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Lost in the Wilds

She blamed herself for letting Wilfred go with him


Aunt Miriam asked Bowkett if he would earn her everlasting gratitude, by taking the dogs and Pete, with skins and blankets--

"And bringing the truant home," responded Bowkett boastfully.

The farm-house, with its double doors and windows, its glowing stoves in every room, was as warm and cozy within as the night without was cheerless and cold. Bowkett, who had been enjoying his taste of true English comfort, felt its allurements enhanced by the force of the contrast. Aunt Miriam barred the door behind him with a great deal of unearned gratitude in her heart. Her confidence in Forgill was shaken. He ought not to have brought home the cows and left her nephew behind. Yet the herd was so valuable, and he felt himself responsible to his master for their well-being. She did not blame Forgill; she blamed herself for letting Wilfred go with him. She leaned upon the hunter's assurances, for she knew that his resource and daring, and his knowledge of the country, were far greater than that possessed by either of the farming men.

The storm which had burst at daybreak had shrouded all around in a dense white sheet of driving snowflakes. Even objects close at hand showed dim and indistinct in the gray snow-light. On the search-party went, groping their way through little clumps of stunted bushes, which frequently deceived them by a fancied resemblance to a boyish figure, now throwing

up its arms to call attention, now huddled in a darkling heap. Their shouts received no answer: that went for little. The boy must long ago have succumbed to such a night without fire or shelter They felt among the bushes. The wet mass of snow struck icily cold on hands and faces. A bitter, biting wind swept down the river from the north-east, breaking the tall pine branches and uprooting many a sapling. The two search-parties found each other that was all. Such weather in itself makes many a man feel savage-tempered and sullen. If they spoke at all, it was to blame one another.

While thus they wandered to and fro over the hunting-ground of yesterday, where was the boy they failed to meet? Where was Wilfred? Fortunately for him the grass grew thick and tall at the bottom of the bank down which he had fallen. Lost to view amid the waving yellow tufts which had sprung up to giant size in the bed of the dried-up stream, he lay for some time in utter unconsciousness; whilst the frightened pony, finding itself free, galloped madly away over the sandy ridges they had been crossing earlier in the morning.

By slow degrees sight and sound returned to the luckless boy. He was bruised and shaken, and one ankle which he had bent under him made him cry out with pain when he tried to rise. At last he drew himself into a sitting posture and looked around. Recollections came back confusedly at first. As his ideas grew clearer, he began to realize what had happened. Overhead the sky was gloomy and dark. A stormy wind swept the whitened grass around him into billowy waves. Wilfred's first thought was to shout to his companions; but his voice was weak and faint, and a longing for a little water overcame him.

Finding himself unable to walk, he dropped down again in the grassy nest which he had formed for himself, and tried to think. The weight of his fall had crushed the grass beneath him into the soft clayey mud at the bottom of the valley. But the pain in his ankle predominated over every other consideration. His first attempt to help himself was to take the knife out of his belt and cut down some of the grass within reach, and make a softer bed on which to rest it. His limbs were stiffening with the cold, and whilst he had still feeling enough in his fingers to undo his boot, he determined to try to bind up his ankle. Whilst he held it pressed between both his hands it seemed easier.

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