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ROLF GETS LOST
ERNEST THOMPSON SETON
One of the most delightful stories ever written of life in the wild woods is “Rolf in the Woods,” by Ernest Thompson Seton, the well-known English-American naturalist. It is a story of a lad named Rolf, an orphan, who lived with a very brutal uncle in the state of New York at the beginning of the last century, when upper New York State was an unsettled wilderness.
In the neighborhood lived a solitary Indian, the last of his tribe. His name was Quonab. Quonab had a heart of gold, although it was filled with the strange beliefs, or superstitions, of his people.
When Rolf's life with his brutal uncle grew unbearable, he and Quonab fled into the wild country far north of Albany, which was then only a small town. In the wilderness, with all kinds of game around them, they built a cabin and took up their life in the great woods. The tale of their experiences as trappers and hunters is one to delight the heart of every live boy and also of every man who has not forgotten his boyhood days and dreams.
Their little dog was called “Skookum,” which in the Indian tongue means strong, brave, good, and many other things of a similar nature. He was only a mongrel, but he grows very dear to the reader of the story.
This selection tells how Rolf one day goes into the woods alone and gets lost. The realization that you are lost in the great woods is a terrible feeling. Persons who have not a strong control over themselves often go insane when they realize that they are lost in an unsettled country. This feeling of almost insane terror comes to Rolf when he realizes that he is lost, but he controls himself and stops to think, which is the only safe thing to do in such a case. As you read the story you will see what good sense he showed.
Remember that in 1807 northern New York State was a wholly unsettled wilderness, a country of many rivers and lakes, and of boundless forests; a paradise for the hunter and the trapper. It was just such a country as every boy has dreamed of and wished to live in. At that time great flocks of wild pigeons were to be found in the United States and Canada. There were countless millions of them. But about 1875, they suddenly disappeared. No one knows what became of them. Not a single specimen of these wild pigeons is known to be alive now.
Now read the story, trying to see and hear all that the author tells about.
Before reading the selection be sure to learn the meanings of the following words: gauge the range (gāj): to judge / unhinge: here, to lose control
accurately the distance to an of one's self. object to be shot at.
papoose (pa-poos') : an Indian woodcraft: skill in anything baby or young child.
that concerns caring for one's instinctively: without reasoning self in the woods, as in finding or thinking. one's way, in hunting, or in pioneer: a settler in a new trapping.
country. bearings: directions; also the variant: a change of food.
way one wishes to go in the incredible : not to be believed. woods.
ROLF GETS LOST Every one who lives in the big woods gets lost at some time. Yes, even Daniel Boone did sometimes go astray. And whether it is to end as a joke or a
horrible tragedy depends entirely on the way in which the person takes it. This is, indeed, the grand test of a hunter and scout, the trial of his knowledge, his muscle, and, above everything, his courage; and, like 5 all supreme trials, it comes without warning.
The wonderful flocks of wild pigeons had arrived. For a few days in May they were there in millions, swarming over the ground in long-reaching hordes, walking along, pecking and feeding, the rearmost flying 10 on ahead, ever to the front. The food they sought
so eagerly now was chiefly the seeds of the slippery elm, tiny nuts showered down on wings like broadbrimmed hats. And when the flock arose at some
alarm, the sound was like that of the sea beach in a 15 storm.
There seemed to be most pigeons in the low country southeast of the lake, of course, because, being low, it had most elms. So Rolf took his bow and arrows,
crossed in the canoe, and confidently set about gather20 ing in a dozen or two for broilers.
It is amazing how well the game seems to gauge the range of your weapon and keep the exact safe distance. It is marvelous how many times you may shoot an arrow into a flock of pigeons and never kill one. Rolf 25 went on and on, always in sight of the long, straggling
flocks on the ground or in the air, but rarely within range of them. Again and again he fired a random shot into the distant mass, without success for two hours. Finally a pigeon was touched and dropped, but it rose
as he ran forward, and flew ten yards, to drop once more. Again he rushed at it, but it fluttered out of reach and so led him on and on for about half an hour's breathless race, until at last he stopped, took deliberate aim, and killed it with an arrow.
Now a peculiar wailing and squealing from the woods far ahead attracted him. He stalked and crawled for many minutes before he found out, as he should have known, that it was caused by a mischievous bluejay.
10 At length he came to a spring in a low hollow, and leaving his bow and arrows on a dry log, he went down to get a drink.
As he arose, he found himself face to face with a doe and a fat little yearling buck, only twenty yards away. 15 They stared at him, quite unalarmed, and, determining to add the yearling to his bag, Rolf went back quietly to his bow and arrows.
The deer were just out of range now, but inclined to take a curious interest in the hunter. Once when 20 , he stood still for a long time, they walked forward two or three steps; but whenever he advanced, they trotted farther away.
To kill a deer with an arrow is quite a feat of woodcraft, and Rolf was keen to show his prowess; so he 25 kept on with varying devices, and was continually within sight of the success that did not actually arrive.
Then the deer grew wilder and loped away, as he entered another valley that was alive with pigeons.
He was feeling hungry now, so he plucked the pigeon he had secured, made a fire with the flint and steel he always carried, then roasted the bird carefully on a stick, and having eaten it, felt ready for 5 more travel.
The day was cloudy, so he could not see the sun; but he knew it was late, and he made for camp.
The country he found himself in was entirely strange to him, and the sun's whereabouts doubtful; but he 10 knew the general line of travel and strode along rapidly towards the place where he had left the canoe.
After two hours' tramping, he was surprised at not seeing the lake through the trees, and he added to his
pace. 15 Three hours passed and still no sign of the water.
He began to think he had struck too far to the north; so he corrected his course and strode along with occasional spells of trotting. But another hour wore away
and no lake appeared. 20 Then Rolf knew he was off his bearings. He climbed
a tree and got a partial view of the country. To the right was a small hill. He made for that. The course led him through a hollow. In this he recognized two huge basswood trees, that gave him a reassuring sense. 25 A little farther he came on a spring, strangely like the one he had left some hours ago. As he stopped to drink, he saw deer tracks, then a human track. He studied it. Assuredly it was his own track, though now it seemed on the south side instead of the north.