Part 2 out of 6
you dem childen take to de house across de lake, and pring back
Mrs. Callan? Tell her Marta Van Trumper need her right now mooch
very kvick." The Indian nodded. Then the father hesitated, but
a glance at the Indian was enough. Something said, "He is safe,"
and in spite of sundry wails from the little ones left with a
dark stranger, he pushed off the canoe: "Yo take care for my
babies," and turned his brimming eyes away.
The farmhouse was only two miles off, and the evening calm; no
time was lost: what woman will not instantly drop all work and
all interests, to come to the help of another in the trial time
Within an hour the neighbour's wife was holding hands with the
mother of the banished tow-heads. He who tempers the wind and
appoints the season of the wild deer hinds had not forgotten the
womanhood beyond the reach of skilful human help, and with the
hard and lonesome life had conjoined a sweet and blessed
compensation. What would not her sister of the city give for such
immunity; and long before that dark, dread hour of night that
brings the ebbing life force low, the wonderful miracle was
complete; there was another tow-top in the settler's home, and
all was well.
Chapter 16. Life with the Dutch Settler
The Indians slept in the luxuriant barn of logs, with blankets,
plenty of hay, and a roof. They were more than content, for now,
on the edge of the wilderness, they were very close to wild life.
Not a day or a night passed without bringing proof of that.
One end of the barn was portioned off for poultry. In this the
working staff of a dozen hens were doing their duty, which, on
that first night of the "brown angels' visit," consisted of
silent slumber, when all at once the hens and the new hands were
aroused by a clamorous cackling, which speedily stopped. It
sounded like a hen falling in a bad dream, then regaining her
perch to go to sleep again. But next morning the body of one of
these highly esteemed branches of the egg-plant was found in the
corner, partly devoured. Quonab examined the headless hen, the
dust around, and uttered the word, "Mink."
Rolf said, "Why not skunk?"
"Skunk could not climb to the perch."
"Weasel would only suck the blood, and would kill three or four."
"Coon would carry him away, so would fox or wildcat, and a marten
would not come into the building by night."
There was no question, first, that it was a mink, and, second,
that he was hiding about the barn until the hunger pang should
send him again to the hen house. Quonab covered the hen's body
with two or three large stones so that there was only one
approach. In the way of this approach he buried a "number one"
That night they were aroused again; this time by a frightful
screeching, and a sympathetic, inquiring cackle from the fowls.
Arising, quickly they entered with a lantem. Rolf then saw a
sight that gave him a prickling in his hair. The mink, a large
male, was caught by one front paw. He was writhing and foaming,
tearing, sometimes at the trap, sometimes at the dead hen, and
sometimes at his own imprisoned foot, pausing now and then to
utter the most ear-piercing shrieks, then falling again in crazy
animal fury on the trap, splintering his sharp white teeth,
grinding the cruel metal with bruised and bloody jaws, frothing,
snarling, raving mad. As his foemen entered he turned on them a
hideous visage of inexpressible fear and hate, rage and horror.
His eyes glanced back green fire in the lantern light; he
strained in renewed efforts to escape; the air was rank with his
musky smell. The impotent fury of his struggle made a picture
that continued in Rolf's mind. Quonab took a stick and with a
single blow put an end to the scene, but never did Rolf forget
it, and never afterward was he a willing partner when the
trapping was done with those relentless jaws of steel.
A week later another hen was missing, and the door of the hen
house left open. After a careful examination of the dust, inside
and out of the building, Quonab said, "Coon." It is very unusual
for coons to raid a hen house. Usually it is some individual with
abnormal tastes, and once he begins, he is sure to come back.
The Indian judged that he might be back the next night, so
prepared a trap. A rope was passed from the door latch to a
tree; on this rope a weight was hung, so that the door was
selfshutting, and to make it self-locking he leaned a long pole
against it inside. Now he propped it open with a single
platform, so set that the coon must walk on it once he was
inside, and so release the door. The trappers thought they would
hear in the night when the door closed, but they were sleepy;
they knew nothing until next morning. Then they found that the
self-shutter had shut, and inside, crouched in one of the nesting
boxes, was a tough, old fighting coon. Strange to tell, he had
not touched a second hen. As soon as he found himself a prisoner
he had experienced a change of heart, and presently his skin was
nailed on the end of the barn and his meat was hanging in the
"Is this a marten," asked little Annette. And when told not, her
disappointment elicited the information that old Warren, the
storekeeper, had promised her a blue cotton dress for a marten
"You shall have the first one I catch," said Rolf.
Life in Van Trumper's was not unpleasant. The mother was going
about again in a week. Annette took charge of the baby, as well
as of the previous arrivals. Hendrik senior was gradually
overcoming his difficulties, thanks to the unexpected help, and a
kindly spirit made the hard work not so very hard. The shyness
that was at first felt toward the Indians wore off, especially in
the case of Rolf, he was found so companionable; and the
Dutchman, after puzzling over the combination of brown skin and
blue eyes, decided that Rolf was a half-breed.
August wore on not unpleasantly for the boy, but Quonab was
getting decidedly restless. He could work for a week as hard as
any white man, but his race had not risen to the dignity of
patient, unremitting, life-long toil.
"How much money have we now, Nibowaka?" was one of the mid-August
indications of restlessness. Rolf reckoned up; half a month for
Quonab, $15.00; for himself, $10.00; for finding the cows $2.00
-- $27.00 in all. Not enough.
Three days later Quonab reckoned up again. Next day he said: "We
need two months' open water to find a good country and build a
shanty." Then did Rolf do the wise thing; he went to fat Hendrik
and told him all about it. They wanted to get a canoe and an
outfit, and seek for a trapping or hunting ground that would not
encroach on those already possessed, for the trapping law is
rigid; even the death penalty is not considered too high in
certain cases of trespass, provided the injured party is ready to
be judge, jury, and executioner. Van Trumper was able to help
them not a little in the matter of location -- there was no use
trying on the Vermont side, nor anywhere near Lake Champlain, nor
near Lake George; neither was it worth while going to the far
North, as the Frenchmen came in there, and they were keen
hunters, so that Hamilton County was more promising than any
other, but it was almost inaccessible, remote from all the great
waterways, and of course without roads; its inaccessibility was
the reason why it was little known. So far so good; but happy
Hendrik was unpleasantly surprised to learn that the new help
were for leaving at once. Finally he made this offer: If they
would stay till September first, and so leave all in "good shape
fer der vinter," he would, besides the wages agreed, give them
the canoe, one axe, six mink traps, and a fox trap now hanging in
the barn, and carry them in his wagon as far as the Five- mile
portage from Lake George to Schroon River, down which they could
go to its junction with the upper Hudson, which, followed up
through forty miles of rapids and hard portages, would bring them
to a swampy river that enters from the southwest, and ten miles
up this would bring them to Jesup's Lake, which is two miles wide
and twelve miles long. This country abounded with game, but was
so hard to enter that after Jesup's death it was deserted.
There was only one possible answer to such an offer -- they stayed.
In spare moments Quonab brought the canoe up to the barn,
stripped off some weighty patches of bark and canvas and some
massive timber thwarts, repaired the ribs, and when dry and
gummed, its weight was below one hundred pounds; a saving of at
least forty pounds on the soggy thing he crossed the lake in that
first day on the farm.
September came. Early in the morning Quonab went alone to the
lakeside; there on a hill top he sat, looking toward the sunrise,
and sang a song of the new dawn, beating, not with a tom-tom --
he had none -- but with one stick on another. And when the
sunrise possessed the earth he sang again the hunter's song:
"Father, guide our feet, Lead us to the good hunting."
Then he danced to the sound, his face skyward, his eyes closed,
his feet barely raised, but rythmically moved. So went he three
times round to the chant in three sun circles, dancing a sacred
measure, as royal David might have done that day when he danced
around the Ark of the Covenant on its homeward joumey. His face
was illumined, and no man could have seen him then without
knowing that this was a true heart's worship of a true God, who
is in all things He has made.
Chapter 17. Canoeing on the Upper Hudson
There is only one kind of a man I can't size up; that's the
faller that shets up and says nothing. -Sayings of Si Sylvanne.
A settler named Hulett had a scow that was borrowed by the
neighbours whenever needed to take a team across the lake. On
the morning of their journey, the Dutchman's team and wagon, the
canoe and the men, were aboard the scow, Skookum took his proper
place at the prow, and all was ready for "Goodbye." Rolf found it
a hard word to say. The good old Dutch mother had won his heart,
and the children were like his brothers and sisters.
"Coom again, lad; coom and see us kvick." She kissed him, he
kissed Annette and the three later issues. They boarded the scow
to ply the poles till the deep water was reached, then the oars.
An east wind springing up gave them a chance to profit by a
wagon-cover rigged as a sail, and two hours later the scow was
safely landed at West Side, where was a country store, and the
head of the wagon road to the Schroon River.
As they approached the door, they saw a rough-looking man
slouching against the building, his hands in his pockets, his
blear eyes taking in the new-comers with a look of contemptuous
hostility. As they passed, he spat tobacco juice on the dog and
across the feet of the men.
Old Warren who kept the store was not partial to Indians, but he
was a good friend of Hendrik and very keen to trade for fur, so
the new trappers were well received; and now came the settling of
accounts. Flour, oatmeal, pork, potatoes, tea, tobacco, sugar,
salt, powder, ball, shot, clothes, lines, an inch-auger, nails,
knives, awls, needles, files, another axe, some tin plates, and a
frying pan were selected and added to Hendrik's account.
"If I was you, I'd take a windy-sash; you'll find it mighty
convenient in cold weather." The store keeper led them into an
outhouse where was a pile of six-lighted window-frames all
complete. So the awkward thing was added to their load.
"Can't I sell you a fine rifle?" and he took down a new, elegant
small bore of the latest pattern. "Only twenty- five dollars."
Rolf shook his head; "part down, and I'll take the rest in fur
next spring." Rolf was sorely tempted; however, he had an early
instilled horror of debt. He steadfastly said: "No." But many
times he regretted it afterward! The small balance remaining was
settled in cash.
As they were arranging and selecting, they heard a most hideous
yelping outdoors, and a minnute later Skookum limped in, crying
as if half-killed. Quonab was out in a moment.
"Did you kick my dog?"
The brutal loafer changed countenance as he caught the red man's
eye. "Naw! never touched him; hurted himself on that rake."
It was obviously a lie, but better to let it pass, and Quonab
came in again.
Then the rough stranger appeared at the door and growled: "Say,
Warren! ain't you going to let me have that rifle? I guess my
word's as good as the next man's."
"No," said Warren; "I told you, no!"
"Then you can go to blazes, and you'll never see a cent's worth
of fur from the stuff I got last year."
"I don't expect to," was the reply; "I've learned what your
word's worth." And the stranger slouched away.
"Who vas he?" asked Hendrik.
"I only know that his name is Jack Hoag; he's a little bit of a
trapper and a big bit of a bum; stuck me last year. He doesn't
come out this way; they say he goes out by the west side of the
New light on their course was secured from Warren, and above all,
the important information that the mouth of Jesup's River was
marked by an eagle's nest in a dead pine. "Up to that point keep
the main stream, and don't forget next spring I'm buying fur."
The drive across Five-mile portage was slow. It took over two
hours to cover it, but late that day they reached the Schroon.
Here the Dutchman said "Good-bye: Coom again some noder time."
Skookum saluted the farmer with a final growl, then Rolf and
Quonab were left alone in the wilderness.
It was after sundown, so they set about camping for the night. A
wise camper always prepares bed and shelter in daylight, if
possible. While Rolf made a fire and hung the kettle, Quonab
selected a level, dry place between two trees, and covered it
with spruce boughs to make the beds, and last a low tent was made
by putting the lodge cover over a pole between the trees. The
ends of the covers were held down by loose green logs quickly cut
for the purpose, and now they were safe against weather.
Tea, potatoes, and fried pork, with maple syrup and hard-tack,
made their meal of the time, after which there was a long smoke.
Quonab took a stick of red willow, picked up-in the daytime, and
began shaving it toward one end, leaving the curling shreds still
on the stick. When these were bunched in a fuzzy mop, he held
them over the fire until they were roasted brown; then, grinding
all up in his palm with some tobacco, and filling his pipe he
soon was enveloped in that odour of woodsy smoke called the
"Indian smell," by many who do not know whence or how it comes.
Rolf did not smoke. He had promised his mother that he would not
until he was a man, and something brought her back home now with
overwhehning force; that was the beds they had made of fragrant
balsam boughs. "Cho-ko- tung or blister tree" as Quonab called
it. His mother had a little sofa pillow, brought from the North
-- a "northern pine" pillow they called it, for it was stuffed
with pine needles of a kind not growing in Connecticut. Many a
time had Rolf as a baby pushed his little round nose into that
bag to inhale the delicious odour it gave forth, and so it became
the hallowed smell of all that was dear in his babyhood, and it
never lost its potency. Smell never does. Oh, mighty aura! that,
in marching by the nostrils, can reach and move the soul; how
wise the church that makes this power its handmaid, and through
its incense overwhelms all alien thought when the worshipper,
wandering, doubting, comes again to see if it be true, that here
doubt dies. Oh, queen of memory that is master of the soul! how
fearful should we be of letting evil thought associated grow with
some recurrent odour that we love. Happy, indeed, are they that
find some ten times pure and consecrated fragrance, like the
pine, which entering in is master of their moods, and yet through
linking thoughts has all its power, uplifting, full of sweetness
and blessed peace. So came to Rolf his medicine tree.
The balsam fir was his tree of hallowed memory. Its odour never
failed, and he slept that night with its influence all about him.
Starting in the morning was no easy matter. There was so much to
be adjusted that first day. Packs divided in two, new
combinations to trim the canoe, or to raise such and such a
package above a possible leak. The heavy things, like axes and
pans, had to be fastened to the canoe or to packages that would
float in case of an upset. The canoe itself had to be gummed in
one or two places; but they got away after three hours, and began
the voyage down the Schroon.
This was Rolf's first water journey. He had indeed essayed the
canoe on the Pipestave Pond, but that was a mere ferry. This was
real travel. He marvelled at the sensitiveness of the frail
craft; the delicacy of its balance; its quick response to the
paddle; the way it seemed to shrink from the rocks; and the
unpleasantly suggestive bend-up of the ribs when the bottom
grounded upon a log. It was a new world for him. Quonab taught
him never to enter the canoe except when she was afloat; never to
rise in her or move along without hold of the gunwale; never to
make a sudden move; and he also learned that it was easier to
paddle when there were six feet of water underneath than when
only six inches.
In an hour they had covered the five miles that brought them to
the Hudson, and here the real labour began, paddling up stream.
Before long they came to a shallow stretch with barely enough
water to float the canoe. Here they jumped out and waded in the
stream, occasionally lifting a stone to one side, till they
reached the upper stretch of deep water and again went merrily
paddling. Soon they came to an impassable rapid, and Rolf had his
first taste of a real carry or portage. Quonab's eye was
watching the bank as soon as the fierce waters appeared; for the
first question was, where shall we land? and the next, how far do
we carry? There are no rapids on important rivers in temperate
America that have not been portaged more or less for ages. No
canoe man portages without considering most carefully when,
where, and how to land. His selection of the place, then, is the
result of careful study. He cannot help leaving some mark at the
place, slight though it be, and the next man looks for that mark
to save himself time and trouble.
"Ugh" was the only sound that Rolf heard from his companion, and
the canoe headed for a flat rock in the pool below the rapids.
After landing, they found traces of an old camp fire. It was
near noon now, so Rolf prepared the meal while Quonab took a
light pack and went on to learn the trail. It was not well
marked; had not been used for a year or two, evidently, but there
are certain rules that guide one. The trail keeps near the
water, unless there is some great natural barrier, and it is
usually the easiest way in sight. Quonab kept one eye on the
river, for navigable water was the main thing, and in about one
hundred yards he was again on the stream's edge, at a good
landing above the rapid.
After the meal was finished and the Indian had smoked, they set
to work. In a few loads each, the stuff was portaged across, and
the canoe was carried over and moored to the bank.
The cargo replaced, they went on again, but in half an hour after
passing more shoal water, saw another rapid, not steep, but too
shallow to float the canoe, even with both men wading. Here
Quonab made what the Frenchmen call a demi-charge. He carried
half the stuff to the bank; then, wading, one at each end, they
hauled the canoe up the portage and reloaded her above. Another
strip of good going was succeeded by a long stretch of very swift
water that was two or three feet deep and between shores that
were densely grown with alders. The Indian landed, cut two
light, strong poles, and now, one at the bow, the other at the
stern, they worked their way foot by foot up the fierce current
until safely on the upper level.
Yet one more style of canoe propulsion was forced on them. They
came to a long stretch of smooth, deep, very swift water, almost
a rapid-one of the kind that is a joy when you are coming down
stream. It differed from the last in having shores that were not
alder-hidden, but open gravel banks. Now did Quonab take a long,
strong line from his war sack. One end he fastened, not to the
bow, but to the forward part of the canoe, the other to a
buckskin band which he put across his breast. Then, with Rolf in
the stern to steer and the Indian hauling on the bank, the canoe
was safely "tracked" up the "strong waters."
Thus they fought their way up the hard river, day after day,
making sometimes only five miles after twelve hours' toilsome
travel. Rapids, shoals, portages, strong waters, abounded, and
before they had covered the fifty miles to the forks of Jesup's
River, they knew right well why the region was so little entered.
It made a hardened canoe man of Rolf, and when, on the evening of
the fifth day, they saw a huge eagle's nest in a dead pine tree
that stood on the edge of a long swamp, both felt they had
reached their own country, and were glad.
Chapter 18. Animal Life Along the River
It must not be supposed that, because it has been duly mentioned,
they saw no wild life along the river. The silent canoe man has
the best of opportunities. There were plenty of deer tracks
about the first camp, and that morning, as they turned up the
Hudson, Rolf saw his first deer. They had rounded a point in
rather swift water when Quonab gave two taps on the gunwale, the
usual sign, "Look out," and pointed to the shore. There, fifty
yards away on bank, gazing at them, was a deer. Stock still he
stood like a red statue, for he was yet in the red coat. With
three or four strong strokes, Quonab gave a long and mighty
forward spurt; then reached for his gun. But the deer's white
flag went up. It turned and bounded away, the white flag the
last thing to disappear. Rolf sat spellbound. It was so sudden;
so easy; it soon melted into the woods again. He trembled after
it was gone.
Many a time in the evening they saw muskrats in the eddies, and
once they glimpsed a black, shiny something like a monstrous
leech rolling up and down as it travelled in the stream. Quonab
whispered, "Otter," and made ready his gun, but it dived and
showed itself no more. At one of the camps they were awakened by
an extraordinary tattoo in the middle of the night -- a harsh
rattle close by their heads; and they got up to find that a
porcupine was rattling his teeth on the frying-pan in an effort
to increase the amount of salt that he could taste on it.
Skookum, tied to a tree, was vainly protesting against the
intrusion and volunteered to make a public example of the
invader. The campers did not finally get rid of the spiny one
till all their kitchen stuff was hung beyond his reach.
Once they heard the sharp, short bark of a fox, and twice or
thrice the soft, sweet, moaning call of the gray wolf out to
hunt. Wild fowl abounded, and their diet was varied by the ducks
that one or other of the hunters secured at nearly every camp.
On the second day they saw three deer, and on the third morning
Quonab loaded his gun with buckshot, to be ready, then sallied
forth at dawn. Rolf was following, but the Indian shook his
head, then said: "Don't make fire for half an hour."
In twenty minutes Rolf heard the gun, then later the Indian
returned with a haunch of venison, and when they left that camp
they stopped a mile up the river to add the rest of the venison
to their cargo. Seven other deer were seen, but no more killed;
yet Rolf was burning to try his hand as a hunter. Many other
opportunities he had, and improved some of them. On one wood
portage he, or rather Skookum, put up a number of ruffed grouse.
These perched in the trees above their heads and the travellers
stopped. While the dog held their attention Rolf with blunt
arrows knocked over five that proved most acceptable as food.
But his thoughts were now on deer, and his ambition was to go out
alone and return with a load of venison.
Another and more thrilling experience followed quickly. Rounding
a bend in the early dawn they sighted a black bear and two cubs
rambling along the gravelly bank and stopping now and then to eat
something that turned out to be crayfish.
Quonab had not seen a bear since childhood, when he and his
father hunted along the hardwood ridges back of Myanos, and now
he was excited. He stopped paddling, warned Rolf to do the same,
and let the canoe drift backward until out of sight; then made
for the land. Quickly tying up the canoe he took his gun and Rolf
his hunting arrows, and, holding Skookum in a leash, they dashed
into the woods. Then, keeping out of sight, they ran as fast and
as silently as possible in the direction of the bears. Of
course, the wind was toward the hunters, or they never could have
got so near. Now they were opposite the family group and needed
only a chance for a fair shot. Sneaking forward with the utmost
caution, they were surely within twenty-five yards, but still the
bushes screened the crab-eaters. As the hunters sneaked, the old
bear stopped and sniffed suspiciously; the wind changed, she got
an unmistakable whiff; then gave a loud warning "Koff! Koff!
Koff! Koff!" and ran as fast as she could. The hunters knowing
they were discovered rushed out, yelling as loudly as possible,
in hopes of making the bears tree. The old bear ran like a horse
with Skookum yapping bravely in her rear. The young ones, left
behind, lost sight of her, and, utterly bewildered by the noise,
made for a tree conveniently near and scrambled up into the
branches. "Now," Rolf thought, judging by certain tales he had
heard, "that old bear will come back and there will be a fight."
"Is she coming back?" he asked nervously.
The Indian laughed. "No, she is running yet. Black bear always
a coward; they never fight when they can run away."
The little ones up the tree were, of course, at the mercy of the
hunters, and in this case it was not a broken straw they depended
on, but an ample salvation. "We don't need the meat and can't
carry it with us; let's leave them," said Rolf, but added, "Will
they find their mother?"
"Yes, bime-by; they come down and squall all over woods. She
will hang round half a mile away and by night all will be
Their first bear hunt was over. Not a shot fired, not a bear
wounded, not a mile travelled, and not an hour lost. And yet it
seemed much more full of interesting thrills than did any one of
the many stirring bear hunts that Rolf and Quonab shared together
in the days that were to come.
Chapter 19. The Footprint on the Shore
Jesup's River was a tranquil stream that came from a region of
swamps, and would have been easy canoeing but for the fallen
trees. Some of these had been cut years ago, showing that the
old trapper had used this route. Once they were unpleasantly
surprised by seeing a fresh chopping on the bank, but their
mourning was changed into joy when they found it was beaver-work.
Ten miles they made that day. In the evening they camped on the
shore of Jesup's Lake, proud and happy in the belief that they
were the rightful owners of it all. That night they heard again
and again the howling of wolves, but it seemed on the far side of
the lake. In the morning they went out on foot to explore, and
at once had the joy of seeing five deer, while tracks showed on
every side. It was evidently a paradise for deer, and there were
in less degree the tracks of other animals -- mink in fair
abundance, one or two otters, a mountain lion, and a cow moose
with her calf. It was thrilling to see such a feast of
possibilities. The hunters were led on and on, revelling in the
prospect of many joys before them, when all at once they came on
something that turned their joy to grief -- the track of a man;
the fresh imprint of a cowhide boot. It was maddening. At first
blush, it meant some other trapper ahead of them with a prior
claim to the valley; a claim that the unwritten law would allow.
They followed it a mile. It went striding along the shore at a
great pace, sometimes running, and keeping down the west shore.
Then they found a place where he had sat down and broken a lot of
clam shells, and again had hastened on. But there was no mark of
gunstock or other weapon where he sat; and why was he wearing
boots? The hunters rarely did.
For two miles the Indian followed with Rolf, and sometimes found
that the hated stranger had been running hard. Then they turned
back, terribly disappointed. At first it seemed a crushing blow.
They had three courses open to them - to seek a location farther
north, to assume that one side of the lake was theirs, or to find
out exactly who and what the stranger was. They decided on the
last. The canoe was launched and loaded, and they set out to look
for what they hoped they would not find, a trapper's shanty on
After skirting the shore for four or five miles and disturbing
one or two deer, as well as hosts of ducks, the voyagers landed
and there still they found that fateful bootmark steadily
tramping southward. By noon they had reached the south end of
the west inlet that leads to another lake, and again an
examination of the shore showed the footmarks, here leaving the
lake and going southerly. Now the travellers retired to the main
lake and by noon had reached the south end. At no point had they
seen any sign of a cabin, though both sides of the lake were in
plain view all day. The travelling stranger was a mystery, but
he did not live here and there was no good reason why they should
Where? The country seemed equally good at all points, but it is
usually best to camp on an outlet. Then when a storm comes up,
the big waves do not threaten your canoe, or compel you to stay
on land. It is a favourite crossing for animals avoiding the
lake, and other trappers coming in are sure to see your cabin
before they enter.
Which side of the outlet? Quonab settled that -- the west. He
wanted to see the sun rise, and, not far back from the water, was
a hill with a jutting, rocky pinnade. He pointed to this and
uttered the one word, "Idaho." Here, then, on the west side,
where the lake enters the river, they began to clear the ground
for their home.
Chapter 20. The Trappers' Cabin
It's a smart fellow that knows what he can't do. -Sayings of Si Sylvanne.
I suppose every trapper that ever lived, on first building a
cabin, said, "Oh, any little thing will do, so long as it has a
roof and is big enough to lie down in." And every trapper has
realized before spring that he made a sad mistake in not having
it big enough to live in and store goods in. Quonab and Rolf
were new at the business, and made the usual mistake. They
planned their cabin far too small; 10 X 12 ft., instead of 12 X
20 ft. they made it, and 6-ft. walls, instead of 8-ft. walls.
Both were expert axemen. Spruce was plentiful and the cabin rose
quickly. In one day the walls were up. An important thing was
the roof. What should it be? Overlapping basswood troughs, split
shingles, also called shakes, or clay? By far the easiest to
make, the warmest in winter and coolest in summer, is the clay
roof. It has three disadvantages: It leaks in long-continued wet
weather; it drops down dust and dirt in dry weather; and is so
heavy that it usually ends by crushing in the log rafters and
beams, unless they are further supported on posts, which are much
in the way. But its advantages were so obvious that the builders
did not hesitate. A clay roof it was to be.
When the walls were five feet high, the doorway and window were
cut through the logs, but leaving in each case one half of the
log at the bottom of the needed opening. The top log was now
placed, then rolled over bottom up, wlile half of its thickness
was cut away to fit over the door: a similar cut out was made
over the window. Two flat pieces of spruce were prepared for
door jambs and two shorter ones for window jambs. Auger holes
were put through, so as to allow an oak pin to be driven through
the jamb into each log, and the doorway and window opening were done.
In one corner they planned a small fireplace, built of clay and
stone. Not stone from the lake, as Rolf would have had it, but
from the hillside; and why? Quonab said that the lake stone was
of the water spirits, and would not live near fire, but would
burst open; while the hillside stone was of the sun and fire
spirit, and in the fire would add its heat.
The facts are that lake stone explodes when greatly heated and
hill stone does not; and since no one has been able to improve
upon Quonab's explanation, it must stand for the present.
The plan of the fireplace was simple. Rolf had been present at
the building of several, and the main point was to have the
chimney large enough, and the narrowest point just above the fire.
The eaves logs, end logs, and ridge logs were soon in place; then
came the cutting of small poles, spruce and tamarack, long enough
to reach from ridge to eaves, and in sufficient number to
completely cover the roof. A rank sedge meadow near by afforded
plenty of coarse grass with which the poles were covered deeply;
and lastly clay dug out with a couple of hand-made, axe-hewn
wooden spades was thrown evenly on the grass to a depth of six
inches; this, when trampled flat, made a roof that served them well.
The chinks of the logs when large were filled with split pieces
of wood; when small they were plugged with moss. A door was made
of hewn planks, and hinged very simply on two pins; one made by
letting the plank project as a point, the other by nailing on a
pin after the door was placed; both pins fitting, of course, into
inch auger holes.
A floor was not needed, but bed bunks were, and in making these
they began already to realize that the cabin was too small. But
now after a week's work it was done. It had a sweet fragrance of
wood and moss, and the pleasure it gave to Rolf at least was
something he never again could expect to find in equal measure
about any other dwelling he might make.
Quonab laid the fire carefully, then lighted his pipe, sang a
little crooning song about the "home spirits," which we call
"household gods," walked around the shanty, offering the pipestem
to each of the four winds in turn, then entering lighted the flre
from his pipe, threw some tobacco and deer hair on the blaze, and
the house-warming was ended.
Nevertheless, they continued to sleep in the tent they had used
all along, for Quonab loved not the indoors, and Rolf was growing
daily more of his mind.
Chapter 21. Rolf's First Deer
Anxious to lose no fine day they had worked steadily on the
shanty, not even going after the deer that were seen occasionally
over the lake, so that now they were out of fresh meat, and Rolf
saw a chance he long had looked for. "Quonab, I want to go out
alone and get a deer, and I want your gun.
"Ugh! you shall go. To-night is good."
"To-night" meant evening, so Rolf set out alone as soon as the
sun was low, for during the heat of the day the deer are commonly
lying in some thicket. In general, he knew enough to travel up
wind, and to go as silently as possible. The southwest wind was
blowing softly, and so he quickened his steps southwesterly which
meant along the lake. Tracks and signs abounded; it was
impossible to follow any one trail. His plan was to keep on
silently, trusting to luck, nor did he have long to wait. Across
a little opening of the woods to the west he saw a movement in
the bushes, but it ceased, and he was in doubt whether the
creature, presumably a deer, was standing there or had gone on.
"Never quit till you are sure," was one of Quonab's wise adages.
Rolf was bound to know what it was that had moved. So he stood
still and waited. A minute passed; another; many; a long time;
and still he waited, but got no further sign of life from the
bush. Then he began to think he was mistaken; yet it was good
huntercraft to find out what that was. He tried the wind several
times, first by wetting his finger, which test said "southwest";
second, by tossing up some handfuls of dried grass, which said
"yes, southwest, but veering southerly in this glade." So he knew
he might crawl silentlv to the north side of that bush. He
looked to the priming of his gun and began a slow and stealthy
stalk, selecting such openings as might be passed without effort
or movement of bushes or likelihood of sound. He worked his way
step by step; each time his foot was lifted he set it down again
only after trying the footing. At each step he paused to look
and listen. It was only one hundred yards to the interesting
spot, but Rolf was fifteen minutes in covering the distance, and
more than once, he got a great start as a chicadee flew out or a
woodpecker tapped. His heart beat louder and louder, so it
seemed everything near must hear; but he kept on his careful
stalk, and at last had reached the thicket that had given him
such thrills and hopes. Here he stood and watched for a full
minute. Again he tried the wind, and proceeded to circle slowly
to the west of the place.
After a long, tense crawl of twenty yards he came on the track
and sign of a big buck, perfectly fresh, and again his heart
worked harder; it seemed to be pumping his neck full of blood, so
he was choking. He judged it best to follow this hot trail for a
time, and holding his gun ready cocked he stepped softly onward.
A bluejay cried out, "jay, jay!" with startling loudness, and
seemingly enjoyed his pent-up excitement. A few steps forward at
slow, careful stalk, and then behind him he heard a loud
whistling hiss. Instantly turning he found himself face to face
with a great, splendid buck in the short blue coat. There not
thirty yards away he stood, the creature he had been stalking so
long, in plain view now, broadside on. They gazed each at the
other, perfectly still for a few seconds, then Rolf without undue
movement brought the gun to bear, and still the buck stood
gazing. The gun was up, but oh, how disgustingly it wabbled and
shook! and the steadier Rolf tried to bold it, the more it
trembled, until from that wretched gun the palsy spread all over
his body; his breath came tremulously, his legs and arms were
shaking, and at last, as the deer moved its head to get a better
view and raised its tail, the lad, making an effort at
selfcontrol, pulled the trigger. Bang! and the buck went lightly
bounding out of sight.
Poor Rolf; how disgusted he felt; positively sick with
self-contempt. Thirty yards, standing, broadside on, full
daylight, a big buck, a clean miss. Yes, there was the bullet
hole in a tree, five feet above the deer's head. "I'm no good;
I'll never be a hunter," he groaned, then turned and slowly
tramped back to camp. Quonab looked inquiringly, for, of course,
he heard the shot. He saw a glum and sorry-looking youth, who in
response to his inquiring look gave merely a head-shake, and hung
up the gun with a vicious bang.
Quonab took down the gun, wiped it out, reloaded it, then turning
to the boy said: "Nibowaka, you feel pretty sick. Ugh! You know
why? You got a good chance, but you got buck fever. It is
always so, every one the first time. You go again to-morrow and
you get your deer."
Rolf made no reply. So Quonab ventured, "You want me to go?"
That settled it for Rolf; his pride was touched.
"No; I'll go again in the morning."
In the dew time he was away once more on the hunting trail.
There was no wind, but the southwest was the likeliest to spring
up. So he went nearly over his last night's track. He found it
much easier to go silently now when all the world was dew wet,
and travelled quickly. Past the fateful glade he went, noted
again the tree torn several feet too high up, and on. Then the
cry of a bluejay rang out; this is often a notification of deer
at hand. It always is warning of something doing, and no wise
hunter ignores it.
Rolf stood for a moment listening and peering. He thought he
heard a scraping sound; then again the bluejay, but the former
ceased and the jay-note died in the distance. He crept
cautiously on again for a few minutes; another opening appeared.
He studied this from a hiding place; then far across he saw a
little flash near the ground. His heart gave a jump; he studied
the place, saw again the flash and then made out the head of a
deer, a doe that was lying in the long grass. The flash was made
by its ear shaking off a fly. Rolf looked to his priming, braced
himself, got fully ready, then gave a short, sharp whistle;
instantly the doe rose to her feet; then another appeared, a
sinal one; then a young buck; all stood gazing his way.
Up went the gun, but again its muzzle began to wabble. Rolf
lowered it, said grimly and savagely to himself, "I will not
shake this time." The deer stretched themselves and began slowly
walking toward the lake. All had disappeared but the buck. Rolf
gave another whistle that turned the antler-bearer to a statue.
Controlling himself with a strong "I will," he raised the gun,
held it steadily, and fired. The buck gave a gathering spasm, a
bound, and disappeared. Rolf felt sick again with disgust, but
he reloaded, then hastily went forward.
There was the deep imprint showing where the buck had bounded at
the shot, but no blood. He followed, and a dozen feet away found
the next hoof marks and on them a bright-red stain; on and
another splash; and more and shortening bounds, till one hundred
yards away - yes, there it lay; the round, gray form, quite dead,
shot through the heart. I
Rolf gave a long, rolling war cry and got an answer from a point
that was startlingly near, and Quonab stepped from behind a tree.
"I got him," shouted Rolf.
The Indian smiled. "I knew you would, so I followed; last night
I knew you must have your shakes, so let you go it alone."
Very carefully that deer was skinned, and Rolf learned the reason
for many little modes of procedure.
After the hide was removed from the body (not the hand or legs),
Quonab carefully cut out the-broad sheath of tendon that cover
the muscles, beginning at the hip bones on the back and extending
up to the shoulders; this is the sewing sinew. Then he cut out
the two long fillets of meat that lie on each side of the spine
outside (the loin) and the two smaller ones inside (the
These, with the four quarters, the heart, and the kidneys, were
put into the hide. The entrails, head, neck, legs, feet, he left
for the foxes, but the hip bone or sacrum he hung in a tree with
three little red yarns from them, so that the Great Spirit would
be pleased and send good hunting. Then addressing the head he
said: "Little brother, forgive us. We are sorry to kill you.
Behold! we give you the honour of red streamers." Then bearing
the rest they tramped back to camp.
The meat wrapped in sacks to keep off the flies was hung in the
shade, but the hide he buried in the warm mud of a swamp hole,
and three days later, when the hair began to slip, he scraped it
clean. A broad ash wood hoop he had made ready and when the
green rawhide was strained on it again the Indian had an Indian
It was not truly dry for two or three days and as it tightened on
its frame it gave forth little sounds of click and shrinkage that
told of the strain the tensioned rawhide made. Quonab tried it
that night as he sat by the fire softly singing:
"Ho da ho-he da he."
But the next day before sunrise he climbed the hill and sitting
on the sun-up rock he hailed the Day God with the invocation, as
he had not sung it since the day they left the great rock above
the Asalnuk, and followed with the song:
"Father, we thank thee; We have found the good hunting. There is
meat in the wigwam."
Chapter 22. The Line of Traps
Now that they had the cabin for winter, and food for the present,
they must set about the serious business of trapping and lay a
line of deadfalls for use in the coming cold weather. They were
a little ahead of time, but it was very desirable to get their
lines blazed through the woods in all proposed directions in case
of any other trapper coming in. Most fur-bearing animals are to
be found along the little valleys of the stream: beaver, otter,
mink, muskrat, coon, are examples. Those that do not actually
live by the water seek these places because of their sheltered
character and because their prey lives there; of this class are
the lynx, fox, fisher, and marten that feed on rabbits and mice.
Therefore a line of traps is usually along some valley and over
the divide and down some other valley back to the point of
So, late in September, Rolf and Quonab, with their bedding, a
pot, food for four days, and two axes, alternately followed and
led by Skookum, set out along a stream that entered the lake near
their cabin. A quarter mile up they built their first deadfall
for martens. It took them one hour and was left unset. The
place was under a huge tree on a neck of land around which the
stream made a loop. This tree they blazed on three sides. Two
hundred yards up another good spot was found and a deadfall made.
At one place across a neck of land was a narrow trail evidently
worn by otters. "Good place for steel trap, bime-by," was
From time to time they disturbed deer, and in a muddy place where
a deer path crossed the creek, they found, among the numerous
small hoof prints, the track of wolves, bears, and a mountain
lion, or panther. At these little Skookum sniffed fearsomely,
and showed by his bristly mane that he was at least much
After five hours' travel and work they came to another stream
joining on, and near the angle of the two little valleys they
found a small tree that was chewed and scratched in a remarkable
manner for three to six feet up. "Bear tree," said Quonab, and by
degrees Rolf got the facts about it.
The bears, and indeed most animals, have a way of marking the
range that they consider their own. Usually this is done by
leaving their personal odour at various points, covering the
country claimed, but in some cases visible marks are added. Thus
the beaver leaves a little dab of mud, the wolf scratches with
his hind feet, and the bear tears the signal tree with tooth and
claw. Since this is done from time to time, when the bear
happens to be near the tree, it is kept fresh as long as the
region is claimed. But it is especially done in midsummer when
the bears are pairing, and helps them to find suitable
companions, nor all are then roaming the woods seeking mates; all
call and leave their mark on the sign post, so the next bear,
thanks to his exquisite nose, can tell at once the sex of the
bear that called last and by its track tell which way it
In this case it was a bear's register, but before long Quonab
showed Rolf a place where two long logs joined at an angle by a
tree that was rubbed and smelly, and showed a few marten hairs,
indicating that this was the sign post of a marten and a good
place to make a deadfall.
Yet a third was found in an open, grassy glade, a large, white
stone on which were pellets left by foxes. The Indian explained:
"Every fox that travels near will come and smell the stone to see
who of his kind is around, so this is a good place for a
fox-trap; a steel trap, of course, for no fox will go into a
And slowly Rolf learned that these habits are seen in some
measure in all animals; yes, down to the mice and shrews. We see
little of it because our senses are blunt and our attention
untrained; but the naturalist and the hunter always know where to
look for the four-footed inhabitants and by them can tell whether
or not the land is possessed by such and such a furtive tribe.
Chapter 23. The Beaver Pond
AT THE noon halt they were about ten miles from home and had made
fifteen deadfalls for marten, for practice was greatly reducing
the time needed for each.
In the afternoon they went on, but the creek had become a mere
rill and they were now high up in a more level stretch of country
that was more or less swampy. As they followed the main course of
the dwindling stream, looking ever for signs of fur-bearers, they
crossed and recrossed the water. At length Quonab stopped,
stared, and pointed at the rill, no longer clear but clouded with
mud. His eyes shone as he jerked his head up stream and uttered
the magic word, "Beaver."
They tramped westerly for a hundred yards through a dense swamp
of alders, and came at last to an irregular pond that spread out
among the willow bushes and was lost in the swampy thickets.
Following the stream they soon came to a beaver dam, a long,
curving bank of willow branches and mud, tumbling through the top
of which were a dozen tiny streams that reunited their waters
below to form the rivulet they had been following.
Red-winged blackbirds were sailing in flocks about the pond; a
number of ducks were to be seen, and on a dead tree, killed by
the backed up water, a great blue heron stood. Many smaller
creatures moved or flitted in the lively scene, while far out
near the middle rose a dome-like pile of sticks, a beaver lodge,
and farther three more were discovered. No beaver were seen, but
the fresh cut sticks, the floating branches peeled of all the
bark, and the long, strong dam in good repair were enough to tell
a practised eye that here was a large colony of beavers in
In those days beaver was one of the most valued furs. The
creature is very easy to trap; so the discovery of the pond was
like the finding of a bag of gold. They skirted its uncertain
edges and Quonab pointed out the many landing places of the
beaver; little docks they seemed, built up with mud and stones
with deep water plunge holes alongside. Here and there on the
shore was a dome-shaped ant's nest with a pathway to it from the
pond, showing, as the Indian said, that here the beaver came on
sunny days to lie on the hill and let the swarming ants come
forth and pick the vermin from their fur. At one high point
projecting into the still water they found a little mud pie with
a very strong smell; this, the Indian said, was a "castor cache,"
the sign that, among beavers, answers the same purpose as the
bear tree among bears.
Although the pond seemed small they had to tramp a quarter of a
mile before reaching the upper end and here they found another
dam, with its pond. This was at a slightly higher level and
contained a single lodge; after this they found others, a dozen
ponds in a dozen successive rises, the first or largest and the
second only having lodges, but all were evidently part of the
thriving colony, for fresh cut trees were seen on every side.
"Ugh, good; we get maybe fifty beaver," said the Indian, and they
knew they had reached the Promised Land.
Rolf would gladly have spent the rest of the day exploring the
pond and trying for a beaver, when the eventide should call them
to come forth, but Quonab said, "Only twenty deadfall; we should
have one hundred and fifty." So making for a fine sugar bush on
the dry ground west of the ponds they blazed a big tree, left a
deadfall there, and sought the easiest way over the rough hills
that lay to the east, in hopes of reaching the next stream
leading down to their lake.
Chapter 24. The Porcupine
Skookum was a partly trained little dog; he would stay in camp
when told, if it suited him; and would not hesitate to follow or
lead his master, when he felt that human wisdom was inferior to
the ripe product of canine experience covering more than thirteen
moons of recollection. But he was now living a life in which his
previous experience must often fail him as a guide. A faint
rustling on the leafy ground had sent him ahead at a run, and his
sharp, angry bark showed that some hostile creature of the woods
had been discovered. Again and again the angry yelping was
changed into a sort of yowl, half anger, half distress. The
hunters hurried forward to find the little fool charging again
and again a huge porcupine that was crouched with its head under
a log, its hindquarters exposed but bristling with spines; and
its tail lashing about, left a new array of quills in the dog's
mouth and face each time he charged. Skookum was a plucky
fighter, but plainly he was nearly sick of it. The pain of the
quills would, of course, increase every minute and with each
movement. Quonab took a stout stick and threw the porcupine out
of its retreat, (Rolf supposed to kill it when the head was
exposed,) but the spiny one, finding a new and stronger enemy,
wasted no time in galloping at its slow lumbering pace to the
nearest small spruce tree and up that it scrambled to a safe
place in the high branches.
Now the hunters called the dog. He was a sorry-looking object,
pawing at his muzzle, first with one foot, then another, trying
to unswallow the quills in his tongue, blinking hard, uttering
little painful grunts and whines as he rubbed his head upon the
ground or on his forelegs. Rolf held him while Quonab, with a
sharp jerk, brought out quill after quill. Thirty or forty of
the poisonous little daggers were plucked from his trembling
legs, head, face, and nostrils, but the dreadful ones were those
in his lips and tongue. Already they were deeply sunk in the
soft, quivering flesh. One by one those in the lips were with-
drawn by the strong fingers of the red man, and Skookum whimpered
a little, but he shrieked outright when those in the tongue were
removed. Rolf had hard work to hold him, and any one not knowing
the case might have thought that the two men were deliberately
holding the dog to administer the most cruel torture.
But none of the quills had sunk very deep. All were got out at
last and the little dog set free.
Now Rolf thought of vengeance on the quill-pig snugly sitting in
the tree near by.
Ammunition was too predous to waste, but Rolf was getting ready
to climb when Quonab said: "No, no; you must not. Once I saw
white man climb after the Kahk; it waited till he was near, then
backed down, lashing its tail. He put up his arm to save his
face. It speared his arm in fifty places and he could not save
his face, so he tried to get down, but the Kahk came faster,
lashing him; then he lost his hold and dropped. His leg was
broken and his arm was swelled up for half a year. They are very
poisonous. He nearly died."
"Well, I can at least chop him down," and Rolf took the axe.
"Wah!" Quonab said, "no; my father said you must not kill the
Kahk, except you make sacrifice and use his quills for household
work. It is bad medicine to kill the Kahk."
So the spiny one was left alone in the place he had so ably
fought for. But Skookum, what of him? He was set free at last.
To be wiser? Alas, no! before one hour he met with another
porcupine and remembering only his hate of the creature repeated
the same sad mistake, and again had to have the painful help,
without which he must certainly have died. Before night,
however, he began to feel his real punishment and next morning no
one would have known the pudding-headed thing that sadly followed
the hunters, for the bright little dog that a day before had run
so joyously through the woods. It was many a long day before he
fully recovered and at one time his life was in the balance; and
yet to the last of his days he never fully realized the folly of
his insensate attacks on the creature that fights with its tail.
"It is ever so," said the Indian. "The lynx, the panther, the
wolf, the fox, the eagle, all that attack the Kahk must die.
Once my father saw a bear that was killed by the quills. He had
tried to bite the Kahk; it filled his mouth with quills that he
could not spit out. They sunk deeper and his jaws swelled so he
could not open or shut his mouth to eat; then he starved. My
people found him near a fish pond below a rapid. There were many
fish. The bear could kill them with his paw but not eat, so with
his mouth wide open and plenty about him he died of starvation in
"There is but one creature that can kill the Kahk that is the
Ojeeg the big fisher weasel. He is a devil. He makes very
strong medicine; the Kahk cannot harm him. He turns it on its
back and tears open its smooth belly. It is ever so. We not
know, but my, father said, that it is because when in the flood
Nana Bojou was floating on the log with Kahk and Ojeeg, Kahk was
insolent and wanted the highest place, but Ojeeg was respectful
to Nana Bojou, he bit the Kahk to teach him a lesson and got
lashed with the tail of many stings. But the Manito drew out the
quills and said: 'It shall be ever thus; the Ojeeg shall conquer
the Kahk and the quills of Kahk shall never do Ojeeg any harm.'"
Chapter 25. The Otter Slide
It was late now and the hunters camped in the high cool woods.
Skookum whined in his sleep so loudly as to waken them once or
twice. Near dawn they heard the howling of wolves and the
curiously similar hooting of a horned owl. There is, indeed,
almost no differece between the short opening howl of a she-wolf
and the long hoot of the owl. As he listened, half awake, Rolf
heard a whirr of wings which stopped overhead, then a familiar
chuckle. He sat up and saw Skookum sadly lift his misshapen head
to gaze at a row of black-breasted grouse partridge on a branch
above, but the poor doggie was feeling too sick to take any
active interest. They were not ruffed grouse, but a kindred
kind, new to Rolf. As he gazed at the perchers, he saw Quonab
rise gently, go to nearest willow and cut a long slender rod at
least two feet long; on the top of this he made a short noose of
cord. Then he went cautiously under the watching grouse, the
spruce partridges, and reaching up slipped the noose over the
neck of the first one; a sharp jerk then tightened noose, and
brought the grouse tumbling out of the tree while its companions
merely clucked their puzzlement, made no effort to escape.
A short, sharp blow put the captive out of pain. The rod was
reached again and a second, the lowest always, was jerked down,
and the trick repeated till three grouse were secured. Then only
did it dawn on the others that they were in a most perilous
neighbourhood, so they took flight.
Rolf sat up in amazement. Quonab dropped the three birds by the
fire and set about preparing breakfast.
"These are fool hens," he explained. "You can mostly get them
this way; sure, if you have a dog to help, but ruffed grouse is
no such fool."
Rolf dressed the birds and as usual threw the entrails Skookum.
Poor little dog! he was, indeed, a sorry sight. He looked sadly
out of his bulging eyes, feebly moved swollen jaws, but did not
touch the food he once would have pounced on. He did not eat
because he could not open his mouth.
At camp the trappers made a log trap and continued the line with
blazes and deadfalls, until, after a mile, they came to a broad
tamarack swamp, and, skirting its edge, found a small, outflowing
stream that brought them to an eastward-facing hollow.
Everywhere there were signs game, but they were not prepared for
the scene that opened as they cautiously pushed through the
thickets into a high, hardwood bush. A deer rose out of the
grass and stared curiously at them; then another and another
until nearly a dozen were in sight; still farther many others
appeared; to the left were more, and movements told of yet others
to the right. Then their white flags went up and all loped gently
away on the slope that rose to the north. There may have been
twenty or thirty deer in sight, but the general effect of all
their white tails, bobbing away, was that the woods were full of
deer. They seemed to be there by the hundreds and the joy of
seeing so many beautiful live things was helped in the hunters by
the feeling that this was their own hunting-ground. They had,
indeed, reached the land of plenty.
The stream increased as they marched; many springs and some
important rivulets joined on. They found some old beaver signs
but none new; and they left their deadfalls every quarter mile or less.
The stream began to descend more quickly until it was in a long,
narrow valley with steep clay sides and many pools. Here they
saw again and again the tracks and signs of otter and coming
quietly round a turn that opened a new reach they heard a deep
splash, then another and another.
The hunters' first thought was to tie up Skookum, but a glance
showed that this was unnecessary. They softly dropped the packs
and the sick dog lay meekly down beside them. Then they crept
forward with hunter caution, favoured by an easterly breeze.
Their first thought was of beaver, but they had seen no recent
sign, nor was there anything that looked like a beaver pond. The
measured splash, splash, splash -- was not so far ahead. It might
be a bear snatching fish, or -- no, that was too unpleasant -- a
man baling out a canoe. Still the slow splash, splash, went on
at intervals, not quite regular.
Now it seemed but thirty yards ahead and in the creek.
With the utmost care they crawled to the edge of the clay and
opposite they saw a sight but rarely glimpsed by man. Here were
six otters; two evidently full-grown, and four seeming young of
the pair, engaged in a most hilarious and human game of tobogganing
down a steep clay hill to plump into a deep part at its foot.
Plump went the largest, presumably the father; down he went, to
reappear at the edge, scramble out and up an easy slope to the
top of the twenty-foot bank. Splash, splash, splash, came three
of the young ones; splash, splash, the mother and one of the cubs
"Scoot" went the big male again, and the wet furslopping and
rubbing on the long clay chute made it greasier and slipperier
Splash, plump, splash -- splash, plump, splash, went the otter
family gleefully, running up the bank again, eager each to be
first, it seemed, and to do the chute the oftenest.
The gambolling grace, the obvious good humour, the animal
hilarity of it all, was absorbingly amusing. The trappers gazed
with pleasure that showed how near akin are naturalist and
hunter. Of course, they had some covetous thought connected with
those glossy hides, but this was September still, and even otter
were not yet prime. Shoot, plump, splash, went the happy crew
with apparently unabated joy and hilarity. The slide improved
with use and the otters seemed tireless; when all at once a loud
but muffled yelp was heard and Skookum, forgetting all caution,
came leaping down the bank to take a hand.
With a succession of shrill, birdy chirps the old otters warned
their young. Plump, plump, plump, all shot into the pool, but to
reappear, swimming with heads out, for they were but slightly
alarmed. This was too much for Quonob; he levelled his flintlock;
snap, bang, it went, pointed at the old male, but he dived at the
snap and escaped. Down the bank now rushed the hunters,
joined by Skookum, to attack the otters in the pool, for it was
small and shallow; unless a burrow led from it, they were trapped.
But the otters realized the peril. All six dashed out of the
pool, down the open, gravelly stream the old ones uttering loud
chirps that rang like screams. Under the fallen logs and brush
they glided, dodging beneath roots and over banks, pursued by the
hunters, each armed with a club and by Skookum not armed at all.
The otters seemed to know where they were going and distanced all
but the dog. Forgetting his own condition Skookum had almost
overtaken one of the otter cubs when the mother wheeled about
and, hissing and snarling, charged. Skookum was lucky to get off
with a slight nip, for the otter is a dangerous fighter. But the
unlucky dog was sent howling back to the two packs that he never
should have left.
The hunters now found an open stretch of woods through which
Quonab could run ahead and intercept the otters as they bounded
on down the stream bed, pursued by Rolf, who vainly tried to deal
a blow with his club. In a few seconds the family party was up
to Quonab, trapped it seemed, but there is no more desperate
assailant than an otter fighting for its young. So far from
being cowed the two old ones made a simultaneous, furious rush at
the Indian. Wholly taken by surprise, he missed with his club,
and sprang aside to escape their jaws. The family dashed around
then past him, and, urged by the continuous chirps of the mother,
they plunged under a succession of log jams and into a willow
swamp that spread out into an ancient beaver lake and were
swallowed up in the silent wilderness.
Chapter 26. Back to the Cabin
The far end of the long swamp the stream emerged, now much
larger, and the trappers kept on with their work. When night
fell they had completed fifty traps, all told, and again they
camped without shelter overhead.
Next day Skookum was so much worse that they began to fear for
his life. He had eaten nothing since the sad encounter. He
could drink a little, so Rolf made a pot of soup, and when it was
cool the poor doggie managed to swallow some of the liquid after
half an hour's patient endeavour.
They were now on the home line; from a hill top they got a
distant view of their lake, though it was at least five miles
away. Down the creek they went, still making their deadfalls at
likely places and still seeing game tracks at the muddy spots.
The creek came at length to an extensive, open, hardwood bush,
and here it was joined by another stream that came from the
south, the two making a small river. From then on they seemed in
a land of game; trails of deer were seen on the ground
everywhere, and every few minutes they started one or two deer.
The shady oak wood itself was flanked and varied with dense cedar
swamps such as the deer love to winter in, and after they had
tramped through two miles of it, the Indian said, "Good! now we
know where to come in winter when we need meat."
At a broad, muddy ford they passed an amazing number of tracks,
mostly deer, but a few of panther, lynx, fisher, wolf, otter, and
In the afternoon they reached the lake. The stream, quite a
broad one here, emptied in about four miles south of the camp.
Leaving a deadfall near its mouth they followed the shore and
made a log trap every quarter mile just above the high water
When they reached the place of Rolf's first deer they turned
aside to see it. The gray jays had picked a good deal of the
loose meat. No large animal had troubled it, and yet in the
neighbourhood they found the tracks of both wolves and foxes;
"Ugh," said Quonab, "they smell it and come near, but they know
that a man has been here; they are not very hungry, so keep away.
This is good for trap."
So they made two deadfalls with the carrion half way between
them. Then one or two more traps and they reached home, arriving
at the camp just as darkness and a heavy rainfall began.
"Good," said Quonab, "our deadfalls are ready; we have done all
the work our fingers could not do when the weather is very cold,
and the ground too hard for stakes to be driven. Now the traps
can get weathered before we go round and set them. Yet we need
some strong medicine, some trapper charm."
Next morning he went forth with fish-line and fish-spear; he soon
returned with a pickerel. He filled a bottle with cut-up shreds
of this, corked it up, and hung it on the warm, sunny side of the
shanty. "That will make a charm that every bear will come to, "
he said, and left it to the action of the sun.
Chapter 27. Sick Dog Skookum
Getting home is always a joy; but walking about the place in the
morning they noticed several little things that were wrong.
Quonab's lodge was down, the paddles that stood against the
shanty were scattered on the ground, and a bag of venison hung
high at the ridge was opened and empty.
Quonab studied the tracks and announced "a bad old black bear; he
has rollicked round for mischief, upsetting things. But the
venison he could not reach; that was a marten that ripped open
"Then that tells what we should do; build a storehouse at the end
of the shanty, " said Rolf, adding, "it must be tight and it must
"Maybe! sometime before winter," said the Indian; "but now we
should make another line of traps while the weather is fine."
"No," replied the lad, "Skookum is not fit to travel now. We
can't leave him behind, and we can make a storehouse in three
The unhappy little dog was worse than ever. He could scarcely
breathe, much less eat or drink, and the case was settled.
First they bathed the invalid's head in water as hot as he could
stand it. This seemed to help him so much that he swallowed
eagerly some soup that they poured into his mouth. A bed was
made for him in a sunny place and the hunters set about the new
In three days the storehouse was done, excepting the chinking.
It was October now, and a sharp night frost warned them of the
hard white moons to come. Quonab, as he broke the ice in a tin
cup and glanced at the low-hung sun, said: "The leaves are
falling fast; snow comes soon; we need another line of traps."
He stopped suddenly; stared across the lake. Rolf looked, and
here came three deer, two bucks and a doe, trotting, walking, or
lightly clearing obstacles, the doe in advance; the others, rival
followers. As they kept along the shore, they came nearer the
cabin. Rolf glanced at Quonab, who nodded, then slipped in, got
down the gun, and quickly glided unseen to the river where the
deer path landed. The bucks did not actually fight, for the
season was not yet on, but their horns were clean, their necks
were swelling, and they threatened each other as they trotted
after the leader. They made for the ford as for some familiar
path, and splashed through, almost without swimming. As they
landed, Rolf waited a clear view, then gave a short sharp "Hist!"
It was like a word of magic, for it turned the three moving deer
to three stony-still statues. Rolf's sights were turned on the
smaller buck, and when the great cloud following the bang had
deared away, the two were gone and the lesser buck was kicking on
the ground some fifty yards away.
"We have found the good hunting; the deer walk into camp," said
Quonab; and the product of the chase was quickly stored, the
first of the supplies to be hung in the new storehouse.
The entrails were piled up and covered with brush and stones.
"That will keep off ravens and jays; then in winter the foxes
will come and we can take their coats."
Now they must decide for the morning. Skookum was somewhat
better, but still very sick, and Rolf suggested: "Quonab, you
take the gun and axe and lay a new line. I will stay behind and
finish up the cabin for the winter and look after the dog." So
it was agreed. The Indian left the camp alone this time and
crossed to the east shore of the lake; there to follow up another
stream as before and to return in three or four days to the cabin.
Chapter 28. Alone in the Wilderness
Rolf began the day by giving Skookum a bath as hot as he could
stand it, and later his soup. For the first he whined feebly and
for the second faintly wagged his tail; but clearly he was on the
Now the chinking and moss-plugging of the new cabin required all
attention. That took a day and looked like the biggest job on
hand, but Rolf had been thinking hard about the winter. In
Connecticut the wiser settlers used to bank their houses for the
cold weather; in the Adiron- dacks he knew it was far, far
colder, and he soon decided to bank the two shanties as deeply as
possible with earth. A good spade made of white oak, with its
edge hardened by roasting it brown, was his first necessity, and
after two days of digging he had the cabin with its annex buried
up to "the eyes" in fresh, clean earth.
A stock of new, dry wood for wet weather helped to show how much
too small the cabin was; and now the heavier work was done, and
Rolf had plenty of time to think.
Which of us that has been left alone in the wilderness does not
remember the sensations of the first day! The feeling of
self-dependency, not unmixed with unrestraint; the ending of
civilized thought; the total reversion to the primitive; the
nearness of the wood-folk; a sense of intimacy; a recurrent
feeling of awe at the silent inexorability of all around; and a
sweet pervading sense of mastery in the very freedom. These were
among the feelings that swept in waves through Rolf, and when the
first night came, he found such comfort -- yes, he had to confess
it -- in the company of the helpless little dog whose bed was by
But these were sensations that come not often; in the four days
and nights that he was alone they lost all force.
The hunter proverb about "strange beasts when you have no gun"
was amply illustrated now that Quonab had gone with their only
firearm. The second night before turning in (he slept in the
shanty now), he was taking a last look at the stars, when a
large, dark form glided among the tree trunks between him and the
shimmering lake; stopped, gazed at him, then silently disappeared
along the shore. No wonder that he kept the shanty door closed
that night, and next morning when he studied the sandy ridges he
read plainly that his night visitor had been not a lynx or a fox,
but a prowling cougar or panther.
On the third morning as he went forth in the still early dawn he
heard a snort, and looking toward the spruce woods, was amazed to
see towering up, statuesque, almost grotesque, with its mulish
ears and antediluvian horns, a large bull moose.
Rolf was no coward, but the sight of that monster so close to him
set his scalp a-prickling. He felt so helpless without any
firearms. He stepped into the cabin, took down his bow and
arrows, then gave a contemptuous "Humph; all right for partridge
and squirrels, but give me a rifle for the woods!" He went out
again; there was the moose standing as before. The lad rushed
toward it a few steps, shouting; it stared unmoved. But Rolf was
moved, and he retreated to the cabin. Then remembering the
potency of fire he started a blaze on the hearth. The thick
smoke curled up on the still air, hung low, made swishes through
the grove, until a faint air current took a wreath of it to the
moose. The great nostrils drank in a draught that conveyed
terror to the creature's soul, and wheeling it started at its
best pace to the distant swamp, to be seen no more.
Five times, during these four days, did deer come by and behave
as though they knew perfectly well that this young human was
harmless, entirely without the power of the far-killing mystery.
How intensely Rolf wished for a gun. How vividly came back the
scene in the trader's store, -- when last month he had been
offered a beautiful rifle for twenty-five dollars, to be paid for
in fur next spring, and savagely he blamed himself for not
realizing what a chance it was. Then and there he made resolve
to be the owner of a gun as soon as another chance came, and to
make that chance come right soon.
One little victory he had in that time. The creature that had
torn open the venison bag was still around the camp; that was
plain by the further damage on the bag hung in the storehouse,
the walls of which were not chinked. Mindful of Quonab's remark,
he set two marten traps, one on the roof, near the hole that had
been used as entry; the other on a log along which the creature
must climb to reach the meat. The method of setting is simple; a
hollow is made, large enough to receive the trap as it lies open;
on the pan of the trap some grass is laid smoothly; on each side
of the trap a piece of prickly brush is placed, so that in
leaping over these the creature will land on the lurking snare.
The chain was made fast to a small log.
Although so seldom seen there is no doubt that the marten comes
out chiefly by day. That night the trap remained unsprung; next
morning as Rolf went at silent dawn to bring water from the lake,
he noticed a long, dark line that proved to be ducks. As he sat
gazing he heard a sound in the tree beyond the cabin. It was
like the scratching of a squirrel climbing about. Then he saw
the creature, a large, dark squirrel, it seemed. It darted up
this tree and down that, over logs and under brush, with the
lightning speed of a lightning squirrel, and from time to time it
stopped still as a bump while it gazed at some far and suspicious
object. Up one trunk it went like a brown flash, and a moment
later, out, cackling from its top, flew two partridges. Down to
the ground, sinuous, graceful, incessantly active flashed the
marten. Along a log it raced in undulating leaps; in the middle
it stopped as though frozen, to gaze intently into a bed of
sedge; with three billowy bounds its sleek form reached the
sedge, flashed in and out again with a mouse in its snarling
jaws; a side leap now, and another squeaker was squeakless, and
another. The three were slain, then thrown aside, as the brown
terror scanned a flight of ducks passing over. Into a thicket of
willow it disap- peared and out again like an eel going through
the mud, then up a tall stub where woodpecker holes were to be
seen. Into the largest it went so quickly Rolf could scarcely see
how it entered, and out in a few seconds bearing a flying
squirrel whose skull it had crushed. Dropping the squirrel it
leaped after it, and pounced again on the quivering form with a
fearsome growl; then shook it savagely, tore it apart, cast it
aside. Over the ground it now undulated, its shining yellow
breast like a target of gold. Again it stopped. Now in pose
like a pointer, exquisitely graceful, but oh, so wicked! Then
the snaky neck swung the cobra head in the breeze and the brown
one sniffed and sniffed, advanced a few steps, tried the wind and
the ground. Still farther and the concentrated interest showed in
its outstretched neck and quivering tail. Bounding into a
thicket it went, when out of the other side there leaped a
snowshoe rabbit, away and away for dear life. Jump, jump, jump;
twelve feet at every stride, and faster than the eye could
follow, with the marten close behind. What a race it was, and
how they twinkled through the brush! The rabbit is, indeed,
faster, but courage counts for much, and his was low; but luck
and his good stars urged him round to the deer trail crossing of
the stream; once there he could not turn. There was only one
course. He sprang into the open river and swam for his life.
And the marten - why should it go in? It hated the water; it was
not hungry; it was out for sport, and water sport is not to its
liking. It braced its sinewy legs and halted at the very brink,
while bunny crossed to the safe woods.
Back now came Wahpestan, the brown death, over the logs like a
winged snake, skimming the ground like a sinister shadow, and
heading for the cabin as the cabin's owner watched. Passing the
body of the squirrel it paused to rend it again, then diving into
the brush came out so far away and so soon that the watcher
supposed at first that this was another marten. Up the shanty
corner it flashed, hardly appearing to climb, swung that yellow
throat and dark-brown muzzle for a second, then made toward the entry.
Rolf sat with staring eyes as the beautiful demon, elegantly
spurning the roof sods, went at easy, measured bounds toward the
open chink -- toward its doom. One, two, three -- clearing the
prickly cedar bush, its forefeet fell on the hidden trap; clutch,
a savage shriek, a flashing, -- a struggle baffling the eyes to
follow, and the master of the squirrels was himself under
Rolf rushed forward now. The little demon in the trap was
frothing with rage and hate; it ground the iron with its teeth;
it shrieked at the human foeman coming.
The scene must end, the quicker the better, and even as the
marten itself had served the flying squirrel and the mice, and as
Quonab served the mink, so Rolf served the marten and the woods
Chapter 29. Snowshoes
That's for Annette," said Rolf, remembering his promise as he
hung the stretched marten skin to dry.
"Yi! Yi! Yi!" came three yelps, just as he had heard them the
day he first met Quonab, and crossing the narrow lake he saw his
"We have found the good hunting," he said, as Rolf steadied the
canoe at the landing and Skookum, nearly well again, wagged his
entire ulterior person to welcome the wanderer home. The first
thing to catch the boy's eye was a great, splendid beaver skin
stretched on a willow hoop.
"Ho, ho!" he exclaimed.
"Ugh; found another pond."
"Good, good," said Rolf as he stroked the flrst beaver skin he
had ever seen in the woods.
"This is better," said Quonab, and held up the two barkstones,
castors, or smell-glands that are found in every beaver and which
for some hid reason have an irresistible attraction for all wild
animals. To us the odour is slight, but they have the power of
intensifying, perpetuating, and projecting such odorous
substances as may be mixed with them. No trapper considers his
bait to be perfect without a little of the mysterious castor. So
that that most stenchable thing they had already concocted of
fish-oil, putrescence, sewer-gas, and sunlight, when commingled
and multiplied with the dried-up powder of a castor, was
intensified into a rich, rancid, gas-exhaling hell-broth as
rapturously bewitching to our furry brothers as it is
poisonously nauseating to ourselves -- seductive afar like the
sweetest music, inexorable as fate, insidious as laughing-gas,
soothing and numbing as absinthe -- this, the lure and
caution-luller, is the fellest trick in all the trappers' code.
As deadly as inexplicable, not a few of the states have classed
it with black magic and declared its use a crime.
But no such sentiment prevailed in the high hills of Quonab's
time, and their preparations for a successful trapping season
were nearly perfect. Thirty deadfalls made by Quonab, with the
sixty made on the first trip and a dozen steel traps, were surely
promise of a good haul. It was nearly November now; the fur was
prime; then why not begin? Because the weather was too fine.
You must have frosty weather or the creatures taken in the
deadfalls are spoiled before the trapper can get around.
Already a good, big pile of wood was cut; both shanty and
storeroom were chinked, plugged, and banked for the winter. It
was not safe yet to shoot and store a number of deer, but there
was something they could do. Snowshoes would soon be a necessary
of life; and the more of this finger work they did while the
weather was warm, the better.
Birch and ash are used for frames; the former is less liable to
split, but harder to work. White ash was plentiful on the near
flat, and a small ten-foot log was soon cut and split into a lot
of long laths. Quonab of course took charge; but Rolf followed
in everything. Each took a lath and shaved it down evenly until
an inch wide and three quarters of an inch thick. The exact
middle was marked, and for ten inches at each side of that it was
shaved down to half an inch in thickness. Two flat crossbars,
ten and twelve inches long, were needed and holes to receive
these made half through the frame. The pot was ready boiling and
by using a cord from end to end of each lath they easily bent it
in the middle and brought the wood into touch with the boiling
water. Before an hour the steam had so softened the wood, and
robbed it of spring, that it was easy to make it into any desired
shape. Each lath was cautiously bent round; the crossbars
slipped into their prepared sockets; a temporary lashing of cord
kept all in place; then finally the frames were set on a level
place with the fore end raised two inches and a heavy log put on
the frame to give the upturn to the toe.
Here they were left to dry and the Indian set about preparing
the necessary thongs. A buckskin rolled in wet, hard wood ashes
had been left in the mud hole. Now after a week the hair was
easily scraped off and the hide, cleaned and trimmed of all loose
ends and tags, was spread out -- soft, white, and supple.
Beginning outside, and following round and round the edge, Quonab
cut a thong of rawhide as nearly as possible a quarter inch wide.
This he carried on till there were many yards of it, and the hide
was all used up. The second deer skin was much smaller and
thinner. He sharpened his knife and cut it much finer, at least
half the width of the other. Now they were ready to lace the
shoes, the finer for the fore and back parts, the heavy for the
middle on which the wearer treads. An expert squaw would have
laughed at the rude snowshoes that were finished that day, but
they were strong and serviceable.
Naturally the snowshoes suggested a toboggan. That was easily
made by splitting four thin boards of ash, each six inches wide
and ten feet long. An up-curl was steamed on the prow of each,
and rawhide lashings held all to the crossbars.
Chapter 30. Catching a Fox
As to wisdom, a man ain't a spring; he's a tank, an' gives out
only what he gathers" -- Sayings of Si Sylvanne
Quonab would not quit his nightly couch in the canvas lodge so
Rolf and Skookum stayed with him. The dog was himself again, and
more than once in the hours of gloom dashed forth in noisy chase
of something which morning study of the tracks showed to have
been foxes. They were attracted partly by the carrion of the
deer, partly by the general suitability of the sandy beach for a
gambolling place, and partly by a foxy curiosity concerning the
cabin, the hunters, and their dog.
One morning after several night arousings and many raids by
Skookum, Rolf said: "Fox is good now; why shouldn't I add some
fox pelts to that?" and he pointed with some pride to the marten
"Ugh, good; go ahead; you will learn," was the reply.
So getting out the two fox traps Rolf set to work. Noting where
chiefly the foxes ran or played he chose two beaten pathways and
hid the traps carefully, exactly as he did for the marten; then
selecting a couple of small cedar branches he cut these and laid
them across the path, one on each side of the trap, assuming that
the foxes following the usual route would leap over the boughs
and land in disaster. To make doubly sure he put a piece of meat
by each trap and half-way between them set a large piece on a
Then he sprinkled fresh earth over the pathways and around each
trap and bait so he should have a record of the tracks.
Foxes came that night, as he learned by the footprints along the
beach, but never one went near his traps. He studied the marks;
they slowly told him all the main facts. The foxes had come as
usual, and frolicked about. They had discovered the bait and the
traps at once -- how could such sharp noses miss them -- and as
quickly noted that the traps were suspicious-smelling iron
things, that manscent, hand, foot, and body, were very evident
all about; that the only inducement to go forward was some meat
which was coarse and cold, not for a moment to be compared with
the hot juicy mouse meat that abounded in every meadow. The
foxes were well fed and unhungry. Why should they venture into
such evident danger? In a word, walls of stone could not have
more completely protected the ground and the meat from the foxes
than did the obvious nature of the traps; not a track was near,
and many afar showed how quickly they had veered off.
"Ugh, it is always so," said Quonab. "Will you try again? "
"Yes, I will, " replied Rolf, remembering now that he had omitted
to deodorize his traps and his boots.
He made a fire of cedar and smoked his traps, chains, and all.
Then taking a piece of raw venison he rubbed it on his leather
gloves and on the soles of his boots, wondering how he had
expected to succeed the night before with all these man-scent
killers left out. He put fine, soft moss under the pan of each
trap, then removed the cedar brush, and gently sprinkled all with
fine, dry earth. The set was perfect; no human eye could have
told that there was any trap in the place. It seemed a foregone
"Fox don't go by eye, " was all the Indian said, for he reckoned
it best to let the learner work it out.
In the morning Rolf was up eager to see the results. There was
nothing at all. A fox had indeed, come within ten feet at one
place, but behaved then as though positively amused at the
childishness of the whole smelly affair. Had a man been there on
guard with a club, he could not have kept the spot more wholly
clear of foxes. Rolf turned away baffled and utterly puzzled. He
had not gone far before he heard a most terrific yelping from
Skookum, and turned to see that trouble-seeking pup caught by the
leg in the first trap. It was more the horrible surprise than
the pain, but he did howl.
The hunters came quickly to the rescue and at once he was freed,
none the worse, for the traps have no teeth; they merely hold.
It is the long struggle and the starvation chiefly that are
cruel, and these every trapper should cut short by going often
around his line.
Now Quonab took part. "That is a good setting for some things.
It would catch a coon, a mink, or a marten, -- or a dog -- but
not a fox or a wolf. They are very clever. You shall see."
The Indian got out a pair of thick leather gloves, smoked them in
cedar, also the traps. Next he rubbed his moccasin soles with
raw meat and selecting a little bay in the shore he threw a long
pole on the sand, from the line of high, dry shingle across to
the water's edge. In his hand he carried a rough stake. Walking
carefully on the pole and standing on it, he drove the stake in
at about four feet from the shore; then split it, and stuffed
some soft moss into the split. On this he poured three or four
drops of the "smell-charm." Now he put a lump of spruce gum on
the pan of the trap, holding a torch under it till the gum was
fused, and into this he pressed a small, flat stone. The chain of
the trap he fastened to a ten-pound stone of convenient shape,
and sank the stone in the water half-way between the stake and
the shore. Last he placed the trap on this stone, so that when
open everything would be under water except the flat stone on the
pan. Now he returned along the pole and dragged it away with
Thus there was now no track or scent of human near the place.
The setting was a perfect one, but even then the foxes did not go
near it the following night; they must become used to it. In
their code, " A strange thing is always dangerous." In the
morning Rolf was inclined to scoff. But Quonab said: "Wah! No
trap goes first night."
They did not need to wait for the second morning. In the middle
of the night Skookum rushed forth barking, and they followed to
see a wild struggle, the fox leaping to escape and fast to his
foot was the trap with its anchor stone a-dragging.
Then was repeated the scene that ended the struggle of mink and
marten. The creature's hind feet were tied together and his body
hung from a peg in the shanty. In the morning they gloated over
his splendid fur and added his coat to their store of trophies.
Chapter 31. Following the Trap Line
That night the moon changed. Next day came on with a strong
north wind. By noon the wild ducks had left the lake. Many long
strings of geese passed southeastward, honking as they flew.
Colder and colder blew the strong wind, and soon the frost was
showing on the smaller ponds. It snowed a little, but this
ceased. With the clearing sky the wind fell and the frost grew
At daybreak, when the hunters rose, it was very cold. Everything
but the open lake was frozen over, and they knew that winter was
come; the time of trapping was at hand. Quonab went at once to
the pinnacle on the hill, made a little fire, then chanting the
"Hunter's Prayer," he cast into the fire the whiskers of the fox
and the marten, some of the beaver castor, and some tobacco.
Then descended to prepare for the trail -- blankets, beaver
traps, weapons, and food for two days, besides the smell-charm
and some fish for bait.
Quickly the deadfalls were baited and set; last the Indian threw
into the trap chamber a piece of moss on which was a drop of the
"smell," and wiped another drop on each of his moccasins.
"Phew," said Rolf.
"That make a trail the marten follow for a month," was the
explanation. Skookum seemed to think so too, and if he did not
say "phew," it was because he did not know how.
Very soon the little dog treed a flock of partridge and Rolf with
blunt arrows secured three. The breasts were saved for the
hunters' table, but the rest with the offal and feathers made the
best of marten baits and served for all the traps, till at noon
they reached the beaver pond. It was covered with ice too thin
to bear, but the freshly used landing places were easily
selected. At each they set a strong, steel beaver-trap,
concealing it amid some dry grass, and placing in a split stick a
foot away a piece of moss in which were a few drops of the magic
lure. The ring on the trap chain was slipped over a long, thin,
smooth pole which was driven deep in the mud, the top pointing
away from the deep water. The plan was old and proven. The
beaver, eager to investigate that semifriendly smell, sets foot
in the trap; instinctively when in danger he dives for the deep
water; the ring slips along the pole till at the bottom and there
it jams so that the beaver cannot rise again and is drowned."
In an hour the six traps were set for the beavers; presently the
hunters, skirmishing for more partridges, had much trouble to
save Skookum from another porcupine disaster.
They got some more grouse, baited the traps for a couple of
miles, then camped for the night.
Before morning it came on to snow and it was three inches deep
when they arose. There is no place on earth where the first snow
is more beautiful than in the Adirondacks. In early autumn
nature seems to prepare for it. Green leaves are cleared away to
expose the berry bunches in red; rushbeds mass their groups, turn
golden brown and bow their heads to meet the silver load; the low
hills and the lines of various Christmas trees are arrayed for
the finest effect: the setting is perfect and the scene, but it
lacks the lime light yet. It needs must have the lavish blaze of
white. And when it comes like the veil on a bride, the silver
mountings on a charger's trappings, or the golden fire in a
sunset, the shining crystal robe is the finishing, the crowning
glory, without which all the rest must fail, could have no bright
completeness. Its beauty stirred the hunters though it found no
better expression than Rolf's simple words, "Ain't it fine,"
while the Indian gazed in silence.
There is no other place in the eastern woods where the snow has
such manifold tales to tell, and the hunters that day tramping
found themselves dowered over night with the wonderful power of
the hound to whom each trail is a plain record of every living
creature that has passed within many hours. And though the first
day after a storm has less to tell than the second, just as the
second has less than the third, there was no lack of story in the
snow. Here sped some antlered buck, trotting along while yet the
white was flying. There went a fox, sneaking across the line of
march, and eying distrustfully that deadfall. This broad trail
with many large tracks not far apart was made by one of Skookum's
friends, a knight of many spears. That bounding along was a
marten. See how he quartered that thicket like a hound, here he
struck our odour trail. Mark, how he paused and whiffed it; now
away he goes; yes, straight to our trap.
"It's down; hurrah!" Rolf shouted, for there, dead under the log,
was an exquisite marten, dark, almost black, with a great, broad,
shining breast of gold.
They were going back now toward the beaver lake. The next trap
was sprung and empty; the next held the body of a red squirrel, a
nuisance always and good only to rebait the trap he springs. But
the next held a marten, and the next a white weasel. Others were
unsprung, but they had two good pelts when they reached the
beaver lake. They were in high spirits with their good luck, but
not prepared for the marvellous haul that now was theirs. Each
of the six traps held a big beaver, dead, drowned, and safe.
Each skin was worth five dollars, and the hunters felt rich. The
incident had, moreover, this pleasing significance: It showed
that these beavers were unsophisticated, so had not been hunted.
Fifty pelts might easily be taken from these ponds.
The trappers reset the traps; then dividing the load, sought a
remote place to camp, for it does not do to light a fire near
your beaver pond. One hundred and fifty pounds of beaver, in
addition, to their packs, was not a load to be taken miles away;
within half a mile on a lower level they selected a warm place,
made a fire, and skinned their catch. The bodies they opened and
hung in a tree with a view to future use, but the pelts and tails
they carried on.
They made a long, hard tramp that day, baiting all the traps and
reached home late in the night.
Chapter 32. The Antler-bound Bucks
IN THE man-world, November is the month of gloom, despair, and
many suicides. In the wild world, November is the Mad Moon. Many
and diverse the madnesses of the time, but none more insane than
the rut of the white-tailed deer. Like some disease it appears,
first in the swollen necks of the antler-bearers, and then in the
feverish habits of all. Long and obstinate combats between the
bucks now, characterize the time; neglecting even to eat, they
spend their days and nights in rushing about and seeking to kill.
Their horns, growing steadily since spring, are now of full size,
sharp, heavy, and cleaned of the velvet; in perfection. For
what? Has Nature made them to pierce, wound, and destroy?
Strange as it may seem, these weapons of offence are used for
little but defence; less as spears than as bucklers they serve
the deer in battles with its kind. And the long, hard combats
are little more than wrestling and pushing bouts; almost never do
they end fatally. When a mortal thrust is given, it is rarely a
gaping wound, but a sudden springing and locking of the antlers,
whereby the two deer are bound together, inextricably,
hopelessly, and so suffer death by starvation. The records of
deer killed by their rivals and left on the duel-ground are few;
very few and far between. The records of those killed by
interlocking are numbered by the scores.
There were hundreds of deer in this country that Rolf and Quonab
claimed. Half of them were bucks, and at least half of these
engaged in combat some times or many times a day, all through
November; that is to say, probably a thousand duels were fought
that month within ten miles of the cabin. It was not surprising
that Rolf should witness some of them, and hear many more in the
They were living in the cabin now, and during the still, frosty
nights, when he took a last look at the stars, before turning in,
Rolf formed the habit of listening intently for the voices of
the gloom. Sometimes it was the "hoo-hoo" of the horned-owl,
once or twice it was the long, smooth howl of the wolf; but many
times it was the rattle of antlers that told of two bucks far up
in the hardwoods, trying out the all-important question, "Which
is the better buck?"
One morning he heard still an occasional rattle at the same place
as the night before. He set out alone, after breakfast, and
coming cautiously near, peered into a little, open space to see
two bucks with heads joined, slowly, feebly pushing this way and
that. Their tongues were out; they seemed almost exhausted, and
the trampled snow for an acre about plainly showed that they had
been fighting for hours; that indeed these were the ones he had
heard in the night. Still they were evenly matched, and the
green light in their eyes told of the ferocious spirit in each of
these gentle-looking deer.
Rolf had no difficulty in walking quite near. If they saw him,
they gave slight heed to the testimony of their eyes, for the
unenergetic struggle went on until, again pausing for breath,
they separated, raised their heads a little, sniffed, then
trotted away from the dreaded enemy so near. Fifty yards off,
they turned, shook their horns, seemed in doubt whether to run
away, join battle again, or attack the man. Fortunately the
first was their choice, and Rolf returned to the cabin.
Quonab listened to his account, then said: "You might have been
killed. Every buck is crazy now. Often they attack man. My
father's brother was killed by a Mad Moon buck. They found only
his body, torn to rags. He had got a little way up a tree, but
the buck had pinned him. There were the marks, and in the snow
they could see how he held on to the deer's horns and was dragged
about till his strength gave out. He had no gun. The buck went
off. That was all they knew. I would rather trust a bear than a
The Indian's words were few, but they drew a picture all too
realistic. The next time Rolf heard the far sound of a deer
fight, it brought back the horror of that hopeless fight in the
snow, and gave him a new and different feel- ing for the
antler-bearer of the changing mood.
It was two weeks after this, when he was coming in from a trip