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´╗┐Title: The Big Otter
Author: Ballantyne, R. M. (Robert Michael), 1825-1894
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Big Otter" ***

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THE BIG OTTER, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.



CHAPTER ONE.

SLEEPING IN SNOW.

Cold comfort is naturally suggested by a bed of snow, yet I have enjoyed
great comfort and much warmth in such a bed.

My friend Lumley was particularly fond of warmth and of physical ease,
yet he often expressed the opinion, with much emphasis, that there was
nothing he enjoyed so much as a night in a snow-bed.  Jack Lumley was my
chum--a fine manly fellow with a vigorous will, a hardy frame, and a
kindly heart.  We had a natural leaning towards each other--a sort of
undefinable sympathy--which inclined us to seek each other's company in
a quiet unobtrusive way.  We were neither of us demonstrative; we did
not express regard for each other; we made no protestations of undying
friendship, but we drew together, somehow, especially in our hunting
expeditions which were numerous.

On holidays--we had two in the week at the outpost in the American
backwoods where we dwelt--when the other young fellows were cleaning
gulls or arranging snow-shoes for the day's work, Lumley was wont to say
to me:--

"Where d'you intend to shoot to-day, Max?"  (Max was an abbreviation; my
real name is George Maxby.)

"I think I'll go up by the willows and round by Beaver Creek."

"I've half a mind to go that way too."

"Come along then."

And so we would go off together for the day.

One morning Lumley said to me, "I'm off to North River; will you come?"

"With pleasure, but we'll have to camp out."

"Well, it won't be the first time."

"D'you know that the thermometer stood at forty below zero this morning
before breakfast?"

"I know it; what then?  Mercurial fellows like you don't freeze easily."

I did not condescend to reply, but set about preparing for our
expedition, resolving to carry my largest blanket with me, for camping
out implied sleeping in the snow.

Of course I must guard my readers--especially my juvenile readers--from
supposing that it was our purpose that night to undress and calmly lie
down in, or on, the pure white winding-sheet in which the frozen world
of the Great Nor'-west had been at that time wrapped for more than four
months.  Our snow-bed, like other beds, required making, but I will
postpone the making of it till bed-time.  Meanwhile, let us follow the
steps of Lumley, who, being taller and stronger than I, _always_ led the
way.

This leading of the way through the trackless wilderness in snow
averaging four feet deep is harder work than one might suppose.  It
could not be done at all without the aid of snow-shoes, which, varying
from three to five feet in length, enable the traveller to walk on the
surface of the snow, into which he would otherwise sink, more or less,
according to its condition.  If it be newly fallen and very soft, he
sinks six, eight, or more inches.  If it be somewhat compressed by time
or wind he sinks only an inch or two.  On the hard surface of exposed
lakes and rivers, where it is beaten to the appearance of marble, he
dispenses with snow-shoes altogether, slings them on his gun, and
carries them over his shoulder.

Our first mile lay through a clump of pine-wood, where snow had recently
fallen.  When I looked at my comrade's broad back, and observed the
vigour of his action as he trod deep into the virgin snow at every
stride, scattering it aside like fine white powder as he lifted each
foot, I thought how admirably he was fitted for a pioneer in the
wilderness, or for the work of those dauntless, persevering men who go
forth to add to the world's geographical knowledge, and to lead the
expeditions sent out in search of such lost heroes as Franklin and
Livingstone.

My own work was comparatively light.  I had merely to tread in the
beaten path.  I was not, however, thereby secured from disaster, as I
found when, having advanced about half a mile, my right shoe caught a
twig to which it held for a moment, and then, breaking loose, allowed me
to pitch head down with such violence that I almost reached mother earth
four feet below the surface.

This kind of plunge is always awkward owing to the difficulty of rising,
and usually disagreeable, owing to the manner in which snow stuffs
itself into neck, ears, nose, eyes, mouth--if open--and any convenient
crevice of person or garments.  The snow-shoes, too, which are so
serviceable when you are above them, become exasperatingly obstructive
when you are below them.  After a struggle of two minutes I got my head
clear, winked the snow out of my eyes, blew it from my mouth and
nostrils, and looked up.  Lumley was standing there with a bland smile
on his amiable face; he seldom laughed, though he sometimes chuckled!

"What do you mean by grinning there like a Cheshire cat?"  I exclaimed,
"why don't you lend a hand?"

"What do you mean by tumbling there like a Christmas goose?" he
retorted, "why don't you look out for stumps and twigs as I do?"

He made some amends for this reply by extending his hand and helping me
to rise.

In a few minutes we were clear of the pine-wood, and came out upon a
piece of swampland, where the stunted willow bushes just showed their
tops above the surface of the snow.  This led us to a bend of the broad
river, near to which, further down, stood our outpost--Fort Dunregan.

For four months there had been neither sight nor sound of water in that
river.  It was frozen to the bottom, except in the middle where its dark
unseen waters flowed silently under six feet or more of solid ice
through many a river-channel and lake to the distant sea.  In fact, save
for the suggestive form of its banks, the river might have been mistaken
for an elongated plain or piece of open land.  The surface of the snow
here was, from exposure to wind and sun, as hard as pavement.  We
therefore took off our snow-shoes, and, the necessity for maintaining
the Indian-file position being removed, we walked abreast.

"The air is keen here," remarked Lumley, pulling the thick shawl that
was round his neck as far up over his mouth as his well-developed nose
would permit.

"It is," said I, following his example with greater success, my own nose
being a snub.

There was no wind; not even a breeze--there seldom is at such
temperature--but there was a very slight movement of the air, caused by
our own advance, which was just sufficient to make one appreciate the
intensity of the cold.  It became necessary now to pay frequent
attention to our noses and cheek-bones and toes, to prevent frostbite.
But the sun was brilliant and the air invigorating.  So was the aspect
of nature, for although there was no grandeur in the character of the
scenery, there was extreme beauty in the snow lacework of the trees and
leafless shrubs; in the sky, whose bright blue was intensified by the
white drapery of earth; and in the myriads of snow-crystals which
reflected the dazzling sun with prismatic splendour.

Indeed, the scene was too dazzling, and as there was a tendency in it to
produce snow-blindness, we soon returned to the friendly shelter of the
woods.

"Tracks!" exclaimed Lumley, in a low voice, pointing to the ground,
where footmarks were clearly visible, "and fresh," he added, turning up
the snow under the track with the butt of his gun.

"Ptarmigan!" said I in a whisper, pointing towards a little knoll, not
quite a gunshot ahead of us, where some dozens of the beautiful
snow-white creatures stood gazing at us in motionless surprise.  Their
plumage was so white that we had not observed them at first, almost the
only black specks about them being their sparkling eyes, and the tips of
their wings and tails.

Our guns were pointed instantly.  I am ashamed to say that we were
guilty of shooting them as they stood!  In that land we shot for food as
much as for amusement, and, some of us being poor shots, we were glad to
take our game sitting!  Nay, more, we tried to get as many of the birds
in line as possible, so as to make the most of our ammunition.  We were
not sportsmen in the civilised sense of that term.

The extreme stillness of the woods was broken by the report of our guns
in quick succession.  A very cloud of pure white birds arose, as if
Nature had taken to snowing upwards in rather large flakes, and seven
victims remained behind.

"A good supper," remarked Lumley, as we bagged the game and re-loaded.

It is not my intention here to describe a day's shooting.  Let it
suffice to say that a little before nightfall we arrived at a place
where was a snowy mound capped by a clump of spruce firs of small size
but picturesque appearance.

"Behold our camp!" said Lumley.

"Not inviting at present," said I, as we slowly toiled up the mound, for
we were weary, having walked about twenty miles, weighted with heavy
flannel-lined deerskin-coats, blankets, and cooking utensils, besides a
small quantity of pemmican, sugar, tea, and ship's biscuit, axes and
firebags.  It is true, the cooking utensils were few and simple,
consisting of only two tin kettles and two tin mugs.

Dreary indeed--lonesome, desolate, and eerie was our mound when we got
to the top of it.  By that time the sun had set, and a universal ghostly
grey, fast deepening into night, banished every sensation of joy aroused
by the previous lightness.  Although the scene and circumstances were
nothing new to us we could not shake off the depressing influence, but
we did not allow that to interfere with our action.  Silently, but
vigorously--for the cold was increasing--we felled several small dead
trees, which we afterwards cut into lengths of about four feet.  Then we
cleared a space in the snow of about ten or twelve feet in diameter
until we reached the solid earth, using our snow-shoes as shovels.  What
we threw out of the hole formed an embankment round it, and as the snow
lay at that spot full four feet deep, we thus raised the surrounding
wall of our chamber to a height of six feet, if not more.  Standing on
the edge of it in the ever-deepening twilight, and looking down into the
abyss, which was further darkened by the overspreading pines, this hole
in the snow suggested a tomb rather than a bed.

At one end of it we piled up the firewood.  Extending from that towards
the other end, we spread a carpet of pine-branches, full six inches
thick.  To do all this took a considerable amount of time and labour,
and when Lumley stood up at last to strike a light with flint, steel,
and tinder, we felt pretty well exhausted.  The night had by that time
become profoundly dark, insomuch that we had to grope for the various
articles we required.

"We've been rather late of beginning to make the camp," said I, as I
watched the sparks.

"Never mind, Max, my boy, we shall soon be all right," replied my
friend, as one of the sparks at last caught on the tinder.  In a few
seconds the spark was blown into a blaze, and placed in the midst of a
handful of dry moss and thin chips.  This was applied to some dry twigs
under our piled-up logs, and a vivid tongue of flame shot upward.

Blessed fire!  Marvellous light!  It is a glorious, wonder-working
influence, well chosen by the Almighty as one of his titles.  There is
no change in Nature so intense as that from darkness to light as well in
physical as in spiritual things.  No sudden change from heat to cold, or
from calm to storm; no transformation ever achieved in the most gorgeous
of pantomimes, could have the startling effect, or produce the splendid
contrast that resulted from the upward flash of that first tongue of
fire.  It was a vivid tongue, for the materials had been well laid; a
few seconds later it was a roaring tongue, with a host of lesser tongues
around it--all dancing, leaping, cheering, flashing, as if with
ineffable joy at their sudden liberation, and the resulting destruction
of dismal darkness.

Our snow-abyss was no longer black and tomb-like.  Its walls sparkled as
though encrusted with diamonds; its carpet of pine-branches shone
vividly green; the tree-stems around rose up like red-hot pillars, more
or less intense in colour, according to distance; the branching canopy
overhead appeared to become solid with light, and the distance around
equally solid with ebony blackness, while we, who had caused the
transformation, stood in the midst of the ruddy blaze like jovial
red-hot men!

"There's nothing like a fire," I remarked with some enthusiasm.

"Except supper," said Lumley.

"Gross creature!"  I responded, as he went about the preparation of
supper with a degree of zest which caused me to feel that my epithet was
well deserved.

"Gross creature!" he repeated some time afterwards with a pleasant smile
of intense enjoyment, as he sat in front of the blaze sipping a can of
hot tea, and devouring pemmican and biscuit with avidity.  "No, Max, I
am not a gross creature.  Your intellects are probably benumbed by the
cold.  If phrenologists are right in dividing the human brain into
compartments, wherein the different intellectual powers are said to be
located, I should think that some of those chambers lying nearest to the
top of the skull are apt to freeze at a temperature of forty below zero,
in which case the perfect working of the half-paralysed machine can
scarcely be looked for.  Hold your head to the fire, and thaw it while I
expound this to you."

"Stay," said I, holding out my tin pannikin for more tea; "inward heat
as well as outward is necessary to my thorough comprehension of _your_
expositions."

"True, Max, all the faculties of such mind as you possess, in their most
active condition, are required to enable you to take in the simplest
proposition.  Just give my bird a turn, like a good fellow."

He referred to a ptarmigan which, plucked, split open, roughly cleaned,
and impaled on a stick, was roasting in front of the fire.  I turned his
bird and my own, while he continued:--

"To gratify the appetite with thorough and hearty appreciation after
working hard for your food, or walking far to find it, is not gross.
Grossness consists in eating heavily when you have not toiled, and
stimulating with fire-water, pepper, or mustard, your sluggish appetite.
To call me a gross creature, then--"

He stopped short, and, looking up, performed that operation with the
nose which is styled sniffing.

"What do I smell?"

"My bird--burnt!"  I shouted, snatching at the stick on which it was
impaled.  In doing so I capsized our can of tea.  Lumley looked at it
with a sigh, while I regarded with a groan the breast of my bird burnt
to a cinder.

"Max, you should remember that a fire strong enough to subdue forty
degrees below zero is intense--also, that our supply of tea is limited.
All this comes of your unwisely calling me a gross creature."

"No, it comes of the intense application of my unthawed intellect to
your absurd expositions."

"Whatever it comes of," returned Lumley, "we must remedy the evil.
Here, fall upon my ptarmigan.  I'm not quite ready for it, being still
engaged with the pemmican.  Meanwhile, I'll replenish the kettle."

So saying, he took up the kettle, went to the margin of our hole, and
filled it with fresh snow well pressed down.  This being put on the
fire, soon melted; more snow was added, till water enough was procured,
and then fresh tea was put in to boil.  We were not particular, you see,
as to the mode of infusion.  While my friend was thus engaged, I had
plucked, split, cleansed and impaled another bird.  In a marvellously
short time--for our fire was truly intense--the tea and ptarmigan were
ready, and we proceeded with supper as comfortably as before.

"Now I shall continue," said Lumley, with a satisfied clearing of the
throat, "the exposition of grossness,--"

"Oh, pray spare me that," said I, quickly, "but tell me, if you can, why
it is that such a tremendous fire as that does not melt our snow walls."

"Put your head nearer to it, Max, for some of the phrenological chambers
must still be frozen, else it would be clear to you that the intensity
of the cold is the reason.  You see that only a small part of the snow
quite close to the fire is a little softened.  If the fire were hotter
it would melt more of it--melt the whole hole and us too.  But the cold
is so great that it keeps the walls cool and us also--too cool indeed,
for while my face and knees are roasting my back is freezing, so I shall
rise and give _it_ a turn.  Now," he continued, rising and turning his
back to the blaze as he spoke, "I will resume my remarks on gross--"

"You've no objection to my making our bed while you lecture?" said I,
also rising.

Lumley had not the least objection, so, while he held forth, I spread a
large green blanket over our carpet of pine-brush.  A bundle of the same
under the blanket formed a pretty good pillow.  Wrapping myself tightly
round in another blanket (for physical heat evaporates quickly in the
frozen regions) I lay down.  My friend lay down beside me, our feet
being towards the fire.

After a silent interval, while lying thus, gazing up through the
overhanging branches at the stars that twinkled in the clear frosty sky,
our thoughts became more serious.  The grandeur of creation led us to
think and speak of the Creator--for we were like-minded friends, and no
subject was tabooed.  We conversed freely about whatever chanced to
enter our minds--of things past, present, and to come.  We spoke of God
the Saviour, of redemption and of sin.  Then, with that discursive
tendency to which most minds are prone, we diverged to home and
civilised lands, contrasting these with life in the wild-woods of the
Great Nor'-west.  After that we became sleepy, and our converse was more
discursive--at times even incoherent--in the midst of which Lumley
reverted to his unfinished exposition of grossness, and, in the
enthusiasm of his nature, was slowly working himself back into a wakeful
condition, when I put an abrupt end to the discourse by drawing a
prolonged snore.  It was a deceptive snore, unworthy of success, yet it
succeeded.

My friend turned round and, with a contented sigh, went to sleep.  After
a brief space the snore which had been a fiction became a reality, and
thus, on our bed of snow, in the depths of an Arctic night, in the heart
of the frozen wilderness, and while the mighty fire burned slowly down,
we unitedly took our departure for the land of Nod.



CHAPTER TWO.

THE WINTER PACKET.

On returning next morning towards the outpost from our encampment in the
woods, Lumley and I made a discovery which excited us greatly.  It was
nothing more than a track in the snow, but there was a revelation in the
track which sent the blood tingling through our veins.

It was not the track of a Polar bear.  We should have been somewhat
surprised, no doubt, but not greatly excited by that.  Neither was it
the track of a deer or an Arctic fox.  It was only the track of a
sledge!

"Is that all?" exclaims the reader.  No, that is not all.  But, in order
that you may understand it better, let me explain.

Fort Dunregan, in which we dwelt, stood more than a thousand miles
distant from the utmost verge of civilised life in Canada.  We were
buried, so to speak, in the heart of the great northern wilderness.  Our
nearest neighbour lived in an outpost between one and two hundred miles
distant, similar to our own in all respects but even more lonely, being
in charge of a certain Scotsman named Macnab, whose army of occupation
consisted of only six men and two Indian women!  The forests around us
were not peopled.  Those vast solitudes were indeed here and there
broken in upon, as it were, by a few families of wandering Red-Indians,
who dwelt in movable tents--were here to-day and away to-morrow--but
they could not be said to be peopled, except by deer and bears and foxes
and kindred spirits.

Of course, therefore, we were far beyond the every day influences of
civilised life.  We had no newspapers, no mails; no communication
whatever, in short, with the outer world except twice in the year.  The
one occasion was in summer, when a brigade of boats arrived with our
outfit of goods for the year's trade with the few scattered Indians
above referred to; the other occasion was in the depth of our apparently
interminable winter, when a packet of letters was forwarded from outpost
to outpost throughout the land by the agents of the Hudson's Bay Company
which we served.

This half-yearly interval between mails had a double effect on our
minds.  In the first place, it induced a strange feeling that the great
world and all its affairs were things of the past, with which we had
little or nothing to do--a sort of dream--and that the little world of
our outpost, with its eight or ten men and three or four Indian women,
its hunting, and trapping, and firewood-cutting, and fishing, and
trading, and small domestic arrangements and dissensions, was the one
place of vital importance and interest, before which empires and
dynasties and the trifling matter of politics sank into mere
insignificance!  In the second place, it created an intense longing--a
hungering and thirsting--for news of our kindred "at home."

Our chief, Mr Strang, and our two selves, with another fellow-clerk who
was named Spooner, as well as most of our men, were from "the old
country," where we had left fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters--in some
cases sweethearts--behind us.  It may be conceived then with what
anxiety and yearning we looked forward to the periodical break in the
weary six months of total silence that had enveloped us.  Men in
civilised, or even semi-civilised communities, cannot understand this.
Convicts on penal servitude for long periods may have some faint notion
of it, but even these have periods of literary intercourse more
frequently than we had.  The reader must just take the statement on
trust therefore, that our anxious yearnings were remarkably powerful.
What might not have occurred in these six months of dark silence!  Who
might not have been married, born, laid low by sickness, banished to the
ends of the earth like ourselves, or even removed by death!

Is it surprising, then, that we caught our breath and flushed, and that
our hearts leaped when we came unexpectedly upon the track of the two
men who had dragged news from home for hundreds of miles over the snow?
We knew the tracks well.  Our intimate acquaintance with every species
of track that was possible in that particular region, rendered a mistake
out of the question.  There was the step of the leader, who wore a
snow-shoe the shape of which, although not unknown, was somewhat
unfamiliar to us.  There was the print of the sled, or toboggan, which
was different in pattern from those used at Dunregan, and there was the
footprint of the man in rear, whose snow-shoe also made an unfamiliar
impression.

"The packet!" exclaimed Lumley, opening his solemn grey eyes to their
widest as he looked up from the track to me.

"At last!"  I returned, unconsciously betraying the prolonged state of
suspense with which my mind had been afflicted.

"Come along!" said my companion, starting off homeward at a pace that
was almost too much for me.

We soon reached the outpost, and there stood the makers of the track
which had roused in us so much excitement.

Two strong men, chosen expressly for a duty which required mental
endurance and perseverance as well as physical vigour.  They stood at
the door of the entrance-hall, talking with Mr Strang, the one with his
snow-shoes slung over his shoulder on the butt of his gun, the other
using the same implements as a rest for his hands, while Spooner, in a
state of great excitement, was hastily undoing the lashings of the sled,
to get at the precious box which contained "the packet."

"Well, gentlemen, here it is at last," said our chief, with a genial
smile as we came up.

"Yes, we followed the track immediately we struck it," said Lumley,
stooping to assist Spooner in his work.

We soon had the box carried to our chief's private room, while the two
strangers were had off by our men to their own house, there to be
feasted on venison, ptarmigan, salt-pork, fish, and pease-pudding to
satiety, and afterwards "pumped" to a state of exhaustion.

I followed our chief, who had a provokingly deliberate way of opening
the packet and examining its contents, while my feverish agitation and
expectancy increased.  There was a humorous twinkle in his eye, I
thought, which told of mischievous purpose, while he kept up a murmuring
commentary.

"Hm! as I expected--no news from Macnab.  What's this?--ah!  The
Governor!  A voluminous epistle, and--hallo!  Lumley's friends must be
fond of him.  His packet is the biggest in the box.  And Spooner too,
not so bad for him.  Here, take these to them.  Stay--here is a bundle
of letters for the men.  You'd better deliver these yourself."

I hesitated, while a mist of great darkness began to descend on my soul.

"Nothing for me, sir?"  I asked faintly.

"There seems to be--nothing--stay! what's this?--why, I thought it was a
big book, but, yes, it _is_ a packet for you, Mr Maxby--there!"

My heart leaped into my mouth--almost out of it--as I received a thick
packet wrapped in newspaper.

Hastening to what was called the clerk's winter house with these
treasures I distributed them, and handed the men's packet to one of
themselves, who was eagerly awaiting it.  Then I went to my room and
barricaded the door to prevent interruption.

In Bachelors' Hall, as we styled our apartments, we had an inveterate
habit of practical joking, which, however interesting and agreeable it
might be at most times, was in some circumstances rather inconvenient.
To guard against it at such times we were in the habit of retiring to
our respective dens and barricading the doors, the locks being sometimes
incapable of standing the strain brought to bear on them.

On this particular occasion I made my barricade stronger than usual; sat
down on my bed and opened the packet from home.

But here I must let the curtain fall.  I cannot suppose that the reader,
however amiable, will sympathise with the joys and sorrows of an unknown
family, interesting though they were to me.  I may state, however, that
before I got through the budget it was so late that I turned into bed
and read the remainder there.  Then, as the fire in the hall-stove sank
low, the cold obliged me to put on above my voluminous blankets (we
dared not sleep in sheets out there) a thick buffalo robe, which,
besides having on the outside the shaggy hair of the animal, to which it
had belonged, was lined with flannel.  Thus nestled into a warm hole, I
read on until a shout arrested me and brought me suddenly back from the
hills of bonny Scotland to the frozen wilderness.

"I say," shouted Lumley at the back of the door, which he saluted with a
kick, "my sister is married!"

"Poor thing!" said I.  "Who to?"

"Open the door."

"I can't.  I'm in bed."

"You must."

"I won't."

"No! then here goes."

He retired as he spoke, and, making a rush, launched himself against my
door, which, however, withstood the shock.

"Here, Spooner," I then heard him say, "lend a hand; let us go at it
together."

They went at it together.  The lock gave way; the chest of drawers went
spinning to the other side of the room, and Lumley tumbled over Spooner
as both fell headlong to the floor.

As this was by no means an unfamiliar mode of entering each other's
rooms, I took no notice of it, but proceeded to inquire about the
married sister; and Lumley, sitting down on my bed with Spooner, for
neither of them had yet undressed, began to tell me of home and friends
with as much eagerness as if I had been a member of both families.
Young Spooner interrupted Lumley now and then when a touch of
coincidence struck him with reference to his own family affairs, and I
could not resist the pleasure of occasionally making some such remark
as, "How odd! that's very like what happened to my little brother Bob,"
etcetera, whereupon Spooner would immediately become excited and draw a
parallel more or less striking in regard to his own kindred and so we
went on far into the night, until we got our several families mixed up
to such an extent that it became almost impossible to disentangle them;
for, being three families, you know, we became inextricably confused as
to which was which, though each was perfectly clear in regard to his
own!  Thus, to me, Jane Lumley became confused with Janet Spooner, so
that Janet Lumley and Jane Spooner were always tripping over each other
in my brain, while my dear cousin Maggie Maxby became a Maggie Spooner
to Lumley, and a Maggie Lumley to Spooner, and to each sometimes a Janet
or a Jane respectively.  If the reader will multiply into this question
two mothers and three fathers, four brothers and six sisters, besides
numberless aunts, uncles, and cousins, male and female, he will easily
perceive how between mental perplexity and a tendency to slumber, we at
last gave the matter up in a sort of jovial despair.

We were startled suddenly from this condition by a crash and an
exceedingly sharp and bitter cry.

It must be remarked here, that, in order to subdue King Frost in those
northern strongholds of his, we had, besides double doors and double
windows and porches, an enormous cast-iron stove from the famous Carron
foundry.  It stood in the centre of our hall, so that its genial favours
might be distributed with equal justice to the various sleeping-rooms
that opened out of the hall all round.  From this stove an iron pipe
arose, and, turning at a right angle when within a couple of feet of the
ceiling, proceeded to the chimney at the upper end of the hall.  When
the thermometer stood much below zero, we were accustomed to raise the
stove and part of its pipe to a dull-red heat, which had the effect of
partially melting the contents of the water-jugs in our bedrooms, and of
partially roasting the knees of our trousers.  To keep this stove up to
its work was the duty of an Indian youth, whom we styled Salamander,
because he seemed to be impervious to heat.  He was equally so to cold.
When I first went to Dunregan I used to pity Salamander, on hearing him
every morning enter our hall with a gust of air that seemed cold enough
to freeze a walrus, and proceed to strike a light and kindle our fire.
My own nose, and sometimes an eye, was all that protruded from the
buffalo robe at such times.  But Salamander never shivered, and always
grinned, from which I came to understand that my pity was misplaced.
About nine o'clock each night he left us to look after the great Carron
stove ourselves, and we were all pretty good stokers.  Self-interest
kept us up to duty.  Sometimes we overdid it, raising the dull-red to
brightness now and then.

On this particular occasion, in the exuberance of his feelings, Lumley,
before bursting into my room, had heaped on as much dry wood as the
stove could hold.  It chanced to be exceedingly resinous wood.  He also
opened the blow-hole to its utmost extent.  Being congregated in my
bedroom, as I have described, deeply engaged in eager comments and
family reminiscences, we failed to observe that the great Carron stove
roared like a wrathful furnace, that it changed from a dull to a bright
red in its anger, and eventually became white with passion.  As "evil
communications" have a tendency to corrupt, the usually innocent pipe
became inflamed.  It communicated the evil to the chimney, which
straightway caught fire, belched forth smoke and flames, and cast a
ruddy glare over the usually pallid snow.  This chanced to meet the eye
of Salamander as he gazed from his "bunk" in the men's house; caused him
to bounce up and rush out--for, having a taste for sleeping in his
clothes, he was always ready for action--burst open our door with a
crash, and rudely dispel our confusedly pleasant intercourse with the
exceedingly sharp and bitter cry before mentioned.

"Hallo!" shouted Lumley and Spooner simultaneously, as they bounded
rather than rose from my bed.  Before they had crossed the threshold I
was out of bed and into my trousers.

There is nothing like the cry of "Fire!" for producing prompt action--or
paralysis!  Also for inducing imbecile stupidity.  I could not find my
moccasins!  Thought is quick--quicker than words.  Amputation at the
knee joints stared me in the face for a certainty if I went out with
naked feet.  In desperation I seized my capote and thrust both feet into
the sleeves, with some hazy intention of tying a knot on each wrist to
protect the toes.  Happily I espied my moccasins at the moment, pulled
them on--left shoe on right foot, of course--and put the coat to its
proper use.

By this time Salamander, contrary to all traditions of Indian stoicism,
was yelling about the fort with his eyes a flame and his hair on end.
The men were out in a few seconds with a ladder, and swarmed up to the
roof of our house, without any definite notion as to what they meant to
do.  Mr Strang was also out, smothered in winter garments, and with an
enormous Makinaw blanket over all.  He was greatly excited, though the
most self-possessed among us--as most chiefs are, or ought to be.

"Water! water!" shouted the men from the roof.

A keen breeze was blowing from what seemed the very heart of King
Frost's dominion, and snow-drift fine as dust and penetrating as
needles, was swirling about in the night-air.

Water! where was water to come from?  The river was frozen almost to the
bottom.  Ice six feet thick covered the lakes and ponds.  The sound of
trickling water had not been heard for months.  It had become an ancient
memory.  Water! why, it cost our cook's assistant a full hour every day
to cut through the result of one night's frost in the water-hole before
he could reach the water required for daily use, and what he did obtain
had to be slowly dragged to the fort by that slowest of creatures, an
ox.  Nevertheless there _was_ water.  In the warmest corner of the
kitchen--at that hour about zero--there stood a water-barrel.

"Run, cook--fetch a bucketful!" cried our chief.

Cook, who had "lost his head," obediently ran, seized a big earthenware
jug, dipped it into the barrel, and smashed it to atoms on a cake of
thick ice!  This had the effect of partially recovering his head for
him.  He seized an axe, shattered the cake, caught up a bucket, dipped
it full and rushed out spilling half its contents as he ran.  The
spillings became icicles before they reached the flaming chimney, but
the frost, keen as it was, could not quite solidify the liquid in so
short a space of time.

Blondin, the principal bearer of the winter packet who was a heroic man
and chief actor in this scene, received the half-empty bucket.

"Bah!" he exclaimed, tossing bucket as well as water contemptuously down
the wide chimney.  "Bring shuvill, an' blunkits."

Blondin was a French-Canadian half-caste, and not a good linguist.

A shovel was thrown up to him.  He seized it and shovelled volumes of
snow from the house-top into the chimney.  A moment later and two
blankets were thrown up.  Blondin spread one over the flames.  It was
shrivelled up instantly.  He stuffed down the remains and spread the
second blanket over them, while he shouted for a third.  The third came,
and, another bucket of water arriving at the same moment, with a large
mass of snow detached from the roof, the whole were thrust down the
chimney _en masse_, the flames were quenched and the house was saved.

During this exciting scene, I had begun to realise the great danger of
fire in the chimney of a wooden house, and, with the aid of my comrades,
had been throwing the contents of Bachelors' Hall out into the snow.  We
now ceased this process, and began to carry them back again, while the
men crowded round the iron author of all the mischief to warm their
half-frozen bodies.  I now observed for the first time that Blondin had
a black patch on the end of his nose.  It was a handsome feature
usually, but at that time it was red, swelled, and what may be termed
blobby.

"What's the matter with it, Blondin?"  I asked.

"My noz was froz," he replied curtly.

"You'd better have it looked to, or it'll be worse than froz, my man,"
said Lumley.

Blondin laughed and went off to attend to his nose in the men's house,
accompanied by the others, while we set to work to clean ourselves and
our abode.  Thereafter, with moderated fire, we again got under our
buffalo robes, where we spent the remainder of a disturbed night in
thinking and dreaming about the thrilling contents of the winter packet.



CHAPTER THREE.

DEEPER DESOLATION.

Eight months of winter!  Those who have read and entered into the spirit
of Arctic voyagers, may have some idea of what that means, but none save
he or she who has had experience of it can fully understand it.

To us who dwelt at the little outpost in the Great Nor'-west, snow and
ice had become so familiar--such matter-of-course conditions of
existence--that green fields and flowers were a mere reminiscence of the
remote past.  The scent of a rose was a faded memory--indeed the scent
of anything belonging to the vegetable kingdom had not once saluted our
nostrils during those eight months.  Pure white became one of the chief
and most impressive facts of our existence in regard to colour, if we
may so call it--white, varying in tone, of course, to pearly grey.
Cold, of varied intensity, was the chief modifier of our sensations.
Happily light was also a potent factor in our experiences--bright,
glowing sunshine and blue skies contrasted well with the white and grey,
and helped to counteract the cold; while pure air invigorated our frames
and cheered our spirits.

"I tell you what, boys," said Lumley, one afternoon as he entered the
hall with gun and snow-shoes on shoulder, and flung down a bag full of
ptarmigan, "winter is drawing to a close at last.  I felt my deerskin
coat quite oppressive to-day; does any one know what the thermometer
stood at this morning?"

"Yes, it was twenty-two above zero," answered Spooner, who was
attempting to smoke a pipe beside the stove; "I went to register it just
after breakfast."

"I thought so--only ten below freezing point; why, it feels quite
summery, and the snow has a softness that I have not noticed since last
autumn.  I hope dinner will soon be ready, for I'm very sharp set.  Why,
Spooner, what are you making such faces for?"

"Am I making faces?" said Spooner, blushing and trying to look
unconcerned.

"Of course you are, a marmozette monkey with the toothache could
scarcely make worse."

Spooner attempted to laugh, and I felt it difficult to refrain from
joining him, for I knew well the cause of his faces.  He was the
youngest of us three and exceedingly anxious to imitate Lumley, who was
unfortunately a great smoker; but Spooner, like myself, had been born
with a dislike to smoke--especially tobacco smoke--and a liability to
become sick when he indulged in the pipe.  Hence, whilst foolish
ambition induced him to smoke, outraged nature protested; and between
the two the poor fellow had a bad time of it.  He had a good deal of
determination about him, however, and persevered.

The dinner-bell rang at the moment, and put an end to further badinage.

Lumley was right.  Spring was in truth at hand, and a host of new
anticipations began from that day to crowd upon our minds.

About the same time there came another break in the monotony of outpost
life which had, if possible, a more powerful and exciting influence on
us than the arrival of the winter packet.

Now at this point I must beg the reader's pardon for asking him to go
with me to a still more desolate and remote outpost than our own.
Between one and two hundred miles nearer to the pole the little post of
Muskrat House lay under a beetling cliff, near the banks of an affluent
of the great Saskatchewan river.  It was in charge of Peter Macnab,
before mentioned, who, in command of his army of six men and two women,
held the post against all comers--the chief comers there being the North
Wind and Jack Frost.

Poor Macnab was a jovial and sociable Scottish Highlander, who had been
condemned to worse than Siberian banishment because of being one of the
most active, enterprising, and pushing fellows in the service of the
Fur-Traders.  His ability to manage men and Indians, and to establish
new trading-posts, excelled that of his fellows.  He regarded it as a
complimentary though trying circumstance when Mr Strang sent him to
establish the post which was named by him Muskrat House, but he faced
the duty--as he faced everything--like a man; did his best for his
employers, and made the most of the situation.

But it is not easy for even the strongest mind and lightest heart to be
jovial when buried for eight months in snow more than twelve hundred
miles beyond the influences of civilised life; and it is hard to be
sociable with six uneducated men and two Indian women for one's
companions.  Macnab tried it, however, and was in a measure successful.
He had his Bible with him--the one given him long ago by his mother--and
a bound volume of Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, and three copies of the
_Times_ newspaper nearly two years old, and a few numbers of an American
paper called the _Picayune_.

With these materials he set to work--after each day's labour of
water-drawing, firewood-cutting, and trapping was done--to educate his
army in religion, politics, political economy, and the varied
ramifications of social life.  He had intelligent and grateful scholars.
If they had not been so, Macnab would at all events have made them
obedient pupils, for he was a physically large and powerful man--and
might was unavoidably right in those regions!

Still, with all his energy and resources, the genial Highlander began,
towards the end of winter, to feel an intense longing for a little
intercourse with his equals.

Returning one night to the solitude of his little room, as was his wont,
after a couple of hours' intercourse with his men in their own house, he
sat down before his stove and addressed it thus:--

"It won't last long, I fear.  My brain is gradually turning into
something like mashed potatoes, and my heart into a tinder-box, ready
enough to catch fire, but with neither flint nor steel to light it!  The
Indians won't be here for many weeks, and when they do come what good
can I get from or do to them?  Wow! wow! it's terribly slow work.  Oh!
Jessie, Jessie, my dear, what would I not give if I only had _you_
here!"

Lest the reader should suppose Macnab to be a love-sick swain, I may
remark here that Jessie was a sister whom he had left on the shores of
Loch Ness, and with whom he kept up a vigorous biennial correspondence.

As the stove made no reply, he continued his address.

"If I only had a few books now, it wouldn't be so hard to bear.  To be
sure, the Bible is a great resource--a blessed resource; but you see I
want something light now and then.  A laugh, you know, seems to be
absolutely needful at times.  Why, now I think of it, we wouldn't have
been given the power to laugh if it hadn't been necessary, and the last
hearty laugh I had was, let me see--that time three months ago, when my
long-nosed interpreter mistook a dead mouse in the soup--ha! ha!--for a
bit of pemmican, and only found out his mistake when the tail got
between his teeth!"

The solitary man burst into peals of laughter at the reminiscence, and
then, becoming suddenly grave, looked slowly round the room.

"If I could only have an echo of that," he resumed, "from somebody else!
Well, well, I'll just go and have another chat with Jessie."

So saying, Macnab rose, drew a small table near to the stove, laid upon
it a very large desk made by himself of pine-wood, and, placing a sheet
of paper thereon, began to write.

The sheet of paper merits notice.  Like the man who wrote, it was
extremely large, being several sizes bigger than foolscap, and very
loosely ruled.  As I have said, communication with the outer world being
possible only twice in the year, our Highlander resolved, as usual, to
make the most of his opportunities.  Hence he not only used the largest
paper which the company provided, but filled up several such sheets with
the smallest possible writing, so that Jessie might ultimately get
something worth having.  It is but justice to add that Macnab wrote not
only a very small but a remarkably clear and legible hand--a virtue
which I earnestly commend to correspondents in general, to those of them
at least who wish their epistles to meet with thorough appreciation.

It was late when our solitaire completed that evening's addition to his
already voluminous letter, and he was thinking about going to bed when a
stamping in the porch outside announced that a visitor was clearing the
snow from his moccasins.

"One o' the men forgot something, I fancy," muttered Macnab to himself.

The latch was lifted, for locks were not deemed necessary in those
regions, and the door opening slowly disclosed the copper-hued visage
and tall bony figure of a very powerful and handsome native of the
soil--perhaps I should rather say--of the snow!

"Hallo! hey! come in," shouted Macnab, giving way to a gush of his
pent-up social feelings; "why it's good for sore eyes to see a new face,
even a red one.  What cheer? what cheer?  Where d'ye hail from?  Come
in, come in, and welcome!"

The hearty Highlander spoke the Indian tongue fluently, but in the
excitement of his feelings mingled it with a good deal of English and an
occasional growl of expressive Gaelic.

The Indian, whose horned cap and person were well powdered with snow,
stepped slowly over the threshold, extending his hand to the
Highlander's grasp, and looking cautiously round with rolling black
eyes, as if he half expected a dynamite explosion to follow his
entrance.  His garments bore evidence of rough usage.  Holes in his
moccasins permitted portions of the duffle socks underneath to wander
out.  Knots on his snow-shoe lines and netting told of a long rough
journey, and the soiled, greasy condition of his leathern capote spoke
of its having been much used not only as a garment by day but as a shirt
by night.

Placing his gun and snow-shoes in a corner, after solemnly responding
"watchee, watchee," to Macnab's "what cheer," the red-man seated himself
on the floor beside the stove, with silent disregard of the chair that
his host politely offered.

It is the custom of North American Indians--on arriving at an
establishment--to withhold the most interesting portion of what they may
have to communicate until after they have had a pipe, or a feed, and
have answered the questions put on the less interesting objects of their
visits.  Being well aware of this trait of character, Macnab forebore to
question too closely this fine-looking Indian until he had well thawed
and smoked himself.  Ultimately, however, he brought him to the point.

To the north-westward of Muskrat House, many long days' march, he said
(of course in his native tongue) there was a grand country full of fine
furs and fine people, who found it a very long journey indeed to come
all the way to Muskrat House to trade their furs.  Would his white
father go and build a house there, near Lake Wichikagan, and shoot and
fish, and trade?--waugh!

To which Macnab replied that he was glad to hear about the plenty of
furs and the friendly natives and the fine country, and that he would
take the matter into his consideration--waugh!

To this the red-man responded "ho!" and then "how!"--not interrogatively
but interjectionally--with much gravity.

That night Macnab took the matter into consideration with his wonted
vigour, and came to the conclusion that it was of sufficient importance
to warrant a visit on his part to headquarters--Dunregan being
headquarters to Muskrat House.  Accordingly, he went to the men's house
and introduced the stranger, whose name in the Indian tongue signified
Big Otter.  The men received him with as much joy as if he had been an
angel of light.

"Get a sled and four of the best dogs ready to start by daybreak
to-morrow," said Macnab to one of his men, "and have breakfast sharp,"
he added, turning to the cook.  "You'll go with me to Dunregan, won't
you, Big Otter?"

Big Otter was ready for anything at a moment's notice!

When daylight glimmered faintly in the east the following morning,
Macnab sat at his table devouring venison steaks, pancakes, and tea.
Big Otter sat opposite to him, having condescended to use a chair in
order to be on a level with the table.  The chair gave him much anxiety,
however.  He evidently feared to fall off or upset it, for, on rising to
reach some food opposite, he had tilted it back, and received a
tremendous though unacknowledged start from the crash that followed.

Half an hour later, Macnab, having left his interpreter in charge of the
establishment, was beating the track on snow-shoes through the forest,
his four wolfish-looking dogs following with a sled-load of provisions
and bedding, and Big Otter bringing up the rear.

The day turned out to be bright calm, and frosty.  It was in thorough
unison with Macnab's feelings, for the near prospect of soon meeting
with men somewhat like himself produced a calm and bright condition of
mind which he had not experienced for many a day.  It is true that the
frost can scarcely be said to have represented the Highlander's
temperament; but if there be truth in the saying that extremes meet, it
may be admissible to say that intense cold, which had the effect of
expanding water into ice so that it rent the very rocks, might be
appropriately compared with that intense warmth of Macnab's feelings
which had the effect of all but bursting his very bosom!  There was not
a breath of air stirring when the two men passed from the forest, and
struck out upon the marble surface of the great lake which lay at the
distance of about two miles from their establishment.  The sun was
rising at the time on the horizon of the ocean-like lake, gloriously
bright and cheering, though with no appreciable warmth in its beams.
Diamonds innumerable glittered on the frosted willow-boughs; the snow
under the travellers' tread gave forth that peculiar squeak, or chirping
sound, which is indicative of extreme Arctic frost, and the breath from
their mouths came out like the white puffs of a locomotive, settling on
their breasts in thick hoar-frost, and silvering such of their locks as
straggled out beyond the margin of their caps.  There was no life at
first in the quiet scene, but, just as they passed through the last
clump of bushes on the margin of the lake, a battalion of ptarmigan,
seemingly a thousand strong, burst with startling whirr from under their
very feet, and skimmed away like a snow-cloud close to the ground, while
an Arctic fox, aroused from his lair by the noise, slank quietly off
under the false belief that he had not been seen.

The rise of the ptarmigan had another effect, on which the travellers
had not counted.  The four wolfish dogs were so startled by the whirr,
that their spirits were roused to the mischievous point.  Up to that
moment they had been toiling and panting through the soft snow in the
woods.  They had now emerged upon the hard, wind-beaten snow of the open
ground and the lake.  The sudden freedom in the action of their limbs,
coupled with the impulse to their spirits, caused the team to bound
forward with one accord.  The sled swung round against Macnab's legs,
and overturned him; and the tail-line was jerked out of Big Otter's
grasp.  In a vain effort to recover it, that solemn savage trod, with
his right, on his own left snow-shoe, and plunged into a willow bush.
Thus freed altogether, the dogs went away with railway speed over the
hard snow, ever urged to more and more frantic exertions by the wild
boundings of the comparatively light sled behind them.

"After them, lad!" shouted Macnab, as he cast off his snow-shoes and
gave chase.

The Indian followed suit in desperate haste, for his receptive mind at
once perceived the all but hopeless nature of a chase after four
long-legged dogs, little removed from genuine wolves, over a hard level
course that extended away to the very horizon.

Happily, there was a small island not far from the shore of the lake, on
which grew a few willow bushes whose tops protruded above the
overwhelming snow, and whose buds formed the food of the ptarmigan
before mentioned.  Towards this island the dogs headed in their blind
race just as the white man and the red began to regret the comparative
slowness of human legs.

"Good luck!" exclaimed Macnab.

"Waugh!" responded his companion.

There was ground for both remarks, for, a few minutes later, the dogs
plunged into the bushes and the sled stuck fast and held them.

This was a trifling incident in itself, but it shook out of the
travellers any remains of lethargy that might have clung to them from
the slumbers of the previous night, and caused them to face the tramp
that lay before them with energy.

"Oh, you _ras_cals!" growled Macnab, as he went down on his knees beside
the leading dog to disentangle the traces which had been twisted up in
the abrupt stoppage.

I know not whether those dogs, being intellectually as well as
physically powerful beyond their fellows, understood the uncomplimentary
term and lost their tempers, but certain it is that the words were no
sooner uttered than the hindmost dog made an unprovoked assault on the
dog in front of it.  Of course the latter defended itself.  The dog next
to that, being probably pugnacious, could not resist the temptation to
join in, and the leader, feeling no doubt that it was "better to be out
of the world than out of the fashion," fell upon the rest with
remarkable fury.  Thus the sled, traces, and dogs, instantly became a
tumultuous mass of yelling, gasping, heaving, and twisting confusion.

Big Otter carried a short, heavy whip.  Without uttering a word, he
quietly proceeded to flog the mass into subjection.  It was a difficult
duty to perform, but Big Otter was strong and persevering.  He prevailed
after some time.  The mass was disentangled; the subdued dogs went
humbly forward, and the journey, having been thus auspiciously begun,
was continued until nightfall.

They had left the lake and Muskrat House some thirty miles behind them,
and had got into a thick and profoundly still part of the great
wilderness, when the waning light warned them to encamp.



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE WINTER JOURNEY.

It was not long before our travellers had a large space cleared of snow,
its floor spread with pine-branches, a roaring fire kindled, a couple of
ptarmigan roasting and the tea-kettle bubbling, while the dogs in the
background solaced themselves with raw birds to their heart's content.

Then the red-man and the white man smoked a friendly pipe.  They would
probably have smoked even if it had been an unfriendly pipe!

"I wonder," said Macnab, who was apt to become speculative and
philosophical over his pipe after supper, "I wonder if dogs ever envy us
our pipes?  You look so comfortable, Big Otter, as you sit there with
half-shut eyes letting the smoke trickle from your mouth and nose, that
I can't help thinking they must feel envious.  I'm sure that I should if
I were not smoking!"

The Indian, who was neither a speculator nor a philosopher--though
solemn enough for either or both--replied, "Waugh!"

"Very true," returned the Highlander, "I have no doubt your opinion is
quite correct, though not as clearly put as might be wished.  Have you
ever been at Fort Dunregan?"

"Once when Big Otter was a little boy, he stood beside the Great River,"
answered the Indian, gravely; "but the white man had no tent there at
that time."

"The white man has got some pretty big tents there now--made of wood
most of 'em," returned Macnab.  "In a few days you shall judge for
yourself, if all goes well."

The red-man smoked over this remark in silence for a considerable time,
evidently engaged in profound thought.  He was one of those children of
nature whose brains admit ideas slowly, and who, when they are admitted,
turn them round and round and inside out without much apparent
advantage.

At last he looked earnestly at his companion and asked--"Is there
fire-water at Fort Dunregan?"

"Well, no--I believe not.  At least there is none for red-men.  Why do
you ask?  Did you ever taste fire-water?"

The Indian's dark eyes seem to gleam with unwonted light as he replied
in tones more solemn than usual:--

"Yes.  Once--only once--a white brother gave some fire-water to Big
Otter."

"Humph!" ejaculated Macnab, "and what did you think of it!"

"Waugh!" exclaimed the red-man, sending a cloud out of his mouth with
such energy that it seemed like a little cannon-shot, while he glared at
his friend like a superannuated owl.  "Big Otter thought that he was in
the happy hunting-grounds with his fathers; his heart was so light and
his limbs were so strong, but that was only a dream--he was still in
this world.  Then he took a little more fire-water, and the dream became
a reality!  He was away with his fathers on the shining plains; he
chased the deer with the lightness of a boy and the strength of a bear.
He fought, and his foes fell before his strong arm like snowflakes on
the river, but he scalped them not.  He could not find them--they were
gone.  Big Otter was so strong that he had knocked both their lives and
bodies into the unknown!  He saw his father and his mother--and--his
wife and the little one who--died.  But he could not speak to them, for
the foes came back again, and he fought and took some more fire-water to
make him fight better; then the world went on fire, the stars came down
from the sky like snow when the wind is high.  The Big Otter flew up
into the air, and then--forgot--"

"Forgot what?" asked Macnab, much interested in his red friend's idea of
intoxication.

"Forgot everything," replied the Indian, with a look of solemn
perplexity.

"Well, I don't wonder; you must have had a good swig, apparently.  How
did ye feel next morning?"

If the Indian's looks were serious before, they became indescribably
solemn now.

"Big Otter felt," he replied with bated breath, "like bags of shot--
heavy like the great stones.  He could scarcely move; all his joints
were stiff.  Food was no longer pleasant to his tongue.  When he tried
to swallow, it would not remain, but came forth again.  He felt a wish
to drink up the river.  His head had an evil spirit inside which
squeezed the brain and tried to burst open the skull.  His eyes, also,
were swelled up so that he could hardly see, and his nose was two times
more big than the day before."

"That must have been an awful size, Big Otter, considering the size of
it by nature!  And what d'ye think was the cause of it all?"

As this question involved thought, the Indian smoked his pipe in silence
for some time, staring for inspiration into the fire.

"It must have been," he at length replied, "hunting with his fathers
before the right time had come.  Big Otter was not dead, and he chased
the deer too much, perhaps, or fought too much.  It may be that, having
only his earth-body, he ate too much."

"Don't ye think it's just possible," suggested Macnab, "that, having
only your earth-body, you _drank_ too much?"

"Waugh!" replied the red-man.  Then, after a few minutes' devotion to
the pipe, he added, "Big Otter would like very much to taste the
fire-water again."

"It's well for you, my boy," returned the other, "that you can't get it
in these regions, for if you could you'd soon be in the happy
hunting-grounds (or the other place) without your earth-body."

At this point the Highlander became more earnest, and treated his
companion to what would have passed in civilised lands for a fair
temperance lecture, in which he sought to describe graphically the evils
of strong drink.  To this the Indian listened with the most intense
attention and an owlish expression, making no audible comment whatever--
with the exception, now and then, of an emphatic "Waugh!" but indicating
his interest by the working of his features and the glittering of his
great eyes.  Whether the reasoning of Macnab had much influence at that
time could not be ascertained, for he was yet in the middle of one of
his most graphic anecdotes when the Indian's owlish eyes shut with a
suddenness that was quite startling, and he roused himself just in time
to prevent his chin from dropping on his chest.

"Waugh!" he exclaimed with a slightly-confused look.

"Just so," replied Macnab with a laugh, "and now, boy, we'll turn in,
for it strikes me we're going to have warmish weather, and if so, we
shall have to make the most of our time."

Soon the blankets were spread; the fire was replenished with mighty
logs; the travellers lay down side by side and in a few minutes snored
in concert; the flames leaped upwards, and the sparks, entangling
themselves on the snow-encrusted branches of bush and tree, gleamed
there for an instant, or, escaping, flew gaily away into the wintry sky.

While the two men were sleeping, a change came over the scene--a slow,
gentle, scarce perceptible change, which, however, had a powerful
influence on the prospects of the sleepers.  The sky became overcast;
the temperature, which had been down at arctic depth for many months,
suddenly rose to that of temperate climes, and snow began to fall--not
in the small sharp particles to which the fur-traders of the great
northern wilderness are accustomed, but in the broad, heavy flakes that
one often sees in England.  Softly, silently, gently they fell, like the
descent of a sweet influence--but steadily, persistently, continuously,
until every object in nature became smothered in the soft white garment.
Among other objects the two sleepers were buried.

The snow began by powdering them over.  Had any one been there to
observe the process, he would have seen by the bright light of the
camp-fire that the green blankets in which they were wrapt became
piebald first; then assumed a greyish-green colour, which speedily
changed into a greenish-grey, and finally into a pure white.  The two
sleepers might thus have represented those figures in chiselled marble
on the tombs of crusaders, had it not been that they lay doubled up, for
warmth--perhaps also for comfort--with their knees at their chins,
instead of flat on their backs with their hands pressed together.  By
degrees the correct outline of their forms became an incorrect outline,
and gradually more and more rotund--suggesting the idea that the buried
ones were fat.

As the night wore on the snow accumulated on them until it lay several
inches deep.  Still they moved not.  Strong, tired and healthy men are
not easily moved.  The fire of course sank by degrees until it reached
that point where it failed to melt the snow; then it was quickly
smothered out and covered over.  The entire camp was also buried; the
tin kettle being capped with a knob peculiarly its own, and the
snow-shoes and other implements having each their appropriate outline,
while some hundredweights, if not tons, of the white drapery gathered on
the branches overhead.  It was altogether an overwhelming state of
things, and the only evidence of life in all the scene was the little
hole in front of each slumberer's nose, out of which issued intermittent
pufflets of white vapour.

So the night passed by and the morning dawned, and the wintry sun arose
like a red-hot cannon ball.  Then Macnab awoke with a start and sat up
with an effort.

"Hallo!" was his first exclamation, as he tried to clear his eyes, then
he muttered something in Gaelic which, being incomprehensible, I cannot
translate, although the worthy man has many a time, since the day of
which I write, tried to explain it to me!

It may have been his action, or it may have been indignant northern
fairies, I know not, but certain it is that the Gaelic was instantly
followed by an avalanche of snow from the branch over the Highlander's
head, which knocked him down and reburied him.  It also knocked Big
Otter up and drew forth the inevitable "Waugh!"

"Humph!" said Macnab, on clearing himself a second time, "I was half
afraid of this.  We've got our work cut out for us."

The Indian replied not, but proceeded to light the fire and prepare
breakfast, while his companion cleared the camp of some of its snow.
The wolfish dogs took a lively interest in these proceedings, but lent
no assistance beyond wagging their tails, either in approval or in
anticipation of breakfast.

Of course breakfast was a repetition of the previous supper, and was
soon disposed of both by men and dogs.  Then the latter were harnessed
to their sledge, the snow-shoes were put on, and the journey was
resumed--Macnab manfully leading the way.

And let not the reader imagine that this leadership involved little or
no manhood.  Northern snow-shoes are about five feet long, and twelve or
fifteen inches broad.  The netting with which the frames are filled up--
somewhat like the bottom of a cane chair--allows fine well-frozen snow
to fall through it like dust and the traveller, sinking it may be only a
few inches in old well-settled-down snow, progresses with ease.  But
when a heavy fall such as I have described takes place, especially in
spring, and the weather grows comparatively warm, the traveller's
circumstances change greatly for the worse.  The new snow being light
permits him to sink deep into it--perhaps eight or ten inches--at every
step; being also soft, that which falls upon the shoes cannot pass
through the netting, but sticks there, giving him many extra pounds
weight to lift as he goes heavily along.  Add to this that his thick
winter garb becomes oppressive in mild weather, and you will perceive
that Macnab's duties as beater of the track were severe.

At first their progress was very slow, for it was through the thick
woods, where fallen trees and bushes obstructed them as well as deep
snow, but towards noon they came out on a more open country--in summer a
swamp; at that time a frozen plain--and the travelling improved, for a
slight breeze had already begun to make an impression on the new snow in
exposed places.

"Now, Big Otter," said Macnab, coming to a halt, "we'll have some grub
here, and then you will take a turn in front."

The Indian was ready for anything.  So were the dogs--especially for
"grub."  Indeed it was obvious that they understood the meaning of that
word, for when Macnab uttered it they wagged their tails and cocked
their ears.

It was a cold dinner, if I may describe the meal by that name.  The work
was too hard, and the daylight in which to do it too brief, to admit of
needless delay.  A frozen bird thrown to each of the dogs, and a junk of
equally frozen pemmican cut out of the bag with a hatchet for the
travellers, formed the repast.  The latter ate it sitting on a
snow-wreath.  They, however, had the advantage of their canine friends
in the matter of hard biscuits, of which they each consumed two as a
sort of cold pudding.  Then they resumed the march and plodded heavily
on till near sunset, when they again selected a suitable spot in the
woods, cleared away the snow, and encamped as before.

"It's hard work," exclaimed Macnab with a Celtic sigh, as he sipped his
tea that night in the mellow light of the log fire.

"Waugh!  Big Otter has seen harder work," returned the Indian.

"No doubt ye have, an' so have I," returned Macnab; "I mind, once, when
away on a snow-shoe trip on the St. Lawrence gulf, bein' caught by a
regular thaw when the snow turned into slush, an' liftin' the snow-shoes
was like to tear one's legs out o' their sockets, not to mention the
skinning of your toes wi' the snow-shoe lines, an' the wet turning your
moccasins into something like tripe.  Yes, it might be worse, as you
say.  Now, boy, I'll turn in."

The next day travelling was no better, and on the next again it became
worse, for although the temperature was still below the freezing point,
snow continued to fall all day as well as all night, so that our
travellers and their dogs became like animated snowballs, and beating
the track became an exhausting labour.

But difficulties cannot finally stop, though they may retard, a
"Nor'-wester."  On the sixth day, however, they met with a foe who had
power to lay a temporary check on their advance.  On the night of the
fifth day out, another change of temperature took place.  A thermometer,
had they carried one, would probably have registered from ten to twenty
below zero of Fahrenheit.  This, however, was so familiar to them that
they rather liked the change, and heaped up fresh logs on the roaring
fire to counteract the cold; but when a breeze sprang up and began to
blow hard, they did not enjoy it so much, and when the breeze increased
to a gale, it became serious; for one cannot face intense cold during a
gale without the risk of being frost-bitten.  In the shelter of the
woods it was all right, but when, towards noon, they came out on an
extended plain where the wild winds were whirling the wilder snow in
blinding drifts, they halted and looked inquiringly at each other.

"Shall we try it?" asked Macnab.

The Indian shook his head and looked solemn.

"It's a pity to give in without--"

A snow-drift caught the Highlander full in the mouth and literally shut
him up!  The effect was not to subdue, but to arouse.

"Yes," he said in a species of calm ferocity, when the gale allowed him
the power of utterance, "we'll go on."

He went on, followed by the obedient native and the unhappy dogs, but he
had not taken half a dozen steps when he tripped over a concealed rock
and broke a snow-shoe.  To walk with a broken snow-shoe is impossible.
To repair one is somewhat difficult and takes time.  They were
compelled, therefore, to re-enter the sheltering woods and encamp.

"You're better at mending than I am," said Macnab to the Indian.  "Set
to work on the shoe when the camp is dug out, an' I'll go cut some
firewood."

Cutting firewood is not only laborious, but attended with danger, and
that day ill-fortune seemed to have beset the Highlander; for he had
barely cut half a dozen logs, when his axe glanced off a knot and struck
deep into the calf of his left leg.

A shout brought Big Otter to his side.  The Indian was well used to such
accidents.  He bound up the wound securely, and carried his comrade into
camp on his back.  But now Macnab was helpless.  He not only could not
walk, but there was no hope of his being able to do so for weeks to
come.

"Lucky for us we brought the dogs," he remarked when the operation was
completed.

"Waugh!" exclaimed the Indian by way of assent, while he busied himself
in preparing food.

It was indeed lucky, for if they had dragged the provision-sled
themselves, as Macnab had once thought of doing, it would have fallen to
Big Otter's lot to haul his comrade during the remainder of the journey.
As it was, the dogs did it, and in the doing of it, despite the
red-man's anxious and constant care, many a severe shake, and bump, and
capsize in the snow did the unfortunate man receive before that journey
came to a close.  He bore it all, however, with the quiet stoicism
characteristic of the race from which he sprang.



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE WOUNDED MAN.

It is needful now to return to Fort Dunregan.

The long winter is not yet past, but there are symptoms, as I have said,
that it is coming to a close.  Snow and ice are still indeed the
prevailing characteristic of the region, but the air is no longer
intensely cold.  On the contrary, a genial warmth prevails, inducing the
inhabitants to discard flannel-lined leathern capotes and fur caps for
lighter garments.  There is a honeycombed look about the snow-drifts,
which gives them an aged appearance; and, above all, there is an
occasional dropping of water--yes, actual water--from the points of huge
icicles!  This is such an ancient memory that we can scarce believe our
senses.  We sniff, too, as we walk about; for there are scents in the
air--old familiar smells of earth and vegetation--which we had begun to
fancy we had almost forgotten.

The excitement caused by the arrival of the winter packet had also by
that time passed almost out of memory, and we had sunk back into that
calm state of patient waiting which may probably be familiar to the
convict who knows that some months of monotonous existence still lie
before him; for, not until the snow and ice should completely clear away
and the summer be pretty well advanced could we hope for the blessed
sight of a new face and the cheering sound of a fresh human voice.  Of
course we had the agreeable prospect of hearing ere long the voices of
wild-fowl in their noisy northern flight, but such a prospect was not
sufficient to satisfy poor secluded humanity.

"Oh that I were a bird!" exclaimed Spooner, one morning as we were
seated round the Carron stove in our hall.

"No need to wish that," said Lumley, "for you're a goose already!"

"Well, I'd even consent to be a real goose," continued Spooner, "if I
could only thereby use my wings to fly away over the snowy wilderness
and alight in my old home."

"What a surprise you'd give them if you did!" said Lumley, "especially
if you came down with your ruffled feathers as clumsily as you tumbled
into the saw-pit the other day when--"

He stopped, for at that moment I said "Hush!" and held up a finger.

"Sleigh-bells!" exclaimed Spooner, with a catch of his breath.

"Nothing new in that," said Lumley: "we hear them every day."

"Nothing new," I retorted, "to your unmusical ear, but these bells are
not _our_ bells--listen!"

I started up as I spoke, flung open the outer door, and we all listened
intently.

Clear and pleasant they rang, like the music of a sweet new song.  We
all gave a shout, clapped on our caps, and ran out to the fort gate.
There an almost new sensation thrilled us, for we beheld a team of dogs
coming up weary and worn out of the wilderness, preceded by a gaunt yet
majestic Indian, whose whole aspect--haggard expression of countenance,
soiled and somewhat tattered garments, and weary gait--betokened severe
exhaustion.  On the sled, drawn by four lanky dogs, we could see the
figure of a man wrapped in blankets and strapped to the conveyance.

"Who _can_ it be?" exclaimed Lumley, as he hastened out to meet the new
arrivals.

"A sick man from somewhere," suggested Spooner.

"Perhaps the governor," said I, "on an unexpected tour of inspection."

As we drew near we could see that the recumbent figure waved a hand and
cheered.

"Macnab," said I, as the familiar voice struck my ear.

"Ill--dying!" gasped the anxious Spooner.

"No dying man ever cheered like that!" cried Lumley, "except a hero of
romance in the hour of death and victory!"

A few seconds more and the matter was put at rest, while we warmly shook
the hearty and genial Highlander by both hands.

"Help me out, boys," he said; "I'm tired o' this sled, and think I can
do the little remaining bit o' the journey on foot with your help."

We disentangled him from the sledge and set him on his feet.

"Hold on, Lumley," he said, with a smile on his haggard and unshaven
face, "I want to embrace you, like the Frenchmen.  There--my arm round
your neck--so.  Now, Max, I want to embrace you likewise wi' the other
arm.  I've grown awful affectionate in my old age.  You are rather
short, Max, for a good crutch, but you're better than nothing.  You see,
I've only got one good leg."

"But what has happened to the other--when, how, and where?" we exclaimed
in chorus.

Macnab answered the questions to our chief, who came forward at the
moment with welcome in his visage and extended hands.

"It's only a cut, sir, stupidly done with my own hatchet when we had
been but a few days out.  But rest will soon put me to rights.  My poor
man, Big Otter, is more to be pitied than I.  But for him I should have
perished in the snow."

"What cheer? what cheer?" said our chief, grasping the Indian's hand on
hearing this.

"What cheer?" we all exclaimed, following his example.

"Watchee! watchee!" echoed Big Otter, returning the hearty salutation as
well as his tongue could manage it, and giving us each a powerful
squeeze with his huge bony hand, which temporary exhaustion had not
appreciably reduced in strength.

The native was obviously a sociable, well-disposed man, for his eyes
glittered and his white teeth gleamed and his bronzed visage shone with
pleasure when Macnab explained the cause of our sudden burst of
affection for him.

Thus chatting and limping we got the Highlander slowly up to the hall,
set him down in our only armchair--a wooden one without stuffing--and
fetched him a basin of hot soup, that being a liquid which our cook had
always more or less frequently on hand.

"Ha! boys!" cried Macnab, smacking his lips, "that's the thing to put
life into a man!  I've not had anything like it for many a day.  You
see, we had a small misfortune soon after my accident, which cost us our
kettle, and rendered soup or tea impossible."

"How was that?" inquired our chief, sitting down, while we gathered
round the stove to listen.

"Well, you see, sir, not long after my accident, there came a sharp
frost which made the surface of the snow hard after the thaw, so the
dogs could run on the top of the crust without breaking it, but Big
Otter, bein' heavy, broke through--by the way, I hope he's bein' looked
after."

"You may be sure of that," said Spooner.  "I saw him safely placed in
the men's house, and Salamander, who, it turns out, is a sort of
relation of his, set to work to stuff him with the same sort of soup you
think so much of.  I only hope they've enough to keep him going, for
before I left the house he had drunk off two bowls of it almost without
taking breath, though it was scalding hot."

"Good.  He'll do it ample justice," returned Macnab, taking another pull
at his own bowl.  "I hope you're well provisioned, for Big Otter's an
awful consumer of victuals.  Well, as I was saying, the surface of the
snow got frozen thinly, and the work o' tramping after the sled and
holding on to the tail-line was uncommonly hard, as I could see, for I
lay with my head to the front, looping back on the poor man.  But it was
on the exposed places and going down the slopes that the greatest
difficulty lay, for there the dogs were keen to run away.  Once or twice
they did fairly get off, and gave me some rough as well as long runs
before my man could catch them up.  At last we came one afternoon to an
open plain where the snow had felt the thaw and been frozen again pretty
hard.  The moment we got on it away went the dogs.  Big Otter tried to
run, but one of his shoes went through the crust and the other didn't,
so down he came, and had to let go the line.  I felt easy enough at
first, for the plain was level, but after a time it became lumpy, and I
got some ugly bumps.  `Never mind,' thought I, `they'll be sure to come
to some bushes, and that'll pull them up.'  Just as I thought so, we
came to a slope, and the team went slap over a bank.  The sled and I
threw a complete somersault.  Fortunately we came down on the dogs,
which broke our fall, though it half killed them!

"When Big Otter came and turned me right side up, I found that I had
sustained no damage whatever, but, woe's me! our tin kettle was almost
knocked flat.  The worst of it was that in trying to put it right we
drove a big hole in the bottom of it, so we had to bid farewell to hot
food, except what we roasted.  We could also melt snow by plastering up
the hole so as to get enough to drink, but boiling water was quite out
of the question."

"Well, Macnab," said our chief, rising, "since you have got the soup
over at last, come along with me and let's hear about your Indian
friend's proposals."

We assisted our visitor into the mess-room, which was also our principal
council-chamber, and there left him to talk business with Mr Strang
while we returned to Bachelors' Hall to let off our effervescing spirits
by indulging in a running commentary on the unexpected visit, and a
minute analysis of the characters of Macnab and Big Otter, which, I must
add, was decidedly favourable.

"It seems to me a piece of good luck that he has got here at all," said
Lumley, after we had finished the analysis.

"Why so?" asked Spooner.

"Because there are some unmistakable symptoms that winter is about over,
and that snow-shoe and dog-sleigh travelling will soon be impossible."

That Lumley was right, the change of weather during the next few days
clearly proved, for a thaw set in with steady power.  The sun became at
last warm enough to melt ice and snow visibly.  We no longer listened
with interest to the sounds of dropping water from eaves and trees, for
these had become once more familiar, and soon our ears were greeted with
the gurgling of rills away in mysterious depths beneath the snow.  The
gurgling ere long gave place to gushing, and it seemed as if all nature
were dissolving into liquid.

While this pleasant change was going on we awoke with song and laugh and
story the echoes of Bachelors' Hall--at no time very restful echoes,
save perhaps in the dead hours of early morning; and even then they were
more or less disturbed by snoring.  For our sociable Highlander, besides
having roused our spirits by his mere presence to the effervescing
point, was himself much elated by the mighty change from prolonged
solitude to joyous companionship.

"My spirit feels inclined," he remarked one day, "to jump clean out of
my body."

"You'd better not let it then," said Lumley, "for you know it might
catch cold or freeze."

"Not in this weather, surely," retorted Macnab, "and if I did feel
coldish in the circumstances, couldn't I borrow Spooner's
blanket-capote? it might fit me then, for I'd probably be a few sizes
smaller."

"Come, Mac," said I, "give us a song.  You know I'm wildly fond of
music; and, most unfortunately, not one of us three can sing a note."

Our visitor was quite willing, and began at once to sing a wild ditty,
in the wilder language of his native land.

He had a sweet, tuneful, sympathetic voice, which was at the same time
powerful, so that we listened to him, sometimes with enthusiasm swelling
our hearts, at other times with tears dimming our eyes.  No one, save he
who has been banished to a wilderness and long bereft of music, can
understand the nature of our feelings--of mine, at least.

One evening, after our wounded man had charmed us with several songs,
and we all of us had done what we could, despite our incapacity, to pay
him back in kind, he pulled a sheet of crumpled paper out of his pocket.

"Come," said he, unfolding it, "I've got a poet among the men of Muskrat
House, who has produced a song, which, if not marked by sublimity, is at
least distinguished by much truth.  He said he composed it at the rate
of about one line a week during the winter, and his comrades said that
it was quite a picture to see him agonising over the rhymes.  Before
they found out what was the matter with him they thought he was becoming
subject to fits of some sort.  Now, then, let's have a good chorus.
It's to the tune of `The British Grenadiers.'"

THE WORLD OF ICE AND SNOW.

  Come listen all good people who dwell at home at ease,
  I'll tell you of the sorrows of them that cross the seas
  And penetrate the wilderness,
  Where arctic tempests blow--
  Where your toes are froze,
  An' the pint o' your nose,
  In the world of Ice and Snow.

  You've eight long months of winter an' solitude profound,
  The snow at your feet is ten feet deep and frozen hard the ground.
  And all the lakes are solid cakes,
  And the rivers all cease to flow--
  Where your toes are froze,
  An' the pint o' your nose,
  In the world of Ice and Snow.

  No comrade to enliven; no friendly foe to fight;
  No female near to love or cheer with pure domestic light;
  No books to read; no cause to plead;
  No music, fun, nor go--
  Ne'er a shillin', nor a stiver,
  Nor nothin' whatsomediver,
  In the world of Ice and Snow.

  Your feelin's take to freezin', so likewise takes your brain;
  You go about grump-and-wheezin', like a wretched dog in pain;
  You long for wings, or some such things,
  But they're not to be had--oh! no--
  For there you are,
  Like a _fixed_ star,
  In the world of Ice and Snow.

  If you wished you could--you would not, for the very wish
  would die.
  If you thought you would--you could not, for you wouldn't
  have heart to try.
  Confusion worse confounded,
  Would aggravate you so--
  That you'd tumble down
  On the frozen ground
  In the world of Ice and Snow.

  But "never-give-in" our part is--let British pluck have sway
  And "never-say-die," my hearties--it's that what wins the day.
  To face our fate in every state,
  Is what we've got to do,
  An' laugh at our trouble
  Till we're all bent double--
  In the world of Ice and Snow.

  Now all ye sympathisers, and all ye tender souls;
  Ye kind philanthropisers, who dwell between the poles,
  Embrace in your affections
  Those merry merry men who go--
  Where your toes are froze,
  An' the pint o' your nose,
  In the world of Ice and Snow.

It almost seemed as though the world of ice and snow itself had taken
umbrage at Macnab's song, for, while we were yet in the act of
enthusiastically prolonging the last "sno-o-ow," there sounded in our
ears a loud report, as if of heavy artillery close at hand.

We all leaped up in excitement, as if an enemy were at our doors.

"There it goes at last!" cried Lumley, rushing out of the house followed
by Spooner.

I was about to follow when Macnab stopped me.

"Don't get excited, Max, there's no hurry!"

"It's the river going to break up," said I, looking back impatiently.

"Yes, I know that, but it won't break up to-night, depend on it."

I was too eager to wait for more, but ran to the banks of the river,
which at that place was fully a mile wide.  The moon was bright, and we
could see the familiar sheet of ice as still and cold as we had seen it
every day for many months past.

"Macnab's right," said I, "there will be no breakup to-night."

"Not so sure of that," returned Lumley; "the weather has been very warm
of late; melting snow has been gushing into it in thousands of streams,
and the strain on the ice--six feet thick though it is--must be
tremendous."

He was checked by another crashing report; but again silence ensued, and
we heard no more till next morning.  Of course we were all up and away
to the river bank long before breakfast, but it was not till after that
meal that the final burst-up occurred.  It was preceded by many
reports--towards the end by what seemed quite a smart artillery fire.
The whole sheet of ice on the great river seemed to be rising bodily
upwards from the tremendous hydraulic pressure underneath.  But though
the thaws of spring had converted much snow into floods of water, they
had not greatly affected the surface of the ice, which still lay hard
and solid in all its wintry strength.

A greater Power, however, was present.  If the ice had been made of
cast-iron six feet in thickness, it must have succumbed sooner or later.

At last, as Macnab said, "She went!" but who shall describe _how_ she
went?  It seemed as if the mighty cake had been suddenly struck from
below and shattered.  Then the turmoil that ensued was grand and
terrible beyond conception.  It was but an insignificant portion of
God's waters at which we gazed, but how overwhelming it seemed to us!
Mass rose upon mass of ice, the cold grey water bursting through and
over all, hurling morsels as large as the side of a house violently on
each other, till a mighty pile was raised which next moment fell with a
crash into the boiling foam.  Then, in one direction there was a rush
which seemed about to carry all before it, but instead of being piled
upwards, some of the masses were driven below, were thrust deep into the
mud, and a jam took place.  In a few minutes the ice burst upwards
again, and the masses were swept on to join the battalions that were
already on their way towards the distant lake amid noise and crash and
devastation.  It seemed as if ice and snow and water had combined to
revive the picture if not the reality of ancient chaos!

Thus the drapery of winter was rudely swept away, and next morning we
had the joy of seeing our river sweeping grandly on in all the liquid
beauty of early and welcome spring.



CHAPTER SIX.

AN EXPRESS AND ITS RESULTS.

Some weeks after the breaking up of the ice, as we were standing at the
front gate of Fort Dunregan, we experienced a pleasant surprise at the
sight of an Indian canoe sweeping round the point above the fort.  Two
men paddled the canoe, one in the bow and one in the stern.

It conveyed a message from headquarters directing that two of the clerks
should be sent to establish an outpost in the regions of the far north,
the very region from which Macnab's friend Big Otter had come.  One of
the two canoe-men was a clerk sent to undertake, at Dunregan, the work
of those who should be selected for the expedition, and he said that
another clerk was to follow in the spring-brigade of boats.

"That's marching orders for _you_, Lumley," said Macnab, who was beside
us when the canoe arrived.

"You cannot tell that," returned Lumley.  "It may be that our chief will
select Max or Spooner.  Did you hear any mention of names?" he asked of
the new clerk, as we all walked up to the house.

"No, our governor does not tell us much of his intentions.  Perhaps your
chief may be the man."

"He's too useful where he is," suggested Macnab.  "But we shall know
when the letters are opened."

Having delivered his despatches, the new arrival returned to us in
Batchelors' Hall, where we soon began to make the most of him, and were
engaged in a brisk fire of question and reply, when a message came for
Mr Lumley to go to the mess-room.

"I've sent for you, Lumley," said our chief, "to say that you have been
appointed to fill an honourable and responsible post.  It seems that the
governor, with his wonted sagacity, has perceived that it would be
advantageous to the service to have an outpost established in the lands
lying to the westward of Muskrat House, on the borders of Lake
Wichikagan.  As you are aware, the Indian, Big Otter, has come from that
very place, with a request from his people that such a post should be
established, and you have been selected by the governor to conduct the
expedition."

As our chief paused, Lumley, with a modest air, expressed his sense of
the honour that the appointment conferred on him, and his willingness to
do his best for the service.

"I know you will, Lumley," returned Mr Strang, "and I must do you the
justice to say that I think the governor has shown his usual wisdom in
the selection.  Without wishing to flatter you, I think you are steady
and self-reliant.  You are also strong and big, qualities which are of
some value among rough men and Indians, not because they enable you to
rule with a strong hand, but because they enable you to rule without the
necessity of showing the strength of your hand.  Bullies, if you should
meet with any, will recognise your ability to knock them down without
requiring proof thereof.  To say truth, if you were one of those fellows
who are fond of ruling by the mere strength of their arms, I should not
think you fit for the command of an expedition like this, which will
require much tact in its leader.  At the same time, a large and powerful
frame--especially if united to a peaceable spirit--is exceedingly useful
in a wild country.  Without the peaceable spirit it only renders its
possessor a bully and a nuisance.  I am further directed to furnish you
with the needful supplies and men.  I will see to the former being
prepared, and the latter you may select--of course within certain
limits.  Now go and make arrangements for a start.  The lakes will soon
be sufficiently free of ice, and you are aware that you will need all
your time to reach your ground and get well established before next
winter sets in."

"Excuse me, sir," said Lumley, turning back as he was about to depart.
"Am I permitted to select the clerk who is to go with me as well as the
men?"

"Certainly."

"Then I should like to have Mr Maxby."

Our chief smiled as he replied, "I thought so.  I have observed your
mutual friendship.  Well, you may tell him of the prospect before him."

Need I say that I was overjoyed at this prospect?  I have always felt
something of that disposition which animates, I suppose, the breast of
every explorer.  To visit unknown lands has always been with me almost a
passion, and this desire has extended even to trivial localities,
insomuch that I was in the habit, while at fort Dunregan, of traversing
all the surrounding country--on snow-shoes in winter and in my hunting
canoe in summer--until I became familiar with all the out-of-the-way and
the seldom-visited nooks and corners of that neighbourhood.

To be appointed, therefore, as second in command of an expedition to
establish a new trading-post in a little-known region, was of itself a
matter of much self-gratulation; but to have my friend and chum Jack
Lumley as my chief, was a piece of good fortune so great that on hearing
of it I executed an extravagant pirouette, knocked Spooner off his chair
by accident--though he thought it was done on purpose--and spent five or
ten minutes thereafter in running round the stove to escape his wrath.

As to my fitness for this appointment, I must turn aside for a few
moments to pay a tribute of respect to my dear father, as well as to
tell the youthful reader one or two things that have made a considerable
impression on me.

"Punch," said my father to me one day--he called me Punch because in
early life I had a squeaky voice and a jerky manner--"Punch, my boy, get
into a habit of looking up, if you can, as you trot along through this
world.  If you keep your head down and your eyes on the ground, you'll
see nothing of what's going on around you--consequently you'll know
nothing; moreover, you'll get a bad habit of turning your eyes inward
and always thinking only about yourself and your own affairs, which
means being selfish.  Besides, you'll run a chance of growing
absent-minded, and won't see danger approaching; so that you'll tumble
over things and damage your shins, and tumble into things and damage
your clothes, and tumble off things and damage your carcase, and get run
over by wheels, and poked in the back by carriage-poles, and killed by
trains, and spiflicated in various ways--all of which evils are to be
avoided by looking up and looking round, and taking note of what you
see, as you go along the track of life--d'ye see?"

"Yes, father."

"And this," continued my father, "is the only mode that I know of
getting near to that most blessed state of human felicity,
self-oblivion.  You won't be able to manage that altogether, Punch, but
you'll come nearest to it by looking up.  Of course there are times when
it is good for a man to look inside and take stock--self-examination,
you know--but looking _out_ and _up_ is more difficult, to my mind.  And
there is a kind of looking up, too, for guidance and blessing, which is
the most important of all, but I'm not talking to you on that subject
just now.  I'm trying to warn you against that habit which so many
people have of staring at the ground, and seeing and knowing nothing as
they go along through life.  I've suffered from it myself, Punch, more
than I care to tell, and that's why I speak feelingly, and wish to warn
you in time, my boy.

"Now, there's another thing," continued my father.  "You're fond of
rambling, Punch, and of reading books of travel and adventure, and I
have no doubt you think it would be a grand thing to go some day and try
to discover the North Pole, or the South Pole, or to explore the unknown
interior of Australia."

"Yes, father," I replied, in a tone which made him laugh.

"Well, then, Punch, I won't discourage you.  Go and discover these
places by all means, if you can; but mark me, you'll never discover them
if you get into the habit of keeping your eyes on the ground, and
thinking about yourself and your own affairs.  And I would further
advise you to brush up your mathematics, and study navigation, and learn
well how to take an observation for longitude and latitude, for if you
don't know how to find out exactly where you are in unknown regions,
you'll never be a discoverer.  Also, Punch, get into a habit of taking
notes, and learn to write a good hand, for editors and publishers won't
care to be bothered with you if you don't, and maybe the time will come
when you won't be able to make out your own writing.  I've known men of
that stamp, whose penmanship suggested the idea that a drunk fly had
dipped its legs in the ink-pud an' straggled across his paper."

These weighty words of my dear father I laid to heart at the time, and,
as a consequence I believe, have been selected on more than one occasion
to accompany exploring parties in various parts of the world.  One very
important accomplishment which my father did not think of, but which,
nevertheless, I have been so fortunate as to acquire, is, sketching from
Nature, and marking the course of rivers and trend of coasts.  I have
thus been able not only to make accurate maps of the wild regions I have
visited, but have brought home many sketches of interesting scenes of
adventure, which words alone could not have sufficed to pourtray.

But to return from this long digression.  I set about my preparations
without delay, and was soon ready with a small but very select amount of
baggage.  You may be sure also that Lumley was active in his
preparations, and the result was that, on a fine afternoon in the early
spring, we--that is, Lumley, Macnab, Big Otter, and I--set out on our
expedition in a strong new boat which was manned by two Indians, two
Scotchmen, and a number of Canadian half-breeds--all picked men.

I must not however, drag my readers through the details of our arduous
voyage, not because those details are devoid of interest or romance, far
from it, but because I have other matters more interesting and romantic
to relate.  I will, therefore, pass them over in silence, and at once
proceed to the remote region where our lot at that time was to be cast.

One beautiful evening we encamped on the margin of one of those
innumerable lakelets which gleam like diamonds on the breast of the
great wilderness, through which for many weeks we had been voyaging.
The vast solitudes into which we had penetrated, although nearly
destitute of human inhabitants, were by no means devoid of life, for
aquatic birds of varied form and voice made sweet music in the air, as
they swept over their grand domains on whirring wing, or chattered
happily in their rich feeding-grounds.

Those pleasant sounds were augmented by the axes of our men as they
busied themselves in cutting firewood, and preparing our encampment.

The spot chosen was a piece of level sward overhung by trees and
surrounded by bushes, except on the side next the little lake where an
opening permitted us to see the sheet of water gleaming like fire as the
sun sank behind the opposite trees.  By that time we had traversed
hundreds of miles of wilderness, stemming many rivers and rivulets;
crossing or skirting hundreds of lakes which varied from two hundred
miles to two hundred yards in length; dragging our boat and carrying our
baggage over innumerable portages, and making our beds each night, in
fair weather and foul, under the trees of the primeval forest, until we
had at last plunged into regions almost unknown--where, probably, the
foot of a white man had never before rested.  On the way we had passed
Muskrat House.  There, with feelings of profound regret, we parted from
our genial Highlander, promising, however, to send him an unusually long
account of all our doings by the packet, which we purposed sending to
headquarters sometime during the winter.

The particular duty which Lumley and I undertook on the evening in
question was the lighting of the fire, and putting on of the kettles for
supper.  We were aided by our guide, Big Otter, who cut down and cut up
the nearest dead trees, and by Salamander, who carried them to the camp.

"Three days more, and we shall reach the scene of our operations," said
Lumley to me, as we watched the slowly-rising flame which had just been
kindled; "is it not so?" he asked of Big Otter, who came up at the
moment with a stupendous log on his shoulders and flung it down.

"Waugh?" said the Indian, interrogatively.

"Ask him," said Lumley to Salamander, who was interpreter to the
expedition, "if we are far now from the lodges of his people."

"Three times," replied the red-man, pointing to the sun, "will the great
light go down, and then the smoke of Big Otter's wigwam shall be seen
rising above the trees."

"Good; I shall be glad when I see it," returned Lumley, arranging a
rustic tripod over the fire, "for I long to begin the building of our
house, and getting a supply of fish and meat for winter use.  Now then,
Salamander, fetch the big kettle."

"Yis, sar," replied our little servant, with gleeful activity (he was
only sixteen and an enthusiast) as he ran down to the lake for water.

"Cut the pemmican up small, Max.  I've a notion it mixes better, though
some fellows laugh at the idea and say that hungry men are not
particular."

"That is true," said I, attacking the pemmican with a small hatchet;
"yet have I seen these same scoffers at careful cookery doing ample and
appreciative justice to the mess when cooked."

"Just so.  I have observed the same thing--but, I say, what is Big Otter
looking so earnestly at over there?"

"Perhaps he sees a bear," said I; "or a moose-deer."

"No, he never pays so much attention to the lower animals, except when
he wants to shoot them.  He shakes his head, too.  Let's go see.  Come,
Salamander, and interpret."

"Big Otter sees something," said Lumley through Salamander as we
approached.

"Yes, Big Otter sees signs," was the reply.

"And what may the signs be?"

"Signs of wind and rain and thunder."

"Well, I suppose you know best but no such signs are visible to me.  Ask
him, Salamander, if we may expect the storm soon."

To this the Indian replied that he could not tell, but advised that
preparation should be made for the worst.

It may be well here to remark that although Lumley and I, as well as
some of our men, had acquired a smattering of the Indian tongue, our
chief deemed it expedient to give us a regular interpreter whose
knowledge of both languages was sufficiently extensive.  Such an
interpreter had been found in the youth whom we had styled Salamander,
and whose real name I have now forgotten.  This lad's knowledge of
Indian was perfect.  He also understood French well, and spoke it badly,
while his comprehension of English was quite equal to any emergency,
though his power of speaking it was exceedingly limited.  What he spoke
could scarcely be styled a broken tongue; it was rather what we may call
thoroughly smashed-up English!  Such as it was, however, it served our
purpose well enough, and as the lad was a willing, cheery, somewhat
humorous fellow, he was justly deemed an acquisition to our party.
While on this subject I may add that Blondin, who brought the winter
packet to Dunregan, was one of our number--also, that both our Scotsmen
were Highlanders, one being named Donald Bane, the other James Dougall.
Why the first called the second Shames Tougall, and the second styled
the first Tonal' Pane is a circumstance which I cannot explain.

Among the French-Canadian half-breeds our blacksmith, Marcelle Dumont
and our carpenter, Henri Coppet, were the most noteworthy; the first
being a short but herculean man with a jovial temperament, the latter a
thin, lanky, lugubrious fellow, with a grave disposition.  Both were
first-rate workmen, but indeed the same may be said of nearly all our
men, who had been chosen very much because of their readiness and
ability to turn their hands to anything.

Soon the kettles boiled.  In one we infused tea.  In another we prepared
that thick soup so familiar to the Nor'-wester, composed of pemmican and
flour, which is known by the name of _robbiboo_.  From a frying-pan the
same substances, much thicker, sent up a savoury steam under the name of
_richeau_.

There was not much conversation among us at the commencement of the
meal, as we sat round the camp-fire, but when appetite was appeased
muttered remarks were interchanged, and when tobacco-pipes came out, our
tongues, set free from food, began to wag apace.

"Dere is noting like a good _souper_," remarked Marcelle Dumont, the
blacksmith, extending his burly form on the grass the more thoroughly to
enjoy his pipe.

"Shames Tougall," said Donald Bane, in an undertone, and with the
deliberate slowness of his race, "what does he mean by soopy?"

"Tonal'," replied Dougall with equal deliberation, "ye'd petter ask his
nainsel'."

"It be de French for _supper_," said Salamander, who overheard the
question.

"Humph!" ejaculated Dougall and Bane in unison; but they vouchsafed no
further indication of the state of their minds.

"You're a true prophet, Big Otter," said Lumley, as a low rumbling of
distant thunder broke the silence of the night, which would have been
profound but for our voices, the crackling of the fire, and the tinkle
of a neighbouring rill.

Soon afterwards we observed a faint flash of lightning, which was
followed by another and deeper rumble of heaven's artillery.  Looking up
through the branches we perceived that the sky had become overcast with
heavy clouds.

Suddenly there came a blinding flash of lightning, as if the sun in
noonday strength had burst through the black sky.  It was followed
instantly by thick, almost palpable darkness, and by a crash so
tremendous that I sprang up with a sort of idea that the end of the
world had come.  The crash was prolonged in a series of rolling, bumping
thunders, as though giants were playing bowls with worlds on the floor
of heaven.  Gradually the echoing peals subsided into sullen mutterings
and finally died away.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

A TREMENDOUS STORM AND OTHER EXPERIENCES.

It need hardly be said that we all sprang up when the thunder-clap shook
the earth, and began hastily to make preparation for the coming storm.
The broad flat branches of a majestic pine formed a roof to our
encampment.  Dragging our provisions and blankets as near as possible to
the stem of the tree, we covered them up with one of our oiled-cloths,
which were somewhat similar in appearance and texture to the tarpaulings
of seafaring men, though light in colour.  Then we ran down to the lake,
carried all our goods hastily to the same spot, covered them up in like
manner, and finally dragged our boat as far up on the beach as possible.

Several blinding flashes and deafening peals saluted us while we were
thus employed, but as yet not a drop of rain or sigh of wind disturbed
us, and we were congratulating ourselves on having managed the matter so
promptly, when several huge drops warned us to seek shelter.

"That will do, boys," cried Lumley, referring to the boat, "she's safe."

"_Voila! vite_!" shouted Marcelle, our volatile son of Vulcan, as the
first big drops of rain descended on him.

He sprang towards the sheltering tree with wild activity.  So, indeed,
did we all, but the rain was too quick for us.  Down it came with the
suddenness and fury of a shower-bath, and most of us were nearly
drenched before we reached our pine.  There was a good deal of shouting
and laughter at first, but the tremendous forces of nature that had been
let loose were too overwhelming to permit of continued levity.  In a few
minutes the ground near our tree became seamed with little glancing
rivulets, while the rain continued to descend like straight heavy rods
of crystal which beat on the earth with a dull persistent roar.  Ere
long the saturated soil refused to drink in the superabundance, and the
crystal rods, descending into innumerable pools, changed the roar into
the plash of many waters.

We stood close together for some time, gazing at this scene in silent
solemnity, when a few trickling streams began to fall upon us, showing
that our leafy canopy, thick though it was, could not protect us
altogether from such a downpour.

"We'd better rig up one of the oiled-cloths, and get under it," I
suggested.

"Do so," said our chief.

Scarcely had he spoken when a flash of lightning, brighter than any that
had gone before, revealed to us the fact that the distant part of the
hitherto placid lake was seething with foam.

"A squall!  Look out!" shouted Lumley, grasping the oiled-cloth we were
about to spread.

Every one shouted and seized hold of something under the strong
conviction that action of some sort was necessary to avert danger.  But
all our voices were silenced in a dreadful roar of thunder which, as
Donald Bane afterwards remarked, seemed to split the universe from stem
to stern.  This was instantly followed by a powerful whirlwind which
caught our oiled-cloth, tore it out of our hands, and whisked it up into
the tree-tops, where it stuck fast and flapped furiously, while some of
our party were thrown down, and others seemed blown away altogether as
they ran into the thick bush for shelter.

For myself, without any definite intentions, and scarce knowing what I
was about, I seized and clung to the branches of a small tree with the
tenacity of a drowning man--unable to open my eyes while sticks and
leaves, huge limbs of trees and deluges of water flew madly past,
filling my mind with a vague impression that the besom of destruction
had become a veritable reality, and that we were all about to be swept
off the face of the earth together.

Strange to say, in this crisis I felt no fear.  I suppose I had not time
or power to think at all, and I have since that day thought that God
perhaps thus mercifully sends relief to His creatures in their direst
extremity--just as He sends relief to poor human beings, when suffering
intolerable pain, by causing stupor.

The outburst was as short-lived as it was furious.  Suddenly the wind
ceased; the floods of rain changed to slight droppings, and finally
stopped altogether, while the thunder growled itself into sullen repose
in the far distance.

But what a scene of wreck was left behind!  We could not of course, see
the full extent of the mischief, for the night still remained intensely
dark, but enough was revealed in the numerous uprooted trees which lay
all round us within the light of our rekindled camp-fire.  From most of
these we had been protected by the great pine, under which we had taken
shelter, though one or two had fallen perilously near to us--in one case
falling on and slightly damaging our baggage.

Our first anxiety, of course, was our boat, towards which we ran as if
by one impulse, the instant the wind had subsided.

To our horror it was gone!

Only those who know what it is to traverse hundreds of leagues of an
almost tenantless wilderness, and have tried to push a few miles through
roadless forests that have grown and fallen age after age in undisturbed
entanglement since the morning of creation, can imagine the state of our
minds at this discovery.

"Search towards the woods, men," said Lumley, who, whatever he might
have felt, was the only one amongst us who seemed unexcited.  We could
trace no sign of anxiety in the deep tones of his steady voice.

It was this quality--I may remark in passing--this calm, equable flow of
self-possession in all circumstances, no matter how trying, that
rendered our young leader so fit for the work, with which he had been
entrusted, and which caused us all to rely on him with unquestioning
confidence.  He never seemed uncertain how to act even in the most
desperate circumstances, and he never gave way to discontent or
depression.  A gentle, good-humoured expression usually played on his
countenance, yet he could look stern enough at times, and even fierce,
as we all knew.

While we were stumbling in the dark in the direction indicated, we heard
the voice of Salamander shouting:--

"Here it am!  De bot--busted on de bank!"

And "busted" it certainly was, as we could feel, for it was too dark to
see.

"Fetch a blazing stick, one of you," cried Lumley.

A light revealed the fact that our boat, in being rolled bodily up the
bank by the gale, had got several of her planks damaged and two of her
ribs broken.

"Let's be thankful," I said, on further examination, "that no damage has
been done to keel or gun'le."

"Nor to stem or stern-post," added Lumley.  "Come, we shan't be delayed
more than a day after all."

He was right.  The whole of the day that followed the storm we spent in
repairing the boat, and drying such portions of the goods as had got
wet, as well as our own garments.  The weather turned out to be bright
and warm, so that when we lay down to rest, everything was ready for a
start at the earliest gleam of dawn.

"Lumley," said I, next day, as we rested after a good spell at the oars,
"what would have become of us if our boat had been smashed to pieces, or
bodily blown away?"

"Nothing very serious would have become of us, I think," he replied with
an amused look.

"But consider," I said; "we are now hundreds of miles away from Muskrat
House--our nearest neighbour--with a dense wilderness and no roads
between.  Without a boat we could neither advance nor retreat.  We
might, of course, try to crawl along river banks and lake shores, which
would involve the wading or swimming of hundreds of rivulets and rivers,
with provisions and blankets on our backs, and even then winter would be
down on us, and we should all be frozen to death before the end of the
journey.  Besides, even if we were to escape, how could we ever show
face after leaving all our supply of goods and stores to rot in the
wilderness?"

"Truly," replied my friend with a short laugh, "the picture you paint is
not a lively one, but it is I who ought to ask _you_ to consider.  There
are many ways in which we might overcome our supposed difficulties.  I
will explain; and let me begin by pointing out that your first error
lies in conceiving an improbability and an impossibility.  In the first
place it is improbable that our boat should get `smashed to pieces.'
Such an event seldom occurs in river navigation, except in the case of
going over something like Niagara.  In the second place it is impossible
that a boat should be blown bodily away.  But let us suppose that, for
the sake of argument, something of the kind had happened, and that our
boat was damaged beyond repair, or lost; could we not, think you,
fabricate a couple of birch-bark canoes in a country where such splendid
birch-trees grow, and with these proceed to our destination?"

"Very true," said I, "that did not occur to me; but," I continued,
waxing argumentative, "what if there had been no birch-trees in this
part of the country?"

"Why then, Max, there would be nothing to prevent our placing most of
our goods _en cache_, construct a small portable raft for crossing
streams, and start off each man with a small load for Big Otter's home,
at which we should arrive in a week or two, and there set about the
erection of huts to shelter us, begin a fishery, and remain until winter
should set fast the lakes and rivers, cover the land with snow, and thus
enable us to go back for our goods, and bring them forward on sledges,
with aid, perhaps, from the red-men."

"True, true, Lumley, that might be done."

"Or," continued my friend, "we might stay where the disaster overtook
us, remain till winter, and send Big Otter on to tell his people that we
were coming.  When one plan fails, you know, all you've got to do is to
try another.  There is only one sort of accident that might cause us a
deal of trouble, and some loss--and that is, our boat getting smashed
and upset in a rapid, and our goods scattered.  Even in that case we
might recover much of what could swim, but lead and iron would be lost,
and powder damaged.  However we won't anticipate evil.  Look! there is a
sight that ought to banish all forebodings from our minds."

He pointed as he spoke to an opening ahead of us, which revealed a
beautiful little lake, whose unruffled surface was studded with
picturesque bush-clad islets.  Water-fowl of many kinds were swimming
about on its surface, or skimming swiftly over it.  It seemed so
peaceful that I was led to think of it as a miniature paradise.

"Come, Henri, chante, sing," cried Lumley, with a touch of enthusiasm in
eye and tone.

Our carpenter, Coppet, was by general consent our leading singer.  He
possessed a sweet tenor voice, and always responded to a call with a
willingness that went far to counteract the lugubrious aspect of his
visage.  On this occasion he at once struck up the canoe-song, "_A la
claire fontaine_," which, besides being plaintive and beautiful, seemed
to me exceedingly appropriate, for we were at that time crossing a
height of land, and the clear, crystal waters over which we skimmed
formed indeed the fountain-head of some of the great northern rivers.

The sudden burst of song had a wonderful effect upon the denizens of
Clear Lake, as we named the sheet of water; for, after a brief momentary
pause in their chatter--as if of incredulity and blazing surprise--they
all arose at once in such myriads that the noise of their wings was not
unlike what I may style muffled thunder.

Before the song was well finished we had reached the other end of the
lakelet, and found that a deep river ran out of it in a nor'easterly
direction.  The current of the river was powerful, and we had not
proceeded many miles down its course when we came to a series of
turbulent rapids.

As we entered them I could not help recalling Lumley's remarks about the
risks we ran in descending rapids; but no thought of actual danger
occurred to me until I saw Blondin, who was our bowman, draw in his oar,
grasp a long pole with which he had provided himself, and stand up in
the bow, the better to look out inquiringly ahead.

Now, it must be explained that the bowman's is the most important post
in river navigation in the Nor'-west--equal, at all events, to that of
steersman.  In fact the two act in concert; the bowman, whose position
commands the best view of rocks and dangers ahead, giving direction, and
the watchful steersman acting sympathetically with his long oar or
sweep, so that should the bowman with his pole thrust the head of the
boat violently to the right the steersman sweeps its stern sharply to
the left, thus causing the craft to spin round and shoot aside from the
danger, whatever it may be.  Of course the general flow and turmoil of a
rapid indicates pretty clearly to skilled eyes where the deepest water
lies; nevertheless, in spite of knowledge, skill, and experience,
disasters will happen at times.

"Monsieur," said Blondin in French to Lumley, as we gained a smooth
piece of water at the foot of a short rapid, "I know not the rocks
ahead.  It may be well to land and look."

"Do so, Blondin."

We ran the boat's head on shore, and while the bowman and our leader
went to look at the rapids in advance, most of our men got out their
pipes and began to chat quietly.

Our scouts quickly returned, saying that the rapids, though rough, were
practicable.  Soon we were among them, darting down with what would have
seemed, to any inexperienced eye, perilous velocity.  The river at the
place was about a hundred yards wide, with an unusually rugged channel,
but with a distinctly marked run--deep and tortuous--in the middle.  On
both sides of the run, sweeping and curling surges told of rocks close
to the surface, and in many places these showed black edges above water,
which broke the stream into dazzling foam.

"Have a care, Blondin," said our chief, in a warning voice, as the
bowman made a sudden and desperate shove with his pole.  A side current
had swept us too far in the direction of a forbidding ledge, to touch on
which might have been fatal.  But Henri Coppet, who acted as steersman
as well as carpenter, was equal to the occasion.  He bent his lanky form
almost double, took a magnificent sweep with the oar, and seconded
Blondin's shove so ably that we passed the danger like an arrow, with
nothing but a slight graze.

That danger past we were on the brink of another, almost before we had
time to think.  At the time I remember being deeply impressed, in a
confused way, with the fact that, whatever might await us below, there
was now no possibility of our returning up stream.  We were emphatically
"in for it," and our only hope lay in the judgment, boldness, and
capacity of the two men who guided our frail bark--doubly frail, it
seemed to me, when contrasted with the waters that surged around, and
the solid rocks that appeared to bar our way in all directions.  Even
some of our men at the oars, whose only duty was to obey orders
promptly, began to show symptoms of anxiety, if not of fear.

"Smooth water ahead," muttered Lumley, pointing to a small lake into
which the turbulent river ran about a quarter of a mile further down.

"All right soon," I said, but just as I spoke the boat lightly touched a
rock.  Blondin saw that there was not sufficient depth in a passage
which he had intended to traverse.  With a shout to the steersman he
thrust his pole over the side with all his might.  The obedient craft
turned as if on a pivot, and would have gone straight into a safe stream
in another second, if Blondin's pole had not stuck fast either in mud or
between two rocks.

In a moment our bowman was whisked over the side as if he had been a
feather.  Letting go the pole he caught the gunwale and held on.  The
boat was carried broadside on the rocks, and the gushing water raised
her upper side so high that she was on the point of rolling over when
all of us--I think instinctively--sprang to that side and bore her down.

"Over the side, some of you," cried Lumley, leaping into the water on
the lower side, followed by six of us, including myself.  Some of us
were breast deep; others, on rocks, stood higher.

"Now--together--shove!--and hold on!"

There was no need to give us the latter caution.

Our boat shot into deep water and we all held on for life.  Fortunately
the more open part of the rapid had been gained.  The steersman without
aid could keep us in deep water, and, before we had fairly scrambled
back into our places, we were floating safely on the quiet lake into
which the river ran.

You may be sure that we had matter not only for gratulation but for
conversation that night at supper; for, after discussing our recent
adventure in all its phases, nearly every one of our party had numerous
similar incidents to tell of--either as having occurred to himself, or
to his friends.  But the pleasure of that night's intercourse and repose
was materially diminished by a pest, with which for some time previously
we had not been much afflicted.

Who has not heard of mosquitoes?  We may inform those who have never
seen or felt them that they are peculiarly virulent and numerous and
vicious and bloodthirsty in the swampy lands of North America, and that
night we had got into a region of swamps.  It may also, perhaps, be
unknown to some people that mosquitoes do not slumber--unless, indeed,
they do it on a preconcerted plan of relieving guard.  Either there is a
"day and night shift" or they do not rest at all.  As a consequence _we_
did not rest.  Groans and maledictions were the order of the night.  We
spent much time in slapping our own faces, and immolated hundreds of the
foe at each slap, but thousands came on to refill the ranks.  We buried
our heads under our blankets, but could not sleep for suffocation.  Some
of the men left their faces exposed, went to sleep in desperate
exhaustion, after hours of fruitless warfare, and awoke with eyes all
but shut up, and cheeks like dumplings.  Others lay down to leeward of
the fire and spent the night in a compound experience of blood-sucking
and choking.  One ingenious man--I think it was Salamander--wrapped his
visage in a kerchief, leaving nothing exposed save the point of his nose
for breathing purposes.  In the morning he arose with something like a
huge strawberry on the end of his prominent feature.

Indeed, it was a wearing night to follow such a trying day!



CHAPTER EIGHT.

DEEP IN THE WILDERNESS WE FIND OUR HOME WHICH IS SHARED WITH THE WILD
BEAST, THE WILD BIRD, AND THE SAVAGE.

Availing myself now of that wonderful power which we possess of
projecting the mind instantaneously through space and time, I will leave
our adventurous fur-traders, and, conveying my reader still deeper into
the heart of the great wilderness, set him down on the margin of one of
those lesser sheets of water which lie some distance in a south-westerly
direction from that mighty fresh-water ocean called Athabasca.

This lake, although small when compared with the vast reservoirs which
stud those northern wilds, is, nevertheless, of goodly dimensions, being
about six miles in diameter, and studded here and there with numerous
islets, some of which are almost bare rocks of a few yards in extent,
while others are not less than a quarter of a mile in circumference, and
thickly wooded to the edge.

It is a somewhat peculiar lake.  It does not lie, as many lakes do, in
the bottom of a valley, from which the spectator lifts his eye to
surrounding heights, but rests in a little hollow on a height of land,
from many points of which the eye looks down on the surrounding low
country.  It is true, that in one direction, westward, a line of distant
blue hills is seen, which are obviously higher than our lake, for the
land rises gently towards them; but when you ascend a wooded knoll close
by, the summit of which is free from underwood, it is seen at a glance
that on all other sides the land is below you, and your eye takes in at
one grand sweep all round the compass a view of woodland and plain,
mound and morass, lake, river, and rivulet, such as is probably
unequalled--certainly unsurpassed--in any other part of the known world.

Solitude profound--as far as men and their works are concerned--marked
this lovely region at the time of our arrival, though there was the most
telling evidence of exuberant animal life everywhere, to the ear as well
as to the eye; for the air was vocal with the plaintive cries and
whistling wings of wild-fowl which sported about in blissful enjoyment
of their existence, while occasional breaks in the glassy surface of the
water, and numerous widening circles, told that fish were not less
jovial in the realms below.  This was at last the longed-for Lake
Wichikagan.

Man, however, was not altogether absent, though less obviously present,
at that time.  At the extreme western end of the lake, where the view of
the regions beyond was most extensive as well as most beautiful, there
was a bright green patch of land, free from underwood as well as trees--
a sort of natural lawn--which extended with a gentle slope towards the
lake; ending in a pebbly beach on which the waters rested so calm and
pure that it was difficult to distinguish the line where dry land and
water met.

A little to the right of this beautiful spot there grew a small clump of
bushes, and in the midst of these there crouched two Indians.  One was
middle-aged, the other was entering on the period of early manhood, and
a strongly marked resemblance in feature and form indicated plainly that
they stood to each other in the relation of father and son.  Both were
clothed in leather, with the usual ornamentation of beads, scalp-locks,
and feathers.  Their faces, however, were not disfigured with
war-paint--a sign that at that time they were at peace with all mankind.

It might have struck an observer, however, that for men of peace they
were in suspiciously warlike attitudes.  The elder savage stooped low to
conceal himself behind the foliage, and held a long single-barrelled gun
in readiness for instant action, while the youth, also stooping low,
held an arrow ready fitted to his short bow.  The eyes of both glared
with expressions that might have been indicative of joy, hope, hate,
revenge, expectation, or anything else you please--for a glare is
unquestionably an ambiguous expression at the best, needing a context to
expound it.

"Let two die," muttered the elder redskin--of course in his own tongue.
(I had the details from his own lips afterwards, and translate them as
literally as may be.)

"Ho!" replied the son, without moving his glare from the direction from
which the two doomed ones were expected to emerge.

Presently a flock of grey wild-geese came majestically along, close to
the margin of the lake--flying low, as well as slow, and following the
curvings of the shore as if in search of a suitable feeding-place at
which to alight.  The green of the natural lawn had evidently attracted
these birds, for they skimmed over the bushes behind which our Indians
crouched almost within pistol-shot.

Like statues the red-men stood until the geese were over them; then an
arrow from the son's bow quivered in the heart of one bird, and brought
it fluttering heavily to the ground.  At the same instant the echoes
around answered to the father's gun, and another goose lay dead upon the
sward.

"Waugh!" exclaimed both Indians as they stepped forth and picked up
their game.

These sons of the wilderness were not, however, very communicative, for
they spake never a word more.  Perhaps they were hungry, and it is
well-known that hungry men are not sociable.  At all events they
maintained a profound silence while they cut down a small decayed tree,
made a good fire, and prepared dinner, or--as the sun was beginning to
decline at the time--I may call it supper.

The mode of preparation was simple.  Of course they plucked the geese;
an operation which revealed the fact that both birds were plump and fat.
Next they split them open with their scalping-knives, and, going down
to the lake, cleaned them out with the same weapons.  Then, transfixing
them on two pieces of stick, after the manner of red-men, they stuck
them up before the fire to roast.  The roasting did not take long, for
they were either partial to underdone food or impatient, and began at
once upon such portions of the birds as were first ready, by cutting
them off and chewing away without removing the remainder of the roasts
from the fire.  By degrees the solid parts were devoured.  Then the
drumsticks and other extremities were picked; after that the
merry-thoughts and smaller bones were cleaned, and not until every
fragment of edible matter was consumed did father or son cease his toil
or utter a word.

"Waugh!" exclaimed the father at last, regarding the skeleton of his
meal with a sad look, as if grieved that all was over.

"Hough!" responded the son with a sigh of satisfaction, as he wiped his
fingers on the grass and sheathed his scalping-knife.  Then, searching
in their little pouches, which contained flint steel, tinder, etcetera,
they drew forth two little stone pipes with wooden stems, which they
filled and began to smoke.

The first whiff seemed to break the magic spell which had hitherto kept
them silent.  With another emphatic "Waugh!" the elder savage declared
that the goose was good; that it distended him pleasantly, and that it
warmed the cockles of his heart--or words to that effect.  To which the
son replied with a not less emphatic "Hough!" that he was entirely of
the same opinion.  Thus, whiffing gently, letting the smoke slowly out
of their mouths and trickling it through their nostrils, so as to get
the full benefit--or or damage!--of the tobacco, those sons of the
wilderness continued for some time to enjoy themselves, while the sun
sank slowly towards the western horizon, converting every lake and pond,
and every river and streamlet, into a sheet, or band, or thread of
burnished gold.  At last the elder savage removed his pipe and sent a
final shot of smoke towards the sky with some vigour as he said, rather
abruptly,--"Mozwa, my brother must be dead!"

"I hope not, father," returned the youth, whose name, Mozwa, signifies
in the Cree language "moose-deer," and had been given to the lad because
he possessed an unusual power of running great distances, and for long
periods, at a sort of swinging trot that left all competitors of his
tribe far behind.

"I also hope not," said his father, whose name was Maqua, or "bear,"
"but I am forced to think so, for when Big Otter promises he is sure to
perform.  He said to Waboose that he would be home before the berries
were ripe.  The berries are ripe and he is not home.  Without doubt he
is now chasing the deer in the happy hunting-grounds with his fathers."

Waboose, to whom this promise had been made, was a favourite niece of
Big Otter, and had been named Waboose, or "rabbit," because she was
pretty innocent, soft, and tender.

"My father," said Mozwa, rather solemnly, "Big Otter has not broken his
word, for _all_ the berries are not yet ripe."

He plucked a berry which chanced to be growing near his hand, as he
spoke, and held it up to view.

"Waugh!" exclaimed the elder savage.

"Hough!" returned the younger.

What more might have been said at that time no one can tell, for the
conversation was cut short by a sound which caused both Indians to
listen with intense earnestness.  Their eyes glittered like the eyes of
serpents, and their nostrils dilated like those of the wild-horse, while
each man gently moved his right hand towards his weapon.

And if the too inquisitive reader should ask me how I could possibly
come to know all this, seeing that I was not there at the time, I reply
that the whole matter was related to me with minute and dramatic power
by young Mozwa himself not long afterwards.

There was indeed ground for the excitement and earnest attention of
those red-men, for the sweet and distant notes of a Canadian canoe-song
had at that moment, for the first time, awakened the echoes of that part
of the Great Nor'-west.

The two men were not indeed ignorant of the fact that such songs were
sung by Canadian voyageurs--Maqua had even heard some of them hummed
once by the men of Muskrat House, when, a good while before, he had paid
a visit to that remote trading-post--but never before had father or son
listened to the songs sung in full chorus as they now heard them.

Spell-bound they waited until the sound of oars mingled with the
gradually strengthening song.  Then their fingers closed convulsively
upon their weapons and they sprang up.

"What does my son think?"

"He thinks that the white man may be on the war-path, and it behoves the
red-man like the serpent to creep into the grass and lie still."

The elder savage shook his head.

"No, Mozwa.  The white man never goes on the war-path, except to track
down murderers.  When he goes through the land he travels as the
red-man's friend.  Nevertheless, it is well to be on our guard."

As he spoke, the song, which had been increasing in strength every
moment, suddenly burst forth with great power in consequence of the boat
which bore the singers rounding a rocky point and coming into full view.

To sink into the grass, imitate the serpent and vanish from the scene,
was the work of a few seconds on the part of Maqua and his son.

Meanwhile the boat, which I need scarcely say was ours, came sweeping
grandly on, for the fineness of the evening, the calmness of the lake,
the splendour of the scene, and the prospect of a good supper, to be
followed by a good night's rest lent fresh vigour to the arms as well as
to the voices of our men.

"Hold on a bit, boys," cried Jack Lumley, standing up in the stern and
looking shoreward, "this seems a pretty good place to camp."

"There is a better place a few yards further on," said Big Otter, who
pulled the stroke oar.  "I know every foot of the country here.  It is a
soft--"

"What does Big Otter see?" asked Lumley, for the Indian had come to a
sudden stop, and was gazing earnestly ahead.

"He sees the smoke of a fire."

"Is it likely to be the fire of an enemy?"

"No--more like to be the camp of some of my people, but their wigwams
are two days beyond this lake.  Perhaps hunters are out in this
direction."

"We shall soon see--give way, lads!" said Lumley, sitting down.

In a few minutes the boat was on the beach.  We sprang ashore, and
hastened to the spot where a thin wreath of smoke indicated the remains
of a camp-fire.

Of course we carried our arms, not knowing whom we should meet with.

After examining the spot carefully, Big Otter stood up and was about to
speak to our chief, when a slight peculiar chirp was heard in the
bushes.  It is probable that we should have deemed it that of some small
bird and paid no attention to it if our Indian had not suddenly bent his
head on one side as if to listen.  At the same time he replied to the
chirp.  Again the sound was heard, and Big Otter, turning round quickly,
without uttering a word, entered the bushes and disappeared.

"Stand ready, lads!" said Lumley in a quiet voice, bringing forward the
muzzle of his gun, "there's no saying what may come of this."

Scarcely had he spoken when a rustling was heard in the bushes.  Next
moment they were thrust aside and Big Otter reissued from them, followed
by two Indians, whom he introduced to us as his brother and nephew.  At
the same time he gave us the gratifying information that his tribe had
moved up from the region in which they usually dwelt for the purpose of
hunting and fishing in the neighbourhood of the lake, and that the camp
was not more than six or seven miles distant, from the spot on which we
stood.

To this Lumley replied by expressing his gratification at the news, and
shaking hands with the two Indians, who, however, received the shake
with some distrust and much surprise, until Big Otter explained the
nature and meaning of the white man's salutation.  He also explained the
meaning of "What cheer."  On hearing which Maqua, not to be outdone in
politeness, extended his hand for another shake, and exclaimed
"Watchee!" with profound gravity.  Mozwa, with some hesitation, imitated
his father's example.

While we were thus pleasantly engaged, a sonorous trumpet sound was
heard behind the clump of small trees near us.  A moment later and two
magnificent wild swans sailed over the tree-tops and above our heads.
They made a tumultuously wild swoop to one side on discovering the near
proximity of their enemy man but were too late.  Almost before any of
the party had time to move a muscle, two sharp cracks were heard, and
both swans fell stone dead, with a heavy splash, at the margin of the
lake.

It was our chief, Jack Lumley, who had brought them down with his
double-barrelled fowling-piece.  I have omitted to mention that Lumley
was one of the noted crack-shots of the country at that time--noted not
only for the deadly precision, but also for the lightning-like rapidity
of his aim.

The Indians, albeit themselves pretty fair marksmen, were deeply
impressed with this evidence of skill, and it went far to strengthen the
influence which our chief's manly proportions and genial countenance had
already begun to exercise.

"That's a good beginning, Lumley," said I, "for it not only impresses
our new friends favourably, but provides excellent fresh meat for
supper."

"Yonder comes better meat for supper," he replied, pointing towards a
neighbouring height, where we could see the forms of two men
approaching, with the carcase of a deer between them.

It was Donald Bane and James Dougall who had been thus successful.
These sons of the Scottish Highlands, being ardent sportsmen as well as
good marksmen, had been appointed to the post of hunters to our party,
and were frequently sent ashore to procure fresh meat.

"The country is swarmin' wi' game, Muster Lumley," said Bane, as they
came up, and flung down the deer.  "Not only teer an' rabbits, but tucks
an' geese, an' all sorts o' pirds.  Moreover, Tougall, she got into a
bog after wan o' the peasts, an' I thought I wass goin' to lose him
altogither.  `Shames Tougall,' says I, `don't you go anither step till I
come to you, or you're a lost man,' but Shames went on--he was always an
obstinate loon--"

"Dat is true," remarked Salamander.

"Hold yer noise!" said Bane.  "Well, sur, Tougall went on, an' sure
enough the very next step down he went up to the neck--"

"No, Tonald," interrupted Dougall, "it wass not up to the neck; it wass
only to the waist.  The nixt after that it wass up to the neck, but
_then_ I wass soomin'."

"Ye would hey bin soomin' yet, Shames, if I had not pulled ye oot," said
his friend.

"Oo ay, Tonald Pane.  That iss true, but--"

"Well, Dougall," interrupted Lumley at this point, "it will be better to
dry your garments than discuss the question just now.  We will encamp
here, so go to work, boys."

There was no need for more.  During our long journey into these far-off
wilds each man had fallen into his allotted place and work, and the
force of habit had made us so like machines that I think if we had
suddenly become a party of somnambulists we would have gone through the
same actions each evening on landing.

Accordingly, Lumley and I gathered small branches and rekindled the
Indians' fire, which had by that time almost gone out.  Marcelle Dumont
being professionally a forger of axes, and Henri Coppet, being an
artificer in wood, went off to cut down trees for firewood; and Donald
Bane with his friend set about cutting up and preparing the venison,
while Blondin superintended and assisted Salamander and the others in
landing the cargo, and hauling up the boat.

"Max," said Lumley to me that evening during an interval in our devotion
to steaks and marrow-bones, "look around for a moment if you can tear
your gross mind from the contemplation of food, and tell me what you
see?"

He made a sweep with his arm to indicate the surrounding scenery, which
was at the moment irradiated by the after-glow of the setting sun, as
well as the brightening beams of the full moon.

"I see," said I, looking up, "a lovely lake, dotted with islets of
varied shape and size, with the pale moon reflected almost unbroken in
its glassy waters."

"What else do you see?" asked Lumley.

"I see around and beyond a prospect of boundless woodland, of plain,
mound, hill, lake, and river, extending with a grand sweep that suggests
ideas which can only be defined by the word Immensity.  I see altogether
a scene the like of which I never looked upon before--a scene of beauty,
peacefulness, and grandeur which gladdens the eye to behold and fills
the heart with gratitude to its Maker."

"You say well, Max," returned my friend, "and it seems to me that we may
regard this Lake Wichikagan which we now look upon as our inheritance in
the wilderness, and that the spot on which we now sit shall be, for some
time at least, our future home."



CHAPTER NINE.

A BRIGHT APPARITION--FOLLOWED BY RUMOURS OF WAR.

While we were thus feasting and chatting on the green sward of the
region which seemed destined to be our future home, an object suddenly
appeared among the bushes, near the edge of the circle of light cast by
our camp-fire.

This object was by no means a frightful one, yet it caused a sensation
in the camp which could hardly have been intensified if we had suddenly
discovered a buffalo with the nose of an elephant and the tail of a
rattlesnake.  For one moment we were all struck dumb; then we all sprang
to our feet, but we did not seize our firearms--oh no!--for there, half
concealed by the bushes, and gazing at us in timid wonder, stood a
pretty young girl, with a skin much fairer than usually falls to the lot
of Indian women, and with light brown hair as well as bright blue eyes.
In all other respects--in costume, and humble bearing--she resembled the
women of the soil.

I would not willingly inflict on the reader too much of my private
feelings and opinions, but perhaps I may be excused for saying that I
fell over head and ears in love with this creature at once!  I make no
apology for being thus candid.  On the contrary, I am prepared rather to
plume myself on the quick perception which enabled me not only to
observe the beauty of the girl's countenance, but, what is of far more
importance, the inherent goodness which welled from her loving eyes.
Yes, reader, call me an ass if you will, but I unblushingly repeat that
I fell--tumbled--plunged headlong in love with her.  So did every other
man in the camp!  There is this to be said in excuse for us, that we had
not seen any members of the fair sex for many months, and that the sight
of this brilliant specimen naturally aroused many pleasant recollections
of cousins, sisters, nieces, aunts, mothers, grandmothers--well, perhaps
I am going too far; though, after all, the tender, loving-kindness in
this girl's eyes might well have suggested grandmothers!

Before any of us could recover the use of our limbs, Big Otter had
glided rapidly towards the girl.  Grasping her by the hand, he led her
towards Lumley, and introduced her as his sister's daughter, Waboose.

The red-man was evidently proud as well as fond of his fair niece, and
equally clear did it become in a short time that the girl was as fond
and proud of him.

"Your relative is very fair," said Lumley.  "She might almost have been
the daughter of a white man."

"She _is_ the daughter of a white man."

"Indeed!"

"Yes; her father was a white hunter who left his people and came to
dwell with us and married my sister.  He was much loved and respected by
us.  He lived and hunted and went on the war-path with us for many
years--then he was killed."

"In war?"  I asked, beginning to feel sympathetic regard for the father
of one who had stirred my heart to--but, I forget.  It is not my
intention to bore the reader with my personal feelings.

"No," answered the Indian.  "He perished in attempting to save his wife
from a dangerous rapid.  He brought her to the bank close to the head of
a great waterfall, and many hands were stretched out to grasp her.  She
was saved, but the strength of the brave pale-face was gone, and we knew
it not.  Before we could lay hold of his hand the current swept him away
and carried him over the falls."

"How sad!" said Lumley.  "What was the name of this white man?"

"He told us that his name was Weeum--but," said the Indian, turning
abruptly to Waboose, whose countenance betrayed feelings which were
obviously aroused by other matters than this reference to her lost
father, "my child has news of some sort.  Let her speak."

Thus permitted, Waboose opened her lips for the first time--disclosing a
double row of bright little teeth in the act--and said that she had been
sent by her mother in search of Maqua and his son, as she had reason to
believe that the camp was in danger of being attacked by Dogrib Indians.

On hearing this, Maqua and Mozwa rose, picked up their weapons, and
without a word of explanation entered the bushes swiftly and
disappeared.

Big Otter looked after them for a moment or two in grave silence.

"You had better follow them," suggested Lumley.  "If you should require
help, send a swift messenger back and we will come to you."

The Indian received this with a quiet inclination of the head, but made
no reply.  Then, taking his niece by the hand, he led her into the
bushes where his relatives had entered and, like them, disappeared.

"It seems like a dream," said I to Lumley, as we all sat down again to
our steaks and marrow-bones.

"What seems like a dream, Max--the grub?"

"No, the girl."

"Truly, yes.  And a very pleasant dream too.  Almost as good as this
bone."

"Oh! you unsentimental, unsympathetic monster.  Does not the sight of a
pretty young creature like that remind you of home, and all the sweet
refining influences shed around it by woman?"

"I cannot say that it does--hand me another; no, not a little thing like
that, a big one full of marrow, so--.  You see, old boy, a band of beads
round the head, a sky-blue cloth bodice, a skirt of green flannel
reaching only to the knees, cloth leggings ornamented with porcupine
quills and moccasined feet, do not naturally suggest my respected mother
or sisters."

For the first time in our acquaintance I felt somewhat disgusted with my
friend's levity, and made no rejoinder.  He looked at me quickly, with
slightly raised eyebrows, and gave a little laugh.

With a strong effort I crushed down my feelings, and said in a tone of
forced gaiety:--

"Well, well, things strike people in strangely different lights.  I
thought not of the girl's costume but her countenance."

"Come, then, Max," returned my friend, with that considerate good nature
which attracted men so powerfully to him, "I admit that the girl's face
might well suggest the thought of dearer faces in distant lands--and
especially her eyes, so different from the piercing black orbs of Indian
squaws.  Did you note the--the softness, I was going to say
truthfulness, of her strangely blue eyes?"

Did I note them!  The question seemed to me so ridiculous that I
laughed, by way of reply.

I observed that Lumley cast on me for the second time a sharp inquiring
glance, then he said:--

"But I say, Max, we must have our arms looked to, and be ready for a
sudden call.  You know that I don't love fighting.  Especially at the
commencement of our sojourn would I avoid mixing myself up with Indians'
quarrels; but if our guide comes back saying that their camp is in
danger, we must help him.  It would never do, you know, to leave women
and children to the mercy of ruthless savages."

"Leave woman and children!"  I exclaimed vehemently, thinking of only
one woman at the moment, "I should _think_ not!"

The tone of indignation in which I said this caused my friend to laugh
outright.

"Well, well," he said, in a low tone, "it's a curious complaint, and not
easily cured."

What he meant was at the time a mystery to me.  I have since come to
understand.

"I suppose you'll all agree with me, lads," said Lumley to the men who
sat eating their supper on the opposite side of the fire, and raising
his voice, for we had hitherto been conversing in a low tone, "if Big
Otter's friends need help we'll be ready to give it?"

Of course a hearty assent was given, and several of the men, having
finished supper, rose to examine their weapons.

The guns used by travellers in the Great Nor'-west in those days were
long single-barrels with flint-locks, the powder in which was very apt
to get wet through priming-pans and touch-holes, so that frequent
inspection was absolutely necessary.

As our party consisted of twelve men, including ourselves, and each was
armed--Lumley and myself with double-barrelled fowling-pieces--we were
able, if need be, to fire a volley of fourteen shots.  Besides this, my
chief and I carried revolvers, which weapons had only just been
introduced into that part of the country.  We were therefore prepared to
lend effective aid to any whom we thought it right to succour.

Scarcely had our arrangements been made when the lithe agile form of
Mozwa glided into the camp and stood before Lumley.  The lad tried hard
to look calm, grave, and collected, as became a young Indian brave, but
the perspiration on his brow and his labouring chest told that he had
been running far at the utmost speed, while a wild glitter in his dark
eye betrayed strong emotion.  Pointing in the direction whence he had
come, he uttered the name--"Big Otter."

"All right.  I understand you," said Lumley, springing up.  "Now, boys,
sharp's the word; we will go to the help of our guide.  But two of you
must stay behind to guard our camp.  Do you, Donald Bane and James
Dougall, remain and keep a bright look-out."

"Is it to stop here, we are?" asked Bane, with a mutinous look.

"Yes," exclaimed our leader so sharply that the mutinous look faded.

"An' are we to be left behind," growled Dougall, "when there's fightin'
to be done?"

"I have no time for words, Dougall," said Lumley in a low voice, "but if
you don't at once set about preparation to defend the camp, I'll give
you some fighting to do that you won't relish."

Dougall had no difficulty in understanding his leader's meaning.  He and
his friend at once set about the required preparations.

"Now then, Mozwa," said Lumley.

The young Indian, who had remained erect and apparently unobservant,
with his arms crossed on his still heaving chest, turned at once and
went off at a swift trot, followed by all our party with the exception
of the ill-pleased Highlanders, who, in their eagerness for the fray,
did not perceive that theirs might be a post of the greatest danger, as
it certainly was one of trust.

"Tonald," said Dougall, sitting down and lighting his pipe after we were
gone, "I wass vera near givin' Muster Lumley a cood threshin'."

"Hum! it's well ye didn't try, Shames."

"An' what for no?"

"Because he's more nor a match for ye."

"I don't know that Tonald.  I'm as stout a man as he is, whatever."

"Oo ay, so ye are, Shames; but ye're no a match for him.  He's been to
school among thae Englishers, an' can use his fists, let me tell you."

At this Dougall held up a clenched hand, hard and knuckly from honest
toil, that was nearly as big as a small ham.  Regarding it with much
complacency he said, slowly:--

"An' don't you think, Tonald, that I could use my fist too?"

"Maybe you could, in a kind o' way," returned the other, also filling
his pipe and sitting down; "but I'll tell ye what Muster Lumley would do
to you, Shames, if ye offered to fight him.  He would dance round you
like a cooper round a cask; then, first of all, he would flatten your
nose--which is flat enough already, whatever--wi' wan hand, an' he'd
drive in your stummick wi' the other.  Then he would give you one
between the two eyes an' raise a bridge there to make up for the wan
he'd destroyed on your nose, an' before you had time to sneeze he would
put a rainbow under your left eye.  Or ever you had time to wink he
would put another under your right eye, and if that didn't settle you he
would give you a finishin' dig in the ribs, Shames, trip up your heels,
an' lay you on the ground, where I make no doubt you would lie an'
meditate whether it wass worth while to rise up for more."

"All that would be verra unpleasant, Tonald," said Dougall, with a
humorous glance from the corners of his small grey eyes, "but I duffer
with ye in opeenion."

"You would duffer in opeenion with the Apostle Paul if he wass here,"
said the other, rising, as his pipe was by that time well alight, and
resuming his work, "but we'll better obey Muster Lumley's orders than
argufy about him."

"I'll agree with you there, Tonald, just to convince you that I don't
always duffer," said the argumentative Highlander, rising to assist his
not less argumentative friend.

The two men pursued their labour in silence, and in the course of an
hour or so had piled all the baggage in a circle in the middle of the
open lawn, so as to form a little fortress, into which they might spring
and keep almost any number of savages at bay for some time; because
savages, unlike most white men, have no belief in that "glory" which
consists in rushing on certain death, in order to form a bridge of dead
bodies over which comrades may march to victory.  Each savage is, for
the most part, keenly alive to the importance of guarding his own life,
so that a band of savages seldom makes a rush where certain death awaits
the leaders.  Hence our two Highlanders felt quite confident of being
able to hold their little fort with two guns each and a large supply of
ammunition.

Meanwhile Mozwa continued his rapid trot through wood and brake; over
swamp, and plain, and grassy mound.  Being all of us by that time strong
in wind and limb, we followed him without difficulty.

"Lads, be careful," said Lumley, as we went along, "that no shot is
fired, whatever happens, until I give the word.  You see, Max," he
continued in a lower tone, "nothing but the sternest necessity will
induce me to shed human blood.  I am here to open up trade with the
natives, not to fight them, or mix myself up in their quarrels.  At the
same time it would be bad policy to stand aloof while the tribes we have
come to benefit, and of which our guide is a member, are assailed by
enemies.  We must try what we can do to make peace, and risk something
in the attempt."

Arrived at the Indian camp, we found a band of braves just on the point
of leaving it, although by that time it was quite dark.  The tribe--or
rather that portion of it which was encamped in leathern wigwams, on one
of the grassy mounds with which the country abounded--consisted of some
hundred families, and the women and children were moving about in great
excitement, while the warriors were preparing to leave.  I was struck,
however, by the calm and dignified bearing of one white-haired
patriarch, who stood in the opening of his wigwam, talking to a number
of the elder men and women who crowded round him.  He was the old chief
of the tribe; and, being no longer able to go on the war-path, remained
with the aged men and the youths, whose duty it was to guard the camp.

"My children," he said, as we came up, "fear not.  The Great Spirit is
with us, for our cause is just.  He has sent Big Otter back to us in
good time, and, see, has He not also sent white men to help us?"

The war-party was detained on our arrival until we should hold a palaver
with the old chief and principal braves.  We soon ascertained that the
cause of disagreement between the two tribes, and of the declaration of
war, was a mere trifle, strongly resembling in that respect the causes
of most wars among civilised nations!  A brave of the one tribe had
insultingly remarked that a warrior of the other tribe had claimed the
carcase of a moose-deer which had been mortally wounded, and tracked,
and slain by him, the insulter.  The insulted one vowed that he shot the
deer dead--he would scorn to wound a deer at all--and had left it in
hiding until he could obtain assistance to fetch the meat.  Young
hotheads on both sides fomented the quarrel until older heads were
forced to take the matter up; they became sympathetically inflamed, and,
finally, war to the knife was declared.  No blood had yet been shed, but
it was understood by Big Otter's friends--who were really the injured
party--that their foes had sent away their women and children,
preparatory to a descent on them.

"Now, Salamander," said Lumley, who, although he had considerably
increased his knowledge of the Indian language by conversing with the
guide during our voyage, preferred to speak through an interpreter when
he had anything important to say, "tell the old chief that this
war-party must not go forth.  Tell him that the great white chief who
guides the affairs of the traders, has sent me to trade furs in this
region, and that I will not permit fighting."

This was such a bold--almost presumptuous, way of putting the matter
that the old red chief looked at the young white chief in surprise; but
as there was neither bluster nor presumption in the calm countenance of
Lumley--only firmness coupled with extreme good humour--he felt somewhat
disconcerted.

"How will my white brother prevent war?" asked the old chief, whose name
was Muskrat.

"By packing up my goods, and going elsewhere," replied Lumley directly,
without an instant's hesitation, in the Indian tongue.

At this, there was an elongation of the faces of the men who heard it,
and something like a soft groan from the squaws who listened in the
background.

"That would be a sad calamity," said old Muskrat, "and I have no wish to
fight; but how will the young white chief prevent our foes from
attacking us?"

"Tell him, Salamander, that I will do so by going to see them."

"My young braves will be happy to go out under the guidance of so strong
a warrior," returned Muskrat, quite delighted with the proposal.

"Nay, old chief, you mistake me, I will take no braves with me."

"No matter," returned Muskrat; "doubtless the white men and their guns
will be more than a match for our red foes."

"Still you misunderstand," said Lumley.  "I am no warrior, but a man of
peace.  I shall go without guns or knives--and alone, except that I will
ask young Mozwa to guide me."

"Alone! unarmed!" murmured the old man, in astonishment almost too great
for expression.  "What can one do against a hundred with weapons?"

"You shall see," said Lumley, with a light laugh as he turned to me.

"Now, Max, don't speak or remonstrate, like a good fellow; we have no
time to discuss, only to act.  I find that Muskrat's foes speak the same
dialect as himself, so that an interpreter is needless.  I carry two
revolvers in the breast of my coat.  You have a clasp-knife in your
pocket; make me a present of it, will you?  Thanks.  Now, have our men
in readiness for instant action.  Don't let them go to rest, but let
them eat as much, and as long, as they choose.  Keep the old chief and
his men amused with long yarns, about what we mean to do in these
regions, and don't let any one follow me.  Keep your mind easy.  If I
don't return in three hours, you may set off to look for me, though it
will I fear be of no use by that time; and, stay, if you should hear a
pistol-shot, run out with all our men towards it.  Now, Mozwa, lead on
to the enemy's camp."

The young Indian, who was evidently proud of the trust reposed in him,
and cared nothing for danger, stalked into the forest with the look and
bearing of a dauntless warrior.



CHAPTER TEN.

SALAMANDER GIVES AND RECEIVES A SURPRISE, AND WAR IS AVERTED BY WISE
DIPLOMACY.

It has been already said that our interpreter, Salamander, possessed a
spirit of humour slightly tinged with mischief, which, while it
unquestionably added to the amusement of our sojourn in those lands,
helped not a little to rouse our anxieties.

On returning to our men, after parting from Lumley, for the purpose of
giving them their instructions, I found that Salamander was missing, and
that no one could tell where he had gone.  I caused a search to be made
for him, which was unsuccessful, and would have persevered with it if
there had not pressed upon me the necessity of obeying my chief's orders
to keep the savages amused.  This I set about doing without delay, and
having, like my friend, been a diligent student of the language on the
journey, found that I succeeded, more than I had ventured to hope for,
in communicating my ideas.

As the disappearance of Salamander, however, was the subject which
exercised my mind most severely at the time, and as he afterwards gave
me a full account of the cause in detail, I shall set it down here.

Being possessed that evening, as he confessed, with a spirit of
restlessness, and remembering that our two Highlanders had been left to
guard the camp at Lake Wichikagan, he resolved to pay them a visit.  The
distance, as I have said elsewhere, was not much more than six miles--a
mere trifle to one who was as fleet as a young deer and strong as an old
bear.  He soon traversed the ground and came up to the camp.

At first he meant merely to give the men a surprise, but the spirit to
which I have already referred induced him to determine on giving them a
fright.  Approaching very cautiously, therefore, with this end in view,
he found that things were admirably arranged for his purpose.

Donald Bane and James Dougall, having finished their fortress in the
centre of the open lawn, as already described, returned to their fire,
which, it may be remembered, was kindled close to the edge of the
bushes.  There they cooked some food and devoured it with the gusto of
men who had well earned their supper.  Thereafter, as a matter of
course, they proceeded to enjoy a pipe.

The night, besides being fine and calm, was unusually warm, thereby
inducing a feeling of drowsiness, which gradually checked the flow of
conversation previously evoked by the pipes.

"It is not likely the redskins will come up here to give us a chance
when there's such a lot of our lads gone to meet them," said Bane, with
a yawn.

"I agree with you, Tonald," answered Dougall grumpily.

"It is quite new to hev you agreein' with me so much, Shames," returned
Bane with another yawn.

"You are right.  An' it is more lively to disagree, whatever," rejoined
Dougall, with an irresistible, because sympathetic, yawn.

"Oo ay, that's true, Shames.  Yie-a-ou!"

This yawn was so effusive that Dougall, refusing to be led even by
sympathy, yawned internally with his lips closed and swallowed it.

The conversation dropped at this point, though the puffs went on
languidly.  As the men were extended at full-length, one on his side,
the other on his back, it was not unnatural that, being fatigued, they
should both pass from the meditative to the dreamy state, and from that
to the unconscious.

It was in this condition that Salamander discovered them.

"Asleep at their posts!" he said mentally.  "That deserves punishment."

He had crept on hands and knees to the edge of the bushes, and paused to
contemplate the wide-open mouth of Bane, who lay on his back, and the
prominent right ear of Dougall, whose head rested on his left arm.  The
debris of supper lay around them--scraps of pemmican, pannikins, spoons,
knives, and the broken shells of teal-duck eggs which, having been
picked up some time before, had gone bad.

Suddenly an inspiration--doubtless from the spirit of mischief--came
over Salamander.  There was one small unbroken egg on the ground near to
Bane's elbow.  Just over his head the branch of a bush extended.  To
genius everything comes handy and nothing amiss.  Salamander tied the
egg to a piece of small twine and suspended it to the twig in such
fashion that the egg hung directly over Bane's wide-open mouth.  At a
glance he had seen that it was possible to lay a light hand on the inner
end of the branch, and at the same time bend his mouth over Dougall's
ear.  He drew a long breath, for it was a somewhat delicate and
difficult, being a duplicate, manoeuvre!

Pressing down the branch very slowly and with exceeding care, he guided
the egg into Bane's mouth.  He observed the precise moment when it
touched the sleeper's tongue, and then exploded a yell into Dougall's
ear that nearly burst the tympanum.

Bane's jaws shut with a snap instantly.  Need we--no, we need not!
Dougall leaped up with a cry that almost equalled that of Salamander.
Both men rushed to the fortress and bounded into it, the one spurting
out Gaelic expletives, the other rotten egg and bits of shell.  They
seized their guns and crouched, glaring through the various loopholes
all round with finger on trigger, ready to sacrifice at a moment's
notice anything with life that should appear.  Indeed they found it
difficult, in their excited condition, to refrain from blazing at
nothing!  Their friendly foe meanwhile had retired, highly delighted
with his success.  He had not done with them however.  By no means!  The
spirit of mischief was still strong upon him, and he crept into the
bushes to meditate.

"It wass an evil speerut, Shames," gasped Donald Bane, when he had
nearly got rid of the egg.  "Did you smell his preath?"

"No, Tonald, it wass not.  Spirits are not corporeal, and cannot handle
eggs, much less cram them down a man's throat.  It wass the egg you did
smell."

"That may be so, Shames, but it could not be a redskin, for he would be
more likely to cram a scalpin' knife into my heart than an egg into my
mouth."

"Iss it not dreamin' ye wass, an' tryin' to eat some more in your sleep?
You wass always fond of overeatin' yourself--whativer--Tonald."

Before this question could be answered, another yell of the most
appalling and complex nature rang out upon the night-air, struck them
dumb, and seemed to crumple up their very hearts.

Salamander had been born with a natural gift for shrieking, and being of
a sprightly disposition, had cultivated the gift in boyhood.
Afterwards, being also a good mimic, he had made the subject a special
study, with a view to attract geese and other game towards him.  That he
sometimes prostituted the talent was due to the touch of genius, to
which I have already referred.

When the crumpled-up organs began to recover, Bane said to Dougall,
"Shames, this iss a bad business."

Dougall, having been caught twice that evening, was on his guard.  He
would not absolutely agree with his friend, but admitted that he was not
far wrong.

Again the yell burst forth with intensified volume and complicated
variation.  Salamander was young; he did not yet know that it is
possible to over-act.

"Shames!" whispered Bane, "I hev got a notion in my hid."

"I hope it's a coot w'an, Tonald, for the notions that usually git into
it might stop there with advantage.  They are not much to boast of."

"You shall see.  Just you keep talkin' out now an' then as if I wass
beside you, an' don't, whativer ye do, fire into the bushes."

"Ferry coot," answered Dougall.

Another moment, and Donald Bane glided over the parapet of their fort at
the side nearest the lake; and, creeping serpent-fashion for a
considerable distance round, gained the bushes, where he waited for a
repetition of the cry.  He had not long to wait.  With that boldness,
not to say presumption, which is the child of success, Salamander now
began to make too many drafts on genius, and invented a series of howls
so preposterously improbable that it was impossible for even the most
credulous to believe them the natural cries of man, beast, demon, or
monster.

Following up the sound, Donald Bane soon came to a little hollow where,
in the dim light, he perceived Salamander's visage peering over a ridge
in the direction of the fortress, his eyes glittering with glee and his
mouth wide-open in the act of giving vent to the hideous cries.  The
Highlander had lived long in the wilderness, and was an adept in its
ways.  With the noiseless motion of a redskin he wormed his way through
the underwood until close alongside of the nocturnal visitor, and then
suddenly stopped a howl of more than demoniac ferocity by clapping a
hand on Salamander's mouth.

With a convulsive wriggle the youth freed his mouth, and uttered a
shriek of genuine alarm, but Bane's strong arm pinned him to the earth.

"Ye dirty loon," growled the man in great wrath, "wass you thinkin' to
get the better of a Heelandman?  Come along with ye.  I'll give you a
lesson that you'll not forget--whatever."

Despite his struggles, Bane held Salamander fast until he ceased to
resist, when he grasped him by the collar, and led him towards the
little fort.

At first, Salamander had been on the point of confessing the practical
joke, but the darkness of the night induced him to hope for another
escape from his position.  He had not yet uttered a word; and, as he
could not distinguish the features of the Highlander, it was possible,
he thought, that the latter might have failed to recognise him.  If he
could give him the slip, he might afterwards deny having had anything to
do with the affair.  But it was not easy to give the slip to a man whose
knuckly hand held him like a vice.

"Shames," said Bane as he came near the fortress, "I've cot the peast!
come oot, man, an' fetch a stick wi' you.  I'll ha'd 'im while you lay
on."

Salamander, who understood well enough what he might expect, no sooner
heard Dougall clambering over the barricade than he gathered himself up
for a tremendous wriggle, but received such a fearful squeeze on the
neck from the vice-like hand of his captor that he was nearly choked.
At the moment a new idea flashed into his fertile brain.  His head
dropped suddenly to one side; his whole frame became limp, and he fell,
as it were, in a heap on the ground, almost bringing the Highlander on
the top of him.

"Oh! the miserable cratur," exclaimed Bane, relaxing his grasp with a
feeling of self-reproach, for he had a strong suspicion that his captive
really was Salamander.  "I do believe I've killed him.  Wow!  Shames,
man, lend a hand to carry him to the fire, and plow up a bit flame that
we may see what we've gotten."

"Iss he tead, Tonald?" asked Dougall, in a pitiful tone, as he came
forward.

"No, Shames, he's no tead yet.  Take up his feet, man, an' I'll tak' his
shouthers."

Dougall went to Salamander's feet, turned his back to them, and stooped
to take them up as a man takes a wheelbarrow.  He instantly received a
kick, or rather a drive, from Salamander's soles that sent him sprawling
on his hands and knees.  Donald Bane, stooping to grasp the shoulder,
received a buffet on the cheek, which, being unexpected, sent him
staggering to the left, while the sly youth, springing to his feet
bounded into the bushes on the right with a deep-toned roar ending in a
laugh that threw all his previous efforts quite into the shade.

The Highlanders rose, but made no attempt to pursue.

"My friend," said Bane, softly, "if that wass not an evil speerut, I
will be fery much surprised."

"No, Tonald, it wass _not_ a speerut," replied the other, as they
returned to their fortress.  "Speeruts will not be kickin' an' slappin'
like that; they are not corporeal."

While these scenes were enacting on the margin of Lake Wichikagan,
Lumley and Mozwa arrived at the enemy's camp.  It was a war-camp.  All
the women and children had been sent away, none but armed and painted
braves remained.

They were holding a palaver at the time.  The spot was the top of an
open eminence which was so clear of underwood that the approach of a foe
without being seen was an impossibility.  Although the night was rather
dark, Lumley and his guide had been observed the instant they came
within the range of vision.  No stir, however, took place in the camp,
for it was instantly perceived that the strangers were alone.  With the
grave solemnity of redskin warriors, they silently awaited their coming.
A small fire burned in their midst, for they made no attempt at
concealment.  They were prepared to fight at a moment's notice.  The red
flames gleamed on their dusky faces, and glittered in their glancing
eyes, as Lumley and Mozwa strode boldly into the circle, and stood
before the chief.

Intense surprise filled the hearts of the warriors at this unexpected
apparition of a white man, but not an eye or muscle betrayed the
smallest symptom of the feeling.

"The pale-face is welcome," said the chief, after a short pause.

"The pale-face is glad to meet with his dark-skinned brother, and thanks
him," returned Lumley.

If the surprise at the sudden appearance of the pale-face was great, the
astonishment to find that he spoke the Indian tongue was greater; but
still the feeling was not betrayed.

After a few short complimentary speeches, our hero came at once to the
point.

"My brothers," he said, looking round on the dusky warriors, who
remained sitting all the time, "the white chief of the fur-traders has
sent me into this country to trade with you."

This statement was received with a "waugh" of satisfaction from several
of the warriors.

"And," continued Lumley, "I have brought men--strong men, who can work
well--to help me to build a house, so that we may live among you and
hunt together."

He paused here to let the statement have its full effect.  Then he
continued:--

"I have also brought plenty of guns, and powder, and lead."

Again he paused, and an emphatic "waugh" proved that the remark was
fully appreciated.

"The white man knows," continued Lumley, in a more flowing style, "that
his red brothers have need of many things which they do not possess,
while the white man is in need of furs, and does not possess them.  It
is for the good of each that we should exchange.  The Great Spirit, who
is all-wise, as well as all-good, has seen fit to scatter His children
over a wide world, and He has given some of them too much of one thing,
some of them too much of another.  Why has He done so?  May we not think
that it is for the purpose of causing His children to move about the
world, and mingle, and help each other, and so increase Love?  Some of
the bad children prefer to move about and steal.  But there is no need.
It is easier to do good than to do evil.  If all men would help and none
would steal, there would be more than enough for all."

Again a pause.  Some of the savages, who were thoughtful men, were
greatly tickled in their minds by the arguments set forth.  Others, who
could not understand, were deeply impressed.

"Now," continued Lumley, coming to the marrow of his discourse, "the
red-men have more than enough of furs."

"Waugh!" in a tone of emphasis, that implied "that's true."

"And the pale-faces have few furs, but want some very much."

"Waugh?" interrogatively, in a tone that implied "what then?"

"Well, but the pale-faces are not poor.  They are rich, and have far too
much of many things.  They have far too much of those pleasant sweet
things called sugar and molasses (the Indians involuntarily licked their
lips).  Too much cloth as bright as the sun at setting, and as blue as
the sky at noon (the Indian eyes glistened).  Too many guns, and too
much powder and shot (the savage eyes glared).  They have more beads,
and blankets, and hatchets, and tobacco, than they know what to do with,
so they have sent some of these things here to be given to you in
exchange for furs, and food, and leather."

The waughs! and hows! and hos! with which these remarks were followed up
were so hearty, that Lumley thought it best to make a considerable pause
at this point; then he resumed:--

"But, my brothers,"--he stopped for a considerable time, and looked so
grave, that the hearts of the red-men sank, lest the glorious vision
which had been suddenly revealed to them, should be as suddenly
withdrawn in some way.

"But," repeated Lumley, again, with a sort of awful emphasis, "the
pale-faces detest war.  They can fight--yes, and when they _must_ fight,
they _will_ fight, but they do not love fighting, and if they are to
stay here and open up trade with their guns, and their powder, and their
blankets, and beads, and cloth (he wisely went all over it again for the
sake of effect), there must be peace in the land.  If there is war the
pale-faces will take all their good things and go away--waugh!"

Finishing off in the true red-man style, Lumley sat down with decision,
as though to say, "Now, the ball is at your own feet, kick it which way
you please."

Then the chief of the savages rose with dignity, but with a tinge of
eagerness which he could not altogether conceal, and said:--

"Let not my white brother talk of going away.  War shall cease at his
bidding.  Let him and his pale-faced warriors fell trees, and build
wigwams, and hunt.  We have plenty furs--the black fox, the red fox, the
beaver, the marten, the minks, the bear, and many other animals are
plentiful.  We will exchange them for the goods of the white man.  We
will bury the hatchet, and smoke the calumet of peace, and the sound of
the war-whoop shall no more be heard in the land--waugh!"

"Are my brothers ready to go to the camp of Big Otter, and make friends
at once?" asked Lumley.

This was a testing question, and for some time remained unanswered,
while the chiefs and braves looked preposterously solemn.  At last,
however, they seemed to make up their minds, and the chief replied, "We
are ready."

That night the hostile savages met on the shores of Lake Wichikagan, and
encamped with the fur-traders.  Fires were lighted, and kettles put on,
a royal feast was prepared; and the reunited tribes of red-men finally
buried the war-hatchet there, and smoked the pipe of peace.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

LUMLEY ON DUTY--FORT WICHIKAGAN BEGINS TO GROW.

The bold and prompt manner in which peace was established among the
contending savages of Lake Wichikagan did more to raise my friend Jack
Lumley in their estimation than if he had fought a hundred successful
battles, and subdued a nation of foes.  It seemed to be felt on all
hands that he was a man who could be trusted, and his pointed reference
to the Great Spirit conveyed an impression that truth and justice must
be his guiding principles.

And on this point these children of nature read his character correctly,
for, as I have had frequent occasion to observe, my friend was strictly
truthful, and, I might almost say, sternly just.  Duty indeed was his
pole-star--duty to God and man.

"Max," he once said to me when we had got into a confidential chat
beside our camp-fire, "let me advise you to take a sound view, and a
good grasp, of what men call duty.  There is a right and a wrong in
everything that the mind or hand of man can be brought to bear upon.  It
is our duty to discover and do the right if we can--to recognise and
avoid the wrong.  True success in life depends upon this principle being
acted on at all times, and in all things.  Even what worldly men deem
success--the acquisition of wealth, fame, etcetera--is largely dependent
on strict regard to duty."

Of course I heartily agreed with him in this matter, but I am free to
confess that I feel woefully far short of the standard to which he
attained.  Perhaps a soft and somewhat undecided nature had something to
do with my failure.  I say not this by way of excuse but explanation.
Whatever the cause, I felt so very far below my friend that I looked up
to him as a sort of demigod.  Strange to say, his affection for me was
also very strong.  He never seemed to perceive my weak points--but,
then, he was of a large-hearted, generous disposition, and he came to be
loved not only by me and the Indians, but by the men of the expedition,
some of whom, although good workers, were rather turbulent fellows.

All things having been satisfactorily arranged, as detailed in the last
chapter, we now set about preparation for wintering.  The first point to
settle was the site for our establishment, and a council of the whole
party was called to settle it on the lawn-like spot on the margin of our
lake where the first fire had been kindled.

"No spot could be better, I think," said our chief, as we stood in a
picturesque group around him, with Masqua, Mozwa, and several other
Indians looking on.  "The little rising ground and clump of wood at the
back will shelter us from the north winds; the underwood on the east and
west is sufficiently high to form a slight protection in those
directions, and to the south the island-studded bosom of Lake Wichikagan
lies spread out before us, to supply us with fish and water, and a
cheering prospect."

"And to remind Donald Bane and James Dougall," said I, "of Loch Lomond
or Loch Ness."

"I rather think," said Lumley, "that it strikes Dougall as having more
resemblance to Loch Awe, if we may judge from the awesome expression of
his face."

"Weel, Muster Lumley," returned Dougall with a slight smile, "not to
spoil your choke, sir, it wass thinkin' o' the fush I wass, an'
wonderin' if they wass goot fush."

"Big Otter says they are good," returned our chief, "and I think we may
rely on his opinion.  There's a little stretch of rock over there,
jutting out from the shore, which could be made into a capital pier for
our boats and canoes without much labour.  What say you, Henri Coppet;
could not a few trees and some planks be easily fitted to these rocks?"

"Oui, monsieur--yes, sir--very easily," answered the carpenter, in
French.

"Ay, an' wan or two big stones on the other pint o' rocks there,"
observed Donald Bane, "would make a goot breakwater, an' a fine harbour,
whatever."

"And I'm sure nothing could be finer than the view," said I, with
feelings of enthusiasm.

"Well, then, since we all seem agreed on that point--here shall our
house be raised," rejoined Lumley, driving the point of a stick he
carried into the ground.  "Come now, boys, go to work.  Max, you will
superintend the placing of the goods in a secure position and cover them
with tarpaulin in the meantime.  We'll soon have a hut ready.  Dumont,
set up your forge under yon pine-tree and get your tools ready.
Overhaul your nets, Blondin, and take Salamander to help you--especially
the seine-net; I'll try a sweep this afternoon or to-morrow.  Come here,
Max, I want to speak with you."

"Now, Max," he said, when we had gone aside some distance, "see that you
arrange the goods so that they may be easily guarded, and don't let the
redskins come too near.  They may be honest enough, but we won't throw
temptation in their way.  We shall want one of them, by the bye, to keep
house for us.  What say you to hiring Waboose?"

"Out of the question," said I, quickly.

"Why so, Max?"

"Why, because--don't you see--she's far above that sort o' thing, she's
quite a kind of princess in the tribe.  Haven't you noticed how
respectful they all are to her?  And, besides, she is so--what one might
almost call ladylike.  I am convinced that her father must have been a
gentleman."

"Perhaps so," returned Lumley, with a quiet laugh; "well, we won't
insult her by asking her to fill such a position.  Away to work now.  I
will sketch out the plan of our establishment.  When the goods are all
safe, send your men to fell heavy timber for the houses, and let them
also cut some firewood.  Off you go."

In a few minutes we were all at work, busy as bees--carrying, hauling,
cutting, hammering and chopping; while some of the Indians looked on,
intensely interested, others assisted under the direction of Big Otter,
and the woods resounded with the noise of the new-born activity.

Soon Blondin had a net down, and before evening we had caught enough of
that splendid staple of the North American lakes, the whitefish, to
supply us with a good meal and leave something over for our red friends.

I observed during these operations that, after planning, sketching, and
measuring, our chief took his axe into the wood and felled a tall pine,
from which he proceeded to remove the branches and bark.  Towards
evening he took a spade, and dug a deep hole in the ground on the most
prominent part of the lawn, in front of what was to be our future home.

"Come now, four of you," he said, "and help me to set up our
flag-staff."

I ran with three others to assist, and in another minute or two the end
of the tall taper stick was dropped into the hole and fixed there.  A
hole had been already bored in the top and a rope rove through it, to
which Lumley soon attached the corners of a small red bundle.

"Ho! lads," he shouted, when all was ready, in a voice that rang out
full and strong, "Fall in!"

We had previously been trained to obey this order with the utmost
alacrity, by running towards our leader, carrying our loaded guns with
us, and forming into line, so as to be ready for any emergency.  It was
a fancy of Lumley to drill us thus, and we fell in with his humour, most
of us counting it a piece of fun, to break off from what we chanced to
be doing at the moment the order was given, and trying who should be
first to reach the spot where he stood.  As our guns were always loaded
and primed, we never had to lose time in charging them.

On the occasion of which I write, we amazed and somewhat alarmed the
Indians by our prompt action, for we stood together in a silent row in
less than half a minute after the summons was shouted.

"I have called you up, lads," said Lumley, "to take part in a little
ceremony.  Through the goodness of the Almighty we have been brought in
safety and health to our new home.  It is already part of the Queen of
England's dominions, and I now take possession of it in the name of the
Hudson's Bay Company.  May God prosper and bless us while we stay here!"

He hoisted, as he spoke, the small red bundle, which when shaken out
proved to be a flag on which were the letters HBC in white.

"Now, boys, send a volley at the new moon up there.  Ready--present--
fire!  Hoorah!"

The crash of the united volley and the wild huzza which followed caused
many a redskin's heart to leap, and would doubtless have caused many a
foot to run, but for the fact that their own redskin brother--Big
Otter--was one of the firing party, and, perhaps, the wildest cheerer of
the band!

The ceremony ended, orders were given to knock off work for the day, and
set about the preparation oh supper.

The food was sweet that night, sweeter than usual, for we were very
hungry; the stars were bright that night, brighter than usual, for we
were very happy at the auspicious commencement of our sojourn; and our
sleep was unusually sound, for we felt safer than ever under the
guidance of a chief who had proved himself so capable of turning
threatened war into peace.  This being the condition of things, it was
not surprising that we indulged in a longer rest than usual, and
continued to slumber long after the sun had risen and converted Lake
Wichikagan into a glorious sheet of silver.

It is true that our guide, with that sense of responsibility which seems
to weigh heavy on guides even when asleep, had awakened at the usual
hour of starting--daybreak--and, from the mere force of habit, had given
forth his accustomed and sonorous "Leve! leve!"--rise, rise.  From the
mere force of habit, too, we all turned round to have a few seconds
repose on our other sides before obeying the order, but suddenly light
flashed into our minds, and various growls in varied keys saluted our
guide.

"Go to sleep, men," said our chief, with a half laugh, which ended in a
sigh of contentment.

French growls of doubtful meaning issued from the lips of Dumont and
Coppet, but Blondin condescended on no remark at all, unless "Pooh!" may
be considered such.

"Hoots! man--heigh-ho!" remonstrated Donald Bane, while his comrade
Dougall merely said, "Wow!" and followed it with a prolonged snore.

For myself, I felt inclined to laugh, but, being much too lazy to do so,
turned over, and was instantly lost again in oblivion.  The whole camp
was immediately in the same condition, and thus, as I have said, we
remained till the sun was high.

Soon after daybreak, however, the Indians began to stir in their camp--
which lay a little apart from ours--and, ascending a slight eminence,
whence they could look down on our slumbering forms at their leisure,
squatted there and continued to gaze--perhaps to wonder how long we
meant to rest.  They were soon joined by others--men, women, and
children--from the neighbouring camp.  Self-restraint, at least in some
matters, is a characteristic of the red-men, and they remained very
patiently and silently there; even the children spoke in whispers, and
gazed in solemn earnestness at our slumbering camp.

When we rose and began active preparations for breakfast, the little
ones melted away--influenced either by fear or by the orders of their
parents.  They returned, however, in greater force than ever when we
began the labours of the day.  Being all more or less naked, they
resembled a band of brown monkeys without tails, whose great eyes were
capable of expressing only one powerful sentiment--that of surprise!

Thus, watched with deep interest by a large portion of the tribe, we
proceeded to the erection of the first house.

"The Hall will stand here, Max," said Lumley to me, as I approached him,
bearing one end of a long squared log on my shoulder, the other end of
which was carried by Big Otter, while Bane and one of the Canadians
supported the centre of it.  "Set it down there, lads--a little more
this way--so."

We laid the timber on the green sward facing the lake, in such a way
that it corresponded with the front line of a large square which had
been traced on the turf by Lumley.

"Stay with me, Max, I want your help and advice."  The men went back to
the bush, from which, at the same moment, four others of our party
issued, bearing a similar log.

It was laid at the other side of the square, parallel to the first one.
In a few minutes the two end logs were carried up and deposited in their
places.  These logs had all been cut, squared, mortised at their ends,
and fitted together in the woods before being brought to the lawn.

"Now, the question is," said Lumley, as he stood with coat off, shirt
sleeves rolled up to the elbows, and pencil and plan in hand, "shall we
turn the front of the house a little more to the south or a little more
to the east?  We must decide that now, before fixing the framework
together."

"We should get more of the rising sun," said I, "if we turned it more
towards the east.  And you know we shall not have too much of its beams
in winter to gladden our hearts and eyes."

"Right, Max, but then we might have too much of the east winds to
trouble our toes and noses."

"Still the view eastward," said I, "is so extensive and varied--so full
of sublimity."

"While that to the southward," urged Lumley, "is so soft and beautiful--
so full of poetry and romance."

"Come, Jack, don't laugh at me.  You know that I am not jesting; I mean
what I say."

"I know it, Max, but though I may seem to be half jesting, is it not
possible that I, too, may thoroughly mean what I say?"

He pointed as he spoke to the southward, where certain combinations of
light and shade thrown on the numerous islets as well as on the clouds--
all of which were reflected in the clear water--presented a scene which
it is easier to imagine than describe.

I at once admitted the justice of his remark, and it was finally settled
that the house should face due south.

"Fix the frame together now, Coppet," said Lumley to our carpenter, who
came forward with a load of small timbers, "and let it face as it now
lies.  The ground is fortunately so flat that we won't require much
levelling of foundations.  Now, the next thing, Max," he added, turning
to me and consulting the plan, "is this--have we made the best possible
arrangement of our space?  You see I am not much of an architect, but
luckily we have not to contend with the civilised difficulties of
lobbies and staircases."

"You intend our palace to have only one storey, I suppose?" said I.

"Just so, Max.  Arctic gales, you see, might carry a top storey off.  We
shall have no lobby at all--only a front door and a back door entering
direct upon our hall.  Of course I shall have a porch and door outside
of each, to keep wind and snow out.  Now, see here.  There, you observe,
is the foundation frame now being laid down.  Well, one-third of the
space in the middle is to be the hall--our drawing-room, dining-room,
library, snuggery, smokery, public-room, etcetera, all in one.  It will
extend from front to rear of the building; but at the back, you see, I
have marked a little oblong space which is to be boarded off as a sort
of larder, and gun-room, and place for rubbish in general.  It will
extend along the width of the hall, leaving only space for the back
door."

"What a capital contrivance!" said I; "it will, besides being so useful,
break in on the oblong shape of the hall and give variety of form."

"Just so, Max; then the space left on each side of the hall shall be
partitioned off into four rooms--two on either side--with the doors
opening into the hall.  No passages, you see, anywhere, and no wasted
space.  One room for me, one for you, one for Salamander, who is to be
our man-servant as well as interpreter, and one for Blondin, whom I
intend to make a sort of overseer of the men.  We shan't want a spare
room, for we won't be troubled much, I fear, with guests; but if such a
blessing should ever descend on us, we can turn Blondin or Salamander
out.  They will have to mess with the men at any rate; and, by the way,
we must start the men's house and the store immediately, for I intend to
carry on all three at the same time, so that we and the men and the
goods may all get housed together."

"Are you to have attics?"  I asked.

"No; but there will be a space under the sloping roof, which can be
turned into a garret, and may be reached through a trap-door by a
movable ladder.  As to windows, the hall is to have two--one on each
side of the door, which will give the house the lively aspect of
appearing to have two eyes and a nose.  The bedrooms will each have one
window in its side, and you may take the one looking eastward if you
choose, Max.  In winter these windows shall have double frames and glass
to keep the cold out.  Go now, my boy, and see to the foundation of the
men's house."

Need I say that we all toiled with hearty good-will; for, although the
weather was pleasantly warm at the time, we knew that the short-lived
autumn would quickly pass and render a good roof over our heads most
desirable.

Soon a pit-saw which we had brought with us was set to work, and planks
began to multiply.  Henri Coppet and his men swung their great axes, and
trees began to fall around, and to take unwonted shapes.  The ring of
Marcelle Dumont's anvil was heard from morn till eve, echoing through
the wild-woods; and powerful bands, and nuts, and screws, of varied size
and form, were evolved from our bundle of iron bars.  Thus the whole
party wrought with untiring energy, and our future abode began to grow.

At all this our red friends gazed with countenances expressive of
inconceivable surprise and profound admiration.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

A NARROW ESCAPE--A STRANGE MEETING, AND A HALF-REVEALED MYSTERY.

One afternoon, not very long after our arrival at Lake Wichikagan,
Lumley and I found ourselves on the summit of a rising ground which was
scantily clothed with trees, and from the top of which we could see the
region all round like a map spread at our feet.  We were out after a
black bear whose footprints had led us to the spot.

"Bruin has escaped us this time," said Lumley, "and I don't feel
disposed to go after him any further.  You see, Max, I must be up early
to-morrow to superintend Coppet at his water-mill, so I would advise
resting here a bit to refresh ourselves at this spring, and then make
tracks for home."

He descended as he spoke towards a small basin in the rocks, into which
fell a rivulet formed by the spring referred to, and flung himself down
beside it.  Seating myself at his side I said:--

"Coppet needs superintendence, I suspect, for although he is an
excellent carpenter and reliable workman, I'm not sure that he
understands complicated or large works--except, indeed, the building of
houses; but then he has been taught that since he was a boy."

"That's just it, Max," returned Lumley, filling the hollow of his hand
with clear water for want of a better drinking-cup, "he can do anything
which he has been taught, but I find that he cannot originate, and
suspect that he has not a very deep knowledge of the strength of
materials or the power of forces.  The worst of it is that neither you
nor I are very profound in such matters.  However, we must do our best
and make everything ten times stronger than there is any occasion for,
and thus make up for the lack of engineering knowledge."

"Shall you want my help to-morrow earlier than usual?"  I asked.

"No--not till after breakfast."

"Well then, as there is no necessity for my going to bed before my
ordinary time, I'll let you return alone, for I don't feel at all
disposed to give up this bear after tracking him so many hours.  He's
only a small one, to judge from his footprints, and I am a pretty sure
shot, you know."

"Be it so, Max--but don't be late, else I'll have to send men to look
for you!"

Lumley got up and left me--making a straight line for Fort Wichikagan,
as we had named our outpost, and leaving me in a dreamy state of mind
beside the spring.

It was a delightful afternoon in that most charming period of the
American season which is styled the Indian summer; when mosquitoes,
sand-flies, and all other insect-tormentors disappear, and the weather
seems to take a last enjoyable fortnight of sunny repose before breaking
into winter.

I fell into a pleasant reverie.  The backwoods of the Great Nor'-west
vanished from my mental view, and, with eyes half closed, I indulged in
memories of home and all its sweet associations.

Bethinking me suddenly of my reason for remaining where I was, I sprang
up, seized my gun, and began to follow the trail of the bear.  Before
descending from the eminence, however, I took a look round the
landscape, and saw the figure of an Indian woman in the distance,
proceeding towards our fort.  Although too far-off to be distinguished
by feature, I could clearly perceive the light-blue cotton kerchief
which formed part of the dress of Waboose.

At once my interest in the bear vanished, and I began to follow the
Indian girl instead.  I had not seen her since the evening of our
arrival at the lake, and I felt a strong desire to make further
inquiries as to the circumstances of her father's life among the Indians
and his unfortunate death.

Waboose had not seen me.  By making a wide and rapid detour I got in
front of her and sat down on a fallen tree at a spot where she was sure
to pass.

As she drew near, I could not fail to observe how graceful her port was,
and how different from that of the other girls with whom her lot had
been cast.

"Assuredly," muttered I to myself, "her father was a gentleman!"

Leaving my gun on the bank on which I had been seated, I advanced to
meet her.  She showed a very slight symptom of surprise, and, I thought,
of uneasiness, on seeing me, but made no remark until I had spoken.  At
first I was about to adopt the Indian style of address, and begin with
"my red sister," but the phrase, besides being false, appeared to me
ridiculous; still, the ice had to be broken somehow, so I made a
bungling plunge.

"Blue-eyes wanders far to-day from the wigwams of her--her--people?"

A gleam of surprise mingled with pleasure rippled over her pretty face
when she found that I could speak to her in the native tongue.

"Yes," she replied in the same language.  "I have wandered far.  I was
the bearer of a message."

As she volunteered no more I continued:

"If Waboose goes to her wigwam, will she object to the pale-face bearing
her company?"

With something like a graceful inclination of the head, the Indian girl
gave me to understand that she had no objection.

"An _Indian_!" thought I, "she's a _lady_ in disguise, as sure as I am a
fur-trader!"

Of course I was careful not to give her, either by tone or look, the
slightest hint of what was passing in my mind, and was about to continue
my remarks, when a rustling in the bushes caused us both to look round
quickly.  The foliage parted next moment close to us, and before I had
time to think a large brown bear bounded into the open space.  It seemed
to be taken as much by surprise as we were, and I have no doubt would
have turned and fled if it had not been so near.  It rose on its hind
legs, however, to attack us, and then I perceived that it was not the
small bear which Lumley and I had been tracking.

The blood rushed to my head when I remembered that the monster stood
between me and the bank on which my gun was lying!  Then the feeling
that the helpless Indian girl was at its mercy filled me with feelings
which are indescribable.  Thought is swifter than the lightning-flash.
Much more than I have written flashed through my brain during those two
or three seconds, but one overmastering idea filled me--I would save
_her_, or perish!

I glanced sharply round.  To my surprise she had fled!  So much the
better.  I could at least keep the creature engaged till she had got
well away.

Drawing the small hatchet which like all Nor'westers I carried in my
belt, I rushed at the bear and made a cut at its head with all the force
that lay in my arm.  Where the blow fell I know not, but apparently it
was ineffective, for, with a quick vicious turn of its paw, the bear
struck my weapon from my hand with such violence that it flew over the
tree-tops as if shot from a catapult, and I stood unarmed--helpless--at
the creature's mercy!

The terrible feeling that death was so near almost unnerved me, but the
thought of Waboose caused me to utter a roar of mingled rage and despair
as I doubled my fist and launched it full against the monster's nose!

At that moment a loud report at my ear deafened and almost stunned me.
Next instant the bear lay dead at my feet.  I looked round and beheld
Waboose standing close to me with my gun in her hands!

"Noble heroine!"  I exclaimed, but as I exclaimed it in English she did
not understand.  She had, indeed, a very slight smattering of that
language--of which more hereafter--but "Noble heroine" was not at that
time in her vocabulary!

Instead of trembling or looking pale, as I might have expected to see
her, Waboose looked at me in the most composed manner, and with
something on her lip that seemed to me like a smile of amusement.  In
some confusion, I thanked her for having saved my life.

She did not object to the thanks, but replied by asking me if it was the
usual practice of white men to attack bears with their fists.

I could not help laughing at this.

"No, Waboose," I replied, as I recharged my gun, "it is by no means
usual; but when a man has no other weapon at hand, he is compelled to
use his fists.  And let me tell you," I added, for I was somewhat
nettled by the obvious laugh that nestled in the girl's blue eyes,--"let
me tell you that we English are pretty good at using our fists."

"I know that," she replied, becoming suddenly very grave as we walked
on.

"You know that?"  I repeated in surprise; "how came you to know that?"

"My dear father was English," she answered in a low sad tone that smote
me to the heart for having felt nettled--though I believe I did not show
the feeling on my face or in my tone.

"Ah!  Big Otter told me that," said I, in an earnest tone of sympathy.
"If it does not hurt her feelings too much to recall the past, I should
like Waboose to tell me about her father."

The girl looked at me in surprise.  I had a fancy, at the time, that
this was the result of the novel sensation of a man having any
consideration for her feelings, for Indian braves are not, as a rule,
much given to think about the feelings of their women.  Indeed, from the
way in which many of them behave, it is probable that some red-men think
their women have no feelings at all.

In a low, melodious voice, and with some of that poetic imagery which
marks the language, more or less, of all North American Indians, the
girl began to speak--raising her eyes wistfully the while to the sky, as
if she were communing with her own thoughts rather than speaking to me.

"My father was good--oh! _so_ good and kind," she said.  "When I was
small, like the foolish rabbit when it is a baby, he used to take me on
his shoulders and run with me over the prairie like the wild mustang.
Sometimes he put me in his bark canoe and skimmed with me over Lake
Wichikagan till I fancied I was a grey-goose or a swan.  Ah! those were
happy days!  No one can ever understand how much my father loved me.  My
mother loves me much, but she is not like my father.  Perhaps it is the
nature of the pale-faces to love more deeply than the red-men."

Waboose uttered this last sentence as if she were questioning the sky on
the point.  I felt at the time that there was at least one pale-face who
loved her better than all the red-men or women on earth, but a sense of
justice caused me to repudiate the general idea.

"No, Waboose," said I, firmly, "that is a mistake.  Rough surroundings
and a harsh life will indeed modify the heart's affections, but the mere
colour of the skin has nothing to do with it.  The heart of the redskin
can love as deeply as that of the white man--both were made by the same
Great Master of Life."

The girl cast her eyes meditatively on the ground and murmured simply,
"It may be so."

The reader must not suppose that I expressed my meaning in the Indian
tongue during this conversation as clearly as I have set it down in
English.  No doubt I mangled the sentences and confused the ideas sadly,
nevertheless Waboose seemed to have no difficulty in understanding me.
I had certainly none in comprehending her.

I was about to ask Waboose to relate the circumstances of her father's
death while in the act of rescuing her mother, but feeling that it might
cause her needless pain, and that I could get the details as easily from
some of the Indians, I asked her instead where her father came from.
She looked at me sadly as she replied--

"I cannot tell.  My dear father had nothing to conceal from me but that.
On all other things his heart was open.  He spoke to me of all the
wonders of this world, and of other places that my people know nothing
of, and of the great Master of Life, and of His Son Jesus, who came to
save us from evil, and of the countries where his white brothers live;
but when I asked him where he came from, he used to pat my head and
smile, and say that he would perhaps tell me one day, but not just then.
I shall never know it now."

"At all events you must know his name, Waboose?"

"His name was Weeum," replied the girl quickly.

"Was that all?"

"All," she replied with a quick look, "was not that enough?"

"Well, perhaps it was," I replied, scarce knowing what to say.  "And why
did he give you the name of Waboose?"  I asked.

"Because when I was small I was round and soft," replied the girl, with
a slight smile, "like the little animal of that name.  He told me that
in his own language the animal is called rubbit."

"Rabbit, not rubbit," said I, with a laugh.

"My father taught me rubbit," returned Waboose, with a simple look, "and
he was _always_ right."

I felt that it would be useless to press my correction, and therefore
changed the subject by asking if her father had never tried to teach her
English.  Immediately she answered, with a somewhat bashful air--

"Yes, a leetil."

"Why, you can _speak_ English, Waboose," I exclaimed, stopping and
looking down at her with increasing interest.

"No--note mush, but me un'erstan' good--deal," she returned, with a
hearty laugh at my expression.

I found on trial, however, that the girl's knowledge of English was so
slight that we could not readily converse in it.  We therefore fell back
on the Indian tongue.

"I wish I had known your father, Waboose," I said earnestly.  "He must
have been a very good man."

She looked at me gratefully.

"Yes," she returned, "he was _very_ good."

As she said this Waboose cast on me a look which I could not understand;
it was so intense, as if she were trying to read my thoughts, and at the
same time seemed mingled with doubt.  Then, with some hesitation, she
said--

"My father left a secret with me.  He told me never to show it to my
tribe, as they could not understand it--not even to my mother."

"What is the secret, Waboose?"  I asked, seeing that she hesitated again
and looked at me with another of her searching glances.

"I do not know," she replied.

"It must indeed be a secret, if none of your people know it, and you
don't know it yourself," I returned with a peculiar smile.

"It is a written secret, I believe, but I--I--do not know.  He told me
never to show it to any but a white man--to one whom I felt that I could
trust.  May I trust _you_?" she asked, looking me full in the face.

The question naturally surprised as well as flattered me.

"You may trust me, Waboose," I said earnestly, laying my hand
involuntarily on my heart, "I would die rather than deceive or injure
you."

She seemed satisfied and resumed in a low tone--

"Not long before my dear father died he took me into the woods to walk
in a place that we were both fond of.  We had long sweet talks in that
wood; sometimes walking under the trees, sometimes sitting on the
hill-tops, and always happy--very happy!  One day he looked sad.  He
took my hand as we sat together on a bank.  He said, `I have sometimes
longed to open up all my heart to you, my rubbit,' (he was fond of
calling me by the English name), `but I cannot do so yet.'"

"`Why not, my father?'  I asked.

"`Because--because--' he answered, `it could do no good, and it might do
harm.  No, my rubbit, the time may come, but not now--not yet.  Listen;
for your mother's sake I left the home of the pale-faces and came to
live with your tribe.  For her sake I shall remain.  But you know that
life is uncertain.  We cannot tell when the Great Master of Life may
call us away.  Sometimes he calls us suddenly and we are forced to leave
our works unfinished.  I may be called away thus, before the time comes
when I may tell you what I want you to know.  If so, you will find it
all here.'

"My father took from the breast of his coat a small bundle wrapped in
birch-bark and placed it in my hands.

"`Do not open it,' he said.  `Do not show it to man or woman in the
tribe.  They could not understand, but if ever a white man comes here,
_whom you feel that you can trust_, show it to him.'

"My father rose as he said this, and as he seemed to wish not to speak
more about it, I did not trouble him, but I went and hid the parcel with
care.  It was almost immediately afterwards that my dear father was
taken from me."

We were suddenly interrupted at this point by the appearance of a man in
the distance walking smartly towards us.  I could perceive, as he drew
near, that it was James Dougall.

"Well, well, Muster Maxby," he said on coming up, "it's gled I am to
find you.  I've been seekin' you far an' near."

"Nothing wrong, I hope, Dougall," said I with some anxiety, on observing
that the man was perspiring and panting vehemently.

"No, no, nothin' wrong, Muster Maxby, only it's runnin' aboot the wuds
I've been, lookin' for ye an' skirlin' like a pair o' pipes.  We're
aboot to draw the seine-net, ye see, an' Tonald Pane said it would be a
peety, says he, to begin when ye wur awa', an' Muster Lumley agreet wi'
um, an' sent me oot to seek for 'ee--that's a'."

"Come along then, Dougall, we won't keep them waiting."

Nodding adieu to Waboose, I hurried away towards Fort Wichikagan,
followed by the sturdy Highlander.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

FISHING AND ITS RESULTS--ENGINEERING AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.

I found on reaching Wichikagan that the fun was about to begin.
Blondin, who was our chief fisherman, had let down a long seine-net,
which was being drawn slowly in by a band of natives, whose interest in
a process which they had never before seen was deepening into
excitement, as they observed here and there a symptom of something
shooting below the surface of the still water, or beheld a large fish
leap frantically into the air.

At first, when the net was being prepared, those children of the forest
had merely stood by and looked on with curiosity.  When Blondin and his
men rowed out from the shore, letting the net drop off the stern of our
boat as they went, they indulged in a few guesses and undertoned
remarks.  When the boat gradually swept round and turned shoreward
again, having left a long line of floats in its wake, they perceived
that a large sheet of water had been enclosed, and a feeling of wonder,
combined with a half guess as to what all this portended caused their
black orbs to enlarge, and the whites thereof to glisten.  But when they
were requested to lay hold of a rope attached to the other end of the
net and haul, the true state of the case burst upon their awakened minds
and proportionate excitement followed.

As the circle of the net diminished and the evidences, above referred
to, of life in the water became more frequent, gleeful expectation took
the place of wonder, and a disposition to chatter manifested itself,
especially among the women and children, who by that time had eagerly
laid hold of the drag-rope.

Soon it became apparent that a mighty mass of fish had been enclosed,
and the creatures seemed themselves to become suddenly alive to their
danger, for the crowded condition of their element--which, no doubt,
caused only surprise at first--became so inconvenient that with one
accord they made a terrified rush to the right.  Failing to obtain
relief they turned and rushed to the left.  Discomfited again, they
dashed lakeward.  Each rush was followed by a howl of anxiety from the
natives; each failure was hailed with a yell of joy.  Three birch-bark
canoes followed the net to send the more obstreperous of the fish
shoreward.  Finding that they could not escape, the finny prisoners
seemed to lose their wits and took to rushing skyward, with splashing
consequences that almost drove the red-men mad!

"Hold on! not so hard!  You'll break it!" shouted Lumley to the men and
women at the rope.

"What a tremendous haul!" said I, as I joined my friend, who stood at
the outer end of our little wharf, enjoying the scene.

"I hope the net won't break," he replied.  "If it does we shall lose
them all, and the disappointment to the Indians might be almost too much
to bear.  See, they prepare for action!"

This was very obvious.  The men of the tribe, who might be described as
glaring maniacs, had dropped their robes, and, almost naked, ran
waist-deep into the water in a vain attempt to catch some of the larger
fish as they were slowly forced towards the beach.  Even some of the
women lost self-control and, regardless of petticoats, floundered after
the men.  As for the children, big and little, they developed into imps
of darkness gone deranged.

Suddenly a very wave of fish was sent upon the shore, where, of course,
they began to leap about wildly.  Not less wildly did the Indians leap
among them, throttling the big ones and hurling armfuls of the lesser
ones high up on the sward.

By that time the net was close in shore.  The whole of the enclosed
space became a sweltering mass.  Treading on the fish at last, many of
both men and boys slipped in the water, and fell down over head and
ears, so that the spectacle was presented of human beings bounding out
of the water in apparent emulation of their prey.  The excitement was
almost too much for them.  Several of the boys were seen to rush up into
the woods and dash back again, with no apparent reason except the desire
to get rid of superabundant energy.  One brave, in particular, so far
forgot the characteristic dignity of the red-man, that he rushed up on
the bank, bent forward, clapped a hand on each knee, threw back his
head, shut his eyes, opened wide his mouth, and sought to relieve his
feelings in one stupendous roar.  But it would not do.  He became
suddenly solemn, glared again, and went at the fish more furiously than
ever.

Our men in the canoes landed, and rendered assistance.  Salamander was
in one of the canoes which ran alongside of the wharf.  The only other
occupant was Donald Bane, who sat in the stern and steered.  Salamander
was greatly excited.  As the canoe ran up to the wharf, the bow was
thrust over the net-rope, and he gazed at the struggling creatures below
with intense delight on his brown visage.

"You had petter take care," said Donald Bane, as he grasped the edge of
the wharf, and cautiously rose up, "for canoes are easily overturned."
But Salamander was too much engrossed to hear or reply.  The Highlander,
who had not forgotten the trick formerly played on him and his
countryman by the interpreter, stepped carefully out on the wharf.  As
he did so, he gave the canoe a little tilt with his foot, and Salamander
went head-foremost down among the fish!

A simulated cry of consternation broke from Donald Bane.

"Wow--wow!" he exclaimed, as Salamander's head appeared with a number of
little fish struggling in his hair, and a pike or jack-fish holding on
to the lobe of his left ear, "the poor cratur!  Tak a grup o' my hand,
man.  Here! wow! but it seems a fery frundly jack-fush that--whatever."

Amid much spluttering, Salamander was hauled out, and, regardless of his
mishap, both he and Donald immediately joined the others in securing
their prey.

"It wass a grand haul, man, Tonald," said Dougall that night at supper.

"Oo ay, Shames.  It was no that paad," replied Donald.

And, truly, it _was_ a grand haul; for, not only did we obtain enough of
every species of fish that swarmed in Lake Wichikagan, to provide a
right royal feast to ourselves and our red friends, but a good many were
left over and above to form the commencement of a store for the future.

By that time we had fairly commenced the fishery with a view to a winter
supply.  The weather was still delicious, and had begun to grow cool at
nights, but as there was yet no frost, all the fish we took had to be
hung up by the tail, and thus partially dried.  Afterwards, when the
frost fairly set in, this hanging process was dispensed with, for fish,
once frozen in those regions, remain perfectly fresh during the entire
winter, so that those eaten in spring are quite as good as those
consumed in autumn.

Lumley now set me to superintend the digging and constructing of an
ice-house, which should be ready to receive in spring the ice that would
be required to keep our provisions fresh during the following summer.
It consisted merely of a shallow square pit or hole in the ground, over
which a log hut was constructed.  The pit we intended to floor with
solid cubes of ice measuring about a yard on each side.  This lowest
foundation, in those northern ice-houses, never melts, but a fresh
stratum is laid above it which is cleared out and renewed every spring,
and it is amongst this that the meat or fish to be preserved is laid in
summer.

Another piece of work that Lumley gave me to superintend at this time
was the construction of a water-wheel and dam to drive our pit-saw.  You
see, I had a turn for mechanics, and was under the impression that my
powers in that way were greater than they afterwards turned out to be.
We were sitting at tea alone in our hall at the time the subject was
mooted.

"Where have you sent the carpenter?"  I asked, as I pushed in my
pannikin for more of the refreshing beverage.

I must interrupt the thread of my narrative here for a moment to say
that we took no crockery with us on that expedition.  Our cups were tin
pannikins, our plates were made of tin; our pots and kettles were either
tin or copper.  We had no sugar basins, or butter-dishes, or
table-cloths, or any of the other amenities of civilised life.  But
everything we had was strong and serviceable, and the same may be said
of the things we constructed.  The deal tables and chairs made for us by
Coppet were very strong if not elegant, and the plank walls and ceiling
of our rooms were cheerful, though neither papered nor whitewashed.  It
has often struck me, while sojourning in the great Nor'-west, that
civilised man surrounds himself with a great many needless luxuries
which do not by any means add to his comfort, though the removal of them
might add considerably to his distress.

But to return.

"Coppet is off," said Lumley in reply to my question, "to get some
timber for oars, as well as birch-bark to make a canoe or two; we must
also set about making a new boat some day or other."

"Lumley," said I, "it has often occurred to me that it takes a terrible
deal of time to cut trees into planks with our pit-saws, and occupies
far too much of the time of two men who might be much more profitably
employed."

"True, Max--what then?"

"Why then," said I, "what would you say if I were to construct a
saw-mill!"

"I'd say you were a clever fellow," replied my friend, with one of his
knowing looks.

"But what say you to my making the attempt?"

"Do so, by all means, my boy--only don't use up too many pit-saws in the
attempt!"

I saw that he did not believe in my powers, and became all the more
determined to succeed.

Accordingly, I went next day with Coppet and Dumont, on whom of course I
depended for the carrying out of my designs, to examine the ground where
the mill-dam was to be made.

"You see," I explained, "we have a superabundance of water in the
rivulet at the back of the fort, and by collecting it we may get any
amount of power we please, which is of importance, because it will
enable us to simplify the machinery."

"Oui, oui, monsieur," said Coppet, who either was, or wished to appear,
very knowing on such matters.

"Now," continued I, "here is a natural basin formed by rocks, which only
wants a small dam at its lower end to enable us to collect water enough
to drive the biggest mill in the world.  By making our opening at the
very bottom of the basin, the pressure of water, when it is full, will
be so great that a very small water-wheel, without any multiplying gear,
will suffice to drive our saw--don't you see?"

"Oui, monsieur, oui," answered Dumont, whose knitted brows showed that
the worthy blacksmith was at least doing his best to understand me.

"Well, then," I continued, "you see that we shall have no difficulty as
to the dam.  Then, as to the wheel, it will be a simple one of not more
than four feet diameter, presented vertically to what I may term the
water-spout, so that its axle, which will have a crank in it, will work
the saw direct; thus, avoiding toothed wheels and cogs, we shall avoid
friction, and, if need be, increase the speed easily, d'you see?"

"Bon, monsieur--good, good," exclaimed Coppet, becoming quite
enthusiastic in his appreciation of my plans.

"Of course," I continued, "the saw can easily be fitted to a frame, and
a very simple contrivance can be made to drive along the larger frame
that will carry the logs to be sawn; but these are trifling matters of
detail which you and I will work out at our leisure, Dumont."

"Oui, monsieur, oui," replied the blacksmith, with tighter knitted
brows, and with a readiness of assent which I do believe the good fellow
would have accorded if I had proposed to fit a new axis to the world.

"There is only one thing that troubles me," said I: "how are we to gauge
or estimate the force of our water-spout so as to regulate our mill when
made?  Do you understand such matters--the measurement of force--
Coppet?"

The carpenter shook his head.

"That's unfortunate.  Do you, Dumont?"

"Non, Monsieur."

"H'm!  I'm sadly ignorant on the point myself," I continued.  "Of course
I know that so many cubic feet of water will exert a certain pressure,
but then I don't know what that certain pressure is, nor how to find out
how many cubic feet our somewhat irregular dam will contain.  Nor do I
know precisely the strength of the material required in the dam to
resist the water."

Dumont humbly suggested here that we could at all events act on the
principle that guided Adam and Eve in the formation of their first
water-mill, and find out by experiment.  And Coppet said that we could
get over the difficulty about the strength of materials by making
everything ten times stronger than was required.

"You are right lads," said I, much amused with the earnest manner in
which they gave the advice.  "Now let us go at it without delay, so that
we may get into working order before the frost stops us."

We set to with enthusiasm, and progressed with our labour much faster
than I had expected.  The natural basin, to which I have referred, lay
just below a ledge of rock over which the rivulet flowed into it,
forming a pretty deep pool about ten feet in diameter.  Flowing out of
this pool, it ran about twelve feet further through a narrow gorge,
where it dropped over another ledge.  Now, all that we had to do was to
shut up the outlet of the narrow gorge with a strong dam, and so cause
the pool to swell and rise into a small but very deep pond.

Our first step was to divert the channel of the brook so as to leave us
free to construct the dam.  The nature of the ground rendered this easy
enough.  Then, before going further, we made the trough which was to
conduct the water out of the dam.  It was made of four strong planks
about ten feet long and eight inches wide, forming, so to speak, a
square pipe.  This we laid firmly in the bottom of the basin with its
end projecting over the lower ledge.  To the inner end we attached a
perpendicular piece of wooden piping which rose several feet from the
ground.  This was meant to prevent mud and stones from getting into, and
choking, the pipe.

This done, we laid some very large timbers over the pipe and across the
opening of the gorge, above and between which we put heavy stones and
large quantities of gravel--also turf and twigs, and all sorts of
rubbish.  Thus was the dam begun, and we continued the process until we
raised it to a height of some twenty feet or so.

"What a magnificent pool it will be to dive in!" said Lumley, one day,
when he came to see us at work.

"Won't it," said I; "especially in winter!"

"Whatever happens to your works, the dam, I think, will never give way,"
continued Lumley; "it seems to me unnecessarily strong."

Not to try the reader's patience, I may say at once that we advanced
with our labour without a hitch until it was nearly finished.  To the
opening in the pipe or spout we attached a powerful sluice, by which to
stop the flow desired, and, all being ready, broke down the dyke that
had turned aside our stream, and let the water in.  Of course we had
constructed an overflow part of the basin, by which to conduct the
surplus water back to its proper channel below our works.

It was a trying moment when we first let the water in.  Would it leak?--
would it break down?--was in everyone's mind.  I had no fear as to the
latter point, but felt uncertain as to the former.  We had much longer
to wait, however, for the filling than I had expected; but when at last
it was full up to the brim, and the trees around were reflected on its
surface, and no leak appeared anywhere, I could not resist giving a
cheer, which was heartily taken up and echoed by our whole party--for we
had all assembled to watch the result.

"Now, Coppet, lend a hand at the winch.  We'll open the sluice and
observe the force."

After a few turns our winch refused to move, and only a small part of
the opening had been uncovered, from which the water was squirting
furiously.

"Something wrong," said I, looking down at the men below.  "Just take a
look, Salamander, and see what it is."

Our lively interpreter went down on hands and knees and made an earnest
examination, despite the squirting water.

"Oh!  I sees.  All right now," he shouted, "heave away!"

"Get out of the way, then," we cried, as we once more applied all our
force to the winch.  It turned with unexpected suddenness, the sluice
flew up, and out came a straight column of water with extreme violence.
It hit Salamander full in the stomach, lifted him off his legs, and
swept him right down the gully, pitching him headlong over another
ledge, where he fell with such force that his mortal career had
certainly been ended then and there but for a thick juniper bush, which
fortunately broke his fall.  As it was, he was little the worse of his
adventure, but he had learned a lesson of prompt obedience to orders
which he did not soon forget.

I now planned a sort of movable buffer by which the force of the
water-spout could be diminished or even turned aside altogether.  It
acted very well, and, under its protection, we set up the saw and
started it.  We were all assembled again, of course, at the first
starting of the saw, along with a good many of our red friends, whose
curiosity in our various proceedings knew no bounds.

Opening the sluice slowly, and fixing the buffer so as to turn at least
three-quarters of the furious water-spout aside, I had the extreme
satisfaction of seeing the saw begin to rip up a large log.  It went on
splendidly, though still with somewhat greater force than I desired.
But, alas! my want of critical knowledge of engineering told heavily
against us, for, all of a sudden, the sluice broke.  The buffer still
acted, however, and being needlessly strong, was, I thought, safe, but
the hinges of the thing were far too weak.  They gave way.  The violent
spout thus set free dashed against the wheel with its full force,
turning it round with a whirr-r-r! that sent the saw up and down so fast
as to render it almost invisible.

We stood aghast!  What fearful termination to the machine impended we
could not guess.  A moment later and the crank broke, entangled itself
with the wheel and stopped it.  As if maddened by this additional
resistance, the water-spout then swept the whole concern away, after
which, like a wild-horse set free, it took a leap of full thirty feet--a
straight column of solid water--before it burst itself on the ground,
and rushed wildly down to the lake!  It was a humiliating termination--
and showed how terrible it is to create a power which one cannot
control.

I draw a veil over the story here.  My feelings forbid me to write more!



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

ARRIVAL OF STRANGE INDIANS.

About this time a band of strange Indians came in with a large supply of
valuable furs.  They had heard, they said, of the establishment of the
new post, and had gladly come to trade there, instead of making their
customary long journey to Muskrat House.

The change to these Indians was, in truth, of the utmost importance, for
so distant were some of their hunting-grounds from Macnab's
establishment, that nearly all the ammunition obtained there--the
procuring of which was one of the chief desires of their hearts--was
expended in shooting for mere subsistence on the way back to their
hunting-grounds.  It will be easily understood, then, that they received
us with open arms.

By this time we were quite prepared for their visit.  The two
dwelling-houses for ourselves and the men were completed, so also was
the store for our goods.  There only remained unfinished one or two
outhouses and our back kitchen, the latter a detached building,
afterwards to be connected with the main dwelling by a passage.  The
store was an unusually strong log-house of one storey with a very solid
door.  It was attached to the side of our dwelling, with which it was
connected by an inner door, so that we could, if necessary, enter it
without having to go outside--a matter of some importance in case we
should ever be forced to defend the fort.

I had just returned, much dispirited, from a visit to the camp of our
own Indians, when this band of strangers arrived.

Remembering my last conversation with Waboose, and being very curious to
know what were the contents of the mysterious packet she had mentioned,
I had gone to the camp to visit her, but, to my extreme regret, found
that Big Otter and several of the Indians had struck their tents and
gone off on a long hunting expedition, taking their families with them--
Waboose among the rest.

On finding, however, that strange Indians had arrived with a goodly
supply of furs to trade, thoughts of all other matters were driven out
of my mind, the depression of spirits fled, and a burst of enthusiasm
supervened as the thought occurred to me that now, at last, the great
object of our expedition was about to begin in earnest.  I verily
believe that the same spirit of enthusiasm, or satisfaction--call it
what you will--animated more or less every man at the fort.  Indeed, I
believe that it is always so in every condition of life; that men who
lay claim to even the smallest amount of spirit or self-respect,
experience a thrill of justifiable pride in performing their duty well,
and earning the approval of their official superiors.  My own thoughts,
if defined, would probably have amounted to this--

"Now then, here's a chance at last of driving a good trade, and we will
soon show the Governor and Council of the Fur-traders that they were
well advised when they selected John Lumley as the chief of this trading
expedition into the remote wilderness!"

"Come, Max," cried my friend, whom I met hastening to the store as I
arrived, "you're just in time.  Here's a big band of redskins with
splendid packs of furs.  I fear, however, that what is our gain will to
some extent be poor Macnab's loss, for they say they used to take their
furs to him in former years."

"But, then," said I, "will not the company gain the furs which used to
be damaged, and therefore lost, on the long voyage to Muskrat?  Besides,
the Indians will now be enabled to devote the time thus saved to hunting
and trapping, and that will also be clear gain."

We reached the store as I said this, followed by a dozen Indians with
large packs on their shoulders.  These were the chief men of the tribe,
who were to be attended to first.  The others, who had to await their
turn with what patience they could command, followed behind in a body to
gaze at least upon the outside of the store--that mysterious temple of
unknown wealth of which all of them had heard, though many of them had
never seen or entered one.

Putting a large key into the lock, Lumley turned it with all due
solemnity, for it was his plan among savages to make all acts of
importance as impressive as possible in their eyes.  And this act of
visiting for the first time the stores--the palace of wealth--the abode
of bliss--the red-man's haven of rest--was a very important act.  It may
not seem so to the reader, but it was so to the savage.  The very smell
of the place was to him delicious--and no wonder, for even to more
cultivated nostrils there is an odour about the contents of a
miscellaneous store--such as tea, molasses, grindstones, coffee, brown
paper, woollen cloths, sugar, fish-hooks, raisins, scalping-knives, and
soap--which is pleasantly suggestive.

Entering, then, with the dozen Indians, this important place, of which I
was the chief and only clerk, Lumley salesman and trader, and Salamander
warehouseman, the door was shut.  Becoming instantly aware of a sudden
diminution in the light, I looked at the windows and observed a
flattened brown nose, a painted face and glaring eyes in the centre of
nearly every pane!

When I looked at this band of powerful, lithe, wiry, covetous savages,
and thought of the hundreds of others whom they could summon by a single
war-whoop to their side, and of the smallness of our own party, I could
not help feeling that moral influence was a powerful factor in the
affairs of man.  No doubt they were restrained to some extent by the
certain knowledge that, if they attacked and killed us, and appropriated
our goods without the preliminary ceremony of barter, the white men
would not only decline to send them goods in future, but would organise
a force to hunt down and slay the murderers: nevertheless, savages are
not much given to prudential reasoning when their cupidity or passions
are roused, and I cannot help thinking that we owed our safety, under
God, to the belief in the savage mind that men who put themselves so
completely in their power, as we did, and who looked so unsuspicious of
evil, _must_ somehow be invulnerable.

Be that as it may, we calmly acted as if there could be no question at
all about our being their masters.  Lumley conveyed that impression,
however, without the slightest assumption of dignity.  He was all
kindness, gentleness, and urbanity, yet treated them with that
unassertive firmness which a father exercises--or ought to exercise--
towards a child.

"Now then, Salamander," said Lumley, when he was inside the counter, and
the Indians stood in a group on the other side, "tell the principal
chief to open his pack."

Lumley, I may remark, made use of Salamander as an interpreter, until he
found that the dialect of those Indians was not very different from that
to which he had been accustomed.  Then he dispensed with his services,
and took up the conversation himself, to the obvious astonishment as
well as respect of the Indians, who seemed to think the white chief had
actually picked up a new language after listening to it for only half an
hour!

The principal chief opened his pack slowly and spread its contents on
the counter with care.  He did not hurry himself, being a very dignified
man.  There were beavers, martens, otters, silver-foxes, and many other
valuable furs, for which large sums are given in the European markets.
To obtain these, however, the Company of Traders had to expend very
large sums in transporting goods into those northern wilds, and still
larger sums would have to be paid to voyageurs, clerks, and employes
generally, as well as risks run and time spent before these furs could
be conveyed to market and turned into gold--hence our red chief had to
content himself with moderate prices.  These prices, moreover, he did
not himself put on his furs.  Lumley did that for him, according to the
tariff used by the fur-traders all over the country, every article being
rated at a standard unit of value, styled a "made-beaver" in some parts
of the country--a "castore" in other parts.  On the counter was marked,
with a piece of chalk, the value of each fur--a beaver was valued at so
many castores, according to its quality, a fox at so many--and when the
sum was added up, the total was made known by a number of goose-quills
being presented to the chief, each quill representing a castore.  The
Indians, being acquainted with this process, did not require to have it
explained.

Profoundly did that chief gaze at his bundle of quills on receiving them
from Lumley after Salamander had swept his furs into a corner.  He was
studying, as it were, the credit balance of his bank-account before
investing.

"Now then, chief," asked Lumley, with an urbane expression of
countenance, "what shall I give you?"

The chief gazed solemnly round the store with his piercing black eyes,
while all the other piercing black eyes around gazed at him expectantly!
At last his gaze became riveted on a particular spot.  The surrounding
black eyes turned to that spot intently, and the chief said:

"_Baskisigan_."

"Ah, I thought so--a gun?" said Lumley; "hand one over, Salamander."

The interpreter went to a box which contained half a dozen of the common
cheap articles which were supplied for the trade.  Long,
single-barrelled affairs they were, the barrels of blue metal, stocks
extending to the muzzles and stained red, brass mountings of toy-like
flimsiness, and flint-locks; the entire gun being worth something less
than a pound sterling.  These weapons were capable, nevertheless, of
shooting pretty straight, though uncomfortably apt to burst.

One having been handed to the chief he received it with a grasp of
almost reverential affection, while Lumley extracted from his funds the
requisite number of quills in payment.

"What next?" asked Salamander, and again the solemn gaze went slowly
round the store, on the shelves of which our goods were displayed most
temptingly.  Black eyes riveted once more!  What is it?

"A green blanket."

"Just so.  Fetch a four-point one, Max, he's a big man."

I took up one of our largest-sized thick green blankets, handed it to
the chief, and Lumley abstracted a few more quills from the bundle.

At this point the red-man seemed to get into the swing of the thing, for
a white blanket of medium size, and another of very small dimensions,
were demanded.  These represented wife and infant.  After this a tin
kettle and a roll of tobacco were purchased.  The chief paused here,
however, to ponder and count his quills.

"Do you observe," said Lumley to me, in a low voice, "what a
well-balanced mind he has?"

"I can't say that I do, Lumley."

"No?  Don't you see; first a gun--self-and-family-preservation being the
first law of nature; then, after thus providing for war and hunting,
comes repose, d'you see? a big blanket, which immediately suggests
similar comfort to the squaw, a smaller blanket; then comes comfort to
the baby, a miniature blanket; then, how naturally the squaw and the
squawker conduct his mind to food--a tin kettle! after which he feels
justified in refreshing himself with a slight luxury--tobacco!  But
you'll see that he will soon repress self, with Indian stoicism, and
return to essentials."

Lumley was right for he had barely ceased to speak, when the chief
turned and demanded an axe; then fish-hooks; then twine for lines; then
awls for boring holes in the bark with which he made his canoes; then
powder and shot and pipes.  After this, another fit of tenderness came
over him, and he bought some bright scarlet and blue cloth--doubtless
for the squaw or the baby--and some brilliantly coloured silk thread
with needles and variegated beads to ornament the same.  Soon his quills
dwindled away till at last they disappeared; yet his wants were not
fully supplied--would the pale-face chief advance him some goods on
credit?

Oh yes--he seemed a good and trustworthy brave--the pale-face chief had
no objection to do that!

Accordingly I opened a ledger and inserted the man's name.  It was
almost Welsh-like in difficulty of pronunciation, but, unlike a
Welshman, I spelt it as pronounced, and set down in order the additional
goods he required.  When Lumley thought he had given him enough on
credit, he firmly closed the account, gave the man a small gratuity of
tobacco, powder and shot, etcetera, and bade another chief come forward.

It was slow but interesting work, for, as the Indians grew familiar with
the place and our ways, those of them who were loquacious, or possessed
of humour, began to chat and comment on the goods, and on the white
man's doings in a way that was very diverting.

After the chief men had traded their furs, the rank and file of the band
came on, and, as is the case with all rank and file, there were some
indifferent, and a few bad characters among them.  It was now that I
observed and admired the tact, combined with firmness, of Lumley.  He
spoke to these Indians with exactly the same respect and suavity that
had characterised him when trading with the chiefs.  When he saw any one
become puzzled or undecided, he suggested or quietly advised.  If a
man's eye appeared to twinkle he cut a mild joke with him.  If one
became too familiar, or seemed disposed to be insolent he took no
notice, but turned aside and busied himself in arranging the goods.

At last, however, an incident occurred which called for different
treatment.  There was among the Indians a long-legged, wiry fellow who
had been named Attick, or Reindeer, because he was a celebrated runner.
Those who disliked him--and they were numerous--said he was good at
running away from his foes.  However that might be, he was undoubtedly
dexterous in the use of his fingers--and it was through this propensity
that we were first introduced to him.  It happened thus:

Lumley, whose powers of observation often surprised me, had noticed that
Attick looked often and with longing eyes at a very small roll of
tobacco which belonged to one of his comrades, and lay on the counter
temptingly near at hand.  Slowly, and, as it were, inadvertently, he
advanced his hand until it touched the tobacco, then, laying hold on it,
when the owner was busy with something else, he carried it towards the
bosom of his leather hunting-shirt.  Before it reached that place of
concealment, however, Lumley quickly, yet so quietly that the act was
scarce perceived, seized the elbow of the chief and gave him a look.
Attick promptly put the tobacco down and looked at Lumley with a scowl,
but the pale-face chief was smilingly giving some advice to the man,
with whom he was trading.

He thought that the man would not attempt anything more of a similar
kind, at least at that time, but he was mistaken.  He under-estimated
the force of covetousness and the power of temptation in a savage.  Soon
afterwards he saw Attick deftly pass a packet of bright beads, belonging
to another comrade, from the counter to his breast, where he let it
remain, grasped in his hand.  Immediately afterwards the owner of the
beads missed them.  He turned over his goods hastily, but could not find
the packet and looked suspiciously at Salamander, who had been standing
near all the time, besides fingering the things occasionally.

"A comrade has stolen it," said Lumley, in a quiet voice and without
looking at any one save the robbed man.

This was received with scowls and strong marks of disapprobation.

"Not so!  The interpreter, the pale-face, has stolen it," returned the
Indian fiercely.

Instead of replying, Lumley vaulted lightly over the counter, stood
before the astonished Attick, thrust his hand into the bosom of that
savage, and, by main force, dragged forth the thieving fist still closed
over the missing packet.  The Indians were too much taken by surprise at
the promptness of the act to speak--they could only glare.

"My friends," said Lumley, still maintaining, however, something of
kindliness in his look of stern gravity, "the Great Master of Life does
not love thieving, and no thief will be permitted to enter this store."

What more he would have said I know not for, swift as lightning, Attick
drew his knife and made a plunge at my friend's heart.  Expecting a
scuffle, I had also leaped the counter.  Lumley caught the wrist of the
savage; at the same time he exclaimed, "Open the door, Max."

I obeyed, expecting to see the Indian kicked out, but I was wrong, for
my friend, with a sharp twist turned Attick's back to his own breast,
then, seizing him by both elbows, he lifted him off his feet as if he
had been a mere infant, carried him forward a few paces, and set him
gently down outside.  Then, stepping back, he shut the door.

A roar of laughter from those without showed the light in which they
viewed the incident, and the amused looks of some of those in the store
told that at least they did not disapprove of the act.

Without paying any regard to these things, however, Lumley returned to
his place, and with his usual air of good humour continued to barter
with the red-men.

Thus the work of trading went on for three days, and, during that time,
there was much fraternising of what I may call our home--Indians with
the newcomers, and a great deal, I regret to say, of gambling.  We found
that this evil prevailed to a great extent among them, insomuch that one
or two of them gambled away all that they possessed, and came to us with
very penitent looks, asking for a small quantity of goods on credit to
enable them to face the winter!

I need scarcely say that our amiable chief complied with these requests,
but only on the solemn promise that the goods so advanced should not be
risked in gambling, and I have reason to believe that these men were
faithful to their promises.  This gambling was of the simplest kind,
consisting of the method which is known by the name of "odd or even?"

In the evenings the chiefs were encouraged to come into our hall and
palaver.  They availed themselves of the invitation to come, and
sometimes palavered, but more frequently smoked, with owlish solemnity,
squatting on the floor with their backs against the wall.

Nevertheless, on these occasions we gained a good deal of information,
and Lumley availed himself of the opportunities sometimes to lecture
them on the sin of gambling.  He always, I observed, laid much more
stress on the idea that the Great Master of Life was grieved with His
children when they did evil, than that He visited the sin with
disagreeable consequences.  On one of these occasions an elderly chief
surprised us by suddenly putting the question, "Do the pale-faces trade
fire-water?"

Every pipe was removed from every lip, and the glittering eyes of
expectancy, coupled with the all but total cessation of breathing, told
of the intense interest with which they awaited the answer.

"No," replied Lumley, "we sell none.  We do not love fire-water."

A deep but quiet sigh followed, and the pipes were resumed in silent
resignation.  And, I must add, I felt devoutly thankful that we did
_not_ sell fire-water, when I looked at the strong features and powerful
frames of the red-men around me.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

A CATASTROPHE, A LETTER, AND A SURPRISE.

Autumn at length gradually drew to a close, and we began to make
preparations for the long winter that lay before us.

Our saw-mill, having been repaired and improved, had worked so well that
we had cut a considerable quantity of planks, as well for the boats
which we intended to build as for the houses.  It was fortunate that
this had been accomplished before the occurrence of an event which put
an effectual stop to that branch of our industries.  It happened thus:

One afternoon the fine weather which we had been enjoying so long gave
place to boisterous winds and deluges of rain, confining us all to the
fort and making us feel slightly miserable.

"But we mustn't grumble, Max," said Lumley to me, as we looked out of
our small windows.  "We must take the evil with the good as it comes,
and be thankful."

"Please, I wasn't grumbling," said I, sharply.

"No?  I thought you were."

"No, I was not.  It must have been internal grumbling by yourself that
you heard," I retorted, sauntering back to the fire, which by that time
we had begun to light daily.

"I daresay you're right, Max; it has often struck me as a curious fact
that, when one is cross or grumpy, he is apt to think all the rest of
the world is also cross or grumpy.  By the way, that reminds me--though
I don't see why it should remind me, seeing that the two things have no
connection--that Coppet came to me last night saying he had discovered a
slight leak in the dam.  We'd better look to it now, as the rain seems
to have moderated a little."

We went out forthwith, and found Coppet already on the spot, gazing at a
small rill of water which bubbled up from behind a mass of rock that
jutted out from the cliff and formed a support for the beams of our dam.

"Something wrong there, Coppet," said Lumley, inspecting the place
carefully.

"Oui, monsieur--it is true."

"Can you guess where it comes through?"  I asked.

"Vraiment, monsieur, I know not, but surely the dam it is quite strong."

"Strong!--of course it is, unnecessarily strong," said I, looking up at
its edge, over which the water, rendered muddy by the rains, flowed in a
considerable volume.  "What think you, Lumley?"

I asked my friend's opinion somewhat anxiously, because I observed that
he seemed to examine the place with unusually grave looks.

"Max," he said at last, "your engineering is defective.  It is true that
the beams and stuffs of which the dam is composed could resist all the
weight or force of water that can be brought to bear on them--even an
untrained eye like mine can see that--but you had not observed that this
mass of rock, against which the whole affair rests, has got a crack in
it, so that it is partially, if not altogether, detached from the cliff.
No doubt it is a large heavy mass, but the strain upon it must be very
severe, and its stability depends on its foundations."

"The foundations seem secure enough," said I, looking down.

"True, but natural foundations are sometimes deceptive, and that
bubbling spring may be quietly washing these away.  We must use a little
art here.  Go, Coppet," he added, turning to the carpenter, "fetch all
the men, and your tools, and as many heavy timbers as you can readily
lay hands on.  Come, Max, help me to lift this one."

The decision of Lumley's manner and the energetic way in which he threw
off his coat and set to work, convinced me that he thought danger of
some sort was impending.  I therefore followed his example, and set to
with a will.

We fixed a heavy log in front of the suspected mass of rock, placing its
end against the centre of the mass, and sinking the other end into the
ground--having previously, however, sunk a strong crossbeam into the
ground to bear the pressure of that end.

"This of itself," said my chief, "will go far to avert evil, but we will
adopt your tactics, Max, and, by giving it superabundance of strength,
make assurance doubly sure."

In pursuance of this plan, he ordered the men to plant several ponderous
logs in the same position as the first beam, over which other logs were
thrown crosswise, and the whole was weighted with heavy stones.

During our operations, which occupied us all till evening, the rain
increased tenfold, and at last came down in absolute sheets, flooding
our dam to such an extent that it overflowed nearly all round the brim
in pretty solid cataracts of dirty water, which brought down branches
and leaves and other debris from the higher parts of the stream.

I was gratified to see, however, that our embankment showed no symptoms
of weakness, and felt assured that the powerful structure we had just
set up was more than sufficient to prevent any rupture in the rock
itself.  Comforted by these thoughts, Lumley and I returned to the hall
in a burst of thunder, lightning, and rain--thoroughly saturated, and in
a condition to do ample justice to the sea-biscuit, fried salt-pork,
hung whitefish and tea, which Salamander had prepared for supper.

Blondin, being a polite, intelligent fellow as well as our foreman, was
privileged to take his meals with us, besides occupying one of our four
rooms.  In consequence of this we conversed chiefly in the patois French
of the country, for the worthy man was not deeply learned in English.
Salamander messed with the men in their own house, after preparing and
spreading our meals.

"What say you to a game of chess?" said Lumley to me, after the
tea-things had been carried away by Blondin.

"By all means," I replied, going to a corner cupboard, in which we kept
miscellaneous articles, and bringing out the chess-board.

This board and its men, by the way, merit passing remark, for they were
fashioned by our chief entirely, and very neatly, out of the pith of a
bush, the name of which I forget; and, on the voyage, many an hour that
might otherwise have been tedious we whiled away with this interesting
game.  I knew nothing of it when we began, but Lumley taught me the
moves, and I soon picked up enough of the game to enable me to fight a
fairish battle before being beaten.  At first Lumley always won, and was
wont to signalise his victory by the expression of a modest hope that
the tables would be turned ere long.  That hope--whether genuine or
pretended--was not long of being gratified, for as my mind by degrees
began to grasp the mysteries of chess, I succeeded in winning a game now
and then.

On this particular night, however, the tables were turned literally, and
in a way that we little expected.

Blondin, being left to himself, had sought the companionship of his
pipe, and was dozing over the fire, more than half asleep--at least not
more awake than was consistent with the keeping of his pipe between his
lips.  Ever and anon he was startled into a more wakeful condition by
the tremendous blasts which frequently shook the house; but these did
not disturb him much, for he had helped to build the house, and knew
that it was strong.

We were all indeed pretty well tired by our recent exertions, and rather
sleepy, so that the game languished a little.  Salamander, having
obtained permission to retire, was in bed in his own corner-room,
entertaining us with a duet through the nose--if I may call that a duet
in which both nostrils played the same air.

"Check!" said Lumley, rousing himself a little, and placing a knight in
such a position as to endanger my king.

"Mate!"  I exclaimed ruefully.

"Hallo!" cried Blondin, waking up at the familiar word.

"No--not that sort of mate," said I, with a laugh, "but the--"

I stopped abruptly, for at that moment we heard a sound that sent a
thrill to our hearts.  It was something between a rend and a crash.  We
looked at each other in consternation.

"The dam's going," exclaimed Lumley.

Another crash, that there was no misunderstanding, proved that it was
gone.

We ran towards the back door, but before reaching it, we had an
additional proof that was even more convincing than the last.  A rush of
tumultuous water was heard outside.  Next moment the back door was burst
inward, and a deluge of water met us.  Lumley, who was nearest the door,
was swept off his legs, and came against me with such violence that I
fell over him.  Blondin, who was furthest off, tried to stop us, but
also went down, and all three were swept into the lower side of the hall
amid a jumble of tables, chairs, billets of wood, stray garments, and
chessmen.

The fire had been put out; so had the candle, and we were thus in nearly
pitch darkness, when we heard a yell from Salamander.  It was followed
by a great splash, and we dimly perceived something like a half-naked
ghost floundering towards us.

It was Salamander!

"Hold on!" shouted Lumley.

"Dere's noting to hold on to, monsieur," cried the interpreter in
desperation, as he tripped over something and rose again--gasping.

The rush was over in half a minute, but the great weight of water that
had entered held the front door, which opened inwards, so tight, that
our hall was converted into a water-tank about three feet deep, while a
huge mass of logs and debris outside blocked the opening of the back
door.

"Stay, don't move till I get a light," cried Lumley, wading to the
corner cupboard, where, on an upper shelf, we kept our candles, with
flint, steel, and tinder.

While he was striking a light we all stood silent and shivering, but
when a candle was with difficulty lighted, I burst into an irresistible
fit of laughter for the scene we presented was ludicrous in the extreme.
It was not our woe-begone looks which tickled me, so much as the
helpless, drowned-rat-like aspect we had all assumed--all except our
chief, whose tall, strong figure holding a candle over his dishevelled
head looked like the spirit of destruction presiding over a scene of
desolation.

A rapping at the front door was the first thing that recalled us to the
necessity for action.

"Is it drownded ye all are, Muster Lumley?"

It was the voice of Donald Bane.

"Not quite," cried Lumley, with a laugh and a shiver.  "Come in,
Donald."

"Ay, ay, sur, I would come in if I could, but the door won't open."

"Shove hard, Donald."

"I wull, sur.  Here, Shames, lend a hand."

We heard both the Highlanders put their broad backs against the door and
groan in Gaelic as they heaved, but they might as well have tried to
lift the house.  They caused the door to crack, however.

"Wheesht!  What's that Shames?"

"We've splut the toor, Tonald."

"Never mind; heave again, boys," cried Lumley.

At that moment poor Salamander, who was groping about with nothing but
his shirt on, stumbled over something, and, in trying to recover
himself, pitched head first against the door with considerable violence.

This was a climax.  The door, although it had withstood the pressure
from without, could not resist this additional pressure within.  It
collapsed and burst outwards suddenly.  The great mass of water went
forth with the gushing hilarity of a prisoner set free, and, with
something like a roar of triumph, carried Salamander like a chip on its
crest.  He was launched into the bosom of the amazed James Dougall, who
incontinently went with the stream, laying hold of and carrying off
Donald Bane as he passed.

After a few turns over on the lawn, the three men regained their
footing, and made their way back to the house, while the stream,
subsiding almost immediately, left us in peace to make the best of what
James Dougall called a paad chob!

What had actually occurred was this: the rock that held the main
supports of our dam, being detached from the cliff as Lumley had
surmised, had been undermined by the unusual floods of the previous
week.  Even in that condition it might have remained fast, so strong was
our artificial buttress, but as the foundation wore away the rock heeled
over to one side a little; this deranged the direct action of the
buttresses, and in an instant they flew aside.  The rock was hurled
over, and the whole of our dam was dashed in dire confusion into the bed
of the stream.  It was this choking of the natural channel which sent
the great flood over our lawn, and, as we have seen, created such a
hubbub in the hall.

Of course all danger was now past.  The roaring torrent soon forced its
way into its own bed again, and all we had to do was to repair damages
as well as we could, and make ourselves as comfortable for the night as
circumstances would admit of.

Fortunately the next day was fine and warm, with brilliant sunshine.
Being Sunday we let everything remain just as it was, for Lumley and I
were of the same mind in regard to the Sabbath-day, and, from the
commencement of our expedition, had as far as possible rested from all
week-day labour on that day.  Both of us had been trained to do so from
infancy.

Well do I remember my dear old father's last advice to me on this
subject.  "Punch," said he, "wherever you go, my boy, `remember the
Sabbath-day to keep it holy.'  You'll be tempted to do ordinary work,
and to go in for ordinary amusement on that day, but don't do it, my
boy--don't do it.  Depend upon it, a blessing always attends the
respecter of the Sabbath."

"But, father," said I, venturing for the first time in my life to echo
what I had often heard said, "is it true, as some people assert, that
the Sabbath is a Jewish institution, and no longer binding on
Christians?  Pardon my venturing to repeat this objection--"

"Objection!" interrupted my father, "why, dear boy, there's nothing I
like better than to hear fair, honest objections, because then I can
meet them.  How can the Sabbath be a Jewish institution when the
commandment begins with `remember'?  The day to be remembered was
instituted at Creation, given to man as a blessed day of rest from toil,
and recognised as binding by our Saviour, when He sanctioned works of
necessity and mercy on that day."

I never forgot my father's advice on this subject, and have experienced
mental, physical, and spiritual benefit as the result.

Owing to our belief in the Sabbath, then, we invariably, while
travelling, remained in camp on that clay, and found that we not only
did not lose, but actually had gained in speed at the end of each week--
comparing our rate of progress with that of those who did not rest on
Sundays.  And I now recall to mind a certain bishop of the Church of
England who, while travelling in the great Nor'-west between two
well-known stations, made the fastest journey on record, although he
regularly remained in camp on the Sabbath-day.  On that day, also, after
our arrival at Lake Wichikagan, and all through the winter, Lumley made
a regular practice of assembling the men and reading a sermon from a
book which he had brought for the purpose.  And he did not neglect
instruction of another kind, to which I shall refer as well as to our
winter amusements, in the proper place.

During all this time our larder had been well supplied by Blondin with
fresh fish from the lake, and by the Indians with haunches of reindeer
and moose, or elk, venison.  They also brought us beaver-meat, the tails
of which were considered the best portions.  Bear's-meat was offered us,
but we did not relish it much, possibly from prejudice; but we would
have been glad of it, doubtless, if reduced to short allowance.  Of
course wild-fowl of all kinds were plentiful, and many of these were
shot by Lumley and myself, as well as by our men.

Some of the geese we had at first salted, but, the frost having come, we
were by that time able to preserve fish and meat quite fresh for winter
use--so that both net and gun were in constant occupation.

One day, while Lumley and I were sitting at dinner--which we usually
took about noon--we were agreeably surprised by the appearance of a
strange Indian, and still more agreeably surprised by his entering the
hall and holding out a packet to Lumley.  Having delivered it, the man,
who looked wayworn, strode to the fire, sat quietly down and began to
smoke a pipe which I had handed to him ready charged.

"Why, what's this?" exclaimed Lumley, unwrapping the covering of the
packet, "not a letter, surely!--yes, I declare it is--and from Macnab
too.  Come, this _is_ an unlooked-for treat."

I was quite excited--indeed we both were--for a letter in those regions
was about as rare as snow in July.

Lumley opened it hastily and read as follows:--

"My dear Lumley, you will be surprised to get a letter from me, and
dated, too, from an unknown post.  Yes, my boy, like yourself, I have
been transferred from my old home, to this region, which is not more
than two hundred miles from your present residence.  The governor sent
me to establish it soon after you left.  I have named it the _Mountain
House_, because there's a thing the shape and size of a sugar-loaf
behind it.  So, I'll hope to look you up during the winter.  Before
going further let me give you a piece of news--I've got my sister out
here to stay with me!  Just think of that!"

At this point Lumley laid down the letter and stared at me.

"Why, Max, such a thing was never heard of before!  If he had got a
wife, now, I could have understood it, but a sister!"

"Well, whatever she is to him, she's a civilised white woman, and that's
a sight worth seeing in those regions.  I wonder what she's like?" said
I.

"Like himself, of course.  Tall, raw-boned, square-shouldered,
red-haired (you know he told us she was red-haired), square-jawed,
Roman-nosed--a Macnab female could be nothing else."

"Come," said I, "don't be impolite to Highland females, but go on with
the letter."

Lumley obeyed, but the letter contained little more of interest.  We
cared not for that, however.  We had now a subject capable of keeping us
in speculative talk for a week--the mere fact that there was actually a
civilised woman--a _lady_ perhaps--at all events a Macnab--within two
hundred miles of us!

"No doubt she's a rugged specimen of the sex," said Lumley, as we sat
beside the fire that night, "no other kind of white female would venture
to face this wilderness for the sake of a brother; but she _is_ a white
woman, and she _is_ only two hundred miles off--unless our friend is
joking--and she's Macnab's sister--Jessie, if I remember rightly--

  "`Stalwart young Jessie,
  The flower of--'"

"Come, Lumley, that will do--good-night!"



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

THE JOYS OF CAMPING OUT--IMPORTANT ADDITIONS TO THE ESTABLISHMENT--
SERIOUS MATTERS AND WINTER AMUSEMENTS.

At last winter came upon us in earnest.  It had been threatening for a
considerable time.  Sharp frosts had occurred during the nights, and
more than once we had on rising found thin ice forming on the lake,
though the motion of the running water had as yet prevented our stream
from freezing; but towards the end of October there came a day which
completely changed the condition and appearance of things.

Every one knows the peculiar, I may say the exhilarating, sensations
that are experienced when one looks out from one's window and beholds
the landscape covered completely with the first snows of winter.

Well, those sensations were experienced on the occasion of which I write
in somewhat peculiar circumstances.  Lumley and I were out hunting at
the time: we had been successful; and, having wandered far from the
fort, resolved to encamp in the woods, and return home early in the
morning.

"I do love to bivouac in the forest," I said, as we busied ourselves
spreading brush-wood on the ground, preparing the kettle, plucking our
game, and kindling the fire, "especially at this season of the year,
when the sharp nights render the fire so agreeable."

"Yes," said Lumley, "and the sharp appetites render food so delightful."

"To say nothing," I added, "of the sharp wits that render intercourse so
pleasant."

"Ah, and not to mention," retorted Lumley, "the dull wits, stirred into
unwonted activity, which tone down that intercourse with flashes of
weakly humour.  Now then, Max, clap on more wood.  Don't spare the
firing--there's plenty of it, so--isn't it grand to see the thick smoke
towering upwards straight and solid like a pillar!"

"Seldom that one experiences a calm so perfect," said I, glancing upward
at the slowly-rising smoke.  "Don't you think it is the proverbial calm
before the storm?"

"Don't know, Max.  I'm not weather-wise.  Can't say that I understand
much about calms or storms, proverbial or otherwise, and don't much
care."

"That's not like your usual philosophical character, Lumley," said
I--"see, the column is still quite perpendicular--"

"Come, Max," interrupted my friend, "don't get sentimental till after
supper.  Go to work, and pluck that bird while I fill the kettle."

"If anything can drive away sentiment," I replied, taking up one of the
birds which we had shot that day, "the plucking and cleaning of this
will do it."

"On the contrary, man," returned Lumley, taking up the tin kettle as he
spoke, "true sentiment, if you had it, would induce you to moralise on
that bird as you plucked it--on the romantic commencement of its career
amid the reeds and sedges of the swamps in the great Nor'-west; on the
bold flights of its maturer years over the northern wilderness into
those mysterious regions round the pole, which man, with all his vaunted
power and wisdom, has failed to fathom, and on the sad--I may even say
inglorious--termination of its course in a hunter's pot, to say nothing
of a hunter's stom--"

"Lumley," said I, interrupting, "do try to hold your tongue, if you can,
and go fill your kettle."

With a laugh he swung off to a spring that bubbled at the foot of a rock
hard by, and when he returned I had my bird plucked, singed, split open,
and cleaned out.  You must understand, reader, that we were not
particular.  We were wont to grasp the feathers in large handfuls, and
such as would not come off easily we singed off.

"You see, Lumley," said I, when he came back, "I don't intend that this
bird shall end his career in the pot.  I'll roast him."

"'Tis well, most noble Max, for I wouldn't let you pot him, even if you
wished to.  We have only one kettle, and that must be devoted to tea."

It was not long before the supper was ready.  While it was preparing
Lumley and I sat chatting by the fire, and gazing in a sort of dreamy
delight at the glorious view of land and water which we could see
through an opening among the trees in front of us; for, not only was
there the rich colouring of autumn everywhere--the greens, yellows,
browns, and reds of mosses, grasses, and variegated foliage--but there
was a bright golden glow cast over all by the beams of the setting sun.

Ere long all this was forgotten as we lay under the starry sky in
profound slumber.

While we slept, the Creator was preparing that wonderful and beautiful
change to which I have referred.  Clouds gradually overspread the sky--I
observed this when, in a half-sleeping state I rose to mend our fire,
but thought nothing of it.  I did not, however, observe what followed,
for sleep had overpowered me again the instant I lay down.

Softly, silently, persistently, and in large flakes, the snow must have
fallen during the entire night, for, when we awoke it lay half a foot
deep upon us, and when we shook ourselves free and looked forth we found
that the whole landscape, far and near, was covered with the same pure
white drapery.  The uniformity of the scene was broken by the knolls of
trees and shrubs and belts of forest which showed powerfully against the
white ground, and by the water of the numerous ponds and lakes and
streams which, where calm, reflected the bright blue sky, and, where
rough, sparkled in the rising sun; while every twig and leaf of bush and
tree bore its little fringe or patch of snow, so that we were surrounded
by the most beautiful and complicated forms of lacework conceivable of
Nature's own making.

"It is glorious to look at," said Lumley, after our first burst of
enthusiasm, "but it will be troublesome to walk through, I fear."

We did not, however, find it as troublesome as we had expected; for,
although nearly a foot deep, the snow was quite dry, owing to the frost
which had set in, and we could drive it aside with comparative ease when
we started on our journey homeward.

Arrived at the fort we found our men and the few Indians who had not
left us for their hunting-grounds, busy at the nets, or finishing the
buildings that were yet incomplete.

We also found that Big Otter had come in, bringing with him his wife,
and his niece Waboose, with her mother.  The health of the latter had
broken down, and Big Otter had brought her to the fort in the hope that
the white chief could do something for her.

"I'll do what I can," said Lumley, on hearing her case stated, "though I
make no pretence to being a medicine-man, but I will do this for you and
her:--I will engage you, if you choose, to help Blondin at his fishery,
and your wife to make moccasins for us.  I'll also let you have that
little hut beside our kitchen to live in.  You'll find it better and
warmer than a wigwam, and as there are two rooms in it you won't be
overcrowded."

Big Otter was delighted with this arrangement, and I took him away at
once to show him the hut he was to occupy.

As this was the first time I had met with the unknown Englishman's
widow, and the mother of Waboose, it was with no little interest and
curiosity that I regarded her.

She was evidently in very bad health, but I could easily see that when
young she must have been a very handsome woman.  Besides being tall and
well-formed, she had a most expressive countenance and a dignified air,
coupled with a look of tender kindness in it, which drew me to her at
once.  She seemed in many respects much superior--in manners and
habits--to the other Indian women of the tribe, though still far below
her daughter in that respect, and I could easily perceive that the
latter owed her great superiority and refinement of manner to her
father, though she might well have derived her gentleness from her
mother.

What the illness was that broke that mother down I cannot tell.  It
resembled consumption in some respects, though without the cough, but
she improved in health decidedly at first on getting into her new house,
and set to work with zeal to assist in the making of moccasins and other
garments.  Of course Waboose helped her; and, very soon after this
arrival, I began to give her lessons in the English language.

Lumley quizzed me a good deal about this at first, but afterwards he
became more serious.

"Now, Max, my boy," he said to me, one evening when we were alone, in
that kindly-serious manner which seemed to come over him whenever he had
occasion to find fault with any one, "it is all very well your giving
lessons in English to that Indian girl, but what I want to know is, what
do you expect to be the upshot of it?"

"Marriage," said I with prompt decision, "if--if she will have me," I
added with a more modest air.

My friend did not laugh or banter me, as I had expected, but in an
earnest tone said:--

"But think, Max, you are only just entering on manhood; you can't be
said to know your own mind yet.  Suppose, now, that you were to express
an intention to marry Waboose, the Hudson's Bay Company might object
till you had at least finished your apprenticeship."

"But I would not think of it before that," said I.

"And then," continued Lumley, not noticing the interruption, "if you do
marry her you can never more return to the civilised world, for she is
utterly ignorant of its ways, and would feel so ill at ease there, and
look so much out of place, that you would be obliged to take to the
woods again, and live and die there--and--what would your father say to
that?"

I confess that this reference to my dear father shook me.

"But, Lumley," said I, "she is _not_ a mere Indian girl, and would _not_
look out of place anywhere.  Her father was obviously a gentleman, and
has tried, with much success I find, to cultivate a naturally gentle and
delicate mind and disposition in his child.  Surely, very little is
required to make a lady of her--I mean in the sense that society
understands by that term--and even if that were not possible, is mere
polish to be weighed in the balance against gentleness, sweetness,
unselfishness, tenderness, truthfulness, modesty, loving-kindness--to
say nothing of beauty--"

A hearty laugh interrupted me here.

"Oh!  Max, I admit that polish must go down before such a splendid array
of virtues.  But," added my friend, becoming grave again, "is Waboose a
Christian?"

"Yes," I replied, stoutly, "a far, far better Christian than I am, for I
find that her father has taught her the truths of the Bible--and you--
you see that _fruit_ in her which I fear you don't see much of in me."

"Well, we have not had much time to see the fruit yet, but now I must
speak to you as your chief.  You say you have no thought of marriage
till your apprenticeship is up.  That is a good while yet.  You may
change your mind."

"Never!" said I, with emphasis.

"Well, I respect your honourable feelings, my boy, but it is just
possible that even if she were willing (which has yet to be proved) she
may change _her_ mind, therefore you must promise me faithfully that in
all this teaching of English there shall be no lovemaking.  You are
bound _in honour_, Max, to avoid trying to win her affections, or in any
way to influence her till--till time, a considerable time--shall have
passed."

"I promise you, Lumley, with all my heart.  I think it is ennobling to a
man to love a girl because of her pure and sterling qualities
irrespective of her looks, and I would count it foul disgrace to do
anything to win her unless I saw my way quite clearly to wed her."

"Which you do not at present, Max?"

"Which I do not at present, Lumley, so I will continue the lessons with
the air and manner of a heartless pedagogue!"

This having been arranged between us, the subject was dropped, and not
again referred to for many months.

Meanwhile winter advanced with rapid strides.  One night an intense
frost set in and covered the entire lake, as far at least as we could
see, with a sheet of pure ice.  It had set fast in a profound calm, and
the surface was so smooth that every tree and bush on the outlying
islets was reflected as if in water.  Indeed, it could scarcely be told
that the ice was not water except by going on it.

Being a somewhat expert skater, and having brought my skates with me, I
put them on, resolved to enjoy a few hours of what used to be a
favourite amusement when I was a boy.  Lumley could not skate, to my
regret; besides, he had no skates, and none of the men had ever learned
the art, so that I was forced to skate alone.  And at this time I
learned a lesson about solitary amusement which I never afterwards
forgot.

"Max," said Lumley, as I went down to the lake, skates in hand, "while
you're off amusing yourself I'll go finish the track on the hillside--
that will afford amusement enough for me and the men.  I'll give them a
holiday, as it is such a splendid day."

"That's a new kind of holiday," said I with a laugh, as I fixed on my
skates, "to set them to the finishing of a track!"

The track referred to was a straight wide cutting up the face of the
hill at the side of the fort.  Lumley had ordered the men to clear it of
trees and shrubs, from the hill-top--which extended far behind as well
as high above the fort--down to the edge of the lake.  It had remained
in this unfinished state for some time, and now, being covered with
snow, formed a long white-floored avenue to the hill-top.

"I'm sorry you can't join me," said I, making a few circles before
starting.  "It feels _so_ selfish to go off alone."

"Never mind, old boy, off you go, and see that you don't get upon weak
ice."

Lumley waved his hand as he spoke, and I shot swiftly away over the
glassy lake.

Oh! it was a glorious burst, that first dash over an apparently
illimitable sheet of water, for, although small for an American lake,
the opposite shore of Wichikagan was so far-off as to appear dim and
low, while, in one direction, the sky and water met at the horizon, so
that I enjoyed the romantic feeling of, as it were, skating out to sea!
The strength of youth thrilled in every nerve and muscle; the vigour of
health and life coursed in every vein.  I felt, just then, as if
exhaustion were impossible.  The ice was so smooth that there was no
sensation of roughness under foot to tell of a solid support.  The swift
gliding motion was more like the skimming of the swallow than the
skating of a man.  The smallest impulse sent me shooting ahead with an
ease that almost surprised me.  In sensation, as well as in appearance,
I was rushing over a surface of water in which the sun was reflected
with a brilliancy that quite dazzled me.  I became almost wild with
delight.  Indeed I grew reckless, and gave a sort of leap--with what
intent I know not--which caused the back of my head to smite the ice and
my body to proceed fifty yards or more on its back, with the legs in the
air and a starry constellation corruscating in the brain!

Considerably sobered by this, I arose and cut the figure of eight
thoughtfully for five minutes.  After this I resumed my rapid pace,
which I kept up until the necessity of pausing to recover breath
impressed me.  Making a wide circle outwards with my left leg in the air
and my right hand pointed to the sky in the most approved manner, I
gradually caused the circle to diminish until I came to a stand.

Looking back, I saw Fort Wichikagan like a mere speck on the horizon.
In the opposite direction the lake still presented a limitless horizon.
On either side the distant shores marked, but could hardly be said to
bound, the view, while, closer at hand, the islets were reflected in the
ice as clearly as if it had been water.  I felt as if standing on a
liquid ocean.  Once more a bounding sense of joyous freedom and strength
filled me.  The starry corruscations had vanished.  The bump on the back
of my head had ceased to grieve me.  Away I went again like--but words
fail me.  Imagery and description avail nothing when the indescribable
is reached!

After an hour of this enjoyment I took to circling, and, in the
exuberance of my feelings, attempted some quite new and complex
performances, which resulted in a few more corruscations and bumps.  But
these were trifles.  I heeded them not.

At last, however, I stood still and became thoughtful.  We must all
become thoughtful sooner or later.  A sense of loneliness began to
oppress me, and I longed for companionship in my joy.  Knowing that this
was a useless longing, I cast it aside and resumed my evolutions,
rushes, bumps, and corruscations.  But it would not do.  The longing
returned with redoubled violence.  After another hour I turned to skate
homeward, very much toned down in spirits, and deeply convinced of the
truth--in more senses than one--of the words, "It is not good that man
should be alone."

Before leaving this subject I may add that I tried skating again the
next day, but again grew weary of it in less than an hour for want of
companionship; that I made up my mind, in disgust to try no more; and
that, on the day following, sympathetic Nature aided me in my resolve by
covering the entire lake with eighteen inches of snow--thus rendering my
once favourite exercise impossible.

But, to return.  When I drew near to the fort, I observed that several
black specks were gliding with lightning speed down the white track on
the hillside which Lumley had undertaken to finish.  These specks, after
descending the steep hill, slid over the level shore and shot far out
upon the lake, where some of them seemed to roll over and over.
Wondering what this could be, I put on a spurt.  Suddenly the truth
dawned upon me.  My friend Lumley had cleared the slope for the purpose
of sledging down it!

"Max," he had remarked to me, long before, when talking about our men
and our plans, "`All work and no play,' you know, `makes Jack a dull
boy;' so I'll get up some kind of winter amusement for the lads which
will keep them in health and spirits."

Need I say that my recent cogitations and experience led me to join this
riotous crew with redoubled ardour?  Taking off my skates hurriedly and
climbing up the hill, I leaped on the tail of Big Otter's toboggan,
without invitation, just as he was starting at the top of the snow-slope
to follow Lumley.  I gave the sled such an impetus that we overtook our
chief, and upset him just as he reached the lake, causing him to collide
with Donald Bane and James Dougall, who, seated on the same toboggan,
were anxiously striving to keep their balance.  The result was, that we
all resolved ourselves into a conglomerate of toboggans and men, which
went shooting and struggling over the smooth lake for fifty yards or
upwards at the rate of twelve miles an hour, if not more.  This, of
course, afforded unutterable delight to the rest of our men, and to
Waboose and her mother; as well as to several Indians, who had just
arrived.  Among these last were Attick and Maqua with his son Mozwa.

It was rough but health-giving, as well as enjoyable, work, and sent us
to our respective beds that night in a condition of readiness to fall
promptly into a state of absolute oblivion.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

DESCRIBES A TREMENDOUS VISITATION--A FEAST--A SURPRISE--AND AN ATTEMPT
AT MURDER.

I must beg the reader now to leap with me into the middle of winter.

It is New Year's Day.  That festive season of the year is not less
marked and honoured in the Great Nor'-west than it is in civilised
lands, though there are comparatively few to honour it, and their
resources are somewhat meagre.  These facts do not however, diminish the
hearty zeal of the few--perchance they tend rather to increase it.

Be that as it may, I now convey the reader to an ice-bound forest.  Deep
snow has buried the frozen ground.  Masses of snow weigh down the
branches of the leafless trees; and evergreens, which are not leafless,
are literally overwhelmed, almost obliterated, by the universal
covering.  But the scene is by no means dismal.  A blue sky overhead and
a bright sun and calm frosty air render it pre-eminently cheerful.  The
ground is undulating, and among these undulations you may see two men
and a couple of sledges slowly making their way along.

The sledge in rear is the ordinary provision-sled used by winter
travellers in that land; it is hauled by an Indian.  The one in front is
styled a cariole.  It resembles a slipper-bath in form, is covered with
yellow parchment, gaily painted, and drawn by four fine wolf-like dogs.
The rider in that cariole is so whelmed in furs as to be absolutely
invisible.  The man who beats the track has a straight, stalwart frame,
and from what of his countenance is left exposed by his fur cap and
whiskers, one may judge that he is a white man.

Slowly and silently they plod along through the deep snow--the
sleigh-bells on the dog's harness tinkling pleasantly.  Ere long they
come out upon a lake, where, the snow being beaten pretty hard, they
proceed rapidly--the dogs trotting, and the leader, having changed to
the rear, holding on to the cariole-line to restrain them.

Towards the afternoon the travellers draw towards the end of the lake,
and then a spirit of mischief seems to enter into the wolf-like dogs,
for, on turning round a point which reveals a wide reach of hard snow
stretching away towards a distant group of buildings more than half
buried in drift, they make a sudden bound, overturn the stalwart white
man, jerk the tail-line from his grasp, and career away joyously over
the ice, causing their bells to send up an exceeding merry and melodious
peal.

From certain incomprehensible growls that escape the stalwart white man
as he picks himself up, it might be conjectured that he had taken to the
Chipewyan tongue; perhaps a Scotsman might have been led by them to
recall the regions that lie north of the Grampians.

Lumley and I were sitting in the hall of Fort Wichikagan, awaiting the
advent of dinner, when the sound of the sleigh-bells just referred to
broke upon our ears.  We bounded from our seats as if galvanised, seized
our caps and rushed out.

"A cariole!" shouted Lumley.

"Run away!" said I.

As I spoke, the figure of a man was seen rushing round the point in
pursuit.

"Macnab!" cried Lumley, with blazing eyes, "I'd know his figure at
twenty miles off.  I say, Max, the runaway cariole must certainly
contain the sister--the carroty-haired Jessie!  Hurrah!  We must stop
it, my boy, else the dogs will run slap into the fort, and dash the fair
six-footer against one o' the houses.  Look out, man!"

But Lumley was wrong.  Either the dogs had run as much as they desired,
or the decided manner in which we faced them caused them to swerve
aside, and stop when they came close to us.  The swerve had the effect
of overturning the cariole gently, and emptying its contents at our
feet, and out from the mass of wraps and furs there arose--not a
red-headed six-footer, but a young and sprightly girl, with clear dark
complexion, a neat, rounded little figure, and a pair of magnificent
black eyes, which, at the moment, were opened to their utmost with an
expression of intense amazement.

Lumley gazed at this apparition open-mouthed, with a look of blank
surprise.  I believe that my own visage must also have worn some
remarkable expression, for suddenly the girl's gorgeous eyes half
closed, and she burst into a hearty fit of laughter.

"Well, this _is_ a surprise!" exclaimed Lumley, on recovering some of
his usual self-possession.

"So it would seem," replied the apparition, still laughing, "for it has
robbed you of common politeness.  Why don't you introduce yourself and
welcome me?  No doubt you are my brother's friend, Mr Lumley!"

She drew a very small white hand from a very large leather mitten, and
held it out.

"Forgive me, Miss Macnab--for of course you can be no other," said
Lumley, advancing promptly and grasping the hand, "but your--your--
sudden, and I may almost say magical, appearance has so taken me by
surprise, that--that--"

"Yes, yes, I understand, Mr Lumley--that you find it difficult to
recover yourself,--why, your friend Mr Maxby has not yet recovered,"
said the fair Jessie, turning and holding out her hand to me.

She was right.  I had not recovered, but stood there open-mouthed and
eyed, bereft of speech, until the necessity for action was thrust upon
me.  My apologies were, however, cut short by the coming up of her
brother, who, while yet a long way off, began to shout in his stentorian
tones:--

"Hallo!  Lumley, my boy, how are ye?  Here we are at last.  A happy New
Year, Max.  Glad to see you once more--all alive and hearty?  Eh?  More
than I expected to find _you_, Jess, after such a run with these
rascally dogs--absolute wolves!  But it might have been worse.  Give us
a shake o' your fists, my boys, on this happy New Year's Day."

By this time our hearty friend was beside us, shaking us both vigorously
by the hands, wishing us all manner of good luck, and compliments of the
season, and otherwise letting off the steam of his exuberant feelings.

"You've introduced yourselves, I see," he continued; "come, Lumley, give
your arm to Jessie, and show us the way to the fort."

"If Miss Macnab," began Lumley, advancing, but his speech was here cut
short.

"Miss Macnab!" echoed the explosive Peter in a sarcastic shout, "call
her Jessie, man! who ever heard of a `_Miss_ Macnab' in the backwoods?
When men take to living in the wilderness, it's time to cast off all the
humbuggin' politenesses o' civilised life."

"Pardon me, Macnab," returned my friend, with more than his usual
urbanity, "I differ from you there."

"Oh, ay, I daresay ye do," interrupted the other.  "It's been said of
Scotsmen that `they can aye objec',' and I think it's equally true of
Englishmen that they can always differ!"

"Men who live in the wilderness," continued Lumley, merely answering the
interruption with a smile, "ought to be unusually particular about
keeping up all the politenesses of civilised life, instead of dropping
them, and ought to be inexpressibly thankful when a soft and civilising
influence, like Miss Macnab, condescends to visit them with a ray of
sunshine from the old country."

"Bravo, Lumley," cried Macnab, with a boisterous laugh, "that speech was
worthy of an Irishman!  Call her what you like, my good fellow, so long
as you never call her too late for meals; but come along now and let's
have something to eat, for I'm famishing."

By this time the Indian with the sled had joined us, so we all went off
to the fort in a state of boisterous joy, of which those unfortunates
who have never been banished from their fellows for months--or for
years--can form no conception.  As dinner was opportunely smoking on the
table when we entered the hall, our visitor's hilarity was, if possible,
increased.  Moreover, we had company that New Year's Day, for a knife
and fork had been laid in the hall for every man at the fort.  You see,
Lumley was a strict disciplinarian, and, therefore, could afford at
special times to relax without loss of dignity and with a great increase
of good-will on the part of all under him.  At all other times we and
the men--excepting our guide--messed apart; but on Christmas and New
Year's Days all distinctions were laid aside, discipline was relaxed,
and we acted on the principle of that brotherhood which is based upon
the assumption that all men have the same objects in life and the same
hopes after death.  That morning we had all played football on the ice
together, had slidden and tumbled down the snow-slope together, and now
we were about to mess together in the hall.  Still further, our company
was to be increased, and our festive board to be graced, by the presence
of Waboose and her mother.  Little had we imagined, when all this was
planned, that we were to have the addition of our old friend Macnab, and
that glorious beam from the sun of civilisation, his sister Jessie!

I will, however, make but brief reference to this festive occasion, and
proceed to tell of an event which created an unexpected sensation in our
little community, and might have closed our New Year's Day amusements
with a terrible tragedy.

After dinner we circled round the blazing fire and enjoyed ourselves
listening to Macnab, who had a happy facility in giving a graphic
account of his sledge journey from the Mountain Fort--his recently built
trading-post--to Fort Wichikagan, and I observed particularly that the
presence of a lady among us had a most wonderful and irresistible
influence in softening the tones and the manners of all.

As the evening advanced tea was introduced--we had nothing stronger, and
did not, indeed, feel any desire for fire-water.  Under the inspiriting
influence of this beverage, several of our men were induced to tell
stories, which were more or less humorous.

During the meal--at which Lumley insisted that "Miss Macnab" should
preside, to the immense disgust of Salamander--I observed that the
dark-haired white girl and the fair-haired Indian, drew very closely
together.  It appeared to me that they had fallen in love with each
other at first sight, a fact which afforded me lively satisfaction,
though I had no very clear perception as to why it should do so.

Songs naturally followed the cheering cup, and at this point Lumley
became unusually bold.

"I wonder," he said, with a peculiar air of modesty which somewhat
puzzled me, "if I may venture to ask Miss Macnab for a song."

"Ha! ha!" shouted her brother, before she could reply, "you _may_
venture to ask, my boy, but you'll find it difficult to draw a song out
of Jessie.  Why, she never could sing a note!"

"I've a good mind to sing now, Peter," said the girl with a laugh, "just
to prove that you are a false man."

"No, no, Jessie, spare me," returned the Highlander, "but get out your
accordion, and--"

"Accordion!" almost shouted Lumley, "do you play the accordion?  Have
you really got one here?"

It is but right to say, in justification of Lumley's enthusiasm, that
music of any kind was so seldom heard in those wilds, that the mere
prospect of hearing good music excited us, for of course our natural
thought was that a girl like Jessie Macnab could not perform anything
but good music.

As she rose to go for the instrument to Salamander's room--which had
been made over to her--a growling Gaelic exclamation made me aware of
the fact that the faces of Donald Bane and James Dougall were beaming
with hope, mingled with admiration of their countrywoman.  She had
naturally paid these men a good deal of attention, and, in addition to
her other good qualities, spoke their native tongue fluently.  As
Dougall afterwards said, "She hes the Gaelic!"

On returning to the hall with the once familiar and well-remembered
instrument, I believe every man there felt a tendency to worship her.
But who shall describe the effect produced when she began to play, with
the utmost facility and with deep feeling, one of the most beautiful of
the plaintive Scottish melodies?  Bane and Dougall shaded their rugged
faces with their rugged hands to hide the tears that could not be
restrained.  Lumley, whose mind, although untouched by associations, was
peculiarly susceptible to sweet sounds, sat entranced.  So did Big
Otter, who could only glare; because instrument, tune, and performer,
were alike new and magical to him.  Even Salamander forgot his jealousy
and almost collapsed with wonder.  As for Dumont, Coppet, and the
others--they clasped their hands, opened their eyes and mouths, and
simply drank it in.

There was no applause when the air ceased, but a deep sigh from every
one seemed to be the indication of a return to ordinary consciousness.
Waboose and her mother did not sigh, however.  They sat still and gazed
in silent wonder.  Jessie Macnab, with a slight blush at the unexpected
effect, ran her fingers lightly over the keys of her instrument, and
then suddenly began to play a Highland reel with tremendous vigour!

If an electric shock had traversed the marrow or our backbones, the
result could not have been more surprising.

"Wow!  Tougall, man!" exclaimed Bane, starting up and flinging away his
chair.

Dougall said nothing, but he uttered a Celtic yell suggestive of war and
all its horrors to Big Otter, and, starting up, began the Highland fling
opposite to his friend in the most violent manner.  As I was not a bad
dancer of Scots' reels myself, and the music had caused me also to boil
over, I started up likewise and faced Macnab, who, being equally
affected, stood up to me in a moment, and away we went, hammer and
tongs, with stamp and whoop and snap of finger--oh! the scene is
indescribable.  Indeed, I may say that to an ordinary civilised man who
never saw it, the scene is inconceivable, so--we will pass on.

While these stirring events were taking place inside the hall, a
black-faced, red-painted savage was flattening his ugly nose against a
pane of glass outside one of the windows.  It was Attick, whom our chief
had convicted of stealing about the time of our arrival.  That
unpleasant savage had never forgiven Lumley, and, being exceedingly
vindictive, had resolved to murder him!  With this end in view, he had
been prowling about the place for several days, having arrived with a
band of his tribe who had assembled at Christmas-time to enjoy some of
the good cheer which they understood to be going at that season among
the pale-faces.

On New Year's night unknown to his comrades--for it was his intention to
do the deed secretly, and leave the imputation upon all--he watched his
opportunity, and thought he had found it when, after the dance was over
and the guests had retired, he saw Lumley seated by the fire in
conversation with the newly-arrived pale-face girl.  Macnab and I had
gone with the men to their house for some purpose--I forget what--so
that the two were left alone.

Attick might easily have opened the door and shot his victim, but the
report, he knew, would have roused every one; besides, his absence at
the moment and his dirty gun would have betrayed him to his comrades;
so, being a strong man, he preferred the scalping-knife, with the use of
which he was of course familiar.

Now, it chanced that there hung a small looking-glass over the hall
fireplace.  In that glass Lumley could see not only himself, but the
door and windows of the room behind him, as he sat chatting with Jessie
Macnab.  Happening to glance into the glass, he observed the flattened
nose of Attick on the window-pane with the glaring eyes above it.  A
_tete-a-tete_ with the fair Jessie was too pleasant, however, to be
interrupted by such a trifle; he therefore continued the conversation,
though he kept a sharp look-out behind him.  Presently he saw the door
open--open so gently that it gave forth no sound.  Immediately after, a
blackened and savage head appeared with a diabolical expression on the
countenance.  It was followed slowly by a hand in which a gleaming knife
was clutched.  Lumley now fully understood what was meditated, for he
recognised Attick through his war-paint.  He did not move, however, for
he felt that if he sprang up too soon the savage could easily leap back
through the doorway and escape into the dark woods.  He therefore laid
strong constraint on himself and waited.

Miss Macnab's back was turned to the savage, but not having the
advantage of the glass, she could not see him, and continued her
pleasant prattle.  Like a dark, noiseless shadow, the Indian advanced,
and raised his knife.

"Then you like this wilderness life?" asked Jessie, at that moment.

"Yes, I confess, Miss Macnab, that it has its charms as well as its
disagreeables--the utter want of society being the worst of the latter."

"I should have thought," said the girl, looking up, "that you--but--
but--why do you gaze and frown so fiercely at that--"

She was promptly answered, for Lumley sprang up at the moment with
panther-like agility, wheeled round, seized the uplifted arm, and, with
a wrench so violent as to break it, he hurled the savage to the ground.

Jessie Macnab sprang up in consternation, but did not give way to that
supposed female-in-alarm necessity--a scream.  At the same moment Macnab
and I entered.

"Hallo!  Lumley.  What's all this?" cried Macnab.  "Nobody hurt, I
hope?"

"I fear the Indian is hurt somewhat," said our chief, looking down at
his enemy, who lay stunned upon the floor.  "Go, Max, assemble our men
and fetch all the Indians."

In a few minutes all were assembled in the hall, when Lumley, in a low,
stern voice, related what had occurred, appealing to Jessie to
corroborate what he said.

"Now," he added in conclusion, turning to the Indians, "I have no
quarrel with you.  There lies your comrade.  He has forfeited his life
to me, but I forgive him.  Take him away."

Lumley said no more, as, in solemn surprise and silence, the Indians
lifted up their comrade and bore him out of the hall; but he took good
care to make no reference whatever to the looking-glass, and I verily
believe that to this day it is believed by the red-men of that region
that Lumley has eyes in the back of his head.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE MYSTERIOUS PACKET--FRIENDS DEPART, AND LUMLEY IS CAUGHT SINGING.

The uncertainty of all sublunary things is a truism so trite that I do
not mean to insult the reader's understanding by attempting to prove it.
I merely refer to it in order to say that the great Nor'-west is not
exempt from that general rule of uncertainty.

At first peace and prosperity attended us, at least in all the main
lines of life, with only trivial variations, and we felt disposed to
believe that the sunshine would continue to gladden us throughout the
whole winter.  But such was not to be the case.  Soon after the events
narrated in the last chapter, clouds began to gather, the peaceful flow
of our life was interrupted, and at last a storm burst which filled the
inhabitants of our little fort with consternation.

After the attempted murder by Attick on New Year's Day, the Indians left
the fort, taking their wounded friend along with them.  No doubt they
felt that it would be scarcely reasonable in them to expect to be
entertained with the good things of the pale-faces after the dastardly
attempt that had been made on our chief's life.  But Attick, who had
been wounded more deeply in his feelings than in his body, resolved to
be revenged.  He was the more urged to this because his savage
affections had been fixed on, and no doubt he had been sharp enough to
perceive my own regard for the girl, and was jealous enough to believe
that I would take advantage of my position and of her residence at the
fort to supplant him.

Bad men invariably find like-minded spirits ready to help them in their
dark designs.  Among the redskins of his tribe Attick found no
difficulty in securing the allegiance of one or two men, who were in the
habit of looking up to him as their leader, and it was not very long
before he found his opportunity--as shall soon be told.  When the
Macnabs had spent three weeks with us, they set off on the return
journey to the Mountain Fort, taking Waboose along with them--for Jessie
Macnab had taken so strong a fancy to the fair-haired half-caste that
she had prevailed on her to agree to visit the Mountain Fort in company
with her mother, from whom she refused to be separated even for a few
days.

Before their departure, however, I had a conversation with Waboose, in
which I reminded her of the packet about which she had spoken to me on a
memorable occasion in the woods.  I may remark here in passing that I
had conscientiously held to my promise to Lumley, and had carefully
abstained from making the slightest effort to gain the girl's
affections, or to show her the state of my own feelings.  Indeed, I had
rather avoided her as much as possible without appearing rude or unkind.
Of course I could not however, help showing my pity for, and sympathy
with, her poor invalid mother, and as I was the only one in our little
community who possessed the smallest knowledge of medicine or surgery I
was forced to visit their hut daily in the capacity of doctor.

"Waboose," said I, during the conversation above referred to, "you need
not be anxious about your mother.  I feel assured that her complaint is
of such a nature that her general health will be benefited by a trip
over the snow--provided she is kept warm and does not travel too far
each day.  Of course there is no fear of that, with you and Miss Macnab
to look after her, and I have given careful directions to Mr Macnab how
to treat her."

"You are very kind," replied the girl with much earnestness of tone and
manner.

"And now, Waboose," I continued, "you remember saying long ago you would
show me the packet that--"

"Yes, it is here," she said, quickly, taking it out of the folds of a
light shawl which covered her shoulders--the gift of Jessie--and handing
it to me.

"Thank you.  Well, I will examine it carefully this afternoon and give
it back to you to-morrow before you start."

"No, keep it.  I can trust you," she said, with a simple look that
somehow depressed me, for it was almost too simple and sisterly to my
mind.  "Besides," she added, "it is safer in your hands than mine, and
when I come again you will explain to me what it contains."

Next day the party left us.  It consisted of Macnab, who, with his
wonted energy of nature, was leader and beater of the track; the
sprightly Jessie in a cariole drawn by four dogs; Waboose's mother in a
similar cariole, and the fair Waboose herself, on snow-shoes, for she
preferred the mode of travelling to which she had been most accustomed.
Two Indians dragging provision-sleds brought up the rear.

It had been arranged that I should convoy the party to their first
bivouac in the snow, spend the night with them, and continue to journey
with them the second day as far as was consistent with the possibility
of returning to the fort that night.  Jack Lumley accompanied us at
first, but another small party of Indians had come in to stay at the
fort at that time, and although he had, I am certain, a very strong
desire to go further, with his usual self-sacrificing spirit when duty
pointed another way, he turned and left us at the end of a few miles.

I spent the night in the snow-bivouac as arranged, and continued to
journey onward with the party next day, until Macnab refused to let me
go another step.

"Now, Max," he said, laughingly, "you must turn here.  Why, man, it will
be midnight before you get in, good walker though you be.  Come,
good-bye."

"Well, well, I suppose it's better to turn since you seem tired of my
company," said I, turning to Jessie, who stood up in her sleigh to shake
hands.  "Good-bye, Miss Macnab."

"Jessie, man, Jessie--none of your Miss Macnabs here, else I'll tumble
you into the snow by way of farewell," shouted the irrepressible
Highlander.

"Very well, good-bye, Jessie," said I, with a laugh, though my heart was
heavy enough.  "Good-bye, Waboose--farewell all."

With a wave of his hand Macnab tramped on ahead, the sleigh-bells rang
out merrily and the rest of the party followed.

After they had gone a few yards Waboose turned and waved her hand again.
As I looked on her fair face, glowing with health and exercise, her
upright, graceful figure in its picturesque costume and her modest mien,
I felt that two beams of light had shot from her bright blue eyes and
pierced my heart right through and through.  It was a double shot--both
barrels, if I may say so--well aimed at the centre of the bull's-eye!

Next moment she was gone--the whole party having dipped over the brow of
a snow-drift.

"An Indian! a half-caste!"  I exclaimed in a burst of contempt, going
off over the plain at five miles an hour, "nothing of the sort.  A
lady--one of Nature's ladies--born and br---no, not bred; no need for
breeding where genuine purity, gentleness, tenderness, simplicity,
modesty--"

I stuck at this point partly for want of words and partly because my
snow-shoes, catching on a twig, sent my feet into the air and stuck my
head and shoulders deep into a drift of snow.  Though my words were
stopped, however, the gush of my enthusiasm flowed steadily on.

"And what can be more worthy of man's admiration and respectful
affection?"  I argued, as I recovered my perpendicular, coughed the snow
out of my mouth and nose, and rubbed it out of my eyes; "what more
worthy of true-hearted devotion than this--this--creature of--of light;
this noble child of nature--this _Queen of the Wilderness_?"

I repeated "This Queen of the Wilderness" for a considerable time
afterwards.  It seemed to me a happy expression, and I dwelt upon it
with much satisfaction as I sped along, sending the fine snow in clouds
of white dust from my snow-shoes, and striding over the ground at such a
pace that I reached Fort Wichikagan considerably before midnight in
spite of Macnab's prophecy.

I am not naturally prone thus to lay bare the secret workings of my
spirit.  You will, therefore, I trust, good reader, regard the
revelation of these things as a special mark of confidence.

On reaching the fort I observed that a bright light streamed from the
hall windows, casting a ruddy glow on the snow-heaps which had been
shovelled up on each side of the footpath in front, and giving, if
possible, a paler and more ghostly aspect to the surrounding scenery.

I went to one of the windows and, imitating Attick, flattened my nose
against a pane.  A pain was the immediate result, for, the glass being
intensely cold, I was obliged to draw back promptly.

Lumley was seated alone at one side of the fire, in the familiar
attitude of a man who meditates profoundly--or sleepily; namely, with
his legs stretched straight out in front of him, his hands deep in his
trousers-pockets, and his chin sunk on his breast, while his eyes stared
fixedly at the flames.

I was about to quit my post of observation when a sudden action of my
friend arrested me.

Drawing up his legs, grasping his knees with his hands, turning his eyes
to the ceiling with that gaze which implies that planks and roof count
for nothing in the way of intercepting the flight of Mind to the realms
of Inspiration, Lumley opened his handsome mouth and broke forth into
song.  He had a magnificently harsh voice.  I could distinguish both air
and words through the double windows.  The song was that which I have
already quoted elsewhere--"Lovely young Jessie, the flower of Dunblane."
The deep pathos of his tone was thrilling!  It flashed a new thought
into my brain.  Then I became amazed at my own blind stupidity.  I now
understood the meaning of that restless activity which had struck me
recently as being so uncharacteristic of my sedate friend; that anxiety
to have all our food well cooked and nicely served, in one who
habitually took food just as it came, and cared nothing for quality or
appearance; that unusual effort to keep our hall neat and in order;
those sharp reproofs to the astonished Salamander for failure in
punctuality at meal-hours; that very slight indication of a more
frequent use of the brush and comb, in one whose crisp curls required
little aid from such implements.

Under the excitement of my discovery I burst into the room with, "Oh!
Lumley, you deceiver!" cutting him short in the very middle of those
repeated "lovely young Jessies" which constitute the very pith and
marrow of the song.

"Why, Max! back already?" cried my friend, starting up with a
slightly-confused look, which confirmed my suspicion, and rattling on at
a pace which was plainly meant to carry me past the subject.  "How you
must have walked, to be sure, unless, indeed, you convoyed them only a
short part of the way; but that could not have been the case.  It would
have been so unlike your gallant nature, Max--eh?  Well, and how did
they get on?  Snow not too soft, I hope?  Encampment comfortable?  But
no fear of that of course, with Peter Macnab as leader.  No capsizes?"

"None," said I, seizing advantage of a slight pause; "everything went as
well as possible, and the carioles went admirably--especially Jessie's."

I looked at him pointedly as I said this, but he coolly stooped to lift
a billet and put it on the fire as he rattled on again.

"Yes?  That's just what I hoped for, though I could not be quite sure of
it for she has the old one which I had patched up as well as possible.
You see, as Macnab said--and of course I agreed with him--it was only
fair that the invalid should have the strongest and easiest-going
conveyance.  By the way, Max, I've heard some news.  Do you know that
that scoundrel Attick is stirring up the tribes against us?"

"No--is he?" said I, quite forgetting the fair Jessie, at this piece of
information.

"Yes, and the rascal, I fear, may do us irreparable damage before we can
tame him, for he has considerable influence with the young and fiery
spirits among the savages--so Big Otter says.  Fortunately his power
lies only in the tongue, at present, for it seems I broke his arm the
night he tried to murder me; but that will mend in time."

"Very unfortunate," said I, "that this should happen at the beginning of
our career in this region.  We must thwart his plans if we can."

"Moreover," continued Lumley, with a sly look, "I am told that he has
the presumption to aspire to the hand of Waboose!"

"Indeed!"  I exclaimed, as a flame of indignation seemed to shoot
through my whole frame; "we must thwart his plans in _that_ direction
emphatically."

"Of course, of course," said my friend, gravely; "it would never do to
let such a sweet girl throw herself away on a savage; besides, she's
such a favourite with Jessie Macnab, you know.  It would never do--
never."

I looked at him quickly, but he was gazing abstractedly at the fire.  I
felt that I was no match for my friend at badinage, and gave it up!

"But what do you think he could do!"  I asked with some anxiety, after a
few minutes' thought.  "You know that Waboose would as soon think of
marrying that bloodthirsty savage as she would think of marrying a--a--"

"A pine-tree or a grizzly bear.  Yes, I know," interrupted Lumley, "he
will never get her with her own consent; but you know that savages have
a knack of marrying women without their consent and then there is the
possibility of his attempting to carry her off--and various other
possibilities."

I saw that my friend was jestingly attempting to test my feelings, but I
made no reply at first, though I felt strongly on the subject.

"Well, Lumley," said I, at length, "your first suggestion I meet with
the reply that the consent of parents is not ignored among Indians, and
that Waboose's mother is an Indian of so high-minded and refined a
nature--partly acquired, no doubt, from her husband--that _she_ will
never consent to give her daughter to such a man; such a brute, I might
say, considering what he attempted.  As to Waboose herself, her father's
gentle nature in her secures her from such a misfortune; and as to her
being carried off--well, I don't think any savages would be bold enough
to try to carry off anything from the grip of Peter Macnab, and when we
get her back here we will know how to look after her."

"It may be so," said Lumley, with a sigh; "and now, my boy, to change
the subject, we must buckle to our winter's work in right good earnest;
I mean what may be styled our philanthropic work; for the other work--
firewood-cutting, hunting, store arranging, preparation for the return
of Indians in spring, with their furs, and all the other odds and ends
of duty--is going along swimmingly; but our classes must be resumed, now
that the holidays are over, for we have higher interests to consider
than the mere eating that we may live, and living that we may eat."

"All right," said I heartily, for I was very glad to help in a species
of work which, I felt gave dignity to all our other labours.  "I'll get
the slates out and start the men at arithmetic to-morrow evening, from
the place where we left off.  What will you do?  Give them `Robinson
Crusoe' over again?"

"No, Max, I won't do that, not just now at all events.  I'll only finish
the story and then begin the `Pilgrim's Progress.'  You observed, no
doubt that I had been extending my commentaries on `Robinson,'
especially towards the last chapters."

"Yes--what of that?"

"Well, I am free to confess that that was intentionally done.  It was a
dodge, my boy, to get them into the habit of expecting, and submitting
to, commentary, for I intend to come out strong in that line in my
exposition of the Pilgrim--as you shall see.  I brought the book with
this very end, and the long winter nights, in view.  And I mean to take
it easy too--spin it out.  I won't bore them with too much at a time."

"Good, but don't spin it out too long, Lumley," said I; "you know when
men set their hearts on some magnificent plan or scheme they are apt to
become prosy.  I suppose you'll also take the writing class, as before?"

"I suppose I must," returned my friend, with a sigh, "though it goes
against the grain, for I was never very good at penmanship, and we have
lost our best scholars too, now that Waboose and her mother are gone."

"By the way, that reminds me," said I, "that Waboose gave me the packet
which she received from her father not long before he was drowned.  Here
it is."

I drew it from my breast-pocket and held it up.  "She told me her father
had said it was no use her opening it, as she could not read it, but
that she was to give it to the first white man whom she could trust; you
remember my mentioning that to you? she gave it to me only yesterday,
and I have not yet found time to read it."

"Did she say she could trust _you_, Max!"

"Of course she did.  Why not?"

"Oh, certainly, why not?" repeated my friend, with a peculiar look.
"Did she say you might communicate its contents to _me_?"

"Well, no, she did not," I replied, feeling rather perplexed.  "But I am
quite sure that, if she meant to trust me at all, she meant to trust to
my discretion in the whole matter; and--Jack Lumley," I added, getting
up and grasping my friend's hand, "if I cannot trust _you_ I can trust
nobody."

"That will do," he said, returning the squeeze.  "You are safe.  Go
ahead."

The packet was wrapped in a piece of birch-bark, and tied with a bit of
fibrous root.  This covering removed, I found a white cambric
handkerchief, inside of which was something hard.  It turned out to be
the miniature of a handsome man, somewhere between forty and fifty.
Beside it was a manuscript in English.  On one corner of the kerchief
was marked in faded ink the name "Eve."

Holding out the portrait I said,--"You see.  I knew he was a gentleman.
This must be her father."

"No doubt," replied Lumley--"but what says this letter?"

Unfolding the manuscript I spread it carefully on my knee and began to
read.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

OPENING OF THE MYSTERIOUS PACKET.

The manuscript was without date or preface, and its contents interested
as well as surprised us not a little.  It began at once as follows:--

"Whoever receives this packet and letter from my daughter receives a
sacred trust which he dare not shake off, and which I solemnly charge
him in the sight of God to take up and fulfil.  At the moment while I
write I am well and strong, and not old.  It is my firm intention, if
God spares me, to pursue the course which is herein detailed, but I know
too well the risk and dangers of the wilderness to feel assured that I
shall live to act out my part.  I therefore write down here, as briefly
as I can, my story and my wishes, and shall give the letter with my
miniature to my darling Waboose--whose Christian name is Eve, though she
knows it not--with directions not to open it, or let it out of her
hands, until she meets with a white man _whom_ _she_ _can_ _trust_, for
well assured am I that the man whom my innocent and wise-hearted Eve can
_trust_--be he old or young--will be a man who cannot and will not
refuse the responsibility laid on him.  Why I prefer to leave this
packet with my daughter, instead of my dear wife, is a matter with which
strangers have nothing to do.

"I begin by saying that I have been a great sinner, but thank God, I
have found Jesus a great Saviour.  Let this suffice.  I was never given
to open up my mind much, and I won't begin now--at least, not more than
I can help.  It is right to say, at the outset, that I have been
regularly married by a travelling Wesleyan minister to my dear wife, by
whom also Eve and her mother were baptized.

"My fall began in disobedience to my mother.  Probably this is the case
with most ne'er-do-wells.  My name is William Liston.  My father was a
farmer in a wild part of Colorado.  He died when I was a little boy,
leaving my beloved mother to carry on the farm.  I am their only child.
My mother loved and served the Lord Christ.  And well do I know that my
salvation from an ungovernable temper and persistent self-will is the
direct answer to her unceasing prayers.

"I left home, against her will, with a party of backwoodsmen, my heart
being set on what I once thought would be the free and jolly life of a
hunter in the great American wilderness.  I have lived to find the truth
of that proverb, `All is not gold that glitters,' and of that word,
`There is no rest, saith my God, to the wicked.'

"I was eighteen when I left home.  Since then I have been a homeless
wanderer--unless a shifting tent may be considered home!  Long after my
quitting home, and while staying with a tribe of Indians at the head
waters of the Saskatchewan river, I met an Indian girl, whose gentle,
loving nature, and pretty face, were so attractive to me that I married
her and joined her tribe.  The marriage ceremony was, as I have said,
confirmed by a Wesleyan minister, whose faithful words made such an
impression on me that I resolved to give up my wild life, and return
with my wife and child to my old home.  My character, however--which is
extremely resolute and decided when following the bent of my
inclinations, and exceedingly weak and vacillating when running counter
to the same--interfered with my good intentions.  The removal of the
tribe to a more distant part of the land also tended to delay me, and a
still more potent hindrance lay in the objection of my wife--who has
been faithful and true to me throughout; God bless her!  She could not
for a long time, see her way to forsake her people.

"Ever since my meeting with the Wesleyan, my mind has been running more
or less on the subject of religion, and I have tried to explain it as
far as I could to my wife and child, but have found myself woefully
ignorant as well as sinful.  At last, not long ago, I procured a New
Testament from a trapper, and God in mercy opened my eyes to see and my
heart to receive the truth as it is in Jesus.  Since then I have had
less difficulty in speaking to my wife and child, and have been
attempting to teach the latter to read English.  The former, whose
mother and father died lately, has now no objection to go with me to the
land of the pale-faces, and it is my present intention to go to my old
home on the return of spring.  I have not heard of my poor mother since
I left her, though at various times I have written to her.  It may be
that she is dead.  I hope not--I even think not, for she was very young
when she married my father, and her constitution was strong.  But her
hair was beginning to silver even before I forsook her--with sorrow, I
fear, on my account.  Oh! mother! mother!  How unavailing is my bitter
regret!  What would I not give to kneel once more at your feet and
confess my sin!  This may perhaps be permitted--but come weal, come woe,
blessed be God we shall meet again.

"If my prayer is granted, this paper will never be seen by human eyes.
If God sees fit to deny me this, and I should die in the wilderness,
then I charge the man to whom my packet is given, to take my wife and
daughter to Colorado; and if my mother--Mrs William Liston, of Sunny
Creek--be still alive, to present them to her with this written paper
and miniature.  If, on the other hand, she be dead, then let him buy for
them an annuity, or otherwise invest four thousand pounds for their
benefit, according to the best of his judgment.  How to come by the four
thousand pounds I will now explain.

"Away in the beautiful and sequestered valley at the head of Lake
Wichikagan there stands a stunted pine, near a rock fallen from the
cliff above.  The spot is not easily found, but my Eve knows it well.
It was a favourite resort of ours when we went picnicking together.
There is a small hole or dry cave in the cliff just behind the fallen
rock.  Two feet underneath the soil there will be found a bag containing
a set of diamonds worth the sum I have named, with a smaller bag
containing five hundred pounds in gold.  It may not be amiss to say that
both jewels and money have been honestly come by.  The money I dug out
of the Californian mines, and bought the jewels in a drunken frolic when
in Canada--`for my future wife,' as I then boasted.  My dear wife has
never seen them, nor has Eve.  They do not know of their existence.  The
five hundred pounds in gold is to be retained for himself by the man who
accepts this trust to enable him to pay his way and carry it out.

"William Liston."

It is difficult to express the conflict of feelings that assailed me
when I had finished reading this remarkable manuscript.  For some time
Lumley and I gazed at each other in silence.

"You accept the trust, I suppose?" said my friend at last.

"Of course.  How could I do otherwise?"

"But you cannot remain in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company if you
do.  They would never give you leave of absence for such a purpose."

"No matter.  I will not ask leave of absence.  I will resign.  My time
was up, you know, this year.  I will write to the governor by the
spring-brigade, and start away for Colorado in summer."

"But this poor man may have been slightly deranged," suggested Lumley.
"He says that at one time he led a wild life.  It is possible that his
brain may have been affected, and he only dreams of these jewels and the
gold."

"I think not," said I, decidedly; "the letter is so calm and simple in
style that the idea is absurd; besides, we can soon test it by visiting
the valley and the spot referred to.  Moreover, even if there were no
money, and the poor man were really deranged, he could never have
imagined or invented all that about his mother and Colorado if it were
not true.  Even if we fail to find the jewels and cash I will accept the
trust and fulfil it."

"What! without money?"

"Ay, without money," said I firmly, though I am bound to confess that I
did not at the moment see clearly how the thing was in that case to be
done.  But I was--and, indeed, still am--of an ardent disposition, and
felt sanguine that I should manage to fulfil the obligations of this
remarkable trust somehow.

"Well, Max, you and I will visit this valley to-morrow," said Lumley,
rising; "meanwhile we will go to bed."

Accordingly, next morning, after breakfast Lumley and I slung our
snow-shoes over our shoulders on the barrels of our guns,--for the lake
was as hard as a sheet of white marble,--and started off to pay a visit
to the spot indicated, in what I may style poor Liston's will.

It was a bright bracing day--quite calm, but with keen frost, which
tended to increase the feelings of excitement already roused by the
object we had in view.  As we passed through the lake's fringe of
willows, the tops of which just rose a foot or two above the drifted
snow, a great covey of ptarmigan rose with a mighty whirr, and swept
along the shore; but we took no heed of these--our minds being bent on
other game!

The distance to the upper end of the lake was considerable, and the day
was far advanced when we reached it.  As we took to the land the covey
of ptarmigan, which had preceded us to the place, again rose.  This
time, however, we were prepared for them.  Lumley shot a brace right and
left, taking the two last that rose with sportsman-like precision.  I
confess that I am not a particularly good shot--never was--and have not
much of the sportsman's pride about me.  I fired straight into the
centre of the dense mass of birds, six of which immediately fell upon
the snow.

"What a lot of flukes!" exclaimed my companion, with a laugh, as he
recharged.

"Luck before precision, any day!" said I, following his example.

"Ay, Max, but there is this difference, that luck is rather uncertain,
whereas precision is always sure."

"Well, be that as it may," said I putting on my snow-shoes, for the snow
in the wood we were about to enter was deep and soft, "we have enough
for a good supper at all events."

"True, and we shall need a good supper, for we must camp out.  There is
no chance of our finding this treasure--even if it exists--until we have
had a good search, and then it will be too late to return home with
comfort, or even safety, for it is difficult on a dark night to
distinguish tracks on the hard snow of a lake, as I've sometimes found
to my cost."

We set up several other coveys of ptarmigan as we traversed the belt of
willows lying between the lake and the woods, and when we entered the
latter, several grouse, of a species that takes to trees, fluttered away
from us; but we did not molest them, having already more than we could
consume swinging at our belts.

We went straight up the valley to what we deemed the most sequestered
part of it, and then paused.

"This looks somewhat like the spot, doesn't it?" said Lumley, glancing
round.  "Yonder is a cliff with rocks at the base of it."

"Yes, but too many rocks," said I; "the paper mentions only one;
besides, it refers to a stunted pine, and I see nothing of that sort
here."

"True, it must be higher up the valley.  Come along."

On we plodded, hour after hour, halting often, and examining with care
many a secluded spot that seemed to answer, more or less, the
description of the spot for which we searched, but all in vain.  Sunset
found us as far from our object as ever, and as hungry as hawks.
Darkness of course put an end to the search, and, with a feeling of
disappointment and weariness that I had not experienced since arriving
in that region, I set to work to fell and cut up a tree for fire wood,
while Lumley shovelled a hole in the snow at the foot of a pine, and
otherwise prepared our encampment.

But youth is remarkably elastic in spirit!  No sooner was the fire
crackling, the kettle singing, and the delicious odour of roasted
ptarmigan tickling our nostrils, than disappointment gave way to hope
and weariness to jollity.

"Come, we shall have at it again to-morrow," said Lumley.

"So we shall," said I--"mind that kettle.  You have an unfortunate
capacity for kicking things over."

"One of the disadvantages of long legs, Max.  They're always in the way.
Get out the biscuit now.  My ptarmigan is ready.  At least, if it
isn't, I can't wait."

"Neither can I, Jack.  I sometimes wish that it were natural to us to
eat things raw.  It would be so very convenient and save sh---a--lot--
of--time."

Hunger and a wrenched-off drumstick checked further utterance!

That night we lay in our snow camp, gazing up at the stars, with our
feet to the fire, talking of gold and diamonds with all the eagerness of
veritable misers--though it is but justice to myself to add that Eve's
blue eyes outshone, in my imagination, all the diamonds that ever decked
the brow of Wealth or Beauty!  When at last we slept, our dreams partook
of the same glittering ideas--coupled, of course, with much of the
monstrous absurdity to which dreams are liable.  I had just discovered a
gem which was so large that I experienced the utmost difficulty in
thrusting it into my coat-pocket, and was busy shovelling small diamonds
of the purest water into a wheelbarrow, when a tremendous whack on my
nose awoke me.

Starting up with an indignant gasp I found that it was a lump of snow,
which had been detached by the heat of our fire from a branch overhead.

"What's wrong, Max?" growled my companion, who lay curled up in his
buffalo robe, like a huge Newfoundland dog.  "Bin dreamin'?"

"Yes," said I, with a loud yawn, "I was dreaming of shovelling up
diamonds by the thousand when a lump of snow fell and hit my nose!"

"Str'nge," sighed Lumley, in the sleepiest voice I ever heard, "so's I--
dr'm'n 'f g'ld'n sass-gs an' dm'nd rupple-ply."

"What nonsense are you talking, man?  What were you dreaming of?"

"'F gold'n saus'ges an' dim'nd rolly-p'ly.  I say--'s fire out?"

"Nearly."

"'S very cold.  G't up--mend it, l'ke good f'llow.  I'll help you,
d'rectly."

He finished off with a prolonged snore, so I rose with a slight laugh,
mended the fire, warmed myself well, observed in a sleepy way that the
night was still bright and calm, and then lay down in a state of
semi-consciousness to drop at once into a nest made of golden filigree
filled with diamond eggs!

Next morning we rose at daybreak, relighted the fire and had breakfast,
after which we resumed our search, but still--without success.

"I fear that my surmise as to the state of poor Liston's mind is
correct," said Lumley.  "We have searched the whole valley, I believe."

"Nay, not quite," I returned, "it is much varied in form, and full of
out-o'-the-way nooks.  Besides, we have not yet discovered the stunted
pine, and you know the paper says the spot is difficult to find.  As to
Liston's mind I feel quite sure that it was all right, and that the man
was a good and true one.  The father of Waboose could not have been
otherwise."

I said this somewhat decidedly, for I felt sorely disappointed at our
failure, and slightly annoyed at my friend's unbelief in one whose last
writing proved him--at least to my mind--to be genuine and sincere.

"Well, Max," returned Lumley, with his wonted pleasant look and tone,
"it may be that you are right.  We will continue our search as long as
there seems any chance of success."

Accordingly, we ranged the valley round, high and low, until we had
visited, as we thought, every nook and cranny in it and then, much
dispirited, returned home.

One morning, about three months after these events, Lumley came into my
bedroom where I was drawing a plan for a new store.

"Max," said he, sitting down on the bed beside me, "I mean to start this
afternoon on a visit to the mountain fort.  You know I promised Macnab
that I would look him up about this time and fetch Waboose and her
mother back."

"Indeed.  When do you start!"

"This afternoon."

I was not surprised at the suddenness of this announcement.  Our chief
was eminently a man of action.  He seldom talked much about plans, but
thought them well out, and when his mind was made up acted without
delay.

"You'll take my letter to the governor and tell Mac to forward it with
his spring packet?" said I.

"Yes, that is just what I came to see you about.  Is it ready--and are
you quite decided about retiring?"

"Quite decided.  See, here is the letter.  And don't forget your promise
to say nothing to Waboose or anyone else about Liston's packet."

"Not a word, my boy."

That afternoon my friend set off on snow-shoes accompanied by two men.

"Any message, Max?" he said, at parting.

"Of course.  My kind regards to everybody."

"Nothing warmer to _anybody_?"

"Oh, yes," I returned quickly, "I forgot you may, if you choose, say
something a little more affectionate to Miss Macnab!"

"I will, Max, I will," he replied, with a loud ringing laugh and a
cheery good-bye.

Some time after that an Indian came to the fort bearing a letter from
Lumley.  It was written, he said, merely because the Indian chanced to
be travelling towards Wichikagan, and contained nothing of importance.
To my surprise and disappointment it contained no reference whatever to
Waboose.  On turning over the last page, however, I found a postscript.
It ran thus:

"P.S.--By the way, I had almost omitted to mention Eve.  My dear boy, I
believe you are right.  She is one of Nature's ladies.  Jessie has
prevailed on her to put on one of her dresses and be her companion, and
when they are walking together with their backs towards me, upon my word
I have difficulty in deciding which is the more ladylike of the two!
And that you will admit, is no small compliment from me.  Jessie has
been giving her lessons in English, and music and drawing too.  Just
think of that!  She says she is doing it with an end in view.  I wonder
what that end can be!  Jessie is sometimes difficult to understand.  She
is also remarkably wise and far-sighted.  I expect to be home soon--
farewell."



CHAPTER TWENTY.

I COME OUT IN A NEW LIGHT, AND HAVE A VERY NARROW ESCAPE.

During the absence of my friend everything went on at the fort in the
usual quiet way, with this difference, that part of our educational
course had to be given up, and I had to read the Pilgrim's Progress
instead of my friend, for the men had become so deeply interested in the
adventures of Christian that they begged of me to continue the readings.

This I agreed to do, but confined myself simply to reading.  I observed,
however, that my audience did not seem to appreciate the story as much
as before, and was getting somewhat disheartened about it, when one
evening, as I was about to begin, Donald Bane said to me--

"If ye please, sur, the other laads an' me's been talking over this
matter, an' they want me to say that they would pe fery much obleeged if
ye would expound the story as you go along, the same as Muster Lumley
did."

This speech both surprised and embarrassed me, for I had never before
attempted anything in the way of exposition.  I felt, however, that it
would never do for a man in charge of an outpost in the Great Nor'-West
to exhibit weakness on any point, whatever he might feel; I therefore
resolved to comply.

"Well, Donald Bane," I said, "it had been my intention to leave the
exposition of the allegory to Mr Lumley, but as you all wish me to
carry on that part of the reading I will do my best."

So saying, I plunged at once into the story, and got on much more easily
than I had expected; ideas and words flowing into my mind copiously,
insomuch that I found it difficult to stop, and on more than one
occasion was awakened by a snore from one of the audience, to the fact
that I had sent some of them to sleep.

In the midst of this pleasant, and I hope not unprofitable, work, an
event occurred which had well-nigh stopped my commentaries on the
Pilgrim's Progress, and put an end to my career altogether.

I had gone out one morning with my gun to procure a few fresh ptarmigan,
accompanied by Big Otter.  Our trusty Indian was beginning by that time
to understand the English language, but he would not condescend to speak
it.  This, however, was of slight importance, as I had learned to jabber
fluently in the native tongue.

We speedily half-filled the large game-bag which the Indian carried.

"I think we'll go into the thicker woods now," said I, "and try for some
tree grouse by way of variety."

Big Otter gave a mild grunt of assent.  He was not naturally given to
much talking, and, being amiable, was always ready to conform to any
plan without discussion, unless expressly asked.  Indeed, even when
expressly asked, it was not always possible to get a satisfactory answer
out of him.

"Do you think we should go up the Dark Valley, or over the Rocky Knoll,"
said I, referring to two well-known spots a considerable distance from
the fort.

"The pale-face chief knows best."

"Yes, but the pale-face asks what the red-face thinks," said I, somewhat
amused by the answer.

"He thinks that there are grouse in the Dark Valley, and also in the
lands towards the setting sun over the Rocky Knoll."

"If I were to ask you, Big Otter, which of the two directions you would
like to take, what would you reply?"

"I would reply, `The direction that best pleases the pale-face chief.'"

"Now, Big Otter," said I, firmly, for I was determined to get an answer
out of him, "in which of the two paths are we most likely to find the
greatest number of birds?"

"Assuredly in the path which shall be chosen by the pale-face.  Is he
not a great hunter?  Does he not know the land?"

I gave in with a short laugh, and, turning, led the way over the Rocky
Knoll into the dense forest at the back of the fort.  Passing through a
belt of this, we came upon more open ground, where the trees grew in
clumps, with willow-covered spaces between.  Beyond that we re-entered
the thick woods, and at once set up a covey of the birds we were in
search of.  There were six of them, and they all perched on a
neighbouring tree.

Now it is sometimes the case that the birds of which I write are so tame
that they will sit still on a tree till they are all shot, one by one,
if only the hunter is careful to fire at the lowest bird first, and so
proceed upwards.  If he should kill the top bird first, its fluttering
fall disturbs the rest, causing them to take wing.  Fully aware of this
fact, Big Otter and I fired alternate shots, and in a few seconds
brought down the whole covey.  This quite filled one of our bags.

"You may take it home, Big Otter," said I, "and tell them not to be
alarmed if I don't return till to-morrow.  Perhaps I shall camp out."

With his usual quiet grunt of acquiescence my red-skinned companion
shouldered the full bag, and left me.  I then struck into the thick
woods, with the general bearings of which I was well acquainted, and
soon after came across the fresh tracks of a deer, which I followed up
hotly.

I am naturally a keen sportsman, and apt to forget both time and
distance when pursuing game.  As to distance, however, a backwoods
hunter who intends to encamp on the spot where night finds him, does not
need to concern himself much about that.  I therefore plodded on, hour
after hour, until the waning light told of the approach of darkness, and
convinced me that further pursuit would be useless.

Looking round me then, for a suitable spot on which to make my
encampment, I experienced almost a shock of surprise, not unmingled with
alarm, on making the discovery that I had forgotten to bring my
fire-bag!

To some people the serious nature of this may not at first be apparent.
But they may appreciate the situation in some degree when I tell them
that on that occasion I suddenly found myself about twenty miles from
home, fatigued, hungry, with the night descending over the wilderness,
the thermometer about thirty-five below zero, of Fahrenheit's scale,
with the snow for my bed, and without that all important flint, steel
and tinder, wherewith to procure fire for the cooking of my food and the
warming of my frame!

It is true I had my gun, which was a flint one, so that by rubbing some
slightly moistened gunpowder on a piece of rag, which I tore from my
shirt for the purpose, and snapping the lock over it there was a
possibility of a spark catching, but unfortunately the flint was a much
worn one which I had chipped away to such an extent during the day, to
improve its fire-producing powers, that only the merest glimmer of a
spark was evolved after many snappings, and it was so feeble as to be
quite unable to catch hold of my extemporised tinder.  After prolonged
and fruitless efforts the intense cold began to chill me, and being well
aware of the great danger of getting benumbed, or of falling into that
torpid state of indifference to life, coupled with intense desire for
rest which precedes death from cold, I made up my mind at once, tired
and hungry though I was, to turn round and walk straight back to the
fort.

I knew myself to be quite capable of walking forty miles on snow-shoes
in ordinary circumstances.  My being tired and the darkness of night,
were against me, but what of that? it would only require me to brace
myself to a severer task than usual!

I had not gone many miles, however, on the return journey, when a doubt
occurred as to whether I was taking the right direction.  In the
confidence of my knowledge of the country I had carelessly left my old
track, which was indeed rather a devious one, and had struck what I
believed to be a straight line for the fort.  It was by that time too
late to retrace my steps and too dark to distinguish the features of the
landscape.  I stopped for a minute to think, and as I did so the
profound oppressive silence of the night, the weird pallid aspect of the
scarce visible snow, and the dark pines around me, which were only a
shade or two darker than the black sky above, together with the
ever-increasing cold, made such an impression on my mind that the
prayer, "God help me!" burst almost involuntarily from my lips.

Feeling that delay surely meant death, I started off again with
redoubled energy, and this impulse of determination, along with the
exercise, increased my temperature somewhat, so that hope became strong
again, and with it muscular energy.

Suddenly I came upon a snow-shoe track.  I went down on my knees to
examine it, but the light was insufficient to make it out clearly.  What
would I not have given for a match at that moment!  However, as the size
of the shoe-print seemed to my _feeling_ the same with that of the shoe
I wore, I concluded that it must certainly be my own track out from
home--all the more that it ran almost parallel with the line I was
following.

Getting upon it then, I stepped out with much greater ease and with a
lighter heart.

After a time the track led me to a slightly open space where the light
was better.  I thought that objects seemed familiar to me as I looked
round.  Advancing, I came on a spot where the snow was much trodden
down.  There was a bank of snow near.  I went towards it while a
terrible suspicion flashed into my mind.  Yes, it was the very spot on
which I had been sitting hours before, while I was making fruitless
efforts to obtain a light from the flint of my gun!  I had been doing
that of which I had often read and heard, walking unwittingly in a
circle, and had actually come back to the spot from which I set out.

What my feelings were on making this discovery it is scarcely possible
to describe.  My first act was to look up and exclaim as before, "God
help me!"  But there was nothing impulsive or involuntary in the prayer
this time.  I fully realised the extent of my danger, and, believing
that the hour had come when nothing could save my life but the direct
interposition of my Creator, I turned to Him with all the fervour of my
heart.

At the same time I am bound to confess that my faith was very weak, and
my soul felt that solemn alarm which probably the bravest feel at the
approach of death, when that approach is sudden and very unexpected.

Nevertheless, I am thankful to say that my powers of judgment and of
action did not forsake me.  I knew that it would be folly to attempt to
follow my track back again through the intricacies of the forest in so
dark a night, especially now that the track was partly mingled and
confused with that which I had made in joining it.  I also knew that to
give way to despair, and lie down without a fire or food, would be to
seal my own doom.  Only one course remained, and that was to keep
constantly moving until the return of day should enable me to
distinguish surrounding objects more clearly.

I went to work therefore without delay, but before doing so once again
solemnly and earnestly committed my soul and body to the care of God.
And, truly, the circumstances of my case intensified that prayer.  I
felt as if I had never really prayed in earnest in my life before that
night.

Then, laying aside my gun, blanket and cooking utensils, so as to
commence my task as light as possible, I went to the most open space of
ground I could find, and there described a large circle with my
snow-shoes on.  This was the track on which I resolved to perform a feat
of endurance.  To walk all night without intermission, without rest, so
as to keep up my animal heat was the effort, on the success of which
depended the issue of life or death.

I began with that vigour which is born of hopeful determination to
succeed or die.  But, as time wore on, the increasing weakness and
exhaustion began to render me less capable of enduring the intense cold.
Having my wallet on my back I took out some biscuit and pemmican and
ate it as I walked.  This revived me a good deal, nevertheless I
restrained myself, feeling convinced that nothing but steady, quiet
perseverance would carry me through.  Soon thirst began to torment me,
yet I did not dare to eat snow, as that would have merely injured the
inside of my mouth, and frozen the skin of my lips.  This feeling did
not however last long.  It was followed by a powerful sense of
drowsiness.

This I knew to be the fatal premonitory symptom, and strove against it
with all my power.  The better to resist it I began to talk aloud to
myself.

"Come now, my boy, you mustn't give way to _that_.  It is death, you
know.  Hold up!  Be a man!  Act as Lumley would have acted in similar
circumstances.  Dear Lumley!  How he would run to help me if he only
knew!"

Suddenly the words, "In Me is thy help," seemed to sound in my very
ears.  I stopped to listen, and was partly roused, but soon hurried on
again.

"Yes, yes," I exclaimed aloud, "I know the text well," but the words had
scarcely left my lips when I stumbled and fell.  Owing to my sinking
powers I had failed to keep the centre of the track; my right snow-shoe
had caught on the edge of it and tumbled me into the soft snow.

How shall I describe the delicious feeling of profound rest that ensued
when I found myself prone and motionless?  Equally impossible is it to
describe the agonising struggles that I made to induce my unwilling
spirit to rouse my listless body.  Those who have striven in
semi-consciousness to throw off the awful lethargy of nightmare may have
some conception of my feelings.  I knew, even then, that it was the
critical moment--the beginning of the end.  In a burst of anxiety I
began to pray--to shout with all my strength--for deliverance.  The
effort and the strange sound of my own voice roused me.

I staggered to my feet and was able to continue my walk.  Being somewhat
brighter than I had been before the tumble, I perceived that the
circular track was by that time beaten hard enough to bear me up without
snow-shoes, so I put them off and walked with much more ease.

From this point however my mind became so confused that I can give no
reliable account of what followed.  I was conscious at various periods
during that dreadful night of becoming alive to several incidents and
states of mind.  I recollect falling more than once, as I had fallen
before, and of experiencing, more than once, that painful struggle
against what I may style mental and physical inertia.  I remember
breaking out frequently into loud importunate prayer, and being
impressed with a feeling of reviving energy at such times.  Sometimes a
text of Scripture seemed to flash before my eyes and disappear.  On
these occasions I made terrible efforts to grasp the text, and have an
indistinct sensation of increased strength resulting from the mere
efforts, but most of the texts faded as quickly as they came, with the
exception of one--"God is our Hope."  Somehow I seemed to lay firm hold
of that, and to feel conscious of holding it, even when sense was
slipping away, but of the blanks between those conditions I know
nothing.  They may have been long or they may have been short--I cannot
tell.  All remains on my memory now like the unsubstantial fragments of
a hideous dream.

The first thing after that which impressed itself on me with anything
like the distinctness of reality was the sound of a crackling fire,
accompanied with the sensation of warmth in my throat.  Slowly opening
my eyes I became aware of the fact that I was lying in front of a
blazing fire, surrounded by Big Otter, Blondin, and Dougall, who stood
gazing at me with anxious looks, while Henri Coppet knelt at my side,
attempting to pour some warm tea down my throat.

"Dere now, monsieur," said Coppet, who was rather fond of airing his
English, especially when excited, "Yoos kom too ver queek.  Ony drink.
Ha! dere be noting like tea."

"Wow! man, mind what yer aboot.  Ye'll scald him," said Dougall,
anxiously.

"You hole yoos tongue," replied the carpenter contemptuously, "me knows
w'at mees do.  Don' wants no Scoshmans for tell me.  _Voila_!  Monsieur
have swaller _un peu_!"

This was true.  I had not only swallowed, but nearly choked with a
tendency to laugh at the lugubrious expression of my friends' faces.

"Where am I?" said I, on recovering a little, "What has happened?"

"Oo ay, Muster Maxby," answered Dougall, with his wonted nasal drawl;
"somethin' _hess_ happened, but it's no sae pad as what _might_ hev
happened, whatever."

As this did not tend to clear my mind much, and as I knew from
experience that the worthy Celt refused to be hurried in his
communications, I turned an inquiring look on Blondin, who at once said
in French--

"Monsieur has been lost and nearly frozen, and Monsieur would surely
have been quite frozen if James Dougall had not discovered that Monsieur
had left his fire-bag at home, by mistake no doubt; we at once set out
to search for Monsieur, and we found him with his head in the snow and
his feet in the air.  At first we thought that Monsieur was dead, but
happily he was not, so we kindled a fire and rubbed Monsieur, and gave
him hot tea, which has revived him.  _Voila_!  Perhaps Monsieur will
take a little more hot tea?"

While Blondin was speaking, the whole scene of the previous day and of
the terrible night rushed in upon my brain like a flood, and I thanked
God fervently for my deliverance, while I complied with the man's
suggestion and sipped some more tea.

It revived me much, but on attempting to rise I found myself so weak
that I fell back helplessly with a deep sigh.

"Ye've no need to trouble yoursel', Muster Maxby," said Dougall, "we've
brought the new dowg-sleigh for 'ee."

Looking in the direction in which he pointed, I observed not far-off the
splendid new dog-sleigh which we had spent much time in making and
painting that winter.  Our fine team of four semi-wolf dogs, gay with
embroidered harness as they lay curled up on the snow, were attached to
it.

"I suspect I should have died but for your thoughtful care, Dougall," I
said, gratefully, as the good fellow assisted to place me in the vehicle
and wrap the buffalo robes around me.

"Hoots!  Muster Maxby," was the remonstrative reply.

Big Otter placed himself in front of the _cortege_ to beat the track.
The dogs followed him with the sleigh-bells ringing merrily.  Blondin
took hold of the tail-line, and the others brought up the rear.

Thus comfortably, with a bright sun shining in the blue sky, I returned
to Fort Wichikagan.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

A BUFFALO HUNT FOLLOWED BY A PALAVER, AN ARRIVAL, AND A TRAITOR-CHASE.

We must turn away now, for a short time, to another, though not far
distant, part of the Great Nor'-West.

It is a more open country than that immediately around Fort Wichikagan,
and lies to the south of it.  Here and there long stretches of prairie
cut up the wilderness, giving to the landscape a soft and park-like
appearance.  The scenery is further diversified by various lakelets
which swarm with water-fowl, for the season has changed, early spring
having already swept away the white mantle of winter, and spread the
green robes of Nature over the land.  It is such a region as a
millionaire might select, in which to build a palace, but no millionaire
has yet beheld the lovely spot.  With unlimited wealth at his command he
still confines himself to the smoke and dust of civilisation, leaving
the free air and the brilliant beauty of the wilderness to the wild-fowl
and the penniless hunter, and the wandering savage!

In the midst of one of the stretches of rolling prairie-land, great
herds of buffalo are scattered in groups, browsing with all the air of
security peculiar to domestic cattle.  Happily their memories are short.
They seem prone to enjoy the present, forgetful of the past and
regardless of the future--happily, I say, for those humpy and hairy
creatures are not unacquainted with man's devices--the sudden surprise,
the twang of the red-man's bow and the crack of the hunter's rifle.

It was the forenoon of a splendid day, when this peaceful scene was
broken in upon by obstreperous, fighting, peace-destroying man.  A
little cloud of dust on the horizon was the first indication of his
approach, and a very antique buffalo-bull was first among the thousands
of innocents to observe the cloud.  It stirred the memory of other days,
no doubt within his capacious bosom, and probably sent a thrill through
his huge frame, which, terminating naturally in his tail, caused that
appendage to vibrate and curl slightly upwards.  At the same time he
emitted softly a low rumble, which might have served for the bass of a
cathedral organ.

Most of the cows near the patriarch looked up in evident surprise, as
though to say, "What in all the world do you mean by _that_?"  But the
patriarch took no notice of them.  He kept his wicked little eyes fixed
intently on the cloud of dust, twitching his tail nervously, and
rumbling cathedral-organically.  If I might venture to guess at the
mental operations of that patriarch, I should say that he was growling
to himself, "Is that you again, you galloping, spitfiring, two-legged,
yelling monsters?" or some such bovine expression.

By degrees the cloud came nearer and enlarged.  Simultaneously the
groups of buffaloes drew together and began to gaze--perchance to
remember!  The patriarch became excited, wriggled his tail, which was
ridiculously small for his body, pawed the ground, trotted hither and
thither, and commenced playing on all the deeper notes of his organ.

At last there could be no doubt.  The two-legged monsters came on,
mounted on four-legged brutes, which began to trot as the distance
between them diminished.  This was enough.  The patriarch tossed his
haunches to the sky, all but wriggled off his tail, gave utterance to a
bursting bellow, and went scouring over the plains like a gigantic wild
pig.  The entire buffalo host performing a similar toss and wriggle,
followed close on his heels.

At this the redskins put their steeds to the gallop, but did not at once
overtake their prey.  Clumsy though their gait was, the buffaloes were
swift and strong, causing the whole plain to resound under their mighty
tread.  Indian steeds, however, are wiry and enduring.  By slow degrees
they lessened the distance between them--both pursued and pursuers
lengthening out their ranks as the "fittest" came to the front.
Thundering on, they approached one of the large clumps of woodland, with
which the plain was covered, as with islets.  The patriarch led to the
left of it.  The savages, sweeping aside, took to the right.

The sudden disappearance of the pursuers seemed to surprise the
patriarch, who slackened his pace a little, and, lifting his shaggy
head, looked right and left inquiringly.  "Was it all a dream!" he
thought--no doubt.

If he thought it was, he received in a few minutes a rude awakening, for
the redskins came sweeping round the other end of the clump of trees,
yelling like fiends, brandishing their weapons and urging their steeds
to the uttermost.

To snort, bellow, turn off at a tangent, and scurry along faster than
ever, was the work of a moment, but it was too late!  The savages were
in the midst of the snorting host.  Bows were bent and guns were
levelled.  The latter were smooth-bores, cheap, and more or less
inaccurate, but that mattered not.

Where the range was only two or three yards, guns and bows were true
enough for the end in view.  At such work even bad shots met their
reward.  Arrows sank to the feathers; bullets penetrated to the heart or
shattered the bones.  Ere long numerous black lumps on the prairie told
of death to the quadrupeds and success to the bipeds.

But I do not drag the reader here merely to tell of savage sport and
butchery.  The Indian was only following his vocation--working for his
food.

That same evening two of the Indians stood on a hillock, a little apart
from their camp where smoking fires and roasting meat and marrow-bones,
and ravenously-feeding men and women, and gorging little boys and girls,
formed a scene that was interesting though not refined.  One of the
Indians referred to was Big Otter.  The other was Muskrat, the old chief
of his tribe.

"Does my father not know?" said Big Otter, deferentially, "that Attick
plans mischief against the pale-faces of Wichikagan?"

"No, Big Otter," returned the old chief with a scowl; "Muskrat does not
know that, but he hears, and if it is true he will have Attick flayed
alive, and his skin dressed to make moccasins for our young squaws."

"It is true," rejoined Big Otter, sternly.  "His plan is to attack the
fort by night, kill the pale-faces, and carry off the goods."

"Attick is a fool!" said Muskrat, contemptuously.  "Does he not know
that no more goods would evermore be sent into our lands if we did that,
and also that the pale-faces always hunt murderers to death?  No; if
that had been possible, or wise, Muskrat would have done it himself long
ago."

After this candid statement he stared solemnly at his companion, as
though to say, "What think ye of that, my brave?"

Apparently my brave did not think much of it one way or other, for he
only looked indifferent and said, "Waugh!"

"Big Otter's ears are sharp," continued Muskrat.  "How did he come to
hear of Attick's intentions?"

The younger Indian paused thoughtfully before replying.

"Waboose told me," he said.

"Does the daughter of Weeum the Good hold communion with evil spirits?"
asked the old chief, with a slight elevation of the eyebrows.

"Not willingly, but evil spirits force themselves upon the daughter of
Weeum the Good.  My father knows that Attick is presumptuous.  He wishes
to mate Waboose."

"Yes, I knew he was presumptuous, but I did not know he was so great a
fool," replied the old chief scornfully.

"My father knows," continued Big Otter, "that when the pale-face chief
went and brought Waboose back to Fort Wichikagan, Attick was staying
there in his wigwam by the lake.  The big chief of the pale-faces, who
fears nothing, had forgiven him.  Attick went to Waboose, and offered to
take her to his wigwam; but the daughter of Weeum the Good turned away
from him.  Attick is proud, and he is fierce.  He told Waboose that he
would kill all the pale-faces.  Although a fool, he does not boast.
Waboose knew that he was in earnest.  She went to the pale-face Muxbee
(by which name Big Otter styled my humble self), and told him all, for
she has set her heart on Muxbee."

"Did she tell you so?" asked Muskrat, sharply.

"No; but the blue eyes of Waboose tell tales.  They are like a kettle
with holes in the bottom--they cannot hold secrets.  They spoke to
Attick as well as to me, and he became jealous.  He swore he would take
the scalp of Muxbee.  One day, soon after the lake opened, Muxbee asked
Waboose to go with him in a canoe to the valley at the head of lake
Wichikagan.  Attick followed in another canoe, but kept far behind.
They did not know it was Attick.  Waboose found it out afterwards.
Muxbee did not talk to Waboose of love.  The ways of the pale-faces are
strange.  Once I thought that Muxbee liked Waboose, and that, perhaps,
he might wed with her, and stay with us as the Good Weeum did, but I
doubt it now.  He only asked her to take him to the stunted pine where
her father was so fond of going with her.  When there he went looking
here and there about the rocks, and found a splendid thing--I know not
what--but Waboose told me it shone and sparkled like the stars.  Beside
it was a bag of the yellow round things that the pale-faces love so
much.  He told her he had expected to find these things, but she must
not ask him questions just then--he would tell her afterwards.  I
suppose he is a great medicine-man, and holds intercourse with the
spirit-world."  Big Otter paused thoughtfully a few seconds, and then
continued:--

"When he was putting these things in his breast, Waboose caught sight of
Attick among the bushes, and pointed him out.  Muxbee sprang up and
levelled his gun with the two pipes at him, but did not fire.  Attick
fled and they saw him no more."

"Did Waboose tell Big Otter all this?" asked the old chief.

"Yes.  Waboose has no secrets from her mother's brother."

"And why has Big Otter left the pale-faces, and brought Waboose away
from them?" asked Muskrat.

"Because he fears for the pale-faces, that Attick will kill them and
carry off Waboose.  By bringing Waboose here with us we draw Attick
along with us away from the pale-faces, and as long as Waboose is in our
camp she is safe.  Attick dare not harm her."

A gleam of intelligence lit up the swarthy features of the old chief as
he said "Waugh!" with much satisfaction.

But both he and Big Otter were wrong in their calculations.  So far,
indeed, the latter was right.  The presence of Waboose in the camp
effectually drew Attick after them, and thus removed danger from the
inhabitants of Fort Wichikagan, but they were wrong when they thought
their camp a place of safety for the poor girl.

"Did Muxbee not care when Big Otter carried Waboose away?" asked the old
man.

"He did not know she was going, and I did not tell her she was not to
return.  I took her away with her mother when Muxbee was out hunting.  I
told the big pale-face chief that I must go with my tribe to hunt the
buffalo in the south, and that they must go with me.  He was very
unwilling to let them go at first but I was resolved, and Waboose is a
good obedient girl."

That night two events occurred in the redskin camp which caused a good
deal of surprise and commotion.

The first was the sudden disappearance of Waboose and her mother.  They
had been gone some time, of course, before any one thought of suspecting
flight.  The moment that suspicion was aroused, however, Big Otter went
straight to the wigwam of Attick.  It was deserted!  He knew well the
bad and weak men of the tribe who were led or swayed by Attick.
Hurrying to their tents he found that these also had fled.  This was
enough.

"Masqua," he said to the first Indian he chanced to meet at the moment
of quitting the last wigwam, "Attick has carried off Waboose.  Assemble
some of the young men.  Choose only the strong, and those whose horses
are swift.  Go yourself with your son Mozwa--gallop round the camp till
you find in which direction they have gone--then return to me at the
council tent and wait."

Masqua understood the value of prompt obedience.  Without a word of
reply he turned and bounded away.

Big Otter hurried to the council tent, where old Muskrat was already
surrounded by his chiefs.  There was less than usual of the grave
deliberation of North American Indians in that meeting, for the case was
urgent.  Nevertheless, there was no bustle, for each bronzed warrior
knew that the young men would require a little time to hunt up the trail
of the fugitives, mingled as it must be with the innumerable footprints
of man and beast in the neighbourhood of a camp; and, until that trail
was found, they might as well deliberate calmly--especially as all the
men met at the council armed, and ready to vault on the steeds which
were already pawing the earth outside.  These horses were restrained by
youths who longed for the time when they too might be styled braves, and
meet in council.

"Is all prepared?" asked the old chief, as Big Otter entered the tent.

"The young men are out," was the curt reply.

"Good.  The night is dark, but my warriors have sharp eyes, and the moon
will rise soon.  No effort must be spared.  The daughter of Weeum the
Good must be brought back.  It is not necessary to bring back Attick or
his men.  Their scalps will do as well."

"Waugh!" pronounced with much emphasis showed that the old man's words
were not only understood, but thoroughly appreciated.

At this moment occurred the second event which I have said was the cause
of surprise in the camp that night, if not of commotion.  While the old
chief was yet speaking, his words were checked by the sound of horses'
hoofs beating heavily on the prairie.

"The young men," said Muskrat; "they have been swift to find the trail."

"Young men in haste bringing news do not trot," said Big Otter.

"Waugh!" assented the council.

"There are but two riders," murmured the chief, listening intently to
the pattering sounds, which rapidly grew louder.

He was right, for, a few seconds later, two horsemen were seen to trot
into the camp, and make straight for the council fire.  Some of the
Indians had turned out with arms ready as they approached, but on
hearing a word or two from one of the riders, they quietly let them
pass.

Pulling up sharply, one of the strangers leaped to the ground, flung his
reins to the other, and entered the council tent where he was received
with looks of surprise, and with the ejaculation from Big Otter of the
single word "Muxbee!"

Yes, good reader, that stranger was none other than myself, and my
companion was Salamander.  To account for our sudden appearance I must
explain.

On returning to Fort Wichikagan four days after Big Otter had left, and
hearing what had occurred, I told Lumley I would follow in pursuit and
fetch Waboose back.  He remonstrated, of course, but in vain.

"You know that a sacred trust has been imposed upon me," said I,
earnestly, "and I have resolved to fulfil it.  The manner in which I
should set about it has perplexed me sorely, I confess, but this sudden
departure relieves me, at all events, from uncertainty as to my present
course of duty.  If Waboose goes off with the tribe to no one knows
where, she may never be found again.  You are aware that she is still
ignorant of the contents of the packet, and the value of the found
treasure.  I have kept her so, temporarily, by your advice.  If I had
told her and her kindred, she would not probably have gone away, but it
is too late to regret that, now.  By going off at once I may overtake
the tribe.  Three days' journey on foot will bring me to Indians who are
rich in horses.  Once well mounted I can push on, and will easily
overtake them if you will lend me Salamander to aid in following up the
trail."

"But what of the service?" asked Lumley, with a sad smile, for he saw I
was resolved.  "You are not yet free."

"True, but you know that Spooner is already on his way here to replace
me, my resignation having been accepted.  In a week, or two at farthest,
he will arrive, when I shall be absolutely free to go where I please.
Meanwhile, to prevent even a shadow of impropriety, I ask your majesty
for a fortnight's leave of absence to go a-hunting.  Surely you won't
refuse so small a favour?  I will be sure to find Waboose, and bring her
back by that time."

"Well, Max, my boy, I won't refuse.  Go, and God go with you.  I shall
expect to see you again in two weeks, if not sooner."

"Unless, of course, circumstances render my return so soon impossible."

"Of course, of course," said Lumley.

Thus we parted, and thus it was that Salamander and I found ourselves at
last in the Indian camp.  The pursuit, however, had been much longer
than I had expected.  More than the stipulated fortnight had already
passed.

But to return from this digression.  After we had looked at each other
silently for a few seconds in the council tent, as already described, I
advanced to Big Otter and held out my hand.  I then shook hands with the
old chief, sat down beside him, and expressed a hope that I did not
intrude.

"We palaver about the disappearance of Waboose," said the old chief.

"Disappearance!  Waboose!"  I exclaimed, turning abruptly to Big Otter.

"Attick has fled," said the Indian, sternly, "carrying Waboose and her
mother along with him."

"And you sit here idly talking," I exclaimed, almost fiercely, as I
sprang up.

Before I could take action of any kind, the young Indian, Mozwa, entered
the tent abruptly, and said a few words to Muskrat.  At the same moment
the councillors rose.

"We go in pursuit," whispered Big Otter in my ear.  "Mount, and join
us."

Almost bewildered, but feeling perfect confidence in my Indian friend, I
ran out, and vaulted into the saddle.  Eager and quick though I was, the
redskins were mounted as soon as myself.  No one seemed to give orders,
but with one accord they put their horses to the gallop, and swept out
of the camp.  The last words of the old chief as we darted off, were--

"Bring her back, my braves, and don't forget the scalps of Attick and
his men!"



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

THE CHASE, THE CAPTURE, AND THE REVELATION.

A stern chase is usually a long one.  There are not many proverbs the
truth of which comes more powerfully home than this--at least to those
who have had the misfortune to engage in many such chases.  To make a
slant at a fugitive, so as to cut him off, or to make a short cut and
head him, is pleasant if you be strong in wind and limb, but to creep up
right astern, inch by inch, foot by foot, yard by yard, and to overcome
him at last by sheer superiority and perseverance, is a disheartening
task.

That was the task we undertook the night we left the Indian camp, and
went off at full gallop over the rolling prairie in pursuit of the
scoundrel Attick and his crew.

But Indians are by nature persevering, and, for myself, I was roused to
the highest pitch of indignation and anxiety.  Salamander and I had
ridden far and fast that day, besides which we had eaten only a mouthful
of pemmican and biscuit since breakfast; nevertheless, under the
excitement of the moment our weariness vanished, our hunger fled, and we
engaged in the pursuit with all the ardour of the youngest brave among
them.

Fortunately I had secured two exceptionally fine horses, so that they
were quite able to compete with the inferior, though fresher, horses of
the Indians.

"How long is it since you discovered that they were gone?" said I, as I
galloped alongside of Big Otter.

"Not more than an hour," he replied.

"Do you think they had a long start before that?"

"I cannot tell.  Perhaps two hours, perhaps four.  Certainly not five,
for they were seen in camp when the sun was high."

I was greatly relieved to learn that they had not got a longer start of
us, and very thankful that I had come up in time to join the pursuers.
I was calming down somewhat under the influence of these thoughts, when
I had a sudden feeling of being shot from a cannon into the air.  This
was succeeded by a sensation of having my nose converted into a
ploughshare, and that was instantly followed by oblivion!

In the uncertain light my steed had put his foot in a badger hole--that
was all, but it sufficed to check the pace of the whole party!

On recovering I found my head on Salamander's knee.  I felt dreamy and
indifferent.  "What has happened?"  I asked, in English.

Our interpreter, who had a tendency to answer in whatever language he
was addressed--whether English, French, or Indian--replied--

"Yoos bin a-most busted, sar!"

Suddenly the true state of the case flashed upon me.  Langour fled.  I
leaped up, and scrambled somehow into the saddle.

"Have I been long insensible, Salamander?"  I asked, as we resumed our
headlong pace.

"On'y what time I kin count twinty, sar."

Rejoiced to find that no longer time had been lost, I galloped along
contentedly, and in silence, though with a rather confused feeling in my
brain, and a sensation of being possessed of six noses rolled into one.

Although no one, as I have said, seemed to lead the party when we
started, I soon found that Big Otter was really our chief.  He rode
ahead of us, and more than once pulled up to dismount and examine the
trail.  On these occasions the rest of the party halted without orders,
and awaited his decision.  Once we were completely thrown off the scent.
The fugitives had taken to a wooded tract of country, and it required
our utmost caution not to lose the trail.

Presently we came to a small stream and crossed it, but the trail ended
abruptly here.  We were not surprised, being well aware of the common
Indian device of wading in a stream, which holds no footprints, so as to
throw pursuers out.  Dividing our force, one party went up stream, the
other down, but although eager, sharp, and practised eyes examined the
banks, they could not discover the spot where the fugitives had again
taken to dry land.  Returning to the place where we had divided, Big
Otter again examined the trail with minute care, going down on his knees
to turn over the blades of grass and examine the footprints.

"Strange," said I, impatiently, "that so simple a device should baffle
us."

As I spoke, the chief arose, and, dark though it was, I could see a
gleam of intelligence on his swarthy visage.

"Attick thinks he is wise," he said, in a low voice, "but he has no more
brains than a rabbit.  He was from childhood an idiot."

Having paid his tribesman this compliment, he remounted, and, to my
surprise, went straight back the way we had come.

"What means this!"  I asked, unable to restrain my impatience.

"Attick has doubled back, that is all.  If there had been more light we
should easily have seen that.  We shall soon find the place where the
trail breaks off again."

The Indian was right.  On clearing the wooded land we found that the
moon was up, and we followed the trail easily.  Coming to a hillock in
the open ground, the top of which was covered with thick and stunted
bushes, we rode into them and there experienced much difficulty in
picking our way.

Suddenly Big Otter turned at a right angle from the line we had been
hitherto pursuing, and, putting his horse to the gallop, held on with
the decision of one who knows he is on the right road.

As the prairie was open, and the moon growing brighter, we had now no
difficulty in following up the fugitives, and pressed on as fast as our
horses could go.

Daylight came and found us still galloping; but as there was no sign of
those whom we pursued, and as our horses were getting tired, we halted
at a small stream for a short rest and breakfast.

"They must be well mounted," said I, as we sat on the banks of the
stream appeasing our hunger with masses of dried buffalo meat, while the
horses munched the grass near us.

"Attick is always well mounted," replied Big Otter; "but his men may not
be so well off, and women are difficult to urge on when they are
unwilling."

"Then you have no doubt that we shall overtake them?"  I asked.

"We _must_ overtake them," was the laconic reply.  I felt somewhat
comforted by the decision of the Indian's tone, and a good deal more so
by his ordering his warriors to remount before half an hour had passed.
He did not however, press on as hard as before, fearing, no doubt that
the horses would break down.

I felt assured that Attick would not dare to halt until he believed
himself almost beyond pursuit; and, as the chase therefore bade fair to
be a very long one, it seemed wise thus to spare the horses.

About noon, however, we passed through a strip of woodland, and, on
coming out at the other side, observed a party of horsemen on the
distant horizon.

"Waugh!" exclaimed Big Otter, shaking the reins of his steed and going
off at racing speed.  We soon began to overhaul the cavalcade, and then
perceived that they were doing their utmost to get away from us.

"It is Attick and his party--is it not?"  I asked, excitedly.

"It is Attick," was the brief reply.

Another belt of woodland lay a little to the right on the horizon.  The
fugitives headed for it.  We urged our horses to their utmost speed and
soon dashed through the belt of wood, expecting to see the fugitives on
the plain beyond.  What was our surprise, then, to find them assembled
in a group, calmly tying up their horses, and kindling a fire as if for
the purpose of cooking their mid-day meal.  As most of the men had laid
aside their guns, and we outnumbered them by two to one, we checked our
headlong course, and trotted quietly up to them.

To my great joy I saw, as we approached, that the girl who stooped to
kindle the fire was Waboose.  Her mother sat on a bank near her, looking
very pale and worn.

Attick, who still carried his gun in the hollow of his left arm,
expressed well-feigned surprise at seeing us.

"Big Otter seems to be on the war-path," he said, "but I have seen no
enemies."

"Big Otter's enemy stands before him," returned our leader, sternly.
"Attick has been very foolish.  Why did he run away with the daughter of
Weeum the Good?"

"Attick scorns to run away with a squaw.  Waboose agreed to go with him
on the hunt.  There she is: ask her."

This was a bold stroke of the wily savage.  Instead of flying from us,
he pretended to have been merely hurrying after a band of buffalo, which
was said to be moving southward, and that he had halted in the chase for
a short rest and food.  This plan he had hastily adopted, on perceiving
that it was impossible to escape us, having previously warned Waboose
that he would shoot her dead if she did not corroborate what he said.
But Attick was incapable of believing that fearless heroism could dwell
in the breast of a woman, and little knew the courage of the daughter of
Weeum the Good.  He mistook her silence and her downcast eyes for
indications of submission, and did not doubt that the delicate-looking
and shrinking girl was of much the same spirit as the other women of his
tribe.

Great, then, was his astonishment when he saw the Saxon blood in her
veins rush to her fair brow, while she gazed at him steadily with her
large blue eyes, and said--

"The tongue of Attick is forked.  He lies when he says that the daughter
of Weeum agreed to follow him.  He knows that he carried her from the
camp by force against her will."

Attick had thrown forward and cocked his gun, but happily the unexpected
nature of the girl's reply, and the indignant gaze of her eyes, caused
an involuntary hesitation.  This did not afford time for any one to
seize the intending murderer, but it enabled me hastily to point my
rifle at the villain's head and fire.  I have elsewhere said that my
shooting powers were not remarkable; I missed the man altogether, but
fortunately the bullet which was meant for his brain found its billet in
the stock of his gun, and blew the lock to atoms, thus rendering the
weapon useless.

With a fierce shout he dropped the gun, drew his scalping-knife, and
sprang towards Waboose, or--as I had by that time found a pleasure in
mentally styling her--Eve Liston.

Of course every man of our party sprang forward, but it fell to
Salamander to effect the rescue, for that light-hearted and light-limbed
individual chanced to be nearest to the savage when I fired at him, and,
ere the knife was well drawn, had leaped upon his back with the agility
of a panther.  At the same moment Big Otter flung his tomahawk at him.
The weapon was well, though hastily, aimed.  It struck the savage full
on the forehead, and felled him to the earth.

The rest of Attick's party made no attempt to rescue him.  Like all bad
men, they were false to each other in the hour of need.  They quietly
submitted to be disarmed and led away.

We had to encamp early that evening, because the unwonted and severe
exercise to which Waboose's mother had been exposed had rendered her
quite unfit to travel further without rest.  Attick, who had soon
recovered sufficiently to be able to walk, was bound, along with his
men, and put under a guard.  Then the encampment was made and the fires
kindled.  While this was being done I led Waboose aside to a little
knoll, from which we could see a beautiful country of mingled woodland
and prairie, stretching far away to the westward, where the sun had just
descended amid clouds of amber and crimson.

"Is it not glorious!"  I exclaimed.  "Should we not be grateful to the
Great Spirit who has given us such a splendid home?"

Waboose looked at me.  "Yes, it is glorious," she said--"and I am
grateful; but it is strange that you should use the very same words that
were so often on the lips of my father just before he--"

She stopped abruptly.

"Just before he went home, Eve," I interposed; "no need to say died.
Your father is not dead, but sleepeth.  You shall meet him again.  But
it is not very strange that men should use the same words when they are
animated by the same love to the Great Spirit."

The girl raised her large eyes with a perplexed, inquiring look.

"What troubles you, Eve?"  I asked.

"Eve!" she repeated, almost anxiously.  "Twice you have called me by a
name that father sometimes used, though not often, and when he used it
he always spoke low and _very_ tenderly."

I felt somewhat perplexed as to how I should reply, and finally took
refuge in another question.

"Tell me, Waboose," said I, "did your father ever tell you his own
name?"

"Of course he did," she answered, with a look of surprise--"you know
well it was Weeum."

"Yes, William," said I; "but--"

"No--Weeum," she said, correcting me.  "Once or twice I have heard him
say Willum, but all our people call him Weeum."

"Had he no other name?"  I asked.

"No.  Why should he have another?  Is not one enough?"

"You never heard of Liston?"

"Liston?--No, never."

"Waboose," said I, with sudden earnestness, "I am going to tell you
something that will probably surprise you, and I will show you something
that may give you pleasure--or pain--I know not which.  You remember,
that when I found the curious ornaments near to the stunted pine-tree, I
asked you not to question me at that time about the packet you gave to
me long ago.  Well, the time has come when I ought to tell you all about
it.  But, first, look at this."

I had taken from my pocket, while speaking to her, the miniature of her
father, which I now handed to her.  She fixed her eyes on it with a
startled look, then sprang up with an exclamation, at the same time
drawing one hand across her eyes, as if to clear away some mists that
dimmed them.  Eagerly she gazed again, with parted lips and heaving
bosom, then burst into a passionate flood of tears, pressing the
miniature alternately to her lips and to her heart.

I stood helplessly gazing at her--anxious to comfort but unable.

"Oh! why, why," she cried, suddenly dropping the miniature, "why do you
mock me with this?  It is so little, yet so like.  It looks alive, but
it is dead.  It is nothing--a mockery!"

The poor girl caught it up, however, and began to kiss and caress it
again.

Some time elapsed before her passionate grief was sufficiently subdued
to permit of her listening to me.  When it was nearly exhausted, and
found vent only in an occasional sob, I took her hand gently and said--

"Give me the picture now, Waboose.  I will wrap it up again, for I have
much to say."

Then, unfolding the last writing of the poor fellow whom the Indians had
styled Weeum the Good, I slowly translated it into the Indian language.
It was not an easy task; for, besides feeling that it stirred the heart
of the listener with powerful emotions, I had great difficulty in taking
my eyes off her changeful face, so as to read the manuscript.

"Now, Eve Liston--for that is your real name," said I, when I had
finished, "what do you think ought to be done?"

The girl did not reply at once, but sat so long with her hands clasped
tightly on her lap, and her eyes fixed wistfully on the ground, that I
had to repeat the question.

"What is to be done?" she replied, simply; "of course, what father
wished to be done."

"And are you ready to go with me to the far south to see your father's
mother?  Can you trust me to protect you?"

"Oh, yes," she replied, with a straightforward look that almost
disconcerted me; "have you not protected me well already?"

"And are you willing, Eve, to leave your tribe and go off alone with
me?"

"Alone!" she repeated, with a look of surprise; "oh! no--not alone.
Mother must go too, and also Big Otter."

Once more I felt somewhat confused, for, to say truth, I had totally
forgotten her mother and Big Otter for the moment.

"Well now, Eve--for I intend to call you by that name in future, except
when in the presence of your people--I must talk this matter over with
your mother and Big Otter.  I have some fear that the latter may object
to go with us."

"He will not object," said Waboose, quietly.  "He loved my father, and
always obeyed him."

"Very good.  So much the better.  Now, as to the valuable jewels--the
ornaments, I mean."

"Have you got them here!" asked Eve.

"Yes.  Knowing the risk I shall run of losing them or having them stolen
from me, I have had a belt made which fits round my waist under my
clothes, in which the jewels and the money are placed.  If I can manage
to get them and you safely conveyed to Colorado, all will be well, but
it is a long, long journey, Eve, and--"

I was interrupted at this point by Big Otter, who came to tell us that
supper was ready, and that, as the region in which they were encamped
was sometimes visited by hostile Indians, as well as by white trappers--
many of whom were great scoundrels--it would be prudent to keep within
the circle of sentinels after dark.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

ATTACKED BY BANDITS--A SAD DEATH AND A SUDDEN RESCUE.

It was well that we had been warned not to go beyond the camp, for there
happened at that time to be abroad on the prairies a band of miscreants
who would certainly have shot whoever they had caught straying.  The
band was composed of white men--that class of white men who, throwing
off all moral and social restraints, give themselves up to the practice
of every species of iniquity, fearing neither God nor man.  They were,
in short, a band of robbers and cut-throats, whose special business at
that time was hunting buffalo, but who were not averse to sell their
services to any nation that chanced to be at war, or to practice simple
robbery when opportunity offered.

These men held the opinion that Indians were "vermin," to exterminate
which was commendable.  When, therefore, they discovered our camp by the
light of the fires, they rode towards it with the utmost caution, taking
advantage of every bush and knoll until our sentinels observed them.
Then they rushed upon us like a hurricane, sending a volley of bullets
before them.

Several of our men fell, mortally wounded.  Our sentinels ran in, and a
wild attempt at defence was made; but it was in vain, we had been taken
completely by surprise, and, as the only chance of safety, our party
scattered in all directions, each man making for the nearest woods.

Only Big Otter, Salamander, and I remained beside the camp-fires,
resolved to defend our helpless females or die with them.  This brought
about a most unexpected turn of affairs, for the villains were so eager
to hunt and kill the flying Indians, that every man went in hot pursuit
of a fugitive, leaving us for the moment absolutely alone!

We were not slow in taking advantage of this.  Although at the onset
some of our terrified horses broke their fastenings and galloped away,
others remained quiet.  Among these last I observed, were my own horse
and that of Salamander, which I have already said were splendid animals.

Scarcely believing our good fortune, we all bounded towards these.  In a
moment I had mounted.  Eve seized my hand, put her foot on my toe, and,
with a light spring, seated herself behind me.  Big Otter, vaulting on
Salamander's steed, swung Eve's mother up behind him.

"Catch another horse--there are plenty good enough for a light weight
like you, Salamander," said I, as I put my horse to its utmost speed.

Salamander was not slow to obey, but had scarcely mounted when a loud
halloo told that our action had been observed.  I did not look back.
One consuming idea filled my mind, and that was to save Eve Liston.
That the miscreants who now thundered after us would show us no mercy I
felt well assured, and plied the heavy thong I carried with all my
might.  The noble steed did not require that.  It strained every muscle
to the uttermost.

I felt cheered to observe that Big Otter kept well up with me, and could
hear that Salamander was not far behind.

We now felt that our only hope, under God, lay in the superiority of our
horses, and for some time we listened to the pattering of the hoofs
behind us with intense anxiety.  Soon I began to fancy that we were
distancing them, and ere long we became sure of this, at least as to the
most of our pursuers, but there was one who kept drawing closer and
closer.

Presently a shot was fired and a bullet whizzed close past my head.

At that moment Big Otter reined up so violently as to throw his horse
almost on its haunches.  I checked my speed but did not rein up.
Looking back, I saw my Indian friend wheel round, raise his gun to his
shoulder and fire.  The moon was bright, and I could see that the man
who had been closing with us dropped to the ground.  Whether he was
killed or only wounded we did not wait to ascertain, but dashed on again
as fast as ever.  We soon drew rein, however, on observing that the fall
of our pursuer had checked his companions.  On reaching him they halted,
dismounted, and finally gave up the chase.  We soon left them out of
sight behind us, but still we held on at a hand-gallop, resolved to put
as much distance as possible between us before encamping.

During all this exciting chase Waboose's mother had clung to her
stalwart support with the uncomplaining patience of Indian women; but we
were deeply concerned to find on halting that she was too much exhausted
to dismount and that blood was trickling from her lips.  Indeed, she
would have fallen to the ground if Big Otter had not caught her in his
arms.

"Are you wounded, mother?" exclaimed Eve, going down on her knees,
seizing one of the poor woman's hands and kissing it tenderly.

"No, Waboose, but I think there is something wrong here."  She pressed
her breast gently and coughed up some blood.

"She is quite worn out," said I.  "Come, Big Otter, let us carry her to
a more comfortable place, and make a fire.  A cup of tea will soon
revive her."

I spoke cheerily, with a view to comfort Eve, but I confess that great
anxiety filled me when I looked at the poor woman's wan face and
emaciated frame.  The blood, too, appeared to me a fatal symptom, though
I had but a hazy idea of everything relating to disease.

The place we had selected for our encampment was a dense mass of forest
which covered the prairie in that part to an extent of about two square
miles.  Near the outer margin of this patch there was a curious steep
mound which rose so high that from the top of it one could see over the
surrounding trees.  It rose somewhat in the form of a cone with a flat
space at the apex of not more than twenty feet in diameter.  On the
outer rim of this apex was a fringe of rocks and low bushes.  It was, in
fact, a natural fortress, which seemed so suitable for us in our
circumstances that we at once set about making our camp on the top of
it.  We took care, however, to kindle our fire in the lowest-lying and
densest thicket we could find at the foot of the mound.  We also made
the fire as small and free from smoke as possible, for fear of
attracting any one to the spot.

While I was busy down in the dell preparing the tea, Salamander having
been left to take care of the camp on the mound, Big Otter came to me.
I was alarmed by the solemn expression of his face.

"Nothing wrong, I hope?" said I, anxiously.

"The wife of Weeum the Good is dying," said the Indian, mournfully.

"Oh! say not so," I exclaimed, "how dreadful to poor Waboose if this
were to happen just now!  You must be mistaken."

"Big Otter may be mistaken.  He is not a medicine-man, but he saw a
young girl of his tribe with the same look and the same flow of blood
from the mouth, and she died."

"God forbid!"  I exclaimed, as I took up the kettle in which the tea was
being made.  "See, it is ready, I will take it to her.  It may at least
revive her."

I hurried to the top of the mound, where poor Eve sat by the couch of
brush we had spread, holding her mother's hand and gazing into her face
with painful anxiety.  She looked up hastily as I approached, and held
up a finger.

"Does she sleep?"  I asked, in a low voice, as I seated myself beside
the couch and set down the kettle.

"Yes--I think so--but--"

She stopped, for at the moment her mother opened her eyes, and looked
wistfully round.

"Weeum!" she murmured, in a faint voice.  "I thought I heard him speak."

"No, dear mother," said Eve, beginning to weep silently.  "Your spirit
was in the land of dreams."

"See," said I, pouring some hot tea into a cup and stirring it.  "I have
brought you some of the pale-faces' sweet-water.  I always carry a
little of it about with me when I go hunting, and had some in my wallet
when we started on this wild race.  Was it not fortunate?  Come, take a
little, it will strengthen you, mother."

It was the first time I had called her mother, and I did so from a
feeling of tenderness, for she seemed to me at the time certainly to be
dying; but she misunderstood my meaning, for she looked at me with
pleased surprise, and then laughed very softly as she glanced at Eve.  I
perceived, however, from the innocent look of inquiry returned by the
latter, that she did not understand her.

After taking some of the tea, the poor woman revived, and I whispered to
her daughter,--"Don't you think it might please her to see the little
picture?"

"Perhaps.  I am not sure.  Yes, give it to me.  I will show it, but say
nothing about my father's writing or wishes.  I have not yet been able
to speak to her."

To our disappointment she could make nothing of the portrait.  Perhaps
the moonlight was insufficient, though very bright, but it is more
probable that her sight was even then failing.

"What is that?" said Eve, with a startled look, pointing at something
behind me.

I turned sharply round, and beheld a column of bright flame shooting
high up into the night-air.  An exclamation of bitter chagrin escaped
me, for I knew well what it was.  After I had got the fire kindled down
in the thicket on our arrival, I had noticed that I had laid it close to
the roots of a dead fir-tree, the branches of which were covered to the
top with a species of dried moss.  At the time I knew that there was
danger in this, but as our fire was to be very small, and to be
extinguished the moment we were done with it, I had allowed it to remain
rather than be at the trouble of shifting and rekindling it.  I
afterwards found that Big Otter had left the fire in charge of
Salamander, and gone to shift the position of the horses; and Salamander
had left it to fetch water from a neighbouring spring.  Thus left to
itself, the fire took advantage of the chance to blaze up; the moss on
the dead tree had caught fire, and the instantaneous result was a blaze
that told of our whereabouts to whoever might be on the look-out within
ten or fifteen miles of us in every direction.

Immediately afterwards Big Otter and Salamander came leaping into our
fortress.

"What is to be done now?"  I asked, in a tone of deep mortification.

"I would say mount and fly," replied the Indian, "if it were not for
_her_."  He pointed to the dying woman as he spoke.

"It is quite out of the question," said I.  "She cannot be moved."

"The pale-face talks wisdom," said Big Otter.  "We must put the place in
a state of defence, and watch instead of sleep."

A deep sigh from Salamander told that the proposed mode of spending the
night was most unsatisfactory.

Having no other resource left, however, we at once set about our task.

A number of large loose stones lay about on the little plateau that
crowned our mound.  These we rolled close to the edge of it, and ranging
them in line with those that were already there, formed a sort of
breastwork all round.  Our three guns we had of course brought with us,
as well as ammunition, and as mine was a double-barrelled fowling-piece
we had thus four shots at command at any moment.  The weapons being
already charged, we placed ourselves at three points of our circle and
prepared for a weary watch.

The blaze of the burning fir-tree soon went out, and there were
fortunately no other dead trees at hand to be kindled by it.  The moon
had also become obscured with clouds, so that we were left in
comparative darkness.  The dead silence which it was needful to
maintain, and the occasional murmur of the dying woman rendered our
position eerie and sad in the extreme.

At such times, when danger threatens and everything that is calculated
to solemnise surrounds one, thought is apt to be very busy; and often,
in such circumstances, the mind is more prone to be occupied with
distant scenes and persons than with those near at hand.  Ere long the
sick woman appeared to have fallen asleep, and her daughter was seated
in perfect silence by her side.  No sound whatever fell upon my
listening ear, for the night was intensely calm, and in spite of my
efforts to resist it, my thoughts strayed away to the home in "the old
country"; to scenes of boyhood, and to the kind old father, who used, as
a term of endearment, to call me "Punch."

A slight motion on the part of Salamander recalled me, and, by way of
rousing myself to the necessity of present watchfulness, I examined the
priming of my gun.  Then it occurred to me that a bullet, if fired at a
foe in the dark, would be very unlikely to hit; I, therefore, drew both
charges, and loaded with buckshot instead.  You see, thought I, there is
no absolute necessity to kill any one.  All I can possibly wish to do is
to disable, and big shot is more likely to do that without killing, than
bullets.

While thus engaged the clouds rolled off the moon, and I saw my
companions clearly, sitting like statues at their posts.  In a few
minutes I heard the sweet, low voice of Eve.  She was speaking to her
mother.  As I sat there and observed her fair hair and skin, and
recalled (for I could not just then see) her blue eyes, I found it
difficult to believe that there was even a drop of Indian blood in her
veins.  "Not that I object to Indian blood," I said to myself, mentally,
in self-justification, "by no means.  Indians are God's creatures as
well as white men, and many of them are a great deal better creatures
than many white men, but--"

At this point my mental remarks ceased, for I observed, to my surprise,
that Eve opened a small book, and from the continuous tone of her voice,
I knew that she was reading.

"It must be the Testament," thought I, "which poor Liston mentioned in
his manuscript as having been obtained from a hunter."

The voice became more distinct as she proceeded, and I could make out
that she read the English slowly and with great difficulty, and then
translated it into Indian to her mother.

"God so loved the world," she read with peculiar emphasis, and paused,
as if wishing to impress the blessed truth, "that He gave his
only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but
have everlasting life."

She closed the book at this point and I observed that she bent over the
sick woman a long time.

Suddenly there arose on the still night-air a low wail, so deep--so
suggestive of a breaking heart, that I sprang up and leaped to the
girl's side.

There was no occasion to ask what had occurred.  The mother lay there
dead, with the jaw dropped and the glazing eyes staring at the sky.
Kneeling down I gently closed the eyes, and with a napkin bound up the
face.  Big Otter glided towards us, followed by Salamander.  One glance
sufficed.  They cast a look of pity at the orphan, who, with her face on
her knees, sobbed as if her heart would break.  Then, without a word,
they glided back to their posts.  I turned to Eve and took her hand.

"Dear girl," I began--but she checked me.

"Go," she said, "danger may be near; your post is unguarded."

Raising her hand to my lips I left her without a word, and resumed my
watch.  Again profound silence reigned around, broken only now and then
by an irrepressible sob from Eve.

Some hours afterwards--I knew not how many, for I had been half asleep--
Big Otter came to me.

"We may not stay here," he said.  "Come, I need your help."

Without reply I rose and followed.  It was still very dark.  He went to
where the body of the Indian woman lay.  It was cold and stiff by that
time.  In passing I noticed that poor Eve acted as sentinel for Big
Otter--occupied his post and held his gun.

I found that a shallow grave had been hollowed out close to where the
corpse lay.

Understanding at once the purpose for which I had been called, I kneeled
at the head while the Indian kneeled at the feet.  Grasping the
shoulders carefully I waited for a word or look from Big Otter, but
instead he turned his head to one side and uttered the single
word,--"Come!"

Eve glided instantly towards us, went down on her knees, and printed a
long passionate kiss on the cold forehead.  Then the Indian looked at
me, and we lifted the body into the grave.  Eve spread a blanket
carefully over it, and at once left us to resume her post at the
breastwork, while we covered in the grave with earth and dead leaves.

We had barely accomplished this duty when a loud report rudely broke the
silence of the night, and a rushing of feet was heard at the foot of the
mound.  Leaping to my post, I instantly fired one of the barrels of my
gun.  Several fierce cries followed, showing that the buckshot had taken
effect, and from the nature of the cries we at once perceived that our
assailants were white men.  I purposely reserved my second barrel, for
my comrades, having also fired, were swiftly reloading, and, therefore,
defenceless.

It was well that I did so, for two men, who had not been in the first
rush, now came up the mound at a run.  Aiming right between them, I
fired and shot them both.  They fell with hideous cries, and, rolling
head over heels down the steep ascent, went crashing into the bushes.

"They are the men from whom we have just escaped," said I to Big Otter;
but my Indian friend was so elated by the success of my shot and withal
so excited by the fray, that instead of answering, he gave vent to a
terrific war-whoop in true Indian style.

The attacking party had come on in front from the direction of the
plains.  To my consternation, Big Otter's war cry was replied to in our
rear.  Turning quickly, I saw the dark forms of several savages running
up the slope of our fortress.  These, like the white men, had been
attracted to us by our column of fire.  I was going to send a charge of
buckshot amongst them, when my Indian friend stopped me.

"Let them come," he said, quickly.  "They and the white men are sworn
foes.  Be ready to follow me."

This last was said to all of us, for we had instinctively drawn to the
centre of our plateau with the idea of fighting back to back with the
foes who surrounded us.  Again we heard the white men charging up the
front of our little hill, but, before they reached the top, a dozen
savages had leaped into our enclosure.

"Help! against the pale-face dogs," cried Big Otter, pointing his gun,
and firing at them as they came up.

A wild war-whoop rang out from the Indians, who were only too ready to
accept the invitation to fight the pale-faces.  A defiant cheer burst in
reply from the white men, who were equally eager for the fray.

"Come!" whispered Big Otter at this point.

We had no difficulty in slipping away at the rear unperceived amid the
din and smoke, and ran to where our horses had been tied.  Mounting,
like squirrels, we went off like the wind in the direction of the open
prairie, and soon left our little fortress far behind us, with the
redskins and the pale-faces fighting on the top of it like wild cats!



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THE POWER OF SLEEP--PLANS DISCUSSED AND A FAR JOURNEY RESOLVED ON.

It was broad daylight when we once again drew rein, and then we were all
so overcome with sleep and exhaustion, after the prolonged watching and
excitement of the night, that we could scarcely sit on our horses.

Eve, who sat behind me, grasping my waist with both arms, swayed so
heavily once or twice, as nearly to throw me down.

"We _must_ stop," said I to Big Otter, who was close beside me.

"Yes," replied the Indian; but his tone told that he was barely awake.

"If you doosn't me _drop_," said Salamander.  The worthy interpreter
seemed to think English the easiest language in the circumstances.

"Oh!  I'm _so_ sleepy," said poor Eve, whose grief helped to increase
her exhaustion.

"Come, we will camp in this thicket!" said Big Otter, turning his horse
in the direction of a long strip of bush that lay a few hundred yards to
our right.

On reaching it, we penetrated, almost mechanically, to the thickest part
of it, dismounted, and fastened our horses to the trees.  Turning
instantly, to assist Eve in making a couch of leaves, I found that she
had lain down where she had dismounted, and was already fast asleep.

"Here, Salamander, lend a hand to lift her," I said, looking round; but
Salamander was also in the land of Nod, flat on his back, with his eyes
shut, and his mouth open.

Turning to Big Otter, I found that he was standing staring at me with an
expression of such awful solemnity that I was partially roused with a
feeling of alarm.

"Hallo!"  I exclaimed, "what has happened?--speak, man!"

But Big Otter only gazed more intensely than ever, swayed slightly to
and fro, and gave a sort of wink, or rather a slap together of both
eyes.  Then I understood that the wretched man was only glaring like an
owl in the sunshine, in his tremendous efforts to keep awake.  He
assisted me, however, to lift Eve to a more comfortable position, and
while he was in the act of laying her fair head gently on a pillow of
moss, I observed that he sank down and instantly fell into a profound
slumber; but even in that hour of mingled danger and exhaustion, the
Indian did not neglect to hold his gun to his breast with a firm grasp.
I also had enough wit left to keep my double-barrel in my hand, and was
in the act of examining the locks, seated at Eve's feet, where my own
senses forsook me.

We lay there, perfectly silent and motionless, during the whole of that
day, for it was not until the sun was descending towards the western
horizon that we awoke.  I happened to be the first to move.  Rising
softly, so as not to disturb the others, I went to search for water, and
was fortunate enough to find a small pool, which, though not very clear,
was nevertheless sufficiently good to slake our thirst.  Sitting down
beside the pool, I lifted my heart and voice in thanksgiving to God for
having thus far delivered and guided us.

While thus engaged a slight rustling in the bushes caused me to spring
up.  It was caused by Big Otter, who had followed me.

"What does the pale-face think?" he asked, sitting down beside me.

"He thinks that the Great Master of Life has delivered us from our
enemies.  He is good," said I, being still influenced by the devotional
feeling which had been broken in upon.

For a few moments the Indian did not reply, but continued to look
thoughtfully at the ground.  At length he spoke.

"Was the Great Master of Life good when He let Waboose's mother die in
the midst of war and weakness?  Was He good to Waboose when He left her
fatherless and motherless?"

"Yes, He was good," I answered, confidently.  "He took the mother of
Waboose home to dwell with Himself and with her father Weeum.  And men
and women, you know, cannot be taken to the happy land without leaving
their children behind them--fatherless and motherless."

Big Otter did not reply, but I saw by his grave look that he was not
satisfied.  After a brief pause he resumed,--"Was the Great Master of
Life good to the wicked pale-faces, when He allowed the red-men to slay
them in their sins?"

"Yes," I returned, "He was good, because the Great Master of Life cannot
be otherwise than good.  He has made our brains capable of understanding
that, and our hearts capable of resting on it.  But He is our Father.
Children do not understand all that a father does.  Big Otter has
touched on a great mystery.  But what we know not now we shall know
hereafter.  Only let the red-man be sure of this, that whatever we come
to know in the hereafter will tend more and more to prove that the Great
Master of Life is good."

For a long time the Indian remained silent, and I could not tell by the
expression of his grave face whether my reasoning weighed with him or
not; I therefore offered up a brief prayer that the Spirit of God might
open his eyes--as well as my own--to see, and our hearts to receive, the
_truth_, whatever that might be.  Then I said,--"The thoughts of Big
Otter are deep, what do they lead to?"

"No," he replied, "his thoughts are not deep, but they are confused, for
he has heard his pale-face brother call Waboose, Eve.  How did he come
to know that name?  It was only used by Weeum, and seldom by him--never
by any one else."

It struck me that now was as suitable a time as might present itself to
let the Indian know about the contents of the packet, so I
said,--"Listen, Big Otter, I have something important to tell."

From this point I went on, and, in as few words as possible, related all
that the reader knows about the packet, and the wishes of poor William
Liston.  I also showed him the miniature, at which he gazed with visible
but suppressed emotion.

"Now," said I, in conclusion, "what do you think we should do?"

"What Weeum wished must be done," he replied simply but firmly.

"You were fond of Weeum?"  I said.

"Yes, Big Otter loved him like a brother."

"Don't you think," said I, after some minutes' thought, "that it is our
duty first to return to the camp of your tribe, and also that I should
send Salamander back to Fort Wichikagan to tell where I have gone, and
for what purpose?  For Salamander is not free like myself.  He is still
a servant of the fur-traders."

"No, that is not your duty," said the Indian decidedly.  "Your duty is
to obey the commands of Weeum!  My tribe will not die of grief because
Waboose does not return.  As for Salamander--send him where you please.
He is nobody--nothing!"

Although not quite agreeing with Big Otter in his contemptuous estimate
of the value of Salamander, I believed that I could get along quite well
without him; and therefore resolved to send him back--first to the
Indian camp to tell of our safety and intentions, and then to the fort
with an explanatory letter to Lumley, who, I knew full well, would be
filled with great anxiety on my account, as well as with uncertainty as
to how he should act, destitute as he was of the slightest clue to my
fate or my whereabouts.

"And you, my friend," I said, "what will your movements be?"

"Big Otter will go and help you to obey the commands of Weeum," he
replied.  "There is no wife, no child, waiting for him to return.  He
must be a father to Waboose.  Muxbee will _be_ her brother.  The trail
to Colorado is long.  Big Otter has been there.  He has been a solitary
wanderer all his life, and knows the wilderness well.  He has crossed
the great mountains where the snow lies deep even in summer.  He can be
a guide, and knows many of the mountain tribes as well as the tribes of
the prairie--Waugh!"

"Well, my friend," said I, grasping the Indian's strong hand, "I need
not tell you that your decision gives me joy, and I shall be only too
glad to travel with you in the capacity of a son; for, you know, if you
are to be a father to Waboose, and I am to be her brother, that makes
you my father--don't you see?"

The grave Indian smiled faintly at this touch of pleasantry, and then
rose.

"We have nothing to eat," he said, as we returned to the place where we
had slept, "and we cannot hunt in the night.  Is your bag empty?"

"No," said I, glancing at the contents of my wallet, "there is enough of
biscuit and pemmican to give us a light meal."

"That will do," he returned; "we need rest more than food just now."

This was indeed true; for, notwithstanding that I had slept so soundly
during that day, I still felt a strong disinclination to rouse myself to
action, and an intense desire to lie down again.  These feelings being
shared by my companions, it was resolved to spend the night where we
were, but we took good care to kindle no fire to betray us a second
time.  We roused Eve and Salamander to take some food, after which we
all lay down, and, ere long, were again sound asleep.

This double allowance of rest had the most beneficial effect upon our
frames.  We did not awake till an early hour the following morning, and
felt so much refreshed as to be ready and anxious to set off on our
journey, without the delay of breakfasting.  This was fortunate, for the
scraps that remained in my wallet would only have sufficed for one meal
to a man of ordinary appetite; and, as it was important to expedite
Salamander on his return journey, these had to be given to him.  Poor
fellow! he was much cast down on hearing of my decision in regard to
him.

"But, sar," he said, with a sorrowful countenance, "w'at for I no go
vith you?"

"Because you are still a servant of the Fur Company, and not entitled to
break your engagement.  Besides, it is desirable that Big Otter's people
should know why he and Waboose have left them, and where they have gone;
and if you explain matters correctly they will be quite satisfied, for
they all respect the memory of Weeum the Good.  Moreover, it is
important that Mr Lumley should know what has prevented my return, both
to relieve his mind, and prevent his sending out to search for me."

"But sar," objected Salamander, "w'at if me meets vid de vite
scoundrils?"

"You must fight them, or run away from them."

"Vell, me kin fight but me kin more joyfulerly run avay.  But," he
continued, still objecting, "me got no grub."

"Here is enough for one day," I said, giving him all I possessed, "if
you spin it out.  To-morrow you can roast and eat your moccasins, and
the third day you can starve.  Surely that's not hard on a strong young
fellow like you; and if you push on fast enough you'll reach the camp of
the redskins early on the third day."

Salamander sighed, but made no further objection, and half an hour later
he left us.

As we now possessed only two horses, it naturally fell to my lot, being
a light weight compared with Big Otter, to take Eve up behind me.

"We must get a horse for Waboose," said the Indian, as we galloped over
the prairie that day.  "There is a tribe of Blackfoot Indians not far
from here who have good horses, and understand the value of gold, for
some of them have been to the settlements of the pale-faces.  You tell
me that you have gold?"

"Yes, I found a bag of five hundred gold pieces with the diamonds in
Weeum's packet."

Big Otter looked at me inquiringly, but did not speak, yet I guessed his
thoughts; for, though I had shown him Liston's letter and the miniature,
I had not shown him the gold or the jewels, and he must have wondered
where I carried them; for he knew, of course, that they were necessarily
somewhat bulky and were not in my wallet, which I had emptied more than
once in his presence.  I therefore explained to him:--

"You know, perhaps, that gold is heavy, and five hundred pieces are
bulky and troublesome to carry; so I have had a piece of cloth made with
a hole in the middle of it for my head to go through; one end of it
hangs over my breast under my shirt, like a breastplate, and one end
hangs over my back, and on each of these plates there are rows of little
pockets, each pocket the size of a gold piece.  Thus, you see, the gold
does not feel heavy, being equally distributed, and it does not show, as
it would if carried in a heap--besides, it forms a sort of armour--
though I fear it would not resist a rifle-bullet!"

"Waugh!" exclaimed Big Otter, with an intelligent look.

"As to the diamonds, they are not bulky.  I have concealed them in an
under-belt round my waist."

As Big Otter had predicted, we came to a large village of Blackfoot
Indians two days afterwards, and were received with cordial friendship
by the inhabitants, who knew my Indian well.  He had visited them during
his wanderings many a time, and once, at a very critical period in their
history, had rendered important service to the tribe, besides saving the
life of their chief.

A new tent was set aside for our use, and a small one pitched close to
it for Waboose, whose dignified yet modest bearing made a profound
impression on those children of the wilderness.  They recognised, no
doubt that Indian blood flowed in her veins, but that rather increased
their respect for her, as it gave them, so to speak, a right to claim
kinship with a girl who was obviously one of Nature's aristocracy,
besides possessing much of that refinement which the red-men had come to
recognise as a characteristic of some of the best of the pale-faces.

Indeed, I myself found, now that I had frequent opportunities of
conversing with Eve Liston, that the man who had been affectionately
styled Weeum the Good by the Indians, had stored his child's mind with
much varied secular knowledge, such as Indians never possess, besides
instilling into her the elevating and refining precepts of Christianity.
Being of a poetical turn of mind, he had also repeated to Eve many long
and beautiful pieces from our best poets, so that on more than one
occasion the girl had aptly quoted several well-known passages--to my
inexpressible amazement.

"I wonder," said I, when we three were seated in our tent that night,
refreshing ourselves with a choice morsel of baked buffalo-hump, with
which the hospitable Blackfeet had supplied us, "how it comes to pass
that Indians, who are usually rather fond of gifts, absolutely refuse to
accept anything for the fine horse they have given to Waboose?"

"Perhaps," said Eve, with a little smile, in which the extreme corners
of her pretty mouth had the peculiar tendency to turn down instead of
up--"perhaps it is because they are grateful.  Indians are not
altogether destitute of that feeling."

"True, Eve, true; it must be that.  Will you tell us, Big Otter, how you
managed to make these fellows so grateful?"

"I saved the chief's life," returned the Indian, curtly.

"Yes; but how, and when?"

"Four summers have passed since then.  I was returning from a trip to
the Rocky Mountains when it happened.  Many bad pale-faces were in the
mountains at that time.  They were idle bad men from many lands, who
hated work and loved to fight.  One of them had been killed by a Sioux
Indian.  They all banded together and swore that they would shoot every
Indian they came across.  They killed many--some even who were friendly
to the white men.  They did not ask to what tribe they belonged.  They
were `redskin varmints,' that was enough!

"The Strong Elk, whose hospitality we enjoy to-night, was chief of the
Blackfeet.  I was on my way to visit him, when, one evening, I came upon
the camp of the pale-faces.  I knew that sometimes they were not
friendly to the red-man, so I waited till dark, and then crept forward
and listened.  Their chief was loud-voiced and boastful.  He boasted of
how many Indians he had killed.  I could have shot him where I lay and
then escaped easily, but I spared him, for I wished to listen.  They
talked much of the Strong Elk.  I understood very little.  The language
of the pale-face is difficult to understand, but I came to know that in
two hours, when the moon should sink, they would attack him.

"I waited to hear no more.  I ran like the hunted buffalo.  I came to
Strong Elk and told him.  It was too late to move the camp, but we put
it in a state of defence.  When the pale-faces came, we were ready.
Arrows, thick as the snowflakes in winter, met them when they came on,
and many of them bit the dust.  Some ran away.  Some, who were brave,
still came on and leaped our barricades.  They fought like fiends.
Their boastful chief saw Strong Elk and rushed at him.  They grappled
and fell.  The pale-face had a keen knife.  It was raised to strike.
One moment more, and the Blackfoot chief had been in the happy
hunting-grounds with his fathers, when the gun of Big Otter came down on
the skull of the boastful one.  It was enough.  Strong Elk was saved--
and he is grateful; waugh!"

"Well, he has reason to be!" said I, much impressed by the modest way in
which the story was told.  "And now," I added, "since we have got a
capital horse, and the journey before us is long, don't you think we
should start to-morrow!"

"Yes, to-morrow--and it is time for Waboose to rest.  She is strong, but
she has had much to weary her, and her grief is deep."

With a kindly acknowledgment of the Indian's thoughtful care of her, Eve
rose and went to her tent.  Big Otter lighted his pipe, and I lay down
to meditate; but almost before I had time to think, my head drooped and
I was in the land of forgetfulness.

It is not my purpose, good reader, to carry you step by step over the
long, varied, and somewhat painful journey that intervened between us
and Colorado at that time.  It was interesting--deeply so--for we passed
through some of the most beautiful as well as wildest scenery of the
North American wilderness.  We kept far to the westward, near the base
of the Rocky Mountains, so as to avoid the haunts of civilised men.  But
space will not permit of more than a brief reference to this long
journey.

I can only say that on arriving at a village belonging to a remote tribe
of Indians, who were well-known to my guide, it was arranged that Big
Otter and Waboose should stay with them, while I should go to the cities
of the pale-faces and endeavour to convert my diamonds into cash.
Happening to have a friend in Chicago I went there, and through his
agency effected the sale of the diamonds, which produced a little over
the sum mentioned by William Liston in his paper.  This I took with me
in the convenient form of bills on well-known mercantile firms, in the
region to which I was bound, and, having wrapped them in a piece of
oiled silk and sewed them inside of the breastplate that contained my
gold, I set off with a light heart, though somewhat weighted shoulders,
to return to my friends in the Far West.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

TELLS OF A WONDERFUL MEETING AND A FRUSTRATED FOE.

I must change the scene now, and advance the courteous reader
considerably in regard to time as well as place on the journey which we
have pursued so long together.

It is one of those scenes of romantic beauty on the extreme frontiers of
civilisation, where the rifle has not even yet given place to the
plough; where the pioneer husbandman and the painted warrior often
meet--the one to look with patronising superiority on the savage, whom
he means to benefit; the other to gaze curiously at the pale-face, and
to wonder, somewhat indignantly, when and where his encroachments are to
cease.

Woodlands and prairies, breezy uplands and grassy bottoms, alternate in
such picturesque confusion, and such lovely colours co-mingle, that a
painter--had one been there--must have deemed the place at all events
the vestibule of paradise.

There is a small hamlet on the slope of a hill, with a broad river
winding in front, a few hundred yards from the hamlet, which opens out
into a lake.  On the margin of this lake lie a few boats.  On the
surface of it float a few more boats, with one or two birch-bark canoes.
Some of these are moving to and fro; the occupants of others, which
appear to be stationary, are engaged in fishing.  There is the sound of
an anvil somewhere, and the lowing of cattle, and the voices of
children, and the barking of dogs at play, and the occasional crack of a
gun.  It is an eminently peaceful as well as beautiful backwood scene.

To a particular spot in this landscape we would direct attention.  It is
a frame-house, or cottage, which, if not built according to the most
approved rules of architecture, is at least neat, clean,
comfortable-looking, and what one might style pretty.  It is a
"clap-boarded" house, painted white, with an edging of brown which
harmonises well with the green shrubbery around.  There is a verandah in
front, a door in the middle, two windows on either side, and no upper
storey; but there are attics with dormer windows, which are suggestive
of snug sleeping-rooms of irregular shape, with low ceilings and
hat-crushing doorways.

This cottage stands on the apex of a little hill which overlooks the
hamlet, commands the river and the lake, as well as an extensive view of
a sparsely settled district beyond, where the frontier farmer and the
primeval forest are evidently having a lively time of it together.  In
short the cottage on the hill has a decidedly comfortable
come-up-quick-and-enjoy-yourself air which is quite charming.

On a certain fine afternoon in autumn Eve Liston, _alias_ Waboose, Big
Otter and I, rode slowly up the winding path which led to this cottage.
We had been directed to it by the postmaster of the hamlet,--a man who,
if he had been condemned to subsist solely on the proceeds of the
village post-office, would have been compelled to give up the ghost, or
the post, in a week.

"We must be careful, Eve, how we break it to her," said I, as we neared
the top.

Arrived at the summit of the hill we found a rustic table, also a rustic
seat on which was seated a comely matron engaged in the very commonplace
work of darning socks.  She cast on us a sharp and remarkably
penetrating glance as we approached.  Doubtless our appearance was
peculiar, for a pretty maiden in savage costume, a somewhat ragged white
man, and a gigantic savage, all mounted on magnificent steeds and
looking travel-stained and worn after a journey of many weeks, was not
probably an everyday sight, even in those regions.

Dismounting and advancing to act as spokesman, while my companions sat
motionless and silent in their saddles, I pulled off my cap.

"I have been directed to this house as the abode of Mrs Liston," said I
with a tremor of anxiety, for I knew that the comely matron before me
could not be she whom I sought, and feared there might be some mistake.

"You have been directed aright, sir.  May I ask who it is that desires
to see her?"

"My name is Maxby," said I, quickly, for I was becoming nervously
impatient.  "I am quite a stranger to Mrs Liston, but I would see her,
because I bring her news--news of importance--in fact a message from her
long-lost son."

"From Willie Liston?" exclaimed the lady, starting up, and seizing my
arm, while she gazed into my face with a look of wild surprise.  "Is
he--but it cannot be--impossible--he must be--"

"He is dead," said I, in a low, sad voice, as she hesitated.

"Yes," she returned, clasping her hands but without any of the wild look
in her eyes now.  "We have mourned him as dead for many, many years.
Stay, I will call his--but--perhaps--sometimes it is kindness to
conceal.  If there is anything sad to tell, might it not be well to
leave his poor mother in ignorance?  She is old and--"

"No, madam," I interrupted, "that may not be.  I have a message from him
to his mother."

"A message!  Then you knew him?"

"No; I never saw him."

"Strange!  You have a message from him, yet never saw him.  Can you not
give me the message, to convey it to her?  She is getting frail and a
shock might be serious.  I am William Liston's cousin, and have come to
take care of my aunt, and manage her farm."

"The message, by Mr Liston's wish," said I, "was to be delivered by me
to his mother.  I will be very careful to deliver it gently."

"Well, I will bring her to you.  She usually comes out about this time
to enjoy the sunset.  I will trust to your discretion; but bear in
remembrance that she is not strong.  Forgive me," she added, turning to
my companions, "this surprise has made me forget my duty.  Will your
friends dismount?"

Eve at once dismounted, and shook the hand which the lady extended; but
Big Otter sat quite still, like a grand equestrian statue, while the
lady entered the house.

I saw that the poor girl was much agitated, but, true to her Indian
training, she laid powerful constraint on herself.

In a few minutes an old lady with the sweetest face and most benignant
aspect I ever saw, came out of the cottage and advanced to the rustic
seat.  Before sitting down she looked at us with a pleasant smile, and
said,--"You are heartily welcome.  We are always glad to see strangers
in these distant parts."

While speaking she tremblingly pulled out, and put on, a pair of
spectacles to enable her to have a clearer view of her visitors.  The
scene that immediately followed took me very much by surprise, and
completely frustrated all my wise plans of caution.

She looked at me first and nodded pleasantly.  Then she looked at Eve,
who was gazing at her with an intense and indescribable expression.
Suddenly the old lady's eyes opened to their widest.  A death-like
pallor overspread her old face.  She opened her arms wide, bent forward
a little towards Eve, and gasped,--"Come to me--Willie!"

Never was invitation more swiftly accepted.  Eve bounded towards her and
caught her in her arms just in time to prevent her falling.

The poor old mother!  For years she had prayed and longed for her lost
Willie, though she never once regarded him as "lost."  "Is not the
promise _sure_?" she was wont to say, "Ask and ye shall receive."  Even
when she believed that the erring son was dead she did not cease to pray
for him--because he _might_ be alive.  Latterly, however, her tone of
resignation proved that she had nearly, if not quite, given up all hope
of seeing him again in this life, yet she never ceased to think of him
as "not lost, but gone before."  And now, when at last his very image
came back to her in the form of a woman, she had no more doubt as to who
stood before her than she had of her own identity.  She knew it was
Willie's child--one glance sufficed to convince her of that--but it was
only Willie--the long-lost Willie--that she thought of, as she pressed
the weeping girl with feeble fervour to her old and loving heart.

During the time that this scene was enacting, Big Otter remained still
motionless on his horse, without moving a muscle of his grave
countenance.  Was he heartless, or was his heart a stone?  An observer
might readily have thought so, but his conduct when the old lady at last
relaxed her hold of Eve, proved that, Indian like, he was only putting
stern restraint on himself.

Dismounting with something of the deliberate and stately air of one who
is resolved not to commit himself, the Indian strode towards Mrs
Liston, and, tenderly grasping one of her hands in both of his,
said,--"Weeum!"

Truly there is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous, and in
some cases that step is an exceeding short one.  It seemed so to me now,
as I beheld the tall Indian stooping to gaze with intense earnestness
into the tear-besprinkled face of the little old lady, who gazed with
equally intense amazement into his huge, dark visage.

"What _does_ he mean by Weeum?" she asked, with an appealing look at me.

"Weeum," I replied, "is the Indian way of pronouncing William.  Your
late son, dear madam, was much beloved and respected by the tribe of
Indians, with whom he dwelt, and was known to them only by the name of
William, or Weeum.  This man was his most intimate and loving friend and
brother-in-law."

The poor old lady was deeply affected while I spoke, for of course my
words confirmed at last, her long resisted fear that Willie was indeed
no longer of this world.

Big Otter waited a few seconds, still holding her hand, and then,
turning to me, said in his native tongue,--"Tell the pale-face mother
that the sister of Big Otter was the wife of Weeum; that Big Otter loved
Weeum better than a brother, and that Weeum loved Big Otter more than
any man of his tribe.  Every one loved Weeum the Good.  He was so kind,
and so brave!  At first he was very fierce, but afterwards that passed
away, and when Waboose began to grow tall and wise, Weeum turned soft
like a woman.  He spoke often to the red-men about the Great Master of
Life, and he taught Big Otter to love the Great Master of Life and the
name of Jesus.  Often Weeum talked of going to the far south to see one
whom he called a _dear old one_.  We did not understand him then.  Big
Otter understands him now.  So shall it be in the great hereafter--
things that are dark now shall be light then.  But Weeum could not leave
his wife and child, and we would not let him take them away.  Sometimes
Weeum spoke mysteries.  One day he said to me, `Brother, I _must_ go to
the far south to see the dear old one.  I will take my wife and child,
and will return to you again--if the great Master of Life allows.  If,
however, I die or am killed, Waboose will reveal all that is in Weeum's
heart.  She cannot reveal it now.  She will not even understand until a
_good_ pale-face visits your tribe.'  Weeum said no more.  He left the
mind of Big Otter dark.  It is no longer dark.  It is now clear as the
sun at noon.  The `good pale-face' is here (pointing to me as he spoke),
and the `dear old one' is before me."

He paused a moment at this point, and then, with an evident effort to
suppress emotion, added,--"Weeum was drowned, soon after the day he
spoke to me, while trying to save life.  Since then there has been no
sun in the sky for Big Otter."

The poor old mother listened to this speech with intense interest and
deepening emotion, but I could see that the tears which flowed over the
wrinkled cheeks were tears of gladness rather than of sorrow.  It could
scarcely at that time come as news to her that her son was dead, but it
did come as a gladsome surprise that her wilful Willie had not only
found the Saviour himself--or, rather, been found of Him--but that he
had spent his latter days in striving to bring others to that great
Source of blessedness.

Being too much overcome to speak, she submitted to be led away into the
cottage by the comely matron, who had been a keen and sympathetic
observer of all that passed.  Of course Eve accompanied them, for
Weeum's mother refused to let go her hand, even for a moment, and Big
Otter and I were left outside alone.

"Come," said I, vaulting into my saddle, "you and I will go and have a
gallop, my friend, and see the land, for I mean to dwell here and would
strongly advise you to do the same."

"Waugh!" exclaimed the Indian, as he leaped on the back of his steed,
and followed me.

"You see," said I, as we rode along, followed by the admiring gaze of
the village children--for, accustomed though they were to savages, they
had never seen so grand an Indian as Big Otter on so magnificent a
horse--"you see, they will require some time to clear up matters in the
cottage, for Eve's English, good though it be, is not perfect, and all
their minds will naturally be a little confused at first.  You did me
good service to-day, my friend."

"How?  The speech of Muxbee is mysterious."

"Don't you see," I replied, "that the speech you made to old Mrs
Liston, broke the ice as it were, and told her nearly all that I had to
tell.  And if you knew how many anxious hours I have spent in thinking
how I should best break the sad news to the poor old mother, you would
better understand how grateful I am to you."

"The speech of Muxbee is still full of mystery.  What does he mean by
breaking news?  When Big Otter has got news to tell, he tells it.  When
people have got something to hear, why should they not hear it at once?"

I felt that there are some things which some minds cannot understand;
so, instead of answering, changed the subject.

"See," said I, pointing to a part of the uncleared bush into which we
had ridden, "there are two redskins.  One is about to let fly an arrow.
Hold on--we may disturb his aim!"

My companion looked, and with a start threw forward the muzzle of his
gun.

Little did I think, riding as we then were in a semi-civilised region--
what the aim was that I was so anxious not to disturb.

I was suddenly and rudely enlightened when I heard the twang of the bow,
and saw the arrow flying straight towards me.  It was too late to leap
aside, or dodge it.  Full on the centre of my chest the shaft struck me.
I experienced something of the shock that one feels when death is
suddenly and very unexpectedly brought near.  I have a distinct
recollection of the solemn impression made by the belief that my last
hour had come, yet I did not fall.  I saw that the savage was hastily
fitting another arrow to the bow, but was so stunned by surprise that I
made no effort to save myself.  Happily Big Otter had his wits about
him.  He fired before the arrow winged its flight, and shot the Indian
dead.

The other savage at once turned and fled, but my companion gave chase
and overtook him in a few seconds.  Seeing that he could not escape he
turned round, flung down his weapons in token of submission, and stood
sullenly before his captor.

Big Otter at once leaped off his steed, seized the man, bound his arms
behind him with a thong, and led him to the spot where the dead man was
lying on his face.

Meanwhile, I had discovered that the arrow which should have pierced my
heart had been stopped by one of the gold pieces which formed my
breastplate!  It had, indeed, pierced the coin, but had only entered my
flesh about a quarter of an inch!  Thanking God for the wonderful
deliverance, I plucked it out, and, casting it away, rode up to the
place where the dead man lay.  My companion had turned him over, and to
my great surprise, revealed the face of my old foe, Attick!

"Waugh!" exclaimed Big Otter, turning to the captured savage.  "Are
there not deer enough in the woods, and buffalo enough on the plains,
that the red-man should take to testing his arrows on pale-faces?"

"I did not shoot," was the stern reply.

"True, but you were the companion, perhaps the friend, of the dead man."

"I was _not_ his friend," replied the savage, more sullenly than ever.

"Then how came you to be with him when making this cowardly attack?"  I
asked, in a tone which was meant to conciliate.

The tone had the desired effect.  The savage explained that about three
weeks previously he had, while in danger of being killed by a grizzly
bear which he had wounded, been rescued by Attick, who told him that he
was in pursuit of a foe who had injured him deeply, and whom he meant to
hunt to death.  Out of gratitude the Indian had consented to follow
him--believing his story to be true.  Attick explained that he had
followed his foe from the far north, day by day, week by week, month by
month, seeking an opportunity to slay him; but so careful a watch had
been kept by his foe and the Indian and woman who travelled with him
that he had not up to that time found an opportunity.  Attick and his
new ally had then dogged us to Sunny Creek--the village at which we had
arrived--and, finding that we no longer feared danger from hostile
Indians, and had relaxed our vigilance, they had made up their minds to
stay there patiently till the deed could be accomplished.  That day,
while consulting about the matter in the woods, we had suddenly and
unexpectedly appeared before them, and Attick had discharged his arrow.

"But" concluded the savage, with a perplexed look, "the pale-face cannot
be killed.  Arrows cannot pierce him."

"You are right," said I, suddenly coming to a decision in regard to the
man.  "Neither bullet nor arrow can kill me till my work is done, and
the Great Master of Life permits me to die.  Go--and be more careful
whom you follow in future."

I cut the thong that bound him, as I spoke, and set him free.

Without a word, though with an irresistible look of surprise, the savage
turned, picked up his weapons and strode majestically into the bush.

"My brother is not wise," remarked Big Otter.

"That may be so," said I, "but it grieves me that the blood of one
Indian has been shed on my account, and I don't want to let the
authorities here have the chance of shedding that of another.  Come, we
must let them know what has happened."

So saying I turned and rode off.  We went direct to the authorities
above-mentioned, told who we were and what we had done, guided a party
of men to the scene of the intended murder; and then, while the stars
were beginning to twinkle in the darkening sky, returned to see what was
going on in the little cottage on the hill at Sunny Creek.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

ONE OF THE DIFFICULTIES OF CORRESPONDENCE ENLARGED ON--COMING EVENTS,
ETCETERA.

About six weeks after the events narrated in the last chapter, I seated
myself before a desk in a charming attic-room in the cottage--no need to
say what cottage--and began to pen a letter.

I was in an exceedingly happy frame of mind.  The weather was agreeable;
neither too hot nor too cold; circumstances around me were conducive to
quiet contemplation, and my brain was quite clear, nevertheless I
experienced unusual difficulty in the composition of that letter.  I
began it at least half-a-dozen times, and as many times threw my pen
down, tore it up and began another.  At last I received a summons to
dinner, and had then got only half-way through my letter.

Our dinner-party consisted of old Mrs Liston, her comely niece, Mrs
Temple, who by the way was a widow, Eve Liston, and myself.  Big Otter,
unable to endure the restraints of civilisation, had gone on a hunting
expedition for a few days, by way of relief!

"You is very stupid, surely, to take three hours to write one letter,"
remarked Eve, with that peculiar smile to which I have before referred.

"Eve," said I, somewhat sternly, "you will never learn English properly
if you do not attend to my instructions.  _You_ is plural, though _I_ am
singular, and if you address me thus you must say you _are_ not you
_is_."

"You _are_ right in saying you are singular," interposed Aunt Temple,
who was rather sharp witted, and had intensely black eyes.  Eve had
called her "aunt" by mistake at first, and now stuck to it.

"I don't think there is another man in the district," continued the
matron, "who would take so long to write a short letter.  You said it
was going to be short didn't you?"

"Yes--short and sweet; though I doubt if the dear old man will think it
so at first.  But he'll change his mind when he gets here."

"No doubt we will convert him," said Aunt Temple.

"Eve will, at all events," said I.

There was not much more said at that dinner which calls for record.  I
will therefore return to the attic-room and the letter.

After at least another hour of effort, I succeeded in finishing my task,
though not entirely to my satisfaction.  As the letter was of
considerable importance and interest--at least to those concerned--I now
lay it before the reader.  It ran thus:--

"My Dear Father,

"I scarcely know how to tell you--or how to begin, for I fear that you
will not only be very much surprised, but perhaps, displeased by what I
have to write.  But let me assure you, dear father, that I cannot help
it!  It almost seems as if the thing had been arranged for me, and as if
I had had no say in the matter.  The fact is that I have left the
service of the Fur-Traders, and am engaged to be married to a dear
beautiful half-caste girl (quite a lady, however, I assure you), and
have made up my mind to become a farmer in one of the wildest parts of
Colorado!  There--I've made a clean breast of it, and if that does not
take away your breath, nothing will!  But I write in all humility,
dearest father.  Do not fancy that, having taken the bit in my teeth, I
tell you all this defiantly.  Very far from it.  Had it been possible,
nothing would have gratified me more than to have consulted you, and
asked your approval and blessing, but with three thousand miles of
ocean, and I know not how many hundred miles of land between us, that
you know, was out of the question; besides, it could not have altered
matters, for the thing is fixed.

"My Eve's mother was an Indian.  A very superior woman, indeed, let me
hasten to say, and an exceptionally amiable one.  Her father was an
English gentleman named William Liston--son of a clergyman, and a highly
educated man.  He was wild and wilful in his youth, and married an
Indian, but afterwards became a really good man, and, being naturally
refined and with amiable feelings, spent his life in doing good to the
people with whom he had cast his lot, and perished in saving the life of
his wife.  Eve evidently takes after him.

"As to my Eve herself--"

I will spare the reader what I said about Eve herself!  Suffice it to
say that after an enthusiastic account of her mental and physical
qualities, in which, however, I carefully refrained from exaggeration,
and giving a brief outline of my recent experiences, I wound up
with,--"And now, dear father, forgive me if I have done wrong in all
this, and make up your mind to come out here and live with us, or take a
farm of your own near to us.  You know there is nothing to tie you to
the old country; you were always fond of the idea of emigrating to the
backwoods; your small income will go twice as far here as there, if
properly laid out, and you'll live twice as long.  Come, dear dad, if
you love me.  I can't get married till you come.  Ever believe me, your
affectionate son--George Maxby."

Reader, shall we visit the dear old man in his dingy little house in old
England while he peruses the foregoing letter?  Yes, let us go.  It is
worth while travelling between four and five thousand miles to see him
read it.  Perhaps, if you are a critical reader, you may ask, "But how
came _you_ to know how the old gentleman received the letter?"  Well,
although the question is impertinent, I will answer it.

I have a small cousin of about ten years of age.  She dwells with my
father, and is an exceedingly sharp and precocious little girl.  She
chanced to be in the parlour waiting for my father--who was rather given
to being late for breakfast--when my letter arrived.  The familiar
domestic cat was also waiting for him.  It had mounted the table and sat
glaring at the butter and cream, but, being aware that stealing was
wrong, or that the presence of Cousin Maggie was prohibitive, it
practised self-denial.  Finding a story-book, my cousin sat down on the
window seat behind the curtain and became absorbed--so much absorbed
that she failed to notice the entrance of my father; failed to hear
his--"Ha! a letter from Punch at last!"--and was only roused to outward
events by the crash which ensued when my father smote the table with his
fist and exclaimed, "im-possible!"  The cups and saucers almost sprang
into the air.  The cat did so completely, and retired in horror to the
furthest corner of the room.  Recovering itself, however, it soon
returned to its familiar post of observation on the table.  Not so
Cousin Maggie, who, observing that she was unperceived, and feeling
somewhat shocked as well as curious, sat quite still, with her mouth,
eyes, and especially her ears, wide-open.

From Maggie then--long afterwards--I learned the details.

My father sat down after smiting the table, gasped once or twice; pulled
off and wiped his spectacles; put them on again, and, laying strong
constraint on himself, read the whole through, aloud, and without a
word of comment till he reached the end, when he
ejaculated--"in-con-ceivable!" laid the letter down, and, looking up,
glared at the cat.  As that creature took no notice of him he
incontinently flung his napkin at it, and swept it off the table.  Then
he gave vent to a prolonged "wh-sh!" burst into a fiendish laugh, and
gave a slap to his thigh that shattered the cat's peace of mind for the
remainder of that morning, after which he re-opened the letter, spread
it carefully out on the table, and, in the most intensely cynical tones,
began a disjointed commentary on it as follows:--

"Your `dear father,' indeed!  That's the first piece of humbug in your
precious letter.  Very `dear' I am to you, no doubt.  And _you_--you--a
chit--a mere boy (he forgot that several years had elapsed since I left
him).  Oh! no--I'm neither surprised nor displeased--not at all.  The
state of my mind is not to be expressed by such phraseology--by no
means!  And you were always such a smooth-faced, quiet little beggar
that--well--no matter.  `Couldn't help it!' indeed.  H'm.  `Quite a
lady!'  Oh! of _course_.  Necessarily so, when you condescended to fall
in love with her!  `Humility!' well!  `Given up the service,' too!
`Colorado!'  `One of the wildest parts'--as if a tame part wouldn't have
done just as well!  A `farmer!'  Much _you_ know about farming!  You
don't tell all this `defiantly.'  Oh! no, certainly not, but if you
don't _do_ it defiantly, I have misunderstood the meaning of the word
self-will till I am bald.  Why didn't you `consult' me, then?  Much
_you_ care for my blessing--and `the thing is fixed!'"

Exasperation was too much developed at this point to permit of blowing
off steam in the form of sarcastic remark.  My poor father hit the table
with such force that the cream spurted out of its pot over the cloth--
and my father didn't care!  The cat cared, however, when, at a later
period, it had the cleaning up of that little matter all to itself!
This last explosion caused so much noise--my cousin told me--as to
attract the attention of my father's only domestic, who bounced into the
room and asked, "did 'e ring."  To which my father returned such a
thundering "No!" that the domestic fled precipitately, followed by the
cat--rampant.

"_Your_ `Eve!' indeed," said my father, resuming the sarcastic vein.
"`Mother an Indian'--a Hottentot, I suppose, or something of that sort--
short skirt of peacock feathers; no upper part worth mentioning, flat
nose and lips, and smeared all over with fat, I dare say.  Charming
mother-in-law.  Calculated to create some impression on English society.
No wonder you've chosen the _wilds_ of Colorado!  Ah, now, as to `my
Eve herself'--just let us have it strong, my boy--h'm, `sweet'--yes,
yes--`amiable,' exactly, `fair hair and blue eyes'--ha, you expect me to
swallow _that_! oh, `graceful,' ha! `perfection,' undoubtedly.
`Forgive' you!  No--boy, I'll _never_ forgive you.  You're the most
arrant ass--idiot--but this caps all--`come out here and live with us!'
They'll give me one quarter of the wigwam, I suppose--curtained off with
birch-bark, _perhaps_, or deerskin.  `Your affectionate'--dolt! wh-why--
what do you glare like _that_ for?"

This last question was put to my small cousin, who, in the horror of her
belief that my father had gone mad, had agitated the window-curtain and
revealed herself!

My poor dear father!  I can imagine the scene well, and would not have
detailed it so minutely here if--but enough.  I must not forecast.

The afternoon on which this letter was despatched Big Otter returned to
Sunny Creek cottage with a haunch of fat venison on his lusty shoulders.

He found us all grouped round the rustic table in front of the door,
enjoying a cup of fragrant tea, and admiring the view.  Eve was sitting
on a low stool at the feet of Mrs Liston, engaged in ornamenting a
bright blue fire-bag with bead and quill work of the most gorgeous
colouring and elegant design.  The design, of course, was her own.  Mrs
Liston was knitting small squares of open cotton-work, of a stitch so
large that wooden needles about the size of a goose-quill were
necessary.  It was the only work that the poor old lady's weak eyesight
and trembling hands could accomplish, and the simple stitch required
little exercise of mind or muscle.  When Mrs Liston completed a square
she rolled it away.  When sixteen squares were finished, she sewed them
together and formed a strip about eight feet long and six inches broad.
When sixteen such strips were completed, she sewed them all together and
thus produced a bed-quilt.  Quilts of this sort she presented
periodically, with much ceremony and demonstration of regard, to her
most intimate friends.  In that region the old lady had not many
intimate friends, but then it luckily took much time to produce a quilt.

The quilt then in hand--at that time near its completion--was for Eve.

"Thank you _so_ much for your venison," said Mrs Liston, as the hunter,
with an air of native dignity, laid the haunch at her feet.  "Take it to
the kitchen, dear," she added to Mrs Temple, who was pouring out the
tea.

"It has just come in time," said Mrs Temple, with a pleasant nod to Big
Otter; "we had quite run out of fresh meat, and your friend Muxbee is
such a lazy boy that he never touches a gun.  In fact I don't know how
to get him out of the house even for an hour."

As this was said in English, Big Otter did not understand it, but when
he saw the speaker stoop to pick up the venison, he stepped quickly
forward and anticipated her.  "Thank you, carry it this way," said Aunt
Temple (as I had begun to style her), leading the Indian to the pantry
in rear of the cottage.

"Well, Big Otter," said I, when they returned, "now do you find the
country round here in regard to game?"

"There is much game," he answered.

"Then you'll make up your mind to pitch your wigwam here, I hope, and
make it your home."

"No, Big Otter's heart is in his own land in the far north.  He will go
back to it."

"What! and forsake Waboose?" said Eve, looking up from her work with an
expression of real concern.

With a gratified air the Indian replied, "Big Otter will return."

"Soon!"  I asked.

"Not very long."

"When do you start?"

"Before yon sun rises again," said Big Otter, pointing to the westward,
where the heavens above, and the heavens reflected in the lake below,
were suffused with a golden glow.

"Then I shall have to spend the most of the night writing," said I, "for
I cannot let you go without a long letter to my friend Lumley, and a
shorter one to Macnab.  I have set my heart on getting them both to
leave the service, and come here to settle alongside of me."

"You see, your friend Muxbee," said Aunt Temple, using the Indian's
pronunciation of my name, "is like the fox which lost his tail.  He
wishes all other foxes to cut off _their_ tails so as to resemble him."

"Am I to translate that?"  I asked.

"If you can and will."

Having done so, I continued,--"But seriously, Big Otter, I hope you will
try to persuade them to come here.  Give them a glowing account of the
country and the climate, and say I'll not marry till they come to dance
at my wedding.  I would not wait for that however, if it were not that
Eve thinks she is a little too young yet, and besides, she has set her
heart on my father being present.  I'll explain all that in my letters,
of course, but do you press it on them."

"And be sure you tell the dark-haired pale-face," said Eve, "that
Waboose expects her to come.  Give these from her friend Fairhair--she
was fond of calling me Fairhair."

Eve rose as she spoke, and produced a pair of beautiful moccasins, which
had been made and richly ornamented by her own hands.  At the same time
she presented the fire-bag to the Indian, adding that she was glad to
have had it so nearly ready when he arrived.

"For whom are these pretty things, my dear?" asked Mrs Liston.

"The fire-bag, mother, is for Big Otter, and the moccasins is--"

"Are, Eve--are--plural you know."

"_Is_," replied Eve, with emphasis, "for my dear friend, Jessie, the
black-haired pale-face."

"Well done, Waboose!" exclaimed Aunt Temple.  "I'm glad to see that you
improve under my tuition."

"You _can't_ spoil her," I retorted, quietly.

"Well, my dear," said Mrs Liston, "send a message from me to your
dark-haired pale-face that I shall begin a quilt for her next week."

"I hope she will come to receive it," said Aunt Temple.  "Tell her that,
Muxbee, with my love, and add that I hope we shall be good friends when
we meet.  Though I doubt it, for I can't bear Highlanders--they're so
dreadfully enthusiastic."

"How much of that message am I to send?"  I asked.

"As much as you please.  I can trust to your discretion."

That evening I retired to my snug little attic-room earlier than usual,
and, spreading out a large sheet of narrow-ruled foolscap paper before
me, began a letter to my old chum on the banks of lake Wichikagan.  I
had much to relate, for much had happened since I had sent off the brief
note by Salamander, and I found it difficult to check my pen when once
it had got into the flow of description and the rush of reminiscence and
the gush of reiterative affection.  I had covered the whole of the first
sheet of narrow-ruled foolscap, and got well into the second sheet--
which I had selected unruled, that I might write still more narrowly--
when I heard a gentle tap at the door.

I knew the tap well--sprang up and opened the door.  Eve stood there,
looking as modest and beautiful and elegant as ever--which is saying a
good deal, for, in deference to Mrs Liston's prejudices, she had
exchanged her old graceful tunic reaching to a little below the knee,
and her pretty bead-wrought leggings, and other picturesque
accompaniments of Indian life, for the long dress of civilisation.
However, I consoled myself with the fact that _nothing_ could spoil her,
and recalled with satisfaction the words (I don't quite remember them),
which refer to a rose smelling equally sweet under any other name.

"Prayers," said Eve.

Lest any one should feel perplexed by the brevity of her announcement, I
may mention that dear old Mrs Liston's habit was to recognise her "Best
Benefactor" night and morning by having worship in the household, and
invariably conducted it herself in her soft, slightly tremulous, but
still musical voice.

As we descended the stairs, Eve said,--"You must sit beside me to-night,
Geo'ge.  When you sit opposite you gaze too much and make me
uncomfortable."

"Certainly, dear one," said I.  "But pray don't call me Geo'ge--say
Geo-r-ge.  There's an r in it, you know."

"Yes, Geo-o-o-r-r-r-r-ge!"

"Eve," I whispered, as we sat on the sofa together, while Mrs Liston
was wiping her spectacles, "I've been earnestly considering that last
attempt of yours, and I think upon the whole, that `Geo'ge' is better."



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

A PECULIAR WEDDING AND A WONDERFUL WALK.

Turn we once again to the great wilderness, and if we do so with half
the zest felt by Big Otter when he set forth on his journey, we will
certainly enjoy the trip, you and I, whoever you be.

But we must take the journey at a bound.

It is Christmas-time once more.  Lake Wichikagan has put on its top-coat
of the purest Carrara marble.  The roof of the little fort once again
resembles a French cake overloaded with creamy sugar.  The pines are
black by contrast.  The willows are smothered, all save the tops where
the snow-flakey ptarmigan find food and shelter.  Smoke rises from the
various chimneys, showing that the dwellers in that remote outpost are
enjoying themselves as of old.  The volumes of smoke also suggest
Christmas puddings.

Let us look in upon our old friends.  In the men's house great
preparation for something or other is going on, for each man is doing
his best with soap, water, razor, brush, and garments, to make himself
spruce.  Salamander is there, before a circular looking-glass three
inches in diameter in the lid of a soap-box, making a complicated mess
of a neck-tie in futile attempts to produce the sailor's knot.  Blondin
is there, before a similar glass, carefully scraping the bristles round
a frostbite on his chin with a blunt razor.  Henri Coppet, having
already dressed, is smoking his pipe and quizzing Marcelle Dumont--who
is also shaving--one of his chief jokes being an offer to give Dumont's
razor a turn on the grindstone.  Donald Bane is stooping over a tin
basin on a chair, with his hair and face soap-sudded and his eyes tight
shut, which fact being observed by his friend Dougall, induces that
worthy to cry,--"Tonal', man--look here.  Did iver man or wuman see the
likes o' _that_!"

The invitation is so irresistible to Donald that he half involuntarily
exclaims, "Wow, man, Shames--what is't?" and opens his eyes to find that
Shames is laughing at him, and that soap does not improve sight.  The
old chief, Muskrat, is also there, having been invited along with Masqua
and his son Mozwa, with their respective squaws, to the great event that
is pending, and, to judge from the intense gravity--not to say owlish
solemnity--of these redskins, they are much edified by the proceedings
of the men.

In the hall preparations are also being carried on for something of some
sort.  Macnab is there, with his coat off, mounted on a chair, which he
had previously set upon a rickety table, hammering away at a festoon of
pine-branches with which one end of the room is being decorated.
Spooner is also there, weaving boughs into rude garlands of gigantic
size.  The dark-haired pale-face, Jessie, is there too, helping
Spooner--who might almost be called Spooney, he looks so imbecile and
sweet.  Jack Lumley is likewise there.  He is calm, collected, suave, as
usual, and is aiding Macnab.

It was a doubly auspicious day, for it was not only Christmas, but, a
wedding-day.

"It seems like a dream," cried Macnab, stopping his noisy hammer in
order to look round and comment with his noisy voice, "to think, Jessie,
that you should refuse at least a dozen sturdy Highlanders north o' the
Grampians, and come out to the backwoods at last to marry an
Englishman."

"I wish you would attend to what you are doing, brother," said Jessie,
blushing very much.

"She might have done worse," remarked Spooner, who happened to be an
Englishman.

Lumley said nothing, but a pleased smile flickered for a minute on his
lips, while Macnab resumed his hammering with redoubled zest to a
chuckling accompaniment.

"It would be nothing," he resumed, turning round again and lowering his
hammer, "if you hadn't always protested that you would _never_ marry,
but--oh, Jessie, I wonder at a girl who has always been so firm in
sticking to her resolves, turning out so fickle.  I really never thought
that the family of Macnab could be brought so low through one of its
female members."

"I know one of its male members," said Lumley, in a warning voice, "who
will be brought still lower if he keeps dancing about so on that
rickety--there--I told you so!"

As he spoke, Peter Macnab missed his footing and came down on the table
with a crash so tremendous that the crazy article of furniture became
something like what Easterns style a split-camel--its feeble legs spread
outwards, and its body came flat to the ground.

Sprawling for a moment Macnab rose dishevelled from a mass of
pine-branches and looked surprised.

"Not hurt, I hope," said Lumley, laughing, while Jessie looked anxious
for a moment.

"I--I think not.  No--evidently not.  Yes, Jessie, my dear, you may
regard this as a sort of practical illustration of the value of
submission.  If that table had resisted me I had been hurt, probably.
Giving way as it did--I'm all right."

"Your illustration is not a happy one," said Lumley, "for your own
safety was purchased at the cost of the table.  If you had taken the
lesson home, and said that `pride goes before a fall,' it would have
been more to the purpose."

"Perhaps so," returned Macnab, assisting to clear away the split table:
"my pride is at its lowest ebb now, anyhow, for not only does Jessie
Macnab become Mrs Lumley within an hour, but I am constrained to
perform the marriage ceremony myself, as well as give her away."

The Highlander here referred to the fact that, for the convenience of
those numerous individuals whose lives were spent in the Great
Nor'-west, far removed at that time from clergymen, churches, and other
civilised institutions, the commissioned gentlemen in the service of the
Hudson's Bay Company were legally empowered to perform the marriage
ceremony.

Of course Jessie regretted much the impossibility of procuring a
minister of any denomination to officiate in that remote corner of the
earth, and had pleaded for delay in order that they might go home and
get married there; but Lumley pointed out firstly, that there was not
the remotest chance of his obtaining leave of absence for years to come;
secondly, that the marriage tie, as tied by her brothers would be as
legally binding as if managed by an Archbishop of Canterbury or a
moderator of the Scottish General Assembly; and thirdly, that as he was
filled with as deep a reverence for the Church as herself, he would have
the rite re-performed, ("_ceremonially_, observe, Jessie, not _really_,
for that will be done to-day,") on the first possible opportunity.

If Jessie had been hard to convince, Lumley would not have ended that
little discourse with "thirdly."  As it was, Jessie gave in, and the
marriage was celebrated in the decorated hall, with voyageurs, and
hunters, and fur-traders as witnesses.  Macnab proved himself a worthy
minister, for he read the marriage-service from the Church of England
prayer-book with an earnest and slightly tremulous tone which betrayed
the emotion of his heart.  And if ever a true prayer, by churchman or
layman, mounted to the Throne, that prayer was the fervent, "God bless
you, Jessie!" to which the Highlander gave vent, as he pressed the bride
to his heart when the ceremony was over.

There were some peculiarities about this wedding in the wilderness which
call for special notice.  In the first place, the wedding-feast, though
held shortly after mid-day, was regarded as a dinner--not as a
breakfast.  It was rather more real, too, than civilised feasts of the
kind.  Those who sat down to it were hungry.  They meant feeding, as was
remarked by Salamander when more "venison steaks" were called for.  Then
there was no champagne or strong drink of any kind.  Teetotalism--with
or without principle--was the order of the day, but they had gallons of
tea, and they consumed them, too; and these stalwart Nor'westers
afterwards became as uproarious on that inspiring beverage as if they
had all been drunk.  There was this peculiarity, however, in their
uproar, that it was reasonable, hearty, good-humoured; did not
degenerate into shameful imbecility, or shameless impropriety, nor did
it end in stupid incapacity.  It subsided gradually into pleasant
exhaustion, and terminated in profound refreshing slumber.

Before that point was reached, however, much had to be done.  Games had
to be undertaken as long as the daylight lasted--chief among which were
tobogganing down the snow-slope, and football on the ice.  Then, after
dark, the Hall was lighted up with an extra supply of candles round the
room--though the powerful blaze of the mighty wood fire in the open
chimney rendered these almost unnecessary, and another feast was
instituted under the name of supper, though it commenced at the early
hour of six o'clock.

At this feast there was some speechifying--partly humorous and partly
touching--and it remains a disputed point to this day whether the
touching was more humorous or the humorous more touching.  I therefore
refrain from perplexing the reader with the speeches in detail.  Only
part of one speech will I refer to, as it may be said to have had a sort
of prophetic bearing on our tale.  It fell from the lips of Lumley.

"My friends," he said, with that grave yet pleasant urbanity which I
have before said was so natural to him, "there is only one regret which
I will venture to express on this happy day, and it is this, that some
of those who were wont to enliven us with their presence at Fort
Wichikagan, are not with us to-night.  I really do not think there would
be a single element wanting in the joy which it has pleased a loving God
to send me, if I could only have had my dear young friend, George Maxby,
to be my best man--"

He had to pause a few moments at this point, because of noisy
demonstrations of assent.

"And I am quite sure," he continued, "that it would have afforded as
much satisfaction to you as it would to my dear wife and me, if we could
only have had our sedate friend, Big Otter--"

Again he had to pause, for the shouting with which this name was
received not only made the rafters ring, but caused the very candles on
the walls to wink.

"If we could only have had Big Otter," repeated Lumley, "to dance at our
wedding.  But it is of no use to sigh after the impossible.  The days of
miracles are over, and--"

As he spoke the hall door slowly opened, and a sight appeared which not
only bereft the speaker of speech, but for a few minutes absolutely
petrified all the rest of the company.  It was the face and figure of a
man--tall, gaunt and worn.

Now, good reader, as Lumley said (without very good authority!) the days
of miracles are over, yet I venture to think that many events in this
life do so much resemble miracles that we could not distinguish them
from such unless the keys to their solution were given to us.

I give you the key to the supposed miracle now in hand, by asking you to
accompany me deep into the wild-woods, and backward in time to about an
hour before noon of the day preceding Christmas.  It is a tangled shady
spot to which I draw attention, the snow-floor of which is over-arched
by dark pine-branches and surrounded by walls of willows and other
shrubs.  There is a somewhat open circular space in the centre of the
spot, into which an Indian on snow-shoes strode at the hour mentioned.
Even his most intimate friends might have failed at a first glance to
recognise Big Otter, for he was at the time very near the close of a
long, hard, wearisome journey, during the course of which he had
experienced both danger and privation.  Latterly he had conceived an
idea, which he had striven with all his powers--and they were not
small--to carry out.  It was neither more nor less than to arrive in
time to spend Christmas Day with his friends at Fort Wichikagan.

But to accomplish this feat, commencing at the time he conceived it,
required that the Indian should travel without fail upwards of forty
miles every day.  This, on snow-shoes, could only be done by a very
Hercules, and that only for a few days at a stretch.  Big Otter knew his
powers of endurance, and had carried out his resolve nearly to
completion, when a storm arose so fierce, with temperature so bitterly
cold, that he could not force against it, and thus lost the greater part
of a day.  Still, the thing was not impossible, and, as the difficulties
multiplied, our Indian's resolve to conquer increased.

In this state of mind, and much worn and fagged in body, with soiled and
rent garments that told of weeks upon weeks of toil, he entered the
circle, or open space before referred to, and, coming to a stand, rested
the butt of his gun on one of his snowshoes, heaved a deep sigh, and
looked round, as if undecided how to act.

But Big Otter's periods of indecision never lasted long.  Being
naturally of a sociable turn of mind he partially revealed his mental
condition by low mutterings which I take leave to translate.

"Yes, I can do it.  The pale-faces are pleasant men; pleasanter at
Christmas-time than at other times.  They love song, and Big Otter loves
to hear song, though he does not love to do it.  Men do not love to try
what they cannot do.  The pale-faces have much food, too, on Christmas
Day, and much good-will.  Big Otter loves both the good-will and the
food, especially that round thing they are so fond of--plum-puddinn they
call it.  They dance much also.  Dancing gives not much joy, though Big
Otter can do some of it--but plum-puddinn is glorious!  Waugh!  I will
do it!"

Having communed with himself thus far, the Indian leaned his gun against
a tree, flung down his provision-bag, took off his snow-shoes, cleared
away the snow, kindled a fire, spread his bed of pine-brush and his
blanket above it--and, in short went through the usual process of
encamping.  It was early in the day to encamp, but there was only one
way in which our Indian could hope to partake of the plum-puddinn, and
that was to walk a little over fifty miles at one stretch.  That
distance still lay between him and Fort Wichikagan, and it had to be
traversed within fourteen and fifteen hours--including rests and food.

To prepare himself for the feat Big Otter drew from his wallet an
enormous mass of venison which he roasted and consumed.  Then he filled
a small portable kettle with snow, which, with the aid of a fierce fire,
he soon converted into tea.  You see our Indian was becoming civilised
by intercourse with pale-faces, and rather luxurious, for he carried tea
and sugar on this journey.  He did not deem butter a necessity, but
could afford to dispense with that, because of having the remains of a
rogan, or birch basket, of bear's grease (unscented, of course!) which
he had reserved at the end of his fall hunt.

The meal, or rather the gorging, over, Big Otter rolled himself head and
feet in a blanket, pillowed his head on the provision-wallet, and
suddenly went to sleep.

Hour after hour passed, but not the slightest motion was perceptible in
that recumbent figure save the slow regular rise and fall of the deep
chest.  The short-lived sun of winter soon passed its zenith and began
to decline towards its early couch in the west, but still the sleeper
lay motionless like a log.  At last the shades of early evening began to
fall, and then Big Otter awoke.  He rose at once, stretched himself with
a sort of awful energy, rolled up his blanket, put on his snow-shoes,
caught up wallet and gun, and set off on his journey.

To see a strong man stride over the land on snowshoes is a grand sight
at any time, but to see Big Otter do it on this occasion would have been
worth a long journey.  With his huge and weighty frame and his mighty
stride he made nothing of small obstacles, and was but little affected
by things that might have retarded ordinary mortals.  Small bushes went
down before him like grass, larger ones he turned aside, and thick ones
he went crashing through like an African elephant through jungle, while
the fine frosted snow went flying from his snow-shoes right and left.
There was no hesitancy or wavering as to direction or pace.  The land he
was acquainted with, every inch.  Reserve force, he knew, lay stored in
every muscle, and he was prepared to draw it all out when fatigue should
tell him that revenue was expended and only capital remained.

As the sun went down the moon rose up.  He had counted on this and on
the fact that the land was comparatively open.  Yet it was not
monotonous.  Now he was crossing a stretch of prairie at top speed, anon
driving through a patch of woodland.  Here he went striding over the
surface of a frozen river, or breasting the slope of a small hill.  As
the night wore on he tightened his belt but did not halt to do so.  Once
or twice he came to a good-sized lake where all impediments vanished.
Off went the snowshoes and away he went over the marble surface at a
slow trot--slow in appearance, though in reality quicker than the
fastest walk.

Then the moon went down and the grey light of morning--Christmas
morning--dawned.  Still the red-man held on his way unchanged--
apparently unchangeable.  When the sun was high, he stopped suddenly
beside a fallen tree, cleared the snow off it, and sat down to eat.  He
did not sit long, and the breakfast was a cold one.

In a few minutes the journey was resumed.  The Indian was drawing
largely on his capital now, but, looking at him, you could not have told
it.  By a little after six o'clock that evening the feat was
accomplished, and, as I have said, Big Otter presented himself at a
critical moment to the wonder-stricken eyes of the wedding guests.

"Did they make much of him?" you ask.  I should think they did!  "Did
they feed him?"  Of course they did--stuffed him to repletion--set him
down before the massive ruins of the plum-puddinn, and would not let him
rise till the last morsel was gone!  Moreover, when Big Otter discovered
that he had arrived at Fort Wichikagan, not only on Christmas Day, but
on Chief Lumley's wedding-day, his spirit was so rejoiced that his
strength came back again unimpaired, like Sampson's, and he danced that
night with the pale-faces, till the small hours of the morning, to the
strains of a pig-in-its-agonies fiddle, during which process he consumed
several buckets of hot tea.  He went to rest at last on a buffalo robe
in a corner of the hall in a state of complete exhaustion and perfect
felicity.



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

THE WILDERNESS AGAIN--NEW PLANS MOOTED--TREACHEROUS ICE, AND A BRAVE
RESCUE.

The well-known disinclination of time and tide to wait for any man holds
good in the wilderness of the Great Nor'-west, as elsewhere.

Notwithstanding the momentous events which took place at Fort Wichikagan
and in Colorado, as detailed in preceding chapters, the winter passed
away as usual, spring returned, and the voice of the grey-goose and
plover began once more to gladden the heart of exiled man.

Jack Lumley sat on a rustic chair in front of the Hall, gazing with
wistful eyes at the still ice-covered lake, and occasionally consulting
an open letter in his hand with frowning looks of meditation.  The sweet
voice of Jessie Lumley came from the interior of the Hall, trilling a
tuneful Highland air, which, sweeping over the lawn and lake, mingled
with the discords of the plover and geese, thus producing a species of
wild-wood harmony.

Peter Macnab--who, since the memorable day when the table became a
split-camel under his weight, had been to the Mountain Fort and got back
again to Wichikagan--came up, sat down on a bench beside his
brother-in-law, and said,--"Shall I become a prophet?"

"Perhaps you'd better not, Macnab.  It is not safe to sail under false
colours, or pretend to powers which one does not possess."

"But what if I feel a sort of inspiration which convinces me that I do
possess prophetic powers, at least to some extent?"

"Then explode and relieve yourself by all means," said Lumley.

"You have read that letter," resumed Macnab, "at least fifty times, if
you have read it once."

"If you had said that I had read it a hundred and fifty times," returned
Lumley, "you would have been still under the mark."

"Just so.  And you have meditated over it, and dreamed about it, and
talked it over with your wife at least as many times--if not more."

"Your claim to rank among the prophets is indisputable, Macnab--at least
as regards the past.  What have you got to say about the future?"

"The future is as clear to me, my boy, as yonder sun, which gleams in
the pools that stud the ice on Lake Wichikagan."

"I am afraid, brother-in-law," returned Lumley, with a pitiful smile,
"that your intellects are sinking to a par with those of the geese which
fly over the pools referred to."

"Listen!" resumed the Highlander, with a serious air that was unusual in
him.  "I read the future thus.  You have already, as I am aware, sent in
your resignation.  Well, you will not only quit the service of the HBC,
but you will go and join your friend Maxby in Colorado; you will become
a farmer; and, worst of all, you will take my dear sister with you."

"In some respects," said Lumley, also becoming serious, "you are right.
I have made up my mind that, God willing, I shall quit the service--not
that I find fault with it, very much the reverse; but it is too much of
a life of exile and solitude to my dear Jessie.  I will also go to
Colorado and join Maxby, but I won't take your sister from you.  I will
take you with me, brother-in-law, if you will consent to go, and we
shall all live together.  What say you?"

Macnab shook his head, sadly.

"You forget my boy, that your case is very different from mine.  You
have only just reached the end of your second term of service, and are
still a youth.  Whereas, I am a commissioned officer of the Fur Trade,
with a fairish income, besides being an elderly man, and not very keen
to throw all up and begin life over again."

There was much in what Macnab said, yet not so much but that Lumley set
himself, with all his powers of suasion and suavity, to induce his
brother-in-law to change his mind.  But Lumley had yet to learn that no
power of Saxon logic, or personal influence, can move the will of a man
from beyond the Grampian range who has once made up his mind.

When all was said, Macnab still shook his head, and smiled regretfully.

"It's of no use wasting your breath, my boy,--but tell me, is Jessie
anxious for this change?"

"She is anxious.  She naturally pines for female society--though she did
not say so until I urged her solemnly to tell me all her mind.  And she
is right.  It is not good for woman, any more than for man, to be alone,
and when I am away on these long expeditions--taking the furs to the
depot, searching out the Indians, hunting, etcetera,--she is left
unavoidably alone.  I have felt this very strongly, and that was why, as
you know, I had made up my mind during the winter, and written to the
governor and council that, as my time had expired, I meant to retire
this spring."

"Yes, boy, I know," returned Macnab.  "I foresaw all this even long
before you began to move in the matter, and I also took steps with a
view to contingencies.  You know that I am entitled to a year's furlough
this spring.  Well, I wrote during the winter to say that I intended to
avail myself of it.  Now, then, this is what I intend to do.  When you
retire, and go off to the States, I will go with you on leave of
absence.  We won't lose time by the way, for you may depend on it that
Maxby will not delay his wedding longer than he can help.  Fortunately,
his old father won't be able to wind up his affairs in England, and set
off to Colorado quite as quickly as the son expects, so that will help
to delay matters; and thus, though we can hardly expect to be in time
for the wedding, we will at least be time enough to claim a revival and
extension of the festivities.  Then, you know, Big Otter--"

"Aye, what of him?" asked Lumley, seeing that Macnab paused.

"Well, I think we may prevail on him to go with us, as our guide, till
we reach the civilised world, after which, we can take him in charge--
turn the tables as it were--and guide him to Sunny Creek."

"Yes--or send him on in advance of us, through the wood in a straight
line, like the swallow, to announce our approach."

At this point, Jessie, who had been busy with the household bread, came
to the door with a face radiant from the combined effect of hard work
and happiness.

"What is the subject of all this earnest conversation, Jack?" she asked,
pulling down the sleeves that had been tucked up above her elbows.

"Ask your brother, Jess," said Lumley, rising.  "I shall have time
before supper to pay a visit to Big Otter on a matter of some
importance."

He passed into the house to take up his gun and powder-horn, while
Jessie sat down on the rustic chair, and her brother returned to the
subject that had been interrupted.

Now there occurred that afternoon an event which might have put a final
and fatal termination to the plans which had just been so eagerly
discussed.

I have said that spring was so far advanced at that time, that pools of
water were formed on the ice of Lake Wichikagan.  The heat which caused
these had also the effect of softening the snow in the woods, so as to
render walking in snow-shoes very laborious.  As walking without them,
however, was impossible, Lumley had no other course left than to put
them on and plod away heavily through the deep and pasty snow.

Big Otter at that time occupied the important position of hunter to the
establishment.  He supplied it with fresh meat and dwelt in a small
wigwam, about six miles distant from the fort, on the borders of a
little lake--little at least for that region, but measuring somewhat
over three miles in diameter.  He also, for his own advantage and
recreation, carried on the business of a trapper, and had that winter
supplied many a silver fox and marten to the fur-stores at Wichikagan.

When Lumley set out to visit the chief he knew that there was a
possibility of his being out after deer, but in that case he meant to
await his arrival, at least until nightfall, and then he could leave a
hieroglyphic message, which the Indian would understand, requiring his
immediate presence at the fort.  In any case Lumley thought nothing of a
twelve-mile walk, even though the snow _was_ soft and deep.

Nothing worthy of notice occurred until he reached the lake
above-mentioned, on the borders of which he halted.  Looking across the
bay, on the other side of which the hunter's wigwam stood, he could
discern among the pines and willows, the orange-coloured birch-bark of
which it was made, but no wreath of blue smoke told of the presence of
the hunter.

"H'm! not at home!" muttered Lumley, who then proceeded to debate with
himself the propriety of venturing to cross the bay on the ice.

Now, it must be told that ice on the North American lakes becomes
exceedingly dangerous at a certain period of spring, for, retaining much
of its winter solidity of appearance, and, indeed, much of its winter
thickness, it tempts men to venture on it when, in reality, it has
become honeycombed and "rotten."  Ice of this kind--no matter how thick
it be,--is prone to give way without any of those friendly cracks and
rends and other warnings peculiar to the new ice of autumn, and, instead
of giving way in angular cakes, it suddenly slides down, letting a man
through to the water, by opening a hole not much larger than himself.
Of course Lumley was well aware of this danger--hence the debate with
himself, or rather with his judgment.

"It looks solid enough," said Lumley.

"Looks are deceptive," said his judgment.

"Then, it's rather early yet for the ice to have become quite rotten,"
said Lumley.

"So everyone goes on saying, every spring, till some unfortunate loses
his life, and teaches others wisdom," said judgment; "besides, you're a
heavy man."

"And it is a tremendous long way round by the shore--nearly four times
the distance," murmured Lumley.

"What of that in comparison with the risk you run," remarked judgment,
growing impatient.

"I'll venture it!" said the man, sternly.

"You're a fool!" cried the other, getting angry.

It is surprising with what equanimity a man will stand insulting
language from himself!  With something like a contemptuous smile on his
lips, Lumley took off his snow-shoes and set off to cross the bay.

As he had anticipated, he found it as firm as a rock.  The surface,
indeed, had a dark wet look about it, and there were various pools here
and there which he carefully avoided; but there was no other indication
of danger until he had got three-quarters of the way across.  Then,
without an instant's warning, the mass of ice on which he stood dropped
below him like a trap-door and left him struggling in a compound of ice
and water!

The first shock of the cold water on his robust frame was to give it a
feeling of unusual strength.  With a sharp shout, caused by the cold
rather than alarm, he laid both hands on the edge of the ice, and,
springing like an acrobat out of the water to his waist, fell with his
chest on the still sound ice; but it was not long sound.  His convulsive
grip and heavy weight broke it off, and down he sank again, over head
and ears.

It is not easy to convince a very powerful man that he may become
helpless.  Lumley rose, and, with another Herculean grip, laid hold of
the edge of the ice.  His mind had not yet fully admitted that he was in
absolute danger.  He had only been recklessly vigorous at the first
attempt to get out--that was all--now, he would exercise caution.

With the coolness that was natural to him--increased, perhaps, by the
coolness of the water--he again laid his hands on the edge of the ice,
but he did not try to scramble upon it.  He had been a practised gymnast
at school.  Many a time had he got into a boat from deep water while
bathing, and he knew that in such an effort one is hampered by the
tendency one's legs have to get under the boat and prevent action--even
as, at that moment, his legs were attempting to go under the ice.
Adopting, therefore, his old plan and keeping his hands on the edge of
the ice, he first of all paddled backwards with his legs until he got
himself into a quite perpendicular position, so that when he should make
the spring there would be no fear of retarding his action by scraping
against the ice with his chest.  While in this position he let himself
sink to the very lips--nay, even lower--and then, acting with arms and
legs at the same moment, he shot himself full half his length out of the
water.

The whole process was well calculated, for, by sinking so deeply before
the spring, he thus made use of the buoyancy of water, and rendered less
pressure with his hands on the ice needful.  But, although he thus
avoided breaking the ice at first he could not by any device lessen the
weight of his fall upon it.  Again the treacherous mass gave way, and
once more he sank into the cold lake.

Cold, far more than exertion, tells on a man in such circumstances.  A
feeling of exhaustion, such as poor Lumley had never felt before, came
over him.

"God help me!" he gasped, with the fervour that comes over men when in
the hour of their extremity.

Death seemed at last evidently to confront him, and with the energy of a
brave man he grappled and fought him.  Again and again he tried the
faithless ice, each time trying to recall some device in athletics which
might help him, but always with the same result.  Then, still clinging
to life convulsively, he prayed fervently and tried to meet his fate
like a man.  This effort is probably more easy on the battle-field, with
the vital powers unexhausted, and the passions strong.  It was not so
easy in the lone wilderness, with no comrade's voice to cheer, with the
cold gradually benumbing all the vital powers, and with life slipping
slowly away like an unbelievable dream!

The desire to live came over him so strongly at times, that again and
yet again, he struggled back from the gates of the dark valley by the
mere power of his will and renewed his fruitless efforts; and when at
last despair took possession of him, from the depths of his capacious
chest he gave vent to that:--

  "Bubbling cry
  Of some strong swimmer in his agony!"

Sleeping soundly in his wigwam, Big Otter heard the cry.

Our Indian was not the man to start up and stare, and wonder, and wait
for a repetition of any cry.  Like the deer which he had so often
roused, he leaped up, bounded through the doorway of his tent, and
grasped gun and snow-shoes.  One glance sufficed to show him the not far
distant hole in the ice.  Dropping the gun he thrust his feet into the
snowshoes, and went off over the ice at racing speed.  The snow-shoes
did not impede him much, and they rendered the run over the ice less
dangerous.  Probably Lumley would not have broken through if he had used
his snow-shoes, because of the larger surface of ice which they would
have covered.

To come within a few yards of the hole, slide to the edge of it on his
chest, with both snow-shoes spread out under that, by way of diffusing
his weight over as much surface as possible, was the work of only a few
minutes.  But by that time the perishing man was almost incapable of
helping himself.  The great difficulty that the rescuer experienced was
to rouse Lumley once more to action, for the torpor that precedes death
had already set in, and to get on his knees on the edge of the ice, so
as to have power to raise his friend, would only have resulted in the
loss of his own life as well.  To make sure that he should not let go
his hold and slip, Big Otter tied the end of his long worsted belt round
his friend's right wrist.

"Now," he said, earnestly, "try once more."

"Too late--too late!  God bless you, Big--" He stopped, and his eyes
closed!

"No!" cried the Indian, vehemently, giving the perishing man's head a
violent shake--then, putting his mouth close to his ear, added in a deep
tone--"Not too late for the Master of Life to save.  Think!  The
dark-haired pale-face waits for you."

This was a judicious touch.  The energy which could not be aroused by
any consideration of self was electrified by the thought of the waiting
wife.  Lumley made one more desperate effort and once again cried to God
for help.  Both acts contributed to the desired end, and were themselves
an answer to the prayer of faith.  Mysterious connection!  Hope revived,
and the vital fluid received a fresh impulse.  In the strength of it
Lumley raised himself so far out of the water that the Indian was able
to drag half his body on the ice, but the legs still hung down.
Creeping back a few feet, the Indian, still lying flat on his face, cut
a hole in the ice with his hatchet into which he stuck his toe, and
seized hold of the end of his worsted belt.

"That's right," said his friend, faintly--"wait."

Big Otter knew that full consciousness had returned.  He waited while
Lumley, gently paddling with his legs, got them into a horizontal
position.

"Now!" cried Lumley.

The Indian pulled--softly at first, then vigorously, and Lumley slid
fairly on the ice.  The rest, though still dangerous, was easy.  In a
few minutes more the red-man had the pale-face stripped beside a rousing
fire in the wigwam--and thus he brought him back to life from the very
gates of death.

"You have saved me, my good friend," said Lumley, when he began to
recover.

"The Great Master of Life saved you," returned the Indian.  "He made use
of me--for which I thank him."

It was not until late on the following day that Lumley felt strong
enough to return to the fort, and relate what had occurred.  Then the
plans for the future were laid before Big Otter, and, to the
satisfaction of all parties, he agreed at once to fall in with them.

"But," said he, "Big Otter will not stay.  He loves the great wilderness
too well to be content to live among the wooden wigwams of the
pale-faces."

"Well, we won't bother ourselves on that point just now," said Macnab,
"and so, as that's comfortably settled, I'll pack up and away back to my
mountain fort to get ready for a trip, with you and Lumley and Jessie,
to Colorado."



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

THE LAST.

Once more I change the scene, from the wild regions of the north to the
little less wild lands of Colorado.

On a certain bright forenoon in Autumn I stood in the doorway of Sunny
Creek Cottage watching a clumsy vehicle as it laboured slowly up the
hill.  I was alone that day, old Mrs Liston, Eve, and "Aunt Temple"
having gone off in the waggon for a long drive to visit a relative with
hunting proclivities, who had built himself a log-hut in a ravine of the
neighbouring mountains, that he might be in closer proximity to the
bears and deer.

With some curiosity I approached the lumbering machine to assist the
occupant, who seemed unable, or too impatient, to open the door.  It was
a stiff door, and swung open with a jerk which caused the occupant's hat
to fall off, and reveal a bald head.

"Father!"  I gasped.

"Punch, my boy!"

The dear old man tripped in his haste to get down, plunged into my
bosom, threw his arms round my neck to save himself, and almost bore me
to the ground.  Neither of us being demonstrative in our affections,
this unpremeditated, not to say unintentional, embrace I felt to be
quite touching.  My father obviously resolved to make the most of his
opportunities, for he gave me a thoroughly exhaustive hug before
releasing me.

"I--I--didn't m-mean," said my father, blazing with excitement, and
gasping with a mingled tendency to laugh and weep, "didn't mean to come
it quite so strong, P-Punch, my boy, b-but you'll make allowance for a
momentary weakness.  I'm getting an old man, Punch.  What makes you grin
so, you backwoods koonisquat?"

The last sentence, with its opprobrious epithet (coined on the spot),
was addressed with sudden asperity to the driver of the clumsy vehicle,
who was seated on his box, with mouth expanded from ear to ear.

"Wall, stranger, if you will insist on knowin'," said he, "It's sympathy
that makes me grin.  I _do_ like to see human natur' out of its
go-to-meetin' togs, with its saddle off, an' no bridal on, spurtin'
around in gushin' simplicity.  But you're wrong, stranger," continued
the driver, with a grave look, "quite wrong in callin' me a koonisquat.
I _have_ dropt in the social scale, but I ain't got quite so low as
that, I guess, by a long chalk."

"Well, you compound of Welshman and Yankee, be off and refresh
yourself," returned my father, putting an extra dollar, over and above
his fare, into the man's hand, "but don't consume it on your filthy
fire-water cock-tails, or gin-slings, or any other kind of sling-tails.
If you must drink, take it out in strong hot coffee."

The man drove off, still grinning, and I hurried my father into the
cottage where, while I set before him a good luncheon, he gave me a
wildly rambling and interjectional account of his proceedings since the
date of his last letter to me.

"But why did you take me by surprise in this way, dear daddy; why didn't
you let me know you were coming?"

"Because I like to take people by surprise, especially ill-doing
scapegraces like--by the way," said my father, suddenly laying down his
knife and fork, "where is she?"

"Where is who?"

"She--her, of course; the--the girl, the Hottentot, the savage.  Oh!
George, what an ass you are!"

"If you mean Eve, sir," said I, "she is away from home--and everybody
else along with her.  That comes of your taking people by surprise, you
see.  Nobody prepared to receive you; nothing ready.  No sheets aired
even."

"Well, well, Punch, my boy, don't be sharp with your old father.  I
won't offend again.  By the way," he added, quickly, "you're not married
_yet_? eh?"

"No, not yet."

"Ah!" said my father with a sigh of relief, as he resumed his knife and
fork, "then there's the barest chance of a possibility that if--but
you've asked her to marry you, eh?"

"Yes, I have asked her."

"And she has accepted you?"

"Yes, she has accepted me.  I wrote all that to you long ago."

"Ah!" said my father, with a profound sigh of resignation, "then there
is _no_ chance of a possibility, for if a man tries to win the
affections of a girl and succeeds, he is bound in honour to marry her--
even though he were the Emperor of China, and she a--a Hottentot.  Now,
Punch, I have made up my mind to like the girl, even though she painted
scarlet circles round her eyes, and smeared her nose with sky-blue--but
you _must_ let your poor old father blow off the steam, for you have
been such a--a donkey!--such a hasty, impatient, sentimental, romantic
idiot, that--another glass of that milk, my boy.  Thank'ee, where do you
get it?  Beats English milk hollow."

"Got it from one of our numerous cows, daddy," said I, with a short
laugh at this violent change of the subject, "and my Eve made the
butter."

"Did she, indeed?  Well, I'm glad she's fit for even that small amount
of civilised labour; but you have not told me yet when I shall see her?"

"That is a question I cannot exactly answer," said I, "but you will at
all events be introduced to-night to her father's mother, and her cousin
(whom we call aunt), as well as to a young lady--a Miss Waboose--who is
staying with us at present.  And now, father," I added, "come, and we'll
have a stroll round the farm.  I don't expect the ladies back till
evening.  Meanwhile, I want you to do me a favour; to humour what I may
call a whim."

"If it's not a very silly one, Punch, I'll do it, though I have not much
confidence in your wisdom _now_."

"It is simply that you should agree, for this night only, to pass
yourself off for a very old friend of mine.  You need not tell fibs, or
give a false name.  You are a namesake, you know.  There are lots of
Maxbys in the world!"

"Weak, my boy; decidedly weak.  They'll be sure to see through it and I
won't be able to recollect not to call you Punch."

"No matter.  Call me Punch.  I'll tell them you are a very familiar old
friend--a sort of relation, too, which will account for the name."

"Well, well," said my father, with a smile of pity, "I'll not object to
humour your whim, but it's weak--worthy of a man who could engage
himself to a miserable red-Indian Hottentot!"

This being finally settled, and my father having been pretty well
exhausted by his ramble round the farm, I set him down on the rustic
chair with a newspaper and left him, saying that I should be back in an
hour or so.

I knew the road by which the waggon was to return, walked along it
several miles, and then waited.  Soon it drove up to the spot where I
stood.  They were surprised to see me, but more surprised when I ordered
the ladies to get out, and walk with me, while the coachman drove on
slowly in advance.

Then I hurriedly told of my father's arrival, and explained more fully
than I had yet ventured to do his misconceptions and prejudices as to
Eve.  "Now, I want you all," said I, "to help me to remove these
prejudices and misconceptions as quickly as possible by falling in with
my little plans."

Hereupon I explained that my father was to be introduced as an old
friend and namesake, while Eve was to be presented to him as a visitor
at the cottage named Miss Waboose.  I had feared that old Mrs Liston
would not enter into my plan, but found that, on the contrary, having a
strong sense of humour, she quite enjoyed the notion of it.  So did Aunt
Temple, but Eve herself felt doubtful of her ability to act out her
part.  I had no doubt on that point, for she had undertaken it, and well
did I know that whatever Eve undertook she could, and would, accomplish.

It might be tedious to recount in detail the scenes that followed.  The
dear old man was charmed with Miss Waboose--as I had fully expected--and
Miss Waboose was more than charmed with the dear old man!  So that when
we bade the ladies good-night, he kissed her fair forehead with quite
fatherly tenderness.

When I conducted the old man to his room I was struck, and made quite
anxious, by the disconsolate expression of his face, and asked earnestly
what was wrong.

"Wrong!" he exclaimed, almost petulantly.  "Everything's wrong.  More
particularly, _you_ are wrong.  Oh, George, I _can't_ get over it.  To
think that you are tied hard and fast--_irrevocably_--to--a red-Indian--
a painted savage--a Hottentot.  It is too--too bad!"

He kicked off one of his shoes so viciously at this point, that it went
straight into, and smashed, a looking-glass; but he didn't seem to care
a straw for that.  He did not even condescend to notice it.

"And to think, too," he continued, "that you might have had that
adorable young lady, Miss Waboose, who--in spite of her heathenish
name--is the most charming, artless, modest young creature I ever saw.
Oh!  Punch, Punch, what a consummate idiot you have been."

It was impossible to help laughing at my poor father's comical
expression of chagrin, as he sat on the edge of his bed, slapped his
hands down on both knees and looked up in my face.

"Excuse me, daddy, but what ground have you for supposing that Miss
Waboose would accept me, even if I were free to ask her hand?"

"Ground?  Why the ground that she is fond of you.  Any man with half an
eye could see that, by the way she looks at and speaks to you.  Of
course you have not observed that.  I trust, my boy, you are too
honourable to have encouraged it.  Nevertheless, it is a fact--a
miserable, tantalising, exasperating fact--a maddening fact, now that
that hideous red-Indian--Hottentot stands in the way."

"That red-Indian--Hottentot," said I, unable any longer to cause my dear
father so much pain, "does _not_ stand in the way, for I am happy to
tell you that Miss Waboose and Eve are one and the same person."

"Come, come, Punch," returned my parent, testily, "I'm in no humour for
jesting.  Go away, and let me get to bed and pillow my head on oblivion
if possible."

I do assure you, reader, that I had no slight difficulty in persuading
my father that Eve Liston and Waboose were really the same person.

"But the girl's _fair_," objected my father, when the truth began to
force an entrance.

"Yes--`passing fair,'" said I.

"And with blue eyes and golden hair!" said he.

"Even so," said I.

"No more like a savage than I am?" said my father.

"Much less so," said I.

When at length he did take in the fact, he flung his arms round my neck
for the second time that day, and did his best to strangle me.  Then,
under a sudden impulse, he thrust me out into the passage and shut and
locked the door.

"You won't pillow your head on oblivion now, will you, daddy?"  I asked
through the keyhole.

"Get away, you deceiver!" was the curt reply.

But surprises did not come singly at that time.  Call it a miracle, or a
coincidence, or what you will, it is a singular fact that, on the very
next day, there arrived at Sunny Creek cottage four travellers--namely,
Jack Lumley, the black-haired pale-face, Peter Macnab, and Big Otter.

On beholding each other, Jessie Lumley and Eve Liston, uttering each a
little shriek, rushed into each other's arms, and straightway, for the
space of five minutes, became a human amalgam.

"Not too late, I hope?" said Lumley, after the first excitement of
meeting was over.

"Too late for what?" said I.

"For the wedding, of course," said he.

"By no means.  It is fixed for this day three weeks."

"Good--Jessie and I will have the knot tightened a little on the same
day by the same man."

"Wind and weather permitting," said Macnab, with his wonted irreverence.
"Now, Maxby, my boy, take us into the house, and introduce us to old
Mrs Liston.  But what splendid creature is this coming towards us?"

"Why that's Aunt Temple," I whispered, as she came forward.  "Let me
introduce you, aunt, to Mr Macnab--the jolly fur-trader of whom you
have heard me speak so often and so much."

Macnab made a profound obeisance, and Aunt Temple returned a dignified
bow, expressing herself, "much pleased to make the acquaintance,"
etcetera, and saying that Mrs Liston, being unable to come out to greet
them, was anxious that we should enter.  "Particularly Big Otter," said
Aunt Temple, turning to the grave chief, "for whom she has a very great
regard."

Thus invited and specially complimented, our tall Indian stooped to
enter the cottage door, but not being accustomed to the wooden wigwams
of the pale-faces, he did not stoop low enough, struck his head against
the top, and rather damaged an eagle's feather, with which his hair was
decorated.

Nothing, almost, could upset the dignity and imperturbable gravity of
Big Otter.  He stooped lower to conquer the difficulty, and when inside
drew himself up to his full height, so that the eagle's feather touched
the ceiling, and tickled up some flies that were reposing in fancied
security there.

Glancing round till his black eyes caught sight of old Mrs Liston in a
darkish corner on a sofa, he stepped forward, and, stooping to grasp one
of her small hands in both of his, said tenderly--"Watchee."

"What cheer--what cheer?" said the accommodating old lady, responding to
the salutation in kind.  "Tell him, George, that I'm _so_ happy to see
once again the friend of my beloved William."

"Big Otter rejoices to meet again the mother of Weeum," replied the
Indian.

"And tell him," said Mrs Listen, "that I hope he has now come to stay
with us altogether."

The Indian smiled gravely, and shook his head, intimating that the
question required consideration.

When the other members of the party were introduced--Jessie and Eve
having been separated for the purpose--we all adjourned to the verandah
to interchange news.

Need it be said that we had much to hear and tell?  I think not.
Neither need the fact be enlarged on, that we all retired late that
night, in a state of supreme felicity and mental exhaustion.

There was one exception, however, as regards the felicity, for Mrs
Liston, out of regard for the friend of her darling William, insisted
that Big Otter should occupy the best bedroom on the ground floor.  The
result was eminently unsatisfactory, for Big Otter was not accustomed to
best bedrooms.  Eve conducted the Indian to his room.  He cared nothing
for his comfort, and was prepared humbly to do whatever he was bid.  He
silently followed her and looked round the room with open-mouthed wonder
as she pointed to his bed and, with a pleasant nod, left him.

Resting his gun in a corner--for he never parted with that weapon night
or day--and laying his powder-horn and shot-pouch on the ground, he drew
his tomahawk and scalping-knife, and was about to deposit them beside
the horn, when his eye suddenly fell on a gigantic Indian crouching, as
if on the point of springing on him.  Like lightning he sprang erect.
Then an expression of intense humility and shame covered his grave
features on discovering that a large mirror had presented him with a
full-length portrait of himself!  A sort of pitiful smile curled his lip
as he took off his hunting coat.  Being now in his ordinary sleeping
costume he approached the bed, but did not like the look of it.  No
wonder!  Besides being obviously too short, it had white curtains with
frills or flounces of some sort, with various tags and tassels around,
and it did not look strong.  He sat cautiously down on the side of it,
however, and put one leg in.  The sheets felt unpleasant to his naked
foot, but not being particular, he shoved it in, and was slowly letting
himself down on one elbow, when the bed creaked!

This was enough.  Big Otter was brave to rashness in facing known
danger, but he was too wise to risk his body on the unknown!  Drawing
forth his leg he stood up again, and glanced round the room.  There was
a small dressing-table opposite the bed; beside it was the large glass
which had given him such a surprise.  Further on a washhand-stand with a
towel-rack beside it, but there was no spot on which he could stretch
his bulky frame save the middle of the floor.  Calmly he lay down on
that, having previously pulled off all the bedclothes in a heap and
selected therefrom a single blanket.  Pillowing his head on a footstool,
he tried to sleep, but the effort was vain.  There was a want of air--a
dreadful silence, as if he had been buried alive--no tinkling of water,
or rustling of leaves, or roar of cataract.  It was insupportable.  He
got up and tried to open the door, but the handle was a mystery which he
could not unriddle.  There was a window behind the dressing-table.  He
examined that, overturning and extinguishing the candle in the act.  But
that was nothing.  The stars gave enough of light.  Fortunately the
window was a simple cottage one, which opened inwards with a pull.  He
put on his coat and belt, resumed his arms, and, putting his long leg
over the sill, once more stood on his native soil and breathed the pure
air!  Quietly gliding round the house, he found a clump of bushes with a
footpath leading through it.  There he laid him down, enveloped in one
of Mrs Liston's best blankets, and there he was found next morning in
tranquil slumber by our domestic when she went to milk the cows!

Before the three weeks were over Peter Macnab almost paralysed Aunt
Temple by a cool proposal that she should exchange the civilised
settlements for the wilderness, and go back with him, as Mrs Macnab, to
the Mountain Fort!  The lady, recovering from her semi-paralytic
affection, agreed to the suggestion, and thus Peter Macnab was,
according to his own statement, "set up for life."

Shall I dwell on the triple wedding?  No.  Why worry the indulgent
reader, or irritate the irascible one, by recounting what is so
universally understood.  There were circumstances peculiar, no doubt to
the special occasion.  To Eve and myself, of course, it was the most
important day of our lives--a day never to be forgotten; and for which
we could never be too thankful, and my dear father pronounced it the
happiest day of _his_ life; but I think he forgot himself a little when
he said that!  Then old Mrs Liston saw but one face the whole evening,
and it was the face of Willie--she saw it by faith, through the medium
of Eve's sweet countenance.

But I must cut matters short.  When all was over, Macnab said to his
wife:--

"Now, my dear, we must be off at the end of one week.  You see, I have
just one year's furlough, and part of it is gone already.  The rest of
it, you and I must spend partly in the States, partly in England, and
partly on the continent of Europe, so that we may return to the Great
Nor'-west with our brains well stored with material for small talk
during an eight or nine months' winter."

Aunt Macnab had no objection.  Accordingly, that day week he and she
bade us all good-bye and left us.  Big Otter was to go with them part of
the way, and then diverge into the wilderness.  He remained a few
minutes behind the others to say farewell.

"You will come and settle beside us at last, I hope," said Mrs Liston,
squeezing the red-man's hand.

The Indian stood gently stroking the arched neck of his magnificent
horse in silence for a few moments.  Then he said, in a low voice:--

"Big Otter's heart is with the pale-faces, but he cannot change the
nature which has been given to him by the Great Master of Life.  He
cannot live with the pale-faces.  He will dwell where his fathers have
dwelt, and live as his fathers have lived, for he loves the great free
wilderness.  Yet in the memory of his heart the mother of Weeum will
live, and Waboose and Muxbee, and the tall pale-face chief, who won the
hearts of the red-men by his justice and his love.  The dark-haired
pale-face, too, will never be forgotten.  Each year, as it goes and
comes, Big Otter will come again to Sunny Creek about the time that the
plovers whistle in the air.  He will come and go, till his blood grows
cold and his limbs are frail.  After that he will meet you all, with
Weeum, in the bright Land of Joy, where the Great Master of Life dwells
for evermore.  Farewell!"

He vaulted on his steed at the last word, and, putting it to the gallop,
returned to his beloved wilderness in the Great Nor'-west.

THE END.





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