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The Big Otter   By: (1825-1894)

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THE BIG OTTER, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.

CHAPTER ONE.

SLEEPING IN SNOW.

Cold comfort is naturally suggested by a bed of snow, yet I have enjoyed great comfort and much warmth in such a bed.

My friend Lumley was particularly fond of warmth and of physical ease, yet he often expressed the opinion, with much emphasis, that there was nothing he enjoyed so much as a night in a snow bed. Jack Lumley was my chum a fine manly fellow with a vigorous will, a hardy frame, and a kindly heart. We had a natural leaning towards each other a sort of undefinable sympathy which inclined us to seek each other's company in a quiet unobtrusive way. We were neither of us demonstrative; we did not express regard for each other; we made no protestations of undying friendship, but we drew together, somehow, especially in our hunting expeditions which were numerous.

On holidays we had two in the week at the outpost in the American backwoods where we dwelt when the other young fellows were cleaning gulls or arranging snow shoes for the day's work, Lumley was wont to say to me:

"Where d'you intend to shoot to day, Max?" (Max was an abbreviation; my real name is George Maxby.)

"I think I'll go up by the willows and round by Beaver Creek."

"I've half a mind to go that way too."

"Come along then."

And so we would go off together for the day.

One morning Lumley said to me, "I'm off to North River; will you come?"

"With pleasure, but we'll have to camp out."

"Well, it won't be the first time."

"D'you know that the thermometer stood at forty below zero this morning before breakfast?"

"I know it; what then? Mercurial fellows like you don't freeze easily."

I did not condescend to reply, but set about preparing for our expedition, resolving to carry my largest blanket with me, for camping out implied sleeping in the snow.

Of course I must guard my readers especially my juvenile readers from supposing that it was our purpose that night to undress and calmly lie down in, or on, the pure white winding sheet in which the frozen world of the Great Nor' west had been at that time wrapped for more than four months. Our snow bed, like other beds, required making, but I will postpone the making of it till bed time. Meanwhile, let us follow the steps of Lumley, who, being taller and stronger than I, always led the way.

This leading of the way through the trackless wilderness in snow averaging four feet deep is harder work than one might suppose. It could not be done at all without the aid of snow shoes, which, varying from three to five feet in length, enable the traveller to walk on the surface of the snow, into which he would otherwise sink, more or less, according to its condition. If it be newly fallen and very soft, he sinks six, eight, or more inches. If it be somewhat compressed by time or wind he sinks only an inch or two. On the hard surface of exposed lakes and rivers, where it is beaten to the appearance of marble, he dispenses with snow shoes altogether, slings them on his gun, and carries them over his shoulder.

Our first mile lay through a clump of pine wood, where snow had recently fallen. When I looked at my comrade's broad back, and observed the vigour of his action as he trod deep into the virgin snow at every stride, scattering it aside like fine white powder as he lifted each foot, I thought how admirably he was fitted for a pioneer in the wilderness, or for the work of those dauntless, persevering men who go forth to add to the world's geographical knowledge, and to lead the expeditions sent out in search of such lost heroes as Franklin and Livingstone.

My own work was comparatively light. I had merely to tread in the beaten path. I was not, however, thereby secured from disaster, as I found when, having advanced about half a mile, my right shoe caught a twig to which it held for a moment, and then, breaking loose, allowed me to pitch head down with such violence that I almost reached mother earth four feet below the surface... Continue reading book >>




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