How patiently they would face the wind lest the creature’s keen sense of smell should warn it of their approach! and how cunningly they lured it on to its destruction by displaying the magnificent antlers of some former victim above the birch-bushes !

They found a useful alley (sic) in a certain little traitorous bird to which the Indians have given the name of “monitor.” It is a kind of daylight owl, about the size of a pigeon, and has earned its name by its habit of calling the attention of hunters to their quarry, by uttering a sharp note like the cry of a child.

When about fifty reindeer, or, to give them their Indian name, “caribous,” had been brought down by the guns, the flesh was cut into long strips for food, the skins being kept to be tanned and used for shoe-leather.

Besides the caribous, there were also plenty of Polar hares, which formed an agreeable addition to the larder. They were much less timorous than the European species, and allowed themselves to be caught in great numbers. They belong to the rodent family, and have long ears, brown eyes, and a soft fur resembling swan’s down. They weigh from ten to fifteen pounds each, and their flesh is excellent. Hundreds of them were cared for winter use, and the remainder converted into excellent pies by the skilful hands of Mrs Joliffe.

While making provision for future wants, the daily supplies were not neglected. In addition to the Polar bares, which underwent every variety of culinary treatment from Mrs Joliffe, and won for her compliments innumerable from hunters and workmen alike, many waterfowl figured in the bill of fare. Besides the ducks which abounded on the shores of the lagoon, large flocks of grouse congregated round the clumps of stunted willows. They belong, as their zoological name implies, to the partridge family, and might be aptly described as white partridges with long black-spotted feathers in the tail. The Indians call them willow-fowl; but to a European sportsman they are neither more nor less than blackcock (Tetrao tetrix). When roasted slightly before a quick clear fire they proved delicious.

Then there were the supplies furnished by lake and stream. Sergeant Long was a first-rate angler, and nothing could surpass the skill and patience with which he whipped the water and cast his s line. The faithful Madge, another worthy disciple of Isaak Walton was perhaps his only equal. Day after day the two sallied forth together rod in hand, to spend the day in mute companionship by the river-side, whence they were sure to return in triumph laden with some splendid specimens of the salmon tribe.

But to return to our sportsmen; they soon found that their hunting excursions were not to be free from peril. Hobson perceived with some alarm that bears were very numerous in the neighbourhood and that scarcely a day passed without one or more of them being sighted. Sometimes these unwelcome visitors belonged to the family of brown bears, so common throughout the whole “Cursed Land; “but now and then a solitary specimen of the formidable Polar bear warned the hunters what dangers they might have to encounter so soon as the first frost should drive great numbers of these fearful animals to the neighbourhood of Cape Bathurst. Every book of Arctic explorations is full of accounts of the frequent perils to which travellers and whalers are exposed from the ferocity of these animals.

Now and then, too, a distant pack of wolves was seen, which receded like a wave at the approach of the hunters, or the sound of their bark was heard as they followed the trail of a reindeer or wapiti. These creatures were large grey wolves, about three feet high, with long tails, whose fur becomes white in the winter. They abounded in this part of the country, where food was plentiful; and frequented wooded spots, where they lived in holes like foxes. During the temperate season, when they could get as much as they wanted to eat, they were scarcely dangerous, and fled with the characteristic cowardice of their race at the first sign of pursuit; but when impelled by hunger, their numbers rendered them very formidable; and from the fact of their lairs being close at hand, they never left the country even in the depth of winter.

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The Fur Country Part 01 Page 51

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Jules Verne

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Jules Verne
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