THE YOUNG ALASKANS ON THE TRAIL
AUTHOR OF "THE YOUNG ALASKANS" "THE STORY OF THE COWBOY"
HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS NEW YORK AND LONDON MCMXI
THE YOUNG ALASKANS. Ill'd. Post 8vo $1.25
YOUNG ALASKANS ON THE TRAIL. Ill'd. Post 8vo 1.25
HARPER & BROTHERS, NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY HARPER & BROTHERS
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
I. TAKING THE TRAIL 1 II. THE GATE OF THE MOUNTAINS 10 III. STUDYING OUT THE TRAIL 23 IV. THE GREAT DIVIDE 37 V. CROSSING THE HEIGHT OF LAND 43 VI. FOLLOWING MACKENZIE 53 VII. AROUND THE CAMP-FIRE 69 VIII. A HUNT FOR BIGHORN 83 IX. A NIGHT IN THE MOUNTAINS 102 X. HOW THE SPLIT-STONE LAKE WAS NAMED 112 XI. LESSONS IN WILD LIFE 119 XII. WILD COUNTRY AND WILDERNESS WAYS 134 XIII. THE CARIBOU HUNT 143 XIV. EXPLORING THE WILDERNESS 158 XV. IN THE BIG WATERS 168 XVI. THE GRIZZLY HUNT 181 XVII. THE YOUNG ALASKANS' "LOB-STICK" 191 XVIII. BAD LUCK WITH THE "MARY ANN" 200 XIX. NEW PLANS 207 XX. THE GORGE OF THE MOUNTAINS 217 XXI. THE PORTAGE OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS 226 XXII. EAST OF THE ROCKIES 232 XXIII. THE LAND OF PLENTY 236 XXIV. THE WHITE MAN'S COUNTRY 244 XXV. HOW THE ERMINE GOT HIS TAIL BLACK 249 XXVI. TRAILING THE BEAR 254 XVII. THE END OF THE OLD WAR-TRAIL 264 XXVIII. STEAMBOATING IN THE FAR NORTH 274 XXIX. A MOOSE HUNT 286 XXX. FARTHEST NORTH 294 XXXI. HOMEWARD BOUND 307 XXXII. LEAVING THE TRAIL 317
AROUND THE CAMP-FIRE Frontispiece
THE BEAR BROKE COVER WITH A SAVAGE ROAR Facing p. 186
MOISE AT HOME " 266
THE PORTAGE, VERMILION CHUTES, PEACE RIVER " 302
THE YOUNG ALASKANS ON THE TRAIL
TAKING THE TRAIL
It was a wild and beautiful scene which lay about the little camp in the far-off mountains of the Northwest. The sun had sunk beyond the loftier ridges, although even now in the valley there remained considerable light. One could have seen many miles over the surrounding country had not, close at hand, where the little white tent stood, the forest of spruce been very dense and green. At no great distance beyond its edge was rough and broken country. Farther on, to the southward, stood white-topped peaks many miles distant, although from the camp these could not be seen.
It might have seemed a forbidding scene to any one not used to travel among the mountains. One step aside into the bush, and one would have fancied that no foot had ever trod here. There was no indication of road or trail, nor any hint of a settlement. The forest stood dark, and to-night, so motionless was the air, its silence was more complete than is usually the case among the pines or spruces, where always the upper branches murmur and whisper among themselves. Such scenes cause a feeling of depression even among grown persons who first meet them; and to-night, in this remote spot, one could not well have blamed the three young occupants of this camp had they felt a trifle uneasy as the twilight drew on toward darkness.
They were, it is true, not wholly new to camp life, these three boys—Rob McIntyre, John Hardy, and Jesse Wilcox. You may perhaps call to mind the names of these, since they are the same who, more than a year before, were cast away for some time on the slopes of Kadiak Island, in the far upper portion of Alaska; from which place they were at last rescued in part by their own wits and in part by the watchfulness of their guardian, Mr. Hardy. The latter, whom all three boys called Uncle Dick, was a civil engineer who, as did the parents of all the boys, lived in the coast town of Valdez, in far-off Alaska.
When Rob, John, and Jesse returned home from their dangerous adventures on Kadiak Island, they had been told that many a day would elapse before they would be allowed to take such chances again. Perhaps Uncle Dick never really told the parents of the boys the full truth about the dangers his young charges had encountered on Kadiak Island. Had he done so they would never have been willing for the boys to take another trip even more dangerous in many ways—the one on which they were now starting.
But Uncle Dick Hardy, living out of doors almost all the time on account of his profession as an engineer, was so much accustomed to dangers and adventures that he seemed to think that any one could get out of a scrape who could get into one. So it was not long after the return from Kadiak before he forgot all about the risks the boys had run there. The very next year he was the first one to plead with their parents, and to tell them that in his belief the best way in the world for the boys to pass their next summer's vacation would be for them to cross the Rocky Mountains from the Pacific side and take the old water trail of the fur-traders, north and east, and down the Peace River from its source.
It chanced that Uncle Dick, who, like all engineers, was sometimes obliged to go to remote parts of the country, had taken charge of an engineering party then locating the new railroad bound westward from Edmonton, in far-off Northwest Canada. While he himself could not leave his employment to go with the boys across the Rockies, he assured their parents that he would meet them when they came down the river, and see that every care should be taken of them meantime.
"Let them go, of course," he urged. "You can't really hurt a good, live boy very much. Besides, it is getting to be so nowadays that before long a boy won't have any wilderness where he can go. Here's our railroad making west as fast as it can, and it will be taking all sort of people into that country before long. Here's a chance for the boys to have a fine hunt and some camping and canoeing. It will make them stout and hearty, and give them a good time. What's the use worrying all the time about these chaps? They'll make it through, all right. Besides, I am going to send them the two best men in Canada for their guides.
"I wouldn't say, myself, that these boys could get across alone," he added, "because it's a hard trip for men in some ways. But in the care of Alex Mackenzie and Moise Duprat they'll be as safe as they would be at home in rocking-chairs."
"What Mackenzie is that?" asked Jesse Wilcox's mother of her brother, Uncle Dick.
"Well, he may be a relative of old Sir Alexander Mackenzie, so far as I know. The family of that name is a large one in the North, and there always have been Mackenzies in the fur trade. But speaking of the name, here's what I want to explain to you, sister. These boys will be going back over the very trail that good old Sir Alexander took when he returned from the Pacific Ocean."
"But that was a long time ago—"
"Yes, in 1793, while George Washington still was alive, and not so very long after the Revolutionary War. You know, Mackenzie was the first man ever to cross this continent, and this was the way he went, both in going west and coming east—just where I want these boys to go. They'll see everything that he saw, go everywhere that he went, from the crown of the continent on down clear to the Arctics, if you want to let them go that far.
"I'm telling you, sister," he added, eagerly, "the boys will learn something in that way, something about how this country was discovered and explored and developed, so far as that is concerned. That is history on the hoof, if you like, sister. In my belief they're the three luckiest little beggars in the world if you will only let them go. I'll promise to bring them back all right."
"Yes, I know about your promises!" began Mrs. Wilcox.
"When did I ever fail to keep one?" demanded Uncle Dick of her. "And where can you find three sounder lads in Valdez than these we're talking about now?"
"But it's so far, Richard—you're talking now about the Peace River and the Athabasca River and the Arctic Ocean—why, it seems as though the boys were going clear off the earth, and we certainly would never see them again."
"Nonsense!" replied Uncle Dick. "The earth isn't so big as it used to be in Sir Alexander's time. Let them alone and they'll come through, and be all the more men for it. There's no particular hardship about it. I'll go down with them in the boat to Vancouver and east with them by rail to where they take the stage up the Ashcroft trail—a wagon-road as plain as this street here. They can jog along that way as far as Quesnelles as easy as they could on a street-car in Seattle. Their men'll get them from there by boat up the Fraser to the headwaters of the Parsnip without much more delay or much more danger, but a lot of hard work. After that they just get in their boats and float."
"Oh, it sounds easy, Richard," protested his sister, "but I know all about your simple things!"
"Well, it isn't every boy I'd offer this good chance," said Uncle Dick, turning away. "In my belief, they'll come back knowing more than when they started."
"But they're only boys, not grown men like those old fur-traders that used to travel in that country. It was hard enough even for them, if I remember my reading correctly."
"I just told you, my dear sister, that these boys will go with less risk and less danger than ever Sir Alexander met when he first went over the Rockies. Listen. I've got the two best men in the Northwest, as I told you. Alex Mackenzie is one of the best-known men in the North. General Wolseley took him for chief of his band of voyageurs, who got the boats up the Nile in Kitchener's Khartoum campaign. He's steadier than a clock, and the boys are safer with him than anywhere else without him. My other man, Moise Duprat, is a good cook, a good woodsman, and a good canoeman. They'll have all the camp outfit they need, they'll have the finest time in the world in the mountains, and they'll come through flying—that's all about it!"
"But won't there be any bad rapids in the mountains on that river?"
"Surely, surely! That's what the men are for, and the boats. When the water is too bad they get out and walk around it, same as you walk around a mud puddle in the street. When their men think the way is safe it's bound to be safe. Besides, you forget that though all this country is more or less new, there are Hudson Bay posts scattered all through it. When they get east of the Rockies, below Hudson's Hope and Fort St. John, they come on Dunvegan, which now is just a country town, almost. They'll meet wagon-trains of farmers going into all that country to settle. Why, I'm telling you, the only worry I have is that the boys will find it too solemn and quiet to have a good time!"
"Yes, I know about solemn and quiet things that you propose, Richard!" said his sister. "But at least"—she sighed—"since their fathers want them to live in this northern country for a time, I want my boy to grow up fit for this life. Things here aren't quite the same as they are in the States. Well—I'll ask Rob's mother, and John's."
Uncle Dick grinned. He knew his young friends would so beset their parents that eventually they would get consent for the trip he had described as so simple and easy.
And, in truth, this evening camp on the crest of the Rockies in British Columbia was the result of his negotiations.
THE GATE OF THE MOUNTAINS
Whether Uncle Dick told the boys everything he knew about this undertaking, or whether their mothers realized what they were doing in allowing them to go so far and into a wild region, we shall be forced to leave as an unanswered question. Certainly they started with their Uncle when he left Valdez by steamer for Vancouver. And, finishing that part of their journey which was to be made by rail, wagon, and boat, here they were, in the twilight of a remote valley at the crest of the great Rocky Mountains; near that point, indeed, properly to be called the height of land between the Arctic and the Pacific waters. Moreover, they were for the time quite alone in camp.
"Well, fellows," said Rob at last, "I suppose we'd better get some more wood together. The men'll be back before long, and we'll have to get something to eat."
"How do you know they'll come back?" asked John dubiously.
"Alex told me he would, and I have noticed that he always does things when he says he is going to."
"I don't hear them, anyway," began Jesse, the youngest, who was, by nature as well as by years perhaps, not quite so bold and courageous as his two young friends.
"You couldn't hear them very far," replied Rob, "because they wear moccasins."
"Do you think they really can get the canoes out, carrying them on their backs all the way from where we left them?" asked Jesse.
"They're very strong," Rob answered, "and that work isn't new to them. And, you know, they carried all our packs in the same way."
"That Moise is as strong as a horse," said John. "My! I couldn't lift the end of his pack here. I bet it weighed two hundred pounds at least. And he just laughed. I think he's a good-natured man, anyhow."
"Most of these woodsmen are," replied Rob. "They are used to hardships, and they just laugh instead of complain about things. Alex is quieter than Moise, but I'll venture to say they'll both do their part all right. And moreover," he added stoutly, "if Alex said he'd be here before dark, he'll be here."
"It will be in less than ten minutes, then," said Jesse, looking at the new watch which his mother had given him to take along on his trip. "The canoe's a pretty heavy thing, John."
Rob did not quite agree with him.
"They're not heavy for canoes—sixteen-foot Peterboroughs. They beat any boat going for their weight, and they're regular ships in the water under load."
"They look pretty small to me," demurred Jesse.
"They're bigger than the skin boats that we had among the Aleuts last year," ventured John. "Besides, I've noticed a good deal depends on the way you handle a boat."
"Not everybody has boats as good as these," admitted Jesse.
"Yes," said John, "it must have cost Uncle Dick a lot of money to get them up here from the railroad. Sir Alexander Mackenzie traveled in a big birch-bark when he was here—ten men in her, and three thousand pounds of cargo besides. She was twenty-five feet long. Uncle Dick told me the Indians have dugouts farther down the river, but not very good ones. I didn't think they knew anything about birch-bark so far northwest, but he says all their big journeys were made in those big bark canoes in the early days."
"Well, I'm guessing that our boats will seem pretty good before we get through," was Rob's belief, "and they'll pay for themselves too."
All the boys had been reading in all the books they could find telling of the journeys of the old fur-traders, Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser, and others, through this country. Rob had a book open in his lap now.
"How far can we go in a day?" asked Jesse, looking as though he would be gladder to get back home again than to get farther and farther away.
"That depends on the state of the water and the speed of the current," said the older boy. "It's no trouble to go fifty miles a day straightaway traveling, or farther if we had to. Some days they didn't make over six or eight miles going up, but coming down—why, they just flew!"
"That wouldn't take us long to go clear through to where Uncle Dick is."
"A few weeks or so, at least, I hope. We're not out to beat Sir Alexander's record, you know—he made it from here in six days!"
"I don't remember that book very well," said Jesse; "I'll read it again some time."
"We'll all read it each day as we go on, and in that way understand it better when we get through," ventured John. "But listen; I thought I heard them in the bush."
It was as he had said. The swish of bushes parting and the occasional sound of a stumbling footfall on the trail now became plainer. They heard the voice of Moise break out into a little song as he saw the light of the fire flickering among the trees. He laughed gaily as he stepped into the ring of the cleared ground, let down one end of the canoe which he was carrying, and with a quick twist of his body set it down gently upon the leaves.
"You'll mak' good time, hein?" he asked of the boys, smiling and showing a double row of white teeth.
"What did I tell you, boys?" demanded Rob. "Here they are, and it isn't quite dark yet."
The next moment Alex also came in out of the shadow and quietly set down his own canoe, handling it as lightly as though it were but an ordinary pack. Indeed, these two woodsmen were among the most powerful of their class, and well used to all the work which comes on a trip in a wilderness country.
As they stood now a little apart, it might be seen that both of the guides were brown-skinned men, still browner by exposure to the weather. Each of them had had an Indian mother, and the father of each was a white man, the one a silent Scot, of the Hudson Bay fur trade, the other a lively Frenchman of the lower trails, used to horse, boat, and foot travel, and known far and wide in his own day as a good voyageur.
Indeed, two better men could not have been selected by Uncle Dick for the work now in hand. As they stood now in their shirt-sleeves, each wiping off his forehead with his red kerchief, they looked so strong and tall that the boys suddenly felt all uneasiness pass away from their minds. The twilight came on unnoticed, and in the light of the fire, freshly piled up with wood, the camp scene became bright and pleasant. It was impossible to feel any alarm when they were here under the protection of these two men, both of them warriors, who had seen encounters of armed men, not to mention hundreds of meetings with wild beasts.
"Well," said Rob to Moise, "you must be tired with all that load."
"Non! Non!" said Moise; "not tired. She'll been leetle boat, not over hondred-feefty poun'. I'll make supper now, me."
"It was best to bring both the boats in to-night," said Alex, quietly, "and easier to start from here than to push in to the lake. We load here in the morning, and I think there'll be plain sailing from here. It's just as well to make a stream carry us and our boats whenever we can. It's only a little way to the lake."
"I thought you were never coming, Alex," said Jesse, frankly, looking up from where he sat on his blanket roll, his chin in his hands.
The tall half-breed answered by gently putting a hand on the boy's head, and making a better seat for him closer to the fire. Here he was close enough to watch Moise, now busy about his pots and pans.
"Those mosquito he'll bite you some?" laughed Moise, as he saw the boys still slapping at their hands. "Well, bimeby he'll not bite so much. She'll be col' here un the montaigne, bimeby."
"I'm lumpy all over with them," said John.
"It's lucky you come from a country where you're more or less used to them," said Alex. "I've seen men driven wild by mosquitoes. But going down the river we'll camp on the beaches or bars, where the wind will strike us. In two or three weeks we'll be far enough along toward fall, so that I don't think the mosquitoes will trouble us too much. You see, it's the first of August now."
"We can fix our tent to keep them out," said Rob, "and we have bars and gloves, of course. But we don't want to be too much like tenderfeet."
"That's the idea," said Alex quietly. "You'll not be tenderfeet when you finish this trip."
"Her Onkle Deek, she'll tol' me something about those boy," said Moise, from the fireside. "She'll say she's good boy, all same like man."
Jesse looked at Moise gravely, but did not smile at his queer way of speech, for by this time they had become better acquainted with both their guides.
"What I'll tol' you?" said Moise again a little later. "Here comes cool breeze from the hill. Now those mosquito he'll hunt his home yas, heem! All right! We'll eat supper 'fore long."
Moise had put a pot of meat stew over the fire before he started back up the trail to bring in the canoe, when they first had come in with the packs. This he now finished cooking over the renewed fire, and by and by the odors arose so pleasantly that each boy sat waiting, his knife and fork on the tin plate in his lap. Alex, looking on, smiled quietly, but said nothing.
"Moise doesn't build a fire just the way I've been taught," said Rob, after a while.
"No," added John. "I was thinking of that, too."
"He's Injun, same as me," said Alex, smiling. "No white man can build a fire for an Injun. S'pose you ask me to put your hat on for you so you wouldn't need to touch it. I couldn't do that. You'd have to fix it a little yourself. Same way with Injun and his fire."
"That's funny," said Rob. "Why is that?"
"I don't know," smiled Alex.
"He just throws the sticks together in a long heap and pushes the ends in when they burn through," said Jesse. "He didn't cut any wood at all."
Moise grinned at this, but ventured no more reply.
"You see," said Alex, "if you live all the time in the open you learn to do as little work as possible, because there is always so much to do that your life depends on that you don't want to waste any strength."
"It doesn't take a white man long to get into that habit," said Rob.
"Yes. Besides, there is another reason. An Injun has to make his living with his rifle. Chopping with an ax is a sound that frightens game more than any other. The bear and deer will just get up and leave when they hear you chopping. So when we come into camp we build our fire as small as possible, and without cutting any more wood than we are obliged to. You see, we'll be gone the next morning, perhaps, so we slip through as light as possible. A white man leaves a trail like a wagon-road, but you'd hardly know an Injun had been there. You soon get the habit when you have to live that way."
"Grub pile!" sang out Moise now, laughing as he moved the pans and the steaming tea-kettle by the side of the fire. And very soon the boys were falling to with good will in their first meal in camp.
"Moise, she'll ben good cook—many tams mans'll tol' me that," grinned Moise, pleasantly, drawing a little apart from the fire with his own tin pan on his knee.
"We'll give you a recommendation," said John. "This stew is fine. I was awfully hungry."
It was not long after they had finished their supper before all began to feel sleepy, for they had walked or worked more or less ever since morning.
Alex arose and took from his belt the great Hudson Bay knife, or buffalo knife, which he wore at his back, thrust through his belt. With this he hacked off a few boughs from the nearest pine-tree and threw them down in the first sheltered spot. Over this he threw a narrow strip of much-worn bear hide and a single fold of heavy blanket, this being all the bed which he seemed to have.
"Is that all you ever had?" asked Rob. "I don't think you'll sleep well, Alex. Let me give you some of my bed."
"Thank you, no," said Alex, sitting down and lighting his pipe. "We make our beds small when we have to carry them in the woods. We sleep well. We get used to it, you see."
"Injun man she'll been like dog," grinned Moise, throwing down his own single blanket under a tree. "A dog she'll sleep plenty, all right, an' she'll got no bed at all, what?"
"But won't you come under the edge of the tent?" asked Rob.
"No, you're to have the tent," said Alex. "I'm under orders from your Uncle, who employed me. But you're to make your own beds, and take care of them in making and breaking camp. That's understood."
"I'll do that for those boy," offered Moise.
"No," said Alex, quietly, "my orders are they're to do that for themselves. That's what their Uncle said. They must learn how to do all these things."
"Maybe we know now, a little bit," ventured John, smiling.
"I don't doubt it," said Alex. "But now, just from a look at your bed, you've taken a great deal of time making your camp to-night. You've got a good many boughs. They took noise and took time to gather. We'll see how simple a camp we can make after we get out on the trail. My word! We'll have trouble enough to get anything to sleep on when we get in the lower Peace, where there's only willows."
"What do you do if it rains?" queried Jesse. "You haven't got any tent over you, and it leaks through the trees."
"It won't rain so much when we get east," said Alex. "When it does, Moise and I'll get up and smoke. But it won't rain to-night, that's certain," he added, knocking his pipe on the heel of his moccasin. "Throw the door of your tent open, because you'll not need to protect yourselves against the mosquitoes to-night. It's getting cold. Good night, young gentlemen."
In a few moments the camp was silent, except something which sounded a little like a snore from the point where Moise had last been seen.
John nudged his neighbors in the beds on the tent floor, and spoke in low tones, so that he might not disturb the others outside. "Are you asleep yet, Rob?"
"Almost," said Rob, whispering.
"So'm I. I think Jesse is already. But say, isn't it comfy? And I like both those men."
STUDYING OUT THE TRAIL
It must have been some time about five o'clock in the morning, or even earlier, when Rob, awakened by the increasing light in the tent, stirred in his blanket and rolled over. He found himself looking into the eyes of John, who also was lying awake. They whispered for a minute or two, not wishing to waken Jesse, who still was asleep, his face puckered up into a frown as though he were uneasy about something. They tried to steal out the other tent, but their first movement awakened Jesse, who sat up rubbing his eyes.
"What's the matter?" said he; "where are we?" He smiled sheepishly as the other boys laughed at him.
"A good way from home, you'll find," answered John.
The smell of fresh smoke came to their nostrils from the fire, which had been built for some time. So quiet had the men been about their work that they had left the boys undisturbed for the best part of an hour. They themselves had been accustomed to taking the trail even earlier in the day than this.
"Good morning, young gentlemen," said Alex, quietly. "I hope you slept well."
"Well," said Jesse, grinning, "I guess I did, for one."
"You'll been hongree?" smiled Moise at the fireside.
"Awfully!" said John. "I could eat a piece of raw bear meat."
"So?" grinned Moise. "Maybe you'll seen heem before we get through, hein? She'll not been very good for eat raw."
"Nor any other way, according to my taste," said Alex, "but we'll see how we like it cooked, perhaps."
"Do you really think we'll see any bear on this trip?" asked Rob.
"Plenty," said Alex, quietly.
"Very likely, when we get a little farther into the mountains. We ought to pick up two or three on this trip—if they don't pick us up."
"I'm not worrying about that," said Rob. "We're old bear hunters."
Both the men looked at him and laughed.
"Indeed, we are," insisted Rob. "We killed a bear, and an awfully big one, all by ourselves up on Kadiak Island. She was bigger than that tent there; and had two little ones besides. Each of them was big as a man, almost. They get awfully big up there in Alaska. I'll bet you haven't a one in all these mountains as big as one of those fellows up in our country."
"Maybe not," said Alex, still smiling, "but they get pretty near as big as a horse in here, and I want to tell you that one of our old, white-faced grizzlies will give you a hot time enough if you run across him—he'll come to you without any coaxing."
"This is fine!" said Rob. "I begin to think we're going to have a good trip this time."
"Grub pile!" sang out Moise about this time. A moment later they were all sitting on the ground at the side of the breakfast fire, eating of the fried bacon, bannock, and tea which Moise had prepared.
"To-day, Moise, she'll get feesh," said Moise, after a time. "Also maybe the duck. I'll heard some wild goose seenging this morning down on the lake below there. She's not far, I'll think."
"Just a little ways," said Alex, nodding. "If we'd gone in a little farther to the west we might have hit the lake there, but I thought it was easier to let the water of this little creek carry our boats in."
"Listen!" said John. "Isn't that a little bird singing?"
A peal of sweet music came to them as they sat, from a small warbler on a near-by tree.
"Those bird, he's all same Injun," remarked Moise. "He seeng for the sun."
The sun now indeed was coming up in the view from the mountain ranges on the east, though the air still was cool and the grass all about them still wet with the morning dew.
"Soon she'll get warm," said Moise. "Those mosquito, she'll begin to seeng now, too."
"Yes," said Rob, "there were plenty of them in the tent this morning before we got up. We'll have to get out the fly dope pretty soon, if I'm any judge."
"But now," he added, "suppose we read a little bit in our book before we break camp and pack up."
"You're still reading Sir Alexander and his voyages?" smiled Alex.
"Yes, indeed, I don't suppose we'd be here if we hadn't read that old book. It's going to be our guide all the way through. I want to see just how close we can come to following the trail Mackenzie made when he crossed this very country, a hundred and eighteen years ago this very month."
"Some say they can't see how Sir Alexander made so many mistakes," said Alex, smiling. He himself was a man of considerable intelligence and education, as the boys already had learned.
"I know," said Rob, nodding. "For instance, Simon Fraser—"
"Yes, I know those Simon Fraser—he's beeg man in the Companee," broke in Moise, who very likely did not know what he was talking about.
Alex smiled. "There have always been Mackenzies and Frasers in the fur trade. This was a long time ago."
"How'll those boy know heem, then?" said Moise. "I don't know. Some boy she'll read more nowadays than when I'm leetle. Better they know how to cook and for to keel the grizzly, hein?"
"Both," said Alex. "But now we'll read a little, if you please, Moise. Let's see where we are as nearly as we can tell, according to the old Mackenzie journal."
"I'll know where we ought for be," grumbled Moise, who did not fancy this starting-place which had been selected. "We'll ought to been north many miles on the portage, where there's wagon trail to Lake McLeod."
"Now, Moise," said Rob, "what fun would that be? Of course we could put our boats and outfit on a wagon or cart, and go across to Lake McLeod, without any trouble at all. Everybody goes that way, and has done so for years. But that isn't the old canoe trail of Mackenzie and Fraser."
"Everybody goes on the Giscombe Portage now," said Moise.
"Well, all the fur-traders used to come in here, at least before they had studied out this country very closely. You see, they didn't have any maps—they were the ones who made the first maps. Mackenzie was the first over, and he did it all by himself, without any kind of map to help him."
"Yes, and when he got over this far he was in an awful fix," said John. "I remember where it says his men were going to leave him and go back down the Peace River to the east. He wasn't sure his guide was going to stick to him until he got over to the Fraser, west of here."
"Yes," said Rob, "and there wasn't any Fraser River known by that name at that time. They all thought it was the Columbia River, which it wasn't by a long way. But Sir Alexander stuck it out, don't you see. He was a great man, or he couldn't have done it. I take off my hat to him, that's what I do."
And in his enthusiasm, Rob did take off his hat, and his young companions joined him, their eyes lighting with enthusiasm for the man the simple story of whose deeds had stirred their young blood.
Alex looked on approvingly. "He was of my family," said he. "Perhaps my great-grandfather—I don't know. He was a good man in the woods. You see, he went far to the north before he came here—he followed the Mackenzie River to its mouth in the Arctic Sea. Then he thought there must be a way across to the Pacific. Some one told him about the Peace River. That's how he came to make the first trip over the mountains here. By rights the Fraser River ought to have been named after him, too, because he was the first to see it."
"But he wasn't the first to run it on out," said John, who also had a good idea of the geography hereabouts, which he had carefully studied in advance. "It was Simon Fraser did that first."
"Yes, they'll both been good man, heem," said Moise, his mouth full of bacon. "My wife, she'll had an onkle once name Fraser an' he'll been seex feet high an' strong like a hox—those Fraser, yes, heem."
"They must have been strong men," said Alex, "and brave men as well."
"Their worst time was getting west of here, wasn't it?" asked John.
"Yes," answered Rob. "The book says that when they tried to get down the Fraser they had a terrible time. Sometimes they had to carry their canoe through swamps and over hills. No wonder the men mutinied. Why, they lost all their bullets, and got everything they had wet. The men almost lost heart."
Moise nodded. "I'll onderstan' that," said he. "Sometime man get tired."
"But you see now, Moise, why we wanted to come down here and go over this same ground and not to take the easy portage trail into Lake McLeod."
"All same to me," smiled Moise. "I'll don' care."
"Of course, if we wanted to go through the easiest way," assented Rob, "it would be simpler to go up through McLeod Lake. But you see, that's something of a way above here. Finlay found that lake after Mackenzie came across, and they had a fort up there when Fraser came through eighteen years later. The Indians used to come to that fort and tell about the salt water somewhere far to the west. They had brass and iron which they had got of white men somewhere on the Pacific—that was more than a hundred years ago. Fraser wanted to get across to the Pacific, but he followed the old Mackenzie trail across here. He started at the Rocky Mountain portage and went up into McLeod Lake, and stopped there for a while. But he didn't start west and northwest, by way of Stuart Lake. Instead of that, he followed Mackenzie's journal, just as we're doing. He came into the little creek which leads into these lakes—where we'll go down pretty soon. He came right across this lake, not a mile from where we're sitting. Then he met Indians in here, who told him—just as Moise has told us—that the best and easiest way to get across would have been by way of McLeod Lake—the very place he had come from."
"Well," said Jesse, "I agree with Moise. It would be easier to go where we could have wagons or carts or something to take the boats over. Everything looks mighty wild in here."
"Certainly, Jess," said John, "that's why we're here. I expect that portage trail up there is just like a road."
"Fur-traders made it first," smiled Alex, "and then the miners used it. That was the way white men came into the country east of the Rockies, in the far North."
"How long ago was that?" asked John.
"There were a great many miners all along the Fraser as early as 1857. Ten years later than that, they came up the big bend of the Columbia. Many men were killed on the rapids in those days. But they kept on pushing in, and in that way they learned all these old trails. I expect some Fraser uncle or other of Moise's has been across here many a time."
"Seex feet high, an' strong like a hox," smiled Moise, nodding his head. "Heem good man, my onkle, yes, heem."
"Well," said Rob, as he bent over the book once more. "Here's Sir Alexander's story, and here's a map I made myself. That way, to the west, is the little lake where the Bad River runs out to another river that runs into the Fraser. This lake drains into that little lake. There's another lake east of here, according to the story; and when we get there we'll strike a deep, clear creek which will take us pretty soon into the Parsnip River. From there it's all downhill."
"Yes," said Alex, smiling, "considerably downhill."
"It's said there was a current westward in this middle lake," began John.
"Certainly," Rob answered, "we are really now on Pacific waters."
"How far is it across to the other lake?" asked Jesse.
"The portage is just eight hundred and seventeen paces," replied John, promptly. "I remember that's what Mackenzie wrote down."
"Fraser in his journal calls it 'between eight and nine hundred paces,'" said Rob. "Anyhow, that portage goes over the top of the Rocky Mountain range at this place—that's the top of the divide. Nearly all these natural passes in the mountains run up on each side to a sort of flat place. Anyhow, when we get over that portage we're on Peace River waters. In yonder direction the waters run into the Pacific. To the east they go into the Arctic. I'm ready to start now, and anxious to get over the height of land."
"She'll be downheel then," laughed Moise. "All same roof on the house, maybe so."
"You're not scared, are you, Moise?" asked Rob, smiling.
"Moise, she'll sweem all same feesh," was the answer of the voyageur.
"We're not going to do any swimming," said Alex, quietly, "and not even any more wading than we have to. You see, our party is small, and we're going over a trail that has already been explored. We travel light, and have good boats. I think we ought to have rather an easy time of it, after all."
"One thing," broke in John, "that always makes me think less of these early explorers, is that they weren't really exploring, after all."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Jesse. "You just said that Mackenzie and Fraser were the first to come across here."
John shook his head vigorously. "No, they weren't the first—as near as I can find out, the white men always had some one to tell them where to go. When Mackenzie was going north there was always some tribe or other to tell him where he was and what there was ahead. It was some Indian that told him about coming over this way to the west—it was Indians that guided him all the way across, for that matter, clear from here to the Pacific."
"That's right," said Rob. "If some Indian hadn't told him about it, he probably never would have heard about the creek which leads into these lakes where we are now. He had a guide when he came here, and he had a guide west of the Fraser, too—they never would have got through without Indians to help them."
"That's true," said Alex, not without a certain pride in the red race which had given him half his own blood. "The whites haven't always used the Indians well, but without native help they could never have taken this northern country. The Beaver Indians used to hunt all through these mountains. It was those men who told Mackenzie how to get over here. He was told, weeks before he got here, that there was a carrying-place across the great hills to the western waters. As you say, young gentlemen, he had guides all the way across. So, after all, as we have only him and Fraser for guides, we'll take a little credit to ourselves, just as he did!"
"Yes," said Moise. "My people, she'll own this whole contree. They'll show the Companee how to take hold, all right. But that's all right; I'm glad, me."
"It looks a little tame," grumbled John, "coming through here where those old fur-traders knew every foot of the country."
"Well, we'll see," said Alex, rising, filling his pipe and tightening his belt to begin the day's work. "It may not look so tame before we get through! But first," he added, "we'll have to see if we can get the boats to the open water of the lake. Come, it's time to break camp now for the first day's journey."
THE GREAT DIVIDE
To boys as familiar with camp work as were Rob, John, and Jesse, the work of breaking camp in the morning was simple. In a few moments they had their tent down and rolled up ready to put in the canoe. Their beds also were rolled, each in its own canvas, and lashed with a rope. Their rifles, which, kept dry in their cases, had been placed under the edge of their blankets as they slept, were now leaned against the bed-rolls. Their knapsacks, in which each boy had his personal belongings, such as brushes, combs, underwear and spare socks, were very quickly made ready, and placed in order each with its owner's bed-roll. In a very few minutes they stood up and showed Alex that they were ready.
Meantime, Moise had put his pots and pans into the sack which served him as a cook's box. His flour and bacon he quickly got ready in their packages, and even before the boys were done with their work he was carrying these parcels down to the first canoe, which was to serve as the cook's boat. The beds of Moise and Alex, simple as they were, required only a roll or two to be ready for the boats.
"We'll fix a system," said Alex, "so that we'll load each boat just the same every day. There's nothing like being regular when you're on the trail."
"I'll bet, Alex, she'll not be a harder boss than ol' Pete Fraser, my wife, he's onkle," declared Moise. "He'll make those men get up by two, three, in the morning an' track two, three hour before she'll eat breakfast, heem."
"Well, you see, we had to do a little reading this morning," remarked John.
"Surely, and to very good purpose," answered Alex. "You ought to keep track of the old journal day by day."
"Exactly," said Rob, "and I'm going to keep a journal of my own each day. We haven't got any sextant to take observations, but I've got all the maps, and I've got a compass—maybe we'll get out a Voyage of Discoveries of our own some day!"
"Now, Moise," said Alex, "you're to go ahead with the cook-boat. You'd better take Mr. Rob for your bow paddler. I'll let Mr. John take the bow in my boat, and our youngest friend here will go amidships, sitting flat on the bottom of the canoe, with his back against his bed-roll. The blankets and tent will make the seats. Of course, Moise, you're not to go too far ahead. It's always a good plan to keep in sight of the wangan-box and the cook's chest, when you're in the woods."
"All right," replied Moise, "I'll go slow with those boy all the time, yes."
"Well, we're not any of us scared yet," said John, stoutly, "and we won't be."
"I hope we'll get some white water to run," added Rob, his eyes shining. Jesse was the only one who seemed to be not wholly happy. The silence of the great hills about him, situated as they now were far from all human habitation, made him feel rather lonesome. He kept up a stout heart, however, and soon forgot his troubles when the actual bustle of the departure was begun.
"You'd better take the axes, Mr. Rob, and go ahead and cut out the way a little bit on this little creek," said Alex. "I'm afraid the boats won't quite clear."
"Aye, aye, sir," said Rob, and soon he and the other boys were making their way in among the tangled thicket, sometimes in and sometimes out of the water, chopping away the branches so that the little boats could get through.
"Will they float, do you think, Mr. Rob?" called Alex.
"Like a bird!" answered Rob, as the first canoe, which was named the Mary Ann, soon took the water.
"Here comes the Jaybird!" cried Jesse, as they pushed the other canoe over the last foot or so of grass which lay between it and the water.
"Those boat she'll be all same like ducks," exclaimed Moise, admiringly. "I'll bet not even my onkle Pete Fraser he'll have better boat like those."
"Sir Alexander's boat was twenty-five or thirty feet long, all made out of birch-bark," said Rob. "Ours aren't much over sixteen feet."
"They had eight or ten men in their boats," began John, "and the most we'll have in either of ours will be three—that is, if you count Jess as a full-sized man!"
"Yes," said Alex, "and they had a number of packs, each weighing ninety pounds. Now, all our packs won't weigh a great deal more than that for each boat, counting in what we're going to eat. We'll have to get something in the way of meat as we go on through. Fine boats these, and much better than birch-bark. Perhaps you may remember that Sir Alexander was having trouble to find good bark to mend his boats before he got in here. We'll not need to trouble about that."
"No," said Rob, "we've got plenty of canvas, and rubber cement, and shellac, and tacks, and cord, and wire. We'll make it through, even if we do have some little breaks."
"I don't think we'll have any," replied Alex in a reassuring way. "Moise, don't you think your load settles your canoe just a little deeper than she ought to go?"
"Non! Non!" said Moise, in reply, casting a judicial look at the low freeboard of the Mary Ann. "She'll go, those boat."
"She'll be getting lighter all the time," ventured Jesse. "John gets awfully hungry, and he'll eat a lot!"
They all laughed heartily at this reference to John's well-known appetite. All were in good spirits when the real progress down the tangled creek began.
"En roulant, ma boule, roulant!" began Moise, as he shoved out his boat—the words of the old Canadian voyageurs' boat song, known for generations on all the waterways of the North.
"Better wait until we get into the lake," smiled Alex. "I don't think we can 'roll the ball,' as you call it, very much in among these bushes."
They moved on down now, pushing and pulling their boat when they could not paddle or pole it. Sometimes they had to force their way through an embarras, as the voyageurs call a pile of driftwood. The boys, however, only enjoyed this sort of work. They were wet, but happy, when, after some time passed in this slow progress, at last they saw the open waters of the lake fully before them.
"En voyage, messieurs," cried Moise. "We begin!"
CROSSING THE HEIGHT OF LAND
Before our young trail-makers now lay the expanse of one of those little mountain lakes which sometimes are forgotten by the map-makers. The ground immediately about the edge of the lake was low, flat, and overgrown. Only a gentle ripple crossed the surface of the lake, for almost no air at all was stirring. Out of a near-by cove a flock of young wild geese, scarcely able to fly, started off, honking in excitement; and here and there a wild duck broke the surface into a series of ripples; or again a fish sprang into the air, as it went about its own breakfast operations for the day. It was an inspiring scene for all, and for the time the Young Alaskans paused, taking in its beauty.
"Il fait beau, ce matin," said Moise, in the French which made half or more of his speech. "She'll been fine morning this day, what?"
"Couldn't be better," assented Alex, who stood knee-deep at the edge of the lake, and who now calmly removed his moccasins and spread them on the thwart of the boat before he stepped lightly in to take his place at the stern of the Jaybird. The boys noticed that when he stepped aboard he hardly caused the boat to dip to one side or the other. This he managed by placing his paddle on the farther side of the boat from him and putting part of his weight on it, as it rested on the bottom at the other side of the boat. All the boys, observing the methods of this skilled canoeman, sought to imitate his example. Presently they were all aboard, Rob in the bow of the Mary Ann, John taking that place for the Jaybird, with Jesse cuddled up amidships.
"Well," said Alex, "here's where we start. For me, I don't care whether we go to the Pacific or the Arctic!"
"Nor me no more," added Moise. "Only I'll rather go downheel as upheel, me—always I'll rather ron the rapeed than track the boat up the rapeed on the bank. Well, en roulant, eh, M'sieu Alex?"
"Roulant!" answered Alex, briefly. Moise, setting his paddle into the water with a great sweep, began once more the old canoe song.
"Le fils du roi s'en va chassant En roulant, ma boule! Avec son grand fusil d'argent En roulant, ma boule!"
So they fared on merrily, the strong arms of the two skilled boatmen pushing the light canoes rapidly through the rippling water. Moise, a strong and skilful paddler, was more disposed to sudden bursts of energy than was the soberer and quieter Alex, who, none the less, came along not far in the rear with slow and easy strokes which seemed to require little exertion on his part, although they drove the boat straight and true as an arrow. The boys at the bow paddles felt the light craft spring under them, but each did his best to work his own passage, and this much to the approval of the older men, who gave them instructions in the art of paddling.
"You'll see, M'sieu Rob," said Moise, "these paddle she'll be all same like fin of those feesh. You'll pull square with heem till she'll get behind you, then she'll turn on her edge just a little bit—so. That way, you paddle all time on one side. The paddle when she'll come out of water, she'll keep the boat running straight."
The distance from their point of embarkation to the eastern edge of the little lake could not have been more than a couple of miles, for the entire distance from the western to the eastern edge was not over three miles. In what seemed no more than a few moments the boats pulled up at the western end of what was to be their first portage.
"Now," said Moise, "we'll show those boy how a Companee man make the portage." He busied himself arranging his packs, first calling for the tent, on which he placed one package after another. Then he turned in the ends of the canvas and folded over the sides, rolling all up into a big bundle of very mixed contents which, none the less, he fastened by means of the strap which now served him as support for it all.
"I know how you did that," said Rob—"I watched you put the strap down inside of the roll."
"Yes," said Moise, smiling, "she'll been what Injun call tump-strap. White man he'll carry on hees shoulder, but Injun an' voyageur, she'll put the tump-band on her head, what? That's best way for much load."
Moise now proceeded to prove the virtue of his remarks. He was a very powerful man, and he now swung up the great pack to his shoulders, although it must have weighed much over a hundred and fifty pounds and included almost the full cargo of the foremost boat.
"Throw something on top of her," said Moise. "She'll been too light! I'm afraid I'll ron off, me."
"Well, look at that man," said Jesse, admiringly. "I didn't know any man was so strong."
"Those Companee man, she'll have to be strong like hox!" said Moise, laughing. "You'll ought to seen heem. Me, I'm not ver' strong. Two, three hondred pounds, she'll make me tire."
"Well, trot on over, Moise," said Alex, "and I'll bring the boat. Young gentlemen, each of you will take what he can conveniently carry. Don't strain yourselves, but each of you do his part. That's the way we act on the trail."
The boys now shouldered their small knapsacks and, each carrying his rifle and rod, started after the two stalwart men who now went on rapidly across the portage.
Moise did not set down his pack at all, but trotted steadily across, and Alex followed, although he turned at the summit and motioned to Rob to pause.
"You'd hardly know it," said Rob, turning to John and Jesse, who now put down their packs, "but here we are at the top of this portage trail and the top of the Peace River pass. Here was where old Sir Alexander really turned toward the west, just as we now are turning toward the east. It's fine, isn't it?"
"I'm glad I came," remarked John.
"And so am I," added Jesse; "I believe we're going to have a good time. I like those two men awfully well—they're just as kind, and my! how strong!"
Presently they all met again at the eastern edge of the dim trail. "I stepped it myself," said John, proudly. "Both Sir Alexander and old Simon Fraser were wrong—she's just six hundred and ninety-three paces!"
"Maybe they had longer legs than you," smiled Alex. "At any rate, there's no doubt about the trail itself. We're precisely where they were."
"What made them call that river the Parsnip River?" demanded Jesse of Alex, to whom he went for all sorts of information.
"I'll show you," said Alex, quietly, reaching down and breaking off the top of a green herb which grew near by. "It was because of the wild parsnips—this is one. You'll find where Sir Alexander mentions seeing a great many of these plants. They used the tops in their pemmican. You see, the north men have to eat so much meat that they're glad to get anything green to go with it once in a while."
"What's pemmican?" asked Jesse, curiously.
"We used to make it out of buffalo meat, or moose or caribou," said Alex. "The buffalo are all gone now, and, in fact, we don't get much pemmican any more. It's made by drying meat and pounding it up fine with a stone, then putting it in a hide sack and pouring grease in on top of it. That used to be the trail food of the voyageurs, because a little of it would go a good way. Do you think you could make any of it for the boys, Moise?"
"I don' know," grinned Moise. "Those squaw, she'll make pemmican—not the honter. Besides, we'll not got meat. Maybe so if we'll get moose deer we could make some, if we stop long tam in camp. But always squaw make pemmican—not man."
"Well, we'll have to give some kind of imitation of the old ways once in a while," commented Alex, "for though they are changed and gone, our young friends here want to know how the fur-traders used to travel."
"One thing," said John, feeling at his ankle. "I'll be awfully glad when we get out of the devil's club country."
"Do you have those up in Alaska?" asked Alex.
"Have them?—I should say we have! They're the meanest thing you can run across out of doors. If you step on one of those long, snaky branches, it'll turn around and hit you, no matter where you are, and whenever it hits those little thorns stick in and stay."
"I know," nodded Alex. "I struck plenty of them on the trail up north from the railroad. They went right through my moccasins. We'll not be troubled by these, however, when we get east of the divide—that's a plant which belongs in the wet country of the western slope."
All this time Moise was busy rearranging the cargoes in the first boat, leaving on the shore, however, such parcels as did not belong in the Mary Ann. Having finished this to his liking, he turned before they made the second trip on the Jaybird and her cargo.
"Don't we catch any of those feesh?" he asked Alex, nodding back at the lake.
"Fish?" asked John. "I didn't see any fish."
"Plenty trout," said Moise. "I s'pose we'll better catch some while we can."
"Yes," said Alex, "I think that might be a good idea. Now, if we had a net such as Sir Alexander and old Simon Fraser always took along, we'd have no trouble. Moise saw what I also saw, and which you young gentlemen did not notice—a long bar of gravel where the trout were feeding."
"We'll not need any net," said Rob. "Here are our fly-rods and our reels. If there are any trout rising, we can soon catch plenty of them."
"Very well. We'd better take the rods back, then, when we go for the second boat."
When they got to the shore of the middle lake, the boys saw that the keener eyes of the old voyageurs had noted what they had missed—a series of ripples made by feeding fish not far from the point where they had landed.
"Look at that!" cried Jesse. "I see them now, myself."
"Better you'll take piece pork for those feesh," said Moise.
"I don't think we'll need it," replied Rob. "We've plenty of flies, and these trout won't be very wild up here, for no one fishes for them. Anyhow, we'll try it—you'll push us out, won't you, Moise?"
Carefully taking their places now in the Jaybird, whose cargo was placed temporarily on the bank, the three boys and Moise now pushed out. As Rob had predicted, the fish were feeding freely, and there was no difficulty in catching three or four dozen of them, some of very good weight. The bottom of the canoe was pretty well covered with fish when at length, after an hour or so of this sport, Moise thought it was time to return to shore, where Alex, quietly smoking all the time, had sat awaiting them.
"Now we'll have plenty for eat quite a while," said Moise.
"That's all right," said John. "I'm getting mighty hungry. How long is it going to be before we have something to eat?"
"Why, John," said Rob, laughingly, "the morning isn't half gone yet, and we've just had breakfast."
"Well," said Alex, "now we've got all these fish, we'll have to take care of them. Come ahead and let's clean them, Moise."
The boys all fell to and assisted the men at this work, Moise showing them how to prepare the fish.
"How are we going to keep them?" asked John, who always seemed to be afraid there would not be enough to eat.
"Well," explained Alex, "we'll put them in between some green willow boughs and keep them that way till night. Then I suppose we'll have to smoke them a little—hang them up by the tail the way the Injuns do. That's the way we do whitefish in the north. If it weren't for the fish which we catch in these northern waters, we'd all starve to death in the winter, and so would our dogs, all through the fur country."
"By the time we're done this trip," ventured Rob, "we'll begin to be voyageurs ourselves, and will know how to make our living in the country."
"That's the talk!" said Alex, admiringly. "The main thing is to learn to do things right. Each country has its own ways, and usually they are the most useful ways. An Injun never wants to do work that he doesn't have to do. So, you'll pretty much always see that the Injun ways of keeping camp aren't bad to follow as an example, after all.
"But now," said he at length, after they had finished cleaning and washing off their trout, "we'll have to get on across to the other lake."
As before, Moise now took the heavier pack on his own broad shoulders, and Alex once more picked up the canoe.
"She's a little lighter than the other boat, I believe," said he, "but they're both good boats, as sure's you're born—you can't beat a Peterborough model in the woods!"
The other boys noticed now that when he carried his canoe, he did so by placing a paddle on each side, threaded under and above the thwarts so as to form a support on each side, which rested on his shoulders. His head would have been covered entirely by the boat as he stood, were it not that he let it drop backward a little, so that he could see the trail ahead of him. Rob pointed out to Jesse all these different things, with which their training in connection with the big Alaskan sea-going dugouts had not made them familiar.
"Have we got everything now, fellows?" asked Rob, making a last search before they left the scene of their disembarkation.
"All set!" said John. "Here we go!"
It required now but a few moments to make the second traverse of the portage, and soon the boats again were loaded. They found this most easterly of the three lakes on the summit to be of about the same size as the one which they had just left. It was rather longer than it was wide, and they could see at its eastern side the depression where the outlet made off toward the east. Again taking their places at the paddles in the order established at the start of the day, they rapidly pushed on across. They found now that this lake discharged through a little creek which rapidly became deep and clear.
"It's going to be just the way," said Rob, "that Sir Alexander tells. I say, fellows, we could take that boat and come through here in the dark, no matter what Simon Fraser said about Sir Alexander."
They found the course down this little waterway not troublesome, and fared on down the winding stream until at length they heard the sound of running water just beyond.
"That's the Parsnip now, no doubt," said Alex, quietly, to his young charges. Already Moise had pushed the Mary Ann over the last remaining portion of the stream, and she was floating fair and free on the current of the second stream, not much larger than the one from which they now emerged.
"Voila!" Moise exclaimed. "She'll been the Peace River—or what those voyageur call the Parsneep. Now, I'll think we make fast ride, yes."
Jesse, leaning back against his bed-roll, looked a little serious.
"Boys," said he, "I don't like the looks of this. This water sounds dangerous to me, and you can't tell me but what these mountains are pretty steep."
"Pshaw! It's just a little creek," scoffed John.
"That's all right, but a little creek gets to be a big river mighty fast up in this country—we've seen them up in Alaska many a time. Look at the snow-fields back in those mountains!"
"Don't be alarmed, Mr. Jess," said Alex; "most of the snow has gone down in the June rise. The water is about as low now as it is at any time of the year. Now, if we were here on high water, as Simon Fraser was, and going the other way, we might have our own troubles—I expect he found all this country under water where we are now, and the current must have been something pretty stiff to climb against."
"In any case," Rob added, "we're just in the same shape that Sir Alexander and old Simon were when they were here. We wouldn't care to turn back, and we've got to go through. If they did it, so can we. I don't believe this stream's as bad, anyhow, as the Fraser or the Columbia, because the traders must have used it for a regular route long ago."
"I was reading," said John, "in Simon Fraser's travels, about how they did in the rapids of the Fraser River. Why, it was a wonder they ever got through at all. But they didn't seem to make much fuss about it. Those men didn't know where they were going, either—they just got in their boat and turned loose, not knowing what there was on ahead! That's what I call nerve. Pshaw! Jess, we're only tenderfeet compared to those chaps!"
"That's the talk!" commented Alex, once more lighting his pipe and smiling. "We'll go through like a bird, I'm pretty sure."
"Yes," said Moise, "we'll show those boy how the voyageur ron the rapeed."
"One thing I want to say to you young gentlemen," resumed Alex, "not to alarm you, but to teach you how to travel. If by any accident the boat should upset, hang to the boat and don't try to swim. The current will be very apt to sweep you on through to some place where you can get a footing. But all these mountain waters are very strong and very cold. Whatever you do, hang to the boat!"
"Yes!" said Rob, "'don't give up the ship,' as Lawrence said. Sir Alexander tells how he got wrecked on the Bad River with his whole crew. But they hung to the canoe and got her out at the foot of the rapids, after all, and not one of them was hurt."
"He didn't lose a man on the whole trip, for that matter," John added.
"Well, now, let's see about the rapids," said Rob again, spreading out his map and opening one of his books which he always kept close at hand. "Simon Fraser tells as day by day what he did when he was going west. They got into that lake we've just left, about noon. They must have poked up the creek some time, and very early that same morning. That was June thirtieth, and on the same day they passed another river coming in from the west side—which must be between here and the outlet from McLeod Lake."
"What does the map say about the other side of the stream?" asked John, peering over Rob's shoulder.
"Well, on the twenty-eighth, as they were coming up they passed two rivers coming in from the east. That can't be very far below here, and the first stream on the west side must be pretty close, from all I can learn. Below there, on the twenty-seventh, there was another river which they passed coming in from the east, and Simon says near its mouth there was a rapid. He doesn't seem to mention any rapids between there and here—probably it had to be a pretty big one for him to take any notice of it. That's two or three days down-stream, according to his journal, and, as Alex says, it was high water, and they made slow time coming up—not as fast as Sir Alexander did, in fact."
"Plenty good water," said Moise, looking out over the rapid little stream with professional approval. "She's easy river."
"Then we ought to make some sort of voyage," said Rob. "You see, Sir Alexander took thirty-four days coming up to this point from the place where he started, far east of the Rockies, but going downhill it only took him six days."
"That was going some," nodded John, emphatically, if not elegantly.
"But not faster than we'll be going," answered Rob. "You see, it took him a sixth of the time to go east which it needed to come west. Then, what they did in three days coming up, we ought to run in a half-day or less going down."
Alex nodded approvingly. "I think it would figure out something like that way," said he.
"So if we started now, or a little after noon," resumed Rob, "and ran a full half-day we ought to pass all these rivers which Simon mentions, and get down to the first big rapid of which he speaks. They were good and tired coming up-stream, but we won't have to work at all going down."
"Well, don't we eat any place at all?" began John again, amid general laughter.
"Sure," said Moise, "we'll stop at the first little beach and make boil the kettle. I'm hongree, too, me."
They did as Moise said, and spent perhaps an hour, discussing, from time to time, the features of the country and the probable time it would take them to make the trip.
"The boat goes very fast on a stream like this," said Alex. "We could make fifty or sixty miles a day without the least trouble, if we did not have to portage. I should think the current was four to six miles an hour, at least, and you know we could add to that speed if we cared to paddle."
"Well, we don't want to go too fast," said Jesse. "We have all summer for this trip."
This remark from the youngest of the party caused the old voyageur to look at him approvingly. "That's right," said he, "we'll not hurry."
Moise was by this time examining the load of the Mary Ann, arranging the packs so that she would trim just to suit his notion when Rob was in place at the bow. Alex paid similar care to the Jaybird. The boats now ran practically on an even keel, which would give them the greatest bearing on the water and enable them to travel over the shallowest water possible.
"En roulant?" said Moise, looking at Alex inquiringly.
Alex nodded, and the boys being now in their proper places in the boats, he himself stepped in and gave a light push from the beach with his paddle.
"So long, fellows," called out Rob over his shoulder as he put his paddle to work. "I'm going to beat you all through—if I'm bow paddle in the first boat I'll be ahead of everybody else. En roulant, ma boule!"
The Mary Ann, swinging fully into the current, went off dipping and gliding down the gentle incline of the stream. "Don't go too fast, Moise," called out Alex. "We want to keep in sight of the cook-boat."
"All right!" sang out Moise. "We'll go plenty slow."
"Now," said Alex to John and Jess as he paddled along slowly and steadily; "I want to tell you something about running strange waters in a canoe. Riding in a canoe is something like riding a horse. You must keep your balance. Keep your weight over the middle line of the canoe, which is in the center of the boat when she's going straight, of course. You'll have to ease off a little if she tilts—you ride her a little as you would a horse over a jump. Now, look at this little rough place we're coming to—there, we're through it already—you see, there's a sort of a long V of smooth water running down into the rapid. Below that there's a long ridge or series of broken water. This rapid will do for a model of most of the others, although it's a tame one.
"In this work the main thing is to keep absolutely cool. Never try a bad rapid which is strange to you without first going out and getting the map of it in your mind. Figure out the course you're going to take, and then hang to it, and don't get scared. When I call to you to go to the right, Mr. John, pull the boat over by drawing it to your paddle on that side—don't try to push it over from the left side. You can haul it over stronger by pulling the paddle against the water. Of course I do the reverse on the stern. We can make her travel sidewise, or straight ahead, or backward, about as we please. All of us canoemen must keep cool and not lose our nerve.
"Well, I'll go on—usually we follow the V down into the head of a rapid. Below that the highest wave is apt to roll back. If it is too high, and curls over too far up-stream, it would swamp our boat to head straight into it. Where should we go then? Of course, we would have to get a little to one side of that long, rolling ridge of white water. But not too far. Sometimes it may be safer to take that big wave, and all the other waves, right down the white ridge of the stream, than it is to go to one side."
"I don't see why that would be," said Jesse. "I should think there would be the most dangerous place for a canoe."
"It is, in one way," said Alex. "Or at least you're surer to ship water there. But suppose you are in a very heavy stream like the Fraser or the Columbia. At the foot of the chute there is very apt to be some deep swells, or rolls, coming up from far down below. Besides that, there's very apt to be a strong eddy setting up-stream just below the chute, if the walls are narrow and rocky. Now, that sort of water is very dangerous. One of those big swells will come up under a boat, and you'd think a sledge-hammer had hit her. Nothing can stop the boat from careening a little bit then. Well, suppose the eddy catches her bow and swings her up-stream. She goes up far enough, in spite of all, so that her nose gets under some white water coming down. Well, then, she swamps, and you're gone!"
"I don't like this sort of talk," said Jesse. "If there's any place where I could walk I'd get out."
"I'm telling you now about bad water," said Alex, "and telling you how to take care of yourself in case you find yourself there. One thing you must remember, you must travel a little faster than the current to get steerageway, and you must never try to go against your current in a rapid—the water is stronger than all the horses you ever saw. The main thing is to keep cool, to keep your balance, and sometimes not to be afraid of taking a little water into the boat. It's the business of the captain to tell whether it's best to take the ridge of water at the foot of the chute or to edge off from it to one side. That last is what he will do when there are no eddies. All rapids differ, and of course in a big river there may be a dozen different chutes. We always go ashore and look at a rapid if we think it's dangerous.
"Now, you hear that noise below us," he added, "but don't be alarmed. Don't you see, Moise and Rob are already past it? I'll show you now how we take it. Be steady, John, and don't paddle till I tell you. On your right a little!" he called out an instant later. "That's it! So. Well, we're through already!"
"Why, that was nothing," said Jesse. "It was just as smooth!"
"Exactly. There is no pleasanter motion in the world than running a bit of fast water. Now, there was no danger in this, and the only trouble we had was just to get an inch or so out of the way of that big rock which might have wrecked us. We always pick a course in a rapid which gives us time to turn, so that we can dodge another rock if there's one on ahead. It usually happens pretty fast. You'll soon learn confidence after running a few pieces of white water, and you'll learn to like it, I'm sure."
Moise had turned his boat ashore to see the second boat come through, and after a moment Alex joined him at the beach, the canoes being held afloat by the paddles as they sat.
"She comes down fast, doesn't she, fellows?" asked Rob.
"I should say so!" called John. "I don't see how they ever got a big boat up here at all."
"Well, Sir Alexander says that this was part of the worst water they found," said Rob. "Sometimes they had to pull the boat up by hanging on to the overhanging trees—they couldn't go ashore to track her, they couldn't get bottom with their setting-poles, and of course they couldn't paddle. Yet we came down like a bird!"
The boats dropped on down pleasantly and swiftly now for some time, until the sun began to sink toward the west. A continually changing panorama of mountain and foothill shifted before them. They passed one little stream after another making down from the forest slopes, but so rapid and exhilarating was their movement that they hardly kept track of all the rivers and creeks which came in. It was late in the evening when they heard the low roar of a rapid far on ahead. The men in the rear boat saw the Mary Ann slacken, pause, and pull off to one side of the stream.
"That must be the big rapid which Fraser mentions," commented John.
"Very likely," said Alex. "Well, anyhow, we might as well pull in here and make our camp for the night. We've made a good day's work for a start at least."
"I shouldn't wonder if it was a hundred miles from where we started down to the outlet of the McLeod River," began Rob again, ever ready with his maps and books. "I think they call it the Pack River now. There is a sort of wide place near there, where the Mischinsinclia River comes in from the east, and above that ten or fifteen miles is the Misinchinca River, on the same side. I don't know who named those rivers, but we haven't passed them yet, that's sure. Then down below the mouth of the McLeod is the Nation River, quite a good stream, I suppose, on the west side. The modern maps show another stream called the Manson still farther. I don't know whether Mackenzie knew them by these names, or whether we can tell them when we see them, but it's all the more fun if we can't."
AROUND THE CAMP-FIRE
The point at which they ended their day's voyage was a long sand-pit projecting out from the forest and offering a good landing for the canoes. They were glad enough to rest. Moise and Alex, who had paddled steadily all the afternoon, stepped out on the beach and stretched themselves.
"Let's go back into the woods," said Jesse. "We can't sleep on these hard little rocks—we can't even drive the tent-pegs here."
"Well, Mr. Jess," said Alex, "if you went back into the woods I think you'd come back here again—the mosquitoes would drive you out. If you notice, the wind strikes this point whichever way it comes. In our traveling we always camp on the beaches in the summer-time when we can."
"Besides," added Rob, "even if we couldn't drive the tent-pins, we could tie the ropes to big rocks. We can get plenty of willows and alders for our beds, too, and some pine boughs."
The long twilight of these northern latitudes still offered them plenty of light for their camp work, although the sun was far down in the west. Alex, drawing his big buffalo knife, helped the tired boys get ready their tent and beds, but he smiled as he saw that to-night they were satisfied with half as many boughs as they had prepared on their first night in camp.
"I don't suppose," said Rob, "that Sir Alexander and his men made very big beds."
"No, I'm afraid not," replied Alex. "On the contrary, the canoemen always broke camp about four o'clock in the morning, and they kept going until about seven at night. Fifteen hours a day in and out of the water, paddling, poling, and tracking, makes a man so tired he doesn't much care about what sort of bed he has."
While the others were getting the tent ready Moise was busy making his fire and getting some long willow wands, which he now was making into a sort of frame.
"What's that for, Moise?" asked Jesse.
"That's for dry those feesh you boys'll got this morning. Fine big trouts, three, four poun', an' fat. I'll fix heem two, three, days so he'll keep all right."
"But we couldn't stay here two or three days," said John.
"We might do worse," replied Alex. "This isn't a bad camping place, and besides, it seems to me good country to make a little hunt, if we care to do that."
"It certainly would be a fine place for beaver," said Rob, "if it weren't against the law to kill them."
"Yes, or other things also—bear or bighorns, I should think very likely."
"I suppose there isn't any law against killing bears," said Rob, "but how about bighorns? I thought they were protected by law."
"We'll talk about that after a while," Alex answered. "Of course, no one would want to kill beaver at this time of year, no matter what the law was, because the fur is not good."
"I see by Sir Alexander's journal," continued Rob, "that it must have been along in here that they saw so much beaver work. There are plenty of dams even now, although it's a hundred years later than the time he came through."
"I suppose when we get down farther there are fewer creeks," said John, "and the rocks and trees are bigger. I don't know just where we are now, because the trees are so thick a fellow can't see out."
"Well," went on Rob, bringing out his map, and also that which was found in his copy of Mackenzie's Voyages, "it must have been just about in here that Mackenzie met the first Indians that he saw in this country—the ones who told him about the carrying place, and about the big river and the salt water beyond it. They were the Indians who had iron spears, and knives, and things, so that he knew they had met white men off to the west. They had a big spoon which Mackenzie says was made out of a horn like the buffalo horn of the Copper Mine River. I suppose Mackenzie called the musk-ox buffalo, and very likely he never had seen a mountain-sheep."
"That's right," said Alex, "those Injuns used to make big spoons out of the horns of the mountain-sheep—all the Injuns along the Rockies always have done that. It seems strange to me that Mackenzie didn't know that, although at that he was still rather a new man in the north."
"You never have been in here yourself, have you, Alex?" asked John.
"No, and that's what is making the trip so pleasant for me. I'm having a good time figuring it out with you. I know this river must run north between those two ranges of mountains, and it must turn to the east somewhere north of here. But I've never been west of Fort St. John."
"I don't like the look of this river down there," said Jesse, stepping to the point of the bar, and gazing down the stream up which came the sullen roar of heavy rapids.
"Those rapeed, she'll been all right," said Moise. "Never fear, we go through heem all right. To-morrow, two, three, day we'll go through those rapeed like the bird!"
"We can walk around them, Jesse, if we don't want to run them," said Rob, reassuringly. "Of course it's rather creepy going into heavy water that you don't know anything about—I don't like that myself. But just think how much worse it must have been for Sir Alexander and his men, who were coming up this river, and on the high water at that. Why, all this country was overflowed, and one time, down below here, all the men wanted to quit, it was such hard work. He must have been a brave man to keep them going on through."
"He was a great man," added Alex. "A tired man is hard to argue with, but he got them to keep on trying, and kept them at their work."
"Grub pile!" sang Moise once more, and a moment later all were gathered again around the little fire where Moise had quickly prepared the evening meal.
"I'm just about starved," said John. "I've been wanting something to eat all afternoon."
They all laughed at John's appetite, which never failed, and Moise gave him two large pieces of trout from the frying-pan. "I'll suppose those feesh he'll seem good to you," said Moise.
"I should say they were good!" remarked Jesse, approvingly. "I like them better all the time."
"S'pose we no get feesh in the north," began Moise, "everybody she'll been starve."
"That's right," said Alex. "The traders couldn't have traveled in this country without their nets. They got fish enough each night to last them the next day almost anywhere they stopped. You see, sometimes the buffalo or the caribou are somewhere else, but fish can't get out of the river or the lake, and we always know where to look for them."
"The dore, she'll be good feesh," continued Moise, "but we'll not got dore here. Maybe so whitefeesh over east, maybe so pickerel."
"You remember how we liked codfish better than salmon up in Alaska when we were on Kadiak Island?" asked Rob. "I wonder if we'll like trout very long at a time?"
"Whitefeesh she'll be all right," Moise smiled. "Man an' dog both he'll eat whitefeesh."
"Well, it's all right about fish," Rob remarked, after a time, "but how about the hunt we were talking about? I promised Uncle Dick I'd bring him some bearskins."
"Black bear or grizzlies?" asked Alex, smiling.
"Well, I don't know about that," demurred Alex. "Of course I don't deny you may have killed a bear or so up in Alaska, but down here most of us are willing to let grizzlies alone when we see them."
"This white-face bear, he'll be bad," Moise nodded vigorously.
"Are there many in here?" asked John, curiously, looking at the dense woods.
"I don't know," Alex replied. "I've seen a few tracks along the bars, but most of those are made by black bear. Injuns don't look for grizzlies very much. I don't suppose there's over six or eight grizzly skins traded out of Fort St. John in a whole year."
"Injuns no like for keel grizzly," said Moise. "This grizzly, he'll be chief. He'll be dead man, too, maybe. Those grizzly he'll be onkle of mine, maybe so. All Injun he'll not want for keel grizzly. Some Injun can talk to grizzly, an' some time grizzly he'll talk to Injun, too, heem."
"Now, Moise," said Rob, "do you really think an animal can talk?"
"Of course he'll talk. More beside, all animal he'll talk with spirits, an' man, not often he can talk with spirits himself. Yes, animal he'll talk with spirit right along, heem."