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Lost in the Wilds

Through which Wilfred had forced his way


But

Maxica knew well no such path existed. Every now and then they paused at one of the holes their pioneer had made, to recover breath.

"How long will this go on?" thought Wilfred. "If Maxica tires and lays me down my fate is sealed."

He began to long for another draught of the warm, sulphurous water. But the faint hope they both entertained, that the dog might be leading them to some camping spot of hunter or Indian, made them afraid to turn back.

It was past the middle of the day when Wilfred perceived a round dark spot rising out of the snow, towards which the dog was hurrying. The snow beat full in their faces, but with the eddying gusts which almost swept them off their feet the Cree's keen sense of smell detected a whiff of smoke. This urged him on. Another and a surer sign of help at hand--the dog had vanished. Yet Maxica was sure he could hear him barking wildly in the distance. But Wilfred could no longer distinguish the round dark spot towards which they had been hastening. Maxica stood still in calm and proud despair. It was as impossible now to go, back to the _cache_ of game and the sulphur spring as it was to force his way onward. They had reached a snow-drift. The soft yielding wall of white through which he was striding grew higher and higher.

In vain did Wilfred's eyes wander from one side to the other. As far as he

could see the snow lay round them, one wide, white, level sheet, in which the Cree was standing elbow-deep. Were they, indeed, beyond the reach of human aid?

Wilfred was silent, hushed; but it was the hush of secret prayer.

Suddenly Maxica exclaimed, "Can the Good Spirit the white men talk of, can he hear us? Will he show us the path?"

Such a question from such wild lips, at such an hour, how strangely it struck on Wilfred's ear. He had scarcely voice enough left to make himself heard, for the storm was raging round them more fiercely than ever.

"I was thinking of him, Maxica. While we are yet speaking, will he hear?"

Wilfred's words were cut short, for Maxica had caught his foot against something buried in the snow, and stumbled. Wilfred was thrown forward. The ground seemed giving way beneath him. He was tumbled through the roof of the little birch-bark hut, which they had been wandering round and round without knowing it. Wilfred was only aware of a faint glimmer of light through a column of curling, blinding smoke. He thought he must be descending a chimney, but his outstretched hands were already touching the ground, and he wondered more and more where he could have alighted. Not so Maxica. He had grasped the firm pole supporting the fragile birch-bark walls, through which Wilfred had forced his way. One touch was sufficient to convince him they had groped their way to an Indian hut. The column of smoke rushing through the hole Wilfred had made in his most lucky tumble told the Cree of warmth and shelter within.

There was a scream from a feeble woman's voice, but the exclamation was in the rich, musical dialect of the Blackfeet, the hereditary enemies of his tribe. In the blind warrior's mind it was a better thing to hide himself beneath the snow and freeze to death, than submit to the scalping-knife of a hated foe.


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