"All right," said Hubbard, evidently relieved. "If you boys aren't sick of it, it's on to the caribou grounds, late or no late. But I feel I've got you fellows in a tight place."
"We came with our eyes open," I replied, "and it's not your fault."
On the morning of September 8th, following our stream out to a shoal, rocky bay, we reached the "big water" at last. It was the great body of water that I have mapped out as Windbound Lake. Forty miles we had portaged from Lake Disappointment. We were practically out of food of any kind. Looking over the great expanse of water stretching miles away to the westward, we wondered what our new lake had in store for us of hope and success, of failure and, despair. Would it lead us to Michikamau? If not, what were we to do?
On its farther shore, about twenty miles to the northwest, rose in solemn majesty a great, grey mountain, holding its head high above all the surrounding world. It shall be known as Mount Hubbard. To this mountain we decided to paddle and view the country. Instinctively we felt that Michikamau lay on the other side. We launched our canoe after a light luncheon of trout and a small ptarmigan George had shot. Once in the course of the afternoon we stopped paddling to climb a low ridge near the shore and eat cranberries, which we found in abundance on its barren top. From the ridge we could see water among the hills in every direction. In the large lake at our feet were numerous wooded islands.
We camped at dusk on one of these islands, and on Wednesday, September 9th, launched our canoe at daybreak, to resume our journey to Mount Hubbard. We reached its base before ten o'clock. Blueberries grew in abundance on the side of the mountain, which, together with the country near it, had been burned. One of us, it was decided, should remain behind to pick berries, while the others climbed to the summit. I volunteered for the berrypicking, but I shall always regret it was not possible for me to go along.
Before Hubbard and George returned, I had our mixing basin filled with berries, and the kettle half full. The day was clear, crisp and delightful—one of those perfect days when the atmosphere is so pure and transparent that minute objects can be distinguished for miles. On the earth and on the water, not a thing of life was to be seen. The lake, relieved here and there with green island-spots; the cold rocks of distant mountains to the northeast; the low, semi-barren ridges and hills that we had travelled over bounding the lake to the eastward, and a ridge of green hills west of the lake that extended southward from behind Mount Hubbard as far as the eye could reach—all combined to complete a scene of vast and solemn beauty; and I, alone on the mountain side picking blueberries, felt an inexpressible sense of loneliness—felt myself the only thing of life in all that boundless wilderness-world.
From the moment Hubbard and George had left me, I had not seen or heard them. But up the mountain they went through the burnt spruce forest, up for four miles over rocks, up and up to the top; and then to the westernmost side of the peak they went and looked—looked to the West; and there, only a few miles away, lay Michikamau with its ninety-mile expanse of water—the lake we so long had sought for and fought so desperately to reach. It was there, just beyond the ridge I had seen extending to the southward.
X. PRISONERS OF THE WIND
It was four o'clock in the afternoon, when the sun was getting low, that I, near the base of the mountain and still industriously picking berries, heard a shout from Hubbard and George at the canoe on the shore of the lake below. I was anxious to hear the result of their journey, and hurried down.
"It's there! it's there!" shouted Hubbard, as I came within talking distance. "Michikamau is there, just behind the ridge. We saw the big water; we saw it!"
In our great joy we fairly hugged each other, while George stood apart with something of Indian stoicism, but with a broad grin, nevertheless, expanding his good-natured features. We felt that Windbound Lake must be directly connected with Michikamau, and that we were now within easy reach of the caribou grounds and a land of plenty. It is true that from the mountain top Hubbard and George had been unable to trace out the connection, as Windbound Lake was so studded with islands, and had so many narrow arms reaching out in the various directions between low, thickly-wooded ridges, that their view of the waters between them and Michikamau was more or less obscured; but they had no doubt that the connection was there.
"And," added Hubbard, after I had heard all about the great discovery, "good things never come singly. Look there!"
I looked where he pointed, and there on the rocks near George's feet lay a pile of ptarmigans and one small rabbit. I picked them up and counted them with nervous joy; there were nine—nine ptarmigans, and the rabbit.
"You see," said Hubbard reverently, "God always gives us food when we are really in great need, and He'll carry us through that way; in the wilderness He'll send us manna." On similar occasions in the past Hubbard had made like remarks to this, and he continued to make them on similar occasions in the future. Invariably they were made with a simplicity that robbed them of all cant; they came from the man's real nature.
While George dressed three of the birds, Hubbard and I built a fire on the rocks by the shore. Since early morning, when we had a breakfast of thin soup made with three thin slices of bacon and three spoonfuls of flour, we had had nothing to eat, and our hunger was such, that while dinner was cooking, we each took the entrails of a bird, wrapped them as George told us the Indians did, on the end of a stick, broiled them over the fire and ate them greedily. And when the ptarmigans were boiled what a glorious feast we had! In using a bit of bacon for soup in the morning we had drawn for the first time on our "emergency ration"—the situation seemed to warrant it; nevertheless, we were as bent as ever on hoarding this precious little stock of food.
At five o'clock we paddled up the lake to the northeast, to begin our search for the connection with Michikamau. Hubbard dropped a troll as we proceeded, and caught two two-pound namaycush, which, when we went into camp at dusk on a small island, George boiled entire, putting into the pot just enough flour to give the water a milky appearance. With this supper we had some of the blueberries stewed, and Hubbard said they would have been the "real thing if we only had a little sugar for them."
All day on September 10th we continued our search for the connection with Michikamau, finally directing our course to the southwest where a mountain seemed to offer a view of the waters in that direction. It was dark when we reached its base, and we went into camp preparatory to climbing to the summit in the morning. We had been somewhat delayed by wind squalls that made canoeing dangerous, and before we made camp rain began to fall. We caught no fish on the troll that day, but Hubbard shot a large spruce-grouse. At our evening meal we ate the last of our ptarmigans and rabbit.
"George," said Hubbard, after we had eaten our supper, "you have a few more of mother's dried apples there. How would it be to stew them to-night, and stir in a little flour to thicken them? Wouldn't they thicken up better if you were to cook them to-night and let them stand until morning?"
"Guess they would," replied George. "There ain't many of 'em here. Shall I put them all to cook?
"Yes," said Hubbard, "put them all to cook, and we'll eat them for breakfast with that small trout Wallace caught and the two ptarmigan entrails."
In the morning (September 11th) we drew lots for the trout, and George won. So he took the fish, and Hubbard and I each an entrail, and, with the last of the apples before us that Hubbard's mother had dried, sat down to breakfast.
"How well," said Hubbard, "I remember the tree on the old Michigan farm from which these apples came! And now," he added, "I'm eating the last of the fruit from it that I shall probably ever eat."
"Why," said George, "don't you expect to get back to eat any more?"
"That isn't it," replied Hubbard. "Father signed a contract for the sale of the farm last spring, and they're to deliver the property over to its new owners on the fifteenth of this month. Father wanted me to come to the farm and run it, as he's too old to do the work any longer; but I had other ambitions. I feel half sorry now I didn't; for after all it's home to me, and always will be wherever I go in the world. How often I've watched mother gathering these apples to dry! And then, the apple butter! Did you ever eat apple butter, boys?"
George had not, but I had.
"Well," continued Hubbard, "there was an old woman lived near us who could make apple butter better than anybody else. Mother used to have her come over one day each fall and make a big lot for us. And, say, but wasn't it delicious!
"I've told you, Wallace, about the maple sugaring on the farm, and you had some of the syrup I brought from there when I visited father and mother before I came away on this trip. We used to bring to the house the very first syrup we made in the spring, while it was hot—the first, you know, is always the best—and mother would have a nice pan of red hot tea biscuits, and for tea she'd serve the biscuits with cream and the hot new syrup. And sometimes we'd mix honey with the syrup; for father was a great man with bees; he kept a great many of them and had quantities of honey. He had a special house where he kept his honey, and in which was a machine to separate it from the comb when the comb was not well filled. In the honey house on a table he always had a plate with a pound comb of white clover honey, and spoons to eat it with; and he invited every visitor to help himself.
"Once, I remember, a neighbour called on father, and was duly taken out to the honey house. He ate the whole pound. 'Will you have some more?' asked father. 'Don't care if I do,' said the neighbour. So father set out another pound comb, which the neighbour proceeded to put out of sight with a facility fully equal to that with which he demolished the first. 'Have some more,' said father. 'Thanks,' said the neighbour, 'but maybe I've had enough.' I used to wonder how the man ever did it, but I guess I myself could make two pounds of honey disappear if I had it now."
Hubbard poured some tea in the cup that had contained his share of the apple sauce, and after carefully stirring into the tea the bit of sauce that clung to the cup, he poured it all into the kettle in which the sauce had been cooked and stirred it again that he might get the last bit of the apples from the tree on that far-away Michigan farm. Then he poured it all back into his cup and drank it.
"I believe it sweetened the tea just a little," he said, "and that's the last of mother's sweet apples."
Breakfast eaten, we had no dinner to look forward to. Of course there was the "emergency ration," but we felt we must not draw on that to any extent as yet. Hubbard was much depressed, perhaps because of his reminiscences of home and perhaps because of our desperate situation. We still had to find the way to Michikamau, and the cold rain that fell this morning warned us that winter was near.
The look from the mountain top near our camp revealed nothing, owing to the heavy mist and rain. Once more in the canoe, we started southward close to the shore, to hunt for a rapid we had heard roaring in the distance. Trolling by the way, we caught one two-pound namaycush. The rapid proved to be really a fall where a good-sized stream emptied into the lake. We had big hopes of trout, but found the stream too shoal and rapid, with almost no pools, and we caught only a dozen small ones.
Towards evening we took a northwesterly course in the canoe in search of the lake's outlet to Michikamau. While paddling we got a seven-pound namaycush, which enabled us to eat that night. Our camp was on a rock-bound island, partially covered with stunted gnarled spruce and fir trees. The weather had cleared and the heavens were bright with stars when we drew our canoe high upon the boulder-strewn shore, clear of the breaking waves. The few small trout we had caught we stowed away in the bow of the canoe, as they were to be reserved for breakfast.
Early in the morning (September 12th) we were awakened by a northeast gale that threatened every moment to carry our tent from its fastenings, and as we peered out through the flaps, rain and snow dashed in our faces. The wind also was playing high jinks with the lake; it was white with foam, and the waves, dashing against the rocks on the shore, threw the spray high in the air. Evidently there was no hope of launching the canoe that day, and assuming indifference of the driving storm that threatened to uncover us, we settled down for a much-needed morning sleep. At ten o'clock George crawled out to build a fire in the lee of some bushes and boil trout for a light breakfast. Soon he stuck his head in the tent, and his face told us something had happened even before he said:
"Well, that's too bad."
"What's too bad?" asked Hubbard anxiously.
"Somebody's stole the trout we left in the canoe."
"Who?" asked Hubbard and I together.
"Otter or somebody—maybe a marten." (George always referred to animals as persons.)
We all went again to look and make sure the fish were not there somewhere; but they were really gone, and we looked at one another and laughed, and continued to make light of it as we ate a breakfast of soup made of three little slices of bacon, with two or three spoonfuls of flour and rice.
We occupied the day in talking—visiting, Hubbard called it—and mending. Hubbard made a handsome pair of moccasins, using an old flour sack for the uppers and a pair of skin mittens for the feet. George did some neat work on his moccasins and clothing, and I made my trousers look quite respectable again, and ripped up one pair of woollen socks to get yarn to darn the holes in another. Altogether it was rather a pleasant day, even though Hubbard's display of his beautiful new moccasins did savour of ostentation and thereby excite much heartburning on the part of George and me.
Our second day on the island was Sunday, September 13th. We awoke to find that the wind, rain, and sleet were still with us. Our breakfast was the same as all our meals of the previous day—thin bacon soup. The morning we spent in reading from the Bible. Hubbard read Philemon aloud and told us the story. I read aloud from the Psalms. George, who received his religious training in a mission of the Anglican Church on James Bay, listened to our reading with reverent attention.
Towards noon the storm began to moderate, and in a short stroll about the island we found some blueberries and currants, which we fell upon and devoured. At one o'clock the wind abated to such an extent that we succeeded in leaving the island and reaching the mainland to the northeast. The wind continuing to abate, we paddled several miles in the afternoon looking in vain for the outlet. In the course of our search we caught a namaycush, and immediately put to shore to eat it. While it was being cooked we picked nearly a gallon of cranberries on a sandy knoll. We camped near this spot, and for supper had a pot of the cranberries stewed, leaving enough for two more meals.
For several days past now, when George and I were alone, he had repeated to me stories of Indians that had starved to death, or had barely escaped starvation, and a little later he spoke of these things in Hubbard's presence. To me he would tell how weak he was becoming, and how Indians would get weaker and weaker and then give up to it and die. He also spoke of how he had heard the big northern loons cry at night farther back on the trail, which cries, he said, the Indians regarded as sure signs of coming calamity. At the same time he was cheerful and courageous, never suggesting such a thing as turning back. His state of mind was to me very interesting. Apparently two natures were at war within him. One—the Indian—was haunted by superstitious fears; the other—the white man—rejected these fears and invariably conquered them. In other words, the Indian in him was panicky, but the white man held him fast. And in seeing him master his superstitious nature, I admired him the more.
Until this time it had been Hubbard's custom to retire to his blankets early, while George and I continued to toast our shins by the fire and enjoy our evening pipe. Then George would turn in, and I, while the embers died, would sit alone for an hour or so and let my fancy form pictures in the coals or carry me back to other days. In our Sunday night's camp on Windbound Lake, however, Hubbard sat with me long after George was lost in sleep, and together we talked of the home folks and exchanged confidences.
I observed now a great change in Hubbard. Heretofore the work he had to do had seemed almost wholly to occupy his thoughts. Now he craved companionship, and he loved to sit with me and dwell on his home and his wife, his mother and sister, and rehearse his early struggles in the university and in New York City. Undoubtedly the boy was beginning to suffer severely from homesickness—he was only a young fellow, you know, with a gentle, affectionate nature that gripped him tight to the persons and objects he loved. Our little confidential talks grew to be quite the order of things, and often as the days went by we confessed to each other that we looked forward to them during all the weary work hours; they were the bright spots in our dreary life.
A tremendous gale with dashes of rain ushered in Monday morning, September 14th. Again we were windbound, with nothing to do but remain where we were and make the best of it. A little of our thin soup had to serve for breakfast. Then we all slept till ten o'clock, when Hubbard and I went out to the fire and George took a stroll through the bush on the shore, in the hope of seeing something to shoot. While I cleaned my rifle and pistol, Hubbard and I chatted about good things to eat and the days of yore.
"Well, Wallace," he said, "I suppose that father and mother are to-day leaving the old farm forever, and that I never can call it home again. I dreamed of it last night. Over fifty years ago father cleared that land when he was a young man and that part of Michigan was a wilderness. He made a great farm of it, and it has been his home ever since. How I hate to think of them going away and leaving it to strangers who don't love it or care more for it than any other plot of ground where good crops can be raised! Daisy [his sister] and I grew up together there, and I used to tell her my ambitions, and she was always interested. Daisy gave me more encouragement in my work than anyone else in the world. I'd never have done half so well with my work if it hadn't been for Daisy."
After a moment's silence, he continued:
"That hickory cleaning rod for the rifle we lost on a portage on the big river [the Beaver] father cut himself on the old farm and shaped it and gave it to me. That's the reason I hated so to lose it. If we go back that way, we must try to find it. Father wanted to come with me on this trip; he wanted to take care of me. He always thinks of me as a child; he's never quite realised I'm a grown man. As old as he is, I believe he could have stood this trip as well as I have. He was a forty-niner in California, you know, and has spent a lot of his life in the bush."
When George returned—empty-handed, alas!—we had our dinner. The menu was not very extensive—it began with stewed cranberries and ended there. The acid from the unsweetened berries made our mouths sore, but, as George remarked, "it was a heap better than not eatin' at all."
Perhaps I should say here that these were the hungriest days of our journey. What we suffered later on, the good Lord only knows; but we never felt the food-craving, the hunger-pangs as now. In our enforced idleness it was impossible for us to prevent our thoughts from dwelling on things to eat, and this naturally accentuated our craving. Then, again, as everyone that has had such an experience knows, the pangs of hunger are mitigated after a certain period has been passed.
In the afternoon George and I took the pistols and ascended a low ridge in the rear of the camp to look for ptarmigans. Soon George exclaimed under his breath:
"There's two! Get down low and don't let 'em see you; the wind blows so they'll be mighty wild. I'll belly round to that bush over there and take a shot."
He crawled or wriggled along to the bush, which was the nearest cover and about forty yards from the birds. With a dinner in prospect, I watched him with keen anxiety. I could see him lying low and carefully aiming his pistol. Suddenly, bang!—and one of the birds fluttered straight up high in the air, trying desperately to sustain itself; then fell into the brush on the hillside below. At that George raised his head and gave a peculiar laugh—a laugh of wild exultation—an Indian laugh. He was the Indian hunter then. I never heard him laugh so again, nor saw him look quite as he did at that moment. As the other bird flew away, he rose to his feet and shouted:
"I hit 'im!—did you see how he went? Now we'll find 'im."
But we didn't. We beat the bushes high and low for an hour, and finally in disappointment and disgust gave up the search. The bird lay there dead somewhere, but we never found it, and we returned to camp empty-handed and perhaps, through anticipation, hungrier than ever.
On Tuesday (September 15th) the high west wind had not abated, and the occasional sleet-squalls continued. We were dreary and disconsolate when we came out of the tent and huddled close to the fire. For the first time Hubbard heard George tell his stories of Indians that starved. And there we were still windbound and helpless, with stomachs crying continually for food. And the caribou migration was soon to begin, if it had not already begun, and there seemed no prospect of the weather clearing.
We made an inventory of the food we were hoarding for an emergency, and found that in addition to about two pounds of flour, we had eighteen pounds of pea meal, a little less than a pint of rice, and a half a pound of bacon. George then told another story of Indians that starved. At length he stopped talking, and we sat silent for a long while, staring blankly at the blazing logs.
Slowly the minutes crawled. In great gusts the wind swept down, howling dismally among the trees and driving the sleet into our faces. Still we sat cowering in silence when Hubbard arose, pushed the loose ends of the partially burned sticks into the fire and stood with his back to the blaze, apparently deep in thought. Presently, turning slowly towards the lake, he walked down through the intervening brush and stood alone on the sandy shore contemplating the scene before him—the dull, lowering skies, the ridges in the distance, the lake in its angry mood protesting against his further advance, the low, wooded land that hid the gate to Michikamau.
Weather-beaten, haggard, gaunt and ragged, he stood there watching; then seemed to be lost completely in thought, forgetful of the wind and weather and dashing spray. Finally he turned about briskly, and, with quick, nervous steps, pushed through the brush to the fire, where George and I were still sitting in silence. Suddenly, and without a word of introduction, he said:
"Boys, what do you say to turning back?"
XI. WE GIVE IT UP
For a moment I was dazed at the thought—the thought of turning back without ever seeing the Indians or caribou hunt, and I could not speak. George, however, soon found his tongue. He was still willing to go on, if need be, and risk his life with us.
"I came to go with you fellus," he said, "and I want to do what you fellus do."
"But," I said to Hubbard, "don't you think it will be easier to reach the Indians on the George, or even the George River Post, than Northwest River Post? We must surely be near the Indians; we shall probably see the smoke of their wigwams when we reach Michikamau. It is likely we shall find them camping on the big lake—either Mountaineers or Nascaupee—and if we get to them they'll surely help us."
"Yes," answered Hubbard, "if we get to them they'll help us; but these miserable westerly and northwesterly gales may keep us on these waters indefinitely, or even on the shore of Michikamau at a spot where we may not be able to launch our canoe or reach the Indians for days, and that would be fatal. The caribou migration is surely begun, and perhaps is over already, and there's no use in going ahead."
I saw his point and acquiesced. "I suppose it's best to turn back as soon as the wind will let us," I said; "for it's likely to subside only for a few hours at a time at this season, and perhaps if we don't get out when we can, we may never get out at all. But what does George say?" I asked, turning to our plucky companion.
"Oh," said he, "I'd like to turn back, and I think it's safest; but I'm goin' to stick to you fellus, and I'm goin' where you go."
"Well," said Hubbard, "what's the vote?—shall we turn back or go on?"
"Turn back," said I.
"Very well, then" he replied quietly; "that's settled."
The decision reached, George's face brightened perceptibly, and I must confess we all felt better; a great burden seemed to have been lifted from our shoulders. It had required courage for Hubbard to acknowledge himself defeated in his purpose, but the acknowledgment once made, we thought of only one thing—how to reach home most quickly. Hubbard was now satisfied that the record of our adventures would make a "bully story," even without the material he had hoped to gather on the George, and his mind being easy on that point, he discussed with animation plans for the homeward trip.
"We'll have to catch some fish here," he said, "to take us over the long portage to Lake Disappointment. We ought to be able to dry a good bit of namaycush, and on the way we'll probably have a good catch of trout at the long lake [Lake Mary], and another good catch where I used the tamarack pole. And then when we get to Lake Disappointment we ought to get more namaycush."
"Yes," said I; "and the berries should help us some."
"What do you think the chances of getting caribou are?" Hubbard asked George.
"We saw some comin' up," replied George, "and there ought to be more now; I guess we'll find 'em."
"If we kill some caribou," continued Hubbard, "I think we'd better turn to and build a log shack, cure the meat, make toboggans and snowshoes, wait for things to freeze up, and then push on to the post over the snow and ice. We can get some dogs at the post, and we'll be in good shape to push right on without delay to the St. Lawrence. It'll make a bully trip, and we'll have lots of grub. What would we need to get at the post, George?"
"Well," said George, "we'd need plenty of flour, pork, lard, beans, sugar, tea, and bakin' powder; and we might take some condensed milk, raisins, currants, rice, and molasses, and I'd make somethin' good sometimes."
"That's a good idea," said Hubbard, whose mouth was evidently watering even as mine was. "And we might take some butter, too. And how would oatmeal go for porridge?—don't you think that would be bully on a cold morning?"
"Yes," assented George; "we could eat molasses on it, or thin up the condensed milk."
"We shall probably have caribou meat that we can take along frozen," Hubbard went on. "Frozen caribou meat is bully; it's better than when it's fresh killed. Did you ever eat any, Wallace?"
"No," said I; "the only caribou meat I've ever eaten was what we've had here."
"Then," said Hubbard, "there's a rare treat in store for you. The first I ever ate was on my Lake St. John trip. The Indian I had with me used to chop off pieces of frozen caribou with an axe, and fry it with lard, and we'd just drink down the grease. It was fine."
"It's great," said George.
"Well," said Hubbard, coming back to the present, "I'm dead glad we've decided to strike for the post. If this wind will ever let up, we must get at it and catch some fish. I lay awake most of last night thinking it all over and planning it all."
"I was awake most of the time, too," said George; "my feet were mighty cold."
There was no fishing on the day we decided to turn back, as the wind confined us to camp, and all we had to eat was rice and bacon soup; but our anticipations of home to some extent overcame the clamour of our stomachs, and we passed the time chatting about the things we intended to do when we regained "God's country."
"I'm going to take a vacation," said Hubbard. "I'll visit father and mother, if they're in the east, and sister Daisy, and maybe go to Canada with my wife and stay a little while with her people. What will you do, boys?"
I told of my plans to visit various relatives, and then George described a trip he was going to make to visit a sister whom he had not seen since he was a little boy, closing the description with a vivid account of the good things he would have to eat, and what he would cook himself. It was always so—no matter what our conversation was about, it sooner or later developed into a discussion of gastronomy.
In the evening Hubbard had me make out a list of the restaurants we intended to visit when we got back to New York and take George to. I have the list yet, but since my return I have never had the heart to go near any of the places it mentions. From the talk about restaurants Hubbard suddenly turned to lumber camps, asking George and me if we had ever visited one. We replied that we had not, and wondered what had brought lumber camps into his mind. We soon learned.
"You've missed something," he said. "We'll make it a point to call at Sandy Calder's camp when we go back, and make him give us a feed of pork and beans and molasses to sop our bread in. They're sure to have them."
"Do they have cake and pie?" asked George.
"Yes, in unlimited quantities; and doughnuts, too—at least they used to in the Michigan lumber camps I've visited."
"That sounds good," I remarked—"the pork and beans and molasses, best of all. When I was a boy I was fond of bread and molasses—good, black molasses—but I haven't eaten any since. I'd like to have a chance at some now."
"So should I," said Hubbard; "I'd just roll my bread in it lumberjack fashion."
"Do they have gingerbread in the camps?" asked George.
"Yes," said Hubbard; "gingerbread is always on the table."
"How do they make it?
"Well, I don't just know; but I'll tell you what, George—if you want to know, I'll ask Mrs. Hubbard to show you when we get home, and I know she'll be delighted to do it. She's the best cook I ever knew."
"Do you think she would mind?"
"Oh, no; she'd be very glad to do it. You must stop at our house for a while before you go back to Missanabie, and she will teach you to cook a good many things."
And so our conversation continued until we turned to our blankets and sought the luxury of sleep, I to dream I was revelling in a stack of gingerbread as high as a house that my sisters had baked to welcome me home.
To our ever-increasing dismay, the northwest gale continued to blow almost unceasingly during the next few days. Sometimes towards evening the wind would moderate sufficiently to permit us to troll with difficulty along the lee shore of an island, but seldom were we rewarded with more than a single namaycush, and so far from our getting enough fish to carry us over our long portage to Lake Disappointment, we did not catch enough for our daily needs, and were compelled to draw on our little store of emergency provisions. On Wednesday (September 16th) we ate the last bit of bacon and the last handful of rice we had so carefully hoarded. We succeeded that day in reaching the rapid where we caught the few trout that some animal stole from us, and there we camped. From this point we believed we could more readily gain the bay where we had entered the lake, and begin our retreat when the wind subsided.
The Canada jay, a carrion bird about the size Of a robin that is generally known through the north as the "whiskey jack," had always hovered about our camps and been very tame when, in the earlier days of our trip, we had refuse to throw away; but now these birds called at us from a greater distance, seeming to know we were looking at them with greedy eyes. George told us that their flesh had saved many an Indian from starvation, and that the Indians looked upon them with a certain veneration and would kill them only in case of the direst need. Our compunctions against eating carrion birds had entirely disappeared, and the course of the whiskey jacks in holding aloof from camp when they were most needed used to make George furious.
"See the blamed beggars!" he would ejaculate. "Just look at 'em! We've been feedin' 'em right long, and now when it's their turn to feed us, look at 'em go!"
On Thursday (September 17th) George got his revenge. Stealthily he crept upon a whiskey jack in the bush and shot it with a pistol. "They're pretty tough," he said, upon returning with his prize to camp, "and will take a long time to cook." We did not care for that; we ate that bird, bones and all, stewed in a big pot of water with two or three spoonfuls of flour and an equal amount of pea meal.
That was our breakfast. We had no luncheon; for although we spent the entire day trolling up and down the lee shore, it was not until evening that we caught any fish. The wind was icy and set us all a-shiver, our hands were benumbed by the cold water, and we were just beginning to despair when we landed a two-pound namaycush, and a little later a five-pounder. Then, wet to the skin and chilled to the bone, we paddled back to camp, to cheer ourselves up with a good fire and a supper of one-third of the larger fish, a dish of stewed sour cranberries and plenty of hot tea.
"I feel more satisfied every time I think of our decision to turn back," said Hubbard, as, with supper eaten, we reclined comfortably before the fire. "I had a pretty hard night of it though, on Monday; for I hated to turn back without seeing the Indians."
"I was awake thinkin' about it, too," said George. "I told you about havin' cold feet, and that they kept me awake." He paused, and we felt that something was coming. At length out it came: "Well, they did, but that wind out in the lake kept me awake more than the cold feet. I knew that wind was makin' the huntin' good down the bay, the game was comin' down there now, and the young fellus I used to hunt with had been wishin' for this very wind that was keepin' us here, and they were glad to see it, and were out shootin' waveys [a species of wild goose]; and here we boys was, up against it for sure."
Hubbard and I had to laugh at George's confession, and we joked him a little about being homesick.
"Well," said Hubbard, "we'll soon get away now; this wind must let up some time. Talking about the bay reminds me that I want to arrange for a trip to Hudson's Bay next summer. I want a nice, easy trip that I can take Mrs. Hubbard on. I'd like to go up early and return in the fall, and maybe get some wavey shooting. Could you get one or two good men besides yourself to go with us, George?"
George said he thought he could, and after Hubbard had invited me to make one of the party, they went into minute details as to the food they would take with them, planning an elaborate culinary outfit.
Just before George went to bed, Hubbard and I, using the trees that stood close to the fire for a support, stretched a tarpaulin over our heads, to shelter us from the rain and sleet. Beyond the circle of our bright-blazing fire the darkness was profound. As the wind in great blasts swept over the tops of the trees, its voice was raised to piercing shrieks that gradually died away into low moans. We thought of the vast wilderness lying all about us under the pall of a moonless and starless night. Where had all the people in the world gone to, anyway?
But, sitting there on our couch of boughs beneath the tarpaulin, in the grateful warmth of the high-leaping flames, we found it very cosey. And we talked of the places and persons that were somewhere beyond the solitudes.
"You don't mind sitting here for a while and chatting, do you, b'y?" said Hubbard. "It's very cold and shivery in the tent." "B'y" was a word we had picked up from the Newfoundland fishermen, who habitually use it in addressing one another, be the person addressed old or young. At first Hubbard and I called each other "b'y" in jest, but gradually it became with us a term almost of endearment.
"No, b'y," I answered; "I would much rather be out here with you than in the tent."
"I was thinking," said Hubbard, "of how I loved, in the evening after dinner last winter, to sit before the wood fire in our grate at Congers, and watch the blaze with Mina [Mrs. Hubbard] near me. What a feeling of quiet, and peace, and contentment, would come to me then!—I'd forget all about the grind at the office and the worries of the day. That's real happiness, Wallace—a good wife and a cheerful fireside. What does glory and all that amount to, after all? I've let my work and my ambition bother me too much. I've hardly taken time for my meals. In the morning I'd hurry through breakfast and run for my train. I haven't given my wife and my home the attention they deserve. That wife of mine, Wallace, deserves a great deal of attention. She's always thinking of my comfort, and doing things to please me, and cooking things I like. But I must be boring you with all this talk about my own affairs."
"No, b'y," I said; "I like to hear about them. I've always been interested in witnessing how happy you and your wife have been together."
"She's been a good wife to me, Wallace; and as time has gone on since our marriage we've grown closer and closer together."
"I see you're like every other man that gets a good wife—you've found the real key to the house of a man's happiness."
"That's so. A single man, or a man with an uncongenial wife whom he doesn't love and who doesn't love him, may be as rich as Croesus, and gain all the honours in the world, and he won't possess an atom of the happiness of a poor man congenially married. Did I ever tell you about the day I was married?—the trouble I had?"
"I don't remember that you did. Although I suspected something unusual on foot, I didn't hear of your marriage until after the deed was done. You didn't take me into your confidence, you know."
"That was because we had never camped together then, b'y. If we had camped together, I'd have told you all about it. Mina and I had not intended to get married so soon. We were to have been married in the spring, but that January I received an assignment for a trip through the South, and I knew it would keep me away until after our wedding date. I didn't want to postpone the wedding, so I decided, if I could get Mina's consent, to make my trip our honeymoon. She was at her parents' home in Canada, and there was no time to lose, and I telegraphed asking her to come on at once and get married. She was a brick and consented, and then I was in such a nervous state of anticipation I was afraid the folks where I was stopping would discover something was up, so the day before I expected Mina to arrive I ran over to Jersey to spend the night with my old friend Dr. Shepard, the minister.
"Well, Mina's train was due at the Grand Central Station early in the morning, and I had to catch a train from Jersey a little after five o'clock to meet her. I was afraid I'd oversleep, and I kept awake nearly all night. Long before the train was due I was down at the station and took a seat in the waiting room. And what do you suppose I did?"
"What?" said I.
"Why," said Hubbard, with a cheerful grin, "I fell to thinking so hard about what was going to happen that I sat there in the station and let the train I was so afraid to lose come and go without ever hearing it."
Under the sleet-covered tarpaulin, there in the interior of Labrador, Hubbard and I laughed heartily.
"And was the bride-elect kept waiting?" I asked.
"No," said Hubbard; "I hustled over a couple of miles to another line and got a train there, and as Mina fortunately didn't arrive as early as expected, I was in time."
The fire had died down and the darkness was beginning to close in upon us. I arose to renew the fire, and when the logs had begun to blaze again, and I had resumed my seat, I saw that the drawn and haggard look had returned to Hubbard's face, and that he was staring wistfully out over the fire into the impenetrable gloom.
"What is it, b'y?" I said.
"That was a great trip, Wallace—that southern trip. I want to visit some of the places again with Mina and live over our honeymoon. And," he went on—"yes, I want some more of the good southern cooking. You ought to eat their cornbread, Wallace!—there's nothing like it anywhere else in the world. They cook corn meal in a dozen ways, from corn pone to really delicate dishes. And they know how to cook chickens, too. Their chickens and yams and cornbread are great. It makes my mouth water to think of even the meals I've eaten in the mountaineers' cabins—wild hog, good and greasy; wild honey, hoecake, and strong black coffee. When I get home I'm going to experiment in camp with cooking corn meal, and I've got an idea that a young sucking pig roasted before the fire like George roasted the goose would be great."
There we were, plunged once more into a discussion about food, and it was after midnight when the talk about roasting pigs, and stuffing pigs, and baking this, and baking that, came to an end. Even then Hubbard was loath to seek the tent, it was so "cold and shivery"; but he expressed himself as being fairly comfortable when he had followed my example and toasted himself thoroughly before the fire immediately before turning in with a pair of socks on his feet that had been hung up to warm.
On Friday (September 18th) a fierce northwest gale again kept us on the lee shore, and all we got on the troll was a three-quarter-pound namaycush. Hubbard and I also fished conscientiously at the rapid near which we were still camping, and our combined efforts yielded us only two eight-inch trout and a twenty-inch trout. Trying as we were to get fish ahead for our long portage, it was most depressing.
Despite the steady gnaw, gnaw at the pit of our stomachs, we had cut down our meals to the minimum amount of food that would keep us alive; we were so weak we no longer were sure where our feet were going to when we put them down. But all the fish we had to smoke was two or three. And on Friday night we ate the last bit of our flour; it was used to thicken the water in which we boiled for supper some entrails, a namaycush head and the two little trout we had caught during the day.
All that night the northwest gale was accompanied by gusts of rain and snow. On Saturday (September 19th) the mercury dropped to 32 degrees, and the air was raw. Not a single fish were we able to catch. George and I smoked a pipe for breakfast, while Hubbard imbibed the atmosphere. A bit of the smoked fish we had hoped to keep, boiled with a dash of pea meal in the water, did us for luncheon and supper.
Heretofore we had slept each rolled in his own blanket, but it was so cold in the tent that night we had to make a common bed by spreading one blanket beneath us on a tarpaulin and lying spoon-fashion with the other two blankets drawn over us. The blankets were decidedly narrow for three men to get under, and it was necessary for us to lie very close together indeed; but our new method enabled us to keep fairly warm and we continued its use.
On Sunday (September 20th) the temperature dropped to 29 and the squalls continued. In desperation we broke camp in the morning and tried to cross the lake with our outfit, but the wind soon drove us back to shelter. While we were out on the lake we caught a namaycush on the troll, and this fish we had for luncheon, together with some cranberries we found on a ridge near where we had taken refuge on the shore. A little later I was attacked with vomiting and faintness. When I tried to swing an axe, I reeled and all but lost consciousness.
Late in the afternoon the squalls subsided, and we made another attempt to escape from the prison in which we were slowly starving. Fortunately the wind continued fair and there were no cross-seas; and on and on we paddled in the direction of—home! Oh, the great relief of it! For nearly two weeks we had been held on that dreadful lake. Day after day the relentless storm had raged, while hunger leered at us and tormented us with its insistent clamour as we, with soaked rags and shivering bodies, strove vainly to prevent the little stock of food from diminishing that we felt was our only hold on life. And now we were going home!
Darkness had long since fallen when we reached an island near the point where we had entered the lake. In a driving rain we pitched our camp. For supper we had the last of the little stock of fish that we had been able to dry. This meant that, in addition to our stock of tea, the only food we had left on hand was sixteen pounds of pea meal. But we did not worry. We were going home. And on Monday morning, September 21st, though the wind was again blowing a gale, and the passage among the spray-covered rocks was filled with risk, we paddled over to the mainland, ready to begin our race for life down the trail we had fought so hard to ascend.
XII. THE BEGINNING OF THE RETREAT
Upon reaching the mainland we stopped to assort and dry our baggage. All of us felt we had entered upon a race against starvation, and everything that was not strictly necessary to aid our progress to Northwest River Post we threw away. In addition to many odds and ends of clothing we abandoned about three pounds of tea. Tea was the one thing of which we had carried an abundance, and though we had used it freely, we had more than we deemed necessary to carry us through.
While we were nearing the shore, we sighted three little ducklings bobbing up and down in the tumbling waves and repeatedly diving. They were too far off to reach with a pistol, and Hubbard took his rifle. It seemed almost like attacking a fly with a cannon, but with our thoughts on grub, none of us was impressed with its incongruity then. After Hubbard had fired two or three shots, one of the ducklings suddenly turned over. We paddled to it with feverish haste, and found that it had been stunned by a ball that had barely grazed its bill. It was a lucky shot; for if the bullet had gone through the duckling's body there would have been little left of it to eat.
While George and I were drying the camp equipment, Hubbard caught five small trout in the stream that emptied into the lake at this point—the stream we had followed down. These fish we ate for luncheon. Once more ready to start, we pushed up the stream to the place where we had last camped before reaching the lake, and there we again pitched our tent. For supper we made soup of the duckling. It was almost like coming home to reach this old camping ground, and it cheered us considerably. The first day of the forty-mile portage we had to make before reaching fairly continuous water had been, as a whole, depressing. Rain, accompanied by a cold wind, began to fall early in the afternoon. The weather was so cold, in fact, that the trout would not rise after we caught the five near the lake, and this made us uneasy as to how the fishing would prove farther down the trail. The day's journey, moreover, had made it clear, in spite of our efforts to hide the fact from one another, that we were much weaker than when we last had made portages. We had reached the stage where none of us could carry the canoe alone. Decidedly we were not the same men that had set out so blithely from the post eight weeks before. As for myself, I had shortened my belt thirteen inches since July 15th.
It became the custom now for George and me to go ahead with the canoe for a mile or so while Hubbard brought forward in turn each of the three packs for about an eighth of a mile. Then George and I would return to him, and, each taking a pack, we would advance to the place where the canoe had been left. Sometimes, however, this routine was varied, Hubbard now and then helping George with the canoe while I juggled with the packs until they returned to me. Despite the fact that we had fewer as well as lighter packs to carry than on the up trail, our progress was slower because of our increasing weakness. Whereas it had taken us three days on the up trail to portage the fifteen miles between Lake Mary and Windbound Lake, it now took us five days to cover the same ground.
On Tuesday, the 22d, the second day of our portage, it rained all the time, and for the greater part of the day we floundered through marshes and swamps. We caught no fish and killed no game. Hubbard tried to stalk a goose in a swamp, wading above his knees in mud and water to get a shot; but he finally had to fire at such long range that he missed, and the bird flew away, to our great disappointment. Our day's food consisted of half a pound of pea meal for each man. During the day Hubbard had an attack of vomiting, and at night, when we reached our second camping ground above the lake, we were all miserable and thoroughly soaked, though still buoyed up by the knowledge that we were going home.
The cold rain continued on the 23d until late in the day, when the sky cleared and evening set in cold and crisp. That day I was attacked with vomiting. Our food was the same as on the day previous, with the addition of some mossberries and cranberries we found on the barren ridge over which we crossed. It was another day of hard portaging on stomachs crying for food, and when we pitched our camp we were so exhausted that we staggered like drunken men. Silent and depressed, we took our places on the seat of boughs that George had prepared by the roaring fire; but after we had eaten our meagre supper and drunk our tea, and our clothes had begun to dry in the genial glow, we found our tongues again; and, half forgetting that, starving and desperate, we were still in the midst of the wilderness, far from human help, we once more talked of the homes that were calling to us over the dreary wastes; talked of the dear people that would welcome us back and of the good things they would give us to eat; talked until far into the night, dreading to go to the cold tent and the wet blankets.
We awoke on the morning of the 24th to find six inches of snow on the ground and the storm still raging, with the temperature down to 28. Soon after we began plodding through the snow on a pea-soup breakfast, George left us to hunt geese. The night before he had told Hubbard he would kill a goose in the morning, if he were permitted to go on with a rifle. He had heard the geese flying, and believed they had alighted for the night in a small lake some distance ahead. The knowledge that he was a famous goose hunter "down the bay" made his confidence impressive; still we were doubtful about his succeeding in his quest; for the geese had been so hard to approach of late we were beginning to fear we should never shoot any more. For half an hour after George had taken his pack and a rifle and gone on, Hubbard and I slowly followed his trail through the snow. Then in the distance we heard a "Bang!" and after a short interval, "Bang!—Bang!"—three shots in all.
"He's seen them," said Hubbard.
"And shot one," said I.
"I'm not so sure of that," returned Hubbard; "I'm afraid they flew and he tried to wing them, and if that's the case the chances are against him."
Presently we came upon George's pack near the western end of the little lake, and we stopped and anxiously waited for him to appear. In a few moments he came.
"You can kick me," he began with apparent disgust; then, observing the look of keen disappointment upon Hubbard's haggard face, he quickly changed his tone. "That's all right, fellus," he said; "I got a goose. I saw 'em out there fifty yards from shore, and I bellied along through the brush as close as I dared, and fired and knocked one over. Then the others flew out about two hundred yards farther, and I thought I'd chance another shot; for if I didn't try I wouldn't get another, and if I did I might knock one over. So I shot again and did get another. Then the rest of the flock rose up, and I tried to wing one, but missed, and they've gone now. But there's two dead ones out in the lake."
Joy?—the word fails to express our feeling. George and I hurried back for the canoe, and when we paddled out, there, sure enough, were the two geese, one dead and the other helpless with a broken wing. George ended the life of the wounded goose with a pistol, and we paddled back to our packs and built a big fire in the lee of a thick clump of trees. The snow had turned into a fierce, driving rain, but that did not bother us. To dress the geese did not take long. We put the giblets and entrails to boil immediately, and, to quiet our impatience while waiting for them to cook, George cut from the necks a piece of skin and fat for each of us. These we warmed on the end of a stick, taking great care not to heat them enough to permit a single drop of the oil to escape from the fat; then, half raw as they were, we ate them down greedily and found them delicious. It was really wonderful how much happiness that bit of game brought us. As we were eating the giblets and entrails and drinking the broth, we freely admitted that never before had we sat down to such a banquet.
"And," remarked Hubbard, "just think how original is our menu. I'll bet there isn't a menu in New York that contains boiled goose entrails."
On the 25th the fierce northwest gale still blew, and the air was again filled with snow. But still we pushed onward. Let the wind blow, and the snow and rain come as they liked, they could not stop us—we were going home. We portaged this day to another of our old camps by a small lake. On the evening before we had eaten the wings and feet of the geese boiled. For breakfast we had half a goose, for luncheon we had pea soup, and at night we had the other half of the goose left over from the morning. We scorched the bones in the fire and ate even them. These meals did not begin to satisfy our appetites, but they were sufficient to give us a little new life.
While we were sitting around the fire Hubbard wished me to promise to spend Thanksgiving Day with him that year—if we reached home in time. For two years I had spent the day at his home, and Thanksgiving, he said, must be our reunion day always. No matter what happened, we must always make a special effort to spend that day together in the years to come. We must never drift apart. We were brothers, comrades—more than brothers. We had endured the greatest hardships together, had fought our way through that awful country together, had starved together; and never had there been misunderstanding, never a word of dissension.
From this time on we talked less about what we should eat when we reached civilisation. True, we would sometimes lapse into restaurant and home-dinner talks, but we fought against it as much as possible, realising that to permit our thoughts to dwell on good things to eat accentuated our distress. Gradually we talked more and more of childhoods days, and incidents, long forgotten, came vividly before us. It was a psychological phenomenon I cannot account for; but it was the case with all of us—Hubbard, George, and myself.
During these trying times we had one never-failing source of amusement, which, because it was the only one, was all the more valued and taken advantage of. I refer to our appearance. George had shaved once since we had gone into the country, but neither Hubbard nor I had known the caress of a razor since we left the post on July 15th. None of us had felt the loving touch of the scissors upon his hair since leaving New York in June, and our heads were shaggy masses of more or less dishevelled and tangled locks. Long-continued exposure to sun and storm and the smoke of campfires had covered our faces with a deep coat of brown. Our eyes were sunken deep into their sockets. Our lips were drawn to thin lines over our teeth. The skin of our faces and hands was stretched tight over the bones. We were almost as thin, and almost the colour of the mummies one sees in museums.
As for our clothing, it was still hanging upon us, and that is about all that can be said of it. Our trousers, full of rents, were tied together with pieces of fish line. The bottoms of our moccasins were so hopelessly gone that we had our feet wrapped in rags, with pieces of fishline tied around what remained of the uppers. Our flannel shirts were full of rents. Around our necks we wore red bandanna handkerchiefs. Our soft felt hats had become shapeless things so full of rents that if it were not for the bandanna handkerchiefs we wore in them our hair would have protruded at every point.
Frequently we would picture ourselves walking into our homes or through the streets of New York as we then were, and laugh at the thought. "Wallace," Hubbard would say, "the cops wouldn't let you walk a block; they'd run you in sure. You're the most disreputable-looking individual I ever saw, by long odds." And I would retort: "I'd make a good second to you; for you're the worst that ever happened."
It was on Saturday morning, the 26th, that we reached the western end of Lake Mary and completed fifteen miles of our forty-mile portage. We pitched our tent, as we had done before, on the site of the old Indian camp, near the brook George had pointed out as a good fishing place. The rain and wind continued in the morning, but at midday the sun came out and we were able to dry our blankets. Always we waited for the sun to dry the blankets; for we had had so many articles of clothing burned while hanging before the fire we did not dare to trust the blankets near it.
While we were following our old trail to the lake, Hubbard decapitated a duck with a rifle bullet, and we went into camp with high hopes of more food in the way of fish. Hubbard's rod was hopelessly broken, so he took mine, now much wound with linen thread, but, still usable if not very pliable, and while I made camp and George prepared the duck for luncheon, he caught twenty trout of fair size, which caused our spirits to run high.
Luncheon over, Hubbard resumed his fishing, and I stole away with my rifle along the marshes in the hope of seeing a caribou. When I returned towards dusk without having sighted any game, I found a stage over the fire and George hanging up trout to dry. Hubbard, it appeared, had caught ninety-five more. Our exultation knew no bounds. We had not dreamed of any such catch as that. By remaining in camp and fishing another day, we should, at this rate, be able to dry nearly enough trout to see us through to Lake Disappointment.
We were as happy and as free from care as children. Our great success here made us feel sure that down below, where we had caught so many fish on our inbound journey, we should again get plenty—all we should need, in fact—and our safety seemed assured. We admitted we had felt doubts as to the outcome, which we had not expressed out of consideration for one another. But now we felt we could look forward to reaching home as a certainty. And, feeling freer to indulge our fancies, our talk at once returned to the good things we were going to eat.
Sunday, the 27th, was warm and clear, with a southwest wind, and everything seemed favourable for more fish. For breakfast we ate the last of our goose, and for luncheon trout entrails and roe. While George and I were drying fish during the forenoon, Hubbard caught fifty more. One big fellow had sores all over his body, and we threw it aside. Towards noon the fish ceased to rise, the pool probably being fished out. After luncheon I again left camp with my rifle in the vain hope of sighting a caribou.
The gloom of night was beginning to gather when I returned. As I approached, stepping noiselessly on the mossy carpet of the forest, I saw Hubbard sitting alone by the bright-burning fire, mending his moccasins. Something in his attitude made me pause. He was bareheaded, and his long, unkempt hair hung half way down to his shoulders. As he sat there in the red glow of the fire, with the sombre woods beyond and the lonely stretch of lake below, and I took note of his emaciated form and his features so haggard and drawn, I seemed for the first time to realise fully the condition to which the boy had been brought by his sufferings. And while I stood there, still unobserved, I heard him softly humming to himself:
"Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee."
How strangely the old hymn sounded among those solitudes! After a little I again started to advance, and as I stepped upon a dry branch Hubbard stopped his singing and looked up quickly.
"Wallace," he exclaimed, "I'm glad to see you! George and I have been having a long Sunday talk and we missed you. We were wishing you'd come. No luck?"
"No," said I; "nothing but old trails; not a fresh track anywhere. What were you talking about?"
"We had a chapter from the Bible and a little talk about it. I've been thinking about my class of boys in the Sunday-school at Congers, and how glad I'll be to get back to them again; I've a lot I want to tell them. It's restful just to think of that little church, and this Sunday afternoon I've been thinking about it a good deal."
George was lying in the tent, and Hubbard and I joined him and continued our conversation there. Hubbard spoke of the luck we had had in catching trout, saying: "It's God's way of taking care of us so long as we do our best." It was wonderful to see how, as his body became weaker, his spirit grew brighter. Steadily he became more gentle and affectionate; the more he suffered the more his faith in the God of his youth seemed to increase.
Early the next morning (September 28th) George, who was the first to be stirring, poked his head into the tent, and with an air of mystery asked me for my pistol. A moment later we heard a shot. Hubbard and I both looked out, to see George returning with empty hands and an expression of deep chagrin.
"What are you shooting at now?" asked Hubbard.
"The blackest marten I ever saw," said George. "I knocked him over, but he got on his feet again and was into the lake and away before I could reach him. The beggar was right here in camp tryin' to make off with that fish with sores we threw away. He might have made good eatin' if we'd got him."
As the day was squally with snow, and a heavy wind was kicking up a sea on the lake, we decided to remain in camp another day and smoke the fish a little more. While we kept the smoke going under the stage, we sat by the fire and chatted. The day's rations consisted of three fish for each man at each of the three meals. By way of a little variety we roasted some of the fish on sticks. We were all very weak, but George explained that away.
"The Indians," he said, "always go to pieces after they've been hard up for a while and finally get grub. Then they feed up and get strong again. It's the grub comin' all of a sudden that makes you weak. Your mind feelin' easier, you feel you can't do anything."
Hubbard and I agreed that George was right. Our minds certainly had relaxed; homeward bound with enough fish on hand to last us for several days, we had no doubts as to the future. We decided, however, that whatever the weather conditions in the morning might be, we should break camp and push on with the greatest possible speed, as it was the part of wisdom to make our supply of fish carry us down the back trail as far as possible. So we went to our blankets more than eager for the morning's start, and more confident we should get out safely than at any time since we began the retreat.
XIII. HUBBARD'S GRIT
Two things soon became plain after our struggle back to the post was resumed. One was that winter was fast closing in upon us; the other was that Hubbard's condition was such as might well cause the gravest concern. The morning that we broke camp on Lake Mary (Tuesday, September 29th), was ushered in by a gale from the west and driving snow. The mercury had dropped to 24, and all of us were a-shiver when we issued from the tent. While George and I were preparing the outfit for travel Hubbard caught twelve trout in the pool. On the lake we encountered as heavy a sea as our little canoe could weather, and we had to struggle hard for an hour to reach the farther shore. Upon landing, Hubbard was again attacked with diarrhoea. George and I carried the packs up the high bank to a sheltered spot in the woods, but when I returned to Hubbard he insisted on helping me to carry the canoe. Up the steep ascent we laboured, and then, as we put the canoe down, Hubbard said:
"I'm dead tired and weak, boys; I think I'll have to take a little rest."
After building him a roaring log fire, George and I carried the canoe a mile and a half ahead through the driving snow, which was of the wet kind that clings to every bush and tree, robing the woods in a pure and spotless white that inevitably suggests fairyland. But I was not in a mood to admire the beauty of it all. Upon our return to Hubbard he announced that we should have to camp where we were for the day, that he might have time to recuperate. The delay affected him keenly. We should eat nearly as much food in our idleness as we should in moving onward, and the thought of drawing on our thirty-five pounds of dried fish without making progress was anything but pleasant.
The wintry weather did not worry us; for we knew the snow then falling would disappear before the ground became covered for good, and we felt sure we should reach the Susan Valley before freezing-up time, in which event ice would assist rather than retard our progress, as even with the Susan River open it would be impossible to use the canoe in its shoal, rapid waters. As for Hubbard's condition, I suppose it worried me more than anyone else. George had failed to note the signs of increasing weakness in our leader that I had, and Hubbard himself was so under the influence of his indomitable spirit that for a long time he apparently did not realise the possibility of an utter collapse.
By the campfire that night he was confident we should be able to make up the next day for the delay caused by his weakness. For a long time he sat silently gazing into the fire, but as he had just been expressing a longing to see his wife, if only for a moment, I knew he did not see the blaze before him. He was looking into another fire—a big, wood fire in an old-fashioned fireplace in the cheerful sitting-room of a far-away Congers home, and his wife was by his side. He put out his arm to draw her closer to him. I could see it all and understand—understand the look of perfect happiness that his fancy's picture brought to his face. But when George arose to throw some more logs on the fire, the shower of sparks that flew heavenward brought him suddenly back to reality—to the snow-covered woods of Labrador.
"I hope we shall be able to find another house in Congers with a fireplace such as our old one had," he said, turning to me as if he knew I had been reading his thoughts. "In the evening we sit long before the fire without lighting a lamp. Sometimes we make believe we're camping, and make our tea and broil some bacon or melt some cheese for our crackers over the coals, and have a jolly time. I want you, b'y, to visit us often and join us in those teas, and see if you don't find them as delightful as we do."
The next morning (September 30th) Hubbard said he was much better, and gave the order to advance. We made a short march, camping just beyond the long swamp on the edge of the boulder-strewn country we had found so hard to traverse on the upward trail. On the way we stopped for a pot of tea at a place in the swamp where we had previously camped, and there discovered a treasure; namely, the bones of a caribou hoof we had used in making soup. We seized upon the bones eagerly, put them in the fire and licked the grease off them as it was drawn out by the heat. Then we cracked them and devoured the bit of grease we found inside.
It was agreed that from this point George and I should carry the canoe about two miles ahead, while Hubbard carried the packs to a convenient place beyond the swamps and there pitched camp. It was about dusk when George and I, after a laborious struggle among the boulders and brush, put the canoe down and turned back. As we approached the place that had been selected for a camp, we looked expectantly for the glow of the fire, but none was to be seen. At length we heard axe strokes, and came upon Hubbard cutting wood. He greeted us with rather a wan smile.
"I've been slow, boys," he said. "I haven't got the firewood cut yet, nor the boughs for the bed. I've only just pitched the tent."
"I'll get the other axe," I said quickly, "and help you while George builds the fire."
"No, no," he protested; "you get the boughs while I'm getting the wood."
"I can get the boughs after we have the wood chopped; it won't take me long and you must let me help you."
At that Hubbard said, "Thank you, b'y," in a tone of great relief. Then he added slowly, "I'm still a bit weak, and it's hard to work fast to-night."
It was the first time since we left the post that he consented to anyone doing any part of his share of the work. It is true that since we had turned back I had been relieving him of his share of carrying the canoe, but I was able to do so only by telling him I much preferred toting the boat to juggling with the packs. From this time on, however, he consented, with less resistance, to George or myself doing this or that while he rested by the fire. The fact was he had reached the stage where he was kept going only by his grit.
October began with tremendous gales and a driving rain mixed with sleet, that removed all traces of the snow. The sleet stung our faces, and we frequently had to take refuge from the blasts in the lee of bushes and trees so as to recover our breath; but we managed to advance our camp three miles on the first, pitching the tent on the shore of one of the limpid ponds among the boulders. For supper we ate the last of the dried fish, which again left us with only the diminishing stock of pea meal, and none of us did much talking when we crouched about the fire.
On Friday (October 2d), with high hopes of getting fish, we hurried ahead with our packs to the pool where Hubbard had caught the big trout with his emergency kit and the tamarack pole, and near which we had camped for a day while he rested and George made a trip to the mountains from which he discovered Lake Mary and Windbound Lake. The sight of the old camping place brought back to me the remembrance of how sick Hubbard had been there a month before, and how the thought had come to me to try to make him give up the struggle.
The weather was very unfavourable for trouting—a cold west wind was blowing accompanied by snow squalls—but Hubbard caught two within a few minutes, and George boiled them with a bit of pea meal for luncheon. Then, leaving Hubbard to try for more fish, George and I went back to the canoe. While we were returning to camp, George shot a duck with my rifle. It was a very fat black duck, and we gloated long over its fine condition. Only three more trout rewarded Hubbard's afternoon's work. However, we had duck for supper, and were nearer home, and that comforted us.
I remember that while we sat by the fire that evening George produced from somewhere in the recesses of his pockets a New York Central Railroad timetable on which was printed a buffet lunch menu, and handed it to us with the suggestion that we give our orders for breakfast. Hubbard examined it and quickly said:
"Give me a glass of cream, some graham gems, marmalade, oatmeal and cream, a jelly omelette, a sirloin steak, lyonnaise potatoes, rolls, and a pot of chocolate. And you might bring me also," he added, "a plate of griddle cakes and maple syrup."
Every dish on that menu card from end to end we thoroughly discussed, our ultimate conclusion being that each of us would take a full portion of everything on the list and might repeat the order.
It was on this evening also that, while calculating the length of time it would take us to travel from point to point on our back trail, we began the discussion as to whether it would be better to stick to the canoe on the "big river" (the Beaver) and follow it down to its mouth, wherever that might be, or abandon the canoe at the place where we had portaged into the river from Lake Elson, and make a dash overland with light packs to the Susan Valley and down that valley to the hunters' cabins we had seen at the head of Grand Lake, where we hoped we might find a cache of provisions. Hubbard was strongly in favour of the latter plan, while George and I favoured the former. As the reader knows, I had a great dread of the Susan Valley, and expressed my feelings freely. But we all had the idea that the "big river" emptied into Goose Bay (the extreme western end of Hamilton Inlet), and Hubbard reasoned that we might reach the broad waters of the bay far from a house, be windbound indefinitely and die of starvation on the shore. On the other hand, we were sure of the route through the Susan Valley, and, in his opinion, it would be better to bear the ills we had borne before than fly to others we know not of. I cannot deny that his argument had weight, but we decided that for the present we should hold the matter in abeyance. One thing we felt reasonably sure of, and that was we should get fish in the big river, and we eagerly counted the days it would take us to reach it.
Bright and cold and crisp was Saturday morning (October 3d), with black wind-driven clouds and occasional snow squalls later in the day. About noon, when Hubbard had gone ahead with a pack, George and I sighted two small black ducks while we were canoeing across a pond. They were quietly swimming about fifty yards in front of us. I passed my rifle ahead to George. He carefully knelt in the canoe, and took a deliberate aim while I held my breath. Then, Crack! went the rifle, and but one duck rose on the wing. Quick as a flash, without removing the rifle from his shoulder, George threw the lever forward and back. Instantly the rifle again spoke, and the bird in the air tumbled over and over into the water. The first duck had been decapitated; the other received a bullet through its body.
The moment was intense; for we had only a little fish for breakfast, and the outlook for other meals had seemed dismal indeed; but George was stoicism itself; not a word did he utter, nor did a feature of his face change. When, after picking up the ducks, we touched the shore, I jumped out, took his hand and said "George, you're a wonder." But he only grinned in his good-natured way and remarked: "We needed 'em." Tying the birds' legs together, he slung them over his shoulder, and proudly we marched to the place where Hubbard was awaiting us, to make his heart glad with our good fortune. One of the ducks we ate on the spot, and the other we had for supper at our camp by a little pond among the moonlit hills.
The thermometer registered only 10 degrees above zero on Sunday morning (October 4th), but there was not a cloud in the sky, and we should have enjoyed the crisp, clear air had it not been for the ever-present spectre of starvation. All the food we had besides the pea meal was two of the fish Hubbard had caught two days before. One of these we ate for breakfast, boiled with a little pea meal. Our old trail led us up during the forenoon to the shore of one of the larger of the small lakes with which the country abounded. This lake we crossed with difficulty, being compelled to break the ice ahead of the canoe with our paddles.
On the opposite shore we stopped to make a fire for tea—that was all we thought we should have for luncheon; just tea. George stepped into the timber to get wood, and in a moment returned and asked me for my pistol.
"I saw a partridge in there," he said quietly.
Presently Hubbard and I heard the pistol crack, and we counted, at short intervals, four shots.
"There's something up," said Hubbard, and we started to our feet just as George came in view with a grin on his face and four spruce-grouse in his hand. He always did those things in that quiet, matter-of-fact way.
Two of the birds George cooked immediately, and as he served to each an equal share, Hubbard said:
"Boys, we should thank the Lord for this food. It has seemed sometimes, I know, as if He had forgotten us; but He has not. Just now when we needed food so much He gave us these partridges. Let us thank Him."
So we bowed our heads for a moment, we three gaunt, ragged men, sitting there by our fire in the open, with the icy lake at our backs and the dark wilderness of fir trees before us.
During the afternoon we bagged two more grouse. Hubbard shot them as they fluttered up before him on the trail, and a meal on the morrow was assured. The day's work practically completed our forty-mile portage; for we camped at night on the first little lake north of Lake Disappointment. It was well that we had about reached fairly continuous water. None of us would have been able to stand much longer the strain of those rough portages day after day. Fortunate as we had been in getting game at critical moments since leaving Windbound Lake, the quantity of food we had eaten was far below that which was necessary to sustain the strength of men who had to do hard physical work.
It had become so that when we tried to sit down our legs would give way and we would tumble down. Hubbard was failing daily. He habitually staggered when he walked, and on this last day of our long portage he came near going all to pieces nervously. When he started to tell me something about his wife's sister, he could not recall her name, although it had been perfectly familiar, and this and other lapses of memory appeared to frighten him. For a long time he sat very still with his face buried in his hands, doubtless striving to rally his forces. And the most pitiable part of it was his fear that George and I should notice his weakness and lose courage.
But he rallied—rallied so as again to become the inspirer of George and me, he who was the weakest physically of the three.
XIV. BACK THROUGH THE RANGES
In our camp on the first little lake north of Lake Disappointment we ate on Monday morning (October 5th) the last of the grouse we had killed on the previous day, and when we started forward we again were down to the precious little stock of pea meal. In a storm of snow and rain we floundered with the packs and canoe through a deep marsh, until once more we stood on the shore of the big lake where we had spent the weary days searching for a river—Lake Disappointment. We built a fire on the shore to dry our rags and warm ourselves; for we were soaked through and shivering with the cold. Then we launched the canoe and paddled eastward.
Late in the afternoon we landed on an island that contained a semi-barren knoll, but which otherwise was wooded with small spruce. On the knoll we found an abundance of mossberries, and soon after we had devoured them we happened upon a supper in the form of two spruce-grouse. George and Hubbard each shot one. The sun's journey across the sky was becoming noticeably shorter and shorter, and before we had realised that the day was spent, night began to close in upon us, and we pitched camp on the island.
In the morning (October 6) our breakfast flew right into camp. George crawled out early to build a fire, and a moment later stuck his head in the tent with the words, "Your pistol, Wallace." I handed it out to him, and almost immediately we heard a shot. Then George reappeared, holding up another spruce-grouse.
"This grub came right to us," he said; "I knocked the beggar over close by the fire."
While we were eating the bird, Hubbard told us he had been dreaming during the night of home. Nearly every day now we heard that he had been dreaming the night before of his wife or his mother; they were always giving him good things to eat, or he was going to good dinners with them.
It had rained hard during the night, but with early morning there came again the mixture of rain and snow we had endured on the day before. When we put off in the canoe, we headed for the point where we expected to make the portage across the two-mile neck of land that separated Lake Disappointment from Lost Trail Lake; but soon we were caught by a terrific gale, and for half an hour we sat low in the canoe doing our best with the paddles to keep it headed to the wind and no one speaking a word. The foam dashed over the sides of our little craft, soaking us from head to foot. Tossed violently about by the big seas, we for a time expected that every moment would be our last. Had George been less expert with the stern paddle, we surely should have been swamped. As it was we managed, after a desperate struggle, to gain the lee side of a small, rocky island, upon which we took refuge.
At length the wind abated and the lake became calmer, and, venturing out once more, we made for the mainland some distance to the west of where we had intended to make our portage. There we stumbled upon a river of considerable size flowing in a southwesterly direction from Lake Disappointment into Lost Trail Lake. This river we had missed on the up trail and here had lost the old Indian trail to Michikamau. I volunteered to take my rifle and hunt across the neck of land separating the two lakes while Hubbard and George ran the rapids; but presently I heard them calling to me, and, returning to the river, found them waiting on the bank.
"We'll camp just below here for the night," said Hubbard, "and finish the river in the morning. I couldn't manage my end of the canoe in a rapid we were shooting and we got on a rock. You'd better shoot the rapids with George after this."
I suppose Hubbard's weakness prevented him from turning the canoe quickly enough when occasion required, and he realised it.
All we had to eat that night was a little thin soup made from the pea meal, and an even smaller quantity had to serve us for breakfast. In the morning (October 7th) we shot the rapids without incident down into Lost Trail Lake, and, turning to the eastward, were treated to a delightful view of the Kipling Mountains, now snow-capped and cold-looking, but appearing to us so much like old friends that it did our hearts good to see them. It was an ideal Indian summer day, the sun shining warmly down from a cloudless sky. Looking at the snow-capped peaks that bounded the horizon in front of me, I thought of the time when I had stood gazing at them from the other side, and of the eagerness I had felt to discover what lay hidden beyond.
"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges— Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!"
Well, we had gone. And we had found what lay hidden behind the ranges. But were we ever to get out to tell about it?
We stopped on the shore of Lost Trail Lake to eat some badly-needed cranberries and mossberries. The mossberries, having been frozen, were fairly sweet, and they modified, to some extent, the acid of the cranberries, so that taken together they made a luncheon for which we, in our great need, were duly grateful. After eating as many of the berries as our stomachs would hold, we were able to pick a pan of them to take with us.
Paddling on, we passed through the strait connecting Lost Trail Lake with Lake Hope, and, recalling with grim smiles the enthusiastic cheers we had sent up there a few weeks before, sped rapidly across Lake Hope to the entrance of our old mountain pass, camping for the night on a ridge near the old sweat holes of the medicine men. Our supper consisted of a little more pea soup and half of the panful of berries.
While we were lying spoon-fashion under the blankets at night, it was the custom for a man who got tired of lying on one side to say "turn," which word would cause the others to flop over immediately, usually without waking. On this night, however, I said "turn over," and as we all flopped, Hubbard, who had been awake, remarked: "That makes me think of the turnovers and the spicerolls mother used to make for me." And then he and I lay for an hour and talked of the baking days at the homes of our childhood. Under-the-blanket talks like this were not infrequent. "Are you awake, b'y?" Hubbard would ask. "Yes, b'y," I would reply, and so we would begin. If we happened to arouse George, which was not usual, Hubbard would insist on his describing over and over again the various Indian dishes he had prepared.
Weak as we were upon leaving Lake Hope (October 8), we did an heroic day's work. We portaged the entire six miles through the mountain pass, camping at night on the westernmost of the lakes that constitute the headwaters of the Beaver River, once more on the other side of the ranges. We did this on a breakfast of pea soup and the rest of our berries, and a luncheon of four little trout that Hubbard caught in the stream that flows through the pass. I shot a spruce grouse in the pass, and this bird we divided between us for supper. It was a terrible day. The struggle through the brush and up the steep inclines with the packs and the canoe so exhausted me that several times I seemed to be on the verge of a collapse, and I found it hard to conceal my condition. Once Hubbard said to me:
"Speak stronger, b'y. Put more force in your voice. It's so faint George'll surely notice it, and it may scare him."
That was always the way with Hubbard. Despite his own pitiable condition, he was always trying to help us on and give us new courage. As a matter of fact, his own voice was getting so weak and low that we frequently had to ask him to repeat.
And the day ended in a bitter disappointment. On our uptrail we had had a good catch of trout at the place where the stream flowing out of the pass fell into the lake near our camp, and it was the hope of another good catch there that kept us struggling on to reach the end of the pass before night. But Hubbard whipped the pool at the foot of the fall in vain. Not a single fish rose. The day had been bright and sunshiny, but the temperature was low and the fish had gone to deeper waters.
It was a dismal camp. The single grouse we had for supper served only to increase our craving for food. And there we were, with less than two pounds of pea meal on hand and the fish deserting us, more than one hundred and fifty miles from the post at Northwest River. By the fire Hubbard again talked of home.
"I dreamed last night," he said, "that you and I, Wallace, were very weak and very hungry, and we came all at once upon the old farm in Michigan, and mother was there, and she made us a good supper of hot tea biscuits with maple syrup and honey to eat on them. And how we ate and ate!"
But George's customary grin was missing. In silence he took the tea leaves from the kettle and placed them on a flat stone close by the fire, and in silence he occasionally stirred them with a twig that he broke from a bush at his back. At length, the tea leaves having dried sufficiently, he filled his pipe from them, and I filled my pipe. We had not had any tobacco to smoke for many days.
The silence continued. On my right sat George, his cheeks sunken, his eyes deep down in their sockets, his long black hair falling over his ears—there he sat stiffly erect, puffing his tea leaves with little apparent satisfaction and gazing stoically into the fire. I could guess what was passing through his mind—the stories of the Indians that starved.
On my left was Hubbard. He had assumed the attitude that of late had become characteristic when he was dreaming of his wife and his mother and his far-away home. His elbows were resting on his knees, and his hands were supporting his head. His long hair hid his bony fingers and framed his poor, wan face. His sunken eyes, with their look of wistful longing, were fixed on the blazing logs.
The silence became so oppressive that I had to break it:
"George," I said, "were you never hungry before?"
"Never in my life was short of grub till now," he answered shortly.
At that Hubbard, aroused from his reverie, looked up.
"Well, I can tell you, George," he said, "there are worse places than Labrador to starve in."
"How's that?" grunted George.
"If you had been as hungry as I have been in New York City, you'd know what I mean," said Hubbard. "It's a heap worse to be hungry where there's lots of grub around you than in the bush where there's none. I remember that when I first went to New York, and was looking for work, I found myself one rainy night with only five cents in my pocket. It was all the money I had in the world, and I hadn't any friends in the city, and I didn't want to write home, because nearly all the people there had no faith in my venture. I was soaking wet and good and hungry; I hadn't been eating much for several days. Well, I went to a bakery and blew in my last nickel on stale rolls and crullers and took them to my room. Then I took off my wet clothes and got into bed to get warm and snug, and there I ate my rolls and crullers, and they were bully. Yes, I remember that although my room rent was overdue, and I didn't know where my breakfast was coming from, I was supremely happy; I sort of felt I was doing the best I could."
We went to bed that night feeling that our lives now depended on whether fish could be caught below.
More than anxious were we for the morrow, because then we should go to the first rapid on the Beaver River below the lakes, and there in the pool, where two fishings had yielded us more than one hundred and thirty trout on the up trail, test our fortunes.
The morning (October 9th) dawned crisp and wintry. The sun rose in a cloudless sky and set all the lake a-glinting. On the peaks of the Kipling Mountains the sunbeams kissed the snow, causing it to gleam and scintillate in brilliant contrast to the deep blue of the heavens above and the dark green of the forests below. Under normal circumstances we should have paused to drink in the beauty of it all; but as we in our faithful old canoe paddled quickly down over the lake I am afraid that none of us thought of anything save the outcome of the test we were to make of our fortunes at the rapid for which we were bound. It is difficult to be receptive to beauty when one has had only a little watered pea meal for breakfast after a long train of lean and hungry days. We were glad only that the sun was modifying the chill air of the dawn, thus increasing our chance of getting fish.
How friendly the narrow lake looked where we had seen the otter at play at sunset and where the loons had laughed at us so derisively. And the point, where we had camped that August night and roasted our goose seemed very homelike. We stopped there for a moment to look for bones. There were a few charred ones where the fire had been. They crumbled without much pressure, and we ate them. No trout were jumping in the lake now—its mirror-like surface was unbroken. All was still, very still. To our somewhat feverish imagination it seemed as if all nature were bating its breath as if tensely waiting for the outcome at the fishing pool.
I can hardly say what we expected. I fear my own faith was weak, but I believe Hubbard's was strong—his was the optimistic temperament. How glad we were to feel the river current as it caught the canoe and hurried it on to the rapid! Suddenly, as we turned a point in the stream, the sound of the rushing waters came to us. A few moments more and we were there. Just above the rapid we ran the canoe ashore, and Hubbard with his rod hurried down to the pool and cast a fly upon the water.
XV. GEORGE'S DREAM
Since the weather had become colder we always fished with bait, if any were available, and so, when after a few minutes a small trout took Hubbard's fly, he made his next cast with a fin cut from his first catch. Before he cast the fly, George and I ran the canoe through the rapid to a point just below the pool where we had decided to camp. Then, leaving George to finish the work of making camp, I took my rod and joined Hubbard. All day long, and until after dusk, we fished. We got sixty. But they were all tiny, not averaging more than six inches long.
The test of our fortunes was not encouraging. Hubbard especially was disappointed, as he had been cherishing the hope that we might catch enough to carry us well down the trail. And what were sixty little fish divided among three ravenous men! We ate fifteen of them for luncheon and eighteen for supper, and began to fear the worst. The pea meal now was down to one and a half pounds.
It was late when we gave up trying to get more fish, but we sat long by the fire considering the possibility of finding scraps at the camp down the Beaver where we had killed the caribou on August 12. The head, we remembered, had been left practically untouched, and besides the bones there were three hoofs lying about somewhere, if they had not been carried off by animals. We knew that these scraps had been rotting for two months, but we looked forward hopefully to reaching them on the morrow.
No lovelier morning ever dawned than that of Saturday (October 10th), and until midday the weather was balmy and warm; but in the afternoon clouds began to gather attended by a raw west wind. While George and I shot the rapids, Hubbard fished them, catching in all seventeen little trout. Some of the rapids George and I went through in the canoe we should never, under ordinary conditions, have dreamed of shooting. But George expressed the sentiments of all of us when he said: "We may as well drown as starve, and it's a blamed sight quicker." Only when the river made actual falls did George and I resort to portaging. However, we did not make the progress we had hoped, and much disappointed that we could not reach Camp Caribou that night, we camped at the foot of the last fall above the lake expansion on the shore of which George and I had ascended a hill to be rewarded with a splendid view of the country and the Kipling Mountains. Our day's food consisted of three trout each at each of our three meals.
Sunday (October 11th) was another perfect day. It was wintry, but we had become inured to the cold. We each had a pair of skin mittens, which although practically gone as to the palms, served to protect our hands from the winds. Before we started forward I read aloud John xvii. Again in the morning we divided nine little trout among us, and the remaining eight we had for luncheon. The weather was now so cold that do what we would we never again could induce a trout, large or small, to take the bait or rise to the fly.
In the course of the day George took two long shots at ducks, and missed both times; it would have been phenomenal if he hadn't. There was one fall that we could not shoot, and we landed on the bank to unload the canoe. All three of us tried to lift the canoe so as to carry it about thirty yards down to where we could again launch it, but we were unable to get it to our heads and it fell to ground with a crash. Then we looked at one another and understood. No one spoke, but we all understood. Up to this time Hubbard and I had kept up the fiction that we were "not so weak," but now all of us knew that concealment no longer was possible, and the clear perception came to us that if we ever got out of the wilderness it would be only by the grace of God.
With difficulty we dragged the canoe to the launching place, and on the way found the cleaning rod Hubbard's father had made for him, which had been lost while we were portaging around the fall on our upward journey. Hubbard picked the rod up tenderly and put it in the canoe.
An hour before sunset we reached Camp Caribou, the place where we had broiled those luscious steaks that 12th of August and had merrily talked and feasted far into the night. Having dragged the canoe up on the sandy shore, we did not wait to unload it, but at once staggered up the bank to begin our eager search for scraps. The head of the caribou, dried and worm-eaten, was where we had left it. The bones we had cut the meat from were there. The remnants of the stomach, partially washed away, were there. But we found only two hoofs. We had left three. Up and down and all around the camp we searched for that other hoof; but it was gone.
"Somebody's taken it," said George. "Somebody's taken it, sure—a marten or somebody."
When all the refuse we could find had been collected, and the tent had been pitched on the spot where it stood before, George got a fire going and prepared our banquet of bones and hoofs. The bit of hair that clung to the skin on the upper part of the hoofs he singed off by holding them a moment in the fire. Then, taking an axe, he chopped the hoofs and bones up together, and placed some of the mess in the kettle to boil. A really greasy, though very rancid, broth resulted. Some of the bones and particularly the hoofs were maggoty, but, as Hubbard said, the maggots seemed to make the broth the richer, and we drank it all. It tasted good. For some time we sat gnawing the gristle and scraps of decayed flesh that clung to the bones, and we were honestly thankful for our meal.