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Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

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The bow paddle in his canoe is held by his son Joseph, a lad not quite fifteen, but already as tall, and almost as strong as a man. "He is yet of the youth," said Johnny, "and he knows not the affairs of the camp. This trip is for him the first--it is his school--but I hope he will content you. He is good, M'sieu', and of the strongest for his age. I have educated already two sons in the bow of my canoe. The oldest has gone to Pennsylvanie; he peels the bark there for the tanning of leather. The second had the misfortune of breaking his leg, so that he can no longer kneel to paddle. He has descended to the making of shoes. Joseph is my third pupil. And I have still a younger one at home waiting to come into my school."

A touch of family life like that is always refreshing, and doubly so in the wilderness. For what is fatherhood at its best, everywhere, but the training of good men to take the teacher's place when his work is done? Some day, when Johnny's rheumatism has made his joints a little stiffer and his eyes have lost something of their keenness, he will be wielding the second paddle in the boat, and going out only on the short and easy trips. It will be young Joseph that steers the canoe through the dangerous places, and carries the heaviest load over the portages, and leads the way on the long journeys.

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It has taken me longer to describe our men than it took them to prepare our frugal meal: a pot of tea, the woodsman's favourite drink, (I never knew a good guide that would not go without whisky rather than without tea,) a few slices of toast and juicy rashers of bacon, a kettle of boiled potatoes, and a relish of crackers and cheese. We were in a hurry to be off for an afternoon's fishing, three or four miles down the river, at the Ile Maligne.

The island is well named, for it is the most perilous place on the river, and has a record of disaster and death. The scattered waters of the Discharge are drawn together here into one deep, narrow, powerful stream, flowing between gloomy shores of granite. In mid-channel the wicked island shows its scarred and bristling head, like a giant ready to dispute the passage. The river rushes straight at the rocky brow, splits into two currents, and raves away on both sides of the island in a double chain of furious falls and rapids.

In these wild waters we fished with immense delight and fair success, scrambling down among the huge rocks along the shore, and joining the excitement of an Alpine climb with the placid pleasures of angling. At nightfall we were at home again in our camp, with half a score of onananiche, weighing from one to four pounds each.

Our next day's journey was long and variegated. A portage of a mile or two across the Ile d'Alma, with a cart to haul our canoes and stuff, brought us to the Little Discharge, down which we floated for a little way, and then hauled through the village of St. Joseph to the foot of the Carcajou, or Wildcat Falls. A mile of quick water was soon passed, and we came to the junction of the Little Discharge with the Grand Discharge at the point where the picturesque club-house stands in a grove of birches beside the big Vache Caille Falls. It is lively work crossing the pool here, when the water is high and the canoes are heavy; but we went through the labouring seas safely, and landed some distance below, at the head of the Rapide Gervais, to eat our lunch. The water was too rough to run down with loaded boats, so Damon and I had to walk about three miles along the river-bank, while the men went down with the canoes.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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