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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter24)

2006-09-08 19:35

  CHAPTER XXIV The Porcupine

  Skookum was a partly trained little dog; he would stay in camp when told, if it suited him; and would not hesitate to follow or lead his master, when he felt that human wisdom was inferior to the ripe product of canine experience covering more than thirteen moons of recollection. But he was now living a life in which his previous experience must often fail him as a guide. A faint rustling on the leafy ground had sent him ahead at a run, and his sharp, angry bark showed that some hostile creature of the woods had been discovered. Again and again the angry yelping was changed into a sort of yowl, half anger, half distress. The hunters hurried forward to find the little fool charging again and again a huge porcupine that was crouched with its head under a log, its hindquarters exposed but bristling with spines; and its tail lashing about, left a new array of quills in the dog's mouth and face each time he charged. Skookum was a plucky fighter, but plainly he was nearly sick of it. The pain of the quills would, of course, increase every minute and with each movement. Quonab took a stout stick and threw the porcupine out of its retreat, (Rolf supposed to kill it when the head was exposed,) but the spiny one, finding a new and stronger enemy, wasted no time in galloping at its slow lumbering pace to the nearest small spruce tree and up that it scrambled to a safe place in the high branches.

  Now the hunters called the dog. He was a sorry-looking object, pawing at his muzzle, first with one foot, then another, trying to unswallow the quills in his tongue, blinking hard, uttering little painful grunts and whines as he rubbed his head upon the ground or on his forelegs. Rolf held him while Quonab, with a sharp jerk, brought out quill after quill. Thirty or forty of the poisonous little daggers were plucked from his trembling legs, head, face, and nostrils, but the dreadful ones were those in his lips and tongue. Already they were deeply sunk in the soft, quivering flesh. One by one those in the lips were with- drawn by the strong fingers of the red man, and Skookum whimpered a little, but he shrieked outright when those in the tongue were removed. Rolf had hard work to hold him, and any one not knowing the case might have thought that the two men were deliberately holding the dog to administer the most cruel torture.

  But none of the quills had sunk very deep. All were got out at last and the little dog set free.

  Now Rolf thought of vengeance on the quill-pig snugly sitting in the tree near by.

  Ammunition was too predous to waste, but Rolf was getting ready to climb when Quonab said: "No, no; you must not. Once I saw white man climb after the Kahk; it waited till he was near, then backed down, lashing its tail. He put up his arm to save his face. It speared his arm in fifty places and he could not save his face, so he tried to get down, but the Kahk came faster, lashing him; then he lost his hold and dropped. His leg was broken and his arm was swelled up for half a year. They are very poisonous. He nearly died."

  "Well, I can at least chop him down," and Rolf took the axe.

  "Wah!" Quonab said, "no; my father said you must not kill the Kahk, except you make sacrifice and use his quills for household work. It is bad medicine to kill the Kahk."

  So the spiny one was left alone in the place he had so ably fought for. But Skookum, what of him? He was set free at last. To be wiser? Alas, no! before one hour he met with another porcupine and remembering only his hate of the creature repeated the same sad mistake, and again had to have the painful help, without which he must certainly have died. Before night, however, he began to feel his real punishment and next morning no one would have known the pudding-headed thing that sadly followed the hunters, for the bright little dog that a day before had run so joyously through the woods. It was many a long day before he fully recovered and at one time his life was in the balance; and yet to the last of his days he never fully realized the folly of his insensate attacks on the creature that fights with its tail.

  "It is ever so," said the Indian. "The lynx, the panther, the wolf, the fox, the eagle, all that attack the Kahk must die. Once my father saw a bear that was killed by the quills. He had tried to bite the Kahk; it filled his mouth with quills that he could not spit out. They sunk deeper and his jaws swelled so he could not open or shut his mouth to eat; then he starved. My people found him near a fish pond below a rapid. There were many fish. The bear could kill them with his paw but not eat, so with his mouth wide open and plenty about him he died of starvation in that pool.

  "There is but one creature that can kill the Kahk that is the Ojeeg the big fisher weasel. He is a devil. He makes very strong medicine; the Kahk cannot harm him. He turns it on its back and tears open its smooth belly. It is ever so. We not know, but my, father said, that it is because when in the flood Nana Bojou was floating on the log with Kahk and Ojeeg, Kahk was insolent and wanted the highest place, but Ojeeg was respectful to Nana Bojou, he bit the Kahk to teach him a lesson and got lashed with the tail of many stings. But the Manito drew out the quills and said: 'It shall be ever thus; the Ojeeg shall conquer the Kahk and the quills of Kahk shall never do Ojeeg any harm.'"

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