Original Composition Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2010
We had finally packed both dogsleds along with the dogs into the first long canoe, and were following it with our own. The dogs were unaccustomed to boat travel, but there was no other way to get them across. I estimated a four hour trip to get us to the next leg of the overland journey. It wasn’t over yet.
Jack, my partner, was paddling well now despite a serious leg injury and fatigue. Three days ago, he had fallen into a bear trap. It wasn’t one of ours. So we knew then, that we had competition for what we had believed was our little corner of the fur trade.
If I hadn’tbeen within hailing distance behind him with my own team, things would have gone very badly for him. He might even have died from hypothermia.
When things were going the absolute deadliest, we had received unexpected help. From the competition, no less I didn’t doubt.
An old man, with a very long, grisled beard came sauntering into the camp well after dark. Jack was in agony, lying on the tarp with an open wound in his leg from the trap I had just managed to pry off. The fire I had started earlier was almost gutted, but I didn’t have time to look for rmore burnable wood. My first priority was to get Jack’s leg bandaged up, and his pain dulled down.
“Name’s Bartholomew” he shouted at me over the din of the dogs. They made it clear strangers were not admitted to this camp. “Call me Bart and get your dogs down! You need a poultice on that wound or he’ll be useless with fever tomorrow.”
He had come supplied with an Indian medicine pouch from which he withdrew a powerfully astringent smelling pack of dried herbs. I didn’t know about this stuff. I glanced back at Jack. His pain glazed eyes and brief nod told me all I needed to know. I made a path for Bart between the dogs. If he pulled any stunts, the dogs could easily finish him off.
After bandaging up Jack’s leg, we built up the fire, fed the dogs, made a quick supper, and slept. I didn’t think Bart would still be with us in the morning. But there he was, solid as life in the daylight the next day. I thanked him for his help, expecting he would pull out after breakfast.
The two boats, he had further down the lake, took him two days to bring around to the eastern side. I waited, with little hope or expectation. Bart seemed a very insubstantial figure to me. Quiet, retiring and unobtrusive, but there when he was needed or could help. I wasn’t even sure how old he was.
As if on cue, the ice had started breaking up the day of the accident. We were definitely going to be stranded here, I thought. But now, with the two boats, “given” to us by Bart, we were able to move across the lake at a good speed. When he had left us finally Bart would have no payment or reward from us for the boats or his assistance. The only requirement of us that he had made, was that we needed to leave the eastern side of the lakeshore, before sunrise on the third day.
We had managed that, but just barely. Now that we were well into the middle of the lake, I wasn’t sure what I would see if I turned around to search the shore again. Up ahead, I spied 5 loons swimming with the first long canoe, as if in escort.
Then it dawned on me, if Jack was paddling at the front of my canoe, who exactly was it that was paddling in the first one?