Chapter 13 The canoe—Ascending the rapids—The portage—Deer-shooting, an_ife in the woods.
We must now beg the patient reader to take a leap with us, not only throug_pace, but also through time. We must pass over the events of the remainder o_he journey along the shore of Lake Winnipeg. Unwilling though we are to omi_nything in the history of our friends that would be likely to prov_nteresting, we think it wise not to run the risk of being tedious, or o_welling too minutely on the details of scenes which recall powerfully th_eelings and memories of bygone days to the writer, but may nevertheles_ppear somewhat flat to the reader.
We shall not, therefore, enlarge at present on the arrival of the boats a_orway House, which lies at the north end of the lake, nor on what was sai_nd done by our friends and by several other young comrades whom they foun_here. We shall not speak of the horror of Harry Somerville, and the extrem_isappointment of his friend Charley Kennedy, when the former was told that, instead of hunting grizzly bears up the Saskatchewan, he was condemned to th_esk again at York Fort, the depot on Hudson’s Bay—a low, swampy place nea_he seashore, where the goods for the interior are annually landed and th_urs shipped for England, where the greater part of the summer and much of th_inter is occupied by the clerks who may be doomed to vegetate there in makin_p the accounts of what is termed the Northern Department, and where th_rigades converge from all the wide-scattered and far-distant outposts, an_he _ship_ from England—that great event of the year—arrives, keeping th_lace in a state of constant bustle and effervescence until autumn, when shi_nd brigades finally depart, leaving the residents (about thirty in number) shut up for eight long, dreary months of winter, with a tenantless wildernes_round and behind them, and the wide, cold, frozen sea before. This was amon_he first of Harry’s disappointments. He suffered many afterwards, poo_ellow!
Neither shall we accompany Charley up the south branch of the Saskatchewan, where his utmost expectations in the way of hunting were more than realised, and where he became so accustomed to shooting ducks and geese, and bears an_uffaloes, that he could not forbear smiling when he chanced to meet with _ed-legged gull, and remembered how he and his friend Harry had comporte_hemselves when they first met with these birds on the shores of Lak_innipeg! We shall pass over all this, and the summer, autumn, and winter too, and leap at once into the spring of the following year.
On a very bright, cheery morning of that spring, a canoe might have been see_lowly ascending one of the numerous streams which meander through a richly- wooded, fertile country, and mingle their waters with those of the Athabasc_iver, terminating their united career in a large lake of the same name. Th_anoe was small—one of the kind used by the natives while engaged in hunting, and capable of holding only two persons conveniently, with their baggage. T_ny one unacquainted with the nature or capabilities of a northern India_anoe, the fragile, bright orange-coloured machine that was battling with th_trong current of a rapid must indeed have appeared an unsafe an_nsignificant craft; but a more careful study of its performances in th_apid, and of the immense quantity of miscellaneous goods and chattels whic_ere, at a later period of the day, disgorged from its interior, would hav_onvinced the beholder that it was in truth the most convenient an_erviceable craft that could be devised for the exigencies of such a country.
True, it could only hold two men (it _might_ have taken three at a pinch), because men, and women too, are awkward, unyielding baggage, very difficult t_tow compactly; but it is otherwise with tractable goods. The canoe i_xceedingly thin, so that no space is taken up or rendered useless by its ow_tructure, and there is no end to the amount of blankets, and furs, and coats, and paddles, and tent-covers, and dogs, and babies, that can be stowed away i_ts capacious interior. The canoe of which we are now writing contained tw_ersons, whose active figures were thrown alternately into every gracefu_ttitude of manly vigour, as with poles in hand they struggled to force thei_ight craft against the boiling stream. One was a man apparently of abou_orty-five years of age. He was a square-shouldered, muscular man, and fro_he ruggedness of his general appearance, the soiled hunting-shirt that wa_trapped round his waist with a parti-coloured worsted belt, the leathe_eggings, a good deal the worse for wear, together with the quiet, self- possessed glance of his grey eye, the compressed lip and sunburned brow, i_as evident that he was a hunter, and one who had seen rough work in his day.
The expression of his face was pleasing, despite a look of habitual severit_hich sat upon it, and a deep scar which traversed his brow from the righ_emple to the top of his nose. It was difficult to tell to what country h_elonged. His father was a Canadian, his mother a Scotchwoman. He was born i_anada, brought up in one of the Yankee settlements on the Missouri, and had, from a mere youth, spent his life as a hunter in the wilderness. He coul_peak English, French, or Indian with equal ease and fluency, but it woul_ave been hard for any one to say which of the three was his native tongue.
The younger man, who occupied the stern of the canoe, acting the part o_teersman, was quite a youth, apparently about seventeen, but tall and stou_eyond his years, and deeply sunburned. Indeed, were it not for this fact, th_nusual quantity of hair that hung in massive curls down his neck, and th_oyageur costume, we should have recognised our young friend Charley Kenned_gain more easily. Had any doubts remained in our mind, the shout of his merr_oice would have scattered them at once.
“Hold hard, Jacques!” he cried, as the canoe trembled in the current; “on_oment, till I get my pole fixed behind this rock. Now then, shove ahead. Ah!” he exclaimed, with chagrin, as the pole slipped on the treacherous bottom an_he canoe whirled round.
“Mind the rock,” cried the bowsman, giving an energetic thrust with his pole, that sent the light bark into an eddy formed by a large rock which rose abov_he turbulent waters. Here it rested while Jacques and Charley raise_hemselves on their knees (travellers in small canoes always sit in a kneelin_osition) to survey the rapid.
“It’s too much for us, I fear, Mr Charles,” said Jacques, shading his bro_ith his horny hand. “I’ve paddled up it many a time alone, but never saw th_ater so big as now.”
“Humph! we shall have to make a portage, then, I presume. Could we not give i_ne trial more? I think we might make a dash for the tail of that eddy, an_hen the stream above seems not quite so strong. Do you think so, Jacques?”
Jacques was not the man to check a daring young spirit. His motto through lif_ad ever been, “Never venture, never win,”—a sentiment which his intercours_mong fur-traders had taught him to embody in the pithy expression, “Never sa_ie;” so that, although quite satisfied that the thing was impossible, h_erely replied to his companion’s speech by an assenting “Ho,” and pushed ou_gain into the stream. An energetic effort enabled them to gain the tail o_he eddy spoken of, when Charley’s pole snapped across, and falling heavily o_he gunwale, he would have upset the little craft, had not Jacques, whose wit_ere habitually on the _qui vive_ , thrown his own weight at the same momen_n the opposite side, and counterbalanced Charley’s slip. The action save_hem a ducking; but the canoe, being left to its own devices for an instant, whirled off again into the stream, and before Charley could seize a paddle t_revent it, they were floating in the still water at the foot of the rapids.
“Now, isn’t that a bore?” said Charley, with a comical look of disappointmen_t his companion.
“It was well to _try_ , master. I mind a young clerk who came into these part_he same year as I did, and _he_ seldom _tried_ anything. He couldn’t abid_anoes. He didn’t want for courage neither; but he had a nat’ral dislike t_hem, I suppose, that he couldn’t help, and never entered one except when h_as obliged to do so. Well, one day he wounded a grizzly bear on the banks o’ the Saskatchewan (mind the tail o’ that rapid, Mr Charles; we’ll land t’othe_ide o’ yon rock). Well, the bear made after him, and he cut stick right awa_or the river, where there was a canoe hauled up on the bank. He didn’t tak_ime to put his rifle aboard, but dropped it on the gravel, crammed the cano_nto the water and jumped in, almost driving his feet through its bottom as h_id so, and then plumped down so suddenly, to prevent its capsizing, that h_plit it right across. By this time the bear was at his heels, and took th_ater like a duck. The poor clerk, in his hurry, swayed from side to sid_ryin’ to prevent the canoe goin’ over. But when he went to one side, he wa_o unused to it that he went too far, and had to jerk over to the other prett_harp; and so he got worse and worse, until he heard the bear give a grea_nort beside him. Then he grabbed the paddle in desperation, but at the firs_ash he missed his stroke, and over he went. The current was pretty strong a_he place, which was lucky for him, for it kept him down a bit, so that th_ear didn’t observe him for a little; and while it was pokin’ away at th_anoe, he was carried downstream like a log and stranded on a shallow. Jumpin_p, he made tracks for the wood, and the bear (which had found out it_istake) after him; so he was obliged at last to take to a tree, where th_east watched him for a day and a night, till his friends, thinking tha_omething must be wrong, sent out to look for him. (Steady, now, Mr Charles; _ittle more to the right. That’s it.) Now, if that young man had only venture_oldly into small canoes when he got the chance, he might have laughed at th_rizzly and killed him too.”
As Jacques finished, the canoe glided into a quiet bay formed by an eddy o_he rapid, where the still water was overhung by dense foliage.
“Is the portage a long one?” asked Charley, as he stepped out on the bank, an_elped to unload the canoe.
“About half a mile,” replied his companion. “We might make it shorter b_oling up the last rapid; but it’s stiff work, Mr Charles, and we’ll do th_hing quicker and easier at one lift.”
The two travellers now proceeded to make a portage. They prepared to carr_heir canoe and baggage overland, so as to avoid a succession of rapids an_aterfalls which intercepted their further progress.
“Now, Jacques, up with it,” said Charley, after the loading had been taken ou_nd placed on the grassy bank.
The hunter stooped, and seizing the canoe by its centre bar, lifted it out o_he water, placed it on his shoulders, and walked off with it into the woods.
This was not accomplished by the man’s superior strength. Charley could hav_one it quite as well; and, indeed, the strong hunter could have carried _anoe of twice the size with perfect ease. Immediately afterwards Charle_ollowed with as much of the lading as he could carry, leaving enough on th_ank to form another load.
The banks of the river were steep—in some places so much so that Jacques foun_t a matter of no small difficulty to climb over the broken rocks with th_nwieldy canoe on his back; the more so that the branches interlaced overhea_o thickly as to present a strong barrier, through which the canoe had to b_orced, at the risk of damaging its delicate bark covering. On reaching th_omparatively level land above, however, there was more open space, and th_unter threaded his way among the tree stems more rapidly, making a détou_ccasionally to avoid a swamp or piece of broken ground; sometimes descendin_ deep gorge formed by a small tributary of the stream they were ascending, and which, to an unpractised eye, would have appeared almost impassable, eve_ithout the encumbrance of a canoe. But the said canoe never bore Jacques mor_allantly or safely over the surges of lake or stream than did he bear _it_hrough the intricate mazes of the forest; now diving down and disappearin_ltogether in the umbrageous foliage of a dell; anon reappearing on the othe_ide and scrambling up the bank on all-fours, he and the canoe togethe_ooking like some frightful yellow reptile of antediluvian proportions; an_hen speeding rapidly forward over a level plain until he reached a sheet o_till water above the rapids. Here he deposited his burden on the grass, an_alting only for a few seconds to carry a few drops of the clear water to hi_ips, retraced his steps to bring over the remainder of the baggage. Soo_fterwards Charley made his appearance on the spot where the canoe was left, and throwing down his load, seated himself on it and surveyed the prospect.
Before him lay a reach of the stream, which spread out so widely as t_esemble a small lake, in whose clear, still bosom were reflected th_verhanging foliage of graceful willows, and here and there the bright stem o_ silver birch, whose light-green leaves contrasted well with scattered group_nd solitary specimens of the spruce fir. Reeds and sedges grew in the wate_long the banks, rendering the junction of the land and the stream uncertai_nd confused. All this and a great deal more Charley noted at a glance; fo_he hundreds of beautiful and interesting objects in nature that take so lon_o describe even partially, and are feebly set forth after all even by th_ost graphic language, flash upon the _eye_ in all their force and beauty, an_re drunk in at once in a single glance.
But Charley noted several objects floating on the water which we have not ye_entioned. These were five grey geese feeding among the reeds at _onsiderable distance off, and all unconscious of the presence of a human fo_n their remote domains. The travellers had trusted very much to their gun_nd nets for food, having only a small quantity of pemmican in reserve, les_hese should fail—an event which was not at all likely, as the country throug_hich they passed was teeming with wild-fowl of all kinds, besides deer. Thes_atter, however, were only shot when they came inadvertently within rifle- range, as our voyageurs had a definite object in view, and could not afford t_evote much of their time to the chase.
During the day previous to that on which we have introduced them to ou_eaders, Charley and his companion had been so much occupied in navigatin_heir frail bark among a succession of rapids, that they had not attended t_he replenishing of their larder, so that the geese which now showe_hemselves were looked upon by Charley with a longing eye. Unfortunately the_ere feeding on the opposite side of the river, and out of shot. But Charle_as a hunter now, and knew how to overcome slight difficulties. He first cu_own a pretty large and leafy branch of a tree, and placed it in the bow o_he canoe in such a way as to hang down before it and form a perfect screen, through the interstices of which he could see the geese, while they could onl_ee, what was to them no novelty, the branch of a tree floating down th_tream. Having gently launched the canoe, Charley was soon close to th_nsuspecting birds, from among which he selected one that appeared to b_nusually complacent and self-satisfied, concluding at once, with an amount o_isdom that bespoke him a true philosopher, that such _must_ as a matter o_ourse be the fattest.
“Bang” went the gun, and immediately the sleek goose turned round upon it_ack and stretched out its feet towards the sky, waving them once or twice a_f bidding adieu to its friend. The others thereupon took to flight, with suc_ deal of sputter and noise as made it quite apparent that their astonishmen_as unfeigned. Bang went the gun again, and down fell a second goose.
“Ha!” exclaimed Jacques, throwing down the remainder of the cargo as Charle_anded with his booty, “that’s well. I was just thinking as I comed acros_hat we should have to take to pemmican to-night.”
“Well, Jacques, and if we had, I’m sure an old hunter like you, who hav_oughed it so often, need not complain,” said Charley, smiling.
“As to that, master,” replied Jacques, “I’ve roughed it often enough; and whe_t does come to a clear fix, I can eat my shoes without grumblin’ as well a_ny man. But, you see, fresh meat is better than dried meat when it’s to b_ad; and so I’m glad to see that you’ve been lucky, Mr Charles.”
“To say truth, so am I; and these fellows are delightfully plump. But yo_poke of eating your shoes, Jacques; when were you reduced to that direfu_xtremity?”
Jacques finished reloading the canoe while they conversed, and the two wer_eated in their places, and quietly but swiftly ascending the stream again, ere the hunter replied.
“You’ve heerd of Sir John Franklin, I s’pose?” he inquired, after a minute’_onsideration.
“An’ p’r’aps you’ve heerd tell of his first trip of discovery along the shore_f the Polar Sea?”
“Do you refer to the time when he was nearly starved to death, and when poo_ood was shot by the Indian?”
“The same,” said Jacques.
“Oh yes; I know all about that. Were you with them?” inquired Charley, i_reat surprise.
“Why, no—not exactly _on_ the trip; but I was sent in winter with provision_o them—and much need they had of them, poor fellows! I found them tearin_way at some old parchment skins that had lain under the snow all winter, an_hat an Injin’s dog would ha’ turned up his nose at—and they don’t turn u_heir snouts at many things, I can tell ye. Well, after we had left all ou_rovisions with them, we started for the fort again, just keepin’ as much a_ould drive off starvation; for, you see, we thought that surely we would gi_omething on the road. But neither hoof nor feather did we see all the way (_as travellin’ with an Injin), and our grub was soon done, though we saved i_p, and only took a mouthful or two the last three days. At last it was done, and we was pretty well used up, and the fort two days ahead of us. _So_ says _o my comrade—who had been looking at me for some time as if he thought that _ut off my shoulder wouldn’t be a bad thing—says I, ‘Nipitabo, I’m afeard th_hoes must go for it now;’ so with that I pulls out a pair o’ deerski_occasins. ‘They looks tender,’ said I, trying to be cheerful. ‘Wah!’ said th_njin; and then I held them over the fire till they was done black, an_ipitabo ate one, and I ate the tother, with a lump o’ snow to wash it down!”
“It must have been rather dry eating,” said Charley, laughing.
“Rayther; but it was better than the Injin’s leather breeches, which we too_n hand next day. They was _uncommon_ tough, and very dirty, havin’ been wor_bout a year and a half. Hows’ever, they kept us up; an’ as we only ate th_egs, he had the benefit o’ the stump to arrive with at the fort next day.”
“What’s yon ahead?” exclaimed Charley, pausing as he spoke, and shading hi_yes with his hand.
“It’s uncommon like trees,” said Jacques. “It’s likely a tree that’s bee_umbled across the river; and from its appearance, I think we’ll have to cu_hrough it.”
“Cut through it!” exclaimed Charley; “if my sight is worth a gun-flint, we’l_ave to cut through a dozen trees.”
Charley was right. The river ahead of them became rapidly narrower; and, either from the looseness of the surrounding soil or the passing of _hirlwind, dozens of trees had been upset, and lay right across the narro_tream in terrible confusion. What made the thing worse was that the banks o_ither side, which were low and flat, were covered with such a dense thicke_own to the water’s edge, that the idea of making a portage to overcome th_arrier seemed altogether hopeless.
“Here’s a pretty business, to be sure!” cried Charley, in great disgust.
“Never say die, Mister Charles,” replied Jacques, taking up the axe from th_ottom of the canoe; “it’s quite clear that cuttin’ through the trees i_asier than cuttin’ through the bushes, so here goes.”
For fully three hours the travellers were engaged in cutting their way up th_ncumbered stream, during which time they did not advance three miles; and i_as evening ere they broke down the last barrier and paddled out into a shee_f clear water again.
“That’ll prepare us for the geese, Jacques,” said Charley, as he wiped th_erspiration from his brow; “there’s nothing like warm work for whetting th_ppetite and making one sleep soundly.”
“That’s true,” replied the hunter, resuming his paddle. “I often wonder ho_hem white-faced fellows in the settlements manage to keep body and sou_ogether—a-sittin’, as they do, all day in the house, and a-lyin’ all night i_ feather bed. For my part, rather than live as they do, I would cut my way u_treams like them we’ve just passed every day and all day, and sleep on top o_ flat rock o’ nights, under the blue sky, all my life through.”
With this decided expression of his sentiments, the stout hunter steered th_anoe up alongside of a huge, flat rock, as if he were bent on giving _ractical illustration of the latter part of his speech then and there.
“We’d better camp now, Mister Charles; there’s a portage o’ two miles here, and it’ll take us till sundown to get the canoe and things over.”
“Be it so,” said Charley, landing. “Is there a good place at the other end t_amp on?”
“First-rate. It’s smooth as a blanket on the turf, and a clear spring bubblin_t the root of a wide tree that would keep off the rain if it was to come dow_ike waterspouts.”
The spot on which the travellers encamped that evening overlooked one of thos_cenes in which vast extent, and rich, soft variety of natural objects, wer_nited with much that was grand and savage. It filled the mind with the cal_atisfaction that is experienced when one gazes on the wide lawns studded wit_oble trees; the spreading fields of waving grain that mingle with stream an_opse, rock and dell, vineyard and garden, of the cultivated lands o_ivilised men: while it produced that exulting throb of freedom which stir_an’s heart to its centre, when he casts a first glance over miles and mile_f broad lands that are yet unowned, unclaimed; that yet lie in th_nmutilated beauty with which the beneficent Creator originally clothe_hem—far away from the well-known scenes of man’s chequered history; entirel_evoid of those ancient monuments of man’s power and skill that carry the min_ack with feelings of awe to bygone ages, yet stamped with evidences of a_ntiquity more ancient still, in the wild primeval forests, and the nobl_rees that have sprouted, and spread, and towered in their strength fo_enturies—trees that have fallen at their posts, while others took thei_lace, and rose and fell as they did, like long-lived sentinels whose duty i_as to keep perpetual guard over the vast solitudes of the great America_ilderness.
The fire was lighted, and the canoe turned bottom up in front of it, under th_ranches of a spreading tree that stood on an eminence, whence was obtained _ird’s-eye view of the noble scene. It was a flat valley, on either side o_hich rose two ranges of hills, which were clothed to the top with trees o_arious kinds, the plain of the valley itself being dotted with clumps o_ood, among which the fresh green foliage of the plane tree and the silver- stemmed birch were conspicuous, giving an airy lightness to the scene an_nhancing the picturesque effect of the dark pines. A small stream could b_raced winding out and in among clumps of willows, reflecting their droopin_oughs and the more sombre branches of the spruce fir and the straight larch, with which in many places its banks were shaded. Here and there were stretche_f clearer ground, where the green herbage of spring gave to it a lawn-lik_ppearance, and the whole magnificent scene was bounded by blue hills tha_ecame fainter as they receded from the eye and mingled at last with th_orizon. The sun had just set, and a rich glow of red bathed the whole scene, which was further enlivened by flocks of wild-fowls and herds of reindeer.
These last soon drew Charley’s attention from the contemplation of th_cenery, and observing a deer feeding in an open space, towards which he coul_pproach without coming between it and the wind, he ran for his gun an_urried into the woods, while Jacques busied himself in arranging thei_lankets under the upturned canoe, and in preparing supper.
Charley discovered, soon after starting, what all hunters discover sooner o_ater—namely, that appearances are deceitful; for he no sooner reached th_oot of the hill than he found, between him and the lawn-like country, a_lmost impenetrable thicket of underwood. Our young hero, however, was of tha_isposition which sticks at nothing, and instead of taking time to search fo_n opening, he took a race and sprang into the middle of it, in hopes o_orcing his way through. His hopes were not disappointed. He got through—quit_hrough—and alighted up to the armpits in a swamp, to the infinit_onsternation of a flock of teal ducks that were slumbering peacefully ther_ith their heads under their wings, and had evidently gone to bed for th_ight. Fortunately he held his gun above the water and kept his balance, s_hat he was able to proceed with a dry charge, though with an uncommonly we_kin. Half an hour brought Charley within range, and watching patiently unti_he animal presented his side towards the place of his concealment, he fire_nd shot it through the heart.
“Well done, Mister Charles,” exclaimed Jacques, as the former staggered int_amp with the reindeer on his shoulders. “A fat doe, too.”
“Ay,” said Charley; “but she has cost me a wet skin. So pray, Jacques, rous_p the fire, and let’s have supper as soon as you can.”
Jacques speedily skinned the deer, cut a couple of steaks from its flank, an_lacing them on wooden spikes, stuck them up to roast, while his young frien_ut on a dry shirt, and hung his coat before the blaze. The goose which ha_een shot earlier in the day was also plucked, split open, impaled in the sam_anner as the steaks, and set up to roast. By this time the shadows of nigh_ad deepened, and ere long all was shrouded in gloom, except the circle o_uddy light around the camp fire, in the centre of which Jacques and Charle_at, with the canoe at their backs, knives in their hands, and the two spits, on the top of which smoked their ample supper, planted in the ground befor_hem.
One by one the stars went out, until none were visible except the bright, beautiful morning star, as it rose higher and higher in the eastern sky. On_y one the owls and the wolves, ill-omened birds and beasts of night, retire_o rest in the dark recesses of the forest. Little by little the grey daw_verspread the sky, and paled the lustre of the morning star, until it fade_way altogether; and then Jacques awoke with a start, and throwing out hi_rm, brought it accidentally into violent contact with Charley’s nose.
This caused Charley to awake, not only with a start, but also with a roar, which brought them both suddenly into a sitting posture, in which the_ontinued for some time in a state between sleeping and waking, their face_eanwhile expressive of mingled imbecility and extreme surprise. Bursting int_ simultaneous laugh, which degenerated into a loud yawn, they sprang up, launched and reloaded their canoe, and resumed their journey.