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"It may be that these fragments owe alone
To the fair setting of their circumstances—
The associations of time, scene, and audience —
Their place amid the pictures which fill up
The chambers of my memory." — WHITTIER.
WE RETRACE OUR COURSE.
WE arose the next morning, hoping to find it warm and pleasant, but the day presented the same appearance as its predecessor, — fog thick and low, with but slight change in the temperature.
Fred came down to the camp in the middle of the forenoon, and said he believed we should have more snow, and advised ns to go home unless we were prepared to stay three or four weeks.
With the present state of the weather I had no intention of doing that; if the sun had been shining bright and clear, with some prospect of the snow going off, we should have stopped; but two feet of snow in October was all I wanted to see, and we put everything in readiness for a start.
"I declare," said Morton, as we sat smoking, "I hate to have you go. If you could hold on two or three days longer you might carry home some venison."
"That is a great temptation," I acknowledged; "but yet I don't think I will venture to stay; first, on account of the weather, and, secondly, on account of the steamer."
"I won't deny that the weather is doubtful; but I don't believe the gale injured your boat any, secured as you say she was."
"It may be foolish on my part, but I can't help thinking she was damaged in that gale. I dreamed again last night that she sank."
"Oh, nonsense "cried Jack, sending forth several upward curling rings of smoke from his mouth. "The fact is, Captain, you are thinking about the boat all the time. If you did not let your mind run on it so much yon would not be troubled by so many doubts and misgivings. Likely enough the gale didn't reach down there at all."
"I know better," I replied; "such a gale of wind as that, a north-wester too, would surely have reached that distance. Why, it is not more than twenty miles in an air-line."
"It might have partially blown itself out before it reached there," suggested Morton. "Perhaps it did not blow more than half as hard there as it did here."
My companions tried to discourage my blue feelings, but did not succeed; but, as the subject was not a pleasant one, I did not pursue it any farther.
We had an early dinner, and bidding good-by to our friends, made our way to where we had left our boat. We found her well buried in snow, but soon had her all right and in the water. We put in our things, and between twelve and one started down the river. I gave a turn or two of the paddle, and we had reached the middle of the stream, and with the current in our favor we made good head-way. We soon passed the little Magalloway, now so buried in snow that you could scarcely tell where it was, and a few minutes later were shooting the Big Rips, which we found an easier job than forcing our way up.
"It's a little more like fun to come down these rapids," said Jack. "I tell you what, Captain, I shall never forget the chill that water gave me when I struck it. Great snakes! wasn't it cold "
"Decidedly chilly, Jack; but how would you have liked taking a bath in it?" and I looked at my companion with a smile.
"Do you mean naked?"
"Certainly, in Father Adam's original costume, excepting the fig-leaves."
"None of it for me. Do you take me for a Lap or a Greenlander? "
"I have read of people cutting holes through the ice in winter, and plunging naked into the water for fun. They thought it a nice way of taking a bath."
"Didn't they freeze?" queried Jack, looking at me as if I had been spinning a tough yarn.
"Not a bit of it."
"It's a pity they hadn't," cried Jack, with disgust.
The country presented a strange appearance as we made our way rapidly along: the dark lane of water before us, the white shores on either side, and, overhead, a gray blanket of mist, which was not more than ten or twelve feet above us. The tops of ordinary trees were lost in it, and it seemed as if some immense scythe had levelled the forest to a regular height. There was no wind, so we did not get the beautiful pictures that one sometimes gets when the fog is rapidly dissolved by a steady blow.
Once or twice we passed small birds, that gave voice to a few sweet notes as we floated by, as if astonished to meet a human biped at such a time. Jack said they were snow-birds, and said they had good courage to be out in such weather.
"Let me row now, Jack," I said, after my companion had pulled several miles; "I don't want you to row all the way down river."
"Keep your seat, Captain; I am doing well. I am not tired a bit. Pulling down river and pulling up are two very different things. Just watch the banks and see how we slide along!"
"I have noticed several times that we are making good head-way. But you need not do all the rowing on that account."
"Don't fret, Captain, as long as I don't kick. Iam not so bashful but what I will let you know when I am tired."
Just then we turned one of the sharp curves of the river, and I saw a blue heron standing on one leg, on the right-hand bank of the river, close to the water's edge.
"Look at that blue heron, Jack," I whispered, "standing on one foot. I believe he is warming the other one."
Jack ceased rowing, and, turning, took a look at the bird.
"I guess the old fellow is asleep," said Jack, softly. "I'll wake him up."
He reached for his gun, which I handed him; but, just as he was bringing it to his shoulder, the heron gave a startled cry, and, flapping his huge wings, sailed away into the fog.
"By gracious!" cried Jack, with a laugh, as he passed me back his gun, "he'll get lost if he doesn't carry a compass."
The conceit was an odd one, and I joined my companion in his laughter. This aroused Spot from a comfortable nap he had been taking between my legs, and, thinking he must make his share of the noise, he began barking.
"Keep quiet, Spot Don't let him bark, Captain. We may possibly see a deer along here somewhere."
I quieted the dog, and began to watch the banks of the river more closely. If there were any deer in the neighborhood I was anxious to get a look at them, if nothing more; and, as it was now the open season for large game, we could carry the venison home if we could only get it. Always "catch your eel before you skin it," you know.
"Do you suppose deer travel about much, Jack, when the ground is covered with nearly two feet of snow?"
"Do I? Of course. This snow isn't deep enough to trouble them any, and they have to forage for their living anyhow. Later on, when the snow is four or five feet deep, they get together in yards,' if the crust is not strong enough to hold them."
"Did you ever run across a deer-yard?"
"No; but I know a fellow who worked in the woods two winters ago, and he told me that he and three of the crew were out one Sunday toward spring, and they came across a yard where there were nine deer, and they killed the whole of them, and they had fresh meat in camp for a couple of weeks."
"But that was slaughter, Jack. Those fellows ought to have been horsewhipped. It was in the close season, too."
"What do you suppose a logging crew care about close or open season? All they wanted was the fresh meat, and they didn't care how they got it."
A little while before reaching the head of the meadows, as we turned a sharp bend, I was startled by seeing a caribou crossing the river, about twenty rods in advance of us.
"Jack," I cried, "there is a caribou crossing the river just ahead of us."
My companion dropped his oars, which swung in to the side of the boat, and, turning his head, took a glance at the animal.
"Here, take your gun," I urged, passing him the weapon, "and shoot quick!"
Jack grabbed his gun and blazed away at him, and I let drive with my revolver, but, instead of dropping, he bounded off into the woods as if a pack of wolves were after him.
"We didn't hit him," said Jack; "and if I had it wouldn't have done much damage, for I had duck-shot in both barrels."
"Great Christmas!" I exclaimed, thoroughly mad for a moment. "Why didn't you load one barrel, at least, with buck-shot?"
"I don't know why I didn't," answered my companion, looking disgusted at our poor success. "I guess it was absence of mind."
"We will not stop to argue the matter now. Take to the oars and let's get on shore; "and I turned the boat toward the left side of the river.
"Perhaps he won't run far," suggested Jack, as he grasped the oars.
"So far that we shall not get another squint at him, I am afraid."
We ran the boat in on the bank, landing where the caribou took to the woods, and followed his trail for some distance.
We saw several spots of blood along the way, which showed that we must have hit him, and probably the bullet from my revolver pierced his skin. At any rate I claimed the honor of having wounded him, and, for a wonder, Jack for once "acknowledged the coin."
Jack, who had loaded his gun with buck-shot, as we followed on the trail of the caribou, was very anxious to get another sight of the animal; but, when we had wallowed through the snow for half a mile without coming in sight of the game, became reconciled to giving up the chase, and the print of his hoofs in the snow was the last we saw of Mr. Caribou. Reluctantly we tramped back to the boat, and when we reached the bank of the river found that, through excitement or carelessness, we had not pulled our boat far enough ont of the water, and that she had gone adrift in our absence.
With muttered imprecations on our ill luck we turned down river, and waded through the snow along the bank, looking with eager eyes for the boat.
Every little while we would trip over some old log or windfall, which, covered by the snow, made a trap for the unwary, and, losing our balance, we would generally get a snow-bath before we could recover our equilibrium.
This unexpected tramp, with our chase after the caribou, began to tire us, and we hoped each minute would bring us in sight of the boat.
We walked, however, fully half a mile before we found it, and then, to our dismay, saw it on the opposite side of the river, where its farther progress had been checked by a tree which had fallen into the river, but whose roots were still fastened to the bank.
We looked at the boat, and then looked at each other. The question was, how to cross the river.
I broke down a small dead fir, five or six feet long, and, stepping to the water's edge, sounded with it as far out as I could reach, and could not touch bottom. It was very evident we could not get over where we were.
"If I only had the axe," said Jack, "I would cut one of those large spruces,"— nodding toward a group of trees, ten or a dozen feet away, —"and bridge the river."
"As you don't happen to have it," I returned, cheerfully, "I shall have to go back to that last set of rips we passed, and try and cross there. I don't think the water is over a foot deep there. You walk down to that point just ahead of you, and I will bring the boat down there and take you in."
"All right, Captain; but be careful you don't get a ducking."
I returned no answer to his speech, for I realized that we were losing valuable time, but immediately retraced my steps along the trail we had made, until I reached the rips, and then I started into the river, Spot following me.
Where I first stepped into the water it was only six inches deep, but as I crossed it became deeper, until I stood within about six feet of the opposite bank; the water was clear to the top of my long-legged boots, and I saw that another step forward would fill them.
I did not wish to get wet if I could help it, and I waded up river about a rod, and then down a short distance; but I seemed to have struck a deep channel of some length. As several reasons forbade me spending the rest of the day in dancing up and down the river I made a plunge forward, and reached for a small white birch that grew near the water.
As I stepped forward, the water rose nearly to my shoulders, but I succeeded in seizing hold of the tree, and, after several trials, drew myself out, and then turned to aid the dog, who was making desperate, but unsuccessful, efforts to get on shore himself.
Reaching down, I caught Spot by the collar, and drew him up in the snow beside me. His first performance was to give himself a shake, that spattered my face plentifully with water, and the next to start on a frolic in the snow.
"You rascal I" I exclaimed, "is that the way you pay your master for fishing you out of the river?"
He gave five or six quick, sharp barks, and then jumped up on me, and kissed me, knocking me over as he did so, for I was just pulling off my boots to empty the water out of them.
I picked myself up, and threw a snowball at him, and then, telling him to keep out of the way, succeeded in getting a gallon or two of ice-water out of my boots, and wrung the bottoms of my pants as dry as I could get them. Then I pulled my coat off, and wrung the water out of that as well as I could.
Just as I started for the boat I heard the hoot of an owl floating through the air. Jack had become patient, and was trying to signal me. I answered him, and kept on.
Ten minutes' walk brought me to the boat, but I could not reach her from the shore. I crept carefully out on the tree, however, and managed to get into her without getting wet again. Spot followed me. I pushed the boat clear of the tree, and, taking my seat at the oars, was soon down to the point where Jack was standing, and took him on board.
"Did you get tired of waiting?" I inquired, as he pushed the boat off, and jumped in.
"Yes," he replied, "I thought you never would come."
"Don't you want me to row?"
"Not much. I am wet nearly to my neck, and wish to row to keep warm. I feel half-frozen."
"Did you fall down in the river?" queried Jack, as he made his way to the stern of the boat and took the paddle.
"No; but the water was five feet deep on the other side of the river, and I shall be lucky if I do not take cold from that bath."
"It is too bad you found such deep water; but you will get warm rowing."
As I started the boat fairly on her course again my teeth began to chatter, and I was seized with a shivering fit. But, after half an hour's rowing, my blood became warmed up, and I felt more comfortable.
We passed a bald eagle sitting on an immense yellow birch that overhung the river, and Jack blazed away at him. The first charge cut away a small limb over the eagle's head into more than a dozen pieces, and the second furrowed the large limb on which the bird sat. He left the limb between the two discharges, and just saved himself "by the skin of his teeth." It was the closest miss I ever saw, and the terrified shriek that the eagle gave when he took to flight showed how badly he was frightened.
We saw quite a number of ducks later on, but did not get a shot at them.
When we reached the lower Metalluc Pond the mist began to clear some, and we caught occasional glimpses of the mountains about us. After running through the Narrows, however, it became thicker, and when we were about five miles from the landing it commenced to snow.
"We started in a snow-storm and shall get back in one," said Jack, disgustedly.
"It does not astonish me any," I replied. "Of all the unlucky trips I ever took this has been the worst. If we get back to Andover alive I shall think we are fortunate."
"This comes of starting on Friday," growled Jack, with a shade of superstition.
"But we did not start on Friday, my boy. Our trip began the morning we left the Upper Dam, and that was Monday."
"But we left Upton Friday."
"True. But our luck was no better before that event than it has been since. If our plans had not miscarried we should not have missed the steamer on Tuesday."
"That's so," replied Jack. "I had forgotten that for the moment;" and he relapsed into silence again.
We found less and less snow the farther down river we went, and when we reached the boat-landing there was not more than half as much as we had left at the lake. The snow that came down now melted as fast as it struck us, and we made haste to get the boat out and take care of her as soon as possible, for we were fast getting wet through.
"Thank God we are so far on our way!" exclaimed Jack, when we had properly cared for the boat.
"Amen!" I added, and pulled on my heavy overcoat, which I thought I could carry easier on my back than in any other way.
Jack picked up the bucket, and put it on the butt of his gun, which he threw over his shoulder. "Let me carry the bucket, Jack," I cried.
"No, I'll take it. I can carry it easy in this way; you have rowed so far you must be tired."
"A lantern would not be a bad thing to have," I suggested, as I glanced around.
"I should say not, and if I ever start on another trip like this I will carry one. You need it as much as you do an axe."
It must have been half-past six when we started down the carry, and only for the snow it would have been darker than coal-tar. That relieved the blackness a little. The wind that had been blowing gently for the last two hours increased its force rapidly, and, as it was in our faces the most of the time, the walk was anything but pleasant. Through the woods the mud was fearful, and I was thankful when we came out in the open pasture, where the walking was a little better.
"Oh for a haven of rest!" I exclaimed, as we trudged wearily along, facing the thickening storm.
"We'll soon reach one if our legs hold out," returned Jack, cheerfully. "But, by gracious, Captain, if we ever go to Parmachenee Lake again I hope we shall have better weather than we have had this time."
"I should hope we would. But I bet five dollars, Jack, that after I get back to Boston you will have nice weather down here for two or three weeks."
"I don't know about that. Any way it does not look much like it now."
"One thing I do know; it will not take me long to find the bed after I eat my supper and get dry."
"I'm with you there, Captain," said my companion. We arrived at Mr. Fickett's at eight o'clock, and his wife gave us a nice, hot supper, which we thoroughly appreciated. After drying our clothing we pleaded fatigue to Mr. Fickett, and went to bed, the snow still falling. Our worthy landlord and his wife had been anxious to hear the whole of our story, but I told him I would finish it the next day.
Sometime during the night the wind changed, and the snow stopped its work of powdering mother earth, and when we went out-doors in the morning to have a look at the weather we found we could see the sky, although it was somewhat cloudy and much colder.
After breakfast Mr. Fickett took us down to the Brown Farm, and we amused ourselves there until dinner-time, relating our adventures to a small, but admiring audience. Just as we sat down to dinner we heard the whistle of the steamer, and knew we were all right for our passage down to Upton.
As we arose from the table. Capt. Tenney and Chris came in, and, after they had eaten, we all rode down to the boat. Chris told us it was cold and raw out on the lake, and we found it so when the steamer had left the river.
Chris told us there had been a fearful storm during our absence, and asked me where we were the night it blew so. I told him we were in Sunday Pond Camp, and that it had a narrow escape from destruction by a tree falling on it. Jack gave him a history of our trip from the time we had left the steamer until we returned to it, and he was greatly amused, declaring that we bad experienced hard luck; in which I fully agreed with him.
As we sat around the open fire in the office of the hotel at Upton that evening, and listened to the accounts of the storm, I again began to feel worried about the safety of our steamer, and told Jack that the boat must have been damaged in that gale.
He tried to laugh the idea out of my head, but it stuck, in spite of his and my own efforts to drive it away.