Part Four: Across Lake Nepigon to the Mission
|Below Split Rock looking West. Drawing F. Adams|
The next day was spent on Lake Nepigon, and in making a mile portage over a long peninsula.
|Cedar Portage near Split Rock. F. Adams.|
We were storm bound for some time on an island by a sudden, violent thunder-storm, and it was sunset when we set out again for the mission, seven miles away. The storm-clouds were still in sight, heaped in great masses toward the west, and were aflame with the brilliant sunset clouds; we passed many islands covered with a beautiful growth of evergreens, and as the night drew on island and shore were mingled together in the dusk, the stars came out with a brilliancy I had seldom seen equalled, and in the north the wavering lights flashed now and then from horizon to zenith. With these wild surroundings, it seemed quite appropriate that Joseph should sing an Ojibwa war-song as he paddled, beginning with a high, plaintive note, rising and falling with a wild, crooning sound, and sinking finally with a refrain of "A - hai - ya! A - hai - ya! " to a deep chest-note almost inaudible.
But the aurora and the war-song died away, the night grew cold, and we shivered in our heavy shawls and strained our ears for some sound from the mission. It was long after ten o'clock when we heard at last the far-off howls of the Indian dogs, and knew that we were near our journey's end. We climbed stiffly out of the canoe, and up the steep hill to the house, and I folded my Hudson's Bay Company blanket about me and lay down to sleep heavily after our hard days journey.
The mission consisted of a well-built, roomy log-house for the missionary and his family, a little chapel erected under direction by the Indians themselves, and a few small cabins. The next morning I wandered out to the chapel where a grave-yard with its twenty graves, overlooked Lake Nepigon, its waters stretching farther than the eye could see. One grave was especially noticeable; it was that of a young Indian, who seemed to have been a great favorite, who died in the woods while caribou-hunting. In chopping wood one day, the ax glanced and severed the artery of his leg. His companions tried in vain to stop the bleeding, taking turns in applying pressure, and even sewing up the wound, in the hope of staying the hemorrhage. For several days they thought to save him, but again and again the wound broke out anew, and in despair the poor fellow begged them not to try again, but to let him die. His body was brought in to the mission, forty miles distant from the camp, on a toboggan, and buried in this little grave-yard. At the foot, on a wooden board, was carefully pinned a large gray satin bow, much draggled and weather -stained, while the wooden cross at the head bore pieces of tissue-paper cut out in many devices, and some Christmas cards. On one of them , chosen evidently for the colors, and not the sentiment, was printed:
" I send you this, with my best wishes, hoping that your coming year will be a happy one."
Continued in Part Five: Five Days at the Mission