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Little Rivers Henry van Dyke

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On our way beside the rapids, Damon geologised, finding the marks of ancient glaciers, and bits of iron-ore, and pockets of sand full of infinitesimal garnets, and specks of gold washed from the primitive granite; and I fished, picking up a pair of ouananiche in foam-covered nooks among the rocks. The swift water was almost passed when we embarked again and ran down the last slope into a long deadwater.

The shores, at first bold and rough, covered with dense thickets of second-growth timber, now became smoother and more fertile. Scattered farms, with square, unpainted houses, and long, thatched barns, began to creep over the hills toward the river. There was a hamlet, called St. Charles, with a rude little church and a campanile of logs. The cure, robed in decent black and wearing a tall silk hat of the vintage of 1860, sat on the veranda of his trim presbytery, looking down upon us, like an image of propriety smiling at Bohemianism. Other craft appeared on the river. A man and his wife paddling an old dugout, with half a dozen children packed in amidships a crew of lumbermen, in a sharp-nosed bateau, picking up stray logs along the banks; a couple of boatloads of young people returning merrily from a holiday visit; a party of berry-pickers in a flat-bottomed skiff; all the life of the country-side was in evidence on the river. We felt quite as if we had been "in the swim" of society, when at length we reached the point where the Riviere des Aunes came tumbling down a hundred-foot ladder of broken black rocks. There we pitched our tents in a strip of meadow by the water-side, where we could have the sound of the falls for a slumber-song all night and the whole river for a bath at sunrise.

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A sparkling draught of crystal weather was poured into our stirrup-cup in the morning, as we set out for a drive of fifteen miles across country to the Riviere a l'Ours, a tributary of the crooked, unnavigable river of Alders. The canoes and luggage were loaded on a couple of charrettes, or two-wheeled carts. But for us and the guides there were two quatre-roues, the typical vehicles of the century, as characteristic of Canada as the carriole is of Norway. It is a two-seated buckboard, drawn by one horse, and the back seat is covered with a hood like an old-fashioned poke bonnet. The road is of clay and always rutty. It runs level for a while, and then jumps up a steep ridge and down again, or into a deep gully and out again. The habitant's idea of good driving is to let his horse slide down the hill and gallop up. This imparts a spasmodic quality to the motion, like Carlyle's style.

The native houses are strung along the road. The modern pattern has a convex angle in the roof, and dormer-windows; it is a rustic adaptation of the Mansard. The antique pattern, which is far more picturesque, has a concave curve in the roof, and the eaves project like eyebrows, shading the flatness of the face. Paint is a rarity. The prevailing colour is the soft gray of weather-beaten wood. Sometimes, in the better class of houses, a gallery is built across the front and around one side, and a square of garden is fenced in, with dahlias and hollyhocks and marigolds, and perhaps a struggling rosebush, and usually a small patch of tobacco growing in one corner. Once in a long while you may see a balm-of-Gilead tree, or a clump of sapling poplars, planted near the door.

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Little Rivers
Henry van Dyke

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