Three Boys in the Wild North Land
By Egerton Ryerson Young
THREE BOYS IN THE WILD NORTH LAND
BY EGERTON RYERSON YOUNG
WELCOME TO SAGASTA-WEEKEE—MR. ROSS, THEIR HOST—THE THREE BOYS—FRANK, ALEC, SAM—THE "PRINCE ARTHUR"—THE VOYAGE—THE ESQUIMAUX—ARRIVAL AT YORK FACTORY.
"Welcome to this Wild North Land! welcome to our happy home in the Land of the North Wind! Welcome, thrice welcome, all and each one of you!"
Thus excitedly and rapidly did Mr Ross address a trio of sunburnt, happy boys, who, with all the assurance of a joyous welcome, had burst in upon him in his comfortable, well-built home, or "hunting lodge," as he preferred to call it, on the banks of the Nelson River. This cozy but isolated home was situated some hundreds of miles up in the interior of the country from York Factory, on the Hudson Bay.
Mr Ross had named his house "Sa-gas-ta-wee-kee," a beautiful Indian word which literally means a house full of sunshine. Mr Ross had spent many years as an official in the Hudson Bay Company's service, as had his father before him. A few years before this, being possessed of abundance of means, he had retired from active work in the great fur- trading company. He had tried to settle down in an older, civilised land, but had found it impossible to content himself away from those regions where he had spent the best years of his life. His wife and family were of the same mind, and so, after some years of travel in various lands, they returned to this northern country where they had spent so many happy years.
Every year or so Mr Ross with some members of his family was in the habit of visiting what he loved to call the mother country. So full was his life of varied and startling adventures, that he was often asked to give addresses on some of the fascinating experiences, through which he had passed.
Among the crowds who listened to him with intense interest, as he gave a series of addresses in one of the great historic schools in the home land, were the three boys who are to be the heroes of this book. Although they were from different families and nationalities, yet they were congenial spirits, and were equally filled with the love of sport and spirit of exciting adventure.
For such boys Mr Ross's addresses about the Indians, the wild animals, and the excitements of the hunt had the greatest fascination. With Mr Ross they had become personally acquainted, and had induced him to visit their different towns, where he lectured, and to be the guest at their homes, where his delightful stories had charmed every member of their households.
In some way or other they had persuaded their parents to consent to their spending a year or so in the wilds of the northern part of the great Dominion of Canada under the guidance of Mr Ross, who most importunately pleaded for this arrangement on behalf of the boys. As it was impossible for them to return with Mr Ross on account of their studies, several months passed away ere it was possible for them to begin their journey; so he had returned alone to his home, and had made all preparations for entertaining them as members of his household for an indefinite period.
Letters had been sent on in advance notifying Mr Ross of the probable time of the arrival of the boys. But, as often happened in that wild country, where there was no postal service, the letters never arrived, and so the first intimation Mr Ross had of the coming of the boys was their bursting in upon him. Abrupt as was their coming, of course they were welcome. In all new lands there is an open-hearted hospitality that is very delightful, and this was emphatically so in the vast lonely region of the Hudson Bay Territory, where the white men in those days were so few and so widely scattered apart from each other.
And now that they are snugly ensconced in the home of their good friend Mr Ross and his hospitable family, ere we begin to describe their many sports and adventures let us find out something about our heroes, and have them describe some of the exciting incidents of the long trip which they had already made on their journey to this Wild North Land.
Frank, the eldest of the three, was the son of a Liverpool banker. His friends had vainly tried to divert his mind from wild adventure and exciting sports, and persuade him to settle down to steady routine office work. Failing in this, they had listened to Mr Ross's pleadings on his behalf, and had commented to let him have the year in the Wild North Land, hoping that its trials and hardships would effectually cure him of his love of adventure and cause him to cheerfully settle down at his father's business.
Alec was from Scotland, a genuine son of "the mountain and the flood." While a good student when at school, yet, when at home on his holidays, his highest joy had ever been under the guidance of the faithful old gillie to follow on the trail of the mountain deer. For a wider field than that offered by his native Highlands he had been so longing that his friends yielded to his importunities, and so now here he is with his comrades, full of eager anticipations.
Sam was from what his mother used to call "dear, dirty Dublin." He was full of life and fun; a jolly Irish boy of the finest type. Storms and privations might at times depress the spirits of the others; but Sam, true to his nationality, never lost his spirits or his good nature. So rapid had been his progress in his studies that he had pushed himself beyond his years, and so even his tutors had joined in his request that he should have the year off, which, spent in the invigorating air and healthful adventures in the Wild North Land, would doubtless be a blessing to both mind and body:
In the good ship Prince Arthur, of the Hudson Bay Company, our three young adventurers set sail in the month of May from the London docks. They met with no adventures worth recording until after they had left the Orkney Islands, where they had called for their last consignment of supplies and the latest mails. Here they also shipped some hardy Orkney men and Highlanders, who were going out in the employment of the Hudson Bay Company.
The Prince Arthur was a stanch sailing vessel, built especially for the Hudson Bay Company's trade. She was employed in carrying out to that country the outfit of goods required in the great fur trade. Her return cargoes were the valuable furs obtained in barter from the Indians. Her port was York Factory, on the western side of the Hudson Bay. Here her cargo was discharged and carried by scores of inland boats and canoes to the various trading posts in the different parts of that great country, which is larger than the whole continent of Europe.
So remote were some of those posts from the seaboard, and so difficult and slow were the methods of transporting the goods, that several years passed ere the fur secured from them reached the London markets, to which they were all consigned and where they were carried each year in the company's ships.
Although the Prince Arthur was far from being a first-class passenger ship, yet she was a good, seaworthy vessel, with plenty of room for the few passengers who travelled by her each year. These were principally gentlemen of the Hudson Bay Company's service and their friends, or missionaries going out or returning home.
Letters from influential friends secured for our three boys the considerate attention of the captain and the ship's officers, and their own bright ways won the friendship of all the sailors on board. On the whole they had a glorious passage. Some fogs at times perplexed them, and a few enormous icebergs were so near that careful tacking was required, to prevent accidents. The boys were filled with admiration at these great mountains of ice; some of them seemed like great islands, while others more closely resembled glorious cathedrals built in marble and emerald. At times, as the western sun shone upon them, they seemed to take on in parts every colour of the rainbow. With intense interest were they watched as they slowly drifted beyond the southern horizon.
One of the most exciting incidents of the journey was a battle between a great whale and a couple of swordfish. The unwieldy monster seemed to be no match for his nimble antagonists. His sole weapon seemed to be his enormous tail; but vain were his efforts to strike his quicker enemies. As far as could be judged from the deck of the ship, the swordfish were masters of the situation, and the blood-stained waters seemed to indicate that the battle would soon be over.
In the southern part of Davis Strait they encountered great fields of floating ice, on which were many herds of seals. The captain had the ship hove to and three boats lowered. In each one he permitted one of the boys to go with the sailors on this seal-hunting expedition. The seals, which are so very active in water, where they can swim with such grace and rapidity, are very helpless on land or ice, and so large numbers were killed by the sailors. While the boys were excited with the sport, they could not but feel sorry for the poor, helpless creatures as they looked at them out of their great eyes that seemed almost human. Some hundreds of skins were secured, much to the delight of the captain and crew, as the profit coming to them from their sale would be no inconsiderable item.
At the mouth of Hudson Strait the captain again had the ship hove to for a day or so to trade with a number of Esquimaux, who had come in their curious canoes, called kayaks, from along the coasts of Labrador. Their insatiable curiosity and peculiar fur clothing very much interested the boys. These Esquimaux were shrewd hands at a bargain, but their principal desire seemed to be to obtain implements of iron in exchange for their furs. They cared nothing for flour, rice, tea, coffee, or sugar. They knew no other food than meat and oil, and so craved no other things than those that could be utilised in improving their weapons. Guns were unknown among them, but they were very skillful in the use of the harpoon and the spear. When they are able to secure iron from the white man they make their harpoon heads, spears, and knives out of this metal, but when unable to secure it they manufacture their weapons out of the horns of the reindeer or the tusks of the walrus or narwhal.
They had among their other furs some splendid bear skins, and the boys were very much interested in hearing them tell through an interpreter how they, with their rude weapons, aided by their clever dogs, had been able to kill these fierce animals. All were very much delighted when told by these friendly Esquimaux how that with two well-trained dogs nipping at the hind legs of a great bear they could keep him turning round and round from one to the other and thus get him so wild and excited that in his efforts to catch hold of the nimble animals, which were able to keep out of his grasp, he did not notice the arrival of the hunters, who were able to approach so closely that they could easily kill him.
The ship crossed the great Hudson Bay, which is about six hundred miles in width, without any mishap, and safely dropped anchor in what the Hudson Bay officers call "the six fathom hole," some distance out from the rude primitive wharf. The signal gun was fired, and soon a brigade of boats came out, and the work of unloading the cargo began.
Our boys, eager as they were to land, were sorry after all to leave their snug berths in the good ship, where they had had some very delightful times during the thirty days that had elapsed since they had left the docks in old England.
A few gifts were bestowed among their particular sailor friends, and then, with the "God bless you" from all; they entered a small boat rowed by Indians, and were soon on the land that skirts this great inland sea. Great indeed was the change which they saw between the populous cities of the home land and this quiet, lonely region upon whose shores they had now landed.
Here the only inhabitants were the fur traders, with their employees, and the dignified, stoical Indians. The only signs of habitations were the few civilised dwellings, called in courtesy the fort, where dwelt and traded the officers and their families and servants of the great fur-trading company, and not very far off was the Indian village of the natives, where the most conspicuous buildings were the church and parsonage of the missionary, who had been marvellously successful in planting the cross in these northern regions, and in winning from a degrading superstition, to the blessings of Christianity, some hundreds of these red men, whose consistent lives showed the genuineness of the work wrought among them.
This great region, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, far north of the fertile prairie region where millions will yet find happy and prosperous homes, has well been called "The Wild North Land." The Indians call it Keewatin, "The Land of the North Wind."
It has not many attractions for the farmer or merchantman, but it is the congenial home of the red man. On its innumerable lakes and broad rivers he glides along during the few bright summer months in his light canoe. Every waterfall or cataract has associated with it some legend or tradition. Its dense forests are the haunts of the bear and wolf, of the moose and reindeer, and many other valuable animals, in the excitement of hunting which he finds his chief delight.
To this land had come our three lads for sport and adventure, and we shall see how fully all their expectations were realised.
Three Boys in the Wild North Land—Egerton Ryerson Young
HUDSON BAY COMPANY—FRANK'S CANOE MISHAP—DUCK SHOOTING—CLEVER KOONA— GOOSE HUNTING—QUEER BATTLES.
As our boys had come out to this great country for wild adventure and exciting sport, they were rather pleased than otherwise at the contrast it thus presented in comparison with the lands they had left behind. The fact was, they were simply delighted with the absence of the multitude, to whom they had been so accustomed, and were at once filled with high expectations. Sam's explanation seemed to be the sentiment of them all when he exclaimed, "Sure if there are so few people in the country, there will be the more bears and wolves for us all to kill!"
The work of unloading the ship was necessarily slow, and so some days would elapse ere a brigade of boats could be prepared to take the first cargo to Fort Garry, on the Red River. The boys had been most cordially welcomed by Mr McTavish, the principal officer in charge at the fort, and by him they were all entertained most hospitably at his home.
Mr McTavish was an old sportsman himself, as nearly all the Hudson Bay Company's officials are; and so, as soon as the boys had made the acquaintance, as they call it, of their land legs; after the heaving and rolling of the vessel, he had an old clever Indian hunter clean up some guns and take the boys out in the birch canoe on their first wild hunting expedition. This first excursion was not to be a very formidable one; it was only a canoe trip several miles up the coast, to a place where the wild ducks and geese were numerous. Like all white people, on their first introduction to the birch canoe, they thought it a frail, cranky boat, and were quite disgusted with it, and some of the tricks it played upon them, on some of their first attempts to manage it. For example, Frank, who prided himself on his ability in pulling an oar, and in managing the ordinary small skiffs or punts on his native waters, seeing the light, buoyant canoe at the side of the little launch, boldly sprang into it, as he would into an ordinary boat of its size in the Mersey.
To his utter amazement, and the amusement of the others he suddenly found himself overbalanced and struggling in the waves on the other side. Fortunately, the water was not more than four feet deep, and he, being a good swimmer, was soon up and at once gave chase for the canoe, which had now floated out several yards from the shore. In this he was encouraged by the laughter and shouts of his comrades and others, who, seeing that no harm had come to him from his sudden spill out of the light boat, were eager to observe how he would ultimately succeed.
Quickly did he catch up to the boat; but, instead of listening to the Indian, who, in broken English, tried to tell him to get in over the end of the canoe, he seized it by the side, and there attempted to climb in. Vain were his efforts. Very skillful indeed is the Indian who can in this manner get into a birch-bark canoe, and of course it is out of the question to expect an inexperienced white person to accomplish the feat. So light is the canoe, that, when thus seized hold of, it yields to the slightest pull, and often causes the person who thus takes hold of it to tumble over ignominiously in the water.
Poor Frank was disgusted but not conquered, and so, amid the laughter of those on shore, he now listened to the advice and direction of the wise old Indian, who was the only one in the company who had not even smiled at the boy's mishap. At the Indian's advice he again caught hold of the canoe, but this time by the end, and carefully bearing his weight upon it he was at length enabled to work himself into it. Cautiously balancing himself, and seizing a paddle that happened to have been fastened in it, he paddled himself ashore amid the cheers of the onlookers.
"Well done, Frank!" said the old Indian.
He had done what some take months to accomplish. He had conquered the canoe in his first attempt, and never after in his many adventures was he afraid of that bonny craft, in which he spent many happy hours, and in the paddling of which, he became the equal of many a clever Indian.
Of course, there was some delay in the departure of the hunting party, as Frank had to return to his quarters at the Post and get on a dry suit of clothing. This is, however, an operation that does not take a boy full of eager excitement long to accomplish, and so it was not many minutes ere the party set off on their promised excursion.
The Indian decided that they should first go where the ducks were numerous, and to interest these young English lads they adopted a method of hunting them that was most novel and successful. Indeed, it is a very rare method which was here successfully tried, on account of the difficulty of getting a dog so trained as to correctly act his part. But this old native, whose name was Ooseemeemou, had by great patience and kindness so drilled his clever dog that he acted his part with extraordinary cleverness and tact. He called the little fellow Koona, which is the Cree for "snow," and was very appropriate, as the animal was of the purest white.
Taking the dog into the canoe with them, and giving all necessary directions, they soon were gliding along the coast of the great bay. Numerous flocks of ducks flew over their heads; and far away in the distance the water seemed almost alive with the numbers of them on the dancing, sparkling waves. This latter sight seemed to be what the old hunter was looking for, and so the canoe was quickly paddled ashore and carried up on the beach. There he carefully guided the party along. They had to cautiously creep behind some low, dense willow bushes that grew on the shore, with only a broad fringe of white sand between them and the waters.
Each boy, with his gun and ammunition, was now assigned his post behind a clump of bushes and given his final instructions. They were full of excitement and curiosity, and wondered how it was going to be possible for them to reach with ordinary guns the ducks, which were carelessly swimming in multitudes some hundreds of yards out from the shore. But they had not long to wait or conjecture. When the old Indian had seen that all were in their right places he gave a low whistle, which was more like the call of a sea bird than a human voice. So natural was it to a bird call that no bird around was startled by it; but the well- trained Koona, who had been left by the boat, fully knew its meaning, and now began his sagacious work. Like a little white arctic fox he was, and like one be began his antics on the shore. He frisked and danced around along the sand playing all sorts of antics. He walked on his hind feet, turned somersaults in quick succession, and acted as though possessed with perpetual motion, but not one yelp or bark or any sound did he utter.
A stranger would have imagined that his appearance and actions would have driven all the ducks that were near enough to the shore to observe him and his antics farther out to sea. But just the reverse happened. A spirit of curiosity seemed to possess those nearest the shore, and as they began to swim in closer and closer, their movements influenced those farther out, until hundreds of splendid ducks were soon swimming nearer and nearer the sandy beach, on which the cunning dog kept up his unceasing and varied movements. At first he had kept at some distance from the sands, back of which grew the clumps of willows behind which the hunters were hidden; but when he saw that his manoeuvres had attracted the ducks near the shore, he gradually worked down the sandy beach until he had them fairly opposite the muzzles of the guns.
A low bird cry from his master was the signal for his change of tactics, and with loud, yelping, fox-like barking he sprang into the waves.
The ducks, thus suddenly alarmed, instantly rose up in hundreds, and the simultaneous reports of the guns rang out, and between thirty and forty ducks, dead and wounded, fell back into the waters. Our hunters, both the Indian and the three boys, sprang from their hiding places, and with Koona's aid secured their splendid bag of game. This was rare sport for the boys, and gave them so much delight that old Ooseemeemou decided to postpone the goose hunt until the next day, and give the boys another opportunity of seeing the sagacity of Koona, the clever little dog that had contributed so much to the success of the expedition.
They returned to their places, and were told to keep as much hidden as possible, as the ducks, now alarmed by the reports of the guns, and the death and wounding of so many of their numbers, would be shy and excited; and would keep flying around for some time ere they would again alight. Koona in the meantime had curled himself up like a ball of white wool, and was also quite hidden from the sight of the flying ducks.
In about half an hour the ducks began to alight again in the water. They were very alert and watchful, and seemed resolved not to be again so easily caught napping. But ducks are silly things and are easily deceived, or have very short memories. Anyway it was the case with these. When a goodly number of them were again seen swimming about, a peculiar sound like the cry of a sea gull was heard, and soon Koona was observed moving very cautiously out to a little point on the sandy beach, just in front of the clump of bushes behind which his master was hidden. Here he curled himself up into a little white bundle and remained perfectly still. Soon after the boys were startled by the sounds of the loud quacking of ducks over the very place where Koona lay so still and quiet. At first they were very much surprised at this, as not a duck was now seen flying in that direction. A little closer investigation showed them that the quacking sounds were all proceeding from the mouth of the old Indian, who, like many of his people, was able to imitate so perfectly the cries and calls of the birds and beasts of the lakes and forests that at times even the most experienced are completely deceived. In addition, this Indian was also a ventriloquist, and was able to so correctly throw his voice that the quacking of the ducks seems to be from the spot where the dog, now so motionless, was lying. The old Indian afterward explained that the calls were of ducks that had found something of interest, and were invitations for other ducks to come and see, and when he had induced some of the ducks to take up the call they would go on repeating it until so many others took it up, and all would then be anxious to see what the fuss was all about.
"Ducks," added the old man, "are like people, sometimes curious to see when there is not much after all to look at."
So, because of the calls to come and look, the flocks kept flying or swimming nearer and nearer, and all there was to see was only a ball of something very white and still. Not an hour before they were curious to see the antics of a lively little white dog; now they were curious to see him apparently motionless and dead.
By carefully peering through the dense bushes, the boys, with guns loaded, were able to see the dog quivering with suppressed excitement, as the many quackings of the ducks told him of the success of his ruse. However, he was so well-trained that he would not move until the welcome signal was given him, and then with a bound and a bark he was up, and again, as the startled ducks rose up, the reports of all the guns rang out, and nearly as many more fine ducks fell before the simultaneous discharge. This was capital sport for the boys. Koona's sagacity, and thorough training, in being thus able to bring the ducks within range of the guns, first by his comical antics, and then by his perfect quiet, very much delighted them. Their only annoyance was that when they wanted to pat and fondle him he resented their familiarity, and growled at them most decidedly. Indian dogs do not as a rule take to white people at first, but kindness soon wins them, and they often become fast friends.
The canoe was again launched, and the hunters proceeded a couple of miles farther and had some more capital shooting. Very proud and happy were they with this, their first day of duck shooting, and often did they in after days have much to say of the marvellous cleverness of the spotless Koona.
As the brigades were not yet ready to leave for the interior with the supplies for the trading posts, Mr McTavish readily consented to another excursion, quietly observing that the return of a few such well- loaded canoes would add materially to the fort's supply of food.
This second excursion was to be to a more distant place, where were some favourite feeding grounds of wild geese. They are very fond of a jointed quill-like grass, and when once they have found where their favourite food grows, there they resort in great numbers, and unless very persistently hunted will keep in the neighbourhood until they have about eaten it all.
As the distance was so great, it was decided to make an all day trip of it, and so two canoes were requisitioned with two experienced Indians in each, one of whom, of course, was Ooseemeemou. To him the boys had become very much attached, and, as he had some knowledge of English, they were able to get a good deal of reliable information from him. Some food and kettles were taken along with them, and old Ooseemeemou put in the bottom of each canoe a good-sized oilcloth and a couple of blankets, saying, as he did so, "Fine weather to-day, may not be so very long."
Frank and Alec were given good places in one of the canoes, and Sam was placed in charge of the other two Indians. Each boy was furnished with two guns and plenty of ammunition. Being eager to get to the hunting grounds, they each selected a paddle, and were found to be not unskillful in the use of them, even in birch canoes, after a few lessons from their Indian attendants.
With the best wishes of all who were not too busy to come down to the launch to see them off, they started on their excursion under the skillful, steady strokes of the Indians. Aided by the boys, they were able to make about seven miles an hour, and so in about three hours they reached their destination. The splendid exercise and the bracing air gave them all good appetites, and so they pulled up in a secluded little bay, where was to be found some dry wood. Here a fire was kindled, the kettles were filled with water and boiled, and soon a good, substantial meal of the delicacies of the country were spread before them. What the bill of fare was we know not, except that the principal part consisted of some of the ducks shot on the previous excursion. The dinner thus prepared and eaten on the rocks was much enjoyed by the boys; but they were kept in a perpetual state of excitement by the numerous cries of the wild geese that could be distinctly heard as well as seen, as they kept flying in great lines or triangles to and from their feeding grounds.
As this was a favourite resort for the Indian hunters, all preparations had been made for the goose hunting. Large nest-like piles of dry hay with reeds and rushes had been gathered in certain favourite places. In each of these a hollow had been formed in the centre like a bird's nest, large enough for two persons to cozily ensconce themselves, so low down as only to be observed by the geese when flying directly overhead. After dinner four of these big nest-like affairs were freshened up with some bundles of dry old grass, which was cut in an old disused beaver meadow.
A number of old decoys, made to look like geese when feeding, were arranged in the right position, which always varies according to the direction of the wind. Then Ooseemeemou, taking Frank with him, gave Alec and Sam each in charge of a clever Indian hunting companion. One Indian, whose name was Oostaseemou, had a nest to himself. Thus assorted, our party took possession of their four nests and awaited developments. The boys were greatly amused at the queer little white cotton caps which each one had to put on. Everything in the shape of colour had to be carefully hidden. Geese are not easily alarmed by anything white, and will come quite near to persons thus dressed.
While now waiting for the arrival of the game, the boys were each instructed how to act in case the geese should come within range. They generally fly down with the wind and arise facing it. Since the decoys are so arranged in the goose grass that the geese in coming down to join those already there must, in availing themselves of the wind to help them to alight, come within range of the nests in which are hidden the hunters. Then, when the firing of the guns alarm them, and those unhurt rise to escape, they have to so use the wind to help them that they again come within range, and thus receive a second volley. When the second volley is fired the dead and wounded are quickly secured by the hunters, who jump out of the nests and make chase after them. There is lots of fun and some danger of ugly blows, for an old wounded goose sometimes makes a good fight.
Fortunately for our young hunters, a good stiff breeze was blowing when they took their places in these queer nests, and, with their two guns apiece in position, patiently waited the arrival of the geese. Several flocks had been seen in the distance, and their strange cries were heard on every side. While the men were on the move getting things ready, of course none of the wary birds came within range. However, now that all was quiet in the vicinity of the choicest feeding grounds, a few old out-guards which appeared cautiously flying over, seemed to have reported that nothing was to be seen but some patches of snow in the nests. The Indians say that the geese mistake them, when dressed in white, for lumps of snow. Soon after a great flock was seen coming with the wind from the south directly toward them.
Old Ooseemeemou began to imitate the call of the geese, and throwing his voice so that it seemed from the decoys, it appeared as if they in the goose grass were saying, "Honk: Honk: Honk:" which the Indians say is the goose language for "Food, food, food."
Ooseemeemou knew well how to imitate them, and so the great flock understood it as the call from some of their fortunate companions, and down they came with the wind passing in close range on the left-hand side of the hunters. Bang: bang: bang! rang out the guns of the three boys and of the four Indians, and five or six great geese tumbled to the ground, some of them dead and others badly wounded. The startled, frightened, surviving geese, that thought they were going to have such a feast among their fellows, had only time to turn round and strive to escape by rising up against the wind on the opposite sides of those dry nests. This was what the clever Indians knew they would do, and so, as they came within range, struggling against the wind, each hunter, white and Indian, now used his second gun, and nearly as many more plump geese dropped to the ground dead and wounded.
Now the fun began. There was a hasty springing out of the nests, and every man and boy dashed off for his goose. The Indians were wary and experienced, and so knew how to act; but our enthusiastic boys, in the excitement of securing their first wild goose, recklessly rushed in to the attack.
Alec was the first to come to grief. The old gander that he was pursuing had a broken wing, but as his legs were all right he led him a lively chase of several hundred yards. Then, seeing that he was being overtaken, he stopped suddenly and, turning the well wing toward the boy, awaited his coming. Alec, seeing him thus standing with one wing hanging broken to the ground, anticipated nothing but an easy capture, and so he thoughtlessly attempted to throw himself on the bird and quickly capture him in his arms.
Poor fellow, when picked up he could hardly tell what had happened, only that it seemed to him he had been pounded with sledge hammers and had seen some thousands of stars.
What had really happened was this: the instant Alec sprang forward and stooped to seize his game the goose with his unwounded wing had hit him such a blow on the head as to quite stun him, and this had been followed by several other blows in rapid succession. Fortunately old Ooseemeemou was not far off. He rushed to Alec's rescue and speedily dispatched the goose, and thus delivered the boy from the humiliating position of being badly whipped by a wounded goose. Poor fellow, he carried in the black and blue marks on his body the effects of the fierce blows which had been rained upon him.
Frank had conquered his without any mishap; but Sam, in reaching out to seize hold of the one he was chasing, had received such a blow from a wing on his elbow that he fairly howled with the pain, and was not able to fire another shot during the rest of the day's sport. It was news to the boys when the Indians told them that an old goose with one blow of his wing has been known to kill a large fox or to break the leg of a man. So the boys, while delighted with the success of their first goose hunt, ever after had a much greater respect for the poor despised goose than before.
With the veering of the wind the decoys were changed so as to bring the geese down in the right direction in range of the guns, and sport continued until evening. Then, after a hasty supper on the rocks in the glorious gloaming that exists for many hours in those high latitudes in the summer months, the canoes were loaded, and three very tired but happy boys who wanted to paddle went to sleep in the canoes long ere the hospitable home of their host was reached.
The Indians are the kindest men in the world with whom to travel. Hardly knowing how it happened, the boys were carefully helped to their quarters in the fort. Here their bruises were bathed, their suppers eaten, their prayers said, and then there was the long nine hours' dreamless sleep, "Tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep."
When next morning the boys were discussing the, to them, glorious adventures of the two preceding days, it was agreed among them that the accidents and honours were about even—that while Alec and Sam had had their laugh at Frank for his misadventure with the canoe, the tables were completely turned on them in the incidents of the goose hunt.
Three Boys in the Wild North Land—by Egerton Ryerson Young
WRITING JOURNALS—FUR-LADEN BRIGADES—VALUABLE FURS—HUNTING PREPARATIONS—BIG TOM, THE FAMOUS GUIDE—THE START—FIRST CAMP ON THE ROCKS.
Soon after breakfast and a glorious plunge bath in the cold waters of Hudson Bay, the lads were informed by Mr McTavish that the ship's cargo was now about unloaded, and that just as soon as the brigades, with the last winter's catch of furs, which were looked for every hour, should arrive she would with the first favourable wind begin the return journey. He suggested that instead of hunting that day they should devote its hours to writing letters to their friends far away, as months would elapse ere another opportunity would be theirs. Of course this kind suggestion was most gratefully accepted, and in an unused office in one of the buildings Frank, Alec, and Sam were soon busily engaged in this very interesting work.
Before leaving home they had been furnished with regulation journals, and had been offered substantial rewards if they would write something in their books every day. Readily had they promised; but, alas! when the Atlantic storms had for some days assailed them their good resolutions, stimulated by the promised rewards, failed most signally. During the first few days after starting they had so much to write about, and had so filled up the pages, that they all regretted that their books were not larger, or that they had not three or four pages for each day. This, however, had all changed. The pages were now too large, and it was a burden to write even a few sentences.
We need not stop here to give any detailed accounts of these letters; suffice it to say they were just such as any of the bright, happy, boyish readers of these pages would have written under similar circumstances to their loved mothers and friends far away. It was noticed that while they were full of fun and laughter while writing to their school chums and other young friends, yet when they came to the writing of the letters to their mothers there was a quiet time among them, and some tears dropped on the pages, and some throats had lumps in them. All right, boys; we think not the less but much the more of you, because of the love and affection for your mothers, between whom and you now rolls the wide Atlantic. Months will elapse ere letters from home will reach you, or you will have the opportunity of writing again; and so now, while you have the chance, send loving letters to the precious mothers, whose love excels all other earthly love. Frank, Alec, and Sam all have, as you have, good mothers. They never gave bad advice, but always the best counsel. They never led the boys astray, but ever stimulated to a noble life. They always loved and were ever more anxious to forgive and forget than the boys were to be forgiven.
Great was the noise and excitement at the fort next morning, and very early were the boys astir to see what was the cause. The long-expected brigades of boats had arrived with the cargoes of furs. As they were all sorted in well-packed bales, weighing each about eighty or ninety pounds, the work of transferring them to the ship did not take very long. One boat in running some wild and dangerous rapids had been submerged and nearly lost, with all its crew, who escaped only because they could swim like otters. The cargo of furs had all gone under the waves ere rescued, and so it was necessary to open all the bales of fur, with which the boat had been loaded, and dry them in the bright sun as quickly as possible. This work very much interested the boys, and, as the assortment of furs was a varied one, they had their first opportunity of seeing what rich and valuable furs this wild country could produce.
There were no less than six varieties of foxes, the most valuable being the black and silver ones. Then there were cross foxes, blue foxes, as well as white and red ones. The rich otters and splendid black beavers very much interested them, and especially the prime bear and wolf skins. And as they looked at them and many other kinds their mouths fairly watered at the prospect of during the few months being engaged in the exciting sport of capturing the comrades of these in their native forests.
Yes, they would succeed in some instances, as our book will tell; but now as they looked at these splendid skins lying so quiet and still they little imagined the dangers and hardships which would be theirs ere the fierce bears and savage wolves they were to assail would render up their splendid robes.
Very much interested also were they in the hardy voyageurs, or trip men, who constituted these brigades. Dark and swarthy they were, with beardless faces, and long black hair that rested on their shoulders. From remote and different regions had they come. Here were brigades from the Assiniboine, Red River, Cumberland, and the Saskatchewan region. Many of the boatmen were of the Metis—half-French and Indian; and they spoke a language that was a mixture of both, with some English intermixed that was not always the most polite.
From the mighty Saskatchewan had come down that great river for a thousand miles, and then onward for several hundred more, brigades that had, in addition to the furs and robes of that land, large supplies of dried meat and tallow, and many bags of the famous food called pemmican, obtained from the great herds of buffalo that still, in those days, like the cattle on a thousand hills, thundered through the land and grazed on its rich pasturage and drank from its beautiful streams. The men of these Saskatchewan brigades were warriors who had often been in conflict with hostile tribes, and could tell exciting stories of scalping parties, and the fierce conflict for their lives when beleaguered by some relentless foes. Some of them bore on face or scalp the marks of the wounds received in close tomahawk encounter, and, for the gift of a pocketknife or gaudy handkerchief from our eager boys, rehearsed with all due enlargement the story of the fierce encounter with superior numbers of their bitterest enemies, how they had so gloriously triumphed, but had not come off unscathed, as these great scars did testify.
Thus excited and interested did the boys wander from one encampment of these brigades to another. The word had early gone out from the chief factor, Mr McTavish, that these boys were his special friends, and as such were to be treated with consideration by all. This was quite sufficient to insure them a welcome everywhere, and so they acquired a good deal of general information, as they became acquainted with people from places, of which they had heard but little, and from others of some regions until then to them unknown.
In addition to those already referred to, there were brigades from Lac- la-Puie, the Lake of the Woods, Cumberland House, Athabasca, and Swan River, and other places many hundreds of miles away.
As each brigade arrived it formed its own encampment separate from the others. Here the fires of dry logs were built on the ground, and the meals prepared and eaten. When the day's work was over, the men gathered around the fire's bright glow and smoked their pipes, laughed and chatted, and then, each wrapping himself in a single blanket, they lay down on the ground to sleep, with no roof above them but the stars.
As the goods brought from England in large bulk had to be made up into bundles, called in the language of the country "pieces," each weighing from eighty to one hundred pounds, that could be easily carried around the portages by the Indians, several days must elapse ere the return trip would be begun. Very interesting were these days to the boys, as from camp fire to camp fire they wandered, making friends everywhere with the Indians by their hearty, manly ways.
At first the wildest and fiercest looking fellows most attracted them; those wild warriors who could tell of scalping parties and horse- stealing adventures among the warlike tribes of the great plains. After a while, however, they found themselves most interested in the brigades that could travel fastest, that had the record of making the fastest trip in the shortest time. What at first was a surprise to them was that the brigades that held these best records were the Christian ones, who took time to say their prayers morning and evening and always rested on the Sabbath. This proved that these hard-working men, who rested one day in seven, could do and did better and faster work than those who knew no Sabbath, but pushed on from day to day without rest. Man as a working animal needs the day of rest, and with one off in seven will, as has been here and in other places proved, do better work in the remaining six than the one who takes no day of rest.
Soon after the arrival of the brigades with the furs, which were estimated as being worth in London over three hundred thousand pounds, they were all safely stowed away in the vessel, and a favourable wind springing up from the south-west, the anchor was lifted, the sails hoisted, and the good ship Prince Arthur started on her return voyage to the old land. The boys waved their handkerchiefs and shouted their farewells until the vessel was far out on the dancing waves like a thing of life and beauty.
To Big Tom, of the Norway House Brigade, had been intrusted the responsibility of safely taking the boys up from York Factory to the residence of Mr Ross. His Indian name was Mamanowatum, which means, "O be joyful," but he had long been called Big Tom on account of his gigantic size.
Ample resources had been sent with the boys to pay for all their requirements. Mr McTavish had an experienced clerk look after their outfit and select for them everything needed, not only for the journey, but for their requirements during the year of their stay in the country. So they were here furnished with what was called the yearly supplies, as York Factory is the best place, keeping as it does large reserve supplies for all the interior trading posts. The English boots were discarded for moccasins; fringed leggings manufactured out of well- tanned skins and various other articles of apparel more suitable to the wild country were obtained.
Two good Hudson Bay blankets were purchased for each boy, and, as they had come to rough it, it was thought best to give them no tent, but each one had in his outfit a large piece of oiled canvas in case of a fierce rainstorm assailing them. They were given the usual rations of food, with tea and sugar for so many days, and each lad was furnished with a copper kettle, a tin cup, a tin plate, a knife, fork, and spoon. As luxuries they furnished themselves with towels, soap, brush, and comb. In addition to these supplies for this first trip there were sent up all that would be needed during the long months that they were to spend in the country. The boys were specially anxious that the supply of ammunition should be most liberal.
For weapons they each had a good double-barrelled breech-loading gun— then just beginning to come into use—which had been carefully selected for them ere they left home. In addition they each had a first-class sheath knife with hilt, good for close hand-to-hand encounter with animals, and also useful in skinning the game when killed or in cutting kindling wood for a fire. A first-class knife is an indispensable requisite for a hunter in the North-west. Indeed, there is a saying in that country, "Give an Indian a knife and a string, and he will make his living and his way anywhere."
A brigade in the Hudson Bay service consisted of from four to twenty boats; each boat was supposed to carry from eighty to a hundred pieces of goods or bales of fur in addition to the supplies for the men. They were made out of spruce or balsam, and were like large skiffs, sharp at both ends.
They were manned by nine men. The man in charge was called the steersman; standing in the sharp angle of the stern, he steered the boat either by a rudder or a long oar, which he handled with great skill. The other eight men rowed the boat along with great oars, in the use of which they were very clever. Each boat was provided with a small mast and a large square sail. When there was no favourable wind the mast was unstepped and lashed on the outside of the boat under the rowlocks. Often for days together only the oars were used. This was specially the case in river routes. However, in the great lakes whenever there was any possibility of sailing the mast was stepped, the sail hoisted, and the weary toilers at the oars had a welcome rest; and often did they need it, for the work was most slavish and exhausting.
In each brigade there was a boss who had control of all the boats. He gave the word when to start in the morning and when to camp at night. His word was absolute in all matters of dispute. He had the privilege of selecting the best boat in the brigade, and was supposed to always be at the front when dangerous rapids had to be run, or death in any form had to be faced; in storm or hurricane his boat had to be the first to face the trying ordeal, and his hand to be on the helm. Only the well- tried old steersman of many years' experience could hope to reach to this position, and when once it was obtained unceasing vigilance was the price paid for the retention of the post. One mistake in running the rapids, or a single neglect to detect the coming of the storm in time to get to shore and the furs securely covered over with the heavy tarpaulins, with which each boat was supplied, was quite sufficient to cause him to lose the much coveted position. About the only liberty taken with him was, if possible, when the boats were crossing a great lake, with each big sail set, to try if possible by superior management of the boat to get to the distant shore ahead of him.
The start was made about three o'clock in the afternoon, as is the general custom of these brigades of boats; the idea being only to go a few miles for the first day and thus find out if everything is in thorough working order, and that nothing has been forgotten.
The camp was made on the bank of the river where dry wood was abundant, and where there was some sheltered cove or harbour in which the boats could safely be secured in case of violent storms coming up in the night, which was not an infrequent occurrence.
Big Tom appointed one of the Indian oarsmen to look after the boys. His duties were to cook their meals and select for their beds as smooth and soft a place as was possible to find on the granite rocks; or, if it happened to be in a soft and swampy place where the boats stopped for the night, he was expected to forage round and find some dry old grass in the used-up beaver meadows, or to cut down some balsam boughs on which the oilcloth would be spread, and then their blanket beds would be made. These boughs of the balsam or spruce, when broken up, make a capital bed. The boys, after a few nights' experiment with various kinds of beds, became so much attached to those made of the spruce or balsam that, unless very weary with some exciting sport during the day, they generally took upon themselves the work of securing them at each night's camping place.
Tables were considered unnecessary luxuries. The dishes were arranged on a smooth rock if one was to be found. The food was served up by the Indian attendant, and the three boys and Big Tom sat down and enjoyed the plain but hearty meal. It is generally the custom for the commodore of the brigade to take his meals with any travellers he may have in charge. When they have dined, the Indian servant or attendant then sits down and has his meal. After supper the Indians who have more quickly prepared and eaten their suppers, as they waste but little time in details, gather round the splendid camp fire, and for an hour or so engage in pleasant chat; and while having their evening smoke they show to each other their various purchases secured at York Factory. At this post they are allowed to take up in goods half of their wages for their services, and carry them along with them in their boats.
After a final visit was made by the different steersmen to their boats to see that everything was snug and tight, and a consultation with Big Tom as to the likelihood or not of a storm coming up, they all gathered round the camp fire for evening prayers. Big Tom took charge of the evening service. He first read from his Indian Testament, translated into his own language and printed in the clear, beautiful syllabic characters invented by one of the early missionaries. After the Scriptures were read Martin Papanekis, a sweet singer, led the company in singing in their own language a beautiful translation of the "Evening Hymn." When this was sung they all reverently bowed while Big Tom offered up an appropriate prayer.
Very sweetly sounded the voices of these Christian Indians as here amid nature's solitudes arose from their lips and hearts the voice of prayer and praise. The effect on the boys was not only startling but helpful. In their minds there had been associated very little of genuine Christianity with the Indians, but just the reverse. They expected to meet them with tomahawks and scalping knives, but not with Bibles and hymn books; they expected to hear war-whoops, but not the voice of Christian song and earnest prayer.
As the boys lay that night in their blanket beds on the rocks they could not but talk of the evening prayers, and perhaps that simple but impressive service did more to bring vividly and helpfully before them the memories of their happy Christian homes far away than anything else that had occurred since they left them.
Three Boys in the Wild North Land—by Egerton Ryerson Young
THE EARLY CALL—THE PICTURESQUE ROUTE—THE TOILSOME PORTAGES—RIVAL BRIGADES—FIRST BEAR—ALEC'S SUCCESSFUL SHOT.
So excited were the boys with their strange romantic surroundings that the first night they lay down in their beds, thus prepared not far from the camp fire on the rocks, they could hardly sleep. It was indeed a new experience to be able to look up and see the stars shining in the heavens above them. Then, when they looked around, on one side they saw the Indians reclining there in picturesque attitudes, smoking their pipes and engaged in quiet talk. When they turned and looked on the other side there was the dense dark forest peopled in their young imaginations with all sorts of creatures, from the fierce wolf and savage bear to the noisy "whisky jack," a pert, saucy bird, about the size and colour of a turtle dove, that haunts the camp fires and with any amount of assurance helps himself to pemmican and other articles of food, if a bag is left open or the provisions exposed to his keen eye. Still sounding in their ears were his strange, querulous notes, forming not half so sweet a lullaby as the music of the waves that beat and broke a few yards from where they lay.
But "tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep," came after a time, and in dreamless slumber soon were they wrapped, nor did they stir until early next morning. They were aroused by the musical voice of Big Tom, from which rang out the boatman's well-known call:
"Leve, Leve, Leve!"
This is not Indian, but French, and has been taken by the Indians from the early French voyageurs, who long years before this used to traverse many parts of these wild regions to trade with the Indians. Quite a number of names still remain in the country as relics of these hardy early French explorers.
This ringing call met with a prompt response from all. No one dared to remain for another nap. At once all was hurry and activity. The fires were quickly rekindled, copper tea-kettles were speedily filled and boiled, a hasty breakfast eaten, prayers offered, and then "All aboard!" is the cry of Big Tom. The kettles, blankets, and all the other things used are hastily stowed away, and the journey is resumed.
If the wind is fair the sail is hoisted and merrily they travel on. If not, the heavy oars were brought out, and as they rose and fell in unison the boats were propelled on at the rate of about six miles an hour. Three or four times a day did they go ashore, boil the kettles, and have a meal, for the air of that land is bracing and the appetites are always good.
The route used for so many years by the Hudson Bay Company to transport their goods into the interior from York Factory is utterly unfit for navigation, as we understand that word, as the rivers are full of wild, dangerous rapids and falls. Some of these rapids can be run at all times during the summer, others only when the water is high. Many of them are utterly impassable at any time. The result is that numerous portages have to be made. As the making of a portage was exceedingly interesting to our boys, we will here describe one.
The boats were rowed up against the current as far as possible and then headed for the shore. Here at the landing place they were brought in close to the rocks and every piece of cargo was taken out. These pieces were put on the men's shoulders, one piece being fastened at both sides by a carrying strap, which in the middle is drawn across the forehead. Then, using the first piece thus fastened, one or two more pieces are piled upon it and the Indian starts with this heavy load along the rough and rocky trail to the end of the portage. This end is the place beyond the rapids where safe navigation again commences. In quick succession the men are thus loaded until all the cargoes are thus transported from one side to the other.
The boys were very eager to help. So they quickly loaded themselves with their guns and blankets, and, striking out into the trail along which they saw the Indians were hurrying, they bravely endeavoured to keep those in sight who had started just before them. To their great surprise they found this to be an utter impossibility. The swinging jog trot of an Indian does not seem to be a very rapid pace, but the white man unaccustomed to it finds out very quickly that it takes long practice for him to equal it. At first the boys thought that it was because they had loaded themselves too heavily, and so they quite willingly took a rest on the way; dropping their blankets and guns, and sitting down on a rock beside the trail, they watched with admiration the Indians in single file speeding along with their heavy loads. Many of these men can carry on each trip three pieces, that is a load of from two hundred and forty to three hundred pounds.
As Ayetum, the Indian who had charge of the white boys' cooking arrangements, was passing them as they sat there in the portage he said, in broken English:
"White boys leave guns and blankets, Ayetum come for them soon."
This was quite agreeable to the tired lads, and so they started up again, Frank saying as they did so:
"Now we will show them that we can keep up to them." Gallantly they struck out, but to a white boy running over an Indian trail where rocks and fallen trees and various other obstructions abound is a very different thing from a smooth road in a civilised land. For a time they did well, but when hurrying along on a narrow ledge of rock an unnoticed creeping root tripped up and sent Sam flying over the side of a steep place, where he went floundering down twenty or thirty feet among the bracken and underbrush. Fortunately he was not much hurt, but he needed the assistance of two Indians to get him up again.
Thus rapidly passed the days as the brigade hurried on. Not an hour was wasted. It was necessary to move on as quickly as possible, as not twenty-four hours would elapse ere the next brigade would be dispatched from York Factory, and not only would it be a great disgrace to be overtaken, but the rivalry and strife of the boats' crews in the portages, in their efforts to see which could get their cargoes over first, would be most intense; and sometimes there is bad blood and quarrelling, especially if the brigades happen to be of rival tribes.
Hence it was ever the plan of the great company that employed them all to keep them at least a day or two apart on these adventurous and exciting journeys. To Big Tom and his men had been given the post of honour, and it was well-known that such was his skill as a leader, and so well was he backed up by his well-trained, stalwart men, that unless some great accident happened, no brigade following would have any chance of catching up to him ere his journey was finished.
One day when passing through a lakelike expanse of the river they saw a large black bear swimming as fast as he could directly ahead of them. At length a cry was raised, "A bear! a bear!" The men bent to their oars and there was an exciting chase.
Fortunately for the pursuers, it was a wide open space and the bear was far out from land. Even in these heavy boats the men can row faster than a bear can swim. Knowing well the habits of the bear, the men's first efforts were to cut him off from the mainland, and thus oblige him to swim for one of the many islands which could be seen on ahead. If they could succeed in this, of course he would have a poor chance, as the boats would speedily surround him there. Bears know that they are not safe on islands when hunted, and so cunningly endeavour to keep from them; or, if so unfortunate as to be obliged to take refuge on one when closely pursued, they do not seem able to keep quiet and try to lie hidden and unseen, but just as soon as possible they make the attempt to reach the mainland, and there hide themselves away from their pursuers in the dense forest or underbrush. This peculiarity of the bear is well-known to the Indian hunters; so in this case the first object of the men, as they would hardly be able to get near enough to this big fellow to shoot him in the water, was to head him off from the mainland and thus force him on an island. In this they succeeded, as they anticipated.
Frank, Alec, and Sam were, of course, intensely excited as the chase advanced. In their Zoological Gardens they had often seen and watched various species of bears. There, however, they were in captivity and could do no harm. Here, however, away ahead of them like a great Newfoundland dog, was this big, fierce fellow, wild and free, making the race of his life, to escape from his relentless pursuers.
At first he struck out for the mainland, and made the most desperate efforts to reach the shore; but when at length he saw one of the boats surely crawling along so that it would soon be between him and the point of land toward which he was swimming, he accepted the situation and struck off for a large island that seemed to be densely covered with trees and underbrush.
Nearer and nearer came the boats, propelled so vigorously by the muscular, excited men, whose great oars rose and fell with all the precision of clockwork, as they saw they were sure of gaining on their prey.
As Big Tom's boat was at the front, he said to the excited boys, who could hardly restrain themselves:
"You boys want to shoot him?"
Of course they did. What boy under similar circumstances would not have given almost anything for a shot at a bear in a position like this?
So the guns were quickly loaded, and under Tom's direction the boys were given a position one after another in the stern of the boat. Grandly did the men row so as to bring the bear within range ere the island should be reached. When the bear was about two hundred feet from shore Tom, who had had some difficulty in restraining the boys from firing, now ordered the men to cease rowing, and, as had been arranged with the boys, he gave the word to Sam to fire. Quickly rang out the report of his gun.
"Did you hit him?" said Big Tom.
"I think I did," was Sam's odd reply; "for see, he is swimming faster than he did before I fired."
This quaint answer was met by shouts of laughter from all who understood its comical meaning.
"Now, Frank, it is your turn," said Big Tom.
Carefully aiming for his head—and really there was not much of it to be seen, for a bear swims low in the water—Frank fired, and a howl and a vigorous shaking of the head told that he had been hit somewhere, but not enough to stop his progress. The boat, under the momentum it had received from the oars, was still moving on about as fast as the bear was able to swim.
"Now, Alec," said Big Tom, as the lad took his position in the stern of the boat, "when he tries to run through the shallow water near those rocks, your turn comes. Hit him behind the shoulder, good young Scotchman."
At the kindly mention of his nationality the blood of Alec suddenly rose, and he felt his hand grip that gun and his eye strangely brighten, and he resolved if possible he would make the shot of his life. Steadying himself, he waited until the bear was exactly in the place and position mentioned by the experienced old hunter, who stood just behind him. Then he fired. As the report rang out there was also heard a dull thud, that told that somewhere the fierce brute had been struck, but to Alec's mortification he gave some desperate bounds and finally reached the shore. There among the rocks he suddenly dropped as in a heap. A few seconds after, some of the Indians jumped overboard and cautiously waded toward him through the shallow water. Their caution, however, was altogether unnecessary. Alec's bullet had done its work, and the bear was stone dead. The Indians found, when cutting up the body, that the ball had gone completely through him. The wonder was that the great brute had been able to move at all after being so struck. The bears have an immense amount of vitality, as hunters who shoot them often find out to their own cost. So here was the first bear killed; Alec was the hero of the hour. While modestly he received the congratulations, he naturally felt very proud over the accuracy of the shot that had brought down a great black bear.
Speedily did some of the Indian hunters get out their knives and begin skinning the great animal. While doing this they made a discovery that very much pleased Frank, and that was that his bullet had gone clean through the ear of the bear, and had thus caused his howls and the angry shakings of his head which had been observed by all after Frank had fired. As a bear's ear is very small, Frank's shot was an exceedingly good one, when we take into consideration that he fired from a moving boat at such a small object as the bear's head.
"First blood, anyway, for Frank," said Alec.
So it had turned out to be, although Alec's had been the shot that had brought down the game.
The beautiful black robe and the meat were soon carried by the stalwart men to the boats, and the journey was resumed. That evening at the camp fire all had abundance of bear's meat for their supper. It was very much enjoyed by all, as the meat of these animals is good, tasting something like young pork, with a gamey flavour.
Three Boys in the Wild North Land—by Egerton Ryerson Young
ROBINSON'S PORTAGE—GUNPOWDER TRANSPORTATION—HOLE IN THE KEG—THE FRIGHTFUL EXPLOSION—ENSCONCED AT HEADQUARTERS—DELIGHTFUL HOME IN THE WILDERNESS—STURGEON FISHING—INVOLUNTARY PLUNGES.
At Robinson's Portage there occurred a startling accident of a most unique character. It caused much consternation both among the boys and the Indians.
In one of the boats, which was most carefully guarded, were quite a number of barrels of gunpowder for the different trading posts. Large quantities of this dangerous material are required for the Indians all over the country. The company is very particular in its transportation, and only the most experienced men are allowed to have charge of the powder boat.
When the brigade reached Robinson's Portage, which is a long one, some men who had charge of the powder carefully rolled or dragged the barrels across the portage, which has over its whole length a fairly good forest road. The rest of the men, with their carrying straps, conveyed, as usual, the many "pieces," and piled them close to the landing stage. Three boatloads of supplies, as well as the cargo of gunpowder, had been taken across and piled up ready for reshipment. Before bringing over the other cargoes and dragging the great boats, which were as usual to be dragged overland by the united strength of all the men, it was resolved to have dinner at the end of the portage where they had landed, and then go on with their work. Wood was gathered and a fire was kindled and dinner was prepared.
While the men were dining it was noticed that the fire had increased, and had at length reached in the dry grass the place where the powder kegs had been placed when they had been taken out of the boats, and from which spot they had been carried to the other end of the portage. Soon the Indians and boys were interested in seeing a fuselike running of fire spluttering and flashing on the trail. On and on along the road it sped, until at length it disappeared over the hill leading to the other end of the portage, where the barrels of powder and bales of goods were now piled. For a moment or two the men continued their dinners; then suddenly there was a report so loud and so deafening that those who were standing were nearly thrown to the ground, and all were so shaken that it seemed as though a small earthquake had occurred.
In an instant the cause was well surmised, and away they hurried as rapidly as possible to the other end of the portage. A strange sight, indeed, met their gaze. Some of the trees were badly shattered, and the parts of those left standing, instead of being covered with green foliage, were well decorated with coloured calicoes and ribbons, tattered blankets, men's clothing, and many other things. The well piled up bundles and pieces had disappeared, and the contents seemed to be anywhere within the radius of half a mile. A large quantity had been blown out into the river, and had gone floating down the stream.
Where stood the piles of powder kegs was an excavation in the ground, but, alas! no powder was left. All had gone to cause that great explosion that had borne such a near approach to an earthquake. Of course, Big Tom and his men were a humiliated lot, as there is a great deal of ambition among these hardy boatmen to deliver their cargoes in as good condition to the Hudson Bay Company's officials as possible. But here was a disaster. Three boatloads of supplies, as well as a cargo of gunpowder, were simply annihilated, or nearly so.
Quickly did they set to work to secure what was in the water, but it was of little value. Some of the most adventurous climbed the high trees and managed to pull off a few of the garments there securely lodged, but much was beyond their reach, and for several years the articles fluttered in the winds of winter and of summer, and vividly reminded all who passed over that portage of that singular disaster.
And how had it come about?
This was easily found out. One of the powder barrels had a little unnoticed hole in it, and from this had silted out a tiny little stream of powder all along the whole length of the portage. When the fire was kindled at the other end, where the dinner was cooked, it touched the beginning of this strangely laid fuse, which in running along had so interested those who had seen it at the beginning, but who had had no idea of there being any danger in it or of the damage it would inflict upon the supplies.
"Well," said Big Tom, in his quiet way, "I am sorry for John Company to lose so much property; but he is rich, and it will not hurt him. I am glad we did not do as is our general way—come over here and have our dinner near our loads. If we had done so perhaps some of our arms or legs might be now hanging up there in the branches where those red calicoes and other things are."
So, while all regretted the great misfortune, they were very thankful that there had been no loss of life or anybody even wounded. With a will they set to work, and soon the other cargoes were carried over, and then the boats were dragged across by the united crews. Soon were they launched and loaded, some with only half cargoes on account of the disaster, and then the journey was resumed.
How Big Tom explained the story of the explosion to the Hudson Bay officials, and what were their answers, we know not; suffice to say, Big Tom was very glum for some time after, and was not anxious to have many questions put to him in reference to the interview.
To the residence of Mr Ross the boys were escorted by a party of Hudson Bay clerks, after they had dined at Norway House. All their outfits, which fortunately, like their owners, had escaped the explosion, were brought over a few hours later by some of the servants of the company.
Of the hearty welcome which the boys received from Mr Ross and his family at Sagasta-weekee we have already made mention.
During the evening the chief factor and some of the other officials of the fort, who had had advices of the coming of our three young gentlemen, Frank, Alec, and Sam, came over to meet them. They most cordially welcomed them to the country, stating at the same time that they had received, by way of Montreal and Fort Garry, advance letters in reference to them, and would gladly carry out the instructions received, and do all they could to make the year's sojourn in the country as pleasant and interesting as possible.
This was good news to the boys, and was especially welcome to Mr Ross, who, now that he was no longer actively in the employ of the company, was a little nervous about the reception which would be accorded to these young hunters, who in this way had come into the country.
Strange as it may now appear, yet it is a well-known fact that persons coming into these territories were not welcome unless they came on the invitation and kept themselves completely under the company's direction and guidance. However, the old despotic rules were being relaxed, and especially was it so in the case of our boys, as thoughtful friends at home, who had influence with the London directors, had so arranged matters that everything was most favourable for their having a delightful time. That they had it these pages will surely testify.
As we have stated, very cordially were they received and welcomed by Mr Ross, whose home was on the mighty Nelson River, a few miles away from Norway House Fort. This great establishment of the Hudson Bay Company was for a great many years the great distributing centre for the supplies sent out from England to the many smaller posts throughout the country. The houses were very substantially built of hewn logs, boarded over and painted white. They occupied the four sides of a hollow square, room only being left for two or three massive gateways. The interior was kept during the summer months beautifully green, and was the favourite resort of officials, employees, and servants, and white and Indian visitors.
The relations between Mr Ross and the officials from this large establishment were most cordial, and visits were frequently interchanged.
The house which Mr Ross had built was as good as the material of the country afforded. The walls were of squared logs, the interstices between them being made as nearly frost-tight as possible. The outsides were well boarded, and so was the interior. As there is no limestone in that part of the country, the partitions dividing the rooms were all made of timber.
In the fall of the year, ere the ground freezes up, the house was banked up to the lower edges of the windows. Double sashes were placed in every window. As there is no coal in that part of the country, wood is used altogether in its place. Great iron stoves are used, in which roaring fires are kept burning incessantly from October until May. In this genuine native house the three boys were cordially welcomed, and soon felt themselves to be as members of the delightful family.
Shortly after their arrival, of course, there were many conversations as to the various excursions that could be made, and the different hunting expeditions that would be possible. While they expected to have some good times hunting the bears, beavers, wolves, reindeer, and other animals that were within easy reaching distance of their present headquarters, they were also ambitious enough to hope that they would have time to reach the haunts of the buffalo on the great western prairies, the musk ox in the far north, and even the grizzly bear in the mountain ravines.
In the meantime they had much to interest and amuse themselves with in studying the habits and customs of the Indians, who were constantly coming to see Mr Ross, whom they found to be a universal favourite, and the wise counsellor and adviser of all when in trouble or perplexity. With the twelve or fifteen splendid dogs which were owned by their host they soon became fast friends, and with them they had many a run, either in the forests or along the shores of the great water stretches that were near. Each boy soon had his favourite dog, and naturally did all he could to develop his intelligence and bring out all of his latent sagacity. While in a measure they succeeded in this, they also found, in some instances, that in some dogs downright mischief and trickery could be about as easily developed as the more noble qualities.
The canoes, of course, were tackled, and after a few laughable upsets they all soon became experts in the use of them, and had many a glorious trip and many an exciting adventure. Often did they go in the company of Mr Ross and with some experienced Indians to the place still retaining the name of the Old Fort, although the buildings were destroyed long ago. There the accumulated waters of some scores of rivers that pour into Lake Winnipeg rush out in one great volume to form the mighty Nelson River.
Here in this picturesque region, rich in Indian legends, and the resort of various kinds of game, and a favourite spot for the fishermen, many happy days were spent by our young friends in fishing and hunting. Then, when wearied with the varied sport, delightful hours were passed away, as, gathered round the bright, blazing camp fires, they listened to various reminiscences of the past as given by white or Indian.
These excursions often lasted for a number of days at a time. The party, which often consisted of from eight to a dozen persons, carried with them in their canoes not only their guns and ammunition, but their kettles and supplies and blankets. When the day's hunting was ended the supper was cooked at a fire made on the rocks, the principal item of which was supposed to be some of the game shot or fish caught.
As the boys' dexterity in the use of the canoes increased, they became more adventurous in their excursions, and one day they struck out, of course in company with experienced Indians, from the Old Fort and went as far as to the mouth of the great Saskatchewan River. The long trip across the north-west end of Lake Winnipeg was most exhilarating. The boys up to that time had no idea that birch canoes could ride in safety such enormous waves, or be propelled along continuously with such rapidity.
They camped on the shores of the great river, near the foot of the rapids, which are the only ones to be found in it for a thousand miles. Here they pitched their camp and lay down to sleep. The music of the rapids was a pleasant lullaby that soothed them into refreshing slumber.
Early the next morning they were visited by a number of friendly Indians, who informed them that the sturgeon were very numerous in the river at the foot of the rapids, and that excellent sport could be had in killing some of them.
While the usual method of capturing the sturgeon is with large gill nets, a more exciting way is by spearing them at the foot of the rapids, where at times they gather in large numbers, or by shooting them as they spring into the air. To spear a large sturgeon from a birch canoe, and not get an upset, is a difficult matter. For a time the Indians alone did the spearing; but after the boys had watched them at it they imagined that it was not such a very difficult matter after all, and so asked to be allowed to try for themselves. The Indians at first hesitated, as they well knew how really difficult it was, and thought that the boys had better keep at the safer sport of trying to shoot those that sprang, porpoise-like, out of the water. This itself afforded great amusement, and, while exciting, was not very successful, as it is extremely difficult to strike a sturgeon in this way, so rapid are its movements.
The boys had been fairly successful, and as the great fish, which were from five to eight feet long, when shot, floated down the rapid current some old Indian men and women, on the lookout in their canoes, were made the richer and happier by being allowed to take possession of the valuable fish as they came along. This was the thought ever in the minds of the boys, that, whenever possible, no matter what they caught in the waters or shot in the forests, or elsewhere, if they could not use it all themselves, to have it reach some old or feeble Indians, who would be thankful for the gifts thus bestowed. This conduct on the part of the boys was most commendable, and everywhere secured them the good will of the Indians, who are never jealous of those who, visiting their lands for, sport and adventure, do not merely kill the animals for the love of killing, but are also desirous that somebody may be benefited by having for their use the fish or animals thus slaughtered.
As the boys were still anxious for an opportunity of trying their skill in spearing, they at length induced the Indians to let them make the attempt, even if they should not be very successful.
To be ready for any emergency, the cautious Indians arranged their canoes so that if any accident should occur to these adventurous boys they could prevent anything more serious than a good ducking taking place. In this method of capturing the sturgeon, the one using the spear takes his position in the front of the canoe, while the other men noiselessly paddle the boat against the current to the spot where sturgeon are seen to be quietly resting or rooting in the gravelly bottom of the shallow places in the current.
Alec was the first to make the attempt at this new and rather uncertain sport. In a good canoe manned by a couple of skilled Indians, he took his position in the bow of the canoe, and with a good strong fishing spear in his hands he steadied himself carefully in the cranky boat, while the men silently paddled him to a spot where the occasional appearance of part of a sturgeon above the water betrayed its presence. The sun shining gloriously made the day delightful, but its very brightness was the cause of Alec's discomfiture.
Nothing more quickly disturbs sturgeon than a sudden shadow thrown on the water. Alec, not knowing this, was being quietly paddled against the current, thus facing toward the west. As it was now about noon, the bright sun was on his left. In this position he ought only to have attempted to spear the fish on the left side of his canoe, where he would have thrown no shadow. Ignorant of this, as soon as he observed a large sturgeon not far ahead of him he quietly indicated by signs to the canoemen which way he wished them to paddle, so as to bring him close enough to spear the fish. The men from their positions not being able to see the sturgeon paddled as directed, and soon Alec was brought close enough to make the attempt. The sturgeon seemed to be an enormous one, and so Alec, knowing that only a most desperate lunge would enable him to drive the spear through the thick hide of the fish, which was just now a little before him on the right, made the attempt with all the strength that he could possibly muster.
But, alas, how different from what was expected! As Alec threw himself forward to plunge the sharp spear into the body of the fish, he found that it met with no firmer substance than the water, and so, instead of the spear being buried in the body of the fish, the momentum of his great effort threw him out of the boat, and down he went head first into the river. Fortunately the water was not deep, and as the other canoes were not far behind he was soon pulled into one of them, a bit frightened, but none the worse for his involuntary plunge.
Nothing daunted, Sam was the next to volunteer to try his skill, and on being informed that Alec's trouble was that he had raised his arm with the spear so as to cast a shadow which had frightened the fish, he resolved not to make a similar mistake. Taking his position as directed in the front of the canoe, his men paddled him where he would be able to strike his fish without casting his shadow. Soon the appearance of the fins of a great sturgeon were seen, and noiselessly the Indians paddled Sam's canoe close up to it. He was resolved if possible to succeed where Alec had signally failed. When close enough to the large fish, which seemed to be utterly unconscious of the canoe's presence, Sam, taking the spear in both hands, plunged it well and true into the body of the great sturgeon, that up to that instant seemed to have been sound asleep. However, there was a great awakening when it felt that spear thrust. Giving a great spring, so strong and sudden that it seemed to fairly lift Sam, spear and all, out of the canoe, it started for the great lake. Sam let go of the spear when he found himself being dragged over the side of the boat, but the Indians afterward declared that he hung on for some time, and had a ride on the back of the great fish.
Like Alec had been before him, he was quickly picked up and dragged into another canoe.
The Indians imagined that now that two of the boys had come to grief the third would not wish to attempt this risky sport. Those lads of ours were not easily daunted, and so without any hesitancy Frank asked to be allowed to see what he could do. Frank had this advantage, that he had observed what had caused Alec and Sam to fail in their attempts. Arming himself with a sharp spear, he took the position assigned to him, and was paddled up to a place where the fish were numerous. The spear that he had selected, instead of being one of the three-pronged variety, was more of a chisel shape, and exceedingly sharp. With this in his hands, he firmly braced himself in the narrow front of the canoe, while the now intensely interested company watched his efforts. Even Sam and Alec refused to leave until Frank had made his attempt. Some sturgeon were observed very near, but Frank, even in the excitement of the moment, was not to be diverted from his resolve, and so had the Indians paddle him on and on until they brought him close to an enormous fellow, lying quiet and still on the gravelly bottom.
With all his strength Frank struck him a blow, so quick and strong that the first intimation of danger to the fish was the sharp spear crashing through the strong bony scales, through flesh and vertebrae, into the spinal cord, just behind the head. So instantaneous was the death of the great sturgeon under this fatal stroke that there was not even the usual spasmodic spring. Like as a log might have lain there on the water, so did the great fish. The only movement was, as is the case with most large fish thus killed, he rolled over, and at once began to float away on the current.