Chapter 21 Wolves attack the horses, and Cameron circumvents the wolves—_ear-hunt, in which Henri shines conspicuous—Joe and the “Natter-list”—A_larm—A surprise and a capture.
We must now return to the camp where Walter Cameron still guarded the goods, and the men pursued their trapping avocations.
Here seven of the horses had been killed in one night by wolves while grazin_n a plain close to the camp, and on the night following a horse that ha_trayed was also torn to pieces and devoured. The prompt and daring manner i_hich this had been done convinced the trader that white wolves ha_nfortunately scented them out, and he set several traps in the hope o_apturing them.
White wolves are quite distinct from the ordinary wolves that prowl throug_oods and plains in large packs. They are much larger, weighing sometimes a_uch as a hundred and thirty pounds; but they are comparatively scarce, an_ove about alone, or in small bands of three or four. Their strength i_normous, and they are so fierce that they do not hesitate, upon occasions, t_ttack man himself. Their method of killing horses is very deliberate. Tw_olves generally undertake the cold-blooded murder. They approach their victi_ith the most innocent looking and frolicsome gambols, lying down and rollin_bout, and frisking pleasantly until the horse becomes a little accustomed t_hem. Then one approaches right in front, the other in rear, still friskin_layfully, until they think themselves near enough, when they make _imultaneous rush. The wolf which approaches in rear is the true assailant; the rush of the other is a mere feint; then both fasten on the poor horse’_aunches and never let go till the sinews are cut and he is rolling on hi_ide.
The horse makes comparatively little struggle in this deadly assault. He seem_aralysed and soon falls to rise no more.
Cameron set his traps towards evening in a circle with a bait in the centr_nd then retired to rest. Next morning he called Joe Blunt and the two wen_ff together.
“It is strange that these rascally white wolves should be so bold when th_maller kinds are so cowardly,” remarked Cameron, as they walked along.
“So ’tis,” replied Joe, “but I’ve seed them other chaps bold enough too in th_rairie when they were in large packs and starvin’.”
“I believe the small wolves follow the big fellows and help them to eat wha_hey kill, though they generally sit round and look on at the killing.”
“Hist!” exclaimed Joe, cocking his gun, “there he is, an’ no mistake.”
There he was, undoubtedly. A wolf of the largest size with one of his feet i_he trap. He was a terrible-looking object, for, besides his immense size an_aturally ferocious aspect, his white hair bristled on end and was all covere_ith streaks and spots of blood from his bloody jaws. In his efforts to escap_e had bitten the trap until he had broken his teeth and lacerated his gums, so that his appearance was hideous in the extreme. And when the two men cam_p he struggled with all his might to fly at them.
Cameron and Joe stood looking at him in a sort of wondering admiration.
“We’d better put a ball in him,” suggested Joe after a time. “Mayhap the chai_on’t stand sich tugs long.”
“True, Joe; if it breaks we might get an ugly nip before we killed him.”
So saying Cameron fired into the wolf’s head and killed it. It was found, o_xamination, that four wolves had been in the traps, but the rest had escaped.
Two of them, however, had gnawed off their paws and left them lying in th_raps.
After this the big wolves did not trouble them again. The same afternoon, _ear-hunt was undertaken, which well-nigh cost one of the Iroquois his life.
It happened thus:—
While Cameron and Joe were away after the white wolves, Henri came flounderin_nto camp tossing his arms like a maniac, and shouting that “seven bars wos b_own in de bush close bye!” It chanced that this was an idle day with most o_he men, so they all leaped on their horses, and taking guns and knive_allied forth to give battle to the bears.
Arrived at the scene of action they found the seven bears busily engaged i_igging up roots, so the men separated in order to surround them, and the_losed in. The place was partly open and partly covered with thick bushes int_hich a horseman could not penetrate. The moment the bears got wind of wha_as going forward they made off as fast as possible, and then commenced _cene of firing, galloping, and yelling, that defies description! Four out o_he seven were shot before they gained the bushes; the other three wer_ounded, but made good their retreat. As their places of shelter, however, were like islands in the plain, they had no chance of escaping.
The horsemen now dismounted and dashed recklessly into the bushes, where the_oon discovered and killed two of the bears; the third was not found for som_ime. At last an Iroquois came upon it so suddenly that he had not time t_oint his gun before the bear sprang upon him and struck him to the earth, where it held him down.
Instantly the place was surrounded by eager men, but the bushes were so thic_nd the fallen trees among which the bear stood were so numerous, that the_ould not use their guns without running the risk of shooting their companion.
Most of them drew their knives and seemed about to rush on the bear wit_hese, but the monster’s aspect, as it glared round, was so terrible that the_eld back for a moment in hesitation.
At this moment Henri, who had been at some distance engaged in the killing o_ne of the other bears, came rushing forward after his own peculiar manner.
“Ah! fat is eet—hay? de bar no go under yit?”
Just then his eye fell on the wounded Iroquois with the bear above him, and h_ttered a yell so intense in tone that the bear himself seemed to feel tha_omething decisive was about to be done at last. Henri did not pause, but wit_ flying dash he sprang like a spread eagle, arms and legs extended, righ_nto the bear’s bosom. At the same moment he sent his long hunting-knife dow_nto its heart. But Bruin is proverbially hard to kill, and although mortall_ounded, he had strength enough to open his jaws and close them on Henri’_eck.
There was a cry of horror, and at the same moment a volley was fired at th_ear’s head, for the trappers felt that it was better to risk shooting thei_omrades than see them killed before their eyes. Fortunately the bullets too_ffect, and tumbled him over at once without doing damage to either of th_en, although several of the balls just grazed Henri’s temple and carried of_is cap.
Although uninjured by the shot, the poor Iroquois had not escaped scatheles_rom the paw of the bear. His scalp was torn almost off, and hung down ove_is eyes, while blood streamed down his face. He was conveyed by his comrade_o the camp, where he lay two days in a state of insensibility, at the end o_hich time he revived and recovered daily. Afterwards when the camp moved h_ad to be carried, but in the course of two months he was as well as ever, an_uite as fond of bear-hunting!
Among other trophies of this hunt there were two deer, and a buffalo, whic_ast had probably strayed from the herd. Four or five Iroquois were round thi_nimal whetting their knives for the purpose of cutting it up when Henr_assed, so he turned aside to watch them perform the operation, quit_egardless of the fact that his neck and face were covered with blood whic_lowed from one or two small punctures made by the bear.
The Indians began by taking off the skin, which certainly did not occupy the_ore than five minutes. Then they cut up the meat and made a pack of it, an_ut out the tongue, which is somewhat troublesome, as that member requires t_e cut out from under the jaw of the animal, and not through the natura_pening of the mouth. One of the fore-legs was cut off at the knee joint, an_his was used as a hammer with which to break the skull for the purpose o_aking out the brains, these being used in the process of dressing an_oftening the animal’s skin. An axe would have been of advantage to break th_kull, but in the hurry of rushing to the attack the Indians had forgotte_heir axes, so they adopted the common fashion of using the buffalo’s hoof a_ hammer, the shank being the handle. The whole operation of flaying, cuttin_p, and packing the meat, did not occupy more than twenty minutes. Befor_eaving the ground these expert butchers treated themselves to a little of th_arrow and warm liver in a raw state!
Cameron and Joe walked up to the group while they were indulging in thi_ittle feast.
“Well, I’ve often seen that eaten, but I never could do it myself,” remarke_he former.
“No!” cried Joe in surprise; “now that’s oncommon cur’us. I’ve _lived_ on ra_iver an’ marrow-bones for two or three days at a time, when we wos chased b_he Camanchee Injuns and didn’t dare to make a fire, an’ it’s ra’al good i_s. Won’t ye try it _now_?”
Cameron shook his head.
“No, thankee; I’ll not refuse when I can’t help it, but until then I’ll remai_n happy ignorance of how good it is.”
“Well, it _is_ strange how some folk can’t abide anything in the meat way the_an’t bin used to. D’ye know I’ve actually knowd men from the cities a_ouldn’t eat a bit o’ horseflesh for love or money. Would ye believe it?”
“I can well believe that, Joe, for I have met with such persons myself; i_act, they are rather numerous. What are you chuckling at, Joe?”
“Chucklin’? if ye mean be that ‘larfin’ in to myself’ it’s because I’_hinkin’ o’ a chap as once comed out to the prairies.”
“Let us walk back to the camp, Joe, and you can tell me about him as we g_long.”
“I think,” continued Joe, “he comed from Washington, but I never could mak_ut right whether he wos a government man or not. Anyhow, he wos _heelosopher—a natter-list I think he call his-self.”
“A naturalist,” suggested Cameron.
“Ay, that wos more like it. Well, he wos about six feet two in his moccasins, an’ as thin as a ramrod, an’ as blind as a bat—leastways he had weak eyes a_ore green spectacles. He had on a grey shootin’ coat and trousers and ves_nd cap, with rid whiskers an’ a long nose as rid at the point as the whisker_os.
“Well, this gentleman engaged me an’ another hunter to go a trip with him int_he prairies, so off we sot one fine day on three hosses with our blankets a_ur backs—we wos to depend on the rifle for victuals. At first I thought th_atter-list one o’ the cruellest beggars as iver went on two long legs, for h_sed to go about everywhere pokin’ pins through all the beetles, and flies, an’ creepin’ things he could sot eyes on, an’ stuck them in a box; but he tol_e he comed here a-purpose to git as many o’ them as he could; so says I, ‘I_hat’s it, I’ll fill yer box in no time.’
“‘Will ye?’ says he, quite pleased like.
“‘I will,’ says I, an’ galloped off to a place as was filled wi’ all sorts o’ crawlin’ things. So I sets to work, and whenever I seed a thing crawlin’ I so_y fut on it and crushed it, and soon filled my breast pocket. I coched a lo_’ butterflies too, an’ stuffed them into my shot pouch, and went back in a_our or two an’ showed him the lot. He put on his green spectacles and looke_t them as if he’d seen a rattlesnake.
“‘My good man,’ says he, ‘you’ve crushed them all to pieces!’
“‘They’ll taste as good for all that,’ says I, for somehow I’d taken’t in m_ead that he’d heard o’ the way the Injuns make soup o’ the grasshoppers, a_as wantin’ to try his hand at a new dish!
“He laughed when I said this, an’ told me he wos collectin’ them to take hom_o be _looked_ at. But that’s not wot I wos goin’ to tell ye about him,” continued Joe; “I wos goin’ to tell ye how we made him eat horseflesh. H_arried a revolver, too, this Natter-list did, to load wi’ shot as small a_ust a-most, and shoot little birds with. I’ve seed him miss birds only thre_eet away with it. An’ one day he drew it all of a suddent and let fly at _ig bum-bee that wos passin’, yellin’ out that it wos the finest wot he ha_ver seed. He missed the bee, of coorse, cause it was a flyin’ shot, he said, but he sent the whole charge right into Martin’s back—Martin was my comrade’_ame. By good luck Martin had on a thick leather coat, so the shot niver go_he length o’ his skin.
“One day I noticed that the Natter-list had stuffed small corks into th_uzzles of all the six barrels of his revolver. I wondered what they wos for, but he wos al’ays doin’ sich queer _things_ that I soon forgot it. ‘May be,’ thought I, jist before it went out o’ my mind,—‘may be he thinks that ’ll sto_he pistol from goin’ off by accident,’ for ye must know he’d let it off thre_imes the first day by accident, and well-nigh blowed off his leg the las_ime, only the shot lodged in the back o’ a big toad he’d jist stuffed int_is breeches’ pocket. Well, soon after, we shot a buffalo bull, so when i_ell, off he jumps from his horse an runs up to it. So did I, for I wasn’_ure the beast was dead, an’ I had jist got up when it rose an’ rushed at th_atter-list.
“‘Out o’ the way,’ I yelled, for my rifle was empty; but he didn’t move, so _ushed forward an’ drew the pistol out o’ his belt and let fly in the bull’_ibs jist as it ran the poor man down. Martin came up that moment an’ put _all through its heart, and then we went to pick up the Natter-list. He cam_o in a little, an’ the first thing he said was, ‘Where’s my revolver?’ When _ave it to him he looked at it, an’ said with a solemcholy shake o’ the head, ‘There’s a whole barrel-full lost!’ It turned out that he had taken to usin’ the barrels for bottles to hold things in, but he forgot to draw the charges, so sure enough I had fired a charge o’ bum-bees, an’ beetles, an’ small sho_nto the buffalo!
“But that’s not what I wos goin’ to tell ye yet. We comed to a part o’ th_lains where we wos well-nigh starved for want o’ game, an’ the Natter-lis_ot so thin that ye could a-most see through him, so I offered to kill m_orse, an’ cut it up for meat; but you niver saw sich a face he made. ‘I’_ather die first,’ says he, ‘than eat it;’ so we didn’t kill it. But that ver_ay Martin got a shot at a wild horse and killed it. The Natter-list was dow_n the bed o’ a creek at the time gropin’ for creepers, an’ he didn’t see it.
“‘He’ll niver eat it,’ says Martin.
“‘That’s true,’ says I.
“‘Let’s tell him it’s a buffalo,’ says he.
“‘That would be tellin’ a lie,’ says I.
“So we stood lookin’ at each other, not knowin’ what to do.
“‘I’ll tell ye what,’ cries Martin, ‘we’ll cut it up, and take the meat int_amp and cook it without _sayin’ a word_.’
“‘Done,’ says I, ‘that’s it;’ for ye must know the poor creature wos no judg_’ meat. He couldn’t tell one kind from another, an’ he niver axed questions.
In fact he niver a-most spoke to us all the trip. Well, we cut up the hors_nd carried the flesh and marrow-bones into camp, takin’ care to leave th_oofs and skin behind, and sot to work and roasted steaks and marrow-bones.
“When the Natter-list came back ye should ha’ seen the joyful face he put o_hen he smelt the grub, for he was all but starved out, poor critter.
“‘What have we got here?’ cried he, rubbin’ his hands and sittin’ down.
“‘Steaks an’ marrow-bones,’ says Martin.
“‘Capital!’ says he. ‘I’m _so_ hungry.’
“So he fell to work like a wolf. I niver seed a man pitch into anything lik_s that Natter-list did into that horseflesh.
“‘These are first-rate marrow-bones,’ says he, squintin’ with one eye down th_hin bone o’ the hind-leg to see if it was quite empty.
“‘Yes, sir, they is,’ answered Martin, as grave as a judge.
“‘Take another, sir,’ says I.
“‘No, thankee,’ says he with a sigh, for he didn’t like to leave off.
“Well, we lived for a week on horseflesh, an’ first-rate livin’ it wos; the_e fell in with buffalo, an’ niver ran short again till we got to th_ettlements, when he paid us our money an’ shook hands, sayin’ we’d had a nic_rip an’ he wished us well. Jist as we wos partin’ I said, says I, ‘D’ye kno_hat it wos we lived on for a week arter we wos well-nigh starved in th_rairies?’
“‘What,’ says he, ‘when we got yon capital marrow-bones?’
“‘The same,’ says I; ‘yon was _horseflesh_ ,’ says I, ‘an’ I think ye’l_ur’ly niver say again that it isn’t first-rate livin’.’
“‘Yer jokin’,’ says he, turnin’ pale.
“‘It’s true, sir, as true as yer standin’ there.’
“Well, would ye believe it; he turned—that Natter-list did—as sick as a dog o_he spot wot he wos standin’ on, an’ didn’t taste meat again for three days!”
Shortly after the conclusion of Joe’s story they reached the camp, and her_hey found the women and children flying about in a state of terror, and th_ew men who had been left in charge arming themselves in the greatest haste.
“Hallo! something wrong here,” cried Cameron hastening forward followed b_oe. “What has happened, eh?”
“Injuns comin’, monsieur, look dere,” answered a trapper, pointing down th_alley.
“Arm and mount at once, and come to the front of the camp,” cried Cameron in _one of voice that silenced every other, and turned confusion into order.
The cause of all this outcry was a cloud of dust seen far down the valley, which was raised by a band of mounted Indians who approached the camp at ful_peed. Their numbers could not be made out, but they were a sufficientl_ormidable band to cause much anxiety to Cameron, whose men, at the time, wer_cattered to the various trapping grounds, and only ten chanced to be withi_all of the camp. However, with these ten he determined to show a bold fron_o the savages, whether they came as friends or foes. He therefore ordered th_omen and children within the citadel formed of the goods and packs of fur_iled upon each other, which point of retreat was to be defended to the las_xtremity. Then galloping to the front he collected his men and swept down th_alley at full speed. In a few minutes they were near enough to observe tha_he enemy only numbered four Indians, who were driving a band of about _undred horses before them, and so busy were they in keeping the troo_ogether that Cameron and his men were close upon them before they wer_bserved.
It was too late to escape. Joe Blunt and Henri had already swept round and cu_ff their retreat. In this extremity the Indians slipped from the backs o_heir steeds and darted into the bushes, where they were safe from pursuit, a_east on horseback, while the trappers got behind the horses and drove the_owards the camp.
At this moment one of the horses sprang ahead of the others and made for th_ountain, with its mane and tail flying wildly in the breeze.
“Marrow-bones and buttons!” shouted one of the men, “there goes Dick Varley’_orse.”
“So it am!” cried Henri, and dashed off in pursuit, followed by Joe and tw_thers.
“Why, these are our own horses,” said Cameron in surprise, as they drove the_nto a corner of the hills from which they could not escape.
This was true, but it was only half the truth, for, besides their own horses, they had secured upwards of seventy Indian steeds, a most acceptable additio_o their stud, which, owing to casualties and wolves, had been diminishing to_uch of late. The fact was, that the Indians who had captured the horse_elonging to Pièrre and his party were a small band of robbers who ha_ravelled, as was afterwards learned, a considerable distance from the south, stealing horses from various tribes as they went along. As we have seen, in a_vil hour they fell in with Pièrre’s party and carried off their steeds, whic_hey drove to a pass leading from one valley to the other. Here they unite_hem with the main band of their ill-gotten gains, and while the greate_umber of the robbers descended further into the plains in search of mor_ooty, four of them were sent into the mountains with the horses alread_rocured. These four, utterly ignorant of the presence of white men in th_alley, drove their charge, as we have seen, almost into the camp.
Cameron immediately organised a party to go out in search of Pièrre and hi_ompanions, about whose fate he became intensely anxious, and in the course o_alf an hour as many men as he could spare with safety were despatched in th_irection of the Blue Mountains.