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Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

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In the still water at the mouth of the Riviere Mistook, just above the Rapide aux Cedres, we went ashore on a level wooded bank to make our first camp and cook our dinner. Let me try to sketch our men as they are busied about the fire.

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They are all French Canadians of unmixed blood, descendants of the men who came to New France with Samuel de Champlain, that incomparable old woodsman and life-long lover of the wilderness. Ferdinand Larouche is our chef--there must be a head in every party for the sake of harmony--and his assistant is his brother Francois. Ferdinand is a stocky little fellow, a "sawed off" man, not more than five feet two inches tall, but every inch of him is pure vim. He can carry a big canoe or a hundred-weight of camp stuff over a mile portage without stopping to take breath. He is a capital canoe-man, with prudence enough to balance his courage, and a fair cook, with plenty of that quality which is wanting in the ordinary cook of commerce--good humour. Always joking, whistling, singing, he brings the atmosphere of a perpetual holiday along with him. His weather-worn coat covers a heart full of music. He has two talents which make him a marked man among his comrades. He plays the fiddle to the delight of all the balls and weddings through the country-side; and he speaks English to the admiration and envy of the other guides. But like all men of genius he is modest about his accomplishments. "H'I not spik good h'English--h'only for camp--fishin', cookin', dhe voyage--h'all dhose t'ings." The aspirates puzzle him. He can get though a slash of fallen timber more easily than a sentence full of "this" and "that." Sometimes he expresses his meaning queerly. He was telling me once about his farm, "not far off here, in dhe Riviere au Cochon, river of dhe pig, you call 'im. H'I am a widow, got five sons, t'ree of dhem are girls." But he usually ends by falling back into French, which, he assures you, you speak to perfection, "much better than the Canadians; the French of Paris in short--M'sieu' has been in Paris?" Such courtesy is born in the blood, and is irresistible. You cannot help returning the compliment and assuring him that his English is remarkable, good enough for all practical purposes, better than any of the other guides can speak. And so it is.

Francois is a little taller, a little thinner, and considerably quieter than Ferdinand. He laughs loyally at his brother's jokes, and sings the response to his songs, and wields a good second paddle in the canoe.

Jean--commonly called Johnny--Morel is a tall, strong man of fifty, with a bushy red beard that would do credit to a pirate. But when you look at him more closely, you see that he has a clear, kind blue eye and a most honest, friendly face under his slouch hat. He has travelled these woods and waters for thirty years, so that he knows the way through them by a thousand familiar signs, as well as you know the streets of the city. He is our pathfinder.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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