A sledge is not more difficult to guide than a pony-carriage, and the devil take me if I can’t manage a team of dogs !”
“I don’t question your skill,” replied Mrs Joliffe; “I only ask you not to go so fast. You are in front of the whole caravan now, and I hear Lieutenant Hobson calling out to you to resume your proper place behind.”
“Let him call, Mrs Joliffe, let him call.”
And the Corporal, urging on his dogs with a fresh cut of the whip, dashed along at still greater speed.
“Take care, Joliffe,” repeated his little wife; “not so fast, we are going down hill.”
“Down hill, Mrs Joliffe; you call that down hill? why, it’s up hill!”
“I tell you we are going down!” repeated poor Mrs Joliffe.
“And I tell you we are going up; look how the dogs pull !”
Whoever was right, the dogs became uneasy. The ascent was, in fact, pretty steep; the sledge dashed along at a reckless pace, and was already considerably in advance of the rest of the party. Mr and Mrs Joliffe bumped up and down every instant, the surface of the snow became more and more uneven, and the pair, flung first to one side and then to the other, knocked against each other and the sledge, and were horribly bruised and shaken. But the Corporal would listen neither to the advice of his wife nor to the shouts of Lieutenant Hobson. The latter, seeing the danger of this reckless course, urged on his own animals, and the rest of the caravan followed at a rapid pace.
But the Corporal became more and more excited-the speed of his equipage delighted him. He shouted, he gesticulated, and flourished his long whip like an accomplished sportsman.
“Wonderful things these whips!” he cried; “the Esquimaux wield them with unrivalled skill !”
“But you are not an Esquimaux!” cried Mrs Joliffe, trying in vain to arrest the arm of her imprudent husband.
“I have heard tell,” resumed the Corporal—” I’ve heard tell that the Esquimaux can touch any dog they like in any part, that they can even cut out a bit of one of their ears with the stiff thong at the end of the whip. I am going to try.”
“Don’t try, don’t try, Joliffe !” screamed the poor little woman, frightened out of her wits.
“Don’t be afraid, Mrs Joliffe, don’t be afraid; I know what I can do. The fifth dog on the right is misbehaving himself;. I will correct him a little!”
But Corporal Joliffe was evidently not yet enough of an Esquimaux to be able to manage the whip with its thong four feet longer than the sledge; for it unrolled with an ominous hiss, and rebounding, twisted itself round Corporal Joliffe’s own neck, sending his fur cap into the air, perhaps with one of his ears in it.
At this moment the dogs flung themselves on one side, the sledge was overturned, and the pair were flung into the snow. Fortunately it was thick and soft, so that they escaped unhurt. But what a disgrace for the Corporal! how reproachfully his little wife looked at him, and how stern was the reprimand of Lieutenant Hobson!
The sledge was picked up, but it was decided that henceforth the reins of the dogs, like those of the household, were to be in the hands of Mrs Joliffe. The crest-fallen Corporal was obliged to submit, and the interrupted journey was resumed.
No incident worth mentioning occurred during the next fifteen days. The weather continued favourable, the cold was not too severe, and on the 1st May the expedition arrived at Fort Enterprise.
A WAPITI DUEL.
Two hundred miles had been traversed since the expedition left Fort Reliance. The travellers, taking advantage of the long twilight, pressed on day and night, and were literally overcome with fatigue when they reached Fort Enterprise, near the shores of Lake Snare.
This fort was no more than a depôt of provisions, of little importance, erected a few years before by the Hudson’s Bay Company. It served as a resting-place for the men taking the convoys of furs from the Great Bear Lake, some three hundred miles further to the north-west. About a dozen soldiers formed the garrison. The fort consisted of a wooden house surrounded by palisades.