AN ADVENTURE WITH WOLVES
Some forty years ago I passed the winter in the wilderness of
northern Maine. I was passionately fond of skating, and the
numerous lakes and rivers, frozen by the intense cold, offered an
ample field to the lover of this pastime.
Sometimes my skating excursions were made by moonlight; and it
was on such an occasion that I met with an adventure which even
now I cannot recall without a thrill of horror.
I had left our cabin one evening just before dusk, with the
intention of skating a short distance up the Kennebec, which
glided directly before the door. The night was beautifully clear
with the light of the full moon and millions of stars. Light also
came glinting from ice and snow-wreath and incrusted branches, as
the eye followed for miles the broad gleam of the river, that
like a jeweled zone swept between the mighty forests that
bordered its banks.
And yet all was still. The cold seemed to have frozen tree, air,
water, and every living thing. Even the ringing of my skates
echoed back from the hill with a startling clearness; and the
crackle of the ice, as I passed over it in my course, seemed to
follow the tide of the river with lightning speed.
I had gone up the river nearly two miles, when, coming to a
little stream which flows into the larger, I turned into it to
explore its course. Fir and hemlock of a century's growth met
overhead, and formed an archway radiant with frost-work. All was
dark within; but I was young and fearless, and I laughed and
shouted with excitement and joy.
My wild hurrah rang through the silent woods, and I stood
listening to the echoes until all was hushed. Suddenly a sound
arose,--it seemed to come from beneath the ice. It was low and
tremulous at first, but it ended in one long wild howl.
I was appalled. Never before had such a sound met my ears.
Presently I heard the brushwood on shore crash as though from the
tread of some animal. The blood rushed to my forehead; my
energies returned, and I looked around me for some means of escape.
The moon shone through the opening at the mouth of the creek by
which I had entered the forest; and, considering this the best
way of escape, I darted toward it like an arrow. It was hardly a
hundred yards distant, and the swallow could scarcely have
excelled me in flight; yet, as I turned my eyes to the shore, I
could see several dark objects dashing through the brushwood at a
pace nearly double in speed to my own. By their great speed, and
the short yells which they occasionally gave, I knew at once that
these were the much-dreaded gray wolves.
The bushes that skirted the shore now seemed to rush past with
the velocity of lightning, as I dashed on in my flight to pass
the narrow opening. The outlet was nearly gained; a few seconds
more, and I would be comparatively safe. But in a moment my
pursuers appeared on the bank above me, which here rose to the
height of ten or twelve feet. There was no time for thought; I
bent my head, and dashed wildly forward. The wolves sprang, but,
miscalculating my speed, they fell behind, as I glided out upon the river!
I turned toward home. The light flakes of snow spun from the iron
of my skates, and I was some distance from my pursuers, when
their fierce howl told me they were still in hot pursuit. I did
not look back; I did not feel afraid, or sorry, or glad; one
thought of home, of the bright faces awaiting my return, and of
their tears if they never should see me,--and then all the
energies of body and mind were exerted for escape.
I was perfectly at home on the ice. Many were the days that I had
spent on my good skates, never thinking that they would one day
prove my only means of safety.
Every half-minute a furious yelp from my fierce attendants made
me but too certain that they were in close pursuit. Nearer and
nearer they came. At last I heard their feet pattering on the
ice; I even felt their very breath, and heard their snuffing
scent! Every nerve and muscle in my frame was strained to the utmost.
The trees along the shore seemed to dance in an uncertain light,
my brain turned with my own breathless speed, my pursuers hissed
forth their breath with a sound truly horrible, when all at once
an involuntary motion on my part turned me out of my course.
The wolves close behind, unable to stop, and as unable to turn on
smooth ice, slipped and fell, still going on far ahead. Their
tongues were lolling out, their white tusks were gleaming from
their bloody mouths, their dark shaggy breasts were flecked with
foam; and as they passed me their eyes glared, and they howled
The thought flashed on my mind that by turning aside whenever
they came too near I might avoid them; for, owing to the
formation of their feet, they are unable to run on ice except in
a straight line. I immediately acted upon this plan, but the
wolves having regained their feet sprang directly toward me.
The race was renewed for twenty yards up the stream; they were
almost close at my back, when I glided round and dashed directly
past them. A fierce yell greeted this movement, and the wolves,
slipping on their haunches, again slid onward, presenting a
perfect picture of helplessness and disappointed rage. Thus I
gained nearly a hundred yards at each turning. This was repeated
two or three times, the baffled animals becoming every moment
more and more excited.
At one time, by delaying my turning too long, my bloodthirsty
antagonists came so near that they threw their white foam over my
coat as they sprang to seize me, and their teeth clashed together
like the spring of a fox-trap. Had my skates failed for one
instant, had I tripped on a stick, or had my foot been caught in
a fissure, the story I am now telling would never have been told.
I thought over all the chances. I knew where they would first
seize me if I fell. I thought how long it would be before I died,
and then of the search for my body: for oh, how fast man's mind
traces out all the dread colors of death's picture only those who
have been near the grim original can tell!
At last I came opposite the cabin, and my hounds--I knew their
deep voices--roused by the noise, bayed furiously from their
kennels. I heard their chains rattle--how I wished they would
break them!--then I should have had protectors to match the
fiercest dwellers of the forest. The wolves, taking the hint
conveyed by the dogs, stopped in their mad career, and after a
few moments turned and fled.
I watched them until their forms disappeared over a neighboring
hill; then, taking off my skates, I wended my way to the cabin
with feelings which may be better imagined than described. But
even yet I never see a broad sheet of ice by moonlight without
thinking of that snuffing breath, and those ferocious beasts that
followed me so closely down that frozen river.
Glinting, glancing, glittering.
Where is the Kennebec River?
In what part of our country is Maine?
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