STILL FARTHER NORTH
Bob and the Indians travelled in single file, with Mookoomahn leading, and kept to the wide, smooth pathway that marked the place where the river lay imprisoned beneath ice a fathom thick. The wind had swept away the loose snow and beaten down that which remained into a hard and compact mass upon the frozen river bed, making snow-shoeing here much easier than in the spruce forest that lay behind the willow brush along the banks. The Indians walked with the long rapid stride that is peculiar to them, and which the white man finds hard to simulate, and good traveller though he was Bob had to adopt a half run to keep their pace. They drew but two lightly loaded toboggans, and unencumbered by the wigwam and other heavy camp equipment, and with no trailing squaws to hamper their speed, an even, unbroken gait was maintained as mile after mile slipped behind them.
Not a breath of air was stirring, and the absolute quiet that prevailed was broken only by the moving men and the rhythmic creak, creak of the snow-shoes as they came in contact with the hard packed snow.
The very atmosphere seemed frozen, so intense was the cold. The moon like a disk of burnished silver set in a steel blue sky cast a weird, metallic light over the congealed wilderness. The hoar frost that lay upon the bushes along the river bank sparkled like filmy draperies of spun silver, and transformed the bushes into an unearthly multitude of shining spirits that had gathered there from the dark, mysterious forest which lay behind them, to watch the passing strangers. Presently the light of dawn began to diffuse itself upon the world, and the spirit creations were replaced by substantial banks of frost-encrusted willows. In a little while the sun peeped timorously over the eastern hills, but, half obscured by a haze of frost flakes which hung suspended in the air, gave out no warmth to the frozen earth.
No halt was made until noon. Then a fire was built and a kettle of ice was melted and tea brewed. Bob was hungry, and the jerked venison, with its delicate nutty flavour, and the hot tea, were delicious. The latter, poured boiling from the kettle, left a sediment of ice in the bottom of the tin cup before it was drained, so great was the cold.
After an hour’s rest they hit the trail again and never relaxed their speed for a moment until sunset. Then they sought the shelter of the spruce woods behind the river bank, and in a convenient spot for a fire cleared a circular space, several feet in circumference, by shovelling the snow back with their snow-shoes, forming a high bank around their bivouac as a protection from the wind, should it rise. At one side a fire was built, and in front of the fire a thick bed of boughs spread. While the others were engaged in these preparations Bob and Sishetakushin cut a supply of wood for the night.