The Young Fur Traders
Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE YOUNG FUR-TRADERS.
UNIFORM WITH THIS BOOK.
_THE CORAL ISLAND. MARTIN RATTLER. UNCAVA._
[Illustration: Pierre was standing over the great kettle. "_The Young
Fur Traders_]" Frontispiece
SNOWFLAKES AND SUNBEAMS; OR, THE YOUNG FUR-TRADERS
A Tale of the Far North.
BY ROBERT MICHAEL BALLANTYNE
In writing this book my desire has been to draw an exact copy of the
picture which is indelibly stamped on my own memory. I have carefully
avoided exaggeration in everything of importance. All the chief, and
most of the minor incidents are facts. In regard to unimportant
matters, I have taken the liberty of a novelist--not to colour too
highly, or to invent improbabilities, but--to transpose time, place,
and circumstance at pleasure; while, at the same time, I have
endeavoured to convey to the reader's mind a truthful impression of
the _general effect_--to use a painter's language--of the life and
country of the Fur Trader.
CHAPTER I Plunges the reader into the middle of an arctic winter;
conveys him into the heart of the wildernesses of North America; and
introduces him to some of the principal personages of our tale
CHAPTER II The old fur-trader endeavours to "fix" his son's "flint,"
and finds the thing more difficult to do than he expected
CHAPTER III The counting-room
CHAPTER IV. A wolf-hunt in the prairies; Charley astonishes his
father, and breaks in the "noo'oss" effectually
CHAPTER V Peter Mactavish becomes an amateur doctor; Charley
promulgates his views of things in general to Kate; and Kate waxes
CHAPTER VI Spring and the voyageurs
CHAPTER VII. The store
CHAPTER VIII. Farewell to Kate; departure of the brigade; Charley
becomes a voyageur
CHAPTER IX. The voyage; the encampment; a surprise
CHAPTER X. Varieties, vexations, and vicissitudes
CHAPTER XI. Charley and Harry begin their sporting career without
much success; Whisky-John catching
CHAPTER XII. The storm
CHAPTER XIII. The canoe; ascending the rapids; the portage; deer-
shooting and life in the woods
CHAPTER XIV. The Indian camp; the new outpost; Charley sent on a
mission to the Indians
CHAPTER XV. The feast; Charley makes his first speech in public;
meets with an old friend; an evening in the grass
CHAPTER XVI The return; narrow escape; a murderous attempt, which
fails; and a discovery
CHAPTER XVII The scene changes; Bachelors' Hall; a practical joke and
its consequences; a snow-shoe walk at night in the forest
CHAPTER XVIII The walk continued; frozen toes; an encampment in the
CHAPTER XIX Shows how the accountant and Harry set their traps, and
what came of it
CHAPTER XX The accountant's story
CHAPTER XXI Ptarmigan-hunting; Hamilton's shooting powers severely
tested; a snow-storm
CHAPTER XXII The winter packet; Harry hears from old friends, and
wishes that he was with them CHAPTER XXIII Changes; Harry and
Hamilton find that variety is indeed, charming; the latter astonishes
the former considerably
CHAPTER XXIV Hopes and fears; an unexpected meeting; philosophical
talk between the hunter and the parson
CHAPTER XXV Good news and romantic scenery; bear-hunting and its
CHAPTER XXVI An unexpected meeting, and an unexpected deer-hunt;
arrival at the outpost; disagreement with the natives; an enemy
discovered, and a murder
CHAPTER XXVII The chase; the fight; retribution; low spirits and good
CHAPTER XXVIII Old friends and scenes; coming events cast their
CHAPTER XXIX The first day at home; a gallop in the prairie, and its
CHAPTER XXX Love; old Mr. Kennedy puts his foot in it
CHAPTER XXXI The course of true love, curiously enough, runs smooth
for once; and the curtain falls
Plunges the reader into the middle of an Arctic winter; conveys him
into the heart of the wildernesses of North America; and introduces
him to some of the principal personages of our tale.
Snowflakes and sunbeams, heat and cold, winter and summer, alternated
with their wonted regularity for fifteen years in the wild regions of
the Far North. During this space of time the hero of our tale
sprouted from babyhood to boyhood, passed through the usual amount of
accidents, ailments, and vicissitudes incidental to those periods of
life, and finally entered upon that ambiguous condition that precedes
It was a clear, cold winter's day. The sunbeams of summer were long
past, and snowflakes had fallen thickly on the banks of Red River.
Charley sat on a lump of blue ice, his head drooping and his eyes
bent on the snow at his feet with an expression of deep
Kate reclined at Charley's side, looking wistfully up in his
expressive face, as if to read the thoughts that were chasing each
other through his mind, like the ever-varying clouds that floated in
the winter sky above. It was quite evident to the most careless
observer that, whatever might be the usual temperaments of the boy
and girl, their present state of mind was not joyous, but on the
contrary, very sad.
"It won't do, sister Kate," said Charley. "I've tried him over and
over again--I've implored, begged, and entreated him to let me go;
but he won't, and I'm determined to run away, so there's an end of
As Charley gave utterance to this unalterable resolution, he rose
from the bit of blue ice, and taking Kate by the hand, led her over
the frozen river, climbed up the bank on the opposite side--an
operation of some difficulty, owing to the snow, which had been
drifted so deeply during a late storm that the usual track was almost
obliterated--and turning into a path that lost itself among the
willows, they speedily disappeared.
As it is possible our reader may desire to know who Charley and Kate
are, and the part of the world in which they dwell, we will interrupt
the thread of our narrative to explain.
In the very centre of the great continent of North America, far
removed from the abodes of civilised men, and about twenty miles to
the south of Lake Winnipeg, exists a colony composed of Indians,
Scotsmen, and French-Canadians, which is known by the name of Red
River Settlement. Red River differs from most colonies in more
respects than one--the chief differences being, that whereas other
colonies cluster on the sea-coast, this one lies many hundreds of
miles in the interior of the country, and is surrounded by a
wilderness; and while other colonies, acting on the Golden Rule,
export their produce in return for goods imported, this of Red River
imports a large quantity, and exports nothing, or next to nothing.
Not but that it _might_ export, if it only had an outlet or a market;
but being eight hundred miles removed from the sea, and five hundred
miles from the nearest market, with a series of rivers, lakes,
rapids, and cataracts separating from the one, and a wide sweep of
treeless prairie dividing from the other, the settlers have long
since come to the conclusion that they were born to consume their own
produce, and so regulate the extent of their farming operations by
the strength of their appetites. Of course, there are many of the
necessaries, or at least the luxuries, of life which the colonists
cannot grow--such as tea, coffee, sugar, coats, trousers, and shirts--
and which, consequently, they procure from England, by means of the
Hudson's Bay Fur Company's ships, which sail once a year from
Gravesend, laden with supplies for the trade carried on with the
Indians. And the bales containing these articles are conveyed in
boats up the rivers, carried past the waterfalls and rapids overland
on the shoulders of stalwart voyageurs, and finally landed at Red
River, after a rough trip of many weeks' duration. The colony was
founded in 1811, by the Earl of Selkirk, previously to which it had
been a trading-post of the Fur Company. At the time of which we
write, it contained about five thousand souls, and extended upwards
of fifty miles along the Red and Assiniboine rivers, which streams
supplied the settlers with a variety of excellent fish. The banks
were clothed with fine trees; and immediately behind the settlement
lay the great prairies, which extended in undulating waves--almost
entirely devoid of shrub or tree--to the base of the Rocky Mountains.
Although far removed from the civilised world, and containing within
its precincts much that is savage and very little that is refined,
Red River is quite a populous paradise, as compared with the
desolate, solitary establishments of the Hudson's Bay Fur Company.
These lonely dwellings of the trader are scattered far and wide over
the whole continent--north, south, east, and west. Their population
generally amounts to eight or ten men--seldom to thirty. They are
planted in the thick of an uninhabited desert--their next neighbours
being from two to five hundred miles off--their occasional visitors,
bands of wandering Indians--and the sole object of their existence
being to trade the furry hides of foxes, martens, beavers, badgers,
bears, buffaloes, and wolves. It will not, then, be deemed a matter
of wonder that the gentlemen who have charge of these establishments,
and who, perchance, may have spent ten or twenty years in them,
should look upon the colony of Red River as a species of Elysium, a
sort of haven of rest, in which they may lay their weary heads, and
spend the remainder of their days in peaceful felicity, free from the
cares of a residence among wild beasts and wild men. Many of the
retiring traders prefer casting their lot in Canada; but not a few of
them _smoke_ out the remainder of their existence in this colony--
especially those who, having left home as boys fifty or sixty years
before, cannot reasonably expect to find the friends of their
childhood where they left them, and cannot hope to remodel tastes and
habits long nurtured in the backwoods so as to relish the manners and
customs of civilised society.
Such an one was old Frank Kennedy, who, sixty years before the date
of our story, ran away from school in Scotland; got a severe
thrashing from his father for so doing; and having no mother in whose
sympathising bosom he could weep out his sorrow, ran away from home,
went to sea, ran away from his ship while she lay at anchor in the
harbour of New York, and after leading a wandering, unsettled life
for several years, during which he had been alternately a clerk, a
day-labourer, a store-keeper and a village schoolmaster, he wound up
by entering the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, in which he
obtained an insight into savage life, a comfortable fortune, besides
a half-breed wife and a large family.
Being a man of great energy and courage, and moreover possessed of a
large, powerful frame, he was sent to one of the most distant posts
on the Mackenzie River, as being admirably suited for the display of
his powers both mental and physical. Here the small-pox broke out
among the natives, and besides carrying off hundreds of these poor
creatures, robbed Mr. Kennedy of all his children save two, Charles
and Kate, whom we have already introduced to the reader.
About the same time the council which is annually held at Red River
in spring for the purpose of arranging the affairs of the country for
the ensuing year thought proper to appoint Mr. Kennedy to a still
more outlandish part of the country--as near, in fact, to the North
Pole as it was possible for mortal man to live--and sent him an order
to proceed to his destination without loss of time. On receiving this
communication, Mr. Kennedy upset his chair, stamped his foot, ground
his teeth, and vowed, in the hearing of his wife and children, that
sooner than obey the mandate he would see the governors and council
of Rupert's Land hanged, quartered, and boiled down into tallow!
Ebullitions of this kind were peculiar to Frank Kennedy, and meant
_nothing_. They were simply the safety-valves to his superabundant
ire, and, like safety-valves in general, made much noise but did no
damage. It was well, however, on such occasions to keep out of the
old fur-trader's way; for he had an irresistible propensity to hit
out at whatever stood before him, especially if the object stood on a
level with his own eyes and wore whiskers. On second thoughts,
however, he sat down before his writing-table, took a sheet of blue
ruled foolscap paper, seized a quill which he had mended six months
previously, at a time when he happened to be in high good-humour, and
wrote as follows:--
To the Governor and Council of Rupert's Land, Fort Paskisegun
Red River Settlement. June 15, 18--.
Gentlemen,--I have the honour to acknowledge receipt
of your favour of 26th April last, appointing me
to the charge of Peel's River, and directing me to strike
out new channels of trade in that quarter. In reply, I
have to state that I shall have the honour to fulfil your
instructions by taking my departure in a light canoe as
soon as possible. At the same time I beg humbly to
submit that the state of my health is such as to render
it expedient for me to retire from the service, and I herewith
beg to hand in my resignation. I shall hope to be
relieved early next spring.--I have the honour to be,
gentlemen, your most obedient, humble servant,
"There!" exclaimed the old gentleman, in a tone that would lead one
to suppose he had signed the death-warrant, and so had irrevocably
fixed the certain destruction, of the entire council--"there!" said
he, rising from his chair, and sticking the quill into the ink-bottle
with a _dab_ that split it up to the feather, and so rendered it
_hors de combat_ for all time coming.
To this letter the council gave a short reply, accepting his
resignation, and appointing a successor. On the following spring old
Mr. Kennedy embarked his wife and children in a bark canoe, and in
process of time landed them safely in Red River Settlement. Here he
purchased a house with six acres of land, in which he planted a
variety of useful vegetables, and built a summer-house after the
fashion of a conservatory, where he was wont to solace himself for
hours together with a pipe, or rather with dozens of pipes, of
Canadian twist tobacco.
After this he put his two children to school. The settlement was at
this time fortunate in having a most excellent academy, which was
conducted by a very estimable man. Charles and Kate Kennedy, being
obedient and clever, made rapid progress under his judicious
management, and the only fault that he had to find with the young
people was, that Kate was a little too quiet and fond of books, while
Charley was a little too riotous and fond of fun.
When Charles arrived at the age of fifteen and Kate attained to
fourteen years, old Mr. Kennedy went into his conservatory, locked
the door, sat down on an easy chair, filled a long clay pipe with his
beloved tobacco, smoked vigorously for ten minutes, and fell fast
asleep. In this condition he remained until the pipe fell from his
lips and broke in fragments on the floor. He then rose, filled
another pipe, and sat down to meditate on the subject that had
brought him to his smoking apartment. "There's my wife," said he,
looking at the bowl of his pipe, as if he were addressing himself to
it, "she's getting too old to be looking after everything herself
(_puff_), and Kate's getting too old to be humbugging any longer with
books: besides, she ought to be at home learning to keep house, and
help her mother, and cut the baccy (_puff_), and that young scamp
Charley should be entering the service (_puff_). He's clever enough
now to trade beaver and bears from the red-skins; besides, he's
(_puff_) a young rascal, and I'll be bound does nothing but lead the
other boys into (_puff_) mischief, although, to be sure, the master
_does_ say he's the cleverest fellow in the school; but he must be
reined up a bit now. I'll clap on a double curb and martingale. I'll
get him a situation in the counting-room at the fort (_puff_), where
he'll have his nose held tight to the grindstone. Yes, I'll fix both
their flints to-morrow;" and old Mr. Kennedy gave vent to another
puff so thick and long that it seemed as if all the previous puffs
had concealed themselves up to this moment within his capacious
chest, and rushed out at last in one thick and long-continued stream.
By "fixing their flints" Mr. Kennedy meant to express the fact that
he intended to place his children in an entirely new sphere of
action, and with a view to this he ordered out his horse and cariole
[Footnote: A sort of sleigh.] on the following morning, went up to
the school, which was about ten miles distant from his abode, and
brought his children home with him the same evening. Kate was now
formally installed as housekeeper and tobacco-cutter; while Charley
was told that his future destiny was to wield the quill in the
service of the Hudson's Bay Company, and that he might take a week to
think over it. Quiet, warm-hearted, affectionate Kate was overjoyed
at the thought of being a help and comfort to her old father and
mother; but reckless, joyous, good-humoured, hare-brained Charley was
cast into the depths of despair at the idea of spending the livelong
day, and day after day, for years it might be, on the top of a long-
legged stool. In fact, poor Charley said that he "would rather become
a buffalo than do it." Now this was very wrong of Charley, for, of
course, he didn't _mean_ it. Indeed, it is too much a habit among
little boys, ay, and among grown-up people, too, to say what they
don't mean, as no doubt you are aware, dear reader, if you possess
half the self-knowledge we give you credit for; and we cannot too
strongly remonstrate with ourself and others against the practice--
leading, as it does, to all sorts of absurd exaggerations, such as
gravely asserting that we are "broiling hot" when we are simply
"rather warm," or more than "half dead" with fatigue when we are
merely "very tired." However, Charley _said_ that he would rather be
"a buffalo than do it," and so we feel bound in honour to record the
Charley and Kate were warmly attached to each other. Moreover, they
had been, ever since they could walk, in the habit of mingling their
little joys and sorrows in each other's bosoms; and although, as
years flew past, they gradually ceased to sob in each other's arms at
every little mishap, they did not cease to interchange their inmost
thoughts, and to mingle their tears when occasion called them forth.
They knew the power, the inexpressible sweetness, of sympathy. They
understood experimentally the comfort and joy that flow from
obedience to that blessed commandment to "rejoice with those that do
rejoice, and weep with those that weep." It was natural, therefore,
that on Mr. Kennedy announcing his decrees, Charley and Kate should
hasten to some retired spot where they could commune in solitude; the
effect of which communing was to reduce them to a somewhat calmer and
rather happy state of mind. Charley's sorrow was blunted by sympathy
with Kate's joy, and Kate's joy was subdued by sympathy with
Charley's sorrow; so that, after the first effervescing burst, they
settled down into a calm and comfortable state of flatness, with very
red eyes and exceedingly pensive minds. We must, however, do Charley
the justice to say that the red eyes applied only to Kate; for
although a tear or two could without much coaxing be induced to hop
over his sun-burned cheek, he had got beyond that period of life when
boys are addicted to (we must give the word, though not pretty,
because it is eminently expressive) _blubbering_.
A week later found Charley and his sister seated on the lump of blue
ice where they were first introduced to the reader, and where Charley
announced his unalterable resolve to run away, following it up with
the statement that _that_ was "the end of it." He was quite mistaken,
however, for that was by no means the end of it. In fact it was only
the beginning of it, as we shall see hereafter.
The old fur-trader endeavours to "fix" his son's "flint," and finds
the thing more difficult to do than he expected.
Near the centre of the colony of Red River, the stream from which the
settlement derives its name is joined by another, called the
Assiniboine. About five or six hundred yards from the point where
this union takes place, and on the banks of the latter stream, stands
the Hudson's Bay Company's trading-post, Fort Garry. It is a massive
square building of stone. Four high and thick walls enclose a space
of ground on which are built six or eight wooden houses, some of
which are used as dwellings for the servants of the Hudson's Bay
Company, and others as stores, wherein are contained the furs, the
provisions which are sent annually to various parts of the country,
and the goods (such as cloth, guns, powder and shot, blankets, twine,
axes, knives, etc., etc.) with which the fur-trade is carried on.
Although Red River is a peaceful colony, and not at all likely to be
assaulted by the poor Indians, it was, nevertheless, deemed prudent
by the traders to make some show of power; and so at the corners of
the fort four round bastions of a very imposing appearance were
built, from the embrasures of which several large black-muzzled guns
protruded. No one ever conceived the idea of firing these engines of
war; and, indeed, it is highly probable that such an attempt would
have been attended with consequences much more dreadful to those
_behind_ than to those who might chance to be in front of the guns.
Nevertheless they were imposing, and harmonised well with the flag-
staff, which was the only other military symptom about the place.
This latter was used on particular occasions, such as the arrival or
departure of a brigade of boats, for the purpose of displaying the
folds of a red flag on which were the letters H. B. C.
The fort stood, as we have said, on the banks of the Assiniboine
River, on the opposite side of which the land was somewhat wooded,
though not heavily, with oak, maple, poplar, aspens, and willows;
while at the back of the fort the great prairie rolled out like a
green sea to the horizon, and far beyond that again to the base of
the Rocky mountains. The plains at this time, however, were a sheet
of unbroken snow, and the river a mass of solid ice.
It was noon on the day following that on which our friend Charley had
threatened rebellion, when a tall elderly man might have been seen
standing at the back gate of Fort Garry, gazing wistfully out into
the prairie in the direction of the lower part of the settlement. He
was watching a small speck which moved rapidly over the snow in the
direction of the fort.
"It's very like our friend Frank Kennedy," said he to himself (at
least we presume so, for there was no one else within earshot to whom
he could have said it, except the door-post, which every one knows is
proverbially a deaf subject). "No man in the settlement drives so
furiously. I shouldn't wonder if he ran against the corner of the new
fence now. Ha! just so--there he goes!"
And truly the reckless driver did "go" just at that moment. He came
up to the corner of the new fence, where the road took a rather
abrupt turn, in a style that insured a capsize. In another second the
spirited horse turned sharp round, the sleigh turned sharp over, and
the occupant was pitched out at full length, while a black object,
that might have been mistaken for his hat, rose from his side like a
rocket, and, flying over him, landed on the snow several yards
beyond. A faint shout was heard to float on the breeze as this
catastrophe occurred, and the driver was seen to jump up and readjust
himself in the cariole; while the other black object proved itself
not to be a hat, by getting hastily up on a pair of legs, and
scrambling back to the seat from which it had been so unceremoniously
In a few minutes more the cheerful tinkling of the merry sleigh-bells
was heard, and Frank Kennedy, accompanied by his hopeful son Charles,
dashed up to the gate, and pulled up with a jerk.
"Ha! Grant, my fine fellow, how are you?" exclaimed Mr. Kennedy,
senior, as he disengaged himself from the heavy folds of the buffalo
robe and shook the snow from his greatcoat. "Why on earth, man, don't
you put up a sign-post and a board to warn travellers that you've
been running out new fences and changing the road, eh?"
"Why, my good friend," said Mr. Grant, smiling, "the fence and the
road are of themselves pretty conclusive proof to most men that the
road is changed; and, besides, we don't often have people driving
round corners at full gallop; but--"
"Hollo! Charley, you rascal," interrupted Mr. Kennedy--"here, take
the mare to the stable, and don't drive her too fast. Mind, now, no
going off upon the wrong road for the sake of a drive, you
"All right, father," exclaimed the boy, while a bright smile lit up
his features and displayed two rows of white teeth: "I'll be
particularly careful," and he sprang into the light vehicle, seized
the reins, and with a sharp crack of the whip dashed down the road at
a hard gallop.
"He's a fine fellow that son of yours," said Mr. Grant, "and will
make a first-rate fur-trader."
"Pur-trader!" exclaimed Mr. Kennedy. "Just look at him! I'll be shot
if he isn't thrashing the mare as if she were made of leather." The
old man's ire was rising rapidly as he heard the whip crack every now
and then, and saw the mare bound madly over the snow. "And see!" he
continued, "I declare he _has_ taken the wrong turn after all."
"True," said Mr. Grant: "he'll never reach the stable by that road;
he's much more likely to visit the White-horse Plains. But come,
friend, it's of no use fretting, Charley will soon tire of his ride;
so come with me to my room and have a pipe before dinner."
Old Mr. Kennedy gave a short groan of despair, shook his fist at the
form of his retreating son, and accompanied his friend to the house.
It must not be supposed that Frank Kennedy was very deeply offended
with his son, although he did shower on him a considerable amount of
abuse. On the contrary, he loved him very much. But it was the old
man's nature to give way to little bursts of passion on almost every
occasion in which his feelings were at all excited. These bursts,
however, were like the little puffs that ripple the surface of the
sea on a calm summer's day. They were over in a second, and left his
good-humoured, rough, candid countenance in unruffled serenity.
Charley knew this well, and loved his father tenderly, so that his
conscience frequently smote him for raising his anger so often; and
he over and over again promised his sister Kate to do his best to
refrain from doing anything that was likely to annoy the old man in
future. But, alas! Charley's resolves, like those of many other boys,
were soon forgotten, and his father's equanimity was upset generally
two or three times a day; but after the gust was over, the fur-trader
would kiss his son, call him a "rascal," and send him off to fill and
fetch his pipe.
Mr. Grant, who was in charge of Fort Garry, led the way to his
smoking apartment, where the two were soon seated in front of a
roaring log-fire, emulating each other in the manufacture of smoke.
"Well, Kennedy," said Mr. Grant, throwing himself back in his chair,
elevating his chin, and emitting a long thin stream of white vapour
from his lips, through which he gazed at his friend complacently--
"well, Kennedy, to what fortunate chance am I indebted for this
visit? It is not often that we have the pleasure of seeing you here."
Mr. Kennedy created two large volumes of smoke, which, by means of a
vigorous puff, he sent rolling over towards his friend, and said,
"And what of Charley?" said Mr. Grant with a smile, for he was well
aware of the boy's propensity to fun, and of the father's desire to
"The fact is," replied Kennedy, "that Charley must be broke. He's the
wildest colt I ever had to tame, but I'll do it--I will--that's a
If Charley's subjugation had depended on the rapidity with which the
little white clouds proceeded from his sire's mouth, there is no
doubt that it would have been a "fact" in a very short time, for they
rushed from him with the violence of a high wind. Long habit had made
the old trader and his pipe not only inseparable companions, but part
and parcel of each other--so intimately connected that a change in
the one was sure to produce a sympathetic change in the other. In the
present instance, the little clouds rapidly increased in size and
number as the old gentleman thought on the obstinacy of his "colt."
"Yes," he continued, after a moment's silence, "I've made up my mind
to tame him, and I want _you_, Mr. Grant, to help me."
Mr. Grant looked as if he would rather not undertake to lend his aid
in a work that was evidently difficult; but being a good-natured man,
he said, "And how, friend, can I assist in the operation?"
"Well, you see, Charley's a good fellow at bottom, and a clever
fellow too--at least so says the schoolmaster; though I must confess,
that so far as my experience goes, he's only clever at finding out
excuses for not doing what I want him to. But still I'm told he's
clever, and can use his pen well; and I know for certain that he can
use his tongue well. So I want to get him into the service, and have
him placed in a situation where he shall have to stick to his desk
all day. In fact, I want to have him broken into work; for you've no
notion, sir, how that boy talks about bears and buffaloes and
badgers, and life in the woods among the Indians. I do believe,"
continued the old gentleman, waxing warm, "that he would willingly go
into the woods to-morrow, if I would let him, and never show his nose
in the settlement again. He's quite incorrigible. But I'll tame him
Mr. Kennedy followed this up with an indignant grunt, and a puff of
smoke, so thick, and propelled with such vigour, that it rolled and
curled in fantastic evolutions towards the ceiling, as if it were
unable to control itself with delight at the absolute certainty of
Charley being tamed at last.
Mr. Grant, however, shook his head, and remained for five minutes in
profound silence, during which time the two friends puffed in
concert, until they began to grow quite indistinct and ghost-like in
the thick atmosphere.
At last he broke silence.
"My opinion is that you're wrong, Mr. Kennedy. No doubt you know the
disposition of your son better than I do; but even judging of it from
what you have said, I'm quite sure that a sedentary life will ruin
"Ruin him! Humbug!" said Kennedy, who never failed to express his
opinion at the shortest notice and in the plainest language--a fact
so well known by his friends that they had got into the habit of
taking no notice of it. "Humbug!" he repeated, "perfect humbug! You
don't mean to tell me that the way to break him in is to let him run
loose and wild whenever and wherever he pleases?"
"By no means. But you may rest assured that tying him down won't do
"Nonsense!" said Mr. Kennedy testily; "don't tell me. Have I not
broken in young colts by the score? and don't I know that the way to
fix their flints is to clap on a good strong curb?"
"If you had travelled farther south, friend," replied Mr. Grant, "you
would have seen the Spaniards of Mexico break in their wild horses in
a very different way; for after catching one with a lasso, a fellow
gets on his back, and gives it the rein and the whip--ay, and the
spur too; and before that race is over, there is no need for a curb."
"What!" exclaimed Kennedy, "and do you mean to argue from that, that
I should let Charley run--and _help_ him too? Send him off to the
woods with gun and blanket, canoe and tent, all complete?" The old
gentleman puffed a furious puff, and broke into a loud sarcastic
"No, no," interrupted Mr. Grant; "I don't exactly mean that, but I
think that you might give him his way for a year or so. He's a fine,
active, generous fellow; and after the novelty wore off, he would be
in a much better frame of mind to listen to your proposals. Besides"
(and Mr. Grant smiled expressively), "Charley is somewhat like his
father. He has got a will of his own; and if you do not give him his
way, I very much fear that he'll--"
"What?" inquired Mr. Kennedy abruptly.
"Take it," said Mr. Grant.
The puff that burst from Mr. Kennedy's lips on hearing this would
have done credit to a thirty-six pounder.
"Take it!" said he; "he'd _better_ not."
The latter part of this speech was not in itself of a nature
calculated to convey much; but the tone of the old trader's voice,
the contraction of his eyebrows, and above all the overwhelming flow
of cloudlets that followed, imparted to it a significance that
induced the belief that Charley's taking his own way would be
productive of more terrific consequences than it was in the power of
the most highly imaginative man to conceive.
"There's his sister Kate, now," continued the old gentleman; "she's
as gentle and biddable as a lamb. I've only to say a word, and she's
off like a shot to do my bidding; and she does it with such a sweet
smile too." There was a touch of pathos in the old trader's voice as
he said this. He was a man of strong feeling, and as impulsive in his
tenderness as in his wrath. "But that rascal Charley," he continued,
"is quite different. He's obstinate as a mule. To be sure, he has a
good temper; and I must say for him he never goes into the sulks,
which is a comfort, for of all things in the world sulking is the
most childish and contemptible. He _generally_ does what I bid him,
too. But he's _always_ getting into scrapes of one kind or other. And
during the last week, notwithstanding all I can say to him, he won't
admit that the best thing for him is to get a place in your counting-
room, with the prospect of rapid promotion in the service. Very odd.
I can't understand it at all;" and Mr. Kennedy heaved a deep sigh.
"Did you ever explain to him the prospects that he would have in the
situation you propose for him?" inquired Mr. Grant.
"Can't say I ever did."
"Did you ever point out the probable end of a life spent in the
"Nor suggest to him that the appointment to the office here would
only be temporary, and to see how he got on in it?"
"Then, my dear sir, I'm not surprised that Charley rebels. You have
left him to suppose that, once placed at the desk here, he is a
prisoner for life. But see, there he is," said Mr. Grant, pointing as
he spoke towards the subject of their conversation, who was passing
the window at the moment; "let me call him, and I feel certain that
he will listen to reason in a few minutes."
"Humph!" ejaculated Mr. Kennedy, "you may try."
In another minute Charley had been summoned, and was seated, cap in
hand, near the door.
"Charley, my boy," began Mr. Grant, standing with his back to the
fire, his feet pretty wide apart, and his coat-tails under his arms--
"Charley, my boy, your father has just been speaking of you. He is
very anxious that you should enter the service of the Hudson's Bay
Company; and as you are a clever boy and a good penman, we think that
you would be likely to get on if placed for a year or so in our
office here. I need scarcely point out to you, my boy, that in such a
position you would be sure to obtain more rapid promotion than if you
were placed in one of the distant outposts, where you would have very
little to do, and perhaps little to eat, and no one to converse with
except one or two men. Of course, we would merely place you here on
trial, to see how you suited us; and if you prove steady and
diligent, there is no saying how fast you might get on. Why, you
might even come to fill my place in course of time. Come now,
Charley, what think you of it?"
Charley's eyes had been cast on the ground while Mr. Grant was
speaking. He now raised them, looked at his father, then at his
interrogator, and said,--
"It is very kind of you both to be so anxious about my prospects. I
thank you, indeed, very much; but I--a--"
"Don't like the desk?" said his father, in an angry tone. "Is that
Charley made no reply, but cast down his eyes again and smiled
(Charley had a sweet smile, a peculiarly sweet, candid smile), as if
he meant to say that his father had hit the nail quite on the top of
the head that time, and no mistake.
"But consider," resumed Mr. Grant, "although you might probably be
pleased with an outpost life at first, you would be sure to grow
weary of it after the novelty wore off, and then you would wish with
all your heart to be back here again. Believe me, child, a trader's
life is a very hard and not often a very satisfactory one--"
"Ay," broke in the father, desirous, if possible, to help the
argument, "and you'll find it a desperately wild, unsettled, roving
sort of life, too, let me tell you! full of dangers both from wild
beast and wild men--"
"Hush!" interrupted Mr. Grant, observing that the boy's eyes kindled
when his father spoke of a wild, roving life, and wild beasts.--"Your
father does not mean that life at an outpost is wild and
_interesting_ or _exciting_. He merely means that--a--it--"
Mr. Grant could not very well explain what it was that Mr. Kennedy
meant if he did not mean that, so he turned to him for help.
"Exactly so," said that gentleman, taking a strong pull at the pipe
for inspiration. "It's no ways interesting or exciting at all. It's
slow, dull, and flat; a miserable sort of Robinson Crusoe life, with
red Indians and starvation constantly staring you in the face--"
"Besides," said Mr. Grant, again interrupting the somewhat
unfortunate efforts of his friend, who seemed to have a happy
facility in sending a brilliant dash of romantic allusion across the
dark side of his picture--"besides, you'll not have opportunity to
amuse yourself, or to read, as you'll have no books, and you'll have
to work hard with your hands oftentimes, like your men--"
"In fact," broke in the impatient father, resolved, apparently, to
carry the point with a grand _coup_--"in fact, you'll have to rough
it, as I did, when I went up the Mackenzie River district, where I
was sent to establish a new post, and had to travel for weeks and
weeks through a wild country, where none of us had ever been before;
where we shot our own meat, caught our own fish, and built our own
house--and were very near being murdered by the Indians; though, to
be sure, afterwards they became the most civil fellows in the
country, and brought us plenty of skins. Ay, lad, you'll repent of
your obstinacy when you come to have to hunt your own dinner, as I've
done many a day up the Saskatchewan, where I've had to fight with
red-skins and grizzly bears and to chase the buffaloes over miles and
miles of prairie on rough-going nags till my bones ached and I scarce
knew whether I sat on--"
"Oh," exclaimed Charley, starting to his feet, while his eyes flashed
and his chest heaved with emotion, "that's the place for me, father!--
Do, please, Mr. Grant send me there, and I'll work for you with all
Frank Kennedy was not a man to stand this unexpected miscarriage of
his eloquence with equanimity. His first action was to throw his pipe
at the head of his enthusiastic boy; without worse effect, however,
than smashing it to atoms on the opposite wall. He then started up
and rushed towards his son, who, being near the door, retreated
precipitately and vanished.
"So," said Mr. Grant, not very sure whether to laugh or be angry at
the result of their united efforts, "you've settled the question now,
at all events."
Frank Kennedy said nothing, but filled another pipe, sat doggedly
down in front of the fire, and speedily enveloped himself, and his
friend, and all that the room contained, in thick, impenetrable
clouds of smoke.
Meanwhile his worthy son rushed off in a state of great glee. He had
often heard the voyageurs of Red River dilate on the delights of
roughing it in the woods, and his heart had bounded as they spoke of
dangers encountered and overcome among the rapids of the Far North,
or with the bears and bison-bulls of the prairie, but never till now
had he heard his father corroborate their testimony by a recital of
his own actual experience; and although the old gentleman's intention
was undoubtedly to damp the boy's spirit, his eloquence had exactly
the opposite effect--so that it was with a hop and a shout that he
burst into the counting-room, with the occupants of which Charley was
a special favourite.
Everyone knows the general appearance of a counting-room. There are
one or two peculiar features about such apartments that are quite
unmistakable and very characteristic; and the counting-room at Fort
Garry, although many hundred miles distant from other specimens of
its race, and, from the peculiar circumstances of its position, not
therefore likely to bear them much resemblance, possessed one or two
features of similarity, in the shape of two large desks and several
very tall stools, besides sundry ink-bottles, rulers, books, and
sheets of blotting-paper. But there were other implements there,
savouring strongly of the backwoods and savage life, which merit more
The room itself was small, and lighted by two little windows, which
opened into the courtyard. The entire apartment was made of wood. The
floor was of unpainted fir boards. The walls were of the same
material, painted blue from the floor upwards to about three feet,
where the blue was unceremoniously stopped short by a stripe of
bright red, above which the somewhat fanciful decorator had laid on a
coat of pale yellow; and the ceiling, by way of variety, was of a
deep ochre. As the occupants of Red River office were, however,
addicted to the use of tobacco and tallow candles, the original
colour of the ceiling had vanished entirely, and that of the walls
had considerably changed.
There were three doors in the room (besides the door of entrance),
each opening into another apartment, where the three clerks were wont
to court the favour of Morpheus after the labours of the day. No
carpets graced the floors of any of these rooms, and with the
exception of the paint aforementioned, no ornament whatever broke the
pleasing uniformity of the scene. This was compensated, however, to
some extent by several scarlet sashes, bright-coloured shot-belts,
and gay portions of winter costume peculiar to the country, which
depended from sundry nails in the bedroom walls; and as the three
doors always stood open, these objects, together with one or two
fowling-pieces and canoe-paddles, formed quite a brilliant and highly
suggestive background to the otherwise sombre picture. A large open
fireplace stood in one corner of the room, devoid of a grate, and so
constructed that large logs of wood might be piled up on end to any
extent. And really the fires made in this manner, and in this
individual fireplace, were exquisite beyond description. A wood-fire
is a particularly cheerful thing. Those who have never seen one can
form but a faint idea of its splendour; especially on a sharp winter
night in the arctic regions, where the thermometer falls to forty
degrees below zero, without inducing the inhabitants to suppose that
the world has reached its conclusion. The billets are usually piled
up on end, so that the flames rise and twine round them with a fierce
intensity that causes them to crack and sputter cheerfully, sending
innumerable sparks of fire into the room, and throwing out a rich
glow of brilliant light that warms a man even to look at it, and
renders candles quite unnecessary.
The clerks who inhabited this counting-room were, like itself,
peculiar. There were three--corresponding to the bedrooms. The senior
was a tall, broad-shouldered, muscular man--a Scotchman--very good-
humoured, yet a man whose under lip met the upper with that peculiar
degree of precision that indicated the presence of other qualities
besides that of good-humour. He was book-keeper and accountant, and
managed the affairs intrusted to his care with the same dogged
perseverance with which he would have led an expedition of discovery
to the North Pole. He was thirty or thereabouts.
The second was a small man--also a Scotchman. It is curious to note
how numerous Scotchmen are in the wilds of North America. This
specimen was diminutive and sharp. Moreover, he played the flute--an
accomplishment of which he was so proud that he ordered out from
England a flute of ebony, so elaborately enriched with silver keys
that one's fingers ached to behold it. This beautiful instrument,
like most other instruments of a delicate nature, found the climate
too much for its constitution, and, soon after the winter began,
split from top to bottom. Peter Mactavish, however, was a genius by
nature, and a mechanical genius by tendency; so that, instead of
giving way to despair, he laboriously bound the flute together with
waxed thread, which, although it could not restore it to its pristine
elegance, enabled him to play with great effect sundry doleful airs,
whose influence, when performed at night, usually sent his companions
to sleep, or, failing this, drove them to distraction.
The third inhabitant of the office was a ruddy, smooth-chinned youth
of about fourteen, who had left home seven months before, in the hope
of gratifying a desire to lead a wild life, which he had entertained
ever since he read "Jack the Giant Killer," and found himself most
unexpectedly fastened, during the greater part of each day, to a
stool. His name was Harry Somerville, and a fine, cheerful little
fellow he was, full of spirits, and curiously addicted to poking and
arranging the fire at least every ten minutes--a propensity which
tested the forbearance of the senior clerk rather severely, and would
have surprised any one not aware of poor Harry's incurable antipathy
to the desk, and the yearning desire with which he longed for
Harry was busily engaged with the refractory fire when Charley, as
stated at the conclusion of the last chapter, burst into the room.
"Hollo!" he exclaimed, suspending his operations for a moment,
"Nothing," said Charley, "but father's temper, that's all. He gave me
a splendid description of his life in the woods, and then threw his
pipe at me because I admired it too much."
"Ho!" exclaimed Harry, making a vigorous thrust at the fire, "then
you've no chance now."
"No chance! what do you mean?"
"Only that we are to have a wolf-hunt in the plains to-morrow; and if
you've aggravated your father, he'll be taking you home to-night,
"Oh! no fear of that," said Charley, with a look that seemed to imply
that there was very great fear of "that"--much more, in fact, than he
was willing to admit even to himself. "My dear old father never keeps
his anger long. I'm sure that he'll be all right again in half-an-
"Hope so, but doubt it I do," said Harry, making another deadly poke
at the fire, and returning, with a deep sigh, to his stool.
"Would you like to go with us, Charley?" said the senior clerk,
laying down his pen and turning round on his chair (the senior clerk
never sat on a stool) with a benign smile.
"Oh, very, very much indeed," cried Charley; "but even should father
agree to stay all night at the fort, I have no horse, and I'm sure he
would not let me have the mare after what I did to-day."
"Do you think he's not open to persuasion?" said the senior clerk.
"No, I'm sure he's not."
"Well, well, it don't much signify; perhaps we can mount you."
(Charley's face brightened.) "Go," he continued, addressing Harry
Somerville--"go, tell Tom Whyte I wish to speak to him."
Harry sprang from his stool with a suddenness and vigour that might
have justified the belief that he had been fixed to it by means of a
powerful spring, which had been set free with a sharp recoil, and
shot him out at the door, for he disappeared in a trice. In a few
minutes he returned, followed by the groom Tom Whyte.
"Tom," said the senior clerk, "do you think we could manage to mount
"Why, sir, I don't think as how we could. There ain't an 'oss in the
stable except them wot's required and them wot's badly."
"Couldn't he have the brown pony?" suggested the senior clerk.
Tom Whyte was a cockney and an old soldier, and stood so bolt upright
that it seemed quite a marvel how the words ever managed to climb up
the steep ascent of his throat, and turn the corner so as to get out
at his mouth. Perhaps this was the cause of his speaking on all
occasions with great deliberation and slowness.
"Why, you see, sir," he replied, "the brown pony's got cut under the
fetlock of the right hind leg; and I 'ad 'im down to L'Esperance the
smith's, sir, to look at 'im, sir; and he says to me, says he 'That
don't look well, that 'oss don't,'--and he's a knowing feller, sir,
is L'Esperance though he _is_ an 'alf-breed--"
"Never mind what he said, Tom," interrupted the senior clerk; "is the
pony fit for use? that's the question."
"No, sir, 'e hain't."
"And the black mare, can he not have that?"
"No, sir; Mr. Grant is to ride 'er to-morrow."
"That's unfortunate," said the senior clerk.--"I fear, Charley, that
you'll need to ride behind Harry on his gray pony. It wouldn't
improve his speed, to be sure, having two on his back; but then he's
so like a pig in his movements at any rate, I don't think it would
spoil his pace much."
"Could he not try the new horse?" he continued, turning to the groom.
"The noo 'oss, sir! he might as well try to ride a mad buffalo bull,
sir. He's quite a young colt, sir, only 'alf broke--kicks like a
windmill, sir, and's got an 'ead like a steam-engine; 'e couldn't
'old 'im in no'ow, sir. I 'ad 'im down to the smith 'tother day, sir,
an' says 'e to me, says 'e, 'That's a screamer, that is.' 'Yes,' says
I, 'that his a fact.' 'Well,' says 'e--"
"Hang the smith!" cried the senior clerk, losing all patience; "can't
you answer me without so much talk? Is the horse too wild to ride?"
"Yes, sir, 'e is" said the groom, with a look of slightly offended
dignity, and drawing himself up--if we may use such an expression to
one who was always drawn up to such an extent that he seemed to be
just balanced on his heels, and required only a gentle push to lay
him flat on his back.
"Oh, I have it!" cried Peter Mactavish, who had been standing during
the conversation with his back to the fire, and a short pipe in his
mouth: "John Fowler, the miller, has just purchased a new pony. I'm
told it's an old buffalo-runner, and I'm certain he would lend it to
Charley at once."
"The very thing," said the senior clerk.--"Run, Tom; give the miller
my compliments, and beg the loan of his horse for Charley Kennedy.--I
think he knows you, Charley?"
The dinner-bell rang as the groom departed, and the clerks prepared
for their mid-day meal.
The Senior clerk's order to _"run"_ was a mere form of speech,
intended to indicate that haste was desirable. No man imagined for a
moment that Tom Whyte could, by any possibility, _run_. He hadn't run
since he was dismissed from the army, twenty years before, for
incurable drunkenness; and most of Tom's friend's entertained the
belief that if he ever attempted to run he would crack all over, and
go to pieces like a disentombed Egyptian mummy. Tom therefore walked
off to the row of buildings inhabited by the men, where he sat down
on a bench in front of his bed, and proceeded leisurely to fill his
The room in which he sat was a fair specimen of the dwellings devoted
to the _employés_ of the Hudson's Bay Company throughout the country.
It was large, and low in the roof, built entirely of wood, which was
unpainted; a matter, however, of no consequence, as, from long
exposure to dust and tobacco smoke, the floor, walls, and ceiling had
become one deep, uniform brown. The men's beds were constructed after
the fashion of berths on board ship, being wooden boxes ranged in
tiers round the room. Several tables and benches were strewn
miscellaneously about the floor, in the centre of which stood a large
double iron stove, with the word _"Carron"_ stamped on it. This
served at once for cooking and warming the place. Numerous guns,
axes, and canoe-paddles hung round the walls or were piled in
corners, and the rafters sustained a miscellaneous mass of materials,
the more conspicuous among which were snow-shoes, dog-sledges, axe-
handles, and nets.
Having filled and lighted his pipe, Tom Whyte thrust his hands into
his deerskin mittens, and sauntered off to perform his errand.
A wolf-hunt in the prairies--Charley astonishes his father, and
breaks in the "noo 'oss" effectually.
During the long winter that reigns in the northern regions of
America, the thermometer ranges, for many months together, from zero
down to 20, 30, and 40 degrees _below_ it. In different parts of the
country the intensity of the frost varies a little, but not
sufficiently to make any appreciable change in one's sensation of
cold. At York Fort, on the shores of Hudson's Bay, where the winter
is eight months long, the spirit-of-wine (mercury being useless in so
cold a climate) sometimes falls so low as 50 degrees below zero; and
away in the regions of Great Bear Lake it has been known to fall
considerably lower than 60 degrees below zero of Fahrenheit. Cold of
such intensity, of course, produces many curious and interesting
effects, which, although scarcely noticed by the inhabitants, make a
strong impression upon the minds of those who visit the country for
the first time. A youth goes out to walk on one of the first sharp,
frosty mornings. His locks are brown and his face ruddy. In half-an-
hour he returns with his face blue, his nose frost-bitten, and his
locks _white_--the latter effect being produced by his breath
congealing on his hair and breast, until both are covered with hoar-
frost. Perhaps he is of a sceptical nature, prejudiced it may be, in
favour of old habits and customs; so that, although told by those who
ought to know that it is absolutely necessary to wear moccasins in
winter, he prefers the leather boots to which he has been accustomed
at home, and goes out with them accordingly In a few minutes the feet
begin to lose sensation. First the toes, as far as feeling goes,
vanish; then the heels depart, and he feels the extraordinary and
peculiar and altogether disagreeable sensation of one who has had his
heels and toes amputated, and is walking about on his insteps. Soon,
however, these also fade away, and the unhappy youth rushes
frantically home on the stumps of his ankle-bones--at least so it
appears to him, and so in reality it would turn out to be if he did
not speedily rub the benumbed appendages into vitality again.
The whole country during this season is buried in snow, and the
prairies of Red River present the appearance of a sea of the purest
white for five or six months of the year. Impelled by hunger, troops
of prairie wolves prowl round the settlement, safe from the assault
of man in consequence of their light weight permitting them to
scamper away on the surface of the snow, into which man or horse,
from their greater weight, would sink, so as to render pursuit either
fearfully laborious or altogether impossible. In spring, however,
when the first thaws begin to take place, and commence that
delightful process of disruption which introduces this charming
season of the year, the relative position of wolf and man is
reversed. The snow becomes suddenly soft, so that the short legs of
the wolf, sinking deep into it, fail to reach the solid ground below,
and he is obliged to drag heavily along; while the long legs of the
horse enable him to plunge through and dash aside the snow at a rate
which, although not very fleet, is sufficient nevertheless to
overtake the chase and give his rider a chance of shooting it. The
inhabitants of Red River are not much addicted to this sport, but the
gentlemen of the Hudson's Bay Service sometimes practise it; and it
was to a hunt of this description that our young friend Charley
Kennedy was now so anxious to go.
The morning was propitious. The sun blazed in dazzling splendour in a
sky of deep unclouded blue, while the white prairie glittered as if
it were a sea of diamonds rolling out in an unbroken sheet from the
walls of the fort to the horizon, and on looking at which one
experienced all the pleasurable feelings of being out on a calm day
on the wide, wide sea, without the disagreeable consequence of being
very, very sick.
The thermometer stood at 39° in the shade, and "everythin_k_" as Tom
Whyte emphatically expressed it, "looked like a runnin' of right away
into slush." That unusual sound, the trickling of water, so
inexpressibly grateful to the ears of those who dwell in frosty
climes, was heard all around, as the heavy masses of snow on the
housetops sent a few adventurous drops gliding down the icicles which
depended from the eaves and gables; and there was a balmy softness in
the air that told of coming spring. Nature, in fact, seemed to have
wakened from her long nap, and was beginning to think of getting up.
Like people, however, who venture to delay so long as to _think_
about it, Nature frequently turns round and goes to sleep again in
her icy cradle for a few weeks after the first awakening.
The scene in the court-yard of Fort Garry harmonised with the
cheerful spirit of the morning. Tom Whyte, with that upright
solemnity which constituted one of his characteristic features, was
standing in the centre of a group of horses, whose energy he
endeavoured to restrain with the help of a small Indian boy, to whom
meanwhile he imparted a variety of useful and otherwise unattainable
"You see, Joseph," said he to the urchin, who gazed gravely in his
face with a pair of very large and dark eyes, "ponies is often
skittish. Keason why one should be, an' another not, I can't
comprehend. P'r'aps it's nat'ral, p'r'aps not, but howsomediver so
'tis; an' if it's more nor above the likes o' _me_, Joseph, you
needn't be suprised that it's somethink haltogether beyond _you_."
It will not surprise the reader to be told that Joseph made no reply
to this speech, having a very imperfect acquaintance with the English
language, especially the peculiar dialect of that tongue in which Tom
Whyte was wont to express his ideas, when he had any.
He merely gave a grunt, and continued to gaze at Tom's fishy eyes,
which were about as interesting as the face to which they belonged,
and _that_ might have been mistaken for almost anything.
"Yes, Joseph," he continued, "that's a fact. There's the noo brown
o'ss now, _it's_ a skittish 'un. And there's Mr. Kennedy's gray mare,
wot's a standin' of beside me, she ain't skittish a bit, though she's
plenty of spirit, and wouldn't care hanythink for a five-barred gate.
Now, wot I want to know is, wot's the reason why?"
We fear that the reason why, however interesting it might prove to
naturalists, must remain a profound secret for ever; for just as the
groom was about to entertain Joseph with one of his theories on the
point, Charley Kennedy and Harry Somerville hastily approached.
"Ho, Tom!" exclaimed the former, "have you got the miller's pony for
"Why, no, sir; 'e 'adn't got his shoes on, sir, last night--"
"Oh, bother his shoes!" said Charley, in a voice of great
disappointment. "Why didn't you bring him up without shoes, man, eh?"
"Well, sir, the miller said 'e'd get 'em put on early this mornin',
an' I 'xpect 'e'll be 'ere in 'alf-a-hour at farthest, sir."
"Oh, very well," replied Charley, much relieved, but still a little
nettled at the bare possibility of being late.--"Come along, Harry;
let's go and meet him. He'll be long enough of coming if we don't go
to poke him up a bit."
"You'd better wait," called out the groom, as the boys hastened away.
"If you go by the river, he'll p'r'aps come by the plains; and if you
go by the plains, he'll p'r'aps come by the river."
Charley and Harry stopped and looked at each other. Then they looked
at the groom, and as their eyes surveyed his solemn, cadaverous
countenance, which seemed a sort of bad caricature of the long
visages of the horses that stood around him, they burst into a
simultaneous and prolonged laugh.
"He's a clever old lamp-post," said Harry at last: "we had better
"You see," continued Tom Whyte, "the pony's 'oofs is in an 'orrible
state. Last night w'en I see'd 'im I said to the miller, says I,
'John, I'll take 'im down to the smith d'rectly.' 'Very good,' said
John. So I 'ad him down to the smith--"
The remainder of Tom's speech was cut short by one of those
unforeseen operations of the laws of nature which are peculiar to
arctic climates. During the long winter repeated falls of snow cover
the housetops with white mantles upwards of a foot thick, which
become gradually thicker and more consolidated as winter advances. In
spring the suddenness of the thaw loosens these from the sloping
roofs, and precipitates them in masses to the ground. These miniature
avalanches are dangerous, people having been seriously injured and
sometimes killed by them. Now it happened that a very large mass of
snow, which lay on and partly depended from the roof of the house
near to which the horses were standing, gave way, and just at that
critical point in Tom Whyte's speech when he "'ad 'im down to the
smith," fell with a stunning crash on the back of Mr. Kennedy's gray
mare. The mare was not "skittish"--by no means--according to Tom's
idea, but it would have been more than an ordinary mare to have stood
the sudden descent of half-a-ton of snow without _some_ symptoms of
consciousness. No sooner did it feel the blow than it sent both heels
with a bang against the wooden store, by way of preliminary movement,
and then rearing up with a wild snort, it sprang over Tom Whyte's
head, jerked the reins from his hand, and upset him in the snow. Poor
Tom never _bent_ to anything. The military despotism under which he
had been reared having substituted a touch of the cap for a bow,
rendered it unnecessary to bend; prolonged drill, laziness, and
rheumatism made it at last impossible. When he stood up, he did so
after the manner of a pillar; when he sat down, he broke across at
two points, much in the way in which a foot-rule would have done had
_it_ felt disposed to sit down; and when he fell, he came down like
an overturned lamp-post. On the present occasion Tom became
horizontal in a moment, and from his unfortunate propensity to fall
straight, his head, reaching much farther than might have been
expected, came into violent contact with the small Indian boy, who
fell flat likewise, letting go the reins of the horses, which latter
no sooner felt themselves free than they fled, curvetting and
snorting round the court, with reins and manes flying in rare
The two boys, who could scarce stand for laughing, ran to the gates
of the fort to prevent the chargers getting free, and in a short time
they were again secured, although evidently much elated in spirit.
A few minutes after this Mr. Grant issued from the principal house
leaning on Mr. Kennedy's arm, and followed by the senior clerk, Peter
Mactavish, and one or two friends who had come to take part in the
wolf-hunt. They were all armed with double or single barrelled guns
or pistols, according to their several fancies. The two elderly
gentlemen alone entered upon the scene without any more deadly
weapons than their heavy riding-whips. Young Harry Somerville, who
had been strongly advised not to take a gun lest he should shoot
himself or his horse or his companions, was content to take the field
with a small pocket-pistol, which he crammed to the muzzle with a
compound of ball and swan-shot.
"It won't do," said Mr. Grant, in an earnest voice, to his friend, as
they walked towards the horses--"it won't do to check him too
abruptly, my dear sir."
It was evident that they were recurring to the subject of
conversation of the previous day, and it was also evident that the
father's wrath was in that very uncertain state when a word or look
can throw it into violent agitation.
"Just permit me," continued Mr. Grant, "to get him sent to the
Saskatchewan or Athabasca for a couple of years. By that time he'll
have had enough of a rough life, and be only too glad to get a berth
at headquarters. If you thwart him now, I feel convinced that he'll
break through all restraint."
"Humph!" ejaculated Mr. Kennedy, with a frown--"Come here, Charley,"
he said, as the boy approached with a disappointed look to tell of
his failure in getting a horse; "I've been talking with Mr. Grant
again about this business, and he says he can easily get you into the
counting-room here for a year, so you'll make arrangements--"
The old gentleman paused. He was going to have followed his wonted
course by _commanding_ instantaneous obedience; but as his eye fell
upon the honest, open, though disappointed face of his son, a gush of
tenderness filled his heart. Laying his hand upon Charley's head, he
said, in a kind but abrupt tone, "There now, Charley, my boy, make up
your mind to give in with a good grace. It'll only be hard work for a
year or two, and then plain sailing after that, Charley!"
Charley's clear blue eyes filled with tears as the accents of
kindness fell upon his ear.
It is strange that men should frequently be so blind to the potent
influence of kindness. Independently of the Divine authority, which
assures us that "a soft answer turneth away wrath," and that "_love_
is the fulfilling of the law," who has not, in the course of his
experience, felt the overwhelming power of a truly affectionate word;
not a word which possesses merely an affectionate signification, but
a word spoken with a gush of tenderness, where love rolls in the
tone, and beams in the eye, and revels in every wrinkle of the face?
And how much more powerfully does such a word or look or tone strike
home to the heart if uttered by one whose lips are not much
accustomed to the formation of honeyed words or sweet sentences! Had
Mr. Kennedy, senior, known more of this power, and put it more
frequently to the proof, we venture to affirm that Mr. Kennedy,
junior, would have _allowed_ his _"flint to be fixed"_ (as his father
pithily expressed it) long ago.
Ere Charley could reply to the question, Mr. Grant's voice, pitched
in an elevated key, interrupted them.
"Eh! what?" said that gentleman to Tom Whyte. "No horse for Charley!
"No, sir," said Tom.
"Where's the brown pony?" said Mr. Grant, abruptly.
"Cut 'is fetlock, sir," said Tom, slowly.
"And the new horse?"
"'Tan't 'alf broke yet, sir."
"Ah! that's bad.--It wouldn't do to take an unbroken charger,
Charley; for although you are a pretty good rider, you couldn't
manage him, I fear. Let me see."
"Please, sir," said the groom, touching his hat, "I've borrowed the
miller's pony for 'im, and 'e's sure to be 'ere in 'alf-a-hour at
"Oh, that'll do," said Mr. Grant; "you can soon overtake us. We shall
ride slowly out, straight into the prairie, and Harry will remain
behind to keep you company."
So saying, Mr. Grant mounted his horse and rode out at the back gate,
followed by the whole cavalcade.
"Now this is too bad!" said Charley, looking with a very perplexed
air at his companion. "What's to be done?"
Harry evidently did not know what was to be done, and made no
difficulty of saying so in a very sympathising tone. Moreover, he
begged Charley very earnestly to take _his_ pony, but this the other
would not hear of; so they came to the conclusion that there was
nothing for it but to wait as patiently as possible for the arrival
of the expected horse. In the meantime Harry proposed a saunter in
the field adjoining the fort. Charley assented, and the two friends
walked away, leading the gray pony along with them.
To the right of Fort Garry was a small enclosure, at the extreme end
of which commences a growth of willows and underwood, which gradually
increases in size till it becomes a pretty thick belt of woodland,
skirting up the river for many miles. Here stood the stable belonging
to the establishment; and as the boys passed it, Charley suddenly
conceived a strong desire to see the renowned "noo 'oss," which Tom
Whyte had said was only "'alf broke;" so he turned the key, opened
the door, and went in.
There was nothing _very_ peculiar about this horse, excepting that
his legs seemed rather long for his body, and upon a closer
examination, there was a noticeable breadth of nostril and a latent
fire in his eye, indicating a good deal of spirit, which, like
Charley's own, required taming.
"Oh" said Charley," what a splendid fellow! I say, Harry, I'll go out
"You'd better not."
"Why? just because if you do Mr. Grant will be down upon you, and
your father won't be very well pleased."
"Nonsense," cried Charley. "Father didn't say I wasn't to take him. I
don't think he'd care much. He's not afraid of my breaking my neck.
And then, Mr. Grant seemed to be only afraid of my being run off
with--not of his horse being hurt. Here goes for it!" In another
moment Charley had him saddled and bridled, and led him out into the
"Why, I declare, he's quite quiet; just like a lamb," said Harry, in
"So he is," replied Charley. "He's a capital charger; and even if he
does bolt, he can't run five hundred miles at a stretch. If I turn
his head to the prairies, the Rocky Mountains are the first things
that will bring him up. So let him run if he likes, I don't care a
fig." And springing lightly into the saddle, he cantered out of the
yard, followed by his friend.
The young horse was a well-formed, showy animal, with a good deal of
bone--perhaps too much for elegance. He was of a beautiful dark
brown, and carried a high head and tail, with a high-stepping gait,
that gave him a noble appearance. As Charley cantered along at a
steady pace, he could discover no symptoms of the refractory spirit
which had been ascribed to him.
"Let us strike out straight for the horizon now," said Harry, after
they had galloped half-a-mile or so along the beaten track. "See,
here are the tracks of our friends." Turning sharp round as he spoke,
he leaped his pony over the heap that lined the road, and galloped
away through the soft snow.
At this point the young horse began to show his evil spirit. Instead
of following the other, he suddenly halted and began to back.
"Hollo, Harry!" exclaimed Charley; "hold on a bit. Here's this
monster begun his tricks."
"Hit him a crack with the whip," shouted Harry.
Charley acted upon the advice, which had the effect of making the
horse shake his head with a sharp snort, and back more vigorously
"There, my fine fellow, quiet now," said Charley, in a soothing tone,
patting the horse's neck. "It's a comfort to know you can't go far in
_that_ direction, anyhow!" he added, as he glanced over his shoulder,
and saw an immense drift behind.
He was right. In a few minutes the horse backed into the snow-drift.
Finding his hind-quarters imprisoned by a power that was too much
even for _his_ obstinacy to overcome, he gave another snort and a
heavy plunge, which almost unseated his young rider.
"Hold on fast," cried Harry, who had now come up.
"No fear," cried Charley, as he clinched his teeth and gathered the
reins more firmly.--"Now for it, you young villain!" and raising his
whip, he brought it down with a heavy slash on the horse's flank.
Had the snow-drift been a cannon, and the horse a bombshell, he could
scarcely have sprung from it with greater velocity. One bound landed
him on the road; another cleared it; and, in a second more, he
stretched out at full speed--his ears flat on his neck, mane and tail
flying in the wind, and the bit tight between his teeth.
"Well done," cried Harry, as he passed. "You're off now, old fellow;
"Hurrah!" shouted Charley, in reply, leaving his cap in the snow as a
parting souvenir; while, seeing that it was useless to endeavour to
check his steed, he became quite wild with excitement; gave him the
rein; flourished his whip; and flew over the white plains, casting up
the snow in clouds behind him like a hurricane.
While this little escapade was being enacted by the boys, the hunters
were riding leisurely out upon the snowy sea in search of a wolf.
Words cannot convey to you, dear reader, an adequate conception of
the peculiar fascination, the exhilarating splendour of the scene by
which our hunters were surrounded. Its beauty lay not in variety of
feature in the landscape, for there was none. One vast sheet of white
alone met the view, bounded all round by the blue circle of the sky,
and broken, in one or two places, by a patch or two of willows,
which, rising on the plain, appeared like little islands in a frozen
sea. It was the glittering sparkle of the snow in the bright
sunshine; the dreamy haziness of the atmosphere, mingling earth and
sky as in a halo of gold; the first taste, the first _smell_ of
spring after a long winter, bursting suddenly upon the senses, like
the unexpected visit of a long-absent, much-loved, and almost-
forgotten friend; the soft, warm feeling of the south wind, bearing
on its wings the balmy influences of sunny climes, and recalling
vividly the scenes, the pleasures, the bustling occupations of
summer. It was this that caused the hunters' hearts to leap within
them as they rode along--that induced old Mr. Kennedy to forget his
years, and shout as he had been wont to do in days gone by, when he
used to follow the track of the elk or hunt the wild buffalo; and it
was this that made the otherwise monotonous prairies, on this
particular clay, so charming.
The party had wandered about without discovering anything that bore
the smallest resemblance to a wolf, for upwards of an hour; Fort
Garry had fallen astern (to use a nautical phrase) until it had
become a mere speck on the horizon, and vanished altogether; Peter
Mactavish had twice given a false alarm, in the eagerness of his
spirit, and had three times plunged his horse up to the girths in a
snow-drift; the senior clerk was waxing impatient, and the horses
restive, when a sudden "Hollo!" from Mr. Grant brought the whole
cavalcade to a stand.
The object which drew his attention, and to which he directed the
anxious eyes of his friends was a small speck, rather triangular in
form, which overtopped a little willow bush not more than five or six
hundred yards distant.
"There he is!" exclaimed Mr. Grant. "That's a fact," cried Mr.
Kennedy; and both gentlemen, instantaneously giving a shout, bounded
towards the object; not, however, before the senior clerk, who was
mounted on a fleet and strong horse, had taken the lead by six yards.
A moment afterwards the speck rose up and discovered itself to be a
veritable wolf. Moreover, he condescended to show his teeth, and
then, conceiving it probable that his enemies were too numerous for
him, he turned suddenly round and fled away. For ten minutes or so
the chase was kept up at full speed, and as the snow happened to be
shallow at the starting-point, the wolf kept well ahead of its
pursuers--indeed, distanced them a little. But soon the snow became
deeper, and the wolf plunged heavily, and the horses gained
considerably. Although to the eye the prairies seemed to be a uniform
level, there were numerous slight undulations, in which drifts of
some depth had collected. Into one of these the wolf now plunged and
laboured slowly through it. But so deep was the snow that the horses
almost stuck fast. A few minutes, however, brought them out, and Mr.
Grant and Mr. Kennedy, who had kept close to each other during the
run, pulled up for a moment on the summit of a ridge to breathe their
"What can that be?" exclaimed the former, pointing with his whip to a
distant object which was moving rapidly over the plain.
"Eh! what--where?" said Mr. Kennedy, shading his eyes with his hand,
and peering in the direction indicated. "Why, that's another wolf,
isn't it? No; it runs too fast for that."
"Strange," said his friend; "what _can_ it be?"
"If I hadn't seen every beast in the country," remarked Mr. Kennedy,
"and didn't know that there are no such animals north of the equator,
I should say it was a mad dromedary mounted by a ring-tailed roarer."
"It can't be surely--not possible!" exclaimed Mr. Grant. "It's not
Charley on the new horse!"
Mr. Grant said this with an air of vexation that annoyed his friend a
little. He would not have much minded Charley's taking a horse
without leave, no matter how wild it might be; but he did not at all
relish the idea of making an apology for his son's misconduct, and
for the moment did not exactly know what to say. As usual in such a
dilemma, the old man took refuge in a towering passion, gave his
steed a sharp cut with the whip, and galloped forward to meet the
We are not acquainted with the general appearance of a "ring-tailed
roarer;" in fact, we have grave doubts as to whether such an animal
exists at all; but if it does, and is particularly wild, dishevelled,
and fierce in deportment, there is no doubt whatever that when Mr.
Kennedy applied the name to his hopeful son, the application was
singularly powerful and appropriate.
Charley had had a long run since we last saw him. After describing a
wide curve, in which his charger displayed a surprising aptitude for
picking out the ground that was least covered with snow, he headed
straight for the fort again at the same pace at which he had started.
At first Charley tried every possible method to check him, but in
vain; so he gave it up, resolving to enjoy the race, since he could
not prevent it. The young horse seemed to be made of lightning, with
bones and muscles of brass; for he bounded untiringly forward for
miles, tossing his head and snorting in his wild career. But Charley
was a good horseman, and did not mind _that_ much, being quite
satisfied that the horse _was_ a horse and not a spirit, and that
therefore he could not run for ever. At last he approached the party,
in search of which he had originally set out. His eyes dilated and
his colour heightened as he beheld the wolf running directly towards
him. Fumbling hastily for the pistol which he had borrowed from his
friend Harry, he drew it from his pocket, and prepared to give the
animal a shot in passing. Just at that moment the wolf caught sight
of this new enemy in advance, and diverged suddenly to the left,
plunging into a drift in his confusion, and so enabling the senior
clerk to overtake him, and send an ounce of heavy shot into his side,
which turned him over quite dead. The shot, however had a double
effect. At that instant Charley swept past; and his mettlesome steed
swerved as it heard the loud report of the gun, thereby almost
unhorsing his rider, and causing him unintentionally to discharge the
conglomerate of bullets and swan-shot into the flank of Peter
Mactavish's horse--fortunately at a distance which rendered the shot
equivalent to a dozen very sharp and particularly stinging blows. On
receiving this unexpected salute, the astonished charger reared
convulsively, and fell back upon his rider, who was thereby buried
deep in the snow, not a vestige of him being left, no more than if he
had never existed at all. Indeed, for a moment it seemed to be
doubtful whether poor Peter _did_ exist or not, until a sudden
upheaving of the snow took place, and his dishevelled head appeared,
with the eyes and mouth wide open, bearing on them an expression of
mingled horror and amazement. Meanwhile the second shot acted like a
spur on the young horse, which flew past Mr. Kennedy like a
"Stop, you young scoundrel!" he shouted, shaking his fist at Charley
as he passed.
Charley was past stopping, either by inclination or ability. This
sudden and unexpected accumulation of disasters was too much for him.
As he passed his sire, with his brown curls streaming straight out
behind, and his eyes flashing with excitement, his teeth clinched,
and his horse tearing along more like an incarnate fiend than an
animal, a spirit of combined recklessness, consternation,
indignation, and glee took possession of him. He waved his whip
wildly over his head, brought it down with a stinging cut on the
horse's neck, and uttered a shout of defiance that threw completely
into the shade the loudest war-whoop that was ever uttered by the
brazen lungs of the wildest savage between Hudson's Bay and Oregon.
Seeing and hearing this, old Mr. Kennedy wheeled about and dashed off
in pursuit with much greater energy than he had displayed in chase of
The race bid fair to be a long one, for the young horse was strong in
wind and limb; and the gray mare, though decidedly not "the better
horse," was much fresher than the other.
The hunters, who were now joined by Harry Somerville, did not feel it
incumbent on them to follow this new chase; so they contented
themselves with watching their flight towards the fort, while they
followed at a more leisurely pace.
Meanwhile Charley rapidly neared Fort Garry, and now began to wonder
whether the stable door was open, and if so, whether it were better
for him to take his chance of getting his neck broken, or to throw
himself into the next snow-drift that presented itself.
He had not to remain long in suspense. The wooden fence that enclosed
the stable-yard lay before him. It was between four and five feet
high, with a beaten track running along the outside, and a deep snow-
drift on the other. Charley felt that the young horse had made up his
mind to leap this. As he did not at the moment see that there was
anything better to be done, he prepared for it. As the horse bent on
his haunches to spring, he gave him a smart cut with the whip, went
over like a rocket, and plunged up to the neck in the snow-drift;
which brought his career to an abrupt conclusion. The sudden stoppage
of the horse was _one_ thing, but the arresting of Master Charley was
_another_ and quite a different thing. The instant his charger
landed, he left the saddle like a harlequin, described an extensive
curve in the air, and fell head foremost into the drift, above which
his boots and three inches of his legs alone remained to tell the
On witnessing this climax, Mr. Kennedy, senior, pulled up,
dismounted, and ran--with an expression of some anxiety on his
countenance--to the help of his son, while Tom Whyte came out of the
stable just in time to receive the "noo 'oss" as he floundered out of
"I believe," said the groom, as he surveyed the trembling charger,
"that your son has broke the noo 'oss, sir, better nor I could 'ave
"I believe that my son has broken his neck," said Mr. Kennedy
wrathfully. "Come here and help me to dig him out."
In a few minutes Charley was dug out, in a state of insensibility,
and carried up to the fort, where he was laid on a bed, and
restoratives actively applied for his recovery.
Peter Mactavish becomes an amateur doctor; Charley promulgates his
views of tilings in general to Kate; and Kate waxes sagacious.
Shortly after the catastrophe just related, Charley opened his eyes
to consciousness, and aroused himself out of a prolonged fainting
fit, under the combined influence of a strong constitution and the
medical treatment of his friends.
Medical treatment in the wilds of North America, by the way, is very
original in its character, and is founded on principles so vague that
no one has ever been found capable of stating them clearly. Owing to
the stubborn fact that there are no doctors in the country, men have
been thrown upon their own resources, and as a natural consequence
_every_ man is a doctor. True, there _are_ two, it may be three, real
doctors in the Hudson's Bay Company's employment; but as one of these
is resident on the shores of Hudson's Bay, another in Oregon, and a
third in Red River Settlement, they are not considered available for
every case of emergency that may chance to occur in the hundreds of
little outposts, scattered far and wide over the whole continent of
North America, with miles and miles of primeval wilderness between
each. We do not think, therefore, that when we say there are _no_
doctors in the country, we use a culpable amount of exaggeration.
If a man gets ill, he goes on till he gets better; and if he doesn't
get better, he dies. To avert such an undesirable consummation,
desperate and random efforts are made in an amateur way. The old
proverb that "extremes meet" is verified. And in a land where no
doctors are to be had for love or money, doctors meet you at every
turn, ready to practise on everything, with anything, and all for
nothing, on the shortest possible notice. As maybe supposed, the
practice is novel, and not unfrequently extremely wild. Tooth-drawing
is considered child's play--mere blacksmith's work; bleeding is a
general remedy for everything, when all else fails; castor-oil, Epsom
salts, and emetics are the three keynotes, the foundations, and the
copestones of the system.
In Red River there is only one _genuine_ doctor; and as the
settlement is fully sixty miles long, he has enough to do, and cannot
always be found when wanted, so that Charley had to rest content with
amateur treatment in the meantime. Peter Mactavish was the first to
try his powers. He was aware that laudanum had the effect of
producing sleep, and seeing that Charley looked somewhat sleepy after
recovering consciousness, he thought it advisable to help out that
propensity to slumber, and went to the medicine-chest, whence he
extracted a small phial of tincture of rhubarb, the half of which he
emptied into a wine-glass, under the impression that it was laudanum,
and poured down Charley's throat! The poor boy swallowed a little,
and sputtered the remainder over the bedclothes. It may be remarked
here that Mactavish was a wild, happy, half-mad sort of fellow--
wonderfully erudite in regard to some things, and profoundly ignorant
in regard to others. Medicine, it need scarcely be added, was not his
_forte_. Having accomplished this feat to his satisfaction, he sat
down to watch by the bedside of his friend. Peter had taken this
opportunity to indulge in a little private practice just after
several of the other gentlemen had left the office, under the
impression that Charley had better remain quiet for a short time.
"Well, Peter," whispered Mr. Kennedy, senior, putting his head in at
the door (it was Harry's room in which Charley lay), "how is he now?"
"Oh! doing capitally," replied Peter, in a hoarse whisper, at the
same time rising and entering the office, while he gently closed the
door behind him. "I gave him a small dose of physic, which I think
has done mm good. He's sleeping like a top now."
Mr. Kennedy frowned slightly, and made one or two remarks in
reference to physic which were not calculated to gratify the ears of
"What did you give him?" he inquired abruptly.
"Only a little laudanum."
"_Only,_ indeed! it's all trash together, and that's the worst kind
of trash you could have given him. Humph!" and the old gentleman
jerked his shoulders testily.
"How much did yon give him?" said the senior clerk, who had entered
the apartment with Harry a few minutes before.
"Not quite a wineglassful," replied Peter, somewhat subdued.
"A what!" cried the father, starting from his chair as if he had
received an electric shock, and rushing into the adjoining room, up
and down which he raved in a state of distraction, being utterly
ignorant of what should be done under the circumstances.
Poor Harry Somerville fell rather than leaped off his stool, and
dashed into the bedroom, where old Mr. Kennedy was occupied in
alternately heaping unutterable abuse on the head of Peter Mactavish,
and imploring him to advise what was best to be done. But Peter knew
not. He could only make one or two insane proposals to roll Charley
about the floor, and see if _that_ would do him any good; while Harry
suggested in desperation that he should be hung by the heels, and
perhaps it would run out!
Meanwhile the senior clerk seized his hat, with the intention of
going in search of Tom Whyte, and rushed out at the door; which he
had no sooner done than he found himself tightly embraced in the arms
of that worthy, who happened to be entering at the moment, and who,
in consequence of the sudden onset, was pinned up against the wall of
"Oh, my buzzum!" exclaimed Tom, laying his hand on his breast;
"you've a'most bu'st me, sir. W'at's wrong, sir?"
"Go for the doctor, Tom, quick! run like the wind. Take the freshest
horse; fly, Tom, Charley's poisoned--laudanum; quick!"
"'Eavens an' 'arth!" ejaculated the groom, wheeling round, and
stalking rapidly off to the stable like a pair of insane compasses,
while the senior clerk returned to the bedroom, where he found Mr.
Kennedy still raving, Peter Mactavish still aghast and deadly pale,
and Harry Somerville staring like a maniac at his young friend, as if
he expected every moment to see him explode, although, to all
appearance, he was sleeping soundly, and comfortably too,
notwithstanding the noise that was going on around him. Suddenly
Harry's eye rested on the label of the half-empty phial, and he
uttered a loud, prolonged cheer.
"It's only tincture of--"
"Wild cats and furies!" cried Mr. Kennedy, turning sharply round and
seizing Harry by the collar, "why d'you kick up such a row, eh?"
"It's only tincture of rhubarb," repeated the boy, disengaging
himself and holding up the phial triumphantly.
"So it is, I declare," exclaimed Mr. Kennedy, in a tone that
indicated intense relief of mind; while Peter Mactavish uttered a
sigh so deep that one might suppose a burden of innumerable tons
weight had just been removed from his breast.
Charley had been roused from his slumbers by this last ebullition;
but on being told what had caused it, he turned languidly round on
his pillow and went to sleep again, while his friends departed and
left him to repose.
Tom Whyte failed to find the doctor. The servant told him that her
master had been suddenly called to set a broken leg that morning for
a trapper who lived ten miles _down_ the river, and on his return had
found a man waiting with a horse and cariole, who carried him
violently away to see his wife, who had been taken suddenly ill at a
house twenty miles _up_ the river, and so she didn't expect him back
"An' where has 'e been took to?" inquired Tom.
She couldn't tell; she knew it was somewhere about the White-horse
Plains, but she didn't know more than that.
"Did 'e not say w'en 'e'd be home?"
"No, he didn't."
"Oh dear!" said Tom, rubbing his long nose in great perplexity. "It's
an 'orrible case o' sudden and onexpected pison."
She was sorry for it, but couldn't help that; and thereupon, bidding
him good-morning, shut the door.
Tom's wits had come to that condition which just precedes "giving it
up" as hopeless, when it occurred to him that he was not far from old
Mr. Kennedy's residence; so he stepped into the cariole again and
drove thither. On his arrival he threw poor Mrs. Kennedy and Kate
into great consternation by his exceedingly graphic, and more than
slightly exaggerated, account of what had brought him in search of
the doctor. At first Mrs. Kennedy resolved to go up to Fort Garry
immediately, but Kate persuaded her to remain at home, by pointing
out that she could herself go, and if anything very serious had
occurred (which she didn't believe), Mr. Kennedy could come down for
her immediately, while she (Kate) could remain to nurse her brother.
In a few minutes Kate and Tom were seated side by side in the little
cariole, driving swiftly up the frozen river; and two hours later the
former was seated by her brother's bedside, watching him as he slept
with a look of tender affection and solicitude.
Rousing himself from his slumbers, Charley looked vacantly round the
"Have you slept well, darling?" inquired Kate, laying her hand
lightly on his forehead.
"Slept--eh! oh yes. I've slept. I say, Kate, what a precious bump I
came down on my head, to be sure!"
"Hush, Charley!" said Kate, perceiving that he was becoming
energetic. "Father said you were to keep quiet--and so do I," she
added, with a frown." Shut your eyes, sir, and go to sleep."
Charley complied by shutting his eyes, and opening his mouth, and
uttering a succession of deep snores.
"Now, you bad boy," said Kate, "why _won't_ you try to rest?"
"Because, Kate, dear/' said Charley, opening his eyes again--"because
I feel as if I had slept a week at least; and not being one of the
seven sleepers, I don't think it necessary to do more in that way
just now. Besides, my sweet but particularly wicked sister, I wish
just at this moment to have a talk with you."
"But are you sure it won't do you harm to talk? do you feel quite
"Quite: Sampson was a mere infant compared to me."
"Oh, don't talk nonsense, Charley dear, and keep your hands quiet,
and don't lift the clothes with your knees in that way, else I'll go
away and leave you."
"Very well, my pet; if you do, I'll get up and dress and follow you,
that's all! But come, Kate, tell me first of all how it was that I
got pitched off that long-legged rhinoceros, and who it was that
picked me up, and why wasn't I killed, and how did I come here; for
my head is sadly confused, and I scarcely recollect anything that has
happened; and before commencing your discourse, Kate, please hand me
a glass of water, for my mouth is as dry as a whistle."
Kate handed him a glass of water, smoothed his pillow, brushed the
curls gently off his forehead, and sat down on the bedside.
"Thank you, Kate; now go on."
"Well, you see," she began--
"Pardon me, dearest," interrupted Charley, "if you would please to
look at me you would observe that my two eyes are tightly closed, so
that I don't _see_ at all."
"Well, then, you must understand--"
"Must I? Oh!--"
"That after that wicked horse leaped with you over the stable fence,
you were thrown high into the air, and turning completely round, fell
head foremost into the snow, and your poor head went through the top
of an old cask that had been buried there all winter."
"Dear me!" ejaculated Charley; "did anyone see me, Kate?"
"Who?" asked Charley, somewhat anxiously; "not Mrs. Grant, I hope?
for if she did she'd never let me hear the last of it."
"No; only our father, who was chasing you at the time," replied Kate,
with a merry laugh.
"And no one else?"
"No--oh yes, by-the-by, Tom Whyte was there too."
"Oh, he's nobody. Go on."
"But tell me, Charley, why do you care about Mrs. Grant seeing you?"
"Oh! no reason at all, only she's such an abominable quiz."
We must guard the reader here against the supposition that Mrs. Grant
was a quiz of the ordinary kind. She was by no means a sprightly,
clever woman, rather fond of a joke than otherwise, as the term might
lead you to suppose. Her corporeal frame was very large, excessively
fat, and remarkably unwieldy; being an appropriate casket in which to
enshrine a mind of the heaviest and most sluggish nature. She spoke
little, ate largely, and slept much--the latter recreation being very
frequently enjoyed in a large arm-chair of a peculiar kind. It had
been a water-butt, which her ingenious husband had cut half-way down
the middle, then half-way across, and in the angle thus formed fixed
a bottom, which, together with the back, he padded with tow, and
covered the whole with a mantle of glaring bed-curtain chintz, whose
pattern alternated in stripes of sky-blue and china roses, with
broken fragments of the rainbow between. Notwithstanding her
excessive slowness, however, Mrs, Grant was fond of taking a firm
hold of anything or any circumstance in the character or affairs of
her friends, and twitting them thereupon in a grave but persevering
manner that was exceedingly irritating. No one could ever ascertain
whether Mrs. Grant did this in a sly way or not, as her visage never
expressed anything except unalterable good-humour. She was a good
wife and an affectionate mother; had a family of ten children, and
could boast of never having had more than one quarrel with her
husband. This disagreement was occasioned by a rather awkward
mischance. One day, not long after her last baby was born, Mrs. Grant
waddled towards her tub with the intention of enjoying her accustomed
siesta. A few minutes previously, her seventh child, which was just
able to walk, had scrambled up into the seat and fallen fast asleep
there. As has been already said, Mrs. Grant's intellect was never
very bright, and at this particular time she was rather drowsy, so
that she did not observe the child, and on reaching her chair, turned
round preparatory to letting herself plump into it. She always
_plumped_ into her chair. Her muscles were too soft to lower her
gently down into it. Invariably on reaching a certain point they
ceased to act, and let her down with a crash. She had just reached
this point, and her baby's hopes and prospects were on the eve of
being cruelly crushed for ever, when Mr. Grant noticed the impending
calamity. He had no time to warn her, for she had already passed the
point at which her powers of muscular endurance terminated; so
grasping the chair, he suddenly withdrew it with such force that the
baby rolled off upon the floor like a hedgehog, straightened out
flat, and gave vent to an outrageous roar, while its horror-struck
mother came to the ground with a sound resembling the fall of an
enormous sack of wool. Although the old lady could not see exactly
that there was anything very blameworthy in her husband's conduct on
this occasion, yet her nerves had received so severe a shock that she
refused to be comforted for two entire days.
But to return from this digression. After Charley had two or three
times recommended Kate (who was a little inclined to be quizzical) to
proceed, she continued,--
"Well, then you were carried up here by father and Tom Whyte, and put
to bed, and after a good deal of rubbing and rough treatment you were
got round. Then Peter Mactavish nearly poisoned you, but fortunately
he was such a goose that he did not think of reading the label of the
phial, and so gave you a dose of tincture of rhubarb instead of
laudanum as he had intended; and then father flew into a passion, and
Tom Whyte was sent to fetch the doctor, and couldn't find him; but
fortunately he found me, which was much better, I think, and brought
me up here. And so here I am, and here I intend to remain."
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