So we stayed in camp all day, I skinning and looking over my case of specimens, Joe cooking meals over a spluttering fire, and baking a few days' supply of sour-dough bannock from the sack of flour.
The 5 lb. pike caught last evening was gone in the morning from the tree on which it had been hung. A bear had taken it, for claw marks were on the bark where the thief had reached up to plunder our larder. I could well imagine the brute in the dead of night contentedly licking over its lips when it had finished the meal as it ambled away into the forest, well pleased at scenting and finding such easy prey ; perhaps almost laughing up its sleeve at our impending discomfiture.
We awoke to find the rain-storm past, and, refreshed with yesterday's rest in camp, we made an early start, embarking at 4.30 a.m.
Soon the great easy-flowing river narrowed, and we heard ahead the unceasing rumble of falling water-we were coming to Otter Rapid. Arriving there, and after making the usual careful survey of the agitated waters, we decided that no likely channel presented itself that could be run; therefore we would attempt to let the canoe down along shore very close in to the bank. Into the water we got, clothes and all, till it swept high and forcibly against our thighs, one grasping the canoe forward, the other astern. The shore proved rough to let craft down: strong side-swinging inshore waves and eddies caught and strained the canoe, and almost swept us off our feet as slowly, feeling for precarious foothold, we carefully stepped and stumbled along over the rocks and boulders and pockets of the river-bed. Nearing the foot of the rapid we made a short portage across a rocky point and in doing so cleared the last stretch of troublesome water. Soaked to the skin were our lower bodies, from our jacket pockets down; but we never changed into dry clothes, for we were inured to this sort of thing, and garments were few. We shivered somewhat on occasions when we first got into the canoe again after being in the water, but soon wind and sun, and the heat of our bodies, dried up the clammy, uncomfortable wetness. Hardly a day passed that we kept dry throughout.
Below Otter Rapid was Otter Lake, and by lunchtime we had almost completed the distance on this nine-mile expanse of water, which was full of high, wooded islands distributed in great profusion, as on other lakes which I have previously described.
About 2 p.m., on entering the river channel between Otter Lake and Rock Lake, we encountered more rapids. Here again we took like deer to the water and let the canoe down Stony Mountain Rapid; then passing on to Mountain Rapid, which we had to portage. Below this latter rapid we cooked the evening meal; but did not camp, for we were nearing Stanley Mission, and, excitedly eager for the society of mankind after our long, lonely spell on the canoe trail, had agreed to keep on and attempt to reach the post to-night. A twelve-mile sheet of open water lay before us through Rock Lake- no more rapids between this and the Post.
Memorable were the last two hours outside Stanley Mission. Southwards down Rock Lake we paddled in the full content of a perfect Northern evening, praying wind would not rise to detain our eager passage, lilting snatches of half-forgotten popular songs, snatches of Joe's French-Canadian songs of the Ottawa River, even snatches of the old Scotch airs of boyhood were amongst our mutual repertoire this evening : each timidly singing with rusty, unskilled voice, but each voicing surely the lifting of spirits from the gloom of lonely days now that we anticipated meeting kinsfolk. Without fault, as luck would have it, we steered a true course down the lake, which appeared less irregular and confusing than many of the others, and late in the evening, after hours of unceasing paddling, we came upon narrowing shores which promised the foot of the lake and the location of Stanley Mission. The light in the western sky lay low on the horizon; the shores to the right and left darkened to solid blackness; the air and the water were alike becalmed. In through the last long stretch of lake glided the solitary canoe, our two figures, dark in the dusk, rocking slightly as we flicked the paddles methodically in and out of the water with easy, almost careless strokes-action that was habit after months on the water. At last two light-coloured dwellings gleamed dimly on an inland bay to the south, promise at last of the settlement we sought. Into the bay we glided; noiselessly we stole inshore with the stealth peculiar to canoeing. Eagerly we listened, but no human voice was there to give us welcome -we had not been observed, and apparently the inhabitants had gone indoors to sleep. . . . A disconsolate sled-dog, on a distant shore, gave forth a long, coyote-like howl . . . then, again, deadly silence. We stopped paddling before an Indian teepee that was just discernible on the dark shore and called out. No answer came. . . . Again I spoke; footsteps shuffled, and there was a murmur of gruff voices within the teepee; then an Indian hailed us, but in response to my question, asking direction to the white trader's dwelling, he made no response-he did not understand my tongue. . . . Down the shore a door creaked, suspense a moment, then a clear woman's voice rang out in English. We were dumbfounded. Was there a white woman here ? There must be. ..1 Clearly the voice directed us. How sweet it sounded here, how welcome the assuring instructions !-for we were dog-tired after our long day (eighteen hours in all), and eager to land and camp.