KATAHDIN AND THE PENOBSCOT.
RAIN ends, as even Noah and the Arkites discovered. The new sensation of tickling frogs could entertain us for one day ; bounteous Nature provided other novelties for tlie next. We were at the Umbagog chain of lakes, and while it rained the damster had purveyed us a boat and crew. At sunrise he despatched us on our voyage. We launched upon the Androscoggin, in a bateau of the old Canadian type. Such light, clincherbuilt, high-nosed, flat-bottomed boats are in use wherever the fur-traders are or have been. Just such boats navigate the Saskatehawan of the North, or Frazer’s River of the Northwest; and in a larger counterpart of our Androscoggin bark I had three years before floated down the magnificent Columbia to Vancouver, bedded on bales of beaver-skins.
As soon as sunrise wrote itself in shadows over the sparkling water, as soon as through the river-side belt of gnarled arbor-vitæ sunbeams flickered, we pushed off, rowed up-stream by a pair of stout lumbermen. The river was a beautiful way, admitting us into the penetralia of virgin forests. It was not a rude wilderness: all that Northern woods have of foliage, verdurous, slender, delicate, tremulous, overhung our shadowy path, dense as the vines that drape a tropic stream. Every giant tree, every one of the Pinus oligarchy, had been lumbered away : refined sylvan beauty remained. The dam checked the river’s turbulence, making it slow and mirror-like. It merited a more melodious name than harsh Androscoggin.
Five miles of such enchanting voyage brought us to Lake Umbagog. Whiffs of mist had met us in the outlet. Presently we opened chaos, and chaos shut in upon us. There was no Umbagog to be seen, — nothing but a few yards of gray water and a world of gray vapor. Therefore I cannot criticize, nor insult, nor compliment Umbagog. Let us deem it beautiful. The sun tried at the fog, to lift it with leverage of his early level beams. Failing in this attempt to stir and heave away the mass, he climbed, and began to use his beams as wedges, driving them down more perpendicularly. Whenever this industrious craftsman made a successful split, the fog gaped, and we could see for a moment, indefinitely, an expanse of water, hedged with gloomy forest, and owning for its dominant height a wild mountain, Aziscohos, or, briefer, Esquihos.
But the fog was still too dense to be riven by slanting sunbeams. It closed again in solider phalanx. Our gray cell shut close about us. Esquihos and the distance became nowhere. In fact, ourselves would have been nowhere, except that a sluggish damp wind puffed sometimes, and steering into this we could guide our way within a few points of our course.
Any traveller knows that it is no very crushing disappointment not to see what he came to see. Outside sights give something, but inside joys are independent. We enjoyed our dim damp voyage heartily, on that wide loneliness. Nor were our shouts and laughter the only sounds. Loons would sometimes wail to us, as they dived, black dots in the mist. Then we would wait for their bulbous reappearance, and let fly the futile shot with its muffled report, — missing, of course.
No being has ever shot a loon, though several have legends of some one who has. Sound has no power to express a profounder emotion of utter loneliness than the loon’s cry. Standing in piny darkness on the lake’s bank, or floating in dimness of mist or glimmer of twilight on its surface, you hear this wailing note, and all possibility of human tenancy by the shore or human voyaging is annihilated. You can fancy no response to this signal of solitude disturbed, and again it comes sadly over the water, the despairing plaint of some companionless and incomplete existence, exiled from happiness it has never known, and conscious only of blank and utter want. Loon-skins have a commercial value ; so it is reported. The Barabinzians of Siberia, a nation “ up beyond the River Ob,” tan them into water-proof paletots or aquascutums. How they catch their loon, before they skin their loon, is one of the mysteries of that unknown realm.
Og, Gog, Magog, Memphremagog, all agog, Umbagog, — certainly the American Indians were the Lost Tribes, and conserved the old familiar syllables in their new home.
Rowing into the damp breeze, we byand-by traversed the lake. We had gained nothing but a fact of distance. But here was to be an interlude of interest. The “ thoro’fare ” linking Umbagog to its next neighbor is no thoro’fare for a bateau, since a bateau cannot climb through breakers over boulders. We must make a “ carry,” an actual portage, such as in all chronicles of pioneer voyages strike like the excitement of rapids into the monotonous course of easy descent. Another boat was ready on the next lake, but our chattels must go three miles through the woods. Yes, we now were to achieve a portage. Consider it, blasé friend, — was not this sensation alone worth the trip '?
The worthy lumbermen, and our supernumerary, the damster’s son, staggered along slowly with our traps. Iglesias and I, having nothing to carry, enjoyed the carry. We lounged along through the glades, now sunny for the moment, and dallied with raspberries and blueberries, finer than any ever seen. The latter henceforth began to impurple our blood. Maine is lusciously carpeted with them.
As we oozed along the overgrown trail, dripping still with last night’s rain, drops would alight upon our necks and trickle down our backs. A wet spine excites hunger, — if a pedestrian on a portage, after voyaging from sunrise, needs any appetizer when his shadow marks noon. We halted, fired up, and lunched vigorously on toasted pork and trimmings. As pork must be the Omega in forestfare, it is well to make it the Alpha. Fate thus becomes choice. Citizens uneducated to forest-life with much pains transport into the woods sealed cans of what they deem will dainties be, and scoff at woodsmen frizzling slices of pork on a pointed stick. But Experience does not disdain a Cockney. She broods over him, and will by-and-by hatch him into a full-fledged forester. After such incubation, he will recognize his natural food, and compaetost fuel for the lamp of life. He will take to his pork like mother’s milk.
Our dessert of raspberries grew all along the path, and lured us on to a logstation by the water, where we found another bateau ready to transport us over Lakes Weelocksebacook, Allegundabagog, and Mollychunkamug. Doubters may smile and smile at these names, but they are geography.
We do not commit ourselves to further judgment upon the first than that it is doubtless worthy of its name. My own opinion is, that the scenery felt that it was dullish, and was ashamed to “ exhibit ” to Iglesias; if he pronounced a condemnation, Umbagog and its sisters feared that they would be degraded to fish-ponds merely. Therefore they veiled themselves. Mists hung low over the leaden waters, and blacker clouds crushed the pine-dark hills.
A fair curve of sandy beach separates Weelocksebacook from its neighbor. There is buried one Melattach, an Indian chief. Of course there has been found in Maine some one irreverent enough to trot a lame Pegasus over this grave, and accuse the frowzy old red-skin of Christian virtues and delicate romance.
There were no portages this afternoon. We took the three lakes at easy speed, persuading ourselves that scenes fog would not let us see were unscenic. It is well that a man should think what he cannot get unworthy of his getting. As evening came, the sun made another effort, with the aid of west winds, at the mist. The sun cleft, the breeze drove. Suddenly the battle was done, victory easily gained. We were cheered by a gush of level sunlight. Even the dull, gray vapor became a transfigured and beautiful essence. Dull and uniform it had hung over the land; now the plastic winds quarried it, and shaped the whole mass into individuals, each with its character. To the cloud-forms modelled out of formlessness the winds gave life of motion, sunshine gave life of light, and they hastened through the lower atmosphere, or sailed lingering across the blue breadths of midheaven, or dwelt peacefully aloft in the region of the cirri; and whether trailing gauzy robes in flight, or moving stately, or dwelling on high where scope of vision makes travel needless, they were still the brightest, the gracefullest, the purest beings that Earth creates for man’s most delicate pleasure.
When it cleared, — when it purveyed us a broadening zone of blue sky and a heavenful of brilliant cloud-creatures, we were sailing over Lake Mollychunkamug. Fair Mollychunkamug had not smiled for us until now; — now a sunny grin spread over her smooth cheeks. She was all smiling, and presently, as the breeze dimpled her, all a “snicker” up into the roots of her hair, up among her foresttresses. Mollyehunkamug ! Who could be aught but gay, gay even to the farcical, when on such a name ? Is it Indian ? Bewildered Indian we deem it,—transmogrified somewhat from aboriginal sound by the fond imagination of some lumberman, finding in it a sweet memorial of his Mary far away in the kitchens of the Kennebec, his Mary so rotund of blooming cheek, his Molly of the chunky mug. To him who truly loves, all Nature is filled with Amaryllidian echoes. Every sight and every sound recalls her who need not be recalled, to a heart that has never dislodged her.
We lingered over our interview with Mollychunkamug. She may not be numbered among the great beauties of the world; nevertheless, she is an attractive squaw, — a very honest bit of flat-faced prettiness in the wilderness.
Above Mollychunkamug is Moosetocmaguntic Lake. Another innavigable thoro’fare unites them. A dam of Titanic crib-work, fifteen hundred feet long, confines the upper waters. Near this we disembarked. We balanced ourselves along the timbers of the dam, and reached a huge log-cabin at its farther end.
Mr. Killgrove, the damster, came forth and offered us the freedom of his settlement in a tobacco-box. Tobacco is hospitality in the compactest form. Civilization has determined that tobacco, especially in the shape of smoke, is essential as food, water, or air. The pipe is everywhere the pipe of peace. Peace, then, and anodyne-repose, after a day of travel, were offered us by the friendly damster.
A squad of lumbermen were our new fellow-citizens. These soldiers of the outermost outpost were in the regulation-uniform,—red-flannel shirts, impurpled by wetting, big boots, and old felt-hats. Bloodred is the true soldierly color. All the residents of Damville dwelt in a great logbarrack, the Hôtel-de-Ville. Its architecture was of the early American style, and possessed the high art of simplicity. It was solid, not gingerbreadesque. Primeval American art has a rude dignity, far better than the sham splendors of our mediæval and transition period.
Our new friends, luxurious fellows, had been favored by Fate with a French-Canadian cook, himself a Three of Frères Provinciaux. Such was his reputation. We saw by the eye of him, and by his nose, formed for comprehending fragrances, and by the lines of refined taste converging from his whole face toward his mouth, that he was one to detect and sniff gastronomic possibilities in the humblest materials. Joseph Bourgogne looked the cook. His phiz gave us faith iu him; eyes small and discriminating; nose upturned, nostrils expanded and receptive ; mouth saucy in the literal sense. His voice, moreover, was a cook’s, — thick in articulation, dulcet in tone. He spoke as if he deemed that a throat was created for better uses than laboriously manufacturing words, — as if the object of a mouth were to receive tribute, not to give commands,— as if that pink stalactite, his palate, were more used by delicacies entering than by rough words or sorry sighs going out of the inner caverns.
When we find the right man in the right place, our minds are at ease. The future becomes satisfactory as the past. Anticipation is glad certainty, not anxious doubt. Trusting our gastronomic welfare fully to this great artist, we tried for fish below the dam. Only petty fishlings, weighing ounces, took the bit between their teeth. We therefore doffed the fisherman and donned the artist and poet, and chased our own fancies down the dark whirlpooling river, along its dell of evergreens, now lurid with the last glows of twilight, Iglesias and I continued dreamily gazing down the thoro’fare toward Mollychunkamug only a certain length of time. Man keeps up to his highest elarions hardly longer than a danseuse can poise in a pose. To be conscious of the highest beauty demands an involuntary intentness of observation so fanatically eager that presently we are prostrated and need stimulants. And just as we sensitively felt this exhaustion and this need, we heard a suggestive voice calling us from the front-door of the mansion-house of Damville, and “Supper” was the cry.
A call to the table may quell and may awaken romance. When, in some abode of poetized luxury, the “ silver knell ” sounds musically six, and a door opens toward a glitter that is not pewter and Wedgewood, and, with a being fair and changeful as a sunset cloud upon my arm, I move under the archway of blue curtains toward the asphodel and the nectar, then, 0 Reader ! O Friend ! romance crowds into my heart, as color and fragrance crowd into a rose-bud. Joseph Bourgogne, cook at Damville on Moosetocmaguntic, could not offer us such substitute for æsthetic emotions. But his voice of an artist created a winning picture half veiled with mists, evanescent and affectionate, such as linger fondly over Pork-and-Beans.
Fancied joy soon to become fact. We entered the barrack. Beneath its smoky roof-tree was a pervading aroma ; near the centre of that aroma, a table dim with wefts of incense; at the innermost centre of that aroma and that incense, and whence those visible and viewless fountains streamed, was their source,—a Dish of Pork-and-Beans.
Topmostly this. There were lesser viands, buttresses to this towering triumph. Minor smokes from minor censers. A circle of little craterlings about the great crater,—of little fiery cones about that great volcanic dome in the midst, unopened, but bursting with bounty. We sat down, and one of the red-shirted boldly crushed the smoking dome. The brave fellow plunged in with a spoon and heaped our plates.
A priori we had deduced Joseph Bourgogne’s results from inspection of Joseph. Now we could reason back from one experimentum crucis cooked by him. Effect and cause were worthy of each other.
The average world must be revenged upon Genius. Greatness must be punished by itself or another. Joseph Bourgogne was no exception to the laws of the misery of Genius. He had a distressing trait, whose exhibition tickled the dura ilia of the reapers of the forest. Joseph, poet-cook, was sensitive to new ideas. This sensitiveness to the peremptory thought made him the slave of the wags of Damville. Whenever he had anything in his hands, at a stern, quick command he would drop it nervously. Did he approach the table with a second dish of pork-and-beans, a yellow dish of beans, browned delicately as a Sèvres vase, then would some full-fed rogue, waiting until Joseph was bending over some devoted head, say sharply, “Drop that, Joseph ! ”— whereupon down went dish and contents, emporridging the poll and person of the luckless wight beneath. Always, were his burden pitcher of water, armful of wood, axe dangerous to toes, mirror, or pudding, still followed the same result. And when the poet-cook had done the mischief, he would stand shuddering at his work of ruin, and sigh, and curse his too sensitive nature.
In honor of us, the damster kept order. Joseph disturbed the banquet only by entering with new triumphs of Art. Last came a climax-pie, — contents unknown. And when that dish, fit to set before a king, was opened, the poem of our supper was complete. J. B. sailed to the Parnassus where Ude and Vattel feast, forever cooking immortal banquets in star-lighted spheres.
Then we sat in the picturesque dimness of the lofty cabin, under the void where the roof shut off the stars, and talked of the pine - woods, of logging, measuring, and spring-drives, and of moose-hunting on snow-shoes, until our mouths had a wild flavor more spicy than if we had chewed spruce-gum by the hour. Spruce-gum is the aboriginal quid of these regions. Foresters chew this tenacious morsel as tars nibble at a bit of oakum, grooms at a straw, Southerns at tobacco, or school-girls at a slate-pencil.
The barrack was fitted up with bunks. Iglesias rolled into one of these. I mummied myself in my blankets and did penance upon a bench. Pine-knots in my pallet sought out my tenderest spots. The softer wood was worn away about these projections. Hillocky was the surface, so that I beat about uneasily and awoke often, ready to envy Iglesias. But from him, also, I heard sounds of struggling.
UP THE LAKES.
MR. KILLGROVE, slayer of forests, became the pilot of our voyage up Lake Moosetocmaguntic. We shoved off in a bateau, while Joseph Bourgogne, sad at losing us, stood among the stumps, waving adieux with a dish-clout. We had solaced his soul with meed of praise. And now, alas! we left him to the rude jokes and half-sympathies of the lumbermen. The artist-cook saw his appreciates vanish away, and his proud dish-clout drooped like a defeated banner.
“ A fine lake,” remarked Iglesias, instituting the matutinal conversation in a safe and general way.
“ Yes,” returned Mr. Killgrove, “ when you come to get seven or eight feet more of water atop of this in spring, it is considerable of a puddle.”
Our weather seemed to be now bettering with more resolution. Many days had passed since Aurora had shown herself,— many days since the rising sun and the world had seen each other. But yesterday this sulky estrangement ended, and, after the beautiful reconciliation at sunset, the faint mists of doubt in their brief parting for a night had now no power against the ardors of anticipated meeting. As we shot out upon the steaming water, the sun was just looking over the lower ridges of a mountain opposite. Air, blue and quivering, hung under shelter of the mountain-front, as if a film from the dim purple of night were hiding there to see what beauty day had, better than its own. The gray fog, so dreary for three mornings, was utterly vanquished; all was vanished, save where “ swimming vapors sloped athwart the glen,” and “ crept from pine to pine.” These had dallied, like spies of a flying army, to watch for chances of its return ; but they, too, carried away by the enthusiasms of a world liberated and illumined, changed their allegiance, joined the party of hope and progress, and added the grace of their presence to the fair pageant of a better day.
Lake Moosetocmaguntic is good, — above the average. If its name had but two syllables, and the thing named were near Somewhere, poetry and rhetoric would celebrate it, and the world would be prouder of itself for another “gem.” Now nobody sees it, and those who do have had their anticipations lengthened leagues by every syllable of its sesquipedalian title. One expects, perhaps, something more than what he finds. He finds a good average sheet of water, set in a circlet of dark forest, — forests sloping up to wooded hills, and these to wooded mountains. Very good and satisfactory elements, and worth notice, — especially when the artistic eye is also a fisherman’s eye, and he detects fishy spots. As to wilderness, there can be none more complete. At the upper end of the lake is a trace of humanity in a deserted cabin on a small clearing. There a hermit pair once lived, — man and wife, utterly alone for fifteen years, — once or twice a year, perhaps, visited by lumbermen. Fifteen years alone with a wife! a trial, certainly, — not necessarily in the desponding sense of the word ; not as Yankees have it, making trial a misfortune, but a test.
Mr. Killgrove entertained us with resinous-flavored talk. The voyage was unexcitingly pleasant. We passed an archipelago of scrubby islands, and, turning away from a blue vista of hills northward, entered a lovely curve of river richly overhung with arbor-vitæ, a shadowy quiet reach of clear water, crowded below its beautiful surface with reflected forest and reflected sky.
“Iglesias,” said I, “we divined how Mollychunkamug had its name; now, as to Moosetocmaguntic,—whence that elongated appellative ? ”
“ It was named,” replied Iglesias, “from the adventure of a certain hunter in these regions. He was moosehunting here in days gone by. His tale runs thus :—' I had been four days without game, and naturally without anything to cat except pine-cones and green chestnuts. There was no game in the forest. The trout would not bite, for I had no tackle and no hook. I was starving, I sat me down, and rested my trusty, but futile rifle against a fallen tree.
Suddenly I heard a tread, turned my head, saw a Moose, — took — my — gun, — tick! he was dead. I was saved. I feasted, and in gratitude named the lake Moosetookmyguntick.’ Geography has modified it, but the name cannot be misunderstood.”
We glided up the fair river, and presently came to the hut of Mr. Smith, fisherman and misogynist. And there is little more to be said about Mr. Smith, He appears in this chronicle because he owned a boat which became our vehicle on Lake Oquossok, Aquessok, Lakewocket, or Rangeley. Mr. Smith guided us across the carry to the next of the chain of lakes, and embarked us in a crazy skiff. It was blowing fresh, and, not to be wrecked, we coasted close to the gnarled arbor-vitæ thickets. Smith sogered along, drawling dull legends of trout-fishing.
“ Drefful notional critturs traout be,” he said, — “ olluz bitin’ at whodger haänt got. Orful contrairy critturs, —jess like fimmls. Yer can cotch a fimml with a feather, ef she ’s ter be cotched; ef she haänt ter be cotched, yer may scoop ther hul world dry an’ yer haänt got her. Jess so traout.”
The misogynist bored us with his dull philosophy. The bufferings of inland waves were not only insulting, but dangerous, to our leaky punt. At any moment, Iglesias and I might find ourselves floundering together In thin fresh water. Joyfully, therefore, at last, did we discern clearings, culture, and habitations at the lake-head. There was no tavernous village of Rangeley; that would have been too great a contrast, after the forest and the lakes, where loons are the only disturbers of silence, — incongruity enough to overpower utterly the ringing of woodland music in our hearts. Rangeley was a townless township, as the outermost township should be. We had, however, learnt from Killgrove, feller of forests, that there was a certain farmer on the lake, one of the chieftains of that realm, who would hospitably entertain us. Smith, wheedler of trout, landed us in quite an ambitious foamy surf at the foot of a declivity below our future host’s farm.
We had now traversed Lakes Urnbagog, Weelocksebacook, Allegundabagog, Mollychunkamug, Moosetocmaguntic, and Oquossok.
We had been compelled to pronounce these names constantly. Of course our vocal organs were distorted. Of course our vocal nervous systems were shattered, and we had a chronic lameness of the jaws. We therefore recognized a peculiar appropriateness in the name of our host.
Toothaker was his name. He dwelt upon the lawn-like bank, a hundred feet above the lake. Mr. Toothaker himself was absent, but his wife received us hospitably, disposed us in her guestchamber, and gratified us with a supper.
This was Rangeley Township, the outer settlement on the west side of Maine. A “ squire ” from England gave it his name. He bought the tract, named it, inhabited several years, a popular squirearch, and then returned from the wild to the tame, from pine woods and stumpy fields to the elm-planted hedge-rows and shaven lawns of placid England. The local gossip did not reveal any cause for Mr. Rangeley’s fondness for contrasts and exile.
Mr. Toothaker has been a careful dentist to the stumps of his farm. It is beautifully stumpless, and slopes verdantly, or varied with yellow harvest, down to the lake and up to the forest primeval. He has preserved a pretty grove of birch and maple as shelter, ornament, partridge-cover, and perpendicular wood-pile. Below his house and barns is the lovely oval of the lake, seen across the fair fields, bright with wheat, or green with pasture. A road, hedged with briskly-aspiring young spruces, runs for a mile northward, making a faint show at attacking the wilderness. A mile’s loneliness is enough for this unsupported pioneer; he runs up a tree, sees nothing but dark woods, thinks of Labrador and the North Pole, and stops.
Next morning, Mr. Toothaker returned from a political meeting below among the towns. It was the Presidential campaign,— stirring days from pines to prairies, stirring days from codfish to cocoanuts. Tonguey men were talking from every stump all over the land. Blatant patriots were heard, wherever a flock of compatriots could be persuaded to listen. The man with one speech containing two stories was making the tour of all the villages. The man with two speeches, each with three stories, one of them very broad indeed, was in request for the towns. The oratorical Stentorian man, with inexhaustible rivers of speech and rafts of stories, was in full torrent at mass-meetings. There was no neighborhood that might not see and hear an M. C. But Rangeley bad been the minus town, and by all the speech-makers really neglected; there was danger that its voters must deposit their ballots according to their own judgment, without auy advice from strangers. This, of course, would never do. Mr. Toothaker found that we fraternized in politics. He called upon us, as patriots, to become the orators of the day. Why not ? Except that these seldom houses do not promise an exhilarating crowd. We promised, however, that, if he would supply hearers, we between us would find a speaker.
Mr. Toothaker called a nephew, and charged him to boot and saddle, and flame it through the country-side that two “Men from New York” were there, and would give a “ Lecture on Politics,” at the Red School-House, at five, that evening.
And to the Red School-House, at five, crowded the men, ay, and the women and children, of Rangeley and thereabout. They came as the winds and waves come when forests and navies are rended and stranded. Horse, foot, and charioteers, they thronged toward the rubicund fountain of education. From houses that lurked invisible in clearings suddenly burst forth a population, an audience ardent with patriotism, eager for politics even from a Cockney interpreter, and numerous enough to stir electricity in a speaker’s mind. Some of the matrons brought bundles of swaddled infants, to be early instructed in good citizenship; but too often these young patriots were found to have but crude notions on the subject of applause, and they were ignominiously removed, fighting violently for their privilege of free speech, doubling their unterrified fists, and getting as red in the face as the school-house.
Mr. Toothaker, in a neat speech, introduced the orator, who took his stand in the schoolmaster’s pulpit, and surveyed his stalwart and gentle hearers, filling the sloping benches and overflowing outof-doors. Gaffer and gammer, man and maiden, were distributed, the ladies to the right of the aisle, the gentlemen to the left. They must not be in contact,— perhaps because gaffer will gossip with gammer, and youth and maid will toy. Dignity demanded that they should be distinct as the conservative Right and radical Left of a French Assembly. Convenient, this, for the orator; since thus his things of beauty, joys forever, he could waft, in dulcet tones, over to the ladies’ side, and his things of logic, tough morsels for life-long digestion, he could jerk, like bolts from an arbalist, over at the open mouths of gray gaffer aud robust man.
I am not about to report the orator’s speech. Stealing another’s thunder is an offence punishable condignly ever since the days of Salmoncus. Perhaps, too, he may wish to use the same eloquent bits in the present Olympiad; for American life is measured by Olympiads, signalized by nobler contests than the petty States of Greece ever knew.
The people of Rangeley disappeared as mysteriously as they had emerged from the woods, having had their share of the good or bad talk of that year of freedom. If political harangues educate, the educated class was largely recruited that summer.
Next day, again, was stormy. We stayed quietly under shelter, preparing for our real journey after so much prelude. The Isaae Newton’s steam-whistle had sent up the curtain ; the overture had followed with strains Der-Freischutzy in the Adirondacks, pastoral in the valleys of Vermont and New Hampshire, funebral and andante in the fogs of Mollyclmnkamug; now it was to end in an allegretto gallopade, and the drama would open.
At last the sun shone bright upon the silky ripples of the lake. Mr. Toothaker provided two buggies, — one for himself and our traps, one for Iglesias and me. We rattled away across county and county. And so at full speed we drove all day, and, with a few hours’ halt, all night, — all a fresh, starry night,until gay sunrise brought us to Skowhegan, on the road to Moosehead Lake.
As we had travelled all night, breakfast must be our substitute for slumber. Repletion, instead of repose, must restore us. Two files of red-shirted lumbermen, brandishing knives at each other across a long table, only excited us to livelier gymnastics; and when we had thus hastily crammed what they call in Maine beefsteak, and what they infuse down East for coffee, we climbed to the top of a coach of the bounding, billow motion, and went pitching northward.
Two facts we learned from our coachman : one, that we were passing that day through a “pretty sassy country”; also, that the same region was “ only meant to hold the world together.” Personal “sassiness ” is a trait of which every Yankee is proud ; Iglesias and I both venture to hope that we appreciate the value of that quality, and have properly cultivated it. Topographical “ sassiness,” unmodified by culture and control, is a rude, rugged, and unattractive trait; and New England is, on the whole, “sassier” than I could wish. Let the dullish day’s drive, then, be passed over dumbly. In the evening, we dismounted at Greenville, at the foot of Moosehead Lake.
THE rivers of Maine, as a native observed to me, “olluz spread 'raselves inter bulges.” Mollychunkamug and her fellows are the bulges of the Androscoggin ; Moosehead, of the Kennebec. Sluggish streams do not need such pauses. Peace is thrown away upon stolidity. The torrents of Maine are hasty young heroes, galloping so hard when they gallop, and charging with such rash enthusiasm when they charge, hurrying with such Achillean ardor toward their eternity of ocean, that they would never know the influence, in their heart of hearts, of blue cloudless ness, or the glory of noonday, or the pageantries of sunset, — they would only tear and rive and shatter carelessly. Nature, therefore, provides valleys tor the streams to bulge in, and entertain celestial reflections.
Nature, arranging lake-spots as educational episodes for the Maine rivers, disposes them also with a view to utility. Mr. Killgrove and his fellow-lumbermen treat lakes as log-puddles and raft-depots. Moosehead is the most important of these, and keeps a steamboat for tugging rafts and transporting raftsmen.
Moosehead also provides vessels far dearer to the heart of the adventurous than anything driven by steam. Here, mayhap, will an untravelled traveller make his first acquaintance with the birch-bark canoe, and learn to call it by the affectionate diminutive, “ Birch.” Earlier in life there was no love lost between him and whatever bore that name. Even now, if the untravelled one’s first acquaintance be not distinguished by an unlovely ducking, so much the worse. The ducking must come. Caution must be learnt by catastrophe. No one can ever know bow unstable a thing is a birch canoe, unless he has felt it slide away from under his misplaced feet. Novices should take nude practice in empty birches, lest they spill themselves and the load ot full ones, — a wondrous easy thing to do.
A birch canoe is the right thing in the right place. Maine’s rivers are violently impulsive and spasmodic in their running. Sometimes you have a foamy rapid, sometimes a broad shoal, sometimes a barricade of boulders with gleams of white water springing through or leaping over its rocks. Your boat for voyaging here must be stout enough to buffet the rapid, light enough to skim the shallow, agile enough to vault over, or lithe enough to slip through, the barricade. Besides, sometimes the barricade becomes a compact wall, — a baffler, unless boat and boatmen can circumvent it, — unless the nautical carriage can itself be carried about the obstacle, — can be picked up, shouldered, and made off with.
A birch meets all these demands. It lies, light as a leaf, on whirpooling surfaces. A tip of the paddle can turn it into the eddy beside the breaker. A check of the setting-pole can hold it steadfast on the brink of wreck. Where there is water enough to varnish the pebbles, there it will glide. A birch thirty feet long, big enough for a trio and their traps, weighs only seventy-five pounds. When the rapid passes into a cataract, when the wall of rock across the stream is impregnable in front, it can be taken in the flank by an amphibious birch. The navigator lifts his canoe out of water, and bonnets himself with it. He wears it on head and shoulders, around the impassable spot. Below the rough water, he gets into his elongated chapeau and floats away. Without such vessel, agile, elastic, imponderable, and transmutable, Androscoggin, Kennebec, and Penobscot would be no thoro’fares for human beings. Musquash might dabble, chips might drift, logs might turn somersets along their lonely currents; but never voyager, gentle or bold, could speed through brilliant perils, gladdening the wilderness with shout and song.
Maine’s rivers must have birch canoes; Maine’s woods, of course, therefore, provide birches. The white-birch, paper-birch, canoe-birch, grows large in moist spots near the stream where it is needed. Seen by the flicker of a campfire at night, they surround the intrusive traveller like ghosts of giant sentinels. Once, Indian tribes with names that “ nobody can speak and nobody can spell ” roamed these forests. A stouter second growth of humanity has ousted them, save a few seedy ones who gad about the land, and centre at Oldtown, their village near Bangor. These aborigines are the birchbuilders. They detect by the river-side the tree barked with material for canoes. They strip it, and fashion an artistic vessel, which civilization cannot better. Launched in the fairy lightness of this, and speeding over foamy waters between forest-solitudes, one discovers, as if he were the first to know it, the truest poetry of pioneer-life.
Such poetry Iglesias had sung to me, until my life seemed incomplete while I did not know the sentiment by touch : description, even from the most impassioned witness, addressed to the most imaginative hearer, is feeble. We both wanted to be in a birch : Iglesias, because he knew the fresh, inspiring vivacity of such a voyage; I, because I divined it. We both needed to be somewhere near the heart of New England’s wildest wilderness. We needed to see Katahdin, — the distinctest mountain to be found on this side of the continent. Katahdin was known to Iglesias. He had scuffled up its eastern land-slides with a squad of lumbermen. He had birched it down to Lake Chesuncook in by-gone summers, to see Katahdin distant. Now, in a birch we would slide down the Penobscot, along its line of lakes, camp at Katahdin, climb it, and speed down the river to tide-water.
That was the great object of all our voyage with its educating preludes, — Katadin and a breathless dash down the Penobscot. And while we flashed along the gleam of the river, Iglesias fancied he might see the visible, and hear the musical, and be stirred by the beautiful. These, truly, are not far from the daily life of any seer, listener, and perceiver; but there, perhaps, up in the strong wilderness, we might be recreated to a more sensitive vitality. The Antæan treatment is needful for terrestrials, unless they would dwindle. The diviner the power in any artist-soul, the more distinctly is he commanded to get near the divine without him. Fancies pale, that are not fed on facts. It is very easy for any man to be a plagiarist from himself, and present his own reminiscences half disguised, instead of new discoveries. Now, up by Katahdin, there were new discoveries to be made; and that mountain would sternly eye us, to know whether Iglesias were a copyist, or I a Cockney.
Katahdin was always in its place up in. the woods. The Penobscot was always buzzing along toward the calm reaches, where it takes the shadow of the mountain. All we needed was the birch.
The birch thrust itself under our noses as we drove into Greenville. It was mounted upon a coach that preceded us, and wabbled oddly along, like a vast hat upon a dwarf. We talked with its owner, as he dismounted It. He proved our very man. He and his amphibious canoe bad just made the trip we proposed, with a flotilla. Certain Bostonians had essayed it, — vague Northmen, preceding our Columbus voyage.
Enter now upon the scene a new and important character, Cancut the canoeman. Mr. Cancut, owner and steerer of a birch, who now became our “ guide, philosopher, and friend,” is as American as a birch, as the Penobscot, or as Katahdin’s self. Cancut was a jolly fatling,— almost too fat, if he will pardon me, for sitting in the stern of the imponderable canoe. Cancut, though for this summer boatman or bircher, had other strings to his bow. He was taking variety now, after employment more monotonous. Last summer, his services had been in request throughout inhabited Maine, to “ peddle gravestones and collect bills.” The Gravestone-Peddler is an institution of New England. His wares are wanted, or will be wanted, by every one. Without discriminating the bereaved households, he presents himself at any door, with attractive drawings of bis wares, and seduces people into paying the late tribute to their great-grandfather, or laying up a monument for themselves against the inevitable day of demand. His customers select from his samples a tasteful “ set of stones”; and next summer he drives up and unloads the marble, with the names well spelt, and the cherub’s head artistically chiselled by the best workmen of Boston. Cancut told us, as an instance of judicious economy, how, when he called once upon a recent widow to ask what he could do in his line for her deceased husband’s tomb, she chose from his patterns neat headand foot-stones for the dear defunct, and then bargained with him to throw in a small pair for her boy Johnny, — a poor, sick crittur, that would be wanting his monument long before next summer.
This lugubrious business had failed to infect Mr. Caneut with corresponding deportment. Undertakers are always sombre in dreary mockery of woe. Sextons are solemncholy, if not solemn. I fear Cancut was too cheerful for his trade, and therefore had abandoned it.
Such was our guide, the captain, steersman, and ballaster of our vessel. We struck our bargain with him at once, and at once proceeded to make preparations. Chielly we prepared by stripping ourselves bare of everything except “ musthaves.” A birch, besides three men, will carry only the simplest baggage of a trio. Passengers who are constantly to make portages will not encumber themselves with what-nots. Man must have clothes for day and night, and must have provisions to keep his clothes properly filled out. These two articles we took in compact form, regretting even the necessity of guarding against a ducking by a change of clothes. Our provision, that unrefined pork and hard tack, presently to he converted into artist and friend, was packed with a few delicacies in a firkin, — a commodious case, as we found.
A little steamer plies upon the lake, doing lumber-jobs, and not disdaining the traveller’s dollars. Upon this, one August morning, we embarked ourselves and our frail birch, for our voyage to the upper end of Moosehead. Iglesias, in a red shirt, became a bit of color in the scene. I, in a red shirt, repeated the flame. Cancut, outweighing us both together, in a broader red shirt, outglared. us both. When we three met, and our scarlet reflections commingled, there was one spot in the world gorgeous as a conclave of cardinals, as a squad of British grenadiers, as a Vermont maple-wood in autumn.