XVI. AT THE LAST CAMP
We began our march back to the Susan Valley with a definite plan. Some twenty-five miles below, on the Susan River, we had abandoned about four pounds of wet flour; twelve or fifteen miles below the flour there was a pound of powdered milk, and four or five miles still further down the trail a pail with perhaps four pounds of lard. Hubbard considered the distances and mapped out each day's march as he hoped to accomplish it. We had in our possession, besides the caribou bones and hide, one and one-sixth pounds of pea meal. Could we reach the flour? If so, that perhaps would take us on to the milk powder, and that to the lard; and then we should be within easy distance of Grand Lake and Blake's winter hunting cache.
Hubbard was hopeful; George and I were fearful. Hubbard's belief that we should be able to reach the flour was largely based on his expectation that we should get fish in the outlet to Lake Elson. His idea was that the water of the lake would be much warmer than that of the river. He had, poor chap! the fatal faculty, common to persons of the optimistic temperament, of making himself believe what he wanted to believe. Neither George nor I remarked on the possibilities or probabilities of our getting fish in Lake Elson's outlet, and just before we said good-bye to the canoe Hubbard turned to me and said:
"Wallace, don't you think we'll get them there? Aren't you hopeful we shall?"
"Yes, I hope," I answered. "But I fear. The fish, you know, b'y, haven't been rising at all for several days, and perhaps it's better not to let our hopes run too high; for then, if they fail us, the disappointment won't be so hard to bear."
"Yes, that's so," he replied; "but it makes me feel good to look forward to good fishing there. We will get fish there, we will! Just say we will, b'y; for that makes me feel happy."
"We will - we'll say we will," I repeated to comfort him.
Under ordinary conditions we should have found our packs, in their depleted state, very easy to carry; but, as it was, they weighed us down grievously as we trudged laboriously up the hill from the river and over the ridge to the marsh on the farther side of which lay Lake Elson. On the top of the ridge and on the slope where it descended to the marsh we found a few mossberries, which we ate while we rested. Crossing the marsh, we stepped from bog to bo
when we could, but a large part of the time were knee-deep in the icy water and mud. Our feet at this time were wrapped in pieces of a camp blanket, tied to what remained of the moccasin uppers with pieces of our old trolling line. George and I were all but spent when we reached our old camping ground on the outlet to Lake Elson, and what it cost Hubbard to get across that marsh I can only imagine.
As soon as we arrived Hubbard tried the fish. It did not take him long to become convinced that there was no hope of inducing any to rise. It was a severe blow to him, but he rallied his courage and soon apparently was as full of confidence as ever that we should be able to reach the flour. While Hubbard was trying the fish, George looked the old camp over carefully for refuse, and found two goose heads, some goose bones, and the lard pail we had emptied there.
"I'll heat the pail," he said, "and maybe there'll be a little grease sticking to it that we can stir in our broth." Then, after looking at us for a moment, he put his hand into the pail and added: "I've got a little surprise here. I thought I'd keep it until the bones were boiled, but I guess you might as well have it now."
From out of the pail he brought three little pieces of bacon - just a mouthful for each. I cannot remember what we said, but as I write I can almost feel again the thrill of joy that came to me upon beholding those little pieces of bacon. They seemed like a bit of food from home, and they were to us as the rarest dainty.
George reboiled the bones with a piece of the hide and the remainder of the deer's stomach, and with this and the goose bones and heads we finished our supper. We were fairly comfortable when we went to rest. The hunger pangs were passing now. I have said that at this time I was in an abnormal state of mind. I suppose that was true of us all. The love of life had ceased to be strong upon us. For myself I know that I was conscious only of a feeling that I must do all I could to preserve my life and to help the others. Probably it was the beginning of the feeling of indifference, or reconciliation with the inevitable, that mercifully comes at the approach of death.
In the morning (Thursday, October 15th) we again went over our belongings, and decided to abandon numerous articles we had hitherto hoped to carry through with us - my rifle and cartridges, some pistol ammunition, the sextant, the tarpaulin, fifteen rolls of photograph films, my fishing rod, maps, and note book, and various other odds and ends, including the cleaning rod Hubbard's father had made for him.
"I wonder where father and mother are now," said Hubbard, as he took a last look at the cleaning rod. For a few moments he clung to it lovingly; then handed it to me with the words, "Put it with your rifle and fishing rod, b'y." And as I removed the cartridge from the magazine, and held the rifle up for a last look before wrapping it in the tarpaulin, he said: "It almost makes me cry to see you leave the fishing rod. If it is at all possible, we must see that the things are recovered. If they are, I want you to promise me that when you die you'll will the rod to me. It has got us more grub than anything else in the outfit, and it's carried us over some bad times. I'd like to have it, and I'd keep and cherish it always."