The Living Forest
“The forest is like a book,” says the old hunter of Mr. Heming’s tale, "and it contains great stories for those who can read the signs.” And he ought to know.
CHAI TER III
HERE for a time we were going to stay, and here beside a little bay a hundred yards wide and almost entirely circled with trees, we were going to camp in front of a big boulder at the base of which the old hunter had chosen to make our fire. It was a beautiful camping site, well up the slope, and about fifty yards from a little spring. The big rock was flat faced and about twenty feet wide; it stood almost ten feet high, and formed an ideal support agamst which to lean the birehbark shelter the old woodsman intended building next day.
"Now. my boys, our huntin’ begins. We must get proper food to eat. I'm goin’to try for a fish. I’ll be back in a second.”
Presently among the trees we heard the breaking of brittle wood. On Bill’s return he was carrying a small, dry spruce about six feet long and an inch and a half thick at its butt, and as he walked toward the lake, he cut off its dead twigs and sharpened the butt. Descending from the top of a high bank that overlooked a little weedy bay, Bill slowly waded out to a particular spot where he halted in water up to his bare knees. With his improvised spear poised above him he stood there minute after minute, without even a tremor, in readiness to strike should a fish swim sufficiently near.
From the top of the bank it was easy for Lincoln and me to see into the water, but for a long time nothing happened. Then we noticed a school of minnows swimming near the old man’s legs. Soon they became motionless. But later they darted away because a big, long-mouthed fish had suddenly appeared. Fresently it was joined by another of almost equal size. Then the two swam leisurely about, but always just out of reach of Bill’s spear. I found it tiresome waiting, but howmuch more so it must have been for the fisherman. I wondered how long he could endure it.
Later, however, the smaller fish made a sudden dart after a minnow, and passing nearer Bill’s legs, his spear flashed into the lake, but he missed his aim.
"Better luck next time,” the old man smiled, as he resumed his pose. Minutes passed again. I began to doze. Suddenly Lincoln exclaimed:
"Look up. Bill! It’s coming down!”
I looked up. too. Something was falling from the sky ... a huge bird. Head first it dropped with closed wings; it fell with the swiftness of a falling stone.
Down, down, it came, and with a loud splash it struck the water a hundred feet beyond Bill. For a moment or two it was screened by flying spray. Then it arose with huge outspread wings beating the air, it3 talons embedded in a large, squirming fish. Up, up, it went. It was a fish hawk.
THEN came another rush of wing3 and we saw an even larger bird. It had a white head and an even greater spread. It swooped
at the fish hawk. Now the air was filled with the sound of buffeting wings and angry screaming, as the two great birds came together. Feathers flew in all directions. Suddenly the fish dropped toward the river. Down it came like another stone; while with powerful flashing wings the big white headed bird dived down after it. But the fish struck the water first, falling between Bill and us. As the great white headed bird—it was a bald headed eagle—curved its wings to check its descent, it thrust its wicked looking talons far in advance of its now upright body, in order to pick up the floating fish. At that moment, however, Bill hurled his spear, striking the eagle’s pinions; feathers flew again, and with an angry CAC, that sounded almost human, the great bird rose on beating wings and soared away. But Bill got the fish. As he held it up with a finger hooked in its gill, Lincoln exclaimed:
“What a beauty!” and as the old hunter came ashore, the boy asked:—
“Is that one of the fish you tried to spear?”
“No. They’re jack-fish. Up south they call ’em pike. This is a pickerel. Far better eatin’ Billy smiled. “I’ll bet it ’ud go seven or eight pounds.” Then frowning, he added:
“Now, murderers, or no murderers, we’ve got to risk a fire. Will you wait here, or come along? I’m not goin’ far.”
“I’ll go,” I replied as I got up.
“Will we anchor the fish in the lake, or hang it in a tree?” Lincoln enquired.
“Neither,” replied Eill. “For if we leave it in the water a mink or otter may get it. An’ if we hang it in a tree, a marten, a fisher, a lynx or a bear may steal it. There are lots of ’em around here. It’s an unusually fine game country, Yet trappers never come here.”
“How’s that?” Lincoln asked.
“It’s on the border line between th’ Indians an’ Eskimoes, an’ they being deadly enemies never run the risk of bein’ found too near each other’s country. It’s become a regular no-man’s land,” explained Bill, as he slipped a switch through the fish’s gill.
Zig-zagging among the trees, the old halfbreed halted beside a birch, and with his knife removed a small sheet of bark. Rolling it into the form of a tube, he tied it with a thong of green willow bark, and blocked one end with a wad of dry moss. It was for the carrying of some of his fire-making materials; and into it he put some dry, powdery punk taken from the inside of a rotten pine stump, as well as some shredded dry birehbark and dry moss. Searching for the best available wood to make a fire-drill and a fire-board, he broke from a fallen tamarack an inch thick branch, of which he retained a ten inch length to make a fire-drill; and from a lightning-shattered pine he wrenched away a two foot slab about six inches wide to answer as a fire-board. Farther on he picked up a broad flat chip to use as a socket in which to hold the upper end of the fire-drill. Breaking a branch into a two-foot length and stringing it with a thong cut from his leather belt, he now had a fire-bow. Thus he had all the materials he needed for making fire. Returning to the big boulder, he set about it in the usual northern Indian way, and this is how he did it.
Opening his fire-tube, he drew out some shredded pine and quickly twirled it into a form that resembled a small bird nest. Into it he poured a little dry, powdery punk, and laid the nest down beside his fire-board. Next he slipped a flat chip beneath the notched edge of the board to catch the first tiny glowing coal as soon as it formed. Then placing his right knee and left foot upon the fire-board, he held the bow in his right hand, while its leather string encircled the vertical fire-drill which was capped with the socketed chip held firmly in the palm of his left hand.
Bearing down upon the drill, he began sawing the bow rapidly forth,
back and forth; thus the string encircled drill, revolving at great speed, soon created such intense friction in the socket of the fire-board that a powdery char formed within the notch, and as it began to smoke, tiny grains of glowing char dropped upon the flat chip. Picking up the chip, he dropped the tiny cluster of living coals upon the powdery punk in the little basket. Gently fanning them to increase their glow, he took the nest in hand and swinging it rapidly to and fro, it soon became too hot for him to hold. Placing it upon the ground, he blew the little coals into flame, and added shredded birchbark and dry twigs to the ever increasing blaze. Thus in a few minutes our camp fire was crackling and roaring a welcome to us.
“You must learn to do it, too” the old hunter advised,
“an’ remember the only trail to success is the trail to try.”
The cheery fire and the thought of a good meal made Link and me imagine our troubles over, especially when Bill — without scaling or dressing—laid the fish upon a flat stone which he slanted between the boulder and the fire. Soon we smelt an inviting odor.
“This is what th’ Indians call bakin’, but for roastin’ we draw back the burnin’ sticks and without dressin’ or scalin’ the fish, place it on the glowin’ embers. An’
when cooked enough to suit us, we then remove the skin.” When the fish was cooked. Bill split it down the belly, disemboweled it, and removed the skin in a single sheet. Then he cut it in two and dividing one half into three, he handed each of us a portion on a piece of birchbark. Then we pitched in. How I relished the food! Observing our enjoyment, the old man smiled:
“A contented beggar is richer than a discontented king; for contentment can buy more happiness than all the wealth in the world.”
THE meal finished, Bill rolled the rest of the fish in birchbark, and remarked as he began digging a hole in the ground beside the fire with a chisel-shaped stick: “We must now set some rabbit shares; an’ to catch rabbits we must go where there’s rabbit food. For instance; aspen poplar an’ birch. Aspen poplar is the tree with th’ trembly leaves. That’s why some call it quakin’ asp. It often grows beside the birch. Rabbits also like willow an’ wild rhubarb, wild celery, several kinds o’ grasses an’ muskeg tea when in flower, an’ even blue-bells an’ hyacinth blossoms.”
Then he lined the pit with hot ashes and filled it with glowing coals, which he covered with ashes and earth and roofed with a sheet of birchbark to keep . it dry in case it rained. He also wrapped another sheet around some dry pine sticks and some dry birchbark to have in readiness for re-kindling the fire next morning. It looked as though there might be a thunder storm.
He then led us through the woods until we entered a little grove of poplars and birches, and set us boys at breaking off tender twigs from those trees and heaping them in piles to attract rabbits, while he shaved three fine thongs from his leather belt. The thongs were to be used as snares. Each thong he set in a vertical loop above a rabbit’s path and just high enough to enable a running rabbit to thrust its head within the noose, which was kept open with blades of grass. Each noose was tied with a running knot in such a way that pressure on the loop would release a pole, which springing up, would haul the rabbit into the air and suspend it there, usually by the neck. On either side of the snare he arranged a little fence of broken brush to force the rabbits to keep to their runway, and thus improve the chance of catching them.
After setting the snares, curiosity led us on, and coming to a creek we discovered a beaver dam and three beaver houses. Hearing the sound of rapids, we turned up stream. It was a beautiful brook, rippling and sparkling through a jungle of overha ngi n trees and ferns.
Suddenly the old hunter stopped, and without turning his head signalled caution with his hand behind his back. Instinctively we understood. Seeing him sink upon his knees, we did likewise and noiselessly crawled after him through the undergrowth. Presently he stopped again. Peering over his back we beheld a sight to remember. An old black bear was squatting upon a rock amid the noisy
little rapids, not mor.e than a hundred feet away from us.
“Keep still an’ watch him,” Bill whispered.
The bear was sitting with his hind legs outspread, and his heels braced against a ridge, while his stumpy little tail was curved over the boulder’s edge, as though he were using it to help hang on. He was leaning over as if
watching something in the brook. Suddenly his body dropped low, and through the swift, foam-flecked water he made a violent scoop with his upturned right forepaw. Then something whirled a quarter circle through the air and landed upon the opposite bank. The bear was fishing.
D ENEWING his motionless pose of stooping low and -I'-peering into the rapids, the bear never as much as noticed us, for the wind was blowing our scent away. The babbling brook drowned our whispering, and the leafy screen hid us from view. Minutes passed. Then there was another flash, another splash, another scoop, another shiny blur flying through the air, and another fish landed upon the bank. Glancing over his shoulder to see if the fish were safely ashore, the bear resumed his pose, and again tiresome minutes passed. Then once more another splashing, flashing movement, and another fish was landed ashore.
Now I noticed among the leaves and ferns a little black
object waddling toward the stranded fish, then another little black creature waddled after the first. They looked like twins and were black bear cubs. I imagined they were about six weeks old—judging from their size, for they were quite small. But Bill afterwards told me:
“No. Not six weeks, but six months old; for bear cubs
are born in January. The reason they look so small in midsummer is that they weigh only ten or twelve ounces at birth. In fact when born they’re only about the size of a red squirrel, while the mother may weigh four or five hundred pounds.”
The playful little beggars started to eat the fish ashore and now the old bear on the rock saw them and began to growl. It reminded me of the way white men swear. But the cubs didn’t care. They went on eating. Then the old bear leaped off his rock, floundered through the foaming water and made a rush for the cubs. When he caught them he struck them on the neck or head with first one and then the other of his open forepaws. His last two blows knocked them helter-skelter, and from fright and rage they screamed for their mother.
Instantly the top leaves of an alder clump began to swish and swirl; then the swishing and swirling leaves began running in a bee-line for the cubs. And when the swirling top leaves reached the end of the thicket nearest the cubs . . out leaped another black bear. It was their mother. With a savage growl she lunged at the old black fisherman. With wonderful agility he dodged her gleaming teeth, but with all the force she could drive her long extended claws she hit him such a wallop that a patch of his new summer coat was torn away. Then like a blue-black streak the old male lit out for parts unknown. After eating the fish, the old lady bear and her little brats wandered away from “Beaver Creek,” as Bill called it.
“Bears are certainly amusin’ critters. They’re mighty human. They’re enough to make an owl laff,” the old half breed chuckled.
ON OUR way back to “Circle Bay,” as Bill named it, we came upon some bear tracks, too, and while the hunter was examining them, I said to Link:
“Now, if we were great hunters, we could without even seeing the bear, tell when the brute had passed this way, even to the day, or maybe to the hour. We would know whether the bear was old or young, large or small, w'hether it was going fast or slow, or thinking of eating or sleeping.’ “Who told you that, my boy?”
“The Giblets of a Bird.”
“Then The Giblets of a Bird told you right. A good hunter can nearly always read a bear’s story from its trail.”
“I wish you’d tell us how,” said Lincoln.
“My boy, the forest is like a book. It contains a great variety of stories—for those who can read the signs. But no one can read ’em properly unless he’s well informed on the daily life of th’ animals in question. It’s only then a hunter can read all he sees. Many Indians are well posted on certain phases of natural history—much of the knowledge their ancestors gained has been told an’ re-told from one generation to another. That’s why even an Indian child is of more use in the woods than many a white man.”
“Gee! I’d like to be a great hunter,” I exclaimed. “Fine, my son. I’m willin’ to teach you. But before showin’ you how to trail a bear, I should tell you how bears live throughout the year. Only then will you be able to read the signs.”
I longed to hear more, and as luck would have it, Link said:
“Bill, let’s rest a bit and you tell us about the ways of bears, will you please? Because I want to be a big-game hunter too.”
“Yes, I’ll teach you. It’s necessary I should. It may save your lives. We don’t know what may happen. They may drop me any moment. Then you boys’d starve. That’s why I mustn’t delay a single day; you must know how to hunt an fish an travel. But there’s a lot to learn. So pay attention an’ remember as much as you can."
Settling himself in the shade with his back against a tree, we sat in front of him eating berries as he began:
“As I said before, bear cubs are born in January, while the mother’s hibernatin’. But it seems to me the life of a cub really begins in spring, when the cub an’ its mother leave their o-wazhe, or as the wrhite man calls it, their ‘wash’ or den. But on second thought, let’s not begin with the spring life of a cub, but with the spring life of a fqll grown m^le. the kind of game a hunter likes best to
trail. Remember, boys. I’m goin’ to try an’ teach you, not only the ways o' bears, but the ways of other animals too, and also somethin’ about birds. So listen carefully an’ I’ll tell you what it has taken generations of great hunters to learn.
“A blaek bear hibernat« ina hollow tree, a hollow log, a caveor any place that'll protect him from the worst of winter weather. An' he may remain three or four months, beginnin’ about the middle of Akta-uti*oou.'e —The Freezing Moon —or November. During the winter he may sleep dry and snug in his wash, but in spring when the snow begins to melt, his den gets damp.
Fven runnin’ water may trickle in. Then he's uncomfortable. Waking up with many a stretch an' yawn, he paws away the dead leaves or rubbish with which he blocked th’ entrance last fall. Thrustm’ out his head, he looks aroun': for at first he doesn't leave his den.
Nor when he first goes out does he venture far from his home The weather might suddenly change an' a cold snap overtake him before
he'd return. Later, when he does leave his wash, he’s restless an’ cross. Though he avoids other bears he’s ready an’ willin’ to fight ’em if they come his way.
"For a while he wanders about moanin' an’ groanin’ an' clawin’ and gnawin’ at the slimy inner bark o’ trees, specially th’ inner bark o’ the poplar or the birch. For when eaten it acts upon his stomach much as the grass he also chews. Then in a few days, his system bein’ in order, he stops moanin’ an' groanin’ an’ eatin’ grass an’ chewin’ trees: an’ sets about eatin’ the regular food he now needs. It consists o’ roots, insects, nuts, eggs, fruit or honey, as well as smal! game in the way.o’ flesh, fish or fowl, After a little regular feedin’ he becomes normal in his habits; loses his quarrelsome mood an' then seeks to chum with other bears. Boys, a good hunter always takes advantage o' what he knows. Instead o’ killin’ a solitary bear in that condition at that season o’ th’ year, th’ hunter’ll sometimes wait for th’ bear to seek other bears, an’ so in trailin’ th’ brute th’ hunter is led to where there’re other bears. So. a hunter may come upon a band o’ bears numberin’ anywhere from three to eight.
"The bears now seek th’ rivers to fish below th’ larger rapids, or in shoal waters of smaller streams. Most o’ their fishin’s done in little rivers. Th’ bear goin’ to his fishin’ place. Dot in th’ side currents but in th’ main channel, takes up his position where th’ strong current strikes a rock.
There he waits for th’ river to bring the fish his way, as it’s there th’ fish most often pass in goin' down stream. When a fish comes within th’ bear’s reach, he doesn’t strike at it with a direct blow or try’ to catch it with his daws. He makes a scoopin’ motion, just as you saw him do.
When th’ fishin's good he doesn’t go ashore until he may have landed ten to twenty, an’ from that number he may only select th’ best for his dinner.”
“What kind of fish would they be?” enquired Link.
“In spring mostly suckers an’ he also catches ’em in shoal waters where they go to spawn. A full grown sucker may weigh four or five pound. They’re a long-headed, long-snouted fish; grayish brown on th’ back an’ whitish below. Though they do for food, you'll not eat ’em with relish.
But the bear may catch any lind o’ fish that comes his way. Each bear fishes upon a rock by himself, an’ while most bears are right-handed, there’re others that always use th’ left forepaw to do their fishin’. They fight in the same way; and the hunter who’s unexpectedly struck a left-handed blow isn’t a great hunter. Th’ reason beam grow up right an’ left-handed is, it seems to me, that when twin cubs are born, they nearly always take the same position when feeding from their mother, an’ will even fight to retain that position. So in early life they begin usin’ one paw more than another an’ so they grow up right or left-handed.”
“Do bears fight much?” I asked.
“Not much, an’ never to th’ death, except once in a great while in the matin’ season, which is during Wawe Pesim—The Egg Moon—or June. Then it’s always a
fight between two males, or two females. Most of the fightin’ is done by males, but she-bears’re very jealous; they wont stan’ for a male payin’ attention to another female. An’ remember, too, my boys, that man’s rarely ever attacked by an unprovoked bear. When it does happen, it’s nearly always a female that attacks. She may
have imagined that th’ man was injurin’ her cub. A mother bear’ll fight desperately to save her young—just as a human mother will. The squeal of a cub is quite enough to start trouble—if th’ mother is within earshot. Yet it’s man who is forever calling animals wild—just because animals try to defend themselves when attacked by man. Of all wild animals, no animal is as wild as man.
“But, my boys, it’s time we were gettin’ back to camp, so we better be up an’ doin’.”
/'■'vN OUR way back to our fire-place Bill remarked: “Th’ next thing we better do is to make our bed with a brush windbreak over it to catch th’ heat o’ th’ fire. It was pretty chilly last night without any bedclothes. Then we might try for some grouse. They’ll be easier to catch about sunset.”
After laying a brush mattress the same as we did the
night before Bill cut a lot of evergreen branches five or six feet in length and ramming their butts into the ground he slanted them over our bed toward the big rock to protect us from the wind and to reflect the heat of the fire upon us at night.
“Now, boys, let’s try for some grouse,” said old Bill as
he began cutting another string-like thong from his leather belt. Then he cut a coarse thong of bark from a green willow branch. Tying them together he attached them to his fishing spear, and we started up the slope. As he led us here and there among the trees for perhaps a quarter of a mile, we saw a number of partridges feeding upon the ground, but we didn’t get within striking distance before they rose with a startling whirr, and rapidly disappeared among the trees. Yet they were rather tame, and acted as if they had never before seen man.
“If I can’t knock ’em down, I’ll have to use a snare. Keep farther behind me, an’ when I stop, stand perfectly still.”
Returning by a different route, Bill presently stopped again, and we stood still. Then I saw seven partridge roosting on the branches of a spruce and all facing us. Forming the leather thong that was attached to his spear into a loop with a running knot, he let the bark thong dangle down the shaft so that he might pull it with his left hand when required, then turned to his companions.
“Stay here, boys, but move your arms a bit to attract ’em, while I slip round.” •
Circling until he came up behind the tree, Bill raised the staff, shoved the open snare above one of the partridge lowered the loop over its head, and pulling the string, closed the noose about its neck without the grouse seeing him. Then he hauled it down and wrung its neck. Though the bird fluttered as he drew it from its perch, the other partridge didn’t seem to mind, and thus he secured three before the others flew away. As he held up the three he said:
“See, they’re Ruffed Grouse. It’s the feathered ruff about their necks that gives ’em their name. They’re the birds that make that strange drummin’ sound you may of heard in the woods in spring, an’ sometimes in the fall. It’s done by the cock bird heatin’ his wings to attract the hens. In mid-winter northern grouse, like the ptarmigan, dive straight down with closed wings, head first into the deep soft snow; then they burrow a few feet away from the entrance, so that the fox or wolf or lynx won’t know exactly where they’re spendin’ the night. They sleep beneath th’ snow to keep warm. They live on buds, leaves, berries, seeds an’ insects. In winter a bony fringe grows about their feet an’ so increases the width o’ their toes that their feet can support ’em even on deep, soft snow.”
HEN we returned to our fire-place Bill told us to take some hot coals from the fire-pit and rekindle the fire. Then he showed us how to bake partridge in clay the way it is done by the Indians.
“My boys, go down to that cut-bank near where we were fishin’, an’ each bring all the clay you can carry in your hands. Nice, soft clay. But you better roll up your sleeves.”
On our return the old man took one of the grouse, feathers and all, and putting its head under a wing he plastered it all over with an inch or so of clay. Raking back the embers, he buried the bird in a bed of live coals. He treated the other two likewise.
“The time required for such cookin’ depends on the size o’ the birds. If they’re to be eaten by white men, it usually takes an hour for partridge. But if they’re to be eaten by Indians, about half that time will do, as Indians like their meat rare.”
“How can you tell when they’re cooked?” Link asked.
“By removin’ th’ coals. If th’ clay’s cracked, the bird’s cooked and’ll soon burn. But if the clay isn’t cracked an’ is still moist, the bird’ll stand more cookin’ —that is, if it’s to be eaten by a white man.”
Putting us in charge of the fire and the cooking, Bill busied himself cutting a groove in the butt of a strong, six-foot spruce staff, and into the groove he fitted the handle of his knife, as it was to be bound there whenever he wanted to make use of it as a spear. When the grouse were cooked Bill split off the hard baked clay and with it went the feathers and skin, leaving the body quite clean.
Carving a bird for each of us, we then pitched in and found them delicious.
AFTER supper Link and I wandered off aways, and coming upon a bear cub we chased it up a tree; and as we climbed up after it, it began to squeal. Old Bill hearing it, shouted to us to look out for the mother, as he came to our rescue on the run.
Hearing a growl below, we glanced down and saw the wild-eyed mother climbing up the tree toward us. Now we were cornered. But as good luck would have it, the frightened cub climbed further out from the trunk; and we heard a sudden crack. The broken branch giving way, the cub fell to the ground.
Instantly rushing forward old Bill seized the half stunned brute, and dragging it to the rocky brink, he intended to hurl it into the lake, in order to get the mother away from us boys; but the mother was top quick for him, and came with such a rush that he had to hurl himself, too, into the water to escape her fury.
Both cub and man splashed into the lake near where two whooping cranes weré fishing; and with startled squawks and great flapping wings they slowly rose as the mother bear leaped after her cub. Then, as the old hunter crawled safely ashore, we boys watched the two bears swimming across the lake.
“My boys,” puffed the old man, “never again as long as you live, get between a bear an’ her cub, for if the cub squeals, th’ old lady’ll kill you if she can. It’s mighty lucky for you that that branch broke, an’ that I just happened along.”
CHAPTER IV. "
WHILE sitting beside the fire at twilight, as Bill dried his clothes, I saw something swoop down, forty or fifty feet, through the air, and land on the ground, much as a bird might have done. But it wasn’t a bird. It had four legs and a flat, furry tail, and somewhat resembled a red squirrel. But its long swooping flight was very different from that of an ordinary squirrel, and so was its general coloring of fawny-brown. The little flying creature was about a foot long. Its movements on the ground, however, were much the same as those of the red squirrel. When I asked Bill Hill what it was, he replied:
“My boy, it’s a Canadian flyin’ squirrel. They’re fairly common in this country of pine an’ spruce, and live mostly on the seeds of those trees. They nest in hollow trunks, an’ are active all the year ’round. Even on mid-winter nights, they’ll come out to play or hunt, for they’re night animals. They delight especially in evenin’ flights from tree to tree, or from tree to ground. Some evenin’s I’ve sat beside my fire an’ watched scores of ’em in flight. They seemed to do it, too, from sheer delight. Though they’re so buoyant an’ active in th’ air, they have to watch out or th’ owl will get ’em. Besides, th’ ermine an’ th’ marten are also on the lookout for ’em.”
Darkness now began to drive twilight away. We chatted comfortably on our brush bed as we faced the cheery fire. Meanwhile the loons on the lake were calling to one another, and two deep-voiced owls were oo-koo-whooing to each other, while the howling of wolves that we first heard about an hour before was steadily drawing nearer.
Before lying down to sleep the old half breed stocked the fire-pit with coals and covered it over with ashes, earth and birchbark, as he again thought it was going to rain.
During the night violent thunder awoke us with a start, and every once in a while a shaft of lightning set the woods aglare. Its repeated brilliancy caused the old hunter to sit up.
“Boys,” he whispered, “don’t speak, but look out there.”
TN THE intense light of the momentary flashes we saw four wolves sitting upon their haunches in a semicircle about sixty feet away, and, standing upon all fours as though he had paused in walking, a fifth wolf, the largest of the pack, stood gazing at us, not more than forty feet from our windbreak. Then total darkness enveloped everything. The fire was dead out. Not only could I see nothing—I could hear nothing save Lincoln’s and my own heavy breathing. Then another dazzling flash showed us that the big wolf had advanced a little closer, while the others were now standing upon all fours, but absolutely motionless. Blackness fell again, bringing a terrific crash of rolling thunder. My hair seemed to stand on end.
Overwhelmed with awe at the impenetrable darkness, and with fear of the approaching wolves, I put out my hand to make sure that the old hunter was still beside me, when a blood-curdling howl stopped the beating of my heart and froze me dumb with fright.
There was a clawing, rustling, tearing sound in front of me. Next two glaring eyes were staring at me. Now they were growing larger . . . they must be coming nearer. How soon would it spring? How long would I live ... if I didn’t die of fright before the brute leaped upon me?
But strange to say a radiant light now sprang ablaze from the very spot where the two eyes had been, and I could see good old Bill placing shredded birchbark on glowing coals. Presently the face of the rock and the inside of our windbreak were illumined by leaping flames: and it seemed to me that the old hunter’s fire had saved our lives.
“Oh gee! ... I thought we were goners . when I heard that howl,” Link breathlessly exclaimed.
“Let’s have a great big fire, Bill. It’ll help keep them away,” I begged.
“An’ burn up all our wood. Then you’ll have to go out an’ feel aroun’ in the pitch black night to get a few more sticks,” commented the old halfbreed. “But there’s no occasion to worry ’bout the wolves. So stop it. It’s a waste o’ time.”
“But, Bill, those wolves are regular man eaters,” Link shuddered.
“My lad, where did you learn that man-eatin’ stuff?” the old woodsman asked.
“From the newspapers and magazines,” replied Lincoln.
“Then if I was you I wouldn’t mention it. Th’ only danger o’ being attacked by wolves is when one goes too close to a trapped, cornered or wounded wolf. Or if one meets a wolf that’s afflicted with distemper or hydrophobia. Otherwise you needn’t worry about being molested by ’em.”
“But, Bill, I’ve often read in the newspapers about wolves not only killing women and children, but men too; such as mail carriers and trappers and hunters,” I exclaimed.
“Yes, my son, so’ve I,” Bill Hill smiled. “But there’s little chance of ever findin’ truth in such stories. I happen to know, because I’ve often run ’em down—especially when the newspapers mentioned the name of the place where the blood curdlin’ tragedy happened. But, of course, upon investigation it always turned out to be, not the work of a pack of wolves, but of a pack of lies.
ALL that most newspaper wolf stories mean is that a T*poorly paid an’ over-worked reporter wanted to buy a new hat or take his best girl to dinner, so well knowin’ that the best bait with which to catch an extra cheque would be a wolf story, he ’mediately concocted one. That’s the sole reason why so many Canadians are annually eaten by wolves!
“But there's another fact you ought to know,” said the hunter. “Timber, or gray wolves, the kind you’ve just seen, the kind that live thoughout the north woods, don’t go in big packs. Three to five form th’ usual pack. Though it’s not impossible to see as many as eight or perhaps ten in a single pack. To be continued