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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter29)

2006-09-08 19:36

  CHAPTER XXIX Snowshoes

  That's for Annette," said Rolf, remembering his promise as he hung the stretched marten skin to dry.

  "Yi! Yi! Yi!" came three yelps, just as he had heard them the day he first met Quonab, and crossing the narrow lake he saw his partner's canoe.

  "We have found the good hunting," he said, as Rolf steadied the canoe at the landing and Skookum, nearly well again, wagged his entire ulterior person to welcome the wanderer home. The first thing to catch the boy's eye was a great, splendid beaver skin stretched on a willow hoop.

  "Ho, ho!" he exclaimed.

  "Ugh; found another pond."

  "Good, good," said Rolf as he stroked the flrst beaver skin he had ever seen in the woods.

  "This is better," said Quonab, and held up the two barkstones, castors, or smell-glands that are found in every beaver and which for some hid reason have an irresistible attraction for all wild animals. To us the odour is slight, but they have the power of intensifying, perpetuating, and projecting such odorous substances as may be mixed with them. No trapper considers his bait to be perfect without a little of the mysterious castor. So that that most stenchable thing they had already concocted of fish-oil, putrescence, sewer-gas, and sunlight, when commingled and multiplied with the dried-up powder of a castor, was intensified into a rich, rancid, gas-exhaling hell-broth as rapturously bewitching to our furry brothers as it is poisonously nauseating to ourselves —— seductive afar like the sweetest music, inexorable as fate, insidious as laughing-gas, soothing and numbing as absinthe —— this, the lure and caution-luller, is the fellest trick in all the trappers' code. As deadly as inexplicable, not a few of the states have classed it with black magic and declared its use a crime.

  But no such sentiment prevailed in the high hills of Quonab's time, and their preparations for a successful trapping season were nearly perfect. Thirty deadfalls made by Quonab, with the sixty made on the first trip and a dozen steel traps, were surely promise of a good haul. It was nearly November now; the fur was prime; then why not begin? Because the weather was too fine. You must have frosty weather or the creatures taken in the deadfalls are spoiled before the trapper can get around.

  Already a good, big pile of wood was cut; both shanty and storeroom were chinked, plugged, and banked for the winter. It was not safe yet to shoot and store a number of deer, but there was something they could do. Snowshoes would soon be a necessary of life; and the more of this finger work they did while the weather was warm, the better.

  Birch and ash are used for frames; the former is less liable to split, but harder to work. White ash was plentiful on the near flat, and a small ten-foot log was soon cut and split into a lot of long laths. Quonab of course took charge; but Rolf followed in everything. Each took a lath and shaved it down evenly until an inch wide and three quarters of an inch thick. The exact middle was marked, and for ten inches at each side of that it was shaved down to half an inch in thickness. Two flat crossbars, ten and twelve inches long, were needed and holes to receive these made half through the frame. The pot was ready boiling and by using a cord from end to end of each lath they easily bent it in the middle and brought the wood into touch with the boiling water. Before an hour the steam had so softened the wood, and robbed it of spring, that it was easy to make it into any desired shape. Each lath was cautiously bent round; the crossbars slipped into their prepared sockets; a temporary lashing of cord kept all in place; then finally the frames were set on a level place with the fore end raised two inches and a heavy log put on the frame to give the upturn to the toe.

  Here they were left to dry and the Indian set about preparing the necessary thongs. A buckskin rolled in wet, hard wood ashes had been left in the mud hole. Now after a week the hair was easily scraped off and the hide, cleaned and trimmed of all loose ends and tags, was spread out —— soft, white, and supple. Beginning outside, and following round and round the edge, Quonab cut a thong of rawhide as nearly as possible a quarter inch wide. This he carried on till there were many yards of it, and the hide was all used up. The second deer skin was much smaller and thinner. He sharpened his knife and cut it much finer, at least half the width of the other. Now they were ready to lace the shoes, the finer for the fore and back parts, the heavy for the middle on which the wearer treads. An expert squaw would have laughed at the rude snowshoes that were finished that day, but they were strong and serviceable.

  Naturally the snowshoes suggested a toboggan. That was easily made by splitting four thin boards of ash, each six inches wide and ten feet long. An up-curl was steamed on the prow of each, and rawhide lashings held all to the crossbars.

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