The Young Fur Traders
Part 5 out of 7
branches, their refreshing contents sending up little clouds of
steam, while the ptarmigan, now split up, skewered, and roasted, were
being heartily devoured by our three hungry friends.
The pleasures that fall to the lot of man are transient. Doubtless
they are numerous and oft recurring; still they are transient, and
so--supper came to an end.
"Now for a pipe," said the accountant, disposing his limbs at full
length on a green blanket. "O thou precious weed, what should we do
"Smoke _tea_, to be sure," answered Harry.
"Ah! true, it _is_ possible to exist on a pipe of tea-leaves for a
time, but _only_ for a time. I tried it myself once, in desperation,
when I ran short of tobacco on a journey, and found it execrable, but
better than nothing."
"Pity we can't join you in that." remarked Harry.
"True; but perhaps since you cannot pipe, it might prove an agreeable
diversification to dance."
"Thank you, I'd rather not," said Harry; "and as for Hamilton, I'm
convinced that _his_ mind is made up on the subject.--How go the
"Thank you, pretty well," he replied, reclining his head on the pine
branches, and extending his smitten members towards the fire. "I
think they will be quite well in the morning."
"It is a curious thing," remarked the accountant, in a soliloquising
tone, "that _soft_ fellows _never_ smoke!"
"I beg your pardon," said Harry, "I've often seen hot loaves smoke,
and they're soft enough fellows, in all conscience!"
"Ah!" sighed the accountant, "that reminds me of poor Peterkin, who
was _so_ soft that he went by the name of 'Butter.' Did you ever hear
of what he did the summer before last with an Indian's head?"
"No, never; what was it!"
"I'll tell you the story," replied the accountant, drawing a few
vigorous whiffs of smoke, to prevent his pipe going out while he
As the story in question, however, depicts a new phase of society in
the woods, it deserves a chapter to itself.
The accountant's story.
"Spring had passed away, and York Fort was filled with all the bustle
and activity of summer. Brigades came pouring in upon us with furs
from the interior, and as every boat brought a C. T. or a clerk, our
mess-table began to overflow.
"You've not seen the summer mess-room filled yet, Hamilton. That's a
treat in store for you."
"It was pretty full last autumn, I think," suggested Hamilton, "at
the time I arrived from England."
"Full! why, man, it was getting to feel quite lonely at that time.
I've seen more than fifty sit down to table there, and it was worth
going fifty miles to hear the row they kicked up--telling stories
without end (and sometimes without foundation) about their wild
doings in the interior, where every man-jack of them having spent at
least eight months almost in perfect solitude, they hadn't had a
chance of letting their tongues go till they came down here. But to
proceed. When the ship came out in the fall, she brought a batch of
new clerks, and among them was this miserable chap Peterkin, whom we
soon nicknamed _Butter_. He was the softest fellow I ever knew (far
worse than you, Hamilton), and he hadn't been here a week before the
wild blades from the interior, who were bursting with fun and
mischief, began to play off all kinds of practical jokes upon him.
The very first day he sat down at the mess-table, our worthy governor
(who, you are aware, detests practical jokes) played him a trick,
quite unintentionally, which raised a laugh against him for many a
day. You know that old Mr. Rogan is rather absent at times; well, the
first day that Peterkin came to mess (it was breakfast), the old
governor asked him, in a patronizing sort of way, to sit at his right
hand. Accordingly down he sat, and having never, I fancy, been away
from his mother's apron-string before, he seemed to feel very
uncomfortable, especially as he was regarded as a sort of novelty.
The first thing he did was to capsize his plate into his lap, which
set the youngsters at the lower end of the table into suppressed fits
of laughter. However, he was eating the leg of a dry grouse at the
time, so it didn't make much of a mess.
"'Try some fish, Peterkin,' said Mr. Rogan kindly, seeing that the
youth was ill at ease. 'That old grouse is tough enough to break your
"'A very rough passage,' replied the youngster, whose mind was quite
confused by hearing the captain of the ship, who sat next to him,
giving to his next neighbour a graphic account of the voyage in a
very loud key--'I mean, if you please, no, thank you,' he stammered,
endeavouring to correct himself.
"'Ah! a cup of tea perhaps.--Here, Anderson' (turning to the butler),
'a cup of tea to Mr. Peterkin.'
"The butler obeyed the order.
"'And here, fill my cup,' said old Rogan, interrupting himself in an
earnest conversation, into which he had plunged with the gentleman on
his left hand. As he said this he lifted his cup to empty the slops,
but without paying attention to what he was doing. As luck would have
it, the slop-basin was not at hand, and Peterkin's cup _was_, so he
emptied it innocently into that. Peterkin hadn't courage to arrest
his hand, and when the deed was done he looked timidly round to see
if the action had been observed. Nearly half the table had seen it,
but they pretended ignorance of the thing so well that he thought no
one had observed, and so went quietly on with his breakfast, and
drank the tea! But I am wandering from my story. Well, about this
time there was a young Indian who shot himself accidentally in the
woods, and was brought to the fort to see if anything could be done
for him. The doctor examined his wound, and found that the ball had
passed through the upper part of his right arm and the middle of his
right thigh, breaking the bone of the latter in its passage. It was
an extraordinary shot for a man to put into himself, for it would
have been next to impossible even for _another_ man to have done it,
unless the Indian had been creeping on all fours. When he was able to
speak, however, he explained the mystery. While running through a
rough part of the wood after a wounded bird, he stumbled and fell on
all fours. The gun, which he was carrying over his shoulder, holding
it, as the Indians usually do, by the muzzle, flew forward, and
turned right round as he fell, so that the mouth of it was presented
towards him. Striking against the stem of a tree, it exploded and
shot him through the arm and leg as described ere he had time to
rise. A comrade carried him to his lodge, and his wife brought him in
a canoe to the fort. For three or four days the doctor had hopes of
him, but at last he began to sink, and died on the sixth day after
his arrival. His wife and one or two friends buried him in our
graveyard, which lies, as you know, on that lonely-looking point just
below the powder-magazine. For several months previous to this our
worthy doctor had been making strenuous efforts to get an Indian
skull to send home to one of his medical friends, but without
success. The Indians could not be prevailed upon to cut off the head
of one of their dead countrymen for love or money, and the doctor had
a dislike to the idea, I suppose, of killing one for himself; but now
here was a golden opportunity. The Indian was buried near to the
fort, and his relatives had gone away to their tents again. What was
to prevent his being dug up? The doctor brooded over the thing for
one hour and a half (being exactly the length of time required to
smoke out his large Turkey pipe), and then sauntered into Wilson's
room. Wilson was busy, as usual, at some of his mechanical
"Thrusting his hands deep into his breeches pockets, and seating
himself on an old sea-chest, he began,--
"'I say, Wilson, will you do me a favour?'
"'That depends entirely on what the favour is,' he replied, without
raising his head from his work.
"'I want you to help me to cut off an Indian's head!'
"' Then I _won't_ do you the favour. But pray, don't humbug me just
now; I'm busy.'
"'No; but I'm serious, and I can't get it done without help, and I
know you're an obliging fellow. Besides, the savage is dead, and has
no manner of use for his head now.'
"Wilson turned round with a look of intelligence on hearing this.
"'Ha!' he exclaimed, 'I see what you're up to; but I don't half like
it. In the first place, his friends would be terribly cut up if they
heard of it; and then I've no sort of aptitude for the work of a
resurrectionist; and then, if it got wind, we should never hear the
last of it; and then--'
"'And then,' interrupted the doctor, 'it would be adding to the light
of medical science, you unaspiring monster.'
"'A light,' retorted Wilson, 'which, in passing through _some_
members of the medical profession, is totally absorbed, and
reproduced in the shape of impenetrable darkness.'
"'Now, don't object, my dear fellow; you _know_ you're going to do
it, so don't coquette with me, but agree at once.'
"'Well, I consent, upon one condition.'
"'And what is that?'
"'That you do not play any practical jokes on _me_ with the head when
you have got it.'
"'Agreed!' cried the doctor, laughing; 'I give you my word of honour.
Now he has been buried three days already, so we must set about it at
once. Fortunately the graveyard is composed of a sandy soil, so he'll
keep for some time yet.
"The two worthies then entered into a deep consultation as to how
they were to set about this deed of darkness. It was arranged that
Wilson should take his gun and sally forth a little before dark, as
if he were bent on an hour's sport, and, not forgetting his game-bag,
proceed to the graveyard, where the doctor engaged to meet him with a
couple of spades and a dark lantern. Accordingly, next evening, Mr.
Wilson, true to his promise, shouldered his gun and sallied forth.
"It soon became an intensely dark night. Not a single star shone
forth to illumine the track along which he stumbled. Everything
around was silent and dark, and congenial with the work on which he
was bent. But Wilson's heart beat a little more rapidly than usual.
He is a bold enough man, as you know, but boldness goes for nothing
when superstition comes into play. However, he trudged along
fearlessly enough till he came to the thick woods just below the
fort, into which he entered with something of a qualm. Scarcely had
he set foot on the narrow track that leads to the graveyard, when he
ran slap against the post that stands there, but which, in his
trepidation, he had entirely forgotten. This quite upset the small
amount of courage that remained, and he has since confessed that if
he had not had the hope of meeting with the doctor in a few minutes,
he would have turned round and fled at that moment.
"Recovering a little from this accident, he hurried forward, but with
more caution, for although the night seemed as dark as could possibly
be while he was crossing the open country, it became speedily evident
that there were several shades of darkness which he had not yet
conceived. In a few minutes he came to the creek that runs past the
graveyard, and here again his nerves got another shake; for slipping
his foot while in the act of commencing the descent, he fell and
rolled heavily to the bottom, making noise enough in his fall to
scare away all the ghosts in the country. With a palpitating heart
poor Wilson gathered himself up, and searched for his gun, which
fortunately had not been injured, and then commenced to climb the
opposite bank, starting at every twig that snapped under his feet. On
reaching the level ground again he breathed a little more freely, and
hurried forward with more speed than caution. Suddenly he came into
violent contact with a figure, which uttered a loud growl as Wilson
"'Back, you monster,' he cried, with a hysterical yell, 'or I'll blow
your brains out!'
"'It's little good _that_ would do ye,' cried the doctor as he came
forward. 'Why, you stupid, what did you take me for? You've nearly
knocked out my brains as it is,' and the doctor rubbed his forehead
"'Oh, it's _you,_ doctor!' said Wilson, feeling as if a ton weight
had been lifted off his heart; 'I verily thought it was the ghost of
the poor fellow we're going to disturb. I do think you had better
give it up. Mischief will come of it, you'll see.'
"'Nonsense,' cried the doctor; 'don't be a goose, but let's to work
at once. Why, I've got half the thing dug up already.' So saying, he
led the way to the grave, in which there was a large opening. Setting
the lantern down by the side of it, the two seized their spades and
began to dig as if in earnest.
"The fact is that the doctor was nearly as frightened as Wilson, and
he afterwards confessed to me that it was an immense relief to him
when he heard him fall down the bank of the creek, and knew by the
growl he gave that it was he.
"In about half-an-hour the doctor's spade struck upon the coffin lid,
which gave forth a hollow sound.
"'Now then, we're about done with it,' said he, standing up to wipe
away the perspiration that trickled down his face. 'Take the axe and
force up the lid, it's only fixed with common nails, while I--' He
did not finish the sentence, but drew a large scalping-knife from a
sheath which hung at his belt.
"Wilson shuddered and obeyed. A good wrench caused the lid to start,
and while he held it partially open the doctor inserted the knife.
For five minutes he continued to twist and work with his arms,
muttering between his teeth, every now and then, that he was a 'tough
subject,' while the crackling of bones and other disagreeable sounds
struck upon the horrified ears of his companion.
"'All right,' he exclaimed at last, as he dragged a round object from
the coffin and let down the lid with a bang, at the same time placing
the savage's head with its ghastly features full in the blaze of the
"'Now, then, close up,' said he, jumping out of the hole and
shovelling in the earth.
"In a few minutes they had filled the grave up and smoothed it down
on the surface, and then, throwing the head into the game-bag,
retraced their steps to the fort. Their nerves were by this time
worked up to such a pitch of excitement, and their minds filled with
such a degree of supernatural horror, that they tripped and stumbled
over stumps and branches innumerable in their double-quick march.
Neither would confess to the other, however, that he was afraid. They
even attempted to pass a few facetious remarks as they hurried along,
but it would not do, so they relapsed into silence till they came to
the hollow beside the powder-magazine. Here the doctor's foot
happening to slip, he suddenly grasped Wilson by the shoulder to
support himself--a movement which, being unexpected, made his friend
leap, as he afterwards expressed it, nearly out of his skin. This was
almost too much for them. For a moment they looked at each other as
well as the darkness would permit, when all at once a large stone,
which the doctor's slip had overbalanced, fell down the bank and
through the bushes with a loud crash. Nothing more was wanting. All
further effort to disguise their feelings was dropped. Leaping the
rail of the open field in a twinkling, they gave a simultaneous yell
of consternation and fled to the fort like autumn leaves before the
wind, never drawing breath till they were safe within the pickets."
"But what has all this to do with Peterkin?" asked Harry, as the
accountant paused to relight his pipe and toss a fresh log on the
"Have patience, lad; you shall hear."
The accountant stirred the logs with his toe, drew a few whiffs to
see that the pipe was properly ignited, and proceeded.
"For a day or two after this, the doctor was observed to be often
mysteriously engaged in an outhouse, of which he kept the key. By
some means or other, the skipper, who is always up to mischief,
managed to discover the secret. Watching where the doctor hid the
key, he possessed himself of it one day, and sallied forth, bent on a
lark of some kind or other, but without very well knowing what.
Passing the kitchen, he observed Anderson, the butler, raking the
fire out of the large oven which stands in the backyard.
"'Baking again, Anderson?' said he in passing. 'You get soon through
with a heavy cargo of bread just now.'
"'Yes, sir; many mouths to feed, sir,' replied the butler, proceeding
with his work.
"The skipper sauntered on, and took the track which led to the
boathouse, where he stood for some time in meditation. Casting up his
eyes, he saw Peterkin in the distance, looking as if he didn't very
well know what to do.
"A sudden thought struck him. Pulling off his coat, he seized a
mallet and a calking-chisel, and began to belabour the side of a boat
as if his life depended on it. All at once he stopped and stood up,
blowing with the exertion.
"'Hollo, Peterkin!' he shouted, and waved his hand.
"Peterkin hastened towards him.
"'Well, sir' said he, 'do you wish to speak to me?'
"'Yes,' replied the skipper, scratching his head, as if in great
perplexity. 'I wish you to do me a favour, Peterkin, but I don't know
very well how to ask you.'
"'Oh, I shall be most happy,' said poor Butter eagerly, 'if I can be
of any use to you.'
"'I don't doubt your willingness,' replied the other; 'but then--the
doctor, you see--the fact is, Peterkin, the doctor being called away
to see a sick Indian, has intrusted me with a delicate piece of
business--rather a nasty piece of business, I may say--which I
promised to do for him. You must know that the Surgical Society of
London has written to him, begging, as a great favour, that he would,
if possible, procure them the skull of a native. After much trouble,
he has succeeded in getting one, but is obliged to keep it a great
secret, even from his fellow-clerks, lest it should get wind: for if
the Indians heard of it they would be sure to kill him, and perhaps
burn the fort too. Now I suppose you are aware that it is necessary
to boil an Indian's head in order to get the flesh clean off the
"'Yes; I have heard something of that sort from the students at
college, who say that boiling brings flesh more easily away from the
bone. But I don't know much about it,' replied Peterkin.
"'Well,' continued the skipper, 'the doctor, who is fond of
experiments, wishes to try whether _baking_ won't do better than
_boiling_, and ordered the oven to be heated for that purpose this
morning; but being called suddenly away, as I have said, he begged me
to put the head into it as soon as it was ready. I agreed, quite
forgetting at the time that I had to get this precious boat ready for
sea this very afternoon. Now the oven is prepared, and I dare not
leave my work; indeed, I doubt whether I shall have it quite ready
and taut after all, and there's the oven cooling; so, if you don't
help me, I'm a lost man.'
"Having said this, the skipper looked as miserable as his jolly
visage would permit, and rubbed his nose.
"'Oh, I'll be happy to do it for you, although it is not an agreeable
job,' replied Butter.
"'That's right--that's friendly now!' exclaimed the skipper, as if
greatly relieved. 'Give us your flipper, my lad;' and seizing
Peterkin's hand, he wrung it affectionately. 'Now, here is the key of
the outhouse; do it as quickly as you can, and don't let anyone see
you. It's in a good cause, you know, but the results might be
terrible if discovered.'
"So saying, the skipper fell to hammering the boat again with
surprising vigour till Butter was out of sight, and then resuming his
coat, returned to the house.
"An hour after this, Anderson went to take his loaves out of the
oven; but he had no sooner taken down the door than a rich odour of
cooked meat greeted his nostrils. Uttering a deep growl, the butler
shouted out 'Sprat!'
"Upon this, a very thin boy, with arms and legs like pipe stems,
issued from the kitchen, and came timidly towards his master.
"'Didn't I tell you, you young blackguard, that the grouse-pie was to
be kept for Sunday? and there you've gone and put it to fire to-day.'
"'The grouse-pie!' said the boy, in amazement.
"'Yes, the grouse-pie,' retorted the indignant butler; and seizing
the urchin by the neck, he held his head down to the mouth of the
"'Smell _that_, you villain! What did you mean by it, eh?'
"'Oh, murder!' shouted the boy, as with a violent effort he freed
himself, and ran shrieking into the house. "'Murder!' repeated
Anderson in astonishment, while he stooped to look into the oven,
where the first thing that met his gaze was a human head, whose
ghastly visage and staring eyeballs worked and moved about under the
influence of the heat as if it were alive.
"With a yell that rung through the whole fort, the horrified butler
rushed through the kitchen and out at the front door, where, as ill-
luck would have it, Mr. Rogan happened to be standing at the moment.
Pitching head first into the small of the old gentleman's back, he
threw him off the platform and fell into his arms. Starting up in a
moment, the governor dealt Anderson a cuff that sent him reeling
towards the kitchen door again, on the steps of which he sat down,
and began to sing out, 'Oh, murder, murder! the oven, the oven!' and
not another word, bad, good, or indifferent, could be got out of him
for the next half-hour, as he swayed himself to and fro and wrung his
"To make a long story short, Mr. Rogan went himself to the oven, and
fished out the head, along with the loaves, which were, of course,
"And what was the result?" enquired Harry.
"Oh, there was a long investigation, and the skipper got a blowing-
up, and the doctor a warning to let Indians' skulls lie at peace in
their graves for the future, and poor Butter was sent to M'Kenzie's
River as a punishment, for old Rogan could never be brought to
believe that he hadn't been a willing tool in the skipper's hands;
and Anderson lost his batch of bread and his oven, for it had to be
pulled down and a new one built."
"Humph! and I've no doubt the governor read you a pretty stiff
lecture on practical joking."
"He did," replied the accountant, laying aside his pipe and drawing
the green blanket over him, while Harry piled several large logs on
"Good-night," said the accountant.
"Good-night," replied his companions; and in a few minutes more they
were sound asleep in their snowy camp, while the huge fire continued,
during the greater part of the night, to cast its light on their
Ptarmigan-hunting--Hamilton's shooting powers severely tested--A
At about four o'clock on the following morning, the sleepers were
awakened by the cold, which had become very intense. The fire had
burned down to a few embers, which merely emitted enough light to
make darkness visible. Harry being the most active of the party, was
the first to bestir himself. Raising himself on his elbow, while his
teeth chattered and his limbs trembled with cold, he cast a woebegone
and excessively sleepy glance towards the place where the fire had
been; then he scratched his head slowly; then he stared at the fire
again; then he languidly glanced at Hamilton's sleeping visage, and
then he yawned. The accountant observed all this; for although he
appeared to be buried in the depths of slumber, he was wide awake in
reality, and moreover, intensely cold. The accountant, however, was
sly--deep, as he would have said himself--and knew that Harry's
active habits would induce him to rise, on awaking, and rekindle the
fire,--an event which the accountant earnestly desired to see
accomplished, but which he as earnestly resolved should not be
performed by _him_. Indeed, it was with this end in view that he had
given vent to the terrific snore which had aroused his young
companion a little sooner than would have otherwise been the case.
"My eye," exclaimed Harry, in an undertone, "how precious cold it
His eye making no reply to this remark, he arose, and going down on
his hands and knees, began to coax the charcoal into a flame. By dint
of severe blowing, he soon succeeded, and heaping on a quantity of
small twigs, the fitful flame sprang up into a steady blaze. He then
threw several heavy logs on the fire, and in a very short space of
time restored it almost to its original vigour.
"What an abominable row you are kicking up!" growled the accountant;
"why, you would waken the seven sleepers. Oh! mending the fire," he
added, in an altered tone: "ah! I'll excuse you, my boy, since that's
what you're at."
The accountant hereupon got up, along with Hamilton, who was now also
awake, and the three spread their hands over the bright fire, and
revolved their bodies before it, until they imbibed a satisfactory
amount of heat. They were much too sleepy to converse, however, and
contented themselves with a very brief enquiry as to the state of
Hamilton's heels, which elicited the sleepy reply, "They feel quite
well, thank you." In a short time, having become agreeably warm, they
gave a simultaneous yawn, and lying down again, they fell into a
sleep from which they did not awaken until the red winter sun shot
its early rays over the arctic scenery.
Once more Harry sprang up, and let his hand fall heavily on
Hamilton's shoulder. Thus rudely assailed, that youth also sprang up,
giving a shout, at the same time, that brought the accountant to his
feet in an instant; and so, as if by an electric spark, the sleepers
were simultaneously roused into a state of wide-awake activity.
"How excessively hungry I feel! isn't it strange?" said Hamilton, as
he assisted in rekindling the fire, while the accountant filled his
pipe, and Harry stuffed the tea-kettle full of snow.
"Strange!" cried Harry, as he placed the kettle on the fire--"strange
to be hungry after a five miles' walk and a night in the snow? I
would rather say it was strange if you were _not_ hungry. Throw on
that billet, like a good fellow, and spit those grouse, while I cut
some pemmican and prepare the tea."
"How are the heels now, Hamilton?" asked the accountant, who divided
his attention between his pipe and his snow-shoes, the lines of which
required to be readjusted.
"They appear to be as well as if nothing had happened to them,"
replied Hamilton: "I've been looking at them, and there is no mark
whatever. They do not even feel tender."
"Lucky for you, old boy, that they were taken in time, else you'd had
another story to tell."
"Do you mean to say that people's heels really freeze and fall off?"
inquired the other, with a look of incredulity.
"Soft, very soft and green," murmured Harry, in a low voice, while he
continued his work of adding fresh snow to the kettle as the process
of melting reduced its bulk.
"I mean to say," replied the accountant, tapping the ashes out of his
pipe, "that not only heels, but hands, feet, noses, and ears,
frequently freeze, and often fall off in this country, as you will
find by sad experience if you don't look after yourself a little
better than you have done hitherto."
One of the evil effects of the perpetual jesting that prevailed at
York Fort was, that "soft" (in other words, straightforward,
unsuspecting) youths had to undergo a long process of learning-by-
experience: first, _believing_ everything, and then _doubting_
everything, ere they arrived at that degree of sophistication which
enabled them to distinguish between truth and falsehood.
Having reached the _doubting_ period in his training, Hamilton looked
down and said nothing, at least with his mouth, though his eyes
evidently remarked, "I don't believe you." In future years, however,
the evidence of these same eyes convinced him that what the
accountant said upon this occasion was but too true.
Breakfast was a repetition of the supper of the previous evening.
During its discussion they planned proceedings for the day.
"My notion is," said the accountant, interrupting the flow of words
ever and anon to chew the morsel with which his mouth was filled--"my
notion is, that as it's a fine clear day we should travel five miles
through the country parallel with North River. I know the ground, and
can guide you easily to the spots where there are lots of willows,
and therefore plenty of ptarmigan, seeing that they feed on willow
tops; and the snow that fell last night will help us a little."
"How will the snow help us?" inquired Hamilton.
"By covering up all the old tracks, to be sure, and showing only the
"Well, captain," said Harry, as he raised a can of tea to his lips,
and nodded to Hamilton as if drinking his health, "go on with your
proposals for the day. Five miles up the river to begin with, then--"
"Then we'll pull up," continued the accountant; "make a fire, rest a
bit, and eat a mouthful of pemmican; after which we'll strike across
country for the southern woodcutters' track, and so home."
"And how much will that be?"
"About fifteen miles."
"Ha!" exclaimed Harry; "pass the kettle, please. Thanks.--Do you
think you're up to that, Hammy?"
"I will try what I can do," replied Hamilton. "If the snow-shoes
don't cause me to fall often, I think I shall stand the fatigue very
"That's right," said the accountant; "'faint heart,' etc., you know.
If you go on as you've begun, you'll be chosen to head the next
expedition to the north pole."
"Well," replied Hamilton, good-humouredly, "pray head the present
expedition, and let us be gone."
"Right!" ejaculated the accountant, rising. "I'll just put my odds
and ends out of the reach of the foxes, and then we shall be off."
In a few minutes everything was placed in security, guns loaded,
snow-shoes put on, and the winter camp deserted. At first the walking
was fatiguing, and poor Hamilton more than once took a sudden and
eccentric plunge; but after getting beyond the wooded country, they
found the snow much more compact, and their march, therefore, much
more agreeable. On coming to the place where it was probable that
they might fall in with ptarmigan, Hamilton became rather excited,
and apt to imagine that little lumps of snow which hung upon the
bushes here and there were birds.
"There now," he cried, in an energetic and slightly positive tone, as
another of these masses of snow suddenly met his eager eye--"that's
one, I'm _quite_ sure."
The accountant and Harry both stopped short on hearing this, and
looked in the direction indicated.
"Fire away, then, Hammy," said the former, endeavouring to suppress a
"But do you think it _really_ is one?" asked Hamilton, anxiously.
"Well, I don't _see_ it exactly, but then, you know, I'm near-
"Don't give him a chance of escape," cried Harry, seeing that his
friend was undecided. "If you really do see a bird, you'd better
shoot it, for they've got a strong propensity to take wing when
Thus admonished Hamilton raised his gun and took aim. Suddenly he
lowered his piece again, and looking round at Harry, said in a low
"Oh, I should like _so_ much to shoot it while flying! Would it not
be better to set it up first?"
"By no means," answered the accountant. "'A bird in the hand,' etc.
Take him as you find him--look sharp; he'll be off in a second."
Again the gun was pointed, and, after some difficulty in taking aim,
"Ah, what a pity you've missed him!" shouted Harry,
"But see, he's not off yet; how tame he is, to be sure! Give him the
other barrel, Hammy."
This piece of advice proved to be unnecessary. In his anxiety to get
the bird, Hamilton had cocked both barrels, and while gazing, half in
disappointment, half in surprise, at the supposed bird, his finger
unintentionally pressed the second trigger. In a moment the piece
exploded. Being accidentally aimed in the right direction, it blew
the lump of snow to atoms, and at the same time hitting its owner on
the chest with the butt, knocked him over flat upon his back.
"What a gun it is, to be sure!" said Harry, with a roguish laugh, as
he assisted the discomforted sportsman to rise; "it knocks over game
with butt and muzzle at once."
"Quite a rare instance of one butt knocking another down," added the
At this moment a large flock of ptarmigan, startled by the double
report, rose with a loud whirring noise about a hundred yards in
advance, and after flying a short distance alighted.
"There's real game at last, though," cried the accountant, as he
hurried after the birds, followed closely by his young friends.
They soon reached the spot where the flock had alighted, and after
following up the tracks for a few yards further, set them up again.
As the birds rose, the accountant fired and brought down two; Harry
shot one and missed another; Hamilton being so nervously interested
in the success of his comrades that he forgot to fire at all.
"How stupid of me!" he exclaimed, while the others loaded their guns.
"Never mind; better luck next time," said Harry, as they resumed
their walk. "I saw the flock settle down about half-a-mile in advance
of us; so step out."
Another short walk brought the sportsmen again within range.
"Go to the front, Hammy," said the accountant, "and take the first
shot this time."
Hamilton obeyed. He had scarcely made ten steps in advance, when a
single bird, that seemed to have been separated from the others, ran
suddenly out from under a bush, and stood stock-still, at a distance
of a few yards, with its neck stretched out and its black eyes wide
open, as if in astonishment.
"Now then, you can't miss _that_."
Hamilton was quite taken aback by the suddenness of this necessity
for instantaneous action. Instead, therefore, of taking aim leisurely
(seeing that he had abundant time to do so), he flew entirely to the
opposite extreme, took no aim at all, and fired off both barrels at
once, without putting the gun to his shoulder. The result of this was
that the affrighted bird flew away unharmed, while Harry and the
accountant burst spontaneously into fits of laughter.
"How very provoking!" said the poor youth, with a dejected look.
"Never mind--never say die--try again," said the accountant, on
recovering his gravity. Having reloaded, they continued the pursuit.
"Dear me!" exclaimed Harry, suddenly, "here are three dead birds.--I
verily believe, Hamilton, that you have killed them all at one shot
"Can it be possible?" exclaimed his friend, as with a look of
amazement he regarded the birds.
There was no doubt about the fact. There they lay, plump and still
warm, with one or two drops of bright red blood upon their white
plumage. Ptarmigan are almost pure white, so that it requires a
practised eye to detect them, even at a distance of a few yards; and
it would be almost impossible to hunt them without dogs, but for the
tell-tale snow, in which their tracks are distinctly marked, enabling
the sportsman to follow them up with unerring certainty. When
Hamilton made his bad shot, neither he nor his companions observed a
group of ptarmigan not more than fifty yards before them, their
attention being riveted at the time on the solitary bird; and the gun
happening to be directed towards them when it was fired, three were
instantly and unwittingly placed _hors de combat_, while the others
ran away. This the survivors frequently do when very tame, instead of
taking wing. Thus it was that Hamilton, to his immense delight, made
such a successful shot without being aware of it.
Having bagged their game, the party proceeded on their way. Several
large flocks of birds were raised, and the game-bags nearly filled,
before reaching the spot where they intended to turn and bend their
steps homewards. This induced them to give up the idea of going
further; and it was fortunate they came to this resolution, for a
storm was brewing, which in the eagerness of pursuit after game they
had not noticed. Dark masses of leaden-coloured clouds were gathering
in the sky overhead, and faint sighs of wind came, ever and anon, in
fitful gusts from the north-west.
Hurrying forward as quickly as possible, they now pursued their
course in a direction which would enable them to cross the
woodcutters' track. This they soon reached, and finding it pretty
well beaten, were enabled to make more rapid progress. Fortunately
the wind was blowing on their backs, otherwise they would have had to
contend not only with its violence, but also with the snow-drift,
which now whirled in bitter fury among the trees, or scoured like
driving clouds over the plain. Under this aspect, the flat country
over which they travelled seemed the perfection of bleak desolation.
Their way, however, did not lie in a direct line. The track was
somewhat tortuous, and gradually edged towards the north, until the
wind blew nearly in their teeth. At this point, too, they came to a
stretch of open ground which they had crossed at a point some miles
further to the northward in their night march. Here the storm raged
in all its fury, and as they looked out upon the plain, before
quitting the shelter of the wood, they paused to tighten their belts
and readjust their snow-shoe lines. The gale was so violent that the
whole plain seemed tossed about like billows of the sea, as the drift
rose and fell, curled, eddied, and dashed along, so that it was
impossible to see more than half-a-dozen yards in advance.
"Heaven preserve us from ever being caught in an exposed place on
such a night as this!" said the accountant, as he surveyed the
prospect before him. "Luckily the open country here is not more than
a quarter of a mile broad, and even that little bit will try our wind
Hamilton and Harry seemed by their looks to say, "We could easily
face even a stiffer breeze than that, if need be."
"What should we do," inquired the former, "if the plain were five or
six miles broad?"
"Do? why, we should have to camp in the woods till it blew over,
that's all," replied the accountant; "but seeing that we are not
reduced to such a necessity just now, and that the day is drawing to
a close, let us face it at once. I'll lead the way, and see that you
follow close at my heels. Don't lose sight of me for a moment, and if
you do by chance, give a shout; d'ye hear?"
The two lads replied in the affirmative, and then bracing themselves
up as if for a great effort, stepped vigorously out upon the plain,
and were instantly swallowed up in clouds of snow. For half-an-hour
or more they battled slowly against the howling storm, pressing
forward for some minutes with heads down, as if _boring_ through it,
then turning their backs to the blast for a few seconds' relief, but
always keeping as close to each other as possible. At length the
woods were gained; on entering which it was discovered that Hamilton
"Hollo! where's Hamilton?" exclaimed Harry; "I saw him beside me not
five minutes ago." The accountant gave a loud shout, but there was no
reply. Indeed, nothing short of his own stentorian voice could have
been heard at all amid the storm.
"There's nothing for it," said Harry, "but to search at once, else
he'll wander about and get lost." Saying this, he began to retrace
his steps, just as a brief lull in the gale took place.
"Hollo! don't you hear a cry, Harry?"
At this moment there was another lull; the drift fell, and for an
instant cleared away, revealing the bewildered Hamilton, not twenty
yards off, standing, like a pillar of snow, in mute despair.
Profiting by the glimpse, Harry rushed forward, caught him by the
arm, and led him into the partial shelter of the forest.
Nothing further befell them after this. Their route lay in shelter
all the way to the fort. Poor Hamilton, it is true, took one or two
of his occasional plunges by the way, but without any serious result--
not even to the extent of stuffing his nose, ears, neck, mittens,
pockets, gun-barrels, and everything else with snow, because, these
being quite full and hard packed already, there was no room left for
the addition of another particle.
The winter packet--Harry hears from old friends, and wishes that he
was with them.
Letters from home! What a burst of sudden emotion--what a riot of
conflicting feelings of dread and joy, expectation and anxiety--what
a flood of old memories--what stirring up of almost forgotten
associations these three words create in the hearts of those who
dwell in distant regions of this earth, far, far away from kith and
kin, from friends and acquaintances, from the much-loved scenes of
childhood, and from _home_! Letters from home! How gratefully the
sound falls upon ears that have been long unaccustomed to sounds and
things connected with home, and so long accustomed to wild, savage
sounds, that these have at length lost their novelty, and become
everyday and commonplace, while the first have gradually grown
strange and unwonted. For many long months home and all connected
with it have become a dream of other days, and savage-land a present
reality. The mind has by degrees become absorbed by surrounding
objects--objects so utterly unassociated with or unsuggestive of any
other land, that it involuntarily ceases to think of the scenes of
childhood with the same feelings that it once did. As time rolls on,
home assumes a misty, undefined character, as if it were not only
distant in reality, but were also slowly retreating further and
further away--growing gradually faint and dream-like, though not less
dear, to the mental view.
"Letters from home!" shouted Mr. Wilson, and the doctor, and the
skipper, simultaneously, as the sportsmen, after dashing through the
wild storm, at last reached the fort, and stumbled tumultuously into
"What!--Where!--How!--You don't mean it!" they exclaimed, coming to a
sudden stand, like three pillars of snow-clad astonishment.
"Ay," replied the doctor, who affected to be quite cool upon all
occasions, and rather cooler than usual if the occasion was more than
ordinarily exciting--"ay, we _do_ mean it. Old Rogan has got the
packet, and is even now disembowelling it."
"More than that," interrupted the skipper, who sat smoking as usual
by the stove, with his hands in his breeches pockets--"more than
that, I saw him dissecting into the very marrow of the thing; so if
we don't storm the old admiral in his cabin, he'll go to sleep over
these prosy yarns that the governor-in-chief writes to him, and we'll
have to whistle for our letters till midnight."
The skipper's remark was interrupted by the opening of the outer door
and the entrance of the butler. "Mr. Rogan wishes to see you, sir,"
said that worthy to the accountant.
"I'll be with him in a minute," he replied, as he threw off his
capote and proceeded to unwind himself as quickly as his
multitudinous haps would permit.
By this time Harry Somerville and Hamilton were busily occupied in a
similar manner, while a running fire of question and answer, jesting
remark and bantering reply, was kept up between the young men, from
their various apartments and the hall. The doctor was cool, as usual,
and impudent. He had a habit of walking up and down while he smoked,
and was thus enabled to look in upon the inmates of the several
sleeping-rooms, and make his remarks in a quiet, sarcastic manner,
the galling effect of which was heightened by his habit of pausing at
the end of every two or three words, to emit a few puffs of smoke.
Having exhausted a good deal of small talk in this way, and having,
moreover, finished his pipe, the doctor went to the stove to refill
"What a deal of trouble you do take to make yourself comfortable!"
said he to the skipper, who sat with his chair tilted on its hind
legs, and a pillow at his back.
"No harm in that, doctor," replied the skipper, with a smile.
"No harm, certainly, but it looks uncommonly lazy-like."
"Why, putting a pillow at your back, to be sure."
The doctor was a full-fleshed, muscular man, and owing to this fact
it mattered little to him whether his chair happened to be an easy
one or not. As the skipper sometimes remarked, he carried padding
always about with him; he was, therefore, a little apt to sneer at
the attempts of his brethren to render the ill-shaped, wooden-
bottomed chairs, with which the hall was ornamented, bearable.
"Well, doctor," said the skipper, "I cannot see how you make me out
lazy. Surely it is not an evidence of laziness, my endeavouring to
render these instruments of torture less tormenting? Seeking to be
comfortable, if it does not inconvenience anyone else, is not
laziness. Why, what _is_ comfort?" The skipper began to wax
philosophical at this point, and took the pipe from his mouth as he
gravely propounded the momentous question. "What _is_ comfort? If I
go out to camp in the woods, and after turning in find a sharp stump
sticking into my ribs on one side, and a pine root driving in the
small of my back on the other side, is _that_ comfort? Certainly not.
And if I get up, seize a hatchet, level the stump, cut away the root,
and spread pine brush over the place, am I to be called lazy for
doing so? Or if I sit down on a chair, and on trying to lean back to
rest myself find that the stupid lubber who made it has so
constructed it that four small hard points alone touch my person--two
being at the hip-joints and two at the shoulder-blades; and if to
relieve such physical agony I jump up and clap a pillow at my back,
am I to be called lazy for doing _that_?"
"What a glorious entry that would make in the log!" said the doctor,
in a low tone, soliloquizingly, as if he made the remark merely for
his own satisfaction, while he tapped the ashes out of his pipe.
The skipper looked as if he meditated a sharp reply; but his
intentions, whatever they might have been, were interrupted by the
opening of the door, and the entrance of the accountant, bearing
under his arm a packet of letters.
A general rush was made upon him, and in a few minutes a dead silence
reigned in the hall, broken only at intervals by an exclamation of
surprise or pathos, as the inmates, in the retirement of their
separate apartments, perused letters from friends in the interior of
the country and friends at home: letters that were old--some of them
bearing dates many months back--and travel-stained, but new and fresh
and cheering, nevertheless, to their owners, as the clear bright sun
in winter or the verdant leaves in spring.
Harry Somerville's letters were numerous and long. He had several
from friends in Red River, besides one or two from other parts of the
Indian country, and one--it was very thick and heavy--that bore the
post-marks of Britain. It was late that night ere the last candle was
extinguished in the hall, and it was late too before Harry Somerville
ceased to peruse and re-peruse the long letter from home, and found
time or inclination to devote to his other correspondents. Among the
rest was a letter from his old friend and companion, Charley Kennedy,
which ran as follows:--
MY DEAR HARRY,--It really seems more than an age since I saw you.
Your last epistle, written in the perturbation of mind consequent
upon being doomed to spend another winter at York Fort, reached me
only a few days ago, and filled me with pleasant recollections of
other days. Oh! man, how much I wish that you were with me in this
beautiful country! You are aware that I have been what they call
"roughing it" since you and I parted on the shores of Lake Winnipeg;
but, my dear fellow, the idea that most people have of what that
phrase means is a very erroneous one indeed. "Roughing it," I
certainly have been, inasmuch as I have been living on rough fare,
associating with rough men, and sleeping on rough beds under the
starry sky; but I assure you that all this is not half so rough upon
the constitution as what they call leading an _easy life_, which is
simply a life that makes a poor fellow stagnate, body and spirit,
till the one comes to be unable to digest its food, and the other
incompetent to jump at so much as half an idea. Anything but an easy
life, to my mind. Ah! there's nothing like roughing it, Harry, my
boy. Why, I am thriving on it--growing like a young walrus, eating
like a Canadian voyageur, and sleeping like a top! This is a splendid
country for sport, and as our _bourgeois_ [Footnote: The gentleman in
charge of an establishment is always designated the bourgeois.] has
taken it into his head that I am a good hand at making friends with
the Indians, he has sent me out on several expeditions, and afforded
me some famous opportunities of seeing life among the red-skins.
There is a talk just now of establishing a new outpost in this
district, so if I succeed in persuading the governor to let me
accompany the party, I shall have something interesting to write
about in my next letter. By the way, I wrote to you a month ago, by
two Indians who said they were going to the missionary station at
Norway House. Did you ever get it? There is a hunter here just now
who goes by the name of Jacques Caradoc. He is a first-rater--can do
anything, in a wild way, that lies within the power of mortal man,
and is an inexhaustible anecdote-teller, in a quiet way. He and I
have been out buffalo-hunting two or three times, and it would have
done your heart good, Harry, my dear boy, to have seen us scouring
over the prairie together on two big-boned Indian horses--regular
trained buffalo-runners, that didn't need the spur to urge, nor the
rein to guide them, when once they caught sight of the black cattle,
and kept a sharp look-out for badger-holes, just as if they had been
reasonable creatures. The first time I went out I had several rather
ugly falls, owing to my inexperience. The fact is, that if a man has
never run buffaloes before, he's sure to get one or two upsets, no
matter how good a horseman he may be. And that monster Jacques,
although he's the best fellow I ever met with for a hunting
companion, always took occasion to grin at my mishaps, and gravely to
read me a lecture to the effect that they were all owing to my own
clumsiness or stupidity; which, you will acknowledge, was not
calculated to restore my equanimity.
The very first run we had cost me the entire skin of my nose, and
converted that feature into a superb Roman for the next three weeks.
It happened thus. Jacques and I were riding over the prairies in
search of buffaloes. The place was interspersed with sundry knolls
covered with trees, slips and belts of woodland, with ponds scattered
among them, and open sweeps of the plain here and there; altogether a
delightful country to ride through. It was a clear early morning, so
that our horses were fresh and full of spirit. They knew, as well as
we ourselves did, what we were out for, and it was no easy matter to
restrain them. The one I rode was a great long-legged beast, as like
as possible to that abominable kangaroo that nearly killed me at Red
River; as for Jacques, he was mounted on a first-rate charger. I
don't know how it is, but somehow or other everything about Jacques,
or belonging to him, or in the remotest degree connected with him, is
always first-rate! He generally owns a first-rate horse, and if he
happens by any unlucky chance to be compelled to mount a bad one, it
immediately becomes another animal. He seems to infuse some of his
own wonderful spirit into it! Well, as Jacques and I curvetted along,
skirting the low bushes at the edge of a wood, out burst a whole herd
of buffaloes. Bang went Jacques's gun, almost before I had winked to
make sure that I saw rightly, and down fell the fattest of them all,
while the rest tossed up their tails, heels, and heads in one grand
whirl of indignant amazement, and scoured away like the wind. In a
moment our horses were at full stretch after them, on their _own_
account entirely, and without any reference to _us_. When I recovered
my self-possession a little, I threw forward my gun and fired; but
owing to my endeavouring to hold the reins at the same time, I nearly
blew off one of my horse's ears, and only knocked up the dust about
six yards ahead of us! Of course Jacques could not let this pass
unnoticed. He was sitting quietly loading his gun, as cool as a
cucumber, while his horse was dashing forward at full stretch, with
the reins hanging loosely on his neck.
"Ah, Mister Charles," said he, with the least possible grin on his
leathern visage, "that was not well done. You should never hold the
reins when you fire, nor try to put the gun to your shoulder. It
a'n't needful. The beast'll look arter itself, if it's a riglar
buffalo-runner; any ways holdin' the reins is of no manner of use. I
once know'd a gentleman that came out here to see the buffalo-
huntin'. He was a good enough shot in his way, an' a first-rate
rider. But he was full o' queer notions: he _would_ load his gun with
the ramrod in the riglar way, instead o' doin' as we do, tumblin' in
a drop powder, spittin' a ball out your mouth down the muzzle, and
hittin' the stock on the pommel of the saddle to send it home. And he
had them miserable things--the _somethin'_ 'cussion-caps, and used to
fiddle away with them while we were knockin' over the cattle in all
directions. Moreover, he had a notion that it was altogether wrong to
let go his reins even for a moment, and so, what between the ramrod
and the 'cussion-caps and the reins, he was worse than the greenest
clerk that ever came to the country. He gave it up in despair at
last, after lamin' two horses, and finished off by runnin' after a
big bull, that turned on him all of a suddent, crammed its head and
horns into the side of his horse, and sent the poor fellow head over
heels on the green grass. He wasn't much the worse for it, but his
fine double-barrelled gun was twisted into a shape that would almost
have puzzled an Injin to tell what it was." Well, Harry, all the time
that Jacques was telling me this we were gaining on the buffaloes,
and at last we got quite close to them, and as luck would have it,
the very thing that happened to the amateur sportsman happened to me.
I went madly after a big bull in spite of Jacques's remonstrances,
and just as I got alongside of him up went his tail (a sure sign that
his anger was roused), and round he came, head to the front, stiff as
a rock; my poor charger's chest went right between his horns, and, as
a matter of course, I continued the race upon _nothing_, head first,
for a distance of about thirty yards, and brought up on the bridge of
my nose. My poor dear father used to say I was a bull-headed rascal,
and, upon my word, I believe he was more literally correct than he
imagined; for although I fell with a fearful crash, head first, on
the hard plain, I rose up immediately, and in a few minutes was able
to resume the chase again. My horse was equally fortunate, for
although thus brought to a sudden stand while at full gallop, he
wheeled about, gave a contemptuous flourish with his heels, and
cantered after Jacques, who soon caught him again. My head bothered
me a good deal for some time after this accident, and swelled up till
my eyes became almost undistinguishable; but a few weeks put me all
right again. And who do you think this man Jacques is? You'd never
guess. He's the trapper whom Redfeather told us of long ago, and
whose wife was killed by the Indians. He and Redfeather have met, and
are very fond of each other. How often in the midst of these wild
excursions have my thoughts wandered to you, Harry! The fellows I
meet with here are all kind-hearted, merry companions, but none like
yourself. I sometimes say to Jacques, when we become communicative to
each other beside the camp-fire, that my earthly felicity would be
perfect if I had Harry Somerville here; and then I think of Kate, my
sweet, loving sister Kate, and feel that, even although I had you
with me, there would still be something wanting to make things
perfect. Talking of Kate, by the way, I have received a letter from
her, the first sheet of which, as it speaks of mutual Red River
friends, I herewith enclose. Pray keep it safe, and return per first
opportunity. We've loads of furs here and plenty of deerstalking, not
to mention galloping on horseback on the plains in summer and dog-
sledging in the winter. Alas! my poor friend, I fear that it is
rather selfish in me to write so feelingly about my agreeable
circumstances, when I know you are slowly dragging out your existence
at that melancholy place York Fort; but believe me, I sympathize with
you, and I hope earnestly that you will soon be appointed to more
genial scenes. I have much, very much, to tell you yet, but am
compelled to reserve it for a future epistle, as the packet which is
to convey this is on the point of being closed.
Adieu, my dear Harry, and wherever you may happen to pitch your tent,
always bear in kindly remembrance your old friend, CHARLES
The letter was finished, but Harry did not cease to hold intercourse
with his friend. With his head resting on his two hands, and his
elbows on the table, he sat long, silently gazing on the signature,
while his mind revelled in the past, the present, and the future. He
bounded over the wilderness that lay between him and the beautiful
plains of the Saskatchewan. He seized Charley round the neck, and
hugged and wrestled with him as in days of yore. He mounted an
imaginary charger, and swept across the plains along with him;
listened to anecdotes innumerable from Jacques, attacked thousands of
buffaloes, singled out scores of wild bulls, pitched over horses'
heads and alighted precisely on the bridge of his nose, always in
close proximity to his old friend. Gradually his mind returned to its
prison-house, and his eye fell on Kate's letter, which he picked up
and began to read. It ran thus:--
MY DEAR, DEAR, DARLING CHARLEY,--I cannot tell you how much my heart
has yearned to see you, or hear from you, for many long, long months
past. Your last delightful letter, which I treasure up as the most
precious object I possess, has indeed explained to me how utterly
impossible it was to have written a day sooner than you did; but that
does not comfort me a bit, or make those weary packets more rapid and
frequent in their movements, or the time that passes between the
periods of hearing from you less dreary and anxious. God bless and
protect you, my darling, in the midst of all the dangers that
surround you. But I did not intend to begin this letter by murmuring,
so pray forgive me, and I shall try to atone for it by giving you a
minute account of everybody here about whom you are interested. Our
beloved father and mother, I am thankful to say, are quite well. Papa
has taken more than ever to smoking since you went away. He is seldom
out of the summer-house in the garden now, where I very frequently
go, and spend hours together in reading to and talking with him. He
very often speaks of you, and I am certain that he misses you far
more than we expected, although I think he cannot miss you nearly so
much as I do. For some weeks past, indeed ever since we got your last
letter, papa was engaged all the forenoon in some mysterious work,
for he used to lock himself up in the summer-house--a thing he never
did before. One day I went there at my usual time and instead of
having to wait till he should unlock the door, I found it already
open, and entered the room, which was so full of smoke that I could
hardly see. I found papa writing at a small table, and the moment he
heard my footstep he jumped up with a fierce frown, and shouted,
"Who's there?" in that terrible voice that he used to speak in long
ago when angry with his men, but which he has almost quite given up
for some time past. He never speaks to me, as you know very well, but
in the kindest tones, so you may imagine what a dreadful fright I got
for a moment; but it was only for a moment, because the instant he
saw that it was me his dear face changed, and he folded me in his
arms, saying, "Ah, Kate, forgive me, my darling! I did not know it
was you, and I thought I had locked the door, and was angry at being
so unceremoniously interrupted." He then told me he was just
finishing a letter of advice to you, and going up to the table,
pushed the papers hurriedly into a drawer. As he did so, I guessed
what had been his mysterious occupation, for he seemed to have
covered _quires_ of paper with the closest writing. Ah, Charley,
you're a lucky fellow to be able to extort such long letters from our
dear father. You know how difficult he finds it to write even the
shortest note, and you remember his old favourite expression, "I
would rather skin a wild buffalo bull alive than write a long
letter." He deserves long ones in return, Charley; but I need not
urge you on that score--you are an excellent correspondent. Mamma is
able to go out every day now for a drive in the prairie. She was
confined to the house for nearly three weeks last month, with some
sort of illness that the doctor did not seem to understand, and at
one time I was much frightened, and very, very anxious about her, she
became so weak. It would have made your heart glad to have seen the
tender way in which papa nursed her through the illness. I had
fancied that he was the very last man in the world to make a sick-
nurse, so bold and quick in his movements, and with such a loud,
gruff voice--for it _is_ gruff, although very sweet at the same time.
But the moment he began to tend mamma he spoke more softly even than
dear Mr. Addison does, and he began to walk about the house on
tiptoe, and persevered so long in this latter that all his moccasins
began to be worn out at the toes, while the heels remained quite
strong. I begged of him often not to take so much trouble, as _I_ was
naturally the proper nurse for mamma; but he wouldn't hear of it, and
insisted on carrying breakfast, dinner, and tea to her, besides
giving her all her medicine. He was for ever making mistakes,
however, much to his own sorrow, the darling man; and I had to watch
him pretty closely, for more than once he has been on the point of
giving mamma a glass of laudanum in mistake for a glass of port wine.
I was a good deal frightened for him at first, as, before he became
accustomed to the work, he tumbled over the chairs and tripped on the
carpets while carrying trays with dinners and breakfasts, till I
thought he would really injure himself at last, and then he was so
terribly angry with himself at making such a noise and breaking the
dishes--I think he has broken nearly an entire dinner and tea set of
crockery. Poor George, the cook, has suffered most from these
mishaps--for you know that dear papa cannot get angry without letting
a _little_ of it out upon somebody; and whenever he broke a dish or
let a tray fall, he used to rush into the kitchen, shake his fist in
George's face, and ask him, in a fierce voice, what he meant by it.
But he always got better in a few seconds, and finished off by
telling him never to mind, that he was a good servant on the whole,
and he wouldn't say any more about it just now, but he had better
look sharp out and not do it again. I must say, in praise of George,
that on such occasions he looked very sorry indeed, and said he hoped
that he would always do his best to give him satisfaction. This was
only proper in him, for he ought to be very thankful that our father
restrains his anger so much; for you know he was rather violent
_once_, and you've no idea, Charley, how great a restraint he now
lays on himself. He seems to me quite like a lamb, and I am beginning
to feel somehow as if we had been mistaken, and that he never was a
passionate man at all. I think it is partly owing to dear Mr.
Addison, who visits us very frequently now, and papa and he are often
shut up together for many hours in the smoking-house. I was sure that
papa would soon come to like him, for his religion is so free from
everything like severity or affected solemnity. The cook, and Rosa,
and my dog that you named Twist, are all quite well. The last has
grown into a very large and beautiful animal, something like the
stag-hound in the picture-book we used to study together long ago. He
is exceedingly fond of me, and I feel him to be quite a protector.
The cocks and hens, the cow and the old mare, are also in perfect
health; so now, having told you a good deal about ourselves, i will
give you a short account of the doings in the colony.
First of all, your old friend Mr. Kipples is still alive and well,
and so are all our old companions in the school. One or two of the
latter have left, and young Naysmith has joined the Company's
service. Betty Peters comes very often to see us, and she always asks
for you with great earnestness. I think you have stolen the old
woman's heart, Charley, for she speaks of you with great affection.
Old Mr. Seaforth is still as vigorous as ever, dashing about the
settlement on a high-mettled steed, just as if he were one of the
youngest men in the colony. He nearly poisoned himself, poor man, a
month ago, by taking a dose of some kind of medicine by mistake. I
did not hear what it was, but I am told that the treatment was rather
severe. Fortunately the doctor happened to be at home when he was
sent for, else our old friend would, I fear, have died. As it was,
the doctor cured him with great difficulty. He first gave him an
emetic, then put mustard blisters to the soles of his feet, and
afterwards lifted him into one of his own carts, without springs, in
which he drove him for a long time over all the ploughed fields in
the neighbourhood. If this is not an exaggerated account, Mr.
Seaforth is certainly made of sterner stuff than most men. I was told
a funny anecdote of him a few days ago, which I am sure you have
never heard, otherwise you would have told it to me, for there used
to be no secrets between us, Charley--alas! I have no one to confide
in or advise with now that you are gone. You have often heard of the
great flood; not Noah's one, but the flood that nearly swept away our
settlement and did so much damage before you and I were born. Well,
you recollect that people used to tell of the way in which the river
rose after the breaking up of the ice, and how it soon overflowed all
the low points, sweeping off everything in its course. Old Mr.
Seaforth's house stood at that time on the little point, just beyond
the curve of the river, at the foot of which our own house stands,
and as the river continued to rise, Mr. Seaforth went about actively
securing his property. At first he only thought of his boat and
canoes, which, with the help of his son Peter and a Canadian, who
happened at the time to be employed about the place, he dragged up
and secured to an iron staple in the side of his house. Soon,
however, he found that the danger was greater than at first he
imagined. The point became completely covered with water, which
brought down great numbers of _half_-drowned and _quite_-drowned
cattle, pigs, and poultry, and stranded them at the garden fence, so
that in a short time poor Mr. Seaforth could scarcely move about his
overcrowded domains. On seeing this, he drove his own cattle to the
highest land in his neighbourhood and hastened back to the house,
intending to carry as much of the furniture as possible to the same
place. But during his short absence the river had risen so rapidly
that he was obliged to give up all thoughts of this, and think only
of securing a few of his valuables. The bit of land round his
dwelling was so thickly covered with the poor cows, sheep, and other
animals, that he could scarcely make his way to the house, and you
may fancy his consternation on reaching it to find that the water was
more than knee-deep round the walls, while a few of the cows and a
whole herd of pigs had burst open the door (no doubt accidentally)
and coolly entered the dining-room, where they stood with drooping
heads, very wet, and apparently very miserable. The Canadian was busy
at the back of the house, loading the boat and canoe with everything
he could lay hands on, and was not aware of the foreign invasion in
front. Mr. Seaforth cared little for this, however, and began to
collect all the things he held most valuable, and threw them to the
man, who stowed them away in the boat. Peter had been left in charge
of the cattle, so they had to work hard. While thus employed the
water continued to rise with fearful rapidity, and rushed against the
house like a mill-race, so that it soon became evident that the whole
would ere long be swept away. Just as they finished loading the boat
and canoes, the staple which held them gave way; in a moment they
were swept into the middle of the river, and carried out of sight.
The Canadian was in the boat at the time the staple broke, so that
Mr. Seaforth was now left in a dwelling that bid fair to emulate
Noah's ark in an hour or two, without a chance of escape, and with no
better company than five black oxen, in the dining-room, besides
three sheep that were now scarcely able to keep their heads above
water, and three little pigs that were already drowned. The poor old
man did his best to push out the intruders, but only succeeded in
ejecting two sheep and an ox. All the others positively refused to
go, so he was fain to let them stay. By shutting the outer door he
succeeded in keeping out a great deal of water. Then he waded into
the parlour, where he found some more little pigs, floating about and
quite dead. Two, however, more adventurous than their comrades, had
saved their lives by mounting first on a chair and then upon the
table, where they were comfortably seated, gazing languidly at their
mother, a very heavy fat sow, which sat, with what seemed an
expression of settled despair, on the sofa. In a fit of wrath, Mr.
Seaforth seized the young pigs and tossed them out of the window;
whereupon the old one jumped down, and half-walking, half-swimming,
made her way to her companions in the dining-room. The old gentleman
now ascended to the garret, where from a small window he looked out
upon the scene of devastation. His chief anxiety was about the
foundation of the house, which, being made of a wooden framework,
like almost all the others in the colony, would certainly float if
the water rose much higher. His fears were better founded than the
house. As he looked up the river, which had by this time overflowed
all its banks, and was spreading over the plains, he saw a fresh
burst of water coming down, which, when it dashed against his
dwelling, forced it about two yards from its foundation. Suddenly he
remembered that there were a large anchor and chain in the kitchen,
both of which he had brought there one day, to serve as a sort of
anvil when he wanted to do some blacksmith work. Hastening down, he
fastened one end of the chain to the sofa, and cast the anchor out of
the window. A few minutes afterwards another rush of water struck the
building, which yielded to pressure, and swung slowly down until the
anchor arrested its further progress. This was only for a few
seconds, however. The chain was a slight one. It snapped, and the
house swept majestically down the stream, while its terrified owner
scrambled to the roof, which he found already in possession of his
favourite cat. Here he had a clear view of his situation. The plains
were converted into a lake, above whose surface rose trees and
houses, several of which, like his own, were floating on the stream
or stranded among shallows. Settlers were rowing about in boats and
canoes in all directions, but although some of them noticed the poor
man sitting beside his cat on the housetop, they were either too far
off or had no time to render him assistance.
For two days nothing was heard of old Mr. Seaforth. Indeed, the
settlers had too much to do in saving themselves and their families
to think of others; and it was not until the third day that people
began to inquire about him. His son Peter had taken a canoe and made
diligent search in all directions, but although he found the house
sticking on a shallow point, neither his father nor the cat was on or
in it. At last he was brought to the island, on which nearly half the
colony had collected, by an Indian who had passed the house, and
brought him away in his canoe, along with the old cat. Is he not a
wonderful man, to have come through so much in his old age? and he is
still so active and hearty! Mr. Swan of the mill is dead. He died of
fever last week. Poor old Mr. Cordon is also gone. His end was very
sad. About a month ago he ordered his horse and rode off, intending
to visit Fort Garry. At the turn of the road, just above Grant's
house, the horse suddenly swerved, and its rider was thrown to the
ground. He did not live more than half-an-hour after it. Alas! how
very sad to see a man, after escaping all the countless dangers of a
long life in the woods (and his, you know, was a very adventurous
one), thus cut violently down in his old age. O Charley, how little
we know what is before us! How needful to have our peace made with
God through Jesus Christ, so that we may be ready at any moment when
our Father calls us away. There are many events of great interest
that have occurred here since you left. You will be glad to hear the
Jane Patterson is married to our excellent friend Mr. Cameron, who
has taken up a store near to us, and intends to run a boat to York
Fort next summer. There has been another marriage here which will
cause you astonishment at least, if not pleasure. Old Mr. Peters has
married Marie Peltier! What _could_ have possessed her to take such a
husband? I cannot understand it. Just think of her, Charley, a girl
of eighteen, with a husband of seventy-five!--
* * * * * * *
At this point the writing, which was very close and very small,
terminated. Harry laid it down with a deep sigh, wishing much that
Charley had thought it advisable to send him the second sheet also.
As wishes and regrets on this point were equally unavailing, he
endeavoured to continue it in imagination, and was soon as deeply
absorbed in following Kate through the well-remembered scenes of Red
River as he had been, a short time before, in roaming with her
brother over the wide prairies of Saskatchewan. The increasing cold,
however soon warned him that the night was far spent. He rose and
went to the stove; but the fire had gone out, and the almost
irresistible frost of these regions was already cooling everything in
Bachelors' Hall down to the freezing-point. All his companions had
put out their candles, and were busy, doubtless, dreaming of the
friends whose letters had struck and reawakened the long-dormant
chords that used to echo to the tones and scenes of other days. With
a slight shiver, Harry returned to his apartment, and kneeled to
thank God for protecting and preserving his absent friends, and
especially for sending him "good news from a far land." The letter
with the British post-marks on it was placed under his pillow. It
occupied his waking and sleeping thoughts that night, and it was the
first thing he thought of and reread on the following morning, and
for many mornings afterwards. Only those can fully estimate the value
of such letters who live in distant lands, where letters are few--
very, very few--and far between.
Changes--Harry and Hamilton find that variety is indeed charming--The
latter astonishes the former considerably.
Three months passed away, but the snow still lay deep and white and
undiminished around York Fort. Winter--cold, silent, unyielding
winter--still drew its white mantle closely round the lonely dwelling
of the fur-traders of the Far North.
Icicles hung, as they had done for months before, from the eaves of
every house, from the tall black scaffold on which the great bell
hung, and from the still taller erection that had been put up as an
outlook for "_the ship_" in summer. At the present time it commanded
a bleak view of the frozen sea. Snow covered every housetop, and hung
in ponderous masses from their edges, as if it were about to fall;
but it never fell--it hung there in the same position day after day,
unmelted, unchanged. Snow covered the whole land, and the frozen
river, the swamps, the sea-beach, and the sea itself, as far as the
eye could reach, seemed like a pure white carpet. Snow lined the
upper edge of every paling, filled up the key-hole of every door,
embanked about half of every window, stuck in little knobs on the top
of every picket, and clung in masses on every drooping branch of the
pine trees in the forest. Frost--sharp, biting frost--solidified,
surrounded, and pervaded everything. Mercury was congealed by it;
vapour was condensed by it; iron was cooled by it until it could
scarcely be touched without (as the men expressed it) "burning" the
fingers. The water-jugs in Bachelors' Hall and the water-buckets were
frozen by it, nearly to the bottom; though there was a good stove
there, and the Hall was not _usually_ a cold place by any means. The
breath of the inhabitants was congealed by it on the window-panes,
until they had become coated with ice an inch thick. The breath of
the men was rendered white and opaque by it, as they panted and
hurried to and fro about their ordinary avocations; beating their
gloved hands together, and stamping their well-wrapped-up feet on the
hard-beaten snow to keep them warm. Old Bobin's nose seemed to be
entirely shrivelled up into his face by it, as he drove his ox-cart
to the river to fetch his daily supply of water. The only things that
were not affected by it were the fires, which crackled and roared as
if in laughter, and twisted and leaped as if in uncontrollable glee
at the bare idea of John Frost acquiring, by any artifice whatever,
the smallest possible influence over _them_! Three months had
elapsed, but frost and snow, instead of abating, had gone on
increasing and intensifying, deepening and extending its work, and
riveting its chains. Winter--cold, silent, unyielding winter--still
reigned at York Fort, as though it had made it a _sine qua non_ of
its existence at all that it should reign there for ever!
But although everything was thus wintry and cold, it was by no means
cheerless or dreary. A bright sun shone in the blue heavens with an
intenseness of brilliancy that was quite dazzling to the eyes, that
elated the spirits, and caused man and beast to tread with a more
elastic step than usual. Although the sun looked down upon the scene
with an unclouded face, and found a mirror in every icicle and in
every gem of hoar-frost with which the objects of nature were loaded,
there was, however, no perceptible heat in his rays. They fell on the
white earth with all the brightness of midsummer, but they fell
powerless as moonbeams in the dead of winter.
On the frozen river, just in front of the gate of the fort, a group
of men and dogs were assembled. The dogs were four in number,
harnessed to a small flat sledge of the slender kind used by Indians
to drag their furs and provisions over the snow. The group of men was
composed of Mr. Rogan and the inmates of Bachelors' Hall, one or two
men who happened to be engaged there at the time in cutting a new
water-hole in the ice, and an Indian, who, to judge from his
carefully-adjusted costume, the snow-shoes on his feet, and the short
whip in his hand, was the driver of the sledge, and was about to
start on a journey. Harry Somerville and young Hamilton were also
wrapped up more carefully than usual.
"Good-bye, then, good-bye," said Mr. Rogan, advancing towards the
Indian, who stood beside the leading dog, ready to start. "Take care
of our young friends; they've not had much experience in travelling
yet; and don't over drive your dogs. Treat them well, and they'll do
more work. They're like men in that respect." Mr. Rogan shook the
Indian by the hand, and the latter immediately flourished the whip
and gave a shout, which the dogs no sooner heard than they uttered a
simultaneous yell, sprang forward with a jerk, and scampered up the
river, closely followed by their dark-skinned driver.
"Now, lads, farewell," said the old gentleman, turning with a kindly
smile to our two friends, who were shaking hands for the last time
with their comrades. "I'm sorry you're going to leave us, my boys.
You've done your duty well while here, and I would willingly have
kept you a little longer with me, but our governor wills it
otherwise. However, I trust that you'll be happy wherever you may be
sent. Don't forget to write to me. God bless you. Farewell."
Mr. Rogan shook them heartily by the hand, turned short round, and
walked slowly up to his house, with an expression of sadness on his
mild face; while Harry and Hamilton, having once more waved farewell
to their friends, marched up the river side by side in silence. They
followed the track left by the dog-sledge, which guided them with
unerring certainty, although their Indian leader and his team were
out of sight in advance.
A week previous to this time an Indian arrived from the interior,
bearing a letter from headquarters, which directed that Messrs.
Somerville and Hamilton should be forthwith despatched on snow-shoes
to Norway House. As this establishment is about three hundred miles
from the sea-coast, the order involved a journey of nearly two weeks'
duration through a country that was utterly destitute of inhabitants.
On receiving a command from Mr. Rogan to prepare for an early start,
Harry retired precipitately to his own room, and there, after cutting
unheard of capers, and giving vent to sudden, incomprehensible
shouts, all indicative of the highest state of delight, he
condescended to tell his companions of his good fortune, and set
about preparations without delay. Hamilton, on the contrary, gave his
usual quiet smile on being informed of his destination, and returning
somewhat pensively to Bachelors' Hall, proceeded leisurely to make
the necessary arrangements for departure. As the time drew on,
however, a perpetual flush on his countenance, and an unusual
brilliancy about his eye, showed that he was not quite insensible to
the pleasures of a change, and relished the idea more than he got
credit for. The Indian who had brought the letter was ordered to hold
himself in readiness to retrace his steps, and conduct the young men
through the woods to Norway House, where they were to await further
orders. A few days later the three travellers, as already related,
set out on their journey.
After walking a mile up the river, they passed a point of land which
shut out the fort from view. Here they paused to take a last look,
and then pressed forward in silence, the thoughts of each being busy
with mingled recollections of their late home and anticipations of
the future. After an hour's sharp walking they came in sight of the
guide, and slackened their pace.
"Well, Hamilton," said Harry, throwing off his reverie with a deep
sigh, "are you glad to leave York Fort, or sorry?"
"Glad, undoubtedly," replied Hamilton, "but sorry to part from our
old companions there. I had no idea, Harry, that I loved them all so
much. I feel as if I should be glad were the order for us to leave
them countermanded even now."
"That's the very thought," said Harry, "that was passing through my
own brain when I spoke to you. Yet somehow I think I should feel
uncommonly sorry after all if we were really sent back. There's a
queer contradiction, Hammy: we're sorry and happy at the same time!
If I were the skipper now, I would found a philosophical argument
"Which the skipper would carry on with untiring vigour," said
Hamilton, smiling, "and afterwards make an entry of in his log. But I
think, Harry, that to feel the emotion of sorrow and joy at the same
time is not such a contradiction as it at first appears."
"Perhaps not," replied Harry; "but it seems very contradictory to
_me_, and yet it's an evident fact, for I'm _very_ sorry to leave
_them_, and I'm _very_ happy to have you for my companion here."
"So am I, so am I," said the other heartily. "I would rather travel
with you, Harry, than with any of our late companions, although I
like them all very much."
The two friends had grown, almost imperceptibly, in each other's
esteem during their residence under the same roof, more than either
of them would have believed possible. The gay, reckless hilarity of
the one did not at first accord with the quiet gravity and, as his
comrades styled it, _softness_ of the other. But character is
frequently misjudged at first sight, and sometimes men who on a first
acquaintance have felt repelled from each other have, on coming to
know each other better, discovered traits and good qualities that ere
long formed enduring bonds of sympathy, and have learned to love
those whom at first they felt disposed to dislike or despise. Thus
Harry soon came to know that what he at first thought and, along with
his companions, called softness in Hamilton in reality gentleness of
disposition and thorough good-nature, united in one who happened to
be utterly unacquainted with the _knowing_ ways of this peculiarly
sharp and clever world, while in the course of time new qualities
showed themselves in a quiet, unobtrusive way that won upon his
affections and raised his esteem. On the other hand, Hamilton found
that although Harry was volatile, and possessed of an irresistible
tendency to fun and mischief, he never by any chance gave way to
anger, or allowed malice to enter into his practical jokes. Indeed,
he often observed him to restrain his natural tendencies when they
were at all likely to give pain, though Harry never dreamed that such
efforts were known to any one but himself. Besides this, Harry was
peculiarly _unselfish_, and when a man is possessed of this
inestimable disposition, he is, not _quite_ but _very nearly_,
After another pause, during which the party had left the open river
and directed their course through the woods, where the depth of the
snow obliged them to tread in each other's footsteps, Harry resumed
"You have not yet told me, by-the-by, what old Mr. Rogan said to you
just before we started. Did he give you any hint as to where you
might be sent to after reaching Norway House?"
"No; he merely said he knew that clerks were wanted both for
Mackenzie River and the Saskatchewan districts, but he did not know
which I was destined for."
"Hum! exactly what he said to me, with the slight addition that he
strongly suspected that Mackenzie River would be my doom. Are you
aware, Hammy my boy, that the Saskatchewan district is a sort of
terrestrial paradise, and Mackenzie River equivalent to Botany Bay?"
"I have heard as much during our conversations in Bachelors' Hall,
but--Stop a bit, Harry; these snow-shoe lines of mine have got
loosened with tearing through this deep snow and these shockingly
thick bushes. There--they are right now; go on. I was going to say
that I don't--oh!"
This last exclamation was elicited from Hamilton by a sharp blow
caused by a branch which, catching on part of Harry's dress as he
plodded on in front, suddenly rebounded and struck him across the
face. This is of common occurrence in travelling through the woods,
especially to those who from inexperience walk too closely on the
heels of their companions.
"What's wrong now, Hammy?" inquired his friend, looking over his
"Oh, nothing worth mentioning--rather a sharp blow from a branch,
"Well, proceed; you've interrupted yourself twice in what you were
going to say. Perhaps it'll come out if you try it a third time."
"I was merely going to say that I don't much care where I am sent to,
so long as it is not to an outpost where I shall be all alone."
"All very well, my friend; but seeing that outposts are, in
comparison with principal forts, about a hundred to one, your chance
of avoiding them is rather slight. However, our youth and want of
experience is in our favour, as they like to send men who have seen
some service to outposts. But I fear that, with such brilliant
characters as you and I, Hammy, youth will only be an additional
recommendation, and inexperience won't last long.--Hollo! what's
going on yonder?"
Harry pointed as he spoke to an open spot in the woods about a
quarter of a mile in advance, where a dark object was seen lying on
the snow, writhing about, now coiling into a lump, and anon extending
itself like a huge snake in agony.
As the two friends looked, a prolonged howl floated towards them.
"Something wrong with the dogs, I declare!" cried Harry.
"No doubt of it," replied his friend, hurrying forward, as they saw
their Indian guide rise from the ground and flourish his whip
energetically, while the howls rapidly increased.
A few minutes brought them to the scene of action, where they found
the dogs engaged in a fight among themselves, and the driver, in a
state of vehement passion, alternately belabouring and trying to
separate them. Dogs in these regions, like the dogs of all other
regions, we suppose, are very much addicted to fighting--a propensity
which becomes extremely unpleasant if indulged while the animals are
in harness, as they then become peculiarly savage, probably from
their being unable, like an ill-assorted pair in wedlock, to cut or
break the ties that bind them. Moreover, they twist the traces into
such an ingeniously complicated mass that it renders disentanglement
almost impossible, even after exhaustion has reduced them to
obedience. Besides this, they are so absorbed in worrying each other
that for the time they are utterly regardless of their driver's lash
or voice. This naturally makes the driver angry, and sometimes
irascible men practise shameful cruelties on the poor dogs. When the
two friends came up they found the Indian glaring at the animals, as
they fought and writhed in the snow, with every lineament of his
swarthy face distorted with passion, and panting from his late
exertions. Suddenly he threw himself on the dogs again, and lashed
them furiously with the whip. Finding that this had no effect, he
twined the lash round his hand, and struck them violently over their
heads and snouts with the handle; then falling down on his knees, he
caught the most savage of the animals by the throat, and seizing its
nose between his teeth almost bit it off. The appalling yell that
followed this cruel act seemed to subdue the dogs, for they ceased to
fight, and crouched, whining, in the snow.
With a bound like a tiger young Hamilton sprang upon the guide, and
seizing him by the throat, hurled him violently to the ground.
"Scoundrel!" he cried, standing over the crestfallen Indian with
flushed face and flashing eyes, "how dare you thus treat the
creatures of God?"
The young man would have spoken more, but his indignation was so
fierce that it could not find vent in words. For a moment he raised
his fist, as if he meditated dashing the Indian again to the ground
as he slowly arose; then, as if changing his mind, he seized him by
the back of the neck, thrust him towards the panting dogs, and stood
in silence over him with the whip grasped firmly in his hand, while
he disentangled the traces.
This accomplished, Hamilton ordered him in a voice of suppressed
anger to "go forward"--an order which the cowed guide promptly
obeyed, and in a few minutes more the two friends were again alone.
"Hamilton, my boy," exclaimed Harry, who up to this moment seemed to
have been petrified, "you have perfectly amazed me! I'm utterly
"Indeed, I fear that I have been very violent," said Hamilton,
"Violent!" exclaimed his friend. "Why, man, I've completely mistaken
your character. I--I--"
"I hope not, Harry," said Hamilton, in a subdued tone; "I hope not.
Believe me, I am not naturally violent. I should be very sorry were
you to think so. Indeed, I never felt thus before, and now that it is
over I am amazed at myself; but surely you'll admit that there was
great provocation. Such terrible cruelty to--"
"My dear fellow, you quite misunderstand me. I'm amazed at your
pluck, your energy. _Soft_ indeed! we have been most egregiously
mistaken. Provocation! I just think you had; my only sorrow is that
you didn't give him a little more."
"Come, come, Harry; I see you would be as cruel to him as he was to
the poor dog. But let us press forward; it is already growing dark,
and we must not let the fellow out of sight ahead of us."
"_Allons donc_," cried Harry; and hastening their steps, they
travelled silently and rapidly among the stems of the trees, while
the shades of night gathered slowly round them.
That night the three travellers encamped in the snow under the
shelter of a spreading pine. The encampment was formed almost exactly
in a similar manner to that in which they had slept on the night of
their exploits at North River. They talked less, however, than on
that occasion, and slept more soundly. Before retiring to rest, and
while Harry was extended, half asleep and half awake, on his green
blanket, enjoying the delightful repose that follows a hard day's
march and a good supper, Hamilton drew near to the Indian, who sat
sullenly smoking a little apart from the young men. Sitting down
beside him, he administered a long rebuke in a low, grave tone of
voice. Like rebukes generally, it had the effect of making the visage
of the Indian still more sullen. But the young man did not appear to
notice this; he still continued to talk. As he went on, the look grew
less and less sullen, until it faded entirely away, and was succeeded
by that grave, quiet, respectful expression peculiar to the face of
the North American Indian.
Day succeeded day, night followed night, and still found them
plodding laboriously through the weary waste of snow, or encamping
under the trees of the forest. The two friends went through all the
varied stages of experience which are included in what is called
"becoming used to the work," which is sometimes a modified meaning of
the expression "used up." They started with a degree of vigour that
one would have thought no amount of hard work could possibly abate.
They became aware of the melancholy fact that fatigue unstrings the
youngest and toughest sinews. They pressed on, however, from stern
necessity, and found, to their delight, that young muscles recover
their elasticity even in the midst of severe exertion. They still
pressed on, and discovered, to their dismay, that this recovery was
only temporary, and that the second state of exhaustion was
infinitely worse than the first. Still they pressed on, and raised
blisters on their feet and toes that caused them to limp wofully;
then they learned that blisters break and take a long time to heal,
and are much worse to walk upon during the healing process than they
are at the commencement--at which time they innocently fancied that
nothing could be more dreadful. Still they pressed on day after day,
and found to their satisfaction that such things can be endured and
overcome; that feet and toes can become hard like leather, that
muscles can grow tough as india-rubber, and that spirits and energy
can attain to a pitch of endurance which nothing within the compass
of a day's march can by any possibility overcome. They found also,
from experience, that their conversation changed, both in manner and
subject, as they progressed on their journey. At first they conversed
frequently and on various topics, chiefly on the probability of their
being sent to pleasant places or the reverse. Then they spoke less
frequently, and growled occasionally, as they advanced in the painful
process of training. After that, as they began to get hardy, they
talked of the trees, the snow, the ice, the tracks of wild animals
they happened to cross, and the objects of nature generally that came
under their observation. Then as their muscles hardened and their
sinews grew tough, and the day's march at length became first a
matter of indifference, and ultimately an absolute pleasure, they
chatted cheerfully on any and every subject, or sang occasionally,
when the sun shone out and cast an _appearance_ of warmth across
their path. Thus onward they pressed, without halt or stay, day after
day, through wood and brake, over river and lake, on ice and on snow,
for miles and miles together, through the great, uninhabited, frozen
Hopes and fears--An unexpected meeting--Philosophical talk between
the hunter and the parson.
On arriving at Norway House, Harry Somerville and his friend Hamilton
found that they were to remain at that establishment during an
indefinite period of time, until it should please those in whose
hands their ultimate destination lay to direct them how and where to
proceed. This was an unlooked-for trial of their patience; but after
the first exclamation of disappointment, they made up their minds,
like wise men, to think no more about it, but bide their time, and
make the most of present circumstances.
"You see," remarked Hamilton, as the two friends, after having had an
audience of the gentleman in charge of the establishment, sauntered
towards the rocks that overhang the margin of Playgreen Lake--"you
see, it is of no use to fret about what we cannot possibly help.
Nobody within three hundred miles of us knows where we are destined
to spend next winter. Perhaps orders may come in a couple of weeks,
perhaps in a couple of months, but they will certainly come at last.
Anyhow, it is of no use thinking about it, so we had better forget
it, and make the best of things as we find them."
"Ah!" exclaimed Harry, "your advice is, that we should by all means
be happy, and if we can't be happy, be as happy as we can. Is that
"Just so. That's it exactly."
"Ho! But then you see, Hammy, you're a philosopher and I'm not, and
that makes all the difference. I'm not given to anticipating evil,
but I cannot help dreading that they will send me to some lonely,
swampy, out-of-the-way hole, where there will be no society, no
shooting, no riding, no work even to speak of--nothing, in fact, but
the miserable satisfaction of being styled 'bourgeois' by five or six
men, wretched outcasts like myself,"
"Come, Harry," cried Hamilton; "you are taking the very worst view of
it. There certainly are plenty of such outposts in the country, but
you know very well that young fellows like you are seldom sent to
"I don't know that," interrupted Harry. "There's young M'Andrew: he
was sent to an outpost up the Mackenzie his second year in the
service, where he was all but starved, and had to live for about two
weeks on boiled parchment. Then there's poor Forrester: he was
shipped off to a place--the name of which I never could remember--
somewhere between the head-waters of the Athabasca Lake and the North
Pole. To be sure, he had good shooting, I'm told, but he had only
four labouring men to enjoy it with; and he has been there _ten_
years now, and he has more than once had to scrape the rocks of that
detestable stuff called _tripe de roche_ to keep himself alive. And
"Very true," interrupted Hamilton. "Then there's your friend Charles
Kennedy, whom you so often talk about, and many other young fellows
we know, who have been sent to the Saskatchewan, and to the Columbia,
and to Athabasca, and to a host of other capital places, where they
have enough of society--male society, at least--and good sport."
The young men had climbed a rocky eminence which commanded a view of
the lake on the one side, and the fort, with its background of woods,
on the other. Here they sat down on a stone, and continued for some
time to admire the scene in silence.
"Yes," said Harry, resuming the thread of discourse, "you are right:
we have a good chance of seeing some pleasant parts of the country.
But suspense is not pleasant. O man, if they would only send me up
the Saskatchewan River! I've set my heart upon going there. I'm quite
sure it's the very best place in the whole country."
"You've told the truth that time, master," said a deep voice behind
The young men turned quickly round. Close beside them, and leaning
composedly on a long Indian fowling-piece, stood a tall, broad-
shouldered, sun-burned man, apparently about forty years of age. He
was dressed in the usual leathern hunting-coat, cloth leggings, fur
cap, mittens, and moccasins that constitute the winter garb of a
hunter; and had a grave, firm, but good-humoured expression of
"You've told the truth that time, master," he repeated, without
moving from his place. "The Saskatchewan _is_, to my mind, the best
place in the whole country; and havin' seen a considerable deal o'
places in my time, I can speak from experience."
"Indeed, friend," said Harry, "I'm glad to hear you say so. Come, sit
down beside us, and let's hear something about it."
Thus invited, the hunter seated himself on a stone and laid his gun
on the hollow of his left arm.
"First of all, friend," continued Harry, "do you belong to the fort
"No," replied the man, "I'm staying here just now, but I don't belong
to the place."
"Where do you come from then, and what's your name?"
"Why, I've comed d'rect from the Saskatchewan with a packet o'
letters. I'm payin' a visit to the missionary village yonder"--the
hunter pointed as he spoke across the lake--"and when the ice breaks
up I shall get a canoe and return again."
"And your name?"
"Why, I've got four or five names. Somehow or other people have given
me a nickname wherever I ha' chanced to go. But my true name, and the
one I hail by just now, is Jacques Caradoc."
"Jacques Caradoc!" exclaimed Harry, starting with surprise. "You knew
a Charley Kennedy in the Saskatchewan, did you?"
"That did I. As fine a lad as ever pulled a trigger."
"Give us your hand, friend," exclaimed Harry, springing forward, and
seizing the hunter's large, hard fist in both hands. "Why, man,
Charley is my dearest friend, and I had a letter from him some time
ago in which he speaks of you, and says you're one of the best
fellows he ever met."
"You don't say so," replied the hunter, returning Harry's grasp
warmly, while his eyes sparkled with pleasure, and a quiet smile
played at the corner of his mouth.
"Yes I do," said Harry; "and I'm very nearly as glad to meet with
you, friend Jacques, as I would be to meet with him. But come; it's
cold work talking here. Let's go to my room; there's a fire in the
stove.--Come along, Hammy;" and taking his new friend by the arm, he
hurried him along to his quarters in the fort.
Just as they were passing under the fort gate, a large mass of snow
became detached from a housetop and fell heavily at their feet,
passing within an inch of Hamilton's nose. The young man started back
with an exclamation, and became very red in the face.
"Hollo!" cried Harry, laughing, "got a fright, Hammy! That went so
close to your chin that it almost saved you the trouble of shaving."
"Yes; I got a little fright from the suddenness of it," said Hamilton
"What do you think of my friend there?" said Harry to Jacques, in a
low voice, pointing to Hamilton, who walked on in advance.
"I've not seen much of him, master," replied the hunter. "Had I been
asked the same question about the same lad twenty years agone, I
should ha' said he was soft, and perhaps chicken-hearted. But I've
learned from experience to judge better than I used to do. I niver
thinks o' forming an opinion o' anyone till I geen them called to
sudden action. It's astonishin' how some faint-hearted men will come
to face a danger and put on an awful look o' courage if they only get
warnin', but take them by surprise--that's the way to try them."
"Well, Jacques, that is the very reason why I ask your opinion of
Hamilton. He was pretty well taken by surprise that time, I think."
"True, master; but _that_ kind of start don't prove much. Hows'ever,
I don't think he's easy upset. He does _look_ uncommon soft, and his
face grew red when the snow fell, but his eyebrow and his under lip
showed that it wasn't from fear."
During that afternoon and the greater part of that night the three
friends continued in close conversation--Harry sitting in front of
the stove, with his hands in his pockets, on a chair tilted as usual
on its hind legs, and pouring out volleys of questions, which were
pithily answered by the good-humoured, loquacious hunter, who sat
behind the stove, resting his elbows on his knees, and smoking his
much-loved pipe; while Hamilton reclined on Harry's bed, and listened
with eager avidity to anecdotes and stories, which seemed, like the
narrator's pipe, to be inexhaustible.
"Good-night, Jacques, good-night," said Harry, as the latter rose at
last to depart; "I'm delighted to have had a talk with you. You must
come back to-morrow. I want to hear more about your friend
Redfeather. Where did you say you left him?"
"In the Saskatchewan, master. He said that he would wait there, as
he'd heerd the missionary was comin' up to pay the Injins a visit."
"By-the-by, you're going over to the missionary's place to-morrow,
are you not?"
"Yes, I am."
"Ah, then, that'll do. I'll go over with you. How far off is it?"
"Three miles or thereabouts."
"Very good. Call in here as you pass, and my friend Hamilton and I
will accompany you. Good-night."
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