“Well, this is ‘the bush,’ all right,” said Nick, next morning.
It was. The trail had started out well from Indian Pond, where we had put on our hobnailed boots and left Bones in the freight station. We had inquired about this trail, and heard that it was in fair shape right through to The Forks. “Might have one or two rough places, you know, but nothing to trouble you any.”
So now we stood where the trail had petered out and abandoned us, in a shoulder-high jungle of raspberry bushes and half-rotten, charred windfalls lying in a tangle.
“I don’t see that short shorts have much use here,” I said.
We climbed into our dungarees and rolled our shirt-sleeves down. Then we fought raspberries and other undergrowth for a long time.
“Strenuous!” Nick said. He was wringing wet. “I move we stop and–well, we can’t sit down, but we can eat raspberries. And you never saw raspberries any bigger and better than these–that’s one consolation.”
“Pretty gloomy country, though. I hate the remains of forest fires. Do you know how much of this there is?”
He shook his head. “Obviously, a few miles of it can hold us up for days. D’you see a trace of trail anywhere?”
“No, but I see an old broken-down telephone line, which is probably where the trail would be if there were one.”
“We’ll follow it if we can,” he decided. “Funny, to get our bush-whacking here, where we didn’t expect it, and none at all in that wild stretch just after Katahdin.”
“Oh, well, life’s like that.”
We took turns breaking trail. Little by little we pounded ahead, shielding our faces, wrestling, battering, climbing over and under the wreckage left by fire.
“We aren’t going to make The Forks tomorrow, that’s a cinch,” I said.
“No, we aren’t–and food’s kinder low, old girl.”
“Lots of raspberries.”
“Can’t live on raspberries, and work like this. Sugar’s almost gone. And that’s the most uncomfortable thing to be without–wait and see.”
The next three miles or so took us the rest of the day. And then, just as the first shadows of dark came, we found ourselves at the edge of an oasis which somehow the fire had missed–tall green firs and spruces on a steep bank high above the river, which roared and gleamed wickedly white below.
“It’s a fine place to camp,” said Nick.
A tiny narrow path led down through ferns and young trees. It was doubtless made by deer going to drink, and we liked the idea of sharing it with them. We built our fire on a gravel beach, and watched the river surge past.
“We’re marooned,” said Nick. “A green island with river on one side and raspberries on all the others.”
“Think we’d better whack our way back to Indian Pond?”
“Well, I’d thought of it. But as a matter of fact, I’d like to try a little more, if you’re game for it tomorrow. This stuff may not last, and I’m curious about it.”
“I’m with you.”
He looked at me gratefully. “You’re as good as any gipsy going,” he said. “And lots cleaner than most.”
More raspberries, more desolate and tangled country. But a little less difficult. A few comparatively open spaces. Blueberries, big as Concord grapes. And then, like people walking out of a desert into a cool greenness, we came to the edge of woods–evergreen woods, glades of moss. But still no trail. We scrambled along the tops of ledges high above the river, with blueberries and spruces and gray reindeer moss growing on them.
Nightfall found us still more than half a day’s walk from The Forks; and we had to build our supper fire in the rain. As for supplies, in the morning we saw the last of the cocoa boil up, without sugar, and the last of the flour go into a small batch of pancakes. I was heating the little frying-pan, when I remembered something else.
“We haven’t any grease,” I said.
“No bacon fat?”
“Not a scrap.”
“Well…? There must be something greasy around somewhere.”
We examined sky, trees…
“Boot grease!” I exclaimed.
“Ought to, then…. Well, never mind. I’ll use a little salt. But they’ll stick.”
“I have it!” said Nick. He fished in a pack pocket, and held up a small stump of candle! “Rub that around on the pan,” he suggested.
We walked through a greenish drizzle of rain, waded across a troublesomely big tributary of the Kennebec, climbed over some more ledges, rich with moss of every conceivable green and gray, and the bright crimson and yellow-brown of sphagnum. Snowberries, with their tiny dark leaves and frost-white berries, grew in thick mats on the moss. We stopped in the rain and ate lunch, our last crumb or two of chocolate.
At last a path promised easier going. It led us into an old lumber camp where we ravaged a blackberry patch. Then we pushed on, still through misty rain, downhill and uphill, across swamps and fields and often among big trees. The trail got better. It developed into what had once been a lumber road–narrow and bumpy, to be sure, but perhaps once passable for a strong cart with a strong-minded driver. This we followed down into a cow pasture. Ahead of us now were a couple of houses–The Forks.
At this moment we were confronted by the blank back side of a large signboard on a tree. Curious, we passed it and turned to see what it was all about. It said in large black letters: CAUTION. NARROW ROAD.