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[Illustration: He smashed down upon me again, and made that hole in my leg above the knee. I handled my knife in a hurry, and made more than one hole in his skin, while he stuck a prong through my arm.]
WILD NORTHERN SCENES.
THE RIFLE AND THE ROD.
BY S. H. HAMMOND.
TO JOHN H. REYNOLDS, ESQ., OF ALBANY.
You have floated over the beautiful lakes and along the pleasant rivers of that broad wilderness lying between the majestic St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain. You have, in seasons of relaxation from the labors of a profession in which you have achieved such enviable distinction, indulged in the sports pertaining to that wild region. You have listened to the glad music of the woods when the morning was young, and to the solemn night voices of the forest when darkness enshrouded the earth. You are, therefore, familiar with the scenery described in the following pages.
Permit me, then, to dedicate this book to you, not because of your eminence as a lawyer, nor yet on account of your distinguished position as a citizen, but as a keen, intelligent sportsman, one who loves nature in her primeval wildness, and who is at home, with a rifle and rod, in the old woods.
With sentiments of great respect,
I remain your friend and servant,
There is a broad sweep of country lying between the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain, which civilization with its improvements and its rush of progress has not yet invaded. It is mountainous, rocky, and for all agricultural purposes sterile and unproductive. It is covered with dense forests, and inhabited by the same wild things, save the red man alone, that were there thousands of years ago. It abounds in the most beautiful lakes that the sun or the stars ever shone upon. I have stood upon the immense boulder that forms the head or summit of Baldface Mountain, a lofty, isolated peak, looming thousands of feet towards the sky, and counted upwards of twenty of these beautiful lakes–sleeping in quiet beauty in their forest beds, surrounded by primeval woods, overlooked by rugged hills, and their placid waters glowing in the sunlight.
It is a high region, from which numerous rivers take their rise to wander away through gorges and narrow valleys, sometimes rushing down rapids, plunging over precipices, or moving in deep sluggish currents, some to Ontario, some to the St. Lawrence, some to Champlain, and some to seek the ocean, through the valley of the Hudson. The air of this mountain region in the summer is of the purest, loaded always with the freshness and the pleasant odors of the forest. It gives strength to the system, weakened by labor or reduced by the corrupted and debilitating atmosphere of the cities. It gives elasticity and buoyancy to the mind depressed by continued toil, or the cares and anxieties of business, and makes the blood course through the veins with renewed vigor and recuperated vitality.
The invalid, whose health is impaired by excessive labor, but who is yet able to exercise in the open air, will find a visit to these beautiful lakes and pleasant rivers, and a fortnight or a month’s stay among them, vastly more efficacious in restoring strength and tone to his system than all the remedial agencies of the most skillful physicians. I can speak understandingly on this subject, and from evidences furnished by my own personal experience and observation.
To the sportsman, whether of the forest or flood, who has a taste for nature as God threw it from his hand, who loves the mountains, the old woods, romantic lakes, and wild forest streams, this region is peculiarly inviting. The lakes, the rivers, and the streams abound in trout, while abundance of deer feed on the lily pads and grasses that grow in the shallow water, or the natural meadows that line the shore. The fish may be taken at any season, and during the months of July and August he will find deer enough feeding along the margins of the lakes and rivers, and easily to be come at, to satisfy any reasonable or honorable sportsman. I have been within fair shooting distance of twenty in a single afternoon while floating along one of those rivers, and have counted upwards of forty in view at the same time, feeding along the margin of one of the beautiful lakes hid away in the deep forest.
The scenery I have attempted to describe–the lakes, rivers, mountains, islands, rocks, valleys and streams, will be found as recorded in this volume. The game will be found as I have asserted, unless perchance an army of sportsmen may have thinned it somewhat on the borders, or driven it deeper into the broad wilderness spoken of. I was over a portion of that wilderness last summer, and found plenty of trout and abundance of deer. I heard the howl of the wolf, the scream of the panther, and the hoarse bellow of the moose, and though I did not succeed in taking or even seeing any of these latter animals, yet I or my companion slew a deer every day after we entered the forest, and might have slaughtered half a dozen had we been so disposed. Though the excursion spoken of in the following pages was taken four years ago, yet I found, the last summer, small diminution of the trout even in the border streams and lakes of the “Saranac and Rackett woods.”
I have visited portions of this wilderness at least once every summer for the last ten years, and I have never yet been disappointed with my fortnight’s sport, or failed to meet with a degree of success which abundantly satisfied me, at least. I have generally gone into the woods weakened in body and depressed in mind. I have always come out of them with renewed health and strength, a perfect digestion, and a buoyant and cheerful spirit.
For myself, I have come to regard these mountains, these lakes and streams, these old forests, and all this wild region, as my settled summer resort, instead of the discomforts, the jam, the excitement, and the unrest of the watering-places or the sea shore. I visit them for their calm seclusion, their pure air, their natural cheerfulness, their transcendent beauty, their brilliant mornings, their glorious sunsets, their quiet and repose. I visit them too, because when among them, I can take off the armor which one is compelled to wear, and remove the watch which one must set over himself, in the crowded thoroughfares of life; because I can whistle, sing, shout, hurrah and be jolly, without exciting the ridicule or provoking the contempt of the world. In short, because I can go back to the days of old, and think, and act, and feel like “a boy again.”
A Great Institution
Hurrah! for the Country
The Departure–The Stag Hounds–The Chase–Round Lake
The Doctor’s Story–A Slippery Fish–A Lawsuit and a Compromise
A Frightened Animal–Trolling for Trout–The Boatman’s Story Defence
Kinks!–“Dirty Dogs”–The Barking Dog that was found Dead in the Yard–The Dog that Barked himself to Death
Stony Brook–A Good Time with the Trout–Rackett River–Tupper’s Lake–A Question Asked and Answered
Hunting by Torchlight–An Incompetent Judge–A New Sound in the Forest–Old Sangamo’s Donkey
Grindstone Brook–Forest Sounds–A Funny Tree covered with Snow Flakes
A Convention broken up in a Row–The Chairman ejected
The First Chain of Ponds–Shooting by Turns–Sheep Washing–A Plunge and a Dive–A Roland for an Oliver
A Jolly Time for the Deer–Hunting on the Water by Daylight–Mud Lake–Funereal Scenery–A New way of Taking Rabbits–The Negro and the Merino Buck–A Collision
A Deer Trapped–The Result of a Combat–A Question of Mental Philosophy Discussed
Hooking up Trout–The Left Branch–The Rapids–A Fight with a Buck
Round Pond–The Pile Driver–A Theory for Spiritualists
Little Tupper’s Lake–A Spike Buck–A Thunder Storm in the Forest–The Howl of the Wolf
An Exploring Voyage in an Alderswamp–A Beaver Dam–A Fair Shot and a Miss–Drowning a Bear–an Unpleasant Passenger
Spalding’s Bear Story–Climbing to avoid a Collision–An Unexpected Meeting–A Race
The Chase on the Island–The Chase on the Lake–The Bear–Gambling for Glory–Anecdote of Noah and the Gentleman who offered to Officiate as Pilot on Board the Ark
The Doctor and his Wife on a Fishing Excursion–The Law of the Case–Strong-minded Women
A Beautiful Flower–A New Lake–A Moose–His Capture–A Sumptuous Dinner
The Cricket in the Wall–The Minister’s Illustration–Old Memories
The Accidents of Life–“Some Men Achieve Greatness, and Some have Greatness Thrust Upon Them”–A Slide–Rattle at the Top and an Icy Pool at the Bottom–A Fanciful Story
Headed Towards Home–The Martin and Sable Hunter–His Cabin–Autumnal Scenery
A Surprise–A Serenade–A Visit from Strangers–An Invitation to Breakfast–A Fashionable Hour and a Bountiful Bill of Fare
Would I were a Boy Again!
Headed Down Stream–Return to Tupper’s Lake–The Camp on the Island
A Mysterious Sound–Treed by a Moose–Angling for a Powder Horn–An Unheeded Warning and the Consequences
Good-bye–Floating Down the Rackett–A Black Fox–A Trick upon the Martin Trappers and its Consequences
Out of the Woods–The Thousand Islands–Cape Vincent–Bass Fishing–Home–A Searcher after Truth–An Interruption–Finis
THE RIFLE AND THE ROD.
A GREAT INSTITUTION.
“It is a great institution,” I said, or rather thought aloud, one beautiful summer morning, as my wife was dressing the baby. The little thing lay upon its face across her lap, paddling and kicking with its little bare arms and legs, as such little people are very apt to do, while being dressed. It was not our baby. We have dispensed with that luxury. And yet it was a sweet little thing, and nestled as closely in our hearts as if it were our own. It was our first grandchild, the beginning of a third generation, so that there is small danger of our name becoming extinct. A friend of mine, who unfortunately has no voice for song, has a most excellent wife and beautiful baby, and cannot therefore be said to be without music at home. It is his first descendant, and everybody knows that such are just the things of which fathers are very apt to be proud. He was spending an evening with a neighbor, and was asked to sing. He declined, of course, giving as a reason that he never sang. “Why, Mr. H—-,” said a black-eyed little girl, of seven–“why, Mr. H—-, don’t you never sing to the baby?” Sure enough! I wonder if there ever was a civilized, a human man, who never sang to the baby. I do not believe that there was ever such a paradox in nature, as a man who had tossed the baby up and down, balanced it on his hand, given it a ride on his foot, and yet never sang to it. I do not care a fig about melody of voice, or science in quavering; I am not talking about sweetness of tone; what I mean to say is, that I do not believe there is a man living, even though he have no more voice than a raven, who is human, and yet never sang to the baby, always assuming that he has one.
“A great institution,” I repeated, half in soliloquy and half to my wife.
“What in the world are you talking about?” said Mrs. H—-, as she took a pin from her mouth, and fastened the band that encircled the waist of the baby. The nurse was looking quietly on, quite willing that her work should be thus taken off her hands. Will somebody tell me, if there ever was a grandmother, especially one who became such young, who could sit by, and see the nurse dress her first, or even her tenth grandchild, while it was a helpless little thing, say a foot or a foot and a half long? The nurse is so unhandy; she tumbles the baby about so roughly, handles it so awkwardly, she will certainly dress it too loosely, or too tight, or leave a pin that will prick it, or some terrible calamity will happen. So she takes possession of the little thing, and with a hand guided by experience and the instincts of affection, puts its things on in a Christian and comfortable way.
“A great institution!” I repeated again.
“I do believe the man has lost his wits,” remarked Mrs. H—-, handing the baby to the nurse. “Who ever heard of a baby less than three months old being called an institution?”
“Never heard of such a thing in my life,” I replied, “though a much greater mistake might be made.”
“What then, in the name of goodness, have you been talking about?” inquired Mrs. H—-.
“The COUNTRY of course,” I replied.
I had just returned from a business trip to Vermont–who ever thought that Vermont would be traversed by railroads, or that the echoes which dwell among her precipices and mountain fastnesses, would ever wake to the snort of the iron horse? Who ever thought that the locomotive would go screaming and thundering along the base of the Green Mountains, hurling its ponderous train, loaded with human freight, along the narrow valleys above which mountain peaks hide their heads in the clouds? How old Ethan Allen and General Stark, “Old Put,” and the other glorious names that enrich the pages of our revolutionary history, would open their eyes in astonishment, if they could come back from “the other side of Jordan,” and sit for a little while on their own tombstones in sight of the railroads, and see the trains as they go rushing like a tornado along their native valleys.
I had made up my mind that morning, all at once, to go into the country. It was a sudden resolve, but I acted upon it. Going into the country is a very different thing from what it used to be. There is no packing of trunks, or taking leave of friends. You take your satchel or travelling bag, kiss your wife in a hurry at the door, and jump aboard of the cars; the whistle sounds, the locomotive breathes hoarsely for a moment, and you are off like a shot. In ten minutes the suburbs are behind you; the fields and farms are flying to the rear; you dash through the woods and see the trees dodging and leaping behind and around each other, performing the dance of the witches “in most admired confusion;” in three hours you are among the hills of Massachusetts, the mountains of Vermont, on the borders of the majestic Hudson, in the beautiful valley of the Mohawk, a hundred miles from the good city of Albany, where you can tramp among the wild or tame things of nature to your heart’s content.
I had for the moment no particular place in view. What I wanted was, to get outside of the city, among the hills, where I could see the old woods, the streams, the mountains, and get a breath of fresh air, such as I used to breathe. I wanted to be free and comfortable for a month; to lay around loose in a promiscuous way among the hills, where beautiful lakes lay sleeping in their quiet loveliness; where the rivers flow on their everlasting course through primeval forests; where the moose, the deer, the panther and the wolf still range, and where the speckled trout sport in the crystal waters. I had made up my mind to throw off the cares and anxieties of business, and visit that great institution spread out all around us by the Almighty, to make men healthier, wiser, better. I had resolved to go into the country. That was a fixed fact. But where?
There stood my rifle in one corner of the room, and my fishing rods in the other. The sight of these settled the matter. “I will go to the North,” I said.
“Go to the North!” said Mrs. H—-. “Do tell me if you’ve got another of your old hunting and fishing fits on you again?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I’ve felt it coming on for a week, and I’ve got it bad.”
“Very well,” said my wife, “if the fit is on you, there’s no use in remonstrating; your valise will be ready by the morning train.” And so the matter was settled.
But I must have a companion, somebody to talk to and with, somebody who could appreciate the beauties of nature; who loved the old woods, the wilderness, and all the wild things pertaining to them; to whom the forests, the lakes, and tall mountains, the rivers and streams, would recall the long past; to whom the forest songs and sounds would bring back the memories of old, and make him “a boy again.” So I sallied out to find him. I had scarcely traversed a square, when I met my friend, the doctor, with carpet bag in hand, on his way to the depot.
“Whither away, my friend?” I inquired, as we shook hands.
“Into the country,” he replied.
“Very well, but where?”
“Into the country,” he repeated, “don’t you comprehend? Into the country, by the first train; anywhere, everywhere, all along shore.”
“Go with me,” said I, “for a month.”
“A month! Bless your simple soul, every patient I’ve got will be well in less than half that time; but let them, I’ll be avenged on them another time. But where do _you_ go?”
“To my old haunts in the North,” I replied.
“To follow the stag to his slip’ry crag, And to chase the bounding roe.”
“But,” said he, “I’ve no rifle.”
“I’ve got four.”
“I’ve no fishing rod.”
“I’ve half a dozen at your service.”
“Give me your hand,” said he; “I’m with you.” And so the doctor was booked.
“Suppose,” said the doctor, “we beat up Smith and Spalding, and take them along. Smith has got one of his old fits of the hypo. He sent for me to-day, and. I prescribed a frugal diet and the country. Wild game, and bleeding by the musquitoes, will do him good. Spalding is entitled to a holiday, for he’s working himself into dyspepsia in this hot weather.”
“Just the thing;” I replied, and we started to find Smith and Spalding. We found them, and it was settled that they should go with us for a month among the mountains. Everybody knows Smith, the good-natured, eccentric Smith; Smith the bachelor, who has an income greatly beyond his moderate expenditures, and enough of capital to spoil, as he says, the orphan children of his sister. By way of saving them from being thrown upon the cold world with a fortune, he declares he will spend every dollar of it _himself_, simply out of regard for _them_. But Smith will do no such thing, and the tenderness with which he is rearing the two beautiful, black-eyed, raven-haired little girls, proves that he will not. But Smith has no professional calling or business, and when his digestion troubles him, he has visions of the alms-house, and the Potters’ Field, and of two mendicant little girls, while his endorsement would be regarded as good at the bank for a hundred thousand dollars.
Spalding, as everybody within a hundred leagues of the capitol knows, is a lawyer of eminence, full of good-nature, always cheerful, always instructive; a troublesome opponent at the bar; a man of genial sympathies and a big heart. If I have given him, as well as Smith, a _nom de plume_, it is out of regard for their modesty. We arranged to meet at the cars, the next morning at six, each with a rifle and fishing rod, to be away for a month among the deer and the trout, floating over lakes the most beautiful, and along rivers the pleasantest that the sun ever shone upon.
HURRAH! FOR THE COUNTRY!
Hurrah! Hurrah! We are in the country–the glorious country! Outside of the thronged streets; away from piled up bricks and mortar; outside of the clank of machinery; the rumbling of carriages; the roar of the escape pipe; the scream of the steam whistle; the tramp, tramp of moving thousands on the stone sidewalks; away from the heated atmosphere of the city, loaded with the smoke and dust, and gasses of furnaces, and the ten thousand manufactories of villainous smells. We are beyond even the meadows and green fields. We are here alone with nature, surrounded by old primeval things. Tall forest trees, mountain and valley are on the right hand and on the left. Before us, stretching away for miles, is a beautiful lake, its waters calm and placid, giving back the bright heavens, the old woods, the fleecy clouds that drift across the sky, from away down in its quiet depths. Beyond still, are mountain ranges, whose castellated peaks stand out in sharp and bold relief, on whose tops the beams of the descending sun lie like a mantle of silver and gold. Glad voices are ringing; sounds of merriment make the evening joyous with the music of the wild things around us. Hark! how from away off over the water, the voice of the loon comes clear and musical and shrill, like the sound of a clarion; and note how it is borne about by the echoes from hill to hill. Hark! again, to that clanking sound away up in the air; metallic ringing, like the tones of a bell. It is the call of the cock of the woods as he flies, rising and falling, glancing upward and downward in his billowy flight across the lake. Hark! to that dull sound, like blows upon some soft, hollow, half sonorous substance, slow and measured at first, but increasing in rapidity, until it rolls like the beat of a muffled drum, or the low growl of the far-off thunder. It is the partridge drumming upon his log Hark! still again, to that quavering note, resembling somewhat the voice of the tree-frog when the storm is gathering, but not so clear and shrill. It is the call of the raccoon, as he clambers up some old forest tree, and seats himself among the lowest of its great limbs. Listen to the almost human halloo, the “hoo! hohoo, hoo!” that comes out from the clustering foliage of an ancient hemlock. It is the solemn call of the owl, as he sits among the limbs, looking out from between the branches with his great round grey eyes. Listen again and you will hear the voice of the catbird, the brown thrush, the chervink, the little chickadee, the wood robin, the blue-jay, the wood sparrow, and a hundred other nameless birds that live and build their nests and sing among these old woods.
But go a little nearer the lake, and you will have a concert that will drown all these voices in its tumultuous roar. Compared to these feeble strains, it is the crashing of Julien’s hundred brazen instruments to the soft and sweet melody of Ole Bull’s violin. Come with me to this rocky promontory; stand with me on this moss-covered boulder, which forms the point. On either hand is a little bay, the head of which is hidden around among the woods. See! over against us, on the limb of that dead fir tree, which leans out over the water, is a bald eagle, straightening with his hooked beak the feathers of his wings, and pausing now and then to look out over the water for some careless duck of which to make prey. See! he has leaped from his perch, has spread his broad pinions, and is soaring upward towards the sky. See! how he circles round and round, mounting higher and higher at every gyration. He is like a speck in the air. But see! he is above the mountains now, and how like an arrow he goes, straight forward, with no visible motion to his wings. He has laid his course for some lake, deeper in the wilderness, beyond that range of hills, and he is there, even while we are talking of his flight. A swift bird, the swiftest of all the birds, is the eagle, when he takes his descending stoop from his place away up in the sky. He cleaves the air like a bullet, and so swift is his career that the eye can scarcely trace his flight. But, hark! all is still now, save the piping notes of the little peeper along the shore. Wait, however, a moment. There, hear that venerable podunker off to the right, with his deep bass, like the sound of a brazen serpent. Listen! another deep voice on the left has fallen in. There, another right over against us! another and another still! a dozen! a hundred! a thousand! ten thousand! a million of them! close by us! far off! on the right hand and on the left! here! there! everywhere! until above, around us, all through the woods, all along the shore, all over the lake is a solid roar, impenetrable to any other sound, surging and swaying, rolling and swelling as if all the voices in the world were concentrated in one stupendous concert.
But, hark! the roar is dying away; voice after voice drops out; here and there is one laggard in the song, still dragging out the chorus. Now all is still again, save the note of the little peeper along the shore. In two minutes that band will strike up again. The roar will go bellowing over the lake through the woods, to be thrown from hill to hill, to die away into silence again; and so it will be through all the long night, and until the sun looks out from among the tree tops in the morning. Touch that solemn looking old croaker on yonder broad leaf of that pond lily, with the end of your fishing rod, while the music is at the highest, he will send forth a quick discordant and cracked cry, like that of a greedy dog choked with a bone, as he plunges for the bottom; and note how suddenly that sound will be repeated, and how quick the roar of the frogs will be hushed into silence. That is a cry of alarm, a note of danger, and every frog within hearing understands its import.
Is it asked _where_ we are? I answer, we are on the Lower Saranac Lake, just on the south point, at the entrance of the romantic little bay, at the head of which stands Martin’s Lake House, the only human dwelling in sight of this beautiful sheet of water. On the point where we now are, long ago, was the log shanty of a hunter and fisherman, surrounded by an acre or two of cleared land. But its occupant moved deeper into the wilderness, over on the waters of the Rackett, many years since; the log shanty has rotted away, and a vigorous growth of brush and small timber, now covers what once may have been called a field.
But the night shadows are beginning to gather over the forest, throwing a sort of spectral gloom among the old woods, giving a distorted look to the trunks of the trees, the low bushes, the turned up roots, and the boulders scattered over the ground. See what ogre shapes these things assume as the darkness deepens. Look at that cedar bush, with its dense foliage! It is a crouching lion, and as its branches wave in the gentle breeze, he seems preparing for his leap; and yonder boulder is a huge elephant! The root that comes out from the crevice is his trunk, and the moss and lichens which hang down on either side are his pendant ears; and see, he has a great tower on his back, wherein is seated a warrior in his ancient armor, grasping battle-axe and spear. Beyond, through that opening upon the bay, is a castle looming darkly against the sky, with massive towers and arched gateway. Such are the forms which fancy gives to these forest things, in the doubtful twilight of a summer evening. While we have been looking upon these unsubstantial shadows, the sunlight has left the mountain peaks, the stars have come out in the sky, and the moon has started on her course across the heavens.
Let us rest on our oars a moment, here in the bay, to view the scenery around us, as seen by the mellow moonlight. So calm, so still, so motionless are both air and water, that we seem suspended between the sky above, sparkling and glowing with millions of bright stars, and the moon riding gloriously on her course, and a sky beneath, sparkling and glowing with like millions of bright stars, and the same moon, or its counterpart, floating away down in fathomless depths below us. See, how the same hillside, the same line of forest trees, the same ranges and mountain peaks are reflected back from the stirless bosom of the lake. There, above, and just on the upper line of that tall peak, looming darkly and majestically in the distance, hangs a brilliant star, sparkling and twinkling, like the sheen of a diamond; and right beneath, away down just as far below the surface of the water as mountain peak and star are above it, is another mountain peak and bright star, twinned by the mirrored waters. See, away down the lake, that little island with its half dozen spruce trees, clustered together! How like a great war vessel it looks, with sails all set, as seen by the uncertain light of the moon. And that other island, off to the left, with the dead and barkless trees, how like a tall ship with bare masts riding at anchor it seems. That other island, away to the right, with its great boulders and bare rocks rising straight up out of the water, is a fortification, a stronghold surrounded by a wall of solid masonry, and bristling with cannon. We can almost see the sentinel, and hear his measured tramp as he travels his lonely rounds, keeping watch out over the waters. See all along the shore, as you look up the bay towards the Lake House, how the millions of fireflies flash their tiny torches, upward and downward, this way and that, mingling and crossing, and gyrating and whirling–a troubled and billowy sea of millions upon millions of glowing and sparkling gems.
Reader, were you and I gifted with the spirit of poetry, what inspiration would we not gather from the glories which surround us, as we float of a summer evening over these beautiful lakes, sleeping away out here, in all their virgin loveliness, among these old primeval things? But you ask, “what inspiration can there be in a moon and stars, that we see every night, when the sky is cloudless; in a desolate wilderness; the roar of the frogs; the hooting of owls; these useless waters; the phosphorescent flash of lightning bugs; these piled up rocks and barren mountains? Can you grow corn on these hills, or make pastures of these rocky lowlands? Can you harness these rivers to great waterwheels, or make reservoirs of these lakes? Can you convert these old forests into lumber or cordwood? Can you quarry these rocks, lay them up with mortar into houses, mills, churches, public edifices? Can you make what you call these ‘old primeval things’ utilitarian? Can you make them minister to the progress of civilization, or coin them into dollars?”
Pshaw! You have spoiled, with your worldliness, your greed for progress, your thirst for gain, a pleasant fancy, a glorious dream, as if everything in the heavens, on the earth, or in the waters, were to be measured by the dollar and cent standard, and unless reducible to a representative of moneyed value, to be thrown, as utterly worthless, away. Let us row back to the Lake House.
THE DEPARTURE–THE STAG HOUNDS–THE CHASE–ROUND LAKE.
From Martin’s Lake House we were to take our departure in the morning. We had arranged for three boats, and as many stalwart boatmen. Two of these boats were for our own conveyance, and one for our luggage and provisions; the latter to be sent forward with our tents in advance, so as to have a home ready for us always, at our coming, when we chose to linger by the way. These boatmen were all jolly, good-natured and pleasant people, with a vast deal of practical sense, and a valuable experience in woodcraft, albeit they were rough and unpolished. Their hearts were in the right place, and they commanded our respect always for their kindness and attention to our wants, while they maintained at all times that sturdy independence which enters so largely into the character of the border men of our country. Their boats are constructed of spruce or cedar boards of a quarter of an inch in thickness, “clap-boarded,” as the expression is, upon “knees” of the natural crook, and weigh from ninety to one hundred and ten pounds each. They are carried around rapids, or from river to river, on the back of the boatman in this wise: A “yoke” is provided, such as every man in the country, especially all who have visited a “sugar bush” at the season of sugar making, has seen. At the end of this yoke is a round iron projection, made to fit into a socket in the upper rave of the boat. The craft is turned bottom upwards, the yoke adjusted to the shoulders, the iron projections fitted into the sockets, and the boatman marches off with his boat, like a turtle with his shell upon his back. He will carry it thus sometimes half a mile before stopping to rest.
With us were to go two staid and sober stag hounds, grave in aspect and trained and experienced, almost, in woodcraft, as their masters; animals that had been reared together, and who possessed the rare instinct of returning always to the shanty from which they started, however far the chase may have led them. It was a glorious sound in the old forests, the music of those two hounds, as their voices rang out bold and free, like a bugle, and went, ringing through the forest, echoing among the mountains and dying away over the lakes. But of that hereafter.
Our little fleet swung out upon the water, while the sun was yet hanging like a great torch among the tops of the trees, on the eastern hills. It was a beautiful morning, so fresh, so genial, so balmy. A pleasant breeze came sweeping lazily over the lake, and went sighing and moaning among the old forest trees. All around us were glad voices. The partridge drummed upon his log; the squirrels chattered as they chased each other up and down the great trunks of the trees; the loon lifted up his clarion voice away out upon the water; the eagle and the osprey screamed as they hovered high above us in the air, while a thousand merry voices came from out the old woods, all mingling in the harmony of nature’s gladness. A loud and repeated hurrah! burst from us all as our oars struck the water, and sent our little boats bounding over the rippled surface of the beautiful Saranac.
This is a indeed a beautiful sheet of water. The shores were lined with a dense and unbroken forest, stretching back to the mountains which surround it. The old wood stood then in all its primeval grandeur, just as it grew. The axe had not harmed it, nor had fire marred its beauty. The islands were covered with a lofty growth of living timber clothed in the deepest green. There were not then, as now, upon some of them, great dead trees reaching out their long bare arms in verdureless desolation above a stinted undergrowth, and piled up trunks charred and blackened by the fire that had revelled among them, but all were green, and thrifty, and glorious in their robes of beauty. Thousands of happy songsters carolled gaily among their branches, or hid themselves in the dense foliage of their wide-spreading arms. The islands are a marked feature of these northern lakes, lending a peculiar charm to their quiet beauty, and one day, when the iron horse shall go thundering through these mountain gorges, the tourist will pause to make a record of their loveliness.
Four or five miles down the lake, is a beautiful bay, stretching for near half a mile around a high promontory, almost reaching another bay winding around a like promontory beyond, leaving a peninsula of five hundred acres joined to the main land, by a narrow neck of some forty rods in width. Our first sport among the deer was to be the “driving” of this peninsula. We stationed ourselves on the narrow isthmus within a few rods of each other, while a boatman went round to the opposite side to lay on the dogs. We had been at our posts perhaps half an hour, when we heard the measured bounds of a deer, as he came crashing through the forest. We could see his white flag waving above the undergrowth, as he came bounding towards us. Neither Smith nor Spalding had ever seen a deer in his native woods, and they were, by a previous arrangement, to have the first shot, if circumstances should permit it. The noble animal came dashing proudly on his way, as if in contempt of the danger he was leaving behind him. Of the greater danger into which he was rushing, he was entirely unconscious, until the crack of Smith’s rifle broke upon his astonished ear. He was unharmed, however, and quick as thought he wheeled and plunged back in the direction from which he came; Spalding’s rifle, as it echoed through the forest, with the whistling of the ball in close proximity to his head, added energy to his flight.
The rifles were scarcely reloaded when the deep baying of the hounds was heard, and two more deer came crashing across the isthmus where we were stationed. The foremost one went down before the doctor’s unerring rifle and cool aim, while the other ran the gauntlet of the three other rifles, horribly frightened, but unharmed, away. The hounds were called off, and with our game in one of the boats, we rowed back around the promontory, and passed on towards the Saranac River, which connects by a tortuous course of five miles, the Lower Saranac with Round Lake.
Midway between these two lakes, is a fall, or rather rapids, down which the river descends some ten feet in five or six rods through a narrow rocky channel, around which the boats had to be carried. While this was being done, Smith and Spalding adjusted their rods, eager to make up in catching trout what they failed to achieve in the matter of venison. And they succeeded. In twenty minutes they had fifteen beautiful fish, none weighing less than half a pound, safely deposited on the broad flat rock at the head of the rapids. “One throw more,” said Smith, “and I’ve done;” and he cast his fly across the still water just above the fall. Quick as thought it was taken by a two-pound trout. Landing nets and gaff had been sent forward with the baggage, and without these it was an exciting and delicate thing to land that fish. The game was, to prevent him dashing away down the rapids, or diving beneath the shelving rock above, the sharp edge of which would have severed the line like a knife. Skillfully and beautifully Smith played him for a quarter of an hour, until at last the fish turned his orange belly to the surface, and ceased to struggle. He was drowned.
We had in the morning directed the boatman in charge of the baggage to go on in advance, and erect our tents on an island in Round Lake. When we entered this beautiful sheet of water, about four o’clock, we saw the white tents standing near the shore of the island, with a column of smoke curling gracefully up among the tall trees that overshadowed them. When we arrived, we found everything in order. They were pitched in a pleasant spot, looking out to the west over the water, while within were beds of green boughs from the spruce and fir trees, and bundles of boughs tied up like faggots for pillows. Our first dinner in the wilderness was a pleasant one, albeit the cookery was somewhat primitive. With fresh venison and trout, seasoned with sweet salt pork, we got through with it uncomplainingly.
This little lake is a gem. It is, as its name purports, round, some four miles in diameter, surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills, beneath whose shadows it reposes in placid and quiet beauty. On the northeast, Ballface Mountain rears its tall head far above the intervening ranges, while away off in the east Mount Marcy and Mount Seward stand out dim and shadowy against the sky. Nearer are the Keene Ranges, ragged and lofty, their bare and rocky summits glistening in the sunlight, while nearer still the hills rise, sometimes with steep and ragged acclivity, and sometimes gently from the shore. Here and there a valley winds away among the highlands, along which the mountain streams come bounding down rapids, or moving in deep and sluggish, but pure currents, towards the lake. The rugged and sublime, with the placid and beautiful, in natural scenery, are magnificently mingled in the surroundings of this little sheet of water.
THE DOCTOR’S STORY–A SLIPPERY FISH–A LAWSUIT AND A COMPROMISE.
There seems to be a law, or rather a habit pertaining to forest life, into which every one falls, while upon excursions such as ours. Stories occupy the place of books, and tales of the marvellous furnish a substitute for the evening papers. Not that there should be any set rule or system, in regard to the ordering of the matter, but a sort of spontaneous movement, an implied understanding, growing out of the necessities of the position of isolation occupied by those who are away from the resources of civilization. The doctor had a genius for story telling, or rather a genius for invention, which required only a moderate development of the organ of credulity on the part of his hearers, to render him unrivalled. There was an appearance of frank earnestness about his manner of relating his adventures, which, however improbable or even impossible as matter of fact they might be, commanded, for the moment, absolute credence.
“They’ve a curious fish in the St. Lawrence,” said the doctor, as he knocked the ashes from his meerschaum, and refilled it, “known among the fishermen of that river as the LAWYER. I have never seen it among any other of the waters of this country, and never there but once. It never bites at a hook, and is taken only by gill-nets, or the seine. Everybody,” he continued, “has visited the Thousand Islands, or if everybody has not, he had better go there at once. He will find them, in the heat of summer, not only the coolest and most healthful retreat, and the pleasantest scenery that the eye ever rested upon, always excepting these beautiful lakes, but the best river fishing I know of on this continent. He will not, to be sure, take the speckled trout that we find in this region, but he will be among the black bass, the pickerel, muscalunge, and striped bass, in the greatest abundance, and ready to answer promptly any reasonable demand which he may make upon them. Think of reeling in a twenty-pound pickerel, or a forty-pound muscalunge, on a line three hundred feet in length, playing him for half an hour, and landing him safely in your boat at last! There’s excitement for you worth talking about.
“I stopped over night at Cape Vincent, last summer, on my way to ‘the Thousand Islands,’ on a fishing excursion of a week. I was acquainted with an old fisherman of that place, and agreed to go out with him the next morning, to see what luck he had with the fish. I don’t think much of that kind of fishing, though it is well enough for those who make a business of it, for the gill-net works, as the old man said, while the fisherman sleeps, and all he gets in that way is clear gain.
“Well, I rose early the next morning to go out with the old fisherman to his gill-nets. It would have done you good, as it did me, to see how merry every living thing was. The birds, how jolly they were, and how refreshing the breeze was that came stealing over the water, making one feel as if he would like to shout and hurrah in the buoyancy, the brightness, and glory of the morning. But I am not going to be poetical about the sunrise, and the singing birds. We went out upon the river just as the sun came up with his great, round, red face, for there was a light smoky haze floating above the eastern horizon, and threw his light like a stream of crimson flame across the water; and the meadow lark perched upon his fence stake, the blackbird upon his alderbush, the brown thrush on the topmost spray of the wild thorn, and the bob-o’-link, as he leaped from the meadow and poised himself on his fluttering wings in mid air, all sent up a shout of gladness as if hailing the god of the morning.
“We came to the nets and began to draw in. You ought to have seen the fish. There were pickerel from four to ten pounds in weight, white fish, black bass, rock bass, Oswego bass, and pike by the dozen; and, what was a stranger to me, a queer looking specimen of the piscatory tribes, half bull-head, and half eel, with a cross of the lizard.
“‘What on earth is that?’ said I, to the fisherman. “‘That,’ said he, ‘is a species of ling; we call it in these parts a LAWYER’
“‘A lawyer!’ said I; ‘why, pray?’
“‘I don’t know,’ he replied, ‘unless it’s because he ain’t of much use, and is the slipriest fish that swims.’
“Mark,” continued the doctor, turning to Spalding; “I mean no personality. I am simply giving the old fisherman’s words, not my own.”
“Proceed with the case,” said Spalding, as he sent a column of smoke curling upward from his lips, and with a gravity that was refreshing.
“Well,” resumed the doctor, “the LAWYERS were thrown by themselves, and one old fat fellow, weighing, perhaps, five or six pounds, fixed his great, round, glassy eyes upon me, and opened his ugly mouth, and I thought I heard him say, interrogatively, ‘Well,’ as if demanding that the _case_ should proceed at once.
“‘Well,’ said I, in reply, ‘what’s out?’
“‘What’s out!’ he answered; ‘_I’m_ out–I’m out of my element–out of water–out of court–and in this hot, dry atmosphere, almost out of breath. But what have I been summoned here for? I demand a copy of the complaint.’
“‘My dear sir,’ said I, ‘I’m not a member of the court. I don’t belong to the bar–I’m not the plaintiff–I’m not in the profession, nor on the bench. I’m neither sheriff, constable nor juror. I’m only a spectator. In the Rackett Woods, among the lakes and streams of that wild region, with a rod and fly, I’m at home with the trout, but;—-‘ “‘Oh! ho!’ he exclaimed with a chuckle, ‘you’re the chap I was consulted about down near the mouth of the Rackett the other day, by a country trout, who was on a journey to visit his relatives in the streams of Canada. He showed me a hole in his jaw, made by your hook at the mouth of the Bog river. I’ve filed a summons and complaint against you for assault and battery, and beg to notify you of the fact.’
“‘I plead the general issue,’ said I.
“‘There’s no such thing known to the code,’ he replied.
“‘I deny the fact, then,’ I exclaimed.
“‘That won’t do,’ he rejoined; “‘the complaint is put in under oath, and you must answer by affidavit, of the truth of your denial.’
“You see my dilemma. I remembered the circumstance of hooking a noble trout at the place alleged, and as the affair has been settled, I’ll tell you how it was. At the head of Tupper’s Lake, one of the most beautiful sheets of water that the sun ever shone upon, lying alone among the mountains, surrounded by old primeval forests, walled in by palisadoes of rocks, and studded with islands, the Bog River enters; this river comes down from the hills away back in the wilderness, sometimes rushing with a roar over rocks and through gorges, sometimes plunging down precipices, and sometimes moving with a deep and sluggish current across a broad sweep of table land. For several miles back of the lake, and until a few rods of the shore, it is a calm, deep river. It then rushes down a steep, shelving rock some twenty feet into a great rocky basin; then down again over a shelving rock in a fall of twenty feet into another rocky basin; and then again in another fall of twenty or thirty feet, over a steep, shelving rock, shooting with a swift current far out into the lake. These falls constitute a beautiful cascade, and their roar may be heard of a calm, summer evening, for miles out on the placid water.
“At the foot of these falls, in the summer season, the trout congregate; beautiful large fellows, from one to three pounds in weight; and a fly trailed across the current, or over the eddies, just at its outer edge, is a thing at which they are tolerably sure to rise. Well, last summer, I was out that way among the lakes that lie sleeping in beauty, and along the streams that flow through the old woods, playing the savage and vagabondizing in a promiscuous way. The river was low, and a broad rock, smooth and bare, sloping gently to the water’s edge, under which the stream whirled as it entered the lake, and above which tall trees towered, casting over it a pleasant shade, presented a tempting place to throw the fly. I cast over the current, and trailed along towards the edge of the rock, when a three-pounder rose from his place down in the deep water. He didn’t come head foremost, nor glancing upward, but rose square up to the surface, and pausing a single instant, darted forward like an arrow and seized the fly. Well, away he plunged with the hook in his jaw, bending my elastic rod like a reed, the reel hissing as the line spun away eighty or a hundred feet across the current, and far out into the lake; but he was fast, and after struggling for a time, he partially surrendered, and I reeled him in. Slowly, and with a sullen struggling, he was drawn towards the shore, sometimes with his head out of water, and sometimes diving towards the bottom. At last, he caught sight of me, and with renewed energy he plunged away again, clear across the current and out into the lake. But the tension of the elastic rod working against him steadily, and always, was too much for his strength, and again I reeled him in, struggling still, though faintly. Slowly, but steadily, I reeled him to my hand. He was just by the edge of the rock, almost within reach of my landing net, when, with a last desperate effort to escape, he plunged towards the bottom, made a dive under the rock, the line came against its edge, slipped gratingly for a moment, snapped, and the fish was gone. He was a beautiful trout, and beautifully he played. He deserved freedom on account of the energy with which he struggled for it.
“You will see, therefore, that, as I said, I was in a dilemma. The action against me was well brought. I could not deny the truth of the facts charged against me in the complaint. In this position of affairs, three alternatives presented themselves; first, a denial of the truth of the complaint, but that involved perjury; secondly, admission of the facts charged, but that involved conviction; and, thirdly, a compromise, and the latter one I adopted.
“‘Can’t this thing be settled,’ said I, to the old lawyer fish of the St. Lawrence, ‘without litigation? me and my four companions overboard, place us in _statu quo_, and the action shall be discontinued.’
“‘Agreed,’ said I, and I reached down to enter upon the performance of my part of the contract.
“‘Wait a moment,’ said he, curling up his shaky tail, ‘the costs–who pays the costs?’
“‘The costs!’ I replied, ‘each pays his own, of course.’
“‘Not so fast,’ he exclaimed, ‘not quite so fast. You must pay the costs, or the suit goes on.’
“There was something human in the tenacity with which that old ‘lawyer’ clung to the idea of costs. There he was gasping for breath, his life depending upon the result of the negotiation, and still he insisted upon the payment of costs as a condition of compromise.”
“Probably out of regard for the interest of his client,” said Spalding, gravely; “but proceed with the case.”
“‘Fisherman,’ said I,” resumed the Doctor, “‘what is the cost of these five _lawyers_? How much for the fee simple of the lot?’
“‘They ain’t worth but ninepence,’ he replied.
“‘Good,’ said I, ‘here’s a shilling, York currency.’
“‘Agreed,’ said he, and threw in a sucker, by way of change.
“‘Anything more?’ I asked of the old cormorant lawyer.
“‘No,’ he replied; ‘all right–so toss us overboard, and be quick, for my breath is getting a little short.’ I threw them over, one at a time, the old fellow last, and as he slipped from my hand into the river, he thrust his ugly face out of the water, and said, coolly, ‘Good morning! When you come our way again, _drop in_.’
“‘No,’ said I, ‘I’ll _drop a line._’ I remembered how I ‘dropped in,’ over on Long Lake, one day, and had no inclination to drop in to the St. Lawrence, especially when there are old lawyer fishes there to summon me for assault and battery on a ‘Shatagee trout.'”
“Doctor,” said Hank Martin, one of our boatmen, who had been listening to the Doctor’s narrative, “I don’t want to be considered for’ard or sassy, but I’d like to know how much of these kinds of stories we hired folks are obligated to believe?”
“Well,” replied the Doctor, “there are three of you in all, and between you, you must make up a reasonable case, as Spalding would say, of faith in everything you may hear. This you may do by dividing it up among you.”
“Very good,” said Martin, with imperturbable gravity; “I only wanted a fair understanding of the matter on the start.”
A FRIGHTENED ANIMAL–TROLLING FOR TROUT–THE BOATMAN’S STORY.
We sat in front of our tents, enjoying the delightful breeze that swept quietly over the lake, and watching the stars as they stole out from the depths. The whippoorwill piped away in the old forests, and the frogs bellowed like ten thousand buffaloes along the shore. The roar of their hoarse voices went rolling over the lake, through the old woods, and surging up against the mountains to be thrown back by the echoes that dwell among the hills. We had knocked the ashes from our pipes, and were about retiring to our tents for the night, when a long wake in the water across the line of the moon’s reflection, attracted our attention. It was evidently made by some animal swimming, and the Doctor and Martin started in pursuit. It proved to be a deer which was apparently making its way to an island, midway across the lake. They had no desire to slaughter it, and they concluded to drive it ashore where we were. They headed it in the proper direction, and followed the terrified animal as it swam for life towards the island on which we were encamped. We understood their purpose, and sat perfectly silent. The deer struck the island directly in front of our tent, and dashed forward in wild affright, right through the midst of us, towards the thicket in our rear, glad to be rid of his pursuers on the water. As he bounded past us, we sprang up and shouted, and if ever a dumb animal was astonished it was that deer. He leaped up a dozen feet into the air, bleated out in the extremity of his terror, and plunged madly forward, as if a whole legion of fiends were at his tail. The stag hounds which were tied to a sapling, by their fierce baying, added vigor to his flight. We heard his snort at every bound across the island, and his plunge into the lake on the other side.
In the morning we sent forward our boatman with the tents and baggage to an island on the Upper Saranac, and coasted this pleasant little lake. On the right, as you approach the head, is a deep bay, skirted by a natural meadow, where the rank wild grass, and the pond lilies that grow along the shore furnish a rich pasture for the deer. We saw several feeding quietly like sheep, on the little plain and upon the lily pads in the edge of the water. We paddled silently to within a dozen rods of them, when, as they discovered us, they dashed snorting and whistling away.
On the right of this meadow, and among the tall forest trees are great boulders which, piled up and partly obscured by the undergrowth, resemble from the lake the massive ruins of some ancient fortification. We landed by a spring, which came bubbling up from beneath one of these great moss-covered rocks, to lunch. It was a pleasant spot, and while we sat there dozens of small birds, of the size and general appearance of the cuckoo, save in their hooked beaks, attracted by the scent of our cold meats, came hopping tamely about on the lower limbs of the forest trees around us. They were called by our boatmen, “meat hawks,” and have less fear of man than any wild birds that I have ever seen.
We crossed the carrying place of a quarter of a mile around the rapids, in which distance the river falls some sixty feet, roaring and tumbling down ledges and boiling in mad fury around boulders. We entered the Upper Saranac at the hour appointed, and found our tents pitched and a dinner of venison and trout awaiting us on the island selected for our encampment.
As the sun sank behind the hills, the breeze died away, and the lake lay without a ripple around as, so calm, so smooth, and still, that it seemed to have sunk quietly to sleep in its forest bed. The fish were jumping in every direction, and while the rest of us sat smoking our meerchaums after dinner, or rather supper, Smith rigged his trolling rod, and having caught half a dozen minnows, he with Martin, rowed out upon the water to troll for the lake trout. These are a very different fish from the speckled trout of the streams and rivers. They had none of the golden specks of the latter, are of a darker hue, and much larger. They are dotted with brown spots, like freckles upon the face of a fair-skinned girl. They are shorter too, in proportion to their weight than the speckled trout. They are caught in these lakes, weighing from three to fifteen pounds, and instances have been known of their attaining to the weight of five and twenty. It is an exciting sport to take one of these large fellows on a line of two hundred and fifty or three hundred feet in length. They play beautifully when hooked, and it requires a good deal of coolness and skill to land them safely in your boat. A trolling rod for these large fish should be much stiffer, and stronger than those used for the fly, on the rivers and streams; and the reel should be stronger and higher geared than the common fly reel. Three hundred feet of line are necessary, for the fish, if he is a large one, will sometimes determine upon a long flight, and it will not do to exhaust your line in his career. In that case, he will snap it like a pack-thread. An English bass rod is the best, and with such, and a large triple action reel, the largest fish of these lakes may be secured.
Smith had trolled scarcely a quarter of a mile, when his hook was struck by a trout, and then commenced a struggle that was pleasant to witness. No sooner had the fish discovered that the hook was in his jaw, than away he dashed towards the middle of the lake. The rod was bent into a semicircle, but the game was fast; with the butt firm between his knees and his thumb pressing the reel, the sportsman gave him a hundred and fifty feet of line, when his efforts began to relax, and as Smith began to reel him in, a moment of dead pull, a holding back like an obstinate mule occurred. The trout was slowly towed in the direction of the boat. Then, as if maddened by the force which impelled him, he dashed furiously forward, the reel answering to his movements and the line always taught, he rose to the surface leaping clear from the water, shaking his head furiously as if to throw loose the fastenings from his jaw. Failing in this, down he plunged fifty feet straight towards the bottom, making the reel hiss by his mad efforts to escape. Still the line was taught, pressing always, towing him towards the boat at every relaxation. At last he rose to the surface, panting and exhausted, permitting himself to be towed almost without an effort, to within twenty feet of his captors. When he saw them, all his fright and all his energies too seemed to be restored, and away he dashed, sciving through the water a hundred and fifty feet out into the lake. But the hook was in his jaw, and he could not escape. After half an hour of beautiful and exciting play, he surrendered or was drowned, and Smith lifted him with his landing net, a splendid ten-pound trout, into his boat. By this time the shadows of twilight were gathering over the lake, and he came ashore. A proud man was Smith, as he lifted that fish from the boat and handed it over to the cook to be dressed for breakfast, and though we had seen the whole performance from our tents, yet he gave us in glowing and graphic detail the history of his taking that ten-pound trout.
“Captain,” said Hank Wood, who had been quietly whitling out a new set of tent pins, addressing Smith, “you had a good time of it with that trout, but it was nothing to an adventer of mine with an old mossy-back, on this lake, five year ago this summer.”
“How was that?” inquired Smith; and we all gathered around to hear Hank Wood’s story.
“I don’t know how it is,” he began, as he seated himself on the log in front of the tents, with one leg hanging down, and the other drawn up with the heel of his boot caught on a projection in the bark, his knee almost even with his nose, and his fingers locked across his shin, “I don’t know exactly why, but the catching of that trout makes me think of an adventer I had on this very lake, five year ago this summer. It is curious how things will lay around in a man’s memory, every now and then startin’ up and presentin’ themselves, ready to be talked about–reeled off–as it were, and then how quietly they coil themselves away, to lay there, till some new sight, or sound, or idea, or feelin’ stirs ’em into life, and they come up again fresh and plain as ever. Some people talk about forgotten things, but I don’t believe that any matter that gets fairly anchored in a man’s mind, can ever be forgotten, until age has broken the power of memory. It is there, and will stay there, in spite of the ten thousand other things that get piled in on top of it, and some day it will come popping out like a cork, just as good and distinct as new. But I was talkin’ about an adventer I had with a trout, five year ago, here on the Upper Saranac. I was livin’ over on the _Au Sable_ then, and came over to these parts to spend a week or so, and lay in a store of jerked venison and trout for the winter. I brought along a bag of salt, and two or three kegs that would hold a hundred pound or so apiece, and filled ’em too with as beautiful orange-meated fellows as you’d see in a day’s drive. The trout were plentier than they are now. They hadn’t been fished by all the sportin’ men in creation, and they had a chance to grow to their nateral size. You wouldn’t in them days row across any of these lakes in the trollin’ season without hitchin’ on to an eight, or ten, and now and then to a twenty-pounder.
“Wal, I was on the Upper Saranac, up towards the head of the lake, ten or twelve miles from here, trollin’ with an old-fashioned line, about as big as a pipe stem, a hundred and fifty feet long, and a hook to match. Nobody in them days tho’t of sich contrivances as trollin’-rods, reels, and minny-gangs. You held your lines in your fingers, and when you hooked a fish, you drew him in, hand over hand, in a human way. It was in the latter part of June, and the way the black flies swarmed along the shore, was a thing to set anybody a scratchin’ that happened to be around. It was a clear still mornin’, and the sun as he went up into the heavens, blazed away, and as he walked across the sky, if he didn’t pour down his heat like a furnace, I wouldn’t say so. I had tolerable good luck in the forenoon, and landed on a rocky island to cook dinner. I made such a meal as a hungry man makes when he’s out all alone fishin’ and huntin’ about these waters, and started off across the lake, with my trollin’ line to the length of a hundred feet or more, draggin’ through the water behind me. The breeze had freshened a little, and my boat drifted about fast enough for trollin’, and feelin’ a little drowsy, I tied the end of the line to the cleets across the knees of the boat, and lay down in the bottom with my hand out over the side holdin’ the line. I hadn’t laid there long, when I felt a twitch as if something mighty big was medlin’ with the other end of the string. I started up and undertook to pull in, but you might as well undertake to drag an elephant with a thread. I couldn’t move him a hair. Pretty soon the boat began to move up the lake in a way I didn’t at all like. At first it went may be three miles an hour, then five, ten, twenty, forty, sixty miles the hour, round and round the lake, as if hurled along by a million of locomotives. We went skiving around among the islands, into the bays, along the shore, away out across the lake, crossing and re-crossing in every direction; and if there’s a place about this lake we didn’t visit, I should like to have somebody tell me where it is. You may think it made my hair stand out some, to find myself flyin’ about like a streak of chain lightnin’, and to see the trees and rocks flyin’ like mad the other way. I tried to untie the line, but it was drawn into a knot so hard, that the old Nick himself couldn’t move it. I looked for my knife to cut it, but it had, somehow, got overboard in our flight, besides flyin’ about at the rate of sixty mile an hour, kept a fellow pretty busy holdin’ on, keepin’ his place in the boat.
“After an hour or two we came to a pause, and the old feller that was towin’ me about, walked up to the surface, and stickin’ his head out of the water, ‘Good mornin’,’ says he, in a very perlite sort of way. ‘Good mornin’,’ says I, back again. ‘How goes it?’ says he. ‘All right,’ says I. ‘Step this way and I’ll take the hook out of your gums.’ ‘Thank you for nothing,’ says he, and he opened his month like the entrance to a railroad tunnel, and blame me, if he hadn’t taken a double hitch of the line around his eye tooth, while the hook hung harmless beside his jaw.
“‘I’ve a little business down in the lower lake,’ says he, ‘and must be movin’,’ and away he bolted like a steam engine, down the lake. When he straightened up, my hat flew more than sixty yards behind me, and the way I came down into the bottom of the boat was anything but pleasant. Away we tore down towards the outlet, the boat cuttin’ and plowin’ through the water, pilin’ it up in great furrows ten feet high on each side. There is, as you know, sixty feet fall between the Upper Saranac and Round Lake, and the river goes boilin’ and roarin’, tumblin’ and heavin’ down the rapids and over the rocks, pitchin’ in some places square down a dozen feet among the boulders. No sensible man would think of travellin’ that road in a little craft like mine, unless he’d made up his mind to see how it would seem to be drowned, or smashed to pieces agin the rocks. But right down the rapids we went, swifter than an eagle in his stoop, down over the boilin’ eddies, down over the foamin’ surge, down the perpendicular falls, as if the old Nick himself was kickin’ us on end. How we got down I won’t undertake to say, but when I got breath and looked out over the side of the boat I saw the old woods and rocks along the shore below the falls, rushin’ up stream like a racehorse.
“Wal, we entered Round Lake, crossed it in five minutes, and down the river we rushed over the little falls at a bound, and into the Lower Saranac. I’d got a little used to it by this time, and though it was mighty hard work to catch my breath in such a wind as we made by our flight, yet I managed to sit up and look around me. It was curious to see how the islands on the Lower Saranac danced about, and how the shores ran away behind while I was looking at ’em; and how the forest trees dodged, and whirled, and jumped about one another, as we tore along. After tearin’ about the lake a spell, we came to something like a halt, and old Mossyback stuck his head out of water, and openin’ his great glassy eyes like the moon in a mist, ‘How do you like that?’ said he, in a jeerin’ sort of way. ‘All right,’ said I; ‘go it while you’re young.’ I didn’t care about appearin’ skeered or uneasy, but I’d have given a couple of month’s wages just then, to have been on dry land. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘I guess we’ll be gittin’ towards home.’ And away he started for the Upper Saranac, and up the river, across Round Lake, and right up over the rapids we went. Two or three times I made up my mind that I was a goner, as the water piled up around me along over the falls; but somehow our very speed made our boat glance upward at such times, and skim along the surface like a duck. We went boundin’ from hillock to hillock, on the mad waters, till we entered the broad lake and went skiving about again among the islands.
“All at once he seemed to take a notion to go down towards the bottom; so shortenin’ the line some fifty foot or more, he hoisted his great tail straight up towards the sky, and down he went, the boat standing up on end, and somehow the waters didn’t seem to close above us, so rapid was our descent. It was tight work, as you may guess, to hold on under such circumstances, but I managed to keep my place. How deep we went I wont undertake to say, but this much is quite sartin, we went down so far that I couldn’t see out at the hole we went in at. There are some mighty big fish away down in them parts, you may bet your life on that; trout that it wouldn’t be pleasant to handle.
“By-and-bye we started for daylight again. The fish had to stand out of the way as we rushed like an express train towards the surface; them that didn’t we made a smash of. One bull head, I remember, about twice as long as one of our boats wasn’t quick enough; the bow of the boat struck him about in the middle and cut him in two like a knife. One old trout seemed to have made up his mind for a fight, and he chased us more than two miles with his jaws open like a great pair of clamps, as if he’d a mind to swallow us boat and all, and from the size of the openin’, I’m bold to say he’d a done it too, if he’d have caught us; but as we rounded an island, he run head foremost, jam against a rock. That kind o’ stunned him, and he gave in.
“Wal, after we got to the surface, the trout that was towin’ me, seemed to let on an extra amount of steam for a mile or so, and let me say the way we went was a caution. I’ve travelled on the cars in my day, when they made every thing gee again, but that kind o’ goin’ wasn’t a circumstance to the way we tore along. The water rose up on either hand more than twenty feet, and went roarin’, and tumblin’, and hissin’, as if everything was goin’ to smash. All at once the line was thrown loose, and the boat went straight ahead bows on, to one of the small islands up towards the head of the lake, and when she struck, I went through the air eend over eend, clear across the island, more than fifteen rods, ca-splash into the lake on the other side.
“Human nater couldn’t stand all that, so startin’ up I found that while I’d been layin’ in the bottom of the boat the wind had ris, and was blowin’ a stiff gale. The boat had drifted across the lake and had struck broadside agin the shore, and the waves were makin’ a clean breach into her at every surge. I soon got her, head on to the waves, and feelin’ something mighty lively at the other eend of the line, hauled in a twelve-pounder.”
“Pshaw!” exclaimed one of the audience; “you’ve only been telling a dream, in this long yarn, we’ve been listening to.”
“Wal,” replied the narrator; “some people that I’ve told it to, have suspicioned that it might be so; but every thing about it seemed so nateral, that I’m almost ready to make my affidavy that it was sober fact. One thing, however, I always had my doubts about: I never fully believed, that _I was actually pitched over that island_. I’ve hearn it said that when a man has eaten a hearty dinner, and goes to sleep with the hot sun pourin’ right down on him, he’s apt to see and hear a good many strange things before he wakes up. May be it was so with me.”
THE UPPER SARANAC–SPECTACLE PONDS–THE ACCUSATION AND THE DEFENCE–AN OCTOGENARIAN SMOKER.
We spent the next day in rowing about the Upper Saranac, exploring its beautiful bays and islands. We took as many trout in trolling occasionally, as we needed for dinner and supper. It became an established law among us, that we should kill no more game or fish than we needed for supplies, whatever their abundance or our temptation might be. It required some self-denial to observe this law, but we kept it with tolerable strictness. There were times when we had a large supply of both venison and fish, but there were seven men of us in all, and we could despose of a good deal of flesh and fish in the twenty-four hours. We had sent our boat with the luggage across the Indian carrying place, a path of a mile through the forest, to the Spectacle Ponds, three little lakes, from which a stream, known as Stony Brook, rises. This stream is navigable for small boats like ours, five miles to the Rackett River. These lakes contain from a hundred to a hundred and fifty acres each. At the head of the Upper Pond is a beautiful cold spring, near which, upon crossing the carrying place, at evening, we found our tents pitched. We arrived here about sundown, somewhat wearied with our day’s excursion, and with appetites fully equal to a plentiful supper which was soon in readiness for us.
“You are getting me into a bad habit, spoiling my morals in a physical sense,” said Smith, addressing us as we sat after supper around our camp-fire; “I find myself taking to the pipe out here, in these old woods, with a relish I never have at home. It seems to agree with me here, and I expect by the time I get back to civilization, I shall be as great a smoker as the Doctor or Spalding. If I do, I shall have to pay for it by indigestion and hypochondria, things that you of the fat kine, know nothing about.”
“Well,” replied the Doctor, “You will only have to call on me as you did last month, and then send for Spalding to draw your will, as you did the next day, when you were as well as I am, excepting that kink in your head about your going to die.”
“Why, the truth is,” retorted Smith, “I had made up my mind, after twelve hours consideration, to take the medicine you left, and I appeal to H—-here, if it was after that, anything more than a reasonable precaution to be prepared for any contingency that might happen. Your medicines, Doctor, and the testamentary disposition of a man’s worldly effects, are very natural associations.”
“Very well,” said the Doctor; “you’ll send for me again in a month after our return, and in that case, it may be, that the money you paid Spalding for drawing your will, will not have been thrown away. But in regard to the use of the pipe; I propose that we call upon Spalding, for a legal opinion, or an argument in its favor. It’s his business to defend criminals, and I file an accusation against smoking generally, excepting, however, from the indictments the use of the pipe, as in some sort a necessity, on all such excursions as ours.”
“I shall not undertake,” said Spalding, “to enter into a labored defence of the use of tobacco in any form. I only move for a mitigation of punishment, and will state the circumstances upon which I base my appeal to the clemency of the court. The exception in the indictment, enables me to avoid the plea of necessity, which I should have interposed, founded upon a huge forest meal, and the abundance as well as impertinence of the musquitoes of these woods.”
“I called the other day upon a venerable friend and client, who is travelling the down hill of life quietly, and though with the present summer he will have accomplished his three score years and ten, his voice is as cheerful, and his heart as young, as they were decades ago, when his manhood was in the glory and strength of its prime. I found him sitting in his great arm-chair, smoking his accustomed pipe, reading the evening papers. He seemed to be so calm, and happy, as the smoke went wreathing up from his lips, that I could not for the moment refrain from envying the calmness and repose which were visible all around him. He has smoked his morning and evening pipe, in his quiet way, for nearly half a century. When engaged in the active business of life, struggling with its cares, and fighting its battles, he always took half an hour in the morning, and as long at evening, to smoke his pipe and read the news of the day. He scarcely ever, when at home, under any pressure of circumstances omitted these two half hours of repose, or as his excellent wife used to say, of ‘fumigation.’ She passed to her rest years ago, leaving behind her the pleasant odor of a good name, a memory cherished by all who knew her.
“Men denounce the use of tobacco, and I do not quarrel with them for doing so. Say that it is a vile and a filthy habit; be it so, I will not now stop to deny it. Say that it is bad for the constitution, ruinous to the health; be it so. I will not gainsay it. Still I never see an old man, seated in his great arm chair, with his grandchildren playing around him, smoking his pipe and enjoying its, to him, pleasant perfume, its soothing influences, without regarding that same pipe as an institution which I would hardly be willing to banish entirely from the world.
“There is a good deal of philosophy, too, in a pipe, if one will but take the trouble to study it; great subjects for moralizing, much food for reflection; and all this outside of the physical enjoyment, the soothing influences of a quiet pipe, when the day is drawing to a close, and its cares require some gentle force to banish them away. It does not weaken the power of thought, nor stultify the brain. It quiets the nerves, makes a man look in charity upon the world, and to judge with a chastened lenity the shortcomings of his neighbors. It reconciles him to his lot, and sends him to his pillow, or about his labors, with a calm deliberate cheerfulness, very desirable to those who come under the law that requires people to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.
“I said there is a good deal of philosophy in a pipe, and I repeat it. Who can see the smoke go wreathing and curling upward from his lips in all sorts of fantastic shapes, spreading out thinner and thinner, till it fades away and is lost among the invisible things of the air, without saying to himself, ‘Such are the visions of youth; such the hopes, the grand schemes of life, looming up in beautiful distinctness before the mind’s eye, growing fainter and fainter as life wears away, and then disappearing forever. Such are the things of this life, beautiful as they appear, unsubstantial shadows all.’ And then, as the fire consumes the weed, exhausting itself upon the substance which feeds it, burning lower and lower, till it goes out for lack of aliment, who will not be reminded of life itself? the animated form, the body instinct with vitality, changing and changing as time sweeps along, till the spirit that gave it vigor and comeliness, and power and beauty, is called away, and it becomes at last mere dust and ashes. And then again, when the pipe itself falls from the teeth, or the table, or the mantel, or the shelf–as fall it surely will, sooner or later–and is broken, and the fragments are thrown out of the window, or swept out at the door, who can fail to see in this, the type of life’s closing scene? the body broken by disease and death, carried away and hidden in the earth, to remain among the useless rubbish of the past, to be seen no more forever? Yes, yes! there is a great deal of philosophy in a pipe, if people will take pains to study it.
“I have a pleasant time of it once or twice a year with an old gentleman, living away in the country; one whom memory calls up from the dim and shadowy twilight of my earliest recollections, as a tall stalwart man, already the head of a family with little children around him. Those who were then little children have grown up to be men and women, and have drifted away upon the currents of life, themselves fathers and mothers, with grey hairs gathering upon their heads. I visit this venerable philosopher in his hearty and green old age, every summer. I see him now, in my mind’s eye, sitting under the spreading branches of the trees planted by himself half a century ago, which cast their shadows upon the pleasant lawn in front of his dwelling–discussing politics, morals, history, religion, philosophy–recounting anecdotes of the early settlement of the county of which he was a pioneer; and I see how calmly and deliberately he smokes, while he calls up old memories from the shadowy past, discoursing wisely of the present, or speaking prophetically of the future. I saw him last in July of the past year, and he seemed to have changed in nothing. He had not grown older in outward seeming. His heart was as warm and genial as it was long, long ago; and cheerfulness, calm and chastened, marked as it had for years the conversation of a man who felt that his mission in life was accomplished. ‘Why,’ said he, addressing me, as a new thought seemed to strike him, ‘why, _your_ head is growing grey! I never noticed it before. It is almost as white as mine. Well, well!’ he continued, as he tapped the thumb nail of his left hand with the inverted bowl of his pipe, knocking the ashes from it as he spoke, ‘well, well! it won’t be long until we will have smoked our last pipe. Mine, at least, will soon be broken. But what of that? Seventy-eight years is a long time to live in this world. I have had my share of life and of the good pertaining to it, and shall have no right to complain when my pipe is broken and its ashes scattered.’ Such was the philosophy of an almost Octogenarian smoker.”
“I move for a suspension of sentence,” said Smith, “Spalding’s defence of the weed, induces me to withdraw the indictment against it, leaving punishment only for the excessive use of it.”
The motion was carried unanimously, and by way of confirming the decision, we all refilled our pipes and smoked till the stars looked down in their brightness from the fathomless depths of the sky.
KINKS!–“DIRTY DOGS”–THE BARKING DOG THAT WAS FOUND DEAD IN THE YARD–THE DOG THAT BARKED HIMSELF TO DEATH.
“The hallucinations of Smith,” said Spalding, after we had settled the matter of the pipes, and were enjoying a fresh pull at the weed, “as described by the Doctor, remind me of a slight attack of fever which I had some months ago, and from which I recovered partly through the aid of the Doctor’s medicine, and partly through the kindness of a young friend of mine; and of the strange ‘kinks,’ as you call them, which got into my head between the fever and the Doctor’s opiates. Things were strangely mixed up, the real and the unreal grouped and mingled in a manner that gave to all the just proportions and appearance of sober actualities. I remember them as distinctly, and they made as deep and abiding impression upon my mind as if I had seen them all. They are impressed as palpably and indelibly upon my memory now as any actual events of my life.”
“Well,” said the Doctor, “suppose you give us one of these ‘kinks,’ while our pipes are being smoked out, as an ‘opiate’ to send us all to sleep.”
“Be it understood, then,” Spalding began, “that I like dogs in a general way. They are plain dealing, honest, trusty folk in the aggregate, albeit, there are what Tom Benton calls, ‘dirty dogs.’ These, however, are mostly human canines, dogs that walk on two legs, and wear clothes. Such curs I _don’t_ like. But there are such, and they may be seen and heard, barking, and snarling, and snapping in their envy, at honest peoples’ heels every day. Let them bark. Mr. Benton was right. They are ‘dirty dogs.’ But a dog that looks you honestly and frankly in the face, that stands by his master and friend, in all times of trial, in sorrow as in joy, in adversity as in prosperity, in dark days as in bright days, always cheerful, always sincere, earnest, and truthful, and so that his kindness be met, always happy, I like. He is your true nobility of nature below the human. But there _are_ ‘curs of low degree;’ dogs of neither genial instinct nor breeding; senseless animals, that belie the noble nature of their species, are living libels upon their kind. There was one of these over against my rooms, at the time of the sickness I speak of. I say _was_ for thanks to the fates, he is among the things that have been; he belongs to history, has been wiped out.
“He was a barking dog. When the moon was in the sky, he barked at the moon. When only the stars shone out, he barked at the stars; when clouds shut in both moon and stars, he barked at the clouds; and when the darkness was so deep and black as to obscure even the clouds, he barked at the darkness. Through all the long night he barked, barked, barked! It was not a bark of defiance, nor of alarm, nor of astonishment, nor of warning. It was not a note of danger, breaking the hush of midnight, saying that thieves were abroad, that murder was on its stealthy mission, or that the wolf was on the walk. It was a senseless, monotonous, idiotic bow, wow! Nothing more, nothing less.
“All Monday night, as I lay tossing upon a bed of pain, when fever was coursing through my veins, and every pulse went plunging like a steam engine from the gorged heart to every extremity, and my brain was like molten lead, I heard that terrible bark! It was my evil genius, my destiny. It mingled in every feverish dream, became the embodiment of every vision. I measured the periods of its recurrence by the clock that stands in the corner of our room. I counted the tickings of its silence, and I counted the tickings of its continuance. Every swing of the pendulum became a distinct period of existence. Minutes, hours, were nothing. Forty-four tickings, I said, and that bow, wow! will be heard again! Fifteen tickings, I said, and it will cease; and so I went on until the hours seemed to spread out into a boundless ocean of time. That dog somehow became mixed up with that old family clock that stood in the corner. I heard him scratching and climbing up among the weights, writhing and twisting his way among the machinery, till there, looking out through the face of that old family clock, distinct and palpable as the sun at noonday, or the moon in a cloudless night, I saw the ogre head of that dog; his great glassy, fishy eyes, his half drooping, half erect ears, his slavering jaws, and as he gazed in a stupid meaningless stare upon me, uttered his everlasting bow, wow! Tell me that the room was dark; that not a ray of light penetrated the closed doors or the curtained windows. What of that? That dog’s head, I repeat, was there; I saw it, if I ever saw the sun, the moon or the bright stars. I saw it staring at me through all the gloom, all the thick darkness, and I heard its terrible bow, wow! ‘Get out!’ I shouted in horror.
“‘What’s the matter?’ cried my wife, springing up in an ecstasy of terror.
“‘Drive out that dog,’ I replied.
“‘What dog?’ she inquired.
“‘There,’ I replied, ‘that dog there, in the clock with his great staring, glassy eyes; drive him out!’
“She lighted the gas, and as it flashed up, there stood the old clock, the pendulum swung back and forth, the ticking went on, and its white old-fashioned face, looked out in calm serenity; but the dog was gone. It was all natural as life. The lighting of the gas had frightened the cur back to his yard, and as the forty-fourth tick ceased, his bow wow! was heard again, and it lasted while the pendulum swung back and forth just fifteen times. I took a cooling draft, and counted in feverish agony forty-four, and fifteen, till the daylight came creeping in at the windows, filling with sepulchral greyness the room. The barking ceased, and I slept only to dream of snarling curs and ‘dirty dogs’ for an hour.
“Through all Tuesday I lay tossing with pain. Fever was in every pulse; my brain was seething, burning lava. I thought and dreamed of nothing but mangy curs and ‘dirty dogs.’ The night gathered again, and the rumbling of the carriages and the thousand voices that break the stillness of a thronged city, died away into silence. The lights were extinguished, but again that horrible bark! bark! broke the hush of midnight, and worse than all, the quickened senses of fever heard it answered from away over on Arbor Hill; and again away up in State street; and yet again over in Lydius, and still again away down by the river. The East, the North, the West and the South had a voice, and it was all concentrated in a ceaseless, senseless, idiotic bark. I counted again the tickings of the clock, and each swing of the pendulum ended in a bark! As I lay there in the silence and desolation, the restless, tossing anguish of fever, those dogs gathered together in State at the crossing of Eagle, just above my boarding-house, and barked! They came under my windows, and barked! They looked in between the curtains, and barked! They came into my room, and there on the sofa, on the rocking-chair, on the table, on the mantelpiece, on the ottoman, on the stove, and on the top of the old clock, was a dog; and each barked! and barked! I saw them all through the darkness, plain as if it were noonday. They were ‘dirty dogs,’ filthy brutes, ill-favored mangy curs all, and there they sat and barked at the clock, barked at the mirror, at the stove, barked at one another and at me, with the same monotonous, meaningless, idiotic bow, wow! as of old.
“I had two rifles and a double-barrelled fowling-piece, sitting in the corner of the parlor adjoining our sleeping-room, the gifts of valued friends. My wife, wearied with the day’s watching, had sunk into slumber on the bed beside me. I woke her gently.
“‘Make no noise,’ I said, ‘but bring me the guns; do it carefully.’
“‘What on earth do you want of the guns?’ she inquired in alarm.
“‘Don’t you see those infernal dogs?’ I answered, ‘bring me the guns, and I’ll make short work with the howling curs.’
“‘Why, husband,’ said she, ‘there are no dogs here,’ and as she lighted the gas the curs vanished away. But I saw them in the darkness. It was only when the light flashed through the room, that they fled from it, and I heard them barking in response to each other through all the long night, till the dawn crept over the world again.
“Years ago, I saved a boy from the meshes of the law, in which his evil ways had involved him. I admonished him of the end towards which he was hastening. I showed him that the path he was treading led to destruction, and he left it, as he said, forever. He apprenticed himself to a useful trade, and is now an intelligent mechanic. Out of his time, an industrious, sober youth of two and twenty, supporting by his industry, his mother and sister in comfort and respectability. He heard of my sickness, and on Wednesday morning called to see me, proffering his services as a nurse and watchman, prompted by gratitude for the past. I declined his kindness for the present, as I told him casually of the dog whose midnight barking was killing me. He called again on Thursday morning. The barking had ceased. He inquired if I had been troubled with the yelping of that senseless cur, and I answered truly that I had not, that I had slept soundly, and woke with a softened pulse and a cooled brain.
“‘Well,’ said he, ‘I thought you would rest easier. I looked into the yard as I came along, and saw a dead dog lying there. I thought may be he had barked himself to death.’
“I did not at the time take in the full meaning, the hidden import of his words. I dropped away into slumber, and dreamed of the dog that barked himself to death. I saw him vanish by piecemeal at each successive bark, until nothing but his jaws were left, and as his last bark was uttered, these, too, vanished away, and then all was still.
“I awoke, and thought that a dose of ‘dog-buttons,’ or a taste of strychnine, administered with a tempting bit of cold steak, or a piece of fresh lamb, or a bone of mutton carefully dropped in his way, might have aided the operation. Be that as it may, whatever of debt may have existed between my young friend and myself for past kind it is all wiped out by the news he brought me, that a ‘dead dog lay in the yard over the way.'”
STONY BROOK–A GOOD TIME WITH THE TROUT–RACKETT RIVER–TUPPER’S LAKE–A QUESTION ASKED AND ANSWERED.
The next morning we started down Stony Brook, towards the Rackett River, intending to pitch our tents at night on the banks of Tupper’s Lake, twenty-three miles distant. Before leaving the Spectacle Ponds, we visited a little island at the north end of the middle pond, containing perhaps half an acre. This island has a few Norway pines upon it, is of a loose sandy soil, and at the highest portion is some twenty feet above the level of the water. It is a great resort for turtle in the season of depositing their eggs. We found thousands of their eggs, some on the surface and some buried in the sand, and if one in a dozen of them brings forth a turtle, there will be no lack of the animal in the neighborhood. Stony Brook is a sluggish, tortuous stream, large enough to float our little boats, and goes meandering most of the way for five miles among natural meadows, overflowed at high water, or thinly timbered prairie, when it enters the Rackett. I discovered on a former visit to this wilderness, when the water was very low, a spring that came boiling up near the centre of the stream, with a volume large enough almost to carry a mill. It was at a point where a high sandy bluff, along which the stream swept, terminated. As we approached this spot, I suggested to Spalding, who was in the bow of the boat, to prepare his rod and fly. We approached carefully along the willows on the opposite shore, until in a position from which he could throw in the direction I indicated. In the then stage of the water, there was no appearance of a spring, or any indication marking it as a spot where the trout would be at all likely to congregate, and Spalding was half inclined to believe that I was practising upon his want of knowledge of the habits of the fish of this region. I had said nothing about the spring, or the habit of the trout in gathering wherever a cold stream enters a river, or a spring comes gushing up in its bed.
“I don’t believe there’s a trout within half a mile of us,” he said, as he adjusted his rod and fly.
“Never mind,” I replied, “throw your fly across towards that boulder on the bank, and trail it home, and you’ll see.”
“Well,” said he, “here goes;” and he threw in the direction indicated.
The fly had scarcely touched the water when a trout, weighing a pound or over, struck it with a rush that carried him clear out of the water. After a little play he was landed safely in the boat, and another, and another, followed at almost every throw. Not once did the fly touch the water that it was not risen to by a fish.
“By Jove!” said Spalding, as he handed me the landing-net to take in his third or fourth trout, “this is sport. You use the net, and I’ll trail them to you. Let us make hay while the sun shines. The other boat will soon be along, and Smith will be for dipping his spoon into my dish. I want to astonish him when he comes.”
We had secured eight beautiful fish when the Doctor and Smith rounded the point above us. We motioned them back, and their boat lay upon its oars. Spalding kept on throwing his fly and trailing the trout to me to secure with the landing-net.”
“Hallo!” shouted Smith, “hold on there; fair play, my friends, give me a hand in,” and he fell to adjusting his rod and flies.
“Keep back, you lubber,” replied Spalding; “what do _you_ know about trout-fishing? You’ll frighten them all away by your awkwardness.”
“No you don’t!” shouted Smith, his rod now adjusted. “Drop down, boatman, and we’ll see who is the lubber. Wait, Spalding! Don’t throw, if you are a true man, until we can take a fair start, and then the one that comes out second best pays the piper.”
The boat dropped down to the proper position, and the Doctor, who was seated in the stern, held it in place by pressing his paddle into the sand at the bottom, while the boatman handled the landing net.
“Now!” exclaimed Smith, as the flies dropped upon the water together above the cold spring. There was no lack of trout, for one rose to the fly at every cast.
“I say,” said the Doctor, “how many have you in your boat?”
“Sixteen,” I replied, after counting them.
“We’ve got eight, and I bar any more fishing. The law has reached its limit. No wanton waste of the good things of God, you know.”
The rods were unjointed and laid away, and such a string of trout as we had, is rarely seen outside of the Saranac woods. We procured fresh grass in which to lay our fish, and green boughs to cover them, and floated on down the stream, entering the Rackett at nine o’clock. The Rackett is a most beautiful river. To me at least it is so, for it flows on its tortuous and winding way for a hundred or more miles through an unbroken forest, with all the old things standing in their primeval grandeur along its banks. The woodman’s axe has not marred the loveliness of its surroundings, and no human hand has for all that distance been laid upon its mane, or harnessed it to the great wheel, making it a slave, compelling it to be utilitarian, to grind corn or throw the shuttle and spin. It moves on towards the mighty St. Lawrence as wild, and halterless, and free, as when the Great Spirit sent it forward on its everlasting flow. The same scenery, and the same voices are seen and heard along its banks now as then; and, while man, in his restlessness, has changed almost everything else, the Rackett and the things that pertained to it when the earth was young, remain unchanged. But this will not be so long. Civilization is pushing its way even towards this wild and, for all agricultural purposes, sterile region, and before many years even the Rackett will be within its ever-extending circle. When that time shall have arrived, where shall we go to find the woods, the wild things, the old forests, and hear the sounds which belong to nature in its primeval state? Whither shall we flee from civilization, to take off the harness and be free, for a season, from the restraints, the conventionalities of society, and rest from the hard struggles, the cares and toils, the strifes and competitions of life? Had I my way, I would mark out a circle of a hundred miles in diameter, and throw around it the protecting aegis of the constitution. I would make it a forest forever. It should be a misdemeanor to chop down a tree, and a felony to clear an acre within its boundaries. The old woods should stand here always as God made them, growing on until the earthworm ate away their roots, and the strong winds hurled them to the ground, and new woods should be permitted to supply the place of the old so long as the earth remained. There is room enough for civilization in regions better fitted for it. It has no business among these mountains, these rivers and lakes, these gigantic boulders, these tangled valleys and dark mountain gorges. Let it go where labor will garner a richer harvest, and industry reap a better reward for its toil. It will be of stinted growth at best here.
“I like these old woods,” said a gentleman, whom I met on the Rackett last year; “I like them, because one can do here just what he pleases. He can wear a shirt a week, have holes in his pantaloons, and be out at elbows, go with his boots unblacked, drink whisky in the raw, chew plug tobacco, and smoke a black pipe, and not lose his position in society. Now,” continued he, “tho’ I don’t choose to do any of these things, yet I love the freedom, now and then, of doing just all of them if I choose, without human accountability. The truth is, that it is natural as well as necessary for every man to be a vagabond occasionally, to throw off the restraints imposed upon him by the necessities and conventionalities of civilization, and turn savage for a season,–and what place is left for such transformation, save these northern forests?”
The idea was somewhat quaint, but to me it smacked of philosophy, and I yielded it a hearty assent. I would consecrate these old forests, these rivers and lakes, these mountains and valleys to the Vagabond Spirit, and make them a place wherein a man could turn savage and rest, for a fortnight or a month, from the toils and cares of life.
We entered TUPPER’S LAKE towards six o’clock, and saw our white tents pitched upon the left bank, some half a mile above the outlet, where a little stream, cold almost as icewater, comes down from a spring a short way back in the forest. This lake, some ten miles long, and from one to three in width, is one of the most beautiful sheets of water that the eye of man ever looked upon. The scenery about it is less bold than that of some of the other lakes of this region. The hills rise with a gentle acclivity from the shore; behind them and far off rise rugged mountain ranges; and further still, the lofty peaks of the Adirondacks loom up in dim and shadowy outline against the sky. From every point and in every direction, are views of placid and quiet beauty rarely equalled; valleys stretching away among the highlands; gaps in the hills, through which the sunlight pours long after the shadows of the forest have elsewhere thrown themselves across the lake; islands, some bold and rocky, rising in barren desolation, right up from the deep water; some covered with a dense and thrifty growth of evergreen trees, with a soil matchless in fertility; and some partaking of both the sterile and productive; beautiful bays stealing around bold promontories, and hiding away among the old woods. These are the features of this beautiful sheet of water, which none see but to admire, none visit but to praise; and it lies here all alone, surrounded by the old hills and forests, bold bluffs, and rocky shores, all as God made them, with no mark of the hand of man about it, save in a single spot on a secluded bay, where lives a solitary family in a log house, surrounded by an acre or two, from which the forest has been cleared away.
“Will somebody tell me,” said Smith, as we sat on the logs in front of our tent after supper, smudging away the musquitoes with our pipes, “will somebody tell me what we came into this wilderness among these musquitoes, and frogs, and owls for? Mind you, I am not discontented; I enjoy it hugely; but what I want to know is _why_ I do so? I desire to understand the philosophy of the thing.”
“As the question involves, in some sense, a physiological fact,” replied the Doctor, “it comes within the range of my professional duties to understand and be able to answer it, for you must know that the enjoyments of this region are primarily physical. Now I’ve a theory which is this–that every man has a certain amount of vagabondism in his composition that will be pretty certain to break out in spots occasionally. At all events it is so with me, and from my observation of men, I am strong in the faith that it is so with every one who is neither more nor less than human. It is all a mistake to suppose that I come off here, enduring a heap of hardship and toil, simply for the love of fishing and hunting, though I confess to a weakness to a certain extent that way. The charm of this region consists in the fact, that it is the best place to play the vagabond, and in which to do the savage for a season, that I know of. You can go bareheaded or barefooted, without a coat or neckerchief, get as ragged and untidy as you please, without subjecting yourself to remark, or offending the nice sense of propriety pertaining to conventional life. You are not responsible for what you say or do, provided always that you do not offend against the abstract rules of decency, or the requirements of natural decorum. You can lay around loose; the lazier you are the better the boatman in your employ likes it. If you choose to drift leisurely and quietly under the shadow of the hills along the shore, examining the rocks that lie there like a ruined wall, or explore the beautiful and secluded bays that hide around behind the bluffs, or lay off under the shade of the fir trees on the islands, or smoke your cigar or pipe by the beautiful spring that comes bubbling up by the side of some moss-covered boulder, or from beneath the tangled roots of some gnarled birch or maple, you can do any or all of these, and have a man to help you for twelve shillings a day and board, or you can do it just about as well alone.
“You remember LONESOME ROCK, in the Lower Saranac, a great boulder that lifts its head some ten or fifteen feet above the surface, away out near the middle of the lake, around which the water is of unknown depth. This rock, which is always dark and bare, is, as you will remember, of conical shape, sharp pointed at the top, and stands up about the size of a small hay-stack, in the midst of the waters. Do you remember the account that somebody gives in a ragged but terse kind of verse, of the ‘gentleman in black,’ who, as he walked about,
‘Backward and forward he switched his long rail, As a gentleman switches his cane?’
And of whose dress it was facetiously said:
‘His coat was red and his breeches were blue, With a hole behind for his tail to stick through.’
another author said of him on one of his fishing excursions, that
‘His rod, it was a sturdy mountain oak, His line, a cable which no storm e’er broke, His hook he baited with a dragon’s tail, And sat upon a rock and bob’d for whale!’
Well, like the ebony gentleman, you can, if you choose, sit upon Lonesome Rock enjoying your meditations, and bobbing, not for whale, for whatever other fish may be found in the Lower Saranac, I believe there are no whale; but you can bob for trout; whether you will catch any or not will depend very much on circumstances. It is a capital place to cast the fly from, or to sink your hook with a bait, and if the trout do not choose to bite, whose fault is that, I should like to know?
“And this reminds me of an anecdote told me by a gentleman I met in June of last year, on the Rackett River among the black flies, of an adventure he met with on Lonesome Rock last season. He had been trolling around the lake in a boat alone, without much success, and concluded he would try deep fishing from this rock, as he had heard that the trout were in the habit of congregating around its base. So he rowed to the rock, and, as he supposed, secured his boat, and climbing up its side seated himself on his boat cushion, on the top. He caught one fine fish at the first throw, and took it for granted that he was going to have a good time of it among the trout. When he mounted the rock, about eleven o’clock, the sky was overcast, and he caught three or four trout of good size in the course of half an hour; but the sun coming out bright and clear, the fish altered their minds, and refused to have anything more to do with his hook. He finally concluded to give up the business, and seek the cooling shadows of the forest trees along the shore. But his boat was gone; and upon looking around he saw it drifting before a light breeze a quarter of a mile distant. Now when you remember that all around the lake was a