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A Busy Year at the Old Squire's by C. A. Stephens

At last he offered Billy Murch


It

seems that back in the days when the county was first settled the pioneers found the ponds and streams in peaceful possession of an ancient trapper whom they called Daddy Goss. Trapping was his business; he did nothing else. Every fall and winter while he was tending his trap lines he used to stay for a week or a month at a time at the settlers' houses. Frequently the wife of a settler at whose house he was staying would have to take drastic measures to get rid of him; no gentler measures than taking his chair and his plate away from the table or putting his bundle of things out on the doorstep would move him. "As slow to take the hint as old Daddy Goss," came to be a local proverb.

One December while he was staying at the Murch farm he fell sick with a heavy cold, and while he lay in bed he fretted constantly about his traps. At last he offered Billy Murch, who was then fourteen years old, half of all the animals that might be in them if he Would go out and fetch them home. The line of traps, he said, began at a large pine-tree near the head of Stoss Pond and thence extended round about through the then unbroken forest for a distance of perhaps fifteen miles to a birch-bark camp on Lurvey's Stream that the old trapper had built to shelter himself from storms two years before.

Billy wanted to go but his mother would not consent to his going alone. So he talked the matter over with the old Squire, who was a year

older than Billy, and offered him half the profits if he would accompany him; and the result was that the two boys took the old man's flintlock gun and set off at daylight the following morning. They were not to stop to skin any animals that they found in the traps, but were to make bunches of them and carry them home on their backs. The old trapper would not trust them either to skin the catch or to reset the traps. Since there were only two or three inches of snow on the ground, they did not have to use snowshoes and hoped therefore that they should return by evening. They found the first trap on Stoss Pond and from there followed the line without much difficulty, for Daddy Goss had made a trail by spotting trees with his hatchet. Moreover, the marten traps were "boxed" into spruce-trees at a height of two or three feet from the ground and could easily be seen.

There is an old saying among trappers that nothing catches game like a neglected trap; and that time at least the adage was correct. The boys found a marten in the second trap and found others at frequent intervals. What was remarkable, they found three minks, two ermines and a fisher in traps on high, hilly forest land. I think the old Squire once said that they took nineteen martens from the traps, of which there were one hundred and two.

The boys soon found themselves loaded down with fur. Since they were to have half of what they brought home, they did not like to leave anything. So with an ever increasing burden on their backs they toiled on from trap to trap. Before night each was carrying at least forty and perhaps fifty pounds. They had brought thongs for tying the animals together. Billy carried his bunch slung over the stock of the gun, which he carried over his shoulder. His comrade carried his on a short pole. A good many of the martens were still alive in the traps and had to be knocked on the head; the blood from them dripped from the packs on the snow behind.

Fifteen miles is a long tramp for boys of their age, and, since December days are short, it is not astonishing that the afternoon had waned and the sun set before they reached the birch-bark camp. From that place they would have to descend Lurvey's Stream for two or three miles to Lurvey's Mills, and then reach home by way of a wagon road. Dusk falls rapidly in the woods. By the time they reached the camp they could barely see the "blazes" on the tree trunks. They decided to kindle a fire and remain at the camp till the next morning. Each began at once to collect dry branches and bark from the white birch-trees that grew along the stream.


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