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Lost in the Wilds

Yula had lain down at the foot of the tree


There

was a confusion of sounds, as of a concourse of people; too many for a party of hunters, unless the winter camp of which Diome had spoken was assembling. Oh joy! if this could be. Wilfred was working himself into a state of excitement scarcely less than Yula's.

He hurried on to the roosting-tree, for it carried him nearer still to the trampling and the hum.

What could it mean? Yula was before him, paws up, climbing the old dead trunk, bent still lower by the recent storm. A snatch, and he had something out of that hole in the riven bark. Wilfred scrambled on, for fear his dog should forestall him. The night was clear around him, he saw the aurora flashes come and go. Yula had lain down at the foot of the tree, devouring his prize. Wilfred's hand, fumbling in its fingerless gloves, at last found the welcome hole. It was full once more. Soft feathers and furs: a gopher--the small ground squirrel--crammed against some little snow-birds.

Wilfred gave the squirrel to his dog, for he had many fears the squaw would be unwilling to give him anything but water in their dearth of food. The snow-birds he transferred to his pocket, looking nervously round as he did so; but there was no owl in sight. The white breasts of the snow-birds were round and plump; but they were little things, not much bigger than sparrows, and remembering Maxica's caution, he dare not take them all.

style="text-align: justify;">His hand went lower: a few mice--he could leave them behind him without any reluctance. But stop, he had not got to the bottom yet. Better than ever: he had felt the webbed feet of a wild duck. Mrs. Owl was nearly forgiven the awful scare of the preceding night. Growing bolder in his elation, Wilfred seated himself on the roots of the tree, from which Yula's ascent had cleared the snow. He began to prepare his game, putting back the skin and feathers to conceal his depredations from the savage tenant, lest she should change her domicile altogether.

"I hope she can't count," said Wilfred, who knew not how to leave the spot without ascertaining the cause of the sounds, which kept him vibrating between hope and fear.

Suddenly Yula sprang forward with a bound and rushed over the snow-covered waste with frantic fury.

"The Blackfeet! the Blackfeet!" gasped Wilfred, dropping like lightning into the badger hole where Maxica had hidden him from the owl's vengeance. A singular cavalcade came in sight: forty or fifty Indian warriors, armed with their bows and guns and scalping-knives, the chiefs with their eagles' feathers nodding as they marched. Behind them trotted a still greater number of ponies, on which their squaws were riding man fashion, each with her pappoose or baby tucked up as warm as it could be in its deer-skin, and strapped safely to its wooden cradle, which its mother carried on her back.

Every pony was dragging after it what the Indians call a travoy--that is, two fir poles, the thin ends of which are harnessed to the pony's shoulders, while the butt ends drag on the ground; another piece of wood is fastened across them, making a sort of truck, on which the skins and household goods are piled. The bigger children were seated on the top of many a well-laden travoy, so that the squaws came on but slowly.

Wilfred was right in his conjecture: they were the Blackfeet Maxica feared to encounter, coming up to trade with the nearest Hudson Bay Company's fort. They were bringing piles of furs and robes of skin, and bags of pemmican, to exchange for shot and blankets, sugar and tea, beads, and such other things as Indians desire to possess. They always came up in large parties, because they were crossing the hunting-grounds of their enemies the Crees. They had a numerous following of dogs, and many a family of squalling puppies, on the children's laps.


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