The homesteader offered to put Joe up for the night. They had travelled the last mile or two on horse-back after a long hike down from Old Baldy. Both men were tired and hungry. At the farm house the mans wife served dinner which they consumed in silence.
Later, Joe arranged his bedroll on the kitchen floor next to a barrel heater. Soon, he was asleep and dreaming of new horizons and brighter pastures.
In the next room the man and his wife whispered to each other. That fellow . . . Joe . . . hes hiding something. Hes young, I know. But, he carries the demons of a grown man. Hes a strange one. But, I enjoyed his company today. Hell be leaving tomorrow.
You two. What did you do on the mountain? asked the homesteaders wife. What was so important that you had to give up a days work on the farm for a stranger?
He required my help to find the trail. We hiked through the alpine and scrambled up to the rock ridge where we could see Mount Robson on the other side.
Thats it? You just hiked and scrambled?
He had a pair of boots that he wanted to leave up there. They were work-boots but none like Ive seen before. They were all carved up like a fancy horse saddle. I offered to buy them boots. But no, he wanted to leave them up there.
So, thats it. You walked to the top of the mountain and left a pair of boots?
Well, thats not entirely all. This Joe character buried those work-boots and we both piled flat rocks on top as if to mark the spot. I felt like I was at a funeral.
My God. That poor boy.
Well, you know. . . after we finished with the rock-pile that boy took on a mighty peaceful appearance. It was like a weight had been lifted. He seemed content. Ill ride with him in the morning as far as the new roadbed.
The following day Joe was awake early. He saddled his mare and slung the newly acquired pack- boxes onto the pack-saddle of his other horse. After securing canvas over the load with rope and a diamond-hitch he was ready to set out for Hogans Camp. He had now made a decision to head east into Alberta and forget about Thompson Crossing, near Moonbeam Creek, where his two friends had been murdered. Before leaving the farm yard Joe walked to the woodpile, cut an armful of kindling and carried it back to the homesteaders kitchen.
Soon after, Joe and his host were riding on the trail that led to Cranberry Lakes only store, post office and road-house. They followed along the new Canadian Northern Railway.
Ive heard Hogans Camp is all but deserted, stated the homesteader. If youre looking for a packers job, Aldermere, in the Bulkley Valley, is a busy stopping place. Im sure you can get work there.
Hogans camp is my first stop. Ill rest there at the old pony barns, replied Joe. Im headed for Alberta. Sure, Im looking for work. So, how far away is the Bulkley Valley anyway?
Well, I believe its 200 miles north-west of Fort George . . . up near Babine Lake. I have a cousin from Oregon. He moved his whole family up to Burns Lake in 1910. Theres talk of building a telegraph line through there all the way to the Yukon. Plenty of pre-empters up that way. Good farm land, I hear. The Grand Trunk Pacific will also pass that way right through the Bulkley Valley and Aldermere. You know, to me, it sounds like the promised land. But, Ive got my quarter-section here at Cranberry Lake (Valemount). Ive planted my roots and plan to raise a family.
The Bulkley Valley sounds fine. But, Ive already decided to cross over to Fitzhugh (Jasper). Ive heard good things about Alberta too. But, one never knows. Ill keep Aldermere in mind, in case I venture back this way.
You do that. Hey, and thanks again for that bottle of whiskey. It was well worth a days work helping you get up that mountain. The homesteader brought his horse to a complete stop at the railway crossing.
Thanks for all your kindness on my trips through here. And, please thank your wife for the lunch she packed. Right now, Id like to put a few miles between me and Mile 49. Im Alberta bound.
The two men shook hands, still in the saddle, and wished each other good luck. Leading his pack-horse, Joe tipped his floppy felt hat and rode off in the direction of Tte Jaune Cache. Yes, perhaps it was time for Joe to give his demons a rest.