" Remember now, no talkin' an' no sudden moves," cautioned the guide.
Alas for Walter ! The lesson had yet to be driven home. Not five minutes later the canoe shot around a bend, and without a sound glided into a setback. Almost instantly a low warning hiss from Big Jim put Walter on his guard. The canoe seemed merely to drift, but if the boy could have seen the guide he would have witnessed a magnificent exhibition of the canoeman's art as, with paddle deep in the water and moving so slowly as to make hardly a perceptible ripple, he still kept the craft under perfect control.
Walter, every nerve tense, scanned the shores in a vain effort to discover the cause of the guide's warning. Inch by inch the canoe crept on and still the boy saw nothing but the placid, pad-strewn surface of the water, and the forest-lined shore. Presently his eager ears caught a faint splash off to his right. Like a flash he turned, swinging his camera with him. The next instant he realized his mistake. With a sharp whistle of surprise and alarm a doe noisily splashed shoreward from a point not fifty yards distant, where she had been standing among the lily-pads. From the instant the canoe had first caught her attention and excited her curiosity she had remained so motionless that Walter had failed utterly to pick her out from the background with which her protective coloring blended so marvelously.
But the moment the boy moved she whirled for the shore, sending the water flying in a shower of silver. As the boy, in open-mouthed astonishment, watched her she lightly leaped a fallen log, and with a parting flirt of her white flag disappeared in the undergrowth.
Walter's chagrin was too deep for words. Indeed, he was very near to tears as he realized what a rare opportunity he had missed, and how wholly his own fault it was. He did not dare look at Big Jim, and there was no comfort in the guide's slow, sarcastic drawl:
" A clean miss, pard. Did them books teach yer thet lightnin' whirl ? 'Pears t' me thet you an' puss back thar, keepin' company with ole Fly-by-night, belong in th' same class. Now if yer mem'ry had been as good as yer fergittery we'd most likely hev drifted right up t' thet thar deer. No use wastin' more time in here. Some day when yer hev larned a leetle more woodcraft mebbe we'll run down an' try it agen."
This surely was rubbing it in, and Big Jim meant it to be so. Right down in his big heart he was almost as disappointed for the boy as was the boy himself, but he felt that this was the time to drive the lesson home. Every word stung the chagrined young photographer like a whip-lash, and he could not trust himself to make reply. He was mortified beyond expression, for he had prided himself that he knew the value of noiselessness and motionlessness, and that when the test should come he would win golden opinions from the guide for his display of woodcraft. Now, at the very first opportunity, he had failed miserably, acting like the veriest tyro, and he felt himself humbled to the last degree.
Had he turned he might have caught a kindly twinkle in the blue eyes watching the dejected droop of his figure, but he kept his face steadily to the front, gazing fixedly ahead, yet seeing nothing, while automatically he swung his paddle and gloomily lived over the bitterness of his mistake.
They were now once more in the current, and in a matter-of-fact way the guide suggested that Walter put his paddle up and be ready for whatever else might offer. As he adjusted the camera the boy resolved that this time, come what might, he would show Big Jim that he had learned his lesson.
The opportunity came sooner than he had dared hope it would. The canoe swerved sharply toward the east bank, and presently Walter made out a little brown bunch on the end of a log. With a nod of the head he signaled the guide that he saw, and then attended strictly to his end of the matter in hand. By this time the canoe was close in to the bank, so deftly handled that it would approach within twenty feet of the log before emerging from the screen of a fallen tree which the guide had instantly noted and taken advantage of.
Jim was paddling only enough for steerage way, allowing the current to drift them down. They were now close to the fallen tree, and the guide began to silently work the little craft around the outer end. Walter had reduced the focus to twenty-five feet. As they drifted nearer and nearer to the subject he began to shake with nervous excitement, so that it was only by the exercise of all his will power that he could hold the camera steady. Inch by inch they crept past the tree and Walter strained his eyes for a glimpse of the old log with its little bunch of fur. He was holding his breath from sheer excitement. Ha ! There was the outer end of the log, and there, a foot or so back, sat a muskrat, wholly oblivious to their presence.
Slowly, with the utmost caution, Walter turned in his seat, so slowly that it seemed ages to him. The guide had checked the canoe within less than twenty feet of the log and Walter altered his focus accordingly. Now in his reflecting finder he clearly saw the little fur bearer, a mussel in his paws. With a sigh of relief Walter heard the click of the shutter in response to the squeeze of the bulb, held in his left hand. Then as the rat made a frightened plunge, he remembered that he had forgotten to withdraw the slide before making the exposure.
It is an error the novice frequently makes and that the expert is sometimes guilty of. It was, therefore, not surprising that under the stress of excitement Walter should suffer this lapse of memory, but coming as it did immediately after his other fiasco, it was almost more than he could bear.
Big Jim was chuckling delightedly over the supposed success. " Reckon musky never set fer his picter afore ! Did he look pleasant? Pard, yer sure did thet trick well. Had a bit o' buck fever fust along, I reckon. Thought yer seemed kind o' shaky. Don't yer mind thet none. I've seen a feller with a clean open shot at a standin' deer within fifty yards wobble his rifle round so thet th' safest thing in thet neighborhood was thet thar deer. Now we'll go on fer th' next."
Walter did not have the courage to tell the guide then of his second blunder, but resolved that when they got in camp that night he would own up like a man. For the next three miles nothing eventful occurred. Then the boy got his third chance. It was a great blue heron this time. It was standing on one foot, the other drawn up until it was hidden among the feathers of the under part of the body. The long neck was laid back on the shoulders, the sharp bill half buried in the feathers of the breast. The big bird appeared to be dozing. The light fell just right, and as it was intensified by reflection from the water, Walter felt sure of a good photograph.
Little by little the canoe drifted in. Forty feet, thirty, twenty, tenóclick! This time there was no mistake. Working quickly but cautiously, with as little motion as possible, he pulled out and tore off the tab, set the shutter and, as the big bird spread its wings, a second click caught it at the very start of its flight. The shutter was set at the two hundredth part of a second, so that despite the nearness of the subject, Walter felt reasonably certain that little movement would show in the photograph.
" Get him?" asked Jim.
" Two of him," replied Walter, a note of pardonable pride in his voice.
" Thet's th' stuff! Ye're larnin' fast," said the guide, once more shooting the canoe into the current.
This success went far to offset the previous failures and the boy's spirits rose. He began to enjoy his surroundings as he had not been able to since the episode with the deer. Mile after mile slipped behind them, the limpid brown water sliding between the unbroken wilderness on either bank. Try as he would he could not get over the impression of sliding down-hill, such was the optical effect of the swiftly-moving water.
At last he heard a dull roar which increased in volume with every minute. Then they rounded a sharp turn, and before them the whole river became a churning, tumbling mass of white, with here and there an ugly black rock jutting above the surface. The canoe felt the increased movement of the water and the boy's heart beat faster as the bow of the little craft still pointed straight down the middle of the river. Could it be that Big Jim would try to run those tumbling, roaring rapids !
"Sit tight and don't move!" came the guide's sharp, terse command.
The canoe all but grazed a great gray boulder. Then dead ahead, not two inches under water, Walter saw another. Surely they must strike this, and thenóhe closed his eyes for just a second. When he opened them the canoe was just shooting through the churning froth on the edge of the rock, and that immediate danger was past. He realized then how completely the man behind him was master of the river and their craft. With fascinated eyes he watched each new danger loom up and pass almost before he realized its ugly threat.
The roar of the rapids was now so loud that it drowned all other sounds. Presently he became aware that they were no longer in mid-stream. With a few powerful strokes the guide shot the canoe into a back eddy and a second later it grounded lightly on a tiny sand beach where Jim held it until Walter could leap out and pull it up securely. '
" How'd yer like thet?" shouted the guide as he lifted his pack basket out.
" Great! " replied the boy, his eyes shining with excitement, as he helped take out the duffle.
Big Jim adjusted the basket to his back, lashed the paddles across the thwarts of the canoe so that when they rested on his shoulders, with the canoe inverted over his head, it balanced perfectly, and leaving Walter to follow with the rest of the duffle plunged into what seemed at first glance an almost impenetrable thicket of maple, birch and moosewood.
Walter found, however, that there was a well-defined trail, albeit a rough one. It followed the course of the river, over moss-grown decaying tree trunks, across old skid ways, now firm to the foot and again a bed of oozy black swamp muck in which he sank halfway to his knees. After a mile of this they came out on the bank of the river just at the foot of the falls which marked the end of the rapids. The canoe was launched at once and in a few minutes they were again speeding down-stream.
Three and a half miles below they made another portage. This put them in a lake at the upper end of which a shallow stream connected with a string of three small ponds. The last of these was known as Lonesome Pond, and this was their destination.