The Bungalow Boys North of Fifty-Three
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CHAPTER XIII – THE INDIAN’S PREDICTION
When the four poles had been obtained, old Joe erected them in the snow to windward of the excavation. Then from his sled he got an oblong of canvas which he stretched over them.
“Boosh! So now we get firewood and start a blaze and den everyteeng is fine,” he exclaimed, briskly stepping back to admire his handiwork. Although the boys did not know it, this camp which Joe had just erected is a favorite form of temporary resting place in the frozen North. The canvas stretched above the poles serves a double purpose, to keep out the wind and to act as a reflector to the fire in front so that those down in the pit are kept delightfully snug and warm.
The boys next set about getting wood for the fire. This did not take long. Then branches stripped from the balsam boughs were thrown into the snow pit to a depth of several inches, to form a soft, springy mattress for their blankets. The fire was lighted and plenty of wood heaped near by to keep it going.
Finally the kettle was filled with snow, which was set by the fire to melt. From the sled old Joe got some deer meat, by this time frozen hard, which he had obtained from Pegic. While the meat was thawing the boys helped spread their beds in the warm, fire-lighted pit, and then old Joe cooked supper.
The boys were certainly learning woodcraft from the old French Canadian. They would hardly have thought it possible, an hour before, that such a cozy camp could have been made in the snow with such simple means. But the wilderness traveler has had to learn by many hard experiences how to make the best of things, and the experiments of successive travelers have resulted in a score or more of makeshift devices for comfort and safety.
While the party of adventurers ate their supper with hearty appetites, washing it down with big drafts of scalding tea, the dogs outside made their own camp in their peculiar fashion. The mamelukes make themselves comfortable very easily. Having gorged themselves on fish, they burrowed into the snow and slept the sleep of the faithful sled dog.
In their improvised camp the travelers slept till daylight, which to the boys, at least, seemed to be an interval of not more than five minutes. Breakfast, consisting of the remains of supper and more tea, having been consumed, the dogs, which had been routed out and fed, were harnessed up once more. Then, trail sore and stiff after their sleep, the boys resumed their travels.
They followed the river and, of course, the track of the runners of the thief’s sled, which still lay clear and sharp on the snow. About two hours after the start they came upon another of his camps. Clearly he had allowed his dogs to sleep, for there were the marks of their burrowings to be observed in the snow.
“Aha, dey are tiring, mes enfants!” cried old Joe. “Not veree long now. Courage! Boosh!”
At the expiration of another period of travel, and not long before noon, on rounding a bend in the river they sighted another party coming toward them.There were three figures and a dog sled. The figures speedily resolved themselves into a Black River Indian and two squaws.
“Bien! Now we get news, maybe!” chuckled old Joe.
Then, as they neared the other party, which had come to a halt awaiting them, old Joe breathed a caution.
“Let me do zee talking. Boosh! Indians are hard to talk unless you know dem, and den – not always easy. Tiens!”
Old Joe did not drive right up to the Indians, who were squatting down on their sled. Instead, he halted at some little distance. There followed an exchange of greetings in the Black River dialect, and then pipes were produced and both sides, squaws and all, smoked gravely for a time. The boys looked on, much amused at all this ceremony, which, however, as old Joe knew, was necessary. To quote an old proverb, “The longest way round is the shortest way home,” with an Indian.
The Indian was a short, squat fellow with straight black hair. He was very dirty, but otherwise very like Pegic in appearance. One of the squaws was old and very hideous. The other was a younger woman and not uncomely in a way. She was evidently considered a belle, for she was hung lavishly with beadwork, while the homely old squaw did not display any ornaments.
Old Joe was the first to speak, addressing the man in his own dialect. We will translate the conversation that followed into “the King’s English.”
“It is very fine weather. The traveling is very pleasant and the wind gods sleep.”
The Indian nodded gravely.
“It is even so, my white friend,” said he. “The sky is soft as the cheek of a baby and the storm slumbers like an old man by the fire. But there will come a change before long. Early to-day the river smoked, the frost was low on the trees and the wind stirred in its dreams. Before long we shall get much snow and the wind, too, will awake and set out upon the trail.”
“What you say may well be true,” rejoined old Joe. “The same signs have I noticed. But who are we that we should control the winds or the snows?”
Old Joe paused. The Indian did not reply, and for some moments they both smoked on in silence. Blue wreaths rose almost straight from their pipes in the still air. The cracking of the ice on the river alone broke the silence.
Then the Indian removed his pipe and spoke once more in his slow, measured tones.
“The owl was abroad in the night and at daybreak my squaw’s mother, the ill-favored one yonder, did see one with a weasel in its claws. What think you is the meaning of that sign, my white brother?”
Old Joe shrugged his shoulders expressively.
“No man can read the owl, my friend,” he replied. “Tell me, how do you interpret the sign?”
“That ere long a white man – the weasel that my squaw’s ill-favored mother did see – shall be caught by the bearded white man and the two unbearded boys that do travel with him.”
This was a typically Indian way of stating a conclusion, and old Joe appeared to feel highly flattered at the comparison of himself to an owl. He smiled and said:
“It is even so. The owl that is Joe Picquet does pursue the weasel that is a thieving white man, a robber of trappers, a despoiler of cabins in the woods.”
“Then ere long you will catch him,” the Indian assured him gravely, “for so do the signs read and no man may gainsay them.”
The moment in these roundabout negotiations had now arrived when old Joe deemed he could diplomatically ask a direct question.
CHAPTER XIV – SWAPPING STORIES
“It is as you have said,” rejoined old Joe, “the signs are seldom in the wrong. But I have been thinking, my friend, that perhaps on your way you have seen this weasel of a white man whom the owl and the two young hares pursue?”
But, to Joe’s disappointment, the Indian shook his head.
“I did meet no white man who is as the weasel and whom the owl and the two young hares pursue,” he rejoined; “neither, till I met you, have I met any man, either white or Indian, since I left Blue Hare Lake.”
“You do not come from the way of the setting sun, then?” For the trail of the fleeing thief had so far led west.
Another negative sign was the reply as the Indian said:
“We come from the north. But some half day’s journey back I crossed a trail which was even as the trail you now follow.”
“I am sorry,” said old Joe. “The weasel must travel as the wind.”
“It may well be even so,” rejoined the Indian. “But hasten, my brother, if you would still follow the trail, for the snows are awakening and the wind stirs in its sleep.”
They bade the Indian and his two silent women “Good day,” and pushed on. Now there was good reason for haste. Indians are rarely or never mistaken in their weather prophecies, and if the snow came before the pursuers had caught up with the thief, they stood a fair chance of losing him altogether, for the snow would infallibly blot out his trail.
That night they came to a small trading post kept by a tall, gangling American, by name Ephraim Dodge. He had a thin, hatchet face and a bobbing goatee, and on either side of his prominent bridged nose twinkled a shrewd, although kind, eye.
Yes, Ephraim had seen the man they were pursuing and “allowed he was pretty badly tuckered out.” He had stopped at his post and purchased some canned goods and oatmeal. Then he had pressed straight on. No, he had not offered any skins for sale, and, according to Ephraim, was an “ornery-lookin’ cuss, anyhow.”
When he heard their story Ephraim was sympathetic, but he could not offer much in the way of consolation except to assure them that they were bound to catch the man, for he appeared to be “right poorly.” There was no possibility of their pushing on that night, for old Joe, anxious as he was to continue the pursuit, decided that his dogs must have rest. So they spent the evening with Ephraim, who brought out an old violin and amused them by executing jigs and double shuffles while his old fiddle squeaked out the “Arkansas Traveler” and other lively airs.
After Ephraim had exhausted his repertoire they sat about the big stove and talked. Ephraim was a lively companion, and was frankly glad of company. He “allowed it was plum lonesome with nothing but Injuns and mamelukes fer company.” It was not necessary to attempt to join in his incessant flow of talk. He talked like a man who has pent up his thoughts and words for months and lets them go in a flood of conversation.
The talk turned to California, which Ephraim “’lowed was a white man’s country, fer sure.” He wished he was back there. What a climate it was! What wonderful air!
“Why,” declared Ephraim, “that air out thar is so wonderful deceiving that two fellers who set out fer the mountains from a plains town, thinking the hills weren’t but two miles away, rode two days without gettin’ any closer to ’em. Then they come at last to a river. One of ’em was fer crossing it, but the other, he 'lowed they wouldn’t. ‘It don’t look to be more’n a few feet across,’ says he, ‘but in this climate it’s liable ter be Christmas afore we ford it,’ an’ so they come back ag’in,” he concluded.
“'Nother time I’ve got in mind,” he went on, while his auditors gasped, “a friend of mine went fishin’. He was known as the most truthful man in the San Juaquin Valley, so there ain’t no reason ter suppose that his word wasn’t gospel truth and nothin’ else. Anyhow, he was known as a mighty good shot and right handy with his shootin’ iron, so nobody ever was hearn to doubt his word.
“Well, sir, as I’m a-saying, William Bing – that was his name, gents, William Bing – went a fishin’. He went up in the mountains, where the air is even clearer than it is on the plains. Bing, he moseyed along, lookin’ fer a likely place and totin’ his pole, when all at once he happened ter look down over a bluff, and what do you think he seen? Right below him thar was a fine hole in a big creek, and right in that hole, gents, William Bing, he seen hundreds and hundreds of trout and black bass swimming about so thick they was regularly crowdin’ one another.
“Bing says he could see their gills pumpin’ an’ their fins wavin’ jes’ like they was a-sayin’, ‘Hello, Bill! We’re waitin’ fer you. Throw us down a line and a bite ter eat, old sport.’ Waal, Bing, he didn’t lose no time in lettin’ down his line. He figgered it was erbout a hundred feet down to that hole, and he had a hundred and fifty feet on his pole. But he fished and fished all that mornin’ without getting a bite, not even a nibble. An’ thar below he could see all them fish swimmin’ about and every now and then looking up at him sort of appealin’ like. Bing says it looked jes’ as if they wanted to be caught and was reproaching him fer not doin’ the job an’ doin’ it quick.
“Bing, he reckoned something was wrong, so he changed his bait. But still nary a bite. Then he changed it again. Not a flicker, and there was those fish jumping around like peas on a griddle. It was plum aggervatin’, Bing 'lowed, and he couldn’t figger it out noways.
“He ate his lunch up thar on the top of the bluff, and then he decided that he’d kinder investigate the mystery of why those fish didn’t bite. He kind of pussyfoots around on the top of the bluff fer a while, and then he finds a place whar he reckons he can climb down right by that pool and dig inter the mystery in due and legal form.
“He sticks his pole in the bluff, leaving his bait on the end of the line, thinking that maybe he’ll git a bite while he’s carryin’ on his investigations. Then Bing, he starts to climb down. Waal, sirs, he clumb and clumb, did William Bing, and at last he got to the bottom. And then what do you suppose he found out?
“That clear air had fooled him. Made a plum jackass out’n him. Instid of bein’ a hundred feet high, that bluff was all of three hundred! Then he looked down in that hole whar the trouts and bass were swimming about. Gee whillakers, sirs, that thar hole 'peared to be more’n a hundred feet deep! And thar was all them fish per-ambulatin’ and circumambulatin’ erbout in it an’ looking up at William Bing’s bait that was danglin’ in the air a good hundred and fifty feet above that thar gosh almighty hole. Yes, sirs,” concluded Ephraim, “that Californy air is some air.”
“I should say so,” laughed Tom. “I don’t see how they can field a ball in it without being gone for a week on the journey.”
“Waal, that may hev happened, too,” rejoined Ephraim gravely, “but I never hearn tell on it. Leastways, not frum any reliable source such as William Bing.”
“Boosh!” exclaimed old Joe. “Long time 'go I out West. An’ you talk 'bout cleefs! In one part of zee country dere ees beeg cleef. More big dan Beeng’s cleef. Bien, I had a friend dere. His name Clemente Dubois. He ver’ fine man, Clemente. But, poor fel’, he dead long time ago.”
“How’d he die?” inquired Ephraim.
“Poor Clemente, he fall off’n dat cleef. Oh, he beeg cleef, more’n t’ousand feet high!”
“Mashed plum ter mush, I reckon?” queried Ephraim, while the boys, who had caught a twinkle in old Joe’s eye, listened to see the storekeeper’s discomfiture.
“No, Clemente, he not mashed to pieces. Leesten, I tell you how Clemente die. He was miner. Ver’ well. One day Clemente take peek, shofel an’ he go to aidge of dis cleef. Clemente, he have on one beeg pair rubbaire boots. Oh, ver’ beeg rubbaire boots. Bien! Clemente, he work an’ teenk he strike fine colors. Zee colors of gold. He get ver’ excited. He deeg an’ deeg, an’ bimeby he deeg so hard zee aidge of zee cleef geev way.
“Bang! Clemente, over he go right into zee air. He land on zee ground below, but den hees rubbaire boots begin to work. Clemente, he bounce back. Jus’ lak zee rubbaire ball. He bounce up and down, up and down and no one can stop Clemente. He bounce all zee day, and once in a while some of zee boys from zee camp zey t’row heem biscuits to keep Clemente from starving. But Clemente, he no can catch zem. Two days he bounce up and down and no stop.
“Den zee head man of zee camp, he say: ‘Boys, Clemente, he starve if we no do someteeng. We have to put heem out of zee misery of die lak dat way. Somebody have to shoot Clemente.’ Everybody say, ‘No, no,’ but zee boss, he make dem draw lot. Man name Beeg Terry, he be zee one as draw lot to shoot Clemente. Everybody feel ver’ bad, but no can be help. Beeg Terry, he shoot Clemente zee next mornin’. Poor fellow, it was hard on heem, but it was better dan starving to deat’ in meed-air. After dat, nobody go near zee cleef wiz rubbaire boots on zeer feet.”
This truly remarkable and pathetic narrative brought the evening to a close, as a glance at Ephraim’s alarm clock showed that it was almost eleven o’clock. With old Joe still chuckling triumphantly over the manner in which he had “capped” Ephraim’s brief and truthful story, they turned in, sleeping in regular beds for the first time since they had taken to the trail.
CHAPTER XV – TOM ON “THE DOGS OF THE NORTH.”
The next morning old Joe was occupied for some time repairing sundry worn places in harness and sleds. The boys seized the opportunity to write some letters home.
Both lads penned newsy epistles teeming with facts gleaned by them about the region in which they were traveling. As a sidelight on their experiences, we may take a peep over their shoulders while their pens are flying and learn something of their impressions.
From Tom’s letter to a school chum we can detach some interesting remarks on the “steeds” of the northern wilds, the faithful mamelukes upon whom the hunter and trapper’s success and even life may depend.
“There are said to be two seasons in this land,” wrote Tom, “winter and June-July-and-August. We are now in the midst of the latter, as you, of course, know.
“During the summer the mamelukes – the Alaskan dogs I told you something about in a former letter – run wild. They mostly forage for themselves and become very bold and ferocious.
“But as soon as the winter sets in the canine free-lances are rounded up and led off into captivity by straps, strings and wires. Sometimes one owner gets into a dispute with another concerning his four-footed property, and then there are lively times indeed.
“After their long holiday the dogs, especially the puppies, are very wild. In some cases they have to be broken into their work all over again.
“This is no picnic for the dogs, for some of the drivers are very brutal. But they don’t dare abuse the dogs too much for fear of injuring their own property.
“The dogs used by the government for transporting the mails – a team of which will haul this very letter – are splendid looking brutes. They are called Labrador ‘huskies’ and are very large and heavy-coated.
“Some of them are, without exaggeration, as big as young calves. They carry the mail over vast, snowy wildernesses, and even sometimes to Dawson, when the air is not too nippy. That is to say, when the thermometer is not more than thirty degrees below.
“The dog drivers have almost a language of their own, like the ‘mule skinners’ of our western plains. When a group of them gets together you can hear some tall stories of the feats each man’s team has performed. And, wild as some of these yarns may seem to an ‘outsider,’ they are not so incredible as they appear.
“The big, well-furred, long-legged Labrador Huskies are the most powerful, as well as the fiercest, of the sledge dogs. A load of one hundred and fifty pounds to each dog is the usual burden – and no light one, when you consider the trails over which they travel.
“As a rule, seven to eight or nine dogs are hitched to a sledge. The harness is of the type called the 'Labrador.’ It consists of a single trace. Other traces are attached to it, so that the dogs are spread out fan-shaped from the sledge. This is done to keep them from interfering with each other, for they will fight ‘at the drop of a hat.’ And when they do fight – well, fur flies!
“And here is where the driver’s job comes in. His main care is to keep his animals – some of them worth more than one hundred dollars each, from maiming each other. Nor do his troubles end here, for he has to see to it that the dogs don’t turn on him. You must recall that some of the ‘huskies’ are as savage as wolves, and an iron hand is required to keep them disciplined.
“Nearly every driver carries a stout club and a ferocious looking whip of seal-hide. He uses both impartially and unmercifully. If the dogs thought for a moment that you were afraid of them they would turn on you like a flash and probably kill you. That is the reason for the driver’s seeming brutality. He literally dare not be kind, except in some instances where, as with our present companion, Joe Picquet, he has an exceptionally gentle team.
“Then, too, the dogs are forever attacking each other. Every once in a while there will be a desperate battle, which can only be stopped by a free use of the whip. But in their wolflike fury the dogs sometimes cannot be quieted even by these means.
“Another curious bit of dog lore is this: In each team – just as in a big school of boys – there is always one unfortunate that appears to be the butt of the others. They take every opportunity to steal his food and make life miserable for him. Sometimes the whole pack will make an onslaught on the poor beast and, if not stopped in time, will tear his flesh and rip him open, although they rarely eat him.
“Then, too, some of the dogs are mischievous in the extreme. They will show an almost human intelligence in making life miserable for their driver. It is their delight, sometimes, to spill the sledge and the driver, and gallop madly off, overturning the pack and losing the mail. I hope that will not happen to this letter, for I am writing it under some difficulties and want you to get it.
“When this happens it’s tough luck for the driver. It means that he has to wade miles through the snow, tracking the runaways. He usually finds them at the next post-house, unless the sledge has become entangled in brush or trees. When this latter occurs the dogs scoop out snug-holes for themselves in the snow and go to sleep!
“The class of dog most used by the ordinary traveler is different from the giant huskies. These are the mamelukes or the native Indian dog. They are supposed to have wolf blood in them, and they certainly act up to the supposition!
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