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The Young Voyageurs
Chapter XXXI. The Rock-Tripe

They left their skin-couch at an early hour, close after daybreak. Hunger and anxiety drove them out of their tent. Not a morsel of anything for breakfast! They looked abroad over the country, in order, if possible, to descry some living creature. None could be seen—nothing but the wilderness waste of snow, with here and there the side of a steep hill, or a rock showing cold and bleak. Even the wolves that had robbed them were no longer to be seen, as if these creatures knew that they had got all that was worth having, and had now taken themselves off to hunt for plunder elsewhere.

The situation of our travellers was really one of extreme peril, although it may be difficult for you, young reader, to conceive why it should be so. They, however, knew it well. They knew that they might travel for days through that inhospitable region, without falling in with anything that would make a single meal for them. But less time than that would suffice to starve them all. Already they felt the pangs of hunger—for they had not eaten since their breakfast of the preceding day, the wolves having interrupted their preparations for dinner.

It was of no use remaining where they were; so, striking their tent once more, they travelled forward. It was but poor consolation to them that they travelled much lighter than before. They had nothing to carry but their guns, and these they had got ready for work—so that their journey partook somewhat of the character of a hunting excursion. They did not even follow a direct course, but occasionally turned to one side or the other, wherever a clump of willows, or any other roughness on the ground, looked like it might be the shelter of game. But during that whole day—although they travelled from near sunrise to sunset—not a living thing was seen; and for the second night they went supperless to bed.

A man will bear hunger for many days—some more, some less—without actually dying of it; but at no period will his sufferings be greater than during the third or fourth day. He will grow more feeble afterwards, but the pain which he endures will not be greater.

On the third day the sufferings of our party were extreme. They began to chew pieces of their skin-tent and blankets; but although this took the sharp edge off their appetites, it added nothing to their strength; and they still craved for food, and grew feebler.

To use a poetical phrase, Marengo now became the “cynosure of every eye.” Marengo was not very fat. The sledge and short rations had thinned him down, and his ribs could be easily traced. Although the boys, and Basil in particular, would have suffered much before sacrificing him, yet starvation will reconcile a man to part with his best friend. In spite of their friendship for Marengo, his masters could not help scanning him from time to time with hungry looks. Marengo was an old dog, and, no doubt, as tough as a piece of tan-leather; but their appetites were made up for anything.

It was near midday. They had started early, as on the day before. They were trudging wearily along, and making but little progress. Marengo was struggling with his sledge, feeble as any of the party. Basil saw that the eyes of his companions were from time to time bent upon the dog; and though none of them said anything, he understood the thoughts that were passing within them. He knew that none of them wished to propose it—as Basil was the real master of Marengo—but their glances were sufficiently intelligible to him. He looked at the downcast countenance of the once merry François,—at the serious air of Norman—at the wan cheek and sunken eye of Lucien, whom Basil dearly loved. He hesitated no longer. His duty to his companions at once overcame his affection for his faithful dog.

“We must kill him!” said he, suddenly stopping, and pointing to Marengo.

The rest halted.

“I fear there’s no help for it,” said Norman, turning his face in every direction, and sweeping the surface of the snow with hopeless glances.

François also assented to the proposal.

“Let us make a condition,” suggested Lucien; “I for one could walk five miles farther.” And as Lucien said this, he made an effort to stand erect, and look strong and brave; but Basil knew it was an effort of generosity.

“No,” said he,—“no, dear Luce. You are done up. We must kill the dog!”

“Nonsense, Basil, you mistake,” replied the other; “I assure you I am far from being done up. I could go much farther yet. Stay!” continued he, pointing ahead; “you see yonder rocks? They are about three miles off, I should think. They lie directly in our course. Well, now, let us agree to this condition. Let us give poor Marengo a chance for his life. If we find nothing before reaching those rocks, why then—”

And Lucien, seeing Marengo gazing up in his face, left the sentence unfinished. The poor brute looked up at all of them as though he understood every word that they were saying; and his mute appeal, had it been necessary, would not have been thrown away. But it did not require that to get him the proposed respite. All agreed willingly with Lucien’s proposition; and, shouldering their pieces, the party moved on.

Lucien had purposely understated the distance to the rocks. It was five, instead of three miles; and some of them made it full ten, as they were determined Marengo should have the benefit of every chance. They deployed like skirmishers; and not a brake or brush that lay to the right or left of the path but was visited and beaten by one or other of them. Their diligence was to no purpose. After two hours’ weary work, they arrived among the rocks, having seen not a trace of either quadruped or bird.

“Come!” cried Lucien in his now feeble voice, still trying to look cheerful, “we must pass through them. There is a chance yet. Let him have fair play. The rocks were to be the limit, but it was not stated what part of them. Let us pass through to the other side—they do not extend far.”

Encouraged by the words of Lucien, the party entered among the rocks, moving on separate paths. They had gone only a few paces, when a shout from Norman caused the rest to look to him for an explanation. No animal was in sight. Had he seen any? No; but something that gratified him certainly, for his voice and manner expressed it.

“What is it?” inquired the others, all speaking at the same time.

“Tripe de roche!” answered he.

“Tripe de roche?”

“Yes,” replied Norman, “look there!” and he pointed to one of the rocks directly ahead of them, at the same time moving forward to it. The others hastened up after. On reaching the rock, they saw what Norman had meant by the words tripe de roche (rock-tripe). It was a black, hard, crumply substance, that nearly covered the surface of the rock, and was evidently of a vegetable nature. Lucien knew what it was as well as Norman, and joy had expressed itself upon his pale cheeks at the sight. As for Basil and François they only stood waiting an explanation, and wondering what value a quantity of “rock moss,” as they deemed it, could be to persons in their condition. Lucien soon informed them that it was not a “moss,” but a “lichen,” and of that celebrated species which will sustain human life. It was the Gyrophora. Norman confirmed Lucien’s statement, and furthermore affirmed, that not only the Indians and Esquimaux, but also parties of voyageurs, had often subsisted upon it for days, when they would otherwise have starved. There are many species,—not less than five or six. All of them possess nutritive properties, but only one is a palatable food—theGyrophora vellea of botanists. Unfortunately, this was not the sort which our voyageurs had happened upon, as it grows only upon rocks shaded by woods, and is rarely met with in the open barrens. The one, however, which Norman had discovered was the “next best,” and they were all glad at finding even that.

The first thing to be thought of was to collect it, and all four set to peeling and scraping it from the rocks. The next thought was to make it ready for eating. Here a new difficulty stared them in the face. The tripe de roche had to be boiled,—it could not be eaten else,—and where was the fire? where was the wood to make one? Not a stick was to be seen. They had not met with a tree during all that day’s journey!

They were now as badly off as ever. The tripe de roche would be of no more use to them than so much dry grass. What could they do with it?

In the midst of their suspense, one of them thought of the sledge—Marengo’s sledge. That would make a fire, but a very small one. It might do to cook a single meal. Even that was better than none. Marengo was not going to object to the arrangement. He looked quite willing to part with the sledge. But a few hours before, it came near being used to cook Marengo himself. He was not aware of that, perhaps, but no matter. All agreed that the sledge must be broken up, and converted into firewood.

They were about taking it to pieces, and had already “unhitched” Marengo from it, when Basil, who had walked to the other side of the rocky jumble, cried back to them to desist. He had espied some willows at no great distance. Out of these a fire could be made. The sledge, therefore, was let alone for the present. Basil and François immediately started for the willows, while Norman and Lucien remained upon the spot to prepare the “tripe” for the pot.

In a short time the former parties returned with two large bundles of willows, and the fire was kindled. The tripe de roche, with some snow—for there was no water near—was put into the pot, and the latter hung over the blaze.

After boiling for nearly an hour, the lichen became reduced to a soft gummy pulp, and Norman thickened the mess to his taste by putting in more snow, or more of the “tripe,” as it seemed to require it. The pot was then taken from the fire, and all four greedily ate of its contents. It was far from being palatable, and had a clammy “feel” in the mouth, something like sago; but none of the party was in any way either dainty or fastidious just at that time, and they soon consumed all that had been cooked. It did not satisfy the appetite, though it filled the stomach, and made their situation less painful to bear.

Norman informed them that it was much better when cooked with a little meat, so as to make broth. This Norman’s companions could easily credit, but where was the meat to come from? The Indians prefer the tripe de roche when prepared along with the roe of fish, or when boiled in fish liquor.

Our weary voyageurs resolved to remain among the rocks for that night at least; and with this intent they put up their little tent. They did not kindle any fire, as the willows were scarce, and there would be barely enough to make one or two more boilings of the rock-tripe. They spread their skins within the tent, and creeping in, kept one another as warm as they could until morning.

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