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Title: Plain Tales of the North
Author: Mallet, Thierry
Language: English
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PLAIN TALES OF THE NORTH

by

CAPTAIN THIERRY MALLET



G. P. Putnam’s Sons
New York & London
The Knickerbocker Press
1926

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Copyright, 1925
by
Revillon Frères

Made in the United States of America

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                              A DEDICATION

                       To the small group of men
                  outside the pale of civilization who
                   ... isolated in the Far North ...
                 cling to the traditions which, for two
                  centuries, have been represented by
                      the flag of Revillon Frères.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                        THE TALES THAT ARE TOLD

        I.         A Grave in Saskatchewan
        II.        Traveling by Canoe
        III.       “Spot”
        IV.        In Civilization
        V.         A Pilot
        VI.        Native Mechanics
        VII.       War News in Husky Land
        VIII.      A Birch Bark Canoe
        IX.        A Silver Fox and a Scarf
        X.         Dead in the Storm
        XI.        A Strange Team
        XII.       A Moose Story
        XIII.      The Little Blue Lake
        XIV.       Forest Fires
        XV.        An Indian Wake
        XVI.       A Walrus Story
        XVII.      Mohican ... The Wolf
        XVIII.     Fighting Against Starvation
        XIX.       Wild Animals in the Water
        XX.        “Sunday”
        XXI.       Filming a White Bear on Land
        XXII.      Vermin and Ants
        XXIII.     A Greenhorn in a Rapid
        XXIV.      Large Fish
        XXV.       A Little Indian Girl
        XXVI.      Outlawed in the Barren Lands
        XXVII.     One Thousand Years
        XXVIII.    A Practical Joke
        XXIX.      Eskimo Arithmetic
        XXX.       “Caribou”
        XXXI.      In Siberia
        XXXII.     In the Hudson Straits
        XXXIII.    Whiskey Jack
        XXXIV.     Makejo
        XXXV.      Two Little Eskimo Boys
        XXXVI.     An Indian Warrior
        XXXVII.    Burro
        XXXVIII.   Travelling in North Alberta
        XXXIX.     Mother and Cubs
        XL.        An Old Trader
        XLI.       Wolverine
        XLII.      “Spot” ... Again
        XLIII.     Homesick
        XLIV.      Gotehe
        XLV.       Pets in the Wilderness
        XLVI.      An Eskimo Guide in the Barren Lands
        XLVII.     Man and Wife
        XLVIII.    “Forty Years Ago”
        XLIX.      Fisher and Porcupine
        L.         The Call of the Wild North of Fifty-three

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The true romance of the far North has been captured in these short
stories gathered and written by Captain Thierry Mallet, President of
Revillon Frères, New York. For the past twenty years he has spent part
of each year inspecting our trading-posts on the outskirts of
civilization.

Through his long arduous journeys over the swift waters, as well as the
vast areas of ice-clad country in the North, and through his constant
companionship with the fearless men of these barren lands, Captain
Mallet is particularly fitted to give us these unusual and striking
tales.

                                                       Victor Revillon,
                                                       Jean M. Revillon.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: A cabin in the North]

                        PLAIN TALES OF THE NORTH



                    Tale I: A Grave in Saskatchewan


I know a lonely grave far north in Saskatchewan. It lies on a high bank,
facing a small lake, under a cluster of old jack-pines. There is no
cross on that grave, neither is there a name.

Four logs, nailed in a square and half-buried in the grey moss, mark the
spot where fifteen years ago two old Indians, man and wife, dug a hole
six by four and laid to rest a white woman, a mere girl, a bride of a
few months.

Fifteen years have passed. But after all these years her memory still
lingers with the few Indians who saw her come into the wilderness,
wither under the fierce blast of the Arctic winter and die as the snow
left the ground and spring came.

She was an American of gentle birth, refined and delicate. Her husband
brought her there in a spirit of adventure. He was a strong man, rough
and accustomed to the North. She loved him. She struggled bravely
through the winter, but the fierce Arctic climate, the utter solitude,
the coarse food—these she could not stand. At length, while the man was
away for several days tending his traps, she laid herself on the rude
cabin bunk and died, all alone.

There the Indians found her white and still, and buried her a few
hundred yards from the shack, on the edge of the lake.

The man came back later—then left at once. He is a squaw man
now—trapping and hunting in the neighborhood.

Each year his sleigh and his canoe pass along the lake, a stone’s throw
from where she lies under the jack-pines. Not once has he stopped even
to glance at the spot where she bravely lived with him and died alone.

You will find crosses, inscriptions, some kind of token of remembrance
on all the Indian graves. Her grave alone, in the Far North, bears
neither cross nor name—just four logs, nailed together in a square,
half-buried in the grey moss.

[Illustration: A squaw man—trapper and hunter]



                      Tale II: Traveling by Canoe


It was my lot, a long time ago, to bring down a school mistress to one
of the Protestant missionary settlements of the far North.

Her luggage was going by steamer, but she chose the canoe route as it
was much the shorter way. Her passage had been booked before hand in one
of our canoes.

The lady, who was middle aged and very short sighted, had never before
left her home town in the south. She arrived at the end of the railroad
punctually on time, and dressed severely in black with white celluloid
collar and cuffs. She wore ordinary laced boots and cotton gloves and
was armed with an umbrella and a small hand bag which could not have
contained much more than a toothbrush. She refused the loan of any more
apparel, such as a raincoat or high boots, and took her place in the
canoe without a word.

The mosquitoes were terrible. Inside of two hours the poor woman was
bitten to such an extent that it hurt us to look at her.

At the first camp fire she took off her glasses, sat on them and smashed
them to bits. They were her only pair. After that she had to be led by
the hand through the portages and from her tent to the canoe.

We had no trouble in getting her out in time for breakfast at 4 A. M.
each morning. One yell from one of us and she was scrambling out of her
tent fully dressed and with her hat on. Long afterwards, we found out
that she did not even dare take her boots off at night. She was so stiff
and bruised that she was afraid she might not be able to put them on
again the next morning.

Nothing seemed to surprise nor frighten her. We had one very bad rapid
to run. Her canoe was the last one. We waited anxiously to see how she
would stand the ordeal. Down the rapid she came; her two Indian guides
yelling; her canoe shipping a lot of water by the bow. She was calmly
sitting on the little seat we had made for her. Her umbrella was opened
and she was gazing at the sky. To this day we believe that she never saw
the rapid which was about one mile long.

When we reached our destination, sunburn and mosquitoes had changed her
face to such an extent that the missionaries hardly recognized her. Her
clothes were in rags. She was covered with mud from head to foot. But
her celluloid collar and cuffs were white. She used to wash them by
trailing them in the water over the side of her canoe.

I don’t think she spoke ten words during the entire seven days of her
trip.

[Illustration: School mistress]



                            Tale III: “Spot”


Among several hundred “Husky” dogs, which I have had occasion to watch
during my trips north, I remember one particularly well.

His name was Spot. Grey like a timber wolf with funny pale circles round
his eyes, he was faster and stronger than any of the team.

Although too young yet to be promoted to be leader, he showed greater
intelligence than any of the other dogs. He made a point to be always on
the best terms with his driver and showed great friendliness in camp as
soon as he was out of harness. He never shirked his work and was
exceedingly jealous of any dog who managed to slack in harness without
being seen and punished by the driver.

One day, when hauling as number two behind the leader, he noticed that
the latter would slack his traces as soon as he reached the back of the
preceding sleigh, travelling in the same direction on the same trail.
Spot, raging at the idea that the rest of the team was still pulling
while the leader, resting his head on the preceding sleigh, was loafing,
would immediately seize the trace with his teeth and throw himself on
the snow, obliging the leader by the weight of his dragging body to fall
back. He would remain in that position until a gap of thirty feet at
least had opened between the two teams. Then, knowing that the leader
had to start pulling his own share again if he did not want to be
noticed and punished by the driver, Spot would jump to his feet and
proceed with his own work with great energy and triumphant howls of joy.

At all times he was a great fighter and would often get wounded, even if
he did succeed in thrashing his opponent. One day, I doctored his wounds
with iodine. Ever after, as soon as he was bitten or cut, he would come
up and beg for treatment.

I often tried to fool him by applying plain warm water to his wounds. I
never succeeded. He would remain whining until some kind of medicine,
which he could smell and taste, was rubbed on the sore spot. Anything
would do—listerine, alcohol, even tooth paste. As soon as his nose and
tongue satisfied him that he had been properly treated with something
that he couldn’t smell and lick without distaste, he would wag his bushy
tail and saunter away quite satisfied.

[Illustration: Spot, the Husky dog]



                        Tale IV: In Civilization


I know hundreds of Indians who live so far North that they have never in
their lives seen a motor car, a steamer, a railway or an electric light.

A few years ago one of our best hunters asked us, as a great favor, to
be allowed to go through to the line as one of the crew of the mail
canoes which our trader sends twice a year to the nearest town four
hundred miles away.

The man had never been there and was very keen to see the white man’s
land. When he reached the frontier town at the head of the railway he
showed no surprise. He inspected thoroughly all that was to be seen and
kept his mouth obstinately closed. After a while, knowing that the
canoes could not leave before a week, the Indian asked permission to go
to Montreal with the mail clerk. The latter, who knew him well and who
spoke Cree fluently, undertook to look after him. He traveled for two
days and two nights in a day coach and, outside of the fact that he
absolutely refused to leave the train at any moment for fear of seeing
it go off without him, he appeared to enjoy the trip.

In Montreal he seemed to fight shy of the streets and preferred to
remain in the lobby of the small hotel where a room had been reserved
for him. He sat there all day, looking through the window.

On his return to the hunting grounds, he met me on my way south and told
me how much he had liked his journey to the big city. Through sheer
curiosity, I asked him then what had surprised him the most while he was
in civilization. Was it the sight of the trains, motor cars, street
cars, the telephone, the electric lights or the stone houses? No, none
of these things seemed to have impressed him in the slightest. Finally
he admitted that there was one thing that had astonished him, and that
was the people in the street in front of his hotel. All those people
walking so fast and passing one another without a sign. People who never
stopped to speak. People who did not seem to know one another. That, he
could not fathom at all.

[Illustration: A native Indian]



                            Tale V: A Pilot


Into the lower part of Ungava Bay flows a vicious, treacherous, steel
grey river called the Koksoak. Fifteen miles up that river there lies a
big trading station which deals with Eskimos from the barren lands and
with the Nascopi Indians from the interior of Labrador.

Tides in Ungava Bay vary from twenty to thirty feet. A 3,000-ton steamer
can reach the station safely, but she must steam up the river on the
flood of the tide two or three hours after the turn. The native pilot
alone, through certain land marks known to him, can judge the exact time
when to start. He alone can steer the ship’s course through the winding
narrow channel which, amidst whirlpools and rapids, between rocks and
through narrow gorges, leads to a safe anchorage fifteen miles inland in
front of the Post.

At first, and during several years afterwards, we had used a small
100-ton auxiliary schooner to bring in the yearly supplies. Finally we
decided to take the risk of calling at Fort Chimo, for such is the name
of the Post, with our new steamer of 1,000 tons.

[Illustration: A steamer pilot]

That year when we anchored at the mouth of the river, we did not see the
familiar face of our pilot. Several Eskimos climbed on board and with
them stood a little lad aged about 12, who, although of sturdy build,
was no bigger than a boy of 9 or 10. The natives explained to us that
the pilot had died that winter and that the boy, his son, who had always
accompanied his father in his piloting up and down the river, would take
the steamer to the Post.

We received the news with consternation. We also argued the point. They
all claimed that they did not know the river as well as the boy.
Furthermore, as piloting seemed to be a family affair, going from father
to son, none of them wanted to commit a breach of etiquette by taking
the lad’s place. During the heated conversation the little chap remained
aloof, calm and unconcerned. He had never seen a steamer in his life,
and seemed interested not only in the length of the ship but in the
height of the Captain’s bridge above the water line. We were drawing
eighteen feet at the stern. We could not conceive that a boy of that age
would be able to realize how deep a channel we needed. We measured out
twenty-four feet with a rope and showed it to him. He glanced at it and
nodded. In the end we gave in and told him to take charge. He was so
small that we had to bring a chair on the Captain’s bridge for him to
stand on so that he could see above the railing. He did not know a word
of English.

For two hours he looked at the shore with a little telescope which he
had brought with him. Finally, satisfied with what he saw, he motioned
to us to weigh anchor. He had never seen a telegraph but he guessed at
once what half or full speed ahead meant. For a long time he kept us
going at half. Each time the Skipper, frightened by the eddies which
made the ship sag a little in her course, would ring full speed, the boy
would motion violently to slow her down. He understood the steering
gear. For starboard or port he would look around at the man at the
wheel, a big burly Newfoundlander with a grey beard, and make signs with
his hand either to the right or to the left. Then he would glance
quickly at the bow, judge the swing, and call for “steady your helm” by
putting his arm straight above his head.

For two hours he steered us without a second of hesitation. He swung our
course from one side of the river to the other. We passed at times
thirty feet from a cliff on the shore or an ugly rock showing its head
just above the water. There wasn’t a buoy or beacon in sight anywhere on
the river. The lad had his own land marks somewhere and took his
bearings from them. We reached the Post safely and dropped anchor
exactly where he told us to.

As soon as his job was over he ran down the ladder to the galley, where
the cook gave him a small pot of jam which he hastily emptied with the
help of his fingers. The boy is a grown up man now. He still pilots our
ship up and down the Koksoak River.



                       Tale VI: Native Mechanics


Anyone who knows Eskimos well, and who has also traveled in the far
East, cannot but notice that the rugged, stocky men of the Arctic have
many characteristics of the Asiatics.

Their talent of imitation is one of them. Their complete lack of sense
of danger when facing a white man’s invention that is absolutely new to
them, is another.

Twenty years ago, I recall, a Belgian engineer on the Hankow-Pekin
Railway complained to me of the utter recklessness of the Chinese in the
company’s employ. The line had been running hardly a year then, and
scores of Chinese were being trained to take the place of high-class
European laborers—such as engine drivers.

According to the harassed official, all the Chinese were willing
workers, exceedingly adaptable and absolutely fearless. They learned the
practical side of their job far quicker than a white man would, but they
had no notion of what danger was so far as the engine they were
entrusted with was concerned. They knew, for instance, that they could
obtain a certain speed which they could judge by a certain instrument
with an arrow, the figures of which they could not, of course, read.
They also knew that they were not allowed to let the arrow go further on
the dial than a given point.

But at the beginning they could not see the difference between a
straight railway track and a curved one. In consequence, they would
never slow up at a sharp curve. When the engine happened to be running
at sixty miles per hour—off the track she would go with disastrous
results. If by any chance the Chinese engine driver escaped without
injury, he had learned his lesson and would not make the same mistake
twice. But a lot of them were killed. Furthermore, the engines were
invariably smashed. It was very costly to the company. As the Belgian
official said, “An Asiatic can learn only through bitter personal
experience.”

The same applies to Eskimos. Here is one of many examples. One year our
steamer brought a gasoline launch to one of our trading posts in Hudson
Bay. We wished to use her for towing the barges, full of cargo, ashore.
The skipper chose an intelligent looking Eskimo from the crowd and, in a
couple of hours, had taught him how to run the engine. The Husky had
never in his life seen a gasoline launch before but he tackled his new
job with high glee and no signs of nervousness whatsoever.

The first time he was alone in charge, he ran the engine beautifully. He
towed a string of barges to the shore but, having no idea of speed, he
slipped his tow too late. The result was that when he was going around
at full speed and heading back for the steamer, the heavy barges, which
had too much way on, crashed into the wharf, knocked it down and threw
fifty Eskimos or so into the icy water—happily without fatal results.

Meanwhile our Husky friend, who had seen the accident but who did not
have time to work out in his head the pros and cons of the question, was
reaching the ship head-on at ten knots an hour. Heedless of our shouts
of warning, he stopped his engine, then reversed her when he was exactly
two feet from the steamer’s side.

There was an awful crash, a cloud of smoke and our new gasoline launch
disappeared to the bottom like a stone. The only thing that was left was
a thoroughly frightened Eskimo floating aimlessly on the troubled
waters, whom we fished out with the help of one of the winches.

[Illustration: A native mechanic]



                    Tale VII: War News in Husky Land


When the World War broke out in the centre of civilization, news spread
quickly until it got to the wilderness. After that it traveled more and
more slowly, but in the end it reached the remotest parts of the earth.

In the far North of Canada it took months and months for the news to
filter through the barren lands.

In a lonely outpost on Hudson Bay, the one white man who lived there
heard of the War, for the first time, eight months later—in March, 1915,
to be exact. It was only a rumor and for a long time he could not
understand clearly what had happened.

[Illustration: A soldier]

A tribe of Eskimos hunting south had met some coast Indians who had been
trading, at Christmas, at Fort George in James Bay. The Crees had tried
to explain to the Huskies what the Missionaries and White Traders had
told them, but the peace-loving Eskimos could not realize what the word
“war” meant. Furthermore, their knowledge of the Cree language was very
confused. They told our man that there were a lot of dead people in the
white man’s land, far away over the sea; that the noise was terrible and
that the white men’s Igloos were all destroyed. They did not mention the
words—war, shell, gas—which the more civilized Indians knew from hearsay
and had told to them. They just repeated what had struck their
imagination. In other words, what they had understood.

The trader pondered for months over that rumor. In the end he came to
the conclusion that there had been a great earthquake somewhere in
Europe, like the one in California in 1906, and dismissed the matter
from his mind. He never thought of war.

It was in summer, when the supply ship reached his Post, that he learned
what had really happened. He left at once to join the French Army and
was killed a year later at Verdun.



                     Tale VIII: A Birch Bark Canoe


A canoe, may she be a 16-foot cruiser or a 22-foot freighter, is at all
times a small craft, especially on a lake when the nearest shore happens
to be a very long distance off.

Men who live in the far North pass all their time on the water as soon
as the ice disappears in the spring. They are so accustomed to their
cranky canoes that it never occurs to them to bother about what they
should do if, by any chance, something unusual happens. But in case of
emergency they think and act very quickly. I had an example of it a few
years ago on Abitibi Lake.

Two Indians were freighting a heavy load of hardware in a birch bark
canoe. They had a head wind and the waves were pretty high. The man at
the bow thought the canoe was packed too much by the stern and shouted
over his shoulder to the steersman to shift some of the load forward.
The latter, from his seat in the stern, seized a 25-pound bag of shot at
his feet and threw it five feet or so in front of him towards the middle
of the canoe. The bag landed in an empty space right at the bottom of
the canoe. The craft was old and rotten. The bag of shot simply broke
the ribs, tore a gaping hole in the birch bark and disappeared straight
down to the bottom of the lake.

[Illustration: A birch bark canoe]

Instantly the water started pouring in. One mile from shore, a nasty sea
running and a leak larger than a man’s head which would fill and sink
any canoe in a few minutes.

The steersman gave one yell and then jumped like a huge frog, landing in
a sitting position right in the middle of that hole. He stuck there,
shivering, with water to his waist, until the bowman, realizing the
danger and paddling madly for shore, succeeded at last in beaching the
canoe high and dry.



                   Tale IX: A Silver Fox and a Scarf


In the far North, even now in the days of fox farming, a Silver Fox
means a small fortune to the lucky trapper. Men will often risk their
lives to bring an exceptionally fine pelt back to the trader.

Some years ago in the Ungava district, two Eskimos, brothers, caught a
beautiful Silver Fox late in March. They decided to bring it back to the
Post at once. They had not caught anything before that and were half
starved. The men had to travel on the ice along the sea coast. In their
anxiety to reach the trader, they cut across a bay during a blizzard.
The Eskimo who was breaking the trail ahead of the dogs walked on some
thin ice and fell through; team and sleigh following him into the gaping
hole. Man and dogs drowned although the other Eskimo, who was behind
them and had stopped in time, made every effort to save them.

The lone man who was carrying the Silver Fox in a bag slung on his back
kept on and managed to reach the Post, covering the last few miles
literally on his hands and knees through sheer weakness and exhaustion.

[Illustration: A silver fox and a scarf]

The Silver Fox was shown to us at the Station next summer. It was a
wonderful skin—three quarter neck fresh silvered, without a blemish. It
had one distinctive and very rare mark—a small tuft of white silver hair
on the center of the forehead slightly above the eyes.

The Fox eventually reached our New York house and was sold during the
winter. A few months later in a well known night restaurant, a lady with
a party of friends got up from her table to leave. The waiter picked up
and handed to her a Silver Fox scarf which had slipped from her chair
and had been lying unnoticed on the floor under the table. It was the
Ungava Fox with the little white mark between the eyes.



                       Tale X: Dead in the Storm


It was a bleak, dreary, wind-swept morning in February. We had broken
camp at the faint flush of dawn, after remaining helplessly caught for
two days in our tent by a raging blizzard. It had ceased snowing and the
thermometer was going down like a piece of lead. The snow, although
hardening under the intense cold, was deep.

There was no trail. An Indian was struggling ahead of the dogs.
Everywhere silence. Now and then a mass of snow would slide down
noiselessly from the overhanging branch of a spruce tree. There was no
sign of animal life. Not a track anywhere. Not even a bird on the wing
in the sullen grey sky.

We were following a coulée between two high ridges thickly covered with
trees. At a bend of the small valley the Indian, looking ahead, stopped
dead. So did the team of Huskies.

[Illustration: Tied down in a storm]

A few hundred yards away we saw a lone dog, standing erect, keeping
guard beside what looked like a mound covered with snow. The nearer we
approached, the plainer we saw what it was. It was a sleigh with its
load lashed on and, on the top, what seemed to us like a human body
stretched out, rigid under its white mantle. The dog traces were hanging
loose. The harness had been chewed and broken. The team, tired of
waiting, had escaped—going back somewhere to an unknown camp. Alone, the
leader had chosen to remain beside the sleigh. He was weak from hunger
but still faithful to his charge. He faced us squarely with his shaggy
coat bristling, swaying slightly on his legs and snarling his deep, wolf
snarl. When we heard it, we knew it was the death song of a dog who was
defending the dead body of his master.

The Indian cautiously lassoed him and tied him up. He made a good fight
for it but the snow was too deep and his strength was far gone. We
gently brushed away the snow from the top of the sleigh and looked at
the man. He was lying on his back, a smile on his white face, his light
blue eyes staring far away into the sky. A stranger, a prospector from
somewhere south, lost in the wilderness and at the end of his rations.
Caught in the blizzard, too weak to pitch camp, frozen to death while
his dogs wandered in the blinding storm.



                        Tale XI: A Strange Team


North of 53, during the winter, I have seen sleighs drawn by horses,
mules, dogs of every breed and description and even men.

But once I saw the strangest outfit of all. We were sitting beside a
fire on the bank of a river only a few miles from the railway line when
we heard a yell and a strange noise which appeared to be a combination
of a bellow and a howl.

We got up and, to our astonishment, we saw, racing up the river on the
ice in a smother of snow, a small sleigh drawn by a large yellow dog and
a very small red bull. The dog was in the lead, tied to the sleigh by at
least twelve yards of rope. The bull, harnessed to the sleigh by two
leather traces, with his head down and his tail in the air was charging
full tilt at the dog who was scampering down the trail as fast as he
could lay his four paws on the snow.

On the sleigh was a load of pressed hay and, on the top of it, clung a
fat man with a bushy beard and a very white face. Before we could say a
word, man, bull and dog vanished round a bend of the river.

[Illustration: A strange team]

Later on we found out that the man was a Russian squatter, living three
hundred miles north of the line, who wanted to try to raise cattle on
the Churchill River. The bull was the first animal of the prospective
herd.

As it was impossible for him to freight any cattle by canoe in summer,
he had hit on the idea of taking the little bull up there in winter, on
foot. The hay on the sleigh was to feed the poor animal on the trip.

The most remarkable part of this story is that, eventually, man, bull
and dog reached their destination safely.

Throughout the first day, the bull made wild rushes at the dog who took
great care to keep a distance between himself and his enemy. But after
covering twenty miles or so, the little bull gave it up as a bad job and
settled down. Very soon he became friendly with his new harness
companion; both animals finally drawing the sleigh slowly and peacefully
to the end of their journey.



                        Tale XII: A Moose Story


It never pays to take any liberties with a wild animal when one believes
that the latter is at one’s mercy.

In 1908 two Indians, when crossing a large lake in Northern Ontario in a
small canoe, came across a big bull moose swimming from an island to the
mainland.

They needed the meat but preferred waiting until the animal was near
land before shooting it. They accordingly decided to have some fun! The
man at the bow found a rope, lassoed the moose by its antlers, then tied
the other end of the rope to the front thwart. After that the two
Indians squatted down at the bottom of the canoe, yelling sarcastic
remarks to the poor wild-eyed animal which was towing them with the
strength of a good sized tug.

[Illustration: A bull moose]

When this strange outfit drew near the shore, the man in the bow picked
up his rifle. It was an old, single barrel muzzle loader. He aimed
carefully and pressed the trigger, but the weapon missed fire. Pulling
up the hammer, he repeated the performance with the same result.
Meanwhile, the moose was touching bottom. The Indian, realizing that the
cap in his gun was wet, began to search frantically for a new one. In
his excitement he forgot to pull out his knife and cut the rope.

At that spot, the bottom of the lake sloped up abruptly. Before the man
could find a new cap, the moose was halfway up to his shoulders in the
water. With an angry shake of the head and a loud snort, the enraged
animal bounded forward. In a second the canoe upset, pitching men and
freight into six feet of icy cold water.

When the two Indians came up to the surface, the first thing they saw
was the stern of their canoe vanishing in the bush. That was also the
last they ever saw of either moose or canoe.

Crestfallen, shivering and hungry, they reached the trading station one
day later—sadder, wiser and on foot.



                    Tale XIII: The Little Blue Lake


In the Northwest Territories over the divide, where all vegetation
dwindles down to nothing as one approaches the barren lands, I know a
small lake nestling in the hollow of three hills.

The traveller reaches it on one side by a trail. On the other, a swift
creek is the only outlet. Protected from the wind, the trees which
surround it have grown to giant size. They stand closely packed right to
the edge of the water.

The little lake with its circle of vegetation does not cover more than
an acre. From the top of the hills, one peers down on it as on a small
oasis lost in the desert.

Amidst the savage, grey boulders of the surrounding country, one looks
lovingly on the splash of color which strikes the eye. The dark green of
the murmuring jack-pines; the sapphire blue of the still, icy waters.

A little later, when the canoe has been launched on the lake and has
drifted towards the center, the traveller gazes over the side in
amazement. The water is as pure as crystal and deep as a well. Far down
at the bottom of the lake, countless springs are scattered everywhere
among the rocks. Each spring sends a column of white, foaming water up
towards the surface and each column of white foam spreads and dissolves
itself into millions of bubbles which dance about—mounting, ever
mounting—until they burst and become part of the sapphire blue of the
lake itself.

Few white men have been there—but those few cannot forget the beauty of
the lonely spot. The Indians call it “The well with the White Smoke”. In
the company, we call it simply “The little blue lake”.

[Illustration: A little blue lake]



                         Tale XIV: Forest Fires


Forest fires are the scourge of the wilderness. Certain years, in the
late spring or during the summer, when the weather has been unusually
dry, a mere spark may start a blazing tornado which will lay utter waste
throughout thousands and thousands of acres of timber.

The carelessness of a trapper throwing a lighted match on the ground.
The thoughtlessness of a traveller going to sleep or breaking camp
without putting out his fire. Lightning striking a tree. An ordinary
piece of glass lying on dry moss and catching the rays of the sun. Any
of these is sufficient to kindle a fire which may burn fiercely for
weeks, reaching the tops of the highest trees, smouldering underground
amidst the roots and the muskeg, reaching over rivers and lakes, blazing
its erratic way through the bush according to the changes of the wind.

In the solitude of the far North, where men are scattered a hundred
miles from one another, no help can be secured to fight the red evil.
Only heavy rain or a complete shift of wind, blowing the flames back
over the already burnt area, may stop the scourge. Meanwhile all
vegetation vanishes and wild animals die.

Beavers, Otters, Mink, Muskrats, that live in the water have a fair
chance of escape, but nearly all the other wild folk fall victim to the
deadly sheet of flames.

Foxes, Badgers, Coyotes, Ground Hogs, Chipmunks, Wolverines, Porcupines,
take refuge in their holes underground where the smoke, curling lazily
down and down, eventually reaches them and smothers them with their
young.

Lynx, Marten, Squirrels, Wild Cats, seek safety in the trees, hiding
either in their holes or on the highest branch they can find until the
flames find them in their lair, or the unbearable heat, scorching them,
unloosens their mad grip and precipitates them into the furnace below.

Wolves, Bears, Caribou, Deer and Moose take to flight. But the great
tragedy is that, in this season, all animals have their young. The
little ones get exhausted in the mad scramble through dense bush and
stifling smoke. They cannot keep pace with the flames. Little by little
they fall back. Then the parents return to them and remain at their side
until it is too late.

A few animals, through sheer luck or by keeping their wits, manage to
escape. Now and then one may find on a sandy point, reaching far out in
a lake, a motley crowd of animals of all breeds, huddled together on the
edge of the water or in the water itself. Perfectly indifferent to one
another, their only thought is to keep away from the flames. The nearer
the latter comes, the further the animals crawl and the deeper they
crouch in the water.

In such cases it is a common occurrence to see a dozen rabbits sitting
solemnly in the water, their heads alone showing. A little further out,
two bear cubs may be grovelling on their bellies like two children at
play on the seashore. While the mother swims about angrily, taking no
notice of a cow-moose and her calf, both motionless in the water ... the
little one standing, the mother lying down, their shoulders completely
covered. A little to one side a Red Fox, a vixen, has carried her young,
one by one, to the edge of the lake. The pups are too young yet to have
sense to crawl in. So the mother has dropped them in the water and,
crouching between them and the shore, keeps them huddled, whimpering and
frightened, safe from the heat and the sparks.

[Illustration: A forest fire]



                        Tale XV: An Indian Wake


One evening a few years ago, I was sitting alone at a small trading
station on the edge of a lake in North Saskatchewan. A northeast wind
was blowing and the grey water was lashed into angry white caps that
raced madly one after the other.

I was watching an 18-foot canvas canoe manned by two Indians who were
paddling straight for me. They were having a hard time in making the
shore and seemed worried by the load they were freighting.

From where I sat I could not make out what sort of cargo they carried,
but I could see that it was placed amidship and stuck out on each side
well over the gunwales. I thought at first it was a log, although I was
at a loss to understand why they had not placed it lengthwise under the
thwarts. I finally realized, with a certain amount of astonishment, that
the two men were freighting in a large coffin, the weight and the
dimensions of which prevented them placing it anywhere else than above
deck, so to speak, and crosswise.

I sauntered down to the beach and gave them a hand in unloading their
burden. They told me that it was their father who had died a
considerable time ago and they were absolutely obliged to bury him as
soon as possible. Being Catholics, they had to bring the body for burial
to the priest whom the bad weather had kept on his side of the lake.

An hour or so later I heard the screech of a violin. Going out to
investigate, I found my two Indians in a shack close by, receiving
visitors from the neighborhood and whiling away the time by an impromptu
dance. Meanwhile, the coffin had been dragged outside to make more room.
It lay, grim and dark, on the right side of the door along the wall of
the cabin. All the dogs of the village, one by one, their tails curled
up and their ears pointed, were passing in front of it in a solemn
procession. I watched them from a distance. Each dog stopped—sniffed at
one corner of the coffin, went to the other—sniffed again and then,
slowly and religiously, cocked up one hind leg and remained there,
motionless for a few seconds.

Meanwhile the wind wailed across the lake as if striving to drown the
whining of the fiddle.

[Illustration: An Indian Wake]



                        Tale XVI: A Walrus Story


When men have no knowledge whatsoever of the danger they run, they are
liable to do the most foolhardy thing imaginable and come out of it
safely—to the utter astonishment of all old timers.

Here is a striking example of that, which happened a few years ago:

We were forging ahead through the ice of Hudson Straits on an auxiliary
schooner. There were on board a lot of “Husky” dogs which we were
transferring from one trading station to another.

One morning the man in the crow’s nest saw a small herd of walrus asleep
on the ice. Creeping up slowly, we got up to a hundred yards from them
before they took any notice of the ship.

[Illustration: Man in crow’s nest]

The meat was needed for the dogs. Firing a volley, we killed two of the
huge animals outright. The rest of the herd dived and scattered.
Manoeuvring alongside the pan, we put one man of the crew overboard to
rope the carcasses to be hoisted on deck with the winch.

It happened that the sailor who went over the side was an Italian who
had never been in the North. He was very keen and excited. While he was
busy tying a rope round each animal’s head under the tusks, a big bull
walrus, which had probably been wounded in the body a few minutes
before, suddenly came up to the surface beside the pan. With one heave,
the enormous animal jumped clean out of the water to the ice a few feet
from the sailor whose back was turned. Everyone on board was terrified.
Nobody dared to shoot for fear of hitting the man.

The walrus shook his head and seemed ready to plunge his tusks right in
the middle of the man’s back. He weighed over fifteen hundred pounds.

Feeling the animal’s breath on him, the Italian turned round. “Get out
of here, you ugly thing!” he shouted in his own language, and with that
he slapped him right across the jaw with the back of his hand. The
walrus gave a grunt, slid backwards over the edge of the pan and
vanished in the depths of the sea.

The sailor calmly turned back to his job, while on board we breathed a
prayer of thankfulness.



                    Tale XVII: Mohican ... The Wolf


Mohican was a large timber wolf, grown wise through years of bitter
experience in the Canadian North.

During the winter he probably roamed through the wilderness as the head
of his own pack seeking the caribou. But each spring he would come back
to the country of small lakes near the eastern shores of Hudson Bay,
where he ranged until fall in complete solitude.

Mohican was known to many Indians who recognized his enormous tracks on
all the little sandy beaches of the lakes. But no one bothered him
until, one day, he developed a keen taste for white fish and started
breaking all rules by interfering with the red men.

In some way or other, the lone wolf had discovered that nets were made
to catch fish. After that, for many weeks, each time he felt like it, he
would search along the banks until he found the stake of a net. Then he
would take to the water and swim to the net itself. Poking his head
under the water he would choose the best looking white fish, leaving
severely alone suckers, pickerel and such small fry, tear his prey out
of the mesh, bring it back to shore and eat it at his leisure. So far,
so good. Little harm was done.

[Illustration: Mohican, the wolf]

But Mohican was intensely practical and like all wild animals, believed
in simplifying matters as much as he could. One day he hit on the plan
of dragging the net to the bank instead of swimming out to it. He
therefore caught in his jaw the stout rope where it was tied to the
stake. Then, proceeding backwards slowly but surely, pulled the whole
net clean out of the water to the shore where he ate what he liked,
leaving the rest of the catch to die and spoil in the sun.

From that day on, he pulled at all the nets which he found and his
strength was enormous. Few stakes, however deeply they were driven in
the mud, could resist the strain and prevent him doing all the mischief
he wished.

Poor old Mohican! His cunning and intelligence were great, but he had
committed the unpardonable sin of robbing the red man of his food.

One day at dawn he was seen by an Indian. The lone, old wolf was sitting
on his haunches, tugging hard at the net’s rope.

The rifle cracked from behind a spruce tree, but Mohican never knew what
hit him. It was a long shot, a pretty shot so far as that goes—four
hundred yards—right across a small bay of the lake. He had to pay the
price of his sin. Such is the law of the wilderness.



                Tale XVIII: Fighting Against Starvation


In the dead of winter a few years ago, two Eskimo women, mother and
daughter, were starving in their Igloo on the shores of Baffin Land. The
rest of the tribe had gone inland searching for caribou. The older
woman, who was lame, had been left behind with her daughter to look
after her. They had been provided with a supply of food but the hunters
were late in coming back and it had dwindled, little by little, to
nothing. In the end the two women had killed and eaten the only dog that
had remained with them. They were now helpless, waiting for death,
without food of any sort, without fishing tackle and without firearms.

The third day after they had eaten their last scrap of dog meat, the
younger woman caught sight of a large seal which was lying on the ice,
parallel to the shore about two miles off. The floe had moved a little.
Long lanes of clear water had opened up enabling the seal to climb out.
It was resting with its head on the edge of the pan ready to dive at the
first sign of danger.

To the starving women the seal, weighing four hundred pounds, meant food
and life. Their only weapons were a knife and a hatchet. The daughter
decided to stalk the seal while the mother, holding the hatchet,
squatted on the beach and watched.

To that effect the younger woman, knife in hand, walked along the beach
for about three miles. After that, certain to be far enough behind the
quarry not to be seen, she walked out on the ice the same distance as it
was from shore. Having reached that point, she began stalking the seal
in earnest.

It lay with its hind flippers towards her, but every minute or so it
would raise its head for a few seconds to scan the horizon. Then the
woman, crawling on her hands and knees, would have to remain motionless,
lying flat on the ice. Little by little she crept nearer, using every
small pinnacle, every little ridge and rough edge of the pans, as a
shield.

She was already weak from hunger. The constant strain began to tell on
her. The nearer she crawled to the animal, the longer she had to rest
and regain her breath. Seals have good ears. The slightest sound of
panting would have driven the animal head first into the water.

It took her all day to cover the two miles. During all that time she was
in agony at the thought that the seal, tired of dozing, would dive into
the sea again before she could reach it. Still, she could not take the
risk of hurrying.

Finally, only four feet separated her from the quarry. With the superb
self control of the savage she waited several minutes, then, when the
seal lowered its head again on the pan, she sprung at it, driving her
knife clear through the hind flippers deep into the ice.

With the whole weight of her body thrown on the handle she remained
there, pinning the huge animal on the floe. As long as the knife held,
the seal, head and shoulders over the edge, could not dive. The
infuriated animal tried to turn around and baring its cruel fangs,
snapped at her. Its bulk was so huge that the yellow teeth just failed
to reach her face.

For an hour the woman and the beast strained against one another.
Meanwhile the mother, who had been keeping watch on the shore, was
hobbling over the ice towards them in a frenzy of excitement. She knew
that her daughter’s strength would have to give way sooner or later and
that the time had now come for her to hasten to the rescue.

Screaming shrilly, scrambling from pan to pan, she covered the distance
as fast as she could in spite of her lameness. When she reached the seal
she attacked it fearlessly. With a few shrewd blows of her hatchet on
the head, she dropped it dead in its tracks. Just in time, for her
daughter’s hands, bleeding and frozen, were already slipping on the
knife’s handle and relaxing their hold.

[Illustration: Fighting against starvation]



                  Tale XIX: Wild Animals in the Water


Few persons know how much water there is in northern Canada. Even fewer
people realize what enormous distances all animals have to swim in quest
of food or to escape from danger.

Moose and Caribou will not hesitate to cross lakes several miles wide,
and for no apparent reason but to change from one feeding ground to
another. I have often seen them swim over four miles in the bitterest
cold weather in the early spring or late in the fall when the snow was
on the ground and the temperature at freezing point.

Black Bears will swim for miles; young cubs barely four months old
keeping up with their mothers.

Lynx, although hating water like all the cat tribe, will cross the
widest river when migrating.

Small animals, such as porcupines and squirrels, are often found
swimming a mile or so from shore.

[Illustration: A moose swimming in water]

Two years ago when paddling down the Churchill River, we found a fat old
porcupine leisurely crossing the river where it was over a mile wide. He
was then about eight hundred yards from where he wanted to land and his
speed must have averaged one mile per hour. He took absolutely no notice
of us. At each stroke of his short foreleg he grunted loudly. Now and
then he would lift his quills and shake them so as to get some of the
weight of the water off his back.

Squirrels, I have noticed, always swim with the wind in their backs and
invariably carry their tails straight up in the air out of the water.
The Indians maintain that they only take to water when the wind is
favorable as they know that their tail, acting like a sail, will help
them along.

White Bears, of course, are the best swimmers of all the non-amphibious
mammals. They can swim for a whole day, resting now and then on their
backs like sleeping seals.

In 1908, we saw a White Bear yearling cub swimming towards shore at
least fifteen miles out from Cape Churchill in Hudson Bay. The nearest
ice was then forty-five miles from the spot where we found him. There
was absolutely no doubt that our bear had undertaken a sixty-mile swim
to reach land.



                           Tale XX: “Sunday”


The eastern hair seals roam between the coasts of Newfoundland and
Greenland. Unlike the fur seals of the Pacific, they are valuable only
for their fat and the leather of their pelts. The best oil is obtained
from the young pups which are born on the ice in February.

Young seals do not know how to swim at birth and the hardy fishermen of
Newfoundland hunt them before they have taken to the water.

Every day of the week the crew of each vessel leaves its ship and on
foot, through fog and blizzards, scours the bleak wilderness of the ice
floes. But the hunt stops on Sunday—even if the vessels happen to be in
the midst of thousands of seals. From Saturday midnight to Monday one
o’clock, all the men remain idle.

One Sunday morning in March, 1908, I was on board a sealer. I happened
to look over the side and saw a young seal sound asleep on the ice a few
hundred yards from the ship. With the idea of taking it on board so as
to photograph it on deck, I slipped over the side. Walking up to the pup
I caught it by the hind flippers, swung it over my shoulder and started
carrying it to the vessel. Although I followed my footsteps on the ice,
I suddenly broke through and found myself plunged into the bitterly cold
water. The little seal followed me in my downfall.

We both came up to the surface at the same time, with only one idea in
our heads—to get out as quickly as possible. I tried hard to climb out
on the ice. So did the pup. The hole in which we were floundering was
very small. The young seal floated like an empty bottle, his body half
out of the water. In his efforts to get a hold on the edge of the pan,
he flapped his front flippers like a pair of fans. Each flipper was
armed with five claws as hard as steel.

My face got in the way of one flipper and instantly I came to the
conclusion that I had better wait until my companion got out first.

Patiently and courteously I waited until the little pup, with a lot of
snorting and splashing, slowly but stubbornly wriggled himself out of
the water. When my turn came I was half dead with cold, and barely
managed to pull myself on the ice in safety. Leaving the seal where he
was, I tottered back to the ship.

I found the skipper very unsympathetic. The only thing he had to say
was: “Serves you right. This is Sunday.”

[Illustration: A pip seal]



                 Tale XXI: Filming a White Bear on Land


During the filming of “Nanook of the North”, in the winter of 1921, we
decided to take a scene of a white bear hunt at close quarters on land.

In a genuine film like ours, where one must take “close ups” of wild
animals, the difficulty lies not only in approaching them sufficiently
near so as not to have to use telescopic lens, but also in keeping the
animals more or less on the same spot in front of the camera.
Consequently, after studying the matter carefully, we concluded that the
only way we could film the white bear hunt was to find in the early
spring a “she” bear with cubs in her den.

The idea was that the bear would refuse to leave her young, would make a
stand right away and give battle on the spot, thereby allowing the
cameraman to crank away to his heart’s content. We sent, accordingly, a
few Eskimos to scour the country. After a few weeks they reported having
found a bear asleep in a snow bank under a cliff on the seashore, about
seventy-five miles north from where we were. We were certain that the
animal was a “she” bear, as the males do not hibernate but roam all
winter on the ice far out to sea.

[Illustration: A white bear]

We made the trip at once with six Eskimos, three sleighs and twenty-two
dogs, and built our Igloos two miles away from where the bear had been
found. Then we went out on foot to reconnoiter.

We found the bear’s den easily. A large yellow spot on the snow, from
which rose a slight vapor coming from the animal’s breath, plainly
showed that someone was at home. We carefully chose the best spot to
place our one and only camera and rehearsed the whole scene. One Eskimo
was to climb above the den and rouse the bear with a long pole. The
others standing in front of the den were to let the dogs go as soon as
the brute appeared. We knew that the Huskies would surround the bear;
and we had no doubt that she would immediately make a stand in front of
her cubs and fight.

We had to wait after that for three days until the weather was clear and
fine. In the end the hour came. At first, everything went off
beautifully. The bear was roused out of her lair by a few vigorous pokes
of the pole but, instead of showing her head out of the snow and then
emerging to give battle, she burst out of her den like a rabbit from its
hold. It was a “she” bear all right, but it happened that she had no
cubs.

In a flash she was through the pack of dogs and away! Before the
cameraman could start cranking she was already fifty yards off, racing
for the sea with all the huskies after her. We tried to lift the camera,
carry it and follow, but it was useless. The bear never stopped for at
least a mile. After that, when it was much too late, she turned around,
fought the dogs for a few minutes—scattering them easily—then went on
her way and disappeared finally over the icy horizon. We never found
another bear in her den that year.

Such was the way Mr. R. J. Flaherty missed the only scene from “Nanook
of the North”.



                       Tale XXII: Vermin and Ants


“Alex is a doggoned fool.” ... The speaker, a middle-aged Yankee
trapper, spat thoughtfully on the red hot stove, then gazed inquiringly
at his audience.

We were four, in a log cabin on the banks of the Churchill River. It was
night—late in the fall—and already cold. Inside, the atmosphere was
oppressive, reeking with tobacco smoke, sweat, fish scales, and grease.
Outside, the wind blew in great, uneven gusts and the shack creaked like
the timbers of a labouring ship at sea.

I finally inquired why Alex was a fool, and promptly heard the following
story:

“One evening last June, Alex blew in with a couple of Chippewayan
Indians. He had a load of fur in his canoe and was hurrying to the line
to sell it and get drunk. Alex wanted me to lend him a shirt. He was as
lousy as a pet coon, and said he didn’t have time to wash his shirt. I
had only one shirt, a clean one I had only worn a few times, and I was
thinking of using it myself when I moved south. So I said ‘no’, and
advised him to take his shirt off and lay it on an ant heap. Alex didn’t
like the idea, but I told him the ants would clean up every insect. He
did what I said.

“When the time came to leave, there was a fair wind down the stretch so
they put up a sail in a hurry. Alex grabbed his shirt and they left.

“I saw Alex again last week. He said when he put on his shirt the vermin
were gone, but he forgot to shake it first and the ants were still
there! You know the kind, boys! The little red ones! And they sure did
bite like hell before he could strip again!”

[Illustration: Alex]



                   Tale XXIII: A Greenhorn in a Rapid


Every spring, a lot of greenhorns go North, either in hope of making
their living, or in a spirit of adventure. A few struggle through and
succeed. A lot meet with accidents. All of them run appalling risks.

Some years ago—before the War—there was a mild stampede on the
Chamuchuan River in the Province of Quebec. Gold was reported to have
been found. As soon as the ice had gone, several hundred men started
North, plunging into the wilderness in quest of fortune.

A few weeks later we were poling up that same river on our way to
Mistassini Lake. We reached a long straight rapid and were unloading our
canoe before portaging. One of the Indians noticed, two miles away at
the head of the rapid, right in the middle of the foaming river, a dark
speck on a flat rock. One man said it was a bear because it moved.

What a black bear could be doing in such a spot was a problem in itself,
but we let it go at that and started packing our loads. I happened to be
the first one over the portage. Throwing down my load, I looked
instinctively at the river. There was a man squatting dismally on a
small flat rock right in the middle of the current, fifty yards or so
below where the portage stopped and the rapid began.

So that was the black bear seen an hour ago! When the stranger saw us,
he scrambled to his feet and started gesticulating wildly. We could not
understand how he got there. He had no canoe. The rock was about three
foot square. On both sides of it the river rushed down in a blind
torrent of foam.

We considered a way to rescue him. The idea of running down in a canoe
was out of the question. Even if we succeeded in getting him on board—we
would have to go on and there was a ten foot fall a few hundred yards
further down which meant immediate disaster.

We hit on the following plan. We found a good sized log, tied to it all
the ropes we had in one single line, paddled as far down near the head
of the rapid as we dared, anchored our canoe with a huge stone taken
from shore and then paid out the rope, the log floating ahead of it
towards the man on the rock.

We managed to let the log pass more or less alongside the stranger! But
for a long time the man appeared frightened. Each time he missed his
chance of catching hold of the log. And we had to hand it up again
thirty yards or so to be able to give it the proper direction so that it
would pass as near as possible to the rock.

Finally, the stranger decided to take a chance. He waved at us as if he
were taking a last farewell, then jumped boldly—head first and arm
extended—straight for that log. There was quite a splash and for a
second we could not see whether he had succeeded in getting hold of the
stump. Our rope was tight. We had reached the end of it.

We hauled in. In a few minutes we knew we had our man at the end of our
line. We got occasional glimpses of him, although he was all the time
half way under water. He was lying on the log—clasping it with both
arms—straddling it with both legs. Little by little we got him
alongside. He was nearly drowned and quite speechless. With an effort we
got him on board. Then letting the log go after cutting the rope—we
paddled ashore.

An hour later our new acquaintance was able to talk and tell us his
story. He was a student and had gone with a party to the upper end of
the river in search of gold. Disgusted with the life, homesick, weak
from lack of food and from mosquito bites, he had decided to run away
and reach the line. Stealing a canoe, he had started alone on his
journey.

He had never been in the woods before. When he reached the rapid he
missed the portage. In a second he found himself helpless in the first
whirlpool. By sheer luck his canoe was thrown against that lonely flat
rock. When it hit, he let his paddle go and jumped, landing safely on
the big stone. The canoe, of course, disappeared in the swirl.

He had been there—squatting helplessly right in the middle of that
rapid—for thirty-six hours when we happened to pass that way and rescue
him.

[Illustration: Trapped on the rocks]



                         Tale XXIV: Large Fish


When and wherever a man tells a fishing story, there is a deep-rooted
feeling among everyone listening that the man is far from being
truthful. That is a handicap for any one trying to describe how large
fish do run in Canada north of 53. Nevertheless the fact remains that in
Labrador as well as in the West, Pickerel, Muskellunge and Lake Trout
grow to enormous size.

Three years ago on Reindeer Lake, in a net placed under the ice, our men
caught a trout which tipped the beam at fifty-three pounds. In the same
lake, when trolling the following July, we caught one weighing
thirty-five pounds. We showed it to an Indian camped near by.

He told us that a few days before he had netted one much larger, which
he had given to his dogs to eat.

To prove the truth of his statement he hunted around the bush, found the
trout’s head and brought it to us. We measured it with the head of our
own fish. It was, more or less, twice as large.

Muskellunge up to forty pounds are common in the big lakes. Some are
bigger. These fish, when hungry, are vicious and often go for quarry
which they can hardly swallow.

A squirrel swimming across a river is snapped up like a minnow. So are
young ducklings, if they venture too far out from shore. In several
instances we have seen a much larger bird successfully pulled down by a
big pickerel.

Last summer when paddling near a small island on Bear Lake, we noticed
three young gulls take fright, leave their nest on the rocks, and swim
directly away from us. They were full grown, although they had not yet
learned how to fly.

One of those gulls was pulled down three times in front of us by a
muskellunge. Each time it remained under water almost a minute. The fish
finally gave it up as a bad job; but we marvelled at the endurance of
that young bird. It did not seem the worse for its submarine encounter.

[Illustration: Spear-fishing from a canoe]



                     Tale XXV: A Little Indian Girl


Railways may extend their lines far away in the north; civilization may
wipe out huge slices of wilderness; the remaining Indians, in spite of
all their faults intensified by the contact with white men, are still at
heart wild men whose sole aim in life is to hunt and to kill.

Whatever may be their calling, there is one thing which no Indian man,
woman or child can resist. It’s to try to lay low big game. In other
words, to try to secure red meat each time the occasion arises.

Last summer, near where we were camped, a very old squaw took her
granddaughter, aged ten, to look over her nets. The child was in the bow
of the canoe. Suddenly they came across a big bull moose swimming the
river. They had no rifle and there was no time to return to camp to
fetch one. The old woman did not hesitate. With one sweep of her paddle
she steered the small canoe straight for the moose, while she screamed
to the little girl to pick up the small axe which they were using to
drive in the stakes of their nets.

The child was frightened but she answered the call of the blood. She
seized the axe and, when her grandmother fearlessly paddled the canoe
alongside the huge horns of the moose, she struck with all her might.
She was too young to know how to use her small weapon. Instead of aiming
between the animal’s ears with the head of the axe, she struck blindly
with the blade. She missed several times, wounding the big moose in the
neck.

The infuriated animal roared, shook his head, lunged out with his front
paws, narrowly missing the canoe. The little girl kept on savagely.
Finally, she buried her axe in the bull’s huge back. She did not have
the strength to wrench it out. The moose reached the shore, staggered up
the bank and disappeared in the bush.... We found it an hour later,
dead, a few hundred yards away.

There was a silent but proud little Indian girl in camp that night.

The bull moose must have weighed over twelve hundred pounds, while the
axe measured exactly three feet long.

[Illustration: An Indian girl]



                Tale XXVI: Outlawed in the Barren Lands


The barren lands ... far away, north of the trees. Wind-swept, rock
strewn, colorless. An undulating desert with huge boulders, grey moss,
little patches of scrub willows nestling in the hollows of the hills.
Thousands of small streams and lakes.

Far away on the edge of the Arctic. Bleaker than the northern moors of
Scotland shorn of their native heather. The feeding ground of the
wandering herds of caribou. The nestling place of all water fowl.

Far away, skirting the frozen seas. A land of waste lying on the top of
the world. Scarred and twisted by some gigantic earthquake hundreds of
centuries ago. Blasted eternally by the icy breath of the pole.

The Barren Lands. The last refuge for the criminal unmercifully tracked
by the law. Northward—ever northward—the man has fled from civilization.
Downstream—ever downstream—he has paddled madly through the forest,
seeking safety in the unknown. Leaving the trees behind him he has at
last reached his goal. The Barren Lands.

[Illustration: The Barren Lands]

But fear urges him on. He leaves his useless canoe and blindly staggers
north on foot. North, north, into the heart of the land of waste from
which there is no outlet. The weaker he gets the more he longs to go
further. His food is nearly gone. On the top of the hills he scans the
horizon. South, the line of trees has disappeared. North, nothing but
the rolling desert of moss and rock.

On and on he staggers for days. He is starving now, although he is able
to quench his thirst at the small icy creeks which wind their way
towards the sea.

It is night. The man suddenly hears a dull moaning sound, the
everlasting breaking of the surf against the shore. He has reached the
end of the Barren Lands. He finds himself staggering down a rocky beach.
His eyes are staring ahead of him. Nothing but a grey, unlimited ocean,
dotted with icebergs.

For the first time he realizes the hopelessness of his flight. He
remains a few seconds swaying on his feet. Then his brain gives way.
With a scream, he tosses his hands above his head and, lurching forward,
falls dead, his face in the foam of the waves.

High up in the sky, over Barren Lands and Arctic Ocean, the Northern
lights reel, twist and swirl, in their eternal dance of madness.



                     Tale XXVII: One Thousand Years


Now and then in the far north, a trader adopts an Eskimo boy, always an
orphan, and brings him up at the Station. When the boy reaches manhood
he generally remains at the Post, acting as a general servant and
interpreter. While his usefulness as a “jack of all trades” is great,
his efficiency in English is invariably poor. No pure Eskimo can
understand and speak fluently any other language but his own, and,
although he is quite capable of remembering hundreds of foreign words,
he has a very hazy notion of what these words really mean.

I remember well a certain Post servant called “Nero”. No one knew how he
got that strange name. He was about sixty years old and thought himself
head and shoulders above any other native in the country. Wise to the
ways of white men, the equal of any other Eskimo in traveling and
hunting, he was a well known character within a radius of five hundred
miles.

One summer I was traveling with him along the eastern coast of Hudson
Bay. The weather was clear and we were sailing in a little schooner a
few hundred yards off shore.

Everywhere, Eskimos have a habit of erecting cairns of rocks on all the
cliffs and high spots so as to have land marks when traveling in winter,
especially during stormy weather.

I happened to notice one of those cairns which was of unusual size. The
rocks, which had been piled very neatly and carefully one on top of the
other, were enormous. It must have taken several men quite a few days of
labor to put it up.

I called Nero’s attention to the cairn, and added that it looked very
old and I wondered how long it had been there. Nero, never at a loss for
an answer, nodded cheerfully and replied “Yes, much old—thousand years.”
I grinned and remarked, “How do you know it has been there so long?”
Nero hesitated a few seconds then retorted brightly, “Yes, thousand
years. I know. It was here when I a little boy. I saw her, thousand
years.”

After that answer, I gave it up and changed the subject of conversation.

[Illustration: An rock cairn]



                     Tale XXVIII: A Practical Joke


Indians have the reputation of being always of a serious turn of mind.
My experience is to the contrary. They talk incessantly, laugh at any
joke and love to play tricks on each other.

One night on Isle a la Crosse Lake, we had pitched camp near the tepee
of a Chippewayan family. The weather was beautiful, the mosquitoes were
gone—there was not a cloud in the sky.

The father, an old Indian with long, grey hair, decided to sleep in the
open. He rolled himself up in his blanket in the bottom of his canoe and
was soon asleep—snoring peacefully under a full moon, millions of stars
and the shimmer of the northern lights low down on the horizon.

As soon as my two Indians saw that, they crept to the lake, filled a
large kettle full of water, returned noiselessly and poured the contents
of the kettle very gently in the canoe. Three times they did that
without waking the sleeper. Then they hid in the bush and waited.

[Illustration: Indians around a campfire]

In a few minutes the old man grunted, shifted, turned round again, and
then sat up hurriedly. First, he felt the bottom of the canoe with both
hands and discovered several inches of water that had soaked through his
blankets and clothes. After that, he looked up towards the sky. He
searched silently for clouds and signs of rain. The moon was still
there—as brilliant as ever. So were the stars! He got out of the canoe,
felt himself all over again, bent down a second time to feel the water
then, walking away a few paces, he gazed long and searchingly above him
and turned around so as to inspect thoroughly the four points of the
compass.

That was too much for the two Indians hiding in the bush. One started to
grunt, the other to groan. In a second the old man understood the joke
and burst out laughing, slapping his wet thighs with his two bony hands.

Two hours later the three men were squatting in front of a fire,
drinking tea and talking. Every now and again I would hear a peal of
laughter. They were still making merry over the joke.



                      Tale XXIX: Eskimo Arithmetic


Far away in the sub-arctic, the sturdy Eskimos live happily—hunting and
fishing for food, trapping for furs to trade for clothing, ammunition
and for such luxuries as tea, sugar, tobacco and jam. They speak only
their own language, and their idea of quantities or numbers is always
very hazy. Some tribes do not seem to be able to count more than ten.
But their remarkable intelligence offsets this weakness.

One year I told an Eskimo, who hunted two hundred miles north of one of
our stations, to report to me, the next summer, how many sea trout he
had caught that spring at the mouth of a certain river where we thought
of establishing an outpost.

The native borrowed a pencil and a sheet of paper from the trader and
departed. The next year he brought in the paper, very much soiled, but
showing exactly how many fish he had killed—1132. For each trout the
Eskimo had drawn a line, varying in length according to the size of the
fish, and for each ten trout he had scrawled a double line. Nobody had
ever taught him that.

[Illustration: Eskimo arithmetic]

Another instance of mathematics was reported to me in the Northwest two
years ago. At a certain post, we were using an Eskimo to trade with a
far away tribe which we could not get in touch with otherwise. In the
fall our trader would put on the man’s sleigh so many articles, telling
him how many articles he ought to give out for each skin. The next
spring the man would return and faithfully turn over the furs with the
balance of the untraded goods. There never was a mistake. But a year
later, our trader noticed that the Eskimo brought back a bundle of furs
of his own which he would trade with us afterwards, and for which it was
difficult to account as the balance of the merchandise returned was
correct and the native himself was not supposed to trap.

The trader finally asked him how it happened, and the Husky’s answer
plainly proved that he had found out by himself the secret of division.
For instance, each article, that ought to have been given out for fur,
the Eskimo cut in two; keeping one half for himself so as to trade it
later on against fur on his own account.

Thus our native friend would trade one-half a pound of sugar instead of
a whole one; half a stick of tobacco, and so on. He went so far as
filing an ordinary file in two, trading one-half for us and the other
for himself.

When our trader told him that he was not very fair to his northern
brothers, he laughed and answered, “They have not learned how to count.
I have.”



                          Tale XXX: “Caribou”


In the northwest of Canada, far away from civilization, there still
exist huge herds of caribou that roam by tens of thousands. In summer,
they are to be found on the barren lands; in winter, through the wooded
wilderness around Reindeer Lake.

The main body of the herd seems to follow a steady routine of migration.

Each year the natives know exactly where to find it. The Eskimos follow
the caribou during the summer. The Chippewayans lie in wait for them on
their way south in the early fall. From then on until spring those
Indians live on the herd, using the meat for food and the leather for
clothing.

At all times during the year, the grey timber wolves hover around,
cutting out and pulling down the young, the maimed and the weak. Still,
the caribou ranks never seem to dwindle. In countless numbers each year
they move north or south, according to the season, obeying the law of
their kind.

In winter, when one travels through that enormous country which lies
between Cree Lake and Pakatawagan, through Bear Lake, Wollaston Lake,
further north to Nueltin Lake, further southeast to Reindeer Lake, one
is liable to meet, any day, hundreds and hundreds of these deer. In the
depth of the bush one seldom sees them. But they seem to have a fondness
for lakes, over the ice of which they roam aimlessly, in the open,
milling like sheep at the slightest sign of danger.

All men who travel in those regions depend on these deer for food, not
only for themselves but for their dogs. Each team of “huskies” is wise
to what a herd of caribou means as soon as it is sighted. When the
traveller reaches a lake and sees the deer far away on the ice, the dogs
realize what is going to happen, and strain silently and excitedly in
their traces. The deer, foolishly, look around, run about, stop and
stare. Little by little, the sleigh drawn by the straining dogs gets
nearer and nearer.

Finally the man with one short word stops the team, then steps out of
the sleigh, aims and fires. Instantly the dogs are off, baying like
maniacs. The man makes a flying leap, grabs the sleigh and scrambles on
board. The seven dogs are racing madly towards the deer who are running
around in circles.

If the man’s aim has been true, in a few minutes the team of “huskies”
has reached its prey and, in a mad leap, is worrying its throat.

If he has missed, the man calls out a second time. The dogs stop dead
and the rifle barks again.

[Illustration: Hunter pointing rifle from dogsled]



                         Tale XXXI: In Siberia


In pre-war days in Siberia, traveling on the railway was easy; but as
soon as one left it, one was liable to meet with a certain amount of
adventures.

One night in the middle of winter, I landed at the station of Omsk. No
one was there to meet me and I did not know a word of Russian. I was
told that the town was at least six miles away and that to reach it one
had to travel through a wild, empty country of rolling plain and small
bush. Furthermore, quite a few Russians in Moscow and on the train had
entertained me in French with terrible stories of escaped convicts,
brigands, hold-ups and murders. In fact, only that week before my
arrival, a traveler was supposed to have been shot and robbed on the
same road that I had to take to go to town.

After a lot of trouble, I found a “troika” drawn by the usual three
horses and was able to make the driver understand where I wanted to go.

[Illustration: A Siberian rider]

I snuggled down under the fur robes and pulled out a revolver which I
kept in my hand ready for any emergency. We started slowly through very
bad roads. The cold was intense. In a little while, just as I was
thinking that I had never seen such a beautifully lonely country to
commit wholesale murder in, we heard a shout ahead of us. At that time
we were half way up a small hill and, on the top of it hardly one
hundred yards from us, plainly visible on the sky line, was a man on
horseback. I could distinguish his big shaggy fur cap and a rifle which
he held in his right hand with the stock resting on his thigh, the
barrel sticking up.

In a flash I thought of the Russians’ stories which I had disbelieved. I
was being held up after all. I jerked out my gun from under the furs. I
was desperate and had made up my mind to shoot first, trusting to luck.
Just then the solitary cavalier shouted something in Russian, which, of
course, I did not understand. My driver, with a yell to his horses,
swung them frantically to the right and, in a second, the sleigh was in
the deep snow out of the trail, half turned over on its side in a ditch.
I clutched the sides so as not to be pitched out. At the same moment a
tornado seemed to be upon us. I vaguely realized in the darkness that
there were wild looking men on horseback. Some had drawn swords, others
lances. There must have been one hundred of them. But instead of
stopping—they swept downhill, past us, in a mad gallop. Before I could
press the trigger everything was over. The road was empty, the night was
silent and my driver was coaxing his horse back on the trail.

As soon as I reached Omsk I told our man, there, what had happened and
asked for further information. “Why, that was his Imperial Majesty’s
mail going to the station to catch the midnight train for the east. It
is always surrounded by a squadron of cavalry with one or two scouts
ahead to clear the road.”

My brigands were the regular Cossacks of the Czar.

To this day, I feel a cold shudder at the thought of what would have
happened if I had fired my revolver in their midst. Talk of past murders
on that lonely Siberian road! Picnics compared to what mine would have
been!



                   Tale XXXII: In the Hudson Straits


Windswept, bleak and ragged, savagely beautiful in their utter
desolation, the mighty shores of Labrador tower over the racing tides of
Hudson Straits.

Far out on the horizon a bank of mist hangs low, blending itself with
the steel grey of the sea. Close by at the foot of the cliffs, a line of
white foam everlastingly coils and uncoils itself, surging angrily
against the glittering walls of granite.

In between, scattered over the grey waters, hundreds of icebergs are
floating. In all shapes and sizes, these grim fragments of the eternal
Arctic glaciers seem to keep guard over the sea. Like sentinels on the
edge of the Polar regions they drift slowly back and forth in the
Straits, obedient to tide and wind, leaving behind them a long wake of
swirling eddies and floating cakes of ice.

Above all a grey, cloudless, cold sky. Everywhere silence. A silence
which grips one’s heart. A silence which no earthly sound would seem
able to shatter. A silence which one hears.

On the very edge of the highest cliff, a man stands alone. Dressed in
seal skin, bare-headed, his long, coarse black hair thrown back and
mingling with the dog fur trimming of his hood—the Eskimo hunter is
watching the sea. His weather-beaten face is inscrutable. With slanting
eyelids narrowed, his black eyes stare into space without a quiver of an
eyelash. His square jaw is closed tightly. One hand is holding by the
barrel a rifle in its greasy case. The other clutches a rawhide
cartridge pouch.

The man has been there every day for weeks. Today, after two hours’
watch, he suddenly wheels around, drops his cartridge pouch, picks a
handful of cartridges and loads his rifle. His task finished, he looks
again towards the sea for a full minute. Then, satisfied, he raises the
rifle to his shoulder and fires six shots at regular intervals.

The crack of the Winchester shatters the silence—echoes along the
cliff—sending down towards the sea wave after wave of sound which, in
turn, is picked up and flung back by each gully and by each cave
throughout the mass of granite.

Startled from its nest, an eagle dashes from the cliff, sweeps up to the
level of the man, remains motionless for a fraction of a second poised
in midair—then uttering a shrill cry, lashes with its wings and dives
into space.

Far down on the beach, amid the rocks which form a natural slide to the
sea, tiny specks appear moving hurriedly back and forth. These are
Eskimos, comrades of the man who stands guard hundreds of feet above
them.

Their skin tents, huddled together in the chaotic mass of stone, remain
invisible to the eye. They have heard the signal and their excitement is
great. Smaller specks run about the beach. Some dash even into the icy
water which flings them back in a blind, white smother of foam. These
are the dogs, the sleigh Huskies, the faithful companions of the
natives. Their short, wolf-like howl rises above the general confusion.

In a few minutes a white puff of smoke is seen, followed shortly by the
quick bark of the rifle. Then another explosion is heard until the
spluttering of a general fusillade rends the air ... answering the six
shots fired from the top of the cliff.

Far out at sea, looming ghostlike through the fog, threading her
cautious way amidst the icebergs—a three-masted auxiliary schooner
appears. On her foremast flies the Revillon Frères flag. It is the
supply ship which, once a year, calls on those desolate regions.

[Illustration: Large sailing ship]



                       Tale XXXIII: Whiskey Jack


In northern Canada, birds migrate south as soon as the winter sets in.
The only ones who remain throughout the entire cold season are the
Ravens, the little Arctic Owls and the Jays which are known from the
Atlantic to the Pacific as Whiskey Jacks. The latter can be found
everywhere in the bush. Although they shun the most northern villages
and settlements, still they can not live far away from the haunts of
men. Therefore one sees them hovering around every likely spot along all
the trails, either on land or by the water, in the neighborhood of
lumber camps, trapping shacks, hunting caches and portages. As soon as
the traveler appears in one of those places, a small flock of Whiskey
Jacks appear flitting from one tree top to another, calling, shrieking,
whistling, ever on the lookout for any sign of food.

[Illustration: Raven in tree]

There is a superstition in the North which claims that the killing of a
Whiskey Jack brings bad luck. No one, even an Indian, would ever think
of harming them. The result is that, being very tame, they often prove
themselves regular pests in camp. Their only idea seems to be to hoard
food for winter use. And from early spring until late fall one can see
them picking up any available scrap which they stow away in various tree
holes.

Their boldness is always a source of amusement to the traveler. I have
seen Whiskey Jacks pounce on a piece of bacon in the frying pan and
succeed in carrying it away; others raid an empty tent and steal any
small thing they can find. They often get in trouble—the unlucky one
then uttering the most extraordinary shrieks which are always taken up
by all the other birds. It is a common occurrence to see one poke its
head into an empty tin and have a great deal of difficulty in getting it
out. Some, raiding a tent, get their claws caught in the mosquito net,
while others hovering around a camp fire singe their tails and wings in
a mad scramble for some half cooked tidbit.

The funniest jam I ever saw a Whiskey Jack get into was when the bird
found a bowl on the ground filled with pieces of bannock soaked in rum.
The bird was hungry and gobbled five or six pieces before the old
prospector found out that his favorite evening dish was in danger.
Whiskey Jack flew a few feet away and settled on a branch of a tree. But
in a few minutes the liquor took effect. He began giving a series of
dismal squawks, cocking his head on one side then on the other, swaying
more and more until he actually fell down on the ground, where he lay
unable to get up but screeching madly all the time.

The bird was all right again in an hour or so and went on flying around
in search of more food, but he obstinately refused any more bannock from
any one’s hands.



                           Tale XXXIV: Makejo


Makejo, a full-grown red fox, was born on the marshy shores of James
Bay. Originally, he belonged to a litter of six pups which a Cree Indian
had dug up in the spring and given to our trader at Moose Factory. The
pups were still blind and helpless when they reached human hands. They
took kindly to the bottle, but the mixture of condensed milk and plain
water on which our man tried to raise them proved a failure. One little
fox alone survived the ordeal. That was Makejo.

Although undersized and weak at first, he grew amazingly fast soon after
he was weaned. When I saw him two years later he was larger and heavier
than any fox of that region. Blood red, with a mask fringed with black
and a large white tip at the end of his brush, he was as tame as a dog
and as mischevious as a monkey.

He lived in the trader’s house, slept in a box, and came instantly at
the call of his name. He was a great mouser. Now and again the trader
would lock him up in the storeroom at night where he would kill dozens
of mice, which he would invariably eat—barring the tails.

[Illustration: Makejo, the red fox]

He would play with the children by the hour and had taught himself any
amount of tricks while running madly up and down the house. His chief
stunt was a back somersault. He had started doing it while leaping
against the wall of the room but ended by doing it at any moment, even
from a standing position.

In summer, he was allowed to use a hole cut out for him on one of the
windows on the ground floor. He would get out through this to a small
ledge, four feet above the ground, where he would pass hours sunning
himself and keeping an eye on everything that was going on.

His chief delight was to torment the twenty-odd Post dogs which were
always loafing in the neighborhood. They all belonged to the Malamute
breed and would have killed him instantly had they been able to catch
him. But they never did.

Makejo, from his ledge, would watch the dogs until they were asleep.
Then, jumping down like a streak of lightning, he would flash through
the pack yelping. In a second every Husky was after him. His speed was
so marvelous, his eye so quick and his judgment of distance so uncanny,
that he would remain several minutes tearing in and out of the dogs with
perfect impunity until, with one leap, he would jump on his ledge again
and disappear in the house through his little hole.

For all I know, Makejo may still be living happily where I saw him last.



                   Tale XXXV: Two Little Eskimo Boys


Hundreds of stories could be told regarding the hardships which form
part of the daily life of the Canadian Eskimos, also their
resourcefulness and their endurance.

Five years ago in August, near Cape Dufferin, two Eskimos started
paddling in their kayaks along the shore. Each man in his little craft
had his son—one five years old, the other seven. After a few hours, they
decided to go to some islands six miles off shore to look for sea gulls’
eggs. Not caring to take the two children out so far, in case a storm
came up, they left them on the beach and told them to wait.

The two little boys remained there all day. Night came. They huddled
together, shivering, in the lee of a rock. When dawn appeared there were
no signs of the two men. Another day and another night passed; still the
children waited, feeding on seaweed and small shell fish which they
found along the beach.

[Illustration: Two young Canadian Eskimo boys]

When the third day came they decided to walk back, following the shore,
to the tribe. Going round the bays, climbing up and down huge slides of
rocks, walking inland each time they found rivers they could not swim
until they discovered a place to ford them, those two boys—aged five and
seven, respectively—never lost heart.

Picking up on the beach what they could find to eat, they eventually got
back to the tribe after two days and nights of constant traveling. They
were footsore, wet to the bone, and famished.

They gave the alarm and a small party of men paddled immediately to the
islands. There they found the two men marooned amidst hundreds of nests
on which they had been feeding.

It appears that on their arrival, four days before, they had at first
gone to sleep on the beach in the sun, leaving their kayaks partly out
of the water. The tide rose and the two kayaks drifted out of sight.
They had suffered no hardships—having plenty of food and being confident
that eventually some one would come to look for them.

Furthermore, they did not feel anxious about the children. In their
minds, a thirty mile walk alone on the rugged seashore, the fording of
three swift rivers, and the lack of food and the exposure during four
consecutive days and nights, could not possibly harm two little Eskimo
boys of five and seven.



                     Tale XXXVI: An Indian Warrior


It was late in the fall of 1916, in the Somme, during the War. The
Canadian Army in junction with one of the French Army Corps at its right
had gone over the top and brilliantly carried an enemy’s strong
position, two miles deep. The inevitable counter attack had been
repulsed and, although the shelling was still vicious, one felt that the
show was over for that day. The wounded were streaming out of the
communication trenches towards the rear. A few dead bodies were lying
about in small groups.

I was passing along quickly, following a sunken road, when I noticed a
swarthy Canadian soldier on the ground, apparently dying of his wounds.
I happened to be glancing towards him when he looked up, saw me, and,
making a sign of the hand, called out clearly, “Nipi.” I recognized the
word at once and stopped in amazement. The man was a full-blooded Cree
Indian. He must have volunteered somewhere in Northern Canada, gone
overseas, fought, and was now dying all alone in the mud of the Somme.
He did not seem to be able to speak a word of English.

I knelt beside him and put my water bottle to his lips. Meanwhile I
racked my brain for the few words of Cree I still knew. When he had
finished drinking I began slowly to tell him, one by one, all the words
I remembered. I said in Cree, “lake, fire, bear, moose, tent, axe,
canoe.” What else, I do not recall. Dozens of Cree words—one after the
other. Then I named in Indian, all the northern places I knew from
Labrador to Yukon.

As soon as the Cree warrior heard my first words, he caught hold of my
hands with both of his own and held on to them like a drowning man. He
looked at me with a startled face, then his expression changed little by
little. He was far gone then but he could still hear and understand the
words of his native tongue. A far away look came into his dying eyes,
his features relaxed and a smile hovered on his lips. He had forgotten
the battlefield. His thoughts were away, far away, in some part of the
Canadian wilderness which he and I knew.

It was all over in a few seconds. He opened his mouth as if he wanted to
say something and then his soul went West; suddenly, without a flutter,
straight to the Happy Hunting Grounds of his ancestors.

[Illustration: An Indian warrior]



                           Tale XXXVII: Burro


Jack was a little grey donkey, a genuine little burro owned by the cook
of a lumber camp in northern British Columbia. He was used for odd jobs
around the men’s quarters and, when off duty, roamed about aimlessly at
his own free will. He was old, tame as a dog and very wise.

We hired him one day to carry our grub and blankets on a fishing
expedition. We had no fixed place to go. We simply cut across country
through bush and hills, stopping to fish at every likely stream, camping
when we felt like it. Jack behaved perfectly for three days. He carried
his little load quietly and steered his way through any kind of ground
according to our instructions, which we telegraphed to him from behind
with a tap of the hand or an occasional shove.

On the third day at sundown, we pitched our tent on an old camping
ground and found there two large cans of tomatoes which someone had left
behind. The next morning, we loaded the little burro and placed the two
cans on the top of his pack. Jack gave a grunt and promptly lay down.
Nothing would induce him to rise until one of us thought of taking the
two cans off. Then he proceeded on his way as if nothing had happened.
For at least two hours we tried to fool him with those two tomato
tins—but failed utterly. Each time we laid them on his pack, ever so
gently from behind, he would stop dead and lie down again. Finally we
had to give it up and throw the two cans away.

When the time came to return to the lumber camp, we were not certain of
our way. In fact, we had only had a very hazy idea of our direction as
we had been travelling in a round about sort of way in a very hilly
country thickly covered with large trees. We decided to put our faith in
Jack. He seemed to understand that we were going home. He took us back,
foot by foot, exactly the same way we had come. His memory was uncanny.
All the unnecessary little detours we had made, around a bush or a rock
on our way up, he scrupulously made again on the way down. He never
changed his pace once. He just jogged along with his head down and his
eyes half closed. But nothing would make him step out of what he thought
was the proper trail.

Two miles from camp, when we could already see the tents in the valley,
we tried to make him take a short cut. He absolutely refused and showed
the usual signs of lying down. He had been in charge all the way back
and intended remaining so until we arrived.

[Illustration: An burro on the trail]



               Tale XXXVIII: Travelling in North Alberta


Early one spring, I stopped at an Indian’s tepee for a cup of tea, a
smoke and a little chat. In front of the tent, a few yards away, stood
the usual platform which all trappers build on four long, vertical piles
so as to keep their stock of fish, meat, leather and pelts out of the
reach of the dogs.

I was travelling with a team of six Huskies drawing a light sledge and
had been making good time on the glare ice of the lakes and rivers. For,
although the snow was nearly all gone in the bush, it still froze hard
each night.

Before leaving the camp I asked the Indian to sell me some white fish
for dog feed, of which I was short. He had plenty of it. I knew that he
kept the frozen fish on the platform. He readily granted my request and
while he busied himself dis-entangling the traces of my leader, which
had got mixed up with a stump, I climbed on an empty box so as to reach
the rack and get the fish.

Just at that moment the Indian shouted to me to take twenty fish which
were already wrapped up in a dunnage bag, ready for packing on a sleigh.
I glanced around, saw a brown package about two feet long and, without
bothering to lift it, with one hand I pushed it so that it fell off the
platform on to the ground.

As soon as it hit the frozen earth I noticed the peculiar sound it
made—a crack like the branch of a tree snapping in the frost. Jumping
down, I opened the parcel. There lay the dead body of a six months old
child.

It was the Indian’s youngest baby. It had died at Christmas time and the
man had stored it on the rack, far out of reach of the prowling dogs,
until the summer came and the ground thawed out sufficiently to enable
him to dig its little grave.

[Illustration: A camp and trapper’s platform]



                      Tale XXXIX: Mother and Cubs


Late one evening in August, our ship was plowing her way through a sea
of slushy ice and small pans in Hudson Straits. The weather was dead
calm. Ahead of us, to the northwest, the sun was sinking over the
horizon, staining sky and ice in crimson. Astern—to starboard—miles
away, the rugged coast of Baffin Land loomed up, faint and dark.

The only sound which struck the ear was the steady droning of the
engine; while now and then a pan of ice, cut in two by the ship’s stem,
cracked under the impact, then groaned and grinded as it slid and was
crushed under the keel.

Suddenly a sharp cry rang out from the crow’s nest, “White bear ahead—a
she bear with two cubs. Two points at starboard.” Instantly every one
rushed to the bow. Five hundred yards away, floundering through the ice,
in and out of the water, was a great big bear. She had seen us and was
trying to get away. A few yards in front of her were two small cubs—four
months old—struggling hard to keep ahead of their mother.

[Illustration: Mother and cubs]

The whole crew was in a turmoil of excitement. The skipper already had a
rifle in his hands. So had the cook and one of the sailors. For a long
time the bears were able to keep their distance. The pans of ice were
large and fairly close together. Mother and cubs would climb on one—race
a few hundred yards—dive, swim a few feet—then get out of the water and
run again.

Meanwhile the ship had to wind her way between the ice, or butt the
heaviest pans which sometimes slowed her down completely. We reached, at
last, a spot where the ice was scattered. Huge lakes separated each pan.

Although the bears swam bravely, the ship was gaining on them. In a few
minutes we were almost on top of them—just as they reached some more ice
and climbed on it.

The young animals were now getting exhausted. The cubs, their tongues
out, were giving signs of distress. Their only idea was to stop, lie
down, bury their heads in their front paws and rest. But the old mother
was undaunted. She turned around, faced the ship, rose on her hind legs
and gazed steadily at us towering above her. Then, turning around like a
flash, she lifted each grovelling cub with a jerk of her snout, cuffed
its hind quarters hard with a swift tap of her front paw and launched
both of them again ahead of her in full flight. This she repeated time
and again. Her courage was so amazing that no one fired a shot.

Finally we reached a last pan of ice on the very edge of the floe.
Further on was the open sea. Mother and cubs scrambled on that piece of
ice a few yards in front of the steamer which had been put down to “dead
slow”. The little cubs “were done”. They just lay on the ice and panted.
The mother could have taken to the water—dived like a duck—made a bid
for her life. But she remained beside her young, facing the ship
squarely, silently, fearlessly. Her jaws were half open in a snarl. Now
and then she would lift a front paw and cuff the air as if she wanted to
show how hard she could hit our steel stern if ever our vessel touched
her.

There was silence on board. Suddenly our skipper’s voice rang out: “Hard
over at port,” while the telegraph rang, “Full speed ahead.” The same
voice called out again. “Leave those bears alone, you sons of....”

As the ship swung over—gathered way and passed the pan of ice—three
blasts of the steamer’s foghorn blared out in a salute! It was the old
Newfoundland master. He was leaning over the side of his bridge, waving
to the old she bear who still stood, undaunted, right over the bodies of
her two little cubs.



                         Tale XL: An old Trader


Fifteen years or so ago, I knew an old trader, a Scotchman, who had then
lived forty years in the far North. His only link with civilization was
the supply ship which called at his Post, once a year, in summer.

In those days radios were unknown. The man was content with one mail a
year. As soon as the vessel had left his station, he was entirely cut
off from the rest of the world until the next summer.

He worked for a rival company and for several years I never had an
occasion to meet him, although we had a trading station of our own a few
miles down the coast.

In 1911, our steamer was passing his Post when we saw a whale boat,
manned by four Eskimos, coming out to meet us. In the stern sat the old
man. Knowing that our ship was the first in that year, we slowed down
expecting that the trader was in some kind of trouble.

[Illustration: An old trader]

As soon as he got within hailing distance he stood up, put his hands to
his mouth and shouted: “Good morning! Who won the fight?” For a few
seconds we were so surprised that none of us could speak. Meanwhile, the
small boat remained bobbing up and down on the swell; the old man still
standing and looking up toward the bridge.

Suddenly it dawned upon the skipper that the old Scotchman was one year
back in his news, and that he was inquiring about the famous “Jim
Jeffries-Jack Johnson” fight which had taken place exactly thirteen
months before!

Our ship being the first in, he could not wait until his own vessel
arrived, bringing him a whole year’s collection of daily newspapers. He
simply had to satisfy his craving for news of that fight over which he
had pondered, alone, during twelve long months. “Jack Johnson won by a
knock-out,” we all shouted down to him. He heard us the first time.
Lifting his hand over his head as a sign of thanks, he sat down without
a word and motioned the Esquimos to row back to shore.

Meanwhile our skipper telegraphed “Full speed ahead” and we proceeded on
our way.



                          Tale XLI: Wolverine


The wolverine has an exceedingly bad reputation among all men, white or
red, who make their living by trapping in the Far North. If one believed
the stories of some of the older Indians, one would think that the
animal had a superhuman intelligence added to a positive mania for
destruction.

To look at, the Wolverine is not very formidable. I heard, one day, a
white trapper describe him as an overgrown badger that could not grunt
quite as well as a pig but could climb trees far more easily than a
bear.

Discarding the exaggeration which generally goes with all tales
concerning the animal, there is no doubt that the Wolverine is very
cunning and is inclined to be mischevious as far as traps and supplies
are concerned.

[Illustration: A Wolverine]

I know of one authentic case where an Indian had to change his trap
lines; in fact, quit the country altogether and go elsewhere because of
a Wolverine who had made up his mind to dodge his footsteps all winter
and feed on his baits and game. That animal would follow the man’s
trail, starting a few hours behind him. Each time he got to a trap he
would find it, although the tell-tale signs had been brushed off the
snow. He would then, through smell, locate the chain, dig it up, jerk it
with his teeth, spring the trap and eat the bait.

For weeks the Indian tried to shoot that Wolverine, but failed. When the
man, knowing through experience that he was followed, turned back
suddenly in his footsteps or remained hidden on his own trail, the
Wolverine, sensing the danger, would stop and vanish for the time being.
As soon as the trapper proceeded on his way, the animal would follow and
resume his mischief.

Once in Labrador, I had a cache raided by a Wolverine during the summer.
We had left some grub, clothing and cooking utensils in a waterproof bag
securely lashed to the branch of a tree. When we returned, the bag was
gone. The Wolverine had managed to crawl down the branch and cut the
rope. After that he had torn everything open, eaten every piece of food
he could get his teeth in and destroyed or defiled all the clothing. But
what really made us mad was the fact that he had carried away and hidden
the tins of pork and beans and lard which he could not have opened
anyway, however strong were his jaws.

The only thing which we recovered intact was a brand new kettle—and then
we had to climb a tree for it. The Wolverine had carried it half way up
a spruce and left it wedged between two branches.



                      Tale XLII: “Spot” ... Again


I have already spoken about that dog. I had him on my team six winters.
He was the most human “Husky” I have ever known.

In the spring when the ice begins to cut all dogs’ feet, he would always
be the first to ask for his moccasins. He would not sulk, go lame,
whimper or run out of the trail. He would stop dead in his tracks, lie
on his back, stretch and wave his four legs straight in the air and howl
until each moccasin was fastened securely to each foot.

In camp at nights if he was not tied up, he would burrow in the snow
until he was completely hidden, and remain there out of sight until the
team was ready to leave. No amount of calling and coaxing would induce
him to leave his hole, which was generally so well hidden that it was
impossible to find it. But as soon as he felt the other six dogs in
harness ready to go, he would burst out of the snow and slip on his own
collar with a toss of his nose while he looked around anxiously to see
if the driver was coming to fasten his girth.

Poor, dear, old Spot! He died in 1913, in harness. He was getting old
and the last trip was too much for him. After a week of bitter
suffering, he fell in the traces. We put him on the sleigh. His pride
forbade him to be drawn by the team. He rolled off in the snow and tried
to get back to his place in the lead. He was very weak but he still
snarled defiance at the young dogs who were doing the work without him.

Little by little, even out of harness, he could not follow the pace. He
fell back on the trail. All day he struggled behind us. That night he
joined the camp two hours after dark. He refused his food but,
heartbroken, insisted upon searching for his harness which had been put
aside on the sleigh.

Early the next morning before anyone stirred in camp, my man shot him in
his sleep. We could not leave him behind us to eat his heart out in the
wilderness, then fall the prey to a roaming pack of timber wolves. Poor,
dear, old Spot!

[Illustration: Husky and sled]



                          Tale XLIII: Homesick


“Scotty” was a little clerk in one of our most northern Indian trading
stations. He had applied for a position with us in Inverness and had
come over in steerage to Halifax. From there he had traveled by train to
Montreal, then to Winnipeg, Prince Albert and Le Pas. Finally he had
been transported by canoe five hundred miles to his new Post. He landed
one afternoon in August and introduced himself to the trader.

I happened to be there at the time. His luggage consisted of a small
hand bag, much the worse for the wear, and a large flat wooden box. He
was very silent during the evening meal and left us immediately
afterwards.

An hour or so later, just as night was falling, a weird scream smote our
ears. It came from somewhere in the bush and sounded like the haunting
wail of something inhuman. “God, a banshee!” murmured the trader,
crossing himself. I thought of a strange night bird—a prowling wolf—a
lonely Indian dog. Then it came again, this time louder. We left the
shack and walked in the direction of the noise. Meanwhile the wail,
after echoing faster and faster, had changed into one continuous
screech.

[Illustration: Canoe on lake]

Indians—men, women and children—were turning out of their tepees and
running towards the sound. We finally reached a small clearing and
halted in front of a large spruce tree. We knew instinctively that the
thing—whatever it was—was there. It had ceased wailing a few seconds,
and we were anxiously peering into the shadows. Suddenly something moved
in front of us and we held our breath. Then a small figure, which had
been crouching unseen at the foot of the tree, rose, and a savage burst
of wild music rang out.

It was “Scotty”, marching out of the darkness, blowing a huge bagpipe
clasped in his arms. His face was purple and his eyes were half closed.
Round and round he marched, oblivious of everything, while the Indians,
stupefied by such an instrument and such a noise, milled around like
staring sheep and followed each one of his movements.

For a half hour we listened to the little man. Not once did he stop. His
homesick soul was singing through those blood-curdling, shrieking pipes.

Late into the night, after turning in, we still heard him. Followed by
the entire native population and surrounded by at least a hundred
howling dogs, he was marching away from the Post, following the edge of
the lake and playing “The Campbells are Coming”.



                           Tale XLIV: Gotehe


Last summer I happened to notice an Eskimo woman striving to stop a dog
fight. There was nothing very unusual in the sight. Huskies, running
loose in a camp, keep up a constant warfare and invariably pile on the
top of any unlucky dog which has been pulled down by a stronger one.

What really attracted my attention was the way the woman undertook to
save the life of the under dog. Instead of screaming shrilly and using a
club of some sort to hit impartially at any head or back she could reach
in the writhing, snarling knot of fighting animals, she was hopping
around watching for a chance to grab a tail. Then, with a heave and a
twist of her body, she would drag one dog out of the scrimmage and fling
it over her shoulder, ten feet or so behind her. The unlucky animal
generally landed on his head or back, which seemed to surprise and scare
it far more than any kind of a blow.

Considering that a Husky weighs at least 75 pounds and that it took the
woman only a few minutes to put an end to that dog fight, I could not
help being duly impressed with the feat.

I pointed her out to our trader. Such was the way I met Gotehe, wife of
Enekatcha, on the bleak shores of Enendeia Lake.

“Four months ago she would not have had the strength to separate two
hard tacks,” was the man’s comment as she walked away. Scenting a story,
I waited.

It appears that Gotehe, last February, was travelling with her husband
somewhere north of where we were. One morning, when time came to break
camp, she plodded on alone to make the trail. Such is the custom.
Meanwhile, Enekatcha proceeded to ice the runners of the sleigh before
harnessing the dogs.

It was blowing hard and snowing. When the man had travelled an hour he
missed his wife’s tracks. Before he could find them again, a blizzard
came down. He wandered aimlessly all day, vainly searching. Night came.
The blizzard showed no signs of lifting. Enekatcha, believing that his
wife had turned south—her back to the gale—and made for our station
twenty miles away, went there. Nobody had seen her. The blizzard raged
for nine days. Three times, search parties went out and came back
without any news.

On the tenth day the weather cleared at dawn. At noon, Enekatcha found
Gotehe a few miles from where he had missed her trail. She was squatting
patiently behind the shelter of a rock, having “dug herself in” the
snow.

When she had left camp nine days ago she had nothing with her but a
pocket knife and a plug of tobacco. She had munched and swallowed the
latter while she had used her knife to cut strips off her deerskin boots
to chew. During that time she hadn’t had a fire. There was no wood to
burn even if she had had matches.

“She was pretty weak,” added the trader. “So weak that she couldn’t cut
in two the frozen fish which her husband handed her. The little hatchet
was too heavy for her to lift. But she wasn’t even frost bitten. She was
all right—just hungry. Three days at the post and she was off again with
Enekatcha as if nothing had happened.”

[Illustration: Goethe in the storm]



                    Tale XLV: Pets in the Wilderness


I have met in the wilderness several white men whose hobby was to raise
strange pets, either for their own pleasure or to add a little to what
ever income they derived from the country they lived in. But old C...
was the star of them all.

During all the years I have known him, I have never seen him once
without some peculiar animal at his door step.

First it was a bear. The brute was full grown and tied to a tree by a
chain. It allowed his master to stroke him but was dangerous to anyone
else. It had made friends with a little Indian dog and used to sleep
with the pup clasped between its front paws. After that, it was a family
of skunks—a mother and five young ones. They were as tame as cats and
roamed in and out of the shack at their own free will. It was a good
thing that the neighbors were few and far between for, if the wood
pussies did not pay the slightest attention to C..., on the other hand
they resented bitterly the presence of any stranger on the premises.

[Illustration: A bear in a tree.]

Later on, my friend tried his hand at wild lynx. There had been a great
migration of those animals that summer and he was able to lasso eighteen
as they swam across the lakes and rivers in the neighborhood.

He put the whole lot in an old bunk house near his shack and used to
feed them once a day on fish. It was a great sight. The old man would
enter most unconcernedly while the eighteen lynx hurled themselves from
one end of the bunk house to the other, clawing their way up the walls,
jumping from one beam to the other, spitting, yowling and letting out
the most blood curdling shrieks imaginable.

The last time I visited C... he was raising house cats on a large scale.
I had not heard of his new venture but, although I fully expected to
find something unusual in his household, I was not exactly prepared for
what I saw. Half a mile before reaching his home I knew something was
up. I could smell it; but when the shack came into sight, I had to stop
to believe my eyes.

C... was walking back from his fishing hole in the ice of the lake. He
was carrying a heavy bag of fish on his shoulder and was followed by 300
cats of all sizes, color and description.

They were marching behind him in mixed formation, picking their way
daintily in the snow and carrying their tails straight up in the air.
Their fur was long and silky but they had no ears to speak of, for the
tips, frostbitten time and again, had shrivelled off, giving their heads
an uncanny, bullet-like, appearance.

But what impressed me the most, in the dead calm of that January
evening, was the sound of their voices. It was dinner time and the fact
seemed to fill each cat with intense joy, for the 300 of them were
singing a chorus, a peculiar throaty sing-song which they kept up
without a break during the whole procession, from the fishing hole to
the door step where eventually C... fed them carefully one by one.



             Tale XLVI: An Eskimo Guide in the Barren Lands


Many years ago, on one of my first trips to the North, I once asked a
white man what impression the Barren Lands had made upon him the first
time he saw them in the winter. The man was one of the toughest
specimens of a trapper one could ever hope to meet anywhere. He had
roamed north of the trees for twenty years. He was illiterate, coarse
and hardened to an unbelievable extent by the life he had led, but he
had a kind of passionate love for the desolate country he knew so well.

He looked at me in a startled way, scratched his head and pondered.

“That’s a pretty hard thing to say,” he answered, “for I have no
education. I guess a city guy could, if ever he was able to get there.
When I reached the Barrens for the first time, I gave them one good look
from the top of a hill. The only thing I remember thinking to myself
was—Hell! What’s the use of swearing now?”

Several years later I was travelling in the same country in the heart of
winter, and I thought of what my friend the trapper had told me. No
other words could have described better what I felt at that moment. The
cold was intense. The wind blew in savage gusts, lashing the snow in a
stinging, powdery smother. Nothing in sight but rolling hills of glaring
ice, with a few bare boulders showing their dark heads above the white
desert. Nothing to break the awful monotony of that God forsaken
country. Not a tree. Not even a shrub. Not a sign of animal life. Not a
track.

In winter everything goes south—the birds, the wolves, the foxes, even
the caribou. White men alone in their restlessness venture northward.

“The more fools are they,” I reflected bitterly as I plodded behind my
sleigh in the teeth of the gale.

Since dawn we had fought our way, mile by mile, across those everlasting
hills. I say “we”, for I had a companion and a guide, an Eskimo who
drove his own team of dogs while I looked after my own. Unable to
understand one another, except by signs, we made a strange pair
struggling through the wilderness.

After the noon meal, the native iced the runners of my sleigh then
motioned to me to go on, pointing the direction towards a high hill
which one could dimly see on the horizon. Meanwhile, he proceeded to ice
his own runners in the usual leisurely manner of all Eskimos to whom
time, weather and hardship mean nothing.

For three hours I kept on my way without being caught up by my guide.
Darkness was fast approaching and the gale increased, turning into a
regular blizzard.

Tired out, anxious to make camp, I began to worry seriously about my
companion. I was certain that I had not strayed from the route he had
shown me, but I was afraid something might have happened to him
somewhere behind me.

Seeing a small depression behind a rocky ridge where I knew I would find
a certain amount of shelter, I drove my dogs to it and unhitched. Still
no sign of my man! Leaving my dogs curled up beside the sleigh I started
back on the trail. I walked for about ten minutes, stopping now and then
to listen. Nothing but the wailing of the wind and the angry hiss of the
driven snow.

I was frightened! Suddenly, a strange noise reached my ears through the
howling gale. I thought I heard someone singing! In a few minutes the
song increased in volume. I waited! Then I saw, emerging from the depths
of the swirling snow, a team of five dogs, straining at a sledge. On the
top of the load sat my Eskimo friend apparently oblivious to his
surroundings. He was singing at the top of his voice and the words I
heard, distinctly, were English—“It’s a long, long way to Tipperary,
it’s a long way to go.” I stood there paralyzed with astonishment until
he saw me, stopped and gave me a lift to camp.

As soon as I recovered from my surprise I started to question him in
English. Not an answer could I get from him, except a chuckle and the
same words I heard him singing.

Two weeks or so later, on our return trip, we stopped at one of our
outposts. Our trader was entertaining a small group of natives with a
gramophone and the tune was “Tipperary”. Then, and only then, did I get
the explanation of my Eskimo’s sudden but limited outburst in English.

He had listened so often to the well-known tune that he had eventually
mastered the words of the chorus which he could repeat by heart.

He had no idea of their meaning and those words were the only ones he
actually could pronounce in the English language.

[Illustration: An Eskimo in the Barren Lands]



                        Tale XLVII: Man and Wife


Kakarmick is a full blooded inland Eskimo. He is supposed to live
somewhere on the shores of Enendeia Lake in the northwest territories of
Canada, but every two years or so he seems to grow restless and pitches
off hurriedly at a moment’s notice for new fields of action.

He has travelled as far south as Brochet on Reindeer Lake and White
Partridge Lake further west. He is known in Hudson Bay at Fort
Churchill—Chesterfield Inlet—Repulse Bay. He has roamed as far as
Bothnia in the North, along the banks of the Copper Mine River—as far
west as Fond du Lac and Great Bear Lake.

I have known him for several years. Kakarmick is the most independent
native I know. Contrary to the immemorial custom of his kind, he does
not follow the caribou the year round. When he feels like it, he
deliberately turns his back on the immense supply of food which
Providence has given him and, fearlessly risking starvation, strikes
straight through the Barren Lands towards his new goal.

Now and then he outfits at one of our posts, for he is a born trader and
we know that he can reach certain Eskimos which we could not get at
otherwise.

However small the catch may have been in fish, fur or fresh meat,
Kakarmick always seems prosperous and happy. However long may have been
his absence from one station, he is certain to appear some day, a year
or so later, with a complete load of fur for the patiently expectant
trader.

He has a wife, Taitna, who everlastingly and cheerfully travels with her
lord and master through the thousands of miles of bleak wilderness which
they both seem to know like a book. She is a big woman for that part of
the country; 5 foot 3, two inches taller than her husband. When one sees
her stalking up to you, one knows instinctively that she is the wife of
an important person.

She shakes hands with a prize fighter’s grip and her deerskin coat seems
to weigh a ton. It has wonderful designs of thousands of multi-colored
beads. She even wears a thick border of empty cartridge cases at the
bottom, which shine when the sun is out and clink merrily at each step.

Notwithstanding her appearance, Kakarmick rules her with a rod of iron.
The last time I saw them it was on the frozen shores of Windy Lake. They
were both sitting on the top of their sleigh and their five dogs were
plainly tired.

The man had lost his whip but held, instead, a short thick piece of hard
wood about three feet in length. Every hundred yards or so, he hurled
that strange missile straight at one of the dog’s backs. I never saw him
miss once. But what impressed me more was Taitna. Each time her husband
threw that stick, she would jump off the sleigh, retrieve it and jump on
again. Meanwhile, Kakarmick remained sitting astride his load, paying
absolutely no attention to the exertions of his wife.

[Illustration: Man and Wife]



                     Tale XLVIII: “Forty Years Ago”


Last summer I met a very old Catholic missionary whom I have known for
years. We were both on an inspection trip in the depths of the Canadian
wilderness. Our reasons for roaming so far north from civilization were
absolutely different. Still we both had one main interest at heart, that
of the Indian; and, instinctively, we chose that topic of conversation
while we sat smoking around the camp-fire that evening.

Wise to the ways of the natives, broad-minded like all the missionaries
of the old school, the Father was in a reminiscent mood. His stories
referred chiefly to his early days when many Chippewayans were still
pagans, refusing to accept Christianity, although allowing their
children to listen to the missionaries and follow some of their
instructions.

The following story, among many others, appealed to me the most.

[Illustration: Catholic priest praying]

In a certain district, not so far from where we were, the Father, forty
years ago, was endeavoring to convert the last “die hards” of a small
tribe. He had, then, a rival in the person of an English Anglican
missionary, who happened also to speak the native language well and to
be a great traveller.

Both men, strange to say, were the best of friends. For economic
reasons, they often joined forces by canoe and dog-sleigh, and during
their hundreds of miles of travelling invariably compared notes on their
religious achievements.

Each baptism that one missionary added to his list spurred the other one
to greater efforts. It was a close race with honors about evenly divided
for, where one missionary failed, the other one was almost certain to
succeed.

One Indian alone had withstood the assault of both religions, refusing
steadfastly to give up his old beliefs. He was a venerable great
grandfather, the nominal head of a large family whose members had all
been converted one way or the other. He always received the priest and
the clergyman with great friendliness but invariably turned a deaf ear
to all their arguments.

The more both missionaries agreed that the old pagan was
“unconvertible”, the keener each one felt to achieve the impossible and
win a triumph over the other.

One day, in winter, my friend the Father was travelling alone when he
heard that the old Chippewayan was dying. Instantly he swung out of his
road and raced to the Indian’s camp.

He found him lying peacefully on a bed of spruce, very weak and
surrounded by several of his children.

To quote the priest’s own words, “The time had come. Surely the old
Indian would not refuse to be baptized at death’s door.” Accordingly, he
asked him if he could pray for him at the foot of his bed. The Indian
opened his eyes for an instant, recognized the priest and nodded.

The Father started praying out loud in Chippewayan. He prayed and prayed
with all his might while he watched the dying man’s face.

After a long time, the shadow of a smile hovered on the latter’s lips.

The missionary thought that he was at last making an impression on the
old native and resumed his prayers with even more fervor. Finally he
stopped exhausted. Surely victory was his. He got up on his feet and
gently touched the man’s hand.

The old Indian opened his eyes and looked up at the priest steadily. His
lips moved and the Father bent forward to listen. His hour had come at
last he thought! His religion had won!

“My! but there was a lot of lynx last winter—a lot of lynx—a lot of
lynx...!”

The words rang out clearly through the silence of the tepee. Then the
grey-haired pagan closed his eyes. He smiled once or twice softly to
himself, and then died suddenly without a quiver.



                    Tale XLIX: Fisher and Porcupine


All Indians are born liars when it comes to getting the better of a
white trader. But outside of business, they are strictly truthful,
especially when telling stories about animal life. A few years ago, a
Chippewayan told me the following yarn, which I believe is true.

One winter, the Indian was on his way to his trapline on snow-shoes when
he came across a medium sized fisher and a porcupine. He watched them at
a distance without being seen.

The porcupine was huddled in a ball, every quill sticking out. The
fisher, mad with hunger, was circling around, unable to find a weak spot
in the prickly armor. After a while, the fisher chose a spot a few feet
away from the porcupine and began digging a hole or tunnel through the
snow, straight for its quarry. Every few minutes, the fisher would stop,
go to the porcupine, run around it, and even scratch snow on its back so
as to show that he was still there and prevent the other animal from
moving away. That went on for a long time. Finally, the tunnel was
ended. With unerring instinct the fisher had stopped his digging when he
felt that he had reached a spot exactly beneath the porcupine’s neck.
With a jerk upwards of his hard little snout, the fisher pierced the
crust of snow, and before poor “Porky” could guess what was happening,
he had him by the throat, far from the reach of the murderous quills.

[Illustration: Porcupine]



           Tale L: The Call of the Wild North of Fifty-three


You men who live in cities—who toil, day in and day out, in the thick of
noisy, teeming multitudes, under artificial lights, under roofs, behind
glass, in offices and factories far away from the sun and the air, the
light and the wind—don’t you feel at times something tugging at your
heart-strings?

Don’t you feel a great longing for something new, something clean,
something different from what you have been accustomed to? Don’t you
hear, now and then, a whispering coming from nowhere in particular and
calling you? Calling and calling in the middle of the night when you lie
awake; in the flush of dawn when you catch a gleam of the sky from your
open window; in the evening when your work is done and when you find
yourself going home? Do you know what I mean? Have you felt it?

It is the “Call of the Wild”, the oldest call of all—the call coming to
you through generations and generations who have ignored it.

Some people may laugh; others may wonder. But the man who has answered
that call will never forget it. He may return to civilization. He may
cling to the memory of the discomforts and hardships only. He may
endeavor not to wipe out of his mind the haunting feeling of solitude
and loneliness which gripped him at times in the bleak wilderness
through which he roamed. But sooner or later, the longing to go back
there will come to him again and, if he cannot do so, he will always
regret it.

Utter freedom! A camp pitched here, a meal cooked there. The sun rising
while the crimson of sunset is still glowing in the West. The dull roar
of the rapid in the distance. The sharp howl of the hunting wolf. The
shimmer of the birch leaves. The hammering of the woodpecker. The splash
of the fish rising to the surface of the lake. The plaintive call of the
reed-warbler. The murmuring of the jack-pines. The Northern lights
dancing silently in the sky. Peace and utter freedom!

[Illustration: Adventure north of Fifty-three]





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