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Lost in the Wilds

Wilfred drew himself a little nearer


But

Wilfred knew he must not sit there waiting for Forgill, who, he felt sure, would come and look for him if he had rejoined the hunting party: if--there were so many _ifs_ clinging to every thought Wilfred grew desperate. He grasped a great handful of the sticky clay and pressed it round his ankle in a stiff, firm band. There was a change in the atmosphere. In the morning that clay would have been hard and crisp with the frost, now it was yielding in his hand; surely the snow was coming. Boy as he was, he knew what that would do for him--he should be buried beneath it in the hole in which he lay. It roused him to the uttermost. Deep down in Wilfred's nature there was a vein of that cool daring which the great Napoleon called "two o'clock in the morning courage"--a feeling which rises highest in the face of danger, borrowing little from its surroundings, and holding only to its own.

"If," repeated Wilfred, as his thoughts ran on--"if they could not find me, and that is likely enough, am I going to lie here and die?"

He looked up straight into the leaden sky. "There is nothing between us and God's heaven," he thought. "It is we who see such a little way. He can send me help. It may be coming for what I know, one way or another. What is the use of sitting here thinking? Has Bowkett missed me? Will he turn back to look me up? Will Forgill come? If I fall asleep down in this grass, how could they see me?

Any way, I must get out of this hole." He tore the lining out of his cap and knotted it round his ankle, to keep the clay in place; but to put his boot on again was an impossibility. Even he knew his toes would freeze before morning if he left them uncovered. He took his knife and cut off the fur edge down the front of the old skin coat, and wound his foot up in it as fast as he could. Then, dragging his boot along with him, he tried hard to crawl up the bank; but it was too steep for him, and he slipped back again, hurting himself a little more at every slide.

This, he told himself, was most unnecessary, as he was sore enough and stiff enough before. Another bad beginning. What was the use of stopping short at a bad beginning? He thought of Bruce and his spider. He had not tried seven times yet.

Wilfred's next attempt was to crawl towards the entrance of the valley--this was easier work. Then he remembered the biscuit in his pocket. It was not all gone yet. He drew himself up and began to eat it gladly enough, for he had had nothing since his breakfast. The biscuit was very hard, and he crunched it, making all the noise he could. It seemed a relief to make any sort of sound in that awful stillness.

He was growing almost cheery as he ate. "If I can only find the cart-track," he thought; "and I must be near it. Diome was behind us when I was thrown; he must have driven past the end of this valley. If I could only climb a tree, I might see where the grass was crushed by the cart-wheel."

But this was just what Wilfred could not do. The last piece of biscuit was in his hand, when a dog leaped out of the bushes on the bank above him and flew at it. Wilfred seized his boot to defend himself; but that was hopeless work, crawling on the ground. It was a better thought to fling the biscuit to the dog, for if he enraged it--ah! it might tear him to pieces. It caught the welcome boon in its teeth, and devoured it, pawing the ground impatiently for more. Wilfred had but one potato left. He began to cut it in slices and toss them to the dog. A bright thought had struck him: this dog might have a master near. No doubt about that; and if he were only a wild Red Indian, he was yet a man. Full of this idea, Wilfred emptied out his pockets to see if a corner of biscuit was left at the bottom. There were plenty of crumbs. He forgot his own hunger, and held out his hand to the dog. It was evidently starving. It sat down before him, wagging its bushy tail and moving its jaws beseechingly, in a mute appeal for food. Wilfred drew himself a little nearer, talking and coaxing. One sweep of the big tongue and the pile of crumbs had vanished.


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