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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter XL
Lake freezes - I go for rope - Have a narrow escape from wolf and drowning - We finish our fishing - Make sleds - Go home - Camp of starving - Indians en route.


ALL of a sudden the lake froze over, and our nets were under, and we had no rope to pass under the ice. So, leaving my gun with Neils, for he had none, and whistling the dogs to me, I set out on a run for home; and as it was only twenty-five miles, my purpose was to be back in camp the same night, for I could conveniently make a fifty-mile run in those days. Down the valley and over the hills, through the dense forest we went—the ten dogs and myself. Presently, as we were coasting along the shore of a lake, we met a huge, gaunt timber wolf. Ali, thought I, if I only had my gun! I set the dogs on him, but he very soon drove them back, and came at me. I remembered seeing some lodge-poles a little way back on the trail, and I retreated to them, and securing one, came on to the attack again. Between the dogs and myself, we drove the wolf on to a little point jutting out into the lake, and he took to the ice. I foolishly followed him out, hoping to get a whack at him with my pole, but suddenly I awoke to the fact that the ice was giving way with me and the water was deep. Down I dropped, and stretched out, and leaned with the most of my weight on the pole, which, covering a good space of ice, fortunately held me up; so crawling and pushing, and anxiously looking through the transparent ice for the bottom, I made for the shore. How thankful I was when I did see the bottom, and presently was ashore once more!

As I ran off on the trail, I seemed to take a fresh lease of life, for it seemed as if I had nearly lost my grip of it a few minutes since.

I reached Mr. Woolsey's just as he was sitting down to lunch, and he was so glad to see me that he would not hear of my going back that afternoon.

A few Indians had come and gone, and from these Mr. Woolsey had secured some dried meat, which to me was a great treat after so much fish.

We were becoming fast friends, this old bachelor missionary and myself, for while he was anything but a pioneer, and altogether out of place in this wild country, yet he was thoroughly good, and as full of the milk of "human kindness" as men are ever made.

Early the next morning I was away with the rope, and by night Neils and I had overhauled several of our nets and put some fresh ones in their place.

And now winter set in, with no snow, but extreme cold, which soon thickened the ice, and Neils and I gave our spare time to making a couple of toboggans, for we purposed when we did go home, to take loads of fish with us.

As the ice made, the fish went away, and soon our fishing was over for that time. We had put up about three thousand, and lived almost entirely on fish; the livers of some dog-fish we occasionally caught being our only change, except a very few fish-ducks, which were hardly a change. We had also fattened the ten dogs ready for winter work. This was no small item.

Now we made a strong "log cache," and stored our fish in it, putting tent and nets and everything with the fish; and having finished our dog-sleighs, or toboggans, we contemplated starting in the morning for home, though there was as yet no snow. As it was moonlight, I proposed to Neils that we start at once.

So we loaded up, hitched our dogs and set out. What a time we had—bare ground, fallen timber, stumps and hills; and, to make matters worse, while we were making a fire about midnight to cook our last duck, which we had saved for days for this very purpose, the dogs stole it, and our disappointment was bitter. We had cleaned that duck, and had it all ready to cook, and looked forward to picking its bones ourselves. We craved the change in diet, even if it was only from fish to a fishy duck; but just as we had the prize, the contemptible dogs stole it, and though it is now thirty-two years since this happened, I can still very strongly sympathize with Neils and myself.

We thawed and roasted a fish, and started on, and about two o'clock in the morning came upon a solitary lodge right on the road. This proved to be a wood Stoney, Peter Pe-kah-ches. He and his family were starving. There was no snow, and everything being crisp with frost, he could not approach game. Peter was a renowned hunter, but the season was against him, and thus he was starving. We gave him part of our fish, and received the heart-felt blessings of the whole family, who hardly waited to thaw some of the fish until they ate them.

This lightened our hearts and our loads also, and we went on and reached home before day- light.


 


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