descend; and before we reached the level reaches, where the stream flows with a murmurous noise through open woods, one of our party began to show signs of exhaustion. This was Old Phelps, whose appetite had failed the day before,--his imagination being in better working order than his stomach: he had eaten little that day, and his legs became so groggy that he was obliged to rest at short intervals. Here was a situation! The afternoon was wearing away. We had six or seven miles of unknown wilderness to traverse, a portion of it swampy, in which a progress of more than a mile an hour is difficult, and the condition of the guide compelled even a slower march. What should we do in that lonesome solitude if the guide became disabled? We couldn't carry him out; could we find our own way out to get assistance? The guide himself had never been there before; and although he knew the general direction of our point of egress, and was entirely adequate to extricate himself from any position in the woods, his knowledge was of that occult sort possessed by woodsmen which it is impossible to communicate. Our object was to strike a trail that led from the Au Sable Pond, the other side of the mountain-range, to an inlet on Mud Pond. We knew that if we traveled southwestward far enough we must strike that trail, but how far? No one could tell. If we reached that trail, and found a boat at the inlet, there would be only a row of a couple of miles to the house at the foot of the lake. If no boat was there, then we must circle the lake three or four miles farther through a cedar-swamp, with no trail in particular. The prospect was not pleasing. We were short of supplies, for we had not expected to pass that night in the woods. The pleasure of the excursion began to develop itself. We stumbled on in the general direction marked out, through a forest that began to seem endless as hour after hour passed, compelled as we were to make long detours over the ridges of the foothills to avoid the swamp, which sent out from the border of the lake long tongues into the firm ground. The guide became more ill at every step, and needed frequent halts and long rests. Food he could not eat; and tea, water, and even brandy he rejected. Again and again the old philosopher, enfeebled by excessive exertion and illness, would collapse in a heap on the ground, an almost comical picture of despair, while we stood and waited the waning of the day, and peered forward in vain for any sign of an open country. At every brook we encountered, we suggested a halt for the night, while it was still light enough to select a camping-place, but the plucky old man wouldn't hear of it: the trail might be only a quarter of a mile ahead, and we crawled on again at a snail's pace. His honor as a guide seemed to be at stake; and, besides, he confessed to a notion that his end was near, and he didn't want to die like a dog in the woods. And yet, if this was his last journey, it seemed not an inappropriate ending for the old woodsman to lie down and give up the ghost in the midst of the untamed forest and the solemn silences he felt most at home in. There is a popular theory, held by civilians, that a soldier likes to die in battle. I suppose it is as true that a woodsman would like to "pass in his chips,"--the figure seems to be inevitable, struck down by illness and exposure, in the forest solitude, with heaven in sight and a tree-root for his pillow. The guide seemed really to fear that, if we did not get out of the woods that night, he would never go out; and, yielding to his dogged resolution, we kept on in search of the trail, although the gathering of dusk over the ground warned us that we might easily cross the trail without recognizing it. We were traveling by the light in the upper sky, and by the forms of the tree-stems, which every moment grew dimmer. At last the end came. We had just felt our way over what seemed to be a little run of water, when the old man sunk down, remarking, "I might as well die here as anywhere," and was silent. Suddenly night fell like a blanket on us. We could neither see the guide nor each other. We became at once conscious that miles of night on all sides shut us in. The sky was clouded over: there wasn't a gleam of light to show us where to step. Our first thought was to build a fire, which would drive back the thick darkness into the woods, and boil some water for our tea. But it was too dark to use the axe. We scraped together leaves and twigs to make a blaze, and, as this failed, such dead sticks as we could find by groping about. The fire was only a temporary affair, but it sufficed to boil a can of water. The water we obtained by feeling about the stones of the little run for an opening big enough to dip our cup in. The supper to be prepared was fortunately simple. It consisted of a decoction of tea and other leaves which had got into the pail, and a part of a loaf of bread. A loaf of bread which has been carried in a knapsack for a couple of days, bruised and handled and hacked at with a hunting-knife, becomes an uninteresting object. But we ate of it with thankfulness, washed it down with hot fluid, and bitterly thought of the morrow. Would our old friend survive the night? Would he be in any condition to travel in the morning? How were we to get out with him or without him? The old man lay silent in the bushes out of sight, and desired only to be let alone. We tried to tempt him with the offer of a piece of toast: it was no temptation. Tea we thought would revive him: he refused it. A drink of brandy would certainly quicken his life: he couldn't touch it. We were at the end of our resources. He seemed to think that if he were at home, and could get a bit of fried bacon, or a piece of pie, he should be all right. We knew no more how to doctor him than if he had been a sick bear. He withdrew within himself, rolled himself up, so to speak, in his primitive habits, and waited for the healing power of nature. Before our feeble fire disappeared, we smoothed a level place near it for Phelps to lie on, and got him over to it. But it didn't suit: it was too open. In fact, at the moment some drops of rain fell. Rain was quite outside of our program for the night. But the guide had an instinct about it; and, while we were groping about some yards distant for a place where we could lie down, he crawled away into the darkness, and curled himself up amid the roots of a gigantic pine, very much as a bear would do, I suppose, with his back against the trunk, and there passed the night comparatively dry and comfortable; but of this we knew nothing till morning, and had to trust to the assurance of a voice out of the darkness that he was all right. Our own bed where we spread our blankets was excellent in one respect,--there was no danger of tumbling out of it. At first the rain pattered gently on the leaves overhead, and we congratulated ourselves on the snugness of our situation. There was something cheerful about this free life. We contrasted our condition with that of tired invalids who were tossing on downy beds, and wooing sleep in vain. Nothing was so wholesome and invigorating as this bivouac in the forest. But, somehow, sleep did not come. The rain had ceased to patter, and began to fall with a steady determination, a sort of soak, soak, all about us. In fact, it roared on the rubber blanket, and beat in our faces. The wind began to stir a little, and there was a moaning on high. Not contented with dripping, the rain was driven into our faces. Another suspicious circumstance was noticed. Little rills of water got established along the sides under the blankets, cold, undeniable streams, that interfered with drowsiness. Pools of water settled on the bed; and the chaplain had a habit of moving suddenly, and letting a quart or two inside, and down my neck. It began to be evident that we and our bed were probably the wettest objects in the woods. The rubber was an excellent catch-all. There was no trouble about ventilation, but we found that we had established our quarters without any provision for drainage. There was not exactly a wild tempest abroad; but there was a degree of liveliness in the thrashing limbs and the creaking of the tree- branches which rubbed against each other, and the pouring rain increased in volume and power of penetration. Sleep was quite out of the question, with so much to distract our attention. In fine, our misery became so perfect that we both broke out into loud and sarcastic laughter over the absurdity of our situation. We had subjected ourselves to all this forlornness simply for pleasure. Whether Old Phelps was still in existence, we couldn't tell: we could get no response from him. With daylight, if he continued ill and could not move, our situation would be little improved. Our supplies were gone, we lay in a pond, a deluge of water was pouring down on us. This was summer recreation. The whole thing was so excessively absurd that we laughed again, louder than ever. We had plenty of this sort of amusement. Suddenly through the night we heard a sort of reply that started us bolt upright. This was a prolonged squawk. It was like the voice of no beast or bird with which we were familiar. At first it was distant; but it rapidly approached, tearing through the night and apparently through the tree-tops, like the harsh cry of a web-footed bird with a snarl in it; in fact, as I said, a squawk. It came close to us, and then turned, and as rapidly as it came fled away through the forest, and we lost the unearthly noise far up the mountain-slope. "What was that, Phelps? "we cried out. But no response came; and we wondered if his spirit had been rent away, or if some evil genius had sought it, and then, baffled by his serene and philosophic spirit, had shot off into the void in rage and disappointment. The night had no other adventure. The moon at length coming up behind the clouds lent a spectral aspect to the forest, and deceived us for a time into the notion that day was at hand; but the rain never ceased, and we lay wishful and waiting, with no item of solid misery wanting that we could conceive. Day was slow a-coming, and didn't amount to much when it came, so heavy were the clouds; but the rain slackened. We crawled out of our water-cure "pack," and sought the guide. To our infinite relief he announced himself not only alive, but in a going condition. I looked at my watch. It had stopped at five o'clock. I poured the water out of it, and shook it; but, not being constructed on the hydraulic principle, it refused to go. Some hours later we encountered a huntsman, from whom I procured some gun-grease; with this I filled the watch, and heated it in by the fire. This is a most effectual way of treating a delicate Genevan timepiece. The light disclosed fully the suspected fact that our bed had been made in a slight depression: the under rubber blanket spread in this had prevented the rain from soaking into the ground, and we had been lying in what was in fact a well-contrived bathtub. While Old Phelps was pulling himself together, and we were wringing some gallons of water out of our blankets, we questioned the old man about the "squawk," and what bird was possessed of such a voice. It was not a bird at all, he said, but a cat, the black-cat of the woods, larger than the domestic animal, and an ugly customer, who is fond of fish, and carries a pelt that is worth two or three dollars in the market. Occasionally he blunders into a sable-trap; and he is altogether hateful in his ways, and has the most uncultivated voice that is heard in the woods. We shall remember him as one of the least pleasant phantoms of that cheerful night when we lay in the storm, fearing any moment the advent to one of us of the grimmest messenger. We rolled up and shouldered our wet belongings, and, before the shades had yet lifted from the saturated bushes, pursued our march. It was a relief to be again in motion, although our progress was slow, and it was a question every rod whether the guide could go on. We had the day before us; but if we did not find a boat at the inlet a day might not suffice, in the weak condition of the guide, to extricate us from our ridiculous position. There was nothing heroic in it; we had no object: it was merely, as it must appear by this time, a pleasure excursion, and we might be lost or perish in it without reward and with little sympathy. We had something like a hour and a half of stumbling through the swamp when suddenly we stood in the little trail! Slight as it was, it appeared to us a very Broadway to Paradise if broad ways ever lead thither. Phelps hailed it and sank down in it like one reprieved from death. But the boat? Leaving him, we quickly ran a quarter of a mile down to the inlet. The boat was there. Our shout to the guide would have roused him out of a death-slumber. He came down the trail with the agility of an aged deer: never was so glad a sound in his ear, he said, as that shout. It was in a very jubilant mood that we emptied the boat of water, pushed off, shipped the clumsy oars, and bent to the two-mile row through the black waters of the winding, desolate channel, and over the lake, whose dark waves were tossed a little in the morning breeze. The trunks of dead trees stand about this lake, and all its shores are ragged with ghastly drift-wood; but it was open to the sky, and although the heavy clouds still obscured all the mountain- ranges we had a sense of escape and freedom that almost made the melancholy scene lovely. How lightly past hardship sits upon us! All the misery of the night vanished, as if it had not been, in the shelter of the log cabin at Mud Pond, with dry clothes that fitted us as the skin of the bear fits him in the spring, a noble breakfast, a toasting fire, solicitude about our comfort, judicious sympathy with our suffering, and willingness to hear the now growing tale of our adventure. Then came, in a day of absolute idleness, while the showers came and went, and the mountains appeared and disappeared in sun and storm, that perfect physical enjoyment which consists in a feeling of strength without any inclination to use it, and in a delicious languor which is too enjoyable to be surrendered to sleep.
db3nf.com screen-capture.net floresca.net simonova.net flora-source.com flora-source.com sourcecentral.com sourcecentral.com geocities.com