Quebec - Ten Days' Caribou Hunt
( Originally Published 1907 )
PELTON wrote me from New York at the beginning of the winter and asked whether there was any hunting then to be had in the Province of Quebec; and where?
I made answer that in another week's time I was off for a ten days trip into the Laurentides on a hunt after Caribou, and he was heartily welcome to join me, but, said I, at the end of my letter, "can you walk on snowshoes ?"
The reply was characteristic of Pelton : "Walk on snowshoes! man dear I sha'n't want them. I'll walk on air once I leave the last house. You may expect me, so just send word to your caribou to come down out of the trees, that Jack Pelton will be soon among them with his trusty long bow. P. S. Bought an Esquimaux suit today at a junk shop. It's immense."
I confess to some misgiving at the moment of reading Pelton's letter, but the die was cast. I met Pelton an hour or two after his arrival at the Chateau Frontenac, Quebec. A small blizzard was then well under way.
"It's perfectly immense," said Pelton, by way of salutation, "and the snowshoeing is great."
"What the deuce, "I replied, "do you know about snowshoeing," for I felt certain that Pelton had never more than seen a pair of snowshoes.
"Look here, Scribe, I'm going to give you wrinkles about snowshoes and snowshoeing before you are two days older. A friend of yours at the Bertrand Co. outfitted me an hour ago, good-natured fellow that, took all the trouble to come up here to show me how to use the things out on the terrace there. I believe I could do a waltz or a cake-walk on snowshoes in a style that would paralyze you. I say, Scribe, are there any caribou to be found within an easy walk of the hotel, my killing blood is up ?"
"Pelton," said I, "you are feverish, what you want first is a cooling cocktail; after that I'll talk to you."
"Now Scribe," said Pelton again, after discarding the olive pit, "I am calmly possessed to listen to any statement of fact or finance that you are prepared to make so long as it relates to hunting. First, if you don't mind, I want to know where this old game preserve of yours is, and whether you've got a wire fence around it same as they have in the Adirondacks ?"
"No," I replied, "we've only a boundary line on the one end of it and a North Pole on the other, and my particular preserve is almost anywhere with-in an area of five hundred thousand square miles of wilderness within the provincial limits, or, in other words, our hunting grounds cover an area , five times greater than the whole state of New York. Do you grasp the idea? The Ottawa, St. Maurice and St. Lawrence Rivers are the great highways into this chosen land of the sportsman,the by-roads are innumerable. Tomorrow we will take one of the latter, the Quebec and Lake St. John R.R. that loses itself at Chicoutimi, several hundreds of miles in the wilderness to the north, but we will only journey some twenty miles by it, for at that distance we are already well within the domain of the caribou and moose ; and on the borders of Lac Epinette, another twelve miles, I have builded me a little winter camp of logs, and this will be our headquarters. You will have the whole half mill-ion of square miles, Pelton, to hunt in, and I shall expect great things of you, now that you have become an expert snowshoer."
"Good Heavens," exclaimed Pelton, "and will you expect me to cover all that area of bush and mountain and lake within ten days on snowshoes? Great Caeser! what I'll want is not snowshoes but seven league boots. I say, Scribe, can't you draw it milder for an old friend?"
I had reduced Pelton's impedimenta several hundred pounds before we took the train for St. Gabriel the following morning, to his great regret, for he said he felt certain that he had included only the bare necessaries of life.
At Indian Lorette I picked up two of my clansmen, for as Honorary Grand Chief of the Huron Tribe it would ill become a Chief to venture into the wilds without a following of his people, and, besides this Picard and Sioui are mighty hunters, good packmen, and camp guardians par excellence.
"But," whispered Pelton to me, "O Scribe! Where are their feathers and war paint ?"
"Oh," I replied, "since the Indian has taken to hunting with the white man, he has abandoned feathers, and his war paint he only puts on when there are festal occasions, such as the visit to the tribe of vice-royalty, but you wait and see my two clansmen wrestling with our baggage over the mountains, or running down a caribou."
It was Scanlan who met us at the station with his two berlines to take us to his house, the last one, and six miles further into the mountains where we were to spend the night.
"Here, you two red devils," said Scanlan to the two Indians," pile that baggage into that berline and follow us. And gentilmen, 'you'll get in here and I'll whisk you to Knock-me-down Castle in no time. We bundled into the seat while Scanlan balanced himself jauntily on the side rail with his feet dangling out, as he said, "to balance wid when he struck a cow-hole." (Cahot.)
"You're a stranger, sur, to this part of the wurruld," said Scanlan, addressing Pelton, "but sure it's Mr. Scribe here who will introduce you to it."
"Yes," replied Pelton, "but who introduced you to it Mr. Scanlan ?
"The loss of my ancistral estates and poverty," replied Scanlan; "but glory be to God! this is a fine country, and the caribou and trouts do be uncommon plenty, but the snow in the bush is as soft now as a feather bed, and the shoeing is bad, but the gentilman here (indicating Pelton) is no doubt used to the snowshoe."
"Born with them," answered Pelton with easy assurance.
"Speaking of snowshoes," said Scanlan, "re-minds me of an Englishman, a commercial traveller, who kern to Quebec in the days when I was a carter there. `Scanlan,' says he to me wan day, it was the day after the first snow-storm. `I would like to drive, says he, somewhere out into the country to enjoy the sleighing and the beautiful snow.' I tuk him out the St. Louis road, and when we kem to the Cap Rouge bush where there was a snow shoe track leading into it. ` Phwats that' ? says he, `Pee der racket," (pied de raquette) says I, "givin' him the Frinch for snowshoe track."
"You don't say so, Scanlan, it must be a monstrus animal ; do you know if it's very ferocious ?" "Ferocious, is it," says I, laughing at the side of me mouth at his mistake, "it's a terror when its on the rampage." "Scanlan," says he turning pale. "We'll drive back to the Albion." Sure it was in the bar room there late that night that I heard him tellin' some other Englishmen of his narrow escape from this ferocious animal. But there are the lights of the Knock-me-down Castle.
The Castle, as Scanlan facetiously called it, was a very primitive log house that had never arrived at the dignity of clap boards, and probably never would. It was surrounded by a clutter of stuff that made it somewhat difficult for even Scanlan to engineer the horse and berline through it without danger in the dark. There was the scraping of a fiddle going on within the house that had drowned the noise of our arrival, and led Scanlan to remark : "that felly Pat is at his ould tricks."
"Perfectly immense," remarked Pelton, to me, in an undertone as we made for the door, but it was the supper that soon followed that in Pelton's opinion crowned the day.
It was a motley crowd that lined the deal table in the dim light of a small kerosene lamp fastened to a side wall. At one end of the table Scanlan presided over a roast fresh ham while at the other end sat Mrs. Scanlan half hidden behind a huge something.
"Phwat's that you have there, Biddy?" demanded Scanlan.
"Sure, it's a turkey, Pat dear."
"Do you mind that now, Mr. Pelton," said Scanlan, "a royal Canadian burd."
"Phwats in the wan end of it, Biddy?"
``Sure it's raisins, Pat dear."
"Mind that now, Mr. Pelton, thim's raisins." "And phwats in the other ind, Biddy?"
"Sure it's a cabbage, Pat dear."
"Mind that now, Mr. Pelton, raisins in wan end and a cabbage in the other of that ilegant burd of paradise. Beat that in New York if you can."
Our shrieks of laughter fairly raised the rafters, and we proceeded right merrily with the meal with appetites well sharpened by our long drive in the crisp air.
A pale morning moon was just setting when we took the trail into the bush. Our two Indians, with the addition of young Pat were "packed" in a manner that led Pelton to remark that they resembled nothing so much as animated bumps with a tinware attachment of pots and pans and stove-pipe; but just then Pelton, the expert, trod upon the tail of one of his snowshoes and took a header into a drift from which Picard rescued him with the laconic remark : "Esquimaux she'm eat mooch snow."
Pelton's mouth and eyes were too full of snow to make reply.
Tracks of caribou soon became numerous, but Sioui proclaimed them "wan day oie, him go for lac Brule, see mebbe nex day." Isn't it great?" said Pelton as he came puffing up the trail, "but it's hot work, must be very mild to-day." The Esquimaux coat, his sweater and undervest were hanging on his arm and the perspiration running down his cheeks.
"Hot I should call it from your light and airy costume, " I replied, "but as a matter of fact Pelton, I think it is about ten degrees below zero."
"Go on," said Pelton, "I'm freezing standing still here." A Turkish bath in a temperature below zero means perpetual motion unless you'll start that stove on Picard's back. I see now why you carry it."
Later when my little log camp and stove had given out their warmth of welcome, and the fresh beds of balsam branches brought in by the men had diffused their sweet aroma, Pelton again declared it was great, and we all drank success to our sport. The day was too far advanced to do aught but to make ourselves snug and comfortable where we were, so we gave ourselves up to the enjoyment of pipe and rest. In the evening young Pat sang us a shantyman's song that covered the alphabet and began as nearly as I remember :
"A is the axe that so lightly we swing, B is the birch on which it will ring."
Pelton in his fine tenor sang a French love song, which Picard and Sioui loudly applauded. Then we made up our night fire, rolled up in our blankets on the balsam beds, and at least Pelton and I talked far into the night to the crackle of the fire.
I was dreaming of an encounter with a bear in which I was being considerably mangled when I awoke and found Picard standing over me and shaking me into consciousness.
To Pelton and Sioui I resigned Lac Epinette, while Picard and I trudged off silently into the bush, and across the mountains to Lac Brule. Tracks of caribou, and comparatively fresh, were found about the lake, but no caribou in sight, We sat on a fallen tree in the sunshine on the border of the lake and ate our frugal and frozen lunch. At night fall we again reached camp, with not a caribou to our record.
Pelton met me at the camp door with "What luck, O Scribe?"
"None," I replied, as I slipped out of my snow-shoes, "and you my worthy novice ?"
"Rather poor," answered the worthy, "only a buck, but O ! Scribe ! while Sioui tells me it is un-usual for a buck to have horns at this season of the year, mine has a grand pair." Then Pelton's enthusiasm burst forth. "It's the greatest sport in the world, Scribe, absolutely immense, I shot that caribou within two hours after I left camp, just down at the discharge."
"Luck," said I, "always favors the greenhorn, and I congratulate you."
Days followed days of alternating failure or successes, days in which it stormed and the snow whirled about our little camp and left great drifts before the door. It was then we took to fishing through the ice for the camp supply of trout for the Friday fast day, but we feasted mainly on caribou roasts and steaks, and we were as boys let loose for a holiday, and frolicked accordingly.
We brought our pleasant outing to a close when we each killed a caribou on the same day, and the legal limit was reached. Then we reluctantly took the back trail.
"Absolutely immense," said Pelton, as we shook hands at the car steps, "you may look for me again next winter. Won't I paralyze the boys when I get back to New York. That Esquimaux suit is yours, Scribe, to donate to a museum."