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Away in the Wilderness

Away in the Wilderness

Author:R. M. Ballantyne


On a beautiful summer evening, not many years ago, a man was seen to ascend the side of a little mound or hillock, on the top of which he lingered to gaze upon the wild scenery that lay stretched out before him...
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  On a beautiful summer evening, not many years ago, a man was seen toascend the side of a little mound or hillock, on the top of which helingered to gaze upon the wild scenery that lay stretched out beforehim.

  The man wore the leathern coat and leggings of a North American hunter,or trapper, or backwoodsman; and well did he deserve all these titles,for Jasper Derry was known to his friends as the best hunter, the mostsuccessful trapper, and the boldest man in the backwoods.

  Jasper was big and strong as well as bold, but he was not a bully. Menof true courage are in general peacefully disposed. Jasper could fightlike a lion when there was occasion to do so; but he was gentle andgrave, and quiet by nature. He was also extremely good-humoured; had alow soft voice, and, both in mind and body, seemed to delight in a stateof repose.

  We have said that his coat was made of leather; the moccasins or Indianshoes on his feet were made of the same material. When Jasper first putthem on they were soft like a glove of chamois leather, and brightyellow; but hard service had turned them into a dirty brown, whichlooked more business like. The sun had burned his face and hands to asdeep a brown as his coat. On his head he wore a little round cap, whichhe had made with his own hands, after having caught the black fox thatsupplied the fur, in one of his own traps. A coloured worsted beltbound his coat round his waist, and beneath the coat he wore a scarletflannel shirt. A long knife and a small hatchet were stuck in the beltat his back, and in front hung a small cloth bag, which was so thicklyornamented with beads of many colours, that little of the cloth could beseen.

  This last was a fire-bag--so called because it contained the flint,steel, and tinder required for making a fire. It also containedJasper's pipe and tobacco--for he smoked, as a matter of course. Mensmoke everywhere--more's the pity--and Jasper followed the example ofthose around him. Smoking was almost his only fault. He was atremendous smoker. Often, when out of tobacco, he had smoked tea.Frequently he had tried bark and dried leaves; and once, when hardpressed, he had smoked oakum. He would rather have gone without hissupper than without his pipe! A powder-horn and shot pouch were slungover his shoulders by two cross belts, and he carried a longsingle-barrelled gun.

  I have been thus particular in describing Jasper Derry, because he isour hero, and he is worth describing, being a fine, hearty, handsomefellow, who cared as little for a wild Indian or a grizzly bear as hedid for a butterfly, and who was one of the best of companions, as hewas one of the best of hunters, in the wilderness.

  Having gained the top of the hillock, Jasper placed the butt of his longgun on the ground, and, crossing his hands over the muzzle, stood therefor some time so motionless, that he might have been mistaken for astatue. A magnificent country was spread out before him. Just in frontlay a clear lake of about a mile in extent, and the evening was so stillthat every tree, stone, and bush on its margin, was reflected as in amirror. Here, hundreds of wild ducks and wild geese were feeding amongthe sedges of the bays, or flying to and fro mingling their cries withthose of thousands of plover and other kinds of water-fowl thatinhabited the place. At the lower end of this lake a small rivulet wasseen to issue forth and wind its way through woods and plains like asilver thread, until it was lost to view in the far distance. On theright and left and behind, the earth was covered with the dense foliageof the wild woods.

  The hillock on which the western hunter stood, lay in the very heart ofthat great uncultivated wilderness which forms part of the Britishpossessions in North America. This region lies to the north of theCanadas, is nearly as large as all Europe, and goes by the name of theHudson's Bay Territory, or Rupert's Land.

  It had taken Jasper many long weeks of hard travel by land and water, incanoes and on foot, to get there; and several weeks of toil still laybefore him, ere he could attain the object, for which his journey hadbeen undertaken.

  Wicked people say that "woman is at the bottom of all mischief!" Did itnever occur to these same wicked individuals, that woman is just as muchat the bottom of all good? Whether for good or for evil, woman was atthe bottom of Jasper Perry's heart and affairs. The cause of hisjourney was love; the aim and end of it was marriage! Did true loveever run smooth? "No, never," says the proverb. We shall see.