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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter45)

2006-09-08 19:47

  CHAPTER XLV The Subjugation of Hoag

  A feller as weeps for pity and never does a finger-tap to help is 'bout as much use as an overcoat on a drowning man. —— Sayings of Si Sylvanne.

  SOME remarkable changes of weather made some remarkable changes in their plan and saved their enemy from immediate molestation. For two weeks it was a succession of thaws and there was much rain. The lake was covered with six inches of water; the river had a current above the ice, that was rapidly eating, the latter away. Everywhere there were slush and wet snow that put an end to travel and brought on the spring with a rush.

  Each night there was, indeed, a trifling frost, but each day's sun seemed stronger, and broad, bare patches of ground appeared on all sunny slopes.

  On the first crisp day the trappers set out to go the rounds, knowing full well that this was the end of the season. Henceforth for six months deadfall and snare would lie idle and unset.

  They went their accustomed line, carrying their snowshoes, but rarely needing them. Then they crossed a large track to which Quonab pointed, and grunted affirmatively as Rolf said "Bear?" Yes! the bears were about once more; their winter sleep was over. Now they were fat and the fur was yet prime; in a month they would be thin and shedding. Now is the time for bear hunting with either trap or dog.

  Doubtless Skookum thought the party most fortunately equipped in the latter respect, but no single dog is enough to bay a bear. There must be three or four to bother him behind, to make him face about and fight; one dog merely makes him run faster.

  They had no traps, and knowing that a spring bear is a far traveller, they made no attempt to follow.

  The deadfalls yielded two martens, but one of them was spoiled by the warm weather. They learned at last that the enemy had a trap-line, for part of which he used their deadfalls. He had been the rounds lately and had profited at least a little by their labours.

  The track, though two days old, was not hard to follow, either on snow or ground. Quonab looked to the lock of his gun; his lower lip tightened and he strode along.

  "What are you going to do, Quonab? Not shoot?"

  "When I get near enough," and the dangerous look in the red man's eye told Rolf to be quiet and follow.

  In three miles they passed but three of his marten traps —— very lazy trapping —— and then found a great triangle of logs by a tree with a bait and signs enough to tell the experienced eye that, in that corner, was hidden a huge steel trap for bear.

  They were almost too late in restraining the knowledge- hunger of Skookum. They went on a mile or two and realized in so doing that, however poor a trapper the enemy might be, he was a good tramper and knew the country.

  At sundown they came to their half-way shelter and put up there for the night. Once when Rolf went out to glimpse the skies before turning in, he heard a far tree creaking and wondered, for it was dead calm. Even Skookum noticed it. But it was not repeated. Next morning they went on.

  There are many quaint sounds in the woods at all times, the rasping of trees, at least a dozen different calls by jays, twice as many by ravens, and occasional notes from chicadees, grouse, and owls. The quadrupeds in general are more silent, but the red squirrel is ever about and noisy, as well as busy.

  Far-reaching sounds are these echoes of the woods —— some of them very far. Probably there were not five minutes of the day or night when some weird, woodland chatter, scrape, crack, screech, or whistle did not reach the keen ears of that ever-alert dog. That is, three hundred times a day his outer ear submitted to his inner ear some report of things a-doing, which same report was as often for many days disregarded as of no interest or value. But this did not mean that he missed anything; the steady tramp, tramp of their feet, while it dulled all sounds for the hunter, seemed to have no effect on Skookum. Again the raspy squeal of some far tree reached his inmost brain, and his hair rose as he stopped and gave a low "woof."

  The hunters held still; the wise ones always do, when a dog says "Stop!" They waited. After a few minutes it came again —— merely the long-drawn creak of a tree bough, wind-rubbed on its neighbour.

  And yet, "Woof, woof, woof," said Skookum, and ran ahead.

  "Come back, you little fool!" cried Rolf.

  But Skookum had a mind of his own. He trotted ahead, then stopped, paused, and sniffed at something in the snow. The Indian picked it up. It was the pocket jackscrew that every bear trapper carries to set the powerful trap, and without which, indeed, one man cannot manage the springs.

  He held it up with "Ugh! Hoag in trouble now." Clearly the rival trapper had lost this necessary tool.

  But the finding was an accident. Skookum pushed on. They came along a draw to a little hollow. The dog, far forward, began barking and angrily baying at something. The men hurried to the scene to find on the snow, fast held in one of those devilish engines called a bear trap —— the body of their enemy —— Hoag, the trapper, held by a leg, and a hand in the gin he himself had been setting.

  A fierce light played on the Indian's face. Rolf was stricken with horror. But even while they contemplated the body, the faint cry was heard again coming from it.

  "He's alive; hurry!" cried Rolf. The Indian did not hurry, but he came. He had vowed vengeance at sight; why should he haste to help?

  The implacable iron jaws had clutched the trapper by one knee and the right hand. The first thing was to free him. How? No man has power enough to force that spring. But the jackscrew!

  "Quonab, help him! For God's sake, come!" cried Rolf in agony, forgetting their feud and seeing only tortured, dying man.

  The Indian gazed a moment, then rose quickly, and put on the jackscrew. Under his deft fingers the first spring went down, but what about the other? They had no other screw. The long buckskin line they always carried was quickly lashed round and round the down spring to hold it. Then the screw was removed and put on the other spring; it bent, and the jaws hung loose. The Indian forced them wide open, drew out the mangled limbs, a the trapper was free, but so near death, it seemed they were too late.

  Rolf spread his coat. The Indian made a fire. In fifteen minutes they were pouring hot tea between victim's lips. Even as they did, his feeble throat gave out again the long, low moan.

  The weather was mild now. The prisoner was not actually frozen, but numbed and racked. Heat, hot tea, kindly rubbing, and he revived a little.

  At first they thought him dying, but in an hour recovered enough to talk. In feeble accents and broken phrases they learned the tale:

  "Yest —— m-m-m. Yesterday —— no; two or three days back —— m-m-m-m-m —— I dunno; I was a goin' —— roun' me traps —— me bear traps. Didn't have no luck m-m-m (yes, I'd like another sip; ye ain't got no whiskey no?) m-m-m. Nothing in any trap, and when I come to this un —— oh-h - m-m; I seen - the bait was stole by birds, an' the pan —— m-m-m; an' the pan, m-m-m - (yes, that's better) —— an' the pan laid bare. So I starts to cover it with —— ce-ce-dar; the ony thing I c'd get —— m-m-m-w- —— wuz leanin' over —— to fix tother side —— me foot slipped on —— the —— ice —— ev'rytbing was icy —— an'—— m-m-m-m —— I lost —— me balance —— me knee the pan —— O Lord —— how I suffer! —— m-m-m it grabbed me —— knee an'—— h-h-hand -" His voice died to a whisper and ceased; he seemed sinking.

  Quonab got up to hold him. Then, looking at Rolf, Indian shook his head as though to say all was over; the poor wretch had a woodman's constitution, and in spite of a mangled, dying body, he revived again. They gave him more hot tea, and again he began in a whisper:

  "I hed one arm free an' —— an' —— an' —— I might —— a —— got out —— m-m —— but I hed no wrench —— I lost it some place —— m-m-m-m.

  "Then —— I yelled —— I dun —— no - maybe some un might hear —— it kin-kin-kinder eased me —— to yell m-m-m.

  "Say —— make that yer dog keep —— away —— will yer I dunno —— it seems like a week —— must a fainted some M-m-m —— I yelled —— when I could."

  There was a long pause. Rolf said, "Seems to me I heard you last night, when we were up there. And dog heard you, too. Do you want me to move that leg around?"

  "M-m-m —— yeh —— that's better —— say, you air white —— ain't ye? Ye won't leave me —— cos —— I done some mean things —— m-m-m. Ye won't, will ye?"

  "No, you needn't worry —— we'll stay by ye."

  Then he muttered, they could not tell what. He closed his eyes. After long silence he looked around wildly and began again:

  "Say —— I done you dirt —— but don't leave me —— don't leave me." Tears ran down his face and he moaned piteously. "I'll —— make it —— right —— you're white, ain't ye?"

  Quonab rose and went for more firewood. The trapper whispered, "I'm scared o' him —— now —— he'll do me —— say, I'm jest a poor ole man. If I do live —— through —— this —— m-m-m-m —— I'll never walk again. I'm crippled sure."

  It was long before he resumed. Then he began: "Say, what day is it —— Friday! —— I must —— been two days in there —— m-m-m —— I reckoned it was a week. When —— the —— dog came I thought it was wolves. Oh —— ah, didn't care much —— m-m-m. Say, ye won't leave me —— coz —— coz —— I treated —— ye mean. I —— ain't had no l-l-luck." He went off into a stupor, but presently let out a long, startling cry, the same as that they had heard in the night. The dog growled; the men stared. The wretch's eyes were rolling again. He seemed delirious.

  Quonab pointed to the east, made the sun-up sign, and shook his head at the victim. And Rolf understood it to mean that he would never see the sunrise. But they were wrong.

  The long night passed in a struggle between heath and the tough make-up of a mountaineer. The waiting light of dawn saw death defeated, retiring from the scene. As the sun rose high, the victim seemed to gain considerably in strength. There was no immediate danger of an end.

  Rolf said to Quonab: "Where shall we take him? Guess you better go home for the toboggan, and we'll fetch him to the shanty."

  But the invalid was able to take part in the conversation. "Say, don't take me there. Ah —— want to go home. 'Pears like —— I'd be better at home. My folks is out Moose River way. I'd never get out if I went in there," and by "there" he seemed to mean the Indian's lake, and glanced furtively at the unchanging countenance of the red man.

  "Have you a toboggan at your shanty?" asked Rolf.

  "Yes —— good enough —— it's on the roof —— say," and he beckoned feebly to Rolf, "let him go after it —— don't leave me —— he'll kill me," and he wept feebly in his self pity.

  So Quonab started down the mountain - a sinewy man —— a striding form, a speck in the melting distance. Nursing Hoag

  IN TWO hours the red man reached the trapper's shanty, and at once, without hesitation or delicacy, set about a thorough examination of its contents. Of course there was the toboggan on the roof, and in fairly good condition for such a shiftless owner.

  There were bunches of furs hanging from the rafters, but not many, for fur taking is hard work; and Quonab, looking suspiciously over them, was 'not surprised to see the lynx skin he had lost, easily known by the absence of wound and the fur still in points as it had dried from the wetting. In another bundle, he discovered the beaver that had killed itself, for there was the dark band across its back.

  The martens he could not be sure of, but he had a strong suspicion that most of this fur came out of his own traps.

  He tied Hoag's blankets on the toboggan, and hastened back to where he left the two on the mountain.

  Skookum met him long before he was near. Skookum did not enjoy Hoag's company.

  The cripple had been talking freely to Rolf, but the arrival of the Indian seemed to suppress him.

  With the wounded man on the toboggan, they set out, The ground was bare in many places, so that the going was hard; but, fortunately, it was all down hill, and four hours' toil brought them to the cabin.

  They put the sick man in his bunk, then Rolf set about preparing a meal, while Quonab cut wood.

  After the usual tea, bacon, and flour cakes, all were feeling refreshed. Hoag seemed much more like himself. He talked freely, almost cheerfully, while Quonab, with Skookum at his feet, sat silently smoking and staring into the fire.

  After a long silence, the Indian turned, looked straight at the trapper, and, pointing with his pipestem to the furs, said, "How many is ours?"

  Hoag looked scared, then sulky, and said; "I dunno what ye mean. I'm a awful sick man. You get me out to Lyons Falls all right, and ye can have the hull lot," and he wept.

  Rolf shook his head at Quonab, then turned to the sufferer and said: "Don't you worry; we'll get you out all right. Have you a good canoe?"

  "Pretty fair; needs a little fixing."

  The night passed with one or two breaks, when the invalid asked for a drink of water. In the morning he was evidently recovering, and they began to plan for the future.

  He took the first chance of wispering to Rolf, "Can't you send him away? I'll be all right with you." Rolf said nothing.

  "Say," he continued, "say, young feller, what's yer name?"

  "Rolf Kittering."

  "Say, Rolf, you wait a week or ten days, and the ice 'll be out; then I'll be fit to travel. There ain't on'y a few carries between here an' Lyons Falls."

  After a long pause, due to Quonab's entry, he continued again: "Moose River's good canoeing; ye can get me out in five days; me folks is at Lyons Falls." He did not say that his folks consisted of a wife and boy that he neglected, but whom he counted on to nurse him now.

  Rolf was puzzled by the situation.

  "Say! I'll give ye all them furs if ye git me out." Rolf gave him a curious look —— as much as to say, "Ye mean our furs."

  Again the conversation was ended by the entry of Quonab.

  Rolf stepped out, taking the Indian with him. They had a long talk, then, as Rolf reentered, the sick man began:

  "You stay by me, and git me out. I'll give ye my rifle" —— then, after a short silence —— "an' I'll throw in all the traps an' the canoe."

  "I'll stay by you," said Rolf, "and in about two weeks we'll take you down to Lyons Falls. I guess you can guide us."

  "Ye can have all them pelts," and again the trapper presented the spoils he had stolen, "an' you bet it's your rifle when ye get me out."

  So it was arranged. But it was necessary for Quonab to go back to their own cabin. Now what should he do? Carry the new lot of fur there, or bring the old lot here to dispose of all at Lyons Falls?

  Rolf had been thinking hard. He had seen the evil side of many men, including Hoag. To go among Hoag's people with a lot of stuff that Hoag might claim was running risks, so he said:

  "Quonab, you come back in not more than ten days. We'll take a few furs to Lyons Falls so we can get supplies. Leave the rest of them in good shape, so we can go out later to Warren's. We'll get a square deal there, and we don't know what at Lyon's."

  So they picked out the lynx, the beaver, and a dozen martens to leave, and making the rest into a pack, Quonab shouldered them, and followed by Skookum, trudged up the mountain and was lost to view in the woods.

  The ten days went by very slowly. Hoag was alternately querulous, weeping, complaining, unpleasantly fawning, or trying to insure good attention by presenting again and again the furs, the gun, and the canoe.

  Rolf found it pleasant to get away from the cabin when the weather was fine. One day, taking Hoag's gun, he travelled up the nearest stream for a mile, and came on a big beaver pond. Round this he scouted and soon discovered a drowned beaver, held in a trap which he recog- nized at once, for it had the (" ' "') mark on the frame. Then he found an empty trap with a beaver leg in it, and another, till six traps were found. Then he gathered up the six and the beaver, and returned to the cabin to be greeted with a string of complaints:

  "Ye didn't ought to leave me like this. I'm paying ye well enough. I don't ax no favours," etc.

  "See what I got," and Rolf showed the beaver. "An' see what I found;" then he showed the traps. "Queer, ain't it," he went on, "we had six traps just like them, and I marked the face just like these, and they all disappeared, and there was a snowshoe trail pointing this way. You haven't got any crooked neighbours about here, have you?"

  The trapper looked sulky and puzzled, and grumbled, "I bet it was Bill Hawkins done it"; then relapsed into silence.

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