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   Chapter 20 WOLVES! YELLED ANDY

Troop One of the Labrador By Dillon Wallace Characters: 7731

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Jamie! Jamie! We've been lookin' and lookin' for you!" shouted David, quite overcome with excitement and relief.

"I'm so glad 'tis you!" exclaimed Jamie, tears springing to his eyes as he recognized Doctor Joe and David. "I was scared!"

"Safe and sound as ever you could be, and all of us thinking you were lost under a snow-drift!" Doctor Joe in vast good humour slapped Jamie on the shoulder. "You gritty little rascal! I'll never worry about you again! Here you are as able to take care of yourself as any man on The Labrador! Come on now back to camp and we'll hear all about your adventures when you've eaten. Are you hungry?"

"Wonderful hungry!" admitted Jamie.

"Aye, we'll be makin' haste, for Andy and the lads are sore worried," said David.

In single file, Doctor Joe and David tramping the trail for Jamie, they set out for camp. An hour later they crossed the brook, and with the first glimpse of the tents heard a shout of joy, as Andy and the other lads discovered them and came running to meet them.

While Jamie satisfied an accumulated appetite he answered no end of questions. Every one was vastly excited as he related the story of his experience.

"'Tweren't Lem Horn's silver they has after all," Jamie declared. "There were nothin' in the cache but the bottles they drinks from, and they were thinkin' a wonderful lot o' them bottles."

David, in high indignation, was for setting out at once in search of the two lumbermen, but it was decided that they had doubtless already returned to the lumber camp.

"They'd probably say that they were only having sport with you, Jamie, and meant you no harm," said Doctor Joe. "The people over at their camp would believe them rather than a little Labrador lad. We may as well waste no time with them. We'll leave them alone, and be thankful that Jamie is safe and well except for the burned wrists, and they'll soon be cured."

"And we'll be havin' a fine time campin' here," agreed Jamie. "I wants to keep clear o' them men whatever."

It was a week later when they broke camp to return to The Jug, and when the visiting lads said good-bye and set sail to their homes across the Bay every one declared he had never had so good a time in all his life.

With the coming of November the boats were hauled out of the water. The shores were already crusted with ice and the temperature never rose to the thawing point even in the midday sun. The mighty Frost King had ascended his throne and was asserting his relentless power. Presently all the world would be kneeling at his feet.

Buckskin moccasins with heavy blanket duffle socks of wool took the place of sealskin boots. The dry snow would not again soften to wet them until spring. The adiky, with its fur-trimmed hood, took the place of the jacket, soon to be augmented by sealskin netseks or caribou skin kulutuks.

"The Bay's smokin'," David announced one evening as he came in after feeding the dogs. "She'll soon freeze now."

In the days that followed the smoke haze hung over the water until, one morning, the Bay was fast, and the lapping of the waves was not to be heard again for many months.

The nine sledge dogs were in fine fettle. Handsome, big fellows they were, but fearsome and treacherous enough. They looked like sleek, fat wolves, and they were, indeed, but domesticated wolves. Friendly they seemed, but they were ever ready to take advantage of the helpless and unwary, and their great white fangs were not above tearing their own master into shreds should he ever be so careless as to stumble and fall among them.

The sledge was taken out and overhauled by David. It was fourteen feet long and two and a half feet wide. Twenty cross-bars formed the top. Not a nail was used in its construction, for nails would not hold an hour on rough ice. Everything was bound with sealskin thongs.

The sledge shoes were of iron. These David polished bright with sand, and then applied a coating of seal oil. Finally the harness and long sealskin traces were examined, and all was ready.

It was the end of November when the Bay froze, but there was no certainty that travelling would be safe upon the sea ice beyond Fort Pelican before the beginning of January. Therefore Doctor Joe confined his visits to the Bay folk during December, and on his first tour Andy served as driver with Jamie as passenger.

The dogs were harnessed after the Eskimo fashion. That is to say, "fan shape," and not, as is customary in Alaska and among white men of the far northwest, in tandem.

Leading from the komatik (sledge) in front was a single thong of sealskin with a loop on its end. This was called the "bridle." Each dog had an individual trace, its end passed through the loop in the bridle and securely tied. Tinker, the leading dog, was fully thirty-five feet from the komatik when his trace was stretched to its full length. He had the longest trace of all. He was trained to respond to shouted directions, turning to the right when "ouk" was called, or left for "rudder," the word being repeated several times by the driver in rapid succession. When it was desired that the dogs should stop, "ah" was the order, and when they were to go forward "ooisht," or "oksuit." The other dogs followed Tinker as a pack of wolves follows the leader. The two dogs directly behind Tinker had traces of equal length, but somewhat shorter, the pair behind them still shorter, and so on to the last pair.

A long whip was used to keep them in subjection. This was of braided walrus hide an inch thick at its butt and tapering to a thin lash. To the butt was attached a short wooden handle a foot in length, to which was fastened a loop which was hooked over the protruding end of the forward cross-bar and the whip permitted to trail upon the ice when not in use, and at the same time it was always within the driver's reach.

The boys had practised the manipulation of the whip all their lives. They could flick a square inch of ice at thirty feet with its tip. It was capable of a gentle tap, or the force of a pistol shot, at its wielder's discretion. The whip was the terror of the team, for even at his distance Tinker, the leader, could be brought to account if he failed to do his duty or obey commands.

There was little sickness in the Bay, and after patching up a lumberman at Grampus River, and providing some medicine for old Molly Budd's rheumatics, Andy and Jamie turned homeward with Doctor Joe.

Near the mouth of Grampus River there was a section of "bad ice" or ice that was not always safe to be crossed, the result doubtless of cross currents in the tide. To avoid this bad ice Andy followed the shore for a considerable distance before turning northward for the twelve-mile run directly across the Bay to The Jug.

It was a dull, cold, dreary day. The snow ground and squeaked under the sledge runners. Now and again a confusion of shore ridges rendered the hauling bad and the dogs lagged.

They were midway between Grampus River and the place where they were to make the turn northward when Jamie warned:

"Look out, Andy! There's some loose dogs comin' out of the woods! They'll be fightin' the team!"

Six big beasts, larger even than Thomas Angus's big dogs, were trotting out of the woods and upon the ice a hundred yards in advance. The team saw them, and with a howl rushed forward to the attack.

"Wolves!" yelled Andy. "They's wolves!"

The wolves were free. The dogs were bound by harness, and thus fettered were no match for the big, wild creatures. Andy's rifle was lashed upon the komatik. It was out of the question to free it in the moment before the wolves were upon them, and it was to be a hand-to-hand fight.

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