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"I do," replied François, “I do; and if you can tell me how to accomplish that business, I'll make you a present of this knife.” Here François held up a very handsome clasp-knife that he carried in his pouch.
A knife in the fur countries is no insignificant affair. With a knife you may sometimes buy a horse, or a tent, or a whole carcase of beef, or what is stranger still, a wife! To the hunter in these wild regions—perhaps a thousand miles from where knives are sold—such a thing is of very great value indeed; but the knife which François offered to his cousin was a particularly fine one, and the latter had once expressed a wish to become the owner of it. He was not slow, therefore, in accepting the conditions.
“Well," rejoined he, "you must consent to travel a few miles by night, and I think I can promise you a shot at the trumpeters—perhaps several.”
“What say you, brothers ?" asked François, appealing to Basil and Lucien ; "shall we have the sport ? say yes.”
“Oh! I have no objection," said Lucien.
"Nor I," added Basil. “On the contrary, I should like it above all things. I wish very much to know what plan our cousin shall adopt. I never heard of any mode of approaching these birds.”
“Very well, then," answered Norman; “I shall have the pleasure of instructing you in a way that is in use in these parts among the Indians, who hunt the swan for its skin and quills which they trade to us at the post. We can manage it tonight, I think," "continued he, looking up at the sky: "there is no moon, and the sky is thick. Yes, it will be dark enough."
"Is it necessary the night should be a dark one?" asked François.
"The darker the better," replied Norman. “Tonight, if I am not mistaken, will be as black as pitch. But we need to make some preparations. It is near sundown, and we shall just have time to get ready for the business. Let us get ashore, then, as quickly as possible.”
"Oh! certainly-let us land,” replied all three at once.
The canoe was now turned to the shore; and when it had arrived within a few feet of the land it was brought to a stop. Its keel was not allowed to touch the bottom of the river, as that would have injured the little craft. The greatest precaution is always observed both in landing and embarking these vessels. The voyageurs first get out and wade to the shore, one or two remaining to hold the canoe in its place. The cargo, whatever it be, is then taken out and landed; and after that the canoe itself is lifted out of the water, and carried ashore, where it is set, bottom upward, to dry. The birch-bark canoe is so frail a structure, that, were it brought rudely in contact either with the bottom or the bank, it would be very much damaged, or might go to pieces altogether. Hence the care with which it is handled. It is dangerous, also, to stand upright in it, as it is so “crank" that it would easily turn over, and spill both canoe-men and
cargo into the water. The voyageurs, therefore, when once they have got in, remain seated during the whole passage, shifting about as little as they can help. When landed for the night, the canoe is always taken out of the water as described. The bark is of a somewhat spongy nature; and if left in the water for a length of time, would become soaked and heavy, and would not run so well. When kept all night bottom upward, it drips and becomes dryer and lighter. In the morning, at the commencement of the day's journey, it sits higher upon the water than in the afternoon and evening, and is at that time more easily paddled along
Our voyageurs, having got on shore, first kindled a fire to cook their supper. This they intended to despatch earlier than usual, so as to give them the early part of the night for their swan-hunt, which they expected to finish before midnight. Lucien did the cooking, while Norman, assisted by Basil and François, made his preparations for the hunt. François, who was more interested in the result than any of them, watched every movement of his cousin. Nothing escaped him.
Norman proceeded as follows :
He walked off into the woods, accompanied by François. After going about a hundred yards or so, he stopped at the foot of a certain tree. The tree was a birch--easily distinguished by its smooth silvery bark. By means of his sharp hunting-knife he "girdled ” this tree near the ground, and then higher up, so that the length between the two
girdlings," or circular cuttings, was about four feet. He then made a longitudinal incision by drawing the point of his knife from one circle to the other. This done, he inserted the blade under the bark and peeled it off, as he would have taken the skin from a buffalo. The tree was a foot in diameter, consequently the bark, when stripped off and spread flat, was about three feet in width ; for you must remember that the circumference of a circle or a cylinder is always about three times the length of its diameter, and therefore a tree is three times as much "round” as it is “through.”
They now returned to the camp-fire, taking along with them the piece of bark that had been cut off. This was spread out, though not quite flat, still leaving it somewhat curved. The convex side, that which had lain towards the tree, was now blackened with pulverized charcoal, which Norman had directed Basil to prepare for the purpose; and to the bark at one end was fastened a stake or shaft. Nothing more remained but to fix this stake in the canoe, in an upright position near the bow, and in such a way that the bottom of the piece of bark would be upon a level with the seats, with its hollow side looking forward. It would thus form a screen, and prevent those in the canoe from being seen by any creature that might be ahead.
When all this had been arranged, Norman shouldered the axe, and again walked off into the woods. This time his object was to obtain a quantity of “knots” of the pitch-pine (Pinus rigida), which he knew would most likely be found in such a situation. The tree was soon discovered, and pointed out to François, who accompanied him as before. François saw that it was a tree of about fifty feet in height, and a foot in diameter at its base. Its bark was thick, very dark in the colour, and full of cracks or fissures. Its leaves, or "needles," were about three inches long, and grew in threes, each three forming a little bunch, bound together at its base by a brownish sheath. These bunches, in botanical language, are termed “fasciles.” The cones are somewhat shorter than the leaves, nearly of the shape of eggs, and clustered together in threes and fours. François noticed that the tree was thickly branched, and therefore there are many knots in the wood. For this reason it is not of much use as timber; but on account of the resin which it contains, it is the best species for firewood; and for that purpose it is used in all parts of the United States, where it grows.
François supposed that his companion was about to fell one of the trees. He was mistaken, however; Norman had no such intention; he had only stopped before one to examine it, and make sure that it was the species he was in search of. He was soon satisfied of this, and moved on, directing his eyes along the ground. Again he stopped ; but this time it was by a tree that had already fallen-blown down, perhaps, by the wind. It was half decayed; but François could see that it was one of the same species—the pitch-pine.
This was the very thing Norman wanted, and