V. STILL IN THE AWFUL VALLEY
The next day (Wednesday, July 22) was by far the most disheartening of our journey up the valley of the Susan. We portaged all day through gullies and swamps and over rough ridges, covering in all about two miles and a half. All of us were overcome by the hard work in the burning sun and the poisonous bites of the flies. I was the most susceptible to the attacks of the flies; for ten days I was fairly sick from the poison they instilled. The faces, bands, and wrists of all of us were badly swollen and very sore. My face was so swollen I could scarcely see.
In the morning when we started forward the temperature was down to thirty-three degrees, but at noon it had risen to ninety-two. Hubbard was attacked with diarrhoea, and I with vomiting. We were all too exhausted to eat when we stopped for luncheon, and lay on the moss for an hour's rest, with the tent drawn over us to protect us from the flies.
On a low, barren knoll we cached that day eighty rounds of .45-70 cartridges and 300 rounds of .22's, George marking the spot with a circle of stakes. That left us 120 rounds of .45-70's and 500 rounds of .22's. It had become strictly necessary to lighten our packs, and we had begun to drop odds and ends every day.
In the afternoon Hubbard shot with his pistol a spruce partridge (grouse); it was the first seen by us on the trip. Together with a yellowlegs George had shot, it seasoned a pot of pea soup. We camped that night on a bluff, barren point, and Hubbard named it "Partridge Point" in bonour of our first bird.
On Thursday (July 23) Hubbard lay in the tent all day sick. All be was able to eat was some hardtack dipped in tea. At his request George and I scouted for trails. Each of us carried a rifle and wore at his belt a pistol and a cup in addition to the sheath knife we never were without. In our pockets we placed a half-pound package of pea meal. George started westward up the river, and I put for a high, barren bill two miles to the north. As I climbed the hill I heard gulls on the other side, which told me water lay in that direction, and when I reached the top, there at my feet, like a silver setting in the dark green forest, lay a beautiful little shoe-shaped lake. For miles and miles beyond the ridge I was on, the country was flat and covered with a thick spruce growth.
To the northeast of the lake at my feet I could see the glimmer of other water among the trees, and I decided to go on and investigate. In doing so, I managed to get myself lost. Descending the hill to the lake, I made my way through the thick spruce growth in the swamp along the shore. A splash in the water startled me, and soon I found the fresh tracks of a caribou. As he had winded me, I knew it was useless to try to follow him. Pressing my way on to the northeast, I came upon another small lake and several small creeks. At midday I built a fire and made a cup of pea meal porridge. While waiting for my meal to cook, I read a letter that a friend had given me in New York, "to be opened after one week's canoeing in Labrador." It was like a letter just received from home.
In the afternoon the sun became obscured by gathering clouds, and in the thick underbrush through which my course led me I could see scarcely twenty yards ahead. I attempted to get my direction with the compass, but the needle would not respond. Trusting, however, to my ability to find my course without it, I made my way on past two more lakes. A grouse fluttered up before me, and I brought it down with a pistol shot. After tying it to my belt, I decided it was time to turn back home, as we called our camp, and struck off by what I hoped would be a short cut through the swamp. Then it was that I lost my bearings, and at dusk, when I hoped to reach the first lake I had seen in the morning, I found myself on the shore of a lake I had never seen before.
Too weary to cook the grouse, or even build a fire and make a cup of porridge, I threw myself on a flat rock, pillowed my head on the trunk of a fallen spruce tree, drew a handkerchief over my face to keep away the clouds of mosquitoes, and slept soundly. At dawn I arose, built a fire, repaired my compass, and ate a cup of porridge. I was not frightened, because with my compass again in working order I knew I should have no difficulty in finding the river, which must be somewhere to the south and which must lead me back to camp. So to the southward I took my course, pushing my way through thick brush and over marshes where the ground under my feet went up and down like the waves of the sea.
Towards noon I reached a barren hill, and from its summit saw the river just beyond and the site of one of our old camping places that I knew was eighteen miles below our last camp. Down to the shore of the river I hurried, and built a fire for luncheon. The partridge at my belt had been torn into shreds by the bushes, and again a cup of porridge had to serve me for a meal. It was dark when I reached camp, to find Hubbard greatly worried and George away looking for me.
There had been some good-natured arguments between Hubbard and me as to the merits of our respective compasses, and as he now appeared to have the better of it, he took advantage of the occasion to chaff me unmercifully. Then when George returned they both had fun with me for getting lost.
"That's all right," I said, "your turn, Hubbard, will come later. You haven't been lost yet, because you haven't been out of sight of camp alone. Anyway, I just stayed out for a quiet evening by myself."