This journey undertaken, so far as I was concerned, was now simply a question of straight trailing. Four hundred miles away, following a route almost due south, lay the Pas and the Hudson Bay Railway : for that point I was heading. The first stage on the way was Pelican Narrows ; thus far were J'Pierre and Mistewgoso to transport the sled-loads of specimens, and thence return on their back trail.
But from day to day I will briefly deal with my onward-hurrying journey to the south over frozen lakes and forests lain deep with snow.
Travelled all day on Reindeer Lake, Frozen-over ice floes were very bad all along the north shore of Porcupine Point, where wind-pressure, before the ice was very thick, had broken through the weak areas and piled up angular blocks on the resisting lake surface. There, accordingly, progress for the sleds was for some considerable distance awkward and slow, and some time was lost.
The day was bitterly cold, so cold that when I took a photograph in an exposed position on the lake, and removed my right-hand mitten to do so, I had my finger frozen in but a brief time. Application of snow rubbed on vigorously soon restored circulation.
Ten Caribou were sighted between our second fire and night camp, and we gave chase to secure dog-food. Both Indians (one of whom used my rifle) brought down a buck apiece, and at long range I, later, dropped a third from the same herd. Each then hoisted a dead animal on the top of the sled-loads, and roped them securely ; and when this was done we resumed our way until it was time to camp for the night. At camp the Caribou were off-loaded and cut up, and the dogs well fed, while the remainder, excepting that which was required for our personal needs, was cached by the Indians for use on their return journey.
In camp we slept on spruce boughs on the snow, snug in our Caribou-skin sleeping-bags before a great log-fire, as was ordinary custom on the winter trails.
Left our night camp about an hour before daylight, and made good progress throughout the day. There had been no snowstorm so far, but the air to-day was heavy, and fog hung over the lake in the distance, while it remained bitingly cold, and the dogs, as usual, were white with the back-flung frozen moisture of their breathing.
A few Caribou were sighted far off at dusk, but we did not attempt to follow them. At no other time this day did we see a single living creature on the great motionless wastes of snow.
To-day heavy white fog enwrapped Reindeer Lake until late afternoon, and all landmarks were hidden. After our first fire the Indians lost their true direction and were for a time at a loss. Soon, however, they doubled back on their tracks, and eventually picked up old signs to eastward.
This night we camped at a Cree's wigwam on the east shore of Reindeer Lake, about half a day's journey from the south end. Here we partook of the Indian's hospitality within the crowded smoke-filled confines of his primitive dwelling. Food was soon forthcoming from the large black pot which hung in the centre of the teepee over a good fire from which the wood-smoke leisurely ascended, to finally percolate through the opening at the peak overhead or sneak through the seams of the small door-flap. When food was ready, we strangers were first served, with vessels piled to mountainous heights, with Caribou meat, which was placed on the ground before us by the women-folk. Soon the two men of the Cree family also commenced their meal, after withdrawing a little apart; and I passed on to them a portion of my sugar store and bannock, as was customary, and they in their turn, as they invariably do, reserved some of these dearly loved delicacies for their women and children, to whom the leavings of the men's repast is always finally passed.
The full meal over, pipes were brought out and filled from my store of tobacco, and we sat and talked in low Indian voice in an atmosphere that was thick, and hot, and stifling, and decidedly uncomfortable to a European, though unremarked by the Indians, to whom it is habitual-small wonder they breed consumption ! The meanwhile the two elderly women squatted cross-legged on the floor in the Indian fashion and patiently laced with sinews the snow-shoes they were making, much as a white woman employs herself with knitting ; also one of the men whittled wood for sled-pieces, while three girls amused themselves over the ornamentations which one of them was sewing on a pair of moccasins for a lover.
Exchanging stories to pass the evening, the eldest Indian of this camp told the following : " There was once an Indian on Jack Fish Lake who successively married six wives, each of whom died within a year after marriage. When the sixth wife died he despaired, and said : 1 Is there a Great Spirit ? ' Furthermore, in his distraction, he told his kinsfolk that he would go in his canoe down the Cochrane River, avoiding not the awful rapids down which no man had been known to pass ; " for if there is a Great Spirit, as people say, he must be strong enough to protect me from the hungry waters." Launching his canoe, caring for nothing in the world, he set off on his hazardous journey. Miraculously-so the story goes-he made the voyage, and reached Reindeer Lake in safety, and thereafter firmly believed that there was a Great Spirit. Moreover, he married a seventh wife, who did not die as the others had done."
In the afternoon we reached the Fur Post at the south end of Reindeer Lake, after having been almost five successive days in travelling down the great lake.
At the Post we took on sufficient frozen fish to feed our dogs to Pelican Narrows ; then pulled out again and trailed onward until an hour after dark, when we camped for the night at the first rapid on the upper reaches of the Reindeer River.
Travelled hard all day overland through rough, hilly country west of Reindeer River, while it snowed incessantly.