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A Backwoods Hero
by [?]

I had started out to explore the Magnetawan River from our camp on Lake Wahwaskesh toward the Georgian Bay, thirty miles south, but speedily found my way blocked by the canal rapids. The river there rushes through a deep and narrow canon strewn with sharp rocks, a perilous pass at all times for the most expert canoeist. We did not attempt it, but, making a landing in Deep Bay, took the safer portage around. At the end of a two-mile tramp we reached a clearing at the foot of the canon where the loggers had camped at one time. Black bass and partridge go well together when a man is hungry, and there was something so suggestive of birds about the place that I took a turn around with my gun, while Aleck looked after the packs. Poking about on the edge of the clearing, in the shadow of some big pines which the lumbermen had spared, I came suddenly upon the most unlikely thing of all in that wilderness, miles from any human habitation–a burying-ground! Two mounds, each with a weather-beaten board for a headstone, were all it contained; just heaps of sand with a few withered shrubs upon them. But a stout fence of cedar slabs, roughly fashioned into pickets, to keep prowling animals away, hedged them in–evidence that some one had cared. “Ormand Morden,” I read upon one of the boards, cut deep to last with a jack-knife. The other, nailed up in the shape of a cross, bore the name “M. McDonald.” The date under both names was the same: June 8, 1899.

What tragedy had happened here in the deep woods a year before? Even while the question was shaping itself in my mind, it was answered by another discovery. Slung on the fence at the foot of one grave was a pair of spiked shoes; at the foot of the other the dead man’s shoepacks with sand and mud in them. Two river-drivers, then; drowned in the rapids probably. I remembered the grave on Deadman’s Island, hard by the favorite haunt of the bass, which was still kept up after thirty years, even as the memory of its lonely tenant lived on the lake where another generation of woodsmen had replaced his. But what was the old black brier-wood pipe doing on the head-rail between the two graves? I looked about me with an involuntary start as I noticed that the ashes of the last smoke were still in the bowl, expecting I hardly knew what in the ghostly twilight of the forest.

Over our camp fire that evening Aleck set my fears at rest and told me the story of the two graves, a tale of every-day heroism of the kind of which life on the frontier has many to tell, to the credit of our poor human nature. He was “cadging” supplies to the camp that winter and was a witness at first hand of what happened.

Morden and “Mike” McDonald were “bunkies” in a gang of river-drivers that had been cutting logs on the Deer River near its junction with the Magnetawan. Morden was the older, and had a wife and children in the settlements “up north.” He had been working his farm for a spell and had gone back reluctantly to shantying because he needed the money in a slack season. But he could see his way ahead now. When at night they squatted by the fire in their log hut and took turns at the one pipe they had between them, he spoke hopefully to his chum of the days that were coming. Once this drive of logs was in, that was the end of it for him. He would live like a man after that with the old woman and the kids. Mike listened and smoked in silence. He was a man of few words. But there was between them a strong bond of sympathy, despite the disparity in their age and belief. McDonald was a Catholic and single. Younger by ten years than the other, he was much the stronger and abler, the athlete of a camp where there were no weaklings.