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  • 1878
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If the roads were bad in the morning, they were ten times worse in the afternoon; and nothing, I think, will ever make me forget the last five miles of real corduroy road we traversed before reaching the “Angle.” It consisted of round logs, loosely bound together, and thrown down upon a marsh, no two consecutive logs being of the same size. There had originally been some foundation, and there were still deep drains dug on each side; but the logs had given way at different ends in some parts, and altogether in others. It was bump, bump, bang, and swash; swash, bang, and bump; now up, now down, now all on one side, now all on the other. Cushions, rugs, everything that could slide, slid off the seats; the children were frightened and fretting; the bird fluttered itself almost to death in vain attempts to escape; the kittens were restless; and all our hair-pins, slipping down our backs, added a cold shiver to our other miseries.

One longed to cry out and beg to be allowed to stop, if only for a moment. But of what use would that have been? We had to endure it, so it was best to get it over quickly. In many places the old road was completely gone, and we had to drive through such dreadful holes that we wondered the waggon, came out entire. [Footnote: Much of this part of the road is now under water and well-nigh impassable, the prospect of soon having the Canada Pacific Railway in working order making it seem waste of time and money to repair it.] Never was smooth road greeted with greater pleasure than we hailed the last mile from the “Angle;” and never did more stiff and weary travellers arrive at any bourn than our party when alighting at the “Angle” that night.


The “Nor’-west Angle”–The Company’s House–Triumph of “Stick-in-the-Mud”–On the Lake of the Woods–A Gallant Cook–Buns _à l’imprèvu_–A Man overboard!–Camping out–Clear Water Bay–Our First Portage–A Noble Savage–How Lake Rice and Lake Deception won their Names–At our Journey’s End.

The “Nor’-west Angle” is a little village at the north-west corner of the Lake of the Woods, and at the mouth of a nameless river, or narrow arm of the lake. The banks on one side are high and wooded, on the other high also, but completely bare of shrubs or trees; while between them the river wanders hither and thither through marshy ground, looking somewhat as one fancies the fens at home must do.

The company’s house is a long, low white building, with narrow windows and doors, neat fences and grass plots in front, and a very fair kitchen garden, showing signs of care and attention. The houses near are all one-storied, log-built, and plastered with mud inside and out. There are also several birch-bark wigwams, full of smoke and swarthy children; the owners squatting at their low doors, or, with their dirty blankets wrapped more tightly round them, leaning on the fence to stare at the new-comers.

The “Angle” was quite lively that afternoon. All our own teams were there, “Stick-in-the-Mud” having arrived first after all, with his load in a better condition than the others. Such a genuine smile of satisfaction beamed on his good-natured face, that I could not forbear congratulating him on his triumph over difficulties. Several other teams had brought supplies for the contractor; and fifty or sixty navvies going out in search of work on the contract were camped about everywhere; some in tents, some under waggons, while some sat up all night round the fires, smoking and recounting their experience of the road. Many of the men were very lame and stiff, after their hundred-mile tramp. Numbers of Indians had come in to trade, and the ceaseless “tom-tom” from the wigwam on the opposite bank told how they were gambling away their earnings. They kept up this dissipation until daylight, when they went away in canoes. The way-house being full when we arrived, the Hudson Bay Company’s officer very kindly vacated his quarters for us, and paid us every attention in his power, even robbing his tiny garden of half its early lettuce for our benefit. We had a comfortable night’s sleep, much enjoyed after our toils and troubles, and on a misty summer morning we packed ourselves and our luggage into a large rowing-boat. The big steamer, _Lady of the Lake_, being, as usual, stuck on a rock, about forty miles out, we were towed behind a barge by a shaky-looking little tug. Glad were we to have room to move about a little, and after the crowded and cramping waggon the boat seemed a paradise.

Floating almost due north over the smooth waters of the bay, we were soon on the Lake of the Woods. The scenery is very lovely; island follows island. Some seem but a pile of moss-covered stone, every crevice filled with ferns, blueberries, and wild juniper bushes; others are great masses of rock, their perpendicular sides covered with curling black cariboo moss and crowned with great pines; others, again, have shelving sandy shores, covered with tangled vines and bright-hued wild-flowers. As we passed along, each long stretch of the lake appeared more beautiful than the last. Then the sun went down, turning to gold and crimson the fleecy clouds mirrored in the lake, glinting on the distant white pines, throwing into bold relief their darker brothers and the jagged walls of moss-covered rock, in varied tints–black, red, green, and white. The shadows slowly deepened, the long grey clouds hung like a curtain in the sky, where the stars began to gleam softly. The varied foliage turned to a deep, rich blue, shading into green like a peacock’s tail. Silence was around us, broken only by the weird cry of the loon diving in the distant bay, and the ceaseless, monotonous puff-puff of the little tug as she pursued her way over the peaceful waters.

About three or four o’clock–how little note we took of time!–we reached the rock on which the big steamer was still fast, stopping to give her another anchor and cable, and wishing her good luck and a speedy release.

We had been amusing ourselves during the afternoon by watching the cook on the barge dive up and down through the narrow doorway of a sort of box to a small rusty sheet-iron cooking-stove, with an equally rusty stove-pipe. First seizing an axe, he chopped up some wood from a pile in the corner, and filled the stove; then he dragged down a bag of flour into his den; then up again he started, as suddenly as a Jack-in-the-box, for a round tin; then for some flat pans. Next we heard him shouting from below, “Is that fire burning good, boys? Cram her full; pile in more wood, and don’t heed the smoke!” and he suddenly appeared with the pans full of buns, which were quickly baked. Then, leaning over the railing of the barge, he cried–

“If you would have your tea now, ladies, while the buns are hot, and would pass along your tea-kettle, I have some tea ready for you.”

Accepting his invitation with thanks, a tin can of buns was soon in our boat, and never did the lightest tea-buns, served in the daintiest of snowy napkins, taste more delicious. The number we demolished proved our appreciation of his cookery.

About sundown we altered our course. After passing a pretty green hill, from which a group of squaws, children, and dogs watched us, we turned to the west and entered Clear Water Bay. The night was getting dark, damp, and chilly, the children were sleepy, and we were tired and silent. The men on the tug had become quiet and drowsy; nothing seemed to stir but the flying sparks from the funnel of the tug, which dropped all around us, and not even a cry from a loon broke through the stillness.

Suddenly–“Here we are!” rang out from a dozen voices, followed by a heavy splash and a cry of “A man overboard!” While we peered out into the darkness, dreading we knew not what, a laugh came from the barge. It was only the short stove-pipe, which some one had knocked overboard in the darkness. In our relief at finding that the accident was nothing worse, we quite forgot the future misery of our poor friend the bun-maker, whose cookery would have to be carried on amidst redoubled volumes of smoke. A moment later the light of a camp fire appeared, and leaving the tug the barge was poled up to it. One of the engineers belonging to Mr. C—-‘s staff came to meet us. He had been ordered into town, and had waited at Clear Water two days for the tug or steamer to take him to the “Angle,” intending, if they did not arrive before morning, to cross next day in a canoe.

We were soon comfortably settled in Mr. K—-‘s tent, while he directed a party of Indians, who seemed to spring up in every direction, to put up another. Some of the men on the barge had tents too; others made great fires, piled with broken branches until the blaze shot up to the tree-tops. The swift, silent movements of the Indians stepping hither and thither, now in the glare of the fire, then lost in the surrounding darkness; the chatter of the men; the barking of the dogs; and the sharp crackle of the blazing logs helped to compose a strange and lively scene. Gradually all grew quiet, and settled down for the night; the Indians, rolling themselves in their blankets, lay down with their feet to the fire, and we felt that this was indeed a fitting ending to our day upon the Lake of the Woods.

I think one always wakes earlier when camping out than when sleeping in a house. Our first night under canvas in the “Nor’-west” was no exception to the rule. We were up and out before five o’clock; yet, early as it was, we found our camping-ground almost deserted. The Indians, who were nearly all “packers,” employed by the contractors to carry stuff over the portages, had shouldered their packs and gone, and only a few of the men still lingered. One poor fellow had caught several fish, and on being asked what he would take for them, replied that he would gladly exchange a couple for a piece of fat and the loan of a frying-pan to cook his own meal in. This offer was at once accepted, and before long we had some nicely cleaned fish added to our repast. The fire being stirred up, and the kettle set on, I heard groans of despair over the condition of the larder. The tin box which contained all that was left of our supplies became more difficult to pack the more empty it grew, and, being unloaded the night before by hands ignorant of the necessity of keeping it right side up, the salt was spilt into the tea, and the preserves were smeared over all the spoons. There was no bread left, and at last we had to content ourselves with a rather light meal of fish and salted tea, consoled by the reflection that we were near the end of our journey.

The camping-ground did not look at all romantic in the morning. Furniture was scattered everywhere, boxes of all sizes and descriptions were strewn about amidst dead fires and charred branches, and a general air of untidiness and discomfort pervaded everything. Mr. K—- left us soon after breakfast, and we set out to walk over our first portage. [Footnote: A “portage” is the shore of a cataract, rapid, or chute, along which the Indians carry their canoes and luggage. The Winnipeg River, in its course of 160 miles from the Lake of the Woods to Lake Winnipeg, makes a descent of 360 feet, occasioning falls, rapids, chutes, and cataracts, which make its navigation difficult. The portaging, or carrying power of the Indians, says Major Butler, is remarkable; one man often carrying two hundred-weight for several miles. The skill with which they avoid whirlpools, land below the fall and re-launch their canoes above it beyond the power of the current, is unerring, and indispensable to travellers.] This led us up a narrow pathway, all hills and hollows; then over a smooth rock with the trail scarcely visible. A narrow gully succeeded, still wet from the spring rain; then we passed through a belt of low-growing trees leading to a bare rock, its crevices filled with moss white as the rock itself. On reaching the highest point we stopped to rest and look back. Clearwater Bay lay far below us, glistening in the sunlight, and beyond, over the point that forms the bay, the lake and its numberless islands extended for miles. As we descended, we met the packers returning for another load, coming at a light, easy run, one after the other, in Indian file, their straps hanging loosely over one arm. Mr. C—-‘s own man, a handsome, lithe, graceful Indian of the Brant tribe, stepped out of the line to shake hands with us and bid us welcome to the contract, with a natural politeness and grace which would have adorned the drawing-rooms of civilization.

This Indian, rejoicing in the name of Youal Carrière, was tall and slight, lithe as a tiger, and quick as lightning; never at a loss, naturally intelligent, and an adept in almost everything he attempted. Having had a fair commercial education when in Brantford among his own people, he was as good a clerk in an office as guide in the bush or cook in camp. He was a keen politician, and ready to discuss almost any question, yet always respectful and attentive. Although never officious, he managed to make himself indispensable. He was fonder of life in the bush than in town, yet as ready to amuse himself when there as any of his friends; rather inclined to brag of his doings and sayings, and able to tell the best story in camp, whoever might be his comrades.

We soon found ourselves on the shore of a small lake, which obtained its name oddly enough. The first party of surveyors who crossed it upset two bags of rice in its waters, and thenceforward it was known as Rice Lake. On reaching the opposite shore, we found a man waiting to cross. He had come down the night before, but all the boats were on the other side.

The second portage was much shorter and more level than the first, and consisted of a pretty woodland track of less than half a mile to Lake Deception, so called from the many times and many ways in which the first surveying party were misled when running the line along its shores. One night, after a hard day’s work, they had settled down round their camp fires, and, while dozing over their pipes, were roused by a shrill halloo from down the trail. Not having had a mail for weeks, and expecting one hourly, they all turned out to meet the carrier, shouting loudly to guide him to the camp; but they were answered only by the shrill scream of the screech-owl, whose hooting had led them on their bootless chase. Lake Deception is very beautiful, with deep shady bays, high rocky shores, and fair green islands. At the head of one of the bays Mr. C—- had built his house.

As we neared the wharf, where stood a small shanty called by the men “The Fort,” with a piece of red cotton doing duty as a flag flying from its roof, a canoe came out to meet us, and a warm welcome from the doctor, an old friend, followed. The Fort contained three rooms, each having a narrow window, and the largest provided with a mud chimney and open fireplace. The furniture comprised a couple of bunk-beds, a few shelves, one table, several stools and benches, washstands built into the corners, and a comfortable sofa, seeming very much out of place in what, to our eyes, looked anything but a comfortable abode. Yet we were told it was one of the most luxurious shanties on the line.

Our luggage could not be brought over until late in the afternoon, so there was nothing to be done but to exercise our patience and wait, enduring the discomfort of feeling as well as looking as if we had travelled for a week, with all the dust of the Dawson road, as well as all the mud of the muskegs, upon our persons.


Making a New Home–Carrière’s Kitchen–The Navvies’ _Salle-à-Manger_–A Curious Milking Custom–Insect Plagues–Peterboro’ Canoes–Fishing Trips–Mail-day–Indian dread of drowning–The Indian Mail-carrier and his Partner–Talking by Telegraph–Prairie Fires.

A detailed account of how we spent the next few weeks would be of little interest, so I will only give it in outline. We slept in the house and took our meals at the fort, Carrière doing the cooking under a low tent close by, which, as a kitchen, was decidedly a curiosity. It occupied a small space not ten feet square, in only five feet of which we could stand upright, and contained cases of tinned fruits, vegetables, sauces, and meats, barrels of flour and meal, caddies of tea and coffee, a small sheet-iron cooking-stove, all the pots, pans, pasteboards, and all other culinary necessaries. There was also a rickety table, at which the men, often five and six at a time, had their meals, sitting on the nearest case, bag, or barrel. It was so crowded that one wondered how Carrière managed to get up such excellent dinners with such limited accommodation. He also made delicious bread, baking it in a hole in the side of the hill, heated by building a fire round it.

By degrees we moved into the house, as the carpenters moved out, taking their bed of shavings with them; and we found daily amusement in the novelty of our surroundings. The house stood on a slight elevation in the valley above the lake, about a hundred and fifty feet off. To the west was a perpendicular wall of rock, rising to a height of forty or fifty feet, covered with tall pines, moss, and ferns. To the east lay a plot of grass, divided by a deep narrow creek from half a dozen dirty tents occupied by the navvies.

The largest of these had a fire burning before it, over which hung a perpetual kettle of pea-soup. Hard by stood a long table of rough boards, laid on rudely fashioned trestles; another board, narrower, and several inches lower, serving as a seat. This table was set almost as often as the pea-soup was stirred. Its appointments were simple, but satisfactory to the guests. There were tin plates and cups, heavy knives and forks, a pepper pot, a mug of mustard, another of salt, a bottle of pickles, and one of sauce. When dinner was ready, the cook, a little fat man, with an apron tied round his waist, a long red _toque_ on his head, and his shirt-sleeves rolled above his elbows, put his hands to his mouth, and gave a loud halloo. Then from every part of the works poured the men belonging to his mess, going first to the creek to wash their hands. As soon as they were seated, the little fellow filled their plates first with soup and next with pork and beans, out of another steaming pot. Ten minutes of rapid feeding satisfied their appetites, and they adjourned to the fallen trees and scattered logs to enjoy their pipes at leisure.

Vigorously wiping down the table, the cook set it anew for the “officers”–that is, the contractors, engineers, and their assistants; the doctor, paymaster, and any one of similar status, who happened to be _en route_ to another part of the line. Their dinner call was a shrill whistle, and their bill of fare differed from the navvies’ only in the addition of pies made of dried apples, and an unlimited allowance of pickles and sugar. Their dinner hour, too, was a “movable feast,” as in rainy weather they took it between the showers; the navvies did not mind a wetting.

Behind Mr. C—-‘s house the ground rose more rapidly to the line of railway, and at the north end of the west rock was a fish-pond, which never had any fish in it, although a good deal of attention was paid to stocking it. About four hundred feet to the east is another rock almost as high as the one on the west, beyond which the lake narrows, and the future railway crossing is projected. Of course it took much longer to arrange and make up the necessary useful and ornamental “fixings,” as the Yankees call them, for our new house when we were thrown entirely upon our own resources than it would have done in town, where stores and assistants are always to be had; and the saying that “necessity is the mother of invention,” was repeatedly verified in our case. Time, therefore, never hung heavily upon our hands, and everything about us having the charm of novelty, gave zest to what to many people would have been but a dull life.

The climate is delightful. A cool fresh breeze always blowing from the lake, tempers the heat, and to a great extent keeps off those foes to comfort in the bush–mosquitoes, black flies, sand flies, and deer flies, or bull-dogs, as they call them there.

Manitoban mosquitoes are larger than those of any other part of Canada, and nothing but smoke will drive them away. Many people who live on the prairies, instead of going for their cattle at milking time, build a smudge (a fire of chips mulched with wet hay or green twigs when well started, to create smoke) near the milk house, and the cattle will come to the fire to obtain relief from the mosquitoes. The black flies are smaller, and the first intimation one has of their attack is a small stream of blood trickling down one’s neck from behind the ear. They bite and die, but there are myriads to take their place. The black flies are most troublesome during the day, the mosquitoes at night. Sand flies, as their name implies, resemble a grain of sand, and their bites are like a thousand red-hot needles piercing the skin at once, they are attracted by a light, and no netting will keep them out. Last, but by no means least, are the deer-flies, great big brutes, larger than the largest blue bottle fly. They generally devote their attentions to cattle, and I have seen the poor cows rushing madly down the clearing, the bells round their necks jangling wildly, lashing their tails and tossing their heads, never stopping until safe from their tormentors in the shelter of the dark stable. The dogs, too, are often so covered with these wretched pests, that nothing but dragging themselves through the thick underbrush will set them free. Their bite is very venomous. One of the engineers showed me the back of his hand where one had bitten him a few hours before; it was blue and angry-looking, swollen to twice its usual size, and very painful. Fortunately the deer-fly does not bite often.

We were able to explore the lake, as Mr. C—- had two Rice Lake or Peterboro’ canoes. These boats are built by a firm in Peterboro’, Ontario, and are steadier than birch-bark canoes, though not so light. They are much used in all parts of Canada, although the Indians prefer the birch-bark. We went out almost every evening, named all the bays, points, and islands, caught lots of excellent pike with a trolling line, which relieved the monotony of bacon and ham for breakfast, or went to the net spread at the mouth of a little river or creek emptying into Lake Deception, and brought home great jack-fish weighing from two to six pounds. From a little stream to the north-west of the house we had delicious brook trout, and occasionally large lake trout from some of the other lakes, presented by the fishermen in their neighbourhood. I weighed one which was over nineteen pounds. Sometimes we took short walks up the line, and through wood-paths made by the men on their way to work. We picked blueberries whenever our hands were not employed in driving off the flies.

But our chief excitement during the week was the arrival of the mail. Our first thought every Thursday morning was, “This is mail-day,” and Joe’s white canoe was eagerly watched for–often in vain, as storms on the Lake of the Woods, when the canoes could not venture out, delayed its coming until Friday.

Strange as it seems, very few Indians can swim, probably from their fear that they shall drown while learning. They believe that, if drowned, their spirits wander for ever in a vain search for the happy hunting-grounds, and no Indian will marry the daughter of one who has met his death in that way, lest the curse should descend to him. Yet they have such faith in their canoes and their own skill in their management of them, that they will go out fearlessly in storms that a white man would never face.

On mail-day our field-glasses were in constant requisition, and whoever was lucky enough to announce the appearance of Joe felt the hero of the hour. There were other canoes as white as Joe’s, so after several disappointments I studied the trimming on his hat, and never made a mistake afterwards. Joe was such an important person that I must describe him. He was a short, slight, though broad-shouldered Indian, wearing a grey flannel shirt, striped cloth trousers, alpaca coat, prunella boots, and black felt hat, with several folds of pink and white net twisted round it. He always had a broad grin on his face, and a hearty “Bon jour, nitchee,” for every one. The dress of his companion or partner differed from Joe’s only in the absence of boots and hat, and wearing the hair braided in two long tails, instead of being cut short.

How we appreciated our letters no one who has not been in the woods, with a mail only once a week, can understand. I remember one day after our mail had arrived, a lad coming in from the shanty to ask if there was anything for him. His sad face, as he turned away on being told that our mail-carrier was no longer allowed to bring mails for the contractors’ men, haunted me for days. Poor home-sick boy! he had not heard from his people for months. I often thought of him afterwards, when, the contractor having made arrangements for a mail-carrier independent of the Government, I saw the huge bag brought in every week, and watched the eager crowd of faces waiting for its contents to be distributed.

We had another source of entertainment in the telegraphic communication between Winnipeg and all the houses on the line, one of the staff in the office good-naturedly keeping us posted in current events. Talking to others along the wire always had a strange significance to me, like having an invisible guest talking to us, who could only hear what we chose to repeat. When anything amusing was said, one involuntarily listened for the invisible laughter. This telegraphic conversation was a nuisance in one way, for often in the middle of dinner Mr. C—- would exclaim, “There’s D—- calling!” and away he would go, and probably not come back till dinner was cold, the cook cross, and the confusion general.

We were not without visitors, for the doctor, contractors, and engineers were coming and going continually. About the middle of July, 1878, the contractors’ head-quarters at Darlington Bay being finished, and more work going on at that end of the line, his officials moved there, and we were left with only a gang of forty men in a shanty near. Our fat cook also went to Bear Lake, about a mile west of the house, which by that time had received the name of Inver Lodge.

One day towards the end of August a rumour reached us that the woods were on fire on the other side of the west hill, and that the flames were travelling towards us. I put on my hat and went up to see if the report were true, and found flames curling along over the moss and underbrush near a sand embankment where two or three men were working. The fire did not look very formidable to me, and on asking the men if there was any danger of its reaching the house, one put down his barrow, and while he slowly wetted the palms of his hands, and rubbed them together, said, “Na fear, me leddie; a barrowfu’ o’ sand noo an’ then wul keep it fra’ gangin’ any further.” So I went back reassured. But as night came on, the blaze increased so much that it became alarming. Mr. C—- and the men were away at Kuwatin, some fifteen miles from us, and could not be back before daylight. A kindly old Irishman, Michael Cahill, who for a drink of butter-milk came in the evenings to work in the garden, offered his services to sit up and watch the fire.

“Not that he thought there was a ha’porth of danger, but, Lord bless them! the misthress and the childre ‘ud be frightened.” Poor old man! he had a true Irish heart, with an air of better days long vanished, and a deep loyalty to “thim of the ould stock;” and his boasts of grandeur and valiant deeds were mingled with childlike credulity.

The fire was at its height about midnight, and had reached a large tree in a line with our house, when the wind from the lake caught and drove it back. The underbrush soon burnt out, but the trees were like pillars of flame, crackling and roaring in the silent night, till they fell with a crash to the ground. Half roused by the noise, old Cahill would mutter something about keeping watch until the master came home. The old fellow had wrapped himself in his great-coat, and was sitting on a chair in the yard sound asleep. Fearing that he might catch cold, I woke him. But he treated the insinuation that he had slept a wink with such indignant contempt that I had to leave him to take his chance. The fire burnt itself out before daylight, and we felt as if we had made more fuss than was necessary, when Mr. C—- and the men arrived after four hours’ hard paddling. About Ingolf the fires raged so fiercely that the engineers there moved all their valuable instruments and papers into the canoes, and left the shanty to its fate; a change in the wind, however, saved it, driving the flames back when the walls were scorching.


Irish Wit–Bears?–Death on the Red Pine Lake–A Grave in the Catholic Cemetery–The First Dog-train–A Christmas Fête–Compulsory Temperance–Contraband Goods–The Prisoner wins the Day–Whisky on the Island–The Smuggler turned Detective–A Fatal Frolic–“Mr. K—-‘s Legs”.

The chimneys in Mr. C—-‘s house were built of mud, and one of them, which smoked whenever a fire was lighted, had to be pulled down and rebuilt. The workmen, who were of various nationalities–Carrière an Indian, old Cahill an Irishman, a Scotchman, and a Mennonite, who thumped the mud mortar with a dogged perseverance that was quite amusing–were all engaged on this chimney. One day I heard Carrière contradict an assertion of Cahill’s with regard to the work, calling it “a d—-d lie!” Stepping back from the foot of the ladder on which Carrière stood, the old Irishman lifted his straw hat with the air of a courtier, and replied politely, “Carrière, ye’re a gintleman! an’ _that’s_ another.”

Before the chimney was quite finished, Mr. and Mrs. C—- went down to Kuwatin to spend a few days, leaving me with the maid and old Cahill to superintend the house-cleaning; and many a half-hour’s amusement had I, listening to the old man’s reminiscences of Ireland. When he found that I knew and took an interest in many of the people in his own country his delight was unbounded. The height of his ambition seemed to be to have “tin min undher him,” and his greatest trial was “huntin’ thim tarmints of cows.” He was the butt of all the jokes and tricks in the camps round, yet he took everything good-naturedly; “the boys must have their laugh sometimes,” being his only comment. He said he was only thirty-seven, but, according to his own account, he had been “kept at school till he was sixteen, lived tin years on the Knight o’ Glynne’s estate, and gone fishin’ with him in the Shannon, been twinty-five years with Colonel Kitchener in Limerick, siven years undher Mr. Usborne of Aruprior Canady West, and knew the Ottawa as well as any man, two years with his brother in Michigan and two years in Kuwatin, and all the fault of the editor of the _Ottawa Times_ newspaper, for praisin’ up the country and tellin’ lies about the wages.”

Cahill always dressed in his best on Sunday. How he managed to get up his white shirts was a mystery. To be sure, one was made to last several Sundays, for when one side got dirty he turned the other out. The navvies called him the forest ranger, because he always took the gun with him when he went for the cows, and each day as he passed the shanties on his way back empty-handed, they chaffed him about his want of sport. One evening he returned as usual, apparently empty-handed, but coming into the kitchen for the milk-pails, he produced from his pockets five partridges and four pigeons. When I asked him why he did not carry them to show the men that he did shoot something sometimes, he gave me a knowing look and said, “Shure, I wouldn’t give thim that satisfaction.”

We were glad of the game, as a change from the continual salt meat and fish, being unable to get fresh meat until November, and then only Montana beef. The second year the contractor bought only Canadian cattle. The difference in the meat is very great, the one being hard and full of thread-like sinews, the other juicy and tender.

The evening before the September mail went out, I was sitting up late writing letters, when Mrs. C—- in a frightened tone called me to “_listen to that queer noise_”–a crunching, rustling sound from the rocks west of the house, just as if some heavy animal was making its way through the underbrush and dry moss. Rumours of the vicinity of bears had reached us that day, and we jumped at once to the conclusion that Bruin was upon us. What was to be done? We were quite certain the poor calf, tethered to a stump on the grass plot, would fall an easy victim. Then all the windows were wide open downstairs, and we did not think it probable Bruin would respect the mosquito-netting sufficiently for us to depend upon it as a defence. Mr. C—- and the men were away down the line, and the doctor, who had come in that day, was enjoying a slumber, from which it seemed cruel to disturb him after his hard day’s tramp. However, as the noise increased, and seemed nearer every moment, it had to be done. Did you ever try to wake a very sound sleeper, making apparently noise enough to awaken the dead, and when about to give it up in despair have him answer, after your last effort, in a mild, good-naturedly aggravating tone, which impresses you with the belief that he has only closed his eyes for a moment’s meditation? Just so did our excellent Esculapius. Imploring him to get up, and telling him that the bears were upon us, I rushed to obey Mrs. C—-, who screamed to me to shut all the windows. While I was scrambling on to the kitchen table to reach the last, the doctor appeared, very much _en déshabille_, with his hair rumpled and a general air of incompleteness about him, demanding the whereabouts of the bear; and at the same moment Mrs. C—-, in her night-dress, leant over the banisters above, listening with all her ears for the answer. The absurdity of the whole scene so struck me that I could scarcely refrain from laughing outright. Sallying forth, armed with a big stick, the valiant doctor drove out from behind the wood-pile on the rock–a large, half-starved dog, who was trying to worry a meal off the dried hide of a defunct cow!

The night was brilliant; bright moonlight lay like a long string of diamonds on the bosom of the lake; a blue, cloudless sky spread over our heads; but far away to the south a great bank of murky clouds, lined with silver, was momentarily rent by fierce flashes of forked lightning, followed by the muttering of distant thunder.

In November a very sad accident occurred, by which Mr. C—- lost one of his staff. The weather was cold and disagreeable, just the few transition days between the beautiful Indian summer and clear Canadian winter. Until then the thermometer had registered 70 degrees in the shade at noon, but the change had come suddenly, as it always does in Manitoba, and in a few days the smaller lakes had frozen over wholly, but the larger ones only partially. The mail had been delayed in consequence of there being no means of passage either by land or water. On the 10th Mr. W—- and Mr. K—- dined at Inver, and the former resisted all persuasions to remain until the morning, being anxious to reach his station, Ingolf, next day in time to intercept the expected mail-carrier, and feeling sure he could reach the intermediate station, Kalmar, before dark. He left about three o’clock. What seeming trifles sometimes make all the difference between life and death! That day dinner was half an hour late, an unusual thing in our punctual house, and if he had only had that half-hour more of daylight, his fate would have been changed. He crossed the three first lakes in safety upon the ice, and naturally thought that he should find the fourth equally firm, forgetting that the sun had been, shining on the north side with a heat doubled by the high, rocky shore. He attempted to cross, but, alas, never reached the other side.

The next evening (Saturday), not hearing him work the telegraph, Mr. K—-, who had been detained at Inver, asked Kalmar when Mr. W—- left, and the answer that he had not seen him told us the sad news at once. Next morning at daybreak a party went in search of the unfortunate man, and found his body not thirty feet from the shore. His hat, profile (or map), and the long pole carried by all who have to cross unsound ice, were floating near. His large boots, which were so strapped round his waist that it was impossible to get them off, had kept him down. The lake (Red Pine) is small but deep, and he had died alone in the forest, with only the giant rocks around him to echo back his dying cries. While I write, memory recalls his laughing air, when telling me that morning how he had tried to cross the narrows of our lake, but had desisted, fearing a ducking on such a cold day; and I, pointing to his immense boots, said they were scarcely fit to wear when running such risks. How little I dreamt what harm they were doomed to do! His great brown eyes, with the sad, far-away look in them, as if, unknown to himself, they saw into the future; his graceful, manly figure, as he sprang up the hill behind the house, and his cheery “Good-bye, till I see you again,” can never be forgotten.

When the winter roads became passable, they took him into Winnipeg, and laid him in the Roman Catholic cemetery there–alone, away from all he loved, without a kindly hand to tend his last resting-place. His death cast a gloom over all our party. Though grieving for him and missing him continually, we could never realize that he was really dead. And the knowledge that it was so even to us made our hearts fill with sympathy for one far away, to whom the sad tidings would have more than the bitterness of death.

Our great excitement after winter had set in in earnest was the arrival of the first dog-train. Hearing the shrill “Marsh-sha” (Marcha) of the driver, we all rushed to the window to see the pretty beasts, in their gaily-worked saddle-cloths and merry bells, come down the hill; then, when a halt was called, to watch them sit down on their haunches and look proudly about them, as if quite aware of the interest they excited. The taboggans they drew were not heavily laden, and as far as I can judge from my limited experience, the dogs are invariably kindly treated by their drivers; all looked well fed and in good condition. During the summer, and sometimes in the winter, when the poor Indians themselves are more than half-starved, it is little wonder that the dogs fare as badly as their masters, and look lean and miserable.

The winter of 1878 was mild and open, more so than had been known in the North-west for thirty years. The snow had vanished almost completely from the portages, and water covered the ice on many of the lakes. When, at Christmas, the staff accepted Mrs. C—-‘s invitation to spend the day at Inver, the question was whether they would come with dogs or canoes? Neither, however, were practicable, and they had to walk–some of them eighteen miles.

We amused ourselves icing the cake, inventing devices, with the aid of scraps of telegraph wire, as supports for the upper decorations, decorating the house with cedar and balsam wreaths, and providing as good a dinner as it was possible to obtain in the woods. With the exception of having nothing for our guests to drink, we succeeded tolerably well. Being within the limits of prohibitory laws, it was necessary to ask the Lieutenant-governor of Manitoba for an especial “permit” to have wine sent out; and we were answered that, “if the men had to do without whisky, the gentlemen might do without wine.” So we had to content ourselves with half a glass of sherry each, the remains of some smuggled out with our luggage in the spring.

We soon had proof that the men rebelled against the prohibitory law. The presence of whisky being suspected in a neighbouring camp, a constable who had been but recently appointed, and was anxious to show his zeal, never rested until he had discovered the smuggler and brought him to justice; the clause that the informer was entitled to half the fine of fifty dollars not diminishing his ardour.

To a lawyer the proceedings would have been amusing, for all parties concerned were novices in their respective _rôles_. The justice of the peace, with a great idea of his own importance, the majesty of the law, and the necessity for carrying it out to the letter, had obtained several manuals for the guidance of county justices of the peace and stipendiary magistrates, over the technicalities of which he spent many a sleepless hour. No sooner had he mastered the drift of one act, than the next repealed so many of its clauses that the poor man became hopelessly bewildered. Handcuffs there were none, neither was there a lock-up, and the constable spent his time in keeping guard over the prisoner, being paid two dollars a day for the service. The latter was fed and housed, and, not having been overburdened with work or wages for some time, did not object to the incarceration.

Ultimately he was tried, found guilty, and fined fifty dollars or a month in jail. Many arguments arose between magistrate and constable, as the latter, having served in the United States, and there learned a smattering of Yankee law, was resolved to make his voice heard in the case. The inability of the prisoner to pay the fine of course made it necessary to fall back upon the alternative–thirty days in jail, which jail was a hundred and odd miles off. There was no conveyance to take him thither; and no roads even if there had been; and the man refused to walk.

“If I had the money I’d pay the fifty and have done with it,” he said; “but, not having it, I can’t do it. If I am to go to jail, all right–take me; but whoever heard of a man walking there of his own accord?” and he whittled away at the stick in his hand feeling that he was master of the situation. Being remanded until the next day, to keep up some semblance of proper procedure, he went away quite contentedly, only to return the next day and the next to repeat the same farce. At last both magistrate and constable began to look rather tired, while the prisoner, on the contrary, was quite at his ease. The wire was down between us and Winnipeg, and no advice could be obtained. So at last the constable, agreeing to forfeit his share of the fine, and the magistrate to take a time-bill on the contractor for the next section of the railway for the remaining twenty-five dollars, they let the man go, neither of them, I am sure, seeing him depart with regret.

The next whisky seizure that occurred in the neighbourhood was a small two-gallon keg, found in the middle of a barrel of sugar. The load was owned by one man and driven by another, whose consternation at finding he was a holder of contraband goods was so genuine that the authorities thought emptying the whisky on the snow was sufficient punishment, and–possibly dreading a repetition of the last trial–let the man go.

Soon afterwards several kegs of whisky were found on an island in the Lake of the Woods. The owner gave himself up, and entered the service of the contractor as especial whisky detective, and such was his vigilance, that no whisky ever passed him. He was quite impartial, not letting even our mail bags go unquestioned, and so was not disliked. During his term the line was quiet and orderly; but, unfortunately, he went into Winnipeg on leave, shot a youth belonging to one of the river steamers in a drunken frolic, and was convicted of the murder.

One day, hearing a very peremptory-sounding knock at the door–a knock at any time being an event–I opened it in haste, to see a short, jaunty-looking man, red-haired and red-faced, clad in long stockings drawn well over his trousers and mocassins, a short skin coat tied round his waist with a red sash, and on his head a long red _toque_.

“Good mornin’, miss,” said this odd apparition. “I’m come for Mr. K—-‘s legs.” Seeing that I had not the faintest idea of what he meant, he touched his forehead again. “Please, ‘m, Mr. K—- sent me for his legs. He said I’d find them in the office;” and the little fellow, who seemed all on springs, craned his neck round to see into the room. Fairly puzzled, I stood aside to let him pass; so in he went, returning instantly with a tripod on his shoulder.

“Here they are, miss,” he said cheerfully. “Much obliged. Fine day, miss;” and was off to the lake before I had recovered my surprise at his amazing request and his general absurdity.


Birds of Passage–An Independent Swede–By Sleigh to Ostersund–A Son of the Forest–Burnt out–A Brave Canadian Girl–Roughing it in the Shanty–The Kitchen-tent–Blasting the Rock–The Perils of Nitro-glycerine–Bitter Jests.

We had plenty of strange visitors; almost every day men passing along the line came in, either to inquire the distance to the next shanty, or to ask for a meal or drink of milk. Some showed a friendly disposition, and would entertain us with their full family history. Others, with many professions of gratitude for our kindness, would eat enough to last them a week, one would suppose, and go on their way. Others, more taciturn and independent, took their refreshment in silence, and offered to pay for what they received. One in particular, a tall, slight man, rather advanced in years, came in one morning, and made us understand by signs that he was hungry. When a meal was put before him, he sat down, took his hat off–this was something unusual–and upon every offer of more edibles bowed his thanks with much dignity. He could speak neither English nor French, and looked like a Swede. When his repast was finished, he offered by signs to mend shoes as payment. Thinking that he was begging for shoes, we screamed, as every one so oddly does to foreigners–as if it made our language any more intelligible to them–that we had none for him. Seeing we did not understand him, he sat down and went through the pantomime of mending shoes. Still shaking our heads, as we had no shoes to be mended, he, after fumbling in his pockets, produced a quarter, which he pressed us all in turn to take. In vain we tried to make him understand that his breakfast was a gift; going away a step or two, he came back again and again, still offering the quarter. At last, out of all patience, Mr. C—- ordered him off the premises. The stranger went up the hill, but lingered until the coast was clear, to put the quarter on the ice at the door. Then, thinking perhaps that it might not be seen there by the right people, he stuck it into a crevice between two logs in the shed, and went away whistling merrily, his pride relieved of his obligation, as well as his pocket of his money.

Towards the end of the winter, the sleighing being a little better on the portages, we drove to Ostersund, the nearest house east of us. It was Sunday, the 3rd of March, and a bright, clear, cold day. Our conveyance was a sort of combination arrangement of a long, low platform, with one seat, on two bob-sleighs, which platform turned on a pivot independent of the sleighs. This was supposed to be an invention that lessened the bumps and swings experienced by the traveller, who was jolted over the hills and hollows of the rough roads. Rough, indeed, they were–up and down steep hills, among and over huge boulders thrown out by the blasts in adjacent cuttings, along the edge of narrow rocks, where Carrière had to hold on to the sleigh on one side, to keep it from swinging round, and down the face of the jagged cliff, into such deep gullies, that it was a wonder we were not tipped over on the horse’s back, or left behind, when he went up the ascent. The problem that chiefly occupied me during this wild huntsman-like ride was: If the combination sleigh were indeed a success, what would my sensations have been without it?

On the lakes the road was smooth and delightful, and our old broken-down steed supplied by the Government, derisively dubbed “Pegasus” by Mrs. C—-, achieved something approaching a trot. Poor thing! its hide had become so hardened by former cruel treatment, that there was no spot on which the whip had the least effect. We were accompanied by the usual number of dogs, who ran yelping after the rabbits in all directions. On one of the portages we passed an old Indian, clad in a long blue blanket coat, with a red sash round his waist, and beaded leggings, and mocassins; his long hair was tied back, and a red silk handkerchief was loosely knotted round his brow. He leant upon his old brown gun, and the tall trees, through whose leafless branches the sunshine fell in long streaks on the snow and moss, formed a fitting background for his gaunt figure. Unheeding the hoarse barking of the dogs, he replied to Carrière’s “Bon jour” with a guttural “Bon jour, nitchee;” but until we were out of sight remained in the same attitude.

On the 26th of March, an event happened which startled us all out of the even tenor of our lives. Between ten and eleven in the morning, the roof of our house caught fire from the kitchen chimney, and having no engine or fire-extinguisher about the premises, we were houseless, with scarcely anything to call our own, in half an hour. The moment we discovered the fire, we ran to the nearest cutting, where there were twenty men, to ask their assistance. After vainly attempting to get at the fire by chopping away the roof, they could do nothing but save as much property as possible. Mrs. C—- was at Kalmar, and being too excited to remain inactive, I deposited the children in the contractor’s shanty, persuading them to stay there until I returned, and went back to the house to save what I could. I had plenty of assistance. Never did men work better. I have seen many a fire in crowded cities, where engines and hundreds of people were at hand, without half the proportionate amount of goods being saved; and what was rescued from the flames was not destroyed by rough handling.

The house was built of logs, the crevices being stuffed with moss, and lined with thick brown paper, the seams of the latter covered with a narrow beading of pine. The roof was lined with tar-paper, which made a dense and blinding smoke. It had been built a year, and was so dry that it burnt like a tinder-box.

The cook, a bright, pretty Canadian girl, in her anxiety to save her kitchen utensils, was caught by the flames, getting her eyebrows and hair singed while making a final dash for the boiler; and in the long weeks that followed before it could be replaced she never ceased to lament her failure. She was worth ten men, and saved many things which we did not think of at the time, but should have found it difficult to do without afterwards.

We were a motley group, sitting and standing on the hill above the creek to watch our house burn to the ground. Navvies of every nation; tall, brawny Scotchmen; jolly-looking Irishmen, their faces a mixture of pity for our misfortune and enjoyment of the “fun;” stumpy little French Canadians; solemn, stupid-looking Icelanders and Mennonites. Carrière was there on his crutches. Poor fellow! standing knee-deep in the lake to cut ice out had brought on such a severe attack of rheumatism, that it was with difficulty he moved about at all. We were surrounded by a heterogeneous mass of household goods: here a pile of bedding, surmounted by a looking-glass, there a basket of crockery, glass, and china; here a dismantled stove, with the fire yet burning in it, there a clothes-horse, still covered with clean clothes ironed that morning. A heap of wearing apparel, taken out of some cupboard, lay close beside one of the stove-pipes. All round the house were trophies of household furniture, just as they had been carried out–the baby’s cradle full of books from the drawing-room table, china vases underneath a heap of dinner plates, and rolls of plans from the office, blown into every corner of the fences. And all the time the house blazed on. Then the fire spread, and ran up the hill at the back, burning the old ice-house and a large tree, which fell to the ground with a crash the moment after the roof fell in. At the same moment a stock of cartridges exploded, and a volley of musketry formed the fitting finale to our fire.

The poor children, who had hitherto been wonderfully good and patient, now became so nervous and frightened that we could scarcely pacify them. Our old friend, the contractor’s superintendent, coming back to his shanty shortly after the disaster, with his usual unselfish kindness insisted on giving it up to us, and going himself into a wretched lean-to behind the store, until the house could be rebuilt. It would be difficult to describe the discomfort of the next few days.

Mrs. C—- came home immediately, and we were all busy sorting out the salvage, retaining what was necessary to furnish the shanty, and storing the remainder in a log-house used as a workshop. How we raked amongst the still hot embers in the hope of picking up a relic, or with regretful interest traced the shape of some favourite object in the ashes! As my room was the first burned, I saved nothing but a few clothes, most of which were comparatively useless, silk dresses and a log shanty not being harmonious combinations. All my books, pictures, jewellery, and those odds and ends which, though of little money value, had grown priceless to me from association, were destroyed; and my desk also, containing my notes of dates and places, so that in these pages I have had to trust entirely to memory.

In dry weather the shanty we now occupied was a very tolerable one, built of rough logs, their crevices filled with mud both inside and out; the roof was of logs also, but cut in halves, scooped out, and ingeniously interlaced–thus, [Illustration], to allow the water to run off. During the cold weather these logs had been filled with moss, and when the spring rains began the water settled in places, rotted them, and came through.

The shanty was divided into three by a partition reaching half-way to the roof. In the first room stood one bunk bed filled with straw, in the second were two narrow ones, so close together that two people could not get out of bed at the same time. One small window, halfway between each room, gave light to both. There was no door into the outer room, only a vacant space in the partition. In the centre was an iron stove set in a box of sand. There were two narrow windows on each side, and the only door led into the outer world. When we had made it as comfortable as we could, the outer room had to be telegraph office (the instrument keeping up such a continual ticking that we blessed an odd day when the wire was down) as well as dining-room. The big table filled up half the width of the room, and the sideboard a quarter, leaving the remainder for the sofa, small tables–under which were stored boxes and trunks of various sizes–safe, and chairs. We covered the walls with pictures, nails whereon to hang everything that would hang, and small shelves. The matting saved from the hall covered what was otherwise unoccupied of the shanty floor. In fine weather it was not at all unpleasant, as the children and I almost lived out of doors, and even when in the shanty kept our hats on, ready to go out again the moment our office was called on the line; as it was impossible to impress children, aged two and five years respectively, with the fact that their merry chatter and a telegraphic message in course of transition were incompatible.

In wet weather, cooped up as we were, with the roof dripping in a dozen places, their number increasing after every storm; with all our tin pans called into requisition to catch the falling drops, and the children feeling it a duty they owed to society to empty their contents on the floor the moment our backs were turned; with the instrument at work, and the current bad, I was often made desperate by the utter impossibility of keeping the children quiet. Rolling them in a shawl, I would rush out to a tent pitched about ten feet from the shanty door, and used as a kitchen, rather than endure any longer the strain upon my nerves in the shanty. This kitchen-tent had a few rough, heavy planks for floor, and a stove at one end, with the pipe up through the canvas, and the ridge pole and uprights studded with nails, whereon hung cups, jugs, pans, and tins. Two tables stood under the slanting roof, with rows of nails beneath to hold irons and everything else with a handle. There was a small cupboard in one corner, and the others were filled with boxes, barrels, and the maid’s trunk. The tent had been used as a cook-house so often that it was perforated by small holes made by flying sparks, and to touch the canvas with one’s head was to invoke a shower-bath. Soaking in wet weather and broiling in fine, it was anything but a paradise of cooks, yet it was wonderful how well the maid managed in it, and how neat and tidy she kept it.

We were always intensely interested in the blasting of the cutting about three hundred feet from us. At the sound of the horn we were on the watch to see the men ran off behind the rock. Then the smoke curled up, and the report followed, sending the flying stones well into the air, and in a second we could hear them rattle down all round us, on the roof of the shanty and far out into the lake. Hearing the horn one day when quite five hundred feet from the cutting, I turned to watch, believing myself at a safe distance; and as I saw the stones falling, and thought it a heavier charge than usual, I heard the hiss of one fast approaching. Before I could decide whether to run or not it whizzed past–so close to my ear that I could feel the wind it made–and buried itself in the sand not two feet behind me; while another fell within a few inches of my feet in front. Snatching the child who was with me up in my arms, I took care to get some distance further up the hill before the next charge exploded.

One of the engineers told me he had seen stones thrown thirteen hundred feet from a cutting. They use nitro-glycerine, and have had several serious accidents while handling it. One poor lad who was carrying a can weighing fifty pounds up the dump, tripped, and was blown to atoms; part of one foot, stuck in the fork of a tree about a hundred feet off, being all that was found of him. A man lost his sight and one arm from merely striking a rock where some of the horrid stuff had been spilt. Often have I watched the long train of packers coming down the hill, each with a can of glycerine on his back, and wondered how they dared carry it over the rough roads, knowing that one false step would cost them their lives. Once when I was out with the children, the dogs barked furiously at one of these poor men. Calling them off, I seized the opportunity to make some remark about his load. “Ay, miss!” he said, sadly and bitterly; “’tis a main mean load fur any man to ha’ to carry.” Yet, in spite of the danger and the many accidents, I have heard these packers chaffing each other when passing. “It’s a warm day,” says one. “That’s so; but maybe ye’ll be warmer ‘fore ye’re to camp tonight,” is the reply. “That’s so. D’ye want any word taken to the divil?” Then again, “Where are ye bound for, Jack?” “To h—, I guess.” “Take the other train, and keep a berth for me, man!” “Is it ye’re coffin ye’re carryin’, Pat?” asks another. “Faith, ye’re right, an a coroner’s inquest into the bargain, Jim!” Yet the wretched expression of these very men proved that they felt the bitterness of death to be in their jests.


We lose our Cows–Cahill promoted–Gardening on a New Principle–Onions in Hot-houses–Cahill is hoaxed–Martin the Builder–How the Navvies lived–Sunday in Camp–The Cook’s Leap–That “Beautiful Skunk!”–Wild Fruits–Parting.

A few weeks after the fire, the C—-s had another loss, in the sudden death of two cows. No cause could be assigned for it; unless there might have been poison in the wild hay which they ate, put there by the Indians to kill the foxes. The difficulty of supplying their place on the line in the spring made the loss considerable, especially with children in the house, and no fresh meat attainable.

Carrière had been so completely laid up with rheumatism that he had resigned his post, giving place for our old friend Cahill, who immediately undertook the charge of the garden, which he said he understood thoroughly. Looking one day into the hot-beds, which he seemed to have taken much pride in, I found he had filled more than half the space with different varieties of onions, and another part with carraway seeds! When I asked why he put them in there, he said–

“Shure, ye couldn’t have anything betther nor inions. Many’s the thousand I’ve raised in Ireland, when I was with Kurnel Kitchener in Limerick.”

After the cress had gone to seed, Mrs. C—- told him, to take it out, and sow other things in its place. A little while afterwards, I saw the old fellow transplanting something very carefully, which proved upon investigation to be the cress. When I told him it was not worth the trouble, he looked up and said, in a very indignant tone–

“Throw it away, is it? Shure, if I’d known that was all the good it was, it’s meself wouldn’t have filled me hot-beds wid it! The thrash!”

One day he received a very long, narrow parcel and note through the mail. Early next morning, I saw the old fellow sitting on a stump in the garden, carefully spelling over the letter, which did not seem a long one. When Harry ran up to him, Cahill brought the child back to me, and looking all about to see that no one else was near, said, in a mysterious tone–

“See here, Miss F—-. I got a parcel be the mail-man yesterday, an’ here’s the spicification that came wid it. Would you read it, miss, and till me who ye think would send it? I think meself it’s a trick, an’ I’ll be even wid thim yit.” And he handed me a crumpled piece of paper about four inches square, on which I read–

“To Michael Cahill, Esq,
Office of the Civil Engineer,
Lake Diception


“Hearin’ ye were lately appointed Governmint gardner, we sind a sample of our goods. Eny orders ye can sind will receive prompt attintion.

“Green and Brown, manufacturing company,

“County of Limerick,


“Of course it’s a joke, Cahill,” I said. “But where’s the sample?”

“Shure, I buried it behind the shanty; it’s a wooden hoe, cut out o’ the root of a three, I think I know who sint it,” he went on, drawing near, with another cautious look round.

“It was wrapped up wid some copies of the _Ottawa Citizen_ newspaper, an’ there are only two min on the line that take it at all. So ye see I can spot them!” Fumbling in his pockets, he produced a scrap of the paper, and, turning it this way and that, discovered some writing which, upon close inspection, proved to be my own name. His tormentors had wrapped it in one of the papers I had lent him.

To describe the old man’s wrath and astonishment, mingled with keen sense of fun (for an Irishman _can_ see a joke, even against himself), is impossible. I had little trouble in persuading him that to take no notice of either parcel or “spicification” would be the best way to disappoint his foes. Long afterwards, whenever I met him, he gave me a knowing side glance of mutual understanding that was irresistible.

In the mean time, the house was fast being rebuilt on the old site, but on a much improved plan. The former had been a two-story building of squared logs, and, to my eyes, an insult to the landscape. The new one, a low cottage of rough logs, seemed to fit into the valley without marring the view from any point. The beautiful wooded hall to the north, which had been completely shut out by the old house, now formed a lovely background to the cottage and garden.

The little Frenchman Martin, the master builder, was another character in his way; a lively, energetic little fellow, whose eyes were everywhere. Not the driving in of a single nail escaped him. Yet, with all his watchfulness, he did more work than any three of his men. The habitual use of salt pork and beans, added to the total absence of vegetable diet during the long winter and summer, had caused scurvy to break out among the men, and poor Martin was suffering very much from it. To keep him in better health until the house was finished, Mrs. C—- supplied him with potatoes, which he ate raw, sliced and soaked in vinegar; and I believe, from a conversation I overheard between him and one of his men, that these raw potatoes, bread, and tea constituted the man’s entire food for the last six weeks of his work on the line. Many others had not even the potatoes, yet they daily passed the garden, where lettuces and other vegetables, a cure for their sufferings, grew in profusion, and did not take a leaf. I know, had I been in like case, early training would have gone to the winds, and the eighth Commandment have become a dead letter.

We had unusual opportunities of seeing the real life of a navvy while we lived in the shanty. Our men came from nearly all parts of the world–Russia, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Iceland, Ireland, Great Britain, and the Dominion. There were also many Scotch and French half-breeds, as well as full-blooded Indians, among them, the contractors finding that associating the various nationalities in camp was more conducive to peace and obedience than when a large number of fellow-countrymen formed a gang. Next to us, in reality under the same roof, was the store, containing everything a navvy could want–from hats and boots to pickles and tobacco.

Sunday, the only day off work, was the general shopping day, and as it was also mail day the place was crowded, and the week’s news discussed. A little below the store was another large shanty, where about a hundred and twenty men lived, the kitchen ruled over by a tall and rather good-looking Frenchman, who had lived amongst the Indians at Fort Francis so long that he spoke their language as well as they did. “Black Joe,” as he was generally called, was an authority amongst the men, and was very fond of a little black poodle, which he cared for as a child, spending all his leisure, moments in fondling it and teaching it tricks. He had an assistant named Ironsides, who was not only “cookee,” but could sew up and dress a cut as well as the doctor, and his services were very often called into requisition.

Sunday was washing day in camp, too; every tub was in use, and every low branch or rude fence hung with the men’s clothes. In one place you would see a man sitting on a stump to have his hair cut; another repairing the week’s wear and tear of his garments. A group of interested listeners lie or sit round the happy possessor of the latest paper, who is reading it aloud. Others, of livelier tastes, gather round an accordion-player, who gives the “Marseillaise” with the fire and feeling of a true artist. Some hard workers, whose idea of pleasure is perfect rest, lie on their backs in the sun, with their hats tilted over their faces, sound asleep, heedless of the roars of laughter from a cluster of men, to whom old Cahill is relating one of his most wonderful stories; others stand before a small looking-glass, hung against a tree, performing their toilets with immense satisfaction; while more active spirits are on their way to the lake, with their fishing tackle, for a long day’s sport.

Card-playing was forbidden in camp. Of course there were a few who gambled in defiance of orders, but when detected they were at once dismissed by the superintendent, who declared that they ought not to profane the Sabbath. Mr. K—- was strict, and apparently severe with the men, yet he was a general favourite. He avowed one day that he could manage any number of men, but the “weemin were beyond him.” The contractor had tried employing women cooks, believing that they would be more economical than the men; but those he engaged were such a trouble to look after, that he declared “either he or thim weemin would have to leave the line.” One woman cook was called by the men “7-10,” from her great size, and her camp being at 7-10 station. On her way across the Lake of the Woods after her dismissal, the big steamer, as usual, ran on a rock, and the passengers had to be transferred to a row-boat large enough to hold thirty people. “7-10” refusing assistance, and attempting to jump into the boat, jumped completely _over_ it, and was dragged out of the water by the laughing crew, who dubbed the rock “7-10’s Leap.”

Mr. C—- had all the stores of provisions which were saved from the fire put into a small root-house under the north hill. The ice in the lakes having broken up unusually early the bad state of the roads during the winter made it necessary for all supplies brought out on the contract to be “packed”–that is, carried on men’s backs. Each man being paid two dollars a day, and not averaging more than sixteen miles, made this a very expensive process; consequently our supplies became valuable, only what was absolutely indispensable being sent for till the Dawson road was passable and the steamer running. One morning I saw Cahill peering into the root-house, and evidently watching something with great interest. Then he ran to the shanty for his gun, and my curiosity being aroused, I inquired what was the matter. Touching the brim of his old straw hat, he replied, “Shure, it’s fine prey I’ve got to shoot this mornin’, Miss F—-. As beautiful a skunk as ever ye see!” and levelling the gun, he was about to shoot, when memories of former odours made me implore him to desist. “But he’ll ate all the pork!” the old fellow remonstrated, much aggrieved at being deprived of so fine an opportunity of displaying his prowess. I assured him that, if let alone, the “beautiful skunk” would go quietly away when he had enjoyed a good meal; but, if disturbed, he would use his natural weapon of defence, and destroy everything in the root-house. But–

“A man convinced against his will
Is of the same opinion still,”

and old Cahill, though he shouldered his weapon and walked away, grumbled as he went. We paid frequent visits to the root-house that morning to see if the intruder had gone, but he did not leave until the middle of the second day. Skunks, or polecats, are not numerous in that part of the country. The dogs sometimes came in from a hunt very strongly scented by them, but, with the exception of our visitor, we never saw one about the premises. They abound in prairies and swampy grounds, and when attacked the odour they emit is overpowering and indescribable; without exception the worst that ever assailed our nostrils.

As the spring wore on we spent the brightening days in gathering wild-flowers, going fishing, and repeating the weekly routine of a quiet life in the woods. The weather grew hotter, the flies more plentiful, and our highest gratification seemed to be to make a good smudge in the evening, sit round it, and talk. How gladly we welcomed the first strawberries and blue-berries which pretty Mrs. Bucketee, as we called her, brought to us! She got the name from always being hungry (_bucketee_), when she came, and she laughed merrily one day when called so inadvertently. We ourselves went out and gathered several pailsful from the rocks on the first portage. Blue-berries, or knuckle-berries as they are called in Ontario, grow much larger in the North-west than I ever saw them elsewhere, being sometimes as large as small Delaware grapes. The little bushes grow thickly in the crevices of the rocks, and are so completely covered with fruit that their tiny leaves are scarcely visible. They have a beautiful bloom upon them when fresh, and are cool and delicious to the taste.

Summer swiftly passed, and the time drew near when I was to leave Lake Deception, and, after staying a day or two at each of the other houses on the line, turn my steps eastward, back to what my friends called civilized life. It was not without many a heartache that I bade good-bye to the wee bairns whom I loved so dearly, knowing that, though my regrets might be lifelong, in their childish hearts the pain of parting would be but the grief of an hour.


For Ostersund–Lake Lulu–Giant Rocks and Pigmy Mortals–The Island Garden–Heaven’s Artillery–Strange Casualty at the Ravine–My Luggage nearly blown up–The Driver’s Presence of Mind–How to carry a Canoe–Darlington Bay–An Invisible Lake–Lord and Lady Dufferin–A Paddle to the Lakes–The Captain’s Tug–Monopoly of Water-carriage–Indian Legends–The Abode of Snakes.

The 27th of August dawned sultry and oppressive, but having decided to leave Inver for a long-promised visit to Ostersund on that day, and feeling that if I did not get the parting with the children over at once I should never succeed in going away at all, I determined to carry out my intention, although by doing so I was obliged to forego the pleasure of visiting Kalmar, which I regretted very much.

Mr. K—- and Mr. F—- came for me about two o’clock, and sending the man on with my travelling-bag, I prepared to enjoy the first long walk I had taken since I left Ontario. From the top of the east rock I took my last look at the spot where I had spent nearly sixteen months, on which I shall always look back with kindly memories. Clinging to the rough railing, and walking quickly over the floating logs, we were soon across the boom in Lake Deception, and over the first short portage to Lake Beau-Beau–or “Champagne Charlie” Lake–a beautiful sheet of water, with several pretty islands, along whose southern shore the Canada Pacific Railway line runs.

Catching sight of a boat, which probably belonged to a gang of men who were at work with pulleys, removing great fragments of rock from a cutting near, Mr. F—- took possession of it, and we rowed across, ignoring the fatigue of the poor navvies, who, after a hard day’s work, would have to walk round the lake to recover their property.

On the opposite shore part of the trail lay through a long, narrow valley, where it became such a mere path that two could not walk abreast; then it passed over such lofty hills, and into such sudden dips of valley land, that one could not help speculating as to the immense cost of filling up and levelling to bring the line to the proper grade. We skirted the shores of Lake Lulu, whose blue waters glistened in the afternoon sun, as we caught a momentary glimpse through the trees of the tiny hill, where a clear fresh spring tempted us to sit on the gnarled trunk of a fallen tree and refresh ourselves. How small we felt by involuntary comparison with the gigantic rock towering above our heads, or even with the huge fragments thrown out and scattered at its base! I wonder if future ages will look upon these blocks of stone as we do upon Stonehenge, and conjecture with what powerful weapons we ancients could have moved them, or what convulsion of nature had dislodged them from their bed, and thrown them headlong into the lovely dell.

I should like to linger over the delightful three weeks I spent at Ostersund, and describe in detail the tranquil pleasures of every day. How we sat working with the children, through long, quiet mornings, on the small space cleared in front of the house, or wandered through the woods in search of mosses and ferns; how we went for long paddles on Lake Lulu, either in the bright afternoon, when we took the children with us over to the island garden, returning with supplies of ripe red tomatoes, or in the clear, silent evenings, when we pushed out the canoe in any direction–for all were charming–watching the glowing sunset die beyond the hills, and the Indian camp fires wake to life along the shores.

One of the strangest thunderstorms I ever saw raged while I was at Ostersund. The whole day had been warm, and as night fell the air became sultry, and the sky assumed a leaden hue. Directly west of us, the only bit of horizon we could see was across the line of railway; on either side of this, high wooded rocks, some few hundred feet from the line, dropped to a much lower level than that on which the house stood, and beyond the brow of this declivity the sky had the appearance of a huge fire, whose bright-red flames shot up into great clouds of rolling, whirling smoke, their inky hue gradually expanding until the whole sky became covered. Still the flames raged on in a weird stillness broken only by the sound of rushing wind, the crackling and swaying of branches, or a low, distant moan that warned us the storm was on its way. For more than half an hour we watched the horizon, scarcely believing that its strange hue was not really the reflection of a fire in the woods, till, with a report as of a thousand cannon crashing on all sides, and the fierce blast of a tornado, the storm was upon us. It spent itself, however, in that one blast; the red light gradually paled and died, stars peeped through the riven clouds, and the muttering thunder rolled away to the south.

A culvert was being built close to the house, and we took the greatest interest in the proceedings of all concerned–from the oxen, with their tinkling bells, labouring up the steep with the heavy timbers in tow, to the sad-faced contractor and his jovial, good-looking partner. As I stood one morning watching the latter go up with a springing step to the top, to superintend the placing of a beam, I saw the chain below snap, and at the same instant the huge beam swung round, striking the contractor, who, with a groan, fell headlong to the bottom of the ravine–a distance of twenty feet. Instantly half a dozen men sprang down and pulled him up, while another ran for Mr. K—-, who telegraphed for the doctor. Most fortunately, a cross stick against which the poor man struck had broken his fall, and except for a few bruises and the shock he was unhurt, and back at work again in a few days.

I lingered on at Ostersund until I heard that my heavy luggage had arrived at Kuwatin, _via_ Clear Water Bay and the Lake of the Woods, having had a narrow escape on its way over the portage. The horse ran away, and dragged the cart over a number of nitro-glycerine cans. The driver fled in terror, but returned some time afterward, and was astonished to find an atom of either horse, cart, or luggage remaining. The driver was not wanting in bravery either, for a few days before, the left wheel of his cart had come in contact with a stump and turned over, the whole weight of the horse’s body falling upon the man. Knowing that the load in the cart was too heavy for the horse to raise unassisted, and that if he struggled he would be pounded to death, he had the presence of mind to seize the brute by the ear and hold his head to the ground until assistance came–an hour and a half afterwards–when the poor fellow was too exhausted and numbed to get up.

As it was necessary that I should repack my luggage before sending it to Winnipeg, I was obliged to tear myself away from Ostersund, hoping to see my friends again before I left the contract altogether. This hope, however, was not fulfilled, and it was a last farewell I took of them as they stood on the rustic wharf, while Mr. K—- pushed off the birch-bark canoe on which I was lounging. Paddling along the east shore, rather close in, as the lake was rough, we soon reached the portage to Middle Lake. Lifting the canoe well out of the water, and turning it over, Mr. K—- raised it above his head; then, slipping the paddles on his shoulders, and across the bars of the canoe, he carried it with ease up the steep bank and down the hill to the other lake. In this way Indians will carry, or, as they call it, “portage,” their canoes for long distances. Middle Lake is long, narrow, and swampy-looking, less pretty than any we crossed on our way out. Leaving the canoe at the next portage well drawn in under the trees, and the paddles carefully hidden in the underbrush, lest any stray traveller should take advantage of it, we walked the remaining two miles to Darlington Bay.

The heavy rains of the week before had made parts of the track very wet, but by jumping from one log to another, and utilizing stones scattered from the cuttings, we managed to cross very well. One of the most beautiful spots is where the line crosses War Eagle Rock Lake. Until on the very brow of the rocky, perpendicular shore, one does not suspect the existence of a lake, and when nearly there I laughed as Mr. K—- asked how wide a lake I thought there was between us and the trail leading through some trees apparently close by. A moment later I paused in astonishment. At our feet, full sixty feet below, lying between two walls of rock, which looked as though an earthquake had rent it apart to leave space for the sparkling water, was the lake of the romantic name. Below the boom, which is eighty feet across, the breach widened, leaving space for a tiny rocky island with only sufficient foliage upon it to make it picturesque–a natural fortress to guard the opening into the broad, beautiful sheet of water which lay beyond.

A blacksmith’s forge hidden amid the trees, with the brawny smith singing over his work, was the only object of interest we passed before reaching Darlington, the contractor’s head-quarters, where Mr. K—- was to leave me.

The bay is an arm of the waters of the Winnipeg River, about three miles from its outlet–a low, swampy-looking place. There is a cluster of shanties for the men, and another serving as offices, with a remnant of civilization in one narrow window, in the shape of a doctor’s sign; which hangs crooked, however, as if ashamed of the bad company it has got into. Further on are two log-houses with rather more pretension to comfort about them, where the contractor and his chief engineer lived. I remained two days with Mrs. W—-, the contractor’s wife, whose kind hospitality will never be forgotten by me, and went on to Kuwatin on Saturday evening. Mr. F—-‘s house there is built on the top of the high, rocky land which commands a view of the Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River, and is close to the portage path over which Lord and Lady Dufferin and their party crossed when on their trip through Manitoba the previous summer, camping at night on the shores of the river.

After spending Sunday morning in packing baggage to be sent by the Dawson route, we went for a paddle up to the rapids. When the canoe had taken us as far as possible, we got out and clambered over the rocks into the foam. The mouth of the Winnipeg is divided into two channels by a large island; the lower, on which we were, is a succession of rapids each more beautiful than the last. Skirting the shore through a pretty, wooded path, we reached a bare hill above the highest rapid. At our feet the water ran smooth and clear round a bend on the river below. A little further it dashed against great rocks, sending the spray whirling in clouds over their heads where jagged edges fretted it as it passed, or forming clear, deep, dark pools between their smooth and solid sides. Then it swirled round a tiny island, beyond which a long ridge of piled-up rocks stretched its bare sides almost across the stream, as though to stay its impetuous course. The varied expanse of water, framed in overhanging trees, and rocks which rose black against the glowing sky, while the setting sun tinted every jet of spray with crimson and gold, formed a picture I would have liked to carry away with me in more than memory. Over many of the deep pools there were long poles with baited lines, and there, too, the Indians catch large fish with both spear and net.

Half a mile above the rapids, we reached the partially bored tunnel through the island which divides the river, the rocks blasted out being used to fill up the embankment at the crossing. A few days before, this spot had been the scene of a narrow escape from drowning. Two gentlemen, who attempted to cross in a birch-bark canoe too near the rapids, were caught by the eddy round the point; the canoe was capsized, and went to pieces over the first rapid, while the canoeists, with great difficulty, swam to the further shore, striking it only a few feet above the rapid–barely enough to save their lives.

Returning from the tunnel, we went into a low-roofed shanty, lately occupied by a family of nine. Its accommodation consisted of bunks built into the wall for beds, with some dirty hay in them, a smoky mud chimney, a hole dug in the middle of the mud floor to let off the water that dripped through the roof, and the door hanging loose on its dried skin hinges. There was no window, and but for the many gaps between the logs of the walls, the inmates must have had very little air.

On Sunday, the 29th of September, soon after seven o’clock in the morning, loaded with wraps, satchel-bags, and baskets, our travelling party was on the way down a muddy hill to the little tug awaiting it. Our old friend, Captain W—-, greeting us enthusiastically, and busied himself in improvising seats for us with our bags and bale of blankets. The little tug had been built by the captain’s own hands, and he naturally thought a great deal of it, but in our eyes it seemed the shakiest-looking craft we had ever been afloat in. Blackened with smoke, exposure, and hard usage, it was yet thoroughly seaworthy, and although it rolled about until well under weigh, was not uncomfortable. The stern was roofed, but the rain drove in at the open sides, until we stretched some waterproofs across from one upright to another. The engine fires underneath, where the energetic one-eyed stoker was not sparing of fuel, made it very warm, and before long I found my way round the tiny wheel-house to the bow, and settling myself as comfortably as I could upon a saw-horse, enjoyed my trip over the lake in spite of the drizzling rain.

As we passed the Hudson Bay Company’s post at that portage, the man at the wheel pointed out the channel he would take when carrying supplies for the work on the next portion of the Canada Pacific Railway, which would “likely be worked next year;” and the confident tone of monopoly of the traffic on the lake with which the man spoke raised vague speculations as to the mine of wealth this little creaky boat must be to the four men who built and worked it, their expenditure being literally confined to their own provisions, the oil burnt in their lanterns, and the cost of cutting the wood for fires.

A long canoe, paddled by two grinning young squaws, shot out from the company’s post, and for a time kept alongside us. About nine we entered the Narrows, a passage only just wide enough to allow the tug to pass, and were quickly in the Lake of the Woods. I tried before to recall the impression made by the beauties of this exquisite lake, when crossing it for the first time. Its islands and shores were then clad in all the young verdure of the spring; now they wore all the glory of the autumn, in hues of crimson, yellow, red, and gold–dark pines blending with and forming backgrounds to the loveliest scenes that painter ever traced or pen described. As I sat on the old saw-horse, vainly endeavouring to grasp all the beauty around, the man at the wheel told me the legends of each point and island, gathered from the Ojibbeways during his life among them. If any unwary traveller ran his canoe on yonder great dark island, closely wooded to the shore, braving the wrath of the _Mutaha Manito_ (Bad Spirit), who claimed it as his own, storms would be sent over the lake by the offended deity, wrecks and misery alone appeasing him. A Pale-face once, scorning the warning of the Redskin, had landed there, and even dared to build a fire on its shores; but before the sun again set he found an unknown grave in the great lake. Never in the memory of the Indians had such a terrific storm raged as after the perpetration of the impious act.

Further on we saw, in a broad expanse of water, a long, narrow, lonely island, its trees low and stunted, its underbrush so matted that it would seem impenetrable, where the _Kichee Manito_ (Great Spirit), grieving that the likeness of the _Mutaha Manito_, the _Kennebeck_ (serpent), should trouble his children when upon the chase, or in their homes in the good land he had given them, and yet too merciful to destroy, sent his messengers in the silent night to gather all the serpents together. He gave them this island to live in, bidding his children leave them unmolested. And the poor Indian, in his gratitude, has never disobeyed the behest. Another beautiful island is the resting-place of the Great Spirit when he pays his rare visits to earth, and the Indian leaves upon its shores his choicest fish of the first catch of the season, and the first-fruits of the chase as his oblation. Another green hilly island is the grave of the braves, where they are laid until the spirits come to lead them to the happy hunting grounds.


Clear Water Bay transformed–Cahill’s Farewell–Ptarmigan Bay–A Night under Canvas–“No more Collars or Neckties!”–Companions in Misfortune–Cedar Lake–“Lop-sticks”–An Indian Village–Shashegheesh’s Two Wives–Buying Potatoes–_Seniores Priores_–Excellent Carrots!–Frank’s Flirtations with the Squaws–The Dogs eat Carrière’s Toboggan.

Towards noon we turned westward into Clear Water Bay, and were soon at the landing. How changed from the night when we landed here nearly a year and a half before! Then it was only a forest traversed by a narrow path; now the scene is crowded with a log storehouse and well-used roads, several shanties, piles of glycerine cans, a barge waiting the arrival of the tug, swarms of boats and canoes, and groups of navvies standing round the storehouse, whence we hear the twang of a rudely played, but not unmusical, violin: Indians and squaws, beside their wigwams, complete the picture. Here we met our old friend Cahill, who came on board to say good-bye. He had been away haymaking when I left Lake Deception, and I regretted not seeing him. He had made up his mind to leave the country and return to Ontario. In despair because he had not his two trunks with him, so that he could accompany us, he implored us to wait until he went and fetched them, and when we tried to explain that we should have no means of conveying his trunks he drew himself up and informed us with dignity that he could afford to pay his way like any other honest man. But at last, understanding that our mode of travelling would preclude any such weighty baggage as trunks, he bade us farewell and a hearty God-speed, muttering as he walked away that he would not be long after us in “this God-forsaken counthry, that all the gintlefolks were lavin’.” I have never heard if he carried out his threat, but wherever he may end his days, I am sure his kind Irish heart will be unchanged.

Taking the barge in tow and our Indians–Carrière, who was to act as guide, and a merry Iroquois named Frank Saddler–coming on board, we steamed out of Clear Water Bay, and in the fast-falling rain reached our landing-place, a large rock on a sandy, wooded shore, whence we were to make our first portage into Ptarmigan Bay. The captain let the tug run close up to this rock, and with little difficulty we disembarked on a spot that seemed to lead nowhere. Bidding us a cordial good-bye, good luck, and speedy return all round, the jolly old skipper left us, and we watched the little tug with the barge hugged close alongside to keep it off the sunken rocks, disappear in the rain.

We decided that it was too wet and late to make any further progress that night, so Carrière and Frank went in search of a camping-ground; and soon the merry ring of their axes, the crash of falling timber, and the crackling of fires, which sent ruddy gleams through the trees, raised our drooping spirits and dried our damp clothes, and no merrier party ever clustered round the welcome blaze. We enjoyed our pan of fried pork and cold roast beef, accompanied by tin pannikins of tea, more thoroughly than the most _recherché_ repast served in the most perfectly appointed dining-room. Spreading the waterproof sheets and robes on the ground in the tent, Mr. F—- made the bed over its entire width, then rolled the ends up, leaving us space to dress. We had a huge fire across the doorway of our tent, and about ten or twelve feet off blazed another fire, behind which rose the tent of the gentlemen.

“Now we’re in camp, away with the frivolities of civilized life,” cried Mr. F—-, as he took off his collar and necktie and tossed them into his wife’s lap. “I’m not going to put those on again until I get to Winnipeg, and fashion demands the sacrifice; nor coat either–unless,” he prudently added, “I’m caught in the rain;” and he looked up at the still weeping clouds.

No ribbons, no bows, no extra adornments, were to be allowed, and next morning, when I appeared with some, I was voted a rebel by the assembled travellers, and in mock politeness offered a stump to sit on, and a knife, fork, and spoon all to myself. Rising at seven, we made our toilets on the shore of the small bay where we had landed the night before, and it required some little practice to wash our faces, standing or kneeling on the slippery stones, without getting our skirts wet or letting the water run up our sleeves. After breakfast we packed up, and the men having taken over the canoes, we all followed, each carrying what we could, through a narrow belt of woods; then the path rounded a grassy swamp to a long, rocky point. Mr. M—- was some distance in front, with the frying-pan in one hand, and a basket containing the knives, forks, etc., in the other, while my load was the lantern, whisky-keg, and a small tin pail of pork. Just as I reached the rock, Mr. M—-, who was feeling his way along the top, and warning me to be careful, slipped, turned, and, vainly trying to grasp the rock, went down on all fours with a run and splash into the lake. Away went Frank after him, shouting with a laugh, “I’ll save the frying-pan!”

“What’s that?” cried Mrs. F—-, who was behind me with a load of shawls.

“Only Mr. M—- in the lake,” said I; and adding conceitedly, “Wait a minute, Mr. M—-, and I’ll come and pull you out”–I stepped upon what was apparently firm ground, and sank to my knees in soft, slimy mud, from which I was with difficulty extricated. When the canoe loads were divided, it was voted unanimously that Mr. M—- and I should be put in the same boat, to sink or swim together.

The day cleared, and we reached our next portage after a three-hours’ paddle, from Ptarmigan Bay to a nameless lake, one of the most beautiful I ever saw. The portage is about half a mile long, up a narrow path over a hill, and the men loaded and travelled so well, that in two trips they had carried everything over, while we, though more lightly laden, only accomplished one. Somebody here called attention to the wisdom with which I had chosen my load, as it got lighter at every trip, especially the whisky, which, by the way, was contraband. Of course we gave the lake a name–in fact, it had half a dozen before we left it, one being in honour of the dear little baby, who, through all the discomforts of our trip, enjoyed and bore it best among us. But the name it retained was Cedar Lake, from a lovely passage, three or four hundred feet long, between the mainland and an island, each high, rocky bank being covered with large cedars, which almost met overhead.

Passing out from among the cedars, Carrière paused a moment; then, steering the canoe in another direction, said–“This is the way, Mr. M—-. I doubted a moment, for I was only over this part of the trail once, nearly four years ago. Four years this Christmas.”

“Why, how can you tell which way to take? All the points and islands look alike to me.”

“By some landmarks. I paid an Indian a dollar to show me this road, and I never forget. I know the dry wood yonder, and I know the portage by a big stone I cooked my dinner on. There’s an old tree fallen in the water by the landing, which will be troublesome,” he added. Ten minutes afterwards we reached the spot, and had a great deal of difficulty in getting the said tree out of the way, and ourselves ashore.

This portage is longer than the first, and over quite a steep hill, where, in spite of its diminishing character, I found my load almost more than I could carry, and gladly gave the pork to Frank. It was noon when we reached the mouth of a creek in Shoal Lake. Sitting down comfortably upon a quantity of mown hay on the shore, we had our lunch, the first man over the portage having made a fire, and rested for an hour. The unfortunate Mr. M—-, reaching from a log for water, and stumbling in again, afforded us some entertainment, but this time I did not propose to rescue him.

Shoal Lake is about twelve miles long and five wide, and is at times the roughest lake in the chain. Canoes are often wind-bound for days upon its shores, and we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune in having such a fine day to cross in. It was a long twelve miles’ paddle. As we crossed the northern end, Carrière pointed out the winter trail to the “Nor’-west Angle,” six miles from its southern shores, which could be followed for over nine miles by the lop-sticks in view. The Indians formerly made these lop-sticks only to commemorate some great event, but now they will make one in return for a bag of flour or a feast. Choosing one of the tallest trees, they cut off all the branches, except the very topmost, and their bare stems make them distinguishable from the rest of the forest a long way off.

There is a Hudson Bay Company’s post on one of the islands on Shoal Lake, and we could hear the trained dogs there howling dreadfully. About six o’clock we reached Indian Bay, on the northern shore of Shoal Lake. Its entrance is guarded by an island, and round its western point lie the low meadow lands at the mouth of Falcon River. The Indian village on the shore of the bay comprises but a few scattered log-houses and untidy-looking wigwams of birch bark, most of them empty. The ground about the lodges was planted with potatoes, and upright poles with cross sticks stood near, to dry fish and skins upon. The Indians, with the exception of a few half-grown boys, were all away at the Hudson Bay trading-post to get their treaty-money, which varied in amount according to their rank in the tribe, the chief getting the immense sum of twenty-five dollars a year. A group of squaws turned out to greet the approach of our canoes, which excited far more interest than ourselves. We went up a long path to the chief’s house, where an old squaw with five children, aged from sixteen to three years, lived. Another house close by was inhabited by Shashegheesh’s youngest wife, a tall, slight, rather good-looking squaw, wearing a merino skirt and loose cotton jacket. Mr. F—- had commissioned Carrière to buy some potatoes of her; but before the bargain was completed, her old rival, a puffy-cheeked, but still handsome woman, came forward, asserting her prior right, assuring us that her potatoes were the best. On this, the younger squaw, without a word of remonstrance, dropped the half-apronful she had gathered; and the old one, sending for a birch-bark tray, sold the potatoes off her rival’s domains, and pocketed the twenty-five cents (1s. 3d.). Carrière tried hard to induce her to throw in one or two miserable-looking carrots for the same money; but, laughing derisively, she declined unless he would pay more. Anxious, however, to sell them, she followed us down to the shore, carrots in hand.

We peeped into the house; it was bare of all furniture, a roll of skins and some matting which they make themselves being the only things we could see. Yet Shashegheesh is one of the richest chiefs in that part of the country, and has two wives, because he can afford to build and keep two houses. Several other houses, well built and with good mud chimneys, were empty, but, Carrière said, only during the summer.

A tattered birch-bark wigwam near the landing was inhabited by a squaw and half a dozen children. A papoose, laced in his birch-bark cradle, his face covered with blood, was roaring lustily. The squaw said his face was sore, and he had scratched it. His screams increasing at our appearance, she seized hold of the strap the cradle is carried by, and gave it a violent shake, making a queer guttural remark that silenced him at once. The inside of this wigwam was more comfortable than Shashegheesh’s house. The floor was strewn with clean cedar boughs, leaving a round space in the centre, where there were still remains of a fire. The squaw and the girls here, too, were better dressed than the chief’s family. One child about ten had a bright pink merino dress, profusely trimmed with narrow black velvet and small white china buttons; her hair was braided with coloured ribbons and beads, strings of beads also encircling her wrists, neck, and ankles. She came out and danced for our entertainment, twisting and whirling about, snapping her fingers over her head, and tossing her long braids about. Her friends all regarded her performance with evident admiration.

While we looked on, a canoe, laden with cedar boughs, and paddled by two pretty young squaws, came gliding in along the shore. Frank, who could not understand a word of their language, sat on a log near, and soon peals of merry laughter betrayed a lively flirtation. Close together, the girls sidled up to him; and he, casting insinuating glances at them, poked them in the ribs, when they ran laughing away, hiding behind the low bushes that skirted the shore. Presently they peeped out, to find an expression of utter indifference on Frank’s face, as he idly kicked the pebbles at his feet. When they gradually returned to the charge, Frank, with a laughing look at us, said something in his own tongue, to which they listened with finger on lip, looking at each other, as though saying–

“What does it mean? Shall we remain or fly?”

Before they could decide, Frank made a feint to spring after them, at which they turned, and fled like frightened fawns. Not being followed, they ventured to return, coming closer and closer, until Frank, watching his opportunity, really sprang after them, grasped the prettiest by the elbows, and bent her lithe body back until he could look close into the brown eyes. Then, as she struggled violently, with a laugh he let her free. It was time to embark, and kissing his hand to the girls, he leaped into the canoe and pushed off, we following more slowly, taking a last look of the group on shore–the Indian wigwam, the pretty squaws, leaning sadly against each other as they watched Frank’s canoe round the point; the stout matron, still flourishing the emaciated-looking carrots, and shrilly vociferating their perfections to Carrière; and the dancing-girl waving a farewell with a huge cedar bough.

Carrière told us that during the previous winter the village was full, and when he stopped a night there, _en route_ from Winnipeg, some of the Indians took his dog-train over to an opposite point for a fiddler who lived there, and all spent the night in a grand “spree” of dancing and drinking. But in the morning only the shattered remains of his toboggan and dogs were to be found, the half-starved native animals having devoured provisions and robes, and gnawed the toboggan to pieces, so that he had to make the best of his way home on foot–a sadder, if not a wiser, man.


Falcon River–An Unlucky Supper–The Fate of our Fried Pork–A Weary Paddle–A Sundial in the Wilderness–A Gipsy Picnic–“Floating away”–The Dried Musk-rats–Falcon Lake–How can we land?–Mr. M—- “in again”–Surprised by Indians–How we dried our Clothes–The Last Night in Camp.

Half an hour after leaving the Indian village we reached Falcon River, a narrow winding stream running in a swamp between hills. About half a mile down we struck our camp for the night, at a spot where a rude wharf or landing of logs had been built by the contractors’ haymakers. Inside a rude “corelle,” or paddock, where they had kept their cattle, we pitched our tent and made a fire. The night set in so dark and cloudy that, unless within the immediate blaze, it was impossible to see what we were doing. We were hungry, and the added luxury of potatoes made us anxious to have dinner as soon as possible. Carrière brought in wood for the night, Mr. F—- made up our tent, and Mr. M—- superintended the stowage of the canoes, while Frank put our precious potatoes in a tin kettle over the fire, and, in mistaken zeal, the frying-pan of pork at the same time. The latter, of course, was cooked long before the former, so, taking it off the fire, he set it on the ground hard by. Mr. M—- coming up a moment after, and yielding to the universal desire to “poke the fire,” stepped into the pan of pork. While we were laughing over his propensity for tumbling into things, Carrière, who, poor fellow, was still suffering terribly from rheumatism, limped up with a log on his shoulder, and also fell foul of the pork. At the same moment a lantern appeared in the distance, carried by Mr. F—-, on his return from the canoe. Jumping over the fence, he exclaimed, “By Jove! that blaze is good. I’ll get warm before I do anything else,” and stepped back splash into the ill-fated pan of pork, making what was left of the contents fly in every direction.

“That’s a bad place for it!” said Carrière, coolly picking up the pieces, and putting it on the other side of the fire.

“Are those potatoes boiled yet?” Frank shouted from the darkness, and, being answered in the affirmative, made his appearance with the bag containing our dinner service of tin and other table necessaries. Tea made, drawn, and the potatoes boiled to a turn, Frank prepared to serve up the dinner, but looked in vain for the pork. “I say, Carrière, what have you done with the frying-pan? I left it just here!” he cried, seizing a brand from the fire for a torch. Scarcely had he uttered the words when a stumble and “O Lord!” told us that the pork was really done for this time.

Rain fell heavily all night, but held off in the morning long enough for us to get breakfast and start, which we lost no time in doing as there was a long paddle before us to our next camping-ground. Oh, the windings of that Falcon River! In some parts not more than a canoe’s length wide, and in none more than two, it wound in and out, up and down, this way and that. For a hundred feet we were dead against the wind, then a sharp turn sent us spinning along before it, when, standing up, I held the waterproof in my outstretched arms as a sail. Each bend of the shore was so abrupt that the impetus of turning drove the canoe half a length into the long grass, and it was with some difficulty backed out. We were cut off from our companions’ canoe, but could see their heads apparently only a few feet from us, as the crow flies; but so numerous were the turns of the river between us, that they were really half a mile behind.

At noon we stopped at another haymaker’s deserted camping-ground, and took shelter from the now pouring rain under a lean-to of poles covered with bark. A low shanty near having a rude crank for holding a kettle over the fire, we had a comfortable lunch. Out in the open, where there were remnants of rough cultivation, was a sundial made of a jagged-edged flat piece of tin, the figures scratched with a knife. Carrière said that it was the best camping-ground on the river, and while a gang of men were there was very comfortable. Had any one from the more civilized world seen us idly lolling about on the logs or ground in our travelling costumes, the Indians leaning against the uprights, the baby as happy as a queen on an outspread buffalo robe, the tin plates and mugs, knives, forks, and kettles, to say nothing of the whisky-keg, and general _debris_ of a finished feast, and at the same time heard the steady, drenching rain descending round us, he might have wondered at the laughter, fun, and chaff in which we all indulged.

But we could not stay there all day, and the rain showing no signs of abating, we set out again. Not far from the camping-ground we passed an Indian standing on the bank near two birch-bark canoes, while up on the hill a wretched wigwam sent forth the usual number of squaws, children, and dogs to greet our approach. The Indian had no potatoes, no ducks, no fish, no anything to sell; so, with a “Bon jour, nitchee,” we sped on. About this time I noticed that my hat, a brown straw with green leaves somewhere amongst the trimming, was weeping blue tears all down my ulster. Taking the drenched and now almost colourless leaves out, I sent them afloat on the river, mentally resolving that if I ever undertook a journey of the kind again, I would have a casing of waterproof, and leave voluminous skirts and useless adornments at home.

At one of the landing spots was an upright pole, from the top of which hung half a dozen musk-rats, tied together with a red string; and such is the honesty of the Indians, that they might hang there until they rotted off, before any but the rightful owner would touch them.

Carrière said the swamp was full of traps, and pointed out many spots where he knew they were placed to catch the musk-rats, but which to our eyes were undistinguishable from the rest of the swamp.

On, on, down the interminable river. The rain was still falling, and we were all gradually getting numbed and quiet; running into the shore, or spinning before the wind, no longer affording any excitement. We got so far ahead of the other canoe that we could not hear even Mr. K—-‘s “Whoop it up!” as he called a wild halloo he indulged in whenever he thought our spirits needed raising. Pulling up under the shelter of some bulrushes, for the wind was becoming keener every moment, we waited with chattering teeth until our comrades joined us, when we kept together better for the remainder of the way. During the afternoon we several times crossed the south or first line surveyed for the Canada Pacific, which has been proved by recent inquiries the most inexpensive route. But I could not help pitying the “party” that had to work through such a wretched country.

As we neared the mouth of the river we felt the wind very much, and vague fears of what the weather would be like outside, and what chance there was of landing, began to assail us. However, there was nothing for it but to persevere. When nearly dusk, the wash of the waves on the shore warned us that we were on the Falcon Lake. Subdued by atmospheric woes, we heard the sound without comment, but it revived the drooping energies of our canoe-men, and, putting on a spurt, we were soon across the bay. Beyond the point great white capped waves tossed and raged before the fury of the wind. If we could only round the point, a good camping-ground awaited us, but it was a question whether the canoes could live through the turn. However, the alternative of landing in a swamp made it worth the attempt. Asking me if I was afraid to venture, and being answered, “Not if _you_ are not!” Mr. M—- headed the canoe towards the lake, and in a moment we were abreast of the point, when Carrière said–“Better not try it, sir; it is too dark to cross the lake, and on this shore the canoe would be dashed to pieces before we could unload her.”

So we turned, and a few vigorous strokes drove the canoe well up into the long grass, where we sat a moment waiting for the next scene of the tragi-comedy. It was Mr. M—- “in again”–but purposely this time. Rolling up their trousers as high as they could, the men jumped into the swamp, and though sinking nearly to their waists, they with a “Heave-ahoy!” pulled the loaded canoe well up to the bank. Then bidding us stay quiet until they got the tents pitched and the fire alight, they left us in the fast-gathering darkness to do that hardest work of all, which generally falls to woman’s lot–to wait. As we sat silently there, the baby asleep, the maid telling her woes over the side of the canoe in the most heart-rending manner, we were nearly startled out of our wits by the sudden appearance of a birch-bark canoe propelled by two shaggy-haired Indians, which glided into the swamp alongside of us. Listening to the ring of axes and voices on shore, then pointing to us, they asked some question in their own tongue, which we answered by pointing to the land and nodding. With an “Ugh!” they left their canoe and went on shore, where they were immediately pressed into the service to unload and gather hay for our beds. They had a “tom-tom”–an instrument something between a drum and a tambourine, which they play at all their feasts and gambling bouts–a scarlet top knotted cock of the woods, a small fish, a little birch bark basket with the lid tightly sewed down, and an old worn-out blanket in their canoe.

It was quite dark by the time we landed, cramped and cold from our long day on the river. I, however, was the best off, as I had the width of the canoe to myself, and was not afraid to move about a little, while Mrs. F—- had to share her seat with the maid and the baby. We floundered helplessly up the wet path, sinking over our ankles in many places, but a glorious fire on the top of the height greeted us, and a mug of hot whisky and water–taken medicinally, of course–made us quite ready to eat a hearty dinner and dry our wet clothes. The tent was prepared, and, drying under its folds, we divested ourselves of one garment, and after drying it dived under again, to put it on while we dried the next. Hammering sticks into the ground round the fire, we soon surmounted them with an array of different-sized boots and various-coloured stockings. We held more voluminous articles to the fire ourselves, avoiding the sparks as best we might, and closing our eyes to let the smoke-drawn tears roll slowly down our cheeks, to be opened suddenly by an outcry from the other side of the fire of–

“Look out there, Miss F—-; your flannel skirt is burning!”

And as I grasp the precious article, and quench the sparks with my hands, I see through the flames some of his own garments floating into the fire. The wind blows the sticks down and prostrates an impromptu clothes-line with all its load, while the maid’s lugubrious countenance, as she dries petticoat after petticoat and skirt after skirt, set me speculating how much there would be left of her if she took them _all_ off. Our Indian visitors sit hugging their knees and holding their bare feet to the fire, gazing at all the trouble we take over our absurd superfluities of clothing with stolid indifference. Frank is lying on the hay near, threatening them with the dire vengeance he will wreak on their backs if they get up in the night and burn the dry wood be has had such difficulty in collecting, and which is to be kept for cooking breakfast; and of how little value their life will be to them if they so much as lay a finger on the tent he is going to leave standing there ready to occupy on his way back. The wilder his threats become, the more expressionless are their faces; not a gleam of intelligence crosses them when he says he knows well enough they can talk English as well as he can.

“Wasn’t he taken in once? But never will Redskin impose on him again.” And he laughs scornfully at the idea.

We sat up late that night, as the rain had ceased, and we had been so dull all day that we felt bound to make up for it now, especially as this was to be our last night in camp. Frank and Carrière vied with each other in relating their narrow escapes from accidents and scarcity of provisions, when Hudson Bay fare of “one pound of flour, half a pound of tea, and one pound of fat pork, or one jack-fish six mile long,” would have been appreciated. These stories were varied by anecdotes of people they had travelled with; some trick of speaking or peculiarity of expression or action, cleverly mimicked by the Indians, pointing their story and giving pungency to their wit.


Indian Loyalty–A Nap on Falcon Lake–A False Alarm–The Power of Whisky–Magnificent Water Stretches–A Striking Contrast–Picnic Lake–How we crossed Hawk Lake–Long Pine Lake–Bachelors’ Quarters at Ingolf–We dress for Dinner–Our Last Portage–A Rash Choice–Grasp your Nettle–Mr. F—-‘s Gallantry–Cross Lake–Denmark’s Ranche–A Tramp through the Mire.

Next morning the sun rose bright and clear, but as there was still a good deal of wind, which was likely to increase as the day advanced, we started early; not, however, before Mr. F—- had sent the strange Indians to shoot some ducks we had heard on the lake. They returned with one old and five young birds, for which they got five cents apiece, and the remnants of our breakfast. We all set to work to pick them at once. Carrière, at my instigation, tried every inducement in his power, offering the Indians three times its value in money, to purchase the little basket of wild rice they had in their canoe, but without success. “It belonged to another Indian, and they had not leave to sell it,” they said, in answer to all his persuasions. We embarked on the Falcoln Lake side of the point; the water was still so rough that the canoes had to be held off the rocks to prevent their bumping. Mr. F—- and Frank struck directly across the lake and hugged the western shore, but Mr. M—- and Carrière, trusting to my being a good sailor, kept in the middle of the lake in a direct course to the portage.

The waves were just high enough to give the canoe a cradle-like motion. Settling myself comfortably, and being covered with a warm rug, I slept soundly until we reached the portage–an hour’s paddle–so that I knew very little of the beauties of the lake. Looking back at it as we sat on the shore waiting for the other canoe, its shores seemed hilly, and devoid of bays or foliage. When the others came in, they expressed astonishment that I could sleep when the water was so rough; they could not see us at all times, and feared we were lost, and the reappearance of the canoe, apparently without me in it, had puzzled them not a little. Before we were ready to cross the portage our Indian visitors overtook us and carried some of our baggage. When asked to take a canoe, they looked at it, lifted it shook their heads, laughed and told Carrière it was ‘too heavy, they were not beasts.’ Mr. F—- offered them a dollar to take it over to the next lake–less than half a mile. ‘No’–they lifted it again carefully, taking everything out of it–“no, they wouldn’t do it for five dollars.”

Then Mr. M—- and Frank, putting their folded coats on their shoulders to rest the edge on, took up the canoe, one end on Mr. M—-‘s left shoulder, and the other on Frank’s right, and went off at an easy run, the Indians watching them open mouthed. Then they again tried the weight of the other, anxious to get the money, but too lazy to earn it. At last Mr. F—- had a “happy thought”. Showing the Indians the whisky keg, and holding the open bunghole to their noses, he made them understand that if they carried the canoe over they should have some of “the cratur” when they returned. This worked like a charm, in two minutes the canoe was hoisted on their shoulders, and they were off at double the pace of the others. Before they returned, Mr. F—- emptied out most of the whisky and replaced it with water, shaking the keg well to give it a flavour. It is against the law to give Indians spirits, but he knew that this mild draught could not hurt them. They were apparently quite satisfied, and left us, promising to bring us some potatoes to the end of the next portage. But either they detected the fraud, and did as Indians generally do when cheated–said nothing at the time, but would rather starve than give one a chance to cheat them again–or they were unable to procure the potatoes; at all events, we saw no more of them.

The next lake at which we arrived was very picturesque. I asked Carrière its name, but he laughed and replied, “It has no name, Miss F—-. It is only one of those ‘magnificent water stretches’ we hear MacKenzie talking so much about.” [Footnote: During the debate on the building of the Fort