The Young Fur Traders
Part 3 out of 7
anything and everything that came within range of his gun. Charley,
on the other hand, had never fired a shot before, except out of an
old horse-pistol; having up to this period been busily engaged at
school, except during the holidays, which he always spent in the
society of his sister Kate, whose tastes were not such as were likely
to induce him to take up the gun, even if he had possessed such a
weapon. Just before leaving Red River, his father presented him with
his own gun, remarking, as he did so, with a sigh, that _his_ day was
past now; and adding that the gun was a good one for shot or ball,
and if he (Charley) brought down _half_ as much game with it as he
(Mr. Kennedy) had brought down in the course of his life, he might
consider himself a crack shot undoubtedly.
It was not surprising, therefore, that the two friends went nearly
mad with excitation when the whole flock of gulls rose into the air
like a white cloud, and sailed in endless circles and gyrations above
and around their heads--flying so close at times that they might
almost have been caught by the hand. Neither was it surprising that
innumerable shots were fired, by both sportsmen, without a single
bird being a whit the worse for it, or themselves much the better;
the energetic efforts made to hit being rendered abortive by the very
eagerness which caused them to miss. And this was the less
extraordinary, too, when it is remembered that Harry in his haste
loaded several times without shot, and Charley rendered the right
barrel of his gun _hors de combat_ at last, by ramming down a charge
of shot and omitting powder altogether, whereby he snapped and
primed, and snapped and primed again, till he grew desperate, and
then suspicious of the true cause, which he finally rectified with
Frequently the gulls flew straight over the heads of the youths--
which produced peculiar consequences, as in such cases they took aim
while the birds were approaching; but being somewhat slow at taking
aim, the gulls were almost perpendicularly above them ere they were
ready to shoot, so that they were obliged to fire hastily in _hope_,
feeling that they were losing their balance, or give up the chance
Mr. Park sat grimly in his place all the while, enjoying the scene,
"Now then, Charley," said he, "take that fellow."
"Which? where? Oh, if I could only get one!" said Charley, looking up
eagerly at the screaming birds, at which he had been staring so long,
in their varying and crossing flight, that his sight had become
"There! Look sharp; fire away!"
Bang went Charley's piece, as he spoke, at a gull which flew straight
towards him, but so rapidly that it was directly above his head;
indeed, he was leaning a little backwards at the moment, which caused
him to miss again, while the recoil of the gun brought matters to a
climax, by toppling him over into Mr. Park's lap, thereby smashing
that gentleman's pipe to atoms. The fall accidentally exploded the
second barrel, causing the butt to strike Charley in the pit of his
stomach--as if to ram him well home into Mr. Park's open arms--and
hitting with a stray shot a gull that was sailing high up in the sky
in fancied security. It fell with a fluttering crash into the boat
while the men were laughing at the accident.
"Didn't I say so?" cried Mr. Park, wrathfully, as he pitched Charley
out of his lap, and spat out the remnants of his broken pipe.
Fortunately for all parties, at this moment the boat approached a
spot on which the guide had resolved to land for breakfast; and
seeing the unpleasant predicament into which poor Charley had fallen,
he assumed the strong tones of command with which guides are
frequently gifted, and called out,--
"Ho, ho! à terre! à terre! to land! to land! Breakfast, my boys;
breakfast!"--at the same time sweeping the boat's head shoreward, and
running into a rocky bay, whose margin was fringed by a growth of
small trees. Here, in a few minutes, they were joined by the other
boats of the brigade, which had kept within sight of each other
nearly the whole morning.
While travelling through the wilds of North America in boats,
voyageurs always make a point of landing to breakfast. Dinner is a
meal with which they are unacquainted, at least on the voyage, and
luncheon is likewise unknown. If a man feels hungry during the day,
the pemmican-bag and its contents are there; he may pause in his work
at any time, for a minute, to seize the axe and cut off a lump, which
he may devour as he best can; but there is no going ashore--no
resting for dinner. Two great meals are recognised, and the time
allotted to their preparation and consumption held inviolable--
breakfast and supper: the first varying between the hours of seven
and nine in the morning; the second about sunset, at which time
travellers usually encamp for the night. Of the two meals it would be
difficult to say which is more agreeable. For our own part, we prefer
the former. It is the meal to which a man addresses himself with
peculiar gusto, especially if he has been astir three or four hours
previously in the open air. It is the time of day, too, when the
spirits are freshest and highest, animated by the prospect of the
work, the difficulties, the pleasures, or the adventures of the day
that has begun; and cheered by that cool, clear _buoyancy_ of Nature
which belongs exclusively to the happy morning hours, and has led
poets in all ages to compare these hours to the first sweet months of
spring or the early years of childhood.
Voyageurs, not less than poets, have felt the exhilarating influence
of the young day, although they have lacked the power to tell it in
sounding numbers; but where words were wanting, the sparkling eye,
the beaming countenance, the light step, and hearty laugh, were more
powerful exponents of the feelings within. Poet, and painter too,
might have spent a profitable hour on the shores of that great
sequestered lake, and as they watched the picturesque groups--
clustering round the blazing fires, preparing their morning meal,
smoking their pipes, examining and repairing the boats, or suning
their stalwart limbs in wild, careless attitudes upon the greensward--
might have found a subject worthy the most brilliant effusions of
the pen, or the most graphic touches of the pencil.
An hour sufficed for breakfast. While it was preparing, the two
friends sauntered into the forest in search of game, in which they
were unsuccessful; in fact, with the exception of the gulls before
mentioned, there was not a feather to be seen--save, always, one or
Whisky-johns are the most impudent, puffy, conceited little birds
that exist. Not much larger in reality than sparrows, they
nevertheless manage to swell out their feathers to such an extent
that they appear to be as large as magpies, which they further
resemble in their plumage. Go where you will in the woods of Rupert's
Land, the instant that you light a fire two or three whisky-johns
come down and sit beside you, on a branch, it may be, or on the
ground, and generally so near that you cannot but wonder at their
recklessness. There is a species of impudence which seems to be
specially attached to little birds. In them it reaches the highest
pitch of perfection. A bold, swelling, arrogant effrontery--a sort of
stark, staring, self-complacent, comfortable, and yet innocent
impertinence, which is at once irritating and amusing, aggravating
and attractive, and which is exhibited in the greatest intensity in
the whisky-john. He will jump down almost under your nose, and seize
a fragment of biscuit or pemmican. He will go right into the
pemmican-bag, when you are but a few paces off, and pilfer, as it
were, at the fountain-head. Or if these resources are closed against
him, he will sit on a twig, within an inch of your head, and look at
you as only a whisky-john _can_ look.
"I'll catch one of these rascals," said Harry, as he saw them jump
unceremoniously into and out of the pemmican-bag.
Going down to the boat, Harry hid himself under the tarpaulin,
leaving a hole open near to the mouth of the bag. He had not remained
more than a few minutes in this concealment when one of the birds
flew down, and alighted on the edge of the boat. After a glance round
to see that all was right, it jumped into the bag. A moment after,
Harry, darting his hand through the aperture, grasped him round the
neck and secured him. Poor whisky-john screamed and pecked
ferociously, while Harry brought him in triumph to his friend; but so
unremittingly did the bird scream that its captor was fain at last to
let him off, the more especially as the cook came up at the moment
and announced that breakfast was ready.
Two days after the events of the last chapter, the brigade was making
one of the traverses which have already been noticed as of frequent
occurrence in the great lakes. The morning was calm and sultry. A
deep stillness pervaded Nature, which tended to produce a
corresponding quiescence in the mind, and to fill it with those
indescribably solemn feelings that frequently arise before a
thunderstorm. Dark, lurid clouds hung overhead in gigantic masses,
piled above each other like the battlements of a dark fortress, from
whose ragged embrasures the artillery of heaven was about to play.
"Shall we get over in time, Louis?" asked Mr. Park, as he turned to
the guide, who sat holding the tiller with a firm grasp; while the
men, aware of the necessity of reaching shelter ere the storm burst
upon them, were bending to the oars with steady and sustained energy.
"Perhaps," replied Louis, laconically.--"Pull, lads, pull! else
you'll have to sleep in wet skins to-night."
A low growl of distant thunder followed the guide's words, and the
men pulled with additional energy; while the slow measured hiss of
the water, and clank of oars, as they cut swiftly through the lake's
clear surface, alone interrupted the dead silence that ensued.
Charley and his friend conversed in low whispers; for there is a
strange power in a thunder-storm, whether raging or about to break,
that overawes the heart of man,--as if Nature's God were nearer then
than at other times; as if He--whose voice, indeed, if listened to,
speaks even in the slightest evolution of natural phenomena--were
about to tread the visible earth with more than usual majesty, in the
vivid glare of the lightning flash, and in the awful crash of
"I don't know how it is, but I feel more like a coward," said
Charley, "just before a thunderstorm than I think I should do in the
arms of a polar bear. Do you feel queer, Harry?"
"A little," replied Harry, in a low whisper. "and yet I'm not
frightened. I can scarcely tell what I feel, but I'm certain it's not
"Well, I don't know," said Charley. "When father's black bull chased
Kate and me in the prairies, and almost overtook us as we ran for the
fence of the big field, I felt my heart leap to my mouth, and the
blood rush to my cheeks, as I turned about and faced him, while Kate
climbed the fence; but after she was over, I felt a wild sort of
wickedness in me, as if I should like to tantalise and torment him,--
and I felt altogether different from what I feel now while I look up
at these black clouds. Isn't there something quite awful in them,
Ere Harry replied, a bright flash of lightning shot athwart the sky,
followed by a loud roll of thunder, and in a moment the wind rushed,
like a fiend set suddenly free, down upon the boats, tearing up the
smooth surface of the water as it flew, and cutting it into gleaming
white streaks. Fortunately the storm came down behind the boats, so
that, after the first wild burst was over, they hoisted a small
portion of their lug sails, and scudded rapidly before it.
There was still a considerable portion of the traverse to cross, and
the guide cast an anxious glance over his shoulder occasionally, as
the dark waves began to rise, and their crests were cut into white
foam by the increasing gale. Thunder roared in continued, successive
peals, as if the heavens were breaking up, while rain descended in
sheets. For a time the crews continued to ply their oars; but as the
wind increased, these were rendered superfluous. They were taken in,
therefore, and the men sought partial shelter under the tarpaulin;
while Mr. Park and the two boys were covered, excepting their heads,
by an oilcloth, which was always kept at hand in rainy weather.
"What think you now, Louis?" said Mr. Park, resuming the pipe which
the sudden outburst of the storm had caused him to forget. "Have we
seen the worst of it?"
Louis replied abruptly in the negative, and in a few seconds shouted
loudly, "Look out, lads! here comes a squall. Stand by to let go the
Mike Brady, happening to be near the sheet, seized hold of the rope,
and prepared to let go, while the men rose, as if by instinct, and
gazed anxiously at the approaching squall, which could be seen in the
distance, extending along the horizon, like a bar of blackest ink,
spotted with flakes of white. The guide sat with compressed lips, and
motionless as a statue, guiding the boat as it bounded madly towards
the land, which was now not more than half-a-mile distant.
"Let go!" shouted the guide, in a voice that was heard loud and clear
above the roar of the elements.
"Ay, ay," replied the Irishman, untwisting the rope instantly, as
with a sharp hiss the squall descended on the boat.
At that moment the rope became entangled round one of the oars, and
the gale burst with all its fury on the distended sail, burying the
prow in the waves, which rushed inboard in a black volume, and in an
instant half filled the boat.
"Let go!" roared the guide again, in a voice of thunder; while Mike
struggled with awkward energy to disentangle the rope.
As he spoke, an Indian, who during the storm had been sitting beside
the mast, gazing at the boiling water with a grave, contemplative
aspect, sprang quickly forward, drew his knife, and with two blows
(so rapidly delivered that they seemed but one) cut asunder first the
sheet and then the halyards, which let the sail blow out and fall
flat upon the boat. He was just in time. Another moment and the
gushing water, which curled over the bow, would have filled them to
the gunwale. As it was, the little vessel was so full of water that
she lay like a log, while every toss of the waves sent an additional
torrent into her.
"Bail for your lives, lads!" cried Mr, Park, as he sprang forward,
and, seizing a tin dish, began energetically to bail out the water.
Following his example, the whole crew seized whatever came first to
hand in the shape of dish or kettle, and began to bail. Charley and
Harry Somerville acted a vigorous part on this occasion--the one with
a bark dish (which had been originally made by the natives for the
purpose of holding maple sugar), the other with his cap.
For a time it seemed doubtful whether the curling waves should send
most water _into_ the boat, or the crew should bail most _out_ of it.
But the latter soon prevailed, and in a few minutes it was so far got
under that three of the men were enabled to leave off bailing and
reset the sail, while Louis Pettier returned to his post at the helm.
At first the boat moved but slowly, owing to the weight of water in
her; but as this gradually grew less, she increased her speed and
neared the land.
"Well done, Redfeather," said Mr. Park, addressing the Indian as he
resumed his seat; "your knife did us good service that time, my fine
Redfeather, who was the only pure native in the brigade, acknowledged
the compliment with a smile.
"_Ah, oui_," replied the guide, whose features had now lost their
stern expression. "These Injins are always ready enough with their
knives. It's not the first time my life has been saved by the knife
of a red-skin."
"Humph! bad luck to them," muttered Mike Brady; "it's not the first
time that my windpipe has been pretty near spiflicated by the knives
o' the redskins, the murtherin' varmints."
As Mike gave vent to this malediction, the boat ran swiftly past a
low rocky point, over which the surf was breaking wildly.
"Down with the sail, Mike," cried the guide, at the same time putting
the helm hard up. The boat flew round, obedient to the ruling power,
made one last plunge as it left the rolling surf behind, and slid
gently and smoothly into still water under the lee of the point.
Here, in the snug shelter of a little bay, two of the other boats
were found, with their prows already on the beach, and their crews
actively employed in landing their goods, opening bales that had
received damage from the water, and preparing the encampment; while
ever and anon they paused a moment to watch the various boats as they
flew before the gale, and one by one doubled the friendly promontory.
If there is one thing that provokes a voyageur more than another, it
is being wind-bound on the shores of a large lake. Rain or sleet,
heat or cold, icicles forming on the oars, or a broiling sun glaring
in a cloudless sky, the stings of sand-flies, or the sharp probes of
a million musquitoes, he will bear with comparative indifference; but
being detained by high wind for two, three, or four days together--
lying inactively on shore, when everything else, it may be, is
favourable: the sun bright, the sky blue, the air invigorating, and
all but the wind propitious--is more than his philosophy can carry
him through with equanimity. He grumbles at it; sometimes makes
believe to laugh at it; very often, we are sorry to say, swears at
it; does his best to sleep through it; but whatever he does, he does
with a bad grace, because he's in a bad humour, and can't stand it.
For the next three days this was the fate of our friends. Part of the
time it rained, when the whole party slept as much as was possible,
and then _endeavoured_ to sleep _more_ than was possible, under the
shelter afforded by the spreading branches of the trees. Part of the
time was fair, with occasional gleams of sunshine, when the men
turned out to eat and smoke and gamble round the fires; and the two
friends sauntered down to a sheltered place on the shore, sunned
themselves in a warm nook among the rocks, while they gazed ruefully
at the foaming billows, told endless stories of what they had done in
time past, and equally endless _prospective_ adventures that they
earnestly hoped should befall them in time to come.
While they were thus engaged, Redfeather, the Indian who had cut the
ropes so opportunely during the storm, walked down to the shore, and
sitting down on a rock not far distant, fell apparently into a
"I like that fellow," said Harry, pointing to the Indian.
"So do I. He's a sharp, active man. Had it not been for him we should
have had to swim for it."
"Indeed, had it not been for him I should have had to sink for it,"
said Harry, with a smile, "for I can't swim."
"Ah, true, I forgot that. I wonder what the red-skin, as the guide
calls him, is thinking about," added Charley in a musing tone.
"Of home, perhaps, 'sweet home,'" said Harry, with a sigh. "Do you
think much of home, Charley, now that you have left it?"
Charley did not reply for a few seconds. He seemed to muse over the
At last he said slowly--
"Think of home? I think of little else when I am not talking with
you, Harry. My dear mother is always in my thoughts, and my poor old
father. Home? ay; and darling Kate, too, is at my elbow night and
day, with the tears streaming from her eyes, and her ringlets
scattered over my shoulder, as I saw her the day we parted, beckoning
me back again, or reproaching me for having gone away--God bless her!
Yes, I often, very often, think of home, Harry."
Harry made no reply. His friend's words had directed his thoughts to
a very different and far-distant scene--to another Kate, and another
father and mother, who lived in a glen far away over the waters of
the broad Atlantic. He thought of them as they used to be when he was
one of the number, a unit in the beloved circle, whose absence would
have caused a blank there. He thought of the kind voice that used to
read the Word of God, and the tender kiss of his mother as they
parted for the night. He thought of the dreary day when he left them
all behind, and sailed away, in the midst of strangers, across the
wide ocean to a strange land. He thought of them now--_without_ him--
accustomed to his absence, and forgetful, perhaps, at times that he
had once been there. As he thought of all this a tear rolled down his
cheek, and when Charley looked up in his face, that tear-drop told
plainly that he too thought sometimes of home.
"Let us ask Redfeather to tell us something about the Indians," he
said at length, rousing himself. "I have no doubt he has had many
adventures in his life. Shall we, Charley?"
"By all means--Ho, Redfeather; are you trying to stop the wind by
looking it out of countenance?"
The Indian rose and walked towards the spot where the boys lay.
"What was Redfeather thinking about?" said Charley, adopting the
somewhat pompous style of speech occasionally used by Indians. "Was
he thinking of the white swan and his little ones in the prairie; or
did he dream of giving his enemies a good licking the next time he
"Redfeather has no enemies," replied the Indian. "He was thinking of
the great Manito, [Footnote: God.] who made the wild winds, and the
great lakes, and the forest."
"And pray, good Redfeather, what did your thoughts tell you?"
"They told me that men are very weak, and very foolish, and wicked;
and that Manito is very good and patient to let them live."
"That is to say," cried Harry, who was surprised and a little nettled
to hear what he called the heads of a sermon from a red-skin, "that
_you_, being a man, are very weak, and very foolish, and wicked, and
that Manito is very good and patient to let _you_ live?"
"Good," said the Indian calmly; "that is what I mean."
"Come, Redfeather," said Charley, laying his hand on the Indian's
arm, "sit down beside us, and tell us some of your adventures. I know
that you must have had plenty, and it's quite clear that we're not to
get away from this place all day, so you've nothing better to do."
The Indian readily assented, and began his story in English.
Redfeather was one of the very few Indians who had acquired the power
of speaking the English language. Having been, while a youth, brought
much into contact with the fur-traders, and having been induced by
them to enter their service for a time, he had picked up enough of
English to make himself easily understood. Being engaged at a later
period of life as a guide to one of the exploring parties sent out by
the British Government to discover the famous North West Passage, he
had learned to read and write, and had become so much accustomed to
the habits and occupations of the "pale faces," that he spent more of
his time, in one way or another, with them than in the society of his
tribe, which dwelt in the thick woods bordering on one of the great
prairies of the interior. He was about thirty years of age; had a
tall, thin, but wiry and powerful frame; and was of a mild, retiring
disposition. His face wore a habitually grave expression, verging
towards melancholy; induced, probably, by the vicissitudes of a wild
life (in which he had seen much of the rugged side of nature in men
and things) acting upon a sensitive heart, and a naturally warm
temperament. Redfeather, however, was by no means morose; and when
seated along with his Canadian comrades round the camp fire, he
listened with evidently genuine interest to their stories, and
entered into the spirit of their jests. But he was always an auditor,
and rarely took part in their conversations. He, was frequently
consulted by the guide in matters of difficulty, and it was observed
that the "red-skin's" opinion always carried much weight with it,
although it was seldom given unless asked for. The men respected him
much because he was a hard worker, obliging, and modest---three
qualities that insure respect, whether found under a red skin or a
"I shall tell you," he began, in a soft, musing tone, as if he were
wandering in memories of the past--"I shall tell you how it was that
I came by the name of Redfeather."
"Ah!" interrupted Charley, "I intended to ask you about that; you
don't wear one."
"I did once. My father was a great warrior in his tribe," continued
the Indian; "and I was but a youth when I got the name.
"My tribe was at war at the time with the Chipewyans, and one of our
scouts having come in with the intelligence that a party of our
enemies was in the neighbourhood, our warriors armed themselves to go
in pursuit of them. I had been out once before with a war-party, but
had not been successful, as the enemy's scouts gave notice of our
approach in time to enable them to escape. At the time the
information was brought to us, the young men of our village were
amusing themselves with athletic games, and loud challenges were
being given and accepted to wrestle, or race, or swim in the deep
water of the river, which flowed calmly past the green bank on which
our wigwams stood. On a bank near to us sat about a dozen of our
women--some employed in ornamenting moccasins with coloured porcupine
quills; others making rogans of bark for maple sugar, or nursing
their young infants; while a few, chiefly the old women, grouped
themselves together and kept up an incessant chattering, chiefly with
reference to the doings of the young men.
"Apart from these stood three or four of the principal men of our
tribe, smoking their pipes, and although apparently engrossed in
conversation, still evidently interested in what was going forward on
the bank of the river.
"Among the young men assembled there was one of about my own age, who
had taken a violent dislike to me because the most beautiful girl in
all the village preferred me before him. His name was Misconna. He
was a hot-tempered, cruel youth; and although I endeavoured as much
as possible to keep out of his way, he sought every opportunity of
picking a quarrel with me. I had just been running a race along with
several other youths, and although not the winner, I had kept ahead
of Misconna all the distance. He now stood leaning against a tree,
burning with rage and disappointment. I was sorry for this, because I
bore him no ill-will, and if it had occurred to me at the time, I
would have allowed him to pass me, since I was unable to gain the
race at any rate.
"'Dog!' he said at length, stepping forward and confronting me, 'will
"Just as he approached I had turned round to leave the place. Not
wishing to have more to do with him, I pretended not to hear, and
made a step or two towards the lodges. 'Dog,' he cried again, while
his eyes flashed fiercely, as he grasped me by the arm, 'will you
wrestle, or are you afraid? Has the brave boy's heart changed into
that of a girl?'
"'No, Misconna,' said I. 'You _know_ that I am not afraid; but I have
no desire to quarrel with you.'
"'You lie!' cried he, with a cold sneer,--'you are afraid; and see,'
he added, pointing towards the women with a triumphant smile, 'the
dark-eyed girl sees it and believes it too!'
"I turned to look, and there I saw Wabisca gazing on me with a look
of blank amazement. I could see, also, that several of the other
women, and some of my companions, shared in her surprise.
"With a burst of anger I turned round. 'No,' Misconna,' said I, 'I am
_not_ afraid, as you shall find;' and springing upon him, I grasped
him round the body. He was nearly, if not quite, as strong a youth as
myself; but I was burning with indignation at the insolence of his
conduct before so many of the women, which gave me more than usual
energy. For several minutes we swayed to and fro, each endeavouring
in vain to bend the other's back; but we were too well matched for
this, and sought to accomplish our purpose by taking advantage of an
unguarded movement. At last such a movement occurred. My adversary
made a sudden and violent attempt to throw me to the left, hoping
that an inequality in the ground would favour his effort. But he was
mistaken. I had seen the danger and was prepared for it, so that the
instant he attempted it I threw forward my right leg, and thrust him
backwards with all my might. Misconna was quick in his motions. He
saw my intention--too late, indeed, to prevent it altogether, but in
time to throw back his left foot and stiffen his body till it felt
like a block of stone. The effort was now entirely one of endurance.
We stood each with his muscles strained to the utmost, without the
slightest motion. At length I felt my adversary give way a little.
Slight though the motion was, it instantly removed all doubt as to
who should go down. My heart gave a bound of exaltation, and with the
energy which such a feeling always inspires, I put forth all my
strength, threw him heavily over on his back, and fell upon him.
"A shout of applause from my comrades greeted me as I rose and left
the ground; but at the same moment the attention of all was taken
from myself and the baffled Misconna by the arrival of the scout,
bringing us information that a party of Chipewyans were in the
neighbourhood. In a moment all was bustle and preparation. An Indian
war-party is soon got ready. Forty of our braves threw off the
principal parts of their clothing; painted their faces with stripes
of vermilion and charcoal; armed themselves with guns, bows,
tomahawks and scalping knives, and in a few minutes left the camp in
silence, and at a quick pace.
"One or two of the youths who had been playing on the river's bank
were permitted to accompany the party, and among these were Misconna
and myself. As we passed a group of women, assembled to see us
depart, I observed the girl who had caused so much jealousy between
us. She cast down her eyes as we came up, and as we advanced close to
the group she dropped a white feather, as if by accident. Stooping
hastily down, I picked it up in passing, and stuck it in an
ornamented band that bound my hair. As we hurried on I heard two or
three old hags laugh, and say, with a sneer, 'His hand is as white as
a feather: it has never seen blood.' The next moment we were hid in
the forest, and pursued our rapid course in dead silence.
"The country through which we passed was varied, extending in broken
bits of open prairie, and partly covered with thick wood, yet not so
thick as to offer any hindrance to our march. We walked in single
file, each treading in his comrade's footsteps, while the band was
headed by the scout who had brought the information. The principal
chief of our tribe came next, and he was followed by the braves
according to their age or influence. Misconna and I brought up the
rear. The sun was just sinking as we left the belt of woodland in
which our village stood, crossed over a short plain, descended a dark
hollow, at the bottom of which the river flowed, and following its
course for a considerable distance, turned off to the right and
emerged upon a sweep of prairieland. Here the scout halted, and
taking the chief and two or three braves aside, entered into earnest
consultation with them.
"What they said we could not hear; but as we stood leaning on our
guns in the deep shade of the forest, we could observe by their
animated gestures that they differed in opinion. We saw that the
scout pointed several times to the moon, which was just rising above
the treetops, and then to the distant horizon: but the chief shook
his head, pointed to the woods, and seemed to be much in doubt, while
the whole band watched his motions in deep silence but evident
interest. At length they appeared to agree. The scout took his place
at the head of the line, and we resumed our march, keeping close to
the margin of the wood. It was perhaps three hours after this ere we
again halted to hold another consultation. This time their
deliberations were shorter. In a few seconds our chief himself took
the lead, and turned into the woods, through which he guided us to a
small fountain which bubbled up at the root of a birch tree, where
there was a smooth green spot of level ground. Here we halted, and
prepared to rest for an hour, at the end of which time the moon,
which now shone bright and full in the clear sky, would be nearly
down, and we could resume our march. We now sat down in a circle, and
taking a hasty mouthful of dried meat, stretched ourselves on the
ground with our arms beside us, while our chief kept watch, leaning
against the birch tree. It seemed as if I had scarcely been asleep
five minutes when I felt a light touch on my shoulder. Springing up,
I found the whole party already astir, and in a few minutes more we
were again hurrying onwards.
"We travelled thus until a faint light in the east told us that the
day was at hand, when the scout's steps became more cautious, and he
paused to examine the ground frequently. At last we came to a place
where the ground sank slightly, and at a distance of a hundred yards
rose again, forming a low ridge which was crowned with small bushes.
Here we came to a halt, and were told that our enemies were on the
other side of that ridge; that they were about twenty in number, all
Chipewyan warriors, with the exception of one paleface--a trapper,
and his Indian wife. The scout had learned, while lying like a snake
in the grass around their camp, that this man was merely travelling
with them on his way to the Rocky Mountains, and that, as they were a
war-party, he intended to leave them soon. On hearing this the
warriors gave a grim smile, and our chief, directing the scout to
fall behind, cautiously led the way to the top of the ridge. On
reaching it we saw a valley of great extent, dotted with trees and
shrubs, and watered by one of the many rivers that flow into the
great Saskatchewan. It was nearly dark, however, and we could only
get an indistinct view of the land. Far ahead of us, on the right
bank of the stream, and close to its margin, we saw the faint red
light of watch fires; which caused us some surprise, for watch-fires
are never lighted by a war-party so near to an enemy's country. So we
could only conjecture that they were quite ignorant of our being in
that part of the country; which was, indeed, not unlikely, seeing
that we had shifted our camp during the summer.
"Our chief now made arrangements for the attack. We were directed to
separate and approach individually as near to the camp as was
possible without risk of discovery, and then, taking up an
advantageous position, to await our chief's signal, which was to be
the hooting of an owl. We immediately separated. My course lay along
the banks of the stream, and as I strode rapidly along, listening to
its low solemn murmur, which sounded clear and distinct in the
stillness of a calm summer night, I could not help feeling as if it
were reproaching me for the bloody work I was hastening to perform.
Then the recollection of what the old woman said of me raised a
desperate spirit in my heart. Remembering the white feather in my
head, I grasped my gun and quickened my pace. As I neared the camp I
went into the woods and climbed a low hillock to look out. I found
that it still lay about five hundred yards distant, and that the
greater part of the ground between it and the place where I stood was
quite flat, and without cover of any kind. I therefore prepared to
creep towards it, although the attempt was likely to be attended with
great danger, for Chipewyans have quick ears and sharp eyes.
Observing, however, that the river ran close past the camp, I
determined to follow its course as before. In a few seconds more I
came to a dark narrow gap where the river flowed between broken
rocks, overhung by branches, and from which I could obtain a clear
view of the camp within fifty yards of me. Examining the priming of
my gun, I sat down on a rock to await the chief's signal.
"It was evident from the careless manner in which the fires were
placed, that no enemy was supposed to be near. From my concealment I
could plainly distinguish ten or fifteen of the sleeping forms of our
enemies, among which the trapper was conspicuous, from his superior
bulk, and the reckless way in which his brawny arms were flung on the
turf, while his right hand clutched his rifle. I could not but smile
as I thought of the proud boldness of the pale-face--lying all
exposed to view in the gray light of dawn while an Indian's rifle was
so close at hand. One Indian kept watch, but he seemed more than half
asleep. I had not sat more than a minute when my observations were
interrupted by the cracking of a branch in the bushes near me.
Starting up, I was about to bound into the underwood, when a figure
sprang down the bank and rapidly approached me. My first impulse was
to throw forward my gun, but a glance sufficed to show me that it was
"'Wah!' I exclaimed, in surprise, as she hurried forward and laid her
hand on my shoulder. She was dressed partly in the costume of the
Indians, but wore a shawl on her shoulders and a handkerchief on her
head that showed she had been in the settlements; and from the
lightness of her skin and hair, I judged at once that she was the
trapper's wife, of whom I had heard the scout speak.
"'Has the light-hair got a medicine-bag, or does she speak with
spirits, that she has found me so easily?'
"The girl looked anxiously up in my face as if to read my thoughts,
and then said, in a low voice,--
"'No, I neither carry the medicine-bag nor hold palaver with spirits;
but I do think the good Manito must have led me here. I wandered into
the woods because I could not sleep, and I saw you pass. But tell
me,' she added with still deeper anxiety, 'does the white-feather
come alone? Does he approach _friends_ during the dark hours with a
soft step like a fox?'
"Feeling the necessity of detaining her until my comrades should have
time to surround the camp, I said: 'The white-feather hunts far from
his lands. He sees Indians whom he does not know, and must approach
with a light step. Perhaps they are enemies.'
"'Do Knisteneux hunt at night, prowling in the bed of a stream?' said
the girl, still regarding me with a keen glance. 'Speak truth,
stranger' (and she started suddenly back); 'in a moment I can alarm
the camp with a cry, and if your tongue is forked--But I do not wish
to bring enemies upon you, if they are indeed such. I am not one of
them. My husband and I travel with them for a time. We do not desire
to see blood. God knows,' she added in French, which seemed her
native tongue, 'I have seen enough of that already.'
"As her earnest eyes looked into my face a sudden thought occurred to
me. 'Go,' said I, hastily, 'tell your husband to leave the camp
instantly and meet me here; and see that the Chipewyans do not
observe your departure. Quick! his life and yours may depend on your
"The girl instantly comprehended my meaning. In a moment she sprang
up the bank; but as she did so the loud report of a gun was heard,
followed by a yell, and the war-whoop of the Knisteneux rent the air
as they rushed upon the devoted camp, sending arrows and bullets
"On the instant I sprang after the girl and grasped her by the arm.
'Stay, white-cheek; it is too late now. You cannot save your husband,
but I think he'll save himself. I saw him dive into the bushes like a
cariboo. Hide yourself here; perhaps you may escape.'
"The half-breed girl sank on a fallen tree with a deep groan, and
clasped her hands convulsively before her eyes, while I bounded over
the tree, intending to join my comrades in pursuing the enemy.
"As I did so a shrill cry arose behind me, and looking back, I beheld
the trapper's wife prostrate on the ground, and Misconna standing
over her, his spear uplifted, and a fierce frown on his dark face.
"'Hold!' I cried, rushing back and seizing his arm. 'Misconna did not
come to kill _women_. She is not our enemy.'
"'Does the young wrestler want _another_ wife?' he said, with a wild
laugh, at the same time wrenching his arm from my gripe, and driving
his spear through the fleshy part of the woman's breast and deep into
the ground. A shriek rent the air as he drew it out again to repeat
the thrust; but before he could do so, I struck him with the butt of
my gun on the head. Staggering backwards, he fell heavily among the
bushes. At this moment a second whoop rang out, and another of our
band sprang from the thicket that surrounded us. Seeing no one but
myself and the bleeding girl, he gave me a short glance of surprise,
as if he wondered why I did not finish the work which he evidently
supposed I had begun.
"'Wah!' he exclaimed; and uttering another yell plunged his spear
into the woman's breast, despite my efforts to prevent him--this time
with more deadly effect, as the blood spouted from the wound, while
she uttered a piercing scream, and twined her arms round my legs as I
stood beside her, as if imploring for mercy. Poor girl! I saw that
she was past my help. The wound was evidently mortal. Already the
signs of death overspread her features, and I felt that a second blow
would be one of mercy; so that when the Indian stooped and passed his
long knife through her heart, I made but a feeble effort to prevent
it. Just as the man rose, with the warm blood dripping from his keen
blade, the sharp crack of a rifle was heard, and the Indian fell dead
at my feet, shot through the forehead, while the trapper bounded into
the open space, his massive frame quivering, and his sunburned face
distorted with rage and horror. From the other side of the brake six
of our band rushed forward and levelled their guns at him. For one
moment the trapper paused to cast a glance at the mangled corpse of
his wife, as if to make quite sure that she was dead; and then
uttering a howl of despair, he hurled his axe with a giant's force at
the Knisteneux, and disappeared over the precipitous bank of the
"So rapid was the action that the volley which immediately succeeded
passed harmlessly over his head, while the Indians dashed forward in
pursuit. At the same instant I myself was felled to the earth. The
axe which the trapper had flung struck a tree in its flight, and as
it glanced off the handle gave me a violent blow in passing. I fell
stunned. As I did so my head alighted on the shoulder of the woman,
and the last thing I felt, as my wandering senses forsook me, was her
still warm blood flowing over my face and neck.
"While this scene was going on, the yells and screams of the warriors
in the camp became fainter and fainter as they pursued and fled
through the woods. The whole band of Chipewyans was entirely routed,
with the exception of four who escaped, and the trapper whose flight
I have described; all the rest were slain, and their scalps hung at
the belts of the victorious Knisteneux warriors, while only one of
our party was killed.
"Not more than a few minutes after receiving the blow that stunned
me, I recovered, and rising as hastily as my scattered faculties
would permit me, I staggered towards the camp, where I heard the
shouts of our men as they collected the arms of their enemies. As I
rose, the feather which Wabisca had dropped fell from my brow, and as
I picked it up to replace it, I perceived that it was _red_, being
entirely covered with the blood of the half-breed girl.
"The place where Misconna had fallen was vacant as I passed, and I
found him standing among his comrades round the camp fires, examining
the guns and other articles which they had collected. He gave me a
short glance of deep hatred as I passed, and turned his head hastily
away. A few minutes sufficed to collect the spoils, and so rapidly
had everything been done that the light of day was still faint as we
silently returned on our track. We marched in the same order as
before, Misconna and I bringing up the rear. As we passed near the
place where the poor woman had been murdered, I felt a strong desire
to return to the spot. I could not very well understand the feeling,
but it lay so strong upon me that, when we reached the ridge where we
first came in sight of the Chipewyan camp, I fell behind until my
companions disappeared in the woods, and then ran swiftly back. Just
as I was about to step beyond the circle of bushes that surrounded
the spot, I saw that some one was there before me. It was a man, and
as he advanced into the open space and the light fell on his face, I
saw that it was the trapper. No doubt he had watched us off the
ground, and then, when all was safe, returned to bury his wife. I
crouched to watch him. Stepping slowly up to the body of his murdered
wife, he stood beside it with his arms folded on his breast and quite
motionless. His head hung down, for the heart of the white man was
heavy, and I could see, as the light increased, that his brows were
dark as the thunder-cloud, and the corners of his mouth twitched from
a feeling that the Indian scorns to show. My heart is full of sorrow
for him now" (Redfeather's voice sank as he spoke); "it was full of
sorrow for him even _then_, when I was taught to think that pity for
an enemy was unworthy of a brave. The trapper stood gazing very long.
His wife was young; he could not leave her yet. At length a deep
groan burst from his heart, as the waters of a great river, long held
down, swell up in spring and burst the ice at last. Groan followed
groan as the trapper still stood and pressed his arms on his broad
breast, as if to crush the heart within. At last he slowly knelt
beside her, bending more and more over the lifeless form, until he
lay extended on the ground beside it, and twining his arms round the
neck, he drew the cold cheek close to his, and pressed the blood-
covered bosom tighter and tighter, while his form quivered with agony
as he gave her a last, long embrace. Oh!" continued Redfeather, while
his brow darkened, and his black eye flashed with an expression of
fierceness that his young listeners had never seen before, "may the
curse--" He paused. "God forgive them! How could they know better?
"At length the trapper rose hastily. The expression of his brow was
still the same, but his mouth was altered. The lips were pressed
tightly like those of a brave when led to torture, and there was a
fierce activity in his motions as he sprang down the bank and
proceeded to dig a hole in the soft earth. For half an hour he
laboured, shovelling away the earth with a large, flat stone; and
carrying down the body, he buried it there, under the shadow of a
willow. The trapper then shouldered his rifle and hurried away. On
reaching the turn of the stream which shuts the little hollow out
from view, he halted suddenly, gave one look into the prairie he was
henceforth to tread alone, one short glance back, and then, raising
both arms in the air, looked up into the sky, while he stretched
himself to his full height. Even at that distance I could see the
wild glare of his eye and the heaving of his breast. A moment after,
and he was gone."
"And did you never see him again?" inquired Harry Somerville,
"No, I never saw him more. Immediately afterwards I turned to rejoin
my companions, whom I soon overtook, and entered our village along
with them. I was regarded as a poor warrior, because I brought home
no scalps, and ever afterwards I went by the name of _Redfeather_ in
"But are you still thought a poor warrior?" asked Charley, in some
concern, as if he were jealous of the reputation of his new friend.
The Indian smiled. "No," he said: "our village was twice attacked
afterwards, and in defending it, Redfeather took many scalps. He was
made a chief!"
"Ah!" cried Charley, "I'm glad of that. And Wabisca, what came of
her? Did Misconna get her?"
"She is my wife," replied Redfeather.
"Your wife! Why, I thought I heard the voyageurs call your wife the
"Wabisca is _white_ in the language of the Knisteneux. She is
beautiful in form, and my comrades call her the white swan."
Redfeather said this with an air of gratified pride. He did not,
perhaps, love his wife with more fervour than he would have done had
he remained with his tribe; but Redfeather had associated a great
deal with the traders, and he had imbibed much of that spirit which
prompts "_white_ men" to treat their females with deference and
respect--a feeling which is very foreign to an Indian's bosom. To do
so was, besides, more congenial to his naturally unselfish and
affectionate disposition, so that any flattering allusion to his
partner was always received by him with immense gratification.
"I'll pay you a visit some day, Redfeather, if I'm sent to any place
within fifty miles of your tribe," said Charley with the air of one
who had fully made up his mind.
"And Misconna?" asked Harry.
"Misconna is with his tribe," replied the Indian, and a frown
overspread his features as he spoke; "but Redfeather has been
following in the track of his white friends; he has not seen his
nation for many moons."
The canoe--Ascending the rapids--The portage--Deer shooting and life
in the woods.
We must now beg the patient reader to take a leap with us, not only
through space, but also through time. We must pass over the events of
the remainder of the journey along the shore of Lake Winnipeg.
Unwilling though we are to omit anything in the history of our
friends that would be likely to prove interesting, we think it wise
not to run the risk of being tedious, or of dwelling too minutely on
the details of scenes which recall powerfully the feelings and
memories of bygone days to the writer, but may, nevertheless, appear
somewhat flat to the reader.
We shall not, therefore, enlarge at present on the arrival of the
boats at Norway House, which lies at the north end of the lake, nor
on what was said and done by our friends and by several other young
comrades whom they found there. We shall not speak of the horror of
Harry Somerville, and the extreme disappointment of his friend
Charley Kennedy, when the former was told that instead of hunting
grizzly bears up the Saskatchewan he was condemned to the desk again
at York Fort, the depot on Hudson's Bay,--a low, swampy place near
the sea-shore, where the goods for the interior are annually landed
and the furs shipped for England, where the greater part of the
summer and much of the winter is occupied by the clerks who may be
doomed to vegetate there in making up the accounts of what is termed
the Northern Department, and where the brigades converge from all the
wide scattered and far-distant outposts, and the _ship_ from England--
that great event of the year--arrives, keeping the place in a state
of constant bustle and effervescence until autumn, when ship and
brigades finally depart, leaving the residents (about thirty in
number) shut up for eight long, dreary months of winter, with a
tenantless wilderness around and behind them, and the wide, cold
frozen sea before. This was among the first of Harry's
disappointments. He suffered many afterwards, poor fellow!
Neither shall we accompany Charley up the south branch of the
Saskatchewan, where his utmost expectations in the way of hunting
were more than realised, and where he became so accustomed to
shooting ducks and geese, and bears and buffaloes, that he could not
forbear smiling when he chanced to meet with a red-legged gull, and
remembered how he and his friend Harry had comported themselves when
they first met with these birds on the shores of Lake Winnipeg! We
shall pass over all this, and the summer, autumn, and winter too, and
leap at once into the spring of the following year.
On a very bright, cheery morning of that spring a canoe might have
been seen slowly ascending one of the numerous streams which meander
through a richly-wooded fertile country, and mingle their waters with
those of the Athabasca River, terminating their united career in a
large lake of the same name. The canoe was small--one of the kind
used by the natives while engaged in hunting, and capable of holding
only two persons conveniently, with their baggage. To any one
unacquainted with the nature and capabilities of a northern Indian
canoe, the fragile, bright orange-coloured machine that was battling
with the strong current of a rapid must indeed have appeared an
unsafe and insignificant craft; but a more careful study of its
performances in the rapid, and of the immense quantity of
miscellaneous goods and chattels which were, at a later period of the
day, disgorged from its interior, would have convinced the beholder
that it was in truth the most convenient and serviceable craft that
could be devised for the exigencies of such a country.
True, it could only hold two men (it _might_ have taken three at a
pinch), because men, and women too, are awkward, unyielding baggage,
very difficult to stow compactly; but it is otherwise with tractable
goods. The canoe is exceedingly thin, so that no space is taken up or
rendered useless by its own structure, and there is no end to the
amount of blankets, and furs, and coats, and paddles, and tent-
covers, and dogs, and babies, that can be stowed away in its
capacious interior. The canoe of which we are now writing contained
two persons, whose active figures were thrown alternately into every
graceful attitude of manly vigour, as with poles in hand they
struggled to force their light craft against the boiling stream. One
was a man apparently of about forty-five years of age. He was a
square-shouldered, muscular man, and from the ruggedness of his
general appearance, the soiled hunting-shirt that was strapped round
his waist with a party-coloured worsted belt, the leather leggings, a
good deal the worse for wear, together with the quiet, self-possessed
glance of his gray eye, the compressed lip and the sunburned brow, it
was evident that he was a hunter, and one who had seen rough work in
his day. The expression of his face was pleasing, despite a look of
habitual severity which sat upon it, and a deep scar which traversed
his brow from the right temple to the top of his nose. It was
difficult to tell to what country he belonged. His father was a
Canadian, his mother a Scotchwoman. He was born in Canada, brought up
in one of the Yankee settlements on the Missouri, and had, from a
mere youth, spent his life as a hunter in the wilderness. He could
speak English, French, or Indian with equal ease and fluency, but it
would have been hard for anyone to say which of the three was his
native tongue. The younger man, who occupied the stern of the canoe,
acting the part of steersman, was quite a youth, apparently about
seventeen, but tall and stout beyond his years, and deeply sunburned.
Indeed, were it not for this fact, the unusual quantity of hair that
hung in massive curls down his neck, and the voyageur costume, we
should have recognised our young friend Charley Kennedy again more
easily. Had any doubts remained in our mind, the shout of his merry
voice would have scattered them at once.
"Hold hard, Jacques," he cried, as the canoe trembled in the current,
"one moment, till I get my pole fixed behind this rock. Now, then,
shove ahead. Ah!" he exclaimed with chagrin, as the pole slipped on
the treacherous bottom and the canoe whirled round.
"Mind the rock," cried the bowsman, giving an energetic thrust with
his pole, that sent the light bark into an eddy formed by a large
rock which rose above the turbulent waters. Here it rested while
Jacques and Charley raised themselves on their knees (travellers in
small canoes always sit in a kneeling position) to survey the rapid.
"It's too much for us, I fear, Mr. Charles," said Jacques, shading
his brow with his horny hand. "I've paddled up it many a time alone,
but never saw the water so big as now."
"Humph! we shall have to make a portage then, I presume. Could we not
give it one trial more? I think we might make a dash for the tail of
that eddy, and then the stream above seems not quite so strong. Do
you think so, Jacques?"
Jacques was not the man to check a daring young spirit. His motto
through life had ever been, "Never venture, never win"--a sentiment
which his intercourse among fur-traders had taught him to embody in
the pithy expression, "Never say die;" so that, although quite
satisfied that the thing was impossible, he merely replied to his
companion's speech by an assenting "Ho," and pushed out again into
the stream. An energetic effort enabled them to gain the tail of the
eddy spoken of, when Charley's pole snapped across, and, falling
heavily on the gunwale, he would have upset the little craft had not
Jacques, whose wits were habitually on the _qui vive_, thrown his own
weight at the same moment on the opposite side, and counterbalanced
Charley's slip. The action saved them a ducking; but the canoe, being
left to its own devices for an instant, whirled off again into the
stream, and before Charley could seize a paddle to prevent it, they
were floating in the still water at the foot of the rapids.
"Now isn't that a bore?" said Charley, with a comical look of
disappointment at his companion.
"It was well to _try_, master. I mind a young clerk who came into
these parts the same year as I did, and _he_ seldom _tried_ anything.
He couldn't abide canoes. He didn't want for courage neither; but he
had a nat'ral dislike to them, I suppose, that he couldn't help, and
never entered one except when he was obliged to do so. Well, one day
he wounded a grizzly bear on the banks o' the Saskatchewan (mind the
tail o' that rapid, Mr. Charles; we'll land t'other side o' yon
rock). Well, the bear made after him, and he cut stick right away for
the river, where there was a canoe hauled up on the bank. He didn't
take time to put his rifle aboard, but dropped it on the gravel,
crammed the canoe into the water and jumped in, almost driving his
feet through its bottom as he did so, and then plumped down so
suddenly, to prevent its capsizing, that he split it right across. By
this time the bear was at his heels, and took the water like a duck.
The poor clerk, in his hurry, swayed from side to side tryin' to
prevent the canoe goin' over. But when he went to one side, he was so
unused to it that he went too far, and had to jerk over to the other
pretty sharp; and so he got worse and worse, until he heard the bear
give a great snort beside him. Then he grabbed the paddle in
desperation, but at the first dash he missed his stroke, and over he
went. The current was pretty strong at the place, which was lucky for
him, for it kept him down a bit, so that the bear didn't observe him
for a little; and while it was pokin' away at the canoe, he was
carried down stream like a log and stranded on a shallow. Jumping up
he made tracks for the wood, and the bear (which had found out its
mistake), after him; so he was obliged at last to take to a tree,
where the beast watched him for a day and a night, till his friends,
thinking that something must be wrong, sent out to look for him.
(Steady, now, Mr. Charles; a little more to the right. That's it.)
Now, if that young man had only ventured boldly into small canoes
when he got the chance, he might have laughed at the grizzly and
killed him too."
As Jacques finished, the canoe glided into a quiet bay formed by an
eddy of the rapid, where the still water was overhung with dense
"Is the portage a long one?" asked Charley, as he stepped out on the
bank, and helped to unload the canoe.
"About half-a-mile," replied his companion. "We might make it shorter
by poling up the last rapid; but it's stiff work, Mr. Charles, and
we'll do the thing quicker and easier at one lift."
The two travellers now proceeded to make a portage. They prepared to
carry their canoe and baggage overland, so as to avoid a succession
of rapids and waterfalls which intercepted their further progress.
"Now, Jacques, up with it," said Charley, after the loading had been
taken out and placed on the grassy bank.
The hunter stooped, and seizing the canoe by its centre bar, lifted
it out of the water, placed it on his shoulders, and walked off with
it into the woods. This was not accomplished by the man's superior
strength. Charley could have done it quite as well; and, indeed, the
strong hunter could have carried a canoe twice the size with perfect
ease. Immediately afterwards Charley followed with as much of the
lading as he could carry, leaving enough on the bank to form another
The banks of the river were steep--in some places so much so that
Jacques found it a matter of no small difficulty to climb over the
broken rocks with the unwieldy canoe on his back; the more so that
the branches interlaced overhead so thickly as to present a strong
barrier, through which the canoe had to be forced, at the risk of
damaging its delicate bark covering. On reaching the comparatively
level land above, however, there was more open space, and the hunter
threaded his way among the tree stems more rapidly, making a detour
occasionally to avoid a swamp or piece of broken ground; sometimes
descending a deep gorge formed by a small tributary of the stream
they were ascending, and which to an unpractised eye would have
appeared almost impassable, even without the encumbrance of a canoe.
But the said canoe never bore Jacques more gallantly or safely over
the surges of lake or stream than did he bear _it_ through the
intricate mazes of the forest; now diving down and disappearing
altogether in the umbrageous foliage of a dell; anon reappearing on
the other side and scrambling up the bank on all-fours, he and the
canoe together looking like some frightful yellow reptile of
antediluvian proportions; and then speeding rapidly forward over a
level plain until he reached a sheet of still water above the rapids.
Here he deposited his burden on the grass, and halting only for a few
seconds to carry a few drops of the clear water to his lips, retraced
his steps to bring over the remainder of the baggage. Soon afterwards
Charley made his appearance on the spot where the canoe was left, and
throwing down his load, seated himself on it and surveyed the
prospect. Before him lay a reach of the stream which spread out so
widely as to resemble a small lake, in whose clear, still bosom were
reflected the overhanging foliage of graceful willows, and here and
there the bright stem of a silver birch, whose light-green leaves
contrasted well with scattered groups and solitary specimens of the
spruce fir. Reeds and sedges grew in the water along the banks,
rendering the junction of the land and the stream uncertain and
confused. All this and a great deal more Charley noted at a glance;
for the hundreds of beautiful and interesting objects in nature which
take so long to describe even partially, and are feebly set forth
after all even by the most graphic language, flash upon the eye in
all their force and beauty, and are drunk in at once in a single
But Charley noted several objects floating on the water which we have
not yet mentioned. These were five gray geese feeding among the rocks
at a considerable distance off, and all unconscious of the presence
of a human foe in their remote domains. The travellers had trusted
very much to their guns and nets for food, having only a small
quantity of pemmican in reserve, lest these should fail--an event
which was not at all likely, as the country through which they passed
was teeming with wild-fowl of all kinds, besides deer. These latter,
however, were only shot when they came inadvertently within rifle
range, as our voyageurs had a definite object in view, and could not
afford to devote much of their time to the chase.
During the day previous to that on which we have introduced them to
our readers, Charley and his companion had been so much occupied in
navigating their frail bark among a succession of rapids, that they
had not attended to the replenishing of their larder, so that the
geese which now showed themselves were looked upon by Charley with a
longing eye. Unfortunately they were feeding on the opposite side of
the river, and out of shot. But Charley was a hunter now, and knew
how to overcome slight difficulties. He first cut down a pretty large
and leafy branch of a tree, and placed it in the bow of the canoe in
such a way as to hang down before it and form a perfect screen,
through the interstices of which he could see the geese, while they
could only see, what was to them no novelty, the branch of a tree
floating down the stream. Having gently launched the canoe, Charley
was soon close to the unsuspecting birds, from among which he
selected one that appeared to be unusually complacent and self-
satisfied, concluding at once, with an amount of wisdom that bespoke
him a true philosopher, that such _must_ as a matter of course be the
"Bang" went the gun, and immediately the sleek goose turned round
upon its back and stretched out its feet towards the sky, waving them
once or twice as if bidding adieu to its friends. The others
thereupon took to flight, with such a deal of sputter and noise as
made it quite apparent that their astonishment was unfeigned. Bang
went the gun again, and down fell a second goose.
"Ha!" exclaimed Jacques, throwing down the remainder of the cargo as
Charley landed with his booty, "that's well. I was just thinking as I
comed across that we should have to take to pemmican to-night."
"Well, Jacques, and if we had, I'm sure an old hunter like you, who
have roughed it so often, need not complain," said Charley, smiling.
"As to that, master," replied Jacques, "I've roughed it often enough;
and when it does come to a clear fix, I can eat my shoes without
grumblin' as well as any man. But, you see, fresh meat is better than
dried meat when it's to be had; and so I'm glad to see that you've
been lucky, Mr. Charles."
"To say truth, so am I; and these fellows are delightfully plump. But
you spoke of eating your shoes, Jacques. When were you reduced to
that direful extremity?"
Jacques finished reloading the canoe while they conversed, and the
two were seated in their places, and quietly but swiftly ascending
the stream again, ere the hunter replied.
"You've heerd of Sir John Franklin, I s'pose?" he inquired, after a
"An' p'r'aps you've heerd tell of his first trip of discovery along
the shores of the Polar Sea?"
"Do you refer to the time when he was nearly starved to death, and
when poor Hood was shot by the Indian?"
"The same," said Jacques.
"Oh, yes; I know all about that. Were you with them?" inquired
Charley, in great surprise.
"Why, no--not exactly _on_ the trip; but I was sent in winter with
provisions to them--and much need they had of them, poor fellows! I
found them tearing away at some old parchment skins that had lain
under the snow all winter, and that an Injin's dog would ha' turned
up his nose at--and they don't turn up their snouts at many things, I
can tell ye. Well, after we had left all our provisions with them, we
started for the fort again, just keepin' as much as would drive off
starvation; for, you see, we thought that surely we would git
something on the road. But neither hoof nor feather did we see all
the way (I was travellin' with an Injin), and our grub was soon done,
though we saved it up, and only took a mouthful or two the last three
days. At last it was done, and we was pretty well used up, and the
fort two days ahead of us. So says I to my comrade--who had been
looking at me for some time as if he thought that a cut off my
shoulder wouldn't be a bad thing--says I, 'Nipitabo, I'm afeard the
shoes must go for it now;' so with that I pulls out a pair o'
deerskin moccasins. 'They looks tender,' said I, trying to be
cheerful. 'Wah!' said the Injin; and then I held them over the fire
till they was done black, and Nipitabo ate one, and I ate the tother,
with a lump o' snow to wash it down!"
"It must have been rather dry eating," said Charley, laughing.
"Rayther; but it was better than the Injin's leather breeches, which
we took in hand next day. They was _uncommon_ tough, and very dirty,
havin' been worn about a year and a half. Hows'ever, they kept us up;
an' as we only ate the legs, he had the benefit o' the stump to
arrive with at the fort next day."
"What's yon ahead?" exclaimed Charley, pausing as he spoke, and
shading his eyes with his hand.
"It's uncommon like trees," said Jacques. "It's likely a tree that's
been tumbled across the river; and from its appearance, I think we'll
have to cut through it."
"Cut through it!" exclaimed Charley; "if my sight is worth a gun-
flint, we'll have to cut through a dozen trees."
Charley was right. The river ahead of them became rapidly narrower;
and either from the looseness of the surrounding soil, or the passing
of a whirlwind, dozens of trees had been upset, and lay right across
the narrow stream in terrible confusion. What made the thing worse
was that the banks on either side, which were low and flat, were
covered with such a dense thicket down to the water's edge, that the
idea of making a portage to overcome the barrier seemed altogether
"Here's a pretty business, to be sure!" cried Charley, in great
"Never say die, Mister Charles," replied Jacques, taking up the axe
from the bottom of the canoe; "it's quite clear that cuttin' through
the trees is easier than cuttin' through the bushes, so here goes."
For fully three hours the travellers were engaged in cutting their
way up the encumbered stream, during which time they did not advance
three miles; and it was evening ere they broke down the last barrier
and paddled out into a sheet of clear water again.
"That'll prepare us for the geese, Jacques," said Charley, as he
wiped the perspiration from his brow; "there's nothing like warm work
for whetting the appetite, and making one sleep soundly."
"That's true," replied the hunter, resuming his paddle. "I often
wonder how them white-faced fellows in the settlements manage to keep
body and soul together--a-sittin', as they do, all day in the house,
and a-lyin' all night in a feather bed. For my part, rather than live
as they do, I would cut my way up streams like them we've just passed
every day and all day, and sleep on top of a flat rock o' nights,
under the blue sky, all my life through."
With this decided expression of his sentiments, the stout hunter
steered the canoe up alongside of a huge flat rock, as if he were
bent on giving a practical illustration of the latter part of his
speech then and there.
"We'd better camp now, Mister Charles; there's a portage o' two miles
here, and it'll take us till sundown to get the canoe and things
"Be it so," said Charley, landing. "Is there a good place at the
other end to camp on?"
"First-rate. It's smooth as a blanket on the turf, and a clear spring
bubbling at the root of a wide tree that would keep off the rain if
it was to come down like water-spouts."
The spot on which the travellers encamped that evening overlooked one
of those scenes in which vast extent, and rich, soft variety of
natural objects, were united with much that was grand and savage. It
filled the mind with the calm satisfaction that is experienced when
one gazes on the wide lawns studded with noble trees; the spreading
fields of waving grain that mingle with stream and copse, rock and
dell, vineyard and garden, of the cultivated lands of civilized men;
while it produced that exulting throb of freedom which stirs man's
heart to its centre, when he casts a first glance over miles and
miles of broad lands that are yet unowned, unclaimed; that yet lie in
the unmutilated beauty with which the beneficent Creator originally
clothed them--far away from the well-known scenes of man's checkered
history; entirely devoid of those ancient monuments of man's power
and skill that carry the mind back with feelings of awe to bygone
ages, yet stamped with evidences of an antiquity more ancient still
in the wild primeval forests, and the noble trees that have sprouted,
and spread, and towered in their strength for centuries--trees that
have fallen at their posts, while others took their place, and rose
and fell as they did, like long-lived sentinels whose duty it was to
keep perpetual guard over the vast solitudes of the great American
The fire was lighted, and the canoe turned bottom up in front of it,
under the branches of a spreading tree which stood on an eminence,
whence was obtained a bird's-eye view of the noble scene. It was a
flat valley, on either side of which rose two ranges of hills, which
were clothed to the top with trees of various kinds, the plain of the
valley itself being dotted with clumps of wood, among which the fresh
green foliage of the plane tree and the silver-stemmed birch were
conspicuous, giving an airy lightness to the scene and enhancing the
picturesque effect of the dark pines. A small stream could be traced
winding out and in among clumps of willows, reflecting their drooping
boughs and the more sombre branches of the spruce fir and the
straight larch, with which in many places its banks were shaded. Here
and there were stretches of clearer ground where the green herbage of
spring gave to it a lawn-like appearance, and the whole magnificent
scene was bounded by blue hills that became fainter as they receded
from the eye and mingled at last with the horizon. The sun had just
set, and a rich glow of red bathed the whole scene, which was further
enlivened by flocks of wild-fowls and herds of reindeer.
These last soon drew Charley's attention from the contemplation of
the scenery, and observing a deer feeding in an open space, towards
which he could approach without coming between it and the wind, he
ran for his gun and hurried into the woods while Jacques busied
himself in arranging their blankets under the upturned canoe, and in
Charley discovered soon after starting, what all hunters discover
sooner or later--namely, that appearances are deceitful; for he no
sooner reached the foot of the hill than he found, between him and
the lawn-like country, an almost impenetrable thicket of underwood.
Our young hero, however, was of that disposition which sticks at
nothing, and instead of taking time to search for an opening, he took
a race and sprang into the middle of it, in hopes of forcing his way
through. His hopes were not disappointed. He got through--quite
through--and alighted up to the armpits in a swamp, to the infinite
consternation of a flock of teal ducks that were slumbering
peacefully there with their heads under their wings, and had
evidently gone to bed for the night. Fortunately he held his gun
above the water and kept his balance, so that he was able to proceed
with a dry charge, though with an uncommonly wet skin. Half-an-hour
brought Charley within range, and watching patiently until the animal
presented his side towards the place of his concealment, he fired and
shot it through the heart.
"Well done, Mister Charles," exclaimed Jacques, as the former
staggered into camp with the reindeer on his shoulders. "A fat doe,
"Ay," said Charley; "but she has cost me a wet skin. So pray,
Jacques, rouse up the fire, and let's have supper as soon as you
Jacques speedily skinned the deer, cut a couple of steaks from its
flank, and placing them on wooden spikes, stuck them up to roast,
while his young friend put on a dry shirt, and hung his coat before
the blaze. The goose which had been shot earlier in the day was also
plucked, split open, impaled in the same manner as the steaks, and
set up to roast. By this time the shadows of night had deepened, and
ere long all was shrouded in gloom, except the circle of ruddy light
around the camp fire, in the centre of which Jacques and Charley sat,
with the canoe at their backs, knives in their hands, and the two
spits, on the top of which smoked their ample supper, planted in the
ground before them.
One by one the stars went out, until none were visible except the
bright, beautiful morning star, as it rose higher and higher in the
eastern sky. One by one the owls and the wolves, ill-omened birds and
beasts of night, retired to rest in the dark recesses of the forest.
Little by little, the gray dawn overspread the sky, and paled the
lustre of the morning star, until it faded away altogether; and then
Jacques awoke with a start, and throwing out his arm, brought it
accidentally into violent contact with Charley's nose.
This caused Charley to awake, not only with a start, but also with a
roar, which brought them both suddenly into a sitting posture, in
which they continued for some time in a state between sleeping and
waking, their faces meanwhile expressive of mingled imbecility and
extreme surprise. Bursting into a simultaneous laugh, which
degenerated into a loud yawn, they sprang up, launched and reloaded
their canoe, and resumed their journey.
The Indian camp--The new outpost--Charley sent on a mission to the
In the councils of the fur-traders, on the spring previous to that
about which we are now writing, it had been decided to extend their
operations a little in the lands that lie in central America, to the
north of the Saskatchewan River; and in furtherance of that object,
it had been intimated to the chief trader in charge of the district
that an expedition should be set on foot, having for its object the
examination of a territory into which they had not yet penetrated,
and the establishment of an outpost therein. It was, furthermore,
ordered that operations should be commenced at once, and that the
choice of men to carry out the end in view was graciously left to the
chief trader's well-known sagacity.
Upon receiving this communication, the chief trader selected a
gentleman named Mr. Whyte to lead the party; gave him a clerk and
five men, provided him with a boat and a large supply of goods
necessary for trade, implements requisite for building an
establishment, and sent him off with a hearty shake of the hand and a
recommendation to "go and prosper."
Charles Kennedy spent part of the previous year at Rocky Mountain
House, where he had shown so much energy in conducting the trade,
especially what he called the "rough and tumble" part of it, that he
was selected as the clerk to accompany Mr. Whyte to his new ground.
After proceeding up many rivers, whose waters had seldom borne the
craft of white men, and across innumerable lakes, the party reached a
spot that presented so inviting an aspect that it was resolved to
pitch their tent there for a time, and, if things in the way of trade
and provision looked favourable, establish themselves altogether. The
place was situated on the margin of a large lake, whose shores were
covered with the most luxuriant verdure, and whose waters teemed with
the finest fish, while the air was alive with wild-fowl, and the
woods swarming with game. Here Mr. Whyte rested awhile; and having
found everything to his satisfaction, he took his axe, selected a
green lawn that commanded an extensive view of the lake, and going up
to a tall larch, struck the steel into it, and thus put the first
touch to an establishment which afterwards went by the name of Stoney
A solitary Indian, whom they had met with on the way to their new
home, had informed them that a large band of Knisteneux had lately
migrated to a river about four days' journey beyond the lake at which
they halted; and when the new fort was just beginning to spring up,
our friend Charley and the interpreter, Jacques Caradoc, were ordered
by Mr. Whyte to make a canoe, and then, embarking in it, to proceed
to the Indian camp, to inform the natives of their rare good luck in
having a band of white men come to settle near their lands to trade
with them. The interpreter and Charley soon found birch bark, pine
roots for sewing it, and gum for plastering the seams, wherewith they
constructed the light machine whose progress we have partly traced in
the last chapter, and which, on the following day at sunset, carried
them to their journey's end.
From some remarks made by the Indian who gave them information of the
camp, Charley gathered that it was the tribe to which Redfeather
belonged, and furthermore that Redfeather himself was there at the
time; so that it was with feelings of no little interest that he saw
the tops of the yellow tents embedded among the green trees, and soon
afterwards beheld them and their picturesque owners reflected in the
clear river, on whose banks the natives crowded to witness the
arrival of the white men.
Upon the greensward, and under the umbrageous shade of the forest
trees, the tents were pitched to the number of perhaps eighteen or
twenty, and the whole population, of whom very few were absent on the
present occasion, might number a hundred--men, women, and children.
They were dressed in habiliments formed chiefly of materials procured
by themselves in the chase, but ornamented with cloth, beads, and
silk thread, which showed that they had had intercourse with the fur-
traders before now. The men wore leggings of deerskin, which reached
more than half-way up the thigh, and were fastened to a leathern
girdle strapped round the waist. A loose tunic or hunting-shirt of
the same material covered the figure from the shoulders almost to the
knees, and was confined round the middle by a belt--in some cases of
worsted, in others of leather gaily ornamented with quills. Caps of
various indescribable shapes, and made chiefly of skin, with the
animal's tail left on by way of ornament, covered their heads, and
moccasins for the feet completed their costume. These last may be
simply described as leather mittens for the feet, without fingers, or
rather toes. They were gaudily ornamented, as was almost every
portion of costume, with porcupines' quills dyed with brilliant
colours, and worked into fanciful, and in many cases extremely
elegant, figures and designs; for North American Indians oftentimes
display an amount of taste in the harmonious arrangement of colour
that would astonish those who fancy that _education_ is absolutely
necessary to the just appreciation of the beautiful.
The women attired themselves in leggings and coats differing little
from those of the men, except that the latter were longer, the
sleeves detached from the body, and fastened on separately; while on
their heads they wore caps, which hung down and covered their backs
to the waist. These caps were of the simplest construction, being
pieces of cloth cut into an oblong shape, and sewed together at one
end. They were, however, richly ornamented with silk-work and beads.
On landing, Charley and Jacques walked up to a tall, good-looking
Indian, whom they judged from his demeanour, and the somewhat
deferential regard paid to him by the others, to be one of the chief
men of the little community.
"Ho! what cheer?" said Jacques, taking him by the hand after the
manner of Europeans, and accosting him with the phrase used by the
fur-traders to the natives. The Indian returned the compliment in
kind, and led the visitors to his tent, where he spread a buffalo
robe for them on the ground, and begged them to be seated. A repast
of dried meat and reindeer-tongues was then served, to which our
friends did ample justice; while the women and children satisfied
their curiosity by peering at them through chinks and holes in the
tent. When they had finished, several of the principal men assembled,
and the chief who had entertained them made a speech, to the effect
that he was much gratified by the honour done to his people by the
visit of his white brothers; that he hoped they would continue long
at the camp to enjoy their hospitality; and that he would be glad to
know what had brought them so far into the country of the red men.
During the course of this speech the chief made eloquent allusion to
all the good qualities supposed to belong to white men in general,
and (he had no doubt) to the two white men before him in particular.
He also boasted considerably of the prowess and bravery of himself
and his tribe, launched a few sarcastic hits at his enemies, and
wound up with a poetical hope that his guests might live for ever in
these beautiful plains of bliss, where the sun never sets, and
nothing goes wrong anywhere, and everything goes right at all times,
and where, especially, the deer are outrageously fat, and always come
out on purpose to be shot! During the course of these remarks his
comrades signified their hearty concurrence to his sentiments, by
giving vent to sundry low-toned "hums!" and "has!" and "wahs!" and
"hos!" according to circumstances. After it was over Jacques rose,
and addressing them in their own language, said,--
"My Indian brethren are great. They are brave, and their fame has
travelled far. Their deeds are known even so far as where the Great
Salt Lake beats on the shore where the sun rises. They are not women,
and when their enemies hear the sound of their name they grow pale;
their hearts become like those of the reindeer. My brethren are
famous, too, in the use of the snow-shoe, the snare, and the gun. The
fur-traders know that they must build large stores when they come
into their lands. They bring up much goods, because the young men are
active, and require much. The silver fox and the marten are no longer
safe when their traps and snares are set. Yes, they are good hunters:
and we have now come to live among you" (Jacques changed his style as
he came nearer to the point), "to trade with you, and to save you the
trouble of making long journeys with your skins. A few days' distance
from your wigwams we have pitched our tents. Our young men are even
now felling the trees to build a house. Our nets are set, our hunters
are prowling in the woods, our goods are ready, and my young master
and I have come to smoke the pipe of friendship with you, and to
invite you to come to trade with us."
Having delivered this oration, Jacques sat down amid deep silence.
Other speeches, of a highly satisfactory character, were then made,
after which "the house adjourned," and the visitors, opening one of
their packages, distributed a variety of presents to the delighted
Several times during the course of these proceedings, Charley's eyes
wandered among the faces of his entertainers, in the hope of seeing
Redfeather among them, but without success; and he began to fear that
his friend was not with the tribe.
"I say, Jacques," he said, as they left the tent, "ask whether a
chief called Redfeather is here. I knew him of old, and half expected
to find him at this place."
The Indian to whom Jacques put the question replied that Redfeather
was with them, but that he had gone out on a hunting expedition that
morning, and might be absent a day or two.
"Ah!" exclaimed Charley, "I'm glad he's here. Come, now, let us take
a walk in the wood; these good people stare at us as if we were
ghosts." And taking Jacques's arm, he led him beyond the circuit of
the camp, turned into a path which, winding among the thick
underwood, speedily screened them from view, and led them into a
sequestered glade, through which a rivulet trickled along its course,
almost hid from view by the dense foliage and long grasses that
"What a delightful place to live in!" said Charley. "Do you ever
think of building a hut in such a spot as this, Jacques, and settling
down altogether?" Charley's thoughts reverted to his sister Kate when
he said this.
"Why, no," replied Jacques, in a pensive tone, as if the question had
aroused some sorrowful recollections; "I can't say that I'd like to
settle here _now_. There was a time when I thought nothin' could be
better than to squat in the woods with one or two jolly comrades,
and--"(Jacques sighed); "but times is changed now, master, and so is
my mind. My chums are most of them dead or gone one way or other. No;
I shouldn't care to squat alone."
Charley thought of the hut _without_ Kate, and it seemed so desolate
and dreary a dwelling, notwithstanding its beautiful situation, that
he agreed with his companion that to "squat" _alone_ would never do
"No, man was not made to live alone," continued Jacques, pursuing the
subject; "even the Injins draw together. I never knew but one as
didn't like his fellows, and he's gone now, poor fellow. He cut his
foot with an axe one day, while fellin' a tree. It was a bad cut; and
havin' nobody to look after him, he half bled and half starved to
"By the way, Jacques," said Charley, stepping over the clear brook,
and following the track which led up the opposite bank, "what did you
say to those red-skins? You made them a most eloquent speech
"Why, as to that, I can't boast much of its eloquence, but I think it
was clear enough. I told them that they were a great nation; for you
see, Mr. Charles, the red men are just like the white in their
fondness for butter; so I gave them some to begin with, though, for
the matter o' that, I'm not overly fond o' givin' butter to any man,
red or white. But I holds that it's as well always to fall in with
the ways and customs o' the people a man happens to be among, so long
as them ways and customs a'n't contrary to what's right. It makes
them feel more kindly to you, and don't raise any onnecessary ill-
will. However, the Knisteneux _are_ a brave race; and when I told
them that the hearts of their enemies trembled when they heard of
them, I told nothing but the truth; for the Chipewyans are a
miserable set, and not much given to fighting."
"Your principles on that point won't stand much sifting, I fear,"
replied Charley: "according to your own showing, you would fall into
the Chipewyan's way of glorifying themselves on account of their
bravery, if you chanced to be dwelling among them, and yet you say
they are not brave. That would not be sticking to truth, Jacques,
"Well," replied Jacques with a smile, "perhaps not exactly, but I'm
sure there could be small harm in helping the miserable objects to
boast sometimes, for they've little else than boasting to comfort
"And yet, Jacques, I cannot help feeling that truth is a grand, a
glorious thing, that should not be trifled with even in small
Jacques opened his eyes a little. "Then do you think, master, that a
man should _never_ tell a lie, no matter what fix he may be in?"
"I think not, Jacques."
The hunter paused a few minutes, and looked as if an unusual train of
ideas had been raised in his mind by the turn their conversation had
taken. Jacques was a man of no religion, and little morality, beyond
what flowed from a naturally kind, candid disposition, and
entertained the belief that the _end_, if a good one, always
justifies the _means_--a doctrine which, had it been clearly exposed
to him in all its bearings and results, would have been spurned by
his straightforward nature with the indignant contempt that it
"Mr. Charles," he said at length, "I once travelled across the plains
to the head waters of the Missouri with a party of six trappers. One
night we came to a part of the plains which was very much broken up
with wood here and there, and bein' a good place for water we camped.
While the other lads were gettin' ready the supper, I started off to
look for a deer, as we had been unlucky that day--we had shot
nothin'. Well, about three miles from the camp I came upon a band o'
somewhere about thirty Sieux (ill-looking, sneaking dogs they are,
too!), and before I could whistle they rushed upon me, took away my
rifle and hunting-knife, and were dancing round me like so many
devils. At last a big black-lookin' thief stepped forward, and said
in the Cree language, 'White men seldom travel through this country
alone; where are your comrades?' Now, thought I, here's a nice fix!
If I pretend not to understand, they'll send out parties in all
directions, and as sure as fate they'll find my companions in half-
an-hour, and butcher them in cold blood (for, you see, we did not
expect to find Sieux, or indeed any Injins, in them parts); so I made
believe to be very narvous, and tried to tremble all over and look
pale. Did you ever try to look pale and frighttened, Mr. Charles?"
"I can't say that I ever did," said Charley, laughing.
"You can't think how troublesome it is," continued Jacques, with a
look of earnest simplicity. "I shook and trembled pretty well, but
the more I tried to grow pale, the more I grew red in the face, and
when I thought of the six broad-shouldered, raw-boned lads in the
camp, and how easy they would have made these jumping villains fly
like chaff if they only knew the fix I was in, I gave a frown that
had well-nigh showed I was shamming. Hows'ever, what with shakin' a
little more and givin' one or two most awful groans, I managed to
deceive them. Then I said I was hunter to a party of white men that
were travellin' from Red River to St. Louis, with all their goods,
and wives, and children, and that they were away in the plains about
a league off.
"The big chap looked very hard into my face when I said this, to see
if I was telling the truth; and I tried to make my teeth chatter, but
it wouldn't do, so I took to groanin' very bad instead. But them
Sieux are such awful liars nat'rally that they couldn't understand
the signs of truth, even if they saw them. 'Whitefaced coward,' said
he to me, 'tell me in what direction your people are.' At this I made
believe not to understand; but the big chap flourished his knife
before my face, called me a dog, and told me to point out the
direction. I looked as simple as I could and said I would rather not.
At this they laughed loudly and then gave a yell, and said if I
didn't show them the direction they would roast me alive. So I
pointed towards apart of the plains pretty wide o' the spot where our
camp was. 'Now lead us to them,' said the big chap, givin' me a shove
with the butt of his gun; 'an' if you have told lies--'he gave the
handle of his scalpin'-knife a slap, as much as to say he'd tickle up
my liver with it. Well, away we went in silence, me thinkin' all the
time how I was to get out o' the scrape. I led them pretty close past
our camp, hopin' that the lads would hear us. I didn't dare to yell
out, as that would have showed them there was somebody within
hearin', and they would have made short work of me. Just as we came
near the place where my companions lay, a prairie wolf sprang out
from under a bush where it had been sleepin', so I gave a loud
hurrah, and shied my cap at it. Giving a loud growl, the big Injin
hit me over the head with his fist, and told me to keep silence. In a
few minutes I heard the low, distant howl of a wolf. I recognised the
voice of one of my comrades, and knew that they had seen us, and
would be on our track soon. Watchin' my opportunity, and walkin' for
a good bit as if I was awful tired--all but done up--to throw them
off their guard, I suddenly tripped up the big chap as he was
stepping over a small brook, and dived in among the bushes. In a
moment a dozen bullets tore up the bark on the trees about me, and an
arrow passed through my hair. The clump of wood into which I had
dived was about half-a-mile long; and as I could run well (I've found
in my experience that white men are more than a match for red-skins
at their own work), I was almost out of range by the time I was
forced to quit the cover and take to the plain. When the blackguards
got out of the cover, too, and saw me cuttin' ahead like a deer, they
gave a yell of disappointment, and sent another shower of arrows and
bullets after me, some of which came nearer than was pleasant. I then
headed for our camp with the whole pack screechin' at my heels. 'Yell
away, you stupid sinners,' thought I; 'some of you shall pay for your
music.' At that moment an arrow grazed my shoulder, and looking over
it, I saw that the black fellow I had pitched into the water was far
ahead of the rest, strainin' after me like mad, and every now and
then stopping to try an arrow on me; so I kept a look-out, and when I
saw him stop to draw, I stopped too, and dodged, so the arrows passed
me, and then we took to our heels again. In this way I ran for dear
life till I came up to the cover. As I came close up I saw our six
fellows crouchin' in the bushes, and one o' them takin' aim almost
straight for my face. 'Your day's come at last,' thought I, looking
over my shoulder at the big Injin, who was drawing his bow again.
Just then there was a sharp crack heard; a bullet whistled past my
ear, and the big fellow fell like a stone, while my comrade stood
coolly up to reload his rifle. The Injins, on seein' this, pulled up
in a moment; and our lads stepping forward, delivered a volley that
made three more o' them bite the dust. There would have been six in
that fix, but, somehow or other, three of us pitched upon the same
man, who was afterwards found with a bullet in each eye, and one
through his heart. They didn't wait for more, but turned about and
bolted like the wind. Now, Mr. Charles, if I had told the truth that
time, we would have been all killed; and if I had simply said nothin'
to their questions, they would have sent out to scour the country,
and have found out the camp for sartin, so that the only way to
escape was by tellin' them a heap o' downright lies."
Charley looked very much perplexed at this.
"You have indeed placed me in a difficulty. I know not what I would
have done. I don't know even what I _ought to do_ under these
circumstances. Difficulties may perplex me, and the force of
circumstances might tempt me to do what I believed to be wrong. I am
a sinner, Jacques, like other mortals, I know; but one thing I am
quite sure of--namely, that when men speak it should _always_ be
truth and _never_ falsehood."
Jacques looked perplexed too. He was strongly impressed with the
necessity of telling falsehoods in the circumstances in which he had
been placed, as just related, while at the same time he felt deeply
the grandeur and the power of Charley's last remark.
"I should have been under the sod _now_," said he, "if I had not told
a lie _then_. Is it better to die than to speak falsehood?"
"Some men have thought so," replied Charley. "I acknowledge the
difficulty of _your_ case and of all similar cases. I don't know what
should be done, but I have read of a minister of the gospel whose
people were very wicked and would not attend to his instructions,
although they could not but respect himself, he was so consistent and
Christianlike in his conduct. Persecution arose in the country where
he lived, and men and women were cruelly murdered because of their
religious belief. For a long time he was left unmolested, but one day
a band of soldiers came to his house, and asked him whether he was a
Papist or a Protestant (Papist, Jacques, being a man who has sold his
liberty in religious matters to the Pope, and a Protestant being one
who protests against such an ineffably silly and unmanly state of
slavery). Well, his people urged the good old man to say he was a
Papist, telling him that he would then be spared to live among them,
and preach the true faith for many years perhaps. Now, if there was
one thing that this old man would have toiled for and died for, it
was that his people should become true Christians--and he told them
so; 'but,' he added, 'I will not tell a lie to accomplish that end,
my children--no, not even to save my life.' So he told the soldiers
that he was a Protestant, and immediately they carried him away, and
he was soon afterwards burned to death."
"Well," said Jacques, "_he_ didn't gain much by sticking to the
truth, I think."
"I'm not so sure of _that_. The story goes on to say that he
_rejoiced_ that he had done so, and wouldn't draw back even when he
was in the flames. But the point lies here, Jacques: so deep an
impression did the old man's conduct make on his people, that from
that day forward they were noted for their Christian life and
conduct. They brought up their children with a deeper reverence for
the truth than they would otherwise have done, always bearing in
affectionate remembrance, and holding up to them as an example, the
unflinching truthfulness of the good old man who was burned in the
year of the terrible persecutions; and at last their influence and
example had such an effect that the Protestant religion spread like
wild-fire, far and wide around them, so that the very thing was
accomplished for which the old pastor said he would have died--
accomplished, too, very much in consequence of his death, and in a
way and to an extent that very likely would not have been the case
had he lived and preached among them for a hundred years."
"I don't understand it, nohow," said Jacques; "it seems to me right
both ways and wrong both ways, and all upside down every how."
Charley smiled. "Your remark is about as clear as my head on the
subject, Jacques; but I still remain convinced that truth is _right_
and that falsehood is _wrong_, and that we should stick to the first
through thick and thin."
"I s'pose," remarked the hunter, who had walked along in deep
cogitation, for the last five minutes, and had apparently come to
some conclusion of profound depth and sagacity--"I s'pose that it's
all human natur'; that some men takes to preachin' as Injins take to
huntin', and that to understand sich things requires them to begin
young,' and risk their lives in it, as I would in followin' up a
grizzly she-bear with cubs."
"Yonder is an illustration of one part of your remark. They begin
_young_ enough, anyhow," said Charley, pointing as he spoke to an
opening in the bushes, where a particularly small Indian boy stood in
the act of discharging an arrow.
The two men halted to watch his movements. According to a common
custom among juvenile Indians during the warm months of the year, he
was dressed in _nothing_ save a mere rag tied round his waist. His
body was very brown, extremely round, fat, and wonderfully
diminutive, while his little legs and arms were disproportionately
small. He was so young as to be barely able to walk, and yet there he
stood, his black eyes glittering with excitement, his tiny bow bent
to its utmost, and a blunt-headed arrow about to be discharged at a
squirrel, whose flight had been suddenly arrested by the unexpected
apparition of Charley and Jacques. As he stood there for a single
instant, perfectly motionless, he might have been mistaken for a
grotesque statue of an Indian cupid. Taking advantage of the
squirrel's pause the child let fly the arrow, hit it exactly on the
point of the nose, and turned it over, dead--a consummation which he
greeted with a rapid succession of frightful yells.
"Cleverly done, my lad; you're a chip of the old block, I see," said
Jacques, patting the child's head as he passed, and retraced his
steps, with Charley, to the Indian camp.
The feast--Charley makes his first speech in public, and meets with
an old friend--An evening in the grass.
Savages, not less than civilized men, are fond of a good dinner. In
saying this, we do not expect our reader to be overwhelmed with
astonishment. He might have guessed as much; but when we state that
savages, upon particular occasions, eat six dinners in one, and make
it a point of honour to do so, we apprehend that we have thrown a
slightly new light on an old subject. Doubtless there are men in
civilised society who would do likewise if they could; but they
cannot, fortunately, as great gastronomic powers are dependent on
severe, healthful, and prolonged physical exertion. Therefore it is
that in England we find men capable only of eating about two dinners
at once, and suffering a good deal for it afterwards; while in the
backwoods we see men consume a week's dinners in one, without any
evil consequences following the act.
The feast which was given by the Knisteneux in honour of the visit of
our two friends was provided on a more moderate scale than usual, in
order to accommodate the capacities of the "white men;" three days'
allowance being cooked for each man. (Women are never admitted to the
public feasts.) On the day preceding the ceremony, Charley and
Jacques had received cards of invitation from the principal chief in
the shape of two quills; similar invites being issued at the same
time to all the braves. Jacques being accustomed to the doings of the
Indians, and aware of the fact that whatever was provided for each
man _must_ be eaten before he quitted the scene of operations,
advised Charley to eat no breakfast, and to take a good walk as a
preparative. Charley had strong faith, however, in his digestive
powers, and felt much inclined, when morning came, to satisfy the
cravings of his appetite as usual; but Jacques drew such a graphic
picture of the work that lay before him, that he forbore to urge the
matter, and went off to walk with a light step, and an uncomfortable
feeling of vacuity about the region of the stomach.
About noon, the chiefs and braves assembled in an open enclosure
situated in an exposed place on the banks of the river, where the
proceedings were watched by the women, children, and dogs. The oldest
chief sat himself down on the turf at one end of the enclosure, with
Jacques Caradoc on his right hand, and next to him Charley Kennedy,
who had ornamented himself with a blue stripe painted down the middle
of his nose, and a red bar across his chin. Charley's propensity for
fun had led him thus to decorate his face, in spite of his
companion's remonstrances,--urging, by way of excuse, that worthy's
former argument, "that it was well to fall in with the ways o' the
people a man happened to be among, so long as these ways and customs
were not contrary to what was right." Now Charley was sure there was
nothing wrong in his painting his nose sky blue, if he thought fit.
Jacques thought it was absurd, and entertained the opinion that it
would be more dignified to leave his face "its nat'ral colour."
Charley didn't agree with him at all. He thought it would be paying
the Indians a high compliment to follow their customs as far as
possible, and said that, after all, his blue nose would not be very
conspicuous, as he (Jacques) had told him that he would "look blue"
at any rate when he saw the quantity of deer's meat he should have to
Jacques laughed at this, but suggested that the bar across his chin
was _red_. Whereupon Charley said that he could easily neutralise
that by putting a green star under each eye; and then uttered a
fervent wish that his friend Harry Somerville could only see him in
that guise. Finding him incorrigible, Jacques, who, notwithstanding
his remonstrances, was more than half imbued with Charley's spirit,
gave in, and accompanied him to the feast, himself decorated with the
additional ornament of a red night-cap, to whose crown was attached a
tuft of white feathers.
A fire burned in the centre of the enclosure, round which the Indians
seated themselves according to seniority, and with deep solemnity;
for it is a trait in the Indian's character that all his ceremonies
are performed with extreme gravity. Each man brought a dish or
platter, and a wooden spoon.
The old chief, whose hair was very gray, and his face covered with
old wounds and scars, received either in war or in hunting, having
seated himself, allowed a few minutes to elapse in silence, during
which the company sat motionless, gazing at their plates as if they
half expected them to become converted into beefsteaks. While they
were seated thus, another party of Indians, who had been absent on a
hunting expedition, strode rapidly but noiselessly into the
enclosure, and seated themselves in the circle. One of these passed
close to Charley, and in doing so stooped, took his hand, and pressed
it. Charley looked up in surprise, and beheld the face of his old
friend Redfeather, gazing at him with an expression in which were
mingled affection, surprise, and amusement at the peculiar alteration
in his visage.
"Redfeather!" exclaimed Charlie, in delight, half rising, but the
Indian pressed him down.
"You must not rise," he whispered, and giving his hand another
squeeze, passed round the circle, and took his place directly
Having continued motionless for five minutes with becoming gravity,
the company began operations by proceeding to smoke out of the sacred
stem--a ceremony which precedes--all occasions of importance, and is
conducted as follows:--The sacred stem is placed on two forked sticks
to prevent its touching the ground, as that would be considered a
great evil. A stone pipe is then filled with tobacco, by an attendant
specially appointed to that office, and affixed to the stem, which is
presented to the principal chief. That individual, with a gravity and
_hauteur_ that is unsurpassed in the annals of pomposity, receives
the pipe in both hands, blows a puff to the east (probably in
consequence of its being the quarter whence the sun rises), and
thereafter pays a similar mark of attention to the other three
points. He then raises the pipe above his head, points and balances
it in various directions (for what reason and with what end in view
is best known to himself), and replaces it again on the forks. The
company meanwhile observe his proceedings with sedate interest,
evidently imbued with the idea that they are deriving from the
ceremony a vast amount of edification--an idea which is helped out,
doubtless, by the appearance of the women and children, who surround
the enclosure, and gaze at the proceedings with looks of awe-struck
seriousness that is quite solemnizing to behold.
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