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Lure of the Labrador Wild, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap05"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> V. STILL IN THE AWFUL VALLEY </H3> <P> The next day (Wednesday, July 22) was by far the most disheartening of our journey up the valley of the Susan. We portaged all day through gullies and swamps and over rough ridges, covering in all about two miles and a half. All of us were overcome by the hard work in the burning sun and the poisonous bites of the flies. I was the most susceptible to the attacks of the flies; for ten days I was fairly sick from the poison they instilled. The faces, bands, and wrists of all of us were badly swollen and very sore. My face was so swollen I could scarcely see. </P> <P> In the morning when we started forward the temperature was down to thirty-three degrees, but at noon it had risen to ninety-two. Hubbard was attacked with diarrhoea, and I with vomiting. We were all too exhausted to eat when we stopped for luncheon, and lay on the moss for an hour's rest, with the tent drawn over us to protect us from the flies. </P> <P> On a low, barren knoll we cached that day eighty rounds of .45-70 cartridges and 300 rounds of .22's, George marking the spot with a circle of stakes. That left us 120 rounds of .45-70's and 500 rounds of .22's. It had become strictly necessary to lighten our packs, and we had begun to drop odds and ends every day. </P> <P> In the afternoon Hubbard shot with his pistol a spruce partridge (grouse); it was the first seen by us on the trip. Together with a yellowlegs George had shot, it seasoned a pot of pea soup. We camped that night on a bluff, barren point, and Hubbard named it "Partridge Point" in bonour of our first bird. </P> <P> On Thursday (July 23) Hubbard lay in the tent all day sick. All he was able to eat was some hardtack dipped in tea. At his request George and I scouted for trails. Each of us carried a rifle and wore at his belt a pistol and a cup in addition to the sheath knife we never were without. In our pockets we placed a half-pound package of pea meal. George started westward up the river, and I put for a high, barren bill two miles to the north. As I climbed the hill I heard gulls on the other side, which told me water lay in that direction, and when I reached the top, there at my feet, like a silver setting in the dark green forest, lay a beautiful little shoe-shaped lake. For miles and miles beyond the ridge I was on, the country was flat and covered with a thick spruce growth. </P> <P> To the northeast of the lake at my feet I could see the glimmer of other water among the trees, and I decided to go on and investigate. In doing so, I managed to get myself lost. Descending the hill to the lake, I made my way through the thick spruce growth in the swamp along the shore. A splash in the water startled me, and soon I found the fresh tracks of a caribou. As he had winded me, I knew it was useless to try to follow him. Pressing my way on to the northeast, I came upon another small lake and several small creeks. At midday I built a fire and made a cup of pea meal porridge. While waiting for my meal to cook, I read a letter that a friend had given me in New York, "to be opened after one week's canoeing in Labrador." It was like a letter just received from home. </P> <P> In the afternoon the sun became obscured by gathering clouds, and in the thick underbrush through which my course led me I could see scarcely twenty yards ahead. I attempted to get my direction with the compass, but the needle would not respond. Trusting, however, to my ability to find my course without it, I made my way on past two more lakes. A grouse fluttered up before me, and I brought it down with a pistol shot. After tying it to my belt, I decided it was time to turn back home, as we called our camp, and struck off by what I hoped would be a short cut through the swamp. Then it was that I lost my bearings, and at dusk, when I hoped to reach the first lake I had seen in the morning, I found myself on the shore of a lake I had never seen before. </P> <P> Too weary to cook the grouse, or even build a fire and make a cup of porridge, I threw myself on a flat rock, pillowed my head on the trunk of a fallen spruce tree, drew a handkerchief over my face to keep away the clouds of mosquitoes, and slept soundly. At dawn I arose, built a fire, repaired my compass, and ate a cup of porridge. I was not frightened, because with my compass again in working order I knew I should have no difficulty in finding the river, which must be somewhere to the south and which must lead me back to camp. So to the southward I took my course, pushing my way through thick brush and over marshes where the ground under my feet went up and down like the waves of the sea. </P> <P> Towards noon I reached a barren hill, and from its summit saw the river just beyond and the site of one of our old camping places that I knew was eighteen miles below our last camp. Down to the shore of the river I hurried, and built a fire for luncheon. The partridge at my belt had been torn into shreds by the bushes, and again a cup of porridge had to serve me for a meal. It was dark when I reached camp, to find Hubbard greatly worried and George away looking for me. </P> <P> There had been some good-natured arguments between Hubbard and me as to the merits of our respective compasses, and as he now appeared to have the better of it, he took advantage of the occasion to chaff me unmercifully. Then when George returned they both had fun with me for getting lost. </P> <P> "That's all right," I said, "your turn, Hubbard, will come later. You haven't been lost yet, because you haven't been out of sight of camp alone. Anyway, I just stayed out for a quiet evening by myself." </P> <P> My absence on Friday did not delay our progress any; for Hubbard was still unable to travel. On Saturday (July 25) he had not yet fully recovered, but he decided to push forward. A drizzling rain was falling as we started. Each of us carried a load some four miles up the valley and returned; and then Hubbard, with a second load, went ahead to make camp, while George and I, with the remainder of the baggage, endeavoured to drag the canoe upstream. Darkness came on when we were two miles below camp. While fording the river, I was carried off my feet by the current and nearly swept over the fall with a pack around my neck. </P> <P> Then George and I left the canoe on the bank for the night, and each with his pack proceeded to push his way through the thick willows and alders and over the rocks. It was so dark we could not see each other. Falling down constantly and struggling to our feet again, we stumbled on through the pitchy blackness and down-pouring rain, until suddenly we discerned the glowing light of our campfire and came upon Hubbard frying bacon. George and I were too tired to eat; we were glad to lie down in our wet clothes on the bed of spruce boughs that was ready for us and forget our troubles in sleep. </P> <P> We rested on Sunday&mdash;and ate. A partridge I had shot the day before was served stewed with rice and bacon for dinner, while for supper we had twenty-two trout that Hubbard caught in the morning, served with apple sauce and hot bread. This high living fully recompensed us for our hard fight against nature and the elements, and once more full of hope we lay down to sleep. </P> <P> In the morning (Monday, July 27) Hubbard arose with a feeling of depression, but fair progress during the day brightened him up. A typical fall wind blew all day, and we were very wet and very cold when we went into camp at night. But with the coming of evening the clouds were driven away before the wind, affording us an occasional glimpse of the new moon hanging low in the heavens; and this, together with the sound of the river and the roaring campfire, soon cheered us up. No matter how weary and discouraged we were during the day, our evening fire invariably brought to us a feeling of indescribable happiness, a sweet forgetfulness of everything but the moment's comfort. </P> <P> Our fire that Monday night was no exception to the general rule, but after supper, while we were luxuriantly reclining before it on a couch of boughs, Hubbard gave expression to a strange feeling that had been growing on him and me in the last few days. It was almost as if the solitude were getting on our nerves. Hubbard was munching a piece of black chocolate, which he dipped at intervals in a bit of sugar held in the palm of his left hand, when he said: </P> <P> "It's queer, but I have a feeling that is getting stronger from day to day, that we are the only people left in the world. Have you fellows experienced any such feeling?" </P> <P> "Yes," said I; "I have. I have been feeling that we must forever be alone, going on, and on, and on, from portage to portage, through this desolate wilderness." </P> <P> "That's it exactly," said Hubbard. "You sort of feel, that as you are now, so you always have been and always will be; and your past life is like a dream, and your friends like dream-folk. What a strange sensation it is! Have you felt that way, George?" </P> <P> George took the pipe from his mouth, blew out a cloud of tobacco smoke to join the smoke of the fire, and spat meditatively over his shoulder. </P> <P> "Don't know as I have," he grunted. "I know there's mighty good huntin' down the bay; and I've been thinkin' of Rupert's House [the Hudson's Bay Company Post on James Bay where he was born], and what the fellus I know there are doin' these days. I can't say they seem like dream-folks to me; they're real enough, all right." </P> <P> Hubbard and I laughed. Solitude was an old story to our friend, the English-Indian, and our "feelings" must have seemed to him highly artificial, if not affected. </P> <P> Our progress on Tuesday and Wednesday (July 28 and 29) was the old story of hard tracking in the river and difficult portaging. The weather was cloudy and a chill wind blew. On Tuesday we advanced our camp a little more than three miles, and on Wednesday a little more than four. This continued slow work gave Hubbard serious concern, and the condition of our larder and wardrobe was not reassuring. Our bacon and sugar were going fast. Fish had become an absolute necessity, and our catches had been alarmingly small. There was also a lamentable lack of game. Far below we had heard the chatter of the last red squirrel, and seen the last bear signs and the last tree barked by porcupines. There were caribou trails a-plenty, but seldom a fresh track. A solitary rabbit had crossed our trail since we entered the valley, and there were no more rabbit runs visible. We could only hope that as we neared the "height of land," we should find more game&mdash;find plenty of caribou, at least, on the moss-covered barrens. We had also noted a change in the timber growth; neither birch nor aspen had we seen for a week. </P> <P> Our moccasins were breaking through the bottoms, and this was a serious matter; for while George had an extra pair, Hubbard and I had only those on our feet. Hubbard's feet were very sore. Two of his toe nails came off on Wednesday night, and a wide crack, which must have made walking very painful, appeared in one of his heels. The nearest thing we had to adhesive plaster was electrician's tape, and with this he bandaged his heel, and tied it and his toes up with pieces of cotton rags we had brought for cleaning rifles. </P> <P> It was on Thursday, July 30, that we reached the point where another good-sized stream comes into the Susan, or where the river may be said to divide into two branches. We found that the southerly branch came over a low fall from the west, while the other, or northerly branch, flowed down from the northwest. The southerly branch was fully as large as the northerly&mdash;narrower but deeper&mdash;and not nearly so swift and rocky. </P> <P> We were very uncertain as to which branch to follow, and Hubbard sent George on a scouting trip up the southerly stream, which we shall call Goose Creek, while he himself climbed a knoll to get a look at the country. A half mile or so up Goose Creek George found a blaze crossing the stream from north to south, which he pronounced a winter blaze made by trappers, as the cuttings were high up on the trees and freshly made. Half a mile above the blaze George came upon the rotten poles of an old Indian wigwam, and this discovery made Hubbard happy; he accepted it as evidence that Goose Creek was the river mapped as the "Northwest" and the Indian route to Michikamau. Accordingly it was decided to follow the southerly branch, and to leave the main stream at this point. </P> <P> I was glad to leave the valley of the Susan. Our whole course up the valley had been torturous and disheartening. We had been out fifteen days from Northwest River Post and had covered only eighty miles. Hubbard had been ill, and I had been ill. Always, as we pressed onward, I dreaded the prospect of retracing our steps through the Susan Valley. I hated the valley from end to end. I have more reason to hate it now. To me it is the Valley of the Shadow of Death. </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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