The Young Fur Traders
Part 2 out of 7
"And so that's the end of it. Well, Kate, I'm very glad it was no
"And I am very _thankful_" said Kate, with emphasis on the word,
"that it's no worse."
"Oh, well, you know, Kate, I _meant_ that, of course."
"But you did not _say_ it," replied his sister earnestly.
"To be sure not," said Charley gaily; "it would be absurd to be
always making solemn speeches, and things of that sort, every time
one has a little accident."
"True, Charley; but when one has a very serious accident, and escapes
unhurt, don't you think that _then_ it would be--"
"Oh yes, to be sure," interrupted Charley, who still strove to turn
Kate from her serious frame of mind; "but sister dear, how could I
possibly _say_ I was thankful with my head crammed into an old cask
and my feet pointing up to the blue sky, eh?"
Kate smiled at this, and laid her hand on his arm, while she bent
over the pillow and looked tenderly into his eyes.
"O my darling Charley, you are disposed to jest about it; but I
cannot tell you how my heart trembled this morning when I heard from
Tom Whyte of what had happened. As we drove up to the fort, I thought
how terrible it would have been if you had been killed; and then the
happy days we have spent together rushed into my mind, and I thought
of the willow creek where we used to fish for gold eyes, and the spot
in the woods where we have so often chased the little birds, and the
lake in the prairies where we used to go in spring to watch the
water-fowl sporting in the sunshine. When I recalled these things,
Charley, and thought of you as dead, I felt as if I should die too.
And when I came here and found that my fears were needless, that you
were alive and safe, and almost well, I felt thankful--yes, very,
very thankful--to God for sparing your life, my dear, dear Charley."
And Kate laid her head on his bosom and sobbed, when she thought of
what might have been, as if her very heart would break.
Charley's disposition to levity entirely vanished while his sister
spoke; and twining his tough little arm round her neck, he pressed
her fervently to his heart.
"Bless you, Kate," he said at length. "I am indeed thankful to God,
not only for sparing my life, but for giving me such a darling sister
to live for. But now, Kate, tell me, what do you think of father's
determination to have me placed in the office here?"
"Indeed, I think it's very hard. Oh, I do wish _so_ much that I could
do it for you," said Kate with a sigh.
"Do _what_ for me?" asked Charley.
"Why, the office work," said Kate.
"Tuts! fiddlesticks! But isn't it, now, really a _very_ hard case?"
"Indeed it is; but, then, what can you do?"
"Do?" said Charley impatiently; "run away to be sure."
"Oh, don't speak of that!" said Kate anxiously. "You know it will
kill our beloved mother; and then it would grieve father very much."
"Well, father don't care much about grieving me, when he hunted me
down like a wolf till I nearly broke my neck."
"Now, Charley, you must not speak so. Father loves you tenderly,
although he _is_ a little rough at times. If you only heard how
kindly he speaks of you to our mother when you are away, you could
not think of giving him so much pain. And then the Bible says,
'Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the
land which the Lord thy God giveth thee;' and as God speaks in the
Bible, _surely_ we should pay attention to it!"
Charley was silent for a few seconds; then heaving a deep sigh, he
"Well, I believe you're right, Kate; but then, what am I to do? If I
don't run away, I must live, like poor Harry Somerville, on a long-
legged stool; and if I do _that_, I'll--I'll--"
As Charley spoke, the door opened, and his father entered.
"Well, my boy," said he, seating himself on the bedside and taking
his son's hand, "how goes it now? Head getting all right again? I
fear that Kate has been talking too much to you.--Is it so, you
Mr. Kennedy parted Kate's clustering ringlets and kissed her
Charley assured his father that he was almost well, and much the
better of having Kate to tend him. In fact, he felt so much revived
that he said he would get up and go out for a walk.
"Had I not better tell Tom Whyte to saddle the young horse for you?"
said his father, half ironically. "No, no, boy; lie still where you
are to-day, and get up if you feel better to-morrow. In the meantime,
I've come to say good-bye, as I intend to go home to relieve your
mother's anxiety about you. I'll see you again, probably, the day
after to-morrow. Hark you, boy; I've been talking your affairs over
again with Mr. Grant, and we've come to the conclusion to give you a
run in the woods for a time. You'll have to be ready to start early
in spring with the first brigades for the north. So adieu!"
Mr. Kennedy patted him on the head, and hastily left the room.
A burning blush of shame arose on Charley's cheek as he recollected
his late remarks about his father; and then, recalling the purport of
his last words, he sent forth an exulting shout as he thought of the
"Well now, Charley," said Kate, with an arch smile, "let us talk
seriously over your arrangements for running away."
Charley replied by seizing the pillow and throwing it at his sister's
head; but being accustomed to such eccentricities, she anticipated
the movement and evaded the blow.
"Ah, Charley," cried Kate, laughing, "you mustn't let your hand get
out of practice! That was a shockingly bad shot for a man thirsting
to become a bear and buffalo hunter!"
"I'll make my fortune at once," cried Charley, as Kate replaced the
pillow, "build a wooden castle on the shores of Great Bear Lake, take
you to keep house for me, and when I'm out hunting you'll fish for
whales in the lake; and we'll live there to a good old age; so good-
night, Kate dear, and go to bed."
Kate laughed, gave her brother a parting kiss, and left him.
Spring and the voyageurs.
Winter, with its snow and its ice: winter, with its sharp winds and
white drifts; winter, with its various characteristic occupations and
employments, is past, and it is spring now.
The sun no longer glitters on fields of white; the woodman's axe is
no longer heard hacking the oaken billets, to keep alive the roaring
fires. That inexpressibly cheerful sound the merry chime of sleigh-
bells, that tells more of winter than all other sounds together, is
no longer heard on the bosom of Red River; for the sleighs are thrown
aside as useless lumber--carts and gigs have supplanted them. The old
Canadian, who used to drive the ox with its water-barrel to the ice-
hole for his daily supply, has substituted a small cart with wheels
for the old sleigh that used to glide so smoothly over the snow, and
_grit_ so sharply on it in the more than usually frosty mornings in
the days gone by. The trees have lost their white patches, and the
clumps of willows, that used to look like islands in the prairie,
have disappeared, as the carpeting that gave them prominence has
dissolved. The aspect of everything in the isolated settlement has
changed. The winter is gone, and spring--bright, beautiful, hilarious
spring--has come again.
By those who have never known an arctic winter, the delights of an
arctic spring can never, we fear, be fully appreciated or understood.
Contrast is one of its strongest elements; indeed, we might say,
_the_ element which gives to all the others peculiar zest. Life in
the arctic regions is like one of Turner's pictures, in which the
lights are strong, the shadows deep, and the _tout ensemble_ hazy and
romantic. So cold and prolonged is the winter, that the first mild
breath of spring breaks on the senses like a zephyr from the plains
of Paradise. Everything bursts suddenly into vigorous life, after the
long, death-like sleep of Nature; as little children burst into the
romping gaieties of a new day, after the deep repose of a long and
tranquil night. The snow melts, the ice breaks up, and rushes in
broken masses, heaving and tossing in the rising floods, that grind
and whirl them into the ocean, or into those great fresh-water lakes
that vie with ocean itself in magnitude and grandeur. The buds come
out and the leaves appear, clothing all nature with a bright
refreshing green, which derives additional brilliancy from sundry
patches of snow, that fill the deep creeks and hollows everywhere,
and form ephemeral fountains whose waters continue to supply a
thousand rills for many a long day, until the fierce glare of the
summer sun prevails at last and melts them all away.
Red River flows on now to mix its long-pent-up waters with Lake
Winnipeg. Boats are seen rowing about upon its waters, as the
settlers travel from place to place; and wooden canoes, made of the
hollowed-out trunks of large trees, shoot across from shore to shore--
these canoes being a substitute for bridges, of which there are
none, although the settlement lies on both sides of the river. Birds
have now entered upon the scene, their wild cries and ceaseless
flight adding to it a cheerful activity. Ground squirrels pop up out
of their holes to bask their round, fat, beautifully-striped little
bodies in the sun, or to gaze in admiration at the farmer, as he
urges a pair of _very_ slow-going oxen, that drag the plough at a
pace which induces one to believe that the wide field _may_ possibly
be ploughed up by the end of next year. Frogs whistle in the marshy
grounds so loudly that men new to the country believe they are being
regaled by the songs of millions of birds. There is no mistake about
their _whistle_. It is not merely _like_ a whistle, but it _is_ a
whistle, shrill and continuous; and as the swamps swarm with these
creatures, the song never ceases for a moment, although each
individual frog creates only _one_ little gush of music, composed of
half-a-dozen trills, and then stops a moment for breath before
commencing the second bar. Bull-frogs, too, though not so numerous,
help to vary the sound by croaking vociferously, as if they
understood the value of bass, and were glad of having an opportunity
to join in the universal hum of life and joy which rises everywhere,
from the river and the swamp, the forest and the prairie, to welcome
back the spring.
Such was the state of things in Red River one beautiful morning in
April, when a band of voyageurs lounged in scattered groups about the
front gate of Fort Garry. They were as fine a set of picturesque,
manly fellows as one could desire to see. Their mode of life rendered
them healthy, hardy, arid good-humoured, with a strong dash of
recklessness--perhaps too much of it--in some of the younger men.
Being descended, generally, from French-Canadian sires and Indian
mothers, they united some of the good and not a few of the bad
qualities of both, mentally as well as physically--combining the
light, gay-hearted spirit and full, muscular frame of the Canadian
with the fierce passions and active habits of the Indian. And this
wildness of disposition was not a little fostered by the nature of
their usual occupations. They were employed during a great part of
the year in navigating the Hudson's Bay Company's boats, laden with
furs and goods, through the labyrinth of rivers and lakes that stud
and intersect the whole continent, or they were engaged in pursuit of
the bisons, [Footnote: These animals are always called buffaloes by
American hunters and fur-traders.] which roam the prairies in vast
They were dressed in the costume of the country: most of them wore
light-blue cloth capotes, girded tightly round them', by scarlet or
crimson worsted belts. Some of them had blue and others scarlet cloth
leggings, ornamented more or less with stained porcupine quills,
coloured silk, or variegated beads; while some might be seen clad in
the leathern coats of winter--deer-skin dressed like chamois leather,
fringed all round with little tails, and ornamented much in the same
way as those already described. The heavy winter moccasins and duffel
socks, which gave to their feet the appearance of being afflicted
with gout, were now replaced by moccasins of a lighter and more
elegant character, having no socks below, and fitting tightly to the
feet like gloves. Some wore hats similar to those made of silk or
beaver which are worn by ourselves in Britain, but so bedizened with
scarlet cock-tail feathers, and silver cords and tassels, as to leave
the original form of the head-dress a matter of great uncertainty.
These hats, however, are only used on high occasions, and chiefly by
the fops. Most of the men wore coarse blue cloth caps with peaks, and
not a few discarded head-pieces altogether, under the impression,
apparently, that nature had supplied a covering which was in itself
sufficient. These costumes varied not only in character but in
quality, according to the circumstances of the wearer; some being
highly ornamental and mended--evincing the felicity of the owner in
the possession of a good wife--while others were soiled and torn, or
but slightly ornamented. The voyageurs were collected, as we have
said, in groups. Here stood a dozen of the youngest--consequently the
most noisy and showily dressed--laughing loudly, gesticulating
violently, and bragging tremendously. Near to them were collected a
number of sterner spirits--men of middle age, with all the energy,
and muscle, and bone of youth, but without its swaggering hilarity;
men whose powers and nerves had been tried over and over again amid
the stirring scenes of a voyageur's life; men whose heads were cool,
and eyes sharp, and hands ready and powerful, in the mad whirl of
boiling rapids, in the sudden attack of wild beast and hostile man,
or in the unexpected approach of any danger; men who, having been
well tried, needed not to boast, and who, having carried off
triumphantly their respective brides many years ago, needed not to
decorate their persons with the absurd finery that characterised
their younger brethren. They were comparatively few in number, but
they composed a sterling band, of which every man was a hero. Among
them were those who occupied the high positions of bowman and
steersman, and when we tell the reader that on these two men
frequently hangs the safety of a boat, with all its crew and lading,
it will be easily understood how needful it is that they should be
men of iron nerve and strength of mind.
Boat-travelling in those regions is conducted in a way that would
astonish most people who dwell in the civilised quarters of the
globe. The country being intersected in all directions by great lakes
and rivers, these have been adopted as the most convenient highways
along which to convey the supplies and bring back the furs from
outposts. Rivers in America, however, as in other parts of the world,
are distinguished by sudden ebullitions and turbulent points of
character, in the shape of rapids, falls, and cataracts, up and down
which neither men nor boats can by any possibility go with impunity;
consequently, on arriving at such obstructions, the cargoes are
carried overland to navigable water above or below the falls (as the
case may be), then the boats are dragged over and launched, again
reloaded, and the travellers proceed. This operation is called
"making a portage;" and as these portages vary from twelve yards to
twelve miles in length, it may be readily conceived that a voyageur's
life is not an easy one by any means.
This, however, is only one of his difficulties. Rapids occur which
are not so dangerous as to make a "portage" necessary, but are
sufficiently turbulent to render the descent of them perilous. In
such cases, the boats, being lightened of part of their cargo, are
_run_ down, and frequently they descend with full cargoes and crews.
It is then that the whole management of each boat devolves upon its
bowman and steersman. The rest of the crew, or _middlemen_ as they
are called, merely sit still and look on, or give a stroke with their
oars if required; while the steersman, with powerful sweeps of his
heavy oar, directs the flying boat as it bounds from surge to surge
like a thing of life; and the bowman stands erect in front to assist
in directing his comrade at the stern, having a strong and long pole
in his hands, with which, ever and anon, he violently forces the
boat's head away from sunken rocks, against which it might otherwise
strike and be stove in, capsized, or seriously damaged.
Besides the groups already enumerated, there were one or two others,
composed of grave, elderly men, whose wrinkled brows, gray hairs, and
slow, quiet step, showed that the strength of their days was past;
although their upright figures and warm brown complexions gave
promise of their living to see many summers still. These were the
principal steersmen and old guides--men of renown, to whom the others
bowed as oracles or looked up to as fathers; men whose youth and
manhood had been spent in roaming the trackless wilderness, and who
were, therefore, eminently qualified to guide brigades through the
length and breadth of the land; men whose power of threading their
way among the perplexing intricacies of the forest had become a
second nature, a kind of instinct, that was as sure of attaining its
end as the instinct of the feathered tribes, which brings the
swallow, after a long absence, with unerring certainty back to its
former haunts again in spring.
At whatever establishment in the fur-trader's dominions you may
chance to alight you will find a particular building which is
surrounded by a halo of interest; towards which there seems to be a
general leaning on the part of everybody, especially of the Indians;
and with which are connected, in the minds of all, the most stirring
reminiscences and pleasing associations.
This is the trading-store. It is always recognisable, if natives are
in the neighbourhood, by the bevy of red men that cluster round it,
awaiting the coming of the storekeeper or the trader with that stoic
patience which is peculiar to Indians. It may be further recognised,
by a close observer, by the soiled condition of its walls occasioned
by loungers rubbing their backs perpetually against it, and the
peculiar dinginess round the keyhole, caused by frequent applications
of the key, which renders it conspicuous beyond all its comrades.
Here is contained that which makes the red man's life enjoyable; that
which causes his heart to leap, and induces him to toil for months
and months together in the heat of summer and amid the frost and snow
of winter; that which _actually_ accomplishes, what music is _said_
to achieve, the "soothing of the savage breast:" in short, here are
stored up blankets, guns, powder, shot, kettles, axes, and knives;
twine for nets, vermilion for war-paint, fishhooks and scalping-
knives, capotes, cloth, beads, needles, and a host of miscellaneous
articles, much too numerous to mention. Here, also occur periodical
scenes of bustle and excitement, when bands of natives arrive from
distant hunting-grounds, laden with rich furs, which are speedily
transferred to the Hudson's Bay Company's stores in exchange for the
goods aforementioned. And many a tough wrangle has the trader on such
occasions with sharp natives, who might have graduated in
Billingsgate, so close are they at a bargain. Here, too, voyageurs
are supplied with an equivalent for their wages, part in advance, if
they desire it (and they generally do desire it), and part at the
conclusion of their long and arduous voyages.
It is to one of these stores, reader, that we wish to introduce you
now, that you may witness the men of the North brigade receive their
The store at Fort Garry stands on the right of the fort, as you enter
by the front gate. Its interior resembles that of the other stores in
the country, being only a little larger. A counter encloses a space
sufficiently wide to admit a dozen men, and serves to keep back those
who are more eager than the rest. Inside this counter, at the time we
write of, stood our friend, Peter Mactavish, who was the presiding
genius of the scene.
"Shut the door now, and lock it," said Peter, in an authoritative
tone, after eight or ten young voyageurs had crushed into the space
in front of the counter. "I'll not supply you with so much as an
ounce of tobacco if you let in another man."
Peter needed not to repeat the command. Three or four stalwart
shoulders were applied to the door, which shut with a bang like a
cannon-shot, and the key was turned.
"Come now, Antoine," began the trader, "we've lots to do, and not
much time to do it in, so pray look sharp."
Antoine, however, was not to be urged on so easily. He had been
meditating deeply all the morning on what he should purchase.
Moreover, he had a sweetheart, and of course he had to buy something
for her before setting out on his travels. Besides, Antoine was six
feet high, and broad shouldered, and well made, with a dark face and
glossy black hair; and he entertained a notion that there were one or
two points in his costume which required to be carefully rectified,
ere he could consider that he had attained to perfection: so he
brushed the long hair off his forehead, crossed his arms, and gazed
"Come now, Antoine," said Peter, throwing a green blanket at him; "I
know you want _that_ to begin with. What's the use of thinking so
long about it, eh? And _that_, too," he added, throwing him a blue
cloth capote. "Anything else?"
"Oui, oui, monsieur," cried Antoine, as he disengaged himself from
the folds of the coat which Peter had thrown over his head. "Tabac,
"Oh, to be sure," cried Peter. "I might have guessed that _that_ was
uppermost in your mind. Well, how much will you have?" Peter began to
unwind the fragrant weed off a coil of most appalling size and
thickness, which looked like a snake of endless length. "Will that
do?" and he flourished about four feet of the snake before the eyes
of the voyageur.
Antoine accepted the quantity, and young Harry Somerville entered the
articles against him in a book.
"Anything more, Antoine?" said the trader. "Ah, some beads and silks,
eh? Oho, Antoine!--By the way, Louis, have you seen Annette lately?"
Peter turned to another voyageur when he put this question, and the
voyageur gave a broad grin as he replied in the affirmative, while
Antoine looked a little confused. He did not care much, however, for
jesting. So, after getting one or two more articles--not forgetting
half-a-dozen clay pipes, and a few yards of gaudy calico, which
called forth from Peter a second reference to Annette--he bundled up
his goods, and made way for another comrade.
Louis Peltier, one of the principal guides, and a man of importance
therefore, now stood forward. He was probably about forty-five years
of age; had a plain, olive-coloured countenance, surrounded by a mass
of long jet-black hair, which he inherited, along with a pair of
dark, piercing eyes, from his Indian mother; and a robust, heavy, yet
active frame, which bore a strong resemblance to what his Canadian
father's had been many years before. His arms, in particular, were of
herculean mould, with large swelling veins and strongly-marked
muscles. They seemed, in fact, just formed for the purpose of pulling
the heavy sweep of an inland boat among strong rapids. His face
combined an expression of stern resolution with great good-humour;
and truly his countenance did not belie him, for he was known among
his comrades as the most courageous and at the same time the most
peaceable man in the settlement. Louis Peltier was singular in
possessing the latter quality, for assuredly the half-breeds,
whatever other good points they boast, cannot lay claim to very
gentle or dove-like dispositions. His grey capote and blue leggings
were decorated with no unusual ornaments, and the scarlet belt which
encircled his massive figure was the only bit of colour he displayed.
The younger men fell respectfully into the rear as Louis stepped
forward and begged pardon for coming so early in the day. "Mais,
monsieur," he said, "I have to look after the boats to-day, and get
them ready for a start to-morrow."
Peter Mactavish gave Louis a hearty shake of the hand before
proceeding to supply his wants, which were simple and moderate,
excepting in the article of _tabac_, in the use of which he was _im_-
moderate, being an inveterate smoker; so that a considerable portion
of the snake had to be uncoiled for his benefit.
"Fond as ever of smoking, Louis?" said Peter Mactavish, as he handed
him the coil.
"Oui, monsieur--very fond," answered the guide, smelling the weed.
"Ah, this is very good. I must take a good supply this voyage,
because I lost the half of my roll last year;" and the guide gave a
sigh as he thought of the overwhelming bereavement.
"Lost the half of it, Louis!" said Mactavish. "Why, how was that? You
must have lost _more_ than half your spirits with it!"
"Ah, oui, I lost _all_ my spirits, and my comrade François at the
"Dear me!" exclaimed the clerk, bustling about the store while the
guide continued to talk.
"Oui, monsieur, oui. I lost _him_, and my tabac, and my spirits, and
very nearly my life, all in one moment!"
"Why, how came that about?" said Peter, pausing in his work, and
laying a handful of pipes on the counter.
"Ah, monsieur, it was very sad (merci, monsieur, merci; thirty pipes,
if you please), and I thought at the time that I should give up my
voyageur life, and remain altogether in the settlement with my old
woman. Mais, monsieur, that was not possible. When I spoke of it to
my old woman, she called _me_ an old woman; and you know, monsieur,
that _two_ old women never could live together in peace for twelve
months under the same roof. So here I am, you see, ready again for
The voyageurs, who had drawn round Louis when he alluded to an
anecdote which they had often heard before, but were never weary of
hearing over again, laughed loudly at this sally, and urged the guide
to relate the story to "_monsieur_" who, nothing loath to suspend his
operations for a little, leaned his arms on the counter and said--
"Tell us all about it, Louis; I am anxious to know how you managed to
come by so many losses all at one time."
"Bien, monsieur, I shall soon relate it, for the story is very
Harry Somerville, who was entering the pipes in Louis's account, had
just set down the figures "30" when Louis cleared his throat to
begin. Not having the mental fortitude to finish the line, he dropped
his pen, sprang off his stool, which he upset in so doing, jumped up,
sitting-ways, upon the counter, and gazed with breathless interest
into the guide's face as he spoke.
"It was on a cold, wet afternoon," said Louis, "that we were
descending the Hill River, at a part of the rapids where there is a
sharp bend in the stream, and two or three great rocks that stand up
in front of the water, as it plunges over a ledge, as if they were
put there a purpose to catch it, and split it up into foam, or to
stop the boats and canoes that try to run the rapids, and cut them up
into splinters. It was an ugly place, monsieur, I can tell you; and
though I've run it again and again, I always hold my breath tighter
when we get to the top, and breathe freer when we get to the bottom.
Well, there was a chum of mine at the bow, Francois by name, and a
fine fellow he was as I ever came across. He used to sleep with me at
night under the same blanket, although it was somewhat inconvenient;
for being as big as myself and a stone heavier, it was all we could
do to make the blanket cover us. However, he and I were great
friends, and we managed it somehow. Well, he was at the bow when we
took the rapids, and a first-rate bowman he made. His pole was twice
as long and twice as thick as any other pole in the boat, and he
twisted it about just like a fiddlestick. I remember well the night
before we came to the rapids, as he was sitting by the fire, which
was blazing up among the pine-branches that overhung us, he said that
he wanted a good pole for the rapids next day; and with that he
jumped up, laid hold of an axe, and went back into the woods a bit to
get one. When he returned, he brought a young tree on his shoulder,
which he began to strip of its branches, and bark. 'Louis, says he,
'this is hot work; give us a pipe.' So I rummaged about for some
tobacco, but found there was none left in my bag; so I went to my kit
and got out my roll, about three fathoms or so, and cutting half of
it off, I went to the fire and twisted it round his neck by way of a
joke, and he said he'd wear it as a necklace all night, and so he
did, too, and forgot to take it off in the morning; and when we came
near the rapids I couldn't get at my bag to stow it away, so says I,
'Francois, you'll have to run with it on, for I can't stop to stow it
now.' 'All right,' says he, 'go ahead;' and just as he said it, we
came in sight of the first run, foaming and boiling like a kettle of
robbiboo. 'Take care, lads,' I cried, and the next moment we were
dashing down towards the bend in the river. As we came near to the
shoot, I saw Francois standing up on the gunwale to get a better view
of the rocks ahead, and every now and then giving me a signal with
his hand how to steer; suddenly he gave a shout, and plunged his long
pole into the water, to fend off from a rock which a swirl in the
stream had concealed. For a second or two his pole bent like a
willow, and we could feel the heavy boat jerk off a little with the
tremendous strain, but all at once the pole broke off short with a
crack, Francois' heels made a flourish in the air, and then he
disappeared head foremost into the foaming water, with my tobacco
coiled round his neck! As we flew past the place, one of his arms
appeared, and I made a grab at it, and caught him by the sleeve; but
the effort upset myself and over I went too. Fortunately, however,
one of my men caught me by the foot, and held on like a vice; but the
force of the current tore Francois' sleeve out of my grasp, and I was
dragged into the boat again just in time to see my comrade's legs and
arms going like the sails of a windmill, as he rolled over several
times and disappeared. Well, we put ashore the moment we got into
still water, and then five or six of us started off on foot to look
for Francois. After half-an-hour's search, we found him pitched upon
a flat rock in the middle of the stream like a bit of driftwood, We
immediately waded out to the rock and brought him ashore, where we
lighted a fire, took off all his clothes, and rubbed him till he
began to show signs of life again. But you may judge, mes garçons, of
my misery when I found that the coil of tobacco was gone. It had come
off his neck during his struggles, and there wasn't a vestige of it
left, except a bright red mark on the throat, where it had nearly
strangled him. When he began to recover, he put his hand up to his
neck as if feeling for something, and muttered faintly, 'The tabac.'
'Ah, morbleu!' said I, 'you may say that! Where is it?' Well, we soon
brought him round, but he had swallowed so much water that it damaged
his lungs, and we had to leave him at the next post we came to; and
so I lost my friend too."
"Did Francois get better?" said Charley Kennedy, in a voice of great
Charley had entered the store by another door, just as the guide
began his story, and had listened to it unobserved with breathless
"Recover! Oh oui, monsieur, he soon got well again.'
"Oh, I'm so glad," cried Charley.
"But I lost him for that voyage," added the guide; "and I lost my
tabac for ever."
"You must take better care of it this time, Louis," said Peter
Mactavish, as he resumed his work.
"That I shall, monsieur," replied Louis, shouldering his goods and
quitting the store, while a short, slim, active little Canadian took
"Now, then, Baptiste," said Mactavish," you want a-"
"A capote, monsieur."
"Stop, stop!" shouted Harry Somerville from his desk. "Here's an
entry in Louis's account that I can't make out--30 something or
other; what can it have been?"
"How often," said Mactavish, going up to him with a look of
annoyance--"how often have I told you, Mr. Somerville, not to leave
an entry half-finished on any account!"
"I didn't know that I left it so," said Harry, twisting his features,
and scratching his head in great perplexity. "What _can_ it have
been? 30--30--not blankets, eh?" (Harry was becoming banteringly
bitter.) "He couldn't have got thirty guns, could he? or thirty
knives, or thirty copper kettles?"
"Perhaps it was thirty pounds of tea," suggested Charley.
"No doubt it was thirty _pipes_," said Peter Mactavish.
"Oh, that was it!" cried Harry, "that was it! thirty pipes, to be
sure. What an ass I am!"
"And pray what is _that_?" said Mactavish, pointing sarcastically to
an entry in the previous account--"_5 yards of superfine Annette_.
Really, Mr. Somerville, I wish you would pay more attention to your
work and less to the conversation."
"Oh dear!" cried Harry, becoming almost hysterical under the combined
effects of chagrin at making so many mistakes, and suppressed
merriment at the idea of selling Annettes by the yard. "Oh, dear me--
Harry could say no more, but stuffed his handkerchief into his mouth
and turned away.
"Well, sir," said the offended Peter, "when you have laughed to your
entire satisfaction, we will go on with our work, if you please."
"All right," cried Harry, suppressing his feelings with a strong
effort; "what next?"
Just then a tall, raw-boned man entered the store, and rudely
thrusting Baptiste aside, asked if he could get his supplies now.
"No," said Mactavish, sharply; "you'll take your turn like the rest."
The new-comer was a native of Orkney, a country from which, and the
neighbouring islands, the Fur Company almost exclusively recruits its
staff of labourers. These men are steady, useful servants, although
inclined to be slow and lazy _at first_; but they soon get used to
the country, and rapidly improve under the example of the active
Canadians and half-breeds with whom they associate; some of them are
the best servants the Company possess. Hugh Mathison, however, was a
very bad specimen of the race, being rough and coarse in his manners,
and very lazy withal. Upon receiving the trader's answer, Hugh turned
sulkily on his heel and strode towards the door. Now, it happened
that Baptiste's bundle lay just behind him, and on turning to leave
the place, he tripped over it and stumbled, whereat the voyageurs
burst into an ironical laugh (for Hugh was not a favourite).
"Confound your trash!" he cried, giving the little bundle a kick that
scattered everything over the floor.
"Crapaud!" said Baptiste, between his set teeth, while his eyes
flashed angrily, and he stood up before Hugh with clinched fists,
"what mean you by that, eh?"
The big Scotchman held his little opponent in contempt; so that,
instead of putting himself on the defensive, he leaned his back
against the door, thrust his hands into his pockets, and requested to
know "what that was to him."
Baptiste was not a man of many words, and this reply, coupled with
the insolent sneer with which it was uttered, caused him to plant a
sudden and well-directed blow on the point of Hugh's nose, which
flattened it on his face, and brought the back of his head into
violent contact with the door.
"Well done!" shouted the men; "bravo, Baptiste! _Regardez le nez, mes
"Hold!" cried Mactavish, vaulting the counter, and intercepting Hugh,
as he rushed upon his antagonist; "no fighting here, you blackguards!
If you want to do _that,_ go outside the fort;" and Peter, opening
the door, thrust the Orkneyman out.
In the meantime, Baptiste gathered up his goods and left the store,
in company with several of his friends, vowing that he would wreak
his vengeance on the "gros chien" before the sun should set.
He had not long to wait, however, for just outside the gate he found
Hugh, still smarting under the pain and indignity of the blow, and
ready to pounce upon him like a cat on a mouse.
Baptiste instantly threw down his bundle, and prepared for battle by
discarding his coat.
Every nation has its own peculiar method of fighting, and its own
ideas of what is honourable and dishonourable in combat. The English,
as everyone knows, have particularly stringent rules regarding the
part of the body which may or may not be hit with propriety, and
count it foul disgrace to strike a man when he is down, although, by
some strange perversity of reasoning, they deem it right and fair to
_fall_ upon him while in this helpless condition, and burst him if
possible. The Scotchman has less of the science, and we are half
inclined to believe that he would go the length of kicking a fallen
opponent; but on this point we are not quite positive. In regard to
the style adopted by the half-breeds, however, we have no doubt. They
fight _any_ way and _every_ way, without reference to rules at all;
and really, although we may bring ourselves into contempt by
admitting the fact, we think they are quite right. No doubt the best
course of action is _not_ to fight; but if a man does find it
_necessary_ to do so, surely the wisest plan is to get it over at
once (as the dentist suggested to his timorous patient), and to do it
in the most effectual manner.
Be this as it may, Baptiste flew at Hugh, and alighted upon him, not
head first, or fist first, or feet first, or _anything_ first, but
altogether--in a heap as it were; fist, feet, knees, nails, and
teeth, all taking effect at one and the same time, with a force so
irresistible that the next moment they both rolled in the dust
For a minute or so they struggled and kicked like a couple of
serpents, and then, bounding to their feet again, they began to
perform a war-dance round each other, revolving their fists at the
same time in, we presume, the most approved fashion. Owing to his
bulk and natural laziness, which rendered jumping about like a jack-
in-the-box impossible, Hugh Mathison preferred to stand on the
defensive; while his lighter opponent, giving way to the natural bent
of his mercurial temperament and corporeal predilections, comported
himself in a manner that cannot be likened to anything mortal or
immortal, human or inhuman, unless it be to an insane cat, whose
veins ran wild-fire instead of blood. Or perhaps we might liken him
to that ingenious piece of firework called a zigzag cracker, which
explodes with unexpected and repeated suddenness, changing its
position in a most perplexing manner at every crack. Baptiste, after
the first onset, danced backwards with surprising lightness, glaring
at his adversary the while, and rapidly revolving his fists as before
mentioned; then a terrific yell was heard; his head, arms, and legs
became a sort of whirling conglomerate; the spot on which he danced
was suddenly vacant, and at the same moment Mathison received a bite,
a scratch, a dab on the nose, and a kick on the stomach all at once.
Feeling that it was impossible to plant a well-directed blow on such
an assailant, he waited for the next onslaught; and the moment he saw
the explosive object flying through the air towards him, he met it
with a crack of his heavy fist, which, happening to take effect in
the middle of the chest, drove it backwards with about as much
velocity as it had approached, and poor Baptiste measured his length
on the ground.
"Oh, pauvre chien!" cried the spectators, "c'est fini!" "Not yet,"
cried Baptiste, as he sprang with a scream to his feet again, and
began his dance with redoubled energy, just as if all that had gone
before was a mere sketch--a sort of playful rehearsal, as it were, of
what was now to follow. At this moment Hugh stumbled over a canoe-
paddle, and fell headlong into Baptiste's arms, as he was in the very
act of making one of his violent descents. This unlooked-for
occurrence brought them both to a sudden pause, partly from necessity
and partly from surprise. Out of this state Baptiste recovered first,
and taking advantage of the accident, threw Mathison heavily to the
ground. He rose quickly, however, and renewed the light with
Just at this moment a passionate growl was heard, and old Mr. Kennedy
rushed out of the fort in a towering rage.
Now Mr. Kennedy had no reason whatever for being angry. He was only a
visitor at the fort, and so had no concern in the behaviour of those
connected with it. He was not even in the Company's service now, and
could not, therefore, lay claim, as one of its officers, to any right
to interfere with its men. But Mr. Kennedy never acted much from
reason; impulse was generally his guiding-star. He had, moreover,
been an absolute monarch, and a commander of men, for many years past
in his capacity of fur-trader. Being, as we have said, a powerful,
fiery man, he had ruled very much by means of brute force--a species
of suasion, by the way, which is too common among many of the
gentlemen (?) in the employment of the Hudson's Bay Company. On
hearing, therefore, that the men were fighting in front of the fort,
Mr. Kennedy rushed out in a towering rage.
"Oh, you precious blackguards!" he cried, running up to the
combatants, while with flashing eyes he gazed first at one and then
at the other, as if uncertain on which to launch his ire. "Have you
no place in the world to fight but _here_? eh, blackguards?"
"O monsieur," said Baptiste, lowering his hands, and assuming that
politeness of demeanour which seems inseparable from French blood,
however much mixed with baser fluid, "I was just giving _that dog_ a
"Go!" cried Mr. Kennedy in a voice of thunder, turning to Hugh, who
still stood in a pugilistic attitude, with very little respect in his
Hugh hesitated to obey the order; but Mr. Kennedy continued to
advance, grinding his teeth and working his fingers convulsively, as
if he longed to lay violent hold of the Orkneyman's swelled nose; so
he retreated in his uncertainty, but still with his face to the foe.
As has been already said, the Assiniboine River flows within a
hundred yards of the gate of Fort Garry. The two men, in their
combat, had approached pretty near to the bank, at a place where it
descends somewhat precipitately into the stream. It was towards this
bank that Hugh Mathison was now retreating, crab fashion, followed by
Mr. Kennedy, and both of them so taken up with each other that
neither perceived the fact until Hugh's heel struck against a stone
just at the moment that Mr. Kennedy raised his clenched fist in a
threatening attitude. The effect of this combination was to pitch the
poor man head over heels down the bank, into a row of willow bushes,
through which, as he rolled with great speed, he went with a loud
crash, and shot head first, like a startled alligator, into the
water, amid a roar of laughter from his comrades and the people
belonging to the fort; most of whom, attracted by the fight, were now
assembled on the banks of the river.
Mr. Kennedy's wrath vanished immediately, and he joined in the
laughter; but his face instantly changed when he beheld Hugh
sputtering in deep water, and heard some one say that he could not
"What! can't swim?" he exclaimed, running down the bank to the edge
of the water. Baptiste was before him, however. In a moment he
plunged in up to the neck, stretched forth his arm, grasped Hugh by
the hair, and dragged him to the land.
Farewell to Kate--Departure of the brigade--Charley becomes a
On the following day at noon, the spot on which the late combat had
taken place became the theatre of a stirring and animated scene. Fort
Garry, and the space between it and the river, swarmed with
voyageurs, dressed in their cleanest, newest, and most brilliant
costume. The large boats for the north, six in number, lay moored to
the river's bank, laden with bales of furs, and ready to start on
their long voyage. Young men, who had never been on the road before,
stood with animated looks watching the operations of the guides as
they passed critical examination upon their boats, overhauled the
oars to see that they were in good condition, or with crooked knives
(a species of instrument in the use of which voyageurs and natives
are very expert) polished off the top of a mast, the blade of an oar,
or the handle of a tiller. Old men, who had passed their lives in
similar occupations, looked on in silence--some standing with their
heads bent on their bosoms, and an expression of sadness about their
faces, as if the scene recalled some mournful event of their early
life, or possibly reminded them of wild, joyous scenes of other days,
when the blood coursed warmly in their young veins, and the strong
muscles sprang lightly to obey their will; when the work they had to
do was hard, and the sleep that followed it was sound--scenes and
days that were now gone by for ever. Others reclined against the
wooden fence, their arms crossed, their thin white hair waving gently
in the breeze, and a kind smile playing on their sunburned faces, as
they observed the swagger and coxcombry of the younger men, or
watched the gambols of several dark-eyed little children--embryo
buffalo-hunters and voyageurs--whose mothers had brought them to the
fort to get a last kiss from papa, and witness the departure of the
Several tender scenes were going on in out-of-the-way places--in
angles of the walls and bastions, or behind the gates-between
youthful couples about to be separated for a season. Interesting
scenes these of pathos and pleasantry--a combination of soft glances
and affectionate fervent assurances; alternate embraces (that were
_apparently_ received with reluctance, but _actually_ with delight,
and proffers of pieces of calico and beads and other trinkets
(received both _apparently_ and _actually_ with extreme satisfaction)
as souvenirs of happy days that were past), and pledges of unalterable
constancy and bright hope in days that were yet to come.
A little apart from the others, a youth and a girl might be seen
sauntering slowly towards the copse beyond the stable. These were
Charley Kennedy and his sister Kate, who had retired from the
bustling scene to take a last short walk together, ere they
separated, it might be for years, perhaps for ever! Charley held
Kate's hand, while her sweet little head rested on his shoulder.
"O Charley, Charley, my own dear, darling Charley, I'm quite
miserable, and you ought not to go away; it's very wrong, and I don't
mind a bit what you say, I shall die if you leave me!" And Kate
pressed him tightly to her heart, and sobbed in the depth of her woe.
"Now, Kate, my darling, don't go on so! You know I can't help it--"
"I _don't_ know," cried Kate, interrupting him, and speaking
vehemently--" I don't know, and I don't believe, and I don't care for
anything at all; it's very hard-hearted of you, and wrong, and not
right, and I'm just quite wretched!"
Poor Kate was undoubtedly speaking the absolute truth; for a more
disconsolate and wretched look of woebegone misery was never seen on
so sweet and tender and lovable a little face before. Her blue eyes
swam in two lakes of pure crystal, that overflowed continually; her
mouth, which was usually round, had become an elongated oval; and her
nut-brown hair fell in dishevelled masses over her soft cheeks.
"O Charley," she continued, "why _won't_ you stay?"
"Listen to me, dearest Kate," said Charley, in a very husky voice.
"It's too late to draw back now, even if I wished to do so; and you
don't consider, darling, that I'll be back again soon. Besides, I'm a
man now, Kate, and I must make my own bread. Who ever heard of a man
being supported by his old father."
"Well, but can't you do that here?"
"No, don't interrupt me, Kate," said Charley, kissing her forehead;
"I'm quite satisfied with _two short_ legs, and have no desire
whatever to make my bread on the top of _three long_ ones. Besides,
you know I can write to you."
"But you won't; you'll forget."
"No, indeed, I will not. I'll write you long letters about all that I
see and do; and you shall write long letters to me about--"
"Stop, Charley," cried Kate; "I won't listen to you. I hate to think
And her tears burst forth again with fresh violence. This time
Charley's heart sank too. The lump in his throat all but choked him;
so he was fain to lay his head upon Kate's heaving bosom, and weep
along with her.
For a few minutes they remained silent, when a slight rustling in the
bushes was heard. In another moment a tall, broad-shouldered,
gentlemanly man, dressed in black, stood before them. Charley and
Kate, on seeing this personage, arose, and wiping the tears from
their eyes, gave a sad smile as they shook hands with their
"My poor children," said Mr. Addison, affectionately, "I know well
why your hearts are sad. May God bless and comfort you! I saw you
enter the wood, and came to bid you farewell, Charley, my dear boy,
as I shall not have another opportunity of doing so."
"O dear Mr. Addison," cried Kate, grasping his hand in both of hers,
and gazing imploringly up at him through a perfect wilderness of
ringlets and tears, "do prevail upon Charley to stay at home; please
Mr. Addison could scarcely help smiling at the poor girl's extreme
"I fear, my sweet child, that it is too late now to attempt to
dissuade Charley. Besides, he goes with the consent of his father;
and I am inclined to think that a change of life for a _short_ time
may do him good. Come, Kate, cheer up! Charley will return to us
again ere long, improved, I trust, both physically and mentally."
Kate did _not_ cheer up, but she dried her eyes, and endeavoured to
look more composed; while Mr. Addison took Charley by the hand, and,
as they walked slowly through the wood, gave him much earnest advice
The clergyman's manner was peculiar. With a large, warm, generous
heart, he possessed an enthusiastic nature, a quick, brusque manner,
and a loud voice, which, when his spirit was influenced by the strong
emotions of pity or anxiety for the souls of his flock, sunk into a
deep soft bass of the most thrilling earnestness. He belonged to the
Church of England, but conducted service very much in the
Presbyterian form, as being more suited to his mixed congregation.
After a long conversation with Charley, he concluded by saying--
"I do not care to say much to you about being kind and obliging to
all whom you may meet with during your travels, nor about the dangers
to which you will be exposed by being thrown into the company of wild
and reckless, perhaps very wicked, men. There is but _one_ incentive
to every good, and _one_ safeguard against all evil, my boy, and that
is the love of God. You may perhaps forget much that I have said to
you; but remember this, Charley, if you would be happy in this world,
and have a good hope for the next, centre your heart's affection on
our blessed Lord Jesus Christ; for believe me, boy, _His_ heart's
affection is centred upon you."
As Mr. Addison spoke, a loud hello from Mr. Kennedy apprised them
that their time was exhausted, and that the boats were ready to
start. Charley sprang towards Kate, locked her in a long, passionate
embrace, and then, forgetting Mr. Addison altogether in his haste,
ran out of the wood, and hastened towards the scene of departure.
"Good-bye, Charley!" cried Harry Somerville, running up to his friend
and giving him a warm grasp of the hand. "Don't forget me, Charley. I
wish I were going with you, with all my heart; but I'm an unlucky
dog. Good-bye." The senior clerk and Peter Mactavish had also a
kindly word and a cheerful farewell for him as he hurried past.
"Good-bye, Charley, my lad!" said old Mr. Kennedy, in an
_excessively_ loud voice, as if by such means he intended to crush
back some unusual but very powerful feelings that had a peculiar
influence on a certain lump in his throat. "Good-bye, my lad; don't
forget to write to your old--Hang it!" said the old man, brushing his
coat-sleeve somewhat violently across his eyes, and turning abruptly
round as Charley left him and sprang into the boat--"I say, Grant, I--
I--What are you staring at, eh?" The latter part of his speech was
addressed, in an angry tone, to an innocent voyageur, who happened
accidentally to confront him at the moment.
"Come along, Kennedy," said Mr. Grant, interposing, and grasping his
excited friend by the arm--"come with me."
"Ah, to be sure!--yes," said he, looking over his shoulder and waving
a last adieu to Charley, "Good-bye, God bless you, my dear boy!--I
say, Grant, come along; quick, man, and let's have a pipe--yes, let's
have a pipe." Mr. Kennedy, essaying once more to crush back his
rebellious feelings, strode rapidly up the bank, and entering the
house, sought to overwhelm his sorrow in smoke: in which attempt he
The voyage--The encampment--A surprise.
It was a fine sight to see the boats depart for the north. It was a
thrilling, heart-stirring sight to behold these picturesque, athletic
men, on receiving the word of command from their guides, spring
lightly into the long, heavy boats; to see them let the oars fall
into the water with a loud splash, and then, taking their seats, give
way with a will, knowing that the eyes of friends and sweethearts and
rivals were bent earnestly upon them. It was a splendid sight to see
boat after boat shoot out from the landing-place, and cut through the
calm bosom of the river, as the men bent their sturdy backs until the
thick oars creaked and groaned on the gunwales and flashed in the
stream, more and more vigorously at each successive stroke, until
their friends on the bank, who were anxious to see the last of them,
had to run faster and faster in order to keep up with them, as the
rowers warmed at their work, and made the water gurgle at the bows--
their bright blue and scarlet and white trappings reflected in the
dark waters in broken masses of colour, streaked with long lines of
shining ripples, as if they floated on a lake of liquid rainbows. And
it was a glorious thing to hear the wild, plaintive song, led by one
clear, sonorous voice, that rang out full and strong in the still
air, while at the close of every two lines the whole brigade burst
into a loud, enthusiastic chorus, that rolled far and wide over the
smooth waters--telling of their approach to settlers beyond the reach
of vision in advance, and floating faintly back, a last farewell, to
the listening ears of fathers, mothers, wives, and sisters left
behind. And it was interesting to observe how, as the rushing boats
sped onwards past the cottages on shore, groups of men and women and
children stood before the open doors and waved adieu, while ever and
anon a solitary voice rang louder than the others in the chorus, and
a pair of dark eyes grew brighter as a voyageur swept past his home,
and recognised his little ones screaming farewell, and seeking to
attract their _sire's_ attention by tossing their chubby arms or
flourishing round their heads the bright vermilion blades of canoe-
paddles. It was interesting, too, to hear the men shout as they ran a
small rapid which occurs about the lower part of the settlement, and
dashed in full career up to the Lower Fort--which stands about twenty
miles down the river from Fort Garry--and then sped onward again with
unabated energy, until they passed the Indian settlement, with its
scattered wooden buildings and its small church; passed the last
cottage on the bank; passed the low swampy land at the river's mouth;
and emerged at last as evening closed, upon the wide, calm, sea-like
bosom of Lake Winnipeg.
Charley saw and heard all this during the whole of that long,
exciting afternoon, and as he heard and saw it his heart swelled as
if it would burst its prison-bars, his voice rang out wildly in the
choruses, regardless alike of tune and time, and his spirit boiled
within him as he quaffed the first sweet draught of a rover's life--a
life in the woods, the wild, free, enchanting woods, where all
appeared in _his_ eyes bright, and sunny, and green, and beautiful!
As the sun's last rays sunk in the west, and the clouds, losing their
crimson hue, began gradually to fade into gray, the boats' heads were
turned landward. In a few seconds they grounded on a low point,
covered with small trees and bushes which stretched out into the
lake. Here Louis Peltier had resolved to bivouac for the night.
"Now then, mes garçons," he exclaimed, leaping ashore, and helping to
drag the boat a little way on to the beach, "vite, vite! à terre, à
terre!--Take the kettle, Pierre, and let's have supper."
Pierre needed no second bidding. He grasped a large tin kettle and an
axe, with which he hurried into a clump of trees. Laying down the
kettle, which he had previously filled with water from the lake, he
singled out a dead tree, and with three powerful blows of his axe,
brought it to the ground. A few additional strokes cut it up into
logs, varying from three to five feet in length, which he piled
together, first placing a small bundle of dry grass and twigs beneath
them, and a few splinters of wood which he cut from off one of the
logs. Having accomplished this, Pierre took a flint and steel out of
a gaily ornamented pouch which depended from his waist, and which
went by the name of a fire-bag in consequence of its containing the
implements for procuring that element. It might have been as
appropriately named tobacco-box or smoking-bag, however, seeing that
such things had more to do with it, if possible, than fire. Having
struck a spark, which he took captive by means of a piece of tinder,
he placed in the centre of a very dry handful of soft grass, and
whirled it rapidly round his head, thereby producing a current of
air, which blew the spark into a flame; which when applied, lighted
the grass and twigs; and so, in a few minutes, a blazing fire roared
up among the trees--spouted volumes of sparks into the air, like a
gigantic squib, which made it quite a marvel that all the bushes in
the neighbourhood were not burnt up at once--glared out red and
fierce upon the rippling water, until it became, as it were, red-hot
in the neighbourhood of the boats, and caused the night to become
suddenly darker by contrast; the night reciprocating the compliment,
as it grew later, by causing the space around the fire to glow
brighter and brighter, until it became a brilliant chamber,
surrounded by walls of the blackest ebony.
While Pierre was thus engaged there were at least ten voyageurs
similarly occupied. Ten steels were made instrumental in creating ten
sparks, which were severally captured by ten pieces of tinder, and
whirled round by ten lusty arms, until ten flames were produced, and
ten fires sprang up and flared wildly on the busy scene that had a
few hours before been so calm, so solitary, and so peaceful, bathed
in the soft beams of the setting sun.
In less than half-an-hour the several camps were completed, the
kettles boiling over the fires, the men smoking in every variety of
attitude, and talking loudly. It was a cheerful scene; and so Charley
thought as he reclined in his canvas tent, the opening of which faced
the fire, and enabled him to see all that was going on.
Pierre was standing over the great kettle, dancing round it, and
making sudden plunges with a stick into it, in the desperate effort
to stir its boiling contents--desperate, because the fire was very
fierce and large, and the flames seem to take a fiendish pleasure in
leaping up suddenly just under Pierre's nose, thereby endangering his
beard, or shooting out between his legs and licking round them at
most unexpected moments, when the light wind ought to have been
blowing them quite in the opposite direction; and then, as he danced
round to the other side to avoid them, wheeling about and roaring
viciously in his face, until it seemed as if the poor man would be
roasted long before the supper was boiled. Indeed, what between the
ever-changing and violent flames, the rolling smoke, the steam from
the kettle, the showering sparks, and the man's own wild grimaces and
violent antics, Pierre seemed to Charley like a raging demon, who
danced not only round, but above, and on, and through, and _in_ the
flames, as if they were his natural element, in which he took special
Quite close to the tent the massive form of Louis the guide lay
extended, his back supported by the stump of a tree, his eyes
blinking sleepily at the blaze, and his beloved pipe hanging from his
lips, while wreaths of smoke encircled his head. Louis's day's work
was done. Few could do a better; and when his work was over, Louis
always acted on the belief that his position and his years entitled
him to rest, and took things very easy in consequence.
Six of the boat's crew sat in a semicircle beside the guide and
fronting the fire, each paying particular attention to his pipe, and
talking between the puffs to anyone who chose to listen.
Suddenly Pierre vanished into the smoke and flames altogether, whence
in another moment he issued, bearing in his hand the large tin
kettle, which he deposited triumphantly at the feet of his comrades.
"Now, then," cried Pierre.
It was unnecessary to have said even that much by way of invitation.
Voyageurs do not require to have their food pressed upon them after a
hard day's work. Indeed it was as much as they could do to refrain
from laying violent hands on the kettle long before their worthy cook
considered its contents sufficiently done.
Charley sat in company with Mr. Park--a chief factor, on his way to
Norway House. Gibault, one of the men who acted as their servant, had
placed a kettle of hot tea before them, which, with several slices of
buffalo tongue, a lump of pemmican, and some hard biscuit and butter,
formed their evening meal. Indeed, we may add that these viands,
during a great part of the voyage, constituted their every meal. In
fact, they had no variety in their fare, except a wild duck or two
now and then, and a goose when they chanced to shoot one.
Charley sipped a pannikin of tea as he reclined on his blanket, and
being somewhat fatigued in consequence of his exertions and
excitement during the day, said nothing. Mr. Park, for the same
reasons, besides being naturally taciturn, was equally mute, so they
both enjoyed in silence the spectacle of the men eating their supper.
And it _was_ a sight worth seeing.
Their food consisted of robbiboo, a compound of flour, pemmican, and
water, boiled to the consistency of very thick soup. Though not a
species of food that would satisfy the fastidious taste of an
epicure, robbiboo is, nevertheless, very wholesome, exceedingly
nutritious, and withal palatable. Pemmican, its principal component,
is made of buffalo flesh, which fully equals (some think greatly
excels) beef. The recipe for making it is as follows:-First, kill
your buffalo--a matter of considerable difficulty, by the way, as
doing so requires you to travel to the buffalo-grounds, to arm
yourself with a gun, and mount a horse, on which you have to gallop,
perhaps, several miles over rough ground and among badger-holes at
the imminent risk of breaking your neck. Then you have to run up
alongside of a buffalo and put a ball through his heart, which, apart
from the murderous nature of the action, is a difficult thing to do.
But we will suppose that you have killed your buffalo. Then you must
skin him; then cut him up, and slice the flesh into layers, which
must be dried in the sun. At this stage of the process you have
produced a substance which in the fur countries goes by the name of
dried meat, and is largely used as an article of food. As its name
implies, it is very dry, and it is also very tough, and very
undesirable if one can manage to procure anything better. But to
proceed. Having thus prepared dried meat, lay a quantity of it on a
flat stone, and take another stone, with which pound it into shreds.
You must then take the animal's hide, while it is yet new, and make
bags of it about two feet and a half long by a foot and a half broad.
Into this put the pounded meat loosely. Melt the fat of your buffalo
over a fire, and when quite liquid pour it into the bag until full;
mix the contents well together; sew the whole up before it cools, and
you have a bag of pemmican of about ninety pounds weight. This forms
the chief food of the voyageur, in consequence of its being the
largest possible quantity of sustenance compressed into the smallest
possible space, and in an extremely convenient, portable shape. It
will keep fresh for years, and has been much used, in consequence, by
the heroes of arctic discovery, in their perilous journeys along the
shores of the frozen sea.
The voyageurs used no plate. Men who travel in these countries become
independent of many things that are supposed to be necessary here.
They sat in a circle round the kettle, each man armed with a large
wooden or pewter spoon, with which he ladled the robbiboo down his
capacious throat, in a style that not only caused Charley to laugh,
but afterwards threw him into a deep reverie on the powers of
appetite in general, and the strength of voyageur stomachs in
At first the keen edge of appetite induced the men to eat in silence;
but as the contents of the kettle began to get low, their tongues
loosened, and at last, when the kettles were emptied and the pipes
filled, fresh logs thrown on the fires, and their limbs stretched out
around them, the babel of English, French, and Indian that arose was
quite overwhelming. The middle-aged men told long stories of what
they _had_ done; the young men boasted of what they _meant_ to do;
while the more aged smiled, nodded, smoked their pipes, put in a word
or two as occasion offered, and listened. While they conversed the
quick ears of one of the men of Charley's camp detected some unusual
"Hist!" said he, turning his head aside slightly, in a listening
attitude, while his comrades suddenly ceased their noisy laugh.
"Do ducks travel in canoes hereabouts?" said the man, after a
moment's silence; "for, if not, there's someone about to pay us a
visit. I would wager my best gun that I hear the stroke of paddles."
"If your ears had been sharper, François, you might have heard them
some time ago," said the guide, shaking the ashes out of his pipe and
refilling it for the third time.
"Ah, Louis, I do not pretend to such sharp ears as you possess, nor
to such sharp wit either. But who do you think can be _en route_ so
"That my wit does not enable me to divine," said Louis; "but if you
have any faith in the sharpness of your eyes, I would recommend you
to go to the beach and see, as the best and shortest way of finding
By this time the men had risen, and were peering out into the gloom
in the direction whence the sound came, while one or two sauntered
down to the margin of the lake to meet the new-comers.
"Who can it be, I wonder?" said Charley, who had left the tent, and
was now standing beside the guide.
"Difficult to say, monsieur. Perhaps Injins, though I thought there
were none here just now. But I'm not surprised that we've attracted
_something_ to us. Livin' creeturs always come nat'rally to the
light, and there's plenty of fire on the point to-night."
"Rather more than enough," replied Charley, abruptly, as a slight
motion of wind sent the flames curling round his head and singed off
his eye-lashes. "Why, Louis, it's my firm belief that if I ever get
to the end of this journey, I'll not have a hair left on my head."
"O monsieur, you will learn to _observe_ things before you have been
long in the wilderness. If you _will_ edge round to leeward of the
fire, you can't expect it to respect you."
Just at this moment a loud hurrah rang through the copse, and Harry
Somerville sprang over the fire into the arms of Charley, who
received him with a hug and a look of unutterable amazement.
"Charley, my boy!"
"Harry Somerville, I declare!"
For at least five minutes Charley could not recover his composure
sufficiently to _declare_ anything else, but stood with open mouth
and eyes, and elevated eyebrows, looking at his young friend, who
capered and danced round the fire in a manner that threw the cook's
performances in that line quite into the shade, while he continued
all the time to shout fragments of sentences that were quite
unintelligible to anyone. It was evident that Harry was in a state of
immense delight at something unknown save to himself, but which, in
the course of a few minutes, was revealed to his wondering friends.
"Charley, I'm _going!_ hurrah!" and he leaped about in a manner that
induced Charley to say he would not only be going but very soon
_gone_, if he did not keep further away from the fire.
"Yes, Charley, I'm going with you! I upset the stool, tilted the ink-
bottle over the invoice-book, sent the poker almost through the back
of the fireplace, and smashed Tom Whyte's best whip on the back of
the 'noo 'oss' as I galloped him over the plains for the last time:
all for joy, because I'm going with you, Charley, my darling!"
Here Harry suddenly threw his arms round his friend's neck,
meditating an embrace. As both boys were rather fond of using their
muscles violently, the embrace degenerated into a wrestle, which
caused them to threaten complete destruction to the fire as they
staggered in front of it, and ended in their tumbling against the
tent and nearly breaking its poles and fastenings, to the horror and
indignation of Mr. Park, who was smoking his pipe within, quietly
waiting till Harry's superabundant glee was over, that he might get
an explanation of his unexpected arrival among them.
"Ah, they will be good voyageurs!" cried one of the men, as he looked
on at this scene.
"Oui, oui! good boys, active lads," replied the others, laughing. The
two boys rose hastily.
"Yes," cried Harry, breathless, but still excited, "I'm going all the
way, and a great deal farther. I'm going to hunt buffaloes in the
Saskatchewan, and grizzly bears in the--the--in fact everywhere! I'm
going down the Mackenzie River--I'm going _mad_, I believe;" and
Harry gave another caper and another shout, and tossed his cap high
into the air. Having been recklessly tossed, it came down into the
fire. When it went in, it was dark blue; but when Harry dashed into
the flames in consternation to save it, it came out of a rich brown
"Now, youngster," said Mr. Park, "when you've done capering, I should
like to ask you one or two questions. What brought you here?"
"A canoe," said Harry, inclined to be impudent.
"Oh, and pray for what _purpose_ have you come here?"
"These are my credentials," handing him a letter.
Mr. Park opened the note and read.
"Ah! oh! Saskatchewan--hum--yes--outpost--wild boy--just so--keep him
at it--ay, fit for nothing else. So," said Mr. Park, folding the
paper, "I find that Mr. Grant has sent you to take the place of a
young gentleman we expected to pick up at Norway House, but who is
required elsewhere; and that he wishes you to see a good deal of
rough life--to be made a trader of, in fact. Is that your desire?"
"That's the very ticket!" replied Harry, scarcely able to restrain
his delight at the prospect.
"Well, then, you had better get supper and turn in, for you'll have
to begin your new life by rising at three o'clock to-morrow morning.
Have you got a tent?"
"Yes," said Harry, pointing to his canoe, which had been brought to
the fire and turned bottom up by the two Indians to whom it belonged,
and who were reclining under its shelter enjoying their pipes, and
watching with looks of great gravity the doings of Harry and his
"_That_ will return whence it came to-morrow. Have you no other?"
"Oh yes," said Harry, pointing to the overhanging branches of a
willow close at hand, "lots more."
Mr. Park smiled grimly, and, turning on his heel, re-entered the tent
and continued his pipe, while Harry flung himself down beside Charley
under the bark canoe.
This species of "tent" is, however, by no means a perfect one. An
Indian canoe is seldom three feet broad--frequently much narrower--so
that it only affords shelter for the body as far down as the waist,
leaving the extremities exposed. True, one _may_ double up as nearly
as possible into half one's length, but this is not a desirable
position to maintain throughout an entire night. Sometimes, when the
weather is _very_ bad, an additional protection is procured by
leaning several poles against the bottom of the canoe, on the weather
side, in such a way as to slope considerably over the front; and over
these are spread pieces of birch bark or branches and moss, so as to
form a screen, which is an admirable shelter. But this involves too
much time and labour to be adopted during a voyage, and is only done
when the travellers are under the necessity of remaining for some
time in one place.
The canoe in which Harry arrived was a pretty large one, and looked
so comfortable when arranged for the night that Charley resolved to
abandon his own tent and Mr. Park's society, and sleep with his
"I'll sleep with you, Harry, my boy," said he, after Harry had
explained to him in detail the cause of his being sent away from Red
River; which was no other than that a young gentleman, as Mr. Park
said, who _was_ to have gone, had been ordered elsewhere.
"That's right, Charley; spread out our blankets, while I get some
supper, like a good fellow." Harry went in search of the kettle while
his friend prepared their bed. First, he examined the ground on which
the canoe lay, and found that the two Indians had already taken
possession of the only level places under it. "Humph!" he ejaculated,
half inclined to rouse them up, but immediately dismissed the idea as
unworthy of a voyageur. Besides, Charley was an amiable, unselfish
fellow, and would rather have lain on the top of a dozen stumps than
have made himself comfortable at the expense of anyone else.
He paused a moment to consider. On one side was a hollow "that" (as
he soliloquised to himself) "would break the back of a buffalo." On
the other side were a dozen little stumps surrounding three very
prominent ones, that threatened destruction to the ribs of anyone who
should venture to lie there. But Charley did not pause to consider
long. Seizing his axe, he laid about him vigorously with the head of
it, and in a few seconds destroyed all the stumps, which he carefully
collected, and, along with some loose moss and twigs, put into the
hollow, and so filled it up. Having improved things thus far, he rose
and strode out of the circle of light into the wood. In a few minutes
he reappeared, bearing a young spruce fir tree on his shoulder, which
with the axe he stripped of its branches. These branches were flat in
form, and elastic--admirably adapted for making a bed on; and when
Charley spread them out under the canoe in a pile of about four
inches in depth by four feet broad and six feet long, the stumps and
the hollow were overwhelmed altogether. He then ran to Mr. Park's
tent, and fetched thence a small flat bundle covered with oilcloth
and tied with a rope. Opening this, he tossed out its contents, which
were two large and very thick blankets--one green, the other white; a
particularly minute feather pillow, a pair of moccasins, a broken
comb, and a bit of soap. Then he opened a similar bundle containing
Harry's bed, which he likewise tossed out; and then kneeling down, he
spread the two white blankets on the top of the branches, the two
green blankets above these, and the two pillows at the top, as far
under the shelter of the canoe as he could push them. Having
completed the whole in a manner that would have done credit to a
chambermaid, he continued to sit on his knees, with his hands in his
pockets, smiling complacently, and saying, "Capital--first-rate!"
"Here we are, Charley. Have a second supper--do!"
Harry placed the smoking kettle by the head of the bed, and squatting
down beside it, began to eat as only a boy _can_ eat who has had
nothing since breakfast.
Charley attacked the kettle too--as he said, "out of sympathy,"
although he "wasn't hungry a bit." And really, for a man who was not
hungry, and had supped half-an-hour before, the appetite of
_sympathy_ was wonderfully strong.
But Harry's powers of endurance were now exhausted. He had spent a
long day of excessive fatigue and excitement, and having wound it up
with a heavy supper, sleep began to assail him with a fell ferocity
that nothing could resist. He yawned once or twice, and sat on the
bed blinking unmeaningly at the fire, as if he had something to say
to it which he could not recollect just then. He nodded violently,
much to his own surprise, once or twice, and began to address remarks
to the kettle instead of to his friend. "I say, Charley, this won't
do. I'm off to bed!" and suiting the action to the word, he took off
his coat and placed it on his pillow. He then removed his moccasins,
which were wet, and put on a dry pair; and this being all that is
ever done in the way of preparation before going to bed in the woods,
he lay down and pulled the green blankets over him.
Before doing so, however, Harry leaned his head on his hands and
prayed. This was the one link left of the chain of habit with which
he had left home. Until the period of his departure for the wild
scenes of the Northwest, Harry had lived in a quiet, happy home in
the West Highlands of Scotland, where he had been surrounded by the
benign influences of a family the members of which were united by the
sweet bonds of Christian love--bonds which were strengthened by the
additional tie of amiability of disposition. From childhood he had
been accustomed to the routine of a pious and well-regulated
household, where the Bible was perused and spoken of with an interest
that indicated a genuine hungering and thirsting after righteousness,
and where the name of JESUS sounded often and sweetly on the ear.
Under such training, Harry, though naturally of a wild, volatile
disposition, was deeply and irresistibly impressed with a reverence
for sacred things, which, now that he was thousands of miles away
from his peaceful home, clung to him with the force of old habit and
association, despite the jeers of comrades and the evil influences
and ungodliness by which he was surrounded. It is true that he was
not altogether unhurt by the withering indifference to God that he
beheld on all sides. Deep impression is not renewal of heart. But
early training in the path of Christian love saved him many a deadly
fall. It guarded him from many of the grosser sins, into which other
boys, who had merely broken away from the _restraints_ of home too
easily fell. It twined round him--as the ivy encircles the oak--with
a soft, tender, but powerful grasp, that held him back when he was
tempted to dash aside all restraint; and held him up when, in the
weakness of human nature, he was about to fall. It exerted its benign
sway over him in the silence of night, when his thoughts reverted to
home, and during his waking hours, when he wandered from scene to
scene in the wide wilderness; and in after years, when sin prevailed,
and intercourse with rough men had worn off much of at least the
superficial amiability of his character, and to some extent blunted
the finer feelings of his nature, it clung faintly to him still, in
the memory of his mother's gentle look and tender voice, and never
forsook him altogether. Home had a blessed and powerful influence on
Harry. May God bless such homes, where the ruling power is _love!_
God bless and multiply such homes in the earth! Were there more of
them there would be fewer heart-broken mothers to weep over the
memory of the blooming, manly boys they sent away to foreign climes--
with trembling hearts but high hopes--and never saw them more. They
were vessels launched upon the troubled sea of time, with stout
timbers, firm masts, and gallant sails--with all that was necessary
above and below, from stem to stern, for battling with the billows of
adverse fortune, for stemming the tide of opposition, for riding the
storms of persecution, or bounding with a press of canvas before the
gales of prosperity; but without the rudder--without the guiding
principle that renders the great power of plank and sail and mast
available; with which the vessel moves obedient to the owner's will,
without which it drifts about with every current, and sails along
with every shifting wind that blows. Yes, may the best blessings of
prosperity and peace rest on such families, whose bread, cast
continually on the waters, returns to them after many days.
After Harry had lain down, Charley, who did not feel inclined for
repose, sauntered to the margin of the lake, and sat down upon a
It was a beautiful, calm evening. The moon shone faintly through a
mass of heavy clouds, casting a pale light on the waters of Lake
Winnipeg, which stretched, without a ripple, out to the distant
horizon. The great fresh-water lakes of America bear a strong
resemblance to the sea. In storms the waves rise mountains high, and
break with heavy, sullen roar upon a beach composed in many places of
sand and pebbles; while they are so large that one not only looks out
to a straight horizon, but may even sail _out of sight of land_
As Charley sat resting his head on his hand, and listening to the
soft hiss that the ripples made upon the beach, he felt all the
solemnising influence that steals irresistibly over the mind as we
sit on a still night gazing out upon the moonlit sea. His thoughts
were sad; for he thought of Kate, and his mother and father, and the
home he was now leaving. He remembered all that he had ever done to
injure or annoy the dear ones he was leaving; and it is strange how
much alive our consciences become when we are unexpectedly or
suddenly removed from those with whom we have lived and held daily
intercourse. How bitterly we reproach ourselves for harsh words,
unkind actions; and how intensely we long for one word more with
them, one fervent embrace, to prove at once that all we have ever
said or done was not _meant_ ill, and, at any rate, is deeply,
sincerely repented of now! As Charley looked up into the starry sky,
his mind recurred to the parting words of Mr. Addison. With uplifted
hands and a full heart, he prayed that God would bless, for Jesus'
sake, the beloved ones in Red River, but especially Kate; for whether
he prayed or meditated, Charley's thoughts _always_ ended with Kate.
A black cloud passed across the moon, and reminded him that but a few
hours of the night remained; so hastening up to the camp again, he
lay gently down beside his friend, and drew the green blanket over
In the camp all was silent. The men had chosen their several beds
according to fancy, under the shadow of a bush or tree. The fires had
burned low--so low that it was with difficulty Charley, as he lay,
could discern the recumbent forms of the men, whose presence was
indicated by the deep, soft, regular breathing of tired but, healthy
constitutions. Sometimes a stray moonbeam shot through the leaves and
branches, and cast a ghost-like, flickering light over the scene,
which ever and anon was rendered more mysterious by a red flare of
the fire as an ember fell, blazed up for an instant, and left all
shrouded in greater darkness than before.
At first Charley continued his sad thoughts, staring all the while at
the red embers of the expiring fire; but soon his eyes began to
blink, and the stumps of trees began to assume the form of voyageurs,
and voyageurs to look like stumps of trees. Then a moonbeam darted
in, and Mr. Addison stood on the other side of the fire. At this
sight Charley started, and Mr. Addison disappeared, while the boy
smiled to think how he had been dreaming while only half asleep. Then
Kate appeared, and seemed to smile on him; but another ember fell,
and another red flame sprang up, and put her to flight too. Then a
low sigh of wind rustled through the branches, and Charley felt sure
that he saw Kate again coming through the woods, singing the low,
soft tune that she was so fond of singing, because it was his own
favourite air. But soon the air ceased; the fire faded away; so did
the trees, and the sleeping voyageurs; Kate last of all dissolved,
and Charley sank into a deep, untroubled slumber.
Varieties, vexations, and vicissitudes.
Life is checkered--there is no doubt about that; whatever doubts a
man may entertain upon other subjects, he can have none upon this, we
feel quite certain. In fact, so true is it that we would not for a
moment have drawn the reader's attention to it here, were it not that
our experience of life in the backwoods corroborates the truth; and
truth, however well corroborated, is none the worse of getting a
little additional testimony now and then in this sceptical
Life is checkered, then, undoubtedly. And life in the backwoods
strengthens the proverb, for it is a peculiarly striking and
remarkable specimen of life's variegated character.
There is a difference between sailing smoothly along the shores of
Lake Winnipeg with favouring breezes, and being tossed on its surging
billows by the howling of a nor'-west wind, that threatens
destruction to the boat, or forces it to seek shelter on the shore.
This difference is one of the checkered scenes of which we write, and
one that was experienced by the brigade more than once during its
passage across the lake.
Since we are dealing in truisms, it may not, perhaps, be out of place
here to say that going to bed at night is not by any means getting up
in the morning; at least so several of our friends found to be the
case when the deep sonorous voice of Louis Peltier sounded through
the camp on the following morning, just as a very faint, scarcely
perceptible, light tinged the eastern sky.
"Lève, lève, lève!" he cried, "lève, lève, mes enfants!"
Some of Louis's _infants_ replied to the summons in a way that would
have done credit to a harlequin. One or two active little Canadians,
on hearing the cry of the awful word _lève_, rose to their feet with
a quick bound, as if they had been keeping up an appearance of sleep
as a sort of practical joke all night, on purpose to be ready to leap
as the first sound fell from the guide's lips. Others lay still, in
the same attitude in which they had fallen asleep, having made up
their minds, apparently, to lie there in spite of all the guides in
the world. Not a few got slowly into the sitting position, their hair
dishevelled, their caps awry, their eyes alternately winking very
hard and staring awfully in the vain effort to keep open, and their
whole physiognomy wearing an expression of blank stupidity that is
peculiar to man when engaged in that struggle which occurs each
morning as he endeavours to disconnect and shake off the entanglement
of nightly dreams and the realities of the breaking day. Throughout
the whole camp there was a low, muffled sound, as of men moving
lazily, with broken whispers and disjointed sentences uttered in very
deep, hoarse tones, mingled with confused, unearthly noises, which,
upon consideration, sounded like prolonged yawns. Gradually these
sounds increased, for the guide's _lève_ is inexorable, and the
voyageur's fate inevitable.
"Oh dear!--yei a--a--ow" (yawning); "hang your _lève!_"
"Oui, vraiment--yei a-a----ow--morbleu!"
"Eh, what's that? Oh, misère!"
"Tare an' ages!" (from an Irishman), "an' I had only got to slaape
yit! but--yei a--a----ow!"
French and Irish yawns are very similar, the only difference being,
that whereas the Frenchman finishes the yawn resignedly, and springs
to his legs, the Irishman finishes it with an energetic gasp, as if
he were hurling it remonstratively into the face of Fate, turns round
again and shuts his eyes doggedly--a piece of bravado which he knows
is useless and of very short duration.
"Lève! lève!! lève!!!" There was no mistake this time in the tones of
Louis's voice. "Embark, embark! vite, vite!"
The subdued sounds of rousing broke into a loud buzz of active
preparation, as the men busied themselves in bundling up blankets,
carrying down camp-kettles to the lake, launching the boats, kicking
up lazy comrades, stumbling over and swearing at fallen trees which
were not visible in the cold, uncertain light of the early dawn,
searching hopelessly, among a tangled conglomeration of leaves and
broken branches and crushed herbage, for lost pipes and missing
"Hollo!" exclaimed Harry Somerville, starting suddenly from his
sleeping posture, and unintentionally cramming his elbow into
Charley's mouth, "I declare they're all up and nearly ready to
"That's no reason," replied Charley, "why you should knock out all my
front teeth, is it?"
Just then Mr. Park issued from his tent, dressed and ready to step
into his boat. He first gave a glance round the camp to see that all
the men were moving, then he looked up through the trees to ascertain
the present state and, if possible, the future prospects of the
weather. Having come to a satisfactory conclusion on that head, he
drew forth his pipe and began to fill it, when his eye fell on the
two boys, who were still sitting up in their lairs, and staring
idiotically at the place where the fire had been, as if the white
ashes, half-burned logs, and bits of charcoal were a sight of the
most novel and interesting character, that filled them with intense
Mr. Park could scarce forbear smiling.
"Hollo, youngsters, precious voyageurs _you'll_ make, to be sure, if
this is the way you're going to begin. Don't you see that the things
are all aboard, and we'll be ready to start in five minutes, and you
sitting there with your neckcloths off?"
Mr. Park gave a slight sneer when he spoke of _neckcloths_, as if he
thought, in the first place, that they were quite superfluous
portions of attire, and in the second place, that having once put
them on, the taking of them off at night was a piece of effeminacy
altogether unworthy of a Nor'-wester.
Charley and Harry needed no second rebuke. It flashed instantly upon
them that sleeping comfortably under their blankets when the men were
bustling about the camp was extremely inconsistent with the heroic
resolves of the previous day. They sprang up, rolled their blankets
in the oil-cloths, which they fastened tightly with ropes; tied the
neckcloths, held in such contempt by Mr. Park, in a twinkling; threw
on their coats, and in less than five minutes were ready to embark.
They then found that they might have done things more leisurely, as
the crews had not yet got all their traps on board; so they began to
look around them, and discovered that each had omitted to pack up a
Very much crestfallen at their stupidity, they proceeded to untie the
bundles again, when it became apparent to the eyes of Charley that
his friend had put on his capote inside out; which had a peculiarly
ragged and grotesque effect. These mistakes were soon rectified, and
shouldering their beds, they carried them down to the boat and tossed
them in. Meanwhile Mr. Park, who had been watching the movements of
the boys with a peculiar smile, that filled them with confusion, went
round the different camps to see that nothing was left behind. The
men were all in their places with oars ready, and the boats floating
on the calm water, a yard or two from shore, with the exception of
the guide's boat, the stern of which still rested on the sand
awaiting Mr. Park.
"Who does this belong to?" shouted that gentleman, holding up a cloth
cap, part of which was of a mottled brown and part deep blue.
Harry instantly tore the covering from his head, and discovered that
among his numerous mistakes he had put on the head-dress of one of
the Indians who had brought him to the camp. To do him justice the
cap was not unlike his own, excepting that it was a little more
mottled and dirty in colour, besides being decorated with a gaudy but
very much crushed and broken feather.
"You had better change with our friend here, I think," said Mr. Park,
grinning from ear to ear, as he tossed the cap to its owner, while
Harry handed the other to the Indian, amid the laughter of the crew.
"Never mind, boy," added Mr. Park, in an encouraging tone, "you'll
make a voyageur yet.--Now then, lads, give way;" and with a nod to
the Indians, who stood on the shore watching their departure, the
trader sprang into the boat and took his place beside the two boys.
"Ho! sing, mes garçons," cried the guide, seizing the massive sweep
and directing the boat out to sea.
At this part of the lake there occurs a deep bay or inlet, to save
rounding which travellers usually strike straight across from point
to point, making what is called in voyageur parlance a _traverse_.
These traverses are subjects of considerable anxiety and frequently
of delay to travellers, being sometimes of considerable extent,
varying from four to five, and in such immense seas as Lake Superior,
to fourteen miles. With boats, indeed, there is little to fear, as
the inland craft of the fur-traders can stand a heavy sea, and often
ride out a pretty severe storm; but it is far otherwise with the bark
canoes that are often used in travelling. These frail craft can stand
very little sea--their frames being made of thin flat slips of wood
and sheets of bark, not more than a quarter of an inch thick, which
are sewed together with the fibrous roots of the pine (called by the
natives _wattape_), and rendered water-tight by means of melted gum.
Although light and buoyant, therefore, and extremely useful in a
country where portages are numerous, they require very tender usage;
and when a traverse has to be made, the guides have always a grave
consultation, with some of the most sagacious among the men, as to
the probability of the wind rising or falling--consultations which
are more or less marked by anxiety and tediousness in proportion to
the length of the traverse, the state of the weather and the courage
or timidity of the guides.
On the present occasion there was no consultation, as has been
already seen. The traverse was a short one, the morning fine, and the
boats good. A warm glow began to overspread the horizon, giving
promise of a splendid day, as the numerous oars dipped with a plash
and a loud hiss into the water, and sent the boats leaping forth upon
the white wave.
"Sing, sing!" cried the guide again, and clearing his throat, he
began the beautiful quick-tuned canoe-song "Rose Blanche," to which
the men chorused with such power of lungs that a family of plovers,
which up to that time had stood in mute astonishment on a sandy
point, tumbled precipitately into the water, from which they rose
with a shrill, inexpressibly wild, plaintive cry, and fled screaming
away to a more secure refuge among the reeds and sedges of a swamp. A
number of ducks too, awakened by the unwonted sound, shot suddenly
out from the concealment of their night's bivouac with erect heads
and startled looks, sputtered heavily over the surface of their
liquid bed, and rising into the air, flew in a wide circuit, with
whistling wings, away from the scene of so much uproar and confusion.
The rough voices of the men grew softer and softer as the two Indians
listened to the song of their departing friends, mellowing down and
becoming more harmonious and more plaintive as the distance
increased, and the boats grew smaller and smaller, until they were
lost in the blaze of light that now bathed both water and sky in the
eastern horizon, and began rapidly to climb the zenith, while the
sweet tones became less and less audible as they floated faintly
across the still water, and melted at last into the deep silence of
The two Indians still stood with downcast heads and listening ears,
as if they loved the last echo of the dying music, while their grave,
statue-like forms added to rather than detracted from, the solitude
of the deserted scene.
Charley and Harry begin their sporting career without much success--
The place in the boats usually allotted to gentlemen in the Company's
service while travelling is the stern. Here the lading is so arranged
as to form a pretty level hollow, where the flat bundles containing
their blankets are placed, and a couch is thus formed that rivals
Eastern effeminacy in luxuriance. There are occasions, however, when
this couch is converted into a bed, not of thorns exactly, but of
corners; and really it would be hard to say which of the two is the
more disagreeable. Should the men be careless in arranging the cargo,
the inevitable consequence is that "monsieur" will find the leg of an
iron stove, the sharp edge of a keg, or the corner of a wooden box
occupying the place where his ribs should be. So common, however, is
this occurrence that the clerks usually superintend the arrangements
themselves, and so secure comfort.
On a couch, then, of this kind Charley and Harry now found themselves
constrained to sit all morning--sometimes asleep, occasionally awake,
and always earnestly desiring that it was time to put ashore for
breakfast, as they had now travelled for four hours without halt,
except twice for about five minutes, to let the men light their
"Charley," said Harry Somerville to his friend, who sat beside him,
"it strikes me that we are to have no breakfast at all to-day. Here
have I been holding my breath and tightening my belt, until I feel
much more like a spider or a wasp than a--a--"
"_Man_, Harry; out with it at once, don't be afraid," said Charley.
"Well, no, I wasn't going to have said _that_ exactly, but I was
going to have said a voyageur, only I recollected our doings this
morning, and hesitated to take the name until I had won it."
"It's well that you entertain so modest an opinion of yourself," said
Mr. Park, who still smoked his pipe as if he were impressed with the
idea that to stop for a moment would produce instant death. "I may
tell you for your comfort, youngster, that we shan't breakfast till
we reach yonder point."
The shores of Lake Winnipeg are flat and low, and the point indicated
by Mr. Park lay directly in the light of the sun, which now shone
with such splendour in the cloudless sky, and flashed on the polished
water, that it was with difficulty they could look towards the point
"Where is it?" asked Charley, shading his eyes with his hand; "I
cannot make out anything at all."
"Try again, my boy; there's nothing like practice."
"Ah yes! I make it out now; a faint shadow just under the sun. Is
"Ay, and we'll break our fast _there_."
"I would like very much to break your head _here_," thought Charley,
but he did not say it, as, besides being likely to produce unpleasant
consequences, he felt that such a speech to an elderly gentleman
would be highly improper; and Charley had _some_ respect for gray
hairs for their own sake, whether the owner of them was a good man or
"What shall we do, Harry? If I had only thought of keeping out a
"I know what _I_ shall do," said Harry, with a resolute air: "I'll go
"Shoot!" cried Charley. "You don't mean to say that you're going to
waste your powder and shot by firing at the clouds! for unless you
take _them_, I see nothing else here."
"That's because you don't use your eyes," retorted Harry. "Will you
just look at yonder rock ahead of us, and tell me what you see?"
Charley looked earnestly at the rock, which to a cursory glance
seemed as if composed of whiter stone on the top. "Gulls, I declare!"
shouted Charley, at the same time jumping up in haste.
Just then one of the gulls, probably a scout sent out to watch the
approaching enemy, wheeled in a circle overhead. The two youths
dragged their guns from beneath the thwarts of the boat, and rummaged
about in great anxiety for shot-belts and powder-horns. At last they
were found; and having loaded, they sat on the edge of the boat,
looking out for game with as much--ay, with _more_ intense interest
than a Blackfoot Indian would have watched for a fat buffalo cow.
"There he goes," said Harry; "take the first shot, Charley."
"Where? where is it?"
"Right ahead. Look out!"
As Harry spoke, a small white gull, with bright-red legs and beak,
flew over the boat so close to them that, as the guide remarked, "he
could see it wink!" Charley's equanimity, already pretty well
disturbed, was entirely upset at the suddenness of the bird's
appearance; for he had been gazing intently at the rock when his
friend's exclamation drew his attention in time to see the gull
within about four feet of his head. With a sudden "Oh!" Charley threw
forward his gun, took a short, wavering aim, and blew the cock-tail
feather out of Baptiste's hat; while the gull sailed tranquilly away,
as much as to say, "If _that's_ all you can do, there's no need for
me to hurry!"
"Confound the boy!" cried Mr. Park. "You'll be the death of someone
yet; I'm convinced of that."
"Parbleu! you may say that, c'est vrai," remarked the voyageur with a
rueful gaze at his hat, which, besides having its ornamental feather
shattered, was sadly cut up about the crown.
The poor lad's face became much redder than the legs or beak of the
gull as he sat down in confusion, which he sought to hide by busily
reloading his gun; while the men indulged in a somewhat witty and
sarcastic criticism of his powers of shooting, remarking, in
flattering terms, on the precision of the shot that blew Baptiste's
feather into atoms, and declaring that if every shot he fired was as
truly aimed, he would certainly be the best in the country.
Baptiste also came in for a share of their repartee. "It serves you
right," said the guide, laughing, "for wearing such things on the
voyage. You should put away such foppery till you return to the
settlement, where there are _girls_ to admire you." (Baptiste had
continued to wear the tall hat, ornamented with gold cords and
tassels, with which he had left Red River).
"Ah!" cried another, pulling vigorously at his oar, "I fear that
Marie won't look at you, now that all your beauty's gone."
"'Tis not quite gone," said a third; "there's all the brim and half a
tassel left, besides the wreck of the remainder."
"Oh, I can lend you a few fragments," retorted Baptiste, endeavouring
to parry some of the thrusts. "They would improve _you_ vastly."
"No, no, friend; gather them up and replace them: they will look more
picturesque and becoming now. I believe if you had worn them much
longer all the men in the boat would have fallen in love with you."
"By St. Patrick," said Mike Brady, an Irishman who sat at the oar
immediately behind the unfortunate Canadian, "there's more than
enough o' rubbish scattered over mysilf nor would do to stuff a
As Mike spoke, he collected the fragments of feathers and ribbons
with which the unlucky shot had strewn him, and placed them slyly on
the top of the dilapidated hat, which Baptiste, after clearing away
the wreck, had replaced on his head.
"It's very purty," said Mike, as the action was received by the crew
with a shout of merriment.
Baptiste was waxing wrathful under this fire, when the general
attention was drawn again towards Charley and his friend, who, having
now got close to the rock, had quite forgotten their mishap in the
excitement of expectation.
This excitement in the shooting of such small game might perhaps
surprise our readers, did we not acquaint them with the fact that
neither of the boys had, up to that time, enjoyed much opportunity of
shooting. It is true that Harry had once or twice borrowed the
fowling-piece of the senior clerk, and had sallied forth with a
beating heart to pursue the grouse which are found in the belt of
woodland skirting the Assiniboine River near to Fort Garry. But these
expeditions were of rare occurrence, and they had not sufficed to rub
off much of the bounding excitement with which he loaded and fired at
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