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Title: Popular Adventure Tales
Author: Reid, Mayne, 1818-1883
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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POPULAR ADVENTURE TALES

[Illustration: THE YOUNG VOYAGEURS ON THE RED RIVER.]



Popular Adventure Tales

COMPRISING

_THE YOUNG VOYAGEURS_
OR, THE BOY HUNTERS IN THE NORTH

_THE FOREST EXILES_
OR, ADVENTURES AMID THE WILDS OF THE AMAZON

_THE BUSH-BOYS_
OR, ADVENTURES IN THE WILDS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA

By

CAPTAIN MAYNE REID

AUTHOR OF
"_The Rifle Rangers_" "_The Wood Rangers_"
_&c., &c._

_ILLUSTRATED_

LONDON
SIMPKIN, MARSHALL, HAMILTON, KENT & CO.
GLASGOW: THOMAS D. MORISON



BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH


Captain Mayne Reid was born at Ballyroney, County Down, on the 4th
April, 1818, and was the son of the Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid. Mayne Reid
was educated with a view to the Church, but finding his inclinations
opposed to this calling, he emigrated to America and arrived in New
Orleans on January, 1840. After a varied career as plantation over-seer,
school-master, and actor, with a number of expeditions in connection
with hunting and Indian warfare, he settled down in 1843 as a journalist
in Philadelphia, where he made the acquaintance of Edgar Allan Poe.

Leaving Philadelphia in 1846, he spent the summer at Newport, Rhode
Island, as the correspondent of the _New York Herald_, and in December
of the same year, having obtained a commission as second lieutenant in
the 1st New York Volunteers, he sailed for Vera Cruz to take part in the
Mexican war. He behaved with conspicuous gallantry in many engagements,
and was severely wounded and disabled at the storming of Chapultepec on
the 13th September, 1847.

Returning to the United States in the spring of 1848, he resumed
literary work. But in June, 1849, he sailed for Europe in order to take
part in the revolutionary movements going on in Hungary and Bavaria,
arriving however too late, he turned his attention again to literature,
and in London in 1850, published his first novel "The Rifle Rangers," in
two volumes. Between this date and his death, he produced a large number
of volumes, which indeed no one else was capable of writing, for in them
are avowedly embodied the observations and experiences of his own
extraordinary career.

Unfortunate building and journalistic speculation and enterprises
involved him in financial failure, so he returned to New York in
October, 1867. There he founded and conducted _The Onward Magazine_, but
owing to recurring bad effects of his old Mexican wound, he had to
abandon work for sometime and go into the hospital, on leaving which he
returned to England in 1870. During the later years of his life he
resided at Ross in Herefordshire where he died on the 22nd October,
1883, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Mayne Reid wrote in all thirty-five works, chiefly books of adventure
and travel. As in the case of all authors, the books vary much in merit,
but most of them are of a high order in their own department of
literature. Many of them have been extraordinary popular and have become
standard works. Reid has not been surpassed by any other writer in
combining at one and the same time, the features of thrilling adventure
and great instruction in the fields of natural history. Many of the
works have been translated into Continental languages and are as highly
esteemed among the French and Germans as at home.



                      CONTENTS

                THE YOUNG VOYAGEURS

                        OR

              BOY HUNTERS IN THE NORTH.


  _CHAPTER I_                                        PAGE
  THE FUR COUNTRIES                                    13

  _CHAPTER II_
  THE YOUNG VOYAGEURS                                  16

  _CHAPTER III_
  THE TRUMPETER SWAN AND THE BALD EAGLE                22

  _CHAPTER IV_
  A SWAN-HUNT BY TORCHLIGHT                            29

  _CHAPTER V_
  "CAST AWAY"                                          34

  _CHAPTER VI_
  A BRIDGE OF BUCKSKIN                                 37

  _CHAPTER VII_
  DECOYING THE ANTELOPES                               41

  _CHAPTER VIII_
  "A PARTRIDGE DANCE"                                  45

  _CHAPTER IX_
  BASIL AND THE BISON-BULL                             48

  _CHAPTER X_
  THREE CURIOUS TREES                                  52

  _CHAPTER XI_
  HOW TO BUILD A BARK CANOE                            56

  _CHAPTER XII_
  THE CHAIN OF LAKES                                   59

  _CHAPTER XIII_
  WAPITI, WOLVES, AND WOLVERENE                        62

  _CHAPTER XIV_
  A PAIR OF DEEP DIVERS                                69

  _CHAPTER XV_
  A GRAND SUNDAY DINNER                                73

  _CHAPTER XVI_
  THE MARMOTS OF AMERICA                               79

  _CHAPTER XVII_
  THE BLAIREAU, THE "TAWNIES," AND THE "LEOPARDS"      82

  _CHAPTER XVIII_
  AN ODD SORT OF DECOY-DUCK                            86

  _CHAPTER XIX_
  THE SHRIKE AND THE HUMMING-BIRDS                     91

  _CHAPTER XX_
  THE FISH-HAWK                                        94

  _CHAPTER XXI_
  THE OSPREY AND HIS TYRANT                            97

  _CHAPTER XXII_
  THE VOYAGE INTERRUPTED                              102

  _CHAPTER XXIII_
  FISHING UNDER THE ICE                               105

  _CHAPTER XXIV_
  AN ODD ALARM                                        107

  _CHAPTER XXV_
  ENCOUNTER WITH A MOOSE                              113

  _CHAPTER XXVI_
  LIFE IN A LOG-HUT                                   117

  _CHAPTER XXVII_
  TRAVELLING ON SNOW-SHOES                            121

  _CHAPTER XXVIII_
  THE BARREN GROUNDS                                  125

  _CHAPTER XXIX_
  THE ROCK-TRIPE                                      130

  _CHAPTER XXX_
  THE POLAR HARE AND THE GREAT SNOWY OWL              133

  _CHAPTER XXXI_
  THE JUMPING MOUSE AND THE ERMINE                    138

  _CHAPTER XXXII_
  THE ARCTIC FOX AND WHITE WOLF                       140

  _CHAPTER XXXIII_
  THE JERFALCON AND THE WHITE GROUSE                  145

  _CHAPTER XXXIV_
  THE HARE, THE LYNX, AND THE GOLDEN EAGLE            147

  _CHAPTER XXXV_
  THE "ALARM BIRD" AND THE CARIBOU                    151

  _CHAPTER XXXVI_
  A BATTLE WITH WOLVES                                155

  _CHAPTER XXXVII_
  END OF THE "VOYAGE"                                 160


                 THE FOREST EXILES,

                          OR

         ADVENTURES AMID THE WILDS OF THE AMAZON

  _CHAPTER I_
  THE BIGGEST WOOD IN THE WORLD                       162

  _CHAPTER II_
  THE REFUGEES                                        164

  _CHAPTER III_
  THE POISON-TREES                                    169

  _CHAPTER IV_
  THE SUPPER OF GUAPO                                 173

  _CHAPTER V_
  THE PUNA                                            175

  _CHAPTER VI_
  THE WILD BULL OF THE PUNA                           179

  _CHAPTER VII_
  THE "VAQUERO"                                       181

  _CHAPTER VIII_
  LLAMAS, ALPACOS, VICUÑAS, AND GUANACOS              184

  _CHAPTER IX_
  A VICUÑA HUNT                                       187

  _CHAPTER X_
  CAPTURING A CONDOR                                  189

  _CHAPTER XI_
  THE PERILS OF A PERUVIAN ROAD                       191

  _CHAPTER XII_
  ENCOUNTER UPON A CLIFF                              194

  _CHAPTER XIII_
  THE LONE CROSS IN THE FOREST                        197

  _CHAPTER XIV_
  THE DESERTED MISSION                                201

  _CHAPTER XV_
  THE GUACO AND THE CORAL SNAKE                       203

  _CHAPTER XVI_
  THE PALM-WOODS                                      207

  _CHAPTER XVII_
  A HOUSE OF PALMS                                    209

  _CHAPTER XVIII_
  TRACKING THE TAPIR                                  212

  _CHAPTER XIX_
  THE POISONED ARROWS                                 216

  _CHAPTER XX_
  THE MILK-TREE                                       221

  _CHAPTER XXI_
  THE CANNIBAL FISH AND THE GYMNOTUS                  224

  _CHAPTER XXII_
  THE CINCHONA-TREES                                  227

  _CHAPTER XXIII_
  A PAIR OF SLOW GOERS                                231

  _CHAPTER XXIV_
  THE BARK-HUNTERS                                    233

  _CHAPTER XXV_
  THE PUMA AND THE GREAT ANT-BEAR                     236

  _CHAPTER XXVI_
  ATTACK OF THE WHITE ANTS                            239

  _CHAPTER XXVII_
  THE ANT-LION                                        242

  _CHAPTER XXVIII_
  THE TATOU-POYOU AND THE DEER CARCASS                246

  _CHAPTER XXIX_
  AN ARMADILLO HUNT                                   248

  _CHAPTER XXX_
  THE OCELOT                                          251

  _CHAPTER XXXI_
  A FAMILY OF JAGUARS                                 255

  _CHAPTER XXXII_
  THE RAFT                                            259

  _CHAPTER XXXIII_
  THE GUARDIAN BROTHER                                262

  _CHAPTER XXXIV_
  THE VAMPIRE                                         265

  _CHAPTER XXXV_
  THE MARIMONDAS                                      269

  _CHAPTER XXXVI_
  THE MONKEY MOTHER                                   274

  _CHAPTER XXXVII_
  AN UNEXPECTED GUEST                                 276

  _CHAPTER XXXVIII_
  THE CROCODILE AND CAPIVARAS                         279

  _CHAPTER XXXIX_
  FIGHT OF THE JAGUAR AND CROCODILE                   282

  _CHAPTER XL_
  ADVENTURE WITH AN ANACONDA                          284

  _CHAPTER XLI_
  A BATCH OF CURIOUS TREES                            288

  _CHAPTER XLII_
  THE FOREST FESTIVAL                                 291

  _CHAPTER XLIII_
  ACRES OF EGGS                                       295

  _CHAPTER XLIV_
  A FIGHT BETWEEN TWO VERY SCALY CREATURES            298

  _CHAPTER XLV_
  A PAIR OF VALIANT VULTURES                          301

  _CHAPTER XLVI_
  THE "GAPO"                                          304

  _CHAPTER XLVII_
  THE ARAGUATOES                                      306

  _CHAPTER XLVIII_
  BRIDGING AN IGARIPÉ                                 308

  _CHAPTER XLIX_
  THE MANATI                                          311

  _CHAPTER L_
  THE CLOSING CHAPTER                                 314


                    THE BUSH-BOYS,

                          OR

      ADVENTURES IN THE WILDS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA.


  _CHAPTER I_
  THE BOERS                                           317

  _CHAPTER II_
  THE KRAAL                                           319

  _CHAPTER III_
  THE SPRING-HAAN                                     322

  _CHAPTER IV_
  A TALK ABOUT LOCUSTS                                325

  _CHAPTER V_
  THE LOCUST-FLIGHT                                   329

  _CHAPTER VI_
  "INSPANN AND TREK!"                                 333

  _CHAPTER VII_
  WATER! WATER!                                       335

  _CHAPTER VIII_
  THE FATE OF THE HERD                                339

  _CHAPTER IX_
  A LION COUCHANT                                     341

  _CHAPTER X_
  THE LION IN THE TRAP                                345

  _CHAPTER XI_
  THE DEATH OF THE LION                               348

  _CHAPTER XII_
  THE TRAVELLERS BENIGHTED                            351

  _CHAPTER XIII_
  THE TREK-BOKEN                                      354

  _CHAPTER XIV_
  SPOORING FOR A SPRING                               359

  _CHAPTER XV_
  THE TERRIBLE TSETSE                                 361

  _CHAPTER XVI_
  THE LONG-HORNED RHINOCEROS                          364

  _CHAPTER XVII_
  A HEAVY COMBAT                                      367

  _CHAPTER XVIII_
  THE DEATH OF THE ELEPHANT                           371

  _CHAPTER XIX_
  TURNED HUNTERS                                      375

  _CHAPTER XX_
  JERKING AN ELEPHANT                                 377

  _CHAPTER XXI_
  THE HIDEOUS HYENA                                   379

  _CHAPTER XXII_
  STALKING THE OUREBI                                 382

  _CHAPTER XXIII_
  LITTLE JAN'S ADVENTURE                              388

  _CHAPTER XXIV_
  A HOUSE AMONG THE TREE-TOPS                         390

  _CHAPTER XXV_
  THE BATTLE OF THE WILD PEACOCKS                     393

  _CHAPTER XXVI_
  UPON THE SPOOR                                      397

  _CHAPTER XXVII_
  A ROGUE ELEPHANT                                    400

  _CHAPTER XXVIII_
  THE MISSING HUNTER, AND THE WILDEBEESTS             405

  _CHAPTER XXIX_
  THE ANT-EATER OF AFRICA                             409

  _CHAPTER XXX_
  HANS CHASED BY THE WILDEBEEST                       411

  _CHAPTER XXXI_
  BESIEGED BY THE BULL                                414

  _CHAPTER XXXII_
  A HELPLESS BEAST                                    416

  _CHAPTER XXXIII_
  THE ELEPHANT'S SLEEPING ROOM                        420

  _CHAPTER XXXIV_
  MAKING THE ELEPHANT'S BED                           423

  _CHAPTER XXXV_
  THE WILD ASSES OF AFRICA                            425

  _CHAPTER XXXVI_
  PLANNING THE CAPTURE OF THE QUAGGAS                 429

  _CHAPTER XXXVII_
  THE PIT-TRAP                                        433

  _CHAPTER XXXVIII_
  DRIVING IN THE ELAND                                436

  _CHAPTER XXXIX_
  A WILD RIDE ON QUAGGA-BACK                          439

  _CHAPTER XL_
  THE GUN-TRAP                                        444

  _CHAPTER XLI_
  THE WEAVER-BIRDS                                    447

  _CHAPTER XLII_
  THE SPITTING-SNAKE                                  450

  _CHAPTER XLIII_
  THE SERPENT-EATER                                   452

  _CHAPTER XLIV_
  TOTTY AND THE CHACMAS                               456

  _CHAPTER XLV_
  THE WILD HOUNDS AND THE HARTEBEEST                  460

  _CHAPTER XLVI_
  CONCLUSION                                          465


[Transcriber's Note: Obvious printer errors, (missing accents, missing
letters, etc) including punctuation, have been silently corrected.

All other inconsistencies including archaic spellings have been left as
they were in the original.

Added a List of Illustrations.]



           LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  THE YOUNG VOYAGEURS ON THE RED RIVER.      Frontispiece

  THE TRUMPETER SWAN AND THE BALD EAGLE.               28

  BASIL AND THE BISON-BULL.                            50

  THE WAPITI AND THE WOLVERENE.                        67

  THE BLAIREAU AND THE MARMOTS                         84

  THE OSPREY AND WHITE-HEADED EAGLE.                   99

  BASIL AND THE MOOSE BULL.                           116

  THE WOLVES AND THE PEMMICAN BAGS.                   129

  THE LYNX AND THE GOLDEN EAGLE.                      150

  THE FLIGHT OF THE REFUGEES.                         167

  GUAPO'S ENCOUNTER WITH THE BULLS.                   196

  GUAPO AND THE 'NIMBLE PETERS.'                      230

  THE ESCAPE OF THE ARMADILLO.                        250

  THE VAMPIRE BAT.                                    266

  ADVENTURE WITH AN ANACONDA.                         287

  THE SHOWER OF LOCUSTS.                              332

  THE LION IN A FIX.                                  350

  A DEADLY ENCOUNTER.                                 370

  HENDRIK DECOYING THE OUREBIS.                       386

  SWARTBOY IN A PREDICAMENT.                          404

  HANS BESIEGED BY A WILDEBEEST.                      417

  THE QUAGGA AND THE HYENA.                           432

  HENDRICK BLINDING THE QUAGGA.                       443

  TOTTY IN TROUBLE.                                   459



Popular Adventure Tales.

THE YOUNG VOYAGEURS

OR

BOY HUNTERS IN THE NORTH.



CHAPTER I

THE FUR COUNTRIES


Boy reader, you have heard of the Hudson's Bay Company? Ten to one you
have worn a piece of fur which it has provided for you; if not, your
pretty little sister has--in her muff, or her boa, or as a trimming for
her winter dress. Would you like to know something of the country whence
come these furs?--of the animals whose backs have been stripped to
obtain them? As I feel certain that you and I are old friends, I make
bold to answer for you--yes. Come, then! let us journey together to the
"Fur Countries;" let us cross them from south to north.

A vast journey it will be. It will cost us many thousand miles of
travel. We shall find neither railway-train, nor steamboat, nor
stagecoach, to carry us on our way. We shall not even have the help of a
horse. For us no hotel shall spread its luxurious board; no road-side
inn shall hang out its inviting sign and "clean beds;" no roof of any
kind shall offer us its hospitable shelter. Our table shall be a rock, a
log, or the earth itself; our lodging a tent; and our bed the skin of a
wild beast. Such are the best accommodations we can expect upon our
journey. Are you still ready to undertake it? Does the prospect not
deter you?

No--I hear you exclaim--I shall be satisfied with the table--what care I
for mahogany? With the lodging--I can tent like an Arab. With the
bed--fling feathers to the wind!

Enough, brave boy! you shall go with me to the wild regions of the
"North-west," to the far "fur countries" of America. But, first--a word
about the land through which we are going to travel.

Take down your atlas. Bend your eye upon the map of North America. Note
two large islands--one upon the right side, Newfoundland; another upon
the left, Vancouver. Draw a line from one to the other; it will nearly
bisect the continent. North of that line you behold a vast territory.
How vast? You may take your scissors, and clip fifty Englands out of it!
There are lakes there in which you might _drown_ England, or make an
island of it! Now, you may form some idea of the vastness of that region
known as the "fur countries."

Will you believe me, when I tell you that all this immense tract is a
wilderness--a howling wilderness, if you like a poetical name? It is
even so. From north to south, from ocean to ocean--throughout all that
vast domain, there is neither town nor village--hardly anything that can
be dignified with the name of "settlement." The only signs of
civilisation to be seen are the "forts," or trading posts of the
Hudson's Bay Company; and these "signs" are few and far--hundreds of
miles--between.

For inhabitants, the country has less than ten thousand white men, the
_employés_ of the Company; and its native people are Indians of many
tribes, living far apart, few in numbers, subsisting by the chase, and
half starving for at least a third part of every year! In truth, the
territory can hardly be called "inhabited." There is not a man to every
ten miles; and in many parts of it you may travel hundreds of miles
without seeing a face, red, white, or black!

The physical aspect is, therefore, entirely wild. It is very different
in different parts of the territory. One tract is peculiar. It has been
long known as the "Barren Grounds." It is a tract of vast extent. It
lies north-west from the shores of Hudson's Bay, extending nearly to the
Mackenzie River. Its rocks are _primitive_. It is a land of hills and
valleys--of deep dark lakes and sharp-running streams. It is a woodless
region. No timber is found there that deserves the name. No trees but
glandular dwarf birches, willows, and black spruce, small and stunted.
Even these only grow in isolated valleys. More generally the surface is
covered with coarse sand--the _debris_ of granite or quartz-rock--upon
which no vegetable, save the lichen or the moss, can find life and
nourishment.

In one respect these "Barren Grounds" are unlike the deserts of Africa:
they are well watered. In almost every valley there is a lake; and
though many of these are land-locked, yet do they contain fish of
several species. Sometimes these lakes communicate with each other by
means of rapid and turbulent streams passing through narrow gorges; and
lines of those connected lakes form the great rivers of the district.

Such is a large portion of the Hudson's Bay territory. Most of the
extensive peninsula of Labrador partakes of a similar character; and
there are other like tracts west of the Rocky Mountain range in the
"Russian possessions."

Yet these "Barren Grounds" have their denizens. Nature has formed
animals that delight to dwell there, and that are never found in more
fertile regions. Two ruminating creatures find sustenance upon the
mosses and lichens that cover their cold rocks: they are the caribou
(reindeer) and the musk-ox. These, in their turn, become the food and
subsistence of preying creatures. The wolf, in all its varieties of
grey, black, white, pied, and dusky, follows upon their trail. The
"brown bear"--a large species, nearly resembling the "grizzly"--is found
only in the Barren Grounds; and the great "Polar bear" comes within
their borders, but the latter is a dweller upon their shores alone, and
finds his food among the finny tribes of the seas that surround them. In
marshy ponds, existing here and there, the musk-rat builds his house,
like that of his larger cousin, the beaver. Upon the water sedge he
finds subsistence; but his natural enemy, the wolverene, skulks in the
same neighbourhood.

The "Polar hare" lives upon the leaves and twigs of the dwarf
birch-tree; and this, transformed into its own white flesh, becomes the
food of the Arctic fox. The herbage, sparse though it be, does not grow
in vain. The seeds fall to the earth, but they are not suffered to
decay. They are gathered by the little lemmings and meadow-mice, who, in
their turn, become the prey of two species of _mustelidæ_, the ermine
and vison weasels. Have the fish of the lakes no enemy? Yes--a terrible
one in the Canada otter. The mink-weasel, too, pursues them; and in
summer, the osprey, the great pelican, the cormorant, and the
white-headed eagle.

These are the _fauna_ of the Barren Grounds. Man rarely ventures within
their boundaries. The wretched creatures who find a living there are the
Esquimaux on their coasts, and a few Chippewa Indians in the interior,
who hunt the caribou, and are known as "caribou-eaters." Other Indians
enter them only in summer, in search of game, or journeying from point
to point; and so perilous are these journeyings, that numbers frequently
perish by the way. There are no white men in the Barren Grounds. The
"Company" has no commerce there. No fort is established in them: so
scarce are the fur-bearing animals of these parts, their skins would not
repay the expense of a "trading post."

Far different are the "wooded tracts" of the fur countries. These lie
mostly in the southern and central regions of the Hudson's Bay
territory. There are found the valuable beaver and the wolverene that
preys upon it. There dwells the American hare with its enemy the Canada
lynx. There are the squirrels, and the beautiful martens (sables) that
hunt them from tree to tree. There are found the foxes of every variety,
the red, the cross, and the rare and highly-prized silver-fox, whose
shining skin sells for its weight in gold! There, too, the black bear
yields its fine coat to adorn the winter carriage, the holsters of the
dragoon, and the shako of the grenadier. There the fur-bearing animals
exist in greatest plenty, and many others whose skins are valuable in
commerce, as the moose, the wapiti, and the wood-bison.

But there is also a "prairie" district in the fur countries. The great
table prairies of North America, that slope eastward from the Rocky
Mountains, also extend northward into the Hudson's Bay territory. They
gradually grow narrower, however, as you proceed farther north, until,
on reaching the latitude of the Great Slave Lake, they end altogether.
This "prairie-land" has its peculiar animals. Upon it roams the buffalo,
the prong-horned antelope, and the mule-deer. There, too, may be seen
the "barking wolf" and the "swift fox." It is the favourite home of the
marmots, and the gauffres or sand-rats; and there, too, the noblest of
animals, the horse, runs wild.

West of this prairie tract is a region of far different aspect--the
region of the Rocky Mountains. This stupendous chain, sometimes called
the Andes of North America, continues throughout the fur countries from
their southern limits to the shores of the Arctic Sea. Some of its peaks
overlook the waters of that sea itself, towering up near the coast. Many
of these, even in southern latitudes, carry the "eternal snow." This
"mountain-chain" is, in places, of great breadth. Deep valleys lie in
its embrace, many of which have never been visited by man. Some are
desolate and dreary; others are oäses of vegetation, which fascinate the
traveller whose fortune it has been, after toiling among naked rocks, to
gaze upon their smiling fertility.

These lovely wilds are the favourite home of many strange animals. The
argali, or mountain-sheep, with his huge curving horns, is seen there;
and the shaggy wild goat bounds along the steepest cliffs. The black
bear wanders through the wooded ravines; and his fiercer congener, the
"grizzly"--the most dreaded of all American animals--drags his huge body
along the rocky declivities.

Having crossed the mountains, the fur countries extend westward to the
Pacific. There you encounter barren plains, treeless and waterless;
rapid rivers, that foam through deep, rock-bound channels; and a country
altogether rougher in aspect, and more mountainous, than that lying to
the east of the great chain. A warmer atmosphere prevails as you
approach the Pacific, and in some places forests of tall trees cover the
earth. In these are found most of the fur-bearing animals; and, on
account of the greater warmth of the climate, the true _felidæ_--the
long-tailed cats--here wander much farther north than upon the eastern
side of the continent. Even so far north as the forests of Oregon these
appear in the forms of the cougar and the ounce.

But it is not our intention at present to cross the Rocky Mountains. Our
journey will lie altogether on the eastern side of that great chain. It
will extend from the frontiers of civilization to the shores of the
Arctic Sea. It is a long and perilous journey, boy reader; but as we
have made up our minds to it, let us waste no more time in talking, but
set forth at once. You are ready? Hurrah!



CHAPTER II

THE YOUNG VOYAGEURS


There is a canoe upon the waters of Red River--Red River of the north.
It is near the source of the stream, but passing downward. It is a small
canoe, a frail structure of birch-bark, and contains only four persons.
They are all young--the eldest of them evidently not over nineteen years
of age, and the youngest about fifteen.

The eldest is nearly full-grown, though his body and limbs have not yet
assumed the muscular development of manhood. His complexion is dark,
nearly olive. His hair is jet black, straight as an Indian's, and long.
His eyes are large and brilliant, and his features prominent. His
countenance expresses courage, and his well-set jaws betoken firmness
and resolution. He does not belie his looks, for he possesses these
qualifications in a high degree. There is a gravity in his manner,
somewhat rare in one so young; yet it is not the result of a morose
disposition, but a subdued temperament produced by modesty, good sense,
and much experience. Neither has it the air of stupidity. No: you could
easily tell that the mind of this youth, if once roused, would exhibit
both energy and alertness. His quiet manner has a far different
expression. It is an air of coolness and confidence, which tells you he
has met with dangers in the past, and would not fear to encounter them
again.

It is an expression peculiar, I think, to the hunters of the "Far
West,"--those men who dwell amidst dangers in the wild regions of the
great prairies. Their solitary mode of life begets this expression. They
are often for months without the company of a creature with whom they
may converse--months without beholding a human face. They live alone
with Nature, surrounded by her majestic forms. These awe them into
habits of silence. Such was in point of fact the case with the youth
whom we have been describing. He had hunted much, though not as a
professional hunter. With him the chase had been followed merely as a
pastime; but its pursuit had brought him into situations of peril, and
in contact with Nature in her wild solitudes. Young as he was, he had
journeyed over the grand prairies, and through the pathless forests of
the West. He had slain the bear and the buffalo, the wild cat and the
cougar. These experiences had made their impression upon his mind, and
stamped his countenance with that air of gravity we have noticed.

The second of the youths whom we shall describe is very different in
appearance. He is of blonde complexion, rather pale, with fair silken
hair that waves gently down his cheeks, and falls upon his shoulders. He
is far from robust. On the contrary, his form is thin and delicate. It
is not the delicacy of feebleness or ill-health, but only a body of
slighter build. The manner in which he handles his oar shows that he
possesses both health and strength, though neither in such a high degree
as the dark youth. His face expresses, perhaps, a larger amount of
intellect, and it is a countenance that would strike you as more open
and communicative. The eye is blue and mild, and the brow is marked by
the paleness of study and habits of continued thought. These indications
are no more than just, for the fair-haired youth _is_ a student, and one
of no ordinary attainments. Although only seventeen years of age, he is
already well versed in the natural sciences; and many a graduate of
Oxford or Cambridge would but ill compare with him. The former might
excel in the knowledge--if we can dignify it by that name--of the laws
of scansion, or in the composition of Greek idylls; but in all that
constitutes _real_ knowledge he would prove but an idle theorist, a
dreamy imbecile, alongside our practical young scholar of the West.

The third and youngest of the party--taking them as they sit from stem
to bow--differs in many respects from both those described. He has
neither the gravity of the first, nor yet the intellectuality of the
second. His face is round, and full, and ruddy. It is bright and smiling
in its expression. His eye dances merrily in his head, and its glance
falls upon everything. His lips are hardly ever at rest. They are either
engaged in making words--for he talks almost incessantly--or else
contracting and expanding with smiles and joyous laughter. His cap is
jauntily set, and his fine brown curls, hanging against the rich roseate
skin of his cheeks, give to his countenance an expression of extreme
health and boyish beauty. His merry laugh and free air tell you he is
not the boy for books. He is not much of a hunter either. In fact, he is
not particularly given to anything--one of those easy natures who take
the world as it comes, look upon the bright side of everything, without
getting sufficiently interested to excel in anything.

These three youths were dressed nearly alike. The eldest wore the
costume, as near as may be, of a backwoods hunter--a tunic-like
hunting-shirt, of dressed buckskin, leggings and mocassins of the same
material, and all--shirt, leggings, and mocassins--handsomely braided
and embroidered with stained quills of the porcupine. The cape of the
shirt was tastefully fringed, and so was the skirt as well as the seams
of the mocassins. On his head was a hairy cap of raccoon skin, and the
tail of the animal, with its dark transverse bars, hung down behind like
the drooping plume of a helmet. Around his shoulders were two leathern
belts that crossed each other upon his breast. One of these slung a
bullet-pouch covered with a violet-green skin that glittered splendidly
in the sun. It was from the head of the "wood-duck" the most beautiful
bird of its tribe. By the other strap was suspended a large
crescent-shaped horn taken from the head of an Opelousas bull, and
carved with various ornamental devices. Other smaller implements hung
from the belts, attached by leathern thongs: there was a picker, a
wiper, and a steel for striking fire with. A third belt--a broad stout
one of alligator leather--encircled the youth's waist. To this was
fastened a holster, and the shining butt of a pistol could be seen
protruding out; a hunting-knife of the kind denominated "bowie" hanging
over the left hip, completed his "arms and accoutrements."

The second of the youths was dressed, as already stated, in a somewhat
similar manner, though his accoutrements were not of so warlike a
character. Like the other, he had a powder-horn and pouch, but instead
of knife and pistol, a canvass bag or haversack hung from his shoulder;
and had you looked into it, you would have seen that it was half filled
with shells, pieces of rock, and rare plants, gathered during the
day--the diurnal storehouse of the geologist, the palæontologist, and
botanist--to be emptied for study and examination by the night
camp-fire. Instead of the 'coon-skin cap he wore a white felt hat with
broad leaf; and for leggings and mocassins he had trousers of blue
cottonade and laced buskins of tanned leather.

The youngest of the three was dressed and accoutred much like the
eldest, except that his cap was of blue cloth--somewhat after the
fashion of the military forage cap. All three wore shirts of coloured
cotton, the best for journeying in these uninhabited regions, where soap
is scarce, and a laundress not to be had at any price.

Though very unlike one another, these three youths were brothers. I knew
them well. I had seen them before--about two years before--and though
each had grown several inches taller since that time, I had no
difficulty in recognising them. Even though they were now two thousand
miles from where I had formerly encountered them, I could not be
mistaken as to their identity. Beyond a doubt they were the same brave
young adventurers whom I had met in the swamps of Louisiana, and whose
exploits I had witnessed upon the prairies of Texas. They were the "Boy
Hunters,"--Basil, Lucien, François! I was right glad to renew
acquaintance with them. Boy reader, do you share my joy?

But whither go they now? They are full two thousand miles from their
home in Louisiana. The Red River upon which their canoe floats is not
that Red River, whose blood-like waters sweep through the swamps of the
hot South--the home of the alligator and the gar. No, it is a stream of
a far different character, though also one of great magnitude. Upon the
banks of the former ripens the rice-plant, and the sugar-cane waves its
golden tassels high in the air. There, too, flourishes the giant reed,
the fan-palm, and the broad-leafed magnolia, with its huge snow-white
flowers. There the aspect is Southern, and the heat tropical for most
part of the year.

All this is reversed on the Red River of the North. It is true that on
its banks sugar is also produced; but it is no longer from a plant but a
lordly tree--the great sugar-maple. There is rice too,--vast fields of
rice upon its marshy borders; but it is not the pearly grain of the
South. It is the wild rice, "the water oats," the food of millions of
winged creatures, and thousands of human beings as well. Here, for
three-fourths of the year, the sun is feeble, and the aspect that of
winter. For months the cold waters are bound up in an icy embrace. The
earth is covered with thick snow, over which rise the needle-leafed
_coniferæ_--the pines, the cedars, the spruce, and the hemlock. Very
unlike each other are the countries watered by the two streams, the Red
River of the South and its namesake of the North.

But whither go our Boy Hunters in their birch-bark canoe? The river upon
which they are _voyaging_ runs due northward into the great lake
Winnipeg. They are floating with its current, and consequently
increasing the distance from their home. Whither go they?

The answer leads us to some sad reflections. Our joy on again beholding
them is to be mingled with grief. When we last saw them they had a
father, but no mother. Now they have neither one nor the other. The old
Colonel, their father--the French _émigré_, the _hunter naturalist_--is
dead. He who had taught them all he knew; who had taught them to ride,
to swim, to dive deep rivers, to fling the lasso, to climb tall trees,
and scale steep cliffs, to bring down birds upon the wing or beasts upon
the run, with the arrow and the unerring rifle; who had trained them to
sleep in the open air, in the dark forest, on the unsheltered prairie,
along the white snow-wreath--anywhere--with but a blanket or a buffalo
robe for their bed; who had taught them to live on the simplest food,
and had imparted to one of them a knowledge of science, of botany in
particular, that enabled them, in case of need, to draw sustenance, from
plants and trees, from roots and fruits, to find resources where
ignorant men would starve.

He also had taught them to kindle a fire without flint, steel, or
detonating powder; to discover their direction without a compass, from
the rocks and the trees and the signs of the heavens; and in addition to
all, had taught them, as far as was then known, the geography of that
vast wilderness that stretches from the Mississippi to the shores of the
Pacific Ocean, and northward to the icy borders of the Arctic Sea--he
who had taught them all this, their father, was no more; and his three
sons, the "boy men," of whom he was so proud, and of whose
accomplishments he was wont to boast, were now orphans upon the wide
world.

But little more than a year after their return from their grand
expedition to the Texan prairies, the "old Colonel" had died. It was one
of the worst years of that scourge of the South--the yellow fever--and
to this dread pestilence he had fallen a victim.

Hugot, the _ex-chasseur_ and attached domestic, who was accustomed to
follow his master like a shadow, had also followed him into the next
world. It was not grief that killed Hugot, though he bore the loss of
his kind master sadly enough. But it was not grief that killed Hugot. He
was laid low by the same disease of which his master had died--the
yellow fever. A week had scarcely passed after the death of the latter,
before Hugot caught the disease, and in a few days he was carried to the
tomb and laid by the side of his "old Colonel."

The Boy Hunters--Basil, Lucien, François--became orphans. They knew of
but one relation in the whole world, with whom their father had kept up
any correspondence. This relation was an uncle, and, strange as it may
seem, a Scotchman--a Highlander, who had strayed to Corsica in early
life, and had there married the Colonel's sister. That uncle had
afterwards emigrated to Canada, and had become extensively engaged in
the fur trade. He was now a superintendent or "factor" of the Hudson's
Bay Company, stationed at one of their most remote posts near the shores
of the Arctic Sea! There is a romance in the history of some men wilder
than any fiction that could be imagined.

I have not yet answered the question as to where our Boy Hunters were
journeying in their birch-bark canoe. By this time you will have divined
the answer. Certainly, you will say, they were on their way to join
their uncle in his remote home. For no other object could they be
travelling through the wild regions of the Red River. That supposition
is correct. To visit this Scotch uncle (they had not seen him for years)
was the object of their long, toilsome, and perilous journey. After
their father's death he had sent for them. He had heard of their
exploits upon the prairies; and, being himself of an adventurous
disposition, he was filled with admiration for his young kinsmen, and
desired very much to have them come and live with him.

Being now their guardian, he might command as much, but it needed not
any exercise of authority on his part to induce all three of them to
obey his summons. They had travelled through the mighty forests of the
Mississippi, and upon the summer prairies of the South. These great
features of the earth's surface were to them familiar things, and they
were no longer curious about them. But there remained a vast country
which they longed eagerly to explore. They longed to look upon its
shining lakes and crystal rivers; upon its snow-clad hills and ice-bound
streams; upon its huge mammalia--its moose and its musk-oxen, its wapiti
and its monster bears. This was the very country to which they were now
invited by their kinsman, and cheerfully did they accept his invitation.

Already had they made one-half the journey, though by far the easier
half. They had travelled up the Mississippi by steamboat as far as the
mouth of the St. Peter's. There they had commenced their canoe
voyage--in other words became "voyageurs"--for such is the name given to
those who travel by canoes through these wild territories. Their
favourite horses and the mule "Jeannette" had been left behind. This was
a necessity, as these creatures, however useful upon the dry prairies of
the South, where there are few or no lakes, and where rivers only occur
at long intervals, would be of little service to the traveller in the
Northern regions. Here the route is crossed and intercepted by numerous
rivers; and lakes of all sizes, with tracts of inundated marsh, succeed
one another continually. Such, in fact, are the highways of the country,
and the canoe the travelling carriage; so that a journey from one point
of the Hudson's Bay territory to another is often a canoe voyage of
thousands of miles--equal to a "trip" across the Atlantic.

Following the usual custom, therefore, our Boy Hunters had become
voyageurs--"_Young Voyageurs_." They had navigated the St. Peter's in
safety, almost to its head-waters. These interlock with the sources of
the Red River. By a "portage" of a few miles they had crossed to the
latter stream; and, having launched their canoe upon its waters, were
now floating downward and northward with its current. But they had yet a
long journey before them--nearly two thousand miles! Many a river to be
"run," many a rapid to be "shot," many a lake to be crossed, and many a
"portage" to be passed, ere they could reach the end of that great
_voyage_.

Come, boy reader, shall we accompany them? Yes. The strange scenes and
wild adventures through which we must pass, may lighten the toils, and
perhaps repay us for the perils of the journey. Think not of the toils.
Roses grow only upon thorns. From toil we learn to enjoy leisure. Regard
not the perils. "From the nettle danger we pluck the flower safety."
Security often springs from peril. From such hard experiences great men
have arisen. Come, then, my young friend! mind neither toil nor peril,
but with me to the great wilderness of the North!

Stay! We are to have another "_compagnon du voyage_." There is a fourth
in the boat, a fourth "young voyageur." Who is he? In appearance he is
as old as Basil, full as tall, and not unlike him in "build." But he is
altogether of a different _colour_. He is fair-haired; but his hair
(unlike that of Lucien, which is also light-coloured) is strong, crisp,
and curly. It does not droop, but stands out over his cheeks in a
profusion of handsome ringlets. His complexion is of that kind known as
"fresh," and the weather, to which it has evidently been much exposed,
has bronzed and rather enriched the colour. The eyes are dark blue, and,
strange to say, with _black_ brows and lashes! This is not common,
though sometimes observed; and, in the case of the youth we are
describing, arose from a difference of complexion on the part of his
parents. He looked through the eyes of his mother, while in other
respects he was more like his father, who was fair-haired and of a
"fresh" colour.

The youth, himself, might be termed handsome. Perhaps he did not possess
the youthful beauty of François, nor the bolder kind that characterized
the face of Basil. Perhaps he was of a coarser "make" than any of his
three companions. His intellect had been less cultivated by education,
and _education adds to the beauty of the face_. His life had been a
harder one--he had toiled more with his hands, and had seen less of
civilized society. Still many would have pronounced him a handsome
youth. His features were regular, and of clean outline. His lips
expressed good-nature as well as firmness. His eye beamed with native
intelligence, and his whole face bespoke a heart of true and determined
honesty--_that made it beautiful_.

Perhaps a close scrutinizer of countenances might have detected some
resemblance--a family one--between him and his three companions. If such
there was, it was very slight; but there might have been, from the
relationship that existed between them and him. He was their
cousin--their full cousin--the only son of that uncle they were now on
their way to visit, and the messenger who had been sent to bring them.
Such was the fourth of "the young voyageurs."

His dress was not unlike that worn by Basil; but as he was seated on the
bow, and acting as pilot, and therefore more likely to feel the cold,
he wore over his hunting-shirt, a Canadian _capote_ of white woollen
cloth, with its hood hanging down upon his shoulders.

But there was still another "voyageur," an old acquaintance, whom you,
boy reader, will no doubt remember. This was an animal, a quadruped, who
lay along the bottom of the canoe upon a buffalo's hide. "From his size
and colour--which was a tawny red--you might have mistaken him for a
panther--a cougar. His long black muzzle and broad hanging ears gave him
quite a different aspect, however, and declared him to be a hound. He
_was_ one--a bloodhound, with the cross of a mastiff--a powerful animal.
It was the dog 'Marengo.'" You remember Marengo?

In the canoe there were other objects of interest. There were blankets
and buffalo robes; there was a small canvas tent folded up; there were
bags of provisions, and some cooking utensils; there was a spade and an
axe; there were rifles--three of them--and a double-barrelled shot-gun;
besides a fish-net, and many other articles, the necessary equipments
for such a journey.

Loaded almost to the gunwale was that little canoe, yet lightly did it
float down the waters of the Red River of the North.



CHAPTER III

THE TRUMPETER SWAN AND THE BALD EAGLE


It was the spring season, though late. The snow had entirely disappeared
from the hills, and the ice from the water, and the melting of both had
swollen the river, and rendered its current more rapid than usual. Our
young voyageurs needed not therefore to ply their oars, except now and
then to guide the canoe; for these little vessels have no rudder, but
are steered by the paddles. The skilful voyageurs can shoot them to any
point they please, simply by their dexterous handling of the oars; and
Basil, Lucien, and François, had had sufficient practice both with
"skiffs" and "dug-outs" to make good oarsmen of all three. They had made
many a canoe trip upon the lower Mississippi and the bayous of
Louisiana; besides their journey up the St. Peter's had rendered them
familiar with the management of their birchen craft. An occasional
stroke of the paddle kept them in their course, and they floated on
without effort.

Norman--such was the name of their Canadian or Highland cousin--sat in
the bow and directed their course. This is the post of honour in a
canoe; and as he had more experience than any of them in this sort of
navigation, he was allowed habitually to occupy this post. Lucien sat in
the stern. He held in his hands a book and pencil; and as the canoe
glided onward, he was noting down his memoranda. The trees upon the
banks were in leaf--many of them in blossom--and as the little craft
verged near the shore, his keen eye followed the configuration of the
leaves, to discover any new species that might appear.

There is a rich vegetation upon the banks of the Red River; but the
_flora_ is far different from that which appears upon the low _alluvion_
of Louisiana. It is Northern, but not Arctic. Oaks, elms, and poplars,
are seen mingling with birches, willows, and aspens. Several species of
indigenous fruit trees were observed by Lucien, among which were
crab-apple, raspberry, strawberry, and currant. There was also seen the
fruit called by the voyageurs "le poire," but which in English
phraseology is known as the "service-berry." It grows upon a small bush
or shrub of six or eight feet high, with smooth pinnate leaves. These
pretty red berries are much esteemed and eaten both by Indians and
whites, who preserve them by drying, and cook them in various ways.

There was still another bush that fixed the attention of our young
botanist, as it appeared all along the banks, and was a _characteristic_
of the vegetation of the country. It was not over eight feet in height,
with spreading branches of a grey-colour. Its leaves were three inches
wide, and somewhat lobed like those of the oak. Of course, at this early
season, the fruit was not ripe upon it; but Lucien knew the fruit well.
When ripe it resembles very much a red cherry, or, still more, a
cranberry, having both the appearance and acrid taste of the latter.
Indeed, it is sometimes used as a substitute for cranberries in the
making of pies and tarts; and in many parts it is called the "bush
cranberry."

The name, however, by which it is known among the Indians of Red River
is "_anepeminan_" from "_nepen_," summer, and "_minan_," berry. This has
been corrupted by the fur-traders and voyageurs into "Pembina;" hence,
the name of a river which runs into the Red, and also the name of the
celebrated but unsuccessful settlement of "Pembina," formed by Lord
Selkirk many years ago. Both took their names from this berry that grows
in abundance in the neighbourhood. The botanical appellation of this
curious shrub is _Viburnum oxycoccos_; but there is another species of
the viburnum, which is also styled "oxycoccos." The common "snowball
bush" of our garden is a plant of the same genus, and very like the
"Pembina," both in leaf and flower. In fact, in a wild state they might
be regarded as the same; but it is well known that the flowers of the
snowball are sterile, and do not produce the beautiful bright crimson
berries of the "Pembina."

Lucien lectured upon these points to his companions as they floated
along. Norman listened with astonishment to his philosophic cousin, who,
although he had never been in this region before, knew more of its
plants and trees than he did himself. Basil also was interested in the
explanations given by his brother. On the contrary, François, who cared
but little for botanical studies, or studies of any sort, was occupied
differently. He sat near the middle of the canoe, double-barrel in hand,
eagerly watching for a shot. Many species of water-fowl were upon the
river, for it was now late in the spring, and the wild geese and ducks
had all arrived, and were passing northward upon their annual migration.
During the day François had got several shots, and had "bagged" three
wild geese, all of different kinds, for there are many species of wild
geese in America.

He had also shot some ducks. But this did not satisfy him. There was a
bird upon the river that could not be approached. No matter how the
canoe was manoeuvred, this shy creature always took flight before
François could get within range. For days he had been endeavouring to
kill one. Even upon the St. Peter's many of them had been seen,
sometimes in pairs, at other times in small flocks of six or seven, but
always shy and wary. The very difficulty of getting a shot at them,
along with the splendid character of the birds themselves, had rendered
François eager to obtain one. The bird itself was no other than the
great wild swan--the king of aquatic birds.

"Come, brother!" said François, addressing Lucien, "bother your
viburnums and your oxycocks! Tell us something about these swans. See!
there goes another of them! What a splendid fellow he is! I'd give
something to have him within range of buckshot."

As François spoke he pointed down-stream to a great white bird that was
seen moving out from the bank. It was a swan, and one of the very
largest kind--"a trumpeter."

It had been feeding in a sedge of the wild rice, and no doubt the sight
of the canoe or the plash of the guiding oar had disturbed, and given it
the alarm. It shot out from the reeds with head erect and wings slightly
raised, offering to the eyes of the voyageurs a spectacle of graceful
and majestic bearing, that, among the feathered race at least, is quite
inimitable.

A few strokes of its broad feet propelled it into the open water near
the middle of the stream, when, making a half wheel, it turned head down
the river, and swam with the current.

At the point where it turned it was not two hundred yards ahead of the
canoe. Its apparent boldness in permitting them to come so near without
taking wing, led François to hope that they might get still nearer; and,
begging his companions to ply the paddles, he seized hold of his
double-barrel, and leaned forward in the canoe. Basil also conceived a
hope that a shot was to be had, for he took up his rifle, and looked to
the cock and cap. The others went steadily and quietly to work at the
oars. In a few moments the canoe cleft the current at the rate of a
galloping horse, and one would have supposed that the swan must either
at once take wing or be overtaken.

Not so, however. The "trumpeter" knew his game better than that. He had
full confidence both in his strength and speed upon the water. He was
not going to undergo the trouble of a fly, until the necessity arose for
so doing; and, as it was, he seemed to be satisfied that that necessity
had not yet arrived. The swim cost him much less muscular exertion than
flying would have done, and he judged that the current, here very swift,
would carry him out of reach of his pursuers.

It soon began to appear that he judged rightly; and the voyageurs, to
their chagrin, saw that, instead of gaining upon him, as they had
expected, every moment widened the distance between him and the canoe.
The bird had an advantage over his pursuers. Three distinct powers
propelled him, while they had only two to rely upon. He had the current
in his favour--so had they. He had oars or paddles--his feet; they had
oars as well. He "carried sail," while they spread not a "rag." The wind
chanced to blow directly down-stream, and the broad wings of the bird,
held out from his body, and half extended, caught the very pith of the
breeze on their double concave surfaces, and carried him through the
water with the velocity of an arrow. Do you think that he was not aware
of this advantage when he started in the race?

Do you suppose that these birds do not _think_? I for one am satisfied
they do, and look upon every one who prates about the _instinct_ of
these creatures as a philosopher of a very old school indeed. Not only
does the great swan think, but so does your parrot, and your piping
bullfinch, and the little canary that hops on your thumb. All think, and
_reason_, and _judge_. Should it ever be your fortune to witness the
performance of those marvellous birds, exhibited by the graceful Mdlle.
Vandermeersch in the fashionable _salons_ of Paris and London, you will
agree with me in the belief that the smallest of them has a mind like
yourself.

Most certainly the swan, which our voyageurs were pursuing, thought, and
reasoned, and judged, and calculated his distance, and resolved to keep
on "the even tenor of his way," without putting himself to extra trouble
by beating the air with his wings, and lifting his heavy body--thirty
pounds at least--up into the heavens. His judgment proved sound; for, in
less than ten minutes from the commencement of the chase, he had gained
a clear hundred yards upon his pursuers, and continued to widen the
distance. At intervals he raised his beak higher than usual, and uttered
his loud booming note, which fell upon the ears of the voyageurs as
though it had been sent back in mockery and defiance.

They would have given up the pursuit, had they not noticed that a few
hundred yards farther down the river made a sharp turn to the right. The
swan, on reaching this, would no longer have the wind in his favour.
This inspired them with fresh hopes. They thought they would be able to
overtake him after passing the bend, and then, either get a shot at him,
or force him into the air. The latter was the more likely; and, although
it would be no great gratification to see him fly off, yet they had
become so interested in this singular chase that they desired to
terminate it by putting the trumpeter to some trouble. They bent,
therefore, with fresh energy to their oars, and pulled onward in the
pursuit.

First the swan, and after him the canoe, swung round the bend, and
entered the new "reach" of the river. The voyageurs at once perceived
that the bird now swam more slowly. He no longer "carried sail," as the
wind was no longer in his favour. His wings lay closely folded to his
body, and he moved only by the aid of his webbed feet and the current,
which last happened to be sluggish, as the river at this part spread
over a wide expanse of level land. The canoe was evidently catching up,
and each stroke was bringing the pursuers nearer to the pursued.

After a few minutes' brisk pulling, the trumpeter had lost so much
ground that he was not two hundred yards in the advance, and "dead
ahead." His body was no longer carried with the same gracefulness, and
the majestic curving of his neck had disappeared. His bill protruded
forward, and his thighs began to drag the water in his wake. He was
evidently on the threshold of flight. Both François and Basil saw this,
as they stood with their guns crossed and ready.

At this moment a shrill cry sounded over the water. It was the scream of
some wild creature, ending in a strange laugh, like the laugh of a
maniac!

On both sides of the river there was a thick forest of tall trees of the
cotton-wood species. From this forest the strange cry had proceeded, and
from the right bank. Its echoes had hardly ceased, when it was answered
by a similar cry from the trees upon the left. So like were the two,
that it seemed as if some one of God's wild creatures was mocking
another. These cries were hideous enough to frighten any one not used
to them. They had not that effect upon our voyageurs, who knew their
import. One and all of them were familiar with the voice of the
_white-headed eagle_!

The trumpeter knew it as well as any of them, but on him it produced a
far different effect. His terror was apparent, and his intention was all
at once changed. Instead of rising into the air, as he had premeditated,
he suddenly lowered his head, and disappeared under the water!

Again was heard the wild scream and the maniac laugh; and the next
moment an eagle swept out from the timber, and, after a few strokes of
its broad wing, poised itself over the spot where the trumpeter had gone
down. The other, its mate, was seen crossing at the same time from the
opposite side.

Presently the swan rose to the surface, but his head was hardly out of
the water when the eagle once more uttered its wild note, and, half
folding its wings, darted down from above. The swan seemed to have
expected this, for before the eagle could reach the surface, he had gone
under a second time, and the latter, though passing with the velocity of
an arrow, plunged his talons in the water to no purpose. With a cry of
disappointment the eagle mounted back into the air, and commenced
wheeling in circles over the spot. It was now joined by its mate, and
both kept round and round watching for the reappearance of their
intended victim.

Again the swan came to the surface, but before either of the eagles
could swoop upon him he had for the third time disappeared. The swan is
but an indifferent diver; but under such circumstances he was likely to
do his best at it. But what could it avail him? He must soon rise to the
surface to take breath--each time at shorter intervals. He would soon
become fatigued and unable to dive with sufficient celerity, and then
his cruel enemies would be down upon him with their terrible talons.
Such is the usual result, unless the swan takes to the air, which he
sometimes does. In the present case he had built his hopes upon a
different means of escape. He contemplated being able to conceal himself
in a heavy sedge of bulrushes that grew along the edge of the river, and
towards these he was evidently directing his course under the water.

At each emersion he appeared some yards nearer them, until at length he
rose within a few feet of their margin, and diving again was seen no
more! He had crept in among the sedge, and no doubt was lying with only
his head, or part of it, above the water, his body concealed by the
broad leaves of the _nymphæ_, while the head itself could not be
distinguished among the white flowers that lay thickly along the
surface.

The eagles now wheeled over the sedge, flapping the tops of the
bulrushes with their broad wings, and screaming with disappointed rage.
Keen as were their eyes they could not discover the hiding-place of
their victim. No doubt they would have searched for it a long time, but
the canoe--which they now appeared to notice for the first time--had
floated near; and, becoming aware of their own danger, both mounted into
the air again, and with a farewell scream flew off, and alighted at some
distance down the river.

"A swan for supper!" shouted François, as he poised his gun for the
expected shot.

The canoe was headed for the bulrushes near the point where the
trumpeter had been last seen; and a few strokes of the paddles brought
the little craft with a whizzing sound among the sedge. But the culms of
the rushes were so tall, and grew so closely together, that the
canoe-men, after entering, found to their chagrin they could not see six
feet around them. They dared not stand up, for this is exceedingly
dangerous in a birch canoe, where the greatest caution is necessary to
keep the vessel from careening over. Moreover, the sedge was so thick,
that it was with difficulty they could use their oars.

They remained stationary for a time, surrounded by a wall of green
bulrush. They soon perceived that that would never do, and resolved to
push back into the open water. Meanwhile Marengo had been sent into the
sedge, and was now heard plunging and sweltering about in search of the
game. Marengo was not much of a water-dog by nature, but he had been
trained to almost every kind of hunting, and his experience among the
swamps of Louisiana had long since relieved him of all dread for the
water. His masters therefore had no fear but that Marengo would "put up"
the trumpeter.

Marengo had been let loose a little too soon. Before the canoe could be
cleared of the entangling sedge, the dog was heard to utter one of his
loud growls, then followed a heavy plunge, there was a confused
fluttering of wings, and the great white bird rose majestically into the
air! Before either of the gunners could direct their aim, he was beyond
the range of shot, and both prudently reserved their fire. Marengo
having performed his part, swam back to the canoe, and was lifted over
the gunwale.

The swan, after clearing the sedge, rose almost vertically into the air.
These birds usually fly at a great elevation--sometimes entirely beyond
the reach of sight. Unlike the wild geese and ducks, they never alight
upon land, but always upon the bosom of the water. It was evidently the
intention of this one to go far from the scene of his late dangers,
perhaps to the great lake Winnipeg itself.

After attaining a height of several hundred yards, he flew forward in a
horizontal course, and followed the direction of the stream. His flight
was now regular, and his trumpet note could be heard at intervals, as,
with outstretched neck, he glided along the heavens. He seemed to feel
the pleasant sensations that every creature has after an escape from
danger, and no doubt he fancied himself secure. But in this fancy he
deceived himself. Better for him had he risen a few hundred yards
higher, or else had uttered his self-gradulation in a more subdued tone;
for it was heard and answered, and that response was the maniac laugh of
the white-headed eagle.

At the same instant two of these birds--those already introduced--were
seen mounting into the air. They did not fly up vertically, as the swan
had done, but in spiral curves, wheeling and crossing each other as they
ascended. They were making for a point that would intersect the flight
of the swan should he keep on in his horizontal course. This, however,
he did not do. With an eye as quick as theirs, he saw that he was
"headed;" and, stretching his long neck upward, he again pursued an
almost vertical line.

But he had to carry thirty pounds of flesh and bones, while the largest
of the eagles--the female bird--with a still broader spread of wing, was
a "light weight" of only seven. The result of this difference was soon
apparent. Before the trumpeter had got two hundred yards higher, the
female of the eagles was seen wheeling around him on the same level.
The swan was now observed to double, fly downward, and then upward
again, while his mournful note echoed back to the earth. But his efforts
were in vain. After a series of contortions and manoeuvres, the eagle
darted forward, with a quick toss threw herself back-downward, and,
striking upward, planted her talons in the under part of the wing of her
victim. The lacerated shaft fell uselessly down; and the great white
bird, no longer capable of flight, came whistling through the air.

[Illustration: THE TRUMPETER SWAN AND THE BALD EAGLE.]

But it was not allowed to drop directly to the earth; it would have
fallen on the bosom of the broad river, and that the eagles did not
wish, as it would have given them some trouble to get the heavy carcass
ashore. As soon as the male--who was lower in the air--saw that his
partner had struck the bird, he discontinued his upward flight, and,
poising himself on his spread tail, waited its descent. A single instant
was sufficient. The white object passed him still fluttering; but the
moment it was below his level he shot after it like an arrow, and,
clutching it in his talons, with an outward stroke sent it whizzing in a
diagonal direction. The next moment a crashing was heard among the
twigs, and a dull sound announced that the swan had fallen upon the
earth.

The eagles were now seen sailing downward, and soon disappeared among
the tops of the trees.

The canoe soon reached the bank; and François, accompanied by Basil and
Marengo, leaped ashore, and went in search of the birds. They found the
swan quite dead and lying upon its back as the eagles had turned it. Its
breast was torn open, and the crimson blood, with which they had been
gorging themselves, was spread in broad flakes over its snowy plumage.
The eagles themselves, scared by the dog Marengo, had taken flight
before the boys could get within shot of them.

As it was just the hour for a "noon halt" and a luncheon, the swan was
carried to the bank of the river, where a crackling fire was soon
kindled to roast him.



CHAPTER IV

A SWAN-HUNT BY TORCHLIGHT


A few days brought our travellers to the settlement of Red River, where
they made but a very short stay; and, having procured a few articles
which they stood in need of, they resumed their journey, and floated on
towards Lake Winnipeg. The swans were seen in greater numbers than ever.
They were not less shy however, and François, as before, in vain tried
to get a shot at one.

He was very desirous of bringing down one of these noble birds, partly
because the taste he had had of their flesh had given him a liking for
it; and partly because their shyness had greatly tantalized him. One is
always more eager to kill shy game, both on account of the rarity of the
thing, and the credit one gets for his expertness. But the voyageurs had
now got within less than twenty miles of Lake Winnipeg, and François had
not as yet shot a single swan. It was not at all likely the eagles would
help him to another. So there would be no more roast swan for supper.

Norman, seeing how eager François was to shoot one of these birds,
resolved to aid him by his advice.

"Cousin Frank," said he, one evening as they floated along, "you wish
very much to get a shot at the swans?"

"I do," replied François,--"I do; and if you can tell me how to
accomplish that business, I'll make you a present of this knife." Here
François held up a very handsome clasp-knife that he carried in his
pouch.

A knife in the fur countries is no insignificant affair. With a knife
you may sometimes buy a horse, or a tent, or a whole carcass of beef,
or, what is stranger still, a wife! To the hunter in these wild
regions--perhaps a thousand miles from where knives are sold--such a
thing is of very great value indeed; but the knife which François
offered to his cousin was a particularly fine one, and the latter had
once expressed a wish to become the owner of it. He was not slow,
therefore, in accepting the conditions.

"Well," rejoined he, "you must consent to travel a few miles by night,
and I think I can promise you a shot at the trumpeters--perhaps
several."

"What say you, brothers?" asked François, appealing to Basil and Lucien;
"shall we have the sport? Say yes."

"Oh! I have no objection," said Lucien.

"Nor I," added Basil. "On the contrary, I should like it above all
things. I wish very much to know what plan our cousin shall adopt. I
never heard of any mode of approaching these birds."

"Very well, then," answered Norman, "I shall have the pleasure of
instructing you in a way that is in use in these parts among the
Indians, who hunt the swan for its skin and quills, which they trade to
us at the post. We can manage it to-night, I think," continued he,
looking up at the sky: "there is no moon, and the sky is thick. Yes, it
will be dark enough."

"Is it necessary the night should be a dark one?" asked François.

"The darker the better," replied Norman. "To-night, if I am not
mistaken, will be as black as pitch. But we need to make some
preparations. It is near sundown, and we shall have just time to get
ready for the business. Let us get ashore, then, as quickly as
possible."

"Oh! certainly--let us land," replied all three at once.

The canoe was now turned to the shore; and when it had arrived within a
few feet of the land it was brought to a stop. Its keel was not allowed
to touch the bottom of the river, as that would have injured the little
craft. The greatest precaution is always observed both in landing and
embarking these vessels. The voyageurs first get out and wade to the
shore, one or two remaining to hold the canoe in its place. The cargo,
whatever it be, is then taken out and landed; and after that the canoe
itself is lifted out of the water, and carried ashore, where it is set,
bottom upward, to dry.

The birch-bark canoe is so frail a structure, that, were it brought
rudely in contact either with the bottom or the bank, it would be very
much damaged, or might go to pieces altogether. Hence the care with
which it is handled. It is dangerous, also, to stand upright in it, as
it is so "crank" that it would easily turn over, and spill both
canoe-men and cargo into the water. The voyageurs, therefore, when once
they have got in, remain seated during the whole passage, shifting about
as little as they can help. When landed for the night, the canoe is
always taken out of the water as described. The bark is of a somewhat
spongy nature; and if left in the water for a length of time, would
become soaked and heavy, and would not run so well. When kept all night,
bottom upward, it drips and becomes dryer and lighter. In the morning,
at the commencement of the day's journey, it sits higher upon the water
than in the afternoon and evening, and is at that time more easily
paddled along.

Our voyageurs, having got on shore, first kindled a fire to cook their
supper. This they intended to despatch earlier than usual, so as to give
them the early part of the night for their swan hunt, which they
expected to finish before midnight. Lucien did the cooking, while
Norman, assisted by Basil and François, made his preparations for the
hunt. François, who was more interested in the result than any of them,
watched every movement of his cousin. Nothing escaped him.

Norman proceeded as follows:--

He walked off into the woods, accompanied by François. After going about
an hundred yards or so, he stopped at the foot of a certain tree. The
tree was a birch--easily distinguished by its smooth, silvery bark. By
means of his sharp hunting-knife he "girdled" this tree near the ground,
and then higher up, so that the length between the two "girdlings," or
circular cuttings, was about four feet. He then made a longitudinal
incision by drawing the point of his knife from one circle to the other.
This done he inserted the blade under the bark, and peeled it off, as he
would have taken the skin from a buffalo. The tree was a foot in
diameter, consequently the bark, when stripped off and spread flat, was
about three feet in width; for you must remember that the circumference
of a circle or a cylinder is always about three times the length of its
diameter, and therefore a tree is three times as much "_round_" as it is
"_through_."

They now returned to the camp-fire, taking along with them the piece of
bark that had been cut off. This was spread out, though not quite flat,
still leaving it somewhat curved. The convex side, that which had lain
towards the tree, was now blackened with pulverized charcoal, which
Norman had directed Basil to prepare for the purpose; and to the bark at
one end was fastened a stake or shaft. Nothing more remained but to fix
this stake in the canoe, in an upright position near the bow, and in
such a way that the bottom of the piece of bark would be upon a level
with the seats, with its hollow side looking forward. It would thus form
a screen, and prevent those in the canoe from being seen by any creature
that might be ahead.

When all this had been arranged, Norman shouldered the axe, and again
walked off into the woods. This time his object was to obtain a quantity
of "knots" of the pitch-pine (_Pinus rigida_), which he knew would most
likely be found in such a situation. The tree was soon discovered, and
pointed out to François, who accompanied him as before. François saw
that it was a tree of about fifty feet in height, and a foot in diameter
at its base. Its bark was thick, very dark in the colour, and full of
cracks or fissures. Its leaves, or "needles," were about three inches
long, and grew in threes, each three forming a little bunch, bound
together at its base by a brownish sheath.

These bunches, in botanical language, are termed "fasciles." The cones
were somewhat shorter than the leaves, nearly the shape of eggs, and
clustered together in threes and fours. François noticed that the tree
was thickly branched, and therefore there are many knots in the wood.
For this reason it is not much use as timber; but on account of the
resin which it contains, it is the best species for firewood; and for
that purpose it is used in all parts of the United States, where it
grows. Most of the _pine-wood_ sold for fuel in the large cities of
America is the wood of this species.

François supposed that his companion was about to fell one of the trees.
He was mistaken, however; Norman had no such intention; he had only
stopped before one to examine it, and make sure that it was the species
he was in search of. He was soon satisfied of this, and moved on,
directing his eyes along the ground. Again he stopped; but this time it
was by a tree that had already fallen--blown down, perhaps, by the wind.
It was half decayed; but François could see that it was one of the same
species--the pitch-pine.

This was the very thing Norman wanted, and plying his axe, he soon
knocked out a large quantity of the resinous knots. These he at length
collected, and putting them into a bag, returned with François to the
fire. He then announced that he had no further preparations to make.

All four now sat down to supper, which consisted of dry meat, with
biscuits and coffee; and, as their appetites were sharpened by their
water journey, they made a hearty meal of it.

As soon as they had finished eating, the canoe was launched and got
ready. The screen of birch-bark was set up, by lashing its shaft to the
bottom timbers, and also to one of the seats. Immediately in front of
this, and out upon the bow, was placed the frying-pan; and this having
been secured by being tied at the handle, was filled with dry
pine-knots, ready to be kindled at a moment's notice. These arrangements
being made, the hunters only awaited the darkness to set forth.

In the progress of their hunt they would be carried still farther
down-stream; but as that was the direction in which they were
travelling, they would only be progressing on their journey, and thus
"killing two birds with one stone." This was altogether a very pleasant
consideration; and having stowed everything snugly in the canoe, they
sat chatting agreeably and waiting for the arrival of night.

Night came at length, and, as Norman had predicted, it was as "dark as
pitch." Stepping gently into the canoe, and seating themselves in their
respective places, they pushed out and commenced floating down-stream.
Norman sat near the bow, in order to attend to his torch of pine-knots.
François was next to him, holding his double-barrel, loaded with
buckshot, which is the same size as that used for swans, and in England
is even known as "swan-shot."

Next came Basil with his rifle. He sat near François, just by the middle
of the little vessel. Lucien, who was altogether a man of peace
principles, and but little of a shot compared with either of his
brothers, handled the oar--not to propel the canoe, but merely to guide
it. In this way the party floated on in silence.

Norman soon kindled his torch, which now cast its red glare over the
surface of the river, extending its fiery radii even to the banks on
both sides of the stream. The trees that overhung the water seemed
tinged with vermilion, and the rippling wave sparkled like liquid gold.
The light only extended over a semicircle. From the manner in which the
torch was placed, its light did not fall upon the other half of the
circle, and this, by contrast, appeared even darker than it would
otherwise have done.

The advantage of the plan which Norman had adopted was at once apparent
to all. Ahead of the canoe the whole river was plainly seen, for a
distance of several hundred yards. No object larger than a cork could
have floated on its surface, without being visible to those in the
vessel--much less the great white body of a trumpeter swan. Astern of
the canoe, on the other hand, all was pitchy darkness, and any one
looking at the vessel from a position ahead could have seen nothing but
the bright torch and the black uniform surface behind it.

As I have already stated, the convex side of the bark was _towards_ the
blaze, and the pan containing the torch being placed close into the
screen, none of the light could possibly fall upon the forms of those
within the canoe. They were therefore invisible to any creature from the
front, while they themselves could see everything before them.

Two questions yet remained unanswered. First--would our hunters find any
swans on the river? Second--if they should, would these birds allow
themselves to be approached near enough to be shot at? The first
question Norman, of course, could not answer. That was a matter beyond
his knowledge or control. The swans might or might not appear, but it
was to be hoped they would. It was likely enough. Many had been seen on
the preceding day, and why not then? To the second question, the young
Canadian gave a definite reply.

He assured his cousins that, if met with, the birds would be easily
approached in this manner; he had often hunted them so. They would
either keep their place, and remain until the light came very near them,
or they would move towards it (as he had many times known them to do),
attracted by curiosity and the novelty of the spectacle. He had hunted
deer in the same manner; he had shot, he said, hundreds of these animals
upon the banks of rivers, where they had come down to the water to
drink, and stood gazing at the light.

His cousins could well credit his statements. They themselves had hunted
deer by torchlight in the woods of Louisiana, where it is termed
"fire-hunting." They had killed several in this way. The creatures as if
held by some fascination, would stand with head erect looking at the
torch carried by one of the party, while the other took sight between
their glancing eyes and fired the deadly bullet. Remembering this, they
could easily believe that the swans might act in a similar manner.

It was not long until they were convinced of it by actual experience. As
the canoe rounded a bend in the river, three large white objects
appeared in the "reach" before them. A single glance satisfied all that
they were swans, though in the deceptive glare of the torch, they
appeared even larger than swans. Their long upright necks, however,
convinced the party they could be nothing else, and the canoe was headed
directly for them.

As our hunters approached, one of the birds was heard to utter his
strange trumpet note, and this he repeated at intervals as they drew
nearer.

"I have heard that they sing before death," muttered François to Basil,
who sat nearest him. "If so, I hope that's the song itself;" and
François laughed quietly at the joke he had perpetrated.

Basil also laughed; and Lucien, who had overheard the remark, could not
refrain himself from joining in the laughter.

"I fear not," rejoined Basil; "there is hardly enough music in the note
to call it a song. They may live to 'blow their own trumpet' a long
while yet."

This remark called forth a fresh chorus of laughter, in which all took
part; but it was a very silent kind of laughter, that could not have
been heard ten yards off: it might have been termed "laughing in a
whisper."

It soon ended, however, as matters now became serious: they were already
within less than two hundred yards of the game, and the greatest caution
had to be observed. The gunners had arranged the order of fire: Basil
was to shoot first, taking steady aim with his rifle at any one of the
birds; while François should fire as soon as he heard the report of his
brother's gun, taking the remaining swans upon the wing, with one or
both barrels, as he best might.

At length Basil deemed himself near enough, and, levelling his piece,
fired. The bird threw out its wings, and flattened down upon the water,
almost without a struggle. The other two were rising into the air, when
"crack! crack!" went the two barrels of François' piece, and one of the
swans fell back with a broken wing, and fluttered over the surface of
the stream. Basil's had been shot dead, and was taken up easily; but the
wounded bird was only captured after a long chase with the canoe; and
when overtaken, it struck so fiercely with its remaining wing, that one
of the blows inflicted a painful wound on the wrist of François. Both,
however, were at length got safely aboard, and proved to be a male and
female of the largest dimensions.



CHAPTER V

"CAST AWAY"


Of course, the reports of the guns must have frightened any other swans
that were near. It was not likely they would find any more before going
some distance farther down the river; so, having stowed away in a safe
place the two already killed, the hunters paddled rapidly onward.

They had hardly gone half-a-mile farther, when another flock of swans
was discovered. These were approached in a similar way, and no less than
three were obtained--François making a remarkable shot, and killing with
both barrels. A little farther down, one of the "hoopers" was killed;
and still farther on, another trumpeter; making in all no less than
seven swans that lay dead in the bottom of the canoe!

These seven great birds almost filled the little craft to the gunwales,
and you would think that our "torch-hunters" ought to have been content
with such a spoil; but the hunter is hard to satisfy with game, and but
too often inclined to "spill much more blood" than is necessary to his
wants. Our voyageurs, instead of desisting, again set the canoe in
motion, and continued the hunt.

A short distance below the place where they had shot the last swan, as
they were rounding a bend in the river, a loud rushing sounded in their
ears, similar to that produced by a cascade or waterfall. On first
hearing it, they were startled and somewhat alarmed. It might be a
"fall," thought they. Norman could not tell: he had never travelled this
route; he did not know whether there were falls in the Red River or not,
but he believed not. In his voyage to the South, he had travelled by
another route; that was, up the Winnipeg River, and through Rainy Lake
and the Lake of the Woods to Lake Superior. This is the usual and
well-known track followed by the _employés_ of the Hudson's Bay
Company; and Norman had travelled it.

In this uncertainty the canoe was brought to a stop, and our voyageurs
remained listening. The noise made by the water was not very distant,
and sounded like the roaring of "rapids," or the rush of a "fall." It
was evidently one or the other; but, after listening to it for a
considerable time, all came to the conclusion that the sound did not
proceed from the Red River itself, but from some stream that emptied
into it upon the right. With this belief they again put the canoe in
motion, and glided slowly and cautiously onward.

Their conjecture proved to be correct. As they approached nearer, they
perceived that the noise appeared every moment more and more to their
right; and presently they saw, below them, a rapid current sweeping into
the Red River from the right bank. This was easily distinguished by the
white froth and bubbles that were carried along upon its surface, and
which had evidently been produced by some fall over which the water had
lately passed. The hunters now rowed fearlessly forward, and in a few
moments came opposite the _débouchure_ of the tributary stream, when a
considerable cascade appeared to their view, not thirty yards from the
Red River itself. The water foamed and dashed over a series of steps,
and then swept rapidly on, in a frothy current. They had entered this
current, and were now carried along with increased velocity, so that the
oarsmen suspended operations, and drew their paddles within the canoe.

A flock of swans now drew their attention. It was the largest flock they
had yet seen, numbering nearly a score of these noble birds,--a sight,
as Norman informed them, that was exceedingly rare even in the most
favoured haunts of the swan. Rarely are more than six or seven seen
together, and oftener only two or three. A grand _coup_ was determined
upon. Norman took up his own gun, and even Lucien, who managed the stern
oar, and guided the craft, also brought his piece--a very small
rifle--close to his hand, so that he might have a shot as well as the
others.

The canoe was directed in such a manner that, by merely keeping its head
down the stream, it would float to the spot where the swans were.

In a short while they approached very near the great birds, and our
hunters could see them sitting on the water, with upraised necks, gazing
in wonder at the torch. Whether they sounded their strange note was not
known, for the "sough" of the waterfall still echoed in the ears of the
canoe-men, and they could not hear aught else.

Basil and Norman fired first, and simultaneously; but the louder
detonations of François' double-barrel, and even the tiny crack of
Lucien's rifle, were heard almost the instant after. Three of the birds
were killed by the volley, while a fourth, evidently "winged," was seen
to dive, and flutter down-stream. The others mounted into the air, and
disappeared in the darkness.

During the time occupied in this manoeuvre, the canoe, no longer guided
by Lucien's oar, had been caught by some eddy in the current, and swept
round stern-foremost. In this position the light no longer shone upon
the river ahead, but was thrown up-stream. All in a downward direction
was buried in deep darkness. Before the voyageurs could bring the canoe
back to its proper direction, a new sound fell upon their ears that
caused some of them to utter a cry of terror. It was the noise of
rushing water, but not that which they had already heard and passed. It
was before them in the river itself. Perhaps it was a cataract, and
_they were sweeping rapidly to its brink_!

The voice of Norman was heard exclaiming, "Hold with your oars!--the
rapids!--the rapids!" At the same time he himself was seen rising up and
stretching forward for an oar. All was now consternation; and the
movements of the party naturally consequent upon such a sudden panic
shook the little craft until her gunwales lipped the water. At the same
time she had swung round, until the light again showed the stream ahead,
and a horrid sight it was.

Far as the eye could see, was a reach of foaming rapids. Dark points of
rocks, and huge black boulders, thickly scattered in the channel, jutted
above the surface; and around and against these, the water frothed and
hissed furiously. There was no cataract, it is true--there is none such
in Red River--but for all purposes of destruction the rapids before them
were equally dangerous and terrible to the eyes of our voyageurs. They
no longer thought of the swans. The dead were permitted to float down
unheeded, the wounded to make its escape. Their only thought was to stop
the canoe before it should be carried upon the rapids.

With this intent all had taken to the oars, but in spite of every
exertion they soon found that the light craft had got within the
influence of the strong current, and was sucked downward more rapidly
than ever. Their backward strokes were to no purpose.

In a few seconds the canoe had passed over the first stage of the
rapids, and shot down with the velocity of an arrow. A huge boulder lay
directly in the middle of the channel, and against this the current
broke with fury, laving its sides in foaming masses. The canoe was
hurried to this point; and as the light was again turned up-stream, none
of the voyageurs could see this dangerous rock. But they could not have
shunned it then. The boat had escaped from their control, and spun round
at will. The rock once more came under the light, but just as the canoe,
with a heavy crash, was driven against it.

For some moments the vessel, pressed by the current against the rock,
remained motionless, but her sides were stove in, and the water was
rushing through. The quick eye of Basil--cool in all crises of extreme
danger--perceived this at a glance. He saw that the canoe was a wreck,
and nothing remained but to save themselves as they best might. Dropping
the oar, and seizing his rifle, he called to his companions to leap to
the rock; and all together immediately sprang over the gunwale. The dog
Marengo followed after.

The canoe, thus lightened, heeled round into the current, and swept on.
The next moment she struck another rock, and was carried over on her
beams. The water then rushed in--the white bodies of the swans, with the
robes, blankets, and implements, rose on the wave; the blazing knots
were spilled from the pan, and fell with a hissing sound; and a few
seconds after they were extinguished, and all was darkness!



CHAPTER VI

A BRIDGE OF BUCKSKIN


The canoe was lost, and all it had contained, or nearly all. The
voyageurs had saved only their guns, knives, and the powder-horns and
pouches, that had been attached to their persons. One other thing had
been saved--an axe which Basil had flung upon the rock as he stepped out
of the sinking vessel. All the rest--robes, blankets, swans, cooking
utensils, bags of provisions, such as coffee, flour, and dried
meat--were lost--irrecoverably lost. These had either drifted off upon
the surface, or been carried under water and hidden among the loose
stones at the bottom. No matter where, they were lost; and our voyageurs
now stood on a small naked rock in the middle of the stream, with
nothing left but the clothes upon their backs, and the arms in their
hands. Such was their condition.

There was something so sudden and awful in the mishap that had befallen
them, that for some minutes they stood upon the spot where they had
settled without moving or addressing a word to one another. They gazed
after the canoe. They knew that it was wrecked, although they could see
nothing either of it or its contents. Thick darkness enveloped them,
rendered more intense from the sudden extinction of the torchlight. They
saw nothing but the foam flickering along the river; like the ghosts of
the swans they had killed, and they heard only the roaring of the water,
that sounded in their ears with a hoarse and melancholy wail.

For a long time they stood impressed with the lamentable condition into
which the accident had plunged them; and a lamentable condition it was,
sure enough. They were on a small rock in the midst of a rapid river.
They were in the midst of a great wilderness too, many long miles from a
settlement. The nearest could only be reached by travelling through
pathless forests, and over numerous and deep rivers. Impassable swamps,
and lakes with marshy shores, lay on the route, and barred the direct
course, and all this journey would have to be made on foot.

But none of our young voyageurs were of that stamp to yield themselves
to despair. One and all of them had experienced perils before--greater
even than that in which they now stood. As soon, therefore, as they
became fully satisfied that their little vessel was wrecked, and all its
contents scattered, instead of despairing, their first thoughts were how
to make the best of their situation.

For that night, at least, they were helpless. They could not leave the
rock. It was surrounded by rapids. Sharp, jagged points peeped out of
the water, and between these the current rushed with impetuosity. In the
darkness no human being could have crossed to either shore in safety. To
attempt it would have been madness, and our voyageurs soon came to this
conclusion. They had no other choice than to remain where they were
until the morning; so, seating themselves upon the rock, they prepared
to pass the night.

They sat huddled close together. They could not lie down--there was not
room enough for that. They kept awake most of the night, one or other of
them, overcome by fatigue, occasionally nodding over in a sort of
half-sleep, but awaking again after a few minutes' uncomfortable
dreaming. They talked but little, as the noise of the rushing rapids
rendered conversation painful. To be heard, they were under the
necessity of shouting to one another, like passengers in an omnibus. It
was cold, too. None of them had been much wetted in escaping from the
canoe; but they had saved neither overcoat, blanket, nor buffalo-robe;
and, although it was now late in the spring, the nights near Lake
Winnipeg, even at that season, are chilly. They were above the latitude
of 50°; and although in England, which is on that parallel, it is not
very cold of a spring night, it must be remembered that the line of
equal temperature--in the language of meteorologists the "_isothermal
line_,"--is of a much lower latitude in America than in Europe.

Our voyageurs were chilled to the very bones, and of course glad to see
the daylight glimmering through the tops of the trees that grew upon the
banks of the river. As soon as day broke, they began to consider how
they would reach those trees. Although swimming a river of that width
would have been to any of the four a mere bagatelle, they saw that it
was not to be so easy an affair. Had they been upon either bank, they
could have crossed to the other without difficulty--as they would have
chosen a place where the water was comparatively still. On the rock they
had no choice, as the rapids extended on both sides above and below it.
Between the boulders the current rushed so impetuously, that had they
attempted to swim to either bank, they would have been carried downward,
and perhaps dashed with violence against one or other of the sharp
stones.

As soon as it was light, they saw all this; not without feelings of
apprehension and uneasiness. Their whole attention was now occupied with
the one object--how they should get to the bank of the river.

The right bank was the more distant; but the passage in that direction
appeared the easier one. The current was not so swift, nor yet did it
seem so deep. They thought they might ford it, and Basil made the
attempt; but he soon got beyond his depth; and was obliged, after being
carried off his feet, to swim up under the lee of the rock again.

From the rock to the right bank was about an hundred yards' distance.
Here and there, at irregular intervals, sharp, jagged stones rose above
the surface, some of them projecting three feet or more out of the
water, and looking very much like upright tombstones. Lucien had noticed
these, and expressed the opinion that if they only had a rope, they
might fling it over one of these stones, and then, holding it fast at
the other end, might pass by that means from one to the other.

The suggestion was a good one, but where was the rope to come from? All
their ropes and cords--lassoes and all--had been swept away in the
wreck. Not a string remained, except those that fastened their horns,
flasks, and other accoutrements; and these were only small thongs, and
would be of no use for such a purpose. It would require a rope strong
enough to carry the weight of a man impelled by a rapid current--in
fact, a weight equal to that of several men. They all set to thinking
how this was to be obtained. Each looked at the other, and scanned the
straps and thongs that were around their bodies.

They were satisfied at a glance that these would not be sufficient to
make such a rope as was wanted. They did not give up the hope of being
able to obtain one. They were all of them accustomed to resort to
strange expedients, and a sufficiently strange one now suggested itself.
Basil and Norman seemed to have thought of it at the same time, for both
at once unbuckled their straps, and commenced pulling off their buckskin
hunting-shirts. The others said nothing, as they knew well what they
were going to do with them--they knew they intended cutting them into
strips, and then twisting a rope out of them.

All four set to work together. Lucien and François held the shirts taut,
while Basil and Norman handled the knives, and in a few minutes the rock
was covered with strips of buckskin about two inches wide, by a yard or
so in length. These were next joined and plaited together in such a
manner that a rope was formed nearly forty feet long. An eye was made at
one end, and through this the other end was reeved--so that a running
noose was obtained, in the same manner as the Mexicans and Indians make
their lassoes. The rope was now ready for use, and Basil was the very
hand to use it; for Basil knew how to fling a lasso as well as either
Mexican or Indian. He had practised it often, and had lassoed many a
long-horned bull upon the prairies of Opelousas and the Attakapas. To
Basil, therefore, the rope was given.

He placed himself on the highest part of the rock, having first coiled
the new-made lasso, and hung the coil lightly over his left arm. He then
took the noose-end in his right hand, and commenced winding it around
his head. His companions had laid themselves flat, so as not to be in
the way of the noose as it circled about. After a few turns the rope was
launched forth, and a loud "hurrah!" from François announced that the
throw was successful.

It was so in fact, as the noose was seen settling smoothly over the
jutting-stone, taking full hold upon it. A pull from Basil fixed it; and
in a few minutes it was made quite fast, without the slightest danger of
its slipping off. The other end was then carried round a projecting
point of the rock on which they stood, and knotted firmly, so that the
rope was quite taut, and stretched in a nearly horizontal direction,
about a foot above the surface of the water.

The voyageurs now prepared to cross over. Their guns, pouches, and
flasks were carefully secured, so that the water could not damage them.
Then each took a piece of the buckskin thong, and fastened it round his
waist, leaving enough to form a running loop. This loop was intended to
embrace the rope, and run along it, as they drew themselves forward by
their hands.

Basil passed over first. He was the oldest, and, as he asserted, it was
but right he should run the risk in testing the new-fashioned bridge, of
which he was the architect. It worked admirably, and sustained the
weight of his body, with the whole force of the current acting upon it.
Of course he was swept far down, and the rope was stretched to its full
tension, but he succeeded in handing himself along, until he was able to
touch the second rock, and clamber upon it in safety. During the passage
across he was watched by his companions with emotions of no ordinary
character, but as soon as he had reached the opposite end of the rope
all three uttered a loud and simultaneous cheer. Lucien passed over
next, and after him François. Notwithstanding his danger, François
laughed loudly all the time he was in the water, while his brothers were
not without some fears for his safety. Marengo was next attached to the
rope, and pulled safely over.

Norman was the last to cross upon the buckskin bridge, but, like the
others, he landed in safety; and the four, with the dog, now stood upon
the little isolated boulder where there was just room enough to give
them all a footing.

A difficulty now presented itself, which they had not hitherto thought
of. Another reach of rapid current was to be crossed, before they could
safely trust themselves to enter the water. This they knew before, but
they had also noticed that there was another jutting rock, upon which
they might fling their rope. But the rope itself was now the difficulty.
It was fast at both ends, and how were they to release it from the rock
they had left? One of them could easily cross over again and untie it,
but how was he to get back to the others? Here was a dilemma which had
not presented itself before, and they now saw themselves no better off
than ever. The rapid that remained to be crossed, was as dangerous as
the one they had succeeded in passing. There was no hope that they could
swim it in safety. They would certainly be swept with violence against
the rocks below. There was no chance, then, of their going an inch
farther--unless by some means similar to that they had just used, and
the rope was no longer at their service.

For some time they all stood silent, each considering the matter in his
own way. How could they free the rope?

"It cannot be done," said one.

"Impossible," rejoined another. "We must make a second rope. François's
shirt still remains, and our leggings--we can use them."

This was the mode suggested by François and Norman, and Lucien seemed to
assent to it. They had already commenced untying their leggings, when
Basil uttered the ejaculation--

"Stop!"

"Well, what is it, brother?" asked Lucien.

"I think I can free the rope at the other end. At all events, let me
try. It will not cost much, either in time or trouble."

"How do you mean to do it, brother?"

"Sit close, all of you. Give me room--you shall see presently."

As directed by Basil, they all cowered closely down, so as to occupy as
little space as possible. Basil, having uncovered the lock of his
rifle--which had been carefully bound up in a piece of deer's
bladder--placed himself in a firm position, and appeared as if about to
fire. Such was his intention--for in a few moments he was seen to raise
the gun to his shoulder, and take aim. None of his companions uttered a
word. They had already guessed the object of this movement, and sat
silently awaiting the result.

On the rock which they had left, the rope still bound fast passed around
one of the angles, in such a way that, from the point where Basil stood,
it offered a fair mark. It was at this Basil was aiming. His object was
to cut the thong with his bullet. He could not do it with a single shot,
as the thong was broader than the bullet, but he had calculated that he
might effect his purpose with several. If he did not succeed in cutting
it clean through, the ball flattening upon the rock would, perhaps, tear
the rope in such a manner that, by pulling by the other end, they might
detach it. Such were the calculations and hopes of Basil.

A moment more and the crack of his rifle was heard. At the same instant
the dust rose up from the point at which he had aimed, and several small
fragments flew off into the water. Again was heard François's "hurrah,"
for François, as well as the others, had seen that the rope had been hit
at the right place, and now exhibited a mangled appearance.

While Basil was reloading, Norman took aim and fired. Norman was a good
shot, though perhaps not so good a one as Basil, for that was no easy
matter, as there were few such marksmen to be found anywhere, not even
among the professional trappers and hunters themselves. But Norman was a
fair shot, and this time hit his mark. The thong was evidently better
than half divided by the two bullets. Seeing this, François took hold of
the other end, and gave it a strong jerk or two, but it was still too
much for him, and he ceased pulling and waited the effect of Basil's
second shot.

The later had now reloaded, and, taking deliberate aim again, fired. The
rope was still held taut upon the rock, for part of it dragged in the
current, the force of which kept pressing it hard downward. Scarcely was
the report heard, when the farther end of the thong flew from its
fastening, and, swept by the running water, was seen falling into the
lee of the boulder on which the party now stood. A third time was heard
the voice of François uttering one of his customary "hurrahs." The rope
was now dragged up, and made ready for further use. Basil again took
hold of it; and, after coiling it as before, succeeded in throwing the
noose over the third rock, where it settled and held fast. The other end
was tied as before, and all passed safely to the new station. Here,
however, their labour ended. They found that from this point to the
shore the river was shallow, and fordable; and, leaving the rope where
it was, all four took the water, and waded safely to the bank.



CHAPTER VII

DECOYING THE ANTELOPES


For the present, then, our voyageurs had escaped. They were safe upon
the river's bank; but when we consider the circumstances in which they
were placed, we shall perceive that they were far from being pleasant
ones. They were in the midst of a wilderness, without either horse or
boat to carry them out of it. They had lost everything but their arms
and their axe. The hunting-shirts of some of them, as we have seen, were
destroyed, and they would now suffer from the severe cold that even in
summer, as we have said, often reigns in these latitudes. Not a vessel
was left them for cooking with, and not a morsel of meat or anything was
left to be cooked. For their future subsistence they would have to
depend upon their guns, which, with their ammunition, they had
fortunately preserved.

After reaching the shore, their first thoughts were about procuring
something to eat. They had now been a long time without food, and all
four were hungry enough. As if by one impulse, all cast their eyes
around, and looked upward among the branches of the trees, to see if any
animal could be discovered that might serve them for a meal. Bird or
quadruped, it mattered not, so that it was large enough to give the four
a breakfast. But neither one nor the other was to be seen, although the
woods around had a promising appearance. The trees were large, and as
there was much underwood, consisting of berry-bushes and plants with
edible roots, our voyageurs did not doubt that there would be found game
in abundance. It was agreed, then, that Lucien and François should
remain on the spot and kindle a fire, while Basil and Norman went off in
search of something to be cooked upon it.

In less than an hour the latter returned, carrying an animal upon his
shoulders, which both the boys recognised as an old acquaintance--the
prong-horned antelope, so called from the single fork or prong upon its
horns. Norman called it "a goat," and stated that this was its name
among the fur-traders, while the Canadian voyageurs give it the title of
"cabree." Lucien, However, knew the animal well. He knew it was not of
the goat kind, but a true antelope, and the only animal of that genus
found in North America. Its habitat is the prairie country, and at the
present time it is not found farther east than the prairies extend, not
farther north either, as it is not a creature that can bear extreme
cold.

In early times, however--that is nearly two centuries ago--it must have
ranged nearly to the Atlantic shores, as Father Hennipen in his
_Travels_ speaks of "goats" being killed in the neighbourhood of
Niagara, meaning no other than the prong-horned antelopes. The true wild
goat of America is a very different animal, and is only found in the
remote regions of the Rocky Mountains.

What Norman had shot, then, was an antelope; and the reason why it is
called "cabree" by the voyageurs, and "goat" by the fur-traders, is
partly from its colour resembling that of the common goat, but more from
the fact, that along the upper part of its neck there is a standing
mane, which does in truth give it somewhat the appearance of the
European goat. Another point of resemblance lies in the fact, that the
"prong-horns" emit the same disagreeable odour, which is a well-known
characteristic of the goat species. This proceeds from two small
glandular openings that lie at the angles of the jaws, and appear spots
of a blackish-brown colour.

Both Lucien and François had shot antelopes. They had decoyed them
within range in their former expedition on the prairies, and had seen
wolves do the same. The Indians usually hunt them in this manner, by
holding up some bright-coloured flag, or other curious object, which
rarely fails to bring them within shot; but Norman informed his cousins
that the Indians of the Hudson's Bay Company care little about the
antelope, and rarely think it worth hunting. Its skin is of little value
to them, and they consider its flesh but indifferent eating. But the
chief reason why they take so little notice of it is, because it is
found in the same range, with the buffalo, the moose, and the elk; and,
as all these animals are more valuable to the Indian hunter, he allows
the antelope to go unmolested, unless when he is hard pressed with
hunger, and none of the others are to be had.

While skinning the antelope for breakfast, Norman amused his companions
by relating how he had killed it. He said he had got near enough to
shoot it by practising a "dodge." After travelling through the woods for
some half-mile or so, he had come out into a country of "openings," and
saw that there was a large prairie beyond. He saw that the woods
extended no farther than about a mile from the banks of the river, and
that the whole country beyond was without timber, except in scattered
clumps. This is, in fact, true of the Red River country, particularly
of its western part, from which the great prairies stretch westward even
to the "foot-hills" of the Rocky Mountains.

Well, then, after arriving at the openings, Norman espied a small herd
of antelopes, about ten or a dozen in all. He would rather they had been
something else, as elk or deer; for, like the Indians, he did not much
relish the "goat's" meat. He was too hungry, however, to be nice, and so
he set about trying to get within shot of the herd. There was no cover,
and he knew he could not approach near enough without using some
stratagem. He therefore laid himself flat upon his back, and raised his
heels as high as he could into the air. These he kicked about in such a
manner as soon to attract the attention of the antelopes, that, curious
to make out what it was, commenced running round and round in circles,
of which Norman himself was the centre.

The circles gradually became smaller and smaller, until the hunter saw
that his game was within range; when slyly rolling himself round on one
shoulder, he took aim at a buck, and fired. The buck fell, and the rest
of the herd bounded off like the wind. Norman feeling hungry himself,
and knowing that his companions were suffering from the same cause, lost
no time in looking for other game, but shouldering the "goat," carried
it into camp.

By this time Lucien and François had a fire kindled--a roaring fire of
"pine-knots"--and both were standing by it, smoking all over in their
wet leggings. They had got nearly dry when Norman returned, and they
proceeded to assist in butchering the antelope. The skin was whipped off
in a trice; and the venison, cut into steaks and ribs, was soon spitted
and sputtering cheerily in the blaze of the pine-knots. Everything
looked pleasant and promising, and it only wanted the presence of Basil
to make them all feel quite happy again. Basil, however, did not make
his appearance; and as they were all as hungry as wolves, they could not
wait for him, but set upon the antelope-venison, and made each of them a
hearty meal from it.

As yet they had no apprehensions about Basil. They supposed he had not
met with any game, and was still travelling about in search of it.
Should he succeed in killing any, he would bring it in; and should he
not, he would return in proper time without it. It was still early in
the day.

But several hours passed over and he did not come. It was an unusual
length of time for him to be absent, especially in strange woods of
which he knew nothing; moreover, he was in his shirt sleeves, and the
rest of his clothing had been dripping wet when he set out. Under these
circumstances would he remain so long, unless something unpleasant had
happened to him?

This question the three began to ask one another. They began to grow
uneasy about their absent companion; and as the hours passed on without
his appearing, their uneasiness increased to serious alarm. They at
length resolved to go in search of him. They took different directions,
so that there would be a better chance of finding him. Norman struck out
into the woods, while Lucien and François, followed by the dog Marengo,
kept down the bank--thinking that if Basil had got lost, he would make
for the river to guide him, as night approached. All were to return to
the camp at nightfall whether successful or not.

After several hours spent in traversing the woods and openings, Norman
came back. He had been unable to find any traces of their missing
companion. The others had got back before him. They heard his story with
sorrowing hearts, for neither had they fallen in with the track of
living creature. Basil was lost, beyond a doubt. He would never have
stayed so long, had not some accident happened to him. Perhaps he was
dead--killed by some wild animal--a panther or a bear. Perhaps he had
met with Indians, who had carried him off, or put him to death on the
spot. Such were the painful conjectures of his companions.

It was now night. All three sat mournfully over the fire, their looks
and gestures betokening the deep dejection they felt. Although in need
of repose, none of them attempted to go to sleep. At intervals they
discussed the probability of his return, and then they would remain
silent. Nothing could be done that night. They could only await the
morning light, when they would renew their search, and scour the country
in every direction.

It was near midnight, and they were sitting silently around the fire,
when Marengo started to his feet, and uttered three or four loud barks.
The echoes of these had hardly died among the trees when a shrill
whistle was heard at some distance off in the woods.

"Hurrah!" shouted François, leaping to his feet at the instant; "that's
Basil's whistle, I'll be bound. I'd know it a mile off. Hurrah!"

François' "hurrah!" rang through the woods, and the next moment came
back a loud "Hilloa!" which all recognised as the voice of Basil.

"Hilloa!" shouted the three by the fire.

"Hilloa, my boys! all right!" replied the voice; and a few seconds
after, the tall upright form of Basil himself was seen advancing, under
the glare of the pine-knots. A shout of congratulation was again raised;
and all the party, preceded by Marengo, rushed out to meet the
new-comer. They soon returned, bringing Basil up to the fire, when it
was seen that he had not returned empty-handed. In one hand he carried a
bag of grouse, or "prairie hens," while from the muzzle of his
shouldered rifle there hung something that was at once recognised as a
brace of buffalo tongues.

"_Voilà_!" cried Basil, flinging down the bag, "how are you off for
supper? And here," continued he, pointing to the tongues, "here's a pair
of tit-bits that'll make you lick your lips. Come! let us lose no time
in the cooking, for I'm hungry enough to eat either of them raw."

Basil's request was instantly complied with. The fire was raked up,
spits were speedily procured, a tongue and one of the grouse were
roasted; and although Lucien, François, and Norman, had already supped
on the "goat's meat," they set to upon the new viands with fresh
appetites. Basil was hungrier than any, for he had been all the while
fasting. It was not because he was without meat, but because he knew
that his comrades would be uneasy about him, and he would not stop to
cook it. Of meat he had enough, since he had slain the two buffaloes to
which the tongues had belonged; and these same buffaloes, he now
informed them, had been the cause of his long absence.

Of course, all were eager to know how the buffaloes could have delayed
him; and therefore, while they were discussing their savoury supper,
Basil narrated the details of his day's adventure.



CHAPTER VIII.

A "PARTRIDGE DANCE."


"After leaving here," said Basil, "I struck off through the woods in a
line that led from the river, in a diagonal direction. I hadn't walked
more than three hundred yards, when I heard a drumming sound, which I at
first took to be thunder; but, after listening a while, I knew it was
not that, but the drumming of the ruffed grouse. As soon as I could
ascertain the direction of the sound, I hurried on in that way; but for
a long time I appeared to get no nearer it, so greatly does this sound
deceive one. I should think I walked a full mile before I arrived at the
place where the birds were, for there were many of them. I then had a
full view of them, as they went through their singular performances.

"There were, in all, about a score. They had selected a piece of open
and level ground, and over this they were running in a circle, about
twenty feet in diameter. They did not all run in the same direction, but
met and crossed each other, although they never deviated much from the
circumference of the circle, around which the grass was worn quite bare,
and a ring upon the turf looked baked and black. When I first got near,
they heard my foot among the leaves, and I saw that one and all of them
stopped running, and squatted close down.

"I halted, and hid myself behind a tree. After remaining quiet a minute
or so, the birds began to stretch up their necks, and then all rose
together to their feet, and commenced running round the ring as before.
I knew they were performing what is called the 'Partridge Dance;' and as
I had never witnessed it I held back awhile, and looked on. Even hungry
as I was, and as I knew all of you to be, so odd were the movements of
these creatures, that I could not resist watching them a while, before I
sent my unwelcome messenger into their 'ball-room.'

"Now and then an old cock would separate from the pack, and running out
to some distance, would leap upon a rock that was there; then, after
dropping his wings, flirting with his spread tail, erecting the ruff
upon his neck, and throwing back his head, he would swell and strut upon
the rock, exhibiting himself like a diminutive turkey-cock. After
manoeuvring in this way for a few moments, he would commence flapping his
wings in short quick strokes, which grew more rapid as he proceeded,
until a 'booming' sound was produced, more like the rumble of distant
thunder than anything I can think of.

"This appeared to be a challenge to the others; and then a second would
come out, and, after replying to it by putting himself through a similar
series of attitudes, the two would attack each other, and fight with all
the fury of a pair of game-cocks."

"I could have watched their manoeuvres much longer," continued Basil,
"but hunger got the better of me, and I made ready to fire. Those that
were 'dancing' moved so quickly round the ring that I could not sight
one of them. If I had had a shot gun, I might have covered several, but
with the rifle I could not hope for more than a single bird; so, wanting
to make sure of that, I waited until an old cock mounted the rock, and
got to 'drumming.' Then I sighted him, and sent my bullet through his
crop. I heard the loud whirr of the pack as they rose up from the ring;
and, marking them, I saw that they all alighted only a couple of hundred
yards off, upon a large spruce-tree.

"Hoping they would sit there until I could get another shot, I loaded,
as quickly as possible, and stepped forward. The course I took brought
me past the one I had killed, which I picked up, and thrust hastily into
my bag. Beyond this I had to pass over some logs that lay along the
ground, with level spaces between them. What was my surprise in getting
among these, to see two of the cocks down upon the grass, and fighting
so desperately that they took no notice of my approach! At first I threw
up my rifle, intending to fire, but seeing that the birds were within a
few feet of me, I thought they might let me lay hold of them, which
they, in fact, did; for the next moment I had 'grabbed' both of them,
and cooled their bellicose spirits by wringing their heads off.

"I now proceeded to the pack, that still kept the tree. When near
enough, I sheltered myself behind another tree; and taking aim at one, I
brought him tumbling to the ground. The others sat still. Of course, I
shot the one upon the lowest branch: I knew that, so long as I did this,
the others would sit until I might get the whole of them; but that if I
shot one of the upper ones, its fluttering down through the branches
would alarm the rest, and cause them to fly off. I loaded and fired, and
loaded and fired, until half-a-dozen of the birds lay around the root of
the tree.

"I believe I could have killed the whole pack, but it just then occurred
to me that I was wasting our precious ammunition, and that, considering
the value of powder and shot to us just now, the birds were hardly worth
a load a-piece; so I left off cracking at them. As I stepped forward to
gather what I had killed, the rest whirred away into the woods.

"On reaching the tree where they had perched, I was very much surprised
to find a raw-hide rope neatly coiled up, and hanging from one of the
lower branches. I knew that somebody must have placed it there, and I
looked round to see what "sign" there was besides. My eye fell upon the
cinders of an old fire near the foot of the tree; and I could tell that
some Indians had made their camp by it. It must have been a good while
ago, as the ashes were beaten into the ground by the rain, and,
moreover, some young plants were springing up through them. I concluded,
therefore, that whoever had camped there had hung the rope upon the
tree, and on leaving the place had forgotten it.

"I took the rope down to examine it: it was no other than a lasso, full
fifty feet long, with an iron ring neatly whipped into the loop-end;
and, on trying it with a pull, I saw it was in the best condition. Of
course, I was not likely to leave such a prize behind me. I had grown,
as you may all conceive, to have a very great regard for a rope,
considering that one had just saved all our lives; so I resolved on
bringing the lasso with me. In order to carry it the more conveniently,
I coiled it, and then hung the coil across my shoulders like a belt. I
next packed my game into the bag, which they filled chock up to the
mouth, and was turning to come back to camp, when my eye fell upon an
object that caused me suddenly to change my intention.

"I was near the edge of the woods, and through the trunks I could see a
large open space beyond, where there were no trees, or only one here and
there. In the middle of this opening there was a cloud of dust, and in
the thick of it I could see two great dark animals in motion. They were
running about, and now and then coming together with a sudden rush; and
every time they did so, I could hear a loud thump, like the stroke of a
sledge-hammer. The sun was shining upon the yellow dust-cloud, and the
animals appeared from this circumstance to be of immense size--much
larger than they really were. Had I not known what kind of creatures
were before me, I should have believed that the mammoths were still in
existence. But I knew well what they were: I had seen many before,
carrying on just such a game. I knew they were buffalo bulls, engaged in
one of their terrible battles.

"Here Basil's narrative was interrupted by a singular incident. Indeed,
it had been interrupted more than once by strange noises that were heard
at some distance off in the woods. These noises were not all alike: at
one time they resembled the barking of a cur dog; at another, they might
have been mistaken for the gurglings of a person who was being hanged;
and then would follow a shriek so dreadful that for some time the woods
would echo with its dismal sound! After the shriek a laugh would be
heard, but a miserable "haw-haw-haw!" unlike the laugh of a sane person.

"All these strange voices were calculated to inspire terror, and so have
they many a time, with travellers not accustomed to the solitary woods
of America. But our young voyageurs were not at all alarmed by them.
They knew from what sort of a creature they proceeded; they knew they
were the varying notes of the great horned-owl; and as they had seen and
heard many a one before, they paid no heed to this individual.

"While Basil was going on with his relation, the bird had been several
times seen to glide past, and circle around upon his noiseless pinions.
So easy was his flight, that the slightest inclining of his spread tail,
or the bending of his broad wing, seemed sufficient to turn and carry
him in any direction. Nothing could be more graceful than his flight,
which was not unlike that of the eagle, while he was but little inferior
in size to one of these noble birds.

"What interrupted Basil was, that the owl had alighted upon a branch not
twenty feet from where they were all sitting round the fire, by the
blaze of which they now had a full view of this singular creature. The
moment it alighted, it commenced uttering its hideous and unmusical
cries, at the same time going through such a variety of contortions,
both with its head and body, as to cause the whole party a fit of
laughter. It was, in fact, an odd and interesting sight to witness its
grotesque movements, as it turned first its body, and then its head
around, without moving the shoulders, while its great honey-coloured
eyes glared in the light of the fire. At the end of every attitude and
utterance, it would snap its bill with such violence, that the cracking
of the mandibles upon each other might have been heard to the distance
of several hundred yards.

"This was too much for François' patience to bear, and he immediately
crept to his gun. He had got hold of the piece, and cocked it; but, just
as he was about to take aim, the owl dropped silently down from the
branch, and, gliding gently forward, thrust out its feathered leg, and
lifted one of the grouse in its talons. The latter had been lying upon
the top of a fallen tree not six feet from the fire! The owl, after
clutching it, rose into the air; and the next moment would have been
lost in darkness, but the crack of François' rifle put a sudden stop to
its flight, and with the grouse still clinging to its claws it fell
fluttering to the earth. Marengo jumped forward to seize it; but Marengo
little knew the sort of creature he had to deal with."

It happened to be only "winged," and as soon as the dog came near, it
threw itself upon its back, and struck at him with its talons so
wickedly, that he was fain to approach it with more caution. It cost
Marengo a considerable fight before he succeeded in getting his jaws
over it. During the contest it continually snapped its bill, while its
great goggle eyes kept alternately and quickly opening and closing, and
the feathers being erected all over its body, gave it the appearance of
being twice its real size. Marengo at length succeeded in "crunching"
it--although not until he was well scratched about the snout--and its
useless carcass having been thrown upon the ground, the dog continued to
worry and chew at it, while Basil went on with his narration.



CHAPTER IX.

BASIL AND THE BISON-BULL.


"As soon as I saw the buffaloes," continued Basil, "my first thought was
to get near, and have a shot at them. _They_ were worth a charge of
powder and lead, and I reflected that if I could kill but one of them,
it would ensure us against hunger for a couple of weeks to come. So I
hung my game-bag to the branch of a tree, and set about approaching
them. I saw that the wind was in my favour, and there was no danger of
their scenting me. But there was no cover near them--the ground was as
level as a table, and there was not a score of trees upon as many acres.
It was no use crawling up, and I did not attempt it, but walked straight
forward, treading lightly as I went. In five minutes, I found myself
within good shooting range. Neither of the bulls had noticed me. They
were too busy with one another, and in all my life I never saw two
creatures fighting in such earnest. They were foaming at the mouth, and
the steam poured out of their nostrils incessantly."

At times, they would back from each other like a pair of rams, and then
rush together head-foremost, until their skulls cracked with the
terrible collision. One would have fancied that they would break them at
every fresh encounter, but I knew the thickness of a buffalo's skull
before that time. I remember having fired a musket at one that stood
fronting me not more than six feet distant, when, to my surprise, the
bullet flattened and fell to the ground before the nose of the buffalo!
The creature was not less astonished than myself, as up to that time it
had not seen me.

"Well," continued Basil after a pause, "I did not stop long to watch the
battle of the bison-bulls. I was not curious about that. I had seen
such many a time. I was thinking about the meat; and I paused just long
enough to select the one that appeared to have the most fat upon his
flanks, when I drew up my rifle and fired. I aimed for the heart, and my
aim was a true one, for the animal came to its knees along with the
crack. Just at that moment the other was charging upon it, and, to my
surprise, it continued to run on, until striking the wounded one full
butt upon the forehead, it knocked the latter right over upon its side;
where, after giving half-a-dozen kicks, it lay quite dead.

"The remaining bull had dashed some paces beyond the spot, and now
turned round again to renew his attack. On seeing his antagonist
stretched out and motionless, he seemed to be as much astonished as I
was. At first, no doubt, he fancied himself the author of a grand
_coup_, for it was plain that up to this time he had neither noticed my
presence, nor the report of the rifle. The bellowing noise that both
were making had drowned the latter; and the dust, together with the long
shaggy tufts that hung over his eyes, had prevented him from seeing
anything more than his rival, with whom he was engaged.

"Now that the other was no longer able to stand before him, and thinking
it was himself that had done the deed, he tossed up his head and snorted
in triumph. At this moment, the matted hair was thrown back from his
eyes, and the dust having somewhat settled away, he sighted me, where I
stood reloading my gun. I fancied he would take off before I could
finish, and I made all the haste in my power--so much so that I dropped
the box of caps at my feet. I had taken one out, however, and hurriedly
adjusted it, thinking to myself, as I did so, that the box might lie
where it was until I had finished the job.

"I brought the piece to my shoulder, when, to my surprise, the bull,
instead of running away, as I had expected, set his head, and uttering
one of his terrible bellows, came rushing towards me. I fired, but the
shot was a random one, and though it hit him in the snout, it did not in
the least disable him. Instead of keeping him off, it only seemed to
irritate him the more, and his fury was now at its height.

"I had no time to load again. He was within a few feet of me when I
fired, and it was with difficulty that, by leaping to one side, I
avoided his horns; but I did so, and he passed me with such violence
that I felt the ground shake under his heavy tread.

"He wheeled immediately, and made at me a second time. I knew that if he
once touched me I was gone. His horns were set, and his eyes glared with
a terrible earnestness. I rushed towards the body of the buffalo that
lay near, hoping that this might assist me in avoiding the onset. It did
so, for, as he dashed forward over it, he became entangled among the
limbs, and again charged without striking me. He turned, however, as
quick as thought, and again rushed bellowing upon me. There was a tree
near at hand. I had noticed it before, but I could not tell whether I
should have time to reach it. I was now somewhat nearer it, and, fearing
that I might not be able to dodge the furious brute any longer upon the
ground, I struck out for the tree.

"You may be sure I did my best at running. I heard the bull coming
after, but before he could overtake me, I had got to the root of the
tree. It was my intention, at first, only to take shelter behind the
trunk; but when I had got there, I noticed that there were some low
branches, and catching one of these I swung myself up among them.

[Illustration: BASIL AND THE BISON-BULL.]

"The bull passed under me with a rush--almost touching my feet as I hung
by the branch--but I was soon safely lodged in a fork, and out of his
reach.

"My next thought was to load my gun, and fire at him from my perch,
and, with this intention, I commenced loading. I had no fear but that he
would give me an opportunity, for he kept round the tree, and at times
attacked the trunk, butting and goring it with his horns, and all the
while bellowing furiously. The tree was a small one, and it shook so,
that I began to fear it might break down. I therefore made all the haste
I could to get in the load, expecting soon to put an end to his attacks.

"I succeeded at length in ramming down the bullet, and was just turning
the gun to put on a cap, when I recollected that the cap-box was still
lying on the ground where it had fallen! The sudden attack of the animal
had prevented me from taking it up. My caps were all within that box,
and my gun, loaded though it was, was as useless in my hands as a bar of
iron. To get at the caps would be quite impossible. I dared not descend
from the tree. The infuriated bull still kept pacing under it, now going
round and round, and occasionally stopping for a moment and looking
angrily up.

"My situation was anything but a pleasant one. I began to fear that I
might not be permitted to escape at all. The bull seemed to be most
pertinacious in vengeance. I could have shot him in the back, or the
neck, or where I liked, if I had only one cap. He was within three feet
of the muzzle of my rifle; but what of that when I could not get the gun
to go off? After a while I thought of making some tinder paper, and then
trying to 'touch off' the piece with it, but a far better plan at that
moment came into my head. While I was fumbling about my bullet-pouch to
get at my flint and steel, of course my fingers came into contact with
the lasso, which was still hanging around my shoulders. It was this that
suggested my plan, which was no other than to _lasso the bull, and tie
him to the tree_!

"I lost no time in carrying it into execution. I uncoiled the rope, and
first made one end fast to the trunk. The other was the loop-end, and
reeving it through the ring, I held it in my right hand while I leaned
over and watched my opportunity. It was not long before a good one
offered. The bull still continued his angry demonstrations below, and
passed round and round. It was no new thing for me to fling a lasso, and
at the first pitch I had the satisfaction of seeing the noose pass over
the bison's head, and settle in a proper position behind his horns. I
then gave it a twitch, so as to tighten it, and after that I ran the
rope over a branch, and thus getting 'a purchase' upon it, I pulled it
with all my might.

"As soon as the bull felt the strange cravat around his neck, he began
to plunge and 'rout' with violence, and at length ran furiously out from
the tree. But he soon came to the end of his tether; and the quick jerk,
which caused the tree itself to crack, brought him to his haunches,
while the noose tightening on his throat was fast strangling him. But
for the thick matted hair it would have done so, but this saved him, and
he continued to sprawl and struggle at the end of the rope. The tree
kept on cracking, and as I began to fear that it might give way and
precipitate me to the ground, I thought it better to slip down. I ran
direct to where I had dropped the caps; and, having got hold of the box,
I soon had one upon my gun. I then stole cautiously back, and while the
bison was hanging himself as fast as he could, I brought his struggles
to a period by sending a bullet through his ribs.

"As it was quite night when I had finished the business, of course I
could not stay to butcher the bulls. I knew that you would be wondering
what kept me, so I cut out the tongues, and coming by the place where I
had left the grouse, brought them along. I left a 'scare-wolf' over both
the bulls, however, and I guess we'll find them all right in the
morning."

Basil having finished the narration of his day's adventures, fresh fuel
was heaped on the embers, and a huge fire was built--one that would last
until morning. This was necessary, as none of them had now either
blankets or bedding. Basil himself and Norman were even in their
shirt-sleeves, and of course their only chance for keeping warmth in
their bodies would be to keep up a roaring fire all the night. This they
did, and all four laying themselves close together, slept soundly
enough.



CHAPTER X.

THREE CURIOUS TREES.


Next morning they were awake at an early hour. There was still enough of
the tongues and grouse left, along with some ribs of the antelope, to
breakfast the party; and then all four set out to bring the flesh of
Basil's buffaloes into camp. This they accomplished, after making
several journeys. It was their intention to dry the meat over the fire,
so that it might keep for future use. For this purpose the flesh was
removed from the bones, and after being cut into thin slices and strips,
was hung up on poles at some distance from the blaze. Nothing more could
be done, but wait until it became sufficiently parched by the heat.

While this process was going on our voyageurs collected around the fire,
and entered into a consultation about what was best to be done. At first
they thought of going back to the Red River settlement, and obtaining
another canoe, as well as a fresh stock of provisions and implements.
But they all believed that getting back would be a toilsome and
difficult matter. There was a large lake and several extensive marshes
on the route, and these would have to be got round, making the journey a
very long one indeed. It would take them days to perform it on foot, and
nothing is more discouraging on a journey than to be forced by some
accident to what is called "taking the back-track."

All of them acknowledged this, but what else could they do? It is true
there was a post of the Hudson's Bay Company at the northern end of Lake
Winnipeg. This post was called Norway House. How were they to reach that
afoot? To walk around the borders of the lake would be a distance of
more than four hundred miles. There would be numerous rivers to cross,
as well as swamps and pathless forests to be threaded. Such a journey
would occupy a month or more, and at Norway House they would still be as
it were only at the beginning of the great journey on which they had set
out. Moreover, Norway House lay entirely out of their way. Cumberland
House--another trading-post upon the River Saskatchewan--was the next
point where they had intended to rest themselves, after leaving the Red
River settlements. To reach Cumberland House _afoot_ would be equally
difficult, as it, too, lay at the distance of hundreds of miles, with
lakes, and rivers, and marshes, intervening. What, then, could they do?

"Let us _not_ go back," cried François, ever ready with a bold advice:
"let us make a boat, and keep on, say I."

"Ha! François," rejoined Basil, "it's easy to say 'make a boat;' how is
that to be done, I pray?"

"Why, what's to hinder us to hew a log, and make a dug-out? We have
still got the axe, and two hatchets left."

Norman asked what François meant by a dug-out. The phrase was new to
him.

"A canoe," replied François, "hollowed out of a tree. They are sometimes
called 'dug-outs' on the Mississippi, especially when they are roughly
made. One of them, I think, would carry all four of us well enough.
Don't you think so, Luce?"

"Why, yes," answered the student; "a large one might: but I fear there
are no trees about here of sufficient size. We are not among the great
timber of the Mississippi bottom, you must remember."

"How large a tree would it require?" asked Norman, who knew but little
of this kind of craft.

"Three feet in diameter, at least," replied Lucien; "and it should be of
that thickness for a length of nearly twenty feet. A less one would not
carry four of us."

"Then I am sure enough," responded Norman, "that we won't find such
timber here. I have seen no tree of that size either yesterday, or while
we were out this morning."

"Nor I," added Basil.

"I don't believe there's one," said Lucien.

"If we were in Louisiana," rejoined François, "I could find fifty
canoe-trees by walking as many yards. Why I never saw such insignificant
timber as this here."

"You'll see smaller timber than this Cousin Frank, before we reach the
end of our voyage."

This remark was made by Norman, who knew that, as they proceeded
northward, the trees would be found decreasing in size until they would
appear like garden shrubbery.

"But come," continued he, "if we can't build a craft to carry us from
_one_ tree, perhaps we can do it out of _three_."

"With three!" echoed François. "I should like to see a canoe made from
three trees! Is it a raft you mean, Cousin Norman?"

"No," responded the other; "a canoe, and one that will serve us for the
rest of our voyage."

All three--Basil, Lucien, and François--looked to their cousin for an
explanation.

"You would rather not go back up the river?" he inquired, glancing from
one to the other.

"We wish to go on--all of us," answered Basil, speaking for his brothers
as well.

"Very well," assented the young fur-trader; "I think it is better as you
wish it. Out of these trees I can build a boat that will carry us. It
will take us some days to do it, and some time to find the timber, but I
am tolerably certain it is to be found in these woods. To do the job
properly I want three kinds; two of them I can see from where I sit; the
third I expect will be got in the hills we saw this morning."

As Norman spoke he pointed to two trees that grew among many others not
far from the spot. These trees were of very different kinds, as was
easily told by their leaves and bark. The nearer and more conspicuous of
them at once excited the curiosity of the three Southerners. Lucien
recognised it from its botanical description. Even Basil and François,
though they had never seen it, as it is not to be found in the hot clime
of Louisiana, knew it from the accounts given of it by travellers. The
tree was the celebrated "canoe-birch," or as Lucien named it,
"paper-birch," celebrated as the tree out of whose bark those beautiful
canoes are made that carry thousands of Indians over the interior lakes
and rivers of North America; out of whose bark whole tribes of these
people fashion their bowls, their pails, and their baskets; with which
they cover their tents, and from which they even make their soup-kettles
and boiling-pots! This, then, was the canoe birch-tree, so much talked
of, and so valuable to the poor Indians who inhabit the cold regions
where it grows.

Our young Southerners contemplated the tree with feelings of interest
and curiosity. They saw that it was about sixty feet high, and somewhat
more than a foot in diameter. Its leaves were nearly cordate, or
heart-shaped, and of a very dark-green colour; but that which rendered
it most conspicuous among the other trees of the forest was the shining
white or silver-coloured bark that covered its trunk, and its numerous
slender branches. This bark is only white externally. When you have cut
through the epidermis you find it of a reddish tinge, very thick, and
capable of being divided into several layers. The wood of the tree makes
excellent fuel, and is also often used for articles of furniture. It has
a close, shining grain, and is strong enough for ordinary implements;
but if exposed to the weather will decay rapidly.

The "canoe-birch" is not the only species of these trees found in North
America. The genus _Betula_ (so called from the Celtic word _batu_,
which means birch) has at least half-a-dozen other known representatives
in these parts. There is the "white birch," a worthless tree of some
twenty feet in height, and less than six inches diameter. The bark of
this species is useless, and its wood, which is soft and white, is unfit
even for fuel. It grows, however, in the poorest soil. Next there is a
species called the "cherry-birch," so named from the resemblance of its
bark to the common cherry-tree. It is also called "sweet birch," because
its young twigs, when crushed, give out a pleasant aromatic odour.
Sometimes the name of "black birch," is given to this species. It is a
tree of fifty or sixty feet in height, and its wood is much used in
cabinet-work, as it is close-grained, of a beautiful reddish colour, and
susceptible of a high polish.

The information regarding the birches of America was given by Lucien to
his brothers, not at that time, but shortly afterward, when the three
were engaged in felling one of these trees. Just then other matters
occupied them, and they had only glanced, first at the canoe-birch and
then at the other tree which Norman had pointed out. The latter was of a
different genus. It belonged to the order _Coniferæ_, or cone-bearing
trees, as was evident from the cone-shaped fruits that hung upon its
branches, as well as from its needle-like evergreen leaves.

The cone-bearing trees of America are divided by botanists into three
great sub-orders--the _Pines_, the _Cypresses_ and the _Yews_. Each of
these includes several genera. By the "pine tribe" is meant all those
trees known commonly by the names pine, spruce, fir, and larch: while
the _Cupressinæ_, or cypress tribe, are the cypress proper, the cedars,
the arbor-vitæ, and the junipers. The yew tribe has fewer genera or
species; but the trees in America known as yews and hemlocks--of which
there are several varieties--belong to it.

The pines cannot be termed trees of the tropics, yet do they grow in
southern and warm countries. In the Carolinas, tar and turpentine,
products of the pine, are two staple articles of exportation; and even
under the equator itself, the high mountains are covered with
pine-forests. But the pine is more especially the tree of a northern
_sylva_. As you approach the Arctic circle, it becomes the
characteristic tree. Then it appears in extensive forests, lending their
picturesque shelter to the snowy desolation of the earth. One species of
pine is the very last tree that disappears as the traveller, in
approaching the pole, takes his leave of the limits of vegetation. This
species is the "white spruce" the very one which, along with the
birch-tree, had been pointed out by Norman to his companions.

It was a tree not over thirty or forty feet high, with a trunk of less
than a foot in thickness, and of a brownish colour. Its leaves or
"needles" were about an inch in length, very slender and acute, and of a
bluish green tint. The cones upon it, which at that season were young
were of a pale green. When ripe, however, they become rusty-brown, and
are nearly two inches in length.

What use Norman would make of this tree in building his canoe, neither
Basil nor François knew. Lucien only guessed at it. François asked the
question, by saying that he supposed the "timbers" were to come out of
it.

"No," said Norman, "for that I want still another sort. If I can't find
that sort, however, I can manage to do without it, but not so well."

"What other sort?" demanded François.

"I want some cedar-wood," replied the other.

"Ah! that's for the timbers," said François; "I am sure of it. The
cedar-wood is lighter than any other, and, I dare say, would answer
admirably for ribs and other timbers."

"You are right this time, Frank--it is considered the best for that
purpose."

"You think there are cedar-trees on the hills we saw this morning?" said
François, addressing his Canadian cousin.

"I think so. I noticed something like them."

"And I, too, observed a dark foliage," said Lucien, "which looked like
the cedar. If anywhere in this neighbourhood, we shall find them there.
They usually grow upon rocky, sterile hills, such as those appear to
be--that is their proper situation."

"The question," remarked Basil, "ought to be settled at once. We have
made up our mind to the building of a canoe, and I think we should lose
no time in getting ready the materials. Suppose we all set out for the
hills."

"Agreed--agreed!" shouted the others with one voice; and then
shouldering their guns, and taking the axe along, all four set out for
the hills. On reaching these, the object of their search was at once
discovered. The tops of all the hills--dry, barren ridges they
were--were covered with a thick grove of the red cedar. The trees were
easily distinguished by the numerous branches spreading horizontally,
and thickly covered with short dark green needles, giving them that
sombre, shady appearance, that makes them the favourite haunt of many
species of owls. Their beautiful reddish wood was well known to all the
party, as it is to almost every one in the civilized world. Everybody
who has seen or used a black-lead pencil must know what the wood of the
red cedar is like--for it is in this the black-lead is usually incased.
In all parts of America, where this tree grows in plenty, it is employed
for posts and fence-rails, as it is one of the most durable woods in
existence. It is a great favourite also for kindling fires, as it
catches quickly, and blazes up in a few seconds, so as to ignite the
heavier logs of other timbers, such as the oak and the pine.

"Now," said Norman, after examining a few of the cedar-trees, "we have
here all that's wanted to make our canoe. We need lose no more time, but
go to work at once."

"Very well," replied the three brothers, "we are ready to assist
you,--tell us what to do."

"In the first place," said the other, "I think we had better change our
camp to this spot, as I see all the different kinds of trees here, and
much better ones than those near the river. There," continued he,
pointing to a piece of moist ground in the valley,--"there are some
splendid birches, and there beside them is plenty of the _épinette_" (so
the voyageurs term the white spruce). "It will save us many journeys if
we go back and bring our meat to this place at once."

To this they all of course agreed, and started back to their first camp.
They soon returned with the meat and other things, and having chosen a
clean spot under a large-spreading cedar-tree, they kindled a new fire
and made their camp by it--that is, they strung up the provisions, hung
their horns and pouches upon the branches around, and rested their guns
against the trees. They had no tent to pitch, but that is not necessary
to constitute a camp. In the phraseology of the American hunter,
wherever you kindle your fire or spend the night is a "camp."



CHAPTER XI.

HOW TO BUILD A BARK CANOE.


Norman expected that they would be able to finish the canoe in about a
week. Of course, the sooner the better, and no time was lost in setting
about it. The ribs or "timbers" were the first thing to be fashioned,
and a number of straight branches of cedar were cut, out of which they
were to be made. These branches were cleared of twigs, and rendered of
an equal thickness at both ends. They were then flattened with the
knife; and, by means of a little sweating in the ashes, were bent so as
to bear some resemblance in shape to the wooden ox-yokes commonly used
in America, or indeed to the letter U.

The ribs when thus bent were not all of the same width. On the contrary,
those which were intended to be placed near the middle or gangway of the
vessel, were about two feet across from side to side, while the space
between the sides of the others was gradually less in each fresh pair,
according as their position was to be near to the stem and stern. When
the whole of them had been forced into the proper shape, they were
placed, one inside the other after the manner of dishes, and then all
were firmly lashed together, and left to dry. When the lashing should be
removed, they would hold to the form thus given them, and would be ready
for fastening to the kelson.

While Norman was occupied with the timbers the others were not idle.
Basil had cut down several of the largest and straightest birches, and
Lucien employed himself in carefully removing the bark and cleansing it
of nodules and other inequalities. The broad sheets were suspended by a
smoke fire, so as completely to dry up the sap, and render it tough and
elastic. François had his part to play, and that was to collect the
resinous gum which was distilled in plenty from the trunks of the
épinette or spruce-trees.

This gum is a species of pitch, and is one of the most necessary
materials in the making of a bark canoe. It is used for "paying" the
seams, as well as any cracks that may show themselves in the bark
itself; and without it, or some similar substance, it would be difficult
to make one of these little vessels water-tight. But that is not the
only thing for which the épinette is valued in canoe-building; far from
it. This tree produces another indispensable material; its long fibrous
roots when split, form the twine-like threads by which the pieces of
bark are sewed to each other and fastened to the timbers. These threads
are as strong as the best cords of hemp, and are known among the Indians
by the name of "watap."

In a country, therefore, where hemp and flax cannot be readily procured,
the "watap" is of great value. You may say that deer are plenty, and
that thongs of buckskin would serve the same purpose. This, however, is
not the case. The buckskin would never do for such a use. The moment it
becomes wet it is liable to stretch, so that the seams would open and
the canoe get filled with water. The watap, wet or dry, does not yield,
and has therefore been found to be the best thing of all others for this
purpose.

The only parts now wanted were the gunwale and the bottom. The former
was easily obtained. Two long poles, each twenty feet in length, were
bent somewhat like a pair of bows, and then placed with their convex
sides towards each other, and firmly lashed together at the ends. This
was the gunwale. The bottom was the most difficult part of all. For that
a solid plank was required, and they had no saw. The axe and the
hatchet, however, were called into requisition, and a log was soon hewn
and thinned down to the proper dimensions. It was sharpened off at the
ends, so as to run to a very acute angle, both at the stem and stern.

When the bottom was considered sufficiently polished, and modelled to
the right shape, the most difficult part of the undertaking was supposed
to be accomplished. A few long poles were cut and trimmed flat. These
were to be laid longitudinally between the ribs and the bark, somewhat
after the fashion of laths in the roofing of a house. Their use was to
prevent the bark from splitting. The materials were now all obtained
complete, and, with a few days' smoking and drying, would be ready for
putting together.

While waiting for the timbers to dry, paddles were made, and Norman,
with the help of the others, prepared what he jokingly called his
"dock," and also his "ship-yard." This was neither more nor less than a
long mound of earth--not unlike a new-made grave, only three times the
length of one, or even longer. It was flat upon the top, and graded
with earth so as to be quite level and free from inequalities.

At length all the materials were considered quite ready for use, and
Norman went to work to put them together.

His first operation was to untie the bundle of timbers, and separate
them. They were found to have taken the exact form into which they had
been bent, and the thongs being no longer necessary to keep them in
place, were removed. The timbers themselves were next placed upon the
bottom or kelson, those with the widest bottoms being nearer to
"midships," while those with the narrower bend were set towards the
narrower ends of the plank. Thus placed, they were all firmly lashed
with strong cords of watap, by means of holes pierced in the bottom
plank.

Fortunately Lucien happened to have a pocket-knife, in which there was a
good awl or piercer, that enabled them to make these holes--else the
matter would have been a much more difficult one, as an awl is one of
the most essential tools in the construction of a bark canoe. Of course
it took Norman a considerable time to set all the ribs in their proper
places, and fasten them securely; but he was ably assisted by François,
who waited upon him with much diligence, handing him now the awl, and
then the watap, whenever he required them.

Norman's next operation was the laying of his kelson "in dock." The
timbers being attached to it, it was lifted up on the earthen mound,
where it reached quite from end to end. Half-a-dozen large heavy stones
were then placed upon it, so that, pressed down by these upon the even
surface of the mould, it was rendered quite firm; and, moreover, was of
such a height from the ground that the young shipwright could work upon
it without too much bending and kneeling.

The gunwale, already prepared, was next placed so as to touch the ends
of the ribs all round, and these ends were adjusted to it with great
nicety, and firmly joined. Strong cross-pieces were fixed, which were
designed, not only to keep the gunwale from spreading or contracting,
but afterwards to serve as seats.

Of course the gunwale formed the complete mouth, or upper edge of the
canoe. It was several feet longer than the bottom plank, and, when in
place, projected beyond the ribs at both ends. From each end of the
bottom plank, therefore, to the corresponding end of the gunwale, a
straight piece of wood was stretched, and fastened. One of these pieces
would form the stem or cutwater, while the other would become the stern
of the craft. The long poles were next laid longitudinally upon the ribs
outside, and lashed in their places; and this done, the skeleton was
completed, ready for the bark.

The latter had been already cut to the proper dimensions and shape. It
consisted of oblong pieces--each piece being a regular parallelogram, as
it had been stripped from the tree. These were laid upon the ribs
longitudinally, and then sewed to the edge of the bottom plank, and also
to the gunwale. The bark itself was in such broad pieces that two of
them were sufficient to cover half a side, so that but one seam was
required lengthwise, in addition to the fastenings at the top and
bottom. Two lengths of the bark also reached cleverly from stem to
stern, and thus required only one transverse seam on each side. There
was an advantage in this arrangement, for where the birch-bark can only
be obtained in small flakes, a great number of seams is a necessary
consequence, and then it is extremely difficult to keep the canoe from
leaking. Thanks to the fine birch-trees, that grew in abundance around,
our boat-builders had procured the very best bark.

The canoe was now completed all but the "paying," and that would not
take long to do. The gum of the épinette had to be boiled, and mixed
with a little grease, so as to form a species of wax. For this the fat
already obtained from the buffaloes was the very thing; and a small tin
cup which Basil had saved from the wreck (it had been strung to his
bullet-pouch), enabled them to melt the gum, and apply it hot. In less
than an hour the thing was done. Every crack and awl-hole was payed, and
the canoe was pronounced "water-tight," and, as François added, with a
laugh, "seaworthy."

A small pond was near, at the bottom of the hill: François espied it.

"Come, boys," cried he, "a launch! a launch!"

This was agreed to by all. The great stones were taken out. Basil and
Norman, going one to the stem the other to the stern, lifted the canoe
from the "dock," and, raising it upon their shoulders, carried it down
to the pond. The next moment it was pushed into the water, where it
floated like a cork. A loud cheer was given, in which even Marengo
joined; and a salute was then fired--a full broadside--from the four
guns. François, to complete the thing, seized one of the paddles, and
leaping into the canoe, shot the little craft out upon the bosom of the
pond, cheering all the while like one frantic.

After amusing himself for some minutes, he paddled back to the shore,
when they all looked eagerly into the canoe, and perceived to their
gratification that not as much as a drop of water had leaked during the
"trip." Thanks and congratulations now greeted Norman from every side;
and, taking their vessel from the water, the young voyageurs returned to
their camp, to regale themselves with a grand dinner, which Lucien had
cooked for the occasion.



CHAPTER XII

THE CHAIN OF LAKES


Our young voyageurs now prepared to resume their journey. While Norman
was engaged in building his canoe, with his assistant, François, the
others had not been idle. Basil was, of course, the hunter of the party;
and, in addition to the small game, such as hares, geese, and grouse, he
had killed three caribou, of the large variety known as "woodland
caribou." These are a species of the reindeer of which I have more to
say hereafter. Lucien had attended to the drying of their flesh; and
there was enough of it still left, as our voyageurs believed, to supply
their wants until they should reach Cumberland House, where they would,
of course, procure a fresh stock of provisions. The skins of the caribou
had also been scraped and dressed by Lucien--who understood the process
well--and these, with the skin of the antelope, were sufficient to make
a pair of hunting-shirts for Basil and Norman, who, it will be
remembered, had lost theirs by cutting them up.

Next morning the canoe was launched upon the river--below the
rapids--and the dried meat, with their other matters, snugly stowed in
the stern. Then the young voyageurs got in, and, seating themselves in
their places, seized hold of the paddles. The next moment the canoe shot
out into the stream; and a triumphant cheer from the crew announced that
they had recommenced their journey. They found to their delight that the
little vessel behaved admirably--shooting through the water like an
arrow, and leaking not water enough, as François expressed it, "to drown
a mosquito."

They had all taken their seats in the order which had been agreed upon
for the day. Norman was "bowsman," and, of course, sat in the bow. This,
among the regular Canadian voyageurs, is esteemed the post of honour,
and the bowsman is usually styled "Captain" by the rest of the crew. It
is also the post that requires the greatest amount of skill on the part
of its occupant, particularly where there are rapids or shoals to be
avoided. The post of "steersman" is also one of honour and importance;
and both steersman and bowsman receive higher wages than the other
voyageurs who pass under the name of "middlemen." The steersman sits in
the stern, and that place was now occupied by Lucien, who had proved
himself an excellent steersman. Basil and François were, of course, the
"middlemen," and plied the paddles.

This was the arrangement made for the day; but although on other days
the programme was to be changed, so as to relieve Basil and François, on
all occasions when there were rapids or other difficulties to be
encountered they were to return to this order. Norman, of course,
understood canoe navigation better than his Southern cousins; and
therefore, by universal assent, he was acknowledged "the Captain," and
François always addressed him as such. Lucien's claim to the post of
second honour was admitted to be just, as he had proved himself capable
of filling it to the satisfaction of all. Marengo had no post, but lay
quietly upon the buffalo skin between Lucien's legs, and listened to the
conversation without joining in it, or in any way interfering in the
working of the vessel.

In a few hours our voyageurs had passed through the low marshy country
that lies around the mouth of the Red River, and the white expanse of
the great Lake Winnipeg opened before them, stretching northward far
beyond the range of their vision. Norman knew the lake, having crossed
it before, but its aspect somewhat disappointed the Southern travellers.
Instead of a vast dark lake which they had expected to see, they looked
upon a whitish muddy sheet, that presented but few attractive points to
the eye, either in the hue of its water or the scenery of its shores.

These, so far as they could see them, were low, and apparently marshy;
and this is, in fact, the character of the southern shores of Winnipeg.
On its east and north, however, the country is of a different character.
There the geological formation is what is termed _primitive_. The rocks
consist of granite, sienite, gneiss, &c.; and, as is always the case
where such rocks are found, the country is hilly and rugged. On the
western shores a _secondary_ formation exists. This is _stratified
limestone_--the same as that which forms the bed of many of the great
prairies of America; and, indeed, the Lake Winnipeg lies between this
secondary formation and the primitive, which bounds it on the east.
Along its western shores extends the flat limestone country, partly
wooded and partly prairie land, running from that point for hundreds of
miles up to the very foot of the Rocky Mountains, where the primitive
rocks again make their appearance in the rugged peaks of that stupendous
chain.

Lake Winnipeg is nearly three hundred miles in length, but it is very
narrow--being in its widest reach not over fifty miles, and in many
places only fifteen miles from shore to shore. It trends nearly due
north and south, leaning a little north-west and south-east, and
receives many large rivers, as the Red, the Saskatchewan, and the
Winnipeg. The waters of these are again carried out of it by other
rivers that run from the lake, and empty into the Hudson's Bay. There is
a belief among the hunters and voyageurs that this lake has its tides
like the ocean. Such, however, is not the case. There is at times a rise
and overflow of its waters, but it is not periodical, and is supposed to
be occasioned by strong winds forcing the waters towards a particular
shore.

Lake Winnipeg is remarkable, as being in the very centre of the North
American continent, and may be called the centre of the _canoe
navigation_. From this point it is possible to travel _by water_ to
Hudson's Bay on the north-east, to the Atlantic Ocean on the east, to
the Gulf of Mexico on the south, to the Pacific on the west, and to the
Polar Sea on the north and north-west. Considering that some of these
distances are upwards of three thousand miles, it will be perceived that
Lake Winnipeg holds a singular position upon the continent. All the
routes mentioned can be made without any great "portage," and even a
choice of route is often to be had upon those different lines of
communication.

These were points of information communicated by Norman as the canoe was
paddled along the shore; for Norman, although troubling himself but
little about the causes of things, possessed a good practical knowledge
of things as they actually were. He was tolerably well acquainted with
the routes, their portages, and distances. Some of them he had travelled
over in company with his father, and of others he had heard the accounts
given by the voyageurs, traders, and trappers. Norman knew that Lake
Winnipeg was muddy--he did not care to inquire the cause. He knew that
there was a hilly country on its eastern and a low level land on its
western shores, but it never occurred to him to speculate on this
geological difference.

It was the naturalist, Lucien, who threw out some hints on this part of
the subject, and further added his opinion, that the lake came to be
there in consequence of the wearing away of the rocks at the junction of
the stratified with the primitive formation, thus creating an excavation
in the surface, which in time became filled with water and formed the
lake. This cause he also assigned for the existence of a remarkable
"chain of lakes" that extends almost from the Arctic Sea to the
frontiers of Canada. The most noted of these are Martin, Great Slave,
Athabasca, Wollaston, Deer, Lake Winnipeg and the Lake of the Woods.

Lucien further informed his companions, that where primitive rocks form
the surface of a country, that surface will be found to exhibit great
diversity of aspect. There will be numerous lakes and swamps, rugged
steep hills with deep valleys between, short streams with many falls and
rapids. These are the characteristics of a primitive surface. On the
other hand, where secondary rocks prevail the surface is usually a
series of plains, often high, dry, and treeless, as is the case upon the
great American prairies.

Upon such topics did Lucien instruct his companions, as they paddled
their canoe around the edge of the lake. They had turned the head of
their little vessel westward--as it was their design to keep along the
western border of the lake until they should reach the mouth of the
Saskatchewan. They kept at a short distance from the shore, usually
steering from point to point, and in this way making their route as
direct as possible. It would have been still more direct had they struck
out into the open lake, and kept up its middle; but this would have been
a dangerous course to pursue.

There are often high winds upon Lake Winnipeg, that spring up suddenly;
and at such times the waves, if not mountains high, at least arrive at
the height of houses. Among such billows the little craft would have
been in danger of being swamped, and our voyageurs of going to the
bottom. They, therefore, wisely resolved not to risk such an accident,
but to "hug the shore," though it made their voyage longer. Each night
they would land at some convenient place, kindle their fire, cook their
supper, and dry their canoe for the next day's journey.

According to this arrangement, a little before sunset of the first day
they came to land and made their camp. The canoe was unloaded, carefully
lifted out of the water, and then set bottom upward to drip and dry. A
fire was kindled, some of the dry meat cooked, and all four sat down and
began to eat, as only hungry travellers can.



CHAPTER XIII

WAPITI, WOLVES, AND WOLVERENE


The spot where our voyageurs had landed was at the bottom of a small
bay. The country back from the lake was level and clear of timber. Here
and there, nearer the shore, however, its surface was prettily
interspersed with small clumps of willows, that formed little copse-like
thickets of deep green. Beside one of these thickets, within a hundred
yards of the beach, the fire had been kindled, on a spot of ground that
commanded a view of the plain for miles back.

"Look yonder!" cried François, who had finished eating, and risen to his
feet. "What are these, captain?" François pointed to some objects that
appeared at a great distance off upon the plain.

The "captain" rose up, placed his hand so as to shade his eyes from the
sun, and, after looking for a second or two in the direction indicated,
replied to the other's question by simply saying--

"Wapiti."

"I'm no wiser than before I asked the question," said François. "Pray,
enlighten me as to what a wapiti may be!"

"Why, red deer; or elk, if you like."

"Oh! elk--now I understand you. I thought they were elk, but they're so
far off I wasn't sure."

Lucien at this moment rose up, and looking through a small telescope,
which he carried, confirmed the statement of the "captain," and
pronounced it to be a herd of elk.

"Come, Luce," demanded François, "tell us what you know of the elk. It
will pass the time. Norman says it's no use going after them out there
in the open ground, as they'd shy off before one could get within shot.
You see there is not a bush within half-a-mile of them."

"If we wait," interrupted Norman, "I should not wonder but we may have
them among the bushes before long. They appear to be grazing this way. I
warrant you, they'll come to the lake to drink before nightfall."

"Very well then: the philosopher can tell us all about them before
that."

Lucien, thus appealed to, began:--

"There are few animals that have so many names as this. It is called in
different districts, or by different authors, _elk_, _round-horned elk_,
_American elk_, _stag_, _red deer_, _grey moose_, _le biche_, _wapiti_
and _wewaskish_.

"You may ask, Why so many names? I shall tell you. It is called 'elk'
because it was supposed by the early colonists to be the same as the elk
of Europe. Its name of 'grey moose' is a hunter appellation, to
distinguish it from the real moose, which the same hunters know as the
'black moose.' 'Round-horned elk' is also a hunter name. 'Wewaskish,' or
'waskesse,' is an Indian name for the animal. 'Stag' comes from the
European deer so called, because this species somewhat resembles the
stag; and 'red deer' is a name used by the Hudson Bay traders. 'Le
biche' is another synonyme of French authors.

"Of all these names I think that of 'wapiti,' which our cousin has
given, the best. The names of 'elk,' 'stag,' and 'red deer,' lead to
confusion, as there are other species to which they properly belong, all
of which are entirely different from the wapiti. I believe that this
last name is now used by the best-informed naturalists.

"In my opinion," continued Lucien, "the wapiti is the noblest of all the
deer kind. It possesses the fine form of the European stag, while it is
nearly a third larger and stronger. It has all the grace of limb and
motion that belongs to the common deer, while its towering horns give it
a most majestic and imposing appearance. Its colour during the summer is
of a reddish brown, hence the name red deer; but, indeed, the reddish
tint upon the wapiti is deeper and richer than that of its European
cousin.

"The wapiti, like other deer, brings forth its fawns in the spring. They
are usually a male and female, for two is the number it produces. The
males only have horns; and they must be several years old before the
antlers become full and branching. They fall every year, but not until
February or March, and then the new ones grow out in a month or six
weeks. During the summer the horns remain soft and tender to the touch.
They are covered at this time with a soft membrane, that looks like
greyish velvet, and they are then said to be 'in the velvet.' There are
nerves and blood-vessels running through this membrane, and a blow upon
the horns at this season gives great pain to the animal. When the autumn
arrives the velvet peels off, and they become as hard as bone.

"They would need to be, for this is the 'rutting' season, and the bucks
fight furious battles with each other, clashing their horns together, as
if they would break them to pieces. Very often a pair of bucks, while
thus contending, 'lock' their antlers, and being unable to draw them
apart, remain head to head, until both die with hunger, or fall a prey
to the prowling wolves. This is true not only of the elk, but also of
the reindeer, the moose, and many other species of deer. Hundreds of
pairs of horns have been found thus 'locked,' and the solitary hunter
has often surprised the deer in this unpleasant predicament.

"The wapiti utters a whistling sound, that can be heard far off, and
often guides the hunter to the right spot. In the rutting season the
bucks make other noises, which somewhat resemble the braying of an ass,
and are equally disagreeable to listen to.

"The wapiti travel about in small herds, rarely exceeding fifty, but
often of only six or seven. Where they are not much hunted they are
easily approached, but otherwise they are shy enough. The bucks, when
wounded and brought to bay, become dangerous assailants; much more so
than those of the common deer. Hunters have sometimes escaped with
difficulty from their horns and hoofs, with the latter of which they can
inflict very severe blows. They are hunted in the same way as other
deer; but the Indians capture many of them in the water, when they
discover them crossing lakes or rivers. They are excellent swimmers, and
can make their way over the arm of a lake or across the widest river.

"They feed upon grass, and sometimes on the young shoots of willows and
poplar trees. They are especially fond of a species of wild rose which
grows in the countries they frequent.

"The wapiti at one time ranged over a large part of the continent of
North America. Its range is now restricted by the spread of the
settlements. It is still found in most of the Northern parts of the
United States, but only in remote mountainous districts and even there
it is a rare animal. In Canada it is more common; and it roams across
the continent to the shores of the Pacific. It it not an animal of the
tropical countries, as it is not found in Mexico proper. On the other
hand, wapiti do not go farther north than about the fifty-seventh
parallel of latitude, and then they are not in their favourite habitat,
which is properly the temperate zone."

Lucien was interrupted by an exclamation from Basil, who stood up
looking out upon the prairie. They all saw that he had been observing
the wapiti.

"What is it?" cried they.

"Look yonder!" replied Basil, pointing in the direction of the herd.
"Something disturbs them. Give me your glass, Luce."

Lucien handed the telescope to his brother, who, drawing it to the
proper focus, pointed it towards the deer. The rest watched them, with
the naked eye. They could see that there was some trouble among the
animals. There were only six in the herd, and even at the distance our
voyageurs could tell that they were all bucks, for it was the season
when the does secrete themselves in the woods and thickets to bring
forth their young. They were running to and fro upon the prairie, and
doubling about as if playing, or rather as if some creature was chasing
them. With the naked eye, however, nothing could be seen upon the ground
but the bucks themselves, and all the others looked to Basil, who held
the glass, for an explanation of their odd manoeuvres.

"There are wolves at them," said Basil, after regarding them for a
second or two.

"That's odd," rejoined Norman. "Wolves don't often attack full-grown
wapiti, except when wounded or crippled somehow. They must be precious
hungry. What sort of wolves are they?"

To you, boy reader, this question may seem strange. You, perhaps, think
that a wolf is a wolf, and there is but one kind. Such, however, is not
the exact truth. In America there are two distinct species or wolves,
and of these two species there are many varieties, which differ so much
in colour and other respects, that some authors have classed them as so
many distinct species instead of considering them mere varieties.
Whether they may be species or not is still a question among
naturalists; but certain it is that _two_ well-defined species do exist,
which differ in size, form, colour, and habits.

These are the _large_ or _common wolf_, and the barking or prairie wolf.
The first species is the American representative of the common wolf of
Europe; and although an animal of similar nature and habits, it differs
very much from the latter in form and appearance. It is, therefore, not
the _same_, as hitherto supposed. This American wolf is found in greater
or less numbers throughout the whole continent; but in the Northern
regions it is very common, and is seen in at least five different
varieties, known by the characteristic names of _black_, _pied_,
_white_, _dusky_, and _grey_ wolves. Of these the grey is the most
numerous kind; but as I shall have occasion to speak of the large wolves
hearafter, I shall say no more of them at present, but direct your
attention to the second and very different species, the _prairie
wolves_.

These are a full third smaller than the common kind. They are swifter,
and go in larger packs. They bring forth their young in burrows on the
open plain, and not among the woods, like the other species. They are
the most cunning of American animals, not excepting their kindred the
foxes. They cannot be trapped by any contrivance, but by singular
manoeuvres often themselves decoy the over-curious antelope to approach
too near them. When a gun is fired upon the prairies they may be seen
starting up on all sides, and running for the spot in hopes of coming in
for a share of the game. Should an animal--deer, antelope, or
buffalo--be wounded, and escape the hunter, it is not likely to escape
them also. They will set after it, and run it down if _the wound has
been a mortal one_.

On the other hand, if the wound has been only slight, and is not likely
in the end to cripple the animal, the wolves will not stir from--the
spot. This extraordinary sagacity often tells the hunter whether it is
worth his while to follow the game he has shot at; but in any case he is
likely to arrive late, if the wolves set out before him, as a dozen of
them will devour the largest deer in a few minutes' time. The prairie
wolves as well as the others follow the herds of buffaloes, and attack
the gravid cows and calves when separated from the rest. Frequently they
sustain a contest with the bulls, when the latter are old or wounded,
but on such occasions many of them get killed before the old bull
becomes their prey.

They resemble the common grey wolf in colour, but there are varieties in
this respect, though not so great as among the larger species. Their
voice is entirely different, and consists of three distinct barks,
ending in a prolonged howl. Hence the specific and usual name "barking
wolf." They are found only in the Western or prairie half of the
continent, and thence west to the Pacific. Their Northern range is
limited to the fifty-fifth parallel of latitude--but they are met with
southward throughout Mexico, where they are common enough, and known by
the name of "coyoté."

Their skins are an article of trade with the Hudson's Bay Company. The
fur is of about the same quality with that of other wolves, and consists
of long hairs, with a thick wool at the base. In commerce they are
termed "cased wolves," because their skins, on being removed, are not
split open as with the large wolf-skins, but are stript off after the
manner of rabbits, and then turned inside out, or "cased," as it is
termed.

"Prairie wolves!" said Basil, in answer to the question put by his
cousin.

"There must be something the matter with one of the bucks, then,"
remarked Norman, "or else there's a good big pack of the wolves, and
they expect to tire one down. I believe they sometimes do try it that
way."

"There appears to be a large pack," answered Basil, still looking
through the glass; "fifty at least--See! they have separated one of the
bucks from the herd--it's running this way!"

Basil's companions had noticed this as soon as himself, and all four now
leaped to their guns. The wapiti was plainly coming towards them, and
they could now distinguish the wolves following upon his heels, strung
out over the prairie like a pack of hounds. When first started, the buck
was a full half-mile distant, but in less than a minute's time he came
breasting forward until the boys could see his sparkling eyes and the
play of his proud flanks. He was a noble animal to look at. His horns
were full grown, but still "in the velvet," and as he ran with his snout
thrown forward, his antlers lay along both sides of his neck until their
tips touched his shoulders.

He continued on in a direct line until he was within less than an
hundred paces of the camp; but, perceiving the smoke of the fire, and
the figures crouching around it, he swerved suddenly from his course,
and darted into the thicket of willows, where he was for the moment
hidden from view. The wolves--fifty of them at least--had followed him
up to this point; and as he entered the thicket several had been close
upon his heels. The boys expected to see the wolves rush in after
him--as there appeared to be no impediment to their doing so--but, to
the astonishment of all, the latter came to a sudden halt, and then went
sneaking back--some of them even running off as if terrified!

At first the hunters attributed this strange conduct to their own
presence, and the smoke of the camp; but a moment's reflection convinced
them that this could not be the reason of it, as they were all well
acquainted with the nature of the prairie wolf, and had never witnessed
a similar exhibition before.

They had no time to think of the wolves just then. The buck was the main
attraction, and, calling to each other to surround the thicket, all four
started in different directions. In a couple of minutes they had placed
themselves at nearly equal distances around the copse, and stood
watching eagerly for the reappearance of the wapiti.

The willows covered about an acre of ground, but they were tolerably
think and full-leaved, and the buck could not be seen from any side.
Wherever he was, he was evidently at a stand-still, for not a rustle
could be heard among the leaves, nor were any of the tall stalks seen to
move.

Marengo was now sent in. This would soon start him, and all four stood
with guns cocked and ready. But before the dog had made three lengths of
himself into the thicket, a loud snort was heard, followed by a
struggle and the stamping of hoofs, and the next moment the wapiti came
crashing through the bushes. A shot was fired--it was the crack of
Lucien's small rifle--but it had missed, for the buck was seen passing
onward and outward. All ran round to the side he had taken, and had a
full view of the animal as he bounded off. Instead of running free as
before, he now leaped heavily forward, and what was their astonishment
on seeing that he _carried another animal upon his back_!

[Illustration: THE WAPITI AND THE WOLVERENE.]

The hunters could hardly believe their eyes, but there it was, sure
enough, a brown shaggy mass, lying flat along the shoulders of the
wapiti, and clutching it with large spreading claws. François cried out,
"A panther!" and Basil at first believed it to be a bear, but it was
hardly large enough for that. Norman, however, who had lived more in
those parts where the animal is found, knew it at once to be the dreaded
"wolverene." Its head could not be seen, as that was hid behind the
shoulder of the wapiti, whose throat it was engaged in tearing. But its
short legs and broad paws, its bushy tail and long shaggy hair, together
with its round-arching back and dark-brown colour, were all familiar
marks to the young fur-trader; and he at once pronounced it a
"wolverene."

When first seen, both it and the wapiti were beyond the reach of their
rifles; and the hunters, surprised by such an unexpected apparition, had
suddenly halted. François and Basil were about to renew the pursuit, but
were prevented by Norman, who counselled them to remain where they were.

"They won't go far," said he; "let us watch them a bit. See! the buck
takes the water!"

The wapiti, on leaving the willows, had run straight out in the first
direction that offered, which happened to be in a line parallel with the
edge of the lake. His eye, however, soon caught sight of the water, and,
doubling suddenly round, he made directly towards it, evidently with the
intention of plunging in. He had hopes, no doubt, that by this means he
might rid himself of the terrible creature that was clinging to his
shoulders, and tearing his throat to pieces.

A few bounds brought him to the shore. There was no beach at the spot.
The bank--a limestone bluff--rose steeply from the water's edge to a
height of eight feet, and the lake under it was several fathoms in
depth. The buck did not hesitate, but sprang outward and downwards. A
heavy plash followed, and for some seconds both wapiti and wolverene
were lost under the water. They rose to the surface, just as the boys
reached the bank, but they came up _separately_. The dip had proved a
cooler to the fierce wolverene; and while the wapiti was seen to strike
boldly out into the lake and swim off, the latter--evidently out of his
element--kept plunging about clumsily, and struggling to get back to the
shore.

Their position upon the cliff above gave the hunters an excellent
opportunity with their rifles, and both Basil and Norman sent their
bullets into the wolverene's back. François also emptied his
double-barrelled gun at the same object, and the shaggy brute sank dead
to the bottom of the lake. Strange to say, not one of the party had
thought of firing at the buck. This persecution by so many enemies had
won for him their sympathy, and they would now have suffered him to go
free, but the prospect of fresh venison for supper overcame their
commiseration, and the moment the wolverene was despatched all set about
securing the deer.

Their guns were reloaded, and, scattering along the shore, they prepared
to await his return. But the buck, seeing there was nothing but death in
his rear, swam on, keeping almost in a direct line out into the lake. It
was evident to all that he could not swim across the lake, as its
farther shore was not even visible. He must either return to where they
were, or drown; and knowing this to be his only alternative, they stood
still and watched his motions. When he had got about half-a-mile from
the shore, to the surprise of all, he was seen to rise higher and higher
above the surface, and then all at once stop, with half of his body
clear out of the water! He had come upon a shoal, and, knowing the
advantage of it, seemed determined to remain there.

Basil and Norman ran to the canoe, and in a few minutes the little craft
was launched, and shooting through the water. The buck now saw that it
was likely to be all up with him, and, instead of attempting to swim
farther, he faced round, and set his antlers forward in a threatening
attitude. But his pursuers did not give him the chance to make a rush.
When within fifty yards or so, Norman, who used the paddles, stopped and
steadied the canoe, and the next moment the crack of Basil's rifle
echoed over the lake, and the wapiti fell upon the water, where, after
struggling a moment, he lay dead.

The canoe was paddled up, and his antlers being made fast to the stern,
he was towed back to the shore, and carried into camp. What now
surprised our voyageurs was, their finding that the wapiti had been
wounded before encountering either the wolves, wolverene, or themselves.
An arrow-head, with a short piece of the shaft, was sticking in one of
his thighs. The Indians, then, had been after him, and very lately too,
as the wound showed. It was not a mortal wound, had the arrow-head been
removed; but of course, as it was, it would have proved his death in the
long run. This explained why the wolves had assailed an animal, that
otherwise, from his great size and strength, would have defied them.

The wolverene, moreover, rarely attacks game so large as the wapiti; but
the latter had, no doubt, chanced upon the lair of his fierce enemy, who
could not resist such a tempting opportunity of getting a meal. The
wolves had seen the wolverene as they approached the thicket, and that
accounted for their strange behaviour in the pursuit. These creatures
are as great cowards as they are tyrants, and their dread of a wolverene
is equal to that with which they themselves often inspire the wounded
deer.



CHAPTER XIV.

A PAIR OF DEEP DIVERS.


THE wapiti was carefully skinned, and the skin spread out to dry. Since
their mishap our voyageurs had been very short of clothing. The three
skins of the woodland caribou had made only a pair of jackets, instead
of full hunting-shirts, and even these were pinched fits. For beds and
bed-clothes they had nothing but the hides of buffaloes, and these,
although good as far as they went, were only enough for two. Lucien, the
most delicate of the party, appropriated one, as the others insisted
upon his so doing. François had the other.

As for Basil and Norman, they were forced each night to lie upon the
naked earth, and but for the large fires which they kept blazing all the
night, they would have suffered severely from cold. Indeed, they did
suffer quite enough; for some of the nights were so cold, that it was
impossible to sleep by the largest fire without one-half of their bodies
feeling chilled. The usual practice with travellers in the West is to
lie with their feet to the fire, while the head is at the greatest
distance from it. This is considered the best mode, for so long as the
feet are warm, the rest of the body will not suffer badly; but, on the
contrary, if the feet are allowed to get cold, no matter what state the
other parts be in, it is impossible to sleep with comfort.

Of course our young voyageurs followed the well-known practice of the
country, and lay with their feet to the fire in such a manner that, when
all were placed, their bodies formed four radii of a circle, of which
the fire was the centre. Marengo usually lay beside Basil, whom he
looked upon as his proper master.

Notwithstanding a bed of grass and leaves which they each night spread
for themselves, they were sadly in want of blankets, and therefore the
skin of the wapiti, which was a very fine one, would be a welcome
addition to their stock of bedding. They resolved, therefore, to remain
one day where they had killed it, so that the skin might be dried and
receive a partial dressing. Moreover, they intended to "jerk" some of
the meat--although elk-venison is not considered very palatable where
other meat can be had. It is without juice, and resembles dry
short-grained beef more than venison. For this reason it is looked upon
by both Indians and white hunters as inferior to buffalo, moose,
caribou, or even the common deer. One peculiarity of the flesh of this
animal is, that the fat becomes hard the moment it is taken off the
fire. It freezes upon the lips like suet, and clings around the teeth of
a person eating it, which is not the case with that of other species of
deer.

The skin of the wapiti, however, is held in high esteem among the
Indians. It is thinner than that of the moose, but makes a much better
article of leather. When dressed in the Indian fashion--that is to say,
soaked in a lather composed of the brains and fat of the animal itself,
and then washed, dried, scraped, and smoked--it becomes as soft and
pliable as a kid-glove, and will wash and dry without stiffening like
chamois leather. That is a great advantage which it has, in the eyes of
the Indians, over the skins of other species of deer, as the moose and
caribou--for the leather made from these, after a wetting, becomes harsh
and rigid and requires a great deal of rubbing to render it soft again.

Lucien knew how to dress the elk-hide, and could make leather out of it
as well as any Indian squaw in the country. But travelling as they were,
there was not a good opportunity for that; so they were content to give
it such a dressing as the circumstances might allow. It was spread out
on a frame of willow-poles, and set up in front of the fire, to be
scraped at intervals and cleared of the fatty matter, as well as the
numerous parasites that at this season adhere to the skins of the
wapiti.

While Lucien was framing the skin, Basil and Norman occupied themselves
in cutting the choice pieces of the meat into thin slices and hanging
them up before the fire. This job being finished, all sat down to watch
Lucien currying his hide.

"Ho, boys!" cried François, starting up as if something had occurred to
him; "what about the wolverene? It's a splendid skin--why not get it
too?"

"True enough," replied Norman, "we had forgotten that. But the beast's
gone to the bottom--how can we get at him?"

"Why, fish him up, to be sure," said François. "Let's splice one of
these willow-poles to my ram rod, and I'll screw it into him, and draw
him to the surface in a jiffy. Come!"

"We must get the canoe round, then," said Norman. "The bank's too steep
for us to reach him without it."

"Of course," assented François, at the same time going towards the
willows; "get you the canoe into the water, while I cut the sapling."

"Stay!" cried Basil, "I'll show you a shorter method. Marengo!"

As Basil said this, he rose to his feet, and walked down to the bluff
where they had shot the wolverene. All of them followed him as well as
Marengo, who bounded triumphantly from side to side, knowing he was
wanted for some important enterprise.

"Do you expect the dog to fetch him out?" inquired Norman.

"No," replied Basil; "only to help."

"How?"

"Wait a moment--you shall see."

Basil flung down his 'coon-skin cap, and stripped off his caribou
jacket, then his striped cotton shirt, then his under-shirt of fawn
skin, and, lastly, his trousers, leggings, and mocassins. He was now as
naked as Adam.

"I'll show you, cousin," said he, addressing himself to Norman, "how we
take the water down there on the Mississippi."

So saying, he stepped forward to the edge of the bluff; and having
carefully noted the spot where the wolverene had gone down, turned to
the dog, and simply said,--

"Ho! Marengo! _Chez moi_!"

The dog answered with a whimper, and a look of intelligence which showed
that he understood his master's wish.

Basil again pointed to the lake, raised his arms over his head, placing
his palms close together, launched himself out into the air, and shot
down head-foremost into the water.

Marengo, uttering a loud bay, sprang after so quickly that the plunges
were almost simultaneous, and both master and dog were for some time
hidden from view. The latter rose first, but it was a long time before
Basil came to the surface--so long that Norman and the others were
beginning to feel uneasy, and to regard the water with some anxiety. At
length, however, a spot was seen to bubble, several yards from where he
had gone down, and the black head of Basil appeared above the surface.
It was seen that he held something in his teeth, and was pushing a heavy
body before him, which they saw was the wolverene.

Marengo, who swam near, now seized hold of the object, and pulled it
away from his master, who, calling to the dog to follow, struck out
towards a point where the bank was low and shelving. In a few minutes
Basil reached a landing-place, and shortly after Marengo arrived towing
the wolverene, which was speedily pulled out upon the bank, and carried,
or rather dragged, by Norman and François to the camp. Lucien brought
Basil's clothes, and all four once more assembled around the blazing
fire.

There is not a more hideous-looking animal in America than the
wolverene. His thick body and short stout legs, his shaggy coat and
bushy tail, but, above all, his long curving claws and dog-like jaws,
gave him a formidable appearance. His gait is low and skulking, and his
look bold and vicious. He walks somewhat like a bear, and his tracks
are often mistaken for those of that animal. Indians and hunters,
however, know the difference well. His hind feet are plantigrade, that
is, they rest upon the ground from heel to toe; and his back curves like
the segment of a circle. He is fierce and extremely voracious--quite as
much so as the "glutton," of which he is the American representative.

No animal is more destructive to the small game, and he will also attack
and devour the larger kinds when he can get hold of them; but as he is
somewhat slow, he can only seize most of them by stratagem. It is a
common belief that he lies in wait upon trees and rocks to seize the
deer passing beneath. It has been also asserted that he places moss,
such as these animals feed upon under his perch, in order to entice them
within reach; and it has been still further asserted, that the arctic
foxes assist him in his plans, by hunting the deer towards the spot
where he lies in wait, thus acting as his jackals.

These assertions have been made more particularly about his European
cousin, the "glutton," about whom other stories are told equally
strange--one of them, that he eats until scarce able to walk, and then
draws his body through a narrow space between two trees, in order to
relieve himself and get ready for a fresh meal. Buffon and others have
given credence to these tales upon the authority of one "Olaus Magnus,"
whose name, from the circumstance, might be translated "great fibber."
There is no doubt, however, that the glutton is one of the most
sagacious of animals, and so, too, is the wolverene. The latter gives
proof of this by many of his habits; one in particular fully illustrates
his cunning. It is this.

The marten trappers of the Hudson Bay territory set their traps in the
snow, often extending over a line of fifty miles. These traps are
constructed out of pieces of wood found near the spot, and are baited
with the heads of partridges, or pieces of venison, of which the marten
is very fond. As soon as the marten seizes the bait, a trigger is
touched, and a heavy piece of wood falling upon the animal, crushes or
holds it fast. Now the wolverene _enters the trap from behind_, tears
the back out of it before touching the bait, and thus avoids the falling
log! Moreover, he will follow the tracks of the trapper from one to
another, until he has destroyed the whole line.

Should a marten happen to have been before him, and got caught in the
trap, he rarely ever eats it, as he is not fond of its flesh. But he is
not satisfied to leave it as he finds it. He usually digs it from under
the log, tears it to pieces, and then buries it under the snow. The
foxes, who are well aware of this habit, and who themselves greedily eat
the marten, are frequently seen following him upon such excursions. They
are not strong enough to take the log from off the trapped animal, but
from their keen scent can soon find it where the other has buried it in
the snow. In this way, instead of their being providers for the
wolverene, the reverse is the true story. Notwithstanding, the wolverene
will eat _them_ too, whenever he can get his claws upon them; but as
they are much swifter than he, this seldom happens.

The foxes, however, are themselves taken in traps, or more commonly shot
by guns set for the purpose, with the bait attached by a string to the
trigger. Often the wolverene, finding the foxes dead or wounded, makes a
meal of them before the hunter comes along to examine his traps and
guns. The wolverene kills many of the foxes while young, and sometimes
on finding their burrow, widens it with his strong claws, and eats the
whole family in their nests. Even young wolves sometimes become his
prey. He lives, in fact, on very bad terms with both foxes and wolves,
and often robs the latter of a fat deer which they may have just killed,
and are preparing to dine upon. The beaver, however, is his favourite
food, and but that these creatures can escape him by taking to the
water--in which element he is not at all at home--he would soon
exterminate their whole race. His great strength and acute scent enable
him to overcome almost every wild creature of the forest or prairie. He
is even said to be a full match for either the panther or the black
bear.

The wolverene lives in clefts of rock, or in hollow trees, where such
are to be found; but he is equally an inhabitant of the forest and the
prairie. He is found in fertile districts, as well as in the most remote
deserts. His range is extensive, but he is properly a denizen of the
cold and snowy regions. In the southern parts of the United States he is
no longer known, though it is certain that he once lived there when
those countries were inhabited by the beaver. North of latitude 40° he
ranges perhaps to the pole itself, as traces of him have been found as
far as man has yet penetrated.

He is a solitary creature, and, like most predatory animals, a nocturnal
prowler. The female brings forth two, sometimes three and four, at a
birth. The cubs are of a cream colour, and only when full grown acquire
that dark brown hue, which in the extreme of winter often passes into
black. The fur is not unlike that of the bear but is shorter-haired, and
of less value than a bear-skin. Notwithstanding, it is an article of
trade with the Hudson's Bay Company, who procure many thousands of the
skins annually.

The Canadian voyageurs call the wolverene "carcajou;" while among the
Orkney and Scotch servants of the Hudson's Bay Company he is oftener
known as the "quickhatch." It is supposed that both, these names are
corruptions of the Cree word _okee-coo-haw-gew_ (the name of the
wolverene among the Indians of that tribe). Many words from the same
language have been adopted by both voyageurs and traders.

Those points in the natural history of the wolverene, that might be
called _scientific_, were imparted by Lucien, while Norman furnished the
information about its habits. Norman knew the animal as one of the most
common in the "trade"; and in addition to what we have recorded, also
related many adventures and stories current among the voyageurs, in
which this creature figures in quite as fanciful a manner as he does in
the works either of Olaus Magnus, or Count de Buffon.



CHAPTER XV.

A GRAND SUNDAY DINNER.


After remaining a day at their first camp on the lake, our voyageurs
continued their journey. Their course lay a little to the west of north,
as the edge of the lake trended in that direction. Their usual plan, as
already stated, was to keep out in the lake far enough to shun the
numerous indentations of the shore, yet not so far as to endanger their
little craft when the wind was high. At night they always landed,
either upon some point or on an island. Sometimes the wind blew "dead
ahead," and then their day's journey would be only a few miles. When the
wind was favourable they made good progress, using the skin of the
wapiti for a sail. On one of these days they reckoned a distance of over
forty miles from camp to camp.

It was their custom always to lie by on Sunday, for our young voyageurs
were Christians. They had done so on their former expedition across the
Southern prairies, and they had found the practice to their advantage in
a physical as well as a moral sense. They required the rest thus
obtained; besides, a general cleaning up is necessary, at least, once
every week. Sunday was also a day of feasting with them. They had more
time to devote to culinary operations, and the _cuisine_ of that day was
always the most varied of the week. Any extra delicacy obtained by the
rifle on previous days, was usually reserved for the Sunday's dinner.

On the first Sunday after entering Lake Winnipeg the "camp" chanced to
be upon an island. It was a small island, of only a few acres in extent.
It lay near the shore, and was well wooded over its whole surface with
trees of many different kinds. Indeed, islands in a large lake usually
have a great variety of trees, as the seeds of all those sorts that grow
around the shores are carried thither by the waves, or in the crops of
the numerous birds that flit over its waters. But as the island in
question lay in a lake, whose shores exhibited such a varied geology, it
was natural the vegetation of the island itself should be varied. And,
in truth, it was so.

Among the low bushes and shrubs there were rose and wild raspberry;
there were apple and plum trees, and whole thickets of the "Pembina."
There is, in fact, no part of the world where a greater variety of wild
fruit has been found indigenous than upon the banks of the Red River of
the North, and this variety extended to the little island where our
voyageurs had encamped.

The camp had been placed under a beautiful tree--the tacamahac, or
balsam poplar. This is one of the finest trees of America, and one of
those that extend farthest north into the cold countries. In favourable
situations it attains a height of one hundred and fifty feet, with a
proportionate thickness of trunk; but it is oftener only fifty or eighty
feet high. Its leaves are oval, and, when young, of a rich yellowish
colour, which changes to a bright green. The buds are very large,
yellow, and covered with a varnish, which exhales a delightful
fragrance, and gives to the tree its specific name.

It was near sunset on the afternoon of Saturday, the travellers had just
finished their repast, and were reclining around a fire of red cedar,
whose delicate smoke curled up among the pale green leaves of the
poplars. The fragrant smell of the burning wood, mixed with the aromatic
odour of the balsam-tree, filled the air with a sweet perfume, and,
almost without knowing why, our voyageurs felt a sense of pleasure
stealing over them. The woods of the little island were not without
their voices.

The scream of the jay was heard, and his bright azure wing appeared now
and then among the foliage. The scarlet plumage of the cardinal grosbeak
flashed under the beams of the setting sun; and the trumpet-note of the
ivory-billed woodpecker was heard near the centre of the island. An
osprey was circling in the air, with his eye bent on the water below,
watching for his finny prey; and a pair of bald eagles were winging
their way towards the adjacent mainland. Half-a-dozen turkey vultures
were wheeling above the beach, where some object, fish or carrion, had
been thrown up by the waves.

For some time the party remained silent, each contemplating the scene
with feelings of pleasure. François, as usual, first broke the silence.

"I say, cook, what's for dinner to-morrow?"

It was to Lucien this speech was addressed. He was regarded as the
_maitre de cuisine_.

"Roast or boiled--which would you prefer?" asked the cook, with a
significant smile.

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed François; "boiled, indeed! a pretty boil we could
have in a tin cup, holding less than a pint. I wish we _could_ have a
boiled joint and a bowl of soup. I'd give something for it. I'm precious
tired of this everlasting dry roast."

"You shall have both," rejoined Lucien, "for to-morrow's dinner. I
promise you both the soup and the joint."

Again François laughed increduously.

"Do you mean to make soup in your shoe, Luce?"

"No; but I shall make it in this."

And Lucien held up a vessel somewhat like a water-pail, which the day
before he had himself made out of birch-bark.

"Well," replied François, "I know you have got a vessel that holds
water, but cold water ain't soup; and if you can boil water in that
vessel, I'll believe you to be a conjuror. I know you can do some
curious things with your chemical mixtures; but that you can't do, I'm
sure. Why, man, the bottom would be burned out of your bucket before the
water got blood-warm. Soup, indeed!"

"Never mind, Frank, you shall see. You're only like the rest of
mankind--incredulous about everything they can't comprehend. If you'll
take your hook and line, and catch some fish, I promise to give you a
dinner to-morrow, with all the regular courses--soup, fish, boiled,
roast, and dessert, too! I'm satisfied I can do all that."

"_Parbleu_! brother, you should have been cook to Lucullus. Well, I'll
catch the fish for you."

So saying, François took a fish-hook and line out of his pouch, and
fixing a large grasshopper upon the hook, stepped forward to the edge of
the water, and cast it in. The float was soon seen to bob and then sink,
and François jerked his hook ashore with a small and very pretty fish
upon it of a silver hue, with which the lake and the waters running into
it abound. Lucien told him it was a fish of the genus _Hyodon_. He also
advised him to bait with a worm, and let his bait sink to the bottom,
and he might catch a sturgeon, which would be a larger fish.

"How do you know there are sturgeon in the lake?" inquired François.

"I am pretty sure of that," answered the naturalist; "the sturgeon is
found all round the world in the northern temperate zone--both in its
seas and fresh waters; although, when you go farther south into the
warmer climate, no sturgeons exist. I am sure there are some here,
perhaps more than one species. Sink your bait for the sturgeon is a
toothless fish, and feeds upon soft substances at the bottom."

François followed the advice of his brother, and in a few minutes he
had a "nibble," and drew up and landed a very large fish, full three
feet in length. Lucien at once pronounced it a sturgeon, but of a
species he had not before seen. It was the _Acipenser carbonarius_, a
curious sort of fish found in these waters. It did not look like a fish
that would be pleasant eating; therefore François again took to bobbing
for the silver fish which, though small, he knew to be excellent when
broiled.

"Come," said Basil, "I must furnish my quota to this famous dinner that
is to be. Let me see what there is on the island in the way of game;"
and shouldering his rifle, he walked off among the trees.

"And I," said Norman, "am not going to eat the produce of other people's
labour without contributing my share."

So the young trader took up his gun and went off in a different
direction.

"Good!" exclaimed Lucien, "we are likely to have plenty of meat for the
dinner. I must see about the vegetables;" and taking with him his
new-made vessel, Lucien sauntered off along the shore of the islet.
François alone remained by the camp and continued his fishing. Let us
follow the plant-hunter, and learn a lesson of practical botany.

Lucien had not gone far, when he came to what appeared to be a mere
sedge growing in the water. The stalks or culms of this sedge were full
eight feet high, with smooth leaves, an inch broad, nearly a yard in
length, and of a light green colour. At the top of each stalk was a
large panicle of seeds, somewhat resembling a head of oats. The plant
itself was the famous wild rice so much prized by the Indians as an
article of food, and also the favourite of many wild birds especially
the reed-bird or rice-bunting. The grain of the zizania was not yet
ripe, but the ears were tolerably well filled, and Lucien saw that it
would do for his purpose. He therefore waded in, and stripped off into
his vessel as much as he wanted.

"I am safe for rice-soup, at all events," soliloquised he, "but I think
I can do still better;" and he continued on around the shore, and
shortly after struck into some heavy timber that grew in a damp, rich
soil. He had walked about an hundred yards farther, when he was seen to
stoop and examine some object on the ground.

"It ought to be found here," he muttered to himself; "this is the very
soil for it--yes, here we have it!"

The object over which he was stooping was a plant, but its leaves
appeared shrivelled, or rather quite withered away. The upper part of a
bulbous root, however, was just visible above the surface. It was a bulb
of the wild leek. The leaves, when young, are about six inches in
length, of a flat shape and often three inches broad; but, strange to
say, they shrivel or die off very early in the season--even before the
plant flowers, and then it is difficult to find the bulb.

Lucien, however, had sharp eyes for such things; and in a short while he
had rooted out several bulbs as large as pigeons' eggs, and deposited
them in his birchen vessel. He now turned to go back to camp, satisfied
with what he had obtained. He had the rice to give consistency to his
soup, and the leek roots to flavour it with. That would be enough.

As he was walking over a piece of boggy ground his eye was attracted to
a singular plant, whose tall stem rose high above the grass. It was full
eight feet in height, and at its top there was an umbel of conspicuous
white flowers. Its leaves were large, lobed, and toothed, and the stem
itself was over an inch in diameter, with furrows running
longitudinally. Lucien had never seen the plant before, although he had
often heard accounts of it, and he at once recognised it from its
botanical description. It was the celebrated "cow parsnip." Its stem was
jointed and hollow, and Lucien had heard that the Indians called it in
their language "flute stem," as they often used it to make their rude
musical instruments from, and also a sort of whistle or "call," by which
they were enabled to imitate and decoy several kinds of deer. But there
was another use to which the plant was put, of which the naturalist was
not aware. Norman who had been wandering about, came up at this moment,
and seeing Lucien standing by the plant, uttered a joyful "Hulloh!"

"Well," inquired Lucien, "what pleases you, coz?"

"Why, the flute-stem, of course. You talked of making a soup. It will
help you, I fancy."

"How?" demanded Lucien.

"Why, the young stems are good eating, and the roots, if you will; but
the young shoots are better. Both Indians and voyageurs eat them in
soup, and are fond of them. It's a famous thing, I assure you."

"Let us gather some, then," said Lucien; and the cousins commenced
cutting off such stems as were still young and tender. As soon as they
had obtained enough, they took their way back to the camp. Basil had
already arrived with a fine _prairie hen_ which he had shot, and Sandy
had brought back a squirrel; so that, with François's fish, of which a
sufficient number had been caught, Lucien was likely to be able to keep
his promise about the dinner.

François, however, could not yet comprehend how the soup was to be
boiled in a wooden pot; and, indeed, Basil was unable to guess. Norman,
however, knew well enough, for he had travelled through the country of
the Assinoboil Indians, who take their name from this very thing. He had
also witnessed the operation performed by Crees, Chippewas, and even
voyageurs, where metal or earthen pots could not be obtained.

On the next day the mystery was cleared up to Basil and François. Lucien
first collected a number of stones--about as large as paving-stones. He
chose such as were hard and smooth. These he flung into the cinders,
where they soon became red-hot. The water and meat were now put into the
bark pot, and then one stone after another,--each being taken out as it
got cooled,--until the water came to a fierce boil. The rice and other
ingredients were added at the proper time, and in a short while an
excellent soup was made. So much, then, for the soup, and the boiled
dishes with vegetables. The roast, of course, was easily made ready upon
green-wood spits, and the "game" was cooked in a similar way. The fish
were broiled upon the red cinders, and eaten, as is usual, after the
soup. There were no puddings or pies, though, no doubt, Lucien could
have made such had they been wanted.

In their place there was an excellent service of fruit. There were
strawberries and raspberries, one sort of which found wild in this
region is of a most delicious flavour. There were gooseberries and
currants; but the most delicious fruit, and that which François liked
best, was a small berry of a dark blue colour, not unlike the
huckleberry, but much sweeter and of higher flavour. It grows on a low
bush or shrub with ovate leaves; and this bush when it blossoms is so
covered with beautiful white flowers, that neither leaves nor branches
can be seen. There are no less than four varieties of it known, two of
which attain to the height of twenty feet or more. The French Canadians
call it "le poire," but in most parts of America it is known as the
"service-berry," although several other names are given to it in
different districts. Lucien informed his companions, while they were
crushing its sweet purplish fruit between their teeth, that its
botanical name is _Amelanchier_.

"Now," remarked François, "if we only had a cup of coffee and a glass of
wine, we might say that we had dined in fashionable style."

"I think," replied Lucien, "we are better without the wine, and as for
the other I cannot give you that, but I fancy I can provide you with a
cup of tea if you only allow me a little time."

"Tea!" screamed François; "why, there's not a leaf of tea nearer than
China; and for the sugar, not a grain within hundreds of miles!"

"Come, Frank," said Lucien, "nature has not been so ungenerous here,
even in such luxuries as tea and sugar. Look yonder! You see those large
trees with the dark-coloured trunks. What are they?"

"Sugar-maples," replied François.

"Well," said Lucien, "I think even at this late season we might contrive
to extract sap enough from them to sweeten a cup of tea. You may try,
while I go in search of the tea-plant."

"Upon my word, Luce, you are equal to a wholesale grocery. Very well.
Come, Basil, we'll tap the maples; let the captain go with Luce."

The boys, separating into pairs, walked off, in different directions.
Lucien and his companion soon lighted upon the object of their search in
the same wet bottom where they had procured the _Heracleum_. It was a
branching shrub, not over two feet in height, with small leaves of a
deep green colour above, but whitish and woolly underneath. It is a
plant well known throughout most of the Hudson's Bay territory by the
name of "Labrador tea-plant;" and is so called because the Canadian
voyageurs, and other travellers through these northern districts, often
drink it as tea. It is one of the _Ericaceæ_, or heath tribe, of the
genus _Ledum_--though it is not a true heath, as, strange to say, no
true heath is found upon the continent of America.

There are two kinds of it known,--the "narrow-leafed" and "broad-leafed"
and the former makes the best tea. But the pretty white flowers of the
plant are better for the purpose than the leaves of either variety; and
these it was that were now gathered by Lucien and Norman. They require
to be dried before the decoction is made; but this can be done in a
short time over a fire; and so in a short time it was done, Norman
having parched them upon heated stones.

Meanwhile Basil and François had obtained the sugar-water, and Lucien
having washed his soup-kettle clean, and once more made his boiling
stones red-hot, prepared the beverage; and then it was served out in the
tin cup, and all partook of it. Norman had drunk the Labrador tea
before, and was rather fond of it, but his Southern cousins did not much
relish it. Its peculiar flavour, which somewhat resembles rhubarb, was
not at all to the liking of François. All, however, admitted that it
produced a cheering effect upon their spirits; and, after drinking it,
they felt in that peculiarly happy state of mind which one experiences
after a cup of the real "Bohea."



CHAPTER XVI.

THE MARMOTS OF AMERICA.


From such a luxurious dinner you may suppose that our young voyageurs
lived in prime style. But it was not always so. They had their fasts as
well as feasts. Sometimes for days they had nothing to eat but the
jerked deer-meat. No bread--no beer--no coffee, nothing but water--dry
venison and water. Of course, this is food enough for a hungry man; but
it can hardly be called luxurious living. Now and then a wild duck, or a
goose, or perhaps a young swan, was shot; and this change in their diet
was very agreeable. Fish were caught only upon occasions, for often
these capricious creatures refused François' bait, however temptingly
offered.

After three weeks' coasting the Lake, they reached the Saskatchewan, and
turning up that stream, now travelled in a due westerly direction. At
the Grand Rapids, near the mouth of this river, they were obliged to
make a portage of no less than three miles, but the magnificent view of
these "Rapids" fully repaid them for the toil they underwent in passing
them.

The Saskatchewan is one of the largest rivers in America, being full
1600 miles in length, from its source in the Rocky Mountains to its
_débouchure_, under the name of the "Nelson River," in Hudson's Bay. For
some distance above Lake Winnipeg, the country upon its banks is well
wooded. Farther up, the river runs through dry sandy prairies that
extend westward to the foot-hills of the Rocky Mountains. Many of these
prairies may be properly called "deserts." They contain lakes as salt as
the ocean itself, and vast tracts--hundreds of square miles in
extent--where not a drop of water is to be met with. But the route of
our voyageurs did not lie over these prairies. It was their intention,
after reaching Cumberland House, to turn again in a northerly direction.

One evening, when within two days' journey of the Fort, they had
encamped upon the bank of the Saskatchewan. They had chosen a beautiful
spot for their camp, where the country, swelling into rounded hills, was
prettily interspersed with bushy copses of _Amelanchiers_, and _Rosa
blanda_ whose pale red flowers were conspicuous among the green leaves,
and filled the air with a sweet fragrance, that was wafted to our
voyageurs upon the sunny breeze. The ground was covered with a grassy
sward enamelled by the pink flowers of the _Cleome_, and the deeper red
blossoms of the beautiful wind-flower.

Upon that day our travellers had not succeeded in killing any game, and
their dinner was likely to consist of nothing better than dry venison
scorched over the coals. As they had been travelling all the morning
against a sharp current, and, of course, had taken turn about at the
paddles, they all felt fatigued, and none of them was inclined to go in
search of game. They had flung themselves down around the fire, and were
waiting until the venison should be broiled for dinner.

The camp had been placed at the foot of a tolerably steep hill, that
rose near the banks of the river. There was another and higher hill
facing it, the whole front of which could be seen by our travellers as
they sat around their fire. While glancing their eyes along its
declivity, they noticed a number of small protuberances or mounds
standing within a few feet of each other. Each of them was about a foot
in height, and of the form of a truncated cone--that is, a cone with its
top cut off, or beaten down.

"What are they?" inquired François.

"I fancy," answered Lucien, "they are marmot-houses."

"They are," affirmed Norman; "there are plenty of them in this country."

"Oh! marmots!" said François. "Prairie-dogs, you mean?--the same we met
with on the Southern prairies?"

"I think not," replied Norman: "I think the prairie-dogs are a different
sort. Are they not, cousin Luce?"

"Yes, yes," answered the naturalist; "these must be a different species.
There are too few of them to be the houses of prairie-dogs. The 'dogs'
live in large settlements, many hundreds of them in one place; besides,
their domes are somewhat different in appearance from these. The mounds
of the prairie-dogs have a hole in the top or on one side. These, you
see, have not. The hole is in the ground beside them, and the hill is in
front, made by the earth taken out of the burrow, just as you have seen
it at the entrance of a rat's hole. They are marmots, I have no doubt,
but of a different species from the prairie-dog marmots."

"Are there not many kinds of marmots in America? I have heard so," said
François.

This question was of course addressed to Lucien.

"Yes," answered he. "The _fauna_ of North America is peculiarly rich in
species of these singular animals. There are thirteen kinds of them,
well known to naturalists; and there are even some varieties in these
thirteen kinds that might almost be considered distinct species. I have
no doubt, moreover, there are yet other species which have not been
described. Perhaps, altogether, there are not less than twenty different
kinds of marmots in North America. As only one or two species are found
in the settled territories of the United States, it was supposed, until
lately, that there were no others. Latterly the naturalists of North
America have been very active in their researches, and no genus of
animals has rewarded them so well as the marmots--unless, perhaps, it
may be the squirrels. Almost every year a new species of one or the
other of these has been found--mostly inhabiting the vast wilderness
territories that lie between the Mississippi and the Pacific Ocean.

"These little animals seem to form a link between the squirrels and
rabbits. On the side of the squirrels they very naturally join on, if I
may use the expression, to the ground-squirrel, and some of them, differ
but little in their habits from many of the latter. Other species,
again, are more allied to the rabbits, and less like the squirrels; and
there are two or three kinds that I should say--using a Yankee
expression--have a 'sprinkling' of the rat in them. Some, as the
ground-hog, or wood-chuck of the United States, are as large as rabbits,
while others, as the leopard-marmot, are not bigger than Norway rats.

"Some species have cheek-pouches, in which they can carry a large
quantity of seeds, nuts, and roots, when they wish to hoard them up for
future use. These are the spermophiles, and some species of these have
more capacious pouches than others. Their food differs somewhat,
perhaps according to the circumstances in which they may be placed. In
all cases it is vegetable. Some, as the prairie-dogs, live upon grasses,
while others subsist chiefly upon seeds, berries, and leaves.

"It was long supposed that the marmots, like the squirrels, laid up
stores against the winter. I believe this is not the case with any of
the different species. I know for certain that most of them pass the
winter in a state of torpidity, and of course require no provisions, as
they eat nothing during that season. In this we observe one of those
cases in which Nature so beautifully adapts a creature to its
circumstances. In the countries where many of the marmots are found, so
severe are the winters, and so barren the soil, that it would be
impossible for these creatures to get a morsel of food for many long
months.

"During this period, therefore, Nature suspends her functions, by
putting them into a deep, and, for aught we know to the contrary, a
pleasant sleep. It is only when the snow melts, under the vernal sun,
and the green blades of grass and the spring flowers array themselves on
the surface of the earth, that the little marmots make their appearance
again. Then the warm air, penetrating into their subterranean abodes,
admonishes them to awake from their protracted slumber, and come forth
to the enjoyment of their summer life. These animals may be said,
therefore, to have no winter. Their life is altogether a season of
summer and sunshine."

"Some of the marmots," continued Lucien, "live in large communities, as
the prairie dogs; others, in smaller tribes, while still other species
lead a solitary life, going only in pairs, or at most in families.
Nearly all of them are burrowing animals, though there are one or two
species that are satisfied with a cleft in the rock, or a hole among
loose stones for their nests. Some of them are tree-climbers, but it is
supposed they only ascend trees in search of food, as they do not make
their dwellings there. Many of the species are very prolific, the
females bringing forth eight, and even ten young at a birth.

"The marmots are extremely shy and watchful creatures. Before going to
feed, they usually reconnoitre the ground from the tops of their little
mounds. Some species do not have such mounds, and for this purpose
ascend any little hillock that may be near. Nearly all have the curious
habit of placing sentries to watch while the rest are feeding. These
sentries station themselves on some commanding point, and when they see
an enemy approaching give warning to the others by a peculiar cry. In
several of the species this cry resembles the syllables 'seek-seek'
repeated with a hiss. Others bark like 'toy-dogs,' while still other
kinds utter a whistling noise, from which one species derives its
trivial name of 'whistler' among the traders, and is the 'siffleur' of
the Canadian voyageurs.

"The 'whistler's' call of alarm can be heard at a great distance; and
when uttered by the sentinel is repeated by all the others as far as the
troop extends.

"The marmots are eaten both by Indians and white hunters. Sometimes they
are captured by pouring water into their burrows; but this method only
succeeds in early spring, when the animals awake out of their torpid
state, and the ground is still frozen hard enough to prevent the water
from filtering away. They are sometimes shot with guns; but, unless
killed upon the spot, they will escape to their burrows, and tumble in
before the hunter can lay his hands upon them."



CHAPTER XVII.

THE BLAIREAU, THE "TAWNIES," AND THE "LEOPARDS."


Perhaps Lucien would have carried his account of the marmots still
farther--for he had not told half what he knew of their habits--but he
was at that moment interrupted by the marmots themselves. Several of
them appeared at the mouths of their holes; and, after looking out and
reconnoitring for some moments, became bolder, and ran up to the tops of
their mounds, and began to scatter along the little beaten paths that
led from one to the other. In a short while as many as a dozen could be
seen moving about, jerking their tails, and at intervals uttering their
seek-seek.

Our voyageurs saw that there were two kinds of them, entirely different
in colour, size, and other respects. The larger ones were of a greyish
yellow above, with an orange tint upon the throat and belly. These were
the "tawny marmots," called sometimes "ground-squirrels," and by the
voyageurs, "siffleurs," or "whistlers."

The other species seen were the most beautiful of all the marmots. They
were very little smaller than the tawny marmots; but their tails were
larger and more slender, which rendered their appearance more graceful.
Their chief beauty, however, lay in their colours and markings. They
were striped from the nose to the rump with bands of yellow and
chocolate colour, which alternated with each other, while the chocolate
bands were themselves variegated by rows of yellow spots regularly
placed. These markings gave the animals that peculiar appearance so well
known as characterising the skin of the leopard, hence the name of these
little creatures was "leopard marmots."

It was plain from their actions that both kinds were "at home" among the
mounds, and that both had their burrows there. This was the fact, and
Norman told his companion that the two kinds are always found together,
not living in the same houses, but only as neighbours in the same
"settlement." The burrows of the "leopard" have much smaller entrances
than those of their "tawny kin," and run down perpendicularly to a
greater depth before branching off in a horizontal direction. A straight
stick may be thrust down one of these full five feet before reaching an
"elbow."

The holes of the tawny marmots, on the contrary, branch off near the
surface, and are not so deep under ground. This guides us to the
explanation of a singular fact--which is, that the "tawnies" make their
appearance three weeks earlier in spring than the "leopards," in
consequence of the heat of the sun reaching them sooner, and waking them
out of their torpid sleep.

While these explanations were passing among the boys, the marmots had
come out, to the number of a score, and were carrying on their gambols
along the declivity of the hill. They were at too great a distance to
heed the movements of the travellers by the camp fire. Besides, a
considerable valley lay between them and the camp, which, as they
believed, rendered their position secure. They were not at such a
distance but that many of their movements could be clearly made out by
the boys, who after a while noticed that several furious battles were
being fought among them. It was not the "tawnies" against the others,
but the males of each kind in single combats with one another.

They fought like little cats, exhibiting the highest degree of boldness
and fury; but it was noticed that in these conflicts the leopards were
far more active and spiteful than their kinsmen. In observing them
through his glass Lucien noticed that they frequently seized each other
by the tails, and he further noticed that several of them had their
tails much shorter than the rest. Norman said that these had been bitten
off in their battles; and, moreover, that it was a rare thing to find
among the males, or "bucks," as he called them, one that had a perfect
tail!

While these observations were being made, the attention of our party was
attracted to a strange animal that was seen slowly crawling around the
hill. It was a creature about as big as an ordinary setter dog, but much
thicker in the body, shorter in the legs, and shaggier in the coat. Its
head was flat, and its ears short and rounded. Its hair was long, rough,
and of a mottled hoary grey colour, but dark-brown upon the legs and
tail. The latter, though covered with long hair, was short, and carried
upright; and upon the broad feet of the animal could be seen long and
strong curving claws. Its snout was sharp as that of a greyhound--though
not so prettily formed--and a white stripe, passing from its very tip
over the crown, and bordered by two darker bands, gave a singular
expression to the animal's countenance.

It was altogether, both in form and feature, a strange and
vicious-looking creature. Norman recognised it at once as the
"blaireau," or American badger. The others had never seen such a
creature before--as it is not an inhabitant of the South, nor of any
part of the settled portion of the United States.

The badger when first seen was creeping along with its belly almost
dragging the ground, and its long snout projected horizontally in the
direction of the marmot "village." It was evidently meditating a
surprise of the inhabitants. Now and then it would stop, like a pointer
dog when close to a partridge, reconnoitre a moment, and then go on
again. Its design appeared to be to get between the marmots and their
burrows, intercept some of them, and get a hold of them without the
trouble of digging them up--although that would be no great affair to
it, for so strong are its fore-arms and claws that in loose soil it can
make its way under the ground as fast as a mole.

Slowly and cautiously it stole along, its hind-feet resting all their
length upon the ground, its hideous snout thrown forward, and its eyes
glaring with a voracious and hungry expression. It had got within fifty
paces of the marmots, and would, no doubt, have succeeded in cutting off
the retreat of some of them, but at that moment a burrowing owl that had
been perched upon one of the mounds, rose up, and commenced hovering in
circles above the intruder. This drew the attention of the marmot
sentries to their well-known enemy, and their warning cry was followed
by a general scamper of both tawnies and leopards towards their
respective burrows.

The blaireau, seeing that further concealment was no longer of any use,
raised himself higher upon his limbs, and sprang forward in pursuit. He
was too late, however, as the marmots had all got into their holes, and
their angry "seek-seek" was heard proceeding from various quarters out
of the bowels of the earth. The blaireau only hesitated long enough to
select one of the burrows into which he was sure a marmot had entered;
and then, setting himself to his work, he commenced throwing out the
mould like a terrier. In a few seconds he was half buried, and his
hind-quarters and tail alone remained above ground.

[Illustration: THE BLAIREAU AND THE MARMOTS]

He would soon have disappeared entirely, but at that moment the boys,
directed and headed by Norman, ran up the hill, and, seizing him by the
tail, endeavoured to jerk him back. That, however, was a task which they
could not accomplish, for first one and then another, and then Basil and
Norman--who were both strong boys--pulled with all their might, and
could not move him. Norman cautioned them against letting him go, as in
a moment's time he would burrow beyond their reach. So they held on
until François had got his gun ready. This the latter soon did, and a
load of small shot was fired into the blaireau's hips, which, although
it did not quite kill him, caused him to back out of the hole, and
brought him into the clutches of Marengo.

A desperate struggle ensued, which ended by the bloodhound doubling his
vast black muzzle upon the throat of the blaireau, and choking him to
death in less than a dozen seconds; and then his hide--the only part
which was deemed of any value--was taken off and carried to the camp.
The carcass was left upon the face of the hill, and the red shining
object was soon espied by the buzzards and turkey vultures, so that in a
few minutes' time several of these filthy birds were seen hovering
around, and alighting upon the hill.

But this was no new sight to our young voyageurs, and soon ceased to be
noticed by them. Another bird, of a different kind, for a short time
engaged their attention. It was a large hawk, which Lucien, as soon as
he saw it, pronounced to be one of the kind known as buzzards. Of these
there are several species in North America, but it is not to be supposed
that there is any resemblance between them and the buzzards just
mentioned as having alighted by the carcass of the blaireau. The latter,
commonly called "turkey buzzards," are true vultures, and feed mostly,
though not exclusively, on carrion; while the "hawk buzzards" have all
the appearance and general habits of the rest of the falcon tribe.

The one in question, Lucien said, was the "marsh-hawk," sometimes also
called the "hen-harrier." Norman stated that it was known among the
Indians of these parts as the "snake-bird," because it preys upon a
species of small green snake that is common on the plains of the
Saskatchewan, and of which it is fonder than of any other food.

The voyageurs were not long in having evidence of the appropriateness of
the Indian appellation; for these people, like other savages, have the
good habit of giving names that express some quality or characteristic
of the thing itself. The bird in question was on the wing, and from its
movements evidently searching for game. It sailed in easy circlings near
the surface, _quartering_ the ground like a pointer dog. It flew so
lightly that its wings were not seen to move, and throughout all its
wheelings and turnings it appeared to be carried onwards or upwards by
the power of mere volition.

Once or twice its course brought it directly over the camp, and François
had got hold of his gun, with the intention of bringing it down, but on
each occasion it perceived his motions; and, soaring up like a
paper-kite until out of reach, it passed over the camp, and then sank
down again upon the other side, and continued its "quarterings" as
before. For nearly half-an-hour it went on manoevring in this way, when
all at once it was seen to make a sudden turning in the air as it fixed
its eyes upon some object in the grass.

The next moment it glided diagonally towards the earth, and poising
itself for a moment above the surface, rose again with a small
green-coloured snake struggling in its talons. After ascending to some
height, it directed its flight towards a clump of trees, and was soon
lost to the view of our travellers.

Lucien now pointed out to his companions a characteristic of the hawk
and buzzard tribe, by which these birds can always be distinguished from
the true falcon. That peculiarity lay in the manner of seizing their
prey. The former skim forward upon it sideways--that is, in a horizontal
or diagonal direction, and pick it up in passing; while the true
falcons--as the merlin, the peregrine, the gerfalcon, and the great
eagle-falcons--shoot down upon their prey _perpendicularly_ like an
arrow, or a piece of falling lead.

He pointed out, moreover, how the structure of the different kinds of
preying birds, such as the size and form of the wings and tail, as well
as other parts, were in each kind adapted to its peculiar mode of
pursuing its prey; and then there arose a discussion as to whether this
adaption should be considered a _cause_, or an _effect_. Lucien
succeeded in convincing his companions that the structure was the effect
and not the cause of the habit, for the young naturalist was a firm
believer in the changing and progressive system of nature.



CHAPTER XVIII.

AN ODD SORT OF DECOY-DUCK.


Two days after the adventure with the blaireau, the young voyageurs
arrived at Cumberland House--one of the most celebrated posts of the
Hudson's Bay Company. The chief factor, who resided there, was a friend
of Norman's father, and of course the youths were received with the
warmest hospitality, and entertained during their stay in the best
manner the place afforded. They did not make a long stay, however, as
they wished to complete their journey before the winter should set in,
when canoe-travelling would become impossible.

During winter, not only the lakes, but the most rapid rivers of these
Northern regions, become frozen up, and remain so for many months.
Nearly the whole surface of the earth is buried under deep snow, and
travelling can only be done with snow-shoes, or with sledges drawn by
dogs. These are the modes practised by the Indians, the Esquimaux, and
the few white traders and trappers who have occasion in winter to pass
from one point to another of that icy and desolate region.

Travelling under such circumstances is not only difficult and laborious,
but is extremely perilous. Food cannot always be obtained--supplies fall
short, or become exhausted--game is scarce, or cannot be found at all,
as at that season many of the quadrupeds and most of the birds have
forsaken the country, and migrated to the South--and whole parties of
travellers--even Indians, who can eat anything living or dead, roast or
raw--often perish from hunger.

Our travellers were well acquainted with these facts; and being anxious,
therefore, to get to the end of their journey before the winter should
come down upon them, made all haste to proceed. Of course they obtained
a new "outfit" at the Fort; but they took with them only such articles
as were absolutely necessary, as they had many portages to make before
they could reach the waters of the Mackenzie River. As it required two
of the party to carry the canoe, with a few little things besides, all
the baggage was comprised in such loads as the others could manage; and
of course that was not a great deal, for François was but a lad, and
Lucien was far from being in robust health. A light axe, a few cooking
utensils, with a small stock of provisions, and of course their guns,
formed the bulk of their loads.

After leaving the Fort they kept for several days' journey up the
Saskatchewan. They then took leave of that river, and ascended a small
stream that emptied into it from the north. Making their first portage
over a "divide," they reached another small stream that ran in quite a
different direction, emptying itself into one of the branches of the
Mississippi, or Churchill River. Following this in a north-westerly
course, and making numerous other portages, they reached Lake La Crosse,
and afterwards in succession, Lakes Clear, Buffalo, and Methy.

A long "portage" from the last-mentioned lake brought them to the head
of a stream known as the "Clear Water;" and launching their canoe upon
this, they floated down to its mouth, and entered the main stream of the
Elk, or Athabasca, one of the most beautiful rivers of America. They
were now in reality upon the waters of the Mackenzie itself, for the
Elk, after passing through the Athabasca takes from thence the name of
Slave River, and having traversed Great Slave Lake, becomes the
Mackenzie--under which name it continues on to the Arctic Ocean.

Having got, therefore, upon the main head-water of the stream which they
intended to traverse, they floated along in their canoe with light
hearts and high hopes. It is true they had yet fifteen hundred miles to
travel, but they believed that it was all down-hill work now; and as
they had still nearly two months of summer before them, they doubted not
being able to accomplish the voyage in good time.

On they floated down stream, feasting their eyes as they went--for the
scenery of the Elk valley is of a most picturesque and pleasing
character; and the broad bosom of the stream itself, studded with wooded
islands, looked to our travellers more like a continuation of lakes than
a running river. Now they glided along without using an oar, borne
onward by the current; then they would take a spell at the paddles,
while the beautiful Canadian boat-song could be heard as it came from
the tiny craft, and the appropriate chorus "Row, brothers, row!" echoed
from the adjacent shores. No part of their journey was more pleasant
than while descending the romantic Elk.

They found plenty of fresh provisions, both in the stream itself and on
its banks. They caught salmon in the water, and the silver-coloured
hyodon, known among the voyageurs by the name of "Doré." They shot both
ducks and geese, and roast-duck or goose had become an everyday dinner
with them. Of the geese there were several species. There were
"snow-geese," so called from their beautiful white plumage; and
"laughing geese," that derive their name from the circumstance that
their call resembles the laugh of a man.

The Indians decoy these by striking their open hand repeatedly over the
mouth while uttering the syllable "wah." They also saw the "Brent
goose," a well-known species, and the "Canada goose," which is the _wild
goose par excellence_. Another species resembling the latter, called the
"barnacle goose," was seen by our travellers. Besides these, Lucien
informed them that there were several other smaller kinds that inhabit
the northern countries of America. These valuable birds are objects of
great interest to the people of the fur countries for months in the
year. Whole tribes of Indians look to them as a means of support.

With regard to ducks, there was one species which our travellers had not
yet met with, and for which they were every day upon the look-out. This
was the far-famed "canvass-back," so justly celebrated among the
epicures of America. None of them had ever eaten of it, as it is not
known in Louisiana, but only upon the Atlantic coast of the United
States. Norman, however, had heard of its existence in the Rocky
Mountains--where it is said to breed--as well as in other parts of the
fur countries, and they were in hopes that they might fall in with it
upon the waters of the Athabasca.

Lucien was, of course, well acquainted with its "biography," and could
have recognised one at sight; and as they glided along he volunteered to
give his companions some information, not only about this particular
species, but about the whole genus of these interesting birds.

"The canvass-back," began he, "is perhaps the most celebrated and
highly-prized of all the ducks, on account of the exquisite flavour of
its flesh--which is thought by some epicures to be superior to that of
all other birds. It is not a large duck--rarely weighing over three
pounds--and its plumage is far from equalling in beauty that of many
other species. It has a red or chestnut-coloured head, a shining black
breast, while the greater part of its body is of a greyish colour; but
upon close examination this grey is found to be produced by a whitish
ground minutely mottled with zig-zag black lines. I believe it is this
mottling, combined with the colour, which somewhat resembles the
appearance and texture of ship's canvass, that has given the bird its
trivial name; but there is some obscurity about the origin of this.

"Shooting the canvass-backs is a source of profit to hundreds of gunners
who live around the Chesapeake Bay, as these birds command a high price
in the markets of the American cities. Disputes have arisen between the
fowlers of different States around the Bay about the right of shooting
upon it; and vessels full of armed men--ready to make war upon one
another--have gone out on this account. But the government of these
States succeeded in settling the matter peacefully, and to the
satisfaction of all parties."

The canoe at this moment shot round a bend, and a long smooth expanse of
the river appeared before the eyes of our voyageurs. They could see that
upon one side another stream ran in, with a very sluggish current; and
around the mouth of this, and for a good stretch below it, there
appeared a green sedge-like water-grass, or rushes. Near the border of
this sedge, and in a part of it that was thin, a flock of wild fowl was
diving and feeding. They were small, and evidently ducks; but the
distance was yet too great for the boys to make out to what species they
belonged.

A single large swan--a trumpeter--was upon the water, between the shore
and the ducks, and was gradually making towards the latter. François
immediately loaded one of his barrels with swan, or rather "buck" shot,
and Basil looked to his rifle. The ducks were not thought of--the
trumpeter was to be the game. Lucien took out his telescope, and
commenced observing the flock. They had not intended to use any
precaution in approaching the birds, as they were not extremely anxious
about getting a shot, and were permitting the canoe to glide gently
towards them.

An exclamation from Lucien, however, caused them to change their
tactics. He directed them suddenly to "hold water," and stop the canoe,
at the same time telling them that the birds ahead were the very sort
about which they had been conversing--the "canvass-backs." He had no
doubt of it, judging from their colour, size, and peculiar movements.

The announcement produced a new excitement. All four were desirous not
only of shooting, but of _eating_, a canvass-back; and arrangements were
set about to effect the former. It was known to all that the
canvass-backs are among the shyest of water-fowl, so much so that it is
difficult to approach them unless under cover. While feeding, it is
said, they keep sentinels on the look-out. Whether this be true or not,
it is certain that they never all dive together, some always remaining
above water, and apparently watching while the others are under.

A plan to get near them was necessary, and one was suggested by Norman,
which was to tie bushes around the sides of the canoe, so as to hide
both the vessel and those in it. This plan was at once adopted--the
canoe was paddled up to the bank--thick bushes were cut, and tied along
the gunwale; and then our voyageurs climbed in, and laying themselves as
low as possible, commenced paddling gently downward in the direction of
the ducks. The rifles were laid aside, as they could be of little
service with such game. François' double-barrel was the arm upon which
dependence was now placed; and François himself leaned forward in the
bow in order to be ready, while the others attended to the guidance of
the vessel. The buckshot had been drawn out, and a smaller kind
substituted. The swan was no longer cared for or even thought of.

In about a quarter of an hour's time, the canoe, gliding silently along
the edge of the sedge--which was the wild celery--came near the place
where the ducks were; and the boys, peeping through the leafy screen,
could now see the birds plainly. They saw that they were not all
canvass-backs, but that three distinct kinds of ducks were feeding
together. One sort was the canvass-backs themselves, and a second kind
very much resembled them, except that they were a size smaller. These
were the "red-heads" or "pochards."

The third species was different from either. They had also heads of a
reddish colour, but of a brighter red, and marked by a white band that
ran from the root of the bill over the crown. This mark enabled Lucien
at once to tell the species. They were widgeons; but the most singular
thing that was now observed by our voyageurs was the terms upon which
these three kinds of birds lived with each other. It appeared that the
widgeon obtained its food by a regular system of robbery and plunder
perpetrated upon the community of the canvass-backs. The latter, as
Lucien explained, feeds upon the roots of the valisneria; but for these
it is obliged to dive to the depth of four or five feet, and also to
spend some time at the bottom while plucking them up. Now the widgeon is
as fond of the "celery" as the canvass-back, but the former is not a
diver--in fact, never goes under water except when washing itself or in
play, and it has therefore no means of procuring the desired roots.
Mark, then, the plan that it takes to effect this end.

Seated as near as is safe to the canvass-back, it waits until the latter
makes his _somersault_ and goes down. It (the widgeon) then darts
forward so as to be sufficiently close, and, pausing again, scans the
surface with eager eye. It can tell where the other is at work, as the
blades of the plant at which it is tugging are seen to move above the
water. These at length disappear, pulled down as the plant is dragged
from its root, and almost at the same instant the canvass-back comes up
holding the root between his mandibles.

But the widgeon is ready for him. He has calculated the exact spot where
the other will rise; and, before the latter can open his eyes or get
them clear of the water, the widgeon darts forward, snatches the
luscious morsel from his bill, and makes off with it. Conflicts
sometimes ensue; but the widgeon, knowing himself to be the lesser and
weaker bird, never stands to give battle, but secures his prize through
his superior agility. On the other hand, the canvass-back rarely
attempts to follow him, as he knows that the other is swifter upon the
water than he. He only looks after his lost root with an air of chagrin,
and then, reflecting that there is "plenty more where it came from,"
kicks up its heels, and once more plunges to the bottom.

The red-head rarely interferes with either, as he is contented to feed
upon the leaves and stalks, at all times floating in plenty upon the
surface.

As the canoe glided near, those on board watched these curious manoeuvres
of the birds with feelings of interest. They saw, moreover, that the
"trumpeter" had arrived among them, and the ducks seemed to take no
notice of him. Lucien was struck with something unusual in the
appearance of the swan. Its plumage seemed ruffled and on end, and it
glided along in a stiff and unnatural manner. It moved its neck neither
to one side nor the other, but held its head bent forward, until its
bill almost touched the water, in the attitude that these birds adopt
when feeding upon something near the surface. Lucien said nothing to his
companions, as they were all silent, lest they might frighten the ducks;
but Basil and Norman had also remarked the strange look and conduct of
the trumpeter. François' eyes were bent only upon the ducks, and he did
not heed the other.

As they came closer, first Lucien, and then Basil and Norman, saw
something else that puzzled them. Whenever the swan approached any of
the ducks, these were observed to disappear under the water. At first,
the boys thought that they merely dived to get out of his way, but it
was not exactly in the same manner as the others were diving for the
roots. Moreover, none of those that went down in the neighbourhood of
the swan were seen to come up again!

There was something very odd in all this, and the three boys, thinking
so at the same time, were about to communicate their thoughts to one
another, when the double crack of François' gun drove the thing, for a
moment, out of their heads; and they all looked over the bushes to see
how many canvass-backs had been killed. Several were seen dead or
fluttering along the surface; but no one counted them, for a strange,
and even terrible, object now presented itself to the astonished senses
of all. If the conduct of the swan had been odd before, it was now
doubly so.

Instead of flying off after the shot, as all expected it would do, it
was now seen to dance and plunge about on the water, uttering loud
screams, that resembled the human voice far more than any other sounds!
Then it rose as if pitched into the air, and fell on its back some
distance off; while in its place was seen a dark, round object moving
through the water, as if making for the bank, and uttering, as it went,
the same hideous human-like screams!

This dark object was no other than the poll of a human being; and the
river shallowing towards the bank, it rose higher and higher above the
water, until the boys could distinguish the glistening neck and naked
shoulders of a red and brawny Indian! All was now explained. The Indian
had been duck-hunting, and had used the stuffed skin of the swan as his
disguise; and hence the puzzling motions of the bird. He had not noticed
the canoe--concealed as it was--until the loud crack of François' gun
had startled him from his work.

This, and the heads and white faces of the boys peeping over the bushes,
had frightened him, even more than he had them. Perhaps they were the
first white faces he had ever seen. But, whether or not, sadly
frightened he was; for, on reaching the bank, he did not stop, but ran
off into the woods, howling and yelling as if Old Nick had been after
him: and no doubt he believed that such was the case.

The travellers picked up the swan-skin put of curiosity; and, in
addition to the ducks which François had killed, they found nearly a
score of these birds, which the Indian had dropped in his fright, and
that had afterwards risen to the surface. These were strung together,
and all had their necks broken.

After getting them aboard, the canoe was cleared of the bushes; and the
paddles being once more called into service, the little craft shot down
stream like an arrow.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE SHRIKE AND THE HUMMING-BIRDS


The picturesque scenery of the Elk appeared to be a favourite resort
with the feathered creation. Here our voyageurs saw many kinds of birds;
both those that migrate into the fur countries during summer, and those
that make their home there in the cold, dark days of winter. Among the
former were observed--the beautiful blue bird of Wilson which, on
account of its gentle and innocent habits, is quite as much esteemed in
America as the "robin" in England.

Another favourite of the farmer and the homestead, the purple martin,
was seen gracefully wheeling through the air; while, among the green
leaves, fluttered many brilliant birds. The "cardinal grosbeak" with his
bright scarlet wings; the blue jay, noisy and chattering; the rarer
"crossbill" with its deep crimson colour; and many others, equally
bright and beautiful, enlivened the woods, either with their voice or
their gaudy plumage.

There was one bird, however, that had neither "fine feathers" nor an
agreeable voice, but that interested our travellers more than any of the
others. Its voice was unpleasant to the ear, and sounded more like the
grating of a rusty hinge than anything else they could think of. The
bird itself was not larger than a thrush, of a light grey colour above,
white underneath, and with blackish wings. Its bill resembled that of
the hawks, but its legs were more like those of the woodpecker tribe;
and it seemed, in fact, to be a cross between the two. It was neither
the colour of the bird, nor its form, nor yet its song, that interested
our travellers, but its singular habits; and these they had a fine
opportunity of observing at one of their "noon camps," where they had
halted to rest and refresh themselves during the hot mid-day hours. The
place was on one of the little islets, which was covered with underwood,
with here and there some larger trees. The underwood bushes were of
various sorts; but close to the spot where they had landed was a large
thicket of honeysuckle, whose flowers were in full bloom, and filled the
air with their sweet perfume.

While seated near these, François' quick eye detected the presence of
some very small birds moving among the blossoms. They were at once
pronounced to be humming-birds, and of that species known as the
"ruby-throats" so called, because a flake of a beautiful vinous colour
under the throat of the males exhibits, in the sun, all the glancing
glories of the ruby. The back, or upper parts, are of a gilded green
colour; and the little creature is the smallest bird that migrates into
the fur countries, with one exception, and that is a bird of the same
genus--the "cinnamon humming-bird." The latter, however, has been seen
in the Northern regions, only on the western side of the Rocky
Mountains; but then it has been observed even as far north as the bleak
and inhospitable shores of Nootka Sound. Mexico, and the tropical
countries of America, are the favourite home of the humming-birds; and
it was, for a long time, supposed that the "ruby-throats" were the only
ones that migrated farther north than the territory of Mexico itself. It
is now known, that besides the "cinnamon humming-bird," two or three
other species annually make an excursion into higher latitudes.

The "ruby-throats" not only travel into the fur countries, but breed in
numbers upon the Elk River, the very place where our travellers now
observed them.

As they sat watching these little creatures, for there were several of
them skipping about and poising themselves opposite the flowers, the
attention of all was attracted to the movements of a far different sort
of bird. It was that one we have been speaking of. It was seated upon a
tree, not far from the honeysuckles; but every now and then it would
spring from its perch, dash forward, and after whirring about for some
moments among the humming-birds fly back to the same tree.

At first the boys watched these manoeuvres without having their curiosity
excited. It was no new thing to see birds acting in this manner. The
jays, and many other birds of the fly-catching kind have this habit, and
nothing was thought of it at the moment. Lucien, however, who had
watched the bird more narrowly, presently declared to the rest that it
was catching the humming-birds, and preying upon them--that each time it
made a dash among the honeysuckles, it carried off one in its claws, the
smallness of the victim having prevented them at first from noticing
this fact. They all now watched it more closely than before, and were
soon satisfied of the truth of Lucien's assertion, as they saw it seize
one of the ruby-throats in the very act of entering the corolla of a
flower.

This excited the indignation of François, who immediately took up his
"double-barrel," and proceeded towards the tree where the bird, as
before, had carried this last victim. The tree was a low one, of the
locust or _pseud-acacia_ family, and covered all over with great thorny
spikes, like all trees of that tribe. François paid no attention to
this; but, keeping under shelter of the underwood, he crept forward
until within shot. Then raising his gun, he took aim, and pulling
trigger, brought the bird fluttering down through the branches. He
stepped forward and picked it up--not that he cared for such unworthy
game, but Lucien had called to him to do so, as the naturalist wished to
make an examination of the creature.

He was about turning to go back to camp, when he chanced to glance his
eye up into the locust-tree. There it was riveted by a sight which
caused him to cry out with astonishment. His cry brought the rest
running up to the spot, and they were not less astonished than he, when
they saw the cause of it. I have said that the branches of the tree were
covered with long thorny spikes that pointed in every direction; but one
branch in particular occupied their attention. Upon this there was about
a dozen of these spikes pointing upward, and upon each spike _was
impaled a ruby-throat_!

The little creatures were dead, of course, but they were neither torn
nor even much ruffled in their plumage. They were all placed back
upwards, and as neatly spitted upon the thorns as if they had been put
there by human hands. On looking more closely it was discovered that
other creatures as well as the humming-birds, had been served in a
similar manner. Several grasshoppers, spiders, and some coleopterous
insects were found, and upon another branch two small meadow-mice had
been treated to the same terrible death.

To Basil, Norman, and François, the thing was quite inexplicable, but
Lucien understood well enough what it meant. All these creatures, he
informed them, were placed there by the bird which François had shot,
and which was no other than the "shrike" or "butcher-bird"--a name by
which it is more familiarly known, and which it receives from the very
habit they had just observed. Why it follows such a practice Lucien
could not tell, as naturalists are not agreed upon this point. Some have
asserted that it spits the spiders and other insects for the purpose of
attracting nearer the small birds upon which it preys; but this cannot
be true, for it preys mostly upon birds that are not insect-eaters, as
the finches: besides, it is itself as fond of eating grasshoppers as
anything else, and consumes large quantities of these insects.

The most probable explanation of the singular and apparently cruel habit
of the butcher-bird is, that it merely places its victims upon the
thorns, in order to keep them safe from ground-ants, rats, mice,
raccoons, foxes, and other preying creatures--just as a good cook would
hang up her meat or game in the larder to prevent the cats from carrying
it off. The thorny tree thus becomes the storehouse of the shrike, where
he hangs up his superfluous spoil for future use, just as the crows,
magpies and jays, make their secret deposits in chinks of walls and the
hollows of trees. It is no argument against this theory, that the
shrike sometimes leaves these stores without returning to them. The fox,
and dog, as well as many other preying creatures have the same habit.

Wondering at what they had seen, the voyageurs returned to their camp,
and once more embarked on their journey.



CHAPTER XX.

THE FISH-HAWK.


A few days after, another incident occurred to our voyageurs, which
illustrated the habits of a very interesting bird, the "osprey," or
fish-hawk, as it is more familiarly known in America.

The osprey is a bird of the falcon tribe, and one of the largest of the
genus--measuring two feet from bill to tail, with an immense spread of
wing in proportion, being nearly six feet from tip to tip. It is of a
dark brown colour above, that colour peculiar to most of the hawk tribe,
while its lower parts are ashy white. Its legs and bill are blue, and
its eyes of a yellow orange. It is found in nearly all parts of America,
where there are waters containing fish, for on these it exclusively
feeds. It is more common on the sea-coast than in the interior, although
it also frequents the large lakes, and lives in the central parts of the
continent during summer, when these are no longer frozen over. It is not
often seen upon muddy rivers, as there it would stand no chance of
espying its victims in the water. It is a migratory bird, seeking the
South in winter, and especially the shores of the Great Mexican Gulf,
where large numbers are often seen fishing together.

In the spring season these birds move to the northward, and make their
appearance along the Atlantic coast of the continent, where they diffuse
joy into the hearts of the fishermen--because the latter know, on seeing
them, that they may soon expect the large shoals of herring, shad, and
other fish, for which they have been anxiously looking out. So great
favourites are they with the fisherman, that they would not knowingly
kill an osprey for a boat-load of fish, but regard these bold fishing
birds in the light of "professional brethren." In this case the old
adage that "two of a trade never agree" is clearly contradicted.

The farmer often takes up his gun to fire at the osprey--mistaking it
for the red-tailed buzzard or some other hawk, several species of which
at a distance it resembles--but, on discovering his mistake, brings down
his piece without pulling trigger, and lets the osprey fly off unharmed.
This singular conduct on the part of the farmer arises from his
knowledge of the fact, that the osprey will not only _not_ kill any of
his ducks or hens, but that where he makes a settlement he will drive
off from the premises all the hawks, buzzards, and kites, that would
otherwise prey upon the poultry. With such protection, therefore, the
osprey is one of the securest birds in America. He may breed in a tree
over the farmer's or fisherman's door without the slightest danger of
being disturbed in his incubation.

I say _his_ incubation; but the male takes no part in this domestic
duty, further than to supply his loved mate with plenty of fish while
she does the hatching business. Of course, thus protected, the osprey is
not a rare bird. On the contrary, fish-hawks are more numerous than
perhaps any other species of the hawk tribe. Twenty or thirty nests may
be seen near each other in the same piece of woods, and as many as three
hundred have been counted on one little island. The nests are built upon
large trees--not always at the tops, as those of rooks, but often in
forks within twenty feet of the ground. They are composed of large
sticks, with stalks of corn, weeds, pieces of wet turf, and then lined
plentifully with dry sea-grass, or any other grass that may be most
convenient.

The whole nest is big enough to make a load for a cart, and would be
heavy enough to give any horse a good pull. It can be seen, when the
woods are open, to an immense distance, and the more easily, as the tree
upon which it is built is always a "dead wood," and therefore without
leaves to conceal it. Some say that the birds select a dead or decaying
tree for their nest. It is more probable such is the effect and not the
cause, of their building upon a particular tree. It is more likely that
the tree is killed partly by the mass of rubbish thus piled upon it, and
partly by the nature of the substances, such as sea-weed in the nest,
the oil of the fish, the excrement of the birds themselves, and the dead
fish that have been dropped about the root, and suffered to remain
there; for when the osprey lets fall his finny prey, which he often
does, he never condescends to pick it up again, but goes in search of
another.

Boys "a-nesting" might easily discover the nest of the osprey; but were
they inclined to despoil it of its three or four eggs (which are about
the size of a duck's, and blotched with Spanish brown), they would find
that a less easy task, for the owners would be very likely to claw their
eyes out, or else scratch the tender skin from their beardless cheeks:
so that boys do not often trouble the nest of the osprey.

A very curious anecdote is related of a negro having climbed up to
plunder a nest of these birds. The negro's head was covered with a close
nap of his own black wool, which is supposed by a certain stretch of
fancy to have the peculiarity of "growing in at both ends." The negro,
having no other protection than that which his thick fur afforded him,
was assailed by both the owners of the nest, one of which, making a dash
at the "darkie's" head, struck his talons so firmly into the wool, that
he was unable to extricate them, and there stuck fast, until the
astonished plunderer had reached the foot of the tree. We shall not
answer for the truthfulness of this anecdote, although there is nothing
improbable about it; for certain it is that these birds defend their
nests with courage and fury, and we know of more than one instance of
persons being severely wounded who made the attempt to rob them.

The ospreys, as already stated, feed exclusively on fish. They are not
known to prey upon birds or quadrupeds of any kind, even when deprived
of their customary food, as they sometimes are for days on account of
the lakes and rivers, in which they expected to find it being frozen
over to a later season than usual. Other birds, as the purple grakles,
often build among the sticks of the osprey's nest, and rear their young
without being meddled with by this generous bird. This is an important
point of difference between the osprey and other kinds of hawks; and
there is a peculiarity of structure about the feet and legs of the
osprey, that points to the nature of his food and his mode of procuring
it. His legs are disproportionately long and strong. They are without
feathers nearly to the knees. The feet and toes are also very long, and
the soles are covered with thick, hard scales, like the teeth of a rasp,
which enable the bird to hold securely his slippery prey. The claws,
too, are long, and curved into semicircles, with points upon them almost
as sharp as needles.

I have stated that an incident occurred to our party that illustrated
some of the habits of this interesting bird. It was upon the afternoon
of a Saturday, after they had fixed their camp to remain for the
following day. They had landed upon a point or promontory that ran out
into the river, and from which they commanded a view of a fine stretch
of water. Near where they had placed their tent was the nest of an
osprey, in the forks of a large poplar. The tree, as usual, was dead,
and the young were plainly visible over the edge of the nest. They
appeared to be full-grown and feathered; but it is a peculiarity of the
young ospreys that they will remain in the nest, and be fed by the
parent birds, until long after they might be considered able to shift
for themselves. It is even asserted that the latter become impatient at
length, and drive the young ones out of the nest by beating them with
their wings; but that for a considerable time afterwards they continue
to feed them--most likely until the young birds learn to capture their
finny prey for themselves.

This Lucien gave as a popular statement, but did not vouch for its
truth. It was not long, however, before both he and his companions
witnessed its complete verification.

The old birds, after the arrival of the voyageurs upon the promontory,
had remained for some time around the nest, and at intervals had shot
down to where the party was, uttering loud screams, and making the air
whizz with the strokes of their wings. Seeing that there was no
intention of disturbing them, they at length desisted from these
demonstrations, and sat for a good while quietly upon the edge of their
nest. Then first one, and shortly after the other, flew out, and
commenced sailing in circles, at the height of an hundred feet or so
above the water. Nothing could be more graceful than their flight. Now
they would poise themselves a moment in the air, then turn their bodies
as if on a pivot, and glide off in another direction.

All these motions were carried on with the most perfect ease, and as if
without the slightest aid from the wings. Again they would come to a
pause, holding themselves fixed in mid-air by a gentle flapping, and
appearing to scrutinise some object below. Perhaps it was a fish; but it
was either too large a one, or not the species most relished, or maybe
it had sunk to too great a depth to be easily taken. Again they sail
around; one of them suddenly arrests its flight, and, like a stone
projected from a sling, shoots down to the water. Before reaching the
surface, however, the fish, whose quick eye has detected the coming
enemy, has gone to the dark bottom and concealed himself; and the
osprey, suddenly checking himself by his wings and the spread of his
full tail, mounts again, and re-commences his curvilinear flight.

After this had gone on for some time, one of the birds--the larger one,
and therefore the female--was seen to leave off hunting and return to
the nest. There she sat only for a few seconds, when, to the
astonishment of the boys, she began to strike her wings against the
young ones, as if she was endeavouring to force them from the nest. This
was just what she designed doing. Perhaps her late unsuccessful attempt
to get them a fish had led her to a train of reflections, and sharpened
her determination to make them shift for themselves. However that may
be, in a few moments she succeeded in driving them up to the edge, and
then, by half pushing, and half beating them with her wings, one after
the other--two of them there were--was seen to take wing, and soar away
out over the lake.

At this moment, the male shot down upon the water, and then rose again
into the air, bearing a fish, head-foremost, in his talons. He flew
directly towards one of the young, and meeting as it hovered in the air,
turned suddenly over and held out the fish to it. The latter clutched it
with as much ease as if it had been accustomed to the thing for years,
and then turning away, carried the fish to a neighbouring tree, and
commenced devouring it.

The action had been perceived by the other youngster, who followed
after, and alighted upon the same branch, with the intention of sharing
in the meal. In a few minutes the best part of the fish was eaten up,
and both, rising from the branch, flew back to their nest. There they
were met by the parents, and welcomed with a loud squeaking, that was
intended, no doubt, to congratulate them upon the success of their first
"fly."



CHAPTER XXI.

THE OSPREY AND HIS TYRANT.


After remaining for some time on the nest along with the others, the old
male again resolved to "go a-fishing," and with this intent he shot out
from the tree, and commenced wheeling above the water. The boys, having
nothing better to engage them, sat watching his motions, while they
freely conversed about his habits and other points in his natural
history. Lucien informed them that the osprey is a bird common to both
Continents, and that it is often seen upon the shores of the
Mediterranean, pursuing the finny tribes there, just as it does in
America. In some parts of Italy it is called the "leaden eagle," because
its sudden heavy plunge upon the water is fancied to resemble the
falling of a piece of lead.

While they were discoursing, the osprey was seen to dip once or twice
towards the surface of the water, and then suddenly check himself, and
mount upward again. These manoeuvres were no doubt caused by the fish
which he intended to "hook" having suddenly shifted their quarters. Most
probably experience had taught them wisdom, and they knew the osprey as
their most terrible enemy. But they were not to escape him at all times.
As the boys watched the bird, he was seen to poise himself for an
instant in the air, then suddenly closing his wings, he shot vertically
downward.

So rapid was his descent, that the eye could only trace it like a bolt
of lightning. There was a sharp whizzing sound in the air--a plash was
heard--then the smooth bosom of the water was seen to break, and the
white spray rose several feet above the surface. For an instant the bird
was no longer seen. He was underneath, and the place of his descent was
marked by a patch of foam. Only a single moment was he out of sight. The
next he emerged, and a few strokes of his broad wing carried him into
the air, while a large fish was seen griped in his claws. As the
voyageurs had before noticed, the fish was carried head-foremost, and
this led them to the conclusion that in striking his prey beneath the
water the osprey follows it and aims his blow from behind.

After mounting a short distance the bird paused for a moment in the air,
and gave himself a shake, precisely as a dog would do after coming out
of water. He then directed his flight, now somewhat slow and heavy,
toward the nest. On reaching the tree, however, there appeared to be
some mismanagement. The fish caught among the branches as he flew
inward. Perhaps the presence of the camp had distracted his attention,
and rendered him less careful. At all events, the prey was seen to drop
from his talons; and bounding from branch to branch, went tumbling down
to the bottom of the tree.

Nothing could be more opportune than this, for François had not been
able to get a "nibble" during the whole day, and a fresh fish for dinner
was very desirable to all. François and Basil had both started to their
feet, in order to secure the fish before the osprey should pounce down
and pick it up; but Lucien assured them that they need be in no hurry
about that, as the bird would not touch it again after he had once let
it fall. Hearing this, they took their time about it, and walked
leisurely up to the tree, where they found the fish lying. After taking
it up they were fain to escape from the spot, for the effluvium arising
from a mass of other fish that lay in a decomposed state around the tree
was more than any delicate pair of nostrils could endure.

The one they had secured proved to be a very fine salmon of not less
than six pounds weight, and therefore much heavier than the bird itself!
The track of the osprey's talons was deeply marked; and by the direction
in which the creature was scored, it was evident the bird had seized it
from behind. The old hawks made a considerable noise while the fish was
being carried away; but they soon gave up their squealing, and, once
more hovering out over the river, sailed about with their eyes bent upon
the water below.

"What a number of fish they must kill!" said François. "They don't
appear to have much difficulty about it. I should think they get as much
as they can eat. See! there again! Another, I declare!"

As François spoke the male osprey was seen to shoot down as before, and
this time, although he appeared scarcely to dip his foot in the water,
rose up with a fish in his talons.

"They have sometimes others to provide for besides themselves," remarked
Lucien. "For instance, the bald eagle----"

Lucien was interrupted by a cackling scream, which was at once
recognised as that of the very bird whose name had just escaped his
lips. All eyes were instantly turned in the direction whence it
came--which was from the opposite side of the river--and there, just in
the act of launching itself from the top of a tall tree, was the great
enemy of the osprey--the white-headed eagle himself!

"Now a chase!" cried François, "yonder comes the big robber!"

With some excitement of feeling, the whole party watched the movements
of the birds. A few strokes of the eagle's wing brought him near; but
the osprey had already heard his scream, and knowing it was no use
carrying the fish to his nest, turned away from it, and rose spirally
upward, in the hope of escaping in that direction. The eagle followed,
beating the air with his broad pinions, as he soared after. Close behind
him went the female osprey, uttering wild screams, flapping her wings
against his very beak, and endeavouring to distract his attention from
the chase. It was to no purpose, however, as the eagle full well knew
her object, and disregarding her impotent attempts, kept on in steady
flight after her mate. This continued until the birds had reached a high
elevation, and the ospreys, from their less bulk, were nearly out of
sight. But the voyageurs could see that the eagle was on the point of
overtaking the one that carried the fish.

[Illustration: THE OSPREY AND WHITE-HEADED EAGLE.]

Presently, a glittering object dropped down from the heavens, and fell
with a plunge upon the water. It was the fish, and almost at the same
instant was heard the "whish!" of the eagle, as the great bird shot
after it. Before reaching the surface, however, his white tail and wings
were seen to spread suddenly, checking his downward course; and then,
with a scream of disappointment, he flew off in a horizontal direction,
and alit upon the same tree from which he had taken his departure. In a
minute after the ospreys came shooting down, in a diagonal line, to
their nest; and, having arrived there, a loud and apparently angry
consultation was carried on for some time, in which the young birds bore
as noisy a part as either of their parents.

"It's a wonder," said Lucien, "the eagle missed the fish--he rarely
does. The impetus which he can give his body enables him to overtake a
falling object before it can reach the earth. Perhaps the female osprey
was in his way, and hindered him.

"But why did he not pick it up in the water?" demanded François.

"Because it went to the bottom, and he could not reach it--that's
clear."

It was Basil who made answer, and the reason he assigned was the true
one.

"It's too bad," said François, "that the osprey, not half so big a bird,
must support this great robber-tyrant by his industry."

"It's no worse than among our own kind," interposed Basil. "See how the
white man makes the black one work for him here in America. That,
however, is the _few_ toiling for the _million_. In Europe the case is
reversed. There, in every country, you see the million toiling for the
few--toiling to support an oligarchy in luxurious case, or a monarch in
barbaric splendour."

"But why do they do so? the fools!" asked François, somewhat angrily.

"Because they know no better. That oligarchy, and those monarchs, have
taken precious care to educate and train them to the belief that such is
the _natural_ state of man. They furnish them with school-books, which
are filled with beautiful sophisms--all tending to inculcate principles
of endurance of wrong, and reverence for their wrongers. They fill their
rude throats with hurrah songs that paint false patriotism in glowing
colours, making loyalty--no matter to whatsoever despot--the greatest of
virtues, and revolution the greatest of crimes; they studiously divide
their subjects into several creeds, and then, playing upon the worst of
all passions--the passion of religious bigotry--easily prevent their
misguided helots from uniting upon any point which would give them a
real reform. Ah! it is a terrible game which the present rulers of
Europe are playing!"

It was Basil who gave utterance to these sentiments, for the young
republican of Louisiana had already begun to think strongly on political
subjects. No doubt Basil would one day be an M.C.

"The bald eagles have been much blamed for their treatment of the
ospreys, but," said Lucien, "perhaps they have more reason for levying
their tax than at first appears. It has been asked: Why they do not
capture the fish themselves? Now, I apprehend, that there is a _natural_
reason why they do not. As you have seen, the fish are not always caught
upon the surface. The osprey has often to plunge beneath the water in
the pursuit, and Nature has gifted him with power to do so, which, if I
am not mistaken, she has denied to the eagles. The latter are therefore
compelled, in some measure, to depend upon the former for a supply. But
the eagles sometimes do catch the fish themselves, when the water is
sufficiently shallow, or when their prey comes near enough to the
surface to enable them to seize it."

"Do they ever kill the ospreys?" inquired François.

"I think not," replied Lucien; "that would be 'killing the goose,' etc.
They know the value of their tax-payers too well to get rid of them in
that way. A band of ospreys, in a place where there happens to be many
of them together, have been known to unite and drive the eagles off.
That, I suppose, must be looked upon in the light of a successful
_revolution_."

The conversation was here interrupted by another incident. The ospreys
had again gone out fishing, and, at this moment, one of them was seen to
pounce down and take a fish from the water. It was a large fish, and, as
the bird flew heavily upward, the eagle again left its perch, and gave
chase. This time the osprey was overtaken before it had got two hundred
yards into the air, and seeing it was no use attempting to carry off the
prey, it opened its claws and let it drop.

The eagle turned suddenly, poised himself a moment, and then shot after
the falling fish. Before the latter had got near the ground, he overtook
and secured it in his talons. Then, arresting his own flight by the
sudden spread of his tail, he winged his way silently across the river,
and disappeared among the trees upon the opposite side. The osprey,
taking the thing as a matter of course, again descended to the proper
elevation, and betook himself to his work. Perhaps he grinned a little,
like many another royal taxpayer, but he knew the tax had to be paid all
the same, and he said nothing.

An incident soon after occurred that astonished and puzzled our party
not a little. The female osprey, that all this time seemed to have had
but poor success in her fishing, was now seen to descend with a rush,
and plunge deeply into the wave. The spray rose in a little cloud over
the spot, and all sat watching with eager eyes to witness the result.
What was their astonishment when, after waiting many seconds, the bird
still remained under water! Minutes passed, and still she did not come
up. _She came up no more!_ The foam she had made in her descent floated
away--the bosom of the water was smooth as glass--not a ripple disturbed
its surface. They could have seen the smallest object for a hundred
yards or more around the spot where she had disappeared.

It was impossible she could have emerged without them seeing her. Where,
then, had she gone? This, as I have said, puzzled the whole party; and
formed a subject of conjecture and conversation for the rest of that
day, and also upon the next. Even Lucien was unable to solve the
mystery. It was a point in the natural history of the osprey unknown to
him. Could she have drowned herself? Had some great fish, the "gar
pike," or some such creature, got hold of and swallowed her? Had she
dashed her head against a rock, or become entangled in weeds at the
bottom of the river?

All these questions were put, and various solutions of the problem were
offered. The true one was not thought of, until accident revealed it.
It was Saturday when the incident occurred. The party, of course,
remained all next day at the place. They heard almost continually the
cry of the bereaved bird, who most likely knew no more than they what
had become of his mate. On Monday our travellers re-embarked and
continued down-stream. About a mile below, as they were paddling along,
their attention was drawn to a singular object floating upon the water.
They brought the canoe alongside it.

It was a large fish, a sturgeon, floating dead, with a bird beside it,
also dead! On turning both over, what was their astonishment to see that
the talons of the bird were firmly fixed in the back of the fish! It was
the _female osprey_! This explained all. She had struck a fish too heavy
for her strength, and being unable to clear her claws again, had been
drawn under the water and had perished along with her victim!



CHAPTER, XXII.

THE VOYAGE INTERRUPTED.


About ten days' rapid travelling down the Elk River brought our party
into the Athabasca Lake--sometimes called the "Lake of the Hills." This
is another of those great bodies of fresh water that lie between the
primitive rocks of the "Barren Grounds," and the more fertile limestone
deposit upon the west. It is nearly two hundred miles long from west to
east, and it is only fifteen miles in breadth, but in some places it is
so narrow and full of islands that it looks more like a broad river than
a lake. Its shores and many of its islands are thickly wooded,
particularly upon the southern and western edges; and the eye of the
traveller is delighted with many a beautiful vista as he passes along.
But our voyageurs took little heed of these things.

A gloom had come over their spirits, for one of their party had taken
ill, and was suffering from a painful and dangerous disease--an
intermittent fever. It was Lucien--he that was beloved by all of them.
He had been complaining for several days--even while admiring the fair
scenery of the romantic Elk--but every day he had been getting worse,
until, on their arrival at the lake, he declared himself no longer able
to travel. It became necessary, therefore, to suspend their journey; and
choosing a place for their camp, they made arrangements to remain until
Lucien should recover. They built a small log-hut for the invalid, and
did everything to make him as comfortable as possible. The best skins
were spread for his couch; and cooling drinks were brewed for him from
roots, fruits, and berries, in the way he had already taught his
companions to prepare them.

Every day François went forth with his gun, and returned with a pair of
young pigeons, or a wood-partridge, or a brace of the beautiful ruffed
grouse; and out of these he would make delicate soups, which he was the
better able to do as they had procured salt, pepper, and other
ingredients, at the Fort. They had also brought with them a stock of
tea--the real China tea--and sugar; and as the quantity of both was but
small, this luxurious beverage was made exclusively for Lucien, and was
found by him exceedingly beneficial during his illness.

To the great joy of all the invalid was at length restored to health,
and the canoe being once more launched and freighted, they continued
their journey.

They coasted along the shores of the lake, and entered the Great Slave
River, which runs from the Athabasca into the Great Slave Lake. They
soon came to the mouth of another large river, called the Peace. This
runs into the Great Slave a short distance below Lake Athabasca, and,
strange to say, the sources of the Peace River lie upon the _western_
side of the Rocky Mountains, so that this stream actually runs across
the mountain-chain! It passes through the mountains in a succession of
deep gorges, which are terrible to behold. On both sides dizzy cliffs
and snow-capped peaks rise thousands of feet above its rocky bed, and
the scenery is cold and desolate.

Its head-waters interlock with those of several streams that run into
the Pacific; so that, had our voyageurs wished to travel to the shores
of that ocean, they might have done so in their birch-bark canoe nearly
the whole of the way. But this was not their design at present, so they
passed the _débouchure_ of the Peace, and kept on for the Great Slave
Lake. They were still upon the same water as the Elk, for the Great
Slave is only another name for that part of the river lying between the
two lakes--Athabasca and Great Slave. Of course the river had now become
much larger by the influx of the Peace, and they were travelling upon
the bosom of a magnificent stream, with varied scenery upon its banks.

They were not so happy, however, as when descending the Elk--not but
that they were all in good health, for Lucien had grown quite strong
again. No, it was not any want of health that rendered them less
cheerful. It was the prospect before them--the prospect of coming
winter, which they now felt certain would arrive before they had got to
the end of their journey. The delay of nearly a month, occasioned by
Lucien's illness, had deranged all their calculations; and they had no
longer any hope of being able to finish their voyage in what remained of
the short summer. The ice would soon make its appearance; the lakes and
rivers would be frozen up; they could no longer navigate them in their
canoe. To travel afoot would be a most laborious undertaking, as well as
perilous in an extreme degree.

In this way it is only possible to carry a very small quantity of
provisions--for the traveller is compelled to load himself with
skin-clothing in order to keep out the cold. The chances of procuring
game by the way in that season are precarious, and not to be depended
upon. Most of the birds and many of the quadrupeds migrate to more
southern regions; and those that remain are shy and rare. Besides, great
snow-storms are to be encountered, in which the traveller is in danger
of getting "smoored." The earth is buried under a deep covering of snow,
and to pass over this while soft is difficult, and at times quite
impossible. All these circumstances were known to our young
voyageurs--to Norman better than any of them--and of course the prospect
was a cheerless one--much more so than those unacquainted with the
winter of these dreary regions would be willing to believe.

It was the month of August, near its end, when they reached the Great
Slave Lake, in the latitude of 62°. The days had now become very short,
and their journeys grew short in proportion. They already experienced
weather as cold as an English winter. There were slight frosts at
night--though not yet enough to cover the water with ice--and the
mid-day hours were hot, sometimes too hot to be comfortable. But this
only caused them to feel the cold the more sensibly when evening set in;
and all their robes and skins were necessary to keep them warm during
the night.

The Great Slave Lake, like the Athabasca, is very long and very narrow.
It extends full 260 miles from east to west, but at its widest part is
not over thirty, and in some places much less. Along its northern shores
lies the edge of the "Barren Grounds," and there nothing meets the eye
but bleak and naked hills of primitive rock. On its southern side the
geology is entirely of a different character. There the limestone
prevails, and scarcely anything that deserves the name of hill is to be
seen. There are fine forests too, in which poplars, pines, and birches,
are the principal trees. The lake is filled with islands, many of which
are wholly or partially covered with timber of these kinds, and willows
also are abundant.

There are fish of several species in its waters--which are in many
places of great depth--sixty fathoms deep--and in some of the islands,
and around the wooded shores, game exists in abundance in the summer
season. Even in winter it is not scarce, but then it is difficult to
follow it on account of the deep snow. Many of the animals, too, at this
season become torpid, and are of course hidden in caves and hollow
trees, and even in the snow itself, where no one can find them.
Notwithstanding all this, our voyageurs knew that it would be the best
place for them to make their winter camp. They saw that to complete
their journey during that season would be impossible. Even had it been a
month earlier it would have been a difficult undertaking.

In a few days winter would be upon them. They would have to stop
somewhere. There was no place where they could so safely stay as by the
lake. One thing they would have there, which might not be found so
plenty elsewhere, that was wood for their fire; and this was an
inducement to remain by the lake. Having made up their minds, therefore,
to encamp on some part of it, they looked from day to day for a place
that would be most suitable, still continuing their journey towards its
western end. As yet no place appeared to their liking, and as the lake
near its western point trends away towards the south, Norman proposed
that they should follow the shore no longer, but strike across to a
promontory on the northern shore of the lake, known as "Slave Point."

This promontory is of the limestone formation, and as Norman had heard,
is well wooded, and stocked with game. Even buffaloes are found there.
It is, in fact, the farthest point to the north-east that these animals
range, and this presents us with a curious fact. It is the farthest
point that the limestone deposit extends in that direction. Beyond that,
to the east and north, lie the primitive rocks of the Barren Grounds,
into which the buffaloes never stray. Thus we observe the connexion that
exists between the _fauna_ of a country and its geological character.

Of course they all agreed to Norman's proposal. The canoe was,
therefore, headed for the open waters; and, after a hard day's
paddling--for there was a head-wind--the voyageurs landed upon a small
wooded island, about half-way over the lake, where they encamped for
the night, intending next day to cross the remaining part.



CHAPTER XXIII.

FISHING UNDER THE ICE.


On awaking next morning, to their great surprise, they saw that the
_lake was frozen over_! They had almost anticipated as much, for the
night was one of the coldest they had yet experienced--so cold that one
and all of them had slept but badly. As yet the ice was thin, but so
much the worse. It was thick enough to prevent them from using the
canoe, but too thin to bear their weight, and they now saw that they
were _prisoners upon the island_!

It was not without some feelings of alarm that they made this discovery;
but their fears were allayed by reflecting, that they could remain upon
the island until the ice either thawed away or become strong enough to
bear them, and then they could cross upon it to the northern shore. With
this consolation, therefore, they set about making their temporary
quarters upon the island as snug as circumstances would permit. Their
apprehensions, however, began to return again, when several days had
passed over, and the ice neither grew any thinner nor any thicker, but
seemed to remain at a stand-still. In the early part of the morning it
was almost strong enough to bear them; but during the day the sun melted
it, until it was little better than a scum over the surface of the
water.

The alarm of our voyageurs increased. Their provisions were nearly out.
There was no game on the islet--not so much as a bird--for they had
beaten every bush, and found nothing. Once or twice they thought of
launching their canoe and breaking a way for it through the ice. But
they knew that this proceeding would be one of much labour as well as
danger. The islet was full ten miles from the shore, and they would
therefore have to break the ice for ten miles. Moreover, to stand up in
a bark canoe, so as to get at the work, would be a difficult task. It
could not be accomplished without endangering the equilibrium of the
vessel, and indeed without upsetting it altogether. Even to lean forward
in the bow would be a perilous experiment; and under these
considerations the idea of breaking a way was abandoned.

But their provisions were at length entirely exhausted, and what was to
be done? The ice was still too weak to carry them. Near the shore it
might have been strong enough, but farther out lay the danger. There
they knew it was thinner, for it had not frozen over until a later
period. It would have been madness to have risked it yet. On the other
hand, they were starving, or likely to starve from hunger, by staying
where they were. There was nothing eatable on the island. What was to be
done? In the water were fish--they doubted not that--but how were they
to catch them? They had tried them with hook and line, letting the hook
through a hole in the ice; but at that late season the fish would not
take a bait, and although they kept several continually set, and
"looked" them most regularly and assiduously, not a "tail" was taken.

They were about to adopt the desperate expedient, now more difficult
than ever, of breaking their way through the ice, when, all at once, it
occurred to Norman, that, if they could not coax the fish to take a
bait, they might succeed better with a net, and capture them against
their will. This idea would have been plausible enough, had there been a
net; but there was no net on that islet, nor perhaps within an hundred
miles of it. The absence of a net might have been an obstacle to those
who are ever ready to despair; but such an obstacle never occurred to
our courageous boys. They had two _parchment_ skins of the caribou which
they had lately killed, and out of these Norman proposed to make a net.

He would soon do it, he said, if the others would set to work and cut
the deer-skins into thongs fine enough for the purpose. Two of them,
therefore, Basil and Lucien, took out their knives, and went briskly to
work; while François assisted Norman in twining the thongs, and
afterwards held them, while the latter wove and knotted them into
meshes. In a few hours both the skins were cut into fine strips, and
worked up; and a net was produced nearly six yards in length by at least
two in width. It was rude enough, to be sure, but perhaps it would do
its work as well as if it had been twined out of silk. At all events, it
was soon to have a trial--for the moment it was finished the sinkers
were attached to it, and it was carried down to the edge of the water.

The three "Southerners" had never seen a net set under ice--for in their
country ice is an uncommon thing, and indeed never freezes of sufficient
thickness to carry the weight of a man. They were therefore very curious
to know how the thing was to be done. They could not conceive how the
net was to be stretched under the ice, in such a manner as to catch the
fish. Norman, however, knew all about it. He had seen the Indians, and
had set many a one himself. It was no new thing for him, and he set
about it at once.

He first crept out upon the ice to the distance of about twenty or
thirty yards from the shore. He proceeded cautiously, as the ice creaked
under him. Having arrived at the place where he intended to set the net,
he knelt down, and with his knife cut several holes in the ice, at the
distance of about six feet from each other, and all in one line. He had
already provided himself with a straight sapling of more than six feet
in length, to one end of which he had attached a cord. The other end of
this cord was tied to the net, at one of its corners. He now thrust the
sapling through the first hole he had made, and then guided it so as to
pass directly under the second.

At this hole he took a fresh hold of the stick, and passed it along to
the next, and so on to the last, where he pulled it out again, and of
course along with it the string. The net was not drawn into the first
hole, and by means of the cord already received through, was pulled out
to its full length. The sinkers, of course, fell down in the water, and
drew it into a vertical position. At both its upper corners the net was
made fast above the ice, and was now "set." Nothing more could be done
until the fish came into it of their own accord, when it could be drawn
out upon the ice by means of the cord attached; and, of course, by the
same means could easily be returned to its place, and set again.

All of them now went back to the fire, and with hungry looks sat around
it, waiting the result. They had made up their minds, should no fish be
caught, to get once more into the canoe and attempt breaking their way
to the shore. Summoning all their patience, therefore, they waited for
nearly two hours, without examining the net. Then Norman and Basil
crawled back upon the ice, to see what fortune had done for them. They
approached the spot, and, with their hearts thumping against their ribs,
untied the knot and commenced hauling out.

"It certainly feels heavy," said Basil, as the net was being drawn.
"Hurrah!" he shouted, "Something kicks, hurrah!" and with the second
"hurrah!" a beautiful fish was pulled up through the hole, and landed
upon the ice. A loud "hurrah" was uttered in response by Lucien and
François--who, fearing the ice might not bear so many, had remained upon
the shore. A yard or two more of the net was cleared, and a second fish
still larger than the former was greeted with a general "hurrah!" The
two fish were now taken out--as these were all that had been caught--and
the net was once more carefully set. Basil and Norman came back to the
shore--Norman to receive quite a shower of compliments from his
companions.

The fish--the largest of which weighed nearly five pounds--proved to be
trout; and it was not long before their quality was put to the proof.
All declared they had never eaten so fine trout in their lives; but when
the condition of their appetites is taken into account, we may infer
that there was, perhaps, a little exaggeration in this statement. If
hunger really makes good sauce, our voyageurs had the best of sauce with
their fish, as each of them was as hungry as a half-famished wolf.

They felt quite relieved, as far as present appetite went, but they were
still uneasy for the future. Should they not succeed in taking more
fish--and it was by no means certain they should succeed--they would be
no better off than ever. Their anxiety, however, was soon removed. Their
second "haul" proved even more successful than the first--as five fish,
weighing together not less than twenty pounds, were pulled up.

This supply would enable them to hold out for a long time, but they had
not much longer to remain on the islet. Upon that very night there was
one of those severe frosts known only in high latitudes, and the ice
upon the lake became nearly a foot in thickness. They had no longer any
fear of its breaking under their weight; and taking their canoe with all
their "traps," they set out to cross over upon the ice. In a few hours
they reached the shore of the lake, near the end of the promontory,
where they chose a spot, and encamped.



CHAPTER XXIV.

AN ODD ALARM.


The first thing our voyageurs did after choosing a suitable situation,
was to build a log-hut. Being young backwoodsmen this was but a trifle
to them. All four of them knew how to handle an axe with dexterity. The
logs were soon cut and notched, and a small cabin was put up, and roofed
with split clap-boards. With the stones that lay near the shore of the
lake they built a chimney. It was but a rude structure, but it drew
admirably. Clay was wanted to "chink" the cabin, but that could not be
had, as the ground was hard frozen, and it was quite impossible to make
either clay or mud.

Even hot water poured out would freeze into ice in a few minutes. This
was a serious want--for in such a cold climate even the smallest hole in
the walls will keep a house uncomfortable, and to fill the interstices
between the logs, so as to make them air-tight, some soft substance was
necessary. Grass was suggested, and Lucien went off in search of it.
After awhile he returned with an armful of half-withered grass, which
all agreed would be the very thing; and a large quantity was soon
collected, as it grew plentifully at a short distance from the cabin.

They now set to work to stuff it into the chinks; when, to their
astonishment, they found that this grass had a beautiful smell, quite as
powerful and as pleasant as that of mint or thyme! When a small quantity
of it was flung into the fire it filled the cabin with a fragrance as
agreeable as the costliest perfumes. It was the "scented grass," which
grows in great profusion in many parts of the Hudson's Bay territory,
and out of which the Indians often make their beds, burning it also upon
the fire to enjoy its aromatic perfume.

For the first day or two, at their new abode, the travellers had lived
altogether on fish. They had, of course, brought their net with them
from the island, and had set it near the shore in the same way as
before. They had captured as many as they wanted, and, strange to say,
at one haul they found no less than five different species in the net!
One kind, a white fish, the _Coregonus albus_ of naturalists, but which
is named "tittameg" by the fur-traders, they caught in great plenty.
This fish is found in nearly all the lakes and rivers of the Hudson's
Bay territory, and is much prized both by whites and Indians for its
delicate flavour. At some of the trading posts it often forms, for weeks
together, the only food which the residents can obtain; and they are
quite satisfied when they can get enough of it. The tittameg is not a
large fish; the largest attain to the weight of about eight pounds.

There was another and still smaller species, which, from its colour, the
voyageurs call the "poisson bleu," or blue fish. It is the _Coregonus
signifer_ of ichthyologists. It is a species of grayling, and frequents
sharp-running water, where it will leap at the fly like a trout. Several
kinds of trout also inhabit the Great Slave Lake, and some of these
attain to the enormous weight of eighty pounds! A few were caught, but
none of so gigantic proportions as this. Pike were also taken in the
net, and a species of burbot. This last is one of the most voracious of
the finny tribe, and preys upon all others that it is able to swallow.
It devours whole quantities of cray-fish, until its stomach becomes
crammed to such a degree as to distort the shape of its whole body. When
this kind was drawn out, it was treated very rudely by the boys--because
its flesh was known to be extremely unsavoury, and none of them cared to
eat it. Marengo, however, had no such scruples, and he was wont to make
several hearty meals each day upon the rejected burbot.

A fish diet exclusively was not the thing; and as our party soon grew
tired of it, the hunter Basil shouldered his rifle, and strode off into
the woods in search of game. The others remained working upon the cabin,
which was still far from being finished.

Basil kept along the edge of the lake in an easterly direction. He had
not gone more than a quarter of a mile, when he came upon a dry gravelly
ridge, which was thickly covered with a species of pine-trees that
resembled the Scotch fir. These trees were not over forty feet in
height, with very thick trunks and long flexible branches. No other
trees grew among them, for it is the nature of this pine--which was the
"scrub" or grey pine--to monopolise the ground wherever it grows. As
Basil passed on, he noticed that many of the trees were completely
"barked," particularly on the branches; and small pieces of the bark lay
scattered over the ground, as though it had been peeled off and gnawed
by some animal. He was walking quietly on and thinking what creature
could have made such a wreck, when he came to a place where the ground
was covered with fine sand or dust.

In this, to his astonishment, he observed what he supposed to be the
tracks of human feet! They were not those of a man, but small tracks,
resembling the footsteps of a child of three or four years of age. He
was about stooping down to examine them more closely, when a voice
sounded in his ears exactly like the cry of a child! This brought him
suddenly to an erect attitude again, and he looked all round to discover
who or what had uttered that strange cry. He could see no one--child or
man--and strange, too, for he had a clear view through the tree-trunks
for several hundred yards around. He was filled with curiosity, not
unmixed with alarm; and, stepping forward a few paces, he was about to
bend down and examine the tracks a second time, when the singular cry
again startled him.

This time it was louder than before, as if he was closer to whatever had
uttered it, but Basil now perceived that it proceeded from above him.
The creature from which it came was certainly not upon the ground, but
high up among the tops of the trees. He looked up, and there, in the
fork of one of the pines, he perceived a singular and hideous-looking
animal--such as he had never before seen. It was of a brown colour,
about the size of a terrier-dog, with thick shaggy hair, and clumped up
in the fork of the tree--so that its head and feet were scarcely
distinguishable.

Its odd appearance, as well as the peculiar cry which it had uttered,
would have alarmed many a one of less courage than our young hunter, and
Basil was at first, as he afterwards confessed, "slightly flurried;" but
a moment's reflection told him what the animal was--one of the most
innocent and inoffensive of God's creatures--the Canada porcupine. It
was this, then, that had barked the scrub pines--for they are its
favourite food; and it was its track--which in reality very much
resembles that of a child--that Basil had seen in the sand.

The first thought of the young hunter was to throw up his rifle, and
send a bullet through the ungainly animal; which, instead of making any
effort to escape, remained almost motionless, uttering, at intervals,
its child-like screams. Basil, however, reflected that the report of his
rifle would frighten any large game that might chance to be near; and as
the porcupine was hardly worth a shot, he concluded, upon reflection, it
would be better to leave it alone. He knew--for he had heard Lucien say
so--that he would find the porcupine at any time, were it a week, or
even a month after--for these creatures remain sometimes a whole winter
in the same grove. He resolved, therefore, should no other game turn up,
to return for it; and, shouldering his rifle again, he continued his
course through the woods.

As he proceeded, the timber became thinner. The scrub-pines gave place
to poplar-trees, with here and there an undergrowth of willows. The
trees stood far apart, and the willows grew only in clumps or "islands,"
so that the view was nearly open for many hundred yards around. Basil
walked on with all the silence and watchfulness of a true "still"
hunter--for, among backwoodsmen, this species of hunting is so called.
He ascended a low hill, and keeping a tree in front of him, looked
cautiously over its crest. Before him, and stretching from the bottom of
the hill, was a level tract of considerable extent.

It was bounded on one side by the edge of the lake, and on all the
others by thin woods, similar to those through which the hunter had been
for some time travelling. Here and there, over the plain, there stood
trees, far apart from each other, and in nowise intercepting the view
for a mile or more. The ground was clear of underwood, except along the
immediate edge of the lake, which was fringed by a thicket of willows.

As Basil looked over the hill, he espied a small group of animals near
the interior border of the willows. He had never seen animals of the
same species before, but the genus was easily told. The tall antlered
horns, that rose upon the head of one of them, showed that they were
deer of some kind; and the immense size of the creature that bore them,
together with his ungainly form, his long legs, and ass-like ears, his
huge head with its overhanging lip, his short neck with its standing
mane, and, above all, the broad palmation of the horns themselves, left
Basil without any doubt upon his mind that the animals before him were
moose-deer--the largest, and perhaps the most awkward, of all the deer
kind.

The one with the antlers was the male or bull-moose. The others were the
female and her two calves of the preceding year. The latter were still
but half-grown, and, like the female, were without the "branching horns"
that adorned the head of the old bull. They were all of a dark-brown
colour--looking blackish in the distance--but the large one was darker
than any of the others.

Basil's heart beat high, for he had often heard of the great moose, but
now saw it for the first time. In his own country it is not found, as it
is peculiarly a creature of the cold regions, and ranges no farther to
the south than the northern edge of the United States territory. To the
north it is met with as far as timber grows--even to the shores of the
Polar Sea! Naturalists are not certain, whether or not it be the same
animal with the elk of Europe. Certainly the two are but little, if
anything, different; but the name "elk" has been given in America to
quite another and smaller species of deer--the wapiti.

The moose takes its name from its Indian appellation, "moosöa," or
"wood-eater;" and this name is very appropriate, as the animal lives
mostly upon the leaves and twigs of trees. In fact, its structure--like
that of the camelopard--is such that it finds great difficulty in
reaching grass, or any other herbage, except where the latter chances to
be very tall, or grows upon the declivity of a very steep hill. When it
wishes to feed upon grass, the moose usually seeks it in such
situations; and it may often be seen browsing up the side of a hill,
with its legs spread widely on both sides of its neck. But its favourite
food is found at a more convenient height, and consists of the young
shoots of many species of trees. It prefers those of the poplar, the
birch-tree, and willows, and one kind of these last, the red willow, is
its particular favourite.

The "striped" maple is also much relished by the moose--hence the name
"moose-wood," by which this tree is known among the hunters. It loves
also the common water-lilies, and in summer it may be seen wading out
into lakes, and plucking up their succulent leaves. It takes to the
water also for other purposes--to cool its body, and rid itself of
several species of gnats and mosquitoes that at this season torment it
exceedingly. At such times it is more easily approached; and the Indians
hunt it in their canoes, and kill it in the water, both with spears and
arrows. They never find the moose, however, in large numbers--for it is
a solitary animal, and only associates in pairs during one part of the
year, and in families at another season--as Basil now found it.

In winter the Indians track it through the snow, following it upon
snow-shoes. These give them the advantage of skimming along the surface,
while the moose plunges through the deep rift, and is therefore impeded
in its flight. Notwithstanding, it will frequently escape from the
hunter, after a _chase of several days' duration_! Sometimes, in deep
snow, a dozen or more of these animals will be found in one place, where
they have got accidentally together. The snow will be trodden down until
the place appears as if enclosed by a wall. This the hunters term a
"moose-pound," and when found in such situations the moose are easily
approached and surrounded--when a general _battue_ takes place, in which
few or none of the animals are allowed to escape.

I have said that Basil's heart beat high at the sight of the moose. He
was very desirous of killing one--partly on account of the novelty of
the thing, and partly because he and his companions at the camp were
anxious for a change of diet. Moose-meat was the very thing; and he knew
that if he could return to camp with a few pieces of this strung over
his gun, he would receive a double welcome. He was well aware that the
flesh of the moose was of the most savoury and delicate kind, and that
the long pendulous upper lip is one of the "tit-bits" of the fur
countries. Moreover, the fine hide would be an acceptable addition to
their stock, as it is the best of all deer-skins for mocassins, as well
as snow-shoes--articles which Basil knew would soon be needed. For these
reasons he was unusually desirous of killing one of the moose.

He knew it would be difficult to approach them. He had heard that they
were shyest at that very season--the beginning of winter--and indeed
such is the case. No deer is so difficult to get a shot at as a moose in
early winter. In summer it is not so--as then the musquitoes torment
these animals to such a degree that they pay less heed to other enemies,
and the hunter can more easily approach them. In winter they are always
on the alert. Their sense of smell--as well as of sight and hearing--is
acute to an extreme degree, and they are cunning besides. They can scent
an enemy a long distance off--if the wind be in their favour--and the
snapping of a twig, or the slightest rustle of the leaves, is sufficient
to start them off.

In their journeyings through the snow, when they wish to rest
themselves, they make a sort of _détour_, and, coming back, lie down
near the track which they have already passed over. This gives them an
opportunity of hearing any enemy that may be following upon their
trail, and also of making off in a side-direction, while the latter will
be looking steadfastly ahead for them.

Basil had heard of all these tricks of the moose--for many an old
moose-hunter had poured his tale into Basil's ear. He proceeded,
therefore, with all due caution. He first buried his hand in his
game-bag, and after a little groping brought out a downy feather which
had chanced to be there. This he placed lightly upon the muzzle of his
rifle, and having gently elevated the piece above his head, watched the
feather. After a moment, the breeze carried it off, and Basil noted the
direction it took. This is called, in hunter phrase, "tossing the
feather," and gave Basil the exact direction of the wind--an important
knowledge in the present case.

To Basil's gratification he saw that it was blowing down the lake, and
nearly towards himself. He was not exactly to leeward of the moose; but,
what was better still, the willows that fringed the lake were, for he
could see them bending from the deer, as the breeze blew freshly. He
knew he could easily get among the willows; and as they were not quite
leafless, and, moreover, were interspersed with tall reed grass, they
formed a tolerable cover under which he might make his approach.

Without losing time, then, he made for the willows, and placing them
between himself and the game, commenced "approaching" along the shore of
the lake.

He had a full half-hour's creeping--at one time upon his hands and
knees--at another crawling flat upon his breast like a gigantic lizard,
and now and then, at favourable spots, walking in a bent attitude. A
full half-hour was he, and much pain and patience did it cost him,
before getting within shot. But Basil was a hunter, and knew both how to
endure the pain and practise the patience--virtues that, in hunting as
well as in many other occupations usually meet with their reward. And
Basil was likely to meet with his, for on parting the leaves, and
looking cautiously through, he saw that he had arrived at the right
spot. Within fifty yards of him he saw the high shoulders of the
bull-moose and his great flat antlers towering over the tops of the
willows, among the leaves of which the snout of the animal was buried.
He also caught a glimpse of parts of the other three beyond; but he
thought only of the bull, and it was upon him that he kept his eyes
fixed. Basil did not think of the quality of the meat, else he would
have selected either the cow or one of the calves. Had it been buffaloes
he would certainly have done so; but as he had never killed a moose, he
was determined to slay the leader of the herd.

Indeed, had he wished to shoot one of the others, it might not have been
so easy, as they were farther off, and he could only see the tops of
their shoulders over the willows. Neither did the bull offer a fair
mark. He stood face to face with the hunter, and Basil fancied that a
shot on the frontal bone might not kill him. He knew it would not kill a
buffalo. There was only one other part at which he could aim--the
fore-shoulder; and after waiting some moments for the animal to give him
a fairer chance he took aim at this and fired. He heard a loud cracking
of hoofs, as the cow and calves shambled off over the plain, but he saw
that the bull was not with them. He was down behind the willows. No
doubt he was dead.



CHAPTER XXV.

ENCOUNTER WITH A MOOSE.


What was a rare thing for Basil to do, he rushed forward without
reloading his gun. A few springs brought him into the open ground, and
in presence of the game. To his astonishment, the bull was not dead, nor
down neither, but only upon his knees--of course wounded. Basil saw the
"crease" of the bullet along the neck of the animal as he drew near. It
was only by a quick glance that he saw this, for as soon as the bull saw
_him_ he rose to his full height--his eyes flashing like a tiger's--and
settling his antlers in a forward position, sprang upon the hunter!
Basil leaped aside to avoid the encounter; and in the first rush was
successful, but the animal turned suddenly, and, coming up a second
time, raised his fore-feet high in the air, and struck forward with his
long-pointed hoofs.

Basil attempted to defend himself with his rifle, but the piece was
struck out of his hand in an instant. Once more avoiding the forward
rush of the infuriated beast, the young hunter looked around for some
object to save him. A tree fell under his eye, and he ran towards it
with all his speed. The moose followed close upon his heels, and he had
just time to reach the tree and get around its trunk, when the animal
brushed past, tearing the bark with his sharp antlers. Basil now slipped
round the trunk, and when the moose again turned himself the two were on
opposite sides of the tree! The beast, however, rushed up, and struck
the tree furiously first with his brow antlers, and then with his hoofs,
uttering loud snorts, and at intervals a shrill whistling sound that was
terrible to hear.

The disappointment which the enraged animal felt, at seeing his enemy
thus escape him, seemed to have added to his rage; and he now vented his
spite upon the tree, until the trunk, to the height of six feet, was
completely stripped of its bark. While this was going on, Basil remained
behind the tree, "dodging" round as the moose manoeuvred, and taking care
always to have the animal on the opposite side. To have got into a safer
situation he would have climbed the tree; but it happened to be a
poplar, without a branch for many feet from the ground, and of too great
a girth to be "embraced." He could do nothing, therefore, but remain
upon the ground, and keep the tree-trunk between himself and the bull.

For nearly an hour this lasted, the moose now remaining at rest for a
few minutes, and then making fresh onsets that seemed to abate nothing
in their fury. His rage appeared to be implacable, and his vengeance as
tenacious as that of a tiger or any other beast of prey. The wound which
the hunter had given him was no doubt painful, and kept his resentment
from cooling. Unfortunately, it was not a mortal wound, as Basil had
every opportunity of seeing. The bullet had hit the fore-shoulder; but,
after tearing along the skin, had glanced off without injuring the bone.
It had only enraged the bull, without crippling him in the least degree.

Basil began to dread the result. He was becoming faint with fatigue as
well as hunger. When would he be relieved? When would the fierce brute
feel inclined to leave him? These were questions which the hunter put to
himself repeatedly, without being able to divine an answer. He had heard
of hunters being killed by wounded moose. He had heard that these
creatures will remain for days watching a person whom they may have
"treed." He could not stand it for days. He would drop down with
fatigue, and then the bull would gore and trample him at pleasure. Would
they be able to trace him from the camp? They would not think of that
before nightfall. They would not think of him as "lost" before that
time; and then they could not follow his trail in the darkness, nor even
in the light--for the ground was hard as a rock, and he had made no
footmarks. Marengo might trace him. The dog had been left at the camp,
as Basil preferred "still-hunting" without him. But in his present
situation the hunter's apprehensions were stronger than his hopes. Even
Marengo might be baffled in lifting the scent.

The trail was an exceedingly devious one, for Basil had meandered round
the sides of the hill in search of game. Deer or other animals might
have since crossed it, which might mislead the hound. It would be cold
at night, and much colder next morning. There were many chances that no
relief might reach him from the camp. Impressed with this conviction,
Basil began to feel serious alarm. Not despair, however--he was not the
boy to despair. His mind only grew more alive to the necessity for
action. He looked around to discover some means of escape. His gun lay
not a hundred yards off. Could he only get hold of the piece, and return
safely to the tree again, he could there load it and put an end to the
scene at once. But to reach the gun was impossible. The moose would
bound after and overtake him to a certainty. The idea of getting the gun
was abandoned.

In the opposite direction to that in which the gun lay, Basil perceived
that there were other trees. The nearest was but a dozen yards from him;
and others, again, grew at about the same distance from that one, and
from each other. Basil now conceived the idea of escaping to the
nearest, and from that to the next, and by this means getting back into
the thick forest. Once there, he believed that he would be the better
able to effect his escape, and perhaps reach the camp by dodging from
tree to tree. He could beat the moose for a dozen yards--getting a
little the start of him--and this he hoped to be able to do. Should he
fail in his short race, however--should his foot slip--the alternative
was fearful. _It was no other than death!_

He knew that, but it did not change his resolution to make the attempt.
He only waited for the animal to work round between him and the tree
towards which he intended to run. You will wonder that he did not prefer
to have the moose on the other side. But he did not, for this
reason--had the bull been there, he could have sprung after him at the
first start; whereas, when heading the other way, Basil believed he
could brush close past, and gain an advantage, as the unwieldy brute,
taken by surprise, would require some time in turning himself to give
chase.

The opportunity at length arrived; and, nerving himself for the race,
the hunter sprang past the moose, brushing the very tips of its antlers.
He ran without either stopping or even looking back, until he had
reached the tree, and sheltered himself behind its trunk. The moose had
followed, and arrived but the moment after, snorting and whistling
furiously. Enraged at the _ruse_, it attacked this tree, as it had the
other, with hoof and horns; and Basil nimbly evaded both by keeping on
the opposite side, as before.

In a few minutes he prepared himself for a second rush, and once more
started. A third tree was reached in safety--and then a fourth, and a
fifth, and many others, in a similar manner--the moose all the while
following in hot pursuit. Basil had begun to hope that in this way he
would get off, when, to his chagrin, he saw that an open space still
intervened between him and the thick woods, upon which there were only a
few trees, and those so small that not one of them would have sheltered
him. This tract was full two hundred yards in width, and extended all
along the edge of the thick forest. He dared not cross it. The moose
would overtake him before he could get half the way; and he was obliged
to give up the idea of making the attempt.

As he stood behind the last tree he had reached, he saw that it
branched, and the lowest branches grew but a little above his head. He
could easily climb it, and at once resolved to do so. He would there be
safe for the time, and could at least rest himself, for he was now weak
with fatigue. He therefore stretched up his hands, and, laying hold of a
branch, swung himself up into the tree. Then, climbing up a little
higher, he sat down on one of the forks.

The moose appeared as furious as ever; and ran round the tree, now
striking it with his horns, and then rearing upon his hind-legs, and
pouncing against the trunk with his hoofs. At times his snout was so
close to Basil, that the latter could almost touch it; and he had even
drawn his hunting-knife, and reached down with the intent of giving the
creature a stab.

This last action led to a train of thought, and Basil seemed suddenly to
adopt some new resolution. Leaving the fork where he had perched
himself, he climbed higher up the tree; and, selecting one of the
longest and straightest branches, commenced cutting it off close to the
trunk. This was soon effected; and then, drawing it along his knee, he
trimmed off all the twigs and tops until the branch became a straight
pole, like a spear-handle. Along one end of this he laid the handle of
his knife; and with thongs, which he had already cut out of the strap of
his bullet-pouch, he spliced the knife and pole together. This gave him
a formidable weapon--for the knife was a "bowie," and had a long blade,
with a point like a rapier. He was not slow in using it.

Descending again to the lowermost limbs, he commenced making
demonstrations, in order to bring the moose within reach. This he very
soon succeeded in doing; and the animal ran forward and reared up
against the tree. Before it could get upon its four legs again, Basil
had thrust it in the neck, giving full force to the blow. The blood
rushed forth in a thick stream, as the jugular vein had been cut by the
keen blade; and the huge brute was seen to totter in its steps, and then
fall with a dull heavy sound to the earth. In a few moments the hunter
had the satisfaction of perceiving that it was quite dead.

Basil now dropped out of the tree, and walking back to where his rifle
lay, took up the piece and carefully reloaded it. He then returned to
the moose, and opening the great jaws of the animal, gagged them with a
stick. He next unspliced his knife, took off the gristly lips, and cut
out the tongue. These he placed in his game-bag, and shouldering his
rifle, was about to depart; when some new idea caused him to halt, put
down his gun, and again unsheath his knife. Once more approaching the
carcass, he made an incision near the kidneys; and having inserted his
hand, drew forth what appeared to be a part of the intestines. It was
the bladder. He then looked around as if in search of something.
Presently his eye rested upon some tall reed-grass that was growing
near. This was just what he wanted, and, pulling up one of the stems, he
cut and fashioned it into a pipe.

[Illustration: BASIL AND THE MOOSE BULL.]

With this the moose-bladder was blown out to its full dimensions, and
tied at the neck by a piece of thong. The other end of the thong was
fastened to one of the branches of the tree above, so that the bladder
dangled within a few feet of the carcass of the moose, dancing about
with the lightest breath of wind. All these precautions Basil had taken
to keep the wolves from devouring the moose--for it was his intention to
return and butcher it, as soon as he could get help. When he had hung
the bladder to his liking, he put up his knife again; and, once more
shouldering his rifle, walked off.

On reaching the camp--which he did shortly after--the tongue of the
moose was broiled without delay, and, after making a delicious meal of
it, the whole party went off for the remainder of the meat. They found
it all quite safe; although, had it not been for the bladder, not much
of it would have been there--as no less than a dozen great gaunt wolves
were seen lurking about, and these would have eaten it up in the
shortest possible time. The bladder, however, had kept them off; for,
strange to say, these creatures, who are as cunning as foxes, and can
hardly be trapped, can yet be deceived and frightened by such a simple
thing as a bladder dangling from a branch.

The moose proved to be one of the largest of his kind. His height was
quite equal to that of a horse; and his horns, flattened out to the
breadth of shovels, weighed over sixty pounds. His carcass was not less
than fifteen hundred pounds weight; and our voyageurs had to make two
journeys to convey the meat to their camp. On the last journey, François
brought the porcupine as well--having found it on the very same tree
where Basil had left it!



CHAPTER XXVI.

LIFE IN A LOG-HUT.


The log-hut was finished on the 1st of September, and not a day too
soon; for on that very day the winter set in with full severity. A heavy
fall of snow came down in the night; and next morning, when our
voyageurs looked abroad, the ground was covered to the depth of a foot,
or more; and the ice upon the lake was also white. Walking through the
great wreaths now became very difficult; and the next thing to be done
was the making of "snow-shoes."

Snow-shoes are an invention of the Indians; and, in the winter of the
Arctic regions of America, are an article almost as indispensable as
clothing itself. Without them, travelling afoot would be impossible. In
these countries, as already stated, the snow often covers the ground to
the depth of many feet; and remains without any considerable diminution
for six, and, in some years, eight or nine months. At times, it is
frozen hard enough on the surface to bear a man without the snow-shoes;
but oftener on account of thaws and fresh falls, it becomes quite soft,
and at such times travelling over it is both difficult and dangerous. To
avoid both the difficulty and the danger, the Indians make use of this
very singular sort of foot-wear--called "snow-shoes" by the English, and
"raquets" by the Canadian voyageurs.

They are used by all the Indian tribes of the Hudson's Bay territory;
and were it not for them these people would be confined to one place for
months together, and could not follow the deer or other game. As almost
all savages are improvident, and none more so than the North American
Indians, were they prevented for a season from going out to hunt, whole
tribes would starve. Indeed, many individuals of them perish with hunger
as it is; and the life of all these Indians is nothing more than one
continued struggle for food enough to sustain them. In summer they are
often in the midst of plenty; slaughtering deer and buffalo by hundreds,
taking out only the tongues, and recklessly leaving the flesh to the
wolves! In winter the very same Indians may be seen without a pound of
meat in their encampment--the lives of themselves and their families
depending upon the success of a single day's hunt!

But let us return to the snow-shoes. Let us see what they are, and learn
how they are made.

Any boy who has snared sparrows in snow-time, has, no doubt, done so by
tying his snares upon a hoop netted across with twine or other small
cord. Now, if he will conceive his hoop bent into an oblong
shape--something like what the figure of a boat turned on its mouth
would make in snow--and if he will also fancy the netting to consist of
thongs of twisted deer-hide woven somewhat closely together, he will get
a very good idea of an Indian snow-shoe. It is usually from three to
four feet long, by about a foot wide at the middle part, from which it
tapers gently to a point, both at the heel and toe.

The frame, as I have said, is like the hoop of a boy's bird-snare. It is
made of light, tough wood, and, of course, carefully bent and polished
with the knife. The slender branches of the "scrub-pine" are esteemed
excellent for this purpose, as their wood is light, flexible and tough
in its fibres. This is also a favourite tree, where it grows, to make
tent-poles, canoe-timbers, and other implements required by the Indians;
and these people use so much of it for their arrows, that it has
received from the Canadian voyageurs the name of _bois de flêche_
(arrow-wood).

Well, then, the frame of the snow-shoes being bent to its proper shape,
two transverse bars are placed across near the middle, and several
inches from each other. They are for the foot to rest upon, as well as
to give strength to the whole structure. These being made fast, the
netting is woven on, and extends over the whole frame, with the
exception of a little space in front of the bars where the ball of the
foot is to rest. This space is left free of netting, in order to allow
play to the toes while walking. The mesh-work is made of thongs usually
cut from the parchment-skin of a deer, and twisted. Sometimes twisted
intestines are used, and the netting exactly resembles that seen in
"racquets" for ball play.

The snow-shoe, when finished, is simply fastened upon the foot by means
of straps or thongs; and a pair of them thus placed, will present a
surface to the snow of nearly six square feet--more, if required, by
making them larger. But this is enough to sustain the heaviest man upon
the softest snow, and an Indian thus "shod" will skim over the surface
like a skater.

The shoes used by all tribes of Indians are not alike in shape. There
are fashions and fancies in this respect. Some are made--as among the
Chippewa Indians--with one side of the frame nearly straight; and these,
of course, will not do for either foot, but are "rights and lefts."
Generally, however, the shape is such that the snow-shoe will fit either
foot.

The snow-shoes having now become a necessary thing, our young voyageurs
set about making a complete set for the whole party--that is, no less
than four pairs. Norman was the "shoemaker," and Norman knew how. He
could splice the frames, and work in the netting, equal to an Indian
squaw. Of course all the others assisted him. Lucien cut the moose-skin
into fine regular strips; Basil waded off through the snow, and procured
the frames from the wood of the scrub-pine trees where he had
encountered the porcupine; and then he and François trimmed them with
their knives, and sweated them in the hot ashes until they became dry,
and ready for the hands of the "shoemaker."

This work occupied them several days, and then each had a pair of shoes
fitted to his size and weight.

The next consideration was, to lay in a stock of meat. The moose had
furnished them with enough for present use, but that would not last
long, as there was no bread nor anything else to eat with it. Persons in
their situation require a great deal of meat to sustain them, much more
than those who live in great cities, who eat a variety of substances,
and drink many kinds of drinks. The healthy voyageur is rarely without a
keen appetite; and meat by itself is a food that speedily digests, and
makes way for a fresh meal; so that the ration usually allowed to the
_employés_ of the fur companies would appear large enough to supply the
table of several families. For instance, in some parts of the Hudson's
Bay territory, the voyageur is allowed eight pounds of buffalo-meat _per
diem_! And yet it is all eaten by him, and sometimes deemed barely
sufficient.

A single deer, therefore, or even a buffalo, lasts a party of voyageurs
for a very short time, since they have no other substance, such as bread
or vegetables, to help it out. It was necessary, then, that our
travellers should use all their diligence in laying up a stock of dried
meat, before the winter became too cold for them to hunt. There was
another consideration--their clothing. They all had clothing sufficient
for such weather as they had yet experienced; but that would never do
for the winter of the Great Slave Lake, and they knew it. Many deer must
be killed, and many hides dressed, before they could make a full set of
clothing for all, as well as a set of deer-skin blankets, which would be
much needed.

As soon as the snow-shoes were finished, therefore, Basil and Norman
went out each day upon long hunting expeditions, from which they rarely
returned before nightfall. Sometimes they brought with them a deer, of
the caribou or reindeer species, and the "woodland" variety, which were
in plenty at this place. They only carried to camp the best parts with
the skin, as the flesh of the woodland caribou is not much esteemed. It
is larger than the other kind--the "Barren Ground caribou," weighing
about one hundred and fifty pounds; but both its venison and hide are of
inferior quality to those of the latter species. Sometimes our hunters
killed smaller game; and on several occasions they returned without
having emptied their guns at all.

But there was one day that made up for several--one grand day when they
were extremely successful, and on which they killed a whole herd of
moose, consisting of five individuals--the old bull, a spike buck--that
is, a young buck, whose horns had not yet got antlers upon them--the
cow, and two calves. These they had tracked and followed for a long
distance, and had succeeded, at length, in running them into a valley
where the snow was exceedingly deep, and where the moose became
entangled. There had been a shower of rain the day before that had
melted the surface of the snow; and this had again frozen into an icy
crust, upon which the deer lacerated their ankles at every plunge,
leaving a track of blood behind them as they ran.

Under these circumstances they were easily trailed, and Basil and
Norman, skimming along upon their snow-shoes, soon came up with them,
and shot first one and then another, until the whole herd were stretched
in the valley. They then butchered them, and hung the hides and quarters
upon high branches, so as to secure them from wolves and wolverenes.
When the job was finished, the whole place looked like a great
slaughter-yard! Next day a rude sledge was constructed; and the
voyageurs, returning in full force, transported the meat to camp. Huge
fires were kindled outside the hut, and several days were spent in
cutting up and drying the flesh. Had our travellers been certain that
the frost would have continued all winter, this would not have been
necessary--since the meat was already frozen as hard as a brick.

But they knew that a sudden thaw would spoil it; and, as there was
plenty of good firewood on the spot, they were not going to run the risk
of losing it in that way.

They had now enough provision to last them for months; and hunting
became no longer necessary, except to obtain fresh meat--which was, of
course, preferable to the dry stock. Hunting, also, gave them exercise
and amusement--both of which were necessary to their health; for to
remain idle and inactive in a situation such as that in which they were
placed is the worst possible plan, and is sure to engender both sickness
and _ennui_. Indeed, the last grew upon them, notwithstanding all the
pains they took to prevent it. There were days on which the cold was so
extreme, that they could not put their noses out of the door without the
danger of having them frost-bitten--although each had now a complete
suit of deer-skin clothing, made by Lucien, the "tailor" of the party.

Upon such days they were fain to remain shut up in their hut; and,
seated around their huge log-fire, they passed the time in cleaning
their guns, mending their nets, stitching their clothes, and such-like
employments. These days were far from being their dullest; for, what
with the varied and scientific knowledge of Lucien, which he took
pleasure in imparting to his companions--what with the practical
experience of Norman amid scenes of Arctic life, and the many "voyageur
tales" he could tell--what with François merry jokes and _bon mots_--and
what with Basil's _talent for listening_--not the least important
element in a good _conversazione_,--our _quartette_ of young voyageurs
found their indoor days anything but dull.

This was all well enough for a while. For a month or two they bore their
odd kind of life cheerfully enough; but the prospect of nearly six
months more of it began to appal them, when they reflected upon it; and
they soon found themselves longing for a change. Hunting adventures,
that at other times would have interested them, now occurred without
creating any excitement; and the whole routine of their employments
seemed monotonous. Nearly all of them were boys of an active character
of mind; and most of them were old enough to reason about the value of
time. Their idea of such a long isolation from civilized life, and,
above all, the being debarred from following any useful pursuit, began
to impress some of them forcibly. Others, as François, could not be
contented for a very great stretch of time with any sort of life; so
that all of them began to sigh for a change.

One day, while conversing upon this theme, a bold proposal was made by
Basil. It was, that they should "strike camp," and continue their
journey. This proposal took the others by surprise, but they were all
just in the frame of mind to entertain and discuss it; and a long
consultation was held upon the point. François chimed in with the
proposal at once; while Lucien, more cautious, did not exactly oppose,
but rather offered the reasons that were against it, and pointed out the
perils of the undertaking. Norman, of course, was appealed to--all of
them looking to him as one whose advice, upon that question at least,
was more valuable than their own.

Norman admitted the dangers pointed out by Lucien, but believed that
they might overcome them by a proper caution. On the whole, Norman
approved of the plan, and it was at length adopted. Perhaps Norman's
habitual prudence was to some extent influenced on this occasion by the
very natural desire he had of returning to what he considered his home.
He had now been absent nearly two years, and was desirous of once more
seeing his father and his old companions at the Fort.

There was another feeling that influenced nearly all of them: that was
_ambition_. They knew that to make such a journey would be something of
a feat, and they wished to have the credit of performing it. To minds
like that of Basil, even the danger had something attractive in it. It
was resolved then to break up the encampment, and continue their
journey.



CHAPTER XXVII.

TRAVELLING ON SNOW-SHOES.


Once their resolution was taken, they lost but little time in making
preparations to carry it out. Most of the articles required for such a
journey were already in their hands. They had the proper
dresses--snow-shoes, skin-blankets, and gloves. They had prepared for
themselves sets of "snow spectacles." These were made out of red
cedar-wood. Each pair consisted of two small thin pieces, that covered
the eyes, joined together and fastened on by thongs of buckskin. In each
piece an oblong slit served for the eye-hole, through which the eye
looked without being dazzled by the snow. Without this, or some like
contrivance, travelling in the Arctic regions is painful to the eyes,
and the traveller often loses his sight. Indeed, one of the most common
infirmities of both the Indians and Esquimaux of these parts is
blindness or soreness of the eyes, caused by the reflexion of the
sunbeams from the crystals of the frozen snow. Norman was aware of this,
and had made the spectacles to guard against this peril.

Out of their spare skins they had made a small tent. This was to be
carried along by Marengo in a light sledge, which they had long since
constructed, and taught the dog to draw. Nothing else remained but to
pack their provisions in the smallest bulk possible, and this was done,
according to the custom of the country, by making "pemmican." The dry
meat was first pounded until it became a powder; it was then put into
small skin bags, made for the purpose, and the hot melted fat was poured
in and well mixed with it. This soon froze hard, and the mixture--that
resembled "potted meat,"--was now ready for use, and would keep for an
indefinite time without the least danger of spoiling. Buffalo-beef,
moose-meat, or venison of any sort, thus prepared, is called
"_pemmican_," and is more portable in this shape than any other. Besides
no further cooking is required--an important consideration upon those
vast prairie deserts, where firewood is seldom to be procured without
the trouble of carrying it a great distance.

Norman, who was the maker of the pemmican, had produced a superior
article upon this occasion. Besides the pounded meat and fat, he had
mixed another ingredient with it, which rendered it a most delicious
food. This third ingredient was a small purple-coloured berry--of which
we have already spoken--not unlike the whortleberry, but sweeter and of
a higher flavour. It grows through most of the Northern regions of
America; and in some places, as upon the Red River and the Elk, the
bushes that produce it are seen in great plenty.

Previous to the setting in of winter, our voyageurs had collected a
large bagful upon the banks of the Elk, which they had dried and stored
away--expecting to stand in need of them for this very purpose. They now
came into use, and enabled Norman to make his pemmican of the very
choicest quality. Five bags of it were put up, each weighing over thirty
pounds. One of these was to be drawn upon the sledge, along with the
tent, the axe, and a few other articles. The rest were to be carried by
the voyageurs themselves--each shouldering one, which, along with their
guns and accoutrements, would be load enough.

These arrangements being at length complete, the party bid adieu to
their log-hut--gave a parting look to their little canoe, which still
rested by the door--and then, shouldering their guns and bags of
pemmican, set out over the frozen surface of the snow.

Of course before starting they had decided upon the route they were to
take. This decision, however, had not been arrived at until after much
discussion. Lucien advised that they should follow the shore of the lake
until they should reach the Mackenzie River--which of course was now
frozen up. Its channel, he argued, would then guide them; and, in case
their provisions should run short, they would be more likely to find
game upon its banks than elsewhere, as these were wooded almost to the
sea--in consequence of its head-waters rising in southern latitudes, and
carrying with them a warmer climate.

There was plausibility in Lucien's argument, combined with much
prudence. Norman, however, advised a contrary course. He said that they
would have to make a considerable journey westward before reaching the
place where the Mackenzie River flows out of the lake; and, moreover, he
knew that the river itself was very crooked--in some places winding
about in great curves, whose ends come near meeting each other. Should
they keep the course of the river, Norman believed it would almost
double their journey. A much shorter route, he said, would be obtained
by striking across the country in a north-westerly direction, so as to
reach the Mackenzie near where another great stream--the River of the
Mountains--empties into it from the west. This would certainly be a more
direct route, and they would avoid the windings of the river channel.

Norman's reasoning prevailed. Basil and François readily agreed to his
plan, and Lucien at length also gave his assent, but with some
reluctance. Norman knew nothing whatever of the route he was advising
them to take. His former journeys up and down the Mackenzie had been
made in summer, and of course he had travelled by canoe, in company with
the traders and voyageurs. He only knew that to strike across the
country would be the shorter way. But "the shortest way is not always
the nearest," says the proverb; and although Lucien remembered this
prudent maxim, the others did not give it a thought. Before the end of
their journey they received a practical lesson of its wisdom--a lesson
they were not likely to forget. But they knew not what was before them,
and they started off in high spirits.

Their first three or four days' journeys were without any event worth
being chronicled. They travelled full twenty miles each day. The
Southerners had become quite skilful in the management of their
snow-shoes, and they skimmed along upon the icy crust at the rate of
three or four miles an hour.

Marengo and his sledge gave them very little trouble. There was full
sixty pounds weight upon it; but to the huge dog this was a mere
bagatelle, and he pulled it after him without any great strain. His
harness was neatly made of moose-skin, and consisted of a collar with a
back strap and traces--the traces meeting behind, where they were
attached to the head of the sledge. No head-gear was necessary, as
Marengo needed not to be either led or driven. The sledge consisted of
two or three light planks of smooth wood, laid alongside each other, and
held together by transverse bands. In front it turned up with a circular
sweep, so as not to "plough" the snow; and at the top of this curved
part the traces were adjusted. The load was, of course, carefully packed
and tied, so that the overturning of the vehicle did no damage whatever,
and it could be easily righted again. Marengo required no one to guide
him, but followed quietly in the tracks of the snow-shoes, and thus
avoided the trees, rocks, and other inequalities. If a rabbit or other
creature started up, Marengo knew better than to go galloping after it;
he felt that he had a more important duty to perform than to throw away
his time upon rabbit-hunting.

Each night a spot was chosen for the camp by the side of some lake or
stream, where wood could be obtained for their fire. Water was got by
breaking a hole in the ice, and the little tent was always set up in a
sheltered situation.

Upon the fifth day after leaving the log-hut the woods began to grown
thinner and more straggling; and towards night of the same day they
found themselves travelling through a country, where the timber only
grew here and there in small clumps, and the individual trees were small
and stunted. Next day still less timber was seen upon their route; and
when camping-time came, they were obliged to halt at a spot where
nothing but willows could be procured for their fire. They had, in fact,
arrived upon the edge of that vast wilderness, the Barren Grounds, which
stretches in all its wild desolation along the Northern half of the
American continent from the Great Slave Lake even to the shores of the
Arctic Sea on the north, and to those of Hudson's Bay on the east.

This territory bears an appropriate name, for, perhaps, upon the whole
surface of the earth there is no tract more barren or desolate--not even
the Saära of Africa. Both are deserts of immense extent, equally
difficult to cross, and equally dangerous to the traveller. On both the
traveller often perishes, but from different causes. On the Saära it is
_thirst_ that kills; upon the Barren Grounds _hunger_ is more frequently
the destroyer. In the latter there is but little to be feared on the
score of water. That exists in great plenty; or where it is not found,
snow supplies its place. But there is water everywhere. Hill succeeds
hill, bleak, rocky, and bare. Everywhere granite, gneiss, or other
primitive rocks, show themselves.

No vegetation covers the steep declivities of the hills, except the moss
and lichen upon the rocks, a few willows upon the banks of streams, the
dwarf birch-tree or the scrub-pines, rising only to the height of a few
inches, and often straggling over the earth like vines. Every hill has
its valley, and every valley its lake--dark, and deep, and silent--in
winter scarce to be distinguished under the snow-covered ice. The
prospect in every direction exhibits a surface of rocks, or bleak hills,
half covered with snow. The traveller looks around and sees no life. He
listens and hears no sound. The world appears dead and wrapped in its
cold winding-sheet!

Amidst just such scenes did our voyageurs find themselves on the seventh
day after parting from the lake. They had heard of the Barren
Grounds--had heard many fearful stories of the sufferings of travellers
who had attempted to cross them; but the description had fallen far
short of the actual reality. None of them could believe in the
difficulties to be encountered, and the desolateness of the scene they
were to witness, until now that they found themselves in its midst; and,
as they proceeded on their journey, getting farther and farther from the
wooded region, their apprehensions, already aroused by the wild aspect
of the country, grew stronger and stronger. They began to entertain
serious fears, for they knew not how far the barren tract extended along
their route.

On calculation they found they had provisions enough to last them for a
month. That in some measure restored their confidence; but even then,
they could not help giving way to serious reflections. Should they get
lost or retarded in their course by mountains, or other obstacles, it
might take them longer than a month to reach some place where game was
to be met with. Each day, as they advanced, they found the country more
hilly and difficult. Precipices often bounded the valleys, lying
directly across their track; and as these could not be scaled, it was
necessary to make long _détours_ to pass them, so that some days they
actually advanced less than five miles upon their journey.

Notwithstanding these impediments, they might still have got over the
Barren Grounds without further suffering than the fatigue and necessary
exposure to cold; but at this time an incident occurred, that not only
frustrated all their calculations, but placed them in imminent danger of
perishing.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE BARREN GROUNDS


The Barren Grounds are not entirely destitute of animal life. Even in
winter--when they are almost covered with snow, and you would suppose
that no living creature could procure subsistence upon them--even then
they have their denizens; and, strange to say, there are many animals
that choose them for their home. There is no part of the earth's surface
so sterile but that some animated being can find a living upon it, and
such a being Nature adapts to its peculiar situation. For instance,
there are animals that prefer the very desert itself, and would not
thrive were you to place them in a country of mild climate and fertile
soil. In our own species this peculiarity is also found--as the
Esquimaux would not be happy were you to transplant him from his icy hut
amid the snows of the Arctic regions, and give him a palace under the
genial skies of Italy.

Among other creatures that remain all winter upon the Barren Grounds are
the wolves. How they exist there is almost a question of the
naturalists. It is true they prey upon other animals found at times in
the same district; but wolves have been met with where not the slightest
traces of other living creatures could be seen!

There is no animal more generally distributed over the earth's surface
than the wolf. He exists in nearly every country, and most likely has at
one time existed in all. In America there are wolves in its three zones.
They are met with from Cape Horn to the farthest point northward that
man has reached. They are common in the tropical forests of Mexico and
South America. They range over the great prairies of the temperate zones
of both divisions of the continent, and in the colder regions of the
Hudson's Bay territory they are among the best known of wild animals.
They frequent the mountains, they gallop over the plains, they skulk
through the valleys, they dwell everywhere--everywhere the wolf seems
equally at home.

In North America two very different kinds are known. One is the
"prairie" or "barking" wolf, which we have already met with and
described. The other species is the "common" or "large" wolf; but it is
not decided among naturalists that there are not several distinct
species of the latter. At all events, there are several _varieties_ of
it--distinguished from each other in size, colour, and even to some
extent in form. The habits of all, however, appear to be similar, and it
is a question, whether any of these varieties be _permanent_ or only
_accidental_. Some of them, it is well known, are accidental--as wolves
differing in colour have been found in the same litter--but late
explorers, of the countries around and beyond the Rocky Mountains, have
discovered one or two kinds that appear to be specifically distinct from
the common wolf of America--one of them, the "dusky wolf," being much
larger.

This last is said to resemble the wolf of Europe more than the other
American wolves do--for there is a considerable difference between the
wolves of the two continents. Those of the Northern regions of America
have shorter ears, a broader snout and forehead, and are of a stouter
make, than the European wolves. Their fur, too, is finer, denser, and
longer; their tails more bushy and fox-like; and their feet broader. The
European wolf, on the contrary, is characterized by a gaunt appearance,
a pointed snout, long jaws, high ears, long legs, and feet very narrow.
It is possible, nothwithstanding these points of difference, that both
may be of the same species, the difference arising from a want of
similitude in the circumstances by which they are surrounded.

For instance, the dense wool of the Hudson's Bay wolf may be accounted
for by the fact of its colder habitat, and its broader feet may be the
result of its having to run much upon the surface of the snow. The
writer of this little book believes that this peculiar adaptation of
Nature--which may be observed in all her kingdoms--may explain the
difference that exists between the wolves of the Northern parts of
America and those of the South of Europe. He believes, moreover, that
those of the Southern parts of the American continent approximate more
nearly to the Pyrenean wolves, as he has seen in the tropical forest of
Mexico some that possessed all that "gaunt" form and "sneaking" aspect
that characterize the latter.

It would be interesting to inquire whether the wolves of Siberia and
Lapland, inhabitating a similar climate to that of the Northern parts of
America, do not possess the same peculiarities as the North American
kind--a point which naturalists have not yet considered, and which you,
my boy reader, may some day find both amusement and instruction in
determining for yourself.

With regard to colour the wolves of both continents exhibit many
varieties. In North America there are more than half-a-dozen colours of
them, all receiving different names. There is the "grey wolf," the
"white," the "brown," the "dusky," the "pied," and the "black." These
trivial names will give a good enough idea of the colours of each kind,
but there are even varieties in their markings. "Yellow" wolves, too,
have been seen, and "red" ones, and some of a "cream colour." Of all
these the grey wolf is the most common, and is _par excellence the
wolf_; but there are districts in which individuals of other colours
predominate. Wolves purely black are plenty in many parts, and white
wolves are often seen in large packs.

Even those of the same colour differ in size, and that to a considerable
extent. And what is also strange, large wolves will be found in one
district of country, while much smaller ones _of the same colour and
species_ inhabit another. The largest in size of American wolves are
about six feet in length, the tail included; and about three feet in
height, measuring to the tips of the standing fur. The tail is usually
about one-third of the whole length.

The habits of the American wolf are pretty much like those of his
European cousin. He is a beast of prey, devouring all the smaller
animals he can lay hold of. He pursues and overtakes the deer, and often
runs down the fox and makes a meal of it. He will kill and eat Indian
dogs, although these are so near his own species that the one is often
taken for the other. But this is not all, for he will even eat his own
kind, on a pinch. He is as cunning as the fox himself, and as cowardly;
but at times, when impelled by hunger, he becomes bolder, and has been
known to attack man. Instances of this kind, however, are rare.

The American wolves burrow, and, like the fox, have several entrances
to their holes. A litter of young wolves numbers five puppies, but as
many as eight are often produced at one birth.

During their journey through the Barren Grounds our voyageurs had
frequently observed wolves. They were mostly grey ones, and of great
size, for they were travelling through a district where the very largest
kind is found. At times they saw a party of five or six together; and
these appeared to be following upon their trail--as each night, when
they came barking about the camp, our travellers recognised some of them
as having been seen before. They made no attempt to shoot any of
them--partly because they did not want either their skins or flesh, and
partly because their ammunition had been reduced to a small quantity,
and they did not wish to spend it unnecessarily.

The wolves, therefore, were allowed to approach very near the camp, and
howl as much as they liked--which they usually did throughout the
livelong night. What they found to allure them after our travellers, the
latter could not make out; as they had not shot an animal of any kind
since leaving the lake, and scarcely a scrap of anything was ever left
behind them. Perhaps the wolves were _living upon hope_.

One evening our travellers had made their camp on the side of a
ridge--which they had just crossed--and under the shelter of some rough
rocks. There was no wood in the neighbourhood wherewith to make a fire;
but they had scraped the snow from the place over which their tent was
pitched, and under it their skins were spread upon the ground. As the
tent was a very small one, Marengo's sledge, with the utensils and
pemmican bags, was always left outside close by the opening. Marengo
himself slept there, and that was considered sufficient to secure all
these things from wolves, or any other creatures that might be prowling
about.

On the evening in question, the sledge was in its usual place--the dog
having been taken from it--and as our voyageurs had not yet had their
supper, the pemmican bags were lying loosely about, one or two of them
being open. There was a small rivulet at the foot of the ridge--some two
hundred paces distant--and Basil and François had gone down to it to get
water. One of them took the axe to break the ice with, while the other
carried a vessel. On arriving near the bank of the rivulet, the
attention of the boys was attracted to a singular appearance upon the
snow. A fresh shower had fallen that morning, and the surface was still
soft, and very smooth. Upon this they observed double lines of little
dots, running in different directions, which, upon close inspection,
appeared to be the tracks of some animal.

At first, Basil and François could hardly believe them to be such, the
tracks were so very small. They had never seen so small ones
before--those of a mouse being quite double the size. But when they
looked more closely at them, the boys could distinguish the marks of
five little toes with claws upon them, which left no doubt upon their
minds that some living creature, and that a very diminutive one, must
have passed over the spot. Indeed, had the snow not been both
fine-grained and soft, the feet of such a creature could not have made
any impression upon it.

The boys stopped and looked around, thinking they might see the animal
itself. There was a wide circle of snow around them, and its surface
was smooth and level; but not a speck upon it betrayed the presence of
any creature.

"Perhaps it was a bird," said François, "and has taken flight."

"I think not," rejoined Basil. "They are not the tracks of a bird. It is
some animal that has gone under the snow, I fancy."

"But I see no hole," said François, "where even a beetle could have gone
down. Let us look for one."

At François' suggestion, they walked on following one of the dotted
lines. Presently they came to a place, where a stalk of long grass stood
up through the snow--its seedless panicle just appearing above the
surface. Round this stalk a little hole had been formed--partly by the
melting of the snow, and partly by the action of the wind upon the
panicle--and into this hole the tracks led. It was evident that the
animal, whatever it was, must have gone down the culm of the grass in
making its descent from the surface of the snow!

They now observed another track going _from_ the hole in an opposite
direction, which showed that the creature had climbed up in the same
way. Curious to know what it might have been, the boys hailed Lucien and
Norman, telling them to come down. These, followed by Marengo, soon
arrived upon the spot. When Lucien saw the tracks, he pronounced them at
once to be those of the little shrew-mouse, the smallest of all the
quadrupeds of America. Several of them had evidently been out upon the
snow--as there were other dotted lines--and the tops of many stalks of
grass were seen above the surface, each of which had formed a little
hole around it, by which the mice were enabled to get up and down.

Norman, who had seen these little animals before, cautioned his
companions to remain quiet awhile, and perhaps some of them might come
to the surface. They all stopped therefore, and stood some time without
moving, or speaking to one another. Presently, a little head not much
bigger than a pea was seen peeping up, and then a body followed, which
in size did not exceed that of a large gooseberry! To this a tail was
suspended, just one inch in length, of a square shape, and tapering from
root to point, like that of any other mouse. The little creature was
covered with a close smooth fur, of a clove-brown colour above, but more
yellowish upon the belly and sides; and was certainly, as it sat upon
the even surface of the snow, the most diminutive and oddest-looking
quadruped that any of the party had ever beheld.

They were just whispering to one another what means they should use to
capture it, when Marengo, whom Basil had been holding quiet, all at once
uttered a loud bay; and, springing out of the hands of his master,
galloped off towards the camp. All of them looked after, wondering what
had started the dog; but his strange behaviour was at once explained,
and to their consternation. Around the tent, and close to its entrance,
several large wolves were seen. They were leaping about hurriedly, and
worrying some objects that lay upon the ground. What these objects were
was too plain. They were _the bags of pemmican_! Part of their contents
was seen strewed over the snow, and part was already in the stomachs of
the wolves.

The boys uttered a simultaneous shout, and ran forward. Marengo was by
this time among the wolves, and had set fiercely upon one of them. Had
his masters not been at hand, the fierce brutes would soon have settled
the account with Marengo. But the former were now close by, and the
wolves, seeing them, ran off; but, to the consternation of the boys,
each of them carried off a bag of the pemmican in his mouth with as much
lightness and speed as if nothing encumbered them!

[Illustration: THE WOLVES AND THE PEMMICAN BAGS.]

"We are lost!" cried Norman, in a voice of terror. "Our provisions are
gone!--all gone!"

It was true. The next moment the wolves disappeared over the summit of
the ridge; and although each of the boys had seized his gun, and ran
after, the pursuit proved an idle one. Not a wolf was overtaken.

Scarce a scrap of the pemmican had been left--only some fragments that
had been gnawed by the ravenous brutes, and scattered over the snow.
That night our travellers went to bed supperless; and, what with hunger,
and the depression of spirits caused by this incident, one and all of
them kept awake nearly the whole of the night.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE ROCK-TRIPE.


They left their skin-couch at an early hour, close after daybreak.
Hunger and anxiety drove them out of their tent. Not a morsel of
anything for breakfast! They looked abroad over the country, in order,
if possible, to descry some living creature. None could be seen--nothing
but the wilderness waste of snow, with here and there the side of a
steep hill, or a rock showing cold and bleak. Even the wolves that had
robbed them were no longer to be seen, as if these creatures knew that
they had got all that was worth having, and had now taken themselves off
to hunt for plunder elsewhere.

The situation of our travellers was really one of extreme peril,
although it may be difficult for you, young reader, to conceive why it
should be so. They, however, knew it well. They knew that they might
travel for days through that inhospitable region, without falling in
with anything that would make a single meal for them. But less time than
that would suffice to starve them all. Already they felt the pangs of
hunger--for they had not eaten since their breakfast of the preceding
day, the wolves having interrupted their preparations for dinner.

It was of no use remaining where they were; so, striking their tent once
more, they travelled forward. It was but poor consolation to them that
they travelled much lighter than before. They had nothing to carry but
their guns, and these they had got ready for work--so that their journey
partook somewhat of the character of a hunting excursion. They did not
even follow a direct course, but occasionally turned to one side or the
other, wherever a clump of willows, or any other roughness on the
ground, looked like it might be the shelter of game. But during that
whole day--although they travelled from near sunrise to sunset--not a
living thing was seen; and for the second night they went supperless to
bed.

A man will bear hunger for many days--some more, some less--without
actually dying of it; but at no period will his sufferings be greater
than during the third or fourth day. He will grow more feeble
afterwards, but the pain which he endures will not be greater.

On the third day the sufferings of our party were extreme. They began to
chew pieces of their skin-tent and blankets; but although this took the
sharp edge off their appetites, it added nothing to their strength; and
they still craved for food, and grew feebler.

To use a poetical phrase, Marengo now became the "cynosure of every
eye." Marengo was not very fat. The sledge and short rations had thinned
him down, and his ribs could be easily traced. Although the boys, and
Basil in particular, would have suffered much before sacrificing him,
yet starvation will reconcile a man to part with his best friend. In
spite of their friendship for Marengo, his masters could not help
scanning him from time to time with hungry looks. Marengo was an old
dog, and, no doubt, as tough as a piece of tan-leather; but their
appetites were made up for anything.

It was near mid-day. They had started early, as on the day before. They
were trudging wearily along, and making but little progress. Marengo was
struggling with his sledge, feeble as any of the party. Basil saw that
the eyes of his companions were from time to time bent upon the dog; and
though none of them said anything, he understood the thoughts that were
passing within them. He knew that none of them wished to propose it--as
Basil was the real master of Marengo--but their glances were
sufficiently intelligible to him. He looked at the downcast countenance
of the once merry François--at the serious air of Norman--at the wan
cheek and sunken eye of Lucien, whom Basil dearly loved. He hesitated no
longer. His duty to his companions at once overcame his affection for
his faithful dog.

"We must kill _him_!" said he, suddenly stopping, and pointing to
Marengo.

The rest halted.

"I fear there's no help for it," said Norman, turning his face in every
direction, and sweeping the surface of the snow with hopeless glances.

François also assented to the proposal.

"Let us make a condition," suggested Lucien; "I for one could walk five
miles farther." And as Lucien said this, he made an effort to stand
erect, and look strong and brave; but Basil knew it was an effort of
_generosity_.

"No," said he,--"no, dear Luce. You are done up. We must kill the dog!"

"Nonsense, Basil, you mistake," replied the other; "I assure you I am
far from being done up. I could go much farther yet. Stay!" continued
he, pointing ahead; "you see yonder rocks? They are about three miles
off, I should think. They lie directly in our course. Well, now, let us
agree to this condition. Let us give poor Marengo a chance for his life.
If we find nothing before reaching those rocks, why then----"

And Lucien, seeing Marengo gazing up in his face, left the sentence
unfinished. The poor brute looked up at all of them as though he
understood every word that they were saying; and his mute appeal, had it
been necessary, would not have been thrown away. But it did not require
that to get him the proposed respite. All agreed willingly with Lucien's
proposition; and, shouldering their pieces, the party moved on.

Lucien had purposely understated the distance to the rocks. It was five,
instead of three miles; and some of them made it full ten, as they were
determined Marengo should have the benefit of every chance. They
deployed like skirmishers; and not a brake or brush that lay to the
right or left of the path but was visited and beaten by one or other of
them. Their diligence was to no purpose. After two hours' weary work,
they arrived among the rocks, having seen not a trace of either
quadruped or bird.

"Come!" cried Lucien in his now feeble voice, still trying to look
cheerful, "we must pass through them. There is a chance yet. Let him
have fair play. The rocks were to be the limit, but it was not stated
what part of them. Let us pass through to the other side--they do not
extend far."

Encouraged by the words of Lucien, the party entered among the rocks,
moving on separate paths. They had gone only a few paces, when a shout
from Norman caused the rest to look to him for an explanation. No animal
was in sight. Had he seen any? No; but something that gratified him
certainly, for his voice and manner expressed it.

"What is it?" inquired the others, all speaking at the same time.

"_Tripe de roche_!" answered he.

"_Tripe de roche_?"

"Yes," replied Norman, "look there!" and he pointed to one of the rocks
directly ahead of them, at the same time moving forward to it. The
others hastened up after. On reaching the rock, they saw what Norman had
meant by the words _tripe de roche_ (rock-tripe). It was a black, hard,
crumply substance, that nearly covered the surface of the rock, and was
evidently of a vegetable nature. Lucien knew what it was as well as
Norman, and joy had expressed itself upon his pale cheeks at the sight.
As for Basil and François they only stood waiting an explanation, and
wondering what value a quantity of "rock moss," as they deemed it, could
be to persons in their condition.

Lucien soon informed them that it was not a "moss," but a "lichen," and
of that celebrated species which will sustain human life. It was the
_Gyrophora_. Norman confirmed Lucien's statement, and furthermore
affirmed, that not only the Indians and Esquimaux, but also parties of
voyageurs, had often subsisted upon it for days, when they would
otherwise have starved. There are many species,--not less than five or
six. All of them possess nutritive properties, but only one is a
palatable food--the _Gyrophora vellea_ of botanists. Unfortunately this
was not the sort which our voyageurs had happened upon, as it grows only
upon rocks shaded by woods, and is rarely met with in the open barrens.
The one, however, which Norman had discovered was the "next best," and
they were all glad at finding even that.

The first thing to be thought of was to collect it, and all four set to
peeling and scraping it from the rocks. The next thought was to make it
ready for eating. Here a new difficulty stared them in the face. The
_tripe de roche_ had to be boiled,--it could not be eaten else,--and
where was the fire? where was the wood to make one? Not a stick was to
be seen. They had not met with a tree during all that day's journey!

They were now as badly off as ever. The _tripe de roche_ would be of no
more use to them than so much dry grass. What could they do with it?

In the midst of their suspense, one of them thought of the
sledge.--Marengo's sledge. That would make a fire, but a very small one.
It might do to cook a single meal. Even that was better than none.
Marengo was not going to object to the arrangement. He looked quite
willing to part with the sledge. But a few hours before, it came near
being used to cook Marengo himself. He was not aware of that, perhaps,
but no matter. All agreed that the sledge must be broken up, and
converted into firewood.

They were about taking it to pieces, and had already "unhitched"
Marengo from it, when Basil, who had walked to the other side of the
rocky jumble, cried back to them to desist. He had espied some willows
at no great distance. Out of these a fire could be made. The sledge,
therefore, was let alone for the present. Basil and François immediately
started for the willows, while Norman and Lucien remained upon the spot
to prepare the "tripe" for the pot.

In a short time the former parties returned with two large bundles of
willows, and the fire was kindled. The _tripe de roche_, with some
snow--for there was no water near--was put into the pot, and the latter
hung over the blaze.

After boiling for nearly an hour, the lichen became reduced to a soft
gummy pulp, and Norman thickened the mess to his taste by putting in
more snow, or more of the "tripe," as it seemed to require it. The pot
was then taken from the fire, and all four greedily ate of its contents.
It was far from being palatable, and had a clammy "feel" in the mouth,
something like sago; but none of the party was in any way either dainty
or fastidious just at that time, and they soon consumed all that had
been cooked. It did not satisfy the appetite, though it filled the
stomach, and made their situation less painful to bear.

Norman informed them that it was much better when cooked with a little
meat, so as to make broth. This Norman's companions could easily credit,
but where was the meat to come from? The Indians prefer the _tripe de
roche_ when prepared along with the roe of fish, or when boiled in fish
liquor.

Our weary voyageurs resolved to remain among the rocks for that night at
least; and with this intent they put up their little tent. They did not
kindle any fire, as the willows were scarce, and there would be barely
enough to make one or two more boilings of the rock-tripe. They spread
their skins within the tent, and creeping in, kept one another as warm
as they could until morning.



CHAPTER XXX.

THE POLAR HARE AND GREAT SNOWY OWL.


Of course hunger kept them from sleeping late. They were up and out of
the tent by an early hour. Their fire was re-kindled, and they were
making preparations for a fresh pot of rock-tripe, when they were
startled by the note of a well-known bird. On looking up, they beheld
seated upon the point of a rock the creature itself, which was the
"cinereous crow," or, as it is better known, the "whiskey Jack." The
latter name it receives from the voyageurs, on account of the
resemblance of its Indian appellation, "whiskae-shaw-neesh" to the words
"whiskey John." Although sometimes called the "cinereous crow," the bird
is a true jay.

It is one of the most inelegant of the genus, being of a dull grey
colour, and not particularly graceful in its form. Its plumage,
moreover, does not consist of webbed feathers, but rather more resembles
hair; nor does its voice make up for the plainness of its appearance, as
is the case with some birds. On the contrary, the voice of "whiskey
Jack" is plaintive and squeaking, though he is something of a mocker in
his way, and frequently imitates the notes of other birds. He is one of
those creatures that frequent the habitations of man, and there is not
a fur post, or fort, in all the Hudson's Bay territory, where "whiskey
Jack" is not familiarly known.

He is far from being a favourite, however, as, like his near relative
the magpie, he is a great thief, and will follow the marten-trapper all
day while baiting his traps, perching upon a tree until the bait is set,
and then pouncing down, and carrying it off. He frequently pilfers small
articles from the forts and encampments, and is so bold as to enter the
tents, and seize food out of any vessel that may contain it.
Notwithstanding all this, he is a favourite with the traveller through
these inhospitable regions. No matter how barren the spot where the
voyageur may make his camp, his tent will hardly be pitched, before he
receives a visit from "whiskey Jack," who comes, of course, to pick up
any crumbs that may fall. His company, therefore, in a region where all
other wild creatures shun the society of man, endears him to the lonely
traveller.

At many of their camps our voyageurs had met with this singular bird,
and were always glad to receive him as a friend. They were now doubly
delighted to see him, but this delight arose from no friendly feelings.
Their guest was at once doomed to die. François had taken up his gun,
and in the next moment would have brought him down, had he not been
checked by Norman. Not that Norman intended to plead for his life, but
Norman's eye had caught sight of another "whiskey Jack,"--which was
hopping among the rocks at some distance--and fearing that François'
shot might frighten it away, had hindered him from firing. It was
Norman's design to get both.

The second "whiskey Jack," or, perhaps, it was the "whiskey Jill," soon
drew near; and both were now seen to hop from rock to rock, and then
upon the top of the tent, and one of them actually settled upon the edge
of the pot, as it hung over the fire, and quietly looking into it,
appeared to scrutinize its contents!

The boys could not think of any way of getting the birds, except by
François' gun; and it was at length agreed that François should do his
best. He was sure of one of them, at least; so telling the others to get
behind him, he fired at the more distant one where it sat upon the tent,
and took the other on the wing.

Both shots were successful. The two jays fell, and were soon divested of
their soft, silky, hair-like plumage, and dropped into the boiling pot.
They did not weigh together more than about six or seven ounces; but
even that was accounted something under present circumstances; and, with
the _tripe de roche_, a much better breakfast was made than they had
anticipated.

No more of the lichen could be found. The rocks were all searched, but
only a few patches--not enough for another full meal--could be obtained.
The travellers had no other resource, therefore, but to continue on, and
passing through the rocky ground, they once more embarked upon the
wilderness of snow.

During that whole day not a living creature gladdened their eyes. They
saw nothing that was eatable--fish, flesh, fowl, or vegetable. Not even
a bit of rock-tripe--in these parts the last resource of starving
men--could be met with. They encamped in a plain, where not a tree
stood--not even a rock to shelter them.

Next morning a consultation was held. Marengo was again the subject of
their thoughts and conversation. Should they kill him on the spot or go
a little farther? That was the question. Lucien, as before, interposed
in his favour. There was a high hill many miles off, and in their proper
course. "Let us first reach yonder hill," proposed Lucien. "If nothing
is found before that, then we must part with Marengo."

The proposal was agreed to, and, striking their tent, they again set
out.

It was a toilsome long way to that hill--feeble and weary as they all
were--but they reached it without having observed the slightest trace of
animal life.

"Up the hill!" cried Lucien, beckoning to the others, and cheering them
with his weak voice, "Up the hill!"

On they went, up the steep declivity--Marengo toiling on after them. The
dog looked downcast and despairing. He really appeared to know the
conditions that had been made for his life. His masters, as they crept
upward, looked sharply before them. Every tuft that appeared above the
snow was scrutinized, and every inch of the ground, as it came into
view, was examined.

At length they crossed the escarpment of the hill, and stood upon the
summit. They gazed forward with disappointed feelings. The hill-top was
a sort of table plain, of about three hundred yards in diameter. It was
covered with snow, nearly a foot in depth. A few heads of withered grass
were seen above the surface, but not enough to subdue the uniform white
that prevailed all over. There was no creature upon it; that was
evident. A bird as big as a sparrow, or a quadruped as large as a
shrew-mouse, could have been seen upon any part of it. A single glance
satisfied all of them that no living thing was there.

They halted without proceeding farther. Some of them could not have gone
another mile, and all of them were tottering in their tracks. Marengo
had arrived upon the summit, and stood a little to one side, with the
sledge behind him.

"_You_ must do it!" said Basil, speaking to Norman in a hoarse voice,
and turning his head away. Lucien and François stepped aside at the same
time, and stood as if looking down the hill. The countenances of all
three betokened extreme sorrow. There was a tear in Basil's eye that he
was trying to wipe away with his sleeve.

The sharp click of Norman's gun was heard behind them, and they were all
waiting for the report, when, at that moment, a dark shadow passing over
the white declivity arrested their attention! It was the shadow of a
bird upon the wing. The simultaneous exclamation of all three stayed
Norman's finger--already pressing upon the trigger--and the latter,
turning round, saw that they were regarding some object in the air. It
was a bird of great size--almost as large as an eagle, but with the
plumage of a swan. It was white all over--both body and wings--white as
the snow over which it was sailing. Norman knew the bird at a glance.
Its thick short neck and large head--its broad-spreading wings, of milky
whiteness, were not to be mistaken. It was the "great snowy owl" of the
Arctic regions.

Its appearance suddenly changed the aspect of affairs. Norman let the
butt of his rifle fall to the ground, and stood, like the rest, watching
the bird in its flight.

The snowy owl is, perhaps, the most beautiful, as it is one of the most
powerful birds of its genus--of which there are more than a dozen in
North America. It is a bird of the Polar regions--even the most
remote--and in the dead of winter it is found within the Arctic circle,
on both Continents--although at the same season it also wanders farther
south. It dwells upon the Barren Grounds as well as in wooded districts.
In the former it squats upon the snow, where its peculiar colour often
prevents it from being noticed by the passing hunter. Nature has
furnished it with every protection from the cold. Its plumage is thick,
closely matted, and downy, and it is feathered to the very eyes--so that
its legs appear as large as those of a good-sized dog. The bill, too, is
completely hidden under a mass of feathers that cover its face, and not
even a point of its whole body is exposed.

The owl is usually looked upon as a night-bird, and in Southern
latitudes it is rarely seen by day; but the owls of the Northern regions
differ from their congeners in this respect. They hunt by day, even
during the bright hours of noon. Were it not so, how could they exist in
the midst of an Arctic summer, when the days are months in duration?
Here we have another example of the manner in which Nature trains her
wild creatures to adapt themselves to their situation.

At least a dozen species of owls frequent the territory of the Hudson's
Bay Company--the largest of which is the cinereous owl, whose wings have
a spread of nearly five feet. Some species migrate south on the approach
of winter; while several, as the snowy owl, remain to prey upon the
ptarmigan, the hares, and other small quadrupeds, who, like themselves,
choose that dreary region for their winter home.

Our travellers, as I have said, stood watching the owl as it soared
silently through the heavens. François had thrown his gun across his
left arm, in hopes he might get a shot at it; but the bird--a shy one at
all times--kept away out of range; and, after circling once or twice
over the hill, uttered a loud cry and flew off.

Its cry resembled the moan of a human being in distress; and its effect
upon the minds of our travellers, in the state they then were, was far
from being pleasant. They watched the bird with despairing looks, until
it was lost against the white background of a snow-covered hill.

They had noticed that the owl appeared to be just taking flight when
they first saw it. It must have risen up from the hill upon which they
were; and they once more ran their eyes along the level summit, curious
to know where it had been perched that they had not seen it. No doubt,
reflected they, it had been near enough, but its colour had rendered it
undistinguishable from the snow.

"What a pity!" exclaimed François.

While making these reflections, and sweeping their glances around, an
object caught their eyes that caused some of them to ejaculate and
suddenly raise their guns. This object was near the centre of the summit
table, and at first sight appeared to be only a lump of snow; but upon
closer inspection, two little round spots of a dark colour, and above
these two elongated black marks, could be seen. Looking steadily, the
eye at length traced the outlines of an animal, that sat in a crouching
attitude. The round spots were its eyes, and the black marks above them
were tips of a pair of very long ears. All the rest of its body was
covered with a soft white fur, hardly to be distinguished from the snow
upon which it rested.

The form and colour of the animal, but more especially its long erect
ears, made it easy for them to tell what it was. All of them saw it was
a hare.

"Hush!" continued Norman, as soon as he saw it, "keep still all of
you--leave it to me."

"What shall we do?" demanded Basil. "Can we not assist you?"

"No," was the reply, uttered in a whisper, "stay where you are. Keep the
dog quiet. I'll manage puss, if the owl hasn't scared her too badly.
That scream has started her out of her form. I'm certain she wasn't that
way before. Maybe she'll sit it out. Lucky the sun's high--don't move a
step. Have the dog ready, but hold him tight, and keep a sharp look out
if she bolts."

After giving these instructions, that were all uttered quickly and in an
under tone, Norman moved off, with his gun carried across his arm. He
did not move in the direction of the hare, but rather as if he was going
_from_ her. His course, however, bent gradually into a circle of which
the hare was the centre--the diameter being the full breadth of the
summit level, which was about three hundred yards. In this circle he
walked round and round, keeping his eye fixed upon the crouching animal.
When he had nearly completed one circumference, he began to shorten the
diameter--so that the curve which he was now following was a spiral one,
and gradually drawing nearer to the hare. The latter kept watching him
as he moved--curiosity evidently mingling with her fears. Fortunately,
as Norman had said, the sun was nearly in the vertex of the heavens, and
his own body cast very little shadow upon the snow. Had it been
otherwise, the hare would have been frightened at the moving shadow, and
would have sprung out of her form, before he could have got within
range.

When he had made some four or five circuits, Norman moved slower and
slower, and then stopped nearly opposite to where the others were. These
stood watching him with beating hearts, for they knew that the life of
Marengo, and perhaps their own as well, depended on the shot. Norman had
chosen his place, so that in case the hare bolted, she might run towards
them, and give them the chance of a flying shot. His gun was already at
his shoulder--his finger rested on the trigger, and the boys were
expecting the report, when again the shadow of a bird flitted over the
snow, a loud human-like scream sounded in their ears, and the hare was
seen to spring up, and stretch her long legs in flight. At the same
instant the great snowy owl was observed wheeling above, and threatening
to pounce upon the fleeing animal!

The hare ran in a side direction, but it brought her as she passed
within range of the party by the sledge. The owl kept above her as she
ran. A dozen leaps was all the hare ever made. A loud crack was heard,
and she was seen to spring up and fall back upon the snow, dead as a
door-nail. Like an echo another crack followed--a wild scream rang
through the air, and the great white owl fell fluttering to the earth.
The reports were not of a rifle. They were the louder detonations of a
shot gun. All eyes were turned towards François, who, like a little god,
stood enveloped in a halo of blue smoke. François was the hero of the
hour.

Marengo rushed forward and seized the struggling owl, that snapped its
bill at him like a watchman's rattle. But Marengo did not care for that;
and seizing its head in his teeth, gave it a crunch that at once put an
end to its flapping.

Marengo was reprieved, and he seemed to know it, as he bounded over the
snow, waving his tail, and barking like a young fool.

They all ran up to the hare, which proved to be the "Polar hare" and one
of the largest of its species--not less than fifteen pounds in weight.
Its fur, soft and white like swan-down, was stained with red blood. It
was not quite dead. Its little heart yet beat faintly, and the light of
life was still shining from its beautiful honey-coloured eyes. Both it
and the owl were taken up and carried to the sledge, which was once more
attached to Marengo, as the party intended to go forward and halt under
the shelter of the hill.

"There must be some wood in this quarter," remarked Norman; "I never
knew this sort of hare far from timber."

"True," said Lucien, "the Polar hare feeds upon willows, arbutus, and
the Labrador tea-plant. Some of these kinds must be near."

While they were speaking, they had reached the brow of the hill, on the
opposite side from where they had ascended. On looking into the valley
below, to their great joy they beheld some clumps of willows, and
good-sized trees of poplar, birch, and spruce-pine, and passing down the
hill, the travellers soon stood in their midst. Presently was heard the
chipping sound of an axe and crash of falling timber, and in a few
moments after a column of smoke was seen soaring up out of the valley,
and curling cheerfully towards the bright blue sky.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE JUMPING MOUSE AND THE ERMINE.


Large as the hare was, she would have made but a meal for our four
hungry voyageurs, had they eaten at will. By Lucien's advice, however,
they restrained themselves, and half of her was left for supper, when
the "cook" promised to make them hare-soup. The head, feet, and other
spare bits, fell to Marengo's share. The owl, whose flesh was almost as
white as its plumage, and, as Norman well knew, most delicate eating,
was reserved for to-morrow's breakfast.

They had pitched their tent with the intention of remaining at that
place all night, and continuing their journey next day; but, as it still
wanted several hours of sunset, and the strength of all was considerably
recruited, they resolved to hunt about the neighbourhood as long as they
had light. It was of great importance that they should procure more
game. The owl would make but a spare breakfast, and after that where was
the next meal to come from? They had had a temporary relief, and while
their strength lasted, they must use every effort to procure a further
supply. The valley in which their new camp was placed looked well for
game.

It was a sort of oäsis in the Barren Grounds. There was a lake and a
considerable skirting of timber around it--consisting, as we have said,
of willows, poplars, spruce-pine, and dwarf birch-trees. The Alpine
arbutus, whose berries are the food of many species of animals, also
grew upon the side of the hills; and the Labrador tea-plant was found
upon the low ground around the lake. The leaves of this last is a
favourite food of the Polar hare, and our voyageurs had no doubt but
that there were many of these animals in the neighbourhood. Indeed, they
had better evidence than conjecture, for they saw numerous hare-tracks
in the snow. There were tracks of other animals too, for it is a
well-known fact that where one kind exists, at least two or three others
will be found in the same habitat--all being connected together by a
"chain of destruction."

A singular illustration of this was afforded to Lucien, who remained at
the camp while the rest went out hunting. He had gathered some of the
leaves of the Labrador tea, and was drying them over the coals,
intending to cheer his comrades with a cup of this beverage after
supper. The hare-soup was boiling, and the "cook" sat listening to the
cheerful sounds that issued from the pot--now and then taking off the
lid to examine its savoury contents, and give them a stir. He would then
direct his attention to the tea-leaves that were parching in the
frying-pan; and, having shifted them a little, felt himself at liberty
to look about for a minute or two.

On one of these occasions, while glancing up, his attention was
attracted to an object which appeared upon the snow at a short distance
from where he sat. A wreath of snow, that had formed under the shelter
of the hill, extended all around its base, presenting a steep front in
every direction. This front was only two or three feet in height; but
the top surface of the wreath was many yards wide--in fact, it extended
back until it became blended with the slope of the hill. It was smooth
and nearly level, but the hill above was steep, and somewhat rough and
rocky. The steep front of the wreath came down within half-a-dozen paces
of the fire where Lucien was seated; and it was upon the top or
scarpment of it that the object appeared that had drawn his attention.
It was a small creature, but it was in motion, and thus had caught his
eye.

A single glance showed him that the little animal was a mouse, but of a
somewhat singular species. It was about the size of the common mouse,
but quite different in colour. The upper half of its body was of a light
mahogany tint, while the lower half, including the legs and feet, were
of a milky whiteness. It was, in fact, the "white-footed mouse" (_Mus
leucopus_), one of the most beautiful of its kind.

Here and there above the surface of the snow protruded the tops of
arbutus-trees; and the little creature was passing from one of these to
the other, in search, no doubt, of the berries that remain upon these
trees all the winter. Sometimes it ran from point to point like any
other mouse, but now and then it would rear itself on its hind-legs, and
leap several feet at a single bound! In this it evidently assisted
itself by pressing its tail--in which it possesses muscular
power--against the snow. This peculiar mode of progression has obtained
for it the name of the "jumping-mouse," and among the Indians
"deer"-mouse, because its leap reminds them of the bounding spring of
the deer. But there are still other species of "jumping-mice" in America
that possess this power to a greater degree even than the _Mus
leucopus_.

Lucien watched its motions without attempting to interfere with it,
until it had got nearly out of sight. He did not desire to do injury to
the little creature, nor was he curious to obtain it, as he had already
met with many specimens, and examined them to his satisfaction. He had
ceased to think of it, and would, perhaps, never have thought of it
again, but, upon turning his eyes in the opposite direction, he observed
another animal upon the snow. This creature had a far different aspect
from the mouse. Its body was nearly a foot in length, although not much
thicker than that of the other! Its legs were short, but strong, and its
forehead broad and arched convexly. It had a tail more than half the
length of the body, hairy, and tapering like that of a cat. Its form was
the well-known form of the weasel, and it was, in fact, a species of
weasel.

It was the celebrated _ermine_, celebrated for its soft and beautiful
fur, so long prized as an ornament for the robes of the rich. It was
white all over, with the exception of its tail; and that, for about an
inch or so at the tip, was covered with black silky hair. On some parts
of the body, too, the white was tinged with a primrose yellow; but this
tinge is not found in all animals of this species, as some individuals
are pure white. Of course it was now in its winter "robes"; but in the
summer it changes to a colour that does not differ much from that of the
common weasel.

When Lucien first saw it, it was running along the top of the wreath,
and coming from the same direction from which the mouse had come. Now
and then it paused awhile, and then ran on again. Lucien observed that
it kept its nose to the ground, and as it drew nearer he saw that it was
following on the same path which the other had taken. To his
astonishment he perceived that it was _trailing the mouse_! Whatever the
latter had doubled or made a _détour_, the ermine followed the track;
and where the mouse had given one of its long leaps, there the ermine
would stop, and, after beating about until it struck the trail again,
would resume its onward course at a gallop. Its manoeuvres were exactly
like those of a hound upon the fresh trail of a fox!

Lucien now looked abroad to discover the mouse. It was still in sight
far off upon the snow, and, as Lucien could see, busily gnawing at the
arbutus, quite unconscious that its _greatest_ enemy was so near. I say
greatest enemy, for the _Mus leucopus_ is the _natural_ prey of the
_Mustela erminea_.

The mouse was soon made aware of the dangerous proximity, but not until
the ermine had got within a few feet of it. When it perceived the latter
it shrunk, at first, among the leaves of the arbutus; but seeing there
would be no protection there--as the other was still springing forward
to seize it--it leaped up, and endeavoured to escape by flight. Its
flight appeared to be in alternate jumps and runs, but the chase was not
a long one. The ermine was as active as a cat, and, after a few skips,
its claws were struck into the mouse. There was a short, slender squeak,
and then a "crunch," like the cracking of a hazel-nut. This last sound
was produced by the teeth of the ermine breaking through the skull of
its victim.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE ARCTIC FOX AND WHITE WOLF.


Lucien turned round to get hold of his rifle, intending to punish the
ermine, although the little creature, in doing what it did, had only
obeyed a law of nature. But the boy had also another design in killing
it: he wished to compare it with some ermines he had seen while
travelling upon Lake Winnipeg, which, as he thought, were much
larger--one that he had caught having measured more than a foot in
length, without including the tail. He wished, also, to make some
comparison between it and the common weasel; for in its _winter dress_,
in the snowy regions, the latter very much resembles the ermine; and,
indeed, the trappers make no distinction between them.

With these ideas Lucien had grasped his gun, and was raising himself to
creep a little nearer, when his eye was arrested by the motions of
another creature coming along the top of the wreath. This last was a
snow-white animal, with long, shaggy fur, sharp-pointed snout, erect
ears, and bushy tail. Its aspect was fox-like, and its movements and
attitudes had all that semblance of cunning and caution so
characteristic of these animals. Well might it, for it _was_ a fox--the
beautiful white fox of the Arctic regions.

It is commonly supposed that there are but two or three kinds of foxes
in America; and that these are only varieties of the European species.

This is an erroneous idea, as there are nearly a dozen varieties
existing in North America, although they may be referred to a less
number of species. There is the Arctic fox, which is confined to the
cold Northern regions, and which in winter is white.

The "sooty-fox" is a variety of the "Arctic," distinguished from it only
by its colour, which is of a uniform blackish brown.

The "American fox" or, as it is commonly called, the "red fox," has been
long supposed to be the same as the European red fox. This is erroneous.
They differ in many points; and, what is somewhat curious, these points
of difference are similar to those that exist between the European and
American wolves, as already given.

The "cross fox" is supposed by the Indians and some naturalists to be
only a variety of the last. It derives its name from its having two dark
stripes crossing each other upon the shoulders. Its fur from this
circumstance, and perhaps because the animal is scarce, is more prized
than that of the red variety. When a single skin of the latter is worth
only fifteen shillings, one of the cross fox will bring as much as five
guineas.

Another variety of the red fox, and a much more rare one, is the
"black," or "silver" fox. The skins of these command six times the price
of any other furs found in America, with the exception of the sea-otter.
The animal itself is so rare that only a few fall into the hands of the
Hudson's Bay Company in a season; and Mr. Nicholay, the celebrated
London furrier, asserts that a single skin will fetch from ten to forty
guineas, according to quality. A remarkable cloak, or pelisse, belonging
to the Emperor of Russia, and made out of the skins of silver-foxes, was
exhibited in the Great London Exposition of 1851. It was made entirely
from the neck-part of the skins--the only part of the silver-fox which
is pure black. This cloak was valued at 3400_l._; though Mr. Nicholay
considers this an exaggerated estimate, and states its true value to be
not over 1000_l._ George the Fourth had a lining of black fox-skins
worth 1000_l._

The "grey fox" is a more southern species than any already described.
Its proper home is the temperate zone covered by the United States;
although it extends its range into the southern parts of Canada. In the
United States it is the most common kind, although in that district
there is also a "red fox," different from the _Vulpus fulvus_ already
noticed; and which, no doubt, is the red fox of Europe, introduced by
the early colonists of America.

Still another species, the smallest and perhaps the most interesting of
any, is the "kit fox." This little creature is an inhabitant of the
prairies, where it makes its burrows far from any wood. It is extremely
shy, and the swiftest animal in the prairie country--outrunning even the
antelope!

When Lucien saw the fox he thought no more of the ermine, but drew back
and crouched down, in hopes he might get a shot at the larger animal. He
knew well that the flesh of the Arctic fox is highly esteemed as food,
particularly by persons situated as he and his companions were, and he
hoped to be able to add it to their larder.

When first seen it was coming towards him, though not in a direct line.
It was engaged in hunting, and, with its nose to the snow, was running
in zig-zag lines, "quartering" the ground like a pointer dog. Presently
it struck the trail of the ermine, and with a yelp of satisfaction
followed it. This of course brought it close past where Lucien was; but,
notwithstanding his eagerness to fire, it moved so rapidly along the
trail that he was unable to take sight upon it. It did not halt for a
moment; and, as Lucien's gun was a rifle, he knew that a flying shot
would be an uncertain one. In the belief, therefore, that the fox would
stop soon--at all events when it came up with the ermine--he restrained
himself from firing, and waited.

It ran on, still keeping the track of the ermine. The latter, hitherto
busy with his own prey, did not see the fox until it was itself seen,
when, dropping the half-eaten mouse, it reared up on its hind-quarters
like a squirrel or a monkey, at the same time spitting as spitefully as
any other weasel could have done. In a moment, however, it changed its
tactics--for the open jaws of the fox were within a few paces of it--and
after making a short quick run along the surface, it threw up its
hind-quarters, and plunged head-foremost into the snow! The fox sprang
forward, and flinging his brush high in the air, shot after like an
arrow!

Both had now disappeared from Lucien's sight. For a moment the surface
of the snow was disturbed above the spot where they had gone down, but
the next moment all was still, and no evidence existed that a living
creature had been there, except the tracks, and the break the two
creatures had made in going down. Lucien ran forward until he was within
a few yards of the place, and stood watching the hole, with his rifle
ready--thinking that the fox, at least, would soon come up again.

He had waited for nearly five minutes, looking steadily at this point,
when his eye was attracted by a movement under the snow, at a
considerable distance, quite fifty paces, from where he stood. The
frozen crust was seen to upheave: and, the next moment, the head of the
fox, and afterwards his whole body, appeared above the surface. Lucien
saw that the ermine lay transversely between his jaws, and was quite
dead! He was about to fire, but the fox, suddenly perceiving him, shot
off like an arrow, carrying his prey along with him.

He was soon out of reach, and Lucien, seeing that he had lost his
chance, was about to return to the fire, when, all at once, the fox was
observed to stop, turn suddenly in his tracks, and run off in a new
direction! Lucien looked beyond to ascertain the cause of this strange
manoeuvre. That was soon ascertained. Coming down from among the rocks
was a large animal--five times the fox's size--but in other respects not
unlike him. It was also of a snow-white colour, with long hair, bushy
tail, and short erect ears, but its aspect was not to be mistaken. It
was the great _white wolf_.

When Lucien first saw this new-comer, the latter had just espied the
fox, and was about stretching out into a gallop towards him. The fox,
_watching backwards_ as he ran, had not seen the wolf, until the latter
was within a few springs of him; and now when he had turned, and both
were in full chase, there was not over twenty yards between them. The
direction in which they ran would bring them near to Lucien; and so they
came, and passed him--neither of them seeming to heed his presence. They
had not got many yards farther, before Lucien perceived that the wolf
was fast closing on the fox, and would soon capture him. Believing he
would then stop, so as to offer him a fairer chance for a shot, Lucien
followed. The wolf, however, had noticed him coming after, and although
the next moment he closed his great jaws upon the fox, he did not pause
for a single instant, but, lifting the latter clear up from the ground,
ran on without the slightest apparent diminution of speed!

Reynard was seen to struggle and kick, while he squeaked like a shot
puppy; but his cries each moment grew feebler, and his struggles soon
came to an end. The wolf held him transversely in his jaws--just as he
himself but the moment before had carried the ermine.

Lucien saw there was no use in following them, as the wolf ran on with
his prey. With some disappointment, therefore, he was about to return to
the fire, where, to add to his mortification, he knew he would find his
tea-leaves parched to a cinder. He lingered a moment, however, with his
eyes still fixed upon the departing wolf that was just about to
disappear over the crest of a ridge. The fox was still in his jaws, but
no longer struggling. Reynard looked limber and dead, as his legs swung
loosely on both sides of the wolf's head Lucien at that moment saw the
latter suddenly stop in his career, and then drop down upon the surface
of the snow as if dead! He fell with his victim in his jaws, and lay
half doubled up, and quite still.

This strange action would have been a difficult thing for Lucien to
explain, but, almost at the same instant in which he observed it, a puff
of blue smoke shot up over the ridge, and quickly following was heard
the sharp crack of a rifle. Then a head with its cap of raccoon skin
appeared above the snow, and Lucien, recognising the face of Basil, ran
forward to meet him.

Both soon stood over the body of the dead wolf, wondering at what they
saw; but Basil, far more than Lucien--for the latter already knew the
circumstances of that strange scene of death. First there was the great
gaunt body of the wolf stretched along the snow, and quite dead.
Cross-ways in his mouth was the fox, just as he had been carried off;
and across the jaws of the latter, lay the long worm-like body of the
ermine, still retaining between its teeth the half-devoured remains of
the white-footed mouse! A very chain of destroyers! These creatures died
as they had lived, preying one upon the other! Of all four the little
mouse alone was an innocent victim. The other three, though morally
guilty by the laws of man, yet were only acting in obedience to the laws
of Nature and necessity.

Man himself obeys a similar law, as Basil had just shown. Philosophize
as we will, we cannot comprehend why it is so--why Nature requires the
sacrifice of one of her creatures for the sustenance of another. But
although we cannot understand the cause, we must not condemn the fact as
it exists; nor must we suppose, as some do, that the destruction of
God's creatures for our necessities constitutes a crime. They who think
so, and who, in consistency with their doctrines, confine themselves to
what they term "vegetable" food, are at best but shallow reasoners. They
have not studied Nature very closely, else would they know that every
time they pluck up a parsnip, or draw their blade across the leaf of a
lettuce, they cause pain and death!

How much pain we cannot tell; but that the plant feels, as well as the
animal, we can clearly _prove_. Probably it feels less, and it may be
each kind of plant differs from others in the amount, according to its
higher or lower organism. Probably its amount of pleasure--its
capability of enjoyment--is in a direct proportion to the pain which it
endures; and it is highly probable that this double line of ratios runs
in an ascending scale throughout the vegetable kingdom, gradually
joining on to what is more strictly termed the "animal." But these
mysteries of life, my young friend, will be interesting studies for you
when your mind becomes matured.

Perhaps it may be your fortune to unravel some of them, for the benefit
of your fellow-men. I feel satisfied that you will not only be a student
of Nature, but one of her great teachers; you will far surpass the
author of this little book in your knowledge of Nature's laws; but it
will always be a happiness to him to reflect, that, when far advanced
upon the highway of science, you will look back to him as one you had
passed upon the road, and who _pointed you to the path_.

Though Basil had shot the wolf, it was plain that it was not the first
nor yet the second time he had discharged his rifle since leaving the
camp. From his game-bag protruded the curving claws and wing-tips of a
great bird. In one hand he carried a white hare--not the Polar hare--but
a much smaller kind, also an inhabitant of these snowy regions; and over
his shoulders was slung a fierce-looking creature, the great wild-cat or
lynx of America. The bird in his bag was the golden eagle, one of the
few feathered creatures that brave the fierce winter of a northern
climate, and does not migrate, like its congeners, the "white-head" and
the osprey, to more southern regions.

Basil had returned alone--for the three, Basil, Norman, and François,
had taken different directions at setting out. This they had done, in
order to have as great a number of chances as possible of finding the
game. Norman came in a few minutes after, bearing a whole deer upon his
shoulders--a glad sight that was--and, a short interval having passed,
François's "hurrah" sounded upon their ears, and François himself was
seen coming up the valley loaded like a little donkey with two bunches
of large snow-white birds.

The camp now exhibited a cheering sight. Such a variety was never seen
even in the larder of a palace kitchen. The ground was strewed with
animals like a dead menagerie. There were no less than a dozen kinds
upon it!

The hare-soup was now quite ready, and was accordingly served up by
Lucien in the best style. Lucien had dried a fresh "grist" of the tea
leaves, and a cheering cup followed; and then the party all sat around
their log-fire, while each of them detailed the history of his
experience since parting with the others.

François was the first to relate what had befallen him.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE JERFALCON AND THE WHITE GROUSE.


"Mine," began François, "was a bird adventure, as you all see--though
what kind of birds I've shot, _I_ can't tell. One of them's a hawk, I'm
sure; but it's a _white_ hawk, and that I never saw before. The rest, I
suppose, are _white_ partridges. Everything appears to be white here.
What are they, Luce?"

"You are right about this first," answered Lucien, taking up one of the
birds which François had brought back with him, and which was white all
but a few spots of clove-brown upon its back. "This is a hawk, as you
may tell, by its appearance, or rather I should say a 'falcon,' for you
must know there is a difference."

"What difference?" demanded François, with some eagerness of manner.

"Why the principal difference is the formation of their beaks or bills.
The bills of the true falcons are stronger, and have a notch in the
lower mandible answering to a tooth in the upper one. Their nostrils,
too, are differently formed. But another point of distinction is found
in their habits. Both feed on warm-blooded animals, and neither will eat
carrion. In this respect the hawks and falcons are alike. Both take
their prey upon the wing; but herein lies the difference. The hawks
capture it by skimming along horizontally or obliquely, and picking it
up as they pass; whereas the true falcons 'pounce' down upon it from
above, and in a line nearly vertical."

"Then this must be a true falcon," interrupted François, "for I saw the
gentleman do that very thing; and beautifully he did it, too."

"It is a falcon," continued Lucien; "and of the many species of hawks
which inhabit North America--over twenty in all--it is one of the
boldest and handsomest. I don't wonder you never saw it before; for it
is truly a bird of the Northern regions, and does not come so far south
as the territory of the United States, much less into Louisiana. It is
found in North Europe, Greenland, and Iceland, and has been seen as far
north on both continents as human beings have travelled. It is known by
the name of 'jerfalcon,' or 'gyrfalcon,' but its zoological name is
_Falco Islandicus_."

"The Indians here," interposed Norman, "call it by a name that means
'winter bird,' or 'winterer'--I suppose, because it is one of the few
that stay in these parts all the year round, and is therefore often
noticed by them in winter time. The traders sometimes call it the
'speckled partridge-hawk,' for there are some of them more spotted than
this one is."

"True," said Lucien; "the young ones are nearly of a brown colour, and
they first become spotted or mottled after a year or two. They are
several years old before they get the white plumage, and very few
individuals are seen of a pure white all over, though there are some
without a spot."

"Yes," continued the naturalist, "it is the jerfalcon; and those other
birds which you call 'white partridges,' are the very creatures upon
which it preys. So you have killed both the tyrant and his victims. They
are not partridges though, but grouse--that species known as 'willow
grouse.'"

And as Lucien said this, he began to handle the birds, which were of a
beautiful white all over, with the exception of the tail feathers. These
last were pitch-black.

"Ho!" exclaimed Lucien, in some surprise, "you have two kinds here! Were
they all together when you shot them?"

"No," answered François; "one I shot along with the hawk out in the open
ground. All the others I killed upon a tree in a piece of woods that I
fell in with. There's no difference between them that I can see."

"But I can," said Lucien, "although I acknowledge they all look very
much alike. Both are feathered to the toes--both have the black feathers
in the tail--and the bills of both are black; but if you observe
closely, this kind--the willow-grouse--has the bill much stronger and
less flattened. Besides, it is a larger bird than the other, which is
'the rock-grouse.' Both are sometimes, though erroneously, called
'ptarmigan;' but they are not the true ptarmigan--such as exist in North
Europe--though these last are also to be met with in the Northern parts
of America. The ptarmigan are somewhat larger than either of these
kinds, but in other respects differ but little from them.

"The habits of the 'rock' and 'willow' grouse are very similar. They are
both birds of the snowy region, and are found as far north as has been
explored. The willow-grouse in winter keep more among the trees, and are
oftener met with in wooded countries; whereas the others like best to
live in the open ground, and, from your statement, it appears you found
each kind in its favourite haunt."

"Just so," said François. "After leaving here, I kept down the valley,
and was just crossing an open piece of high ground, when I espied the
white hawk, or falcon as you call it, hovering in the air as I'd often
seen hawks do. Well, I stopped and hid behind a rock, thinking I might
have a chance to put a few drops into him. All at once he appeared to
stand still in the air, and, then closing his wings, shot down like an
arrow. Just then I heard a loud '_whur-r-r_,' and up started a whole
covey of white partridges--grouse, I should say--the same as this you
call the 'rock-grouse.' I saw that the hawk had missed the whole of
them, and I marked them as they flew off.

"They pitched about a hundred yards or so, and then went plunge under
the snow--every one of them making a hole for itself just like where one
had poked their foot in! I guess, boys, this looked funny enough. I
thought I would be sure to get a shot at some of these grouse as they
came out again; so I walked straight up to the holes they had made, and
stood waiting. I still saw the hawk hovering in the air, about an
hundred yards ahead of me.

"I was considering whether I ought to go farther on, and tramp the birds
out of the snow; for I believed, of course, they were still under the
place where the holes were. All at once I noticed a movement on the
crust of the snow right under where the hawk was flying, and then that
individual shot down to the spot, and disappeared under the snow! At the
same instant, the crust broke in several places, and up came the grouse
one after another, and whirred off out of sight, without giving me any
sort of a chance. The hawk, however, had not come up yet; and I ran
forward, determined to take him as soon as he should make his
appearance. When I had got within shooting distance, up he fluttered to
the surface, and--what do you think?--he had one of the grouse
struggling in his claws! I let him have the right barrel, and both he
and grousy were knocked dead as a couple of door-nails!

"I thought I might fall in with the others again; and kept on in the
direction they had taken, which brought me at last to a piece of
woodland consisting of birches and willow-trees. As I was walking along
the edge of this, I noticed one of the willows, at some distance off,
covered with great white things, that at first I took for flakes of
snow; but then I thought it curious that none of the other trees had the
same upon them. As I came a little nearer, I noticed one of the things
moving, and then I saw they were birds, and very like the same I had
just seen, and was then in search of. So I crept in among the trees;
and, after some dodging, got within beautiful shooting distance, and
gave them both barrels. There, you see the result!"

Here François triumphantly pointed to the pile of birds, which in all,
with the jerfalcon, counted four brace and a half.

One was the rock-grouse, which the falcon had itself killed, and the
others were willow-grouse, as Lucien had stated. François now remained
silent, while Basil related his day's adventure.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE HARE, THE LYNX, AND THE GOLDEN EAGLE.


"Frank," began he, "has called his 'a bird adventure.' I might give mine
somewhat of the same title, for there was a bird mixed up with it--the
noblest of all birds--the eagle. But you shall hear it.

"On leaving the camp, I went, as you all know, up the valley. After
travelling for a quarter of a mile or so, I came upon a wide open
bottom, where there were some scattered willows and clumps of dwarf
birch-trees. As Luce had told me that such are the favourite food of the
American hare, or, as we call it in Louisiana, 'rabbit,' I looked out
for the sign of one, and, sure enough, I soon came upon a track, which I
knew to be that of 'puss.' It was fresh enough, and I followed it. It
kept me meandering about for a long while, till at last I saw that it
took a straight course for some thick brushwood, with two or three low
birches growing out of it.

"As I made sure of finding the game there, I crept forward very quietly,
holding Marengo in the leash. But the hare was not in the brush; and,
after tramping all through it, I again noticed the track where she had
gone out on the opposite side. I was about starting forth to follow it,
when all at once an odd-looking creature made its appearance right
before me. It was that fellow there!" And Basil pointed to the lynx. "I
thought at first sight," continued he, "it was our Louisiana wild cat or
bay lynx, as Luce calls it, for it is very like our cat; but I saw it
was nearly twice as big, and more greyish in the fur. Well, when I first
sighted the creature, it was about an hundred yards off.

"It hadn't seen me, though, for it was not running away, but skulking
along slowly--nearly crosswise to the course of the hare's track--and
looking in a different direction to that in which I was. I was well
screened behind the bushes, and that, no doubt, prevented it from
noticing me. At first I thought of running forward, and setting Marengo
after it. Then I determined on staying where I was, and watching it a
while. Perhaps it may come to a stop, reflected I, and let me creep
within shot. I remained, therefore, crouching among the bushes, and kept
the dog at my feet.

"As I continued to watch the cat, I saw that, instead of following a
straight line, it was moving in a circle!

"The diameter of this circle was not over an hundred yards; and in a
very short while the animal had got once round the circumference, and
came back to where I had first seen it. It did not stop there, but
continued on, though not in its old tracks. It still walked in a circle,
but a much smaller one than before. Both, however, had a common centre;
and, as I noticed that the animal kept its eyes constantly turned
towards the centre, I felt satisfied that in that place would be found
the cause of its strange manoeuvring. I looked to the centre. At first I
could see nothing--at least nothing that might be supposed to attract
the cat. There was a very small bush of willows, but they were thin. I
could see distinctly through them, and there was no creature there,
either in the bush or around it. The snow lay white up to the roots of
the willows, and I thought that a mouse could hardly have found shelter
among them, without my seeing it from where I stood.

"Still I could not explain the odd actions of the lynx, upon any other
principle than that it was in the pursuit of game; and I looked again,
and carefully examined every inch of the ground as my eyes passed over
it. This time I discovered what the animal was after. Close into the
willows appeared two little parallel streaks of a dark colour, just
rising above the surface of the snow. I should not have noticed them had
there not been two of them, and these slanting in the same direction.
They had caught my eyes before, but I had taken them for the points of
broken willows. I now saw that they were the ears of some animal, and I
thought that once or twice they moved slightly while I was regarding
them.

"After looking at them steadily for a time, I made out the shape of a
little head underneath. It was white, but there was a round dark spot in
the middle, which I knew to be an eye. There was no body to be seen.
That was under the snow, but it was plain enough that what I saw was the
head of a hare. At first I supposed it to be a Polar hare--such as we
had just killed--but the tracks I had followed were not those of the
Polar hare. Then I remembered that the 'rabbit' of the United States
also turns white in the winter of the Northern regions. This, then, must
be the American rabbit, thought I.

"Of course my reflections did not occupy all the time I have taken in
describing them. Only a moment or so. All the while the lynx was moving
round and round the circle, but still getting nearer to the hare that
appeared eagerly to watch it. I remembered how Norman had manoeuvred to
get within shot of the Polar hare; and I now saw the very same _ruse_
being practised by a dumb creature, that is supposed to have no other
guide than instinct. But I had seen the 'bay lynx' of Louisiana do some
'dodges' as cunning as that,--such as claying his feet to make the
hounds lose the scent, and, after running backwards and forwards upon a
fallen log, leap into the tops of trees, and get off in that way."

"Believing that his Northern cousin was just as artful as himself" (here
Basil looked significantly at the "Captain,") "I did not so much wonder
at the performance I now witnessed. Nevertheless, I felt a great
curiosity to see it out. But for this curiosity I could have shot the
lynx every time he passed me on the nearer edge of the circle. Round and
round he went, then, until he was not twenty feet from the hare, that,
strange to say, seemed to regard this the worst of her enemies more with
wonder than fear. The lynx at length stopped suddenly, brought his four
feet close together, arched his back like an angry cat, and then with
one immense bound, sprang forward upon his victim.

"The hare had only time to leap out of her form, and the second spring
of the lynx brought him right upon the top of her. I could hear the
child-like scream which the American rabbit always utters when thus
seized; but the cloud of snow-spray raised above the spot prevented me
for a while from seeing either lynx or hare. The scream was stifled in a
moment, and when the snow-spray cleared off, I saw that the lynx held
the hare under his paws, and that 'puss' was quite dead.

"I was considering how I might best steal up within shooting distance,
when, all at once, I heard another scream of a very different sort. At
the same time a dark shadow passed over the snow. I looked up, and
there, within fifty yards of the ground, a great big bird was wheeling
about. I knew it to be an eagle from its shape; and at first I fancied
it was a young one of the white-headed kind--for, as you are aware,
these do not have either the white head or tail until they are several
years old. Its immense size, however, showed that it could not be one of
these. It must be the great _'golden' eagle_ of the Rocky Mountains,
thought I.

"When I first noticed it, I fancied that it had been after the rabbit;
and, seeing the latter pounced upon by another preying creature, had
uttered its scream at being thus disappointed of its prey. I expected,
therefore, to see it fly off. To my astonishment it broke suddenly out
of the circles in which it had been so gracefully wheeling, and, with
another scream wilder than before, darted down towards the lynx!

"The latter, on hearing the first cry of the eagle, had started, dropped
his prey, and looked up. In the eagle he evidently recognised an
antagonist, for his back suddenly became arched, his fur bristled up,
his short tail moved quickly from side to side, and he stood with
glaring eyes, and claws ready to receive the attack.

"As the eagle came down, its legs and claws were thrown forward, and I
could then tell it was not a bald eagle, nor the great "Washington
eagle," nor yet a fishing eagle of any sort, which both of these are.
The fishing eagles, as Lucien had told me, _have always naked legs_,
while those of the true eagles are more feathered. So were his, but
beyond the feathers I could see his great curved talons, as he struck
forward at the lynx. He evidently touched and wounded the animal, but
the wound only served to make it more angry: and I could hear it purring
and spitting like a tom-cat, only far louder.

"The eagle again mounted back into the air, but soon wheeled round and
shot down a second time. This time the lynx sprang forward to meet it,
and I could hear the concussion of their bodies as they came together. I
think the eagle must have been crippled, so that it could not fly up
again, for the fight from that time was carried on upon the ground. The
lynx seemed anxious to grasp some part of his antagonist's body--and at
times I thought he had succeeded--but then he was beaten off again by
the bird, that fought furiously with wings, beak, and talons."

[Illustration: THE LYNX AND THE GOLDEN EAGLE.]

"The lynx now appeared to be the attacking party, as I saw him
repeatedly spring forward at the eagle, while the latter always received
him upon its claws, lying with its back upon the snow. Both fur and
feathers flew in every direction, and sometimes the combatants were so
covered with the snow-spray that I could see neither of them.

"I watched the conflict for several minutes, until it occurred to me,
that my best time to get near enough for a shot was just while they were
in the thick of it, and not likely to heed me. I therefore moved
silently out of the bushes; and, keeping Marengo in the string, crept
forward. I had but the one bullet to give them, and with that I could
not shoot both; but I knew that the quadruped was eatable, and, as I was
not sure about the bird, I very easily made choice, and shot the lynx.
To my surprise the eagle did not fly off, and I now saw that one of its
wings was disabled! He was still strong enough, however, to scratch
Marengo severely before the latter could master him. As to the lynx, he
had been roughly handled. His skin was torn in several places, and one
of his eyes, as you see, regularly 'gouged out.'"

Here Basil ended his narration; and after an interval, during which some
fresh wood was chopped and thrown upon the fire, Norman, in turn,
commenced relating what had befallen him.



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE "ALARM BIRD" AND THE CARIBOU.


"There wasn't much 'adventure' in my day's sport," said he, "though I
might call it a 'bird-adventure' too, for if it hadn't been for a bird I
shouldn't have had it. I shot a deer--that's all. But maybe it would be
curious for you to know how I came to find the animal, so I'll tell you.

"The first thing I did after leaving here was to climb the hill
yonder"--here Norman pointed to a long hill that sloped up from the
opposite shore of the lake, and which was the direction he had taken, as
Basil and François had gone right and left.

I saw neither bird, beast, nor track, until I had reached the top of
the hill. There I got a good view of the country ahead. I saw it was
very rocky, without a stick of timber, and did not look very promising
for game. "It's no use going that way," I says to myself; "I'll keep
along the ridge, above where Frank's gone. He may drive some varmint out
of the hollow, and I'll get a crack at it, as it comes over the hill.

"I was about to turn to the left when I heard the skreek of a bird away
ahead of me. I looked in that direction; and, sure enough, saw one
wheeling about in the air, right above the rocky jumble with which the
country was covered.

"Now it's a mighty curious bird that I saw. It's a sort of an owl, but,
I should say myself, there's a sprinkling of the hawk in it--for it's as
much like the one as the other."

"No doubt," interrupted Lucien, "it was one of the day owls of these
Northern regions, some of which approach very near to the hawks, both in
shape and habits. This peculiarity arises from the fact of the long
summer day--of weeks in duration--within the Arctic circle, requiring
them to hunt for their prey, just as hawks do; and therefore Nature has
gifted them with certain peculiarities that make them resemble these
birds. They want the very broad faces and large tufted heads of the true
owls; besides the ears, which in the latter are remarkable for their
size, and also for being operculated, or with lids, in the former are
not much larger than in other birds of prey. The small hawk-owl which is
altogether a Northern bird, is one of this kind."

"Very well," continued Norman, "what you say may be very true, cousin
Luce; I only know that the bird I am speaking about is a mighty curious
little creature. It ain't bigger than a pigeon, and is of a mottled
brown colour; but what I call it curious for is this:--Whenever it sees
any creature passing from place to place, it mounts up into the air, and
hovers above them, keeping up a constant screeching, like the squalling
of a child--and that's anything but agreeable. It does so, not only in
the neighbourhood of its nest--like the plover and some other birds--but
it will sometimes follow a travelling party for hours together, and for
miles across the country."

From this circumstance the Indians of these parts call it the "alarm
bird," or "bird of warning," because it often makes them aware of the
approach either of their enemies or of strangers. Sometimes it alarms
and startles the game, while the hunter is crawling up to it; and I have
known it to bother myself for a while of a day, when I was after grouse.
It's a great favourite with the Indians though--as it often guides them
to deer, or musk-oxen, by its flying and screaming above where these
animals are feeding.

Just in the same way it guided me. I knew, from the movements of the
bird, that there must be something among the rocks. I couldn't tell
what, but I hoped it would turn out to be some creature that was
eatable; so I changed my intention, and struck out for the place where
it was.

It was a good half mile from the hill, and it cost me considerable
clambering over the rocks, before I reached the ground. I thought to get
near enough to see what it was, without drawing the bird upon myself,
and I crouched from hummock to hummock; but the sharp-eyed creature
caught sight of me, and came screeching over my head. I kept on without
noticing it; but as I was obliged to go round some large rocks, I lost
the direction, and soon found myself wandering back into my own trail.

I could do nothing, therefore, until the bird should leave me, and fly
back to whatever had first set it a-going. In order that it might do so,
I crept in under a big stone that jutted out, and lay quiet a bit,
watching it. It soon flew off, and commenced wheeling about in the air,
not more than three hundred yards from where I lay. This time I took
good bearings, and then went on. I did not care for the bird to guide me
any longer, for I observed there was an open spot ahead, and I was sure
that there I could see something. And sure enough I did. On peeping
round the end of a rock, I spied a herd of about fifty deer.

They were reindeer, of course, as there are no others upon the 'Barren
Grounds,' and I saw they were all does--for at this season the bucks
keep altogether in the woods. Some of them were pawing the snow to get
at the moss, while others were standing by the rocks, and tearing off
the lichens with their teeth. It so happened that I had the wind of
them, else they would have scented me and made off, for I was within a
hundred yards of the nearest. I was not afraid of their taking fright,
so long as they could only see part of my body--for these deer are so
stupid, or rather so curious, that almost anything will draw them within
shot.

Knowing this, I practised a trick that had often helped me before; and
that was to move the barrel of my gun, up and down, with the same sort
of motion as the deer make with their horns, when rubbing their necks
against a rock or tree. If I'd had a set of antlers, it would have been
all the better; but the other answered well enough. It happened the
animals were not very wild, as, likely, they hadn't been hunted for a
good while. I bellowed at the same time,--for I know how to imitate
their call--and, in less than a minute's time, I got several of them
within range. Then I took aim, and knocked one over, and the rest ran
off. "That," said Norman, "ended _my_ adventure--unless you call the
carrying a good hundred pounds weight of deer-meat all the way back to
camp part of it. If so, I can assure you that it was by far the most
unpleasant part."

Here Norman finished his narration, and a conversation was carried on
upon the subject of reindeer, or, as these animals are termed, in
America, "caribou."

Lucien said that the reindeer is found in the Northern regions of Europe
and Asia as well as in America, but that there were several varieties of
them, and perhaps there were different species. Those of Lapland are
most celebrated, because they not only draw sledges, but also furnish
food, clothing, and many other commodities for their owners. In the
north of Asia, the Tungusians have a much larger sort, which they ride
upon; and the Koreki, who dwell upon the borders of Kamschatka, possess
vast herds of reindeer--some rich individuals owing as many as ten or
twenty thousand!

It is not certain that the reindeer of America is exactly the same as
either of the kinds mentioned; and indeed in America itself there are
two very distinct kinds--perhaps a third. Two kinds are well known, that
differ from each other in size, and also in habits. One is the "Barren
Ground caribou," and the other, the "Woodland caribou." The former is
one of the smallest of the deer kind--the bucks weighing little over one
hundred pounds. As its name implies, it frequents the Barren Grounds,
although in winter it also seeks the shelter of wooded tracts. Upon the
Barren Grounds, and the desolate shores and islands of the Arctic Sea,
it is the only kind of deer found, except at one or two points, as the
mouth of the Mackenzie River--which happens to be a wooded country, and
there the moose also is met with.

Nature seems to have gifted the Barren Ground caribou with such tastes
and habits, that a fertile country and a genial clime would not be a
pleasant home for it. It seems adapted to the bleak, sterile countries
in which it dwells, and where its favourite food--the mosses and
lichens--is found. In the short summer of the Arctic regions, it ranges
still farther north; and its traces have been found wherever the
Northern navigators have gone. It must remain among the icy islands of
the Arctic Sea until winter be considerably advanced, or until the sea
is so frozen as to allow it to get back to the shores of the continent.

The "Woodland caribou" is a larger variety--a Woodland doe being about
as big as a Barren Ground buck--although the horns of the latter species
are larger and more branching than those of the former. The Woodland
kind are found around the shores of Hudson's Bay, and in other wooded
tracts that lie in the southern parts of the fur countries--into which
the Barren Ground caribou never penetrates. They also migrate annually,
but, strange to say, their spring migrations are southward, while, at
the same season, their cousins of the Barren Grounds are making their
way northward to the shores of the Arctic Sea. This is a very singular
difference in their habits, and along with their difference in bulk,
form, &c., entitles them to be ranked as separate species of deer.

The flesh of the Woodland caribou is not esteemed so good an article of
food as that of the other; and, as it inhabits a district where many
large animals are found, it is not considered of so much importance in
the economy of human life. The "Barren Ground caribou," on the other
hand, is an indispensable animal to various tribes of Indians, as well
as to the Esquimaux. Without it, these people would be unable to dwell
where they do; and although they have not domesticated it, and trained
it to draught, like the Laplanders, it forms their main source of
subsistence, and there is no part of its body which they do not turn to
some useful purpose.

Of its horns they form their fish-spears and hooks, and, previous to the
introduction of iron by the Europeans, their ice-chisels and various
other utensils. Their scraping or currying knives are made from the
split shin-bones. The skins make their clothing, tent-covers, beds, and
blankets. The raw hide, cleared of the hair and cut into thongs, serves
for snares, bow-strings, net-lines, and every other sort of ropes. The
finer thongs make netting for snow-shoes--an indispensable article to
these people--and of these thongs fish-nets are also woven; while the
tendons of the muscles, when split, serve for fine sewing-thread.
Besides these uses, the flesh of the caribou is the food of many tribes,
Indians and Esquimaux, for most of the year; and, indeed, it may be
looked upon as their staple article of subsistence.

There is hardly any part of it (even the horns, when soft) that is not
eaten and relished by them. Were it not for the immense herds of these
creatures that roam over the country, they would soon be
exterminated--for they are easily approached, and the Indians have very
little difficulty, during the summer season, in killing as many as they
please.

Norman next gave a description of the various modes of hunting the
caribou practised by the Indians and Esquimaux; such as driving them
into a pound, snaring them, decoying and shooting them with arrows, and
also a singular way which the Esquimaux have of taking them in a
pit-trap built in the snow.

"The sides of the trap," said he, "are built of slabs of snow, cut as if
to make a snow-house. An inclined plane of snow leads to the entrance of
the pit, which is about five feet deep, and large enough within to hold
several deer. The exterior of the trap is banked up on all sides with
snow; but so steep are these sides left, that the deer can only get up
by the inclined plane which leads to the entrance. A great slab of snow
is then placed over the mouth of the pit, and revolves on two axles of
wood. This slab will carry the deer until it has passed the line of the
axles, when its weight overbalances one side, and the animal is
precipitated into the pit. The slab then comes back into a horizontal
position as before, and is ready to receive another deer. The animals
are attracted by moss and lichens placed for them on the opposite side
of the trap--in such a way that they cannot be reached without crossing
the slab. In this sort of trap several deer are frequently caught during
a single day."

Norman knew another mode of hunting practised by the Esquimaux, and
proposed that the party should proceed in search of the herd upon the
following day; when, should they succeed in finding the deer, he would
show them how the thing was done; and he had no doubt of their being
able to make a good hunt of it. All agreed to this proposal, as it would
be of great importance to them to kill a large number of these animals.
It is true they had now provision enough to serve for several days--but
there were perhaps months, not days, to be provided for. They believed
that they could not be far from the wooded countries near the banks of
the Mackenzie, as some kinds of the animal they had met with were only
to be found near timber during the winter season. But what of that? Even
on the banks of the great river itself they might not succeed in
procuring game. They resolved, therefore, to track the herd of deer
which Norman had seen; and for this purpose they agreed to make a stay
of some days at their present camp.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

A BATTLE WITH WOLVES.


Next morning they were up by early daybreak. The days were now only a
few hours in length, for it was mid-winter, and they were but three or
four degrees south of the Arctic circle. Of course they would require
all the day for the intended hunt of the caribou, as they might have to
follow the track of the herd for many miles before coming up with the
animals. Lucien was to remain by the camp, as it would never do to leave
the animals they had already killed without some guard. To have hung
them on the trees, would have put them out of the reach of both wolves
and foxes; but the lynx and wolverene are both tree-climbers, and could
easily have got at them there.

They had reason to believe there were wolverenes about; for these fierce
and destructive beasts are found in every part of the fur
countries--wherever there exist other animals upon which they can prey.
Eagles, hawks, and owls, moreover, would have picked the partridges from
the branches of the trees without difficulty. One proposed burying them
in the snow; but Norman assured them that the Arctic foxes could scent
them out, and dig them up in a few minutes. Then it was suggested to
cover them under a pile of stones, as there were plenty of these lying
about.

To this Norman also objected, saying that the wolverene could pull off
any stones they were able to pile upon them--as this creature in its
fore-legs possesses more than the strength of a man. Besides, it was not
unlikely that one of the great brown bears,--a species entirely
different from either the black or grizzly bears, and which is only met
with on the Barren Grounds--might come ranging that way; and he could
soon toss over any stone-heap they might build. On the whole it was
better that one of the four should remain by the camp; and Lucien, who
cared less about hunting than any of them, willingly agreed to be the
one.

Their arrangements were soon completed, and the three hunters set out.
They did not go straight towards the place where Norman had found the
deer upon the preceding day, but took a cross-cut over the hills. This
was by Norman's advice, who guided himself by the wind--which had not
changed since the previous day. He knew that the caribou in feeding
always travel _against_ the wind; and he expected therefore to find them
somewhere in the direction from which it was blowing. Following a
course, which angled with that of the wind, they kept on, expecting soon
to strike the trail of the herd.

Meanwhile Lucien, left to himself, was not idle. He had to prepare the
flesh of the different animals, so as to render it fit to be carried
along. Nothing was required farther than to skin and cut them up.
Neither salting nor drying was necessary, for the flesh of one and all
had got frozen as stiff as a stone, and in this way it would keep during
the whole winter. The wolf was skinned with the others, but this was
because his fine skin was wanted. His flesh was not intended to be
eaten--although only a day or two before any one of the party would have
been glad of such a meal.

Not only the Indians, but the voyageurs and fur-traders, while
journeying through these inhospitable wilds, are often but too delighted
to get a dinner of wolf-meat. The ermine and the little mouse were the
only other creatures of the collection that were deemed uneatable. As to
the Arctic fox and the lynx, the flesh of both these creatures is highly
esteemed, and is white and tender, almost as much so as the hares upon
which they feed. The snowy owl too, the jerfalcon, and the eagle, were
looked upon as part of the larder--the flesh of all being almost as good
as that of the grouse.

Had it been a fishing eagle--such as the bald-head--the case would have
been different, for these last, on account of their peculiar food, taste
rank and disagreeable. But there was no danger of their falling in with
a fishing eagle at that place. These can only exist where there is
_open_ water. Hence the cause of their annual migrations to the
southward, when the lakes and rivers of the fur countries become covered
with their winter ice.

Though Lucien remained quietly at the camp he was not without adventures
to keep him from wearying. While he was singeing his grouse his eye
happened to fall upon the shadow of a bird passing over the snow. On
looking up he saw a very large bird, nearly as big as an eagle, flying
softly about in wide circles. It was of a mottled-brown colour; but its
short neck and great round head told the naturalist at a glance that it
was a bird of the owl genus. It was the largest of the kind that Lucien
had ever seen, and was, in fact, the largest known in America--the
"great cinereous owl." Now and then it would alight upon a rock or tree,
at the distance of an hundred yards or so from the camp; where it would
watch the operations of Lucien, evidently inclined to help him in
dissecting some of the animals. Whenever he took up his gun and tried to
approach within shot, it would rise into the air again, always keeping
out of range. Lucien was provoked at this--for he wished, as a
naturalist, to examine the bird, and for this purpose to kill it, of
course; but the owl seemed determined that he should do no such thing.

At length, however, Lucien resolved upon a plan to decoy the creature
within shot. Taking up one of the grouse, he flung it out upon the snow
some thirty yards from the fire. No sooner had he done so, than the owl,
at sight of the tempting morsel, left aside both its shyness and
prudence, and sailed gently forward; then, hovering for a moment over
the ground, hooked the grouse upon its claws, and was about to carry it
off, when a bullet from Lucien's rifle, just in the "nick of time," put
a stop to its further flight, and dropped the creature dead upon the
snow.

Lucien picked it up and brought it to the camp, where he passed some
time in making notes upon its size, colour, and other peculiarities. The
owl measured exactly two feet in length from the point of the bill to
the end of the tail; and its "alar spread," as naturalists term it, was
full five feet in extent. It was of a clove-brown colour, beautifully
mottled with white, and its bill and eyes were of a bright gamboge
yellow. Like all of its tribe that winter in the Arctic wilds, it was
feathered to the toes. Lucien reflected that this species lives more in
the woods than the "great snowy owl," and, as he had heard, is never
found far out on the Barren Grounds during winter. This fact, therefore,
was a pleasant one to reflect upon, for it confirmed the testimony which
the travellers had already obtained from several of the other creatures
they had killed--that is to say, that they must be in the neighbourhood
of some timbered country.

Lucien had hardly finished his examination of the owl when he was called
upon to witness another incident of a still more exciting nature. A
hill, as already mentioned, or rather a ridge, rose up from the opposite
shore of the lake by which the camp was pitched. The declivity of this
hill fronted the lake, and sloped gradually back from the edge of the
water. Its whole face was smooth and treeless, covered with a layer of
pure snow. The camp commanded a full view of it up to its very crest.

As Lucien was sitting quietly by the fire a singular sound, or rather
continuation of sounds, fell upon his ear. It somewhat resembled the
baying of hounds at a distance; and at first he was inclined to believe
that it was Marengo on a view-hunt after the deer. On listening more
attentively, however, he observed that the sounds came from more than
one animal; and also, that they bore more resemblance to the howling of
wolves than the deep-toned bay of a bloodhound. This, in fact, it was;
for the next moment a caribou shot up over the crest of the hill, and
was seen stretching at full gallop down the smooth declivity in the
direction of the lake. Not twenty paces in its rear followed a string of
howling animals, evidently in pursuit of it. There were a dozen of them
in all, and they were running exactly like hounds upon the "view
holloa." Lucien saw at a glance they were wolves. Most of them were
dappled-grey and white, while some were of a pure white colour. Any one
of them was nearly as large as the caribou itself; for in these
parts--around Great Slave Lake--the wolf grows to his largest size.

The caribou gained upon them as it bounded down the slope of the hill.
It was evidently making for the lake, believing, no doubt, that the
black ice upon its surface was water, and that in that element it would
have the advantage of its pursuers, for the caribou is a splendid
swimmer. Nearly all deer when hunted take to the water--to throw off the
dogs, or escape from men--and to this habit the reindeer makes no
exception.

Down the hill swept the chase, Lucien having a full view both of
pursuers and pursued. The deer ran boldly. It seemed to have gathered
fresh confidence at sight of the lake, while the same object caused its
pursuers a feeling of disappointment. They knew they were no match for a
caribou in the water, as no doubt many a one had escaped them in that
element. It is not likely, however, that they made reflections of this
sort. There was but little time. From the moment of their appearance
upon the crest of the hill till the chase arrived at the edge of the
lake, was but a few seconds. On reaching the shore the caribou made no
stop; but bounded forward in the same way as if it had been springing
upon water. Most likely it expected to hear a plunge; but, instead of
that, its hoofs came down upon the hard ice; and, by the impulse thus
given, the animal shot out with the velocity of a skater.

Strange to say, it still kept its feet; but, now seemingly overcome by
surprise, and knowing the advantage its pursuers would have over it upon
the slippery ice, it began to plunge and flounder, and once or twice
came to its knees. The hungry pursuers appeared to recognise their
advantage at once, for their howling opened with a fresh burst, and they
quickened their pace. Their sharp claws enabled them to gallop over the
ice at top speed; and one large brute that led the pack soon came up
with the deer, sprang upon it, and bit it in the flank. This brought the
deer upon its haunches, and at once put an end to the chase. The animal
was hardly down upon the ice, when the foremost wolves coming up
precipitated themselves upon its body, and began to devour it.

It was about the middle of the lake where the caribou had been
overtaken. At the time it first reached the ice, Lucien had laid hold of
his rifle and run forward in order to meet the animal half-way, and, if
possible, get a shot at it. Now that the creature was killed, he
continued on with the design of driving off the wolves, and securing the
carcass of the deer for himself. He kept along the ice until he was
within less than twenty yards of the pack, when, seeing that the fierce
brutes had torn the deer to pieces, and perceiving, moreover, that they
exhibited no fear of himself, he began to think he might be in danger by
advancing any nearer. Perhaps a shot from his rifle would scatter them,
and without further reflection he raised the piece, and fired. One of
the wolves kicked over upon the ice, and lay quite dead; but the others,
to Lucien's great surprise, instead of being frightened off, immediately
sprang upon their dead companion, and commenced tearing and devouring
it, just as they had done the deer!

The sight filled Lucien with alarm; which was increased at seeing
several of the wolves--that had been beaten by the others from the
quarry--commence making demonstrations towards himself! Lucien now
trembled for his safety, and no wonder. He was near the middle of the
lake upon slippery ice. To attempt running back to the camp would be
hazardous; the wolves could overtake him before he had got half-way, and
he felt certain that any signs of fear on his part would be the signal
for the fierce brutes to assail him.

For some moments he was irresolute how to act. He had commenced loading
his gun, but his fingers were numbed with the cold, and it was a good
while before he could get the piece ready for a second fire. He
succeeded at length. He did not fire then, but resolved to keep the
charge for a more desperate crisis. Could he but reach the camp there
were trees near it, and one of these he might climb. This was his only
hope, in case the wolves attacked him, and he knew it was. Instead of
turning and running for this point, he began to back for it stealthily
and with caution, keeping his front all the while towards the wolves,
and his eyes fixed upon them.

He had not got many yards, when he perceived to his horror, that the
whole pack were in motion, and _coming after him_! It was a terrible
sight, and Lucien seeing that by retreating he only drew them on,
stopped and held his rifle in a threatening attitude. The wolves were
now within twenty yards of him; but, instead of moving any longer
directly towards him, they broke into two lines, swept past on opposite
sides of him, and then circling round, met each other in his rear. _His
retreat was cut off!_

He now stood upon the ice with the fierce wolves forming a ring around
him, whose diameter was not the six lengths of his gun, and every moment
growing shorter and shorter. The prospect was appalling. It would have
caused the stoutest heart to quail, and Lucien's was terrified. He
shouted at the top of his voice. He fired his rifle at the nearest. The
brute fell, but the others showed no symptoms of fear; they only grew
more furious. Lucien clubbed his gun--the last resort in such cases--and
laid around him with all his might; but he was in danger of slipping
upon the ice, and his efforts were feeble.

Once down he never would have risen again, for his fierce assailants
would have sprung upon him like tigers. As it was, he felt but little
hope. He believed himself lost. The teeth of the ferocious monsters
gleamed under his eyes. He was growing weaker and weaker, yet still he
battled on, and swept his gun around him with the energy of despair.

Such a struggle could not have continued much longer. Lucien's fate
would have been sealed in a very few minutes more, had not relief
arrived in some shape or other. But it did come. A loud shout was heard
upon the hill; and Lucien, glancing suddenly towards it, saw several
forms rushing downward to the lake! It was the hunting party returned,
and in a moment more they were crossing the ice to his rescue. Lucien
gaining confidence fought with fresh vigour. The wolves busy in their
attack had either not heard or were regardless of the new-comers; but
the "crack, crack" of the guns--repeated no less than four times--and
then the nearer reports of pistols, made a speedy impression upon the
brutes, and in a short while half their number were seen tumbling and
kicking upon the ice. The rest, uttering their hideous howls, took to
flight, and soon disappeared from the valley; and Lucien, half dead with
fatigue, staggered into the arms of his deliverers.

No less than seven of the wolves were killed in the affray--two of which
Lucien had shot himself. One or two were only wounded, but so badly,
that they could not get away; and these were handed over to the tender
mercies of Marengo, who amused himself for some time after by worrying
them to death.

The hunting party had made a good day of it. They had fallen in with the
caribou, and had killed three of them. These they were bringing to camp,
but had dropped them upon the hill, on perceiving the perilous position
of Lucien. They now went back, and having carried the deer to their
camping-place, were soon engaged in the pleasant occupation of eating a
savoury dinner. Lucien soon recovered from his fright and fatigue, and
amused his companions by giving an account of the adventures that had
befallen him in their absence.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

END OF THE "VOYAGE."


Our party remained several days at this place, until they had made a
fresh stock of "pemmican" from the flesh of the caribou, several more of
which they succeeded in killing; and then, arranging everything anew,
and taking with them such skins as they wanted, they continued their
journey.

They had two days' hard travelling through a rocky mountainous country,
where they could not find a stick of wood to cook their meals with, and
were exposed to cold more than at any other place. Both François and
Lucien had their faces frost-bitten; but they were cured by Norman, who
prevented them from going near a fire until he had well rubbed the parts
with soft snow.

The rocks through which they passed were in many places covered with the
_tripe de roche_ of several species; but our voyageurs cared nothing
about it so long as their pemmican lasted, and of that each of them had
nearly as much as he could carry.

In the most dreary part of the mountains they chanced upon a herd of
those curious animals, the musk-oxen, and shot one of them; but the meat
tasted so rank, and smelt so strongly of musk, that the whole of it was
left to the wolves, foxes, and other preying creatures of these parts.

On the third day, after leaving their camp by the lake, a pleasant
prospect opened before them. It was the valley of the Mackenzie,
stretching to the west, and extending north and south as far as the eye
could reach, covered with forests of pine and poplar, and other large
trees. Of course the landscape was a winter one, as the river was bound
up in ice, and the trees themselves were half-white with frozen snow;
but after the dreary scenery of the barren grounds, even this appeared
warm and summer-like. There was no longer any danger they should be
without a good fire to cook their dinners, or warm themselves at, and a
wooded country offers a better prospect of game.

The sight, therefore, of a great forest was cheering; and our
travellers, in high spirits, planted their tent upon the banks of the
great Northern river. They had still many hundred miles to go before
arriving at their destination; but they determined to continue their
journey without much delay, following the river as a guide. No more
"near cuts" were to be taken in future. They had learned, from their
recent experience, that "the shortest way across is sometimes the
longest way round," and they resolved to profit by the lesson. I hope,
boy reader, you too will remember it.

After reaching the Mackenzie the voyageurs halted one day, and upon the
next commenced their journey down-stream. Sometimes they kept upon the
bank, but at times, for a change, they travelled upon the ice of the
river. There was no danger of its giving way under them, for it was
more than a foot in thickness, and would have supported a loaded wagon
and horses, without even cracking.

They were now drawing near the Arctic circle, and the days grew shorter
and shorter as they advanced. But this did not much interfere with their
travelling. The long nights of the Polar regions are not like those of
more Southern latitudes. They are sometimes so clear, that one may read
the smallest print. What with the coruscations of the aurora borealis,
and the cheerful gleaming of the Northern constellations, one may travel
without difficulty throughout the livelong night. I am sure, my young
friend, you have made good use of your globes, and need not be told that
the length of both nights and days, as you approach the pole, depends
upon two things--the latitude of the place, and the season of the year;
and were you to spend a whole year _leaning against the pole itself,
(!)_ you would _live but one day and one night_--each of them six months
in length.

But no doubt you know all these things without my telling you of them,
and you are impatient to hear not about that, but whether the young
voyageurs safely reached the end of their journey. That question I
answer briefly at once--they did.

Some distance below the point where they had struck the Mackenzie, they
fell in with a winter encampment of Dog-rib Indians. Some of these
people had been to the Fort to trade; and Norman being known to them, he
and his Southern cousins were received with much hospitality. All their
wants were provided for, as far as it lay in the power of these poor
people to do; but the most valuable thing obtained from the Indians was
a full set of dogs and dog-sledges for the whole party. These were
furnished by the chief, upon the understanding that he should be paid
for them on his next visit to the Fort.

Although the reindeer of North America are not trained to the sledge by
the Esquimaux and Indians, several kinds of dogs are; and a single pair
of these faithful creatures will draw a full-grown man at a rate that
exceeds almost every other mode of travelling--steam excepted. When our
voyageurs, therefore, flung away their snow-shoes, and, wrapped in their
skin cloaks, seated themselves snugly in their dog sledges, the five
hundred miles that separated them from the Fort were soon reduced to
nothing; and one afternoon, four small sledges, each carrying a "young
voyageur," with a large bloodhound galloping in the rear, were seen
driving up to the stockade fence surrounding the Fort.

Before they had quite reached the gate, there was a general rush of
trappers, traders, voyageurs, _coureurs-des-bois_ and other _employés_,
to reach them; and the next moment they were lost in the midst of the
people who crowded out of the Fort to welcome them. This was their hour
of happiness and joy.

To me there is an hour of regret, and I hope, boy reader, to you as
well--the hour of our parting with the "YOUNG VOYAGEURS."



THE FOREST EXILES,

OR

ADVENTURES AMID THE WILDS OF THE AMAZON.



CHAPTER I.

THE BIGGEST WOOD IN THE WORLD.


Boy Reader, I am told that you are not tired of my company. Is this
true?

"Quite true, dear Captain,--quite true!"

That is your reply. You speak sincerely? I believe you do.

In return, believe _me_, when I tell you I am not tired of yours; and
the best proof I can give is, that I have come once more to seek you. I
have come to solicit the pleasure of your company,--not to an evening
party, nor to a ball, nor to the Grand Opera, nor to the Crystal Palace,
nor yet to the Zoological Gardens of Regent's Park,--no, but to the
great zoological garden of Nature. I have come to ask you to accompany
me on another "campaign,"--another "grand journey" through the fields of
Science and Adventure. Will you go?

"Most willingly--with you, dear Captain, anywhere."

Come with me, then.

Again we turn our faces westward; again we cross the blue and billowy
Atlantic; again we seek the shores of the noble continent of America.

"What! to America again?"

Ha! that is a large continent, and you need not fear that I am going to
take you over old ground. No, fear not that! New scenes, await us; a new
_fauna_, a new _flora_,--I might almost say, a new earth and a new sky!

You shall have variety, I promise you,--a perfect contrast to the scenes
of our last journey.

Then, you remember, we turned our faces to the cold and icy North,--now
our path lies through the hot and sunny South. Then we lived in a
log-hut, and closed every cranny to keep out the cold,--now, in our
cottage of palms and cane, we shall be but too glad to let the breeze
play through the open walls. Then we wrapped our bodies in thick
furs,--now we shall be content with the lightest garments. Then we were
bitten by the frost--now we shall be bitten by the sand-flies, and
mosquitoes, and bats, and snakes, and scorpions, and spiders, and stung
by wasps, and centipedes, and great red ants! Trust me, you shall have a
change!

Perhaps you do not contemplate _such_ a change with any very lively
feelings of pleasure. Come! do not be alarmed at the snakes, and
scorpions, and centipedes! We shall find a cure for every bite--an
antidote for every bane.

Our new journey shall have its pleasures and advantages. Remember how of
old we shivered as we slept, coiled up in the corner of our dark log-hut
and smothered in skins,--now we shall swing lightly in our netted
hammocks under the gossamer leaves of the palm-tree, or the feathery
frondage of the ferns. Then we gazed upon leaden skies, and at night
looked upon the cold constellation of the Northern Bear;--now, we shall
have over us an azure canopy, and shall nightly behold the sparkling
glories of the Southern Cross, still shining as bright as when Paul and
his little Virginia with loving eyes gazed upon it from their island
home. In our last journey we toiled over bleak and barren wastes, across
frozen lakes, and marshes, and rivers;--now we shall pass under the
shadows of virgin forests, and float lightly upon the bosom of broad
majestic streams, whose shores echo with the voices of living nature.

Hitherto our travels have been upon the wide, open prairie, the
trackless plain of sand, the frozen lake, the thin scattering woods of
the North, or the treeless snow-clad "Barrens." Now we are about to
enter a great forest,--a forest where the leaves never fade, where the
flowers are always in bloom,--a forest where the woodman's axe has not
yet echoed, where the colonist has hardly hewed out a single
clearing,--a vast primeval forest,--the largest in the world.

How large, do you ask? I can hardly tell you. Are you thinking of Epping
or the New Forest? True, these are large woods, and have been larger at
one time. But if you draw your ideas of a great forest from either of
these you must prepare yourselves for a startling announcement--and that
is, that the forest through which I am going to take you is _as big as
all Europe_! There is one place where a straight line might be drawn
across this forest that would measure the enormous length of two
thousand six hundred miles! And there is a point in it from which a
circle might be described, with a diameter of more than a thousand
miles, and the whole area included within the vast circumference would
be found covered with an unbroken forest!

I need scarce tell you what forest I allude to, for there is none other
in the world of such dimensions--none to compare with that vast,
trackless forest that covers the valley of the mighty Amazon!

And what shall we see in travelling through this tree-covered expanse?
Many a strange form of life--both vegetable and animal. We shall see the
giant "ceiba" tree, and the "zamang," and the "caoba," twined by huge
parasites almost as thick as their own trunks, and looking as though
they embraced but to crush them; the "juvia," with its globe-shaped
fruits as large as the human head; the "cow-tree," with its abundant
fountains of rich milk; the "seringa," with its valuable gum--the
caoutchouc of commerce; the "cinchona," with its fever-killing bark; the
curious "volador," with its winged seeds; the wild indigo, and the
arnatto. We shall see palms of many species--some with trunks smooth and
cylindrical, others covered with thorns, sharp and thickly set--some
with broad entire leaves, others with fronds pinnate and feathery, and
still others whose leaves are the shape of a fan--some rising like naked
columns to the height of an hundred and fifty feet, while others
scarcely attain to the standard of an ordinary man.

On the water we shall see beautiful lilies--the snow-white _nymphs_, and
the yellow _nuphars_. We shall see the _Victoria regia_ covering the
pool with its massive wax-like flowers, and huge circular leaves of
bronze green. We shall see tall flags like Saracen spears, and the dark
green culms of gigantic rushes, and the golden _arundinaria_--the
bamboo, and "caña brava,"--that rival the forest trees in height.

Many a form of animal life we may behold. Basking in the sun, we may
behold the yellow and spotted body of the jaguar--a beautiful but
dreaded sight. Breaking through the thick underwood, or emerging slowly
from the water, we may catch a glimpse of the sombre tapir, or the
red-brown capivara. We may see the ocelot skulking through the deep
shade, or the margay springing upon its winged prey.

We may see the shaggy ant-bear tearing at the cones of sand-clay,
and licking up the white termites; or we may behold the scaly
armadillo crawling over the sun-parched earth, and rolling itself
up at the approach of danger. We may see human-like forms,--the
_quadrumana_--clinging among the high branches, and leaping from tree to
tree, like birds upon the wing; we may see them of many shapes, sizes,
and colours, from the great howling monkeys, with their long prehensive
tails, down to the little saimiris and ouistitis not larger than
squirrels.

What beautiful birds, too!--for this forest is their favourite home.
Upon the ground, the large curassows, and gurns, and the "gallo," with
his plumage of bright red. Upon the trees, the macaws, and parrots, and
toucans, and trogons. In the waters, the scarlet flamingoes, the ibises,
and the tall herons; and in the air, the hawks, the zamuros, the
king-vultures, and the eagles.

We shall see much of the reptile world, both by land and water. Basking
upon the bank, or floating along the stream, we may behold the great
water lizards--the crocodile and caïman; or the unwieldly forms of the
_cheloniæ_--the turtles. Nimbly running along the tree-trunk, or up the
slanting lliana, we may see the crested iguana, hideous to behold. On
the branches that overhang the silent pool we may see the "water-boa,"
of huge dimensions, watching for his prey--the peccary, the capivara,
the paca, or the agouti; and in the dry forest we may meet with his
congener the "stag-swallower," twined around a tree, and waiting for the
roebuck or the little red-deer of the woods.

We may see the mygale, or bird-catching spider, at the end of his strong
net-trap, among the thick foliage; and the tarantula, at the bottom of
his dark pit-fall, constructed in the ground. We may see the tent-like
hills of the white ants, raised high above the surface, and the nests of
many other kinds, hanging from high branches, and looking as though they
had been constructed out of raw silk and pasteboard. We may see trees
covered with these nests, and some with the nests of wasps, and still
others with those of troupials and orioles--birds of the genus _icterus_
and _cassicus_--hanging down like long cylindrical purses.

All those, and many more strange sights, may be seen in the great forest
of the Amazon valley; and some of them we _shall_ see--_voilà_!



CHAPTER II.

THE REFUGEES.


Upon a bright and lovely evening, many years ago, a party of travellers
might have been seen climbing up that Cordillera of the Andes that lies
to the eastward of the ancient city of Cuzco. It was a small and
somewhat singular party of travellers; in fact, a travelling
family,--father, mother, children, and one attendant. We shall say a
word of each of them separately.

The chief of the party was a tall and handsome man, of nearly forty
years of age. His countenance bespoke him of Spanish race, and so he
was. He was not a Spaniard, however, but a Spanish-American, or
"Creole," for so Spaniards born in America are called to distinguish
them from the natives of Old Spain.

Remember--Creoles are _not_ people with negro or African blood in their
veins. There is a misconception on this head in England, and elsewhere.
The African races of America are either negroes, mulattoes, quadroons,
quinteroons, or mestizoes; but the "Creoles" are of European blood,
though born in America. Remember this. Don Pablo Romero--for that was
the name of our traveller--was a Creole, a native of Cuzco, which, as
you know, was the ancient capital of the Incas of Peru.

Don Pablo, as already stated, was nearly forty years of age. Perhaps he
looked older. His life had not been spent in idleness. Much study,
combined with a good deal of suffering and care, had made many of those
lines that rob the face of its youthful appearance. Still, although his
look was serious, and just then sad, his eye was occasionally seen to
brighten, and his light elastic step showed that he was full of vigour
and manhood. He had a moustache, very full and black, but his whiskers
were clean shaven, and his hair cut short, after the fashion of most
people in Spanish America.

He wore velvet pantaloons, trimmed at the bottoms with black stamped
leather, and upon his feet were strong boots of a reddish yellow
colour--that is, the natural colour of the tanned hide before it has
been stained. A dark jacket, closely buttoned, covered the upper-part of
his body, and a scarlet silk sash encircled his waist, the long fringed
ends hanging down over the left hip. In this sash were stuck a Spanish
knife and a pair of pistols, richly ornamented with silver mountings.

But all these things were concealed from the view by a capacious poncho,
which is a garment that in South America serves as a cloak by day and a
blanket by night. It is nearly of the size and shape of an ordinary
blanket, with a slit in the centre, through which the head is passed,
leaving the ends to hang down. Instead of being of uniform colour,
several bright colours are usually woven into the poncho, forming a
variety of patterns. In Mexico a very similar garment--the serapé--is
almost universally worn. The poncho of Don Pablo was a costly one, woven
by hand, and out of the finest wool of the vicuña, for that is the
native country of this useful and curious animal.

Such a poncho would cost 20_l._, and would not only keep out cold, but
would turn rain like a "macintosh." Don Pablo's hat was also curious and
costly. It was one of those known as "Panama," or "Guayaquil,"--hats so
called because they are manufactured by Indian tribes who dwell upon the
Pacific coast, and are made out of a rare sea-grass, which is found near
the above-mentioned places. A good Guayaquil hat will cost 20_l._; and
although, with its broad curling brim and low crown, it looks not much
better than Leghorn or even fine straw, yet it is far superior to
either, both as a protection against rain, or, what is of more
importance in southern countries, against a hot tropical sun. The best
of them will wear half a life-time. Don Pablo's "sombrero" was one of
the very best and costliest; and this, combined with the style of his
other habiliments, betokened that the wearer was one of the "ricos," or
high class of his country.

The costume of his wife, who was a dark and very beautiful Spanish
woman, would have strengthened this idea. She wore a dress of black silk
with velvet bodice and sleeves, tastefully embroidered. A mantilla of
dark cloth covered her shoulders, and on her head was a low
broad-brimmed hat, similar to those usually worn by men, for a bonnet is
a thing unknown to the ladies of Spanish America. A single glance at the
Doña Isidora would have satisfied any one that she was a lady of rank
and refinement.

There were two children, upon which, from time to time, she gazed
tenderly. They were her only ones. They were a boy and girl, nearly of
equal size and age. The boy was the elder, perhaps thirteen or more, a
handsome lad, with swarth face, coal-black eyes, and curly full-flowing
dark hair. The girl, too, who would be about twelve, was dark--that is
to say, brunette in complexion. Her eyes were large, round, and dreamy,
with long lashes that kept the sun from shining into them, and thus
deepened their expression.

Perhaps there are no children in the world so beautiful as those of the
Spanish race. There is a smoothness of skin, a richness in colour, and a
noble "hidalgo" expression in their round black eyes that is rare in
other countries. Spanish women retain this expression to a good age. The
men lose it earlier, because, as I believe, they are oftener of
corrupted morals and habits; and these, long exercised, certainly stamp
their lines upon the face. Those which are mean, and low, and vicious,
produce a similar character of countenance, while those which are high,
and holy, and virtuous, give it an aspect of beauty and nobility.

Of all beautiful Spanish children none could have been more beautiful
than our two little Creole Spaniards, Leon and Leona--for such were the
names of the brother and sister.

There yet remains one to be described, ere we complete the account of
our travelling party. This one was a grown and tall man, quite as tall
as Don Pablo himself, but thinner and more angular in his outlines. His
coppery colour, his long straight black hair, his dark and wild piercing
eye, with his somewhat odd attire, told you at once he was of a
different race from any of the others. He was an Indian--a South
American Indian; and although a descendant from the noble race of the
Peruvian Incas, he was acting in the capacity of a servant or attendant
to Don Pablo and his family.

There was a familiarity, however, between the old Indian--for he was an
old man--and Don Pablo, that bespoke the existence of some tie of a
stronger nature than that which exists between master and servant. And
such there was in reality. This Indian had been one of the patriots who
had rallied around Tupac Amaru in his revolution against the Spaniards.
He had been proscribed, captured, and sentenced to death. He would have
been executed, but for the interference of Don Pablo, who had saved his
life. Since then Guapo--such was the Indian's name--had remained not
only the retainer, but the firm and faithful friend, of his benefactor.

Guapo's feet were sandalled. His legs were naked up to the knees,
showing many an old scar received from the cactus plants and the thorny
bushes of acacia, so common in the mountain-valleys of Peru. A
tunic-like skirt of woollen cloth,--that home-made sort called
"bayeta,"--was fastened around his waist, and reached down to the knees;
but the upper part of his body was quite bare, and you could see the
naked breast and arms, corded with strong muscles, and covered with a
skin of a dark copper colour. The upper part of his body was naked only
when the sun was hot. At other times Guapo wore a species of poncho like
his master, but that of the Indian was of common stuff--woven out of the
coarse wool of the llama. His head was bare.

[Illustration: THE FLIGHT OF THE REFUGEES.]

Guapo's features were thin, sharp, and intelligent. His eye was keen and
piercing; and the gait of the old man, as he strode along the rocky
path, told that it would be many years before he would show any signs of
feebleness or tottering.

There were four animals that carried our travellers and their effects.
One was a horse ridden by the boy Leon. The second was a saddle mule, on
which rode Doña Isidora and Leona. The other two animals were not
mounted. They were beasts of burden, with "yerguas," or pack-saddles,
upon which were carried the few articles that belonged to the
travellers. They were the camels of Peru--the far-famed llamas. Don
Pablo, with his faithful retainer, travelled afoot.

You will wonder that one apparently so rich, and on so distant a
journey, was not provided with animals enough to carry his whole party.
Another horse at least, or a mule, might have been expected in the
cavalcade. It would not have been strange had Guapo only walked--as he
was the arriero, or driver, of the llamas--but to see Don Pablo afoot
and evidently tired, with neither horse nor mule to ride upon, was
something that required explanation. There was another fact that
required explanation. The countenance of Don Pablo wore an anxious
expression, as if some danger impended; so did that of the lady, and the
children were silent, with their little hearts full of fear. They knew
not _what_ danger, but they knew that their father and mother were in
trouble.

The Indian, too, had a serious look; and at each angle of the mountain
road he and Don Pablo would turn around, and with anxious eyes gaze back
in the direction that led towards Cuzco. As yet they could distinguish
the spires of the distant city, and the Catholic crosses, as they
glistened under the evening sunbeam. Why did they look back with fear
and distrust? Why? _Because Don Pablo was in flight, and feared
pursuers!_ What? Had he committed some great crime? No. On the contrary,
he was the _victim of a noble virtue_--the virtue of patriotism! For
that had he been condemned, and was now in flight--flying to save not
only his liberty but his life! yes, _his life;_ for had the sentinels on
those distant towers but recognised him, he would soon have been
followed and dragged back to an ignominious death.

Young reader, I am writing of things that occurred before the
Spanish-American colonies became free from the rule of Old Spain. You
will remember that these countries were then governed by viceroys, who
represented the King of Spain, but who in reality were quite as absolute
as that monarch himself. The great viceroys of Mexico and Peru held
court in grand state, and lived in the midst of barbaric pomp and
luxury. The power of life and death was in their hands, and in many
instances they used it in the most unjust and arbitrary manner. They
were themselves, of course, natives of Old Spain--often the pampered
favourites of that corrupt court.

All the officials by which they were surrounded and served were, like
themselves, natives of Spain, or "Gachupinos," (as the Creoles used to
call them,) while the Creoles--no matter how rich, or learned, or
accomplished in any way--were excluded from every office of honour and
profit. They were treated by the Gachupinos with contempt and insult.
Hence for long, long years before the great revolutions of Spanish
America, a strong feeling of dislike existed between Creole Spaniards
and Spaniards of Old Spain; and this feeling was quite independent of
that which either had towards the Indians--the aborigines of America.
This feeling brought about the revolution, which broke out in all the
countries of Spanish America (including Mexico) and which, after fifteen
years of cruel and sanguinary fighting, led to the independence of these
countries.

Some people will tell you that they gained nothing by this independence,
as since that time so much war and anarchy have marked their history.
There is scarcely any subject upon which mankind thinks more
superficially, and judges more wrongly, than upon this very one. It is a
mistake to suppose that a people enjoys either peace or prosperity,
simply because it is quiet. There is quiet in Russia, but to its
millions of serfs war continuous and eternal; and the same may be said
of many other countries as well as Russia.

To the poor slave, or even to the over-taxed subject, peace is no peace,
but a constant and systematised struggle, often more pernicious in its
effects than even the anarchy of open war. A war of this kind numbers
its slain by millions, for the victims of famine are victims of
_political crime_ on the part of a nation's rulers. I have no time now
to talk of these things. Perhaps, boy reader, you and I may meet on this
ground again, and at no very distant period.

Well, it was not in the general rising that Don Pablo had been
compromised, but previous to that. The influence of the European
Revolution of 1798 was felt even in distant Spanish America, and several
ebullitions occurred in different parts of that country at the same
time. They were premature; they were crushed. Those who had taken part
in them were hunted to the death. Death! death! was the war-cry of the
Spanish hirelings, and bitterly did they execute their vengeance on all
who were compromised. Don Pablo would have been a victim among others,
had he not had timely warning and escaped; but as it was, all his
property was taken by confiscation, and became the plunder of the
rapacious tyrant.

We are introduced to him just at the period of his escape. By the aid of
the faithful Guapo he had hastily collected a few things, and with his
wife and family fled in the night. Hence the incompleteness of his
travelling equipage. He had taken one of the most unfrequented paths--a
mere bridle-road--that led from Cuzco eastward over the Cordillera. His
intent was to gain the eastern slope of the Andes mountains, where he
might conceal himself for a time in the uninhabited woods of the Great
_Montaña_, and towards this point was he journeying. By a _ruse_ he had
succeeded in putting the soldiers of the despot on a false track; but it
was not certain that they might not yet fall into the true one. No
wonder then, when he gazed back towards Cuzco, that his look was one of
apprehension and anxiety.



CHAPTER III.

THE POISON-TREES.


Following the rugged and winding path, the travellers had climbed to a
height of many thousand feet above the ocean level. There was very
little vegetation around them. Nothing that deserved the name of tree,
if we except a few stunted specimens of queñoa trees, and here and there
patches of the Ratanhia shrub, which covered the hill-sides. Both these
are used by the mountain Indians as fuel, but the Ratanhia is also a
favourite remedy against dysentery and blood-spitting. Its extract is
even exported to European countries, and is to be found in the shop of
the apothecary.

Now and then a beautiful species of locust was seen with its bright red
flowers. It was the "Sangre de Christo" of the Peruvian _flora_.

Don Pablo Romero was a naturalist, and I may here tell you a pleasant
and interesting fact--which is, that many of the earliest patriots and
revolutionists of Spanish America were men who had distinguished
themselves in natural science--in fact, were the "savans" of these
countries. I call this a pleasant fact, and you may deem it a curious
one too, because men of science are usually lovers of peace, and not
accustomed to meddle either in war or politics.

But the truth of the matter is this,--under the government of the
viceroys all books, except those of a monkish religion, were jealously
excluded from these countries. No political work whatever was permitted
to be introduced; and the people were kept in the grossest ignorance of
their natural rights. It was only into learned institutions that a
glimmering of the light of freedom found its way, and it was amongst the
professors of these institutions that the "rights of men" first began to
be discussed. Many of these noble patriots were the first victims
offered up on the altar of Spanish-American independence.

Don Pablo, I have said, was a naturalist; and it was perhaps the first
journey he had ever made without observing attentively the natural
objects that presented themselves along his route. But his mind was busy
with other cares; and he heeded neither the _fauna_ nor _flora_. He
thought only of his loved wife and dear children, of the dangers to
which he and they were exposed. He thought only of increasing the
distance between them and his vengeful enemies. During that day they had
made a toilsome journey of fifteen miles, up the mountain--a long
journey for the llamas, who rarely travel more than ten or twelve; but
the dumb brutes seemed to exert themselves as if they knew that danger
threatened those who guided them.

They belonged to Guapo, who had not been a mere servant, but a
cultivator, and had held a small "chacra," or farm, under Don Pablo.
Guapo's voice was well known to the creatures, and his "hist!" of
encouragement urged them on. But fifteen miles was an unusual journey,
and the animals began to show symptoms of fatigue. Their humming noise,
which bears some resemblance to the tones of an Eolian harp, boomed loud
at intervals as the creatures came to a stop; and then the voice of
Guapo could be heard urging them forward.

The road led up a defile, which was nothing more than the bed of a
mountain-torrent, now dry. For a long distance there was no spot of
level ground where our travellers could have encamped, even had they
desired to stop. At length, however, the path led out of the
torrent-bed, and they found themselves on a small ledge, or table,
covered with low trees. These trees were of a peculiar kind, very common
in all parts of the Andes, and known as _mollé_ trees. They are more
properly bushes than trees, being only about ten or twelve feet in
height. They have long delicate pinnate leaves, very like those of the
acacia, and, when in fruit, they are thickly covered with clusters of
small bright red berries.

These berries are used among some tribes of Indians for making a highly
valuable and medicinal beer; but the wood of the tree is of more
importance to the people of those parts as an article of fuel, because
the tree grows where other wood is scarce. It is even considered by the
sugar-refiners as the best for their purpose, since its ashes,
possessing highly alkaline properties, are more efficient than any other
in purifying the boiling juice of the sugar-cane. The leaves of this
beautiful tree, when pressed, emit a strong aromatic smell; and a very
curious property ascribed to it by the more ignorant people of the
mountains will be illustrated by the dialogue which follows:--

"Let us pass the night here," said Don Pablo, halting, and addressing
himself to Guapo. "This level spot will serve us to encamp. We can sleep
under the shade of the bushes."

"What! _mi amo_! (my master) Here?" replied the Indian, with a gesture
of surprise.

"And why not here? Can any place be better? If we again enter the defile
we may find no other level spot. See! the llamas will go no farther. We
must remain therefore."

"But, master," continued Guapo--"see!"

"See what?"

"The trees, master!"

"Well, what of the trees? Their shade will serve to screen us from the
night dew. We can sleep under them."

"Impossible, master--_they are poison trees_!"

"You are talking foolishly, Guapo. These are _mollé_ trees."

"I know it, señor; but they are poison. If we sleep under them we shall
not awake in the morning--we shall awake no more."

And Guapo, as he uttered these words, looked horrified.

"This is nonsense; you are superstitious, old man. We must abide here.
See, the llamas have lain down. They will not move hence, I warrant."

Guapo turned to the llamas, and thinking that their movements might
influence the decision of his master, began to urge them in his
accustomed way. But it is a peculiarity of these creatures not to stir
one step beyond what they consider a proper journey. Even when the load
is above that which they are accustomed to carry--that is to say, 120
lbs.--neither voice nor whip will move them. They may be goaded to
death, but will not yield, and coaxing has a like effect. Both knew that
they had done their day's work; and the voice, the gesticulations and
blows of Guapo, were all in vain. Neither would obey him any longer. The
Indian saw this, and reluctantly consented to remain; at the same time
he continued to repeat his belief that they would all most certainly
perish in the night. For himself, he expressed his intention to climb a
ledge, and sleep upon the naked rocks; and he earnestly entreated the
others to follow his example.

Don Pablo listened to the admonitions of his retainer with incredulity,
though not with any degree of disdain. He knew the devotedness of the
old Indian, and therefore treated, what he considered a mere
superstition, with a show of respect. But he felt an inclination to
cure Guapo of the folly of such a belief; and was, on this account, the
more inclined to put his original design into execution. To pass the
night under the shade of the mollé trees was, therefore, determined
upon.

All dismounted. The llamas were unloaded; their packs, or _yerguas_,
taken off; the horse and mule were unsaddled; and all were permitted to
browse over the little space which the ledge afforded. They were all
trained animals. There was no fear of any of them straying.

The next thing was to prepare supper. All were hungry, as none of the
party had eaten since morning. In the hurry of flight, they had made no
provision for an extended journey. A few pieces of _charqui_ (jerked or
dried beef) had been brought along; and, in passing near a field of
"oca," Guapo had gathered a bunch of the roots, and placed them on the
back of his llama. This oca is a tuberous root, of an oval shape and
pale red colour, but white inside. It resembles very much the Jerusalem
artichoke, but it is longer and slimmer. Its taste is very agreeable and
sweetish--somewhat like that of pumpkins, and it is equally good when
roasted or boiled.

There is another sort of tuberous root, called "ulluca" by the
Peruvians, which is more glutinous and less pleasant to the taste. This
kind is various in form, being either round, oblong, straight, or
curved, and of a reddish, yellow colour outside, though green within. It
is insipid when boiled with water, but excellent when dressed with
Spanish peppers (_Capsicum_). Out of the _oca_, then, and _charqui_, the
supper must be made; and for the purpose of cooking it, a fire must be
kindled with the wood of the mollé.

For a long time there was a doubt about whether it would be safe to
kindle this fire. The sun had not yet gone down, and the smoke might
attract observation from the valley below. If the pursuers were on their
track, it might be noticed; as upon this lonely route a fire would
indicate nothing else than the camp of some one on a journey. But the
stomachs of our travellers cried for food, and it was at length resolved
to light the fire, but not until after sunset, when the smoke could be
no longer seen, and the blaze would be hidden behind the thick bushes of
mollé.

Don Pablo walked off from the camp, and wandered among the trees to see
if he could find something that might contribute a little variety to
their simple supper. A small, broom-like plant, that grew among the
mollé trees, soon attracted his attention. This was the _quinoa_ plant,
which produces a seed, not unlike rice, though smaller in the grain,
whence it has received in commerce the name "petty rice." The quinoa
seeds, when boiled, are both pleasant and nutritious, but especially so
when boiled in milk. Previous to the discovery of America, "quinoa" was
an article of food, supplying the place of wheat. It was much used by
the natives, and is still collected for food in many parts. Indeed, it
has been introduced into some European countries, and cultivated with
success. The leaves, when young, can be used as spinach, but the seeds
are the most sought after for food.

Don Pablo having called Leon to assist him, a quantity of the seeds were
soon collected into a vessel, and carried to the place which they had
chosen for their camp; and, as it was now dark enough, the fire was
kindled and the cooking-pot got ready. The Doña Isidora, although a
fine lady, was one of those who had all her life been accustomed to look
after her household affairs; and this, it may be remarked, is a somewhat
rare virtue among the Peruvian ladies, who are generally too much given
to dress and idleness. It was not so, however, with the wife of Don
Pablo. She knew how to look after the affairs of the _cuisine_, and
could dress any of the peculiar dishes of the country with the best of
cooks. In a short while, therefore, an excellent supper was ready, of
which all ate heartily, and then, wrapping themselves up in their
ponchos, lay down to sleep.



CHAPTER IV.

THE SUPPER OF GUAPO.


I have said all ate of the supper. This is not strictly true. One of the
party did not touch it, and that was old Guapo. Why? Was he not hungry
like the rest? Yes; as hungry as any of them. Why then did he not eat of
the _charqui_ and ocas? Simply because Guapo had a supper of a very
different kind, which he carried in his pouch, and which he liked much
better than the charqui stew. What was it? It was "coca."

"Chocolate," you will say, or, as some call it, "cocoa," which should be
called, to name it properly, "cacao." No, I answer--it was not
chocolate, nor cocoa, nor cacao neither.

"It must have been cocoa-nuts then?" No; nor yet cocoa-nuts. The "coca,"
upon which Guapo made his supper, and which contented his stomach
perfectly for the night, was an article very different from either the
cacao which makes chocolate, or the nut of the cocoa-palm. You are now
impatient to hear what sort of thing it was, and I shall tell you at
once.

The coca is a small tree or shrub about six feet in height, which grows
in the warmer valleys among the Andes mountains. Its botanical name is
_Erythroxylon coca_. Its leaves are small and of a bright green colour,
and its blossoms white. Its fruits are very small scarlet berries. It is
a native plant, and, therefore, found in a wild state; but it is
cultivated by the planters of these countries in fields regularly laid
out, and hence called "cocales." This plant is raised from the seed, and
when the young shoots have attained the height of about eighteen inches,
they are transplanted and put down again at the distance of about a foot
apart from each other.

Now as these little bushes require a humid atmosphere, maize-plants are
sown between the rows to protect them from the sun. In other places
arbours of palm-leaves are constructed over the coca-plants. When no
rain falls, they are watered every five or six days. After about two and
a half years of this nursing, the coca-bush is ready for use, and it is
the leaves alone that are valuable. These are gathered with great care,
just as the Chinese gather the leaves of the tea-plant; and, as in
China, women are principally employed in this labour. The leaves are
said to be ripe, not when they have withered and turned brown, but at a
period when they are full-grown and become brittle. When this period
arrives, they are picked from the tree, and laid out on coarse woollen
cloths to dry in the sun.

When dried, they remain of a pale green colour; but should they get damp
during the process, they become darker, and are then of inferior
quality, and sell for a less price. When fully dried, they are carefully
packed in bags and covered up with dry sand, and are thus ready for the
market. Their price, on the spot where the crop is produced, is about
one shilling English per pound. They are, therefore, full as costly to
produce as tea itself, although the coca-bush will yield three crops of
leaves in one year--that is, a crop every four months; and one hundred
plants will produce about an arroba (25 lbs.) at a crop. The coca-plant
will continue to give fresh leaves for a long period of years, unless
attacked and destroyed by ants, which is not unfrequently the case.

Now, why have I so minutely described the coca-bush? Because, that, in
the economy of the life of those Indians who inhabit the countries of
the Andes mountains, this curious plant plays a most important part.
Scarcely one of these people is to be met with who is not an eater of
cocoa--a "coquero." With them it is what the tea-tree is to the Chinese.
Indeed, it is a curious fact, that in all parts of the world some
stimulating vegetable is used by the human race. Tea in China; the
betel-leaf, and the nut of the areca palm, among the Southern Asiatics;
the poppy in the East; with tobacco, and many like things, in other
countries.

But the coca not only supplies the Indian with a solace to his cares, it
forms the chief article of his food. With a supply of coca, an Indian
will support himself five or six days without eating anything else. The
poor miners, in the Peruvian mines, are all "coqueros;" and it is
alleged that, without coca, they would be unable to undergo the painful
toil to which their calling subjects them. When used to excess, the coca
produces deleterious effects on the human system; but, if moderately
taken, it is far more innocent in its results than either opium or
tobacco.

The coca-leaf is not eaten alone. A certain preparation is necessary,
and another substance is mixed with it before it produces the proper
effect. But let us watch the movements of Guapo, and we shall see how
_he_ does it, for Guapo is a confirmed coquero.

Guapo, true to his promise, does not sleep under the mollé trees. He
leaves the party, and, with a melancholy air, has climbed up and seated
himself upon a projecting rock, where he intends to pass the night. His
last glance at Don Pablo and his family was one of foreboding. He had
again remonstrated with his master, but to no purpose. The latter only
laughed at the earnestness of the old Indian, and told him to go to his
perch and leave the party to themselves.

It was still grey light when Guapo climbed up to the rock. Against the
sky his tall, lank form could be traced in all its outlines. For some
moments he sat in a serious and reflective mood--evidently busy with
thoughts about the "poison-trees." His appetite, however, soon got the
better of him; and he set to work to prepare his coca supper. It was a
simple operation.

Around Guapo's neck there hung a small pouch made of the skin of the
chinchilla, which beautiful little animal is a native of these parts.
This pouch contained a quantity of the dry leaves of the coca. Having
taken out some half-dozen of these leaves, he put them into his mouth
and commenced chewing them. In a short while, by the aid of tongue,
teeth, and lips, they were formed into a little ball of pulp, that
rolled about in his mouth. Another step in the process now became
necessary. A small gourd, that hung around Guapo's neck by a thong, was
laid hold of. This was corked with a wooden stopper, in which stopper a
wire pin was fixed, long enough to reach down to the bottom of the
gourd.

After taking out the stopper, Guapo applied the lower part of the pin to
his lips, and then, plunging it once more into the gourd, drew it out
again. This time the pin came out, with a fine whitish powder adhering
to the part that had been wetted. Now what was this powder? It was
nothing else than lime that had been burned, and pulverised. Perhaps it
was the ashes of the mollé tree, of which we have already spoken, and
which, as we have said, possess a highly alkaline property. The ashes of
the musa, or plaintain, are sometimes used; but, after all, it is most
likely that it was the mollé ashes which Guapo carried, for these are
most highly esteemed by the Indians of Southern Peru; and Guapo was a
connoisseur in coca-eating.

Whichever of the three it was--lime, mollé, or musa--Guapo carried the
pin to his mouth, and, without touching his lips (it would have burnt
him if he had), he inserted it, so as to penetrate the ball of chewed
cocoa-leaves that rested upon the tip of his tongue. This was stabbed
repeatedly and adroitly by the pin, until all the powder remained in the
coca-ball; and then the pin was withdrawn, wiped, and restored to its
place, along with the stopper of the gourd.

Guapo now remained quietly "ruminating" for a period of about forty
minutes--for this is about the time required for chewing a mess of
cocoa-leaves. Indeed, so exactly is this time observed, that the
Indians, when travelling, measure distances by it; and one "coceada" is
about equal to the time occupied in walking a couple of English miles.

The coceada of our old Indian being finished, he drew his llama-wool
poncho around him; and, leaning back against the rock, was soon buried
in a profound slumber.



CHAPTER V.

THE PUNA.


By early dawn Guapo was awake, but he did not immediately awake the
others. It was still too dark to follow the mountain road. His first
care was to have his coca breakfast, and to this he applied himself at
once.

Day was fairly broke when he had ended the process of mastication, and
he bethought him of descending from the rock to arouse the sleepers. He
knew they still slept, as no voice had yet issued from the grove of
mollés. The mule and horse were heard cropping the grass, and the llamas
were now feeding upon an open spot,--the first they had eaten since
their halt, as these creatures do not browse in the night.

Guapo descended with fear in his heart. How it would have joyed him to
hear the voice of his master, or of any of them! But, no. Not a sound
proceeded from any one of the party. He stole nimbly along the ledge,
making his way through the mollé trees. At length he reached the spot.
All asleep?--yes, all! "Are they dead?" thought Guapo, and his heart
beat with anxiety. Indeed, they seemed so. The fatigue of travel had
cast a sickly paleness over the faces of all, and one might easily have
fancied they no longer lived. But they breathed. "Yes, they breathe!"
ejaculated the old Indian, half aloud. "They live!"

Guapo bent down, and seizing Don Pablo by the arm, shook him--at first
gently, uttering, at the same time, some words to awake him. But neither
the shaking nor the voice had any effect. Guapo shook more violently,
and shouted louder. Still Don Pablo slept. None of the others
moved--none of them heard him. It was strange, for the Indian knew that
Don Pablo himself, as well as the others, were easily awaked on ordinary
occasions. Guapo, becoming alarmed, now raised his voice to its loudest
pitch, at the same time dragging Don Pablo's shoulder in a still more
violent manner. This had the desired effect. The sleeper awoke but so
slowly, and evidently with such exertion, that there was something
mysterious in it.

"What is it?" he inquired, with half-opened eyes. "Is it morning
already?"

"The sun is up. Rouse, my master! It is time we were on the road,"
replied the Indian.

"I feel very drowsy--I am heavy--I can scarce keep my eyes open. What
can be the cause of this?"

"The poison-trees, master," answered Guapo.

The answer seemed to impress Don Pablo. He made a violent effort, and
rose to his feet. When up he could scarcely stand. He felt as though he
had swallowed a powerful opiate.

"It must be so, good Guapo. Perhaps there is some truth in what you have
said. O, heavens!" exclaimed he, suddenly recollecting himself,--"the
others--my wife and children!"

This thought had fully awakened Don Pablo; and Guapo and he proceeded at
once to arouse the others, which they effected after much shouting and
shaking. All were still heavy with sleep, and felt as did Don Pablo
himself.

"Surely there is some narcotic power in the aroma of these trees,"
muttered Don Pablo. "Come, wife, let us be gone! We must remain under
its influence no longer, else what Guapo has said may prove too true.
Saddle up--we must eat our breakfasts farther on. To the road!--to the
road!"

Guapo soon had the horses ready, and all hurried from the spot, and were
once more climbing up the mountain-path. Even the animals seemed to move
slowly and lazily, as though they, too, had been under the influence of
some soporific. But the pure cold air of the mountain soon produced its
effect. All gradually recovered, and after cooking some _charqui_ and
ocas in the ravine, and making their breakfast upon these, they again
felt light and fresh, and pursued their journey with renewed vigour.

The road kept on up the ravine, and in some places the banks rose almost
perpendicularly from the bed of the dry torrent, presenting on both
sides vast walls of black porphyry--for this is the principal rock
composing the giant chain of the Andes. Above their heads screamed small
parrots of rich plumage of the species _Conurus rupicola_, which make
their nestling places, and dwell upon these rocky cliffs. This is a
singular fact, as all other parrots known are dwellers among trees and
are found in the forest at all times, except when on their passage from
place to place.

But even the squirrel, which is an animal peculiarly delighting in
tree-life, has its representative in several species of
ground-squirrels, that never ascend a tree; and, among the monkeys,
there exists the troglodyte or cave-dwelling chimpanzee. No doubt
squirrels or monkeys of any kind, transported to an open or treeless
country, would soon habituate themselves to their new situation,--for
Nature affords many illustrations of this power of adaptation on the
part of her creatures.

It was near sunset when our travellers reached the highest point of
their route, nearly 14,000 feet above the level of the sea! Here they
emerged upon an open plain which stretched far before them. Above this
plain towered mountains of all shapes to a height of many thousand feet
from the level of the plain itself. Some of these mountains carried
their covering of eternal snow, which, as the evening sun glanced upon
it, exhibited the most beautiful tints of rose, and purple, and gold.
The plain looked bleak and barren, and the cold which our travellers now
felt added to the desolateness of the scene. No trees were in sight. Dry
yellow grass covered the ground, and the rocks stood out naked and
shaggy. They had reached one of those elevated tables of the Andes known
as the _Puna_.

These singular tracts elevated above the level of cultivation are almost
uninhabited. Their only inhabitants are a few poor Indians, who are
employed by the rich proprietors of the lower valleys as shepherds; for
upon these cold uplands thrive sheep, and cattle, and llamas, and flocks
of the wool-bearing alpaco. Through this wild region, however, you may
travel for days without encountering even a single one of the wretched
and isolated inhabitants who watch over these flocks and herds.

On reaching the Puna, our party had made their day's journey, and would
have halted. The llamas already showed signs of giving out by stopping
and uttering their strange booming note. But Guapo knew these
parts--for, though a descendant of the Incas, he had originally come
from the great forest beyond the eastern slope of the Andes, where many
of the Peruvian Indians had retired after the cruel massacres of
Pizarro. He now remembered, that not far from where they were, was a
shepherd's hut, and that the shepherd himself was an old friend of his.
That would be the place to stop for the night; and, by Guapo's advice,
Don Pablo resolved to continue on to the hut.

Guapo fell upon his knees before the llamas, and, after caressing and
kissing them, and using a great variety of endearing expressions, he at
last coaxed these animals to proceed. No other means would have availed,
as beating would not make either llama budge an inch. The leader, who
was a fine large animal and a great favourite with its master, at length
stepped boldly out; and the other, encouraged by the sound of the small
bells that tinkled around the head of the leader, followed after, and so
the travellers moved on.

"Come, papa!" cried Leon; "you are tired yourself--mount this horse--I
can walk a bit:" at the same instant the boy flung himself from the back
of the horse, and led him up to where his father stood. Then handing the
bridle to the latter, he struck off along the plain, following Guapo and
his llamas.

The road skirted round the rocks, where the mountain came down to meet
the plain. The walk was not a long one, for the hut of which Guapo spoke
became visible at less than a quarter of a mile's distance. An
odd-looking hut it was--more like an ill-built stack of bean-straw than
a house. It had been built in the following manner:--

First, a round ring of large stones had been laid, then a row of turf,
then another tier of stones, and so on, until the circular wall had
reached the height of about four or five feet, the diameter being not
more than eight or nine. On the top of the wall a number of poles had
been set, so as to meet above where they were tied together. These poles
were nothing else than the long flower-stalks of the _maguey_ or
American aloe, as no other wood of sufficient length grew in the
vicinity. These poles served for rafters, and across them laths had been
laid, and made fast. Over all this was placed a thatch of the long
coarse Puna grass, which was tied in its place by grass ropes that were
stretched from side to side over the top. This was the hut of Guapo's
friend, and similar to all others that may be encountered in the wild
region of the Puna. A door was left in the side, not over two feet high,
so that it was necessary to crawl upon the hands and knees before any
one could reach the interior.

As our travellers approached, they saw that the entrance was closed by
an ox-hide which covered the whole of the opening.

Whether the shepherd was at home, was the next question; but as they got
near to the house, Guapo suggested that Don Pablo should dismount and
let Leon get upon horseback. This suggestion was made on account of the
Puna dogs--of which creatures Guapo had a previous knowledge. These
dogs, known by the name of Inca dogs, are, perhaps, the fiercest animals
of their species.

They are small, with pointed muzzles, tails curling upward, and long
shaggy hair. They are half-wild, snappish, and surly, as it is possible
for dogs to be. They attack strangers with fury, and it is as much as
their masters can do to rescue even a friend from their attack. Even
when wounded, and unable any longer to keep their feet, they will crawl
along the ground and bite the legs of those who have wounded them. They
are even more hostile to white people than to Indians, and it is
sometimes dangerous to approach an Indian hut where three or four of
these fierce creatures are kept, as they will jump up against the side
of a horse, and bite the legs of the rider. Their masters often use the
stick before they can get obedience from them. In every Indian hut
several of these animals may be found, as they are extremely useful to
the shepherds in guarding their flocks and for hunting.

They are much employed throughout the Puna to hunt the "yutu," a species
of partridge which inhabits the rushy grass. This bird is traced by the
dogs, seized before it can take to flight, and killed by a single bite
of its fierce pursuer. Considering the savage nature of the Inca dogs,
Guapo showed great caution in approaching the hut of his friend. He
first called loudly, but there was no reply. He then stole forward with
his long knife, or "_macheté_," in his hand; and having lifted the skin
that covered the low doorway, peeped in. The hut was empty.



CHAPTER VI.

THE WILD BULL OF THE PUNA.


Guapo was not much troubled at this. He knew he could take the liberty
of using his friend's roof for the night, even should the latter not
return to grant it. He crawled in. Of course his friend was only
temporarily absent--no doubt looking after his flocks of sheep and
alpacos; and as he was a bachelor, there was no wife at home, but there
were his furniture and utensils. Furniture! No--there was none. There
never is in the hut of a Puna shepherd. Utensils! yes--there was an
earthen "olla," or pot to cook soup in, another to boil or roast maize,
a jar to hold water, a few split gourd-shells for plates, two or three
others for cups--that was all.

This was the catalogue of utensils. Two stones set a little apart formed
the fireplace, in which the shepherd, when he makes a fire to cook with,
makes it out of dry dung. A couple of dirty sheep-skins lay upon the
ground. These were the bed. Nothing more was to be seen. Yes, there was
one thing more, and this gladdened the eyes of Guapo. In a bag that hung
against the wall, and on which he soon laid his hands, he felt
something--a collection of hard round objects, about as big as large
chestnuts. Guapo knew very well what these were. He knew they were
"macas."

What are _macas_? you will ask. Macas, then, are tuberous roots that
grow in the elevated regions of the Puna, where neither ocas, ullucas,
nor potatoes, will thrive. They are cultivated by the inhabitants, and
in many parts constitute almost the only food of these wretched people.
They have an agreeable and rather sweetish flavour, and, when boiled in
milk, taste somewhat like boiled chestnuts. They can be preserved for
more than a year by simply drying them in the sun, and then exposing
them to the cold air, when they become hard and shrivelled. They thrive
best in this high region, for although they will grow in the lower
valleys, they are there very insipid and worthless. The Indians prepare
them for food by boiling them into a soup, or syrup, which is taken with
parched maize-corn.

Guapo knew that he had got his hands upon a bag of dried macas, and
although their owner was absent, he had already come to the
determination to appropriate them for himself and party. His joy at the
discovery had not subsided when another bag drew his attention, and this
was the signal for another delightful surprise. His hand touched the new
bag in a trice. There was a rattling sound within. Peas? No--maize.

"Good!" ejaculated Guapo; "maize and macas! That with what is left of
the charqui--we shall not fast to-night."

Guapo now backed himself out of the hut, and joyfully announced the
discoveries he had made. The travellers dismounted. The horse and mule
were picketed on lassoes on the plain. The llamas were left to go at
will. They would not stray far from their owner.

It was piercing cold in this highland region. Doña Isidora and the
children entered the hut, while Don Pablo and Guapo remained without for
the purpose of collecting fuel. There was not a stick of wood, as no
trees of any sort grew near. Both strayed off upon the plain to gather
the _taquia_, or ordure of the cattle, though no cattle were in sight.
Their tracks, however, were visible all around.

While engaged thus, the old Indian suddenly raised himself from his
stooping position with an exclamation that betokened alarm. What had
startled him? A loud bellowing was heard--it was the bellowing of a
bull. But what was there in that sound to alarm two full-grown men? Ah!
you know not the bulls of the Puna.

Coming around a promontory of rocks a large black bull was in sight. He
was approaching them in full run, his head thrown down, his eyes glaring
fiercely. At every spring he uttered a roar, which was terrific to hear.
A more horrid object it would be difficult to conceive. You may suppose
that an adventure with an enraged bull is one of an ordinary character,
and may occur any day, even in the green meadow pastures of Old England.
So it is, if the animal were only an English bull. But it is a far
different affair with the bulls of the Puna.

Throughout all Spanish America animals of this kind are of a fiercer
nature than elsewhere. It is from them the bulls used in the celebrated
fights are obtained; and, perhaps, the race has been made fiercer by the
treatment they receive on such occasions--for many of those that exhibit
in the arena are afterwards used to breed from. But, in general, the
Spanish-American "vacqueros," or cattle-herds, treat the cattle under
their charge with much cruelty, and this has the effect of rendering
them savage. Even in herds of cattle where there are no bulls, there are
cows so dangerous to approach, that the vacqueros never attempt driving
them unless when well mounted.

A Mexican or South American cattle-herd is, therefore, always a mounted
man. There is a difference, too, among the bulls in different parts of
these countries. On the Llanos of Venezuela they are not so fierce as
those of the Puna, and they are more and less so in different parts of
Mexico and the Pampas of Buenos Ayres.

The Puna bulls are, perhaps, the fiercest and most dangerous of all.
They are more than half wild. They scarcely ever see a human being, and
they will attack one upon sight. To a mounted man there is little
danger, unless by the stumbling or falling of his horse; but many a poor
Indian, crossing these high plains afoot, has fallen a sacrifice to
these vengeful brutes.

Both Don Pablo and Guapo knew all this, and therefore were aware of
their own danger. Neither had a weapon--not so much as a stick. They had
laid aside their knives and other arms, which had been carried inside
the hut. To reach the hut before the bull reached _them_ would be
impossible; the brute was coming nearly from it--for he had issued from
some shelter in the rocks not far off. They were full two hundred yards
out upon the plain, and to run in the direction of the rocks would have
been to run counter to the bull, and meet him face to face! Their danger
was imminent. What was to be done?

There was not much time left them for consideration. The furious animal
was within thirty paces distance, roaring loudly, shaking his head and
brandishing his long sharp horns. At this moment a happy thought
occurred almost simultaneously to Don Pablo and the Indian. The evening,
as we have already said, was piercing cold, and both, in going out to
collect the fuel, had worn their ponchos.

The trick of the matador with his red cloak suggested itself in this
moment of peril. Both had seen it performed--Don Pablo often--and knew
something of the "way." In a moment both had stripped the ponchos from
their shoulders, and, placing themselves _à la matador_, awaited the
onset of the bull. It was agreed that as soon as the bull was "hooded"
by either, that both should run at all speed to the rocks, where they
could easily climb out of reach of the animal.

Don Pablo happened to be more in the way, and perhaps his more showy
poncho attracted the brute; but whether or not, he was the first to
receive the charge. With the adroitness of a practised matador he flung
his poncho on the horns of the animal, and then both ran in the
direction of the rocks. As they faced towards the hut, however, to the
horror of Don Pablo he saw the Doña Isidora, with Leon and the little
Leona, all outside, and even at some distance from the entrance!
Attracted by the bellowing of the bull and the shouts of the men, they
had rushed out of the hut.

Don Pablo, in wild accents, shouted to them to make for the door; but,
paralysed by terror, they were for some moments unable to move. At
length Doña Isidora, recovering herself, ran for the entrance, pushing
the children before her. But the low doorway was difficult of access;
they were slow in getting under it; and they would have been too late,
as the bull, after shaking off the poncho, had turned and made directly
for the hut.

"O God, preserve her!" cried Don Pablo, as he saw the enraged animal
within a few paces of where his wife had knelt to enter the doorway.
"She is lost! she is lost!"

In fact, the bull was making directly towards her, and it seemed as if
nothing could then have interposed to save her.

At that moment the tramp of a horse in full gallop sounded on their
ears. Don Pablo looked up. A strange horseman was near the spot--an
Indian. Over his head a singular instrument was revolving. There were
three thongs fastened at one end, while at the other end of each was a
ball. These balls were whirling and gyrating in the air. The next moment
both thongs and balls were seen to part from the hands of the rider, and
wrap themselves around the legs of the bull. The latter made an awkward
spring forward, and then fell upon the plain, where he lay kicking and
helpless. The horseman uttered a yell of triumph, sprang from his horse,
and running up to the prostrate animal, thrust the blade of his long
macheté into its throat. The red stream gushed forth, and in a few
seconds the black monster lay motionless upon the plain.

The new-comer quietly unwound the thongs--the _bolas_--from the legs of
the dead bull, and then addressed himself to our travellers.



CHAPTER VII.

THE "VAQUERO."


Who was this deliverer? No other than the vaquero--the friend of
Guapo,--who now welcomed Guapo and his companions, telling them in the
polite phraseology of all Spanish-Americans that his _house(!)_ was at
their service. They were welcome to all it contained.

The macas, and maize, and a fresh steak from the wild bull, enabled them
to make a most excellent supper. In return for this hospitality, Don
Pablo made the vaquero a handsome present out of his purse; but what
gratified him still more was a supply of coca which his friend Guapo was
enabled to bestow upon him, for his own stock had been exhausted for
some days. Guapo, on leaving Cuzco, had spent his last _peseta_ in
buying this luxury, and therefore was well provided for weeks to come.

After they had had supper, he and his friend seated themselves on one
side, and quietly chewed for a good half-hour, when at length Guapo, who
knew he could trust the vaquero--because the latter, like himself, was
one of the "patriotas"--communicated to him the object of their journey
through that desolate region. The vaquero not only promised secrecy, but
bound himself to put any party of pursuers completely off the trail.

The vaquero, even in his remote mountain-home, had heard of Don Pablo,
knew that he was a good patriot and friend of the Indians, and he would
therefore have risked his life to serve such a man--for no people have
proved more devoted to the friends of their race than these simple and
faithful Indians of the Andes. How many instances of noble
self-sacrifice--even of life itself--occurred during the painful history
of their conquest by the cruel and sanguinary followers of Pizarro!

The vaquero, therefore, did all in his power to make his guests
comfortable for the night. His dogs--there were four of them--were not
so hospitably inclined, for they did not seem to know friends from
enemies. They had come up shortly after their master himself arrived,
and had made a desperate attack upon everybody. The vaquero, however,
assisted by Guapo--who, being an Indian, was less troubled with
them--gave them a very rough handling with a large whip which he
carried; and then, securing the whole of them, tied them together in a
bunch, and left them at the back of the hut to snap and growl at each
other, which they did throughout the livelong night. Supper over, all
the travellers would have retired to rest; but the vaquero, having
announced that he was going out to set snares for the chinchillas and
viscachas, Leon could not rest, but asked permission to accompany him.
This was granted both by Don Pablo and the vaquero himself.

The chinchilla, and its near relative the viscacha, are two little
animals of the rodent, or grass-eating kind, that inhabit the very
highest mountains of Peru and Chili. They are nearly of the same size,
and each about as big as a rabbit, which in habits they very much
resemble. They have long tails, however, which the rabbit has not,
though the latter beats them in the length of his ears. The colour of
the chinchilla is known to everybody, since its soft, velvety fur is
highly prized by ladies as an article of dress, and may be seen in every
London fur-shop.

The animal is of a beautiful marbled grey, white and black, with pure
white feet. The fur of the viscacha is not so pretty, being of a
brownish and white mixture. Its cheeks are black, with long, bristly
moustaches, like those of a cat; while its head resembles that of the
hare or rabbit. Both these innocent little creatures live upon the high
declivities of the Andes, in holes and crevices among the rocks, where
they remain concealed during the day, but steal out to feed twice in the
twenty-four hours,--that is, during the evening twilight and in the
early morning. The mode of capturing them is by snares made of
horse-hair, which are set in front of their caves--just as we snare
rabbits in a warren, except that for the rabbits we make use of light
elastic wire, instead of the horse-hair.

Leon was delighted with the excursion, as the vaquero showed him how to
set the snares, and told him a great many curious stories of Puna life
and habits. Some of these stories were about the great condor
vulture--which the narrator, of course, described as a much bigger bird
than it really is, for the condor, after all, is not so much bigger than
the griffon vulture, or even the vulture of California. But you, young
reader, have already had a full account of the vultures of America--the
condor among the rest--therefore we shall not repeat what was said by
the vaquero about this interesting bird.

On the way to the place where the snares were to be set, they passed a
lagoon, or marshy lake, in which were many kinds of birds peculiar to
these high regions. Out on the open water they saw a wild goose of a
very beautiful species. It is called the "Huachua" goose. Its plumage is
of a snowy whiteness, all except the wings, which are bright green and
violet, while the beak, legs, and feet, are scarlet. They also saw two
species of ibis wading about in the marsh, and a gigantic water-hen
almost as big as a turkey. This last is of a dark grey colour, with a
red beak, at the base of which is a large yellow knob of the shape of a
bean. On this account it is called by the Indians "bean nose."

Upon the plain, near the border of the marsh, they noticed a beautiful
plover, having plumage marked very much like that of the "huachua"
goose, with green wings shining in the sun like polished metal. Another
curious bird also sat upon the plain, or flew around their heads. This
was a bird of prey of the species of jerfalcons (_Polyborus_). The
vaquero called it the "Huarahua." He told Leon it preyed only on
carrion, and never killed its own food; that it was very harmless and
tame--which was evidently true, as, shortly after, one of them seated
upon a stone allowed the Indian to approach and knock it over with a
stick! Such a silly bird Leon had never seen.

The vaquero was quite a naturalist in his way--that is, he knew all the
animals of the Puna, and their habits, just as you will sometimes find a
gamekeeper in our own country, or often a shepherd or farm-servant. He
pointed out a rock-woodpecker, which he called a "pito" (_Colaptes
rupicola_), that was fluttering about and flying from rock to rock. Like
the cliff-parrots we have already mentioned, this rock-woodpecker was a
curious phenomenon, for, as their very name implies, the woodpeckers are
all tree-dwelling birds, yet here was one of the genus living among
rocks where not a tree was to be seen, and scarcely a plant, except the
thorny cactuses and magueys, with which succulent vegetables the
woodpecker has nothing to do. The "pito" is a small, brown, speckled
bird, with yellow belly, and there were great numbers of them flying
about.

But the bird which most fixed the attention of Leon was a little bird
about the size of a starling. Its plumage was rather pretty. It was
brown, with black stripes on the back, and white-breasted. But it was
not the plumage of the bird that interested Leon. It was what his
companion told him of a singular habit which it had--that of repeating,
at the end of every hour during the night, its melancholy and monotonous
note. The Indians call this bird the "cock of the Inca," and they
moreover regard it with a sort of superstitious reverence.

Having placed his snares, the vaquero set out to return with his
youthful companion. As they walked back along the mountain-foot, a fox
stole out from the rocks and skulked towards the marshy lake, no doubt
in search of prey. This fox was the _Canis Azaræ_, a most troublesome
species, found all through South America. He is the great pest of the
Puna shepherds, as he is a fierce hunter, and kills many of the young
lambs and alpacos.

The vaquero was sorry he had not his dogs with him, as, from the route
the fox had taken, he would have been certain to have captured him, and
that would have been worth something, for the great sheep-owners give
their shepherds a sheep for every old fox that they can kill, and for
every young one a lamb. But the dogs, on this occasion, had been left
behind, lest they should have bitten Leon, and the vaquero was compelled
to let "Reynard" go his way. It was night when they returned to the hut,
and then, after Leon had related the details of their excursion, all
retired to rest.



CHAPTER VIII.

LLAMAS, ALPACOS, VICUÑAS, AND GUANACOS.


Our travellers were stirring by early break of day. As they issued from
the hut, a singular and interesting scene presented itself to their
eyes. At one view--one _coup d'oeil_--they beheld the whole four species
of the celebrated camel-sheep of the Andes; for there are four of
them,--llama, guanaco, alpaco, and vicuña! This was a rare sight,
indeed. They were all browsing upon the open plain: first, the llamas,
near the hut; then a flock of tame alpacos, out upon the plain; thirdly,
a herd of seven guanacos farther off; and still more distant, a larger
herd of the shy vicuñas. The guanacos and vicuñas were of uniform
colours,--that is, in each flock the colour of the individuals was the
same; while among the llamas and alpacos there were many varieties of
colour. The latter two kinds were tame,--in fact, they were under the
charge of Guapo's friend the shepherd, whereas the herds of vicuñas and
guanacos consisted of wild animals.

Perhaps no animal of South America has attracted so much attention as
the llama, as it was the only beast of burden the Indians had trained to
their use on the arrival of Europeans in that country. So many strange
stories were told by the earlier Spanish travellers regarding this
"camel-sheep," that it was natural that great interest should attach to
it. These reported that the llama was used for riding. Such, however, is
not the case. It is only trained to carry burdens; although an Indian
boy may be sometimes seen on the back of a llama for mischief, or when
crossing a stream and the lad does not wish to get his feet wet.

The llama is three feet high from hoof to shoulder, though his long neck
makes him look taller. His colour is generally brown, with black and
yellow shades, sometimes speckled or spotted; and there are black and
white llamas, but these are rare. His wool is long and coarse, though
the females, which are smaller, have a finer and better wool. The latter
are never used to carry burdens, but only kept for breeding. They are
fed in flocks upon the Puna heights, and it was a flock of these that
our travellers saw near the hut.

The males are trained to carry burdens at the age of four years. A
pack-saddle, called _yergua_, woven out of course wool, is fastened on
the back, and upon this the goods are placed. The burden never exceeds
120 or 130 pounds. Should a heavier one be put on, the llama, like the
camel, quite understands that he is "over-weighted," and neither coaxing
nor beating will induce him to move a step. He will lie down, or, if
much vexed, spit angrily at his driver, and this spittle has a highly
acrid property, and will cause blisters on the skin where it touches.
Sometimes a llama, over vexed by ill-treatment, has been known, in
despair, to dash his brains out against a rock.

The llamas are used much in the mines of Peru, for carrying the ore.
They frequently serve better than either asses or mules, as they can
pass up and down declivities where neither ass nor mule can travel. They
are sometimes taken in long trains from the mountains down to the coast
region for salt and other goods; but on such occasions many of them die,
as they cannot bear the warm climate of the lowlands. Their proper and
native place is on the higher plains of the Andes.

A string of llamas, when on a journey, is a very interesting spectacle.
One of the largest is usually the leader. The rest follow in single
file, at a slow, measured pace, their heads ornamented tastefully with
ribands, while small bells, hanging around their necks, tinkle as they
go. They throw their high heads from side to side, gazing around them,
and when frightened at anything, will "break ranks," and scamper out of
their path, to be collected again with some trouble.

When resting, they utter a low, humming noise, which has been compared
to the sound of an Eolian harp. They crouch down on their breast--where
there is a callosity--when about to receive their burdens, and also
sleep resting in the same attitude. A halt during the day is necessary,
in order that they may be fed, as these animals will not eat by night.
In consequence of this they make but short journeys--ten to fifteen
miles--although they will travel for a long time, allowing them a day's
rest out of every five or six. Like the camels of the East, they can go
days without water, and Buffon knew one that went _eighteen months_
without it! but Buffon is very poor authority. When one of them becomes
wearied, and does not wish to proceed, it is exceedingly difficult to
coax him onward.

These animals were at one time very valuable. On the discovery of
America a llama cost as much as eighteen or twenty dollars. But the
introduction of mules and other beasts of burden has considerably
cheapened them. At present they are sold for about four dollars in the
mining districts, but can be bought where they are bred and reared for
half that amount. In the days of the Incas their flesh was much used as
food. It is still eaten; but for this purpose the common sheep is
preferred, as the flesh of the llama is spongy and not very well
flavoured. The wool is used for many sorts of coarse manufacture. So
much for llamas. Now the "guanaco."

This animal (whose name is sometimes written "huanaca," though the
pronunciation is the same with "guanaco" or "guanaca") is larger than
the llama, and for a long time was considered merely as the wild llama,
or the llama _run wild_, in which you will perceive an essential
distinction. It is neither, but an animal of specific difference. It
exists in a wild state in the high mountains, though, with great care
and trouble, it can be domesticated and trained to carry burdens as well
as its congener the llama. In form it resembles the latter, but, as is
the case with most wild animals, the guanacos are all alike in colour.
The upper parts of the body are of a reddish brown, while underneath it
is a dirty white. The lips are white, and the face a dark grey. The wool
is shorter than that of the llama, and of the same length all over the
body. The guanaco lives in herds of five or seven individuals, and these
are very shy, fleeing to the most inaccessible cliffs when any one
approaches them. Like the chamois of Switzerland and the "bighorn" of
the Rocky Mountains, they can glide along steep ledges when neither men
nor dogs can find footing.

The "alpaco," or "paco," as it is sometimes called, is one of the most
useful of the Peruvian sheep, and is more like the common sheep than the
others. This arises from its bulkier shape, caused by its thick fleece
of long wool. The latter is soft, fine, and often five inches in length;
and, as is well known, has become an important article in the
manufacture of cloth. Its colour is usually either white or black,
though there are some of the alpacos speckled or spotted. Ponchos are
woven out of alpaco-wool by the Indians of the Andes.

The alpaco is a domesticated animal, like the llama, but it is not used
for carrying burdens. It is kept in large flocks, and regularly shorn as
sheep are. If one of the alpacos gets separated from the flock, it will
lie down and suffer itself to be beaten to death, rather than go the way
its driver wishes. You have, no doubt, sometimes seen a common sheep
exhibit similar obstinacy.

Of all the Peruvian sheep the vicuña is certainly the prettiest and most
graceful. It has more the form of the deer or antelope than of the
sheep, and its colour is so striking that it has obtained among the
Peruvians the name of the animal itself, _color de vicuña_ (vicuña
colour). It is of a reddish yellow, not unlike that of our domestic red
cat, although the breast and under parts of the body are white. The
flesh of the vicuña is excellent eating, and its wool is of more value
than even that of the alpaco. Where a pound of the former sells for one
dollar--which is the usual price--the pound of alpaco will fetch only a
quarter of that sum. Hats and the finest fabrics can be woven from the
fleece of the vicuña, and the Incas used to clothe themselves in rich
stuffs manufactured from it. In the present day the "ricos," or rich
proprietors of Peru, pride themselves in possessing ponchos of vicuña
wool.

The vicuña inhabits the high plains of the Andes, though, unlike the
guanaco, it rarely ventures up the rocky cliffs, as its hoofs are only
calculated for the soft turf of the plains. It roams about in larger
herds than the other--eighteen or twenty in the herd--and these are
usually females under the protection and guidance of one polygamous old
male. While feeding, the latter keeps watch over the flock, usually
posting himself at some distance, so that he may have a better
opportunity of seeing and hearing any danger that may approach. When any
is perceived, a shrill whistle from the leader and a quick stroke of his
hoof on the turf warn the flock; and all draw closely together, each
stretching out its head in the direction of the danger. They then take
to flight, at first slowly, but afterwards with the swiftness of the
roe; while the male, true to his trust, hangs in the rear, and halts at
intervals, as if to cover the retreat of the herd.

The llama, guanaco, alpaco, and vicuña, although different species, will
breed with each other; and it is certain that some of their hybrids will
again produce young. There exist, therefore, many intermediate
varieties, or "mules," throughout the countries of the Andes, some of
which have been mistaken for separate species.



CHAPTER IX.

A VICUÑA HUNT.


The vicuña being of such value, both inside and out, both in flesh and
wool, is hunted by the mountain Indians with great assiduity. It is an
animal most difficult to approach, and there is rarely any cover on
these naked plains by which to approach it.

The chief mode of capturing it is by the "chacu." This cannot be
effected by a single hunter. A great number is required. Usually the
whole population of one of the villages of the "Sierras" lower down
turns out for this sport, or rather business, for it is an annual source
of profit. Even the women go along, to cook and perform other offices,
as the hunt of the _chacu_ sometimes lasts a week or more.

A hunting party will number from fifty to one hundred persons. They
climb up to the _altos_, or high and secluded plains, where the vicuña
dwells in greatest numbers. They carry with them immense coils of ropes,
and a large quantity of coloured rags, together with bundles of stakes
three or four feet in length. When a proper part of the plain has been
chosen, they drive in the stakes four or five yards apart and running in
the circumference of a circle, sometimes nearly a mile in diameter.

A rope is then stretched from stake to stake, at the height of between
two and three feet from the ground, and over this rope are hung the
coloured rags provided for the occasion, and which keep fluttering in
the wind. A sort of scare-crow fence is thus constructed in the form of
a ring, except that on one side a space of about two hundred yards is
left open to serve as an entrance for the game. The Indians then, most
of them on horseback, make a grand détour, extending for miles over the
country; and having got behind the herds of vicuñas, drive them within
the circle, and close up the entrance by completing the ring.

The hunters then go inside, and using the _bolas_, or even seizing the
animals by their hind-legs, soon capture the whole. Strange to say,
these silly creatures make no attempt to break through the sham fence,
nor even to leap over it. Not so with the guanacos, when so enclosed.
The latter spring against the fence at once, and if, by chance, a party
of guanacos be driven in along with the vicuñas, they not only break
open the rope enclosure and free themselves, but also the whole herd of
their cousins, the vicuñas. It is, therefore, not considered any gain to
get a flock of guanacos into the trap.

The hunt usually lasts several days, but during that time the enclosure
of ropes is flitted from place to place, until no more vicuñas can be
found. Then the ropes, stakes, &c., are collected, and the produce of
the hunt distributed among the hunters. But the Church levies its tax
upon the "chacu," and the skins--worth a dollar each--have to be given
up to the priest of the village. A good round sum this amounts to, as
frequently four or five hundred vicuñas are taken at a single _chacu_.

A good hunter is sometimes able to "approach" the vicuña. Guapo's friend
was esteemed one of the best in all the Puna. The sight of the herd out
on the plain, with their graceful forms, and beautiful reddish-orange
bodies, was too much for him, and he resolved to try his skill upon
them. He said he had a plan of his own, which he intended to practise on
this occasion.

Don Pablo and his party--even Doña Isidora and the little Leona--were
all outside the hut, although the morning air was raw and chill. But the
domicile of the worthy vaquero was not empty, for all that. It was
peopled by a very large colony of very small animals, and a night in
their society had proved enough for the travellers. The chill air of the
Puna was even more endurable than such company.

The vaquero crawled back into the hut, and in a few minutes returned,
but so metamorphosed, that had the party not seen him come out of the
doorway they would have mistaken him for a llama! He was completely
disguised in the skin of one of these animals. His face only was partly
visible, and his eyes looked out of the breast. The head and neck of the
skin, stuffed with some light substance, stood up and forward, after the
manner of the living animal, and although the legs were a little clumsy,
yet it would have required a more intelligent creature than the vicuña
to have observed this defect.

All hands, even the saturnine Guapo, laughed loudly at the counterfeit,
and the vaquero himself was heard to chuckle through the long wool upon
the breast. He did not lose time, however, but instantly prepared to set
off. He needed no other preparation than to get hold of his
_bolas_,--that was his favourite weapon. Before going farther, I shall
tell you what sort of weapon it is.

The bolas consist of three balls--hence the name--of lead or stone, two
of them heavier than the third. Each ball is fastened to the end of a
stout thong made of twisted sinews of the vicuña itself, and the other
ends of the three thongs are joined together. In using them the hunter
holds the lightest ball in his hand, and twirls the other two in circles
around his head, until they have attained the proper velocity, when he
takes aim and launches them forth.

Through the air fly the thongs and balls, and all whirling round in
circles, until they strike some object; and if that object be the legs
of an animal, the thongs become immediately warped around them, until
the animal is regularly hoppled, and in attempting to escape comes at
once to the ground. Of course great practice is required before such an
instrument can be used skilfully; and to the novice there is some danger
of one of the balls hitting him a crack on the head, and knocking over
himself instead of the game. But there was no danger of Guapo's friend
the vaquero committing this blunder. He had been swinging the bolas
around his head for more than forty years!

Without more ado, then, he seized the weapon, and, having gathered it
with his _fore-feet_ into a portable shape, he proceeded in the
direction of the vicuñas.

The travellers remained by the hut, watching him with interest, but his
movements were particularly interesting to Leon, who, like all boys, was
naturally fond of such enterprises.

The herd of vicuñas was not more than three quarters of a mile off. For
the first half of this distance the vaquero shambled along right
speedily, but as he drew nearer to the animals he proceeded slower and
with more caution.

The pretty creatures were busily browsing, and had no fear. They knew
they were well guarded by their faithful sentinel, in whom they had
every confidence,--the lord and leader of the herd. Even from the hut,
this one could be seen standing some distance apart from the rest. He
was easily recognised by his greater bulk and prouder bearing.

The false llama has passed near the guanacos, and they have taken no
heed of him. This is a good omen, for the guanacos are quite as sharp
and shy as their smaller cousins, and since he has succeeded in
deceiving them, he will likely do the same for the vicuñas. Already he
approaches them. He does not make for the herd, but directly for the
leader. Surely he is near enough; from the hut he seems close up to the
creature. See! the vicuña tosses his head and strikes the ground with
his hoof. Listen! it is his shrill whistle. The scattered herd suddenly
start and flock together; but, look! the _llama_ stands erect on his
hind-legs; the bolas whirl around his head--they are launched out. Ha!
the vicuña is down!

Where is the female drove? Have they scampered off and forsaken their
lord? No! faithful as a loving wife, they run up to share his danger.
With shrill cries they gather around him, moving to and fro. The llama
is in their midst. See! he is dealing blows with some weapon--it is a
knife! his victims fall around him--one at every blow; one by one they
are falling. At last, at last, they are all down,--yes, the whole herd
are stretched, dead or dying, upon the plain!

The struggle is over; no sound is heard, save the hoof-stroke of the
guanacos, llamas, and alpacos, that cover the plain in their wild
flight.

Leon could no longer restrain his curiosity; but ran off to the scene of
the slaughter. There he counted no less than nineteen vicuñas lying
dead, each one stabbed in the ribs! The Indian assured him that it was
not the first _battue_ of the kind he had made. A whole herd of vicuñas
is often taken in this way. When the male is wounded or killed, the
females will not leave him; but, as if out of gratitude for the
protection he has during life afforded them, they share his fate without
making an effort to escape!



CHAPTER X.

CAPTURING A CONDOR.


The vaquero with his horse soon dragged the vicuñas to the hut. Guapo
gave him a help with the mule, and in a few minutes they were all
brought up. One of them was immediately skinned, and part of it prepared
for breakfast, and our travellers ate heartily of it, as the cold Puna
air had given an edge to their appetites.

The new-killed animals, along with the red skin of the bull, which had
been spread out on the ground at some distance from the hut, had already
attracted the condors; and four or five of these great birds were now
seen hovering in the air, evidently with the intention of alighting at
the first opportunity.

An idea seemed to enter the head of the vaquero, while his guests were
still at breakfast, and he asked Leon if he would like to see a condor
caught. Of course Leon replied in the affirmative. What boy wouldn't
like to see a condor caught?

The vaquero said he would gratify him with the sight, and without
staying to finish his breakfast--indeed he had had his "coceada," and
didn't care for any,--he started to his feet, and began to make
preparations for the capture.

How he was to catch one of these great birds, Leon had not the slightest
idea. Perhaps with the "bolas," thought he. That would have done well
enough if he could only get near them; but the condors were sufficiently
shy not to let any man within reach either with bolas or guns. It is
only when they have been feasting on carrion, and have gorged themselves
to repletion, that they can be thus approached, and then they may be
even knocked over with sticks.

At other times the condor is a shy and wary bird. No wonder either that
he is so, for, unlike most other vultures, he is hunted and killed at
all times. The vultures of most countries are respected by the people,
because they perform a valuable service in clearing away carrion; and in
many parts these birds are protected by statute. There are laws in the
Southern United States, and in several of the Spanish-American
Republics, which impose fines and penalties for killing the black
vultures. In some Oriental countries, too, similar laws exist. But no
statute protects the condor. On the contrary, he is a proscribed bird,
and there is a bounty on his head, because he does great damage to the
proprietors of sheep, and llamas, and alpacos, killing and devouring the
young of these animals. His large quills, moreover, are much prized in
the South American cities, and the killing of a condor is worth
something. All this will account for the shyness of this great bird,
while other vultures are usually so tame that you may approach within a
few paces of them.

As yet the half-dozen condors hovering about kept well off from the hut;
and Leon could not understand how any one of them was to be caught.

The vaquero, however, had a good many "dodges," and after the _ruse_ he
had just practised upon the vicuñas, Leon suspected he would employ some
similar artifice with the condors. Leon was right. It was by a stratagem
the bird was to be taken.

The vaquero laid hold of a long rope, and lifting the bull's hide upon
his shoulders, asked Guapo to follow him with the two horses. When he
had got out some four or five hundred yards from the hut, he simply
spread himself flat upon the ground, and drew the skin over him, the
fleshy side turned upward. There was a hollow in the ground about as big
as his body--in fact, a trench he had himself made for a former
occasion--and when lying in this on his back, his breast was about on a
level with the surrounding turf.

His object in asking Guapo to accompany him with the horses was simply a
_ruse_ to deceive the condors, who from their high elevation were all
the while looking down upon the plain. But the vaquero covered himself
so adroitly with his red blanket, that even their keen eyes could
scarcely have noticed him; and as Guapo afterwards left the ground with
the led horses, the vultures supposed that nothing remained but the
skin, which from its sanguinary colour to them appeared to be flesh.

The birds had now nothing to fear from the propinquity of the hut. There
the party were all seated quietly eating their breakfast, and apparently
taking no notice of them. In a few minutes' time, therefore, they
descended lower, and lower,--and then one of the very largest dropped
upon the ground within a few feet of the hide. After surveying it for a
moment, he appeared to see nothing suspicious about it, and hopped a
little closer. Another at this moment came to the ground--which gave
courage to the first--and this at length stalked boldly on the hide, and
began to tear at it with his great beak.

A movement was now perceived on the part of the vaquero--the hide
"lumped" up, and at the same time the wings of the condor were seen to
play and flap about as if he wanted to rise into the air, but could not.
He was evidently held by the legs!

The other bird had flown off at the first alarm, and the whole band were
soon soaring far upward into the blue heavens.

Leon now expected to see the vaquero uncover himself. Not so, however,
as yet. That wily hunter had no such intention, and although he was now
in a sitting posture, grasping the legs of the condor, yet his head and
shoulders were still enveloped in the bull's hide. He knew better than
to show his naked face to the giant vulture, that at a single "peck" of
his powerful beak would have deprived him of an eye, or otherwise
injured him severely. The vaquero was aware of all this, and therefore
did not leave his hiding-place until he had firmly knotted one end of
the long cord around the shank of the bird--then slipping out at one
side, he ran off to some distance before stopping. The condor,
apparently relieved of his disagreeable company, made a sudden effort
and rose into the air, carrying the hide after him. Leon shouted out,
for he thought the vulture had escaped; but the vaquero knew better, as
he held the other end of the cord in his hand; and the bird, partly from
the weight of the skin, and partly from a slight tug given by the
hunter, soon came heavily to the ground again. The vaquero was now
joined by Guapo; and, after some sharp manoeuvring, they succeeded
between them in passing the string through the nostrils of the condor,
by which means it was quietly conducted to the hut, and staked on the
ground in the rear--to be disposed of whenever its captor should think
fit.



CHAPTER XI.

THE PERILS OF A PERUVIAN ROAD.


It was as yet only an hour or so after daybreak--for the vicuña hunt had
occupied but a very short time and the capture of the condor a still
shorter. Don Pablo was anxious to be gone, as he knew he was not beyond
the reach of pursuit. A pair of the vicuñas were hastily prepared, and
packed upon a llama for use upon their journey. Thus furnished, the
party resumed their route.

The vaquero did not accompany them. He had an office to perform of far
more importance to their welfare and safety. As soon as they were gone
he let loose his four snarling curs, and taking them out to where the
pile of dead vicuñas lay upon the plain, he left them there with
instructions to guard the carcasses from foxes, condors, or whatever
else might wish to make a meal off them. Then mounting, he rode off to
the place where the road leading from Cuzco ascended upon the
table-land, and having tied his horse to a bush, he climbed upon a
projecting rock and sat down. From this point he commanded a view of the
winding road to the distance of miles below him.

No traveller--much less a party of soldiers--could approach without his
seeing them, even many hours before they could get up to where he sat;
and it was for that reason he had stationed himself there. Had Don Pablo
been pursued, the faithful Indian would have galloped after and given
him warning, long before his pursuers could have reached the plain.

He sat until sunset--contenting himself with a few leaves of coca. No
pursuer appeared in sight. He then mounted his horse, and rode back to
his solitary hut.

Let us follow our travellers.

They crossed the table-plain during the day, and rested that night under
the shelter of some overhanging rocks on the other side. They supped
upon part of the vicuñas, and felt more cheerful, as they widened the
distance between themselves and danger. But in the morning they did not
remain longer by their camp than was necessary to get breakfast.
Half-an-hour after sunrise saw them once more on their route.

Their road led through a pass in the mountains. At first it ascended,
and then began to go downward. They had crossed the last ridge of the
Andes, and were now descending the eastern slopes. Another day's
journey, or two at most, would bring them to the borders of that wild
forest, which stretches from the foot-hills of the Andes to the shores
of the Atlantic Ocean--that forest with scarcely a civilised settlement
throughout all its wide extent--where no roads exist--whose only paths
are rivers--whose dark jungles are in places so impenetrable that the
Indian cannot enter them, and even the fierce jaguar, embarrassed by the
thick underwood, has to take to the tree-tops in pursuit of his prey.
Another day's journey or so would bring them to the borders of the
"Montaña"--for such is the name which, by a strange misapplication of
terms, has been given to this primeval wood. Yes, the Montaña was before
them, and although yet distant, it could now and then be seen as the
road wound among the rocks, stretching far towards the sky like a green
and misty ocean.

In that almost boundless region there dwelt none but the aborigines of
the soil--the wild Indians--and these only in sparse and distant bands.
Even the Spaniards in their day of glory had failed to conquer it; and
the Portuguese from the other side were not more successful.

The Spanish colonists, on the Peruvian or western border of this immense
forest, had never been able to penetrate it as colonists or settlers.
Expeditions from time to time had passed along its rivers in search of
the fabled gold country of _Manoa_, whose king each morning gave himself
a coating of gold dust, and was hence called El Dorado (the gilded); but
all these expeditions ended in mortification and defeat. The settlements
never extended beyond the _sierras_, or foot-hill of the Andes, which
stretch only a few days' journey (in some places but a score of leagues)
from the populous cities on the mountain-heights.

Even at this present time, if you travel thirty leagues eastward of the
large town of Cuzco, in the direction taken by Don Pablo, you will pass
the boundaries of civilisation, and enter a country unexplored and
altogether unknown to the people of Cuzco themselves! About the
"Montaña" very little is known in the settlements of the Andes. Fierce
tribes of Indians, the jaguar, the vampire bat, swarms of mosquitoes,
and the hot atmosphere, have kept the settler, as well as the curious
traveller, out of these wooded plains.

Don Pablo had already passed the outskirts of civilisation. Any
settlement he might find beyond would be the hut of some half-wild
Indian. There was no fear of his encountering a white face upon the
unfrequented path he had chosen, though had he gone by some other route
he might have found white settlements extending farther to the eastward.
As it was, the wilderness lay before him, and he would soon enter it.

_And what was he to do in the wilderness?_ He knew not. He had never
reflected on that. He only knew that behind him was a relentless foe
thirsting for his life. To go back was to march to certain death. He had
no thoughts of returning. That would have been madness. His property was
already confiscated--his death decreed by the vengeful Viceroy, whose
soldiers had orders to capture or slay, whenever they should find him.
His only hope, then, was to escape beyond the borders of
civilisation--to hide himself in the great Montaña. Beyond this he had
formed no plan. He had scarcely thought about the future. Forward, then,
for the Montaña!

The road which our travellers followed was nothing more than a narrow
path or "trail" formed by cattle, or by some party of Indians
occasionally passing up from the lower valleys to the mountain-heights.
It lay along the edge of a torrent that leaped and foamed over its rocky
bed. The torrent was no doubt on its way to join the greatest of rivers,
the mighty Amazon--the head-waters of which spring from all parts of the
Andes, draining the slopes of these mountains through more than twenty
degrees of latitude.

Towards evening the little party were beginning to enter among the
mountain spurs, or foot-hills. Here the travelling grew exceedingly
difficult, the path sometimes running up a steep acclivity and then
descending into deep ravines--so deep and dark that the sun's rays
seemed hardly to enter them. The road was what Spanish-Americans term,
"_Cuesta arriba, cuesta abajo_" (up hill, down hill).

In no part of the world are such roads to be met with as among the Andes
Mountains, both in South America and in their Mexican continuation
through the northern division of the continent. This arises from the
peculiar geological structure of these mountains. Vast clefts traverse
them, yawning far into the earth. In South America these are called
_quebradas_. You may stand on the edge of one of them and look sheer
down a precipice two thousand feet! You may fancy a whole mountain
scooped out and carried away, and yet you may have to reach the bottom
of this yawning gulf by a road which seems cut out of the face of the
cliff, or rather has been formed by a freak of Nature--for in these
countries the hand of man has done but little for the roads.

Sometimes the path traverses a ledge so narrow that scarce room is found
for the feet of your trusty mule. Sometimes a hanging bridge has to be
crossed, spanning a horrid chasm, at the bottom of which roars a foaming
torrent--the bridge itself, composed of ropes and brambles, all the
while swinging like a hammock under the tread of the affrighted
traveller!

He who journeys through the tame scenery of European countries can form
but little idea of the wild and dangerous highways of the Andes. Even
the passes of the Alps or Carpathians are safe in comparison. On the
Peruvian road the lives of men and animals are often sacrificed. Mules
slide from the narrow ledges, or break through the frail "soga" bridges,
carrying their riders along with them, whirling through empty air to be
plunged into foaming waters or dashed on sharp rocks below.

These are accidents of continual occurrence; and yet, on account of the
apathy of the Spano-Indian races that inhabit these countries, little is
done for either roads or bridges. Every one is left to take care of
himself, and get over them as he best may. It is only now and then that
positive necessity prompts to a great effort, and then a road is
repaired or a broken bridge patched with new ropes.

But the road that was travelled by Don Pablo had seen no repairs--there
were no bridges. It was, in fact, a mere pathway where the traveller
scrambled over rocks, or plunged into the stream, and forded or swam
across it as he best could. Sometimes it lay along the water's edge,
keeping in the bottom of the ravine; at other places no space was left
by the water, and then the path ascended and ran along some ledge
perhaps for miles, at the end of which it would again descend to the bed
of the stream.



CHAPTER XII.

ENCOUNTER UPON A CLIFF.


That night they encamped in the bottom of the ravine close to the
water's edge. They found just enough of level ground to enable them to
stretch themselves, but they were contented with that. There was nothing
for the animals to eat except the succulent, but thorny, leaves of the
_Cactus opuntia_, or the more fibrous blades of the wild agave. This
evening there were no quinoa seeds to be had, for none of these trees
grew near. Even the botanist, Don Pablo, could find no vegetable
substance that was eatable, and they would have to sup upon the vicuña
meat, without bread, potatoes, or other vegetables. Their stock of ocas,
ullucas, and macas, was quite out. They had cooked the last of the macas
for that morning's meal.

Guapo here came to their relief. Guapo's experience went beyond the
theoretical knowledge of the botanist. Guapo knew a vegetable which was
good to eat--in fact, a most delicious vegetable when cooked with meat.
This was no other than the fleshy heart of the wild maguey (_agave_),
with part of the adhering roots. Among naked rocks, in the most barren
parts of the desert wilderness, the wild agave may be found growing in
luxuriance. Its thick, succulent blades, when split open, exude a cool
liquid, that often gives considerable relief to the thirsty traveller;
while the heart, or egg-shaped nucleus from which spring the sheathing
leaves--and even parts of the leaves themselves--when cooked with any
sort of meat, become an excellent and nourishing food.

The Indians make this use of the aloe on the high plains of Northern
Mexico, among the roving bands of the Apaché, Navajo, and Comanché.
These people cook them along with horse's flesh, for there the wild
horse is the principal food of whole tribes. Their mode of cooking, both
the flesh and the aloe, is by baking them together in little ovens of
stones sunk in the ground, and then heated by fire until they are nearly
red hot. The ashes are then cleared out, the meat and vegetables placed
in the ovens, and then buried until both are sufficiently done. In fact,
there is one tribe of the Apachés who have obtained the name of
"Mezcaleros," from the fact of their eating the wild aloe, which in
those countries goes under the name of "mezcal" plant.

In many parts of the Andes, where the soil is barren, the wild maguey is
almost the only vegetation to be seen, and in such places the Indians
use it as food. It seems to be a gift of Nature to the desert, so that
even there man may find something on which to subsist.

Guapo with his knife had soon cleared off several large pieces of the
maguey, and these, fried along with the vicuña meat, enabled the party
to make a supper sufficiently palatable. A cup of pure water from the
cold mountain stream, sweeter than all the wine in the world, washed it
down; and they went to rest with hearts full of contentment and
gratitude.

They rose at an early hour, and, breakfasting as they had supped, once
more took the road.

After travelling a mile or two, the path gradually ascended along one of
those narrow ledges that shelve out from the cliff, of which we have
already spoken. They soon found themselves hundreds of feet above the
bed of the torrent, yet still hundreds of feet above them rose the wall
of dark porphyry, seamed, and scarred, and frowning. The ledge or path
was of unequal breadth--here and there forming little tables or
platforms. At other places, however, it was so narrow that those who
were mounted could look over the brink of the precipice into the
frothing water below--so narrow that no two animals could have passed
each other. These terrible passes were sometimes more than an hundred
yards in length, and not straight, but winding around buttresses of the
rock, so that one end was not visible from the other.

On frequented roads, where such places occur, it is usual for
travellers, entering upon them, to shout, so that any one who chances to
be coming from the opposite side, may have warning and halt. Sometimes
this warning is neglected, and two trains of mules or llamas meet upon
the ledge! Then there is a terrible scene--the drivers quarrel--one
party has to submit--their animals have to be unloaded and dragged back
by the heels to some wider part of the path, so that each party can get
past in its turn!

Near the highest part of the road, our travellers had entered upon one
of these narrow ledges, and were proceeding along it with caution. The
trusty mule, that carried Doña Isidora and Leona, was in front, the
horse followed, and then the llamas. It is safer to ride than walk on
such occasions, especially upon mules, for these animals are more
sure-footed than the traveller himself. The horse that carried Leon,
however, was as safe as any mule. He was one of the small
Spanish-American breed, almost as sure-footed as a chamois.

The torrent rushed and thundered beneath. It was fearful to listen and
look downward; the heads of all were giddy, and their hearts full of
fear. Guapo, alone accustomed to such dangers, was of steady nerve. He
and Don Pablo afoot were in the rear.

[Illustration: GUAPO'S ENCOUNTER WITH THE BULLS.]

They had neared the highest point of the road, where a jutting rock hid
all beyond from their view. They were already within a few paces of this
rock, when the mule--which, as we have stated, was in the
front--suddenly stopped, showing such symptoms of terror that Doña
Isidora and the little Leona both shrieked!

Of course all the rest came to a halt behind the terrified and trembling
mule. Don Pablo, from behind, shouted out, inquiring the cause of the
alarm; but before any answer could be given the cause became apparent to
all. Around the rock suddenly appeared the head and horns of a fierce
bull, and the next moment his whole body had come into view, while
another pair of horns and another head were seen close behind him!

It would be difficult to describe the feelings of our travellers at that
moment. The bull came on with a determined and sullen look, until he
stood nearly head to head with the mule. The smoke of his wide steaming
nostrils was mingled with the breath of the terrified mule, and he held
his head downward, and evidently with the intention of rushing forward
upon the latter. Neither could have gone back, and of course the fierce
bull would drive the mule into the abyss. The other bull stood close
behind, ready to continue the work if the first one failed, and,
perhaps, there were many others behind!

The mule was sensible of her danger, and, planting her hoofs firmly on
the hard rock, she clung closely to the precipice. But this would not
have served her, had not a hand interposed in her behalf. Amidst the
terrified cries of the children, the voice of Guapo was heard calling to
Don Pablo,--"Your pistols, master! give me your pistols!"

Something glided quickly among the legs of the animals. It was the lithe
body of the Indian. In a second's time he appeared in front of the mule.
The bull was just lowering his head to charge forward--his horns were
set--the foam fell from his lips--and his eyes glanced fire out of their
dark orbs. Before he could make the rush, there came the loud report of
a pistol--a cloud of sulphury smoke--a short struggle on the cliff--and
then a dead plunge in the torrent below!

The smoke partially cleared away; then came another crack--another
cloud--another short struggle--and another distant plash in the water!

The smoke cleared away a second time. The two bulls were no longer to be
seen!

Guapo, in front of the mule, now ran forward upon the ledge, and looked
around the buttress of rock. Then, turning suddenly, he waved his hand,
and shouted back,--

"No more, master; you may come on--the road is clear!"



CHAPTER XIII.

THE LONE CROSS IN THE FOREST.


After two more days of fatiguing travel, the road parted from the bank
of the river, and ran along the ridge of a high mountain spur in a
direction at right angles to that of the Andes themselves. This spur
continued for several miles, and then ended abruptly. At the point where
it ended, the path, which for the whole of the day had been scarcely
traceable, also came to an end. They were now of course in a
forest-covered country--in the _Ceja de la Montaña_--that is, the forest
that covers the foot-hills of the mountains. The forest of the plains,
which were yet lower down, is known as the "Montaña" proper.

During that day they had found the road in several places choked up with
underwood, and Guapo had to clear it with his _macheté_--a sort of
half-sword, half-knife, used throughout all Spanish America, partly to
cut brushwood and partly as a weapon of defence. Where the ridge ended,
however, what had once been a road was now entirely overgrown--vines and
llianas of large size crossed the path. Evidently no one had passed for
years. A road existed no longer; the luxuriant vegetation had effaced
it.

This is no unusual thing on the borders of the Montaña. Many a
settlement had existed there in former times, and had been abandoned. No
doubt the road they had been following once led to some such settlement
that had long since fallen into ruin.

It is a melancholy fact that the Spanish-Americans--including the
Mexican nation--have been retrograding for the last hundred years.
Settlements which they have made, and even large cities built by them,
are now deserted and in ruins; and extensive tracts of country, once
occupied by them, have become uninhabited, and have gone back to a state
of nature. Whole provinces, conquered and peopled by the followers of
Cortez and Pizarro, have within the last fifty years been retaken from
them _by the Indians_: and it would be very easy to prove, that had the
descendants of the Spanish conquerors, been left to themselves, another
half century would have seen them driven from that very continent which
their forefathers so easily conquered and so cruelly kept. This
re-conquest on the part of the Indian races was going on in a wholesale
way in the northern provinces of Mexico. But it is now interrupted by
the approach of another and stronger race from the East--the
Anglo-American.

To return to our travellers. Don Pablo was not surprised that the road
had run out. He had been expecting this for miles back. What was to be
done? Of course they must halt for that night at least. Indeed it was
already near camping-time. The sun was low in the sky, and the animals
were all much jaded. The llamas could not have gone much farther. They
looked as if they should never go farther. The heat of the climate--it
had been getting warmer every hour--was too much for them. These
animals, whose native home is among the high cool mountain valleys, as
already observed, cannot live in the low tropical plains. Even as they
descended the Sierras they had shown symptoms of suffering from the heat
during all that day. Their strength was now fairly exhausted.

The party halted. A little open space was chosen for the camp. The
animals were relieved of their burdens and tied to the trees, lest they
might stray off and be lost in the thick woods. A fire was kindled, and
part of the vicuña meat cooked for supper.

It was not yet night when they had finished eating, and all were seated
on the ground. The countenance of the father was clouded with a
melancholy expression. Doña Isidora sat by his side and tried to cheer
him, endeavouring to force a smile into her large black eyes. The little
Leona, with her head resting on her mother's lap, overcome with the heat
and fatigue, had fallen asleep. Leon, seeing the dejected look of his
father, was silent and thoughtful. Guapo was busy with his llamas.

"Come, dear husband!" said the lady, trying to assume a cheerful tone,
"do not be so sad. We are now safe. Surely they will never pursue us
here."

"They may not," mechanically replied Don Pablo; "but what then? We have
escaped death, for what purpose? Either to live like savages in these
wild woods--perhaps to be killed by savages--perhaps to die of hunger!"

"Do not say so, Don Pablo. I have never heard that the Indians of these
parts were cruel. They will not injure poor harmless people such as we
are. And as for starving, are not these luxuriant woods filled with
roots and fruits that will sustain life a long while? You, too, know so
well what they are! Dear husband, do not despond; God will not forsake
us. He has enabled us to escape from our enemies, from fearful dangers
on our journey. Fear not! He will not leave us to perish now."

The cheering words of his beautiful wife had their effect upon Don
Pablo. He embraced and kissed her in a transport of love and gratitude.
He felt inspired with new hope. The vigour of mind and body, that for
days had deserted him, now suddenly returned; and he sprang to his feet
evidently with some newly-formed resolution.

The country both before and behind them was shut out from their view by
the thick foliage and underwood. A tall tree grew by the spot, with
branches down to the level of a man's head. Don Pablo approached this
tree, and seizing the branches drew himself up, and then climbed on
towards its top. When he had reached a sufficient height, to overlook
the surrounding woods, he stopped; and, resting himself upon one of the
branches, looked abroad towards the east. All the rest stood watching
him from below.

He had been gazing but a few seconds when his face brightened up, and a
smile of satisfaction was seen to play upon his countenance. He
evidently saw something that pleased him. Isidora, impatient, called out
to him from below; but Don Pablo waved his hand to her, as if
admonishing her to be silent.

"Have patience, love," he cried down. "I shall descend presently and
tell you all. I have good news, but be patient."

It required a good share of patience, for Don Pablo after this remained
a full half-hour upon the tree. He was not all the time looking abroad,
however. Part of it he sat upon his perch--his head leaning forward, and
his eyes not appearing to be particularly engaged with anything. He was
busy with his thoughts, and evidently meditating on some great project.
Perhaps the going down of the sun admonished him, as much as the desire
of satisfying his wife's curiosity, but just as the bright orb was
sinking among the far tree-tops he descended.

"Now, Don Pablo," said the fair Isidora, pretending to frown and look
angry, "you have tried our patience, have you not? Come, then, no more
mystery, but tell us all. What have you seen?"

"Forgive me, wife; you shall know all."

Both sat down upon the trunk of a dead tree that Guapo had felled, and
was cutting up for firewood: not that it was at all cold, but they had
now arrived in the country of the terrible _jaguar_, and it would be
necessary to keep up a blazing fire throughout the night.

"Your words were true, love," began Don Pablo. "God has not forsaken us.
I have seen three things that have inspired me with fresh life and hope.

"First, I looked out upon the Montaña, which I expected to see
stretching away to the horizon, like a green ocean. I saw this in fact;
but, to my surprise, I saw more. I beheld a broad river winding like an
immense serpent through the distant forest. It ran in a direction
north-east, as far as the eye could reach. Even upon the horizon I could
distinguish spots of its bright water glancing like silver under the
rays of the setting sun. My heart leaped with joy, for I recognised a
river whose existence has been doubted. It can be no other, thought I,
than the _Madre de Dios_. I have often heard that there existed such a
river in these parts, that runs on to the Amazon. A missionary is said
to have visited it, but with the destruction of the missions the record
has been lost. I have no doubt the river I have seen is the _Madre de
Dios_ of that missionary."

The thought of being so near the banks of this river suggested other
thoughts. At once a design entered into my mind. "We can build a raft,"
thought I, "launch it upon this noble river, and float down to the
Amazon, and thence to the mouth of the great stream itself. There is a
Portuguese settlement there--the town of Grand Para. There we shall be
safe from our foes."

Such were my first thoughts on beholding the new river. I reflected
further. "Our fortune is gone," I reflected; "we have nothing in the
wide world--what should we do at Para, even if we arrived there in
safety? How could we attempt such a journey without provisions. It would
be impossible."

My hopes fell as quickly as they had sprung up.

"I noticed your countenance change as you sat upon the tree."

"True, you might easily have done so: the prospect of reaching Para,
penniless, and becoming a beggar in the streets--the nearer prospect of
starving in the wilderness of the Amazon--were before my mind."

My eyes for awhile were bent mechanically upon the green ocean of
tree-tops. All at once an object arrested them. It was a patch of bright
rose-coloured foliage, easily distinguishable amid the green leaves that
surrounded it. It was not down in the Montaña--for that is a thousand
feet below us. It was upon the side of the Sierra. My eyes glanced
quickly around. I beheld other patches of similar foliage, some of them
nearly an acre in breadth. My heart again leaped with joy. I knew well
what these red spots of the forest were. They were clumps of _cinchona_
trees--those trees that yield the celebrated febrifuge--the Peruvian
bark!

New ideas passed rapidly through my mind. "Our fortune is gone," thought
I. "Here is a fortune in these valuable trees. Here is a mine that only
requires to be worked. I shall turn _cascarillero_--I shall be a
_bark-hunter_."

"At first I thought that we might gather the bark, and send Guapo to
sell it in the towns of the Sierra. Then the idea came into my mind that
it might be possible to collect an immense quantity, store it up, build
a great raft, float it down the rivers, and dispose of it in Para. I
knew that in this way it would more than quadruple its price--for the
traders of the Sierra purchase it from the poor cascarilleros, and have
enormous profits upon it from the larger merchants.

"But how to live while making this store? Yes, how to live even on the
morrow? Could we support ourselves by hunting, or find sustenance from
fruits and roots, as you have suggested? This was the most important
question of all, for our present necessities far outweighed our future
prospects.

"The very thought of our necessity caused me once more to glance over
the forest, and I continued to scan it on all sides. My eye was again
arrested, and fixed upon a point where I saw there existed a different
vegetation from any that could be seen elsewhere. There is a small
valley about five hundred feet below us. It is a sort of table valley,
and the stream along which we have been travelling runs through it,
afterwards dashing over a fall to join the river below. In this valley I
saw huge broad leaves of a brilliant yellowish green. I knew them at
once to be the leaves of the great _musaceæ_, either plantains or
bananas. I thought, too, I could distinguish the form of the _yucca_
plant. These are the certain signs of some settlement, or where one has
existed. I fancy the latter is the correct idea, as I could distinguish
neither house nor smoke. It may be some deserted Indian 'chacra,' or it
may be the grounds of an old mission. In either case, we shall be likely
to find those useful plants from which we may obtain food."

"Oh, papa! mamma!" cried Leon, running up and interrupting the
conversation. "See what is here among the trees! I declare it is a great
cross!"

Don Pablo and Isidora walked towards the spot. There, sure enough, was a
large wooden cross planted in the ground, and leaning to one side. The
wood was much decayed, but the inscription that had been deeply cut in
the transverse beam was still legible. It was simply the Spanish
phrase:--

"BRAZOS DE DIOS" (The arm of God).

Isidora took Don Pablo by the hand, and looking steadfastly in his face,
pointed to the inscription.

"It _is_ true," said she, "God protects us!"



CHAPTER XIV.

THE DESERTED MISSION.


That night all went to rest with hope in their hearts, though still not
without some anxiety.

If you reflect upon the situation in which they were placed, you will
not wonder that they were anxious about the future. Their first care had
been to fly into the wilderness, without thinking upon the necessities
they might encounter there--without reflecting that they had made no
provision of food to sustain them. It is true that in the great Montaña
there are many plants and trees whose roots and fruits can be eaten; but
a traveller may go for days without finding one of these. Indeed, to
pass through this great forest, in most places, is impossible, so
completely are the creeping parasites matted and laced together. It is
necessary to keep along the rivers in a canoe or raft, else you cannot
get from place to place.

You cannot even walk along the banks of many of these rivers, as the
underwood hangs into the very water! For the same reason game is hard to
be procured, and neither Don Pablo nor Guapo were provided with proper
weapons to hunt with. Don Pablo's pistols were all the fire-arms they
had, and Guapo had no other weapon than his macheté. With their present
means, then, there was very little chance of their killing any game,
even should they have fallen in with it. But they saw none as yet,
except some birds, such as parrots, macaws, and toucans, that fluttered
among the leaves. No wonder, then, they were anxious about what they
should find to eat, or whether they should find anything at all.

Don Pablo considered the cross a good omen, or rather a good _sign_.
Some missionary must have planted it in years gone by. No doubt a
missionary station must have been near; and it was highly probable that
what he had seen in the little valley below would turn out to be the
very place where it had stood.

As soon as it became day, therefore, Don Pablo again ascended the tree
to take the bearings of the valley, so that they should proceed towards
it. Guapo also climbed up, so that both might make sure of the route
they ought to take--for in the tangled forests of South America it is no
easy matter to reach any object, which you may have only seen at a
distance from the top of a tree. Without a compass, the traveller soon
loses his direction; and, after hours of vain exertion and devious
wandering, often finds himself at the very place from which he had
started.

After carefully noting the direction of the valley, Don Pablo and Guapo
came down from the tree; and while the former, assisted by Leon, packed
and saddled the animals, Guapo was busy with his macheté in clearing
away the brushwood that obstructed the path. This did not turn out such
a task after all. It was only at the brow of the ridge, where the
undergrowth had choked up the way. A little farther down it was quite
passable, and the party, animals and all, were soon winding down the
Sierra towards the valley. Half-an-hour's travelling brought them to
their destination; and then a shout of joy, coming simultaneously from
all of them, announced their arrival upon the spot.

What was it that caused them to utter this shout of joy? Before them
towered the great _musaceæ_--plantains and bananas. There were both:
their broad yellow-green and wax-like leaves sheathing their succulent
stems, and bending gracefully over to a length of twenty feet. But
beautiful as were the leaves of these giant plants, more attractive
still to the eyes of our travellers were the huge clusters of fruit-pods
that hung from beneath them. Each of these would have weighed nearly an
hundred-weight! There was food for hundreds. These plants grew by the
water's edge, in a damp soil--their natural habitat. Their leaves
drooped over the stream. Another plant, equally interesting, was seen
farther back, in a dry place. There were many of these ten or fifteen
feet high, and as thick as a man's wrist. This was the _yucca_ plant.
All of them knew it. They knew that its roots produced the far-famed
cassava. Cassava is bread. Hurrah! the staff of life was secure!

But, more than this, there were fruits in abundance; there were mangoes
and guavas, oranges and the celebrated cherimoya--the favourite of Peru.
There were shaddocks and sweet limes; and see! yonder is a clump of
sugar-canes, with their thin silken leaves and yellow tassels waving in
the wind. Oh, look here! Here is a coffee-shrub, with its ripe, aromatic
berries; and here is the cacao-tree. Coffee and chocolate--there was a
choice of beverages! Ha! what have we here--this plant like an orange
tree? It is a species of holly. As I live, it is the _yerba maté_, the
"Paraguay tea." What shall we light upon next?

And so the delighted travellers went on, over the ground, through the
thick-tangled weeds and convolvuli, making new discoveries at every
step. Even Guapo's favourite, the coca-shrub, was found growing among
the rest, and the eyes of the old Indian sparkled at the sight of it.

Don Pablo's first conjecture had been right. They had arrived at the
ruin of some old missionary station, long since deserted. Some zealous
monk had planted all these plants and trees; had for years, no doubt,
tended them with care; had dreamt of establishing around this lonely
spot a great hierarchy, and making the "wilderness blossom as the rose."
An evil day had come--perhaps during the revolt of Juan Santos, or maybe
in the later revolution of Tupac Amaru. The hand of the savage had been
turned against the priest, who had fallen a victim, and his roof--the
mission-house--had been given to the flames. Not a vestige of building
was to be seen--neither stick nor stone--and had it not been for the
curious variety of vegetation collected on the spot, this once
cultivated and flourishing garden might have been taken for part of the
primeval forest.

It must have been a long time since the place was inhabited, for great
trees and parasites had grown up in the midst of the cultivated plants.

After the first transports of delight had to some extent subsided, a
consultation was held as to future proceedings. They were not long in
coming to a conclusion. It was resolved that a house should be built in
the middle of this wild garden, which should be, for a time at least,
their home.

The poor llamas had made their last journey. They were to be killed.
Guapo, although reluctant to part with his old favourites, knew that
they could not live in the warm climate of the valley, and therefore
consented. Their flesh, it is true, is none of the best, but it would
taste the better that no other was to be had; and their wool and skins
would be found useful. The llamas were killed.



CHAPTER XV.

THE GUACO AND THE CORAL SNAKE.


It was Guapo himself that killed the llamas, and, having skinned them,
he cut the flesh into thin strips, and hung it upon the branches to dry
in the sun. This, of course, was necessary, as they had no salt to cure
it with; but meat well dried under a hot sun will keep good for a long
time. It is curious, that in all Spanish-American countries they
preserve most of their meat in this way, whereas in North America, among
the people of our own race, "jerked beef" (for that is the name we give
it) is very rare.

Now, in Spanish-America there are vast depositories of salt--both in
mines and on plains, with salt lakes--called _salinas_; yet, for want of
a proper commercial activity existing among these people, in many places
the valuable article, salt, is both scarce and dear. In Mexico dried or
"jerked" beef is called "tasajo." In Peru, as we have stated, it is
"charqui;" but mutton cured in this way is distinguished by the name
"chalona." Now as the llamas are a species of sheep, it was "chalona"
that Guapo was making out of their mutton.

The others were not idle; Don Pablo, assisted by Leon, was clearing a
place on which they intended to build the house, while the Doña Isidora,
with her soft slender fingers (for the first time in her life, perhaps),
was acting as laundress, and the little Leona assisted her as much as
she was able. Where did they get their soap, for they had not brought so
much as a single cake along with them?

But Don Pablo was too good a botanist not to know the nature of the
trees that grew around, and the uses to which they could be applied.
Near by grew a curious tree, which is known among the Indians as the
_parapara_. It was the soap-berry of botanists and Don Pablo knew that
the bark of the berries, when rubbed, produces a lather that will wash
linen equal to the best "Castile." Doña Isidora was not long in making a
trial of it, and found this to be true. The little round stones of the
berries, when cleared of the pulp, are very pretty, and are much used by
the missionaries in making rosaries. Leon found, dropping one of them on
a stone, that it was as elastic as a ball of India rubber, for it
rebounded several times the height of a man's head!

In the evening they all rested from their various occupations, and
seated themselves upon the new-cleared ground, upon the trunk of a tree
that had been felled. They were one and all quite cheerful. They felt no
more apprehension of pursuit. It would have been a very revengeful
enemy, indeed, who would have followed them so far into the wilderness.
They had no fear of that. Doña Isidora had just cooked a kettle of
coffee--they had both pots and kettles, for these were some of the
utensils with which Guapo, even in the hurry of flight, had taken the
precaution to load his llamas.

This coffee turned out to be of the finest quality. It was of a peculiar
species, which has long been cultivated by the missionaries of Peru, and
which yields a very high price. It used to be sent by the viceroys as a
valued present to the kings of Spain. To sweeten the coffee some joints
of sugar-cane had been crushed, and boiled in a rough manner; and for
bread they had roasted plantains. During the repast they were all quite
merry, and pleasant jokes were passed for the first time in many days.

While thus engaged a singular sound fell upon their ears. It was like a
voice repeating the word "Guaco!" They all listened. "Guaco--Guaco!"
again came the voice.

"Hola!" cried Leon, "Guapo--Guapo! there's some one calling you, Guapo.
There again!--no--it's 'Guaco'--listen! Guaco--Guaco' What is it, I
wonder?"

"That's the snake-bird," quietly answered Guapo, who, it must be
remembered, was a native of the Montaña, and knew a great deal both
about the birds and beasts of these regions.

"The snake-bird?" exclaimed Leon, evidently interested in the name.

"Yes, young master!" replied Guapo; "look! yonder it goes!"

The eyes of all were instantly turned in the direction pointed out by
Guapo. There sure enough was a bird, not much larger than a common
pigeon, but which had all the appearance of a sparrow-hawk. It was
"swallow-tailed," however, and this, with its peculiar form and the
manner of its flight, showed that it was one of the kite-hawks. When
first noticed, it was perched upon the top of a high tree, but it soon
flew to another not so high, uttering as it went, the "Guaco--Guaco!" It
then pitched itself to a still lower branch, and was evidently after
something which none of the party could see. That something, however,
soon became apparent. The ground had been cleared in a broad track down
to the water's edge, and near the middle of the open space an object was
observed in motion, making towards the weeds. That object was a snake.

It was not a large one--not more than three feet in length--and its
beautiful body, variegated with bands of black, red, and bright yellow,
glistened as it moved. Its predominating colour was a fleshy red, or
coral, from whence it has its name, for both Don Pablo and Guapo, as
soon as they saw it, pronounced it the "coral snake." Beautiful as it
appeared, all knew that it was one of the most poisonous of
serpents--one of the most dreaded of South American reptiles.

The first thought of Guapo and Leon was to spring up, seize upon some
weapon, and kill the creature. Don Pablo, however, restrained them.

"Stay where you are," said he; "be patient; we shall have a scene. Look
at the hawk,--see!"

As Don Pablo spoke, the guaco, which had hopped down to the lowest
branches of a neighbouring tree, swooped suddenly at the snake,
evidently aiming to clutch it around the neck. The latter, however, had
been too quick, and coiling itself, like a flash of lightning darted its
head out towards the bird in a threatening manner. Its eyes sparkled
with rage, and their fiery glitter could be seen even at many yards
distance.

The bird diverged from its course, and after passing the snake, turned
and swooped again from the opposite direction. But the reptile had
shifted its body so as to meet the attack, and its threatening head once
more was reared high above its coiled body. The guaco was foiled a
second time.

This second failure seemed to enrage the bird, as it turned at shorter
intervals, and apparently losing all fear, fluttered over the reptile,
striking both with beak and claws. The latter still kept in its coil,
but its head moved hastily from side to side, so as always to "show
front" to its active antagonist.

After this play had continued for some time, the snake was seen to draw
in its head farther than usual, and the hawk, evidently somewhat off his
guard, deeming this a fair opportunity, pounced forward to seize it. But
he was met half way. The head of the serpent shot forward like a rapier,
and reached his breast. The hawk felt that he was wounded; and uttering
a wild scream, he flew suddenly away.

All eyes watched him as he flew off, expecting that he would fall--for
the bite of the coral snake will kill even a man in a few minutes, and a
bird or small animal in much less time. It is not correct to say that
all of them expected to see him fall. Guapo, from experience, knew
better, and even Don Pablo, as a naturalist, had heard a strange account
of this singular bird, and was curious to witness the result. The hawk,
therefore, was narrowly watched.

It flew directly for a tree, up against the trunk of which, and clinging
to its branches, grew a parasite or creeping plant. The latter was of
the thickness of a willow rod, with long slender leaves, of a dark green
colour. The bird did not alight upon the top of the tree, but on a
branch where it could reach the leaves of the creeper, which it began
immediately to pluck and devour. In a short while it had eaten as many
as a dozen of these long leaves, when it again took to wing, and flew
back in the direction of the snake.

All had, for the moment, forgotten the snake, in their eagerness to
watch the movements of the bird. To their astonishment the reptile was
still in the same place, and coiled up as when last seen. This was
easily explained, however, as snakes who defend themselves in that
attitude usually remain coiled, until they are certain that their enemy
has gone away and will not return to the attack.

The contest was now renewed with redoubled fury. The bird fought with
fresh courage, knowing that he had taken precautions against a fatal
result, while the snake defended itself with the energy of despair. This
time the battle was a short one. The guaco, using its wings, succeeded
in striking its antagonist upon the upraised head, and quickly following
up the blow, planted his talons so as to encircle the throat of his
victim. The effect of his gripe was instantly apparent. The reptile
unfolded itself, and the slender coral body was seen writhing and
twisting along the ground. But it did not remain long upon the ground,
for in a few moments the guaco rose into the air, and carried the
struggling victim into the woods to devour it at his leisure.

Now Guapo was exceedingly pleased at what had occurred. Why? It was not
because such a scene was at all new to him. No; he had often witnessed
such, and was no longer curious upon that head. It was something more
than mere curiosity that moved Guapo. When the affair was over, he rose
from his seat, and stalking off to the place where the bird had been
seen to eat the leaves, he gathered a quantity of them, and then
returned to the fire. Don Pablo recognised them as the leaves of a plant
of the genus _Mikania_, and known popularly as the "vejuco de guaco."

Guapo knew nothing of the scientific designation of the plant, but he
had long ago been taught the valuable properties of its leaves as an
antidote against the bite of the most poisonous snakes. He had known
them to cure the bite of the cascabel (_rattle-snake_), and even of the
small spotted viper, the most poisonous of all the American snakes.

What, then, did Guapo with the leaves of the vejuco? First, he chopped
them up as fine as he could, and then, tying them tightly in a piece of
cotton cloth, he expressed from them a quantity of juice--enough for his
purpose. That done, with the point of a knife he made small incisions
between his toes, and also upon his breast and fingers. Into each of
these incisions, even while the blood was flowing from them, he dropped
the juice of the Mikania, and rubbed it in with fresh leaves of the
plant itself; and then, with some tufts of the soft floss of the
silk-cotton tree he covered the incisions, so as to stop the bleeding.
He wound up this strange performance, by chewing some of the leaves, and
swallowing about a spoonful of the juice. This made the "inoculation"
complete, and Guapo, as he himself declared, was now invulnerable to the
bite of the most venomous serpent!

He offered to "inoculate" the others in the same way. They at first
refused--Don Pablo among the rest--but after a day or two, when each of
the party had met with several narrow escapes from vipers, coral snakes,
and the much-dreaded "jararaca," Don Pablo thought it prudent that all
should submit to the operation, and accordingly Guapo "doctored" the
party without more ado.



CHAPTER XVI.

THE PALM-WOODS.


It happened, that upon the opposite side of the stream there was a broad
track covered with palm-trees, while not one was to be seen on that side
where they intended building their house. As these are the most
convenient trees for constructing a house to suit the hot climate of the
Montaña, it appeared necessary that they should use them. But how were
they to get at them? The stream flowed between them and the camp; and
although not a large river, yet at that place it was very wide and deep,
for in the flat table valley it expanded to the dimensions of a little
lake.

Below, where it issued out of the valley, it ran for some distance in a
deep cleft between rocky banks almost or quite perpendicular, and above
the valley it came dashing through an impassable ravine. If they could
only get over to cut the palms, they knew they could roll them to the
bank, and float them across the stretch of still water. But how to get
over required some consideration. Guapo could swim like a water-dog, but
Don Pablo could not; and Leon, having been brought up as a town boy, had
had but little practice, and consequently was but a poor swimmer. What,
then, was to be done, as Guapo could not well manage the palms without
help?

After examining the stream, both above and below, no crossing place
could be found, but just at the point where it ran out of the valley,
the space between the high banks was very narrow. A good long plank
would have reached across it--had they only had one--but that they had
not. Now, upon the opposite bank there grew a tall tree. It was one of
the beautiful silk-cotton trees already mentioned. It stood upon the
very edge of the chasm. Both Don Pablo and Guapo saw at a glance that
this tree could be felled, and made to fall across the stream, so as to
form the very bridge they wanted.

Not much time was lost about it. Guapo, tying his axe upon his
shoulders, ran up the near side, until he was opposite the still running
water; and then plunging in, swam across in a few seconds. He soon after
appeared on the opposite bank, at the root of the bombax, which he
attacked in such a manner that one who did not know what he was about
might have fancied he was angry at it. In a few minutes a great notch
appeared in the side of the tree, and Guapo continuing his sturdy blows,
made the yellow chips fly out in showers. Of course the notch was cut on
the side next the stream, so that the tree would fall in that direction.
The beaver understands that much, and Guapo had considerably more
intelligence than any beaver.

In about half-an-hour the bombax began to creak and lean a little. Then
Don Pablo threw over a lasso, which had been brought along. Guapo noosed
one end over a high limb, and tying a stone to the other, pitched it
back to Don Pablo, who hauled it taut. Then a few cuts of the axe broke
the skin of the tree on the other side, Don Pablo pulled by the rope,
and with a loud tear and a crash, and a vast deal of crackling among
the branches, the great bombax settled into a horizontal position across
the chasm. The bridge was built.

After all, it was no slight adventure to cross it. The rounded trunk was
anything but sure footing, and even had it been a flat plank, the depth
of the chasm--nearly an hundred feet clear--and the white roaring
torrent below, were enough to shake the stoutest nerves. All, however,
got over in safety, and proceeded up to the palm-woods. I say all--but I
mean only the male population of the new settlement. Doña Isidora and
the little Leona remained by the camp, both of them busy scraping
_yucca_ roots, to be manufactured into cassava, and then into bread.

On arriving among the palm-trees, Don Pablo was struck with a singular
fact. He observed (indeed, he had already noticed as much from the
opposite side of the river) that instead of one species of palm, there
were not less than a dozen kinds growing in this wood. This was a very
unusual circumstance, as although two or three species are often found
together, such a varied collection as were there could only have been
made by human hands. Here, again, was recognised the work of the
missionary monk, who had no doubt planted most of the species, having
received them very likely from many distant stations of his
fellow-labourers in other parts of the Amazon valley.

Whether Franciscan, Jesuit, or Dominican (for all three have had their
missions in this part of the world), the holy father who resided here,
thought Don Pablo, must have been an ardent horticulturist. Whether or
not he converted many Indians to his faith, he seemed to have exerted
himself to provide for their temporal necessities, for there was hardly
a useful plant or tree suitable to the climate that was not to be found
growing near the spot. Such were the reflections of Don Pablo.

"What a variety of beautiful palms!" said he, looking around upon these
by far the fairest forms of the vegetable creation.

Now, my boy reader, I have not the slightest doubt but that you, too,
think the palms the fairest forms of the vegetable creation. I have not
the shadow of a doubt that your heart beats joyfully at the very word
"palm;" that you love to gaze at one of the stately trees, and that you
would give all your pocket-money for an afternoon's ramble through a
real palm-wood. Would you not? Yes. I am sure of it. Now I could tell
you a great deal about palms if I _would_; and I would, too, if my space
and time allowed me, but neither will, alas! Why, if I were only to give
you even the shortest and dryest botanic description of all the
different palms that are known to us, that mere dry catalogue would fill
a book as big as this one!

How many species do you think there are? Up to this time you have
thought, perhaps, there was only one, and that was _the palm-tree
itself_. Maybe you have heard of more, such as the sago-palm, the
cocoa-nut palm, the date-palm, or the cabbage-palm; and you fancied
there might be others--perhaps as many as a dozen! Now you will hardly
credit me when I tell you that we know of no less than _six hundred
species of palms_, all differing from each other! I may add, further,
that it is my belief that there exist on the earth as many more--that
is, the enormous number of twelve hundred.

The reason why I entertain this belief is, that in all cases where
similar guesses have been hazarded--whether with regard to plants, or
birds, or _mammalia_--they have eventually proved far below the mark;
and as the palm countries are the very regions of the earth least known
and least explored by botanists, it is but reasonable to conclude that
great numbers of species have never yet been described, nor even seen.
Another fact which strengthens this probability is, that peculiar
species of palms are sometimes found only in a limited district, and
nowhere else in the same country. A small river even sometimes forms the
boundary-line of a species; and although whole groves may be seen on the
one side, not a tree of the same sort grows on the other. Some botanists
even prognosticate that more than two thousand species of palms will yet
become known.

Of the six hundred species known, about half belong to the Old World,
and half to America. In America they are chiefly found growing on the
Continent--although several species are natives of the West India
Islands--while on the Eastern hemisphere the greatest number of species
belong to the islands.

I might tell you a great deal of the importance of these noble trees to
the human race, for they are as useful as they are beautiful. Almost
every sort has its particular use in the economy of human life. Not only
do they serve certain purposes in Africa, Asia, America, and Oceanica,
but in all these divisions of the earth there are whole nations who
_live almost exclusively_ upon one or another species of palm.

A discovery has lately been made in regard to an African species, which
it is to be hoped will have an important influence in doing away with
the infamous slave traffic so long existing in that unhappy country. You
have heard of _palm-oil_. Well, it is extracted from the nuts of a
species of palm. The oil is no new discovery, but it is only lately that
it has been found to be as quite as good for the manufacture of candles
as either spermaceti or wax.

The consequence has been a great increase in the traffic of this article
on the western coast of Africa; and the native princes, finding that it
is more profitable than slave-selling, have in many parts given up the
last-named atrocious commerce, and have taken to gathering palm-oil. If
a palm-tree can effect what has baffled the skill of the combined
philanthropists and powers of Europe, then, indeed, we shall say, "All
honour to the noble palms."

But I might go on talking of palms until our little volume came to an
end. I must, therefore, no longer speak generally of these beautiful
trees, but confine myself to such species as came under the observation,
and ministered to the wants, of the new settlers.



CHAPTER XVII.

A HOUSE OF PALMS.


The first species of palms that attracted the observation of Don Pablo
and his party, was that known as the "patawa" palm. It belongs to the
genus _Oenocarpus_. There are several species of this genus in South
America, but none more beautiful than the "patawa." It is a palm with a
straight smooth stem, and pinnate leaves--the stem being sixty feet in
height, and about a foot in diameter. The stem becomes smooth only in
old trees. In the young ones, and even in those that stand in a thick
shady forest, it presents a very shaggy appearance, and is completely
hidden by the bases of the old leaves that have decayed and fallen off.
From the margins of these bases grow spinous processes of nearly three
feet in length, which point upward. These are used by the Indians to
make the arrows of their "blow-guns," of which more hereafter.

From the fruits of this palm a most delicious drink is manufactured with
very little trouble. The fruit itself is about the size of a plum, but
of an oval shape and deep violet colour. It grows in large clusters just
under the leaves. To make the drink, the fruits are thrown into a vessel
of hot water, where they remain for a few minutes until the pulp becomes
soft. The hot water is next poured off, and cold water is substituted.
In this the fruits are crushed and rubbed with the hands until all the
pulp is washed from the stones. The liquid is then strained so as to
separate the stones and other substances, when it is ready for use, and
a most luxurious beverage it is,--in its taste bearing some resemblance
to filberts and cream.

A palm called the "assái" has a small sloe-like fruit which produces a
similar beverage--thick and creamy, and of a fine plum colour. In all
the Portuguese settlements the "assái" is a favourite drink, and is
taken along with cassava bread, as we use milk or coffee.

It was not on account of its fruit, however, that Don Pablo rejoiced at
beholding the "patawa" palms. Perhaps Leon thought more about the rich
clusters of oval plums, but his father looked only to the straight
smooth stems which were designed for corner-posts, beams, and the
heavier woodwork of the house.

In a few minutes Guapo was busy with his axe, and one after another fell
the princely trunks of the "patawa" until enough were cut down for their
purpose.

Don Pablo next looked out for some palm of a more slender trunk for the
rafters and joists.

This was soon found in the "catinga," which is a species of the "assái
palm, the one of which we have just spoken as producing the assái wine."
The catinga was the very thing for the rafters. It is tall, nearly forty
feet high, but quite slender. It is one of the smooth palms, with
pinnate leaves, not unlike those of the "patawa." There is a peculiarity
about its top,--that is, there is a column or sheath of several feet in
length, out of which the leaves spring, and, at the lower end of this
column, and not immediately at the root of the leaves, the fruit
clusters grow. This sheathing column is of a red colour, which gives the
tree a strange look.

Another peculiarity of the catinga is that its roots grow out of the
ground, and form a little cone from the top of which rises the stem. The
fruits of this sort are smaller than the true assái, but a drink is also
made from them which some people consider more delicious than that
either of the assái or patawa. The rafters then were got from the
catinga.

Now for the thatch, that was the next consideration.

"Master!" cried Guapo, pointing off into the woods. "Yonder's
'bussu,'--very thing for thatch!"

Guapo indicated a very singular-looking tree, with a thick, clumsy,
crooked, and deeply ringed stem. It was not a bit like either of the
palm-trees they had already cut down. Its trunk was not over ten or a
dozen feet high, but then, such leaves! They were not pinnated like
those already described, but what is termed "entire," that is, all in
one piece, and thirty feet in length by full five in width! Fancy two or
three dozen of these gigantic leaves standing up almost erect from the
top of the thick trunk, and you may form some idea of the "bussu" palm.
There are many palm-trees whose leaves are used for thatching houses,
but of all others for that purpose the bussu is the best.

These great fronds have a mid-rib, and from this, on both sides, run
veins in a diagonal direction to the edge. When they are used for thatch
the leaf is split up the mid-rib, and then each half is laid upon the
rafters, not straight, but in such a way that the veins of the leaf will
lie in a vertical direction, and thus serve as gutters to guide the
rain-water down the roof. A very few leaves will thatch a house, and a
covering of this kind, when properly laid on, will last for ten or
twelve years. So much are the bussu-leaves prized for thatch, that the
Indians, in parts where this palm does not grow, often make a canoe
voyage of a week to procure them!

The spathe which contains the flowers is also put to many uses. It is of
a long spindle shape, of fibrous, cloth-like texture, and brown colour.
The Indians use it as cloth. It makes an excellent bag, in which the
native carries his paints or other articles; and a large one, stretched
out, makes a very comfortable cap. Indeed, Guapo used the first spathe
he laid his hands upon for this very purpose.

There remained now to be found some palm-tree that would split easily,
and make laths for the roof, as well as planks for the door, shelves,
and benches. They soon discovered the very palm for these purposes. It
was one of the genus _Iriartea_, and known as the "pashiuba" palm. It
was a tree that differed from all the others in its aspect. It was a
noble-looking tree, rising, with a smooth stem, to the height of seventy
feet. At its top, there was a sheathing column swollen larger than the
stem, and not unlike the sheathing column of the catinga already
mentioned, except that that of the pashiuba was of a deep green colour.
Its leaves, however, differed materially from those of the catinga. It
is true, that, like them, they were pinnate, but the leaflets, instead
of being slender and tapering, were of a triangular shape, notched along
the edges, and not growing very regularly out from the mid-rib.

Their general arrangement, as well as the form, therefore, gave the tree
a different, and, perhaps, more beautiful aspect. But the most singular
characteristic of the pashiuba was its roots. I have said that the roots
of the catinga rose above the surface of the soil. So did they, but only
to a limited height, forming a little cone. Now the roots of the
pashiuba stood up to the height of ten or a dozen feet! Each root was
nearly straight in itself, but there were a number of them, and they
sloped upwards so as to make a sort of pyramid, out of the apex of which
grew the stem. There were wide spaces between the roots--so wide that
you could easily pass through, and a full-grown man might stand upright
with his head under the very base of the stem. Fancy a man standing
under the trunk of a tree that rose seventy feet above his head!

There were young trees of the same species growing around, and these
were miniature models of the older ones. Sometimes these lesser ones are
supported on three roots, like the tripod of a surveyor's compass, and
this gives them a somewhat ludicrous appearance. There are many species
of this sort of palms, which are classed under the genus _Iriartea_. In
most of them the fruit, which is small oval and red or yellow, is bitter
and uneatable; but their wood is prized for many purposes. The wood of
the species which Don Pablo had found is hard on the outside, but soft
within, and splits readier into laths and planks than any other kind of
palm.

Guapo attacked the roots with his axe, and enough trunks were soon
felled to make laths, doors, and all sorts of benches.

The different kinds were now collected on the edge of the stream, and
were tied together by a rope-like, creeping plant, called a "Sipo," so
that they formed a rude raft. The leaves of the "bussu," with great
clusters of the fruits of the catinga and patawa, were laid upon the
raft; and then, Guapo, mounting himself on top of all, pushed out with
his long pole, and ferried the whole across. The others walked round by
the bridge, and were just in time to assist Guapo in mooring his
somewhat unwieldy craft.

Next day the framework of the house was put up, and on the day after the
walls. These were made of bamboo-canes, plenty of which grew near the
bottom of the valley. They grew wild, for the slopes of the Andes are
the favourite soil of these gigantic grasses. They were set on end, side
by side, and then tied to each other and to the beams of palm-trees. On
the third day the "bussu" leaves were laid on, and the house was
finished.



CHAPTER XVIII.

TRACKING THE TAPIR.


It has been already mentioned that the stream in front of the house was
wider than at other parts, forming a sort of lake. There was a slow
current down the middle, but at the sides the water was nearly stagnant,
and there grew in some places bunches of flags interspersed with
beautiful white lilies. Among these could be distinguished that gigantic
_nympha_ so celebrated under the name of _Victoria regia_--for South
America is the native country of this rare plant.

Every night, as our party were resting from their labours, they heard
strange noises proceeding from the water. There was plunging and
plashing, and now and then a snorting sound like that sometimes uttered
by frightened swine. Perhaps it would have puzzled any of them to tell
whence these sounds proceeded, or what animal gave utterance to them,
for there could be no doubt they were caused by an animal. Some of them
guessed "alligators;" but that was not a correct guess, for although
there are plenty of alligators in all the rivers of tropical America,
there seemed to be none in that particular place.

In truth, they might have remained long in the dark about what creature
they thus heard sweltering about nightly, for they could neither see nor
hear anything of it in the day; but Guapo, who knew every sound of the
Montaña, enlightened them at once. Guapo had been a keen _tapir-hunter_
in his time, and understood all the habits of that strange animal. It
was a tapir, then, which they had heard taking his regular nightly bath,
and regaling himself on the roots of the flags and _nymphæ_.

Have you ever seen a tapir? Not a living one, I fancy; perhaps the skin
of one in a museum. He is an interesting creature, for this reason--that
he is the largest land animal indigenous to South America. The llama and
guanaco stand higher because their legs are longer, and they are far
inferior to the tapir in bulk and weight: while the bears of South
America, of which there are two or three species, are small-sized bears,
and therefore less than the tapir. In fact, no very large land animals
were found indigenous in the southern division of the American
continent. There were none of the _bovine_ tribe, as the buffalo and
musk-ox of North America; and no large deer, as the elk and moose of the
Northern latitudes. The deer of South America, of which there are
several undescribed species, are all small animals. The tapir, then, in
point of size takes precedence in the South-American _fauna_.

His rounded body gives him some resemblance to a great hog, or a donkey
with its hair shaved off; but, in fact, he is not very like either; he
is more like a _tapir_ than anything else--that is, he is a creature
_sui generis_. Perhaps, if you were to shave a large donkey, cut off
most part of his ears and tail, shorten his limbs--and, if possible,
make them stouter and clumsier--lengthen his upper jaw so that it should
protrude over the under one into a prolonged curving snout, and then
give him a coat of blackish-brown paint, you would get something not
unlike a tapir.

To complete the resemblance, however, you would have to continue the
erect mane over the forehead, between the ears, and down to the level of
the eyes, which would give that crested appearance that characterises
the tapir. Instead of hoofs, moreover, you would give your donkey large
toes--four upon the fore feet, and upon the hind ones three. A little
silky hair upon the stumped tail, and a few thinly scattered hairs of a
brown colour over the body, would make the likeness still more striking;
and it would be necessary, too, that the donkey be one of the very
biggest kind to be as big as a big tapir.

The tapir is a harmless creature, and although it has a good set of
teeth, it never uses them for the purpose of defending itself. When
attacked by either men or fierce animals, it tries to escape by flight,
and if that fails, submits to be killed; but there is no "fight" to be
got out of a tapir.

The tapir leads a very solitary life, being met with alone, or sometimes
in the company of the female. The latter has but one young at a birth,
which follows her until able to provide for itself; when they associate
no longer together, but part company, each taking its own way.

This animal is called amphibious, because it spends part of its time in
the water; but, although it has been called the American representative
of the rhinoceros and hippopotamus, it is not so much a water animal as
either of these. It seeks its food in the river, or the marshes that
border it, and can remain for several minutes under water; but for all
that most of its time is passed on dry land. It sleeps during the day in
some dry spot upon a bed of withered leaves, from whence it sallies
every evening, and makes to the marshy banks of some well-known stream.
It frequently leaves its lair during rain, and goes in search of food.
Like hogs it is very fond of wallowing in a muddy place; but, unlike
these slovenly animals, it does not return to its bed until it has
plunged into the clear water, and thoroughly purified itself of the
mud.

One habit of the tapir--and an unfortunate one for itself--is that in
going its rounds it always follows the old track. In this way a path is
soon formed from its lair to its feeding-place, so conspicuous that a
hunter might trail it upon the run. It is easy, therefore, to "waylay" a
tapir. Guapo knew this well, and had already, while over among the
palms, marked the track of the one that came nightly to the stream, and
had settled it in his mind that that particular tapir had not many days
to live. In fact, Leon coaxed him to fix the tapir-hunt for the next
morning, which Guapo, with Don Pablo's permission, accordingly did.

Guapo was anxious as any of them to kill the tapir, for, like many
Indians, he was fond of its flesh, though that is by no means a
palatable article of food. On the contrary, it is dry, and to most
people tastes disagreeably. Guapo, however, liked it exceedingly; and,
moreover, he wanted the tough skin for some purpose of his own. The wild
Indians value the skin highly, as it is the best thing they can procure
for "viches," or shields, to ward off the poisoned arrows of their
enemies.

Next morning, an hour or so after daybreak, Guapo started for the hunt,
accompanied by Leon. Don Pablo remained at home with his wife and the
little Leona. Now, had the tapir-hunter possessed a gun, or even a bow
and arrows, his plan of proceedings would have been different, and he
would no doubt have chosen a different hour for the hunt. He would have
chosen the twilight of the evening or morning, and would have hid
himself in the bushes, so as to command a view of the track which the
tapir would be certain to take on his way to or from the water. He would
then have simply shot the creature as it was going past; but this is not
so easy a matter neither, for the tapir, fearful of enemies while on
land, always travels at a trot. As Guapo had neither bow nor gun,
nothing in fact but his _macheté_, how was he to get near enough to use
this weapon? Clumsy-looking as the tapir certainly is, he can shuffle
over the ground faster than the fastest Indian.

Guapo knew all this, but he also knew a stratagem by which the
amphibious brute could be outwitted, and this stratagem he designed
putting in practice. For the purpose he carried another weapon besides
the _macheté_. That weapon was a very pacific one--it was a _spade_!
Fortunately he had one which he had brought with him from the mountains.

Now what did Guapo mean to do with the spade? The tapir is not a
burrowing animal, and therefore would not require to be "dug out." We
shall presently see what use was made of the spade.

After crossing the bridge, and getting well round among the palms, the
hunter came upon a path well tracked into the mud. It was the path of
the tapir,--that could be easily seen. There were the broad
footmarks--some with three, and others with four toes--and there, too,
were places where the animal had "wallowed." The tracks were quite
fresh, and made, as Guapo said, not an hour before they had arrived on
the spot.

This was just what the tapir-hunter wanted; and, choosing a place where
the track ran between two palm-trees, and could not well have gone round
either of them, he halted, rested his _macheté_ against a tree, and took
a determined hold of the spade. Leon now began to see what use he
intended to make of the spade. He was _going to dig a pit_!

That was, in fact, the very thing he was going to do, and in less than
an hour, with the help of Leon, it was done--the latter carrying away
the earth upon "bussu" leaves as fast as Guapo shovelled it out. When
the pit was sunk to what Guapo considered a sufficient depth, he came
out of it; and then choosing some slender poles, with palm-leaves,
branches, and grass, he covered it in such a manner that a fox himself
would not have known it to be a pit-trap. But such it was--wide enough
and deep enough, as Guapo deemed, to entrap the largest tapir.

It now only remained to get the tapir into it, but therein lay the
difficulty. Leon could not understand how this was to be managed. He
knew that at night, as the animal was on its way to the water, it might
step on the covering, and fall in. But Guapo had promised him that he
should see the tapir trapped in an hour's time. Guapo had a plan of his
own for bringing it that way, and he at once proceeded to put his plan
into execution.

They started along the trail going _from_ the water, and towards the
lair of the beast. The hunter knew it would not be very distant--perhaps
a quarter or half-a-mile, perhaps less. Before starting he cautioned
Leon to keep close behind him, and not to make the least noise. So
little as a whisper or the rustling of the brush, he alleged, might
spoil all his plans. Guapo marched, or rather crouched, along; at first
freely, but after some time his step grew more stealthy and cautious. He
knew that he was getting near to his sleeping victim.

After stopping and repeating his caution to his companion, he proceeded
as before until they had got better than a quarter of a mile from the
water. Here they began to ascend a gentle hill, where the ground was
dry, and strewed with fallen trees. At some places the trail was
difficult to make out, and Leon would soon have lost it had he been left
to himself. But there was no fear of Guapo losing it. A hound could not
have followed it more surely.

Suddenly Guapo stopped--then went on a few steps--then stopped a second
time, and made a sign for Leon to come up. Without speaking, he pointed
to a little thicket of scrubby bushes, through the leaves of which they
could just make out some large brown object perfectly at rest. That was
the tapir himself--sound asleep.

Guapo had already instructed his companion that when they should arrive
near the den of the animal, they were to make a wide circuit
around--Leon going one way, while he himself took the other. Both now
drew back a little, and then parted--the hunter going to one side, and
Leon in the opposite direction. After making their circuit, they met at
some distance beyond the back of the den; and then Guapo, telling the
other to follow him, and, without observing any further caution, walked
straight towards where the tapir lay.

The Indian knew by experience that the latter, when roused, would make
directly along its accustomed trail to the water, for to the water it
always flies when alarmed by an enemy. When they had got within a few
paces of the den, a movement was seen among the leaves--then a crackling
noise was heard, as the huge body of the animal broke through the
bushes, and took to flight. He did not trot according to his usual gait,
but went off in a gallop, with his head carried in a singular and
awkward manner between his fore-legs! You have, no doubt, seen a donkey
sometimes gallop in a similar style.

Guapo bounded after, followed by Leon, who kept close at his heels. Of
course the tapir was in sight only a few seconds, but the hunter knew
that he would take the beaten track, and therefore was at no loss. They
made no unnecessary noise--lest the tapir might be frightened from its
path--but ran on in silence.

They soon got back to the pit-fall, Guapo of course leading the way.

"Hola!" cried the latter, when he came in sight of it, "hola, young
master! he's in the trap!"

Sure enough he was; and the next moment they stood upon the edge of the
pit, and beheld the great brown body struggling and tumbling about at
the bottom.

Guapo did not pause a moment, but leaped in, _macheté_ in hand. He had
no fear of the animal biting him, for he knew it would not do so; but
Guapo, in his hurry, had leaped carelessly, and his foot slipping, he
fell over the smooth body of the tapir. The latter in its fright jumped
upward, and the next moment Guapo was _undermost_ at the bottom of the
pit!

The animal had no design of trampling the hunter; but seeing that it
could easily leap out--the pit being shallowed for it by Guapo's body
and the fallen branches--it made a spring, and came out on the edge.
Leon had got round upon the side next the river, but he chanced to be on
the wrong side just then; for the heavy tapir dashing past, knocked
against him, and sent him sprawling among the trees. Before he could
recover himself, or Guapo climb out of the pit, a loud plunge in the
water announced that the animal had escaped to an element where it might
defy their pursuit.

Both were quite crest-fallen and disappointed, but Guapo especially so.
He had prided himself very much on his skill as a tapir-hunter, and his
pride was mortified at the result. He seemed very much chagrined; and as
he and Leon returned toward the house, he stopped at intervals and
looked into the water. Then shaking his macheté in a threatening manner,
cried out,--

"Dive away, old thick-skin! Dive deep as you will, I'll have your hide
yet!"



CHAPTER XIX.

THE POISONED ARROWS.


The result of the tapir chase determined Guapo to have himself better
armed. There was one weapon--and a very efficient one too--which he knew
how both to make and use. That weapon was a "gravatána," or blow-gun,
sometimes called "pocuna." He had had an eye to this weapon all along,
and had already provided the materials necessary for making it. These
materials were of a varied character, and had cost him some trouble in
getting them together.

First, then, for the blow-tube itself he had cut stems of a slender
palm-tree, a species of _Iriartea_, but not that sort already described.
It was the _Pashiuba miri_ of the Indians. This little palm grows to the
height of from twelve to twenty feet, and is never thicker than a man's
wrist. Its roots, like the others of its genus, rise above the ground,
but only a few inches. The stems which Guapo had chosen were of
different sizes. One was about the thickness of the handle of a
garden-rake, while the other was not over the diameter of a
walking-cane. Both were hollow in the heart, or rather they contained
pith like the alder-tree, which when forced out left a smooth bore.

Having cut these stems to a length of about ten feet, and pushed out the
pith, Guapo inserted the smaller one into the bore of the larger, which
fitted tightly all the way--for he had chosen it of the proper thickness
to this end. The object of thus using two stems instead of one will not,
at first, be understood. It was for the purpose of making the tube
perfectly straight, as this is a most important consideration in the
gravatána. The outer and stronger stem corrected any bend that there
might be in the inner one, and they were carefully arranged so that the
one should straighten the other.

Had it not been perfectly straight, Guapo would have bound it to a post
and made it so; but it happened to come quite right without further
trouble. The tube of the lesser one was now cleaned out thoroughly, and
polished by a little bunch of the roots of a tree-fern, until it was as
smooth and hard as ebony. A mouthpiece of wood was placed at the smaller
end of the table, and a sight was glued on the outside. This "sight" was
the tooth of an animal,--one of the long curving incisors of a rodent
animal called the "paca," which is found in most parts of tropical
America. To make the instrument look neater, Guapo had procured the
tough shining bark of a creeping plant, which he wound spirally around
the outside from the mouthpiece to the muzzle; and then the gravatána
was finished.

There was yet much to be done before it could be used. Arrows were to be
made, and a quiver in which to carry them, and poison to dip their
points in--for the arrows of the blow-gun do not kill by the wound they
inflict, but by the poison with which they are charged.

The next thing, then, to which Guapo turned his attention was the
manufacture of the arrows. These can be made of cane, reeds, and other
kinds of wood; but the best materials for the purpose are the long
spines of the patawa palm, of which I have already spoken. These spines
grow out from the lower part of the leaf-petioles, and, in young trees
and those much sheltered, remain upon the trunk, giving it a very shaggy
appearance. They are often three feet in length, about as thick as large
wire, rather flattish, and of a black colour. To make the arrows, Guapo
cut them to the length of fifteen or eighteen inches, and then pointed
them sharply at one end. About three inches from the points he notched
them all, so that they would break in the wound rather than drop out
again, in consequence of the struggles of the animal.

About two or three inches from the thick end of the arrow Guapo wrapped
lightly around the shaft some strands of the soft silky cotton, which he
had procured from the pods of the great "ceiba," or silk-cotton tree,
already mentioned. This he fastened on with a fibre of an aloe
plant--one of the _bromelias_; and the cotton, when thus secured,
assumed a conical or spindle shape, having its larger end towards the
butt of the arrow. When inserted into the gravatána, the swell of the
cotton filled the tube exactly,--not so tightly as to impede the
passage of the arrow, nor so loosely as to allow of "windage" when blown
upon through the mouthpiece.

The arrows were now ready, with the exception of the poison for their
tips; and this was the most important of all, for without it both
blow-gun and arrows would have been useless weapons, indeed. But Guapo
was just the man who knew how to make this poison, and that is more than
could be said of every Indian, for it is only the "piaches" (priests, or
"medicine-men") who understand the process. Nay, more, there are even
some tribes where not an individual knows how the arrow-poison is made;
and these have to procure it by barter from others, paying a high price,
and sometimes going a great distance for it.

This celebrated poison is known under different names, but those of
"curare," "ticuna," and "wouraly," are the principal.

It is one of the most deadly poisons yet discovered--as much so as the
_upastiente_ of Java, or the bean of St. Ignatius--but it is perfectly
harmless when swallowed, and, indeed, it is often taken by the Indians
as an excellent stomachic. Should it get into the blood, however, by
means of an arrow-wound, or a sore, no remedy has yet been discovered
that will cure it. Death is certain, and a death similar to that caused
by the bite of a venomous serpent. So say those who have suffered from
it, but recovered on account of their having been only slightly wounded,
or lightly inoculated with it. Let us see, then, how Guapo prepared this
deadly mixture.

He had gone out to the forest, and returned carrying a bundle of slender
rods. They were pieces of a lliana, or creeping plant. It was the
_bejuco de curare_, or "mavacure," as it is sometimes called. The leaves
he had stripped off, and left behind as useless. Had he brought them
with him, they would have been seen to be small leaves of an oblong-oval
shape, sharp at the points, and of a whittish-green colour. Don Pablo
knew the plant to be a species of _Strychnos_.

Guapo with his knife first scraped all the bark, as well as the alburnum
or white coating, from the rods, which last he flung away. The mixture
of bark and alburnum was next placed upon a smooth stone, and mashed
into a fibre of a yellowish colour. This done, it was gathered into a
heap, and placed within a funnel, which had already been made out of a
plantain-leaf. The funnel was a long narrow cone, and to strengthen it,
it was set within another funnel made of the thick leaf of the "bussu"
palm, and then both were supported by a framework of palm fibres.

Underneath the apex was placed a small pan--which could afterwards be
put over the fire--and then cold water was thrown into the funnel along
with the bark. A yellowish liquid soon commenced to filter and drip into
the pan, and this liquid was the _curare_, the arrow poison. It still
required, however, to be concentrated by evaporation; and for this
purpose the pan was transferred to a slow fire, where it was kept until
the liquid became thickened by the heat.

Another process was yet required before the curare was ready for the
arrows. It was sufficiently concentrated and deadly, but still too thin
to adhere properly to their tips, and for this purpose a mixture of some
gummy juice was necessary. This Guapo soon prepared from the large
leaves of a tree called the "kiracaguero," and poured it into the
infusion; and then the curare turned from its yellow colour to black,
and was ready for use. The change of colour was produced by the
decomposition of a hydruret of carbon; the hydrogen was burned, and the
carbon set free.

Guapo now dipped a few of his arrows, and carefully deposited them in a
large joint of bamboo, which served as a quiver. I say _carefully_, for
had one of these arrows dropped with its poisoned point upon his naked
foot, or wounded him elsewhere, he never would have prepared any more
curare. But he handled them with care, and the remainder of the liquid
he poured into a small gourd (similar to that in which he carried his
coca-lime), which he closely corked up with a piece of the pith from a
palm.

Don Pablo, with Doña Isidora and the children, had watched with interest
all this process. At first, they were afraid to go near, believing that
the fumes of the liquid might be injurious. This was long believed to be
the case, in consequence of the absurd tales spread abroad by the old
missionaries, and even at a later period by the traveller La Condamine.
These asserted, that when the Indians wished to make the curare poison,
they selected for this purpose the old women of the tribe, whose lives
were not deemed of any value; and that several of these always fell a
sacrifice while "cooking" the curare!

This silly story is now refuted; and Guapo not only assured his
companions that there was no danger, but even tasted the curare from
time to time while in the pan, in order to judge when it was
sufficiently concentrated. This he could tell by its taste, as it grew
more and more bitter as the evaporation proceeded. The arrow-poisons of
South America are not all made from the creeping plant, the mavacure.
Among some Indian tribes a root is used called "curare de raiz;" and
with others the poison is produced by a mixture of several species of
juices from the plant _Ambihuasca_, tobacco, red pepper, a bark called
"barbasco," from a tree of the genus _Jacquinia_, and a plant of the
name "sarnango." Of all these the juice of the _Ambihuasca_ is the most
powerful ingredient, but the making of this species of poison is a most
complicated process.

Guapo was not long in having an opportunity to test his gravatána, and
this was just what he desired, for the old Indian was not a little vain
of his skill, and he wished to make a show of it in the eyes of his
companions. His vanity, however, was the more pardonable, as he was in
reality a first-rate shot, which he proved to the satisfaction of
everybody within half-an-hour. The instrument had scarcely been finished
and laid aside, when a loud screaming and chattering was heard in the
air, and on looking up a flock of large birds was seen flying over the
heavens. They were still high up, but all of a sudden they darted down
together and alit on a tall tree that stood nearly alone.

Here they continued their chattering, only in a lower and more
confidential tone; and they could be seen, not hopping, but climbing
about, sometimes with their backs and heads turned downward, and, in
short, clinging to the branches in every imaginable way. These birds
were all of one kind, each of them full eighteen inches in length, and
of a uniform colour over the body, which was a purple, or deep
indigo--their beaks only being white. In the sun their plumage glistened
with a metallic lustre. They were, in fact, a rare species,--the _ana_,
or _purple macaw_.

Without saying a word, Guapo seized his gravatána and arrows, and stole
off through the underwood towards the tree upon which the macaws had
perched. In a few minutes he stood under it, screened from the view of
the birds by the broad leaves of a plantain that happened to grow
beneath. This cover was necessary, else the macaws, which are shy birds,
might have uttered one of their wild, choral screams, and flown off.
They did not, however, and Guapo had a fair chance at them. All his
movements could be observed by the party at the house, as he was on that
side of the plantain.

He was seen to adjust an arrow into the tube, and then raise the
gravatána to his lips. Strange to say, he did not hold it as we do a
common gun,--that is, with the left hand advanced along the tube. On the
contrary, both hands were held nearly together, at the lower end, and
close to his mouth. Now, you will wonder how he could hold such a long
tube steady in this way. It is, indeed, a very difficult thing, and much
practice alone can accomplish it. As they watched him narrowly, his
chest was seen to expand, his cheeks rose with a strong "puff," and some
of them thought they could perceive the passage of the little arrow out
of the tube.

However this might be, they soon after saw something sticking in the
side of one of the macaws, and could see the bird pecking at it with its
great beak, and trying to pull it out. In this it appeared to have
succeeded after a short while, for something fell from the tree. It was
the shaft with its cotton "boss" that fell down. The point, broken off
where it had been notched, was still in the body of the bird, and was
infusing the deadly venom into its veins. In about two minutes' time the
wounded bird seemed to grow giddy, and began to stagger. It then fell
over, still clutching the branch with its strong, prehensile claws; but
after hanging a moment, these too relaxed, and the body fell heavily to
the ground. It was quite dead.

Long before it came down Guapo had pushed a fresh arrow into the tube,
and given a fresh puff through it, wounding a second of the macaws. Then
another arrow was chosen, and another victim, until several had been
shot, and the creatures upon the tree could be seen in all stages of
dying. Some, on receiving the wound, uttered a cry and flew off, but the
poison soon brought them down, and they invariably fell at no great
distance from the tree.

At length Guapo was seen to desist, and walk boldly out from his ambush.
To the surprise of all, the remaining macaws, of which there were still
six or seven upon the tree, showed no fear of him, nor did they attempt
to fly away! This was explained, however, by their subsequent conduct;
for in a few seconds more they were seen, one by one, falling to the
ground, until not a single bird was left upon the tree. All of them had
been killed by the arrows of the blow-gun!

Leon now ran out to assist Guapo in gathering his game. There were no
less than eight couple of them in all, and they were all quite
dead--some of them shot in the thigh, some in the neck or wing, and
others through the body. None of them had lived over two minutes after
receiving the wound. Such is the quickness with which the "curare" does
its work!

As a hunting instrument for most species of game the South American
Indian prefers the gravatána to any other; and with good reason. Had
Guapo been armed with a rifle or fowling-piece, he would have shot one
macaw, or perhaps a pair, and then the rest would have uttered a
tantalising scream, and winged their way out of his reach. He might have
missed the whole flock, too, for on a high tree, such as that on which
they had alit, it is no easy matter to kill a macaw with a shot-gun. Now
the gravatána throws its arrow to a height of from thirty to forty
yards, and the least touch is sufficient to do the business. Its
silence, moreover, enables the hunter to repeat the shot, until several
head of game reward his skill. The Indians use it with most effect in a
vertical or upward direction; and they are always surer to kill a bird
with it when perched on a high tree, than when seated on a low shrub or
on the ground.

As we have observed that the curare can be taken inwardly without any
danger, it will be evident to all that game killed by the poisoned
arrows may be eaten with safety. Indeed, there are many epicures in
South America who prefer it in this way; and when a chicken is wanted
for the table, these people require that it should be killed by an arrow
dipped in curare.



CHAPTER XX.

THE MILK-TREE.


Guapo kept his promise with the tapir, and on that very same day.
Shortly after the macaws had been brought in, little Leona, who had been
straying down by the water's edge, came running back to the house, and
in breathless haste cried out, "Mamma, mamma! what a big hog!"

"Where, my pet?" inquired her mother, with a degree of anxiety, for she
fancied that the child might have seen some fierce beast of prey instead
of a hog.

"In the water," replied Leona; "among the great lillies."

"It's the tapir," cried Leon. "Carrambo! it's our tapir!"

Guapo was busy plucking his macaws, but at the word tapir he sprang to
his feet, making the feathers fly in all directions.

"Where, señorita?" he asked, addressing little Leona.

"Down below," replied the child; "near the edge of the river."

Guapo seized his gravatána, and crouched down towards the bank, with
Leon at his heels. On nearing the water, he stopped; and, with his body
half-bent, looked down stream. There, sure enough, was the huge brown
beast standing with his body half out of the water, and pulling up the
roots of the flags with his great teeth and long moveable snout. It was
not likely he would return to his former den after the chase he had had;
and fancying, no doubt, that all the danger lay upon the opposite shore,
he had come to this side to browse awhile.

Guapo cautioned Leon to remain where he was, while he himself, almost
crawling upon his belly, proceeded along the bank. In a few minutes he
was out of sight, and Leon, seeing nothing more of him, kept his eyes
sharply fixed upon the tapir.

The latter remained quietly feeding for about ten minutes, when the boy
saw him give a little start. Perhaps, thought he, he has heard Guapo
among the weeds--for the tapir has good ears--and that was what caused
him to make the motion. The tapir stopped feeding for a moment, but then
recommenced, though evidently not with as much eagerness as before.
Presently he stopped a second time, and seemed undetermined as to
whether he should not turn and take to the clear water. In this way he
hesitated for several minutes; then, to the astonishment of Leon, his
body began to rock from side to side, and the next moment, with a
plunge, he fell heavily backward, making the waves undulate on all sides
of him. The arrow had done its work--he was dead!

A loud shout from Guapo echoed along the river, and the Indian was seen
plunging forward to the dead tapir, which the next moment he had seized
by the leg, and was dragging towards the bank. He was here met by the
whole party, all of whom were anxious to see this rare and singular
creature. Ropes were soon attached to the legs, and Guapo, assisted by
Don Pablo and Leon, drew the huge carcass out upon the shore; and
dragged it up to the house.

Guapo at once skinned it, carefully preserving the hide to make soles
for his sandals and other purposes; and that night all of them tried a
"tapir-steak" for supper. All, however, Guapo alone excepted, preferred
the flesh of the purple macaws, which, cooked as they were with onions
and red pepper, were excellent eating, particularly for Spanish-American
palates. Guapo had all the tapir to himself.

The bamboo palm-house was now quite finished, and several articles of
furniture too--for during the nights both Don Pablo and his trusty man
Guapo had worked at many things. You will, no doubt, be asking where
they procured lights,--will you not? I shall tell you. One of the
loftiest and most beautiful of the palm-trees--_the wax-palm_--grew in
these very parts, for the lower slopes of the Andes are its favourite
habitat. Out of its trunk exudes wax, which has only to be scraped off
and made into candles, that burn as well as those made of the wax of
bees. Indeed, the missionaries, in their various religious ceremonies,
have always made large use of these palm-candles.

Another "wax-palm," called "Carnáuba," is found in South America. In
this one, the wax--of a pure white colour, and without any admixture of
resin--collects upon the under-side of the leaves, and can be had in
large quantities by merely stripping it off. But even, had neither of
these palms been found, they needed not to have gone without lights, for
the fruits of the "patawa," already described, when submitted to
pressure, yield a pure liquid oil, without any disagreeable smell, and
most excellent for burning in lamps. So, you see, there was no lack of
light in the cheerful cottage.

But there were two things, you will say, still wanting--one of them a
necessary article, and the other almost so--and which could not possibly
be procured in such a place. These two things were _salt_ and _milk_.
Now there was neither a salt-mine, nor a lake, nor a drop of salt water,
nor yet either cow, goat, or ass, within scores of miles of the place,
and still they had both salt and milk!

The milk they procured from a tree which grew in the woods close by, and
a tree so singular and celebrated, that you have no doubt heard of it
before now. It was the _palo de vaca_, or "cow-tree," called sometimes
by an equally appropriate name _arbol del leche_, or "milk-tree." It is
one of the noblest trees of the forest, rising, with its tall straight
stem, to a great height, and adorned with large oblong pointed leaves,
some of which are nearly a foot in length. It carries fruit which is
eatable, about the size of a peach, and containing one or two stones;
and the wood itself is valuable, being hard, fine-grained, and durable.

But it is the sap which gives celebrity to the tree. This is neither
more nor less than milk of a thick creamy kind, and most agreeable in
flavour. Indeed, there are many persons who prefer it to the milk of
cows, and it has been proved to be equally nutritious, the people
fattening upon it in districts where it grows. It is collected, as the
sugar-water is from the maple, simply by making a notch or incision in
the bark, and placing a vessel underneath, into which the sap runs
abundantly. It runs most freely at the hour of sunrise; and this is also
true as regards the sap of the sugar-tree, and many other trees of that
kind.

Sometimes it is drunk pure as it flows from the tree; but there are some
people who, not relishing it in its thick gummy state, dilute it with
water, and strain it before using it. It is excellent for tea or coffee,
quite equal to the best cream, and of a richer colour. When left to
stand in an open vessel, a thick coagulum forms on the top, which the
natives term cheese, and which they eat in a similar manner, and with
equal relish. Another virtue of this extraordinary tree is that the
cream, without any preparation, makes a glue for all purposes as good as
that used by cabinet-makers, and, indeed, Don Pablo and Guapo had
already availed themselves of it in this way.

So much for the _palo de vaca_.

It still remains for me to tell you where the _salt_ came from; and
although the milk-tree was ever so welcome, yet the salt was a thing of
still greater necessity. Indeed, the latter might be looked upon as an
indispensable article in household economy. You, my young reader, know
not what it is to be without salt. With whole sacks of this beautiful
mineral within your reach, almost as cheap as sand, you cannot fancy the
longing--the absolute craving--for it, which they feel who are for a
period deprived of it.

Even the wild animals will make long journeys in search of those
salt-springs--or, as they are called, "licks"--which exist in many
places in the wilderness of America. For salt, Don Pablo and his
companions would have exchanged anything they had,--their sugar,
plantains, cocoa, coffee, or even the cassava, which was their bread.
They longed for salt, and knew not how they could get on without it. The
only substitute was the "aji," or capsicum, of which several species
grew around, and almost every dish they ate was strongly spiced with it.
But still this was not salt, and they were not contented with it.

It was now that they found a friend in Guapo. Guapo knew that among many
of the Indian tribes the fruit of a certain species of palm was
manufactured into salt; and he knew the palm, too, if he could only get
his eyes upon it. Seeing his master and the rest so troubled upon this
head, Guapo rose one morning early and stole off among the groves of
palm, on the other side of the river. There, in a marshy place, with its
roots even growing in the water, stood the very tree,--a small palm of
about four inches in diameter and twenty to thirty feet high. It was
thicker at the base than the top, and the top itself rose several feet
above the tuft of pinnate, feathery fronds, ending in a pointed spike.
It was the "jara" palm, of the genus _Leopoldinia_.

It was the fruits upon which Guapo bent his eyes with earnestness. Each
one was as large as a peach, of an oval shape, slightly flattened, and
of a yellowish green colour. They grew in large clusters among the bases
of the leaves; and Guapo was not long in ascending several trees--for
the jara is a smooth-skinned palm, and can be climbed--and breaking off
the spadices, and flinging them to the ground. He had soon collected a
bag-full, with which he hurried back to the house.

All wondered what Guapo meant to do with these fruits, for they tasted
them and found them very bitter. Guapo soon showed them his intention.
Having prepared a sort of furnace, he set the nuts on fire; and when
they were thoroughly reduced to ashes, to the great joy and astonishment
of all, these ashes, which were as white as flour, had the taste of
salt! It is true it was not equal to "Turk's Island," nor yet to "Bay"
salt, but it proved to be good enough for cooking purposes, and
satisfied the craving which all had felt for this indispensable article.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE CANNIBAL FISH AND THE GYMNOTUS.


About this time an incident occurred that was very near having a fatal
termination for one of the party--Leon. The day was a very hot one, and
as the cool water looked inviting, Leon could not resist the temptation
of taking a bath. Having undressed himself, he plunged into the river
nearly in front of where the house stood, and began splashing about
quite delighted. The rest were not heeding him, as each was engaged with
some occupation within the house.

Leon at first kept wading about in a place that was not beyond his
depth, but, by little and little, he took short swims, as he wished to
practise, and become a good swimmer like Guapo. His father had not only
given him permission, but had even advised him to do so. And it may be
here remarked that all parents would do well to take the same course
with their children and allow them to acquire this healthful and useful
art. No one can deny that thousands of lives are annually sacrificed,
because so few have taken the trouble to learn swimming.

Well; Leon was determined to be a swimmer, and at each attempt he made a
wider stretch into the deep water, swam around, and then back again to
the bank.

In one of these excursions, just as he had got farthest out, all at once
he felt a sharp pain as if from the bite of some animal, and then
another, and another, upon different parts of the body, as if several
sets of teeth were attacking him at once!

Leon screamed--who wouldn't have done so?--and his scream brought the
whole household to the edge of the water in less than a score of
seconds. All of them believed that he was either drowning or attacked by
a crocodile. On arriving at the bank, however, they saw that he was
still above water, and swimming boldly for the shore--no signs of a
crocodile were to be seen!

What was the matter?

Of course that question was asked of him by them all in a breath. His
reply was that "he could not tell--_something was biting him all
over_!"

The quick eye of the mother now caught sight of blood--around the
swimmer the water was tinged with it--her piercing shriek rent the air.

"O God! my child--my child! Save him--save him!"

Both Don Pablo and Guapo dashed into the water and plunged forward to
meet him. In the next moment he was raised in their arms, but the blood
streamed down his body and limbs, apparently from a dozen wounds. As
they lifted him out of the water they saw what had caused these wounds.
A shoal of small fish, with ashy-green backs and bright orange bellies
and fins, was seen below. With large open mouths they had followed their
victim to the very surface, and now that he was lifted out of their
reach, they shot forward and attacked the legs of his rescuers, causing
Don Pablo and Guapo to dance up in the water, and make with all haste
for the bank. As soon as they had reached it, they turned round and
looked into the water. There were these blood-thirsty pursuers that had
followed them up to the very bank, and now swam about darting from point
to point, and ready for a fresh attack on any one that might enter the
water!

"They are the 'cannibal fish!'" said Guapo, in an angry tone, as he
turned to attend to Leon. "I shall punish them yet for it. Trust me,
young master, you shall be revenged!"

Leon was now carried up to the house, and it was found that in all he
had received nearly a dozen wounds! Some of them were on the calves of
his legs, where the piece of flesh was actually taken out! Had he been
farther out in the river, when first attacked, he might never have
reached the shore alive, as the fierce creatures were gathering in far
greater numbers when he was rescued, and would most undoubtedly have
torn him to pieces and eaten him up!

Such has been the fate of many persons who have fallen among the
"cannibal fish" in the midst of wide rivers where they had no chance of
escape. These ferocious little "caribes," or "caribitos," as they are
called (for the word _carib_ signifies cannibal), lie at the bottom of
rivers, and are not easily seen; but the moment an attack is made by one
of them, and a drop of blood stains the water, the whole shoal rises to
the surface, and woe to the creature that is assailed by their sharp
triangular teeth!

Of course the wounds of Leon, although painful, were not dangerous, but
the chief danger lay in the loss of blood which was pouring from so many
veins. But Guapo found ready to his hand the best thing in the world for
stopping it. On some mimosa-trees, not far from the house, he had
already observed--indeed, so had all of them--a very singular species of
ants' nests of a yellowish brown colour. The ants themselves were of a
beautiful emerald green. They were the _Formica spinicollis_. These
nests were composed of a soft cotton-down, which the ants had collected
from a species of _Melastoma_, a handsome shrub found growing in these
regions; and this down Guapo knew to be the best for blood-stopping.

Even Don Pablo had heard of its being used by the Indians for this
purpose, and knew it by the name of "_yesca de hormigas_," or
"touch-wood of ants." He had heard, moreover, that it was far superior
even to the ants' nests of Cayenne, which form an article of commerce
and are highly prized in the hospitals of Europe. Guapo, therefore, ran
off and robbed the green ants of their nests, and speedily returned
with the full of his hands of the soft "yesca." This was applied to the
wounds, and in a few minutes the bleeding was effectually stopped, and
Leon, although still suffering pain, had now only to be patient and get
well.

Strange to say, another incident occurred that very evening, which
taught our party a further lesson of the danger of taking to the water
without knowing more of its inhabitants. Just as they had finished
supper, and were seated in front of their new house, the mule, that had
been let loose, stepped into the river to drink and cool its flanks. It
was standing in the water, which came up to its belly, and, having
finished its drink, was quietly gazing around it. All at once, it was
observed to give a violent plunge, and make with hot haste for the bank.
It snorted and looked terrified, while its red nostrils were wide open,
and its eyes appeared as if they would start from their sockets. At
length it reached the bank, and, staggering forward, rolled over in the
sand, as if it was going to die!

What could all this mean? Had it, too, been attacked by the "caribes?"
No; that was not likely, as the bite of these creatures upon the hard
shanks of the mule could not have produced such an effect. They might
have frightened it, but they could not have thrown it into "fits"--for
it was evidently in some sort of a fit at that moment.

It might have been a puzzle to our party not easily solved, had Guapo
not been upon the spot. But Guapo had witnessed such an incident before.
Just before the mule gave the first plunge Guapo's eyes had been
wandering in that direction. He had noticed an odd-looking form glide
near the mule and pass under the animal's belly. This creature was of a
greenish-yellow colour, about five feet in length, and four or five
inches thick. It resembled some kind of water-snake more than a fish,
but Guapo knew it was not a snake, but an eel. It was the great
_electric eel_--the "temblador," or "gymnotus."

This explained the mystery. The gymnotus, having placed itself under the
belly of the unsuspecting mule, was able to bring its body in contact at
all points, and hence the powerful shock that had created such an
effect.

The mule, however, soon recovered, but from that time forward, no
coaxing, nor leading, nor driving, nor whipping, nor pushing, would
induce that same mule to go within twenty feet of the bank of that same
piece of water.

Guapo now bethought himself of the narrow escape he himself had had
while swimming across to the palm-woods; and the appearance of the
gymnotus only rendered him more determined to keep the promise he had
made to Leon,--that is, that he would revenge him of the caribes.

None of them could understand how Guapo was to get his revenge without
catching the fish, and that would be difficult to do. Guapo, however,
showed them how on the very next day.

During that evening he had made an excursion into the wood, and returned
home carrying with him a large bundle of roots.

They were the roots of two species of plants--one of the genus
_Piscidea_, the other a _Jacquinia_. Out of these, when properly pounded
together, Guapo intended to make the celebrated "barbasco," or
fish-poison, which is used by all the Indians of South America in
capturing fish. Guapo knew that a sufficient quantity of the barbasco
thrown into the water would kill either "temblador," caribe, or any fish
that ever swam with fins.

And so it proved. In the morning Guapo having prepared his barbasco,
proceeded to the upper end of the lake-like opening of the river, and
there flung his poison into the stream. The slow current through the
valley greatly favoured him, and from the large quantity of roots he had
used, the whole pool was soon infected with it. This was seen from the
whitish tinge which the water assumed. The barbasco had scarcely time to
sink to the bottom when small fish were seen coming to the surface, and
turning "wrong side uppermost." Then larger ones appeared, and in a few
minutes all the fish in that particular stretch of water, with several
gymnoti, were seen floating on the surface quite dead. To the great joy
of Guapo and Leon, who sat by the bank watching, hundreds of the little
caribes, with their bronze gills quite open, and their yellow bellies
turned up, were seen among the rest.

But Guapo had not made this great slaughter purely out of revenge. He
had another object. They were not too well off for meat, and a dish of
fish would be welcome. Guapo and Don Pablo had already provided
themselves with long-handled nets, and they soon scooped out several
basketfuls of fish. Among others they netted numerous "caribes," for
these little monsters, fierce as they are, are not surpassed for
delicacy of flavour by any fish in the South American rivers. The
gymnoti approached the bank, where Guapo fished them out, not to
eat--although they are often eaten. There was not a spark of electricity
in them now. The barbasco had cured them of that; any one might have
handled them with safety, as there was not a charge left in their whole
battery.

The lake was quite cleared of all its dangerous denizens, and Leon might
bathe with safety, as soon as he got well; and over the fish-dinner they
could now laugh at the adventures both of Leon and the electrified mule.



CHAPTER XXII.

THE CINCHONA-TREES.


In about two weeks from their arrival in the valley, the house, with a
stable for the horse and mule, was completed, and all the necessary
furniture as well. Had you entered the establishment about this time,
you would have observed many odd articles and implements, most of them
quite new. You would have seen boxes woven out of palm leaves, and bags
made of the fibrous, cloth-like spathe of the "bussu," filled with the
soft, silky cotton of the bombax, to be afterwards spun and woven for
shirts and dresses.

You would have seen baskets of various shapes and sizes woven out of the
rind of the leaf-stalks of a singular palm called "Iú," which has no
stem, but only leaves of ten feet long, growing directly out of the
ground. You would have seen chairs made of split palms and bamboo, and a
good-sized table, upon which, at meal-time, might be noticed a
table-cloth, not of diaper, but, what served equally well, the broad
smooth silken leaves of the plantain. There were cups, too, and plates,
and bowls, and dishes, and bottles, of the light gourd-shell
(_Crescentia cujete_), some of the bottles holding useful liquids, and
corked with the elastic pith of a palm. Other vessels of a boat-shape
might be noticed.

There were large wooden vessels pointed at the ends like little canoes.
They were nothing more than the spathes or flower-sheaths of one of the
largest of palms, the "_Inaga_." This noble tree rises to the height of
one hundred feet, and carries feathery fronds of more than fifty feet in
length. The spathes are so large that they are used by the Indian women
for cradles and baskets; and their wood is so hard, that hunters often
cook meat in them, hanging them over the fire when filled with water!

Many other singular implements might have been noticed in the new home.
One, a cylinder of what appeared to be wood, covered thickly with
spinous points, hung against the wall. That was a grater, used for the
manioc, or yucca roots; and it was a grater of nature's own making, for
it was nothing more than a piece of one of the air roots of the
"pashiuba" palm, already described. Another curious object hung near
this last. It was a sort of conical bag, woven out of palm-fibre, with a
loop at the bottom, through which loop a strong pole was passed, that
acted as a lever when the article was in use. This wicker-work bag was
the "tipiti." Its use was to compress the grated pulp of the manioc
roots, so as to separate the juice from it, and thus make "cassava." The
roots of the yucca, or manioc plant, grow in bunches like potatoes.

Some of them are oblong--the length of a man's arm--and more than twenty
pounds in weight. When required for use, the bark is scraped off, and
they are grated down. They are then put into the tipiti, already
mentioned; and the bag is hung up to a strong pin, while the lever is
passed through the loop at the bottom. Its short end goes under a firm
notch, and then some one usually sits upon the long end until the pulp
is squeezed sufficiently dry. The bag is so formed that its extension,
by the force of the lever, causes its sides to close upon the pulp, and
thus press out the juice. The pulp is next dried in an oven, and becomes
the famous "cassava" or "farinha," which, throughout the greater part of
South America, is the only bread that is used. The juice, of course,
runs through the wicker-work of the _tipiti_ into a vessel below, and
there produces a sediment, which is the well-known "tapioca."

There are two kinds of the yucca or manioc-root,--the _yucca dulce_, and
_yucca amarga_--the sweet and bitter. One may be eaten raw without
danger. The other, which very closely resembles it, if eaten raw, would
produce almost instant death, as its juice is one of the deadliest of
vegetable poisons. Even while it is dripping from the tipiti into the
vessel placed below, great care is always taken lest children or other
animals should drink of it.

There were no beds--such things are hardly to be found in any part of
tropical America--at least not in the low hot countries. To sleep in a
bed in these climates is far from being pleasant. The sleeper would be
at the mercy of a thousand crawling things,--insects and reptiles.
Hammocks, or "redes," as they are called, take the place of bedsteads;
and five hammocks, of different dimensions, could be seen about the new
house. Some were strung up within, others in the porch in front, for, in
building his house, Don Pablo had fashioned it so that the roof
protruded in front, and formed a shaded verandah--a pleasant place in
which to enjoy the evenings. Guapo had made the hammocks, having woven
the cords out of the epidermis of the leaf of a noble palm, called
"tucum."

Their home being now sufficiently comfortable, Don Pablo began to turn
his attention to the object for which he had settled on that spot. He
had already examined the cinchona-trees, and saw that they were of the
finest species. They were, in fact, the same which have since become
celebrated as producing the "Cuzconin," and known as _Cascarilla de
Cuzco_ (Cuzco bark).

Of the Peruvian-bark trees there are many species,--between twenty and
thirty. Most of these are true cinchona-trees, but there are also many
kinds of the genus _Exostemma_, whose bark is collected as a febrifuge,
and passes in commerce under the name of _Peruvian bark_. All these are
of different qualities and value. Some are utterly worthless, and, like
many other kinds of "goods," form a sad commentary on the honesty of
commerce.

The species, which grew on the sides of the adjacent hills, Don Pablo
recognised as one of the most valuable. It was a nearly-allied species
to the tree of Loxa, which produces the best bark. It was a tall slender
tree--when full grown, rising to the height of eighty feet; but there
were some of every age and size. Its leaves were five inches long and
about half that breadth, of a reddish colour, and with a glistening
surface, which rendered them easily distinguished from the foliage of
the other trees. Now it is a fortunate circumstance that the
Peruvian-bark trees differ from all others in the colour of their
leaves.

Were this not the case, "bark-hunting" would be a very troublesome
operation. The labour of finding the trees would not be repaid with
double the price obtained for the bark. You may be thinking, my young
friend, that a "cascarillero," or bark-hunter, has nothing to do but
find a wood of these trees; and then the trouble of searching is over,
and nothing remains but to go to work and fell them. So it would be, did
the cinchona-trees grow together in large numbers, but they do not. Only
a few--sometimes only a single tree--will be found in one place; and I
may here remark that the same is true of most of the trees of the Great
Montaña of South America. This is a curious fact, because it is a
different arrangement from that made by nature in the forests of North
America.

There a whole country will be covered with timber of a single, or at
most two or three species; whereas, in South America, the forests are
composed of an endless variety. Hence it has been found difficult to
establish saw-mills in these forests, as no one timber can be
conveniently furnished in sufficient quantity to make it worth while.
Some of the palms, as the great _morichi_, form an exception to this
rule. These are found in vast _palmares_, or palm-woods, extending over
large tracts of country, and monopolising the soil to themselves.

Don Pablo, having spent the whole of a day in examining the cinchonas,
returned home quite satisfied with them, both as regarded their quantity
and value. He saw, from a high tree which he had climbed, "_manchas_,"
or spots of the glistening reddish leaves, nearly an acre in breadth.
This was a fortune in itself. Could he only collect 100,000 lbs. of this
bark, and convey it down stream to the mouth of the Amazon, it would
there yield him the handsome sum of 40,000 or 50,000 dollars! How long
before he could accomplish this task he had not yet calculated; but he
resolved to set about it at once.

[Illustration: GUAPO AND THE 'NIMBLE PETERS.']

A large house had been already constructed for storing the bark, and in
the dry hot climate of the high Montaña, where they now were, Don Pablo
knew it could be dried in the woods, where it was stripped from the
trees.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A PAIR OF SLOW GOERS.


At length, all things being ready, Don Pablo and party set out for a
day's work among the cinchonas. As it was the first day of
bark-gathering all went along to enjoy the novelty of the thing. A
"mancha" of the cinchona trees was not far off, so their journey would
be a short one. For this reason, the horse and mule remained in the
stable eating the fruits of the "murumuru" palm, of which all cattle are
exceedingly fond. Even the hard undigested stones or nuts, after passing
through the bodies of horses and cattle, are eagerly devoured by wild or
tame hogs, and the zamuros, or black vultures, when hungered, take to
the pulpy fruit of this thorny palm-tree.

It was a very early hour when they set out, for Don Pablo and his people
were no sluggards. Indeed, in that climate, the early morning hours are
the pleasantest, and they had made it a rule to be always up at
daybreak. They could thus afford to take a _siesta_ in their hammocks
during the hot noontide,--a custom very common, and almost necessary, in
tropical countries. Their road to the cinchonas led up the stream, on
the same side with the house. After going a few hundred yards, they
entered a grove of trees that had white trunks and leaves of a light
silvery colour. The straight, slender stems of these trees, and the
disposition of their branches,--leaning over at the tops,--gave them
somewhat the appearance of palms. They were not palms, however, but
"ambaïba" trees. So said Don Pablo, as they passed under their shade.

"I shouldn't wonder," added he, "if we should see that strange animal
the aï. The leaves of these trees are its favourite food, and it lives
altogether among their branches."

"You mean the 'nimble Peter,' do you not, papa?"

This inquiry was put by Leon, who had read about the animal under this
name, and had read many false stories of it, even in the works of the
great Buffon.

"Yes," replied Don Pablo; "it goes by that name sometimes, on account of
its sluggish habits and slow motions. For the same reason the English
call it 'sloth,' and it is known among naturalists as _bradypus_. There
are two or three species, but all with very similar habits, though, as
usual, the French classifiers have separated them into distinct genera."

"Why, Buffon says," rejoined Leon, "that it is the most miserable
creature in the world; that it can scarcely get from tree to tree; that
some remain in the same tree all their lives, or, that when one has
eaten all the leaves off a tree, it drops to the ground, to save itself
the trouble of getting down by the trunk, and, that when on the ground
it cannot move a yard in an hour. Is all this true?"

"Totally untrue. It is true the aï does not move rapidly over the
ground, but the ground is not its proper place no more than it is that
of the orang-otang, or other tree-monkeys. Its conformation shows that
nature intended it for an inhabitant of the trees, where it can move
about with sufficient ease to procure its food. On the branches it is
quite at home, or, rather, I should say, _under_ the branches, for,
unlike the squirrels and monkeys, it travels along the under sides of
the horizontal limbs, with its back downward. This it can do with ease,
by means of its great curving claws, which are large enough to span the
thickest boughs. In this position, with a long neck of _nine
vertebræ_,--the only animal which has that number,--it can reach the
leaves on all sides of it; and, when not feeding, this is its natural
position of repose.

"Its remaining during its whole life in one tree, or suffering itself to
fall from the branches, are romances of the early Spanish voyagers, to
which M. Buffon gave too much credit. The aï does not descend to the
ground at all when it can help it, but passes from one tree to another
by means of the outspreading branches. Sometimes, when these do not
meet, it has cunning enough to wait for a windy day, and then, taking
advantage of some branch blown nearer by the wind, it grasps it and
passes to the next tree. As it requires no drink, and can live without
any other food than the leaves of the _cecropia_, of course it remains
on a single tree so long as it has plenty of leaves. See!" exclaimed Don
Pablo, pointing up; "here are several trees stripped of their leaves!
I'll warrant that was done by the aï."

"_A-ee_!" echoed a voice in the most lugubrious tones.

"I thought so," cried Don Pablo, laughing at the surprise which the
voice had created among the rest of the party. "That's the very fellow
himself,--this way,--here he is!"

All of them ran under the tree to which Don Pablo pointed, and looked
up. There, sure enough, was an animal about the size of a cat, of a dark
hay colour, with a patch of dirty orange and black upon the back. This
could be easily seen, for the creature was hanging along a horizontal
branch with its back downward, and its huge curving claws, all in a
bunch, were hooked over the branch. Its hair was thick and rough, and no
tail was visible, but its small round head and flat face was almost as
like the human face as is that of any monkey. Indeed, the others would
have taken it for a monkey,--Guapo excepted,--had they not been already
talking about it.

"Oh, yonder's another!" cried Leon, pointing higher up in the tree; and,
sure enough, there was, for the aï is usually found in company with its
mate. The other was a copy of the one already observed, with some slight
difference in size--no doubt it was the female one. Both had observed
the approach of the party, and now uttered their melancholy
"Ayee--a-ee!" that sounded anything but agreeable. In fact, so very
disagreeable is the voice of this creature, that it has been considered
its best weapon of defence. Beside the utterance of their cry, neither
of them made any effort to escape or defend themselves.

Don Pablo and the rest were about to pass on and leave the aïs to their
leaf diet, but Guapo had other notions on that subject. Ugly as these
creatures were, Guapo intended to have one of them for his dinner. He,
therefore, begged Don Pablo to stop a moment until he should get them
down. How was this to be done? Would he climb up and drag them from the
tree? That is not so easily accomplished, for the aïs, with their
crescent claws, can hold on with terrible force. Besides, they were out
upon the slender branches, where it would have been difficult to get at
them.

But Guapo did not intend to climb. The tree was a slender one--he had
his axe with him--and the next moment its keen blade was crashing
through the bark of the ambaïba wood. A few minutes served to bring the
tree down, and down it came, the aïs screaming as it fell. Guapo now
approached to seize them, but about this he used some caution. Both
finding themselves without hope of escape, prepared for defence. Buffon
asserts that they make none. That is not true, as was seen by all the
party.

Throwing themselves on their backs, they struck out with their fore-arms
in a sort of mechanical manner. These with the long horny claws they
kept playing in front of their bodies, striking alternately with them,
and rapidly, as a dog will do when suddenly plunged into water. Guapo
did not put his hands near them. He knew they would not bite, but he
also knew that he might get a scratch with the sharp claws, and that he
did not wish for. But Guapo had a way to take them, and that he now put
in practice. Lopping a couple of branches from the tree, he held one out
to each of the aïs, and touched them with it on the breast.

Each, as soon as it felt the branch, clutched it tightly between its
powerful fore-arms and held on as if for life and death. It would have
taken a stronger man than Guapo to have pulled either of the branches
away again. The thing was now done. Giving his axe to Leon to carry for
him, Guapo lifted an aï, still clinging to the branch, in each hand, and
carried them off as if they had been a pair of water-pots. He did not
wish to kill them until he got them home, alleging that they were better
for eating when freshly butchered.

The bark-hunters now continued their route, and shortly after entered a
little glade or opening in the forest, about an acre in size. When they
had reached the middle of this, Guapo threw his aïs upon the ground and
marched on.

"Why do you leave them?" inquired the others.

"No fear for them," replied Guapo; "they'll be there when we come back.
If I carried them into the woods, they might steal off while we were at
work, but it would take them six hours to get to the nearest tree." All
laughed at this, and went on, leaving the aïs to themselves. Before
passing out from the glade, they stopped a moment to look at the great,
conical nests of the termites, or white ants, several of which, like
soldiers' tents, stood near the edge of the glade. It was yet early, the
air was chilly, and the ants were not abroad; so that, after gazing for
a while on these singular habitations, the bark-gatherers pursued their
way, and were soon under the shadow of the cinchona trees.



CHAPTER XXIV.

THE BARK-HUNTERS.


In a few minutes the work began--that work which was to occupy them,
perhaps, for several years. The first blow of Guapo's axe was the signal
to begin the making of a fortune. It was followed by many others, until
one of the cinchonas lay along the sward. Then Guapo attacked another,
as near the root as was convenient for chopping.

Don Pablo's part of the work now began. Armed with a sharp knife, he
made circular incisions round the trunk, at the distance of several
feet from each other, and a single longitudinal one intersecting all the
others. The branches were also served in a similar way, and then the
tree was left as it lay. In three or four days they would return to
strip off the bark both from trunk and branches, and this would be
spread out under the sun to dry. When light and dry it would be carried
to the storehouse. So the work went merrily on. The trees were taken as
they stood--the very young ones alone being left, as the bark of these
is useless for commerce.

The Doña Isidora sat upon a fallen trunk, and, conversing with her
husband, watched the proceedings with interest. A new and happy future
seemed at no great distance off. Little Leona stood beside Guapo,
watching the yellow chips as they flew, and listening to some very fine
stories with which Guapo was regaling her. Guapo loved little Leona. He
would have risked his life for her, would Guapo, and Leona knew it.

Leon was not particularly engaged on that day. When the bark was ready
for peeling he intended to take a hand with the rest. He could then
employ himself in spreading it, or could lead the mule in carrying it to
the storehouse. Leon did not intend to be idle, but there happened to be
no work for him just then; and after watching the bark-cutters for
awhile, he sauntered back along the path, in order to have a little fun
with the aïs. Leon had no very great confidence that he would find them
in the place where they had been left, and yet he believed in Guapo. But
it was hard to understand that two animals, each endowed with a full set
of legs and feet, should not be able to make their way for a distance of
twenty paces, and escape! After the rough handling they had had, too! He
would have a peep at them, anyhow, to see how they were coming on. So
back he went.

On getting near the glade their voices reached him. They were there,
after all! He could hear them utter their pitiful "ay-ee--ay-ee!" and,
as he thought, in a louder and more distressing tone than ever. What
could be the matter? They had been silent for some time, he was sure,
for such cries as they now uttered could have been heard easily where
the rest were. What could be the meaning of this fresh outburst? Had
some new enemy attacked them? It seemed like enough.

Leon stole forward, and peeped into the glade. No--there was nothing
near them! But what was the matter with the creatures? Instead of lying
quietly, as they had done when left behind, they were now rolling and
tumbling backward and forward, and pitching about, and dancing first on
their feet and then on their heads, and cutting all sorts of strange
capers! Could it be for their own amusement? No; their lamentable cries
precluded that supposition; besides, their odd attitudes and contortions
bespoke terror and pain!

"Carrambo!" muttered Leon. "What's the matter with them?"

They seemed inclined to escape towards the trees; but, after making a
few lengths, they would fall to the ground, tumble about, and then,
getting up again, head in the opposite direction!

Leon was puzzled,--no wonder. He looked around for a solution of this
queer conduct on the part of the aïs. No explanation appeared. At length
he bethought himself of going up to them. Perhaps, when nearer, he might
learn what set them a-dancing.

"Ha!" he ejaculated, struck with some sudden thought. "I know now;
there's a snake at them."

This conjecture--for it was only a conjecture--caused him to stop short.
It might be some venomous snake, thought he. The grass was not long, and
he could have seen a very large snake; but still a small coral snake, or
the little poisonous viper, might have been there. He fancied he saw
something moving; but to get a better view he passed slowly around the
edge of the glade, until he was nearly on the opposite side to that
where he had entered. He still kept at a good distance from the aïs, but
as yet discovered no snake.

To his great surprise, the aïs now lay stretched along the grass, their
struggles appeared each moment to grow less violent, and their
melancholy cries became weaker and weaker. Their contortions at length
came to an end. A feeble effort to raise themselves alone could be
perceived,--then a spasmodic motion of their long crooked limbs,--their
cries became indistinct; and, after a while, both lay motionless and
silent! Were they dead? Surely so, thought Leon.

He stood gazing at them for some minutes. Not a motion of their bodies
could be perceived. Surely they had no longer lived! But, then, what
could have killed them? There was no snake to be seen; no animal of any
kind except themselves! Had they been taken with some sudden
disease,--some kind of convulsions that had ended fatally? This seemed
the most probable thing, judging from the odd manner in which they had
acted. Maybe they had eaten some sort of plant that had poisoned them!

These conjectures passed rapidly through the mind of Leon. Of course, he
resolved to satisfy himself as to the cause of their death, if dead they
actually were. He began to draw nearer, making his advances with stealth
and caution--as he was still apprehensive about the snake.

After he had made a few paces in a forward direction, he began to
perceive something moving around the bodies of the animals. Snakes? No.
What then? A few paces nearer. See! the whole ground is in motion. The
bodies of the aïs, though dead, are covered with living, moving objects!
Ha! _it is a "chacu" of the white ants_.

Leon now comprehended the whole affair. The ground was literally alive
with the terrible _termites_. They had made their foray, or "chacu," as
it is called, from the neighbouring cones; they had attacked the
helpless aïs, and put them to death, with their poisonous stings!
Already they were tearing them to pieces, and bearing them off to their
dark caves! So thick were they on the bodies of the animals, that the
latter had suddenly changed their colour, and now appeared to be nothing
more than living heaps of crawling insects!

It was a hideous sight to behold, and Leon felt his flesh creep as he
looked upon it. Still he felt a curiosity to witness the result, and he
stood watching the busy crowd that had gathered about the aïs. He had
heard strange accounts of these white ants; how that, in a few minutes,
they will tear the carcasses of large animals to pieces, and carry them
away to their dens; and he was determined to prove the truth of this by
observation. He did not go any nearer, for he was not without some dread
of these ugly creatures; but, happening to find himself beside a small
tree, with low horizontal branches, he climbed up, and sat down upon one
of the branches, resting his feet upon another. He was inclined to take
the thing as easily as possible.

His perch commanded a full view of the operations of the termites, and
for a long time he sat watching them with interest. He could see that it
was not the same set that were always on the carcasses of the aïs. On
the contrary, one host were always leaving the spot, while another took
their places, and from the great conical houses fresh bands appeared to
issue. In fact, two great parallel belts of them, like army columns,
stretched from the "hills" to the aïs, going in opposite directions.

Those which travelled towards the cells presented a very different
appearance to the others. These were loaded with pieces of torn flesh,
or skin with tufts of hair adhering to it; and each ant carried a piece
by far larger than its own body. Their bodies, in fact, were quite
hidden under their disproportionate burdens. The others--those which
were coming from the conical hills--were empty-handed, and presented the
appearance of a whittish stream flowing along the surface of the ground!

It was a most singular sight; and Leon sat watching the creatures until
his head was giddy, and he felt as though the ground itself was in
motion.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE PUMA AND THE GREAT ANT-BEAR.


All at once the attention of the boy was called away from the crawling
millions. A rustling among some dead leaves was heard. It appeared to
proceed from the edge of the glade, not far from the ant-hills. The
branches of the underwood were seen to move, and the next moment a
slender cylindrical object, about a foot and a half in length, was
protruded out from the leaves. Had there not been a pair of small eyes
and ears near the farther end of this cylindrical object, no one would
have taken it for the head and snout of an animal. But Leon saw the
little sparkling black eyes, and he therefore conjectured that it was
some such creature.

The next moment the body came into view, and a singular creature it was.
It was about the size of a very large Newfoundland dog, though of a
different shape. It was covered all over with long brownish hair, part
of which looked so coarse as to resemble dry grass or bristles. On each
shoulder was a wide strip of black, bordered with whitish bands; and the
tail, which was full three feet long, was clothed with a thick growth of
coarse hair, several inches in length, that looked like strips of
whalebone. This was carried aloft, and curving over the back. But the
most curious feature of the animal was its snout.

Talk of the nose of a grey hound. It would be a "pug" in comparison!
That of this animal was full twice as long, and not half so thick, with
a little mouth not over an inch in size, and without a single tooth! It
was certainly the oddest snout Leon had ever seen. The legs, too, were
remarkable. They were stout and thick, the hinder ones appearing much
shorter than the fore-legs; but this was because the creature in its
hind-feet was _plantigrade_, that is, it walked with the whole of its
soles touching the surface, which only bears and a few other sorts of
quadrupeds do.

Its fore-feet, too, were oddly placed upon the ground. They had four
long claws upon each, but these claws, instead of being spread out, as
in the dog or cat, were all folded backward along the sole, and the
creature, to avoid treading on them, actually walked on the sides of its
feet! The claws were only used for scraping up the ground, and then it
could bring them forward in a perpendicular position, like the blade of
a hoe, or the teeth of a garden-rake. Of course, with feet furnished in
such an out-of-the-way fashion, the animal moved but slowly over the
ground. In fact it went very slowly, and with a stealthy pace.

Although Leon had never seen the creature before, he had read about it,
and had also seen pictures of it. He knew it, therefore, at a glance.
That proboscis-looking snout was not to be mistaken. It could belong to
no other creature than the _tamanoir_, or _great ant-eater_, by the
people of South America called the _ant-bear_. It was, in fact, that
very thing; but to Leon's astonishment, as soon as it got fairly out of
the bushes, he noticed a singular-looking hunch upon its back, just over
the shoulder. At first he could not make out what this was, as he had
never heard of such a protuberance, besides, the tail half hid it from
his view. All of a sudden the animal turned its head backwards, touched
the hunch with its snout, gave itself a shake, and then the odd
excrescence fell to the ground, and proved to be a young ant-eater, with
bushy tail and long snout, the "very image of its mother." The large one
was thus seen to be a female that had been carrying her infant upon her
shoulders.

It was close to one of the ant-hills where the old tamanoir placed her
young upon the ground, and turning away from it, she approached the
great cone. Erecting herself upon her hind-feet, she stood with the fore
ones resting against the hill, apparently examining it, and considering
in what part of it the shell or roof was thinnest and weakest. These
cones, composed of agglutinated sand and earth, are frequently so
stoutly put together that it requires a pick-axe or crowbar to break
them open.

But the ant-eater knew well that her fore-feet were armed with an
implement equal to either pick or crow, and she would certainly have
made a hole there and then, had she not noticed, on looking around to
the other side, that the inhabitants of the hill were all abroad upon
one of their forays. This seemed to bring about a sudden change in her
determination, and, dropping her fore-feet to the ground, she once more
threw up her great tail, and returned to where she had left her young
one. Partly pushing it before her with her snout, and partly lifting it
between her strong fore-arms, she succeeded in bringing the latter to
the border of the path along which travelled the ants.

Here she squatted down, and placed herself so that the point of her nose
just touched the selvedge of the swarming hosts, having caused the
youngster by her side to do the same. Then throwing out a long worm-like
tongue, which glittered with a viscous coating, she drew it back again
covered with ants. These passed into her mouth, and thence, of course,
into her capacious stomach. The tongue, which was more than a foot in
length, and nearly as thick as a quill, was again thrown out, and again
drawn back, and this operation she continued, the tongue making about
two "hauls" to every second of time! Now and then she stopped eating, in
order to give some instructions to the little one that was seen closely
imitating her, and with its more slender tongue dealing death among the
_termites_.

So very comic was the sight that Leon could not help laughing at it, as
he sat upon his perch.

An end, however, was put to his merriment, by the sudden appearance of
another animal--one of a different character. It was a large cat-like
creature, of a reddish-yellow, or tawny colour, long body and tail,
round head, with whiskers, and bright gleaming eyes. Leon had seen that
sort of animal before. He had seen it led in strings by Indians through
the streets of Cuzco, and he at once recognised it. It was the
_Puma_--the maneless lion of America.

The specimens which Leon had seen with the Indians had been rendered
tame and harmless. He knew that, but he had also been told that the
animal in its wild state is a savage and dangerous beast. This is true
of the puma in some districts, while in others the creature is cowardly,
and will flee at the sight of man. In all cases, however, when the puma
is brought to bay, it makes a desperate fight, and both dogs and men
have been killed in the attack.

Leon had not been frightened at the tamanoir. Even had it been a savage
creature, he knew it could not climb a tree--though there are two
smaller species of ant-bears in South America that can--and he therefore
knew he was quite safe on his perch. But his feelings were very
different when the red body of the puma came in sight. It could run up
the smoothest trunk in the forest with as much ease and agility as a
cat, and there would be no chance of escaping from it if it felt
disposed to attack him. Of this the boy was fully conscious, and no
wonder he was alarmed.

His first thought was to leap down, and make for the cinchona-trees,
where the others were; but the puma had entered the glade from that
side, and it was therefore directly in his way: he would have run right
in its teeth by going toward the cinchona-trees. He next thought of
slipping quietly down, and getting into the woods behind him.
Unfortunately, the tree on which he was stood out in the glade quite
apart from any others, the puma would see him go off, and, of course,
could overtake him in a dozen leaps. These thoughts passed through the
boy's mind in a few seconds of time; and in a few seconds of time he was
convinced that his best course would be to remain where he was, and keep
quiet. Perhaps the puma would not notice him--as yet he had not.

No doubt he would have done so, had there been nothing else on the spot
to take off his attention; but just as he came into the open ground, his
eyes fell upon the ant-eaters, where they lay squatted and licking up
the termites. He had entered the glade in a sort of skulking trot, but
the moment he saw the tamanoirs he halted, drew his body into a
crouching attitude, and remained thus for some moments, while his long
tail oscillated from side to side, as that of a cat when about to spring
upon a mouse or a sparrow.

Just at this moment the tamanoir, having turned round to address some
conversation to her young companion, espied him, and sprang to her feet.
She recognised in the puma--as in others of his race--a deadly enemy.
With one sweep of her fore-arm she flung the young one behind her, until
it rested against the wall of the ant-hill, and then, following in all
haste, threw herself into an erect attitude in front of her young,
covering it with her body.

She was now standing firm upon her hind-feet--her back resting against
the mud wall--but her long snout had entirely disappeared! That was held
close along her breast, and entirely concealed by the shaggy tail, which
for this purpose had been brought up in front. Her defence rested in her
strong fore-arms, which, with the great claws standing at right angles,
were now held out in a threatening manner. The young one, no doubt aware
of some danger, had drawn itself into its smallest bulk, and was clewed
up behind her.

The puma dashed forward, open-mouthed, and began the attack. He looked
as though he would carry everything by the first assault; but a sharp
tear from the tamanoir's claws drew the blood from his cheek, and
although it rendered him more furious, it seemed to increase his
caution. In the two or three successive attempts he kept prudently out
of reach of these terrible weapons. His adversary held her fore-legs
wide open, as though she was desirous of getting the other to rush
between them, that she might clutch him, after the manner of the bears.
This was exactly what she wanted, and in this consists the chief mode of
defence adopted by these animals. The puma, however, seemed to be up to
her trick.

This thrust-and-parry game continued for some minutes, and might have
lasted longer, had it not been for the young tamanoir. This foolish
little creature, who up to that moment was not very sure what the fuss
was all about, had the imprudent curiosity to thrust out its slender
snout. The puma espied it, and making a dart forward, seized the snout
in his great teeth, and jerked the animal from under. It uttered a low
squall, but the next moment its head was "crunched" between the muscular
jaws of the puma.

The old one now appeared to lose all fear and caution. Her tail fell
down. Her long snout was unsheathed from under its protection, and she
seemed undecided what to do. But she was not allowed much time to
reflect. The puma, seeing the snout, the most vulnerable part,
uncovered, launched himself forward like an arrow, and caught hold of it
in his bristling fangs. Then having dragged his victim forward, he flung
her upon her breast, and mounting rapidly on her back, proceeded to
worry her at his pleasure.

Although Leon pitied the poor tamanoir, yet he dared not interfere, and
would have permitted the puma to finish his work, but at that moment a
sharp pain, which he suddenly felt in his ankle, caused him to start
upon his seat, and utter an involuntary scream.



CHAPTER XXVI.

ATTACK OF THE WHITE ANTS.


Leon looked down to ascertain what had caused him such a sudden pain.
The sight that met his eyes made his blood run cold. The ground below
was alive and moving. A white stratum of ants covered it on all sides to
the distance of several yards. _They were ascending the tree!_ Nay,
more; a string of them had already crawled up; the trunk was crowded by
others coming after; and several were upon his feet, and legs, and
thighs! It was one of these that had stung him!

The fate of the aïs--which he had just witnessed--and the sight of the
hideous host, caused him again to scream out. At the same time he had
risen to his feet, and was pulling himself up among the upper branches.
He soon reached the highest; but he had not been a moment there, when he
reflected that it would be no security. The creatures were crawling
upwards as fast as they could come.

His next thought was to descend again, leap from the tree, and crushing
the vermin under his feet, make for the bark-cutters. He had made up his
mind to this course, and was already half-down, when _he remembered the
puma_! In his alarm at the approach of the ants he had quite forgotten
this enemy, and he now remembered that it was directly in the way of his
intended escape. He turned his eyes in that direction. It was not there!
The ant-bears were still upon the ground--the young one dead, and the
mother struggling in her last agonies; but no puma!

The boy began to hope that his cries had frightened him off. His hope
was short-lived; for on glancing around the glade, he now beheld the
fierce brute crouching among the grass, and evidently coming towards
him! What was to be done? Would the puma attack him in the tree? Surely
he would; but what better would he be on the ground? No better, but
worse. At all events he had not time for much reflection, for before two
seconds the fierce puma was close to the tree. Leon was helpless--he
gave himself up for lost. He could only cry for help, and he raised his
voice to its highest pitch.

The puma did not spring up the tree at once, as Leon had expected. On
the contrary, it crouched round and round with glaring eyes and wagging
tail, as if calculating the mode of attack. Its lips were red--stained
with the blood of the ant-eaters--and this added to the hideousness of
its appearance. But it needed not that, for it was hideous enough at any
time.

Leon kept his eyes upon it, every moment expecting it to spring up the
tree. All at once he saw it give a sudden start, and at the same instant
he heard a hissing noise, as if something passed rapidly through the
air. Ha! something sticking in the body of the puma! It is an arrow,--a
poisoned arrow! The puma utters a fierce growl--it turns upon
itself--the arrow is crushed between its teeth. Another "hist!"--another
arrow! Hark! a well-known voice--well-known voices--the voices of Don
Pablo and Guapo! See! they burst into the glade--Don Pablo with his axe,
and Guapo with his unerring gravatána!

The puma turns to flee. He has already reached the border of the wood;
he staggers--the poison is doing its work. Hurrah! he is down; but the
poison does not kill him, for the axe of Don Pablo is crashing through
his skull. Hurrah! the monster is dead, and Leon is triumphantly borne
off on the shoulders of the faithful Guapo!

Don Pablo dragged the puma away, in order that they might get his fine
skin. The ant-eaters, both of which were now dead, he left behind, as he
saw that the termites were crawling thickly around them, and had already
begun their work of devastation. Strange to say, as the party returned
that way, going to dinner, not a vestige remained either of the aïs or
the ant-eaters, except a few bones and some portions of coarse hair. The
rest of all these animals had been cleared off by the ants, and carried
into the cells of their hollow cones!

It was, no doubt, the noise of the bark-hunters that had started the
ant-eaters abroad, for these creatures usually prowl only in the night.
The same may have aroused the fierce puma from his lair, although he is
not strictly a nocturnal hunter.

A curious incident occurred as they approached the glade on their way
home. The male tamanoir was roused from his nest among the dry leaves,
and Guapo, instead of running upon him and killing the creature, warned
them all to keep a little back, and he would show them some fun. Guapo
now commenced shaking the leaves, so that they rattled as if rain was
falling upon them. At this the ant-eater jerked up its broad tail, and
appeared to shelter itself as with an umbrella! Guapo then went towards
it, and commenced driving it before him just as if it had been a sheep
or goat, and in this manner he took it all the way to the house. Of
course Guapo took care not to irritate it; for, when that is done, the
ant-eater will either turn out of his way or stop to defend itself.

The tamanoir is not so defenceless a creature as might at first sight be
imagined by considering his small toothless mouth and slow motions. His
mode of defence is that which has been described, and which is quite
sufficient against the tiger-cat, the ocelot, and all the smaller
species of feline animals. No doubt the old female would have proved a
match for the puma had she not been thrown off her guard by his seizing
upon her young. It is even asserted that the great ant-bear sometimes
hugs the jaguar to death; but this I believe to be a mistake, as the
latter is far too powerful and active to be thus conquered. Doubtless
the resemblance of the jaguar to some of the smaller spotted cats of
these countries, leads to a great many misconceptions concerning the
prowess of the _American tiger_.

Besides the tamanoir there are two, or perhaps three, other species of
_ant-bears_ in the forests of South America. These, however, are so
different in habits and appearance, that they might properly be classed
as a separate genus of animals. They are _tree-climbers_, which the
tamanoir is not, spite of his great claws. They pursue the ants that
build their nests upon the high branches, as well as the wasps and bees;
and to befit them for this life, they are furnished with _naked
prehensile tails_, like the opossums and monkeys. These are
characteristics entirely distinct from those of the _Myrmecophaga
jubata_, or _great_ ant-eater.

One of these species is the _tamandua_, called by the Spano-Americans
_Osso hormiguero_ (ant-bear). The tamandua is much less than the
tamanoir, being only three and a half feet in length, while the latter
is over seven. The former is of a stouter build, with neither so long a
snout in proportion, nor such claws. The claws, moreover, are made for
tree-climbing, and are not so much in the way when the animal walks on
the ground. It is, therefore, a more active creature, and stands better
upon its limbs. Its fur is short and silky, but the tail is nearly
naked, and, as already stated, highly prehensile, although it does not
sleep hanging by the tail as some other animals do.

The tamandua is usually of a dull straw-colour, although it varies in
this respect, so that several species have been supposed to exist. It
spends most of its time upon the trees; and in addition to its ant-diet,
it feeds upon wild honey, and bees too, whenever it can catch them. The
female, like the tamanoir, produces only one young at a birth, and like
the other species, carries it upon her back until it is able to provide
for itself. The tamandua has sometimes been called _tridactyla_, or the
"three-toed ant-eater," because it has only three claws upon each of
its fore-feet, whereas the tamanoir is provided with four.

Another species of "ant-bear," differing from both in size and in many
of its habits, is the "little ant-eater." This one has only two claws on
each fore-foot, hence its specific name. It is a very small
creature--not larger than the common grey squirrel--with a prehensile
tail like the tamandua. The tail, however, is not entirely naked--only
on the under side near the point. It is not so good a walker as the
three-toed kind, though more active on its feet than the tamanoir.
Standing upon its hind-feet, and supporting itself also by the
tail--which it has already thrown around some branch--the little
ant-eater uses its fore-feet as hands to carry food to its mouth. It
lives among the trees, and feeds upon wasps, bees, and especially the
larvæ of both; but it does not use the tongue to any great extent. It
is, on this account, an essentially different sort of animal.

The little ant-eater is usually of a bright yellow colour, brownish on
the back; but there are many varieties in this respect, and some are of
a snowy whiteness. Its fur is soft and silky, sometimes slightly curled
or matted at the points, and the tail fur is annulated, or ringed, with
the prevailing colours of the body.

So much for the ant-bears of America.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE ANT-LION.


Ants are disagreeable insects in any country, but especially so in warm
tropical climates. Their ugly appearance, their destructive habits, but,
above all, the pain of their sting, or rather bite--for ants do not
sting as wasps, but bite with the jaws, and then infuse poison into the
wound--all these render them very unpopular creatures. A superficial
thinker would suppose that such troublesome insects could be of no use,
and would question the propriety of Nature in having created them.

But when we give the subject a little attention, we find that they were
not created in vain. Were it not for these busy creatures, what would
become of the vast quantities of decomposing substances found in some
countries? What would be done with the decaying vegetation and the dead
animal matter? Why, in many places, were it not consumed by these
insects, and reorganised into new forms of life, it would produce
pestilence and death; and surely these are far more disagreeable things
than ants.

Of ants there are many different kinds; but the greatest number of
species belong to warm countries, where, indeed, they are most useful.
Some of these species are so curious in their habits, that whole volumes
have been written about them, and naturalists have spent a life-time in
their study and observation. Their social and domestic economy is of the
most singular character, more so than that of the bees; and I am afraid
here to give a single trait of their lives, lest I should be led on to
talk too much about them. I need only mention the wonderful nests or
hills which some species build--those great cones of twenty feet in
height, and so strong that wild bulls run up their sides and stand upon
their tops without doing them the least injury!

Others make their houses of cylindrical form, rising several feet from
the surface. Others, again, prefer nesting in the trees, where they
construct large cellular masses of many shapes, suspending them from the
highest branches; while many species make their waxen dwellings in
hollow trunks, or beneath the surface of the earth. There is not a
species, however, whose habits, fully observed and described, would not
strike you with astonishment. Indeed, it is difficult to believe all
that is related about these insects by naturalists who have made them
their study. One can hardly understand how such little creatures can be
gifted with so much intelligence, or _instinct_, as some choose to call
it.

Man is not the only enemy of the ants. If he were so, it is to be feared
that these small insignificant creatures would soon make the earth too
hot for him. So prolific are they, that if left to themselves our whole
planet would, in a short period, become a gigantic ants' nest!

Nature has wisely provided against the over increase of the ant family.
No living thing has a greater variety of enemies than they. In all the
divisions of animated nature there are ant-destroyers--_ant-eaters_! To
begin with the mammalia, man himself feeds upon them--for there are
tribes of Indians in South America, the principal part of whose food
consists of dried termites, which they bake into a kind of "paste!"
There are quadrupeds that live exclusively on them, as the ant-bear,
already described, and the _pangolins_, or scaly ant-eaters of the
Eastern continent. There are birds, too, of many sorts that devour the
ants; and there are even some who make them exclusively their food, as
the genus _Myothera_, or "ant-catchers." Many kinds of reptiles, both
snakes and lizards, are ant-eaters; and, what is strangest of all, there
are _insects_ that prey upon them!

No wonder, then, with such a variety of enemies that the ants are kept
within proper limits, and are not allowed to overrun the earth.

The observations just made are very similar to those that were addressed
by Doña Isidora to the little Leona, one day when they were left alone.
The others had gone about their usual occupation of bark-cutting, and
these, of course, remained at home to take care of the house and cook
the dinner. That was already hanging over a fire outside the house: for
in these hot countries it is often more convenient to do the cooking
out-of-doors.

Doña Isidora, busy with some sewing, was seated under the shadow of the
banana-trees, and the pretty little Leona was playing near her. Leona
had been abusing the ants, partly on account of their having so
frightened Leon, and partly because one of the red species had bitten
herself the day before; and it was for this reason that her mother had
entered into such explanations regarding these creatures, with a view of
exculpating them from the bitter accusations urged against them by
Leona. Talking about ants very naturally led them to cast their eyes to
the ground to see if any of the creatures were near; and sure enough
there were several of the red ones wandering about. Just then the eyes
of Doña Isidora rested upon a very different insect, and she drew the
attention of her daughter to it.

It was an insect of considerable size, being full an inch in length,
with an elongated oval body, and a small flat head. From the head
protruded two great horny jaws, that bore some resemblance to a pair of
calliper compasses. Its legs were short and very unfitted for motion.
Indeed they were not of much use for that purpose, as it could make very
little way on them, but crawled only sidewards, or backwards, with great
apparent difficulty. The creature was of a greyish or sand colour; and
in the sand, where it was seated, it might not have been observed at all
had not the lady's eyes been directed upon the very spot. But Doña
Isidora, who was a very good entomologist, recognised it; and, knowing
that it was a very curious insect, on this account called the attention
of her daughter to it.

"What is it, mamma?" inquired the little Leona, bending forward to
examine it.

"The _ant-lion_."

"The ant-lion! Why, mamma, it is an insect! How then can it be called
lion?"

"It is a name given it," replied the lady, "on account of its fierce
habits, which, in that respect, assimilate it to its powerful
namesake,--the king of the beasts; and, indeed, this little creature has
more strength and ferocity in proportion to its size than even the lion
himself."

"But why the _ant_-lion, mamma?"

"Because it preys principally on ants. I have said there are insect
ant-eaters. This is one of them."

"But how can such a slow creature as that get hold of them? Why, the
ants could crawl out of its way in a moment!"

"That is true. Nevertheless it manages to capture as many as it
requires. Remember 'the race is not always to the swift.' It is by
stratagem it succeeds in taking its prey--a very singular stratagem too.
If you will sit back and not frighten it, I have no doubt it will soon
give you an opportunity of seeing how it manages the matter."

Leona took a seat by the side of her mother. They were both at just such
a distance from the ant-lion that they could observe every movement it
made; but for a considerable time it remained quiet; no doubt, because
they had alarmed it. In the interval Doña Isidora imparted to her
daughter some further information about its natural history.

"The ant-lion," said she, "is not an insect in its perfect state, but
only the _larva_ of one. The perfect insect is a very different
creature, having wings and longer legs. It is one of the _neuropterous_
tribe, or those with nerved wings. The wings of this species rest
against each other, forming a covering over its body, like the roof upon
a house. They are most beautifully reticulated like the finest
lace-work, and variegated with dark spots, that give the insect a very
elegant appearance. Its habits are quite different to those which it
follows when a larva, or in that state when it is the ant-lion. It flies
but little during the day, and is usually found quietly sitting amongst
the leaves of plants, and seems to be one of the most pacific and
harmless of insects. How very different with the larva--the very
reverse--See!"

Doña Isidora pointed to the ant-lion that was just then beginning to
bestir itself, and both sat silent regarding it attentively.

First, then, the little creature going backwards, and working with its
callipers, traced a circle on the surface of the sand. This circle was
between two and three inches in diameter. Having completed it, it now
commenced to clear out all the sand within the circle. To accomplish
this, it was seen to scrape up the sand with one of its fore-feet, and
shovel a quantity of it upon its flat head; then, giving a sudden jerk
of the neck, it pitched the sand several inches outside the traced
circumference.

This operation it repeated so often, and so adroitly, that in a very
short time a round pit began to show itself in the surface of the
ground. Whenever it encountered a stone, this was raised between its
callipers and pitched out beyond the ring. Sometimes stones occurred
that were too large to be thrown out in this way. These it managed to
get upon its back, and, then crawling cautiously up the sides of the
pit, it tumbled them upon the edge and rolled them away. Had it met with
a stone so large as to render this impossible, it would have left the
place, and chosen another spot of ground. Fortunately this was not the
case, and they had an opportunity of watching the labour to its
conclusion.

For nearly an hour they sat watching it--of course not neglecting their
other affairs--and, at the end of that time, the ant-lion had jerked out
so much sand, that a little funnel-shaped pit was formed nearly as deep
as it was wide. This was its trap, and it was now finished and ready for
action.

Having made all its arrangements, it had nothing more to do than remain
at the bottom of the pit, and wait patiently until some unfortunate ant
should chance to come that way and fall in; and where these insects were
constantly wandering over the ground, such an accident would, sooner or
later, be certain to take place.

Lest the ant should peep into the pit, discover its hideous form below,
and then retreat, this ant-lion had actually the cunning to bury its
body in the sand, leaving only a small portion of its head to be seen.

Both Doña Isidora and the little Leona remained watching with increased
interest. They were very anxious to witness the result. They were not
kept long in suspense. I have already stated that many ants were
crawling about. There were dozens of them "quatering" the ground in
every direction in search of their own prey; and they left not an inch
of it unsearched. At last one was seen to approach the trap of the
ant-lion. Curiosity brings it to the very edge of that terrible
pit-fall. It protrudes its head and part of its body over the brink--it
is not such a terrible gulf to look into--if it should slip down, it
could easily crawl out again.

Ha! it little knows the enemy that is ambushed there. It perceives
something singular--an odd something--perhaps it might be something good
to eat. It is half resolved to slide down and make a closer examination
of this something. It is balancing on the brink, and would, no doubt,
have gone down voluntarily, but that is no longer left to its own
choice. The mysterious object at the bottom of the funnel suddenly
springs up and shows itself--it is the ant-lion in all its hideous
proportions; and before the little ant can draw itself away, the other
has flung around it a shower of sand that brings it rolling down the
side of the pit. Then the sharp callipers are closed upon the
victim--all the moisture in his body is sucked out--and his remains, now
a dry and shapeless mass, are rested for a moment upon the head of the
destroyer, and then jerked far outside the pit!

The ant-lion now dresses his trap, and, again burying himself in the
sand, awaits another victim.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE TATOU-POYOU AND THE DEER CARCASS.


Doña Isidora and Leona had watched all the manoeuvres of the ant-lion
with great interest, and Leona, after the bite she had had, was not in
any mood to sympathise with the ants. Indeed, she felt rather grateful
to the ant-lion, ugly as he was, for killing them.

Presently Leon returned from the woods, and was shown the trap in full
operation; but Leon, upon this day, was full of adventures that had
occurred upon the hills to himself, Guapo, and Don Pablo. In fact, he
had hastened home before the others to tell his mamma of the odd
incidents to which he had been a witness.

That morning they had discovered a new _mancha_ of cinchona trees. When
proceeding towards them they came upon the dead carcass of a deer. It
was a large species, the _Cervus antisensis_, but, as it had evidently
been dead several days, it was swollen out to twice its original size,
as is always the case with carcasses of animals left exposed in a warm
climate. It was odd that some preying animals had not eaten it up. A
clump of tall trees, that shaded it, had, no doubt, concealed it from
the sharp sight of the vultures, and these birds, contrary to what has
so often been alleged, can find no dead body by the smell. Neither ants
nor animals that prey upon carrion had chanced to come that way, and
there lay the deer intact.

So thought Don Pablo and Leon. Guapo, however, was of a different
opinion, and, going up to the body, he struck it a blow with his axe. To
the surprise of the others, instead of the dead sound which they
expected to hear, a dry crash followed the blow, and a dark hole
appeared where a piece of thin shell-like substance had fallen off.
Another blow from Guapo's axe, and the whole side went in. Not a bit of
carcass was there; there were bones--clean bones--and dry hard skin, but
no flesh, not an atom of flesh!

"Tatou-poyou!" quietly remarked Guapo.

"What!" said Don Pablo, "an armadillo, you think?" recognising, in
Guapo's words, the Indian name for one of the large species of
armadillos.

"Yes," replied Guapo. "All eaten by the tatou-poyou. See! there's his
hole."

Don Pablo and Leon bent over the sham carcass, and, sure enough, under
where its body had been they could see a large hole in the ground.
Outside the carcass, also, at the distance of several feet was another.

"This is where he entered," said Guapo, pointing to the second. "He's
not about here now," continued he, "no, no,--ate all the meat, and gone
long ago."

This was evident, as the hollow skeleton was quite dry, and had
evidently been empty for a good while.

Don Pablo was pleased at this incident, as it gave him an opportunity of
verifying a curious habit of the armadillos. These creatures are among
the finest burrowers in the world, and can bury themselves in the earth
in a few seconds time; but, being badly toothed,--some of them
altogether without teeth,--they can only feed upon very soft substances.
Putrid flesh is with them a favourite "dish," and in order to get at
the softest side of a carcass, they burrow under, and enter it from
below, rarely leaving their horrid cave until they have thoroughly
cleared it out.

The bark-hunters now passed on, Don Pablo making many inquiries about
the armadillos, and Guapo giving replies, while Leon listened with
interest. Guapo knew a good deal about these curious creatures, for he
had eaten many a dozen of them in his time, and as many different kinds
of them too. Their feeding upon carrion had no effect on Guapo's
stomach, and, indeed, white people in South America relish them as much
as Indians. The white people, however, make a distinction in the
species, as they suppose some kinds to be more disposed to a vegetable
diet than others.

There are some in the neighbourhood of the settlements, that
_occasionally pay a visit to the graveyards or cemeteries_, and these
kinds do not go down well. All of them will devour almost any sort of
trash that is soft and pulpy, and they are more destructive to the ant
than even the ant-eaters themselves. How so? Because, instead of making
a nice little hole in the side of the ant-hill, as the tamanoirs do, and
through this hole eating the ants themselves, the armadillos break down
a large part of the structure and devour the _larvæ_. Now the ants love
these _larvæ_ more than their own lives, and when these are destroyed,
they yield themselves up to despair, refuse to patch up the building,
the rain gets in, and the colony is ruined and breaks up.

It does not follow, however, that the flesh of the armadillo should be
"queer" because the animal itself eats queer substances. Among
carnivorous creatures the very opposite is sometimes the truth; and some
animals--as the tapir, for instance--that feed exclusively on sweet and
succulent vegetables, produce a most bitter flesh for themselves. About
this there is no standing law either way.

The flesh of the armadillo is excellent eating, not unlike young pork,
and, when "roasted in the shell" (the Indian mode of cooking it), it is
quite equal, if not superior, to a baked "pig," a dish very much eaten
in our own country.

Guapo did not call them armadillos--he had several Indian names for
different kinds of them. "Armadillo" is the Spanish name, and signifies
the "little armed one," the diminutive of "armado" or "armed." This name
is peculiarly appropriate to these animals, as the hard bony casing
which covers the whole upper parts of their bodies, bears an exceeding
resemblance to the suits of plate armour worn in the days of Cortez and
chivalry.

On the head there is the helmet, the back is shielded by a corslet, and
even the limbs are covered with greaves. Of course, this armour is
arranged differently in the different species, and there is more or less
hair upon all, between the joinings of the plates.

These points were not touched upon by Guapo, but others of equal
interest were. He went on to say that he knew many different kinds of
them;--some not bigger than a rat, and some as large as a full-grown
sheep; some that were slow in their paces, and others that could outrun
a man; some that were flat, and could squat so close as hardly to be
seen against the ground,--(these were _tatou-poyous_, the sort that had
hollowed out the deer); and some again that were high-backed and nearly
globe-shaped. Such was Guapo's account of these curious animals which
are found only in the warmer regions of North and South America.



CHAPTER XXIX.

AN ARMADILLO HUNT.


Conversing in this way, the bark-hunters, at length, reached the
cinchona-trees, and then all talk about armadillos was at an end. They
went lustily to their work--which was of more importance--and, under
Guapo's axe, several of the cinchonas soon "bit the dust."

There was a spot of open ground just a little to one side of where these
trees stood. They had noticed, on coming up, a flock of zamuros, or
black vultures, out upon this ground, clustered around some object. It
was the carcass of another deer. The first blow of the axe startled the
birds, and they flapped a short way off. They soon returned, however,
not being shy birds, but the contrary.

There was nothing in all this to create surprise, except, perhaps, the
dead deer. What had been killing these animals? Not a beast of prey, for
that would have devoured them, unless, indeed, it might be the puma,
that often kills more than he can eat.

The thought had occurred to Don Pablo that they might have died from the
poisoned arrows of an Indian. This thought somewhat disquieted him, for
he knew not what kind of Indians they might be,--they might be friendly
or hostile;--if the latter, not only would all his plans be frustrated,
but the lives of himself and party would be in danger. Guapo could not
assure him on this head; he had been so long absent from the Great
Montaña that he was ignorant of the places where the tribes of these
parts might now be located. These tribes often change their homes.

He knew that the Chunchos sometimes roamed so far up, and they were the
most dangerous of all the Indians of the Montaña,--haters of the whites,
fierce and revengeful. It was they who several times destroyed the
settlements and mission stations. If Chunchos were in the woods they
might look out for trouble. Guapo did not think there were any Indians
near. He would have seen some traces of them before now, and he had
observed none since their arrival. This assurance of the knowing Indian
quite restored Don Pablo's confidence, and they talked no longer on the
subject. After a while, their attention was again called to the
vultures. These filthy creatures had returned to the deer, and were
busily gorging themselves, when, all at once, they were seen to rise up
as if affrighted. They did not fly far,--only a few feet,--and stood
with outstretched necks looking towards the carrion, as if whatever had
frightened them was there.

The bark-hunters could perceive nothing. It was the body of a small
deer, already half eaten, and no object bigger than a man's hand could
have been concealed behind it. The zamuros, however, _had_ seen
something strange--else they would hardly have acted as they did--and,
with this conviction, the bark-hunters stopped their work to observe
them.

After a while the birds seemed to take fresh courage, hopped back to the
carrion, and recommenced tearing at it. In another moment they again
started and flew back, but, this time, not so far as before, and then
they all returned again, and, after feeding another short while, started
back a third time.

This was all very mysterious, but Guapo, guessing what was the matter,
solved the mystery by crying out,--

"_Tatou-poyou_!"

"Where?" inquired Don Pablo.

"Yonder, master, yonder in the body of the beast."

Don Pablo looked, and, sure enough, he could see something moving; it
was the head and shoulders of an armadillo. It had burrowed and come up
through the body of the deer, thus meeting the vultures half-way! No
doubt, it was the mysterious mode by which it had entered on the stage
that had frightened them.

They soon, however, got over their affright, and returned to their
repast.

The armadillo--a very large one--had, by this time, crept out into the
open air, and went on eating.

For a while the zamuros took no heed of him, deeming, perhaps, that,
although he had come in by the back-door, he might have as good a right
upon the premises as themselves. Their pacific attitude, however, was
but of short duration; something occurred to ruffle their temper--some
silent affront, no doubt, for the bark-hunters heard nothing. Perhaps
the _tatou_ had run against the legs of one, and scraped it with the
sharp edge of his corslet. Whether this was the cause or no, a scuffle
commenced, and the beast in armour was attacked by all the vultures at
once.

Of course he did not attack in turn, he had no means; he acted
altogether on the defensive; and this he was enabled to do by simply
drawing in his legs and flattening himself upon the ground. He was then
proof, not only against the beaks and weak talons of a vulture, but he
might have defied the royal eagle himself.

After flapping him with their wings, and pecking him with their filthy
beaks, and clawing him with their talons, the zamuros saw it was all to
no purpose, and desisted. If they could not damage him, however, they
could prevent him from eating any more of the deer; for the moment he
stretched out his neck, several vultures sprang at him afresh, and would
have wounded him in the tender parts of his throat had he not quickly
drawn in his head again. Seeing that his feast was at an end--at least
above ground--he suddenly raised his hind-quarters, and in a brace of
seconds buried himself in the earth. The vultures pecked him behind as
he disappeared, but the odd manner of his exit, like that of his
_entrée_, seemed to mystify them, and several of them stood for some
moments in neck-stretched wonder.

This scene had scarcely ended when a pair of fresh armadillos were
espied, coming from the farther edge of the opening, and, in fact, from
the edge of a precipice, for the river flowed close by, and its channel
was at that point shut in by cliffs. These two were large fellows, and
were making speedily towards the carrion, in order to get up before it
was all gone. Guapo could stand it no longer. Guapo had tasted roast
armadillo, and longed for more. In an instant, therefore, axe in hand,
he was off to intercept the new-comers. Don Pablo and Leon followed to
see the sport and assist in the capture.

The armadillos, although not afraid of the vultures, seeing the hunters
approach, turned tail and made for the precipice. Guapo took after one,
while Don Pablo and Leon pursued the other. Guapo soon overhauled his
one, but, before he could lay his hands upon it, it had already half
buried itself in the dry ground. Guapo, however, seized the tail and
held on; and, although not able to drag it out, he was resolved it
should get no deeper.

[Illustration: THE ESCAPE OF THE ARMADILLO.]

The one pursued by Don Pablo had got close to the edge of the precipice,
before either he or Leon could come up with it. There it stood for a
moment, as if in doubt what plan to pursue. Don Pablo and Leon were
congratulating themselves that they had fairly "cornered" it, for the
cliff was a clear fall of fifty feet, and, of course, it could get no
farther in that direction, while they approached it from two sides so
as to cut off its retreat. They approached it with caution, as they were
now near the edge, and it would not do to move too rashly. Both were
bent forward with their arms outstretched to clutch their prey; they
felt confident it was already in their grasp. Judge their astonishment,
then, at seeing the creature suddenly clew itself into a round ball, and
roll over the cliff!

They looked below. They saw it upon the ground; they saw it open out
again, apparently unharmed, for, the next moment, it scuttled off and
hid itself among the rocks by the edge of the water!

They turned toward Guapo, who was still holding his one by the tail, and
calling for help. Although it was but half buried, all three of them
could not have dragged it forth by the tail. That member would have
pulled out before the animal could have been dislodged; and such is not
an unfrequent occurrence to the hunters of the armadillo. Don Pablo,
however, took hold of the tail and held fast until Guapo loosened the
earth with his axe, and then the creature was more easily "extracted." A
blow on its head from Guapo made all right, and it was afterwards
carried safely to the house, and "roasted in the shell."

That was a great day among the "armadillos."



CHAPTER XXX.

THE OCELOT.


During the whole summer, Don Pablo, Guapo, and Leon, continued
bark-gathering. Every day they went out into the woods, excepting Sunday
of course. That was kept as a day of rest; for, although far from
civilised society, there was not the less necessity for their being
Christians. God dwells in the wilderness as well as in the walled city,
and worship to Him is as pleasing under the shadow of the forest leaves,
as with sounding organ beneath the vaulted dome of the grand cathedral.

During week-days, while the others were abroad, Doña Isidora and the
little Leona were not idle at home; yet their whole time was not taken
up by the mere concerns of the _cuisine_. They had an industry of their
own, and, in fact, one that promised to be almost as profitable in its
results as the bark-gathering. This was neither more nor less than
preparing _vanilla_.

Some days after arriving in the valley, while exploring a wood that lay
at the back of the cultivated ground, Don Pablo discovered that every
tree carried a creeper or parasite of a peculiar kind. It was a small
creeper not unlike ivy, and was covered with flowers of a
greenish-yellow colour, mixed with white. Don Pablo at once recognised
in this parasitical plant one of the many species of lianas that produce
the delicious and perfumed vanilla. It was, in fact, the finest of the
kind--that which, among the French, is called _leq_ vanilla; and, from
the fact that every tree had a number of these parasites, and no other
climbing vines, Don Pablo came to the conclusion that they had been
planted by the missionaries. It is thus that vanilla is usually
cultivated, by being set in slips at the root of some tree which may
afterwards sustain it.

In the course of the summer, these vanilla vines exhibited a different
appearance. Instead of flowers, long bean-like capsules made their
appearance. These capsules or pods were nearly a foot in length, though
not much thicker than a swan's quill. They were a little flattish,
wrinkled, and of a yellow colour, and contained inside, instead of
beans, a pulpy substance, surrounding a vast quantity of small seeds,
like grains of sand. These seeds are the perfumed vanilla so much
prized, and which often yield the enormous price of fifty dollars a
pound! To preserve these, therefore, was the work of Doña Isidora and
Leona; and they understood perfectly how to do it.

First, they gathered the pods before they were quite ripe. These they
strung upon a thread, taking care to pass the thread through that end
nearest the footstalk. The whole were next plunged for an instant into
boiling water, which gave them a blanched appearance. The thread was
then stretched from tree to tree, and the pods, hanging like a string of
candles, were then exposed to the sun for several hours. Next day, they
were lightly smeared with an oiled feather, and then wrapped in oiled
cotton of the _Bombax ceiba_, to prevent the valves from opening.

When they had remained in this state for a few days, the string was
taken out, and passed through the other ends, so that they should hang
in an inverted position. This was to permit the discharge of a viscid
liquid from the footstalk end; and in order to assist this discharge,
the pods were several times lightly pressed between the fingers. They
now became dry and wrinkled. They had also shrunk to less than half
their original size, and changed their colour to a reddish-brown.
Another delicate touch of the oil-feather, and the vanilla was ready for
the market. Nothing remained but to pack them in small cases, which had
already been prepared from the leaf of a species of palm-tree.

In such a way did the lady Isidora and her daughter pass their time; and
before the summer was out they had added largely to the stock of wealth
of our exiles.

Although these two always remained by the house, they were not without
_their_ adventures as well, one of which I shall describe. It occurred
while they were getting in their crop of vanilla. Leona was in the porch
in front, busy among the vanilla-beans. She had a large needle and a
thread of palm-leaf fibre, with which she was stringing the long pods,
while her mother was inside the house packing some that had been already
dried.

Leona rested for a moment, and was looking over the water, when, all at
once, she exclaimed,

"Maman--Maman! come out and see! oh! what a beautiful cat!"

The exclamation caused Doña Isidora to start, and with a feeling of
uneasiness. The cause of her uneasiness was the word "cat." She feared
that what the innocent child had taken for a "beautiful cat" might prove
to be the dreaded jaguar. She ran at once out of the door, and looked in
the direction pointed out by Leona. There, sure enough, on the other
side of the water, was a spotted creature, looking in the distance, very
much like a cat; but Doña Isidora saw at a glance that it was a far
larger animal.

Was it the jaguar? It was like one, in its colour and markings. It was
of a yellowish colour, and covered all over with black spots, which gave
it the semblance of the jaguar. Still Doña Isidora thought that it was
not so large as these animals usually are; and this, to some extent,
restored her confidence. When first seen, it was close down to the
water's edge, as if it had come there to drink; and Doña Isidora was in
hopes that, after satisfying its thirst, it would go away again. What
was her consternation to see it make a forward spring, and, plunging
into the water, swim directly for the house!

Terrified, she seized Leona by the hand, and retreated inside. She shut
the door, and bolted it. If it were a jaguar, what protection would that
be? Such a creature could dash itself through the frail bamboo wall, or
tear the door to pieces with his great claws in a moment. "If it be a
jaguar," thought she, "we are lost!"

Doña Isidora was a woman of courage. She was determined to defend the
lives of herself and daughter to the last. She looked around the house
for a weapon. The pistols of Don Pablo were hanging against the wall.
She knew they were loaded. She took them down, and looked to the flints
and priming, and then stationed herself at a place where she could see
out through the interstices of the bamboos. The little Leona kept by her
side, though she knew, that in a struggle with a ferocious jaguar, she
could give no help.

By this time the animal had crossed the river, and she could see it
spring out on the bank, and come on towards the house. In a few seconds
it was close to the porch, where it halted to reconnoitre. Doña Isidora
saw it very plainly, and would now have had a very good chance to fire
at it; but she did not wish to begin the combat. Perhaps it might go
away again, without attempting to enter the house. In order not to draw
its attention, she stood perfectly quiet, having cautioned Leona to do
the same.

It was not a large animal, though its aspect was fierce enough to
terrify any one. Its tiger-like eyes, and white teeth, which it showed
at intervals, were anything but pleasant to look upon. Its size,
however, was not so formidable; and Doña Isidora had understood the
jaguar to be a large animal; but there is also a smaller species of
jaguar. This might be the one.

After halting a moment, the creature turned to one side, and then
proceeded at a skulking trot around the house. Now and then it stopped
and looked toward the building, as if searching for some aperture by
which it might get in. Doña Isidora followed it round on the inside. The
walls were so open that she could mark all its movements; and, with a
pistol in each hand, she was ready for the attack, determined to fire
the moment it might threaten to spring against the bamboos.

On one side of the house, at a few paces distance, stood the mule. The
horse had been taken to the woods, and the mule was left alone. This
animal was tied to a tree, which shaded her from the sun. As soon as the
fierce creature got well round the house, it came in full view of the
mule, which now claimed its attention. The latter, on seeing it, had
started, and sprung round upon her halter, as if badly terrified by the
apparition.

Whether the beast of prey had ever before seen a mule was a question.
Most likely it had not; for, half-innocently, and half as if with the
intention of making an attack, it went skulking up until it was close to
the heels of the latter. It could not have placed itself in a better
position to be well kicked; and well kicked it was, for, just at that
moment, the mule let fling with both her heels, and struck it upon the
ribs. A loud "thump" was heard by those within the house, and Doña
Isidora, still watching through the canes, had the satisfaction to see
the spotted creature take to its heels, and gallop off as if a kettle
had been tied to its tail! It made no stop, not even to look back; but
having reached the edge of the water, plunged in, and swam over to the
opposite shore. They could see it climb out on the other side, and then,
with a cowed and conquered look, it trotted off, and disappeared among
the palm-trees.

Doña Isidora knew that it was gone for good; and having now no further
fear went on with her work as before. She first, however, carried out a
large measure of the _murumuru_ nuts, and gave them to the mule, patting
the creature upon the nose, and thanking her for the important service
she had rendered.

When Don Pablo and the rest returned, the adventure was, of course,
related; but from the description given of the animal, neither Don Pablo
nor Guapo believed it could have been the jaguar. It was too small for
that. Besides a jaguar would not have been cowed and driven off by a
mule. He would more likely have killed the mule, and dragged its body
off with him across the river, or perhaps have broken into the house,
and done worse.

The animal was, no doubt, the "ocelot," which is also spotted, or rather
marked with the eye-like rosettes which distinguish the skin of the
jaguar. Indeed, there are quite a number of animals of the cat genus in
the forests of the Montaña; some spotted like the leopard, others
striped as the tiger, and still others of uniform colour all over the
body. They are, of course, all preying animals, but none of them will
attack man, except the jaguar and the puma. Some of the others, when
brought to bay, will fight desperately, as would the common wild cat
under like circumstances; but the largest of them will leave man alone,
if unmolested themselves. Not so with the jaguar, who will attack either
man or beast, and put them to death, unless he be himself overpowered.

The jaguar, or, as he is sometimes called, "ounce," and by most
Spanish-Americans "tiger," is the largest and most ferocious of all the
American _Felidæ_. He stands third in rank as to these qualities--the
lion and tiger of the Eastern continent taking precedence of him.
Specimens of the jaguar have been seen equal in size to the Asiatic
tiger; but the average size of the American animal is much less. He is
strong enough, however, to drag a dead horse or ox to his den--often to
a distance of a quarter of a mile--and this feat has been repeatedly
observed.

The jaguar is found throughout all the tropical countries of Spanish
America, and is oftener called tiger than jaguar. This is a misapplied
name; for although he bears a considerable likeness to the tiger, both
in shape and habits, yet the markings of his skin are quite different.
The tiger is striated or striped, while the black on the jaguar is in
beautiful eye-like rosettes. The leopard is more like the jaguar than
any other creature; and the panther and cheetah of the Eastern continent
also resemble him. The markings of the jaguar, when closely examined,
differ from all of these. The spots on the animals of the old world are
simple spots or black rings, while those of the American species are
rings with a single spot in the middle, forming _ocellæ_, or eyes. Each,
in fact, resembles a rosette.

Jaguars are not always of the same colour. Some have skins of an orange
yellow, and these are the most beautiful. Others are lighter-coloured;
and individuals have been killed that were nearly white. But there is a
"black jaguar," which is thought to be of a different species. It is
larger and fiercer than the other, and is found in the very hottest
parts of the Great Montaña. Its skin is not quite jet-black, but of a
deep maroon brown; and upon close inspection, the spots upon it can be
seen of a pure black. This species is more dreaded by the inhabitants of
those countries than the other; and it is said always to attack man
wherever it may encounter him.

In the forests of South America, the jaguar reigns with undisputed sway.
All the other beasts fear, and fly from him. His roar produces terror
and confusion among the animated creation, and causes them to fly in
every direction. It is never heard by the Indian without some feeling of
fear,--and no wonder; for a year does not pass without a number of these
people falling victims to the savage ferocity of this animal.

There are those, however, among them who can deal single-handed with the
jaguar,--regular "jaguar-hunters" by profession,--who do not fear to
attack the fierce brute in his own haunts. They do not trust to
fire-arms, but to a sharp spear. Upon this they receive his attack,
transfixing the animal with unerring aim as he advances. Should they
fail in their first thrust, their situation is one of peril; yet all
hope is not lost. On their left arm they carry a sort of sheep-skin
shield. This is held forward, and usually seized by the jaguar; and
while he is busy with it, the hunter gains time for a second effort,
which rarely fails to accomplish his purpose.

The jaguars are killed for many reasons. Their beautiful skins sell for
several dollars; besides, in many places a price is set upon their
heads, on account of their destructive habits. Thousands are destroyed
every year. For all this, they do not seem to diminish in numbers. The
introduction of the large mammalia into America has provided them with
increased resources; and in many places, where there are herds of
half-wild cattle, the number of the jaguars is said to be greater than
formerly. It is difficult for one, living in a country where such fierce
animals are unknown, to believe that they may have an influence over man
to such an extent as to prevent his settling in a particular place; yet
such is the fact. In many parts of South America, not only plantations,
but whole villages, have been abandoned solely from fear of the jaguars!



CHAPTER XXXI.

A FAMILY OF JAGUARS.


As yet none of the exiles had seen any tracks or indications of the
terrible jaguar, and Don Pablo began to believe that there were none in
that district of country. He was not allowed to remain much longer in
this belief, for an incident occurred shortly after proving that at
least one pair of these fierce animals was not far off.

It was near the end of the summer, and the cinchona-trees on the side of
the river on which stood the house had been all cut down and "barked."
It became necessary, therefore, to cross the stream in search of others.
Indeed, numerous "manchas" had been seen on the other side, and to these
the "cascarilleros" now turned their attention. They, of course,
reached them by crossing the tree-bridge, and then keeping up the stream
on the farther side.

For several days they had been at work in this new direction, and were
getting bark in by the hundred-weight.

One day Guapo and Leon had gone by themselves--Guapo to fell the trees
as usual, and Leon who was now an expert bark-peeler, to use the
scalping-knife. Don Pablo had remained at home, busy with work in the
great magazine, for there was much to do there in the packing and
storing.

An hour or two after, Guapo was seen to return alone. He had broken the
handle of his axe, and having, several spare ones at the house, he had
returned to get one. Leon had remained in the woods.

Now Leon had finished his operations on such trees as Guapo had already
cut down, and not finding a good seat near, had walked towards the
precipice which was farther up the hill, and sat down upon one of the
loose rocks at its base. Here he amused himself by watching the parrots
and toucans that were fluttering through the trees over his head.

He noticed that just by his side there was a large hole or cave in the
cliff. He could see to the further end of it from where he sat, but
curiosity prompted him to step up to its mouth, and gave it a closer
examination. On doing so, he heard a noise, not unlike the mew of a cat.
It evidently came from the cave, and only increased his curiosity to
look inside. He put his head to the entrance, and there, in a sort of
nest, upon the bottom of the cave, he perceived two creatures, exactly
like two spotted kittens, only larger. They were about half as big as
full-grown cats.

"Two beauties!" said Leon to himself; "they are the kittens of some wild
cat--that's plain. Now we want a cat very much at home. If these were
brought up in the house, why shouldn't they do? I'll warrant they'd be
tame enough. I know mamma wants a cat. I've heard her say so. I'll give
her an agreeable surprise by taking this pair home.--The beauties!"

Without another word Leon climbed up, and taking hold of the two spotted
animals, returned with them out of the cave. They were evidently very
young creatures, yet for all that they growled, and spat, and attempted
to scratch his hands; but Leon was not a boy to be frightened at
trifles, and after getting one under each arm, he set off in triumph,
intending to carry them direct to the house.

Guapo was in front of the house busy in new-hafting his axe. Don Pablo
was at his work in the store-room. Doña Isidora and the little Leona
were occupied with some affair in the porch. All were engaged one way or
other. Just then a voice sounded upon their ears, causing them all to
stop their work, and look abroad. It even brought Don Pablo out of the
storehouse. It was the voice of Leon, who shouted from the other side of
the lake, where they all saw him standing, with a strange object under
each arm.

"Hola!" cried he. "Look, mamma! See what I've got! I've brought you a
couple of cats--beauties, ain't they?" And as he said this, he held the
two yellow bodies out before him.

Don Pablo turned pale, and even the coppery cheek of Guapo blanched at
the sight. Though at some distance, both knew at a glance what they
were. Cats, indeed! _They were the cubs of the jaguar!_

"My God!" cried Don Pablo, hoarse with affright. "My God! the boy will
be lost!" and as he spoke he swept the upper edge of the lake with an
anxious glance.

"Run, little master!" shouted Guapo. "Run for your life; make for the
bridge--for the bridge!"

Leon seemed astonished. He knew by the words of Guapo, and the earnest
gestures of the rest, that there was some danger:--but of what? Why was
he to run? He could not comprehend it. He hesitated, and might have
stayed longer on the spot, had not his father, seeing his indecision,
shouted out to him in a loud voice--

"Run, boy! run! The jaguars are after you!"

This speech enabled Leon to comprehend his situation for the first time,
and he immediately started off towards the bridge, running as fast as he
was able.

Don Pablo had not seen the jaguars when he spoke, but his words were
prophetic, and that prophecy was speedily verified. They had hardly been
uttered when two yellow bodies, dashing out of the brushwood, appeared
near the upper end of the lake. There was no mistaking what they were.
Their orange flanks and ocellated sides were sufficiently
characteristic. _They were jaguars!_

A few springs brought them to the edge of the water, and they were seen
to take the track over which Leon had just passed. They were following
by the scent--sometimes pausing--sometimes one passing the other--and
their waving tails and quick energetic movements showed that they were
furious and excited to the highest degree. Now they disappeared behind
the palm-trunks, and the next moment their shining bodies shot out again
like flashes of light.

Doña Isidora and the little Leona screamed with affright. Don Pablo
shouted words of encouragement in a hoarse voice. Guapo seized his
axe--which fortunately he had finished hafting--and ran towards the
bridge, along the water's edge. Don Pablo followed with his pistols,
which he had hastily got his hands upon.

For a short moment there was silence on both sides of the river. Guapo
was opposite Leon, both running. The stream narrowed as it approached
the ravine, and Leon and Guapo could see each other, and hear every word
distinctly. Guapo now cried out,--

"Drop one! young master--_only one_!"

Leon heard, and, being a sharp boy, understood what was meant. Up to
this moment he had not thought of parting with his "cats"--in fact, it
was because he had _not_ thought of it. Now, however, at the voice of
Guapo, he flung one of them to the ground, without stopping to see where
it fell. He ran on, and in a few seconds again heard Guapo cry out--

"_Now the other!_"

Leon let the second slip from his grasp, and kept on for the bridge.

It was well he had dropped the cubs, else he would never have reached
that bridge. When the first one fell the jaguars were not twenty paces
behind him. They were almost in sight, but by good fortune the weeds and
underwood hid the pursued from the pursuers.

On reaching their young, the first that had been dropped, both stopped,
and appeared to lick and caress it. They remained by it but a moment.
One parted sooner than the other--the female it was, no doubt, in search
of her second offspring. Shortly after the other started also, and both
were again seen springing along the trail in pursuit. A few stretches
brought them to where the second cub lay, and here they again halted,
caressing this one as they had done the other.

Don Pablo and Doña Isidora, who saw all this from the other side, were
in hopes that having recovered their young, the jaguars might give over
their chase, and carry them off. But they were mistaken in this. The
American tiger is of a very different nature. Once enraged, he will seek
revenge with relentless pertinacity. It so proved. After delaying a
moment with the second cub. Both left it, and sprang forward upon the
trail, which they knew had been taken by whoever had robbed them.

By this time Leon had gained the bridge--had crossed it--and was lifted
from its nearer end by Guapo. The latter scarce spoke a word--only
telling Leon to hurry towards the house. For himself he had other work
to do than run. The bridge he knew would be no protection. The jaguars
would cross over it like squirrels, and then----

Guapo reflected no further, but bending over the thick branch, attacked
it with his axe. His design was apparent at once. He was going to cut it
from the cliff!

He plied the axe with all his might. Every muscle in his body was at
play. Blow succeeded blow. The branch was already creaking, when, to his
horror, the foremost of the jaguars appeared in sight on the opposite
side! He was not discouraged. Again fell the axe--again and again; the
jaguar is upon the bank; it has sprung upon the root of the tree! It
pauses a moment--another blow of the axe--the jaguar bounds upon the
trunk--its claws rattle along the bark--it is midway over the chasm!
Another blow--the branch crackles--there is a crash--it parts from the
cliff--it is gone! Both tree and jaguar gone--down--down to the sharp
rocks of the foaming torrent!

A loud yell from the Indian announced his triumph. But it was not yet
complete. It was the female jaguar--the smaller one that had fallen. The
male still remained--where was he? Already upon the opposite brink of
the chasm!

He had dashed forward, just in time to see his mate disappearing into
the gulf below. He saw, and seemed to comprehend all that had passed.
His eyes glared with redoubled fury. There was vengeance in his look,
and determination in his attitude.

For a moment he surveyed the wide gulf that separated him from his
enemies. He seemed to measure the distance at a glance. His heart was
bold with rage and despair. He had lost his companion--his faithful
partner--his wife. Life was nothing now--he resolved upon revenge or
death!

He was seen to run a few paces back from the edge of the chasm, and then
turning suddenly, set his body for the spring.

It would have been beautiful to have beheld the play of his glistening
flanks at that moment had one been out of danger; but Guapo was not, and
he had no pleasure in the sight. Guapo stood upon the opposite brink,
axe in hand, ready to receive him.

The Indian had not long to wait. With one desperate bound the jaguar
launched his body into the air, and, like lightning, passed to the
opposite bank. His fore-feet only reached it, and his claws firmly
grasped the rock. The rest of his body hung over, clutching the cliff!

In a moment he would have sprung up, and then woe to his antagonist! but
he was not allowed that moment, for he had scarcely touched the rock
when the Indian leaped forward and struck at his head with the axe. The
blow was not well aimed, and although it stunned the jaguar, he still
clung to the cliff. In setting himself for a second blow, Guapo came too
near, and the next moment the great claws of the tiger were buried in
his foot!

It is difficult to tell what might have been the result. It would, no
doubt, have been different. Guapo would have been dragged over, and that
was certain death; but at this moment a hand was protruded between
Guapo's legs--the muzzle of a pistol was seen close to the head of the
jaguar--a loud crack rang through the ravine, and when the smoke cleared
away the jaguar was seen no more!

Guapo, with his foot badly lacerated, was drawn back from the cliff into
the arms of Don Pablo.



CHAPTER XXXII.

THE RAFT.


This was the most exciting day that had been passed since their arrival
in the Montaña; and considering the result it was well that the
occurrence had taken place. It had rid them of a pair of bad
neighbours--there would soon have been four--that some time or other
would have endangered the lives of some of the party. It was the opinion
of Guapo that they need not, at least for a while, have any fear of
jaguars. It was not likely there was another pair in that district;
although, from the roaming disposition of this animal, fresh ones might
soon make their appearance; and it was deemed best always to act as
though some were already in the neighbourhood.

The cubs were disposed of. It was not deemed advisable to bring them up
as "cats." After what had occurred that was voted, even by Leon, a
dangerous experiment--too dangerous to be attempted. They were still on
the other side of the river, and the bridge was now gone. If left to
themselves, no doubt they would have perished, as they were very young
things. Perhaps some carnivorous creature--wolf, coati, eagle, or
vulture--would have devoured them, or they might have been eaten up by
the ants. But this was not to be their fate. Guapo swam across, and
strangled them. Then tying them together, he suspended the pair over his
shoulders, and brought them with him to be exhibited as a curiosity.
Moreover Guapo had a design upon their skins.

It was not long after that a pleasanter pet than either of them was
found, and this was a beautiful little saïmiri monkey, about the size of
a squirrel, which Guapo and Leon captured one day in the woods. They
heard a noise as they were passing along, and going up to the spot, saw
on the branch of a low tree nearly a dozen little monkeys all rolled up
together in a heap with their tails wrapped round each other as if to
keep themselves warm.

Nearly another dozen were running about, whining and apparently trying
to get in among the rest. Guapo and Leon made a sudden rush upon them,
and were able to capture three or four before the creatures could free
themselves; but only one lived, and that became a great pet and
favourite. It was a beautiful little creature--a true saïmiri, or
squirrel-monkey, called the "titi." Its silky fur was of a rich
olive-green colour; and its fine large eyes expressed fear or joy--now
filling with tears, and now brightening again--just like those of a
child.

During the summer our bark-gatherers continued their labour without
interruption, and on account of the great plenty of the cinchona-trees,
and their proximity to the house, they were enabled to accumulate a very
large store. They worked like bees.

Although this forest life was not without its pleasures and excitements,
yet it began to grow very irksome both to Don Pablo and Doña Isidora.
Life in the wilderness, with its rude cares and rude enjoyments, may be
very pleasant for a while to those who seek it as amateurs, or to that
class who as colonists intend to make it a permanent thing. But neither
Don Pablo nor his wife had ever thought of colonisation. With them their
present industry was the result of accident and necessity. Their tastes
and longings were very different. They longed to return to civilised
life; and though the very misfortune which had driven them forth into
the wilderness had also guided them to an opportunity of making a
fortune, it is probable they would have passed it by, had they not known
that, penniless as they were, they would have fared still worse in any
city to which they might have gone.

But before the first year was out, they yearned very much to return to
civilisation, and this desire was very natural. But there were other
reasons that influenced them besides the mere _ennui_ of the wilderness.
The lives of themselves and their children were constantly in danger
from jaguars, pumas, and poisonous reptiles. Even man himself might at
any moment appear as their destroyer. As yet no Indian--not even a trace
of one--had been seen. But this was not strange.

In the tangled and impenetrable forests of the Great Montaña two tribes
of Indians may reside for years within less than a league's distance of
each other, without either being aware of the other's existence!
Scarcely any intercourse is carried on, or excursions made, except by
the rivers--for they are the only roads--and where two of these run
parallel, although they may be only at a short distance from each other,
people residing on one may never think of crossing to the other.

Notwithstanding that no Indians had yet appeared to disturb them, there
was no certainty that these might not arrive any day, and treat them as
enemies. On this account, Don Pablo and Doña Isidora were never without
a feeling of uneasiness.

After mutual deliberation, therefore, they resolved not to prolong their
stay beyond the early part of spring, when they would carry out their
original design of building a _balza_ raft, and commit themselves to the
great river, which, according to all appearance, and to Guapo's
confident belief, flowed directly to the Amazon. Guapo had never either
descended or ascended it himself, and on their first arrival was not so
sure about its course; but after having gone down to its banks, and
examined its waters, his recollections revived, and he remembered many
accounts which he had heard of it from Indians of his own tribe. He had
no doubt but it was the same which, under the name of the "Purus,"
falls into the Amazon between the mouths of the Madeira and the Coary.

Upon this stream, therefore, in a few months they would embark. But
these intervening months were not spent in idleness. Although the season
for bark-gathering was past, another source of industry presented
itself. The bottom lands of the great river were found to be covered
with a network of underwood, and among this underwood the principal
plant was a well-known briar, _Smilax officinalis_. This is the creeping
plant that yields the celebrated "sarsaparilla;" and Don Pablo, having
made an analysis of some roots, discovered it to be the most valuable
species--for it is to be remembered, that, like the cinchona, a whole
genus, or rather several genera, furnish the article of commerce.

The briar which produces the sarsaparilla is a tall creeping plant,
which throws out a large number of long wrinkled roots of a uniform
thickness, and about the size of a goose-quill. Nothing is required
further than digging and dragging these roots out of the ground, drying
them a while, and then binding them in bundles with a small "sipo," or
tough forest creeper. These bundles are made up, so as to render the
roots convenient for packing and transport.

During several months this branch of industry occupied Don Pablo, Guapo,
and Leon; so that when the time drew nigh for their departure, what with
the cinchona-bark, the sarsaparilla, and the vanilla-beans, there was
not an empty inch in the large storehouse.

Guapo had not been all the time with them. For several days Gruapo was
not to be seen at the house, nor anywhere around it. Where had Guapo
been all this time? I will tell you; Guapo _had been to the mountains_!

Yes, Don Pablo had sent him on an important mission, which he had
performed with secrecy and despatch. Don Pablo, before braving the
dangers of the vast journey he had projected, had still a lingering hope
that something might have happened--some change in the government of
Peru--perhaps a new Viceroy--that might enable him to return with safety
to his native land. To ascertain if such had taken place, Guapo had made
his journey to the mountains.

He went no farther than the Puna--no farther than the hut of his friend
the vaquero--who, by a previous understanding with Guapo, had kept
himself informed about political matters.

There was no hope; the same Council, the same Viceroy, the same price
upon the head of Don Pablo--who, however, was believed to have escaped
in an American ship, and to have taken refuge in the great Republic of
the North.

With this news Guapo returned, and now the preparations for the river
voyage were set about in earnest. A balza raft was built out of large
trunks of the _Bombax ceiba_, which, being light wood, was the best for
the purpose. Of course these trunks had been cut long ago with a view to
using them in this way. A commodious cabin, or "toldo," was constructed
on the raft, built of palm and bamboos, and thatched with the broad
leaves of the bussu. A light canoe was also hollowed out, as a sort of
tender to the raft, and a couple of very large canoes for the purpose of
giving buoyancy to it, were lashed one upon each side. The "merchandise"
was carefully "stowed" and covered with "tarpaulins" of palm-leaves, and
the stores laid in with every providential care and calculation.

You will be wondering what was done with the horse and mule,--those
creatures who had served the exiles so faithfully and so well? Were they
left behind to become a prey to the jaguars and the large blood-sucking
bats, that kill so many animals in these parts? No--they were not to be
left to such a fate. One of them--the mule--had been already disposed
of. It was a valuable beast, and partly on that account, and partly from
gratitude felt towards it for the well-timed kick it had given the
ocelot, it was to be spared. Guapo had taken both the mule and the horse
on his mountain journey, and presented the former to his friend the
vaquero.

But the horse was still on hand. What was to be done with him? Leave him
behind? That would be certain death, for no horse, that was not cared
for, could exist in the Montaña ten days without being eaten up by the
fierce creatures that inhabit it. The bats would surely have destroyed
him. Well, what was done? He could not be carried on the raft. But he
was, though,--_in a way._

Guapo was resolved that the bats should not have him, nor the jaguars
neither. He was in fine condition--fat as a pig. The fruit of the
murumuru had agreed with him. He was just in the condition in which an
Indian thinks a horse "good for killing," and _Guapo killed him_! Yes,
Guapo killed him! It is true it was a sort of a Virginius tragedy, and
Guapo had great difficulty in nerving himself for the task. But the
blow-gun was at length levelled, and the _curare_ did its work. Then
Guapo skinned him, and cut him into strips, and dried him into
"charqui," and carried him on board the raft. That was the closing
scene.

All left the house together, carrying with them the remains of their
hastily-created _penates_. On reaching the end of the valley, they
turned and threw back a last glance at a home that had to them been a
happy one; and then, continuing their journey, they were soon upon the
balza. The only living creature that accompanied them from their valley
home was the pretty saïmiri, carried on the shoulder of the little
Leona.

The cable of piassaba-palm was carefully taken in and coiled, the raft
was pushed out, and the next moment floated lightly upon the broad bosom
of the river.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

THE GUARDIAN BROTHER.


The current of the river flowed at the rate of about four miles an hour,
and at this speed they travelled. They had nothing to do but guide the
raft in the middle part of the stream. This was effected by means of a
large stern-oar fixed upon a pivot, and which served the purpose of a
rudder. One was required to look after this oar, and Don Pablo and Guapo
took turns at it. It was not a very troublesome task, except where some
bend had to be got round, or some eddy was to be cleared, when both had
to work at it together. At other times the balza floated straight on,
without requiring the least effort on the part of the crew; and then
they would all sit down and chat pleasantly, and view the changing
scenery of the forest-covered shores.

Sometimes tall palms lined the banks, and sometimes great forest trees
netted together by thick parasites that crept from one to the other,
and twined around the trunks like monster serpents. Sometimes the shores
were one unbroken thicket of underwood, where it would have been almost
impossible to make a landing had they wished it. At other places there
were sand-bars, and even little islets with scarce any vegetation upon
them; and they also passed many other islets and large islands thickly
wooded. The country generally appeared to be flat, though at one or two
places they saw hills that ran in to the banks of the river.

Of course the change of scenery, and the many fresh vistas continually
opening before them, rendered their voyage both cheerful and
interesting. The many beautiful birds too, and new kinds of trees and
animals which they saw, were a constant source of varied enjoyment, and
furnished them with themes of conversation.

During the first day they made a journey of full forty miles. Having
brought their balza close to the shore, and secured it to a tree, they
encamped for the night. There was no opening of any extent, but for some
distance the ground was clear of underwood, and the trunks of great old
trees rose like columns losing themselves amidst the thick foliage
overhead. A dark forest only could be seen, and, as night drew on, the
horrid cries of the alouattes, or howling monkeys, mingling with the
voices of other nocturnal animals, filled the woods. They had no fear of
monkeys, but now and then they thought they could distinguish the cry of
the jaguar, and of him they had fear enough. Indeed the jaguar possesses
the power of imitating the cry of the other animals of the forest, and
often uses it to draw them within reach of him.

In addition to the fire upon which they had cooked their supper, as soon
as night had fairly set in, they kindled others, forming a sort of
semicircle, the chord of which was the bank of the river itself. Within
this semicircle the hammocks were stretched from tree to tree; and, as
all were fatigued with the day's exertions, they climbed into them at an
early hour, and were soon asleep. One alone sat up to keep watch. As
they thought they had heard the jaguar, this was deemed best; for they
knew that fire will not always frighten off that fierce animal. As the
neighbourhood looked suspicious, and also as it was their first
encampment, they, like all travellers at setting out, of course were
more timid and cautious.

To Leon was assigned the first watch; for Leon was a courageous boy, and
it was not the first time he had taken his turn in this way. He was to
sit up for about two hours, and then wake Guapo, who would keep the
midnight watch; after which Don Pablo's turn would come, and that would
terminate in the morning at daybreak. Leon was instructed to rouse the
others in case any danger might threaten the camp.

Leon from choice had seated himself by the head of the hammock in which
slept the little Leona; in order, no doubt, to be nearer her, as she was
the most helpless of the party, and therefore required more immediate
protection. He had both the pistols by him--ready to his hand and
loaded--and in case of danger he knew very well how to use them.

He had been seated for about half-an-hour, now casting his eyes up to
the red and wrinkled trunks of the trees, and then gazing into the dark
vistas of the surrounding forest, or at other times looking out upon the
glistening surface of the river. Many a strange sound fell upon his
ear. Sometimes the whole forest appeared to be alive with voices--the
voices of beasts and birds, reptiles, and insects--for the tree-frogs
and ciendas were as noisy as the larger creatures. At other times a
perfect stillness reigned, so that he could distinctly hear the tiny hum
of the mosquito; and then, all at once, would fall upon his ear the
melancholy wailing of the night-hawk--the "_alma perdida_," or "lost
soul"--for such is the poetical and fanciful name given by the Spanish
Americans to this nocturnal bird.

While thus engaged Leon began to feel very drowsy. The heavy day's work,
in which he had borne part, had fatigued him as well as the others; and,
in spite of the odd voices that from time to time fell upon his ear, he
could have lain down upon the bare ground and slept without a feeling of
fear. Snakes or scorpions, or biting lizards or spiders, would not have
kept him from going to sleep at that moment. It is astonishing how the
desire of sleep makes one indifferent to all these things, which at
other times we so much dread. Leon did not fear them a bit, but kept
himself awake from a feeling of pride and honour. He reflected that it
would never do to be unfaithful to the important trust confided to him.
No; that would never do. He rubbed his eyes, and rose up, and approached
the bank, and dipped his hands in the water, and came back to his former
place, and sat down again. Spite of all his efforts, however, he felt
very heavy. Oh! when would the two hours pass that he might rouse Guapo?

"Car-r-ambo! I nev-er was so s-s-sleepy. _Vamos_! Leon! you mustn't give
in!"

And striking himself a lively slap on the chest, he straightened his
back, and sat upright for a while.

He was just beginning to get bowed about the shoulders again, and to nod
a little, when he was startled by a short sharp exclamation uttered by
the little Leona. He looked up to her hammock. He could perceive it had
moved slightly, but it was at rest again, and its occupant was evidently
asleep.

"Poor little sis! she is dreaming," he muttered half aloud. "Perhaps
some horrid dream of jaguars or serpents. I have half a mind to awake
her. But, no, she sleeps too soundly; I might disturb them all;" and
with these reflections Leon remained upon his seat.

Once more his head was beginning to bob, when the voice of Leona again
startled him, and he looked up as before. The hammock moved slightly,
but there was no appearance of anything wrong. From where he sat he
could not see well into it, but the outlines of the child's body were
easily discernible through the elastic netting; and at the farther end
he could just perceive one of her little feet, where it had escaped from
the covering, and rested partly over the edge.

As he continued to gaze upon the delicate member, thinking whether he
had not better cover it against the mosquitoes, all at once his eye was
attracted by something red--a crooked red line that traversed from the
toe downward along the side of the foot. It was red and glittering--it
was _a stream of blood_!

His first feeling was one of horror. His next was a resolve to spring to
his feet and rouse the camp, but this impulse was checked by one of
greater prudence. Whatever enemy had done it, thought he, must still be
about the hammock; to make a noise would, perhaps, only irritate it, and
cause it to inflict some still more terrible wound. He would remain
quiet, until he had got his eyes upon the creature, when he could spring
upon it, or fire his pistol before it could do further harm.

With these ideas, quickly conceived, he rose silently to his feet, and
standing, or rather crouching forward, bent his eyes over the hammock.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE VAMPIRE.


Leon's head was close to that of the sleeper, whose sweet breath he
felt, and whose little bosom rose and fell in gentle undulation. He
scanned the inside of the hammock from head to foot. He gazed anxiously
into every fold of the cover. Not an object could he see that should not
have been there--no terrible creature--no serpent--for it was this last
that was in his mind. But something must have been there. What could
have caused the stream of blood, that now being closer he could more
plainly see trickling over the soft blue veins? Some creature must have
done it!

"Oh! if it be the small viper," thought he, "or the coral snake, or the
deadly macaurel! If these----".

His thoughts at this moment were interrupted. A light flapping of wings
sounded in his ear--so light, that it appeared to be made by the soft
pinions of the owl, or some nocturnal bird. It was not by the wings of a
bird that that sound was produced, but by the wings of a hideous
creature. Leon was conscious, from the continued flapping, that
something was playing through the air, and that it occasionally
approached close to his head. He gazed upward and around him, and at
length he could distinguish a dark form passing between him and the
light; but it glided into the darkness again, and he could see it no
more.

Was it a bird? It looked like one--it might have been an owl--it was
full as large as one; but yet, from the glance he had had of it, it
appeared to be black or very dark, and he had never heard of owls of
that colour. Moreover, it had not the look nor flight of an owl. Was it
a bird at all? or whatever it was, was it the cause of the blood? This
did not appear likely to Leon, who still had his thoughts bent upon the
snakes.

While he was revolving these questions in his mind, he again turned and
looked toward the foot of the hammock. The sight caused him a thrill of
horror. There was the hideous creature, which, he had just seen, right
over the bleeding foot. It was not perched, but suspended in the air on
its moving wings, with its long snout protruded forward and pressed
against the toe of the sleeper! Its sharp white teeth were visible in
both jaws, and its small vicious eyes glistened under the light of the
fires. The red hair covering its body and large membranous wings added
to the hideousness of its aspect, and a more hideous creature could not
have been conceived. _It was the vampire_,--the blood-sucking
_phyllostoma_!

A short cry escaped from the lips of Leon. It was not a cry of pain, but
the contrary. The sight of the great bat, hideous as the creature was,
relieved him. He had all along been under the painful impression that
some venomous serpent had caused the blood to flow, and now he had no
further fear on that score. He knew that there was no poison in the
wound inflicted by the phyllostoma--only the loss of a little blood; and
this quieted his anxieties at once. He resolved, however, to punish the
intruder; and not caring to rouse the camp by firing, he stole a little
closer, and aimed a blow with the butt of his pistol.

[Illustration: THE VAMPIRE BAT.]

The blow was well aimed, and brought the bat to the ground, but its
shrill screeching awoke everybody, and in a few moments the camp was in
complete confusion. The sight of the blood on the foot of the little
Leona quite terrified Doña Isidora and the rest; but when the cause was
explained, all felt reassured and thankful that the thing was no worse.
The little foot was bound up in a rag; and although, for two or three
days after, it was not without pain, yet no bad effects came of it.

The "blood-sucking" bats do not cause death either to man, or any other
animal, by a single attack. All the blood they can draw out amounts to
only a few ounces, although after their departure, the blood continues
to run from the open wound. It is by repeating their attacks night after
night that the strength of an animal becomes exhausted, and it dies from
sheer loss of blood and consequent faintness. With animals this is far
from being a rare occurrence. Hundreds of horses and cattle are killed
every year in the South American pastures. These creatures suffer,
perhaps, without knowing from what cause, for the phyllostoma performs
its cupping operation without causing the least pain--at all events the
sleeper is very rarely awakened by it.

It is easy to understand how it sucks the blood of its victim, for its
snout and the leafy appendage around its mouth--from whence it derives
the name "phyllostoma"--are admirably adapted to that end. But how does
it make the puncture to "let" the blood? That is as yet a mystery among
naturalists, as it also is among the people who are habitually its
victims. Even Guapo could not explain the process. The large teeth--of
which it has got quite a mouthful--seem altogether unfitted to make a
hole such as is found where the "phyllostoma" has been at work. Their
bite, moreover, would awake the soundest sleeper.

Besides these, it has neither fangs, nor stings, nor proboscis, that
would serve the purpose. How then does its reach the blood? Many
theories have been offered; some assert that it rubs the skin with its
snout until its brings it to bleeding: others say that it sets the sharp
point of one of its large tusks against the part, and then by plying its
wings wheels round and round, as upon a pivot, until the point has
penetrated--that during this operation the motion of the wings fans and
cools the sleeping victim, so that no pain is felt. It may be a long
while before this curious question is solved, on account of the
difficulty of observing a creature whose habits are nocturnal, and most
of whose deeds are "done in the dark."

People have denied the existence of such a creature as the blood-sucking
bat--even naturalists have gone so far. They can allege no better
grounds for their incredulity than that the thing has an air of the
fabulous and horrible about it. But this is not philosophy. Incredulity
is the characteristic of the half-educated. It may be carried too far,
and the fables of the vulgar have often a stratum of truth at the
bottom. There is one thing that is almost intolerable, and that is the
conceit of the "closet-naturalist," who sneers at everything as untrue
that seems to show the least _design_ on the part of the brute
creation--who denies everything that appears at all singular or
fanciful, and simply because it appears so. With the truthful
observations that have been made upon the curious domestic economy of
such little creatures as bees, and wasps, and ants, we ought to be
cautious how we reject statements about the habits of other animals,
however strange they may appear.

Who doubts that a mosquito will perch itself upon the skin of a human
being, pierce it with its proboscis, and suck away until it is gorged
with blood! Why does it appear strange that a bat should do the same?

Now your closet-naturalist will believe that the bat _does_ suck the
blood of cattle and horses, but denies that it will attack man! This is
sheer nonsense. What difference to the vampire, whether its victim be a
biped or quadruped? Is it fear of the former that would prevent it from
attacking him? Perhaps it may never have seen a human being before:
besides, it attacks its victim while asleep, and is rarely ever caught
or punished in the act. Where these creatures are much hunted or
persecuted by man, they may learn to fear him, and their original habits
may become changed, but that is quite another thing.

As nature has formed them, the blood-sucking bats will make their attack
indifferently, either upon man or large quadrupeds. There are a thousand
proofs to be had in all the tropical regions of America. Every year
animals are killed by the _phyllostoma hastatum_, not in hundreds, but
in thousands. It is recorded that on one extensive cattle-farm several
hundred head were killed in the short period of six months by the bats;
and the vaqueros, who received a bounty upon every bat they should
capture, in one year succeeded in destroying the enormous number of
_seven thousand_! Indeed, "bat-hunting" is followed by some as a
profession, so eager are the owners of the cattle-farms to get rid of
these pests.

Many tribes of Indians and travellers suffer great annoyance from the
vampire-bats. Some persons never go to sleep without covering themselves
with blankets, although the heat be ever so oppressive. Any part left
naked will be attacked by the "phyllostoma", but they seem to have a
preference for the tip of the great toe--perhaps because they have found
that part more habitually exposed. Sometimes one sleeper is "cupped" by
them, while another will not be molested; and this, I may observe, is
true also of the mosquitoes. There may be some difference as to the
state of the blood of two individuals, that leads to this fastidious
preference. Some are far more subject to their attack than others--so
much so that they require to adopt every precaution to save themselves
from being bled to death. Cayenne pepper rubbed over the skin is used to
keep them off, and also to cure the wound they have made; but even this
sometimes proves ineffective.

Of course there are many species of bats in South America besides the
vampire; in fact, there is no class of mammalia more numerous in genera
and species, and no part of the world where greater numbers are found
than in the tropical regions of America. Some are insect-eaters, while
others live entirely on vegetable substances; but all have the same
unsightly and repulsive appearance. The odour of some kinds is extremely
fetid and disagreeable.

Notwithstanding this, they are eaten by many tribes of Indians, and even
the French Creoles of Guiana have their "bat-soup," which they relish
highly. The proverb "_De gustibus non disputandum est_," seems to be
true for all time. The Spanish Americans have it in the phrase "_Cada
uno a su gusto_;" "_Chacun à son goût_," say the French; and on hearing
these tales about "ant-paste," and "roast monkey," and "armidillo done
in the shell," and "bat-soup," you, boy reader, will not fail to exclaim
"Every one to his liking."

The vampire appeared to be to Guapo's liking. It was now his turn to
keep watch, and as the rest of them got into their hammocks, and lay
awake for a while, they saw him take up the bat, spit it upon a forked
stick, and commence broiling it over the fire. Of course _he ate it_!

When morning came, and they had got up, what was their astonishment to
see no less than fourteen bats lying side by side! They were dead, of
course: Guapo had killed them all during his watch. They had appeared at
one period of the night in alarming numbers, and Guapo had done battle
manfully without awaking anybody.

Another curious tableau came under their notice shortly after. Just as
they were about to embark, a singular looking tree was observed growing
near the bank of the river. At first they thought the tree was covered
with birds'-nests, or pieces of some kind of moss. Indeed, it looked
more like a tree hung over with rags than anything else. Curiosity led
them to approach it. What was their astonishment to find that the nests,
moss, or rags, were neither more or less than a vast assemblage of bats
suspended, and asleep! They were hanging in all possible positions; some
with their heads down, some by the claws upon either wing, and some by
both, while a great many had merely hooked over the branch the little
horny curvature of their tails. Some hung down along the trunk,
suspended by a crack in the bark, while others were far out upon the
branches.

It was certainly the oddest "roost" that any of the party (Guapo,
perhaps, excepted) had ever witnessed; and, after gazing at it for some
time, they turned away without disturbing the sleepers, and getting on
board once more, floated adown the stream swiftly and silently.



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE MARIMONDAS.


That day they made good progress, having dropped down the river a
distance of fifty miles at least. They might even have gone farther, but
a good camping-place offered, and they did not like to pass it, as they
might not find another so convenient. It was a muddy bank, or rather a
promontory that ran out into the river, and was entirely without trees,
or any other vegetation, as it was annually overflowed, and formed, in
fact, part of the bed of the river. At this time the mud was quite dry
and smooth, and appeared as if it had been paddled and beaten down by
the feet of animals and birds. This was, in fact, the case, for the
point was a favourite resting-place for the "chiguires," or "capivaras,"
on their passage to and from the water. There were tracks of tapirs,
too, and peccaries, and many sorts of wading birds, that had been there
while the mud was still soft.

There were no trees to which to hang their hammocks, but the ground was
smooth and dry, and they could sleep well enough upon it. They would not
be troubled with the bats, as these creatures keep mostly in the dark
shadowy places of the forest; and snakes would not likely be found out
on the bare ground. They thought they would there be safer from jaguars,
too. In fact, it was from these considerations that they had chosen the
place for their camp. They could go to the woods for an armful or two of
sticks to cook supper with, and that would suffice.

The balza was brought close in on the upper side of the promontory, so
as to be out of the current; and then all landed and made their
preparations for passing the night. Guapo marched off with his axe to
get some firewood, and Leon accompanied him to assist in carrying it.
They had not far to go--only a hundred yards or so, for up at the end of
the promontory the forest began, and there were both large trees and
underwood.

As they walked forward one species of trees caught their attention. They
were palm-trees, but of a sort they had not yet met with. They were very
tall, with a thick, globe-shaped head of pinnate, plume-like leaves. But
what rendered these trees peculiar was the stem. It was slender in
proportion to the height of the tree, and was thickly covered with long
needle-shaped spines, not growing irregularly, but set in bands, or
rings, around the tree. This new palm was the "pupunha," or
"peach-palm," as it is called, from the resemblance which its fruits
bear to peaches. It is also named "pirijao" in other parts of South
America, and it belongs to the genus "_Gullielma_."

At the tops of these trees, under the great globe of leaves, Guapo and
Leon perceived the nuts. They were hanging in clusters, as grapes grow;
but the fruits were as large as apricots, of an oval, triangular shape,
and of a beautiful reddish yellow colour. That they were delicious
eating, either roasted or boiled, Guapo well knew; and he was determined
that some of them should be served at supper. But how were they to be
reached? No man could climb such a tree as they grew upon! The needles
would have torn the flesh from any one who should have attempted it.

Guapo knew this. He knew, moreover, that the Indians, who are very fond
of the fruit of this tree,--so much so that they plant large _palmares_
of it around their villages--have a way of climbing it to get at the
ripe clusters. They tie cross pieces of wood from one tree to the other,
and thus make a sort of step-ladder, by which they ascend to the fruit.
It is true, they might easily cut down the trees, as the trunks are not
very thick; but that would be killing the goose that gave the golden
eggs.

Guapo, however, had no farther interest in this wild orchard than to
make it serve his turn for that one night; so, laying his axe to one of
the "pupunhas," he soon levelled its majestic stem to the ground.
Nothing more remained than to lop off the clusters, any one of which was
as much as Leon could lift from the ground. Guapo found the wood hard
enough even in its green state, but when old it becomes black, and is
then so hard that it will turn the edge of an axe. There is, perhaps, no
wood in all South America harder than that of the pirijao palm.

It is with the needle-like spines of this species that many tribes of
Indians puncture their skins in tattooing themselves, and other uses are
made by them of different parts of this noble tree. The macaws, parrots,
and other fruit-eating birds, are fonder of the nuts of the pupunha than
perhaps any other species; and so, too, would be the fruit-eating
quadrupeds if they could get at them. But the thorny trunk renders them
quite inaccessible to all creatures without wings, excepting man
himself. No; there is one other exception, and that is a creature
closely allied to man, I mean the _monkey_.

Notwithstanding the thorny stem, which even man cannot scale without a
contrivance; notwithstanding the apparently inaccessible
clusters--inaccessible from their great height--there is a species of
monkey that manages now and then to get a meal of them. How do these
monkeys manage it? Not by climbing the stem, for the thorns are too
sharp even for them. How then? Do the nuts fall to the ground and allow
the monkeys to gather them? No. This is not the case. How then? We shall
see!

Guapo and Leon had returned to the camp, taking with them the pupunha
fruit and the firewood. A fire was kindled, the cooking-pot hung over it
on a tripod, and they all sat around to wait for its boiling.

While thus seated, an unusual noise reached their ears coming from the
woods. There were parrots and macaws among the palms making noise
enough, and fluttering about, but it was not these. The noise that had
arrested the attention of our travellers was a mixture of screaming, and
chattering, and howling, and barking, as if there were fifty sorts of
creatures at the making of it. The bushes, too, were heard "switching
about," and now and then a dead branch would crack, as if snapped
suddenly. To a stranger in these woods such a blending of sounds would
have appeared very mysterious and inexplicable. Not so to our party.
They knew it was only a troop of monkeys passing along upon one of their
journeys. From their peculiar cries, Guapo knew what kind of monkeys
they were.

"_Marimondas_," he said.

The marimondas are not true "howlers," although they are of the same
tribe as the "howling monkeys." They belong to the genus _Ateles_, so
called because they want the thumb, and are therefore _imperfect_ or
_unfinished_ as regards the hands. But what the ateles want in hands is
supplied by another member--the tail, and this they have to all
perfection. It is to them a fifth hand, and apparently more useful than
the other four. It assists them very materially in travelling through
the tree-tops. They use it to bring objects nearer them. They use it to
suspend themselves in a state of repose, and thus suspended, they
sleep--nay more, thus suspended they often die! Of all the monkey tribe
the ateles are those that have most prehensile power in their tails.

There are several species of them known--the coaita, the white-faced,
the black cayou, the beelzebub, the chamek, the black-handed, and the
marimonda. The habits of all are very similar, though the species differ
in size and colour.

The marimonda is one of the largest of South American monkeys, being
about three feet standing upon its hind-legs, with a tail of immense
length, thick and strong near the root, and tapering to a point. On its
under side, for the last foot or so from the end, there is no hair, but
a callous skin, and this is the part used for holding on to the
branches. The marimonda is far from being a handsome monkey. Its long,
thin arms and thumbless hands give it an attenuated appearance, which is
not relieved by the immense disproportioned tail. It is reddish, or of a
parched coffee colour, on the upper part of the body, which becomes
blanched on the throat, belly, and insides of the thighs. Its colour, in
fact, is somewhat of the hue of the half-blood Indian and Negro,--hence
the marimonda is known in some parts of Spanish America by the name of
"mono zambo," or "zambo" monkey--a "zambo" being the descendant of
Indian and Negro parents.

The noise made by the marimondas which had been heard by our party
seemed to proceed from the bank of the river, some distance above the
promontory; but it was evidently growing louder every minute, and they
judged that the monkeys were approaching.

In a few minutes they appeared in sight, passing along the upper part of
a grove of trees that stood close to the water. Our travellers had now
an excellent view of them, and they sat watching them with interest.
Their mode of progression was extremely curious. They never came to the
ground, but where the branches interlocked they ran from one to the
other with the lightning speed of squirrels, or, indeed, like birds upon
the wing.

Sometimes, however, the boughs stood far apart. Then the marimonda,
running out as far as the branch would bear him, would wrap a few inches
of his tail around it and spring off into the air. In the spring he
would give himself such an impetus as would cause the branch to revolve,
and his body following this circular motion, with the long thin arms
thrown out in front, he would grasp the first branch that he could
reach. This, of course, would land him on a new tree, and over that he
would soon spring to the next.

Among the troop several females were perceived with their young. The
latter were carried on the backs of the mothers, where they held on by
means of their own little tails, feeling perfectly secure. Sometimes the
mothers would dismount them, and cause them to swing themselves from
branch to branch, going before to show them the way. This was witnessed
repeatedly. In other places, where the intervening space was too wide
for the females with their young to pass over, the males could be seen
bending down a branch of the opposite tree, so as to bring it nearer,
and assist them in crossing. All these movements were performed amidst a
constant gabble of conversation, and shouting, and chattering, and the
noise of branches springing back to their places.

The grove through which the troop was passing ended just by the edge of
the promontory. The palm-trees succeeded, with some trees of large size
that grew over them.

The marimondas at length reached the margin of the grove, and then they
were all seen to stop, most of them throwing themselves, heads down, and
hanging only by their tails. This is the position in which they find
themselves best prepared for any immediate action; and it is into this
attitude they throw themselves when suddenly alarmed. They remained so
for some minutes; and from the chattering carried on among them, it was
evident that they were engaged in deliberation. A loud and general
scream proclaimed the result; and all of them, at one and the same
instant, dropped down to the ground, and were seen crossing over among
the palm-trees.

They had to pass over a piece of open ground with only some weeds upon
it; but their helplessness on the ground was at once apparent. They
could not place their palms on the surface, but doubled them up and
walked, as it were, on the backs of their hands in the most awkward
manner. Every now and again, they flung out their great tails, in hopes
of grasping something that would help them along; and even a large weed
was a welcome support to them. On the ground they were evidently "out of
their element." In fact, the _ateles_ rarely descend from the trees,
which are their natural _habitat_.

At length they reached the palms; and, seated in various attitudes,
looked up at the tempting fruit, all the while chattering away. How were
they to reach it? Not a tree that was not covered with long needles--not
a bunch of the luscious fruit that was not far above the height of the
tallest marimonda! How were they to get at it?--that was the question.
It might have been a puzzling question to so many boys--to the monkeys
it was not; for in less than a score of seconds they had settled it in
their minds how the pupunhas were to be plucked.

Rising high over the palms grew a large tree, with long out-reaching
branches. It was the "zamang" tree--a species of _mimosa_, and one of
the most beautiful trees of South America. Its trunk rose full seventy
feet without a branch; and then it spread out in every direction in
numerous horizontal limbs, that forked and forked again until they
became slender boughs. These branches were clad with the delicate
pinnate leaves that characterise the family of the mimosas.

Many of the pupunha palms grew under the shadow of this zamang, but not
the tallest ones. These were farther out. There were some, however,
whose tufted crowns reached within a few yards of the lower limbs of the
mimosa.

The monkeys, after a short consultation, were seen scampering up the
zamang. Only some of the old and strong ones went--the rest remained
watching below.

From the earnestness of their looks it was evident they felt a lively
interest in the result. So, too, did the party of travellers; for these
watched so closely, that the pot was in danger of boiling over.

The marimondas, having climbed the trunk, ran out upon the lowermost
limbs, until they were directly above the palms. Then one or two were
seen to drop off, and hang down by their tails. But, although, with
their fore-arms at full stretch, they hung nearly five feet from the
branch, they could not even touch the highest fronds of the palms, much
less the fruit-clusters that were ten or twelve feet farther down. They
made repeated attempts; suspending themselves over the very tallest
palms, but all to no purpose.

One would have supposed they would have given it up as a bad job. So
thought Doña Isidora, Leon, and the little Leona. Don Pablo knew better
by his reading, and Guapo by his experience. When they saw that no one
of them could reach the nuts, several were seen to get together on one
of the branches. After a moment one dropped down head-foremost as
before, and hung at his full length. Another ran down the body of this
one, and taking a turn of his tail round his neck and fore-arm, skipped
off and also hung head downwards. A third joined himself on to the
second in a similar manner, and then a fourth. The fore-arms of the
fourth rested upon the fruit-cluster of the pupunha!

The chain was now long enough for the purpose. In a few minutes the last
monkey on the chain, with his teeth and hands, had separated the
footstalk of the spathes, and the great clusters--two of them there
were--fell heavily to the bottom of the tree. The marimondas on the
ground ran forward; and, in the midst of loud rejoicings began to pull
off the "peaches" and devour them.

But the monkeys above did not cease their labours. There were many
mouths to feed, and they wanted more nuts. Without changing their
position, they, by means of their arms and legs, threw themselves into a
vibrating motion, and by this means the last on the string soon seized
upon another pupunha, and also detached its fruit. In this way they
continued, until they had stripped every tree within their reach; when,
judging they had got enough, the lowermost monkey _climbed back upon
himself_, then up his companions to the branch, and in the same style
was followed by the other three in succession. As soon as they were
clear of one another, the whole party came down by the trunk to the
ground, and joined their comrades below in the luxurious repast.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

THE MONKEY MOTHER.


Now you will, perhaps, imagine that Guapo, having sat so quiet during
all this scene, had no desire for a bit of roast-monkey to supper. In
that fancy, then, you would be quite astray from the truth. Guapo had a
_strong_ desire to eat roast marimonda that very night; and, had he not
been held back by Don Pablo, he would never have allowed the monkeys to
get quietly out of the zamang--for it being an isolated tree, it would
have afforded him a capital opportunity of "treeing" them. His blow-gun
had been causing his fingers to itch all the time; and as soon as Don
Pablo and the rest were satisfied with observing the monkeys, Guapo set
out, blow-gun, in hand, followed by Leon.

There was no cover by which he might approach the group; and, therefore,
no course was left for him but to run up as quickly forward as possible,
and take his chance of getting a shot as they made off.

This course he pursued; but, before he was within anything like fair
range, the monkeys, uttering their shrill screams, scampered over the
open ground, much faster than before, and took to the grove, from which
they had approached the spot.

Guapo followed at a slashing pace, and was soon under the trees, Leon at
his heels. Here they were met by a shower of sticks, pieces of bark,
half-eaten "peaches," and something that was far less pleasant to their
olfactory nerves! All these came from the tops of the trees--the very
tallest ones--to which the monkeys had retreated, and where they were
now hidden among the llianas and leaves.

You may fancy that it is easy to pursue a troop of monkeys in a forest.
But it is not easy--in most cases it is not _possible_. The tangled
underwood below puts a stop to the chase at once, as the monkeys can
make their way through the branches above much quicker than the hunter
can through the creeping plants below.

The pursuit would have been all up with Guapo, for the marimondas had
soon got some way beyond the edge of the grove; but just as he was
turning to sulk back, his keen Indian eye caught sight of one that was
far behind the rest--so far, indeed, that it seemed determined to seek
its safety rather by hiding than by flight. It had got under cover of a
bunch of leaves, and there it lay quiet, uttering neither sound nor
syllable. Guapo could just see a little bit of its side, and at this in
an instant the gravatána was pointed. Guapo's chest and cheeks were seen
to swell out to their fullest extent, and off went the arrow. A shriek
followed--the monkey was hit--beyond a doubt. Guapo coolly waited the
result.

A movement was visible among the leaves; the marimonda was seen to turn
and double about, and pluck something from its side; and then the broken
arrow came glancing among the twigs, and fell to the ground. The monkey
was now perceived to be twisting and writhing upon the branches, and its
wild death-screams was answered by the voices of the others farther off.

At length its body was seen more distinctly; it no longer thought of
concealment; but lay out along the limb; and the next moment it dropped
off. It did not fall to the ground, though. It had no design of
gratifying its cruel destroyer to that extent. No; it merely dropped to
the end of its tail, which, lapped over the branch, held it suspended. A
few convulsive vibrations followed, and it hung down dead!

Guapo was thinking in what way he might get it down, for he knew that
unless he could reach it by some means, it would hang there until the
weather rotted it off, or until some preying bird or the tree-ants had
eaten it. He thought of his axe--the tree was not a very thick one, and
it was a soft-wood tree. It would be worth the labour of cutting it
down.

He was about turning away to get the axe, when his eye was attracted by
the motion of some object near the monkey.

"Another!" he muttered, and sure enough, another,--a little
tiny-creature,--ran out from among the leaves, and climbed down the tail
and body of the one already shot, threw it arms around her neck and
whined piteously. It was the young one--Guapo had shot the mother!

The sight filled Leon with pity and grief; but Guapo knew nothing of
these sentiments. He had already inserted another arrow into his
gravatána, and was raising his tube to bend it, when, all at once, there
was a loud rustling among the leaves above--a large marimonda that had
returned from the band was seen springing out upon the branch--he was
the husband and father!

He did not pause a moment. Instinct or quick perception taught him that
the female was dead: his object was to save the young one.

He threw his long tail down, and grasped the little creature in its firm
hold, jerked it upward; and then mounting it on his back, bore it off
among the branches!

All this passed so quickly, that Guapo had not time to deliver his
second arrow. Guapo saw them no more.

The Indian, however, was not to be cheated out of his supper of
roasted-monkey. He walked quietly back for his axe; and bringing it up,
soon felled the tree, and took the marimond mother with him to the camp.

His next affair was to skin it, which he did by stripping the pelt from
the head, arms, legs, and all; so that after being skinned, the creature
bore a most hideous resemblance to a child!

The process of cooking came next, and this Guapo made more tedious than
it might have been, as he was resolved to dress the marimonda after the
manner practised by the Indians, and which by them is esteemed the best.
He first built a little stage out of split laths of the pupunha palm.
For this a hard wood that will resist fire a long time is necessary, and
the pupunha was just the thing.

Under this stage Guapo kindled a fire of dry wood, and upon the laths he
placed his monkey in a sitting posture, with its arms crossed in front,
and its head resting upon them. The fire was then blown upon, until it
became a bright blaze, which completely enveloped the half-upright form
of the monkey. There was plenty of smoke; but this is nothing in the
eyes of a South American Indian, many of whom prefer the "smoky flavour"
in a roast monkey.

Guapo had now no more to do, but wait patiently until the body should be
reduced to a black and charred mass, for this is the condition in which
it is eaten by these strange people. When thus cooked, the flesh becomes
so dry that it will keep for months without spoiling.

The white people who live in the _monkey countries_ eat roast monkey as
well as the Indians. Many of them, in fact, grow very fond of it. They
usually dress it, however, in a different manner. They take off the head
and hands before bringing it to the table; so that the "child-like"
appearance is less perceptible.

Some species of monkeys are more delicate food than others, and there
are some kinds that _white_ monkey-eaters will not touch.

As for the Indians, it seems with them to be "all fish," &c.; and they
devour all kinds indifferently, whether they be "howlers," or "ateles,"
or "capuchins," or "ouistitis," or "sajous," or "sakis," or whatever
sort. In fact, among many Indian tribes, monkey stands in the same place
that mutton does in England; and they consider it their staple article
of flesh meat. Indeed, in these parts, no other animal is so common as
the monkey; and, with the exception of birds and fish, they have little
chance of getting any other species of animal food. The best "Southdown"
would, perhaps, be as distasteful to them as monkey meat would be to
you; so here again we are met by that same eternal proverb,--_Chacun à
son goût._



CHAPTER XXXVII.

AN UNEXPECTED GUEST.


Guapo sat by the fire patiently awaiting the "doing" of the marimonda.
The rest had eaten their supper, and were seated some distance apart.
They were looking out upon the broad river, and watching the movements
of the various birds. They could see tall scarlet flamingoes on the
farther shore, and smaller birds of the ibis kind. They could see the
"tiger crane," so called from its colour and spots resembling the
markings of the jaguar. Among some tall canes on the banks the
"ciganos," or gipsy birds, fluttered about with their great crest,
looking like so many pheasants, but far inferior to these creatures in
their flesh. In fact, the flesh of the "cigano" is so bitter and
disagreeable that even _Indians will not eat it_.

Sitting upon a naked branch that projected over the water they noticed
the solitary sky-blue king-fisher. Over the water swept the great harpy
eagle--also a fisher like his white-headed cousin of the North; and now
and then flocks of muscovy ducks made the air resound with their strong
broad wings. They saw also the "boat-bill," or "crab-eater," a curious
wading bird of the heron kind, with a large bill shaped like two boats
laid with their concave sides against each other. This, like the
king-fisher, sat solitarily upon a projecting stump, now and then
dashing into the shallow water, and scooping up the small fishes, frogs,
and crustacea with its huge mandibles.

Another curious bird was observed, which had something of the appearance
of the water-hen--to which kind it is also assimilated in its habits. It
was the "faithful jacana" or "chuza," as it is called in some places.
There are several species of "jacana" in South America, and also some
species in the tropical countries of the East. That known as the
"faithful jacana" has a body about the size of a common fowl; but its
legs and neck are longer, so that when standing it is a foot and a half
in height. The body is of a brownish colour; and there is a crest of
twelve black feathers on the nape of the neck, three inches in length.
At the bend of the wings there are horny spurs, half an inch long, with
which the bird can defend itself when attacked. It is, however, a
pacific bird, and only uses them in defence.

The most singular character of the jacana is its long toes and claws.
There are four upon each foot: three in front, and one directed
backwards, and when standing these cover a base nearly as large as the
body of the bird; and, indeed, upon ordinary ground they interfere with
the freedom of its walking. But these spreading feet were not designed
for ordinary ground. They were given it to enable it to pass lightly
over the leaves of water-lilies, and other yielding surfaces, through
which a narrow-footed bird would at once sink. Of course, as nature
designed them for this purpose, they answer admirably, and the jacana
skims along the surface of lily-covered ponds or streams without
sinking. From the leaves it picks up such insects and larvæ as lodge
there, and which form its principal food.

The jacana utters a singular cry when alarmed. It remains silent during
the whole day, and also at night, unless disturbed by the approach of
some danger, when it utters its "alarm cry." So quick is its ear, that
it can detect the least noise or rustling caused by any one approaching.
For this reason some tribes of Indians have tamed the jacana, and use it
as a sentinel or "watch-dog," to apprise them of the approach of their
enemies during the darkness of the night. Another use is also made of it
by the Spanish-Americans. It is tamed and allowed to go about along with
the domestic poultry. When these are attacked by hawks or other birds of
prey, the jacana defends them with its sharp wing-spurs, and generally
succeeds in beating off the enemy. It never deserts the flock, but
accompanies it in all its movements, and will defend its charge with
great fury and courage.

Besides the water-birds which were noticed by our travellers, many kinds
were seen by them upon the shore and fluttering among the trees. There
were parrots in flocks, and macaws in pairs--for these birds usually go
in twos--there were trogons, and great billed toucans, and their kindred
the aracaris; and there, too, were "umbrella-chatterers," of which there
is a species quite white; and upon a fruit-covered tree, not far off,
they saw a flock of the snow-white "bell-birds" (_Casmarhynchos_).
These are about as large as blackbirds, with broad bills, from the base
of which grows a fleshy tubercle that hangs down to the length of nearly
three inches, like that of the turkey-cock. The name of "bell-birds" is
given to them on account of the clear, bell-like ring of their note,
which they utter about the middle of the day, when most other creatures
of the tropical world are in silence or asleep.

Of course Don Pablo as a naturalist was interested in all those birds,
and observed their habits and movements with attention. There was none
of them about which he had not some strange story to tell, and in this
way he was beguiling the after-supper hour. It was too early for them to
go to rest--indeed it was not quite sunset; and Guapo for one had not
yet had his supper, although that meal was now very near at hand. The
marimonda was becoming charred and black, and would soon be ready for
mastication.

Guapo sat by the fire, now and again raking up the cinders with a long
pole which he held in his hand, while his eyes from time to time rested
on the marimonda that was directly in front of him, _vis-à-vis_.

At length the monkey appeared to him to be "done to a turn," and with
his _macheté_ in one hand, and a forked stick in the other, he was just
bending forward to lift it off the fire, when, to his horror, the ground
was felt to move beneath him, causing him to stagger, and almost
throwing him from his feet! Before he could recover himself, the surface
again heaved up, and a loud report was heard, like the explosion of some
terrible engine. Then another upheaval--another report--the ground
opened into a long fissure--the staging of palms, and the half-burned
cinders, and the charred monkey, were flung in all directions, and Guapo
himself went sprawling upon his back!

Was it an earthquake? So thought the others, who were now on their feet
running about in great consternation--the females screaming loudly. So,
too, thought Guapo for the moment.

Their belief in its being an earthquake, however, was of short duration.
The shocks continued; the dried mud flew about in large pieces, and the
burnt wood and splinters were showered in the air. The smoke of these
covered the spot, and prevented a clear view; but through the smoke the
terrified spectators could perceive that some large body was in
motion--apparently struggling for life! In another moment it broke
through the bending stratum of mud, causing a long rift, and there was
displayed before their eyes the hideous form of a gigantic crocodile!

Though not quite so terrible as an earthquake, it was a fearful monster
to behold. It was one of the largest, being nearly twenty feet in
length, with a body thicker than that of a man. Its immense jaws were of
themselves several feet long, and its huge tusks, plainly seen, gave it
a most frightful appearance. Its mouth was thrown open, as though it
gasped for air, and a loud bellowing proceeded from its throat that
sounded like a cross between the grunting of a hog and the lowing of a
bull.

The air was filled with a strong musky odour, which emanated from the
body of the animal; and, what with the noise made by the crocodile
itself, the screams and shouts of the party, the yelling of the various
birds--for they, too, had taken up the cue--there was for some moments
an utter impossibility of any voice being heard above the rest. It was,
indeed, a scene of confusion. Don Pablo and his companions were running
to and fro--Guapo was tumbling about where he had fallen--and the great
lizard was writhing and flapping his tail, so that pots, pans,
half-burnt faggots, and even Guapo's monkey, were being knocked about in
every direction.

Of course such a violent scene could not be of long duration. It must
end one way or the other. Guapo, who soon came to himself, now that he
saw what it was that had pitched him over, had already conceived a plan
for terminating it. He ran for his axe, which fortunately lay out of the
range of the crocodile's tail, and having laid his hands upon it, he
approached in a stealthy manner with the intention of striking a blow.

He directed himself towards the root of the reptile's tail, for he knew
that that was the only place where a blow of the axe would cripple it;
but, just as he was getting within reach, the crocodile suddenly shifted
himself round, making his tail fly like a piece of sprung whalebone.
Guapo leaped hastily back--as hastily, I will make bold to say, as any
Indian of his years could have done, but not quick enough to clear
himself quite. He wanted about eight inches; but in this case inches
were as good as miles for the crocodile's purpose, for about eight
inches of the tip of his tail came "smack" across Guapo's naked shins,
and sent the old Indian head over heels.

It was just an accident that Guapo's shanks were not broken like sticks
of sealing-wax; and had the blow been directed with the crocodile's full
force, such would have been the unhappy result. As it was they were only
"scratched," and Guapo, leaping to his feet, ran to recover his axe, for
that weapon had flown several yards out of his hands at the blow.

By the time he laid hold of it, however, the _saurian_, was no longer on
dry ground. His newly-opened eyes--opened, perhaps, for the first time
for months--caught sight of the water close by, and crawling forward a
step or two, he launched his ugly, mud-bedaubed carcass into the welcome
element. The next moment he had dived, and was out of sight.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

THE CROCODILE AND CAPIVARAS.


Guapo was in no humour for enjoying the conversation of that evening.
The crocodile had "choused" him out of his favourite supper. The monkey
was literally knocked to "smithereens," and the pieces that still
adhered together were daubed all over with mud. It wasn't fit meat--even
for an Indian--and Guapo had to content himself with a dried plantain
and a stew of jerked horse-flesh.

Of course Don Pablo and the rest examined with curiosity the great hole
in the mud that had contained the crocodile. There it had lain during
months of the dry season in a state of torpidity, and would, no doubt,
have remained still longer, but that it was aroused by the big fire that
Guapo had built over it. The irritation produced by this had been the
cause of its sudden resurrection, for the crocodiles that thus bury
themselves usually come out after the beginning of the heavy rains.

It was a true long-snouted crocodile, as Don Pablo had observed in the
short opportunity he had had; and not an alligator--for it must be here
remarked, that the true crocodile is found in many parts of Spanish
America, and also in many of the West Indian Islands. For a long time it
was believed that only alligators existed in America, and that the
crocodiles were confined to the Eastern Continent. It is now known that
at least one species of crocodile is an American animal, and several
distinct species of alligators are inhabitants of the New World.

There is the alligator of the Mississippi--which is the "caïman" or
"cayman" of the Spanish Americans; there is the spectacled alligator, a
southern species, so called from a pair of rings around its eyes having
a resemblance to spectacles; and there is a still smaller species called
the "bava," which is found in Lake Valencia, and in many South American
rivers. The last kind is much hunted by the Indians, who, although they
eat parts of all these creatures, are fonder of the flesh of the bava
than of any of the others.

They had not intended to keep watch this night, as the naked promontory
seemed to be a safe place to sleep upon; but now, after their adventure
with the crocodile, they changed their minds, and they resolved to mount
guard as before. The monster might easily crawl out of the water again,
and, judging from the size of his mouth, it is not improbable to suppose
that he might have swallowed one of the smaller individuals of the party
at a single effort. Lest he might return to use either his teeth or his
tail, the watch was set as on other nights--Leon taking the first turn,
Guapo the second, and Don Pablo sitting it out till daybreak. The night
passed through, however, without any unusual disturbance; and although
an occasional plunge was heard in the water close by, no more was seen
of the crocodile until morning.

I have said _until_ morning--for he was seen then. Yes! indeed. That
beauty was not going to let them off without giving them another peep at
him--not he.

They were awake and up before day; and as the fire had been kept burning
all night, they had now nothing more to do than rake up the embers, and
hang on the coffee-kettle. It was not yet bright day when breakfast was
already cooked, and they sat down to eat it.

While engaged in this operation, they noticed a string of flamingoes on
the muddy promontory, at the end where it joined the land. They were
ranged in line, like soldiers, some of them balanced on one long thin
leg, as these birds do. They appeared in the grey light to be unusually
tall; but when it became a little clearer, our travellers could perceive
that they were not upon the ground, but standing upon an old log. This,
of course, made them look taller. They were just in the very track by
which Guapo and Leon had passed to get the wood the evening before. Now,
neither Guapo nor Leon remembered any log. They were certain there was
none there, else they would have cut it up for firewood, that was a sure
thing; and it was very mysterious who could have rolled a log there
during the night!

While discussing this point it became clearer; and, to the astonishment
of all, what they had taken to be an old log turned out to be nothing
else than their old friend the crocodile! I have said to the
astonishment of all--that is not strictly correct. Guapo saw nothing to
astonish him in that sight. He had witnessed a similar one many a time,
and so does every one who travels either on the Amazon or the Orinoco.

These flamingoes were perfectly safe, so far as the crocodile was
concerned, and they knew it. As long as they kept out of the reach of
his jaws and tail, he could not hurt them. Although he could bend
himself to either side, so as to "kiss" the tip of his own tail, he
could not reach any part of his back, exert himself as he might. This
the flamingoes and other birds well know, and these creatures being fond
of a place to perch upon, often avail themselves of the long serrated
back of the crocodile, or the caïman.

As the day became brighter the flamingoes sat still--not appearing to be
alarmed by the movements at the camp, which was about an hundred yards
distant from their perch. It was likely they had never been frightened
by the hunter, for these birds in districts where they are hunted are
exceedingly shy. All at once, however, as if by a given signal, the
whole flock rose together, and flew off with loud screams. The
crocodile, too, was seen to move, but it was not this which had scared
them off. It was after they had gone that he had stirred himself; and
even, had it not been so, they would not have regarded his movements, as
these birds are often seen perched upon a _crawling_ crocodile!

No. Something else had affrighted them, and that was a noise in the
bushes beyond, which was now distinctly heard at the camp. There was a
rustling of leaves and a crackling of branches, as if more than one
creature made the noise. So it appeared, for the next moment nearly a
score of animals dashed out of the bushes, and ran on towards the water.

These creatures were odd enough to fix the attention of the party at the
camp. They were about the size of small hogs--very much of the same
build--and covered with a thin sandy bristly hair, just like some hogs
are. They were not "pig-headed," however. Their heads were exactly like
those of the grey rabbit, and instead of hoofs they were toed and
clawed. This gave them altogether a lighter appearance than hogs, and
yet they did not run as fast, although when first noticed they appeared
to be doing their best.

Our travellers knew them at once, for they were animals that are common
upon the rivers in all the warm parts of South America. They were
"_capivaras_," or "chiguires," as they are also called. These creatures
are peculiar to the American continent. They are, in fact, "guinea-pigs"
on a large scale, and bear the greatest resemblance to those well-known
animals, except in size and colour; for the capivaras are of uniform
sandy brown.

They are of the same genus as the guinea-pigs, though the systematizers
have put them into a separate one, and have also made a third genus to
suit another animal of very similar shape and habits. This is the
"moco," which is between the guinea-pig and capivara in size, and of a
greyish olive colour. All three are natives of South America, and in
their wild state are found only there, though from the absurd name
"guinea-pig," you may be led to think that this little creature came
originally from Africa.

The three are all "rodent" animals, and the capivara is the largest
"rodent" that is known. It, moreover, is amphibious, quite as much so as
the tapir, and is found only near the banks of rivers. It is more at
home in the water than on dry land, or perhaps it has more numerous
enemies on land; though, poor, persecuted creature! it is not without
some in either element, as will be seen by what follows.

The drove of the capivaras counted nearly a score, and they were making
for the water as fast as their legs could carry them. The crocodile lay
directly across their path, but their black eyes, large and prominent,
seemed to be occupied with something behind; and they had run up almost
against the body of the reptile before they saw it. Uttering a sort of
squeak they made a half-pause. Some sprang up and leaped over--others
attempted to go round. All succeeded except one; but the crocodile, on
seeing their approach--no doubt it was for this he had been in wait all
the morning--had thrown himself into the form of a half-moon; and as
they passed he let fly at them. His powerful tail came "flap" against
the nearest, and it was pitched several yards, where, after a kick or
two, it lay upon its side as dead as a herring, a door-nail, or even
Julius Cæsar--take your choice.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

FIGHT OF THE JAGUAR AND CROCODILE.


The chiguires that escaped past the crocodile, the next instant plunged
into the river, and disappeared under the water. They would come to the
surface for breath in ten or twelve minutes, but at such a distance off
that they needed no longer fear pursuit from the same enemy.

Our travellers took no notice of them from the moment they were fairly
out of the bushes. They saw that the crocodile had knocked one of them
over; but the eyes of Guapo and Don Pablo were directed upon a different
place--the point at which the chiguires had sallied out of the
underwood. These knew that the animals had not issued forth in their
natural way, as if they were going to the stream to drink, or in search
of food. No--quite different. Their bristles were erect--they were
excited--they were terrified--beyond a doubt they were pursued!

Who or what was their pursuer? It might be an ocelot, or the yaguarundi,
or some one of the smaller cats; for many of these prey on the
defenceless capivara. It _might_ be one of these, thought Don Pablo and
Guapo; but what if it was not? What else could it be? What else? _The
jaguar!_

It _was_ the jaguar? As they stood gazing with looks full of
apprehension, the leaves of the underwood were seen to move, and then a
beautiful but terrible object, the spotted head of a jaguar, was thrust
forth. It remained a moment as if reconnoitring, and then the whole
body, bright and glistening, glided clear of the leaves, and stood
boldly out in front of the underwood. Here it halted another
moment--only a moment. The crocodile had turned itself, and was about
closing its jaws upon the body of the chiguire, when the jaguar seeing
this, uttered a loud scream, and making one bound forward, seized the
dead animal almost at the same instant.

They were now face to face,--the great lizard and the great cat; and
their common prey was between them. Each had a firm hold with his
powerful jaws, and each appeared determined to keep what he had got. The
yellow eyes of the jaguar seemed to flash fire, and the black sunken
orbs of the saurian glared with a lurid and deadly light. It was a
terrible picture to look upon.

For some seconds both remained apparently gazing into each other's eyes,
and firmly holding the prey between them. The tail of the jaguar
vibrated in sudden angry jerks, while that of the crocodile lay bent
into a semicircle, as if ready to be sprung at a moment's notice.

This inaction did not last long. The fury of the jaguar was evidently on
the increase. He was indignant that he, the king of the American forest,
should thus meet with opposition to his will; and, indeed, the crocodile
was about the only creature in all the wide Montaña that dare oppose him
in open fight. But he was determined to conquer even this enemy, and for
that purpose he prepared himself.

Still holding on to the capivara, and watching his opportunity, he
sprang suddenly forward, throwing one of his great paws far in advance.
His object was to _claw the eye_ of his adversary; for he well knew that
the latter was vulnerable neither upon its long snout, nor its gaunt
jaws, nor even upon the tough scaly skin of its throat. Its eyes alone
could be injured, and these were the objects of the jaguar's attack.

The thrust was a failure. The crocodile had anticipated such a manoeuvre,
and suddenly raising himself on his fore-legs, threw up one of his great
scaly hands and warded off the blow. The jaguar fearing to be clutched
between the strong fore-arms of the saurian, drew back to his former
position.

This manoeuvre, and its counter-manoeuvre, were repeated several times,
and although each time the struggle lasted a little longer than before,
and there was a good deal of lashing of tails and tearing of teeth, and
scratching of claws, still neither of the combatants seemed to gain any
great advantage. Both were now at the height of their fury, and a third
enemy approaching the spot would not have been heeded by either.

From the first the head of the crocodile had been turned to the water,
from which he was not distant over ten feet. He had, in fact, been
carrying his prey towards it when he was interrupted by the attack of
the jaguar; and now at every fresh opportunity he was pushing on, bit by
bit, in that direction. He knew that in his own proper element he would
be more than a match for his spotted assailant, and no doubt he might
have escaped from the contest by surrendering his prey. Had he been a
smaller crocodile he would have been only too glad to have done so; but
trusting to his size and strength, and perhaps not a little to the
justice of his cause, he was determined not to go without taking the
capivara along with him.

The jaguar, on the other hand, was just as determined he should not. He,
too, had some rights. The capivara would not have been killed so easily,
had he not frightened it from behind; besides, the crocodile was out of
his element. He was poaching on the domain of the forest monarch.

Bit by bit, the crocodile was gaining ground--at each fresh pause in the
struggle he was forging forward, pushing the chiguire before him, and of
course causing his antagonist to make ground backwards.

The jaguar at length felt his hind-feet in the water; and this seemed
to act upon him like a shock of electricity. All at once he let go his
hold of the capivara, ran a few feet forward, and then flattening his
body along the ground, prepared himself for a mighty spring. Before a
second had passed, he launched his body high into the air, and descended
upon the back of the crocodile just over his fore-shoulders! He did not
settle there, but ran nimbly down the back of the saurian towards its
hinder part, and its claws could be heard rattling against its scaly
skin.

In a moment more he was seen close-squatted along the crocodile's body,
and with his teeth tearing fiercely at the root of its tail. He knew
that after the eyes this was the most vulnerable part of his antagonist,
and if he had been allowed but a few minutes' time, he would soon have
disabled the crocodile; for to have seriously wounded the root of his
tail, would have been to have destroyed his essential weapon of offence.

The jaguar would have succeeded had the encounter occurred only a dozen
yards farther from the water. But the crocodile was close to the river's
edge, and perceiving the advantage against him, and that there was no
hope of dismounting his adversary, he dropped the capivara, and crawling
forward, plunged into the water. When fairly launched, he shot out from
the shore like an arrow, carrying the jaguar along, and the next moment
he had dived to the depth of the stream. The water was lashed into foam
by the blows of his feet and tail; but in the midst of the froth, the
yellow body of the jaguar was seen rising to the surface, and after
turning once or twice, as if searching for his hated enemy, the creature
headed for the bank and climbed out. He stood for a moment looking back
into the stream. He appeared less cowed than angry and disappointed. He
seemed to vow a future revenge; and then seizing the half-torn carcass
of the capivara, he threw it lightly over his shoulder and trotted off
into the thicket.

Our travellers had not watched this scene either closely or
continuously. They had been too busy all the time. From its commencement
they had been doing all in their power to get away from the spot; for
they dreaded lest the jaguar might either first overpower the crocodile
and then attack them, or being beaten off by the latter, might take it
into his head to revenge himself by killing whatever he could. With
these apprehensions, therefore, they had hastily carried everything
aboard, and drawing in their cable, pushed the balza from the shore.
When the fight came to an end, they had got fairly into the current, and
just as the jaguar disappeared, the raft was gliding swiftly down the
broad and rippling stream.



CHAPTER XL.

ADVENTURE WITH AN ANACONDA.


For several days they voyaged down-stream, without any occurrence of
particular interest. Once or twice they saw Indians upon the shore; but
these, instead of putting off in their canoes, seemed frightened at so
large a craft, and remained by their "maloccas," or great
village-houses, in each of which several families live together. Not
caring to have any dealings with them, our travellers were only too glad
to get past without molestation; and, therefore, when they passed any
place where they thought they observed the signs of Indians on the bank,
they kept on for hours after, without stopping.

A curious incident occurred one evening as they were bringing the balza
to her moorings, which compelled them to drop a little farther
down-stream, and, in fact, almost obliged them to float all night, which
would have been a dangerous matter, as the current at the place happened
to be sharp and rapid.

They had been on the look-out for some time for a good camping-place, as
it was their usual hour to stop. No opening, however, appeared for
several miles. The banks on both sides were thickly-wooded to the
river's edge, and the branches of the trees even drooped into the water.
At length they came in sight of a natural raft that had been formed by
driftwood in a bend of the stream; and as the logs lay thickly together,
and even piled upon each other, it appeared an excellent place to encamp
on. It was, at all events, better than to attempt to penetrate the thick
jungles which met them everywhere else; and so the balza was directed
towards the raft, and soon floated alongside it.

They had already got ashore on the raft, which was dry and firm, and
would have served their purpose well enough; when, all at once, Guapo
was heard uttering one of those exclamations, which showed that all was
not right. The rest looked towards him for an explanation. He was
standing by the edge of the floating timber, just where the balza
touched it, with his arms stretched out in an attitude that betokened
trouble. They all ran up. They saw what was the matter at a glance.
Thousands of red ants were climbing from the raft to the balza!
Thousands,--nay, it would be nearer the truth to say millions!

At one glance Don Pablo saw that it would be a terrible calamity, should
these creatures gain a lodgment on the balza. Not only were they the
dreaded stinging ants, but in a short time nothing on board would be
left. In a few hours they would have eaten all his stores,--his bark,
his vanilla, and his roots. Already quite a number had got upon the
canoe, and were crossing it toward the body of the balza.

Without saying another word, he ordered all to get on board as quickly
as possible, each taking some utensil that had already been carried on
shore. He and Guapo flew to the poles; and, having hastily unfastened
and drawn in the cable, they pushed the balza out into the stream. Then
while Guapo managed the great oar, Don Pablo, assisted by Leon and by
Doña Isidora, went to work with scoops and pails, dashing water upon the
ants; until every one of them had disappeared, drowned in the canoe or
washed off into the river. Fortunate for them, they had observed this
strange enemy in time. Had they not done so--in other words, had they
gone to sleep, leaving the balza where it was during the night--they
would have awakened in the morning to find their stores completely
destroyed, their labour of a year brought to nothing in the space of a
single night. This is no uncommon occurrence to the merchant or the
colonist of tropical America.

They had made a narrow escape, but a fortunate one. They were not
without their troubles, however. No open ground could be found for miles
below; and, as it was growing dark, they approached the thickly-wooded
bank; and, after a good deal of scratching among the branches, at length
succeeded in making the cable fast to a tree. The balza then swung
round, and floated at the end of the cable, half of it being buried
under the long hanging branches.

They spent their night on board, for it was no use attempting to get
on shore through the underwood; and even if they had, they could not
have encamped very comfortably in a thicket. On the other hand, the
balza did not afford the best accommodation for sleeping. The little
"toldo," or cabin, was not large enough to swing a hammock in. It would
only contain a few persons seated close together; and it had been built
more for the purpose of keeping the sun off during the hot hours of the
day than for sleeping in. The rest of the balza was occupied with the
freight; and this was so arranged with sloping sides, thatched with the
bussu-leaves, that there was no level place where one could repose upon
it. The night, therefore, was passed without very much sleep having been
obtained by any one of the party. Of course, the moment the first
streaks of day began to appear along the Eastern sky, they were all
awake and ready to leave their disagreeable anchorage.

As they were making preparations to untie the cable, they noticed that
just below where the balza lay, a horizontal limb stretched far out over
the river. It was the lowermost limb of a large zamang-tree, that stood
on the bank close to the edge of the water. It was not near the surface,
but a good many feet above. Still it was not certain that it was high
enough for the roof of the toldo to clear it. That was an important
question; for although the current was not very rapid just there, it was
sufficiently so to carry the balza under this branch before they could
push it out into the stream. Once the cable was let go, they must
inevitably pass under the limb of the zamang; and if that caught the
toldo, it would sweep off the frail roof like so much spider's-web. This
would be a serious damage; and one to be avoided, if possible.

Don Pablo and Guapo went to the end of the balza nearest the branch, and
stood for some time surveying it. It was about eight or ten yards
distant; but in the gray dawn they could not judge correctly of its
height, and they waited till it grew a little clearer. At length they
came to the conclusion that the branch was high enough. The long
pendulous leaves--characteristic of this great _mimosa_ and the drooping
branchlets hung down much below the main shaft; but these, even if they
touched the roof, would do no injury. It was, therefore, determined to
let go the cable.

It was now clear day, for they had been delayed a good while; but at
length all was ready, and Guapo untied the cable, and drew the end on
board. The balza began to move; slowly at first, for the current under
the bushes was very slight.

All at once the attention of the voyagers was called to the strange
conduct of the pet monkey. That little creature was running to and fro,
first upon the roof of the toldo, then down again, all the while
uttering the most piercing shrieks as if something was biting off its
tail! It was observed to look forward and upward toward the branch of
the zamang, as if the object it dreaded was in that quarter. The eyes of
all were suddenly bent in the same direction. What was their horror on
beholding, stretched along the branch, the hideous body of an enormous
serpent! Only part of it could be seen; the hinder half and the tail
were hidden among the bromelias and vines that in huge masses clustered
around the trunk of the zamang, and the head was among the leaflets of
the mimosa; but what they saw was enough to convince them that it was a
snake of the largest size--the great "_water boa_"--the _anaconda_!

[Illustration: ADVENTURE WITH AN ANACONDA.]

That part of the body in sight was full as thick as a man's thigh, and
covered with black spots or blotches upon a ground of dingy yellow. It
was seen to glisten as the animal moved, for the latter was in motion,
crawling along the branch _outward_! The next moment its head appeared
under the pendulous leaves; and its long forking tongue, protruding
several inches from its mouth, seemed to feel the air in front of it.
This tongue kept playing backwards and forwards, and its viscid covering
glittered under the sunbeam, adding to the hideous appearance of the
monster.

To escape from passing within its reach would be impossible. The balza
was gliding directly under it! It could launch itself aboard at will. It
could seize upon any one of the party without coming from the branch. It
could coil its body around them, and crush them with the constricting
power of its muscles. It could do all this; for it had crushed before
now the tapir, the roebuck, perhaps even the jaguar himself.

All on board the boat knew its dangerous power too well; and, of course,
terror was visible in every countenance.

Don Pablo seized the axe, and Guapo laid hold of his _macheté_. Doña
Isidora, Leon, and the little Leona, were standing--fortunately they
were--by the door of the toldo; and, in obedience to the cries and
hurried gestures of Don Pablo and the Indian, they rushed in and flung
themselves down. They had scarcely disappeared inside, when the forward
part of the balza upon which stood Don Pablo and Guapo, came close to
the branch, and the head of the serpent was on a level with their own.
Both aimed their blows almost at the same instant; but their footing was
unsteady, the boa drew back at the moment, and both missed their aim.
The next moment the current had carried them out of reach, and they had
no opportunity of striking a second blow.

The moment they had passed the hideous head again dropped down, and hung
directly over, as if waiting. It was a moment of intense anxiety to Don
Pablo. His wife and children! Would it select one as its victim, and
leave the others? or----

He had but little time for reflection. Already the head of the snake was
within three feet of the toldo door. Its eyes were glaring--it was about
to dart down.

"Oh, God, have mercy!" exclaimed Don Pablo, falling upon his knees. "Oh,
God!"

At that moment a loud scream was heard. It came from the toldo; and, at
the same instant, the saïmiri was seen leaping out from the door. Along
with the rest, it had taken shelter within; but just as the head of the
snake came in sight, a fresh panic seemed to seize upon it; and, as if
under the influence of fascination, it leaped screaming in the direction
of the terrible object. It was met half way. The wide jaws closed upon
it, its shrieks were stifled, and the next moment its silken body, along
with the head of the anaconda, disappeared among the leaves of the
mimosa. Another moment passed, and the balza swept clear of the branch,
and floated triumphantly into the open water.

Don Pablo sprang to his feet, ran into the toldo, and, after embracing
his wife and children, knelt down and offered thanks to God for their
almost miraculous deliverance.



CHAPTER XLI.

A BATCH OF CURIOUS TREES.


Of course the escape from danger so imminent, after the first moments
were over, produced a sort of reaction in the feelings of all and they
were now rather joyous than otherwise. But with all there was a mixture
of regret when they thought of the fate of little "titi." It had been
their only pet, and had grown to be such a favourite that its loss was
now mourned by every one, and its absence caused them to feel as though
one of the company had been left behind. Several times during that day
poor "titi" was the subject of conversation; indeed, they could hardly
talk about anything else. Little Leona was quite inconsolable; for the
pretty creature had loved Leona, and used to perch on her shoulder by
the hour, and draw her silken ringlets through its tiny hand, and place
its dainty little nose against the rich velvet of her cheek, and play
off all sorts of antics with her ears. Many an hour did "titi" and
Leona spend together. No wonder that the creature was missed.

During the whole of that day they travelled through a country covered
with dense forest. The river was a full half-mile wide, but sometimes
there were islands, and then the current became narrowed on each side,
so that in passing, the balza almost touched the trees on one side or
the other. They saw many kinds of trees growing together, and rarely a
large tract covered with any one species of timber, for this, as already
remarked, is a peculiarity of the Amazon forest.

Many new and curious trees were noticed, of which Don Pablo gave short
botanical descriptions to the others, partly to instruct them, and
partly to while away the hours. Guapo, at the rudder, listened to these
learned lectures, and sometimes added some information of his own about
the properties of the trees, and the uses to which they were put by the
Indians. This is what is termed the popular part of the science of
botany, and, perhaps, it is more important than the mere classification
of genera and species, which is usually all the information that you get
from the learned and systematic botanists.

Among the trees passed to-day was one called the "volador." This is a
large forest tree, with lobed leaves, of a heart-shape. But it is the
seeds which are curious, and which give to the tree the odd name of
"volador," or "flier." These seeds have each a pair of membranaceous and
striated wings, which, when the seeds fall, are turned to meet the air
at an angle of 45°; and thus a rotatory motion is produced, and the
falling seeds turn round and round like little fly-wheels. It is
altogether a curious sight when a large volador is shaken in calm
weather, to see the hundreds of seeds whirling and wheeling towards the
ground, which they take a considerable time in reaching. The volador is
not confined to South America, I have seen it in Mexico, and other parts
of North America.

Another singular tree noticed was a tree of the barberry family known
among the Spanish-Americans as _barba de tigre_, or "tiger's beard."
This name it derives from the fact of its trunk--which is very large and
high--being thickly set all over with sharp, branching thorns, that are
fancied to resemble the whiskers of the jaguar, or South American
"tiger."

A third remarkable tree (or bush) observed was the _Bixa orellana_,
which yields the well-known _arnatto_ dye. This bush is ten or twelve
feet in height, and its seeds grow in a burr-like pericarp. These seeds
are covered with a reddish pulp, which produces the dye. The mode of
making it is simple. The Indian women throw the seeds into a vessel of
hot water, and stir them violently for about an hour, until they have
taken off the pulp. The water is then poured off, and the deposit,
separated from the seeds, is mixed with oil of turtle-eggs, or crocodile
fat, and kneaded into cakes of three or four ounces weight.

It is then "anoto," sometimes written "arnatto," sometimes "arnotto,"
sometimes "onoto," and sometimes "anato." The first is the proper
spelling. In Brazil it is called "urucu," whence the French name
"rocou;" and the Peruvians have still another designation for it,
"achoté." Of course each tribe of Indians calls it by a separate name.
The botanic name, _Bixa_, is the ancient name by which it was known to
the Indians of Hayti, for it is found in most parts of tropical America
growing wild, although it is also cultivated. It is an article in great
demand among all the Indians of South America, who use it for painting
their bodies, and dyeing the cotton cloth of which they make their
garments.

But these people are very skilful in drawing pigments from plants and
trees of many kinds; in fact, their practical chemistry, so far as it
relates to dyes and poisons, is quite surprising, and from time to time
Guapo pointed out trees that were used by them, for such purposes.

One was a climbing plant, whose tendrils reached to the tops of the
highest trees. It had beautiful violet-coloured flowers, an inch long,
and Don Pablo saw that it was a species of _bignonia_. Guapo called it
"chica." When in fruit it carries a pod two feet in length, full of
winged seeds. But Guapo said it was not from the seeds that the dye was
obtained, but from the leaves, which turn red when macerated in water.
The colouring matter comes out of the leaves in the form of a light
powder, and is then shaped into cakes, which sell among the Indians for
the value of a dollar each. This colour has a tinge of lake in it, and
is prized even more highly than the anoto. Indeed, red dyes among all
savage nations seem to hold a higher value than those of any other
colour.

Another dye-tree was the "huitoc." This one is a slender tree, about
twenty feet high, with broad leaves shooting out from the stem, and nuts
growing at their bases, after the manner of the bread-fruit. These nuts
resemble black walnuts, and are of a russet colour outside; but the pulp
inside, which produces the huitoc, is of a dark blue, or purple tint.

The "wild indigo tree," was also seen growing in the woods, with a leaf
narrow at the base, and broad at the extremity. With these and many
other dyes the Indians of the Montaña paint their bodies in fantastic
modes. So much are they addicted to these customs, that, among the
Indians who labour at the missions, some have been known to work nearly
a month to procure paint enough to give their body a single coat, and
the missionaries have made a merchandise of this gigantic folly. But the
paint is not always to be looked upon in the light of a mere folly, or
vanity. Sometimes it is used to keep off the "zancudos," or mosquitoes,
so numerous and annoying in these regions.

Another singular tree was observed, which Guapo called the "marima," or
"shirt-tree." The use of this he explained. The tree stands fifty or
sixty feet high, with a diameter of from two to three. When they find
them of this size, the Indians cut them down, and then separate the
trunk into pieces of about three feet long. From these pieces they strip
the bark, but without making any longitudinal incision, so that the
piece of bark when taken off is a hollow cylinder. It is thin and
fibrous, of a red colour, and looks like a piece of coarsely-woven
sack-cloth. With this the shirt is made, simply by cutting two holes in
the sides to admit the arms, and the body being passed into it, it is
worn in time of rain. Hence the saying of the old missionaries, that in
the "forests of America garments were found ready-made on the trees."

Many other trees were noticed valuable for their fruits, or leaves, or
bark, or roots, or their wood. There was the well-known "seringa," or
India-rubber tree; the great courbaril, the "dragon's-blood" tree, not
that celebrated tree of the East but one of a different genus from whose
white bark flows a red blood-like juice.

They saw, also, a species of cinnamon-tree though not the cinnamon of
commerce; the large tree that bears the Brazilian nut-meg (the Puxiri);
and that one, also, a large forest tree, that bears the nuts known as
"Tonka beans," and which are used in the flavouring of snuff.

But of all the trees which our travellers saw on that day, none made
such a impression upon them as the "juvia," or Brazil-nut tree. This
tree is not one with a thick trunk; in fact, the largest ones are not
three feet in diameter, but it rises to a height of 120 feet. Its trunk
is branchless for more than half that height, and the branches then
spread out and droop, like the fronds of the palm. They are naked near
their bases, but loaded towards the top with tufts of silvery green
leaves, each two feet in length. The tree does not blossom until its
fifteenth year, and then it bears violet-coloured flowers; although
there is another species, the "sapucaya," which has yellow ones. But it
is neither the trunk, nor the branches, nor the leaves, nor yet the
flowers of this tree, that render it such an object of curiosity. It is
the great woody and spherical pericarps that contain the nuts or fruits
that are wonderful. These are often as large as the head of a child, and
as hard as the shell of the cocoa-nut! Inside is found a large
number--twenty or more--of those triangular-shaped nuts which you may
buy at any Italian warehouse under the name of "Brazil-nuts."



CHAPTER XLII.

THE FOREST FESTIVAL.


In consequence of their having rested but poorly on the preceding night,
it was determined that they should land at an early hour; and this they
did, choosing an open place on the shore. It was a very pretty spot, and
they could see that the woods in the background were comparatively open,
as though there were some meadows or prairies between.

These openings, however, had been caused by fire. There had been a
growth of cane. It had been burned off and as yet was not grown up
again, though the young reeds were making their appearance like a field
of green wheat. Some places, and especially near the river, the ground
was still bare. This change in the landscape was quite agreeable to our
travellers; so much so, that they resolved to exercise their limbs by
taking a short stroll; and, having finished their late dinner they set
out. They all went together, leaving the balza and camp to take care of
themselves.

After walking a few hundred yards their ears were assailed by a confused
noise, as if all the animals in the forest had met and were holding a
_conversazione_. Some low bushes prevented them from seeing what it
meant, but on pushing their way through, they saw whence and from what
sort of creatures the noise proceeded.

Standing out in the open ground was a large and tall juvia-tree. Its
spreading branches were loaded with great globes as big as human
heads--each one, of course, full of delicious nuts. These were now ripe,
and some of them had already fallen to the ground.

Upon the ground an odd scene presented itself to the eyes of our
travellers. Between birds and animals assembled there, there were not
less than a dozen kinds, all as busy as they could be.

First, then, there were animals of the rodent kind. These were pacas,
agoutis and capivaras. The pacas were creatures a little larger than
hares, and not unlike them, except that their ears were shorter. They
were whitish on the under parts, but above were of a dark brown colour,
with rows of white spots along each side. They had whiskers like the
cat, consisting of long white bristles; and their tails, like those of
hares, were scarcely visible. The agoutis bore a considerable
resemblance to the pacas. Like these, they are also rodent animals, but
less in size; and instead of being spotted, they are of a nearly uniform
dark colour mixed with reddish brown.

Both pacas and agoutis are found in most parts of tropical America.
There are several species of each, and with the chinchillas and
viscachas already described, they occupy the place in those regions that
the hares and rabbits do in northern climates. Indeed, European settlers
usually know them by the names of hare or rabbit, and hunt them in the
same way. The flesh of most species is very good eating, and they are
therefore much sought after both by the natives and colonists.

Along with these, near the juvia-tree, were several capivaras, already
noticed. But still more singular creatures on the ground were the
monkeys. Of these there were different kinds; but that which first drew
the attention of our party was the great Capuchin monkey. This creature
is not less than three feet in height and of a reddish maroon colour.
Its body is entirely different from the "ateles" monkeys, being stouter
and covered with a fuller coat of hair; and its tail is large and bushy,
without any prehensile power. It is, in fact, less of a tree monkey than
the _ateles_, although it also lives among the branches. The most
striking peculiarities of the Capuchin are its head and face. In these
it bears a stronger resemblance to the human being than any other monkey
in America.

The top of its head is covered with a crop of coarse hair, that lies
somewhat after the fashion of human hair; but, what most contributes to
the human expression is a large full beard and whiskers reaching down to
the breast, and arranged exactly after the fashion of the huge beards
worn by Orientals and some Frenchmen. There were only two of these
Capuchins on the ground--a male and female, for this species does not
associate in bands. The female one was easily distinguished by her
smaller size, and her beard was considerably less than that of the male.
The beards seemed to be objects of special attention with
both--especially the male, as every now and then he was observed to
stroke it down with his hand, just as a dandy may be seen doing with his
moustache or his well-brushed whiskers.

Another peculiar habit of the Capuchins was noticed. There was a little
pool of water close by. Every now and then they ran to this pool and
took a drink from it. But in drinking they did not apply their lips to
the pool or lap like a dog. No; they lifted the water in the hollow of
their hands--hence their specific name of _chiropotes_, or
"hand-drinking monkeys." They raised the water to their lips with great
care, taking pains not to let a drop of it fall on their precious
beards. From this habit of going so often to quench their thirst, the
Capuchin monkeys have in some parts got the name of "hard-drinking
monkeys."

Apart from these was a troop of monkeys of a very different species.
They were nearly of the same size, but more of the shape of the
"ateles;" and their long tails, naked underneath and curling downward
near the points, showed that, like them too, they possessed prehensile
power in that member. Such was the fact, for they were "howling
monkeys;" and some species of these can use the tail almost as adroitly
as the "ateles" themselves. Those that our travellers saw were the
"guaribas," nearly black in colour, but with their hands covered with
yellow hair, whence their name among the naturalists of "yellow-handed
howler."

They were seated in a ring when first observed, and one--apparently the
chief of the band--was haranguing the rest; but so rapid were his
articulations, and so changeable the tones of his voice, that any one
would have thought the whole party were chattering together. This, in
effect, did occur at intervals, and then you might have heard them to
the distance of more than a mile. These creatures are enabled to produce
this vast volume of voice in consequence of a hollow bony structure at
the root of the tongue, which acts as a drum, and which gives them the
appearance of a swelling, or goitre, in the throat. This is common to
all the howling monkeys as well as the guaribas.

Besides the howlers there were other species--there were tamarins, and
ouistitis, and the black coaitas of the genus "ateles," all assembled
around the juvia-tree. There were parrots, and macaws, and other
nut-eating birds. High above in the air soared the great eagle watching
his opportunity to swoop down on the pacas or agoutis, his natural prey.
It was altogether a singular assemblage of wild animals--a zoological
garden of the wilderness.

Our party, concealed by bushes, looked on for some time. They noticed
that not one of all the living things was _under_ the tree. On the
contrary, they formed--monkeys, cavies, parrots, and all--a sort of ring
around it, but at such a distance that none of the branches were above
them! Why was this? Guapo knew the reason well, and before leaving their
place of observation the others had an explanation of it.

While they stood gazing, one of the great globes was seen to fall from
the tree above. The loud report as it struck the earth could have been
heard a long way off. It caused the whole assemblage of living creatures
to start. The macaws flapped their wings, the monkeys ran outward and
then stopped, and a simultaneous cry from the voices of both birds and
beasts echoed on all sides; and then there was a general chattering and
screaming, as though the fall of the great pericarp had given pleasure
to all parties.

It was very evident from this circumstance why both beasts and birds
kept so far out from the tree. One of these fruits coming down like a
nine-pound shot would have crushed any of them to atoms. Indeed, so
heavy are they, that one of them falling from a height of fifty or sixty
feet will dash out the brains of a man; and the Indians who gather them
go under the trees with great wooden helmets that cover both the head
and shoulders! It would be no boy's play to "go a nutting" in a wood of
juvia-trees.

But how did the monkeys and birds get at the nuts? Neither of these
could break open the outer shell. This is full half an inch thick, and
so hard that it can scarcely be cut with a saw. How could either monkeys
or birds open it?--that was the question put to Guapo.

"Watch them," said Guapo.

All kept their eyes bent attentively on what was going on; and to their
astonishment they observed that neither the monkeys nor the birds had
anything to do with the opening of the shells. That was entirely the
work of the rodent animals, the pacas, cavies, and agoutis. These with
their fine cutting teeth laid open the thick pericarps, and whenever one
was seen to have succeeded, and the triangular nuts were scattered upon
the ground, then there was a general rush, and macaws, parrots, and
monkeys scrambled for a share.

The monkeys, however, did their part of the work. Whenever a fruit fell
from the tree, one or two of them, deputed by the others, were seen to
run in and roll it out, all the while exhibiting symptoms of great
terror. They would then lift it in their hands, several of them
together, and dash it repeatedly upon a stone. Sometimes, when the shell
was not a strong one, they succeeded in breaking it in this way; but
oftener they were not able, and then it was left to the rodent animals,
who were watched at their operations, and usually robbed of the fruits
of their labour. Such were the singular incidents witnessed at this
festival of juvia-nuts.

But the scene was brought to a sudden termination. A cry was heard that
rose far above all the other noises--a cry more terrible than the
screams of the parrots, or the shrieks of the howling monkeys--it was
the cry of the jaguar! It came from a piece of wood close to the
juvia-trees, and the branches were heard to crackle as the dreaded
utterer advanced.

In a moment the ground was cleared of every creature. Even the winged
birds had flew up from the spot, and perched upon the branches; the
cavies took to the water; the pacas and agouties to their burrows; and
the monkeys to the tops of the adjacent trees; and nothing remained on
the ground but the empty shells of the juvias.

Our party did not stay to notice the change. They, too, had been warned
by the roar of the tiger, and hastily leaving the spot, returned to
their place of encampment. On reaching it, they kindled a large circle
of fire to keep them in safety during the night. They saw no more of the
jaguar, although at intervals through the midnight hours, they were
awakened by his loud and savage cry, resounding through the openings of
the forest.



CHAPTER XLIII.

ACRES OF EGGS.


The next evening our travellers encamped on a sand-bar, or rather a
great bank of sand, that ran for miles along one side of the river. Of
course they had nothing to hang their hammocks to, but that was a matter
of no importance, for the sand was dry and soft, and of itself would
make a comfortable bed, as pleasant to sleep on as a hair-mattress. They
only wanted wood enough to cook with, and to keep up their fire during
the night--so as to frighten off the wild beasts.

This night they kept watch as usual, Leon taking the first turn. In
fact, they found that they must do so every night--as in each of the
camps where they had slept some danger had threatened; and they thought
it would be imprudent for all to go to sleep at the same time. The
heaviest part of the sentinel's duty fell to Guapo's share; but Guapo
had long accustomed himself to go without sleep, and did not mind it;
moreover Don Pablo took longer spells at the stern-oar during the day,
and allowed Guapo many a "cat-nap."

Leon seated himself upon a pile of sand that he had gathered up, and did
his best to keep awake, but in about an hour after the rest were asleep
he felt very drowsy--in fact, quite as much so as on the night of the
adventure with the vampire. He used pretty much the same means to keep
himself awake, but not with so good success, for on this occasion he
fell into a nap that lasted nearly half-an-hour, and might have
continued still longer, had he not slid down the sand-hill and tumbled
over on his side. This awoke him; and feeling vexed with himself, he
rubbed his eyes as if he was going to push them deeper into their
sockets.

When this operation was finished, he looked about to see if any creature
had ventured near. He first looked towards the woods--for of course that
was the direction from which the tigers would come, and these were the
only creatures he feared; but he had scarcely turned himself when he
perceived a pair of eyes glancing at him from the other side of the
fire. Close to them another pair, then another and another, until having
looked on every side, he saw himself surrounded by a complete circle of
glancing eyes! It is true they were small ones, and some of the heads
which he could see by the blaze, were small--they were not jaguars, but
they had an ugly look--they looked like the heads of serpents! Was it
possible that an hundred serpents could have surrounded the camp?

Brought suddenly to his feet, Leon stood for some moments uncertain how
to act. He fully believed they were snakes--anacondas, or water-snakes
no doubt--that had just crept out of the river; and he felt that a
movement on his part would bring on their united and simultaneous attack
upon the sleeping party. Partly influenced by this fear, and again
exhibiting that coolness and prudence which we have already noticed as a
trait of his character, he remained for some moments silent and
motionless.

Having already risen to his feet, his eyes were now above the level of
the blaze, and, as they got the sleep well scared out of them, he could
see things more distinctly. He now saw that the snake-like heads were
attached to large oval-shaped bodies, and that, besides the half
hundred or so that had gathered around the fires, there were whole
droves of the same upon the sandy beach beyond. The white surface was
literally covered as far as he could see on all sides of him with black
moving masses; and where the rays of the moon fell upon the beach, there
was a broad belt that glistened and sparkled as though she shone upon
pieces of glass kept constantly in motion!

A singular sight it was; and to Leon, who had never heard of such
before, a most fearful one. For the life of him he could not make out
what it all meant, or by what sort of odd creatures they were
surrounded. He had but an indistinct view of them, but he could see that
their bodies were not larger than those of a small sheep, and from the
way in which they glistened under the moon he was sure they were
water-animals, and had come out of the river!

He did not stay to speculate any longer upon them. He resolved to wake
Guapo; but in doing so the whole party were aroused, and started to
their feet in some alarm and confusion. The noise and movement had its
effect on the nocturnal visitors; for before Leon could explain himself,
those immediately around the fires and for some distance beyond rushed
to the edge, and were heard plunging by hundreds into the water.

Guapo's ear caught the sounds, and his eye now ranging along the sandy
shore, took in at a glance the whole thing.

"Carapas," he said laconically.

"Carapas?" inquired Leon.

"Oh!" said Don Pablo, who understood him. "Turtles is it?"

"Yes, master," replied Guapo. "This is, I suppose, one of their great
hatching-places. They are going to lay their eggs somewhere in the sand
above. They do so every year."

There was no danger from the turtles, as Guapo assured everybody, but
the fright had chased away sleep, and they all lay awake for some time
listening to Guapo's account of these singular creatures, which we shall
translate into our own phraseology.

These large turtles, which in other parts of South America are called
"arraus," or simply "tortugas," assemble every year in large armies,
from all parts of the river. Each one of these armies chooses for itself
a place to breed--some sandy island, or great sand-bank. This they
approach very cautiously--lying near it for some days, and reconnoitring
it with only their heads above the water. They then crawl ashore at
night in vast multitudes--just as the party saw them--and each turtle,
with the strong crooked claws of her hind feet, digs a hole for herself
in the sand. These holes are three feet in diameter and two deep. In
this she deposits her eggs--from seventy to one hundred and twenty of
them--each egg being white, hard-shelled, and between the size of a
pigeon's and pullet's. She then covers the whole with sand, levelling it
over the top so that it may look like the rest of the surface, and so
that the precious treasure may not be found by vultures, jaguars, and
other predatory creatures. When this is done the labour of the turtle is
at an end.

The great army again betakes itself to the water, and scatters in every
direction. The sun acting upon the hot sand does the rest; and in less
than six weeks the young turtles, about an inch in diameter, crawl out
of the sand, and at once make for the water. They are afterwards seen in
pools and lakes, where the water is shallow, far from the place where
they have been hatched; and it is well known that the first years of
their life are not spent in the bed of the great river. How they find
these pools, or whether the mothers distinguish their own young and
conduct them thither, as the crocodiles and alligators do, is a mystery.
With these last the thing is more easy, as the crocodile mothers deposit
their eggs in separate places, and each returns for her young when they
are hatched, calls them by her voice, and guides them to the pool where
they are to remain until partly grown.

But among the thousands of little turtles hatched at one place and time,
and that seek the water altogether, how would it be possible for the
turtle mother to distinguish her own young? Yet an old female turtle is
frequently seen swimming about with as many as a hundred little ones
after her! Now are these her own, or are they a collection picked up out
of the general progeny? That is an undetermined question. It would seem
impossible that each turtle mother should know her own young, yet amidst
this apparent confusion there may be some maternal instinct that guides
her to distinguish her own offspring from all the rest. Who can say?

It is not often, however, that the turtle is permitted to have offspring
at all. These creatures are annually robbed of their eggs in millions.
They have many enemies, but man is the chief. When a turtle hatching
place is discovered, the Indians assemble, and as soon as all the eggs
have been deposited, they uncover and collect them. They eat them--but
that is not the principal use to which they are put. It is for the
making of oil, or "tortoise-butter," they are collected.

The eggs are thrown into a large trough or canoe, where they are broken
up with a wooden spade and stirred about for awhile. They then remain
exposed to the sun, until the oily part collects on the surface, which
is then skimmed off and well boiled. The "tortoise-butter" is now made,
and after being poured into earthen jars or bottles, it is ready for
market. The oil is clear, of a pale yellow colour, and some regard it as
equal to the best olive oil, both for lamps and for cooking. Sometimes,
however, it has a putrid smell, because many of the eggs are already
half hatched before the gathering takes place.

What would be the result were these eggs not gathered by the Indians?
Perhaps in the different rivers of South America more than an hundred
millions of them are deposited every year! In the Orinoco alone, in
three principal hatching places, it has been calculated that at least
thirty three millions are annually destroyed for the making of
tortoise-butter! Fancy, then, one hundred millions of animals, each of
which grows to the weight of fifty or sixty pounds, being produced every
year, and then the increase in production which these would make if left
to themselves! Why the rivers would be crowded; and it would be true
what old Father Gumilla once asserted, that "It would be as difficult to
count the grains of sand on the shores of the Orinoco, as to count the
immense number of tortoises that inhabit its margins and waters. Were it
not for the vast consumption of tortoises and their eggs, the river,
despite its great magnitude, would be unnavigable, for vessels would be
impeded by the enormous multitude of the tortoises."

But nature has provided against this "over-population" of the turtles
by giving them a great many enemies. The jaguars, the ocelots, the
crocodiles, the cranes, and the vultures, all prey upon them; and,
perhaps, if man were to leave them alone, the result would be, not such
a great increase in the number of the turtles, but that the creatures
who prey upon them would come in for a larger share.

The "carapa," or arrau turtle, is, when full grown, forty or fifty
pounds in weight. It is of a dark green colour above and orange beneath,
with yellow feet. There are many other species of fresh-water turtles in
the rivers of South America, but these breed separately, each female
choosing her own place, and making her deposit alone. Indeed, some of
the smaller species, as the "terekay," are more esteemed both for their
flesh and eggs; but as a large quantity of these eggs is never found
together, they are not collected as an article of trade, but only to be
roasted and eaten. The white does not coagulate in roasting or boiling,
and only the yolk is eaten, but that is esteemed quite as palatable as
the eggs of the common fowl.

The flesh of all kinds is eaten by the Indians, who fry it in pots, and
then pour it with its own oil into other vessels and permit it to cool.
When thus prepared, it will keep for a long time, and can be taken out
when required for use.

Most of the above particulars were communicated by Guapo; and when he
had finished talking, all the others went to sleep, leaving Guapo to his
midnight vigil.



CHAPTER XLIV.

A FIGHT BETWEEN TWO VERY SCALY CREATURES.


When they awoke in the morning they found Guapo busy over the fire. He
had already been at the turtles' nests, and had collected a large
basketful of the eggs, some of which he was cooking for breakfast. In
addition to the eggs, moreover, half-a-dozen large turtles lay upon
their backs close by. The flesh of these Guapo intended to scoop out and
fry down, so as to be carried away as a sort of stock of preserved
meat;--and a very excellent idea it was. He had caught them during his
watch as they came out of the water.

All the turtles had gone off, although this is not always the case; for
frequently numbers that have not finished covering their eggs during the
night may be seen hard at work in the morning, and so intent on it, that
they do not heed the presence of their worst enemies. These the Indians
denominate "mad tortoises."

This morning, however, no "mad tortoises" were to be seen; but when our
travellers cast their eyes along the beach they saw quite a number that
appeared to be turned upon their backs just like those that Guapo had
capsized. They were at some distance from the camp, but curiosity
prompted our travellers to walk along the beach and examine them. Sure
enough there were nearly a dozen large tortoises regularly laid on their
backs, and unable to stir; but, besides these, there were several
tortoise-shells out of which the flesh had been freshly scooped, and
these were as neatly cleaned out as if the work had been done by an
anatomist. All this would have been a mystery but for the experience of
Guapo; but Guapo knew it was the jaguar that had turned the tortoises
on their backs, and that had cleaned out and eaten the flesh from the
empty shells!

Now, it is no easy thing for a man, provided with the necessary
implements, to separate the flesh of a tortoise from its shell, and yet
the jaguar, with his paw, can in a few minutes perform this operation
most adroitly, as our travellers had full proof. All that they saw had
been done that same night; and it gave them no very pleasant feeling to
know that the jaguar had been at work so near them.

This animal, as Guapo said, in attacking the turtles, first turns them
over, so as to prevent their escape--for the "carapas" are of those
tortoises that once upon their backs on level ground cannot right
themselves again. He then proceeds to tear out the flesh, and eats it at
his leisure. Oftentimes he capsizes a far greater number than he can
eat, and even returns to the spot to have a second meal of them; but
frequently the Indians wandering along the river, find the tortoises he
has turned over, and of course make an easy capture of them.

Guapo, upon this occasion, took advantage of the jaguar's skill, and
carried to the camp all that the latter had left. It was Guapo's design
to make a large quantity of "turtle sausage-meat," so that they might
have a supply for many days, as by this time even Guapo himself was
getting tired of the horse-flesh "charqui."

They were about returning to camp, when their attention was drawn to two
dark objects upon the sand-beach a little farther on. These objects were
in motion, and at first they believed they were a pair of "mad
tortoises" that had not yet returned to the water, although they were
close to its edge.

Led on by curiosity our party approached them, and saw that one only was
a tortoise, and one of the largest kind, being nearly three feet in
diameter. The other animal was a small caïman or alligator.

As our travellers drew near they saw that these two creatures were
engaged in a fierce and deadly combat. Now, it is a curious fact that
the larger alligators and crocodiles are among the most destructive
enemies which the turtles have, eating thousands of the latter while
they are still tiny little creatures and unable to defend themselves;
and, on the other hand, that the turtles prey extensively on the young
of both alligators and crocodiles, eating them whenever they can catch
them! I say this is a curious fact in natural history, and it seems a
sort of retaliatory principle established between these two kinds of
reptiles, as if they ate one another's offspring _en revanche_.

There is no feeling of revenge, however, in the matter. It is merely an
instinct of appetite by which both kinds will eat almost any small fry
they come across. In fact, the alligators and crocodiles not only eat
the young of the turtles, but their own young as well. That is, the _old
males_ do; and it has been stated, that the males of some species of
tortoises have a similar unnatural appetite.

The turtle of which we are speaking is one of the most carnivorous of
the whole race, and one of the fiercest in its nature too; so much so,
that it has earned the name of the "fierce tortoise." It will eat fish
and small crustacea, and almost any living thing it finds in the water,
which is not too large for it. It is extremely expert in catching its
prey. It lies concealed at the bottom among the roots of flags and
nymphæ; and when any small fish chances to pass it, by means of its long
neck darts out its head and seizes upon its unsuspecting victim. Once
the bill of the "fierce turtle" has closed upon any object its hold is
secure. You may cut its head off, but otherwise it cannot be forced to
let go, until it has either captured its prey or taken the piece with
it. It will "nip" a stout walking-cane between its mandibles, as if it
was no more than a rush.

A very good story is told of a thief and a tortoise. The thief was
prowling about the larder of an hotel in search of plunder, when he came
upon a large market-basket filled with provisions. He immediately
inserted his hand to secure the contents, when he felt himself suddenly
seized by the fingers, and bitten so severely, that he was fain to draw
back his hand in the most hasty manner possible. But along with the hand
he drew out a "snapping" turtle. To get rid of the "ugly customer" was
his next care; but, in spite of all his efforts, the turtle held on,
determined to have the finger. The scuffle, and the shouts which pain
compelled the thief to give utterance to, awoke the landlord and the
rest of the household; and before the thief could disengage himself and
escape, he was secured and given into custody.

Well, it was just a tortoise of this species, a "snapping turtle," and
one of the largest size, that our travellers now saw doing battle with
the caïman. The caïman was not one of large size, else the turtle would
have fled from it, not that even the largest caïmans are feared by the
full-grown _carapas_. No; the strong plate-armour of the latter protects
them both from the teeth and tail of this antagonist. The jaguar, with
his pliable paws and sharp subtle claws, is to them a more dreaded
assailant than the crocodile or caïman.

The one in question was some six or seven feet long, and altogether not
much heavier than the turtle itself. It was not for the purpose of
eating each other they fought. No--their strife was evidently on other
grounds. No doubt the caïman had been attempting to plunder the new-laid
eggs of the tortoise, and the latter had detected him in the act. At all
events, the struggle must have been going on for some time, for the sand
was torn up, and scored, in many places, by the sharp claws of both.

The battle appeared to be still at its height when our party arrived on
the spot. Neither tortoise nor caïman paid any attention to their
presence, but fought on pertinaciously. The aim of the caïman appeared
to be to get the head of the tortoise in his mouth; but whenever he
attempted this, the latter suddenly drew his head within the shell, and
repeatedly disappointed him. The tortoise, on its part, rose at
intervals upon its hind-feet, and making a dash forward, would dart
forth its long neck, and clutch at the softer parts of its antagonist's
body just under the throat. Several times it had succeeded in this
manoeuvre, and each time it had brought the piece with it, so that the
caïman was already somewhat mangled. Another manoeuvre of the tortoise
was to seize the tail of its antagonist. Instinct seemed to teach it
that this was a vulnerable part, and for the purpose of reaching the
tail, it constantly kept crawling and edging round towards it.

Now, there is no movement so difficult for a reptile of the crocodile
kind as to turn its body on dry land. The peculiar formation of the
vertebræ, both of its neck and spine, renders this movement difficult;
and in "changing front," the reptile is forced to describe a full circle
with its unwieldy body--in fact to turn "all of a piece." The tortoise,
therefore, had the advantage, and, after several efforts, he at length
succeeded in outflanking his antagonist, and getting right round to his
rear. He lost no time, but, raising himself to his full height and
making a dart forward, seized the tail and held on. He had caught by the
very tip, and it was seen that his horny mandibles had taken a proper
hold.

Now commenced a somewhat ludicrous scene. The caïman, though but a small
one, with the immense muscular power which he possessed in his tail, if
not able to detach his antagonist, was able to give him a sound shaking,
and the turtle was seen vibrating from side to side, dragged along the
sand. He held his broad yellow feet spread out on all sides, so as to
preserve his equilibrium, for he well knew that to lose that would be to
lose his life. Should he get turned on his back it would be all over
with him; but he carefully guarded against such a fatal catastrope. Of
course there were intervals when the caïman became tired, and remained
still for a moment; and at each of these intervals the tortoise renewed
his hold, and, in fact, as our party now perceived, was slowly, though
surely, _eating the tail_!

When this had continued a short while, the great saurian seemed to
despair. The pain, no doubt, caused him to weep "crocodile's tears,"
though none were seen, but his eyes glared with a lurid light, and he
began to look around for some means of escape from his painful position.
His eye fell upon the water. That promised something, although he knew
full well the turtle was as much at home there as he. At all events, his
situation could not be a worse one, and with this, or some such
reflection, he made a "dash" for the water. He was but a few feet from
it, but it cost him a good deal of pulling and dragging, and clawing the
sand, before he could get into it. In fact, the tortoise knew that its
position could not be benefited by the change, and would have preferred
fighting it out on dry land, and to do this he set _his_ claws as firmly
as possible, and pulled the tail in the opposite direction!

The strength of the caïman at length prevailed. He got his body into the
water, and, with a few strokes of his webbed feet, jerked the turtle
after, and both were now fairly launched. Once in the river, the caïman
seemed to gain fresh vigour. His tail vibrated violently and rapidly,
throwing the tortoise from side to side until the foam floated around
them, and then both suddenly sank to the bottom.

Whether they continued "attached," or became "separated" there, or
whether the turtle killed the lizard, or the lizard the turtle, or "each
did kill the other," no one ever knew, as it is highly probable that no
human eye ever saw either of them again.

At all events, no one of _our_ party saw any more of them; and, having
watched the surface for some time, they turned in their steps and walked
back to the camp.



CHAPTER XLV.

A PAIR OF VALIANT VULTURES.


They had got into a part of the river that seemed to be a favourite
resort with turtles and crocodiles, and creatures of that description.
At different times they saw turtles of different kinds; among others,
the "painted turtle," a beautiful species that derives its name from the
fine colouring of its shell, which appears as if it had been painted in
enamel. Of crocodiles, too, they saw three or four distinct species, and
not unfrequently, the largest of all, the great black crocodile (_Jacare
nigra_). This was sometimes seen of the enormous length of over twenty
feet! Terrible-looking as these crocodiles are, they are not masters of
every creature upon the river. There are even birds that can sorely vex
them, and compel them to take to the water to save themselves from a
fearful calamity--blindness.

One day, while descending the river, our travellers were witness to an
illustration of this.

They were passing a wide sand-bank that shelved back from the river,
with a scarcely perceptible slope, when they saw, at a distance of about
two hundred yards from the water's edge, a crocodile making for the
river. He looked as though he had just awoke from his torpid sleep, for
his body was caked all over with dry mud, and he seemed both hungry and
thirsty. It was like enough he was coming from some inland pond, where
the water had dried up, and he was now on his way to the river.

All at once two dark shadows were seen passing over the white surface of
the sand-bank. In the heaven two large birds were wheeling about,
crossing each other in their courses, and holding their long necks
downwards, as if the crocodile was the object of their regard.

The latter, on seeing them, paused; and lowered his body into a squatted
or crouching attitude, as if in the birds he recognised an enemy. And
yet what could such a large creature fear from a pair of
"king-vultures?" for king vultures they were, as was easily seen by
their red-orange heads and cream-coloured plumage. What could a
crocodile, full ten feet long, fear from these, even had they been
eagles, or the great condor himself? No matter; he was evidently
frightened at them; and each time that they drew near in their flight,
he stopped and flattened his body against the sand, as if that might
conceal him. As soon as they flew off again to a more distant point of
their aërial circle, he would once more elevate himself on his arms, and
make all haste toward the water.

He had got within about an hundred yards of the river, when the birds
made a sudden turn in the sky, and swooping down, alighted upon the sand
directly before the snout of the crocodile. The latter stopped again,
and kept his eyes fixed upon them. They did not leave him long to rest;
for one of them, making a few hops towards him, came so close, that it
might have been supposed the crocodile could have seized it in his jaws.
This, in fact, he attempted to do; but the wary bird threw up its broad
wings, and flapped to one side out of his reach.

Meanwhile, the other had hopped close up to his opposite shoulder; and
while the crocodile was engaged with the first one, this made a dash
forward, aiming its great open beak at the eye of the reptile. The
crocodile parried the thrust by a sudden turn of his head; but he had
scarcely got round, when the second vulture, watching its opportunity,
rushed forward at the other eye. It must have succeeded in pecking it,
for the great lizard roared out with the pain; and rushing forward a
bit, writhed and lashed the sand with his tail.

The vultures paid no attention to these demonstrations, but only kept
out of the way of the teeth and claws of their antagonist; and then,
when he became still again, both returned to the attack as before. One
after the other was seen dashing repeatedly forward--using both legs and
wings to effect their object, and each time darting out their great
beaks towards the eyes of the reptile. The head of the latter kept
continuously moving from side to side; but move where it would, the
beaks of the vultures were ready to meet it, and to pierce into the
sockets of those deep lurid eyes.

This terrible contest lasted all the time the balza was floating by. It
was a slow current at this place, and our travellers were a long time in
passing, so that they had a good opportunity of witnessing the strange
spectacle. Long after they had glided past, they saw that the conflict
continued. They could still perceive the black body of the reptile upon
the white sand-bank, writhing and struggling, while the flapping wings
of the vultures showed that they still kept up their terrible attack.
But the head of the crocodile was no longer directed towards the water.

At the first onset the reptile had used every effort to retreat in that
direction. He knew that his only safety lay in getting into the river,
and sinking beyond the reach of his adversaries. At every interval
between their assaults, he had been seen to crawl forward, stopping only
when compelled to defend himself. Now, however, his head was seen turned
from the water; sometimes he lay parallel with the stream; and sometimes
he appeared to be heading back for the woods, while his struggles and
contortions betrayed the agony he was undergoing. But his turning in
this way was easily accounted for. He knew not in what direction lay the
river. He could no longer see. His eyes were mutilated by the beaks of
the birds. _He was blind!_

Guapo said the vultures would not leave him until they had made a meal
of his eyes, and that was all they wanted. He would then remain on
shore, perhaps without finding his way back to the water, and most
likely be attacked by jaguars, or other preying creatures, who could
conquer him the easier now that he was deprived of his sight!

As the balza glided on, Guapo told our travellers many strange stories
of crocodiles. He stated, what is well known to be true, that in the
rivers of South America many people are every year killed by these
ravenous creatures; in fact, far more than have ever fallen victims to
the salt-sea sharks. In some places they are much fiercer than in
others; but this may arise from different species being the inhabitants
of these different places. There is the true crocodile, with long sharp
snout, and large external tusks; and the caïman, with a snout broader
and more pike-shaped; and the former is a much more courageous and
man-eating creature. Both are often found in the same river; but they do
not associate together, but keep in distinct bands or societies; and
they are often mistaken for each other.

This may account for the difference of opinion that exists in regard to
the fierceness of these reptiles--many asserting that they are utterly
harmless, and will not attack man under any circumstances; while others,
who have witnessed their attacks, of course bearing testimony to the
contrary. There are many places in South America, where the natives
will fearlessly enter a lake or river known to be full of crocodiles,
and drive these creatures aside with a piece of a stick; but there are
other districts where nothing will tempt an Indian to swim across a
river infested with these reptiles. In the Amazon districts, in every
Indian village, several people may be seen who have been maimed by
crocodiles. No wonder that among author-travellers there should be such
a difference of opinion.

Guapo stated, that when an Indian has been seized by a crocodile in its
great jaws, he has only one chance of escape, and that is, by thrusting
his fingers into the eyes of the reptile. This will invariably cause it
to let go its hold, and generally frighten it, so as to enable the
person to escape. It, of course, requires great presence of mind to
effect this, as the person who has been seized will himself be in great
pain from the tearing teeth of the monster, and, perhaps, will have been
drawn under the water, before he can gather his senses. But it has often
occurred that Indians, and even women, have escaped in this way.

The eyes of the crocodile are its most tender parts,--in fact, the only
parts that can be made to feel pain. A crocodile may be disabled by
cutting at the root of its tail, but it can only be frightened by an
attack upon the eyes; and this appears to be a well-known fact, not only
to the Indians, but to all its other enemies among the birds and
quadrupeds.

The young crocodiles are often attacked, and have their eyes pecked out,
by the small gallinazo or "zamuro" vultures just in the same way that we
have seen one of a larger size become the victim of the more powerful
king vultures.



CHAPTER XLVI.

THE "GAPO."


After many days of rafting our travellers arrived in a most singular
country. They were now approaching the mighty Amazon, and the river upon
which they had hitherto been travelling appeared to divide into many
branches, where it formed _deltas_ with the Amazon. Every day, and
sometimes two or three times in the day, they passed places where the
river forked, as though each branch passed round an island, but our
travellers perceived that these branches did not meet again; and they
conjectured that they all fell into the Amazon by separate embouchures.
They were often puzzled to know which one to take, as the main river was
not always broadest, and they might get into one that was not navigable
below. A curious region it was through which they passed; for, in fact,
they were now travelling in the country of the "Gapo."

What is the "Gapo?" you will ask. The "Gapo," then, is the name given to
vast tracts of country upon the Amazon and some of its tributary
streams, that are annually inundated, and remain under water for several
months in the year. It extends for hundreds of miles along the Amazon
itself, and up many of the rivers, its tributaries also, for hundreds of
miles.

But the whole country does not become one clear sheet of water, as is
the case with floods in other parts of the world. On the contrary, high
as is the flood, the tree-tops and their branches rise still higher,
and we have in the "Gapo" the extraordinary spectacle of a flooded
forest, thousands of square miles in extent!

In this forest the trees do not perish, but retain life and verdure. In
fact, the trees of this part are peculiar, most of them differing in
kind from the trees of any other region. There are species of palms
growing in the "Gapo" that are found nowhere else; and there are animals
and birds, too, that remain in this region during the whole season of
flood. It has been further asserted that there are tribes of "Gapo"
Indians, who live in the middle of the inundation, making their
dwellings upon the trees, and who can pass from branch to branch and
tree to tree almost as nimbly as monkeys.

This may or may not be true. It would not be a new thing, if true, for
it is well known that the Guarano Indians, at the mouth of the Orinoco,
dwell among the tops of the murichi palms during many months of the
season of flood. These people build platforms on the palms, and upon
these erect roofs, and sling their hammocks, and, with little fireplaces
of mud, are enabled to cook their provisions upon them. But they have
canoes, in which they are able to go from place to place, and capture
fish, upon which they principally subsist. The murichi palm furnishes
them with all the other necessaries of life.

This singular tree is one of the noblest of the palms. It rises to a
height of more than one hundred feet, and grows in immense _palmares_,
or palm-woods, often covering the bank of the river for miles. It is one
of those called "fan-palm"--that is, the leaves, instead of being
pinnate or feathery, have long naked stalks, at the end of which the
leaflets spread out circularly, forming a shape like a fan. One of the
murichi leaves is a grand sight. The leaf-stalk, or petiole, is a foot
thick where it sprouts from the trunk; and before it reaches the
leaflets it is a solid beam of ten or twelve feet long, while the
circular fan or leaf itself is nine or ten in diameter! A single leaf of
the murichi palm is a full load for a man.

With a score of such leaves,--shining and ever verdant as they are,--at
the top of its column-like trunk, what a majestic tree is the murichi
palm!

But it is not more beautiful than useful. Its leaves, fruit, and stem,
are all put to some use in the domestic economy of the Indians. The
leaf-stalk, when dried, is light and elastic, like the quill of a
bird--owing to the thin, hard, outer covering and soft internal pith.
Out of the outer rind, when split off, the Indian makes baskets and
window-blinds. The pithy part is separated into laths, about half an
inch thick, with which window-shutters, boxes, bird-cages, partitions,
and even entire walls, are constructed.

The epidermis of the leaves furnishes the strings for hammocks and all
kinds of cordage. From the fruits a favourite beverage is produced, and
these fruits are also pleasant eating, somewhat resembling apples. They
are in appearance like pine-cones, of a red colour outside and yellow
pulp. The trunk itself furnishes a pith or marrow that can be used as
sago; and out of the wood the Indian cuts his buoyant canoe! In short,
there are tribes of Indians that not only live, in a literal sense, _on_
the murichi palms, but that almost subsist on them.

Although the flood had, to a considerable extent, subsided, the river in
most places was still beyond its banks; and this made it difficult for
our travellers to find a place for their night-camps. Several nights
they were obliged to sleep, as they best could, on the balza,--the
latter being secured to a tree. Sometimes, by pushing some distance up
the mouth of an "igaripé," or creek, they were able to find dry ground,
on which to encamp. During their passage through this labyrinth of
rivers, they travelled but very slowly, and their provisions were fast
running out. There was no chance for increasing their stock, as they
could not find either wild-hogs (peccaries) or capivaras. These
creatures, although they can swim well enough, would only be found upon
the banks of the river, when it returned within its proper channel.

Now and then Guapo brought down a parrot, a macaw, or an aracari, with
his blow-gun; but these were only temporary supplies. They had often
heard howling monkeys in the trees, but had not been able to see them;
and none of the party would have refused to eat roast-monkey now, as
they had all tried it and found it quite palatable. Guapo, blow-gun in
hand, was continually peering up among the tree-tops in search of
monkeys or other game. He was, at length, rewarded for his vigilance.

One night they had pushed the balza up an "igaripé" for a hundred yards
or so, where a dry bank gave them an opportunity of landing. The creek
itself was not much wider than the balza, and tall trees stood upon both
banks. In one or two places the thorny "jacitara" palm--which is a sort
of climbing plant, often hanging over the branches of other
trees--nearly reached across the stream. These curious palms had even to
be cautiously pushed to one side as the balza passed,--for the arrowy
claws upon them, if once hooked into the clothes of passengers, would
either have dragged the latter from off the raft, or have torn out the
piece of cloth.



CHAPTER XLVII.

THE ARAGUATOES.


Our party had passed several of these jacitaras, made the balza fast,
landed, and were just cooking their scanty supper, when they heard a
band of howling monkeys afar off in the woods. There was nothing unusual
in this; for these creatures are heard at all times among the forests of
the Amazon, especially at sunrise and before sunset, or whenever there
is any appearance of the approach of a rain-storm.

Our travellers would not have noticed their voices on this occasion, but
that they seemed to be approaching in that direction; and as they were
coming along the bank of the main river, Guapo concluded that on
arriving at the "igaripé" they would turn up it and pass near where the
balza was, and thus he might have them within reach of his gravatána. It
was certain they were coming down the river side--of course upon the
tree-tops, and would, no doubt, turn up as Guapo expected, for the trees
on the opposite side of the igaripé stood too far apart even for monkeys
to spring across.

After waiting for half-an-hour or so, the hideous howling of the monkeys
could be heard at no great distance, and they were taking the desired
route. In fact, in a few minutes after, the troop appeared upon some
tall trees that stood on the edge of the creek, not fifty yards from
where the balza was moored. They were large animals, of that lanky and
slender shape that characterises the prehensile-tailed monkeys; but
these were different from the _ateles_ already mentioned. They were
true howlers, as they had already proved by the cries they had been
uttering for the half-hour past.

There are several species of howling monkeys, as we have already stated.
Those that had arrived on the igaripé Guapo pronounced to be
_araguatoes_. Their bodies are of a reddish-brown colour on the body and
shoulders, lighter underneath, and their naked wrinkled faces are of a
bluish black, and with very much of the expression of an old man. Their
hair is full and bushy, and gives them some resemblance to a bear,
whence their occasional name of "bear-ape," and also their zoological
designation, _Simia ursina_. The araguato is full three feet without the
tail, and that powerful member is much longer.

When the band made its appearance on the igaripé, they were seen to come
to a halt, all of them gathering into a great tree that stood by the
water's edge. This tree rose higher than the rest, and the most of the
monkeys having climbed among the top branches, were visible from the
balza. There were about fifty in the troop, and one that seemed larger
than any of the others appeared to act as leader. Many of them were
females, and there were not a few that had young ones, which they
carried upon their backs just as the Indian mothers and those of other
savage nations carry their children.

Most of the little monkeys lay along the backs of their mothers,
clasping them around the neck with their fore-arms, while their hind
ones girdled the middle of the body. But it was in their tails the
little fellows seemed to place most reliance. The top parts of these
were firmly lapped around the thick base of the tails of the old ones,
and thus not only secured their seat, but made it quite impossible for
them to drop off. No force could have shaken them from this hold,
without dragging out their tails or tearing their bodies to pieces,
indeed, it was necessary they should be thus firmly seated, as the
exertions of the mothers,--their quick motions and long springing leaps
from tree to tree--would otherwise have been impossible.

On reaching the bank of the igaripé, the araguatoes were evidently at
fault. Their intention had been to proceed down along the main river,
and the creek now interfered. Its water lay directly across their
course, and how were they to get over it? Swim it, you may, say. Ha!
little do you know the dread these creatures have of water. Yes; strange
to say, although many species of them pass their lives upon trees that
overhang water, or even grow out of it, they are as much afraid of the
water beneath them as if it were fire. A cat is not half so dainty about
wetting her feet as some monkeys are; and besides a cat can swim, which
the monkeys cannot--at best so badly that in a few minutes they would
drown.

Strange, is it not, that among animals, those that approach nearest to
man, like him are not gifted by nature with the power of swimming? It is
evident, then, that that is an art left to be discovered by the
intellect of man. To fall into the water would be a sad mishap for a
monkey, not only on account of the ducking, but of the danger. There is
not much likelihood of an araguato falling in. Even though one branch
may have broken and failed it, in the great concave sphere which it can
so quickly trace around it by means of its five long members, it is sure
of finding a second. No; the araguatoes might spend a life-time in the
flooded forest without even wetting a hair farther than what is wetted
by the rain.

From their movements, it was evident the igaripé had puzzled them; and a
consultation was called among the branches of the tall tree already
mentioned. Upon one of the very highest sat the large old fellow who was
evidently leader of the band. His harangue was loud and long,
accompanied by many gestures of his hands, head, and tail. It was, no
doubt, exceedingly eloquent. Similar speeches delivered by other old
araguato chiefs, have been compared to the creaking of an ungreased
bullock-cart, mingled with the rumbling of the wheels!

Our party thought the comparison a just one. The old chief finished at
length. Up to this point not one of the others had said a word. They all
sat silent, observing perfect decorum; indeed, much greater than is
observed in the great British Parliament or the Congress of America.
Occasionally one of the children might utter a slight squeak, or throw
out its hand to catch a mosquito; but in such cases a slap from the paw
of the mother, or a rough shaking, soon reduced it to quiet.

When the chief had ended speaking, however, no debate in either Congress
or Parliament could have equalled the noise that then arose. Every
araguato seemed to have something to say, and all spoke at the same
time. If the speech of the old one was like the creaking of a
bullock-cart, the voices of all combined might appropriately be compared
to a whole string of these vehicles, with half the quantity of grease
and a double allowance of wheels!

Once more the chief, by a sign, commanded silence, and the rest became
mute and motionless as before.

This time the speech of the leader appeared to refer to the business in
hand--in short, to the crossing of the igaripé. He was seen repeatedly
pointing in that direction, as he spoke, and the rest followed his
motions with their eyes.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

BRIDGING AN IGARIPÉ.


The tree upon which the araguatoes were assembled stood near the edge of
the water, but there was another still nearer. This was also a tall tree
free of branches for a great way up. On the opposite bank of the igaripé
was a very similar tree, and the long horizontal branches of the two
were separated from each other by a space of about twenty feet. It was
with these two trees that the attention of the araguatoes appeared to be
occupied; and our travellers could tell by their looks and gestures that
they were conversing about, and calculating, the distance between their
upper branches. For what purpose?

Surely they do not expect to be able to make a crossing between them? No
creature without wings could pass from one to the other! Such were the
questions and doubts expressed by Leon, and indeed by all except Guapo,
but Guapo had seen araguatoes before, and knew some of their tricks.
Guapo, therefore, boldly pronounced that it was their intention to cross
the igaripé by these two trees. He was about to explain the manner in
which they would accomplish it, when the movement commenced, and
rendered his explanation quite unnecessary.

At a commanding cry from the chief, several of the largest and strongest
monkeys swung themselves into the tree that stood on the edge of the
water. Here, after a moment's reconnoissance, they were seen to get upon
a horizontal limb--one that projected diagonally over the igaripé. There
were no limbs immediately underneath it on the same side of the tree;
and for this very reason had they selected it. Having advanced until
they were near its top, the foremost of the monkeys let himself down
upon his tail, and hung head downward. Another slipped down the body of
the first, and clutched him around the neck and fore-arms with his
strong tail, with his head down also. A third succeeded the second, and
a fourth the third, and so on until a string of monkeys dangled from the
limb.

A motion was now produced by the monkeys striking other branches with
their feet, until the long string oscillated back and forwards like the
pendulum of a clock. This oscillation was gradually increased, until the
monkey at the lower end was swung up among the branches of the tree on
the opposite side of the igaripé. After touching them once or twice, he
discovered that he was within reach; and the next time when he had
reached the highest point of the oscillating curve, he threw out his
long thin fore-arms, and firmly clutching the branches, held fast.

The oscillation now ceased. The living chain stretched across the
igaripé from tree to tree, and, curving slightly, hung like a
suspension-bridge! A loud screaming, and gabbling, and chattering, and
howling, proceeded from the band of araguatoes, who, up to this time,
had watched the manoeuvres of their comrades in silence--all except the
old chief, who occasionally had given directions both with voice and
gestures. But the general gabble that succeeded was, no doubt, an
expression of the satisfaction of all that the _bridge was built_.

The troop now proceeded to cross over, one or two old ones going first,
perhaps to try the strength of the bridge. Then went the mothers
carrying their young on their backs, and after them the rest of the
band.

It was quite an amusing scene to witness, and the behaviour of the
monkeys would have caused any one to laugh. Even Guapo could not
restrain his mirth at seeing those who formed the bridge biting the
others that passed over them, both on the legs and tails, until the
latter screamed again!

The old chief stood at the near end and directed the crossing. Like a
brave officer, he was the last to pass over. When all the others had
preceded him, he crossed after, carrying himself in a stately and
dignified manner. None dared to bite at _his_ legs. They knew better
than play off their tricks on _him_, and he crossed quietly and without
any molestation.

Now the string still remained suspended between the trees. How were the
monkeys that formed it to get themselves free again? Of course the one
that had clutched the branch with his arms might easily let go, but that
would bring them back to the same side from which they had started, and
would separate them from the rest of the band. Those constituting the
bridge would, therefore, be as far from crossing as ever!

There seemed to be a difficulty here--that is, to some of our
travellers. To the monkeys themselves there was none. They knew well
enough what they were about, and they would have got over the apparent
difficulty in the following manner:--The one at the tail end of the
bridge would simply have let go his hold, and the whole string would
then have swung over and hung from the tree on the opposite bank, into
which they could have climbed at their leisure. I say they _would_ have
done so had nothing interfered to prevent them from completing the
manoeuvre. But an obstacle intervened which brought the affair to a very
different termination.

Guapo had been seated along with the rest, gravatána in hand. He showed
great forbearance in not having used the gravatána long before, for he
was all the while quite within reach of the araguatoes; but this
forbearance on his part was not of his own freewill. Don Pablo had, in
fact, hindered him, in order that he and the others, should have an
opportunity of witnessing the singular manoeuvres of the monkeys. Before
the scene was quite over, however, the Indian begged Don Pablo to let
him shoot, reminding him how much they stood in need of a little
"monkey-meat." This had the effect Guapo desired; the consent was given,
and the gravatána was pointed diagonally upwards. Once more Guapo's
cheeks were distended--once more came the strong, quick puff--and away
went the arrow. The next moment it was seen sticking in the neck of one
of the monkeys.

Now, the one which Guapo had aimed at and hit was that which had grasped
the tree on the opposite side with its arms. Why did he chose this more
than any other? Was it because it was nearer, or more exposed to view?
Neither of these was the reason. It was, that had he shot any of the
others in the string--they being supported by their tails--it would not
have fallen; the tail, as we have already seen, still retaining its
prehensile power even to death. But that one which held on to the tree
by its fore-arms would in a second or two be compelled from weakness to
let go, and the whole chain would drop back on the near side of the
igaripé. This was just what Guapo desired, and he waited for the result.
It was necessary only to wait half-a-dozen seconds. The monkey was
evidently growing weak under the influence of the _curare_, and was
struggling to retain its hold. In a moment it must let go.

The araguato at the "tail-end" of the bridge, not knowing what had
happened, and thinking all was right for swinging himself across,
slipped his tail from the branch just at the very same instant that the
wounded one let go, and the whole chain fell "souse" into the water!
Then the screaming and howling from those on shore, the plunging and
splashing of the monkeys in the stream, mingled with the shouts of Leon,
Guapo, and the others, created a scene of noise and confusion that
lasted for several minutes. In the midst of it, Guapo threw himself into
the canoe, and with a single stroke of his paddle shot right down among
the drowning monkeys. One or two escaped to the bank, and made off;
several went to the bottom;, but three, including the wounded one, fell
into the clutches of the hunter.

Of course roast-monkey was added to the supper; but none of the
travellers slept very well after it, as the araguatoes, lamenting their
lost companions, kept up a most dismal wailing throughout the whole of
the night.



CHAPTER XLIX.

THE MANATI.


The araguatoes, with dried plantains and cassava, were the food of our
travellers for several days after. On the evening of the third day they
had a change. Guapo succeeded in capturing a very large turtle, which
served for relish at several meals. His mode of taking the turtle was
somewhat curious, and deserves to be described.

The balza had been brought to the bank, and they were just mooring it,
when something out on the water attracted the attention of Leon and
Leona. It was a small, darkish object, and would not have been observed
but for the ripple that it made on the smooth surface of the river, and
by this they could tell that it was in motion.

"A water-snake!" said Leon.

"Oh!" ejaculated the little Leona, "I hope not, brother Leon."

"On second thoughts," replied Leon, "I don't think it is a snake."

Of course the object was a good distance off, else Leon and Leona would
not have talked so coolly about it. But their words had reached the ear
of Doña Isidora, and drawn her attention to what they were talking
about.

"No; it is not a snake," said she. "I fancy it is a turtle."

Guapo up to this had been busy with Don Pablo in getting the balza made
fast. The word "turtle," however, caught his ear at once, and he looked
up, and then out on the river in the direction where Leon and Leona were
pointing. As soon as his eye rested upon the moving object he replied to
the remark of Doña Isidora.

"Yes, my mistress," said he, "it is a turtle, and a big one too. Please
all keep quiet--I think I can get him."

How Guapo was to get the turtle was a mystery to all. The latter was
about thirty paces distant, but it would be difficult, if not
impossible, to hit his small snout--the only part above water--with the
arrow of the blow-gun. Moreover, they thought that the arrow would not
penetrate the hard, bony substance, so as to stick there and infuse its
poison into the wound.

These conjectures were true enough, but his gravatána was not the weapon
which Guapo was about to use. He had other weapons as well--a fish-spear
or harpoon, and a regular bow and arrows, which he had made during his
leisure hours in the valley.

The latter was the weapon with which the tortoise was to be killed.

Taking the bow, and adjusting an arrow to the string, Guapo stepped
forward to the water's edge. All watched him, uttering their hopes of
his success. It was still not clear with them how the turtle was to be
killed by an arrow shot from a bow any more than by one sent from a
blow-gun. Would it not glance from the shell even should he succeed in
hitting it under water! Surely it would!

As they stood whispering their conjectures to one another, they observed
Guapo, to their great astonishment, _pointing his arrow upward_, and
making as if he was going to discharge it in the air! This he, in fact,
_did_ do a moment after; and they would have been puzzled by his
apparently strange conduct, had they not observed, in the next instant,
that the arrow, after flying high up, came down again head-foremost and
stuck upright in the back of the turtle!

The turtle dived at once, and all of them expected to see the upright
arrow carried under water. What was their surprise as well as chagrin to
see that it had fallen out, and was floating on the surface! Of course
the wound had only been a slight one, and the turtle would escape, and
be none the worse for it.

But Guapo shared neither their surprise nor chagrin. Guapo felt sure
that the turtle was his, and said nothing; but, jumping into the canoe,
began to paddle himself out to where the creature had been last seen.
What could he be after? thought they.

As they watched him, they saw that he made for the floating arrow. "Oh!"
said they, "he is gone to recover it."

That seemed probable enough, but, to their astonishment, as he
approached the weapon it took a start, and ran away from him! Something
below dragged it along the water. That was clear, and they began to
comprehend the mystery. The _head_ of the arrow was still sticking in
the shell of the turtle. It was only the shaft that floated, and that
was attached to the head by a string! The latter had been but loosely
put on, so that the pressure of the water, as the turtle dived, should
separate it from the shaft, leaving the shaft with its cord to act as a
buoy, and discover the situation of the turtle.

Guapo, in his swift canoe, soon laid hold of the shaft, and after a
little careful manoeuvring, succeeded in landing his turtle high and dry
upon the bank. A splendid prize it proved. It was a "jurara"
tortoise--the "tataruga," or great turtle of the Portuguese, and its
shell was full three feet in diameter.

Guapo's mode of capturing the "jurara" is the same as that generally
practised by the Indians of the Amazon, although strong nets and the
hook are also used. The arrow is always discharged upwards, and the
range calculated with such skill, that it falls vertically on the shell
of the turtle, and penetrates deep enough to stick, and detach itself
from the shaft. This mode of shooting is necessary, else the jurara
could not be killed by an arrow, because it never shows more than the
tip of its snout above water, and any arrow hitting it in a direct
course would glance harmlessly from its shell. A good bowman among the
Indians will rarely miss shooting in this way,--long practice and native
skill enabling him to guess within an inch of where his weapon will
fall.

In the towns of the Lower Amazon, where turtles are brought to market, a
small square hole may be observed in the shells of these creatures. That
is the mark of the arrow-head.

Guapo lost no time in turning his turtle inside out, and converting part
of it into a savoury supper, while the remainder was fried into
sausage-meat, and put away for the following day.

But on that following day a much larger stock of sausage-meat was
procured from a very different animal, and that was a "cow."

"How?" you exclaim,--"a cow in the wild forests of the Amazon! Why, you
have said that no cattle--either cows or horses--can exist there without
man to protect them, else they would be devoured by pumas, jaguars, and
bats. Perhaps they had arrived at some settlement where cows were kept?"

Not a bit of it; your conjecture, my young friend, is quite astray.
There was not a civilised settlement for many hundreds of miles from
where Guapo got his cow--nor a cow neither, of the sort you are thinking
of. But there are more kinds of cows than one; and, perhaps, you may
have heard of a creature called the "fish-cow?" Well, that is the sort
of cow I am speaking of. Some term it the "sea-cow," but this is an
improper name for it, since it also inhabits fresh-water rivers
throughout all tropical America. It is known as the _Manati_, and the
Portuguese call it "_peixe boi_," which is only "fish-cow" done into
Portuguese.

It is a curious creature the fish-cow, and I shall offer you a short
description of it. It is usually about seven feet in length, and five
round the thickest part of the body, which latter is quite smooth, and
tapers off into a horizontal flat tail, semicircular in shape. There are
no hind-limbs upon the animal, but just behind the head are two powerful
fins of an oval shape. There is no neck to be perceived; and the head,
which is not very large, terminates in a large mouth and fleshy lips,
which are not unlike those of a cow: hence its name of "cow-fish." There
are stiff bristles on the upper lip, and a few thinly scattered hairs
over the rest of the body. Behind the oval fins are two _mammæ_, or
breasts, from which, when pressed, flows a stream of beautiful white
milk. Both eyes and ears are very small in proportion to the size of the
animal, but, nevertheless, it has full use of these organs, and is not
easily approached by its enemy.

The colour of the skin is a dusky lead, with some flesh-coloured marks
on the belly, and the skin itself is an inch thick at its thickest part,
on the back. Beneath the skin is a layer of fat, of great, thickness,
which makes excellent oil when boiled. As we have said, the manati has
no appearance of hind-limbs. Its fore-limbs, however, are highly
developed for a water animal. The bones in them correspond to those in
the human arm, having five fingers with the joints distinct, yet so
enclosed in an inflexible sheath that not a joint can be moved.

The cow-fish feeds on grass, coming in to the borders of the lakes and
rivers to procure it. It can swim very rapidly by means of its flat tail
and strong fins, and is not so easily captured as might be supposed. All
the art of the hunter is required to effect its destruction. The harpoon
is the weapon usually employed, though sometimes they are caught in
strong nets stretched across the mouths of rivers or the narrow arms of
lakes. The flesh of the manati is much esteemed, and tastes somewhat
between beef and pork, altogether different from "fish." Fried in its
own oil, and poured into pots or jars, it can be preserved for many
months.

As already stated, on the day after Guapo shot the turtle--in fact, the
next morning--just as they were going to shove off, some of the party,
in gazing from the edge of the balza, noticed a queer-looking animal in
the clear water below. It was no other than a "fish-cow;" and, as they
continued to examine it more attentively, they were astonished to
observe that, with its short paddle-like limbs, it hugged two miniature
models of itself close to its two breasts. These were the "calves" in
the act of suckling, for such is the mode in which the manati nourishes
her young.

All the others would have watched this spectacle for a while, interested
in the maternal and filial traits thus exhibited by a subaqueous
creature, but while they stood looking into the water, something
glanced before their eyes, and glided with a plunge to the bottom. It
was the harpoon of Guapo.

Blood rose to the surface immediately, and there was a considerable
splashing as the strong manati made its attempt to escape; but the head
of the harpoon was deeply buried in its flesh, and, with the attached
cord, Guapo soon hauled the animal ashore. It was as much as he and Don
Pablo could do to drag it on dry land; but the knife soon took it to
pieces; and then several hours were spent in making it fit for
preservation. Its fat and flesh yielded enough to fill every spare
vessel our travellers had got; and, when all were filled, the balza was
pushed off, and they continued their voyage without any fear of short
rations for some time to come.



CHAPTER L.

THE CLOSING CHAPTER.


After many days of difficult navigation the balza floated upon the broad
and mighty Amazon, whose yellowish-olive flood flowed yet fifteen
hundred miles farther to the Atlantic Ocean.

The current was in most places over four miles an hour, and the
navigation smooth and easy--so that our travellers rarely made less than
fifty miles a-day. There was considerable monotony in the landscape, on
account of the absence of mountains, as the Amazon, through most of its
course, runs through a level plain. The numerous bends and sudden
windings of the stream, however, continually opening out into new and
charming vistas, and the ever-changing variety of vegetation, formed
sources of delight to the travellers.

Almost every day they passed the mouth of some tributary river--many of
these appearing as large as the Amazon itself. Our travellers were
struck with a peculiarity in relation to these rivers--that is, their
variety of colour. Some were whitish, with a tinge of olive, like the
Amazon itself; others were blue and transparent; while a third kind had
waters as black as ink. Of the latter class is the great river of the
Rio Negro--which by means of a tributary (the Cassiquiare) joins the
Amazon with the Orinoco.

Indeed, the rivers of the Amazon valley have been classed into _white_,
_blue_, and _black_. _Red_ rivers, such as are common in the northern
division of the American continent, do not exist in the valley of the
Amazon.

There appears to be no other explanation for this difference in the
colour of rivers, except by supposing that they take their hue from the
nature of the soil through which these channels run.

But the _white_ rivers, as the Amazon itself, do not appear to be of
this hue merely because they are "muddy." On the contrary, they derive
their colour, or most of it, from some impalpable substance held in a
state of irreducible solution. This is proved from the fact, that even
when these waters enter a reservoir, and the earthy matter is allowed to
settle, they still retain the same tinge of yellowish olive. There are
some white rivers, as the Rio Branco, whose waters are almost as white
as milk itself!

The _blue_ rivers of the Amazon valley are those with clear transparent
waters, and the courses of these lie through rocky countries where there
is little or no alluvium to render them turbid.

The _black_ streams are the most remarkable of all. These, when deep,
look like rivers of ink; and when the bottom can be seen, which is
usually a sandy one, the sand has the appearance of gold. Even when
lifted in a vessel, the water retains its inky tinge, and resembles that
which may be found in the pools of peat-bogs. It is a general
supposition in South America that the black-water rivers get their
colour from the extract of sarsaparilla roots growing on their banks. It
is possible the sarsaparilla roots may have something to do with it, in
common with both the roots and leaves of many other vegetables. No other
explanation has yet been found to account for the dark colour of these
rivers, except the decay of vegetable substances carried in their
current; and it is a fact that all the black-water streams run through
the most thickly wooded regions.

A curious fact may be mentioned of the black rivers; that is, that
mosquitoes--the plague of tropical America--are not found on their
banks. This is not only a curious, but an important fact, and might be
sufficient to determine any one on the choice of a settlement. You may
deem a mosquito a very small thing, and its presence a trifling
annoyance. Let me tell you that settlements have been broken up and
deserted on account of the persecution experienced from these little
insects! They are the real "wild beasts" of South America, far more to
be dreaded than pumas, or crocodiles, or snakes, or even the fierce
jaguar himself.

Day after day our travellers kept on their course, meeting with many
incidents and adventures--too many to be recorded in this little volume.
After passing the mouth of the Rio Negro, they began to get a peep now
and then of high land, and even mountains, in the distance; for the
valley of the Amazon, on approaching its mouth, assumes a different
character from what it has farther up-stream. These mountains bend
towards it both from the Brazilian country on the south, and from Guiana
on the north, and these are often visible from the bosom of the stream
itself.

It was about a month from their entering the main stream of the Amazon,
and a little more than two from the first launching of their vessel,
when the balza was brought alongside the wharf of Grand Para, and Don
Pablo and his party stepped on shore at this Brazilian town. Here, of
course, Don Pablo was a free man--free to go where he pleased--free to
dispose of his cargo as he thought best. But he did _not_ dispose of it
at Grand Para.

A better plan presented itself. He was enabled to freight part of a
vessel starting for New York, and thither he went, taking his family and
cargo along with him. In New York he obtained a large price for his
bark, roots, and beans; in fact, when all were disposed of, he found
himself nearly twenty thousand dollars to the good. With this to live
upon, he determined to remain in the great Republic of the North until
such time as his own dear Peru might be freed from the Spanish
oppressor.

Ten years was the period of his exile. At the end of that time the
Spanish-American provinces struck almost simultaneously for liberty; and
in the ten years' struggle that followed, not only Don Pablo, but
Leon--now a young man--bore a conspicuous part. Both fought by the side
of Bolivar at the great battle of Junin, which crowned the patriot army
with victory.

At the close of the War of Independence, Don Pablo was a general of
division, while Leon had reached the grade of a colonel. But as soon as
the fighting was over, both resigned their military rank, as they were
men who did not believe in soldiering as a _mere profession_. In fact,
they regarded it as an unbecoming profession in time of peace, and in
this view _I_ quite agree with them.

Don Pablo returned to his studies; but Leon organised an expedition of
_cascarilleros_, and returned to the Montaña, where for many years he
employed himself in "bark-hunting." Through this he became one of the
richest of Peruvian "ricos."

Guapo, who at this time did not look a year older than when first
introduced, was as tough and sinewy as ever, and was at the head of the
cascarilleros; and many a _coceada_ did Guapo afterwards enjoy with his
mountain friend the "vaquero" while passing backward and forward between
Cuzco and the Montaña.

Doña Isidora lived for a long period an ornament to her sex, and the
little Leona had _her_ day as the "belle of Cuzco."

But Leon and Leona both got married at length; and were you to visit
Cuzco at the present time, you might see several little Leons and
Leonas, with round black eyes, and dark waving hair--all of them
descendants from our family of--

"FOREST EXILES."



THE BUSH-BOYS,

OR

ADVENTURES IN THE WILDS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA.



CHAPTER I.

THE BOERS.


Hendrik Von Bloom was a _boer_.

When I called Hendrik Von Bloom a boer, I did not mean him any
disrespect. Quite the contrary.

All the same it may be well to explain that Mynheer Hendrik had not
always been a boer. He could boast of a somewhat higher condition--that
is, he could boast of a better education than the mere Cape farmer
usually possesses, as well as some experience in wielding the sword. He
was not a native of the colony, but of Holland; and he had found his way
to the Cape, not as a poor adventurer seeking his fortune, but as an
officer in a Dutch regiment then stationed there.

His soldier-service in the colony was not of long duration. A certain
cherry-cheeked, flaxen-haired Gertrude--the daughter of a rich boer--had
taken a liking to the young lieutenant; and he in his turn became vastly
fond of her. The consequence was, that they got married. Gertrude's
father dying shortly after, the large farm, with its full stock of
horses, and Hottentots, broad-tailed sheep, and long-horned oxen, became
hers. This was an inducement for her soldier-husband to lay down the
sword and turn "vee-boer," or stock farmer, which he consequently did.

These incidents occurred many years previous to the English becoming
masters of the Cape colony. When that event came to pass, Hendrik Von
Bloom was already a man of influence in the colony and "field-cornet" of
his district, which lay in the beautiful county of Graaf Reinet. He was
then a widower, the father of a small family. The wife whom he had
fondly loved,--the cherry-cheeked, flaxen-haired Gertrude--no longer
lived.

History will tell you how the Dutch colonists, discontented with English
rule, rebelled against it. The ex-lieutenant and field-cornet was one of
the most prominent among these rebels. History will also tell you how
the rebellion was put down; and how several of those compromised were
brought to execution. Von Bloom escaped by flight; but his fine property
in the Graaf Reinet was confiscated and given to another.

Many years after we find him living in a remote district beyond the
great Orange River, leading the life of a "trek-boer,"--that is, a
nomade farmer, who has no fixed or permanent abode, but moves with his
flocks from place to place, wherever good pastures and water may tempt
him.

From about this time dates my knowledge of the field-cornet and his
family. Of his history previous to this I have stated all I know, but
for a period of many years after I am more minutely acquainted with it.
Most of its details I received from the lips of his own son. I was
greatly interested, and indeed instructed, by them. They were my first
lessons in African zoology.

Believing, boy reader, that they might also instruct and interest you, I
here lay them before you. You are not to regard them as merely fanciful.
The descriptions of the wild creatures that play their parts in this
little history, as well as the acts, habits, and instincts assigned to
them, you may regard as true to Nature. Young Von Bloom was a student of
Nature, and you may depend upon the fidelity of his descriptions.

Disgusted with politics, the field-cornet now dwelt on the remote
frontier--in fact, beyond the frontier, for the nearest settlement was
an hundred miles off. His "kraal" was in a district bordering the great
Kalihari desert--the Saära of Southern Africa. The region around, for
hundreds of miles, was uninhabited, for the thinly-scattered, half-human
Bushmen who dwelt within its limits, hardly deserved the name of
inhabitants any more than the wild beasts that howled around them.

I have said that Von Bloom now followed the occupation of a "trek-boer."
Farming in the Cape colony consists principally in the rearing of
horses, cattle, sheep, and goats; and these animals form the wealth of
the boer. But the stock of our field-cornet was now a very small one.
The proscription had swept away all his wealth, and he had not been
fortunate in his first essays as a nomade grazier. The emancipation law,
passed by the British Government, extended not only to the Negroes of
the West India Islands, but also to the Hottentots of the Cape; and the
result of it was that the servants of Mynheer Von Bloom had deserted
him. His cattle, no longer properly cared for, had strayed off. Some of
them fell a prey to wild beasts--some died of the _murrain_. His horses,
too, were decimated by that mysterious disease of Southern Africa, the
"horse-sickness;" while his sheep and goats were continually being
attacked and diminished in numbers by the earth-wolf, the wild hound,
and the hyena. A series of losses had he suffered until his horses,
oxen, sheep, and goats, scarce counted altogether an hundred head. A
very small stock for a vee-boer, or South African grazier.

Withal our field-cornet was not unhappy. He looked around upon his three
brave sons--Hans, Hendrik, and Jan. He looked upon his cherry-cheeked,
flaxen-haired daughter, Gertrude, the very type and image of what her
mother had been. From these he drew the hope of a happier future.

His two eldest boys were already helps to him in his daily occupations;
the youngest would soon be so likewise. In Gertrude,--or "Trüey," as she
was endearingly styled,--he would soon have a capital housekeeper. He
was not unhappy therefore; and if an occasional sigh escaped him, it was
when the face of little Trüey recalled the memory of that Gertrude who
was now in heaven.

But Hendrik Von Bloom was not the man to despair. Disappointments had
not succeeded in causing his spirits to droop. He only applied himself
more ardently to the task of once more building up his fortune.

For himself he had no ambition to be rich. He would have been contented
with the simple life he was leading, and would have cared but little to
increase his wealth. But other considerations weighed upon his
mind--the future of his little family. He could not suffer his children
to grow up in the midst of the wild plains without education.

No; they must one day return to the abodes of men, to act their part in
the drama of social and civilised life. This was his design.

But how was this design to be accomplished? Though his so called act of
treason had been pardoned, and he was now free to return within the
limits of the colony, he was ill prepared for such a purpose. His poor
wasted stock would not suffice to set him up within the settlements. It
would scarce keep him a month. To return would be to return a beggar!

Reflections of this kind sometimes gave him anxiety. But they also added
energy to his disposition, and rendered him more eager to overcome the
obstacles before him.

During the present year he had been very industrious. In order that his
cattle should be provided for in the season of winter he had planted a
large quantity of maize and buckwheat, and now the crops of both were in
the most prosperous condition. His garden, too, smiled, and promised a
profusion of fruits, and melons, and kitchen vegetables. In short, the
little homestead where he had fixed himself for a time, was a miniature
oäsis; and he rejoiced day after day, as his eyes rested upon the
ripening aspect around him. Once more he began to dream of
prosperity--once more to hope that his evil fortunes had come to an end.

Alas! It was a false hope. A series of trials yet awaited him--a series
of misfortunes that deprived him of almost everything he possessed, and
completely changed his mode of existence.

Perhaps these occurrences could hardly be termed misfortunes, since in
the end they led to a happy result.

But you may judge for yourself, boy reader, after you have heard the
"history and adventures" of the "trek-boer" and his family.



CHAPTER II.

THE KRAAL.


The ex-field-cornet was seated in front of his _kraal_--for such is the
name of a South African homestead. From his lips protruded a large pipe,
with its huge bowl of _meerschaum_. Every boer is a smoker.

Notwithstanding the many losses and crosses of his past life, there was
contentment in his eye. He was gratified by the prosperous appearance of
his crops. The maize was now "in the milk," and the ears, folded within
the papyrus-like husks, looked full and large. It was delightful to hear
the rustling of the long green blades, and see the bright golden tassels
waving in the breeze. The heart of the farmer was glad as his eye
glanced over his promising crop of "mealies."

But there was another promising crop that still more gladdened his
heart--his fine children. There they are--all around him.

Hans--the oldest--steady, sober Hans, at work in the well-stocked
garden; while the diminutive but sprightly imp Jan, the youngest, is
looking on, and occasionally helping his brother. Hendrik--the dashing
Hendrik, with bright face and light curling hair--is busy among the
horses, in the "horse-kraal;" and Trüey--the beautiful, cherry-cheeked,
flaxen-haired Trüey--is engaged with her pet--a fawn of the springbok
gazelle--whose bright eyes rival her own in their expression of
innocence and loveliness.

Yes, the heart of the field-cornet is glad as he glances from one to the
other of these his children--and with reason. They are all fair to look
upon,--all give promise of goodness. If their father feels an occasional
pang, it is, as we have already said, when his eye rests upon the
cherry-cheeked, flaxen-haired Gertrude.

But time has long since subdued that grief to a gentle melancholy. Its
pang is short-lived, and the face of the field-cornet soon lightens up
again as he looks around upon his dear children, so full of hope and
promise.

Hans and Hendrik are already strong enough to assist him in his
occupations,--in fact, with the exception of "Swartboy," they are the
only help he has.

Who is Swartboy?

Look into the horse-kraal, and you will there see Swartboy engaged,
along with his young master Hendrik, in saddling a pair of horses. You
may notice that Swartboy appears to be about thirty years old, and he is
full that; but if you were to apply a measuring rule to him, you would
find him not much over four feet in height! He is stoutly built,
however, and would measure better in a horizontal direction. You may
notice that he is of a yellow complexion, although his name might lead
you to fancy he was black--for "Swartboy" means "black-boy."

You may observe that his nose is flat and sunk below the level of his
cheeks; that his cheeks are prominent, his lips very thick, his nostrils
wide, his face beardless, and his head almost hairless--for the small
kinky wool-knots thinly scattered over his skull can scarcely be
designated hair. You may notice, moreover, that his head is monstrously
large, with ears in proportion, and that the eyes are set obliquely, and
have a Chinese expression. You may notice about Swartboy all those
characteristics that distinguish the "Hottentots" of South Africa.

Yet Swartboy is not a Hottentot--though he is of the same race. He is a
Bushman.

How came this wild Bushman into the service of the ex-field-cornet Von
Bloom? About that there is a little romantic history. Thus:--

Among the savage tribes of Southern Africa there exists a very cruel
custom,--that of abandoning their aged or infirm, and often their sick
or wounded, to die in the desert. Children leave their parents behind
them, and the wounded are often forsaken by their comrades with no other
provision made for them beyond a day's food and a cup of water!

The Bushman Swartboy had been the victim of this custom. He had been
upon a hunting excursion with some of his own kindred, and had been
sadly mangled by a lion. His comrades, not expecting him to live, left
him on the plain to die; and most certainly would he have perished had
it not been for our field-cornet. The latter, as he was "trekking" over
the plains, found the wounded Bushman, lifted him into his wagon,
carried him on to his camp, dressed his wounds, and nursed him till he
became well. That is how Swartboy came to be in the service of the
field-cornet.

Though gratitude is not a characteristic of his race, Swartboy was not
ungrateful. When all the other servants ran away, he remained faithful
to his master; and since that time had been a most efficient and useful
hand. In fact, he was now the only one left, with the exception of the
girl, Totty--who was, of course, a Hottentot; and much about the same
height, size, and colour, as Swartboy himself.

We have said that Swartboy and the young Hendrik were saddling a pair of
horses. As soon as they had finished that job, they mounted them, and
riding out of the kraal, took their way straight across the plain. They
were followed by a couple of strong, rough-looking dogs.

Their purpose was to drive home the oxen and the other horses that were
feeding a good distance off. This they were in the habit of doing every
evening at the same hour,--for in South Africa it is necessary to shut
up all kinds of live stock at night, to protect them from beasts of
prey. For this purpose are built several enclosures with high
walls,--"kraals," as they are called,--a word of the same signification
as the Spanish "corral," and I fancy introduced into Africa by the
Portuguese--since it is not a native term.

These kraals are important structures about the homestead of a boer,
almost as much so as his own dwelling-house, which of itself also bears
the name of "kraal."

As young Hendrik and Swartboy rode off for the horses and cattle, Hans,
leaving his work in the garden, proceeded to collect the sheep and drive
them home. These browsed in a different direction; but, as they were
near, he went afoot, taking little Jan along with him.

Trüey having tied her pet to a post, had gone inside the house to help
Totty in preparing the supper. Thus the field-cornet was left to himself
and his pipe, which he still continued to smoke.

He sat in perfect silence, though he could scarce restrain from giving
expression to the satisfaction he felt at seeing his family thus
industriously employed. Though pleased with all his children, it must be
confessed he had some little partiality for the dashing Hendrik, who
bore his own name, and who reminded him more of his own youth than any
of the others. He was proud of Hendrik's gallant horsemanship, and his
eyes followed him over the plain until the riders were nearly a mile
off, and already mixing among the cattle.

At this moment an object came under the eyes of Von Bloom, that at once
arrested his attention. It was a curious appearance along the lower part
of the sky, in the direction in which Hendrik and Swartboy had gone, but
apparently beyond them. It resembled a dun-coloured mist or smoke, as if
the plain at a great distance was on fire!

Could that be so? Had some one fired the _karoo_ bushes? Or was it a
cloud of dust?

The wind was hardly strong enough to raise such a dust, and yet it had
that appearance. Was it caused by animals? Might it not be the dust
raised by a great herd of antelopes,--a migration of the springboks, for
instance? It extended for miles along the horizon, but Von Bloom knew
that these creatures often travel in flocks of greater extent than
miles. Still he could not think it was that.

He continued to gaze at the strange phenomenon, endeavouring to account
for it in various ways. It seemed to be rising higher against the blue
sky--now resembling dust, now like the smoke of a widely-spread
conflagration, and now like a reddish cloud. It was in the west, and
already the setting sun was obscured by it. It had passed over the sun's
disc like a screen, and his light no longer fell upon the plain. Was it
the forerunner of some terrible storm?--of an earthquake?

Such a thought crossed the mind of the field-cornet. It was not like an
ordinary cloud,--it was not like a cloud of dust,--it was not like
smoke. It was like nothing he had ever witnessed before. No wonder that
he became anxious and apprehensive.

All at once the dark-red mass seemed to envelope the cattle upon the
plain, and these could be seen running to and fro as if affrighted. Then
the two riders disappeared under its dun shadow!

Von Bloom rose to his feet, now seriously alarmed. What could it mean?

The exclamation to which he gave utterance brought little Trüey and
Totty from the house; and Hans with Jan had now got back with the sheep
and goats. All saw the singular phenomenon, but none of them could tell
what it was. All were in a state of alarm.

As they stood gazing, with hearts full of fear, the two riders appeared
coming out of the cloud, and then they were seen to gallop forward over
the plain in the direction of the house. They came on at full speed, but
long before they had got near, the voice of Swartboy could be heard
crying out,--

"Baas Von Bloom! _da springaans are comin'!--da springaan!--da
springaan!_"



CHAPTER III.

THE SPRING-HAAN.


"Ah _the springaan_!" cried Von Bloom, recognising the Dutch name for
the far-famed migratory locust.

The mystery was explained. The singular cloud that was spreading itself
over the plain was neither more nor less than a flight of locusts!

It was a sight that none of them, except Swartboy, had ever witnessed
before. His master had often seen locusts in small quantities, and of
several species,--for there are many kinds of these singular insects in
South Africa. But that which now appeared was a true migratory locust
(_Gryllus devastatorius_); and upon one of its great migrations--an
event of rarer occurrence than travellers would have you believe.

Swartboy knew them well; and, although he announced their approach in a
state of great excitement, it was not the excitement of terror.

Quite the contrary. His great thick lips were compressed athwart his
face in a grotesque expression of joy. The instincts of his wild race
were busy within him. To them a flight of locusts is not an object of
dread, but a source of rejoicing--their coming as welcome as a take of
shrimps to a Leigh fisherman, or harvest to the husband-man.

The dogs, too, barked and howled with joy, and frisked about as if they
were going out upon a hunt. On perceiving the cloud, their instinct
enabled them easily to recognise the locusts. They regarded them with
feelings similar to those that stirred Swartboy--for both dogs and
Bushmen eat the insects with avidity!

At the announcement that it was only locusts, all at once recovered from
their alarm. Little Trüey and Jan laughed, clapped their hands, and
waited with curiosity until they should come nearer. All had heard
enough of locusts to know that they were only grasshoppers that neither
bit nor stung any one, and therefore no one was afraid of them.

Even Von Bloom himself was at first very little concerned about them.
After his feelings of apprehension, the announcement that it was a
flight of locusts was a relief, and for a while he did not dwell upon
the nature of such a phenomenon, but only regarded it with feelings of
curiosity.

Of a sudden his thoughts took a new direction. His eye rested upon his
fields of maize and buckwheat, upon his garden of melons, and fruits,
and vegetables: a new alarm seized upon him; the memory of many stories
which he had heard in relation to these destructive creatures rushed
into his mind, and as the whole truth developed itself, he turned pale,
and uttered new exclamations of alarm.

The children changed countenance as well. They saw that their father
suffered; though they knew not why. They gathered inquiringly around
him.

"Alas! alas! Lost! lost!" exclaimed he; "yes, all our crop--our labour
of the year--gone, gone! O my dear children!"

"How lost, father?--how gone?" exclaimed several of them in a breath.

"See the springaan! they will eat up our crop--all--all!"

"'Tis true, indeed," said Hans, who being a great student had often read
accounts of the devastations committed by the locusts.

The joyous countenances of all once more wore a sad expression, and it
was no longer with curiosity that they gazed upon the distant cloud,
that so suddenly had clouded their joy.

Von Bloom had good cause for dread. Should the swarm come on, and settle
upon his fields, farewell to his prospects of a harvest. They would
strip the verdure from his whole farm in a twinkling. They would leave
neither seed, nor leaf, nor stalk behind them.

All stood watching the flight with painful emotions. The swarm was still
a full half-mile distant. They appeared to be coming no nearer,--good!

A ray of hope entered the mind of the field-cornet. He took off his
broad felt hat, and held it up to the full stretch of his arm. The wind
was blowing from the north, and the swarm was directly to the west of
the kraal. The cloud of locusts had approached from the north, as they
almost invariably do in the southern parts of Africa.

"Yes," said Hendrik, who having been in their midst could tell what way
they were drifting, "they came down upon us from a northerly direction.
When we headed our horses homewards, we soon galloped out from them, and
they did not appear to fly after us; I am sure they were passing
southwards."

Von Bloom entertained hopes that as none appeared due north of the
kraal, the swarm might pass on without extending to the borders of his
farm. He knew that they usually followed the direction of the wind.
Unless the wind changed they would not swerve from their course.

He continued to observe them anxiously. He saw that the selvedge of the
cloud came no nearer. His hopes rose. His countenance grew brighter. The
children noticed this and were glad, but said nothing. All stood
silently watching.

An odd sight it was. There was not only the misty swarm of the insects
to gaze upon. The air above them was filled with birds--strange birds
and of many kinds. On slow, silent wing soared the brown "oricou," the
largest of Africa's vultures; and along with him the yellow "chasse
fiente," the vulture of Kolbé. There swept the bearded "lamvanger," on
broad extended wings. There shrieked the great "Caffre eagle," and side
by side with him the short-tailed and singular "bateleur." There, too
were hawks of different sizes and colours, and kites cutting through the
air, and crows and ravens, and many species of _insectivora_.

But far more numerous than all the rest could be seen the little
_springhaan-vogel_, a speckled bird of nearly the size and form of a
swallow. Myriads of these darkened the air above--hundreds of them
continually shooting down among the insects, and soaring up again each
with a victim in its beak. "Locust-vultures" are these creatures named,
though not vultures in kind. They feed exclusively on these insects, and
are never seen where the locusts are not. They follow them through all
their migrations, building their nests, and rearing their young, in the
midst of their prey!

It was, indeed, a curious sight to look upon, that swarm of winged
insects, and their numerous and varied enemies; and all stood gazing
upon it with feelings of wonder. Still the living cloud approached no
nearer, and the hopes of Von Bloom continued to rise.

The swarm kept extending to the south--in fact, it now stretched along
the whole western horizon; and all noticed that it was gradually getting
lower down--that is, its top edge was sinking in the heavens. Were the
locusts passing off to the west? No.

"Da am goin roost for da nacht--now we'll get 'em in bag-full," said
Swartboy, with a pleased look; for Swartboy was a regular locust-eater,
as fond of them as either eagle or kite,--aye, as the "springhaan-vogel"
itself.

It was as Swartboy had stated. The swarm was actually settling down on
the plain.

"Can't fly without sun," continued the Bushman. "Too cold now. Dey go
dead till da mornin."

And so it was. The sun had set. The cool breeze weakened the wings of
the insect travellers; and they were compelled to make halt for the
night upon the trees, bushes, and grass.

In a few minutes the dark mist that had hid the blue rim of the sky, was
seen no more; but the distant plain looked as if a fire had swept over
it. It was thickly covered with the bodies of the insects, that gave it
a blackened appearance as far as the eye could reach.

The attendant birds, perceiving the approach of night, screamed for
awhile, and then scattered away through the heavens. Some perched upon
the rocks, while others went to roost among the low thickets of mimosa;
and now for a short interval both earth and air were silent.

Von Bloom now bethought him of his cattle. Their forms were seen afar
off in the midst of the locust-covered plain.

"Let 'em feed um little while, baas," suggested Swartboy.

"On what?" inquired his master. "Don't you see the grass is covered!"

"On de springhaan demself, baas," replied the Bushman; "good for fatten
big ox--better dan grass--ya, better dan _mealies_."

But it was too late to leave the cattle longer out upon the plain. The
lions would soon be abroad--the sooner because of the locusts, for the
king of the beasts does not disdain to fill his royal stomach with these
insects--when he can find them.

Von Bloom saw the necessity of bringing his cattle at once to their
kraal.

A third horse was saddled, which the field-cornet himself mounted, and
rode off, followed by Hendrik and Swartboy.

On approaching the locusts they beheld a singular sight. The ground was
covered with these reddish-brown creatures, in some spots to the depth
of several inches. What bushes there were were clustered with them,--all
over the leaves and branches, as if swarms of bees had settled upon
them. Not a leaf or blade of grass that was not covered with their
bodies!

They moved not, but remained silent, as if torpid or asleep. The cold of
the evening had deprived them of the power of flight.

What was strangest of all to the eyes of Von Bloom and Hendrik, was the
conduct of their own horses and cattle. These were some distance out in
the midst of the sleeping host; but instead of being alarmed at their
odd situation, they were greedily gathering up the insects in mouthfuls,
and crunching them as though they had been corn!

It was with some difficulty that they could be driven off; but the roar
of a lion, that was just then heard over the plain, and the repeated
application of Swartboy's _jambok_, rendered them more tractable, and at
length they suffered themselves to be driven home, and lodged within
their kraals.

Swartboy had provided himself with a bag, which he carried back full of
locusts.

It was observed that in collecting the insects into the bag, he acted
with some caution, handling them very gingerly, as if he was afraid of
them. It was not them he feared, but snakes which, upon such occasions
are very plenteous, and very much to be dreaded--as the Bushman from
experience well knew.



CHAPTER IV.

A TALK ABOUT LOCUSTS.


It was a night of anxiety in the kraal of the field-cornet. Should the
wind veer round to the west, to a certainty the locusts would cover his
land in the morning, and the result would be the total destruction of
his crops. Perhaps worse than that. Perhaps the whole vegetation
around--for fifty miles or more--might be destroyed; and then how would
his cattle be fed? It would be no easy matter even to save their lives.
They might perish before he could drive them to any other pasturage!

Such a thing was by no means uncommon or improbable. In the history of
the Cape colony many a boer had lost his flocks in this very way. No
wonder there was anxiety that night in the kraal of the field-cornet.

At intervals Von Bloom went out to ascertain whether there was any
change in the wind. Up to a late hour he could perceive none. A gentle
breeze still blew from the north--from the great Kalihari
desert--whence, no doubt, the locusts had come. The moon was bright, and
her light gleamed over the host of insects that darkly covered the
plain. The roar of the lion could be heard mingling with the shrill
scream of the jackal and the maniac laugh of the hyena. All these
beasts, and many more, were enjoying a plenteous repast.

Perceiving no change in the wind, Von Bloom became less uneasy, and they
all conversed freely about the locusts. Swartboy took a leading part in
this conversation, as he was better acquainted with the subject than any
of them. It was far from being the first flight of locusts Swartboy had
seen, and many a bushel of them had he eaten. It was natural to suppose,
therefore, that he knew a good deal about them.

He knew not whence they came. That was a point about which Swartboy had
never troubled himself. The learned Hans offered an explanation of their
origin.

"They come from the desert," said he. "The eggs from which they are
produced, are deposited in the sands or dust; where they lie until rain
falls, and causes the herbage to spring up. Then the locusts are
hatched, and in their first stage are supported upon this herbage. When
it becomes exhausted, they are compelled to go in search of food. Hence
these 'migrations,' as they are called."

This explanation seemed clear enough.

"Now I have heard," said Hendrik, "of farmers kindling fires around
their crops to keep off the locusts. I can't see how fires would keep
them off--not even if a regular fence of fire were made all round a
field. These creatures have wings, and could easily fly over the fires."

"The fires," replied Hans, "are kindled, in order that the smoke may
prevent them from alighting; but the locusts to which these accounts
usually refer are without wings, called _voetgangers_ (foot-goers). They
are, in fact, the _larvæ_ of these locusts, before they have obtained
their wings. These have also their migrations, that are often more
destructive than those of the perfect insects, such as we see here. They
proceed over the ground by crawling and leaping like grasshoppers; for,
indeed, they are grasshoppers--a species of them. They keep on in one
direction, as if they were guided by instinct to follow a particular
course. Nothing can interrupt them in their onward march unless the sea
or some broad and rapid river. Small streams they can swim across; and
large ones, too, where they run sluggishly; walls and houses they can
climb--even the chimneys--going straight over them; and the moment they
have reached the other side of any obstacle, they continue straight
onward in the old direction.

"In attempting to cross broad rapid rivers, they are drowned in
countless myriads, and swept off to the sea. When it is only a small
migration, the farmers sometimes keep them off by means of fires, as you
have heard. On the contrary, when large numbers appear, even the fires
are of no avail."

"But how is that, brother?" inquired Hendrik. "I can understand how
fires would stop the kind you speak of, since you say they are without
wings. But since they are so, how do they get through the fires? Jump
them?"

"No, not so," replied Hans. "The fires are built too wide and large for
that."

"How then, brother?" asked Hendrik. "I'm puzzled."

"So am I," said little Jan.

"And I," added Trüey.

"Well, then," continued Hans, "millions of the insects crawl into the
fires and put them out!"

"Ho!" cried all in astonishment. "How? Are they not burned?"

"Of course," replied Hans. "They are scorched and killed--myriads of
them quite burned up. But their bodies crowded thickly on the fires
choke them out. The foremost ranks of the great host thus become
victims, and the others pass safely across upon the holocaust thus made.
So you see, even fires cannot stop the course of the locusts when they
are in great numbers.

"In many parts of Africa, where the natives cultivate the soil, as soon
as they discover a migration of these insects, and perceive that they
are heading in the direction of their fields and gardens, quite a panic
is produced among them. They know that they will lose their crops to a
certainty, and hence dread a visitation of locusts as they would an
earthquake, or some other great calamity."

"We can well understand their feelings upon such an occasion," remarked
Hendrik, with a significant look.

"The flying locusts," continued Hans, "seem less to follow a particular
direction than their larvæ. The former seem to be guided by the wind.
Frequently this carries them all into the sea, where they perish in vast
numbers. On some parts of the coast their dead bodies have been found
washed back to land in quantities incredible. At one place the sea threw
them upon the beach, until they lay piled up in a ridge four feet in
height, and fifty miles in length! It has been asserted by several
well-known travellers that the effluvium from this mass tainted the air
to such an extent that it was perceived one hundred and fifty miles
inland!"

"Heigh!" exclaimed little Jan. "I didn't think anybody had so good a
nose."

At little Jan's remark there was a general laugh. Von Bloom did not join
in their merriment. He was in too serious a mood just then.

"Papa," inquired little Trüey, perceiving that her father did not laugh,
and thinking to draw him into the conversation,--"Papa! were these the
kind of locusts eaten by John the Baptist when in the desert? His food,
the Bible says, was 'locusts and wild honey.'"

"I believe these are the same," replied the father.

"I think, papa," modestly rejoined Hans, "they are not exactly the same,
but a kindred species. The locust of Scripture was the true _Gryllus
migratorius_, and different from those of South Africa, though very
similar in its habits. But," continued he, "some writers dispute that
point altogether. The Abyssinians say that it was beans of the
locust-tree, and not insects, that were the food of St. John."

"What is your own opinion, Hans?" inquired Hendrik, who had a great
belief in his brother's book-knowledge.

"Why, I think," replied Hans, "there need be no question about it. It is
only torturing the meaning of a word to suppose that St. John ate the
locust fruit, and not the insect. I am decidedly of opinion that the
latter is meant in Scripture; and what makes me think so is, that these
two kinds of food, 'locusts and wild honey,' are often coupled together,
as forming at the present time the subsistence of many tribes who are
denizens of the desert. Besides, we have good evidence that both were
used as food by desert-dwelling people in the days of Scripture. It is,
therefore, but natural to suppose that St. John, when in the desert, was
forced to partake of this food; just as many a traveller of modern times
has eaten of it when crossing the deserts that surround us here in South
Africa.

"I have read a great many books about locusts," continued Hans; "and now
that the Bible has been mentioned, I must say for my part, I know no
account given of these insects so truthful and beautiful as that in the
Bible itself. Shall I read it, papa?"

"By all means, my boy," said the field-cornet, rather pleased at the
request which his son had made, and at the tenor of the conversation.

Little Trüey ran into the inner room and brought out an immense volume
bound in gemsbok skin, with a couple of brass clasps upon it to keep it
closed. This was the family Bible; and here let me observe, that a
similar book may be found in the house of nearly every boer, for these
Dutch colonists are a Protestant and Bible-loving people--so much so,
that they think nothing of going a hundred miles, four times in the
year, to attend the _nacht-maal_, or sacramental supper! What do you
think of that?

Hans opened the volume, and turned at once to the book of the prophet
Joel. From the readiness with which he found the passage, it was
evident he was well acquainted with the book he held in his hands.

He read as follows:

     "A day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of
     thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains; a great
     people and a strong: there hath not been ever the like, neither
     shall be any more after it, even to the years of many
     generations. A fire devoureth before them, and behind them a
     flame burneth: the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and
     behind them a desolate wilderness; yea, and nothing shall escape
     them. The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses; and
     as horsemen, so shall they run. Like the noise of chariots on the
     tops of mountains shall they leap, like the noise of a flame of
     fire that devoureth the stubble, as a strong people set in battle
     array. The earth shall quake before them; the heavens shall
     tremble; the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall
     withdraw their shining. How do the beasts groan! the herds of
     cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the
     flocks of sheep are made desolate."

Even the rude Swartboy could perceive the poetic beauty of this
description.

But Swartboy had much to say about the locusts, as well as the inspired
Joel.

Thus spoke Swartboy:--

"Bushman no fear da springhaan. Bushman hab no garden--no maize--no
buckwheat--no nothing for da springhaan to eat. Bushman eat locust
himself--he grow fat on da locust. Ebery thing eat dem dar springhaan.
Ebery thing grow fat in da locust season. Ho! den for dem springhaan!"

These remarks of Swartboy were true enough. The locusts are eaten by
almost every species of animal known in South Africa. Not only do the
_carnivora_ greedily devour them, but also animals and birds of the game
kind--such as antelopes, partridges, guinea-fowls, bustards, and,
strange to say, the giant of all--the huge elephant--will travel for
miles to overtake a migration of locusts! Domestic fowls, sheep, horses,
and dogs, devour them with equal greediness. Still another strange
fact--the locusts eat one another! If any one of them gets hurt, so as
to impede his progress, the others immediately turn upon him and eat him
up!

The Bushmen and other native races of Africa submit the locusts to a
process of cookery before eating them; and during the whole evening
Swartboy had been engaged in preparing the bagful which he had
collected. He "cooked" them thus:--

He first boiled, or rather steamed them, for only a small quantity of
water was put into the pot. This process lasted two hours. They were
then taken out, and allowed to dry; and after that shaken about in a
pan, until all the legs and wings were broken off from the bodies. A
winnowing process--Swartboy's thick lips acting as a fan--was next gone
through; and the legs and wings were thus got rid of. The locusts were
then ready for eating.

A little salt only was required to render them more palatable, when all
present made trial of, and some of the children even liked them. By
many, locusts prepared in this way are considered quite equal to
shrimps!

Sometimes they are pounded when quite dry into a sort of meal, and with
water added to them, are made into a kind of stirabout.

When well dried, they will keep for a long time; and they frequently
form the only store of food which the poorer natives have to depend upon
for a whole season.

Among many tribes--particularly among those who are not
agricultural--the coming of the locusts is a source of rejoicing. These
people turn out with sacks, and often with pack-oxen to collect and
bring them to the villages; and on such occasions vast heaps of them are
accumulated and stored, in the same way as grain!

Conversing of these things the night passed on until it was time for
going to bed. The field-cornet went out once again to observe the wind;
and then the door of the little kraal was closed, and the family retired
to rest.



CHAPTER V.

THE LOCUST-FLIGHT.


The field-cornet slept but little. Anxiety kept him awake. He turned and
tossed, and thought of the locusts. He napped at intervals, and dreamt
about locusts, and crickets, and grasshoppers, and all manner of great
long-legged, goggle-eyed insects. He was glad when the first ray of
light penetrated through the little window of his chamber.

He sprang to his feet; and, scarce staying to dress himself, rushed out
into the open air. It was still dark, but he did not require to see the
wind. He did not need to toss a feather or hold up his hat. The truth
was too plain. A strong breeze was blowing--it was blowing _from the
west_!

Half distracted, he ran farther out to assure himself. He ran until
clear of the walls that enclosed the kraals and garden.

He halted and felt the air. Alas! his first impression was correct. The
breeze blew directly from the west--directly from the locusts. He could
perceive the effluvium borne from the hateful insects: there was no
longer cause to doubt.

Groaning in spirit, Von Bloom returned to his house. He had no longer
any hope of escaping the terrible visitation.

His first directions were to collect all the loose pieces of linen or
clothing in the house, and pack them within the family che