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Lost in the Wilds

It was a wonderful discovery to Wilfred


Out

popped Wilfred's head to assure him there was only a poor old woman inside, but she had got a fire.

The latter half of his confidences had been already made plain by the dense smoke, which was producing such a state of strangulation Wilfred could say no more.

But the hut was clearing; Maxica once more grasped the nearest pole, and swung himself down.

A few words with the terrified squaw were enough for the Cree, who knew so well the habits of their wandering race. The poor old creature had probably journeyed many hundreds of miles, roaming over their wide hunting-grounds, until she had sunk by the way, too exhausted to proceed any further. Then her people had built her this little hut, lit a fire in the hastily-piled circle of stones in the middle of it, heaped up the dry wood on one side to feed it, placed food and water on the other, and left her lying on her blankets to die alone. It was the custom of the wild, wandering tribes. She had accepted her fate with Indian resignation, simply saying that her hour had come. But the rest she so much needed had restored her failing powers, and whilst her stock of food lasted she was getting better. They had found her gathering together the last handful of sticks to make up the fire once more, and then she would lie down before it and starve. Every Indian knows what starvation means, and few can bear it as well. Living as they

do entirely by the chase, the feast which follows the successful hunt is too often succeeded by a lengthy fast. Her shaking hands were gathering up the lumps of snow which had come down on the pieces of the broken roof, to fill her empty kettle.

Wilfred picked up the bits of bark to which it had been sticking, and threw them on the fire.

"My bow and quiver for a few old shreds of beaver-skin, and we are saved," groaned the Cree, who knew that all his garments were made from the deer. He felt the hem of the old squaw's tattered robe, but beaver there was none.

"What do you want it for, Maxica?" asked Wilfred, as he pulled off his gloves and offered them to him. "There is nothing about me that I would not give you, and be only too delighted to have got it to give, when I think how you carried me through the snowdrift. These are new beaver-skin; take them, Maxica."

A smile lit up the chief's dark face as he carefully felt the proffered gloves, and to make assurance doubly sure added taste to touch. Then he began to tear them into shreds, which he directed Wilfred to drop into the melting snow in the kettle, explaining to him as well as he could that there was an oiliness in the beaver-skin which never quite dried out of it, and would boil down into a sort of soup.

"A kind of coarse isinglass, I should say," put in Wilfred. But the Cree knew nothing of isinglass and its nourishing qualities; yet he knew the good of the beaver-skin when other food had failed. It was a wonderful discovery to Wilfred, to think his gloves could provide them all with a dinner; but they required some long hours' boiling, and the fire was dying down again for want of fuel. Maxica ventured out to search for driftwood under the snow. He carefully drew out a pole from the structure of the hut, and using it as an alpenstock, swung himself out of the hollow in which the hut had been built for shelter, and where the snow had accumulated to such a depth that it was completely buried.


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