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Lost in the Wilds

Wilfred sprang out of the friendly burrow

"The otowuck-oho," said Maxica, mimicking the cry of the formidable bird, "will fill it again before the dawn. Wait and watch. Maxica have the otowuck himself. See!"

With all the skill of the Indian at constructing traps, he began his work, intending to catch the feathered Nimrod by one leg the next time it visited its larder, when all in a moment an alarm was sounded--a cry that rent the air, so hoarse, so hollow, and so solemn Wilfred clung to his guide in the chill of fear. It was a call that might have roused to action a whole garrison of soldiers. The Indian drew back. Again that dread "Waugh O!" rang out, and then the breathless silence which followed was broken by half-suppressed screams, as of some one suffocating in the throttling grasp of an enemy.

The dog, with his tail between his legs, crouched cowering at their feet.

"The Blackfeet are upon us," whispered the Cree, with his hand on his bow, when a moving shadow became visible above the distant pine trees.

The Cree breathed freely, and drew aside his half-made trap, abandoned at the first word that broke from Wilfred's lips: "It is not human; it is coming through the air."

"It is the otowuck itself," answered Maxica. "Be off, or it will have our eyes out if it finds us near its roost."

He was looking round him for some place of concealment. On came the dreaded creature, sailing in rapid silence towards its favourite haunt, gliding with outstretched pinions over the glistening snow, its great round eyes flashing like stars, or gleams of angry lightning, as it swept the whitened earth, shooting downwards to strike at some furry prey, then rising as suddenly in the clear, calm night, until it floated like a fleecy cloud above their heads, as ready to swoop upon the sparrow nestling on its tiny twig as upon the wild turkey-hen roosting among the stunted bushes.

Maxica trembled for the dog, for he knew the special hatred with which it regarded dogs. If it recognized the thief at its hoard, its doom was sealed.

Maxica pushed his alpenstock into an empty badger hole big enough for the boy and dog to creep into. Then, as the owl drew near, he sent an arrow whizzing through the air. It was aimed at the big white breast, but the unerring precision of other days was over. It struck the feathery wing. The bird soared aloft unharmed, and the archer, crouching in the snow, barely escaped its vengeance. Down it pounced, striking its talons in his shoulder, as he turned his back towards it to protect his face. Wilfred sprang out of the friendly burrow, snatched the pole from Maxica's hand, and beat off the owl; and the dog, unable to rush past Wilfred, barked furiously. The onslaught and the noise were at least distasteful. Hissing fiercely, with the horn-like feathers above its glaring eyes erect and bristling, the bird spread its gigantic wings, wheeling slowly and gracefully above their ambush; for Wilfred had retreated as quickly as he had emerged, and Maxica lay on his face as still as death. More attractive game presented itself. A hawk flew past. What hawk could resist the pleasure of a passing pounce? Away went the two, chasing and fighting, across the snowy waste.

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