Reindeer River course is not used as a winter route by the Indians, a more direct and untwisting course being chosen in preference to the west of it.
In the dark of early morning, as was customary, we moved out to take up the trail again. When day broke the sky was dull and despondently grey, but the snowstorm had ceased. The trail to-day was like that of yesterday : hard and difficult when traversing the country overland between the lakes, seven of which we travelled through before making connection to Reindeer River, which we reached about noon.
Toward evening we passed out of Reindeer River on to the Churchill River, and thence through an overland route east of Frog Portage, on to the Lake of the Woods ; where we camped for the night within one day's journey of Pelican Narrows.
The inland country which we passed through to-day was irregular and mountainous, necessitating steep climbing and awkward descents for our sleds. Poplar trees are now encountered in plenty, which trees were rarely seen in Fort Du Brochet territory.
Pushing onward, we kept the sleds going steadly all day, often over long and bad overland bush-trails.
This day was dull in the morning, but the afternoon broke particularly fine; bright sunshine shone in a soft, wistful sky, and there was no bitter wind; fresh-fallen snow lay unruffled on the lakes, white as the finest linen ; sunbeams glittered ; and to add to this, we were passing through particularly picturesque country-narrow lakes lying peacefully between high, forest-covered hills.
About twelve miles north of Pelican Narrows we crossed fresh tracks of Woodland Caribou, which was the first and only retreat of this animal encountered throughout the expedition.
About 5 p.m., considerably excited at the prospect of reaching a settlement, we neared Pelican Narrows, and soon afterwards drew up before the Hudson Bay trading store, to be made cordially welcome by the Factor.
Before reaching the Post, J'Pierre had pointed to some horse-tracks in the snow; in some excitement, and with a broad smile, saying: " Not dog, not deer-what you call it ? " Meaning that here was something closely associated with the white man, and therefore drawing my attention to that which he thought must be dear to me. At Du Brochet horses were unknown, but in full winter they travel over the ice to the post we had now reached with substantial loads of such stores as once a year recuperate the Far North Trading Posts.
It is 230 miles from Fort Du Brochet to Pelican Narrows on the map ; possibly it is 250 miles, or more, by the trail we followed. We had trailed the distance in one straight run in eight days, thereby averaging thirty-one miles a day ; accomplishing under thirty miles a day when the country or weather conditions were distracting, and over thirty miles when the trail was favourable. Such steady travelling, with formidable loads, is tribute to the endurance of sled-dogs, and to Indian skill in keeping, unguided by map or mechanical record, on a direct course to a far-off destination.
January 5 and 6 I spent at Pelican Narrows ; resting the first day, and delayed on the second on account of the Indians who I had arranged were to go with me to transport my specimens, for here my Du Brochet Indians had completed their task, and would return home.
At Pelican Narrows I found letters from home -those that should ordinarily have travelled by the Christmas packet to Du Brochet. The delay of the packet was here solved : the war had dislocated the fur trade, and the Hudson Bay Company were not anxious to continue buying until the world-wide confusion in commerce steadied, and pointed to some definite stability. Prices of furs were away down, which the Fur Posts already knew. There was no change at Christmas, and thus the officials in authority were waiting and hoping for change in the prospects of the trade; if that came, then would they send forth their sled-packets to carry news that their Posts would welcome.
My letters were enlightening in regard to the war, and brought relief in that all was well at home ; but they left me more restless than before to hurry on to the south.
At daylight on the 6th I bade good-bye to J'Pierre and Mistewgoso, and watched those sturdy travellers and their splendid dogs start back north on their long trail home. Should they go back as quickly as they came (and they would probably now go faster without loads) they would have covered five hundred miles in sixteen days, with but one day's rest.
John and Philip, two half-bred Indians, have here taken over my sled-loads of specimens, and so I resume my journey, to-morrow, with strangers.
I passed the day very agreeably with the Hudson Bay Factor at Pelican Narrows, and greatly enjoyed conversing with a fellow-countryman. He was a man who fully came up to one's pictured ideal of the fine old type of Hudson Bay servant; strong and of the outdoors, yet gentlemanly without the telling or prompting of neighbourly society. He was one of the fine old school of pioneers, for he had served all his life with the Company, as had his father before him. He had had one break in his life, when he had as a boy been sent to Scotland to be educated. A point which proved the Factor's worth was the fact that he was popular among the Indians, not only at his own Post, but far out on the trails : indeed, in this way I had heard of him long before I met him. And Indians are sure in their judgment, for they are gifted with extraordinarily keen penetration, and are, moreover, very exacting critics.
In the early morning of January 7, with strange companions and fresh dogs, I resumed my journey south on Heron Lake.
We travelled hard all day and camped at night at a settlement of Cree Indians, a little above Birch Portage on the Sturgeonweir River. Here, at this settlement, one could surely tell, in the manners of the Indians, of nearer approach to civilisation, for in small but essential ways they differed from the natives in the Far North; their reserve and inherent culture-if I may use the word-were less.