Winter Adventures of Three Boys
By Egerton R. Young
WINTER ADVENTURES OF THREE BOYS
BY EGERTON R. YOUNG
SAGASTA-WEEKEE—A HAPPY HOME IN THE GREAT LONE LAND—THREE BOYS THERE WELCOMED—THE SUDDEN COMING OF WINTER—VARIOUS SPORTS DISCUSSED—HURRAH FOR THE DOGS—USEFUL ANIMALS—DOG-WHIPS—KINESASIS, THE DOG-KEEPER.
While a wintry storm was raging outside, in the month of November, three happy, excited boys were gathered around the breakfast table in a cozy home in a far North Land.
To those who have not read of the previous doings of these young lads we would say that our heroes were three noble boys from across the sea. They had come out the previous summer from Great Britain by the Hudson Bay Company's ship and had had several months of most delightful and exciting adventures in the wild North Land. They were the guests of Mr Ross, a retired official in the Hudson Bay Company, who, when his long term of active service in the fur trade had ended, had preferred remaining in the country rather than returning to any other land. During the many years he had traded with the Indians he had ever been on the most friendly terms with them. He had observed so many noble traits and characteristics in them that he and his family preferred spending the greater portion of each year surrounded by them. Then the quiet charm of such a life had more attraction and a greater fascination for them than the rush and worry and demands of our so-called highest civilisation.
Mrs Ross was a native Indian woman, but, like many other wives of Hudson Bay officials, was a highly educated woman. The years spent in foreign lands at the best of schools had not spoiled her. She was beloved and honoured by all who knew her, and she was indeed a benediction and a blessing among the poor of her own people.
The musical and expressive Indian names of Minnehaha and Wenonah had been given to the two bright, winsome little girls in the household, while the wee brother was called by the old Scottish name of Roderick.
Cordially had Mrs Ross, with her husband, welcomed the three boys, who at their special request had come out to be their guests, or rather, more correctly, to be loved members of their own household, for at least twelve months in that land. Sagasta-weekee, the house full of sunshine, was the beautiful Indian name given to the cozy, comfortable house which Mr Ross had built for himself and household. It was a delightful home, well furnished with everything essential to the enjoyment and comfort of all its inmates.
We need not here repeat all that has been previously mentioned about the three heroes of our story. Suffice it to say that Frank, the eldest, was the son of an English banker; Alec was a genuine Scottish lad, while Sam was a jolly Irish boy. They had a splendid trip across the ocean, and had met with varied adventures while on the long journey up the rivers and across the portages between York Factory, on the Hudson Bay, where they had landed, and Norway House, where they had been welcomed by Mr Ross.
The summer and autumn months had been full of wonderful and exciting trips and adventures. Their last excursion, which had so recently ended, had been one of great pleasure and intense excitement. It had been made in canoes to a distant part of the country where reindeer and other large game abounded. The boys would have been delighted to have there remained longer, but the experienced guide and canoemen had been quick to notice the significant actions of the wild beasts, as well as the frightened cries and incessant flights of the wild geese and ducks to the South Land.
Spurred on by the signs of coming winter, they had pushed on toward home with unremitting toil and but little rest, and had fortunately managed to land the boys safely at Sagasta-weekee the day before the wintry gale broke upon them.
Great indeed was the amazement of our three boys at the transformation wrought by this sudden incoming of winter.
People living in more southern latitudes, where the transition from one season to another is so slow and almost imperceptible, can hardly realise the suddenness with which the Frost King can set up his throne and begin his despotic reign. There are no long premonitions of his coming. No noisy heralds for weeks warn of his approach. The birds and beasts seem to have some mysterious intimations that he draweth near, and act accordingly. But man knoweth not of his approach; he heareth not his stealthy steps.
Yesterday may have been balmy and reposeful, with only a few breezes from the summer South Land. To-day the wild north winds may howl and shriek, while full of frost and pinching cold is the icy, biting air. Yesterday the waves may have been merrily rippling in the sunshine on the beautiful lakes. To-day, after a night of storm and boreal tempest, the ice is rapidly forming, and is binding down in strongest fetters the highest billows.
Mr and Mrs Ross were much pleased and amused at the genuine excitement of the lads as they realised the wondrous transformation wrought by this first wintry storm, and the possibilities it opened up to them for other kinds of sport, than those in which, for some time past, they had been so deeply interested. Eager and excited as they were, they had as yet no definite plan of action for their winter amusement. So sudden had been the transition, there had been no time to think. However, with boyish candour and joyous anticipation, they were all ready with their suggestions.
"Skates!" shouted Alec, as he caught a glimpse of an icy expanse that glittered in the distance as a ray of sunshine shot out through the parting clouds and for a moment rested upon it.
"Toboggans!" cried Sam, as he saw a steep hillside one mass of beautiful snow.
"Let us make an ice boat," said Frank. Although he had never seen one, yet he had eagerly read much about them, and at the sight of the frozen lake was wild to set about the manufacture of one of these dainty craft, that he might enjoy the exhilarating sport he had so long anticipated.
"Capital suggestions are all of these," said Mr Ross. "Still, as the ice is not yet twenty-four hours old, and therefore not very safe for skating, and the snow has not yet fallen in sufficient quantity upon the hills to make them smooth enough for tobogganing, and the carpenter will require some time to make an ice boat, and we will have six good months of winter in which to enjoy these and other sports, my suggestion is that we get ready to-day to start, as soon as the ice will be safe, for the island fisheries and bring home the dogs."
"The dogs! the dogs! yes, hurrah for the dogs!" cried all the boys in unison.
So everything was for the moment forgotten, or postponed, in their eager anticipation to become intimately acquainted with the dogs, about which they had heard so much. During the summer months the dogs were away to a distant island, where they were cared for by Kinesasis, a careful old Indian, who with a few nets easily caught all the fish they required for food. This island was quite out of the route of travel, and so our young friends had seen but little of Mr Ross's dogs, about which many interesting stories had been told them. Now at the prospect of soon seeing them they were greatly delighted.
Although so much can be done with dogs in winter in those high latitudes, there is practically no use for them in summer. It is true that some enterprising missionaries had used them for ploughing up their little potato fields and gardens, and yet it was slow work and not long continued. But through the long winter the dog is practically the only draft animal that can be utilised by the inhabitants of those regions. From the far-off forest the wood for fuel is dragged home by the dogs. The frozen fish, which are caught and piled up on stages beyond the reach of wolves or other wild beasts, are drawn home to the villages from the distant fisheries by the well-trained dogs.
When a Christian decides to exchange his old wigwam for a house, all the squared timber and logs required in its construction are dragged, if not floated by water in the summer time, it may be several miles, by the dogs. Christian hunters use them to drag home the moose and reindeer or other heavy game they may shoot. Formerly their wives and mothers had to do this heavy work, but now Christianity has relegated this and many other heavy duties to the dogs.
However, the greatest and most arduous work to which the dogs are put is that of drawing the canoles and dog-sleds of travellers and tourists or fur traders for long distances through various parts of that great northern land. Without the dogs, travelling in that country would be practically impossible in the winter months. So full of lakes and rivers is the country that it is possible to go almost anywhere in a birch canoe in summer by making occasional portages. But when the severe cold freezes up those water stretches and the snow lies thick, and there is not the least vestige of a road or trail, then the value and sagacity of the dogs are seen and the power and endurance of the guides and drivers are put to the severest test.
Mr Ross still prided himself on his splendid dogs. In his younger days he had the reputation of being one of the most active and energetic of the young officers in the service of the Hudson Bay Company. His father, who was for many years one of the chief factors in the Company's service, was proud of his son's endurance and skill, as well as of his tact and ability in managing strange Indians and thus opening up new trading posts among them. So constantly employed had he been in thus advancing the interests of this fur-trading corporation that some winters he travelled thousands of miles with his own dog-train and guides. In his wanderings he had met with some strange adventures, and had passed through some trying ordeals. Later on we may hear from his own lips the recital of some of these stirring events.
Now, however, that he had retired from active service he had left these long and dangerous journeys to be taken by younger men. Still, the love for the dogs was so ingrained within him, and he had so much work for them to do, that he was the possessor of some very valuable trains, which every winter did his work and gave him as much pleasure as ever a man derived from the possession of a fine carriage and a splendid span of horses.
Knowing well the habits of the old Indian who had charge of his dogs, Mr Ross said to the boys:
"It is very likely that Kinesasis will come in to-day with some of the dogs. If he does we will harness them up to-morrow, and if the ice is strong enough to be safe we will return with them for the others. I understand he has a number of fine young dogs; doubtless there will be enough to make a good train for each of you, after they are broken in. So there will be plenty of work for all to-day, to get ready for the first day's outing with dog-trains."
Soon everybody was at work. Indian women, under Mrs Ross's direction, were busily employed in making large mooseskin moccasins and mittens. Beautiful white blanket overcoats, with warm capotes or hoods, had already been made for each of the boys. They were to be worn over the deerskin suits when they stopped to rest in the heavy trail, and also while the boys were riding over the long stretches of icy roads where it was possible for the dogs to easily draw them.
While the Indian women were thus busily engaged in fitting out the warm apparel necessary for travelling in such a cold land the boys were making themselves useful, under Mr Ross's guidance, in overhauling carioles, dog-sleds, harness, robes, snowshoes, and other things essential for the trip on the morrow. While almost everything was novel and strange to them, they were most interested in the heavy dog-whips, and, boylike, must try their hands in wielding them. These whips differed very much from anything they had ever seen in civilisation. While the handles were only eighteen inches in length, the lashes, which were loaded with shot, were over fifteen feet long. To skilfully handle one requires much care and practice. An inexperienced person is apt to get into trouble when he first attempts to use one.
Sam was the first of the boys to attempt to display his skill, but he soon found that a heavily loaded dog-whip was a different weapon from an Irish shillalah. He had admired the skill and dexterity with which Mr Ross, at the boy's request, had used one, and, foolishly thinking that he could successfully imitate him, had with any amount of assurance made the attempt. To his surprise and chagrin the cracker of the whip, instead of exploding with a pistol-shot-like report at a spot about fifteen feet away, as it had done for Mr Ross, had by some remarkable movement, entirely unexpected, squarely landed with stinging effect upon his nose!
Alec was the next to try his skill. He was a little more successful than Sam, in that he escaped inflicting any injury upon himself, but he succeeded in striking Frank upon his ear, although he stood fully six feet away from the spot at which Alec had aimed. Frank, with his ear hot and stinging from the effects of the blow so unexpected and so unintentionally given, wisely decided that he would postpone his first attempt with a weapon that seemed to be as uncertain as a boomerang.
To the great delight of the boys, as Mr Ross had predicted, toward evening in came Kinesasis with about a dozen dogs at his heels. The splendid animals were delighted to get home again after their long summer's outing, and joyously they greeted Mr Ross and the other inmates of the household. To our three boys, who had arrived since their departure, they were somewhat distant and unsociable. It is a well-known fact that the native dogs are much more hostile to white people than to the natives. This offishness and even hostility on the part of the dogs did not much disturb the boys. They, boylike, had all confidence in themselves that by tact and kindness they would soon become warm friends, and in this they were not disappointed. After Kinesasis had seen the dogs well fed and put into their kennels he was taken into the kitchen and given a hearty meal. A pipe of tobacco was then put in his hands, and shortly after he had begun to smoke he made his report of his summer's doings to Mr Ross.
To the great delight of Frank, Alec, and Sam, Mr Ross was able to inform them that the number of young dogs of the right age to break into work was so large that he would be able to furnish each of them with a capital train, which they should have charge of and call their own as long as they remained in the country.
The few short hours of sunshine of that November day sped away all too soon for the completion of the work to be done, and so by lamplight willing hands toiled on until everything was ready for the journey. So rapidly did the temperature fall, and so intense became the cold, that Mr Ross decided that with careful, experienced Kinesasis as their guide the ice would be quite strong enough to bear them on the morrow, and so if the storm was not too severe they would be off as soon as there was sufficient light, as it was too risky to travel in the dark over such thin ice.
Cozy were the beds and warm were the blankets into which three happy, excited boys tumbled that night, and if in their pleasant dreams there were sounds of cracking whips and jingling, musical dog-bells—well, we will not envy them, still we wish we were there.
BRINGING HOME THE DOGS—THE THIN ICE—METHOD OF CROSSING DANGEROUS PLACES—THE DOGS' SUMMER HOME—THE RETURN TRIP—THE UNEXPECTED GOOSE HUNT—THE SAUCY FOX—KINESASIS'S QUESTION, "WHY DO THE GEESE GO TO THE SOUTH LAND?"
Long before daylight the next morning the lamps were brightly burning in Sagasta-weekee. As it was fully twenty miles to the island where Kinesasis had kept the dogs, and Mr Ross was anxious that they should return home that night, it was absolutely necessary that every hour of the daylight should be utilised. Thus it was that all were stirring long before daybreak. A good warm breakfast was eaten and all final preparations made.
As Kinesasis had brought back with him twelve dogs, they were thus able to rig out three trains for the trip. Extra sleds and harness were taken along, as well as food and blankets, in case any serious accident or delay should happen to them. In such a land it is always best to be prepared for any emergency.
The boys were very proud and happy in their new mooseskin costumes and snow-white blankets, only relieved by the black stripes on the sleeves and skirts. Kinesasis, who had been on the lookout, at length reported the morning star, just visible as the harbinger of dawn. This was good news, and so the start was soon made.
Mr Ross up to a late hour the previous evening had not thought of going, but now, at the sight of the dogs and the preparations for the journey, he seemed to catch the enthusiasm of the boys, as well as the fire of earlier days, and resolved to accompany them. Three Indian dog- drivers had been secured, while Kinesasis, old as he was, was proud to act the part of guide for the whole party.
Sam shared a large cariole with Mr Ross, while Frank and Alec occupied another. To each cariole was assigned a careful driver. The third Indian made up his load of several dog-sleds piled on each other. All were well-loaded with supplies. Kinesasis armed himself with a stout pole about ten feet long, which he carried as an Alpine climber would his alpenstock, although it weighed as much as a dozen of them. The boys were surprised at seeing him thus encumber himself with a pole so heavy. They were also perplexed, when it grew lighter, to see a similar one tied on to the sled of the third driver. However, before the journey was finished they saw the wisdom of his forethought.
At first some of the dogs seemed to resent the restraint of the harness, and acted as though they would still have preferred the liberty which had been theirs all through the summer months. Others, however, seemed to be delighted to hear the music of the little open bells, with which the collars of their harness were decorated, and joyously barked and jumped about as though, in glad sport, they were dancing to the music they themselves were making.
The trail selected at once led them out along Jack River, and then southwest into Playgreen Lake. Kinesasis's alert eye was on the ice continually. Now he was glancing at the long stretches before him, and then quickly deciding the best route to follow. When this was selected he seemed to critically examine every yard of the ice, over which, on his moccasined feet, he so lightly and yet so rapidly glided. His constant alertness was absolutely necessary; for while the ice was apparently strong enough to be safe, yet when ice freezes up thus rapidly air holes frequently abound, which may be so thinly coated over that none but an experienced eye can detect them. They are very treacherous, as the ice, which to any ordinary observer may appear safe, may not be a quarter of an inch in thickness, and so the unfortunate person stepping on one may suddenly drop out of sight.
The rate at which Kinesasis led the party was about five miles an hour. To do this he kept up a swinging jog trot, and was ever on the alert for danger. Mr Ross, whose cariole immediately followed the guide, well knowing that there was a certain spice of danger associated with a trip like this so soon after the ice had formed, also kept constantly on the alert, as his long years in such kind of travelling made him almost equal to an Indian in this respect. After travelling for ten miles they reached a spot where one of the great currents of the mighty Nelson River, from Lake Winnipeg, had kept the ice from forming as solidly as where the water was not so rapid in motion. By its ominous bending and cracking under him Kinesasis saw the danger and suddenly brought the whole party to a halt. As the weakness in the ice apparently extended a long way in each direction, it was evident that the party must get across in some way or else return home. The latter idea was not for a moment to be entertained, and so arrangements were at once made for crossing the dangerous place. This novel plan was witnessed by the boys with a great deal of interest. At first they wished to jump from the warm fur robes in their carioles, but this Mr Ross would not hear of. They could be of no service and would only get thoroughly chilled.
The crossing over the dangerous place was accomplished in the following manner: Kinesasis first untied the other heavy pole from the dog-sled, and then, advancing to the place where the weak ice began, he carefully laid one of the poles on the poor ice, and using the other as a ropewalker would his balancing pole, he carefully walked out on the one on the ice. Then carefully placing the one in his hand down on the ice, in a straight line before him, he stepped on it, and cautiously lifted up the one over which he had just walked. Using this as he had handled the other one, as a balancing pole, he thus went on and on, using his poles alternately, until he reached the strong ice on the other side. Then he returned in the same way and reported to Mr Ross his opinion, which was that by doubling the under surface of the carioles they could pass over in safety.
This was quickly done by taking the sleds, which the third Indian driver had in charge, and securely lashing them to the sides of the carioles, in such a way that the area of surface on the ice would be doubled, and thus the pressure would be only half. As an extra precaution a long rope was tied to the rear of each cariole. Then Kinesasis once more crossed over with his poles to the firm ice. The dogs were put to the gallop, and being urged by those behind, as well as by Kinesasis's well- known voice in front, the dangerous place was passed in safety.
"Now I see," said Alec, "the solution of what was bothering me. I wondered how Kinesasis was able to get along over the weak places in the ice yesterday, but with those poles to help him it is now plain enough."
"It must require a great deal of practice to do it safely," said Frank. And so in after days he found it out when he made the attempt himself, and in trying to transfer himself from one to the other ignominiously fell off, with such force that he broke through the thin ice. Fortunately he had presence of mind enough to seize hold of one of the poles, which was in such a position that each end rested on the unbroken ice. His frightened shouts soon brought help, and he was quickly rescued.
Nothing else occurred to cause delay on the route, and so before noon the dogs, excited by the near approach to the spot where they had spent their happy summer, sprang into a gallop and fairly flew over the good ice that was found for the last few miles. Kinesasis and the Indian drivers had all they could do to keep up with them.
With great delight did the boys spring out of their carioles, and then and there declared that dog travelling was the most exhilarating of sports and the very poetry of motion. Some time later they changed their views. Immediately on their landing they were surrounded by a crowd of dogs of all ages, and doglike they acted. The old fellows that had done good work in other years and were now only kept for drawing wood for the fires, or hay from the distant beaver meadows for the cattle, were dignified and sedate, and yet manifested the greatest affection for their old master, who was kind and gentle to all the animals in his possession. This kindness was well repaid by the intelligent obedience they all gave him. Eagerly the boys scanned the young dogs, for from among them were to be selected the promised trains which they were to call their own.
While the boys were discussing the dogs and indicating their preferences, old Kinesasis had rekindled the fire in the large wigwam, in which he had passed the summer, and, aided by the other Indians of the party, busied himself in preparing the dinner out of the supplies which had been brought along. Never did a dinner seem to taste better than did that one in that leather tent to those boys, who had so enjoyed the exhilarating twenty-mile trip.
After Mr Ross, Frank, Sam, and Alec had dined. Kinesasis and the Indian dog-drivers soon had a hearty dinner, and then, after the inevitable pipes, the work of preparation for the return trip speedily began. It was the desire of all to reach home before dark. To accomplish this would be no easy matter, as there were so many untrained dogs. At first it was decided to harness up a number of these, as harness had been brought for the purpose, but after some consultation with Kinesasis about the thin ice Mr Ross decided against it, thus leaving the young dogs to follow. Only the old dogs were harnessed. This added a couple more trains to the party. The sleds of these were loaded down with the tent, nets, and other things which had made up Kinesasis's outfit during the summer.
At length everything was loaded up, and the return trip began. There was some trouble in getting a number of the younger dogs to take to the ice and keep up with the trains; numbers would persist in turning round and hurrying back.
"We cannot blame them," Sam said afterward, and his Irish oratory burst forth as he described what had been their happy condition. "Just think," he said, "on that beautiful island in the pleasant springtime they were born. There they have had a happy, careless puppyhood life. There they have spent the pleasant summer time with plenty to eat and nothing to do. On the sandy beaches and over the smooth rocks they have gamboled together, and in the warm, rippling waters they have splashed and battled. Now the cold weather has suddenly come and the snow has covered their favourite romping grounds, and even their great bathing places are hard with slippery ice."
There was, however, but little sentiment in the minds of Mr Ross and the Indians. On the contrary, they were very much annoyed at the delay the refractory young dogs were causing, and so had to adopt prompt measures, or they well knew that the night would be upon them ere home was reached. The younger puppies were packed in the carioles around our travellers, and some of the more obstinate older ones were led by ropes fastened to their collars and tied to the sleds, while the great majority, coaxed by little pieces of meat occasionally dropped on the ice, kept well up to the trains. Thus on they pushed until they reached the rapid current in the lake where the thin ice had given them so much trouble in the morning. Fortunately the additional hours of bitter cold had so strengthened it that no serious difficulty was anticipated in crossing over, even if the loads were much heavier.
But another event occurred, quite unexpected, indeed, and which, while it did much to impede their progress, created a good deal of excitement and interest. The first intimation of its coming was the sudden cry of wild geese not very far away. Their "Honk! honk!" was very distinct, and not only excited the boys, but also the dogs. The loose dogs, in spite of all the calls of the Indians, at once dashed off in the direction from which the loud calls were coming, while the sleigh dogs were almost unmanageable. Prompt and quick were the men to act. The excited dog-trains were bunched and tied together and left in charge of a couple of Indians, while Mr Ross and the boys and a couple of Indians went forward to investigate.
To the right, a couple of hundred yards away, was a rocky island, on one side of which was a reedy marsh. From among the reeds and rushes the loud calls of the geese were coming. Into these plunged the dogs, while the men and boys climbed up on the rocks where they could overlook the whole spot, which was only of a few acres in extent. The experienced eyes of the Indians took in the whole situation at a glance. The young geese had not been strong enough to fly away to the sunny South Land when the call to go had come, and so the old geese had left them behind to perish. And so now here they were, over twenty of them. A novel goose hunt was organised, and, while the boys looked on, the Indians, with the dogs' help, soon secured quite a number. Some of them were easily killed, as they were securely frozen to the icy reeds. Others rushed about in a vain attempt to escape, but they were so chilled by the cold that they were easily captured. The sleds were piled up with this additional load of geese, and the journey was resumed.
Later on in the evening the boys heard from Kinesasis more about those young geese and why they were there. They also learned some truths from nature that abode with them for many a day.
Without much difficulty the dangerous places in Playgreen Lake were passed, and the return run down Jack River was begun. The loose young dogs were pretty well wearied by the long trip and required some coaxing, and even the occasional crack of the whip was necessary to urge them to keep up. It is amazing what a latent amount of strength and speed there is in a tired dog. Here was a striking example of it. While the trains were jogging along, and the young dogs with tongues out and tails down were wearily following after and looking as though they were deeply bemoaning their lot, suddenly a splendid cross-fox sprang out from the dense forest on one side of the river and deliberately dashed across before the dogs on the frozen ice toward the other shore. All evidence of weariness at once disappeared. With a hue and cry that would have done credit to a first-class pack of hounds they were all off, sleigh dogs as well as loose ones.
The ice was so slippery that it required quite an effort on the part of the drivers of the carioles to control their dogs and get them in line. If the truth must be told, the boys richly enjoyed the short burst of speed and the exciting chase, which ended almost as soon as it began, for Reynard was too much for the young dogs and soon reached the shelter of the wooded shore.
The beautiful evening stars were shining in the western sky ere the welcome lights in the windows of Sagasta-weekee were seen. A hearty welcome was given to the returning party by Mrs Ross and the children. All were anxious to hear about the first day's winter outing, and each boy had to give his own version of the day's excitements and pleasures.
The commodious kennels were soon taken possession of by the tired dogs. Indian servants had abundance of fish ready for them, and a watchful oversight was kept upon them that the stronger ones should not rob the weaker or younger ones, a trick, we are sorry to say, of which some dogs are guilty.
After the hearty supper and prayers were over in the dining room, and the younger children had retired to rest, Mr and Mrs Ross and the boys went out into the capacious kitchen to hear old Kinesasis give his version of the goose hunt. To please the old man, Mr Ross filled a beautiful calumet and presented it to him as a gift in addition to his wages, for his thoughtful care of the dogs while under his charge at the island. For some minutes he smoked his new pipe in silence. Indians are the least demonstrative people in the world, and Kinesasis was one of them. He was never known to say "Thank you" in his life, and yet none could be more grateful or pleased than he to have his faithful services thus recognised. Mr Ross thoroughly understood him, and the grateful look in his expressive eyes as he received the pipe from Mr Ross's hand was all that was expected or that would be received. Without one word of reference to the pipe, Kinesasis began about the wild geese. Here is his story, which was a sort of monologue. He said:
"I have been much thinking about it, and I feel that it is my fault that the young geese could not go south with the old ones when the call came in the voice of the North Wind that it was time to go. I well remember that last spring, when in the big boat I carried the dogs out to the island, we saw some geese flying around that island where we caught the young ones to-day. We could not get a shot at the old geese then, they were so wary, but we pulled ashore, and there among the rushes we found some nests full of eggs. Of course, we took the eggs and ate them. No doubt those old geese when they returned, after we had gone, were very angry at our taking the eggs, but they were not discouraged, and so they went to work and filled up their nests with another setting of eggs and hatched them out. But they had lost a full month of time, and there was not enough warm weather left for these broods of young geese to grow strong to rise up in the air when the call came to fly away to the South Land."
For a few minutes he puffed away vigorously at his calumet, and then continuing his story said: "Wild geese are strange things. I have hid myself from them and watched them years ago, when they were more plentiful and hatched their young at many places around our lakes and rivers here. Then we had only bows and arrows, and so did not kill as many as we do now. Their greatest enemies were the foxes, but no fox would dare attack a goose on her nest or a brood of young ones if the old gander were around. One blow of his powerful wing would kill any fox. I have found dead foxes that have thus been killed."
Then, looking up, the old Indian said, in a voice that showed he was deeply impressed by what he was uttering: "There was always some strange mystery about their call to go south and their leaving. To-day they would be acting as though they would be intending to stay with us all the time. They were all very quiet and only busy in getting their food, while the old ones were alert against their enemies, and would even risk their lives to defend their young ones. Then to-morrow would come, and there was such a change in them. They were all so excited and noisy; their cries filled the air. The old ones would stretch their wings and circle round and round in the air about their young ones and encourage them to follow. Soon all of them would rise up and up, and, starting away for the South Land, we would see them no more that year. And yet not all, for sometimes there were late broods, like the one we found to- day. They came too late to be strong enough to fly. They could not go, and here is the mystery to me. Why was it that the parent geese, that yesterday would risk their lives in fighting against wild animals to save their young, would to-day, when the call came to go, leave their young broods behind them to perish? They all did it. Never was an old goose known to stay behind when the call came. That voice was louder and stronger than was even the love for their offspring. Can any of you tell old Kinesasis why it is so?"
SELECTING THEIR DOGS—VARIOUS METHODS OF BREAKING THEM IN—FRANK'S SUCCESS BY KINDNESS WITH MONARCH—SAM'S TROUBLES WITH SPITFIRE— CONQUERED AT LAST—TRAINING AND CAPTURING DOGS WITH DOGS—ALEC'S TRAIN OF PART STAGHOUNDS.
With this question of the old Indian ringing in their ears the party in the kitchen broke up, and as the day had been a long one they all soon retired to rest.
The boys were more than delighted with the day's experience, and were full of joyful anticipation for the morrow, for then it was that they were to select the dogs that were to constitute their own trains and at once to begin the work of breaking them in. So long and soundly did they sleep the next morning that the second breakfast bell was ringing when they awoke, and so they had but little time in which to dress ere breakfast was served. However, to their joy they found that others had also overslept themselves. Even Mr Ross himself, who was one of these, declared that the capital outing of the previous day had done him a great deal of good, as he had not slept so well for a long time.
The events of yesterday and the anticipations of the present day were discussed with great animation. The boys were questioned as to the style and disposition of the dogs they each desired, and the methods they intended to pursue in their training. Frank wanted his to be strong and powerful, able to carry him over any difficult place and able to draw any reasonable load assigned him. Alec's ambition was for a swift train, that he might have all the fun and excitement of rapid travelling.
"All right," said Sam, "but give me the darlings with any amount of mischief and tricks in them. Those are the dogs for me."
A hearty laugh from all greeted Sam's queer wish.
"I think, as regards the tricks, we can easily satisfy you," said Mr Ross. "And it will be amusing to see how a young Irish gentleman can circumvent them; for you will find out, before you get through with them, that tricky dogs are not only very clever, but very provoking, in some of their deals."
Mr Ross had been very careful for years in the selection and breeding of his dogs. There is as much difference between good and bad dogs as there is between high-spirited horses and miserably lazy ones. The hardy Eskimo was still the prevailing element in his dogs. There were, however, many crosses with some of the finest breeds of civilisation, such as the English mastiff, the Newfoundland, and the large Scottish staghound. Dogs are considered old enough to be broken to harness when they have reached their ninth month. They should not, however, be expected, no matter how willing, to draw very heavy loads until they are considerably older. They are much more easily trained when young, and are not so apt to be sullen and ugly as are dogs which are only broken in after they have reached the age of two or three years.
Soon after breakfast and prayers an early visit was made to the kennels. The boys were desirous of having the pleasure that morning of giving the dogs their breakfast. They were very much surprised, however, when informed that the dogs were only fed once a day, and that that one meal was given to them in the evening, when their day's work was done. This information at first aroused their sympathies for the dogs, but after some experience they found out that they could not only do much better work on one good meal a day, but were always in much better health.
Some dogs submit readily to the harness and never give any trouble; others are very obstinate, and will take any amount of whipping before they surrender. Some that seem docile and affectionate before being harnessed, when they find themselves collared and strapped, develop the ferocity of wolves and make the most desperate efforts, not only to get loose, but to attack their own masters. Mr Ross had, after some discussion with the boys, promised them the privilege to do the breaking in of their own dogs, provided the animals did not develop too obstinate dispositions, which would require a good deal of punishment ere they would submit. Generally this work was done by the Indian servants, as many kind-hearted masters cannot bear to inflict the punishment themselves, which seems to be necessary for some dogs to receive ere their are conquered.
Several methods are used in breaking in young dogs. Some trainers securely harness them up and fasten them to a sled, then vigorously, by voice and whip, keep at them until they yield and do what is demanded of them. They must at the first harnessing be so securely fastened that they cannot possibly in any way squeeze or pull themselves out from the harness. Nearly all dogs at first make desperate efforts to escape. If they once succeed in doing so, during the process of training, they are never absolutely reliable afterward. They will occasionally try to repeat the experiment of squeezing themselves loose, and may do it at a critical place on a long journey, and thus cause annoyance and delay.
One of Mr Ross's methods, which he now suggested to the boys, was to have an old train of four steady dogs harnessed up in tandem style and one of the young dogs, which was to be broken in, harnessed in between the third and fourth dog of the train. Frank was given the first selection. He chose a large, powerful dog that seemed to be part mastiff and part Newfoundland. He had a fine head and kindly eyes. Frank, who was a great lover of dogs, and knowing much about them, had taken the precaution to make a visit to the kitchen, and now, with his outer pockets supplied with broken bits of meat and buns, he began the work of making friends with this big, burly young dog, which was his first choice. The fact that only in the evening were they supposed to be fed, was quietly ignored by Frank just now.
Kinesasis called him Ookemou. This Frank translated into Monarch, and by this name he was always called. Frank began his approaches by a liberal use of the contents of his pockets, and who ever knew a young dog proof against such an argument? Growing dogs are always hungry, and will take kindly to anyone who will stuff them. The Indian servants speedily had a train of old dogs ready, with a vacant harness placed as we have described. Into it Monarch willingly allowed himself to be harnessed by Frank. The whole train was then fastened to a dog-sled, and the word "Marche!" was shouted by the driver. The well-trained dogs at once responded and started off, and as long as Frank ran by the side of Monarch the young dog did very well, but when he dropped behind and sprang on the sled with the Indian driver, Monarch also made an effort to do likewise. This, however, he found to be an impossible feat, as the three strong dogs before him kept him on the move, and so he was obliged to proceed, which he did very unwillingly. Frank shouted to him to go on. This, however, was a great mistake, as the dog, at once recognising his voice, and not knowing as yet the meaning of "Go on," would much rather have come back to the one who had so thoroughly won his friendship. Seeing him beginning to act ugly and obstinate, the Indian driver drew his heavy dog-whip and was about to strike him. This Frank hotly resented, and so the Indian quickly recoiled his whip and quietly waited to see what the young white master wanted to do. Frank's quick intellect was at work. He was a wide-awake, kindly lad, with a love for as well as a knowledge of dogs, and so when he saw this young dog so resolutely pull back at the sound of his voice, thus showing that he would rather come toward him than run from him, he instantly made up his mind that he could be broken in by kindness and persuasion. Quickly he resolved upon his own plan of action. Ordering the Indian driver to stop the train, Frank speedily ran to Mr Ross with an urgent request for another train of old dogs. Mr Ross, who was at once interested by the intense earnestness of the lad, speedily granted him his request, although as yet he could not understand the reason why two trains were desired, where one was generally considered sufficient.
Very quickly did willing hands harness up a train of old dogs and attach them to a dog-sled.
"Now," said Frank to the driver of them, "you drive on ahead of that other train and let me ride with you."
Orders having been given to the driver of the train, in which Monarch was harnessed, to follow after, Frank, who was now on ahead and in plain sight, began calling to his dog to follow. To this call he at once responded, and as the train in which he was harnessed was allowed to come alongside of the first, Monarch was rewarded by receiving from his master's hands some dainty bits of meat. There was no trouble with him after this. No matter how fast the first train was now driven, with head and tail up, on came Monarch, with as much vim and dash as the best of the old dogs, with which he was harnessed. When it was thought that he had had enough exercise for that day, and as they were about two miles from home, they rested for a few moments, during which Frank spoke kindly to his dog and fed him with the remaining pieces of meat. Before leaving he gave orders to the driver of the train, in which Monarch was harnessed, to wait until he and the other train would have time to reach home. Monarch, as he saw the other train leaving, became very much excited and was eager to follow. He was, however, restrained by the driver, as were the other dogs. All sleigh dogs of any spirit hate to be thus left behind, and so when the word "Marche!" was uttered they sprang forward with a will, Monarch being as eager as any of them.
In the meantime, when Frank with the one train of old dogs returned to Sagasta-weekee, he was met with laughter and quizzing remarks from both Alec and Sam. Coming as he did without his young dog, they could only imagine that he had met with complete failure, and had given up the business in disgust. Mr Ross, however, older and more experienced, after one searching glance in Frank's triumphant, satisfied face, surmised something better, and so was prepared for the lad's triumph, which soon came.
Frank very good-naturedly took the guying of his comrades, but his eyes were along the trail made by the sled, from which he had just alighted. Keen was his vision then, and alert his eye, and so when the coming train was still far away he knew by their rapid pace that he had triumphed. Turning to Mr Ross, he triumphantly exclaimed:—
"There they come, and Monarch as eager as any of them, and no whip has ever touched his back, or ever will."
It did not take the rapidly advancing train long to reach the now interested group of spectators.
Frank's triumph was complete. None could have imagined that the finest- looking dog in that train, that bore himself so proudly, had that day for the first time ever had a collar on his neck. Yet such was the case, and as Frank petted and unharnessed him, warm and sincere were Mr Ross's congratulations.
From that day forward Monarch was a model sleigh dog, and never failed to respond to the voice of his new master, whose kindly tact had saved him from the lash.
There was still time before lunch for another experiment or two, and so Alec suggested that Sam, who wanted dogs full of fun and tricks, should make the next choice.
Sam, nothing loath, selected a handsomely built dog with the queerest combination of colours. He had a bright, mischievous-looking eye, and it was evident that he had a good opinion of himself. His small, erect, pointed ears, his foxlike muzzle, and his curly, bushy tail told that there was a good deal of the Eskimo in him, and therefore, until better acquainted with the paleface, he would not have much love for him. Sam soon found this out. At Mr Ross's request Kinesasis skillfully threw a lasso over him and brought him out of the kennels. This undignified procedure considerably ruffled his temper, and so when Sam, in sweet simplicity, took up a harness and endeavoured to put it on him the dog viciously sprang at him and buried his teeth in the heavy mooseskin mitten of the hand which Sam was fortunately able to quickly throw up, thus saving his face from injury. Mr Ross and others sprang forward to help the lad, but Sam's Irish was up, and as the lasso was still upon the dog's neck, and his teeth had only cut through the tough leather without injuring his hand, he cried:—
"Please let me have the satisfaction of conquering him alone."
Suddenly throwing himself forward, Sam seized hold of the lasso, and, tightening it about the dog's neck, he quickly tangled him up in the loose coils and managed to throw him on the snowy ground. Seizing the harness, he dropped down upon the excited, half-choked animal, and, guarding his hands against his snappy teeth, he managed to get the collar over his head. But the work was not yet completed, and Mr Ross, seeing the danger the boy was in of being badly bitten by the now furious animal, ordered a couple of Indian men to his assistance. He highly complimented Sam, and said that in getting the collar on such a dog he had succeeded well. The Indians cautiously, but quickly, muzzled the dog, and then, letting him get up, they finished Sam's work of harnessing him. The next thing was to get him into the train with the other dogs, and this proved to be no easy matter.
"Give him a name," said Alec.
"Spitfire!" shouted out Sam, and by this name he was ever after known.
He seemed to have an idea that his personal liberty was being interfered with, and so he resisted everything done by Sam or the dog-drivers. When by main force he was placed in position and the traces were fastened he made most violent attempts to escape. He struggled first to one side and then to the other in his frantic efforts. Then he tried to crawl under and then over the dog in front of him. Failing in this, he suddenly sprang forward with such force that he managed to seize hold of the short, stumpy tail of the dog in front of him. This was an unfortunate move on his part, as the dogs that are accustomed to work together will readily fight for each other when one is in trouble. So, before Sam or the Indians could interfere, if they had been so disposed, the dogs ahead of Spitfire, hearing the cry of pain from their comrade, quickly turned upon him and gave him a thorough shaking. When the Indians thought he had had enough they interfered, and once more straightened out the dogs.
Spitfire was most decidedly a sadder, if not a wiser, dog as the result of his rashness. But, poor fellow, his troubles were not yet over, for the old sleigh dog behind him was also indignant at the attack upon the tail of his old comrade, and so he was also resolved to mete out some punishment to the rash young offender. This was just what the Indians wanted, and so, telling Sam to jump on the sled with them, they shouted, "Marche!" to the head dogs, while the old fellow behind sprang at Spitfire.
At first the young fellow, seeing that he could not get away, had resolved to balk, but when the big dog with fierce growls made his desperate efforts to seize hold of him he was glad to spring as far away as his traces would permit. The result was that before he knew what he was about he was rapidly galloping in unison with the rest of the train. Sam kept him at it until he was so tired that all the venom and fight were worked out of him. If for an instant he tried to act ugly or break loose, all Sam had to do was to call on the sleigh dog to attack him. This was quite sufficient and Spitfire surrendered to the inevitable, and in less than three hours had well learned his first lesson.
To conquer the dog's repugnance to Sam, and to make them fast friends, Mr Ross had him, when taken out of the harness, fastened up in a dark root cellar without any supper. The next day Sam went in to bring him out, but was met only with savage growls.
"All right," said Mr Ross, "it seems hard on you for the present, but it will be better for you in the end;" and so the heavy door was shut, and Spitfire had another twenty-four hours in solitude and quiet to ponder over his ways. The next day, as directed by Mr Ross, in whom he had all confidence, Sam suddenly threw open the door, and, while the dog was still blinking in the sudden sunshine that poured in, Sam without any hesitancy or fear strode in and, unchaining him, led him out and up to an abundant supply of food and drink.
Spitfire was conquered, and from that day he and Sam were the best of friends. A few more lessons in the harness, with a growling, cross sleigh dog behind him, made him one of the best and fleetest of the train.
Sam, who was quick to utilise a good thing when he observed it, saw in this dislike of this old sleigh dog to having fresh young dogs ahead of him just the assistance he needed; and so, although he selected three other dogs, that at first were about as ugly and intractable as Spitfire had been, he was able in this way to subdue them all with firmness and patience, and he not only made them his affectionate friends, but he became the master of one of the most spirited trains in the country. They were obedient and quick to respond to Sam's calls upon them, but woe to anyone else who tried to drive them when the spirit of mischief or contrariness which was in them showed itself.
Alec had stated that he wanted a swift train for the fun and excitement of fast travelling. It was fortunate for him that Mr Ross had some young dogs with a large strain of the Scottish staghound in them. The pure staghounds are unable to stand the severe cold of the long winters, but the mixed breeds at Sagasta-weekee, while retaining much of the speed of the staghound, had a rich, warm coating of fur-like hair. Still, they enjoyed a warm blanket when the weather was very severe. The young untrained ones were very wild, and when Kinesasis attempted to bring out from the kennels a beautiful one that he had lassoed, and which Alec had fancied, the frightened, agile creature jerked the lasso out of his hands, scaled the walls, and dashed away over the snowy fields. To have followed him would have been absurd, as the frightened dog if pursued would have continued his flight until he had reached the distant island where he had spent the summer. Kinesasis knew a better plan than that, and so he quickly let loose about a half dozen sagacious old dogs, trained by him for such work, and quietly told them to go out and bring that young wanderer back. The frightened dog, after running several hundred yards, when he saw that he was not being followed, slackened his pace and more leisurely continued his journey. He would, however, frequently stop and look about him, and especially back toward the place he had so abruptly left.
Soon he saw the dogs that Kinesasis had sent out, and that were now gambolling and playing with each other. He was attracted by the sight, and stopped his flight to watch them. They were apparently not noticing him in their sporting with each other, but they were nevertheless drawing nearer to him. At first he was inclined to be suspicious of them, but this soon left him, and he seemed to become pleased to greet them, as doubtless he had already begun to feel lonesome, for the dog is indeed a social animal. When once he was thrown off his guard it was not long ere the trailing lasso was seized by the teeth of a couple of the most sagacious dogs, who immediately started on the return trip. The rest of the dogs followed growling in the rear of the runaway. When necessary they used their teeth upon him, and so they soon brought him, cowed and submissive, to the hands of Kinesasis.
Tame elephants take great delight in helping to capture and subdue wild ones, but not greater is their satisfaction at their successful work than is that of old dogs who are trained to it when they have a share in the capturing or breaking in of obstinate, refractory dogs.
The boys enthusiastically expressed their surprise as well as admiration at this wonderful cleverness on the part of these trained dogs in capturing the runaway. They were also amused at their evident delight at the success of their efforts.
"Yes," said Mr Ross, "and if that young dog had been able to elude them, either by keeping out of their reach, in the first place, or by slipping the lasso over his head and thus escaping from them, and they had had to return without him, they would have been thoroughly ashamed of themselves, and would have skulked off to their kennels."
"I have read," said Frank, "that that is the way the Saint Bernard dogs in the Alps act if they are unsuccessful in bringing any belated or lost traveller back to the monastery, when they are sent out by the monks to search for any in distress. They are very proud if they succeed, but if they fail to find anyone they skulk back ashamed of themselves and sulk in their kennels for a couple of days, or even longer."
Alec, taking advantage of the methods adopted by both Frank and Sam, and other plans suggested by Mr Ross, at length succeeded in breaking in his four dogs. He had the misfortune to have one of them, on account of his small head, squeeze himself out of his harness and escape. Great difficulty was experienced in capturing him, and then even when conquered he at times gave endless trouble by slipping his collar and skulking in the rear.
Another of his dogs, when being broken in, made the most desperate efforts to cut himself loose with his teeth. He ruined in this way some valuable harness, and several times cut the traces of the dogs in front of him. Having exhausted the patience of Alec, he received a first- class whipping ere he stopped trying these tricks.
In about a month the dogs were thoroughly trained and seasoned to their work. Frank clung to Monarch as his favourite, while Sam and Spitfire were almost inseparable. Alec, true to the romantic love of his country, made the runaway his favourite and called him Bruce. His other three he named Wallace, Gelert, and Lorne.
Winter Adventures of Three Boys—by Egerton R. Young
NUMEROUS DOGS—USEFUL ANIMALS—FOOD SUPPLY—FROZEN FISH—BRINGING THEM HOME—VIGOROUS WORK FOR BOYS AND DOGS—FRANK'S TUMBLE—SAM'S DUCKING— SKATING PARTIES—ALEC'S THRILLING ADVENTURE—THE RACE FOR LIFE—NORTHERN GREY WOLVES—THEIR CUNNING—THEIR VARIOUS STRATAGEMS—MR. ROSS'S FEARS— THE SEARCH PARTY—ALEC RESCUED—THE WOLVES SHOT.
It may seem strange to some of our readers that such numbers of dogs were kept by Mr Ross. It must be remembered that they were, in those regions, the only animals in those days that were of any use to man.
So abundant were the fish that the dogs were kept with little expense. The lakes and rivers so swarmed with them that a few gill nets and an Indian could easily take care of a large number of dogs during the summer months. For the winter supply an immense number of whitefish were caught just as the winter was setting in. These fish were hung up on high stagings beyond the reach of wolves and stray, prowling dogs. So intense and steady was the frost that the fish, which immediately froze solid after being hung up, remained in that condition until well on into the next April. Such a thing as the temperature rising high enough to even soften the fish was almost unknown. The result was the fish were kept by this great preservative, the intense frost, in prime condition for both the people and the dogs. On account of their abundance, and the ease with which they could be obtained, they were for many years the principal article of food.
The Indians take but little care of their dogs in the summer time; they literally have to fish for themselves, and very clever are some of them at it. So abundant are the fish, and so clever are the dogs in capturing several varieties that haunt the marshes and shallows along the shores, that the dogs easily secure sufficient numbers to sustain life and even grow fat upon. On these fishing excursions the Indian dogs often wander over a hundred miles away from the wigwams of their masters, and are gone for months together.
While quantities of fish were being caught during every month of the year—for even in the coldest parts of the winter they could be caught through holes in the ice—yet the actual full fishery season only lasted a few weeks. On this fishery everybody depended for their principal winter supply. It generally began a short time before the ice set, and continued about as long after. The fish, which were principally whitefish, were all caught in gill nets. When brought ashore they were stabbed through the flesh near the tail. Through this incision a sharp- pointed stick was inserted. Ten were always thus hung up on each stick, with their heads hanging down. While still warm a single slash of a sharp knife was given to each fish between the gills. This caused what little blood there was in them to drip out, and thus materially added to the quality of the fish, and also helped in its preservation.
The work of bringing these thousands of fish home was done by the dog- trains. It is heavy work, as each train of four dogs was expected to draw twenty sticks of fish at each load. However, the track was generally all ice, and so it was much easier than travelling in a forest trail in the deep snow. Six hundred pounds are considered a good load for four dogs on ordinary trails.
As Mr Ross's fishermen had hung up about fifty thousand fish, besides packing a large number of the finest ones in ice or snow, there was considerable work for the trains in dragging them home. The work is so steady that it is considered capital training for young dogs. Of course, they are not at first given as heavy loads as are the old trains. The boys were allowed to go with their trains about three times a week. This was quite sufficient for them, for, although they rode on the empty sleds, wrapped in a buffalo skin, on the outward trip to the fishery camp, yet they felt in honour bound to imitate the Indian drivers of the older trains, and walk, or rather trot, as much as they could on the return with their heavy loads.
The kind-hearted Indians, while admiring the pluck of the boys when, on the first trip, they urged for heavier loads, wisely and firmly insisted that they should take light ones to begin with.
"This is only fun," said Alec, "just running on the ice. I have walked all day in the Highlands, and was all right the next day. I want a full load, for I intend to run the whole distance on the home stretch."
"Twenty miles on ice, with some slipping and falling and managing a lively dog-train, will seem a long journey ere it is ended," said Mustagan, a grand old Indian who that year had charge of the work of bringing home the fish.
Frank thought that with his strong dogs he could take more than Sam or Alec, but even to this Mustagan objected.
"Yes," he said, "fine big dogs, but very young, bones still soft. Big loads by and by, but not now."
"I wish we had brought our skates," said Sam, "and then we would have had no trouble in making the twenty miles." This, it was unanimously agreed, was a capital suggestion, and one that would be carried out on future trips.
So in the meantime they decided to carry out Mustagan's request and only take light loads. The wisdom of this was seen before they had gone many miles. The gait at which the old, experienced dogs struck out, and which was kept up by the drivers, as well as by the dog-trains of the boys, was altogether too rapid for them.
Very gamely they kept up the pace for four or five miles, when Mustagan called a halt for the first pipe. His observant eyes had been on the boys, and while he was pleased with their pluck, he was too wise to allow them to injure themselves; so, taking the matter into his own hands, he so arranged the sticks of fish on their sleds that, with the aid of the buffalo skins, he made for each a comfortable seat. It is not surprising that the boys were willing to accept of the situation, and, while on the remainder of the trip they rode a good deal, they often sprang off and, by the vigorous exercises of keeping up with the Indians on their famous jog trot, kept themselves warm, and also put in a good deal of training to fit them for longer journeys.
On future trips to the fisheries, as long as the ice kept free of snow, they carried with them their skates, and not only on the home trip with loaded sleds, but even on the outward journey, did they have some capital sport. Alec especially was a splendid skater. Coming from Scotland, where they had so much more ice than there was in England or Ireland, he had had greater opportunities for becoming an adept in this exhilarating sport. He was very much amused at the temper and annoyance of his dogs when, on a fine stretch of smooth ice, he would dash away from them at a rate which it was impossible for them to keep up. They would make the most desperate efforts to travel as fast as he did. When they realised the impossibility of doing this, hampered as they were by their heavy load, they would at times set up a most dismal cry that was a cross between a bark and a howl. At other times some of the dogs would think that one of the train was shirking his work, and then they would unmercifully pile on him and give him a sound thrashing.
Well was it for Alec that he had these splendid skating trips; unconsciously was he preparing for a race for his life.
On one of these home trips Frank, while sitting on his load, wrapped up in his buffalo robe, went to sleep. He was all right while the sled was going along in a straight trail, but at one place the road turned at a sharp angle, and here he had a sudden awakening. The ice was firm and the dogs were going at a good speed. When they reached the sharp turn the sled slid around at a great rate, and poor Frank, who like the other boys had when awake securely hung on to the straps on other trips, was now so fast asleep that when the sled flew around he was sent in the air at a tangent, and then went sprawling on the ice quite a number of yards away. He was well shaken up and badly bruised. After that he took good care to take his naps on the sleds in less dangerous places.
Sam had a worse adventure than that. One day, while running behind and driving his train and cheerily talking to his dogs, he had the misfortune to step through the thin ice into an air hole. He fortunately had presence of mind enough to throw out his arms, and so, as the hole was a small one, he only went in up to his armpits. That, however, was quite enough, as the temperature was many degrees below zero. He was speedily pulled out and cared for by the Indian drivers. They quickly threw all the fish from Alec's sled, and, taking the three buffalo robes which the boys were accustomed to use on the outward trips, carefully wrapped Sam in them, and securely tied him on it. Then they said:—
"Now, Master Alec, here is your chance to show the speed of your dogs. Hang on securely yourself, and see how quickly you can make the ten-mile trip from here to Sagasta-weekee."
Alec needed no other incentive than the desire to get his beloved Sam home as quickly as possible. The boys all dearly loved each other, and a serious accident to one gave sorrow to the other two. The cold was intense, and it was necessary that Sam should be taken home as speedily as possible. The weight of the two boys was but little to the active- spirited dogs, and so when the sharp cracks of the whip sounded around them, but not on them, and the urgent cries of "Marche! Marche!" with unusual emphasis kept ringing out from the lips of their master, they seemed at once to realise that something unusual was the matter; and as it was also on the home stretch, away they flew at a rate that soon left the heavily loaded sleds far behind.
In less than an hour's time the distance was covered. Sam was soon in the hands of loving, experienced friends who knew just what to do, and so in a day or two he was out again, none the worse for his adventure.
The skating was simply perfect. Just fancy miles and miles of ice, smooth as glass and stretching out over lake and river in every direction; no pent-up little pond or skating rink where in a few hours the ice is ruined by the crowd or melted by the rising temperature. Here were great lakes and rivers of it that lasted for months. Lakes full of beautiful islands, whose shores not long ago were lapped by the murmuring, laughing waves, are now gripped, as in fetters of steel, by the Frost King. In and out among them glide the merry skaters. Everybody in that land big enough skated, and skated well.
Jolly parties from the fur-trading posts and mission home joined with others in making merry groups, who for hours at a time engaged in this joyous and exhilarating sport. Sometimes several young gentlemen in the service of the Hudson Bay Company would come over from the fort and join them in their moonlight excursions. So glorious were the surroundings, and so exhilarating the sport, that the nights would be far spent ere they thought of returning home.
There seemed a strange fascination in seeking out new places and exploring untried branches of the great rivers, which seemed like streams of molten silver in the bright moonlight as they stretched away into primitive forests, where the trees on the shores hung heavy with icicles, or were so bent under the weight of snow that, at times, they looked like ghostly visitants from dreamland.
As the days passed on these skating excursions were much more extended, and as the skaters began to get familiar with the different routes the vigilance which was at first kept up, that none might go astray, was much relaxed. When there were any indications of a storm or blizzard it was well understood that no skater was to go out alone, and even then not beyond some well-defined landmarks.
However, when the weather seemed settled, and the sun shone brightly by day and the moonlight was clear and beautiful at night, no positive restraint was upon anyone. Thus, day after day, they merrily skated in little groups or in pairs as they desired. Sometimes one would dash off alone, and for hours amidst the weird, picturesque surroundings, such as a skater alone can find in such a land, would, in the very intoxication of his bliss, push on and on, without any idea of the progress of time or of the distance he was travelling.
To Alec, the Scottish lad, there came one beautiful moonlight night an experience which nearly had a tragic ending. The night was one of rarest beauty, but it was very cold, so cold that Mr Ross remarked that the moon looked more like burnished steel than silver. As the merry party started out he warned them to keep their furs well around them or severe frostbites would be theirs, in spite of the vigorous exercise of rapid skating.
The company of half a dozen or so kept together for a time, and then, in joyous rivalry, shot out and in along the icy stretches between the granite, fir-clad islands that on that lake were so numerous. As further they advanced they became more and more separated, until Alec found himself alone with a young clerk from the trading post, who prided himself on his skill and speed as a skater. He had been considered the champion the previous winter, and naturally wished to retain his laurels. Finding himself alone with Alec, whom he thought but a novice compared to himself, he endeavoured to show off his speed, but was very much annoyed and chagrined to find that, skate as rapidly as he would, the Scottish lad kept alongside and merrily laughed and chatted as on they sped. Ruffled and angry at being so easily matched by Alec, the clerk abruptly turned around and skated back. Alec was at first a little hurt by this discourteous action, but this feeling quickly wore off as on and on he skated, fairly entranced by the beauty of his surroundings and the excitement of his sport. After a time he noticed that the lake was abruptly ending. Just as he was about to circle around and begin the return journey he saw the mouth of a beautiful little ice-covered river which ran up into the forest. The ice looked so smooth and was so transparent, as there it lay in the beautiful moonlight, and he was so fascinated by the sight, that he could not resist the impulse to dash in upon it. On and on he glided, on what seemed to him the most perfect ice that skater ever tried. He did not appear to observe that this glassy, winding river, on which he was so joyously skating, was gradually narrowing, until he observed the great branches of some high trees meeting together and cutting off the bright moonlight. Skating under these great shadowy branches, with the glinting moonlight here and there in great patches of white upon the ice, alternating with the shadows, was a new experience, and very much did he revel in it, when— What sound was that?
It must have been only the falling of some drift of snow from an overloaded branch, or a broken branch itself, and so, although Alec was startled at hearing any sound amidst these almost noiseless solitudes, he soon recovered his spirits and dashed on along the narrowing, crooked stream: but—there it is again! And now as Alec quickly turns his head and looks he sees what blanches his face for an instant and shows him the peril of his position. Four great northern grey wolves are skulking through the snow on the shore, and already their eyes are gleaming in triumph, and their mouths are watering for their prey. Quick as a flash he turns, and so do they. Well is it now that the sturdy lad, on his native lochs in Scottish winters, had practiced every movement, and had become an adept in twisting and rapid turning on his skates. He will need it all to-night, as well as the hardened muscles of his vigorous sports since he came to this wild North Land; for the wolves will not easily be balked in their efforts to capture and then devour. The very fact of there being four of them seemed at first in his favour, as the instant they turned they appeared to get in each other's way. In the brief delay thus caused Alec was away and was increasing his speed every instant. But he is not to be let off so easily. Looking behind, he sees that two are coming on in their long, galloping, speedy way. Where are the other two? Soon enough will he know.
As we have stated, this little river was very crooked. The cunning wolves well knew this, and so a couple of them made a short cut through the woods, to intercept their prey at a spot ahead of him. As an inspiration, the quick-witted lad took in the situation. He had heard much already about the cunning of these grey wolves in hunting in relays the moose and other species of deer, and by having some of their numbers sent on ahead or stationed in narrow defiles to intercept their prey. So, suspecting the trap being laid for him, he made up his mind, if possible, to reach that danger point before those wolves. It was a long sweep around, like a horse shoe, and he had to make the whole distance round, while they had but to cross the tongue of land. He had to traverse at least twice the distance that the wolves had to go, but then he had the advantage in being on the ice, while they had to loup through the snow. Still, there were no risks to be taken. For an instant the thoughts came, as he heard the faint thud, thud on the ice of the fleet wolves behind him. What if anything should happen to my skates? Or if I should get in a crack in the ice? But he quickly banished these thoughts as unworthy. He had all confidence in the splendid skates on his feet, and saw with delight that he was emerging from the last place where the trees entirely hid the bright moonlight. Every crack and dangerous place could now be easily seen and guarded against.
On and on he fairly flew. The wolves, in spite of their desperate efforts to keep up, were being left further and further behind. At this Alec rejoiced; but his heart fairly jumped, and fear for an instant again seized him, as there suddenly burst upon his ears the blood- curdling howlings of many wolves. It was begun by those in the rear. It was answered by others that seemed ahead of him. It was re-echoed back by others that appeared to be further off. Looking back, he observed that the two that had been following him, when they had finished their howlings, suddenly disappeared in the forest, evidently bent upon some new plan of attack.
No wonder that the plucky lad felt that this was a crisis in his life, and that if ever he had his wits about him they were needed now. As the result of his early teachings, and the memory of his godly mother, there sprang from his heart and lips a whispered prayer: "God of my mother, remember her boy to-night;" and he felt that he was not forgotten.
Like as with fresh soldiers on the battle field, so now that the first terror had come and gone, a strange spirit of exhilaration came to him, and seemed to nerve him for the race. He had no weapon with him, not even a stick in his hand. His wits, his skates, and his power of endurance must be his reliance in this unique encounter. As well as he could he endeavoured to recall the different windings in the river, and the places where he was likely to be attacked later on, if he escaped the spot where he felt sure the next effort would be made by his cunning foes.
Rapidly as he was skating, his quick eye caught sight of two of his foes. They were crouching together on a snow-covered rock that almost overhung the edge of the stream where it was narrowest. To endeavour to escape by such fierce brutes, now so aroused by having once missed him, would have been madness. To have retreated would have been certain death. Quick as a flash came the ruse to Alec. Dashing up, with a shout that was a challenge, he made as though he were going to fly by, but the instant before he reached the spot where his quick eye saw they would spring upon him he whirled upon the heels of his skates. That instant they sprang upon the spot where their instinct told them he ought to have been. He was not there, however, but a few yards in the rear; so they missed him, and with the momentum of their spring went sprawling out on the smooth ice. Another turn on the skates, as quick as the first, and Alec was by them ere they could recover themselves. Thoroughly baffled and furious, they were speedily in pursuit, and it required all of Alec's effort to much increase the distance between them and himself.
Several times they cut across short necks of the little river, and once so near did they get that the snappings of their terrible teeth were distinctly heard. One long stretch more, then a double twist, like the letter S in the river, and he would reach the lake.
Alec was heated now; his clothes were wet with perspiration, in spite of the bitter cold. That some wolves were ahead of him he was certain. Home was far away. The other skaters had long since returned from their outings. Around the great blazing fireplace Mr Ross had more than once said:
"I am sorry that Alec has remained out so late."
Unknown to the rest of the family, some hunters had reported to him that already tracks of wolves had been seen in the hunting grounds not many miles away. These brutes are always very vicious in the beginning of winter. Their summer supplies of food are cut off, and the deer have not yet begun to run and thus leave their tracks in the woods. When another hour had passed on Mr Ross could stand it no longer, and earnestly exclaimed:
"Who saw Alec last?"
The young clerk who had been last seen with him, and who had not as yet returned to his trading post, said:—
"I left him near the other side of the lake."
Mr Ross was indignant, but there was now no time for anything but action. Short and stern were his orders. Alec must be sought after at once. Hastily rousing up three trusty Indian servants, he and they were soon out on the lake. All were on skates and armed with guns. A few dogs were allowed to accompany them, among them being Alec's train. Mr Ross wisely judged that if they once struck his tracks, such was the love they had for him, they would soon find him, even if he had become bewildered and lost his bearings. So, while Alec was still in danger, help was coming.
Fortunately for him, the river was wider now, and his eyes were so alert that he could detect his foes, even when quite a distance from them. He was thus able to see through the disguise of a couple of them that lay crouching out on the ice, trying to look like the little piles of snow that the eddying winds had gathered. Still, although he saw them, and by another clever ruse flew by them, yet so close were they to him, when they sprang at him, that some of the froth from the mouth of one of them fell upon him.
To his surprise, these two did not long follow him, but sprang into the gloom of the forest and disappeared. In the last half of the S-like river Alec was now speeding. He felt confident that if he could once reach the lake he would be able by speed, and perhaps some quick dodging, to elude them; but this last portion of the crooked river troubled him, and made him doubly cautious.
There is need for it all, for look! There are now not less than a dozen of them, and they are so arranged on the ice and on the shore that there is apparently no escape. Those strange howlings, so blood-curdling and so weird, which the first pair of wolves uttered were understood by others, and here they are, ready and eager to join in the attack and to divide the prey.
They seem so confident now, and so loudly do they howl that the great high rocks echo back the doleful music. To Alec it was now the martial music that only sharpened his faculties and made him more cautious and more brave. Boldly skating up to them, he suddenly turned, when almost in their clutches, and instantly started back up the river as rapidly as he could skate. On and on he fairly flew, until, owing to the bend in the river, he was completely out of their sight. Then skating near to one of the shores he pushed on a couple of hundred yards or so. Crossing over to the other side, he quickly turned to a spot where, sheltered by a large tree, he was securely hid in the deep shadow, which was in sharp contrast to the bright moonlight near him. In this retreat he had not long to wait ere he saw the wolves, evidently disconcerted, but coming on his trail. They were stretched out quite apart from each other, and covered such a distance that he saw that those in front would be doubling back on him ere all had passed. However, he was confident that so suddenly could he dash out that, by skillful dodging on the glassy ice, where the wolves would not have much of a foothold, he could elude them.
It was a trying moment for the boy, as on the opposite side of the tree, which rose up directly out of the ice, he heard the measured steps and even the heavy breathings of the cruel monsters, not fifty yards away. Fortunately, there was no wind to carry the scent from him to them, and so they did not detect his stratagem. When about half of them had passed, with a dash and a shout he was off. So completely taken by surprise were they that those nearest to him made no attempt to stop him. The two or three in the rear savagely tried to block his way and sprang at him, but signally failed to reach him, as Alec skillfully skated round them and sped onward toward the lake. Furious indeed were those that had passed him and felt themselves robbed of their victim. Outwitted were they all, but not yet discouraged. Wolves can run with great swiftness on the smoothest ice, and although, as we have seen, they cannot turn quickly, and can be dodged by a clever skater, yet for a straight go-ahead pace they are not to be despised by the swiftest runner. Then their powers of endurance are very great, and so it was evident to Alec that they were resolved, by grim endurance, to run him down.
Firmly convinced that there were none ahead of him, and that it was now to be a long race, he wisely resolved not to so force himself that he could not, if need be, keep up a good rate of speed all the way to the abode of Mr Ross. It did not take him long to again reach the river mouth, and as he flew past the spot where, a few minutes before, his enemies had waited for him he could not but see the sagacity with which they had selected the place. He was grateful for his deliverance thus far, but he knew that there was no time for investigation, for the yelps and howlings distinctly heard told him that his foes were hot on his trail and not far behind.
Out on the lake he dashed, and still on they came. Alec is hot and excited now. The strain on him is beginning to tell, and he feels it. He knows that he could put on a desperate spurt and get far ahead, but would they not, with that long, steady louping of theirs, gradually creep up again, and, finding him almost exhausted, make a desperate spurt, and thus run him down? But he is resolved to succeed, and so he nerves himself and carefully speeds along, while perhaps not five hundred yards behind are those merciless pursuers that will not be shaken off. In this way about ten miles are passed since the mouth of the river was left. Still on and on they come. The moon is now sinking low, and the shadows are weird and ghostly. Auroras, phantom-like, flit in the northern sky, while some of them seem like frightened spirits flying before avenging enemies. The sight is depressing to Alec, and so he turns his eyes from beholding them while still on he speeds.
Hark! What is that? It is like the bark of a dog that is instantly hushed. To Alec it seemed a dream or an illusion; and yet he could not help putting on a spurt of speed and veering a little out of his course to see the rocky islands, surrounded by the smooth ice, from which the dog's bark seemed to come. As he swiftly dashed along how suddenly all things changed to him, and quick and swift was his deliverance. There was Mr Ross with his three Indians and a number of dogs.
Alec was saved. He had fairly run into his deliverers. But no time was to be lost. Fortunately, a high rocky island for a moment hid the wolves, that were now following wholly by the scent.
With their double-barrelled guns, loaded with balls, the three Indians rapidly scaled the rocky isle, on the opposite side of which they would be hid and yet within easy range of the wolves as they came along on Alec's trail. Mr Ross and Alec had all they could do to quiet the dogs and keep them still, as some of them were eager to follow the Indians. Only a few minutes elapsed, as Alec's spurt had only put him a half a mile or so ahead of the wolves, when the guns rang out once, and then again as the second barrels were fired. Let loose the dogs now, and let everyone shout for the rescue and the victory! Five wolves were killed outright, and one was so badly wounded that the dogs soon ran him down and dispatched him. The other wolves turned and fled. Mr Ross would not, at that hour, allow any pursuit of them.
The morning star was shining ere home was reached, and Alec was the hero of the hour.
Winter Adventures of Three Boys—by Egerton R. Young
THE INVITATION TO THE INDIAN SCHOOL EXAMINATION AND SPORTS—TRAPPING EXPERIENCES—THE CUNNING CROSS-FOX—FRANK SEEKING AID FROM MEMOTAS— METHOD OF SUCCESSFUL TRAP-SETTING—JOYOUS TRIP TO THE MISSION—AN ABIDING CHRISTIAN CIVILISATION FOR THE INDIANS—SAM'S AND A YOUNG INDIAN'S NOVEL HUNTING METHODS—WILD CATS CAPTURED—THE QUEER BATTLE BETWEEN A FOX AND A WILD CAT.
When the boys returned home from a splendid outing on their skates they were greeted by Mr Hurlburt, the missionary from the Indian Mission, who cordially invited them all to the half-yearly examinations at the school, which were to be held the Friday before Christmas in the forenoon, and then would follow the usual games among the Indian boys in the afternoon.
The boys soon found that Mr Ross and the missionary had been long discussing the matter, but had as yet come to no decision as to the different games, in which the white boys might, if they so desired, compete with the Indian lads.
Alec, of course, wanted to enter for the dog race and the skating. Frank wanted to try his skill with the snowshoes, but Sam gravely shook his head and said he feared he would be lonesome ere the race ended.
"Well, what will you enter for?" said Frank, as he turned to Sam after this sally, which had set everybody laughing.
"Indeed I don't know, unless it should be tobogganing," he replied.
This also caused a good deal of amusement, as Sam's efforts in this line thus far had not been much of a success. He had caused a good deal of fun, and some excitement, by the extraordinary way in which his toboggan had several times shot out of the regular route and gone off on some erratic lines, perfectly oblivious to the interests of life and limb. He had one strong characteristic: he would hang on no matter which way or to what place his toboggan, under his erratic steering, flew with him. Once, in the middle of a hill, it shot off at a tangent and ran over an Indian woman. So unexpected was the attack, so deep was the drift into which she was hurled, and so rapidly did the flying toboggan get out of sight, that the poor, superstitious old woman ever after declared that it could have been no other than the Muche Manetoo, the Evil One, that struck her.
As a couple of weeks would elapse ere the day for the examinations and sports would arrive, the matter was left in abeyance, as to the sports in which the boys should enter. A cordial acceptance of the invitation was of course intimated.
In talking the matter over afterward it was decided that only in one race or sport should each of the white boys enter. The number was limited as the Indian boys were numerous, and it might perhaps cause jealousies. So it was finally decided that Alec should try with his dogs in the four-dog race, Frank should be a competitor in the skating match, and Sam, with Spitfire, should contend in the one-dog race, or else enter in the skating backward contest.
From knowing the skill of the Indian boys in everything else, Mr Ross felt that in these selected were their only chances of success. Of course, it was felt that Alec should have been in the skating contest, but as it was essential that each owner should drive his own dogs, and Alec had such confidence in his now splendid team and was so proud of them, he decided in favour of his dogs.
Mr Ross's advice to them all was to keep themselves in good trim for any sudden emergency that might turn up, especially if it should happen that the young gentlemen in the Hudson Bay Company's service should decide to compete, or should themselves challenge them.
Full of most exhilarating sport as had been the bright sunny days since winter had set in nearly two months before this, the incentive of the coming races gave a new zest to their sports and pastimes, and so there was snow-shoeing by day as well as rapid dog-travelling under aurora lights by night.
Among other things, it was arranged with Memotas that, as his hunting grounds began not many miles away from the place where Sagasta-weekee was built, the boys should have the privilege of hunting in all that section of the country under his guidance when necessary, and as much alone as they desired. Mr Ross secured for them about a dozen steel traps apiece, and either he or Memotas instructed the lads in the methods of setting them for the different fur-bearing animals, such as mink, marten, otter, wild cat, and especially for the different varieties of foxes that were so abundant in those regions. In addition to this they were taught how to make the spring snares of fine twine for rabbits and partridges. Thus they learned much of the habits and instincts of various animals, and were delighted and profited by these lessons learned out in the school of nature, amidst such favourable surroundings.
When the boys saw the great number of tracks of the various wild animals that so speedily packed down the snow in runs in various directions through the forests, they were sanguine that great success would attend their hunting efforts. But as they drove in day after day with nothing more valuable than some rabbits or a few ptarmigan, or some other kind of partridges, they were half-discouraged, and told Mr Ross they were surprised at their poor success.
Frank was especially mortified at his ill success. He had for days set his trap for a beautiful cross-fox that he had once or twice seen. Nearly every day he found his traps sprung and the bait gone. That it was the same fox Frank discovered by the fact that he had lost part of one of his hind feet. This Mr Ross said doubtless happened long ago in the trap of some hunter. The fox had not been quick enough to spring away, and had thus been caught by part of his foot. If it were in the winter time when he was thus caught he doubtless ate the part of the foot that was held in the teeth of the trap without feeling any sensation of pain, as the cold would quickly freeze it solid. If he were caught in the summer time he would use the most desperate efforts to pull himself loose ere he would use his teeth, and then, of course, he would suffer much in the operation. Hence in the winter time a fox, as a general thing, if only caught by one foot, cuts himself off in a few hours, but in summer time he has been known to remain in a couple of days. Indians often talk of clever three-legged foxes in the woods.
One pleasant day Frank persuaded Memotas to go out with him and help him set his traps for that old fox that had so long tantalised him by his tricks and was getting fat on his bait. This the old man did with pleasure, for he had become very much attached to Frank. When they reached the place, to which they had come on Frank's dog-sled, the Indian very carefully examined the region around for quite a distance. He told Frank where the fox's den was, and said that now that he had become so well acquainted with Frank perhaps a stranger might get hold of him. He asked Frank to show him how he had generally set his traps that had been so unceremoniously sprung and robbed of the bait. This Frank proceeded to do, and, as he thought, very quickly and cleverly sprung back and baited them. Memotas watched him go through all the process, and then rather coolly took him down by saying: