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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter31)

2006-09-08 19:38

  CHAPTER XXXI Following the Trap Line

  THAT night the moon changed. Next day came on with a strong north wind. By noon the wild ducks had left the lake. Many long strings of geese passed southeastward, honking as they flew. Colder and colder blew the strong wind, and soon the frost was showing on the smaller ponds. It snowed a little, but this ceased. With the clearing sky the wind fell and the frost grew keener.

  At daybreak, when the hunters rose, it was very cold. Everything but the open lake was frozen over, and they knew that winter was come; the time of trapping was at hand. Quonab went at once to the pinnacle on the hill, made a little fire, then chanting the "Hunter's Prayer," he cast into the fire the whiskers of the fox and the marten, some of the beaver castor, and some tobacco. Then descended to prepare for the trail —— blankets, beaver traps, weapons, and food for two days, besides the smell-charm and some fish for bait.

  Quickly the deadfalls were baited and set; last the Indian threw into the trap chamber a piece of moss on which was a drop of the "smell," and wiped another drop on each of his moccasins.

  "Phew," said Rolf.

  "That make a trail the marten follow for a month," was the explanation. Skookum seemed to think so too, and if he did not say "phew," it was because he did not know how.

  Very soon the little dog treed a flock of partridge and Rolf with blunt arrows secured three. The breasts were saved for the hunters' table, but the rest with the offal and feathers made the best of marten baits and served for all the traps, till at noon they reached the beaver pond. It was covered with ice too thin to bear, but the freshly used landing places were easily selected. At each they set a strong, steel beaver-trap, concealing it amid some dry grass, and placing in a split stick a foot away a piece of moss in which were a few drops of the magic lure. The ring on the trap chain was slipped over a long, thin, smooth pole which was driven deep in the mud, the top pointing away from the deep water. The plan was old and proven. The beaver, eager to investigate that semifriendly smell, sets foot in the trap; instinctively when in danger he dives for the deep water; the ring slips along the pole till at the bottom and there it jams so that the beaver cannot rise again and is drowned."

  In an hour the six traps were set for the beavers; presently the hunters, skirmishing for more partridges, had much trouble to save Skookum from another porcupine disaster.

  They got some more grouse, baited the traps for a couple of miles, then camped for the night.

  Before morning it came on to snow and it was three inches deep when they arose. There is no place on earth where the first snow is more beautiful than in the Adirondacks. In early autumn nature seems to prepare for it. Green leaves are cleared away to expose the berry bunches in red; rushbeds mass their groups, turn golden brown and bow their heads to meet the silver load; the low hills and the lines of various Christmas trees are arrayed for the finest effect: the setting is perfect and the scene, but it lacks the lime light yet. It needs must have the lavish blaze of white. And when it comes like the veil on a bride, the silver mountings on a charger's trappings, or the golden fire in a sunset, the shining crystal robe is the finishing, the crowning glory, without which all the rest must fail, could have no bright completeness. Its beauty stirred the hunters though it found no better expression than Rolf's simple words, "Ain't it fine," while the Indian gazed in silence.

  There is no other place in the eastern woods where the snow has such manifold tales to tell, and the hunters that day tramping found themselves dowered over night with the wonderful power of the hound to whom each trail is a plain record of every living creature that has passed within many hours. And though the first day after a storm has less to tell than the second, just as the second has less than the third, there was no lack of story in the snow. Here sped some antlered buck, trotting along while yet the white was flying. There went a fox, sneaking across the line of march, and eying distrustfully that deadfall. This broad trail with many large tracks not far apart was made by one of Skookum's friends, a knight of many spears. That bounding along was a marten. See how he quartered that thicket like a hound, here he struck our odour trail. Mark, how he paused and whiffed it; now away he goes; yes, straight to our trap.

  "It's down; hurrah!" Rolf shouted, for there, dead under the log, was an exquisite marten, dark, almost black, with a great, broad, shining breast of gold.

  They were going back now toward the beaver lake. The next trap was sprung and empty; the next held the body of a red squirrel, a nuisance always and good only to rebait the trap he springs. But the next held a marten, and the next a white weasel. Others were unsprung, but they had two good pelts when they reached the beaver lake. They were in high spirits with their good luck, but not prepared for the marvellous haul that now was theirs. Each of the six traps held a big beaver, dead, drowned, and safe. Each skin was worth five dollars, and the hunters felt rich. The incident had, moreover, this pleasing significance: It showed that these beavers were unsophisticated, so had not been hunted. Fifty pelts might easily be taken from these ponds.

  The trappers reset the traps; then dividing the load, sought a remote place to camp, for it does not do to light a fire near your beaver pond. One hundred and fifty pounds of beaver, in addition, to their packs, was not a load to be taken miles away; within half a mile on a lower level they selected a warm place, made a fire, and skinned their catch. The bodies they opened and hung in a tree with a view to future use, but the pelts and tails they carried on.

  They made a long, hard tramp that day, baiting all the traps and reached home late in the night.

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