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Forest, Lake and Prairie
Chapter XXXIX
Establish a fishery - Build a boat - Neils becomes morbid - I watch him.

THE next thing was to establish a fishery.

The buffalo might fail us, and so might the fish, but we must try both; and as I happened to be the only one in our party who knew anything about nets and fishing, this work came to me. So I began to overhaul what nets Mr. Woolsey had, and went to work mending and fixing them up.

About twenty-five miles north of us was a lake, in which a species of white-fish were said to abound, and our plan was to make a road out to that and give it a fair trial.

In the meantime, because of an extra soaking I got in a rain storm, I had a severe attack of inflammation, and, to use another western phrase, had a "close call." But Mr. Woolsey proved to be a capital nurse and doctor combined. He physicked, and blistered, and poulticed for day and night, and I soon got better, but was still weak and sore when we started for the lake.

I took both Glad and Neils with me, our plan being to saw lumber and make a boat, and then send Glad back, and Neils and I go on with the fishing.

Behold us then started, the invalid of the party on horseback, and Glad and Neils each with an axe in hand, and leading an ox on whose back our whole outfit was packed— buffalo lodge tents, bedding, ammunition, kettles, cups, whip-saw, nails, tools, everything we must have for our enterprise.

These oxen had never been packed before, and were a little frisky about it, and several times made a scattering of things before they settled down to steady work.

We had to clear out a great deal of the way, and to find this way without any guide or previous knowledge of the place; but our frontier instinct did us good service, and early the third day we came out upon the lake, a beautiful sheet of water surrounded by high forest-clad hills.

We had with us ten large sleigh dogs, and they were hungry, and for their sakes as well as our own, we hardly got the packs and saddles off our animals when we set to work to make a raft, manufacturing floats and tie-stones, and preparing all for going into the water. Very soon we had the net set; then we put up our lodge, and at once erected a saw-pit, and the men went to work to cut lumber for the boat we had to build.

Before long, in looking out to where we had set the net, I saw that all the floats had disappeared under the water. This indicated that fish were caught, and I got on the raft and poled out to the net. My purpose was to merely overhaul it, and take the fish out, leaving the net set; but I very soon saw that this was impossible. I must take up the net as it was, or else lose the fish, for they would flop off my raft as fast as I took them out of the net; so I went back to the end of the net and untied it from the stake, and took in the whole thing.

Fortunately the net was short and the lake calm, for presently I was up to my knees in water, and fish, a living, struggling, slimy mass, all around me, so that my raft sank below the surface quite a bit. Fortunately, the fish were pulling in all possible contrary directions, for if they had swam in concert, they could have swum away with my raft and myself. As it was, I poled slowly to the shore, and shouted to my men to come to the rescue, and we soon had landed between two and three hundred fish —not exactly, but very nearly white-fish. As to quality, not first-class by any means; still, they would serve as dog food, and be a guarantee from starvation to man.

We had found the lake. We had found the fish, and now knew them to be plentiful; so far, so good. After the dogs were fed and the fish hung up, and the net drying, I began to think that I was running the risk of a relapse. So I took my gun and started out along the lake to explore, and make myself warm with quick walking. I went to the top of a high hill, saw that the lake was several miles long, shot a couple of fall ducks, and came back to the camp in a glow; then changed my wet clothes, and was apparently all right.

While the men were sawing lumber, and chopping trees, and building the boat, I was busy putting up a stage to hang fish on, and making floats and tying stones, and getting everything ready to go to work in earnest when the boat was finished.

This was accomplished the fourth day after reaching the lake, and Glad took the oxen and horse and went back to Mr. Woolsey.

Neils and I set our net and settled down to fishing in good style.

We soon found that the lake abounded in worms, or small insects, and these would cling to the net, and if the net was left long in the water, would destroy it, so we had to take it up very often; and this with the drying and mending and setting of nets, and making of sticks and hanging of fish, kept us very busy. So far north as we were, and down in the valley, with hills all around us, and at the short-day season, our days were very short, and we had to work a lot by camp-fire, which also entailed considerable wood-cutting.

Our isolation was perfect. We were twenty- five miles from Mr. Woolsey; he and Glad were sixty from White-fish Lake and 120 from Edmonton, and both of these places were out of the world of mail and telegraph connection, so our isolation can be readily imagined.

Many a time I have been away from a mission or fort for months at a time, and as I neared one or other of these, I felt a hungering for intelligence from the outside or civilized world; but to my great disgust, when I did reach the place, I found the people as much in the dark as myself.

But this isolation does not agree with some constitutions, for my Norwegian Neils began to become morbid and silent, and long after I rolled myself in my blanket he would sit over the fire brooding, and I would waken up and find him still sitting as if disconsolate. At last I asked him what was the matter, when he told me it was not right for us to be there alone.

You take your gun and go off. If a bear was to kill you?" (We had tracked some very big ones.) "You will go out in the boat when the lake is rough; if you were to drown, everybody would say, 'Neils did that—he killed him.'" On the surface I laughed at him, but in my heart was shocked at the fellow, and said, If anything was to happen to you, would not people think the same of me? We are in the same boat, Neils, but we will hope for the best, and do our duty. So long as a man is doing his duty, no matter what happens, he will be all right. You and I have been sent here to put up fish; we are trying our best to do so; let us not borrow trouble."

For a while Neils brightened up, but I watched him.


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