some shooting for a city boy!” he said to himself; “but I won’tspoil him by telling him so.”
When Larry returned with the second target there were seven bulletholes in it; but still the old hunter made no comment on the score.“Now go back and try ten of the big ones, and remember that you areshooting at big game this time,” he admonished.
Larry returned slowly to his shooting range. Martin was a very hardand unreasonable task-master, he decided. But, remembering that hehad hit the mark so frequently before, he resolved to better hisscore this time. This was just the resolution Martin had hoped hewould make.
So the boy fastened the target in place, adjusted the hammer forfiring the larger cartridge. Then he shut his teeth together hard,took a careful but quick aim, for Martin had explained that slowshooting was not the best for hunting, and pulled the trigger. Thesound of the loud report startled him, and his shoulder was jerkedback by the recoil. It didn’t hurt, exactly, for the aluminum buttplate was covered with a springy rubber pad; but it showed him veryforcibly what a world of power there must be in those stubby littlecylinders of brass and lead.
He forgot his astonishment, however, when on going to the target, hefound that the big bullet had pierced the tin almost in the center;and as he stood gazing at the hole he heard a low chuckle thatcleared away all his dark clouds. Old Martin had slipped up behindhim quietly; and there was no mistaking the old hunter’s wrinkledsmile of satisfaction.
“Now you see what you can do with her,” the old man said, his eyestwinkling. “If that tin had been a moose’s forehead he’d be a deadmoose, sure enough. Did the noise and the kick surprise you?”
“Yes, it did,” Larry admitted honestly; “but it won’t next time—itnever will again. And I am going to kill just nine more moose withthese cartridges.”
“That’s the way to talk,” said Martin, with frank admiration; “aftera few more shots you’ll get used to the recoil, and pretty soon youwon’t even feel it. But you musn’t expect to make nine morebull’s-eyes just yet.”
The old hunter went back to his work at the pile of plunder underthe big canvas, and Larry fired his nine remaining rounds. Then hesought the old man again, but as Martin asked no question about theresult of the shots, Larry did not volunteer any information.Presently Martin looked up from his work.
“I suppose you’ve cleaned the rifle now that you have finishedpractice for the morning?” he inquired.
Larry shook his head.
“Well that’s the very first thing to do, now, and always,” said thehunter.
It took quite a time for the boy to clean and oil the gun so that hefelt it would pass inspection, and when he returned to Martin theold man was busy with an assortment of interesting looking parcels,placing them in separate piles. He was making notes on a piece ofpaper, while both the dogs were sniffing about the packages, greatlyinterested.
The old hunter sent Larry to bring two of the toboggans that he hadsaved from the yacht. They looked like ordinary toboggans to theboy, but Martin called his attention to some of their good pointswhich he explained while he was packing them with what he called an“experimental load,” made up from the pile of parcels he had beensorting.
Each of the toboggans had fastened to its top a stout canvas bag,the bottom of which was just the size of the top of the sled. Thesides of the bag were about four feet high, each bag forming, ineffect, a canvas box fastened securely to the toboggan. Martinpointed out the advantages of such an arrangement in one tersesentence. “When that bag is tied up you can’t lose anything off yoursled without losing the sled itself,” he said. “And if you had everdone much sledging,” he added, “you’d know what that means.”
“The usual way of doing it,” Martin explained, “is to pack your sledas firmly as you can, and then draw a canvas over it and lash itdown. And that is a very good way, too. But this bag arrangementbeats it in every way, particularly in taking care of the littlethings that are likely to spill out and be lost. With this bag thereis no losing anything, big or little. You simply pack the big thingson the bottom, and then instead of having to fool around half anhour fastening the little things on and freezing your fingers whileyou do it, you throw them all in on top, close up the end of thebag, and strap it down tight. You see it will ride then wherever thesled goes, for it is a part of the sled itself.”
Larry noticed that most of the larger parcels on the sled were doneup in long, slender bags, and labeled. Martin explained that thebags were all made of waterproof material, and carefully sealed, andthat narrow bags could be packed more firmly and rode in placebetter than short, stubby ones. A large proportion of these bagswere labeled “Pemmican” and the name excited the boy’s curiosity.
“It’s something good to eat, I know,” he said; “but what is it madeof, Martin?”
“It’s an Indian dish that made it possible for Peary to reach thePole,” Martin assured him. “It is soup, and fish, and meat andvegetables, and dessert, all in one—only it hasn’t hardly any ofthose things in it. If you eat a chunk of it as big as your fistevery day and give the same sized chunk to your dog, you won’t needany other kind of food, and your dog won’t. It has more heat andnourishment in it, ounce for ounce, than any other kind of food everinvented. That’s why I am going to haul so much of it on our sleds.”
While he was talking he had slit open one of the bags and showedLarry the contents, which resembled rather dirty, tightly pressedbrown sugar.
“Gee, it looks good!” the boy exclaimed. “Let’s have some of it forsupper.”
“You needn’t wait for supper,” Martin told him. “Eat all you want ofit, we’ve got at least a ton more than we can carry away with us.”And he cut off a big lump with his hunting knife and handed it tothe boy.
Larry’s mouth watered as he took it. He had visions of maple-sugarfeasts on this extra ton of Indian delicacy close at hand, as hetook a regular boy’s mouthful, for a starter. But the next minutehis expression changed to one of utmost disgust, and he ran to thewater pail to rinse his mouth. He paused long enough, however, tohurl the remaining piece at the laughing hunter. But Martin duckedthe throw, while Kim and Jack, the dogs, raced after the lump, Kimreaching it first and swallowing it at a gulp.
“What made you change your mind so suddenly?” the old hunter askedwhen he could get his breath. “You seemed right hungry a minute ago,and I expected to see you eat at least a pound or two.”
“Eat that stuff!” Larry answered, between gulps from the waterbucket. “I’d starve to death before I’d touch another grain of it.”
“That’s what you think now,” the old man answered, becoming seriousagain;—“that’s what I thought, too, the first time I tasted it. Ittasted to me then like a mixture of burnt moccasin leather and bootgrease. But wait until you have hit the trail for ten hours in thecold, when you’re too tired to lift your feet from the ground, andyou’ll think differently. You’ll agree with me then that a chunk ofthis pemmican as big as your two fists is only just one third bigenough, and tastes like the best maple sugar you ever ate.”
But the boy still made wry faces, and shook his head. “What do theyput into it to make it taste so?” he asked. “Or why don’t theyflavor it with something?”
“Oh, they flavor it,” Martin explained, laughing. “They flavor itwith grease poured all over it after they have dried the meat thatit is made of, and pounded it up into fine grains. But take my wordfor it that when you try it next time, somewhere out there in thewilderness two or three weeks from now, you’ll say that they flavorit just right.”
“But we needn’t worry about that now,” he added. “What we need morethan anything else for to-night is a big lot of fire-wood, green anddry both. Take the axe and get in all you can between now and night.I want plenty of wood to use in teaching you how to make two otherkinds of fires. Do you suppose you could cut down a tree about afoot in diameter?”
Larry thought he could. Some lumbermen in the Adirondacks had shownhim how a tree could be felled in any direction by chopping a deepnotch low down, and another higher up on the opposite side. He knewalso about stepping to one side and away from the butt to avoid thepossible kick-back of the trunk when the tree fell.
So he selected a tree of the right size as near the tent as he couldfind one, felled it after much futile chopping and many rests forbreath, and cut it into logs about six feet long. When he hadfinished he called the two dogs, put a harness on each, hitched themup tandem, and fastened the hauling rope to the end of one of thelogs. Martin had suggested that he do this, so as to get accustomedto driving the dogs, and get the big fellows accustomed to beingdriven by him.
The dogs, full of energy were eager for the work, and at the wordsprang forward, yelping and straining at the straps, exerting everyounce of strength in their powerful bodies. The log was a heavy one,and at first they could barely move it; but after creeping along fora few inches it gradually gained speed on the thin snow, and wasbrought into camp on the run. Even in the excitement of shouting tothe struggling dogs and helping with an occasional push, Larrynoticed the intelligence shown by the animals in swinging from oneside to the other, feeling for the best position to get leverage,and taking advantage of the likely places.
They seemed to enter into the spirit of the work, too, rushing madlyback to the woods after each log or limb had been deposited at thetent, and waiting impatiently for Larry to make up the bundles ofwood and fasten the draw rope. Working at this high pressure the boyand dogs soon had a huge pile of fire-wood at Martin’s disposal, andby the time the old hunter had finished his task, had laid in athree days’ supply.
“Now you build a ‘cooking fire,’ such as I made this morning, andget supper going,” said Martin, coming over to the tent; “and whileyou are doing that I’ll be fixing up another kind of a fire—onecalled a ‘trapper’s fire,’ which is built for throwing heat into atent.”
The old hunter then drove two stakes into the ground directly infront of the opening of the tent and six feet from it, the stakesbeing about five feet apart and set at right angles to the openflaps. Against these stakes he piled three of the green logs Larryhad cut, one on top of the other like the beginning of a log house,and held them in place by two stakes driven in front, opposite thetwo first stakes. Next he selected two green sticks about fourinches in diameter and three feet long, and placed them like theandirons in a fireplace, the wall of logs serving as a reflectingsurface like the back wall of a chimney. Across these logs he nowlaid a fire, just as one would in a fireplace.
Larry all this time had been busy getting the supper, Martinoffering a suggestion now and then. When he saw that the meal wasalmost ready the old man spread a piece of canvas on the ground justinside the opening of the tent and before the log fire he had laid,and set out the plates and cups, and when Larry announced that thefeast was ready Martin lighted the fire in front of the logs.
He had a double motive in this—to show the boy how to make a heatingfire and to furnish heat for the evening. For the weather wasgrowing very cold, and he had some work that he wished to do whichwould require light to guide his fingers and heat for keeping themwarm.
With the protection of the tent back of them and the roaring fire infront they toasted their shins and ate leisurely. To Larry it allseemed like one grand lark, and he said so.
“I’m afraid you will change your mind about it being such a larkbefore we are through with it,” the old man said presently. “Itwon’t be a lark for either of us. But I’m beginning to feel morehopeful about it, now that I see that you can learn things, and arewilling to try.”
He lighted his pipe and smoked thoughtfully for a few minutes. Larrytoo, was thoughtful, turning over in his mind the old hunter’s lastremark.
“And so you have been thinking all this time that I might be in theway—that perhaps you would be better off if you were alone, anddidn’t have a boy like me on your hands?” the boy asked presently.
For a little time the old man did not answer, puffing his pipe andgazing silently at the fire. At last he said:
“I couldn’t help feeling a little that way at first, Larry. The jobon our hands is one for a strong man, not for a city boy. But I’mfeeling different now that I see how you take hold and are willingto work, and try to learn all the things I tell you. And wouldn’t itbe funny,” he added, with a twinkle in his kindly eye, “if,sometime, I should get into trouble and you have to help me out ofit instead of my helping you all the time? A fellow can never tellwhat strange things may happen on the trail; and that is one reasonwhy no man should start on a journey through the woods in the wintertime alone.”
Presently the old man knocked the ashes from his pipe and set aboutcleaning the dishes, Larry helping him; but neither of them were intalking mood, each busy with his own thoughts. When they hadfinished the hunter said:
“Now I’ll show you how to make an Indian fire, the kind the Indianstill likes best of all, and the best kind to use when wood isscarce or when you want to boil a pot of tea or get a quick meal.”
The old hunter then gathered an armful of small limbs, and laid themon the ground in a circle like the spokes of a wheel, the buttsover-lapping at the center where the hub of the wheel would be. Witha few small twigs he lighted a fire where the butts joined, theflames catching quickly and burning in a fierce vertical flame.
“This fire will make the most heat for the least amount of wood andthrow the heat in all directions,” Martin explained. “And that iswhy it is the best kind of a fire for heating a round tent, such asan Indian tepee.”
“But why did the Indian have to care about the amount of wood heburned?” Larry asked. “He had all the wood he wanted, just for thechopping of it, didn’t he?”
The old man smiled indulgently. “Yes, he surely had all the wood hewanted just for the chopping—millions of cords of it. But how was hegoing to chop it without anything to chop it with, do you think? Youforget that the old Indians didn’t have so much as a knife, letalone an axe. And that explains the whole thing: that’s why theIndian made small fires and built skin tepees instead of log houses.
“If you left your axe and your knife here at the tent and went intothe woods to gather wood, Larry, how long do you suppose it wouldtake you to collect a day’s supply for our big fire? You wouldn’thave much trouble in getting a few armfuls of fallen and brokenbranches but very soon you’d find the supply running short. The logswould be too large to handle, and most of the limbs too big tobreak. And so you would soon be cold and hungry, with a month’ssupply of dry timber right at your front dooryard.
“But it’s all so different when you can give a tap here and therewith your axe, or a few strokes with your hunting knife. And thiswas just what the poor Indian couldn’t do; for he had no cuttingtool of any kind worth the name until the white man came. So helearned to use little sticks for his fire, and built his house ofskins stretched over small poles.
“It is hard for us to realize that cutting down a tree was about thehardest task an Indian could ever attempt. Why the strongest Indianin the tribe, working as hard as he could with the best tool hecould find, couldn’t cut down a tree as quickly as you could withyour hunting knife. He could break rocks to pieces by striking themwith other rocks, and he could dig caves in the earth; but when itcame to cutting down a tree he was stumped. The big trees simplystood up and laughed at him. No wonder he worshipped the forests andthe tree gods!
“Of course when the white man came and supplied axes, hatchets, andknives, he solved the problem of fire-wood for the Indian. But henever changed the Indian’s idea about small fires. Too many thousandgenerations of Indian ancestors had been making that kind of a fireall their lives; and the Indian is a great fellow to stick to fixedhabits. He adopted the steel hatchet and the knife, but he stuck tohis round fire and his round tepee.
“And yet, although he had never seen a steel hatchet until the whiteman gave him one, he improved the design of the white man’s axeright away. The white man’s hatchet was a broad-bladed, clumsything, heavy to carry and hard to handle. The Indian designed athin, narrow-bladed, light hatchet—the tomahawk—that would bitedeeper into the wood and so cut faster than the white man’s thickhatchet. And every woodsman now knows that for fast chopping, withlittle work, a hatchet made on the lines of the tomahawk beats outthe other kind.”
The old man took his own hunting axe from the sheath at his belt andheld it up for inspection.
“You see it’s just a modified tomahawk,” he said, “with long bladeand thin head, and only a little toy axe, to look at. But it has cutdown many good-sized trees when I needed them, all the same. And theaxe you were using this afternoon, as you probably noticed, issimply a bigger brother of this little fellow, exactly the sameshape. It’s the kind the trappers use in the far North, because itwill do all the work of a four-pound axe, and is only half as heavy.We’ve got some of those big axes over there under the tarpaulin, butwe’ll leave them behind when we hit the trail, and take that smallone with us.”
While they were talking Martin had been getting out a parcelcontaining clothing and odds and ends, and now he sat down beforethe fire to “do some work” as he expressed it.
“If you’re not too sleepy to listen,” he said, “I’ll tell you astory that I know about a little Algonquin Indian boy.”
Larry was never too tired to listen to Martin’s stories; and so hecurled up on a blanket before the fire, while the old man worked andtalked.
THE STORY OF WEEWAH THE HUNTER
It had been a hard day’s work for both of them, and strange aseverything was to Larry, and awful as the black woods seemed as hepeeped out beyond the light of the fire, he had a strange feeling ofsecurity and contentment. It might be that there were terribly harddays of toil and danger and privations ahead, but he was too cozilysituated now to let that worry him.
Besides he was feeling the satisfaction that every boy feels in theknowledge that he has done something well. And even the exacting oldMartin, always slow to praise or even commend, had told him over hiscup of tea and his soup at supper, that he “would make a hunter ofhim some day.” And what higher praise could a boy hope for?
“Nobody knows just how old Weewah was when he became a mightyhunter,” Martin began presently, without looking up from his sewing,“because Indians don’t keep track of those things as we white folksdo. But he couldn’t have been any older than you are, perhaps notquite so old.
“He was old enough to know how to handle his bow and arrows, though,to draw a strong enough bow to shoot an arrow clean through awoodchuck or a muskrat, or even a beaver, although he had neverfound the chance to try at the beaver. He carried his own tomahawk,too—a new one that the factor at Hudson Bay Post had given him,—andwas eager to show his prowess with it on larger game.
“But the hunting was done by the grown up men of the village, whothought Weewah too small to hunt anything larger than rabbits. Yetthere were other boys of his own age who found more favor in thehunters’ eyes because they were larger than he. ‘Some day you willbe a hunter,’ they told him, ‘but now you are too small.’
“Weewah’s heart was big, even if his body was small. And so one dayhe took all his long arrows, his strongest bow, and his tomahawk andresolved to go into the big woods at some distance from the village,and do something worthy of a hunter.
“It was winter time, and the snow on the ground was knee-deep withjust a little crust on it. On his snow-shoes Weewah glided throughthe forest, noticing everything he passed and fixing it in hismemory instinctively so that he could be sure of finding the backtrail. For this day he meant to go deep, deep into the spruce swampin his hunting. There he would find game worthy of the bow of themighty hunter he intended to prove himself.
“The tracks of many animals crossed his path, little wood dwellerssuch as rabbits and an occasional mink. But these did not interesthim to-day. He had brought his snares, of course, for he alwayscarried them; but to-day his heart was too full of a mighty ambitionto allow such little things as rabbit snares to interrupt his plans.
“Once he did stop when he saw, just ahead of him on the snow, alittle brown bunch of fur with two big brown eyes looking at himwonderingly. In an instant he had drawn the poised arrow to hischeek and released it with a twang. And a moment later the littlebrown bunch of fur was in Weewah’s pouch, ready for making intorabbit stew in the evening.
“Weewah took it as a good omen that he had killed the rabbit on thevery edge of the spruce swamp that he had selected for his huntingground. Soon he would find game more worthy of his arrows or hisaxe. And so he was not surprised, even if his heart did give anextra bound, when presently he came upon the track of a lynx. It wasa fresh track, too, and the footprints were those of a very biglynx.
“Weewah knew all this the moment he looked at the tracks, just as heknew a thousand other things that he had learned in the school ofobservation. He knew also that in all probability the animal was nothalf a mile away, possibly waiting in some tree, or crouching insome bushes looking for ptarmigan or rabbit. He was sure, also, thathe could run faster on his snow-shoes than the lynx could in thatdeep soft snow.
“So for several minutes he stood and thought as fast as he could.What a grand day for him it would be if he could come back to thevillage dragging a great lynx after him! No one would ever tell himagain that he was too small to be a hunter.
“But while he was sorely tempted to rush after the animal with thepossibility of getting a shot, or a chance for a blow of his axe, heknew that this was not the surest way to get his prey. He haddiscovered the hunting ground of the big cat, and he knew that therewas no danger of its leaving the neighborhood so long as the supplyof rabbits held out. By taking a little more time, then, Weewah knewhe could surely bring the fellow into camp. And so he curbed hiseagerness.
“Instead of rushing off along the trail, bow bent and arrow on thestring, he opened his pouch and took out a stout buckskin string—astring strong enough to resist the pull of the largest lynx. In oneend of this he made a noose with a running knot. Next he cut a stoutstick three inches thick and as tall as himself. Then he walkedalong the trail of the lynx for a little distance, looking sharplyon either side, until he found a low-hanging, thick bunch of spruceboughs near which the animal had passed. Here the boy stopped andcut two more strong sticks, driving them into the ground about twofeet apart, so that they stood three feet above the snow and rightin front of a low-hanging bunch of spruce boughs.
“At the top of each he had left a crotch, across which he now laidhis stick with the looped string dangling from the center. Thecontrivance when completed looked like a great figure H, from thecross-bar of which hung the loop just touching the top of the snow.
“Now Weewah carefully opened the loop of the noose until it waslarge enough for the head of any lynx to pass through, and fastenedit deftly with twigs and blades of dead grass, so as to hold it inplace firmly. From its front the thing looked like a miniaturegallows—which, indeed, it was.
“Next Weewah took the rabbit from his pouch, and creeping under thethicket carefully so as not to disturb his looped string, he placedthe still warm body an arm’s length behind the loop, propping thehead of the little animal up with twigs, to look as lifelike aspossible. In an hour, at most, the rabbit would freeze and stiffen,and would then look exactly like a live rabbit crouching in thebushes.
“Then the little Indian broke off branches, thrusting them into thesnow about the rabbit, until he had formed a little bower facing thesnare. Any animal attempting to seize it would thrust its own headright through the fatal hangman’s loop.
“When Weewah had finished this task he gathered up his tomahawk andbow and arrows, and started back along his own trail. He made noattempt to cover up the traces of his work, as he would if trappinga fox; for the lynx is a stupid creature, like all of his cousins ofthe cat family, and will blunder into a trap of almost any kind.
“The little Indian hurried along until he reached the point fromwhich he had first crossed the lynx tracks. Here he turned sharply,starting a great circle, which would be about a mile in diameter. Hedid this to make sure that the lynx had not gone on farther than hethought. If he found no sign of fresh tracks he could feel certainthat the animal was still close at hand.
“This took him several hours, and it was almost dark when he pulledback the flap and entered his home lodge in the village. He wastired, too, but his eyes shone with suppressed emotion.
“As soon as he entered his mother set before him a smoking bowl ofbroth without a word of comment or a question as to what his luckmight have been in his rabbit hunting. His father was there, gorginghimself on fat beaver meat that he had just brought in; but neitherhe, nor Weewah’s brothers and sisters, offered any comment at thelittle boy’s entrance.
“It is not correct etiquette, in Algonquin families, to ask thehunter what luck he has had until he has eaten. Even then a verbalquestion is not asked. But when the repast is finished the Indianwoman takes a pouch of the hunter and turns its contents out uponthe floor.
“The emptiness of Weewah’s pouch spoke for itself, for he had flungit upon the floor on entering, where it lay flat. His father scowleda little when he noticed it; for he wanted his son to be a credit tohim as a hunter. But his scowl turned into a merry twinkle when hesaw how radiant his son’s face was despite his ill luck, and what asmall, delicately formed little fellow he was. Besides the oldwarrior was in an unusually good humor. Had he not killed a fatbeaver that day? And was not beaver tail the choicest of all foods?
“In a few hours Weewah’s brothers and sisters, rolled in their warmHudson Bay blankets, were breathing heavily, and his father andmother were far away in dreamland. Weewah was in dreamland, too; butnot the land that comes with sleep. He was in the happy state ofeager expectation that comes when to-morrow is to be a great day inone’s life. And so he lay, snugly wrapped in his blanket, his blackeyes shining as he watched the embers of the fire in the center ofthe tepee slowly grow dim and smoulder away. Meanwhile the verything he was dreaming about was happening out in the dark spruceswamp.
“The great lynx, whose tracks Weewah had seen, started out just atdusk on his nightly rabbit and grouse hunt. He had spent the daycurled up under the protecting boughs of a drooping spruce almostwithin sound of Weewah’s hatchet where the snare was being set. Nowhe took his way leisurely along his former trail, sniffing the air,and examining every likely looking nook that might hide the materialfor his supper. His great, fur-padded feet gave out no sound as heglided along over the now frozen crust, and he was the embodiment ofstealth as he glided forward with ears erect, and stubby tailstraight out.
“Suddenly he stopped, raised his head and distended his nostrils,drinking in the familiar odor wafted to him from some point near athand. Then he dropped low, his long fur dragging noiselessly on thesnow crust, as he wormed snake-like along toward a clump oflow-hanging spruces. His keen, yellow eyes had caught sight of thecrouching rabbit held in place at first by the twigs that Weewah hadplaced there, but now stiff and rigid as iron.
“Closer and closer crept the lynx, until he was within six feet ofhis victim. And still the rabbit did not move. The great body,quivering with suppressed energy, now slowly lowered itself and thehind legs were carefully drawn under for the spring. Then like aflash the gray body shot forward and with a snarl the dagger-liketeeth closed upon the bunch of fur.
“At the same time the lynx felt a violent tug at his throat, and aheavy club dealt him a sharp blow across the back as it fell fromoverhead. In amazement the great brute dropped the rabbit, springingviolently backward as he did so. But the leather thong about hisneck and the club attached to it followed him in the spring, thenoose tightening about his neck.
“With a scream of rage he pulled violently to free himself, bracingwith his great fore feet against the club as he did so. But insteadof freeing himself he felt a quick tightening of the noose at histhroat. Frantic with rage and fright he continued to jerk and pull,sometimes changing his attack to viciously biting the stick. But theonly effect produced was to gradually tighten the noose, which wasnow tangled with the thick throat hair, and did not relax.
“Time and again he returned furiously to the attack, bracing hisfeet against the stick, and pulling with all his strength.Inevitably he would have choked himself to death, as Weewah hadplanned he should, but for the fact that the little Indian had madethe loop a little too long, so that the pulling produced a violentbut not fatal choking. Many a lynx commits suicide in this way justas the trapper plans it.
“For hours the lynx wrestled vainly to free itself, varying theattacks on the club by trying to run away from it. But running awayfrom it was quite as much out of the question as tearing it loose.For when the animal attempted to run the club was jerked about itslimbs, tripping it, and frequently becoming entangled in brush andbushes. At last, exhausted, and thoroughly sulky, the great catlaboriously climbed a tree, and extended itself along one of thelower limbs, the club still dangling at one side from its neck. Inall its struggles it had not gone more than two hundred yards fromwhere the trap had been set.
“An hour before daylight the next morning, Weewah, who had beenwaiting for the first indications of morning, stole silently out ofthe tepee without awakening even the light-sleeping members of hisfamily. He carried with him his own tomahawk, and his bow and arrow;but also he carried the heavy axe that his mother used for cuttingthe wood for the fire. She would miss it, he knew, and also he knewthat he would be in for a solid whack from the first stick that layhandy when he returned; but he was willing to brave all this. Theaxe must be had at any cost.
“The sun was just pushing its blood red rim above the low hills inthe east when he reached the edge of the spruce swamp. And it wasstill only an oval, fire red ball when the little Indian approachedthe place where he had set the snare the day before. He had swungalong lightly and swiftly over the beginning of the trail, but nowas he approached the goal his heart beat hard against his chest,just as any white boy’s would have done under the circumstances. Butlong before he actually reached the spot where the trap had beenleft he knew that he had been successful. Successful, at least, inhaving lured the prey into his snare.
“He could tell this by the condition of the snow, which had been dugup and thrown about by the wild struggle of the lynx. He loosenedhis tomahawk, therefore, held his arrow in readiness on the string,and approached the scene of turmoil.
“One glance at the trampled snow, the dead rabbit still lying wherethe lynx had dropped it, and the broad twisting trail leadingfurther into the swamp, told him the story of what had taken placemore completely than any white man could write it. And almostwithout pausing he began following this trail cautiously forward,his arrow still poised; for one never knows what a captive animalmay do when driven to desperation.
“Suddenly the little Indian stopped, his eyes snapping as he drewthe arrow to the head with every ounce of strength in his arms andback. There, crouching on an upper limb of a tree perhaps a foot indiameter, was the huge lynx, watching him with curling lips,crouching ready to spring.
“Weewah’s first impulse was to send the finishing shaft through thegreat body on the limb. It would be a great triumph for Weewah—thelittle Indian boy, too small yet to be a hunter—to drag into hisfather’s tepee early that morning a great forest cat killed with hisown bow and arrow. But after all, would a really great hunter feelmuch pride in killing a captive lynx from a safe distance with anarrow?
“He knew very well that doing such a thing would not mark him as agreat hunter. And he was determined that he should be called a greathunter before he was a day older.
“So he lowered his arrow, removed it from the string, and laid thebow down beside the tree. He loosened his own tomahawk, also, andlaid that close at hand near the tree trunk. Then he seized the bigaxe of his mother that he had brought with him and began chopping atthe trunk, making the chips fly rapidly under his skillful aim.
“At the first blow of the axe against the trunk the lynx had halfrisen, giving a fierce growl of rage. For a moment it hesitated,ready to spring on the boy. But that moment of hesitancy wasdecisive. And as the strokes of the axe continued uninterruptedlythe great animal gradually settled down sulkily on the branch, cowedby its fruitless battle with the cord and stick.
“Meanwhile Weewah was swinging his axe to good purpose. Nor was hedirecting his blows in a haphazard manner. With practiced eye he hadselected a clear spot where he wished the tree to fall, and now bycutting half way through the trunk on the side facing in thatdirection, and then cutting on exactly the opposite side a littlehigher up he knew that the tree would fall precisely as he wished.
“Presently the tree began to waver slightly. It was sufficient,however, to make the great cat on the bough crouch and whine withfright. A few more sharp blows of the axe made the top limbs trembleominously. A puff of wind now would have toppled it over; but therewas not a breath of air stirring. Another axe stroke or two and itwould bring it to the ground.
“But before delivering the finishing strokes Weewah paused longenough to replace his snow-shoes which he had removed before hebegan chopping. He also picked up his tomahawk and thrust it halfway into his belt, where he could seize it instantly. Then he tookthe axe and gave three vigorous, carefully directed finishing blows.
“And still the lynx did not leap. When the creature felt the limbquivering beneath it, it rose as if to jump; then, confused anduncertain, it crouched low again, clinging tightly to the branch asif for protection. Just before the limb reached the ground, however,it sprang far out into the snow, making violent leaps with the clubwhirling about it, and quickly becoming entangled.
“Weewah, with tomahawk raised, was close upon its heels. Anotherstride and he would have buried the blade in the animal’s skull. Butat that moment the lynx wheeled suddenly, dodging the blow aimed atits head, and sprang toward its pursuer. Its great claws as itstruck at him cat fashion, scratched Weewah’s cheek, and cut twodeep grooves in his shoulder. It was a blow that would have beendisastrous had not the entangled club jerked the animal to one side.
“With a yell the little Indian sprang toward the crouching, snarlinganimal, thrusting out his right snow-shoe as he did so. Instantlythe frame and lacings of the shoe were crushed in the savage jaws ofthe lynx. But at the same moment the tomahawk blade flashed throughthe air and buried itself deep in the thick skull.
“Without a sound the great fur-covered body relaxed, quivered, andthen lay still with the teeth still buried in the snow-shoe frameonly an inch from Weewah’s foot.
“The little Indian stood for a few moments looking at his victim.Then he reached down and tried to pry loose the fixed jaws. It wasno easy task. For the muscles had set in the last convulsive deathgrip and it was only with the aid of his tomahawk blade that theycould finally be relaxed.
“Weewah now lashed the forepaws to the dead animal’s lower jaw toprevent them from catching against things as he dragged the bodyover the snow. Then he unfastened the strap from the club, andtaking the line over his shoulder started for home, scuffing alongas best he could on his broken snow-shoe, towing the big cat afterhim.
“All that morning Weewah’s mother had scolded about the missing axe.Weewah was missing too, but she felt no solicitude about that. Withthe axe it was different: people who took away axes were not alwaysparticular about returning them, whereas boys always came back. Ithadn’t occurred to her that the boy and the axe had gone awaytogether.
“She had grumblingly gathered wood for the fire without the aid ofher usual implement, and now was busily engaged in boiling roots andmeat in a great pot, while her husband smoked his pipe, paying noattention to his spouse’s complaints. Some of the smaller childrenwere playing noisy games, running in and out of the tepee, shoutingand laughing like a pack of white school children.
“Presently one of Weewah’s younger sisters, squatted on a stump,raised a shrill cry, ‘Weewah, Weewah is coming!’
“The playing stopped at once, the children gathering in front of thetepee to gaze in mute astonishment at their older brother. Tired ashe was from dragging the load, and leg weary from stumbling alongwith his broken snow-shoe, he now held his head erect and his chinhigh. Without a word he strode into the open flap of the tepee,dragging the dead lynx after him. In front of his father he stoppedand dropped his burden; then he drew the blood-stained tomahawk fromhis belt and laid it beside the dead animal, and stood silentlybefore his parent with folded arms.
“For several minutes the warrior smoked his pipe in silence. Then hegave a grunt of satisfaction, laid his pipe aside, and ran his handdeliberately over the body of the dead animal. He found no arrowholes. Next he turned the great head and examined the clean wound,and then the blood-stained blade of the tomahawk, and the tightenedcord of buckskin about the neck.
“His examination told him the story of what had happened out therein the woods. He knew that Weewah had first caught the lynx in hissnare, and then had killed it with a blow from his tomahawk insteadof shooting it with an arrow. And he was proud of his son. But noone but an Indian would have known it.
“With another grunt of satisfaction, however, he drew his huntingknife from the sheath in his belt. By a few deft strokes he severedtwo toes from the forepaw of the lynx, with the long curved clawsprotruding, leaving a strip of fur at the back. Then he quicklyfashioned a loop in the skin so that the claws hung as a pendantfrom it. When this was finished to his satisfaction he stood up andbeckoned to the boy; and when Weewah stepped forward the old Indianplaced the fur string about his neck with the lynx claws suspendedin front.
“Then he placed his hands on the little fellow’s shoulders andlooked sharply into his eyes, the little Indian returning the gazewith quiet dignity.
“‘Weewah, the mighty hunter,’ the old Indian said slowly.
“Then he seated himself and resumed his pipe as if nothing hadhappened.”
Martin knocked the ashes out of his pipe and threw an extra chunk ofwood on the fire.
“Time we were turning in,” he said.
“But tell me,” Larry asked; “did Weewah’s mother give him thebeating for taking her axe?”
“What, beat a mighty hunter like Weewah?” Martin asked in feignedsurprise. “No indeed! No more beatings for him. From that day on nowoman, not even his mother, would ever give him a blow. And hisfather would now take him with him on his hunting trips, even intothe most dangerous places, just as he would any other hunter. For hehad proved his title, you see.”
Then the old man took his pipe from his lips, and said to the boyearnestly:
“You see I am the old Indian and you are Weewah in this case. Onlyyou haven’t had a chance to kill your lynx yet. But we are goingright into that country where the lynx lives, and sooner or lateryou’ll have a chance to show your metal. When that time comesremember the story of little Weewah.
“And now you must turn in for the night.”
Sometime in the middle of the night Larry was awakened by flakes ofsnow driven into his face, and by the sound of the storm howlingaround the tent. The flakes sputtered in the fire which still flaredand struggled to keep burning. The boy was warm and comfortable inthe fur bag, however, and after pulling the flap over his head tokeep out the snow, he was soon sleeping soundly. When he opened hiseyes again it was daylight, and Martin was plodding about in thestorm, building a fire close to the tent where the wind struck itleast. The snow was still falling and was even then a foot deep onthe level.
The old hunter was in high spirits: he had been hoping for thestorm, and the fact that it was a roaring blizzard made nodifference to him so long as the snow kept falling.
The inside of the tent was warm and the boy crawled out of the furbag reluctantly and reached for his shoes.
“Not that pair,” old Martin said; “there are your things over at thefoot of your bed. No more city clothes from now on. I nearly workedmy fingers off last night getting things ready for you.”
Larry wondered how much time the old hunter had found for sleep whenhe examined the pile of clothing the hunter had laid out for him.For most of the pieces had been altered in some way to make them sothat the boy could wear them, cut down from some of the largergarments from the hunting outfit. Sleeves and trouser-legs had beencut off or turned up, and buttons set over to take up the slack ofthe bagging jacket in a way that showed how handy the old hunter waswith the needle. His most laborious task had been in reducing thesize of a pair of moose-skin moccasins, although he had simplifiedthis operation by taking in the back seam. At that they were atleast three sizes too large, as Larry pointed out.
“But when you have on two, or three, or four pairs of thick Germansocks,” Martin assured him, “you won’t notice a little thing likethat. And you’ll fill out the rest of the clothes with underwear thesame way.”
Beside the pile of clothing Martin had placed some other thingswhich he told the boy were to be his personal belongings that wereto be carried with him all the time except when he slept. But thehunter told him not to put them away until after they had hadbreakfast, and made things a little more secure about the tent. SoLarry left the things as he found them, and went to help Martin.
He soon discovered the difference between his new clothes and the“city” ones he had discarded. Even the fury of the blizzard couldnot force the piercing cold through the thick, soft Mackinaw cloth;and with the exception of the end of his nose, he was as warm astoast as he worked under the hunter’s directions.
One side and the back of their tent was protected from the wind bythe wall of rock, and the fire checked the fury of the storm fromthe front; but the snow drifted in on them from the unprotectedside, and they remedied this by stretching a piece of canvas acrossthe gap. It was no easy task, and several times the wind tore itaway before they could get it anchored securely, but when it wasfinally made storm proof the enclosure before the roaring fire wasalmost as warm and comfortable as a house.
“Now for your equipment,” Martin announced, when everything wassecured to his complete satisfaction.
Larry found that a light hunting hatchet and a stout hunting knifehad been added to his belt of cartridges, suspended in leathersheaths from loops slipped over the belt. The belt itself was passedthrough the loops in the jacket, so that the weight came upon hisshoulders instead of his waist, and when buckled, drew the coatsnugly around him. The gun in its sheath was slung over his shoulderand hung at his left side. His fur mittens were fastened withleather strings to the coat sleeves so that there was no possibilityof losing them even when slipped off.
There was a pocket compass in a hunting case about the size of awatch which fitted into an upper pocket of his jacket which had abutton flap for holding it. As an additional precaution againstlosing it a leather string reached from the inside of the pocket andwas fastened to the ring. And Larry found that his watch was securedin his watch-pocket in a similar manner.
“We can’t take a chance on losing anything,” the hunter explained;“for there are no jewelry stores along the road that we are going totravel.”
Larry found that there were three water-proof match boxes to bedistributed in his trousers’ pockets, and a pocket knife thatcombined several kinds of useful tools. The matches seemed to be theordinary parlor kind. But Martin surprised him by taking one,dipping it in a cup of water, and then after wiping it off, lightingit like an ordinary dry match. Even after a match had been floatingin the water for several minutes it would light and burn readily.
“They’ve all been dipped in shellac,” Martin explained. “The shellacforms a water-proof coating that keeps out moisture but doesn’tinterfere with lighting or burning. So even if your match safe leaksyou won’t have to go without a fire.”
In one box which Larry thought contained matches he found six littlecubes looking like wax run into little square aluminum cups. Martinexplained their use by a simple demonstration. He placed one of themon the ground where he had scraped away the snow, laid a handful ofsticks over it, struck a match and touched the wax-like substance.It burst into a bright flame at once, and continued to burn fiercelyfor several minutes, igniting the sticks about it and helping tokeep their struggling flames going until enough heat had beengenerated to make a steady fire.
“That’s a new fangled thing called ‘solid alcohol,’ used to start atenderfoot’s fire when he is wet and cold and has no little drytwigs at hand,” said Martin. “An old woodsmen like me ought to throwthe stuff away and scorn to use it; and forty years ago I would havedone so. But I am wiser now, I hope, and I don’t despise some of thenew things as I did then. And I remember two different occasionswhen I came near losing my life in the snow because my hands were socold and numb, and the small wood was so scarce, that I came nearnot getting my fire started at all. So now I am going to take alonga few packages of these cubes, and you must do the same. We’ll neveruse it except as a last resort; but sometime it may come in handyfor starting a fire or boiling a cup of tea.
“You know we will only use two matches a day after we leave here—onematch to start our fire at noon and at night. There will be coalsfrom the night next morning to cook our breakfast by. It’s a mark ofbad woodsmanship to have to use more than one match to start a fire,no matter what kind of weather is going.”
“But how about your pipe?” Larry asked. For the old man smokedalmost continually during his waking hours.
Old Martin sighed and shook his head. “No more pipe for me after weleave here,” he said, with a little laugh. “The weight in pemmicanthat I’ll take instead of the tobacco may be just the amount thatwill decide the question of our getting through alive. Smoking isn’ta necessity, but eating is.”
Larry looked at the old man to see if he were not joking; but he sawthat he was thoroughly in earnest. It made the boy realize theserious nature of the task before them to know that the old man wasgoing to sacrifice the greatest solace of his life. But it rousedhis determination, and his spirits were too buoyant to be longdepressed.
All day long Martin kept him busy helping at various things thatmust be completed before their departure. The toboggans were hauledinto the canvas enclosure, where he and the old man packed andunpacked the loads, adding something here, or leaving out somethingthere, working in the glow of the warm fire. Dog harnesses had to bealtered and extra ones tucked away on the sleds, snow-shoe lacingsexamined and re-lashed, and a dozen things attended to that Larryrecognized as important when Martin pointed them out. The fire, too,needed considerable tending to keep a huge kettle of beans cookingwhich Martin declared must simmer all day if they were to be cookedproperly.
Toward night the wind subsided, and the clouds cleared away, so thatby the time they had finished their heaping plates of pork and beansthe stars were out glistening like steel points in the frosty air.Later in the evening they heard howling in the distance—terrifyingsounds to the boy, made by a pack of big timber wolves out on ahunt, as Martin explained. And for fear the dogs might start anindependent wolf hunt on their own account, Martin tied up the bigmalamoots after he had fed them.
During the day Martin had brought several armfuls of packages intothe tent from the stores under the tarpaulin as he went back andforth at his work. Now that supper was over and the dishes cleanedhe lighted his pipe and and seated himself beside the packages. Hewas always talkative when working by the evening fire, and seemed tofind great pleasure in imparting bits of information to the boy fromhis inexhaustible store of woodland experiences.
To-night as he began fumbling among the packages, he asked:
“Larry, have you decided what you are going to carry in your dittybag?”
“Ditty bag?” Larry repeated; “I’d know better what I was going tocarry in it if I knew what a ‘ditty bag’ was.”
“What, a veteran forest pilot like you not know what a ditty bagis!” Martin asked in mock astonishment. “Then it’s high time for youto learn. A ditty bag is the thing that does for the woodsman whatall the pockets in a suit of clothes do for a boy—it carries theforty and one indispensable things that can’t be carried in someother place. You’d better sit over here beside me and make yours upto-night while I am fitting out mine.”
So the boy moved over to the little pile of packages ready forinstructions.
The hunter handed him a little bag made of tough water-proofmaterial with a string at the top for tying securely. Then herummaged through the packages, taking out what he wanted and placingthem in the bag. At his suggestion Larry duplicated this selectionof things for his own bag, so that in case one bag should be lostthey would still have the other. “But,” said Martin, “you must putin some little thing for luck—anything that strikes your fancy,after the other things are in. That’s a hunter’s superstition, likethe Indian’s ‘medicine.’”
The first useful article selected was a neat Red Cross packagecontaining a few useful medicines and surgical dressings for anemergency. Next came needles of all sizes, with several skeins ofthread, and a wooden handle in which were several awls, neatlystored in a hollow bobbin on which was wound many lengths of strongwaxed cord. A can of gunoil found a place, and a small whetstone,rough on one side for sharpening the axes, and smooth on the otherfor the knives. A tool case, containing a “good-sized carpentershop,” as Martin explained and made of aluminum after Mr. Ware’s owndesign, found especial favor; and a broken shell extractor wasconsidered indispensable.
Buttons and skeins of twine of various sizes went into the bag as amatter of course; but when the old hunter selected three packages,each containing a dozen yards of the kind of twisted wire used forhanging pictures of different sizes, the boy burst out laughing androlled on the blankets. He suspected Martin of trying to play off aquiet hoax on him, and did not intend to be caught in the trap.
Nothing was farther from Martin’s thoughts, however, as Larrydiscovered when the use of the wire was explained. It was to be usedfor making the snares for catching small animals, particularlyrabbits, the hunter said, and for that purpose was unequaled. Andthe old man assured him that for securing food on the march in asnow-bound country snares were far more useful than rifles. Indianfamilies in many northern regions depended almost entirely upontheir snares for their supply of winter food.
“Rabbits are the bread and butter of the woodsman in the winter,”Martin said. “The rabbits make little narrow paths in thesnow—thousands of them, running in all directions—and when they arenot disturbed and going about their business, they always followthese paths. Now when the rabbit comes to a fallen limb lying acrosshis path a few inches above the ground, he likes to go under thelimb rather than hop over it. This simplifies matters for theIndian. He simply hangs his snare in front of the hole under thelimb, and is almost sure to catch the first rabbit that comeshopping along that particular path.
“The snare is just a simple slip-noose made large enough to let therabbit’s head pass through easily. If the wind is blowing the snarecan be held open and in place by tying it with blades of dead grass,which are strong enough to hold it in place until the rabbit getshis head through.
“The other end of the snare string is tied to a limb that is bentdown and fastened in a notch cut in a stick or a small sapling if ithappens to be in the right place. The notch is cut deep enough tohold the bent limb, but not firmly enough but what it can be jerkedloose pretty easily.
“Now when the rabbit comes hopping along the path and starts to gounder the limb, he runs his head through the snare. When he feelssomething around his neck he pulls back to get out of its way; butthat tightens the noose about his neck, and he begins leaping aboutfrantically to get loose. In this way he jerks the bent limb out ofthe notch that holds it down, the limb flies back, and swings him upinto the air where he smothers in short order.
“Of course if the snare was simply fastened to the limb over thepath the rabbit would choke himself to death for a certainty,because he never stops pulling and tugging at the noose while he hasa kick left in him. But then some fox or weasel would probably comealong and get him. But neither of them will get him if he isdangling in the air: the weasel can’t reach him, and the fox is sucha crafty fellow, always looking out for traps and tricks, that hewon’t go near a dead rabbit hanging on a string, even if he isstarving.
“Now that the snow has stopped falling the rabbits will be outto-night making paths, and to-morrow night we’ll put out some snaresjust for practice. I’ll teach you a dozen ways to make snares fordifferent kinds of game, but the principle of all of them is thesame as the one for catching Mr. Rabbit. And he’s the boy we’reinterested in mostly.”
The old hunter rose and went out to “have a look at the snow,” as heput it. He came back well pleased with his inspection.
“The crust will form and set hard to-night,” he said to Larry, “andto-morrow you’ll begin your hardest and most importantlesson—learning to walk on snow-shoes. You can look forward totaking some of the grandest headers you have ever taken in yourlife,” he added, grinning.
“But—” Larry began, and then stopped.
“‘But’ what?” Martin asked.
“Oh, nothing,” Larry answered evasively. “I was just thinking ofthose headers that I am going to take to-morrow, that’s all.”
“Well, go to bed and dream about them then,” the old hunterinstructed.
THE JOURNEY THROUGH THE FOREST
“My goodness, boy,” the old hunter said the next morning atbreakfast, “I do wish you could handle a pair of snow-shoes. We’dstart for home to-morrow, if you could. For the crust is perfect,and the weather is settled for a spell I think. But there’s no usestarting until we can make good time every hour, so we’ll spendanother week letting you learn to use the snow-shoes, and gettingthe kinks out of your legs.”
Larry made no reply but munched his bacon and biscuit, occasionallyhanding a bit to Kim who sat near, watching expectantly. As soon asbreakfast was finished, Martin brought our two pairs of snow-shoesand strapped one pair to his own feet, instructing Larry to followhis example. Then he showed the boy how to take the swinging,gliding steps, sliding one shoe past the other with the peculiar legmotion that shot the shoe ahead without getting tangled up with itsmate.
“Now watch me while I run out to that tree and back, and try to doas I do when you start,” he instructed. And with that he struck out,the two dogs running beside him, barking excitedly, for they seemedto know the significance of snow-shoes, and were eager for a runthrough the woods.
The tree Martin had indicated was about a hundred yards away, andthe old hunter covered the distance at top speed, exhilarated as aboy trying his skates on the first ice of the winter. He did notstop when the tree was reached, but turned sharply to one side so asto circle it. As he did so Larry passed the tree on the other side,running like a veteran, trying to beat him, and bursting withsuppressed laughter. “I’ll race you to the top of the hill andback,” the boy shouted exultantly.
But the old man, in his astonishment, bumped into a sapling and cameto a full stop.
“Where in the world did you learn to use snow-shoes like that?” heasked, when Larry had swung around to him.
“Oh, in the Adirondacks that winter,” Larry answered, trying to seemas if knowing how to use snow-shoes was the most ordinary thing inthe world.
“But why didn’t you say so?” Martin persisted, his face beaming.
“Well, you never asked me,” said Larry. “I came within one oftelling you last night, but I just thought I’d save it and surpriseyou.”
“Well, you sure did surprise me,” the old hunter said; “the verybest surprise I have had since I can remember. Why, I woke up half adozen times last night worrying because we would have to wait solong because you had to learn to use the shoes before we couldstart. And here you knew how all the time. You can run like anIndian, Larry.”
“Well, I can run pretty good,” Larry admitted modestly. “I beat allthe boys in the Christmas races up there last year, and one of themwas an Indian boy, at that.”
“I’ll bet you did,” Martin exclaimed with admiration. “Why, I wasgoing at a pretty good clip myself just now, and yet you were at myheels. Face about and back to the tent we go, for now we have a newday’s work before us, and to-morrow we head for home.”
Saying this Martin turned and ran for the camp, Larry doing his bestto keep up; but he finished twenty feet behind. It is one thing tobeat a crowd of boys on snow-shoes, but quite another to have acompetitor who could show his heels to every man in the whole NorthCountry.
And now everything was arranged exactly as if they were making theirstart in earnest. The sledges were loaded with infinite care, andthe dogs harnessed in their places, one dog to each toboggan. Larrywas to have Kim under his charge, and to pull in harness with thedog; for Kim was not only the stronger dog of the two, but also theone most easily managed.
Martin had made harnesses for himself and Larry, with broad drawstraps over the shoulders and across the chest, so that the weightof the body was thrown into the harness as they bent forward inwalking. The old hunter harnessed himself in front of his dog, so asto choose the course, set the pace, and break the trail all at thesame time. But he instructed Larry to harness himself next histoboggan and behind Kim.
By this arrangement the old man worked out a shrewdly conceivedplan. He knew that Kim would always strive to keep up with the sledjust ahead of him, for that is the nature of the malamoot whensledging. This would force the boy to keep up the pace, no matterhow tired and leg weary he might be. At the same time it gave Larrythe benefit of a thoroughly broken-out trail every step of the way—athing the boy learned to appreciate within an hour.
Before starting Martin built up a rousing fire to keep the campkettle boiling, and then with a shout struck out into the forest. Atfirst he went almost in a straight course, and at a pace that madeLarry open his eyes in amazement. Was this the speed they wouldhave to keep up hour after hour? Then the old man made wide circles,bending first one way and then the other, until they had been goingabout an hour and a half. Now he stopped and asked the panting,perspiring Larry, how he would take a short-cut to camp.
“Good gracious, I don’t know!” said the boy.
“Well, I didn’t expect you would,” Martin said quietly; “but I’mgoing to let you steer us back to it all the same. Take your compassand lead us straight northeast and you’ll land us there. It will begood practice for you. And mind you, keep up the pace.”
Larry now changed places with Kim, taking the lead as Martin haddone, got out his compass, and they were off again. The country wasfairly open, so that while he was guided by the little instrument,he really steered by landmarks, as Martin had instructed him.Usually the landmark was some tree some distance away that stoodexactly in line with the northeast mark indicated by the compass.This tree would then be the boy’s goal until he reached it, whensome other mark further on would be selected. In this way theinstrument was only brought into use every half mile or so, a mucheasier method than constantly watching the dial.
The old hunter offered no suggestions about the route, he and Jacksimply plodding along in the procession. But Larry, upon whom thebrunt of everything had now fallen, had hard work to keep hisflagging legs moving along at a rate that would satisfy the membersof his rear guard. He was surprised that they did not come acrosssome marks of the trail they had made on the way out even after theyhad been plodding for a full three-quarters of an hour. This madehim apprehensive that Martin was letting him take them out of theircourse, for some reason of his own. He was astonished, therefore,suddenly to come in sight of their camp dead ahead, and not over aquarter of a mile away. The compass had given him a short-cut fromMartin’s purposely bending course.
As soon as the dogs sighted the camp they began barking wildly andtugging at the traces in their eagerness to reach it; and Larry,whose legs were flagging sadly, felt all weariness disappear in theexcitement of finishing the run. So, shouting and laughing, withboth dogs leaping and barking, the two teams raced into camp neckand neck.
They rested a few minutes, and then began making final preparationsfor an early start the next day. They visited the yacht and foundthat she was packed thick in a huge bank of ice that had formed uponher, and been banked about her by the waves, so that she waspractically frozen in for the winter. Then they strengthened all thefastenings of the canvas under which the provisions and supplieswere stored, and Martin cut several strips of canvas and tied themwith short pieces of rope to trees a few feet away and all about theheap, where they would blow about in the wind and frighten anyinquisitive prowlers, particularly foxes.
“But what is the use of going to all that trouble, Martin?” Larryasked. “We will never come back to this place, and probably no oneelse will come here, so all this work is for nothing it seems tome.”
The old hunter smiled and shook his head. “That’s the way I shouldhave talked at your age,” he said. “But I have learned that manythings in this world turn out very differently from what we expect,and so I always plan for the very worst that can possibly happen.And it will be a comfort for me to know that there is a big cache ofsupplies waiting here in case we have to come back, although Ihaven’t the faintest idea of doing so.”
When the canvasses had been secured to Martin’s satisfaction he madethe fastenings all about their camp secure in the same way. For hehad decided not to take their present tent with them, but in itsplace a smaller one, made with a stout canvas bottom sewed fast tothe rest of the tent, so that the whole thing resembled a huge bag.There were several advantages in this arrangement. It provided adry, clean floor, kept the wind from creeping in, and obviated thelikelihood of losing small articles at the camp site that mightotherwise be overlooked and left behind on breaking camp. Moreover,it insured the tent not being blown from over their heads in a galeshould the fastenings give way—a very important thing when passingthrough a barren, windswept country.
Then they made a final inspection of the toboggan loads, unpackingthem and re-packing them carefully, Martin enjoining the boy tomemorize every article and where it could be found on each sledge.This would save them much useless hunting, and overhauling, anddisarranging of the loads. And so when night came they were allready for the early start the next morning.
At daylight they were off on their race for life—just how grim andserious an undertaking Larry was to learn before the day was over.For now it was plod, plod, plod, Martin setting the pace andbreaking the trail, keeping up an even swing forward regardless ofobstacles. Long before midday Larry realized the magnitude of theirundertaking; for Martin allowed no pause, no resting to catch uplost breath. It was on, and on, every step ahead being countedprecious gain through the unknown stretch of wilderness.
At noon they stopped, the dogs dropping in their tracks, and Larrystretched his aching legs on his load while Martin boiled a pot oftea and heated up their lunch. But in half an hour they were back inthe harness again, trudging on silently. Even the dogs seemed torealize that they must do their utmost, straining at the traces allthe time, with noses pointed straight ahead, but wasting no energyin useless looking about at interesting objects along the trail asthey had always done on their previous journeys.
By the middle of the afternoon even the dogs showed signs offatigue, as the loads were heavy, and despite every effort he couldmake, Martin’s speed was gradually slackening. By this time Kim wasobliged to haul his load practically without aid from Larry, whoselegs were tottering. Yet the boy pushed his feet ahead mechanically,watching the slowly descending sun, and hoping the old hunter wouldsoon decide to stop for the night. But it was not until just beforesunset that the old man halted and selected a place for their camp.
His first provision for the night was to help Larry set up the tent;then he took his snares and went off into the woods to set them,instructing Larry to get in a good supply of wood and a big heap ofboughs for their bed. “We can cook and eat after dark, you know,” hesaid, “but these other things have to be done in daylight.”
Fortunately for the boy boughs and wood were close at hand, for hewas fagged and exhausted beyond expression. He knew what Martin hadsaid to him about “getting accustomed to it in a few days” wasprobably true, and this helped him keep up his courage; but there isa limit to muscular endurance even when backed by the highestquality of will-power. He managed to collect the wood and theboughs, however, by the time Martin returned, and the old man foundhim lying on the heap of boughs, sleeping the sleep of completeexhaustion.
The six days following were practically repetitions of the first—aceaseless grind of hard work through the timber. Martin, although atough and seasoned veteran, began to show the effects of the strain,while Larry had become an automaton, who performed the threefunctions of working, eating, and sleeping mechanically. There wereno talks beside the camp-fire now before turning in, neither man norboy having enough surplus energy left at the end of the day toindulge in more conversation than was absolutely necessary. Both hadsettled down to their grim work, more and more of which Martin hadtaken upon himself as they proceeded; and every day the boy hadreason to be thankful to the tough old woodsman for little acts ofkindness and thoughtfulness. But his efforts left the old man tootired for useless conversation even if Larry had cared to listen.
At noon on the seventh day the woods thinned out into scragglytrees, and an hour later the travelers emerged upon a flat, andapparently treeless plain. Here Martin called a halt and left Larryand the dogs while he took observations. In a few minutes hereturned, but instead of fastening on his harness he sat down besideLarry on the sled.
“It isn’t as bad as it might be,” he said, “but it is bad enough, atthat. I can make out the outline of the fringe of trees on the otherside from the top of a big rock over yonder, and I think it is onlyten miles over to them. But I’m not sure, for distances aredeceptive in this country. So we’ll camp here now and get an earlystart in the morning.”
Then he added, with a grim smile, “I guess you won’t mind the sixhours’ extra rest.”
They made their camp accordingly in a clump of trees, and Larry andthe dogs slept and rested, while the old hunter arranged for thenext day’s run. This consisted in rearranging the loads, examiningand mending harnesses and sled lashings, besides performing Larry’susual task of gathering wood and boughs, not rousing the tired boyuntil a hot supper was ready. And when Larry had gorged himself,Martin sent him back to his sleeping bag to get more rest withoutwaiting to help about cleaning up the supper pans and pots.
Even after the dogs were harnessed and ready to start the followingmorning Martin hesitated.
“There’s a storm brewing,” he said. “The moon and the stars showedit last night, and I can feel it in the air this morning. But we maybe able to get across before it strikes us, and I suppose we’ve gotto chance it.”
To Larry the old hunter’s apprehensions seemed absurd. The sun wasglaring brightly over the tree tops, and across the glistening crustof the open plain the trees on the other side could be seen as a lowgray line, apparently close at hand. Surely those trees would bereached before any storm settled over this clear day.
The hauling was much easier, too, on the smooth, level crust, sodifferent from the rough woodlands. Indeed, Larry’s toboggan seemedto move so lightly that the boy stopped and examined his load afterhe had been traveling a few minutes. He found, to his surprise, thatfully half his load had been transferred to Martin’s toboggan. Thediscovery made his heart go out anew to the old man now rushingahead in feverish haste over the crust, and he put every ounce ofstrength into keeping up the pace.
At the end of two hours the gray line ahead had become broad andwell-defined, while the line of trees behind them had dwindled to alow gray streak on the horizon. But meanwhile the sun had turned toa dull red ball and the wind had shifted into their faces. It tookno practiced eye now to see that a storm was approaching. But no oneunfamiliar with an arctic blizzard could conceive the fury of such astorm as the one that broke half an hour later.
Squarely in their faces the wind struck them with such force thateven the dogs turned instinctively to avoid it, and to shieldthemselves from the cutting, sand-like snow that was driven beforeit. The temperature, too, dropped with inconceivable rapidity, andthe cold penetrated Larry’s thick clothing so that his skin tingleddespite the fact that he was exerting himself to the utmost, and amoment before had been hot from his efforts. He closed his eyes fora moment to shield them, and instantly the lashes were frozentogether. Unable to proceed he turned his back to the blast to rubthem open, and when he succeeded in doing so he found that Martin’ssledge was completely blotted out by the storm, so that he was notsure even of its location.
In a panic he realized the seriousness of his situation and rushedforward in a frenzied effort to overtake his leader, shouting as hestruggled with the load. But his voice scarcely carried to thestruggling Kim, being drowned in the howl of the storm. He still hadenough command of his senses to remember that the wind was blowingfrom dead ahead. But now, for some reason he did not understand, Kimrefused to face the blast squarely, but persisted obstinately inturning almost at right angles to the left. In vain Larry shouted,and kicked at the dog in desperation with his snow-shoe, but thewind caught the clumsy framework, tripping the boy face downwardinto the icy snow which cut and bruised his face.
Choking and gasping for breath he struggled to his feet again nowforcing his way forward blindly in the vague hope of stumbling uponthe elusive Martin. He was numb with the cold and exhausted by hisviolent efforts; and while he strove to face the blast, he foundhimself turning instinctively from it, while Kim, with seemingperversity strained at the traces, first in one direction and thenanother.
For a few minutes this struggle continued, and then a feeling ofirresistible drowsiness came over the boy. Standing with his back tothe wind he no longer felt the keen bite of the cold; and as he wasable to accomplish nothing by trying to go forward, he crouched downbehind the toboggan, mindful of Martin’s oft-repeated instructionsto keep moving to avoid freezing, but too much overcome to heed it.
Meanwhile the old hunter was in a far more distressed state of mind.When the storm struck he had turned and shouted to Larry to keepclose to the tail of his toboggan, meanwhile fumbling to get hiscompass from his pocket, for he knew that only the needle could holdhim to his course. It was just at this time that Larry’s lashes hadfrozen together, and he had stopped to rub them open, so that he didnot overtake Martin’s sledge as the old man expected. And when theold hunter looked up from fumbling with the compass a moment later,the storm had blotted out the boy completely.
Instantly the old man brought his dog about to return to the othersled, which was at most thirty yards away; but the heavy load,clogged by the snow, moved slowly, and by the time he reached whathe felt sure must be the spot where Larry had stood the boy hadvanished. He was indeed only a few feet away, struggling desperatelywith Kim who instinctively was striving to reach the other toboggan;but in that storm an object thirty feet away was as completelyblotted out as if the interval had been miles instead of feet.
Martin knew that in a very short time the boy, struggling aimlesslyin the storm, would be overcome and frozen, and he realized that hischance of finding him was desperate, as he could neither hear norsee anything two yards ahead. His only hope lay in the sagacity ofthe dog. So without a moment’s hesitation at the terrible risk hewas taking he cut the traces freeing the dog from his sled, and,leaving the load of precious supplies standing where it was, sentthe animal ahead, holding the leash to restrain it. Guided by thecompass he began walking in narrowing circles, trusting to the dogto find its mate should they pass near it. If he succeeded he couldweather the storm by the aid of the supplies on the boy’s toboggan.If he failed?—well, the storm would shorten the end mercifully; andthe boy would have gone on before him.
For half an hour he fought his circular course through the storm,Jack plodding ahead, crouched down to resist the blast. Then theanimal suddenly straightened up on its legs, and plunged off to oneside barking excitedly, and jerking Martin after him. A few shortleaps brought them to where Larry lay curled down behind thetoboggan.
Kim, who had been curled up beside the boy, sprang up to meet hismate, jerking Larry about in his excitement, as they were stillfastened together in harness. But even this violent shaking onlyroused the boy for a moment, who dropped back into a dozeimmediately.
The situation confronting Martin was desperate. Larry was rapidlyfreezing, and as the nearest shelter of the woods was several milesaway, it was useless to attempt to reach it. The only alternativewas to try to make such shelter as he could with the supplies onLarry’s sled. Fortunately in distributing the packs the day beforehe had put the tent on Larry’s toboggan, and now he conceived a planfor using it, although it would be sheer madness to attempt to pitchit in a gale that almost blew the dogs off their feet at times.
First of all he pulled out Larry’s fur sleeping bag and, crouchingbehind the load, managed to get the stupified boy into it, twistingthe top of the bag over his head so that the boy’s own breath wouldhelp warm him. Then he took out the tent, standing with his back tothe blast and with the toboggan load in front of him, he graduallyworked it over one end of the load and under the sled.
It will be remembered that this tent was made with the floor clothsewn firmly to the side walls so that it was in effect a great bag.Martin worked the opening of this bag around the sled, fightingfiercely against the gale, and then forced the sled into the bottom,turning it at right angles to the wind. In this way he formed abarrier on the inside of the low tent. Then he pushed Larry in hissleeping bag inside, and he and the dogs crawled in and huddledtogether. Next he gathered together the loose edges of the openingof the tent and tied them with the guy ropes, thus shutting out thestorm on every side and amply protected on the side where the windwas fiercest by the loaded sled.
The old hunter, accustomed to severe cold, and heated by hisexertions, was warm and comfortable for the moment, at least, inthis nest; and the dogs found their lodgings so agreeable that theylicked the snow from between their toes, and soon curled up for anap. But Larry still remained motionless, and when Martin feltinside the bag he found his face cold. Evidently the little warmthleft in the boy’s body was not sufficient to warm him back to life,even in the sleepng bag.
Closing the bag again to retain what warmth there was inside, Martinripped open the lacings of the sled, and fumbling about foundLarry’s tin cup, a tin plate, and the little box containing thecubes of “solid alcohol.” Placing one of these on the bottom of anoverturned tin plate the old hunter struck a match and lighted it,keeping the dish between his outspread knees to prevent the dogsknocking against it, and using his rifle as a tent pole to raise thecanvas as high as possible. It was a hazardous thing to do, as theywere all crowded into a space so small there was scarcely room forall of them to curl up together, to say nothing of space forstarting a fire. But Larry’s case was desperate: Martin must findsome way of warming him. And even a very tiny flame in that closelypacked space would soon do this.
As the little blue flame grew larger and flickered upwards, the dogsinstinctively drew away from it, crowding close to the tent walls,in this way leaving Martin a little more elbow room. It also gavehim an opportunity carefully to work loose part of the fastening soas to make an opening a few inches long on the leeward side of thetent for ventilation. For as the tent cloth was practically airtight the flame and the breath from four pairs of lungs quickly madethe atmosphere stifling. But Martin did not wait for this warmthalone to start up the boy’s flagging circulation. He scooped a tincup full of snow, reaching through the ventilating slit, and holdingthis over the flame, melted and warmed it.
Each little cube was supposed to burn for ten minutes, and give outan amount of heat entirely disproportionate to its size. But thefirst cube had burned itself out and a second one was half consumedbefore Martin secured half a cup of steaming hot water. MeanwhileLarry had not roused, although his face was warmer and he wasbreathing more naturally. A few sips of the hot water forced betweenhis lips, however, roused him quickly; and by the time he hadswallowed the contents of the cup the color had come back to hischeeks.
The hot water warmed his tingling body like magic, and by the timethe third cube was burned out his cheeks were pink and even the tipsof his fingers warm. But Martin was not satisfied with this. He dugout some lumps of pemmican, heated them in the flame, and fed himthe bits as they became warm, occasionally taking a mouthfulhimself, and giving some to the dogs as a reward for good behavior.By the time the last cube had burned itself out they had all made ahearty meal, and Larry was feeling like himself again, warm andcomfortable in the fur bag.
But now Martin found himself in a dilemma. His own sleeping bag wassomewhere on his sled lost in the blizzard; and while his clothingwas warm, he soon realized that it would not be enough protection tokeep him from freezing in a few hours, now that the cubes were allgone. There was only one thing to be done: he must wedge himself inbeside the boy and share his warm bag until the storm subsided.Luckily for him the bag was a full-sized one like his own. So thatby dint of much wriggling and squeezing he managed to crawl inbeside the boy and pull the folds over his head, although it wassuch a tight fit that neither of them could move when it was finallyaccomplished.
They were warm, however, and other discomforts were a minorconsideration. And in a few moments all hands were sleeping soundlywhile the storm raged about their little tent. All the rest of thatday and well into the night it roared incessantly. Then gradually itbegan to abate in fury, and finally “blew itself out” as Martinsaid. By sunrise there was scarcely a breath of air stirring, buteverything creaked and sparkled in the cold.
Getting out of the bag proved to be almost as hard a task as gettinginto it, but the old hunter finally worked his arms free and thencrawled out, pulling the boy after him. Both were stiff and lamefrom lying in the cramped position, but they were soon limbered upby dancing about to keep warm while they gnawed at the frozenpemmican and packed the sled.
Fortunately the fury of the wind had swept the plain clear of newsnow as fast as it had fallen on the glassy crust, so that the fewelevations on its surface were easily seen. One of these a quarterof a mile away proved to be Martin’s sled, clear of snow on thewindward side, with a long pointed bank slanting off to leeward. Sothat in half an hour’s time they had recovered it, harnessed thedogs, and were making their way as quickly as possible to the edgeof the woods for which they were aiming the day before.
The distance proved to be short—only a scant three miles. But Larrywas still weak, and was tottering and almost exhausted when theyfinally wallowed through the snowbanks at the edge of the greatspruce forest. He had said nothing to Martin of his weakness, butthe old man had been watching him out of the corner of his eye andwas well aware of his condition.
As soon as they reached an open space among the trees, therefore,Martin stopped and made a roaring fire, while Larry sat on his sledand rested, watching the old man brewing tea and cooking a hot meal.His legs ached and his head swam a little, although he was beginningto feel more like his old self by the time their breakfast was over.But the thought of the weary hours of toil through the woods wasalmost intolerable; and he was ready to cry for joy when Martinannounced that he “was going to look around for a camp,” leaving theboy to toast his shins by the fire. “And I may find something toshoot while I’m looking,” the old hunter added as he started on hissearch.
In half an hour Martin returned fairly beaming at his success. Hehad found no game, but he had stumbled upon a camping place which heannounced was “the best in all Canada.” “And these woods are full ofgame, too,” he added.
The camping place which Martin had discovered was indeed an ideal,as well as a very unusual one. It was a natural excavation under thesouth side of an overhanging ledge of rock which was so protectedfrom the wind that only a thin layer of snow covered its rock floor.A roaring fire built at the entrance warmed the hollowed out spacelike a great room, and Larry found that the old hunter had startedsuch a fire and left it to warm things up while he returned for thetoboggans. It seemed a sylvan paradise to the exhausted boy.
The hunter watched the boy slyly as they stood in the warm glow bythe fire. “Perhaps you’d rather go on than to stop here overto-morrow,” he suggested with a twinkle in his eye.
For answer the boy threw off his heavy coat, went over to histoboggan, and began unfastening Kim and unpacking his load. AndMartin with a little laugh followed his example.
“You’ll stay and keep house to-morrow,” he explained as he worked,“while I go out and have a try at some of this fresh meat that isrunning loose around here. We need a supply to take the place ofwhat we’ve eaten in the last week, and I never saw a likelier placefor getting it, judging by the signs.”
All the afternoon the tireless old man worked laying in a supply offuel and making things snug, not allowing the boy to help, butmaking him “tend camp” lying on a pile of warm furs beside the fire.
THE TIMBER WOLVES
Early the next morning Martin roused Larry for breakfast. The oldman had been up an hour and was ready to start on his hunt as soonas breakfast was finished, but he had let the boy sleep as long aspossible. While they ate Martin gave Larry final instructions as towhat he was to do during the day.
“Rest all you can,” he instructed, “and don’t go far from camp underany circumstances. Don’t let the dogs loose even for a minute. Itisn’t likely that they would wander off, but they might get startedafter a rabbit and wind up chasing caribou or fighting wolves.Anyhow don’t give them a chance.”
At the mention of wolves the boy looked anxious. “What if the wolvescame near here—came right up to the camp and wanted to fight Jackand Kim?” he asked.
The old man pointed to the little rifle standing against the wall.“Give ’em the thirty-eight,” he said. “But they won’t come verynear,” he added. “They’ll be howling around in the distance ofcourse, because they will scent our cooking. But at worst theywouldn’t dare come near until night; and I’ll be here by that time.And always remember this: a wolf is a coward; and your thirty-eightwill knock dead in his tracks the biggest wolf that ever lived. Justkeep the little gun strapped on you all day and you won’t be afraidor feel lonesome. Next to a man a gun is the most comfortingcompanion in the world.”
Larry followed Martin’s instructions almost to the letter. Hestrapped on the gun and loafed about the camp-fire all the longforenoon, varying the monotony by patting and talking to the dogs,who lolled luxuriously beside the fire where Martin had tied themwith double leashes. By noon the period of idleness palled on theboy who had entirely recovered from the exhaustion of the daybefore. So he took his axe and spent a couple of hours gatheringfuel although Martin’s huge pile was still more than sufficient foranother day.
At intervals he heard wolves howling at a distance, but that had nowbecome a familiar sound, and he paid little attention to it. Whenthe sun was only an hour high he began getting supper ready, keepinga sharp lookout for Martin who might appear at any minute. He hadplanned an unusually elaborate meal to surprise and cheer the oldman when he returned, and he was so occupied with the work that hewas oblivious to everything else, until the dogs startled him byspringing up, bristling and snarling fiercely. Thinking that theyhad scented or sighted the returning hunter Larry ran out to lookfor him, shouting a welcome. But there was no sign of the old man.
In dismay he noticed that the sun was just setting, and on lookingthrough the trees in the direction indicated by the dogs’ attitudehe saw the silhouettes of four huge, gaunt wolves skulking among thetrees. The odor of his elaborate cooking had reached them, and asnight was coming on they were emboldened to approach.
The sight of the great creatures snarling and snapping in the gloomyshadows made the “goose flesh” rise on the boy’s skin. And while thepresence of the dogs was a comfort, their attitude was notreassuring. They pulled and strained at their leashes, bristling andgrowling, but sometimes whining as if realizing that in a pitchedbattle they would be no match for the four invaders.
The realization that he was utterly alone in the great wildernesswith darkness at hand, and a pack of wolves howling at his open doormade the boy chill with terror. Instinctively he sought shelterbehind the fire near the dogs, who welcomed him with appreciativewhines. They looked upon him as a protector, and their faith helpedhis courage. Martin’s instruction to “give ’em the thirty-eight”also cheered him, and he took out the little gun and prepared forbattle.
“Every wolf is a coward,” the old hunter had said; but these wolveswere not acting like cowards at all. They did not rush forwardboldly, it was true, but they were stealthily drawing nearer,snarling and bristling. They would stand pawing and sniffing thesnow for a few moments as if the object of their visit was entirelyforgotten. Then one of them would suddenly spring forward two orthree short steps, and the whole crew would stand snapping theirjaws and glaring savagely at the camp. In this way they weredeliberately closing in upon it.
This method of approaching by short rushes was most disconcertingand terrifying, and several times Larry decided to open fire withoutwaiting for the wolves to emerge from the shelter of the trees. Buteach time his better judgment restrained him.
When they had approached to within the circle of the nearest trees,however, he decided to act. Holding some cartridges in his left handfor quick loading, as Martin had taught him, he knelt beside thefire, rested his elbow on his knee, and tried to take careful aim.But his hand trembled, and his heart pounded so hard, that thesights of his rifle bobbed all about the mark he had selected. Themore he tried to steady the rifle the more it seemed to waver anddance about, so that he knew it would be useless to fire.
At that moment the story of Weewah, the Indian boy, flashed into hismind—the little savage who fought with a hatchet, while he, thewhite boy, had his hard-hitting rifle and plenty of cartridges. Helowered the gun for a moment, and steadied himself with a few deepbreaths, shutting his eyes and summoning all his courage. When heopened them he found that his hand was steadier and the pounding inhis breast had almost ceased.
Meanwhile the wolves had spread out forming a restless semicirclebefore the camp. There were three gray ones, and one huge fellowalmost pure white. Larry selected this white one for his firstvictim. Resting his elbow again on his knee he took careful aim,waiting for the restless wolf to pause for an instant. The momentthe huge animal stopped to snarl fiercely at the camp, Larry pressedthe trigger and fired.
At the sound of the report three of the wolves gave a startled leapsidewise, and then crouched forward again as they recovered fromtheir surprise. But the white wolf sank in the snow where it stood,and lay still: the little bullet had “knocked him dead in histracks” sure enough. With a gulp of exultation Larry slipped in afresh cartridge and aimed carefully at a wolf that was a little inadvance of the other two. Again his aim was true; but this wolf didnot drop silently as had the white one. Instead he gave a howl ofpain and rolled in the snow, turning it red all about him in hisdeath struggles.
The other two wolves had leaped back at the flash and sound of therifle as before. But at the sight and smell of their companion’sblood they rushed upon him, tearing and gashing him in their lust,and sucking his blood ravenously. Jack and Kim, made frantic by thestruggle, added their furious but impotent howls to the uproar intheir frenzied efforts to free themselves. While Larry, forgetful ofpersonal danger in the excitement, sprang up and approached thestruggling group, meanwhile inserting a fresh cartridge, anddespatched the third wolf as he crouched wallowing in hiscompanion’s blood.
The remaining wolf had paid no attention to the report that struckdown his mate; but now as the boy paused to take careful aim, thehuge creature, maddened by the taste of blood, turned suddenly andrushed upon him. There was no time to retreat, even if Larry hadwished to do so. But he had no such intention, for the hot blood offighting ancestors was now surging through his veins. With thecoolness of a veteran the boy aimed and fired just as the graymonster shot through the air in his final spring toward him. Thenext instant his coat sleeve was ripped open clean to the shoulderby the furious snap of the animal’s jaws, and he was knockedheadlong by the impact of the creature’s body.
Fortunately for him his bullet had found its mark, breaking thewolf’s back just as the animal leaped from the ground, and thusdiverting the aim of its deadly jaws, while the force of its springknocked Larry out of the wounded creature’s reach. Its hind legswere paralyzed and useless, but its jaws snapped viciously as itstruggled to reach its foe on its fore legs.
The boy was up in an instant, maddened by his fall, and full offight. Without trying to recover his gun which had fallen severalfeet away, he rushed to the pile of fire-wood, seized a heavy club,and brought it down again and again on the head of the crippledbeast, until he had pounded out the last spark of life. Then, whenit was all over, he stood trembling and weak, overcome by hisefforts and the excitement.
A moment later he ran to the dogs and, regardless of Martin’sorders, turned them loose. He wanted them to share his victory, andstood laughing and gulping hysterically as he watched them rush uponthe lifeless victims, and tear and maul them with wolfish ferocity.It was no fault of theirs that they had not shared the fight, andthey vented their animosity by rushing from one victim to another,jerking the limp carcasses about, and shaking them like rats.
Meanwhile it had grown dark; and still no sign of Martin. For alittle time after the battle Larry had stood forgetful of the oldman’s absence, reveling in the thought of the story he should haveto tell. But presently he realized the seriousness of his position.He no longer feared for his own safety: he and his little gun could“tend camp” against all comers he felt sure. But what was keepingMartin away so long?
He consoled himself with the thought that probably the old man hadfollowed some game trail farther than he intended and was unable toget back before nightfall. So when the dogs had tired themselves outworrying the dead wolves, Larry tied them up and ate his cheerlesssupper. This revived his spirits a little, and he put into effect aplan he had made for surprising Martin. For this purpose he draggedthe carcasses of the wolves together and covered them with boughs sothat the old man would not notice them when he returned. At theright time the boy would tell his story and revel in Martin’sastonishment.
Then he built up a roaring fire, crawled into his sleeping bag andtried to sleep. But after two hours of restless tossing about, hismind filled with gloomy forebodings, he got up and seated himselfbeside the fire for his long vigil.
It was a terrible night for the boy. The thought that Martin mighthave been injured, or even killed, kept obtruding itself, and heshuddered at the awful consequences of such a calamity. He reassuredhimself over and over by the more probable explanation that the oldman had gone farther from camp than he intended. But the otherpossibility could not be banished from his thoughts. And so he satbefore his roaring fire, a big dog snuggling against him on eitherside, comforting his loneliness.
THE WOUNDED MOOSE
In this way he passed the long, terrible hours of the night. But assoon as it began to grow light he untied the dogs, and took a circleof several miles through the woods, hoping that he might find sometrace of the missing hunter. But he remembered the old man’sinstruction that he was not to leave the camp to go any very greatdistance, and after two hours of futile search he returned indespair.
The dogs, seeming to realize that something was wrong, were alert toevery unusual sound; and when Larry would spring up and peer throughthe trees expectantly, they would leap about and bark excitedly. Butthe sun rose higher and higher, and still Martin did not come.
At last the boy could stand the suspense no longer. In defiance ofMartin’s explicit instructions he decided to leave the camp and tryto find him. The thought that the old man must have been injured, ortaken ill, kept forcing itself into the boy’s mind. An experiencedhunter like Martin would not lose his way; and moreover, if heshould become confused, he would still have his own trail to followback to camp; for this trail was well marked in the snow. In anyevent, Larry could not remain inactive any longer with theseterrible fears tearing at his heart.
So he harnessed the dogs tandem to one of the empty toboggans,strapped on his snow-shoes, and started out following Martin’s trailof the day before. At first he took the lead, running at top speed;but presently he found that, since the trail had been broken out byMartin, he could make better time by letting the dogs haul him onthe toboggan. His weight was so much less than the load they wereaccustomed to haul that now they ran along the trail at high speed,following Martin’s tracks without any guiding instructions.
For two hours they went forward, Kim leading, his nose close to thesnow, and both dogs keenly alert. The tracks wound in and out amongthe thickets, indicating where Martin had explored likely lookingplaces for game, but their general direction was toward thesouthwest, the course the old hunter had said he should take. Oncethe snow-shoe trail had followed the track of a deer for half amile; but evidently the animal was not overtaken, for presently theyfound where Martin turned off into his original course again.
By noon the dogs had begun to slacken their pace a little, andLarry, thoroughly discouraged, had decided that he would retrace hiscourse, when they reached the crest of a low hill a short distanceahead, which seemed to command a view of the country for somedistance around. If nothing could be seen of Martin from this hill,he would face about and return to camp; and more than likely heshould find the old man there waiting for him. Hardly had he reachedthis decision, however, when Kim stopped so suddenly that Jack andthe toboggan bumped into him, and stood with bristling hair andstiffened muscles for a moment, and then made a frantic leapforward, snarling and barking.
At the same time Jack seemed to have discovered the cause of hismate’s excitement, and it was only by twisting the sled rope about asapling that Larry prevented them from dashing madly off into thewoods. Yet he was unable to discover the cause of their actions,although he peered intently through the trees in all directions. Butwhatever the cause, he knew that they had scented something quiteout of the ordinary; and as a precaution he drew the little riflefrom its case and made sure that the firing-pin was set for theheavy cartridge.
Then he took a firm grip on Kim’s collar, putting all his weightagainst the dog’s strength, and advanced cautiously through thetrees toward the top of the hill.
The crest of this hill had been cleared of large timber years beforeby a forest fire, and there was an open space for several hundredyards beyond. When Larry reached this cleared space he saw a sightthat made his heart leap into his throat and his hair seem to lifthis cap. His hand trembled so violently that he came near droppinghis rifle, and his breathing ceased altogether for a moment.
For at the opposite side of the clearing stood a huge animal, talland gaunt, its thick neck supporting a head like a great blackbarrel crowned with a pair of thickly pointed horns that seemed aslong as the toboggan from tip to tip. The great creature stoodfacing him, the long, coarse hair about its head and neck standingout straight, its fore legs wide apart, its hind legs slightly bentready for a spring forward. All about it for a space of severalyards the snow was trampled into a hard bed and blotched with blood.
In the center of this trampled space was a huge boulder, and justbeside it a sapling perhaps six inches in diameter. Perched on thetop of the boulder and only a few inches out of reach of the greatantlers, old Martin lay huddled. Or, to be more exact, what appearedto be a bundle of Martin’s clothes that looked as if they might havebeen hurled there by the infuriated animal. The mystery of the oldman’s failure to return to camp was explained.
At the sight of the huge animal so close at hand the dogs becameabsolutely frantic; and knowing that it would be folly to try tocontrol them further, and wishing to give them every possibleadvantage in the fight that was now inevitable, the boy slipped theharness from each.
As the dogs bounded toward the wounded animal, the moose sprangforward to meet them, snorting fiercely; but in doing this the heavycreature put itself at once at a disadvantage. For its hoofs brokethrough the crust at every step, while the dogs kept their footingon the surface, darting in and out, snapping fiercely at legs andflank.
The noise of this battle roused Martin from the stupor into which hehad fallen, so that he raised his head, and then gradually draggedhimself into a sitting posture. Then, as he recognized the dogs, andsaw Larry hurrying forward, new life thrilled the old man, and hebegan waving his hand and shouting feebly to the boy.
At first his voice was so low that the boy could not hear it abovethe din; but as he approached the rock, waiting for a favoringmoment to place his one shot in some vital spot, he could make outsome of Martin’s instructions shouted through his trumpeted hands.
“Steady, boy, steady!” the old man shouted. “Wait till he turns hishead, and shoot between the eyes! Not now—wait till he turns—notyet—!”
Just then the moose, frantic with pain and anger, caught sight ofthe boy approaching him. At this discovery the huge animal seemed toforget the dogs, and wheeling, made straight for Larry, head down,bristles standing, and bloody foam blowing from its nose and mouth.
“Shoot! Shoot! For God’s sake shoot, Larry!” the old man screamed,half rising, and then toppling back upon the rock.
But Larry needed no instructions. He had proved himself and hisweapon only yesterday, and he had the courage born of experience.The first terror inspired by the huge animal had passed, and now hestood with his feet braced wide apart on his snow-shoes, the rifleat his shoulder and his eye fixed on the little bead of the frontsight as the huge animal plunged toward him. Kim and Jack, realizingthe impending danger to their master, buried their teeth in themoose’s flanks on either side and hung on grimly causing the animalto pause momentarily. This was Larry’s chance. There was a flash andreport, and the big animal, rearing upwards and sinking on its hindlegs, plunged sidelong into the snow and lay still. The heavysteel-jacketed bullet had crashed into its brain, killing itinstantly.
Before the huge head fairly reached the ground both dogs were at theanimal’s throat, tearing and mangling, mad with the lust of battle.Larry, reacting from the tense excitement, felt his knees sag underhim as he realized the result of the shot. But even this did notmake him forget to load his gun again instantly—a thing that becomesautomatic with the hunter—and approach the beast cautiously, readyfor another shot. But the dogs, with fangs buried in the creature’sthroat, gloating in the hot blood, bore silent witness that moreshots were unnecessary.
Then Larry’s pent-up emotions found expression in a wild shout as herushed to where old Martin lay.
But his feeling changed to dread apprehension when he reached thebase of the rock, saw where the blood had trickled down over theside, and found that the old man had fallen back unconscious.Perhaps his triumph had come too late after all! In an instant hehad kicked off his snow-shoes, climbed the sapling that rose besidethe rock, and was kneeling over the still, crumpled figure, his warmhands caressing the white cheeks, his voice choked with emotion.
His warm touch revived the hunter, who opened his eyes slowly, andthen smiled faintly up at the boy.
“I’ll be all right in a minute,” the old fellow whispered; “get meoff this rock and build a fire, quick. I’m frozen.”
But getting the injured hunter off the rocks without hurting himproved a difficult task. The sides were almost perpendicular, andMartin too weak to help himself at all. So, after several futileattempts, Larry was obliged to get the harnesses from the toboggan,fasten the draw strap under the hunter’s arms, and in this mannerlower him over the side. Then the boy quickly gathered some sticksand made a hot fire.
During most of this time Martin remained inanimate, but he revivedagain when Larry had dragged him near the fire; and now he askedfaintly for water. A few gulps of the melted snow water from Larry’scup revived him perceptibly, and meanwhile the boy was chafing hiscold hands, and had removed his moccasins and drawn his feet closeto the fire.
Presently Martin asked feebly for food; but Larry shook his head.For once he had forgotten one of the old man’s reiteratedinstructions—that he should never go anywhere from camp withouttaking at least one ration with him. When he started out he had onlyexpected to be gone a few hours, and in his perturbation he hadforgotten to take anything to eat.
But the old hunter’s wits had not completely failed him.
“The moose,” he said faintly.
And then the boy remembered that a month’s supply of food, uponwhich the dogs were still feasting, was lying only a few feet away.So in a few minutes he had a huge slice of moose steak suspended ona stick over the fire, from which he cut off thin strips and fed tothe ravenous hunter.
During this process he had time to observe the nature of Martin’sinjury, although he was not quite sure of its exact location, as thehunter’s clothes were rent and blood-stained in many places.
“It’s my left leg,” Martin said, interpreting the boy’s anxiousexpression. “It’s all ripped to pieces. But it was the cold that waskilling me. Now I’m getting warm and feeling stronger every minute.In another half hour I’ll be ready to take a ride home with youwhile the sun is high.”
By the time the steak was consumed Martin was sitting up, takingsips of hot water out of the tin cup from time to time. Everymovement caused him great pain, but he strove stoically to concealthis from the boy.
“Harness up the dogs,” he said presently, “pack me into thetoboggan, and let’s start for camp. We haven’t any time to lose, forit gets cold on a sled when the sun goes down.”
So Larry called the dogs, who were loth to leave their feast, packedthe old man into the bag on the toboggan so that only his headshowed above the flaps, and started.
Several times he had tried to get the old hunter to tell him how ithad all happened; but Martin put him off, assuring him that therewould be plenty of time for talking when they were back in campagain.
Once the start was made there was no chance for talking, all Larry’senergies being required to keep the now lazy dogs up to their usualspeed. And now he realized the wisdom of not feeding them untiltheir day’s work was done, as was Martin’s inflexible rule. He waskept busy steering the toboggan around rough places that would jarhis passenger, as the old man’s excruciating pain was accentuated byevery additional shock. Yet Martin would not consider stopping, oreven slackening the pace; and as the dogs warmed to their work afterthe first few miles they were able to make the camp just as the sunwas setting, all hands ready to drop from exhaustion.
They found Larry’s big fire still burning, and in a few minutes hehad warmed up the remains of the feast he had planned for the nightbefore. Then, when he had wrapped up the injured leg, and proppedthe old hunter in a comfortable position before the fire, Martin wasready to tell his story.
“Don’t you mind now, and look scared whenever I screw up my face,”the old man began; “for the pain shoots around pretty bad at times.But I’ll stand it all right, and I’ll kill many a bull moose to payfor it, too.”
Then he chuckled softly in the old familiar manner.
“What makes me laugh,” he said, “is to think that all this time Ihave been letting you think that I am something of a hunter, tryingto show you how to kill game; and here you go out and kill the moosethat came mighty near killing me. This is how it all happened:
“I came across signs of game after I had left the camp about anhour, and the signs were good too; but still I didn’t get sight ofanything, and I kept going right on until well after noon. So Idecided to turn about and take the back track home, feeling surethat I should have better luck on the way in. Sure enough, when Icame near the place where you found me, I found where a moose hadfloundered along through the snow, probably scared from some yard bymy scent as I passed. He was standing near the big rock and as thewind was blowing toward me, he hadn’t discovered me.
“So I worked around to get the rock between us, and then I sneakedup so as to get a close shot and make sure of him. I ought to havetried a longer shot at him, but you see the .38-40 is a pretty smallcartridge for moose except at close range, and I intended to gethim, sure.
“I sneaked along until I was right behind the rock, and then Istepped out and shot point blank for his head. But just at the verysecond I pulled the trigger the old rascal had to jerk his headabout six inches to one side, so that the bullet ploughed deep intohis neck, just where it would hurt and make him mad, but nothingmore.
“And then all the trouble happened in about three seconds. I jerkeddown the lever to throw in another cartridge, for he was comingright at me. But Jumping Jee-rusalem! if the old gun didn’t jam. Thehead of the empty shell had broken off and stuck in the chamber! Ididn’t have any time for investigating, for the bull was right ontop of me, so I just jumped for the side of that rock. Nothing but afly could have gone up it—without help; and I knew that then as wellas I do now. But I hadn’t any choice. And the curious thing is thatthe old moose himself furnished the help.
“He was so close to me when I jumped that one of his points caughtmy leg and ripped it open as he went along; but at the same time heflung his head up and threw me clean up the side of the rock. So bythe time he could stop and turn around I was up out of his reach.But I was his meat, all the same. All he had to do was to sit downand wait long enough and I’d freeze or starve to death.
“He had no notion of waiting, though,—that is, not at first. Heplanned to come right up there and finish the job. But you see hedidn’t have any friend around to hook him in the leg and give him aboost as I had, so he couldn’t make it. He tried for a full hour,getting madder and madder every minute, snorting and pawing up thesnow, and then coming back for another try at me. And there I had tosit and take it, with my gun lying down below in the snow.
“Pretty soon I saw that the old scoundrel had settled down for aregular siege. He gave up trying to reach me, but he never took hiseyes off me, and just walked ’round and ’round that rock hoping I’dcome down. I’ll bet he made that circle a thousand times in twohours.
“I thought when night came that he would start off and give it up,and several times he did go away behind a clump of trees a few rodsaway. But the minute I raised my head or moved a finger he was rightback on the job again.
“Then I knew that my time had come. It wasn’t such a terribly coldnight, you know, but I lay out there in the open with nothing overme, and I was mighty weak from the blood I’d lost. And I knew that Iwas slowly freezing to death. I thought of a dozen things to try,but all of them were hopeless. There was no use in sliding off andgrabbing the rifle for by the time I could get the broken cartridgeout the moose would have killed me several times over. If it hadn’tbeen for the leg I’d have come down and fought it out with the oldbrute with my hunting knife. I have done that before with a woundedbull. But I was so weak that I could hardly raise my body, let alonemy leg. So I just settled down to freeze.
“But you see I’m a tough old rooster, and when the sun came up thismorning I was still there, with my moose taking good care that Ishould stay there. By that time, though, I didn’t care muchwhether he stayed or not. It didn’t make any difference. For Icouldn’t have crawled fifty yards if I’d had the chance I was sostiff and weak.
“After a while I dozed off; and the next thing I remember I heardthe bull fighting with some wolves. I thought they were wolves then,but I didn’t even open my eyes to see, although I hoped they’d killhim. And then something sounded familiar about those wolves’ voices,and I turned my head. And there was old Jack and Kim trying to evenup my score with the old critter.
“My God! boy, I never knew what it was to be glad about anything inmy life before! There you were coming with the little gun, and therewas Jack on one side and Kim on the other taking out hunks from theold moose’s side at every jump, and—”
The old man stopped, and brushed his arm across his eyes, unable togo on for a minute, while Larry sat blinking hard at the fire. Butpresently the hunter regained his composure a little, and continued:
“And then when you fired and shot that old devil right between theeyes, I was willing to die for sheer joy.”
The old man paused again and tried to force a little laugh.
“And to think that you had to come and kill him with the little gun,while the best that I could do was to make him mad.”
And he patted the boy’s shaggy head affectionately.
“But you see, Martin, I’ve been having more practice lately than youhave,” the boy said, springing up. “Wait till I show you something.”
He darted out of the tent and came struggling back hauling the bigwhite wolf and dropped it before the fire, and then brought theother three and laid them in a row for Martin’s inspection. His eyeswere shining with pride and the old hunter’s face beamed withgenuine admiration.
“Just four cartridges—one for each wolf,” Larry said proudly, “and alittle tap with a club thrown in for good measure.” And then he toldthe old man the story of the wolves, and exhibited the rip in hiscoat sleeves.
Several times during the recital Larry noticed that Martin’s facetwitched with the agonizing pain he was suffering, although the oldman tried hard to conceal it, protesting that it was a thing tooslight to be worth noticing.
“It isn’t the pain so much,” the old man said, at last. “I can standthat all right. But I could stand it just a thousand times better ifI had my old pipe and one pinch of tobacco. Boy, I’d give one longyear of my life if I could have five minutes’ smoke. I’d get up andfight a moose, or a grizzly, or both, right now for a dozen whiffsof the old pipe.”
With a little laugh Larry jumped up, ran to their pile of plunder,and fumbled in his ditty bag. Then he turned and held up a pipe anda plug of tobacco for Martin to see.
“Will this new pipe do?” he asked, laughing, as he handed Martin theprecious articles.
The old man’s eyes were round with astonishment, and his handstrembled with eagerness. They trembled so that he could hardly pareoff the shavings of the plug and load the pipe, and light it withthe brand that Larry handed him from the fire. But a few whiffssteadied him.
“You see,” Larry explained, “when you told me to put something orother into my ditty bag for luck, I couldn’t think of anything thatwould be luckier than a pipe and some tobacco for you—just to buyyou off some time when you got cranky, you know. So here’s yourbribe to keep you good natured about my running off and leaving thecamp when you told me not to.”
“Well, this makes twice to-day that you’ve saved my life,” the oldman grinned, “so I’ll forgive you. And now pile some wood near me sothat I can keep the fire going, and then you crawl into bed and getsome sleep. I don’t suppose this moose leg of mine would let mesleep anyhow, but even if it did I wouldn’t waste my time doing itwhen there was a pipe and some tobacco around. I am almost glad nowthat the old beast gouged me.”
THE RETURN TO THE WRECK
Martin was in fine spirits when Larry finally crawled out of hissleeping bag and set about getting breakfast next morning. Theinjured leg was stiff and useless, to be sure, but the acute painhad subsided and did not bother the old man except when he attemptedto move. “By to-morrow,” he assured the boy, “I’ll be ready to hitthe trail again.”
Larry, with a perplexed look, turned from his work of frying moosemeat to see if Martin was in earnest.
“I guess your tobacco has gone to your head, Martin, if you expectto be able to use that leg much by to-morrow,” he said indulgently.
“I don’t expect to be able to use it much by to-morrow,” Martinreplied simply, “but we’ll be moving all the same.”
Larry set the frying pan down beside the fire, and came in and stoodbefore the old man with his arms akimbo, scanning the old fellow’simmobile face. For a moment or two they faced each other, neither ofthem speaking and both looking very serious. Larry was puzzled butdetermined.
“Now see here, Martin,” he began, “you don’t really suppose that youare going to be able to travel to-morrow, do you?”
“I certainly do,” the old man replied without relaxing a muscle;“and what’s more to the point, I’m going to!”
“But Martin,” Larry protested, “how do you expect that your legwhich is so sore you can’t even move it to-day, will be so you canwalk on it to-morrow?”
“I don’t,” Martin replied.
“Then how do you suppose you are going to stumble on through thesewoods mile after mile,” Larry persisted.
“Who said anything about stumbling through these woods, or any otherwoods?” the old hunter asked, with a twinkle in his eye. “Youshouldn’t jump to conclusions, Larry.” And he chuckled at the boy’sdiscomfiture.
Larry gave a defiant toss of his head and returned to his fryingpan. “Kim and Jack and I are going to eat our breakfast now,” heannounced with a grin. “Perhaps you can beg some breakfast too whenyou are ready to tell me what you are driving at.”
“All right,” Martin capitulated; “I’m too hungry to be stubborn.Bring on the breakfast and we’ll talk while we eat. I’ve beenthinking this thing all out during the night, and here it is:
“We’re going to travel to-morrow, but I intend to ride. I am goingto have you pack me on the sled with a few days’ stock of food, andget Kim and Jack to haul me. You can come along as escort, if youcare to. In fact if you don’t care to I shan’t go, and we’ll spendthe winter here and starve, instead of going back to the yacht toget fat.”
At this announcement Larry gave a shout that brought the dogs totheir feet in surprise. The idea of returning to their comfortablequarters on the coast instead of struggling on through thewilderness seemed a vision of perfect happiness to the boy.
Martin outlined his plan completely while they ate their breakfast.They would take the two sleeping bags, the tent, and a supply offood, harness the two dogs to one of the sleds and “hit the backtrail for ‘home,’” as he called the wreck. He would sit on thetoboggan in one of the sleeping bags and direct the dogs while Larrywould trudge behind helping to steady the sled and prevent itoverturning in the rough places. In this way they could make thereturn trip in four days easily unless a storm came up. If a stormcame they would simply “hole up” and wait until it blew over. Whenthe wounded leg had healed, as it would very shortly in theircomfortable camp, they would make another start for civilization.
It took Larry the greater part of the day to make the necessarypreparations for this trip. Under Martin’s direction he rigged oneof the toboggans with handles at the back, so arranged that he coulduse them for steadying the sled or helping the dogs in the hardplaces as he walked behind. He also made a back-piece of twistedbranches for Martin to lean against as he sat on the sled,strengthening this rough framework with cord and strips of canvas.When finished Martin declared that it looked like a movable brushheap; but he admitted that it was strong and serviceable, and made acomfortable support for his back.
The second toboggan and the extra provisions were suspended fromlimbs high above the ground where they would be out of the reach ofanimal prowlers, and available for future use should they ever needthem.
They broke camp the next day before dawn and headed the dogs outinto the open expanse of glistening crust. There was no need todirect their course, nor stimulate them to top speed. A trainedsledge dog remembers directions better than a man, and is as keenfor the return trip toward home as his human companions. Indeed Jackand Kim showed such enthusiasm and found that their load ran soeasily on the hard crust that Larry had difficulty in keeping upwith them at times except by clinging to the handles. Crossing theplain, which consumed so much time on the outward trip, requiredonly three hours for the return; and even in the woods that laybeyond their progress was almost twice as fast as before.
Despite Larry’s efforts, however, the sled received severe bumps attimes, that made Martin groan with pain. But the old hunter wouldnot allow any stops or slackening of speed for so trivial a matteras his personal discomfort. His dominant idea was to get back “home”as quickly as possible, and his attitude spurred Larry on to exerthimself to the limit of endurance. By sundown they had covered aquarter of the distance to the coast; and in the afternoon of thefourth day they came tearing into the home camp, the dogs barkingfrantically and Martin and Larry shouting their delight.
Here they found everything practically as they had left it, so thatthey had only to open the tent flaps, light a fire in front, and sitdown to rest and enjoy themselves.
But it was no part of Martin’s plan to let Larry sit idle during thelong weeks that lay ahead of them, or to remain inactive himself onehour longer than his injured leg compelled him to. He knew thatidleness and lack of diversions were bad things for the boy, whowould very soon feel the strain of their solitary surroundings ifnot kept so fully occupied that the time would pass quickly. Hecould offer few diversions, but he had planned plenty of activework.
His first move next day, therefore, was to have Larry haul him to apoint where he could inspect the wreck. He found it frozen in wherethey had left it, and wedged into a huge mass of ice that would holdit fast until the warm spring weather. So he transferred theirliving quarters temporarily to the after cabin, which Larry madesnug with a little tinkering. Here, warmed by the galley stove, hecould give his wound more effective treatment than in the open tent.Meanwhile he set Larry to work building a hut made from the wood ofthe forward cabin.
The task of tearing this cabin to pieces was even greater than thatof actually putting it together again, but Larry set about it withsaw, axe, and crow-bar. At first he worked alone; but after a fewdays Martin was able to crawl up on deck and superintend things fromhis seat in a sleeping bag, while the dogs acted as interestedspectators. The days were very short now in this far northernlatitude, and every hour of daylight was devoted to the wreckingwork, leaving the “housekeeping” work to be done by lamplight. Inthis way the boy was kept so completely occupied, doing andaccomplishing, that there was little time left to dwell upon theloneliness of their situation. So that, on the whole, the timepassed quickly and pleasantly. This was what Martin had hoped toaccomplish.
By the time the house-building material was secured, the old huntercould hobble about on extemporized crutches and give directionsabout building the hut, and sometimes assist Larry in steadying theboards that held the frame in place. And when their new home hadreached a stage that called for finishing touches he was able tohandle hammer and saw in performing some of the lighter work.
The hut was a curious little creation, with round port holes forwindows and a ship’s cabin door, which gave it the appearance ofhaving been cast up from the sea. It was made of the tight fittingboards, and rendered doubly wind proof by two thicknesses of canvasstretched over every part of it and nailed securely. Inside it wasmade attractive with all manner of ornaments taken from the yacht.There were two comfortable bunks arranged cabin-fashion one abovethe other at one end, a table and chairs, a case of books, and thelittle stove from the galley that kept the room warm even in thecoldest weather. With its complete equipment, even to spring cotsand mattresses, Martin declared it the finest winter home ever ownedby shipwrecked hunters.
By Christmas day it was completed even to the smallest detail, andon that day they moved in and formally took possession, desertingthe yacht forever. This day was made one of special merriment andrejoicing, for Martin was able to dispense with his cane or crutchesfor the first time, and use his leg in a natural manner withoutassistance. It was still weak, but strengthening so rapidly that itpromised soon to be completely restored to power. So, to celebratethis combination of happy events, they brought all manner ofdelicacies from the pile of stores, and devoted the first part ofthe day to preparing for a grand feast.
In the afternoon they harnessed the dogs tandem to the toboggan,Martin took his place in the “movable brush heap,” and all went fora “joy ride” of several miles through the woods in a great circlethat brought them back to the cabin about sundown. In several placeson this journey they crossed caribou tracks, the sight of which madeMartin’s eyes sparkle, and he predicted great hunting trips beforethe winter was much older.
In the evening they had their grand dinner which the dogs attended,all hands doing full justice to every course. After the feast Martinand Larry played cards until far past their usual bedtime. Taken allin all Christmas day proved a very cheerful one in the greatwilderness.
The old man had cherished the hope that his leg would heal and gainstrength so rapidly that they could make another attempt to reachthe settlements before the winter was over. For he knew that if theydid not do so they must wait until the unsettled weather of springwas over, and the ground dry enough for reasonably easy traveling.At that season they would encounter the terrible wood flies andinsects, far more to be dreaded in certain regions than cold andsnow. But it would be madness to attempt to make the winter journeyuntil his strength had returned fully, and he soon realized thatthis would not be until well on toward spring. Very soon he was ableto take fairly long snow-shoe tramps, assisted by the dogs and thetoboggan, but hauling a heavy sled was quite out of the question. Sohe finally resigned himself to spending the winter at the cabin.
Larry had shown such aptitude in learning the many secrets ofwoodcraft that he determined to make a “land pilot,” as he called itfacetiously, of him during their exile. As the boy had becomeproficient in the use of the rifle, Martin devoted part of the timeto instructions in the art of trapping. They were in the land of thesilver fox,—the most highly prized skin of all the fur-bearers—andso they concentrated their efforts to catch some of these waryanimals. Meanwhile they made constantly lengthening huntingexcursions after caribou, Larry occupying the position of chiefhunter with the old man playing assistant. But on these huntingtrips the little gun that Larry had carried at first was lefthanging on its peg in the hut. In its place Larry now carried arepeater similar to Martin’s—a heavy weapon, that gave the boy manyan arm ache.
Game was not very plentiful, however, and it required constantefforts to keep their larder supplied with fresh meat. But thisscarcity of game gave the old hunter more opportunities for teachingthe boy all manner of woodland tricks to secure it. Meanwhile heimparted to his pupil the most important and difficult feature ofwoodcraft—the art of “being at home” in the woods—to know directionsinstinctively, to observe and interpret every sign, and to take careof himself under all conditions.
Several times, when the injured leg was stronger and his pupil moreadvanced, Martin made practical tests of the boy’s progress. Hewould select a day when snow was falling, harness the dogs to thetoboggan loaded with tent, sleeping-bags, and provisions, and make azigzag journey into the heart of the woods. Here they would pitchcamp and wait until the storm ceased. By that time their trail wouldbe completely obliterated. Then, without any guiding suggestions, hehad Larry take the lead and pilot them back to the cabin.
At first the boy would become confused, and be obliged to call uponthe old hunter to straighten him out; and sometimes Martin allowedhim to become completely at fault before he would aid him. Butlittle by little Larry learned to observe and rememberinstinctively, until presently Martin found it impossible to confusehim even on long trips.
He learned how to interpret the signs of game, also, how to approachit successfully, and where to expect to find the wood denizens underthe ever varying conditions. And when they were successful with gunor traps, Martin taught him how to skin and dress the game, and tocare for the pelts.
“We’ll have to leave all these good furs behind us, I know,” the oldman would say; “but we won’t waste them; and perhaps some otherfellow will come along some day and find them. There’s just one peltthat we won’t leave, if we get it. That’s the silver fox.”
But this silver fox is a wily fellow. He seems to realize the valueof his coat; or at least he knows that it is very valuable tohimself, and uses his cunning to retain it. Week after week Martinused his knowledge and Larry’s increasing skill to trap one of thesefine fellows, only to be disappointed on each occasion. They wouldfind where Reynard had hovered about their trap, sometimes actuallystepping over it to steal the bait, knowing in some occult mannerjust where the fatal jaws were concealed. It was in vain that Martincoated the trap with wax to disguise the scent, covering his handsand feet with the skins of the wild animals in setting orapproaching the trap. Reynard refused to be deceived.
But perhaps success made him careless, although it was probably thefault of the thin covering of wet snow that fell one day late in thespring. For at last, after Larry had almost given up hope of gettingeven a single silver fox skin, the inevitable happened. Poor Reynardwalked deliberately into a trap that had been set rather carelesslyto catch a marten.
When Larry discovered this long sought prize held securely by onefoot in the jaws of the trap, he gave a shout of delight at hisunexpected success. The little animal had evidently been caughtseveral hours before, and from the appearance of the ground aboutthe trap had struggled fiercely to free itself. But now it seemedresigned to its fate, and stood crouching, watching Larry’s approachwithout making any further effort to escape. Even when the boyraised a heavy stick to despatch the captive, the little animal madeno attempt to evade the blow, acting more like a dog resigned totake punishment from its master than a denizen of the wildernessaccustomed to battle for its existence. But its wide, intelligenteyes, seemed to beg mutely for mercy.
The actions of the little animal completely unnerved the boy: hecould not strike the crouching figure. If the fox had struggledfiercely, or attempted to fight for its life as a mink or martenalways did, Larry could have despatched it at once; but thatsubmissive attitude completely disarmed him. He could not resist themute appeal in those eyes.
He lowered the club and turned away, ashamed of his weakness. Butwhen he turned again, determined to overcome his scruples, the eyesmet his with their mute plea, and again he lowered the club.
What would Martin think of such girlishness? he asked himself. WouldMartin, or any good hunter, hesitate to snatch the prize that he hadbeen struggling for all winter? He was sure they would not, and hedespised himself for his weak-heartedness.
The longer he hesitated the surer he felt that he could not strike.Then the thought obtruded itself: Who would ever know if he did notstrike? Who would there be to judge him but his own conscience if hewere to set the little animal free instead of killing it? The momentthese thoughts passed through his mind he knew that the fox had wonits freedom. He should have struck at once: now it was too late.
But freeing the captive foot from the jaws of the trap withoutencountering the animal’s sharp, white teeth was no easy task; forhe could not expect the fox to interpret his humane actioncorrectly, and stand mutely while he forced down the trap spring. Soit was not until after several fruitless attempts that he succeededin placing a heavy limb across the spring, and by bending it down,allowed the jaws to fall open and release the foot.
During this manipulation the fox made no attempt to struggle, simplycrouching down and watching the boy with its haunting eyes. And evenwhen the jaws of the trap relaxed it did not bound away as Larry hadexpected, but slipped out of sight stealthily and with no apparenthaste, not yet fully assured of its unexpected good fortune.
The boy watched the animal disappear with mingled emotions of shameand satisfaction. But when it was out of sight he drew a longbreath, and went back to camp in a sober mood.
That night at supper Martin was unusually talkative. In about aweek, he said, they should start for home if the fine weathercontinued, and the thought of it put him in a happy frame of mind.But Larry ate his supper in silence, trying to excuse himself forhis deception, and his “chicken-heartedness” in freeing the fox.
Martin, who was watching him out of the corners of his eyes,suddenly surprised him by stopping in the middle of a story to ask:
“Larry, what happened out in the woods to-day that you are soashamed of?”
The boy replied evasively at first, but the old hunter shook hishead incredulously.
“See here, Martin,” Larry said at last, “what would you do if youhappened to come along to a marten trap and found a silver foxthere—not a dead fox, you know, and not one that snarled and snappedand tried to bite you. But a fox that had fought to get loose untilhe couldn’t fight any more, but just stood there and looked youstraight in the eye even when you raised a club to kill him, andseemed to say to you:
“‘That’s right, take your club and kill me, I can’t get out of yourway now. I’m only a poor little fox, anyway, while you are a big,brave boy, with guns and dogs and traps, and you needn’t even comenear enough so that I can bite you. You have been trying to kill meall winter, just because some woman will give you a thousand dollarsfor the fur I wear to keep warm in, and now you’ve got your chanceto do it.’—What would you do, Martin, if a fox looked at you andtalked to you with his eyes like that?”
“What would I do, Larry?” the old man repeated, looking at the roofand puffing slowly at his pipe. “Why, I’d say, ‘Martin, here’s yourchance to make a thousand dollars mighty easy. I’ll just hit him arap on the head, and take him home and skin him.’ That’s what I’dsay, Larry. But what I’d do when I saw the little fellow’s bigbrown eyes asking me to let him go home to his family—what I’d do,probably, would be to look all around to make sure that no one waslooking to see what a coward I am in my heart, and then I’d springthe trap and turn the little rascal loose.”
With a bound Larry was out of his chair.
“That’s just what I did this afternoon, Martin,” he shouted, dancingjoyfully about the room to relieve his pent-up feelings.
“And so you sat here all the evening calling yourself a coward,”said Martin, when Larry had subsided, “just because you couldn’tbear to kill a fox in a trap. How about killing wolves, Larry, andmoose that are trying to kill you? Cowards don’t act that way, boy.And the bravest men usually have the softest spots in their hearts.”
THE EARLY MORNING VISITOR
Martin and Larry were roused the next morning at daylight by thedogs who were barking excitedly in their shed outside. Evidentlysome animal was approaching the hut too close for their approval. SoLarry, hoping for a pot shot from the window, slipped out of bed,took down his rifle stealthily, and cautiously opened the port onthe landward side. Just then he heard voices outside, and the nextmoment some one pounded sharply against the door and turned thelatch. In the doorway stood Mr. Ware, with half a dozen sailorscrowding behind him.
With a shout Martin was out of his bunk, while Larry, dropping hisgun, collided with the old hunter as they rushed together into Mr.Ware’s outstretched arms, and for five minutes the three were lockedtogether in a tangled embrace dancing about like happy children,each asking questions which no one answered. Then Larry discoveredthat one of the sailors was an old acquaintance from the crew of theyacht, and the sailor came in for a similar wild demonstration,while Mr. Ware stood laughing and gasping for breath. And all thistime the dogs, recognizing that something quite out of the ordinarywas taking place inside, were adding their voices to the din, andstruggling madly to get out of their shed.
Finally Martin disengaged himself and sank into a chair overcomewith exhaustion and emotion. For the coming of Mr. Ware was like onerisen from the dead. And then followed a flood of questions andexplanations.
Mr. Ware and his companions in the boat had escaped quite asmiraculously as had Martin and Larry, although they had suffered fargreater hardships in the storm. They had left the shore in theirboat and were making an exploratory trip along the mouth of theinlets of the bay just before the storm broke that destroyed theyacht. The fury of the gale drove them helplessly along the coast,and pitched them about, breaking their oars and tearing loose theirrudder, so that they were completely disabled. Fortunately they hadrounded the point of land that marked the entrance to the bay, sothat instead of being blown against the rocks they were driven alongparallel to the coast-line for a time, and thus saved from thebreakers.
But they were hurried from this peril into another quite as great,as the boat was in danger of swamping at any moment in the waves.For now the wind shifted and blew them steadily out to sea, as theywere without means of controlling or steadying the boat, whichfilled with water continually, and was only kept afloat by ceaselessbailing with the pots and pans of their cooking outfit.
All that night they worked, buffeted by the gale, with no idea wherethey might be drifting. But when morning came and the gale subsidedthere was no land in sight. That made little difference to them, aswithout oars or sails they could not have reached it in any event.Fortunately the boat was supplied with a box of sea biscuit and akeg of water—a precaution against emergencies always taken by Mr.Ware in manning his boats. So that while they were almost frozen,they were not hungry or thirsty during the six days and nights oftheir aimless drifting. But their days seemed numbered, as they hadlittle hope of being picked up so late in the season.
Imagine their delight, therefore, when on the seventh morning theydiscovered a three master heading almost directly for them. Thecaptain of the vessel had seen them, and changed his course to pickthem up.
As soon as he was safely on board Mr. Ware made tempting offers tothe captain to turn about and attempt to find the yacht. But hisefforts were unsuccessful. The schooner was far out of her courseand must make the best time possible to her English port, and nooffer could tempt the captain to turn back. Moreover, as he pointedout, it would do little good to return if the yacht was lost;whereas if she were safe, she would make her way back to New Yorkand would be waiting for Mr. Ware on his return.
So he was forced to curb his impatience for three long weeks whilethe schooner floundered her way across the ocean, and two weeks morebefore he reached his home. By that time winter had set in and itwould be madness to attempt to approach the frozen Labrador coast atthat time, even if he had hoped to find any of his party alive.
But he laid his plans for an early start in the spring, and themoment he could do so with reasonable safety he secured a staunchlittle steamer and started on his search. They had arrived near theentrance of the little bay the night before, but it grew dark beforethey rounded the point where they could make observations. Shortlyafter this the man in the lookout reported what he believed to be alight up among the rocks on shore. It was so faint that it couldbarely be made out through the glasses; and presently itdisappeared.
This discovery kept Mr. Ware awake all night; and as soon as it wasnear daylight, he had come off in a life-boat to investigate,leaving the steamer to follow cautiously by daylight. Imagine hisdelight, then, at finding the snug little hut, with Martin and Larrysafe inside.
When Mr. Ware had finished his recital Martin told him in detail theexperiences that he and Larry had had during the winter; of theirstart for home, the blizzard, his encounter with the moose, andtheir final return to the coast and the comfortable time spent inthe little hut.
“And you got here just in the nick of time, Mr. Ware,” he commented.“In another week we should have been footing it cross-country forhome; and no knowing where we should have landed.”
While they had been talking the little steamer had come into the bayand dropped anchor half a mile off shore ready to receive herpassengers. The captain, anxious to be away from the dangerouslocality as quickly as possible, kept signalling repeatedly withshort blasts of the whistle, and at last Mr. Ware decided that itwas time for all hands to be off. But the snug little hut, tuckedaway up under the rock among the spruces, appealed strongly to hisfancy; and Martin and Larry actually seemed reluctant to leave itnow that their long-looked-for chance to do so had come. They hadspent many happy hours in their tight little room, and it seemedlike treachery to an old friend to turn their backs upon it forever.The old hunter said nothing of his thoughts on this score, however,and set about gathering together the articles he was to take away.But Larry, with a lump rising in his throat, found it difficult torepress his feelings.
“I wish it could go with us,” he said, stopping in his work to takea wistful look at the many familiar objects they were leaving. “Itwill be pretty lonesome for the little house standing up here allalone year after year and never seeing any of us again.” And the boyleaned over his work again to hide his emotions.
“We’re not going to desert it for good, Larry,” said Mr. Ware,patting the boy on the head kindly. “This is the best littleshooting lodge I know of. So every year we will come up here for ahunt, and Martin will take us to the best hunting places, and keepus out of mischief generally, as he always does. What do you say,Martin?”
But the old hunter shook his head.
“I’ll be mighty glad to come every year, Mr. Ware,” he saidlaughing; “but I leave the hunting and guiding to a younger fellowwho can do it just as well, or better. That’s the ‘younger fellow’ Imean, right here,” and he pointed to Larry. “He knows the country aswell as I do, and he can follow a trail, shoot a rifle, and run acamp with the best of them. And if you ever get into a tight placeout there in the woods, he’ll steer you out of it safely every time.For he’s learned his trade up here this winter. He’s a regularforest pilot now—a real woodsman, sure enough.”
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