Snow Shoes and Canoes; The Early Days of a Fur-Trader in the Hudson Bay Territory, by William H G Kingston.
The basic story-line is that there is a fort in the Hudson Bay Territory that needs some stores and materials to be sent to it from another fort about 150 miles away. The journey could be done by canoe, but there are none available at this time. So a party of people are sent overland to fetch what is required.
There are encounters with bears and other dangerous animals; there are times when they are very hungry and very tired. They encounter both friendly and unfriendly Indians. They borrow canoes at one stage, and have wrecks in the mighty rapids.
There are strong overtones indicating that Kingston has read the authentic books by Ballantyne, who had worked in the Hudson Bay Company, and whose letters home had set off his literary career. But Kingston has a unique style of his own, and he was good at research, so he can be forgiven for using valuable authentic material to help him get his facts right, and make his story credible.
About 10.5 hours to read aloud.
SNOW SHOES AND CANOES, THE EARLY DAYS OF A FUR-TRADER IN THE HUDSON BAY TERRITORY, BY WILLIAM H G KINGSTON.
BLACK FORT—THE PACK-HORSE TRAIN SETS OUT—SANDY MCTAVISH'S SAGACITY— THE NIGHT-WATCH—THE TWO REDSKIN HORSE-THIEVES—A SNOWSTORM—AN UNCOMFORTABLE BED AND A TERRIBLE NIGHT—MY DELIGHT AT FINDING MY HORSE ALIVE—WE OBTAIN SHELTER IN A WOOD—DESPERATE ENCOUNTER BETWEEN A LYNX AND AN EAGLE FOR THE POSSESSION OF A HARE—THE HARE BECOMES MY PRIZE— THE UNTIMELY APPEARANCE OF A WOLF.
The short summer of the North-West Territory of British America, the region in which the events I am about to describe took place, was rapidly drawing to a close.
I had been sent from Black Fort, of which my elder brother Alick had charge, with Sandy McTavish, an old follower of our father's, and two other men, to bring up ammunition and other stores as a winter supply from Fort Ross, about 150 miles off—a distance, however, of which we did not think much.
The stores ought to have been brought up the greater part of the way by the Saskatchewan, but a canoe had been lost in ascending the rapids, and no other was at that time to be procured to replace her. It became necessary, therefore, at all costs to transport the required stores by land. We had eight pack-horses, besides the four animals my companions and I rode.
We were all well armed, for though the Crees and other Indian tribes in the northern part of the territory were generally friendly, we might possibly encounter a party of Blackfeet on the war-trail who, should they find us unprepared, would to a certainty attack us, and endeavour to steal our horses and goods. We were but few in number for such an undertaking, but no more men could be spared. Sandy, however, was a host in himself. He thoroughly knew all the Indian ways, and from his long experience was well able to counteract them.
Many an evening, while seated at our camp-fire or at the stove in the fort, during winter, has he beguiled the time with accounts of his hairbreadth escapes and desperate encounters with the redskins. He had no enmity towards them, notwithstanding the attempts they had made on his life.
"They were but following the instincts of their savage natures," he used to observe; "and they were not ower weel pleased with the white men for hunting in the country which they call theirs, though it must be allowed they dinna make gude use of it."
Sandy was as humane as he was brave, and I am very sure he never took the life of an Indian if he could avoid doing so with due regard to his own safety. He had come out from Scotland when a mere boy with our father, who was at that time a clerk in the Hudson's Bay Company, but who had ultimately risen to be a chief factor, and was the leader in many of the adventurous expeditions which were made in those days. He was noted for being a dead shot, and a first-rate hunter whether of buffalo, elk, or grizzly bear. Sandy had followed him in all his expeditions, and took the greatest delight in describing them to us.
Having remained at Fort Ross a couple of days, to rest our beasts and prepare the packages for transport, we set out, Sandy and I leading, and the two men, Pat Casey and Pierre Lacrosse, following in the rear with the baggage animals.
We travelled at the rate of about twenty-five miles each day. That distance being accomplished, we encamped at night under shelter of a grove of poplars or willows, we being glad of the protection they afforded; for although the weather was fine, the wind had begun to blow somewhat cold.
Our beasts having been unloaded were hobbled near at hand, the goods being piled up so as to form a breastwork in case of an attack. Fuel to last the night had then to be collected, when the fire was lighted, and the pot put on to boil.
Supper being ready, we sat round our fire to discuss it, with good appetites. We then, after a chat for half an hour or so, drawing our buffalo-robes over us, with our saddles for pillows, lay down to rest, our feet turned towards the fire. One of us, however, always remained on guard, to watch the horses, and to give warning should any Blackfeet Indians or prowling wolves draw near our encampment.
We did not believe that we had much to fear from either one or the other. The Blackfeet seldom ventured so far north into the territory of their hereditary enemies the Crees; and should any wolves approach, the horses would be sure to make their way up to the camp for protection.
The two hours watch which each of us took in turn made us sleep the sounder for the remainder of the time. We were all too well inured to the sort of life to think it any hardship. Just before dawn the last man on watch roused up the rest of us. The ashes were raked together, fresh sticks put on, the water boiled for the tea, and a breakfast of slices of bacon or dried buffalo meat, with flour cakes, prepared us for the toils of the day.
The country over which we travelled was seldom traversed by white men. The grass-covered prairie extended often as far as the eye could reach, here and there hills rising in the distance, or long lines of trees marking the course of some stream falling into the main river.
We had to cross several of these streams, but at that time of the year were able to ford them without difficulty, the drought of summer having greatly diminished their depth.
Sandy and I were jogging along at the head of our party when, as we reached the summit of a slight hill from which we could obtain an extensive view over the surrounding country, he stopped and gazed, I thought somewhat anxiously, around the horizon.
"We must push on faster than we have been going, if we are to reach Black Fort before bad weather comes on," he observed.
"I see no change in the appearance of the sky," I answered. "There's not a cloud in any direction, and the wind is as moderate as it was when we started."
"The sky is blue and cloudless, I'll allow, but it's whiter away in the nor'ard than I like to see it. There will be wind from that quarter before long, and the wind won't come alone," said Sandy. "It may not reach us to-morrow or the next day, and we may be safe within the fort before it is down upon us."
Though I had a high opinion of Sandy's sagacity, I thought that in this instance he might be mistaken. It was very important for us to reach the fort before the snow should cover the ground to any depth. The stores we were bringing were much required, and the heavily-laden animals would have great difficulty in making their way through it. Of course I agreed, as Sandy advised it, that we should push on that day as long as the light would allow, and that we should make a forced march on the following day, so that we might reach the fort on the next before nightfall, which we calculated we should thus be able to do.
Waiting till the two men with the loaded beasts came up, we told them of our intentions, and ordered them to push on as fast as they could. We had not gone far, however, when Sandy's horse stumbled, a very unusual thing for the animal to do. It continued to walk lame, evidently in pain.
We dismounted and examined its feet, when we found that a sharp stone had wounded its hoof. We extricated it with considerable difficulty, and when we again moved on the animal walked with as much pain as before. Nothing could make it move on. We were therefore compelled to encamp at the first suitable spot we reached.
The weather remained fine, and we hoped in the morning that Sandy's horse would have recovered, and that we should be able to make a long day's journey. According to our intention, our camp was formed as usual under shelter of a wood, but there was scarcely any good grass in the immediate neighbourhood, and we were compelled to let the animals roam much further than we liked in search of it.
We agreed that, in order to keep a proper lookout, two of us should remain on the watch at a time, one in the camp, and the other in the direction the animals had taken.
Sandy had Pierre for his mate; I, Pat. Sandy and Pierre took the first watch. The latter went off with his rifle and a brace of pistols in his belt, to walk backwards and forwards near where the horses were feeding. Pat and I then lay down with our feet to the fire.
"We'll sleep as fast as we can, Mister David, to make up for the shortness of time we've got to do it in," observed Pat, as he rolled himself up in his buffalo-robe.
I endeavoured to follow his advice, but somehow or other the presentiment that danger threatened us kept me awake longer than was usual. It seemed that I had scarcely closed my eyes when Sandy aroused me, and springing to my feet I examined the priming of my rifle and pistols, and prepared to relieve Pierre, who was to wait near the horses till I arrived. I had to walk nearly a quarter of a mile before I found him in a grassy valley, between two slight hills running in the direction of the river. Had there been any trees thereabouts it would have been a better place than the one we had chosen for our encampment. Pierre reported all right, and went back to camp.
By walking to the top of one of the hills I could get a view all round, and watch the horses feeding below me. I counted them and found that all were there, and then went down again to find some shelter from the wind behind a small clump of low bushes. I could watch from this most of the horses, but some of them would wander up the valley out of my sight.
At last I saw by the movements of those near me that they were becoming somewhat uneasy, and presently two which had got to a distance came up as fast as their hobbles would allow them, the whole heading towards the camp. I rushed forward to cut the hobbles as fast as I could get up to the animals, when they all set off in the direction they had before been going.
I had just set the last free when, looking up, I saw two dark figures which I knew were those of Indians, who had been endeavouring to get up to the horses before I could set them at liberty. The moment they found that they were discovered they stopped short. I pointed my gun, they hesitated, and then once more began to move towards me, their scalping knives gleaming in the moonlight. Anxious not to shed blood, I again shouted to them to stop; but perhaps seeing, by my voice and slight figure, that I was but a youth, they fancied that they could intimidate me, and uttering terrific shrieks they continued to approach. My life depended, I knew, on the steadiness of my aim, and pulling the trigger I sent a bullet into the body of one of the strangers. He staggered and fell, when drawing a pistol I prepared to receive his companion, who, however, stopped, and lifting the wounded man to his feet, the two made off faster than I should have supposed possible.
I thought it prudent not to follow, as I felt sure that other Indians were in the neighbourhood. The sound of my shot would have aroused my friends, and from the appearance of the horses they would understand what had happened.
As the Indians made off in one direction, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me towards the camp. Before I reached it, I met Sandy and the other men coming out to my assistance. They expressed their satisfaction at finding me safe.
Pierre and Pat wanted to set off in pursuit of the enemy, but Sandy would not allow them.
"Na! na! laddies; we'll gain nothing even if we were to shoot a score of redskins. We shall want our ammunition to defend ourselves when we are attacked. Let's count the horses, and see if all have come in," he said.
On doing so, we discovered that one was missing. The animal had evidently been carried off by some Blackfeet.
The loss was a serious one, as we should have either to add to the weight of the loads of the others, or place the packages on one of the saddle-horses, taking it by turns to walk.
One thing was certain, that even if not attacked, our journey, which we were anxious to finish as soon as possible, would be prolonged.
As may be supposed, we got no more sleep that night. We had to hobble the horses, and keep a bright lookout on every side, lest the treacherous Indians might steal upon us and catch us unprepared. They must have guessed from the number of horses that our party consisted of several men, well armed, and from the experience they had had of my rifle they knew that they could not come openly upon us without the certainty of some of their number being laid low.
As the sky remained clear, and the moon was bright, we could see objects at a considerable distance; our enemies could not therefore get near without being discovered. Our chief fear was that they might, if they were resolved on our destruction, make a wide circuit, and getting into the wood attack us in the rear. To prevent the risk of this, Pierre made his way among the trees and watched on that side; on hands and knees he crept cautiously from place to place, as the panther does watching for its prey. Wary as the Indians were, it was not likely that they would surprise him. There is an excitement in an adventure of the sort we were engaged in which affords actual pleasure, and for my part I enjoyed it greatly, caring neither for being deprived of sleep, nor for the danger to be apprehended.
We let our fire remain in, though we kept it low, with plenty of sticks at hand which we could throw on and make it blaze up, should we find it necessary. At last dawn appeared in the eastern sky, and we believed that, as the Indians had not attacked us at night, they would not molest us during our journey.
Having collected our horses and distributed the load of the animal which had been stolen among them, after a hasty breakfast we set off. We were much disappointed at finding that Sandy's animal was as lame as on the previous day, and as it could not move out of a walk, he dismounted and proceeded on foot. Our progress was therefore slower even than usual.
The country as we advanced became much rougher than that which we had hitherto passed over. When the greater part of the day had been spent, we reached the foot of an excessively steep hill, on the top of which was a wide extending plain. We all here dismounted, and allowed our horses to scramble on as best they could. To climb up with more ease I disencumbered myself of my cloak, which together with my gun I fastened on to one of the pack-horses. We had provided ourselves with thick sticks, which helped us along.
Sandy's poor horse had great difficulty in making its way, and dropped behind the rest. There was no fear of its straying; the animals being accustomed to keep together, it was sure to follow.
"I wish that we had been able to make our way as fast as we had intended," said Sandy. "We shall have more difficulties on this journey than we looked for; however, there's no use sighing about what cannot be helped. Just do you go on, David, to the top of the hill, and take a look round to see if you can catch sight of any Indians. You are more active than I am, and will be at the top before I can reach it; I'll wait and bring up the rest of the horses. If the Indians were to come upon us at this moment they might take us at a disadvantage."
From the way Sandy spoke I saw that he was not like himself. It struck me that he was ill; or, had he expected that we should have been attacked by the Indians during our ascent of the hill, he would have made preparations beforehand. I, however, did not hesitate to do as he wished, and springing forward soon climbed up among the rocks and shrubs to the top. Before me, stretching to the westward, was a perfectly level plain, on the edge of which I looked down on the other side over the lower country, across which we had passed.
I could see our horses toiling upwards among the rocks and shrubs to the top, followed by Sandy and the two other men, he having stopped to speak to them. The sky overhead and on three sides was clear, but on looking to the northward I observed a dense black mass which came sweeping along at a tremendous rate towards me. Though the air had just before been perfectly serene, on a sudden a keen cutting wind struck me with a force which almost took me off my feet.
The next instant I was in the midst of a fearful snowstorm. The sun in a moment became obscured, and the wind increasing rose to a perfect hurricane. I could dimly discern two of the horses which just then had reached the plateau. I ran towards one of them to secure it, hoping that it was my own, but I found that it was one of the loaded animals, and unfortunately not the one on which I had laid my coat and gun. In a few seconds of time, so fearful had become the darkness that I could not see three feet ahead of my nose. I shouted at the top of my voice to the rest of the men who were, I knew, not far from me to mount their horses and come on, allowing the others to shift for themselves.
We should all be frozen to death if we were to remain where we were. Our only hope of safety was to reach a thick grove of trees at the farther end, and I hoped that we might get to it before the snow became too deep to allow the animals to move rapidly over the ground.
In vain I looked for my own horse. I could faintly hear Sandy and the other men shouting in return to my cries, but whereabouts they were I could not tell. I fully believed that they would all follow the course I proposed, and as I could not discover my own animal I cut the tyings and threw off the load from the pack-horse I had caught, then mounting on the pack-saddle I rode off at full speed through the deep snow, in the hope of reaching the wood.
So rapidly did the snow come down that in a few moments it was several inches deep. Every instant it was increasing and rendering my progress more difficult. I urged on the poor animal, which seemed to know its danger and did its utmost, but thicker and thicker fell the snow, and in a short time, night coming on, it became so dark that I was literally unable to see my hand held close to my face; except judging by the wind, I could not tell in what direction we were going. I could only hope that the instinct of the animal might guide it towards the wood in which shelter could be obtained.
As to seeking my companions, that was out of the question. I shouted to them every now and then, but no voice answered my calls. I knew, however, that they all, being well acquainted with the country, would endeavour to reach the shelter for which I was aiming, and I hoped at length to meet them there.
The cold was intense; even had I possessed my overcoat it would have been bad enough to bear, but with only moderately thick clothing on, I felt the wind pierce to my very bones. I rode on, however, as long as I was able to sit my horse, but at length my limbs became so benumbed by the cold that I could ride no further. The poor beast also was almost exhausted with his exertions in plunging on through the deep snow.
Hoping to keep somewhat warm by walking I dismounted, and leading him by the bridle tried to get along. At every step I made I sank halfway up to my knees, and could scarcely lift my feet high enough to make another step forward; still, it would be death to stay where I was. I went on, hoping that I was approaching the wood. Now and then I stopped and shouted; still there was no reply.
I became at length convinced that I must have either passed the wood or been going in another direction. No sound reached my ears but that of the thick-falling snow, which seemed to come down in a mass upon the earth, so rapidly did it accumulate.
Sandy, I knew, would be very anxious about me, and would take every means to discover where I had gone; but even in daylight he could not have followed my track, as the snow must instantly have obliterated it.
I resolved as long as I had strength to push on, though I had missed the wood for which I was aiming. I might, I hoped, in time reach another which would afford me protection.
The storm instead of abating only seemed to increase in violence. As the night wore on I found my poor horse advancing at a slower and slower pace, showing how fatigued it had become, while I had scarcely strength left to move forward; still I was afraid to halt. At last it stopped altogether, and I myself felt utterly exhausted. Further it was impossible to go, but how to endure the cold and keep the blood circulating in my veins was the question. It seemed to me that I must inevitably perish; still I resolved to make an effort to preserve my life.
My horse was standing stock-still, with its back to the wind. I bethought me that the only chance I had of retaining existence was to dig a hole in the snow, in which I might crouch down, and wait till the storm was over. I set desperately to work. While so employed, the drift eddying around my head nearly suffocated me; still I persevered.
Having dug down to the ground, I took off the pack-saddle from the horse's back, which I placed as a cushion below me, and then putting the saddle-cloth over my shoulders I crouched down in the hole I had made, which I could not help dreading was more likely to prove my grave than to afford any efficient shelter.
I knew for certain that, should I fall asleep, death would ensue, and that I must exert all my energies to keep awake. I had not been long seated, doubled up in my burrow like a mummy, before I felt the cold begin to steal over me. My feet were the first to suffer. I tried to keep them warm by moving them about, but it was of no use.
At last I took off my frozen shoes, and tucked my feet under me on the pack-saddle; then I rubbed them as hard as I could. I was tempted at last to take the horsecloth off my shoulders, and to wrap my feet up in it, but all was of no use. They appeared to me to be frozen, while my whole body seemed changing into ice. At last I had scarcely strength to move either my hands or feet. During this time the inclination to sleep almost overcame me. I struggled against it with all the resolution I possessed. I was perfectly well aware that, should I give way to it, death would be the consequence.
I took every means I could think of to keep awake. I shouted; I even sang, or rather I tried to sing; but the most melancholy strains were the only results of my efforts, my voice sounding as hollow as that from a skull—if voices ever do come out of skulls, on which subject I venture to be sceptical.
I kept moving from side to side, and up and down, filled with the dread that, should I stop, I should fall asleep. The snow all the time was gathering round my head, forming an arch over me, and I had frequently to make a hole in front, so as to obtain sufficient air for breathing.
How I lived through that dreadful night I cannot tell. Morning came at last; the snow had ceased to fall as thickly as before, allowing the light to penetrate through the veil drawn over the earth. Faint as was the light, it gave me a glimpse of hope. I might still reach the wood, and by obtaining a fire thaw my benumbed limbs. My first efforts were directed towards breaking out of my icy prison; but the hole in front of me was so small that it was not till I had made several attempts that I could force my body through it.
I at length managed to get up on my feet, when I took a look round. There stood my poor horse, where I had left it, rigid as a statue, and, as I believed, frozen to death.
On every side I could see nothing but one vast expanse of snow. I could not, however, remain where I was. Either on horseback or on foot I must try to reach a place of shelter and to find my companions. I now remembered that I had taken my shoes off. How to get them on again was the difficulty, for when I felt them, I found that they were frozen as hard as iron. I made several attempts to thrust in my feet, for I knew that they would be dreadfully cut should I attempt to walk without shoes. The exertion contributed somewhat, perhaps, to restore the circulation in my veins, and at last, after many efforts, I got on my shoes.
Having accomplished this I broke entirely out of my burrow, and staggered towards my poor steed. To my great relief the animal moved its head and looked at me, giving evidence that it was still alive. I accordingly returned to the hole and dug out my saddle, when, after great exertion, I managed to reach the horse and put it on. Then, digging round the poor beast's front feet, and patting it on the neck, I induced it to move forward a few paces.
It seemed surprising that, after the fearful night it had endured, it should still be alive and could move its legs apparently without much difficulty.
I now tried to mount, but could not bend my frozen limbs sufficiently to get into the saddle. I therefore, taking the bridle in my hand, led forward my horse, stumbling at every step. I hoped, however, that the exercise would restore circulation, and that I should be able at last to get on horseback.
I looked round, but could nowhere see the wood of which I was in search; though the snow was not falling as thickly as it had done during the night, the weather still looked very threatening. Dark masses of snow-clouds obscured the sky like a canopy but a few feet, it seemed, above my head.
The wind was still piercingly cold, and at any moment the snow might again come down and overwhelm me. The rough training I had gone through, however, had taught me never to despair, but to struggle on to the last. I had no thoughts of doing otherwise, though every limb ached, and I had scarcely strength to draw one leg after the other.
At last, finding that I could walk no longer, I made another effort to mount, and succeeded, though not without great pain, in climbing into the saddle; when I was there, however, my poor horse showed his utter inability to carry me, and refused to lift a leg; indeed, his strength was insufficient for the task. In vain I patted his neck and tried to make him go forward. The only movement he made was to sink down on his knees. To prevent him from falling altogether, when I might not have been able to get him up again, I threw myself off his back.
At the same moment the storm burst forth with greater fury than before. I began to believe that I should perish; but still I had some strength left in me, and resolved to exert it to the utmost. As to facing the storm, that was impossible, so all I could do was to turn my back to it and move forward.
I might be going further and further from the wood, but I trusted that Providence, which had hitherto preserved me, would direct my steps towards some other shelter. Still I in vain looked out for any object rising above the apparently interminable plain of snow. The saddle-cloth drawn tightly over my shoulders somewhat protected my back, but the wind whistled past my ears, which had now lost all sensation.
On and on I went, I knew not for how long. I could scarcely think, indeed I could scarcely feel, except that I was suffering all over from pain. The storm sent me along, in what direction I could not tell, though I supposed that it was towards the south. The thick-falling snow hid all objects, if any there were, from sight. My companions might be in the neighbourhood, but I was not likely to see them, nor they me.
I tried occasionally to shout out, but I had not power to send my voice to any distance. Still I went on, like a hawker crying his wares in a town, but I had lost all hopes of hearing an answer to my calls. At last so great became my exhaustion that I thought of killing my horse, opening him, and getting into his body, fancying that I might thus save my life. I drew my hunting-knife, and was about to plunge it into the poor brute's chest, though even then I felt a great repugnance to kill the faithful creature; when it occurred to me, should I get inside, that, after the heat had left the body, it would freeze, and I might be unable to extricate myself. I should thus be immured in a tomb of my own making. The idea was too dreadful to contemplate for an instant.
I sheathed my knife, and again walked on. Shortly after this the storm sensibly abated. The snow ceased, the wind fell; and as the atmosphere became clear I found that I was on the edge of the plateau, and I saw before me in the far distance a thick wood extending away to the south. It bordered a stream flowing, I concluded, into the Saskatchewan. I could find shelter within the wood should the storm again come on, and I might be able to kill some creature or other to satisfy the cravings of my appetite.
The hope that I might still preserve my life raised my spirits. My horse, too, appeared to be somewhat recovered; so I again climbed up on the saddle, and this time the animal consented to move forward, its instinct telling it that food was to be found in the direction we were going. Had I possessed my gun I should have been better satisfied, as I could thus, without difficulty, be able to obtain provisions and defend myself against any wild beasts or Indians I might encounter. My impatience made me fancy that my horse was moving at a very slow pace. He seemed to gather strength as he advanced, or rather his muscles became more pliable, and he moved with less pain. I was still, I calculated, at least two days' journey from the fort. It would be impossible for either my steed or me to perform the distance in our present condition.
About the animal I had no fear, as it would be able to pick up grass from under the snow, even should that not disappear; but my chance of obtaining food was far more problematical. At last the sun shone forth and warmed my well-nigh frozen body. Its bright rays cheered my spirits, and I could look more hopefully to the prospect of getting back to the fort. I had not given up all expectation of falling in with some of my companions. It occurred to me that they might at once have put before the wind, as sailors say, and steered for the wood towards which I was directing my course.
I looked out, almost expecting to see a wreath of white smoke curling up from amidst the trees. No signs of human beings, however, could I discover. As we advanced my horse increased its pace, and at last the wood was reached, but on the weather side the snow was piled up more thickly than even in the open ground. I had, therefore, to make a circuit, till I could get to the lee side.
In course of time, however, I reached it, and found a deep bay or hollow formed by the trees. Here the snow was comparatively shallow. As I threw myself from my horse and took off the bridle, the sagacious animal immediately began to grub away with its nose in the snow, and soon got down to the green grass which grew there abundantly.
I was very sure that my steed would not stray away, so that there was no necessity for hobbling it. Fastening the bridle over my shoulder, I hurried into the wood to collect sticks to light a fire, at which I might thaw my shoes and warm myself thoroughly. I was satisfied that, in spite of the cold I had endured, I was nowhere severely frostbitten. As I came along I had rubbed my ears with snow, which had restored circulation. Even my feet and fingers, though bitterly cold, had escaped.
Having collected a number of sticks, I scraped away the snow at a short distance from the trees, and piled them up. I then felt in my pocket for my flint and steel and tinder box. I at once found the latter, but to my dismay I could not discover the flint and steel.
I remembered giving it, the last time we encamped, to Pat Casey, but I could not recollect whether he had returned it. I was almost in despair. I feared that, should I attempt to pass another night without fire, I must perish, even were the cold less intense than it had been previously.
Pat Casey was bound to give them back to me. He must have done so.
I remembered that I had pockets in my waistcoat. I unbuttoned my coat, and there at the bottom in the left-hand pocket of my waistcoat I found my flint and steel. They were of more value to me just then than a purse of gold.
I quickly struck a light, and going down on my knees, by the aid of some dried moss and leaves, and by dint of careful blowing, I soon had a fire started, as we say in the Far West. Eagerly I bent over it. Its genial warmth imparted new life to my chilled limbs and body. Then, sitting down with my feet so close that I almost singed my stockings, I gradually thawed my shoes. How comfortable they felt when I again put them on!
I now began to feel the pangs of hunger, for I had taken nothing since the previous morning. Food I must have at all costs. I even glanced at my poor horse with wolfish eyes.
"I must eat it, if I can get nothing else," I said to myself; but then again I thought, "By what means shall I reach the fort? I cannot trudge on foot all the distance through the deep snow. I must let my horse live. It would sorely grieve me to have to kill him."
Thoroughly warmed, I got up with the intention of pushing into the wood and trying to knock over some bird or small beast. There were few young birds at that season not well able to fly out of my way, and the animals of the forest were likely to have been driven under shelter by the snowstorm.
I still had the stick which had served me to mount the hill and make my way over the snow. I had left my pistols in my holsters. I mention this to account for my not now having them. My only weapons, therefore, were my long hunting-knife and this stout stick.
I was, I knew, more likely to find some animals deep in the wood than on the borders, as they would have gone there for shelter. As I went along I anxiously examined every tree I passed in search of birds or the traces of squirrels or any other of the smaller inhabitants of the woods.
Now and then a squirrel would look out of its hole, and on seeing me would be off to the tree-top. Birds were rare, and being perfectly silent at this season, their notes did not betray their whereabouts. The evening was drawing on. I considered whether I could manage to set any traps. It would take time to construct them, and I was starving.
As I wandered along, I found myself again near the borders of the wood with a thick bush near me. At that moment I caught sight of an animal of nearly three feet in length, which I at once recognised as a "peeshoo," as the French Canadians call it, though properly denominated the Canadian lynx. Its fur was of a dark grey, freckled with black. It had powerful limbs, and thick, heavily-made feet. It was still when I first caught sight of it, but presently it commenced a succession of bounds with its back slightly arched, all the feet coming to the ground at the same moment.
Instead of moving forward in a direct line, I observed that it was making a large circle, which it gradually decreased. I concealed myself behind the bush, hoping that it would come near enough to give me a chance of rushing out and striking it a blow on the back, when I could at once have killed it. With intense interest, therefore, I watched its proceedings. I now observed a small animal which I saw was a hare in the centre of the circle it was forming. The little creature, terror-stricken, seemed unable to run off, though, being a fleeter animal than the lynx, it might easily have escaped.
The lynx approached nearer and nearer the hare, keeping one of its sharp eyes fixed on it all the time, when, having got sufficiently near to reach its prey, it made two bounds, and the hare the next moment was dead.
I was on the point of rushing out to secure, as I hoped, both the lynx and the hare, when I saw a dark shadow cast on the ground, and, looking up, I caught sight of a golden eagle, which must have come from the far-off Rocky Mountains, in the act of pouncing down on the lynx; the latter, seeing its enemy, dropped the hare and prepared to defend itself and prevent its prey being carried off. In spite of the large size of the lynx, the eagle swooped downwards to the attack, striking with its powerful beak the quick-sighted animal on the back, into which it fixed its sharp talons.
The eagle had, however, not so firm a hold as to prevent the lynx from freeing itself; then with its formidable claws it sprang at the bird, tearing some of the feathers from its breast.
On this the eagle rose into the air, and circling several times round, a short distance above the earth, prepared undauntedly again to descend and renew the combat. The lynx, watching every movement, as it saw the bird coming made a tremendous leap, trying to seize it by the neck; but the eagle, striking its antagonist's body with its talons, threw it on its back, and again attempted to plunge its beak into the throat of the lynx.
So furiously did the two creatures struggle, and so thickly was the snow sent flying round them, while the air was so filled with the eagle's feathers, that I could scarcely distinguish what was taking place.
I should have rushed forward to destroy both the combatants, had I not feared that seeing me coming the eagle might fly off, and the lynx scamper away out of my reach, and I was too weak to follow it to any distance. I therefore let the fight proceed, hoping that I might benefit by the utter exhaustion of the two parties, as is often the case when nations go to war, and a third interferes to reap an advantage from the folly of the others. I had to restrain my impatience for some minutes while the furious struggle continued.
The bird now made an attempt to rise, but it seemed to me that the lynx held it fast. I could restrain myself no longer, and, grasping my stick, I rushed forward. Both creatures saw me coming. The lynx got on its feet, but before it could make a single bound a well-directed blow on its back laid it dead on the snow. The eagle, to my surprise, did not fly off, and I now saw that one of its wings was broken. It still presented too formidable a front to be approached unless with due caution, for its beak might inflict a serious wound.
Holding my stick ready, I swung it with all my force against its head, and the bird rolled over stunned. As it might quickly come to, I immediately drew my knife and severed the head from the body.
I was too hungry, however, to stop and examine either the eagle or the lynx, except to ascertain that the latter was perfectly dead. A few cuts of my knife soon settled that point, and then eagerly taking up the hare, I hurried with it back to the fire. I did not stop to skin it very artistically, but running a spit through the body, I at once placed it to roast—camp fashion—on two forked sticks. I watched it eagerly for a few minutes, when, unable longer to resist the cravings of hunger, I cut off one of the legs, which I devoured nearly raw.
The keenness of my appetite being satisfied, I felt that I could wait till the rest was more properly cooked. I now bethought me that it would be wise, while the hare was roasting, to bring in the lynx, at all events; for though not dainty food, I had seen Indians eat the flesh of the animal, and it was very possible that wolves might be attracted to the spot and deprive me of it.
I might have to wait a long time before my larder was supplied in so curious a manner as it had been on this occasion. I therefore hastened back to where I had left the lynx. As I got up to it, I saw in the distance an animal which I felt nearly sure was a wolf. I must get back to the fire with my game, or the wolf might deprive me of it.
Shouldering the lynx, the weight of which was as much as I could carry, I struggled along with it towards my camp. Every moment I expected to hear the wolf behind me, but as I at once struck into the wood I kept out of the creature's sight. I was thankful when I saw the bright blaze of my fire between the trunks of the trees. Hurrying forward, to my infinite satisfaction I found the hare safe on the spit and almost done.
I threw down my burden close to the fire, having made up my mind to fight for my prize should the wolf attempt to take it from me. I might have to do battle also, I knew, not only for myself, but for my horse, which, should the wolf discover, it would very probably attack.
The hare, which was now sufficiently cooked to be eaten, wonderfully restored my strength and spirits. A portion remained for my breakfast next morning, and I must then commence on the flesh of the lynx.
I had been so far preserved, and I was under no apprehension as to what might happen. I reflected, however, that it would be necessary to prepare some defence both for myself and my horse during the night against the attack of wolves, and I considered how that might best be done.
As I had still a few minutes of daylight, I employed them in cutting some stout sticks, which I fixed in the snow at a short distance from the fire; others I fastened with withes to the top as rafters, on which I laid some branches, covering the whole with snow.
I also formed the walls of my hut with snow. There was fortunately a moon in the sky, which enabled me to continue my labours long after sunset.
Having completed my hut, I collected a further supply of sticks, and made up my fire to last, as I hoped, for two or three hours. I then went out, intending to bring my horse close to the hut. I found him still at his supper, and he seemed very unwilling to leave the spot where he had cleared away the snow. On my speaking to him, with a little coaxing he, however, followed me, and I led him to the side of the hut, where I secured him to a stake which I managed to drive into the ground, for though covered with snow, it was soft below it.
I then cleared away the snow sufficiently to enable him to get at the grass. This seemed to content him, and I hoped that he would remain quiet and get rested for the journey which I expected to commence the next morning. On examining my pile of sticks, I thought it would be prudent to get a further supply, so that I might keep the fire blazing till daylight, and be able to cook some of the lynx for breakfast, as also a sufficient quantity to take with me.
For this object I was going along the edge of the wood, when suddenly a large animal rushed out from a thick copse a short distance before me, planting itself in a threatening attitude as if determined to dispute my progress. It was scarcely twenty feet off, and I knew that in a moment its fangs might be fixed in my throat.
My situation appeared desperate, for I felt sure that should I show the least symptom of fear the creature would attack me. I prayed for the courage and firmness I so much needed. Should I retreat, the monster would to a certainty follow. Holding the bundle of sticks I had already collected in front of me as a shield, I flourished my stick, shouting as loud as my weak voice would permit.
The wolf appeared somewhat startled and retreated a few steps, still keeping its piercing eyes fixed firmly on me. The creature's retreat, though it was but for a short distance, encouraged me. I advanced. On seeing this it set up a most fearful howl, which I concluded it did for the purpose of collecting some of its fellows to assist it in its meditated attack on me.
I redoubled my cries, shouting out, "Sandy! Pat! Pierre! Come along!" with the idea that the wolf would suppose I had companions at hand, who would come at my call. As I advanced it kept retreating, but still continued its appalling howls.
It occurred to me that it was the wolf I had before seen, and that it must have its lair in the neighbourhood. This was not a pleasant thought, but still I hoped that if I could frighten it off I should not be further molested.
The wolf continued howling and I shouting for nearly a quarter of an hour. At length finding that no other wolves came to join it, and that I was determined not to flinch, it turned round, and in a few seconds was lost to view in the surrounding gloom.
I learnt an important lesson from the adventure. It showed me that by an exhibition of courage and determination even enemies of far superior force may be deterred from making an attack, and be put ignominiously to flight. Having satisfied myself that the wolf had really gone off, I returned to my hut, looking back, however, every instant to ascertain whether or not it was following me. I found my horse still cropping the grass. He welcomed me with a neigh as I approached, to show his gratitude. It was a sign also that he was regaining his strength.
I felt very thankful that I had not killed him, as I had contemplated doing.
Having deposited my bundle of wood on the pile previously formed, I crept into my hut. I then placed some sticks across the entrance as a protection against any sudden attack, and lay down on the pack-saddle, covering my feet with the horse-rug. Though the cold was sufficiently severe under other circumstances to have kept me awake, before many minutes were over I was fast asleep.
FIRST NIGHT IN MY SOLITARY CAMP—PAT CASEY RESCUED—LYNX BROTH—THE WOLF'S SECOND APPEARANCE—PAT'S "DHRAMEING"—THE WOLF AGAIN APPEARS—PAT RECOVERS AND SHOOTS THE "BASTE"—PAT'S NOVEL METHOD OF MAKING A FIRE BURN—LOSS OF OUR POWDER—WE CONSTRUCT HUNTING-SPEARS, AND COMMENCE OUR JOURNEY—OUR HORSES MYSTERIOUSLY DISAPPEAR—MARCHING WITHOUT FOOD—THE INFURIATED ELK—HAVING TAKEN REFUGE IN A TREE, MY SPEAR PROVES USEFUL— DEER'S FLESH A GOOD PREVENTIVE AGAINST STARVATION—SMOKED VENISON— MISKWANDIB IS STARVING, AND SO ARE HIS SQUAW AND CHILDREN—OUR NARROW ESCAPE FROM BEING POISONED BY ROOTS.
I had remembered before closing my eyes the importance of awaking in a couple of hours. It was the last thought that had occupied my mind. I recollect starting up and seeing the fire blazing brightly, which showed me that I could not have slept half the time I had intended. The next time, however, I awoke but a few embers were still burning.
I sprang to my feet, and rushing out threw on some sticks. I was compelled to blow pretty hard to make them blaze up. I was afraid that before they would do so the wolf might pay me a visit. Perhaps he might appear with several companions.
I was greatly relieved when the flames once more blazed up, and on looking round beyond them I could see no animal in the neighbourhood. I therefore again retired within my hut, hoping that I might now rest securely till daylight.
The appalling howls of the wolf still rung in my ears; and though I slept on, it was under the impression that the monster was about to attack me. I believe that the howlings were only in my own fancy, for when I once more awoke and looked out it was broad daylight.
My horse was standing quietly cropping the remainder of the grass, though there was little enough he could manage to reach. Having moved the stake to a little distance, and cleared away the snow, so that he might get at the grass without difficulty, I made up the fire, and put some of the lynx flesh to roast before it.
It would not, I expected, prove very palatable, but it would enable me to support existence. While the flesh was cooking I sat down inside my hut and devoured the remainder of the hare. It was but a small animal, and what I had left from the previous evening was not sufficient to satisfy my hunger, which was somewhat ravenous after the many hours I had gone without food.
I found in the morning, when attempting to move about, that my limbs were very stiff, while my strength had greatly diminished, and I began to doubt whether I should be able to accomplish the journey I proposed without taking longer time to recruit. I was, however very unwilling to delay longer than I could help, Alick would be anxiously looking for me. I hoped that Sandy and the other men had escaped, for I knew that they also, if they had strength sufficient, would not return home without endeavouring to discover what had become of me.
I, however, still suffered a good deal of pain, and when I walked about my legs felt stiff, and scarcely able to support my body; still, I hoped that after I had breakfasted I should be sufficiently recovered to commence my journey. The lynx flesh being cooked, I ate a portion, but it was tough and unsavoury, and I was not sorry to finish my meal.
I then got up, with the intention, before starting, of watering my horse at the stream, which I knew would not yet be frozen over, in spite of the cold. Putting on the saddle and bridle, I led him along the edge of the wood in search of some narrow part through which we could make our way, for the wood, as far as I could see, bordered the stream for its whole length. I went on for some distance in the direction from which I had come, when I caught sight afar off of a dark object rising out of the plain of snow.
On examining it carefully between my hands, placed on either side of my head, I saw that it was a horse standing stock-still, and it appeared to me that there was another small body at its feet. It naturally occurred to me that the horse must be that of one of my companions, and immediately throwing myself into the saddle I rode towards it. In a short time I was convinced that I had not been mistaken—that the object I saw was a horse, and that at its feet lay the body of a man.
Every moment was precious, for if he was still alive he must be in an almost dying state, and would require instant attention. As I got near I saw that the horse was held by the bridle, which the man on the ground was still grasping in his hand. This gave me some hope that the person was still alive.
I urged on my poor steed, who could scarcely move through the thick snow. At length, on reaching the man and horse, a glance showed me that the man was Pat Casey!
Throwing myself out of my saddle, and kneeling down by his side, I had the satisfaction of discovering that he still breathed, though he was apparently perfectly unconscious. His horse was almost as far gone, and I saw was unable to carry him.
My first thought was to get poor Pat to the fire and give him some food. Exerting all my strength, I accordingly lifted him on to my saddle, and, holding him there as well as I could, I set off to return to my camp. His horse followed mine, so that there was no necessity to lead it.
Though the distance was not great, it took me a long time to perform it, and I was greatly afraid that he would expire before I could give him some food, and restore the circulation in his veins. Hurrying on as fast as I could make my horse move, we at last reached the hut, before which the fire was still burning. I brought my horse close to the entrance, when, lowering Pat down off the saddle, I dragged him inside, for I had not sufficient strength to carry him; indeed, I had found it a hard matter to get him into the saddle.
The first thing I did was to examine his brandy flask, but found it empty. I would have given much for a small portion just then. I next took some of the roasted lynx meat, which I applied to his mouth, and squeezed all the juice out of it down his throat.
The slight quantity of nourishment he thus swallowed, with the warmth of the hut, had a beneficial effect, and he, opening his eyes, seemed to recognise me, though he could not speak. This encouraged me to persevere in my efforts to restore him. I got off his shoes and stockings and rubbed his feet; then warming the stockings at the fire, I again put them on. I applied friction also to the palms of his hands and to his chest.
While I was thus employed, I saw his horse, which had followed us, approach the hut. It struck me that there was something very like a pot hanging from the saddle. I rushed out and caught the animal, when, to my delight, I discovered our saucepan, with a tin mug, which Pat at our last encampment had probably forgotten to fasten to the baggage-mule, and had consequently secured to his own saddle.
Making up the fire, I instantly put on some of the lynx meat to concoct some broth, which would, I knew, prove more efficacious than anything else I could give to my suffering companion, while I myself should be very glad of it.
Fortunately his gun was fastened to his saddle, and he had on his thick coat. A brace of pistols were also in his holsters. Whatever might befall him, I should thus have the means of defending myself and of procuring game, for he had on his ammunition-belt, which was well supplied with powder and shot. The coat, with the aid of the horse-cloths, would contribute greatly to our warmth at night, though I could dispense with it during the daytime.
While the broth was boiling, I continued to feed him with as much juice as I could press from the meat, for he was not in a fit state to eat solid food. While I was attending to Pat, I allowed the horses to remain loose, as I was sure that they would not wander far. I had given up all idea of travelling that day, for Pat was utterly unable to move, and I felt myself scarcely in a fit state to ride any distance.
As soon as the soup was ready I took some in the cup, and having cooled it in the snow, poured it slowly down Pat's throat. His eyes seemed to be regaining their usual brightness, but yet he did not speak. Waiting a little I gave him some more, when I heard him say in a low voice, "Arrah! now, but that's foine! Blessings on you, Masther David."
"I am glad to hear you speak, Pat," I said; "you'll get all to rights in time."
I next took some of the soup myself, but I cannot say that I admired its flavour, though it warmed up my inside, and contributed much to restore my strength. I kept the pot on boiling, that I might give Pat more soup.
Thus the day wore on, Pat gradually recovering, though as yet he was unable to give any account of himself. The expenditure of the lynx flesh was considerable in making the soup, but I hoped to be able with Pat's gun to shoot some birds, or some other animal, and did not begrudge it.
Leaving Pat asleep, I took his gun and went out to see how the horses were getting on, and to gather more sticks for our fire. I brought in several bundles, and was returning for some more when, almost at the spot where I had encountered the wolf on the previous evening, it again made its appearance, snarling savagely at me. I should have shouted to frighten it away, but I did not wish to awake Pat, as he could not have come to my help; so holding the gun ready to fire, I advanced slowly, with the same success as before. When I stood still, so did the wolf. When I moved forward, it retreated. I was unwilling to fire lest I should miss it, and I thought it best to refrain from doing so till it should come nearer to me. At last, to my great satisfaction, it turned round and bolted off. So rapidly did it retreat that I had no time to take a steady aim at its shoulder, though I lifted my gun for the purpose of doing so.
"I will not let you go another time, my fine fellow," I said to myself. "If you show your ugly face here again, look out for the consequences."
The wolf could not have been very hungry, or it would, I suspected, have attacked the horses; though I have since heard that a single wolf will seldom attempt to kill a horse, a pair of heels proving more formidable weapons than its fangs.
Having collected enough wood, I returned to the hut. Pat was in the same semi-conscious state as before, still he appeared to me to be getting better, and I hoped that by the next day he would be sufficiently recovered to set off with me towards the fort. I watched him anxiously for some time, wishing, should he awake, to give him some more broth. Finding that he slept on, I was compelled by sheer drowsiness and fatigue to lie down, when I myself was soon fast asleep. When I awoke, I found him sitting up and scratching his head.
"Arrah! now, what's it all about?" he muttered. "Shure I've been dhrameing. I thought I was out riding along in the snow."
"I hope you feel better, Pat," I said.
"For the matter of that, I'm mighty ager after some mate, for I do not know when I last put some between my grinders," he answered.
"If you wait a bit, you shall soon have some broth," I said, seeing that he was still weak and scarcely himself. "Lie down, and I'll get it ready for you."
I quickly warmed some broth, as I had promised, and brought it to him. He eagerly swallowed it, and asked for more. This I had not to give him, but I promised if he would go to sleep again that I would get some ready for the morning. I accordingly cut off some more meat, and putting it into the pot, filled it up with snow. I then put the pot on the fire, and sat inside the hut watching it while it was boiling.
The occupation kept me awake. As I was looking out into the darkness beyond the fire, I fancied that I saw a shadowy form gliding by. It was, I suspected, that of the wolf, which had been attracted by the scent of the boiling meat.
The creature was afraid of approaching the fire, or I should soon have had the contents of my pot carried off. I got Pat's gun, and having withdrawn the charge and carefully reloaded it, I placed it by my side, to be ready for use.
Now and then the wolf got near enough to show me its glaring eyeballs, and several times I was greatly tempted to fire, to try to kill it, but I did not wish to throw a shot away; and, should I miss, the bullet might find its way towards one of our horses, which were feeding at some distance beyond.
At last, on my throwing some more sticks on the fire, which made it blaze up brightly, the wolf scampered off. My cooking kept me awake the remainder of the night, and I had some strong broth ready for Pat in the morning. It had a flavour of its own which would have been much better for some salt and pepper, not to speak of a few vegetables; but as they were not to be procured, we had to take it as it was. Pat, as before, pronounced it "mighty foine." Though it evidently did him good, he showed no inclination to get up and exert himself. To my regret, indeed, I found that he was still very weak, and had not entirely recovered his senses.
I had, therefore, to make up my mind to stay in the hut another day. To leave him in that state was impossible, and I was scarcely in a fit condition to set out alone, though I should have done so had I not found him.
The weather was tolerably warm, and the snow was diminishing in depth, though where it went to it was difficult to say.
Pat, evidently getting better as the day drew on, I took his gun and went out in the hopes of finding some game to replenish our larder. The constant attack I made on the lynx to supply our broth-pot had greatly diminished the flesh on the body. The first night I had kept it inside the hut; but it becoming not over pleasant, I afterwards fastened it to a cross-piece between two high poles, out of the reach of wolves.
I was not afraid of meeting my old enemy in the daytime, as by slipping a bullet into my gun I could quickly have disposed of him. I went sometimes into the wood, and at others kept along just outside it; but no animals of any description could I meet with, though I fancied I saw some deer in the distance. They did not, however, come near enough to enable me to be quite certain. It was possible that I might fall in with a buffalo—some solitary bull, perhaps—driven from the herd, but no traces of one could I see on the snow. At last, as I was becoming fatigued and the evening was drawing on, I unwillingly returned to the hut.
Pat was sitting up, almost himself again. I fully expected that the next day we should be able to start. Having had some supper, I advised him to lie down; but he insisted on sitting up and watching while I took some sleep, which I confess I greatly required.
On awaking, I saw that he was at the entrance of our hut, kneeling down with his gun at his shoulder.
"Hist!" he said. "There's a baste looking in upon us, and I'm just going to make him wish that he hadn't come this way."
Before I could advise him not to fire he pulled the trigger, and rushing out I saw my old enemy, the wolf, struggling in the agonies of death on the ground.
"It will give us some mate, at all events, if not the pleasantest food in the world," exclaimed Pat; "but don't get near his jaws till you are sure he's dead intirely."
Pat had taken good aim, and the animal's struggles were soon over. I went round, and dragged the carcass close to the fire, so that it was not likely to be carried off by any of its comrades during the night. It was a huge, savage-looking beast, and I thought that I must be very hard pressed before I could eat its flesh.
No other adventure occurred during the night. Pat, whom I advised to lie down again, slept on soundly till the morning, when he appeared to have almost recovered. On looking out, I found that our fire had been extinguished. The weather was very much warmer, and a slight shower of rain had fallen, which had tended gradually to decrease the depth of the snow.
We could not expect a more comfortable time for travelling, and I proposed that we should at once set out. Pat got up and tried to walk about.
"Shure! it's mighty quare I feel," he said, "but if I can but climb on to the back of my baste, well be able to get along somehow."
On observing Pat's weakness I felt rather doubtful about this, and saw that it was necessary at all events that he should have a good meal first, and that we should have enough to eat on our journey. The first thing to be done was to get the fire lighted. I set to work with some dried leaves and bark which I had kept inside; but the sticks, being wet and somewhat green, would not burn up.
"Here, Pat! give me a little powder from your powder-horn," I cried out.
It is customary, I should say, to use it in such cases. Pat crawled forward, while I stepped aside to look out for some drier sticks. What was my dismay to see him, instead of handing me the powder, or taking a little out in his hand, uncorking his horn and pouring out the contents on the burning leaves! Before I could cry out it exploded, blowing all before it, and sending Pat himself sprawling, six feet from where he had stood, and myself nearly as far. I lay stunned and senseless for some minutes. When I came to my senses, I was seized with the dread that Pat was killed. The fire, I saw, was completely extinguished, and at a distance lay Pat. I got up, and to my surprise ascertained that I had suffered no material injury, beyond having my clothes somewhat singed.
On reaching Pat, I found that the horn, which he had held in his hand when the powder exploded, was blown to atoms; but, on examining him, I could not discover that he had received any wound, nor were his face and hands even blackened. While I was looking at him, he opened his eyes.
"Arrah! now, what's become of the powder?" he exclaimed, lifting up his hand, which had held the horn, and gazing at it; "shure! it's blown to smithereens."
"Indeed it is, and it's a mercy that you were not killed," I said. "What could make you do such a thing?"
"Shure! just from not thinking of what I was about," he answered, endeavouring to get on his legs.
I helping him, he was able to walk back into the hut. He soon completely recovered, and I sat by his side feeling anything but comfortable or happy.
As it had turned out, the most serious result of his thoughtlessness was the loss of our powder, for not a grain more did we possess. Though we had a gun and shot, they were useless.
"It's of no use mourning over our loss," I said at length. "I'll try again to light the fire, and after breakfast we will consider what is best to be done. There is a greater necessity than ever for pushing on."
Pat agreed with me in this, and after several efforts I got the fire to blaze up, boiled some water, and cooked the remainder of our lynx flesh. Unpalatable as was our food we made a hearty meal, washing it down with warm water. We would have given much for a pinch of salt, and an ounce of tea, not to speak of sugar and milk.
"As we cannot use the gun we must be afther making a weapon instead," observed Pat. "The best thing we can do is to fasten our hunting-knives to the end of long poles. They will serve as spears, and enable us with some chance of success to defend ourselves against either Indians or bears or wolves. We can at any time, if we want to use our knives, take them off the poles again."
As Pat's idea was a good one, we immediately carried it out. While we were shaping the poles, I saw him eyeing the wolf.
"We may get some more tasty mate than that baste will give us, but it's just possible that we may not, and shure it will be wise in us to take as much as we can carry," he said.
I agreed with him, and before we bound our knives on to the poles we skinned and cut up the wolf, hanging the hide on to the cross-piece to which the skin of the lynx was suspended. Pat then chose what he considered the best portions of the animal, leaving the remainder of the carcass on the ground.
It was time to take another meal before we were ready to start, so we cooked a piece of the wolf's flesh. It was tough and unsavoury, but our teeth being in good condition we managed to masticate a larger portion than I should have conceived possible. I then got the two horses, and, having saddled them, assisted Pat to get on to the back of his.
"Forward!" I cried, and we moved on; but I saw that Pat sat his saddle as a sick man does, bending down, and occasionally swaying from side to side. I was afraid that he would fall off.
"Never fear, Masther David," he said, "I'll catch hold of the mane before it comes to that, and shure I can stick on as well as Dan O'Rourke when he had got a skinful of the crayther."
We both of us knew more or less the direction we were to take, but having got out of the route between the forts, the country immediately around was strange to us. We went on and on, keeping on the lower ground, and hoping in time to strike the right trail. Our horses making no objection, we concluded that we could not be far wrong.
We had lost so much time before starting, however, that evening overtook us before we expected, and we were compelled to camp at the first suitable spot we reached. It was under shelter of a wood with a stream running near it, at which we at once watered our horses. We then, as customary, took off their saddles and bridles and turned them loose to feed.
The weather being somewhat threatening, I thought it prudent to build a hut, both for Pat's sake and my own; and while he, having collected some sticks, prepared a fire, I set to work to cut the necessary stakes. It was very similar to the one I had before constructed, and as there was plenty of snow on the ground, I formed the walls of it.
The hut would be thus much warmer than if formed merely of branches, which, though affording sufficient protection in summer weather, are not calculated to keep out the cold. The only difference between our present and former hut was that the one we had last built was somewhat larger, so as to afford accommodation to both of us.
We had nothing but the wolf's flesh for supper, and though we tried it roasted and boiled, in neither state could I manage to eat more that a very small quantity. Pat munched away far more to his satisfaction, if not greedily. It was, perhaps, in consequence of this that he awoke in the night complaining of great pain. The only remedy I could think of was hot water. It somewhat alleviated his sufferings, but in the morning he was too ill to proceed.
He urged me to go on to the fort, but this I refused to do. I might be three or four days reaching it, or longer, should any untoward circumstance occur, and he might be dead before I returned. This event made me feel very much out of spirits. I was anxious if possible to procure better food than the wolf's flesh afforded, so taking my spear I went out to try to kill some animal or other. In vain I searched in every direction. I was tantalised by the sight of birds. I caught glimpses of a racoon and a couple of squirrels, but I could not get at them. Had I possessed a charge of powder I might have killed something.
At last hunger compelled me to return, and I set to work to cook more of the wolf's flesh. Detestable as I had thought it, I was thankful that we possessed even that on which to sustain life. I was too tired to go out again; indeed Pat was so ill that I did not like to leave him.
Having led the two horses to the stream to drink, I returned with our pot full of water to the hut; then making up the fire, I lay down to sleep. On awaking at night I heard the sound of falling snow. Our fire was out, and as it would be a hard matter to relight it, and to keep it in when alight, I did not make the attempt.
Next morning, when I looked out, the whole country was a foot or more deep in snow. I turned my eyes in the direction I expected to see the horses. They were nowhere visible. Still, I hoped that they had only gone round to the other side of the wood, and would soon return. Pat was rather better. When I told him that the horses were missing, he looked much aghast, and acknowledged that having awakened in the night, he had seen several figures like shadowy forms passing in the distance before the hut; but fancying he was dreaming, he had again dropped off to sleep.
"I hope you were dreaming," I observed, "but I shall be more satisfied when I see the horses again."
Immediately after breakfast, taking my trusty spear, I sallied out in search of our steeds, with very little doubt that I should soon find them. Great was my disappointment, therefore, on reaching the place to which I supposed they had gone, not to see them. I went completely round the wood and looked up the stream, but not a trace of them could I discover.
Our condition had been bad before; it was now much worse. I was convinced that Pat had really seen some Indians, who had carried them off. We had cause to be thankful that they had not attacked us; perhaps they were deterred from the belief that we possessed firearms. They knew also that they would not be pursued, as the snow would have completely obliterated their trail?
Here we then were, several days' journey distant from the fort, without firearms, and my companion too ill to walk. I looked at our store of wolf flesh, and calculated how many days that would last us. It would soon come to an end, and then what could we do? Our friends might, indeed, come in search of us, but the snow almost hid our low hut; and, unless we had a fire burning, they might pass by without discovering us.
I pass over the next three days. Pat got better, but our store of meat came to an end. We had a few bones, which we pounded, and with some roots which I dug up in the wood I made a kind of broth. It was more palatable and nutritious than I could have supposed.
I proposed going back to our former camp, to fetch the skins of the wolf and lynx, as they would cut into strips, and boiled, give us sufficient food to sustain life. Pat advised me not to make the attempt. In the first place he thought that the skins would probably have been carried off by the Indians, who were sure to have visited our camp; and they might be in the neighbourhood, and seeing me alone, might take my scalp as a trophy of their prowess. Notwithstanding the limited amount of unsavoury food we had eaten, I retained my strength, and Pat regained his.
At last every particle we possessed was consumed. Notwithstanding the danger of marching without food, it was better than remaining where we were; and early one morning, with our spears in our hands, Pat carrying the saucepan and mug, we started forth. We had no great fear of Indians, for should those who stole our horses have wished to kill us, they would have done so at once. They could now track us easily in the snow; but this they were not likely to do.
We had got to some little distance along the bank of the stream when Pat, who was rather in advance, stopped, and made a sign to me not to move, while he pointed ahead. There I saw several magnificent deer, which had come down to the water to drink. It would have been a sight to cheer our hearts had we possessed powder; but in spite of our want of it, I at once resolved at all hazards to try to kill one of the animals.
There were several young ones with them. We were near a bush, behind which we slipped; then in low voices we arranged our plan of operation. It was important to keep to leeward of the deer, or they might have scented us.
We at once crept forward, crouching down and keeping ourselves concealed by the brushwood. As we got nearer, we perceived that the animals were moose or elk, the largest of the deer tribe, with magnificent thick antlers. We well knew the danger of attacking such animals, which defend themselves both with these antlers and with their fore feet; with the latter they can strike the most terrific blows, sufficient to kill any assailant.
Still, hunger made us daring. Besides the wood through which we were making our way, poplars and several other trees grew in the open ground.
We would, if we could have approached them, have attacked one of the smaller animals, but they were feeding farther away from our cover, and their mothers would quickly have led them out of our reach. Close to the wood, however, stood a magnificent stag, feeding leisurely, as if unconscious of the approach of a foe.
Our plan was to rush out and attack him; and we hoped mortally to wound him before he had time to take to flight. The attempt was a desperate one, but it was worth making.
We crept on noiselessly in Indian fashion, stopping every now and then to be sure that the elk did not see us till we had got within eight or ten yards of him.
"Now!" I whispered to Pat, and we both sprang up and dashed forward with our spears aimed at the elk's breast.
So completely surprised was he that he did not even attempt to fly, but stood staring at us with his large lustrous eyes, till Pat's spear entered his chest, and I, who was more on the outside, had wounded him in the shoulder.
Pat, instead of pressing home his spear, withdrew it with the intention of making another lunge, when the animal started back, and reared on its hind legs, as if about to strike Pat, who, seeing his danger, leaped back under cover, calling to me to follow him. I had no time to do this; but hoping that the wound which Pat had inflicted would prove mortal, ran off to a distance.
The elk missed Pat but saw me, and immediately came bounding towards me. I had barely time to slip behind a thick poplar, when the elk's horns came crashing against it. The animal, apparently, in its fury had not seen the tree.
Finding itself stopped, it retreated, when it again caught sight of me, and made another rush; but, as before, I avoided it by slipping round the tree.
Now it rushed with its antlers against the trunk; now it reared, pawing with its feet, one blow from either of which would have laid me low. My life depended on my quickness of sight and agility. Each time long strips of bark were torn off the tree, showing how it would have treated my body.
Again it retired, to charge in the same way as before. I hoped that it would soon get tired of these performances, but it seemed resolved on my destruction. To mount the tree was impossible, and I dared not turn round to ascertain what trees were behind me with branches sufficiently low to enable me to climb out of the way of the enraged animal.
Pat did not come to my assistance. I hoped indeed that he would not, for the elk would probably have seen him, and would have pierced him with its antlers before he would have had a chance of retreating. I was, however, getting very weary of the fearful game I was playing.
I wanted to ascertain what had become of Pat, but I dared not withdraw my eye for a moment from the movements of the elk. All my energies, all my senses were required to escape the dreadful charges it was making. Now it would rush to one side of the tree, now to the other, while I had to slip round and round to escape its blows. Not having my usual strength to begin with, I was becoming very tired.
There seemed to be no likelihood that my antagonist would give in. At last, I determined at all hazards to carry out the plan I had formed, and to escape to some tree up which I could climb. I knew that should my foot slip, and I fall to the ground, the elk would in a moment be upon me.
I shouted to Pat, telling him what I intended to do, and hoping that he might appear and attract, if even but for a few moments, the attention of the elk.
Some time elapsed before I could get to the side from which I intended to take my flight. I waited for the moment that the deer should make his charge against the tree, when, as it would be some seconds before he discovered that he had not caught me, I might have the start of him.
With a crash his antlers struck the trunk, and as I heard the sound I darted off. I did not dare to look round to see whether he was following. Almost breathless I reached a tree, but it was not one I could climb. As I ran round it, a glance I cast over my shoulder showed me the savage brute tearing across the open ground in the direction I had taken.
On I went; another and another tree was passed. He was nearly up to me, when I saw one a short distance ahead with a branch projecting at a height which I could reach. The elk was close upon my heels when, grasping hold of the bough by an effort of which I scarcely supposed myself capable, I drew myself up beyond the reach of his antlers, which the next instant came crashing against the trunk just below my feet.
I had no wish, however, to let my antagonist go, and having saved my spear I resolved to make effectual use of it; so, getting into a position between the branches where I could sit securely, I got my weapon ready for use.
The elk having lost me retreated for a few paces, when again catching sight of me he dashed forward, rearing up on his hind feet.
With all the strength I possessed, I darted down my sharp-pointed spear towards the top of its head. I knew that the skull was thick, but that if my knife would penetrate it, I should certainly kill the elk. The blow was more effectual than I had dared to hope for. The moment the moose was struck, down it sank to the ground, without giving a single struggle. I could then for the first time look out to ascertain what had become of Pat, shouting as I did so, and presently I saw him rushing out of the larger wood towards me.
As he caught sight of the dead elk, he threw up his hat, exclaiming, "Hurrah! good luck to you, Masther David! Erin go bragh! We'll not be afther starving at any rate."
On seeing him coming I descended from my perch. We greeted each other with a hearty shake of the hands, as if we had been long absent. We lost no time in skinning our game, cutting out the tongue, and as large a portion of the haunch as we could carry.
Having prepared our loads, I was about to set off, when Pat exclaimed, "Stay, Masther David; before we are back, the wolves or vultures will have got hould of our mate. It's more than they desarve, the varmints."
Saying this, he carefully cut away the inside of the animal, and drew forth a large bladder, which he emptied of its contents, and then blew into it till it was inflated to the full. He then secured it by a thin line drawn from the intestines, which he fastened to a branch overhead, so that it hung vibrating in the breeze over the carcass, glittering brightly as it slowly moved to and fro.
"That will keep the bastes away till we come back," he observed.
I rather doubted, however, the success of the experiment. We at once returned to our camp, where we left our pot and Pat's useless gun, and the few other articles we had brought with us. We soon got a fire lighted, and our venison cooked, and a very hearty meal we made.
Having secured the meat inside the hut, before which we left the fire blazing, we returned for a further supply, as we intended to dry enough to last us for the time we should take to reach the fort.
As we approached the spot we saw numerous birds seated on the branches of the surrounding trees, and at a short distance a dozen at least of the smaller prairie-wolves. Both one and the other were evidently scared by the glittering balloon.
Our shouts prevented the wolves from approaching, and allowed us plenty of time to obtain a further supply of venison. More we could not have carried with us even when dried, so we left the remainder of the carcass to the birds and beasts of prey, who would certainly, after sunset, pounce upon it.
Our first care on arriving at our camp was to cut the venison which we did not require for immediate use into thin strips. These we proposed drying in the sun and smoke, and then packing in as small a space as possible to carry on our backs.
Thankful for our preservation, we lay down that night to sleep, hoping that nothing would prevent us from continuing our journey on the following morning. Eager as we were to proceed, we agreed that it would be wiser to spend another day in preparing our meat and recruiting our strength, for though both of us were much recovered, we were not fit for a long tramp, with the fatigue at the end of the day's journey of building a hut and collecting wood for our fire.
We were very busy all day smoking the venison and drying it in the sun, the heat of which was still sufficient for our object. We could hear the wolves during the night wrangling over the carcass of the deer, but they did not pay us a visit. As they would have had sufficient food, we did not fear that they would attack us; should they do so, we were prepared to receive them with our sharp spears.
The morning of our departure arrived. Breakfasting on the remainder of our fresh venison, we did up our provisions in two packs, including our other articles; and with our spear-handles as staffs, we set forward on our journey in good spirits.
We had met with many dangers, and surmounted them all; and we hoped that, should we have more to encounter, we might be preserved by the same merciful Providence which had hitherto watched over us. My chief anxiety now was about what had happened to Sandy and Pierre; still, thoroughly well acquainted with the country as they were, and accustomed to emergencies of all sorts, I hoped that long before this they would have made their way home. Pat could give no account of them. He had been separated from them as I was in the snowstorm, and had ridden on, not knowing where he was going. Had I not found him, he would undoubtedly have perished.
We trudged on manfully all day, stopping only for a short time about noon to eat a portion of the cold venison which we had cooked, so that there was no necessity for lighting a fire till we reached our camping-ground at night.
Had we possessed more clothing we should have been saved the trouble of building a hut; but as we had only our horse-cloths to put over our shoulders, we were afraid of suffering from the cold should we sleep in the open air.
We marched straight forward without even looking for game, as we had food enough, and were unwilling to lose any time. Our belief was that we were directing our course exactly for the fort, but, after marching on for four days, I began to have some uncomfortable misgivings on the subject. We might have kept too much to the south and passed it, for the snow covered up the slight trail which existed, and we had only the general appearance of the country to go by.
I had never led a party, having trusted to Sandy or others, and therefore had not sufficiently noted the landmarks. I now bitterly regretted my carelessness, and resolved in future to note for myself, on every journey, the most remarkable points, so that I might, when alone, be able to find my way.
"Shure! the fort's a mighty dale furder off than I thought for," observed Pat, as we were forming our camp on the evening of the fifth day.
I then told him my own apprehensions. He looked somewhat uncomfortable.
"But we have still got some venison in our packs, and must try back, I suppose," he said. "I can think of no other course to take."
After we had fixed up our hut, we had a serious talk as to what was best to be done. I proposed going northward, and endeavouring to reach a branch of the Upper Saskatchewan, on the bank of which our fort was situated, as by following the stream up or down we must eventually come upon it.
This was, indeed, our only safe plan, and we determined next morning to pursue it. Darkness had come on. We were engaged in cooking our supper—roasting a portion and boiling some of the dried venison to serve as a beverage. We had had no time to dig for roots during our journey, but as soon as we halted, while I was preparing the fire, Pat went into the wood to search for some. He brought in a large handkerchief full, but, as we were very hungry, we agreed that we would wait until the next morning to cook them for breakfast, as they would require a good deal of boiling. We therefore piled them up on one side, that we might peel and prepare them after supper.