Among the Red Indians: Chapter 3

 •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 14
WINTER traveling across the hard-frozen lakes of North-West America is always difficult, sometimes dangerous, yet, if the scattered bands of Indians, who camp during the colder months of the year on the shores of the great Lake Winnipeg, are to be reached with the glad tidings of the gospel, these long and frequently trying journeys must be taken. Mr. Egerton Young, of whose labors among the Red Indians you have already heard, had many strange experiences, but few perhaps left him with a deeper sense of the goodness and care of his heavenly Father than those of one never-to-be-forgotten day on Lake Winnipeg.
A small company of friendly Indians had, he heard, encamped at a distance of about a day's journey from the mission house, so taking only one companion, Alick, a Christian youth about eighteen years of age, he started quite early one winter's morning to visit them. It was bitterly cold, but they were well wrapped up, and the dogs, of which there were eight, four to each sledge, were in good working order. For some time they made good progress, and hoped to cross about sixty miles of the hard-frozen lake before dark, but shortly before noon they saw they were about to be overtaken by a blizzard. At first it looked only like a dense fog coming up from the distance, but in less than half an hour the air was filled with flakes of fine, hard, dry snow, that seemed to blow from east, west, north and south almost at the same time.
For an hour or two Mr. Young and Alick tried to keep themselves from freezing by every now and then getting off their sledges and running for some distance, but before long the snow was too deep and too blinding for this to be possible. Tying their sledges together by the tail ropes, that they might not get parted, they owned to each other that they did not know where they were or in what direction they were going. The short winter's afternoon would soon be followed by total darkness, and if the blizzard continued, and they were obliged to remain without shelter all night, it was quite likely that before the morning they and the dogs would be frozen to death.
There was only one thing they could do—commit their way to God and allow the dogs to take their own course. After prayer, taking some frozen food from their provision basket, they tried to make a meal, but greatly missed the cup of hot tea they would have had if they had been able to reach the shore and find wood enough to make a fire. The dogs, as usual, crowded round them while they ate, and though it was a rule only to feed them once a day, and that when the day's work was done, they were not forgotten.
The dogs were all large and good ones, but the largest, and perhaps the strongest of the eight, was Jack, a special favorite of Mr. Young's, and this dog is to be the hero of the story. Jack had been close to his master while they ate, and as Mr. Young patted his head he talked to him somewhat in this fashion: "Jack, my noble dog, do you know that we are lost, and may never see the mission house again? The loved ones may watch in vain for our return, but we are going to trust to your sagacity to guide us to the shore and safety. So wake up, good old dog, go which way you like, and do the best you can, or you may never have the chance of another nap stretched on the wolf's skin by the study fire.”
They were soon ready to start. Mr. Young wrapped up Alick as warmly as he could in his long coat of rabbit-skin, tied him on to his sledge to prevent him slipping off, and after warning him that he must try to keep awake, made himself as comfortable as he could under the circumstances. Jack was the second dog in his team, the leader being a large white dog, Koona, the Indian word for snow, but when the word "Go!" was shouted to the dogs, Koona seemed bewildered, and turned round as if to ask, "Which way, my master?" But. Jack was equal to the occasion. Seeing that Koona did not move, the intelligent dog sprang forward and started off in an easterly direction. Koona ran by his side, quite willing to give up the honor of leadership to Jack, the other dogs following at a brisk pace.
Owing to the blinding snow, and the gathering darkness, Mr. Young and Alick were unable to see each other, or even the dogs before them, but from time to time Mr. Young shouted to his companion, "Alick, don't go to sleep, for if you do you may not awake again till the resurrection morning," and the answer came back, though Alick's voice sounded very far away, "All right, missionary, I'll try to keep awake.”
Hour after hour the dogs dragged them on, Jack never seeming for a moment uncertain which course he ought to take. The cold grew more and more severe, the wind more and more biting, but the dogs kept bravely on. About three hours after dark they started off into a gallop, and showed by their excitement that they had found some signs of being near land, of which the travelers as yet knew nothing.
After dragging the sledges over some rough ice they pulled them up a steep bank, and after about a couple of hundred yards further, they reached a small group of wigwams, occupied by about thirty Indians, who gave the missionary and his companion a warm welcome, and rejoiced with them in their marvelous escape.
Mr. Young stayed with them in their encampment for three days, holding meetings three times a day, and never did he find a more ready ear for the gospel or speak to more attentive, earnest listeners.