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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter19)

2006-09-08 19:33

  CHAPTER XIX The Footprint on the Shore

  Jesup's River was a tranquil stream that came from a region of swamps, and would have been easy canoeing but for the fallen trees. Some of these had been cut years ago, showing that the old trapper had used this route. Once they were unpleasantly surprised by seeing a fresh chopping on the bank, but their mourning was changed into joy when they found it was beaver-work.

  Ten miles they made that day. In the evening they camped on the shore of Jesup's Lake, proud and happy in the belief that they were the rightful owners of it all. That night they heard again and again the howling of wolves, but it seemed on the far side of the lake. In the morning they went out on foot to explore, and at once had the joy of seeing five deer, while tracks showed on every side. It was evidently a paradise for deer, and there were in less degree the tracks of other animals —— mink in fair abundance, one or two otters, a mountain lion, and a cow moose with her calf. It was thrilling to see such a feast of possibilities. The hunters were led on and on, revelling in the prospect of many joys before them, when all at once they came on something that turned their joy to grief —— the track of a man; the fresh imprint of a cowhide boot. It was maddening. At first blush, it meant some other trapper ahead of them with a prior claim to the valley; a claim that the unwritten law would allow. They followed it a mile. It went striding along the shore at a great pace, sometimes running, and keeping down the west shore. Then they found a place where he had sat down and broken a lot of clam shells, and again had hastened on. But there was no mark of gunstock or other weapon where he sat; and why was he wearing boots? The hunters rarely did.

  For two miles the Indian followed with Rolf, and sometimes found that the hated stranger had been running hard. Then they turned back, terribly disappointed. At first it seemed a crushing blow. They had three courses open to them - to seek a location farther north, to assume that one side of the lake was theirs, or to find out exactly who and what the stranger was. They decided on the last. The canoe was launched and loaded, and they set out to look for what they hoped they would not find, a trapper's shanty on the lake.

  After skirting the shore for four or five miles and disturbing one or two deer, as well as hosts of ducks, the voyagers landed and there still they found that fateful bootmark steadily tramping southward. By noon they had reached the south end of the west inlet that leads to another lake, and again an examination of the shore showed the footmarks, here leaving the lake and going southerly. Now the travellers retired to the main lake and by noon had reached the south end. At no point had they seen any sign of a cabin, though both sides of the lake were in plain view all day. The travelling stranger was a mystery, but he did not live here and there was no good reason why they should not settle.

  Where? The country seemed equally good at all points, but it is usually best to camp on an outlet. Then when a storm comes up, the big waves do not threaten your canoe, or compel you to stay on land. It is a favourite crossing for animals avoiding the lake, and other trappers coming in are sure to see your cabin before they enter.

  Which side of the outlet? Quonab settled that —— the west. He wanted to see the sun rise, and, not far back from the water, was a hill with a jutting, rocky pinnade. He pointed to this and uttered the one word, "Idaho." Here, then, on the west side, where the lake enters the river, they began to clear the ground for their home.

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