Short Stories » Wechah The Provider
Wechah The Provider - Page 5 of 6
Several of the women had been out hunting, like Wasula, but none were as successful as she and Wechah had been. Some brought back a single rabbit or a grouse to quiet their crying babies. One brought a dead raccoon which she had found in a trap. Wasula was sorry when Wechah saw this and became visibly depressed.
When all the venison had been eaten, the rigor of winter still held in this northern clime. The maiden hunted every day, but without success. One afternoon the sun was the Provider getting low and she was still far from camp, but she could not bear to go back empty-handed. She felt that upon her success de- pended the lives of the others, for they could not yet move on foot toward the village on the Minnesota River the children would suffer cruelly in such an attempt.
She was upon the trail of Shunktokecha, the wolf not that she had any hope of over- taking him, but it is well known that he is a good guide. Wechah, too, was apparently unwilling to leave the trail. Their course was directed toward one of the outlets of the lake.
When they reached this stream, other trails joined the one they were following, making a broad path, and here and there the ice of the creek was scratched by the wolf people as they passed. The huntress quickened her steps in renewed hope. She knew that upon the trail there lies much of joy, of fascination, and catastrophe; but every trailer only keeps the joy in mind --it is enough to realize misfortune when it comes!
Around a sudden bend of the frozen creek another hunter's voice was heard. It was Kangee, the raven. "Surely, there is game there, dead or alive, for Kangee never speaks without a cause," she murmured.
Now Wechah disappeared around the point, and when she came into full view she saw her pet jerk out of the stream something living. As the object fell it curved itself upon the ice and again sprang glittering in the air.
Wasula laughed, in spite of herself, the sing-song laugh of the wild maid of the woods. "Hoya! hoya!" she screamed, and ran forward. Again and again Wechah snatched out of the live water a large fish. When she reached the spring in the creek, her pet had already taken out enough to feed the whole camp.
The girl fell on her knees and peered into the water. It was packed to the ice with the spring exodus of the finny tribes of Minnetonka for the spawning ! Every year, before the spring opens, they crowd upon one an-other in the narrow passes of the streams. There was a spring here where the ice was open, and hence the broad trail and the scratches of wolves, bears, raccoons, crows, ravens, and many more.
"Good Wechah! We shall live now our people cannot starve," said Wasula, feelingly, to her pet. Her responsibility as the main support of the camp was greatly lightened. At last she took her hunting-knife from her belt and stripped the bark from a near-by birch. She shaped it into a rough canoe and threw into it as many fish as it would hold. The sun already hovered among the tree- tops as she hitched herself by means of her carrying-lines to the canoe-shaped tray full of fish and started homeward across an arm of the frozen lake.
Wechah ran playfully in front of her. The wild pet was full of his cunning ways. When they reached a wooded shore he suddenly disappeared, and the girl did not know which way he went. Presently she thought she heard a baby cry away off in the woods ; in a little while there seemed to be a skunk calling, nearer, and still nearer; again she heard the call of an owl. Finally the mimic rushed upon her from behind the shadow of a huge pine, swiftly pursued by a bob-tailed 'coon.
'Ugh, Wechah! are you afraid of Sintay? 'Tis he is wicked and full of cunning! He has broken away from several steel traps, and he always takes the bait of a deadfall without harm to himself. If he ever chases you again I will punish him," declared the huntress.
On seeing Wasula, the animal had disappeared among the shadows almost as mysteriously as he emerged from them. It was now the close of Wechah tawee, the 'coon's month, when the male raccoon leaves his winter quarters and begins to look for company. This particular individual was well known tc the Indian hunters upon Lake Minnetonka. As Wasula had said, he was the cunningest of his tribe, and he was also unusually large and of a savage disposition. True, he fared luxuriously every day upon berries, mice, fish, frogs, eggs from the swamps, and young birds not yet able to fly. Then he sleeps a long and happy sleep through the coldest moons of the year, un- disturbed save when the Red man and his dogs are about he who loves to eat the fat of the 'coon and makes a beautiful robe of his striped skin!