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- The Arctic Prairies - 10/38 -


Like a gleam from heaven came the word felon. That's what it was, a felon or whitlow, and again I breathed freely. Turning to the patient with my most cock-sure professional air, I said:

"Now see, Y., you needn't worry; you've hurt your finger in rowing, and the injury was deep and has set up a felon. It is not yet headed up enough; as soon as it is I'll lance it, unless it bursts of itself (and inwardly I prayed it might burst). Can you get any linseed meal or bran?"

"Afraid not."

"Well, then, get some clean rags and keep the place covered with them dipped in water as hot as you can stand it, and we'll head it up in twenty-four hours; then in three days I'll have you in good shape to travel." The last sentence, delivered with the calm certainty of a man who knows all about it and never made a mistake, did so much good to the patient that I caught a reflex of it myself.

He gave me his good hand and said with emotion: "You don't know how much good you have done me. I don't mind being killed, but I don't want to go through life a cripple."

"You say you haven't slept?" I asked.

"Not for three nights; I've suffered too much."

"Then take these pills. Go to bed at ten o'clock and take a pill; if this does not put you to sleep, take another at 10.30. If you are still awake at 11, take the third; then you will certainly sleep."

He went off almost cheerfully.

Next morning he was back, looking brighter. "Well," I said, "you slept last night, all right."

"No," he replied, "I didn't; there's opium in those pills, isn't there?"

"Yes."

"I thought so. Here they are. I made up my mind I'd see this out in my sober senses, without any drugs."

"Good for you," I exclaimed in admiration. "They talk about Indian fortitude. If I had given one of those Indians some sleeping pills, he'd have taken them all and asked for more. But you are the real American stuff, the pluck that can't be licked, and I'll soon have you sound as a dollar."

Then he showed his immense bladder-like hand. "I'll have to make some preparation, and will operate in your shanty at 1 o'clock," I said, thinking how very professional it sounded.

The preparation consisted of whetting my penknife and, much more important, screwing up my nerves. And now I remembered my friend's brandy, put the flask in my pocket, and went to the execution.

He was ready. "Here," I said; "take a good pull at this brandy."

"I will not," was the reply. "I'm man enough to go through on my mettle."

"'Oh! confound your mettle," I thought, for I wanted an excuse to take some myself, but could not for shame under the circumstances.

"Are you ready?"

He laid his pudding-y hand on the table.

"You better have your Indian friend hold that hand."

"I'll never budge," he replied, with set teeth, and motioned the Indian away. And I knew he would not flinch. He will never know (till he reads this, perhaps) what an effort it cost me. I knew only I must cut deep enough to reach the pus, not so deep as to touch the artery, and not across the tendons, and must do it firmly, at one clean stroke. I did.

It was a horrid success. He never quivered, but said: "Is that all? That's a pin-prick to what I've been through every minute for the last week."

I felt faint, went out behind the cabin, and--shall I confess it?--took a long swig of brandy. But I was as good as my promise: in three days he was well enough to travel, and soon as strong as ever.

I wonder if real doctors ever conceal, under an air of professional calm, just such doubts and fears as worried me.

CHAPTER XI

THE SECOND BUFFALO HUNT

Though so trifling, the success of our first Buffalo hunt gave us quite a social lift. The chiefs were equally surprised with the whites, and when we prepared for a second expedition, Kiya sent word that though he could not act as guide, I should ride his own trained hunter, a horse that could run a trail like a hound, and was without guile.

I am, always suspicious of a horse (or man) without guile. I wondered what was the particular weakness of this exceptionally trained, noble, and guileless creature. I have only one prejudice in horseflesh--I do not like a white one. So, of course, when the hunter arrived he was, white as marble, from mane to tail and hoofs; his very eyes were of a cheap china colour, suggestive of cataractine blindness. The only relief was a morbid tinge of faded shrimp pink in his nostrils and ears. But he proved better than he looked. He certainly did run tracks by nose like a hound, provided I let him choose the track. He was a lively walker and easy trotter, and would stay where the bridle was dropped, So I came to the conclusion that Kiya was not playing a joke on me, but really had lent me his best hunter, whose sepulchral whiteness I could see would be of great advantage in snow time when chiefly one is supposed to hunt.

Not only Kiya, but Pierre Squirrel, the head chief, seemed to harbour a more kindly spirit. He now suddenly acquired a smattering of English and a fair knowledge of French. He even agreed to lead us through his own hunting grounds to the big Buffalo range, stipulating that we be back by July 1, as that was Treaty Day, when all the tribe assembled to receive their treaty money, and his presence as head chief was absolutely necessary.

We were advised to start from Fort Smith, as the trail thence was through a dryer country; so on the morning of June 24, at 6.50, we left the Fort on our second Buffalo hunt.

Major A. M. Jarvis, Mr. E. A. Preble, Corporal Selig, Chief Pierre Squirrel, and myself, all mounted, plus two pack-horses, prepared for a week's campaign. Riding ahead in his yellow caftan and black burnoose was Pierre Squirrel on his spirited charger, looking most picturesque. But remembering that his yellow caftan was a mosquito net, his black burnoose a Hudson's Bay coat, and his charger an ornery Indian Cayuse, robbed the picture of most of its poetry.

We marched westerly 7 miles through fine, dry, jack-pine wood, then, 3 miles through mixed poplar, pine, and spruce, And came to the Slave River opposite Point Gravois. Thence we went a mile or so into similar woods, and after another stretch of muskegs. We camped for lunch at 11.45, having covered 12 miles.

At two we set out, and reached Salt River at three, but did not cross there. It is a magnificent stream, 200 feet wide, with hard banks and fine timber on each side; but its waters are brackish.

We travelled north-westerly, or northerly, along the east banks for an hour, but at length away from it on a wide prairie, a mile or more across here, but evidently extending much farther behind interruptions of willow clumps. Probably these prairies join, with those we saw on the Beaulieu trip. They are wet now, though a horse can go anywhere, and the grass is good. We camped about six on a dry place back from the river. At night I was much interested to hear at intervals the familiar Kick-kick-kick-kick of the Yellow Rail in the adjoining swamps. This must be its northmost range; we did not actually see it.

Here I caught a garter-snake. Preble says it is the same form as that at Edmonton. Our guide was as much surprised to see me take it in my hands, as he was to see me let it go unharmed.

Next morning, after a short hour's travel, we came again to Salt River and proceeded to cross. Evidently Squirrel had selected the wrong place, for the sticky mud seemed bottomless, and we came near losing two of the horses.

After two hours we all got across and went on, but most of the horses had shown up poorly, as spiritless creatures, not yet recovered from the effects of a hard winter.

Our road now lay over the high upland of the Salt Mountain, among its dry and beautiful woods. The trip would have been glorious but for the awful things that I am not allowed to mention outside of Chapter IX.

Pierre proved a pleasant and intelligent companion; he did his best, but more than once shook his head and said: "Chevaux no good."

We covered 15 miles before night, and all day we got glimpses of some animal on our track, 300 yards behind in the woods. It might easily have been a Wolf, but at night he sneaked into camp a forlorn and starving Indian dog. Next day we reached the long looked-for Little Buffalo River. Several times of late Pierre had commented on the slowness of our horses and enlarged on the awful Muskega that covered the country west of the Little Buffalo. Now he spoke out frankly and said we had been 21 days coming 40 miles when the road was good; we were now coming to very bad roads and had to go as far again. These horses could not do it, and get him back to Fort Smith for July 1--and back at any price he must be.

He was willing to take the whole outfit half a day farther westward, or, if we preferred it, he would go afoot or on horseback with the pick of the men and horses for a hasty dash forward; but to take


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