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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter5)

2006-09-08 19:29

  CHAPTER V The Coon Hunt Makes Trouble for Rolf

  Not one hour, but nearly three, had passed before Rolf sighted the Pipestave Pond, as it was called. He had never been there before, but three short whoops, as arranged, brought answer and guidance. Quonab was standing on the high rock. When Rolf came he led down to the wigwam on its south side. It was like stepping into a new life. Several of the old neighbours at Redding were hunters who knew the wild Indians and had told him tales that glorified at least the wonderful woodcraft of the red man. Once or twice Rolf had seen Indians travelling through, and he had been repelled by their sordid squalour. But here was something of a different kind; not the Champlain ideal, indeed, for the Indian wore clothes like any poor farmer, except on his head and his feet; his head was bare, and his feet were covered with moccasins that sparkled with beads on the arch. The wigwam was of canvas, but it had one or two of the sacred symbols painted on it. The pot hung over the fire was tin-lined copper, of the kind long made in England for Indian trade, but the smaller dishes were of birch bark and basswood. The gun and the hunting knife were of white man's make, but the bow, arrows, snowshoes, tom-tom, and a quill- covered gun case were of Indian art, fashioned of the things that grow in the woods about.

  The Indian led into the wigwam. The dog, although not fully grown, growled savagely as it smelled the hated white man odour. Quonab gave the puppy a slap on the head, which is Indian for, "Be quiet; he's all right;" loosed the rope, and led the dog out. "Bring that," and the Indian pointed to the bag which hung from a stick between two trees. The dog sniffed suspiciously in the direction of the bag and growled, but he was not allowed to come near it. Rolf tried to make friends with the dog, but without success and Quonab said, "Better let Skookum* alone. He make friends when he ready —— maybe never."

  *"Skookum" or "Skookum Chuck," in Chinook means "Troubled waters."

  The two hunters now set out for the open plain, two or three hundred yards to the southward. Here the raccoon was dumped out of the sack, and the dog held at a little distance, until the coon had pulled itself together and began to run. Now the dog was released and chivvied on. With a tremendous barking he rushed at the coon, only to get a nip that made him recoil, yelping. The coon ran as hard as it could, the dog and hunters came after it; again it was overtaken, and, turning with a fierce snarl, it taught the dog a second lesson. Thus, running, dodging, and turning to fight, the coon got back to the woods, and there made a final stand under a small, thick tree; and, when the dog was again repulsed, climbed quickly up into the branches.

  The hunters did all they could to excite the dog, until he was jumping about, tryng to climb the tree, and barking uproariously. This was exactly what they wanted. Skookum's first lesson was learned —— the duty of chasing the big animal of that particular smell, then barking up the tree it had climbed.

  Quonab, armed with a forked stick and a cord noose, now went up the tree. After much trouble he got the noose around the coon's neck, then, with some rather rough handling, the animal was dragged down, maneuvered into the sack, and carried back to camp, where it was chained up to serve in future lessons; the next two or three being to tree the coon, as before; in the next, the coon was to be freed and allowed to get out of sight, so that the dog might find it by trailing, and the last, in which the coon was to be trailed, treed, and shot out of the tree, so that the dog should have the final joy of killing a crippled coon, and the reward of a coon-meat feast. But the last was not to be, for the night before it should have taken place the coon managed to slip its bonds, and nothing but the empty collar and idle chain were found in the captive's place next morning.

  These things were in the future however. Rolf was intensely excited over all he had seen that day. His hunting instincts were aroused. There had been no very obvious or repellant cruelty; the dog alone had suffered, but he seemed happy. The whole affair was so exactly in the line of his tastes that the boy was in a sort of ecstatic uplift, and already anticipating a real coon hunt, when the dog should be properly trained. The episode so contrasted with the sordid life he had left an hour before that he was spellbound. The very animal smell of the coon seemed to make his fibre tingle. His eyes were glowing with a wild light. He was so absorbed that he did not notice a third party attracted by the unusual noise of the chase, but the dog did. A sudden, loud challenge called all attention to a stranger on the ridge behind the camp. There was no mistaking the bloated face and white moustache of Rolf's uncle.

  "So, you young scut! that is how you waste your time. I'll larn ye a lesson."

  The dog was tied, the Indian looked harmless, and the boy was cowed, so the uncle's courage mounted high. He had been teaming in the nearby woods, and the blacksnake whip was in his hands. In a minute its thong was lapped, like a tongue of flame, around Rolf's legs. The boy gave a shriek and ran, but the man followed and furiously plied the whip. The Indian, supposing it was Rolf's father, marvelled at his method of showing affection, but said nothing, for the Fifth Commandment is a large one in the wigwam. Rolf dodged some of the cruel blows, but was driven into a corner of the rock. One end of the lash crossed his face like a red-hot wire.

  "Now I've got you!" growled the bully.

  Rolf was desperate. He seized two heavy stones and hurled the first with deadly intent at his uncle's head. Mick dodged in time, but the second, thrown lower, hit him on the thigh. Mick gave a roar of pain. Rolf hastily seized more stones and shrieked out, "You come on one step and I'll kill you!"

  Then that purple visage turned a sort of ashen hue. Its owner mouthed in speechless rage. He "knew it was the Indian had put Rolf up to it. He'd see to it later," and muttering, blasting, frothing, the hoary-headed sinner went limping off to his loaded wagon.

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