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The erection of Tom's shed for the horses did not take long. The whole party, with the exception of the two Indians,--who, as usual, went hunting,--proceeded to the pine-wood above the beaver meadow. After a little search six trees were found conveniently situated with regard to each other. The axemen cut down three young firs. One was lashed by the others between the two central trees, to form a ridge-pole eight feet from the ground; the others against the other trees, at a height of three feet, to support the lower ends of the roof. They were but ten feet apart, so that the roof might have a considerable pitch. Numbers of other young trees were felled and fixed, six inches apart, from the ridge down to the eaves. On these the branches of the young fir-trees were thickly laid, and light poles were lashed lengthways over them to keep them in their places.
As the poles of the roof had been cut long enough to extend down to the ground, no side walls were necessary. The ends were formed of poles lashed across to the side trees, but extending down only to within four feet six of the ground, so as to allow the horses to pass under, and were, like the roof, thickly covered with boughs. The lower ends were left open for a width of four feet in the middle, uprights being driven into the ground and the sides completed as before.
"What do you want a doorway at both ends for?" Tom asked. "It would have been easier and quicker to have shut one end up altogether, and it would be a good deal warmer."
"So it would, Tom; but if a grizzly were to appear at the door, what would the horses do? They would be caught in a trap."
"Do you think they are likely to come, uncle?"
"The likeliest thing in the world, Tom. Horses can smell bear a good distance off, and if they heard one either coming down or going up the valley, they would bolt through the opposite door. They will do first-rate here; they will stand pretty close together, and the warmth of their bodies will heat the place up. They won't know themselves, they will be so comfortable. It has only taken us a day's work to make the shed; and though we laughed at your idea at first, I think now that the day has been well spent in getting them up such a good shelter. Jerry has got the big pail boiling over his fire, and we will put in a few handfuls of the flour we brought down. Bring the horses in from the meadow, and we will give them each a drink of gruel in the shed. They will soon learn that it is to be their home."
For two more days the open weather continued, and the horses took up three loads of wood each afternoon, as they had done the previous week. Then, as there were signs of change, they were given a good feed at their shed; the saddles were taken off and hung up on some cross-poles over their heads.
The party had scarcely returned to the hut when the snow began to fall. They were, however, weather-proof, and felt the immense additional comfort of the changes they had made. Their stock of firewood was now a very large one. At each journey the horses had brought up about fifteen hundredweight; and as the work had gone on for nine days, they had, they calculated, something like fourteen tons of firewood neatly stacked. They had also a stock of poles in case the roof should require strengthening. A certain amount of light found its way in at the edges of the curtain across the entrance, but they depended principally upon the fire-light. The smoke, however, was a serious grievance, and even the men were forced occasionally to go outside into the open air to allay the smarting of their eyes.
"Don't you think, uncle, we might do something to dry the wood?"
"I can't see that we can do more than we are doing, Tom. We always keep a dozen logs lying round the fire to dry a bit before they are put on."
"I should think we might make a sort of stage about four feet above the fire and keep some logs up there. We might pile them so that the hot air and smoke could go up through them. They would dry a great deal faster there than merely lying down on the ground."
"I think the idea is a very good one, Tom; but we shall have to make the frame pretty strong, for if it happened to come down it might break some of our legs."
The men all agreed that the idea was a capital one, and after some consultation they set to to carry it out. Two strong poles were first chosen. These were cut carefully to the right length, and were jambed between the rocks at a height of seven feet above the floor and five feet apart. They were driven in and wedged so tightly that they could each bear the weight of two men swinging upon them without moving. Then four upright poles were lashed to them, five feet apart, and these were connected with cross-poles.
"That is strong enough for anything," Jerry said when the structure had been so far completed. "If a horse were to run against one of the poles he would hardly bring the thing down."
Four other short poles were now lashed to the uprights three feet below the upper framework, and were crossed by others so as to form a gridiron. On this, the logs were laid in tiers crossing each other, sufficient space being left between them to allow for the passage of the hot air.
"That is a splendid contrivance," Harry said when they took their seats on the buffalo robes round the fire and looked up admiringly at their work. "The logs will get as dry as chips, and in future we sha'n't be bothered with the smoke. Besides, it will do to stand the pail and pots full of snow there, and keep a supply of water, without putting them down into the fire and running the risk of an upset."
They had occupation now in manufacturing a suit of clothes a-piece from the deer-skins. As the work required to be neater than that which sufficed for the making of the curtain, pointed sticks hardened in the fire were used for making the holes, and the thongs that served as thread were cut as finely as possible; this being done by the Indians, who turned them out no thicker than pack-thread.
There was no occasion for hurry, and there was much laughing and joking over the work. Their hunting-shirts and breeches served as patterns from which to cut out the skins; and as each strove to outvie the others, the garments when completed were very fair specimens of work. The hunting-shirts were made with hoods that, when pulled over the head, covered the whole face except the eyes, nose, and mouth. As they had plenty of skin, the hoods and shirts were made double, so that there was hair both inside and out. They were made to come down half-way to the knee, being kept close at the waists by their belts. The leggings were made of single thickness only, as they would be worn over their breeches; they were long and reached down below the ankle. The Indians made fresh moccasins for the whole party; they were made higher than usual, so as to come up over the bottom of the leggings. In addition each was provided with long strips of hide, which were to be wound round and round the leggings, from the knee to below the ankle, covering tightly the tops of the moccasins, and so preventing the snow from finding its way in there. Gloves were then manufactured, the fingers being in one and the thumb only being free.
The work occupied them a fortnight, broken only by one day's spell of fine weather, which they utilized by going down into the valley, taking with them their kettles and pail, together with a few pounds of flour. They found the horses out in the meadow, and these, as soon as they saw them, came trotting to meet them with loud whinnies of pleasure. A fire was lit near the shed, the snow melted, and an allowance of warm gruel given to each horse. At Tom's suggestion a few fir-boughs were hung from the bar over each entrance. These would swing aside as the horses entered, and would keep out a good deal of wind. When at the end of a fortnight the sky cleared, the chief said that he thought that there would be but little more snow.
"If storm come, sure to bring snow, but not last long. Winter now set in; soon snow harden. Now make snowshoes."
The hunters had all been accustomed to use these in winter. They had found the last expedition through the deep snow a very toilsome one, and they embraced the idea eagerly. Some of the poles were split into eight feet lengths. These were wetted and hung over the fire, the process being repeated until the wood was sufficiently softened to be bent into the required shape. This was done by the chief. Two cross-pieces were added, to stiffen them and keep them in the right shape when they dried; and the wood was then trimmed up and scraped by the men. When it had dried and hardened, the work of filling up the frame with a closely-stretched network of leather was undertaken. This part of the work occupied three or four days. The straps were attached to go across the toe and round the heel, and they were then ready to set off.
The weather was now intensely cold, but as there was but little wind it was not greatly felt; at the same time they were glad of their furs when they ventured outside the hut. On the first day after their snow-shoes were finished, the rest of the party started off to visit the horses, Hunting Dog remaining behind to give Tom instructions in the use of the snow-shoes, and to help him when he fell down.
Tom found it difficult work at first, the toe of the shoe frequently catching in the snow, and pitching him head foremost into it, and he would have had great difficulty in extricating himself, had not the young Indian been at hand. Before the day was over, however, he could get on fairly well; and after two or three more days' practice had made such progress that he was considered capable of accompanying the rest.
The wood-drying apparatus had succeeded excellently. The wood was now dried so thoroughly before being put on to the fire that there was no annoyance from the smoke inside the hut, and scarce any could be perceived coming from the chimney. Upon Harry's remarking upon this with satisfaction the first time they went out after using the dry wood, Tom said:
"What does it matter? There are no Indians in the valley."
"That is so, Tom; but as soon as the weather sets in clear, the red-skins will be hunting again. Winter is their best time for laying in their stock of pelts for trading. At other times the game is all high up in the mountains, and it is very difficult to get within range of it. In the winter the animals come down to the shelter of the forests and valleys, and they can be shot in numbers; especially as the Indians in their snow-shoes can get along almost as quickly as the wapiti can plough through the snow. At present the red-skins think that we must have been overtaken by that first storm and have all gone under; but as soon as they begin to venture out of their lodges to hunt, a column of smoke here would be sure to catch their eyes, and then we should be having them up the valley to a certainty. The first thing they would do would be to find our horses and drive them off, and the next thing would be to set themselves to work to catch us."
"But we could hold the path against them, uncle."
"Yes; but we should have to keep watch every day, which would be a serious trouble. Besides, there must be other places they could get up. No doubt their regular trail comes up here, because it is the straightest way to the pass, and possibly there may be no other point at which loaded animals could mount anywhere about here. But there must be plenty of places where Indians could climb, and even if it took them a detour of fifty miles they would manage it. As long as there is no smoke we may hope they will not discover us here, though any hunting party might come upon the horses. That is what has bothered me all along; but the chief and I have talked it over a dozen times, and can see no way of avoiding the risk.
"We can't keep the horses up here because we can't feed them; and even if we were to bring ourselves to leave this comfortable place and to build a hut down in the valley, we might be surprised and rubbed out by the red-skins. Of course we might bring them up here every night and take them down again in the morning, but it would be a troublesome business. We have agreed that we won't do much more shooting down in the valley, and that in coming and going to the horses we will keep along close to the foot of the cliffs this side, so that if two or three Indians do come up they won't see any tracks on the snow, unless they happen to come close up to the cliff. Of course if they go up as far as the beaver flat they will light upon the horses. There is no help for that; but the chief and I agreed last night that in future two of us shall always stay up here, and shall take it by turns to keep watch. It won't be necessary to stand outside. If the curtain is pulled aside three or four inches one can see right down the valley, and any Indians coming up could be made out. If the party is a strong one a gun would be fired as a signal to those away hunting, and some damp wood thrown on the fire. They might possibly push on up the valley to have a look at the place, but the two up here with their rifles would soon stop them. After that, of course, the horses would have to be brought up here at night, and a watch kept by night as well as by day."
Two or three mornings later they found on going out that two joints of venison had been carried off, and footprints in the snow showed that it had been done by a grizzly bear. This turned their attention again to the construction of a trap, which had not been thought of since the day it was first mentioned. A young tree of four or five inches in diameter was cut below and brought up. The butt was cut in the shape of a wedge, and this was driven strongly into a fissure in the rock. A rope with a running noose had been fastened to the tree, and this was bent down by the united strength of four men, and fixed to a catch fastened in the ground, the noose being kept open by two sticks placed across it.
A foot beyond the noose a joint of venison was hung, the rope passing over a pole and then down to the catch, so that upon the joint being pulled the catch would be loosened, when the tree would fly up and the noose catch anything that might be through it.
A week later they were disturbed by an outburst of violent growling. Seizing their rifles they rushed out. A huge bear was caught by one of his paws. The animal's weight was too great for it to be lifted from the ground, but it was standing upright with its paw above its head, making furious efforts to free itself. A volley of bullets at once put an end to its life. The tree was bent down again and the noose loosed, and they at once returned to their rugs, leaving the bear where it fell. Four times during the winter did they thus capture intruders, providing themselves with an ample supply of bear's flesh, while the skins would sell well down at the settlements.
Otherwise sport was not very good. No more wapiti came up, but black and white tail deer were occasionally shot, and five or six big-horn sheep also fell to their rifles. One day on approaching the beaver meadow the chief pointed to some deep footprints. No explanation was needed. All knew that they were made by a big grizzly, and that the animal was going up the valley. No horses were in view on the flat, and grasping their rifles they hurried towards the wood. Just as they reached it the horses came galloping to meet them, whinnying and snorting.
"They have been scared by the critter," Jerry said. "Do you see their coats are staring. Gosh, look at this pack-pony--the bear has had his paw on him!"
The animal's hind-quarters were indeed badly torn.
"I wonder how it got away," Harry said. "When a grizzly once gets hold, it don't often leave go."
"There is something in front of the hut," Tom exclaimed.
"It's the grizzly, sure enough," Harry said. "It is a rum place for it to go to sleep."
They advanced, holding their rifles in readiness to fire, when Leaping Horse said:
"What can have killed him?" Harry asked doubtfully.
"Horses kill him," the chief replied. They hurried up to the spot. The bear was indeed dead, and there were signs of a desperate struggle. There was blood on the snow from a point near the door of the hut to where the animal was lying ten yards away. Round it the snow was all trampled deeply. The bear's head was battered out of all shape; its jaw was broken, and one of its eyes driven out. The Indians examined the ground closely.
"Well, what do you make of it, chief?" Harry asked.
"Bear walk round hut, come in other end. Horses not able to get out in time. Pack-horse last, bear catch him by hind-quarters. Horse drag him a little way and then fall. Then other horses come back, form ring round bear and kick him. Look at prints of fore-feet deep in snow. That is where they kick; they break bear's jaw, break his ribs, keep on kick till he dead."
"I suppose that is how it came about, chief. I should not have thought they would have done it."
The Seneca nodded. "When wild horses with young foals attacked by bear or mountain-lion, they form circle with colts in the middle, stand heads in and kick. Bears and mountain-lion afraid to attack them."
"Waal, I should hardly have believed if I had not seen it," Sam Hicks said, "that horses would come back to attack a grizzly."
"Not come back," the chief said, "if not for friend. Friend cry out loud, then horses come back, fight bear and kill him."
"Well, it was mighty plucky of them," Harry said. "I am afraid this pony won't get over it; he is terribly torn."
The chief examined the horse's wounds again. "Get over it," he said. "Cold stop wounds bleeding, get some fat and put in."
"I reckon you will find plenty inside the grizzly," Jerry said. The chief shook his head.
"Bear's fat bad; other horses smell him, perhaps keep away from him, perhaps kick him. Leaping Horse will bring fat from the big-horn he shot yesterday."
The animal lay where it had fallen, a mile up the valley. They went up and tied the great sheep's feet together, and putting a pole through them brought it down to the hut. Partly skinning it, they obtained some fat and melted this in a kettle over the fire. Sam Hicks had remained behind at the fire, the horses all standing near him, excited at the prospect of their usual meal. As soon as the fat was melted it was poured into the horse's wounds. The mess of gruel was then prepared and given to the animals. The bear was skinned and the hams cut off, then by a united effort it was dragged some distance from the hut, and the carcass of the big-horn, the bear's flesh and hide, were afterwards carried up to the hut.
Early in February the cold reached its extreme point, and in spite of keeping up a good fire they had long before this been compelled to build up the entrance with a wall of firewood, the interstices being stuffed with moss; the hut was lighted by lamps of bear and deer fat melted down and poured into tin drinking-cups, the wicks being composed of strips of birch bark. A watch was regularly kept all day, two always remaining in the hut, one keeping watch through a small slip cut in the curtain before the narrow orifice in the log wall, that served as a door, the other looking after the fire, keeping up a good supply of melted snow, and preparing dinner ready for the return of the hunters at sunset. Of an evening they told stories, and their stock of yarns of their own adventures and of those they had heard from others, seemed to Tom inexhaustible.
Hunting Dog had made rapid advances with his English, and he and Tom had become great friends, always hunting together, or when their turn came, remaining together on guard. The cold was now so intense that the hunting party was seldom out for more than two or three hours. Regularly twice a week the horses were given their ration of hot gruel, and although they had fallen away greatly in flesh they maintained their health, and were capable of work if called upon to do it. It was one day in the middle of February, that Hunting Dog, who was standing at the peep-hole, exclaimed:
Tom sprang up from the side of the fire, and running to the entrance pulled aside the curtain and looked out. Six Indians on snow-shoes were coming up the valley. He ran out on to the platform and fired his ride. As the sound of the report reached the Indians' ears they stopped suddenly.
"Shall I throw some green wood on the fire, Hunting Dog?"
"No need," the Indian replied. "The others only gone an hour, not farther than horses' hut; hear gun plain enough. Perhaps 'Rappahoes go back."
The Indians remained for some time in consultation.
"Not know where gun fired," Hunting Dog said. "Soon see hut, then know."
After a time the red-skins continued their way up the valley, but instead of coming on carelessly in the centre they separated, and going to the other side crept along among the fallen boulders there, where they would have escaped observation had it not been for their figures showing against the white snow.
"Must fire now," the young Indian said, "then Leaping Horse know 'Rappahoes coming up."
They went out on to the platform and opened fire. They knew that their chance of hitting one of the Indians was small indeed; the other side of the valley was a quarter of a mile away, and the height at which they were standing rendered it difficult to judge the elevation necessary for their rifles. However, they fired as fast as they could load.
The Indians made no reply, for their guns would not carry anything like the distance. They occasionally gathered when they came upon a boulder of rock sufficiently large to give shelter to them all, and then moved on again one at a time. When opposite the lower end of the pathway they again held a consultation.
"No go further," Hunting Dog said. "Afraid we come down path and stop them. See, Leaping Horse among rocks."
It was some time before Tom could detect the Indian, so stealthily did he move from rock to rock.
"Where are the others?"
"No see, somewhere in bushes. Leaping Horse go on to scout; not know how many 'Rappahoes."
Presently they saw the chief raise his head behind a rock within a hundred yards of that behind which the 'Rappahoes were sheltering.
"He see them now," Hunting Dog said. "See, he going to fire." There was a puff of smoke and a sharp report, and almost simultaneously rose an Indian yell, and the war-cry of the Seneca. Then five Indians leapt out from behind the rock and made down the valley at full speed, while from a clump of trees two hundred yards above the spot from which the chief had fired the four white men hurried out rifle in hand. The chief waited until they joined him, for the bend in the valley prevented him from seeing that the 'Rappahoes were making straight down it, and it would have been imprudent to have ventured out until his white allies came up.
"They have gone right down," Tom shouted at the top of his voice. Harry waved his arm to show that he heard the words, and then the five men ran to the corner. The Indians were already a quarter of a mile away, and were just entering the wood below. The whites were about to fire, when the chief stopped them. "No use fire," he said. "Stand back behind rocks; no good let 'Rappahoes count our rifles."
"That is true enough, chief," Harry said, as they all sprang among the rocks. "All they know at present is, that there are two up on the top there and one down here. If we were sure that we could wipe them all out it would be worth following and making a running fight of it, but there would be no chance of that, and it is better to let them go without learning more about us. Well, I should say the first thing is to get up the horses."
The chief nodded.
"Get up," he said, "but no fear 'Rappahoes come back to-night. Many hours' journey down to villages, then great council. Next night scouts come up valley, look all about for sign, and then go back and tell friends."
"I dare say you are right, chief. Anyhow, I shall feel a great deal more comfortable when we have got the critters up."
It was late in the afternoon before they reached the hut. Some hours were spent in collecting tufts of grass in places sheltered from the snow, and in cutting off great bundles of young fir-branches and the heads of evergreen bushes, and the horses arrived almost hidden under the load of grass and foliage they carried. Little was said until some hot tea had been drunk and the bear steaks in readiness were disposed of, for although they had worked hard and kept themselves comparatively warm down in the valley, they had as they moved slowly up the path with the horses become chilled to the bone.
"Now then, chief," Harry said, when they had lighted their pipes with the mixture of tobacco and willow bark that they had taken to, as soon as they found that they were likely to be imprisoned all the winter, "we must hold a council. We have been longer than I expected without disturbance by these varmint, but it has come now, and the question is what are we to do? We have agreed all along that there is no getting over the pass till the spring comes."
"Too cold," the chief said, "deep drift snow. Indians all say no can pass over hills in winter."
"That air a fact," Jerry said. "Down in the valley there it is all right, but up here the cold pretty near takes one's breath away. We ain't sure about the way. We couldn't get over the pass in one day's tramp, and we should be all stiff before morning. There would be no taking the horses, and there is a hundred miles to be done over the snow before we reach the fort. It ain't to be thought of. I would a sight rather go down the valley and fight the hull tribe."
"I agree with you, Jerry. We might, with luck, get down the valley, but I don't think there is a possibility of our crossing the pass till the winter breaks."
"No can go down valley," Leaping Horse said; "they find trail on snow, sure."
"That is so, chief, and in that case it is evident that we have got to fight it out here."
"Good place to stop," the Seneca said; "no good place to fight."
This was self-evident. An enemy on the rock above would be able to fire down through the roof, without their having a chance of making an effectual reply.
"The only way I can see," Harry said after a long pause, "is to build a sort of fort up above. If we put it just at the top of this pathway, we should have them whether they came up by the trail from below or climbed up anywhere else and came along above. It need not be a very big place, only just big enough for us all to fire over. We might make a sort of shelter in it with a fire, and keep guard there by turns." The chief nodded, and there was a general exclamation of assent from the others.
"The worst of it is," Jerry said, "the ground is so 'tarnal hard that there will be no driving posts into it. We have cut down all the trees near the bottom of the pass, and it would be a risky thing to go up higher, when we might have the red-skins come whooping up the valley at any time."
"Why not make a snow fort?" Tom suggested. "There is four feet of snow up there, and with the shovels we could make a wall ten feet high in a very short time."
"So we might, Tom; that is a capital idea. The difficulty is, the snow does not bind in this bitter cold as it does in England."
"If it was hammered down it would, I should think, uncle. You know the Esquimaux make snow houses, and it is as cold there as it is here. The snow at the top is light enough, but I should think as it gets down it would be hard enough to cut out in blocks. We have plenty of water, and if we pour it over each layer of blocks it would freeze into solid ice directly. When we finish it we might pour more water down over the outside, and it would make a regular wall of ice that no one could climb up."
"Hooray! Bully for you, Tom!" Jerry shouted, while similar exclamations of approval broke from all the others, while the chief said gravely, "My young brother has the head of a man; he is able to teach warriors."
"You shall be engineer-in-chief, Tom," Harry said. "It is certain we may sleep quietly to-night; at daybreak to-morrow we will begin the job."
The first thing in the morning a semicircular line was traced out at the top of their pathway. It was thirty feet across, for, as Tom said, the walls ought to be at least four feet thick; and six feet would be better, as they would want a parapet at least two feet thick to fire over. It was agreed that the whites should use the two shovels by turns. The Indians were unaccustomed to the work, and were to undertake that of scouting along the hillside, and of watching by turns at night. The frying-pan was brought into requisition, a wooden handle being made for it. The hard upper crust was removed with the shovels, and the layer beneath this was sufficiently soft for the instrument to be used as a shovel. Below that it hardened, and could be cut out in great blocks. The loose snow was thrown inside of the line traced out.
As fast as the blocks were cut out they were carried and piled regularly to form the face. Tom's share of the work was to keep on melting snow, and to bring it up and pour between and over the blocks. As fast as a line of these were made the loose snow was thrown in behind it and trampled down hard. Except for meals there was no rest. The chief said that as there was little chance of the 'Rappahoes coming up so soon, Hunting Dog had better stay behind and help, and he lent his aid in carrying the blocks of snow on a rough stretcher they made for the purpose. By the time it became dark the wall had risen to a height of three feet above the general level of the snow, and was already sufficient to form an excellent breastwork.
At the end farthest from the side from which the Indians were likely to come, a gap was left between it and the edge of the ravine three feet wide, in order that if necessary the horses could pass out. When it became dark the chief returned. He had gone many miles along towards the main valley, but had seen no sign of any Indians. After supper was over he took one of the wapiti skins and his buffalo robe, went up to the "fort," as they had already called it, and laid the deer-skin down on the slope of snow behind the wall, wrapped the buffalo robe round him, and lay down upon it. Hunting Dog then threw another robe over him, projecting a foot beyond his head, so that he could from time to time raise it and look out over the snow. The night was a dark one, but any object moving across the unbroken white surface could be seen at a considerable distance.
"I feel sure I should go to sleep," Tom said, "if I were to lie down like that."
"I have no doubt you would, Tom, but there is no fear with the chief. An Indian never sleeps on the watch, or if he does sleep, it is like a dog: he seems to hear as well as if he were awake, and every minute or two his eyes open and he takes a look round. I would rather have an Indian sentry than half a dozen white ones, unless it is in the open, where there is no tree to lean against, and a man must keep moving."
Hunting Dog threw himself down as soon as he returned to the hut, and was almost instantly asleep. Three hours later he rose and went out, and Leaping Horse a minute or two later returned.
"All quiet," he said; and then after smoking for a short time also lay down.
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