152 Among the Forrest Trees

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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter VI - Talk About Wolves


A WEEK or two after the wedding, as they were sitting around the fire one evening, John said to his father:

"I think we were to have a talk about wolves some time. Now would be a good time, and I would like to have a good wolf story to-night."

"Why so?" inquired his sister. "Do you feel decidedly wolfish since you are married? If you do, we will tell Squire Myrtle to shut Mary up somewhere, so that she won't be devoured by a wolf."

"There, Bet," said he, "that is just like you; always taking a fellow up, before he knows that he is down. But you are wonderfully smart, since that Briar has been scratching around our place."

"Oh! for shame, John; I would not be as mean as you are for anything. Since you have the smooth, sweet, pretty little Myrtle, I think you might allow me to hold on to the Briar if I can. But don't let us be gabbling nonsense all the evening, and keep father from the talk about wolves. But I hope he won't put too many of them in, for if he does I shall dream about them."

"That is a sensible speech for you, Sis. Now we will be as silent as a very sedate young man and his chatterbox of a sister can be expected to be," replied John.

"I heard that there were twenty-five or thirty of them," said the father.

"'Dear sakes, as grandma used to say," said Betsy; "who can listen to a story with that many wolves in it?"

"But the wolves were there all the same," replied Mr. Bushman.

TREED BY WOLVES.

"The occurrences I am about to relate took place about thirty miles from here, and only a few years ago. A man who had a great liking for the bush, and who was a noted hunter, was the hero of the story. He was a cabinet-maker by trade, and at the time he had a shop on the banks of the Twenty-Mile Creek. Not far off was a dense forest of many miles in extent. The forest, in many places, was thick with the alder and other shrubs. This was the home of many wild animals, especially the wolf.

One day Mr. Scantling took his gun and ammunition, and started for a hunt. Before going into the swamps of alder, he rubbed some oil of cumin on the bottom of his shoes to attract the wolves. This device proved to be such a complete success, that he got a great deal more wolf than he intended.

When he was between three and four miles from home, he heard the wolves coming on his track, howling and yelping like a pack of hounds. He intended to get up into a tree, and then shoot the wolves at his leisure.

"But he had some difficulty in finding one of suitable size, with strong branches near enough to the ground to answer his purpose. At length he found one. But the wolves were so near now, that he had to use all his agility to get out of their reach before they would be around the tree. In his hurry he dropped his powder-flask, and there was no time to spare to go back and get it.

"His rifle was an old-fashioned one, with a single barrel that only carried one charge. It was loaded, however. But one bullet seemed like a mere trifle in such an emergency. The scent that Scantling had put on his shoes not only drew a large number of wolves, but it seemed also to set them all wild with excitement. They would howl, and snarl and snap at each other, and jump up, and try to climb the tree. In fact, it made them act as if every wolf was forgetting his usual dignified sneakingness, and was acting under some sort of temporary delusion, that made him regardless of danger and of public opinion; for each wolf tried to be as hateful as possible to his fellows.

"One very large wolf sprang up several times, so that its mouth was but a few inches from Mr. Scantling's feet. And when his jaws came together they would snap as loud as the jaws of a steel trap. And every time, when he found that he had missed his prey, he would make the woods echo with his howls of disappointed rage.

"After a short time Mr. Scantling said to himself, 'I can stop that fellows prank., at least, and I will do it.'

"He lifted the gun, and pointed it towards the wolf. The brute made a rush at the muzzle of the rifle, when he got the full contents of it in his mouth and through his head. He gave a yell of baffled rage and fell dead upon the ground. He literally met death half way.

The report of the gun startled the wolves for a moment. Some of them scattered and ran off for a few rods. They soon came back to the tree, and seemed, if possible, more furious than ever when they saw their companion lying dead upon the ground.

They evidently attributed its death, in some way, to the man in the tree. They would stand and look at it, and then set up a terrible howl, in which the whole of them would join; and when twenty-five, or thirty wolves go in for a concert, the noise they make is something frightful. The forest fairly seemed to tremble, as if swept by a hurricane of sound. And as the volume of sound, in its outward progress, struck the trees, it was broken into fragments, which came back to the centre of the circle in succeeding echoes, that fell upon the listener's ear like the screechings of a thousand demons.

"Mr. Scantling was a man of nerve, and he was accustomed to seeing wild animals. But he said afterwards, that sometimes he had to call up all his will force to keep from dropping right down in their midst. It was hard to resist the strangely fascinating influence that their terrible noise, their gaping mouths, and their fierce, fiery eyes had upon him.

"Sometimes the wolves would try to gnaw the tree down. Then they would lie down in a circle around it, and watch their prisoner as sharply as a cat will watch a mouse.

"And this was kept up from ten or eleven o'clock on Monday morning, until sunrise on Wednesday morning. `Two nights and two days, treed by wolves,' is what the people used to say when speaking of the incident.

"As the sun began to shine on Wednesday morning the whole pack sent up one most pitiful wail. Then they set to work and tore their dead companion into shreds, and left its fragments scattered on the ground. After this was done the wolves, as if by common consent, went off in different directions. Mr. S. waited for an hour or two to see if the wolves would come back. But nothing could be seen or heard of them. He came down from his place of forced retirement, hunted up his powder, loaded his gun, and started for home.

"When he got part way out of the woods he met a lot of his neighbors, who had been out all night hunting for him. His family had got very uneasy about him."

"Are you not afraid, John, to go back to the wild woods after hearing that story about wolves?" asked his mother.

"No, mother, I cannot say that I am," said John. "I have heard before what a wolf-den the alder swamps of Caistor used to be; but I don't think they are so thick there as they were at the time that father's story refers to."

"Perhaps they are not," said the father,"but it is not long ago since a man found six young wolves in a hollow log. He took them home and kept their until they would take milk like a dog. The old wolf came to hunt up her family. He shot her, and then he killed the young ones, and got the bounty money for the scalps of all of them. This was in the same locality of the other story."

"Why did he not keep some of the young ones for dogs? Would they not do as well as a dog to watch the place, if they were trained to it? " inquired Betsy.

"No amount of training; could take the sneaking, wolfish nature out of them," replied the father. "They would be entirely too watchful for the interest of their owners, if there were any sheep or calves about the place."

"They are cowards as well as sneaks," remarked John.

CHASED BY WOLVES.

"When I was coming home I heard of a man up in Grimsby who was followed by a lot of wolves. Mr. Hardwood had his wife and two or three children with him on an ox-sled. He had a quarter of fresh beef that he was taking to his home in the woods. While they were going through what is called the Pepperage Swamp three wolves got after them. It was bright moonlight, so that every movement could be seen. The wolves evidently wanted the meat.

"Mr. Hardwood gave the whip to his wife, and told her to hurry up the oxen while he would try and keep the wolves off the sled. He had with him a new axe handle, which had been given him by a friend. This he used for a club. When the wolves came near he would strike at them. Sometimes he hit them. Then they would jump back, and stand and howl as if they were calling for reinforcements. In a short time they would come on again, full chase. And when they were about to jump on the sled a rap or two with the axe-handle would put them to flight again.

"The oxen, poor things, did not require any whipping when they found what was after them. They did their best to get out of danger. This chase continued for a mile or more. Then a neighbor's clearing was reached, and the barking of a couple of dogs frightened the wolves, so that they ran off into the woods, and were seen no more."

"John," said his sister, "your story is about as romantic as father's was."

"I don't think there is much romance in being chased by wolves, especially when there is a woman and a lot of children in the case," said John.

"Well, if it was not romantic, I don't know what would be," she replied.

"I can't see where the romance comes in," was John's reply.

"Let me tell you where," said Betsy. "I fancy myself sitting down on a lot of straw in the rough box of an old ox-sled. Around me, in the straw, three lovely babes lie sleeping, all unconscious of the danger that threatens them. Behind me, partly hidden by the straw, is a quarter of a noble steer, that had done little else than to eat and drink, and jump and frisk all its life. But a few short hours ago it took its last sup of water, and its last bite of hay. Then the hard-hearted butcher laid it low with his cruel hammer, and with his treacherous knife he took its precious life, and ended all the strife by skinning it.

In front of me a good-sized man sits on a board that is laid across the top of the box for a seat. The oxen are jogging along at the rate of about two miles an hour. We enter the precincts of Pepperage Swamp. I look up to see what has so increased the darkness. Then I see the tall, slender trees standing, like two walls, about sixty feet apart, as if they were placed as sentinels to guard the `Queen's highway,' said highway in this place consisting of a four-rod strip of black snuck and corduroy.

"The trees lift their weird-like forms high up in the direction of the stars, breaking the moonlight into a thousand fragments, that shoot like silvery arrows through the small openings among the interlacing branches.

"The man is talking to his oxen, saying, 'Come, come; hurry up. Hurry up, old boys, and get these tender plants, the woman and children out of the cold.'

Just then we hear what sounds like the whining of a dog. Then another, and another. We look back, and away behind us, running towards us, through the shadows, we dimly see three moving; bodies, that seem to be the size of rats. But they grow larger and larger. Now they look like foxes. Now they are as big as dogs. Now, O dear: what are they?

"'Wolves,' cries the man in front. `Here, wife, you take this gad and lay it on to the oxen with all your might, while I get into the hind end of the sled and keep off the wolves.' John, you have told the rest," said his sister.

"Well done, my girl," said the father.

"You have put some romance into the story, haven't you, Bet? I never knew you had such a vivid imagination. I am almost ashamed of the way I told my story," was John's reply.

"I hope," said Mrs. Bushman, "that John and Mary may never have any such an experience as that in their backwoods life."

"Don't fear, mother," said John. "If that Mr. Hardwood and his wife could save their beef and their children and themselves from the wolves, I think Mary and I will be able to take care of ourselves."

Before closing this "talk about wolves," we may venture to relate a few incidents of a later date. We have said that the wolf is a cringing sneak when he is cornered. He has not half the grit in him that the wild cat, or the ground-hog, or even an old rat has. Get any of these in a trap and they will fight till they die. But not so the wolf. It is said, and we believe it to be true, that, if a wolf gets into a sheep-pen, the first thin; that he will do is to try to find a way out. He will not touch a sheep until the question of possible retreat is settled. And if he finds that there is no way out, he will lie down and watch the sheep, but he will not touch one of them. He quietly awaits conning events. But if he finds that a safe retreat is among the possibilities, then woe betide the helpless sheep, as many a pen of slaughtered innocents has borne testimony.

MISTAKEN TRAPPERS.

Some years ago, in one of our back townships, two men set some traps near the edge of a swamp. In a day or two, they went out, early in the morning, to see if there was anything in the traps. As they came to one of their, they saw a wolf, with one of its front feet in the trap. At first they thought it was a wolf. But as they came nearer it looked so friendly, and seemed so glad to see them that they changed their minds, and concluded that it was somebody's gray dog. He seemed to be in great pain, with the poor lacerated foot still in the trap. The kind-hearted hunters, full of sympathy for the sufferings of their newly-found friend, pitied it and patted it on the head, and fondled it and let it go.

It started off limping, as they supposed, to carry home to an indignant master and a sympathizing mistress the proof of its cruel treatment.

The wolf went about half a mile away, and then found his way into a farmyard among the sheep and cattle. A youth, who was at the barn, saw the wolf, went to the house, got a gun and shot him. In a few minutes after the two men came along, and went into the yard to see what the boy had killed. On examination they saw the foot that had very recently been in the trap. Here was unmistakable evidence that the dead wolf was their property half an hour ago. But they had kindly released it, and now it is the property of the youth who killed it. The bounty and skin brought him some twenty dollars. For months after this, if any one wished to hear words that were more strong than elegant, all that he need to do was to ask one of these men what was the latest news about the price of wolf-scalps.

WOLF-SCALPS AND BREAD.

An industrious Christian family was living on a new farm in a back settlement. Their resources were limited. They depended on the grain that they raised, not only for bread, but also for other household supplies.

One summer the frost cut off nearly all their crops, and left them in comparative destitution. They managed by hard work and the strictest economy to get through the winter without any real suffering; but by the first of June, they found themselves out of flour and out of money. No chance to get a supply on credit either, for none of their acquaintances had anything to spare, and but few of them had enough for themselves. And yet it was two full months till harvest, and no bread in the house and nothing to buy it with. This was a sad plight to-be in.

But man's extremity is often God's opportunity. At all events, it seemed like it in this case.

One evening, towards sundown, Mr. Fernleaf started out to hunt the cows, that were in the bush. He was making his way towards the sound of the bell, with a heavy heart, as he thought of the dart, prospects before hint. He was crossing one of those peculiar spots, described in backwoods language as a beaver-meadow. Just then a large Wolf ran across his path, and went towards the woods a little distance off. He started after it making all the noise he could. The wolf ran only a few rods in the woods, and then took refuge in a hollow tree that had been broken off by the wind. It made a very excellent place for a wolf or a fox to hide in.

Mr. Fernleaf gathered up pieces of poles and chunks of wood until he completely filled up the end of the log, and made it impossible for the wolf to get out. Then he went after his cows, leaving the wolf a close prisoner for the night.

Next morning he took a neighbor, and a gun and a couple of axes, and went to see how the prisoner was getting on. They found everything as it was left the night before.

They shot the wolf in the tree. In cutting the tree so as to get at the dead one, they found six living wolves about the size of an ordinary cat. These they killed. The seven scalps brought between seventy and eighty dollars. This they divided between them, and they had ample supplies till the harvest came in, which, if we remember rightly, was a good one.

As Mr. Fernleaf related the incident to us, sometime after, a tear moistened his eye while he said, "I have thought, and I still think, that God sent that wolf across my path that day, as the easiest and best way of fulfilling His promise, where He says, `Thy bread shall be given thee and thy water shall be sure." Who will say that he was mistaken.

THE LAST RACE.

We have been told a great deal about the destruction of deer by the wolves. When the snow in the woods is from two to three feet deep and a heavy crust on it, the deer has no chance for escape if the wolves come across them in their hiding-places in the upland thickets. They seem, as much as they can, to keep away from the swamps, these being the lurking-places of the wolves.

But sometimes hunger drives the wolves out in search of food. Then they go to the thickets to hunt the deer. And when they are found the slaughter begins. The wolves can run on the crust. The deer cannot do so, their small, sharp hoofs break the crust and they no down; and besides this, the crust is nearly as sharp as broken glass. It cuts the legs of the poor struggling deer, so that in a short time they fall a helpless prey to their ferocious enemy. Then the wolves hold high carnival.

But when there is nothing to prevent the deer from using its locomotive powers, the wolf has to earn his venison before he eats it, and he frequently takes his breakfast miles away from where he started in pursuit of it.

Some years ago a chase of this kind occurred, not far from Elora, where the banks of the Grand River are precipitous and high. A wolf was after a large buck, which was almost tired out, so the wolf was only one ,jump behind him. When they came to the edge of the precipice they both went over, and were killed on the ice that covered the river. It was their last race.


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