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  Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

VIII. Au Large

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Wherever we strayed, the same tranquil leisure enfolded us; day followed day in an order unbroken and peaceful as the unfolding of the flowers and the silent march of the stars. Time no longer ran like the few sands in a delicate hour-glass held by a fragile human hand, but like a majestic river fed by fathomless seas. . . . We gave ourselves up to the sweetness of that unmeasured life, without thought of yesterday or to-morrow; we drank the cup to-day held to our lips, and knew that so long as we were athirst that draught would not be denied us." --HAMILTON W. MABIE: Under the Trees.

There is magic in words, surely, and many a treasure besides Ali Baba's is unlocked with a verbal key. Some charm in the mere sound, some association with the pleasant past, touches a secret spring. The bars are down; the gate open; you are made free of all the fields of memory and fancy--by a word.

Au large! Envoyez au large! is the cry of the Canadian voyageurs as they thrust their paddles against the shore and push out on the broad lake for a journey through the wilderness. Au large! is what the man in the bow shouts to the man in the stern when the birch canoe is running down the rapids, and the water grows too broken, and the rocks too thick, along the river-bank. Then the frail bark must be driven out into the very centre of the wild current, into the midst of danger to find safety, dashing, like a frightened colt, along the smooth, sloping lane bordered by white fences of foam.

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Au large! When I hear that word, I hear also the crisp waves breaking on pebbly beaches, and the big wind rushing through innumerable trees, and the roar of headlong rivers leaping down the rocks, I see long reaches of water sparkling in the sun, or sleeping still between evergreen walls beneath a cloudy sky; and the gleam of white tents on the shore; and the glow of firelight dancing through the woods. I smell the delicate vanishing perfume of forest flowers; and the incense of rolls of birch-bark, crinkling and flaring in the camp-fire; and the soothing odour of balsam-boughs piled deep for woodland beds--the veritable and only genuine perfume of the land of Nod. The thin shining veil of the Northern lights waves and fades and brightens over the night sky; at the sound of the word, as at the ringing of a bell, the curtain rises. Scene, the Forest of Arden; enter a party of hunters.

It was in the Lake St. John country, two hundred miles north of Quebec, that I first heard my rustic incantation; and it seemed to fit the region as if it had been made for it. This is not a little pocket wilderness like the Adirondacks, but something vast and primitive. You do not cross it, from one railroad to another, by a line of hotels. You go into it by one river as far as you like, or dare; and then you turn and come back again by another river, making haste to get out before your provisions are exhausted. The lake itself is the cradle of the mighty Saguenay: an inland sea, thirty miles across and nearly round, lying in the broad limestone basin north of the Laurentian Mountains. The southern and eastern shores have been settled for twenty or thirty years; and the rich farm-land yields abundant crops of wheat and oats and potatoes to a community of industrious habitants, who live in little modern villages, named after the saints and gathered as closely as possible around big gray stone churches, and thank the good Lord that he has given them a climate at least four or five degrees milder than Quebec. A railroad, built through a region of granite hills, which will never be tamed to the plough, links this outlying settlement to the civilised world; and at the end of the railroad the Hotel Roberval, standing on a hill above the lake, offers to the pampered tourist electric lights, and spring-beds, and a wide veranda from which he can look out across the water into the face of the wilderness.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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