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The Young Voyageurs
Chapter XXXIX. End of the "Voyage"

Our party remained several days at this place, until they had made a fresh stock of “pemmican” from the flesh of the caribou, several more of which they succeeded in killing; and then, arranging everything anew, and taking with them such skins as they wanted, they continued their journey.

They had two days’ hard travelling through a rocky mountainous country, where they could not find a stick of wood to cook their meals with, and were exposed to cold more than at any other place. Both François and Lucien had their faces frost-bitten; but they were cured by Norman, who prevented them from going near a fire until he had well rubbed the parts with soft snow.

The rocks through which they passed were in many places covered with the tripe de roche (Gyrophora) of several species; but our voyageurs cared nothing about it so long as their pemmican lasted, and of that each of them had nearly as much as he could carry.

In the most dreary part of the mountains they chanced upon a herd of those curious animals, the musk-oxen, and shot one of them; but the meat tasted so rank, and smelt so strongly of musk, that the whole of it was left to the wolves, foxes, and other preying creatures of these parts.

On the third day, after leaving their camp by the lake, a pleasant prospect opened before them. It was the valley of the Mackenzie, stretching to the west, and extending north and south as far as the eye could reach, covered with forests of pine and poplar, and other large trees. Of course the landscape was a winter one, as the river was bound up in ice, and the trees themselves were half-white with frozen snow; but after the dreary scenery of the Barren Grounds, even this appeared warm and summer-like. There was no longer any danger they should be without a good fire to cook their dinners, or warm themselves at, and a wooded country offers a better prospect of game. The sight, therefore, of a great forest was cheering; and our travellers, in high spirits, planted their tent upon the banks of the great Northern river. They had still many hundred miles to go before arriving at their destination; but they determined to continue their journey without much delay, following the river as a guide. No more “near cuts” were to be taken in future. They had learned, from their recent experience, that “the shortest way across is sometimes the longest way round,” and they resolved to profit by the lesson. I hope, boy reader, you too will remember it.

After reaching the Mackenzie the voyageurs halted one day, and upon the next commenced their journey down-stream. Sometimes they kept upon the bank, but at times, for a change, they travelled upon the ice of the river. There was no danger of its giving way under them, for it was more than a foot in thickness, and would have supported a loaded waggon and horses, without even cracking.

They were now drawing near the Arctic circle, and the days grew shorter and shorter as they advanced. But this did not much interfere with their travelling. The long nights of the Polar regions are not like those of more Southern latitudes. They are sometimes so clear, that one may read the smallest print. What with the coruscations of the aurora borealis, and the cheerful gleaming of the Northern constellations, one may travel without difficulty throughout the livelong night. I am sure, my young friend, you have made good use of your globes, and need not be told that the length of both nights and days, as you approach the pole, depends upon two things—the latitude of the place, and the season of the year; and were you to spend a whole year leaning against the pole itself, (!) you would live but one day and one night—each of them six months in length.

But no doubt you know all these things without my telling you of them, and you are impatient to hear not about that, but whether the young voyageurs safely reached the end of their journey. That question I answer briefly at once—they did.

Some distance below the point where they had struck the Mackenzie, they fell in with a winter encampment of Dog-rib Indians. Some of these people had been to the Fort to trade; and Norman being known to them, he and his Southern cousins were received with much hospitality. All their wants were provided for, as far as it lay in the power of these poor people to do; but the most valuable thing obtained from the Indians was a full set of dogs and dog-sledges for the whole party. These were furnished by the chief, upon the understanding that he should be paid for them on his next visit to the Fort. Although the reindeer of North America are not trained to the sledge by the Esquimaux and Indians, several kinds of dogs are; and a single pair of these faithful creatures will draw a full-grown man at a rate that exceeds almost every other mode of travelling—steam excepted. When our voyageurs, therefore, flung away their snow-shoes, and, wrapped in their skin cloaks, seated themselves snugly in their dog-sledges, the five hundred miles that separated them from the Fort were soon reduced to nothing; and one afternoon, four small sledges, each carrying a “young voyageur,” with a large bloodhound galloping in the rear, were seen driving up to the stockade fence surrounding the Fort. Before they had quite reached the gate, there was a general rush of trappers, traders, voyageurs, coureurs-des-bois, and other employés, to reach them; and the next moment they were lost in the midst of the people who crowded out of the Fort to welcome them. This was their hour of happiness and joy.

To me there is an hour of regret, and I hope, boy reader, to you as well—the hour of our parting with the “Young Voyageurs.”

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