Saturday, 14 January 2012

UP THE NEPIGON by Elizabeth Taylor Part Seven

Be Still Thy Heart this was written in 1889 and published in Harper's Magazine.


We hurried past to the landing-place, made the short portage over sharp rocks and fallen trees,, and camped below the falls in a picturesque spot, where we found rough-hewn tables and benches left there by some former camping-party.

The falls are about twenty feet high, and plunge down into a great basin of seething, foaming rapids that expand a little farther down, into an eddying pool, a favorite resort of large trout and white-fish.

There is not a more charming spot on the river than the Virgin Falls. It is out of the beaten track of the Hudson's Bay Company packers, that turn to the west at Lake Hannah, as we did on our way up the river, and the spot impresses one deeply with its wild beauty. In the growing twilight we saw over the falls a graceful light shape flashing in and out of the tossing spray, and showing white against the dusky shadow of rock and pine. A great herring-gull, the small boy called her, but i shall always think of her as the "Spirit of the Falls." When I crept shivering out of our tent in the gray morning light, a heavy mist hid sky and land, but the beautiful creature still watch over the falls, now showing like some vague, hovering form through the mist, now quite lost to sight as the cloud closed around her.

The guides were already waiting with the canoe, and with fly-rod in hand I climbed in, and we started for the base of the falls, or as near it as we dared go. It certainly  was hardly the place for one's first attempt at fly-fishing, with the rapids surging about us, tossing the canoe in all directions, the foaming waves occasionally curling in, and the spray dashing over us. One wanted to hold on tight and shut one's eyes, not to calmly throw the fly in all that confusion. But the tales I had heard of big trout at that point sustained me. I grew accustomed to the turmoil, and the possibility of a five-pounder was wonderfully calming. He was not caught that morning, but a smaller fish did rise, and was received with that heart-felt gratitude that one only feels on catching one's first trout. He was a fighter, and the little experience I had had in taking black bass with light tackle and bait-rod was of great use. He did not break water like a bass after the first jump, but charged on the canoe, and down the rapids, ran to and fro, and jerked viciously at the line. After a hard struggle he began to tire, and with aching arms and wrists I reeled him slowly in, with only a few short rushes on his part.  But when he was near the canoe, the reel suddenly refused to work, the fish rose steadily toward us, the line was becoming slack, and in despair I sprang to my feet, though the tossing of the canoe in the rapids made  it anything but an easy matter. Standing on tiptoe and stretching up my arm as far as I could, and bending the rod back as much as possible, the line was kept taut without an inch to spare; and as the fish was drawn nearer, Joseph, with a dexterous swoop of the net, landed him in the canoe. And after all that  struggle, he weighed only two and a half pounds. In a short time I had taken another, weighing three pounds, that did not fight half as hard as the first. There was a great difference between them. The first was a long silvery fish, with light fins and tail, while the other had deep-red, white-bordered fins, red flesh, and most brilliant colors and spots.

We stayed only a day at Virgin Falls, and then left for Camp Victoria, a two-hours run down the river. It is beautifully situated on a rocky point of land, the rapids in front of it, a dense growth of evergreens behind. From its fine situation and good fishing, it is a favorite camping-place for anglers. The canoes are carried to the head of the great rapids, and the fishermen have a short walk through the woods from camp to reach them. Here some of the largest fish in the river are caught, the canoes being held in position by the paddles of the guides, in the smaller rapids above, while the fisherman casts all about him. Almost every one has a chance for a big trout, but they frequently tear out in the strong rush of the current.

The morning we left I hooked my big fish, but was not equal to the occasion. He did not rise from underneath the fly, but jumped for it more than two feet while near the canoe, completely clearing the water and giving me a chance to see him distinctly - a six-pounder, Joseph said, and these guides are good judges of the weight of fish. I saw his broad side and great red tail and fins, and it was too much for my equanimity, I " struck " too feebly. It needed more than the "slight turn of the wrist " to put the large hook through his mouth, and though the reel sang as he turned downward with the fly, I knew I should lose him. He remained on for perhaps two minutes, until he had become thoroughly alarmed, and then, with his first determined rush down the rapids, he tore away. I shall never forget the reproachful look that Joseph turned upon me as the fly floated free on the water. It was not a time for words. Indeed, I felt I was under a cloud until I had run the Victoria Rapids, below those on the fishing-ground.

Wherein Elizabeth Runs the Rapids

The guides were to take down the canoe that morning, to load it for the homeward trip, and soon after I lost my fish we started for the camp. They stopped at the head of the portage, for me to land, and I was about to step out of the canoe, when Joseph said: " You would not like to go down the rapids with us?" "Is it dangerous, Joseph?" I asked. He hesitated a moment, and then replied: " The gentlemen do not often run these rapids; sometimes they go down near the shore." Then after a moment, " We will be very careful, if you feel that you would like to go down with us." I thought a moment , looked at the rapids running white below us; then, turning to the waiting guides, "I'll go down, Joseph." He gave a nod of approval, said a few words in Indian to the under-guide, and pushed off from shore to the middle of the stream. I settled myself in the bottom of the canoe, grasped the thwarts firmly, and wondered if I was very foolish. I had a curious sensation as the fierce current seized the canoe and I felt there was no going back. The canoe reared on the edge of the big rapids, seemed to pause an instant, trembling on the brink, and then came a dizzy downward plunge; then we rose to a fierce struggle with the waves, the canoe pitching and tossing to and fro, the guides silent, watchful, guiding it with quick, powerful strokes. It was over in two minutes, we floated swiftly down past the camp, and as I drew  a long breath and sat up straighter, Joseph smiled with a satisfied air, and I felt that I was forgiven for losing the big fish.

We said good-bye to Camp Victoria reluctantly, and started for the downward run to Pine Portage, where we were to camp that night. As we rowed over the quiet waters of Lake Emma, Joseph gave us from time to time the Indian names of the points we passed, with a short account of the legends connected with them.

To be continued in Part Eight: The Legends of Nepigon

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