The worst trouble, as I soon saw, was to be the matter of food. The supplies we had carried were all but finished by what we ate after the stockade was completed. After that there remained only a single bag of flour, another bag of Indian meal, and a pound or two of boucanned beef, besides three flasks of eau-de-vie, which Ringan had brought in a leather casket. The forest berries were not yet ripe, and the only food to be procured was the flesh of the wild game. Happily in Donaldson and Bertrand we had two practised trappers; but they were doubtful about success, for they had no knowledge of what beasts lived in the hills. I have said that we had plenty of powder and ball, but I did not relish the idea of shooting in the woods, for the noise would be a signal to our foes. Still, food we must have, and I thought I might find a secluded place where the echoes of a shot would be muffled.
The next morning I parcelled up the company according to their duties, for while Ringan was captain of the stockade, I was the leader of the venture. I sent out Bertrand and Donaldson to trap in the woods; Ringan, with Grey and Shalah, stayed at home to strengthen still further the stockade and protect Elspeth; while I took my musket and some pack-thongs and went up the hill-side to look for game. We were trysted to be back an hour before sundown, and if some one of us did not find food we should go supperless.
That day is a memory which will never pass from me. The weather was grey and lowering, and though the rain had ceased, the air was still heavy with it, and every bush and branch dripped with moisture. It was a poor day for hunting, for the eye could not see forty yards; but it suited my purpose, since the dull air would deaden the noise of my musket. I was hunting alone in a strange land among imminent perils, and my aim was not to glorify my skill, but to find the means of life. The thought strung me up to a mood where delight was more notable than care. I was adventuring with only my hand to guard me in those ancient, haunted woods, where no white man had ever before travelled. To experience such moments is to live with the high fervour which God gave to mortals before towns and laws laid their dreary spell upon them.
Early in the day I met a bear—the second I had seen in my life. I did not want him, and he disregarded me and shuffled grumpily down the hill-side. I had to be very careful, I remember, to mark my path, so that I could retrace it, and I followed the Border device of making a chip here and there in the bark of trees, and often looking backward to remember the look of the place when seen from the contrary side. Trails were easy to find on the soft ground, but besides the bear I saw none but those of squirrel and rabbit, and a rare opossum. But at last, in a marshy glen, I found the fresh slot of a great stag. For two hours and more I followed him far north along the ridge, till I came up with him in a patch of scrub